Monthly Archives: April 2016

Azaelas ablaze


Whether you’re having a good day, or a not-so-good day, the azaelas remain ablaze. It’s what they’re good at, and it may sound like a strange thing to say, but no matter what you’re feeling right now, I’m pretty sure the azaelas know what it is.

A few weeks ago, when they had just begun to bloom, I took a photograph and thought of uploading it to Facebook. It’s not a photograph in this post.


This time of year, lots of folks are uploading pictures of azaelas, both in Japan, my current home, and America, the place I was born. Of course they do. The azaelas are magnificent. Their colors are so alive.

No joking, on a day like today, I feel as if I can hear them standing tall, fazed by nothing, proclaiming in song their glory.

But before I could post my photograph to Facebook, a Facebook friend posted his. When I saw his photograph, I felt something very deeply. There were so many pictures of azaelas uploaded on Facebook, but this one I felt could have been one I had taken myself.


Actually, I felt as if I’d taken his picture—and he’d taken mine.

Of all the photos uploaded, his was the only one that made me feel that way.


So I didn’t post mine. I felt mine was already up.

He had sent me a friend request only a few months ago.  He was someone who had lived up the street from me when I was in high school, someone whose name I knew, but not someone I had ever spoken to much, if at all. He was a couple of years younger than me.

But I usually liked his posts.


Not always, but sometimes, when I looked at his images (ones that he was sharing with everyone, of course), I felt as if we were standing in front of them together, looking at them together, seeing them the same way. I don’t know, maybe other people who saw them felt that way, too.

Sometimes he “liked” my posts.

Everyone likes to get “likes,” but I was especially happy when I saw his name below one of my posts.


I knew nothing of his personal life, nothing of his views on political issues, but somehow, for a little while, I felt close to him. I realized this before he passed away, but sadly I have realized it more keenly since.

I won’t write his name here, I don’t know if his family and close friends would want his name on my personal and public blog, but I would like to express my heart-felt condolences to them anyway.

From far, far away, it struck me that he had a knack for seeing things—and for sharing with others what he had seen. I was grateful for that.


Perhaps a silly poem, I don’t know, but I offer it sincerely.

My good friend . . . he passed away.

All the while . . . the azaelas stayed ablaze.

Unlike me, they stood unfazed.

Oh, those colors . . . how they did amaze.

Then I . . . could see . . . all . . . he meant to me.


Arizona 3: Climbing out from the bottom of the canyon


It was March 25th. We’d gone down into the canyon, and now we had to climb back out, 10.3 miles along the Bright Angel Trail . . . and about a mile up.

We had breakfast at 7 AM, at the main building of the Phantom Ranch, all the eggs and pancakes you could eat . . .


. . . and then, at 7:50, headed back down to where the Bright Angel Creek flowed into the Colorado River.


We crossed the Silver Bridge, then turned downstream . . .


. . . and walked along the river trail for about an hour. One stretch of the trail was pure sand, several inches deep. The sand sparkled and the rocks sparkled, and there was blue sky sunshine all above, and when we looked away from the river, we seemed pretty much in the midst of a magical diamond desert.


Lizards like the desert.


Lizards and rattlesnakes. Didn’t see a rattlesnake, but heard they were already out and about.

At 9:00, we came to the Pipe Creek (named so because someone long ago had stuck a pipe in a tree by the creek to show others coming later the way), and turned up it.

While the South Kaibab Trail keeps you out on a ridge most of the time—and in command of majestic panoramic views, the Bright Angel Trail keeps you inside the Pipe Creek canyon and more face to face with the canyon walls.


The shade you get is quite welcome, and the rocks you pass by get your “abstract art” brain in full gear.


Take a step, travel a million years.


You seem to be able to see deep, deep, deep into history—for me, it was kind of like I’d finally dove deep enough to get a glimpse of that white whale—and yes, he was swimming peacefully along with his family and chums, despite those harpoons we’d stuck in him.

Right about when I was thinking of that white whale, well, I’m not sure exactly, but something happened to me. I felt as if my head was heating up (yes, maybe it was the sun),  and believe it or not, no sooner did I feel a flame in my brain than I spotted this squirrel . . .

160325_9.24_glowing_squirrel_b_450. . .  and he looked into my eyes and lit up like a lamp just like that. His tail went all aglow. God’s truth.          160325_cottonwood_wall_sky_3_600

Well, maybe it was the sun. I mean, it was strong . . .


. . . and even the mules didn’t seem to want to walk out in it too long without a break, but anyway, later I couldn’t quite remember what I’d walk by when (and thus the pictures that follow are probably all out of sequence)—I could only remember there were . . .


. . . amazing formations of red rock . . .


. . . so beautiful . . .


. . . and those cottonwoods wherever there was a dab of water . . .

160325_cottonwood_wall_sky_light_600. . . and that dang-blasted blue-sky, diamond sunshine everywhere turning the rock and the dry dirt into a glittering field of sparkle.

And then I was hearing voices . . . and I thought I heard someone say . . .


And that was just too damned weird.


So I shook that voice right out of my ears.

But no sooner had I than another came flying in—even louder.


And it said, “This land is yours.”

So of course I said, “Come again?”

And it said, “And mine, too.”


And then a different, a kind of nasal voice came in, swooping down over the red ridge in a little burst of wind, and said, “It’s ours? We are free to possess it? And just who is this we?”

And then another voice was laughing and chuckling, “You little fool, this we is all that ever breathed.”

!!!   Footnote at end of post.   !!!

We, the Hearty Hikers, got to the Indian Garden campground at 11:15. There were a lot more people around there than there had been lower on the trail, and we could fill up our water bottles. We had lunch.


And then up, up, up we went. I didn’t hear the voices swirling around my ears anymore, but I think maybe they’d gotten into the Indian Garden water. I could feel them swimming in my belly, even though they kept fairly quiet.


The view below got bigger . . .


. . . and bigger.


And it was nice to look down on the cottonwoods, to see what we’d come through, and to see so clearly the trail that led off to Plateau Point. We hadn’t had the time, and probably not the energy, for that stretch.

Something left for another day.


And yeah, it was still a long way up.

But up we went. Three miles to go. Then a mile-and-a-half.

And then we were sure we would get to the rim.


Go ahead, Hearty Hikers. Take a moment. Look out. Try to remember what it looks like from the inside.


Take a loooooong look.

And then it was 2:50 in the afternoon, a mere seven hours of walking uphill, and we were out.


At the Grand Canyon, I assure you, it’s a good idea to read the signs.

160325_view_from_top_600Okay, you earned it. Take one more look. Look for traces of those voices.


Then it’s off to the Bucky Lodge to freshen up, to soak in a hot tub.

Forgive us if we’re feeling a tad bit tired, and looking a tad bit deranged.


FOOTNOTE: Woody Guthrie wrote over 3000 songs. He was an extraordinarily gifted musician and thinker, and I am in complete awe of him. I hope I haven’t insulted him. I have only tried to imagine his vision in 2016.

I highly, highly recommend, if you aren’t already, listening to his songs. In particular, I’d recommend the “Asch Recordings,” which comes in a nice four-volume boxed set. <- Click.


Year’s final hanami?

160409_sakura_3_600It was close to the end of the cherry blossom season, and we had lots of stuff to do, but we couldn’t pass up the chance to gather at the Mariko River for one last round of hanami (cherry blossom viewing/appreciation/enjoyment).


Many of the petals had blown away.


But many had not.

Still, it was a day when you had to admit how fleeting the beauty was—which of course made it all the more beautiful. These blossoms, literally here today and gone tomorrow.


You know that that is exactly what this iris is thinking. He and his friends were so taken with the blossoms on the trees and the blossoms in the wind . . . 160409_iris_600

. . . that they danced with joy.

I was so happy that I (with the help of a couple of soon-to-be great musicians) wrote a song. Go ahead and listen. It’s only 18 seconds long.

I know, I know, you may think that I’m hopelessly lost in a romantic dream, but yes, even I am aware that there is often a snake in the garden.    160409_snake_head_600

Everybody has their own way of grieving for those blossoms drifting down the river.

But no, I won’t leave you with that image. I’ll leave you with this one.



Arizona 2: Into the canyon

160324_canyon_view_9.23_600We’d tried to get a reservation at the Phantom Ranch (at the bottom of the canyon and across the river) for months with no luck. They start taking reservations thirteen months in advance and the number of cabins and dorm beds is quite limited, so we weren’t surprised that nothing ever opened up.

If you’re an ultra-marathoner you might hike down to the river, six miles or so, and get back up and out in a single day—and not think much of it, but for even the experienced hiker this is a pretty long and tough haul, especially if you decide to take the Bright Angel Trail up and out—Bright Angel being a little over ten miles up, up, up from the river. I can’t even imagine what it would be like in summer, when the temperature might be 115 degrees down in the canyon.


We were glad to be there in March, and just glad to be only the fifth name on the waiting list for a spot at the ranch. If we didn’t get two dorm beds, we would be content going  for two short hikes down and up, two days in a row. Amazingly, though, at 7:15 AM the morning we needed to start (if we were going all the way to the river), two dorm beds opened up for us.

So down we headed to the river and the Phantom Ranch.


As the sign says, the South Kaibab Trail follows ridge lines and offers constant sweeping views.

We started about 9:20 AM.  It was around 30 degrees Fahrenheit.




Still 9:30.


We got to Ah-ooh Point around 9:45. This is where folks on short hikes turn around. Yes, we aaahed and ooohed.


The camera zoomed down on Skeleton Rock.  9:48.





Now the camera is not zooming in on Skeleton Rock. Still a long way to get there.



We got to Cedar Ridge, another turnaround spot, around 10:20. Cedar Ridge has the trail’s first toilet.





Yep. Gotta go down.


And gotta give way to the mule riders. 11:12.








Not much shade on the South Kaibab Trail . . . but found enough for a thirty-minute lunch break.  11:49.


11:51. From the canyon rim, you get a pretty darned good view. The difference, though, between standing at the rim, and coming down this far, is the difference between looking in and being in . . . being in and being able to look all around. This is the difference between, sort of . . . kind of . . . let’s say, studying Japanese culture in a university in the U.S. and studying Japanese culture in someone’s home in Yaizu. It’s the difference between, say, sort of, kind of, studying the white whale in a textbook, or (if you dare) plunging into the ocean and diving deep down to the regions he inhabits.

Hey, I said, sort of, kind of.

Anyway, when you’re in the canyon, its contours roll with every step you take. It’s in motion. It feels alive.

And some people say you can feel a million years with every step you take. Walk six miles and you’ve lived a long time.


But in the end it’s just the moments (moment after moment after moment) of seemingly endlessly changing beauty.

The light plays a big role, too. We were blessed with gorgeous blue skies.



It’s cherry blossom season in Japan now. Cool March weather delayed it a bit. But yesterday I enjoyed watching the birds go crazy with all the nectar. One bird, I saw, was in a tree all alone. He looked out and there were those thousands and thousands of nectar-rich blossoms. All for himself.

Down deep on the South Kaibab trail, the number of hikers lessens. You can get into a spot where you seem to be able to see forever in so many directions—and not see another soul. Then you’re just like the bird in the cherry tree. You’ve got it all to yourself. For all practical purposes, it is yours.

Let me repeat that. For all practical purposes, it is yours. The Grand Canyon.

That bird, he looked pretty ecstatic.



First really good view of the Colorado River.


Everybody likes a good view.



You really can feel the energy that molded this great Mother Earth.



The environment is a bit harsh for plants . . .


. . . but still there were many blossoming electrically.




Oh, my. 13:23.



The black bridge we’ll cross.



Not far from the river bank. About 75 degrees Fahrenheit at this point.


From the bridge.


In the distance you can see the silver bridge. That’s how you access the Bright Angel Trail, going back up . . . after a good night’s sleep.



The Bright Angel Creek flows into the Colorado. Early 20th century, cottonwoods were planted along its banks—and elsewhere in the canyon.                 160324_phantom_ranch_600

One of the cabins at the Phantom Ranch. We didn’t get one. We slept in the dorms.

Just as Ishmael was given only two choices at the inn in Bedford—chowder, clam or cod—you’ll get two choices at the Phantom Ranch—steak or stew. I can’t speak for the steak, but the stew was great.

But after a five-hour hike, lots of stuff tastes really good.


Not a bad place to spend an afternoon. Not bad at all.



Nectar Forever!


桜だ!(Cherry blossoms!)


私が大好きな桜だ! (My dear and beloved cherry blossoms!)


嘘でしょう。この木、私が独り占め。(Are you kidding? I have this whole tree to myself?)


蜜全部吸えるかな。(Hmmm, I wonder if I can lap up all the nectar.)


とりあえず、吸ってみよう!(Well, anyway, let’s give it a try.)


最高だ!(This is the greatest!)

160406_sakura_bird_4_600ああ。本当に最高だ! Hearty Hikers, 英訳、ありがとうございます。(It really, really, really is out of this world! Hearty Hikers, thank you for translating my feelings into English.)

Arizona 1: Getting to the rim


March 23rd. We Hearty Hikers woke up in Phoenix with the Palo Verde trees in full bloom.


These “green-trunked” trees are all over town. Not surprisingly, they are Arizona’s state tree.

But our main mission was not to explore Phoenix, but to get in a rental car and drive to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It took us about five hours. Some might have driven a little quicker, but living in Japan as I do, I’m accustomed to “slightly” lower speeds. I’m also used to driving on the left-hand side of the road.


Basically, from Phoenix, you drive up and over mountains—and then just plain old UP. We might have got a better picture of the Saguaro, but we were driving 70 miles an hour and worrying about getting whacked by those driving 85 or 90.


The prickly pears we photographed during a rest stop.

160323_purple flowers_northofPhoenix_600

As we did these cute little purple guys. Would’ve never noticed them if we hadn’t gotten off the expressway for a while.

And then, voila!—there we were at the rim.

Well, not exactly voila! We had to wait in line for about 30 minutes, just to enter Grand Canyon National Park, and then once we were near the South Rim village, had to scramble for a parking place. The one we found wasn’t very close to the Bright Angel Lodge, where we were staying, and to be honest, I don’t think it was really a parking place, but everyone seemed to be parking wherever they could, and so did we. (TIP: If you want to get a good parking place inside the South Rim village, get into the park before 10 AM, at least in the busier months.) Indeed, though our “parking place” was a bit far from the lodge, it was still only  a ten-minute walk back to the rim. And who complain about getting to the Grand Canyon after walking only ten minutes?

And so then, VOILA!, we were at the rim.


The Grand Canyon is big.

I’d like to say more than that, but I’m not sure what. Occasionally, I read and listen to a bit of sports news. Everything is “awesome,” “epic,” “insane,” and “freakish.” I lose track of what those words mean. So for the canyon, for the time-being, I’ll stick with “big.”

But what a first glance it was! What a . . . big sight it was!


Honesty, though, compels me to say that some of the locals (even though perched on the very edge of the rim) seemed absolutely unconcerned with the view. At least this rabbit was kind enough to stand still and let me get a photograph.


Which is more than I can say for this Western Scrub Jay. He was only still for the fraction of a second in which the shot was taken. Consider it a miracle that I found him in my lens just then. He’d had me and my lens chasing him for about fifteen minutes.

As I said, we were staying at the Bright Angel Lodge, and where I was strolling the rim was very close to the Bright Angel Trail trailhead, so it was not at all surprising to come across an angel dancing on the edge of the rim.160323_angel_600

California condors are also known to sail about around this part of the rim, but I didn’t see any.

But the canyon itself, what can we say?

Yes, it’s big. In my next post, I’ll try to think about this more, when I share pictures of our descent inside the canyon and down to the Colorado River. I’ll try to get into it more.

But for the meantime, I’ll stick with big.

But suddenly I feel like posting a song I wrote a week or two before coming to Arizona. Maybe it expresses a bit of what I felt standing on the rim, though lyrics-wise it has nothing to do with the Grand Canyon . . . unless, of course, you think of the Grand Canyon as a place that can make you tremble.

As usual, I’ve recorded the song making full use of Persimmon Dream’s pocket studio. It’s my first attempt to record something with my new eight-string uke.


Do you still believe . . . there are places you can go?

Can you still conceive . . . of faces you’d like to know?

Oh, do you remember?

Oh, do you remember?

Her hair . . . shining in candlelight

Your love . . . burning deep into the night.

And oh, do you still tremble?


Do you still imagine . . . mountains deep and blue?

Do you still have passions . . . fountains that well in you?

Oh, do you remember?

Oh, do you remember?

Snow so soft . . . you walked another mile

Hopes aloft . . . his talk, his smile.

And, oh, do you still tremble?


Will you still slip your feet . . . in streams of biting cold?

Do you still try to free . . . your dreams from strangleholds?

Oh, do you remember?

Oh, do you remember?

Sunlight . . . kissing leaves so new

Your hand . . . holding all that’s true.

And oh, do you still tremble?


Do you still believe . . . there are places you can go?

Can you still conceive . . . of faces you’d like to know?

Oh, do you remember?

Oh, do you remember?

Your eyes . . . gazing on rosy sea.

Your heart . . . craving such energy.

And oh, do you still tremble?

And oh, do you still tremble?

And oh, do you still tremble?


After a day of driving, the wait to get into the park, the struggle to park, and a two-hour stroll along the Rim Trail, we Hearty Hikers were ready to get into our room in the Bright Angel Lodge. It’s a beautiful place to spend a couple of nights and I highly recommend it to you. TIP: They fill up fast—and start taking reservations thirteen months in advance.