Saturday, December 13, 2003


Coursing at the base of every cultural history is the spirit of water, tireless master of the Tao. And sure enough, as after the Festival we walked from the station to the inn in the night (and from the windows of the inn itself), we heard the white whisper of a river close by. It was the Arakawa.

The next morning, when we woke up early in the blue arms of a beautiful day, the way days can be out in the country where they are most at home, we headed straight for that soul-inviting sound, that came drifting to us through the gold and scarlet crowns of trees stretched out along the high riverbanks.

Down we waded through deep spangles of fallen leaves to the fast-moving jade river flecked with white, legendary as the river to which, a millennium ago, the battle-weary Taira clan came after terrible defeat to wash themselves of blood-- perhaps historically true, perhaps an apocryphal tale arising like old ghosts in earlier minds from the abundance of red jasper found along the river, whose banks are renowned among geologists worldwide for their lithic diversity.

That diversity is apparent to any casual stroller on the trail that winds along the river shore, wending through fields of rocks you wish you could take home and put in your garden or maybe just cluster on your desk until your pockets are full and you rattle past a long high rock formation known locally as Iwadatami (Tatami Rocks), and over sinewy surges of what they locally call tiger stone, for the lithe and savage forms it has derived from the violent birth of the earth and eons of service as riverbed.

After the lively festivities of the previous night, the muscular river of sleek green flowing silently along the bottom of the morning was a wellspring of meditation. My own mundane thoughts were driven from my head and filed away under "Relevant?" by the unspoken majesty of the place.

Echo right away found the perfect spot for her morning yoga on a low cliff opposite a much higher cliff across the river, known locally as "The Red Wall," while my busy body wandered me from a herd of tiger rocks hunched beside the flexing water up to a clifftop, to a tiny shrine up on the forest ledge and back down again to glowing tarns, rivulets, waterfalls, fields of rocks strewn at beautiful random among the riverside reeds, the only other person around an early morning photographer, with all his gear, running like a fullback to catch the perfect shotspots always elsewhere in the sun.

It's that kind of place. Your mind has found the stillness that centers the river, but a body is made to move. This was the ideal locus for what I call moving meditation, wandering as though standing in the river wind, looking down into the deep-green water gliding by as one body on its long winding way to the sea... as, in our ways, are we.

No comments: