I was odds with myself last week, dithering about what I really wanted, and generally languished in a state of perpetual confusion over the weekend. The weather seemed to either reflect my mood, or perhaps – and this would be nice! – perhaps it was at the root of my dithering. It feels like it SHOULD be fall, it’s mid-October. But it’s warm. And the leaves aren’t changing. I feel great unrest with that. Will they be green all year? Or do very few of them change color? Or do they just take flight without ever hailing me with a gold or red wave? I soon remembered that some beautiful maples I have seen come from JAPAN. The Japanese maple. So, indeed, Japanese trees must show their colors. And with that dawning awareness grew a sense of calm that fall is still to come. Perhaps it’s a month delayed here.
But with that solved, I realized there are many layers to the dithering, some of which persist… On the one hand I am really craving a long chat with a dear friend to share stories, laugh together, hear about life back in the States, and even savor hearing about old dramas rehashed. But, my success in rapidly and totally immersing myself in the very disparate worlds of hockey, horses and now Kendo, plus work and school commitments, all within precisely two months of the wheels touching down (we landed in Yokota on Aug 24), mean that I have no time at all for such an indulgence. I want to give my best to each of these circles of people who have so generously folded me in. And as an astute reader of these notes pointed out (hi, Gillian!), it is mentally exhausting just going about life in a foreign land. Yes, you could do it in a less exhausting way, but my fear is that if I slowed down, I might just crawl, for a long time. I just can’t get off the proverbial treadmill!
There is one area where I am very decisive, though. At the barn. After a couple weeks riding one horse, I have been given the opportunity to try others. I am so very grateful for my days at the barn, and if you’ll indulge me, I’ll close this note with a typical day while the memory is fresh. On Tuesdays, I walk in, drop my backpack full of water, snacks to trade, helmet and half chaps. I find a home for this pack near a tight little circle of chairs around a tiny stove I covet. Like my instructor in Washington, Janet, my host runs a tight ship at her barn. There is a “parking spot” for two wheelbarrows (ichirin-sha) – marked A and B. I grab one and a pitchfork and head to the first stall. Some of them are well lit by the sun and others are pretty dark, depending on whether there are windows or clear corrugated nearby to cast light through dancing dust particles. In the darker stalls I muck by feel. I can tell if it’s super heavy with oshiiko. For those stalls I grab the heavier metal pitchfork because I don’t mess around. That stuff has to come out, now that I know the bedding is gathered up from multiple carpenters and lumberyards (scrap shavings). I was at first really worried about being judicious with the shoveling because bedding can be expensive. I really enjoy using my muscle power to help clean and contribute to this stable. I love being out there, working, and quiet. We can spend quite some time all working side by side, smiling as we pass each other (the owner and some of the other riders who also help out), me listening to Japanese news and music on the radio (many older American songs) and the barn banter. I have watched twice now as the owner and her son treat a horse who has colicked – that is a messy job. But both horses which have fallen ill bounced back quickly. They really seem to know what they’re doing. When the stalls are being mucked, the horses stand nicely in crossties side by side and wait. They also walk back and forth through very narrow spaces between other horses, ichirin-sha and even horse statues and tractors without bouncing around like skittish cats. They have some of the same decorum about them as their owners do. Last week I had the rare opportunity to watch a woman do her dress rehearsal for a side saddle competition. I never in my life thought I’d say this, but I really want to learn. Imagine having only one leg to really guide the horse? It would definitely get me to use the rest of my body more effectively, from seat bones through balance using my core. She looked so very regal in her turquoise hat with black feather, long dress coat and skirt flying in the wind as she and her mount gracefully cantered (kakeashi) around in a circle. Wow. Back to the mucking, cleaning and then riding…
From time to time we’ll jot a word down on the chalk board, and this last week I was presented with a picture of a rider on a horse and the word “leverage.” My host had given some thought to what I needed to learn, and chosen the right word. I appreciated her efforts to communicate. She also used the word “pivot.” With her English coming so much more easily now, I am not going to win the race to speak Japanese without concerted effort! I write things on the board that I have learned, like the names of the ladies at the barn, “thank you very much” and other minor expressions, even the hiragana characters. It feels like a frontier school! When done mucking, it’s time to ride.
When presented with an opportunity to ride a different horse last week, I didn’t really know how to respond. I enjoy the horse I’d gotten to know, I don’t want to inconvenience anyone, and I am not really sure what I’m getting into with a new horse when communication is rather limited. I’ve gotten a few phrases down (switch pitchforks, scrub buckets, water, manure, pee, it’s a nice day, how are you, etc.). But Google translate is HORRIBLE for translating in Japanese. There’s no direct translation for anything. I’ve tried to ask the most basic things at hockey (like “where are the boys?”) and ended up doubled over in laughter after many many attempts to explain that I didn’t see them. Hilarious. Then the pantomiming starts. (Once, the coach and I finally just looked at each other, shrugged, threw our arms wide with a big smile saying “oh well!” and laughed! The boys were clearly somewhere…and it wasn’t important.)
So, trying to describe the personality and ways of a horse is difficult when I can say just a few basics, such as name-ashi (walk), hayashi (trot), kakeashi, migi (right), hidari (left)…turns out those latter two are pretty helpful, actually. Last week I was told going to migi, fine (thumbs-up), but hidari? Well? The son, who is an excellent rider and trains the horses, gave me a funny look. His expression was something like this – shoulders thrust up, big smile-like grimace, and eyebrows up. I took that to mean, hidari not-so-good! I found out quickly enough – this horse would much prefer to run into a gate or a fence than turn left! The head goes left…but the body? Not so much! I was mounted and dealing with this when my instructor asked – “Want to jump?” This is where the dithering would set in for sure back home in the States. Jump. Now…let me think. Have I warmed up enough for that? It’s been 36 years since I last jumped a horse. Probably not a good idea. I need to get to know this horse better. I need a better seat. Heck, I’m riding in sneakers waiting for paddock boots to arrive. Here, though? No way can I ask any clarifying questions nor even share my internal deliberation.
I said “Does she want to?” meaning, the horse. “She likes jumping.” Ok, then. Settled! Jump we did! It went fine. Thankfully, this horse that doesn’t like to turn left did enjoy jumping, and I even got her to kakeashi to the left, and take the jumps. Minor victory. This week I was offered another horse to try, the son’s horse, a gelding. I asked about hidari and migi and got the thumbs up for both, but then noticed a frown growing over the questioning-friendly-grimace-face about water in the arena. I asked if the horse got wild…difficult to translate. So I pantomimed the horse jumping, while holding the reins and got a questioning look, from the horse, too. So I mounted, and trotted over and through the standing water. No big deal. I guess it wasn’t too bad. I’m glad I didn’t know at the time this was the son’s “jumping horse” or I might have thought better of going through what it might consider big water hazards!
No dithering. Not at the barn. Just ride. Right, Analissa??? I think you said that once 🙂
A few more pictures, and a link to where I left off last week, I think…
As the remnants of our typhoon hit the Northwest, we’re thinking of you all there, hoping you don’t have any damage and really just an opportunity to hunker down a bit. Hoping you are all well. It’s Saturday morning here, we’ve just had pancakes and I have uploaded pictures from the last two weeks. We’re about to head out on a sunny walk – 19 degrees Celsius. I have no idea what temperature that is, but it’s about like Bainbridge was last Wednesday! I have your weather stored on my phone as a favorite.
Dave is back from New York where he spent time with family for 10 days. We are happy to have him home and our prayers are with his dad as life continues with Gail holding him close from above.
Over the intervening two weeks, I have been catching glimpses of character traits in myself that are more Japanese than I might have imagined before moving here. Every Tuesday when I go to the inaka and muck the uma goya, and scrub the bakketo, I think about how much work goes into running a barn. I’m only there twice a week helping to scrub buckets, shovel manure and toss hay, so it’s a treat for me to get dehydrated, dirty and smoky (from the stove’s efforts to dispel flies). But for my new friends who are there every day, it’s another day at the barn, another day of toil. Today, on my walk through the fields of the inaka, the countryside which sets me free from buildings and bustle, I considered how they do it.
The answer lies in watching them sweep. Every broom (hoki – pronounced hoe-kee) I have ever seen is the same – long, stiff, reeds banded together and attached to a stick. They look like this:
You can’t sweep effectively if you are doing short, vigorous jabs. You have to pace yourself, using long, sweeping motions (that’s where the word comes from, right?). I changed my pace and found it worked better. Things don’t fly around, they are gathered up. After finishing chores and finally seated in a tight circle for barn lunches, I showed my three friends a video of Sam playing hockey, a word I learned early on from Kumiko (pronounced hoke-ay)
They had been amazed we went all the way to Saitama for “hoe-kee”. I was, too! When they looked at the video, though…it was so funny to see their expressions. It was as if they finally understood this sport I had been talking about my boys doing. “Ohhh!” they exclaimed, hands over mouths, eyebrows raised. “Ohhh! Hoe-kay!” Maybe they thought we were all playing broomball? I’ve got to work on my pronunciation!!!
Back to pacing, though. You can’t do a good job if you’re in a hurry to get to the next job, then the next, and the next, before you ultimately just take time for yourself at the end of the day. I tend to line up chores and work end to end, tightly, and go strong until I’m completely done. I end up frantic, spazzy, hungry, cranky. That doesn’t appear to be the way it is done here, and I can now appreciate why. The Japanese people I have met are efficient, careful workers. They are diligent. You can’t really be meticulous unless you pace yourself. I’m a marathon runner, I should know this. Have a plan and stick to it. Don’t go out fast. Run your own plan. Grab the power gels along the way.
Speaking of snacks…
Here is a little roundup of my ventures out into the inaka this past Tuesday.
As I was raking up the hay (which they grow themselves for the horses), I had occasion to to check out the dark brown earth I’d admired from the tiny road earlier in the morning. The ground is well cared for, productive. The soil is very dark and loose, smooth, almost sandy. The cabbage is planted in perfectly neat rows. I figured they were planted by a machine, but maybe not? These observations will feed a conversation about why routines are important, why doing things right the first time matters. I explained to one of my boys tonight that if you do a poor job prepping your mind for a test, then poor output will be expected. You can’t get good stuff out of the (beloved!) vending machine unless you stock it with good stuff. (The vending machines here – OMG!) Janet and Bill (my riding instructors) also refer to the horse’s vending machine. Unclear with your aids? Well, you don’t know what you might get out of the horse’s vending machine.
Riding around the ring Tuesday, on a quiet older horse which really did not want to do more than walk, I was admittedly jealous of another rider moving quickly with a spry horse. I like harnessing power, and working together with Emmy was a joy. We were often at odds, two energetic beasts with too much going on in our heads, but when we were in unison it was a lovely experience. I should clarify – riding is always a joy. Always. But there’s a certain elusive harmony which keeps those of us who like a challenge coming back for more, and the pursuit itself is a large contributor to the enjoyment. Back to my mount for the day today, Gen, my instructor helped me tune into the minutiae that I often trot right over in my zeal to get “working” – arbitrarily defined by me as trotting and cantering around various ring geometries (although Janet would probably not bestow the term “geometry” on most of my hoofprints). Paying attention to how my balance and the pressure of my seat bones communicates through the back of the horse below me is not something one can rush, nor can an amateur rider really and truly tune into it when other things (like, “ride a proper circle, Alli!”) are pressing concerns. As Gen walked around, carrying me along as I prodded and prodded him, hoping to elicit a hayashi (trot), I enjoyed the view of Fugi-san in the distance, and considered how lucky I am to be immersing myself in the barn life of a new land, hopefully lightening their load a little as they smile at the crazy gaijin’s tales, and knowing that if I am open to it I will learn much from every horse I am blessed to ride. I don’t need to go mach 5… and you know what? The next day I realized you can get a very good workout nudging a horse at a walk…just needed to change my mindset a bit.
And a few more shots from just last week…Mom, I know your rump went to sleep looking through five months of pictures last upload, 😉 so if you want to jump to the album where I left off after last week, use this link. Just scroll back a shot or two to make sure I have that timing right.
I’m not sure how to start this note. I just said goodbye to Dave on the bus, beginning his very long journey back to New York to be with family. We are grieving the loss of his mom, Gail, on Friday. Time is always short, but never more obviously and painfully than when a loved one departs.
I wish I could be there with Dave and his family. They took me in 14 years ago during a very difficult time. Our time together as a huge family – mine and Dave’s together for Thanksgivings on the beach in San Diego, Hawaii, and Washington rain forest fishing trips – is always cherished and is punctuated by hysterically convulsive laughter over something bizarre. I’m smiling now as I type, remembering Bill rubbing his hands together and repeating “our goose is cooked” in Coronado, and now I’m not even sure what he was lamenting? Was it the dog droppings in the grass outside our tiny home? Or me forgetting both turkeys in the sink instead of bringing them to the deep fryer on the beach? And Gail saw a pegasus – an actual pegasus – across the lawn at sunset on Lake Crescent. I will never forget her drawing me aside and whispering…”Alli?! I think that’s a PEGASUS, right?” Generous, kind, gentle soul, Gail, you are deeply missed. I love you. And I miss you.
But, time has been on my mind as a recurrent theme and challenge for months. The time pressure to accomplish all the tasks necessary for the “hot fill” of our move was tremendous, not to mention maintaining work, family and community commitments, and certainly not least important, investing in friendships and ordering one’s inner world and mind. My life was pretty full already, and it got much more so over the summer and into this fall. It is only now that things are settling into a new routine, and in so doing I’m only just now recognizing how much I value having time to process things.
Certain activities are more conducive to this sorting and sifting. Running is usually great, but running on base I have found to be too constraining, even on the “wrong side” of the seawall. Oddly, just knowing there is a fence around me tends to hem my thoughts. They can’t bound like deer on Bainbridge, unaware of property lines through the salal. Last week I ran off the base and just kept going south along the coast, through the shopping areas, fish markets, fishing spots, a dragonfly sewage treatment center, and schools, the scents and chimes of Japanese life surrounding me. I figured I’d just go and hop a bus or train back.
The boardwalk in Maborikaigan is wide and inviting. I ran to the end and contemplated turning back, but saw another Japanese runner and figured I’d follow him along his Thursday morning route. I ended up in Hashirimizu, a small coastal fishing village 9K away that is a bit oddly reminiscent of the North Shore of Hawaii. I didn’t realize I was near a park with roller slides the boys will love (Kannonzaki), nor a light house or art museum. I was attracted to the humble park and the bus stop with a queue (always a good sign, adding solid information to the inscrutable bus schedule – it means the bus is coming soon). I rode the bus back for a bit, but wanted to break free again. I jumped off 100yen later and jogged back, looking for the fish market. Back on base, 4 pounds of sweat lighter, I stayed in motion and raked up leaves, discovering a scented flower on a tree. I found out later this tiny orange blossom means fall has arrived. New scents beg to be tinctured…so I bought some cheap vodka at the Exchange. My thoughts continued to run to family and friends, and what this period in our lives is asking of us. In the pool Friday morning I was praying for Gail’s recovery, which seemed promising. I didn’t realize that while I was praying for her, and asking what our purpose should be here, that she had just departed.
Which brings me to the question of time, and what does all this mean. It takes time to discern new missions in life, and we must be open to them. We have to be faithful in listening, and being willing to answer a call even if we are not entirely clear on what that call is. When Dave and I got the call asking us if we’d consider moving to fill this job, we knew right away the answer was yes. What we didn’t know was how we’d manage it, how the kids would respond, how we would come together as a team, and what we would (or perhaps “should” is the better word) focus on while here for this chapter of our lives. Gail and Bill have focused on family and faith. Their example of a simple and steadfast focus is one I admire greatly.
We’ve been here just over a month. In that time we have made significant investments in effort to understand the language, learning three new character sets, ventured out among the people and the land jogging, hiking and shoveling (manure!). These forays help to make foreign skylines and signs more friendly. But there are surely even more substantive investments we’ll make. For now we are grateful for this time to listen and explore together as a family. And we are very thankful for friends Stateside who are willing to stay in touch with us and the kids.
It may not be something you take for granted yet, but do know that we love each of you and our thoughts are with you often as we think about what time it is there, how the kids are doing, how the hockey carpool is going, how the rink is, the friendly faces waiting there to greet us for a game…you are all missed tremendously as we try to assimilate here and fill in those holes in our lives. (This past weekend is an example – we feel like we had a 3-day weekend because we got up at 3am to travel to a hockey game on Sunday! You can get a lot of TIME back in your day if you ignore the clock and travel 4 hours roundtrip, play a hockey game, and get back by noon! ha! 😉 ) Those of you who have been friends in many states and pre-hockey, the same goes for you! As I unpacked pictures of hikes and babies in backpacks, I was happy to see your smiling faces once again on my nightstand, close to me. You are cherished friends. Thank you for being so.
Time…time to get to school and greet my boys! Enjoy these photos from the past 72 hours. More in the album above…