Friday, April 8, 2011

Japanese lessons. "It is Nature"

I drive down a half hour early to pick Heather off the late afternoon ferry so I can take some photographs in the cemetery of the little stone church that lies at the head of Fulford Harbour. Built well over a century ago by the then new inhabitants of the south end of the island, it is now their eternal resting place, and it is this sense of continuity that I find attractive. That and the interest of the stones and their inscriptions that show the diversity of the population in those early days. Hawaiians, Irish, German, British and Indians still lie in close relationship in the churchyard.

The ferry is still far out in the bay as I finish my project so I decide to cross the road and photograph the shoreline. The tide is out and here in the estuary where the creeks spill their loads of sand and gravel a broad temporary landscape of twisting channels carries the rushing Spring runoff waters to the sea. The sun dodges in and out of racing clouds and the wet beach alternately glows and greys in rushing shadows. In all this almost monochrome world it is the red jacket of a lone figure on a rocky point that catches my interest. I scramble down the brambly bank and say hello. When she turns I see she is a young Japanese woman. When I have offered to and taken her photo on her own camera and asked for and taken a couple on mine we start to talk.

She is Aki, and has been on Saltspring for two months as a ‘woofer’, - a volunteer farm labourer. I express my sympathy for the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that has happened in her country while she is so far from home and am struck by her reply. She lives on the other side of Honshu and her town and relatives were not affected, she tells me. I grasp an important attitude here that sets me straight. No wringing of hands, no riding the coat tails of emotion here, just an understanding that “It is nature.”she says, “We live always on the edge.” A clarity and acceptance that lies outside of shallow emotion, that accepts thousands dead as part of living on a lively planet. We shake hands and I clamber back up the bank while she walks on the beach beside the rushing stream. The ferry is just docking, it is time for me to go, but I glance one last time down toward her small figure squatting now in the reflected rays of the late afternoon sun. I take some last photos of her beside the river on the bare sandy shore and head for the van.

That sense of eternity, of continuity, that I had in the churchyard, how do I reconcile that with my conversation by the sea? We do live on a violent planet, nothing is certain at all. Is there something in a very Japanese way of looking at things that I can relate to here? I had recognized that young woman`s quiet knowledge within myself as well. Something that was so strong within me while sailing back and forth across the Pacific. So hard to adjust to at first, and yet such a powerful way of understanding the world. The earth, its shrugs, its storms the shifting of light and shadow, the turn of the tide and the rushing streams are part of eternity and we are a fragile part of it too. A shallow emotion of tears and agonizing sympathy is not useful here, not appropriate. She has it right, after all.

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