TLT: Among Mountain Spirits

Hiking — being outdoors for any extended period for any reason, really — offers different things to different people. Some find that they can push their bodies to points they previously wouldn’t have dared. Others, like Cheryl Strayed of Wild fame, find peace and healing in the sun that chars off skin layer by layer, in the wind and rain that are as abrasive as they are cleansing.

Putting miles and mud on my boots, I’ve found that peace, and I’ve certainly redefined what my physical limits actually are. Unexpectedly, though, I’ve also found some connection to god. I say god and not God, because I don’t subscribe to any of the Religions of the Book, nor have I found any anchor in the other organized faiths I’ve run into.

God, if that’s even the right word for me, has come to mean the beautiful closed system we live in — or, if you like, the ecosystem. There is enough magic to be found in the krill who fill the bellies of the greatest sentinels of the open sea, the powdered allergy that keeps gorgeous swallowtails through to the end of their short season.

I didn’t come off the trail ready to give any credence to the myth of the winged tengu, the faces of which pop up across Japan’s temples and her trails. I’m not ready to invest in the idea of Gaia. I am more open to the idea of sorcery in the real world, though, and I think that can only be a good thing.

This post is part of a weekly series.  Each entry focuses on a single photograph to tell a story. If you liked this week’s version, take a second to check out the rest of Through the Lens Thursday.

TLT: The Furry Friends We Leave Behind

My cat was collateral damage when I moved to Japan. I often joked that I got her in “the divorce,” a self-deprecating reference to a failed engagement I felt sure would define my life. Billy, my calico American short hair, never wavered; when I stopped eating for two months and dropped thirty pounds in a bout of nearly terminal depression, she sat on my chest while I cried, purring and demanding to be pet. When her sister died suddenly at three-years-old, renewing my devotion to bottles and nights without REM, she demanded the same.The sociopathic beast was my stability for a very long, very dark time. I left her.

Now, I know: she’ll carry on just fine without me, and by all accounts that’s proven true. Selfishly, though, I’ve missed the steady demand for a scratch behind the ears when the world is blocking out the sun, when I’m made to stare my Sisyphean struggle against myself in the scorching, hating eyes.

The recent trek along the Tokai Nature Trail put me in touch with a number of temporary analogues for my quadrupedal therapist. I’ve often said feral cats are to Japan what squirrels are to Western New York, my snow battered home. Whether on a trail in the middle of the Japanese wilderness or snuggled up with kittens beneath a Buddhist temple, you can always find cats. And where there are cats, there is the tiniest smidgen of crepuscular solidarity and sanity.

Miss you, Bill.

This post is part of a weekly series.  Each entry focuses on a single photograph to tell a story. If you liked this week’s version, take a second to check out the rest of Through the Lens Thursday.

TLT: For Relaxing Times…

For a month before I left to take on a small chunk of the Tokai Nature Trail, the 1700km collection of trail systems ranging from Tokyo’s Mt.Takao to Osaka, I couldn’t stop thinking of how badly I wanted to be out of this city. I was tired of the way I had to stop and wait for the train to pass before I could go home after work; I hated that everybody seemed to know who I was and where I worked; I couldn’t stand another trip to my local supermarket to stock up on a week’s worth of vittles.  Nothing against Sabae, Japan’s eyeglass capital and my current home; I just needed to get away.

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time. #Japan #lostintranslation #travel #whiskey #鯖江市

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When my hiking partner, Travis, and I made it to Shizuoka City and had our tickets to return to our regularly scheduled programming in hand, I felt no real excitement. I wouldn’t have to pay 6,000 yen to sleep on an actual bed for a night, and not walking 25 kilometers a day also had its appeal, but excitement?

The night I got home I was sure I’d flip to where I’d left off in my most recent read-through of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and let the darkness take me at its leisure. Dropping my pack in my apartment with a loud thunk, I realized that I needed to be moving, needed to be out doing something. Continue reading →

Backpacking 101: Four Tips for Hitting the Trails with a Friend

This time next week, I’ll be hiking around the base of Mt. Fuji on the Tokai Nature Trail with a friend from London. Starting from Mt. Takao in Hachioji, Tokyo, we’ll be bouncing from temple to temple, mountain to mountain over 200 kilometers, finally finishing in Shizuoka. It will be the longest hike either of us has ever managed.

We’re going to want to kill each other once or twice along the way.

Gloomy morning at Letchworth's Hogsback Overlook. Beautiful anyway #nature #outdoors #NewYork

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I’ve been on two and three day retreats in a number of beautifully secluded locales in Western New York before, Letchworth and Stony Brook the most memorable among them. By the end of day three, I’m glad for the experience, but I’m slightly irritable with my traveling companion(s) for one reason or another. Here are just a few suggestions for those among you looking to enjoy nature with friends, but who aren’t looking to “accidentally” push anybody into a ravine along the way.

Continue reading →