Snow blankets the world as I rise this morning. It has been snowing since yesterday, and I am so glad that we made it through the mountains before the blizzard began. I have been trying to catch my breath, watching the battle with the nuclear reactors on the television, getting my feet back on the ground. There seems to be no improvement in the situation in Fukushima, I do not know what we are going to do, I am in limbo. I gave the children a new note book each yesterday, and a new pen.
"This is for you to write down or draw about the things that have happened over the last few days, so you don't forget." I tell them.
The bigger children write, just the nuts and bolts at first, what happened and when. Little by little they fill in the gaps with how they felt, a few illustrations.
Sean draws pictures.
"This is me coming out of the pre-school door, and the verandah moving and me falling over." he explains.
"Did it hurt when you fell?" I ask.
"No, but it was really scary, and the lights were all swinging and we had to rush outside in case they fell down. And this is the window of the old peoples day care next door, all broken in little bits. These are the cracks going zig zag through the playground, and this is the water in the pool going KERSPLASH! over the edges."
His pictures start in black and white, hard lines and jagged edges. He draws a building, with rolling black scribble inside, then hunts for a red crayon from his bag and adds sharp angled lines. "This is that house blowing up!"
"The one on the tele?" I ask.
"Yes, that one." The reactor....
He draws a big picture of Mummy with her arms out wide. He draws the computer keyboard in brown. He draws all our faces framed on the computer screen in blue. He draws a light green dog...then another green dog.
I watch the children play hide and seek upstairs and downstairs in their uncles house, giggling, jumping out and surprising each other, squabbling over cards. This house that is our temporary home. It was built just a couple of years ago, simple, sturdy and with sound foundations. Beside it is the old family house, where Mikas parents live. The family have been here for four generations. The bedrock is very stable here, they tell me, and since we came I have not felt a single tremor, though the TV shows them all the time. Another level 3 in Mashiko, a level four in Ichikai, 5.6 off the coast of Ibaraki....but Minakami is still and quiet in the snow.
Down the path behind the house, beside the bamboo grove, along the edge of the rice feilds. I just need some fresh air. It was a low of -6C overnight, and a top of -1C today. The rice paddies spread white between the hill and the river. Icicles hang from the leaves of the bamboo. Below the house is a natural spring, "Benten no mizu" they call it, "Benten's Water". Benten is the goddess of wisdom and art, and this spring feeds pure water into the rice fields when summer comes. The water is so pure a small bottling company has set up next door and markets the water through local ski resorts under the brand name "Sekkasui".
There are many hot springs and ski resorts in Minakami, and most of the hotels and hostels are fairly empty at the moment. Mika's brother is on the local council, and they decided yesterday to allocate 100,000,000 yen to provide food and accomodation for a thousand evacuees from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima in the empty hostels. Many of them will have lost their homes, their families, and many of them will feel lost themselves. It will take a very long time to recover.
I walk to the path beside the river, and each step I take, my left boot creaks. It is not an unpleasant sound, rather like a small frog. I have checked; there is no frog. I walk to the highway, across the bridge, the snow flakes streaming past on the icy wind from the north west, a wind that will blow the Fukushima fallout out to sea. For the moment at least. There is little traffic on the road, there is no petrol.
I reach the local Supermarket, business as usual. In Mashiko the supermarkets were closed, and the convenience store shelves were bare of bread or rice or noodles or canned foods or milk or...Perhaps it is better now?
The television tells us that people in Tokyo are hoarding. The minister for internal affairs begs them not to. In Minakami, the supermarket is well stocked, there is no crowded queue, all is calm. Last decades Pop songs play quietly in the background. My heart is in turmoil, I do not know what to do. I was interviewed by phone from Australia today, radio and television. They want to know what I think I will do. Will I return to Australia? Will I rebuild in Mashiko? What do I think of the nuclear disaster...? I do not know, I have lived in Tochigi prefecture for 21 years, longer than I lived in Melbourne, or Bendigo, or Swan Hill...Japan is my home. But what can I do to rebuild a life that is safe for my family when the reactors burn unchecked? The brave souls battling the reactors are sacrificing so much to try to save other lives, three hundred thousand people are evacuated in the freezing snow, many without proper food or fresh water or heating. I walk around the supermarket, Aubergines are cheap. There is a red capsicum at half price. Some pasta, a few cans of tomatoes. There is no queue at the register, the lady gives me my change. I go to the table to pack my groceries in the bag. There is a box for donations for earthquake relief... I look at the change in my hand... I think of my children... I put the change away in my pocket and walk out of the supermarket with my groceries.
As I walk home to cook dinner for my family, snow flurries around me. Each step I take, my boot creaks. It is the sond of me going home to my family, for wherever they are, that is home. It is the sound of moving forward, one step at a time.