Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Mountains They do Call to Me

Ohio gonzaimasu, it’s 10:39 on a brisk grey day (which is quickly becoming the autumn norm here in Susaki). Hot coffee’s a must, and November’s coming to an unexpectedly quick close. It’s been a busy month. The weekend of the sixth saw an adventurous weekend in celebration of Guy Fox Day hosted in Nakamura by the illustrious Colin. The event was planned to coincide with his visiting girlfriend’s 30th birthday. Guy Fox Day in England is apparently all about having barbeques with the family in the cool of the fall, and a bonfire is paramount to festivities of this nature (at least that’s what I hear). I arrived in Nakamura early to aid with party preparations of all kinds: kitchen chop monkey, banter provider, fire starter, and grill master. Caroline was a joy to meet, and as people trickled in to the afternoon’s fun in varying intervals it quickly became the second largest gathering of JETs I’ve attended sense arrival in Kochi. The bonfire was built and started after a load of driftwood was delivered from a non-JET surfer friend from the US named Mike. I’m sure the fire could be seen from the large red bridge that spans the Shimanto River, and that all the Japanese people driving by had no clue what spectacle was (we even had sparklers and other fireworks). As most large gatherings of JETs seem to, the night culminated in karaoke (with the highlight being a KP inspired version of Sweet Caroline where all the men gathered around the shocked birthday girl and hoisted her into the air to an unfortunately off key rendition of a the song.). It was a great time. As always the Nakamura crowd (and the rest of the JET family I have) creates a very natural feeling of friendship and comfort.

This past weekend was the second leg of the Henro hike. Temples 12- 15 safely notched into my belt, but it’s fare to say the hike kicked back this time. We left Friday just after school let out, and thought we were going to get to Tokashima in time to park one car at 15, and then rive everyone back to 11 where we would start the next day. Unfortunately due to some GPs malfunctions and difficulties with camp sights we didn’t end up actually arriving at a suitable camp sight until about midnight, and though all four of us (Jasper came along on this leg of the trek) comfortably fit in my inherited tent – it was a cold COLD night, and my sleeping bag only comes half way up my body. . . (curses to Japanese sizes). I awoke fighting off shivers, to an unusually foggy morning. We learned form other Henro about to set out on the same trek that the fog was not fog at all, but rather a gift from China. They claimed that particulate and dust from the ever-growing Gobi Desert had blown over from China to grace Shikoku’s skies with domineering gray white haze. The trek from 11 to 12 is famously a challenge, and while definitively more difficult than the previous 10 temples (mostly across flat cement covered city streets) I don’t think as hiking goes it was ridiculous. The path cuts its way up and down the steep hills of Tokashima through cedar forests with tall narrow trunks coated in mosses in hues of green and blue, and hillsides softened by giant ferns. It’s an old feeling place, and the way the light, made strange by the Gobi’s Gift, trickling in through the leaves made it exactly the type of hike I wanted to have here in Japan. I’ve never been a church going man, and the closest thing my family ever came to it was a Sunday morning walk through the woods of West Virginia, so in a way the greens and autumn colors, the gnarled roots and weathered rocks, and the sounds of the rustling wind are my spirituality (or at least a piece of a greater whole that I’ve never been able to articulate because it’s always changing).

The hills were hard going, and we didn’t cover as much ground on day one as we wanted to, but the time in the woods, and the splendor of temple number 12 (the most spectacular thus far on this pilgrimage) was well WELL worth the hour hike with headlamps on through the darkness of 5:30. We stayed at a fantastic little hillside in with very comfortable beds, hot showers, and two good meals of hot rice, pickles, miso, and some type of fish (salmon for breakfast and grouper (I think?) for dinner). It was a much needed break from the train, because by the time we had reached the inn I was feeling a bit feverish myself (half due to being sweaty and then the chill of night setting in, and the other half being because I think I finally caught the nasty bug that had been being passed around my teacher’s office back at school). So warmed, and less sickly feeling we set out the next day to make it back temple 15 and the cars.

The second days hike started out steep and then was a long controlled decent all the way back down to level. The grayness had cleared to some extent. At least enough to reveal beautiful misty mountain views for the better part of the day, but after the difficulty, wooded beauty, and incredibly setting of temple 12 – temples 13, 14, and 15, seemed small and somewhat secondary to me. It was a good hard hike with a lot of great photos and images implanted in my minds eye of the side of Japan I came back to see. Fantastic!

There will be another post shortly on this weekend past’s Frisbee tournament and Hiroshima visit. In the interest of not making novel inspired posts I will keep this one a little shorter. More to come soon.