This morning my loaner bicycle took up along a road I hadn’t traveled for 31 years, and never by 2 wheels. It was an unseasonably mild November Sunday morning around 7 a.m. and the road grew narrower until it finally stopped; at least the paved surface ended. On one side was a catchment pond for run off to collect from surrounding mountains and from there feed into the cascading steps of rice paddy, now empty after the harvest. On the other side and also continuing up the narrow valley, but now overgrown and very coarsely covered in stone pieces there were roads to reach the timber in wood lots on the faces of the mountains. To someone local perhaps there was little appeal in pedaling uphill to the end of the blacktop and then walking a little ways into the mountain where signs warned of wild boar and till up patches showed signs of their recent search for eatables. After all, when all that is in your vicinity, it goes unnoticed, or is taken for granted. Instead those places and spaces are utilitarian work sites or in earlier years no man’s land, suitable for abandoning unwanted TV or bicycle, for what I saw. In other words from the hustle and bustle point of view, those nearby features are only salient when there is work to do, money involved, or social obligations affected. Routine days and weekly schedules are dictated by an instrumental mindset, a linear set of tasks, a narrow field of view – much like a telephoto lens.
By contrast my eyes were filled with wonder at the immense silence of the woods, the light filtering through the canopy, and the occasional fall colors of a deciduous tree amid the many market valued cedars. And I felt a sleight trepidation at the possibility of gaining personal experience of a pack of wild swine. The occasional Shinto shrine along the way up the valley was a reminder of the customs from premodern times that live on in some ways in recognition of the seismic pulse of the Japanese islands and possibly generational respect for forces unseen. So my mental angle of view was more like a wide angle lens, taking in the novelty of the surroundings, hyper aware of smells, sounds, colors and light. And yet these same footsteps to a local person might not detect any of this mental process that was running through my senses.
The same must also be true of every reader’s situation – the routine pathways, spaces and places of weekly activity become dull in some way; unremarkable. Although to a visitor from out of town or out of the country perhaps the same locations would trigger all sorts of responses. Perhaps the richest experience would be to have a little of both; benefiting from the local knowledge and layers of memories there, but also enjoying the sense of wonder and fresh eyes that an outsider brings.