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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #459
Kono-sabi
David Gunn

In the sleepy village of Surimi, on the southernmost tip of the southernmost island of the Japanese archipelago, a young man sits on the village seawall and gazes pensively into the ocean. He is watching the approaching vast green tide that are the thousands upon thousands of sea hedgehogs returning home to spawn. The hedgehogs seem utterly out of place in the water--they are notoriously poor swimmers, and stay afloat only so long as the quills that cover their bodies remain inflated. But float they do, sometimes for fortnights at a time, and they seem perfectly content to go wherever the ocean currents take them. No other marine organism better exemplifies the philosophy of "going with the flowing."

But the hedgehogs' ambivalent return is not the reason the young man is so contemplative. Rather, he is mentally preparing himself for the arduous trek which he is about to commence to see Kono-sabi, the Great Oracle Who Lives Beyond Timberline.

If the path to Nirvana is supremely challenging, then the way to Kono-sabi is just a hair shy of impossible. Oh, it has nothing to do with testing one's personal mettle. It is the path itself--it's in terrible shape. In some places, it's overgrown with weeds; in others, the railing is loose; in still others, the privies haven't been disinfected for days. The rewards for reaching Kono-sabi, however, are reputed to be great, indeed.

At last, he is ready. Kozimo--for that is his name--invokes his forebear, the Shogun Tokugawa, intoning, "Sushi Sony Okinawa Joe, Kawasaki karaoke Tokugawa, go!"

And go he does. Traveling light--he carries only a couple of jugs of helium--he begins his journey. The trail starts at sea level at the edge of the village. Kozimo steps carefully over several score of hedgehogs that have lost their bearings and are floundering on the path. As they skitter about on their distended quills, they sound like the synchronized wind-up Clacking Teeth demo at a Spencer's Gifts store exposition. The trail quickly gains elevation, winding up through dense forests of birch, beech, balsam and bottonwood. Not long thereafter, Kozimo runs into his first test: a patch of sumac whose unkempt tendrils are overspreading the path. Should he stop and prune it, or is his impending encounter with Kono-sabi worth ignoring his feng shui compulsion? He prods the sumac with his moccasin briefly, then steps over it and continues on his way.

Soon he comes upon a deep gorge. A visibly frayed ropewalk extends 150 meters to the other side. Well, he cannot go back and face the sumac a second time, so he presses ahead, stepping gingerly onto the walk. The tightly twisted fibers are slick from age, and several times he slips as strong crosswinds buffet him relentlessly. One time his foot breaches the floor, and only the jugs of helium strapped to his back keep him from tumbling a thousand feet into the ravine. At last he reaches the other side, but he has no time to relax, for immediately in front of him is the great Musahimaru. The erstwhile sumo yokozuna is sprawled across the path, slumbering noisily. But the sound that emanates from his maw is not the noise of a fearsome fighter. It is sweet, dulcet, and altogether incongruous in so massive a man. Peering closer, Kozimo can see two kazoos lodged in the wrestler's throat, their paper membranes vibrating with each in- and exhalation. The sound is strangely hypnotic, evoking pleasant memories of feeding time at his uncle's birdatorium, and Kozimo is momentarily transfixed. But then he recalls the "karaoke" pledge he made to Tokugawa, and he forces himself onward.

And upward--the route now trends uphill at an angle of nearly fifty degrees, and again he must rely on the jugs of helium to maintain forward progress. A nearby ski lift beckons, but Kozimo is sure it is just another of the oracle's temptations that he must avoid. He presses ahead.

At last, the path levels out as he passes through a coppice of gnarled baobab trees that represents the timberline. Just ahead is a concession kiosk. Though dilapidated and untenanted, it features a fully-stocked snack machine and microwave oven. After the grueling climb, Kozimo is ravenous. But again, the memory of a stern Shogun Tokugawa helps him rebuff this most insidious enticement. He does, however, slip a packet of mayonnaise into his pocket before heading off on the final leg of his journey.

The route indeed resembles a dogleg: not only does it bend sharply, it also shakes like it's owner is scratching at a flea infestation--for this path to enlightenment lies directly over the Empitsu Fault, an unstable geological fracture that has recently been aggravated by volcanic activity. One violent temblor triggers an avalanche, and Kozimo has to run for his life. The hundreds of tumbling hedgehogs are nearly upon him, their quills whistling a song of chaos in the high altitude air, when, suddenly, directly in front of him looms the door to the Shrine of Kono-sabi. It is open and he dives through it into pitch darkness.

Time and space exchange realities. Kozimo believes only a moment has passed since he left the trail but he has no reference by which to measure. He is aware only of the feathery aroma of helium, a patch of wetness on his thigh that hints of a ruptured mayonnaise packet, and the voluminous image of Musahimaru slowly spinning overhead. The image abruptly bursts like a Alexander Calder piñata, and out steps Kono-sabi. To Kozimo he appears gaunt, frail and wizened, not at all the picture of an omniscient oracle.

His voice, however, is strong, and he says in Nipponese-accented English, "The wisdom you long seek, I regret to say, no longer available. You hold it briefly in your possession, but due to unfortunate circumstance, it dissipate. That was no ordinary mayonnaise! So sorry. I now must go. Hedgehog-san treat me for testicular cancer, give me new name, Chemo-sabi. Sayonara!"

The sound of the slumbering Musahimaru echoes through Kozimo's head as he makes his way back down the path. If he hurries, he can still catch Kalvos & Damian's 459th New Music Bazaar, whose special in-studio guest will soon explain his personal affinity to that kazoolike melody, the one that intrigues even Kalvos.