A life of courage, joy and independence.
I’m thinking of a very old man tonight. He lives alone in the high mountains of central Japan. In a village so far removed it took me five years to find it, though I visited the area at least twice a month. The man is the sole occupant of an enormous old farm estate near the end of a treacherous mountain road. He lives in a little valley bowl with a fast-moving mountain stream. The narrow road runs through the bowl, splitting his estate down the middle. Though the home could easily house a dozen, the man lives in the tool shed by the road. Conserving heat, and perhaps hiding from ghosts, real or perceived.
The first time I met him I greeted him in Japanese and he only stared at me, like I was some alien from another planet trespassing his reality, which I was. After I found the valley I came back often, and usually discovered him out-of-doors. Often simply standing. He always stared. And never returned my greeting. He’d also watch me go. Standing stooped in the middle of the little road. And once I think he followed me for a bit. As I saw his shape in the far distance beside a patch of blooming wild chrysanthemums. He had his hands clasped behind his back. The river roaring with summer. The high mountain cicadas whirring in the approaching night.
The last time I came I thought he was gone. Like so many others I’d seen disappear in a decade of mountain exploring. One month there’s a house, softly breathing with the life of an old man or woman. The next month it’s a ruin, with no pulse, and no promise of human continuity. Belonging again to the forest and mountain. I thought he was gone. But he was there, as I could detect the faintest light within the shed.
I never said goodbye to the man. Only hello. So many times hello. It’s winter now in Japan. And I wonder if he’s still there. Up there in the snow. Alone. Perhaps outside. Hearing the river roar with winter. And the utter silence of human solitude.
You can see old man’s home at about the 3:00 mark in the video below.