Deep Woods

Larch Woods
Larch forest, Shirakoma Lake, Yatsugatake Range, Japan, 2003.

Returning from the mountains this last weekend was like descending from a great height. For three days I walked along fern festooned paths, my head literally in the clouds, all the while counting raindrops that seemed to have taken over the whole world. Originally the walk was meant to start along the higher, steeper crags of the South Alps, but with all the rain this summer landslides took out the one road that leads up to the riverine valley of Hirogawara. A whole mountain range that in normal years is overrun with hikers, this year sits in relative silence as most walkers avoid the astronomical ¥25,000 ($220) taxi fare for the long detour.

Yatsugatake was a good choice though. Keeping my tent staked out in one place allowed for light jaunts up along the ridges around the pond. Everything stayed dry in the tent. On the second day, while attempting to climb up to the ridge dropping off into a sheer cliff to the south, thunder rolled in like the stomping boots of some giant strider in the clouds. Two walkers came stumbling down from above, calling out that they had just recieved notice on their cell phones that a huge thunderstorm was brewing and that a deluge would accompany it. I heard the thunder pass overhead and rumble away south, so my experience told me that most likely the rain would pass. Big, fat, chilly drops began bombarding the trees and I stood hesitating, caught between the need for safety, and the desire to traipse along the ridge. Caution held out, and I retreated down the mountain, only to be greeted at the base with streams of sunlight through the trees.

Some slow walking along the perimeter of the pond revealed light, texture, and color of all the basic elements of water, fire, air, and earth. It was like stepping along with some slow music that caught the eye and begged to be taken seriously. And with each discovery of some subject for the camera, the steps slowed further, until at times I barely moved a pace before I was kneeling and examining something through the lens or just sticking my nose right up against the curiosities. Insects, roots, leaves, swirls of water on the pond, the light tiptoe of mist across the tree tips, the strings of lichen bristling from branch notches… There was too much to see. I could have lost myself in the passages from one discovery to the next moment. It had been a while, but the mountains opened their complexity and allowed me to wallow for a while.

Packing up and pulling up stakes brought back thoughts of the crowds and rush of Tokyo. Another world. Like a great magnet, the roads drew me back down out of the ether and back into the boiling pot. I’m still in a bit of a daze, straddling the stones between neccessity and desire.

  1. Thomas Sturm

    Thanks for taking us along on your hike…
    Reading your beautiful lines is really like being there with you, smelling the fresh air after the rain, feeling the sun come through the trees.
    Thanks for the mini-vacation!