Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rock quarry again


After digging up bamboo shoots, Mr. Takahashi asked us if we would like to see his rock quarry. Mr. Takahashi, though retired now, owns a rock quarry and a few mountains and large areas under the town where his company digs out Oya rock. Oya rock... Remember that name? I was visiting an Oya rock quarry with Lorraine during the earthquake of March 11.

Because it was early Sunday morning there was no one at the rock quarry when we pulled up. A lot of rocks! Besides carving rock out of the earth, Mr. Takahashi's company shapes the rock into pillars and slabs to be used in "bricking" up interior and exterior of buildings, making columns for entrances etc. To say that Mr. Takahashi is proud of his rock quarry is an understatement. He is PASSIONATE about his rock quarry and ZEALOUS about Oya rock!

Oya rock is very porous and is used abundantly in our prefecture for property walls and in cultural buildings. But probably most people around here see so much of it that we all take it for granted. A rock is a rock. NOT SO according to Mr. Takahashi.

We admired Mr. Takahashi's rocks. We marveled at the many heavy machinery that he explained do marvelous things like shape rocks into curves and domes. We gasped at a shaft dropping down into seemingly endless earth, left over from previous cutting away.

"Would you like to see the inner part of the quarry?"

Mr. Takahashi knows that I was in the city Oya rock quarry during the earthquake. He pooh-poohed my tale of escaping from the dark cavern while Lorraine and I scrambled to the exit.

"That is the city's quarry. It is made for tourists. That's not the real thing. I'll show you MY quarry."

Okay... Let's go see it... Tetsu looked at me like he was seeing a different person. He later said he thought I'd been traumatized enough with being in a quarry during an earthquake. Why would I be willing to go down again?

Mr. Takahashi pushed open a low gate and headed for an iron staircase that disappeared into what looked like a dark room.

"By the way... This staircase is only attached to the roof of the building. It is hanging down into the quarry. That means that when we walk on it it will shake. I just wanted to let you know that you are not getting dizzy nor is the shaking the result of another earthquake."

Okay... I can manage a slightly shaking stairway for a few steps...

Mr. Takahashi took the lead. Tetsu took the rear. I had two strong men to depend on. There is nothing to be afraid of. HAH!!!!!!!!!!!

There is such a fine line between courage and foolishness. As we descended into the black pit on a shaking staircase I thought how stupid it would be to have been saved from a crushing death in a quarry and then two months later go back down in one never to return to the surface again.

Down, down, down. How far down are we going? When are these steps ever going to end?

"Oh, it is about 50 or 60 meters to the bottom. That's about 7 stories in a building."

Only thin metal handrails separating me from the dark abyss on all sides of me. No walls. At the stairwell turns only thin cables crossing in the center to keep one from making a dive into darkness. Tetsu kept telling me not to look down. I gripped those handrails. I had both elbows on those handrails as I firmly planted each foot on a lower step.

"Tanya-san, you haven't looked once at what's around you. The light coming in the shaft is very beautiful on the far walls."

I cannot look at far walls. I can only concentrate on going one more step down.

Finally we reached a "bridge" that was attached to the rock wall.

"This is slippery here, so watch where you step."

Oh my gosh... The bridge is just strutted out into space. Tetsu was mumbling behind me about whether this rickety thing was going to support his weight. I hate to say it but the bridge, the staircase in general was very old and somewhat rusted.

Close to the bottom we straddled a gap to another bridge and finally went down a crooked ladder ending up at the bottom of the quarry. A wet, quarry with water seeping from cracks and the sound of dripping echoing off the walls. In some places I couldn't even tell if the area was a deep pool of water or only a few inches of water... and it would be very easy to make a misstep and go plunging into the murky pools a few steps away. Except for a few naked light bulbs lighting our immediate area, the caverns were dark and eerie.

But Mr. Takahashi was in ecstasy explaining about the beauty of the solitude, the years of working down here alone (or with his wife!!!) the love for bringing a slab of rock to the surface and releasing it into light.

"You appreciate Oya rock when you choose one down here and then see it emerging from this pit. This rock is alive! I don't bring just anyone down here you know. This is not a place for tourists. I only bring people who will LOVE Oya rock.

We stayed in the cold quarry about 20 minutes and gradually I began to realize that I was going to have to climb that rickety ladder and bridge and stairway to get out of here. I did NOT want to do that. But I did NOT want to live out the rest of my life in a quarry either. We headed back towards the shaft of light illuminating our lifeline.

Same as before but this time I had to watch my feet as we went up and I could see down through the slats into the darkness below. All the while Mr. Takahashi expounded about the wonders of Oya rock. He would stop in the middle of the stairway and turn around and wave his hands while he explained and all the while, me thinking....

"Oh dear. I don't think I'm going to be able to do this. Please just go to the top and explain later!"

At one point I even began to feel light-headed.

"I am not going to faint on a staircase hanging out over nothing. Tanya, you are not dizzy. Actually, Tanya if you just stopped holding your breath your brain might get some oxygen. That's a good idea, just breathe!"

We made it to the top! Thank you Lord for rescuing me out of the pit AGAIN! I will never do that again!

But that's not to say that I'm not glad that I saw Mr. Takahashi's quarry once. I will forever appreciate Oya rock. Whenever I see Oya rock I will think about the men who go down there daily. Oya rock really is beautiful to me.

Mr. Takahashi let us pick out a couple pieces from his quarry to bring home. Maybe they are his rewards to us for stepping down into his world, and appreciating it.

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