Thursday, September 29, 2011
PUMPKINS IN AMERICA: THE MYSTERY
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?
It is a mystery.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
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.
Monday, September 19, 2011
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.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
WHERE IS THE WILD?
"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.
Published in slightly different form in Kyoto Journal #62
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
MOUNTAIN ROAD INFORMATION
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...
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
A PLACE IN THE SPIRIT
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...
Sunday, September 04, 2011
JABBA THE HURRICANE
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...
Friday, September 02, 2011
THE SONG OF BREATHING
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...