Some days you don’t get blue skies.
And sometimes the trail markers are not very clear.
And sometimes things get a little steep.
And sometimes, when you’re chug-chug-chugging up through a long and neverending stretch of cedars, you get a feeling that you’re getting nowhere, that you’re looking up into the same trees you thought you had just passed, that your time to the top hasn’t diminished by a second.
But, usually, just then, that’s when the mist rolls in.
I like the mist.
The mist . . . in the forest . . . on the mountain.
When you’re on Mafuji Mountain, it’s a special sort of secret chamber, though, because all over the mountain you come across the Dieties of Mercy. The Goddesses of Kannon. If you’re in China, those may be the Goddesses of Kuan Yin.
These gals are great. They have heard all the sounds that the world has ever produced, and—I’m guessing—are aware of all the world has ever experienced. Just as you’d imagine, all that has turned them into exemplars of compassion. Their hearts are open to everyone. They turn no one away. They accept everyone. And they are all over Mafuji Mountain.
This poem roughly translates as . . .
Live for today.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Some folks may say that the Kannon gals are especially eager to protect women and children, and you may be tempted to think that, too, when you see the way they’re always cuddling a baby to their breasts. But as I walked by each, I felt they were just as ready to be compassionate with me as with my two female companions. I asked one of my female companions what she thought. She said my vibe was right. So that’s what at least two people in this world think.
But don’t expect these Kannon gals to fill you in on all they’ve learned, or all they know, or all they are aware of. As enlightened as they are, they could not possibly do that. All they can tell you is to do what they have done.
“Look. Listen. Experience,” one said, as I walked by.
Well, in the mist, you do listen. There is the chirping of scattered birds—and there is the silence. You can hear the silence best when you don’t move.
And you look. The sun and blue sky are way off somewhere, but moisture abounds, and it can brighten colors, too. Dusty greens and reds, all wet, glisten.
Against glistening backgrounds, blues and purples intensify.
And then you realize you are looking. Looking at everything. You can’t stop looking. And you see things that, maybe, in a way, aren’t really there.
Like a jack-o-lantern inside a battered leaf.
Or clams and driftwood washed up on a leafy shore.
Or a slivering flower bud poised to strike.
Really, diamonds in the moss.
Diamonds glistening in the misty light. Down on the ground. Inside the secret chamber. With you.
“I think I’m doing a lot more looking than listening,” I say.
“Whatever!” the Konnan gals reply, in chorus, giggling.
So what about the hike? you ask. How is all this going to help us plan our ascent? What kind of guide are you?
Okay, okay. Here are the details. We started. We took a wrong turn and had to turn back and find the right trail. (Imagine that! It was the trail that went up!)
A couple of hours later we were at the top. The ridge was about 10 degrees centigrade (maybe 22 degrees in Shizuoka City), but when we got to the peak (1403 meters) for lunch, it had turned oddly warm. Maybe that was because we offered up a total of 12 yen to the little god there (12 yen = 12 U.S. cents)—and the sun suddenly found a thin patch of cloud and mist to shine faintly through.
Actually, there are two peaks. They are named, as if for characters in a Dr. Seuss book, Peak One and Peak Two.
Somewhere near the lower peak (Peak One), there was a shrine, and we took several wrong turns looking for it, but finally we did find it. Its torii gate was broken—and it was not very big.
See, not very big at all. But it was very cute—I especially liked the gate—and there’s a nice view from there, too. So be sure to stop by.
From Shizuoka City, take route 29 to Hirano. At Hirano, turn right onto the rindoh (“the forest road”), just past the post office. Wind around for twenty minutes or so, across three bridges (I think it was three), past the “first” trailhead and the “second” trailhead. Park when you come to the “third” trailhead. That will be where you see the yellowish-orange sign that you can no longer read . A few years ago you could have read it just fine, and you would have been sure you’d indeed arrived at the “third” beginning point.
The sign that says there are bears in the vicinity is very legible. There are wild boars, too. Plenty of parking, at least for 9 or 10 cars, I’d guess.
Sometimes my right knee hurts coming down a mountain. It’s an old football injury. This time, though, it hurt only a wee bit—not nearly near enough to keep me from feeling immensely satisfied with the day.
Really, I did feel immensely satisfied. So immensely satisfied, in fact, that I had to give this guy a hug.
He’d been living on the mountain a long time, he said. He liked it there with all the Kannon gals.
We decided to suspend our regular hiking plans—all of us were more than ready to rest our weary legs—and headed for Kawane Hot Springs.
We got there late morning, and after soaking our feet in the outdoor hot spring for footsies only—a freebie—we decided that that was enough for a while. So we suspended our Kawane Hot Springs plan, at least until late afternoon. We got back in the car and headed up Highway 63 . . . and then Highway 77. We didn’t have any plan.
“But where are we going?”
No one said that. How nice, how wonderfully nice, it was!
The first interesting thing we came to was a suspension bridge. It seemed every one driving by was stopping there. It may have been my imagination but they seemed to have come across it suddenly—just as we had—and been unable to pass it by.
“Hey, let’s walk across that suspension bridge.” It was like nobody could not say that.
The sign says that no more than ten people at a time are allowed on the bridge. Your first thought may be that that has something to do with physics. Such as the bridge can only sustain so much weight. Or a large number of footsteps at various points might lead to a swaying that would leave some folks a little queasy.
But I think not. Because I’ve heard that when you walk across a suspension bridge, you often find yourself suspending disbelief. All sorts of disbelief. And all of a sudden you find yourself imagining that you, if you decided to, could make something come true.
So that’s the reason. No one really knows what might happen if more than ten people, all at once, all in the same place, came to believe that they themselves could make something come true.
Not far from the suspension bridge, we discovered a trail that lead, the sign said, to a waterfall. Just a five-minute walk.
How can you not walk five minutes to a waterfall? Of course, we did. The waterfall was okay. We took some pictures. But we discovered something much better— a new way of looking at the sky.
Or maybe a new way of the looking at the sky reaching down for us.
And then we were off in the car again, heading farther away from Kawane Hot Springs. Nope, we never made it back.
But we must have passed five or six suspension bridges. And then we realized we were awful close to Sumata Ravine and we thought what the hell.
Of course, that would be the Sumata Ravine, the one famous for its suspension bridge. We walked from the resort to the ravine, chatting with some silly monkeys along the way . . .
. . . and taking some pictures . . .
. . . and then got in line. The sign said that if you walked out to the middle and made a “love” wish that it would come true. I took the sign at it’s word . . . though I did interpret L-O-V-E broadly.
Only ten people at a time. Only ten people at a time allowed to suspend their disbelief, to belief, for a moment at least, in love.
But our turn came. We walked out to the middle. And it was a good moment. We just stood there, swaying a bit, bouncing a bit, not sure exactly what was under us, but seeing, in so many grinning eyes, the suspension of disbelief.
Saturday. The sentinels were out. Today, a steady rain. Monday, the typhoon’s coming.
The neighborhood. The beautiful rice. The beautiful cosmos.
A feathery fellow searching the rice.
A not so feathery fellow searching the rice.
Rice harvested. Rice harvested not.
Some folks harvest with machines. They skip the bundle-and-hang-upside-down step. An organic farmer I know tells me this isn’t wise. For a day or two, she says, more nutrients will flow from the stalk into the grains. More taste, she says passionately, will flow from the stalk into the grains.
And these guys and gals standing tall, watching over. Protecting. I’m hoping they’ll still be standing Monday.
How about these three guys? What are their chances?
I’m not sure what to say, but “Hang in there.” Or maybe, “Just do the best you can. . . . But be careful, too.”
It looks, though, as if it might get rough.
Jii-chan. Standing at the edge of one of our rice paddies, his short-handled sickle down by his side, his wide-brimmed straw hat shading his eyes, the early autumn sun turning the paddy to gold. Red dragonflies darting just above the ears of grain. the ears of grain, heavy, leaning into comfortable arcs, content. And me, looking up at his strong, rugged face.
“The Miyama sun” he says. “The tangerines and kumquats. The persimmons. The vegetables. The soil. We have been so blessed, Kenta. And this rice. Especially this rice. Just look at this beautiful, beautiful rice.”
He bends down. He rips, rips, rips his sickle through the stalks. I help him bunch and bundle them. On tiptoes, I struggle to life the bundles up to the line of wooden poles he has raised. He helps me. The two of us, together, hang the bundles up to dry.