Sunday, March 19, 2023

Sunday Papers: Terrence Malick


"This great evil, where does it come from? How did it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doin’ this? What’s killin’ us? Robbin’ us of life and light? Mockin’ us with the sight of what we might have known? Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow or the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?" 
On the turntable:  Bob Dylan, "The Live Aid Hotel Rehearsals Tape"  

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Sunday Papers: Francis Spufford


"Ideas lose their form when they decay, yet do not necessarily lose their place in the mentality of an age.  They turn to imaginative compost."   

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "1987-09-18, Madison Square Garden"


Sunday, January 01, 2023

Saturday, December 31, 2022

A year in reads: 2022


On the turntable: Tomaso Albinoni, "Adagio in G minor"


Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Top of the Top of the Lake



It had been a pretty uneventful morning.  I tried to hitch, but only three cars passed, none of them going all the way anyway.  My reward was a long beautiful walk, pointed toward the rising sun.  I was freezing when I got off the train, but my temperature was rising in the sunshine, though dropping quickly under the odd patches of shade. A few fisherman were standing up in those mini one-man boats I noted on my last walk up here.  

Having hitched along this section on my walk the month before, I felt guilty that I hadn't taken in this section on foot, as lovely as it was.  And the weather was far better today.  After returning to Tsukide village, the plan was to backtrack, then follow the Umi no Be across the top of the lake and up to Shizu-ga-take to meet the section that I'd walked (though not written about) last year.  Online info was sparse and not terribly accurate, so I'd be relying mainly on signposts.  I recognized the futility of this, being in inconsistent Shiga after all, but signage for the route had been pretty good elsewhere in the prefecture.  Fingers crossed.  

I fell in behind another walker who was about 50 meters ahead of me.  He stayed along the water's edge, I cut through the center of Tsukide proper, but we eventually met at the base of the steps of Hiyoshi shrine.  I thought that he was looking for the trailhead that I too had sought out last time, relying on the same incorrect maps as I had.  It turned out he was on a different mission altogether, walking the countryside to connect the area's shrines.  In cases where the distances between were too great he would drive, ditch the car somewhere, then loop around on foot, as he was doing today.  

As we were both returning the way we came, we fell in step to chat.  He too was a seasoned walker, having successfully summited the Hyakumeizan, albeit stretched over 25 years of weekends. (A pace not unlike my own, though I've not been actively seeking out the goal.). Since retirement, he went on to climb the 300 peaks of the Sanbyakumeizan, and now was aiming even higher to pay house calls on the gods.       

His car was parked along some rice fields, so I bid him farewell, heading across and through Shiotsu, a small post town along the Shiotsu Kaidō, a spur route off the Hōkkoku Kaidō.  Jizo that had once lined this route had been unceremoniously clustered together at the edge of the concrete walls meant to prevent erosion.  But what protects against the erosion of tradition?  

Good new signage contradicted the older weathered signage. The newer was aimed at the bicyclists attempting a loop of the entire lake.  One sign at the far end of town made little sense, the arrow pointed in the wrong direction, and the accompanying text completely bleached away by the sun.  So I continued to follow my online map.  I decided to pop in and pay my respects at a large shrine, and climbed the leaf-strewn steps behind up to some smaller shrines higher up.  From there I noted a small clearing with a sacred tree and a stone marker, the latter perhaps indicating trail, had that odd arrow earlier been correct.  But the path between had been rubbed away by the crash of a pair of tall trees felled by storm.  I tried to make my way there anyway, moving up steep slopes slick with mud, into which I dug my fingertips, seeking a better grip. Finally at the stone marker, it revealed nothing. 

The sign posts continued to fail, any lettering long ago faded.  I followed the map along a course that looked right, which crossed a river and a highway, then a bit of wasteland.  I knew I had to enter the forest at the far end, between the two buildings of a concrete factory. I hurried through, not wanting to get told off by the workmen zooming around on heavy machinery.  Then I found my signage again, having been more or less on course all along.  

The entrance to the forest lay in the shadow of two slag heaps.  And for the first few minutes, the hike reeked of old oil.  Not many did this route any more, to judge from the fallen bridge, and the trail overlaid with debris of stick and stone.  I reached a junction, my map splitting into two routes.  The followed the one to the left, until it became less trail and more stream bed.  In some sections it felt more like I was canyoning than hiking. I was grateful for the cold temperatures, which ensured the absence of leech and viper. Felled trees proved an obnoxious obstacle, making for a lot of up and over, or ducking beneath on weary legs.     

Midway up, I again checked my map, and realized that the trail I'd forsaken below had actually been correct.  The junction wasn't that far back, but I didn't fancy navigating all those downed trees again.  I knew the trail was above and to the right, and the hillside didn't look that steep.  It turned out that my scrambling at the shrine was a dress rehearsal for what was to come next.  I stretched and lurched upward, a few steps at a time, testing and grasping at roots, or throwing an arm around medium sized trunks.  To miss would have meant a slide rather than a fall, but the risk of injury was always there.  And yet again, I found myself wondering when I was going stop doing such stupid stunts. 

Safe at the top, I found my trail, which eventually joined a junction with a better marked trail, and the rest of the day was an easy stroll along the ridge line.  One col had been sheared away to construct massive electrical towers, which opened up the view of Oku-biwa and the north end of the lake.  I lunched here with the view, then met the ridge line which ringed Lake Yogo on the other side.  I plunged down to another saddle before making the final and ascent to the familiar clearing of Shizu-ga-take. 

I'd originally intended to do this entire hike in reverse, until train delays and the threat of missed connections made me come up with a better Plan B.  My initial route had me cheating with the chairlift up to this very spot, so imagine my delight in seeing that the lift wasn't running at all. Closed for the winter, a fact neglected by their website.  So, with brand-new trekking poles in hand, I raced down the switchbacks
like a skier, into the village below.

It was a 30 minute walk from here to the station.  I considered hitching, as I always do in these situations, but the day was still bright and warm.  So I walked happily, feeling the sun on my face, a sensation that is at a premium in this month when the days continue to grow shorter, and cold. 


On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "1983-04-17, Meadowlands Arena"


Friday, December 02, 2022

Western Front Redux


When I set out to walk the Umi no Be no Michi in August 2009, I hadn't realized that it extended along the Katsuraka-go-ozaki peninsula.  My mistake became clear last year while driving the high Oku-biwako Parkway which parallels the trail, with signage for the latter popping up now and again along the way.   So it was that I returned on an overcast morning at the beginning of November.  

It was a less than auspicious start. I made the rookie maneuver of not checking my return train times until on the outbound ride, and was horrified at how early this line shut down.  I'd have to race all day to catch the last one at just before 5 o'clock, leaving me just under six hours to do an eight to nine hour walk.  Hitching would be crucial, and it was in my favor that it was a national holiday, meaning more people on the road, many devoid of any solid plan.  Picking up a foreign hitchhiker made for a pleasant diversion.

Unfortunately the road itself conspired against me.  The long stretch running south from Ōmi-Shiotsu station was lined with a guardrail, offering no place to pull over, thus no chance of a pickup. For the first half and hour, my thoughts were as dark as the fog that enshrouded me, made even worse in noting that there were no busses along here after about 8 a.m.  But I kept the faith, spinning frequently with thumb out.  And in doing so summoned up a miracle ride somehow, the driver stopping just in front of the village police box, prompting me to jokingly ask if this was legal.  A woman who I'd been keeping pace with during the last ten minutes was standing nearby, and laughed. 

The ride was a short one, along a quiet road that traced the shoreline before terminating at the tiny fishing village of Tsukide.  I dutifully followed a directional sign pointing up toward the hills,  pleased with both my good luck and with a gorgeous thatched roof house whose surroundings were decorated with items of a long ago age.  Within a minute the smile left my face, as the trail halted below a massive dam.  I scanned for any trace of trail, but all was overgrown.  I was further puzzled that my online map showed the route to be on the complete opposite side of the village.  I retreated back to to the sign I'd seen earlier.  

Besides being a national holiday, it also appeared to be a day when the entire hamlet was out for their village cleaning.  A man and woman were busy pulling debris out of the rocks at the water's edge.  I asked them if they knew about the Umi no Be, and in broken English, the man beckoned me to follow. 

I followed him into the house that I'd be admiring minutes before.  Both he and I were unmasked (mine in my pocket), but he seemed little concerned as he sat just beside me, and spread a paper map across our laps.  Local knowledge once again trumped technology, but he talked incredibly slowly, in what seemed to my deadline-obsessed mind to be like one syllable every three seconds.  Finally armed with the right directions, I moved quickly up some steep switchbacks, finding myself out of breath on the ridge a mere hour after leaving the train.  There was a decrepit little park there, so I stopped to de-layer before moving on.  

This was the time that I most feared the risk of bears, and I was walking a trail pockmarked with spiky horse chestnuts, most of them already cracked open.  The trail led over a little rickety bridge, offering me a Sorcerer moment in every step.  The opposite side had recently been torn apart by wild boar, probably the night before.  From here the path was carpeted with magnolia leaves, under any of which could be a viper a-coil. I wanted to believe that they were already in hibernation, as the cool fog chilled the sweat of my earlier climb.  

The paved parkway road below twisted and turned with the contours of the ridge.  But I followed a roller coaster that rose and fell, in keeping with the actual ridge line. I was still hoping for the fog to burn off, not only for the views that weren't too far in front of me, but also so I wouldn't surprise any bears that might also be.  I probably had nothing to fear from animals, giving fair warning with my huffing and puffing, this being my first real hike in almost three months.  And the moment I thought this, from the forest below me I heard a strange kind of yelp which wasn't a deer or any other bird I'd ever heard before.  It repeated a few times, followed then by a low roar. Shit!, a mother and her cub.  Their cries repeated a couple of times:  the yelp, the roar.  The squeal. The roar. It took the mind a second to parse out the motorcyclist on the road just below, firing up his bike with a squeaky kickstarter.

My route wasn't on either of my trusty go-to hiking apps, so I was flying blind, putting my trust in the signage.  It had been pretty good so far, but of the worn, 1990s vintage. Inevitably three decades of storms coming off the lake will have brought rot to the base of the post of one, and an arrow that I might eventually need to rely on will be lying in the overgrowth of weeds a half step off-trail.  Fingers crossed, I came over the peak that served as the ridge's high point, and continued my undulations south.  

And the fog lingered on, past the lunch hour.  Every time I came to a view point, I could do nothing but smile.  When I solo hike I'm generally pretty good with the weather, and I could have easily chosen the following day, though the forecast for the current day had looked better.  I could write an entire post on how poor the meteorological system has become in Japan over the last decade.  Not surprising, right on the heels of their investing massive amounts of money in new technology.  

I stopped for a moment to confirm my course from my digital map, which did at least include the southern half of my course.  And as I did, a venomous yamakagashi drifted across the trail two meters in front of me.  Some steps led down to the road proper, and then lo and behold I saw through the trees the lake opening up below me.  With the lifting of the fog, thus did my spirits.  

The trail began to drop steadily toward the fishing village of Sugaura.  I played peek a boo with views, the structures getting bigger each time.  The final descent to a lower section of trail was hazardous even with trekking poles, but it was through a gentle pitch of cedar forest that I returned to the water's edge.  I had flown over my hike today, and found that I had ample time to make my train.  It would be a two hour road walk to the station, but the course was flat, the skies now blue, and the lake's surface shimmered in the warm sunshine.

There were no signs here to speak of, but I knew that I was supposed to hug the lake's edge.  I detoured to follw a now closed trail that led directly along a long beach, before returning to the road again.  A quick glimpse of the map brought me to a halt, as it was possible that the trail might have returned to the hills above.  I backtracked on the road proper, looking for signs or any indications that it actually did, arriving yet again back where I'd popped out of the forest.  I scanned what little online info I could get on the trail, and finally came to the conclusion that I'd been correct all along.  

I thought I'd hitch to make up for my backtracking.  There were only a couple of features between here and the next town, so I walked to the first, a small cluster of Buddhist statues, before throwing out my thumb.  There very very few cars, but the second one did stop, driven by a middle aged woman on her way to work.  We were only together for five minutes or so before I hopped out again at a campsite, to walk the rest of the way to the station.  The town began to slowly build up not far along from here, past sorghum fields, run-down shacks, and the odd fishing business whose small stature betrayed a fleet of high powered boats. One beautiful and stately home looked recently abandoned, now overrun by a troupe of playful monkeys.  

Nagahara had the look of a feudal town, its narrow main street lined with houses mainly of wood.  I detoured to a shrine or two, then arrived early at the train station, to sit and read and sip from an iced coffee.  I watched some schoolkids play in a park just down the hill from my platform perch, and thought how we had all gotten the day right, had capitalized on the holiday and the weather, and the spirit of play that should be a mainstay of all of us, yet is too regularly obscured by the grey gloom of fog that rolls in from time to time, often of our own making.    

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "Community War Memorial Auditorium, 09-02-1980"


Sunday, November 20, 2022

Sunday Papers: Tim Parks


"The wheel may have given us mobility and freedom, but it cuts us off from the world."

On the turntable:  Phish, "Live Bait, Vol. 12"