The distant sound of dreams

Yesterday I went to a place I haven't been for a long time, and certainly not since I came to Japan. A place where all I could hear was the sound of nothing.

It has to be said that, on top of whatever else it is, Japan is a very noisy country. It's possible, even in Tokyo, to find space and be alone, but it's virtually impossible to find quiet. Too often the strains of something, or someone, will fill the precious void of peace.

In the city it's to be expected and anyway, who goes to the city for peace? But even in the Japanese countryside there's a constant buzz and clamour. From the distant sound of traffic to chugging farm machinery to maintenance workers maintaining everything, except silence.

But not where I went yesterday... I parked the car in the village below the dam, and cycled up and around the reservoir. I was intending to complete a circuit of the lake as I had done before but, as I crossed the red girder bridge at the north end of the water, I changed my mind and, leaving the bike at the barn on the other side, I headed up the forest track that runs by one of the feeder streams.

The track at it's entrance doesn't look promising. It looks as if it's going to peter out in no time at all. Neither does it appear on the map, but all that means essentially, is that the map-maker missed it. Well, good for me.

The track follows the in and out contours of the valley side as it climbs away from the reservoir. The walking is easy for an hour or so. The track doesn't stray too far from the river and the climb is very gentle. The air between the cedars is cool and sweet, and the ground between the tyre ruts on the track is firm with frost.

The ruts though, stop at a small clearing with nothing in it except a bear trap (empty today, but they've been sniffing around I can tell, as the place reeks of them), and the track turns into path. I take out my bell and attach it to my belt loop and pick up a hefty stick.

Another hour and the path, still climbing, is much less clearly defined. The last of the human footprints was some time ago and, since then, only animal tracks; bear, deer and wild pig.

In the summer, this place would be humming with the noise of life; birds, insects and other creatures, but in the wintertime the bubbling stream is the only accompaniment to my footsteps. As the valley gets tighter, the path starts to criss-cross the stream. And then the path is the stream, and then there is no stream, and finally there is no path... but, as I can't yet see the valley head, I push on.

Another 45 minutes and then the ravine swings north, opens out into a broad col and fills itself with light. The ridge on three sides is capped with trees and slopes down bowl-like to a flatish bottom. And there in the basin, glowing in the sunshine like a gift, is a beautiful orange grove. Planted long ago and, if the journey here is anything to go by, forgotten now. The branches droop with their bounty, the air hangs with their scent. I feel the weight of their splendour and it lays me down. It closes my eyes, empties my head, and fills my heart...

...I thought the orange grove was the gift, the reward for my labour, but as my footsteps cease and my body stills, breaths and beating heart easing into rest, I realise that it isn't.

And then I hear it. For the first time in more than 30 years, I hear it. And I am stunned. I mean literally stunned. I'm shocked, confused, dazed. I can't move. I daren't move. I can't think...

The wave of shock passes quickly as I suddenly understand with crystal clarity what it is that I've heard. Absolutely nothing. No sound of distant traffic, no airplane roar, no voices, no buzz saw, no breeze, no bird call, no babbling stream... nothing  

I stare up at the fruit and past them to the blue heavens, and I keep listening. I still can't quite believe it. My mind slowly expands to take in the glory, and keeps on expanding until I can hear the clouds glide and the oranges grow, and it continues to swell until I can hear my dreams; until I can see that this here is my dream; that I am in the dream. I am the dream. 

And I lay there on floor of the forest, spilling tears, weeping like the willows and the angels, and I visited a place inside my heart. A place, like the orange grove, long-neglected. A place called... joy.


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