Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Among the elements

The rods and cones in my eyes haven't worked properly since birth, and as a result, I am unable to see numbers in those multi-colored circles which I sometimes come across in anatomy textbooks. I wonder if the colors I see in my world are the same that you see in yours. If I were hit on the head and this "problem" suddenly miraculously corrected, would I go insane in seeing that the sun is now your blue, the sky your yellow? I wonder too if the colors I saw at the beach on Sunday night were more amazing in being viewed with my imperfect eyes. The combination of overcast sky, reflective sea, and fading daylight created the most perfect shade of blue I've ever seen. Was the world wearing this hue to mourn the death of a season?

Monday morning I found myself beside a completely different body of water. I finally had my hangover-delayed djembe lesson with Alama. He wanted to be outside on this near-perfect fall day, so we played in the park beside Lake Togo. It was bizarre to be an American in Japan, conversing in French with a man from Guinea, within sight of a large Chinese garden and pavillion. (All in a day's work for this internationalizationer.) As we played, an old man fishing nearby reeled in something big, and Alama without a pause began to sing out in his powerful griot voice: "A fish ya, a fish ya, give me some of that fish, man, if you please." In Japanese. I wonder how he'd handle a Marley tune.

After the lesson, I headed into the hills nearby. I had heard that there was a small castle around here, atop a steep mountain path. Midway up, I passed hundreds of wasps swarming a dead tree beside the path. As usual, I had my head down, carefully looking for vipers on the overgrown trail. I had heard the wasps, but hadn't seen them until I was standing amidst them. A tense moment. If you hike a lot in Japan, you'll often come across old-timers who'll warn you about wasps, but this was the first time I'd actually seen any. Apparently they hadn't worried the old-timer I met at the mountain top, beside the castle. He was a spry 84, and had climbed up from a nearby village. Surprisingly, he seemed unfazed at my skin-tone, smiling and asking where I live rather than where I'm from. After a quick chat he descended and I was left alone with the history and the view. Hiking down via a different path, I came across some bizarre rock formations and an explanatory sign. I love how in countries with a long history, local place names are often taken from legend. It gives the feeling that I'm tied into something far bigger, far older, than myself. Much nicer than calling a place "Taylorville" simply because some guy named Edward Joseph Taylor decided to build himself a bank and railroad stop.

At the bottom, I got into my car and drove toward the sea, singing along loudly with Taj Mahal, as the windmills spun slowly, their blades pointing me toward home.

On the turntable: "Avalon Blues: Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt"

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