Monthly Archives: November 2014

A big shiny mountain


Early morning, November 23rd. We pulled into the Kogane Hot Springs parking lot just in time to see the sun sneak over the mountain and light up the maples lining the highway.  It was the perfect day to climb Oh-Pikkari Mountain, literally “the big, shiny mountain.” Blue, blue skies most of the day.


Japanese language 101. Three Chinese characters. OH. Big. HIKARI. Light, shine. YAMA. Mountain.

I’d never thought much about the name, but when you start up the side of the mountain closest to the Shinden bus stop, you ascend through a long stretch up of cedar the first half of the climb, but then climb-along a sun-drenched ridge the second half of the ascent—and you realize, at least on a day like this, there could be no better name.


Even deep in the cedars, the light slips in. Of course, this sneaky light inspires you to go, go, go–and get up on that ridge, so that you can bathe in it fully.


But it’s not exactly easy. You’ve got to go UP. You’ve got to go up a lot. Thank goodness, for these two pulling me up through their wake.

But this sneaky light also works as a spotlight, landing on color here and there, as on this little patch of moss.


Or on these beech tree leaves.


This particular phenomenon (ray of sunshine slamming into November beech leaves or moss) has been proven, in legitimate scientific experiments, experiments conducted throughout history in a variety of laboratories all over the world, to elicit smiles from human beings. The only cases in which this lit-up moss and these lit-up leaves did not produce smiles were those in which the subjects had their eyes closed. Or had motes in their eyes.


Once this sneaky light pries open your eyes, you find that you’re not only interested in seeing what it lights up so wonderfully, but interested in seeing everything.


Yes, yes, everything. Imagine that for a second. Everything around you is a feast for your eyes.


Then you’re up on the ridge.


A sitting tree awaits, itself bathed in light. You can’t miss it. You hear it speak: “Tough climb, huh? Take a little rest?”

The evolution of sitting trees is an amazing story in itself, but I don’t want to sell it short here, so I’ll wait for another opportunity, a time when I can give you the full story.


And then you’re out in the open, along that last two-hundred-meter stretch leading to the Oh-Pikkari peak. There’s Jumai mountain layered out on your right.


And there’s your dear friend Fuji-kun!


And look! there’s some sort of tree with red berries. If you were a bird, one strong and adroit enough to both carry and operate a camera in full flight, you could take a picture of the berries with the mountain ridge, with all its soft green sasa bamboo, in the background, but alas, you are not a bird . . . so this is the only shot you can take. Take ten steps to the right, or to the left, aim your camera, and it’s all the same. All you’ll ever get are these red berries pressed into this endlessly blue sky. Ah, shucks!


And as you head down the ridge the opposite way, you will not be able to stop glancing over at your buddy, Fuji-kun. It’s good to have a steadfast friend. It’s even better to walk along a well-lit ridge with a steadfast friend right there at your side.


Just then someone calls out to you: “Come look at this light!”

My goodness! This light. That light. The stuff is everywhere!  Almost makes you dizzy.


And then you come to the landmark you’re looking for. You don’t have time to go all the way to the Abe Pass. You’ve got to take a sharp left at this clump of giant beech trees and head down the steep trail that will eventually have you strolling along the bank of the Sakasa River.

It’s steep. Lots of ropes tied to tree trunks. If you’re built low to the ground and have iron in your thighs, you may not need the ropes. Me, I found them handy.


The light continues to shine on everything. My favorite tree up here in these Umegashima area mountains is the Shiroyashio. They bloom around May. Lovely white azaela-like flowers. And five-“petaled” bright green leaves tipped in red. See the post “Where I Was.”

A seed. A bud. Side-by-side. A backdrop of blue.

As Mr. Vonnegut used to like to say, so it goes.

Sure, your legs are getting tired. If you’re me, you’re knees are stiffening up, and you’re taking a little care with each step. But the light continues to hit things.


And you continue to say, “Hey, look over here. Look at this.”


“And this.”


“And this.”


“And this.”


And then you’re back out on the highway, walking along, back toward the hot springs, from the opposite direction–and seeing that the day is disappearing.

The light has in mind lying down for a well-deserved rest. Go ahead, you say. Thanks for a great day.


But still you can see the light in things, feel the light that has accumulated in things. You know that these persimmons still hold enough light to bring on persimmon dreams in any person who dares to gaze up at them long enough.

By the time you get back to the onsen, it has closed for the day. Your right knee groans. Shut up, you tell him. We had a great day, you say to him.

Your right knee shrugs. He agrees. And then he asks you if you’d mind just sitting down for a while, right there in front of the entrance to the onsen.

Sure, you say. And you do.


Thanks, kumquats!


Thanks to the sun and rain for the kumquats. Thanks to the typhoon for leaving most of the kumquats. Thanks to the kumquats for the winter color to come.


Thanks to Ryuso Mountain. You saved my life.


Thanks to the man I sometimes meet on Ryuso Mountain, for giving me this dried persimmon. (Did he see that I was the type to always be having Persimmon Dreams?)


Thanks to my hiking buddies for pulling me up through their wake.


Thanks to my camera for helping me  see better. I apologize for all the times I’ve dropped you.


Thanks to this particular telephone pole, for always being in the perfect spot.

Thanks to Dr. Bates, for including Moby-Dick on his syllabus. I think that was 1978.


Thanks to this particular copy of the book, to all its yellowing pages. Both the cover and the pages have held up well.


Thanks to Ishmael and Queequeg for their friendship. Thanks to Ishmael for taking a long and hard look at things and sharing his thoughts. Thanks to him for suggesting an outlook on things that works pretty well. Works pretty well for me, at least.

Thanks to all those folks who tend to gather in Watkinsville this time of year. Thanks to friends and family here, there, and everythere–including those I haven’t been able to meet or speak with in a long, long time. You are not forgotten–nor ever will be. I’ll be thinking of you when I make Christmas cookies.


I choose color



It was late October and we were up in Umegashima, climbing up to Bara-no-dan and enjoying the colors.

Elsewhere, the school teacher, Ishmael, was “growing grim about the mouth” and “involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses.” Soon, “a damp, drizzly November” was playing havoc with his soul, and the deep, dark sea was pulling at him. Before he knew it, he’d committed himself to a whaling voyage—really,  a mad attempt to grasp “the ungraspable phantom of life.”

The ungraspable phantom of life. In this case, the whale, Moby Dick. The white whale, Moby Dick.

141026_fall_colors_road_500Ishmael tells us that, sometimes, “whiteness refiningly enhances beauty”—but when it’s divorced from its “more kindly associations,” and “coupled with any object terrible in itself,” it heightens terror “to the furthest bounds.”

Thus, he says, not even the “fierce-fanged tiger . . . can so stagger courage as the white-shrouded bear or shark.” Thus, he says, the white albatross elicits such a “pale dread.”


Finally, Ishmael says, it’s white‘s “visible absence of color” and white‘s colorless “indefiniteness” that make it capable of terrifying so. That’s why, he says, when you look up at the “white depths of the milky way,” you will feel so intensely “the heartless voids and immensities of the universe”—why you feel as if you’ve been stabbed from behind “with the thought of annihilation.”

And that’s all the explanation we need, he tells us, for “the fiery hunt” for the white whale.



Well, Ishmael, I can understand you taking the one trip. I can understand diving deep once, trying once to get a firm hold on that “ungraspable phantom of life”—but more than one trip is a bit silly, don’t you think? I mean, risk your life searching the seven seas once and you learn, don’t you, that ungraspable means, well, “ungraspable”?


So next time I hope you’ll give the white annihilation gig a miss. I mean, for you, white is so horrifying, so exasperating, so mind-boggling—why not head for where the color is?

Yeah, why not come with us next time we head for the mountains? Why not come to Shizuoka and enjoy the fall colors? We’d be glad to have you. No mind-boggling, I assure you. Just simple joy.


But just like you had to get your sea legs, you’ll have to get your mountain legs. I think it’s worth it, though.

Do you hear me? Why go looking for annihilation? Annihilation will find you soon enough. 


Just imagine this. Ahab is raging. Moby Dick has sounded, and Ahab, standing in his whale boat, his arm cocked, the harpoon aimed, waits for him to surface—waits for the white horror, “the ungraspable phantom,” the back-stabbing annihilator, to surface. Oh, the joy of murder!

But Moby Dick doesn’t rise from the dark depths. And then, out of the corner of his eye, Ahab sees, floating just beneath the surface, a single red leaf.  For a moment, he thinks he might harpoon it. But he doesn’t. And before he knows it, he’s dropped the harpoon. He’s hanging himself over the side of the boat. He’s scooping up the leaf in his hand.


“Back to the ship!” he screams. “We’re heading home! If we hurry we can catch the last of the maples!”

Yeah, yeah, I hear you chuckling. “What kind of adventure tale would that make!”

But I know you know I’m right. Do we really want to see Ahab fling his harpoon at Moby Dick? Do we really want to see the harpoon line wrap around Ahab’s neck? Is there any real fun in that? Do we really want to see him pulled down to a damp and dark death?

Isn’t he our friend, too? Wouldn’t you rather see him walking the ridge, looking across at the mountain opposite, the sun setting the colors aglow?

Give it some thought.

In the case I don’t hear from you, Ishmael, I’m sending you a photo we took during our October 26 hike. If you have to fixate on white, don’t you think you might as well fixate on it while its hooked up with its “more kindly associations”?


Far enough?


Somewhere near the duck pond . . .


Somewhere near the tea fields . . .


Somewhere near the good eats . . .


Somewhere over the rainbow . . .


Way up high . . .


There’s a land that I dreamed of . . .


Once in a lullaby.

Is this neighborhood a good place to live? Is it far enough over the rainbow?


November Cosmos . . . and persimmons



I had a bit of a cold, but the forecast was calling for clouds in the afternoon and for rain all the next day, so I decided to ride the bicycle around the neighborhood for a bit while the sky was still blue. I could get a bit of sun, and away from the soggy tissues, breathe the fresh autumn air.


I was glad I did. All across the neighborhood all sorts of flowers were blooming.

In November.

I was meandering about, taking pictures, when suddenly I remembered my friend Tamiko telling me about some cosmos that were blooming somewhere near the prefectural hospital. I called her and she explained where they were. I was expecting a little plot, a couple of meters squared, so I was in for a pleasant surprise.


Wow! I was pretty sure I was in an ordinary intown neighborhood (the lovely cement electrical pole being the big hint), but I half felt I’d made my way to the land of Oz—that it was all right there, spreading out right in front of me. (Imagine the moment when Dorothy and her buddies emerge from the forest and spot the magnificent home of the wizard across the field of flowers—before the wicked witch of the West sticks her big nose into things.)


Lovely, indeed.

The lady living in the house across the street was out, so I chatted her up, and she, it ends up, was the one who’d planted the field. She’d rented it from a guy living on the other side of it. She’d been planting rice in the summer and these cosmos in the fall, for the last six years.  I told her she had done a wonderful thing.


A young couple had come along, too, with their one-year-old girl. The man and woman took turns taking pictures. I love to see parents trying to get their little ones to smile, and I was happy to offer to snap a shot of the three of them together. Of course, with their camera, not mine.

I like to feel useful at least once a day, even if it’s only something on this level.



But if it’s November and the cosmos are lovely like this, then the persimmons are bound to be, too. Indeed, trees all over the neighborhood were heavy with fruit.

And you know about my thing for persimmons. So plump, so orange, so magical.


And yes, yes, I’ll say it again: I cannot stop having persimmon dreams.

And I suspect I’m not the only one. You may think that the folks living in the house below are merely hanging persimmons out to dry so that they can eat them . . .


but don’t be surprised if you discover that they sleep inside that nearest room, and with their heads closest to that sliding glass door, and that they do so intentionally so that they can better have persimmon dreams.


The bright orange of the persimmon,

What makes it?

The sun, the soil, or the rain?

Or the blue of the sky,

As I lie on the ground

Looking up?

                                         Kenta Ishiguro

I knew, what with the cold, I was going to be a bit worn out when I got back home, and that my cough would come roaring back—and it did—but after all my meandering, I could not not go back and take one more look at that beautiful field of cosmos.

Before the clouds and the rain rolled in.


A damp, drizzly November


Acorn squash for lunch in the university cafeteria. For dessert, ginko leaves.

Oh, Ishmael, I love you, buddy, but you should have stuck with me in November.

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is A DAMP, DRIZZLY NOVEMBER in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.


I get it. You needed to get away. But if you’d just planned ahead a bit more, if you’d just imagined how you might have felt in November had you, in order to prevent that melancholy from washing over you, gone up to New England and imbibed the fall colors in October, all your trouble could have been avoided.

But even if you did let November slip up upon you, you could have just come to visit me. I’m guessing the trees here in Shizuoka in November are a lot like they are in New England in October.

Why, oh, why did you choose to immerse your gray soul in a gray sea and go on a wild hunt for a colorless whale? Trust me, the bright fall colors would have been better for your damp, drizzly soul.  We know its dark down in the depths of the ocean. No need to confirm it.


Certainly, if I could have met you at the docks, I would have suggested the mountains of Umegashima over the Pequod, or at least a walk around our Shizuoka University campus.

I wish you could have been on campus with me today. I truly do.

And I hope I can take you to the mountains some time.


Well, you had your hard time, and I’m not sure where you are now, but if you have access to these words, let me take this opportunity to extend an open-ended invitation to you: come look at the colors.

They’re everywhere.


Maybe next time, a bit about that Ahab dude.