Sunday, January 6, 2019

Alive and Free - and Halfway / Already Home

--Susan, every other Sunday

On New Year's Eve, I reached the halfway point of my 100 Summits project here in Japan, with a climb of Mt. Tsukuba's twin summits, Nantai (871 m)

On the summit of Mt. Nantai (Number 49.5)

and Nyotai (877m).

And Summit #50 - Mt. Nyotai

Mt. Fuji even got into the act--despite the haze, I spotted her lovely cone rising up from the far end of the Kantō plain. (There's a legendary rivalry between the two mountains, which sit at opposite ends of central Honshu's large, agricultural plain--volcanic Fuji in the south and non-volcanic Tsukuba in the north.)
Hazy Mount Fuji. Look close. She's there.

In Asia, people customarily end the old year, and begin the new, engaging in activities, and eating foods, intended to symbolize the things they want for the new year. Unsurprisingly, health, prosperity, and family/love are high on the list.

The famous Gama-ishi (Frog Rock). Pitch a coin or a stone into its mouth for good luck! 

I chose to spend the last day of 2018 in the mountains because I hope the year to come includes many more mountains, successful climbs, and increasing health and strength.

Tsukuba Shrine, at the base of Mt. Tsukuba, New Year's Eve 2018

I chose to take the gondola down from the summit of Mt. Nyotai because I hope the year to come includes a few shortcuts too.

The climb of Mt. Tsukuba rounded out an even 50 summits since I started this adventure last May. In one sense, that makes me "halfway home," though in truth I've come to realize I was home the day I set the first boot on the base of Mount Akagi--the very first of my 100 climbs.

This is home.

Two weeks ago, while climbing Mount Kintoki in Hakone, I met a Japanese pensioner who has climbed Kintoki-san more than 200 times in the last five years. On the day we met, he was climbing in a parka, hiking boots with gaiters, and a pair of white shorts short enough to make Freddie Mercury blush.

The trail to Mt. Kintoki

We encountered one another about 30 minutes below the summit--I was ascending, he, descending--and he stopped to chat, so I stopped as well. (A fairly common occurrence in the mountains of Japan, even when you're not a foreigner.) He asked if I had climbed Mt. Fuji--who was looking down upon us at the time--and when he learned I had climbed the Fujinomiya Trail, he encouraged me to go back again and climb the longer Gotemba Trail too.

Mt. Fuji from the Kintoki Trail

(There is a proverb in Japan that says "Only a fool climbs Fuji twice." I suspect I am a fool.)

We talked about mountains, and hiking, and his hundreds of ascents of Mt. Kintoki - and then, just as the conversation ended and we prepared to continue on our way, he made a comment--out of the blue--that will remain with me as long as I live.

"I am not rich, but I am alive and free."

He spoke this truth as if it encompassed everything a person needs - the key to his joy, and the reason why he climbs.

As soon as he said it, he continued down the mountain.

And I continued up it, pondering the magical reality of those words.

Because this is why I climb as well.

In the mountains, I can focus on the air in my lungs, the sounds of trees and birdsong in my ears, and the earth beneath my feet. They offer room enough to think, to breathe, to be.

Each one of us needs a place that makes us feel alive and free. A place where our souls unfurl and our thoughts and dreams can soar.

A thinking place.

For me--as for that scarlet-gaitered, booty-shorted Japanese pensioner--the place is on a mountaintop. But I hope that you have a place like that as well--in the mountains or elsewhere--and that you find a way to go there often, even if it's just inside your head.

My 2019 wish for each of you (and myself as well) is peace, health, joy, and many, many opportunities to celebrate the fact that we are all alive and free.  

Happy New Year - and may your days be filled with joy and light.


  1. Another wonderful post taking us with you to the mountains, Susan. And the pensioner's parting remark is clearly right for that last day wish. Everything of the best for 2019!

    1. Thank you Michael!! Best wishes for a wonderful 2019 to you too!

  2. Thank you, Susan. Lovely and straight to the heart.

  3. Happy New Year, my love, and thank you for a new life to live by motto to tattoo on the insides of my eyelids.

    1. Happy New Year Jeff! Please give Barbara my love and best wishes also. And yes - it's my new motto too.

  4. Dearest, How wonderful! Your achievement of the 50% mark and your willingness to share with us the lessons you are learning. I am alive and free—not to be in one place, but to wander the globe and find new places and new people. How blessed I am that I had the chance to be there with you and to continue to be there vicariously. I wish you many blessings. You are a blessing to me.

    1. You are such a blessing to me also, Annamaria. I'm so glad you are alive and free to wander the globe - and I'm looking forward to wandering more of it with you in the years to come.

  5. Say when and where, Susan. I’ll be there!