Categories
Europe: Travel Hiking Journal Mont Blanc: Travel Travel Ultralight Backpacking Walking

Alpine Journey 7: Memories of People I Love

Arrived in Champex this evening tuckered out from a harder climb than I had anticipated. Most of the early part of the walk wound through little hamlets with mazes of streets and crooked, weathered chalets that looked as if they had been standing there for several hundred years. Until now it was probably the most beautiful and cultural immersed portion of the walk, giving me a real sense of what the old Alps must once have been like. I wish I could see it in winter.

Don’t have time to write a lot right now, but during the last climb of the day I came upon a valley that so looked like what my grandfather used to take me walking to when I was a boy that all sorts of memories of my childhood in Germany, of relatives who died, like my grandparents and last year my aunt, from diabetic complications, that upon arriving in Champex and the still lake there with its tourist boats and little pensions, I almost broke down crying in the restaurant. I guess loneliness of the walk is getting to me… though I’ve met a lot of wonderful people, nothing really longer than a few hours, then I’m on my own again. In the restaurant a group of other walkers sat together relating the day’s experiences and it was hard just sitting there looking out at the lake with all those memories coming unasked. I closed my eyes for a while after drinking my coffee and wished each of my loved ones well, hoping everyone was peaceful and happy and not lonely anywhere.

The fight to keep your composure and make it through these trying moments is part of such a walk, of course. I hope I can make the walk something really worthwhile.

Wishing you all good night.

Categories
Hiking Journal Mont Blanc: Travel Travel Walking

Alpine Journey 6: Mountain Galleries

Just arrived in the village of La Fouly in Switzerland. Of all the places I’ve passed through until now it is the most quintessentially “Swiss alpine”. Sweeping green hillsides ringing with cowbells, chalets standing on stilts, stupendous peaks rising in the background, it is what I’ve always imagined the Alps to be like. They’re much more varied of course, but I guess most people travel with some predetermined image in their heads of what they expect to see. Much of that has been permanently damaged, and I will never quite see these places the same way again.

I was supposed to walk until Champex today, but when I arrived here and found that there were still four hours to go, I decided to call it a day. It’s a nice enough little place, perfect for holiday travelers, and would be great if I had a lot more money and someone to share a room with! I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants a quiet place to hole up for a few days and go for great walks.

I’m loving the mountains, but I’m getting a little tired of the constant, just hand’s-breadth away, stand-offishness of the bigger mountains on this walk. The Tour de Mont Blanc is like a stroll through an enormous art gallery, the path skirting the grandness of the mountains, but never quite touching them, with the walker leaning in from along the edges, making out the gigantic forms, but never feeling their solidity underfoot. It is so different from the walks in the Alps in Japan, where you always get right into the grit of the climbs and feel the vastness of the mountains underneath you. Of course, these mountains are colder and higher and so you don’t have the same freedom as a casual walker to simply go up to the high ridges without specialized knowldege.

Entering Italy was an experience in high blood sugars as every meal seems to come with two courses and then a before dessert morsel, followed by a dessert. Last night in the mountain refuge that I stayed out I discovered the Italians at their most cheerful sitting around eating, drinking, and talking. Out on the trails, however, I found them unusually reticent, especially the men, very rarely looking directly at you and saying hello. Forget the smiles. So different from the French who readily sang out their greetings and often stopped to engage me in little chats about where I came from and where I was going. This was completely unexpected. I’d always heard of Italians being so open and friendly, and the French closed-mouthed. Maybe the Italians were all still recovering from the festivities of the night before.

Had an absolutely horrific night at the hotel in Courmayeur the second day. A contingent of Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) walkers had overtaken the little room I was in. An elderly woman slept in the bed next to mine and once the lights went out she proceeded to snore like a locomotive. After several hours of lying awake, unable to sleep and hearing others in the room shifting as they also attempted to sleep, I finally took it upon myself to nudge the woman’s bed each time she began her aria in an attempt to curb the noise. After the third nudge she sat up and snarled something at me in Italian. When I answered in English she returned, “Two people can’t sleep. Do you have a problem with that?” I told her that, much as I didn’t want to wake her, her snoring was so loud that it was impossible to sleep. She didn’t apologize or even acknowledge that perhaps she was making everyone else unhappy, but instead called to her sleeping husband and asked to exchange beds with him. That solved nothing, of course, and when her snoring started up again, I got so miffed that I packed up my backpack and headed out to the front of the hotel to sleep on the lawn chairs there. It was freezing but I got a rather good doze in while gazing up at the stars.

Last night was my first night sleeping in the tent. The refuge I was hoping to stay at, Rifugio Elena, told me that there were no places left and the only place available was the open field out back. It was a ruinous place where every other step had you stepping into cow patties and it smelled like a dirty barn, and the wind coming off the col above was glacial, but inside the tent it was warm enough. I slept very well.

Tomorrow I’m off north across the northern portion of the Tour. Four more nights to go.

Categories
Europe: Travel Hiking Journal Mont Blanc: Travel Travel Ultralight Backpacking Walking

Alpine Journey 5: Italian Grasshoppers

It’s Thursday morning in Courmayeur, Italy. I just arrived yesterday evening after a very hard day of walking. I was so tired and my legs hurt so much last night, I couldn’t go up and down the stairs at the “dortoir” (a hotel where many people stay in one room… everything is expensive here so I have to be very careful with money. Luckily I am the only person here! Though it is a bit lonely) I am staying at.

Today is the fifth day of the walk, but I am resting for the day. So far the walk has been absolutely wonderful. I can’t express how beautiful the mountains here are and how BIG they are! Mont Blanc, which I saw yesterday, is 4800 meters tall, 1000 meters taller than Mt. Fuji, and when you look at it you feel very very small. Yesterday when I took a lunch break above the valley I sat for an hour just looking at the whole range while eating French bread with “Tombe” cheese (it’s like Blue Cheese, but I like it much more) and Haute Savoie sausage (salami).

I’ve met a lot of interesting people, especially every night at the mountain huts. Yesterday I walked with a French man named Sebastien who took me to see one of the biggest glaciers in Europe, the Glacier de la Miage. The rocks at the end of the glacier (called “morraine”) took a half hour to climb! We sat talking at the top of the morraine where it was very quiet and we could see the whole valley below. Right along the outside edge of the morraine nestled the ruins of an old Roman settlement. Sebastien commented on how quiet the area was. We strolled through it and just didn’t have words for both the enormousness of the elements and the sheer sense of peace. I also met a big group of French elderly people who, though we couldn’t understand each other, laughed a lot and invited me to drink some local specialty liquor with them. Whenever we met on the trail everyone would raise their walking sticks and shout, “The German-Filipino from Japan!”

People here are walkers, real walkers. Some of them have legs so rippling with walking muscles that it is a bit intimidating, but also inspiring to get myself to be out in the mountains a lot more than I have been. The walking times listed on the trail signs always seem too enthusiastic and I can never quite finish the trails at the same times, though that probably has a lot to do with all the times I stop to take photos. A German family, whom I met at Refugio Elisabetta, laughed when they saw me taking my photos, “Ah, what can you expect, he’s Japanese!”

The weather has been very sunny and hot. My sun tan is dark like chocolate now and I’m sure when I get to Japan many people will think I come from Pakistan or India. I entered my first town in Italy yesterday and it is very strange to be here with everyone speaking Italian. Everything looks Italian, even the grasshoppers, which move slowly and have many bright colors. I wonder why Japanese grasshoppers move more quickly than Italian grasshoppers? Kicking through the grass along the side of the trail and smelling the great variety of herbs that grew there, I wondered if the grasshoppers themselves had developed a philosophy of “Hasta Maniana”?

Strangely I haven’t seen any Japanese at all on the trail, very unusual, for Europe at this time of year. I wonder where they all went? The only Japanese I’ve seen so far during this whole trip was a bus load of them getting off to enter a Japanese restaurant in Chamonix. Though I know how homesick one can sometimes get from eating strange food every day, I just can’t understand how you can specifically organize your travels to a foreign country just so that you can eat the same food you eat at home all the time.

It is raining here in Courmayeur and I will walk downtown to look at the stores and maybe get something to eat. Tomorrow I will start walking again.

Categories
Europe: Travel Hiking Journal Mont Blanc: Travel Travel Walking

Alpine Journey 4: Chamonix Rain

Finally arrived in Chamonix, France, right at the base of the Alps. Had a big scare yesterday when my credit card PIN number wouldn’t register and I couldn’t get any money. Thought I was going to have to head back to Zurich Switzerland to find an American Express office to get some cash. With diabetes and the possibility of not being able to buy food in the mountains that meant my whole trip would have been over. I worried, too, that I woudn’t have a place to stay in town and I stood for several hours in the freezing rain yesterday evening making international phone calls and trying not to panic. Luckily a really kind woman at a backpacker’s lodge took pity on me and allowed me to stay without paying for one night. And I found a bank today that took my credit card.

The Alps overlook the town and now I can very well imagine why people before the mountaineers started up the peaks in the 1800’s believed that evil spirits and gods lived up there. It’s been raining straight and hard for four days now throughout the region and Chamonix is freezing. Made me glad that the other day while in Lucern in Switzerland I decided to buy a new, small tent instead of going with the GG SpinnShelter I had eventually brought. No way I’m going up there with just a tarp! These are by far the most massive mountains I’ve ever seen up close and it’s quite scary, though I’m sure ignorance is part of that. Two room mates at the backpacker’s lodge told me I don’t have to worry about snow on the Tour de Mont Blanc route. Hopefully I can be ready to start walking the day after tomorrow.

I still can’t believe I’m here, the birthplace of mountaineering. The whole town revolves around the mountains and it seems as if every other person here is garbed in mountain gear. When you look up over the rooftops there are clouds and then breaks in the upper parts of the clouds where snow covered rockfaces and white swaths that seem at first like melting cloud fabric, until you realize that it is a huge falling river of ice, a glacier, this one called “La Mer de Glace”, the Sea of Ice”. I can’t tell you how it affects my soul to see all this, like standing before a frozen dream with the clouds revealing just enough to strike you dumb.

I’ll be spending the next two days just relaxing and acclimatizing. Tomorrow I’ll try to take a short walk to see what conditions are like along the trails and to get my mind past the big scare I had yesterday. I’ll stay at the backpacker’s lodge simply because it has a real down-to-earth atmosphere with lots of other mountain walker’s there, in spite of the rather slovenly conditions. The room is located at the back of an old wooden ski lodge and is quiet, with two room mates, one of whom just completed a run around the Tour de Mont Blanc. Simply amazing!

I want to write more about a wonderful evening I had in Lucern with two Korean university students I met, but I’m standing in an internet cafe with lots of people waiting, so I’ll sign off for now.

Bon Promenade!

Categories
Europe: Travel Hiking Journal Travel Walking

Alpine Journey 3: Stumbling Above the City

This is my second day in Zürich and I had my first official walk in the hills in the afternoon. The day was searingly hot and all the people outside were sweating and getting lobster red sunburns (except for those great number of Swiss who seem to have permanent suntans and are in incredibly good shape- I’ve never seen so many people who so consistently look so fit). I took the train up into the hills overlooking the city and walked along the ridge to the south of the city. I was shocked by how similar it all was to the hills of Japan, especially to a very popular walk west of the metropolitan part of Tokyo called “Takao-san”. The only big differences were the number of working dairy farms complete with cows wearing bells, and the stunning views of the huge and turquiose green Lake Zürich. Unfortunately the haze in the air was so bad that the Alps remained invisible. I was hoping to see The Eiger. Because the cable car was closed for today I ended up having to walk down a very steep trail to the bottom of the hill at the end. And there I found that my thigh cramps had returned. I just hope my legs are up for the Alps!

Categories
Europe: Travel Hiking Journal Mont Blanc: Travel Travel Ultralight Backpacking Walking

Summer Peaks

It’s that season again when I can start up into the heights and go for long walks. This summer I’m planning to go to the Alps to walk the Walker’s Haute Route (these pcitures must have been from an earlier part of the season) from Chamonix and Mont Blanc to Zermatt and the Matterhorn. It’s not a technical route, so I don’t have to worry about glacier crossings and unpredictable terrain, but since I’ve been having excrutiating cramps in my legs due to diabetic problems, I’m really wondering if I’ll be able to be in shape in time for the walk. I’ve been running and walking ten kilometers every day to and from work and doing calisthenics at home (including following the Billy’s Boot Camp DVD) and in earlier years this would have gotten me in great shape by now, but the cramps are pretty debilitating. Very, very frustrating. I will be going to see a new doctor on Thursday. Hopefully she will be able to help me with the preparation instead of telling me that the trip is not possible. Right now this trip means a lot to me in terms of finding some confidence in myself. And besides I just need to get out of Japan!!

I will start in Zürich, Switzerland, where I will stay for one night before heading west toward Chamonix in France. Along the way I will stop in a town or two to see a little bit of Switzerland’s lowlands, before heading up into the hills. In Chamonix I will take a day or two to acclimatize and make sure my condition is all right. If it is I will start off on the two week walk, carrying minimal weight, with an ultralight backpack and gear (shouldn’t be more than 5 kilos at most). I want to walk the trail slowly, with stops along the way to savor what I came so far to see and to write and take photos. I may even go on side trips to neighboring villages and towns in Switzerland and Italy. After the walk I will head into Italy and spend a few days there, hopefully visiting some architectural sites. If my legs are having trouble I will walk along an easier trail and take my time with writing and drawing. Either way I think I will have a memorable trip.

I’m sorry about the state of my blog lately. For some reason I can longer access it from home and can only do it from work, where I don’t have much time to write. Have to work out the kinks.

I’ll post more about the summer travels and will try to get some photos of the seashore near my house that I recently discovered.

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

The Sea of Frogs Serenades for Me

Clouds Over a Rice Paddy

Between my home and the university where I work lies a stretch of rice paddies that takes me about 45 minutes to walk (or 20 minutes to bicycle). I came here in the middle of the winter while the land still lay fallow, the trees bare, and everything brown and dusty. The sense was of a landscape gone dry and dead, and the state of the dying town where I live didn’t help the overall impression that I had landed obliquely on the moon. Those first few weeks negotiating the dirt lanes on those early winter evenings, coupled with all the baggage brought from Tokyo, while being followed by hollow winds rolling off the coast, really made the whole area seem like some sort of banishment into the Gulag.

So when one evening as I walked home I caught the croaks of the first frog I’d heard in years, it was rather like feeling the first raindrop in a year of drought. Just the sound itself was green. Its voice arose from a hidden embankment, full of confidence and ardor, and hung in the darkness right out of reach.

Planning Night Rice

In the coming weeks the fields transformed as if by magic. Water flooded the empty platters of dried paddies, flowing in like mercury in the burning evening sun, while breezes scalloped the surfaces and prodded the sleeping frogs awake. I never would have thought the soil carried such a rich harvest of voices, but within a month the fields had awakened and the whole world seemed to erupt with the din of frogs, millions upon millions of them, as far as you could lean your ear and out beyond, where the wild reeds and rushes from last year rustled unseen in the shadows.

The sound of the frogs lit up something that I had not felt before here. In passing through the fields I found myself slowing down more and more to stop and simply listen, even though it was always after work and darkness had already fallen. With the neon lights of the mall strip road shining in the corner of my eye and enhancing the depth of the darkness all around me by visually dividing my head from my feet, when I hunkered down in the grass to listen close, it was like dropping into a darkened pond of sound, all else drowned out. The urgency of the frog song, its rhythm and texture, sang to something in me as a fellow living creature, rejoicing in the appetite of being alive. And a little, just a little, corner of my sadness and loneliness began to melt away.

Dried Sky Flowers

Farmers began to people the fields, planting rice seedlings in neat rows that suddenly gave scale to the duns and russets. And as if this was a cue the hills and copses all around sprang to life right along with the rice. In the blink of an eye there was green everywhere, and first hints, then rashes, and finally swaths of pink and red and yellow as flowers raced under the skies. What only a week before only shook in the wind, now billowed and swayed to the same music playing in my head. The days drew breath and expanded, loosening their belts to allow the light to spill out into the edges of wakefulness, longer and longer into the territory of night time. The walks lost their aura of anxiety and spending 45 minutes or more making my way between points seemed to grow shorter. I actually began to look forward to getting out of the office and crunching through the fields.

Bamboo Clearcut
Windblown Susuki

The frogs sing outside my bedroom window now. Spring has flourished. Each day more birds arrive, bringing with them new songs of hope. And new names: Great Reed Warblers, Common Gallinules, Woodcocks, Northern Shrikes, and Blue Rock Thrushes.

Horsetail and Dandelions
Rice Seedlings
Naruto Train
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
Journal Musings

Dark Side of the Hill

Much as I love immersing myself in the beauty of mountains and the peace that I find there, my recent refusal to write about things that make me angry or that I find unnecessarily ugly or unfair is tantamount to sticking my head in the sand. It’s not all pretty pictures, as you all know.

This morning I woke at dawn to go for a long walk, this time without my camera, just to be out there to look and see. I had slept well and in the dim enclosure of my apartment I moved about humming to myself. When I finally did open the front door and step outside, the air was brisk, with a sky flush with clouds. All the rooftops and trees rang out with the calls and songs of brown-eared bulbuls, jungle crows, great tits, tree sparrows (Passer montanus… not the Western hemisphere species), and hordes of flocking grey starlings. It should have been a tranquil and invigorating morning, but right on the street outside my apartment my crest fell.

A man walking his cocker spaniel waited as the dog did his number on the sidewalk, and then the man just walked off, without glancing at me, leaving the number to do its fly-ridden thing. It being a morning of serenity and tolerance I decided to shrug that off and continue walking. Two minutes later another man stepped, this time with three dachshunds, out of his newly built, meticulously manicured house and walled garden, into the gravel driveway belonging to the kindergarten next door, and waited as all three dogs did their numbers. When they were done, the man turned his heel and reentered his fastidious house, again, leaving the mess on the ground for bombardier beetles and maggots. Well, I told myself, this isn’t my home, and he seemed like a reasonable man, so let’s not assume anything here. So on I trundled, still in the mood for humming.

I rounded the next corner and came face-to-face with yet another housing development in the vicinity of my apartment… the seventeenth so far in my five years here… this time taking over a small park that must have been part of this area since I was born. Now, Chofu, my town, supposedly has a law which requires 20 percent of the land area to be reserved for trees and parks or small farms and nurseries. One of the reasons I moved here was to make sure that I had a least some semblance of greenery around me while in Tokyo. However, the big housing corporations like Daiwa House and Sekisui Homes and Mitsubishi Development must have made some under-the-table deals with city officials and bypassed the laws. Every single one of the green areas around my home, now that the little park had been taken, had disappeared during the five years I’ve been here, to be replaced by exceedingly cramped mockeries of American “little boxes on the hill top” “all made out of ticky tacky”, some with barely a meter of space between the walls of the houses. Everything was beginning to look exactly the same with none of the older expressions of individual creativity and the signs of various states of growth and dilapidation that traditional Japanese neighborhoods always carried with an air of dignity and pleasure.

I saw yet another man (always men… I’ve rarely seen a Japanese woman not carefully pick up after her dog) allowing his pomeranian to proliferate the various species of dung beetles that tumble about those odoriferous miniature landscapes, this time going out of his way to part some streetside azaleas, stepping into and trampling the branches, and setting the dog inside that space like a flower pot. He, too, after glancing guiltily about, walked away as if he were the only man in the world committing such misdemeanors.

As tends to happen when my eyes focus on certain subjects, my mind went into overdrive and saw all the ugliness repeated over and over again, the hideous housing developments, the pooing dogs, the litter-choked river, the signs shooing skateboarders and bicyclists away from the public parks, someone’s dirty panties by the side of the river path, a small, hidden slope seething with discarded refrigerators, bicycles, bookshelves, and stained mattresses, tendrils of plastic cordage suspended from trees, a flock of oily and filthy pigeons, many with club feet or deformed beaks, piles upon piles upon piles of garbage-filled plastic bags waiting to be picked up, the first bomber plane of the day roaring by toward the American air base in the west, the sickly-sweet odor of sewage and detergent flowing from a storm drain into the river, the carp and turtles poking about in the toxic mud of the ankle deep river water, and a horizon choked with rooftop after rooftop after rooftop after rooftop after rooftop…

I started clenching my fists in anger and felt my chest constrict, so that it was hard to breathe properly. I saw a man walk nonchalantly down to the river’s edge and, since it was dawn and few people were about, zip down his pants and send his urine arching into the water, and that did it for me. I couldn’t enjoy this walk. So I turned and headed back home.

Along the way I happened upon yet another man standing as his dog, this time a huge samoyed, did its contribution to the pinworm empire, right on the walkway of some student apartments. I almost walked past this man, too, but was boiling over with indignation, so I stopped, turned around and asked him point-blank, “Excuse me, are you intending to just leave everything there, right in front of that person’s home, in the walkway?”

He scowled and turned bright red. “No,” he replied.

“Ah, then you intend to pick up after the dog with your bare hands?”

He, of course, couldn’t reply to that, but he did anyway, “No.”

“What if I decided to do the same thing right in front of your house?” I asked.

“I probably wouldn’t like it,” he answered. I felt like I was talking to a naughty teenager.

“Please think about it then,” I said, and with that I turned and continued on home. I felt prickly and off balance, and scolded myself all the way to my door.

When back in the apartment I let out a great sigh, made myself some tea. Tea in hand I ventured to my computer and turned it on. Opened my e-mail. And found this news

“Tibetan Nun Shot by Chinese Soldiers at Nangpo Pass In the Himalaya”

Body of Nun in Tibet

Body of a Tibetan nun shot by Chinese soldiers at Nangpo Pass in the Himalaya.

Categories
Hiking Japan: Living Journal Nagano People Walking

Summer Walks Part 3- So September Blue

Houhou cloudwalk

View of the Shirane-Three Peaks, with Mt. Kitadake, the second highest mountain in Japan, off to the right side. Here Mt. Noutori rises above the clouds. The valleys hid in shadow below, while the world above basked in late summer sunlight.

Conversations heard along the trail.

“Where did that dog come from?”

“What dog?”

“The one standing there on the trail, looking down at us.”

“Wow. How’d he manage to get down those rock faces? We had to use chains!”

“And he’s just standing there, politely waiting for us to pass. A mountain dog with good manners!”

“Looks like he’s just out for an afternoon stroll. I wonder if he’s going or coming?”

“Coming, I guess. If you were from around here and knew this killer trail, would you be starting up right now?”

“He probably thinks we’re a little daft.”

“No doubt. Do you think that’s a smile on his face?”

“Look, I think he wants to pass now. I guess all this babbling has ruined his solitude.”

“Best let him pass then.”

“There he goes, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.”

Mt. Kannon

Looking back over the ridge toward Mt. Kannon. The whole array of peaks in the Houou Three Peaks range pay tribute to Buddhist luminaries, like the bodhisattvas Kannon and Jizo. Everywhere you walk tiny shrines and offerings to statuettes concentrate the presence of walkers’ involvement with the place. One ridge, where numerous walkers have died, shelters a group of jizo statues in memory of the walkers’ spirits. An almost eerie sense of others watching pervades the whole mountain range.

“I did not say that I didn’t want to wait for you, or that…!”

“You always have to show how tough and manly you are! Why can’t you just slow down?”

“I am slowing down. I’m trying to match your pace…”

“What, so you think I can’t climb this trail? You think I’m too weak to handle it?”

“I didn’t say that. I just don’t like falling behind and having to walk right behind some stranger in front of me.”

“Oh, so you think everyone here is too slow? FIne! I’ll just pick up my pace and make sure to be better than everyone else! See you later!”

“Hey, don’t do that. Come on. Where you going? Oh, come on. Don’t be silly…”

Houhou Fuji Man

Like a dark queen Mt. Fuji rises to the southeast. Though the deity that lives in the volcano is considered male in Japan, Mt. Fuji has always seemed like a female monarch to me. In the over thirty five years I have seen her, including five years living right at her base, where she surveyed me below in my apartment window, she has never revealed herself the same way twice. Dark and fiery red on summer days, wreathed in clouds in autumn, even gliding ghostly white on moonlit nights, she sits aloof and alone in her vast throne between the surrounding, more timid mountains.

“Are you all right?”

“I feel sick. I think I pushed myself too hard.”

“Here. Try some water. It might make you feel a little better.”

“I wasn’t trying to slow you down.”

“I know.”

“I’ve only been in the mountains once this year.”

“I know.”

“I slept badly all night.”

“I know.”

“That climb was really hard !”

“You can say that again! It was so steep and slippery I couldn’t even stand still to take a break!”

“I still haven’t forgiven you yet.”

“I know.”

Houhou Shy Fuji BW

The last peak before Houou descends into the valley. Seemingly from the top of every creeping pine, windblown larch, and outcropping, nutcrackers called and winged amidst the drifting clouds. Called “hoshi-garasu” (star crow) in Japanese, their spangled breasts flashed white as they whisked by.

“Would you like another chicken dumpling?”

“No thanks. It’s too hot to eat chicken.”

“Really? It goes well with the pork broth rice balls. Follow it with some salt-pickled celery. Nice and crunchy!”

“I don’t see how you can stuff yourself like that in this heat. You’re like a drunk salaryman.”

“Better grab some while they’re still available. This walking does wonders for the appetite. Sure you don’t want some? They’re remarkably good. I thought they were your favorite?”

“You’re unbelievable. You’ve begun savoring convenience store food. All discrimination right out the window.”

“In the mountains everything tastes good. Sure you don’t want one? Last one!”

Houhou Skycrags

Stunted yellow birch hold on tight to the rocks to survive the relentless winds. The rock garden above Kannon Peak Mountain Hut seemed like something out of a surreal painting, the colors and forms so intense and twisted.”

“The woods smell nice.”

“Balsam fir. I got some of the sap on my fingers. Here, take a whiff.”

“I like just lying here under the trees. I could lie here all day.”

“Too bad we have to get back to work tomorrow.”

“My legs feel like rubber bands. Don’t think I can take another step.”

“We have some time. Let’s just close our eyes and forget about the time for a short while.”

“Shhh. Listen. The wind rustling the leaves.”

Larch woods appearing out of a lifting mist, along the steep trail out of Gozaishi Kousen.

“That sign said forty minutes till the end!”

“How many minutes has it been?”

“One hour and thirty minutes.”

“Perhaps the sign was meant for faster walkers.”

Houhou Surreal

“This ice cream really hits the spot! I think it’s the best ice cream cone I’ve ever had!”

“Do you think we have time for a hot spring bath? I could really use a bath right now.”

“The bus comes in twenty minutes. I don’t think so.”

“Hope the other bus passengers will survive my influence! I don’t have a change of clothes.”

“Well, you might knock them all unconscious, so probably you don’t have to worry about their reactions… Ow! That hurt!”

“Serves you right! Hey, can I take a bite of your ice cream? I’m already finished with mine.”

Fuji Puff