Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Some people get up in the morning and say a prayer or do their stretchy exercises or just go and have breakfast; these days I look out the window to see if the pumpkin is still there.

Not that it's an obsession or anything, get away, its just that I've never grown a pumpkin this far before without a passing simian biting through the stem and loping off, arms full of the apish equivalent of the Hope diamond.

This year though, I planted a couple of pumpkin plants inside my new fence, just to give pumpkinity another try, because when it comes to vegetables I'm willing to perform an identical action a number of times and expect a different result, as per Einstein's definition of insanity, like Albert himself no doubt would have done if he'd had a garden up here, but by the same manic means he at last arrived at his own relativity theory, which, like pumpkins in my garden, was insane for its time.

Unlike Albert, I planted my pumpkins rather late, though still in season, since I'm not that insane, partly thinking: well, hell, some pumpkins might at least distract monkey attention from my onions, which seems to have worked so far. An opportunistic pumpkin that had sprouted from the compost pile grew to quite a size before it was snatched by the beasts well in advance of ripeness. Monkeys are not known for gourmetish discernment.

It being so late in the summer when I planted two baby pumpkin plants I didn't expect much, pumpkinwise. Between them they produced one smallish pumpkin, which even the monkeys haven't bothered, but at some point one of the pumpkin tendrils found the net of the fence, when the whole plant began to climb, and once it had those many square meters of airiness all to itself it soared like a bird, put out big fat round leaves and sunny blossoms, and before too long there was a healthy, happy plumpy pumpkin, dangling way up in the air.

I've never seen an airborne pumpkin before, except briefly when we used throw them at each other when I was a garden-raiding kid, much like the monkeys that are imposing my karmic justice on me now, albeit more severely than I deserve. I have more than repaid my debt to pumpkin society. Full karmic interest should suffice, don't you think, Siva? But to get back to the pumpkin at hand, it seems happy up there, wingless though it is.

And by virtue of altitude it might just get past the monkeys, who, like their habituated human counterparts, do not look for pumpkins in the air.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Now and then, one can use a break from even the finest Japanese cuisine, a fact even truer if one is a Westerner.

To enjoy this particular recipe to its fullest after a day of hard work the way I did, you must go out into the garden on an autumn evening when the light of a half moon or more is sufficient to see, feel among the shadowy pepper plants and find a big fresh green pepper, then on your way back to the house get some fresh basil tips.

When you get inside, chop up the pepper, tear up the basil, then from the fridge get some of the fettucini left over from the large batch you prepared a couple days ago. Also get out the leftover Sauce Bolognese a la Roberto you made on the same day. The sauce should be even better now. Don't forget the parmesan. Saute the pepper in fine olive oil, add the sauce and some hot water over high heat, add the basil and an appropriate quantity of fettucine, tossing as you cook fast to reduce the sauce and thoroughly heat the pasta, then put all on a plate, grate the parmesan on top and eat everything like you were on a hillside in Italy looking out over the Bay of Napoli. Feel free to lick the plate.

Then you look up and you're back to a mountainside Shiga, above a Lake made silver by moonight. Fast, intense and frugal world travel.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


For the next two weeks, because of office vacation scheduling I have to switch my off-day Monday with my usual working day of Tuesday, i.e. I live beneath the weight of an icy phrase I never thought I'd hear again: I have to go to work on Monday.

Which means, among about 700,000 other things (mostly little) that for two unending weeks I don't have my beloved three-day weekend. It means 33% off weekend garden things, sky things, weather things, chill things, loafing things, all in the lovely and always welcome elasticity of time as it stretches out before me on Friday evening, week after week, like little tastes of Eden.

It also means that all day Sunday I have to go to work on Monday, which has been the bane of old weekends throughout my office life, which I must say has been mercifully short, for which I am grateful. But I thought that once I left the five-day work week, it would never come back in any form. Never. Yet there it is, in one of its worst aspects: "I have to go to work on Monday." What a dreaded phrase that has always been for me, I suddenly realize, like something said by an immigration official in a nightmare.

I have had Mondays off for nine years now, which isn't all that long as paradise goes, but new and goodly habits die just as hard as dirty old ones. Thus it was that all day today, over and over again I have been feeling a bit 'off,' then realizing that I have to work tomorrow, and saying to myself in uncomfortable disbelief: "I have to work tomorrow; tomorrow is Monday," just like I did during all those office years, which in retrospect I don't know how I got through, working five days a week is that insane or what, it was for me, a two-day weekend are you out of your mind.

Fortunately it is also in the nature of habits to come right back when you call, so in a couple of weeks I shall revert to a state as close to normal as I can expect in such times as these.

New habits live easy.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I used to work there during my middle ages.

This festival is well-known to the community by mouth-to-mouth advertising.

You can find a kind of grass that helps cats vomit hairballs on the shelf of pet shops.

Have a big heart and a big humberger.

As you take a sip, our beer's focus on the real thing is poured into your mouth.

Please submit your position list earlier than now.

The patients had some problems, such as fogy vision.

Company values are sufficiently penetrated into employees.

It is vitally important for Indonesia to move forward so that it can look back...

Please note that you may not enter the park if you choose not to.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Yesterday, after completing my gardening duties for the day I took an hour or so break from my intensive loafing regimen to go look for mukago, one of my favorite free foods of the sansai category, which are usually swelling to silvery abundance right about now on vines of yellowing heart-shaped leaves threading over and through the thick mountain bamboo groves. Last year was the best crop ever.

You can eat mukago raw, but the potato-like nodules are better when fried alone, boiled together with rice, stir-fried with various vegs or cooked elsewise with your choice of otherness-- but their look and general uniqueness make them perfect for some fourth-star-seeking chef to make a cuisinary miracle out of, were he-she to trek up here and ask me where the secret places are.

But said chefs can put their careers on hold for now, mukago-wise, because I went to all my favorite secret mukago harvesting spots and found only a few forlorn pea-sized nodules hanging around solo, in a mood of general mukago disappointment, which can be severe. You just had to be there. Must have been the non-stop rain and mostly dreams of sun that made up this summer.

So to do my part, with thoughts of warm summer suns and generous but perfectly distributed rains next year, I picked the few meagers that were there and scattered them to several places where no mukago are growing, and changed the universe forever.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The three-day weekends plus Wednesdays off I've been enjoying since my "retirement" have convinced me (as if I've ever felt any doubt about it) that the three-day workweek is ideal for the various aspects to which life in fact pertains, such as lying back and looking at the clouds, forgetting what day it is, dozing off, picking an apple before or during that task you've set for yourself...

A five-day workweek, in disturbingly stark contrast, leaves only two seemingly half-hour days in which to make work appear to have been worthwhile only as a means of getting you to this gasp of a weekend, but it just isn't enough, it just doesn't work out: by the time you slip at last into the near-realization that you're actually not working, you've got to get back to work! That makes a five-day workweek basically indistinguishable from a seven-day workweek, which is the same as death unless you live to work, which is a big oxymoron, like a former boss of mine.

I think we'd all agree, if we weren't so busy at the moment or late for work or running for a bus or getting a license or something equally mazy, that we all need more time in which to ponder and create methods by which to minimize the noxious need for 'gainful' employment, thereby leaving us free to enjoy what is clearly the most important thing in life: i.e., life itself, in all its measures, not just from here to the office-- which enjoyment is, as I see it, the prod that gets us going to work at all, so that maybe now and then we can do a little living.

Trouble is, it takes about 40 years of jobsurvival to at last get even a taste of that freedom, if you do it like everyone else does, which bureaucracies, corporations and governments simply love everyone to do. And by then, if you do make it, you've lost that youthful glow, and totter into your hard-earned freedom leaning on a cane. I got there quicker by living first and working later.

And on the basis of my experience, I hereby formally propose the universal three-day workweek as the solution to the growing problems of unemployment and less-than fully-lived lives, as well as to those outrageous executive pay packages. Moderate employment for everyone, and a moderate salary, for a small workweek and a large life, fillable with the actually good things.

Think those big oxymorons will ever stop to listen to an apple-eating fellow who spends so much time looking at clouds?

Monday, September 21, 2009

MR. K.

Mr. K., one of the original folk around here, who lives in the village and has a very nice garden a few road curves down below, came ambling down the road the other day on one of his long mountain walks, towel wrapped around his head as always, was just passing the house as I stepped out on the deck to give the Carolina jasmine another brush cut.

In his mid-eighties, Mr. K. is tall and thin, vigorous and kindly, wants a new house but it's just a dream for now (hope I can dream like that if I ever get into my eighties), so for the moment he has a nice house-garden in his mountainside vegetable garden, with rocks, small pines and a classic stone lantern.

He stood in the driveway and we talked and laughed until I finished trimming, then I just leaned on the rail as the sun began to set and we continued on about the past (we moved here 15 years ago!) the kids and where they are now, what they're doing; his cute and perky but long-ago dog, through whom we first met Mr. K. when the kids and I were out walking a dozen years ago or so (he says it's too much for him and his wife to take care of a dog now), his garden, fencing, fertilizers, firewood, vegetables, monkeys, deer, wild pigs, he said he feeds his garden mostly with aburakasu (soy oil meal) plus a little chicken and cow manures, no artificials, and has an electric fence like I'm thinking about getting as part of Plan Z for next year.

He had a long way to get back home before dark, so we said goodbye and he walked off down the road with the cane he doesn't really need.

A few days later he left some vegetables by the door.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


What an appetantalizing fragrance fills the house, a fragrance of a cinnamony nature, from a plant that's great for tea and cool drinks among other things.

The scent is a perfume that wafts from the shiso (Perilla frutescens) buds I am plucking from the bushy green and purple shiso plants I harvested early this morning (while the mosquitoes were still awake, but now I had my smoking coil with me). It was a perfect morning for herb harvesting: slightly warm but hazy.

I left a few well-positioned plants in place to go to seed for next year and harvested a couple of generous armfuls of whole plants, the leaves to use in making tea or cool drinks or to tempura just as they are, or to wrap onigiri or (purple leaves) to add color to umeboshi, or to use in making shiso furikake, in which select purple leaves (new, clean, tender) are dried then crumbled and mixed with quality salt for sprinkling on rice and other things throughout the winter; or to do what I was doing, pluck off the tiny buds for boiling briefly in shoyu, mirin, sake and a pinch of sugar to make shiso bud relish, which has to be tasted to be believed, as the plant packs all that dynamic energy of future flavor-savor, fragrance and nourishment into those little seedbuds, which if you time the harvest just right are still green and soft inside the calyxes like tiny jade beads on a green silk string, and the string itself is still tender.

If as you pluck it the stem is tender enough to eat, the whole thing comes off for pickling; if the stem is too tough, the buds just slide off like plantain seeds, leaving an empty stem. All it takes is quite a bit of your time; the plant knows how to give you exactly what you want, if you have the patience to receive it. And if you don't have the patience, you can't have any shiso bud relish this winter; you can't just drive down to the supermarket and get a jar of Acme Shiso Bud Relish, it's not manufacturable, machines just don't get that perceptive or meditative, apart from which they just don't care.

After I sit down, pick up a shiso stalk and begin to pluck the seed stems out from where they grow in the leaf axils, before too long I hear myself whistling an old shakuhachi favorite; even at the subconscious level, plucking shiso buds and later stripping off the seeds does not beget She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, or Great Balls of Fire, it brings up meditative, spiritually quiet music from the ancient seed place in the soul, the place you go to again when you finally taste the shiso relish atop your hot rice later in the winter, and all at once you yourself are summertime.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


This is not a story about monkeys. This is a story about my monkey rocket gun. Sort of like a bazooka, but one man can operate it. Fortunately, I'm one man.

When I was at the farm store the other day I bought some summer-leftover (i.e., cheap) shrieking bottlerockets and a one-meter length of gun-barrel caliber PVC pipe. I left the rockets inside by the kitchen door with a lighter, and the rocket gun leaning on the wall outside the door, just in case I saw some of them lowdown, lily-livered varmints.

A couple weeks later yesterday arrived, and as I was at the kitchen counter making lunch I glanced out the window and saw a couple of monkey critters, looked like an older and a younger brother - coupla teenage gunslingers, monkeywise - out to make trouble, just then climbing up to the top of my fence and sitting there all bouncy and excited, practically drooling as they sussed out the loot.

Like one of those cool guys in one of those cool guy movies I dropped the cilantro and ran for my ammo, ripped open a pack with my teeth, pulled out a couple of rockets and slipped through the doorway, grabbed my rocket tube and began to load, minimizing noise and movement. The monkeys paused at sight of these strange, yet not threatening actions, watching intently to see if maybe I was just out there doing some human/pipe thing - they are weird, the clothed ones - after which I would go back into the house and do whatever humans do in whatever inside is.

But there was a snag, like in the movies, where they do it for the tension, somebody's rifle jams or something, and there was tension here too, real life imitating Hollywood: the fuse was affixed to the stick of the rocket with cellotape, to keep it straight in the package; I had to cut the tape and bend the the fuse to light it properly-- would I get it fixed in time? Talk about tenterhooks.

So I had to set the pipe down and cut the tape, bend the fuse quickly as time was ticking away, and indeed the beasts became suspicious of all this frantic action, the camera panning right as they began to opt for safety, drifting off slowly to the edge of the picture, then unobtrusively down to the ground and across my shiitake logs to pause on my absentee neighbor's lawn, where they sat on their haunches to see what I was up to, if I would finally go back into the house and let them pillage in peace.

I got their range, pointed the rocket launcher, lit the bent fuse with the lighter, lit it again, it wouldn't catch, time was running out, then at last it began to spark, I tapped the rocket well into the barrel, aimed it right above the two peering red faces and held it steady in the hissing silence that followed for about 30 minutes though it could only have been 3 or 4 seconds, but what a long and heavy silence, a smoky length of deep dramatic soundlessness, in which the monkeys were entranced as well, thinking their own thoughts, it was kind of mystico-ethereal as we all stood there unmoving in our places for no discernible reason, like members of some sort of post-historic diorama, the mind enters strange channels at such moments, then abruptly the atmosphere was split down the middle by a soul-tearing shriek that filled it all with fear as a bullet of smoke streaked howling above the two really wide-eyed monkey faces and straight on beyond for another 30 meters when it ricocheted off a telephone pole and exploded with a bang that echoed from the mountain and put a big cap on the moment for the terrified beasts.

As soon as I recovered my senses and looked again, the monkeys were nowhere in that universe, they had disappeared without a trace, probably dug themselves straight into the ground, I hope they took with them advice not to go anywhere near the garden of that crazy guy with the magic pipe. I even heard my distant and usually quiet neighbor making sounds like what the hell was that? Who's firing rockets that loud at this time of day, as I blew the smoke from the end of my rocket barrel and sauntered back to making lunch like Clint Eastwood.

Later I noticed that the other end of the launcher had burned a hole in my shirt. Made my day.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


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

Friday, September 04, 2009


I know you're fed up to here with monkey tales by now ("No more monkey stories please," "Can't you talk about geisha or something," "Anything erotic ever happen over there?"). Indeed a couple of weeks ago I forebore to post another monkey anecdote because, let's face it, how many monkey adventures do even the most tolerant and perceptive visitors want to read about?

This morning, though, like I.F. Stone I said what the hell, facts are facts, lets get this out there! How an extended family of monkeys came into the garden while Echo was teaching yoga and I was at the office (the monkeys use the Beastberry organizer) and at some point, perhaps during the One-Legged King Pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana), Echo looked out the window and saw a baby monkey in the garden dancing back and forth in great delight, cradling in his arms the biggest butternut squash he'd ever seen in his entire six months of life; what's more it was totally his and didn't belong to any of the other monkeys (I'm nowhere in the picture here). He was happy in the way I guess only a baby monkey with a huge squash can be happy, because all the squashes were still too hard to eat, as some of the adults discovered by trying to bite into a couple of the other big ones lying around and couldn't make much of a dent; I suspect none had ever seen a butternut.

Which I surmised the next day, when I saw the minimal carnage and the frustrated bite marks. But what interested me most, from the aspect of simian sociopathology, was the fact that the beasts had completely ignored the largest butternut squash of all, the one that was growing in plain sight, right outside the fence, on the same side the monkeys approached from! Right there in their face and they ignored it! Why?

That question brings me directly (this is so organized!) to my Big Squash Hypothesis, which holds that monkeys determine value in ways just as subtle and irrational as those used by humans, in for example Las Vegas and financial markets, to wit: whatever you're clearly not supposed to have is more valuable-- in this case, the smaller squashes that are protected inside the fence must by virtue of that protection be tastier; forget the biggest squash of all, sitting there outside the fence: because it's free for the taking, it must be tasteless. Even the baby monkey 'knew' that. Mountains of paper money, anyone? It's in vaults!

The big squash is still there, and growing.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


When you've lived in another country for as long as I have - especially in another countryside, where the traditions prevail - after a while you tend to become inured and no longer see the difference from the culture you were born and raised in; you lose the instinctive ability to compare, that you had when you first arrived.

So in order to maintain a reasonable spiritocultural balance, I've made it a habit to every once in a while force myself to look at the moment with all the original eyeball I can muster, such as I did at lunch today. After a morning of working in the garden I sat down at the table to eat and managed to observe how utterly different this looked (and was) from an American lunch, such as in a truck stop, The Four Seasons, a Nebraska farm kitchen, any one of the countless places that comprise a nation lunching.

Laid out before me on the table was a lunch comprising:

Brown rice with yuzukosho
Kinpira gobo (using mini-gobo)
Fresh mountain tomato, eighthed
Sesame tofu with wasabi and tamari shoyu
Stew of green beans, carrots and shiitake
Dessert: a piece of pear later

No meat, no dairy, no fat, no pesticides, lots of fiber, organics from our garden (beans, tomatoes, gobo-- Littlefoot got my September carrots in July) or from the local co-op; organic rice from the elderly rice farmer across the lake.

Delicious, filling, light, low cost, varied, visually nourishing (especially the tomatoes, and the green wasabi atop the amber of sesame tofu (talk about 'mouth feel'!) with dark-brown tamari poured over), not to mention a whole summerful of nutes, all sauced with a morning's work in the garden.

Way different from lunch at the Union Diner, as I recall.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Good folks, good food, good music, good time

Yamauto website photos

2009 Yamauto location, tickets, schedules, artists (musicians, talks, performances), shops etc.

Yamauto Map

Also in memory of Nanao, who returned to the Big Road last year

Links to my posts on the 2007 event, w/ photos:

Yamauto 2007

Dancing with the Rain

See ya there.