Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Sound of Silence - the wilds of Finland


Finland in October. I’ll be honest—I was hoping for snow. Maybe not in Helsinki itself, but certainly out in the wilds of Karelia where I spent the second half of my brief trip. Alas, it was mild, even by UK standards, and there were only a couple of days when gloves were a necessity, never mind full polar explorer wear.

Finland is known as the land of a thousand lakes, and for good reason. In fact, there are just shy of 188,000 lakes, so flying into Helsinki it was like looking down onto an intricate paper doily. I expected fir trees—nearly 70 per cent of the country is forest, after all—but not the amazing amount of silver birch, with their startling pale bark and their leaves turning shades of yellow and copper and gold.

And the silence.

The silence had a quality all its own.

Helsinki was as busy and bustling as you’d expect any major city to be. It’s easy to forget, when you’re there, that for a country that is in area the eighth largest in Europe, it has only around 5.5 million people. (To put that into perspective for me, there are over 8 million people in London alone, and 66 million in the UK.)

Out in Karelia, to the east, I was less than a hundred miles from the border with Russia. It felt remote, perhaps because I was intentionally without a car, although there was a canoe and a rowing boat at my disposal.

The small wood cabin where I was staying was incredibly well insulated, which made it very warm—and quiet—inside. But even outside there was little to be heard. Across the whole of Finland, there are only 17 people per square kilometre. I doubt I saw more than half a dozen in the time I was there, and that includes the pair fishing on the lake outside my window.

Normally, I like quiet. I’ve spent time in the middle of the Jordanian desert, and at sea where you’re days away from the nearest land and at night the stars go all the way down to the horizon in every direction. But I confess I found the isolation on this trip a little unsettling as far as getting on with writing was concerned.

Perhaps it was the woods that surrounded the cabin, or the still water of the lake, reminded me too much of all those Scandi-Noir thrillers and I kept expecting the Worst to Happen. Or perhaps I’m too used to pet-sitting on these foreign trips, so was unsettled by not having something with four legs and fur to divert my attention.

Either way, it was a fascinating exploration of another culture, and one which will, no doubt, find its way into a book in the near future…

This week’s Word of the Week is adumbration, which is to give only the main facts about something, a broad outline, particularly something that will happen in the future. From the Latin adumbratus, sketched or shadowed in outline. It can also mean to overshadow something or partially conceal it.

I have been invited to take part in Noir @ The Bar London ‘Chilled To The Marrow’, which takes place on Monday, October 22 from 7:00–10:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:00 p.m.) at The Urban Bar, 176 Whitechapel Road, E1 1BJ. The line-up is Susi HollidayWilliam ShawMark HillDerek FarrellJay StringerJA MarleyAlex CaanBarbara NadelZoë SharpLiz (Elizabeth) MundyCaroline (Caz) FrearFelicia Yap, and a Wildcard chosen on the night. It’s hosted by Nikki East. There will be the usual book giveaways for the audience, and also a raffle in aid of medical expenses for Evie, daughter of crime author Duane Swierczynski.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

It's that "NO" Greek Holiday Again


A week from tomorrow is October 28th,  a Greek national holiday.  No, not because that's the day I depart Greece for the US--at least I hope that's not the reason. Rather it's one of two publicly revered ones.  The other, March 25, commemorates the day in 1821 that Greece declared its Independence from the Ottoman Empire and fought until 1832 to obtain it.  

I've run this post before, but in light of all that Greece is enduring at the moment (imagine what the US is going though politically, but with a lost economy), I felt compelled to repost it, if only as a cheerleader for people I care deeply about. 

Next Sunday's holiday, “Oxi Day” (pronounced “O-hee” and meaning “no” in Greek), represents the moment in 1940 when Greece set in motion events ultimately saving democracy for the world.  As Adolph Hitler’s Chief of Staff later said, “The Greeks delayed by two or more vital months the German attack against Russia; if we did not have this long delay, the outcome of the war would have been different.”

“Oxi,” together with two other words uttered nearly two and a half centuries earlier by Spartan King Leonidas in response to Persian king Xerxes’ demand that the Spartans surrender their weapons—“Molon Labe” (pronounced mo-lone laveh), meaning “come and take them”—is all you need to know to understand how Greeks react to adversity.

Those three words represent the essence of the Greek will, and permeate their attitudes toward virtually all things.  Some say that leaves them open to manipulation by nationalistic political jingoists seeking to distract their attention from otherwise serious, underlying national problems and shortcomings…but what nation these days is free from that. 

Despite all the trials and tribulations endured by this nation of eleven million over the past near decade, and the certainty of more difficult times to come, to those of you who wonder if the Greek spirit will somehow throw in the towel—I simply say as I’ve said before, ‘NO.” 

King Leonidas I

And here’s how Oxi Day came to pass.

On the morning of August 15, 1940, the Greek navel vessel Elli was in the harbor of the Cycladic island of Tinos.  It was peacetime and the light cruiser was anchored to participate in a major Greek Orthodox holiday, The Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of the Virgin Mary).  Without warning the Elle was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine, killing nine and wounding twenty-four.  Although fragments of the torpedo clearly identified its source, the Greek government officially declared the nationality of the attacking submarine as “unknown.”  The Greek government may have been reluctant to declare the attacker as Italy, and therefore immerse itself in war, but the people knew who was behind it.


Two months later, around dawn on the morning of October 28, 1940, after a party at the German embassy in Athens, the Italian ambassador approached Greece’s Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas and demanded that Greece surrender to the Axis powers or face immediate war with Italy.  He offered Greece three hours to decide.  Italy had seven times the population of Greece, seven times the troops, ten times the firepower, and total air superiority. 

Ioannis Metaxa

The Prime Minister’s response was simple: “Oxi.”  And less than two hours later Italian troops stationed in Albania invaded Greece.  Occupation of Greece was critical to Hitler’s plan for isolating British troops in North Africa.  The Italians expected it to be a three-day war.  They learned otherwise. 

Oxi became the battle cry of the Greek people.  Within weeks the Italians were driven back into Albania, and repelled by the Greeks at every effort to occupy Greece.  It became clear to Hitler that Italy was not up to the task and on April 6, 1941 Germany invaded Greece, but it took even the Nazis five weeks to succeed.  Greek resistance had thrown off Hitler’s plans to capture Russia before the winter of 1941. 

The Greeks were the first people in Europe (outside of Great Britain) to stand up to the demands of Germany and its allies, but their one hundred eighty-five days of resistance took a horrific toll on their country:

One million of Greece’s citizens (13% of the population) are estimated to have died from battle, starvation, resistance, reprisals and concentration camps.

Greece’s infrastructure, economy and agriculture were destroyed.

Greece’s gold, works of art, and treasures were plundered.

Civil war followed and many emigrated.

On a purely economic basis, it is estimated that in standing up to the Axis’ threats Greece was left in financial straits twice as bad as it finds itself in today… and its societal costs were inestimably worse.

So today, as Greece struggles under different serious challenges, for those who seek to capture the extent of Greece’s national determination in a phrase, let me offer a quote from someone who understood as well as anyone on earth what the world once more owed to Greece: “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but Heroes fight like Greeks.”  Winston Churchill.

Xronia Polla, y’all.


PS. For those of you wondering why I'm posting this a week before the holiday, it's because I promised my slot for next Saturday to a rather engaging chap to whom I just can't say, "Oxi."

Jeff's Coming Events:

10:00 a.m., Saturday, November 17th--ICELAND NOIR, Reykjavik

 The Hot-pot
The best way to enjoy the outdoors in Iceland is sitting in a hot-pot by one of Reykjavík´s many swimming pools, enjoying the conversation immersed up to your neck in thermal water.
Karen Robinson (Moderator)Felicia Yap, Jeffrey Siger, Louise Voss,  Stuart Neville.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Blurred Lines

We have woken up today with the tragic news of yet another student walking round a school with a gun, killing. This time it was in the Crimea and, at the time of writing this there are 17 dead and over 40 wounded. Valdislav Roslyakov then killed himself in the college library. His mother was a nurse at the local hospital, treating the victims of the shooting without knowing if it was her own son whose finger had been on the trigger. As is fairly typical, the perpetrator was said to be unsociable and spent much of his time putting depressing messages on social media.

Anders Breivik

It caught my eye as I was intending to blog about the TV drama I watched last night.  22nd July. It’s about the atrocities of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway. Firstly, the bomb attack on Parliament and then he, a far-right extremist, took guns and ammunition to an island, Utoya, where some teenagers were on a Workers' Youth League summer camp. Eight died in the explosion, sixty nine on the island. The total injured was over three hundred and twenty. He was sentenced to 21 years' preventive detention.
It’s uneasy viewing, but very low key on the horror of the situation. The emotional hook was the boy who Breivik shot seven times but survived.  He’s on record as stating that Breivik looked at him, ready to shoot him again, then walked away. The boy believes his Aryan looks made his assailant think twice.  In the drama, we see his parents go through all the emotions. They find one son alive, the other is unaccounted for. Then they find him at the hospital, fighting for his life.

What does come across is the dignity of the Norwegian people, ‘we shall not react down the barrel of a gun but by the due process of law.’
The drama was heavy on fact, light on horror. The events are allowed to unravel and tell their own story. I have also seen Elephant, the film based on the Columbine School massacre. It’s also hard watching, but the story is there.  Yet I suspect there would be outrage if something similar was made about Thomas Hamilton and the events at Dunblane Primary School. Is that a matter of emotional distance?

I was doing an event last week and was asked if there was anything that I wouldn’t write about. The answer is I wouldn’t write about something that is recognisably true. I am uneasy about a dramatized version of real life events. Especially if there are no survivors.
And I’ve read books (well half read them as I tend to fling them against the window) where the events are basically a real-life crime where real people died with the names changed and little more. Sometimes they are so close to a well-publicised case, I can tell how it ends. It ends exactly the same way the real life version ended.

The last two books which have won the McIlvanney Scottish Crime book if the year are both based on ‘real ‘events.  One based on the Peter Manual killings, the other on the Bible John case. Both cases are recent enough to be in living memory of victim’s relatives.
                                                           Simon Toyne 
Simon Toyne has a programme Written In Blood, were he walks a crime writer through the case that inspired the book. Sometimes the word ‘inspired’ is accurate. There is very little correlation between the real life crime and the fiction that comes out at the end of the process. In other cases, it is far too close, for me, to be comfortable and I can't help but sniff profiteering at somebody else’s misery.
One book was Alex Marwood’s Wicked Girls, inspired by the case of James Bulger in 1993. This was the two year old boy that was led out a shopping mall by two older boys, along a towpath and eventually killed by them. For all kinds of reasons, it was a horrific and unforgettable crime. Thompson and Venables were only ten years old at the time of their crime.
                                            The film that shows the two year old being led away

The boys were released, their sentences short (in English law ) due to their age. One is back in jail for possession of child porn,  the other lives under an assumed name.  They have been ‘outed’ by the press a few times, their locations made public, gag orders have been invoked by the courts, people have been prosecuted by citing their supposed whereabouts on social media (in an attempt to cause bodily harm to and the persecution of a totally innocent individual). Alex took that idea, turned the guilty party in to two girls. What would happen if they grew up to be respectable mums themselves. Time moves on, they have served their sentence, they have new identities in every sense. Then somebody finds out who they are.

A lot of what ifs.

The story is far removed from the real life case that inspired it. And I could see my own imagination taking that story as a baton, then running a fair way with it before committing a fictional spin off to paper.

What would his mother feel like, picking up a paperback and reading something she recognised?

I was once asked to read a book which was a fictionalised account of Britain’s most famous female child killer, Myra Hindley.  Hindley died in jail in 2002 without ever gaining her freedom. The book starts off with the premise that she gets out with a new identity. The story of her death was faked. The character in the book has the same name as the killer, it’s in the title. She has plastic surgery, a new face, a new body, and moves far up the social structure.

                                                Myra Hindley

It was the kind of book that made me want to wash my hands after I had finished it.
It doesn’t sensationalise what she did. Myra comes across as a rather pathetic, unremorseful character. The book is well written, and the story comes across as not a far fetched as it may sound.  But it would, in my opinion,  have been so much more acceptable if the main character had not been called Myra Hindley. Or if the title of the book had not used that name, or the name of the famous landscape they used as a disposal site.

But then it was nominated for a few awards so what do I know.
I’m interviewing two crime fiction writing journalists at Grantown’s wee crime writing festival. I think the blurred lines of fact into fiction might come up in conversation.

19 10 2018

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Natural instinct and the windscreen phenomenon revisited

Michael - Thursday

This wasn’t meant to be a rant, but I did feel my blood pressure go up when I read the transcript of the president’s interview with Associated Press yesterday. Here’s the piece that upset me (among others, but this is the relevant one):

"Scientists say this [climate change] is nearing a point where this can’t be reversed,” the AP reporters said to Trump.
“No, no,” he replied. “Some say that, and some say differently. I mean, you have scientists on both sides of it. My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”

Okay, so let’s digest this. The president had an uncle who was a scientist. (He was an electrical engineer at MIT, but he died thirty years ago so it’s not too surprising that Trump didn’t discuss climate change with him.) He goes on to claim that he has “a natural instinct for science”. Well, the bad news is that science is not always intuitive. Sometimes it’s counterintuitive. It’s not something that works on the basis of who your relatives are. Certainly, you may have an aptitude for it, but it’s 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Come on. General relativity intuitive? Natural instinct for soft quantum hair around black holes?

Of course, you could say that the president is talking about the more everyday stuff that’s actually important to us. Well, let’s go there. If you swing round a corner fast, you can feel the force pulling your car away from the centre of the bend, right? It’s like when you swing a weight around on a piece of string. It wants to fly away – a force is pulling it away from you, right? It even has a name. Centrifugal force. The only thing is, it doesn’t exist. There is no such force. Newton’s laws of motion explain what’s going on. Not intuitive, then. Not what one’s natural instinct would suggest.

And climate change is the same sort of thing. “Natural instinct” might suggest that we are seeing a normal cycle as in the past. That’s Trump’s argument. Actually, that’s not at all what the evidence suggests – in fact, all the natural explanations fail to explain what’s going on. Here’s a really good link to see a graphical summary of that evidence by NASA people who actually put in the 90% of work instead of relying on the 10% of natural instinct. 

And the mathematics is complicated and predicts chaotic behaviour. (I talked about that here.) It does not, for example, imply that we will experience stronger and stronger hurricanes. (Trump pointed out that a much stronger hurricane than e.g. Michael was recorded in the nineteenth century. True, but totally irrelevant.) It implies that we will have less predictable and more extreme weather. Anyone notice any of that recently?

It seems that Trump’s natural instinct has led him to the wrong conclusion, as natural instinct so often does in science.

El Yunque National Forest
So much for the rant. I actually wanted to talk about an update on the windscreen phenomenon. I blogged about that before here. Briefly, it’s the observation that when you drive over some distance these days, you find less bugs squashed on the windscreen than you used to – the suggestion being that we are seeing a die off of insects. There are a variety of explanations for this “bug apocalypse” as someone called it. Among the most obvious are loss of habitat, insecticides, and pollutants.

But a new study has trumped what’s been done in Europe, and it was reported in The Washington Post under the heading: Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss. The new study took place in a pristine rain forest in Puerto Rico – El Yunque. It’s been a protected area since the king of Spain claimed it as his private preserve in the nineteenth century. So it seems that loss of habitat isn’t an issue. At 28,000 acres, and situated on mountain slopes, the area is at least reasonably protected from chemical impact. Also, the use of insecticides in Puerto Rica has declined by 80% since 1969.

The study by a team of biologists was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy. In the seventies, they recorded a detailed inventory of the populations of insects, birds and animals in the forest. They returned forty years later (but before last year’s hurricanes) and found an almost 50% decline in the insect populations. Everything was down – butterflies, bees, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders… Some were worse off than others – ground insects measured had decreased 60 fold in biomass.

Ruddy quail dove
There were corresponding declines in the numbers of insect predators – bird and animal – but it was variable. The population of the ruddy quail dove was the same as before. The colourful Puero Rican tody had declined by 90%. The former eats seeds and fruits, the latter eats insects.

So what’s going on? Here are a few clues. The average temperature of the forest has increased by 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the forty years. Insects can’t regulate their body heat, and above a certain point they don’t reproduce. A recent paper in Science on the effects on insects of climate change predicted a decrease in tropical insect populations. An analytic technique applied by the authors of the study to six specific populations produced strong support for a correlation between temperature increase and population decrease in five of the six populations.

Puero Rican tody

And the rain forest itself? So far it looks pretty good. But most plants rely on insects for pollination. If the insects go, the whole system will inevitably collapse. May as well stop worrying about that illegal logging in South America.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

heat wave in Paris and too much fun in Penelope's bookstore

At the cafe today someone was saying it's the hottest October in 75 years. It's almost 80 every afternoon...not complaining but the trees on the boulevards seem confused. Their leaves are crinkling brown and orange but some have green leaves on top.
I felt like hopping off the bus and jumping in the fountain at Saint Sulpice.
Instead I hung out with Penelope Fletcher who has opened her Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore (formerly in the Marais) bordering the Jardins du Luxembourg. 

Here she is with Bruce, her pal and Canadian publisher who just came from the Frankfurt book Fair. 
 We all had lunch next door and who's sitting in the cafe but my fave French actress Sandrine Kimberlain ! I shamelessly asked for a photo and she graciously agreed! No shame is my motto!
Back in the Red Wheelbarrow 
Caroline, a documentary film maker joined us!
Cara - Tuesday 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Yankee Vagabond - Redux

Annamaria, On the Road Again

It's Sunday in San Francisco as a prepare to fly and join Susan in Japan.  I am over the moon about this trip.  If you haven't read her blog from yesterday, please do.  For one thing, it will tell you exactly why--of all my travel--this trip is super special.  I confess that today I can barely sit still long enough to repost one of my most heartfelt blogs of the past, which tells how I got to be a vagabond.  It is from four years ago this month.  I find it curious that it mentions two of the reasons Japan holds a special fascination for me.  I have never toured there before, only visited on business trips.  And I am about to go and be there in the most privileged possible circumstances--with Susan as my guide and companion.   There are times in my life that I can hardly believe I am me.  This is one of them.  I started out as the kid you see below!

Having had a chance recently to exercise by vagabond nature, I have been thinking about where it came from.

It may genetic.  It certainly feels as if it is coming from every cell in my body.  If I wasn’t born with a wanderlust, I acquired one so shortly thereafter that I cannot remember a time when I didn’t long to hit the road—to see the world. Not to vacation.  To travel.

A book and a few pieces of music stirred these longings when I was very young.

As a child, most of what I read came from the nearby public library, but the one book we had a home—called the Wonder Book of Knowledge as I recall—had everything to fire a child’s imagination.  A huge volume, with a blue linen cover, at least five inches thick, it contained an encyclopedia, a collection of children’s stories, brain teasers and riddles, glossy pages showing the flags of all nations and birds and animals of the world.  And best of all, an atlas.  My brother and I would lie on the living room floor for hours on end, pouring over the maps.  I especially liked ones that showed small islands off exotic coasts, remote and intriguing.  I would point to a tiny pink speck in the blue ocean off a pale green coast and say, “Imagine going to a place like that.”

My brother and me about the time the bug bit me.

When I was four and five, my father was in China, sent there with a battalion of US Marines who had fought in the Pacific.  They went to accept the Japanese surrender in Tsingtao and were kept on to oversee the repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war.  The letters and cards he sent during his six months there came to us with pictures of people the likes of which I had never seen, but whom I wished I could know.  And I missed my daddy so much that when, during my first week in kindergarten, the teacher asked us “What do you want to do when you grow up?” my answer was, “When I grow up, I am going to go to China.”

The first song I heard that talked of wanderlust was probably the one written by Puccini.  The recording in my house in those days was Caruso’s.  Here is Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition.  The aria is from Madama Butterfly and contains the words “Yankee vagabondo,” the title of this blog.  It begins “Dovunque al mondo”—wherever in the world.  That was where I wanted to go:  wherever in the world, because so many far off places promised to be fascinating, filled with wonders.  Listen carefully and you will hear the magic word:  L’aventura!

In my very early years, our big Philco radio broadcast songs that fanned those flames of intrigue.  Songs whose lyrics attached specific destinations to my longing for the far away.  Here are a couple of big hits from the 40’s with words I learned by heart without effort before I was eight years old, since I heard them so often and they spoke to my soul:

Maps and music formed an important part of who I became and still am—a creature who longs to be on the move.

When I was leaving for my recent trip to Africa, people I know voiced dire warnings—of Ebola, of terrorists, of the everyday slings and arrows of being alone in a foreign land.   They tried to talk me out of going.  But I know who I am.  So I went, and I would not have missed it for anything.

We are all going to die of something.  If I could have my choice, rather than die quietly in a hospital with a tube up my nose, rather than the security of going nowhere, I would choose to die of adventure.

Annamaria - Monday

Sunday, October 14, 2018

From Snow to Snow - and Mountains Full of Lessons On The Way

--Susan, every other Sunday

On May 14, 2018, two weeks after completing chemotherapy for breast cancer, I moved to Japan to face my fears by climbing 100 mountains in one year.

Me, May 2018 - two weeks after finishing four months of dose-dense chemotherapy.

Shortly after my arrival, I set out on the grand adventure, leaving home at 5 am to climb my first summit: Mt. Akagi, a day trip from Tokyo.

Yes, it was still dark out when I left that first morning. So eager. So naiive...

That day, I learned an important lesson: I am capable of climbing mountains. (A fact that remained somewhat up in the air before I actually started this adventure, despite its relative importance to the ultimate success of my hiking plans.)

Shortly thereafter, I left for the northern Tohoku region of Honshu, Japan's main island, where I discovered that May is still "snow on the peaks" season in much of Japan. I also discovered that vertical, snow-covered slopes are slippery and absolutely terrifying.

It doesn't show well in the photo, but this slope - on the final rise to Mt. Hakkoda's highest peak -  is extremely steep.

I reminded myself I had trained for this. I broke through the paralysis of fear. I made the summit.

Lesson learned: it is possible to push through choking fear.

And learned not a moment too soon, because the next two mountains also featured quite a bit of snow. (But with admittedly less "steep" in the snowy bits.)

Snow on Hachimantai.
By the time the thaw arrived at the upper altitudes, I'd made my peace with snow . . . and discovered rocks.

The road to Mordor runs through northern Honshu.

Another lesson learned - this one somewhat obvious, in retrospect: Mountains are made of rocks. You'll have to climb them.

While becoming one with the boulders and pebbles, I also learned that Japanese summers are the playground of the largest, and loudest, cicadas known to man (or woman).

Bug. With hiking boot for scale. In the tree, it sounds ten times this size.
Fortunately, I like cicadas (at least, when they stick to the trees and not to my backpack). And not too long thereafter I had the chance to hike with something else I like:

My family and friends, who joined me in mid-July for an overnight ascent of Japan's highest and most famous peak: Mt. Fuji.

Team Fuji 2018.

The lesson here? Climbing alone is good for meditation and mental health, but climbing with friends and family gives you someone with whom to share your joy.

No visit lasts forever, but mountains do, so after my family went home I returned to the wilderness, learning more important lessons like, "don't eat raisins on the summit, because the nearest bathroom is still at least two hours away," and "this might not be a good place to drop your hiking pole." (Spoiler alert: I didn't drop it.)

When I arrived, two young guys were jumping up and down and shooting "aerial" photos at the end of this ledge.            No, they didn't take the short way down.

I also learned that butterflies like the taste of human sweat. Which is awesome, because it causes butterflies to land on your hands when you're hiking.

mmmm....tasty salty human...

It's also pretty gross, if you consider it too long.

By the time September rolled around, I'd climbed just over 20 peaks, most of them well over 1,500 meters high. With a little experience - and many lessons - behind me, I headed over a thousand kilometers north, to the island of Hokkaido, where I met an amazing trio of guides from Hokkaido Nature Tours who hiked with me on six of Hokkaido's hyakumeizan peaks.

I climbed six mountains in eleven days - a personal record - in which I also learned more about myself, and about hiking, than in all twenty-plus mountains that went before.

With Ido, one of my guides from Hokkaido Nature Tours

I also made three great new friends (four if you count Hokkaido itself, as well), who I hope to see again as soon as possible.

After leaving my guides, I made a solo ascent of Mt. Asahi - Hokkaido's highest peak - arriving on the summit on a spectacular, temperate day two days after the mountain had its first real snowfall of the year.

On the summit of Asahidake, Hokkaido, Japan

I've now officially climbed through all four seasons, from snow to snow.

Fortunately, autumn is only now arriving in most of Japan, and I still have a couple of beautiful months of hiking ahead before the snow begins in earnest.

icicles on Mt. Asahi.

With 67 mountains left to climb before next May, I suspect I also have a lot of lessons yet to learn.

The next time my post here at MIE rolls around, I'll be in the mountains once again - but I won't be climbing solo. Annamaria Alfieri arrives in Tokyo next Thursday, for two weeks of adventure, history, and shenanigans - some of which, we may even share with you here at MIE!

Jokes aside, it surprises me just how much I've learned about myself, and life, in these high mountains.

Early morning, on the summit of Mount Fuji

From profound to profane, and silly to sacred, the mountains have as much to teach as we have the capacity to learn, and then some. I can't wait to see where they take me in the months to come.

Sunset on the Sea of Okhotsk, Shiretoko Peninsula, Hokkaido.

And I hope, if you can, you get out in nature, and listen to its lessons, too.