9/23 Mt. Ishizuchi

It is a long way around if you drive to the top of the mountain. Though Ishizuchi is clearly visible from many points in Matsuyama, it is approached by indirection and circumlocution; that is, if you're going by automobile. Those familiar with Greek mythology may remember that Medusa too had to be approached by indirection, lest her gaze should turn the gawker to stone. In this context I find myself wondering if she was representative of some hidden mountain story. In any case, such indirection strikes me as fitting for more reasons than practical engineering and physics. Mountains are the abode of gods; we would not wish to startle them. It might not be healthy.
Well, the fact is, I have the time to let my mind wander because Hiromi is driving. Naoko and Tomoyuki are in the back seat. Tomoyuki is proving he can ascend a mountain in his sleep.

the sleeping child arrives
in Ishizuchi

Ishizuchi means "stone hammer." At 6,481 feet (1982 meters) it is the highest point in western Japan. Though the mountains are considerably higher than those in my native West Virginia (Our highest point is Spruce Knob at 4,861 ft.), there are, nonetheless, enough similarities that my mind bounces between the present and remembered journeys. Initially the journeys were to grandparents and relatives but over time they became visits to the cemetery.

I am dust and cloud
from another mountain

The road to Ishizuchi is probably among the narrowest in Ehime, and though Hiromi is an excellent driver, one stifles a gasp or two when meeting a car on its way down.

laughing faces
in a red compact-
descending Ishizuchi

Ishizuchi is a sacred mountain both for Shintoist and esoteric Buddhists. On the way up I see signs that indicate it is also an important place for wild boar and monkeys and skiers. Actually, in my travels, I was shocked at the mountains omnipresence in Shikoku. Somewhere I have read that seventy percent of Shikoku is mountain, forest and field. This figure does not take into account the sea. In my narrow worldview I simply did not expect so much uninhabited, natural, terrain.

Somewhere/sometime - just after passing a sign that read TAKI (waterfall) an old woman wearing a scarf over her head kneels on the other side of the guardrail. I think she is gathering mushrooms. Hiromi suggests she is the Yuki Onna (snow woman), stocking up for winter. This makes me think of the story of the woman who went out one winter to steal a turnip from her neighbor in order to feed an unexpected guest who had arrived at her cabin. The story takes place on Ishizuchi and the guest turns out to be Kobo Daishi. Because her crime was a blessing, it is said that Kobo causes it to snow every December 23 in order to cover her tracks. The woman in this story was not the snow woman - or the story does not identify her as such - but because of my confusion, I convince myself I better understand the fortunate collusion between Shintoism and Buddhism.

(Several days after this trip to the mountain, standing at the top of Matsuyama Castle, peering through touristy pay binoculars, I was surprised to see a huge statue of Kobo Daishi appear unexpectedly on the side of the mountain. It was so appropriate. In Shikoku, Kobo Daishi is as present and as momentous as the mountains. As the founder of Shingon Buddhism and as a bigger than life folk hero he may loom larger than any other historical figure associated with the island. In Japan the past is not simply lurking around the corner or at the margins of the next perception, it practically coexists with the present.)

When Hiromi pulls off the road near an overlook I try to get a picture of Ishizuchi.

a single pine tree
obscures the mountain

The autumn equinox is also a Buddhist holiday called Higan No Chu-nichi. It is a day to leave flowers, rice balls (ohagi) and incense at family tombs. Somewhere during the ride, I have seen rice balls among the stones.

autumn equinox
on the flat stone

autumn equinox-
a crow has knocked the ohagi
from the flat stone

Naoko has told me that the kanji for pampas grass consists of the syllables for grass and dead body. This is the kind of information that knocks the syllables right out of my English-speaking mouthcThe kind of information that makes me want to learn Japanese. Well, not yet humus, we need more than grass, and so we stop at a farmers' market for lunch.

mountain rest stop-
someone's turned stones
into rice cakes!

We have fish on a stick and roast corn. Both are examples of Japanese "barbecue." The fish is one of those items that look at you while you eat it, but when I deposit its well-picked skeleton in the trashcan, I let it slip fondly from my hands as if I were a god of passage, returning it to a heavenly stream.
Tomoyuki wants to go fishing, so Hiromi stops at a 'pay n fish' where Tom catches five rainbow trout.

excited dragonflies-
Tomoyuki's caught a trout!

Tomoyuki pulls a rainbow
from the autumn stream

On the way back we also stop along the Omogokawa near Mikawa Village. While Hiromi and Naoko give the scenery to their eyes, Tomoyuki and I splash a few stones. I throw a stick of bamboo in the current and Tom follows it along shore until the current brings it to the port of his hands. The cicadas are singing and the smell of roasted corn is in the air.

autumn equinox-
the tossed bamboo floats downstream
to a young man's hand

autumn has arrived-
Mikawa wears the perfume
of roasted corn

This part of the Omogokawa is a good accessible spot where Tomoyuki and Hiromi will probably do some fishing in the future. I find a white shard of pottery with a small raised face. I think it will make a good souvenir. I think it would be a good talisman. I think it is a fortunate find; that it had been waiting for me for as long as it had to wait. (Somewhere between Japan and home it lost itself again. It is a mystery, but no more of a mystery than life was when it found me.)

We are passing an orchard somewhere near Matsuyama. Someone is on a ladder.

late afternoon-
a hand above a straw hat
reaches for an orange

That evening we eat the fish. Naoko makes a fire with pine needles and Christmas ornaments (pinecones). Before Hiromi grills the fish we pick out the wire hooks that the burning pinecones expose. We sit in the yard and eat and drink while the blue mist dims round the mountains asserting their shape into the sky.

Matsuyama feast-
Ishizuchi rainbow
grilled over pinecones

Unnoticed the cicada has given its final cry. Kobo Daishi has blended into the mountain darkness. Search crews are digging through the rubble of the Twin Towers. Tomorrow we are going to Hiroshima.