Friday, December 28, 2012

Nippon Extremities: Hokkaido VIII

August 12, 1997

I awoke this morning to the incessant loudspeaker going off every five minutes.  It was as if the girl at reception had gotten only 4 hours of sleep a night, and decided bitterly that no one else should get any sleep either.  Getting up early allowed for a leisurely morning.  I talked over breakfast with a guy who is half French, but couldn't speak that language, as his father had disappeared back to Europe while he was an infant. Before catching my boat, I went with him and a few others to the pier, where they bought me some 30 cm tall soft cream.  As my boat pulled out, I stayed on deck waving, trying to see how long I could keep them waving in return.  But then it dawned on me that perhaps they were playing the same trick on me.  

The short trip over to Rishiri was across some incredibly blue water, and the Grateful Dead "took me there."  Near the ferry terminal, I found a campsite just below a lighthouse in a semi-enclosed grass "bowl" that offered views of the sea on three sides.  The island's volcanic peak loomed over all.

My tent was still wet from last week, so I left it and the rain fly to dry in the warm sun. Nearby was a hotel that rented bikes, which enabled me to circumnavigate the island, tracing a 60 km circle around the base of the volcano.  About five minutes down the road, I got a flat tire.   After exchanging it for another, was goin' down the road feeling good.  I sang as I rode, changing the lyrics of known songs to suit my mood.  I also came up with ridiculous 'aphorisms,'  like when I hit a patch of wind, I thought, "The wind can't blow both ways." Or all with all the dead insects on the roads:  "A dragonfly can't fly faster than a car." 

At the southern tip of the island, two seals swam in an enclosed man-made pool.  They seemed happy enough, swimming upside down, apparently easier as their eyes are on top of their heads.  Every time a tourist took out his camera, they'd swim to the other end of the pool in an almost cynical response.  

The road followed the coast, lined mostly by houses or small shops, like one elongated village.  Of course, most of the structures looked abandoned.  On the complete opposite side of the island from where I rented the bike, I got my second puncture.  I found a shop a short distance away, and a man there led me down the street to his house where I could use his bike pump.  When this failed, I called the hotel so that they could bring me my third bike.  The helpful man's mumbly way of talking, as well as the lisping guy at the other end of the phone, made me realize that there are situations that language books can't possible prepare you for.  

The bike arrived after a thirty minute wait, and I headed down a cycling course.  Near its start was a statue of Ranald McDonald, Japan's first English teacher.  When I saw his name on the map, I naturally expected something quite different. The cycling course was a narrow road running up into the tree line, then out along the flatlands, cutting back and forth repeatedly from the shore.  They must have spent an incredible amount of money putting it together, especially the high suspension bridges that spanned the mountain streams.  Along the ride, I incidentally met a girl from the hike the previous day.   All in all, it was an excellent ride.

Back in camp, I shared some lamb with a biker who had toured the States seven times.  Overhead, the sunset was making the sky do incredible things with its palette.  Incredibly, the wind of the previous few days had stopped.  At seven o'clock, the campsite resembled a pod city, bustling at suppertime.  An hour later, all was silent.  The lighthouse kept streaking the night sky above.  Later, this would be recreated naturally by a meteor shower: 

The clouds are splayed like fingers, and through them, I can see few stars but for one that speeds crazily towards the sea.  Beyond the horizon, the light from a squid boat shines brightly.  The moon makes an attempt to come out from behind the clouds, and the sea writhes and undulates in its light.  A brilliant sight, God and Gaia collaborative attempt to make me feel at peace.  With the world music on my headphones, I think of all the people everywhere who are looking up at the same stars, and with the meteors, it's a sight that old legends are built upon.  And looking at them makes me feel so small, nature drowning all thought except for enchantment on her beauty.  Drugs are superfluous when nature herself can make you feel this relaxed, this centered.  It's ironic that a mere week before I had been cursing her power.  Such beauty and strength, that ability to create or destroy, is in the moon, the stars, the sea -- all of it.  It's in the hardness of the rocks beneath me, and in the softness of the clouds above.  I think that my recently deceased grandfather is part of it now, and that he's out there somewhere.  It is ironic that my thoughts turn to him just as a Dead Can Dance song comes on, but of course the dead do dance.  They dance in our memory... 

On the turntable:  Bela Fleck, "Fiddle Tunes for Banjo"

No comments: