Monday, July 21, 2014

33. 鷹乃学習: "Hawk Chicks Learn"

(BGM: "Learning To Fly" by Pink Floyd)

Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing 
晩夏, Banka: "Late Summer"
Season No. 11: 小暑: Shousho
"Minor Heat"

Climate No. 33: 鷹乃学習
Taka Sunawachi Waza Wo Nasu
"Hawk Chicks Learn"
(July 17 -July 21)

Photo: Public Domain Images
"Now that eyes of hawks
   In dusky night are darkened
      Chirping of the quails."  
                     -Matsuo Basho

I've been lucky enough to catch glimpses of northern goshawks (Jpn: 大鷹 ohtaka) five times so far, mostly in Shiga Prefecture. They swoop viciously from their tree post straight down into the water, grasp their wriggling prey in sharp, strong talons and somehow haul both fish and their own girth back out to rise up into the sky again. Incredible!

In feudal days, many samurai engaged in hawking (Jpn: 鷹狩り, takagari) as a hobby and symbol of status, employing techniques learned from neighboring Korea and China. Over the centuries, the goshawk has remained a revered symbol of strength, authority and power, though hawking in Japan was restricted many times throughout the country's history.

A trained black kite awaits a treat (Yoshino River Cruise, Tokushima).
The shy, elusive goshawk can sometimes be seen hunting along the edges of old forests and natural lakes. Its easier to spot their larger, more prolific cousins, the black kites (Milvus migrans), which tend to gather around boats and barbecues to steal unattended meat and yapping designer puppies, screaming their haunting call as a dinner bell. (Gotta be careful!) Having grown up around plenty of bald eagles, I still find myself checking the skies out of habit when I'm picnicking in the great outdoors. It looks like I need to continue this tradition while I'm here.

Critter Of The Season: カタツムリ, Katatsumuri, Snail

A Phaeohelix cruising down a hydrangea leaf in typhoon rains (Tone, Ibaraki, 2006).
A lifeform adored in one country can be abhorred in another. Take for instance the giant huntsman's spider: American women will, more often than not, panic when they see one, yet a Japanese baa-chan (granny) might welcome it as a house guardian. Chalk it up to cultural differences in thinking.

Slugs and snails are a pest where I come from. We're told to avoid them and never handle them for the bacteria they can carry. Yet in Japan, children are picking up and playing with these slimy, oozing mollusks with reckless abandon. Here, the land snail is a gentle symbol of the rainy season, celebrated in artwork, crafts and children's songs. As for adults, at some higher-end salons and beauty clinics, snails are busy crawling over womens' faces! (I can hear all my friends back home right now going "eeeeew!"). In my life, I've handled all sorts of creepy crawlies and the idea of snails crawling over my face sounds more soothing than a round of Botox.

"Bradybaena" (c) 2014 Genkilee, Gen, All Rights Reserved.
The bane of serious gardeners, land snails chew up and destroy the plants and vegetables people work so hard to cultivate. But culturally, they're a reminder of sweet slowness, something we need much more of in our busy lives. I noticed this tiny Bradybaena only one centimeter wide, browsing on a thistle right after the final rains of tsuyu finished falling to the ground. Dreading the killer heat that looms just days away, I sorrowfully, yet gratefully, watched this shimmering snail glide ever-so-slowly across his meal and just took a moment to savor the cool
mist while it still floated around us. I stood there spellbound, studying carefully as one tiny crystalline eye extended out from an indescript gelatinous mass, followed by the other. Every movement the snail made was like a meditation. May I learn to savor my own meals with such delicacy and patience!

Taste Of The Season: 素麺, Soumen, Somen Noodles

A generous bowl of cold somen at Junsei Restaurant near Nanzenji Temple (Kyoto, 2002)
We were given a beautiful box of somen noodles (handmade in Hyogo Prefecture) for an o-chugen present. Feather light and silky smooth when cooked, these pure white wheat noodles are excellent served on a bed of ice and dipped in a cold dashi broth.

Famous Ibo-no-ito somen from Hyogo Prefecture.
My favorite way of using these noodles is actually in an Asian fusion dish: I roll them with cut omelette and veggies in Vietnamese rice paper wraps -my version of fresh spring rolls. Perfect for a light summer dinner!

Fresh spring rolls with lettuce, somen, omelette, carrot, cucumber and bean sprouts, served with Thai sweet chili sauce.
Stay cool. :-)

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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