“Shinrin-yoku” – Nonfiction by Amanda Krupman

Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route Nakahechi by Nekosuki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
“Shinrin-yoku” is Amanda Krupman‘s personal & poignant flash nonfiction on solitude & Japanese forest therapy from our Fall 2017 issue.

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THEY SAID WALK WITH ME

I said I already do enough walking.

But you do it alone, they said. It’s better with someone else.

I didn’t believe them, but I wanted to, so I said okay.

And we walked together for a while. Into places we’d known separately and back out again with new words and phrases and paragraphs and endnotes we immediately wanted to forget. After I proved to them that they were wrong, that I was better on my own, I walked away.

 

Walking is the way. It asks nothing from you. It is no accomplishment on its own. It’s process. Plan your routes, set along your path, check the map. Or don’t, and just keep walking until it’s time to lie down. Then get up and do it some more. It’s better not to think if you can help it, but if it happens, and with it you feel your mourning kick the wind out of you and fold you in half, you can trust that it will pass. Just keep moving. When the body stays rooted, the blood runs tepid.

 

My mother had me, her first child, when she was twenty-five. I was a few days away from thirty-five, had no children, and I’d lost my mother some months before. Oh, I knew where she was: alive, very much the person she had always been. But I’d lost her. Rather, she had closed the door, shut me out, shut herself up in the home she had made with my father, the silent partner in this shunning business. I love you, she said, but I love my God more. In anguish, I repeated this to my walking partner, whose own mother was also Christian but in a way that insisted she understand her child’s difference, to recognize over time that her beautiful daughter was, despite expectations, no longer her daughter but still her beautiful child. I bet my parents would say that too if I asked them, they said. But I hadn’t asked.

My mother had always needed to hold me at arm’s length. But when I lost her—and by extension, my father—a lifetime of detritus was unearthed, a hot pile of rotting fruit and buried bones sucked clean of their meat.

I wanted:

to conquer time by passing through it, ideally by roving on foot, like an animal hunting food.

I was:

an adult woman,

an old broad, a bag of bones,

a castaway,

an infidel,

a huntress, lacking a taste for anything, but hungry enough to eat all the fat and gristle.

I would become:

a pilgrim. I would do this on the other side of the world.

I walked:

for six days along the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodo, on the Kii Peninsula.

 

When Thoreau took to the woods, he wanted to suck out the marrow and live deliberately. I wanted to throw up and fall apart with no one watching, to trust the efficacious grace of dirt and bugs and upturned roots. I’m not spiritual; I don’t believe in purification rituals; I believe in quiet and dirt and walking it off.

Before getting to the forest, I had to walk through cities. Tokyo and Kyoto were fever dreams: In August, the temperature hit ninety degrees by ten in the morning, and by three in the afternoon, my thin black cotton dress was ribboned with salt stains. When visiting ancient shrines, I was surrounded by couples and group tours and flocks of selfie sticks, and I was shedding saltwater from every pore.

There, above me, the immensity of Fushimi Inari-taisha, its snaking set of cloned gates rising forty feet high and burning the electric crimson fire of a sunset.

There, below, my grief and I, tunneling through the torii.

 

I’d always understood the most spectacular sunsets to be the work of pollution, but actually:

  1. The light from the shifting sun takes a longer path through the atmosphere to reach our eyes.
  2. At any moment, our sunsets are showing us only the colors our eyes can see.
  3. While we see the pinks, the blues are still hanging out, scattered somewhere back west.

 

As a child I spent most of my time in cars: my mother’s Buick, my father’s Toyota. Always in the passenger seat, even when it came time to get a driver’s license. You can walk, my mother said. I love you, she said, but I don’t trust you behind the wheel. Despite or because of God, my mother was ruled by fear. Then and now, it was both my mother’s love and fear that made me walk.

 

In your lifetime of walking, you will, at times, forget that you are your best on your own, and you’ll take another partner, who will match your pace for a while but inevitably fall back or speed ahead. At other times, you will be treading an ancient pilgrimage route within a Japanese forest and you will seem, by all external measures, on your own, but you will have a smartphone, a global data plan, and a willing proxy on the other side of the world, in the city you left behind. This is both the pleasure and danger of walking anywhere in the world in the twenty-first century.

Scattered somewhere back west was my ex.

The screen said So you’re on your own now. Happy?

Yes, I replied. But, no, pilgrims do not consider, do not know happy.

(A clarification on pilgrimage: the persistence of movement, the reliance on muscle and endurance: this is not about building up the body, about wearing down the body; this is not about the body. )

Five more miles for the day. Thirty-five years to carry onward.

I pocketed the ex and plugged my ears to block the buzz of a thousand flying insects.

{ X }

AMANDA KRUPMAN is a queer writer in Brooklyn, NY. Her fiction and nonfiction has appeared in publications including BLOOM, The New EngagementPunk Planet, $pread Magazine, and Time Out New York. Amanda is a 2017 recipient of a Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Residency at the Anderson Center. She received an MFA from the Graduate Writing Program at the New School in 2011.

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