BY: PATRICK ASHTRE
Like John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado River, where he discovered the Grand Canyon, or Lewis and Clark’s search for a tributary to the Missouri River, where they found what is now known as Yellowstone National Park, it’s not unusual for modern-day travelers to seek out, or stumble across, a rare and special setting that leaves them with everlasting memories. Like these famous explorers, regular people can roam the world and, on occasion, find themselves surrounded by an uncommon beauty and peacefulness. A gorgeous setting with spectacular jungle-laden hills, cascading streams and waterfalls, encircled by crystal-clear waters teeming with vibrant sea life, Chaloklum fulfilled Patrick Ashtre’s need to be surrounded by nature’s beauty. This small community broke all the rules and destroyed his preconceived notions about needing to find a comfortable place populated by like-minded individuals. Its varied and unique residents balancing perfectly with Ashtre’s need for companionship, the small village of Chaloklum taught him more in a few short years, about who he really was, than he had learned in a lifetime of experiencing wondrous sites and exciting adventures.
Chaloklum, The Village of No Last Names is about taking a chance. It’s a love story and shows how one can’t help but be influenced by Buddhism, whether or not you’re a follower, while you’re living in its cradle. It’s a tale about finding a home that came in the form of a fishing village on an island in the Gulf of Thailand.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Chaloklum, by Patrick Ashtre, we are once again taken to an island in the Gulf of Thailand. The book is actually a prequel to Ashtre’s first book, A Distant Island, and, unlike the first one, doesn’t deal so much with PTSD, as with Ashtre’s adventures abroad and his relationship with his Buddhist girlfriend Supattra.
I enjoyed the book very much and, at times, felt like I was right there with him, exploring the island and meeting the strange and fascinating people who live there.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Chaloklum, The Village of No Last Names by Patrick Ashtre is the story of a displaced marine officer whose thirst for adventure would not let him settle down after he retired from the service to live the quiet life in his native land. As we learned in A Distant Island he was a victim of PTSD and didn’t fit in with the people he left behind when he went into the service. Although this book doesn’t address the issue of his PTSD directly, you can still see its influence in Ashtre’s quest for peace and a quiet life—the disenchanted, tired of the senseless wars and strife in the world.
Chaloklum is well written, fascinating, and delightful. It fed my own wanderlust, and now I can’t wait to go to Thailand.
Mother Nature’s Beauty and Human Oddities
Like John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado River and passage through the Grand Canyon, or Lewis and Clark’s searching out a tributary to the Missouri River and finding what is now known as Yellowstone National Park, it is not unusual for modern day travelers to seek out or stumble across a unique and special setting that leaves them with an everlasting memory. Like these famous men exploring the North American Continent, regular people like you and me can explore the world and, on occasion, find ourselves surrounded by an uncommon beauty or peacefulness so striking that it becomes emblazoned in our minds and we recall it for the remaining days of our lives–a recollection that constantly beckons us to return to the site of that experience.
Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, and then having travelled the Pacific and Indian Oceans for years, I have seen places and witnessed events that will forever be inscribed as commemorations of my past. While I have had many experiences and found myself in settings that I wish to forget, the ones I most clearly and often recall have been gratifying and beautiful.
Standing atop an ice-crusted cornice cantilevered over the edge of a mountain, bordered by wind-ravaged evergreens, I studied a black icy river surging and spilling over gray boulders as it twisted its way through a valley thousands of feet below. Flanked by tall rocky ridgelines that stood so high no tree could survive at their apex, the valley appeared small, yet its beauty and significance was not diminished. The sky above me churned with dark clouds as winds whipped powder-like snow from the surrounding peaks and wrought a sight that resembled cresting swells along an ocean reef. With a frigid wind numbing my face and burning my eyes, I stood in awe of Mother Nature.
I have found myself on an untamed beach in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the surf pounding away at a shore of sand and rock, as distant waves toppled over hidden shoals and the wind punished tall palm trees on an ominous gray sky background. Long lines of fierce-looking clouds stood on a hazy horizon above an angry deep blue ocean as I turned left and then right, a fine mist of sea spraying my bare chest and face. Not one unnatural feature stood as far as I could see. Humans had yet to leave their mark on that wild beach. I felt as if I was the first person to ever to set foot on its coarse sand and jagged rocks, and it is a sight I will never fail to recall.
Leaning out over the railing of a large gray metal ship slicing across glass-like water in the South China Sea, I watched a flight of fish suddenly erupt from its surface. Above the greenish waters, hundreds of small gray torsos with fan-like wings fluttered like humming birds searching out nectar in a flower-laden garden. The squadron of flying fish soared and skimmed across the water for a hundred yards, touching the sea’s calm surface here and there, before diving back into its protective fold. It was a testament to the complexity of nature’s beauty.
I have flown a helicopter over a gigantic sperm whale and its small calf near Marianas Trench in the Pacific Ocean, their shimmering gray bodies seeming nothing more than shadows under the rough waters. With a bright blue sky clashing against the agitated bluish-gray waters of the Pacific, the enormous animal rose from the ocean perpendicularly, with its calf circling nearby, to inspect the clatter of the helicopter blades, attesting to its inquisitiveness. It is a recollection that will stay with me forever.
I have trudged down a narrow fertile valley, between hillsides spotted with gray precipices at the base of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, feeling as if I had somehow stepped foot onto the Hollywood set for Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1933 King Kong movie. The trees filled with colorful macaws and hornbills verbally challenging hidden brown macaques, I have stepped through slow-moving brown waters, traversing its jungle rivers, and been awed by its beauty and the sheer magnitude of our world’s sophistication.
I have been pushed by a natural current through river-like passageways that twisted between palm tree covered islands, swimming aside schools of vividly colored fish in the crystal-clear waters of French Polynesia. In its warm bathtub-like waters, I could feel small fish nibbling at my toes as I reached out and touched colorful anemone and surgeon fish before they darted away. I will always recall the emotion of amazement those sights engendered.
Those are a few of the many memories I can evoke with pleasure, but as much as I desire, I can never totally share them with others. One must be there and observe these amazing places first hand to understand their true effect. While those experiences are treasures that I will always cherish, there is more to living a full life than witnessing the natural beauty of the world around us, and more than one way to provoke memorable emotions.
Standing in midtown New York City, bumper-to-bumper cars jockeying for position in Times Square, massive colorful screens blasting advertisements or news in bright lights, store fronts radiating wealth and power, all the while brushing shoulders with a dense crowd of fellow citizens and foreigners can be breathtaking to many and generate a similar wondrous feeling. But, given its origins, New York is the extreme opposite of the natural world, a counterfeit of reality–one tailored by man, and man alone. Just as ants build anthills, humans build cities, both representing collateral damage twisted from the intricate complexity of Mother Nature. This definition does not make a vibrant city setting or an anthill less amazing or inferior, but simply identifies its engineer.
The difference between the world’s natural and manmade beauty comes down to it creator. One is fashioned by a god of your choosing or the unknown wonders of the universe. The other is produced by educated men, some who delve into structures and design, and others who politic for various followers, lending comforts to an otherwise harsh world. They are the extremes of our perception, counterfeit versus natural, manmade versus that created by something so mysterious that we can only describe its creator in the form of spirituality or not at all.
While many long to be surrounded by nature and its astonishing complexity, most of us don’t want to live alone in the wilds of the Philippine jungle, on the shores of an untamed island in the Indian Ocean, or a mountaintop in Colorado. To lead a full life there must be companionship, in the form of both intimate and platonic relationships. Most of us need company and want comfort, and that means we must find some balance between the counterfeit and natural world. For each of us there is a place where man and the wild have intertwined in a way that a pleasurable hybrid of the two successfully exists. That might lead some to an apartment in downtown Manhattan on one extreme or in a cabin forty miles outside Fairbanks on the other.
As a rule, people seek out those who share common traits or beliefs. Those similar attributes could include financial standing, physical similarities, a common culture, or mutual understanding of commerce and government. Those likenesses create a stabilizing force that allows us to understand how to function within the constraints of a community’s unspoken rules and know what to expect from those around us at any given time.
There are no surprises when the couple next door was raised in a family that shared the same values and level of material luxuries; there are no shocking revelations when your neighbor believes in the same religion; and there are no startling bombshells when the family across the street shares your views on free enterprise and democracy. We congregate with those we feel comfortable around.
As a result, neighborhoods are filled with close relationships that join in common holidays, block parties, and backyard feasts.
With this in mind, where we ultimately find ourselves is not so much a choice but rather driven by our upbringing, education, financial standing, culture, personalities, experiences, and some individual need to be surrounded by nature. We are the proverbial misshapen block of wood bouncing across a board engraved with holes of various sizes and shapes, eventually dropping into one or the other. The similarity of our shape to that of the hole we find ourselves in allows us to either fit comfortably or bounce out and rattle across the board until another cavity allows refuge.
Hailing from the Colorado mountains, amidst the wondrous beauty of that state, I am the fourth of four boys. Spending a career in the Marine Corps, I witnessed the best and worst of humanity on battlefields across the globe. I am a man driven by guilt and testosterone. I am a man who finds large crowds annoying and have learned to enjoy my solitude. Educated in business and economics, I am someone who believes in capitalism and dislikes social safety nets of any kind. While I consider religion a crutch, I talk to God on a regular basis. And, as a father of three, I have laid waste to two marriages and know that the responsibility for their demise rests squarely on my shoulders. My block of wood has many sharp edges and unusual curves. I have spent most of my life in search of an engraved hole that my block of misshapen wood could fit inside.
The following story is about finding a home that came in the form of a fishing village on an island in the Gulf of Thailand. A beautiful setting with glorious jungle-laden hills, cascading streams and waterfalls, encircled by crystal-clear waters filled with vibrant sea life, fulfilling my need to be surrounded by nature. This small community broke all the rules and preconceived notions about finding a comfortable place whose streets, alleyways, and paths are populated by like individuals. Its natural beauty balancing perfectly with my need for companionship, the small village of Chaloklum taught me more about who I really was in several short years than a lifetime of exciting wondrous sites and experiences. More importantly, this village taught me how to lay aside all those flawed and ruthless societal skills I had learned in the mountains of Colorado and while traveling across two oceans, mistakenly thinking that they were somehow important and needed in order to survive a cruel and unfair world. Living in this small seaside village, I discovered that the true fragility of mankind is not its primitivism, but the simple need to be heard and accepted. On its narrow streets, surrounded by tall lazy palm trees and with the constant sound of water gently rolling across its beaches, I learned two valuable life lessons that elude many their entire lives–acceptance and forgiveness. I have now popped back out of that hole and find myself once again dancing across the board in search of another refuge, but I will always look back fondly and value my years in Chaloklum.
© 2016 by Patrick Ashtre