Tuesday, May 13, 2014

20. 蚯蚓出: The Earthworms Emerge"

(BGM: "This Corner Of The Earth" by Jamiroquai)

Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing
 初夏 Shoka: "Early Summer"
Season No. 7: 立夏, Rikka: 
"The Start Of Summer" 

A field of azalea hugs a steep mountainside at Chigo Park (Kure, Hiroshima).
Climate No. 20. 蚯蚓出
Mimizu Deru:
"The Earthworms Emerge"
(May 10 -May 14)

It seems as if the world is on fire. Thousands of acres in the US, Canada and Russia are going up in flames as I write, including my old stomping grounds in Alaska. Unusually warm May temperatures have caused flooding in much of Europe and drought conditions in India. My heart heaves a sigh of great worry.

Yet down here in south central Japan, the skies are blue, calm and forgiving. Any rain that has fallen has been brief and timely. And just as the old Shichijuni-kou calendar predicted, earthworms have chosen this week to crawl out of their earthy beds and risk drying to a crisp in the stinging noon sun.

A lack-lustre pic of an earthworm. Sometimes, the mundane is good for the soul. (Mihara, Hiroshima)
"The early bird gets the worm," or so goes the old saying. Perhaps the early birds already got their worms for the year! Either that or there hasn't been enough rain to make them come out en masse and give me a more impressive photo. So again, this blog post is "for the birds." (Sorry. I can't help it. ;-) But the "week of the earthworm" has been an undeniable season of tested patience for me.

By observing the mood of my blogs, one would incorrectly assume that all is fuzzy bunnies and rainbows in my happy little universe. Not so. Sometimes, Mother Nature is a biotch out to get me, and that was the case this past week. With poisonous snakes attacking my ankles, giant centipedes practically falling into my lap and lethal wasps staring me down on remote mountaintops, I was NOT the happiest camper out there. It's a dog-eat-dog world, with mass death and consumption everywhere. And sometimes, Nature is just downright rude!

Bird Of The Season: ホトトギス, Hototogisu, Lesser Cuckoo

When I first moved to the Chugoku region of Japan, I was delighted to have a break away from the ear-piercing screech of Brown-eared Bulbuls -cute but annoying birds that like to crank up the mic as early as 4:30am, when nobody in their right mind would want to get up.

But Mother Nature wouldn't let me off the hook so easily. One late spring night in Hiroshima at 11:00pm, just as I was about to drift off into Dreamland, I heard this repetitive, irritating high-pitched laughter that sounded like giggling, undulating from the forest two streets behind me. I felt the blood boil in my veins as I contemplated which unlucky neighbor child would be blowing his last funny whistle of the night. But when I learned that it was a birdcall and not a prank, my ruffled feathers smoothed down, annoyance melting swiftly into appreciation. The sound was coming from a Lesser Cuckoo (Cuculus poliocephalus)! Somehow, the idea of being kept awake by a playful cuckoo seemed much better than the early morning torture I'd always suffer at the throat of the thoughtless bulbul, who would strategically choose the laundry pole just outside my bedroom window to perch on and annoy me. (Shooing it away never phased it. It would be back the next morning -pooping on my lawn chair just to spite me).

Anyways (ahem), the Lesser Cuckoo has a long claim to fame in Japan, having been deemed the favorite bird of legendary writer Sei Shonagon and more recently, mentioned in the works of my favorite poet to walk the earth:

"Spring rock azaleas
   Colored by his tears
    Lesser cuckoo."      -Matsuo Basho

A friendly birder from Nagoya spotting cuckoos in Shiga Prefecture.
Far from the threat of extinction, the range of the Lesser Cuckoo spans most of the Eastern Hemisphere, including much of Russia and parts of Africa. Japan is home to several species of cuckoo, including the "classic" Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus, with its iconic, comedic call used for both insults and sound effects), and the Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus saturatus).

The picturesque home of a lucky Oriental Cuckoo (Ohmi Takayama, Shiga)
Cuckoos tend to be highly territorial, perching lone in the same trees year after year. I was fortunate to watch an Oriental Cuckoo circling its territory through the pricey telescopic lens of a birder's professional-grade camera. (Of course, I could only take the photo with my out-dated iPhone).

An Oriental Cuckoo next to a late-blooming plum (Ohmi Takayama, Shiga)
Thinking about bulbuls, hornets and centipedes, I realize that I don't have to like everything out there in the universe. According to science, I even have encoded in my DNA natural aversions to certain tastes, smells and sights! Perhaps the sound of the poor, innocent bulbul is one of them, and that's okay. I don't really judge it as "evil." It's just another creature trying to survive in a harsh world, and in that respect we're two of a kind.

But if there's anything I've come to understand, it's this: the more you learn about something, the quicker the road to acceptance unscrolls before you. Had I not followed up that night-time birdcall with an Internet search, I never would've discovered the delight of hearing my first cuckoo. Without learning about Huntsman Spiders, I never would've found the brevity to use that bathroom last week with one stuck to the wall right behind me. It all makes for cool stories on social media sites, anyways. And one can never have too many of those.

It really does pay to be patient.

Flower Of The Season: つつじ, Tsutsuji, Azalea (Rhododendron)

Vibrant azeleas with blossoms over 3 inches wide (Kure, Hiroshima).
Speaking of deadly, scary things, the lush, exotic and highly toxic azalea (genus Rhododendron) is one of Japan's most prominent cultivated hedge plants, decorating yards and sidewalks of businesses, banks and government buildings in nearly every city. On one of my mountain hikes in Kawajiri, Kure (the place where that snake tried to nip me), my husband and I were stunned speechless at the sight of this dazzling array of lovingly-pruned azaleas spreading out towards the Seto Inland Sea. The colors were so intense in the sunlight that we could see them from several islands away.

Black bumble bees immune to the azelea's highly toxic nectar (Kure, Hiroshima).
Though many decorative trees and shrubs (like hydrangeas and iris) are poisonous, this lovely femme fatale of the flower kingdom is particularly worthy of respect. Only 3 ml of the nectar is enough to cause extreme toxic shock or death. Even honey made from the plant can cause paralysis and convulsions in humans. (I don't think I'll be adding azalea leaves or blossoms to my salad anytime soon).

But they sure are a feast for the eyes! The azaleas are at their best for several weeks starting in mid-May and rapidly begin to drop to the ground by early June. The farther north you go in Japan, the longer your opportunity to see these gorgeous flowers.

Just be careful out there. The world is a pretty wild place! ;-) 

Copyright 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

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