Visiting the neighbours in Nagano

A 70 year old man stopped sipping his sake last night to tell me about bears. He is walking the old Nakasendo alone, doing about 30km of mountainous terrain a day – “just about hard enough”, he said.

He grew up in Hokkaido, big bear country. The nature there is protected by the bears he said; the fear of bears stops people ransacking the woods.

This morning I climbed the hill behind my lodgings looking for a waterfall. Even with a fleece and woolly jumper, it was still cold. The climb followed a fast-flowing stream – good background music.

Signs warned of bears instructing climbers to ‘nokku’ before proceeding. Nokku what? At breakfast the maid had warned me bears were coming out of hibernation. She lent me a bell to ring to warn the bears of my approach. It felt like an alarm clock. Shouldn’t I let them lie in for a little longer?

A squawking red-bodied jay was making a fuss in the fir trees above. Who was it talking to? Me? There were so many fir trees; they like cool and clean air too apparently.

A fresh black dropping lay on the trail in front of me. An animal dropping. “The bears watch us from afar,” the old man had warned me. They would have wondered why I was photographing their turds.

Stepping between green shoots, with each step my shoulders seemed to loosen, lungs opening up to drink the cool clean air. The waterfall was well-worth the climb, white water drizzling over black rocks, its falling threads of water smooth enough to wear.

The photograph doesn’t do it justice. I took a much better one of the turd actually but cannot publish that for copyright reasons.


I did not see a bear although I may have heard one, and I may have photographed one of their turds. I was definitely in their home though, a burglar ringing a bell, a constant tinkle to warn to the owner of my invasion.

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