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July 08, 2008

I'm not kidding, its really like a zoo here.

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The other day when I said that it was like a zoo here, I had no photographic proof. Now I do.

Aside from the baby birds, and the silkworms, and the rats (no photo), we now also have moths and....

A Japanese Rat Snake discovered in our bath this morning. (Before judging us when you look at the photos, please remember that we do not actually use that bath we use the local bath down the street. This might explain the mess.) The thing we are worried about now is that the snake or his buddies might be back for our birds. They LOOOOOVVVVEEEE birds and bird eggs. Chicken farmers HAAAATTTTEEEE this snake. I will have dreams all night in which I go downstairs and find a snake stuck in the bird cage because he is too fat to get back out.

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Last night I found a couple moths in the big pile of silk-worm cocoons. This is actually not good because each cocoon is a single strand of silk and as the moths exit, they break that strand. Of course, we have no route to sell our silk, so I don't think we need to worry too much about this.

There are also groups that promote "vegan silk" - that is, silk that is made from cocoons where the moths have been allowed to emerge and mate so they can live a "silk-worm/moth-esque" life. This lowers the quality of the silk because it is no longer a single strand. Unfortunately, this theory breaks down because the cultivated mot hes don't even live a silk-moth-esque life if they are allowed to molt. Silk worms are one of the most cultivated/domesticated animals in the world, and the variety that I have been keeping is nothing like a "real" or "natural" silk-worm. The moths can not fly. They can not search for food on their own. They grow much bigger than in the wild. This is really another man-made freak of nature, just like the carrot, apple, corn, pumpkin, cucumber, cherry, dairy cow, pig, etc. The difference between these silkworms and a cow however, is that the cows people usually eat are treated like crap as they are alive. On the other hand, my silkworms are free-range silkworms. They have been pampered as pampering can be.

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Baby Blog

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While not nearly as fun as my sister's baby (twin) blog, I feel like I should make a baby blog of my own.

Meet, in order of oldest to youngest, Buna, Kiri, and Tochi. The egg will be Gumi. 100 yen (or your choice of baby bird) goes to the first reader that can tell me the relationship of the names.

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July 07, 2008

It was just a perfect day. I'm glad that I spent it with me.

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What a perfect weekend! Saturday I woke up freezing in just the goretex cover for my sleeping bag under the roof of the Naeba Shrine in Akiyamago. I happened to be in Akiyamago for volunteer fire brigade trumpet practice the night before, so intended to use the opportunity to make a two day ride up a dirt road/hiking trail that is the only direct route to Gunma, where we will be meeting customers on the 19th. I wanted to make sure the trail had not been washed out in the last downpour a week ago. It was not until morning that I remembered I was signed up for the annual Sakae Mura Ekiden relay race. I decided instead to use the rest of the day to check our some other routes, inns, and hot-springs that have been closed for the winter and we had not had a chance to visit in the fall.

A quick breakfast at Deguchi-ya, an inn run by a local hunter (also trumpet teacher/former trumpet brigade leader) and his wife, and a couple of fresh hand-made onigiri rice balls later, I was on the road riding deeper into the valley toward Kiriake - as far as the road goes. From here, instead of heading up the dirt path which we will descend in a few weeks, I headed back down the other side of the river. I say "down" but there was plenty of up as well. Despite being a net loss in altitude, this entire day felt like UP down UP down UP down UP UP UP down.

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It was this UP down-ness that almost caused me to ignore a small sign on the side of the road advertising room and two meals for 3,000 yen ($30). Somehow I was able to overcome my fears that following the dirt road down to the mythically cheap lodging would lead to nothing more than an abandoned shack in the woods. I'm glad I did. I ended up meeting a very interesting man who runs the inn alone, having tea, learning a lot of the lesser-known history of the valley, and best of all, taking a ride in his hand-made, hand-powered cable car system that transports people across the river to a hot-spring that I can truly say is one of the best I have ever visited. I base that on the fact that I spent more time soaking there than I have in any hot-spring in my life - despite (or because of?) the fact that I knew I would be hot and sweaty again a few minutes after I left, as I ride back up the road that brought me there.

Leaving the hot-spring, having tea and melon with the owners (fourth generation - keep in mind this area only started to become "developed" in the '30s) I crossed back over the river on the cable car which was not as scary this time, thanked the owner of the little mountain inn, and started my ride UP UP UP toward Gohogi, a village that is literally closed during the winter. The people pack up their belongings and move further down the valley in November, and don't return until the snow begins to melt in April or May.

I didn't have a map with me that day, and my recollection of driving that road in the fall was foggy, so from there I thought I would cruise down to my house. I pulled out my i-pod, popped in the ear-buds, pumped up the volume, and started pedaling to G-Love's Astronaut. A great downhill allows me to listen to at leas half of the album, but this time I got in two songs before I found myself huffing and sweating again, and wondering if I would be able to run the next day.

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In the end I did make it home, even in time for running practice with some of my teammates (yeah!). By the end of the day I was in heaven. Despite being a "bike guide" or "outdoor guide" or "farmer" or whatever it is I do, I have fallen way out of shape. These last few days have been a wake-up call. From now on I run every day, I ride to Akiyama and back every weekend, I start those push-ups and sit-ups again...

yeah....

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Sakae Mura Ekiden

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Today was the Sakaemura Ekiden relay race. Tomoe and I were recruited to one of the local teams (6 people on a team) about two weeks ago. Since then Tomoe sprained her ankle so was not able to run. Luckily we found a replacement, and were able to join. For some reason (because I am a foreigner?) everyone had big expectations for me and put me in the anchor position, but in the end, I let three people pass me and we went from 6th to 9th place out of 21 teams. If I start training earlier (like now) maybe I can live up to the impossible expectations for next year.

July 04, 2008

The Zoo

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Tuesday we joined the "Nonomi Biraki" mountain opening festival at the top of the nearby mountain. This time we drove up, but I brought three bikes in the hopes that I could entice some locals to ride down with me. In the end I only found one reluctant semi-local (only living here for one year) to join me on the amazing ride down a dirt road into the ski-hill.

The mountain has a man-made lake used to save all that winter precipitation for use in the rice fields in the summer. It looks like a great lake to do some kayaking on those hot summer days we are not looking forward to. Recently it has just been soo hot. Nothing like Tokyo, but hotter than Hakuba was last summer.

The local reporter was there as well and we discussed the possibility of me becoming a Sakae Village photo journalist for their weekly paper. Its looking promising - or else he is just being polite.

Tonight I head to Akiyamago for trumpet practice. Recently we have been practicing every day for a contest coming up in a week that I will not even be able to attend because I have customers here.

Our house is becoming a zoo. We now have 1500 silkworms, 5 cocktails (and one ready to hatch egg), 300 trout, many flies, at least 3 mice, and Tomoe and I.

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July 02, 2008

No Rainy Season?

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It looks like there will be no rainy season this year. Every day we look at the forecast and are happy to see rain for the next day, but every next day we wake up to blue skies and sun. There is enough spots of rain that the plants are all growing, but I have no idea what they would be like if we were getting as much rain as expected.

A few days ago there was a nice mist just barely hiding blue skies as I went down to check on the water in the rice fields. I ran back and grabbed my camera, but I think I should have spent more time trying to get "just the right" shot. Still, you can see that our fields are coming along nicely and the rice is about the same height as our neighbors', despite the fact that we did not use much fertilizer.

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