Thursday, 12 May 2011

As unreal as snakes and snow

Japanese four lined rat snake or 'Shima-hebi' (Elaphe quadrivirgata)

A two metre long snake was not what I was expecting on a windy day after a stiff walk over snow and the debris of winter up to the ridge. But the sunshine was warm on the narrow edge, with the wind hitting the mountainside and shooting straight up, leaving a pool of stillness on the rocky edge and heat sufficient for reptiles to wake up from their winter sleep, along with their prey. The winter is so long that at the first hint of spring everyone, human, animal, plant or otherwise, leaps to make the most of every minute.

Head bottom left, tail top right

This 827m (2,713ft) mountain above Yokota in Kaneyama-machi, Fukushima-ken is one of those that, while unremarkable in itself, offers great beauty, a village laid out like a toy at it's foot, and wild expanses of space and light. I cycled to it's base and up the winding road that leads to abandoned homesteads, changing into running shoes for the top half up a forestry track and onto the final slopes.

The first flush of green above snow holes warmed by tree trunks

The path was covered in snow, so I lost it and ended up thrutching through the tangle of trees destroyed by the heavy snow, some of them big but with their trunks snapped anyway. Where the snow had melted on the steepest slopes the thick stems of tall grass and bamboo had been plastered down and combed directly downhill, making for slippery going on their smooth stalks.

A classic Okuaizu view from the ridge

I gained the ridge path and began scrambling upwards, shreds of plastic rope rotted by the sun on the ground. The snake and I surprised each other, and it lay stock still as I seemed to be neither small enough for lunch nor dangerous enough to bother moving away from. As I moved in closer it suddenly shot straight forwards past my leg and threaded like an arrow the undergrowth that had slowed me so much. That must be the speed that enables it to catch frogs, lizards, insects, mice and small birds, and I was very glad of my size at that moment.


The top, with no leaves to obscure the view

It was lovely to be up here alone, surrounded by space, with the sunshine, the snow, and the first leaves of spring all to myself - or my ever changing bundle of narratives, if you prefer the modern approach. Bundle of nerves feels more like it these days, with many of our comfortable assumptions having taken such a battering from nature and human folly recently. A lot of those personal and national narratives are having to be hastily rewritten on ragged scraps of paper with broken pencils.


Native beeches, looking south east towards the Tadami river


I spent some time pottering around, breathing in the air and feeling the burgeoning life of the hills, trying to get some comfort from greater perspectives of time and space than the house, the television and even the internet can afford. It worked, as usual, though there has been more to overcome since the March disasters. I mean, the net is great and all, and during the hours we spend in thrall to it it certainly feels significant, like right now,  but in the end we are just sitting there alone in front of some glowing metal and plastic, aren't we? Current company excepted of course - I am really here, talking to you now, you aren't alone in a darkened room, your face lit from beneath by your screen. Isn't there a hill you could be going up? That seems more real. The Romantic narrative about it has got a bit of a longer history anyway, and I am buying into it, big time. It is cheaper to buy into than a laptop, that's for sure. Wordsworth wouldn't have written half so much or walked half as far on the fells if he'd had the internet.


Looking west towards Asaksa-dake. Definitley real in a romantic kind of way


I wandered lonely as a blogger, until at length it was time to descend the ridge again, being a little more alert for wildlife this time, and better able to see where I had mistaken the path on the way up. Below, the cerulean blue roofs of Yokota surrounded the wonderful primary school, where I have run art and songwriting sessions in the course of teaching English. It has a special atmosphere amongst the children and staff - that Okuaizu magic, and is in an idylic position, full of light and life. What a tragedy that it is at risk of closing due to falling numbers. I mean, look at it for goodness sake!

Yokota school and village in it's majestic setting

1 comment:

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