The door to the verandah and the curtains were open to let in the breeze. Woken by the crows at first light, out of one half-opened eye I saw that it was overcast, but not in the manner characteristic of June which is a still, flat platinum openness anticipating rain. This, rather, looked like a good sumi* wash: nuanced, layered and dramatic. The heavy clouds were trundling slowly across the sky from the north. White smoke-like wisps arose in the clefts of the distant, dark hills. I fell into a deep doze roused in time by joy as my cockles rattled and thrilled with the percussive sounds of rain and gentle booming peals of thunder.
We are often strictly cloistered by the time summer solstice rolls around, the temperatures and humidity unpleasant enough to keep us indoors. One can only dream of walking now. I read books like ‘The Philosophy of Walking’ and ‘Getting Lost’ for consolation, and dream of the autumn cool when long walks can resume.
This midsummer’s day, however, was more gift than I could have hoped for. The storm rolled out to sea and blue skies like the first day, shone in its wake. The world was washed clean and a freshening breeze wafted around, inviting, promising. I headed out along the river for the hills. In honour of Sol, it would be a walk from the Fire Station to the Dragon’s Mouth.
There was the intoxicating sweetness of mown grass to accompany me—no finer incense, surely!—interrupted occasionally with hints of sourness breathed from the vast fields of onions cultivated in the area. I gulped my first great whiffs of gardenia from roadside bushes. A combination of senses register the fresh full green of summer and the deep dark earthiness of the after-rain terrain. On a hillside flower garden zinnias, lilies, and hydrangeas grew in the shadow of a great bamboo curtain. Raindrops glistened on the blossoms and leaves, still unfound by wind or sun. The warbler still embroiders the air with her complex trill. Cormorants dive silently, erupting later from the surface of the green waters.
By mid-morning I was pleased to have entered the forest paths. From some unseen place a musician was playing a Chinese violin. The sounds were arresting: warm and wistful, green and watery. A perfect match for the day. I stopped and listened a while. The sound, I knew, would be lost as I ascended the hill and rounded the bend.
Coming upon the rice fields, not the ritual ones of the last blogpost, but the real fields, I was granted a vision I have long wanted to see: the sight of a big blue sky replete with fluffy white clouds reflected in the mirror of the flooded paddies. It was strangely unexpected, as if something magical had suddenly bloomed on this well-worn path. (It is the kind of image animators use to evoke summer though it will be a month yet before such scenes are accompanied by the whirrings of cicada song: this, for us, is a sign of the height of summer when I am inclined to believe that only the rice is happy.) Out of the mirror, little feathery, fragile saplings poke. Pond-skimmers dart about making the water look mercurial. Ingenious irrigation ditches all clatter softly with good, clean water flowing down at just the right pace. Choruses of frog song rise and fall.
Nothing, except water, rushes at this time of year. Beside water falls and rapid, this is one of the best places in summer. We come for the sounds, for the cool, the comfort. Here, we perfume ourselves with the scent of moss and damp earth.
The growing towers of cloud built through the blue all day returning to their sumi drama by evening and by nightfall a light rain had begun to fall again. It would be another cool and peaceful night.
* sumi is the pressed black charcoal used by brush-style calligraphers