Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'Round Shikoku Day 20

At dawn, I walked down to the old-timey kissaten where I’d eaten yesterday. It was just after 6, with a few surfers eyeing the water, and a young henro heading north. The waves were much calmer, and the water under the bridge where we got caught is a meter lower. It looked to be a fine day.

Back in Shimonokae, we pick up our bags at Anshuku. Next door at the combini, we found the son behind the counter. He was in employee-robot mode and pretended not to know us.

We spent the entire day following the Shimonokae River up and over the mountains. It was a narrow track, wide enough for a single car. The trees overhung the trail. It had grown overcast by now and the shade was chilly. But it was the first time since beginning the walk, (well over than a month now) that I hadn’t been wet, either with sweat or rain. We ran into the old couple we met on the runny mountainside path down the peninsula. They are on day 45 of their 7th walking henro. (Amazed they are still together considering how often Miki and I have bickered on this, our first.) They have also done it another 60 times by car. They were very friendly and spiritually driven, talking a lot about Taishi. And they were quick. Miki and I stopped an hour later to have a snack before a shrine when they came strolling up.

Faster still was a young girl who passed us. We stayed the same pace awhile and chat, but she seemed to prefer her own company and moves on. Her speed was the greatest I’d seen in any henro, moving deliberately like she’s late for a meeting. We caught up with her again in Mihara Village, where we all ate on the grass before a shrine. Off her feet, she was friendly and warm, but didn’t offer much about herself. She eventually moved on and we don’t see her again.

Mihara is a cute town with friendly people and a few funky cafes and inns. It, like a lot of Kochi, is a place I’d like to linger, but not on this trip. Despite the rain, this had become one of my favorite prefectures. The people have long been thought to be hard and cold, but overall I found them friendly and open. For example, as we were heading out of Mihara, an old man drove up and handed me a ‘settai bag’ of various fruit and snacks, a bag that he’d obviously prepared at home. I can imagine him leaving a few of these bags in his car daily, handing them over every time he spots a figure in white. After handing me mine, he drove up and handed one to Miki. Then he drove on to hand yet another to a third henro walking a couple hundred meters ahead of her. I wonder how often this kind old farmer does this, handing out his goodies like Halloween.

The road out of town led to a park built in the shadow of a great dam. Along the way, we passed still another henro, lying prone in the dirt behind a truck painted up like BJ McCabe’s. Half the time you see a henro at rest, he’ll be sprawled across whatever it is that’s supporting his tired body. After the dam was a long tunnel. Midway through I felt a strange shift in balance, and when exiting the opposite end, noticed that I was on a decline of nearly 45 degrees.. This odd loss of equilibrium is something I’d never have noticed in a car. This steep descent continued for a good half hour until leveling out on the valley floor. We’d apparently been climbing all day onto the high plateau of Mihara, though I hadn’t been aware of it, until looking at a topo map later.

We stopped at a supermarket for our dinner. When we came out, the other two henro had caught up, and we all moved on in yet another henro parade, under the watchful eyes of cows, and beneath the vines of wild squash dangling themselves over porous concrete embankments. The parade continued right up to the gates of Temple 39. For the last couple hundred meters or so, we’d all chosen to take different paths through the rice fields, following directions known only to us. It was like a game show, with the winner being the exhausted henro last seen lying behind the truck.

There was supposed to be a tsuyado here but it was closed due to some event. As we were asking for a place to put up our tent, Tired Henro overheard and said he’d ask at his inn. The owner was a friendly guy who offered us a room without food for 1000 yen. We of course accepted. After a long hot bath, the two of us lounged in our room, which could’ve slept 20. A karaoke machine stood in one corner., untouched by us Instead, I went in search of beer for both myself and Tired Henro. In the dining room I found him eating with Gentleman Henro, who insisted Miki and I join them. It was interesting evening, the talk being about the pilgrimage of course, a conversation that alternated between heavy and light. Tired Henro was a pretty philosophical guy, whose inner process was going through a pretty tough workout. Gentleman Henro was adept at keeping the talk from growing too serious, but he did allow himself to talk about his walk down the peninsula during the typhoon. He found himself thinking about the kanji for the Heart Sutra, chock full of “mu’s’ and” ku’s.” “Ku” can mean both emptiness as well as sky, and Kukai supposedly took his name while meditating in the Murodo cave, his seat giving view to sea and sky. But during the typhoon, the horizon line had disappeared, the sea and the sky growing indistinct, without separation. Life too is like this, differences being created only by human judgment. A profound experience he had and I felt myself a little envious by it…

On the turntable: "Buddha Bar Krishna Beats"
On the nighttable: Christopher Robbins, "Air America"

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