A Walk Through Minano Town
Heat waves shimmered over the pavement as I made my way steadily through Minano Town (皆野町), moving steadily across the wide valley that separated Section 6 and Section 7 of Saitama’s portion of the Fureai Trail. As usual, I didn’t pay too much attention to the maps when I set out, but now that I lacked the guidance of trail markers, I took a closer look. I was surprised to find, though, that I would soon be crossing the Arakawa, or Rough River, whose mouth flows into Tokyo Bay not far from where I live. I hadn’t had any idea that this was where it’s upper reaches lay. Nonetheless, at that moment it was just a mere curiosity as I hadn’t found the river particularly interesting being that it was nothing more than a channelized waterway flowing sluggishly out into the ocean. Really, there wasn’t a thing rough about it.
But I walked on. Soon after crossing the train tracks the road descended quickly and suddenly the ground fell away on either side leaving behind just the road, a narrow bridge spanning a shallow gorge. Below a wide river flowed swiftly eastward along a rocky cliff on the south shore, and on the north there lay a long, flat gravel bar where a group of people sat relaxing in the sunshine. A few children were playing in the shallows and great wooden boats laden with tourists launched periodically. I stopped for a moment to enjoy the cool breeze blowing off the water, and the sound and scent of fresh flowing water. Soon, I wandered off in thought.
Some 10 years ago I was employed as a van driver in New York City shuttling people back and forth between the Fordham University’s Bronx and Manhattan campuses. This was my first time living so far away from home for such an extended period of time, and naturally as the months passed I gradually began to recognize the things that I had taken for granted in my old life that I was now beginning to sorely miss. One of those things was the sound and smell of fresh riverwater.
My hometown was a rather isolated little place located in the northern half of the Ozark Plateau in Southeast Missouri. The whole area is a dense thicket of forests filled with nearly impassable underbrush and low but steep hills and dry creekbeds, but running through the biggest of the valleys were beautifully clean, pristine rivers flowing with dark green and blue mineral water. It was along these rivers that settlements in the area invariably formed, settlements like Van Buren along the banks of the Current River, my home. As a child I couldn’t imagine letting a summer pass by without spending every moment possible swimming, fishing, bluff jumping, or just relaxing by that cool water while enjoying a sound and smell that words can’t quite capture as well as the experience.
“What do you miss most about home?” The passenger sitting next had been moving one by one through those same few questions that just about everyone asks when they find out you weren’t born in the place you happen to be at the moment. At the time we were speeding along next to the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan, blessedly without any traffic to slow us down. That broad body of salt water stretched out to the Jersey side, a drab grey color wafting forth an unpleasant odor that I was all too glad to be far enough away not to smell. Somewhere down there I knew a fair amount of trash was floating.
I didn’t miss a beat. “I miss having a river.”
She gave me a puzzled look, and then gestured out the window. “But that’s a river, isn’t it?” she said.
I returned her look with one of my own. Of all the wonderful things that the river I grew up with had to offer, this polluted urban monstrosity of a waterway offered not a single one. Up until that moment, I hadn’t realized that didn’t think of it as a river at all.
The Rough River
It’s been years now since I’ve lived on the shores of a fresh mountain river, but the memory of a childhood lived in such a place never really fades away — it just goes dormant until something wakes it up. Something like sights, sounds, and smells of the Rough River in the summer.
Later I walked down to the riverside, where I watched some tourists from southeast Asia jumping off a large rock into a deep pool as kayakers practiced in a nearby rapid. From time to time, those large wooden boats laden with visitors passed by.
Meanwhile, I sat by the water with my bare feet dangling in, reminiscing about times past, and summers long ago spent with my friends on the Current River. I craved to spend a summer like that again, but these days I don’t have a single friend nearby who appreciates these rivers the way I do and more than a few who can’t understand why I’d want to spend a hot summer day there when I could just stay in with the air conditioner. After some thought, I decided I was just as happy to be here to enjoy it alone.
© Brian Heise, 2018