What a way to wake up in the morning. There I was watching the news the other night when Japan’s main news station NHK was focusing on the best rainwear to use in the recent torrential rains and thinking, “Boy, everyone is just itching for something awful to happen again.” Then I wake up, turn on the news for the weather (a huge deluge is predicted until the end of the week, with record flooding), and come across this, North Korea launching six missiles toward Japan.
All of them fell into the Sea of Japan, but as yet no one is sure if they were intended to fail or if they just hadn’t worked. Needless to say, the response has been one of reserved alarm, everyone rushing about on TV trying to figure out if this really is a threat or to give their opinions on Kim Il Jong’s intentions. The Japanese news is naturally directly concerned with Japan’s own safety, and the mood on TV and from my friends sending me e-mails, is of grave concern. One of the NHK panel experts stated that between the launching of the missiles and their reaching their target the response time is, at longest, 4 minutes, three being the average. The fact that even after having launched an assumed 6 missiles no one is really sure exactly how many were launched.
And yet, the general mood is one of deliberation and forbearance, rather than the outright “Bomb them into the Stone Age” response of some other countries I know.
Watching the American (supposedly “international”) news typically their response is “What danger does this pose to the US?” Not even any mention of what danger this much more immediately poses to Japan and even more so, South Korea, at and over which the missiles were launched. CNN hauled up the old 2002 Bush pronouncements of “The Axis of Evil”, taking the opportunity to justify all that Bush has done over the last five years. Never mind that these missiles were actually launched and people’s concerns here deserve more attention than, for once, the eternal and all-pervading paranoia of the US.
Meanwhile us mere mortals here on the ground are feeling our mortality. Sometimes it seems the juggler has all the knives up in the air and his hands are no longer as deft as they used to be.
This is the sixteenth installment of the ongoing Ecotone essay series. This week’s topic is Food and Place. Please stop by and read the other essays or feel free to contribute your own words.
In this fast-tracked modern world, where the goods that hold up our daily lives magically appear, cut up, cleaned, wrapped, and ready to eat, more and more it seems as if we’ve lost touch with how and where it all comes from. Even when we do head out into the “wild” to harvest some measure of communion with our green past, we carry all the implements with us, like an astronaut walking on the moon. Throw away the backpack, the quick-drying clothing, the stove and pot, and most importantly, that nylon ditty bag of sustainables, and we’re lost. Most so-called “outdoorsmen” today, if suddenly left to fend for themselves far from the road and the aid of transportation, would quickly find themselves starving to death, even if an abundance of food presents itself an arm’s breadth away. Just watch a “Survivor” episode; those people know nothing about actually surviving.
In the late summer of 2001, upset and disoriented from an argument, I set off one weekend for the back country mountains north of Nikko, a national park area 2 hours north of Tokyo, without properly checking my packing list. All I could think of was that I needed to get away from people and from my home. I hoisted my pack and set off to the train station, intent upon images of forest trails and windy ridges.
Things went badly from the start. I had forgotten the map for the area and so missed the campsite that would have set me right at the trail head for the following morning. Instead I had to pitch my tent in an auto camping area, a few kilometers from the trail. It was hot and muggy and all night I lay swatting mosquitoes while drunk campers nearby reveled until the coming of dawn. I got perhaps three hours of sleep, and when morning broke, my muscles and head felt as heavy as the wet mist that sat upon the tent.
I packed quickly and headed off toward the trail, leaving early so that I might avoid the crowds of hikers. The approach to the trailhead zig-zagged along a river valley, with no signs posted, and only by querying a few farmers tending their sweet potato patches did I manage to make it to the trailhead. By that time the sun had already climbed quite high and the Japanese summer heat had begun to melt away the mist. There were no other hikers, which, because I was glad to be alone, I didn’t take note of.
The trail led into an overgrown wood with downed trees across the path and thick, almost impenetrable bamboo thicket lining the inclines on either side. Much of the walk involved scrambling through branches and stepping around crumbling ledges. Luckily a few faded wooden signs pointed to the one name of the mountain I was trying to reach and I followed them on faith.
The trail grew steeper and entered a dry ravine riverbed, old painted trail markers polka dotting the boulders and outcroppings. Walking here meant digging my boot toes into gravel and pedaling through loose scree, pumping heart and breath in an effort to stay afloat on a steep slope.
Huge, fat, wingless grasshoppers began to appear all around in the gravel and dry grass. All of them moving in the same direction, adjacent to my own movement. They were so heavy they could barely hop, but even when I approached they seemed not to notice my presence. When I reached a small ridge, I sat on a stump, eating a rice ball and watching the mass movement of the swarm, like a flowing green carpet displacing the stillness of the terrain.
I reached the summit at about noon. The peak overlooked a tarn with lead blue water across the surface of which dragged shadows of the storm clouds, mounting behind the peak opposite. Thunder rumbled from the distance. I stopped to evaluate the trail and saw that I needed to traverse a treacherous slope of loose rocks and slippery mud.
That’s when my hypoglycemia, a diabetic reaction to insulin, too little food, and high energy exertion, hit. I absently reached into my pack’s top pocket for the chocolate bar I always kept there for just such occasions. My fingers fumbled around and found… nothing. I threw the pack down and rummaged more carefully throughout the pack, hoping that I had misplaced the bar somewhere in the main compartment. Nothing. I paused, looking into the pack, then pulled out the ditty bag of food I had brought. That would do, I thought. I’ll just eat the lunch I had brought. When I opened the bag though, only a package of freeze dried rice, another package of freeze-dried spinach, a packet of soup, and a tea bag fell out. Panicking, I emptied the contents of the pack onto the trail and sifted through everything I had. Nothing.
The hypoglycemic reaction was beginning to make me dizzy and my vision blurred. I forced myself to sit still and think. Carefully I placed everything back into the pack, leaving the ditty bag of food out. I sized up the incoming storm cloud and figured I had just enough time to get my stove going and cook all the food I had left. I found a sheltered space beside a huge boulder, set up my stove, and placed a pot of water on top to boil. I waited.
I observed the landscape around me. With my vision blurring and hands beginning to shake and an uncontrollable sweat slowly drenching my clothes, the mountains seemed surreal. I hugged my knees as a frigid wind blasted the shelter and howled among the treetops back behind the trail. I pulled on my insulated jacket and watched the water in the pot, counting the tiny bubbles forming on the bottom. Steam curled off the edge of the pot and was whipped away by the wind.
During those fatal moments, when I thought I might die, all I could think of was how soft the clouds looked and how I missed my wife, with whom I had argued. The mountains seemed cold and pitiless and my stomach had no belief in the bounty of nature. Everything felt like bones around me.
I was breathing fast when the water started to boil. I emptied the open packages into the pot, not caring what mixed with what, and whispered a litany to myself, of the dream of an explosion of flavors in my mouth. Of warmth streaming down my veins. Of a pact with the world in which my body must sacrifice its independence to house the freewheeling flight of my soul. Food is life, and life is food. There is no such thing as life without the death that food requires.
I could barely hold the bowl as I spooned through it, my hands were shaking so badly. I ate so fast my lips and tongue were scalded. Lights swirled in my eyes and I was shivering from the cold sweat. I used the remaining hot water to make a cup of tea and while it steeped I finished the rice soup. The soup poured into my recesses and glowed like a firefly, reaching into niches of sustenance that only the heat could revive. Gradually the shaking died away and I squatted beside the pot, breathing slowly, in and out. Breathing slowly, slowly. When I switched off the stove the stillness clapped shut around me, with only the wind speaking.
That was perhaps the best meal I ever ate, not because I had abandoned preferences and simply enjoyed the taste of rice and spinach and egg and salt, but because that meal was stripped of distractions. The cold wind, my beating heart, and the flow of calories and nutrients made up the entire moment.
It began to rain.
I put away the tools and scraps and cinched up my pack. I stood up on steady legs. I picked my way across the slippery slope and reached the ridge on the opposite side of the dale. From there it was just a matter of crunching down the steep trail towards the road below, just discernible. And a step ahead of my next meal.
I can’t get it out of my head: the sense that my last post somehow damaged something in me. I can’t sit still, I keep getting up to look out the window, I can’t do my work, even trying to get to sleep took a while.
It’s true what so many commenters have said, that there are a lot of Americans who don’t support what is going on in America or with Bush. I know that. Just the opinions of the commenters here alone proves that. But then how does one come to terms with all that is happening right now? People talk of being peaceful inside and trying to work out the problems then. When I don’t look at the news and get away from the city far enough so that I can’t hear the planes overhead all the tiime (four of them just went by overhead right now as I wrote this…), I can allow my mind to settle on other things. But a lot of that involves cutting oneself off from society. How does one not get angry when Bush appears on television or in the internet news and says and does the things he does?
As Americans so often remind everyone, America supposedy has a government “of and by the people”. How then does one separate the people in general from what the government is doing? Where does one direct the anger if one is not American? I speak out about America as a country and what it is doing and I can’t help but include the people when I refer to what it is doing.
Bush made the State of the Union Address last night (I haven’t seen, heard, or read it), something that is supposed to be meant only for the American people, and yet I’m sure he spoke about the “world being a safer place” or what not… meaning he was addressing the whole world. If he was addressing the whole world, if he takes it upon himself to dictate to all of us what we may or may not do, then why do all of us here in the rest of the world who are affected by his words and actions, have no say in deciding whether or not he gets to stay in office? Americans can at least vote about the matter. I have no vote. I have to rely on the will and mood of the Americans, hoping that they get some sense into their heads.
So please tell me, where do I direct this anger I feel, while at the same time professing a love for many Americans and for the country as a whole? How do I find a sense of peace about the world (I like myself and am comfortable with myself personally) when there is this man, with his contingent of madmen, who wants constant war and strife? Where do I draw the line between speaking my mind and shutting up?
More than ever I think it is time to cancel the borders and stop defining the world by the names of countries. I speak as a world citizen, a Terran, a Child of the Planet Earth. I look upon this preoccupation with some imaginary boundary called “America” and wonder, who are they kidding? Yes, America is a beautiful and admirable place, as is every single other patch of land in the world. There is no border within the natural world, it is all one. Perhaps it is time to stop defending America or Japan or Germany or China against the rest of the world and learn to defend this whole piece of cake we inhabit, all, together.