Some people have seen some of my photographs of Shizuoka City and told me that I’m quite lucky to live in paradise.
I agree. I am lucky.
But wherever there’s nature, there’s beauty . . .
. . . and if there’s beauty around, you must be in paradise.
I’ve spent the last couple of days in Watkinsville, Georgia and the surrounding area (including a drive out to “Happy Valley”)—and taken a little hiking trip to Stone Mountain Park.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much nature there is to explore—in such short distances from your front door . . . wherever your front door is.
Easy to forget how close paradise is.
It’s good to remember what Henry Thoreau had to say about that.
My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them.
An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will cary me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see.
A single farmouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of Dahomey.
There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, of the limits of an afternoon wlk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.
We didn’t have so much time, but we wanted to get out and walk in the woods a bit, so we said to each other, more or less, “How about Ryuso?”
That’s sort of how we think of Ryuso Mountain: It’s a regular walk. The usual.
But we’re really blessed to have such a nice mountain nearby, one that we can see every day as we commute to work or go out for shopping—or, being in my new digs, I can see as I look out the window of my study.
We’re blessed to have a mountain that we can get to so easily.
When we climbed on March 7th, we met a group of three ladies. They told us they “only” climbed Ryuso about thirty times a year, but that “those guys over there climb three times a week—and one of them is 79-years-old.”
The same mountain. More than a hundred times a year. I’m pretty sure that makes the mountain family. I know I climbed Ryuso about twenty times a couple of summers ago and it became family for me.
It had rained a lot the day before, so the orange wood of barkless cedar trunks was slick and bright, and the saturated moss had turned a vivid yellow-green.
The moss reminded me of a passage in The Red Pony. The boy, Jody, is hoping the rain will hold off until the end of November so that he can begin riding Galiban on dry ground, but the rain comes. The rain worries Jody, but Steinbeck’s description of how the rain changes the landscape makes us understand that Jody is dealing with something much, much bigger than he is, something eternally in flux, something he can’t control, but with constant beauty on display—if we know where and how to look for it.
Jody had wished it might not rain before Thanksgiving, but it did. The brown earth turned dark and the trees glistened. The cut ends of the stubble turned black with mildew; the haystacks grayed from exposure to the damp, and on the roofs the moss, which had been all summer as gray as lizards, turned a brilliant yellow-green.
Here’s why climbing Ryuso is great. It’s family: things are familiar—so you feel comfortable there . . . but there’s always something that surprises.
At some point you realize you can’t control your children—and that’s for the best.
You’ve walked the trail fifty times, but today your partner stops to strip off his jacket at a place you’ve never stopped before. So you look around. Suddenly you feel as if you’re in a place you’ve never been before. Even though the place has always been all around you.
To the northwest, the clouds shift and the sky brightens, and you look off in that direction for the first time ever from where you happen to be standing right then. And you see a clump of tree branches that you never have before. And there’s something neat about the contours and the shapes the branches and the sloping ground create. You take a couple of pictures.
And it makes you realize how very little you actually do see from day to day. It’s a humbling thought—and fortunately one that makes you worry less about whether or not you’ve got everything figured out (because you know you haven’t, because you know you haven’t even seen what’s right before your eyes—you walked past that camelia bush thirty times before you realized it was there!).
And at the same time, you feel inspired to see as much as you can. You go home, sleep—and wake up with hungry eyes. The mountain, like supportive parents, or a supportive partner, is there, ready when you are.
Gradually, like Mr. Fuji, on a cloudy, hazy day, you assimilate—you feel a part of the mountain. And the mountain being as big and strong as it is (even if you can climb it in a couple of hours), well, that makes you feel a part of something big and strong.
That’s a nice feeling.
You might even shine a little bit.
At the top of the mountain, you might feel like expressing your gratitude to the little lady keeping her mind’s eye on everything.
And yes, we Hearty Hikers got a couple of special “bonuses” this time up Ryuso.
The mitsumata (in English, “Oriental Paperbush”) were about to bloom. Paper can be made from its bark. (Nope, haven’t tried it.)
And when we were almost back down, I heard a frog croak. It wasn’t the deep sound I most associate with frogs. It was more of a cry, or a whimper—a puppy dog’s whimper.
We stopped and listened—and finally pinpointed the sound. It was coming from a little hole, surrounded by moss and fern.
And we just listened.
Listened to something (as old and feeble as we are) that we’d never heard before. Felt those guys were communicating something very important down there in that hole.