“Steve,” I’ve been told again recently, “You seem to go on some nice hikes, but it’s a bit difficult to follow your train of track of train sometimes, so if possible, could you be a bit more literal, you know, provide a bit better ‘physical description of the trail,’ especially as in regard to landmarks and trail markers, so that we can find our way to the top of the mountain, as you did, without losing our way.”
Okay, this time, I’ll do my best.
Get yourself to the parking lot of the Satta Pass. By 8:00 AM. There’s a restroom there. Use it. . . . Hey, I’m taking this seriously.
8:15 AM: Gaze out over the ocean. Get your bearings. Confirm things. You’re near the ocean. You’re in the parking lot at the Satta Pass. Now turn around. Go forward. Go up.
8:24: When you get to the biwa trees (you’ll imagine yourself reaching out and touching their soft grey-green velvety leaves), biwa trees tucked just in front of a cherry tree with deep pink blossoms and new leaves, you’ll look out and see, again, the glimmering sea. There will be a boat. If you listen closely, you might hear the two guys on the boat saying, “Ii ne, kyou” (ROUGH TRANSLATION: “Pretty good day, today.” Yes, you are right where you’re supposed to be.
8:29 AM: You’ll come to this shaga, a Japanese iris. There’s a wooden structure nearby that creates a bit of dark shade, and accents the sunlight that slams into this guy. You cannot miss this bit of bright, shiny color.
8:32 AM: You’ll come to these wild green bell-bottomed dolls, dandelions, heads and scruffy hair all yellow. Notice how they rise up in a row along with the trail. They are asking you to rise up, too. I hope, given the service they provide you, you won’t think them mere weeds—but regardless, don’t call them weeds if you pass all this info on to others who are planning climbs. If you instruct others to go past the green bell-bottomed weeds with the scruffy yellow hair, they will definitely get lost.
8:35 AM: Here you’ll find what I’ve heard a variety of people call a variety of things: the cobra lily, the owl, the black cat flower, the panther flower, the masked avenger, the black menace, Jack-in-the-Pulpit (or, for one rather literary friend, What–Chillingsworth-would-have-looked-like-in-the-pulpit-had-he-shoved-Dimmesdale-out-of-it). Some people seem to mistake it for the infamous mamushiso, that is, the “pit viper grass,” but trust me, you have no need to worry to fear anything as terrifying as its striking and sinking its fangs into your soft-skinned hand.
By the way, have you spotted it yet, there, beneath some of that frondy-like green?
Here the cute little fellow is. Not at all like Chillingsworth, I say, when you really look close. He is properly called (or at least those guys in the botany division of Persimmon Dreams tell me he is called) Urashimaso or “The grass that looks like Mr. Taro Urashima fishing near the sea” (notice the fishing pole he’s holding). Which will certainly make those of you versed in Japanese literature wonder if he doesn’t possess a certain danger , though more subtle than that of the pit viper, all his own. For those of you on the out, a common version of Taro Urashima’s tale goes something like this: He is fishing by the sea one day when he saves a turtle from some young boys’ cruelty. The turtle rewards him with a trip to a magical kingdom at the bottom of the sea. After a while, he begins to long for home, but when he gets back, everything he’s ever known has passed away. Time passed for them, but not for him, not while he remained at the bottom of the sea.
For the moment, let’s leave our understanding of this—I admit—intense little black and white philosopher like this: he is telling us that we are on the trail–and that we’ll be rewarded for our good impulses. But there is danger. For better or worse things may look a bit different when we come back down from the rarefied air.
But for what it’s worth, I’ve never seen anyone come across this fellow—and turn back. They’ve all just stopped, studied him a bit, taken a few pictures, wondered if he’s poisonous when ingested (he is), and then just concluded, “Yes, this is the right way.”
8:36 AM: It’s hard for me to imagine but even were you to miss the Urashimaso, you’d not likely wander off the trail in the minute it takes to get to this bright dapper fellow hovering above the grass. You really can’t miss him.
8:46 AM: This new bit of toupee green you’ll find upon a branchless, skinny trunk some eight or nine feet in height. It’s kind of like the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, my literary friend tells me. As Gatsby did, you’ll know it is beckoning to you.
8:48 AM: This young lass is not exactly a trail marker, but I thought she was pretty so I put her in. Look for her. If you do happen to find yourself gazing at her, give her my best.
8:49 AM: There’s lots of sawed-off cedar trunks like this, and many of them are covered with ivy like this, but this is the only one leaning at this particular angle and possessing this particular girth. It is, more or less, a cannon . . . and it is there to shoot you up the mountain . . . or at least to let you know the best projectory for letting you shoot yourself up. You’re absolutely in the right position.
8:51 AM: Oh my!
8:49 AM: The ferns. You may have some difficulty reading them at first. That’s why I’m here.
Yes, this is a young, unfurling fern, but at the same time, it’s much, much more than that. Actually, it’s a key. Or more precisely, it’s the key. The key to everything. If you let your hand hover over it for two or three seconds, all the time staring into its heart, then give your hand, still above it, a little twist, you’ll open the door. Go ahead. Open it. Walk through.
9:02 AM: Now, honestly speaking, for a bit of time, it will get a bit complicated. You’ll be in the strawberries, and you might, momentarily, feel as if you’ve been thrust into the pages of a Russian novel—you know, one you read just hoping to be able to keep the names of the characters straight.
First you’ll see the strawberry flower above. You’ll know it by the young, tender, red-tipped leaves just behind it, off a smidgen to the left. Yes, you may see some flowers with some sets of new leaves behind and wonder which actually are the trail marker/landmark. Just keep the following details straight and you’ll be fine. The flower above, the true landmark, will be about eighteen inches to the left of . . .
the flower with a bee sinking down, front and center, into the ringed cushion of pollen-bearing stamens, sucking at the source for her life and the life of all her people . . . a flower which will be about 30 inches in front of . . .
. . . the leaf beneath which a sister has tucked in all but her ample rear end . . . which in turn will be about 60 inches to the left of . . .
the gal at work in the flower tilted at forty-five degrees.
But you don’t need to let these difficult details overwhelm you. Just remember this.
As long as you are seeing strawberry flowers, you are still somewhere on the mountain. You are in a good place and are going to be fine.
9:09 AM: Next, the leopard stick. This, too, hard to miss.
9:12 AM: And then more keys—only these are a bit different from the single one you saw before. These are actually the “keys” to understanding the mountain’s linguistic abilities. Here, I admit that I’m relying on the expertise of the only lingua-botanical specialist on our Persimmon Dreams staff, and he’s only been with us a short time, but he did write his PhD dissertation on how to read the curves and lengths of these “letters,” as well as on how to ascertain the significance of the angles the various shoots form, and he tells me with great confidence that this is the classic way in which the mountain writes, “WELCOME.” I want to trust him, and hope you will, too—although after he’s had a couple of beers, he often tells of a guy he went to graduate school with (a guy currently unemployed) who read this same particular grouping of letters like this: “HE WHO ISN’T BUSY BEING BORN IS BUSY DYING.” I just add that to fill out this paragraph—and to remind you that it’s hard to interpret any piece of writing definitively.
9:27 AM: You come to these four white violets. You cannot mistake them. They protrude from an elaborate lavender candelabra (a grouping of stems and “sepals”—a word you may have learned in school). You’ll see an M-shaped piece of straw right in front. Now tell me, really, is there any doubt but that you’re on the right track?
9:37 AM: Here things get interesting. Stand over and peer down into this fern. Soon you’ll experience a spinning sensation. Some people find it helps to squint a bit. Before you know it, you’ll feel you are beginning to hover. You’ll begin to feel you no longer need trail markers. For the rest of the way, when you do see markers, you’ll shout, perhaps quietly, but for sure with glee, “But of course!”
9:39 AM: Then you’ll reach one of the best parts of what is fast becoming a magical mystery tour. Here we have the mystery keys themselves. At first, you’ll think, Steve, you’ve been doing pretty good so far, but this time you didn’t get your camera quite in focus—-but no, no, no, no, no, that is not the case. When you yourself are actually standing in front of them, you’ll see and understand the truth. They don’t come into complete focus. They won’t come into focus, no matter how hard you try to see them clearly. It’s their magical-mystery nature. You stare in, and you think you see the beginnings of all life, you can almost hear a birth cry, you think, but the image never comes quite perfectly into focus, and you cannot stop looking for the clarity. Eventually, someone in your party will call back to you, to tell you to gitty-up, but it won’t be easy to pull yourself away.
But you will.
9:51 AM: And you’ll be glad you did when you come to the spring-green-baby-fern keys. These are “keys” of the fourth and final type—more or less, piano keys in key. This will be one of the most fantastic things you ever experience in your life. Take your groups’ metal hiking poles (you’ll need six) and tap them gently upon the heads of these quarter notes. Don’t be too rough. Think of the next hiking group to come along. If you do it just right, if you hit the notes just right, you’ll hear an amazing G chord. You’ll hear the sound travel up the mountain. You’ll hear it reach the summit and then fade away gently into the atmosphere. I may be betraying my humble musical origins, but to me it always sounds like a hundred little elves with their hundred little ukuleles have, at regular intervals along the remaining trail, struck a G chord all together.
10:18 AM: I have not steered you wrong, believe me. You are without question on the right track.
10:48 AM: An azaela flower will thrust it’s face into yours. With a curved stamen like a curved index finger, it will encourage you on. It will whisper to you: “You’re almost there.”
Look closely enough and you’ll see that many of them are encouraging you on.
10:52 AM: And what do you know, you’ve made it to the top, safe and sound! Maybe you got a bit winded along the way, but your buddies waited for you, didn’t they!
You look around. On a clear day, you’d be staring Mt. Fuji in the face. But of course, what you see at the top cannot be as predictable as what you’ve seen along the way. That’s the nature of a mountain, and you’ll need to learn to accept it.
But as long as you’re not one of those who tend to think that a lowering sky is a sky lowering down on you, you’ll take a good, long look at the bay—and judge it a fine view, indeed. You might even mumble, “Pretty good day, today.” And if you’ve come with some good people . . .
. . . more magic will be waiting.
Go ahead! Reward yourself. Stand in front of a cherry tree. Sip from your antique bone china cup of yuzu tea. Chew on a sweet potato.