This month, instead of an essay on declaring dominion over your life, I'm sharing something I wrote last summer as the rains came down. It's a love letter to a country I love.
The Rain Spirits
The rains are coming down. We are deep into tsuyu, the rainy season. There is an atmospheric shift, a heaviness in the air, a density to everything.
In Tokyo, the green wages its yearly attack on the concrete. Most of the time my little burg is a hostile zone of carbon dioxide where you can count the trees on your toes, and even the parks are forlorn patches of roped-off grass and swiss-cheese shrubbery. But in June, the hydrangea burst out everywhere: behind the train tracks, in the town square, and out of the dilapidated buckets and styrofoam boxes standing sentry in front of every crotchety old house. For this one month it seems that the earth's weeds, leaves, stems, and branches have a real fighting chance of overtaking its brittle concrete skin. The people sag and wilt but other life-forms go into an orgy of reproduction. Mold spores, mildew, little clumps of mushrooms, mosquitoes: they are on the gospel train, and they are winning. In July the brutal heat will beat back these wild revolutionaries, but right now mother nature has the upper hand.
We have been watching Tonari No Totoro (My Nieghbor Totoro) a lot at my house. The wonder of Miyazaki's teeming, fertile worlds begins to make sense, because right now even our city streets are hopping with mad life. My daughter is in heaven. This week alone, the children at her preschool have seen otamajakushi (tadpoles), frogs, and enough bugs to give me the faints. Last week on a walk they saw a snake.
The pitiful strand of cypress trees along the train tracks turns into a sauna; you walk by and you are steeped in the fragrance, you are a muslin bag swirling in cypress tea.
Laundry goes sour before it can dry. The tap water begins to smell of fish. The umbrellas get bedsores.
The air is so thick that it is almost impossible not to believe in ghosts. It's like walking through soup, or cobwebs, swimming your way through, clearing a path through the thick seaweed of wraiths. Everything lingers.
The moss on the stone lantern at the local Shinto shrine, that rough dry carpet, turns into a thick sponge, a slick raincoat of possibility, sheltering entire worlds of microbes, bugs, algae. Anything might come oozing out of there. Totoro might drop by with a bundle of acorns at any moment.
We go primordial. People have affairs, get pregnant, lose their minds. They sit in exhaustion and bewilderment. There is only one thing to do, and that is to find a bit of cool woven tatami, whether it's a room, a mat, or just a pair of sandals. Press yourself into it. Roll around if you have room enough and no shame. Let your eyes close a little, taste the thick air, let it settle on your tongue.
These intense days are a cool misty prelude to August. Before the heat sucks the life out of the air, go out and get a little wet. Stare at a hydrangea until you feel raindrops on your neck, or until a wispy presence swims through the ether and taps you on the shoulder. If you see Totoro, be sure to lend him your umbrella.