Saturday, February 28, 2009
The way the kinmokusei trees moved in the freshening wind this morning it was clear that they knew spring was arriving-- only the first edge, but they knew. They were dancing. Their movements weren't stiff and grudging, the way they'd been only a few days ago, merely shedding snow; they were softening and sinuous, the early part of elegant. They looked greener too, each leaf filling with light, each tree more in sync with the earth and its airs, as though it was all music.
They even seemed a bit playful with each other, like newborn animals are. Watching them, I felt that feeling I get when watching kittens. Soon even the curled-up leaves of last year had joined in dancing to the wind; now that the snow was gone and the wind warming, it was party time. I was just a tourist, watching those local old-timers swirling in the air above the road, kicking up as though they were green again, not even touching the ground, like a bunch of human village dancers back in the day when villages danced like that in spring, whirling giddily, getting high, celebrating the newcoming...
Not long after that, as I was working in the garden tilling for a half-row of Inca potatoes - which look interesting ("Inca-no-hitomi is a diploid potato variety known for its yellowish-orange flesh, very high carotenoid content and chestnut-like nutty flavor" pdf link) - (only half a row 'cause I have to spread what's left of last year's compost pile before I can start tilling the other half) I looked up at the sky for an eye break and there, up in the gradual blue was the white crown of Mount Fuji - higher than the actual mountain - precisely created out of a bit of thick cloud floating by, the shading of the lower sky shaping the blue mountain itself in my mind's eye, the sky-Fuji slowly drifting toward the southeast where after a few moments it merged with a series of cloud dunes.
You really gotta watch it, there are performances everywhere.
Friday, February 27, 2009
GODS IN THE GARDEN
You know how it is when you garden with no fence yet, but with deer, wild pigs and monkeys around, plus you're an eclectic kind of person, all sorts of stuff going on in head and out, you try any number of things, and in the nature of eclecticity often rather haphazardly-- depends on the day and whether you've had coffee or what, all matters of interest somehow, and now and then - almost inevitably - you forget some of all that stuff, like what specific carrots or where kinds of potatoes?
Well early last autumn I planted a few different kinds of interesting but uncommunicative carrot seeds and intriguing but mute seed potatoes here and there where space was available at the time - this was all pro tem back then in the imminent garden - and covered them all with hoops and netting.
Then a few months later during the grandgirls' visit they plucked some of the carrots and I weeded the potatoes once, then as winter passed and the snow deepened my mind drifted hibernationally away from the garden and closer to the woodstove, and I became somehow of the impression that the potatoes would revive in spring, send up new leaves and grow some more, to be harvested maybe somewhen early to mid-summer or maybe later, there would be a sign from a benevolent garden deity or something, gardening can be vague in a lot of ways; a bag of seed potatoes is not very communicative. Queries such as 'And where are you from, little potato?' or 'How do I grow you and when will your progeny be ready?' are met with that profound spud silence.
So I figured six months or thereabouts, what do I know, I could look it up on the net but they're already planted, I'll find out, what's the hurry, the gods will speak. You laugh. Well, I was out there a couple days ago learning what the edge of spring does to winter spinach, and through the netting noticed in one of the barren-topped potato mounds alongside there what looked like the skin of a potato showing through, where the Baron had been trying to push a hoof through the net and get at the spinach (which appears to be speeding up). I went out there later with the pitchfork to investigate the potato innuendo, and to my late winter amazement, from that one mound dug up 4 softball-sized potatoes. There are lots of ready potatoes out there in the ground, right now.
That's how I learned that the Baron is a garden deity.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Sunday, February 22, 2009
WALKING WITH A CHILD
From the PLM archives, February 2004
When you go for a walk with a child, as I do so often with Kaya when she comes to visit (it's a crime to keep new legs indoors all day in a house in the country, to say nothing of legs that have some mileage) it is best to let the child lead, because then you are reminded - in case you had forgotten - of all the yearning and learning and true adventure there is in every single minute of life.
Seeds, weeds, roads, where did the berries go, holding pods, who made this path, what is the frost, where are the deer, if there are rabbits why can't we see them and what kind of trees are those, when do the acorns fall and what is that, sensing wild beasts large and small out there unseen but living and moving - how stirring and inspiriting it all is in truth, with a nice little bit of trepidation - and if you are paying attention in any real way, and not merely serving as an accompanying corporeal presence (perhaps, heaven forbid, an authoritarian representative of some kind) you must drop everything you've got going on way up there in the heady heights and come down to where the adventure is, return for a time to the child you once were (perhaps sadly orphaned all these decades).
When you go for a walk with a child you'd best not be all tenterhooked with expectation and directed with direction, because with a child in the lead, or even in tow, you never know the turnings you'll take (children can turn on an atom at any level) or where your twofold path will lead. That's another gift children give, in recalling to you the true grace of realworld paths: that they can lead anywhere, a grace so easy to forget after years of advance on cut-to-the-chasedly optimized career etc. paths, with their cradle-to-grave governmental perspective.
That is the very same amnesia by which you may have forgotten that you too were once able to go wherever you pleased, a privilege you now realize, with a pang of some proportion, was a valuable privilege indeed: however could you have given that up, you might ask yourself, among the many other questions you haven't asked in a long while, perhaps even never before. And maybe as a result you'll hear the answers you've always carried inside, until before too long wherever you go it is as though you are walking with a child.
The way I try to walk when Kaya isn't here.
Friday, February 20, 2009
I'd just gotten off the evening train and was gingering my way along the snow-covered platform out here in the boonies of the most different country in the world - the nation of sushi, sashimi, ramen, gagaku, minyo, enka and various other food and musical forms - when into my ears from out of my iPod (filled for me by brother Mick, back in Santa Barbara) came the time-tripping voice of country-and-western deity songwriter Hank Williams, singing Jambalaya, crawfish pie and-a fillet gumbo...
What a chronic surprise it was to suddenly be so far away from then and there! The peerless tune and lyrics evoked their own jambalaya of memories -- that lakeside cabin way back in the New York 50’s where they played Hank Williams all the summer days long on the phonograph... and those shimmering highways winding along the red earth of the south, those ancient trees draped with Spanish moss fading into distances ahead... images immediate yet so remote here in the cold and dark on the other side of world and time-- what a psychodistance I traveled in those moments, living back along life while making my way toward the stairs to the foot of the mountain...
Thursday, February 19, 2009
ME AND CITIZEN KANE
It seems that winter and the past have caught us short this year: we are nearly out of firewood, yet the snows are still falling. Can't we get things a little better coordinated around here, weather?
I did my part, I thought we'd made it with no problem a couple of days ago, when the warm zephyrs of spring were already wafting their heady way through the sunny, musk-laden air as I worked practically shirtless in the garden, all meteorologically in sync, as I thought, then a couple of nights ago Siberia did a u-turn and dumped a couple of feet of snow on top of us up here.
So now in addition to digging us out I have to dig into my private cache of wood, the bits and chunks of special interest that I've culled out for my own private use on several projects of a creativo-esthetic nature, that cherrywood tray idea, that ironwood vase concept, that curved beech bannister proposal etc., like I have the time anyway, but what is life without dreams.
I know, I know, there will be other uniquely interesting pieces of wood in my future, there will be other gifts of bent cherry, knotty oak, hollow hardwood, more inspiring treasures that nature will lay at my feet, sometimes even on my feet, which is why the steel-toe boots, and I will ramp up the firewooding another notch to accommodate the massive whims of Siberia, but somehow there is a special place in one's heart for primally beloved things that are even now going up in flames, my version of Rosebud.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
"One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock rock,
Off the Cuff
Off the Cuff
five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock rock
nine, ten, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock rock
we're gonna rock
the clock tonight..."
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
SURFING THE LEARNING CURVE
I haven't yet completed my anti-monkey garden Cube Noir, which I will do in a month or so when I attached the nets monkeys hate (or so it says on the label) to the tall fence posts my friend Ian and I put up last fall. At that time I'd already had my rows of winter vegs covered in hoops and nets, so I just left them that way.
After a while, with the growth under the nets not bothered by deer or monkeys I began to think that maybe after all I might possibly be able leave the garden that way (except maybe for tomatoes), rather than carry out Cube Noirization. Then a few days ago I was at home when a horde of monkeys were wandering by on their way to their upmountain fastnesses, most of them youngsters gamboling free range in the natural setting, picking up random thieving skills from their unscrupled parents.
One large male professor of brigandage invaded my garden while the simian university students watched from afar on their big campus. I watched from the kitchen window to see what the alpha guy would do about the nets-- if he would know that they were nets, what was under them and how to get at it. This was the crucial moment: if he noted no onions - monkeys most beloved food in my garden, as chronicled at length herein on several occasions (one of the nets covered three rows of onions) - then I might not have to go all Cube Noir on their simian butts.
The Prof swaggered into my garden like a simian John Wayne into a Dodge City bar, took up a key position and scanned the scene, locked on to the nets, pondered them, hand to chin like the Thinker with fur and a red face, then walked to one and grabbed at it, hefted it, fingered it, ran it through his simian databank, looked though it, tried to lift it (pinned down with logs and rocks), found the edge, found where he could create just enough of a gap to get his hand through and bring me charging out from the kitchen door shouting with a rock in my hand inspiring him to reflexively dash to safety with a handful of something maybe some cabbage but not onions, as I pointed out loudly to his fleeing back that this was my garden, I'm in charge here and he shouldn't forget it, he and his students know what will happen if I ever etc., but the students in their big amphitheater just yawned like this was Economics 101 after lunch, some lessons just get no traction.
So it looks like the Cube Noir for me, but I already suspect it won't work. It sure as hell wouldn't keep me out if I was hungry, homeless, characteristically unemployed and covered in fur. Also, I had seen the beast thinking. But if there's one thing we self-named sapients know for sure, it's that even if we don't know beans at the moment, in one way or another we can figure things out. All we have to do is get out there, get the right perspective and scan the scene, find the edges and give it a try, yes, even Cube Noir the place-- so what if we get a handful of nothing; taking action is the whole point.
Great discoveries lie ahead; the simian life is just one big learning curve.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
Preparing my garden seed list puts me once again in mind of how much learning there is to be done, if you're out to get an education. The garden is just one example-- maybe the best example, apart from the University of Parenthood, which not everyone attends, though anyone can have a garden.
The most valuable experience the garden imparts - aside from the miraculous lessons of seeds and growth - is the exercising of slow knowledge, which seeds already know and so do you, deep down in your roots, the kind of knowledge that doesn't move before it's time, knowledge you can't recall if hurry is your way of life.
This is the same lesson that children, grandchildren and the face in the mirror teach to whomever takes the time to stop and see. So it is with a garden: you go out to the earth and you genuflect. Like a child, the earth requires that you come to its level.
In fact you are kneeling to your own future roots, where at the moment there may be weeds or bigger things; then you clear and till, seed and tend, then weed and nurture again in the various ways that growth demands, you watch the sky for rain and protect the stalks from wind, much as you do in their ways for those you love and for your regular people relations, except this is between you alone and all the earth and sky.
The big lesson is about time: not what it is or what it means, but what of it is yours and what to do with it, how to fill it and apportion it, how not to yearn to do everything at once, as desire wants. Those remaining unseeded or unweeded rows call to you for tending even at the end of day, but you will do it tomorrow, and you do it tomorrow, and over time you slip into the time of the garden, much as you're slowly growing with the firewood stack.
Slow is the key, slow at the core, a bit of each in its time and its way, as you learn how to advance at just the right pace to achieve continual progress at a healthy measure for body and mind, have everything converge at just the right points along the seasons, and therein discover a new pleasure for your days, one that was never thought of back when you were racing through youth like a tomorrowless comet-- what delight was waiting ahead after all, just beyond the row of carrots...
You've learned what is called slow, to go at the speed of nature, to move naturally at the pace your deeper heart desires, a pace we have forgotten in our virtually advanced societies, but not in our hearts, bones and spirits, a pace and its attendant knowledge that is still and always there, waiting for us each to slow enough to seek and see it, get in deep sync and realize it once more in humanity's long garden-- and how you learn, then!
If you're out to get an education.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
HANDFULS OF RAINBOW
Late yesterday morning, after working around outside for a couple hours while subconsciously planning my lunch, I went into the garden to harvest some of my private winter hoard of rainbow chard for use in one of my favorite recipes.
The morning was clear and the sun at just the right height, so that when I knelt before the rows and lifted the net, there before my eyes stood a rainbow of leaves rising from the dark earth in bright array, each one still glistening with late winter/early spring dew; I had to pause and admire the unassuming complexity of this plant's beauty, how from the same root it sends up those rainbows-- imperial jade leaves veined with gold, red leaves veined with purple, gold leaves veined with red, purple leaves veined with jade, gold or bright red, some pink in there too, eyefuls of brightness all standing there at full attention to the sun and air, soil and rain that fashioned them.
It was headshaking, the deep fact of it - and the staunch leaves themselves, clustered on their stalks, rising into separate airs, all billowing and curling, rippling with delicious aspects - there were so many (each of beauty, and on such a small bit of row: 1M X 2M!) that I could pick and choose the finest young leaves, I only needed a double handul, cutting the stems cleanly with my knife.
Even more would grow back, quicker than I could want; chard is generous in other ways as well, giving all the Vitamins K and A a body needs in a day, plus generous amounts of C and E, magnesium, calcium, dietary fiber, manganese, potassium, iron, a whole treasury of the gold, silver and diamonds that are good health. I do get carried away when talking about this beautiful vegetable, imperial member of the slow food family.
Then I carried the crunchy bunch of living light into the house to use in making my noon repast, topped in this case with some finely grated gouda cheese. This version of the recipe doesn't say when, but I added the chard after the mushrooms...
Monday, February 09, 2009
DRIVEWAY MUSEUM CANDIDATE
I'm not familiar with any of the driveway museums that dot the world, never having had a driveway before, but if I were I'm sure that Asobi, my new driveway by Sogyu, would be a worthy candidate for inclusion-- maybe in the minimalist Japanese/Asian driveway section, given the Sengai Zen connection.
It would be quite at home as well alongside Picasso's driveway in the cubist section, since Asobi definitely features cubist elements. Nor would it be out of place beside Andy Warhol's driveway, for that matter; it lies in the realm of Japanopop, if you put soup labels on some of the stones, with a few dayglo Marilyns and Maos scattered around. Asobi transcends genre.
Needless to say, I'm not on the board of any driveway museum, but if I were I would point out to the driveway traditionalists thereon that Asobi would not even be out of place beside Michaelangelo's driveway, as partly depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or DaVinci's driveway - which stretches out into the distance behind Mona Lisa - or among the impressionist driveways of later years, if you blur your eyes a little or don't wear your glasses - I bet Monet had a nice impressionistic carriageway beside the pond at Vernon; Dali's Daliway would be excellent company as well, partly because the title of my new driveway is, as indicated, Asobi, which comes from the somewhat surreal moment at the end of its creation when, in the pro tem driveway studio in front of my house, Sogyu was applying the final touches and I asked him why he had put the circle, square and triangle just there and he said 'asobi' ("play," as in having fun). And so it was-- and is, fun.
I'll have to put a plaque on there somewhere. And mention that it's not for sale, so passing driveway collectors will stop ringing my doorbell.
Saturday, February 07, 2009
Friday, February 06, 2009
THE CITY AND THE BRAIN
In this eclectically growing scroll of electrons I am often diatribing about the city/country schizodichotomy, in an admittedly subjective, tongue-in-cheek kind of way, based on personal experience and predilection, but it seems there is a scientific basis to my fugues after all...
"Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it's long been recognized that city life is exhausting -- that's why Picasso left Paris -- this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so."
"The subjects were then run through a battery of psychological tests. People who had walked through the city were in a worse mood and scored significantly lower on a test of attention and working memory, which involved repeating a series of numbers backwards. In fact, just glancing at a photograph of urban scenes led to measurable impairments, at least when compared with pictures of nature."
Tell me about it...
Thursday, February 05, 2009
IT ONLY HURTS WHEN I'M SURPRISED: Part II
You Shoulda Seen the Other Guy
So where was I... Oh yeah. I got into an argument with an oak tree. The other morning I was out there in the comfortably chill sunshine doing midsized standard cherry logs bam-bam done, bam-bam done, bam-bam done etc., it was getting monotonous, so I decided for a change of pace to split that one old gnarly chunk of oak that had the look of trouble and had been laying there in a woody grump for more than a month now, the way troublemaking chunks of oak tend to do - you work them when you have the time, patience and energy (read 'in the morning sunshine'), and are willing to spend some time untangling the puzzle of knots they present.
This chunk of oak had clearly led a vexed and difficult life; the scars of a troubled youth and a harsh upbringing were apparent in its demeanor and arborality, the torques and vectors of its grain reflecting a history of struggle in an unforgiving environment, buffeted by stressful winds and weather, deprived by hardscrabble nourishment. It had not been a happy tree and, as one is largely the result of one's upbringing, it was not a happy chunk. Earlier split from the friendlier portion of a larger trunk, it was about a quarter of the original, about 25 kg of solid torque.
As usual I set the section up on the chopping stump, sussed out the angles, the knots, the grain, the power vectors and whatnot, positioned the wedge for optimal effect and began pounding it in little by little, keeping the maul on, knowing that this was going to be a lengthy process, as it can only be with such a piece of wood. I could hear the oak microsurrendering to the slow but insistent advances of the wedge, the crack was growing, all was progressing nicely toward the big split when I was suddenly standing puzzled in another branch of the reality bureau. I could not figure out what had happened to the moment and my perception of time. How had I gotten here? I was still holding a tool, there was a piece of wood in front of me, my name began with an R, and a wedge was no longer there. That was a clue.
Fortunately I'd been wearing my safety glasses, the new ones I'd just gotten, that have a soft flexy bridge, and that's where the wedge hit. So I got about 20% of the impact above and 20% below the bridge. A few bandages later and all was restored, except for the shiner and a half I was gonna get for the first time since I was ten. (No, I'm not posting a picture.)
Later, when looking out the front window at the chunk still sitting smugly on the chopping stump (was that a smirk?), I noticed that the upper surface of the section was not level, as usual, but slanted - ever so slightly, not enough so I'd notice when beside it - toward where I'd been standing. That crafty old oak, aiming itself. Add another lesson to the the growing pile.
Oddly enough, other than a brief dim headache it didn't hurt, until later when Echo told me something that surprised me and I said OW! My eyebrows had shot up. So as long as I live a completely predictable life for about a week or so, I'm fine. I don't know if I'll be able to stand it. OW! I just read more about the US economic bailout.
Monday, February 02, 2009
IT ONLY HURTS WHEN I'M SURPRISED: Part I
Argument with an Oak Tree
Firewooding is inherently dangerous work, since it involves the vigorous handling of chainsaws, steel axes and mauls of various sizes and weights, as well as wedges (which is why I wear safety glasses, leather gloves and thick clothing), and often heavy chunks of unwieldy wood, which is why I wear steel-toed boots.
Such activity on my part has led not only to a warm house in winter, but also to the many firewood-related tales that punctuate these miraculously continuing chronicles, with more yet to come - time and life permitting - tales touching upon the myriad characteristics of our friends the trees, ranging from elegance, cunning and maliciousness to stubbornness, beauty, vengeance-- and in the present instance, the anger of wood.
It is not commonly realized that in the wild and woody world, nature and nurture are one and the same. As a result, any wood can be cunning, stubborn or malicious-- even cherry - dangerous for its very beauty and innocence - particularly yamazakura (lit: mountain cherry), to say nothing of the exhausting tangle that is camphorwood - and one should never assume kindredness of spirit when it comes to oak, particularly when it is gnarly.
One who is not otherwise misguided might think that these inanimate chunks of lignin are essentially dumb as a posts, but that would be a big mistake, for all wood is ingrained with a craftiness of ancient subtlety. For example, when driving a wedge into a tough piece of knotted oak, I take care to keep away from above the wedge - as, for instance, to see if it is driving true. I do this because the knotty upbringing of certain oaks, with their decades of 24/7 wild experience, can make them very touchy at the idea of surrendering to a rootless stripling like myself, and at any instant a way gnarly specimen can spit that iron wedge many feet into the air like a 1kg bullet, and each time I see it do that I say to myself in a kind of lectury way, so as to keep myself smart and try to maintain just that bit of edge over oak: Boy, I sure am glad I didn’t have my face above that wedge...
But unlike oak, humans don't remember everything.
To be continued...