A wild walk

19 06 2014

As you may know, I am helping out as a bunkhouse leader for Camp Aloha Friends this summer. (There’s still time to join in, and I can’t recommend it enough, if you could use a bit of creative and natural inspiration plus a lot of camaraderie!) One of the keystones of camp is developing the habit of walking and enjoying nature each day. I was actually able to get away by myself for a little while! I used the rare alone time as a chance to walk deep into the woods. I wanted to share with you a few of the surprising things I found on my very first walk.

As I was climbing a steep hill, I grabbed onto a tree trunk for stability and almost squished this little guy! He was about 3 inches long, and a bright vibrant green. Even though I am certain no one has been in that part of the woods in months or even years, he didn’t seem fazed by my stomping through (or his near death experience).


At the bottom of the hill, I found a road I had never seen before, though I have occasionally seen headlights moving through the forest in that direction. This is the view from the middle of the road. Just gorgeous!


There was a small forest fire nearby a few weeks ago. I decided to wander through the fire damaged area for the first time. The ground is charred and smells strongly of burning, but life is already beginning to return. Here you can see the fire damaged stump of a large fern. New shoots are beginning to unfurl into a beautiful new undergrowth.


This seems to be the summer of deforestation in my neck of the woods. All around my walk I found hints of trees being cut down. From a bed of fresh wood chips to this perfect slice of timber, the trees are coming down. I hope they stop before all the local trees have been removed. So far, all the trees right around my house seems safe. I love how vivid the rings are on this cross section!


It can be hard to see, but if you focus on the left side of the twig in the middle of this picture, you should be able to see one of the millions of very large spiders that live all around here. The stick was very helpful in leading the way through the many spider webs on my route. (As I said, not a path in sight!)


These beautiful flowers — azaleas? — were going in a wild bunch right in the middle of a clump of tall wild grasses. I loved the unexpected pop of color in an otherwise green part of the world.


Somebody’s babies waiting to grow up! A very sticky spit bubble found under a leaf.


I had a fantastic time exploring all the untraveled woods around my house. I look forward to tromping through again! Today is rainy, but a rainy walk can be just as great, especially when it is warm.


Hanging out at Handiworks Square

13 04 2014

Morioka is the nearest major city to us, about two hours away in the car. Now that the roads are finally clear of snow, we have been venturing out a little farther to discover what Morioka has to offer. Our adventure on Saturday is more than will fit in one blog post, so here is the first installment.

Morioka Handiworks Square is an artisan craft village west of the city. It’s purpose is to show off local crafts and traditional techniques. There is a large central building that houses a craft museum (more on this later), a restaurant, and an extensive shop. Branching off from this building are many other low (my husband had to duck at several entrances) buildings, each featuring a particular craft workshop. In most of these workshops, visitors can try their hand at the techniques.

Main building houses a restaurant, museum, and shops.

Main building houses a restaurant, museum, and shops.

Our inability to communicate well in Japanese prevented us from trying many of the crafts, but we did make some delicious senbei crackers. These traditional snacks are cooked in iron clamps over an open flame. After watching a group complete the process ahead of us, we felt confident enough to try our hand. We rolled out the dough (being asked to redo several times until it was a near perfect circle) then held the clamps over the fire, rotating every 30 seconds.

Rolling out cracker dough.

Rolling out cracker dough

Cracker presses over an open flame

Cracker presses over an open flame

We browsed workshops full of beautiful ceramics, iron tetsubin teapots, woven baskets, and wooden toys. The adults in our group were particularly interested in the unusual ceramics, many of which had unusual shapes or glazes. One restaurant in the square even offered the option to make your own noodles and then cook and eat them for lunch. This process looked pretty involved and not as kid-friendly, so we skipped it this visit.

Ceramics with metallic glaze

Ceramics with metallic glaze


After we were finished touring the workshops, we visited the small craft museum. Admission is 100 yen, or about $1, and well worth it. There were extensive sections on furniture making, sake brewing, and iron work, all of which were worth a visit. I appreciated the vibrant textile exhibit. Displays of weaving, spinning, and shibori dyeing were colorful and unique.

Traditional spinning wheel

Traditional spinning wheel

B was very taken with Japanese typesetting machines. She spent at least 15 minutes pressing buttons on a defunct printing machine, trying to figure out how it had worked. The tray of type was fascinating. The thousands of common kanji symbols in use make for a very different type setting process than the 26 letters of the Western alphabet.

Japanese letter-press typewriter?

Japanese letter-press typewriter?

I am looking forward to another visit to Handiworks Square. There are more workshops to explore, and I would love to try my hand at some of the more complicated crafts. There is nothing like a visit to this kind of creative hub to emphasize the richness and creativity of the world’s cultures. Seeing crafts I have never encountered before has gotten me eagerly thinking about new things to explore, new ways to combine Eastern and Western culture. I can’t wait to learn more about Japanese crafts.