Key WEST Many Years Later

What is it that attracts us to a place?  Does it remain the same through life?

Last year, after a long hiatus, my husband and I decided to vacation in Key West.  We used to come here for a yearly getaway while living in college and then when newly married. In the 1950’s it seemed more remote than it does today, traffic and development have increased with few benefits that I can see.  It could be easy to fall into the “you should have seen it 50 years ago syndrome,” but my memory is not keen enough to have a clear image of what it all used to look like.  All that I really recalled clearly was the lure of the oceans surrounding the keys.  Depending on where you live and your life experiences, Key West probably means different things to you than it does to me.

If from the West Coast, probably nothing.

If from the East or Mid-West:

T shirt shoppes, bad art galleries and thousands of cruise passengers looking for Paradise on Duval Street?

If of a certain age:

Lily Pulitzer? Sloppy Joes?

yummy Lily fabric designs

Ernest Hemingway/Tennessee Williams/literary history (It’s almost an obsession here.  Stay away from his house if you’re allergic to cats.)

If still in college:

Drunken revelers?

To everyone:

Gorgeous sunsets? water, water? blue, aquamarine, turquoise.  JImmy Buffett

 

Key lime pie? Stone crabs?

Kermits key lime pie, do partake!

cigars?sponges? wreckers?

overseas railroad?

roosters?  Roosters and chickens can appear anywhere at any time.  It adds to the Bahamian feel of the place.  Sometimes they frighten me if they all of a sudden crow loudly when I don’t see them in nearby bushes. I imagine them snickering at me from their hiding spots when they see me jump in fear.

I had a few hazy memories of Key West in the early ’60’s, nothing that matches  the current reality. No matter.  Many of the things I’m drawn to are intact.  This trip, I was blown away by the numbers of historic buildings here.  Stuff rarely got torn town so that most everything that survived the fire of the late 1880’s is still remaining. Thanks to the lgbt community, the once dilapidated remains have largely been restored and probably never looked better. Key West now has the largest number of wooden historic houses of any town or city in the USA.

Continue reading “Key WEST Many Years Later”

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.

 

Aging Gracefully Off the Beaten Path

Since I learned to drive, I’ve always had the urge to explore places off the beaten path.  I love to follow an unknown road deep into the countryside.  The same impulse still resides in me today.  Yesterday, it took me and my husband on a wonderful detour just on the city’s edge.

Following a recommendation in the Kyoto Visitor’s Guide, we set out for the Oharano Shrine which is known to have maple trees that explode with fiery color in the fall.  Unfortunately, we were about a week too early to see the color as described, so we moved through the shrine rather quickly.  Pausing for tea in a small café, the owner knew a little English, just as I know a little Japanese.  We both enjoyed ourselves patching a conversation together that each mostly understood, or pretended to, if we didn’t.  The fruit hanging in the background is kaki (persimmons) going through the traditional process of drying, out-of-doors in the shade of eaves.

My instincts told me there was more to see beyond the shrine.  We followed a steep pathway, towards a promised temple we knew nothing about.

It was a haul for me, but after a quarter mile of huffing and puffing, we arrived at the ancient temple, Shojiji.  Danny led the way.

There were only one or two other visitors on the grounds.  I felt like I was in a fairy tale setting.  The beauty of the stones, buildings and grounds  were enriched by the eager plant life, which had taken over in places , encouraged by meandering streams.  Certain areas were almost hidden by the lush gloom, adding to the solemnity and mystery.

The history of Shoji-ji temple predates that of Kyoto itself. Founded in the year 686, it is known for its feeling of remoteness, as well as the hundreds of cherry and maple trees in the gardens, which are a photographer’s delight in both spring and autumn.  Bonson Lam, Japan travel

Shojiji wears her age well and proudly.  There are no attempts to hide her age.   Nature is allowed to encroach but hasn’t taken over.  The temple’s worn features are dignified and strong.  She played an important role in early Kyoto history that is still respected.  Yesterday, I became a fan.