Sunday, 13 April 2008

I wandered lonely as a cloud

Ever since writing a thesis on the sublime I have become a bit obsessed with the notion.

"Brook and road
Were fellow-travelers in this gloomy Pass,
And with them did we journey several hours
At a slow step. The immeasurable height
Of woods decaying, never to be decayed,
The stationary blasts of waterfalls,
And in the narrow rent, at every turn..."

Who can resist it?

So it was that I conjured up the most sublime plan in the world: Ichizuchi- Dawn till Dusk.

The plan was simple: I invited some friends to join me in an all day hike of the highest mountain on Shikoku Island, commencing in the glory of pre-dawn unconsciousness and then drawing the whole sublime experience to a close as dusk set in around us. The plan was foolproof. Sublime and foolproof!

The days before the trek loomed and volunteers were dropping like flies. Apparently Wordsworth's "giddy prospect of raving stream" and "unfettered cloud and region of the heaven" was not inspiring enough to wrench people from their beds at 4am.

No matter. I was determined! So it was that I set out before dawn, driving some 45 km to the base of Ichizuchi. The night was dark, the sky was clear, and I was scared shitless by the impeding darkness that surrounded me. Yet as I drew nearer and nearer to the mountain's "skyline" assent, visions of violet and crimson rays filled my idealistic mind.

And then suddenly, there it was!! a phantom tollbooth

What? A tollbooth? At the base of the mountain... a blockade against all things dawn, sublime and attainable!

I stared at the sign with mild shock: mountain closed from 7pm to 7am.

Closed? How can you CLOSE a mountain? What could possibly happen between seven pm and seven am that Japan would feel obliged to CLOSE off the mountain.

And then it occurred to me. Ha! Only two things happen in those hours: DAWN and DUSK.

!! !!! !!!!!

Words escape me.
My hopes were severed.
My Romantic notions destroyed.

Imagine Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge coming to the passage before Mt. Blanc only to find that their anticipation of sublimity are restrained to business hours!

Beneath the tollbooth We Pondered thus
the inaccessibility of yon mountain pass
Forbearance and pitied self reclined
in lost hope for yon opening time.

Curling up in a sleeping bag I waited... and waited...
I fell asleep and dreamt that my car drove off the edge of the cliff.

I woke sometime later to see the sun beaming though the mountains... dawn come and gone.

I fell asleep again and dreamt that it cost sixty dollars to pass through the tollbooth. "But sir, I only have 6 dollars!" And I was turned away...

I woke again at ten past seven and low and behold, the gates to my tarnished hopes were open for business. I packed up my bag, revved the engine and conjured hopeful ambitions of a dusk that would make it all worth while. The day had, after all, only just begun!

As I ascended the mountain, the trees lost their leaves and the snow began to mount.
"Snow!" I thought, "how wonderful!"
And I drove on.

I reached the summit of the mountain and gazed out over the well-lit scene before me: it was glorious. Kind of dead looking and really post-winter/pre-spring. But glorious because I wanted it to be.

And so I set off on the 4.5 km trek to Ichizuchi, rice balls and camera intact.

It was a quiet morning. There were no other hikers on the trail this early in the day. There was actually nothing on the trail really. Save some fallen trees and scattered branches. There were crows as well. It was foreboding. Or perhaps heralding?

I had traveled 1 km when I reached the first traces of snow. It was lovely in its own way, dirty and crusty. Like traces of winter resistant to departure. I walked a little ways on and found the snow a bit deeper... maybe up to ones ankle... and hip... and then possibly neck...

Yes. Up to ones neck. I know because before me the trail was washed away and what stood in its place way a ravine and a precarious snow path, dotted with suicidal indentations about one or five meters deep.

Huh, I thought to myself and sat down on a nearby fallen tree to reflect on the matter. I pulled a rice ball from my pack and ate it meditatively. Just then a man came towards me, crunching though the snow with ice-picked boots and ski poles. He smiled and nodded to me and gazed at the looming trail.

"Taihen" I said, evoking the universal Japanese word for "fuck this looks hopeless" or "fuck. Good luck with that!"

He nodded solemnly and asked if I would go on. No, I said. No I would not. He asked me where I was from and I said Canada.

"Canada!" He cried. "That is a long ways away! And so cold!"

I sat in my snow drift with onigiri sticking to my fingers and nodded knowingly. Cold. Yes. We said farewell and he crunched on, sinking deep into the snow as he passed though the ravine. Luckily there were many fallen branches and trees and boulders to help him along.

I turned back and trudged through the snow towards the parking lot. I was not giving up. I was merely saving sublimity for another day.

I had gone some way when I met an elderly man and what I presumed to be his son.
"Oh! Oy! It's a foreigner!" The younger man cried to the older man. They had tripods slung to their backs and a enthralled gleam in their eye. "How is the walk?" They asked me and I shook my head solemnly. "Taihen desu ne!" I said and told them that the snow was very deep yonder.

"Snow" the older man cried. He was very enthusiastic.

"Chotto takai" I warned them, glancing over their sneakers and tripods. Maybe a bit dangerous, I offered, and they glanced though the trees contemplatively.

"Well!" said the younger man. "Well let's take a picture together!"

And we did. I posed and we all took pictures in the snow bank. Me- the only strange and exotic thing on the mountain that day; Them- the only hopefully thing I would see that day.

In the 1km back to the car I passed several more hopeful hikers. We exchanged hellos. I said taihen and ki o tsukete! and posed for a picture.

And so for a day... the early better part of part of a day, I wandered lonely as a cloud on the ranges of Ichizuchi... and have gained sudden appreciation for all things sublime.... but in that Gothic melancholy sort of way:

"Not seldom clad in radiant vest
Deceitfully goes forth the dawn,
Not seldom evening in the west
Sinks smilingly forsworn."
- W.Wordsworth

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