I, KUKAI, WAS FOND OF WANDERING OVER MOUNTAINS IN MY YOUTH. WENT HIKING TO THE SOUTH FROM YOSHINO FOR ONE DAY AND THROUGH TO THE WEST FOR TWO DAYS. CAME ACROSS A SECRET ELEVATED PLAIN CALLED KOYA… ~ from a very fortuitously situated poster (a copy of which I immediately bought to send home), here in the tourist information centre in Koya where I am tapping out this post — and tapping into some free wifi & electricity — before hitting the pilgrim trail. * * * * * Hey there, folks. There’s an old monk tapping sporadically at the free PC here in the info centre. Things have changed a tad since Kukai (or Kobo Daishi as he was posthumously renamed) founded the place in the ninth century. Another example: there are a lot more foreigners on the streets these days, including this one. And my pilgrim staff is made of aluminium… I could go on, but I have …
Well, the snow is starting to melt and the air smells like spring… That’s how Kate’s email began this morning (yesterday afternoon New York time). I was at once overcome with envy and nostalgia for that revivifying time when you feel the change in the air like the scent of hope and you know you’ve made it through the harshest of seasons. Pretty soon the first bulbs will be pushing through the melt-sodden earth. Here in Brisbane the harshest season is Summer, and we’re not through it yet; it seems to have saved its heaviest artillery for one bloody last stand. I don’t know if it’s age, my general malaise, or if all those southern summers I missed while living overseas made me soft, but I’ve really struggled with this latest one. Over in Upstate New York, of course, it’s been, by all accounts, an even harsher Winter than the one I lived through in 2014. That was the most consistently cold I’ve ever been, but it wasn’t just the temperatures, it was the grey, the gloom, the oppressive monotony of the …
So, my last weekend in Korea. Spent the week lugging boxes to school — five so far — and slipping out to the post office when nobody was looking (nobody’s ever looking) to cocoon them in (free!) tape and throw more money at the very nice lady behind the desk. The only drama was on Thursday when I realised I’d boxed up my Swiss Army knife with my apartment keys attached, and had to run back down there. Just in time, the very nice lady handed me a box-cutter with a weary smile. This is a busy time of year at the post office in Korea. Anyway, another flashback to an Autumn walk. I had plenty of un-posted ones to choose from, but this one is a nice mix of things I loved and hated about walking in Korea…
Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last ~ Bob Dylan, “You’re a Big Girl Now” Time passes slowly up here in the mountains We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains ~ Bob Dylan, “Time Passes Slowly” Well, which is it, Bob? That first lyric came to me right away as I was starting this; the second followed soon after. There’s a line from Bob for most of the interesting stages, stops and detours on life’s ever-winding highway — more than a few for the inevitable breakdowns and collisions as well.
Tokyo was a trip. I’m still recovering: my calves are sore, I’m rundown and cranky — and waking from a dream adventure to find yours is the only discernible pulse in a classroom full of dead-eyed rag dolls is the cruelest of reality crashes. What I really need, though, is a post-holiday holiday to grab some sleep. I spent one night in a wet sleeping bag on a 1,364m mountaintop harassed by God’s searchlight, a Chuseok full moon (just as I was a year ago on the third-highest peak in Korea). The following night, my last in Tokyo, was likewise far from restful. Bedding down in the bushes in a buzzing megalopolitan park seldom is.
Last weekend, reaching the top of a local hill — the one I nicknamed Dead Man’s Peak — I was startled to discover that some renaming might be in order.
The first nickname I gave it was Mount (-ing) Devastation, applied after a dispiriting walk to its base last year. It’s the most impressive bump on the spectacularly bumpy perimeter of the rice-paddy country nudging up to Daecheong Creek and the dirty streets of Jangyu. My gaze repeatedly strays to its stern pyramidal eminence as I limp home from Hell Skool on Thursdays and Fridays. Looking at it always cheers me up.
The New York Saga, continued… I like a gal who appreciates a nice romantic stroll through a rustic cemetery.
A brief interruption to my New York Saga to share an episode of very-Korean weirdness I enjoyed this afternoon, Day 2 of my Four Hikes in Four Days Challenge. It’s a four-day weekend, you see, for Seollal, the Korean New Year, a break I desperately needed as I had aged approximately 17 years in my first week back in the killing fields of the Korean middle school. I thought having a pleasant goal to motivate me would make another year of teaching more tolerable. Instead I’ve entered the school grounds each morning like a condemned man stepping onto the scaffold. I needed a good walk or four to remember what living was all about…
Well, here I am back in last weekend again — with a new one just around the corner. Sunday rocked as well, just some low-key, low-impact, low-input rocking on and around one of my neighbourhood mountains. Lots of colour again — hope you like the shots.
The balmy weather continues and I hope it hangs in there a while yet, for reasons you’ll learn soon.
Peregrinations: travel from place to place, especially on foot and with the suggestion of a roundabout route ~ The Free Dictionary I left Daereungwon, the walled cluster of elegantly rounded ruling-class burial mounds thatched with winter grass, and moved east towards the outskirts of Gyeongju, on foot and with the suggestion of a roundabout route, as is my preference. As I left most of the commercial buildings and traffic behind, the landscape opened up and I began to appreciate how special this place was. Tombs began to turn up everywhere.
Summer grass, all that remains of soldiers’ dreams ~ Basho LATE FEBRUARY, 2012 On any forest hike in Korea, the chances are the human dead outnumber the living.
Maybe having all these splendid little mountains so close had made me complacent — or maybe the previous day’s adventure had worn me out. Anyway, I got an even later start last Sunday, and it was 9:00 before I sauntered out the front door, spun around, aimed my big western nose at one particularly fine-looking peak and thought “That one.”