Friday, August 30, 2002

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Ambling down the road into the rising morning, the slant of the sunlight just right to put a touch of red on the pendulous gold of the rice fields, I looked up and saw in the shadow from the hill that the air too was filled with small sheets of flickering gold, rising and falling to and from the light on breezes I could not feel and then my mind grew from thoughts of mere precious metals to a congregation of dragonflies testing their wings in the first of this new morning with its amazing sun and perfect air, and I could tell just by looking at the shining excitement of all those spirits on their dancing wings that they knew this world and this morning were precisely right.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

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BRIGHT YOUNG HANDS

I suppose it has a lot to do with age and its concatenations, I just went from 21 to 61 in what feels like about five years, but this newly attained chronic promontory must be the reason I'm beginning to feel a kind of relief, and a kind of confidence, I guess is the best way to put it, whenever I see a boy or girl who is ten years old or so, just verging on adulthood, new flames from the ancient coals, it's probably like the feeling hard-pressed and worn-out soldiers feel when fresh troops come to relieve them: there in the flesh is a surging font of the very confidence that is beginning to wane in oneself as muscles tire and joints begin to complain, and as the transcendant perspectives afforded at the height of life's experience greatly lessen the importance of so many things once thought to be of the very essence.

There in those fresh and eager faces is living proof that all is not lost, that the immutability fading in oneself has been passed on anew, that it transcends flesh and mirrors the soul; there too is the relief in beginning to accept at last that one's own continuance is not that damned important after all, that what is important has yet to go on, and all at once it is easy to hand it to the hands of these bright young...

Tuesday, August 27, 2002


NOT CHARLOTTE'S WEB


For the past three weeks, every Saturday morning when I went to check on the blueberries, natsume and biwa down in the south forty (square feet), I walked into a big spider web that had been strung across the path at head level between the azalea and momiji. This happened three times, and the web was destroyed three times. The fourth time I went, I was past the point before I remembered (previously the web had reminded me right in the face). I went back and looked: the web didn't say anything like Charlotte's, but the spider had indeed rebuilt it, only this time just above my head level. Could it be that her spiderness had noted and registered my height and the repeated destruction of the web thereby, and finally adjusted accordingly? It was spooky; previously I'd thought, like most people, that spiders were geniuses geometrically, but pretty dim otherwise. Now, however, it looks as though their IQs might be a lot higher than we merely four-limbed hubrists give them credit for. The question now is: should I let the spider borrow my books?

Monday, August 26, 2002

If you have to have faith, have faith in your talent. There are galaxies of which you are part; live up to them.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

SPIRIT OF THE SUNSET SKY

While I was painting the deck late this afternoon, for some reason my mind mused back to the distant past (back in the early 70's) when as a tourist visiting Horyuji in Nara I saw there in the treasure house (which happened to be open to the public for a few days), among so many other wonderful things from the Heian era a small box covered entirely in the dazzlingly refractant (even after 1400 years), opalescent rainbow wings of a kind of beetle I had never yet seen in Japan.

Looking at that box I could understand why I hadn't: there probably weren't any such beetles left; it must have been mighty popular as a decoration, took a few thousand insects to make one box, I expect, and that likely wasn't the only box or other artifact decorated with such wings, they were really a knockout, way more so than even abalone shell.

I'd often thought of that bright creation over the years, and of that nonexistent beetle, and there I was painting, as I say, out on the deck, turned around to dip my brush when there before my Heisei (Japan's current imperial era) eyes was a small but air-filling, shimmering blue luminescent rainbow beetle in the flesh, just sitting there gleaming on the wood in the evening dimness, looking right at me from way beyond the farthest dreams of Tiffany, me with a look on my face like saints on holy cards used to have when they were experiencing god.

The very spirit of the sunset sky had touched down beside me for a brief moment as though just to let me know, then lifted its priceless wing covers and flew off into the falling darkness, where I stood absent, brush in hand, adrift somewhere between now and forever.


Saturday, August 24, 2002

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What a wealth of grace it is, to watch the clouds at evening slide across the sky, all that majesty and not a king in sight. When we are deprived of the riches of clouds to fill our eyes and souls, our poverty is of the direst kind. Poor indeed is the one who never raises eyes to transcendance. By looking up, we grow.

Friday, August 23, 2002

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The other night, after a harrowing day in the garden I was very tired, getting ready for bed, and was about to put toothpaste on my razor and shave my teeth when I noticed one hand out there with the toothpaste tube in it and the other holding the razor ready to receive a squirt of toothpaste right on the edge of the blade, when my mind went "Waitaminute...what's wrong with this picture, something is wrong with this picture," at which point I realized I hadn't lathered my face, so I put some shaving cream on my toothbrush and proceeded to clear my two-day beard of the residue of dinner, then shaved my teeth and went to bed feeling a lot fresher but with the nagging feeling that I'd forgotten something.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

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This evening just before dusk Echo and Kasumi and Kaya and I went down to Omimaiko (the red-pine-clad peninsula you can see to the northeast from our house) for the annual hanabi (fireworks; literally: flowerfire) festival. Omimaiko, sort of the 'riviera' of Lake Biwa, has been a summer resort night spot for centuries, as has much of the western coast of the Lake; all the daimyo and court folks and upper echelon samurai used to come here and hang out big time for the refreshing cool night summer air and the major entertainments of pre-electric times in the palpable absence of jet skis. Big companies still have their corporate resorts here and there, though the site has lost a bit of luster in the modern age, when it's been as easy to jet to Hawaii; still, the ambience here cannot be equaled elsewhere, except perhaps fauxly by Disney et al., when one day they do a diorama of Beautiful Old Japan. The place is still busy with boaters and swimmers and campers and fishermen, though, so it's crowded in summer, and when the fireworks festival is on, double or triple that. And going to a fireworks festival in Japan is like in the west going to a rock concert with a dedicated fan audience. Fireworks are integral to the social life of the Japanese, who are perhaps the world's greatest firework artists and connoisseurs. At falling dusk before the show, we lay on the peninsula's north shore beach with red pines behind us, the Lake in front spreading sapphire out toward the north and east, the mountains curving away on the west from south to north as the stars came trickling out in prelude to the local light cascade. When all was well into night, the fireworkers filled the sky with cherry blossoms, hearts, crysanthemums, all sorts of plumes and falls and bursts and torrents and rings and swirls of light, all to booms you could feel inside your ribs like a giant heart as the crowd roared its approval and Kaya's eyes grew wide and filled with flowers of brightness, till the manmade one-night light show ended its opening act for the shining silence of the big light show beyond, that spells out universes and gives meaning to always. We all returned home full of all the kinds of light there are.

Friday, August 16, 2002


UNTIL ONE DAY


Here at the end of my not quite two-year-old grandaughter Kaya's brief summer visit, the last she will make as an infant, I'm feeling for the first time that grand sadness I realize now is inherent in all the departures of modern grandparenting, that must have been felt by my own grandparents. What delight it has been to behold my own ancestors in that bright little face, to bring her to flowers bigger than she is, show her a few of all the amazing things there are, from garden to star, have her first experience the fragrance of a favorite herb, hear her say her version of a new word and call me by her name for me.

Then in the new nature of things she goes away and is not seen for such-and-such a length of time and by then will have grown in her life, in which I will have only a small and occasional part (she is after all her parents' child). But seeing her little life - that has become so much a part of mine in a way new to the newly elder me - go away to grow is a keen sadness, moreso even than seeing my own children go away into the lives they live now, for that was the purpose all along, to raise them healthy and honest and strong and forthright and send them off into the world, and so there was and is great pride in their growing and going and living their lives.

But it is different with a grandchild, who when next I see her will no longer be the one I now love so; that one will be gone forever into my memories, and the new Kaya will be grown and know nothing of that in me, which is as it must be, until she one day becomes a grandparent herself, and perhaps in recalling comes to realize then how much I love her now.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

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These past few days comprised a totally different approach to THE STAIR TASK. The approach, well thought out, involved jumping up and down and tearing hair out in clumps, while recalling all the swear words I learned in the military. It was a very worthy performance considering my age and prominent social standing, but the stone paid no attention, as is so often the case. In any event, I managed to get the top two steps done; now it remains to be seen whether they remain steps or go for a more natural slope type arrangement. The best time for such work is on a sunny August afternoon, when it is hot and muggy. Coincidentally, these were the days I chose to dig tons of dirt and lift tons of rocks... When working with rocks, one must learn to walk away once in a while and stop thinking like a rock, do something vulnerably human, stop forging through the human/rock relationship with the relentless gravity that characterizes rock; it does not sit well on humans for an extended period, tending toward a kind of adamantine stubbornness. Great for rocks, but gets intellect nowhere. Rocks tend to make fun of people who begin to think like rock, falling on their toes, pinching their fingers to remind them of their soft nature. And the higher they are lifted, the more irritable rocks get.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

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Global Corporate Metastasis Diversification


Having become very thirsty this afternoon while not at home, in one of my frequent tests of new products just to try and stay abreast with what's going on in the global market as manifested right here in Japan, I bought one of those new cutely branded "pure fruit juice" (global marketing terminology should be taken with a grain of chemotherapy) drinks the metastasizing international conglomerates are peddling in all the internationally metastasizing convenience stores (to say nothing of third world worker and ecological travesties), when my wife said "Don't drink that, it's full of poison!" So I read the list of ingredients and saw there unspecified "flavors" (naively, I'd thought it was grapefruit, like it said on the label!), unspecified "sourers" (souring additives to compensate for the taste effect of other added chemicals) as well as a chemical preservative (that reportedly had no statistically significant effect on a couple dozen rats in experiments financed in one way or another by grants from the producers of the preservative), and I thought of the trillions of drinks and snacks out there containing zillions of minimally tested toxins of all varieties going down billions of throats every day, and those toxins in my own body generated a vision of the future wherein all the pieces of global big-business diversification fit perfectly together: if global corporate conglomeration continues unabated, would it be far-fetched to foresee that any possible malignancies or other illnesses absolutely unrelated to the consumption of A2Z Corp. drinks and snacks (made from produce grown on A2Z Corp. subsidiary agrobusiness farms) could be treated at one of the many A2C Corp. subsidiary hospitals using one or more of the revolutionary A2Z Corp. subsidiary neodrugs, followed by months of expensive A2Z Corp. subsidiary aftercare; and if treatment failed, an A2Z Corp. subsidiary undertaker would be there with an A2Z Corp. subsidiary cemetery real estate plot and A2Z Corp. subsidiary insurance policies for remaining family members, a general win-win situation for the global juridical body at the ongoing expense of the merely local human body, A2Z Corp. being of course richly represented and lobbied for in all world houses of government, in contrast to the invisibly individual taxpayer and nameless statistic. Does this sound completely cynical, or can there really be corporations as unscrupulous as Enron and all the others on that long and growing list whose mere surface we see every day in the news? Also, you want the rest of this grapefruit juice?

Monday, August 12, 2002

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Over the weekend harvested all the basil and ground it up real good in a suribachi with pine nuts, garlic, walnuts, salt, olive oil and parmesan cheese, then put some of the result on top of some freshly cooked handmade fettucine and at the first taste discovered further undeniable proof (if such proof were needed) that we are here for a reason, that there is a god, and that she is great. To what higher harmonies can one aspire? Here was manifest the love that went into the making of the tongue and the flavors, here was the reach of the universe in the light of the eye that beholds; here was the history of taste, here the full spectrum of life, rolled on the tongue in the savor of the deepest mantra of all: "mmmm-mm!!!"

Sunday, August 11, 2002

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This afternoon, after I'd spent some time working up a good sweat pulling weeds, from out of the heart of the vast silence that pervades the house when everyone else is off working or whatever, Echo and I went down to the sandy beach there in the elbow of Matsunoura and jumped in the water and floated there in the cool blue with the green mountains watching, and all along the far shores of the Lake from northwest to south the sky was absolutely stacked with backed-up thunderheads waiting in line to get to Kyoto, flashing their lightning on the land below, thundering through the sunshine to us across the Lake, reflecting their sky-high whiteness on the sapphire waters where we were and sending us now and then a big wave with their winds---it was just a bunch of magnificence all right in one spot.

Friday, August 09, 2002


BABE RUTH & STOVEPIPE


Weekend of the type they describe at length in all the books about paradise, and at the end a moonrise over the Lake at dusk that sent poets scurrying for their pens, photographers for their cameras, painters for their tints and everybody else just standing there saying "Look at the moon!"
Major weekend activity comprised cleaning the woodburning stove and disassembling and cleaning the stovepipe, then reassembling it, which involved yours truly's service as an astronaut in orbit some 20 feet above the floor, holding on for dear life to a thing that turned out to be unattached to anything else, which made for a realization I'd realized but ineffectually before: that I am no longer as young as I once was, no longer able to nonchalantly do spinning handstands atop crossbeams while assembling complex gadgetry and thinking of something else; rather, I realized, this damn ladder could very easily jump out of place and send me hurtle-spinning helplessly through space into the grip of the field of gravity, whence I would plunge to earth bearing a soot-laden section of stovepipe as an ineffective heat shield toward an oak floor many stovepipe lengths below, where I could just make out the outline of Japan through the clouds, and there in the rapidly nearing central area my house by the big lake, and down through the chimneyhole the oak flooring with its lovely grain that would refuse to embrace me with the hardness for which oak is famed, and I leaned from the ladder way way up on the wall there beyond Mars, and to hold myself up in space grasped the fixture attaching the long stovepipe to the chimney and found that it had been incompletely attached, and a good tug such as by a heavy foreigner leaning out from a ladder based on another planet would disattach said fixture completely, and a frisson went through me like when not only does your parachute not open but even worse, there is no parachute, and all the while Keech was on the crossbeam not far away helping me concentrate by nonchalantly doing spinning handstands and balancing from one toe on the ceiling while asking why didn't I do it this way, or that, and how much did Babe Ruth make, and if I fell did I think I'd land on my feet and what if I didn't and such adolescent wonderings that are, in general everyday situations, truly ever so dear to my heart and always have been but this was no time for dearness or crowding of the heart, this was no time for has-been, or generalizations or nearness or adolescence, this was a time for precision regretting, of all the things I'd left undone in my life, and for realizing too late that I should have made a will, when suddenly out there in orbit as I leaned out from the ladder over the nothingness that lies between solar systems the fitting slipped -- into place -- and the fastening collar slipped -- on and clicked shut -- and the stovepipe slipped -- right onto the attachment -- and it was all done and I was back down on the earth in life again in a comfy chair having the rest of my coffee, gazing at the sunset on the Lake and it had been a breeze, a snap, nothing to it, next year it would be even easier I assured Keech as he spun along the bracebeam and came down the ladder on his hands asking about salaries in the entertainment business.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

PURE LAND FARMERS MEET THE PIXIES

As honorable readers of these humble chronicles have noted, every once in a while I crank some music on the box at major volume that wafts out over the road and the paddies and the forests in waves of Doo-wop, Doors, Zappa, Dylan, Van Morrison, Redding, Springsteen, Pickett et al. (one tends to outgrow the less-than-seminal), and during rice-growing time, as the elderly farmers (they're mostly elderly now) come riding up the mountain on their scooters to tend their paddies and pass through the wafting (more like tidal) waves of sound, even from their seats in motor loudness they turn-- from the purely Japanese-countryside musical past they carry in their heads-- toward my open windows whence the strange but intriguing foreign chords are flooding... could that be... could it be...The Pixies they've never heard of, asking Whe-e-e-ere is My Mi-i-indd-d-d?? They pass on through the audioflood, faces unchanged, but somewhere deep in their sonic psyches a chord has been struck, and they are certain of more than the foreigner's bizarre taste in music: there is that little bit more to their world, now, than there was before, of a nature that is...new. Thus do cultures intermingle over the generations and the centuries, grow into the new worlds our descendants will discover and delight in, like The Pixies on Pure Land Mountain.




On Sunday, as we were preparing to leave for a visit to Kyoto, the wind picked up and the sunny sky turned steel, whitecaps rose on the Lake and silver scarves of rain were visible against the far yellow of the overlake sky; then came a mountain-dwarfing swollen-chested black cloud, slowly striding over the crest of the peaks on twisted stilts of light; the air turned white and filled with sound; it was wondrous to behold all this from so far away as the roiling demon marched toward us with all the dark confidence of nature until the world was a whirl of leaves and stabs of light and shocks of sound and vistas of gray air filled with spikes of wet that made us more alive than ever.
I didn't want to leave. What has a city to offer, even the fading beauty of Kyoto, in comparison to such glories? What food there is in a lightning stroke, what society in the rain!

Tuesday, August 06, 2002


SON OF STAIR TASK



So it was that on the first morning I stood, coffee in hand, gazing like MacArthur out the kitchen door at the site of The Stair Task, sussing it all out, making all the mental calculations, selecting the tools, establishing procedure, estimating costs and times for a work force of one soft male getting on in years who still thinks he has the body of a long receiver and an intuitive lock on the common sense of a civil engineer. I am surrounded here on the mountainside by superb stonework, as manifest on all the rice paddy terraces going up the mountain, and as the ancient buildings of Japan, the temples, castles etc. can attest, some of the finest and most amazing stonework in the world can be seen here. I have seen it and studied it, so no problem with that little staircase in my garden, right?

That was a couple of weeks ago. I got all the many rocks together, good ones flat on one side with slightly rough surfaces, culled from among the many that reside on my mountain estate, then I tore out the old gap-toothed staircase and began to lay out the large and heavy, diversely shaped rocks to achieve a stable level surface and discovered what I already would have known, had I been more attentive back in geometry class: you can't make a flat surface by stacking randomly irregular polyhedrons unless you're god, or have access to a godly time scale and resources.

Despite what I had led myself to think, this was not at all like building a wall, where you start at the bottom with big rocks and build up with smaller ones, following the many rules of rockwall construction until you reach the top. I tried different tacks, of course; I leveled some dirt and dug in and arranged some large and heavy rocks atop it so they were rather even along the top, then realized there was no way I could stack rocks atop those to achieve an even and stable step without using cement, which I did not want to do because I knew even less about cement than I knew about rocks, and I don't trust anything in which I can be permanently immobilized.

So I gave myself some badly needed advice and purchased some flat rock slabs to use in forming the steps and risers. "This worked for the pyramids, so it should work for me," was the logic I employed. These slabs weighed about as much as I do, maybe more, so it wasn't easy to try it this way and that while turning the dirt of the staircase into mud with my sweat. Sweat seems sweatier when things aren't going the way I've assured myself they will. So after attempting a variety of Macchu Picchu and Easter Island techniques, I managed to get one step to stay in one place without falling over in a half-ton pile of rubble, but then the weather spotted me in the garden and proceeded to rain for all four days of my vacation, as I stared at the step from the kitchen doorway through some of the hardest rain I've ever seen in my life; I imagine that many folks caught out in the open were knocked insensible by the falling drops.

Today, in the sunny blue sunlight that flooded the garden as though I were going to work, before I left for the office I noticed that the stone step was still standing, but it was way too high and in the wrong position. Thank goodness the rain had stopped me. Thence, in the delight of that knowledge, to the office.

Sunday, August 04, 2002


THE DAYS OF THE DEAD


In America as I recall, the dead don't come back to visit the living in any organized way but rather choose their own occasions, which is very much in the American tradition, now that I think of it. In Japan, by contrast, where things often seem preternaturally systematic, the dead all come back in the middle of August, when it's convenient for the living to take a few days off.

During these days of the dead, when the living entertain throngs from the afterlife, stores close and offices are at half-staff, everyone being busy honoring the dear departed, because so many more are passing away to ancestry every year that each obsequy must accommodate a greater spectral population, thereby diluting the effect on individual spirits, who this year begin their clamor for due attention on Wednesday August 14th, when they will walk through dreams, tap shoulders in the dark, knock on walls and generally get it on in a posthumous way; and in the corridors of merely earthly business, where commuters both dead and alive have spent so many decades, there will be a palpable and welcome absence, for the dead have returned not for commerce, nor for tourism, but to mingle with relatives, drink some sake, party a bit, have some rice crackers, whatever the living will offer, for the dead will eat anything after a year without a nibble.

So the living all visit their ancestral graves and ladle water over the stone and leave a drink and some flowers and snacks and burn some incense and say some prayers for the ancestors, ask their intercession in the matter of say a red Ferrari, sometimes ancestors can swing such things if they have any pull on the far shore, you do see some people driving Ferraris in this life (are there Ferraris after death?), though the ancestors in their wisdom seem to know it doesn't make much sense to have a Ferrari in Japan, where there are no straightaways of any length and the standard speed limit is about 40kph, and where the police recently arrested one of the living for courting death in a red Ferrari by driving nearly 240kph on an expressway, a record for Japan, and prime-time front-page news throughout the land because generally not much living happens while the dead are around.

If you do see a Ferrari it's most likely just sitting there rumbling very expensively in the long lines of traffic that grow and grow, particularly during the days of the dead because there is clearly some very strong connection between death and expressways, where the living sit entombed for hours, idling and revving and idling with the air conditioning on, looking out the windows trying to fathom the reason, and the dead seem to enjoy the nostalgia, for it happens every year around this time, the dead traveling freely while the living edge forward on the roadway, impatient to reach the toll booth, though everyone gets there eventually.

First published, in slightly different forms, in Kyoto Journal and Utne Reader.

Friday, August 02, 2002

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The darkening jade rice stalks are beginning to nod with the weight of goldening grains, the farmers are putting up their fences to keep the wild pigs away, and in the midst of this green and golden surfeit with the mountains majestic in their craggy heights and trailing mists, the Lake stretched out in the blue of the morning sky, it simply amazes me once more and fills me with thanks that everyone in Japan doesn't live here.
It's interesting to grow seeds from America here on the other side of the world. You can almost sense a kind of uncertainty in the seedlings when they emerge and look around, visaless, at these much longer rains and alien soil and odd cultural references (shrine bells at 6AM??), suffering a sort of vegeculture shock. With an orphany look about them they rise up tentatively out of the odd ground, unsure of the climate, the oriental magnetic resonances, the alien gamma ray intensities, who knows what; but there is something: they are not fully at home here at the moment of germination, or likely in their entire lives. In contrast to the natively bred seeds, which bounce up and reach right for the sky, largessing fruits as they go, the vegies in a strange land stay low; they sense in their essence and vegetal memory that something strange is going on, so the zukes don't fertilize, the cukes dive for the ground, the beans won't touch the sky with a ten-foot pole, the peppers give up in the long rain, as do some of the tomatoes (the beefsteaks, being such thoroughbreds, are also quite unsettled by the monkeys) and especially the onions, which are almost pathologically patriotic. Some things don't germinate at all, or not very well, or the resulting plants are small and half-hearted, homesick perhaps, even though I speak English to them and they hear The Pixies, Trane and Zappa on the stereo. I will try and save some seeds, if I get some reasonably semblant fruits, and attempt to grow them again with their new and more acclimated genomic memories. My own kids, for example, are growing much more at home here than I'll ever be, though I do try my best to touch the sky.