October Sunset Walk

This time I’m going to go completely visual and let the pictures take center stage.

One of my favorite courses for my hour-long daily walk is one I call the "Summer Trees Course." This is a view from near the beginning.

The pictures were taken late in the day, at about the time I normally walk. I often pause at this point to peer into the trees, listen to the insects, and admire the evening light. Whatever I'm working on at the time is turning in my head.

The path leaves the first group of trees and heads into the setting sun. This is a pavement permanently blocked off from any car traffic, so kids and families from the apartment building at left often play ballgames here.

This is a look back in the direction of my place. It's a view I ordinarily see on the return trip.

Now I'm out on the main part of the course. A long, narrow park of sorts has been built along the Shinano River (Japan's longest river, which reaches the sea in Niigata City). Nice rock gardens and wooden footbridges abound here.

This evening as I passed this location just after the sun had set, a crow was sitting atop one of the rocks, silhouetted against the light western sky with willow branches beside him. It would have made a fantastic picture. I'll have to be content capturing it with words.

These log benches are ideal for lying down on. You lie in the notched part, and the raised section at the end makes a perfect pillow for your head. You can put your hat over your face, or else leave your eyes uncovered to gaze up at the shifting clouds.

Sunset approaches. Lord Dunsany wrote of "Those godlike shapes among the sunset's gold." In Japan, willow trees have ghostly connections. They're the trees beneath which ghosts appear.

Sunset on October 1st: warm, yet cooling. The sunset takes on a new character.

Beside the path, this little circular course is designed for relaxation and good health. The railed-in walkway has a variety of textures to stimulate pressure points in the soles of the feet. You take off your shoes and walk around it over inlaid rocks -- some rounded and smooth, some sharp, some rather agonizing -- and you come away a better person.

The Sunset Gate. There it is: the gate you need to go through to reach the setting sun.

The Shinano River: Here, we're looking toward the sea.

The pale sunset of October.

Briefly, the path dips away from the riverside and follows this stone wall.

Off and on over the years, I've heard the notes of the riverside trumpeter. Some trumpet player has discovered he can practice without disturbing anyone beside the river; and he can get amazing acoustics under one of the bridges. I've never encountered him close up, but I've often heard him at a distance, playing his scales and melodies across the river. In years past, I did the same with my trombone.

Scenes of solitary beauty lead one to reflect on how amazing life is: the things one is given to see and experience in our brief span of years.

This is my favorite part of the course, with trees on one side and the river on the other. The trees are dense and filled with singing insects. Fish splash at times on the river's surface. The sky is amazing.

When I was a kid, having seen JAWS at age 9, I dreamed of becoming a shark fisherman. I'd while away my days out on the sea in a little boat like this one, and I always pictured myself between battles with sharks, sitting in the cabin and reading the latest published Frederic S. Durbin novel, which, in my daydream, was a paperback with a silver cover. So I'm not sure if my fantasy was more about shark fishing or more about being a writer . . .

Walking is, for me, an essential part of writing. It's when I work things out; when I unravel those vexing problems of plot; when I begin to understand where the book or story is going.

Throughout this wonderful, hot summer, I walked this course. Since it's fairly private, I could be noisy if I wanted. I sometimes worked on my vocal impersonations -- specifically, Christopher Walken and Al Pacino. Yes, I practiced those two quite a lot in the summer of 2010.

Bobby Frost: "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep."

Sorry about the "Bobby." I'm still thinking like Al Pacino. The sun really starts talking once it's down.

At the very beginning of this blog, I quoted Bilbo and his thoughts about the road that "goes ever, ever on." This is a part of it.

Yes, this is the part of the road that runs along beside the Shinano. Followed far enough, it runs beside your door; and it runs to the deserts beyond Faraway; and it leads to Elvenhome.

This is a factory that makes cement. This is just about at the 30-minute point, where I turn around and head back to hearth and home. In the twilight, even this factory seems an enchanted place, with piles of rock and silent machines, with chutes and bridges and sometimes a late workman putting a saurian machine to bed.

This bridge marks the terminus; this is where I turn around. Sometimes the ghostly trumpeter plays here, though always on the far bank.

Have you ever seen such amazing colors? This, my friends, is October. October in the sky; October in the water; "October is In the Chair" (fantastic story by Neil Gaiman in FRAGILE THINGS). You know, this would be a good time to read DRAGONFLY. Does anyone have a story about how you first encountered that book? I'm thinking of the wonderful anthology titled OCTOBER DREAMS, edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish. There's a beautiful October sky on its cover, too, and its contents are the quintessential October experience.

And now the path turns homeward.


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26 Responses to “October Sunset Walk”

  1. Shieldmaiden Says:

    I absolutely have a story about finding Dragonfly but it’s late here as I find the new post, and tomorrow I’ll be all day at the Renaissance Fair with my family. Sunday I will probably be able to post a comment though.

    What lovely pix Fred! The sunset was gorgeous. Thank you for sharing them. And, I had exactly the same thought about the road going ever onward when I saw that photo, so I loved the quote when I got to it.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Shieldmaiden! Oh, a Renaissance Fair! How cool! We used to go to a medieval fair put on by the SCA near Peoria, Illinois. One year, Mom let me buy a barrel helm from the armorer! (I still have it, but not here in Japan.)

  2. I love the views Says:

    The red-and-white tower at the left of picture four looks just like the ones Godzilla or some other menace is certain to melt/topple/bash/destroy, so I would not want to be living too near it!

    I loved the wooden benches and especially the little enclosed circuit off the main path, the one with the different surfaces for the bare soles of feet! You would never find something like this in an American park, because no American would think of putting it there. Instead, it would be an advertising kiosk or a see-saw or something of the sort.

    I know I speak for all of us when I thank you for the look at Niigata! The sunsets are simply stunning. I have known you for nearly 40 years, old friend, and though I am certain you love your walks, do you not miss the “smell” (maybe ‘scent’ is a better word) or the corn or freshly picked fields? The sounds of our beloved Illinois fields and woods? When I saw the sunset gate I said to myself “When Fred took this photo he was thinking of the sun going down behind Allied Mills.”

    It is 11:45 p.m. here. I was at two high school football games tonight and am covering the Utah at Iowa State game in Ames at 6 p.m. Saturday so my Dragonfly reflections will have to wait two days.

    Thanks again for the great tour!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you! I’m delighted you liked these photos! Oh, yes, I totally miss Illinois sunsets, and the scents, sounds, etc.! What I most miss about the natural world is oak trees. Japan has some wonderful things, but trees aren’t one of them, at least for a Midwestern country boy. Yes, there are some magnificent, soaring cedar trees here. But I miss oaks. I miss clouds of fireflies. (Believe it or not, there’s one location about a half-hour drive from here where fireflies appear for a week or two at the end of June, and it’s a tourist attraction! In my yard back home, they show up by the hundreds every night for most of the summer.)

      And yes, I was thinking of the old bean mill when I took that sunset gate picture!

      I hope your game coverage went well! It seems like only yesterday that you were playing 9th-grade football, and I was filming the games for the team, perched with the Media Center’s super-8 silent movie camera atop the “crow’s nest” atop the bleachers. As I recall, the players sometimes had some gripes about how my movies tended to focus more on injured players being carried off the field — and on the cheerleaders — than on actual plays that the team could analyze. But I never got fired!

  3. Daylily Says:

    Fred, thanks for sharing some of your life and your world via these gorgeous pictures! I am intrigued by your writerly practice of a daily walk; I, too, find exercise to be an essential practice for the creative life. Walking is particularly good for creativity; there’s something about the rhythmic left-right motion that helps the two hemispheres of the brain to make new connections, thus producing flashes of insight. (I want to try out the textured walking course! Perhaps all sorts of creative ideas would come from that experience. Plus, it would just be fun! πŸ™‚ )

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Daylily! That is really interesting about the left-right motion of walking and the hemispheres of the brain! There must be something to it, because a lot of my problem-solving takes place during walks.

      I tried the textured walking course this summer. Some of the textures feel pretty good; some make you want to scream, and you wonder if you’re going to have permanent damage to your feet! You’re supposed to go around the course three times. (I went around once.) When I finished, my feet did feel pretty good — tingly, and like their circulation was great. But part of that may have been their sheer relief to be off the beds of spikes. As you probably know, the traditional medical art of Japan — and Asia in general — places an emphasis on locations throughout the body which respond to pressure (or piercing, in the case of acupuncture) and exert significant influence on the body as a whole. That’s why, as Mr. Brown Snowflake points out, the Japanese would think to put a texture-walking course like this in a public park.

  4. I love the views Says:

    Actually my buddy Luke called me early Saturday and switched me for Utah to Mizzou (Nov. 20). I owed him one, so I was happy to oblige, and in the end he got stuck covering a 68-27 landslide for No.10 Utah. Ha ha. I got out of a blowout … hurray!

    If I encountered the textured course I would be impaled, as with my weight the smallest of pebbled surfaces would cause agony ha ha ha. Dainty 100 lb Japanese women β€” that is who these things are for, not monstrous American men many times their size. ha ha

    Ahh, oaks. There is a huge, ancient white oak right outside my front door, and another in the yard due west that is probably 20-30 years younger (its ‘offspring?’).

    Here is a query for Fred: Japan is in the northern hemisphere. Though you are in a city, are you able to followe Orion across the autumnal sky? I love watching his progress and how the stars ‘move’ in relation to fixed spots. Early Man can be excused for thinking it all revolved around him …

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Yes! Orion! He’s the one constellation I can find easily, and it’s comforting to know he’s visible to us all — the same constellation looking down on the East and the West.

      I was joking last year about how there are really only four constellations, and the rest are wishful thinking. There’s Orion, the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and then there’s Cassiopeia, whom I think should be renamed “W.” Come on, she’s a W, plain and simple! What were the ancient Greeks thinking?!

  5. Morwenna Says:

    Fred, lovely pictures. Thanks for leading The Fellowship of the Blog away on such a delightful journey.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      “The Fellowship of the Blog” — I really like that name! We should have T-shirts . . . or, better yet, grey cloaks of Lothlorien!

  6. I love the views Says:

    As for finding/discovering ‘Dragonfly’ I have the author to thank for that. Back when the manuscript had a different title I was honored to read a more-or-less rough draft. (but Threshold of Twilight has still eluded me. ahem ahem)

    I am now the proud owner of signed copies of both the Arkham House hardcover and the Ace paperback and own an additional hardcover for loaning (sorry Fred, but I am afraid I have probably cost you the royalties from approximately 10 books. Ooops).

    I will now publicly ask Fred a question I believe he and I may have once discussed in his kitchen: Sensei Durbin, when I read Dragonfly, the back-alley scenes brought to mind a certain dark alleyway located, let us say, between the streets of Market and Franklin in a certain Midwestern city. And though it is a stairway we descend, I was drawn to the image of a certain huge door in a certain basement … Where these two locales in any way in your mind when you wrote the scenes? Just curious. I have heard other F of R members say the alley in question is, in reality, the brick lane running north toward Main Cross and the Saturday BIG R. Hmmm

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you! About The Threshold of Twilight, I don’t even have a copy here in Japan! It is extremely elusive. I think it would both delight and frustrate you to read it: on the one hand, it would remind you of our D&D days, since it was written very close to that era (in fact, WAS being written during that era), and some places and characters from our campaign are used directly in the book: Griseld, Serun D., the green tower of Cepheus Esdraelen, and the Memnons. Verralton, Ralsoth, and Swithin are also there. But on the other hand, some things have the same names as in our campaign, but are used differently in the book. That might be disturbing. Someday I hope I can catch you up with a copy!

      No worries about lending Dragonfly to people! I’m happy! The best thing is when more people encounter and enjoy the book — so thank you!

      I am about to answer your “alley” question in the next post. Some exclusive historical Dragonfly pictures are forthcoming! On a post long ago, I showed the Japanese side of things — the grove at Niigata University where I had the concrete idea that sparked the book. But of course the origins go back much farther, to the rural Midwest . . .

  7. Shieldmaiden Says:

    My story of Dragonfly began on the Cricket site in 2008. Fred was answering the questions of many young readers about “The Star Shard” during the year long run of his serial. I personally have never relished the whole being scared thing, so I was not interested in this book that kept being mentioned by young readers who had found and loved Dragonfly. As I continued to read the adventures of Cymbril and Loric however, I fell deeper in love with the characters as well as the author’s ability to write. Soon I was willing to give the scary book a try. I found the paperback on line and it arrived a day or two later, which was great because it was nearing the last week of October and seemed perfect. The opening paragraph immediately became one of my favorite beginnings of any book. The first chapter was harder for me because I am a completely visual reader, and much of the first glimpse of the main character was done in shadows and silhouettes, but as I surrendered to it and let go, a new world was opened up to me. With each chapter I was drawn in deeper.

    A few days after I started the book Jedibabe came to visit for her birthday, and one night while we were hanging out in the kitchen making herbal tea she asked me what I was reading. I whispered, “A scary book!” and she was instantly intrigued knowing my aversion to all things frightening. I was only a few chapters in so I couldn’t answer her questions about the story, but I told her how I’d found it. That night we stayed up very late and after my husband and the kiddos had all gone to bed… I had an idea. I brought our tea, an old quilt, and my paperback to the couch with what I am sure was a mischievous smile. Starting on chapter one, we snuggled in under the quilt, reading aloud chapters to one another and sipping tea. It was the perfect night for this book. It was almost stormy but the night was clear, and the wind kept making a rushing sound around us as it blew. It was very, very dark as we read this story about a girl and the world of Halloween coming up through her floorboards.

    When Jedibabe went home she procured her own copy and finished the book… but that is her story and I will let her tell it. I read the last page late Halloween night, and I have been attacked by my closet ever since. Seriously. The past year it is less often, but it still happens. Sometimes it is a dream and other times it is while drifting on the edge of sleep that the shadows near the ceiling start to move together and slide down the wall toward me. My bed is next to my closet and the door opens against the same wall my headboard is on. Most of the time, this door stays open due to a basket of laundry or something blocking the way. When I wake up from these dreams the laundry basket is always someone crawling out of the closet toward me. My husband’s rack of ties, hanging in a neat row along the door, becomes a vampire hanging upside down, waiting for me to wake up before finishing me off. Once the doorknob turned into something that scared me to death, and the things that lurk behind the clothes and on top of the shelf are too numerous to name, but you get the idea. I love this book!

    I have shared Dragonfly with tons of friends and they have all written notes of thanks when they’ve finished it. This has to be my favorite response to the book, “He’s very honest in his writing, it seems as if Mr.Durbin started the story and then let it take him wherever his terrifyingly beautiful heart was going, and I love that.” I absolutely agree! While I’m guessing not everyone would be frightened by this book, it was sure sufficiently scary for me, and I will probably read it every year at this time. This is the perfect October book! I just re-read the opening paragraph and it is as gorgeous as I remembered it. I am also particularly fond of the last line. And, don’t you think the first three chapters would be the perfect thing to read by a fire to a group of kids right before bed?!!! I totally want to do it

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you so much, Shieldmaiden! I’ve heard most of that story before, but no, not the part about your closet attacking you ever afterward! Wow, what a perfect situation in which to begin reading Dragonfly!

      About that first chapter: I do sometimes hear that from readers, that the first chapter was the challenge — it’s different from the style of most popular novels on the shelves today, so it takes a little getting used to. The worst part of it is, I was very young when I wrote it — just out of college and full of big words, and I felt it necessary to use most of them! If I could revise the book today, I would streamline that first chapter a little.

      However, I also hear from many readers who say they fell in love with the first page. I think it strikes a chord with people who loved celebrating Hallowe’en as kids and have loved it ever since. They read that opening and they think, “This writer gets Hallowe’en! He’s going to take me back to the Hallowe’ens of my childhood.” And that is what I set out to do. I wanted to write a book that would be to Hallowe’en what Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is to Christmas: a book some people would read year after year when the corn turns brown and the pumpkins grow large and the black cats waltz into town.

      I LOVE that comment from your friend — particularly the part about the “terrifyingly beautiful heart”! πŸ™‚

      No, you’re right: like Mr. Brown Snowflake, I never really thought of Dragonfly as a “scary book” or a “horror novel.” I understand that it is, I just never thought of it that way; in the same way, I’m always startled for a second or two when people refer to Jaws as a horror movie. To me, both stories are adventure tales. But I know I’m not quite normal in that opinion. Heh, heh!

      Anyway, thank you for this wonderful comment!

      • I love the views Says:

        I thought I was the only one who had heard people say JAWS was a horror movie. No way! These are usually the same people who think The Exorcist is a horror movie or that The Passion of the Christ was too bloody and unnecessarily violent. Bah humbug!

      • Shieldmaiden Says:

        It has taken me forever to respond to this, but I just wanted to be clear about that first chapter. In no way was it a challenge for me because of the writing style. Like I said before, the first paragraph captured me completely and is among my favorite openings in a book ever. And I haven’t read many popular novels on the shelves today, I tend to stick with classics for the most part (unless properly tempted of course). My problem was more of a limitation with my own ability to read and imagine the main character. I am ridiculously visual when I read and I find I want to bond immediately with the main character, and form a picture in my mind right away. I wasn’t sure if the character was a girl (ponytail doesn’t mean female) and so I kept being distracted in the early part of the first chapter by trying to construct an absolute out of shadows. Which would have been extremely cool if I wasn’t such a control freak (ha ha). Once I was completely introduced to Bridget Ann (very nicely done by the way) and had her firmly nailed down in my mind, I went back and read the first chapter again, and loved it! I think reading your book did help me surrender a little when I read, which I sorely needed to do. If you ever made any revisions I hope you would only streamline that first chapter a VERY little. It is magical… and all things October. In fact, I’m glad you can’t πŸ™‚

  8. I love the views Says:

    Yeah! Shieldmaiden hath returned with her original icon! πŸ™‚

    What a GREAT tale of discovering Dragonfly and of your tandem reading with Jedibabe …

    I, too, loved the scary aspects of the masterpiece but was not frightened … rather, I wanted to adventure there, to travel Pink Eye St. and kill off the nasties, to fling fireballs at the Jolly Jack, to draw sword on Snicker Snee…but that is probably because I was one of the lucky few to have been richly blessed by spending time in Fred’s imagination in our Dn’D group.

  9. Morwenna Says:

    Shieldmaiden, I really enjoyed your interesting story about discovering Dragonfly and what happened next (“I have been attacked by my closet ever since.”) Great post! You should write a book review for Amazon.

    • Shieldmaiden Says:

      Thanks Morwenna. I have been trying to get the story of how I found Dragonfly told for forever. I don’t even think Fred knew the details of how my closet has haunted me. πŸ™‚ Have you read it?

  10. Morwenna Says:

    Shieldmaiden, I haven’t read Dragonfly yet, but I’ve purchased my copy! πŸ™‚

  11. Sunrise Says:

    I enjoyed the picture walk so much and the comments with it. I do exercise every day to clear my mind and strengthen my thoughts. I could not do without. I loved the circular walk for the feet. I hope America will import that. I would love that! I chose Sunrise as my surname because I loved the sunsets. Thanks for this inspiring journey!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Sunrise! And a most warm welcome to this blog! (I think you’re a first-time commenter here, right? πŸ™‚ ) I hope you’ll be a regular here, whether commenting or just following along — or some of both. Yes, I really need daily walks, too. I start climbing the walls if I’m inside all day.

  12. Catherine Says:

    OK, it’s taken me ages to get to the library (slow connection at home). Very cool pictures, Fred! This reminds me of the way I was when I got my first camera. Every evening thereafter it was: “Daddy, help me take a picture of the sunset!”

    I first encountered Dragonfly in the backseat of our car. Mum had run into the old Elliot Bay Bookstore (which I used to think was synonymous with E-bay), and she came back with a book in her hands. She said a college friend of hers had written it. Since my sister and I were too little to read it at the time, we amused ourselves by looking at the author photo and asking Mum: “Did he look like this when he was in college?”

    Several years later Mum told me I could read it, and so I took it to my(basement) bedroom to avoid distractions. I read for about an hour, completely immersed in the story, believing I was truly in the land of Harvest Moon. Then suddenly I heard a very loud roaring sound, and looked up to discover that Mum had set Daddy to fixing the hinges on my door — with an electric drill. So much for avoiding distractions!

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