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Drawings Sketchbook

Drawings 002

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More drawings and sketches from my journals and sketchbooks.

Ashitakayama Lunch Break
Taking a break on the way up Ashitaka-yama in Shizuoka Prefecture. This was the first mountain I started climbing and getting serious about hiking. It is relatively unknown in Japan, even though it has some of the most spectacular views of Mt. Fuji in the country. Over the years the trail has changed a lot, with the rotten rock halfway up yearly falling away, and gradually eating at the narrow ridge where the only trail is possible. It might one day be that climbs to the summit will no longer be possible, as the ridge turns into a razorback ridge.
Ashitakayama Favorite Place
A secret hideout that I often went to when I wanted to be alone and sure of no other walkers happening by. It has the best panorama of Mt. Fuji of any place I walked. Many nights I pitched my tent right beside this enormous spruce tree and listened to Sika deer, macaques, foxes, raccoon dogs, and wild boars whistle, screech, yip, cry, and grunt in the underbrush. Bamboo grass gradually began to take over the grassy hillside, and these days this little area is most likely overrun with bushes and small trees.
Backroad of Ashitakayama
Backroad behind Ashitakayama, a long walk around the foothill, and down to the town where I lived.
Sunset on Ashitakayama
Walking home in the last light along the ridge of Ashitakayama. The first time I climbed the mountain late, descending as darkness came on, I hadn’t realized that the terminus of the northern branch of the trail led into Safari Park, a famous open-air zoo. As I stomped down the steep trail, I heard enormous grunting sounds from down below and was certain they were bears. My hands going cold and heart racing, I carefully made my way down, only to see, ahead through the trees, the flat grounds of the zoo. Tiny from where I stood, I made out the forms of male lions, all of them roaring in succession. Their voices boomed throughout the valley.
Coastal Commandments
Commissioned illustration for the SeaDoc Society, University of California, Davis.
Deady Hall University of Oregon
Sketch of Deady Hall, University of Oregon. I spent hours and hours every week sitting and sketch many parts of the university campus and environs. The campus was a perfect environment for contemplations and taking time to learn and see.
Descending from a Rain Storm
Quick sketch, descending a mountain from a rain storm.
Monster Studies 001
Drawing has always allowed me to set my mind free. I love expressing joy and horror and all other range of emotions, and seeing where the pen takes me.
Riding North
Besides hiking, I’ve loved bicycle travel ever since I was old enough to set out from home alone. I still find it the best way to travel and see new lands and meet people. It is just fast enough to cover a good distance each day, but slow enough to feel the wind and smell the rain in the air, and stop to talk to people.
Teja 001
My brother Teja. We’ve always been very close, like best friends, and have always been able to talk about everything together. It’s difficult living far away from him, and only seeing him once every few years. He’s an inspiration to me… living life to the fullest and with a courage and forthrightness that puts my shy efforts to shame. A born comedian, too. You can often catch him on PBS in Boston, doing shows about ethnicity and racial issues. Very proud to be his brother!
Wendy 001
Wendy, a good friend from college, when we both studied architecture. We spent many hours discussing design and often seriously critiqued each other’s project designs. She was a jazz dancer, too, and always had me spellbound watching.
Newton Apartment Room
My room in Newton, Massachusetts. A bit of a crazy place, with room mates who must surely have crawled out of a TV comedy. One roommate on the witness protection plan (as he revealed one evening when he was stinking drunk), the other roommate a violent diabetic who would eat whole tubs of ice cream and then thrash about the apartment breaking down doors. The neighbors upstairs were insane, too. Out front stood a 8 meter tall sycamore tree stump, all the branches lopped off. It stood at an angle, so I called the entire house, “The House of the Bent Phallus”.
Corded Tree of Life
Quick sketch of a coppiced tree, Lincoln, Massachusetts
Categories
6 Month Bicycle Circuit of Northern Europe Art of Living Bicycle Travel Journal Outdoors Simplicity Trip Reports: Bicycle Travel

Winding Down the Weathered Road

Cherry Blossoms Bright
Playing with the light around a cherry tree in bloom, Nogawa River, Tokyo, Japan, 2004 (It is well past the cherry blossom season, but I’ve only this weekend had any time to sit down and work on my spring photographs)

This is the 23rd installment of the ongoing place-based essay series at Ecotone. This week’s topic is Time and Place. Please feel free to drop by and read what others have written, and if you’d like, to contribute your own essay.


The white wagtail scurried ahead and stopped, to glance back at us, bobbing his tail and wheezing his shrill chirrup, urging us to “Hurry, hurry! Come, right this way! It’s just a little further! Hurry!” When our bicycles neared just enough to loom over him, the loaded panniers brushing the grass at the edge of the asphalt, he popped up into the air and darted further up ahead, to repeat his encouragements. For more than 2500 kilometers it seemed he led the way, the same wagtail, forever ahead of us, like the second hands of a clock.

That was the warmer half of 1995, the year my wife and I got married and decided to set off for a six month honeymoon by bicycle across the northern circle of Europe. We left our jobs, packed away all our belongings, drew wads of traveler’s checks from our bank accounts, rolled out our heavily laden bicycles, and flew over the expanse of Eurasia to Holland, where the wind waited for us outside the alleyways and canals of Amsterdam.

Neither of us had ever taken off 6 months to just follow our whims and the first few weeks tailed us with the worries of Tokyo, and the Bullet Train accuracy of speed timed to within seconds. That first day pushing the pedals beyond the sign for the city limits of Amsterdam felt like being flung out the door into the cold; the hardness of the road under our tires seems to present a vast horizontal wall beyond which we could not perceive. In a kind of reverse deadline panic we raced from town to town, urging each other to make the kilometers count, tallying up the numbers on our cycle computers, and feeling unsettled when, because we were still out of shape and exhausted from the wedding preparations, the average day’s distance added up to no more than 30 or 40 kilometers. We shouted at Holland’s seething winds, holding us back, and bickered when darkness fell too soon in the campsites. The weight of unenclosed hours and days, and when we paused to accept them, weeks and months, whispered for us to hurry, not waste any time, and make up for the guilt we felt from taking so much unproductive time off.

Under a stand of dark leaved chestnut trees on the western edge of Germany we threw our bicycles down and threatened to each return to Japan, alone. It seemed the trip would be over before it had even started.

On the road, cocking its black capped head, stood the wagtail, tsk-tsking. It left us to stand silently gazing out over a field of flowering yellow rapeweed, the heads billowing like waves in the breeze and the slow whale bellies of clouds overhead dragging their shadows across the rolling hills. We munched on bread rolls with gouda cheese, and in chewing calmed down enough to look at each other again.

“It hasn’t entered our heads yet, has it?” I offered.

“What hasn’t?”

“We’ve got six months. Six whole months! What are we hurrying for?”

“I don’t know. You’re the one in a hurry!”

That almost stoked the fire again, but I nodded. “You’re right. I don’t know what got into me.”

“Ever since we arrived you’ve been racing to finish the day. I can barely keep up.”

“I guess I don’t know how to get my mind around this. How do you plan for six months?”

My wife had a way with time. She always turned toward the sun and closed her eyes. “We’ve got six months. We can take our time.” A gust of wind brought the fragrance of some distant flowers. My wife inhaled deeply, smiling, and then opened her eyes again. “Didn’t we come here to look around? Isn’t that why we chose to go by bicycle?”

I sat silent a long time, just seeing the fields and the swallows swooping through the air. A damselfly alighted on my bicycle handlebar and slowly relaxed its wings. I felt something deflate inside myself, replaced by a quiet beating.

“I think I was scared,” I said.

“Of what?” inquired my wife.

“Of frayed ends.”

She looked at me with a frown, but said nothing. She brightened and picked up her bicycle. “First we have to get rid of a lot of this weight.”

Everything changed that day. The whole journey. We slowed down to the point where moving forward invoked less headwind and trees and passersby fell behind with less sharp reduction. We stopped when something nicked the corners of our eyes or the sky swung us into stillness under its great pendulum. The kilometers rolled by day after day, week after week, more as expressions of movement in the scrolling panorama than as signposts. Much of the journey hovered above the bicycle handlebars, each of us lost in long reveries during the spells between towns, and much of that time as partners in a silent traverse of newness, leaving unanswered questions in our wake.

Our perception of time and our participation in the revolving of the globe reflected in the mornings and evenings, when we woke with the calling of the hooded crows, jackdaws, and robins, and with the first light filtering through the walls of the tent, and when we retired to books held up in the coolness of the evening air and the stirring of hedgehogs and shrews in the bushes, before turning out our lights and sleeping with the whole night wheeling through our minds. At times we happened upon a place that so merged the inner stories we bore with its character of wonder that we lingered for a week or more, tasting the place to its very fruits and vegetables and getting to know its hoary old inhabitants. The bicycles moulted into wings that flew between rest stops for our eyes and feet. We became like the wagtail, landing somewhere to root around among its rocks then flitting a few pedal strokes to the next sunny vantage point.

By the time we reached the Shetland Islands and the Orkneys our muscles took us without protest to where we pointed our front wheels, the rhythm one with our bicycles. Our breathing seemed to exhale from the soil, and we headed on and beyond in all weathers, thoroughly entranced by the light of the sky. We walked for hours, sometimes alone, and returned to the tent with sprigs of flowers or seashells that we handed to each other as if they replaced the money that we used now only for food and occasional transportation. At the campsites other long term travelers joined us over hissing camp stoves to converse and relate tales until deep in the night. Our time and their times brushed together like passing veils, always with the light glimmering through.

We had ceased to exist wholly in the modern world.

So when it came time to return to Japan and back to jobs and four walls and alarm clocks, we floundered along the highways and took every opportunity to escape them. The last days of the journey wound down in the copper light of late autumn, among the wet country hills of Northumberland, England, and the gray tangle of backroads in Belgian town outskirts. Neither of us could find words to protect the dream we had just woken from. Six months had passed and it all seemed like a single instant, like shaking loose summer leaves from a tree.

Japan crashed into our ears, cut into our eyes. We slept for two months with the apartment windows thrown wide open, welcoming the bite of winter air, feeling our breath stoppered in our chests, our muscles aching for resistance. And gradually, insidiously, the clocks ticked louder and the television screen held our gazes longer, and that lone figure tramping along the sandy lanes retreating further and further down the road.

It’s been nine years. My beard has sprouted white hair. The bicycles stand furled in the kitchen by the window. Days pass when the sun creeps past the curtain. Sometimes I wake at dawn, after a evening laboring at some other person’s dream and falling into dreamless sleep, and hear the wagtail calling. He bobs his tail, like a finger beckoning. “Hurry! Hurry! No time to lose. It’s out here where the heart beats like thunder.” Like a storm moving across an endless field, and the road leading straight into the dark, gathering clouds.