The Early Bird Catches the Sunrise

Hello all,

It's been more than two years since I've moved to Okayama and sometimes I still pine for Kobe.  I always think - how can I recreate what I had in Kobe here in Tamano?
One of the things I miss is walking up the mountain to have tea with all of my friends, pausing along the way to watch insects, and feeling part of something bigger than me, feeling like I belong.

Sometimes, wandering along the hiking trail, I found myself pausing, giving up, wanting to turn around.  I thought, why am I here?  There are so many more beautiful mountains.  No one will be waiting for me at the top.  There are so many more lively mountains.  Why bother?  There are so many other ways to get exercise.

the very first time I made friends on Mt. Takatori in Kobe, it was because I'd wanted to see a sunrise from the top of a mountain for the first time.  I was hoping to catch the last of the cherry blossoms as well, and maybe both of those things would come together: The blossoms and the rising sun.  I felt rushed.  Would I be able to make it up there in time?  And then elation when I was able to see the sun rising from the morning haze.  

The left brain likes to connect the dots and make a story.
My brain could have made a story like, "I climbed a mountain and tired myself out before having to work 8 hours."
But I'm more positive than that.  My story was, "I had the amazing experience of watching the sun rise from the top of the mountain, which gave me so much energy I was able to go down and work for 8 hours without getting tired."
Maybe I did get tired, but that wasn't part of my story.  And that isn't something I will ever remember.

I think the story my mind was creating climbing up Mt. Tsuneyama ever week was, "I went up a sub-par mountain for a sub-par experience and all I did was tire myself out for no reason."

I had to make a better story.  It had to have a beginning, a middle, a feeling of success at the end.  It had to had the same excitement which led to me pushing myself uphill at 5 a.m. hoping there were still cherry blossoms left.

So I changed my routine.
One day, I put new batteries in my flashlight and I woke up at 4am on my day off.  Carrying a stick to make noises and ward off wild boars, I worked up the courage to venture out in darkness.  I didn't feel comfortable stumbling through the dark in the forest, so I went on the road that spirals up the backside of the hill.  Halfway up is an overlook that faces East.

No boars came out to bother me.  Instead, watching the red disc slip over the horizon, I saw kites rising from their nests and soaring downward to look for mice in the fields.  They called in high pitches that end in a warble.  I love that sound.  I was going to go home from there, but since I was already halfway up, I decided to keep on going to the top.  Why not?

I used to watch the sunrise from the field behind my house.  It's easy to just run out there in the morning and take some pictures, then go back to bed.  But there's something exciting about having to work for my sunrise.  I can't just run out in my pjs and slippers if I want to go up Mt. Tsuneyama.

So I tried it the next week again.
This time, a fog had settled in the valley and I watched the morning light sift through those layers of clouds like magic.

By the third time, I had the courage to actually go up the hiking trail.  It's a lot faster, but also a lot darker and uncertain.  I picked my way up a bit too carefully and missed the actual rising of the sun, but at the top of the hill, the sun was at the 22 degree point and I saw a parhelion to one side of the sun, the rays of our amazing star refracted into a rainbow across the ice crystals of clouds high in the sky.

I have a new hobby now.
Every day off, I wake up early, climb my hill, watch the sunrise, and go back down, send the picture to my husband, and then decide what I want to do that day.  I think it's that time limit that drives me.  It creates boundaries of success and failure.

As for making a community like the one I had in Kobe, it's a bit harder but I am a part of the group of people who do clean up on the mountain three times a year.  In this way, I'm getting to the point where people around the town recognize me.  Last month, we were charged with the task of clearing one of the areas of the mountain of sasa, the bamboo weed.  We finished faster than expected, so one of the men looked up at a dead tree and said, "Why don't we do something about this?"

There was a very long pause, people walked around the tree, looked at it from different angles, looked over the tools we had, murmured things to themselves. . .
One man ventured, "Maybe we should leave it for another day."
I was quick to reply, "That's right.  It's not exactly necessary anyway.  Standing or lying, it's still the same dead tree."
But you know what we were all thinking?
Like children taking scale of a boulder, or school boys aiming their spitwad at a fly, we were just thinking, "Could we?  Would it be possible?"
And finally one guy revved up a chainsaw and shouted, "Alright, I'm taking this tree down!"

This older man is so much shorter than me, but so much stronger.  He's a good mix of fat and muscle, creating well-rounded limbs like the stout branches of weathered trees.  His hardhat fit under his chin, creating definition where his usual folds of skin would otherwise ripple in motion.  He became our leader in an instant and we divided into three groups.

Group one had the chainsaw.  Those who were good with heavy lifting or had brought saws joined him.

Group two gathered up some other tools.  Wedges, a hammer, and some saws, and took down another tree old-school.

And I was left in group three.  All we had brought were rakes and brooms.  We found another dead tree and considered how to fell it.  What the guys thought up was pretty ingenious.  First, we chopped down a very tall bamboo tree.  (For bamboo fans out there, I am very sorry, but bamboo is a weed.  I will cry for trees, but I have no qualms about destroying bamboo.)  Then two guys tied two ropes together to make a very long one, and knotted a noose at one end.  The noose was fitted over the very end of the bamboo.  Then three people raised the bamboo upright and through trial and error managed to maneuver the noose around the branch of a tree.  With the noose firmly around the tree branch, the bamboo could be slipped out and cast aside.  Then all of us grabbed the rope and pulled!  Pulled!  Sometimes a fragment of the branch would break, or the noose would slide off, but it was so satisfying when an entire branch snapped off and came crashing down to the ground.

Good times.

Have you ever sloughed through a rut to find sunlight and parhelia at the end of a dark tunnel?  Tell me a story.



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