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My Solitudes : Chapter Nine : Seacoast in Winter : Excerpts

It's been a bit of a frustrating experience waiting for a suitable opportunity to make this next trip. The mid-winter months are always very busy ones for me with preparation and publicity for the annual January woodblock print exhibition, and each time a suitable 'window' of good weather arrived, I found myself tied up with work. But it occurred to me one day that I was perhaps taking the wrong attitude to the weather question. Why always wait for beautiful weather? If I were to take every one of these twelve trips under clear skies, that would be neither an accurate nor an interesting depiction of what these environments were like. The sun does not always rise on a calm sea, the river does not always ripple gently through the valley ... If I really wanted to get a better understanding of what these places were like, I should not hesitate to visit them when the weather was really bad, not just the gentle rain and breezes that I have experienced so far. For the mountain trip, what could be better than a heavy snowfall followed by a crisp and sunny day? And for the seaside, how about a raging winter storm with huge waves breaking over those rocks on the shore? So I started to watch the weather reports in the newspaper with a different eye - rather than wait for perfect weather, I would look instead for days when the weather had 'character'.

But I still ran into the same problem - each time a suitable day came, I was busy with other work. A good fall of snow came one day in mid-January, but this was just before my exhibition; there was no way I could 'escape' to go camping. And so the time passed, day after day, week after week. I managed to get away to the river in mid-February, but the weather absolutely refused to cooperate. Day after day I would read in my newspaper about deep snowfalls and storms in every corner of Japan but the Kanto. There was even talk of a water shortage, there was so little precipitation in this area. This morning though, I thought I saw my chance. Listening to the radio, I heard the announcer speak of a 'high winds and waves' warning for Kanagawa and Chiba; this was combined with a forecast of rain today, but clear skies tomorrow. I needed no further urging, and when breakfast was finished, I baked a few muffins to add to the food sack, prepared the pack, and headed off.


... When evening comes, the rain has returned and is being driven almost horizontally by the gale force winds that are now whipping along the coast. This is the weather that I wanted to see! One after another, in a non-stop parade, huge rollers smash against the rocks, hurling spray far enough inland to make a constant shower on the fly of my tent. I ate dinner huddled inside the tent, with the door tightly closed against the gale, but before sliding into the warm sleeping bag, I've come outside for a final evening stroll, if 'stroll' is a word that can properly be used for this activity - fighting my way along the dark beach leaning into the wind. I have to stay right up against the base of the cliff, because the waves are swooshing far up the sand, higher than I have ever seen them come.

About half-way along the beach I stop and take shelter in a small niche formed in the weather-beaten rock face, and look out to sea to watch the procession of rollers heading towards me. As I turn outwards I see something that I have never seen before during visits to this cove: a large freighter, just like those that ply the route out on the far side of Tokyo bay, well over towards the Boso shore, has come over to this side. Most of her huge bulk is dark and invisible, but the running lights spotted here and there on her derricks and superstructure show me her shape. I can easily hear the pounding of her engine; it must have been audible for quite some time, but mixed in with the noise of the storm, I hadn't recognized it for what it was. She is coming from the north, moving very quickly, running before the wind, and seems on a course to pass across in front of me, and head out to the open sea at the south. But she is very close in indeed; don't they realize how near to shore they are?

And then I gasp in astonishment - she is headed directly for that area where those rocks lie just underneath the surface, completely invisible in this driving storm! Am I about to be witness to a catastrophe - this huge freighter ripped apart on those jagged rocks? I will have a ringside seat, but what a tragedy, and my beautiful cove will be destroyed ...


Here where there are fewer rocks in the water to disturb them, the waves are rolling into the shore, not crashing in, and each one shoots a sheet of water up the smooth sand. This is where I dozed naked in the sand last summer. I'm certainly keeping my clothes on today, but squat on my heels in about that same place, and watch the water slide in and out ...

There is quite a lot of noise, mostly from the waves breaking in front of me, but also from the far right and left, where water is still crashing against the rocks that make up the two points bounding the cove. There is also an echo of all these sounds coming from the cliff face behind me. It seems that just here, halfway along the curve of the bay, I am sitting in what is perhaps the sonic 'focal point' of the beach. It's not uncomfortably loud, but if somebody were here beside me, we would have to speak up to hear each other.

Noisy it may be, but that doesn't mean that it's not peaceful. The sight of the water sliding up the sand towards me over and over again is quite hypnotic, and just as I did last summer, I sit there staring mindlessly at the moving sea. The light gradually fades as evening closes in. I'm not cold at all; three layers of clothing – warm shirt, heavy jacket and windbreaker – keep me completely comfortable, even in this stiff wind.

Far out in the water, that rock that appears only at lowest tide is now standing clear of the sea surface, and each wave that crashes into it sends a cascade of foam over the top. Up in the sky, almost directly above my head, an airliner from Haneda is climbing steadily as it heads out to sea. The sky is now very dark, but this plane is so high that it catches the sunlight and shines brightly. It must have been interesting for the passengers - taking off from a dark airport, and then rising up into the bright light.

I don't know how long I sit there enjoying the evening sounds, sights and air, but when I do stand up to return to the tent, both my legs are 'asleep', and I hobble around for a minute while they come back to life. I find it has become too dark to see where I am walking. My only guide is the white foam that spreads across the sand as each wave washes in. There is an interesting effect: as the water sweeps in I see a white blur, but then as the water soaks down into the sand, the foam disappears, and all is dark. It is as though the sand is being illuminated by a light, and somebody is constantly playing with the 'dimmer switch'. Glow ... fade ... glow ... fade ... all the way along the beach to home.


I can hear the wind whistling by just a few inches above my head, and feel no inclination to stand up and feel its bite, so settle back against the rock and let my mind wander. From this spot, I can see that area of jumbled rocks in the water that is slowly being inundated by the incoming tide. The strata of these rocks lie in rough lines perpendicular to the shore, and thus form a series of straight pools extending outward from the beach. The water is flowing in and out of these, spilling from one to the other in random fashion; at one moment the level in a pool on the left is higher and the water cascades over to the right, and a moment later the situation is reversed and the water flows the other way. Waves on the beach ... flickering flames in a campfire ... ripples in the river ... on the face of it all these should be completely 'boring', but actually are infinitely interesting. I think I can understand something of what my cat must feel when she sits on a window ledge looking out at the world outside, her head turning right and left as she follows each car and pedestrian that passes by. For hour after hour she can sit there - as long as there is something moving to keep her eyes occupied. Here on the beach, the time passes for me in the same way, the water flowing left ... flowing right ...

The rock against which I am leaning is the same sandy colour as the beach, and presumably this is not a coincidence; the grains of sand that make up this beach obviously have their source in these rocks, and have been worn off by wind and water. There are layers visible in the rocks, alternating light and dark, and this, together with their generally gritty and sandy feel, tells me that they are sedimentary rocks, formed by the accumulation of silt at the bottom of a lake or sea long long ago. As the years passed, that landscape must have altered beyond recognition, at times slowly and gradually, sometimes quickly and violently. What had been deep layers of soft sand and silt under wide seas became compressed and hardened into rock, and at some point was lifted up into dry land.

I rest my hand against the gritty rock, and as I rub along the surface a few grains break loose and fall to the ground. How long have those grains been waiting there, only to be finally dislodged by my hand? Millions of years ... millions of years waiting and waiting and waiting ... until finally today my hand touches them - and down they come. Perhaps you will laugh at me when you read this, but I feel a bit of a sense of drama here; it is almost as though I have broken and spoiled something that has taken an incredibly long time to build.

At a shrine near my home there are some old trees - bent and wrinkled with age. Nobody would consider harming them, their age confers an aura of 'specialness'. When such old trees are finally brought down by storms we feel sorrow and sadness. Is it so strange then, to feel a kind of sadness at disturbing these rocks?

Textbooks talk about the immense number of years that geological processes take; millions is the word usually used, and the numbers all have six zeros, or more. But I don't have the slightest idea what 'millions' means. One year I know well, having seen the cycle come around any number of times. I think I also have a good grasp of what ten years means; my decade-long printmaking project gives me a good yardstick for that. How about a hundred years? Although I can't pretend to really feel a hundred years, I do feel that I can understand it intellectually - it's not too distant from the personal experience of family members. If I stretch the scale to a thousand years, the span still seems graspable; I've read plenty of history books, and have a rough mental map of the passing of recent centuries.

But a million! Take each and every one of the individual years in that thousand year span, expand it to the size of the whole thousand years, and you have a million years. This becomes such a vast concept that I cannot grasp it ...