Notes on a Sunday morning walk: early spring

The Barnacles of Busyness Fall Away

Going north, heading for the hills, the sun was gentle and warm. A cool wind thundered in my ears. I took the low road for cover. It runs along a tributary through the large veggie plantations that flourish in the floodplains. I turned right at the little white road-side hut, a shrine containing two large ojizo wrapped in golden kimono silks, flowers, offerings, candles, a bell and a bench. Over the little bridge I sauntered, and back behind the baseball ground. I crossed a small road and nipped onto a small, secret dirt path I found a few months back. It feels like I’m entering another world when I step onto this path. There’s a small graveyard just ahead and I am pleasantly surprised by the sound of a rushing waterfall I don’t remember encountering before. Spring songs sprang from the birds in the fields, astonishing contrapuntal canticles. Does bird song actually change with the waxing of the light? I’d swear it were so. Once I read a poem on a scroll in a tea ceremony that said bush warbler babies’ song practice was a sure sign of spring. Had I gone, unbeknownst to me, in search of that song?

There was an elegant dragon dance on display as the wind funnelled through, flapping the plastic frost coverings on a row of onions, a choreographic undulation (that smelled!) I smiled.

I felt, rather than a song, a kingfisher in the offing. That stretch of the river up near the Dragon’s Mouth Hiking Hill (serendipitously: real name!) has shown them, on occasion, rare and usually later in the year, darting and swooping under the extravagant willows overhanging the shore. This halcyon day seemed ripe for a sighting. I have stalked kingfishers enough to know, however, that they are more likely to find you than you them. They are great meditation teachers. Your approach must be characterised by vigilance but, above all, by nonchalance. (Teach us to care and not to care / Teach us to sit still writes T.S. Eliot in Ash Wednesday.)

A fence was down beside a fallow rice paddy, a bench appeared stream side and I sat down to watch. No willows in leaf here. Except for the evergreens, trees are skeletal, silhouettes by night and day. It would have been austere but for the light of the sun and the blue sky which made everything luminous, beautiful. Across from me a generous bamboo forest, lush green rustling, a soft click-clacking sound; the wind kindly transformed into a breeze for the watch. Behind, a short distance away, a small, red tractor ploughed the clay soil of the old flood plain.

Sitting still, small flashes of colour began to enter my visual field, accompanied sometimes by snatches of sound; a whistle, a trill, a shriek-like cry, a tweet, strains of a song. The bright yellow-green of the mejiro flitted by and then a heart-stopping blip of burnt umber. Ah ha!

But no.

Keep sitting.

And then, suddenly, in all its fleeting glory, the iridescence I had sought; a feathered jewel, blue-enrobed, burst out of the forest, as if from a green screen. My eyes did not deceive me! Across the stream, its orange breast shone, its wings reflecting the heavens; across the rough, bare brown-grey fields it flew, alight, aloft, as I followed it with my eyes into another clump of swaying bamboo on the far side of the lumbering tractor.

After you have received a gift or encountered mystery it’s better if you take a little while to absorb it.

. . .  After the kingfisher’s wing 

Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still 

At the still point of the turning world. 

(T.S. Eliot, again, in Burnt Norton from the Four Quartets.)

My walk resumed. I’d go to where the ‘mountain’ meets the river and the road goes no further, then I would turn back. The wind passed through the tall mountain pines and sounded of the sea. Above the glinting stream further north, neon green strings swung like dragon whiskers, or bell ropes, the sap was rising in the willows. The angle of the sun made the dark green-black leaves on the hill behind me glisten, the wind caused them to twinkle. Momentarily, it seemed, looking past the small statue of Kannon- sama (Kuan-yin, Goddess of Mercy), that big, browned wintering hill was home to swathes of stars.

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