What’s in a “Tako?”

As I continue pushing forward to my eventual departure, I find myself thinking about some of my favorite anecdotes from my time in Japan. No wonder — despite spending a relatively short period of my life in the Land of Amaterasu, it has remained a touchstone in my life as a traveler, a historian, and a citizen of this verdant ball of life.

Our Story Begins with Misunderstanding

Keiko, my host mother, always gave me far too much credit as far as my Japanese ability was concerned. Sure, I could hold my own in a conversation and like many who grew up idolizing different parts of Japanese culture, I could espouse on the differences between the Tokugawa and Meiji periods, all while talking fairly confidently about whatever anime was playing that season. In short,  being a nerd, just as I am now, helped get me through otherwise challenging cultural gaps that I managed to skip in Nagoya, but I will undoubtedly continue to face elsewhere.

My weak spot was always food. I knew sushi, I knew ramen, and that was about it. Keiko had spent everyday for months cooking just as she would for her family if I weren’t there, ensuring that every wisp of soy scented smoke that bounced across my lips as I lay barely awake each morning and as I lay down to sleep at night was authentic to her and her family. From natto, a fermented soybean and bacterium nightmare,  to sukiyaki, she formed my palette in a way that still informs every bit of Japanese cooking I taste, whether it’s ramen from Rochester or a piece of tuna sliced fresh in Fukuoka. Continue reading →

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Backyard Hike: Carlton Hill State Forest

For just about any New Yorker from Binghamton and over, Western New York is a podunk little region of the state so worthless that it doesn’t even warrant being split off from “Upstate,” the name given to all parts of the state that aren’t Long Island or the confederated bits of New York City. Let’s get it out of the way: yes, Buffalo and Rochester pale in comparison to the vibrant, cosmopolitan epicenter that is the Big Apple, but what we lack in city culture we more than make up for in our plethora of beautifully varied state forests and parks. From Letchworth to Stony Brook, WNY has more than its fair share of the state’s natural wonders.

Carlton Hill State Forest, located in Wyoming, NY, is one such paradise. Strangely, despite living only 25 minutes from the forest, I hadn’t ever been there — not before today. Carlton Hill, part of a multi-use land project sponsored by the Department of Environmental Conservation, features some of the best hiking around. Varied landscapes, diverse flora and fauna, and challenging, winding trails make for an enjoyable day hike — so long as you pay attention.

What Can You Expect of the Trails?

Carlton Hill is located in one of the most remote areas of any state owned nature preserve I’ve yet visited. Driving to the crest of Bank Road in the center of Wyoming, you’re treated to views of farmland and woods of birch, evergreen, and maple to the horizon and beyond. Somewhere in between, there are farmhouses and homes, but this is a part of Genesee county that is very much ruled by the verdant.

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Sometimes, You Need to Be Knocked Squarely on Your Ass

Well, it’s May 7, and unless the landscape is interchangeable with that of the good ol’ United States, I haven’t quite left for the Iberian peninsula just yet. Without belaboring the point, a crafty financial fraudster wormed his or her way directly into my Granny Smith of a travel nest egg, quite literally eating up everything I had saved in a way that other nightcrawler spendthrifts could only dream of. Admittedly, I’m taking the metaphor a little far — you no doubt get the point.

So, What’s a Fellow with a Full Backpack and a Plane Ticket to Do?

Obviously, heading out of the country without even a tuppence with which to buy a bocadillo or two wasn’t really my best option. Cancelling the plane ticket and pledging  that I would be on the road before I knew it, I next had to deal with some expenses I could only put off so long as I was spending my days hoofing across open terrain, most notably those for my car repairs. In a series of unfortunate events that would make fine entries in Lemony Snicket’s latest work, I let myself get to a point where I thought I didn’t care anymore.

After spending a week explaining to friends, family, and supporters just why I was postponing my trip — and, I should mention, making far too good a friend out of a bottle of scotch — I woke up feeling more invigorated than I had ever been when the trip looked to be full steam ahead, all systems go, and other idioms that fit this situation.

Seeing the Good in the Bad

Sometimes, you need to be knocked squarely on your ass. Yeah, it hurts, and yeah, you might bruise your tailbone, but the salient point is this: whether you get back up or not, it says a lot about whether you were ever on the right trail to begin with. I’m going to get all of the money for my trip back — in fact, that’s already started happening — but it’s sort of beside the point, isn’t it? I want to take this adventure to Spain, to Japan, to wherever it leads me now more than ever. It’s not like there’s going to be a bigger barrier in my way than a cutpurse or two reaching into my coffers, now is it?

Needless to say, I wish this situation wouldn’t have happened, but there is real opportunity here. I’ve been able to forge better friendships with people I thought I was saying goodbye to, and I’ve really been able to put a lot more thought into the logistics of the trip. With a few added expenses,  the adventure has undoubtedly been delayed for a few months, but with the extra time to build a stronger foundation for this crazy Words from the Road project, it’s really hard for me to say it’s all been bad.

Thanks, as always for the support of my readers, friends, and family. Between now and whenever I get on the plane, I’m going to start featuring some local hikes in state and national parks. Stay tuned.