Mii-dera 三井寺 to Ishiyamadera Eki 石山寺駅

Near Nagara Koen is a small temple dedicated to Fudo-myo. It has a bizarre layout, with a covered path that leads behind a waterfall to a small cave where a few statues of the deity stand. I crane my neck out to wet my head, already sweaty from the heat of a sun shining in the flawless blue of a post-typhoon sky. Thus purified, Miki and I rejoin the Shizen Hodo. Our gentle climb to ridge is accompanied by the rhythm of a taiko being played somewhere through the trees. The contours of Lake Biwa's eastern shore are easy to make out in this clear air. We descend again, to find a small shrine. We sit here awhile, the taste of our trail mix sullied somewhat by the smell of burning meat wafting up from a restaurant somewhere below us. We cross a skybridge high above a well-trafficked Rte 1. Then the stairs begin. I've mentioned before how lucky we've been not to have had to ascend some of the steeper sets we've come across, mere coincidence based on our choice of direction. Today our luck runs out. Each step is spaced a little wider than a normal stride, which means wearily lifting the thigh to a height where we're nearly goosestepping. Yet they give an alternative to a long climb up trails made wet and slippery after heavy rain. The stairs seem to have been built relatively recently, and the smell of cedar accompanys each step. Unfortunately, they seem to cover each of Otowa-san's 593 meters and over an hour later we're still climbing them. Near the top, the trail levels out to cut through kumagusa, and our fatigue immediately vanishes with the worry of an accidental encounter with a bear foraging before a long nap. On the peak, there is a clearing which offers fine views of Kyoto in the distance, but it lies under a series of electrical towers crackling and buzzing high above. A den of boy scouts has already taken up most of this clearing, and none of the adult scoutmasters seems prepared to return a polite greeting. After a quick look at the scenery, we move off the peak, to find a quiet lunch spot just off the trail further down. The descent is far gentler than the climb, taking us through sections of forest unique in that they aren't choked with the usual monoculture of sugi. At one point, I could actually be back in New Mexico, walking over reddish clay beneath short pines. Other places are of a more Alaskan tinge, the forest floor lush with ferns. The trail takes us alongside a creek for awhile, before passing between a series of small ponds. Wires cross-cross some of them in order to protect the carp from scavenging kites. It isn't too long before we reach a village, where a couple of old men rest beside cameras that have been aimed at the ridges above. A month ago, somebody built a small park here, all ropes and logs. We linger awhile to swing and climb, then doze a bit in a hammock, under a tree canopy high above, the tall boughs stealing kisses as they waltz in the breeze. Moving on through houses growing more consistent. A long flight of steps leads up to Basho's hermitage of Genju-an, where we sit and pen hasty haiku.

Not even autumn winds

Can lift heavy legs

Up Genju-an's steep steps

Walking back down the hill over damp mossy concrete is like walking on ice. Below, we encounter heavier suburbs, and soon the trail markers peter out. We are directed across the grounds of a high school, and eventually find Ishiyama-dera's train station past flimsy trophies of newly acquired wealth.

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