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Nature Trails

By Mitsuharu Kume

The Roof of the Gods


The morning light is dazzling as it reflects off the vermillion offertory box. The interior remains dark as if to emphasize the sacredness of what lies beyond. The five men entering this sacred place ascend another level and head toward the main worship area, raising their heads to receive purification.

One is a full-time surfer and part-time painter with a passion for shogi (Japanese chess). Another is a construction worker who wears his pristine work clothes with pride. Two old men with wrinkled uniforms, well past their glory days, join as well. I round out the group in my brand new tabi (Japanese socks).

This day marked the start of repair work on one of our island's Shinto shrines. I was called in by the surfer/painter to help paint the shrine's roof.

After we ascended 156 stone steps, the shrine, sitting near the top of a small mountain, came into view. Most villages in Japan have a shrine; this particular one is revered with greater meaning than the others on our island. Just the thought of working here, above the gods, had me cleaning up my act even before I got here.

When we broke for lunch, I scrambled down the concrete stairs and ran to the nearby beach. Why the rush? Soon the island would hold its yearly full marathon, and this year would mark my seventh running.

Since Ifm not a big fan of running, I had always been out of breath, struggling to cross the finish line, sheer willpower forcing me on. I had been training on the same five-kilometer course near my home but soon recognized how boring this was. Then I became friends with Hiroki Ishikawa, a trail-runner who taught me the beauty and enjoyment of running.

I asked what excited him about running trails through the middle of nature, to which he replied, gItfs getting in the great outdoors and allowing the body to enjoy the scenery, air and seasons. Instead of climbing and hiking all day, you can witness the same landscape in a few hours with less equipment.h

After taking Hirokifs words to heart, I changed my shoes and started going on 30-minute runs around a friendfs neighborhood or near some unknown places where I work. Since I have a passion for the ocean, I often find myself taking runs along the beach or coast. While listening to the sound of the waves, I find myself exploring places I normally wouldnft traverse, finding sandy beaches and new surf points.

Many times Ifve come across the eggs of loggerhead sea turtles, which OJ readers know have been a recent passion of mine. As an avid photographer, I make sure to bring along a camera which suits me well on these runs.

I run back up the steps to the shrine and, following a quick lunch, set to work on the roof again. With a clear view of the beach course I just ran, I realize discovering another of lifefs pleasures truly a sign of high tides.