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倒木

空から降ってきた雨は山肌や谷を沿って海に流れ落ちてゆきます。ただそれだけのことで、その間(あいだ)にはたくさんの命が生まれます。例外なく、人間もそこにある多くの命の恩恵を受けて生きてこれたのですから、間に生きる存在の一つに数えられるでしょう。とりわけ私の目をひいたのは、森の中でひっそりと生き続ける巨樹でした。通称「屋久杉」と呼ばれるその樹は、樹齢1000年以上の杉を指します。本州の杉の寿命は五百年ですから、少なくとも倍以上は生きていることになります。中には樹齢三千年を超える杉もあります。森では巨木の残骸も至るところに転がっていて、いつからそこにあるのか正確には誰にもわかりません。

屋久杉はゆっくりと成長するため木目が細かく、樹齢がある杉ほど木目間に油分が多く蓄えられます。それゆえに倒れた後でも腐りにくく、樹齢と同じ年月をかけて土に還ると言われています。やがて倒木は苔に覆われ、苔に蓄えられた水分を栄養にして新しい命が芽吹き始めます。杉の芽だけではありません。さまざまな樹種や菌類など、数え切れない命が倒木を土台にして成長するのです。命に覆われた倒木は生と死の境界線すら曖昧に感じさせます。

屋久島の森を歩き、静けさをまとった倒木を眺めていると、私の内にある激しい感情が行き場をなくして消えていくようでした。わき起こる怒りや留まり続ける悲しみといった感情は人の短い寿命からくる気がしてなりません。森の中には数千年前に生きた命があり、また数千年後まで生きる命が同時に存在しています。それらの倒木はときに赤ん坊を抱く祖父母のようにも見えてきます。悠久の中に立っていると、人もまた同じように生死を繰り返してきたのではないかと思えます。大切な命を次世代につなげるとは使い古された表現かもしれません。しかし、この森ではそれがシンプルな答えです。誰もが悠久の狭間に一瞬だけ生きているとするなら、個の想いを繋ぐことこそ生きる意味になり得るのかもしれません。

Fallen tree

It begins with rain falling from the sky. It flows down the mountain, along the valley, into the ocean. Simple as it is, this journey of rainfall allows for the birth of many forms of life all the way from the mountain to the ocean. Without exception, as humans have benefited from those many lives, I think we are one of the beings living between the mountain and the ocean. Among those lives, what particularly caught my eye were the huge trees quietly living in the forest. These trees, known as yakusugi, are the Japanese cedars aged 1,000 years or more and native to Yakushima, an island off the southern coast of Kyushu, the southwestern-most of the Japan’s four main islands. Cedars in the nation’s largest main island, Honshu, have a lifespan of 500 years. So, yakusugi trees live at least twice as long as their counterparts in Honshu, or longer. Some of these trees are more than 3,000 years old. Also, here and there in the forest, there lies debris from the huge fallen trees. Nobody knows for sure how long it has been there.

Because yakusugi trees grow slowly, they have tight grain, and the older the trees are, the more resin the wood contains.That is why they are so resistant to decay after they fall. To return to the soil, the trees are said to take the same amount of time as their lifespans. Once the trees have fallen, it is not long before they are covered with moss. Then, with its moisture as a nutrient, new lives begin to come out. Not only the cedar sprouts but also countless life forms, such as various other tree species and fungi, start growing on the fallen trees. Covered with life, fallen trees give the impression of blurring even the border between life and death. 

Walking in Yakushima’s forest and looking at fallen trees that have an aura of quietude about them, I felt like strong emotions in me lost their targets and faded away. I cannot help thinking that emotions like surging anger and lingering sadness come from the short period of our lifespans. In the forest, two types of life coexist, one that has lived for thousands of years and the other that will live for the next thousands of years. The fallen trees sometimes look as if they were the grandparents holding a baby in their arms. Standing in this eternity, I cannot help but think humans have also repeated the cycle of life and death in the same way as the trees in the forest. It may be a cliché that a precious life is passed on to the next generation. But that is the simple answer in the forest. If it is safe to say everyone lives momentarily between the infinite past and future, in an in-between time, so to speak, I think we can say passing the individual existence on to the next generation is exactly the meaning of our life. (Translated into English by Hisato Kawata)

© Yosuke Kashiwagura

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