Ink and Wash

The landscape in Shiwa in winter is, without exaggeration, bleak. Snow falls and stays. Driveways are trenches. Mountain floors become white and show through leafless trees like the scalps of balding men. Snow hangs on the branches of trees; they sag beneath the burden. Anything aspiring towards the heavens for relief is stopped by the gray ceiling of ever present clouds.

Shiwa is a different place. The vibrant life is buried beneath it—variety becomes sameness. I get lost on familiar roads. I forget the character of the plants that comprise my yard. Even light moves differently—filtered through dark clouds, the sky dulled while the ground glows with the reflections off the snow.

Yet there is beauty. Scenes covered in snowfall take on a sameness of color, like varying shades of the same black ink diluted with water. Shiwa in winter is an ink and wash painting.





A Stack of Wood

A stack of wood is comforting. Solid yet soft, wood provides a comfortable stability and a feeling of closeness to nature. Stacked neatly, it presents the illusion of order. In the mess of a snowstorm, that order reduces the sense of chaos. The dangers of winter, the chaos, are survived through preparation and planning, and stacks of firewood are a manifestation of that.

At the same time, firewood makes me feel nostalgic. It reminds me of when I was young in Colorado and people used fireplaces all the time without fear of climate change. It reminds me of the smell of smoke on crisp winter air. I remember nights sitting with my legs stretched towards a fireplace watching orange flames dance while feeling the heat on my skin. I’m transported back to that time whenever I see a stack of wood standing in falling snow.




Golden Light on a Canvas of Snow

Many houses in Shiwa are withdrawn from the roads and require long driveways for access. In winter they can be difficult to keep clear of snow, and the farther you get from the center of town the less likely you are to expect guests. So it’s easy to understand how shoveling snow can fall down several notches on your list of priorities. You have less time to do it too since the sun begins its descent as early as four in the afternoon (there’s no daylight savings in Shiwa). However, all of these factors combine to form this scene, a moment in which the sun setting behind the mountain range spilled golden light on a pure canvas of snow and rendered the shadows blue. This town never ceases to provide such moments.



Strangely Comfortable

This is the road I named Sahinai River Road and then found out that the stream running along side it is called Nakasawa River. Stubborn till the end, I still call it Sahinai River Road.

We were sitting in the car on Sahinai River Road eating a variety of breads we bought from “Furusato Center,” Sahinai’s farmers’ market, for lunch when a miniature gust of wind gathered and blew through these icy trees. The snow was frozen into powder, and it caught in the wind and swirled into a cloud that blotted out this winter scene.

Sitting still, no other people or cars around, on a mountain road, in the burst of whiteout conditions, I felt strangely comfortable. When I realized it was strange, I wanted to take a picture, but by the time I was out of the car, the cloud of snow disappeared, and a blue sky appeared.


これは僕が「Sahinai River Road」と名付けた道だが、この脇を流れる小川は中沢川と呼ばれると後に判明した。最後まで頑固な僕は、それでも「Sahinai River Road」と呼んでいる。

Sahinai River Roadに車を停め、佐比内の産直である「ふるさとセンター」から買ってきた様々なパンを昼食として食べていた。その時、ちょっとした一陣の風が起きて凍った木々の間を吹き抜けた。雪が凍って粉状になり、風に捕らえられ渦を巻いてこの冬景色を覆い隠す雲となった。