In 2008, I went on a rather spontaneous trip with my dad to Japan. We rented a car and trusted our clunky unit of a GPS to lead us towards all sorts of discoveries. And it delivered. One rainy afternoon, we were winding uphill along the misty valleys near Sendai. We decided to stop at a random onsen-ryokan (温泉旅館 hot spring inn) for a bite and a dip.
Our intricate tempura udon set lunches were chowed down with much relish and silence, as the place was otherwise empty. My dad and I exchanged brief and excited goodbyes as we headed towards our single-sex baths. After a customary shower, I took a few steps into the outdoor bath and almost staggered into an overwhelming sight of natural beauty. A misty valley unfurled gracefully before my eyes as stormy grey, thick mist hung lazily above sprawling washes of inky firs and evergreens. Slim, pointy red Japanese maple leaves crowded around my ankles, which dragged aside as I quickly waded towards the edge of the small pool. I slowly lowered myself into the hot spring, my gaze hungrily taking in every magnificent detail as I breathed in the steamy exhilaration of being completely alone in an unbelievable, untranslatable picture worthy of any Studio Ghibli production.
It felt wonderful inhaling the hot, moisture-laden air, occasionally catching a refreshingly crisp breeze slipping through the valley. The hot spring was just shallow enough that I would always have a small bare spot above water, echoing the nagging thought that this visit can only be temporary- and who knows when I might be able to return to this moment of peace and absolute content, if ever? As I greedily drank it all in, I correctly predicted that I would be recalling this moment many times in the future- how wonderful it is to sit in silence and simply watch the world flaunt her unpredictable treasures. Since then I have encountered other beautiful moments of solitude with nature, but this one burns particularly strongly- and I'm glad that it glows like an ember, further goading me to wander in search of one elusive wonder after the next.