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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.