I was disconnected from the rest of the world as my mobile phone was out of reach of any network. At the time I did not know that Softbank and au did not work in Kumano, only docomo was ok.
Undisturbed by phone calls and email requests and not distracted by the visual overload of adverts, I had nothing to listen to than nature’s sounds and nothing to look at than the expanse of forest and mountains in front of me. If it wasn’t for my inner voice…
It told me about all the things I had left unfinished in Tokyo before going on this trip and about all the actions-to-be-taken that were piling up during my absence from the connected world.
My inner voice turned out to be a chatterbox. It told me this and that about life in Tokyo, all of which was without relevance while walking here in the woods. Being so busy in my head sorting out priorities of things to do after my return, I did not even listen and see what was around me.
I had been walking like that for the first day and part of the second day when suddenly something caught my attention. It made me stop to have a closer look. It was a bright orange little crab that scurried across the trail in front of me! I did not know that crabs also lived in the mountains and later I learned that this was a freshwater crab.
This little crab stopped my mind’s chatter for a moment. I thought of it as a little friend of mine: I am born a Cancerian, and here there was this little crab hurrying across the trail as I, absent-minded, almost stepped on it.
It dawned on me that my walk in the woods somehow resembled how I was walking through life. Often I am so busy with myself that I don’t hear and see what is plain in front of me. Being in my own little world, the real world passes me by. Only when I stop, and look and listen, do I really see and hear.
Struggling up a steep hill to get to the next mountain pass, I get tired and sit down to rest at a lookout point. The serene beauty of the Kumano landscape eventually even stops the chatterbox inside.
Thinking nothing anymore, just taking all in with my five senses:
I see the multiple-shaded leaves of the fresh spring green, the shadows cast by cotton-wool clouds on the mountain slopes and the curled-up young leaves ferns growing toward the beams of sunlight shining through the forest canopy.
I hear the sharp cry of a kite in graceful flight high up in the sky, the deep humming of bumble-bees busily collecting their first nectar of the season, and the dreamlike barking of a dog in a distant village.
I smell the sweets scents from the colorful blossoms of nearby bushes and the earthy-wet scent from a bubbling creak in the valley.
I touch the bark of some trees, tempted to hug a tree (I did not know then that hugging a tree would become popular!).
Sitting there for a long while, I was not thinking anymore; not seeking the meaning of life anymore. I just enjoyed being there in that very moment. I felt blessed indeed on what I thought was a rare occasion of sheer bliss.
There was a voice very far away and almost not audible that said: Alena, why don’t you come again to Kumano? This is when I decided to walk the Kohechi trail of the Kumano Kodo in the following year during Golden Week.