What is happening to the Mogao Caves

brown tomb
Photo by Jose Aragones on Pexels.com

By Sharon St Joan

In 2011, I, along with several friends, visited China. One of the more amazing sites we saw were the Mogao Caves.  (The photo is of caves that are somewhat similar to the Mogao Caves.)

Far out into the Gobi Desert lies the city of Dunhuang. The atmosphere there is somehow reminiscent of frontier towns in the southwestern U.S. during the late nineteenth century.  There is the sense that one is far, far from civilization. The population is around 180,000 – so not that small. 

Nearby lie the Mogao Caves. These are caves inside cliffs, along a long natural wall, which house some of the most beautiful examples of Buddhist art spanning around one thousand years, from around 400 CE to 1400 CE. There are many thousands of paintings and sculptures, found inside the system of around 500 cave temples. They are very striking works of art.  

There are also documents that were found, in recent decades, in a hidden cache of ancient writings. Apparently, they were found, unexpectedly, hidden in a compartment behind a wall. Many of these documents were sent to Beijing, but some remain. Some are very ancient, written in various languages. We were told that some still remain undeciphered.  

Very sadly, in an article on July 17, 2023, the Washington Post writes that recent floods and heavy downpours have caused extensive damage to the caves and to the artwork. This is quite hard to imagine since the caves are in an area, far out in the desert, that has been excessively dry for around 1500 years.  

Now, out of the blue, moisture is causing severe damage. Water vapor levels can cause salt to crystallize, resulting in the dislodging of the paint. A certain distance from the Mogao Caves, in the Jinta Temple Grotto, humidity levels reached 93 percent during a severe downpour last year.

1,000 miles to the southeast of Dunhuang, in the grottoes of Maijishan, in two of the caves, more than half the murals had fallen off.  

All this is happening despite a great deal of attention and hard work on the part of both international and Chinese conservationists and environmentalists who are well aware of the problem and who are attempting to save the ancient artwork.  

Incredibly beautiful, irreplaceable, ancient artwork is being destroyed by downpours in an area that has been dry for thousands of years. Now, unpredictably, the art work is gone.   It is a tragedy when beautiful artwork is destroyed. But somehow the tragedy is compounded when the artwork is very ancient and is also part of history that has endured for many centuries.

© Copyright, Sharon St Joan, 2023

The wings of nevermore

close up photography of a white egret
Photo by Zonda on Pexels.com
Have you left

So soon?

Where have you gone

On the shadowed wings

Of nevermore?

The moon 

A chalk 

Handprint before the winter of an old dawn

Fades. The light blue 


Waves farewell,

Bereft, a spell


Who wore the ancient cloak 

Of magic power?

Were there

Too many springs 

Of yesteryear?



On the tides of eternity,


Of misted beings

Haunt the bow 

Of the lost ship

And a fear

Lurks, why?

Look to a brighter land

Beyond the blue lake

Where smoke curls, rising



More real than you would know,

Patterns of hawkbills,

Turtles, enchanted urns, a token

Almost forgotten in the sand,

In the dip,

Where the rolling wave spills.

You may think that the myth is fading,

But know 

That the myth is life –

All the webs of life


Stronger where they journey

Beyond the knife

Of the dark wind rushing.

Will the wildflower

Grow –

Who belongs in a far, far land? – Now


The glad frogs croak

Their singing 


One day to return on the rain-drawn

Wings of daybreak,

To go, 

Now and evermore.

Always, hear,

Ever near, 

The song sung by the one who

Sings in the way of the wind on the shore

Where the rocks grow tall

Where the seagull’s call

Rises on the wave of the light of the dawn. 

© Copyright, Sharon St Joan, 2023.

Mourning dove

close up shot of a dove
Photo by Tina Nord on Pexels.com

The mourning dove

Ambles along

Unhindered by the knotted cares of

A world run astray.

Only the wind

Speaks to her

And the great sky


Where the blue dove


Wreathed in bells of sunlight,

Their light

Falls on ancient stone sundials,

That foretell

The times that are

And yet to be.

Then only the earth-lit rains follow after

That sing

Their song

Of lilting laughter,

That drizzle down quiet afternoons.

Only the peace

Of the presence of Eternity.

The unraveling mystery of the runes.

Overhead fly the geese

Of spring

And the white butterfly

Who flits, twinkling,

Among the sage brush dancing

Gently in the wind,

Their stems still gray

From the length

Of the snowing days

Of winter.

Out of emptiness climbs


While the tall cliff anchors time

And in the creek below,

The minnow

Flits on by,


The dove takes flight,

Wings whistling

Into the unknown,

Alone, yet not alone,

With her crowds of brothers and sisters,

Where the juniper trees gather

Under the wings of spring,

In the brave winds –


© Copyright Sharon St Joan, 2023