˚urobe Haimatsu
Creeping Pine skeletons in the mountains around Kurobegoro (with Sofu Peak in the background), the North Alps, Japan, 2001

The days are noticeably growing cooler. The songs of the crickets have lowered into a sluggish pitch as the musicians struggle against the temperature. For some reason the non-native Rose-Ringed Parakeets (Psittacula krameri), with their lime green, winged javelin-like bodies, have been congregating around the telephone wires and tall Zelkova trees around my neighborhood, and the mornings and evenings have been punctuated by their piercing shrieks. Parrots and parakeets most definitely belong to the area above the forest canopy… when you see their darting, vigorous flight it is hard to imagine them pent up in a cage ever again.

The light recedes earlier now, too, and children in the neighborhood scatter back into their homes earlier. It is a pity, because it seems as if the children had only just begun to grow dark and their limbs to grow firmer with their days outside during their short summer vacations. It had taken most of the summer for them to venture into the neighborhood and play with the other kids. Now the TV’s and video games have recaptured their victims and the slow degeneration of the children’s summer bred muscles will begin anew. When the tide of darkness neeps high enough and the cold keeps people locked up indoors, all the afternoon shouting and laughing in the neighborhood will die away to concrete silence. Perhaps the children in this neighborhood bump around a little too much for me during the days when I’m trying to work here at the computer, but at least they reminded me of things being alive.

My late night returns home from my night work will soon again have me arriving on my street, standing outside my apartment building under the sulfur light of the street light, listening. Listening for others and hearing only the wind or the distant, passing thump-thump of the commuter train. The lights will be on in the surrounding house windows, but no silhouettes in them. It is often hard to believe that this is one of the most crowded cities in the world; so often the streets resemble the watchful facelessness of a mausoleum. Perhaps I feel this because I seek the ghost of humanity in the streets. And perhaps I seek this humanity because the same streets of my children told more stories. People were out in the streets more and more drama occurred as a result. Somehow the lure of modern conveniences in the home has separated people from one another.

A friend of mine recently responded, when I asked her if interacting with her neighbors was important for her: “The people around me are strangers. I have no interest in their lives and want them to show no interest in mine. What goes on with the person next door is of no concern to me. I would rather that we pass each other by without even looking at one another. The place I live is just that: a place to live. My friends are elsewhere and my activities take place either in the privacy of my home or where my friends and colleagues are. The area where I live is only for convenience.”

These words sent a shiver up my spine and left me feeling disoriented, though I’m not exactly sure why. Her words make sense on a certain level and even carry a measure of precaution necessary for living in such a big city, especially for a woman living alone. But I can’t help but wonder over what is missing in the words. It is as if the very place we live in, that we inhabit, has become nothing but an abstraction. Our connection to what sustains us, the giving of the Earth to our survival, seems not to figure in the evaluation. Surely if we are to survive the oncoming hardships of a deteriorating habitat we must learn both to identify with the places we dwell in and to learn to share our lives and needs with our neighbors, both human and non. Such essential basics as food, air, water, shelter, and health all require our cooperation and a deeper level of concern and affiliation with our surroundings than we have now.

This has been one of my deepest, most consuming concerns over the years and one that seems disproportionately difficult to discuss with others, especially neighbors. Another friend asked me recently why I feel such a disillusionment with my sense of self-identity. Perhaps the roots lie in this question of abstract versus concrete identification with the place we live in. If you can’t name every tree or tell the yearly patterns of wind blowing or know where the best water is in your valley, doesn’t that mean that you don’t know where you are?

2 Responses

  1. Coup de Vent

    I think a person would be very fortunate of they were to find themselves living in an environment in which they connected meaningfully with 1) most of their neighbours and 2) their habitat. I have always found my own personal storying of my locality, a mapping process, has created a relationship with it in a way that I could not rely on happening were it up to the other people around me. Perhaps this is a sad thing to say: but I find it hard to imagine most residents of the village I live in making decisions in the interest of its present or future inhabitants.

  2. butuki

    I guess that’s what a lot of us spend much of our lives looking for. Perhaps the “wonder” that envelopes childhood acts as the apparatus that begins our connection to the surrounding world (and probably helped to develop our uniquely human characteristics, physically and mentally). Unlike many other animals, perhaps, we must be taught from early on how to see and understand our environments. Without this teaching (and without the right teachers) our intentions and reactions to the world perhaps take on the carelessness that we exhibit today. We have made the modern world an inexpressibly complicated place, but I suspect, and have an inkling most of us susptect, that the world really ought not to be such a complicated place. Life is actually quite simple… we all recognize it when we go out to wild places. Harsh and often unforgiving, but simple. An no excuses.