Monthly Archives: February 2015

Climb Every Mountain

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Fuji
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Fuji

Back in August of 1991, I joined thousands of people to make the overnight climb to the summit of Mt. Fuji (12,389 feet) to witness the sunrise. Our family was living in Japan at the time because JT Hume was stationed with the United States Air Force just outside Tokyo. We took advantage of the opportunity by attending traditional cultural events, sightseeing, and taking our young kids to Tokyo Disneyland several times. As a result, we have wonderful memories of the three years we spent enjoying the Land of the Rising Sun.

The climb up Mt. Fuji is one of my clearest memories of living in Japan. JT made the ascent  the summer before I did and his guidance helped me to have an easier time than he had. In the months prior to that August day, I trained with daily workouts where I walked the neighborhoods of our base housing complex and then climbed eleven flights of stairs in the tower apartments numerous times. When the day came where I finally boarded the  tour bus to the mountain with the rest of our group, I felt as ready as I’d ever be to start my adventure.

The bus dropped us off at the Kawaguchiko 5th Station, about halfway up the Yoshida trail, is at an altitude of about 7500 feet so we only had another 4,844 feet to climb from the time we left the 5th Station at about 9pm until sunrise the next morning. This would be easy.

Boy, was I wrong!

Mt. Fuji is an active volcano that last erupted in the 1700s so the soil is dark, rich, and strewn with boulders and tiny rocks. The Yoshida Trail is the most popular of the climbing routes and thousands of other people were walking along the narrow winding pathways or climbing over rocky spots where I sometimes found myself on my hands and knees. Most of us carried a souvenir climbing stick and the sound of the attached good luck bells mingled with the voices of many climbers chanting “Domo arrigato gozaimashita” (thank you very much) with each step.

Darkness overcame us not too long after we left the 5th Station that evening and soon I found myself alone. All my training hadn’t prepared me for the steepness and rockiness of the trail and I felt like the rest of the climbers must have been part mountain goat in order to move as quickly as they did.

Small stations are positioned at various points along the trail to the summit and my most immediate goal was to just reach the next one. The warmth, light, and companionship in the crowded huts helped ease the fear and loneliness I felt during the long, dark, and lonely spaces in between them. At each stop, I had my walking stick branded, and the scent of the burning wood is one of the things I remember most about that long night.

As the sky lightened with the coming dawn, I hadn’t yet reached the summit, but found myself partway along the highest part of the trail before reaching the top. At this point, the path winds along the iconic cone-shaped portion of the mountain so often covered in snow in the photographs I’d seen; the trail only about four feet wide with a steep drop off to one side and the side of the mountain on the other. The wind came up as the sun rose higher and I found myself looking out over a sea of clouds. None of the mountains nearby are close to the height of Mt. Fuji and were hidden from view so that I felt I might be climbing to the heavens. I clung to the side of the mountain as I continued my ascent for fear of plunging to the unseen ground so far below.

I hadn’t yet reached the worst part of the climb, though. That came when I neared the summit and found myself facing a set of rocky stairs built into the mountainside. My only consolation at this point was that I’d almost reached the top – and that I now had a rope to help me pull myself upward now that my legs were shaking with fatigue.

The rising sun soon chased away the chill of the long hours of the night and I pushed up the sleeves of my windbreaker as I warmed up, a mistake which caused me a blistering sunburn so bad I ended up going to the ER later (and left a mark on my arm I can still see to this day).

In all honesty, I can’t say that I stood on the highest point of Mt. Fuji before I started my descent – that spot was within my view, but I couldn’t bring myself to make the final climb to the little weather station. I reached high enough to visit the Station at the top of the mountain and get my brand burned into my stick, looked down into the caldera, then headed for the Subashiri Trail that would take me back to the waiting bus. The trip up the mountain had taken me about twelve hours, whereas the trail down took three or four, and I spent most of that time surfing the loose reddish soil on my backside while using my walking stick as a rudder.

I reached the blissful air conditioned bus in plenty of time, despite my fear I’d miss it due to the time I’d taken to get up the mountain, and I settled in to relax my aching muscles during the journey to our home base where JT and the kids were waiting for me.

The reason I bring up my experience right now is that I’ve been feeling that writing is very much like my climb up Mt. Fuji all those years ago. Despite all the time I spent preparing to be a self-published author, despite knowing that many others are doing the same thing, the reality of my experience is much different than my expectations. I feel I’m again alone in the darkness at the back of the pack, struggling to reach the next Station, while everyone else is scrambling happily along to reach the summit in time for sunrise – something I didn’t quite achieve, though I got very close. My consolation is that I did get a beautiful view of the rising sun from my place near the top after enjoying the beautiful star-studded skies of the long night before. Even if I never reach what I might consider to be the “pinnacle” of a successful writing career, I have to remember I can enjoy the beautiful view along the way without worrying too much about missing the bus home.

 

Everyday Romance

Valentine’s Day is once again on the horizon. A day for declarations of love, flowers, candies, cards, jewelry, proposals, and weddings. This is a day when some want to enjoy a romantic date: dinner and dancing, a movie, or a weekend getaway. The day also seems to cause irritation or outright panic for anyone trying to create the perfect romantic gesture.

Trying to live up to outrageous expectations on Valentine’s Day isn’t a problem in the Carson/Hume household; we live our love every day of the year. I asked JT today whether he wanted to do anything special for the holiday and then realized I had no ideas of what might be any more special than our normal life. We enjoy meals together all the time, share movie nights in his “dungeon of doom” (otherwise known as our basement), take walks together, go for drives together…well, you get the idea.

Our relationship has been romantic since we met as co-workers at a local fast food restaurant. For our first date, he took me for a steak dinner and then to see Beatlemania at the local university. We had only a handful of outings as a couple before he left for the Air Force, but he managed a surprise visit at Christmas, which led to a New Year’s Day proposal. We married the following June.

Like any couple, we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’ve survived the tough times and enjoy the good ones. In the days before instant and constant communication, we wrote each other notes when we were working different shifts and didn’t get to see each other as often as we’d like. We enjoyed time together at the arcade for video games and cheap hot dogs or saw the occasional bargain matinee when we couldn’t afford anything else. We’ve spent many an anniversary at a Wendy’s somewhere because that’s where we met (even when we lived in Japan and had to take trains to get there). I’ve got kitchen cabinets full of vases from the too-numerous-to-count flowers I’ve been given for birthdays, anniversaries, when I wasn’t feeling well, or just because he stopped off at the store for something else and picked up a bouquet. He also gets me cute cards, chocolates or my favorite ice cream, and other little mementos all the time. Now that we have computers and smart phones, we text and instant message each other whenever we’re apart. He tucks me into bed every night and I see him out the door each morning as we head off to work.

You can see how I’d have trouble trying to come up with something to do for Valentine’s Day. While I enjoy the holiday as much as anyone, I’ve already gotten boxes of chocolates, roses, and cards in the past weeks. We had a quiet breakfast out together just this morning and enjoyed a nice walk in the crisp February air afterward. This past Friday evening we watched Shakespeare in Love, one of our favorite romantic movies. What could be better?

The most special thing I can think of doing for my partner, best friend, better half, and the love of my life, is to let everyone know how much I appreciate him and all he’s done for me over the more than thirty-two years we’ve been married. I’m so thankful that we’ve been able to share our everyday romance for all this time and look forward to many more years of the same.

ValentineHeart

Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Super Groundhog Day Bowl

The Seattle Seahawks may be wishing they’d played their Big Game on Groundhog Day, complete with some of the repetitions Bill Murray faced in the 1993 movie. Who could have predicted the ending of yesterday’s game? The odds and score between the teams were pretty even until the last few minutes. Then came that catch and some dubious decisions…and the New England Patriots took home the Vince Lombardi trophy. I’m not sure either team feels very good about the conclusion of the game; the Seahawks for losing by so few points in such a spectacular fashion and the Patriots for a defeat that some might consider a twist of fate instead of skill and cunning.

An independent author releasing a new book into the world these days might feel a little like the Seahawks after yesterday’s game; despite all the time, planning, writing, editing, rewriting, proofing, re-editing, and formatting, the book often turns out to be a less-than-perfect product. Readers are very good at finding the least little error, too. A switched character name, the wrong use of a word, an unintentional misspelling, and reviews start pouring in saying the book has been poorly edited or proofed and that the writer should have spent more time and effort putting out a cleaner version. The writer, of course, takes these comments with the seriousness of an arrow to the heart and start feeling like they have no skill or talent.

The good news is that modern publishing does provide a chance similar to Bill Murray’s to right what once went wrong (yes, I am a long-time fan of Quantum Leap). An author these days can go back to revise and re-release any of their works, complete with a shiny new cover, whenever they feel the need. Amazon, and perhaps others, will notify readers of the new e-book version and allow them to download the replacement, though physical copies of a work are a whole different game.

So there’s no need to feel like the Seahawks the morning after their difficult Super Bowl loss after releasing a book that’s getting less-than-stellar reviews. Keep your chin up and track reviewer comments in order to make any changes that will make the story read cleaner. Don’t be afraid to go back and make any changes that may have occurred to you after releasing the book, either. Today’s a whole new day…complete with all the chances to fix things available to someone repeating the same Groundhog Day over and over and over again.

BTW…Punxsutawny Phil also predicted another six weeks of winter so that allows us writers plenty of time to work on those summer beach reads!