--- Back to the 'My Solitudes' Front Page ---

My Solitudes : Chapter Six : Seacoast in Autumn : Excerpts

For the visit to the forest a few weeks ago I enjoyed walking from home to the campsite, but I can't repeat that experience for this trip, not with such a long distance between the house and the beach! So I leave the house quite early in the morning and head for the train station, where I will buy my ticket for the first leg of a journey that will involve five trains and a bus, and will take nearly four hours.

On the way to the station I wonder if perhaps I've left this trip too late in the season; the trees all around me are pretty much bare, and I don't think anyone would still think of this as being autumn. I'm of two minds about this; I have really been planning to write a series of stories that will give readers a definite feeling of what the seasons are like in my three 'secret' places, and it now seems that I won't be able to do that - I have missed my chance to experience the seashore in autumn. On the other hand, I wonder just how much of an autumn there really is down there on the beach. I suspect that compared to the forested hillside, the coast will probably not show dramatic or obvious changes from season to season. Of course the summer will be hot, and the winter will be cold - but neither cherry trees nor maples overlook my beach, and there may be very few easily spotted clues as to just what season it really is. The trees I see at my other two locations vividly illustrate the season, with their varied greens, fall colours, or bare trunks, but a beach has no such ready indicator. But it can't be helped, and although I am walking past bare trees towards the station, hopefully I will still be able to capture something of autumn at the coast ... we'll see.

Nearly four hours later, my optimism is rewarded, because when I finally get off the last of the five trains and stand waiting at the stop to board my bus and ride down the coast, I am surprised and pleased to discover that the surrounding hills are covered with yellow and gold, and the breeze on my face is mild. I have to remove my heavy jacket and tie it on top of the pack. I had overlooked something when thinking about these seasonal changes; with my attention focused on my local environment, the nearby river and hills, I had forgotten that there can be major differences in climate between places that are actually not so distant from each other. This beach is (of course!) on the seacoast, and thus subject to completely different climatic influences. As any Tokyo resident who has been to Izu, Shonan, or Miura can testify, the climate of the nearby seacoast areas is far milder than that of the metropolitan area. I have moved back in time, and it is still the middle of autumn!


The bus drops me off a half-hour later and I stroll through the fields towards the spot where a trail leads down to the cove. When last I was here, these rolling fields were all covered with watermelons basking under the sun. I had been a bit curious to find out what would be growing here at this season, and now I find the answer ... Japanese radishes ... off as far as I can see in every direction, nothing but row after row of radishes. Some are still small and seem freshly planted, but others have already pushed a fat white shaft far up out of the soil. Here and there in the fields stand frames of bamboo poles, on which hang some of the harvested radishes, these yellowed and limp. I suppose a city of eleven million people eats a lot of this daikon every winter, and now I know where a lot of it comes from!

Down on the beach it is wonderfully fresh and clean. The sun is beaming on the bright sand, and a brisk breeze is blowing. The weather report this morning was vague, promising a bit of everything over the next 24 hours, but at the moment only a few white clouds patch the sky here and there, and don't threaten to spoil the mood. Out on the open water there are occasional flashes of white spray as the breeze pulls the tops off small waves, but the fishing boats out there are steady on the surface, not lifting up and down on a heavy swell. There are no waves rolling up onto the sand, as the tide is out, and it won't be full until after I am in bed tonight. I should be able to hear the water coming closer and closer as I lie in my bed. All in all, I am surrounded by a wonderful sensation of space and openness.

At the north end of the beach I find the same patch of wiry grass on which I camped in the summer; it will serve as campsite again tonight. As I pull off my pack and start to clear the space ready for the tent, I realize that when I spoke of 'neither cherry trees nor maples' earlier I was being a bit limited in my idea about plants that represent different seasons; I hadn't noticed it during the summer, but the thicket of bushes and tall grasses that crowds against this patch of grass from the land side, sheltering it somewhat from the wind, turns out to be composed of Japanese pampas grass. What did I say before about a beach not showing the season? Look at this bright blue tent standing in front of the plumes of pampas grass waving in the wind; there's no doubt whatsoever about the season! Autumn at the seaside!


My drink is finished, and it's time for a stroll around my domain. I walk down the length of the beach, which with the tide still out, is wide and smooth, the sand unmarked by footprints. The breeze is coming from directly behind me, and is strong enough to partially mush me along the sand. The grasses and bushes on my right, which cover the entire length of the cove at the base of the cliffs behind it, are all growing at quite a sharp angle, bent over in the direction that the wind is blowing, so this wind must be both consistent in its direction, and consistent in its strength, controlled I suppose, by the shape of the cliffs and the local geography.

Looking down, scanning here and there, looking for anything interesting among the clumps of seaweed that have been tossed up by the sea, I see a collection of strange objects scattered across the shore. They are all the same shape - a round flattened dome - and vary in size from about 3 to 10 centimetres across. They are completely transparent, and the sand is clearly visible right through them. Some are lying near the water, and are being slipped up and down the shore by the wave action.

It dawns on me that these must be jellyfish, or at least some kind of jellyfish-like sea creature. There are no tentacles visible though, just the simple discs. I pick one up gingerly, and find that it has a rubbery texture - something like a slab of firm jelly. There is absolutely no visible evidence of any organs or distinguishing features. No mouth, eyes, heart, stomach ... Just a slab of jelly. But when I put it in the water to clean off the sand, I am surprised to find that once in the water, it half floats and balloons out into the familiar jellyfish 'umbrella' shape. Bobbing there in the shallows it looks alive. Is it? I absolutely can't tell. When I pick it up again, it becomes an inert disc, surely lifeless. But I wonder ...

I also wonder if they are edible. Perhaps if I put a couple of the smaller ones into my soup tonight ... But I know that I'm a bit too 'chicken' to try it, so I leave them alone, and continue my stroll. The cliffs at the south end of the cove look just as forbidding as they did in the summertime, and I don't spend much time here, but turn around and head back along towards the tent, leaning into the breeze as I go.


Although they are barely visible in the haze, even in the binoculars, I know that the line of freighters is still passing by. My ears tell me so, for the subsonic 'rumble' of the engines is constantly present. It doesn't actually bother me, because unlike the noise of cars and trucks passing through our community back home, it's not really audible unless you strain to listen for it, but occasionally one of the ships either passes closer than the others, or perhaps has a particularly loud engine, and the sound from this one becomes noticeable, reminding me that they are always out there.

Imagine what the impact of the first powered ships to come into these waters must have been! Ukiyo-e prints of those days emphasize for us the strange appearance of those ships, but they must have transformed the 'soundscape' as well. And since then the trains ... the trucks ... and of course the cars ... It's hard to understand what a quiet place the world must have been before the invention of the internal combustion engine. It certainly wasn't so idyllic I think; I have read about Victorian-era London, and what a noisy and smelly place it was because of all the horse traffic. Edo may have been a bit quieter - without metal horseshoes - but I'm sure that there were plenty of things making noise. So the cities a couple of hundred years ago were perhaps not a great deal noisier or quieter than now, but I think that once away from a major population centre, silence must have been the rule. These days though, no matter where we go, we can never completely escape from the noise of engines - from the roads, the skies, and the sea.

My guess is that this era in which we currently live will come to be looked back on as a particularly 'noisy' time in human development. I think we can expect that future technological developments will produce cleaner and quieter motors, probably electric or magnetic. I suspect that my grand-son's world may gradually become a much quieter place, country as well as city.


When breakfast is over and the pot cleaned up, I park myself in the lee of the nearby rocks, with my 'tools' at hand - binoculars, notebook and pencil - and settle in to enjoy some of this sunshine. My view from this spot is directly down the entire length of the beach, but there is still quite a bit of haze in the air, and the dark cliffs at the far end are only faintly visible. The sea is again fairly calm this morning, with no dramatic waves, but it still throws up white spray in places where the swells strike the shore rocks. In the sky very high above the beach, a hawk soars into view from over the cliff top. He is followed by another ... and another ... A minute later, I can count 12 of them sailing in wide circles in my field of view. They don't seem to be obviously synchronized in their actions, and perhaps this is just the best time for a morning hunt along the cliff-top ...

I lean my head back against the support, and watch the ones that come close. I don't even need the binoculars, they are so near. They are not flapping their wings, but sailing on the breeze; I suppose there is some kind of updraft against the cliff face allowing them to stay floating in the air indefinitely. I can see every twitch of the feathers on the wing tip, and every slight twist of the body and tail, as they adjust to the air current flowing across their body. If I suddenly move my arm, the nearest one follows the motion; he is so close I can see his eyes on me! Surely he isn't considering me as 'prey', is he? There are a lot of them up there - this is getting a bit scary! But I'm sure that I'm a bit too large of a mouthful for them, at least as long as I'm still alive and kicking. I wonder though, how any small animals at all can survive in this environment with this fleet of eagle-eyed, no, hawk-eyed predators constantly hovering above.


But I am not going to be allowed to forget that even with all the sunshine I have enjoyed, and even having had a nice swim, this is indeed not a summer day. The clouds steadily grow heavier and darker, the wind becomes stronger, and I can see that this day is going to 'end in tears'. In a repeat of the close of my last visit here, I move to get all the gear stowed away, and then pack up the tent while it is still comfortable to do so.

A few more minutes looking out at the water, and it's time to leave. Once at the main road I don't have too long to wait for the bus, and half an hour later, as I stand on the station platform waiting for my train to pull in, the drizzle starts to fall.

It has been yet another most pleasant day ...