Sunday, December 31, 2006

White herons

I grew up in a Tokyo suburb where there were still rice fields and forests. One day, when I was about 10 years old or so, I went on a small adventure. I got on my bike and went out of the usual activity zone into the unknown. Unknown to a child, that is. After crossing a large road, I "discovered" a forest and an adjacent pond. The forest was meandering in a shape of a snake in a wide rice field, and the pond nestled beside the forest, in an impressive state of tranquility I remember to this day.
The pond was full of white herons. As evening approached, literally hundreds of them came flying back to their nests. The trees were laden with white spots, quarking and calling to each other. It was an unbelievable sight. I thought I discovered a fantasy land. I named it "the white heron pond" with a secret pride.

I took one of my best fiends to the newly discovered sanctuary next weekend. He was sworn to secrecy. I did not want anybody with a rough heart to come near it. We cherished the treasure.

Day after day, we would go to the pond. There was a large fallen tree beside the pond, and we would sit on the bark and watch the herons fly by. My friend was fond of photography, carried a huge camera and took pictures. On my side, the mode of actions were rather obscure. I would just fool around, thinking of this, dreaming of that, halfway up into the eternal corridor of reveries, neither here nor there, just absorbed in the air I shared with the white herons.

Then one day, a catastrophe came. We were walking along the snake-shaped forest, when we heard gunshots. The hunting season started. We did not know if that was legal or not, but these "villains" were shooting the herons anyway. We were devastated, and rage surged inside us. We took some stones and threw them in the direction the gunfires were coming from, across and over the forest band. We kept throwing the gravels, and then these kids came running towards us. They were about the same age as we were.

"Hey, stop throwing the stones, idoit!"
they shouted.

"But they are shooting the herons!"
we shouted back.

"That's my father, fool!"
one of the boys said.

Near the forest and pond there were several farmhouses, and the shooting men were farmers. Although we thought the hunters were villains, the same persons were loving fathers to the boys. Although our rage had not subdued, the boy's word "that's my father" rather extinguished the fire in our heart. There was a moment of awkward silence.

Then we saw the farmers themselves, carrying the guns on their shoulder, saying something to the farm boys. The boys started to run in the direction of their parents. The situation suddenly became unbearable. We started to run in the opposite direction. We did not look back. We don't know what happened after that.

Although we did not realize it at that time, I now think that we were emotionally on the verge of crying out loud.

After the incident, we somehow felt shy of going in that area. When we somehow conjured up courage and revisited after a few winters, the pond was gone. The water had been buried over, and there were new houses being built on the new land. There was no white heron in sight.

It was a time of Japan's rapid economic growth, and the nature was destroyed everywhere everyday. Our rage against the shooting was totally out of context when seen from the whole picture.

We had entered the junior high school at the time of the pond's disappearance. Our boyhood had gone with the white herons.

I wonder where the herons are flying now.

A white heron.

1 comment:

砂山鉄夫(Tetsu Sunayama) said...

The other day I read this beautiful essay in Japanese.

This reminds me of my childhood. This reminds me of Steven Millhauser's fantastic works.

This is a piece of poetry. Amazing! Wonderful!