Monthly Archives: May 2015

Sunlight and the leaves


May 17th. In town, it’s the season for local farmers to plow up and flood rice fields. The ducks are happy.

It’s still spring, but with the rice planting, you can feel the rainy season and the sultry days not so far off. So what to do?


Why not drive to Umegashima and climb Yanbushi? Re-live those sunlight-on-new-leaves early, early spring days. You know, that new burst of warmth that’s a change from the cold—a warmth that’s both warm and cool.

Everything is bright and light—light as in “not heavy or hazy.”


Light. That’s the way you feel as you walk along the river, up toward the Yomogi Pass. The light that flickers through the leaves makes you feel light.

Man, that new green—that blue sky.


I read the other day about cedapods being able to recognize color through their skin. Makes perfect sense to me. Close your eyes and feel these fresh mountain colors on your skin.

Okay. The bare bones. Drive to Umegashima. Turn left at Shinden (新田). Follow the river for a couple of km, the last one along the bumpy gravelly road. Park. Then walk. Up. First up the river, until it ends, and then, from the Yomogi Pass, along the trail with the big views.

For us: Trailhead (9:05), Big Rock (9:45). You will not miss Big Rock. Notice the sticks along its base. They average about three feet in length. That’ll give you some idea as to the scale of the rock. But when you see Big Rock for yourself, you’ll know how big it is, sticks or no sticks.


But what are those sticks doing down there, leaning up against Big Rock as they are? Are those walking sticks that you’re free to take? No, they are not. They are supporting sticks. They are holding up the rock. They are keeping it from crashing down on your head.



I don’t recommend skepticism on a day like this. But if you really can’t help it, well, at least be aware that quite a few people seem convinced that propping a stick against the rock is a good idea. We are, too. So humor us. Doesn’t matter how big the stick you prop up against the rock is. Could be a mere five or six centimeters—if you feel lifting a bigger one is too big a burden. Actually, I’ve heard some people say that the smaller the stick you lean up against the rock, the deeper your appreciation for the joint effort is.

Found your stick? Propped it? Okay, on we go.


Up, up, up, through light and light green and lightness, all the way to the pass.

Yomogi Pass: 10:35. Leave Yomogi Pass: 10:45.

Last summer, when I climbed Yanbushi, it was all misty, and there was not much to see but a zillion different mushrooms growing all around the edges of the trail. This day a mushroom was nowhere in sight.

This day was a day to enjoy all the dainty flowers lightheartedly frolicking among the light and leaves and light air.


Playing like kids in a park.


Oblivious to the years that have been and the years to come.


Or sometimes, like friends a bit older, out for a mid-morning bask and a chat.

I heard one white petal ask, “So what are we doing up here? Why have we come out today?”

And heard another reply, . . . “What a question! A day like today is so refreshing! This clean, clear air is just the greatest thing there is. Out here like this, I just get to feeling so relaxed and comfortable that I feel like I can talk with you and everyone else about everything. And being out and about and face to face with the sun, well, it’s really good for the old metabolism!”

She was speaking the language of flower petals, of course, but I think I’ve managed to translate fairly accurately.


Then on up you go.


Up, up, up.

And then . . .


. . . there you are.

The peak of Yanbushi: 12:20.

Yes, yes. The clouds are rolling in. The view down is going to be different.

It always is.



All you mean to me


Happy Mother’s Day.

I thought I’d give you some flowers.

Some from my garden.






And some from the neighborhood.


And some from a tree along the mountain ridge.


And some from rocky ledges near the mountain peak.



And some from the side of the road. (Don’t call them weeds! This is my favorite picture of the bunch!)


And since it’s Mother’s Day, I figured you’d want a picture of me. So here I am, atop the local mountain, contemplating . . . just about everything.


I thought I’d give you these flowers—and a song. Turn the volume down a bit and everything will be all right.

150509_guitar_290 150509_ukulele_290


I live so far away

I’m not sure how it got this way

But today what I want to say

Is have a lovely Mother’s Day.

And I suppose

We can share the beauty of a rose.


We can stand beside the sea.

Yes both you and me.

We can gaze upon the moon

And we can share this tune.

And you’ll know what I can be

And all you mean to me.


I live so far away

I’m not sure how it got this way

But today what I want to say

Is have a lovely, lovely day.

And you’ll know what I can be

And all you mean to me.

And all you mean to me.

And all you mean to me.


Wrench and my shaga


I was out in back again, a few weeks ago, this time taking pictures of my shaga—when I heard yet again Wrench’s left shoe come slamming down atop the tiny aluminum rail fence (remember, that neither of us own) that separates his bit of rented outdoor space from mine. 


“Hey, bud,” he said, “let me ask you this. Aren’t you worried just a little bit about a volcanic apocalypse? I mean, you seem to be one of those types that like to try to figure out  the big picture. You’re one of those, aren’t you?”

“I wouldn’t say so,” I said.

“I wouldn’t say so to which? I asked you two questions.”

“I don’t think I’m particularly interested in what you call the ‘big’ picture. I mean, I’m more interested in these shaga. They’re not so big—just lovely . . . don’t you think?”

It may sound as if I were not terrified by Wrench—but I was, absolutely. If I had said nothing, though, if I had just took his abuse 100 percent, well, I thought that it would have only encouraged him to come roaring over our tiny fence and flatten me. I wasn’t much of an out-on-the-town-late-into-the-night kind of guy, but a great deal of talk here and there had it that Wrench was—and that when he felt he was being ignored, when he couldn’t get total strangers to join him on the dance floor, he was sure to pick a fight—not too infrequently, the rumors had it, leading to a quick and overwhelming show of force—awe and thunder, you might say.

Me, I’m a wimp—as you know. No way I’d ever fight this guy. So I did what I could to comment, hoping not to let show what I was sure all the insects in my garden could easily tell—I was trembling in my plastic clogs. 


“So what about the other question?” he went on. “About the volcanic apocalypse? The guts of this earth we’re tredding on are trembling all the time. Sometimes it gets to doing a pretty rowdy dance. Earthquakes. People buried in rubble. Don’t you think that’s kind of a warning? For the volcanic apocalypse? First you get a big spew. Then salt deposits bake.  Gunk rises up into the ozone layer and wipes it out. Then the lovely, glimmering, shining radiation comes pouring in. It’s a brutal, take-no-prisoners frontal assault. It fries us.”

“No,” I said, “I’m not worried about that.” I’d been down on my haunches trying to get a good picture from below two particular flowers, and now I’d gone all the way down onto the ground, laid out, and found just the angle I’d been searching for.

“Yes,” I said. “This is it.”

That, of course, had two meanings. One was that I knew it was going to get the shot I was after. The other was that I’d seemed to have found the perfect defense—surely, he wouldn’t find much fun in flattening me if I were already down on my back pretty much flattened already.

He huffed a bit—and turned to go inside.

150410_shaga2_450And then he surprised me. He stopped. Walked back over to the fence. This time he kept both of his feet planted in his own rented ground.

“The way those petals are frayed,” he said. “I mean, don’t you think they know? Know that the volcanic apocalypse is coming? Don’t you think that that’s why they’re born frayed? See, they were born to die.  Born to face the apocalypse.”

For a few seconds we looked each other in the eye. Not a show of manliness, but a deep searching. We each peered in, focusing, trying to fathom what made the other tick. Until that moment, I’d had a theory about Wrench. I had imagined that he was terribly near-sighted, but always did everything he could not to let it show. I’d thought the only reason he could not be subject to the bountiful beauty of my rented garden space was that he couldn’t see it. That it was all just a big blur to him. That it angered him that he couldn’t see it.

But he could. He could see those frayed petals. It was something I was going to have to think about.


The best way to “pluck” new tea leaves


First, go to Ryoshinji Zen Temple. With a good group of people. With good cooks among them. On a bright, bright sun shiny day.


Then press your thumbnail into a new and soft green stem—and pluck!


When you pluck, aim for three or so fresh green leaves.

And then pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck—hopefully until you’ve plucked enough tea so that everyone in the world can relax with at least a cup or two. Or until the field’s all plucked up. Or until you get tired. Or until whoever’s in charge tells you to stop.

And then look around . . . and pluck! Pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck.

Like this.























And then pat yourself on the back. You did a good job. Think about all the things you plucked. Think about all the smiling faces on all those who drink what you plucked. . . . And realize that there are always going to be more leaves to pluck. This day or another.