Friday, July 20, 2012

Taking the High Road

Ikoma's shape is easy to admire from afar.  It rises out on the plain that separates Osaka from Nara.  The low rise of hills rolls south, pointing toward the higher peaks of Katsuragi and Nijo.  Like those latter peaks, Ikoma too was a spiritual center from long ago.  With the trains came the tourists, and later still the maidens of the red-light districts in the towns below.  

We saw more of the former I suppose, a testament to the hiking boom of the last few years.  The mountain's trails weren't necessarily crowded, and brought to mind the numbers seen more often on a weekend day of a few years back.  The numbers are far greater today, Wes assured me.

We'd started our walk from the northern edge of hills intending to walk along the ridge for the better part of the day.  Trains are never fun on an early weekday morning, but at least we weren't heading to an overchilled office.  Cool biz was very much in effect, the legions of men descending the stairs in their white shirts looking like the quick moving water spilling over falls and over black rocks.  In their midst, a group of boys in their school uniforms seemed headed to the back nine. We left them in the bus queue of other students as our own bus pulled away.  

Like many walks down that way, ours started on a busy road.  After about ten minutes we found the first of the parks.  This particular trail, the Ikoma Nature Trail  (生駒縦走)  serves to intersect the many parks up on the ridges of Ikoma.  Most of the parks remained unseen, but the trail took us through the heart of this first one, past the parking lots, vending machines, and toilets that were the habitat of some weird, stick-like insects.  The trail then stayed in the forest, around a few ponds and across a dam.  We descended through a riot of mosquitos, to the farm of a poultry lover, his pens filled with edible birds of various sizes.  We met a highway here, and crossing it, found a quartet of men setting a trap.  When we asked them what they were after, one old-timer mischievously said in English, "Rascal."  I followed with my own joke, asking if they made good eating, which caused all four of the men to turn and look at me simultanously in a chorus of "eeeeh!"   There was another trap not far away, and closer inspection revealed the two 'araiguma' they'd said they'd caught.  Translated directly as "red-bear," we were surprised to find ourselves looking at a pair of American style raccoons.   We wondered if they'd once been somebody's pets, for they seemed unafraid and almost affectionate, as they pressed noses and paws through the cage toward us.  But the gestures of the old man cured us of this notion, as his curled fingers made like the gnashing of fangs.

Wes and continued on through the growing heat, to a soundtrack of baseball players warming-up somewhere beyond the trees.  Along the way was "Ueda Constructions" (sic), whose company logo was painted in a style more often seen on a '60s bungalow of some So.Cal beach town.  The trail finally brought us away from civilization, past a husband-wife farmer team resting in the shade near a surprisingly waterless lotus paddy.  We skirted a golf course through a tunnel of bear-grass, which opened again at a massive stone marked as the god of the Dragon King.  Previously trips to Ikoma have revealed multiple variations of reptilian gods, including those white serpents up on Shigisan.  But despite the hundreds of frogs jumping absolutely everywhere, we didn't see a single snake all day. 

We were climbing some now, so stopped for elevenses at a picnic table in the shade.  We were joined briefly by a cheerful couple who'd just returned from a visit to the States, with obligatory Vegas trip and Grand Canyon helicopter tour.  They stayed close by as we made our way higher, but left us to continue to the top of Ikoma itself.  We kept to the ridge trail, which led us through a park rife with Hibiscus in full bloom.  After dropping down a very warm hillside, we ascended again slightly to a temple that serves as the perfect lunch spot.  Under the shade of rafters, we dined, the scent of green chile in Wes's burrito serving as the madeline to my Proust, prompting me to launch into a long monologue about where I come from.  Wes in turn spun his own like tale.  It was a peaceful place.  I could have happily sat there all day, but the noise of a power weeder started up, prompting us on.

We arrived at a hilltop park just below Ikoma's peak proper.  A dozen or so people were here in post lunch repose, including one guy completely zonked out despite the hot sun.  Wes and I sat atop a rock overlooking Osaka and deciphered landmarks. It was a bit hazy down there in the true heat, but the views were pretty good.  We stopped briefly in a resthouse to buy a cold drink from a surly guy in a bad uniform.  I thought that I'd left him behind, but seemed to be carrying him still, as the encounter prompted a new theory that similar jobs in the States are (generally speaking) usually held by people with a love for the outdoors.  In Japan, many seem to be mere bureaucrats.  Wes told me a few stories about troubles he's had with mountain hut staff up the Alps, a couple in times of bad and dangerous weather.  These instances, and my own, reaffirm another theory I have about attitudes and behaviors following age lines.  The youngest and greenest staff seem paralyzed by rules and aren't able to go beyond them.  The middle-aged are worse, in their mid-level positions and jaded attitudes.  They're more able to think for themselves, yet often chose not to be of assistance in extreme circumstances.  It is old-timers that are the most flexible, humanity reasserting itself over time.   

Our own weather was getting extreme, with the heat rising dramatically as we paralleled the ridgetop skyline road.  We rested in the shade of a lookout, where I cleverly dumped out about a quarter of my remaining water.  The lookout had a set of unsupported stairs that extended diagonally out over the parking lot like a diving board.  I ignored the tingling in the perineum to enjoy the view of Osaka emerging from the haze.  I raised my camera and all lined up for a pic: the city, the bridges of Awaji, the mountains beyond Rokko.   A couple drove up at some point, on an obvious early date, and laughed at the padlocks clasped onto a pair of metal rings placed here by other couples in a significant affirmation of a relationship far further down the line.

We followed the ridgeline, the heat slowing us some.  A few large mushrooms rose from the forest,  their presence alone making me wonder if we'd earlier ingested their party-friendly brethren.  Seven-foot high toadstools, hollowed out, for some unknown purpose?  Yep, the heat was getting to us.  

Past the Jizo of Jūsan-toge, familiar from an earlier hike.  One of the main reason's I'd wanted to do this ridge hike was to see the layout of numerous side trails that ran up from every train station.  We followed one familiar path, over a valley awash with wild hydrangea.  Past a couple picnicking on a bridge.  Past the cult headquarters with it's cool logo. Past another mushroom that is the radar station, then finally to the funicular station and its welcoming cold drinks.

The cablecar was nearly empty, so we sat at the front, looking straight down the tracks, waiting for the ride to begin.  I surely hoped there'd be no rolling blackouts as we made our way down.  Then a series of trains, each growing in length the nearer to Osaka.  The trains grew crowded as we spilled over into rush hour.  Our final ride, seated across from a grumpy old git who kept shouting "Silence please!" despite our conversation being in quiet tones.  Far quieter than him anyway.   He seemed to be placed here as some sort of challenge to the day's theorizing. Challenging Wes believing Osakans are among the friendliest people in Japan.  Challenging me believing old men are more humane.  

But the old man has ridden on now, as have I.  Kyoto bound, emerging from underground just beside the gaudy glitter of Osaka castle.  Far more subtle are the familiar shape of Ikoma rising behind.  Brown and green, moving toward blue as the light goes.

On the turntable:  Husker Du, "Candy Apple Gray"
On the nighttable:  Tim O'Brian, "July, July"

1 comment:

Zacky Chan said...

Dude, great writing. Funny how in Japan, all the different things you see before the real adventure of the mountaintops. Limited by time and a bicycle, most of my trips are just that.

Sorry I didn't get back to the comment I left a while ago. It seems I'll be going to Sado alone for a hike across the mountains on the westside. Have you hiked around there before? I'm running into a lack of resources of information on this. If you have any helpful info please let me know. Looking at maps, it seems I could hike across them in two full days. As for the Earth festival, it seems that will wait until next year as well. Maybe I'll see you there in the future.