Wednesday, October 31, 2007


PATHS


We each of us in our intensity pursue the truth of our making - some more darkly than others - but those who lead on are following what has been learned from violence, and so are familiar with the inborn way, a peaceful path that adds to life's value, as opposed to life as an ash on the cuff of a sleeve--


Tuesday, October 30, 2007


LUMBERJACK


This was lumberjacking weekend. There were a couple of teetering cedars right out front, leaning over the house and just waiting for a hurricane; a dead cedar right out back that was about 30 meters tall and slowly degrading, also just waiting for a hurricane, and an unbalanced oak that had to be professionally trimmed so that a reasonable amount of sunlight can fall on the garden when I figure out the sci-fi plans for my new anti-monkey fencing.

We called the local hub for such matters, and contracted for a crew who came on Saturday. The crew was a small bent-over man going on 80 years old! Echo and I stood there filling with doubt as he got out of his truck, sat down on the stone wall to put on his work boots and then asked for some salt to use in the purification ceremony before starting work.

Our doubts lasted until Mr. Azuma – that was his name – climbed smoothly from the upper end of his high ladder way to the tippy-top of the 25-meter oak and began pruning away, alternating handsaw and chainsaw while just holding on with his toes, moving around among the limbs with the grace of one who has done this sort of thing for a long, long time, until the oak looked very slim and stylish; he said it would grow into a nice shape henceforth and not grow any taller. We were reassured.

While he was preparing his solo felling of the huge dead cedar that stood only one meter from our new tile roof waiting for a hurricane, we asked him about the questionable chestnut tree that stands in the garden a few meters from said roof. He gave the tree a brief glance, said it had insect problems, would last maybe another 5-7 years, then would fall, but no immediate worry.

Then he revved up his chainsaw (a Shindaiwa 380), made some delicate surgical cuts in the big multi-ton dead cedar tree, now and then sighting along the intended path like a baseball pitcher, made a wedge out of a piece of my oak firewood, used a sledgehammer to drive it into the final cut, added another wider wedge a bit further over as he aimed some more and the tree wiggled at the top, rocked, tilted -- tilted more, then gave way with a crack and fell straight away from the house WHOOMP right between my rosemary and basil, which were stirred by the timber wind.

We talked while he ate his newspaper-wrapped simple bento lunch seated crosslegged on the deck, smiling and laughing at his own words, in a dialect I had to cut with a mental chainsaw. He'd been doing this work since he was young; lived alone, married twice, long ago, but it didn't take; cooks his own meals, grows his own rice, grows his own vegetables (why do otherwise, he said), makes his own sake, makes his own charcoal for cooking and heating, gave me the best intense course on chainsaw maintenance I ever had, then cut down the trees close in front of the house, felling them right where he aimed, sectioned them to the desired lengths and drove away.

What a guy.



Sunday, October 28, 2007


THE FOREIGN SPOUSE


Yesterday evening as I was waiting for my train on the platform in Kyoto station I saw a pale foreign fellow in his early twenties sticking way out from the rush-hour crowd. Well over six feet tall, wearing shades and with a backpack on, he stood there dazed amidst a smaller crowd over which he towered, holding a newborn baby. With him stood his petite Japanese wife. The smaller crowd around them comprised her parents and siblings and some luggage. The wife's relatives had come to meet the couple at the station and take the train back to their home together.

From what I could overhear, the couple had just come from the States and were visiting the wife's home in Shiga for the first time together, likely having met at college or a homestay. Her parents, simple country folk, were in a culture-daze themselves, at having thus to suddenly deal with a giant foreign husband who spoke no Japanese, had never been here before and stuck out like a tall gaikokujin, the parents looking numb at the new world their daughter had brought home from America to their country village.

In the shock of the new that they couldn't even talk to, the parents were focusing on everything but what they should have been focusing on, i. e., their daughter, their grandchild, their son-in-law; there amidst all the tangle of emotions and changed reality that was happening on the train platform they didn't know how to engage this new future that was redirecting their lives...

As a parent myself of international children (now adults), I saw for the first time in full clarity what a life-sized shock it is when a child goes to a foreign land and comes back with a spouse and de facto family. My heart went out to them all: the young mother and father, their child, her parents... I knew what they were going to go through; it wouldn't all be easy, for any of them; they were only now beginning.

It gave me new insights and a great measure of sympathy for all that Echo's parents went through, back in Japan's even less worldly days, when she and I returned to Japan with Kasumi in our arms, wanderers with no firm future, and time our only equity.

I could see that the shock for these people was greater than they could handle at the moment; yet, having no choice but to confront it, they will change and adapt in the way things must go, get through it all in time. May the new couple, their child and their in-laws have all the best of both their worlds, that can be gained through years of understanding.

The world itself will be all the better for their effort.




Saturday, October 27, 2007


Freed a butterfly
from a spiderweb -
it's a different world





Friday, October 26, 2007


AND I THOUGHT JAPAN WAS HAVING EDUPROBLEMS...


"We are [in the US], as far as urban public education is concerned, essentially at rock bottom. We are now at a point where we are essentially churning out ignorant teens who are becoming ignorant adults and society as a whole will pay dearly, very soon...

It's gotten so bad that, as my friend nears retirement, he says he is very seriously considering moving out of the country so as to escape what he sees will be the surefire collapse of functioning American society in the next handful of years due to the absolutely irrefutable destruction, the shocking — and nearly hopeless — dumb-ification of the American brain. It is just that bad."

There have been signs of this already, in higher office... And I remember in an online forum a couple of years ago, one of the (twentyish American) participants asked: "Anybody here know how to write cursive?" I hope the same thing isn't beginning to happen in Japan...

On the other hand, as Frank Zappa pointed out before he went to heaven, "Stupidity is the basic building block of the universe." So this could be the start of something new and exciting that's coming along... like a vast mental mudslide?

[10.27 addendum: And as if that weren't enough of a problem for the newbies...]

[To say nothing of this...]




Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


TREE OF SMILES


I was out walking along the roadside the other morning scavenging for mukago, which I've posted about here and here and elsewhere, when I saw a mother lode of the silver-pearly goodies dangling down on the strings of their dried vines from the tall mountain bamboo that covers the land on the other side of the road from us. The plant itself vines its way up through the thick bamboo and canopies out across the top, using the slender bamboo stalks as an ideal support.

I knew that there were plenty of mukago up there that, if not harvested, would soon fall to the ground and get eaten by inoshishi (wild pigs) scavenging beneath (which, to any mukago fancier, is the true-life version of pearls before swine), so I started walking along the road and pulling on the hanging vines to tip the bamboo down to where I could get at the some of the treasures beaded among the leaves along the edge of the top.

So all the way along the road I was reaching and looking up, and at one point back in there I saw a bunch of big white smiles up there among the leaves of a low tree shielded from the road by the bamboo. It was an akebi vine threading the tree, and being secluded it was full of smiling fruit that humans along the road could not see (unless they tipped down the bamboo), and that the monkeys, for some delightful reason, had not yet found.

Since this wild fruit prefers monkeys as consumers and generally grows too high for humans to reach - as in this case - I went and got the high ladder and my clippers, and with a bag hooked to my belt climbed up to gather the happy fruit. Being up there among all those sweet smiles was very pleasant to the monkey in me. I clipped off the ready ones and some of the near-ready ones to see if they would ripen anyway, and to get another jump on the creatures that are still completely monkeys.

Though monkeys and laddered humans are the only large creatures that can reach the really high fruit, akebi prefer monkeys as their consumers, which explains why the fruit is designed the way it is, so that the eater can't separate the hard seeds (which resemble apple seeds) from the sweet, custardy flesh. That is also why akebi hide high up in the shadows and, when ready-to-eat, open up wide in a monkey smile, the monkeys then grabbing the magnanimous fruit and scarfing it then and there, subsequently spreading the seeds from the treetops throughout the forest as they go, whereas picky humans take the fruit home and spit the seeds into a garbage bag, which is new to the akebi evolutionary experience.

The flavor of akebi is also unique in that there is none, because flavor doesn't matter to those who are still completely monkeys: sweet is enough. It's the only sweet fruit I can think of that has no flavor at all, which is interesting because as a result, the fruit's appeal to humans as well must rely on its sweetness alone. It is very sweet, therefore, but not cloyingly sweet, as the same degree of cane sugar sweetness, for example, would be.

Also part of the larger picture is that the melting creamy texture of the pulp strongly invites the eater to swallow the sweet mass whole, if one is a monkey (the seeds are too hard to chew) or, if one is a finicky human, to go through all the trouble of slowly swirling the mass around in your mouth, carefully keeping all the seeds in check while letting the custardy portion slowly melt away in a flavorless wash of sweetness that yet... does... taste... remotely... like something... you can't... quite identify as you swirl and ponder, the completed process of thoughtful consumption rewarding you at last with a mouthful of seeds that want to be swallowed.

All of the above factors, in addition to an ultra-brief shelf life, combine to explain why akebi is a traditionally appreciated, countryside sort of fruit that is rarely (if ever?) sold in stores. Every Japanese has heard of akebi, but few city folk nowadays have ever eaten one. Eating akebi is nonetheless a worthy experience in many respects. At several points in the process, by evolutionary design on both sides you are powerfully reflexively moved to just swallow the whole sweet thing, seeds and all, as it calls to the monkey in you, while as a creature of higher intelligence you are moved to consciously and with considerable effort not swallow, by maintaining a sort of a gustatory zen state.

Despite best efforts, however, the human akebi eater always swallows some seeds. They're designed that way after all, to slick right down there unnoticed. Then right away you keep finding another of the sly things (evolution is a sneaky enterprise) tucked away in one or another corner of your mouth, awaiting its chance for escape. There-- that's the last one: no, there's another one!

So I guess maybe the only way to fully enjoy akebi is to be a monkey...




Monday, October 22, 2007


ALL THE THINGS THAT AREN'T PINECONES...


Woodstoves and fireplaces can mean a lot of work if you clean your own chimney and chop your own wood, but the reward is more than the bliss of having a warm fire in your living room; it also inspires you to go out to splendid places you might not otherwise go to at odd times, and do there things you might not otherwise do.

Like yesterday morning, when Echo and I went to Omimaiko, the small but elegant peninsula with the long pine beach, slightly north of us on the lake (we can see the tip of it from our deck) where we walk, swim, picnic and watch fireworks at other times of the year, but this time it was to gather pinecones (excellent firestarters, and free). We'd gone to a different place further north the day before (nice beachside restaurant up there), but the trees in that vicinity are of a selfish variety and keep their cones to themselves. Even the wind didn't shake any down.

The big old pines on Omimaiko though, are much more generous, and their largish, well-dried pinecones were already scattered everywhere on the sand awaiting us, with no one else seeking the treasure just lying there like a spilled cornucopia. More and more folks here in Japan nowadays use atomic electricity to heat their homes, and are not inspired thereby in any noticeable way.

Anyhow, it's interesting being thus nicely coerced into gathering pinecones in the piney shade along a bright beach on a sunny, breezy morning, getting to know the trees and their territory first-hand, bending to pick up treasures here and there (getting to know the properties of your own back, as well) and acquiring a decent eye for a good pinecone (it's an art), learning to filter out everything that isn't a pinecone, which effort in its humble way is excellent practice for modern life and the attendant growth in multiplicity of things that aren't pinecones.

Like all the best undertakings, pinecone gathering also has the pleasant savor of eccentricity about it, as pertains to going around under trees while bent over holding big bags and putting pinecones in them. Passersby wonder at the sight; new conversations begin. Aesthetically attractive as pinecones are, they're generally not much use to anyone except kids, who love to gather them, throw them, stack them up in situ and take a bunch of the best ones home to find years later in the closet. So there's a being-a-kid aspect to it, too, which is always welcome to the kid that cores the elder.

In any case pinecones are not so attractive or useful as to have people walking around gathering them by the bagful as we were, the two of us alone, on that long beach; we soon had two big bags full to overflowing and then began to fill our pockets until all we had was our hands and they were full too, because as with any other bargain in life, once you get going on a superior freebie like pinecone firestarters to use on the coming cold winter mornings - when you bend to a cold stove in the early darkness and light a small cluster of pinecones beneath some cherry kindling and the flame catches, the fragrance rises, the fire grows to give you warmth and light - all vested there in the pine-tree largesse of amber cones scattered at your feet like so many treasures of the future, the little gifts take on a magical appearance and it becomes difficult to walk by a prime golden specimen just lying there looking at you with its arms spread wide and not pick it up, to walk right by a gift of the pine gods...

By the time we were retracing our steps back to the car, though, the wind had gotten a lot stiffer with the growing warmth, the pines were shaking and roiling their furry arms, having a grand green time and being even more generous, practically emptying their pockets in their delight at the day: the large underpine area we had already cleared was once again a gold mine of new-fallen pinecones that we had to walk through with pinecones already coming out of our ears. Interesting anguish, not being able to pick up another perfect pinecone!

But we have more empty bags at home...



Sunday, October 21, 2007

Saturday, October 20, 2007


SEGREGATION IN SEATTLE...


"The language of segregation still haunts Seattle. It lurks in the deeds of tens of thousands of homeowners living in neighborhoods outside of the Central Area and the International District. Look deep in the fine print. Many Queen Anne residents, for instance, have this clause in their deeds: 'No person or persons of Asiatic, African or Negro blood, lineage, or extraction shall be permitted to occupy a portion of said property.'"

In Northlake Terrace in Kenmore, "neither the said premises nor any house, building or improvement thereon erected shall at any time be occupied by persons of the Ethiopian race, or by Japanese or Chinese or any other Asiatic of Malay race, save and except as domestic servants in the employ of persons not coming within this restraint."

Friday, October 19, 2007


SPEAKING OF RAYS OF LIGHT


And speaking of rays of light, thanks to broadband I just finished watching - for the first time since the 60s - an episode from one of my all-time favorite tv series, The Avengers, right here on my computer, on that new tv mirror site with the logical listings.

Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) is just as hot as I remember her being in my more freely fevered years. (I'm more coherently fevered now.) Later - in the late 70s - I used to steal lemons from Diana's tree in front of her mountain house on Ibiza (just across the road from Terry Thomas' estate), which we used to walk by every time we went over the mountain into town. Diana was never there (very busy lady), so her lemons would have gone to waste. Needless to say they were excellent-- come to think of it, also grown from rays of light...

[Update Oct 20: And the day after I put up the above link: "TV-Links.co.uk Raided, Owner Arrested."]
Ah, well, in time the stream shall prevail...



IT SHOULD BE RIGHT ABOUT HERE...


Just about now in all the heartwarming or heartlifting movies is where the actual or figurative ray of light breaks through and illumines a scene vastly different from what it had been but a moment before, when all was dark, all was bleak, all was blighted and given up for lost, but now there comes from out of the night the symbolic ray of golden brightness that splits the sky, chasing away the darkness and revealing a scene full of, say, happy-weepy survivors, or the welcoming shore of the long-sought land, or an oasis of cool blue water, or cheers from countless throats at the grand-slam home run that fate has bestowed upon the underdogs in the big game...

So after following the news for so long, and seeing where things have been headed for as long as I can remember, I have to ask: has anybody on the world staff remembered to cue the ray of light?


Thursday, October 18, 2007


THE RATTLER


I have previously chronicled the two main genuses of the Japanese train-commuting species, Weasels and Turtles, and have touched upon some of the families thereof that I've encountered in my years on trains here in this nation of delicate politeness and consideration everywhere other than on trains.

I've mentioned the Snuffler, the Bricklayer, the Cosmetic, the Scarfer and the Thumper, among others, but today I will address a new family of commuter I've encountered before but until my commute this morning had somehow overlooked as a true taxonomic family that can sit or stand on its own: the Rattler.

This morning I first had a Thumper sitting next to me (Thumpers are almost always men), the kind who treats the newspaper like an enemy, folds it in half lengthwise, then crosswise, then down to the size of the article he wishes to read, at each fold thumping the paper like a catcher's mitt, then having read the article he unfolds and rethumps his way to the next article, all the loooong way through the paper. The worst part is when he hits the sports section and all the pent-up wannabe kicks in.

I can't read or doze off when one of this family is sitting next to or looming over me, for obvious reasons. To any smart aleck who would say well why don't you just tune it out, I would respond by saying why should I have to? If such people attended zen meditation at a temple they'd be tossed out on their ears. Peace and quiet are public property, after all.

When the Thumper had mangled the silence for several stops he got off and was replaced by the Rattler. The conventional rattler is an upper middle-aged or older woman, who boards the train carrying at least three plastic shopping bags (less than three is a lower order: the Rustler), plops them all on her lap (after sitting next to me; seats next to foreigners are usually the last to fill) and at once begins to rearrange all the contents of all the bags into some cryptic order. The sound is that of a large polyvinyl waterfall of random flow volume. It is difficult to remain inattentive to a plastic Niagara beside you.

This morning though, it was not a woman, it was a man, the first male Rattler in my experience. Not quite elderly yet, but already manifesting the all-alone-in-the-universe quality that is the special province of those who have aged long enough. Anyway, he had at least four bags (beyond three, they tend to blend together), one of which was filled with bottled drinks and one with convenience-store onigiri. The other bags held other stuff, Rattler accessories perhaps.

As soon as he sat next to me he began rearranging the contents of the bags, as per the taxonomic rules, taking out each cellophane-wrapped onigiri, squeezing, turning and rattling it to see what kind it was - as soon as he dug out his glasses from one of the other stuff bags - then finally chose which onigiri he wanted to eat first, put all the others back with an extended rattling flourish, then tried to figure out how to open the onigiri (each one opened the same complex way, but to him they were all different).

He opened each one in turn, after peering again at the others, as before, then wrestled for 5 minutes or so with the one he had selected, emanating a sound that put me in mind of a cat scrambling around in a dumpster full of potato chip bags. He then ate each onigiri with publicly shared oral satisfaction, now and then stopping to clear his teeth by sucking or blowing air through them, bursts of sibilance that went interestingly with the rattling overtone.

Though he was a small man, about my age but probably half my size, he ate onigiri all the way from Kyoto to Osaka, four of them (I can never eat more than two), all in the same manner, then crunched down all the wrappers in a trash bag he whipped out from a bagful of bags among the other bags. A Rattler of the first order.

I look forward morosely to discovering new orders on our commuting family tree.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007


THE WILD WORKS FAST


About half the wood I've been splitting lately is oak and half is wild cherry, thinned by the new owner of a pre-existing house upmountain that during the past decade had gotten overgrown to the extent of disappearing. The wild works fast up here. I had so much wood from that thinning that I couldn't buck/split/stack it fast enough while earning an income and having a life at the same time, so the last of it got wet from the intervening rains. You don't have long, after that. I managed to get most of the remnant split before it soaked up too much water, but now I'm down to the last few logs and I can see the difference a month makes.

The oak, if it spends too long in the open (even if covered sitting on the ground), dense as it is, nevertheless acts like a friendly sponge and soon is completely permeated by fungal mycelium, which beyond a certain point never really dries out to the original oaken qualities. If 'dry' it will burn, but only half-heartedly, having been moisturized/mineralized by the fungus. As it is now, I can strip the bark on many of the bigger oak logs and split them, and they'll still dry to a good hard firewood (about half of the remnant, ca. 1% of the whole wood load; as to the other half (smaller limbs), it's too late; they're fertilizer and mulch). For all its hardness, oak goes bad in a hurry.

The wild cherry, on the other hand, a much softer, lighter wood, is practically impervious to rot. It can lay there in the open for a long time and lose nothing but the bark. It has a thick cambium layer, up to a quarter inch when swelled with rain, providing conditions ideal for all sorts of wood beetle larvae, for whom it is a few months in Phuket while they discover who they really are.

When I split the wet-barked cherry logs at last, I have to debark each section, then scrape off the damp spongy layer (sort of like fibrous chocolate) so the wood can dry. You can't dry wood wrapped in a wet blanket. When I remove the bark (which can be a chore, but it's worth it, for cherry firewood) the fat and sassy larvae lolling here and there in the rich cambium are stunned by the sudden removal of their rightful roof and by the shocking light, whatever that is; they look up from their ruptured paradise in pale, distraught disbelief, staring around at the incomprehensible change, rudely awakened to a new and unwelcome reality: "I thought I had more months on this lease, at least until next spring... This log was my birthright, I tell you; I inherited this property..." but as soon as they perceive that I and my scraper are serious, they bail. Right onto the growing pile of wet bark on the ground, where perhaps they'll manage to dine and carry on... It's either a cold autumn for them or a cold winter for me...

Dr. Crow seems interested in the plight of these succulent creatures as well: "Say, Bob, you gonna do anything with those rare delicacies?" he warbles unctuously, honing his beak on the phone wire...


Tuesday, October 16, 2007


A COMFORTING THOUGHT


No need to worry about the economic future-- rest assured, the rising tide will lift all yachts.


Monday, October 15, 2007


LITTLE-KNOWN ELEVATOR FACTS


In the millions of years before elevators were invented, human beings rarely went straight up or down.

Early versions of the elevator were largely failures, moving sideways if they moved at all. Over millennia, those devices evolved into the motor vehicles we know today.

Say "elevator" to a giraffe, and it will stare at you blankly.

Elevators are never seen mating, since they reproduce asexually.

The elevator concept is only vaguely hinted at in the world's holy books.

Sigmund Freud secretly believed elevators to be highly erotic symbols of both sexes, and loved to ride up and down in them.

Napoleon Bonaparte, like most people in history, never heard of an elevator.



Saturday, October 13, 2007


THE GOD IN THE GARAGE


Down in the village on one of the corners across from our little train station is a small iron workshop, where I've noticed over the years that they fashion I-beams, T-beams and other made-to-order structural components, such as the one-off protective metal structure we had built to put around our woodstove where it fits into the wide space between the cedar logs that frame the pointy front to the house.

The workshop has stacks of steel plate in the workyard, men inside are often welding and abrading, emitting showers of sparks, stacking metal beams outside. Hard, practical work. But I didn't know they did more than that, that they had a more delicate, even spiritual side to their business.

Until last night, that is, when I was zoning home from the station in the dark on my motorcycle and turned that corner, where I saw that the door to the workshop-cum-garage was open, with the car parked in the drive; the interior high work light was on, as a sort of backlight, and there was no one around, in the shop or on the street. I looked in as I passed and had to stop to look some more.

The car was parked outside in the drive because there was no room in the garage. There was no room in the garage because all the available floor space was taken up by a fierce looking, three-meter tall guardian deity (kongo-rishiki: gate guardian) in unfinished bronze, one muscular arm raised to a fist in readiness for the battle with evil, the other arm down at an angle, stretched out taut in anticipation of a dirty move, the jaw shouting the silence that evil knows well; fangs were bared in a godly grimace, eyes glaring, brow knotted, legs rippling for action: there was a god in the garage, towering above the doorway, casting a long shadow over the car and into the street, the glaring eyes checking me out since I was the only one around. It was a spiritual experience to suddenly behold a life-sized deity in the neighborhood.

They hadn't cast the statue there, that's a big, fiery and hazardous operation likely done somewhere else, but the work had been brought here for removal of casting flashes and finishing work, the big god later to serve as a guardian deity for a wealthy new temple somewhere else, but for now he was fiercely guarding the garage and the village around. After a careful examination he let me pass, since I'm on his side. If only we could get one of these guys into politics.

I'll bet everyone in the village slept better last night, whether they knew why or not.

Friday, October 12, 2007


FOOD SAFETY IN JAPAN


"The Japanese have developed tough approaches for ensuring the quality of Chinese imports, particularly food — in part by far more rigorous testing of its imported food than in the United States. But the innovation getting the most American attention is Japan's system for screening Chinese producers even before they ship their merchandise to Japan."

NY Times, via Kurashi - News From Japan
(from someone in the know,
with a lot of other useful Japan links)


Thursday, October 11, 2007


BIRD WITH NO ADDRESS


Saw an actual wild bird in the heart of the big city this morning. Actually I heard it before I saw it, but at first I thought it was one of those tape recordings they have here, birdsong issuing suddenly from hallways and lobby speakers to give the impression of a natural setting among the glass and concrete canyons threaded with white noise of traffic and trains, but then I realized the call was too asymmetrical for commercial purposes, it was non-repetitive and not chirpy enough to bother taping and broadcasting in high fidelity. It was a practical, down-to-earth kind of call, not cute, hadn't the kind of charm commerce looks for in a bird.

I stopped and tried to see where it might be perched among the token trees of the few species that can survive the conditioned air and castoff light of the big city. The mirrored-glass tower had a few of the struggling green items fringing it so as to conform with urban environmental laws of the same basic intent as birdsong tapes. I couldn't spot the bird until it gave up and flew to the top of one of the trees, the better to get a perspective on why there was zero response to its continuous and earnest calls. It turned and stared and called in every direction, but likely there wasn't another of its kind within the distant city limits.

I myself have never heard or seen an actual bird - other than metroevolved pigeons - anywhere near here. I have glimpsed ducks on the river now and then over a period of 25 years, but not lately. And needless to say, ducks never come into the big city. This bird, a dull brown and about the size of a thrush, called more and more loudly and complexly, with what sounded to me a growing undertone of puzzlement, though that may only be a reflection of the puzzlement I myself feel whenever I come into the big city.

The only responses to his calls were trucks rumbling by, dense traffic, car horns, beeping traffic lights, a distant siren fading, pedestrians passing below not hearing the bird, or more likely dismissing it as one of the tapes buildings play, like those programmed fragrances they pavlov in stores to trigger a purchase response. A natural reaction in the big city.

One isn't aware of those fragrances either, because by now there is some bit of lobe in the urbanite brain that filters out irrelevant aspects of metroreality, the way we filter out the buildings themselves unless we're seeking a specific address, but the actual bird wasn't part of that, knew no addresses other than the big one he'd thought he knew, just somehow got to a place where he was surrounded by mirrors that rose and disappeared into a sliver of sky, came here for reasons I can only imagine but would prefer not to ponder under the circumstances, being something of a wild bird myself.

As I stood there watching, listening to his frustrated calls, I came to feel that he represented something that lives yet in all of us when we come to the big city and is puzzled there, with or without a destination address. Like us the bird was still trying to figure out in his own wild way what the hell was going on, why was he here and where was this, where were the forests, why wasn't he getting an answer?

He was still calling, back there in the distance, when I arrived at the address.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


KAYA DADA


Before going to bed the other night, Kasumi looked into the room where Kaya, Mitsuki and Miasa were already asleep and noticed something on the bottom of Kaya's foot, so she looked closer, then took a picture:

Sometime during the day Kaya had written "kutsushita" (sock) on the sole of only one foot. Not "shoe," not "foot," but "sock," and surrounded it with green spots. Gotta get her into an art school, fast; she'll wither in the student factory...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


ROCK OF AGES


"When my youngest was 14 years old, way back in 1990, he asked for music for Christmas. His wish list of cds included Steve Miller Band, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, early Dylan, CCR, The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, and The Band, among others.

I was a gratified, but curious parent, and asked him why he wanted all of these oldies.

His reply, spoken with hushed reverence:

'Mom, this is the music of my ancestors!'"

Comment by Corky
following a tune-by-tune post about
The Band's final performance,
The Last Waltz,
filmed by Martin Scorsese

(Serigraph from Wolfgang's Vault)

Monday, October 08, 2007


UNDER JURASSIC SKIES


As the principal spoke to me seriously about my steady record of underachievement, about how many times I'd been caught breaking the rules, and about how this was pret-ty near the last straw, I was fascinated by the number of pterodactyls, those flying dinosaurs, I saw circling in his head.

They were riding the thermals there. I'd seen pterodactyls before, of course; my social studies teacher, Mr. Golem, had a couple, and I'd even seen a Tyrannosaurus Rex way inside Miss Grendel, my homeroom teacher, but I'd never seen so many pterodactyls all at once, and in only one grown-up. I guess that's why he was principal.

Pterodactyls couldn't really fly, though, like the true birds that came later; they could only glide and were extremely clumsy on the ground. So they had to live near sheer cliffs, like in the principal's mind, in order to launch themselves into the air. Then they'd just soar, for millions of years in the Jurassic skies, turning their long heads slowly from side to side, the great bony knob at the back of their skulls serving as counterweight to the unwieldy toothed beak as they searched for prey, which they'd snatch from the ground without ever touching down.

Ultimately, it was their inability to truly fly, and the environmental limitations this imposed, that did them in evolutionally. They'd been extinct for about 25 million years by the time I got to high school; yet there they were, whole flocks of them, way back in the principal's head, still circling in the Jurassic sunset, as if nothing had ever happened.

I mentioned the fact to him in all frankness, and that was when I got kicked out of high school.

Been busy writing my ramble for the upcoming issue of Kyoto Journal,
so I thought I'd post this from among my old rambles there,
some still accessible (thanks to Ken Rodgers)
on the KJ Rambles page.



Saturday, October 06, 2007


FUNNY EXAM ANSWERS.
There IS creativity in school!
They kept a copy of my test?


Friday, October 05, 2007


BEAUTIFUL APPLES

Farmer Akinori Kimura of Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture,
says to one of his pesticide-free apples,
"Thanks a lot. You did a great job!"

"Able to bear the pressure no more, Kimura one evening resolved to commit suicide. He took a rope and hiked up a mountainside to do the deed, but under the moonlight made the discovery that would save him..."

Thursday, October 04, 2007


STAG PARTY


My apologies for the spaced-out quality of this brief ramble, I'm no judge of quality today, is this the right language? I hardly got a wink of sleep what with all the deer noise last night. From as soon as the lights went out until the sun came up it was one big stag party out there, with ladies attending. I kept expecting the loud clatter of horn against horn, but I guess the Baron has the harem all to himself. I saw him out-antlering a couple of young wannabe usurpers a month or two ago, but even though he was the only stag at this party, the ladies still gave him a run for his money. (Interesting inter-species use of idiom)

The Baron was courting all night outside my window and everywhere else around the house, where I'd hear at first, in a low whisper (I understand deer Japanese) "Hey, babe, where are you?" Then a demure "Over here, Buck!" Followed at once by a clatter of hooves over stone, a rustle of low branches and "Babe, where'd you go?" "I'm over here now, Buck!" and so on, all night. The imminent prospect of sex is never tiring, at least for the participants.

Just as I'd fall asleep hooves would the pound on the road, then there'd be a doe-ish giggle over in the field, followed by an eight-legged round-and-round through the oak trees, the bamboo, the hedges, my garden, over and among my firewood as I tossed and turned, repeatedly plucked from imminent dreams by a yearning stag call that resembled air squeaking out of a balloon and ending in a bleat from an oogah horn.

How any female would yield her charms in response to that type of endearment (note avoided pun) I can't imagine, and judging by the extent of the chasing, the ladies didn't, really, till they just got too worn out to say no, which was about the time I had finally given up and gotten up, and was making my tea. It was quiet from then on.

The deer were racked out in the bamboo after their exhausting night; I had to go to work after mine.

Anyway, come Spring we'll get to see the golden, gawky, big-brown-eyed results.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


CAWCUS


Sitting out here often of evenings, keeping a studied corner of an eye on the natural ongoings, looking for any clues that may be offered to whatever the puzzle is, I note that all the crows hereabouts these days - at least several floppy dozen of them - head north each evening at around 5 pm, while the light for getting is still good, to take part in a general cacophony of some sort at a clandestine spot further along the lake, where the raucous cawcus assembles to decide and enact whatever dark corvine legislation the various committee members can agree upon. I don't know where the crow capital is, but it must be aggravating to the neighbors. Thank the bird gods it isn't in the trees around my house.

I don't see how the crows could ever agree on anything though, despite the fact that they have a goodly quorum, since each crow is solitary throughout the day, beakily independent and strongly opinionated, often standing atop the soapbox of a fence post, high tree or telephone pole to broadcast piercing personal views on things of direct concern to black-feathered individuals, for all the world to hear.

Theirs must be the only avian form of what we humans are pleased to call democracy (none of the other birds regularly gather from individuality to fly collectively to daily congress), though the way they fly overhead on their legislative trip, scattered into what could only be imaginatively characterized as a flock - with latecomers often lollygagging along 10 or 20 minutes behind schedule - seems to indicate that they don't really want to reach their capital, wherever it is, for getting there appears to be much more fun, but they are going nonetheless, in as omnidirectional a straight line as possible, complaining all the way.

Complaining is what it sounds like to me, at least in terms of human emotional expression, though perhaps I'm mistaking the squawks of corvine excitement and crowfoolery for human aggravation. One species' jubilation can often sound raucous to a quieter, wingless party on another facet of the infinite jewel.

Monday, October 01, 2007


FWIW, IMHO.


Another sign of metamaturity I've noted in myself at my age is the almost reflexive lifting of the nose upon reading English as she is now keyboarded. Noselifting was much easier for my teachers, because the symptoms were simpler back in paleological times, and fewer. Now the act requires nare heights never B4 attempted, to accommodate English as she is, like, spoke, txted, LEETed, rapped and stuff.

In my day, which was closer to Babylonian times, we used to delight in our devilish 'aints' and dropped g's... How mightily our righteous teachers used to try to purge us of those elocutionary travesties! How quaint those times seem now. Those were small battles compared to the Battlestar Galactica kind of struggle that isn't even really being waged these days, when the most shocking and unspeakable words of yore ('yore'... now there’s a dusty term, get my trowel and brush, I think I've uncovered something here) are used on tv and pepper common speech like the schrapnel of distaste. There was no tv in the early inkwell era, when grownups not even in college commonly read thick books and we kids had to imagine a lot, play outdoors all the time, we were much more active, seldom passive, and it showed in our language. I feel we are losing ground, but I ain't really complainin' (Sister James Marie turns in her grave).

In those times - as they appear to me now - English was closer to the original language, the way it ws B4 teh changez. In grade school back then we had inkwells in the tops of the genuine wooden(!) and cast-iron(!) classroom desks at which we studied the Palmer Method, when handwriting and correspondence were still major skills and pigtails could be dipped. That was, like, way before keyboarding. We practiced scrolls and loops and other calligraphic fundamentals several hours a week, using steel-nibbed straight pens pretty much of the type Jefferson used to write out the Declaration of Independence, by hand, with a pen dipped over and over in ink!

Linguistically, not much had changed during the centuries between Jefferson and me. We used to study letter writing too, of the same old snailmail type Jefferson used, when replies could be weeks away. Snailmail used to have salutations, like Dear Sir(s) or Madam, or To Whom it may concern (they used 'whom' back then...). Pretentious sounding greetings now, a far cry from the lower case 'dude,' 'yo' or nothing at all used in email.

Also big at the time were diction and elocution, which you don't hear much of, or about, these days, whose chronic lack makes the Declaration a puzzling read to, like, students today. It was a different world, only just recently released from the reins of horsepower and the flicker of candles, what I've come to think of as the Palmer Method days. It was a slower language in a slower world, where handwriting and rhetoric were essential social skills. More studied, less frenetic, those times felt more like history was happening, in contrast to a txt msg.

And BTW, whenever I myself slip into the slovenly comfort of these shortcuts as into some formally ragged denim cutoffs, I feel traitorous somehow, I can sense the absence of what has been and is being lost: care for eloquence, honoring the past, concern and respect for correspondents, even if only mannered, as in diplomacy.

Also being lost is a general love of the rhythm and visual beauty of handwriting. I know that it's all going away, as things always do, much as horses and oil lamps went away for my grandparents; and with those no-longer essentials went the slow way of life that had trotted along in sync with daylight and nightlight since Babylon. Now that we've morphed to a reality as perceived through the window of an air-conditioned car on a superexpressway, who has time for extended and stately salutations? Road rage is quicker. And what does it matter? Who really cares? Respect is no longer accorded much anyway, except by the surviving metamature.

Now that LEET is here, poetry and good writing are fading away as well, like blacksmiths and buggy whips did; there's no time anymore for slow, elegant things. I read an article the other day that asked, is the novel going to disappear, the way poetry has? The fading of poetry already a given.

To my paleological eye, you'd need a bathyscaphe to plumb the depths to which English has declined. Apostrophes and general punctuation have pretty much gone the way of, like, horseshoes, along with logical capitalization, that/which distinction, linguistic pride and spelling in general (misspellings in the New Yorker!), to say nothing of the semicolon; I'm one of the small coterie who still uses that period-comma. And I remember when TIME magazine was an eloquent touchstone of quality English. Writers now just wnt 2b yr frnd.

I don't mean to sound curmudgeonly, but now that I have time for it, what the hell. These are times when curmudgeoning is called for, pointless though it may be. I know that, in a sense, these are simply the ramblings of a Babylonian, much like those of Sister Marie once were to me, but I also know, from experience, that the young don't have a clue as to the value of time. By the time you get to my age, you do. IMHO, FWIW.