Thursday, August 08, 2013

Hokkaido, Twice Return

In the seventeen years since I'd last been to Hokkaido, I've learned a lot about this nation Japan's forests.  I've grown accustomed to the monoculture of Honshu, to that of Kansai in particular.  Here the trees stand straight and lined up as if waiting for a train.   How wonderful then the natural forests of the northern island, anarchically dense and lush and filled with life. 

I co-led two tours there in June and July, falling in love with the both this density and the lack of it, in the spreading farms that recalled the equally beloved spaces of New Mexico and the American West.

So it was that just off the plane on my second visit,  I found myself cursing the residents of the small towns stretching south from Memombetsu, the hillsides above planted thick with cedar.  It was the most Japanese vision of both trips. 

I've often talked about how one can truly feel the gods in the forests and mountains of Japan.  But Hokkaido wasn't the palpable land of the kami. This was something else, something more intimidating.  Here the kami have sharper teeth. 

I revisited many of the same mountains that I'd hiked sixteen years ago.  And I further stretched my legs into some of the deeper, more remote reaches, namely into Daisetsuzan National Park, whose week-long traverse still beckons after the rains of 1997.  

On the first day, under skies bright with sun despite the falling rain, atmospheric conditions most suitable for foxen nuptuals, I watched one of these creatures appear as if on cue, as a group of tourists nearly tipped their bus over as they rushed to one side to snap photos. 

I met many more foxes, and birds, and wildflowers.  I became enamored with the red hues of Ezo pines, a love that nearly rivals that of my beloved buna. 

And on the last day, my plane traces the west coast of Honshu as it heads south, offering me an overhead view of my 1997 marathon route along the Sea of Japan, and those remote places -- Sado, Dewa Sanzan, Noto Peninsula -- that have shared their magic and joy many times since.   

The teeth of the kami can also be revealed in a welcoming smile.

On the turntable: "The Rough Guide to Boogaloo"
On the nighttable:  Donald Richie, "The Inland Sea"

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