Friday, April 25, 2008

Into the village

Made some good progress today on a couple of fronts. We still lack a washing machine, so the day started--as many do--with washing clothes by hand in the sink and then rinsing them in the bathtub. There's something satisfying about the work. . .my wife and I both comment about how hungry we feel and how much we look forward to lunch everyday--there's a sanctity to the menial tasks humans have sought be free from.

While hanging our sloshy clothes we were serenaded by bird songs. The indescribably delightful "ho-hokekyo" of the Japanese Bush Warbler that starts low and rides the cool canyon winds up and into one's ears. We also heard and spotted several Citrine Wagtails, wonderful yellow bodied birds with long, thin tails that swoop through the air in a series of dives and climbs resembling an Olympic swimmer doing the breaststroke. It's hard to put into words just how joyous it is to once again be privy to the moods and songs of mountain birds.

After finishing with the laundry we took a walk into the valley that stretches northwest towards Ontake-san from where we live. The road follows a river that bends and arches its way up to the wide snow fields that blanket Ontake's upper slopes, carrying meltwater down to the azure lake that caresses Otaki's eastern border. Several homes occupy broader sections of the valley adjacent to the river, their red roofs accentuated against the square swaths of black, loamy soil that lay ready for planting and the white snows of Ontake in the distance.

After returning to the house for lunch we went to the village social welfare office to inquire about volunteer opportunities. The response we received was great--feels my wife and I are on our way to becoming "regular" villagers. I will likely begin volunteering to deliver boxed lunches and dinners to elderly residents who are unable to cook for themselves, and my wife is looking into an after school program for looking after children until their parents finish work.

The mood in the village center is always friendly, children run around and talk freely with everyone, as if they belong to the community as a whole. People in the village are constantly reminding my wife and I to call if we need anything. This sense of interconnection and interdependence seems to me an essential feature of village life, one that makes that life possible for insiders and somewhat difficult for outsiders. After today, I feel as if I've taken my first steps into the village.

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