Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/45

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39
THE GREAT JAPANESE VOLCANO ASO

walls above the level of the plain is on the average about 1,500 feet. It decreases toward the western side owing to the gradual rise of the floor in that direction, but increases at some points, as on the southwest and west sides, where mountains break the continuity of the horizon line.

From the brink of the wall around the whole circumference of the big crater, a wide plateau slopes gently away at an angle of only some five to eight degrees. One is apt to think of a crater as a pit on the apex of a sharp conical mountain. The crater of Aso has a cone, but its slopes are so moderate that one realizes only from a point of comprehensive outlook that this vast open bowl lies on the summit of a huge mound, which forms an upland of low relief in the center of Kiushiu.

The outward-sloping surface of this mound, as seen from above, is like a plateau, but it is without a single level place. No surface could be more wrinkled and still preserve the appearance of an inclined plane. It is completely made up of knolls and ridges and knobs, which continue off for many miles to the base of high encircling mountains. From the summit of Neko-dake these distant mountains are seen to surround this upland, much as the walls of the big crater surround its floor. The hillocks of the upland are overgrown in the early spring with long dry grass, but the cultivated bottoms between shine like emeralds, the green of the wheat being deepened here and there by the background of black soil upon which it grows.

From the peaks of the Aso range that divide the two well-populated plains long flowing ridges with concave slopes reach down into the floor. Between them are steep gorges. These ridges are not dwelt upon nor cultivated, probably on account of the lack of water, but like the hills of the outer plateau are grown over with rank grass. They contrast strongly with the richly tinted sweep of the crater bottoms. Considerable patches of the northern plain are sometimes flooded, and there is a legend that the big bowl of Aso was once occupied by a lake until a god kicked the hole in the wall to let the water out and leave the ground for cultivation. One can not but admire the conception of the ease and despatch with which this early piece of reclamation work was carried out.

Nearly all that has been described, and more, can be seen from the top of Neko-dake; so much, in fact, that two or three hours spent on the summit was all too short a time. The descent was quick down the steep slope, but the evening homeward jaunt to Takamori was one of many miles. The way led along a muddy black path; at first among bare fields, where peasant women had been at work all day gathering up com stalks, loading them on oxen, and sending them home to be chopped up to feed the animals; and then among the endless paddy-fields of wheat and mustard. Finally 'home,' when reached, consisted