Tuesday, July 31, 2007
FAR BEYOND MAJESTY
Late afternoon is the time of sky when the light is entering its golden phase, when the trees and grasses shine undaunted into the face of the sun, as if to say, in strong green words: I am a masterpiece. There is a great and unsung pride manifest in what we are pleased to think of as mere vegetation.
Then as sunset nears, all the air itself realizes the transition and rises over the sun-warmed lake, as the cooler mountain air floods down in replacement; the whole mountain, lit aslant by the hovering sun, becomes the bed of a vast river of cool air, rushing down in cosmic obligation. To sit in that river, feel that flood, after splitting firewood in the hot sun for two hours, is like whitewatering the grand canyon while sitting still, all in the country of the soul...
Those same dark leaves lift into paleness at the first touch of the downmountain winds and gleam white in the setting sun - clearly they have an old local relationship - they carry their vastness in their seeds...
The repose of the mountains in such settings as this, shaded green, gray and black in the summer evening sun and breeze, is often described as 'majestic,' but there is more in those ancient faces than aristocracy can ever aspire to; it's a matter of interaction with eternity, not immediate lineage or ambition.
Then when all the air is balanced at last, from out of the overmountain light come galleons of windblown pink clouds, sailing over the mountains as slowly and stately as on a tropical lagoon, wending across the calm of the sky toward unknown shores...
And when all up there is yet light, as the earth below grows dark and cool, the dragonflies enjoy the same calm air, their dashing silhouettes clearly visible -- way up in that silence they zig and zag in the way of their kind on glassine wings, like thoughts in a blue mind, with no aim but to be...
Then comes the full moon, laying her tapestry of light over the darkling land, revealing lineaments we are blind to in the day... who has not stood out in that vapor of silver, lain over all with the touch of a goddess, and not grown thereby?
We can do no better in our dreams...
Monday, July 30, 2007
A REVOLUTION OF SORTS
As a result of yesterday's elections, for the first time in its history the LDP (the longest running single party rule in the world, since the fall of Mexico's PRI) will not control both houses of parliament. Yet LDP leader Prime Minister Abe, who was groomed for his office in the paleoJapanese tradition, and who is not popular with the young folks - partly because he's not 'cool,' but mostly it would seem because of his wish to change the constitution and restore the Army - is not resigning. Yet.
Anyway it's a revolution of sorts. This could lead to an actual two-party system of government! That would sure seem odd.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Friday, July 27, 2007
WITH HITCHCOCK AND DALI IN A DiCHIRICO
This morning, Echo being gone upnation for a few days to visit her folks, I woke as usual at around 5:30 and, this being a workday, got up to get ready to go to work.
With my eye on the minute hand as usual on workday mornings, I had some breakfast, shaved, dressed, did some time on the computer, packed my rucksack-- only 5 minutes' leeway, better get out there and wipe the dew off the motorcycle seat, let it rev a bit--
Did so, freewheeled down the mountain to the station, locked the bike, got out my ticket thinking it was odd there were so few bikes, cars and people here this morning, remembered (again) that school is out for the summer now, so no kids on the early trains...
Then I went through the unmanned early morning wicket, but that strange feeling followed me: there was no one ahead of me or behind me, there are always at least a few other commuters at 5-10 minutes before the 7:27 arrives, but today there was no one. Was this a holiday? It was eerie, I felt like I was in one of those paintings by DiChirico.
When I'd passed through the high archway into dimness, walked alone between the tall pale columns and climbed the silent empty stairs to the platform there was no one there either, maybe this was a real life Twilight Zone and I was the last commuter left in the world, casting a long morning shadow on a still canvas...
Was it all really this much of an illusion? What was going on? Did I have to commute today at all? Was this a holiday I'd been unaware of? That could happen, even though there are so few holidays anymore that don't fall on Monday, one of my days off... But even on a holiday (maybe even moreso than on a workday) there are train travelers... Japan doesn't have daylight savings time, so... And where are the trains that usually come by while I wait? Did they change the schedule? This WAS the right time; my watch says... HUH? 6:15??? What the...
In serving as a living metaphor for elastic time, while watching the minute hand I had overlooked the hour hand. As a result, minute by minute I had warped my sense of whenness, all unbeknownst to the attentive individual I usually am, until I'd fully psyched the poor guy out of quiet moments and into a blind rush: I had lost an entire hour in my own head, on my own time!
Having lived ahead for nearly an hour, then been instantaneously retroclocked for the same duration, the resulting mental confusion was interesting. I had been as convinced about those moments in which I'd been living as one is always convinced, at the deepest levels of the psyche, about every moment; it wasn't one of those slipshod things where you mistake the date and 'lose a day'; that's much more clunky and less traumatic than losing a self-created hour, which is more personal and immediate: should I go back home, should I just stay here and wait for an hour, maybe go somewhere and have a coffee, or should I just catch the next train that comes in, it was one of those Hitchcock vertigo vortexes in a Dali painting with my watch melting and me just a shadow casting a shadow, scratching my head while gazing ahead into what I'd thought was now.
I guess it's better I was alone…
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
THAT BRIGHT WORD
What is that word, people said it all the time before the rainy season, you know, it used to be an everyday word, common as weather.... it's right on the tip of my tongue, begins with an ‘s,’ but I just can't— o yeah, 'sunshine.' Haven't said that word since I was quite a bit younger. I saw some 'sunshine' this morning for about 20 seconds, beaming out of a small hole in the thick gray sky in that warm, delightful way 'sunshine' used to have, illuminating a couple of very surprised leaves. It was a startling apparition, if not a bit old-timey, even archaic - fragmentally reminiscent of the way the golden stuff used to beam down everywhere on some days, when clouds and rain weren't so popular - and I came to post about it here. I suppose I should keep it in my vocabulary, just in case...
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Saturday, July 21, 2007
MEAT AS ENERGY
Found this a few days ago, and am just getting around to it-- it won't spoil.
I've posted a few anti-meat/milk, pro-vegan things in the past on PLM, generally expressed in terms of health, agricultural waste, pollution, economic inefficiency etc. But this study merits a good look not only because it comes from Japan, but more especially for the fact that it conveys the research results in terms of energy expenditure.
Carried out by Akifumi Ogino et al. of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, the study found that: “A kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving all the lights on back home… In other words, a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometers, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days… [Moreover] The calculations… did not include the impact of managing farm infrastructure and transporting the meat, so the total environmental load is higher than the study suggests.”
This certainly sheds more darkness on that thick steak...
Friday, July 20, 2007
DEATH TO WIMPY LIGHT SWITCHES
No big deal I thought, like the waterless rock was for Moses back in the day. Just a light switch, in this case - the one in the bathroom - gonna go dead any day now, getting wimpier by the flick. So, sooner - I guess - than later, I should go wander around the huge electrostore and find the identically serial-numbered light switch, buy it and bring it home, get out the tools, set aside some light switch time, hopefully I can reuse the switch plate, avoid electrocution - you see how this is building up - if you are an electrician this is child's play, but that is the very reason I am trying to avoid your hourly prices, I am DIY to the max.
Yet how ingrown is our growth, I feel at the edges of this undertaking. How incestuous, our increasingly helpless dependence-- I feel diminished by this impinging need for an electrician, things have gotten ever more complicated, but I'll take my chances, I've taken worse. If I survive, then I have learned; if not, other knowledge awaits.
Perhaps I'm an oddball in this regard, but I keep feeling that in the process we call progress we are advancing by weakening ourselves through aggravated specialization... And then, thinking this thought, I pull the wrong switch in the circuit breaker (the bathroom switch isn't under 'Bath Room,' but under 'Bed Room'...) and in what I guess would have been a first, almost get electrocuted because of a linguistic problem. Once disparate things are beginning to overlap in dangerous ways...
Back in the old days, a person could do it all; why, I remember I used to be able to fix my own car, on the spot, with my own tools in my own hands, before the dawn of the black boxes, when so many tasks disappeared from all our own hands...
But at least I'm still here, a bit buzzed, and that light switch is no longer wimpy.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
WIND, RAIN, QUAKE, RADIATION
As if the wind and the rain weren't enough, Niigata had its second severe earthquake in three years, stronger-feeling than the last one, many say; it caused 9 fatalities and 1100 injuries as reported thus far, collapsed many old houses and caused numerous landslides, aggravated by the past weeks of heavy rain.
There was also a fire at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear facility (near the quake epicenter), the world's largest nuclear-output power station. From what I saw initially, the blaze was just a transformer fire external to one of the buildings, nothing to worry about. In traditional Japan Atomic Energy Agency style, it wasn't revealed for some hours that there'd been a minor radioactive leak of mildly radioactive water from some waste barrels into the sea. Then it was announced the next day - far too late for anyone in the region to flee, had that been necessary - that more than 50 incidents of damage or malfunction had occurred - including radiation leaks, burst pipes, fires and the other usual whatnot of deadly radioactivity. If the past is any example, there's more to be revealed.
My in-laws live in Nagano, the next prefecture inland from Niigata; they also felt some tremors, though nothing major; Kasumi and family live in Saitama, another couple of prefectures away, where they felt the quake as a long slow wave motion, no damage there, though Kaya and the twins got scared.
One wonders, however, how much time they and those nearer the plant would have had for escape, had there been a major nuclear accident announced a day after it occurred, with details provided some time after that. Like all Japanese nuclear power plants, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa is built to withstand an earthquake force of 6.5, which was not enough protection from this 6.8er - especially for a facility built on a major fault line, as are so many (all?) of Japan's 55 nuclear reactors (wisdom knows no bounds) - so now the radioactivity people are talking about upgrading to maybe 6.9, but as we know, earthquakes can go a lot higher-- and it would only take one biggie to give Tokyo a radioactive half-life of a few hundred years.
It was even scarier to learn that:
"The other Japanese reactor scheduled to load MOX [plutonium] fuel is Kashiwazaki-Kirawa, in Niigata prefecture, in western Japan. However, Niigata governor Ikuo Hiroyama yesterday told reporters that Kashiwazaki 'won't be the first to load MOX fuel' in Japan, indicating it would not use MOX fuel until after the reactor in Fukushima."
If a future plutonium-loaded Kashiwazaki-Kirawa should crumble to a glowing cloud in a big quake, the entire country would have the privilege of being the world's biggest Chernobyl - only this time with a plutonium half-life of 25,000 years - to say nothing of Japan's new historic renown as the world's only uninhabitable nation.
July 21: "The company was further embarrassed on Thursday when yet another leak was discovered from an exhaust vent, indicating leaks continued as late as Wednesday night, nearly three days after the quake."
July 21: Fear and fury in shadow of Japan's damaged nuclear giant...
July 21: "The company was further embarrassed on Thursday when yet another leak was discovered from an exhaust vent, indicating leaks continued as late as Wednesday night, nearly three days after the quake."
July 21: Fear and fury in shadow of Japan's damaged nuclear giant...
Monday, July 16, 2007
Hurricane now gone by, trailing a heavily clouded sky. The big wind was called Man-yi or number 4, depending on whether it was Korean or Japanese - they both claimed it, had different predictions for the big windy spiral, neither of which panned out - the Korean weatherpeople expected it to plow up the center of their peninsula, the Japanese ditto expected it to roil its way up the center of their archipelago, posing a serious wind and rain threat to every major city, indeed, every village and house in the country, but they didn't give regular updates on tv as one in a focused world would expect.
Surf the tv channels urgently for the latest and all you got was it the usual celebrities cooking and eating, the usual celebrities in silly quizzes and the usual celebrities in hot tubs, they just carried on with the the always startling vacuousness of regular programming - such as that is - in the hours after warning the nation of imminent weather disaster. Which approach would have been disastrous had the hurricane performed as the weatherpeople predicted-- there would have been no time to batten down, evacuate, whatever; just thank the big wind (the weather-p as wrong as they so often are), that it pivoted slightly at a crucial point and just broadshouldered its way along the side of the country, with pretty strong winds and heavy rain...
Yesterday afternoon, after the rain had stopped, out in the stormedge, the sky was empty of life except for a crow, of all birds. As I watched him way up there quietly doing his thing, it came to me that back in the way-ancient days, when the animals made their early tradeoffs, the crows traded aerodynamic skills for the kind of lowdown savvy that enabled them to survive yet be lazy, a quality that over the eons of crow-cunning evolution has led to the uniquely non-aerodynamics that crows exhibit today, such as understanding the nature of trash bags and the potential value of shiny objects. But apparently they've never forgotten what they gave up in exchange, as I saw in the sky.
You know how crows have always flown since the big tradeoff, all wingknuckles, gawk and bentfeathers when it comes to serious aerodynamics, outflown and pestered all the time even by sparrows. Well that crow was recalling what joys his kind had once embodied, he was ecstatic at being able to fly so fast, even moreso that the hurricane was doing all the work. He wasn't about to go sit down in a safe tree like every other bird, including the hawks-- he kept gawkily climbing, spreading those big black wings and speed-spiraling in wide circles alone, now and then gliding straight then diving swiftly even as a hawk: he was remembering the ancient but alien feeling of speed and elegance, wanted to do so for as long as it lasted.
I kept expecting maybe a YIHAAA! or corvine equivalent, but being savvy he wasn't reckless. He was silent with a kindred to the concentration one summons in zen archery, after a target unknown but remembered, a black bundle of nostalgia in a darkening sky.
As for me watching - and you too, I hope - may we so savor own hurricanes...
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
For the barnswallow family (Mom, Dad and the two post-nestlings), the becalmed evening sky isn't offering much in the way of soaring insect snacks, so the four spend the time preening. For the parents, that means routine elegance of motion; for the gawky newbies, who don't yet know how to do a professional job at the beak-through-feathers thing, it's an awkward business. And they really need some preening: from here it looks like they still have a lot of poky kidfeathers.
Then when that's all done to respective satisfactions, from their darkling perch atop the wire the four whir down and scour my plum and weeping cherry trees, their wing flutters and bouncy bustling rustling up small insects from the leaves and twigs as they venture in along the branches toward the trunks, looking for gourmet caterpillars along the way, chattering as they go, about all sorts of important things. I wish I had a barnswallow dictionary.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Japan has many useful gestures generally unknown in the West, perhaps the most useful being the oddly polite chopping gesture used to pass in front of or between people; very handy. I often use it reflexively when I'm back in the States and people look at me funny, since I thereby assume rights that haven't been granted.
As to another gesture, I remember being a newbie here, having only been in Tokyo for a few weeks, when in Ginza one day I saw an elderly man who had been called to by a stranger on the street point to his nose and raise his eyebrows!' A stranger told him there's something on his nose? What a polite country!' I thought. However, I could see nothing unusual, probosciswise; his nose looked entirely normal. If I'd had this book back then, I would have known what he meant right away...
"Okay, maybe Japanese is a bit hard to learn to speak and write. But there’s a lot you can say in Japanese using just your hands, nose, arms, and other forms of suggestive "body" language. This whimsical look at Japan’s "language of no language" introduces 70 gestures that will help you hurl insults, flirt, agree, excuse yourself, cross the street, and even make promises-—wordlessly!" ---- 70 Japanese Gestures
And as to the other side of the coin, all the many gestures I imported from NY have been of little use here over the years, which has been very disappointing at the reflexive time of use. I've now abandoned most of them, though they return at once when I hit US soil...
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
NEAR HOME CHEESING NA BARBEN!
This morning I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom when I heard Echo shout from the kitchen: "Near home cheesing na barben!!" I yelled "What?" and she said the same thing again. I turned off the water, stopped brushing my teeth and yelled again. She replied: "There are monkeys in the garden!"
Echo has no trouble getting monkeys out of the garden, but when I'm home she defers to me for the simian strong-arming. Somehow the monkeys knew I was brushing my teeth; they're onto the finer points of my schedule and have updated their Blueberries. So I yelled "Flow gum stow gnat femme!" Echo said "What?" I emptied my mouth of brush and foam and yelled: "Throw some stones at them!" (From our arsenal thereof, conveniently assault-ready on the deck railing.)
Moments later I heard the whiz of stones through garden vegetation, accompanied by shouted superior-feminine Japanese impolitenesses regarding the simian species in general, these individuals in particular. Echo doesn't get totally simian on their asses like I do, though; English has much more depth and potency in that regard.
Turned out it was just a traveling family of three: dad, mom and junior on a day trip through what was once their Eden until I bought my piece of it from other humans, the little tyke climbing my trees and just gamboling and hanging out while the grownups did the marauding, but in this garden there was nothing maraudable left; mom just wandered aimlessly around doing the simian version of tsk-tsk, while dad just sat there in the middle, gazing at where his onions should have been, scratching his head and wondering what the hell happened to his tomatoes. And the chard—someone had terrible manners, just bit it off at the stalk! Not even a bean leaf to be had, what is the world coming to? Then to top it off there were stones in the air.
I felt no sympathy, of course, and even better, now the monkeys are wandering the mountainside trying to memorize the new stone-bringing phrase "Near home cheesing na barben!!"
Satisfaction can take amazingly diverse forms.
Monday, July 09, 2007
THE BARON PREFERS ORGANIC
In a post a couple of days ago concerning the fact that I had been robbed blind in the night by a wild ruminant with major horn action, aka The Baron, I was amazed that the stag had eaten all my tomato leaves, when it had been my impression that nothing ate tomato leaves, excepting perhaps a species or two of seriously misguided insects who didn't yet realize what they were eating, or were simply insane.
Then this morning I read a headline that led to an article saying that a ten-year study - already being attacked by other scientists (perhaps Monsanto-funded, judging by my scientific snide index) - alleging that organic tomatoes have much more of certain important flavonoids, specifically quercetin and kaempferol, names that do not as yet rock the world.
To the weight of that study can now be added the expert opinion of The Baron, creature of great repute and renowned connoisseur of vegetation, who relished every single leaf on my tomato plants, because of course my tomatoes are – I mean were - 100% organic.
I would have enjoyed the tomatoes, too, but royalty takes precedence in certain areas.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Friday, July 06, 2007
STOP ACTING LIKE A HOOD ORNAMENT
Came out of the house in a rush this morning 'cause I was a bit late in my usual train-catching schedule, reached to put the key in the motorcycle and beheld, there where you'd put a hood ornament - if you were of such a mind and a motorcycle had a hood – there, facing forward with all the green hauteur you've ever seen, a proud bright-emerald frog, bulgy black eyes gazing ahead like the elegantly stylized hood ornament on a Rolls Royce Green Ghost, as though he were thinking: now this is speed, this is quality, this is where I belong-- but of course it wasn't a Rolls, as I've indicated, it was merely the humble motorcycle I use to freewheel down the mountain to the train in the morning and power back up at night, but frogs can get carried away.
Even though he was way too classy for the vehicle, I wanted to leave him there, posing like a green Mussolini with his proud amphibian heritage, but I couldn't see him holding office very long when I really got rolling; and waiting for that embodiment of pride to fly off like a spinning frog and get splatted flat on the road would not only be a shame in terms of froggy nobility and all that, it would distract me from the total focus that is essential for freewheeling fast down a one-lane, sharply and blindly curvy - and wet - mountain road with now and then delivery trucks and automotive residents speeding up it on hurries of their own.
So although I wouldn't have minded having a live emerald hood ornament, I had to get the supreme leader off there, and I was in a hurry as I say, so I poked him in the rear with the key. He jumped much as Mussolini would have jumped in response to such impropriety, but the crafty little green guy landed on the hub of the front wheel inside the spokes, begetting even more grotesque freewheeling images that posed even greater loss of face and whatnot for Il Duce.
So as the clock ticked I had to get down on my knees and poke around in there, trying to reach inside the spokes and prod the frog again with the key, backed by a series of not carefully chosen yet carefully enunciated words, but the key was too short, the words were too alien and the space was too tight, his greenness gazing at me in that bulgy way, as though thinking 'You're in a hurry, aren't you,' so I went and got a short piece of bamboo (a lot of that around) and poked and prodded him from spoke to spoke, he really didn't want to leave, finally winkling his brightness out of there and onto a nice bouncy plantain leaf where he belonged.
So then I had to avoid the plantain leaf when I was pulling out, and really hotwheel it down the mountain, speedsqueezing past an upcoming truck along the way. Anyhow I made the train, intact and by a whisker, so on the ride into the city to the office and another long day of desk work in exchange for pieces of colored paper with dead politicians' pictures on them I got to think about what a great life that frog must be having right now, up there where I say I live...
Thursday, July 05, 2007
PRICING THE OUTDOORS
After days of heavy rainy-season rain, except for when I was in the office (yesterday heavy and continuous rain through which I gazed at my stacks of logs to be split), here I am on another sunny day in the office, recalling how the lake looked this morning not long after I awoke at around dawn into the thick silence that falls like a sky-sized blanket when a monsoon rain abruptly stops-- and way up there on the mountain the residual mist makes the atmosphere visible, imparting new depths as it dissipates with the rising light...
I stood at the big glass doors that front the living room and sipped my tea while watching the sky clear and the lake turn blue, starting with a ragged hole of golden sunlight opening over the middle of the cloud-gray water, the hole widening as the clouds broke up, into crumbly tufts by the time I was freewheeling downhill through the scattering mist to catch the train that took me to what by the time I arrived was a warm sunny city.
That morning scene recalled to me this snippet from an article by Barbara Ehrenreich:
"I need to see vast expanses of water, 360 degree horizons, and mountains piercing the sky -- at least for a week or two of the year. According to evolutionary psychologist Nancy Etcoff, we all do, and the need is hard-wired into us. 'People like to be on a hill, where they can see a landscape. And they like somewhere to go where they can not be seen themselves,' told Harvard Magazine earlier this year. 'That's a place desirable to a predator who wants to avoid becoming prey.' We also like to be able to see water (for drinking), low-canopy trees (for shade), and animals (whose presence signals that the place is habitable.)" The Rich Have Priced the Outdoors out of Everyone Else's Hands [Except where I live. RB]
I do like a broad expanse of landscape, especially above water, though it's been a long time since I felt like either predator or prey. As to "animals whose presence" etc., the deer (that I would have sworn had all moved way upmountain by now) just ate all my chard and all the leaves off my bean plants, acknowledging in their deery way my small efforts at making the place more habitable.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
"July 4th is Independence Day... It's time to get out of debt and live small, not large. Own only what you need, not what you want so you can save. Invest in beautiful things you will enjoy for years, rather than fancy dinners that only leave your stomach bloated and your wallet empty. Build up savings in tangible assets that will hold their value regardless of the rate of inflation. America the beautiful is still a rich country. On July 4th we should be celebrating our financial independence because without it, there is no freedom."
Independence Day is Here, but Not for Many Americans
by Richard Benson
by Richard Benson
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
ON THE MIND'S BACK PORCH
Some evenings, when the time and the weather are right, I love to go out on the deck, have a glass or two of wine and sit on my mind's back porch (it's a fine porch, by the time you reach my age) watch the broad sky unfold its right-now tapestries and let memories play on that high blue screen...
It's always surprising, what's showing there in spontaneity, the many things in my past that I bookmarked subconsciously in their moments – faces and events, places and emotions that turned out to be more important or magical than they then seemed - aspects I hadn't thought I noticed or remembered, even thought much of, at the time; but now that I relive them, how impressive, surprising and refreshing they are-- and how unknowingly observant I was being, even in the darkest times.
It's as though in the swift currents of the early heart I hadn't the experience to perceive all that those feelings and moments meant to me, but in some place older than myself I knew what they would mean one day, and stored them away. And now that I have time's gift, as well as the leisure in which to ponder and treasure - and sometimes regret - these distillations of a life and times, I am nourished as much by my failures as by my successes.
I suppose that is one of the many functions of the past, after all: to brighten the skies with the treasures of a lifetime, some far evenings on the mind's back porch.