Monday, May 16, 2011

A Walk on The Other Side of the River

“When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. You begin to attach much importance to the things around you because your survival depends on them. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. And you accept any small favor from the gods with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life. At the same time, since all things are new, you only see the beauty in them, and you feel happy to be alive.”

—from Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage

How can I be a traveler in my own town?
How can I see the freshness of every day?
How can I reroute myself from old habits?

Seasonal changes are built-in mirrors.
When spring brings warm weather, and I can’t remember where I stashed my sandals or how it feels to let the wind touch my skin, I become aware of my winter routine.

*            *            *

“Oh yeah, it’s just Kanazawa Castle, and this is just Kenroku-en Garden, and that’s just Oyama shrine.”
They stop and stare in awe.
I catch myself getting impatient. I’m madly crossing the sights off our list. We’ve got so much ground to cover in so little time.
“What’s that?” She points excitedly away from where I’m leading her.
 “Look at that garden! Look at that bridge!”
I shrug.
I turn my head nonchalantly.
“Oh yeah, that’s just…just…um…that’s…um…”
I’m speechless.
It’s beautiful.
It’s breathtaking.
It’s tucked away in the corner of the shrine grounds that I’ve traversed many times before, too quickly to notice the details. It’s a magical garden.

Where was it before?
Where was I before?

I’m ashamed of my blindness.
Thank you family for opening my eyes to the new in the old.
Thank you for taking me by the hand as you travel slowly.

*            *            *

Today is a perfect sunny day.
Cool breeze.
The city in bloom.
In my family’s honor, I decide to reroute myself. I decide to take a walk on the other side of the river.


There on the other side is a path I never took with a statue I never saw and a pond with koi fish that I never introduced myself to.

Where was it before?
Where was I before?

I sit on a flat rock at the edge of the pond watching koi fish come toward me. Like clockwork, they sense my presence and suck the surface of the water with ferocity. People must feed them often, I think. In a predictable pattern of classical conditioning they expect food and hover near my feet.
Their scales like paintings.
I follow the glimmer of sunlight that bounces off their wet bodies, slips onto the skin of the water, and fractures when the wind blows ripples in the pond.

*            *            *

I continue my walk about town, taking paths untaken, discovering shrines and parks I’ve never seen before. After 9 months, I thought I knew Kanazawa in and out.
I was mistaken.
It’s incredible how much discovery lies dormant in the familiar if we choose to look at it from a different angle.

I loop my way back to the koi pond, expecting the fish to swarm again at my feet, the sun to dance again, as before, on the surface of the pond.

Only ten minutes have passed, but the scene has changed.

There, standing still on a rock, four feet from the edge of the pond is a


I hold my breath, afraid to move, afraid to change the sublimity of this image. All the people passing by carry on as usual. They walk their same walk. Paying no attention. No one seems to notice the heron.
My heart beats faster. I’ve never been so close to a heron before.
I sit again at the edge of the pond trying to soak it all in before it changes. The koi fish come over. The sun reflects in the water. The heron stays motionless.
I become aware of beauty and fragility and the waves of impermanence that bring freshness to the familiar.

Suddenly, the heron turns its head and looks me in the eyes. It spreads its wings, leaps into the air, and soars above my head.
Between its wing beats I hear a message.
Wake up Brenna. Wake up.
What appears the same is different.
Travel slowly and you’ll see.


  1. Wow! Japan suits you so well. Serene, beautiful and inspired! Great post Brenna!

  2. Thanks for reading! Japan is an endless source of inspiration for me.

  3. Really cool, B. Joy to read. Nice pitchas, too. Real spirit-break. But growing up in NOLA that's the closest you've been to a heron?

    JealousJealousJealousJealousJealousJealous! Sushi & sashimi & ramen & dishes of rakiyo.

  4. Thanks for reading! Yeah... there weren't too many herons near Tulane : )

  5. Hey, Brenna - I came upon this little squib on radiation levels near the Daichi Fukushima plant vs. the levels on the flight to Japan. Kind of funny.

    And re: herons - I used to hang out in Bayou Jean Lafitte. Not a lot of high rise parking garages there.

  6. Interesting about the radiation! Thanks for sending.