I recently woke up with the rising sun (on a Saturday, no less!) and squished into a tiny car with a few companions for the three-hour-plus journey northward, through the slow grind of Tokyo traffic congestion in pursuit of… Kochia Scoparia (also known as burning bush or summer cypress).
We reached Hitachi Seaside Amusement Park on an idyllic afternoon, the luminous sunshine belying the fact that the most powerful storm to form in Asia this year, Typhoon Vongfong, was due to hit the area in a mere couple of days. Families in color-coordinated outerwear traipsed about with their dogs and young couples licked mocha soft creams while taking goofy selfies. I had seen photos of the Kochia in a vibrant autumnal shade of red when I was researching the park, but nothing had prepared me for the epic sight of the squat bushels saturating an entire hillside as far as the eye could glimpse. It was almost too much for my plant-fanatic soul to bear. The scene was absolutely otherworldly.
The hillside, peppered with bright tufts, was like a scene torn straight out of a storybook by the beloved Theodore Suess Geisel. I was a Suess fiend when I was younger, and I have long had a copy of Oh! The places you’ll go! on my bookshelf back in the states, collecting dust in the way that only relics of our adolescence do. The book was a gift given to me by my parents when I graduated high school. At the time, with the conviction of a seer that only a careless eighteen year old can muster up, I scoffed at being presented the text, so often referenced by class valedictorians who need some padding for their commencement addresses. How typical, what use do I have for a children’s book? I thought as I skimmed past my mother`s lovely inscription and moved swiftly on to open the envelope bearing the all-important graduation check. How silly I was. Four and a half years and innumerable reality checks later, my trip to the fantastical garden grounds brought me back to that beautifully wrought story. I thought about how so much of it was applicable to my first couple of months of living completely alone, working my first full-time job, and forging a little existence for myself in a corner of the world so far away from everything I knew.
“With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
You`re too smart to go down a not-so-good-street.
And you may not find any you`ll want to go down.
In that case, of course, you’ll head straight out of town.
It’s opener there in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen and frequently do to people
As brainy and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen, don’t worry.
Don’t stew. Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.”
To be honest, the weeks sandwiched between when I defended my undergraduate thesis and my graduation date felt like purgatory. My relatively easygoing collegiate limbo was slipping away before my very eyes. My anxiety was a slow drip. With this fleeting period of my life coming to a halt, my arsenal of excuses would soon become moot, “Oh, I don’t have time to really write – I have a half-dozen midterms to outline” or “How can I start looking for jobs in my field when I am working doubles six days a week, serving kobe beef burgers to overripe tourists?”
As my friends put down deposits on their graduate school apartments and planned their next big move, I was stuck at a quietly numb standstill, reveling in a slow-spreading panic. Being a student was all that I had known for the past 18 years of my life and suddenly I was losing that important identity and status marker. For what? I literally had no idea what street I wanted to go down. At the time, I lacked the clarity and bravery that such a choice required. Sure, I whittled some time away with escapism, imagining a cross-country road trip hitting all of the great American breweries and national parks. I mentally catalogued a solo six-month backpacking trip in Eastern Europe. These pipe-dreams didn’t do much to cushion the weird feeling of failure that I felt when I filled out my post-bacc information form and, upon reaching the “What are your plans after graduation?” question, I bypassed all of the boxes to settle on the catchall labeled “Unknown/ Undecided.”
I didn’t apply to any jobs or graduate programs during my last year of college other than the JET programme, which panned out kind of like a Hail Mary pass in overtime when I got bumped up from the program’s alternate list a week before my graduation ceremony took place. I had about two months to get my shit together before booking it straight out of town. I seized the opportunity in spite of my fear and trepidations because I wanted to stop living in my wanderlust-ridden daydreams. I wanted to try my hand at living out my ideals of adventure and independence that had, prior to that, never truly been put to the test. All sorts of things have happened and I feel as if I am finally happening too.
“Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.”