Hida Furukawa, Japan, Non-fiction, Photo Shorts

Field notes: The woods near Ketawakamiya Shrine – 3/15/18

Photo (not of the woods) by Don Fierro, hakanairecording.com

1.) The mountain stream, just out of view to my right, makes a constant white noise, like how it used to sound as a kid, jabbing buttons on the TV remote, when I’d hit the cable channels my parents didn’t pay for; the sound of something unreachable, just beyond the blizzard on the screen, just over the other side of a hill of Lotto tickets, or a grove of fabled money trees. The sound of the great unknown. 

2.) A forest shrine perches above me. I’ve picked my way down switchbacks, soft footfalls on the spongy pelt of pine needles, a sudden snap of twigs and roll of sole over branches. The deep, throaty crunch of snow, which–if it had a human voice, might be speaking German?

3.) The birds are very quiet here, as if in reverent accord with the spirits spooking up the shrine. Tiny chirps and twitters, pitched like an un-oiled hinge on an unlatched gate, swinging centimeters on the breath of spring.

4.) I have a plan in place should a bear suddenly show up, its round brown face peering between the pines and the shaggy auburn ridges: I’ll drop beneath this downed young Chestnut I’ve been sitting on (none too comfortably), and burrow deep into the snow, hoping the tree skeleton latticed above me can hold back bear claws. And teeth.

5.) I hate that I have a plan in place should a bear suddenly show up. I startle and twist around at every snap crackle crunch. There’s a stump a ways away that looks almost exactly like tiger face, mouth mid-snarl. Pretty sure this is not the recipe for becoming a naturalist.

6.) Sad for the ever-fetal buds sprouted from this Chestnut’s stilled fingers.

7.) The sunlight barely reaches down here. A softly yellowed patch of snow (don’t eat), whisper of a branch’s shadow. Gentle golden shading on a bit of Chestnut limb, the rest a luminous grey stippled with tan (hang on, let me take my shades off. Hhm, yeah okay. I’ll stand by that).

8.) Sad for a single brown spot and one brown ring, where a twig finger snapped off and away. Such a young appendage.

9.) The bark of the Chestnut is a palate exploded. Pale mint lichen flowers flat over silver scales veined with blonde and orange–or, if consulting Crayola, perhaps “burnt sienna” is best.

10.) My nose is stuffed. I can’t quite capture the air here: “wood” and “snow” are the best I can offer, rather generically. Does temperature have a scent? I would add, “pine” and “decay,” but that could just be my brain trying to muscle in on a rather tame olfactory moment. 

11.) Slow drip of ice crystals. A plane tunnels the sky with a soft roar. My tiger is still where I left him–decidedly a stump.  

12.) Confused for a moment by the curling brown husks of leaves co-mingling with pine branches. Hybrid? I think, dumbly. But no. My young Chestnut casualty, surely brought down by one of these clumsy galoot pines, must’ve gasped up its shattered bones as it fell and was fallen on. Here, its children now dangle, disembodied and rattling dryly in the arms of adoptive conifers.

Addendum to field notes

(5,11) – The tiger-like stump is a ramshackle crew of sticks and pine needles heaped over a log. Quite tame.

(10) – My nose returns upon ascension into the sunlight: yep, definitely pine spice, definitely the earthy rot of leaf mulch. More than anything, though, this smell makes me think of a woodchipper, a lumber yard, a sawmill, or that place we went when I was a kid to get a new kitchen table (I think called, “The Sawmill”). I hate that.

(4, 5) – Fuck. I saw a bear! I think. Pretty sure. I catch a flash of dark grey further up the sun-warmed trail (addendum to the addendum, only black bears hang out here, so this one is either an old or a dirty mofo). I stop. Haha, probably a deer. It moved like a deer. Way too fast. Aren’t bears supposed to lumber around like loud drunks? I lean to the right and left. Small, I think, at least in bear terms. The fuck are bear terms?! For a moment I laugh at myself, “Oh, that’s just a black wild boar.” But I can’t imagine black wild boars make great company, either. No, not a boar. Too furry. Something canine in the gait. Again, too fucking fast! It rubs its face against a tree like a cartoon bear. I back slowly down the trail, still looking, still unsure. We lock eyes several times. I check out its ass. No tail. At least, not a dog or coyote or wolf-type tail.

(4, 5) – It’s tough to be a naturalist when you worry about getting mauled by a bear or boar or some other wild mammal. Also, should naturalists aggressively whack large black ants off their knee while trying to write field notes?

Maybe not.



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