Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Snowshoe shuffle

Looking down to Nakagawa and the Tadami River, Kaneyama-machi

Now that the snow has compacted down, from three metres of leg-swallowing powder into a metre and half of layered icy globules, it is snow-shoe walking season. Routes have to be chosen with care, as the mountains bear the scars of many small avalanches, where the snow scours away at the steep slopes, and edges may be corniced. Flat shelves of land and the forestry roads are comparatively safe. I say comparatively. We descended some steep zigzags on what must have been the only road up to the village by Lake Numazawa at one time. "Oh, that is where the doctor went off the side of the road on a snow-mobile with a patient on the back, thirty years ago." As far as I know, the Hippocratic Oath does not encourage that kind of treatment, and I doubt the patient was too impressed either. Still, no lives lost, so not to worry, eh? Next up, ambulance drag racing.

An anonymous mound on the edge of the snow-covered fields on a high plateau turned out to be a samurai grave from the fifth century. This sombre and time-laden fact did not detain the children for a moment. They were  off, scribbling tracks across the huge blank paper of the snow, delighting in being the first to make a mark. Their small leaf-shaped plastic snow-shoes lent them a pixie-like appearance ('strewth, how many hyphens does one-sentence-need?). Some of the elders in the valley still use circular home-made (whoops-there's another) bamboo and rope snow shoes.

A cry went up from the leading group, and a mountain hare bounded at impossible speed up the hillside, resplendent in it's winter fur. No snowshoes required there, and a good thing if you ask me. Don't though. They are hinged at the toe (hyphenated, you might say), which means that they are always in contact with the snow. If you want to turn round when you are standing still you have to lift your feet up high. I know that know of course.  If I'd known it then, I wouldn't have suffered the very-un-hare-like indignity of keeling over into a heap. It contrasted a tad painfully with the authoritative tone I had adopted a moment before about the nature of some footprints. I always like to adopt an authoritative tone when I am talking complete bollocks, don't you? 

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