Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Another Outing to Kyoto [ Japan V ]

      One day we go to a marvelous restaurant somewhere in Kyoto Prefecture, then wander around an area where there are bridges and cherry blossoms and a temple with extensive and lovely gardens. 
     (It's strange to try to write an account of such a day.  I'm used to knowing where I am.  I'm used to having figured out how to get there.  I can probably still name a bunch of routes and villages I visited in China 25 years ago, because I spent a long time deciphering Chinese characters on a map or figuring out how to go.  In Japan, Midori leads the other three of us around as if we were three young children.  Midori knows exactly where we are going and how.  I notice station names and village names and the like, but they evaporate from the surface of my mind like dew on a desert rooftop.  (I think we were in the Arashiyama area.))

We walk from the train station to a restaurant you might easily pass, across the street from a river where egrets and other birds are hanging out in search of fish. 

You would not notice the restaurant.  And it is both a very special place and (I'm told) difficult to make a reservation at unless you know someone.  Certainly neither the location nor the exterior of the building is designed to invite walk-in traffic!  However, it has appeared on TV and is famous in Japan.

Inside, it's small and pleasant.  Cloth dividers hang from the ceiling to increase the intimacy by blocking most of your view of neighboring tables. 

I'm no gourmet, and rarely photograph food, but here we eat at least a dozen courses, each small, visually inviting, and delicious.  So I readily fall in with Dael's suggestion that I photograph each one.  A few of those shots appear below. 

Green Tea Ice Cream

It's a memorable lunch, accompanied by sake (courtesy of Yuka-chan, the jazz singer and jewelry-maker)..

Enjoying the sakura

Afterward we walk back across the river and take a
Ignoring the sakura
quick train ride.   Then we walk across a couple of bridges to wander among cherry blossoms, in what seems a place where lots of Japanese people come to walk across bridges and gawk at cherry blossoms as we are doing.  (There are quite a few rickshaws visible.  These days, those are in use only in places Japanese tourists visit.   Like the old horse-drawn hansom cabs folks ride through New York's Central Park or rent for weddings in D.C.)

Wonders here include sakura, an interesting bamboo forest, and an important temple that turns out to have an extensive and delightful garden.  
Visiting the bamboo forest by rickshaw

At one point, while wandering alone, I run into a pair of geishas with painted faces.  They must be "real" geishas, not girls dressed up that way
for holiday fun, because a bunch of schoolgirls and adults mob them and take turns having their
photographs taken with the two.
The geisha participate patiently.  Sometimes they don't; but our 12-year-old niece, visiting Donaldo and Midori from rural New Hampshire, was such a sensation that a couple of geisha requested photos of themselves with her.

I think of people dressed in Colonial garb in Williamsburg.  I remember visiting there as a small kid.  My mother, taking us into some sort of "Sir Walter Raleigh Gift Shop", kept urging my grandmother to join us.  My grandmother -- in her sixties and soon to die -- sat comfortably in the convertible and replied sweetly, "Well, if you meet Sir Walter Raleigh in there, let me know." 

But I'm a sucker for the kimonos and rickshaws and what-not.

I'm told some athletes take the job to get in some damned good conditioning work while getting paid for it.

Photographically, they lend themselves to pix that seem to come from some much earlier era in Japan's history.  (Maybe I should have pretended these were some old prints discovered in the wonderful used-bookstore near Tombo's show.)

I like this sort of stuff too.  Just shots of the surface of some pond we pass on the way to the temple.

The temple turns out to be Tenryu-ji, which is both a "World Cultural Heritage Site" and an important temple.  It's a Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple that was founded in 1339, but another temple, Danin-ji, had occupied the same grounds since the 9th Century.  It was the first Zen temple in Japan.  The Emperor built a villa on the property in the 13th Century, and his grandson was raised and educated here and became emperor in his turn -- and when the grandson died, the villa was converted to the Zen temple it still is. (Because of a series of fires, however, most of the current buildings date back only to the late 19th Century.)

These fellows were swimming around out back.  We
happened to catch feeding time, and the employee
who feeds 'em told us one in particular would eat
directly out of his hand, then demonstrated.  Here, they kind of look like monsters.

We also saw this fellow in a much smaller pond up in the garden.
This garden was much more what folks in the U.S. think of as a garden: beautifully lush and green, with trees and flowers and bushes and brooks and little waterfalls. 

In fact, it was delightful, although a somewhat overcast day.  

It's also one of the oldest landscape gardens in Japan, and reportedly remains much as Muso Soseki designed it during the 14th Century.

Too soon, this gent makes his rounds clapping two pieces of wood together loudly, a polite hint that we need to get on out of here.

But not before we pause to photograph another monk praying.

Nor can I quite ignore these folks. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Roadrunner, Two Amorous Lizards, and a Sunset Eclipse

Awww, I love it here.

Sometimes it feels like we’re living in one of those nature shows on Channel 22.

Not long ago a long dry spell ended with dramatic thunderstorms. Nearly an inch of rain one day. Next day, nearly an inch and a half in an hour or two. Then nearly a half inch in an hour, punctuated with pounding hailstones.

Then near silence: birds, chastened but pleased, calling somewhat tentatively; water (and pea-sized white stones) still falling from the canales into the rain barrels, and the pleasant sound of muddy water chortling down our normally dry arroyo.

Rainbow with ocotillo
We wandered around outside, musing that there’s nothing quite like the scent and sight and sound of the desert after a rainstorm, and waited for the rainbow – which appeared, moments later. A huge double rainbow.
[ At left, a closer look at the rainbow touching a foorhill of the Organ Mountains -- then a hailstone caught in a barrel cactus, looking rather like an abandoned egg in a nest. 
Don't think it'll hatch. ]

Earlier this year, we came home one afternoon from the Bosque del Apache at about sunset. (The sand-hill cranes and snow geese had put on an extraordinary show at sunset and sunrise, but that’s another story.) The clouds at sunset looked interesting, so I walked around back to shoot a few photographs. I leaned against the wall, its surface still warm from the late afternoon sun, and became aware of something unusual beside my shoulder – and I jumped when I recognized him.

Our local roadrunner was perched for the night on our electric meter. His tail and much of his body was against the wall, to enjoy the heat, and his beak was pointing toward the setting sun. I had stood just about touching him. Now I proceeded to shoot his portrait. He never budged, or even looked at me. Turns out that at night roadrunners go into near hibernation, their metabolism drops like a meditating Tibetan monk’s, and they’re vulnerable to predators until dawn. I wasn’t a predator.

I left him a vegetarian hot dog. It was gone in the morning, and so was he. He slept there several nights, but hasn’t since.

Of course I felt lucky. A lot of folks in the world never get to see a roadrunner. We get to see one moonlighting as an electrician.

We also see woodpeckers and Scott’s Orioles posing as hummingbirds, landing on the feeder and struggling to steal nectar.

Hummingbirds stage air battles like something out of a World War I film; and the clowns, the Scaled Quails and Gambel’s Quails, strut around out back several times a day. Meanwhile, doves and coyotes provide an evocative sound track we never tire of listening to.

Sunday night, when our neighbors called to remind me of the eclipse, I was looking over video I’d shot of a Texas Horned Lizard. I was puzzled by the fact that in some of the shots there appeared to be, above the lizard’s face, a smaller, similar face, like some sort of visual echo.

Our neighbors have a welder’s helmet, so we rushed out to gawk at the eclipse – but stopped short immediately.

The Texas Horned Lizard was now just outside the front gate, and in the late afternoon light there was no doubt that she had a hitchhiker: a smaller version of herself, riding on her back, like a kid getting a piggy-back ride.
Hope I didn't interrupt an amorous interlude !
I shot some video and a couple of stills. (Tex’s defense mechanism, freezing in place, is not only effective, since its body is a natural camouflage suit designed for its particular habitat, but convenient for still photographers – though kind of dull for video, ‘cause there ain’t a whole lot going on.)

Then suddenly the male got spooked and jumped off, paused a foot or so away from her, then returned, sort of nuzzled her, and climbed back on her back. Thanks guys. (I’d initially assumed they were offspring and momma or poppa; but checking with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department corrected that: the Texas Horned Lizard lays the eggs and splits – there ain’t no mother-offspring relationship beyond that. And males are noticeably smaller than females.)

It struck me that on the way to see such a rare and beautiful sight, the eclipse, we’d been stopped by one nearly as fine.

As we sat around not watching the sun, our neighbors pointed out the nest on their porch where a bird (Say’s Phoebe, we think) builds her nest every year. This year’s first crop of youngsters kept playing in the strange sunlight in front of us, or perching over our heads on a mobile. Our neighbor has his morning coffee out there, so they’re used to him.

Then the star of the show reasserted its claim on our attention. I’ve watched the sun set over those distant hills a bunch of times, but tonight it looked like a crescent moon on steroids: way too bright and oddly swollen, as it dropped below the horizon.

Aww, I love it here!


[The foregoing column (with just the road-runner) appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 27 May.]