Week 47

"I'm trying to start writing again, like for the blog. And so when I'm writing about this weekend, I'm going to write one of two things about this greenery. Either, the road is choked with green," but I don't finish the sentence, for some reason.

Then Tony says, "Flushed with green sounds better. Choked sounds negative."

Right away I know that he's right. And so to salvage some sort of belletristic pride I say, "That, or I'll write that it's frothing with green, like as in the mountains are frothing with green," and I look out the window and I guess the mountains could have been seen to froth, if you were looking at them in that way -- like a thin patina of froth covering the mountains off to the left of the car, but deep-down I realize that I'm grasping really far for some way to defamiliarize the Hokkaido all around us, and that this is kind of a bullshit stretch here, and that a day later in the big communal office of Yubetsu High School I still won't have an appropriate metaphor in place, and will have to start out the blog post with some kind of meta-metawriting, writing-about-talking-about-writing-about-Hokkaido, a big linguistic knot of inept metaphors and self-reference, trying to win the situation (???) by stepping out of it, by reaching down out of the Tokachi sky, down into the cul-de-sac cradle of Shikaoi Town to point and jeer through Penelope's open window at the lightly cooked sun-mussed driver (=me), trying too hard for words, not realizing that the reached-down, point-and-jeer hand is itself trying too hard, evidenced by the tagging of this opening as 'meta-metawriting', as 'writing-about-talking-about-writing-about-Hokkaido,' which is at the most innocent a dangerous liberality of hyphens and at most pernicious full-blown try-hard masturbation.

Which masturbation is, at final count, writing about writing about talking about writing about Hokkaido.

John Barth would be proud.

But at any rate Penelope buzzes steadily across the Tokachi Plain, little engine pulling us along at some 80 kph through fields that might evoke Midwestern America but for the mountains out on their fringes. The fields-and-mountains combo actually pulls a pretty clever one-two on the eye, since the fields actually extend, from our vantage in rural Shikaoi Town, over the horizon, and run from field into mountain somewhere out of sight, which mountain then rises back up above the horizon all thinly blue with atmosphere (itself another clever one-two of nature). It gives you the impression (that is, the fields-mountains illusion) of fields extending forever in Midwestern American style, of a great open space, of wide skies and superlatively breathable air, of a gigantic, like, chessboard, almost, I guess, big tiles of khaki-, sandy-colored earth, rimmed with green shrubs and limned by long gray-black tarmac; but then on the other hand the mountains reach back up over that endless horizon with a kind of titanic, echoed 'Gotcha!' ringing in everyone's ears, almost like cordoning off the Tokachi, land of cows and milk and apparently tomatoes as well, from the Okhotsk beyond, for which on a day as sunny and warm as this one, I can't find any appropriately apocalyptic qualifiers.

The other illusion of the Tokachi Plain mentioned above -- namely, the blueness of distance -- might be best served by another little moment-bound anecdote from the top of Nissho Pass -- the western portal to the Tokachi: emerging from a tunnel at the top of the pass, we were greeted with a broad vista of the Tokachi stretching out past Shikaoi and a little north of Obihiro, over some 60 kilometers off to the southernmost reaches of the Daisetsuzan Range, and we pulled the car over to the side of the road in amazement, both Tony and I lost in the assumption that what we looked over was the sea, so blue and endless did it seem. Only when we stopped did we make out the little town of Shikaoi down on the plain, the checkerboard fields and the mountains off in the distance. Growing up as I did in the city, distance to me was always tempered by a thick layer of smoggy gray-brown, like the dead color of many computers from the 1990s. But over the Tokachi this weekend, the air was bright and clean and empty, shimmering ever so slightly with heat, thick with that blueness, like little particles of the sky that had hitched rides on sunbeams and got stranded halfway down.

It's funny what heat and distance does to light, and to the way that we see it. I don't know if it's the latitude or clean air or what, but for some reason in Hokkaido the light always seems to be fading, setting, askance, and the way that in plays with the trees and the leaves and the mountains, I think, could entertain a perceptive person at least as long as a painting thereof. Like how a big broad mountainside looks, of course, green -- and that's how we see them most of the time; and maybe if we spend a little bit longer looking away from the steering wheel we might perceive patches of darker green against lighter; but I think it takes a pair of eyes in the passenger seat, someone with the freedom to look at nothing else, to catch those here-and-gone fragments of light that move on the wind and the leaves, that you see exactly once before they're lost forever -- glances of sheer yellows and flashing reds, the dim cool purples in the darkness of the trunk, prim oranges around the edges and glassy whites off which you can catch the same little dancing photons as you can off the surface of water.

Which is to say nothing, of course, of that long, distant blue that plays tricks with your brain, suggesting the color behind but presenting that of the fore, leading you the green of the leaves, of the dark pine and the spry birch, but flourishing this vague, sea-ish color onto which you can't really latch, and so you get stuck halfway, holding both in your mind, not even really seeing the mountain but imagining it behind, fabricating the landscape from not what it is but what it seems to be.

Everything You Have Heard Japan JET Programme


Week 48

Driving north from Asahikawa with the windows down.


Week 45

Returning to Shari after the abortive attempt the previous fall, a trio of Kiwis and I summit in glory.