Monday, January 30, 2012

What confident, hungry innocents we were, that couple standing together in the garden of long ago, young bodies fading further from now with each tick, slipping slowly into the mists of the past. Yet they still live in us, still speak with our voices, breathe with our breath, still yearn at the core of the you and the I, in all that beauty, hunger and innocent bravery, but now aged with experience; my heart aches to see them standing there filled with trust of that widening distance, so new, so unworn at the edge of shadow... Little they knew that the infinite paths before them would lead to these precisely definable places, ticking past even now... Judging by his suit, her dress and the flower she holds, they went from that garden to a now-forgotten celebration, likely slept well that night, sped on with full hearts toward these faraway nows, together on a path so much of which I don't recall... Thanks from the heart for the photo, and for the thoughtful letter.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Among the many reasons for living in the naturally rich countryside are the continuous surprises of beauty it brings out for show when you least expect them.

This morning I was anticipating another chill but clear day; instead when I woke up and looked out the deck was covered with snow and the snow was still falling-- no motorcycling down to the station, have to go by 4-wheel drive.

So not much later I was steering down through the entire white, the tall mountain bamboos arching snow-laden over the roadway, when all at once I saw where Hokusai got the ocean waves design for his famed Mt. Fuji woodcut: there they were, ocean waves in the snow on the leaves of the bending bamboo, that he could copy at his leisure, with some colory tweaking for waterness!

Then turning a bend in the road in the thick part of the woods where the road opens out to a view of the Lake, the vista was all one silver thickness of snow: no lake, no sky; but there at one point was a line of burgeoning light that as we slowly descended began to grow into the form of an eye, an eye of pure, soft brightness that was the sun coming over the far mountains and reflecting off the still invisible lake: a skyful of softly falling snow with an eye of light at its heart.

Took that vision with me on the train.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


When you move from the city into the country, a considerable number of municipally peripheral things suddenly come into your life in a big way, such as the moon and the stars. Also insects, trees and animals, not to mention the sky as a whole. As well general vegetation, and a welcome absence of the masses of concrete and asphalt and people that characterize city life, as do power and phone lines overhead.

The moon doesn't play much of a role in city life, except as a kind of urban add-on one sees occasionally that is played up in movies as an extravaganza backdrop, the moon coming up between the skyscrapers. City folks actually don't have all that much to do with the moon, let alone the stars, except in a mythico-cinematico-derivativo kind of way, isn't it mystical, they say in the park, that smattering of artificial countryside city folks resort to in their free time to evoke their roots with a distant wistfulness, as in a museum where you can touch the artifacts. And the sky---in the city the sky is pretty much an artifact too, the less significant part of what metropolitans call the "skyline." Isn't it impressive they say. Well, yeah, I guess so, if you like artifacts in your eye.

Out in the country the sky stretches all the way from here to there (not the city "here and there"; such words resume their original meaning out in the country). And of course the country is where birds actually live, and enjoy themselves. By birds I don't mean panhandling pigeons, but self-supporting warblers, wheatears, grosbeaks, ducks, thrushes, egrets, pheasants, finches, redstarts, hawks, swallows, wagtails, owls, the list goes on. Real birds. Not merely the species or two that can tolerate exhaust fumes for a discernable life span, like the trees the city inserts along the avenues.

And insects---not cockroaches, which can live anywhere, the pigeons of the insect family---but genuine broad-spectrum insects, buzz and hum and crawl, all going about their ancient business in their traditional ways in holes and hills and hives or just plain on the ground (there's actual ground out in the country) to the chirpings and trillings of cricket and katydid as evening comes, and through the night, the fragrant night, and then at dawn vast webs are strung with beads of dew and hung with warbler notes in the pink sunrise from way down at the bottom of the sky.

Then in the spring and summer eves and morns the oratorio of the frogs of course, in their timeless worship of all things high and low, which worship, in all its many forms, goes on all the time in the country but is pretty much extinct in the city, and then there's the occasional snake draped over a branch in the sun like this was the garden of Eden or something, not to mention glimpses of ferret fox boar stag raccoon monkey bear, and there are actual fish in the waters, waters which by the way in the country you can drink without even once thinking of wet laundry.

And fireflies, of a summer night! Or a rainy summer night, when the underneaths of leaves are lit by thousands of tiny lanterns as the firefly party goes on despite the downpour. Rain, too, in the country is different from rain in the city, where it is a wet bothersome thing serving no natural function (except maybe to water the park), only an artificial one when in the summer it sometimes brings desperately needed relief to what city officials and I guess everybody by now calls heat island syndrome, which is when the sun and the city work together to form a kind of sidewalk inferno. And I probably don't need to point out the difference between a city summer night and a country summer night, nor dwell at length on the differences between the other seasons as experienced in these respective locales, but I will.

In the country summer the nights are cool, there is tree breath everywhere and you can breathe its perfume beneath a sky broadcast with all the diamonds of the universe for you, and you sleep better too, since you're so much more at home, because we all came from the country. And when autumn arrives, who can describe what is more beautiful than all the masterpieces of all the museums in the world put together? This is the very beauty painters chase to the grave. And this isn't just oils on canvas on walls in museums next to the park; this is the real thing, you can go out and walk right in it for hours, and there's no admission fee.

Then comes the country winter, with its majestic, sweeping calligraphies of snow just sitting there on silent show, gleaming with sunlight for days and weeks in tree- and stubble- and furrow- and grove-shaped whiteness-impeccable sculptures, and the blue-blue air is so big that the snow show is but a small part of it all, and not in the way, as it is in the city where pretty soon after snow falls and makes headlines it gets slushy and ugly or dangerously icy; country snow, soft and plush, is by contrast a big down comforter mother nature always throws over the countryside about this time, and whereas in the city the snow merely treacherizes pedestrians and vehicularians, and taxes the sewage system with often excessive volumes of what is called "runoff," in the country snow has actual natural functions, among others of insulating the soil from the chill of late winter and watering it in spring the way spring is in the country, for in the country spring is exactly where it belongs, its green songs up out of the ground swelling in time into chorales of wildflowers and all kinds of random demonstrations of the beauty nature can build if left on its own, the way it is out in the country.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I love to sleep in a cold house then get up and get warm by getting the house warm. In winter I sleep with the window open because I love the feeling of being living toast, with the contrasting wintry coldness on my face.

I will considerately pass up this serendipitous but excellent entree into what I believe are the debilitating effects of central heating and move right on with what I was going to say, that today the dawn was a cold icy one more suited to late February, when it seems the sun has just about given up and acts as warm as neon, the kind of morning that when you go outside to thaw the water pipes shows you where your nose is.

Out there in the predawn air, the only light was a sliver of the moon, dangling like a bright icicle among the black-ice branches of the trees reaching into a gray empty sky, the kind of sight that tickles your history, stirs up thoughts of ancient gods...

Our firewood stocks ondeck had been getting low, but fortunately in the deceptive warmth of yesterday I harnessed a bunch of springtime energy and lugged a bunch of stovelength primo cherry and oak wood, lifted and stacked 'em up on the deck so we had a good supply of the wherewithal for a bright warm fire, before which to gaze out upon the frosty dawn.

Winter has its gold.

Friday, January 13, 2012


When in your life you have finished with the task of raising the child you've been-- the child we all begin with being-- when you are at last mature enough to move on, ready to bring a child of your own into the light of your experience, the moment that child is born an ancient door is opened to a place you never knew your heart could hold.

The difference between you then and you now is like the difference between a seed and its tree: neither at all like the other, yet each being the other, in the most secretly invisible and magical of ways. Thus we live and grow through stages with which life itself is deeply familiar, but to which we ourselves, at each advance, are utter strangers, entering new galaxies of being.

Raising a child is its own distraction: you have so few moments in that dense procedure to fully step aside, sit aside, think aside, stop and love as deeply as you can-- until, the moment you can, the child is grown and gone, loving on its own.

Then, if seasons follow, from that child is born the next gift: grandchildren. And on these new beings, now that you are free of the rush of child rearing, you can spend your love as freely as sunshine falls on green leaves. And when those grandchildren are far away, the question becomes what to do with all those warm rays? Thus is more indiscriminate goodness and warmth borne into the world.

Not long ago I came across a snapshot of my daughter when she was ten years old or so, a delightful little person I remember well, and realized I miss that 10-year-old very much; I tried to explain my feeling when she came to visit, now a mother, with my granddaughters, but I could tell she didn't really know what I meant. She hasn't been here yet. She'll understand one day, decades from now, when as a grandmother she's going through some old photos, and the past tells her what it told me, what it tells us all, if we stop to listen: open your arms to this moment and its children.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Headline: Shiga studies impact on Lake Biwa from possible Fukui nuke accident

I've written about this fact before, but it's seldom floated in the standard mediastream and so gets forgotten even by the Japanese: Japan, for its narrowness, size and seismicity, is truly the world's Nuclear Power guinea pig.

As you look at the map, simply center that big green circle on Tokyo, and the cities of Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya (urban area population exceeding 60 million persons) and Kyoto (a few million more), not to mention priceless Lake Biwa (centrally just below the Takahama-Mihama cluster!) are within a short breeze of over 30 nuclear reactors!

Given the world-witnessed occurrence of the statistically impossible event at Fukushima, the potential result of this situation is truly beyond rationale. Yet these millions carry on, living in the shadow of another series of statistically impossible events that would pretty much bring an end to Japan: for most, if not all, of those who survived would have to be evacuated. To... where?

As much as I love and worry for Lake Biwa (where I live), things would be so much worse (especially if they ever start the Monju reactor) than what the authorities' experts are intently studying...

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mike!

Sunday, January 01, 2012


Last night we went south a ways to what once was a lively old entertainment district for travelers from old Kyoto along the West Lake road to the Japan Sea and elsewhere. Traditionally 'discreet' for 1500 years or so, it has changed a lot even since we first came here, and is a bit bedraggled and threadbare, but coming back in new ways.

We went there to enjoy the traditional year-end soba noodle meal known as toshikoshi (lit.: “year getting-over”). Eaten at midnight, the long noodles 'bridge the gap' between one year and the next. For that purpose we visited the big new sprawling hot spring ryokan that has everything for everyone and is always crowded with families and folks who come for the restaurants, baths (no tattoos allowed), saunas, hotel rooms, hot sweet potatoes, haircuts, massages, lounges, games, bars, karaoke, with narrow flows of warm water here and there inside and outside where you can stop and sit and dip your feet to be serviced by the tiny feet-nibbling fish. The restaurant has big creative menus, chairs and tables all over up down, sunken tables, big tvs, sushi bar, scrambling waitresses dressed in yesterday mode...

All around is the neighborhood of the old red-light district that has been so since way before Edo, when it was a two-day trip from Kyoto over the mountains, through Otsu and along the lake to Omimaiko for a summer or other distant sojourn; this was the first stopover on that way, sort of a pleasure side trip from the Nakasendo. Here were the big old rambly ryokans where everything happened and more...

Crowds still visit in the steamy, fragrant winter nights-- Happy New Year, from here atop all those old times...