Recently, there has been more and more news about bears and monkeys that appear in town and attack people all around Japan. It’s said that they come down from the mountains for food, as there has been less food up on the mountains due to the climate change and deforestation. The area I live in now is animalfree
so far, because there aren’t mountains nor woods around, just too many crazy people. But at last, I heard the news that a bear appeared in the area I’m moving to. My new place is in the country with numerous woods and fields, surrounded by mountains. A bear was spotted in a field and a man got injured. Terrifyingly, the field was quite close to my new apartment and I think I walked beside it last time I went to my place and was on my way to shopping. That reminded me of a couple I saw on the street then. They were walking with tinkling bells. I knew that a bell worked to keep from a bear encounter and I thought they came back from hiking in the mountains. But now I know they were tinkling bells for the exact spot. By moving, I intended to be rid of people, but never thought I would live among bears instead…
Heaps of old jackets, skirts, shirts and dresses that I no longer wear are sitting in the back of my wardrobe. All of them are bargains and out-of-date. Even though it’s said fashion recurs in a cycle, they are too old and worn to be put on again. And yet, I can’t throw them away. In addition to a memory that each one of them holds, I feel guilty to throw away what is still somehow usable by keeping its original form. That sort of my own rule applies not only to clothes but to everything, from food to a cardboard box. I just can’t waste anything. Recently, I have often seen a notice on the table in a restaurant, which says ‘Clear your plate for the earth.’ or ‘Remember again the old don’t-waste-food spirit.’ As a person who is too cheap to leave food on a plate, I always wonder since when Japanese people stopped clearing their plates and forgot the don’t-waste spirit. I’ve practiced it all my life as a habit. A bus person might mistake my finished plates and cups for clean ones because not a bit or a drop remains there when I leave the table. I attribute it to my grandfather’s DNA. I lived with my grandparents when I was a child and I used to go out with my grandfather. His black leather shoes were totally worn-out. They were not as bad as Chaplin’s but a tip of the shoe had a hole. No matter how often my grandmother asked if he should get a new pair, he was adamant that he could still walk in his shoes. For him, it didn’t matter how he looked in them but whether they were usable or not. Since he kept putting on those shoes with a hole, my grandmother had no choice but to polish them for him. As a result, a weird item as shiny worn-out shoes came into existence. My grandfather would take me to a department store in the city in those shoes and strolled around grandly. Even as a small child, I was embarrassed by his shoes and hated to go out with him. It wasn’t about money. He had enough money to buy new shoes. On the contrary, he was a rich man who had quite a few properties. That meant his shiny worn-out shoes weren’t necessity. Whether wearing them was his hobby or his principle is still a mystery. It’s more than a decade since my grandfather passed away. I wonder how the world would be like if people around the world put on worn-out shoes as a common practice. Goods wouldn’t be consumed so much, the number of factories would be less, and more forests would remain. There would be less CO2 emissions, climate change would be delayed, and wildfire and a new virus would be sporadic. All it takes is us wearing worn-out shoes. The problems are solved. Regrettably, I don’t have the courage to do so. I’m too self-conscious about how I look to others. I don’t want to be looked down on by my looks. Even if my actions led to the destruction of the world, I would like to stroll about a tinseled city and show off by dieting and dressing myself in fashionable clothing. Am I a senseless person? I wonder how my grandfather feels looking at me from above.
When the snow still lay six feet deep, my partner suddenly spotted something and pointed it with a surprise out of the dining room window in our apartment during lunch. In the direction of his pointing, I saw a Japanese serow on the snow-covered ground under a tree in the grove about 30 feet away from the building.
I had never seen a Japanese serow in the residential area. Or should I rather say, I had never seen it for real altogether. It had a face like a goat and its body looked rather like a calf than a serow, covered with light brown and gray fur. I wondered why just looking at a wild animal was somehow awe-inspiring. I took my binoculars and observed it closely. The Japanese serow was standing on its hind legs and holding on to the trunk with its forelegs. It seemed to eat the tree bark or something on the trunk. Every time a car pulled into the parking lot stretched out between the grove and the apartment building, it hid behind the tree and peeked out the lot. After people were gone, it resumed eating. In the beginning of this winter, my partner bumped into a boar for the first time on the foot of a mountain beside the street he was walking on. The boar was staring at him at a distance of 60 feet. Its size was about a calf and with black fur and a pig-like face. He was afraid and turned back. It was the right choice since I had heard about quite a few incidents that a boar rushed into and injured people or bit them in Japan this year, which hadn’t happened so often before. Considering that much more bears than before appeared in my town last autumn, wild animals have come down to the residential area around this year far more than they used to. It’s said that has to do with climate change. Wild animals aren’t the only ones that have been sent out of the depths of mountains. Judging from the present situation, unknown viruses that are new to human beings and stay where they’re supposed to be may continue to come out as well. Twilight drew near and the spots in the parking lot of my apartment building were being filled up as commuters’ cars came back one after another spewing out exhaust fumes. The Japanese serow started walking back slowly. It stared over here for a while one last time as if it was trying to tell something, and plodded back on the snow, up into the mountain.
A black shape of a bear is drawn on a yellow background with big capital letters of ‘Beware of Bears!’. That is a poster I see everyday out of my apartment window lately. Not just one. It’s on the fence along a stream and at the little bridge over it so that I spot it everywhere sitting at my table. It has multiplied rapidly this year. On a bench at the nearby park, on the public bathroom wall in my neighborhood, at scattered vacant lots, the posters are rampant here and there that I’d never seen before in my town. Those are not just for warning. Those indicate the spots where bear’s foot prints were left or a bear was actually witnessed. From morning till night, patrol cars with loudspeakers drive around blaring out “Bears are spotted! Be careful when going out!” all day long. The car stops on the little bridge beneath my window and sets off firecrackers to scare off bears. Some members of the local hunting association fired blank shots there. It’s said that the reason why bears come down to a residential area from the mountains so often has to do with the climate change that causes a shortage of food for them. About ten years have passed since I moved in this snowy town enclosed by the mountains. It’s been warmer and snowed less year after year compared to when I began to live here. That has helped make my winter days easier that I used to suffer from claustrophobia by the deep snow coverage. Added to the climate change that affects my daily life, I also sense my own mind changes. I had feared if a monotonous country life rusted me away when I decided to move in here. It didn’t happen. Rather, the quiet life increased my concentration and contributed more productivity for my lifework than the time when I lived in the metropolitan area. I have a serener mindset than before and it gives me more understanding toward myself and the world I live in. Recently, people have stayed home and worked remotely in Japan too. They have left big cities and moved to rural areas. More and more people from Tokyo have moved into my small town that I had expected nothing but to become desolate every year. There are many unfamiliar new residents in the apartment building where I live. The building used to look like a ghost house with dark windows, but it has almost no available room now. I had never imagined that would happen mere one year before. The unthinkable things occurred at the unthinkable speed. In this trend, we can’t tell what happens next. In three years, bears might be chasing after me. Not bears but people might start chasing people and killing each other. Or human race might extinct because of viruses. There might be days of a panic, or moments of danger for life. Even so, it could turn to be better. These unprecedented years have shown how much human imagination is limited. I myself have learned that a superficially dire thing can turn out to be a good thing in the end. Besides, I saw unthinkable things happen, so why not unthinkably good ones? I believe they could happen as well. They should.