Week 45


We jam our toes deep into the melted pack ice in the crook of Shari's shoulder. Beady shells of pine and birch, little black eyes of the trees, litter the slope. The weight of our bodies pulls on the fibers of our muscles and stretches them out to narrow points. I can feel the individual threads snap through my thighs, the deep pain as of someone gripping a bundle of hamstring, choking and raw right beneath my left knee, where the muscle is hooked to bone. It feels like the tight-chested breathlessness of a bad cough, like the interior wrongness that has no exterior name.

Blood pools in my fingers. The mountain has bitten them raw, ice and rock has peeled off thin layers of fingerprint, but I can't feel them for the cold. The wind clubs at my ragged exposed skin and balloons the hood of my sweater over blown-out hair. It feels like a shower of punches made of fish hooks.

I can't focus through the pain and the dazzle of the snow. My ankles burn with ice. I look up at the others but I don't see them; I only remember the sight, the dark imprint on my eyes, after the fact. Indeed I can no longer see in the moment -- I can only remember sight some seconds after.

Clouds race over the ridge, whorling just over the edge like wing vortices, breathing through the atmosphere like smoke. It kicks at us along the rim -- us, small and weak, tracing our way up to the brow of the mountain -- but I don't feel the cold, nor the weight of the air moving against me: only an impression of pain registers, a disconnected misery.

My legs push hard against the Earth. My body moves meters above itself. Snow recedes before sharp marbled rocks. My hands fumble under the weight of my body along a narrow bluff. My body actively shuts out consciousness of breathing. The limits of myself have erased where I am going and where I have been, and in the moment I exist only as a body, moving from nowhere to nowhere, definite only in motion.

Ed. note, 10/10/2022: One more impression, which I didn't write down at the but which has persisted through the years: arriving at the summit of the mountain and trying to scoop sugar peanut confection ("peanut butter" in the loosest sense of the term) into my mouth using the file from my multi-tool as a spoon. I ate pots of the stuff like yogurt, much to my present horror.

We race through the darkness, through the high hum of the Toyota Caldina's engine. The sun has just set and a deep cooked blue, fringed with orange like the sun's spilled blood, paints the low west, blackness above. Thin fingernails of sea-colored light cling to the edges of our bodies: caught in our hair like webs, drawing out the boundaries of our tired shoulders and dirty knees. The dashboard glow cuts into the darkness of the car and spills out deep shadows into our pale bluish laps. Cacey speaks to Robbie in the front seats but the words emerge indistinct and join the buffeted thrum of the wind outside. Sometimes Rory and I talk, and sometimes we don't, which I like. I have come to appreciate the empty space between two people not in conversation, the silence outlining each other's bodies against a void, like those optical illusions with the vase and faces. Later I will think this is beautiful symmetry, perfect in its stillness.

Everything You Have Heard Japan JET Programme


Week 47

A brief interlude at the top of the Nissho Pass, driving with Tony down to some event in the southwest.


Week 43

The first day of summer, coming surprisingly late to northeastern Hokkaido.