Child's play

The sun stole over the horizon, touching the golden spires of Bangkok's temples, and lighting the blue touchpaper of a hangover 36 hours in the making. The city had been underwater for weeks, as the Chao Phraya river exacted its slow, fetid revenge for decades of mismanagement and overdevelopment. The previous night, I'd watched a go-go dancer in 6 inch platform heels and little else stand on a pile of sandbags outside a club, swatting ineffectively with a broom at the bodies of dead cats and dogs that swirled lazily through the dank waters flowing down the street.

On the plus side, the Four Seasons was renting executive floor rooms for $50 a night.

On the fifty-something floor, my phone buzzed around the desk like an angry hornet. I picked it up, and through the gasoline that had replaced the humor in my eyeballs, I made out the text of a single message:

"Jasmine is here".

A few months previous, out of water and alone on the Kitakama ridge, I'd had a dream. In it, I walked through our apartment with a small, sleeping baby in my arms, into the bedroom where I said to Yuka simply "Jasmine is asleep now". At that, I snapped to consciousness, and the tatters of the dream left me until I laughed about the ridiculousness of it with Yuka on my return. After 14 years of marriage, and the loss of our first child which almost cost Yuka her life, we we're clearly not part of the universe's reproductive agenda. The unbroken line which reached back the earliest slime of the primeval oceans would end with us.

And yet: "Jasmine is here". The black waters continued their journey far below, past the temples and the whores, their cargo of silt and weeds and dead dogs coursing towards the Gulf of Thailand and beyond.

Five years later, and it's only as we set off from the carpark at the Akadake Sanso hut that it hits me: I have no idea what the trail is like outside of the winter season. Or how long it will take with a four year old in tow. She has a pair of walking poles, folded down as short as they will go, and stops every three or four feet to spear a leaf on the ground with them. She asks why there are leaves. It's one of those existential questions which I've become very familiar with.

I try the tactic beloved of clever parenting magazines and child-rearing gurus on YouTube with suspiciously tidy living rooms:

"Why do you think there are leaves?"

"I don't know, I'm only four!"

She storms off up the path, the red in her hair firing in the sunlight. At least we're moving.

At the little shrine by the side of the path, we stop and I dole out chocolate bribery. She wants to know what the shrine is, and who lives there, and why people leave little gifts of food and drink. Crawling around in the undergrowth, she finds two sticks and cleans them before laying them on the rocky alter. "I think the mountain spirit needs some chopsticks for his food" she says. We walk on, stopping only to consider the moss which grows thick and wide over the banks of the path, or when an exceptionally difficult turn of the guessing game requires the maximal diversion of blood-flow from the legs to the brain.

The halfway bridge is where we first meet others, climbers and hikers making their way down the mountain. Jasmine adopts a stout "konnichi-wa!" greeting to each, and there are many "erai ne! - you're doing so well!" replies in return. We wander up and along the banks of the river in the early afternoon sunlight, our progress punctuated by yet more chocolate bribery and demands for off-the-cuff stories about Harry Potter & crew.

At the Akadake Kosen hut we pitch the tent in the warm autumnal sun. Jasmine circles it several time, hammering each peg with a rock for good measure, before diving inside to help inflate the mats. It's warm inside, and as I make up the millionth Harry Potter story of the day I can feel myself drift to the soft world of an afternoon nap.

"Daddy, you're talking nonsense.", and she jabs me in the ribs. So much for that plan.

We eat dinner at the hut before heading back out into the dark to the tent. I bury her deep in the sleeping bag, switch the light out, and somewhere in the middle of the third Harry Potter story - increasingly bizarre, Shotakovichian creations, with jarringly incomplete and contradictory plot lines - I hear a soft snoring. Before long, I am gone too, but sleep is fitfully punctured by Jasmine alternately wiggling out of her bag when she gets too warm, and then plunging her feet into my bag again when they get too cold.

The next morning we set off under a liquid blue sky, traversing the small ridge between the Kosen and Gyojagoya huts. The limits of imagination reached, I've instituted a new system whereby every story needs to be paid for with a song - breathing room, if you will.

At one of our many stops, I turn back to survey the ridges and sulci of Mt Akadake behind us. In winter, the snow on its flanks leaves little for the eye to catch, but in warmer months the Bunzaburo ridge and the zig-zag path up shine magnificently in the bright sun, and their true scale becomes apparent. We climb down the canyonlike upper reaches of the sawa, down the boulder chokes and through the thick forest below.

At the car we share the last bite of chocolate before I strap her in to her seat. As we bounce down the forest track to the main road, I keep glancing in the mirror, fully expecting her to have crashed out. Instead, she's furiously drawing in her notebook, mountains and trees and tents and rivers.

The year is drawing to a close, and soon the snows will come again.


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