A River Runs Through It


Iya Valley. Shikoku. Japan.

The forest was lush. Patches of bamboo, cypress trees, cedar; all a vibrant green. Here appeared the slow battle of time and nature was proving victorious. Frequently they'd spot abandoned cars, tires flattened and bodies half submerged in vines. Homes, empty shells of stacked timber, leaning to one side before their inevitable collapse. Few lived here. Fewer than before, it seemed. No one chose this life. And the ones who remained—distinguished by their stature—were short. Very short. Every inch mattered when life was mostly vertical.

The Iya River

He spotted the river from the road. It called to him. Wait here. I've got to see it. The transition from asphalt to forest floor was disorienting. His foot disappeared below and he stumbled forward. His hand caught a tree. Wet. He looked down where his foot should've been. A thick blanket of leaf litter, fallen from the cedar trees. Soft, discarded metacarpals of the trees. Careful steps this time. He saw a mushroom. Large and brown. He touched it and it broke apart like soggy bread. More mushrooms, these ones small and round, like gumdrops.

Finally, the river. Clarity. Crumbling stone, large and small. All white like chalk. The tops of them sprayed with fine moss. The water was vibrant. Indigo in some areas. He could see clear through. No fish, no frogs. He looked back from where he came. Springwater trickled out from the ground. He had once wondered why no one lived at the river. A constant supply of fresh water. Pretty colors. Being there in person, though, he understood. You were vulnerable at the river. Trapped. Passing through was easy, as long as the river allowed it. Otherwise, it was a slow, uphill battle through leaf litter. He looked back up to find the road.

travelJonathan Rowell