Ghost

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Gumyo Ural Owl

I’ve been haunting the university halls until the midnight hours these last two weeks, trying to catch up on class preparation, and also trying to avoid going back to the isolation of the guest house I’m staying at. Not that staying at the university while everyone else is gone isn’t isolating, but at least I have an internet connection and can talk to people. And there is some privacy in the room that otherwise I wouldn’t really have. Still, burning the midnight oil is no way to freshen up for the next day, and so yesterday evening, tired of the monotonous, though healthy, offerings of the local Seven Eleven, I decided to head out the other end of the university and take the half hour walk to the Lawson convenience store located along the desolation of the bypass.

Fog had rolled in from the sea and hugged the fields all the way to the shadows of the nearby hills. As I walked along the road, my footsteps sounded loud in the stillness. I pulled the flaps of my cap over my ears to stem the chill, and softly sang a line of an Abba song that just wouldn’t leave my head. The round-trip to and from the convenience store resembled a circumambulation of a graveyard, even the huge lights of the billboards and pachinko parlors cast long shadows across the asphalt and denuded fields, so that as I walked a silent presence followed me with precisely timed steps.

I was passing the back gate of the university again, with its line of trees and bushes when suddenly above my head there was a soft rustle. I looked up and thought I made out the form of a very large sleeping crow. It was hard to tell in the dim light. Then the figure swiveled its head and gazed down at me with huge, moonlike eyes. A ural owl. The first wild owl I’d ever seen in Japan ever since I started watching birds as a boy. The elation that bloomed in me was hard to describe. It was like a lifelong gift, and the moment I recognized the bird all sense of loneliness, all sorrow, all the heaviness of the past few weeks dispelled like smoke. I wanted to run to the nearest birder and tell them… “Look! Look! I’ve got to let you know what I saw! A ural owl! I actually saw a ural owl!”

But what birders do I know around here? I smiled up at the owl and it seemed to nod in understanding. It turned its head away, looked up at the night sky, and lifted into the air like a whisper. I heard the almost tender swish of its wings as it flapped away into the darkness.

It was but a moment, but it is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.

12 Responses

  1. How auspicious and thrilling a moment! I like your painting!

  2. Oh oh oh

    What a true blessing, Butuki.

    And one for us, too, that you told us.

    A ural owl. Oh oh oh

  3. It is those moments that make life special.

  4. Nice. I think we need to set up our offices outdoors so we can stay in touch with the real world. Those unexpected moments when we connect with something from the wild are very very cool. I remember a similar experience with a rooster pheasant, when I was a kid, sitting in a tree belt, waiting for him to find me. After a long quiet wait, like sitting in a tree stand waiting for a deer I suppose, he found me, and the jolt of recognition, like a shot of adrenaline shot through us both. He flew, and I laughed. It made my day. That happened over 30 years ago, and I still can see it in my minds eye.

  5. That’s great, man. Good for you!

  6. prease no derete comment. i ruv pictures of evelyting. include bikes. tanzaniamericapan, spain. owr is nice touch to everyting. shank you. ruv madoka/ maraju wana. my palent gave me that name.

  7. Nice picture. I love the way the lines alomst make the picture! The story of the picture is also very interesting. That mara-ju-wana person is an idiot and you shouldn’t listen to them. We’ll just ignore their comment for now, okay?

  8. Thanks everyone. It’s been a few days since then and the end of the semester madness has hit with a vengeance. I never realized what all the teachers were going through while I was a student… now I know better.

    I’ve also been feeling sorry for myself for never having had my very own troll… but now perhaps my site has stepped up the ladder enough to actually merit one! I’ll just let ole Mara paint himself into a corner, see where his words lead him. Perhaps he’ll say something really stupid and we can all laugh at him together! Join the fun!

  9. Oh, how absolutely wonderful! We saw a small wild owl here in the city one night and it was a moment that helped me feel I could belong here and live here. I’m happy for you!

  10. Butuki: Remember I left you a comment about comments on Pete’s blog ages ago? Am now feeling braver! (Also, have you changed something? This seems simpler than last time I tried.) I do enjoy your writing and photographs. Having lived in Japan for a few years (in a rural area), I also find they make me feel I’m back there again. I know you’re interested in photography and improving your skills. Have you seen Tony Bridge’s blog? (Pete lists the link to his previous one, and the top post of that gives the link to his new one.) He’s now posting a lot of teaching and philosophical material about photography as well as some stunning photographs, including those from a recent exhibition. Best wishes, P.

  11. Butuki-san please get in touch with me. I have a question.

    Salamate

  12. Hello Miguel,

    I have been quietly enjoying your site for over 2 years.

    I fell onto it while researching “knees” following two knee replacements.

    While I was taken by your skillful and artistic photography and your intelligent but somewhat tortured writing, I was not disappointed that I had little to do with knees.

    What you write about Japan is all new to me, as I know little about your fascinating country.

    I do drive a Japanese car, a Toyota Prius, which I believe has less affect on our environment than others.

    I do share your love for the outdoor and wild parts of our fascinating world.

    I was a cross country skier and walker in the Australian bush and I have trekked in the mountains of Nepal until my “laughing knees” reduced my mobility.

    Here’s hoping that by now you are becoming more settled in you new life.

    Barryd
    Sydney
    Australia.

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