Monday, July 23, 2018

White Lightning 'stead of Mountain Dew

 Wes and I thought it would be a clever idea to continue our traverse of Ikoma-San on a 38° day. We'd begun this seemingly endless trek six summers ago, suffering a heat that felt bad at the time, but was nowhere near as murderous as that of this current two-week heat wave.  The heat bothered me less than my current bureaucratic wrangling to get a Indian visa for an upcoming trip, and after two consecutive mornings wasted in over air-conditioned offices in downtown Osaka, I was ready for some forest sauna bathing.

We'd wrapped up the southbound traverse last September, so taxied up to where we began in 2012, though facing north this time.  The first section was a pleasant descent down into a near-dry watershed, which eventually opened up into a broad meadow beside a man-made lake.  Recent rains had brought down a good section of hillside, one section literally flowing to join the lake in the form of mud.  The earth here literally looked liquified, and as we cautiously made our way across, quicksand was very much in mind.  

We crossed the dam and descended further, to a small waterfall that had been spurred on by a concrete pipe.  On other days, Shugenja would train here, hidden from the adjacent road by a small cypress-roofed shack.  An old couple was squatting at the water's edge, rinsing white garments that I presume they had worn during their unseen ablutions. 
Not far off was Iwabune Jinja, slightly uphill but Wes insisted on visiting as we were so close. A trio of structures had been integrated into a mass of boulders that in their awesomeness, would of course be the primary object of worship here.  One of the boulders had Buddhist carvings of a certain antiquarian vintage, adding a flavor of the Asian heartland.  We examined the padlocked entrance to the labyrinthian passage through the boulders, and it suddenly dawned on me that not only had I been here before a decade ago, but I'd published a piece on it.  Mysteries begat mysteries. 

Descending again across the front of a massive drainage that was the spillway for the river that ran past Wes's house further down in the valley.  The fact that this gaping maw in the hillside had saved his entire neighborhood during the terrible flooding a week or so before was mimicked in Wes's open-mouthed look of astonishment.

Returning to our route, we had two choices.  My map showed an attractive trail that went through one of the parks that this long trail bisects.  Knowing my anxiety about heights, Wes warned me that we'd have to cross an incredibly high suspension bridge.  Wanting to forego vertigo and the accompanying sensation of the scrotum trying to crawl up into the body cavity (what is that sensation all about anyway?), we chose the paved, yet shorter option. 

What goes down must come up. The trail now climbed, in the form of a paved driveway through a golf-course.  The midsection had a grassy strip in the middle which helped sooth aching feet, and protect us from the luxury cars zipping down.  There was a surprising number of people golfing in the heat, and our own upward climb wore me out, so we stopped in the shade of a large oak near the top.  As so often happens in Japan, we quickly had company, despite the vast space spreading away in all directions.  Of the entire golf course, Groundskeeper Willie happened to park his ridemower a dozen meters from where we ourselves were sprawled.  Time to get moving. 

Trails signs reappeared near the clubhouse, no doubt to keep the riff-raff away from the carpark and its flash German automobiles.  Wes preferred a side path that paralleled the main nature trail, which quickly brought reward in the form of drinks machines.  I followed up a restorative sports drink with my usual summertime go-to Fanta Grape, then we paralleled a pleasant stream that had unusual steps cut into the rocky bank.  The stream was easily crossed, over metal planks laid out by workmen who had been doing some sort of maintenance here.  Throughout the day, we'd noted damage from the June earthquake or the recent floods, but this section seemed an odd priority, as we'd already crossed a half-dozen sections that were far more beat up.  

It was quickly growing cool, though no rain was in the forecast.  But a trickle of drops did make the effort, falling upon a wetland decorated with skunk cabbage, before being scared off by a magnificent cacophony of thunder ripping through the clouds.  I love the sound of summer thunderstorms, like the sky being zipped open.  Less pleasant is the lightning, which began to flash around us.  We'd earlier mocked a storm shelter that was shaped like a large mushroom (and solving perhaps that particular mystery from our 2012 hike), it was no longer a joke.  I'd been in worse storms in the American Rockies and felt no reason to worry, until a bolt burst so close by that it was as if the entire landscape began to vibrate and buzz.  Luckily there was a large kusunoki at a shrine a few meters away, planted specifically to protect the structure.  While taking shelter beneath tall trees in a storm is a questionable idea, we felt secure that the electric lines running along the road would draw a strike instead.  It was only later, as the storm abated and we walked down toward a nearby train station that we saw the ten meter electrical tower rising just above where we'd been perched. Another close call. 

And yet again, the conclusion to what should have been a simple walk still remains elusive...

On the turntable: Jim O'Rourke, "Hagyou"
On the nighttable:  W. Somerset Maugham, "The Magician"


againwilder said...

Welcome back Ted !

Lighting and HEAT, electrical lines...? You're right, though, it does beat the ice boxes that are city buildings right now. Good luck with that Visa!


againwilder said...

Ted, Pics at my site.

My latest, Chapter 4:



Grounded, warm, lit and in good company, I'd all but forgot about The Front down in Owari. A Paleo man whispered to me in a lucid dream some months before, "Go to the mountain." I never would've reckoned what I'd find here, my peers of a lost world, a forgotten time. Their work was everywhere, their pyramid stones, their cupules, their ways. So I went 10,000 years into the past, full circle, lock, stop, and barrel. With the ApG on my heals, I decided to consult with the Shamans of Kasagi...

Hands spread out in front, with thumb and index finger touching, I was doing "Zai" here before I even knew what Zai was. That learning would come later, and how was it that I did something before not knowing of its existence? Intuition perhaps; a connection and bond with the Sun and the Earth that was never lost. Genetic memory...  

The archaeologists that used to frequent here back in the mid to late 90's, during Japan's Golden Age of digs and finds, called them the "Trigonon," each between 7 and 14 feet wide at the base. The mountain was chock full of them, all lined up at different intervals East to West. On one end the Winter Solstice sunrise aligned perfectly, on the other end Summer Solstice sunset. And "by design". 

Before I knew it a year had passed, a year of me staying away from The Front, immersed in Kasagi. I'd been consulting with the Shamans here, and studying their signs, especially their leftover cupules that dotted the Stones. I'd read that no paleo-expert had yet produced a convincing explanation of the cultural or artistic meaning of cupules, but I would make the ultimate discovery. Aquarius, Orion, Delphinus and more, the cupules were in fact in the design of constellations, and only of the ones we can see in the night sky of the Northern Hemisphere. 

And so my own rituals began here, my own spin on how the Ancients used the cupules for ceremonies. I reckoned I knew what they were up to. I reckoned the rock out of which the cupules were pounded was believed by the Ancients to contain the life essence of some-thing, perhaps the hunter, perhaps the bear, and I reckoned at night they'd stuff the cupules full of quartz and watch them glisten under the moonlight - An art, imitating life. 

Coming down from a really long high, and up from The Front, a map of a Lost World was drawn next to my campfire. There could be no hashtag for this one - I thought perchance a Secret History sometimes should remain a secret. My secret. The Shamans' secret.