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On my second day of walking along the ancient Japanese pilgrimage route known as the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi I found myself looking for an egg shaped rock to placate the serpents that haunt the shrine. It was late in the morning, but the the air was already warm and humid.

The placard read: “Jagata Jizo. Within the small roofed enclosure is a small statue of Jizo, a Buddhist deity who is the protector of children and travellers. Behind the Jizo is a rock with snake-like markings (jagata). Travellers in the area are sometimes overcome by daru spirits, serpent-like witch creatures capable of assuming invisible form, penetrating the human body, and inflicting a variety of painful torments. Because serpents are fond of eggs, egg-shaped rocks are offered to appease these evil spirits…”

Even though this trail has been used for more than a thousand years and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have passed this very spot and stopped to scour the nearby terrain for round stones; within a few minutes I found a remarkable light-colored rock that resembled an egg.

As I placed my stone into the shrine, a single drop of sweat from my forehead fell to the ground. Everything around me came alive.

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