Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/43

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37
THE GREAT JAPANESE VOLCANO ASO

On a day in April that dawned cloudless and with a frosty chill the writer set out to reach the summit of Neko-dake, the ragged-topped mountain at the eastern end of the Aso chain. As I went among the little fields and along the hedgerows in the early morning, always choosing among many paths one that seemed to lead me eastward, for beyond Takamori no well-beaten road continues farther up the plain, I met several people setting out also for the day. Each one of them looked with wonder at me, a stranger, staring with curiosity but bowing courteously in reply to a morning's greeting. One was a man with his faded bluish-grey kimono tucked up above his knees, leaving displayed a considerable expanse of underwear, his calves swaddled in blue-canvas walking gaiters above the straw sandals on his feet, and his shoulders wrapped in a bright red blanket — a man with the worn brown countenance of a country traveler shaded by a sun-darkened straw hat. He was a type of wayfarer often seen in the out-of-the-way portions of Japan, who, touched by an expanding arc of the great wave of westernization, has adopted a ludicrous cross between the native and foreign dress, a cross that possesses all the characteristics of degeneracy from both of the parent stocks. The next man that passed carried on his shoulder a short wooden steel-bound mattock or hoe, such as the peasants use in cultivating the fields, and another led a bull stout of neck and sullen of countenance laden with a rough plow and other tools for the day's work. These men were coming from their homes out to the particular little patches belonging to them somewhere in the plain. It is customary for the peasants to group their houses in small colonies and sometimes they go long distances to their work. Still another man, who came along the path empty-handed and empty-faced and out of work, was evidently quite resigned to the enforced leisure promising for that day. As I went farther and the day grew the fields became peopled here and there with men and women in small groups heartily beginning their task of digging and planting and nursing the ground. This is their daily occupation and so they live on peacefully, paying no heed to the filmy cloud floating over the crest of the Aso ridge, which now disperses before the spring sun only to return, in one form or another as a misty veil over the mountain top, a dark smoke, or a silvery cumulus cloud standing bright on the blue sky. There is no thought of the living force of the volcano.

The crater floor slopes upward from the outlet toward the east, and Takamori is several hundred feet higher than the level of the floor near the break in the walls where the streams flow out. It rises still more beyond Takamori and breaks from a fairly even plain into undulating hillocks which occupy the angle where the outer wall curving in converges with the Aso range. In this angle I reached the base of Neko-dake and the foot of the wall at the same time. The ascent was up a grass-grown ridge having an even slope of thirty degrees, but becoming