Thursday, September 19, 2013

Western Front II

The day after the typhoon gave us a beating, the sun rose to reveal a day crisp with the promise of autumn.  I decided to take advantage of the good weather by continuing the walk down the west coast of Biwa, a walk I'd begun in the summer of 2009.  

At that time I had been walking the "Umi no be no Michi," ignorant to the fact that this monicker is of recent vintage.  Since older times, it has been known as the Nishi Omiji, and is a section of the longer Hokkoku Kaido, as it is called where it runs along Biwa's eastern shore.  It was this route I walked today, headed toward where it linked up with the Tokaido down in Otsu.

I get off the train in Omi Takashima, walking toward a Lake swollen with flood water and bright with sunshine.  The pedestrian tunnels, and the shoreline walkway to which they led, are completely submerged.  I stay high up on the quiet road that ran through the village, before getting prefunctorily dumped onto the significantly busier Rte 161, which unfortunately would make up most of the day's walk.  As such, it is a relatively uneventful walk, and I remind myself that this same monotony caused me to thumb a ride last time.  

But I stick it out.  The wind isn't high, but breezy enough to keep things cool.  It creates whitecaps on the surface of the Lake, a surface stained brown with mud.  I know from my map that I won't be off road much today, so I relish the small path that take me past a dozen stone Buddhas enjoying the sun on their faces, and down to the Shirahige Shrine, whose vermillion is a nice earthy contrast to the impossible blue of the sky.  The forests around shrines are usually the healthiest to be found in a nation famed for its deforestation, yet above Shirahige are strands of dead white wood.  Even more ironic, if you consider the 'white beard' that is the shrine's name.  

Thick conifer boughs lie across the road in some places, their needles still moist with life.  But above Komatsu I see the real damage.  A river that feeds the surrounding rice paddies had jumped its banks, the waters finding new beds as they ran along the roads and into the fields.  Luckily, the farmers had already harvested here, but I imagine that it'll take some work to get the mud out and make the fields fertile again.  A sinkhole has dropped out the center of one field as if a plug has been pulled.  A scarecrow stands nearby with arms in the air as if being robbed.

Meter high watermarks show on the sides of the houses of the village, and many of the low concrete walls that surround them have been pushed over.  The water is back in its riverbed, but trees and debris are piled high on both sides to the height of a man.  The owners of the house closest to the river are lucky that it is still standing, with the mud on the roads below it 10 cm deep.  I step up and over dead trees, past the residents busy with their shovels.     

I cross diagonally through rice paddies.  The maker of the map I'm using seems to have lost his mind completely when I'm directed along a zigzag course across the berms separating them.  I choose to stay on the road, which then leads directly to an anti-simian fence.  It is effective against this particular simian, forcing me to detour.   But I find some small satisfaction in the fact that I'm walking faster than the traffic up on the Rte 161 Bypass.  

A crow lies dead in the road, which surprises me considering their agility.  It is rare to see them as roadkill.   But it makes more sense when I see the farmer in his field, aiming a slingshot at the birds and firing off shots at them.   But they don't move too far from their mate, who looks freshly dead.  I 'm not sure what the farmer is protecting, as his fields have already been harvested.  After yesterday's rain, they take on their flooded appearance of spring, accompanied by the sweet smell of manure.

The rural scenes leave off after I pass below the peak of Hira-san.  The mountain, and all below her, reveal their details in the clearness of the air.  I find myself stopping often simply to gaze at a richness of detail seen only on the day after typhoons.  It is almost worth having a day or two of bad weather, but I'm sure that those currently shoveling mud would disagree. 

And with the coming of city, my enthusiasm begins to wane.  I wrote a year ago about how I won't walk 25 km on a day over 25 degrees, but I've broken my word once again, and push close to 35.  The breeze can no longer resist the heat of the day, and I wind up sunburned and slightly dehydrated.  My amusement at the quirkiness of my mapmaker turns to abuse when I'm led along a stone beach now underwater.  The highway has long lost its charm, though I'm pleased to find a marker for an 'ichirizuka,' the only indication all day that I've been on the right path after all.  

Heading toward Sakamoto Station, schoolkids begin to pass me on their way home.  One girl nearly walks directly into me.  On her bookbag is the English word, "Look!"  But I've been looking all day and am weary.  I knew that I wouldn't do the full 40km stretch in one day, and am pleased to have come so far.  It'll be a mere stroll through the suburbs to get to the terminus in Otsu.  Hopefully, some remnants of the past will reveal themselves.  "Look!"     

(MAP: )

On the turntable:  Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, "Studio Jams"
On the nighttable:  Azby Brown, "Just Enough"

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