Journal Musings

Raspberries in the Rain

Nogawa grass

In recent weeks my garden has overgrown so much that the soil is no longer visible under all the fat ferns tumbling over themselves to get the best light. After last year’s ravaging of the trees in my garden by my landlord I decided to no longer make an effort to control or bring order to anything growing in the garden and just let whatever wilderness remains in this city to do its own thing. Dokudami weed, which is actually quite pretty and whose flowers resemble a constellation floating on a dark green sea, has dominated most of the space, while a few of the plants I brought in are still holding their own.

One of these is the spindly raspberry bush I planted four years ago. This year is the first year that it has produced enough berries to fill my cupped hand and their bright red globules brighten up the clouds of green proliferating all around them. Yesterday afternoon, while a steady rain pattered among the leaves of the fatsia that had grown twice as tall as I am, I waded out among the plants, rain water drenching my sandaled feet, and knelt next to the raspberry bush, plucking berries from the branches and, only rudimentarily checking for bugs, popping them into my mouth. There was something about the droplets of rain on the berries, the pushing of my fingers through the wet leaves, and the quiet rush of rain all around me that held me still. I let the rain soak my back and run down my spine. For once with no US military planes thundering by overhead I could lift my nose to the sky and smell the washing away of dust and toil. The clouds seemed to slide by on grey silk sashes, in a serenity so high and effortless that the garden seemed merely a hesitant footfall amidst a pervading tranquility. I watched a hairy caterpillar munching at the base of the one of the berries, her head buried in the pit she had eaten out, and undoubtedly as ebullient about her banquet as I was about the sweet perfume of raspberry juice spilling down my fingertips. In the shadows of the fatsia a brown-eared bulbul, who had been visiting my garden fence since the start of spring, huddled under one of the broad leaves, his head scrunched down into his shoulders and feathers puffed, watching me with only mild interest. It was mid-afternoon, after all, and right about tea time and siesta.

I’ve been surprised by the settling of my soul these last few weeks. Without a job, on the verge of divorce, finally getting my diabetes under control after two weeks of really scary symptoms, I never expected to feel like one of those lone droplets released from a leaf above and falling into an undisturbed pool… first shaking up those rings, but then merging with the rest of the stillness. I keep waking in the middle of night and listening to the sound of the spring rain outside my bedroom window, mingled with the whisper of my wife’s sad breathing, and wondering how the moments held together without splintering. And yet I still catch a glimpse of the moon riding the clouds or feel the surprise of flavor between my teeth when biting into a raspberry, and I remember that it all works together somehow. All of it. Like the middle of a story still being told.

Japan: Living Journal Life In

I Am Not A Tree

Coppiced beech tree
Old coppiced beech tree on the way up toward Mount Jinba

Yesterday morning three men suddenly appeared at the my garden fence, climbed over it, and started dismantling the fence. I just happened to notice this as I was working on the computer in my study, glimpsing movement and hearing men’s voices just outside. I rushed to the living room door, threw it open, and demanded what they were doing.

“We’re going to put in two sewer pipes just on either side of the garden,” they replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world and what was I making such a fuss about?

“You’re going to what? Who are you and what right do you have to just walk into my garden unannounced?”

“We’re working for [some organization I had no clue about… I just assumed it was my ever insensitive landlord]. We were told to come here and put the pipes in.”

Sputtering with indignation I nearly shouted, “You don’t just come barging into my home and start doing construction work! You contact me first and make an appointment! You have no right to invade my privacy like that!”

They just looked at me as if I was another one of those insane foreigners, an altogether far too common attitude among Japanese. One of them, carrying a shovel, stomped over my rosemary bushes and brushed past me, ignoring the glare I gave him. He bent down, lifted away my compost pile, and tossed it over the other end of the fence. He started digging.

The thing is that my Japanese is just not good enough to handle such unfamiliar legal situations, especially when I am so hopping mad that I can barely get my English out. I didn’t know what to do. What were the proper social expectations here, since people’s ideas of privacy and acceptable behavior are so different from America and other places? If it was my landlord who was responsible for this, how could I keep my advantage as a tenant and whom could I turn to if something illegal had been committed?

Being unsure I let the men go about their business and called my landlord. He knew nothing about it and told me he would look into it, saying that it was probably the ward office, putting in public utilities.

“Yes, but without contacting me about it?” I asked.

“They were wrong to do that,” he admitted.

I had to go to work so I didn’t have time to stay around to see what the men were up to. When I returned I found the fence replaced, but two huge white concrete manholes planted in either side of my 2 meter by 8 meter garden. My rosemary had been ripped out of the ground, one of my zelkova saplings chopped down, all the plants on the ground tromped over, my shiitake mushroom seeder log left exposed to the sky, and my planter shelf upended at one end of the garden.

Something broke inside me. I stood gazing at all of this and for a moment I hated Japan and all Japanese. I just had enough. All the unending construction around my house for four years straight, with almost no days of peace, all the unfriendliness of the neighbors and their inconsiderate banging and conversing very loudly in front of my bedroom window at five in the morning and things like flooding my apartment with washing machine overflow from upstairs and not even coming down to apologize, all the monotonous attitudes and predictable behavior and obsessive concern with things cute and public propriety and staying within the lines on the notebook pages, all the times I’d been cheated by partners in my freelance work, while being subjected to racial disdain…aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I felt like destroying someone else’s home!

Then it all collapsed into sadness and a kind of exhausted numbness. I’ve had enough of fighting and finding fault and using my mind and heart to shore up defenses and attacks. I’ve had enough of war of any sort.

In the light of day I stood outside gazing at the garden again today. All I could think was I had to leave. Soon. Find some way to make enough money to finally pull away from here. The avocado tree stood at one end of the garden, the remaining zelkova sapling at the other and I wondered how I would be able to keep them safe, bring them with me. But I couldn’t of course. They would have to take their chances in this garden of changes that has erupted around them since I planted them five years ago. I wish now that I hadn’t planted them; what a waste of hope and love and life.

What do you do when you try so hard to nurture serenity in your life and little things like this keep cropping up to challenge what you love? I know I’ve been pulling away more and more into my shell of a life, meeting people less, becoming reclusive and mistrusting, so I wonder if this is the banging on the door that I really need to get my attention and start engaging life headlong again. When did I ever become so fearful? Nothing scared me so much when I was younger. Change had always been a welcome development, a chance to breathe fresh air, meet new people, and reinvent myself. Just how do trees do it, lasting through the ages, looking on at all the familiar things being ripped up, and never once wincing? They surely must have more forgiving eyes than I do.

Japan: Living Journal Life In Nature

The Plum Rain

Hakoneyama Beeches
Beech trees along the ridge of the Hakone Mountains, 1993

Today definitely has the feel of the oncoming monsoon here. Cool and grey, the air is laden with potential precipitation. While most Japanese dislike this season, since everything gets covered in white mold and clothing is impossible to hang out to dry, I actually love it. It’s warm enough walk along with just a t-shirt, and cool enough to avoid the hair-plastering-to-your forehead perspiration that will undoubtedly follow next month. I love walking along the Nogawa River nearby (really just a glorified sewer now, as most Japanese rivers are) while drenched in warm rain and watching little egrets tiptoeing along the river bed and barn swallows cavorting in the grey, watery air. And outside the city the mountains are shrouded in mystery. As you make your way along the winding paths, the way ahead is hidden in the mists, and it is a matter of making your way to each succeeding vantage point to glimpse a new part of the whole canvas…

I’m glad to report that Mission: Angry Hornet was a success. Last night at about 2 a.m. I ventured out into the garden outside my apartment to relocate the hornet nest. I placed a flood lamp on the window sill near the drain pipe to which I would attach the nest and then, looping a length of thread, I caught up the horn of the nest and carried it gingerly over to the drain pipe. Mother Hornet was furious. Though she was lethargic, she still managed to rev her wings, causing the nest to spin around like a top at the end of the thread.When through with that, she viciously attacked the thread, trying to dislodge it.

Getting the thread to pass behind the drain pipe clamp proved to be quite a process, since I couldn’t get my fingers close enough to pull the thread through, lest I be stung by Mother Hornet. Luckily Mother Hornet’s instincts to remain with her nest proved strong enough to keep her from flying out toward the flood light. If she had she would have lost contact with the nest, which, in her mind, still existed near the old attachment point. In the dark I wouldn’t have been able to get her to find the nest again if I had replaced it where it was earlier.

I finally managed to pull the thread taut and the nest was fixed. One more twist of the thread and it was secure. I backed away as quietly as I could to let Mother Hornet settle down. She seemed disconcerted by the thread, but no longer angry.

This morning I went out to check on her. There she was dozing under the hanging nest, settled again with her little growing city.

Journal Nature

Spring Light

Outside my window, which overlooks a tiny garden and faces a two-story apartment building, the false acacia quivers with new buds ready to let loose, the elm yearlings sprout bright new green leaves, the raspberry bush awakens from a winter disappearance act, and the magnolia tree drips blossum petals already old from the spring sun. The TV screen in the living room, little in the frame of the sunlit window, earlier flickered with images of human conflict. The folly seems so minute and far away. Meanwhile azure winged magpies chuckle amidst the magnolia blossums, weaver finches rustle through the detritus of last year’s leaves, a chickadee chirrups from an azalea, and jungle crows murmur along the rooftops. Light and song, life goes on.