Monthly Archives: August 2013

Where to finish?

Things are happening in the little garden out back . . .

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. . . and there are all sorts of delights around the neighborhood . . .


 . . . and way over yonder, across the big pond, they are celebrating, commemorating the 1963 March on Washington. A few days ago, I heard Martin Luther King III speak. No offense to him, but he doesn’t have his father’s voice. Man, his father’s voice, now that was something.

The 1963 MLK, Jr. speech was, of course, the “I have a dream” speech–but it’s another King speech, one given almost five years later, that’s been on my mind the last couple of months. Actually, I think it’s been on my mind forever.

Memphis. April 3, 1968. The next day he’d be shot down standing out on the balcony of his motel room. He seemed to have had premonitions that he would be.

That voice. I guess everyone has their own way of characterizing it, but for me it was both the voice of all courage and the voice of all humility. It was honest, never deceptive. It was a voice that knew that truth could be hidden–but could not be made untrue. The voice never stretched unnaturally, never seemed to push “authority” into words that didn’t deserve it.  You couldn’t help but listen and believe, and believing would make you feel so grateful that you–yes,  you–had actually heard it for yourself with your very own, perhaps unelegant, pair of ears. A blessing, for sure.

Unless you didn’t like what he had to say. In which case you probably would have felt scared to death. Because you couldn’t help but hear the truth in that voice, no matter what you wanted to hear. But listen for yourself. See what you think.


Next spring, I’m planning to teach To Kill a Mockingbird. It’ll be the second time in the last couple of years. This time I’ve got an idea to pair it  with a set of MLK, Jr. speeches. About a month ago, I was looking through a book I thought my Japanese students might be interested in, a King biography written for American children (from the Heroes of America, Illustrated Lives series)–one that my students could read very easily. (Fun for me to read, too!) In it, I learned something new.  Coretta Scott King said that she had been pretty sure her husband had originally planned on saying one more line. “What?” I thought. “That’s impossible!”

That final line, “Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the lord!” is absolutely perfect.  It says everything that needs to be said to finish off that speech. When you watch the video clip and see how King turns and almost falls away from the microphone after delivering the line, you know that he knew it was the perfect ending, too.

Where to finish? That’s the question. “His truth is marching on!” is not a bad line, either. Only you don’t need it, not here. It’s the age-old adage: less is more. You’ve just had the greatest moment in the history of oratory. ‘Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the lord!’ The power of those words are ringing in the ears of all. Add something, even something really good, and you diminish it. You diminish both lines. Of course, to pull off the “Mine eyes” line, it helps to have a voice like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s.

I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

Voice. Knowing where to finish. And there you have it.

*     *     *

“I had heard the name Martin Luther King before and had had a vague idea that blacks in America had been treated badly, but I had never known any more of black history than that. As Lee, an American, began to tell of it, I felt uneasy.” (Kenta Ishiguro, narrator of Along the Same Street)

Field of Flowers


One way to beat the mid-August heat of Shizuoka (and most other places in Japan). Head to the mountains. The tall ones. The ones they call ALPS.  That’s what me and my buddy Kelly did. He came by train from Nagoya. From Shizuoka, the drive, in the Aqua, was a wee bit over four hours. In Hakuba, leftover souvenirs from the 1998 Olympics can still be bought.

The trail up Mt. Shirouma (Mt. White Horse), from Sarugura, brings you to a trudge, of two hours or so, through a valley of icy, rippled snow. Bright and sunny–and cool.  Above the snow and ice awaits a bright, sun-drenched field of flowers. It’s a climb, make no mistake, but the flowers keep you company for a good hour and a half.  Above the field, it’s still a good ways up to the peak at 2932 meters.


Up the snow and ice

A green field of flowers waits–

Bold faces unite.

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Climb. Drink from the stream. Think big thoughts. Dream. Wonder. Read a paragraph or two from The Upanishads. Out loud.

But pack practically.  You need to strap climbing irons to your boots when you walk the “snow valley.”  Unless you like to slip and slide–and risk your neck and knees with every step. Some people do. Some people did.


Mid-morning Saturday my garden thermometer read 102.  Farenheit, that is. No need to get out your cell phone calculator. It comes to about 39 degrees Celsius.

One choice was to crank up the air conditioner and sit. Yeah, just sit it out. For days, weeks maybe. . . . Nope, that just wouldn’t do. Actually I’d been thinking about Ryuso since the night before. “Ryuso Mountain is right at 1000 meters,” my sports-club sauna buddy had told me a few days before. “That’s a four-degree difference.” A Celsius four-degree difference, he meant.  In the freezer, I had two chunks of rice. Soon they’d be onigiri.

Blue Aqua Hybrid. First to Senna, then up into the hills. About thirty minutes in all. I fill my bottles up from the hose that’s taking in water upstream somewhere. One of them I turn up right then. I fill it up again.


It all depends on your pace, but the leg up to Hozumi Shrine took me about thirty-five minutes. Close to the river, thick cedar canopy, cool. Well, cooler. Maybe thirty-one or so. I forgot to tell you that I have a long concrete stoop that runs the length of  the two sliding glass doors on the backside of my apartment.  It’s a sun catcher. That’s why my garden gets so hot in the morning. Thirty-nine in my garden probably meant thirty-five or so, on average, around town.

Anyway, I was soaked in sweat by the time I got to the shrine.  Was that better than sitting and checking my e-mail an extra twenty or thirty times? Of course it was. For me. You, you might come to a different conclusion.

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.”

. . . but with no premonitions of death!

And okay, not really all that dark.  But darker than back down in town, and, at least for the moment, deeper and more lovely.

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 One hundred and two.

Mossy mountain cedar trail.

A reason to move.

You won’t be surprised, given the Frost quotation above the moss and root photos, that 15 minutes after Hozumi Shrine you’re offered a choice. A road with metal stairs. A road without. My experience passing or not passing fellow hikers tells me that the road without is less traveled. But not untraveled. I took it.

But it didn’t matter so much. The two paths hook back up and lead to the very same summit! On this mountain, no danger of getting lost! Coming down, my knee asked me to take the stairs. My knee really likes the rail. I was happy to oblige.

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Ryuso Mountain is composed of twin peaks. First you come to Yakushidake, at 1051 meters, then you dip down and go back up to Monjudake, at 1041. In winter, from Monjudake, you get a great view of both Mt. Fuji and  the Southern Alps. Saturday, I got a great view of the haze.

BUT!  . . . the thermometer at the top of Yakushidake read twenty-eight.

Two riceballs. A bottle of mountain water. Twenty-eight degrees. Heaven.


“It didn’t make sense to me. It was like a giant cedar tree asking a hawk to teach it to fly. A cedar didn’t need to fly. It held its head up high enough already.” (Kenta Ishiguro, narrator of Along the Same Street)

Green, Green, GREEN!

Green, green, green! There’s no other place to start.


Shizuoka City. You know it’s going to be hot. In the morning, I keep the sliding glass door closed and the curtain pulled and the oscillating fan on medium, trying to preserve the night cool for as long as possible.

I do a little watering. Last night, I picked and boiled up just about all the edamame. Little green marbles of varying sizes now adorn my two kumquat trees—in pots. The rose stem I stuck in the ground two months ago has finally pushed out a new set of leaves. I knew it would. I kept the ground wet—and the old leaves never died.

The grasshoppers are feasting on my gardenias.

I don’t live on a farm, or in a house with a big yard, just in a small apartment in the middle of the city, one that happens to have a bit of garden space. Not so easy to find.

Noon. Get the camera. Hop on the bike. Only a minute away.

The rice fields are a joy year round, but as far as the color green goes, today’s as good as it gets.*


You can try to describe it. It’s vibrant. There’s still something of a young yellow green, but also a darker, purer green. It’s a color that makes you believe you can see the stalks growing. It’s a color the sun wants to shine on. It’s hazy all around, but to shine on the rice, the sun has burnt out a little ring of blue sky. And this seems to please the rice. I’m pretty sure the rice likes it, too, when a breezes comes through. I know I do. It’s hot. Very hot.

When I really try to describe it, though, all I need is the one word. Green. Because that’s pretty much it. Throw in a little voice, a humph of emphasis, and you’ve got all you need: Green, green, GREEN!


 *If you’re interested in rice growing throughout the year, check out the slideshow I put together to introduce the natural setting of my novel, Along the Same Street.