Now and then
we get into deep rhythms that are more of the world than ourselves,
rhythms of breath and time, of heartbeat and task, of that goal we must
reach using hands, legs, feet, eyes, whatever we can bring to bear, and
by the time we've gone that deeply the who of the action is mostly an
absent participant-- like me of whatever name out there in yesterday's
clear winter dusk-- a body following its breath around, assemblage of
hands, legs, feet, eyes, heartbeat, powering a wheelbarrow amidst
stacks of firewood here and there,with a task to complete before dark
by over-and-over loading the barrow with firewood and getting it by
whatever means up onto the deck and thence into the house beside the
stove to warm the coming winter night, for which process the nameless
fellow has over time developed a rhythmic system and so disappears into
the systemic rhythm, minimindedly lifts the wood from the wheelbarrow,
hefts it up onto the deck, carries the first load into the house, stacks
it beside the stove, emerges empty-armed for the next load and stops
awestruck, reclaimed at sight of the vast rosy herd of sunfired
buffalo clouds wandering by overhead, grazing the blue prairie of
evening sky on hoofs of silver, drifting slowly southward, no hurry,
what's hurry, what's time, what's a heartbeat, how much can it hold?
Firewood can wait, warmth can be later-- the darkness is coming in majesty, and I have eyes.
In Japan, December 25 is pretty much like February 26: a date of no particular importance to everyone in the world at the same time. Everybody in Japan goes to work and so forth; same as always, in the office where there is no eggnog. Of course just about everybody in the country knows that the 25th is "Christmas," that
western religious holiday that's supergreat for department stores, parties and gift giving; for bakeries too, with all the Christmas cakes.
Which can't really be all that humbuggy, can it, but there's none of what I remember from my childhood as "Christmas spirit," the uplift of Christmas carols, ribbon candy, holiday spices, evergreen scents, jingling bells, Santas everywhere that look like Santa-- I saw a skinny Santa on a motorbike the other day, heading for work somewhere north of here, hat on his helmet, obeying the law-- had sneakers on too, no respect for a tradition from elsewhere-- as is naturally pretty much the case for alien traditions everywhere in the world.
Fact is, there aren't any religious holidays in Japan; maybe the closest is the birthday of the current Emperor, whose father used to be a god; it falls tantalizingly on December 23 and is, yes, a holiday, but everybody's back in the office on the 25th, a date that tends to lose importance after you've been here a few years, when like
everybody else you're looking forward to the awesome New Year holidays, one of the two major chunks of time off in this country, that if played right can be stretched to last a week or more.
The Japanese don't have national holidays like Columbus Day, Christmas, Independence Day, Martin Luther King Day or Washington's birthday, either, having had no discoverers, saviors, founders, profound activists or iconic politicians. They tend to have more practical holidays, like Respect-for-the-Aged Day, Greenery Day, Coming-of-Age Day, Vernal Equinox Day, Children's Day, Marine Day (for the oceans), Health and Sports Day, Autumnal Equinox Day, Culture Day and such like, with a couple of Emperor's birthdays thrown in, one to honor the era of the previous emperor and the one aforementioned for the current Emperor. Apart from the imperial aspects, I think it's a good combination for national focus on worthy subjects.
Many of these holidays however are shifted to the nearest Monday, much to my lament-- not because of the base falsehood that I enjoy being in offices on Mondays, or even because in fact I abhor spending Mondays (and most other days) in offices, but because I do NOT work on Mondays anyway, and so cannot get them off. I know that sounds paradoxically Scroogy, when in fact I'm perceptibly sweet not very much of the time, but there's just no Christmas spirit around here, except for some jingly, snowy, evergreen memories...
Not that I'd prefer living 2500 years ago, or agree in any large way with the overall Spartan philosophy, but being a poor boy you learn a lot about how little you need. As any long-term traveler knows, he is freest who elects his own direction. He also travels fastest who doesn't bring every damn thing along. Spartan is the way to go, so it's mostly the way I've always gone: One-bowl meal, sleep anywhere, one change of clothes, your best friends a good pair of highway shoes and a good sleeping bag-- that's the way I traveled and that's the way I've tended to live ever since my feet first voted: walk whenever possible, learn to make and repair, never throw away what can be mended or fulfill another purpose, and dress and live accordingly, traditional standards of decency and decorum notwithstanding.
The best aspect of the spartan code is that it makes the occasional bit of luxury all the moreso. At my age I deserve it. You can have some of that chocolate if you want. Yes, I gave in and bought myself a present this year: a set of way unspartan flannel sheets and pillowcases. Each colder night I now drift off to sleep with a big smile on my face, warm with smooth luxury whichever way I turn, nuzzling wantonly into downy dreams.
I had been using regular Japanese sheets, which seem to have been made for folks who don't move during the night; I turn over once and half of me is in the cold. Which for years was ok by me, until my lifetime reached last month and a yearning niggle surfaced when I saw in a catalog some FLANNEL SHEETS and a mindbell rang like I was off to the races. I sent in some digital currency and got these luxuriously smooth red flannel sheets that don't just equal the size of my bed-- unlike the bonsai J-sheets, they are much bigger than the bed, and can be tucked in! So smiley sleep now rules, unlike in the flannelless nights of old Sparta.
On the train the other morning I saw a poster for one of the local ski resorts, boasting that it has been in business since 1964. Noting that the poster featured a picture of two women in the style of the 1930s or so, I at first laughed inwardly at the designer's naivete in thus interpreting the 60s, until it struck me that it was I who was being naive: this was very likely the way most skiers now, who are predominantly in their 20's and were born in the 1970s, view the 1960s; they view that quaint, pre-life time period in the same way I, who was born in 1940, have always viewed the 1930s.
Then came the exponential rush that this same realization washes over each generation in its turn, and is what gives older folk that distant look they sometimes have in their eyes. I never knew what that look was until now, when I felt it in my own gaze: it is the look of having once lived in a lush land that is no more, that is now only reported upon, less and less accurately, as time goes by-- the 60s were now ancient history.
That immediate and ineffably memorable and exciting time of my life-- indeed of all life subsequent, whether it knows it or not-- that post-Screamin'
Jay Hawkins-Little Richard-Buddy Holly-Elvis rock'n'roll booze Beatles politics Dylan Benzedrine Hendrix civil rights LSD Stones Vietnam war Joplin sexual liberation Doors mescaline college madness summer of love Woodstock Washington protest march marijuana melange was now ranked with the dallyings of Antony and Cleopatra.
So it was exciting there on this morning's train - suddenly become the express train of history - to sit there looking out of time-rich eyes at the world rolling by in a newness all my own.
I'd given up on the hiratake mushrooms in the many years
since I'd inoculated the logs-- those fussy mushrooms would never emerge,
they're so neurotic, as I observed on a tv program where the tyroshroomers
sterilized the log sections with steam, inoculated them, wrapped them, buried them in the ground, covered them with leaves and left
them alone for who knows how long, did all sorts of terminal care stuff and after all
that got only 4 logs out of a dozen successfully inoculated, it was all true 'cause I saw it on tv, so this was
really just a bit of mad whimsy I was engaging in here, with my simply principled
approach of "just inoculate the mothers, put them under a tree somewhere,
cover them with something if you want and forget 'em." So I did.
Inoculated them, stacked them on rice straw under some cedars, covered
them in rice chaff, more straw, burlap, and left them. But I didn't forget them.
For a good while, I'd peek under the burlap whenever I went by those cedars, but there
was never a fungal sign on the logs, other than slow relentless peripheral
invasion by small shelf fungi - the turtles of the mushroom world - the logs looked less and less promising. After a time I concluded that the spore had been pre-empted by shelf fungi; the
logs were beginning to look forlorn in their ragged, dirty burlap carelessly
tossed over woody shoulders, in comparison to the sleek but as yet
unproductive shiitake logs leaning nearby in their natural tuxedos, looking ready for the Oscar red carpet,
they were so trim, sharp and stylish, clearly prepared for the big
time. The formerly alleged hiratake objects, in contrast, were more like under the bridge in
a burlap shawl with a bottle in a bag.
Though I hadn't forgotten them, I didn't have much hope for those ancient H-logs anymore, thinking that
at least they'll rot down in a few years and make some good compost, in
which spirit I was raking leaves and cedar sprigs thereabouts the other day when
something graceful and unfamiliar caught the eye of that little
mindscout that's always watching through hope's tiny windows even when we
daydream, that never lets go of possibility, which is really why
we humans are successful as a species: it never lets us give up,
is always on the lookout for a revelation... mindscouters DaVinci, Franklin,
Einstein are a few good examples - not that I myself am in such company, but the list is - where was I... Oh yeah, those wonderful and elegant, Oscar-winning Hiratake Logs...
Boy, were they beauties; I've never seen Hiratake that size; they're
never that big when you see them in stores... and turns out that, unlike the lazy shiitake logs, the Hiratake were inoculated only 1 year ago, when in my head it used to be three or more years ago! Time is slowing down
for a change! It's like when I was 10 years old! Today was a week long! Tomorrow, yay!
Not forgetting makes time longer than forgetting does. Or it could be all these mushrooms I'm eating...
On an evening in late November, after a dry spell in the weather I went out to dampen
the mushrooms and water the garden. It was one of those evenings poets try to capture in disjointed sensory words
(Prussian blue air of chill stillness, like vodka 30 minutes out
of the freezer), the ground ankle-deep in red-to-gold cherry and
chestnut leaves as I walked around with the garden hose, dampening the mushrooms that were
growing larger by the day.
As the Prussian blue darkened I looked up
and there not 10 yards away, gazing at me and chewing on dinner, was the Baron
himself, intrigued by that non-deer creature over there who was streaming from the ends of his upper limbs such interesting shapes that sounded like
rain and waved around in a way he'd never seen before... He was enthralled, didn't show
any sign of panic when I moved along, he just looked on intently, now and then bending down to take another nibble (he's a big fan of my compost pile with its
apple cores, cucumber vines and potato peels), lifting up his big crown of antlers to
look whenever I moved, watching the water stream from my hands.
He browsed on across the ground as I continued watering, first the
mushrooms, then the spinach, beans, shungiku and other greens, shallots, chard, onions, closed
the garden fence, then rustled back through the glow of leaves to put away the
hose-- and there just above the Lake was a full moon rising from the far shore, a
ball of sunset-red at first that slowly lightened as it rose, casting a glittering pink-gold trail across the calm waters (even though it
was a blue moon all along).
One can get along very well on far less natural
beauty than this... I was blessed by this largesse, let the moment keep on filling
me with the rainbow on the ground, the trusting Baron, the red moon rising, the clear, brightening night, to share later with you.
Today, after spending the morning out in the blue
air with that bright warm ball of gold way up in it that drifts across the
upness like a sunbow, doing a few hours of raking leaves for compost,
planting onions, cleaning the woodstove, lugging some wood and
harvesting some greens and mushrooms, while later lunching on the
freshest food there is, it occurred to me that when I head on into the
office tomorrow, punch the time card, sit down at my desk and begin
tapping away at a keyboard for a few hours, I'll be doing artificial
work: work that only peripherally needs a body, just two eyes, some
brain and ten fingers would do, since that's pretty much all that's
used, in exchange for some numerical fluctuation in a virtual money
bank account, but that when I do this other work - actual work - I'm
using every single thing about me, every move I can make, everyone I am,
in completely different ways with every task, and a self-diversity
occurs, a natural diversity that excites all the entireness a body is,
lets it be its whole self in all its reaches, in the same joy that dance is.
in this actual work though, in this body dance, that bit of brain that gets its
exercise over a keyboard is still working, but not at someone else's
semantics; everyone I am is at its own native endeavors rather, such as
effervescing little ideas and turns of phrase into its head (commonly
called 'me'), unlike when I'm in the office and the largely ignored
but multicapable body just sits there in corporeal neutrality
with no other task than to basically keep everything erect and in place,
as it has been trained to do since childhood (all those years at school
desks), when all along it has naturally craved to do otherwise than
merely maintain posture for a fixed duration, like a soft rock with
circulation. No wonder, the pressing need in the fully civilized world
for huge medical programs, when so few can be the everyones they are...
Being American, I've never had a king, to say
nothing of an emperor. Thus the wonderful absence that lies at the heart
of my difficulty in keeping track of Japan's imperial year system, which for me began when I arrived here in Showa 47, according to
quick calculations on a sushi napkin.
To further simplify things with a
brief labyrinth of clarification, the Showa era began in the final year
of the Taisho era (Taisho 12, I believe - I should check Wikipedia),
which itself had begun at the end of the Meiji era (which had begun on
some date/month in 1868 and lasted 44 years) and lasted until the first
year of Showa, which in turn ended in Showa 58 with the naturally timed
death of Hirohito (who has a different posthumous name, which used to be
stored in one of my Showa brain cells). And just as Taisho 12 was also
Showa 1, Showa 58 was as well the first year of Heisei, the new and
current imperial era that has screwed up my drivers license renewal.
multiplicity of dating gets confusing if as an American (other
nationalities can speak for themselves) you go mentally non-imperial for
any extended duration while living here, because every now and then in dealing with
the J-world you suddenly have to convert between calendric systems,
which was easier during Showa, because all you had to do back in those heady days was
add or subtract 25 years to or from either calendar, respectively, piece
a cake. I forget what you do now, something like you do (I don't) between Centigrade and
Farehnheit, I think there are retrograde fractions in there. Then January 1 and the emperors' naturally arbitrary birthdays and
deathdays confuse things. When I was about to renew my license I thought this year was Heisei 18, which turned out to be off by about 4
years when I finally asked my wife what year it actually was. For the information of those abroad who might be coming to Japan to renew their licenses or something, it's Heisei 22.
Many government agencies here use the
imperial year on driver's
licenses and other bureaucratic forms, to keep everybody in that old
imperial frame of mind, so being ignoble I get it wrong and am late a lot.
Also when I fill out those forms I always put down the easy-to-remember
estimated number of years since the virgin birth of the savior of
humankind, also called a lord to satisfy those old royalty cravings, though I try to remain my own noble, to the extent possible. I was
stubborn as a kid, too; I've had my own system of time since grade
school, if not earlier. I don't wear a watch either.
THE EFFECTS OF PROTRACTED MONKEYLESSNESS ON WESTERN CULTURE: A Brief Analysis
Can there be too much monkeylessness? Up until yesterday I would have
answered hell no, give me even more monkeylessness than I have now! But
perhaps I can't really be impartial on this question, since I come from a
historically monkeyless culture that - apart from politics and finance - has no experience with truly guiltless intelligence. The continuous monkeylessness of the West, I now suspect, has put the West at a deep cultural disadvantage, one that Westerners aren't even aware of, largely owing to their endemic monkeylessness. Sort of like genetically never having been exposed to measles.
The above question posed itself to me the other morning while I was waiting for the train, when my thoughts drifted to my innate desire for monkeylessness vis-a-vis the startling intelligence I have perceived in those beasts, who exhibit ancient patience combined with the original lack of conscience, yet bearing in themselves at least the surface manifestations of guilt, like their merely facial expression of the smile-- so much like loan sharks and politicians...
Recently I had gone through weeks- months, in fact - of monkeylessness, and, being
a child of the West, was growing complacent raising mushrooms; I was no longer on my toes. I'd get a couple baskets of mushrooms in today and a couple tomorrow, "there are too many, so I'll get the rest over the weekend," I'd mumble to myself in a monkeyless stupor; it was then that the monkeys struck. They knew. They'd been waiting. And watching. Their scout saw me complacently take off on the motorcycle and according to his database I'd be gone all day; then they waited for the red car to leave with Echo inside, when they stuffed themselves at leisure with most of the rest of what in my monkeyless fog I'd naively thought were my mushrooms. I had fallen for the simian ploy, and so had learned once more. By these subtle stages have I become less Western, drifted more toward the other side of the Never the Twain Shall Meet boundary-- which no one to my knowledge has ever attributed to protracted Western monkeylessness.
On the other hand with its opposable thumb, monkeys are integral to Asia and its religions; thus the reality of monkeyfulness and dreams of monkeylessness have
intrigued monkey-plagued Asian philosophers since the dawn of civilization, and may go a long way toward explaining the inscrutability attributed to these regions by the chronically monkeyless West. For with the presence of monkeys comes the deepest, most formidable aspect of "Where did we come from": "What is the difference between man and beast?"
Over the millennia, monkeyful societies have perforce pondered the in-their-face fact of natural intelligence in natural combination with natural consciencelessness. Europeans, Americans and Middle Easterners, in contrast, have never had to confront this daily reality in all its nakedness, never had to deal with the deeper implications unrelated to nature/nurture. Thus there are no monkeys in their holy books or shrines. This may be why they needed powerful, angry
gods, strictly stipulated commandments, hardwired messiahs and suchlike.
It is my thesis, cursorily examined here, that much about the East that the West characterizes as inscrutable has to do with what I call the Simian Index, which concept I may pursue in future, if I ever start an anthropological career, and lots of luck on that one; or I may not, depends on whatever. I was, after all, raised in a culture where free will is heavily promulgated, though I have since
lived and traveled for over three decades in rampantly monkeyful cultures that are less individualistic and more collectively serendipitous, so at the moment I'm not sure of my true place on the Simian Index, but I'm definitely closer to something.
Windy days are frequent this time of year, now that hurricane season is past and we're down to winds that just blow local trains off their tracks. The savage breezes also kindly remove the rest of the leaves from the trees, but can dry out all those shiitake I've still got out there unharvested. Such are the autumn zephyrs up here on the mountain, where all through the night I hear the
hiss of reluctant leaves along the ground, and then in the morning the public announcement far down in the village saying something about the wind that the wind
renders incomprehensible, another example of man and nature battling it out in harmony. Such early windy morning announcements probably concern train delays, but from up here I can't really tell.
I could search around on the tv channels for the transport bulletins on such
mornings, but by the time I'd find out that my train is on time it would be too late to catch it. No point in calling the village station either, because the semiretired guy who works at our minor stop doesn't arrive there till about the time my train departs, so the phone in the little office would just ring until it was too late for me to catch the train if it was on time. I could call the big central train office and get put on hold, but most mornings I'm fairly sane.
This morning just after dawn I heard that chime-y PA fanfare (Bing, Bung, Bong, Bing!) that prefaces the loudspeaker announcements, then the perhaps male voice saying what seemed meteorologically like "Because of what the wind does to these announcements there's really no point in my doing this, since none of you can understand a word I'm saying, especially you folks far up the mountain, but all the same it's my job, so did you hear the one about the nun, the banker and the frog who went into a bar...." The rest was blown away by the same long, strong gust of wind that blew the ladder off the toolshed roof, but none of that mattered because today is a holiday anyway, I forget what, but I was back asleep by then.
Later when I'm down in the village I'll ask around, see if anybody heard the punch line.
Who at my age doesn't have countless regrets? There is no way to get through even a well-lived life without regret. I'm not talking about the Waterloo of regret that everyone carries in the Napoleon of their souls, regrets that are even more pointless (less pointful?) for being so vast; no, I'm talking about the numberless nanoregrets, the rankle of instants, the turning points of the tiny dances that moments are, in which we performers of life are not as gracious or perceptive, sensitive, intelligent or discerning, thoughtful or eloquent in retrospect as we are now (retrospect grows with age), and as we now wish we had been been back then, were we thus gifted by the gods, for it is all a matter of godgifting, of probabilities, of impulses pulsed, chances taken and lost or won, the regrets being the times we got it wrong, and not on purpose.
There were some victories in there too, of course, the times we got it right, but we remember few of those, for they fit seamlessly into the natural flow of life, are not remarked upon especially by our mind's eye, and so in our habitual looks back do not cause a ripple on the horizon of the past; no, it is those little regrets, the nanonubs that forever rub the wrong way, the mini-if onlys and micro-I wishes-- It is bad to live too much in the past that way, but they make you do it, those little slivers in the mental underwear, those pebbles in the mindboots, those crumbs in the spirit bed.
None of us is alone in this; we all have such regrets, and the older we get - it's only natural - the more regrets we have. No one escapes this irreducible, utterly personal burden. By my age there's a whole diverse library of things I should/shouldn't have done/said, of turnings taken in youthful or other ignorance, word or silence, east or west, yes or no, decisions I made or didn't, things I could have done better or differently - such is one life, after all, and ignorance is beyond numbering.
But when I think about it, the brightness is that in all that cloud of misdoing I must have done so many forgotten things well, made so many good choices, because I'm still here, alive, sensing the darkness in a day's joy. And so I am privileged, in a way, to have all those regrets I pester myself with now and then, when I'm not paying enough attention to being--
When at last I do pay attention I realize that at the very least, I do know better, now.
The few folks who live up here on the mountainside
necessarily get more exercise than do the flatlanders, not only because
they live up high in rarefied air and so get more naturally strenuous exercise, often as
not preferring to walk up to their homes from the roads and rails
below, but also because they walk a lot in general around the path
ways in their various wonderfilled amblings, since they are by dint of
their personal natures assertively outdoor folk, who hike, climb, garden
etc. in a large way and in winter get a lot of extra snow to shovel.
They are folks who enjoy productive physical labor, full-living folks who
chose to live where it would be more physically challenging and naturally rewarding to live.
are further compensations however, if such metrosweeteners be needed for living hereabouts. To a name just a few (as one does with the stars in
heaven, rather than use up a lifetime being specific), each season you
get an honorary PhD equivalent in biology, hydrology, geology and
meteorology, and in addition to lotsofology there are all the
splendificent views of year-round diversity involving big samplings of
pretty much everything there is, from planets and stars to creatures,
water, clouds, earth, plant and spirit, the welcome summer air upflows
and downflows of morning and evening, the crossmountain breezes of
mid-day, not to mention all the swards of green in summer, the total
immersion each autumn in the finest of natural forest art, the snow
sculptures of winter, the rainbowed choruses of spring. And what can be sweeter than mountain water, all the flowers, tree perfume, the heights of air,
the wild pantry?
And there's more. Unlike the present urban jaganath, this will go on for what we call forever. My advice to you is, if you're living low and feel unfulfilled, live high.
Nature can be pretty sardonic, especially when it comes to mushrooms. Like the other day, when I was so certain about my shiitake situation, nature did that whoa thing it does whenever it senses complaisance in the human condition, sort of like what it's doing now to the world economy. As to the point I just deviated from, I guess I have about 50 shiitake logs going at the moment, some newbies at 1 year old since inoculation, some 2 or 3 years old and others getting into their dotage, which varies depending on the size of the log and the amount of sapwood it has.
Commercial shiitake growers and vendors - to set off on another vaguely relevant tangent - have to grow or buy their own supply of logs, logs of consistent and manageable size for stacking and moving-- not too heavy etc., especially if they're selling the logs directly to consumers at the farm stores, either for inoculation or already inoculated (designer logs, I call them), as they do around this time of year. But since I'm non-commercial and have no oak-laden property (no way I'm cutting down my old oak!), nor do I buy designer logs, I must take whatever incidental fresh oak I can get from other sources (landscapers, developers, folks with too many crowding trees etc.). Thus my oak logs tend to be a bit larger, and opportunistic in shape, so often not straight or easily manageable. I also wind up with a lot of odd-sized bits of scrap timber that goes into a special firewood pile under the deck. Vague relevance is drawing nearer.
In any case though, in managing my shiitake logs I inoculate them, incubate them, move them around, water them now and then, stack them, restack them and finally move them to a corner place where they can shroom at last, and there I keep a close eye on them. So close that my mushroom eye is pretty much blind elsewhere, as it turns out. You see about the relevance? To get closer to my wandering point, I have the logs arranged by age too, so I always know what's going on, and over the 15 years I've been doing this I've gotten hardwired into thinking I had it all nailed, well in hand, right in place, tabs on everything shiitake-related around here, that's the kind of mental state I was talking about above; nature abhors both vacuums and self assurance. As for me, I didn't notice for a few days, because this was in another place, it was under the deck, you see. I didn't-- Who would expect -- I've never-- Why would I-- but I digress from my tangent.
To wend once again toward my point, a couple days ago I was walking toward the shiitake section way over in the corner of our lot, when I nanonoticed that under the deck there were some big healthy shiitake mushrooms growing. But I'm not and never have grown shiitake under the deck, so I only nanonoticed, because such a thing was impossible. But it kept nagging down there at the corner of my mind, so eventually I macronoticed. It was an odd feeling, abruptly observing mushrooms growing there on their own, and then going "Oh yeah, they can do that..." and then the question of actual IQ arose.
I've seen kikurage and lots of other mushrooms growing wild, but I've never seen shiitake growing wild. Let alone under the deck on a small section of oak firewood about 30 cm long that had been placed there only because it was an odd length and small, so would dry quickly and could be easily tossed up top for use in the nearby stove.
It was the variety of oak that designer log sellers prefer (some variety of red oak, I think), not least because shiitake seem to prefer it, so it is in strong commercial demand. I don't recall seeing it growing around here, so now I intensely wonder where I got that piece. Anyway, just lying there in the stack under the deck it had been inoculated naturally, unlike the standard oak all around it! I'd walked past there many times while those mushrooms were swelling into largeness, but to me there were no shiitake growing there: that's the odd-size firewood storage place, not the shiitake growing place, which is over there, where I organized it...
Seems like this is a bad year for just about everything, at least for the wildies around here, though many of the civilizedies aren't doing all that well either. I was out looking for free wild food this morning in the form of mukago, which are ready at around this time of year, but it seems like the yamaimo offspring have suffered the same fate as acorns. In my searches I found a final total of might as well be zero, barely a few pitiable tiny pea-sized things hanging forlorn on the long yamaimo vines tracing through the bamboo and forest-edge undergrowth.
In good years I easily score handfuls of the minipotatoes from among the wild yamaimo leaves as I go along the roads and wade into the bamboo. Even if I'm not thinking of mukago I am reminded by those lush pennants of bright yellow heart-shaped leaves vining up and across the bamboo and low bushes, draping themselves from one plant tip to another, eventually creating a yamaimo leaf canopy that gets most of the sun and rain and in autumn yields the best crop, those on the tall bamboo stalks silhouetting their tasty wealth against the sky: air tubers that can reach the size of a large macadamia nut.
It's all academic at this point, though, cause this year, even in the best of my secret places there were lots of golden leaves but no treasure to throw into the pot before the rice cooks. They were even scarcer than acorns, which both the bears and the wild pigs like, but the mukago are a special treat for the latter, because after strong winds the minitubers fall to the ground among the bamboo warrens where the pigs nose about and bears do not go; this year, though, there is rampant mukago notness on top of severe acorn notness, so among the gruffly marauding bears there will be some grumpy widely foraging pigs out there, as though either group needed competition...
In the same vein, took a morning walk to visit the pond yesterday, and on the way passed the old wild persimmon tree whose autumn branches every year appear about to break from the weight of the fruit, so I always feel duty-bound to grab a few pocketfuls - especially before the monkeys get them - but this year there were only a half dozen or so persimmons on the whole tree; I've never seen a wild tree looking so unfulfilled at the peak of its career.
Then over at the pond I saw on the sloping bank countless places where a number of wild pigs had nosed up the soil in search of earthworms and any other natural slow food they could find, but from the immense number of nosings I'd judge that the wild porkers must have had to hustle to finish all that work before dawn, so it appears they didn't have much success, and unlike me they don't have a well-stocked winter pantry, so this may be quite a hungry winter for the local wildies.
Both of those hungry parties are welcome to my chestnuts and compost pile, as long as they dine at night. Casual dress, no fighting, and stay away from those onions.
Last weekend I just managed to make it to the final day of the OtsuMuseum exhibition of sacred sculptures and paintings from various temples in Shiga Prefecture, all designated national cultural treasures or national cultural assets. As I walked around admiring the rarely exposed works on display I felt my eyes drifting from the holy faces, which were pretty much all the same, as holy faces tend to be-- I've seen so many holy faces in sacred places all over the world, and they've all been... holy faces. A standard thousand-yard stare - up, down or straight ahead - with a soupcon of the ecstasy that surpasseth whatever the local dogma stipulates. Faces exquisitely crafted, breathtakingly so in some cases, but monolithic: not leading into diversity, but expressing one thing infallibly: worshipful artistic skill.
Generally speaking, holier-than-thou is a bit of a turnoff in the real world; why should art be any exception? If you've seen one holy face, you've gotten the idea: the depicted individuals have made it to the summit of the spirit-hierarchy. At this exhibit though, I could sense that the artists hadn't had any fun limning the same old sanctity for the 10th generation. It was almost as if they were saying: "This holy stuff is a bit of a cliche; what we really enjoy is the artistic delights down below, where we depict the baser angels of human nature."
For in fact my eyes were inevitably drawn from the standard blissed-out faces up top to the fascinating and varied demons beneath the sacred feet. Now this was invention-- this was art. The sacred face is prescribed territory - a lifted chin here, half-closed eyes there, maybe a subtle lipcurl and that's about it - but gargoyles, demons and imps obey no rules; they go all the way...
Here was where the artists could dive right in and give free rein to their imaginings, embody their arts in those demons thumbing their noses at the sanctimonious, rasberrying the overlords of righteousness, carrying on up to their necks in the fundamentals; maybe they are half monster and half human, maybe they do have hands and feet that are half paws, maybe bulging eyes above sharp fangs beside big humanteeth, plus pointy ears and tail, maybe they do have spots, lumps, ridges - even scales - but they are where the art is.
These sculptors were among the greatest artists of their day; and by the time they got the chance to create these statues they had carved a thousand holy faces, as had their forebears for generations-- all the lineaments that depict enlightenment, divinity, tranquility, good will, peace, love-- the sacred gaze had become artistically uninspiring. As well, it should be pointed out that without those vulgar gargoyles and personal demons to give them a leg up, those glazed-gazing saints would have had nothing to achieve; nor would the artists who came later. Here was where the sculptors and painters could pull out the stops on their creative imaginings, this was where the art was, with the sacred standing on the top, as though victorious.
This was a big statement from all those silent artist voices, a visual comment perhaps unconsciously passed on to us today from ages gone before, when there were demons and angels instead of Hollywood and TV-- i.e., that there's not much creativity involved in depicting the sacred per se; that the fun of creativity, the spark of life, is in the star supporting players, the bedrock of all that we hold sacred: the hardworking, put-upon imps and demons. Without them, the righteous has no basis; without them, nothing is sacred. Besides, they're where the fun is; you can learn things from demons that you can't learn anywhere else. To widen your sacred horizons, you've gotta hang with demons at some points along your way; just don't linger too long, and never believe you've left them behind.
Later on, when you honor the sacred, be sure also to honor those baser angels, for which those ancient artists were so painstakingly thankful.
Been hearing in the news about the sudden increase in bear sightings around the country and the commensurate rise in bear attacks, a great number of those sightings being in Shiga Prefecture. The large majority of those sightings and attacks have been on this side of the Lake, which is a lot more foresty and otherwise wild than the more urbanized regions to the east, where bears might occasionally, out of excessive civilizing, roam the streets looking for figurative couches and potato chips.
Over here on the other side, where the bears are more naturally satisfied because we are blessed with harder furnishings and slower food, every now and then there is an announcement over the village PA system that yet another bear has been sighted in a garden or orchard and we should be careful in going about our daily activities or at least be ready to wrestle.
In any case, the bear population in general has increased over the past few years of profuse acornification by the generous oaks, but as we are now experiencing in terms of human currencies - whose intrinsic value is less than an acorn (acorns at least being viable and edible) - the oaks even here are in recession and the bears, though not exactly homeless, aren't eligible for anything like food stamps, so must go off to wander human vicinities in search of sustenance for themselves and their young, an effort that can put the brawny creatures in a mood even worse than mine after two hours without breakfast.
One aspect to all this that is seldom mentioned in the news accounts is that bear gall bladders are worth their weight in gold because of their alleged tonic properties, which may explain the occasional rifle shots I hear at dawn in the mountains above. Mind you I'm not pointing any fingers, especially at folks holding rifles; anyway, if they're gunning for bear I'm sure they have licenses.
As for myself, after 15 years of not having directly confronted any of our ursine cohabitants, I still go outdoors and wander as usual in forest, to and from garden, firewood and mushroom inventory amidst the absence of acorns, while my garden grounds are rich with fallen chestnuts bursting with beary goodness, without giving a thought to it. I have to change that routine, especially at dawn and dusk: I should make it a habit to check the property before I go wandering out there. Despite my familiarity with habituation, though, it's surprisingly hard to create a new habit out of bears.
Well the wind came
barging across the landscape last night like it owned the place -
which I suppose it does - carrying on all through the dark, toting in
skyloads of Siberian chill without so much as a how-de-do-- no
passport, no visa, no customs fees, no license, no permission of any
kind, not even a declared nationality such as we all have.
The rampant wind is no respecter of national borders, fences or property; it
just laughs that air-sized laugh at national boundaries - roars in fact, as
it flies right over them - tossing aside all the KEEP OUT! signs like so
many snowflakes, sending immigration officials scurrying indoors
holding onto their hats, toying with temperatures, breaking off
trees, tearing off roofs like King Kong and flinging them all over--
throwing big stuff around in general and having a greater time than any
of us ever has, except for maybe that long July night in 1967 when I
- but that's a tale for another time - and doing so whenever it wants.
If any of us did
that we'd be in jail in a flash and deported to other borders without
recourse, but governments just don't treat wind (or precipitation
either, for that matter) the way they treat people, you'd think they'd
be all over that blustery phenomenon and right away get it under lock and key, or at least put up a big wall like they
currently want to have between Mexico and Texas to keep out people,
though the even bigger Great Wall of China didn't work, either people-
or weatherwise, and now it's a lucrative tourist
attraction that draws folks from all over the world, puts China even more
on the map historically, so you've gotta hand it to the Chinese, they
take the long view of things in important matters-- but the fact that
governments do pretty much whatever they want with us humans while letting the weather
run free just seems like favoritism to me.
Over a century ago
Mark Twain, who knew a thing or two about wind, directed public
attention to humanity's chronic inaction regarding the weather; yet
we've made no real advances in that regard since his clarion call. Makes
me wonder about the old hierarchy of intelligence that has us humans at
the top, getting all windy about freedom and such, well I'd put the wind
way above us in those regards, seeing as how it's crafty enough to
completely evade the fetters of human governance and run roughshod over
restraints of any kind, doing pretty much what it damn well pleases
despite whatever borders we sapients decree, just as it always has.
imagine all that the wind knows about the world. It has its songs, it
has its voice, its music and its rhythms, it dances in the leaves on the
ground, in sand across the deserts and in the tips of trees across the forests, flings itself along atop the
waves of the sea in lyrics we can't begin to fathom. It is the breath of
pure freedom, blowing wherever it will, leaving us to clean up after
it, such as me right now on my deck, up to my knees in the debris of
I just realized the other day that in my 15 years of living here beside the long, narrow and twisty road down the mountain, a humble thoroughfare crossed back-and-forth day-and-night year-round by foxes, deer, wild pigs, bears, snakes, rabbits, raccoons, ferrets,
crows, hawks et al., I have never seen a single instance of roadkill anywhere along its length, apart from a flat mamushi I saw once a few years ago on a side road.
This is excepting the mating frenzy of countless suicidal frogs, who, during the blurry evening light of early rainy season rise from their muddy beds to blunder heedless in every direction, single-minded and courting trouble, crossing the road with such abruptness and in such numbers as to provide the local crows and hawks with gourmet banquets that would be the envy of any French restaurant specializing in four-star roadkill. Yet those feeding birds themselves never wind up as roadkill...
One night while driving upmountain I hit a wild pig that, nervous in the cold, rainy darkness, had suddenly gone for it and dashed across the road a split-second too late, getting a minor bruise and leaving some bristles on my undented bumper (as related in my previous post), but I've never seen wild pig or any other roadkill on this road, no drivers hitting leaping deer, either. Which is strange in contrast to the numerous incidents I recall on the rural highways of my youth in America, where cars all the time hit bear, deer, moose, skunks, woodchucks, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, pets of all kinds, just about everything; roadkill was as common as potholes. But up here, not one incident in 15 years.
Till a month or so ago that is, when - while I was not home - a city fellow rang our
doorbell; when Echo answered he told her that there was a dead raccoon in the roadway just below, and there wasn't room enough for him to drive his car past the dead animal! Plus there was blood on the road! Was there some official that would come and take the thing away? Its insides were coming out and this was the only road down, so he was trapped up here because of this dead beast...
Echo called the neighbor lady to the south and the two mountain females went down to the spot with shovels and together quickly shoveled the departed beast well into the roadside forest for the foxes and crows, thereby freeing the urbanite from the horrifying claws of raw, stark-naked nature.
He's the only victim of secondhand roadkill I ever heard of around here.
In the noon phase of typhoon #6, on the way back upmountain from dropping Echo off at the station I stop on the road by the big bamboo grove to watch one of the most beautiful and elegant dances in the world: bamboo in mountain wind.
In the edgy light from the east against the dark green of the mountains and the thunder gray of the typhoon clouds, the pale jade bamboo stems in their tall slim splendor, like 15-meter earthfeathers with golden quills, sway back and forth in a slow, soft roil that shows the edges of the wind as the green arms move in the spirit of waves, with soft bows and gentle gestures, all of an elegance that dancers seek to imitate, the racing wind producing only slow green response in the whole of the grove, much the way tall seaweed sways in an ocean storm.
Inside the bamboo grove stand an old oak and a cedar, imparting darkness and depth, rising in their relative rigidity, and it is easy to see why oaks and cedars blow over all the time, but bamboo never: bamboo knows how to dance.
You could have knocked me over with a vegetable of just about any kind, excepting maybe a sprout. While at last clearing out the garden for some fall planting and reaping the last of my summer rewards, like hidden tomatoes, secret chard sprigs, fallen peppers, unclaimed potatoes etc., in a fold of the winter netting that during summer is suspended from the east side of the fence (where this year there was a small funnel-shaped paper wasp nest that was attacked by an osuzumebachi that took one larva, that I saw; maybe the whole nest was later wiped out by osuzumebachi since, not long after, it was suddenly abandoned) - this sentence is beginning to take on the multidirectional quality of autumnal garden clearing -
Oh yes... after pulling down the withered cucumber vines I could now see, down in the fold of that net, a long, thick yellow fruit of kind I'd never seen before. I couldn't imagine how it had gotten there, whatever it was. It wasn't a yellow squash, since none of the squashes I planted were climbers; it was too hefty and anyway a monkey would have to have dropped it, and monkeys do not drop priceless whole food items they've gotten a good thieving grip on.
It couldn't be a goya either, since those climbing vines came up later this summer from last year's fallen fruit, and the new fruits are not yet developed (if they ever do; it's an experiment). So I reached down in the netfolds and got the fruit out; it most closely resembled the yellow straightnecks that were growing in situ on the other side of the garden.
I broke it open, found that it was a fully developed cucumber, and realized for the first time the fact of the title.
Always a staggering experience, learning the inyerface things we never had a clue we didn't know.
THE VIRTUALLY AUTOMOTIVE JELLO OF THE CIVILIZED WHITEBREAD TELEVISION NOW
Tattooed limbs, painted faces, body-piercing ornaments, ritualistic dances through the mystic night to pounding primitive rhythms; native dress, painstakingly patterned hair, eyes with a jungle gaze, spirit-based, esoteric language; loss of tradition looming as they struggle to preserve their dying heritage--- you see the tribe every day at the mall.
We've each been tribally young on our ways to genuine age, the apparently brand-new ontogeny recapitulating what turns out to be the same ancient phylogeny as we pass too briefly through our primitive origins on our deepconsious way to assimilation in the macrocosmic melange that the present has become, the defanged, declawed, virtually automotive jello of the civilized whitebread television now, where we status what's left of our quo while wondering in that heart of our hearts what the hell ever happened to the world our genes used to know, missing those good old days when there weren't yet any good old days, when reality was what reality had always been, right on the mark and no mistake, when every blade of grass had a voice and every eye shone with spirit that had substance, if not reason, and required no justification.
Yes, we were once all untelevised tribespersons, to be virtually automotively politically correct; and deep in that heart of our hearts we still are tribespersons, despite our morphication into ingredients of said virtually automotive jello of the civilized whitebread television now. This explains that secret calling you've been feeling from out there in the dark beyond the edge of your career; the pounding heartlike drums at the core of your merely quantifiable bank account; the primitive melody welling up from far below your bottom line; the enchanting shimmer that draws your eyes toward the depth among the remaining trees, yearns your legs toward the forest path; it's your phylogeny on hold on the other line: you gonna pick it up or what?
Another of my readings from the old days of the Kyoto Connection...
Every nation is renowned for not having certain things. One of the things Japan is famed for not having is cherry pie. At least in this blog. It's been two years now since I had any cherry pie, a salacious, not to say orgiastic, event that recurred serially when I visited the US and cherry pie was everywhere. I could hardly stick out a fork without hitting a cherry pie. Can one ever forget one's native pastries?
In that pieful eden I couldn't wander in one of those hangar-like corner supermarkets without coming upon rows and rows of racks and racks of cakes and cookies and donuts, real donuts, soft and spicy, not the merely sugared image, plus of course pies of all kinds of berries and fruits, nuts and custards and creams, cherry pie comprising a large number of the whole-crust and lattice-crust versions dripping gobbets of ruby juice and displaying their crustily inimitable deliciousness; still, I had restraint-- I only bought one or two at a time, rarely three or four. Discipline is always with me.
To this declaration of currently chronic pie deficiency (which seems to intensify as the weather becomes chillier and visions of juice-laden crust come rising from the delirious depths), some goody-goody type folks might later elbow-comment: Oh you can get pies at a lot of places in (name Japanese city of multimillions), but I'm not talking about ittybitty acculturations that cost fifty dollars, I'm talking about those huge, deep creations of the cherry-pie making god-families who for hundreds of years have been making pies that are as far from tofu as you can get and cost six or seven dollars.
Not that I have anything against tofu, I love tofu, always have, enjoy it regularly, a great food and highly nutritional in its way, but only one small spec on the dietary spectrum. Like life itself, nutrition and the diet inhabit vast spans that call for commensurate balance, not the piddling balance of food that is merely said to be 'good' for you. I'm talking big scales here, transcending just the body-- cosmic balance is the ticket, and in my book a big thick wedge of that ticket is cherry pie.
Here in the pieless island nation, after each cosmicly nourished return from the cherry pie continent my dreams were crowded with flying cherry pies and land-based cherry pies you could climb onto bearing a cosmic hunger, with a spoon like a shovel. (Pay no attention to those pieless old Freudians over in the corner.) Two years without cherry pie can do that to a man. To say nothing of a la mode. Of actually chocolate ice cream.
Now that the cooling days are here, the singing insects are in the summer of their contentment. Here on an early breezy evening I can't even count the variety of choruses from earth, grasses, bamboo, trees and sky; impossible to unweave the warp and woof of this surrounding tapestry of song.
Last night a singing insect of a kind I'd never heard before began sounding through one of our front screen doors not a song but a pure call, a special summons, a rhythmic generation that was more sensation than sound; it rattled the skull and defied such mereness as ears.
Meant to stir the entire bodies of kindred insects with the most important message of their lives, its vibrations implied measures far beyond the spectral pinpoint of human hearing, my ears probably catching only the bare peripheries of the full sonic rainbow flowing over me.
On and on it went into the night, the sounding of a single insect that I could not even find to see, expressing the vast magnitude of a minuscule being taking its brief turn at living a share of life and all it means.
Out there in the darkling air was a tiny Zen master, chanting a cosmic koan.
The power, the spirit-magic of thunderstorms-- how reminding they are, how kin to our own ancient feelings, the dark and the light in ourselves, the storm and urge of being, the torrents of our passions-- we relate. We are close cousin to thunderstorms, back from the beginning of being; we're family.
Since the dawn of our story, we've led the same electric, fiery, fluxing lives; we generate.
So arise those great columns of cloud-- white softnesses tumbling upward into gold at the top of the sky as the rumbling begins, when on the far dark-blue water emerges the blur of white mist, frothing the calm surface like the tip of a broad brush dipping to a waiting page, then writing the long word of rain on the water as the sounds around you deepen, the air itself thickens and closes in and the motion of wind is large, though you remain still--
Nearer and nearer draws the skywide Niagara, branches of light reaching out to all sides in faraway flashes to touch what they must, then the thunder follows-- Your own spirit rises into the roar to receive the first wave of the blessing that comes pouring down...
Kyoto is nowhere near the ocean. It's a mountain-girded city. Tourists don't come here in quest of marine life. And there's no need to point out that one of the world's most famed aquariums, the Kaiyukan in Osaka, is less than an hour away on Japan's world-class railway system. Wonder if the bureaucrats thought of that... Something seems fishy here... Does Bhutan have an aquarium? Is there an aquarium in Kathmandu?
All the world knows Kyoto, and if they haven't visited, they'd love to. So far. They don't cross oceans to see the new train station - locally known as Stalin's Office, aesthetically decided by governmental committees of businessmen; nor do they come to view marine life.
Visitors to the ancient capital come to see the legendary city, the city built by warriors, monks and artisans, the city famed for the reach of its history, the depth of its serenity, the breadth of its understanding of how heart, spirit and mind can grow in beauty throughout life and the world. They come to savor and absorb that quality, bring it into their lives, take it home; they come for spiritual nutrition. Then they arrive at Stalin's Office.
Is this really Kyoto? They hastily move on out of there and wander off amidst the swell of modern dross in search of the treasures for which Kyoto is yet renowned, and maybe in the course of their pilgrimage go to where there once was a restful park but now they can look at some fish. Wait, what? Yes, the city officials are at it again. Not history, not tradition, not subtle understanding--what could they be after, one might wonder, having viewed the landlocked sea life of the bureaucratic mind.
Urban travesties are not in short supply these days, but Kyoto is a burgeoning example of what can be achieved with a long-lived shortsight committee.
Hungry souls that fly over oceans to get here do not come to gaze at fish. Besides, there's already a genuine Kyoto Aquarium in Koreatown in Los Angeles, as shown in the photo. Which, as a long-standing pet shop, makes a lot more sense.
If you care about Kyoto and what it means to humanity, please go here and sign the petition, especially if you live elsewhere in the world, to which Kyoto truly belongs. And feel free to pass it on.
Heading down the winding road this morning under lowering mountain clouds as the sun was just dawning above the lake, its long rays edging sideways into the dark wedge of space beneath the thick clouds, I was perfectly placed to receive the gift of fresh light livening all the dew the night had draped on the mountainside, to behold in slopes of diamonds how each blade of grass, each seed, each leaf, gathered and held its share.
On a certain type of grass about a foot high, fine hairs held the dew in drops so small as to make them all seem a cottony vapor; patches of that grass stood out like glowing clouds of mist hovering in place just inches above the ground. Each type of grass I saw, each plant, coddled the dew in its own way: the clusters of spider lilies scattered along the roadside cupped the silver beads in the narrow curls of their glowing red blossoms, stringing others in evenly spaced crystal orbs along curving scarlet tendrils tipped with gold...
Though each of these individual plants was now existing for its first and only time, there in plain sight was the long knowledge that each of their line has gathered of early autumn in these parts, what is to be expected in this anciently recurring brief turn of weather, what to do with the happening, where and how-- to ensure that each drop of dew is separately held so it doesn't run lost to the ground but remains possessed, nestled, cradled, held close to vitalize seeds or evenly strung out like beads to wait their turn at nourishment, each of that whole mountainside of dewdrops holding in itself the sun, shimmering in that moment of down-mountain breeze from out of the darkness...
May we hold as closely the sunlit dews of our own lives...
These are the last few days of this late summer mountainside, covered with nodding heads of rice growing more golden with every sunset--
Within the evening breeze I can hear - beneath the hurried hum of summer insects - the low drone of harvesting machines and the shouts of families at work on the edge of the village down by the Lake, where the local harvesting begins-- Driving down there earlier today I saw that a couple of paddies had already been shaved to the bright gold stubble that remains after the summer wealth has been shorn and stored for winter.
Somehow-- I suppose because from up here I can I watch the rice growing throughout the summer of its lifetime-- and so throughout its mornings, days and evenings I can watch all that life accrue from seed to maturity, watch effort rise into spirit as all weaves together, the rice fields collectively mean as much to me in a spiritual way as if I were growing the rice myself...
One afternoon a few weeks ago the grandies and I were driving down past those lower fields when the rice stalks were as though about to topple with the weight of their treasure - practically leaning into the car windows - I slowed beside a high paddy and we reached out to run our fingers through all that jade and gold.
For me the summer lifetime of rice is much more affecting than the celebrated three days of cherry blossoms...
I do my gardening pest treatment in true scientific but fully organic fashion. I never use insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, anycides. If it's necessary, I just do with less produce, but that rarely happens to any extreme.
This year I'm growing a lot of green peppers, naively providing major party hangouts for a kind of weevily insect I've never seen before and can't find on the gardening sites, so I figured it's time for my all-purpose hot pepper spray, maybe not as strong or detergenty as the one that killed the impressively sudsy peach tree back when I first moved here.
So I started with two fresh hot peppers (I always grow the Japanese "hawk's talon" kind), mashed them up in hot water, filtered it, added more water and a bit of detergent in a spray bottle then spritzed the mixture over the partying weevils, who scattered like the ceiling sprinklers had just come on at CBGB. I checked again an hour later and they were all back at the party, chatting, flirting, even mating, so I ramped the juice up with two more peppers, sprayed the party venues again and the weevs made greater haste away this time, but when I went back well after lunch (scientific method) they were all back in place as flagrant as before, leaning on the green walls and chatting weevily.
So this time, for the last attempt of the day I added three more peppers - that juice was getting pretty pink by now (had to be extra careful how I handled the incendiary mixture) and sprayed it over the numerous parties: the weevs stopped whatever they were doing and leaped for their lives; some dove for the ground, some flew away to unhellsome places. I stopped whatever I was doing too, because the breeze turned and I began to breathe the nanovapors.
No idea yet how all this will affect the pepper flowers or budding fruits, cough, cough, but it's all for science and I know those weevs were up to no good, they don't just hang around for the good of the peppers. Hack, hack. If they're back at it tomorrow (the sound of weevil laughter is a cutting thing), my thoughts will likely begin to drift toward organochlorine compounds, though I will never follow...
I'll just ramp the juice again, not breathe when I spray, and enjoy my share of the party leftovers.
It's interesting how, when I'm freewheeling down the road these hot summer mornings, glad for the breeze of speed even at this early hour, wearing just a t-shirt, sometimes with a shirt over it by way of temperature trial, the tasking part of my mind is doing its work of steering and braking the bike around the mountain curves, while the idle part of my mind sort of just rides up there on my shoulders in its summer self, can't-believing as we roll along in this heat that in the winter, on this same journey, this same body wears long underwear, t-shirt, thick shirt, sweater, thick jacket, scarf, gloves, thick socks under hefty shoes as it freezes on down the road, the summer mind then recalling that in winter it becomes the winter mind dreaming of those unimaginably warm days, when it thinks: is it really possible, did this same body actually roll down this mountain in summertime wearing just a t-shirt? The summer mind then comes back to its summer self and ponders the impossibility of wearing all that winter stuff in this heat-- Does it really get that cold? Ice on this road?
Impossible here on this ice-free road with flowers all around, golden rice heads drooping over the shoulders, overhanging green branches of trees, the body wearing just a light open shirt over a t-shirt and jeans, beginning to sweat in the morning heat, thankful for the travel wind, looking forward to the nearing days of autumn and winter as it becomes cool and cooler even unto cold, and thick jackets...
Thus my idle mind and I roll down the road through the years and the seasons of world and mind, never completely immersed in any particular season or world at all... Life will always yearn for summer in winter and back and forth... What would I do without seasons...
And if it isn't seasons, the mind will find something else to remember back and forth to...
The crows seem to be up to something-- They're flying outward from some cryptic crow center like the momentarily black spokes of some vast unseen wheel they know all about, each one calling back CAW, CAW as they wing outward, and when I look up again they've all disappeared from the wheelless blue that just hangs there in all eternity, silent and crowless as only a summer sky can.
This is something you learn best out in the country, where time is measured in sun, moon, stars and the size of leaves, where there are no schedules, streets or 50th floors, no scramble intersections. When you move from the city out into the countryside, further from the need for minutehands and closer to the actual time of day - as quietly and naturally registered on your consciousness by the entirety of sky - you begin to acquire the ancient awareness that is inborn in us all and was once lifelong from the start: that you are in charge of your time, as opposed to when you agree to a salary. The aboriginal employment arrangement is a very different one, one we all yearn to practice -- when we make our million -- when we retire --
But at whatever age, once in the wildflower meadow's thrall we begin to perceive the aboriginal nature of idleness, the Eden of ideas. All of history's great creators were masters of idleness, but they were only idle to the busied eye. They were idle where it matters. One who hasn't mastered the art of idleness has been living secondhand, without a firsthand.
Idleness punctuates the new idler's life, gives it organic pace and pause, imparts perspective on what once was a blur, enables snapshots, moments of assessment and redirection, the creation of a mindmap of the life's path. Thus the idler learns of life from the inside, where it's lived and where it happens, rather than from the outside, where it is chronicled by a timeline of arrivals and departures.
It is a blessing now and then to stop mid-task, the way all deep tasks are designed, sit back against a tall tree, the way all tall trees are designed, and let the moment's momentum take its course as you ride the timestream like a twig, letting eternity itself assert your part in it.
Let me say at the outset that I'm not a nice guy right across the board, there are politics, bureaucracies, bony heads etc. to be addressed, after all, so it's more of an elective thing with me; but when it comes to natural beauty-- well, I'm putty in mother nature's hands.
Like this morning, when I was out moving closer to the house a stack of year-old mixed firewood ready to burn this winter, using the wheelbarrow to move the larger pieces and just arm-carrying the smaller pieces to a stack of smallwood nearby. As per my plan, all I had to do was get an armful of smallwood and carry it between the big old oak and an old cedar to get to the smallwood stack. Piece of cake, firewood-movingwise, but with the first armful of smaller pieces I turned to take that route and saw, inches away, strung between the oak and cedar (I must be getting better at hyperception), a perfectly proportioned garden spider web, an armspread wide, glistering gold and red on the sunlit air, with the architect sitting big bright green in the middle, waiting for breakfast.
I'm a sucker for the beauty of spider webs and all the work and deep wisdom it takes to build them, so no way could I barge through that (self-generated!) tour de force. Instead I went around the oak and the stepladder that's on the other side there and stepped over the pile of firewood on the ground by the ladder, a pile that has to be moved also, to reach the smallwood stack and deposit my armful there. Then I went back around pile, ladder and tree to get another armful and another and so on through the morning, the bright green webmaker all the while observing me bending and rising, coming and going around, that large vague shadowshape out there in the vast elsewhere, perhaps grateful in some cosmically spiderial way for the sparing of that artwork from needless destruction, but all the extra work I was doing was a grain in the oceans compared to what that anciently learned architect had wrought of light and air between two trees.
Made my task seem easier, actually, so I was grateful too.
I do love vegetables, but not in that way. Fact is, I have little direct knowledge of squash eros beyond the stamen and pistil of it, the bird-and-bee basics, and I wasn't sure when I planted my squashes this year whether they'd grow much at all, let alone reproduce, the seeds being foreign (American), a status which - as I know from personal experience - can pose interesting problems whether or not you're of the gourd family. New language, new culture etc., especially in Japan, the most different country in the world, can present quite a challenge even for self-labeled intelligent beings like ourselves, let alone the more vegetatively oriented species.
Back at the beginning my squash plants (straightnecks, crooknecks and sunbursts) were naturally uncertain as they emerged from their hulls, sent up leaves and looked around. These parameters were not familiar. Alien vegetables can have difficulties with different soil, to say nothing of temperature, sunlight and insect life (do seeds have jet lag?), maybe even magnetic orientations. Plus it was rainy season here then - no rainy season where they came from - and there's different birds and bees here, plus monkeys, and no squash bees that I know of.
Amidst all this the puzzled seedlings grew tentatively, not sure of what to do or how to act, surrounded by Japanese tomatoes, Japanese peppers, Japanese cucumbers, even Japanese strawberries. So the newbies started sending up a few timid-looking male blossoms and an occasional half-hearted female blossom, when what we needed was more of a Mae West type, so nothing came of that; then it would rain hammers again. Soon a sort of leafy forlornness and stemmy homesickness seemed to set in; also the local insectry didn't appear to be all that interested. I figured I was going to have to show the squashes what it was all about, get them turned on somehow, if it came to that. I figured squash porn was the answer.
So one non-rainy morning when I was feeling frisky and there were a few halfhearted blossoms of each type I took one of the more impressive male blossoms of each variety, stripped it naked and started pollinating the female blossoms, hoping mainly that I'd at least get a few goodsize squash out of it, but if the local insects couldn't take the cue from me I'd have to keep on doing it all myself, like a cattle breeder, hoping none of the neighbors would happen by.
I don't know whether it was due to my efforts or not, but since then, those randy plants are extending in all directions, taking over the garden in venusian abandon. It's a menage au dozens out there, and I don't really want to yell out the window at night for them to keep it down...
To couch this monocellular response in simple-minded American terms:
"I like Americans, but they are somewhat monocellular," said the former Democratic Party leader who has been a talking head for most of his life in a nation that, in terms of multiplicity, is profoundly convinced of its homogeneity, and pretty much limited to vanilla ice cream, to be simplistic. Chocolate, forget about it; cherry pie is on another planet with almond fudge, to say nothing of rice crackers everywhere for about 400 years so far; now that I call monocellular.
"When I talk with Americans," he goes on, deepening his diplomatic grave, "I often wonder why they are so simple-minded." In response to his expanding and imperceptive head, I'd say that one halfway decent Mexican restaurant for 15 million people, that's simple-minded. Show me a good Greek restaurant, don't make me laugh, or a decent loaf of bread-- no -- a bagel, a genuine bagel within a 500 miles of here. Though I could say the same in New York these days...
Or look over there, at Japanese tv, where loud is funny and garish is new for 40 years now, a budding Edo period. "When I talk with Americans, I often wonder why they are so simple-minded." It must be the extreme variety in America of just about everything one can think of, from music to food, as all the world knows by now except maybe a Japanese political talking head - that was elected overandoverandover again! Chronic lack of cherry pie and R&B will do that to a partial person.
"I don't think Americans are very smart," the head continues, cementing his country's relations with its simpleminded nuclear umbrella, "but I give extremely high credit for democracy and choices by its people. They chose a black president for the first time in U.S. history," which he once thought would be impossible.
Sequelizing the Groucho event, I managed to get into the house without anyone seeing me and acted normally as I took my shoes off in the genkan.
The girls running to greet me fell back aghast when they parted the entry curtain and saw there the creature that spoke with my voice, saying "I'm home" and other common greetings in a normal way, compounding the surprise. From the initial shock came horror, then puzzlement, then laughter as I wore the joke out to its very end, savoring every moment of masking around in front of these quick-minded new creatures who had never before seen such a thing: it was great indeed, as masks have always been, throughout the firelight of our history.
So the trio stayed the night while their parents went to visit friends in Kyoto, the family being here for only a week this time. We got to bed early, then in the morning before heading off to the beach, happy arms dug into the garden dirt with trowel, hand hoe, shovel and pitchfork after some of the small but extra-delicious Inca potatoes that were hiding there for lunch, always right where the girls weren't looking! Happy ears as well, as I could tell by the made-up songs they sang as they dug and discovered, like ancient ancestors.
Then back from the beach we organized another late afternoon work squad, happy eyes finding all the ready cucumbers with the yellow flowers still on the ends and all the red tomatoes hiding in the big long green tangle of mystery fragrance leaves, happy hands picking all the greens and reds and putting them in the big bamboo basket, then we set up the hose out front and happy legs ran the long road downhill, flailing like a mob of gangly kids, then back up for a moment under the hose to wash the happy feet before running down again, all to the same ear-splitting squealing I heard the other day when I came downstairs with my hands full of sticker seals and became the hero of the world.
You know how in Japan when you buy a set of joke glasses with a big nose, mustache and flaring eyebrows to wear when you walk into your house at night after work while your young granddaughters are visiting, who have never in their whole lives seen such a getup, can present strategic problems.
Well the main strategic problem for me was that if the grandies heard me rumbling up from the station in the dark on my motorcycle, they might turn on the deck lights, run out on the deck and yell "Welcome home, Bobu-chan!" while I'm parking the bike masklessly, and so my joke would be shot because I'd have no time or place - with all the deck lights, sharp peering eyes and what not - to slip the facial gear on.
On the other hand, if I were to enmask at the station, then motorcycle up the mountain through the dark I'd be cool, because who's gonna see me sneakdriving up with huge nose and flaring eyebrows, since none of my neighbors up there drives down at that hour, so when I got home it would be a great joke whether the girls heard me and came out or not, so that's what I did.
You know how Robbie Burns commiserated with that little mouse under his plow? Well there was no big Robbie up there in my case, but I've never seen so many cars come downmountain full of wide-eyed neighbors just as I was motorcycling up into their high beams wearing a Grouchoface, probably a first for this particular mountainside. Fortunately there were no accidents, as far as I could tell, other than to my reputation as a serious foreign fellow, but the grandies never believed that anyway.
Blessed it is, on a day as clear as a baby's eyes to be out here working with oak trees, following their nature, their noble nature, right down to the ground-- the very heft and scent of integrity, the sound of tiny flames when the sections split into two, four, eight and more; then when they're stacked like pieces of cloudy gold how rich they look, how precious a mark of one's labor, rising there in the drying sun-- warmly it tells of winter comfort, tomorrows given to other things, balm for the aching muscles, then at day's end to come inside and there is food...
In America as I recall, the dead don't come back to visit the living in any organized way but rather choose their own occasions, which is very much in the American tradition, now that I think of it. In Japan, by contrast, where things often seem supersystematic, the dead all come back in the middle of August, when it's convenient for the living to take a few days off.
During these days of the dead, called obon, when the living entertain throngs from the afterlife, stores close and offices are at half-staff, everyone being busy honoring the dear departed because so many more are passing away to ancestry every year that each obsequy must accommodate a greater spectral population, thereby diluting the effect on individual spirits, who this year begin their clamor for due attention on Wednesday August 14, when they will walk through dreams, tap shoulders in the dark, knock on walls and generally get it on in a posthumous way; and in the corridors of merely earthly business, where commuters both dead and alive have spent so many decades, there will be a palpable and welcome absence, for the dead have returned not for commerce, nor for tourism, but to mingle with relatives, drink some sake, party a bit, have some rice crackers, whatever the living will offer, for the dead will eat anything after a year without a nibble.
So the living all visit their ancestral graves and ladle water over the stone and leave a drink and some flowers and snacks and burn some incense, say some prayers for the ancestors, ask their intercession in the matter of say a red Ferrari, sometimes ancestors can swing such things if they have any pull on the far shore, you do see some people driving Ferraris in this life (are there Ferraris after death?), though the ancestors in their wisdom seem to know it doesn't make much sense to have a Ferrari in Japan, where there are no straightaways of any length and the standard speed limit is about 40kph, and where the police not long ago arrested one of the living for courting death in a red Ferrari by driving nearly 240kph on an expressway, a record for Japan, and prime-time front-page news throughout the land because generally not much fast living happens while the dead are around.
If you do see a Ferrari it's most likely just sitting there rumbling very expensively in the long lines of traffic that grow and grow, particularly during the days of the dead because there is clearly a strong connection between death and expressways, where the living sit entombed for hours, idling - revving - idling with the air conditioning on, looking out the windows trying to fathom the reason. The dead seem to enjoy the nostalgia, for it happens every year around this time, the dead traveling freely while the living edge forward on the roadway, impatient to reach the toll booth, though everyone gets there eventually.
In these humble chronicles I touch often upon the subject of civility here in Japan where, though still a strong part of the tradition, civility seems to be fading somewhat nowadays, when it is needed more than ever. And not just here. Which is all the more reason for me to do what I can to nurture civility and oppose the rationale for incivility, which is "Why me, who cares, nobody would ever do this for me... What's in it for me anyway, why should I be the only one," which is how all good societal things come to an end.
So if it's not one of the astonishingly rare times I'm feeling grumpy (like any other worthy emotion, the grumps are temporary; just hang around and I'll be sweet as cakes before too long), whenever I get the chance to perform an act of civility, I'll do it. Civility in its nature is a lot like those astonishing and encouraging mountains of pebbles by the long roadside, each pebble added by just one pilgrim traveling the sacred journey... Anyway, this morning I had another opportunity to practice civility so I did, and got a good measure back in return.
I was buying my morning train ticket at Umeda station in Osaka, the labyrinth of corridors crowded at morning rush hour with a compound of the usual office workers and chaotically rushing vacation mobs of families, tour groups etc. I went up to the only open machine, next to one being operated by what looked like the family horde of a grandmother and one, two or more married daughters with their five or six kids. It was just a glance I had in passing, but the feeling I got as they mobbed next to me was that they were not used to the big city and all these station choices, platforms, possible directions and fancy ticket machines; it all created a bit of a hubbub there among them.
I went to my machine and put the money in as their family bunch, bearing a complex of individual tickets, drifted searchingly off to find platform 10 or wherever, when I noticed on the shelf in front of their ticket machine a kid's new baseball hat. I was in a hurry, so at first it remained only a kid's hat who cares, and right away the dark portion of my brain that processes incivility said it's probably not even theirs anyway, but the brighter part of my brain immediately came up with the observation that on such a sunny day in a playland or anywhere outdoors, the owner of this hat would soon regret not having it; plus, on giving it a second look my civil self noted that the hat was of the stylishly raggedized type, no doubt carefully selected by the kid and prized accordingly. So after I'd gotten my ticket I ran after the family, tapped the grandmother on the shoulder and when she turned I said to her in Japanese "Did one of you forget a hat back there?"
She smiled and stared at me with that look I've seen many times on the faces of elder rural Japanese who are suddenly confronted with a foreign face speaking what cannot possibly be Japanese. She had not seen a foreigner in person this close for a long time, if ever, and he was speaking at her. She smiled on in friendly encouragement. I repeated my question more loudly in the station din, but her smile did not change, there was no sudden light of recognition. I was beginning to think that maybe my uncivil brain center had been right: it wasn't their hat.
After the appropriate duration for a pointless smile had passed, the grandmother turned, tapped one of her daughters on the shoulder and directed her attention to me. To the daughter I repeated my question, halfheartedly by now; but not only did she hear my Japanese, she knew instantly which of all the children had left the hat, and sent him running back after it. I bowed, satisfied, and headed off to work.
I had just gotten out of the station when I felt a tap on my elbow. I turned around and there was a boy about 10 years old standing in the milling crowd, holding the cap I'd found. He bravely looked me right in the eyes, said in Japanese "Thank you," lifted the cap, and bowed. His grandma and mother, after likely having to point me out, had sent the boy dodging through that densely hustling mob, all that way after me in that big intimidating station, then he had to go up to a big foreigner - likely the first such direct contact in his life - tap that alien personage on the elbow and address him with a loud "Domo arigato gozaimasu !" I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was doing what to him was a brave but necessary thing. A most heartening look it was, on a face so young. That look was the courage of civility. I smiled, gave him a thumbs up (likely a new sign to him), and we went our ways. Hope he gets the full joy out of his new hat, and never lets go of his courage.
It was the oddly scrambling sparrows that caused me to notice, on a recent afternoon, that the farmer who owns the paddy a couple of fields below us across the road has done away with the usual eye-noxious glittertape as bird deterrent; nor is he using the big shiny hawkeyes, the old CDs, the plastic dead crows, the spinning PET bottle propellers or any of the various other bird-repellent gadgetry you see in the fields at this time of year, just as the rice heads are beginning to swell and the stalks to bend under the weight of their growing value, a value also recognized and prized by local wild pigs, deer and monkeys, which are easily kept away by electric fences, whereas the birds are and always have been another story.
Years ago, in a paddy up above us, the owner - one of the more artistic farmers up here - used a regular scarecrowy approach, but his scarecrow was a straw-hatted samurai farmer wielding a bloody (bamboo) sword. As I recall, though the occasional passerby was startled into appreciating the farmer's artistic inventiveness and gory originality - especially around dusk - the unmoving samurai did not convince the birds, who seemed to enjoy the safety of their sword-wielding protector. Still, it has a place in scarecrow history.
The farmer I speak of today, however, has tossed all that derivative stuff and done what is the simplest, yet most harrowing thing I've ever seen in this regard-- he took two flexy mountain bamboo rods, stuck one end the ground at each corner of the open-sided edge of his paddy (these mountain paddies all shelf outward as the slope declines) and to the tip of each rod tied the smaller end of a long and unappealing necktie.
More than unappealing, actually. That waving fabric isn't just dull the way only ties can be dull, like plain brown, blue or grey ties, or even duller, like striped school/political ties, or garishly hand-painted ties like from the 30s, or a broad yellow-and-red paisley tie like I used to wear to get out of having to wear a tie altogether; those are really nothing more than just bad ties. These I speak of are ties that Stephen King might write a bestselling horror novel about, if he lived around here. They'd be right at home in Misery. They seem to be working, too, for there are no birds around that paddy anymore; it has had an aura of eerie silence ever since the wind began to wave the threat of neckwear before local birdlife.
The ornate fashion items seem to be functioning like a force field of some kind, for beyond their flailing reach the sparrows are happily nibbling at the rich riceheads dangling over the identical edges of the neighboring tie-less paddies, though not one of the little rice thieves has drifted anywhere near those grasping neck pendants waving emetically in the breeze. The farmer who had owned the ominous ties must have been fully aware of their dark powers as he withdrew them from the depths of his closet to hang out in the elements where they could at least benefit him by repelling rice thieves.
How freely the birds dine at the neighboring paddies, as I say, only now and then glancing sideways to make sure that those narrow creatures of restraint are edging no nearer...
Now that I think of it I haven't seen any wild pigs around, either, and the deer are acting as strangely as the crows. Stephen, you can reach me at the email in the sidebar.
Born and raised in upstate New York, traveled for a decade after college, lived in various places around the world, keeping a journal. Settled in Kyoto in 1980, moved to this mountainside above Lake Biwa in 1995. Started Pure Land Mountain in April 2002.
Written and sidebar contents 2002~2015 copyright Robert Brady