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September 27, 2006

Once in a Lifetime Business Trip

Tomoe Hiking at Hakuba

One-hundred meters above Kirikubo, a small village in the Shikagari Kogen area of northern Nagano, I am contemplating setting up camp in a small park with a "mallet golf" (similar to miniature golf, but with a hammer instead of a putter) course where a hand-written sign proclaims that non-village residents must pay an extra 200 yen for use of the facilities.

The silence, of which I am accutely aware, is interrupted only by a child's scream of delight somewhere to my left, followed by a less-delighted baby's cry, escaping from an open window further down the valley. A truck signals it's attempt to summit the hill leading to a farmer's field on my right with a groan and wrenching of gears. A cool breeze breathes into the valley, causing me, reflexively, to close my eyes and savor the mountain air. Even the faint scent of alcohol vapor wafting from my handmade beer-can stove - the only sensory cue that seemed out-of-place - fills me with both guilt and awe. Awe at where I am, and guilt that I alone should be so fortunate to experience this.

Finishing my dinner, I am conscious of the clang and klat of my spoon as I scrape leftover potatoes (mashed, instant) and soba noodles from the sides of my six inch camp-pan. A conspicuous lull in activity in the valley causes me to freeze me in mid-scrape until a mother calling her child to dinner tells me that village life has resumed - I am, for the time being, undetected.

To pitch a tent so high above the village, I decide, would only draw unwanted attention and the possibility of being asked, however politely, to leave. The next town is a 20 minute bike ride on a dark, winding road. I am tired after a day of biking, and numerous locals have warned me of bears, citing an incident just two days earlier in Otari (where I was hiking two days earlier) in which a boy was killed on his way to school. I opt for a quiet, inconspicuous night under the stars, which have eluded me for the past four nights. If I am lucky, there will be no rain tonight. The mosquitoes remind me to wear long pants and hiking boots, forgoing the comfort of shorts and sandals. As the temperature drops, however, I will be thankful.

Unrolling my sleeping-bag onto a long bench - just wide enough that I could roll half a body-width in either direction without falling over the edge - I prepare myself for a hours of contemplation. I am far from sleepy, yet afraid that should I even attempt to read, my headlamp would reveal my presence to curious eyes in the curious homes below.

Attempting to be silent, I find, only amplifies every sneeze from the village below, every sliding door, every mother's plea for her child to take a bath, and every subsequent child's cry. It also draws my attention to the animals in the forest - the forest that, with the setting sun, now seems to have swallowed me. A squirrel angrily admonishes me for my intrusion, an opportunistic male mosquito drones incessantly near my face - the only part of me exposed - waiting for any prospective mates to arrive, attracted by this unexpected, large, smelly, and awkwardly slow moving feast of blood.

I hear a horrific scream, from the distance at first. Gradually it grows closer until it is - I am certain - at the treeline ten meters from my feet. It is a scream I have heard on previous trips, on nights like these, camped in a cemetery or dark playground. No locals I have talked to have ever believed me, let alone be able to identify its origin. In the hopes that it is "simply" a wild monkey, I tie my belongings to my bike and remove any valuables from the bag I use as a pillow. Although I have no sweets to offer, I assume they would gladly steal my bags as their consolation prize.

As the lights in the village below disappear, and the canned TV laughter bellowing from gaping living-room windows dies, so too do my fear of monkeys and bears and curious neighbors.

I awake several times during the night - once frozen as the motion-sensing light on the porch of the nearest house is triggered by a raccoon or... As I lay awake, struggling to stay quiet, resisting the urge to loudly (for any sound here is loud) scratch the newly acquired mosquito bites on my forehead and left cheek, I rehearse my pitch for the meetings I will have in the morning, in which I will be attempting to convince locals in next village to open their homes to guests as a part of my big dream.

My concentration is broken, however, when I begin to cry - reflecting on just what it means to be truly living my one life, and how lucky I am that my life and my work has brought me here, and how there is no place else I would rather be at that moment...

I am awaken by the sound of bear-bells jingling and mingling with giggles - village children passing me on their way to school.

* * *

Unfortunatly, before this happened, I had ran out of film on the two five-year-old disposable cameras Tomoe had laying in the drawer. The photos above are from earlier that week when Tomoe Joined me for a couple days hiking in the Northern Alp. So far I have only develoed the negatives, and have the contact sheet with tiny one-inch prints. I plan to scan the negs later this week or next, but for now you can live with these macro photos I took with the digital camera of the one-inch contact sheet images.

Hiking at Hakuba

September 10, 2006

Can't Wait

Blair Witch?

Along with my new found hatred of blogging, I have also found a new sense of boredom. This boredom nullifies my hatred of blogging. So now I am free to blog all I want. Lucky for me, I will be heading out with Tomoe next weekend to do some hiking in the Japan Alps for a few days. After Tomoe leaves to go to work, I will be hanging around in the alps for a few more days for more hiking and some meetings with people relatedto my big dream plan.

These photos are not mine. I have not yet developed my photos from the trip, as I used film and they require scanning. These were taken by fellow adventurer, Tuesday - yes, her name is a day of the week. I just ruined them with Photoshop.

Tuesday Kayaking

September 09, 2006

Giving Ms. Write again soon more to parady

Boodah

So, I'm back. Actually, I was "back" to civilization a week or so ago. I just didn't feel the need or desire to revive the site. To tell you the truth, I was very very seriously contemplating scrapping the whole bastish blog.

After only three days in Tokyo however, I see how I need an outlet, a savior, from the boredom of apartment life. I may go into it in more detail later, but there is something so great about hiking 10-12 hours each day in the middle of seldom seen (relatively speaking) wilderness that makes one see life in a different light.

What I learned is that I blog because I am bored. I drink because I am bored (I didn't touch even a beer for 52 days, which is a new record for me since I was 20). Boredom makes us do things that we then come to think of as "normal" or part of our role as a member of society. I had access to a computer for 8 days of the 52 while I was taking a course in Wilderness First Response medical care. In those 8 days I wrote less than 10 emails - most of them regarding paperwork for my new spousal visa which I was applying for. I hated every minute of it.

Simply being away from a computer for so long, combined with having something to do each day that actually stimulated my mind and body, caused me to not even want to write an email. I surely didn't think about blogging. I have come to wonder if the purpose of blogging is not simply to convince myself that my life has meaning... in the absence of any other daily activities that would fulfill that craving.

But now I am (temporarily) back in the big city, in my little apartment, where I have little to do other than stare at web sites of people who are doing what I would rather be doing, and write emails and blog posts read by people who are trying to kill time as they sit at their office desk, telling themselves how lucky they are that they have a job that allows them to surf the web.

Tomoe is currently (Saturday, 11am) at her first "real" day (post-training) of her latest job venture. Having dropped her high-paying, high-power position at GE in order to work at something more meaningful and in line with her own values and beliefs (a job at the very Sustainability Consulting company I am contracting with, and where clients sign contracts based on the stipulation that she is a part of the project team) she has since moved to a contract basis herself in order to make time to pursue some of her own personal dreams.

Today is her first day as a barrister at Starbucks. She rarely even drinks coffee (once in three months?), let alone Starbucks coffee, but unlike myself and most of the people I know, she never had the teenage experience of working in the food/hospitality industry (Burger King and various bus-boy/waitor jobs in my case).

Her personal dream, however, centers around food and health and helping people realize health through food, and I have never been so proud of her as the day she wrote me a letter (while I was in the wilderness of Washington) telling me that she quit her consulting job to work at Starbucks.

She purposely chose the Starbucks nearest to her old GE office in the hopes that she would meet some of her old co-workers, bosses, or underlings as they come in for a cup of coffee on their lunch breaks.

This is an old photo. The photos from the trip will be ready soon?

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