Tag Archives: mountain

A broad national consensus

I’m on this high speed ferry to Zamami island, barely inhabited town/landmass south of Naha, and we’re hitting choppy water like Jackie Chan, chop-socky, enough to make me wince just proceeding. I think back to bathtubs, plastic boats with peeled-off stickers, how I’d launch them off my leg waves, this grand landscape: porcelain walls and caulk rot, wonder how the little Playskool people are getting on in there. One of them turns to his notebook, to channel his thoughts. I like to consider the unrepresented horror beneath their unchanging facades, never-ending comas, as they cry out internally, thrusted forty bodylengths in the air at the whims of a young boy. Oh god, help me, they beg, but I am the only god they have, and I am angry as these very seas, a twisted psyche that knows no ends. Today the young boy is a Playskool man, thrusted at the whims of some other god, the keeper of the ocean, this grand landscape: sand-circled mountains and Sammo Hung waves, ebbing along like I’m rollin’ with my homies, only an island when I’m finished, only a rock in the water. We bank, begin the final approach of the boat world, I’m in the upright and locked position as the seas calm to welcome me, then we pitch down and my left hand digs into this spiral, for the amusement of a young child, for the amusement of my only god, carving nonsense into the Penco Progressive Recorder.

Otsukaresama deshita, they tell me, nice work. No problem guys, I did it all for you. I get off the boat, seawater salt and forty body lengths of trees. So this is Okinawa, but really this time, no trains or Lawson convenience stores, a group of kids on bikes in the alley, an empty shed on one side and a soba shop on the other.

As the last bit of daylight leaves us we barely light the charcoal before a man assists us. We met him earlier, in town, after he told us the local shop owner (who could sell us a lighter) was out harvesting his sweet potatoes but would be back in an hour. We sap the last bit of fluid out of a borrowed red clicker and he strolls up from behind our tent with a tabletop gas canister in one hand and a nozzle in the other, perhaps sensing our desperation from afar, then ignites the grill’s coal like firing pottery or field cauterizing an unexpected amuptation. I watch the reflection of the fire in his crazed eyes! On the metal grill skillet Jessy and I fry thawed chicken on skewers, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and miniature hamburgers that we picked up from a different market earlier and let out at the camp site to de-freeze while we combed the beach for sea glass and ankle-deep skipped flat rocks off the waves. Dessert is a hearty metal can of Pork and Beans heated in the can and eaten with plastic spoons, a rare treat that somehow completes the night.

After a few hours of restless sleep I hear some rustling, some scrape-y sounds from outside our tent, and while figuring they are from some manner of hostile beastie I choose to investigate anyway with the aid of Jessy’s tiny broken-Crayola-sized travel flashlight. Under the space left inside the scalene triangle made with the ground, an off-kilter tree, and the propped-up grill tray, I see two large hermit crabs stretching their pincers out like Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam to scratch the bits of stuck-on chicken meat that still remain, and then I pan the light and see more of them and more, twenty or thirty of them congregating and marching through the place where we had tossed a couple tough mushroom stems, some oil from the griddle, poking at the ground. They prattle on, larger hermits with tiny ones following them, as the oceanic pied-piper, not but a hundred feet away from our tent, plays for them. The music for me is the ebb of the ocean, rhythm guitar to their tiny little steps over dried leaves and pine-needle kindling, sounds like we’re a piece of sliced banana in a bowl of active Rice Krispies and the world is snap crackle popping.

We do other things. We take a kayak out on the water, get caught in a thunderstorm while bringing home a bottle of wine, and peer at old garbage like lost histories washed ashore. We eat goya, a bitter melon, and shikwasa, a sour lime. We drink Orion beer, root beer, Dr. Pepper, eat fried bread with chicken inside it, chicken with potatoes around it, potatoes with cheese and chili on them, sesame seed ice cream, rice with taco meat, pasta, steak, Korean soup, Japanese breakfast. I eat a bowl full of pig ears slathered in miso sauce and walk through an open air market where the dead eyes of fish peer into my soul from beds of ice. I sit on beaches and stand on mountains just to look. We sit in bathtubs full of hot water outside and drink little glasses of mango juice. I wander into a two story arcade and destroy a huge gold robot with Chun-Li from Street Fighter and a guy that looks like Speed Racer. I buy Okinawan liquor and special salt to bring home, I ride a rented bicycle through puddles, I burn my skin in the sun.

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O snail climb but slowly, slowly

In a room as large as a one-car garage I find myself one of thirty? thirty-two, all stuffed together like matchsticks, trying to sleep and I’m ready to ignite. It is 11:45 p.m. and I can’t help it so I think of fifth grade and the stories they told me of the slave ships, human trafficking, people stacked into the hull lengthwise like lumber for days and I think well, at least I’m sleeping just on tatami instead of human feces, and I could get off the floor if I had the juice about me. But it it must be a realistic enough simulation, at elevation 3600m, tough to breathe the thin air, vastly underfed, exhausted in all senses, a pair of Superman tall-building-in-a-single-bounds from the summit of The Fooj, Fuji-san, Mount Fuji, the highest place in all of Japan except must have been my head when I agreed to this trip a week ago. My toes are freezing, and I don’t take off the socks, or even touch them. I decide I won’t take them off until I get home to save us all the trouble, cause god knows what’s in there.

They are early-onset, still, my conditions: the sunburn, all the more exacting and brutal above the clouds, ignoring sunblock like a lucky D&D roll, has just begun to make itself known as the backs of my ears brush against the bag-of-Lays-sized pillow I’ve been issued. For sanitary reasons, and certainly not comfort, it has been conveniently wrapped in a handtowel, the texture of which may not be misleadingly described in promotional materials as “abrasive.” As I have been for the last dozen hours, I pull air in fruitlessly, lungshot gasping for a dying breath, my heart occasionally switching to half-time for a moment and back, tossing me into vertigo for a second and a quarter every so often. Underneath me I command roughly fifteen inches of space from side to side excluding arms. They go nowhere, unless I flip over on my side, which is arguably less comfortable than just not sleeping, a promising candidate which I elect to office. After four hours of rolling about between restless Jessy and a Japanese stranger, I leave the sleeping room with my Nintendo and sit cross-legged in the entry, surrounded at midnight by happily dozing climbers, the sounds only of drawn breath and my occasional plastic button clicks. I am the tiredest I’ve ever been, and I know I won’t be off of this rock for a while.

There is nobody to complain to, of course, out here, not that I would say anything anyway. Some of them, in eager pursuit of the best places from which to watch the legendary sunrise, have already begun their roust, assembling their obviously careful-planned gear in tandem: headlamps, thick boots and goggles, windbreaking garments, dressed for the alpine, dressed for starting their car on an Iowa winter morning, dressed completely unlike I am. I am wearing all I brought. A t-shirt under a turtleneck under a zip-up fleece with a scarf and gloves. I have jeans on and my street shoes hang in a plastic bag. The shoes already look like week-old roadkill, surface the texture of a block of grating parmesan, crusted by air, crusted by Volcanic Ash, who would have known. My hiking pack is just Jessy’s bookbag, emptied of flashcards and pictures of animals and stuffed with too few snacks and an empty plastic 1.5 liter C.C. Lemon bottle that was filled with water when the day began. These mother fuckers got campstoves and Cup Noodle, holy mary mother of god I have two beef sticks and CalorieMate. According to Wikipedia, CalorieMate comes in several forms, including Block, Jelly, and Can. I have only Block, a hundred-calorie powdery chocolate bar. I wonder for a second if I should have gone with Jelly or Can but then remember that I am a professional why-noterator: do you think you can climb the tallest mountain in Japan without purchasing anything special? Why not.

Hours later at about four in the morning comes the last push on up, stabbed by wind and leg fatigue. It feels like bounding forward in anticipation of my own death, oh please baby drive the knife on in. But I ache for it, not because of what awaits (“the end”) but because I’ve been going at it for so goddamned long, I just have to finish, get up there, and then there is no more path, just rocks and wind and people.

And oh, that sunrise. Looking down on my newest home is like looking down on bowls of cloud yogurt, reined in by mountains and all slamming up so far away that I can’t even place it all as shit that’s usually not stuff I gotta look down to see. I look up and there is nothing, no powerlines, no cicada calls, not a distant apartment building or a tree or rail line, just the sky, just up up there, and suddenly it ain’t so bad. Then some dust hits me in the eyes, probably.

Imagine watching six hours of the home shopping network, getting punched in the face when you are finished, and then being told in order to watch anything else on your TV ever again or even leave the room you have to watch two more hours of the home shopping network in reverse at 3x speed with a vicegrip clamped on your head and tightening with every minute, and that is what going back down is like.

When we pull into our home train station I convince Jessy that she should run ahead to the grocery store and buy us some fucking hamburgers cause we are going to have a feast tonight. While I am alone I start the shower and take my socks off. Underneath is where I’ve been and what it’s done to me, and next to my square tub I scrub the mountain down the drain.

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