Monday, June 04, 2012

Overlooked Serpents

And before I leave the Nakasendo for the season, I need to mention the snakes.  My group and I were atop Torii Pass, at the beautiful and mysterious Ontake shrine up there.  As I always do, I fall under the spell of the statues that flank both sides of the shrine.  They are protective deities mostly, or tall stones marked with the name of the storm gods.  To me the most interesting statues are the ones on the west side of the structure: the one that looks Chinese, the one that looks Indian, and the one that is almost a Korean haniwa, which makes no sense as I can't imagine anyone from that kingdom to have wandered this far into the Kiso Valley. 

So as I was gazing into their faces and puzzling out their secrets, I hear a shriek from the shrine's far side, where the clients are.  I run over to find that the group had come upon a snake that was nearly two meters long.  As they were circling it to take photos, one woman had almost trod upon a companion snake of equal size.  Hence the shriek.  What was bizarre is how un-snakelike the snakes were acting.  They were obviously aware of the presence of a dozen humans, yet rather than scurry into the brush as a snake might normally do, they continued to stay close to the statues.  They never stopped moving, slithering in figure eights, and doubling back upon theirselves, yet they never ceased making contact with the stones.  It was as if the snakes too were here to protect the shrine.  And it worked, as we moved warily away, heading down the mountain and back to more human realms. 

On the turntable:  Jimmy Cliff, "The Harder they Come"

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