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The Sound of a Primate’s Footsteps

temple

Imagine being sued by a poet — could there be any crueller indignity?

This thought occurs to me as I cut-and-paste the poem attached below sans permission from its author, Chris Lynch. I figure, since he’s a fellow schemer, dreamer, walker and friend of some years’ standing, I’ll be forgiven — or, at worst, crucified in verse on his writing blog, Hermit City. But hell, I can use the publicity. And he’s a poet, so he can use it too.

Here’s a typical Tokyo scene. This will help explain why I spent so much time in the mountains when I lived there:

And here are Chris and I in Tokyo in early 2008, severely overpacked and excited about our approaching ordeal adventure:

I’ve known Chris since we worked together years back at a Brisbane school. We did a few hikes, and went on to spend countless hours, many of them rather intoxicated, poring over maps and books after work, fashioning a plan for a Great Adventure that we ended up naming Four Corners of Japan.

Japan is a long country, and a longer story — we both had our reasons for wanting to walk through it, and Alan Booth’s terrific book was at least partly to blame. The quirk in our approach was that we were going to walk to and from its extreme compass points, an approach for which we couldn’t find any predecessors, anywhere.

Tokyo: our gear from the guesthouse window

I elected to start at the country’s most eastern point, in remote Hokkaido, and walk to its westernmost point way down in Kyushu; Chris would start at the most southerly point, Cape Sata, in Kyushu, and walk to the most northerly, at the top of Hokkaido. We would cover Shikoku, usually bypassed in the handful of end-to-end journeys we unearthed, and we would cross paths somewhere in the middle of Honshu.

To ensure our journeys would be of similar lengths and split the suffering quotient fairly, we spent many of those intoxicated hours agreeing on 20 “waypoints” — chosen for their historical, geographical, sociological or even gastronomical interest. All except the handful at the extreme ends of our journeys would be walked through by us both.

Well, in late 2007 we went to Japan — I’d lived there years earlier, but it was Chris’s first visit — and worked for three months teaching university students the finer points of the always-challenging present simple tense…

..and doing some training hikes in the hills west of Tokyo:

Chris departs the guesthouse

There were problems with our timing, as it turned out — big problems — and we found ourselves sharing the same straw-mat room in a Tokyo guesthouse for a few months, scraping a few more yen together with lowly and often bizarre part-time teaching gigs.

At last, in April 2008, Chris (whose trail name, Ashioto, 足音, means “The Sound of Footsteps”) headed south to balmy Okinawa, and I (as Yagi, 山羊, or Goat) soon followed suit, but north, to freezing, empty Hokkaido, the early stages of which misadventure I’ve begun describing in this blog…

First sighting of Chris, Shikoku

Long story short: I failed, dismally, and Chris, after some tinkering with those wretched waypoints, made it to Cape Soya and a successful conclusion with literally days to spare on his visa.

I’d left the country long before that, but not before bailing, injured, to Shikoku, undertaking an improvised near-circular pilgrimage of my own to salvage something from the affair (a story also unfolding on these virtual pages) — and meeting Chris in the island’s west as he plodded towards his far-off final waypoint.

We camped that night in a neglected village park…

..and hiked together for a day or two, with a visit to an amazing old theatre…

..the odd roadside drink…

..and a final temple visit on the 88-Temple Pilgrimage…

..before parting ways.

Chris is a writer and editor, with a background in science and the army, if that makes sense (it doesn’t), and of late he’s been moving ever deeper into poetry, a sure-fire ticket to wealth and social status in the cultural mecca of Australia. I don’t see as much of him these days as he’s achieved every English teacher’s dream by getting out of English teaching, though I saw him give a reading in a bookstore a few months back and we managed a trip to Sundown I’ve written about here.

In June he went into the middle of this vast land to do the Larapinta Trail, which we’d long talked of doing, by himself, as I couldn’t afford the time off and elected to do the Great Ocean Walk instead. Not long after his return from the Red Centre, he put this poem on his blog. A Charles Darwin freak, Chris captures that feeling any walker will recognise when the walking is going well — that this is something we are meant to do:

Homo pedestrius

by Chris Lynch

Two legs are a series
of elegant falls:

all progress depends
on undoing what was done,

one foot falling
and then the other

smacking dirt,
phalanges spreading

and springing back. This is
the beauty of walking—

to walk is
to be human.

I stand, step out
doors into sun

or moonlight.
Feel the spread

and spring
of each step

and remember:
before anything

I am the primate
that walks.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

Next post: Walking a bloody battlefield

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nice post! This is a fascinating saga with a hint of ‘fiasco’ all over it. I like the poetry as well which lifts the level of cultural street cred to your blog. It beats reading a gear review :)

    September 20, 2011
    • It’s a shame you already trademarked that ‘fiasco’, Greg!

      September 23, 2011

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