Monthly Archives: May 2016

An unfair advantage


I have a complex.

About weeds.


Or rather, about the word “weed.” It seems to me that sometimes we assume that a weed has some sort of “weediness” at its heart, but of course, a weed is nothing more than an inconvenient plant—a plant inconvenient to us.


Us, though, is really me and you, and me and you don’t always agree on things, so this creates complications when it comes to deciding whether or not to call a plant a weed.

Some plants in my garden I find convenient to call weeds, and when I find them, I’m quick to “weed” them—though you might wonder why I was pulling up such wonderful creatures.


I was looking through The All-inclusive History of the Weed (Volume I, I think it was) when I came across this amazing tale.  A particular town was situated along a river. The riverbank, the people soon realized, was a superior patch of ground for growing cherry trees. They planted a hundred. And the trees grew. Grew for a hundred years. Soon a  zillion zillion soft pink blossoms were greeting the townspeople every spring. The joy the townspeople received from those blossoms would keep them happy for the entire year. Low blood pressure and clear arteries abounded. But then the mayor died.  He was actually called the “zoombaboomer,” but that word translates, more or less, as “mayor”—though, it’s an inherited, not elected, position. Unfortunately, all the deceased zoombaboomer’s relatives who had lived nearby had also left this world for another, and the search for someone who shared even a drop of blood with the deceased mayor led to a faraway land. Fortunately, the fellow they were looking for was found at last—and he, for his part, was tickled to become their zoombaboomer. But no sooner was his swearing in (or coronation—I’m not sure which, the book isn’t clear on this point)—no sooner had he become the zoombaboomer than he looked out at the riverbank, and said, “Those weeds by the riverbank have to go.” He had the cherry trees—all hundred of them—chopped down that very day. Pink, the book said, really got on his nerves.


And there you are. It seems that a name—rose, Capulet, Montague . . . weed—can make a big difference . . . though, sure, the way the dandelions smile when they all get together in the sunshine changes not when they’re labeled weeds.

By the way, that silly singing twosome (sometimes known as Shizuoka Duo) claims to have “heard” the voice of a dandelion:

And let me tell you what makes me so mad

It’s the basic fact that we ain’t so bad.

We dandelions are an ethical breed

There’s really no need to call us a weed.

Potassium, calcium, Vitamin A, B, and C,

That’s the kind of stuff that fills up me.

I make the soil around me soft and clean

So nobody needs to treat me so mean.


The last leg of my commute to school takes me up the winding road to the top of campus mountain. There’s a stretch that fascinates me. There are so many wildflowers. I find beauty in them, but from the university’s perspective, they’re not wildflowers—they’re weeds.


Maybe, someone worries, they attract mosquitos. Maybe, someone thinks, they encourage the mamushi (poisonous snakes) to stretch their habitat and thrive. Or  maybe, someone thinks, the  lanky stems of the “wildflowers” that steve likes so much are just too darned scraggly—they’re not fit and proper for a fine and outstanding university such as ours.


So if the university wants to call them weeds—and to weedwack them—there’s not much I can say. There’s no logical opposition to take, for weediness is in the eye of the beholder.


But that leaves us with another problem. What are we to think of a beautiful weed? Because no one’s going to tell me that the thistle’s crown of florets is not beautiful.


No one’s going to tell me that the dandelions and the harujion and all the other wildflowers on that stretch of road are not beautiful.


And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

So while one can imagine someone defining something as a weed and getting rid of it—the question still remains: is it all right to destroy beauty?


And the problem will soon get bigger—because the closer we scrutinize our stretch of “weeds,” the more beauty we’re likely to find—and the more likely we are to realize that just maybe there’s a lot more  beauty out there in patches of weeds all over the place than we ever thought. We could be left with a lot of re-calculating on our hands.

Oh, dear.

At the moment, I’ve got To Kill a Mockingbird on my brain, and I keep thinking about the scene in which Atticus shoots and kills the mad dog. His children had thought he was an old guy who couldn’t do anything, so oh how his marksmanship surprises them. They can’t help wondering why someone with such a talent wouldn’t be out hunting all the time. Their neighbor, Miss Maudie, suggests a reason: “I think maybe he put his gun down when he realized that God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things.”


This is a useful idea, I think, when we think about weeds. With our chemicals and machinery, we do have an unfair advantage. Even a  person without a gun in his holster has an unfair advantage. Say I’m staring down the cockiest of dandelions. No matter how much he may find  me dispicable, there is not much he can do to destroy me. I, on the other hand, if my back can bend, can decapitate him with the smallest of exertions.

At times, we may adhere that label—WEED—and pull the trigger, and commit no terrible moral offense. And yet, there may be times, when we look close at a clump of “weeds”—really look—and see beauty (and really, more than beauty: vigour, hope, endurance, belief, ingenuity, ecological cooperation—but maybe those things are beauty), that we may want to reconsider just how exactly much we are being inconvenienced, may want to reconsider whether or not it might be wiser, from time to time, to “put down our guns.”

By the way, people are sometimes labeled weeds, too. You can, if you like, ask Shizuoka Duo all about that.



Yashio—May 14, 2016



The miyami azaelas and the shiro (white) yashio were blooming gloriously as we walked along the first leg of the trail up Hakkorei and then over to the Abe Pass .

We knew they would be, we’d been up just the week before, and in the car, as we got closer to Umegashima early that morning and saw the skies still blue . . .


. . . we had hopes that it might be a perfect day for taking photographs (that is, green and red and white and purple on a background of bright blue photographs).

Alas, the skies went grey.


I’d really hoped for those blue shots (thought I might even make a new and cheery bookmark) . . .


. . . but the grey fascinated, too.

When the yashio are in full bloom under a brilliant blue sky, they seem so jolly and joyful. They seem to have such light hearts—and to blossom and shine with such magnificent ease.


In the grey, you feel their earnestness.


In the grey, you feel the pride they feel in the way they go about their lives.

It made me feel a bit of pride being there walking amongst them.

And it made me feel how natural it would be, in the woods, to have an “extreme” thought.

Oh, dear.

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization. (Henry D.Thoreau)

The green-purple-white was nice, too.


But when the blooming trees are scattered along the ridge and the focal points are numerous, the naked eye does a better job of discovering the beauty than the camera. At least a better job than my camera when operated by me.


Here and there, orange azaelas were blooming, too.

160514_orange_azaela_600So what to say?

If you have the time / To come along with me

The will to climb / To where you can see

If you have the mind / To set yourself free

You might feel sublime / Know your reality . . .

. . . all around you. / It’s all around you.


Yashio — May 8, 2016


May 8th. We Hearty Hikers suspected that it might still be a little early for the shiroyashio (the WHITE yashio) to be blooming, but thinking it was better to be early than late, we drove up to Umegashima and climbed the first half of the trail up Mt. Hakkorei.


We went up as high as the Fujimidai lookout, then crossed the ridge to Abe Toge (the Abe Pass), then walked back down along the Sakasa River to where we started. The ridge in the above photo separates Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures.160508_blooming_demari_600The demari were beginning to bloom, as were the purple miyama azaelas, but it was the yashio, as every year, that so captured our hearts.


Yes, we are crazy about them.

160508_yashio7_450The red-tipped green stars and white blossoms—under the blue sky—give us great joy.

160508_yashio1_600We could take a zillion pictures—and still want to take more.

Our old buddy Fuji-kun floated by, too, to have a look at the yashio.  160508_fuji_2_600This Japanese tit flew in, too, to have a look.


Okay, okay—so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The tit was obsessed with a certain tree, just as we were, but it was a different tree.160508_tit_2_600

So obsessed, in fact, that he cared not at all how close we got to him.

Wonder what it tasted like?

The woodpecker was a different story. We heard him and his buddies all over the ridge—but he only flew into sight for a handful of seconds.

Kindly, though, the yashio remained still enough for us to take as many pictures as we wanted. 160508_yashio2b_600

So we did. We were very grateful.

The trees were blooming on the first half of the climb up to Fujimidai . . . 160508_yashio4_450

. . . and were mighty perky . . .


. . . I mean mighty mighty perky . . .   160508_yashio8_600 . . . but I’d say only about  a fifth of the blossoms on the whole mountain were out.160508_yashio11_600

The higher we went, the more we saw leaves still busting open. The more we saw the flower buds still tightly closed.160508_yashio12_450

Which of course means that next weekend, a climb up Hakkorei will be a glorious experience indeed. Maybe I’ll see you up there.160508_yashio13_600


Walk the misty woods and see


Honesty compels me to tell you that a big reason for deciding to climb Mt. Hakkorei on April 23 (no, no, not to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday) . . . was to check out how far along the shiroyashio leaves were coming—and to get a vague idea of how many weeks away the blossoms were.


There is nothing more beautiful than the yashio’s star-shaped leaves, green with red tips, nestling in those white blossoms, under a clear, deep blue sky.

On the 23rd, there were only a faint hint of the leaves opening up, and no sign of the flowers blossoming.

And then there was all that mist.

I love the mist—always have.

But I thought those two guys from Shizuoka Duo (yes, yes, they were there, too) might be disappointed. After all, the panoramic views disappear when the skies are grey.

But how wrong I was!

I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone so happy to be trapped inside the mist as we were—to have the range of our vision cut down so drastically.


It’s amazing how on a sunny day, you walk right past some of the most gorgeous stuff. But when you can’t look far and wide into an endless blue sky, well, you tend to look at things close up, or things at your feet.


I’d lagged behind a bit and then caught up, and when I did, I was so surprised to see those two Shizuoka Duo guys down on the ground, on their knees, their cameras in a patch of flowers—a species of flower I’d never noticed before.


And then for the rest of the hike, they were singing away, trying to figure out the lyrics and a melody for a new song—and dropping to their knees each time they came to a new discovery.


If they could stay in key—and that’s definitely a big if—I think I might actually like some of their stuff. What they were singing on this day, I  tried to imagine in my own head, in key, and yeah, I thought I kind of liked it.


Hangnail’s getting really bad.

Leaky faucets make you mad.

Car keys have got you in a search.

Boyfriend has left you in a lurch.


When the sky is cold and grey,

Scenic views all wash away.

Your shoulders slump, you hang your head.

You feel as if you’re standing dead.

Your eyes are glued upon the ground.

The bird of hope won’t make any sound.

You ask me how it got this way.

Here is all I have to say.


When your eyes are on the ground,

There really is so much to be found.

Walk the misty woods and see.

At tiny flowers fall to your knees.