Wednesday, January 30, 2008


THE BIRDS


There are a lot of interesting birds around here. I don't mean interesting species, but interesting birds. Individuals. Real characters. Some of them are complete mysteries. When you live where this great a variety of birds actually do their thing, you get to see that they have character, for example the manic warbler, and the crazy bird I’ve never spotted that shouts "What the hell?" over and over at every Spring sunrise, then there's Dr. Crow of course, couldn't go without mentioning mister dark wisdom himself, much referenced in these ethereal pages-- or the hawks, the swallows, the pheasant in lust or the ducks in love--

For recent example - this afternoon in fact - there's a certain bird, the screaming blur that hangs around here and is highly secretive about his true identity (I suspect it may be a brown-eared bulbul, but I've never spotted him in well-lit stillness), he blends in so well with the gray lower branches of the cedars where he mainly seems to hang out cloaked in the darkling invisibility he prefers, all in perfect keeping with his gothic mood, because although he's very territorial, he's also extremely paranoid at all times of year (which for a bird is really extreme), so whenever I go outside in this leafless time and that bird is within 50 yards of the house he spots my sinister movement and screams "Look out everybirdy! The monster just came out of that unnatural structure there and it's coming for us, it's moving this way with giant claws, it has two legs but no feathers! Fly for your lives! FLYY! FLYYYY! FLYYYYY!" And he keeps that racket up until everybirdy within 100 yards has flown to safety in fear of their lives, he himself taking off at the last minute, still screaming for all he's worth, leaving behind only a dancing branch just before I can grab him with my long giant claws and devour him whole. Interesting bird. Don't really know him; just a gray blur streaking off screaming into the dusk of the trees.

Then there are the frantic tiny feeders who come by once or twice a year in large numbers and scour every inch of every tree for insects and whatever they can find in the way of avian fast food. Some weeks ago Echo put up a pretty realistic sort of 3D sticker butterfly high up on the big glass doors by the weeping cherry for when the grandgirls came over the holidays, and when a few days ago those birds arrived to scour the tree, every five minutes during bird-party time one of them would spot the delectable butterfly hovering right there midair in delicious stillness (talk about out-of-season but who cares, it's like caviar in NYC) and dive for it before any other bird could get it, hit the glass BONG!, flutter stunned to the deck below and stand there wobbly for a few minutes looking up, trying to figure out the meaning of glass and what the hell was that butterfly, then it would fly back to the tree and give another of its fellows a crack at the inviting delicacy.

This went on for a goodly time (Bong! Bong!) until a couple dozen birds had gone for the big bright snack and hit the deck, by which time I suspect some of them were sitting there in the cherry tree chuckling to each other, chirping "Psst: There goes Harry: Look: He spotted the 'butterfly.' Go for it, Harry, Grab that baby! Go get it, Harry, it's all yours! HA HA HAA!"

There's also the thrush that collided once with our big kitchen windowpane, and no thrush ever since has done so.

Like I said, when you get to be really neighbors with them, not watchers or hunters or simply-passing-byers and whatnot, bird personalities can be pretty surprising, anthropomorphically speaking. No doubt just as surprising as I am to them, aviomorphically speaking.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


CHOCOLARVAE


Over the years I've dug up a number of these large pale creatures in my garden - larvae of the kabutomushi - but needless to say the thought never entered my mind that one day those shrimp-sized grubs would be available in gourmet chocolate form... I've also mentioned herein the hefty wood beetle larvae I find that are a countryside delicacy and are also now available in creative chocolate, though neither mode of grub appeals to me personally, even in the colorful variety.

It's no surprise though that these chocoversions of the larvae are a such a hit in Japan. Originally created by the sweetsmaker Komatsuya (who seem to be focusing on the offbeat: they also offer a durian ice cream bar!) [in Japanese, but click on blurred images for further clear images] as a sort of souvenir for a local insect festival (a common event in Japan, where kids have insect pets, the rhinoceros beetle being a favorite), the larvae sold out so fast that they made more... and never stopped, refining as they went, until now the star larva has an ectoderm of white chocolate, a body of chocolate and corn flakes, legs of dried squid and an orange peel mouth, and now that they're selling even more like hotgrubs online, if you order them in the delight of fright ("they're scary but I want one!") you'll have to wait 3 to 4 months to get your tasty pupal snack.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


MODERN WEATHER


A lot of this strange white stuff just fell out of the sky last night.
You never know with modern weather.

Friday, January 25, 2008


ON TREATING SMALL CHILDREN INFECTED WITH TICKLEBUGS


The Ticklebug is a mystery to both medicine and entomology. It is such a mystery, in fact, that I have never seen a single report on the creature [I can't even find a photo!]. For some reason it does not seem to be a matter of much scientific concern.

Yet every time my granddaughters visit they are immediately found to be carrying one or more Ticklebugs somewhere on their persons. Thank goodness I am a specialist in treating the condition. My children Kasumi and Keech were also frequently infected when younger, so over the years I have learned by experience how to treat this giggly curse of the young.

My ministrations relieve the symptoms about as well as can be expected, given the recurrent nature of the condition. The ultimate symptoms include loud squealing and spasmodic movement, in time leading to roiling motions on the floor in an attempt to avoid treatment, which must be thorough.

As to the methodology, I first look carefully into the patient's eyes, and about the face, for the slightest sign of laughter: a twitch at the corner of the mouth, perhaps-- a sure sign that a Ticklebug is hiding somewhere on the victim's body, already generating early indications of extreme gigglitis.

Under the chin or the arms, for example, are favorite Ticklebug hiding spots - on the side of the neck is a good spot too - so those and various other possible areas of infection, such as along the ribs, are also checked by palpation, though the diagnostician seldom gets that far before the victim is already in spasms on the floor, for the closer you get to the Ticklebug's place of concealment, the louder the laughter and the weaker the knees. Let these be your guide.

As well, there is usually more than one Ticklebug involved, so the victims should be checked several times a day, if you can catch them.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


THE COWS AGREE




Wednesday, January 23, 2008


BARELY NICE THINGS


Hunkered out in the morning winter rain up here, thinning some spinach for lunch, after I pinch off the soil-caked roots and leave them there to nourish the future I am privileged to note the nevertheless kindness of the snowcold rain in washing the dirt off my freezing fingers so I can carry the handfuls of baby spinach back to the kitchen without getting dirt on the leaves... such barely nice things as this, easy to miss, going on even in the cold heart of a gray chill-drizzly day...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


TIP-TOP OFFICE EXERCISES


This program of simple desk and cubicle exercises will start you on your way to office health, both physical and mental, no matter where you work:

The Münch

While pressing your elbows down upon your desk, press your hands to the side of your face as hard as you can and scream silently, making deep use of the diaphragm. Repeat until exhausted, once each workday morning and afternoon. When after 20 years you become fully unraveled, you can begin The Uber Münch.

The Desk Crunch

While adamantly seated in your chair, force your elbows downward upon your desk while pressing your knees outward against the inner walls of the desk as hard as you can, for as long as you can. Repeat until exhausted. After some years, you will succeed in crumpling your desk into a tangle of bent synthetic materials and can advance to the next exercise level. Repeat twice daily, in combination with The Münch, for maximum effectiveness.

The Wall Hammer

If you work in a cubicle and have already crunched your desk, you are ready to advance to the wall. Several times a day, stand facing any wall of your cubicle and pound on it as hard as you can alternately with fists, elbows, hips, knees and feet while doing The Münch, until you begin to make some dents in your containment. If your boss comes running, so much the better; you can vary your regimen with the exercise series called The Boss Hammer. That will get results even more quickly. Whenever other employees come to see what the commotion is, introduce them to your exercises. They will thank you, for this regimen relieves collective tension, making you a better, more relaxed and productive employee, while helping to shatter that glass floor, enabling your plummet to freedom. Along the way, you can practice such advanced exercises as

On the Carpet - turn criticism into coliseum!
The Rat Race - win this one by running backwards!
The Dog-Eat-Dog - Be better than dog food!
Career Moves - Terminal checkmate is the goal here!
Major Overhead - Start wielding the Sword of Damocles!
Number Crunching - No one can stop those ruthless jaws!
Downsizing - Your bosses will be half their original size!

Once you've completed this series, you can start on our full range of Street Exercises!

Saturday, January 19, 2008


TOTEM POLE OF THE SENSES


Pate de foi gras? You can have it. Caviar? It's all yours. Filet mignon? Sauce remoulade? You can have those, too. Take 'em away. Just pass me the red beans and rice or the chile or goulash or ramen or minestrone or salad or sandwich with maybe a pickle. I've always been a one-dish man, and a simple dish at that. Nothing fancy, please; go to no pains.

Food has never meant that much to me; it's meant nothing, in fact, other than the asap assuagement of hunger with the sauce of simplicity. It's a bother to eat, a mere necessity after all, no need to make a fuss about it, certainly not spend much on it, of either time or money, and so it has been all my life. Same as it's a bother to sleep, but I have to do that too, or I'll collapse into my goulash.

I'm one of those guys who (at least when I prepare my own lunch) generally eats over the sink, to minimize the time needed for all the de facto pointless trappings, from plate (who needs a plate?) to utensils (what's better than fingers?) to napkin (ridiculous!) to cleanup (BIG waste of right-now time!), and I can get quickly back to whatever important it was I happened to be doing when this evolutionally spoiled body interrupted and said FEED ME.

Everything is more important than eating. Animals eat. And that's pretty much all they do, except find things to eat. In between, they sleep. Gustatory interests are probably lowermost on my totem pole of the senses. I even find politics more interesting. Well, that may be overstating the value of politics, but what the hell, it's my totem pole.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


WINTERSPRING


This 'Winter' has been so Springlike that I've been Springy myself , which isn't to say that I've been prancing barefoot around the mountainside in a toga with a laurel wreath on my head, tootling a panpipe with one hand while flinging flower petals with the other, but you get the picture-- though perhaps you'd rather not, I'm not really the one to judge the aesthetic aspects of a buff 67-year old foreigner tootling about a Japanese mountainside in a toga flinging flower petals, which now that I think of it might well be in violation of several local laws on various aspects of public peace and decency, to say nothing of visa extensions, but like this bizarre tangent of mine, that's neither here nor there… Now where was I... oh yes: WinterSpring.

The Springy things I spoke of included planting seeds in sunwarmed soil, uncovering the tented spinach so it could bask in the Miami sunshine that shone in mid-January and raking the mounds of oak leaves from my upmountain neighbor's lawn (I'll use them for compost). What's more, as night falls it feels almost unnecessary to gather more than an armful of firewood...

Then last night at around three a.m. my deep sleep was torn to fragments by a long savage blast of howling wind from the north, a Siberian beast that ravaged through the trees and roiled around the house until dawn came the silence, when I got up and looked out and beheld what looked like fog but was snow, and each tree around the house had been sliced in half vertically: the north side of each trunk and its larger limbs were caked thickly with windblown snow, and invisible against the white background. Winter had arrived on loud white feet and begun its elegant trickery...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


TURNING MY HAND


Grandchildren, among all their other unknowing kindnesses, point out to us one by one, step by step, all the countless things we ourselves had to learn (or unlearn) to become as and who we are. With our own children there was no time in the blur to note such fine points; this new privilege is another of the gifts that grandkids bring to us in their little hands.

When they come to visit, and out in the garden I give them a rake or a shovel to help me with, I am caught unawares by the fact that they don't know how to use these things (that's not inborn?!) so I have to show them how to hold them and then how to use them (I used to not know how to use a shovel and a rake!), and for example how to extra-hold the rake with one hand so as to pick up leaves against it with the other hand (I had to learn that!), or how to best light a fire (they touch the lighter to the top of the leafpile) so I show them how heat rises, and they feel a new power when they light the pile at the bottom and the fire complies; how to get leverage when using pruning shears (they love the sharp knowledge of cutting stuff into pieces) and how to hold a pruning saw (the branch came off!) and then in the house when I add wood to the woodstove, whatever they're doing the twins run to look through the open stove doorway into the fire, amazed that there's a blazing fire here in our own living room-- in all their few years they've never seen such a thing! Big sister Kaya likes to add some wood to the fire; when I open the stove door she gets a stick from the kindling pile, tosses it in quickly and gingerly, pulling back at the heat, the twins still just watching from a distance that inferno roaring with all its red tongues right here in the room inside that open door, and what amazement it is in myself to behold in the grandgirls the fascination at every single detail of all these things, all these actions and tasks, right down to the heft and weft of the mass of the nature and the gravity, every second of having to learn how water behaves, and ash, and leaves in the wind, and dirt and fire and spark, handle and blade and twig, how to run with boots on sandals on sneakers on barefoot going updown stairs and hills on grass or snow or sand the infinity of it all how ever do we do it, how do we ever learn it all, how ever do we make it to my age, where I stand right now without the slightest idea of how many such things I've come to know, or how I learned them like turning my hand...

Sunday, January 13, 2008


"OLYMPIC HIGHLIGHTS"



With kuroko helping.

via JapanProbe; click for perfomance details.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008


EARLY BIRD, NO WORM


Yesterday morning I heard a warbler out in the leafless woods singing - if I can call it that - "What the..." "Where is..." "How in..." "What time..." "Is this March?" "What's today?" "How the..." and suchlike fragments, never quite completing his trilly sentences, the beauty of his dyschronic song all the odder for its disjointed quality.

No doubt the warbler was confused by the absolute lack of snow and the springlike temperatures we've been having so far around here for the first time in memory, and he with his inborn ancientness was all ready to go as per temperature, the fragrance of Spring in the air, but to his clear puzzlement there was no action out there, nothing happening, nobirdy else around to verify his reasonable expectations, and boy was he surprised.

In a way, I know just how he felt because yesterday morning I woke up in the 3:30 dark and figured I'd just semidoze until a lighter 5:00 or so, then get up and have breakfast before heading off for work in the city, but for some reason my body acquires a deep capability for staying in bed on days when I have to go to the office, so at some point later I abruptly sat up from a fine, fine dream and looked at the clock, which said in an eye-fuzzy way: 6:50 (I have to leave the house by 7:15) so I jumped up, got dressed saying "What the..." "How did..." "Where in..." "What time..." "is this Wednesday..." "When..." and suchlike fragments.

Then when I pounded downstairs 10 minutes later I looked at the clock down there and it said 7:17! Up and downstairs were suddenly in different time zones... or was it all me? No time-- later gotta check those clocks and this brain. Bike keys, no time tie shoes, forget helmet -- took off still saying "What the..." "How did..." "Where is..." "What time..." "Is this Wednesday..." much like a Warbler in January.

Fortunately for my speedneed there was no ice on the road, just managed to do a pretty good speedslip onto the train, at the end of the line wondered in a new way: "What city is this?"

Thursday, January 10, 2008


OPERATING THE LOBSTER


To be perfectly honest, I've never even thought of operating a giant lobster-- who can perceive all the possibilities that life lays out before us? But when I saw that giant lobster sitting there, my inner child leaped at the prospect. Regrettably though, my outer adult was too big to fit into the crustacean. But then I've never thought about not fitting into a lobster either, so the disappointment was small one.

I'm speaking of the new Nephropida across the water, in that special section of the fantastic Lake Biwa Museum called the "Discovery Room," where kids can go unattendedly wacko while their parents collapse nearby.

Yes, in the Discovery Room there is now a giant lobster you can physically go inside of and, while looking out through the lobster's mouth, manipulate the levers in there to operate the giant claws and snap up a praying mantis bigger than my forearm, or a 20-pound pollywog - both at once, if you can swing it - those dainties are dangling temptingly right out there in front of your big bulbous eyes, just within reach of those long heavily jointed chitinous arms extending out from your spiny red carapace, deep in the imaginary sea where so much of the world's fun resides.

When we brought the grandgirls to the Museum on Sunday, Kaya headed straight for the lobster and got in line behind all the boys until at last she got to direct the beast, caught a loach or two and snagged a pollywog, but soon burned out on the deeper potential of the thing - sure it's cool, said her look, but lobster interest fades - she wandered off; then each of the twins had a go at the lobster, with about the same result. Of course they're totally children at this point in their lives, with quite a while to go before they begin to acquire their own outer adults and the restrictions/perspective that affords; still, their actions were a surprise to both of me.

Yes, the girls quickly gave up wielding those giant spiked arms with the gnarly grabbing claws at the ends!! They wandered off, stuck their heads up inside the fish tank and stuff like that, made some yarn pictures on the yarn boards, but their hearts weren't in those activities any more than they had been in the lobster.

As far as I could tell, their hearts kept pretty much out of it until they found, over in a far corner, the traditional Japanese kitchen of a hundred years or so ago, where they could do trad stuff like "slice" "daikon" and other "vegetables" etc. with a "hocho" (traditional Japanese kitchen knife) and put them in a big iron pot over a "fire" in an old-fashioned irori (fireplace) to make a nabe (stew type meal) for "dinner," and you couldn't tear the girls away from there, they made dinner over and over, fascinated at slicing not-even-real radishes with a not-even-real hocho, one twin at the edge of the girl-crowded space complaining initially to Kasumi that there was no room in the kitchen: “Mama, there's no room for me to make a nabe!”

While gazing upon that comfortingly homish scene, my outer adult couldn't help but be aware of his inner child's powerful desire to sneak away from this girl stuff and work that lobster big time.

Museums are there to teach us of the amazing aspects there are to the world and to ourselves. The lesson here appears to be that somewhere back in the history of girls there is warmth, there is comfort, there is nurturing; whereas somewhere back in the history of boys there is a giant lobster.

Which gets harder to operate as we get older.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


SHUTCHER BEAK


So, late this afternoon I'm out there in the garden getting the last of the day's work done, manning the hose in this case, and Crow settles in one of the cedar trees - he drops by now and then to check me out, see if I'm setting out any selectables for his royal delectation - and seeing me doing what I'm doing he commences to chuckle that big cawy guffaw of his, laugh-shouting to his buddies here and there on the mountainside carrying on their dark arts (I'm in a bit of a hurry at the moment so this is a rough translation, I have to leave out the deep rhetorical flourishes that make Crow the cryptically eloquent language that it is) "Hey guys, check this out, you know the human I told you about, cuts trees into pieces, chops them into smaller pieces and stacks them up here and there outside of his house for up to a YEAR, keeping them covered from the rain, then BURNS THEM? Well, he's got other logs here now that he just made holes in with a machine, then stacked up, leaving them uncovered, and now he's watering them!! Do you believe these people? And those comical wings! What craziness! Haw! Haw! Haw!"

I have no trouble withstanding such feathered mockery - apart from the rude noise - as Crow's fellows crowd in from around to collectively watch one of their human subjects water the shiitake logs I've just inoculated; Crow's opinion isn't worth a black feather anyway, since he never did a lick of work in his life, just stands around in trees looking cool or hassling hawks up in the sky, doesn't have to plant anything, start fires to keep warm,or make shiitake logs for a couple years down the line; all he has is today, and gets everything handed to him on a natural platter, like roadkill. What does he know about the difficulties of higher intelligence confined to two legs and frequently a desk?

I told him and his buddies my opinion straight out, but they didn't hear a word I said in all that beaky laughter.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


THE JOYS OF THE RED SHOVEL


Now that the angelic trio has departed, things are sliding back to normal around here and I can set out to do a task without it turning into a carefully conducted -- and fun, but slooow -- lesson for brand new and vulnerable fingers etc., I was out in the garden yesterday tossing sectioned logs about, splitting cherry kindling and cleaning up the store the heavenly visitors had assembled under the deck with the wheelbarrow parked out front and now half-filled with rain, when I got at last to the Store inventory-- what they'd had on display in carefully arranged baskets.

During my audit I found (among many other things-- the catalog was large) that they had been offering to lucky buyers a selection of top quality leaves, superbly tinted with all-natural colors; a series of conveniently sized designer cedar twigs with cones attached, all fashioned in exquisite detail; a fragment of plastic detritus interestingly shaped by the forces of nature; a small but finely constructed whisk broom formerly owned by a grandfather who had been wondering where the hell it had gone; a small red metal shovel for cleaning gutters, ditto the grandfather-wonderment.

And there at the bottom of each basket was the key of the assembled collection: a variety of rocks, each uniquely crafted by the Big Crafter, in sizes and shapes ideal not only for purchase, but for ease of portability, enabling discerning buyers to take their new possessions wherever they wish (such convenience!), arrange them as they wish (decorative potential!) and subsequently move them about as life now and then requires, a need already anticipated by these brand-new mini-entrepreneurs regarding items not all that different from the things we grownups call televisions, refrigerators, kitchen sinks and what not, the rocks of modern life.

These were ancient commercial principles at work, as manifested in the act of setting forth and laying out the available goods at this early age, knowing as yet only vaguely (but truly) the basics of marketing (Think this rock is worth anything? Why?), making considered selections from out of the great mass of happenstance presented by the world at large, arranging the selected items appealingly in baskets among artistically positioned leaves and twigs, and offering all for sale to any grandfatherly passersby who might perhaps be eager to possess and enjoy the use of, say, a red shovel.

When by late afternoon all had been restored to its original utilitarian state, there wasn't a speck of fun in sight. I don't know what I was thinking of; I'll put some fun back tomorrow.


Sunday, January 06, 2008


Look
to the cedars
for the latest news


Friday, January 04, 2008

Thursday, January 03, 2008


MANEUVERS

Yesterday was one big outflanking action as the kids advanced relentlessly through the day at our house. A blog entry would be like sitting down in a chair or something. Self-removal from the ongoing action is not permitted by the triumvirate of miniqueens, who divide the world equally among themselves, the way nations try in vain to do.

Echo was the designated cook and I was the designated dishwasher, table setter, all-purpose toy overseer and general kid handler, while parents Kasumi and Tatsuya went off into Kyoto to do something they haven't done in a long time: go shopping together for a few hours without the kids. Musta been weird.

After the kids were fed - they no longer take naps, a major setback in the grandparent counterinsurgency - we took the whole crew out for a nice tiring walk up through the woods, picking cloudberries and poking at mushrooms as we went, then out and across the mountain face of rice paddies where the three climbed and rolled and ran and had a satisfyingly exhausting afternoon in the rainy snow until dinner when we were back on full duty again...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Happy 2008!


From Kaya, Mitsuki and Miasa