Climbing Long’s Peak

Once on a trip to Estes Park, a friend and I camped below Longs Peak (a “fourteener” located in the Rocky Mountain National Park), having decided on the spur of the moment to make the long climb to the top. It was summer, the evening was cool. It is hard to ignore, he snores. He slept in a one man tent, I crosswise and bent in the car. The stars filled the night sky, and the Milky Way rose behind the peak we hoped to climb the next day.

Unprepared, ill-equipped, we didn’t make it all the way, but had a great time. P.S. a better climber started us out, illuminating the pathway with a headlamp that he wisely brought.

a mountain path

Some thoughts:

Too Dark to Read,
To Bed

A fool
Climbs Mt. Long
Not at all

In Darkness,
With trust in the Buddha,
I start, I stumble, I fall

One can ride horses along the trails on the mountainside. When the sun rose, we saw a few horses roaming freely on the range. One horse had only three legs.

A three legged horse
On the mountainside

Climbs better than most

In the Summer Sun
Snow melts, water gathers
A cold stream

There is still snow at the highest elevations, even in July. The summer sun melts the snow forming narrow streams. One often stops to wash the face and hands with the cold water. Then one moves on, admiring a wildflower that grows nearby.

mountain crocus

1685 (year of Jōkyō, 貞享)

The following haiku is from Basho’s Journal of Bleached Bones (Nozarashi Kiko, 野ざらし紀行). This travelogue covered a trip that began in the fall of 1684 and ended the next spring. Basho traveled from Edo to Iga Ueno, his birthplace. After paying respects to his mother who had died the year before, he traveled to Kamigata (an are encompassing Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka). Coming along a mountain path, Matsuo Basho spied a mountain violet (sumiregusa). This dainty purple flower with its heart shaped leaves has no smell, but it is charming nevertheless, being one of the earliest flowers to blossom in spring.

coming along a mountain path,
somehow so charming
– a wild violet

山路来て    何やらゆかし   すみれ草
yamaji kite/  namiyara yukashi/   sumiregusa

[ゆかし, yukashi meaning charming, endearing, or moving. This haiku inspired Enya to compose a charming song in Japanese called Sumiregusa.]

My thoughts is this:

A tiny mountain flower
Don’t pick this jewel
Just admire

Having reached the peak of Mt. Long, many climbers quickly descend, either because the peak has become crowded with other climbers, or the time of day is late and the weather uncertain. I think Basho would agree, there is joy in the summit, but the greater joy is in the journey.

It is not the summit
But the Path
I seek

Stage 25, July 1689

By July, 1689, Matsuo Basho and Sora had reached Obanazawa, three months into their Journey to the Northern Interior, and ready to rest.

[By Matsuo Basho’s reckoning, according to the Japanese lunar calendar, it was the 5th lunar month (五日, itsuka), from the 17th to the 27th, 1689.]

Basho writes:

In Obanazawa, I met a man called Seifu (清風, a Chinese phrase meaning cool breeze).”

“He is wealthy, yet a man of a samurai mind. He has a deep understanding of the hardships of the wandering journey, for he himself had traveled often to the capital city. He invited me to stay at his place as long as I wished and made me comfortable in every way he could.”

Making coolness
My lodging,
I rest

Yes (Hai), crawl out!
Croaking toad
Under the silk moth hut

The mental image of
Mayahuki (an eye brush)
And Benihana (Safflower, red powder flower)

Safflower, 紅粉の花

Notes on Translation

Obanazawa (尾花沢), literally means the valley of the yellow iris (尾花). The city is located along the Mogami River in central Japan, halfway between Sendai and Sakata (Stages 18 and 31).

In Obanazawa, Matsuo Basho’s host was Seifu (清風), a wealthy merchant and poet of the Danrin school, founded by Nishiyama Sōin (1605 to 1682). Seifu had previously exchanged haiku with Basho and Sora in Edo. Seifu is the Haiku name of Michisuke Suzuki, a safflower wholesaler, thus the third haiku.

Who knows,

Seifu’s kaiku
Not me, not you

Seifu’s haiku
Like Safflower powder

Bashō no yōna

I have not been able to find any haiku by Michisuke Suzuki, or Seifu. But, there is a Seifu Museum in Obamazawa.

Safflower (紅粉の花, benibana or beni no hana), has been used in Japan as a source for red tint in cosmetics and dye for clothing. The yellow flower contains a concentrated tinge of red.

Watch a short Japanese film on Benihana.

With the July heating up, and the long walk, Basho and Sora were ready for a rest. The WKD Archive site indicates that Basho stayed at a nearby temple and not with Seifu. Perhaps, Seifu was not as “cool” as his name suggests.

From the second haiku, one infers that Basho’s host also maintained a nursery for Silkworm moths. Basho addresses a toad hidden in a Moth hut. It is hot and humid, Basho kindly commands him to crawl out, enjoy the cool, fresh air.

Mayahaki in the third haiku refers to the brush that sweeps the eye with red powder from the Safflower. It is the signature look of the Geisha.

Original Japanese


suzushisa o waga yado ni shite nemaru nari


hai ideyo kaiya ga shita no hiki no koe


mayuhaki o omokage ni shite beni no hana

The Signs of Summer, 1678

Seeing fresh green leaves (青葉), hearing the Mountain Cuckoo (山時鳥), and tasting the season’s first Bonito (初鰹, Skipjack Tuna) — these are images that express the feeling of early summer in Edo, 1678, written down by Yamaguchi Sodo (山口素堂).

Picture a bustling, smelly, noisy fish market in Edo’s fashionable Nihonbashi district. Sanpu Sugiyama, the imperial purveyor of fish is there, supervising the sale of fish. Throngs of people have gathered to see the season’s first Bonito catch. The fish are taken from the boats and displayed on fresh green leaves. Cuckoo birds gather about making their distinctive sounds — ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kow.

Matsuo Basho and Yamaguchi Sodo, fellow poets and friends of Sanpu, are there as well.

Seeing Aoba
Hearing Hototogisu

An eye for green leaves,
The Mountain Cuckoo
The First Bonito

me ni ha aoba / yama hototogisu / hatsu gatsuo


Hiroshige Utagawa (1842-1894), Bonito Fishing

Yamaguchi Sodo

Yamaguchi Sodo (山口素堂, 1642-1716) was a contemporary of Matsuo Basho, who outlived him by almost 20 years. This simple haiku, which is Zen-like in its sparseness, was collected in “Edo Shindo” (New Road in Edo) in 1678.

In 1675, Sodo met Matsuo Basho for the first time in Edo. Sodo took up residence at Shinobazu-no-Ike Pond in Ueno Park, a former temple, near Basho.

This was Basho’s early period, before Basho moved from noisy Edo across the Sumida River to the quiet Fukagawa District. It was there that Basho took up residence in a simple cottage, planted a banana tree (芭蕉, Bashō) next to the cottage, and, in time, became Basho, and the cottage Basho-an.

The two became fast friends. Perhaps it is merely coincidental, but one cannot help but see and hear the similarity between Matsuo Basho‘s name and Hatsu Gatsuo, the last line of the haiku. The word choice is perhaps not entirely coincidental. The person who provided Basho Matsuo with financial help was his pupil, Sanpu Sugiyama, also known as Ichibei Koiya, Edo’s official fish procurer for the Shogunate.

In old Edo, there was a saying:

女房 を 質屋 に 入れて も 食いたい 初鰹

nyōbō wo shichi ni iretemo hatsu-gatsuo,

“I must taste the season’s first bonito, even if I must pawn my wife!”

Tuna Tataki-style

Hatsu-gatsuo is generally prepared tatakistyle, that is — seared on the outside, raw on the inside, then plunged in ice water, patted dry and showered with fresh green herbs, and finally pressed with cracked pepper and roasted garlic.

Nihonbashi district fish market, Hiroshige Utagawa (1842-1894)