The wind blows through this little town like a newly landed boat passenger, all breezy with new ideas and pent up enthusiasm, legging across the gangplank, scarf whipping about, and pushing past the locals without considering them. From my apartment balcony I can look out across the treeless rice fields to the line of trees along the coast, just at the edge of a morning’s walk, from where the salt air flies in and harries the metal bannister of my apartment building. On blustery days like this I can smell the brine of the sea and that fresh stirring of ammonia, carried in by distant seagulls.
I’ve heard that some of the highest concentration of birds gather along that imagined coastline over there. Now that things have slowed down at work and I have several weeks to put the new apartment in order, I think I might take a bike ride out that way to see for myself. Since coming to this area (northeast Chiba) of Japan four months ago birds seem to be my constant companions, watching over me during some of the bleakest days of my life. Just when I feel that I’m just not going to make it, some bright-eyed elf of a bird flutters into view and does his dance, either to distract me from my, as one of my readers put it so humorously, “tortured writing”, or to remind me that even in the depths of self-doubt nothing is really ever that serious or self-important. And like an angel dressed as an overworked waiter the one bird, the white wagtail, that has always followed me everywhere, all the way since childhood, daily I find one of their representatives waiting impatiently at the foot of the apartment stairs, calling out, “Hurry! Hurry! There is work to be done! No time to dilly-dally!” I’ve seen a ural owl and a wood cock, two mysteries that let their guards down long enough for me to receive their blessings.
On other, cloudy days when even the birds take to the bushes or when night falls, I’ve found myself out away from the windbreaks and trudging along dirt roads, sometimes long after midnight, with the sky slipping along the heavens and me down here, below, making my way between ditches and telephone poles. One night, having spent the entire day at my office in the university without another soul in the building, I emerged onto the deserted streets and couldn’t feel the draw of the compass that usually beckons me home. I stood beside a sleeping maple and listened to a shred of corrugated plastic banging against a wall, trying to make sense of the emptiness that welled either from my own heart or resided as it was in the carelessness of these modular houses.
What is it to need someone, anyone, nearby, just to hear their voice, though you don’t know them, or to reassure yourself that you are not just imagining those dark shapes fluttering at the periphery of your vision? Why do I end up whispering so much to myself as days go by without speaking a word to another person? What is this need to speak, to reach out and brush your fingers against another soul, or to say, “Stay. Stay for just a minute. I need to see myself reflected in your eyes, to know that I am there.”
With her gone now the nights seem longer. I still have the habit of turning over and reaching for her, my fingertips expecting her smooth shoulder and my ears listening for the soft sound of her breathing. The white mug that was paired with the blue one, which we both used to share a cup of tea together every night, now sits unwashed in the sink. She had wrapped it in newspaper while packing and when I took it out of the box in my new place the flood of memories choked me. One after another memories came spilling out of the boxes, so many of them that I had to stop and go for a walk.
I wonder how you are doing, dear heart, over there, all alone yourself? Are you holding the blue cup, or turning over and patting the mattress where my pillow once lay? Do you have to go for a walk, too?
I guess I can say the worst is over and that from here on out it is the healing that takes over. I’ve had some hard walks in my life, sometimes the trail so battered and strewn with boulders or the rain so bad that the mud made it impossible to push on, that I had to turn back and hope to climb the mountain again. What often made those climbs easier was a partner to consult with and call to through the thick mist. It’s easy to get lost when you’re on your own. These last few months have opened my eyes to the existence of that door through which you might never come back. It didn’t know it was so easy to lose all substance and turn into a ghost right before your own eyes.
Yesterday I took a train ride through the area north of my town and stood in the doorway of the train when it stopped at the next station. A quiet little place, with farmhouses guarded by bamboo groves and side roads that turned off the main roads and took off into the hills. “Maybe this is where I can settle down.” I thought. “Maybe the thing is to go further and deeper than you are now, take the quietude a step closer to the birds and follow their lead.”
Along the edge of the field a wave of starlings settles into the grass and soaks in the bright morning sunlight. Azure-winged magpies swoop in and out of the persimmon canopy, chuckling and purring to one another. A black tailed kite keens high above the fields, rising on the updrafts and disappearing into the clouds. A white wagtail cocks its head and bobs its tail. Then it is off scuttling along the road top, peeping its satisfaction.
“Excuse me, sir. I think you forgot your umbrella.”
16 replies on “The Night Crossing”
“It didnâ€™t know it was so easy to lose all substance and turn into a ghost right before your own eyes.”
Oh hell yeah.
Good to read your words again, man. I’m glad you’re still hanging in there.
You know, when I read down through all of this difficult and beautiful writing, and suddenly saw your gentle face looking out right at me, tears spring into my eyes because I felt so strongly, yes, he’ll be OK.
Yes, it’s really good to read your words again. Courage; I hope the hardest days and nights are behind you.
Thanks for sharing your beautiful words. I have been reading and I find this a wonderful place. Thanks again.
Best wishes from Portugal
That beautiful, eternal tree in the last photo… you couldn’t have found a better way to conclude the post.
Just wanted to say that its good to hear how you’re doing. I know it has been a difficult year, so I’ve often wondered and thought of you, even when you’re not writing. Thanks for sharing this — it sounds like you’re adjusting, however slowly to the new circumstances. I hope this is a signal of something new opening for you, something beyond the pain and fear. Keep writing, friend.
How delightful to read your words again. I would be thrilled to have 1/2 of your wording skills.
Life is a long path to travel, sometimes we walk, run and crawl. Sometimes we even stop, a break is needed, it is good to stop, look and listen. Small steps are still progress
Happy Year of the Boar!
Good to see all of you again. It’s been such a long time. I was honestly worried that there would be no one here any more. Sorry about the long absences. I think from here on out I’ll be writing regularly again, perhaps even find some new ways of expressing myself, including a section with drawings and cartoons and a photo gallery. While going through all my stuff during packing I was surprised by how much drawing work I had accumulated. I want to get some of it up here.
I want to take more time to answer each of you later today or tomorrow, but for now thanks, thanks, thanks.
When I read your reflections about what it is to need someone – to reach for her at night – I feel so thankful that I have someone… I turned to her and told her “I love you”. (a seldom heard suprise to her), yet as lucky as I feel, I also feel so danged selfish that my thoughts constantly come back to myself and I can’t find words to empathize or sympathize with you or to encourage you in a time of need – though I desperatly want to. But for now, I can really only say *thank you thank you thank you* for reminding me about what I have and giving me an opportunity to reflect. While I can’t find the capacity to help you, your writing has an enourmous impact on me.
Beautiful words… and a beautiful picture of you! I have to agree with Beth up in the comments that your portrait had an enormous emotional impact when I encountered it after reading through most of this post.
I always enjoy your writing as you are a gifted writer and I can’t wait to see more of your other art.
Keep on walking!
M- I loved seeing this photo of you! (in the one on the site bio, I almost didn’t recognize you but here you look just the same!) thank you for sharing your life–my thoughts have been with you. Be well my dear friend–L
Wonderful sensitive writing and photographs, as always. A wonderful gift to see your face, your eyes. I do hope that you are coping with the changes in your life. I would love to see your drawings here. Take care, my friend.
Hi Butuki. Hmm, big changes and many of them. Your weblog has always had a sense of journeying, reflections on the present, reviewing the past and now changes you are living through. Hope you the tea tastes good again whichever mug is in your sink.
Hey. I agree with Lisa that your posting photo feels more like the old you. It makes me expect or anticipate you cracking up in a laughing roll for some humor you’ve found and can’t wait to share.
I’ve been listening, reading, if not writing. Your move to the country sounds to have some great potential to it. I’m pulling for you and as with the other posters I’m looking forward to seeing more of your visual creativity.
Hello M, today’s 7th April. Will you post again soon? I keep coming back. Bye, C.
You still alive?
It’s been a while.
I’m not a blogger…but I do occasionally check up on you too. I’m not even sure if responding to a blog is a brother’s place. I just know that it’s good to be reminded of your passion for the obvious. I’m sitting in my back yard, watching and listening to the birds playing musical chairs, shuttling back and forth between the Japanese maple tree, the large oak tree, the maple tree, and some other trees that I have no name for. Your writings remind me to find meaning in their chatter, they’re playfulness. A magpie, right now as I type, is yelling obscenities (or something, sorry, don’t speak bird), but is yelling a warning. Or maybe he/she is upset that I’m too close to the bird bath…or, “Hey, get on that blog thingy and tell your brother about ME!”. Yes.
In Massachusetts, it’s finally warm enough to have breakfast outside. The remainders of last night’s party on my list to clean up. The outdoor fireplace has to be emptied, the fallen graham crackers, the broken chair, the wine stains on the patio. Whatever. Magpie…you rock. I’ll sit here in the warm, with little furry, geriatric Sheila nestled next o me, giving you the visual of an parallel life, in a opposite world.
Just like you, mid-40’s, making a big decision to go back to what I believe is my purpose. Too many years getting comfortable. Too many years not listening nor responding to the messages. Life is a four-letter word, you know? And I’m okay with that : ) CPR. Crosby found a son, rather, a son found him, and they made an album called CPR. Best album in my book. I think I might have made you a copy. There’s a song in which he sings, “Time is the final currency. Not money. Not power”. Of course, easy to say by someone who has money and power, but I digress. I have this quote above my editing station. Oniichan, you need to make the trip. You are meant to do this. You are writer and a photographer. And you know how to physically take care of yourself. Just listen to your needs. Keep the blood flowing. Keep the blood flowing. Keep the blood flowing, eat well, and reduce the stress and many of the symptoms will be minimal. Concrete ain’t your thing, bro, and sitting in an office is like a Shiela in a dentist’s office, leaning over the spitoon, asking the hygenist for a better brushing techniques.
Laughing Knees: The Exotic Journeys of a Sensitive Man
Here I go getting all markety on you.
Hey, look. The wonderful childhood we had in so many cultures, so many communities, is never lost. It doesn’t exist anymore in this world, however, at least not in places like Japan. Miyazaki’s films do so well internationally because he is able to bring alive what we experienced. Maybe others need to hear these stories, you know? Like you said, images of people being blown up seems to be the over-riding theme, especially in the US.
Anyway, the magpie is gone. The eclectic gang of birds are waiting for me to leave the communal bird bath to them. Today is a good day for a long bike ride through Carlisle, Concord, Lexington. I’ll be riding, thinking of you.
Anifel says hello.