Before the birth of our son, my husband and I moved to Nagano Prefecture: a homecoming for me; a new experience for him.
He had spent much of his life in or near large cities. In the Japanese countryside surrounding Nagano things were different. All the usual signposts by which one knows where one is and what is happening around one in the city were lost to him. Adjustment was required, and it proved slow in coming.
While he had been able to sleep with the sound of city street traffic, he found it impossible to sleep well in summer with the din made by rice paddy frogs in the thousands just outside our bedroom window. While he knew well which way a certain street was oriented in relation to his house or apartment, he had no idea where the north side of our house was, and living where we do we give direction by compass point. In our garden, he could not tell a soybean plant from a potato, and other common plants and flowers were beyond him his experience as well. Even recognizing ambient sounds was a challenge to him. In the city, he would never mistake the sound of a cooing pigeon for a hammer banging, but here he once asked me if my father was using an electric grinder, when the noise he had heard had come from a large frog.
It took some time, and not a little effort, to learn as much as he has now, but learn he did. Now, he can tell without the aid of a clock or seeing daylight from outside, that it is time to get out of bed and start a fire each morning. He does this, he said, because he noticed that at this time of year crows begin to caw around 5:30am, so still a little early to stir, but that by just before 6:00am other, smaller birds begin to chirp, and a fire must be made, so that by the time my son and I wake up it will be warm in our main room and kitchen.
There are so many clues in Nature all around us that told our ancestors when to plant, when to harvest, when it was going to rain, whether the coming winter would be severe or mild, . . .so much information hidden from city dwellers by walls within which they live and work. I sometimes wonder whether the trade offs made necessary by living in more “convenient” cities are worth it. What do you think?