“Look! A xenolith!”
Mr. Sasaki’s video camera followed me as I gesticulated over the tilted face of a granite boulder. A low mound of smoother dark grey rock stood out from the rough mineral matrix of the granite. We were above the forest line and exposed granite boulders sat on every peak and cropped out from the mountainsides. We had come to a rest at one such nest of giant stone eggs at a saddle between two lesser peaks.
“You can see this dark rock is different from the granite rock surrounding it,” I explained enthusiastically. “When the bubble of magma swelled up bellow the crust, the existing rock above it probably broke off in pieces and fell into the cooling magma. It makes sense that we should see this at the top of the island if the granite here was at the top end of the intrusion. So, this is a xenolith, a word from old Greek where ‘xeno’ means foreign and ‘lith’ means rock. So this is a foreign rock.”
I was sure Mr. Hatanaka would say something about me blabbering on about the rocks again, but I was back in college geology class and on a field trip to Caulfield Park in North Vancouver where a xenolith had shown up unmistakably in the white granite rock and our professor had pointed it out and explained about it. I took a photograph and he remarked that I was more interested in taking pictures than notes. If only he knew that 24 years later I still remembered very well some of the things he had said. I took a photograph here on Yakushima as well and I was later to be surprised to see my little lecture on geology – albeit a truncated version – was to be used in the program long with the photograph.
From the saddle here we would follow a relatively easy path through bamboo grass as it rounded mountainsides, dipped into small valleys, and climbed up to the ridges. The sky remained clear overhead and the wind was only a pleasant breeze. The sun continued to beat down, and though the air temperature was very comfortable the intensity of the sunlight meant it was time for a hat and sunscreen.
Mr. Hatanaka and the others went ahead and up the mountainside a little. Kikuchi-san and I waited, spying a deer on a nearby ridge, silhouetted against the sky. When given the OK, we clambered down from the boulders and walked through a parted sea of bamboo grass. Above our heads, Mr. Sato’s helicopter camera buzzed and whirred. We walked about 50 metres and then were asked to go back and do it again. We walked this same stretch about three times while Mr. Sato got the shot he was looking for. This exercise would repeat again on another stretch where we would have to retrace our steps four times until the right scene had been captured. The shots were to be aerial views of Kikuchi-san and I as we hiked along the mountain trail with the sub-alpine scenery spreading out around us.
After some time, we came to rest at a tired out stream where colourful vegetation stood out from the uniform pastel green of the bamboo grass. The question of water was raised but Kikuchi-san said there were two spots coming up shortly where we could refill our bottles. By now the summit of Miyanouradake loomed in the distance and we knew the final leg of the ascent would be a real ascent, climbing up a steep path and leaving this easy-breezy ridge routes behind.
We came to the water spots but there was no babbling stream or burbling spring. Water came as a trickle in both places. Kikuchi-san expressed that his concerns had been realized. Since the end of the rainy season a couple of weeks prior, Yakushima had been deprived of its famous rains. The springs were reduced to a miserly output. It took perhaps nearly a minute to fill up a 250ml bottle and there were ten of us with thirsts to quench. We refilled, drank, and refilled again. One of our guys was later to remark that he realized the value of water after this hike.
Now we embarked on the final leg of our climb. I had not carried my pack up a mountain for three years but felt no less challenged than usual. Still, I huffed and puffed up the path, all the while being wary of the video camera behind me and knowing that whenever we paused it was likely to be raised and pointed at me. Later when we viewed some of the footage from our hike, I saw myself panting and with infrequent smiles.
Then at last we made it up to the summit. Kikuchi-san offered a handshake and I soon shrugged off my heavy pack. The view was truly spectacular. Most prominent was the next mountain and second highest on the island, Nagatadake – 1,886 metres. Then we had all the other high peaks of the interior and views to the lower peaks of the coastal mountains. Out in the ocean we were able to see Tanegajima, a fairly flat island in contrast with mountainous Yakushima and where a rocket would launch in two days time; Kuchierabushima and the volcanic island of Satsuma Iwojima along with its neighbour Takeshima, and the southern tip of Kyushu with the miniature Mt. Fuji, Kaimondake under a cap of clouds. We would also be able to make out Sakurajima – Japan’s most active volcano – as the clouds shifted during the afternoon.
On the summit, Kikuchi-san explained about the genesis of Yakushima and I translated for the camera. We visited a shrine built in between two huge granite boulders and Kikuchi-san explained about the history of takemaeri – a traditional practice of the old villagers of visiting the local mountains to pray to the gods. I had some time to shoot both with the DSLR and the 35mm. But then it came down to lunch or the 6×7. I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet and had only munched on a few snacks during rests. I reluctantly chose to eat a meal, knowing I needed one, and sure enough, before I was even finished eating came the announcement that we would begin descending to our camp in ten minutes. My medium format camera would have to wait.
The hike down was even more beautiful than the hike up, partly because we had stunning views of Miyanouradake and Nagatadake much of the way before we re-entered the forest, and also because the sun was moving into late afternoon position and the light was getting better and better. On the way through the sub-alpine sea of bamboo grass, we encountered more deer and another monkey who were up lazily enjoying the fine weather and plentiful food supply. At one point I also found a dyke of non-granite – a point where the granite intrusion had cracked and molten material had filled in the gap, cooling to become another rock-type.
The last couple of kilometres through the forest were the hardest for me. I was becoming very tired and needed a short moment for distraction, meaning a pause for photography. I continued to catch sight of little vignettes of forest beauty with evening sunlight adding a soft warm glow. How I ached to take off my pack, set up the tripod, and shoot a few frames. But we always had to press on. My toes felt swollen in my boots. My body was feeling the toll of a day of exercise with a pack after three year’s hiatus. The most trying, however, was not being able to stop to capture the beauty. When a view opened up between the trees I paused for a handheld shot but it was not satisfactory. This was not how I photographed nature.
When we finally reached camp there was still daylight. I was glad to be there and out of that mentally fatiguing situation but in the same breath I couldn’t help but think that there had been time for a short stop or two.