Dan Reading a Poem at the Onion Fall Poetry Festival


Majestic Summit

Fujiyama’s noble essence

soaring in sky

reflected on rippling lake

Not merely

earth heaped


Drizzle dimmed sunrise

the twilight shroud

gathering darkness beyond

Drifting from all bearings

traveling its slope

foliage to untamed snowcap


Kamakura Beach with Fujisan in background

  In the early summer of 1956, Chip and I joined the Yokosuka Naval Base teenage club to climb the highest mountain in Japan, Mount Fuji. On any clear day we could see Fujiyama ascending into the sky with snow-capped cone from my home in Kamakura and my high school at Yokohama. We wore baseball caps, warm clothing, and basketball shoes with sweat socks and brought a flashlight and canteen. The hike would last all night, in freezing weather until we reached the summit at 12,388 feet.   Our youth director warned us of altitude sickness, which caused headaches, nausea, and dizziness for some climbers. We used a six feet long, hexagonal Fuji stick for assistance during the climb. For a price in yen at each station, you could have a station-stamp branded onto your stick as a sign of your achievement. Each of the ten along the way had resting huts that allowed climbers to pay to sleep, rest, or eat meals. Five or more of these huts existed at the fifth station. A few served complimentary hot green tea from large kettles.

Enoshima with Fujiyama behind

Some people took a bus to the fifth, but Chip and I wanted to climb from the bottom to have our Fuji stick to prove we had completed the hike from the base. We slept briefly in blankets near a hibachi heated with burning coals at one of the last stations, but awoke before three in the morning on a mission to reach the top first. With sunrise only an hour and a half away, we gathered our gear and moved on as rapidly.

Japanese climbers said gambatte to each other meaning, “Hang in there,” to encourage their group during the climb. The trail steepened after the eighth station, making the hike far more difficult as altitude increased. Before sunrise we reached the red Shinto Torii marking the apex of Fujisan. We gathered with other climbers to look into the huge crater with a depth of six hundred feet and circumference of 2.2 miles. Rugged rocks and debris covered the bottom of the depression created by years of erosion from wind, rain, snow, and time, and dotted the dips and crags around the slope. Coldness pierced our faces, and froze us, as the Japanese countryside spread out to the Pacific Ocean. The wind howled and blew torrents at us.

Eddie Mount Fuji

"Goraiko," sunrise, slowly began. The sky brightened about a half hour before the sun emerged from a gray cloudbank surrounding Fuji. Gradually an intense, yellowish-orange radiance spread around the rising sun. The sky displayed a yellowish-orange hue slightly above. Further up the orange melted into a pinkish-orange. A brilliant scarlet pushed upwards to a scarlet purple beyond. Immediately overhead a deep dark blue tone gave way to a lighter shade. The puffy clouds resembled ducks, dragons, and sheep with their under bellies spray-painted raspberry, and their bodies scarlet-grey. Their wispy legs trailed down disappearing into the dense blue. The sun majestically emerged sending a streak of light throughout the panorama like splashing clear water on a painting. No wonder my grandmother Ruthie found sunrises the most magnificent of nature’s gifts. Often I took my wife and children to view the splendor of dawn’s early light because of her influence.

Fuji refletion and cherry trees

Chip and I walked the perimeter to find the best spot for our descent. Beginning at the seventh station running on the flexible lava, known as scree, reminded me of playing on a trampoline. A few other football players joined us as we scrambled, tumbled, and ran down the mountain in record time. We shouted for joy as we bounced up and down on the give and take of the surface, astounded by its elasticity. I tucked my head into my chest, rolled for twenty feet, and tumbled repeatedly until my body rested on the strange surface. Each piece of lava could hurt if you fell awkwardly on it and made me imagine I was on the moon.   We had traversed the volcanic sand slope in two hours! The climb up Fuji had taken us ten hours, which explains why exhaustion struck us so often during the punishing ascent. My eyes gazed back up the immense volcano. I hadn’t conquered that steep magnificent volcano, but had just become acquainted with Fujisan.



Buddha Smiles in Kamakura

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face,

White circular blossoms from cherry trees,

Smoothing the wrinkles of the human race.

Blossoms tumbling down and spreading in space,

Beckoning all to seek a world of peace.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

Nature’s splendor slowing man’s frenzied pace.

Flying buzzing pollen gathering bees,

Petals like a dancer’s dress of white lace.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

Gentle wind blowing waves upon blue seas,

Swallows flying drifting gliding in grace.

Archer’s arrows whistling shatter the base.

At warrior's thunder, animals freeze.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

White flowers placed at Buddha’s feet in vase.

Peaceful worshipers fall down on their knees,

Seeking enlightenment and state of grace.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

Kamakura Buddha with tres and sky

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This entry was posted in Non-Fiction, poem and tagged , , , , , , by Daniel C. Lavery. Bookmark the permalink.

About Daniel C. Lavery

Dan’s writing shows his transformation from a child to an athlete and a Duke pre-ministerial student where he began to question ancient and arbitrary dogma. He graduated from Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and a ship to Vietnam, fell in love, turned peace activist and a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, "All the Difference," describes the experiences, some humorous and others deadly, that changed his consciousness from a pawn to an advocate crusading for justice against some of the most powerful forces in America.

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