Monthly Archives: September 2017

Ravished by the cosmos

In Shizuoka, an afternoon on a Saturday in late September is a great time to go for a bicycle stroll.

The farmers are out and about, cutting the rice—usually by machine, but occasionally by hand. I’ve been told that hanging the cut rice upside down allows nutrition from the stalks to flow down into the grain, but have not confirmed that.

But I’ve tried that myself, with my own body, and actually it works pretty well . . . if I don’t stay upside down too long—and I if don’t feint as I’m turning myself upright again.

Yes, it was a good day to stroll the fields, and to enjoy the cosmos . . . and to think about the cosmos. You know, the cosmos.

Walt Whitman said that he was a cosmos—and I suddenly thought to myself that it was as good a  time as any to wander about and see if I could find him. Honesty compels me to report that, from time to time, I thought that for just a fraction of a second, I had gotten a glimpse of him.

Of course, I must also admit that that may have just been the glare of the sun in my eyes.

Actually, it’s quite relaxing to search the cosmos for Mr. Whitman, and before long I’d fallen into a sort of contemplative bliss—and then it was quite easy to see Mr. Whitman, at least Mr. Whitman as cosmos. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what that was like . . . for the experience, the scene if you will, was not shot with sound.

No soundtrack. No words.

But a bit later, a gentlemen approached me (so to speak), and introduced himself, with a tip of his hat, as Somerset Maugham, and when I’d told him what I’d been doing, told him what/whom I’d been searching for, he told me that one of his acquaintances, a Mr. Larry Darrell, had once spent some time experiencing the cosmos rather fully (all of it, apparently, and all of it at once), and he told me with great precision how Mr. Darrell had described it to him.

Amazingly, Mr. Maugham, did not paraphrase. He quoted Mr. Darrell verbatim, for more than an hour.

I wish my memory were such! Unfortunately, I could, this evening, only remember a couple of minutes of Mr. Maugham quoting Mr. Darrell.

For what it’s worth.

“I’ve always felt that there was something pathetic in the founders of religion who made it a condition of salvation that you should believe in them. It’s as though they needed your faith to have faith in themselves. They remind you of those old pagan gods who grew wan and faint if they were not sustained by the burnt offerings of the devout. . . . 

“I have no descriptive talent, I don’t know the words to paint a picture; I can’t tell you, so as to make you see it, how grand the sight was that was displayed before me as the day broke to its splendour. Those mountains with their deep jungle, the mist still entangled in the treetops, and the bottomless lake far below me. 

“The sun caught the lake through a cleft in the heights and it shone like burnished steel. I was ravished with the beauty of the world. I’d never known such a transcendent joy.        “I had a strange sensation, a tingling that arose in my feet and travelled up to my head, and I felt as though I were suddenly released from my body and as pure spirit partook of a loveliness I had never conceived. I had a sense that a knowledge more than human possessed me, so that everything that had been confused was clear and everything that had perplexed me was explained.”

By the time I got home, evening was falling, and the sky, I noticed, had gone pink. It seemed to be calling me, so I went upstairs, and out on the balcony, and scrambled up onto the roof, sat down, and fell into a beautifully serene meditation.

On this evening, I was quite sure, I was not the only one who had done so.

Down from Mt. Shirouma

August 28th. The day before we’d climbed the up through the “Big Snow Valley” to  the top of Mt. Shirouma. After a night at the lodge, we were back up at the summit, around 4:50 AM, I think, to see a cloudy pastel-colored day dawn.

5:15 AM. The skies brightening–and time to look down the sandy, rocky ridge we were going to walk on our own way to the Big Hakuba Lake . . . and then on down from the mountains.

Lots of lovely views at your back, so be sure to stop frequently to peer over your shoulder.

And lots of rocks along the trail—sometimes it’s necessary to scramble across them.

This area is famous for raicho—grouse—and we saw other hikers scouring the slopes for the birds, but we neither saw one ourselves, nor saw anyone who’d spotted one.

And lots to see looking forward. The day before had been a clear, clear, blue blue day, and now it was clouds and pastel—and that was just fine. Very, very lovely.

We got to Mikuni at 5:50, a point where three prefectures come together, Nagano, Toyama, and Niigata.

One more look back . . .

. . . and then on toward the beautiful backlit, cloudy sky–and on towards Mt. Korenge.

We reached Korenge at around 6:35. From here, you get your first view of the lake.

By the way, this route down from the mountain is a little long, but, for this part of the country, it is a very easy (not so much up and down) walk.

The walk yesterday started at 1250 m and went up to 2932, but today it was only going to go down to 1700. Those 450 fewer m in descent make a huge difference. How do you get down from 1700? The only way down is two gondola rides.  The first time ever for us to end a hike with a ride in the sky.

The closer you get to the lake, gradually going down, the more green there is. Lots of the scrubby hemlock firs, and more and more flowers.

Close to the lake and around the lake, you can see the famous chinguruma flowers.

At first you might think that these are strange feathery petals, but actually these are just the seeds that remain after the petals have fallen.

The petals are white—and present quite a different face. We were there at just the right time that we could see both faces.

We got the lake at 7:55 and stopped for breakfast. Then around to the other side (no, those aren’t sand traps, they’re bits of remaining snow), up through the hemlock firs a bit and then down toward the gondola station.

The ragged cliffs of Shakushi are there on your right much of the way.

Much of the way.

And then you come to this day’s snow valley. The day before, though, we walked up the snow for about an hour. This day, we only walked across the snow for about three minutes.


The descent gets steeper from here. For a while you can enjoy the flowers growing so beautifully by the snow.

After that, it’s flowers and rocky trail for a good while.

More chinguruma.

And lots of miyamakinbai.

And flowers you’ve maybe never seen before.

And some you have. Down to the gondolas at 10:55.