Saturday, November 23, 2013

I went for a walk and...

You may be thinking these photos are manipulated or enhanced.  Uh-unh.  This is Kyoto in all its autumnal glory.

I decided to revisit the Amagase Forest along the banks of the Uji River.  This is almost my backyard, one stop from Obaku on the train.  I had been here in September shortly after I arrived when it still felt like summer.  It was beautiful then, a warm green beauty.  I was hoping for, but not expecting this kind of rich color.

After crossing the Amagase Suspension Bridge, I happened upon a trail leading into the forest of Shirakawa.  I heard a waterfall and saw a mysterious path and headed in.  I can't quite describe what it was like to leave the main road and enter this almost otherworldly environment, dense, lush, alive.  Suddenly there was no noise except for the rushing water of a brook and the air passing my eardrum.  The temperature dropped as the sun was almost blotted out by the thick canopy of trees.  I was completely alone.

There was something eerie and at the same time thrilling about it.  It was like stepping through a portal to another planet or dimension in time.  The call of the loon was co-opted by Hollywood long ago as a background sound for spooky forests.  This migratory aquatic bird likes the forests around Kyoto; I've heard it on more than one occasion.  It too was part of the soundtrack as I walked along the narrow leaf-covered path damp with rain.

The deeper I went into the forest the more I felt I had left the world in a real metaphysical sense.  It's one thing to wander a city without knowing where you're going.  It is quite another to do the same in a forest.  But something compelled me to keep going.  If I was going to end up in China or heaven or Detroit, I wanted to go.  It's always funny when you reach that no-turning-back point.  "Okay, if I turn back now…"  It's more funny when you don't know if that point is midway to your destination or if you've only just begun your journey, or indeed if you even have a destination.

The path twisted along the bank of the creek, climbed the hillside, crossed over tributary streams, passed around fallen trees cum bridges.  Eventually I came to daylight.  An exit.  And I was in another world.  The trail ended in the countryside somewhere.  There were farms and the air smelt of fresh vegetables and hay.  Where the hell am I?  I wandered down a little lane and passed through what appeared to be a sōmon, the wooden gate at the entrance of a temple.  I arrived at an intersection.  I looked one way, then the other.  I had no idea which way to go, no idea if either direction would take me back to Uji.  I decided to re-enter the magic forest and travel back the way I'd come.

It was dusk when I arrived back at the Uji River.  The old-fashioned street lamps were just coming on and their reflection trembled in the water of the river.  I had to smile.  Where am I indeed.

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