Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Uda Garden of Eden (Ise Hon-kaido IV)

It wasn't too long before it became apparent that I was carrying too much gear.  It was was weighing me down, and I was still a bit fatigued from fighting off a minor cold that was trying to get me. 

My intentions had been good.  It had snowed over the past three days -- days corresponding to the first three of the new year -- and I wasn't sure what I'd be in for up at 600-plus meters. 

I wasn't alone.  I passed the better part of the day following the footsteps of someone who had walked this path the day before, an assumption based on the fact that the slushy bottoms of the prints had refrozen overnight.  Whoever this person was, his feet were bigger than mine.

But now it was just the snow and I.  The cold had greeted me with a sudden smack in the face the moment I had stepped off the train in Haibara.  It must have terrorized the townspeople, for no one was in sight as I walked the streets back to where I had hitched a lift just over a year ago.  The cold dogged my own footsteps, kept me from dawdling too long as I would greet any passing shrines or stone statuary with a mere glance, rather than my usual thorough look around.  Ponds were frozen into a thick opaque white, hiding the carp beneath that swam slowly, slowly, as if a physical manifestation of the passage of time. History itself can be lifeless and cold to the touch.

What had taken ten minutes by car took an hour on foot, the newly carved wooden signs eventually leading me into forest.  My sudden presence scared off a deer, the bounce of its receding white bottom blending quickly into the white of the hillside beyond.  The signage was remarkably good, thanks to the city of Haibara.  I worried a little that the trails would be tougher to follow once I got beyond the city limits.  But for now, all that troubled me was the weight in my pack, the majority taken up by my twelve-point crampons.  I had nearly brought my snowshoes as well, but at the last minute had decided against it, considering we had gotten a mere third of the seventy centimeters that had been projected to fall upon the region over the holidays.  Even still, it was the most snow to fall upon Kyoto in over fifty years.

I climbed out of the village, and past the thousand year old cedar above.  The trail continued to climb, topping out at a tall stele marking what had once been a barrier station.  Beside it were a pair of picnic tables, frosted like a cake with at least ten centimeters of snow.  It saddened me a little to have to disrupt such symmetrical perfection, but with a sweep of the arm I provided myself with a place to sit.  It had been a long slog, and my body's resources were depleted, so my intended snack break quickly expanded to become lunch.  Each bite of my metallic onigiri was a taunt: "Wouldn't you much rather have brought a thermos of soup?"

I left the villages in the valleys below, their grey right angles standing out against the roundness of the surrounding snow.  Every now and again I'd pop out of the forest and into a small hamlet, a chain of which was strung across this, the highest section of the old road to Ise.  These proved to be more dangerous than the snowy passes, as I would gingerly navigate patches of road slick with ice.  It was little surprise then that I saw very few people, except for an old farmer who stopped his car to ask me if I was walking the Kaidō, and an equally old woman who set me straight when she saw me pondering the trail with a GPS that was beyond a signal.  The old ways are still best.

I climbed over three passes, each one taking a greater toll than the last.  Then I descended, arriving at a small gazebo below a shrine, where I sat and overlooked a valley as the first rays of the day's sun broke through the cloud cover to caress the contours of my face.  It wasn't to long before arriving at my accommodation for the night, where a kind old woman led me into a warm room, and placed a steaming cup of tea before me...

MAP: http://latlonglab.yahoo.co.jp/route/watch?id=4cc9415e09dd2d174d0d38987812e0fb

On the turntable:  "Clicks and Cuts"
On the nighttable:  Murakami Haruki, "A Wild Sheep's Chase"

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