Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Volcano death toll hits 43 as 7 more bodies found

Volcano death toll hits 43 as 7 more bodies found

Japan is a country with a lot of mountains.  We can see them from our neighborhood whenever we go for a walk or a drive.  When I lived on the Chiba prefecture coast I was mountainless for the first time since I came to Japan, but I've since grown accustomed to sheer faces dropping off into the ocean and clouds sweeping over jagged green horizon that looks to me like roughly-torn construction paper.  As a flatlander by birth, this is interesting to me.  Seeing green slopes rising, snow peaks in the distance in winter.  Mt. Fuji looming above Shin-Fuji when we take trips to Tokyo.  Some of these mountains-- like Fuji-- are volcanic.  Japan is a trembling land, apt to slip and slide.

Since there are so many gorgeous mountains here within easy driving distance, people flock to them on weekends for hiking and camping.  Japan is hot and sticky in summer, so the mountain air can provide relief from the damp heat and crockpot-like cities.  We never boil.  We simmer.  In winter, the mountains are there for skiing and snowboarding.  And in fall, they blaze with red and red-orange leaves, a great sunset-colored glow that radiates from Japan's bony spine.

They provide sport and beauty.  And danger.  A group of climbers froze to death on the slopes of Mt. Fuji, visible from my old apartment.  Not the dead bodies, of course.  But before they were recovered I could see the mountain itself, roughly thumb-sized, and appreciate that it contained corpses despite looking lovely and blameless by daylight.  A famous comic book creator took a fatal spill from a cliff while photographing it a few years ago.  Just this summer, an entire hillside came loose and buried houses and families in Hiroshima.  Geologists have been predicting a major Fuji eruption ever since the big 3/11 quake.  The pressure there is at the point where they say it's inevitable.

Years ago, at my grandfather's house in the mountains of North Carolina-- which look very similar to those in Japan, but are much more well-behaved-- I read a Reader's Digest story about volcanologists caught in an eruption while studying a small volcano.  Where, I can't remember.  But I recall very vividly one of the scientists telling of how hot rocks broke his bones and killed his friends.  And then there are the poison gasses.  I have no desire to experience this firsthand.  I feel for those who so recently have.

You still have to go to the mountains, though.  There's no staying away.  I'm drawn to mountains and to the ocean.  Living in Japan is living between both.  The ocean is a wilderness where you can drown or be eaten, the mountains may choose to shrug you off at any time, or blow you way with thunderous force.  I cannot stay away.

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