Mark Twain said, with his usual perceptive cynicism, that golf "is a good walk spoiled". I agree with him, though my only experience is tagging along after my grandfather on the links and mistakenly ripping up the green with a... wedge, I think it was. I didn't understand the manicured lawns, carrying around a heavy bag full of lightning rods, or the need to find a reason to go for a walk. What's in a walk, anyway?

I've found that a walk, I mean a walk in the mountains, is a good way for me to collect the swirling mass of thoughts that surround me during the week. I say collect, but it's not as if I find a way to categorize them, to pin them onto plush boards. Still, I feel as though I can give thoughts their due: if they are worth some thinking, they'll rise up above the others and I'll give them a test run. Usually there's not much substance, because most of my life doesn't seem to scratch much below the surface, and such thoughts I push aside and quietly walk on just letting one foot follow the other for a while. But once and again I'll find something not easily cast aside. Without the distractions of my Internet connection, my bike commute along with Tokyo taxis, or the snippets of Japanese conversation I manage to catch at work interrupting this flow of thought, I usually wade for a bit. I always get out before I get to the sea, but it's a form of mental exercise in any case. I'll keep my thoughts to myself for the moment (do I hear sighs of relief?) because I'm just relearning to swim, but it gives me a thrill much like the thrill of being able to ride a bike 30 mph or run for several hours at a time I'm just now experiencing for the first time. Though thinking is something (I swear!) I used to do, and it is a feeling like coming home.

Last weekend I went to Nikko, my favorite place in Japan so far to ramble around. I know a bit about Nikko, but this time I thought I'd push myself and make my way to a place I hadn't been: Oze. Oze is famous in Japan: a huge meadow rung about with mountains. It is a protected World Heritage site, and extremely popular for its flowers and expanding views. And it is close to Nikko, and the best way to get there from Nikko is on foot.

About a month ago I climbed Mt. Shirane (one of many Mt. Shiranes, so it is often called Oku Shirane or Nikko Shirane, but I'll just called it "Mt. Shirane") at the western edge of Oku Nikko. I'd tried climbing it before, a couple of years ago, but, well, I just wasn't in the best shape at the time. But I've lost about 40 lbs of fat since that time and gained a good deal of muscle, so this time it was... damn difficult. The approach to Mae Shirane, the mountain just before Mt. Shirane (mae means "in front of") is killer and it seemed to last forever. After Mae Shirane the trail dips down giving a pleasant view of a beautiful blue mountain lake, Goshikinuma and the from afar friendly rise of Mt. Shirane.

Or would, if fog didn't obscure my view. That day was mostly spent trudging through white darkness and only occasionally did I get a good view; it wasn't until my later trip that I actually saw what Mt. Shirane actually looks like. I kept going forward along the path and did actually reach the peak of Mt. Shirane, but by that time it was literally pouring rain, with winds that threatened to knock me over. And it was freezing, er, well, very cold. But it was exciting, and I made it through, and didn't really get disgruntled until I had to take the return route which was obviously a drained stream; on this occasion the stream was flowing quite well, and I was sliding the whole way back (I think I fell on my ass about 10 times before I stopped counting).

One day I'll try Shirane again in better whether. In fact, on this most recent trip I was passing near Shirane and almost gave into the urge to climb it again: it was a beautiful day. But