Signs in the Rain

The clear blue sky stretched as far as I could see, as I sat on the terrace of the Nishiho Lodge in Nagano sipping a cold beer. Suddenly a guy from a group of nearby hikers threw up a hand and raced toward me.

“Hey there!” he excitedly yelled, as I tried not to let my expression show my confusion. “Don’t you remember me?”

He began rifling through his pack and, when he pulled out his camera, I finally remembered meeting him and his wife. I quickly shook his hand. With a sense of relief, he showed me his camera that displayed a shot of all three of us in rainwear.

Two months earlier, during a summer camping trip in the northern Japan Alps, there was a fantastic storm which drove me from my tent to seek shelter in a nearby lodge. The rain-soaked couple soon followed me inside where the lodge let us warm up by the stove and use the jet heater to dry out our gear.

The next morning I couldn’t figure out why the buttons on my rainwear wouldn’t clasp. Did I have it on inside out? It turned out I had placed it too close to the heater, which melted the buttons and made a hole in the jacket.

One look out the window confirmed the rain had not abated, but I trudged outside anyway. While taking a break on a bench, the man appeared again and offered me a cup of hot coffee. While I was enjoying the warm drink, the rain suddenly lifted and a thick fog rose from the valley below.

I removed my “holy” rainwear and we enjoyed watching the clearing skies. His eyes sparkled with delight as he pointed to the saw-toothed ridge in the distance his group had just hiked. The difficult section along a sharp ridge runs from Oku-Hotakadake to Nishi-Hotakadake.

“I saw you using sign language and thought, ‘It couldn’t be her!’” he exclaimed. “My wife is taking a different route, but she really wanted to see you. Can I take a picture?” he asked as we tipped our glasses to toast our good fortune.

When we first met, we only chatted about the mountains and hiking. This time I learned he and his wife were managing a gasoline station in Saitama. Several days later, I received a letter with pictures of our “reunion.” I laid out the photos to cherish my rainy day friends.