Friday, May 31, 2002

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Oh, the moments merely walking down the mountain these mornings, following and listening to the water cascading from paddy to paddy toward the lake, and all the way the frogs singing as well in celebration of another new life, it's always new, always, whether for this turning you're a silver stream or a green and moist amphibian on a nameless morning or a guy on two legs ambling down to a train station, it's always new, with sometimes scarlet tsubaki blossoms fallen in the selfsame silken richness by the roadside, warblers amid the cherry blossoms trilling something beyond time about the magic of the dawn and the vast and simple secrets of just being alive to see and hear this, and winding throughout it all the fragrance of the morning mountain herbal liquid forest stream of air and water, light and song, of sunrise gold in turquoise where the moon was silver on jet, with the lake spread out like all the sacred magic of the finest dreams wrapped with mountains all around in a green and crystal chanting that goes on and on for millions of years with no end in sight or heart or mind, there is no end to such moments...

Tuesday, May 28, 2002


LILACS


Rice is all planted, the grandmas out in the paddies filling in the gaps by hand, no doubt remembering the unbelievable days when entire fields were planted by hand.

On the deck in the morning watering the seedling flats, I am suddenly inspired with the fragrance of blooming lilac and am swirled into the past just standing there; it makes a tree of me.

There is love in the scent of lilacs; a sweet perfume that knew me long before I came to be.

I am slowly learning from other vegetation as well, the way life moves with chlorophyll. They teach in their own languages, but we communicate; we definitely communicate. I have learned how important water is to ginger, for example, and to radishes at certain times, and how kohlrabi dislikes a hard soil; how broccoli and peppers feel about temperature, and so on. I'm not sure exactly how they tell me these things, so I'll add that to the steadily lengthening list of things I'm not sure of.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

WHERE IS THE WILD?

"I love the wild not less than the good," said Henry, in the 'Higher Laws' chapter of Walden, and "In wildness lies the preservation of the world." Henry was wild about wilderness, just couldn't stop talking about it one way or another, and who can blame him.

But that was a long time ago, over 150 years now. The interesting thing is that even back then, when to our now-eyes the wild must have been everywhere, Henry was already lamenting its loss, already bemoaning the insidious spread of the artifactual. His were admirable sentiments, and fell on mostly deaf ears in those times of civilized righteous conviction regarding clearcutting of the greater soul, he sold about 2 copies of Walden.

Henry was speaking of what he knew as wild, and apparently it was still there. So now, some 150 years later, where is it? Where is the wild, either out there or in here? Who saw it last? Where has it gone? Is it out on the lawn? Is it in the Winnebago, the tv, the hot air balloon, the haircut, the high or low fashion, the pierced navel, the inner child, the urban shaman, the modern warrior, the rabid zealot? Is it on the Net? In commuters' eyes?

In the times we live in now, the further we get from whatever wild there once was-- the wild that Henry was already yearning for-- the more we are clothed in and walled by the garments, jobs, incomes, possessions, habits, sciences, arts, names, rebellions, religions, and ways we think we are, the less we are in our minds the creatures of creation, the less we are the thrust of the universe, and the more we are the static but remarkably life-like exhibits in that big fancy museum of our own construction we call modern life, and the less relevant we are to what is ever going on in the undercurrents and overcurrents of the universe: in the sun that is shining, the tides that are flowing, the moon that is rising, the blooms that are opening, the seeds that are falling, scattering on the wind and swelling with the rain; we are no longer integral with what in us is ferally fertile, until now the rare looker looks around the ambience and sees nothing but clothing and vehicles and communication media, arts and business and photographs of flowers, documentaries of mountains, a narcissistic repository that for a great many people has become reality, and so they do not bestir themselves to germinate, to grow to what they were engendered for, which is far beyond dimension, in the immeasurable realms of the awesomely simple.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002


FROG TAKES WING


This afternoon, while pausing in my digging labors, I glanced perchance at the blue sky and there beheld a small frog spinning languidly, legs outstretched. My eyes followed the amphibian as he plunged earthward and was caught gently by my son, Keech. Before my mouth could fall fully open the frog was airborne again, once more spinning languidly. When my mouth was available I asked Keech what in the world he was doing to the poor frog. "Sky diving," he replied, as the frog went up again. I pointed out that very likely this had never happened to the frog before in his life, or to any of his ancestors, that maybe the frog didn't know how to handle this, and that he might very well throw up all over Keech, but as I looked at the frog coming down again, to be sent up again, I had to admit that his greenness wasn't complaining, he wasn't struggling; in fact, in the moment of stillness at the top of his arc, spinning languidly as before, legs centrifugally outstretched, up there in the sky with the birds and the trees, bulgy eyes taking it all in with a kind of philosophical serenity, I had to admit that the frog appeared to be liking this a lot, and that Keech might actually be doing a very historic favor for the frog family, who will perhaps one day recall him fondly in their myths as the benevolent god who gave them the gift of flight, as the former amphibians soar in their new blueness, high above the mud they once knew as home. Frog had definitely never looked so far downward before; perhaps he was feeling in his breast the unwonted swelling of an unearned pride... We humans know where that can lead.

---First published, in slightly different form, in Kyoto Journal's Inaka issue---

Saturday, May 18, 2002

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


And now the rainy season begins, when the vast black rounded thunderclouds come roiling and growling in, the very soul of umbrage, harry the green and passive landscape, hammer home their points in bolted light. I did my best to conceal my whereabouts by donning a series of new disguises and going shopping on Saturday in preparation for a Sunday of gardening, but the weather found out what I was up to and started raining in earnest early Sunday morning so I couldn't get a thing done outdoors, and then about when it got dark the rain stopped, to save itself for the next time I try to work in the garden. During the week it was beautiful weather outside the office, sunny and cool, perfect for gardening, but the weather knows I'm here. In the evening went out in the drizzle looking for sansai (wild mountain vegetables), specifically mitsuba, along the roadsides up into the forest. There is that wonderful ancient feeling of gathering from the wild that has no parallel in civilized life, and gets right down to the nub of that old adage there's no such thing as a free lunch; this is about as close as one can really get to the lunch of no purchase, doing very pleasant work, in birdsong-waterfall-tree-green surroundings, to get it. And what a fresh, bright and fragrant lunch it is, lying there in the straw bag. On Saturday, during a short lull in the rain I sneaked out in disguise and managed to prepare the bed under the cherry tree for the ginger roots before I was discovered and heavily rained on. Also managed to note within the downpour that the asparagus has started its thread-slender tendril stalks palping the air with a greenness the color of spring dusk rain in reverse. Planted a plum sapling in the rain, it just begged to be planted with those little green eyes; immediately it began waving its arms and dancing. There's no mistaking when a plum tree is happy.

Friday, May 17, 2002


MAJESTIC

A few mornings ago when Zoom and I were driving back upmountain in the van, we watched a hawk close-up as it rode the air in place just off to the left in front of us, the wind sliding fast and muscular up the mountain, the hawk just hanging there close above the road as the air clear-silvered its massive way on up and over, hawk easily riding those streaming majestic smooth-rippled torrents, those wings a magnificent embodiment of all that answers to the wind, taut airstream body suspended from tawny featherfingered wings widespread - suddenly out of those sleek feathers came a long golden talon that reached up and scratched real good behind the ear where it must have itched like crazy it don't matter where you are or what you're doin when you get an itch, hawk was just literally hangin out after all, figuratively speakin, leanin on the lamppost of the air, just wingin it, air doin most of the work, hawk in fact nothin much to do otherwise but what's natural, nothin majestic about an itchy ear, we cracked up Zoom and I...


Tuesday, May 14, 2002


QUAKY


Yesterday afternoon in the office a couple of the more sensitive ladies gave a little scream and said there'd been an earthquake but I hadn't felt a thing. Later in commuter zombie mode I went up and up and up to the always long lines on my always crowded Osaka train platform and THERE WAS NO ONE THERE.

I think Kafka must have had such an experience early in life. So after a moment or two of professional nonplusment I went down and down and down and over and up and up and up to the other Kyoto-direction platform and EVERYONE WAS THERE, being showered with a lengthy announcement explaining at some length that "mmbblllbl wmmmblwlw lbbw mnngrflmpo neflwm bmwawa," then a train came in and I was flotsamed onto it as a mere twig in the powerful torrent of crowd, still wondering what was going on.

We all became thinner from the pressure of each other, with hordes pushing yet at the doorways, wanting sooo much to be on this particular train, it could be the last one to Kyoto for some time, until the doors at last closed with the watery sigh of mercy. As the train rocked along toward Kyoto, letting on more and more people as we went, in a magnanimous gesture of railroading goodwill that was at no expense to the railroad, everyone was becoming streadily narrower as bones crunched and sweat oozed and breath left bodies, there were several announcements from the ceiling to the effect that "mmbblllblearthquakewmmmblwlwlbbwmnn flwmbmwawa," which seemed to be an apology for the delays and crowding resulting from the earthquake, which had caused the management to close all the windows and turn the heat up.

When at last we all got to Kyoto Station, each of us much lighter, thinner and taller, there were ten times as many people waiting on the platform as there are in Japan into which we all got off the train, and a big sign said nothing more specific than that all train runs were temporarily suspended, so to clarify things they made the emergency announcement that "mmbbl llblstron gearthq uakew mmmblwl wlbb wmnn flwmbmwawa," causing everyone to mill around to the extent possible while talking on their cell phones, those without cell phones, like me, wandering off to look for pay phones with less than a hundred people in line.

I did the same and eventually called home, where Echo said in response to my question, "Earthquake, what earthquake, was there-- Oh yeah, this afternoon, while I was in the supermarket," so I told her there were no trains for I knew not how long, but that "mmbblllblwmmmblwlwlbbwmnnflwmbmwawa," so I'd see her later, then I went back up to the platform and joined the mob and it was announced that "mmbblllblwmmmblwlwlbbwmnnflwmbmwawa," just as a silver train pulled in and I was swept on, and we were off in what I hoped was the right direction, so at some point I cut off someone's air supply to look out the window, when I saw with almost fanatic gratitude that we would soon arrive at my home station, but even as I watched the train went on and on and on, past my home station, it wasn't stopping, I had boarded the dreaded train that goes all the way, and I vowed to get off at the first stop, which I did, and the train doors closed and the train pulled away on its way to the very end and I looked around me at track 1 in the unknown station in the middle of nowhere with NO ONE THERE BUT ME and dark countryside all around and I got that same old Kafka feeling again with a touch of Night of the Living Dead, so I went down the stairs into the long empty corridors where a sign said indisputably, arrows and all, no qualifications, "Trains to Kyoto this way" said arrows pointing to track 4 so I went accordingly up the stairs to track 4, where soon another person came up the stairs and looked at the train schedule posted there. The next train would be at 7:32, about ten minutes. Lucky me.

The other person looked at a growing crowd of people waiting on track 1 and went down the stairs and came up beside track 1, where I had been. Why? Surely that person had wanted to go in the Kyoto direction? How could a Japanese make such a mistake? I had no idea. Now I was the only one at track 4. More folks began to gather beside track 1. Not long after that a silver train from Kyoto pulled in on track 1, last stop, everyone on it got off and disappeared, no one had made the mistake I had. Just then there was an announcement: "mmbblllblwmmmblwlwlbbwmnn flwmbmwawa," I guess it must be a tape they send out to all stations for emergencies like this, and then came a 'live' announcement explaining at last that "mmbbear thquake lllblwmmmbl flwmb mwa wadelays," which I interpreted to mean that the train schedule I had read was temporarily invalid, at which point the 7:32 train to Kyoto, slightly delayed, pulled away in the form of the silver train on track 1, leaving the other platform empty and convincing me that the Japanese have some kind of special thing in their brains that tells them which train to take no matter where they are, even if there's a temporary change in schedules due to an earthquake.



I ran down and down and over and up and up there. Went up to the driver. Asked if this train was going toward Kyoto. He looked at his watch and said "Yep, but you can probably get an earlier train over on track 4." So I went back down and down and over and up and up to track 4 and waited for the train I knew would come one day; how does one really know such things, whence oh whence comes hope, to a stranger in a strange land? How does one dream in a foreign language? Which chopstick should I use? Does this go from right to left? Is it cold or is it me? Is there a train to where I'm going? Many are the Kafkaesque questions that race chaotically through the fevered mind alone on the empty platform late at night in wait for a phantom train as the entire country, indeed the world, rolls silently on into darkness...


Thursday, May 09, 2002

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Walked up the mountain to look at the area of private land where the cedars had been clearcut, maybe four acres worth, right where the broad path begins to come out of the woods, where we've hiked a number of times; I remember the naves of those trees way outclassing cathedrals, and the miraculous light that shone down in true and golden holiness through the branches, and now that place is but a hilly vacant lot covered with stumps so a million people can put up a bookshelf. There was the bitter aftertaste of business about it, perhaps its worst aspect, with that mountain beauty all around, watching. It reminded me in a way of the cattle I saw on Saturday with red tags on one ear and yellow tags on the other and orange rings in their noses, staring at me with big brown infinitely patient eyes, there at the brink of beefsteak--- moneymaking based on large-scale death. The land, like a lumbery abattoir, was littered with limbs and large chunks of 'flawed' logs, and there was one good log there that probably simply wouldn't fit on the full truck, but one log wasn't worth coming back for (it's money we're talking about, after all, not trees) and long soft mountains of evergreen branches. Not far away, workmen have been busy for some months paving the stream that is the pond outlet, stone bedding and embanking the modest flow-off as part of the vast public works package largessed by the powers that be who haven't the slightest idea what "natural" means, and couldn't care less. Rivers and streams are being paved everywhere, the general justification being flood control, when in fact it's hogwash.

Monday, May 06, 2002

TALK ON THE WILD SIDE

Yesterday evening, in that short spell of quiet buildup that precedes the starry magnificence of night, the silence broken only by occasional finales from the manic warbler, a slight wafting of breeze now and then ruffling the cedar tops, I was cleaning the tools after working in the garden, using in this instance the planting trowel to scrape dirt off the spade. I scraped once and immediately a frog sounded once from beneath the porch. I scraped again. Frog again. I scraped twice. Scrape scrape; frog, frog. I scraped faster, frog frogged faster, I scraped rapidly, frog frogged rapidly; I scraped fast and extendedly, frog emitted a pointed silence. Who did I think I was, anyway.

We were holding a conversation, but my Frog is rudimentary at best, and apparently I had made a froggy faux pas. Did he think me a usurping male? A comely female? Were we talking froggy politics? The latest amphibian news? Tree frog gossip? To change the subject I tried scraping the hoe, and then the rake, to see if the frog objected to dialect, but there was no response. Didn't like my tone of voice, or the direction the conversation was taking, or perhaps he found such talk too small.

To get back to the original gist I resumed the shovelish tone, and as we conversed, lo and behold another frog joined us from up in a cedar; and then another and another joined in, and before too long I found myself part of a large froggy committee discussing various amphibian topics; I listened for the most part, now and then shoveling in an interjection, and did my best to understand, but they spoke awfully quickly; at one point I ventured to point out in my clumsy croakery that I was not amphibian, but they seemed to think it was ok.

I began to think that perhaps they were conversing with a human via a shovel because they were lonely, dying out so such and all as the scientists were saying; and as soon as I had that thought the more talkative frog asked me how long we humans have been around; I scraped out "a few million years"; the frogs chuckled among themselves, croaked they'd been around a hell of a lot longer than that, and had seen a lot worse, and were far more adaptable than we who are causing the 'frog' problem. We humans hadn't seen the worst yet, though, and are a lot less adaptable than frogs. "Can't even lay eggs in water for goodness sake." Maybe we'd make it, maybe we wouldn't. The frogs would, though.

I asked what they thought our chances were, and an unsettling silence followed. We quickly went on to talk of other things, very earnestly and apparently to great depth, discussing a number of interspecial topics for some time and at various tempos until the shovel was clean, but I have no true idea what we were talking about. Our little gathering reminded me of the UN in many ways, but unlike that august body at the close of session I had at least a clean shovel. I then put the shovel away and went in to dinner and a bath, but we must have started something, because the frogs went on talking all night. If you ever want to talk to one of my amphibian neighbors, I'll let you borrow my shovel.

Sunday, May 05, 2002

DAWNING WORLDS

And out there while I was working digging butternut squash mounds but I first I had to move the pile of lumber, but first I had to dig up that stump that was where the lumber had to go, I went and got the tools and dug up the stump sweating and straining but it was ok I realized because whatever I had to do it would never be more than I'd had to do when I worked for Henry the dutch gardener, summers while I was in college. I dug up the stump sweating, moved the lumber board by board by board by board sweating, cleared the planting spot sweating, sweating dug the three holes went and got the potted squash plants and the compost and planted the plants and made it all neat and then went into the house dripping sweat and aching in muscle and bone and opened the fridge and got out the tallest coldest cannest beerest thing in the refrigerator and went out on the deck and stood in the breeze from the Lake and went PSSHHHT!!!!!! in that beer can-opening sound that precedes all major miracles and tilted way back deep into being and there was a vast frisson in the universe and the birds flying by said Hey bro howya doin and the moment was vast and it was deep and and it was wide and so was I and the worlds dawning inside me

Saturday, May 04, 2002


LANDOWNER FEELINGS


I was standing outside when an elderly couple came down the mountain road, apparently collecting wild herbs; they asked if they could cross my property to get to the other road, and I was caught unawares as a landlord; I was so unfamiliar with the fact, let alone the social niceties of property ownership, I stammered and said "Sure!" in English. They stared at me in Japanese. Then I said "Dozo!" Then they walked across "my" land. What strange feelings it involved.

Friday, May 03, 2002


NICER WHEN IT WAS A DUCK


This morning on the train, my beloved and endearing train, I was sitting there in zomboid mode attempting to digest some intellectual tidbits from a book on political science, and so was in that surreal scientifico-politico commuter warp wherein such default mentations are processed, when an announcement came over the train loudspeaker, "Quack-quack, quack-qua-quack, quack-qua-quack."

In that mental state, it didn't seem strange at all to hear conductor Donald Duck addressing the commuting flock, or maybe there was a real duck making the announcements, I couldn't be sure, nor did I try to be; nor did my retarded curiosity seem bizarre; I was more challenged to discern what the bird was trying to tell me, than to wonder what the hell a duck would have to say to us featherless bipeds.

So in that singularly delimited frame of mind I concentrated, and began to parse out what sounded like Japanese syllabication; which caused me to slip further toward that dubious state we delight in calling normalcy, wherein I realized that the conductor was not a duck, nor was he imitating a duck, but was rhythmically and dialectically and quackically announcing via an aging and ragged speaker system: "Wani, Wani, next stop Wani; Wani, Wani, next stop Wani," and I thought how much nicer it had been when I'd thought it was a duck. Is this a sign of some disaffection on my part?

Wednesday, May 01, 2002


NATIONAL TREASURES


Japan is not commonly known around the world as the chronically cherry-pieless nation that it is, though it isn't really an easy secret to hide, if you know where to look. Go down any country road; take any turning; and sooner or later you will come upon a breathtaking vista, or a splendid and intriguing national treasure, but it will definitely not be a pie. Let alone a cherry pie. Not a wedge, not a sliver, not a crust, not a crumb. Quaint villages; unique temples; smiling people, lovely seacoasts; graceful mountains; famous local rice crackers; but cherry pie? [cue mad laughter of demented foreigners] I don't even have a decent picture of a piece of cherry pie. And though I've never heard it mentioned in polite company, this historic broad-spectrum pielessness could go a long way toward explaining Japan's surprising dearth of Nobel prizes. Lack of cherry pie will do that to a country.

Yes, incredible as it may sound, it is true: no excellent cherry pie, no adequate cherry pie, not even tolerably counterfeit cherry pie, like I used to find in just about any American grocery store back in the days when I wouldn't have lived as long as I'll live now because I came to Japan, where, after extra-long decades of life-extending tofu and fermented soybeans and seaweed, and careful though increasingly delirious consideration, I have come to the conclusion that genuine home-made cherry pie must be what they eat in heaven, where there are all kinds of pies, and cakes, and cookies, too. Real cakes; real chocolate cakes; devil's food cakes, even. And chocolate chip cookies, that proudly and justly bear that name.

In Japan, after some tofu and broiled fish, for dessert there is perhaps bean paste, inside or outside some white or pink or maybe (whoopee!) green rice paste, or possibly rice crackers with seaweed, maybe an apple slice (be still, my heart!), and people live a few years longer, though it is not clear to me exactly why they would want to do so under such circumstances. It couldn't be for more dessert. And despite the lingering sense that one is doing the right thing dietarily, there is another sense that lingers a lot more, in fact drapes itself permanently over the psychography: the sense that as the years pass, one is missing out completely on those essential aspects of life that are manifested most congenially in cherry pie.

I'm sure that mental fugues like the aforegoing are common on both sides of the Pacific; no doubt a Japanese expat in the US, after twenty straight years of home-made, golden-crusted cherry pie, dreams longingly of tofu and broiled fish chased down by bean paste or rice crackers and seaweed, and more power to him, may he one day live long in his pieless homeland. But chronic cherry pie deficiency is a serious matter for a body that has been forged, in great part, of home-made cherry pie.

Sadly, though, I have begun to acknowledge to myself that despite the longer and dietarily minimalist life I am now living, I may never again partake of cherry pie, not even if I return to my native land, which is itself undergoing oriental transformations resulting from ever more radically healthy lifestyle extremes focusing on a longer life in terms of mere time, time filled with tofu and fermented soybeans, aggravated by a febrile kind of righteousness accompanying general proscriptions of pie and other manifestations of heaven on earth, like a la mode; but I can dream, and I dream that when at last, after my greatly extended, tofu-full, cherry-pie-deficient life I arrive at the heavenly gates, and God of course asks me first thing how long it's been since I had any cherry pie, and I say casually "Oh, I guess it must be at least forty or fifty years now, ma'am," God'll say with tears in her eyes, "MY GOD!! Peter, forget about whatever petty wrongs this poor fellow may have committed, and get those gates open AT ONCE; take this sufferer express to the BIG table and seat him right next to me; give him anything he wants, forever, and start him off with a real taste of heaven: our best home-made cherry pie!!" Some posthumous folks might prefer rice crackers and seaweed, but that would have to be somewhere other than heaven; and what then would be the point in dying?