Is It Spring Yet?

I've been grumbling all winter about this year's record cold temperatures and snows in Japan (even though I live in a relatively mild part of the country). Yesterday, when I walked Momo in the afternoon, her fur was being blown back so much she looked like a streamlined version of herself, as if she were flying (well, she is Momo the Wonder Dog after all). The wind chill factor made it freezing cold. In fact, even with her winter coat, we didn't get ten minutes from the house before she stopped, sat down, and looked up at me as if to ask "do we really have to do this today?" then turned around to head home. I let her lead the way. I wasn't having any fun either.

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Today it appears that the cold spell has broken. Last night was below freezing, but there was no wind this morning, and the air felt different. Soon after leaving for a teaching workshop in Omiya on the other side of Tokyo, K called me to let me know there were several large hawks down by the lake and a bevy of swans. We don't often see swans on this side of the lake, so after taking care of chores, I got on my bicycle and went to see for myself. It was just a few degrees above freezing, but the road was dry and the sun was trying to peek through. Instead of taking the paved road down to the lake, I decided to go by back roads, past the old Rinzai temple and down through what I call my hidden valley. The Temple and the valley were the subjects of my first Pacific Islander post, "The Time Capsule In My Backyard".

The apricot trees at the temple had buds on them and in the next few weeks will be convered with blossoms. I went passed it into the valley. At first blush, it looked drab and uninviting. The vibrant greens of the rice fields in summer are long gone, replaced by the dark mud and dry, brown stubble of rice stalks left after harvest. The paddies were covered by a thin sheet of ice.

I rode across the narrow valley and looked down into a rice paddy. In one corner, a stream of water coming from the paddy above was pouring from a pipe into the frozen water below. As I stopped and looked around, I gradually awakened to the beauty around me. Yes, it was very different from the other seasons, but had lots to offer in its own way.

[All of the pictures that follow are best viewed in larger format - just click them.]

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A little further down the valley, I stopped again to admire the sun's light on the ice and water and the contrasts and shadows it caused. I noticed how the dull golden brown of the rice stocks and surrounding grasses had many different suttle hues.

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Continuing, I rounded a curve and was greeted by a tall, gray, baren tree that was in stark contrast to the cedars and bamboos that line the valley.

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When I reached the mouth of the valley, where it meets Highway 18, I stopped and turned around to take in the view. I was seeing the same kinds of trees and rice fields as when I first entered the valley, but my mind had made some adjustments I appreciated them all much more. The clouds were flowing slowly north, leaving more blue sky. Someone in the distance was walking their dog across the fields and the backdrop of the trees going up the sides of the bluffs was a patchwork of muted tones, like a neo-impressionist landscape painting by Henri-Edmond Cross.

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I rode south along the highway which drew closer to the lake. I spotted four large hawks resting on the power lines above. There was no wind to create an updraft against the levy and the bluffs behind, so it took more effort for them to stay aloft. One was eating something, a mouse perhaps. But they would not let me approach close enough to get a picture, either at rest or while flying. Across the road, in a flooded thinly frozen paddy were the bevy of swans I had set out to see in the first place - I counted eighteen. They were wary as I approached them on the dirt road, but did not move far. The swans were feeding an area where they had broken the ice. Usually these birds would be on the other side of the lake. Perhaps the wind pattern today made this side a better shelter.

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I rode up onto the levy which surrounds the lake. Kitaura (which means North Lagoon) was a smooth as glass without a breath of wind as yet disturbing the surface. Here and there, Eurasian Coots paddled about, ducking under the surface or paddling away at the approach of a human. A colony of gulls drifted quitely off shore and the whole scene was reflected in the calm waters.

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I rode south on the levy and watched a large shovel was scooping lake bottom silt which had been dredged from another part of Kitaura out of a barge and into waiting dump trucks. A tug was tied to the barge and a man with a headset was watching the process to help the guide the shovel operator.

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Across the lake, part of Kitaura bridge can be seen which spans the lake in its middle and leads to the Moody Mintrel's realm - Namegata City on the opposite shore.

The sun was making good headway against the cold by now, as it was almost noon and the temperature had risen to over 10C (50F). I was actually feeling a bit too warm in the layers of clothing and down jacket I was wearing. On the way back, I stopped and took some pics of some of coots and gulls before taking the short cut up the bluffs to home.

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Gulls on Kitaura

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Eurasian Coots

It may not be spring quite yet, but after a very cold winter I felt reassured that it is just around the corner. At the same time, although I don't like the cold of winter, I found a new appreciation for its subtle beauty.


The Moody Minstrel said...

Wow...all that wonderful, easily overlooked beauty that my 7:00 to 7:00, six-day-a-week schedule keeps me from appreciating...

I need a vacation.

Don Snabulus said...

It is nice to see birds around in Japan. They seemed to be relatively rare during my December visit to the Ibaraki area. We weren't hanging around the estuaries much though.

jdhlpg - Juvenile Detention Hall Ladies Paleontology Group meets on Wed. evenings in the rec. area.

Robin said...

I am glad that spring is coming!!! especially in the cold cold Japan..

Was in Hokkaido in Nov and left immediately before the 1st snow storm arrived.

MM.. take a vacation in Singapore, It is so damn hot here!

Pandabonium said...

MM - indeed.

Snabbie - I was surprised at the variety of birds around here, not just at the lake either.

Robin - Hokkaido had 47cm of snow in one night not long ago. That place really get cold. (I'd still like to see the ice fesitval). Today was warmer getting up to 15C or so.

The Moody Minstrel said...

The swans were still there when I drove by on my way to ye olde academy. Thanks to your pointing them out, I was able to take note of the view. It helped to brighten my day!

(This was the first Valentine's Day ever in which I didn't get any chocolate from any of my students...)

Pandabonium said...

MM - glad you got to see the swans. The weather probably helped brighten your day as well today. Sure did mine.

No chocolates? What's up with that? I guess next year you'll have to start dropping hints a week ahead.

agus said...

Do you have a picture of momo the wonder dog? Better still, her picture in the snow. She sounds cute.

pandabonium said...

Hi Agus,

Thanks for asking.

Yes, I do have pictures of Momo in the snow. Just go to last month's archive and scroll down to the post "what is this stuff?" It is all about Momo's reaction to seeing snow the first time and has pictures.

Or type in - 2006/01/what-is-this-stuff_07.html

after the "pacific-islander.com" URL

agus said...

Panda, momo is gorgeous! thanks for the link. you are blessed.

I noticed your visit to fiji island too. I have an mp3 of 'Fijian Chant of the Island' and it is the most beautiful tribal song I've heard. I love it and listen to it everytime I need that 'spiritual earth connection'. You happen to know of other similar tunes that I can download?

Momo the Wonder Dog said...

Thank you Agus! -wagging tail

Happysurfer said...

Hi Pandabonium, nice picture of the gulls.

It's Feb - leaving for Fiji soon? You'll miss the snow and the cool weather then.

Btw, did you have the chance to catch the art exhibition in Tokyo?

Pandabonium said...

Agus, thanks for the Momo compliment.

Interesting that you like a Fiji chant. It that the one by the artist "Fiji" who lives in Hawaii now? If so, I like that one too.

The only Fijian music I have is contempory - two CDs by the "Garden Island Resort Band" who I've listened to live on every trip to Taveuni.

There is a nice album of more traditional music you can sample. It is what is sung at "meke" which are gatherings which include singing and dancing.

You can find that at: www.almudo.com/Fiji-Music.htm it is the first CD shown -"Bula Fiji Bula" and if you click the title it will take you Amazon.com where you can sample every track. It sounds exactly like the music I've heard at "meke" down there.

Another good source for Fijian music of all types on CDs is www.fijishop.com don't know if you can sample them though.

I'll send you an email about this stuff.

Pandabonium said...

Happysurfer -

Thanks, it was nice to get out and enjoy nature. I always enjoy the birds at the lake.

Haven't gotten to Fiji yet. Having trouble adjusting schedules with my partner who is presently in Hawaii. I'll let you know when we get it together and get there and won't make an annoucement until I'm actually there.

I did get to the art exhibit. It was fantastic. I'll post about it soon.

bonnie said...

lovely, I'm glad you mentioned them, I haven't had much time for looking at blogs this week.

I feel sort of the same way about the same way about cold weather - I actually don't like being cold, would take a New York heat wave over a New York cold snap any day, but the winter offers some unique beauty that makes it worth toughing it out.

that being said, there's always this thought of maybe moving back to Hawaii someday rattling around in the very back of my mind...cold weather & short days make it rattle a lot, I never realized how good I had it when seventy degrees meant oooh, brrr, cold snap, break out the sweaters!

Learning about cold water Northeast mainland style as opposed to "cold water" in the winter in Hawaii - you know, when you don't think about going to the beach EVERY weekend, just some weekends - now that was an eye opener.

Ugh, Moody Minstrel, seven to seven six days a week? Thank you for making my job look utterly sane. I hope you do get good vacations to make up for it - or is that just how hard people work there? (I know people in Japan work hard but that sounds even fiercer than I would have imagined...)

agus said...

Yeap, that's the one. Thanks to your info and delightful e-mail, I now know more. I used all your info and clues to search the web and found (and will find more of)what I need for a richer musical experience. You're a gem!

The Moody Minstrel said...

The Japanese work long, but they don't necessarily work hard. It's true that most Japanese men will work brutal hours and refrain from using their paid vacation time, but a study conducted by a Japanese university back in the early 90s showed that the average American worker was actually more productive over the same calendar period.

When I first came to Japan, I worked at a public school here. I was actually called "lazy" and "selfish" because I came to work only one hour early and went home only one to two hours late. However, I also had people constantly getting on my case not to work so hard in the meantime!

My male (Japanese) coworkers (the women stuck to the official schedule with no complaints) would show up at around 6:30 to 7:00 in the morning and stay clear till 8:00 or 9:00 at night every weekday plus Saturday. However, they tended to spend the overwhelming majority of that time hanging out and chatting, smoking, or sleeping at their desks. It would take them a week to finish work that would take me a day or two.

Things were similar at the private school where I've been for the past ten years, but the directors started cracking down on unnecessary overtime recently. Now most of the men leave around the same time I do (one to two hours after quitting time).

The Japanese work ethic is not really based on productivity or even quality of work. It's based on loyalty, and that means giving your time to the company even if you wind up wasting a lot of it.

Pandabonium said...

Bonnie - always things to weigh in choosing where we live. Weather is just one factor. Have a wonderful trip to Florida!

Agus - you're welcome. Enjoy.