Monday, February 24, 2014

Farewells of 2013 (and one nurturing nabe)

December's tragedy, which occurred just 2 weeks prior to us arriving in Japan to run my inaugural Winter tours, meant that my partner and I were extremely fragile and not capable of very much of anything.... except absent-minded wandering, staring into nothingness, trying to come to terms with how life, death, and the universe actually works. What was fair, what wasn't. How people behave, and don't. What was real, surreal, possible and impossible.
 New Year's eve gave us the opportunity to close the horrendous end  (to a somewhat difficult year) and look to 2014 as a fresh slate, albeit understanding there would be a long road to healing ahead.   We were still in shock but we had a sense of needing to get through to the next stage, still breathing. Putting one foot in front of the other. To cross the line into the new year meant we could leave a tiny part of the pain behind. There will always be new hope in a new year. Like swimming through a rough sea to an island shore to rest before swimming back across the waters to home, hoping the deep blue would be less choppy on the return. 
Thank god for good friends. Who nurtured our heads, hearts and bellies when we needed it most.
Tad and Bridget are those kind of friends you can always rely on. They are straight up, no nonsense, caring, warm, funny, real adults. 
Bridget provided us both with her wonderful shiatsu treatment  - instantly improving our energy levels and bringing about a certain sense of calm, for the first time in many, many weeks. 
While G was flat to the tatami I walked with Tad through the local neighbourhood to their veggie garden allotment for dinner supplies. 

I  put my hands in the earth ( ok, so I extracted a single daikon from its depths...), gazed at the spectacular sunset gently lullabye-ing 2013 and sucked in the crisp evening air. 
Yep, looking washed out and bedraggled but pretty impressed with myself. 
The winter veg: Heirloom carrots, daikon, mizuna, cabbage, Hakusai (Chinese cabbage), Shungiku (edible Chrysanthemum leaves), pencil leeks....
With carry bags, filled to the brim just on sunset, we returned to our protectors' cosy house in the mountainside where Tad (one of the finest cooks I  know) prepared the Nabe - chock full of just plucked goodness, so sweet, crisp and flavoursome. Organic, local chicken which tasted like chicken. Full flavoured, meaty chicken. Chickeny meat.
But not before stopping off at Enkooji temple to assess what time we should turn up to take our turn to ring one of the 108 peels of the bell. New Year in Japan is a very different experience to that in Australia and many other countries where it is all about getting pissed and punching or vomiting your way across the line. We were happy to be well clear of that scenario.  Peace, reflection and the comfort of close friends was our only agenda. 
Tea and snacks before sparkling sake whilst waiting for the nabe to do its thing. 
Nabe, dipping sauce (ponzu and grated daikon), pickles and a viewing of a 7 year old aged mirin... check out the colour. Sadly, in my daze, I forgot to taste it!
When the chicken and veg had been devoured Tad lovingly added cooked rice, spring onions and greens to the leftover cooking stock...
Lightly beaten, golden yolked eggs were drizzled into the pot then we garnished our own servings with herbs, toasted sesame, crushed senbei (rice crackers) and soy. Freakin' delicious and the kind of food that cures all ills. 
We walked to the temple just before midnight. I left my camera at home so we could really just be in the moment. We lined up to ring the bell. The moment I stepped up to the rope the head monk, who until that time had been inside the temple, appeared beside me and began to chant. I felt his deep voice reverberating through my body, energising me, filling me with hope in the sadness. His timing was perfect. Did he sense how very much we needed a helping hand in that moment. Gerard's tears were visible in the bonfire light as he pounded the gong with every scrap of energy he could muster  while he whispered his brother safe journey. The monk disappeared shortly afterwards. We are not religious but we felt extremely blessed in that moment. It was enough to keep us keeping on.

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