Friday, 13 November 2009

Last leaves, old rites

A run in the hills

A cold wind has begun stripping the trees fast now. Autumn lasted for weeks and weeks, then yesterday the hilltops suddenly seemed grey with branches, their pates seemingly changing in a night from a Celtic orange bristle to an old-man's comb-over. He has received some bad news, the colour is leaching from his face, and he won't be himself for months. Batten down the hatches, light the stove, and hold out for another flush of green in April. How many more?

In the garden the lacy mesh of the leaves reproach our lazy townie gardening. At night we can hear the caterpillars giggling. The last few insects are dragging themselves dazed with cold into the house, only to be further confused by the heat of the kerosene fire.

Time to risk the tendons on a run to really see the last of autumn. It is good to stand at your front door, breath the air, look at the sky, and not know at all where you will go until your feet turn to the left or the right and you find yourself with a need to see a particular hill or valley.

Finding myself across the river I visited the Buddhist statue in it's concrete bus shelter at the back of the village by the grassy railway track. I don't know, you wait all day for enlightenment, then a thousand shimmering diamonds arrive at once. It looked like it had a had a fruitful visit from the neighbours, looking spruce and chipper with a good spread of offerings and a new origami spray hanging next to it. A set of glossy embroidered baubles dangled. Delightfully, the eyebrows and other features looked to have been inked in with felt pen.
Religion: it's all balls isn't it?

This is a particularly luxurious and well-loved Ojizousama. These are  saints (bosatsu)  with a bit of the princess about them, who protect travellers and others from their wayside niches. We have one at the top of the hill into the village which slingshots thundering lorries past our house. Call me a cynic, but I have a feeling a speed bump might be worth a try as well.  Originally Buddhist in origin, Ojizousamas have been absorbed through the porous boundary with Shinto. This one stands next to a Shinto shrine, which had recently been garlanded with shapes made from rice straw. It's important to be wary of applying western associations in Japan, but did one of them look somewhat phallic?

Trotting up the track above a rocky river bed with allotments in any flat places, I noticed a small shrine up on the bank. Now come on, you're not telling me....

I don't want to sexualise everything - on the other hand...

The vegetable plots became more empty and abandoned looking, and although their may once have been houses up this valley it seems unlikely as usually the graves are still looked after, and I couldn't see any. The forestry track left the river and wound up the hillside for several miles. There, a long way from anywhere, was a shed with a tractor ghostly under plastic, next to a couple of fields with vegetables and a pit with evidence of a recent fire in it. Some of the vegetables looked to have been grubbed up by animals - it must be a sore temptation for them, being so far from a village.

It is interesting that people still keep up these isolated plots, when there is now spare land much nearer at hand. It may simply be an ownership issue, but family tradition also runs deep, people may do it as their family has always done it.

I'd been hoping to be able to make a circuit, but the road ended at an overgrown tarn, where someone had recently cut a lot of the tall reed grass. Perhaps it was the o-ji-san that I surprised on the way back by his K-truck. We probably found each other creatures from another world, me running for no useful reason through his patch, and him with his unfamiliar tools and equipment and solitary endeavours, but we smiled anyway.


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