Folks who don't heat with firewood can't really appreciate all that goes into that bit of sunshine in your winter wood stove, they might think maybe it's easy just because it's free (at least mostly free, the way I do it), but there are other burdens that come with the erratic supply of gleaned firewood such as I use. There's really no need to mention here the sectioning and hauling and splitting and hauling and stacking and hauling and burning and hauling and hauling and hauling, but I already did so it's too late.
Take 2: Say you've got four or five cords of firewood crowding out there in various locations around your house, wood from various periods of time in the past couple years, some of it stoveready, some not, but you've run out of stacking space and have just been given access to a whole new multicord bunch of bigwood to be split and stacked so it will dry by the time you need it two or three winters from now, so you've got to put it somewhere but you can't stack new green wood on top of fully or nearly ready wood, so you've got to walk around, analyze your stacks, ponder the weather and your wood supply, juggling disparate concepts sort of like Einstein used to do with various other aspects of the universe while wandering his theoretical woodlot.
With these sylvan symbols as well, like Albert you've got to somehow bend time and space by combining a couple of nearly ready pieces of embodied light, i.e., photons+alpha = wood, into one taller stack, thereby clearing a place for the new incoming atomic structures. Then when winter comes, in the heart of your stove you unleash the energy of those atoms in the welcome form of heat while freeing up some space outside, thereby establishing a direct link between time, space and firewood, but right now you have to match the mix of new and old.
Fortunately, last year you began to denote all this data in numerical symbols on the end face of one piece of wood at the top of each stack, but unfortunately as the universe would have it the newest wood always seeks the top of the stack, so to get at the older wood you have to go to the bottom, by for example turning the whole stack over, which is cosmically impractical (Albert, working in complete abstraction, had it easier in this regard), and practicality is what we're talking about here, so this approach needs work. Al's work led to atomic fissioning and nuclear power, which here in Japan has a bigly negative historic reputation but is still used in winter to power electric heaters, blu-rays, plasma tvs and game consoles, among other things.
Whatever time you live in, it seems that there are always some folks looking forward to the end of the world, folks who might have done better with the world they were given than to wind up with a headful of Armageddon. Those are the kind of folks who for example promote and look forward to December 21, 2012, a year from today, when the Mayan calendar will end (only because there are no Mayans around to extend it). According to the eager Armageddans, that will also mark end the world. Then they can live out their dream of laughing a righteous 'I told you so!' as they too vaporize.
In contrast, the mellow folks whose lives are considerately guided by that diminishing commodity known as common sense keep trying to explain to the worldflamers that 2012 as a date in this context is no more portentous than May 21, 2011 was. Fact is that of course the Mayans didn't know any more than anyone else when the world is going to end.
When they founded their kingdom and were working out their way-admirable calendar, they said at the imperial calendar council 'What's a good time to start an undending dynasty? What do we need here? When shall we have begun?' After mulling over all the recollections of what some great-great grandfathers were said to have said, they reached that earliest edge of their history, settled on an arbitrary time point further back in the local-time fog (sidenote: place/time points with no physical record are historically/religiously favored for dynastic startups). So the guy in the third seat to the left of the chairman said '730 years ago or so would be good, that fits nicely, better than 200 years ago for sure,' so that's what they did. And that's why the world will end in a year precisely.
If you were to pluck the fulness of your being from the fastforward lightspeed staccato rush of the modern megamedia mindflash, your body from the hypermomentum tomorrownow timeplasma of urbaniamania, and in a fully mindbodied experience softly send yourself meandering down a narrow village road anywhere in rural Japan, sooner or later you'd likely come upon a sugidama (sugi: cedar; dama: ball) hanging outside the door of a local sake brewery. In your strange new state of mind you'd pretty likely whisper wtf?
Unlike the Vegas Strip, say, or one of those tv uzi-ads that repeat the product name at a pace set to induce monetary seizures, when sake is first set to brewing, in accordance with the traditional manner a ball made of freshly cut green cedar branches is hung outside the brewery door as a sign to the community that the new batch is now brewing. In the real world, which is local, this is important news. As the sake brews in its natural way as time passes in its natural way, the cedar ball ages in its natural way. As the ball dries out and turns more and more brown, the closer the sake is to completion, until at last the fully brown ball tells all the village and all who pass along the road that the sake brewed and sold here is now ready and available. Slow advertising.
Imagine that: months of fragrantly tantalizing tenterhook advertising, all without using even one microvolt of electricity. So natural. So elegant. So knowing - and knowing of so many things - a tacit knowing, in which all share. Without neon or billboard. Who now knows how long it takes for cedar branches to turn brown, and that that duration matches the time it takes for sake to become sake? Some elderly folks still know these things, in the small, emptying country towns...
THE WIND AND I: PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT THROUGH FIREWOOD
Hah. Figured I'd finally beaten the wind on this baby. The wind and I have always had a relationship problem, especially the autumn wind, the worst of the Aeolian clan vis-a-vis keeping the damn tarps on the damn ready-to-burn firewood dammit, those gusts and I not seeing eye-to-eye on this human continuity thing.
Don't get me wrong; I understand the needs of the wind, how it has to fulfill its basic mandate of leveling everything as fully and quickly as possible, there are mountains to be flattened and oceans to be shoved around, an endless list of worldwide tasks that must be done, yaggeda yaggeda, but counterposed against this are buildings and other pro tem human artifacts with precious values of their own, such as my humble stack of tarped firewood that must be protected from the elemental assignments to wet everything down, blow it away, reduce it to fungus fodder or whatever-- so I and the wind, among other of my natural relations, are always in each other's faces.
It was therefore with a smirk of satisfaction, I must say - after recovering the wind-tossed tarp from the bamboo forest behind my fresh new facecord of first-class firewood for what I guess must be the xumpteenth time in the last few years - that I came up with the idea of tying some strong traditional cord to the grommets of one tarp corner, threading it through the stack of firewood itself, then tying it taut to the grommets on the opposite corner. Hah. Bite on that, windhead.
That should do it, I thought in that hubris for which humans are famed (which also sets us apart from the animals, though unlike sinning, speaking, toolmaking, blushing etc., it is seldom mentioned in that connection). That night, the wind knowing full well what was afoot, firewood tarpwise, did its damndest to rip that tarp off there. And when I went out in the morning to gloat, that activity was out of the question. The wind had blown strongly enough to cause the tarp and its loopy rope to actually lift and topple that portion of the woodpile! Crafty! Plus more muttery labor for yours truly. Our battle had reached new heights. So then I countered with a newer and even craftier approach, on which I may be reporting any day now.
But my real reason for writing all this was the treat I was afforded while all this redoing was going on, because you know how beautiful mountainsides and all their trees can be when they set their minds to it in the peak of autumn color? Well there was that, and on top of that there was a big, thick, glorious arc of light's components rainbowing from the top of the mountain down to the lake, and through that bow of many colors the leaves of all the trees were enhanced beyond the reach of speech...
I had to stop every once in a while (beauty will do that, thank heaven), amidst my irritation and hubristically driven efforts, to admit to myself that the beauty all around was so much more important than my meager doings, so much more nourishing and truthful than anything an angry or prideful person could ever come up with in a million years if we ever get that far, the way we're going, tarpwise.
So as a result of this experience I've grown a bit more in emotional terms, learned a few things about deeper personal issues, and am on a friendlier basis with the wind now for sure; it's a good wind, but no way it can get that damn tarp off this damn time dammit.
I started growing - or rather attempting to grow - hiratake mushrooms sort of as a lark, a few years ago, as detailed here. I'd found the spore on sale, had a few oak sections available, thought I'd give it a try but didn't expect much, given my experience with other sorts of exotic mushroom varieties; plus, being in sync with dozens of shiitake logs all over the place for all these years, these mushrooms would provide but a drop in the bucket, if indeed anything at all made it into the bucket.
So far I've learned that hiratake fruit just after the shiitake have finished, at least up here in this ecolocale, and even though I got some sterling hiratake last year, the oak sections soon looked like they'd been coopted by shelf fungi, so I had by degrees begun giving up on the hiratake agenda. Thus it was that I 'forgot' to check the logs under their cover of leaves, twigs and burlap.
Then a few days ago I entered the jungle of my garden and headed along the ancient path toward where legend had it that some old logs had been sequestered under forest debris, plus some older cover; upon exposing the logs, I found that one log had done nothing, as expected, but that the other had sprouted half-heartedly about a week before, so such mushrooms as there were were no longer prime, but even subprime hiratake are a gourmet experience, so we enjoyed them. But I figured that this year was the last gasp of an amateur effort. I had learned some stuff, and might try again with some other varieties, maybe get some a couple years down the road.
So I forgot once more about checking any further until a couple of days ago when I chanced upon familiar signs of an ancient mushroom tomb and decided, albeit pointlessly, to look once more, see if the other log had done anything. I pulled back the cover from the unproductive sections and saw there amidst the crumbly dun of the forest debris the most beautiful fronds of graduated pearl-gray mushrooms cascading down in lifeglowing perfection that I have ever seen.
No treasure hunter has ever felt more awe. Well, Indiana Jones might have come close for the first milliseconds of beholding that golden idol he had expected to find, but the gorgeousness of this natural radiance, shining there amidst the the dull matte of leaves, twigs, burlap and duff where nothing at all had been expected, I think puts me a few paces ahead of that intrepid movie character, plus there was no curse on my discovery. And as to the deliciousness, I got the better deal. Indiana can have the publicity.
One standby item I dig out faithfully every winter that unfortunate folks abroad in the West know little or nothing of, much to their necessarily unspoken disappointment (rife indeed are the disappointments we know not of) is my good old haramaki. Or maybe my fashionably new haramaki.
Yes, when the days grow short and the temperature falls, when the skin gets bumpy and the snuggle factor begins to rise, when the spirit with spring in its heart but winter in its teeth calls for some sort of cuddle, that's when I feel sorry for all those shivery folks in the developed world who have to crank up the central heating merely because they don't have a haramaki handy.
I truly hope that doesn't include such a thinking person as yourself. And when you think about it, what better place to maki (wrap) than the hara (roughly: abdomen)? The ancient orientals knew all about these things. Long before infrared was made visible, they knew that major quantities of body heat were lost from the uncovered, or even conventionally clothed, hara.
A brief look at your handy anatomical model will confirm this. Note where the ribs end, and where the major organs are as a result exposed and essentially unprotected, sheltered from the world only by a smattering of muscle and a layer of skin. Shivering liver!! Icy bladder!! Snowy pancreas!! Chattering kidneys!! Frozen colon!!
And if you look closely at any of those ancient twelve-foot tall Japanese temple guardians, you'll see that the very center of their dynamic energy, the root of their ki, is the hara, firmly outthrust, and centered with a navel that looks like the satellite image of a typhoon (how well they understood the unity of energy in those days!).
Needless to say, the haramaki soon becomes an essential element of one's winter clothing here in the historically energy-conscious orient, where central heating is not yet the norm and you can go into any general store and get yourself a haramaki of cotton, wool or silk, even a self-heating haramaki, if you're of that persuasion, and lower your heating bills.
In the deeps of winter I sometimes think that perhaps Japan should organize some kind of relief effort and send haramaki out into the developed world to relieve the tremendous suffering caused by crushing monthly energy bills to heat an entire house when you only need to heat the occupant, but then I realize that the Japanese themselves are slowly but surely slipping out of life itself and into the intensive care of central heating, and I think maybe I should stock up on haramaki while they're still available.
On the other hand, though, with the big oil price rises looming incrementally the further we get down the centrally heated billion-lane expressway that is tomorrow, I think the haramaki could one day be, worldwide, the ideal form of central heating.
I suppose as one gets older there's an increasing tendency to get a bit more scroogey as the humbuggy holidays approach, it must have something to do with age and a greater understanding of the value of time or something - there aren't many teen scrooges that I know of - and even though I don't feel all that humbuggish for my age, I may have been scroogey a few times in recent years, especially around the holidays, though such topics make one evasive about the stats. Anyway, this was all more or less true until last Friday morning.
I had come home late the night before and fallen right into bed, having forgotten that the Trio of Brio were staying the night. I'd gotten up before 6 am and was doing some work on the computer, so engrossed in my task in the dawn silence that I continued in forgetment, until all at once the bedroom door to the loft opened and three little sleepyfaced girls came out with rumply pajamas and tousled hair, cute beyond the reaches of that word. Rubbing their eyes, they gathered around me where I sat and all at once began singing Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, for yes it was my birthday - I'd forgotten that too - and the early morning chill all at once became warm, as these three barefoot little angels turned humbug around on a pinpoint and made it sunshine. It was a touching scene, both inside and out.
So now for the rest of my life if for some reason I happen to get a scroogey twist in my psychoshorts, all I have to do is picture those sleepy, loving little faces singing to me in their really early morning celebration of my long-ago birth and I love everything about this crazy world.
Left pretty much on its own the garden has gone autumn-wild and punky looking, the marigolds taking over where the tomatoes used to be, the peppers going wild with fecundity. The cucumber and goya vines have withered, the only structures now remaining are the unexpectedly graceful ad hoc architectures of bamboo that once balanced reaching festoons of green and yellow but now stand without purpose. Before it snows I shall turn all that into next year's compost, apart from the marigolds.
Surprisingly, the monkeys have left my 6-week-old shallots untouched! I can't really convey the surprise in this, those green fronds are so succulent and simian-vulnerable. It's a you-had-to-be-here-for-15-years kind of thing. There they are, my happy green sprouts growing unmolested by simian hands for all this time. Either there has been major monkey culling of some kind or the redfaced gang is planning a large operation. It's been suspiciously quiet.
Gardening will get you through times of no marijuana better than marijuana will get you through times of no gardening, apart from the hallucinatory aspects, unless you're growing the weed itself (a topic for another time), to which by the way I am not opposed, though marijuana has never been my drug of choice, which is any kind of pie in season.
I also endorse the weed's use under circumstances of wisdom seldom observed nowadays, particularly in politics and finance, which aspect might interest any young persons who happened to read this without zoning out at the logical and grammatic challenges embodied in some of these sentences, education (another form of gardening) also being what it is today.
Implicit in this pastoral metaphor of course is that knowledge is the seed, the educator is the farmer and the student is the soil, which seems apt enough... Seeds are what they are, but basic educators today are overworked and students are underchallenged. The knowledge is there and vital; we need many more and justly compensated teachers who love to 'garden,' and hungry students rich in compost...
I've learned a lot of things from stones, both from building with them and from butting my head against their walls, the latter when I was mostly younger and stone walls were largely metaphorical. The main thing I've learned is that the process of building with stone is that of the Socratic dialog, with me as student and stones as teacher.
Stones do the Socratic thing well; they have infinite patience, impeccable honesty and know their stuff right down to the ground. You can trust a stone completely; a stone will never lie. So if you listen with care, and don’t mind a few of the pinched fingers and bruised toes that are the price of stony knowledge, the stones and the wall will show you in true Socratic fashion that you already know how to build a stone wall.
I seek to build it one way, and in learning I cannot do it that way (the rocks will not stand for it, they have their scruples and are not constrained by logic; they understand a much greater fundamental than we humans do), I learn some small thing that only rocks can teach, a kind of stony grammar, a petrosyntax. I focus on that and build... no, that will not do either; that is not the whole of the thing, only a part. Rocks know it cannot all be learned at once, and wisely do not crowd me with knowledge. But with that part I go on, and try again, and fail again, but when, after a week away I come back to the task, I find I have learned another little bit that is part of me, part of what I know about stones and stone walls, part of what stones in their limitless patience embody. With that I go on again, begin to build, and fail again, learn another thing. So it goes on, as bit by bit what I learn rises up like a stone wall. And when that wall is at last all learned, it is but a slight step to build the wall itself.
If I want a wall that is a stone poem in stone syntax, I must learn the bit-by-bit stones teach me until at last I have a stone wall, not a book wall, not a Bob wall. The finest mortar for a stone wall, therefore, is patience in the builder, blended with integrity. No integrity in the builder, no integrity in the wall.
But the bigger lesson comes later, when the wall is standing at last and you go off into the world filled with the realization that this dialectic pertains to everything you do: that any worthy effort is a dialog, that wisdom is a living thing, not frozen in time, not a doctrine or a dogma, not a monument, not a library, not a printed book or etherpage, and that you are born with wisdom ready and waiting to be known to you.
What does living wisdom tell us? Among other things, that the solution is where the problems are: in ourselves. Loss of beauty, true beauty, within and without our lives, is the sign, the lesson, the indication, the marker of our deviation from the living wisdom that comes from within ourselves.
Lack of contact with that wisdom lies at the heart of our problem, and if we continue in our current way we are ended: the real thing won’t stand for it. Existence must be a dialog with the present, as the living, thinking person is taught by any art, any worthy endeavor. You are instructed and guided by the very task, the very ongoing. You are taught the true way most truly only by traveling it, not by standing still and listening to others tell you the way, or by looking at an old map of where others have gone. The way is vast, greater far than we are, and it will prevail, no matter how we treat it or view it. We either go as it goes or the walls we have built will collapse upon us.
And as there is living wisdom, so there is dead wisdom. Dead wisdom obviates dialog by saying: "Do it this way because we have always done it this way." Dead wisdom souls a dead society. Living wisdom, on the other hand, like all that is ongoing, is always and ever new. Living wisdom is green, the green of grass, the green of leaf, green of the living layer beneath the bark of a tree. It is the green of youth and hope in hearts that are alive.
We don't have porcupines here in Japan, but absence has never prevented wondering...
If evolution advances by sheer chance and mutation, how is it that apes never had feathers? What ape would not have loved to fly, given half the chance (though in a way it did come about featherlessly, after a descendant had learned to talk)? One or two early simians might have tried feathers along the way but it didn't work out. Apes in lighter gravities likely do fly, somewhere in one universe or another but there've never been any ape-birds on this planet... Look at the simians trying even now, up there in the treetops, thank Evo they at least have those tails, though not the Japanese monkeys, who need no tails, being more interested in purloining potatoes, far as I can see...
No creature ever got something because they needed it, but because it just happened to open the door to a nearby niche that still had elbow room. Need is teleological; evolution isn't. Purpose has no place there. Evolution has no preference or intention; it allows new tries, rewards success with another chance, like Vegas rewards winners. For a time. Of course if you keep on playing,,, Above the trees there is no niche for apes, other than clothed descendants in aircraft.
Another thing: why are there no slightly airborne porcupines? Those spiny rodents might very well have preferred featherment to some degree, if given the choice - clearly they tried and succeeded part way, but at some point said Hey, these quills alone are good-- possibly even better, given the animals' current milieu and ambitions, though they might have enjoyed flying around, even if only slightly above the ground, instead of halfheartedly waddling quillfully along, surrendering their near-feathers to predators' noses and just chewing on stuff right there on the ground. So close to feathers, yet so far from airborne, living symbols of hope...
And just because porcupines still can't run fast enough or at all, to maybe jump-start the aerodynamic feedback, is that their fault? I thought we all had a chance in the long run... With their sudden protofeathers they had no need to run; is that a rule of evolution, that once you no longer need to flee, you're never gonna fly? Evolution is even more disappointing now than when I was a teenager...
Those running dinosaurs that in time did develop feathers, and precisely where feathers were needed (as compared to the divertive attempt by porcupines) - there are no dinosaur fossils with feathers coming out of their noses - and that grew in just the right ways (compared to the infinity of wrong ways) to be the feathers that increasingly enabled smaller dinosaurs to fly, to the point that flight pretty much characterizes dinosaur lives nowadays: how did they do that? What made them so special? How did the whatever know the wherever for growing feathers? Why not quills into feathers? They're not that far apart: feathers have quills, and clearly the porcupines tried to grow something! For eons! What have the snakes done? And the other reptiles? Nothing! Some scales, coupla scary colors and a little venom is all they could come up with, also obviating the necessity for fleeing (syn. "flight," btw).
Plus, porcupines can yearn as much as lizards can, maybe even more; also they're warm-blooded mammals, definitely endorsed by the big E! So where are all the even slightly airborne porcupines? I think some other kind of feedback's been going on here all along - something so unscientific that no scientist would ever notice - on the inner end of the process that receives the feedback and tweaks accordingly... some kind of tweakolution, as invisible and beyond defining as beauty... Quills per se no good for moving air... so broaden them, lighten, minimize for aerodynamic lift and insulation... grow porcupine wings... See to lighter bones as well, and various beaks... try different colorings than plain old dun... Try some porcupine warbling in response to the porcupine joy of evolutionarily advanced aerodynamic success...
And in a tangentially similar vein, why should a bright red frog mean Don't Eat Me? Early post-Columbus Eurofolks thought tomatoes were poisonous, but now the bright red fruits are eaten everywhere, with no means of escape. And apples. Will apples ever fly? So far they've only mastered falling, thereby famously inspiring a pre-Darwinian speaking animal as to the nature of downness.
I've written before about the the dawning of fogeyhood, the slow tickytocky process of becoming the old coot you used to hate as a kid and how to avoid it, although some parts of said becomance are spot on; smart-ass apple-stealing punks must be put in their place before they get too far along on the road to full-fledged codgerdom.
Back when I wasn't too much younger than I am now even though it was about 60 years ago, the words codger, curmudgeon, grump, coot, geezer and galoot were a few of the words we codger-fledglings used to use to describe folks who were about the age I am now... I and my less conservative contemporaries, however, are none of the above, a representative selection from a nomenclature used by earlier generations who in fact perfectly became the codgers, curmudgeons, grumps, coots, geezers and galoots of yesteryear, as crisply evidenced by my memory.
We of this new group have, at the dawn of this new millennium, evolved into a new generation, what one might call ultrageezers, neocodgers, ubergaloots, for lack of precise terminology. The actual term for what we are has not yet been coined, but I'm waiting, I'll know it when I hear it, and since I seem to be the only one paying any attention to this curmudgeon gap, and hence the only one looking to fill it, I may just coin the damn thing myself.
For now I'll just go with ultrageezer or neocodger. No, maybe ubergaloot. No. I'm not gonna go sit on the porch and try not to forget about this, like one of the those real old codgers of the past would do, I'm gonna go sit on the deck and keep a sharp eye on those etymological apples.
Up at dawn this morning in a cloudy light, awakened by an odd crunching sound outside that had an inviting succulence to it, like a horse eating a bunch of carrots beneath my bedroom window. I got up and looked out into the dimness and there saw the ghostly shape of the Baron, enjoying a late banquet of the chestnuts that now litter the ground, he having pretty much finished all the acorns.
He would nuzzle around among the spiky hulls, his rack of tines waving in the air, until he found a free chestnut and gobbled it up, then he'd stand stock still savoring the sweetness, crunching the nut hull and all, eyes half closed with the ecstasy, zoning out every bit as deeply as I would over a big chunk of chocolate or cheesecake or apple pie let's not go there, let's get back to the Baron standing lost in the flavors of the mist, his fine antler tines all well sharpened against the tines of fellow suitors that now and then wander into in the Baronetcy as I hear now and then in the clacking of head swords up in the forest.
What puzzles me, though, now that this year the chestnut harvest has sort of slipped by us humans unnoticed in the rain and workdays, is why the bears don't come and get it, given the abundance of acorns and chestnuts we have here. I hear a lot lately about country folks all over Japan being hassled by bears whose natural diet of wild acorns and chestnuts has been seriously diminished by unfavorable weather, so there's frequent news of bears wandering into human habitats like mine for acorns and chestnuts...
The Baron may be noble, but royalty has no value in the wild, than which nothing is truer...
Somehow this brings to mind the happenings on Wall Street...
The other day Echo was telling me that when you get up in the morning it is beneficial to the health to say OHAIYO GOZAIMASU!! (GOOD MORNING!!) or OSU!! (MORNIN'!!) loudly and deeply from the hara as the monks and the martial arts students do, as being stimulative to that primal source of ki (spirit energy) for the entire being, and I could not but agree, with the proviso that on certain mornings, such as Mondays, there is no particular reason to get all that excited or pepped up about anything, that's life, give it a rest.
Then later as I was whistling my way through a task or two as has been my wont for my entire life (well, ever since I first managed to whistle and didn't want to stop, from then on polishing my whistle to its whistliest), I realized that whistling whenever a whistle is willing is also a very good thing for the hara and the general mood of oneself, and possibly of others, if one is a good whistler. Extending this thought over to the cultural realms, I came to realize that no one ever whistles here in Japan, I am usually the only one doing so in the silent crowd, for which I am now and then likely looked upon as being a bit daffy, but as a traveling whistler through multiple cultures, I don't mind at all.
Whistlers usually don't mind at all-- it evolves in their natures, whistling being somewhat of an absently showoffy thing, when done right. That's another of the powers whistling bestows upon the whistle-blessed. In the States, especially when I was a kid, I used to hear folks (by 'folks' I mean men in this case, and politically correctly; women never whistled, except while they were little girls trying out new stuff, or later maybe in private, and that still seems to be true) whistling all the time: garage mechanics, mailmen, milkmen, paperboys, even guys just walking alone down the street with no particular objective (whistlers are right at home without objectives); I have never seen such a thing in Japan, even among foreigners.
I suppose that whistling, wherever it is done in earnest, is thought of as such a solitary endeavor that one doesn't seek it in others, listen for it or even think about it: it is just a matter of tuneful happenstance, unlike attending a performance by the New York Philharmonic, for example.
But whistling is a sure sign of contentment, of essential comfort, of the primal joy that can be found in simply being from top to bottom, adorned only by the curlicues of a whistle that dances upon the air like birdsong from the treetops of our souls, a song to sound out to your footsteps or the tool of your labor, even if the tune is one of the old standards, played on the instrument you always have with you.
Of course you can compose your own melodies ad libitum if you're of such a mind, as most whistlers are. That's another of those great unsung pleasures. And if you can't whistle, then you can get a flute or a recorder or a penny whistle or a harmonica and bring your music into the world wherever you go. You can give birth all your life, you know.
The garden is turning brown, the once-taller-than-me tomato plants that were toppled by the hurricanes are ripening the last of their fruit near the ground and the cukes have called it quits; only the shisso is reseeding, and best left alone.
So on mornings like this I get to just stand out here in the prime of the sun and gaze along the light upon the Lake, enjoying the deeper purpose of eyes, savoring the air from the breath of mountains, Lake and distant ocean, an atmosphere rich with all that muse food...
Some old thoughts at once come down unbidden from the mind's attic, about Hiroshige spending artistic time around here centuries ago in pursuit of reality's details, hungry for sights he could capture somehow, get world into woodblock as best he could, and there before my eyes on this autumn morning was that ancient sight, one of the very things I'd first marveled at in those revered pictures.
The Lake on an early autumn morning, glittering with silver in a light-chill breeze, and on the Lake the islands, along the Lake arising the edges of mountains and reeded shores; and there, like the cream of light, somehow settled at the unknown junction between aboveness and belowness, as though each was ever turning into the other behind the mysterious veil of changes, that edgeless layer of vapor the color of washipaper that I'd always thought was an artist's trick to avoid detail, as in the golden clouds that always roil among various key scenes of historic battles on painted screens-- but it was true: that layer really is there at this time of year. Hiroshige must have been here and seen that veil of light on one or more autumn mornings a few centuries ago, and stood there wondering: Could I reproduce that on paper with shades of ink and blocks of wood?
And so he did, in another part of time that is still here.
The other day I was enjoying a bit of pumpkin at lunch - Echo makes a nice dish of plain steamed pumpkin cubes with various additions that go great with just about anything-- tasty, sweet, rich in all sorts of noots, long shelf-life etc. While savoring the experience, I got to thinking for about the 9,463rd time why Americans don't eat pumpkins straight as a vegetable, over there in the land of 600lb pumpkins they don't know what to do with other than carve into jack-o-lanterns in the autumn of every year or have biggest-pumpkin-in-the-county contests for the gourd that symbolizes Thanksgiving. Which is admirable enough, but why isn't the pumpkin used as food? Why are pumpkins so looked down upon in America? That splendid squash, standing proud and golden right next to the turkey, symbolizing Thanksgiving for plenty in difficult times! What has happened to that rep ever since?
They do put some pumpkin in cans, to use later for pies at other times of the year, when folks want pumpkin pie, if there really are any such times, but just go and look in any US cookbook for some pumpkin recipes and that’s basically it: pumpkin pie and pumpkin puree, muffins, bread, cookies, which like the few other recipes are basically a way of disguising pumpkins.
Even when I stayed with my frugal aunt and uncle on their country farm where they grew and ate turnips, parsnips, squashes, beets, pumpkins too, even ate turnip greens and rutabagas, but never pumpkin, other than as pie. Strange, no? All that food just tossed... to the pigs of course. Pigs love pumpkins, supreme truffle-finding gourmets that they are. Here in Japan there is no Thanksgiving day, which is nice because this way we get to eat pumpkin whenever we want, since it's grown all the time because folks here love pumpkin as a food and do not look down upon it as some cultures do without knowing why.
In Japan the main food pumpkin, comparatively less eye-appealing than the shunned US variety, is a smallish, green, rough-skinned pumpkin that is golden inside, much like the US pumpkin, sweet and soft like any squash when cooked, and I would guess somewhat the same texture and flavor, but there my comparison must go hungry, because I realize that never in the American portion of my life have I eaten any steamed pumpkin!
Why should this be? When I first came to Japan back in the early seventies and looked for brown rice, folks were aghast at the idea. Back in feudal Japan, when only aristocrats could afford white rice, and commoners had to eat brown rice, white rice became a status symbol, and so it remained even centuries later, even though brown rice was tastier and more nutritious. Does the US pumpkin historically have a white rice equivalent?
Speaking of the Baron, early yesterday morning before heading off to the grandies' undokai (of which more later, time and mind permitting) I was out in the garden for the first time since hurricane #15 (came right after #16!) to check things over, see what had grown and what had gone. I walked along the east side of the net fence to check the cucumbers, which hadn't fared too well, though most of them had hung in there; thence along the north side to check the goya, which had done well - very hardy against hurricanes, coming as these do from Okinawa - then, in all the massive nonchalance one carries effortlessly at such moments, I turned the corner to walk along the west side just as the multi-tined Baron stepped through my blueberry bushes to graze around my cherry tree and among my shiitake logs, when he saw me standing less than five meters away. I froze. He froze. We stood there staring at each other for about a year, both about the same height, but I without antlers.
He tried to work out what he was seeing here, on his turf, as I decided what I should be doing. No way I should run, since the Baron is the Ferrari of local animals. No way go inside the fence, where he could follow and we'd be contained together for quite an event. So I just started waving my arms and jumping up and down, shouting what I hoped was near-deer for Get out of my garden! He gazed at me with his big brown eyes for a quiet moment, deciding, then lowered those antlers and charged.
I had often wondered what would happen if he and I ever got close enough for no escape. But thought was not required now. As the Baron's hoofs pounded in my direction my body just turned and ran me faster than a parked Ferrari back along the North fence, me thinking his highness at least might not be able to make the turn so quickly, give me a microsecond in man-racing-irritated deer terms, then I'd quick-cut south along the fence for another length in which he'd gain fast... I turned my head to see how close those antlers were to the end of my days and -- there was no Baron!
I stopped to looked carefully, but he was nowhere about! Then I saw his antlers in the distance, disappearing up mountain into the undergrowth. He hadn't been charging, he'd been escaping by the fastest way possible, which had been toward me to get the quickest way around the cherry tree, then straight left upmountain away from this clearly unbalanced interloper. To cement the illusion I yelled righteous conquest stuff after him, like That’s right, you mushroom thief, you tomato eater, make tracks! And stay off my property!
Righteousness doesn't have to be absolutely right, necessarily.
While I was upstairs changing into my work clothes a few afternoons ago the Baron stopped by, elegant as you please, walked into my garden and started casually marking his territory on my territory, specifically on my momiji tree, in the corner between the blueberries and the compost. I think of garden and tree as mine in that way peculiar to humans, though the Baron knows better, as his attitude makes clear. Because in deer fact, the tree and what I call my territory comprise just a small part of his family's vast ancient holdings; they go way back in these parts, and he knows it. Facts are facts, are they not, whatever the species.
The Baron has a much bigger crown of antlers this year; he wielded them with impressive grace as he rubbed his head here and there along the multiple trunks of the low-branching tree as evidence of possession. At some point, though, he being near my vegetables, I felt I had to remind him that despite his pedigree and borderless familial heritage there were members of another species using this land who have priorities other than random forage and tree marking, but how do you just come right out and say such a thing to aristocracy with antlers.
At a loss for words, I opened the windows wide like glass wings spreading, then closed them again, then did the same again a few times, sort of being a giant butterfly, whatever that might mean to an antlered ruler, me whistling the while and making other sounds to remind him of the situation and act like I am larger than I am, which sometimes works with nobility, especially the wild kind. He paused and looked my way, trying to determine what was going on with those oddly transparent wingy things on the side of that big strange shape that the two-legged antlerless creatures have erected on this spot and go into and come out of ever since, all without his permission.
He thought for a deer while about what he was seeing and hearing, and deemed the situation an unwelcome perturbation. He casually turned, nose in the air, as nobility does in all cases, trotted back along the hedge, down the stone stairs and out onto the greater portion of his domain. The land wasn't going anywhere, as he well knew; nor was his well-marked momiji.
He paused outside the gate looking this way and that, in the certainty inherent to his lineage that all was well, by and large: he had marked his tree, he had made his point and it was sufficient; that was then, this is now. He turned upmountain, walked along the unnatural roadway for a bit until he came to a fully Baron-scented section of forest he enjoys, and became it.
"I love the wild not less than the good," said Henry, in the Higher Laws chapter of Walden, and "In wildness lies the preservation of the world." Henry was wild about wilderness, just couldn't stop talking about it one way or another, and who can blame him, he saw it disappearing.
But that was a long time ago, over 150 years now. The interesting thing is that even back then, when the wild must have still been pretty much all over the place, Henry was already condemning its decline, already lamenting the relentless incursion of the artifactual. His were admirable early sentiments, though they fell on mostly deaf ears in those times of righteous conviction in broadscale clearcutting of the greater soul. Walden wasn't a big success until the results of manifest destiny became manifest.
Despite that ongoing revelation, however, it seems we still haven't realized that the wild is more than just nature venues or camping grounds; in its fulness it is the counterpart, the balance, to the wild we carry in ourselves, in every cell and sinew of our bodies. Remove the wild from our outer lives and in our hearts and souls we suffer, our compass goes awry. All who still revere the wild know this, as Henry did; he recognized it as the greater part of the soul. So now, some 150 years later, where has it gone? Is it out on the lawn? On the hiking trail? In the Winnebago window, the satellite image, nature video, national park, endangered species, inner child, urban shaman, modern warrior, rabid zealot? Is it caught on the Net? Can it be seen with commuter eyes?
In our nowadays, with government keeping us anxious about government, business keeping us unbalanced and selling us the next step at apparent discount, the further we get from whatever wild there once was and the more we are isolated and channeled by the careers, fashions, incomes, appliances, habits, sciences, arts, rebellions, religions, schools of thought and mannered ways we think comprise us, the less we are the creatures of creation, one thrust of all the universe, and the more we are the static but remarkably lifelike exhibits in that big fancy museum of our own construction we call modern life.
Commensurately, the less informed we are by what is ever ongoing in the currents of the universe: the sun that is shining, tides that are flowing, moon rising, spiraling stars, galaxies whirling, blooms that are opening, seeds that are falling, scattering on all the winds and swelling with the rain; we are no longer fed by the wild, that in us is ferally fertile, and so do not germinate, let alone grow into what we were all engendered for, which is beyond dimension, in the seed of wildness.
On my way this morning to pick up the grandies for a day at the beach, I as I wended my slow way down the curvy mountain road from the upper unshorn rice paddies rich in rice stalks pendant with their weight of gold, on past the lower shorn rice fields still gleaming in the morning sun, the lines of stubble echoing the curves of the paddies like stitches on an ancient tapestry - halfway down there was a farmer harvesting, streaming his whole field of rice into the back of his truck - in between the eaches of it all I looked out over the Lake that was mostly Prussian blue, with long winding bands of dark sapphire and lapis layered in here and there all the way to the far shore, the entirety speckled with bright sailboats and motor boats, cruisers and yachts, one long white wake of a cigarette boat slashing along in a loud hurry to get out of all this beauty, as across the Lake the mountains rose in sun-stippled granite, above them in turn the way-higher mountains of alive white clouds tumbling upward, ending in the same sheer blue where the silver full moon lives, all below shimmering with the gold that streams from that early slant of the autumn sun... There is priceless information on a mountain road...
This morning after a long bout of weed-whacking I was standing by the deck railing cleaning off the debris from my work pants when I noticed a tiny tree frog, one of many that hang around the deck, with its nice smooth resting corners, angles affording excellent views of possible dangers and superior bug-hunting ambushes.
His greenness was hunkered atop a center railing, placidly gazing at the humungousness of me just a few inches from his nose, loudly whacking my hands on my pantlegs and shirtsleeves, debris flying all over the place, shirt-tails swinging about in big blueness, Greenie just sitting there like in a rockin chair on his porch with a stick of hay in his mouth, watching an eccentric neighbor go through his baffling motions, and it came to me that there is this odd relationship between me and these frogs--
Wherever I come upon them, whether they are atop the garden faucet, among the tomato leaves, on a shiitake log, here and there on the deck or inside the house, they seem to know that I mean them no harm, so they stay where they are, maybe squiggle about a bit to get a better look at what this consistently odd neighbor is doing beside this shiny tower that water sometimes comes out of, among these leafy plants where there are great bug feasts, amid these mushroom forests or all over this perfect froggy playground facility, and at this evidence of trust I always get a little warm feeling somewhere deep in the froggy regions where I don't go all that much, otherwise; there must be a tiny ancient place in the spirit where we can still experience amphibian friendships...
So here we all are, all 130 million or so of us living here in the big J, the entire country, all the prefectures bright red on the weather map, bright red meaning big-time torrential rains, carrying on with or lives as best we can beneath the vast rain muffin that comprises whatever number this typhoon is - already a bit early but maybe not, since it’s been a wet summer anyway hard to tell the difference but whats new, some kind of prepping for weirdness to follow.
The strange thing is, this typhoon doesn’t move -- it just sits there right on top of the country like Jabba the Hurricane, slithering wetly maybe ten feet a day toward China. It delayed the trains in Yamashina (one end of the Rashomon path) on Friday night and its still here on Sunday afternoon, will be here tomorrow and for who really knows how long thereafter, hanging around blocking the light, puffing a bit here and there, blowing some stuff around, looking into the windows like a big wet wild creature you shouldn’t have fed, now it’s gonna hang around and drench everything, bring down mountainsides, flood villages and cities, rain rain rain on everything, no exceptions.
It does produce bit of wind at times so it can earn the name Typhoon, it shows up round and whirly on the weather maps, has an eye at its center and all that, but. Even now it sits atop the mountains, the fog of its being slowly drifting down over our house toward the lowlands... I cleared the rain gutters this morning, and yesterday was out in the rain-blustery garden propping up the toppled tomatoes that were burying me in tangly wet dripping green, when I was just trying to save them, get them up there where they could catch the most sun, if they remember sun, if there still is such a thing that will ever reach the surface of the earth again if Jabba ever moves before all the green things just say the hell with this we’ll give it another try next year, maybe there’ll be sun at a new budding...
The rain arrives in the early night and comes down hard in the dark, all the louder for being unseen; after a time the air grows cooler as the rain drifts away on softer and softer notes, when from a tiny sound swells the insect chorus until it replaces the song of the rain that has gone, all those lives had been waiting out there to sing again into the dark, sing to each other each their own song, the same song we carry, in our own version, in ourselves, that we cannot always hear, but it is there-- we move to it even unknowing, responding in our light to the song of breathing, the song of heart beating, the song of walking, the song of loving, of dancing, we put them in our poems, we dance them to our moves, we sing them with our lives, or try to, when the rain has passed...
When I was a teenager I was often called a Neanderthal by Mr. Rapazzardi, who generally sat on his front stoop keeping an eye on that nice front lawn of his that I used as a shortcut. For my part, I felt that Mr. Rapazzardi was the Neanderthal. Turns out we were both right.
Later, in my college years, I smirked at the academic puzzlement over whether or not the noble Cro-Magnon, crafter of superb arrowheads, pure high-browed ancestor of those strong-jawed subjects of highest nobility, known as "us," had ever, ever deigned to couple with the bestial, low-browed hairy chipper of nothing but hand axes: the Neanderthals next door! I smirked because, well, I was in a fraternity; we were much closer to how reality actually worked.
So all these decades later I was not shocked when the scientists announced that, like all non-Africans, I am part Neanderthal, and so was Mr. Rapazzardi. There have always been certain ancient cave-dwelling propensities, have there not, certain primal feelings in taking a risk, hefting a stone, sighting a wild animal, gathering around a fire, spotting an untrod lawn...
So what does this mean for us modern human folk, this Neanderthal quality so many of us share, even without reference to certain reality tv programming? It could explain some major anomalies, such as creationists, Wall Street financiers and certain folksy politicians, who are torn between the progressive abilities of one ancestral line and the inviting stolidity of the other, between malignant greed and staunch integrity, complexity, simplicity, pride, humility, the list can be found in any "holy" book, whichever from wherever. Familiar mixes that are especially stressful to politicians and financiers, for example, who as a way of life must appear one way while acting the opposite.
No real need at this point in these exciting revelations to mention that I am also very likely a descendant of King Tut, who was probably also part Neanderthal, as are you, maybe you have the Tut part too, all of which means more to me, such as it is, than the Adam and Eve agenda I was heir to, but there you are-- people are impressionable are they not, yearning as they do for admittedly mythical roots, even as they carry the actuals in their very genes, with far more lineage than any mere king.
So now, thanks to science, we mongrels can at last perhaps begin admitting who we all really are, begin finding, studying, facing and accepting the many gifts and glitches we have inherited from the Cro-Magnons, Neanderthals and Denisovans, among all our uncounted forebears - including King Tut, where applicable - and so get past the dark sides of politics, finance, other bipolar activities and evolve at last into the beings that have been trying for so long to be.
Here and there in the grains of the photos that remain from that time you can see the blurred outline of a person, sometimes with a child or even two, walking where the way was once familiar, but that now was the bottom of an incinerator the size of their city, that still burned through them even as they walked, perhaps to escape the heat of all the nothing that remained...
At other places in the mass of the ashes of a hundred thousand lives turned into wind and rain you can make out the speck of another one still living, bent over searching, sifting in vain through blackened flakes of what once was life, once a place of daily living, where now nothing stood, where all was flat and dark, dust and fragments of death...
After the fires died, first they came seeking their loved ones, one mother searching for her daughter who that morning had gone into town early so she could pay the rent on her way to work, but the mother never found her daughter...
That mother and all the others - fathers, sisters, sons, daughters and brothers, wandered for days, weeks, the rest of their lives in their hearts in those ashes of a city of families, passing by in their dreams those passengers on the train who were charcoal statues in their seats, or those still just alive who wandered also, in search of death that waited not far away, or the ones who had left those instant white shadows on the darkened stone of the bridge or building where they'd joined the unseeable light...
All of it on that August morning-- every ash of bone, every unheard scream, every sear of pain or cry for love, every tear of life, every atom of vapor that had been a person, all of it, is in our voices now...
No, not that Goya, the big-G Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, the renowned Spaniard who painted such works as The Third of May 1808 or Saturn Devouring His Son and who sadly never in life tasted the small-g goya that is this ramble's subject, also called the bitter melon, which originated somewhere in the tropics, has long been enjoyed throughout Asia, Africa and the Caribbean and could, I don't see why not, also be grown and enjoyed in the USA but isn't yet, as far as I know.
Now that we're past that bizarre but subjectively necessary opening sentence I can get right to the topic at hand, the wondrous goya. I first tasted that crisp and uniquely astringent fruit (the bitterest on the planet, Wiki says) on Okinawa in the early 1960s. After leaving Okinawa I didn't have goya again for decades, since it was then unknown and ungrown in the USA. Even when I came back to Japan, the wonderful veg was unavailable in central Japanese supermarkets until a few years ago, but by then I was growing my own. It's one of those produce items that has to grow from low-class food to high cuisine.
The reason I'm rambling about this now is because on Saturday, after two non-gardening days spent in the big city where little grows, I found that those many little tiny baby cucumber-sized goya had, in the two rainless days since, grown to include 4 full-sized gourds hanging there in hefty beauty. Goya don't fool around when it comes to growth and prolificity, they don't sometimes curl up to hide behind leaves and try to avoid being seen, like cucumbers do, they just hang there on their strong vines, heavy and straight down, saying Here! Here I am! I'm ready, pick me! Went out again this morning and among the 2 dozen or so small to midsizers yet on their way to maturity, 4 more had grown to size overnight! For just a few seeds and a high vine-climbable surface with southern exposure, you can have them all! Fresh! And tasty! And property/action rich!
Because I put up the high net fence (ca 3 meters) (and thereby tripled my growing area!) I began to grow climbers there-- cucumbers, pumpkins, climbing squashes, runner beans -- cukes love getting up so high, waving their tendrils around to bring their bright yellow blossoms even higher, but the goya has a special wild viney quality about it, it grows left and right and up and down, covering the whole surface. This year I planted just two plants, about two meters apart, at the foot of the northern wall, and those two alone cover the entire wall and beyond (one vine reached out and got into the chestnut tree!) with palm-sized translucent jade green leaves, here and there a butter-yellow blossom that more often than not turns into a tiny greening gourd that grows like blazes; this morning I harvested four of the biggest ones (well over a foot long; they biggen fast, the biggerer the bitterer). Now there are about two dozen of all sizes remaining, with about 6 weeks of growing time left to go!
The bitter melon is also a beautiful plant. Hardy as well, once it gets going. And the gourds. Crunchy, nice bitterness, they don't dissolve into a mush, great in salads, stir fries, tempura etc. I bet Western chefs are about to come out with some great new goya discoveries. As for the health aspects, the bitter melon is pretty miraculous; Dr. Wiel praises goya too, it is a wondrous health veg full of salubrious goodies yet to be detailed, or even discovered!
Bill was an eclectic guy, he mentioned slings and caldrons, hawks and bodkins, arrows and handsaws, everyday tools and devices all over the place, whenever they fit a niche in one of his plot structures, but as far as bootjacks go, despite their undeniable convenience he never mentions them even once, as far as I know. And there’s a reason for this; it came to me in my genkan a few days ago, which I'll get to in a moment.
Fact is - to stay off the main track for a bit the way Bill often did, though in his case for dramatic purposes, I'm just rambling - Bill was a borrower as far as plots went, so he had to go with what was at hand; still, to never even once mention a bootjack... He himself had a bootjack, if he had boots (and who didn't, back then?), and if he wasn't a noble-- they had their own living vassally hands-on Jack-of-boots, who gave the device its name.
And if you have a bootjack, despite its well-worn humility you know how much it means to you, bringing such ease and decorum to an inelegant task; same for Bill, yet he never mentioned a bootjack, never let it strut it its moment upon the stage, never made it a star, never gave it a bit of well-deserved fame; why might that be? I here hypothesize for the first time in history that it was because, despite his broad reading and deep familiarity with travelers' tales, Bill himself never really got around much. (Who had the time, wazoo shows a week, and writing them, too!) No, he never really got international, deeply intercultural, but mainly he never lived in Japan, which is why he never saw the bootjack for what it was.
These kinds of realizations come to one here in the Orient, particularly Japan, as happened to me one evening a couple of weeks ago when, as I returned from work the Trio of Brio was waiting to rush me at the genkan, where in Japan you take off your shoes before entering the house. I was not realizing anything of bootjack level at the time, it was just genkan city, plain and simple.
Where they stood on the floor-edge of the genkan, the girls were poised to pounce as soon as I slipped off my shoes (as 99.9999% of Japanese persons do, upon returning home). I, however was wearing a pair of rodeo boots I got in New Mexico some years ago, and did not simply slip off my footwear and step up onto the floor; rather, I bent way over...? reached under the shoe cabinet (there's one in every genkan)...?? and pulled out my old and trusty...? bootjack?!
The effect upon the vibrant Trio was like pulling the plug on a house-sized generator: a large and deep silence descended as they gazed wide-eyed upon this object from another reality, this long piece of looked like wood, of alien shape, with a wedge cut for some reason into the wide end, whose edges were trimmed with soft leather-- and underneath there was a single cushioned stub jutting out at an odd angle...
I stood there with the exoplanetary device in my hand, tilting it this way and that, like the steering wand of a spaceship, so that those young and hungry eyes could view it from all angles; I turned it over slowly in educational silence so they could study it. Then I handed it to them, so they could examine it closely, in detail, and determine... no, this did not seem to help; proximity did not clear their eyes of the mystery that was there. Sharp senses and hungry minds were not providing an answer. The purpose of a bootjack does not come easily to one who has been raised in a historically bootless culture.
Six wide and puzzled eyes looked at me for the answer: What was this thing? What was I doing instead of just taking off my shoes like everybody else does? What was the point of this theater? (Bill slipped into thought at this point.) Six eyes went from me to this piece of wood, then back to me, back and forth, looking for answers.
As Bill has demonstrated so well with his many characters, like Hamlet (who could never decide whether or not to bother using his bootjack) and Lady MacBeth (who bootjacked daily, offstage), plus Rosencranz and his buddy, coming and going (rabid bootjackers), timing is everything. The tension built... the audience of big brown eyes looked at me; I turned the object slowly, then suddenly dropped it on the floor! Hooked my right bootheel into the wedge, placed my left foot atop the wooden slab, pulled my right leg upward, and-- VOILA! A boot was standing there empty of my foot, which now stood bootlessly elsewhere!
Amazement filled the genkan. There was a loud and multivoiced kiddy version of all those adult shockwords that were frequently given voice during Bill's presentations at the Globe... Whoa!! What the ***? How the ***? and so forth, in this case followed by Lemme see that, I wanna try that, Can I do that! Me too! And so for the next 15 minutes the little stage that is the genkan was crowded with auditioners, trying on all the boots of all the kinds in all the genkan, shoes too, just to see how that went, and now all three understand and are greatly impressed with this radical new concept and cultural item from the Occident (a place Far East of here), called a "bootjack." Some day it will find a place in their plays, I'm sure.
If only the same thing could have happened to Bill when he was a kid...
PURE LAND MOUNTAIN SUMMER DAYS: Season 10, episode 42
Headed out for the cherry tree his morning to add some kitchen garbage to the compost pile that is currently nourishing the cherry tree, the Baron, his harem and his offspring, plus the smaller herbivores (no meat added, other than occasional fish bones), who all make good use of the leavings and add their share, leveling it all out with their rooting searches (likely the occasional wild pig too, though I've never seen one there). Crows and other birds also find goodies in the pile now and then, the crows being particularly fond of the rare pineapple crown, which they pick utterly clean; watermelon rinds are also a summer favorite.
When I went out there this morning, though, my approach prompted a big WHOA!, as a cloud of semi (cicadas) burst into flight all around me. (Some time when you've got a minute in your good pants, just try frantically dodging chunky buzzing lifeforms while carrying a dodgy load of drippy compost.) The semi had been convening not at the base of the oak, the chestnut, the other cherries or the cedars, but that particular cherry tree. The compost therefore must have been of some attraction for them, though it couldn't have been as food, since semi are the ultimate fasters, being mouthless and so not taking a single bite in their entire lives (Do not try the New Semi Diet!), staying alive in this form not being their purpose, their actual lives - such as we call life - being spent underground as larvae, in which lightless phase they get to be teenagers, yearwise; the rest comes later in the aboveground semi part that we're familiar with, a sort of pre-heaven for them, a quick agenda to perpetuate the race, leaving their lifeless husks lying around afterward, in some ways like the human teen age, though without the junkfood.
As I approached, the semi hadn't yet begun their daily waaa-waaa-waaa chorus, and were silent apart from the perennial morning background music to this unsponsored reality show tacitly titled Pure Land Mountain: Summer Days (audience too low for rating), which thankfully has nevertheless had quite a long run. This familiar buzz and hum was why I approached without knowing any creature was there. There was just a low busyness all around, as at a human conference. It certainly appeared that the semi were having some sort of convention, so many of them together, and as I neared their venue they began bursting away from the base of the tree in roaring sporadic dozens, zooming past my head WHOOM! WHOOM! WHOOM! as they took off, rudely interrupted, perhaps in the midst of some kind of mating meeting, an insect orgy, my sudden presence thus causing countless coitus interrupti. I couldn't tell exactly, but that is what they live for... Sorry guys.
Next time I go that way I'll cough loudly first...
So there we were on a perfect blue-sky summer afternoon, all of us out on the deck, Echo napping on the big futon spread out in the shade while the Trio of Brio sat on the edge eating fresh watermelon, I standing near the door sipping iced coffee watching the far thunderheads rise in skycolumns of crisp white high above the blue shock of the Lake, over here the deep air itself flowing softly over us bearing the rich scent of summer growth-- blossoms and catkins, grass and trees, swelling rice heads in their imperial green robes nodding with wealth in the long late sun, the bamboo and weeping cherry branches swaying at the direction of the breeze. As I sipped and the girls giggled over their sweet afternoon snack while Echo slept, calm in the embrace of all outdoors I could not help but think that paradise is not a place, but a time, a moment, a mosaic of moments...
I was out in the garden this morning adding some kitchen garbage to the compost pile under the cherry tree when the warbler began his dawn concert, to which I always delight in whistle-responding as best I can; I suspect we featherless bipeds all have a bit of warbler in us somewhere.
Although I am a good whistler (frugal traveler entertainment) and love to take part in warbler performances - in a kind of duet, extended roundels, syncopation or whatever strikes my fancy - on occasion I have the feeling that the warbler involved finds it irritating. He often seems to sing more insistently, like a parent might talk louder over a noisy child. Or he tries something more complicated. Which is understandable; the warbler is the pro here, no question about that-- but still...
Sometimes with just a simple basic warbler riff I can fool the wee bird into thinking there's another male about, at least for a while, which can be fun with a warbler new to the neighborhood, as he bounces here and there singing irritably while looking for the upstart intruder, only to find that there's nothing around but one of those wingless, songless humans...
This time though, as soon as I repeated the warbler’s standard initial riff, he departed from the old songlist and performed a completely new number, a flashy and soaring glissando composition that had just arrived in warbler world, and it was a doozy. No way I could imitate that one, that was way beyond my ballpark, that was out among the stars somewhere. What a solo performance-- it just went on and on! I've never heard anything like it; I was struck dumb, whistlewise. If I could have seen that maestro, I suspect there might have been the hint of a smile on his beak at shutting me up so effectively, but it was worth every note to be so wonderfully humbled.
Warblers are evolving fast up here; got to get to work on my repertoire.
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