Between Heaven and Earth

After recovering from three somewhat harrowing days driving a rental car on the road in Japan, we learned , despite the high points of the trip, not to do it again.  I also relearned that there is a very small margin of error between life and death on a snake like one lane curving  road where a head -on collision could catapult you from one world to the next and was possible at any time.

At Koyasan, while walking through the cryptomeria pathway lined with tombs of the dead, I learned again to value the time I have left, before I rest for eternity with the millions who have passed before us.

 

 

 

 

On the far too narrow one lane road leading us out of Koyasan, I learned that beauty can exist in unlikely circumstances. The road really should have been just a pathway along the small river, but it actually was chosen by Google maps as our way to get down the steep mountain.  It even had a route #!

Despite the knowledge that each curve or one wrong turn of the wheel could presage our final moments, I could not get over the thrill of being in this beautiful area.  The intense beauty overcame my fear. The foliage lining the river’s path was at its peak of fall color.  The river itself, about 25 feet beneath the road, was populated by beautiful boulders and rocks, the river, crystal clear, running a path between them. It invited me to linger, but my husband had a sense of urgency to get us to a wider and undoubtedly safer road. Some bikers rushed past us, but other than that, we’d meet one or two other motorists about every 20minutes, which is to say, we were mostly alone in this splendid landscape on this treacherous road.

the river below.

 

Then, suddenly this journey into an alternate universe was over.  We welcomed the first houses that appeared and celebrated escaping alive.  Maybe I’m being overly melodramatic, but I don’t think so!  Soon, the junk big box architecture that is too prevalent outside of most cities took over our visual field.  We’ve lost so much of the natural world.

The sacred place of Koyasan was meant to celebrate nature, as is Shintoism. I am grateful we got to participate in the celebration, somber as it could be at times.

Life is precarious and glorious.

MOVE OVER!!

Setting. Somewhere along the coast of the Kii Penninsula, Japan. Mid- Autumn, early afternoon. Narrow road. Driver, operating a car on the “wrong” side of what he’s accustomed to, has strong tendency to drift to the left towards perilous drainage ditch.  No road shoulders.  Passenger and driver both displaying symptoms of anxiety.

The beautiful coast of the Kii Penninsula

Prologue

“Move over.”  she

Move Over!  she

Move Over!! she

“What part of Move Over Don’t you understand?”  she, shouting now.

“Shut up, Bess.”he (Note:  Bess was my mother.) The even tone of his voice told his wife he’d been planning this response.

Half hour later…

Mo..! she



Loud Bang!!!! left front tire

Dead flat tire after car hits rock on side of the road

Epilogue.  Driver knew very well how to change a tire.  Passenger, not so much.  Problem encountered when trying to figure out where to place the jack under the car.  Eventually asked the next driver to pass by for help. New, temporary tire made it possible to return to “city” in opposite direction of day’s destination, in order to purchase full sized tire.

IMG_2483
Our hero. Note body language.

 

The Ultimate Road Trip

The year:  1978,  The season:  Late summer.  The sound track:  Grease.

Since I’ve been a child I’ve been fascinated with the idea of living in a trailer. When the opportunity presented itself in 1978 to travel cross-country from the East Coast to the West Coast, I immediately warmed to the idea.  Especially once I saw our vehicle,a bright orange Volkswagen camper with a small fridge, plaid curtains, small counter and table, all built-in. Adorable!  Yes!

That 1973 Volkswagen camper van seemed to fit the bill for a cross-country jaunt with our young family. Our kids were going into Kindergarten, 3rd and 6th grade. All reasonable ages for such an adventure, we figured.

The camper had a sling that went across the front seats when parked. It seemed a perfect sleeping place for my youngest daughter. Only later did we realize it was a few inches too short for her.  The van had a pop up top and slept two in the back when the back seat opened up to a snug, uncomfortable double bed.  We added a small tent to the mix for either ourselves or two of our daughters.  Many nights we watched in dismay from our tent as the van lurched back and forth as the sisters fought it out.  There were always three kids waiting to be fed in the morning.

The plan

Neither of us had ever camped, but we soon got set up with the help of a salesman in a well equipped camping store. My husband had been a boy scout so I figured he must know what he needs to know.  We packed a few boxes of clothes and household goods to take with us, stocked the mini fridge, went to AAA to get our maps and set off.

When I announced our travel plans to my parents it was as if I’d told my mother we were driving off alone in a covered wagon through Indian country.  She looked shocked and unsettled.  She made me promise I would call her every night from the road to let her know we’d survived another day of potential Indian assaults.  My husband quickly nixed that arrangement.  Remember this was before cell phones, emails, etc. and finding a public phone each night was not guaranteed.  I promised to send postcards. I think she doubted that she’d ever see us again  when we waved goodbye.

The reality

As you’ve probably suspected, our trip had its ups and downs.  We immediately got soaked to the skin our first night out in a campground in Thousand Islands, NY.  We found ourselves surrounded by a half-inch of water in our tent, our bed rolls and sleeping bags just barely above the water line.  That grim start was followed by a glorious ferry ride across Lake Ontario where we hung everything out to dry, and somehow it did.  We now felt like veterans.

One of our daughters became immediately enamoured with the idea of sleeping in a Holiday Inn holidome.  After the first rain-soaked night, she quickly determined that camping was not that much fun and that if she pushed, she could do better.  She only wanted a pool and private bathroom.

Holiday Inns were heavily promoted in the AAA travel book that we foolishly provided to her for reading material to pass the hours.  Every day she lobbied for a motel in which to spend the night. We quickly determined that a motel every few nights was probably an excellent idea, so every few days we let her find our evenings’ destination.  After a day on the road, life was a lot simpler in a motel rather than a campground for a family of five. At least for our family!

holidome
holidome pool of dreams

We bribed the kids with lots of donuts as I remember.  Every morning wherever we could find them, we bought a dozen donuts to keep the troops quiet.  We did our best to stay off interstates and a newly published book by Jane and Michael Stern, called Road Food, became our bible. A recommended restaurant would seem like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after a long day of driving.  I studied restaurants and my daughter studied motels.  Snacks came out about 4pm. Roadfood worked out about 40% of the time.  Often, we’d drive for miles only to find the recommended restaurant closed.  But we lived in hope of a great evening meal. That became the focus of each day. Forever foodies.

Jane and Michael Stern, authors of Roadfood.

One night the weather was so bad that we all somehow slept together in the van, finally falling asleep from pure exhaustion. I’d never experienced such a long and violent storm system.   Lightning and thunder and hail crashed around us the entire night, but we were safe and dry.

Earning our stripes

Another night, leaving a campground in the early morning, a deer came out of the woods and crossed our path.  Danny remembers looking the terror-stricken creature in the eye right in front of the VW windshield.  I was looking in the glove compartment, so I was spared that memory.  The crash happened so quickly that we just kept driving, relieved that we didn’t crash the van, but guilt ridden because we didn’t stop to see if we could have helped the deer, although, God knows how we might have done that.  Blood and fur now marked the front of Volksie. We’d been to battle.

When we reached the badlands, we finally felt we were Out West!  The state campground we stayed in supposedly had herds of wild buffalo.  No Indians, but bona fide buffalo.  We didn’t see any on our drive into the campsite, but we kept our kids looking out for them.

But that night, my husband and I were in the small tent as the kids slept in the van.  We’d been asleep for only a short while, when we heard a strange snorting sound.  We froze in fear, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and in unfamiliar territory.

“What is that?” The sounds came closer.  “I smell wet fur.” Closer still.  We crouched in our tent, remaining very still.  “It’s a herd of buffalo, coming through the campground,” my scientific husband said knowingly. “Shhhh.” “What are we supposed to do?”  Flee?  Wake the children?  Make a run for it to the nearby bathroom?  We couldn’t see out, but it was clear that the buffalo were coming through.  Do they attack people?  Are they like bulls?  We knew nothing of buffalo behavior other than what we’d seen in the movies and that in no way prepared us for this moment.  After what seemed like an eternity, they were gone.  No more snorting or furry smells or what to do when.  We survived. All was quiet on the Western front.

That was the most excitement we had heading west.  My jaw dropped in wonder as we finally drove towards the Rockies.  Volksie didn’t have any power to spare, so we crossed those mountains slowly.  It was a lot to take in for Eastern folks.

We soon discovered that our cute van had an intractable problem that we could not fix:  vapor lock.  At high altitudes or in high heat it would start missing and eventually stall out.  Mechanics all shook their heads letting us know that 1973 was a bad year for VW vans.

Saying goodbye to Volksie

Generally the breakdown would be in the middle of nowhere.  This did not help my husband’s spirits.  He kept getting more and more frustrated by the unpredictable break downs. He eventually could get it started again but only after several hours of waiting it out.  It plagued us going West, but especially returning to the East.  At one point, my husband admitted to considering pouring gasoline on the whole van and setting it on fire.  He sold it within two days of our return. I didn’t dare try and stop him. I still think fondly of Volksie and our Western Adventure .

Next time with an Airstream?

 

Traveling with Robert

There’s always something wonderful waiting at the end of the drive when you’re lucky enough to join Robert Yellin on a visit to a few potters.

buddies!

I met Robert many years ago when he helped to guide tour groups to ceramic areas. We’ve remained friends, and each time we visit Kyoto,I look forward to meeting up with Robert. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call him one of the country’s leading authorities on contemporary Japanese ceramics. He runs a wonderful gallery in Kyoto close to the Philosophers Walk.  I believe anyone serious about contemporary Japanese ceramics should/must visit. It’s always a showcase for both established and emerging potters. Robert easily shares his passion and seemingly limitless knowledge of ceramics with his visitors.

This visit, he drove us to the ancient pottery area of Tamba. The potters he visits are overjoyed to see him and that is part of the fun. I enjoy seeing the work of each potter in her/his own gallery, as they chose to display it. There are always an abundance of riches to savor, admire  (and occasionally purchase!) Continue reading “Traveling with Robert”

Are You City or Country???

city mouse vs country mouseSome things about yourself change during a lifetime , others remain remarkably consistent. But then, some day you are likely to find, as I have,  that what had pleased you so consistently doesn’t bring as much pleasure as it once had.

I knew I was a “bi” before there was a name for it. I fancied myself part city mouse and part country mouse.  Maybe a little more city.  Now that I’m “older,” the life of the country mouse seems more appealing than ever and the city mouse routine is loosing ground.

City Mouse

My original city side liked the glamour, the energy, the cutting edginess of the big city.  I was particularly enamored  by the style, and the diversity of choices.  The city made my mind expand with ideas and experiences that I’d seldom, if ever, find outside the city..

When I was a teenager about to travel into NYC, I would think carefully about to wear.

city slicker

No matter how carefully I chose the outfits, in my own mind, I never made the grade. Now, I feel pretty comfortable in my own skin, and NYC has grown a lot more casual and forgiving.

At last, I don’t much care what other women are wearing, because it’s simply become irrelevant. By the time you’re in your 70’s, you’ve become largely invisible to the world of fashion, and have been for decades. That can make shopping challenging, but it’s also liberating.

Regarding the Big City world of food, I believed religiously that there was no place  better to eat than in NYC.  Now, I continue to enjoy the restaurants here, but detest the noise that literally bounces off the walls and floors.  Tables are too close together in this land of precious real estate.  Conversation can quickly become impossible if there are more than two people sitting next to you.  It’s then a game of endurance and the pleasure is gone.

Once restricted to Jewish environs, bagels are now available  just about everywhere. As youth, coming to NY meant eating a classic corned  beef or pastrami on rye.  Now, attempting that feat is an invitation to indigestion that could last and torture for an entire afternoon.

pastrami

OK, for live theatre, dance, and museums, NYC is unbeatable, but now there’s lots of inspiration online too.

For me, there’s too much ugly concrete. Too many buildings with the name TRUMP on them. Way too much traffic.  Too many luxury apartments towering over the city.  Too many people. Too many close calls.  On a daily basis, I come close to getting run over, be it from a reckless taxi driver turning into the pedestrian crossing or from a hell bent bicyclist riding the wrong way down a one-way street.

Country Mouse

So, I guess it’s no surprise that when we took an overnight trip to the NW Connecticut countryside, it felt like entering paradise. Here, the true charms of early summer easily revealed themselves.

Fields and meadows of waving grasses.  Green and deep woods. Deserted two lane country roads that insistently whisper, follow me.

daisies

By the ponds, marshes and lakes. Admire the wildflowers clamoring for attention during their brief growing season. Vines of wild raspberries and blackberries, clumps of daisies, pale pink clusters of mountain laurel, forests of ferns, all vying with each other for the title of Best in Show.  My country side mouse was grateful for the relief from the turmoil of the city. Deep breath in.

mountain laurel

And last, but not least, there is the quiet. Quiet. Quiet, only interrupted by the gusts of wind in the trees and the birdsong.  Deep breath out.

Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly….
~Pablo Neruda