Friday, May 22, 2009

Danger on Peaks

Just upon entering the forest, I pass an old wizard with long wispy white beard and a guitar case on his back. A good omen, I think. Today's hike will be a good one. A few minutes later, I come across an large inoshishi that looks to be about my weight. A bad omen. Thankfully, he's in a cage. I realize that these boars are the scourge of farmers everywhere, but it's more than a little pathetic to see him in this small cage, with no room to stand up or turn around; nothing to do but lie half in sunlight, panting and fluttering long eyelashes. I wonder now if the wizard hadn't been a hunter, his weapons wisely hidden away in that guitar case. The next bend in the trail seems to confirm this. I stand looking down into a bamboo forest, where a half dozen cage traps are placed at random intervals. I don't like the fact that I'm walking in a place where the boars are purposely lured. From that moment on, every sound in the forest sends my mind moving in interesting ways.

The bamboo forest suddenly becomes cedar, as if someone changed the channel. The climb tops out near a new cemetery. The earth here is completely torn up and imprinted with the marks of snout and hoof. Signs warn me to beware the large poisonous bees that I can hear just offtrail. There's a small cabin up here, with a couple canoes out back. Across the valley is a sunken depression that must be the first of a series of small lakes that I remember from my map. But moving closer I see that the water is gone, and the entire lake bed is planted with young cedars that barely reach my chest. Good news for you allergy sufferers. Above this, the trail hits road, and weaves down past a field of strawberries to a pair of villages. I cross a high suspension bridge over a lake, then again. I'm at the foot of Chogosonshiji, a temple complex that runs like a maze up and down the mountain. I love these places, love following the paths that weave in and around halls of all sizes, freckled with shrines, everything lined with stone and wood. There is a tiger theme here prevails. In the 7th century, Shotoku-taishi dedicated this temple to Bishamonten, who appeared at the hour of the tiger on the day of the tiger in the year of the tiger. There are paper tigers everywhere, which much make Mao smile a bit. I wander around awhile, then climb back into the forest toward the top of Shigi-san. The entire peak is covered with shrines dedicated to a different serpent god. The altars have stone representations of coiled serpents with cold eyes, looking to strike. There is a sort of black magic up here. I'm startled by one woman with crazy hair and a blank look who circumambulates these shrines again and again, all the while muttering prayers. I'm curious about this snake god, this Hakuryu. When writing earlier about seeing the Shinkansen moving below Kannonshoji, I had tried to come up with a metaphor linking this new representation of serpent power to the old snake gods, but I couldn't pull it off. Now, I want to linger and figure out what this is all about but it's getting dark and I need to get down.

I'm losing light quickly as I reenter the forest, which doesn't comfort me much, this being the lair of boars and bees, tigers and serpent gods...

On the turntable: Tin Hat Trio, "Book of Silk"

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