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...
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.