東熊野街道 Eastern Kumano Road

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東熊野街道

雪が一層地面に残るが、なかなか積もらない短期間である。たまに薄いかけらのような雪が空に現れ、「降っている」と言うより、「浮いている」の方に感じる。そういうものがなかなか積もらないが、僕らの足の踏み場に白い薄膜を残す。
今朝、川上村の南極にあるもっとも上流の集落、伯母谷、から3人で山を歩き始めた。「山」という単語は「登山」のイメージを残すかもしれないが、最初と最後の階段を別にして、今日のルートは本当に「歩く」コースであった。この道は京都と大阪を熊野三山へ導く熊野街道の一部、「東熊野街道」と呼ばれている。正式の東熊野街道は国道169号線であるが、平安時代から参詣に利用されたこの道を国道の先輩であるという。
僕らは枝を拾って投げながら、汗をかけずにしっかり歩き続けた。鹿の糞と足跡を見ても驚かなかったが、丸太を登った猿の足跡が雪に綺麗に残った。「簡単に歩けるのに、どうしてわざわざこの丸太を登っただろう」と3人で話し合った。しかし、結局、人間も同じようなことをするであろう。僕は油断せずに細い道、短い梯子橋をゆっくり歩いた。後の二人は足元の霜柱や苔を見つけて盛り上がった。
道は山の上へだんだん続き、僕らを神社へ導いた。お辞儀して鳥居を通ってから、僕らは山の上の長い参道を歩いた。背が高くて分厚い木が参道に沿って本殿まで続いたが、山の風がその木を通って僕の頬を容赦なく冷やした。風の音が大きくて、苔の名前を相手に3回言ってもらっても、なかなか聞き取れないほどであった。やっと本殿に着いたら、大きな枝が割れて屋根の上に休んでいた。風が前より弱くなり、日当たりも良くなった。
神社の隣の楓を通り、雪に落ちた紅葉を見つけた。下り道にも霜柱や苔があって、また二人をわいわいさせた。谷の下から山の上まで杉と檜の木が育ち、僕らは道に落ちた枝をたまに拾って投げた。大迫から柏木に近づきながら、地面が白から茶色に変わり、大峰山からの道と合流した。日当たりがよくてもまだ寒かった。杉も檜もない空き地でユズリハが群れて陽光を浴びていた。山道から神社を通り、最後に急な階段を下り、待望の温かい飲み物に近づいた。

Eastern Kumano Road

  It’s that short period when snow is just a thin layer on the ground, never quite building up. Every so often thin fragments of snow appear in the sky, feeling as if they are simply “floating” rather than “falling”. It’s that kind of snow that never quite builds up but leaves a thin, white film everywhere we step.
  This morning, the three of us started into the mountains from Obatani, the farthest upstream and southern tip of Kawakami Village. The word “mountain” might conjure up images of “mountain climbing”, but making an exception for the stairs at the beginning and end of our day, today’s route was really more of a walking course than anything. Known as the Eastern Kumano Road, this path is a part of the historical Kumano Road which leads travelers from Kyoto to Osaka and all the way the three major shrines in the mountains of Kumano. The official Eastern Kumano Road is Nat. Hwy 169, but this path is said to be its senior, having been used for pilgrimages since the Heian Period (794-1185 AD).
   We walked at a steady pace without breaking a sweat, picking up fallen branches and tossing them to the side. We weren’t surprised to see deer poop or tracks, but the footprints of a monkey who had climbed up a log were left beautifully in the snow. “The monkey could have easily walked up the hill, so why did it go through the trouble of climbing up the log?” the three of us discussed. However, eventually, perhaps some of us humans end up doing similar things. Careful not to be overconfident, I slowly walked along the narrow path and over the short ladder bridges. The other two would stop in wonder when they found frost columns and unique kinds of moss along the way.
  The path gradually continued up the mountain and lead us to a shrine. After bowing and passing through the gate, we walked the long approach to the shrine along the top of the mountain. Tall, thick trees lined the path all the way to the shrine, but the mountain winds passed through them relentlessly freezing our cheeks. It was loud, so much so that three times, I couldn’t hear the name of a kind of moss that one of the others tried to tell me. When we finally reached the shrine, a large branch had broken and was resting on its roof. The wind quieted down, and the area had a good amount of sunlight.
   We passed by a maple tree next to the shrine and found a red leaf that had fallen in the snow. The road heading down once again had many frost columns and varieties of moss, exciting the other two. Japanese cedars and cypresses grew from the bottom of the valley to the top of the mountain, and every now and then we’d pick up a fallen branch and toss it aside. As we neared Kashiwagi from Osako, the ground went from white to brown, and we merged with the path heading down from Mt. Omine. It was still cold, even if some sunlight got through. There was an open space without Japanese cedars or cypresses, in which a group of yuzuriha trees were taking in their share of sunshine. We passed through a shrine from the mountain path, finally climbed down the set of steep steps, and were a little closer to a long-awaited warm drink.

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