Nearly three months ago, shortly after arriving in Japan, I watched spring arrive on Norikura, the snow melting, the plants emerging from the thawing ground, the flowers beginning to bloom.
Nearly three weeks ago, on Mt. Chogatake, I watched fall begin to envelope the higher elevations of the Japanese Alps. Perhaps it arrived in the storm. The storm that kept us in the tent for nearly 24 hours, the storm that shook our shelter of nylon and aluminum so much that we were convinced it would either blow away or be torn to shreds. After some time, the saturated fly couldn’t keep out the driving rain, and the fabric tore in several places from the violent winds. So we lay in our sleeping bags, water dripping and spitting on us, and somehow, amidst the cacophony of the wind and rain, fell asleep from pure exhaustion.
After that, the weather seemed to turn. The days of heat and sunshine that were so good to us only slightly earlier in the month were no more. Instead, there was more rain, and if not rain, clouds that kept the sun at bay most of the time. Occasionally it would peek out, but hardly warm the earth to the same temperatures as only a week before.
The air was distinctly cooler. We awoke to a thin layer of ice on the tent one morning, and frost covered the leaves as we walked down the hill to our work site. Leaves were beginning to turn, isolated reds and yellows and oranges popping out in the grassy meadows. The evenings brought a chill that was hardly cured by putting on all the clothes I had with me, and dinners began to be eaten in the tent.
It was the end of a season. The end of summer, the end of my time in this place. For my last hike out of the Japanese Alps, we went through Kamikochi, a valley that is sometimes dubbed the “Yosemite of Japan” for its steep walls and crowds of people that flock to visit. Then it was back to Matsumoto, the packing of the suitcase, and a couple days of sightseeing and eating and drinking delicious food in various places around Tokyo.
And finally, after a very long plane ride, lots of sitting in airports, and what was literally the longest day of my life (a 37-hour Sunday!), I was back in the western hemisphere, my summer in Japan over, and my fall in Pennsylvania about to begin.