24Apr10: Nick Hawkins
So, if you have lived on Shikoku for as long as I have, you have often seen people trundling along with a wide-brimmed straw hat, walking stick, a backpack, and usually a pair of decent looking walking shoes. Whenever I saw them, the same questions rattled around in my head:
• Why are you trundling?
• No..really....why are you doing that? Is this to get in shape?
And the ever common:
• No seriously....why?
I couldn't understand it.
I had talked to people who had visited "The 88" by car. I had chatted with residents who had done them via bicycle. I had even shot the breeze with friends who had taken bus tours of it.
However, once/twice a year I would meet a human(!) who had done the entire thing by foot...while garbed in henro gear. And to be completely honest, although I was impressed by their feet (feat!), I thought that they were a few おかず short of a 定食.
Thus were the thoughts bouncing around my head when I found myself deciding it would be a good idea to spend a Saturday walking 18 kilometers to three of the eighty-eight temples. I decided it was time for me to figure out why people were doing this.
* * *
The first half of the day had featured a stop at a temple I had been to years before, a walk along a road I had biked down before, and a visit to a temple I had been to one year prior.
Although the temple grounds of Iyadani were still as impressive as they had been before....I found myself wondering why I had bothered walking there. Surely cycling there, as I had done previously, would have been more efficient.
"This is ancient."
I was clad in the henro hat, with the henro stick, a bell to warn creatures of my presence, white clothes to..um...warn creatures of my presence, and my own pair of decent walking shoes.
"Look! You can actually SEE where the stairs used to be! This is amazing! You can tell people have been walking along here for hundreds of years."
I, yet had not started to feel, what the call the "henro-spirit" until we ventured to the walking path behind Iyadani temple.
What was indescribable was a forest, covered trail we were venturing along down a mountain. Underneath our feet were the remnants of broken stairs. And I do mean remnants. If you were not paying attention, you would completely miss the fact that we were going down a trail that had at one time been completely en-staired.
However, time had passed and these stairs were now small little concrete footholds, that disappeared at the times you needed them and reappeared every now and then disguised as nearby rocks.
There was no question as to why stairs had been installed in the annals of time. The path was quite dangerous without them. The previous week had been somewhat wet, and the trail was quite muddy, slippery, and another adjective I don't even know. One false step, and you had the distinct impression that you might end up falling into the abyss of trees to never be heard from again. Just your bell-clad walking stick falling after you to let others know of your disappearance.
I was unable to say much else as I journeyed down the craggy path. My attention was either drawn to the way ahead of me, or to the trees surrounding me.
Every now and then a ray of sunlight would catch a leaf in a way that didn't seem fully real. I would catch it out of the corner of my eye and quickly try to find it again.
Sometimes I would look at a tree and wonder how old it was....only to be distracted by an even older looking tree to wonder how old it was.
Often, I would find myself imagining how it felt to do the trail....this trail..in the time before cars, buses, and bicycles existed.
And as quickly as I had found myself feeling as though I was actually walking in the shoes of Kobodaishi, we were out of the forest.
We were back on pavement with a dam stretched out to the left of us.
I exhaled a carbon dioxide infused sigh and looked behind me wishing that we could return to the forest again. It had been something...from a different time. Something...extraordinary. Something that could only be described as...