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 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.