Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Snake in the Grass

The neighborhood I live in is pretty enough to occasionally inspire a flowery description of one thing or another, and there are even times when you wonder if words can meet the task. The last week of March and first two weeks of April bring hundreds of people to Kugayama, all eager to walk among, admire and photograph the cherry trees which are at the peak of bloom and paint much of the town in the pale pink wash of spring. The Kanda River flows for a good distance through overhanging cherry trees, and wind-scattered blossoms fall to float on its surface, turning the water into a giant squiggle of pink ribbon.

But such is not my story this time. The seasons regularly redraw the neighborhood and the Kanda, and what’s pretty in pink one month will show a different face, put up a different picture the next. So, let me try to convey the scene when nature and people are not in a lyrical mood.

The Kanda River is one of those odd canyon-like city waterways trapped on both sides by high walls serving as flood barriers. Parts of the river are home to dingy gray carp, great fat things that eat almost anything. Mixed in with them are some brown ducks and turtles. More than a few times I have stood leaning over the railing looking down, marveling at the indifference the fish and ducks pay to the litter which decorates and clogs their unnatural habitat. One day I stood gazing into the grainy, half clear water, watching the ducks quack about, splashing and hopping from the water onto a grassy bank, where one or two old Coke or beer cans lay. Half submerged in the middle of the river was a bicycle someone had thrown over the railing and into the water. It was working as a partial dam in the current, and I could see a carp nosing about a plastic bag caught in the spokes.

After a few minutes I spotted a very large snake swimming downstream, headed straight into the schooled carp just below me. Three excited schoolboys on the opposite side ran up and down shouting, scrabbling in the dirt for rocks to throw at what looked like an aodaishô, or common Japanese rat snake.

“Hey, I almost hit ’im on the head!” the oldest of the three screamed with horrible glee.

“No fair! That’s too big. You can’t throw that.” One of the boys had found a stone the size of a brick, and was about to launch it at the snake.

“Oh, yeah? Watch this,” he said, hurling the stone with all his junior might, missing not only the snake, but the water as well.

“What an idiot!” the one in a Metallica T-shirt jeered.

With that they seemed to give up on throwing rocks and contented themselves with merely watching the snake.

It was fast approaching the carp, making a straight line for them, but they ignored the snake as it swam among them, then the snake turned for another of the grass banks coming out from the stone walls. It finally slid out of the oily water and approached a drainage pipe in the wall. Finding that blocked, it settled somewhere in the deep grass, disappearing from sight. I noticed a man opposite me on the other side of the river gripping the rail, knuckles strained white, and a look of pure horror on his face. He stretched out over the water, body bent, his arms fixed in stiff angles to the railing while his eyes bulged and strained to find the vanished snake.

A moment passed, and maintaining his posture over the railing, the man shouted across to me and laughed. “Did you see the snake? It was a snake. He’s down there in the grass.”

“Yeah. I hope he doesn’t decide to climb up here.”

“Yiiiiiiiii! Don’t say that. Don’t say that!” and he laughed again.

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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America