What is a satoyama? And will there be any totoro there?

First the house sale update: Everybody is saying "Friday", two days hence, and we really are getting closer. However, I've thrown my heart at this thing too many times to re-start the countdown, so this time I'll just say "maybe Friday and maybe not", and when we really DO finally close the sale, I'll get busy and tell everybody the good news.

Back to the title of this blog entry:
Jim and I escaped from moving and packing and all that financial gimcrackery earlier this week by watching a sweet little Japanese movie for children called "My Neighbor Totoro." If you haven't seen the film, I recommend that you go rent a copy the next time you're feeling blue, because it's lovely and the animation is amazing.

The story concerns two little girls who move with their father to an old house in the Japanese countryside. In exploring the trees around their house, the smallest daughter, Mei, discovers a gigantic fluffy forest spirit living in the largest camphor tree. She and the spirit become friends. In Japanese, Mei calls the spirit "Totoro", which is a Japanese-small-child's mis-pronunciation of the word "troll".

I'm not sure what kind of "troll" this kid thought that she had found, since trolls aren't indigenous to Japan, and the fluffy oversized owl-rabbit doesn't look anything like the trolls found in my scandinavian picture books.

Anyhow, it isn't really a troll, it's a totoro: a benign forest spirit living in the satoyama region of the woods.

Aha, then what is a satoyama? I'm so pleased that you asked that question.

A satoyama is the border zone of arable land at the foot of a mountain. In Japanese writing, the word "satoyama"
is a combination of the word "arable or livable (farm) land" (literally "farm" + "earth")
and "mountain." The Japanese now recognize this type of region as exceedingly valuable for biodiversity, and more than 500 conservation groups currently work to preserve satoyama. Many species of wild animals, birds, reptiles and insects live in the border zone between the wild mountain and cultivated farmland, and satoyama also houses some of the last remaining old-growth trees in Japan.

Remember that I was marveling at the unusual geography surrounding Haiku Farm--well, it's a satoyama! The photo above shows a satoyama in Kyoto prefecture...but it looks a lot like our neighbor's place, with the farmland spreading out from the bottom of the mountain.

I'm not sure how much "old-growth" forest is left on Ebey Mountain, because the top is owned by logging companies and the State of Washington. Our state sells trees and mineral rights in order to support education, so the state itself is actually a gigantic logging company.

However, you can bet that I'll be riding my horse up the mountain this summer, looking for stands of old-growth timber.

And while I'm up there I'll be watching out for totoro!


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