October 11, 2005

Autumn Rain 秋の雨

Last night, as I biked through the rural district of Takamatsu in Wakayama City, the smell of wet earth and chimney smoke reminded me of my winters in Berkeley when I was a child. There are certain vivid associations that each person makes with particular smells or groups of smells encountered throughout childhood. The damp, freshly rained-on smell of wet pines and wet roads combined with the burning wood smell of chimney smoke that the Japanese describe as 香ばし, or kobashi, took my mind away from the tasks at hand--ride bike down street, stay upright, study Japanese tonight, etc. Instead my mind flitted away like a moth at the flame.

Kobashi fits this smell with precision, whereas any English combination would include a long list of so-close words like smoky, balmy, fragrant, pungent, redolent, etc. Anyways, there is a certain smell coming with the first real rain of the cold season--not the rain of early summer, tsuyu, which is quite tropical--that without fail produces the pangs of memory that I feel in some unlocatable center. Somewhere back inside me, though every year it is covered up a bit more, lies the first few years of Christmas in Berkeley--the dark purplish hills hidden in a dense, opaque fog, my eyes trying to see past Monterey Ave. to the next block. Is that a man walking towards me? Is it a deer? A bush? Today there is little fog in Wakayama, but the rain by itself is more powerful in producing images than an album of baby pictures. When the rain comes, people huddle inside to stay warm by the fire, and I am reminded of a home that I used to be a part of. Now in search of a new, habitable home--where I am to go next--I must continue to relive these moments even if they work contrary to the act of looking ahead. Time to throw another log on the fire, even while the first one is still burning.


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