Thursday, 18 February 2010

Starving slowest

At this rag-end of the winter life is at its hardest and cheapest for the birds and animals of Oku Aizu. It is two months since there was much vegetation showing, the snow is a compacted meter and a half deep, flopping over everything in a badly cut carpet. We are at the furthest point in time from abundance in either direction.

It is not a question of finding enough to eat. It is a question of who starves the slowest. The big black ravens sit around waiting it out. If they sit on that pole for long enough, something is bound to come along and die. Some small spark will be extinguished and their slow furnace will burn darkly on for a day or two more. The semi-wild cats of the village leave their paw prints across blanketed paddys, off on their secret rounds, on mousing odysseys never to be told, staring balefully at you if you dare to notice them.

It is the snow that makes it clear which houses have been abandoned, at least for the winter. There are a lot, markers for an economy that has moved elsewhere. That in itself is an inevitable process, nearly as old as the ravens, but being human, it seems sad. We don't like to think our houses are temporary shelters, like glorified tents.

Satelite TV, but no people now
But there are compensations for the householder still in residence, cupboards stocked from the Co-ops weekly delivery, kerosene stove glowing nicely, tea brewing. It is the contrast that gives it meaning. Comfort is not too easily won, not that fuggy townish superabundance that makes for a peculiarly modern brand of discontented complacency. 

There is no doubt at any point that a hot drink is indeed a wonderful thing, that a dry, soft place to sleep is not something to take lightly, and that every day of health and the company of your family is worthy of note.

And for those brought up without much of it, snow is a transformational shock of surprise every morning. So much of it. So beautiful. And in six weeks or more it will be gone. We have entered the last phase of snow, when it is hard enough to walk on. Beneath it waits the quickening green.

A bridge on the Tadami railway


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