Categories
Europe: Travel Hiking Journal Mont Blanc: Travel Travel

Alpine Journey 8: Glacial Creep

Yesterday evening I set foot back in Chamonix and ended the eleven day walk. The actual walking time was nine days, which is one day shorter than the usual routine. Upon seeing Chamonix from high up on the col overlooking the valley I knew that I had come full circle and that soon I’d be back in the “real” world. The thing is that it doesn’t feel like a real world at all, but like unnecessary complications and undue worries and too many choices and an unhealthy concentration on things that are unimportant. During the last two weeks I was able to filter out those things which occupy too much of one’s time and about which we all worry too much about, and concentrate on things like how good something you eat tastes, the wholesomeness of simply talking to another person, laughing with them, sharing worries and information about what you need to continue on, and revelling in their presence, immersing yourself in the logic of placing one footstep after the the next and moving forward within a landscape, exactly as we were designed. For the entire route I never once picked up my book and read anything. Nights were for sleeping and resting, days were to waking and using your body and to take moments to look around you. Of course, there is more needed to survive, but I really wonder if we’ve loaded ourselves down with way too much gear, trudging through our lives with nothing but thoughts of how to add more gear to the pack and how to make money to purchase more of this heavy gear. It’s insane. And to allow oursleves to be subjected to others who seem to assume that they have a right to place themselves above us and order us to live according to their values, who think of nothing but possessions and assume that all of us must dedicate our lives to that. Exactly what is wrong with us?

After the evening the other day when the doldrums hit me and I wrote about being sad, I returned to the campsite and encountered two British rock climbers who invited me into their tent for a beer. We eneded up talking most of the evening and their sense of humor really cheered me up (I love the way the British counter hardship or adversity with laughter). We got together the next day, too, and sat in a pub talking for hours about problems with young British kids, about equipment for walking, about global warming, movies, good places to travel, environmental education, the best kinds of cheese, and again about outdoor equipment. I left Champex with a feeling a contentment and completion that belied the loneliness I had felt earlier.

Tuesday turned out to be a miserable day in terms of weather. The climb up to Le Bovine Pass just kept getting colder and colder and by the time I arrived at the tiny mountain hut at the top my fingers were numb and everything was wet and freezing. So when I opened the mountain hut door and found a glowing atmosphere of walkers sitting around a wood stove and eating the wonderful food the proprietor was cooking for everyone it was like, as a fellow walker claimed later that day, “Opening a present.” We all sat in there cupping our mugs of hot chocolate between our palms and praising the warmth. For lunch I ordered a “roesti”, a Swiss mountain specialty of pan-fried potatoes mixed with cheese, onions, tomatoes, and egg. none of us wanted to head out into the cold again.

Everything was wet again, of course, within an hour of heading down the other side of the mountain. Because the trail passed through several mountain ranches the trail had been trampled into a sea of mud through which I had to trudge. I had forgotten to take my afternoon insulin while in the hut, so my legs started cramping up and walking became really painful. I finally reached the campsite in Le Peuty, near Trient, at about seven in the evening, and there no one there, just a wet, lonely field of drenched grass with a small shelter under which to eat. I thought I’d have to spend a cold night alone here, when I discovered the fireplace in the shelter and the proprietor of the campsite drove by just then, offering dry wood for the fireplace. I fairly danced for joy at the prospect of being able to sit in front of a roaring fire, eating dinner. Just then two women… actually the same women who had camped above my site at Champex and who had arrived earlier in the day at the mountain hut at Bovine just as I was leaving… arrived on the scene, also dripping wet and worried about the idea of a cold wet night. We teamed up and outfitted the shelter so that it was protected from the wind and rain, hung up our belongings to dry, set up the wooden table in the middle for a nice dinner of couscous and chili con carne, and lit a warm, dancing fire. We spent half the evening praising the fire and voicing our joy at its warmth. After a filling and delicious dinner (it was just chili con carne and couscous, but it tasted like the best meal you could buy at an expensive restaurant) we sat back sipping tea and talking about our dreams and traveling in distant lands. WE all agreed that this eveing would be one that we’d remember for the rest of our lives.

Yesterday was glorious. The sun broke through and after climbing the long and steep trail up to Col de la Balme, I crested the last high point of this journey and came face-to-face with Mont Blanc again in all its glory, floating on the sunlit morning clouds. Walkers from all over sat with their backs against the Col de la Balme mountain hut, soaking in the sunshine and basking in the wonder of the distant mountains. The two women sat next to me and we cut slices from the bread we had brought with us and sat laughing at the difference between last night and today.

Then it was time to saw good bye. They headed on further toward the place I had started the journey, while I headed down to the valley, to Le Tour, and beyond to Chamonix. The end of the walk. And a mixed bag of sadness and relief. Soon I’d have to return to Japan and to my miserable little apartment and the oppressive job I had gotten myself mixed up in. But it had been a wonderful walk, one that would remain one of the best memories of my life, in spite of hardships. But that is what makes such journeys so memorable and special. I got to know a new place, made some great new friends, and revived an old ghost inside me that I’ve needed to talk to for a long time. I’m ready to go home, for now.

I’ll be in Europe for another week, visiting Interlakken and Zermatt. I’d love to go to Italy, but I just don’t have the money to travel around a lot any more. Besides, Italy needs its own proper stretch of time in order to appreciate the right way. Three or four days is just not enough.

I’m happy with what I got and found. And that’s all you can really ask from a good journey.

Categories
Japan: Living Journal Musings

Ridiculous!

My Picture 1

It can’t all be serious! I think I’ve been sounding more or less like a brooding trogolodyte these last few weeks, as if all I do is walk around with a personal cloud raining on my head. Well, you can rest assured that I haven’t died quite yet. As evidenced by this interaction with my new computer, there are moments in my threadbare office when even I can loosen the bolts a bit and come undone. Hope this doesn’t make all of you lose faith in my sanity!

My Picture 2

What to do? This place has gotten me all twisted out of shape. At times I don’t know what is up or down and I have doubts about my own ability to show some backbone…

My Picture 3

Never fear! Everything that you thought was important, is not. Everything you held most dear, an illusion. You can laugh it all off and never lack for material…

My Picture 4

But, of course, it is then so easy to let it all go to your head, that indifference and pooling of outdated trivia…

My Picture 5

All my life I struggled with what it means to be a truly good person. And the closer I try to come to the ideal, the more the mirror reflects what looks like… a gnome?

My Picture 6

I seem to be a dichotomy, shoulder to shoulder with my own headaches… What’s that? You want me to pop the blackhead on the end of my nose? Sometimes I just don’t appreciate being frank with myself…

My Picture 8

Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and just be yourself. No need for exaggeration. Even if all the color drains from your eyes.

My Picture 7

Okay, I give up. I’d rather close my eyes and float away on daydreams than shoulder the burden of embarressment. Oh? I guess it’s true what they say… the best writing comes when you skip the “I’s” and settle for the “he’s” and “she’s” and “they’s”. Why focus on yourself?

Categories
Chiba Far and Wide Japan: Living Japan: Photos Journal Musings Photos

I Sing of Birds and Dream in Neon

(Photos taken with my cell phone camera)

Gomyo Nightstrip

It was like floating in space. The darkness spread out in all directions, unmoving sea of ink, its edges and breadth punctuated by distant neon signs, dotted lines of isolated street lamps, and faraway glowing house windows. In the middle of the darkness, here, where my feet encountered the asphalt, a chilly wind insisted upon reminding me of the path I had taken from my temporary new home somewhere back there. I had intended to make a roundabout circuit of the rice paddies that surrounded the university where I have now been working for the past three weeks (has it been three weeks already?), following the god-like point-of-view of the town map, but being the mortal of limited perception that I am, somewhere in the dark I got lost. Just like when I lose my bearings in the mountains I stopped in my tracks and stood casting about for something familiar. But there was nothing to turn to, not even the path itself. Instead I was floating upon blackness. Twenty minutes into my run and my first venture into this unfamiliar landscape and already I was having an out-of-body experience.

More by feel than academic certainty, I tip-tapped my toes along the fronds of grass at the side of the path and slowly made my way back the way I had come. The path sloped down into an irrigation ditch at one point and I could hear the trickle of water down at the bottom. The sky was vast above, the stars more spare than usual, as if competing for attention with the neon lights. Soon I heard the rush of cars on the main road nearby and the switch to gravel on the path. I found one of the street lamps and headed toward it, eventually getting back on the main, paved lanes and jogging the rest of the way to the university.

JIU Moon

Dawn view of the university where I work.

When I swung the door open the brisk autumn air grabbed me and slapped me awake. A gibbous moon floated in the glacial blue of the morning sky, and a moment later a sparrow hawk arched over the white disk, its wings beating heavily. It was an omen. And for the first time in days I felt a loosening in my chest, and I took my first step into the neighborhood that shed its sense of dislocation and dread. The sun had not quite nudged its pate over the edge of the world, still waiting, perhaps for me to find more space and more distance. So I started on my second foray into the rice fields.

Gomyo Station

The train station which serves the university. The train line is so small it only has four stations, and trains come but once an hour.

Everything was different with light added. The dark car ports and sinister doghouses, pointy rooftops and fence doors banging in the wind, all had acquired a bit of color in their cheeks so that it now seemed pretty and domestic. Even the dry crackle of dead grass at the verge of the road, which had raised the hairs on the back of my neck two nights before, now wafted up the sweet smell of vegetation. Here and there locals strolled with their dogs along the roadside or hurried through their morning health walk. And everywhere, simply everywhere, sang and fluttered birds. Birds, birds, birds, like a a regal processional for the sun king.

For the first time in over twenty five years I spotted a bull-headed shrike (Lanius bucephalus), first by its slightly hysterical chatter, and then by its heavy, twitching leaping from branch to branch to telephone wire. Further on, also a long-missed friend from my early years of birding, the sky shrilled to the breathless melodies of skylarks (Alauda arvensis), as they climbed higher and higher, singing all along, into the blue until you could no longer make out the tiny dot of their hovering wings and then came diving down as if to strike the earth, only to pull away just before reaching the ground. In the first twenty minutes I filled up my notebook with a dozen old familiar names I hadn’t seen in a long time: gray heron, cormorant, yellow wagtail, kestrel, eared grebe, lesser golden plover, yellow-breasted bunting…

So this place wasn’t so bad after all…

Gomyo Sluice

Sluice gate for rice paddy irrigation. Leaving the main collection of houses of the town behind, the land opened up here. I could even smell the salt on the air from the ocean ten kilometers away.

Gumyo Chikan

Sign warning women to be careful of gropers and exhibitionists. Kind of took away some of the innocence of the rice paddies beyond. And gave it a bit more real history…

Gumyo Shadow

When the sun came up and sliced its yellow knife across the fields, I joined my shadow companion for some pantomiming fun.

Gumyo Shrine

Here and there some of the traditions remained from the Chiba (the name of this prefecture) of old. It is a land of wind and storms, and traditionally everything around the homes was protected by high hedges and islands of windbreaks. Today the unprotected modern houses and slap-dash way of building the highway bypasses completely ignore the earlier awareness of this rather brusque landscape. During the runs there were few places to get get out of the wind.

Gumyo Tambo Lane

I’d wanted a place to go for long walks and I found it. Now I needed to take the time to slow down and look more deeply.

I returned to the guest house still glowing with the pumping of my blood and the heat of sun against my retinas. Before entering the enclosure of the housing development though I stood atop the overpass that climbed over the train station, the highest point in the immediate neighborhood, and surveyed 360 degrees, the extent of this new place I had taken a step into. For better or worse, this was home for now. A lot was about to happen, with some wrenching changes, but it was off to a good start. The floating had stopped and I had settled back on earth. The thing was, could I keep from slipping back into the long years of waiting I had just molted myself of? Each day now would be baby steps, but new. Perhaps it is good to sometimes pare yourself down to the essentials and see where they take you.

Categories
Blogging Journal

Neurons Firing

Random thought: With all the uncertainty of what blogging/ web journaling/ rippling constitutes, I wondered last night if perhaps it is kind of latter day, secular confessional. You’ve got the screen, the listener with the feedback, the anonymity, the focus on oneself, and even the worship of a huge, all-pervading organization, with its priests of information. The time that we spend spilling our hearts almost seems to be trying to make up for the years of silence we all endured as we gave up the old institutions…

Suggestion… For those of us for whom good writing makes up the most important aspect of web journaling, I would like to propose a vote for the best written entries of 2003. We could start with single suggestions from bloggers (except one’s own blog, of course), tallying up, say, 30 of the the most often named entries, then vote again to pare it down to 10 entries, that can then be posted on their own page. Any ideas on this? Can you even remember any specific entries? (I find it quite difficult…!)

Evolution… A while ago I wrote that blogging is probably a new form of communication, still in its infancy and offering something that neither books nor magazines can. Beth of Cassandra Pages discusses this new trend, too, talking of our being pioneers in a new medium. Many of us have struggled with the sense of addiction that blogging brings out in us, and, for those of who are writers, the way it seems to invade the time we spend writing for print. William Gibson, the science fiction writer, went so far as to quit his blog because he found blogging to interfere too much with his writing. The funny thing is, blogging instigates us into writing everyday in a way that print writers only dream of! Many people who have never written before, suddenly find that writing is actually fun. What is it about blogging that gets you coming back, day after day, month after month, and probably year after year? Even online chatting never had me so hooked (I’ve completely stopped doing it). My hunch is that it’s fireside storytelling reborn. Where anyone round the fire can have a go. No hierarchies, no filters, no initiation process that stills the voices of those who don’t make it into some inner circle. The spreading of the word like wildfire. Minds suddenly set free.

An interesting development is that while this site receives quite a few visitors, my other blog, Harubaru: Far and Wide has from the beginning recieved almost no visitors. It is an illustrated fiction blog, originally intended for children, but I’m wondering if it just doesn’t work if done as an individual’s blog. Perhaps fiction in a blog needs to be created jointly, or perhaps it doesn’t work at all?

There is a lot of exploring to be done, and the imagination is rife with possibilities. It will be interesting to see what develops from here on.

Categories
Humor Journal

Arhem!

I’ve decided that I need to write something funnirial. And challiarging for the speldchicarner. Not anything earslitting or bellyarchical or anaesthysing like that. Just somesting counterlative to the slewt of potaten salad gruftiness of my last fued enteritries. For farth tood long have I wayloaded in svelt-pituity, constantinopoly frocussing upon the darthkling sidelongs of the wyrrald. Therrust must be mortok to the actuallections of darley elixisistentious than wharf the newstactions ripplort abuit the wyrrald. You knyow, that parhips there are actuallectilly goord thyings hiphopning arondel the wyrrald, tood. Like riucht nowst. The suurn cominigith uurp, the firsest liricht of the dyey. It is goord to byen arliv.

(just needed to break out of the regular pattern here. nothing too groundbreaking…)

Categories
Art of Living Journal Musings

Fingers in the Loam

Oregon Log
Driftwood log washed up on the Oregon Dunes State Park beach, south of Newport, Oregon, 1984.

Lately I’ve been wondering a lot about the direction I’ve taken in my life. Here I am living in a city (Tokyo) that, while safe and stimulating and quite airy and quiet compared to, let’s say New York, or Boston, or London, still strays about as far from the kind of environment that I thrive in as I could have chosen. My work, aside from struggling to make it as a writer (not an easy thing to do from Japan if you write in English) and illustrator, teaching English in the evenings is fulfilling in that I love my students, enjoy the company of my colleagues, and have discovered over the years that teaching brings out the best in me, and stirs up both the desire to distill what I know in younger people and to learn from them in return. But that is not where I started out from or where I first set course for when I headed to the University of Oregon back in 1978, fresh from Japan. I look back and try to filter out all the fascinating elements that kept building up the layers of my learning and maturing to the bedrock of the person I always felt myself to be. The grasp of my existence that withstands even the hardest winds. And always I come back, basically, to two words: Nature and Words. When all else falters I can always count on these two concepts and ways of making sense of the world to wait for me at the bottom of the barrel.

I have always known these things as essential to who and what I am. My first glimmerings of awareness of the world around me inevitably arise, with an intensity often blind to other things around, framed in the light of how the natural world looked or how things were said. The most intense memories nearly always hover around natural places or creatures or around books that I’ve read or conversations that I’ve engaged in. Numbers seem to get filtered out, as well as all the popular attractions that other boys always go gaga over, like flashy cars, cushy jobs, team sports, or irreverent talk about women. It made me strange to boys and men around me, and even today many men don’t have a clue as to how to begin a conversation with me, and I often feel I have nothing to say in return. My heroes as a child were Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau, and George Schaller. None of the men or women that I knew did anything close to these three.

After studying creative writing, literature, geography, and ecology (with an apprenticeship in animation under animator Ken O’Connell… he was quite disappointed with me when I left, and I often regretted the decision since then), all of which I loved, for some reason unknown to everyone in my family and close friends, I decided to study architecture for graduate school. I’m not sure of the reasons myself, except that I imagined some kind of marriage between art, social work, and sustainable development (not yet a term at that time). There was also an unspoken need to satisfy a restlessness in my father whenever he spoke to me about what I was planning to do. My talk of writing and my lifelong love for wild animals, especially insects, never seemed to elicit the reaction I was hoping for, but when he heard that I had been accepted into architecture school, his voice changed. I still remember the way his eyes lit up the first time I saw him upon returning to Japan for the summer. It was only just two weeks ago that I learned that he had dreamed of becoming an architect when he was just out of high school.

Architecture didn’t work out. While the studies were fascinating and the tumble of new ideas and the breadth of learning needed to develop into a master at this craft staggering, I never had the patience to sit for hours debating the orientation of a structure’s axis or to put up with the penis envy of all the star (almost always male) students and teachers. I soon discovered that, like Antonio Salieri, I could pick out and appreciate good design, I just didn’t have the knack for organizing spatial elements in a way that brought out the soul of a project. I found no joy in the process. It was always a struggle. One of my fellow students once remarked, when he came into the studio at 3:00 a.m. and found me cursing at my conceptual sketches, “If you dislike it all so much, why don’t you just give up? It doesn’t make sense to torment yourself like this.”

Still I persisted, convinced that it was only lack of knowledge that made me feel so frustrated and empty. I went on to live in Boston, where I struggled for five years to make it as an architect. Only three jobs came my way, one of whose bosses laid me off after one month, in favor of his nephew, who had never studied architecture. On my bicycle commutes to work along the Charles River, more and more something else began to rear its head inside me, a ghost from the past, drawn by the nighthawks swooping over the evening waters and the ice breaking up along the banks. I began to arrive late at work, drawing looks of disapproval and a few warnings from my manager.

During a month-long bicycle ride from Denmark to Paris all the voices from that earlier time when I felt I had been absorbed, body and soul, into the exercises of fulfillment that characterized close encounters with wild places, exploded into my awareness like a flock of skittish ducks. I knew what had been missing, knew what I ought to have been about. I returned to Boston heady with change, but scared. My boss, a nice man, overworked, with never enough time to see his newborn daughter, took me aside and said, “I hate to do this, but your heart just isn’t in architecture. I’m going to have to let you go. I would think seriously about what you want to do with your life.” Harsh words at the time, but perhaps the best advice I ever got.

It took a lot of sucking up my pride and working at dead-fisheye jobs to gradually swing the prow away from architecture. After all, there was all the money I had put into the studies, and all the years of self-prestidigitation to overcome. Japan harbored the old beginnings of my first foray and so back I went to pick up the string where I had dropped it. I’ve written my first book, decided that I want to teach, and am full of certainty that I want more of authentic time in the natural world. It is all there.

Perhaps, as Fujiko Suda expresses in the concept of “shu-ha-ri” used in the development of one’s thinking in marital arts, I had to go through all that to be able to come to this node that I am standing on right now. Like making a run around the rim of the volcano only to come back to this point. I’ve gathered all the tinder and kindling I need to start the fire; I know what I want to cook and then to eat. All the husks and peels have been pared away, and everything that I have built up until now has been discarded. My knife is poised and I must kill the Buddha.

But, damn, it’s hard taking that step! I’m terrified of that fall, without a bottom. It’s so much easier and familiar to just wait here, like a wolf whose cage has just been opened to freedom, afraid to step outside. My eyes know that there is nothing to it, but the hippocampus recoils. The mind is not always in agreement.

Perhaps I’ll just wait until tomorrow.

Categories
Blogging Journal

Phew!

When I got home from work this evening I switched on the computer, sat down in my trusty swivel chair, and flicked the cursor over to my e-mail client… and promptly got a load full of 160 e-mails, mostly spam. Among these there were several e-mails from readers, telling me that my ripple journal could not be accessed. When I opened the journal in my browser, I found all the posts of yesterday deleted, everything that had had anything to do with all the spamming that had been going on.

My first reaction was total panic and when it dawned on me that I wouldn’t have a clue what to do if there had been some malicious targeting of my site, deep, sinking depression. I was so down about the possibility that someone might wish me harm that I seriously thought about just giving up blogging altogether. I just didn’t want to deal with all the stupid technical stuff and was mentally exhausted from the onslaught of the past week. Months of working at and learning how to put together a blog had developed a sense of accomplishment and pride that left me feeling pretty vulnerable when the possibility of losing it to some creep who couldn’t care less hit me.

Sometimes my imagination gets the better of me, though. After pulling myself away from the computer to sit and watch a children’s animation on TV and just forget about all this mess (and eating a delicious tiramisu pudding in the process) I came back, renewed, and headed over to my server homepage to have a chat with the administrator. To my surprise I discovered that the server’s hard drive had failed right about the time I had posted my last posts. THAT explained the loss of my data. And WHAT A RELIEF THAT WAS! I contacted the administrator and right away he replied that he had managed to save my index file from earlier in the day. Phew!

An interesting side thought, though. While I pondered the effects of possibly not being able to continue the blog, I also realized just how wrapped up in it I was. I have to remember that the journal is not my life; it is what I am trying to write about that is my life. Hopefully I can remember this.

Now to get back to real writing!


Apology

I’ve been trying to restore all the data in my website from before the server crash, but unfortunately only my main blog content could be retrieved. All the recent comments that everyone made have been permanently lost. I apologize to everyone for this. It is my policy never to touch comments in any way, unless the content is lewd, overly belligerant, irrelevant to this journal (such as spam), or disrespectful to me or others who leave comments here. Since the crash I’ve backed up the whole site, just in case. Comments are part of the journal, so I would prefer to preserve them if I can. I hope the deletion of former comments doesn’t affect anyone leaving comments.

Categories
Journal Musings

Idle Mind

Orkney Circle Sunset
Sunset over the Ring of Brodgar, the Orkney Islands, Great Britain, 1995.

My pet Red Slider Turtle Pepe, now about six years old, spends ninety percent of his time sleeping upon the sunning rock in his aquarium. Weeks go by without his doing more than waking, eating, defecating, and sleeping once again. I’ve often watched him as he slept and wondered what goes on in a mind like his. What insight of Nature, a practical and frugal taskmaster, prepared a creature like Pepe for passing the hours? Surely the “idle” time that I perceive must hide some purpose that contributes towards his survival? Or does the universe work upon the principle of expending the least amount of energy on awareness?

Wild cats do it, too, lying drowsy or alert upon a promontory, surveying the land below. They will spend hours doing this, days sometimes, just watching. What goes on in their minds? Do they work out tactics or is it a strip of fog, with only movement having any true significance? Would Nature waste the resources of a mind by letting hours go by without purpose or relevance?

So often I feel guilty when I allow time to slip by without making use of it. All my life the society around me has told me that time is a commodity, like money, and that when you don’t use it it goes to waste. And yet those times that I’ve allowed myself to drift have often pinned themselves to my history as the most poignant in my life; my six month bicycle trip across Europe taught me just how slowly the pace of the mind moves within the cycles of the Earth’s seasons and the rolling of the planet. The quick shutter release of city life somehow leaves my mind behind, forever trying to catch up, and never quite aware of itself or where it is.

Doris Lessing, in her book “The Making of the Representative for Planet 8” discusses the role of dreams in life and suggests that dreaming may be the awareness of reality as it really is, that the reason one cannot live without dreams, and why other creatures besides us also dream, is that perhaps reality consists of layers, of which this physical reality is but a facade for the final awakening we all must eventually go through. She asks why it is that so often what we dream seems more real than what we perceive in our waking life, but at the same time we can never find the words to describe this super-reality.

Surely with our knowledge of the insubstantiality of the universe, the way bodies are made up of such ephemeral particles as atoms and quarks and dark matter, should alert us to the possibility that the reality that we perceive day by day is but an illusion. Perhaps the colors and landscapes of our dreams and imagination are glimpses into who and what we really are.

Perhaps turtles and cats have front row tickets to viewing the world as it really is and without effort they are able to recognize creation as the dance that it is. Sleep and dreams may be more than down time for our cells to regenerate. Perhaps they are lessons for us to awaken to, for the next step in our evolution. Perhaps there is much more going on than we even have an inking of.

Categories
Japan: Living Journal Life In

Country Bumpkins

Great Meadows Heron
Young Great Blue Heron still foraging through the water lilies in late autumn, long after the adults have left. Great Meadows State Park, Concord, Massachusetts, 1990.

Maybe because November winds are blowing and daylight is stopping short of 5 o’clock Tokyoites have moulted into blacks and greys and seem more sombre than ever on the trains. In the annual rite of mourning the sunlight, some students file into my classroom on the verge of somnambulism, the same people who had filled the lessons with laughter and energy during the soporific summer heat. The cells know better. It is time to shut down, to conserve your calories, and hide in the shadows. And on the trains dour commuters pinch their frowns a little further.

So it was quite a delight when this elderly couple stepped on the train while I was on my way home tonight. The man wore an old, ill-fitting navy blue suit, and the woman an old grey flannel dress, probably their best clothes. The man’s skin was mahogany brown from a lifetime out in the sun, and his wife wore her hair tied back and had a smile full of flashing gold fillings. The moment they stepped on the train the man’s voice was too loud for the confines of Tokyo sensibilities and everyone turned to stare at them both. The old man had the temerity to turn to the business man reading the newspaper beside him, bow his head, and apologize in his hillside bred voice, “Sorry! Sorry! Just have to push my way into this sardine can and jostle all you folks. Please, don’t mind me. Pay no attention to me.”

His wife pressed her hand over her golden teeth and suppressed a giggle. “Look dear, you shouldn’t bother this nice Tokyo man like that!” The Tokyo man rustled his newspaper but kept his nose buried in the news.

Sitting down right beside the two newcomers was a young couple, probably in their late teens, dressed in the whimsical fashion of those who love trance music. The boy wore a loden green tunic with a hood, and had a leather satchel, studded with bolts, slung over his shoulder. The girl wore an onionskin series of Indian and Indonesian gauzy, printed fabrics, not unlike a moth with gossamer wings. Both of them were deeply involved with one another, faces pressed together, legs entwined, in a way that, here in Japan, definitely meets with clucking disapproval, even glares from the elderly.

The train stopped at one station to wait for the following express train to pass and the two lovers suddenly jumped up and stepped outside. As they stood up, some gum that had been left on the seat pulled in a long green string from the boy’s bottom, with a large green blob fixed to the seat.

The elderly couple, seeing the seats open up made to sit down, but the old man noticed the gum just in time. In a loud voice he called out, “Now who would do such an inconsiderate thing? This is really terrible.” he grabbed the boy’s arm as he made to step off the train. “Did you do this? Would you leave gum on a seat to trouble another person?”

The boy looked back, surprised, “Oh gosh, I’m sorry!” he blurted out at first, then corrected himself. “But I didn’t chew any gum. It wasn’t me.”

The old man frowned, then laughed. He pulled out a newspaper from his wife’s handbag, placed it over the gum on the seat, and announced to everyone in the car, “I’m going to sit down and just have a test to see if this gum will stick to my buttocks. Don’t worry about me!” He plopped down on the newspaper, wriggled his butt, and sighed. “My dear”, he said to his wife. “It’s safe.” She sat down beside him, both of them laughing. For about five minutes, as the train waited, the two of them discussed, in full-throated enthusiasm, the perils and effects of sitting down on wet gum.

After the express train had passed the boy and the girl stepped back into the train and stood in front of the elderly couple. The old man started talking with them, asking where they were from. The two were shy at first, because no one talks to each other on trains in Tokyo, but their demeanor changed as it became clear to the four of them that they all came from the countryside, all from up north in “backward” Tohoku, the boy from Iwate, the girl from Miyagi, and the old man and woman from Fukushima. The old man let out of roar of laughter, folding his arms and nodding. “I’m just an old country bumpkin (“inakappe”) and don’t know anything about living in the big city. Just came here to attend my brother’s funeral, that’s all. And today I went downtown to look at the big electronics stores. And what are you two young uns doing here, anyhow?”

“Studying,” replied the girl, smiling shyly, completely different from the lover making out on the seat just ten minutes earlier.

They talked until the train arrived at the young couple’s station and they both made to leave. “Wait,” said the old man. “How’s the chewing gum on your butt?”

“We got most of it off,” said the girl.

“Lemme have a look,” said the old man, and he made to grab the boy’s buttocks.

“Dear! You don’t go around grabbing strangers’ butts! What will people think?”

The girl hooted with laughter and the boy tried unsuccessfully batting the old man’s hand away while blushing red as a tomato. The old man’s wife managed to subdue her husband and let the young couple exit the train. They looked back, laughed, and waved good bye. I was sitting half a seat length away, barely able to keep from joining in the laughter. Everyone else peered down at their shoes or newspapers or cell phones, frowning, pretending they hadn’t witnessed a thing.

At the next station the elderly couple got off and fell behind as the train pulled away. The train fell silent again and I watched the rain hitting the window panes. But a warmth remained. A sense of a vital force having just passed through, like a fresh wind. I got off at my station and whistled as I walked home, in the dark.

Categories
Blogging Journal Musings

Ugly Word

Wood Slats
Wall of a mountain hut store house, Shirabiso Lake, Yatsugatake Mountains, Japan 2003.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think the word “blog” is just plain ugly? It sits heavy in the mouth, confuses everyone, and conjures up images of some wasting disease or putrid creature.

It is especially irritating for me, since what I am attempting to achieve with writing on my site is a certain elegance and facility with using words. I love words, love savoring them, love listening to their sounds, and the way subtle nuances cause incremental shifts in your guts or the colors that you perceive. When I read the words of masters who weave miracles out of their literature, like Michael Ondaatje or Tolstoy, Shakespeare or Annie Dillard, Rainier Maria Rilke or Mary Oliver, I am literally left speechless with awe and wonder. Reading their words seems to unfurl some vast sail or constellation. It is a joy.

But “blog”. Ugh… It sits dead in the water. One should remove it before it spreads too far. Perhaps it is already too late.

Any suggestions?