Before the Plum Rains began . . .


Hawks, herons and hydrangeas accompanied me across the fields, along the stream and into the woods at the foot of the hill on the last of the early summer walks before the Bai-u (梅雨, rainy season). I headed out for a little forest therapy, a little—as the locals say—‘Green Shower’ (森林浴 [しんりんよく [shinrin’yoku]). The colours were magnificent, all the crisper for the light and the breeze against the bluest of skies replete with white puffy clouds. There’s something so right and so nostalgic about such days.

Mea culpa: I gave in to the temptation to play hooky for the afternoon.

I walked through the patchwork fields, some bare and awaiting their rice seedlings, others flowing golden with spikey-eared barley. Wildflowers were bopping in the breeze, bamboo clacked a soft percussion and a loose piece of corrugated roofing on a shed banged asynchronously, a tone- and rhythm-deaf enthusiast it seemed. The fig tree, brutally pruned some months ago, is again miraculously flourishing. The loquat bushes’ dark lute-shaped leaves make way for little fairy-lantern orbs of golden-orange fruit.

My mind sounded an owl’s call, “Who? Who? Who?” What was it fishing for? Of course: Mary Oliver’s poem, ‘A Summer’s Day’! (“Who made the world? / Who made the swan, and the black bear? /Who made the grasshopper?”) Not so much, who?, I decided, but why? – where was Everyone?! Why were they indoors and not out celebrating—this day, this light, these colours?

The Baiu, or Plum Rain season, a word which sounds like ‘bayou’, introduces a swampy feel to our world, heavy and humid, and it hangs about for around 5 weeks before the ‘real’ summer begins and the temperatures ignite. The grass was long, though the paths had been cleared. I’ll admit I was a little wary of encountering a snake – there’s only one poisonous kind here – and was sending out little protection requests to St. Paddy (!) and the herons wading about in the streams and ponds.

Suddenly I remembered that I’d heard tell of fireflies in these waters, but it would be a few hours before twilight and then darkness settled, and I needed to be home before that.



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