Monday, November 03, 2008

Rambling holiday nonsense

November, the middle month of autumn. Cool, crisp nights with frost. Brilliant blue skies above what remains of colorful autumn leaves. The smell of woodsmoke in the air as folks light up the woodstoves or fireplaces. Occasionally, even the smell of burning coal as a few still use it for fuel. Hikes into the woods where is is easier to see wildlife as the foliage decreases and some bigger game becomes more active for breeding season. The bugle of a bull elk. The chance of seeing one of the most impressive animals in the woods---a bull moose.

Oh wait. I am having a nostalgic daydream. I am in Tokyo, Japan, which although it is the only country on earth with 4 distinct seasons (make me barf) I occasionally have trouble figuring out which clearly distinct season it is without the help of a calendar. I still very much miss being able to just walk out the backdoor and be in a forest within 5 minutes like I could as a child. I miss the ability to drive to the woods like I could as an adult in Washington state, Washington DC, or that most beautiful state of Montana without a major undertaking like it is in Tokyo.

The more I live here the more I live to get out of town and at least find some fresh air, hills, and forests. A big bonus is to see wildlife, although nothing interests me less than seeing a damned monkey. Perhaps disinterest that may change someday. But the biggest bonus is to be able to get out in the woods and not see nor hear another human for the whole day. I suppose my wife is OK, but as a city girl she has no such interests. Not in Japan anyway, but she did while in Washington and Montana to some degree. (Usually it involved her getting to eat---picking wild blueberries, or me hunting. Occasionally she enjoyed seeing a bear cub, or some other baby animal.)

Since I can't get out of Tokyo as often as I would like---which would ideally be every damned day---I have to make do with what passes for "nature" here. In order to do that, I look for nature on a much, much smaller scale. I have to ignore all the unnatural surroundings, all of the human activity, all of the noise, and all of the obviously man-made (or arranged for man's pleasure) parts of nature. For example, flood lights on at night so that we can "enjoy" cherry blossoms.

I spend a lot of time near the Tamagawa (river) as it is about the closest thing there is to natural in my part of Tokyo. I can spend hours and hours there on top of what I spend riding my rode bike along the river. There is some wildlife, mainly waterfowl which although very, very wary of humans can provide opportunities to watch, learn, and relax. (There are various species of ducks around as well as egrets, herons, cormorants and other large waterfowl.)

Quite often if someone sees me photographing in the area, they'll come up and start talking. This is not something that is all that common in Tokyo, but it seems to happen a lot there. Most of the time people will be speaking in Japanese instead of assuming that I cannot speak a word of the language. Although this can be a bit of a nuisance if I've been trying to get close to a heron to take a photo and Watanabe-san chooses that time to noisily walk up to me and start asking about the lens I am using, generally I find such encounters very enjoyable as folks speak to me as a fellow human being and don't give me the full (baka)gaijin treatment. I have learned a lot of interesting things about the birds there and the river from older guys who get all excited about the chance to tell me what they know. (Did you know that some of the lava flows still visible at times in the river were formed during volcanic activity 300,000 years ago? Me neither, until earlier this year.)

Anyway, I have spent the last 2 weekends trying to find some signs of autumn. They are here, of course, but on a different scale. It's cooler. A few leaves have started to change. I have become so desperate for fall that I have gather some of the fallen sakura leaves and have a pile on my desk. In about another month, most will have finished and be falling. Fall subtly (and officially) began in September. In small ways. I began to notice the difference in the type of winds while riding my bike by late September. Naturally, the length of the day had shortened and light angles---and thus color---had begun to change. These changes are very subtle compared to what I have been used to for most of my life before coming to Tokyo. Thus, I have found myself becoming more sensitive to them by necessity, because the seasons, the weather, and the outdoors (nature, wild areas, mountains, wildlife---not golf or other games) have always been extremely important to me.

But still, I have to get into the mountains occasionally or I will become completely insane. And within this month, I plan on at least two trips to the mountains. I won't wanna come back...

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