There is a hill in Inuyama.
I know it says that in the title. I figured I’d repeat it for emphasis. Anyway, there’s a hill. Its beautiful, the whole thing set out as a woodland cemetery, the sun kind of crests it perfectly. There is a pathway that leads up the slope from the east side of the train station, and winds is way up to the crest of the hill where it disappears.
I’m probably going to need to explain this a bit better.
My partner and I went to Inuyama about two years ago. Its not a big place, a couple of hours north of Nagoya by the winding local services. Its high enough into the mountains that winter clings on a few weeks longer than it does on the coast. I had chosen to come here on a whim; the city is mentioned in Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori, and those books have always been favourites of mine. I admit, as we approached, it appears disappointing. The whole place looks like a burned out wreck of partially abandoned light industrial buildings, the shattered remnants of a once working body that all the life has drained away from. And for some parts of the city, that may be true.
But you get off the train, you take the north exit. The wide river greets you, and you follow it down a waterfront walk drawn in a vaguely European style. You take that corner, and everything changes. On arrival we saw a white castle, older than the written history of my country, was flying over a landscape of cherry blossoms and the river darkening like ink in the sunset. The winter wind bites, and turning on to the main street you find that the cars, lights and other trappings of modernity are politely ignored in favour of Edo era facades. We were lucky enough to catch the end of the city festival, purely by accident. It is a beautiful place.
In the twilight, we couldn’t see the detail of the hill I mentioned. That came later.
It was on the morning we left that we were able to really see it. The path over the hill captivated me. I considered taking that walk, but we had a bullet train to get to that would take us to Kyoto. I’ve wondered about it since.
I get the sense that walking over that hill will kill me.
In a kind of narrative sense, it feels like that action carries that finality. I have marked this place, and if I go past it the story ends. Like Enkidu ripping the life from the Bull of Heaven before the gods destroyed him, I can almost smell the weight of fate carried on this place.
And it has come to be reflected again. My partner and I have been traveling in Europe for the last seven months or so, intermittently working in Scotland. Our date of return is confirmed now, and I begin to feel the weight of things left undone. When we had left Australia, we had hoped to go on a Gaudi binge in Spain. To get a taste of Stieg Larsson’s fractured Sweden and its endless aurora riddled winter nights. Hell, we got within miles of Vienna before getting distracted. This is not to say I haven’t enjoyed our time here. I’m just seeing another hill, and wanting to cross it.
You can’t do everything. On a logical level my brain knows this, that the world is just too damn big to see it all in one lifetime. For all that we say we will have another chance to see the places we missed, for some reason it feels like the jig is up. Because once I’m on that plane, Europe as we experienced it will begin changing into something new, and will never be what it was in this time and place.
I have been haunted by a mantra of late, wandering through countries that by all rights seem to be driving themselves into the ground. It always looks like the end of the world from where you’re standing.
And I suppose that encapsulates the feeling. The world is going to be moving on regardless of where I am, and to be honest I am not entirely sure what home is going to look like when I get back there. But I’ve had a rifle around in the old brain box, and I’ve reinforced myself with the idea that I have done this before, and for all the years I accrue I can still adapt and change along with the world. Maybe I’ve been a different person than I was before, in these seven vagrant months, and maybe I’ll put that person in the grave when I step back into Kingsford Smith airport as summer turns to autumn and the world is again turned upside down.
We leave, and maybe Europe will disappear. It might fall to the Russians, or to anarcho-communism in the face of the near sighted idiocy of its corrupt governments. Maybe Tony Abbott’s gleeful curb stomping of the Australian economy will render us forever unemployed on our return, and leave the other side of our planet forever out of our reach, and my partner and I will be forced to live out our days as arse kicking cyberpunk bandits, crushing fascists and their corporate paymasters beneath the wheels of our murdercycles. Maybe these things will happen. But I don’t think it will be any of these things that will kill me.
In a week I will be back on the continent of my birth.
I suppose part of being human is that we so often live beyond the end of the story. The narrative would say that I cross the grand threshold, and that will be that. One day I’m going to front up to that damn hill, or any other hill in Poland or Haiti or bloody Tuggeranong, and I’ll cross the damn thing, Bull of Heaven or no. Maybe I see the other side, and maybe I don’t.
The hills gonna stay right there either way, and the old story is just going to keep on ticking along.
Still not sure if I’m ready to accept that.