Thursday, August 27, 2009

Let Me Get Back to the Sea II

Breakfast was late and so was my departure. I hadn't slept well and my eyes showed it. I walked out of town, along a beautiful stream, with the occasional old man at random intervals, poles poised for bounty. The moving water and fishermen theme continued for the better part of the day. About an hour into my walk I saw the absurd sight of a couple dozen men tolling lines in a man-made pond, their backs to a perfectly good stretch of river. And they'd paid for this! I thought there might be a drink machine inside, but was stopped by a scowling young man. I asked if I could rest for a bit, yet he refused. It dawned on me that I'd passed into Shiga-ken. Ten minutes later, I greeted a couple old women before a liquor store, to no response. (Shiga!) I don't mean to be harsh on the prefecture, but I have had my share of encounters with its surly people, and far too long on the side of its roads, thumb out in futility.

The heat began to come up and the walk became a slog. I rested when I could find shade, but kept along this single road, a hamlet appearing every hour or so. I finally arrived at my destination for the day , Oisugi. I'd expected to get there about 4, stay the night, and enjoy their local festival. Along with the fireworks and the Bon dance, I'd be an unexpected attraction. But it was still only 1:30 in the afternoon. I began to wonder if I could make it across the next set of formidable looking mountains before dark. But there was no one around to ask. Despite the festival, the town was quiet. Finally, I found four people standing around a truck. Ironically, they were about to lead a group of kids up the very same mountains, and assured me I'd be over well before nightfall. I made my choice and headed up the road.

There were a few river crossings and I soon made my way up to a waterfall. The trail grew thinner here, and steep, with small wooden steps rotting away on the hillside. I was on the wrong trail. But I gone past the point where I could return down safely with my pack. I had no choice but to keep heading up. I checked my map and found that I was in a valley just below the trail. This narrow path was literally hanging onto the canyon wall, with bear tracks every ten steps. My heavy pack was pulling me into space, so I leaned way into the dirt wall, grabbing deeply at roots and ferns. I eventually was able to cross the river. Then shot straight up. I'd pull myself up from tree to tree, resting often so not to tire and make any stupid mistakes. With every rest I'd scan above, taking what looked the most like trail. For the first fifteen minutes I was on all fours, then the slope became gentle enough that I could walk upright. Bizarrely, I'd find the occasional strand of rope, so knew that I wasn't the first to do this. I kept getting closer to the top, but still couldn't find trail. I was a little worried that I'd keep heading deeper into the mountains, but had a pretty good idea of where I needed to go, which was the direction of Obama. Then the fogged rolled in. And with it, many voices. It was the people I'd met below, now leading the kids to the peak. I moved diagonally toward their sounds, popping onto the trail behind the last of their group, and scaring the hell out of some young woman.

I kept with them until the peak, taking my place at the end of a long line of thirty people. As part of a group, I really felt like I was doing the Saba Kaido, making our way to replenish supplies. I chatted with everyone at the peak, then made my way down alone. The fog made it a magical forest, down a half tube trod by centuries of feet. The song of one bird was like an ocarina. I also heard the cries of deer a few times, then saw their fleeting forms racing downward. I finally came to road. On it, a centipede was tucking in to its tasty dinner of cricket head. Arriving in Kaminegori, I faced a dog standing in the middle of the road like a character out of Yojimbo. Rather than snarl and bark like most dogs, he chose to walk beside me for the next half hour. He'd often stop to sniff at something, then come charging down the road and within inches of my legs. I asked a woodcutter that I passed if he knew him, but he just laughed and said the dog would go home when it was ready.

The fog made it seem darker than 5 pm. I arrived at an abandoned school where a couple of team members were setting up for the arrival of the kids. As I'd run into them repeatedly, they invited me to stay. I 'showered' with a faucet and bucket, then went into the school to lay on the moldy tatami until the kids came. It was full dark by then, but they were made to eat inside the school's spooky gymnasium. Afterward, there were games and fireworks, then we all walked down through the dark to another school, 4 km further downhill. The first 100m were lit with candles, then it became pitch dark. I set out later than the others, having taken time to put my bag in one of the support trucks. It found it nice to walk alone at night, until I remembered that this is exactly how I'd had my bear encounter in Hokkaido. I overtook a group of kids and was happy to stay with them. One of the boys asked if I'd ever seen a ghost, so I shared a few stories until noticing one girl with her fingers shoved deep in her ears. The night was dark but for the white of a river rushing below, over rocks so massive that I was a little sorry not to see them in the light of day. Here and there mushrooms clung to trees, little white bulbs against the night. Around ten we arrived at Shimonegori elementary school. The kids went quickly to sleep while the staff had a meeting. They invited me in to go over the next day's agenda, but when things began to get bogged down in details, I snuck away. I found a small two tatami-mat nurse's office which had futons in the closet. My sleep was comfy but restless, as voices and banging echoed down the halls....

On the turntable: "Organized Konfusion"

1 comment:

Iwakura Ken said...

You were still on Gary's trail there... we had a big party for him and Carole up at the Kaminegori schoolhouse the night after his reading in Obama in October '91. Iidaka-san, another of the organizers has a house close by. We had stayed at the schoolhouse once before, with Arne Naess (originator of the concept of deep ecology) in winter of '88, when we introduced him to Nakajima Tetsuen, the anti-nuke priest at Myotsuji. I had also hiked the Saba-kaido, over from Oisugi, with Iidaka-san and Sogyu that year, to help publicize a campaign to stop a road planned to be built over it (as mentioned in "Omizu-okuri and Omizu-tori," KJ #5). I guess the campaign succeeded, fortunately...