Monthly Archives: December 2014

The bluest blue


 We got to the Abe Pass to discover . . .


. . .  the bluest sky I’ve ever seen.

People sometimes talk about “power spots.” I don’t know whether the Abe Pass is one of those spots or not, but so many times of the year, it’s so wonderful to be standing in the middle of it.


Something about the way the two opposite slopes rush together, something about the way the trees lean out, in a “communicative” sort of way, into that bowl so comfortably round.

So I said to my hearty hiking partner the only thing I could say to my hearty hiking partner: “That’s blue. I mean, that’s the most beautiful blue I’ve ever seen. That’s the bluest blue I’ve ever seen.” And it must have been so, because when I said it, it sounded about as so as anything could sound.

We could have stayed home. There was the hour and fifteen minutes drive up to Umegashima. There was the possibility of an icy road—not much chance, at least during the morning, of temperatures getting above freezing. I’d made cookies. I could have sat around and whiled away the morning with a pot of coffee, lavishing myself with abundant calories.

But I didn’t. We didn’t.


Most of the time, we drive right on past the village of hot spring inns, the ryokan, and wind right on up the mountain road for another twenty minutes, to the “parking lot.” But it’s almost the new year, and we guessed there would be significant snow–so we started the walk from the village itself. An hour later, we were through the cedar forest and back out on the road. We’d have never made it in a car–at least not in my Aqua.


Fortunately, I pretty much knew the points where we had to cross, back and forth, over the little Sakasa River,  and it was a serene walk up to the pass.


The deer seemed to think so, too.

First along the river itself, then along the dry river bed. Less than an hour and we were at that magical pass.


“Man, that sky is blue.”

And then dead right we turned, straight up the slope that would take us to the ridge of Bara-no-dan. Once we hit the ridge, the view opened up.


There was a bit more accumulation of snow along the ridge, a lot of it still soft, and that made the walking—not particularly difficult or dangerous—but, well, just a little more . . . a little more adventurous.


Even the elves that accompanied us had their “irons” secured tightly to their boots.


(No, no, they don’t iron their boots—and neither do we.)

If the moisture and wind and temperature are all just right, a feathery ice will adhere itself to the bare shiro yashio twigs. You’ve probably got a three- or four-hour window to see this in.


But if you want to see the feathers glisten, you may only  have a ten-minute window.

First, it’s dark. You can’t see. Then the light filters in, and you can see. That’s the way it works. Then the sun tips over the upper ridge. The feathery ice glistens. The brown seeds and the red buds of the shiro yashio, side by side, shine with tremendous respect for one another. You feel as if you’ve been invited to a pageant.


And then it melts.

Take a picture now.  If you like. Look now. It’ll all be gone when you pass back by on your way down. Yeah, a ten-minute window. And you just happened to come along.


Me and my hearty hiker partner, we looked at each other and sang the chorus from one of the many songs in our ever-expanding repetoire:

We laughed at their lot

And we put up a paradise!


Yes! It’s truly lovely!

So shall we really forgo resolutions for the New Year?

If we do, it should only be because they’ve become obsolete—because we’ve already resolved to make new resolutions with every day that breaks.

The sun is but a morning star. . . . HDT


Waaaaah! And then you’re at the top. You left the inn at 8:45 AM. You stopped to take two hundred and thirty-one pictures. (You’ll like maybe ten or fifteen.) And you needed the time to take off one of your gloves for each photo opportunity. You banged your boots up against tree trunks, clearing the snow, thirteen times. You took off your boots and dumped out snow twice. You slipped and fell on your bum once. You stopped and said, “Man, that’s blue. I mean, that is the bluest blue ever,” six times. You stopped, wanting to say it all even one more time, but you knew you no longer had to, so you just stood there, leaning on your hiking poles and grinning like a fool . . . who-knows-how-many times. Once you stopped and stared at those yashio seeds and buds, thinking about the seeds in the pots you have back home, wondering if they’ll really sprout when the spring comes. You imagined the slivers of green slipping out from their soft brown cases–and for a moment, you “drifted away.”

And then a few times you and your hearty hiking partner stopped and talked a bit about “real” things–homes, family, budgets. It was four, maybe five degrees below the freezing point (celsius), but you never bothered to dig out either of the jackets you have in your backpack. You didn’t need to.

Yes, yes, you dropped a glove, took a couple of steps forward, went back for it. . . let’s say, seven times. No fears, you never lost it!

And now it’s 12:15 PM and you’re at the top! Take out your gore-tex jacket, spread it across the snow, sit down, enjoy a rice ball and a hot cup of ginger tea.


Bask in the sun.

Maybe tip your hat to Mr. Fuji.

 141228_fuji_baranodan2_600  He may tip his hat to you.


(But you can’t pull the wool over his eyes, so don’t even think about it.)

And then down you go. Probably you’ll find the snow takes it easier on your knees than the solid ground does. Enjoy sliding around a bit. Pretend you’re a child.

Actually there’s no need to pretend.

Happy New Year!

*  *   *

I think this may be my hearty hiking partner’s typical image of me.


White-eyed persimmon dreams


Wow! I’m not the only one that has persimmon dreams!

These mejiro (white-eyes) go crazy when the persimmons’ sugar liquifies and the peels turn translucent and soft.

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How do I know they’re having persimmon dreams? Man, just look at the way they flit around, how frenetic they are. You try taking a picture of one.


Every New Year’s Day, Jii-chan would climb the tree beside the cowshed and stick slices of tangerine on bare twigs. . . . A hundred, maybe two hundred, tiny white-eyed, green birds, flitting from limb to limb, would bring the winter tree to life. 

                                                                                                  Kenta Ishiguro


Yatsu Mountain sunset


Sometimes you’ve got to go to work.  You know, the day job. You can’t be climbing mountains every day. But lucky you.  You bicycle past Yatsuyama every day. Right downtown. And even with the day job, you can find the thirty or forty minutes it takes to get up and down—less, if you run.

Yatsuyama. Yatsu Mountain. All of 108 meters above sea level. Once I told someone I liked hiking in the mountains. I told him when I didn’t have much time I’d hike up Yatsu Mountain. He laughed and said that you could hardly call Yatsuyama a mountain.


That had been bothering me a bit, but this time, atop Yatsuyama, I was lucky enough to run into a goddess ( somewhat diminuitive and rather bent in the back)  . . .


. . . who’d just been cleaning up the place, and I asked her what she thought.

“Is Yatsuyama a real mountain?”

“Did you climb up it?” she asked.


“Along the way, did you hear elfish voices saying, ‘Keep going! Just a little farther?”


“I think so.”

“Was there a top?”

“This is the top, isn’t it?”

“It is, indeed. And you can look down and see stuff, can’t you? Look, the whole city, the ocean.


And if you look out, you can look over a lot a stuff and see a lot more stuff. See, there are the southern Alps. And step over there, and I think you’ll find an old friend of mine out and about.”


I did. Mt. Fuji.

“I see,” I said. “Thank you.”

Ah, what a wonderful thing to be able to say: I was kind of busy, I didn’t have much time—just enough to climb a mountain.

Yeah, not much time. Just enough, up on Yatsuyama, to watch the sun set.


Just enough time to see the sun set a single spear of pampas grass aglow.


Amazingly, the spear was not overwhelmed. It made the sun’s light swirl, and while it took in all the sun’s energy, it kept its own glow soft.

And I thought that if I could only take home that swirl of soft glow, that swirl holding the whole of the sun, if I could only hang it over the dinner table that evening, a light and lightshade au naturel, well, someone might just lean across the table and give me an equally soft kiss.


Frost flowers


Some stuff you can predict. It’s December. The air is dry. The trees are mostly bare. Climb Ryuso and you’ll almost surely sit down to a clear view of Fuji.

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There will be lots of brittle brown stuff to see, and those red buds, too (if you look for them), on trees big and small. How determined those buds are to hold their own through the winter!

But there is always something—big or small—that you can’t predict, and that’s half the fun.

I guess we were about halfway up the mountain when we started noticing the white clumps here and there. At first, I thought they might be some sort of fungus. Then I thought that they were surely some paper or vinyl that had been thrown away and blown about.

And then I got right up on one.


It was a flower. A rose. A rose whipped up from frost.

At the top of the mountain, everyone was talking about these frost flowers. All the folks I talked to about them said they’d never seen them before—even those who I knew had been climbing Ryuso every week for years and years. But there these frost flowers were–all different shapes and sizes, each one unique.

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Somehow, a certain amount of moisture and a certain temperature and a certain breeze had come together in a certain way and that whole batch of whatever-it-had-become had spun itself up the reedy brown stalks that poked out from the brown needles carpeting the cedar forest floor.


We hikers weren’t the only ones intrigued by them. Fuji-san thought about them so much and got so lost in his imagination that his head got stuck in the clouds and he could not get it out.


At least not that afternoon.


Magical maple merrymakers


It was a grey, misty day when we turned up the narrow road following the Takinoya River and headed for the Fudo Gorge. Our mission: magical maples.

The walk started under umbrellas. Fortunately, when the downpour came, we were close to a roofed, open-air picnic spot, and we could enjoy lunch there. By the time we’d finished eating, the rain had stopped.

Just as we’d planned.


Under a canopy of mist, the colors were lovely.   There was a maple-tree park at one bend of the river, and then, a couple of hundred meters downstream (maybe), a small temple—road level, but high above the river. All around the temple, maples leaned out over the river—and across the river, against a stone cliff, stood the gorge’s namesake, Fudo, the fiery, sword-wielding, “immovable” wisdom king. A god, if you will.


He wasn’t hiding. He was standing tall—and spewing fire, it appeared—but the shadows were tricky, and at first I didn’t see him—even though I was looking right across at where he was and there were no more than three hops and two skips between us.

Let that be a lesson to me. The gods protecting the gorges that host the maples are as solid and as real as stone–but they are not always discernible at a quick glance. You’ve got to be prepared to see them. You might have to look around a bit.


I’d been thinking that the colors in the mist were beautiful but that I’d like to see them in the bright sunshine too and that maybe coming twice was a good idea, when all of a sudden the sun came out.  The sky turned a magnificient blue. Just like that.

Wow. A single day. A double delight. Lucky, lucky, lucky.


It was lovely.


I mean, really, really lovely.


One maple leaf was so tickled with the way the day had turned out that it zoomed up into the sky and sailed high above the clouds. Way up above the clouds. See how small the clouds look down there?

Okay, okay, so that’s not the sky. It’s just the top of my Aqua. The leaf is just stuck on the roof of my car.

But Aqua was so tickled to have all those maple leafs surfing his surface, wishing they could fly . . . that he flung open his doors and tried to take off.


As you can see, I got my remote control whipped out just in time to switch off Aqua’s dare-to-fly switch. It’s not like me, I don’t think, to get in the way of someone else’s desire to take flight, but this time, I have to admit that my desire to get home before the day was done got the best of me. Forgive me.


There’s something magical about leaves piling up. I remember when I was a boy, raking up all the oak leaves in our yard. They were brown and not as lovely as these, but you’d be looking at that pile, and looking at that pile . . . and looking at that pile . . . and then you’d jump in. You just had to.

As I stood there feeding my eyes with these particular maple leaves, I suddenly found myself imagining an elementary school art room—one  with lots of slopjar-like buckets of paints, wallpaper-like rolls of white paper, dozens of hefty brushes, and a good twenty or twenty-five rowdy boys and girls.

The instructions are simple: There’s the paint. There’s the paper. There are the brushes. Fingers might do as well. Go.

An elementary school classroom with walls that display the artwork of each and every kid in the class is one of the most beautiful man-made spots on earth.

Sometimes, there’s a theme given. For example, paint your favorite animal. But one kid’s parrot may look like another’s giraffe. And line up all the fish created and you’re likely to have a rainbow. But somehow all the different kids’ shapes and colors come together to create one raucous, rollicking flow, and it all seems—the class’s work as one, the gestalt—so invigorating, so full of energy and zest.

Imagine you have six kids. And you have all these maple leaves. What you’ll want to do is keep the instructions simple: Hey, look at all these leaves. Go!

Here’s what I think you’ll get.

 141129_fallen_leaves_flat6_295  141129_fallen_leaves_flat2_295 141129_fallen_leaves_flat3_295   141129_fallen_leaves_flat5_295141129_fallen_leaves_flat7_295   141129_fallen_leaves_flat1_295

 Wah! Wonderful!  All the paintings are different but they look great together!

Hey, here’s an idea. Take all these leaves to school. Pile them up in the middle of the classroom. Give each kid two square meters of wall space. Say go.

You like to feel beauty in your life. Why wouldn’t you want them to in theirs?

So the kids fly into the big pile of leaves. Only a disbeliever will say it’s chaos.


But the result would be sublime. Almost anyone could tell you that.

Oh, sorry, Oliver, that’s not quite what I meant to say. What I do mean to say is that anyone with wide-awake and discerning eyes could tell you that those classroom walls would be sublime. Is that a better way of putting it, Oliver?

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The maple park at Fudo Gorge is really a stone statue and maple park. These little guys are so cute and cuddly. They just look so darned round and comfortable and snuggle in under the maples in the most delightful manner. Makes you want to walk slow, to stay longer than maybe you’d planned. Notice how the one on the right proudly shows off a “charm point. “


The more abstract pieces snuggle in, too. They’re made just enough to make you marvel at how natural their position in the park seems to be.

You, too, will feel like snuggling in.


“But that’s just four rocks plopped down together! They’re shaved a bit, but it’s still just four rocks!”

If you feel like saying something like this . . . then why don’t you take the dare: Go find four rocks for yourself. Shave them a bit. Plop them down. See what you can do.

Or just forget about the stones if you don’t care for them. Just think about those elementary school students exploring the fallen leaves, discovering all sorts of patterns.


Exploring the leaves, delighting in the colors, discovering patterns, making patterns certainly seemed like enough joy for Ollie—he of the wide-awake and discerning eye.