TWENTY ONE TODAY

JULY, 2007

#21 – SHARI-DAKE

A gusty wind blew in off the not so distant Sea of Okhotsk.  I slid my sunglasses down over my eyes.  Having taken a step back from the so called ‘End of the Earth’, I walked the streets of Kiyosato-cho, a tiny rural centre in North Eastern Hokkaido.  It was so damn clean there you could’ve eaten your breakfast off the centre line of the main street.  The place glistened in the dazzling, midsummer light.  Not another soul strode those streets and I presumed it was for fear of soiling them.  I withdrew some cash from the post office ATM and attempted to hunt down a convenience store.  I found nothing, so empty handed, returned to the station.

Soon a slender, tanned, clean cut chap, sporting a pair of rimless spectacles arrived in a sparkling, silver-grey vehicle and whisked me off to my night’s lodgings at a local hostel.  The joint was equally as spotless as the town nearby, nestled in a small copse of trees sprouting out of an endless green and gold patchwork of potato and wheat fields.  With an abundance of daylight remaining between then and dinner time I spent the afternoon wandering the farm roads.  No hint of the morning showers that had hung over the region, washing the district to something within inches of laundry powder commercial cleanliness, remained.  The roads cut the fields into neat angular blocks and I strolled down to a silent tree lined river, the only thing that dared summon up a curve amidst all the ruler straight lines of farmland.

Beyond the rural tranquillity rose the jagged, volcanic peak of Shari-dake, deceptively appearing, on account of the surrounding terrain, to be quite a bit higher than its advertised 1547 metres.

“Twenty one tomorrow,” I murmured.  My days in Hokkaido were numbered.  Including Shari, only three peaks remained on the agenda in Japan’s northernmost territory.  Barring calamity, I’d be southward bound within a week and these thoughts tinged the afternoon with a hint of the End of Summer Holidays melancholy.  To the North the blue spine of Shiretoko speared out into the sea and over the horizon.  Nothing stirred.  It was as if the world had gone on siesta.  I followed a road down to an old lumber yard lying similarly silent, before turning and slowly retracing my steps.

The following day – what was it? I’d lost track of them, but surmised it was still July, I took a taxi ride up to the trailhead on Shari and set off into the forest.  Beyond the dark, leafy canopy the sharply defined hulks of cumulonimbus circled the mountain, appearing like enormous, floating clumps of brilliant white marshmallow in a radiantly blue sky.

The climb was predominantly a rock-hop and scramble up a course that clung so close to the edge of a stream that it almost doubled as it.  Nearing the summit I wandered through fields of daylilies and then, once on top, took in the views, somewhat hemmed in by the growing, brooding cloud.

A stifling humidity, one I hadn’t experienced since leaving tsuyu stricken Tohoku, saw me working up a sweat comparable to the stream I straddled on the descent.  Above my wilting frame the heavens sucked the moisture from forests around me and the farmland out beyond.  The sun was swallowed and a distant rumble from on high rolled across the lowlands warning us all on the mountain that day of the approaching tempest.  Lower down, as the earth beneath my feet began to level out, echoes in the heavens reached new heights as rollicking peals of thunder suddenly rang around the mountain top behind me.  A wind hit hard and rattled through the tree tops like the first wave of a king tide and the green branches bowed and swayed reverently against the backdrop of rapidly darkening skies.

As I fled the forest and dashed up the steps of the hut at the trailhead, the rains hit the Earth like the arse had fallen out of the sky.  I sat alongside a sleepy old Labrador, who wasn’t overly fussed by the tumult wracking the heavens above, and watched the afternoon fade behind a gauze of white.

Back down on the flats in Kiyosato-cho the humidity still held sway, the town slowly suffocating in its stifling grasp.  The air was as thick as molasses.  The heat seeped out of the cracks in the pavement and unsealed earth and curdled with the moist air, assaulting all who ventured out of their enclaves of air conditioning.

I wilted in the sauna like confines of the station house resigned to the fact that conditions weren’t any better outside.  Suffering a ponderous lethargy, I watched an upturned stag beetle, armed with a set of horns that could take off a child’s toe, languorously claw at the congealing air.  With the atmosphere so thick, its consistency rivalling Mum’s pea and ham soup, you’d reckon the bug could’ve just reached out for a glob of molecules and righted itself, but, it may well have equally concluded, in those miserable conditions that it just couldn’t be arsed.

Shari had shaken off the storm that engulfed her and appeared as a jagged, blue-grey, two dimensional cut out against a brooding background.  Lightning from behind me illuminated the glass of the darkening station house windows and a shockwave of thunder rumbled through the town like a runaway freight train.  A clean cut man in jeans and a blue striped shirt made it to the station house moments before the rain hit after a second flash of lightning seemingly ripped asunder the skies allowing them to unleash another payload of white water. A mob of high school kids weren’t so lucky.  Scampering up the street with bags and books held vainly over their heads.

Shari was gone, vanished behind a curtain of water never to be seen again.  I boarded a rattly little metal lunchbox of a train, riding the rails yet again, and clattered off down the tracks, a premature evening swallowing the world in my wake.

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