It’s 5am and I’m greeting the threshold of Mt. Fuji with a rag-tag crew- Rebecka and Jason from Sweden, Punki from Korea, Kyle from Colorado, Chris from Cincinnati.  At the threshold, we are enthusiastic- hugging each other, feeling strong, gulling down ongiri. The summit plunges all the way through the clouds and we’ve arrived with greetings from around the world!  There’s a saying: “If you come to Japan and don’t hike Mt. Fuji- you’re a fool. However, if you hike Mt. Fuji more than once, you’re an even bigger fool.” Giddy pilgrims facing down our bucket lists, we head straight for the sky!  

Coming toe-to-toe with any major attempt requires a bit of foolishness.  Believing that we can surmount a wild task, walk the edge of our comfort, complete the long-held goal, requires a bit of Fool-magic.  Am I willing to risk the foolishness of failing? Can I summon up enough folly to believe it possible to walk up, then back down, a 12,000+ft volcano in one day?  Am I really foolish enough to leave a community that I adore and meaningful work for 3 months to go explore Japan, Korea, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan? Apparently so- and the folly begins!

This year, I’ve been exploring the intersection between beauty and nature with deep curiosity and a bit of zealousness.  It’s been a rich interaction, informing my ways and illuminating connections to the natural world that I hadn’t yet seen.  The invitation to suspend “life as I knew it” and explore South and Central Asia with Chris Smyth felt juicy, dangerous, and unknown.  We left Cincy mid-July and began our pilgrimage through mountains, valleys, oceans, rivers, islands, forests, deserts, and cities.

Turns out, our summit hike of Fuji would set the pace for our exploration of the wild places of South and Central Asia.  We started with fool-worthy wander-lust and eager legs…and we climbed, and climbed, and climbed- carrying ourselves up and over ancient paths to the incredible panorama afforded by our willingness to progress and our curiosity around tradition.

Pilgrimage is an essential concept in a good deal of the world.  We pilgrim to holy places, ancestral places, ancient sites, and wild edges.  We pilgrim to see what we’re made of, to gain insight on our lives, to honor our communities, and to discover something unknown.  We met travelers on serious cultural, religious, and personal pilgrimages- on their way to Mecca, Kumano Hongu Taisha, Daibutsu Kamakura, Jeju Ole.  Carrying with them the types of prayers that are best scattered along difficult trails, occasionally offered with bent-knee to ancient shrines.

On this pilgrimage, amidst our own prayers and offerings, Chris and I discovered something incredible- multiple healthy forests, and ecosystems.  We spent most of our time, over the course of 3 months, exploring forests, gardens, farms, and fields. These places shared a wonderful pattern; they were cultivated by tradition and preserved from the often punishing ecological effects of progress.  

We met the oldest cedar trees in the world (The Sugis), hiked through the oldest Nutmeg forest in the world (Bijarim Forest), explored the oldest apple, apricot, and walnut food forests in the world, and walked through ancient rice paddies.  We spent time in agroforests cared for by people foolish enough to climb mountains daily for the purposes of grazing cattle, harvesting apple, walnut, apricot, medicinal herbs, and grasses. We prayed at temples on the very tops of 10,000 ft mountains.  These mountains are braved frequently by monks and caretakers- foolish with their love and dedication to place, spirit, and religion.

All of this pilgrim-ing and the process of being stunned by the health and vitality of wild South and Central Asian food and forestry, has sparked a strong curiosity.  I’m wondering, what are the traditions that I’d like to see imprinted onto the forests and lands surrounding my home in Price Hill? How would I like to work more closely with my place to encourage the blossoming of beauty and the return to health?  

What is the balance between tradition and progress that we need at Imago and in Price Hill to provide stability?  Can I approach my place with a sense of pilgrimage; curious about the divine?

Photo Credits to Chris Smyth