Volcano Pilgrim
Five months in Japan as a wandering poet

Asama-yama, 2

You have hiked uphill for three hours when you begin to come across patches of snow. The first is easily skirted, the next one less so, and so on, until you are no longer walking over ground with snow-patches, but snow with patches of bare ground, until at last the trail disappears beneath it.


            Why did he stop here –

                        whoever left those footprints

                                    for me to follow


The going is not pleasant, steep and slippery. By the time the trail rejoins the highway at Shiraito Falls, you could care less about waterfalls, their cold green veils tumbling picturesquely into mossy mirror-like basins. No, you are more exquisitely attuned to the unique sensation of dragging your ankles through snow that has fallen and melted and frozen again.


            It is hard to feel

                        moved by natural beauty

                                    when your socks are wet


There is a souvenir stand (closed) and a cramped convenience store (open), where, after attempting to knock over several shelves of assorted candy with your backpack, you purchase a bar of emergency chocolate and an immense dumpling from a warming case labeled DEER.

And you would probably stand there for hours, cold and uncertain, except for the sudden apparition of two angels. The angels have round faces and square glasses, and they speak one of the strange dialects of heaven – Hosteru? Brew Betty? They have come to see the waterfall, and they have seen you, a foreigner with mountainous backpack and climbing poles, knocking over everything in sight, and they have divined that you, too, are staying at the Blueberry Hostel in the backwoods of Karuizawa, and they are offering to take you back with them.

And then you are speeding up the mountain in the backseat of a car, with a piece of paper under each foot to keep the floor clean. It is at least ten more miles to the hostel, all uphill. There are perhaps thirty minutes of daylight left. Once again, you have been rescued.


            The sweetest five words

                        to a hiker with sore feet –

                                    Do you want a ride


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