01 August 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 11

A version of this prompt appears on the Writing the Love Writing Map illustrated by Işık Bayraktar.

I. Kikuchi Gorge

Kikuchi Gorge is part of the Aso Kuju National Park in Kumamoto prefecture, and it's about 20 minutes from where I live. It's known for its beautiful blue rivers and waterfalls, but the forest is full of different types of trees. The only kind I know to recognize are the sugi, or cedar trees. 

The cedar trees at Kikuchi Gorge. (c) Kristina Elyse Butke. 

I don't have the capability of describing the scents of the forest properly. Cedar has a distinctive smell, wet, woody, and maybe almost sweet. The forest smelt mossy and damp...there's a rich, earthy scent to it equally indescribable on my part. 

I did not bring a journal with me when I went on this trip. I put one foot in front of the other to focus on reaching my destination, which included quite a few different waterfalls.  If I were to have stopped to write, however, I would remark upon the moss that covered the rocks and trees; the cold air that came off the river; the mist rising from the water as it rushed down the rocks; and the hikers lugging their tripods and giant cameras with great zoom lens that ruined the atmosphere of forest bathing.

II. Welcome to the Natural World

My mother told me a story of when I was growing up. I'm from Queens originally, and the rest of my family is in Ohio. When we would make the trip to visit our grandparents and other relatives, Ohio would be our gateway to nature. Through stories from my childhood, I'd heard that as tiny children growing up, we were afraid of the wind when it blew through the grasses. Ohio was our first true encounter with nature versus the concrete jungle that is New York City. 

Once I moved to Ohio at age five, suddenly nature was everywhere. My grandparents took us many places to explore it: Gorman Nature Center, Malabar Farm, Mohican State Park...and my mother enrolled us kids in summer camp, so every season we were out in the forests and fields.

November in Yakushima. (c) Kristina Elyse Butke
III. The Seasons

Most of the time, when I think of exploring nature, it tends to be during the summer months, so almost every memory I have is when the woods are at their most verdant green, and the temperature is a bit too much for me to handle. This is probably because summer was the only period where I ever had free time growing up, thanks to school being on break. 

But since coming to Japan, which prides itself on its four seasons, I've done more hiking in autumn -- probably because I find the Kyushu heat so unbearable! 

Japan is a lush, green country all year round, even when the leaves are off the trees (and even flowers bloom in winter, something I'm not used to seeing). 

Imagine my surprise when I chose November to visit the famed Yakushima Island  only to find most of the forest and its mosses were a bright, vivid green, with hardly any leaves turning. The picture at right was the only photograph I took that shows some variance in the color of the leaves. Deep in the forest interior, everything is bright and brilliant even amid the dark, misty atmosphere that pervades the wood. 

I have been in the forests of Japan in every season but winter. Where I live, the snow is scarce, so having snow-dusted trees is a bit of a far-reaching goal, but something I truly would love to see before my time here in Japan is at an end. 

IV.  The Animals

Since Yakushima has my all-time favorite forests, I can't forget about my first time seeing monkeys in the wild. 

A monkey in Yakusugi Land. (c) Kristina Elyse Butke

A lone monkey on Yakushima.
 (c) Kristina Elyse Butke
The photo above is the first monkey I saw on Yakushima. I was walking along the covered path, maybe only about twenty minutes into my journey, when I heard a loud thud right in front of me that startled me so much I froze in place. The monkey just two feet away from me. The animal was much larger than I expected it to be, and it moseyed (really!) across the wooden platform and climbed up the tree. It didn't even seem to care that I was there. 

I saw many more monkeys in the woods at Yakusugi Land (like a family with babies!) and also along the road on the island, just hanging out. 

They also make the cutest little squeaking noise when they cry out -- I heard one calling out to the family group as it climbed a vine running across a river. 

Seeing monkeys in the wild -- and seeing them in a place that's not meant to represent a jungle -- proved to be a memorable experience and one of my many favorite parts of my journey to the forests of Yakushima. 


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