We selected some healthy looking, good-sized vines about a half-inch thick at the base where they rose from among the thick mountain bamboo to latch onto the trunks and lower branches of cedars and oaks, then lace their way into the upper reaches. I clipped the chosen vines near the ground (3 vines and a backup).
Then we put on our strong gloves, grabbed hold of the end of each vine and pulled hard - 4, 6, even all 8 hands at a time - then pulled again, then again with a "Heave-ho," and again, leaning backward in the middle of the road, pulling hard, bending the low branches! Shaking the whole tree! Then bending high branches! Then pulling more slowly as the high vine began to come away, even bending the whole tree sometimes!
Working together, pulling another long vine down out of a big cedar or oak tree -- pulling harder and harder as slowly the whole vine surrendered, at last coming away until it was laying in the road and Trio had done that great thing, with the high tree, all the way up the tree and now they had to handle that 15-meter vine from high in those branches-- Kids LOVE to do really BIG things!
Kaya, Mitsuki and Miasa were going to make Christmas wreaths.
A couple of weeks before, while we were doing some winter prep work out in the garden and surrounds, Mitsuki had said, mid-task, out of the blue - as the Trio seems to do these days - that she wanted to make a wreath. I asked her where that idea had come from. She answered "Christmas!" which answered my question well enough; one can't really expect grown-up-minded explanations from little girls, who live so much in their hearts.
Since the Trio and I were finished enough with our prep labors I went and got the clippers, a saw, a big basket and 8 strong gloves, then we went down the inner road, where I know there are a lot of longstanding, well-developed vines of fujii (wild wisteria) and akebi (akebia trifoliata) among the trees and bamboo.
Once the vines were down, the Trio trimmed them, coiled them, tied them with the tendrils and put them in the basket, along with shiny clusters of holly leaves that also grow by the road. They got some good evergreen branches too, plus some perfect pine cones from my pine cone stash in the shed.
Back home, they got the tree ornaments and some ribbon from the closets, then sat out on the deck with the scissors and all those bright things scattered around them.
I showed them how to choose a length for the wreath size they wanted, how to coil the strong vine into a wreath size, how to fix it here and there along its length using the thinner tendrils, and that this was the way you could make baskets too - fujii vine is great for baskets - then I went upstairs for a while to do some editing and forgot about the time--
When it was growing dark I came downstairs into a silent house, saw the Trio still outside working even in the the darkling cold, engrossed in the task of crafting their very first wreaths, absorbed in the art of it. I just stood there watching the design ideas flow, turned on the lights when it began to get too dark. The Trio went on working until they were content with their basic wreaths and went inside to fine-tune the decorations.
Natural ways, natural tasks involving natural interests like the endlessness of seeds, branches and flowers, insects and animals - instead of only brief gadgetry - simply confirm that there is no substitute for the natural reaches of life, the wellspring of thoughts and imaginings that lead always onward, with no end but the heart’s horizons.
Science has informed us officially, just in time for Christmas, that sometime in the next few hours or later the universe will collapse and everyone will die. That's the tabloid version. In hypothetical reality, everything in the universe will become heavier than it is now, as already evidenced in the tons of fad diets that are as everywhere as articles on cellulite, to say nothing of what we personally are actually seeing even now at our very waistlines.
To be more hypothetically specific, and to give you all a heads-up on this, everything in the universe will become billions and billions of times heavier than it is now (so there's really no point in letting out those pants) and everything will be compressed into superheavy and superhot balls (as presciently sung of by Jerry Lee Lewis, back in the fifties) that roll around heaven all day, and the universe will cease to exist-- at least in the form familiar to our world. Which, if you look at what we're doing to the place, may not turn out to be all that much of a change.
Those scientists' humongous guesses may be just as right as the next guy's, but the labcoat denizens seem to have no sense of propriety as to this actual moment in the time and space continuum.
Out this afternoon in the clear cold mountain air, after a morning of uncertain rain that happy-ended with another of those perfect mountain-to-lake rainbows in full dayglow color that spoil us rotten out here-- another typical day in the mountains.
I was out in such a day with the big bamboo rake, intending to pull the tattered fragments of temporary firewood-cover plastic sheeting that had been blown off, stomped on, torn to tatters and tossed up into the plum tree by one of those the histrionic winds we get up here, that stormed through around dusk yesterday while I was in a big city office with no rainbow.
As soon as I opened the door to the deck I sensed that Crow had been waiting for me on his perch in the top of the big cedar out front, where he hangs out when he's got issues. Which is always. Sure enough, he was mumbling up there already, starting off on a grumbly string of tirades as soon as I came out and grabbed the big rake from where it was leaning against the deck rail, a procedure that clearly meant action on my part.
Crow hates action on my part. He's on my case whenever I start doing something outside, where he always lives and thinks he owns. When I began to walk down the steps from the deck, clearly with some intent or other - doesn't matter what - he started in, loud enough to make me think of earplugs, saying things like: "What the hell ya doin now, walker?" "Where ya goin down there?" "And what's with that rake, you gonna fix somethin?" "You think you own this place?" (jumping up and down on his branch) "You got no rights here, pal, I own all this!!" (I'm paraphrasing and editing here, for brevity and cultural clarity.)
The irony of Crow talking about rights was not lost on me. As I walked over onto the adjoining property (that really gets his darkness going), over which extended the plum tree branches that had caught most of the wind's plastic vandalism, Crow flapped all huffy over to the top of the utility pole right on the roadside there so he could be closer to whatever I was doing to his stuff, get a better look from an open platform, big beak yakkin the while. "Hey what are you doin over here, this ain't yer property either, it's mine! What the hell you up to now? You can't fool me, walker! I got my eye on you!" (Still paraphrasing; not that much nuance in Caw.)
As I reached up with the rake and began to pull down the nastily entangled ugly plastic fragments from the branches, i.e., actually doing something to achieve an objective, Crow hit the ceiling, so to speak. In an attempt to drown him out even just a bit, I started talking back (I often look like I'm talking to myself, but sometimes I'm not): "I only used this sheeting in a pinch, to cover the firewood; originally, I got it to make garden tunnels for early planting, but the monkeys made a mess of it (no real need to paraphrase here, this is pretty much word-for-word), so it's been sitting unused in the shed, and I--" "Hey, why am I explaining to you, Crow? You don't give a damn about plastic or monkeys!" "You don't own this property anyway! I own that property there, and I own this plum tree too; you don't, you're just full of caws!"
As I went on talking loudly, wrestling down the plastic and getting all the fragments into a bundle, something I said must've hit a nerve 'cause Crow took off in a big dark huff and flapped on down toward the Lake, I could hear him yelling for a long way; folks in the village were gonna get an earful.
It's a lot quieter up here now without a crow, and the plum tree looks a lot better without that plastic sheeting all up in it.
Folks around here kept mentioning the overabundance of kamemushi this autumn - though in my opinion more than one kamemushi is overabundance - and it recalls to me what one of the wives of the fields across the road said to us the summer we first moved into our new house here, how there were a lot of kamemushi this year - there'd been practically none of those bugs in Kyoto - so there would be heavy snows that winter, and so it proved, big time. The snow out here had been impressive the previous winter, but it was so heavy our first winter in the new house that only a tracked vehicle could have made it all the way up. The first early snowfall was over a meter, and the snowtop stayed up to my waist all winter. There was only a walking path up the mountain road, up and down which the mailman walked each day, the folks up here using sleds to pull their provisions (food, kerosene) up to their houses. We newbie city slickers had a 2-wheel drive vehicle (for the last time), so we definitely had to park down below the school and walk up too, but we loved it all: the snow, the solitude, the silence, the vistas... All that snow on the ground throughout the winter was a welcome challenge, and nothing better for a woodstove fire, warming us at the heart of white... Since then (almost 20 years now) we haven't had anything like that snow, or anything like those swarms of kamemushi (in the laundry, in your safety glasses, inside your just-laundered sweatshirt, in your salad, in your coffee. Until this year. At the first unfold last week of a firewood tarp that had been in the tool shed I counted 50 kamemushi, in the second unfold, I lost count, third unfold why bother countin, fourth looks like big snow comin. Now I get to see if kamemushi walk the walk.
The day looked like no surprise. It was cloudy and rainy like yesterday, the day before and the day after tomorrow, but at this time of year that's no surprise around here, as the fall of summer chills into winter over the brown, sleepy earth.
But then came a surprise at one point early in the gray morning, when I looked out the window grumpy at upset plans with more rain before my eyes, and saw the brightest, finest, clearest rainbow I've been privileged to behold in a looong time, right inyerface in the dark north, stretching in jeweled glow from lake to mountain, broad and intense as light alone can be in a perfectly faceted moment. There are few perfect moments of any kind, but this - magic in the darking rain and mood - it was like suddenly living more life than a moment ago.
The arch of colors we can see (and colors we can't see) was low to the ground from the angle of the sun, each tint clear, yet without distinct edges of beginning or ending - like the rainbow itself - of the sky, yet apart, without edges, like the colors as they came from gray sky somehow to red > orange > yellow > green > turquoise > blue > purple then sky again, journeys of light I saw as a performance, each color flowing into the next...
As the day went on and the air grew even darker, time after time I looked out the window with less and less dark a mood, and each time I looked there was another skyheart rainbow out there in a slightly different place, the light itself in a fine mood, brightling all the way to dusk.
My rainbow quotient is filled now, and with no effort on my part, a reward for just looking out the window now and then into apparent gloom, with a kind of hope the sky gave me. Even telling of it brings smiles to granddaughter faces...
"A Doctor Explains: What the Affordable Care Act Means for Expats
By Timothy J. Garrett, MD, MBA
October 1, 2013 saw the beginning of the enrollment period for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Along with the news about glitches with the health care website came lots of questions for expats: Do expats have to enroll? Will there be penalties for expats who do not enroll? Even if expats are not required to enroll, is there a benefit to enrolling?
Here are three things that every expat should know in regards to the ACA:
U.S. citizens who are bona fide residents of a foreign country are not required to have health insurance as mandated by the ACA.In general, U.S. citizens living outside of the United States for at least 330 days in a given year and who meet the IRS requirements to be a bona fide resident of another country are exempt from the ACA. (You’ll find the full list of requirements for bona fide residence in Form 2555 on the IRS website.)
U.S. citizens living outside of the United States but who are not bona fide residents of a foreign country arerequired to have health insurance or face fines. If you: a) have told your country of residence that you are not a resident of that country and b) are not required to pay income tax in your country of residence, then you are not a bona fide resident of that country. If you don’t meet these stipulations—or any of the other listed IRS requirements—and you do not purchase health insurance, then you could face fines in 2014 of $285 per family (US$95 for individuals)—or 1% of your income, whichever is the greater amount... That amount will rise to a whopping $2,085 per family (US$695 for individuals) or 2.5% of your income by 2016. To avoid these fines, it’s in your best interest to purchase at least minimum essential coverage. Good news if you are entitled to Medicare, however: Medicare qualifies as minimum essential coverage. If you’re eligible for Medicare, you won’t be at risk of fines.
It could make sense for you to have minimum essential coverage under the ACA even if you are a bona fide resident of another country. Many expats are fortunate to live in an area with high-quality, affordable, and easily accessible health care. Those who are bona fide residents don’t have to pay for health coverage in the U.S. But even if you are a bona fide resident of a foreign country, having extra cover in the U.S. could help you to secure your own peace of mind. If, for any reason, you think that you or your family might have health issues that will require treatment in the United States, it’s worth thinking about purchasing a low-premium/high-deductible U.S. plan that’s coupled with a medical evacuation policy. There are several medical evacuation companies that will provide evacuation from almost any location in the world to the U.S. hospital of your choice for a reasonable membership fee.
The most important things you can do next are to determine whether or not you are a bona fide resident of a foreign country...and then to carefully consider your personal needs and requirements for health care.
Then, if you find you’re required under the ACA to obtain health insurance or that your circumstances make U.S. health insurance a wise choice, the next step is to shop around for the insurance plan or medical evacuation membership that best fits your needs and budget. A trusted insurance advisor who is well versed in the intricacies of the ACA can help you find the exact U.S. coverage you need."
Splitting some sections of new oak today, out of long habit wielding maul and wedge without too much thought: not hurrying to get the job done, just hitting the wedge a couple of times and pausing, listening for the tiny sounds that are oak's language of compromise, then hitting a couple times more, pausing again, actions my body and mind have learned to do without me... It surprised me enough to ask myself: When had I learned that? How had I acquired the ability to dialog with oak? I had often been in a hurry during the early firewood years, so I had to learn that oak yields slowly and at the price of effort, which is the nature of things in general, oak responding perhaps a little more fairly and intelligently than other materials. So I guess by force of habitual listening I learned when to move and when to wait, so as not to do twice the work for half the result. It doesn't pay to be pushy; oak isn't dumb just because it talks in whispers. Being wild, oak is also pretty wily, and has its quirks. If you insist on your way, oak will make you wait, one way or another. If in your interactions with that wood grain you try to hurry, in time you'll get angry and lose, because if there’s one thing oak knows, it's duration. If you're angry splitting oak, you're beside the point. Then some time later comes the big oak lesson: your mind knows more than you do.
If it hadn't been for the potato famine I sure as hell wouldn't be here writing these lines, wherever they're leading, nor would my brother and sister be living their good lives in California and Florida, respectively, may their lives be full of joy, though if not for the Great Hunger that would be moot, would it not. In the current but limited understanding of the meaning of it all, nothing wonderful can happen to you if you haven't been born.
My mother and father, too, would not have been my parents without the potato famine, or even parents at all, if they themselves had not been been born from non-great grandparents who hadn't been birthable either, because their would-have-been parents, suddenly not suffering extreme starvation, thanks to complete faminelessness, were instead living good history in the bliss of a bounteous mid-19th century Ireland, prospering on a healthy diet - including potatoes - and having well-fed Irish families whose respective sons and daughters never met by chance in a tragic diaspora.
Centuries later, from the auld sod to a mountainside in Japan of all places - where as the traveler in the family I finally settled down - I think often of the sacrifice of those families back then who, after heart-rivening consideration, scraped hunger into pence and then into pounds to send off in steerage the healthiest, best-suited young family member, whom they would see nevermore but who might survive, sailing away beyond a life's horizon to the lowest rung of NYC, who then lived far enough along time's thread to meet and pass these genes down the unbroken line from all those folks who had gone before, whom I'll never know, though now and then I glimpse them in the mirror.
Speaking of RPGs and how viral they are, working their way into our collective DNA somehow, as childhood seems to become narrower, more circumscribed, less broadly dimensional-- Kaya, Mitsuki and Miasa do have their own little video gameplayers that they indulge in now and then in evenings or on rainy days (little kids running through meadows of lollipop flowers, gumdrop orchards with cute little animals), but while they’re at our house we keep them going in the physical world, handling tools and tasks, rocks and dirt, trees and fire, so they get a good actual workout. Their bodies by now are straight and strong, growing like the thoroughbreds they are, their lives a blend of the actual and genuine imagination.
Got me thinking, though, that when I was a boy way back just after WWII (!) when 'virtual' was still but a rare and narrowly used adjective, the year-round hands-on toy was a slingshot. At least for the boys. Not for girls. Never saw a girl with a slingshot. Here in Japan, I’ve never seen any kid at all with a slingshot-- until the other day, that is.
The trio and I were working outside clearing brush and moving stones when I sensed Kaya walking along behind me in an odd distraction, staring closely at an oddly forked, wispy twig fragment with some rubber bands knotted here and there around it: it looked distantly like... like... I asked her what it was and she said that she was making a slingshot.
She had no idea that she was speaking to the upstate NY Tri-City Slingshot King, who reigned during the latter 40s and early 50s, when bicycle inner tubes were still made of actual rubber and could sling a marble right out of sight. My ever-ready weapon of increasing strength got me in some neat instances of trouble. I could put a marble through a car window at 50 yards-- not that I ever did, mind you, at all, ever, other than out of curiosity. By and large I was a defender of the downtrodden, apart from the occasional irresistible perfectly popping street light... it was a kid version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, on a more civilized miniscale.
I remember being taught how to make slingshots by a mysterious elder slingshot master from the previous century (i.e., the 1800s) (!), who lives in my memory the DaVinci of slingshots-- not a relative, nor an acquaintance, don’t remember where, a neighbor of a cousin, maybe, but he knew his stuff, possessed sling lore dating back to when kids used their slings to get food for the table. He took the time to show me, went into mystic detail on how to make the finest slingshot: from when to find the perfect hardwood tree fork - oak is good, hickory, maple, cherry is good, too, if weight is a concern - to using natural rubber, found only in bike tire tubes (not car tire tubes) or big rubber bands, along with string and leather, cutting grooves into the fork wood to keep the rubber straps from slipping, and so for years I made my own slings, using old shoe tongues for the leather patch...
I realized that I had never seen a kid in Japan with a handmade slingshot, not in 40 years, and I would have noticed. Hadn't really thought about it to any depth all these years, but never ever have I seen a girl anywhere in the world with a slingshot, and here in Japan was my preteen granddaughter trying on her own to craft a slingshot for herself! I asked her where she'd gotten the idea but she didn't have an explanation, she'd just thought of it out of the blue. What the...? I had no idea slingshots involved DNA.
So what could I do at such a momentous moment but show her how to make a slingshot? We looked for and cut a good-looking cherry fork, I looped together some doubled rubber bands for the sling, cut a leather patch from the back of an old holey work glove I'd been saving for no logical reason, the old DNA being ever vigilant as to imminent slingshot possibilities...
Then when they twins saw the results, they each had to have one, so I got busy passing the lore on down the ages as it has always been passed down, and with the oaks just then shedding acorns all around there, the trio could get pocketfuls of excellent ammo and before going home they were even out in the dark, wearing headlamps, gathering acorns from atop the moss, filling their bags with great shot.
Miasa, the shy twin, had earlier put an acorn in her sling and took her very first shot, up into the sky toward the crown of our tallest cedar tree and launched that acorn right over the top! She was amazed, thrilled and proud at what she herself had done.
What actual joy in their eyes at such an occurrence in the real world, at their own hands! As opposed to the thumby joys in a gameplayer, hunched over, staring absent into dimensionlessness, young lives at a time...
I muse now over the possible viral effects of introducing a trio of uniquely empowered young females into the Japanese culture. One effect that the slingshot girls enjoyed realizing is that now they’re planting oak trees all over the countryside.
I guess its time I talk about my most recent - and final - motorcycle accident. No, I’m not communicating from beyond, despite the writing quality; I'm just hyporeflexed, which is almost the same thing, comin' for to carry me home.
Yes, I nearly caught the Sweet Chariot last December, while my body chased its bike a ways down the mountain over ice, roadside and some other stuff. The bike was still as trusty as gravity, but turns out I wasn't. I, who grew up much of the year on ice and snow; sledded, tobogganed, bicycled, drove and hung around on ice like a summer sidewalk with never a single accident - thanks to fine-tuned reflexes - reflexes that I continued to count on throughout life, heedless of the encroaching press of time...
Thus it was that on that crisp sunny winter morning I blithely launched my wheeled self from our driveway onto the pure white snow-powdered road - piece a' cake, been there a million times, successfully too - even up here, for the past 17 winters, without the slightest thought of not being able to remember what happened 10 seconds later...
In the aftermath, it wasn't the residual head, shoulder, knee, thigh pain that hurt the most when I finally regained the ability to hurt; the deepest blow was that my Benedict Arnold reflexes, which for all my life had pirouetted me over football field, up/down mountainside, basketball court, down the streets where you live, had departed my person without saying "Do NOT go riding on the ice today or anymore, Bob; I retired on Saturday."
For retire it did, without notice. As forensically determined from the impact pattern on said body parts, at the moment of greatest preventive need I had no reflexive reaction whatsoever; there was statistically no difference between my decycled body and a 190 lb. sack of bleached white flour.
I realized, after the fact, that for all these years I have been counting on my teenage balancing skills when freewheeling over any surface - particularly snow-covered ice - and instantly compensating for any slippage by shifting shoulders, hips or legs, sticking a leg out for 3-point support if needed, and never hitting the ground, except after hitting that pole a few years ago.
I rode that way all my life and was still riding that way at the age of 72, setting myself up for a lesson it's about time I learned. Learning requires survival, though, so I'm truly fortunate to be able to say: I think I'll walk the rest of the way...
"'A report by Internet firm GMO Cloud characterises the difference as "self-escapism versus self-expression.' True or not, Grand Theft Auto is undoubtedly violent, especially when compared to Nintendo's award-winning 'Animal Crossing: New Leaf,' in which players take on the role of a mayor running a rural community. By contrast, past versions of Grand Theft Auto have included simulated sex with prostitutes and drunken driving, along with profanity-packed dialogue. Carjacking, gambling and killing are the staples of a game in which players take on the role of a psychopathic killer in fictional Los Angeles.'"
What could be more socially instructive, more physically developing, more spiritually uplifting and exemplary, more all-around self-building, than hours, days, weeks, years, even decades on the couch of good healthy murder, joystick virtual sex with prostitutes, gambling, carjacking and DUI as fast mindfood, all while being a genuine psychopathic killer? Some paths just have to lead upward.
Big-shouldered typhoon, flooder, landslider and tornado generator Man-Yi stormed the night through the country, leaving big wet long wide footprints all over filled with trees, cars, roofs, rivers, sheet metal and mountainsides.
At about 4 am on Monday I'd been sleeping to the roar of the heavy rain (up to 8 cm (> 3 inches) an hour!) that had been falling for, oh, the past couple months, seemed like - it was becoming the normal ambient sound - so I didn't really notice unless it stopped, then suddenly in utter dark the first big shoulder hit the side of the house. I lay there wondering if the walls and roof could withstand much more of that, then the wind blew harder and I pictured the outside, what might be flying around out there, sounded like a slow-motion train derailment, metal somewhere in the din doing loud wind-torquing back and forth-- later learned it was the demolished neighbor cabin roof.
In the spitty gusty morning our trees are raggy leaved, what's left of them; large-branch loss from cherry and chestnut, couple of trees fell on a cabin below us, half-rubbling it, a bigger tree fell on the roadside, looked like it had been mauled by a giant tiger. The slavering, growling beast removed roofs, tossed some buildings stopped the trains too, of course. During the daystorm, against the blur out the window I watched our old chestnut tree shimmying and shaking itself apart, out front the high old cedar tree, trunk a meter around, was rockin in the wind like at a Stones concert as the weeping cherry did a whole different rubbery dance, the house rocking and shuddering at the serial impacts of giant windshoulders as the rooftiles rang like fine marimbas up there.
On TV, while we had it, the rampaging Yodo River in central Kyoto was higher than I've ever seen it, lashing at the splendid old bridge in Arashiyama, and I realized that that the famed and lovely stone walk along the river's banks beside Ponto-cho, like the supporting poles of the striking riverside restaurant platforms, aren't there just to be pretty-- they are of ancient necessity, as long ago folks here learned from experience over millennia, and again this week.
Seems the earth is increasingly revisiting its old ways, as though asserting its authority, shrugging off carbon footprints, ramping up earthquakes and beefing up the tsunami department, reviving ancient weather patterns, droughts, floods, wildfires, volcanoes coming back around again for longer, fiercer times, tweaking the DNA spectrum to give us all new challenges, as we begin to relearn (or not) the truth of long-ago solutions, as ancient becomes the new now, testing once more whether and what we can overcome, that we may move on...
Lower your salt intake to lower your blood pressure? Nah. I use salt whenever I want to (good sea salt, not refined iodized type) - not all that much, but somewhat more than the average daily intake - and have always done so. I like salt on a lot of my stuff, and worship at the savory altars of akadashi, tsukemonoand umeboshi. Last week at age 72, my annual checkup showed my blood pressure to be 96 over 67. The lower the better, said the doc.
I love goya (bitter melon; Momordica charantia) for its flavor and crunchiness; no matter how much it is cooked (or frozen!) it keeps that crunch. You can diminish the bitterness, if you wish, though I don't see the point, just eat a bland cucumber or something. But the goya, even at extremes of cooking, provides beautiful little bitter-crunchy emerald nuggets in everything you cuisinate; its range of astringency and special mouthfeely, delight-filled crunchiness has no cuisinal parallel that I know of. Did I mention the crunch?
Another great thing about goya, as a tender viny plant, is the wall of feathery green leaves that grow on my high net fence (keeps out all deer, most wild pigs and no monkeys). By this time of year that emerald wall is dotted with the 1- inch banana-yellow goya blossoms about a foot or so from each other, that reach out at the end of long, slender, springy stems of pale green.
From my kitchen window on a sunny day I can see the yellow pretties nodding down to invisibility when even a small pollinator lands on them; then they spring back up, ready again immediately as the visitor moves on to another nodding blossom, the whole yellow-dotted green wall flashing yellow polka dots like a stage show, which in a wild way it is-- pleasant and relaxing to watch all those nods of acceptance, all those goya being generated.
It wasn't all roses, though. This year in late Spring I planted four goya plants along the northern side of my garden, but the season started out so cold and sunless and delugey that the goya languished in the cold and rain through July and even into August. They were the picture of rainy forlorn out there, all shivery and dripping under gloomy heavens. They half-heartedly put out a few token flowers just to keep their roots in the game, but as Spring tended toward Ark-building time (did Noah take plants?) it seemed more and more just a matter of time before the goya cashed in (Goya chips, mmmm!).
But then for some reason it started to get sunny, of all things, and when those goya hit they really hit. Within days there were a dozen ready-sized goya dangling, ready to go, with a couple dozen more little ones hanging around looking to generate some joy.
Another truly great (but globally unappreciated) quality of goya is that monkeys hate them. Which moves them ever closer to my heart. Their vines now cover my 20m2 north garden wall with leaves and fruit that few bugs and no critters like. A healthy, productive, versatile and delicious plant is the goya. Can't get better than that. Plant some!
As you get ever elder and a bit more solitary, ever more fixed on the path toward perfection of your fine-tuned ways, grandkids are an excellent cure. With no effort at all they get you out of what you didn't even know was becoming a rut, lift you back to the surface of the Big Road you've always been on - the road you now and then dare to call your own - and when you're back up at your natural perspective, with all those natural wide-ranging prospects arrayed before you and those naturally broad horizons beckoning, your eyes return to seeing what they have grown to see, your ears to hearing full scale; your nose sampling the air for even more reality, your feet stirring with the old stride, where did I put my highway shoes, and before you know it you're on the road again, at least in your head; but plans are simmerin' in there, are they not, had a fire goin' all along, you sly dog...
But for now you just stand there, new in a new way, savoring the true surface, source of all directions...
The Days of the Dead (Obon) are with us again, as are the dead themselves, the beloved dead, and its good to have them around in spirit, visit their graves, pour water over the stones to cleanse the weathering of the past year, then give the beloved some of their favorite life snacks, leave a sip or two of sake, everyone so busy at these nationwide spiritual tasks during this time of year that once all have returned to their own home towns and their own home graves, the trains are empty.
I get on in the morning and there are only 3 of us in the car; the streets are 'empty,' the offices too. Nothing much gets done there except the dead-end stuff, finalizing all the done-deals. Apart from the many renowned and WOWy firework shows and the lively nighttime Obon dance, it's quiet everywhere, as though we're getting a taste of death itself, which is a good thing for the living to experience every year, a few-day span of focusing beyond what we know; that's part of life too, after all, that soft wall.
Living is dying and vice-versa, we can't really draw a precise line between them; sure, we pretend to, we have various stages and levels, phases and definitions - legal, medical, common sense - but we don't really know of a true beginning or end to any of it, the reason for our ignorance in this regard being simply that we haven't sufficient perspective in our merely living lives; we can only weigh what we can prove.
This what we living conjure up, returning once more to the Days of the Dead: not just the memories of the beloved-- how they lived, what they looked like, their personalities, good and bad points, how they talked, what they spoke of, what they valued, their strengths and weaknesses... We do all that as in a mirror of memories, seeking a glimpse beyond into what must be the truth of it, but that is not vouchsafed to us in the special narrowness of being alive; we must wait to learn what is not forgotten...
The Trio of Brio - Kaya (12), Mitsuki (10), Miasa (10) - came over for a visit on Sunday, and when in the afternoon I came downstairs from my editing work in the loft for a break to investigate the unusual silence I noted that while Miasa was doing the intimidating mound of dirty dishes generated by the youthful hunger crew, her sisters were nowhere around. I asked her about that, and she said - with no sign of solo-dishwashing rancor - that they were outside somewhere, playing.
In the continuing oddness, despite all the open doors and windows I couldn't hear a single kidsound from outside, a rare situation with the Trio around, so I went outside barefoot - just gonna be out there a minute - and found Kaya hunkered down on the suntoasted evening road with the big binoculars at her eyes, trying to focus on Mitsuki who 100 yards or so down the mountain was jumping up and down and side to side, I guess trying to make herself more interesting or harder to see.
While the two went on with their optical gravity visualization experiment (I didn't ask, knowing I wouldn't understand the response; anyway you don't bother focused experimenters) I just stood there and looked around-- the whole blue sky up there like a big robin egg shell lit up from the outside, the mountain arms around reaching out, shadowed and unshadowed, in the rays of the sun now behind the peaks; the darkening blue lake smooth as the sky, sparkling with boats; the big island beginning to glimmer with fisherman house lights and the same beyond, disappearing into the mainland; behind me the sheets of last clouds turning from pale gold to mango before the dark and the stars; about then the girls gave up on the binocs and grabbed the garden hose, began watering themselves and the locality...
I just stood there turning and turning, bare feet cooling in the flowing water, while there was light.
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 floor 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 through blackened flakes of what once was life, once a place of daily living, where now nothing stood intact, where all was flat and dark, death in dust and fragments...
After the fires died, first the living 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, searching in those ashes of families, passing by those trolley riders who were charcoal statues in their seats, or those still just alive who wandered also, in search of death that waited just days away, unlike the lucky ones who had left those instant pale 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, is in our voices now...
When you talk to yourself - and we all talk to ourselves, especially when we become elders, having improved over the decades into scintillating conversationalists - you're generally after clarity or understanding, working out an idea or seeking resolution, somewhat like traditional prayer in many respects except for one key point: it is not other directed. It is not not a plea for help from elsewhere, but a conversation with the closest presence of what most folks call god.
When we talk to the god in ourselves, however, we are talking to an entity we know to be extant; no need to conjure faith out of printed matter. It feels comfortable and comforting to talk this way-- it feels natural, and there is a listener; it is also something to do in a tight spot, an action to take, if only to say something. What's better, it can guide us toward a solution that arises from all the tomorrowstuff our bodies in their ancientness know like the back of our hands.
We spend our early lives asking upward, looking to our elders for such answers as we can find there, and when at last we have no elders but are the elders, we keep on asking upward, though now we ask of the height in ourselves, of the spirit that embodies us, that in every living person reaches directly back to beyond the start of time.
We can speak to spirit about anything - and without reservations, since it is our own - most often about the lower, immediate emotions that ever trouble the bodied. It is best we ourselves deal with our own problems, to the extent we can, learn from them as we have evolved to do. We grow strongest without leaning.
The strength we have gained of ourselves is of greatest value, worthy of passing on down the spirit line.
We were sitting at dinner the other night, serving the last of the salad - which Miasa was about to finish up - when her sister Mitsuki said "Mitsuki wa mada tabetenai!" ("Mitsuki hasn't eaten any yet!"). I had heard this J-syntax countless times before, but for some reason I heard it literally for the first time, and it dawned on me that Mitsuki was speaking of herself in the third person! This form of Japanese is used mostly by females, toddlers to teens; not by males or older women.
I wonder if that is a cultural practice in any other language, and what effect that subtle sublimation of the "I" might have on the socio/psychological development of the female self. She is thereby enabled to consider and speak of herself as another person! This unique structure seems to be a sort of semantic means of averting negative emotional response to actions that would otherwise be seen as overtly selfish (by saying "I want x"), focusing any social negativity on a target abstraction out there in the semantic ether that bears one's name, but is not one, exactly; rather it is a selfless third entity, apart from oneself, a sort of cavitation in the emotolinguistic sea. It is only used in that specific way; Mitsuki wouldn't say "Mitsuki saw a great movie last night," a declaration of past action that would beget no possibly negative reaction.
Offhand I know of no other language in which it is traditional to distance selfness with such facility, pretty much enabling one (at least a young female - and why only females?) to speak of oneself as an additional member of the group... I know of no other culture wherein the power of politeness drives the need to make an other of oneself (only young females!), so as to deflect any negative reactions toward overt "I"-ness. I try to sense the difference between me saying: "I haven't eaten any yet!" and me saying: "Robert hasn't eaten any yet!" But as an adult male American semantic alien, it doesn't work for me; I can't 'feel' it, even in the slightest way.
Whence in long-ago Japan was such a word structure inspired to appear in a moment's discourse - and be understood! Be approved! Be carried on into the future of the language as useful! Apparently, when it was first said, no one went "Huh?" They accepted the distancing, and the need for it.
Given the cultural changes now ongoing in Japan, I suspect that this subtle usage, like the need for it, may disappear before too long; thought I'd mention it.
The other morning from the deck I shouted a solo monkey out of the garden, a female, not big but bigly disappointed at being rousted from her quiet (sneaky) moment in that peaceful, beanfilled, monkeyloving place. She climbed slowly back over the fence with that over-the-shoulder resignation that monkeys are so good at, because they really own everything. She was a scout; the troupe of beangrabbers would soon follow.
So I got my work duds on and went out there because I'd seen yesterday that there were lots of on-the-verge beans that would be ready now anyway. I opened the gate and walked in to check the damage, saw that there was none; the furry spy had been rousted before she could even nip a cuke-- she'd just memorized the inventory.
As I was going around double-checking the zooks and cukes and rows of climbing beans, nigglethinking what a fool I am to grow such things in monkeyworld, I noted that the scout had remained nearby in simian confidence, sitting quietly in the shadows between the garden and the roadside trees, keeping an eye on her vegetables, feeling a bit proprietary toward her beans, just now at the front edge of their profusion (I had harvested a large bowlful of them yesterday in anticipation of just this sort of event, even though I'd seen only one stray monkey in the past 6 months).
Seems monkeys are as punctual as bean caterpillars, which emerge hungry at precisely the time the beans are ready to feed them, a bug-bean arrangement finalized many eons ago, long before we learned to plant for our own purposes, despite bugs and monkeys. The bugs don't even bother to laugh at the thought that these are planted beans, and the monkeys don't care, they have the same sort of paleoagreement with the beans and the like: you grow it, we'll eat it. Pretty basic. Way unlike our Nietzschean struggles.
It's in their genes; the earth's output is clearly their heritage, so in that sense she was sitting there watching me grab her beans and pluck them-- then not even eat them before another walker could get them, but put them in some kind of pointless container that interferes with climbing - What the hell for, she looked like she was thinking, stomachs are all you need... never understand these walkers - but I was bigger than she was, which is the way monkeys roll, bottom line - humans too, in more technological ways that include kill ratio and stopping power...
Once I started picking the beans, Scout finally gave up, ambled on out of the shadows, down the stone steps and across the road to the forest where she found a nice vantage tree and sat in it watching me through the leaves and uttering a regular sort of grieving sound, a single syllable moan, like those Italian grandmothers in my old NY neighborhood used to do when as outfielder I had to sometimes go over the fence into their kitchen gardens where there were the most delicious tomatoes in the world. Yes, I was a monkey in my younger days and this is all a form of karma, though I no longer grow tomatoes because I get so few of them, and none ever as delicious as those were...
Scout sat there continuously making that slow rhythmic lament all the while I went carefully along my net wall of her ready beans, taking for myself any beanpod that seemed large enough to catch a monkey's attention, because I knew that she was just being a sound marker, spotter, guide for the approaching troupe (which showed up before long), her eyes following my every move; a companion of hers - male, probably retired, was not far away, breaking branches off an oak tree and throwing them onto the ground in a kind of bluster, which didn't work on me. There was much frustration in the air, except where I was.
The troupe arrived, as always with an unexpected flourish. About 20 minutes after gleaning the beans I was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping my coffee, keeping an eye on the garden, my bedding hanging out over the deck railing in the nooning sun, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a brown furry rocket leap from the cedar into the weeping cherry, thence with a whoosh down onto the deck railing, zip across my futon and from there into the plum tree, on into the bay tree and down to the ground, streaking for my garden.
I looked out the big window and there was brown fur everywhere: there were mothers with newborn wee ones on their backs ambling along, slow loafing males who would get there after the harvest, midrange females just then sneaking over my garden fence but by then I was clacking a stone on the deck railing and whistling, shouting pretty nasty monkey curses and clapping my hands; tossed a rock or two and they all loped away to beyond rock distance, where they would wait until I went back inside my big box...
The word was getting around, though: there were no beans left. The troupe was buzzing; they couldn't believe I had taken their beans, and they were pissed: I could tell by the way they looked at me from the road, their faces an even angrier red than usual; they can't stand it when we steal their stuff.
This morning I was out doing the usual early Saturday round of little chores that build up during the week. I'd earlier scattered the kitchen refuse atop the compost pile - now nearbelow the cherry tree - and was bucketing the last of the wood stove ash from the ash heap to scatter along the feet of the biwa (loquat) and natsume (jujube) trees, the blueberry bushes and the mountain azaleas that line the inner road, then to sprinkle the last of it all atop this morning's compost.
The bucket was heavy with damp ash; I was just passing head down beneath the cherry tree when a blast of raucous sound from above made me look up. There in the branchy shadows blustered Mr. Crow, who owns this turf. Japanese crows can be uncomfortably loud even from a hundred meters away, but Mr. Crow was right there, yawping in my face. He wasn't flying away, as he normally would have done from this sudden proximity; he was staying put, hopping mad on a low branch: I had entered his dark presence just as he was planning his daily breakfast selection from the compost buffet, freshly laid out for him below. There was beaksome orange peel, onion skins, tomato trimmings, cabbage core, tea leaves, broccoli stems, eggshells, you name it, all interlayered for Crow delight, what a feast it would be-- then I blundered into the picture and he became the essence of umbrage.
I just stood there staring at him; he just hopped there, flaring and glaring. Then he raised his head and let out another blast, whoa loud under that canopy of leaves. Crow had never confronted me directly in this way, or this close up; only a couple of meters separated us. This was a bit too near even for my taste. I stared at him some more. He tilted his head and fixed me with his blackest eye: was I gonna get the hell out of his face or what.
For me, the next move was clear. I'd been waiting a long time-- about 35 years, actually. "You talkinna me??" I said, in my best Nooyawkese. He looked dumbfounded. "You talkinna me??" louder this time, more ominous, more threatening, half a step forward, just like De Niro, except this was for real. The big crow beak hung open in dark disbelief, like he could not believe his ears; like he'd seen that movie too! And I was using that very trope, out here in the -- semiwild, which was Crow's alone! What was Crow culture, then, if this was also an element of the human... whatever?
I seemed to sense a deep rift in the crow cosmos; a psychic shock wave passed through me. Crow looked here and there to his heavens for affirmation, as though he'd just read all of Nietzsche or its corvine equivalent. He gave a little croak upward. Forget about the select breakfast buffet. Human and Crow had just had a cultural exchange. We had crossed a line; there had been a merging of artistic elements. If this got out, things would ever be the same.
The question now was, would Crow tell the others, or would he keep this bright secret for his own? Mumbling to himself, he flew off into the upmountain forest, likely to a distant higher branch of contemplation where he could be most alone-- as though he had to think about it. I'm sure he'll keep it all to himself, like that whole thick slice of bread he got not long ago. He'll never share this historic experience with another crow; crows don't do such things.
The longer I've lived here, the more I've come to delight in that brief time of Spring when the wintered mountainside becomes more and more facets of blue sky as the paddies fill, until for a brief time before rice planting, from certain perspectives - like my front doorway - the sky is all over the ground.
Then come the little astonishments of lifetimes, like the early Spring morning when you walk out of the house into a mountain mist and behold upon that long watermirror the pale-green rows of just-planted rice shoots, stretching away into the soft wall of cloud right at your door... You can’t help but just stand there looking, letting the sight fill you with the miracle of magnificence just plain happening, in this day-to-day way.
On the blue days, across that magic mirror glide the clouds that come sailing over the mountain like big baroque pearls, while hawks and swallows dive to snatch food from their reflections; at evening the calm of the mirror is broken into widening rings by a now-and-then rain, or rippled into memory by sudden evening breezes that shiver the silver light.
From the morning train along the Lake, through Spring and Summer you can see the day-by-day changes all along the line, as the tides of days turn the land to sky that soon turns to rice leaves, the fields growing day by day into perfect levels of deep green blades that reveal the wind as they grow taller, until they begin to nod with the weight of their gold...
The folks over at Kyoto Journal recently announced release of their 77th issue, after a long transition from print to digital (and a complete website rebuild). This puts KJ back on track as a quarterly publication providing "insights from Asia."
The 22 articles in this issue (200 pages+!) take readers beyond the ancient capital to Hiroshima, Tokyo and Fukushima, on to Korea, China, Nepal, Tibet, India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, delving into film and fiction, poetry, "off-the-beaten-track" travels, craft and calligraphy, architectural and archaeological investigations, yoga, post-disaster initiatives, and reviews, finishing up right here on Pure Land Mountain.
Culture changes perceptibly even over just a few years, like children and language - things are quickly no longer square or groovy and many of us remember a lush, no-Internet world - but the change seems to be accelerating lately, now that I've lived long enough to have had my childhood seem much nearer the stone age.
That's how prehistoric the present era feels now for a child of the 1940s, a time that at the time was current to the max with essentials like marbles, yo-yos, mumbledy-peg, trolley cars, typewriters, mimeos and carbon paper, clickety-clickety standup phones with five-digit phone numbers, young men in fedoras, grandpas in derbys and high-lace shoes, women in odd-feathered hats and long dresses; there was penmanship with steel pens dipped in school inkwells with slate tops, there were stenographers, dictaphones, telegraph wires all the way across the nation and teletype internationally, horse-drawn wagons delivering milk, bread and ice, there was no tv, "plastic" was a new word, and the old styles, language (Don't say "ain't"!), culture and mores, social borders-- racism, sexism, everywhere, everyone smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, heavy social drinking, normal obesity, litter was the norm, penny candy, cigars, spittoons, the list runs on like time...
I was prompted to recherche those temps perdu when I saw in a film clip an old-school British journalist with all the attendant perceptions, blinkers, mindsets and perspectives, back in the mod 1960s asking the young and sassy, off-the-wall Bob Dylan a rhetorically baroque question, the kind of question that even then was so Edwardianly orotund and sesquipedalianly circumlocutory that when confronted with it, or rather wrapped in it, Dylan uncharacteristically became so sympathetic to the asker as to not be his usual journosassy self, and as I listened to the question unfold I too felt sympathy for that elder statesman of journalism, attempting to speak as though the past fitted perfectly into the right-nowness of his moment, he assuming that he could position this young musical upstart relative to the post-Victorian pantheon of marble-halled literary icons and empirical ideals, that he could understand in his horseback-telegraph-spittoon-historied way what was now going on around him like lightning on vinyl.
In his long professional life he himself had perhaps at last become his own ideal of the Edwardian journalist, hadn't felt the need to make any serious self-adjustments since then and here he was, speaking from the distant past to the distant present. I suppose I'm much the same by now, how can one tell as one rambles on...
There is always a special preserve for the youth of the day, but the changes since 1940 have been more radical than any before in history (atomic bomb!) (iPad!) and have caught many unprepared, like that senior journalist at the peak of his game, whose name might as well have been "Mr. Jones."
Used to be that small adjustments were enough-- a fancy new harness, a bigger bustle, the latest height in a beaver hat, or a new pair of spats to get one through a goodly period of modern living, but this acceleration is new to the cutting-edge elders; we must now adjust more quickly and to greater extremes than any of our foreparents ever had to. How does one adapt to warp speed from the penny-farthings of yesteryear?
I trust the mind, though; as it always has, it will find and learn new ways of keeping up with the new tools it has made, especially in the coming and coming young ones-- but this need for accelerated adaptation is becoming exponential, presenting a more interesting challenge than ever before to elderfolk, who no longer sit in armchairs crocheting or reading the local gazette while listening to the radio in the evening; now every day they dive headfirst into the global infosea, living Moore's Law. There's no shore to information now, which is as it should be, since there’s never been a shore to our hunger; we are, after all, living headlines.
Vegetables have been around longer than we have, you'd think by now they'd have figured out how to grow pretty much on their own. In the wild, they are indeed boss; too much so in some cases - kuzu finds an in and soon takes over. After generations of kitchy-koo domestication, though, the plants we call our vegetables can be a lot like children.
Gardeners must therefore now and then provide temporal guidance to our selectively bred green friends, who in their growth and development are prone to undesired tendencies that can accompany human preferences and require staking, training, shading, netting, fencing, heading, stringing up and so forth. Such guidance, however, should be administered with balanced judgment and tender interspecies diplomacy. You don't want a garden full of offended tomatoes or even worse, peppers. Lettuce, forget about it.
The other day I spotted my newly emerged Climbing Bean tendrils just hanging around lowdown, looking for green action in an arm-over-the-shoulder kind of way with the Spinach, a family that can be bad company for vegetables that have been bred for higher aspirations.
I know from personal human experience, mutatis mutandis, that lowlifery in the early phase sets a bad precedent, and can tend to restrain upward ambition. If Climbing Beans remain too long in an earth-hugging relationship, they may never regain their full powers, never reach the heights to which their birthright entitles them. So without sounding too elitist about it, I had to take the gangly neophytes aside and, in the gentle language suitable to sprouts, give them good advice without bruising their spirits.
There's an art to vegetal diplomacy. To the young but unstriving reachers, I said: "Listen here, greenies-- there are a few things you've got to learn about life. First of all, you've got to choose your companions wisely. Don't hang around with the groundhuggers-- no offense to you, Spinach, don't get all bolty. This isn't personal, it's gardening. You do your job well. We love you. You're tasty, you're nourishing, you're beautiful. Keep up the good work..." (Gardeners often sound like Hollywood agents.)
"But you, all you young beans, reaching with your tendrils: choose high-reaching companions! At your age, take all the help you can get! See those nets up there? Look for the net overhead and use it. Climb as high as you can and don't look back; grab a stake and keep on reaching! Believe me, the sky's the limit for you youngsters, so go for it with all you've got! You'll be blooming way up there in no time! That's your destiny!"
And so I went on, a bit over the top, the green young tendrils hopefully hanging on my every word, though now that they've known the ease of Spinach life, I thought it wiser to lash them to the masts of ambition with plastic twists.
Last night on Japan tv I saw one of those health programs, there seem to be a lot of them these days, there were no such programs back when I was younger in the West and there was only one channel (and when "health faddist" store clerks dressed like doctors and nurses!). These are programs on which some hip-hyper expert shovels out heaps of information that is soon proven to be more or less inaccurate - who really knows until the last pitch - but this claim was pretty convincing; what's more, it was right up my alley (that's an elder idiom from a time when alleys were a big part of life).
This claim was convincing because I could tell it was true. In fact, I'll bet it is true. I sure hope it's true. Be good if it was. It declared that elders who are "grumpy" (i.e., emotionally discerning), "cranky" (sensitive), "opinionated" (knowledgeable), "fussy" (tasteful), "disgruntled" (perceptive), or as we used to say, "testy" (not many truly testy folks around anymore), are less likely to become senile or develop Alzheimer's, there being some significant iota of laboratory correlation between discontent and mental acuity; I can certainly see why that would be the case.
The fact is, that if you continue to actually grow with age, you naturally grow more discerning, and by the time you reach the early levels of the life summit you have had so much experience, acquired so much concise and incontrovertible judgmental ability - overall awareness on so many fronts - that you can easily tell, for example, the difference between wisdom and its absence.
For this and other reasons, it would be a massive loss to humankind and its evolutionary potential if there were not always sufficient elders to nurture the Big Germination. It would be disastrous if disgruntlement, the surest sign that one knows what is right, was not viewed as a good and necessary, even laudable quality, as good for the world as for the individual, like all the other laudable qualities mentioned above.
Indeed, the older I become the more apparent is the urgency for those at the summit to point out the facts of these matters with a forcible forefinger, providing detailed explication to these wisdom-starved whippersnappers! Why, we elders haven't even touched the surface of staying sharp in today's world; I'll get on with my part as soon as I find my glasses.
You gotta love those rare special events you have no idea are coming, moments you couldn't have imagined would be waiting there just ahead of now, like the other night.
I was driving the grandgirls (12, 10 and 10) up to our place to stay the weekend; the darkness lay heavy on the mountain and the fog was thick, the way it loves to get in Spring.
As we wended our way up the winding road toward the house, I was driving slowly, expecting who knows what, some wild pigs, a buck, maybe - even a bear - to dash out from the forest and across the road... Then, in that quiet mood, as we came up around the last curve to the crossroads, just past the tunnel, with not much visible in the lowbeam glare, we met the unexpected: standing there, all alone in the swirling mist, at the center of crossroads and headlights, stood the actual Bambi.
I must say, in the dense silence of a foggy mountain night there is nothing louder than the sudden spotlit appearance of a baby deer in the roadway with three little girls in the car. A high moment it was for the Trio, and a strange moment for that tiny creature out there, panic shivering its white-spotted golden fawn body, big dark eyes staring into blinding light, in a world as new as it ever gets...
The girls slowly hushed at the emotion of the sight; I slowed the car even more, not knowing which way a skittish Bambi might bolt as we crept slowly toward him standing there bouncing around on four brand-new gangly legs - boing, boing, boing - then bobbling away - But that way was uphill, houses up there; then heading left - fence there; then to the right - fence there too, what to do what to do, it would have to be downward then: into the jaws... of the glaring monster... Would there be such courage in that new life? Or might a skittish infant just bolt under the car? What do we evernew creatures know about such things?
I slowed... and then stopped; Bambi bounced his way toward the side of the road and teetered squeezily past us, within arm’s length out the open windows, the girls calling his name right into his big ears, until he could skitter for deer life into the welcome darkness.
Bet he never forgets that time when the huge nightbeast came at him with blinding eyes and roaring voice, and how he managed his escape.
I've heard of rogue a lot of things, mainly elephants and traders, but rogue wheat? If a seed can be rogue, it must be from Monsanto, the reclusive corporate individual who brought agent orange to the dinner table, funds all the useful PACs and sends its execs to head the U.S. Dept of Agriculture under the pliable presidents, pretty much passing its own laws for the benefit of mankind. You might call it a rogue company.
"Asia curbs US imports of wheat after genetically modified sample found.
The discovery of rogue genetically modified wheat in a farmer's field in Oregon shook global confidence in the safety of America's food supply on Friday.
Billions in food exports were potentially at stake following the disclosure by the US Department of Agriculture of the existence of the GM wheat plants.
Not long ago I saw a Japanese tv program in which the audience reacted to the astonishment of a Saudi Arabian visitor to Japan who was profoundly amazed at everyday Japanese conveniences and practices.
While heading for the farm store after breakfast, and having driven about halfway down our winding one-lane mountain road, which has the local junior high school at the bottom (where you take a left or right to get into the village and thence onto the main lakeside road), I noticed ahead the bizarre phenomenon of a large mass of -- whiteness, moving up the road toward me. For a few dozen meters further I still couldn't tell what it was down there, I had never seen such a thing on the road before... As it and I drew nearer, I could finally make out that it was all of the school's baseball players in their white uniforms, many dozens of guys from about 11 to 15 years of age, running up the mountain in a training exercise; must be a new coach...
Needless to say, their numbers filled up a great length of the roadway, and in a section where the paddies are high-fenced on both sides against wild animals; how could we pass each other? Surely the teams couldn't be expected to turn around and run all the way down, then back up again? Looked like I might have to back up the twisted road, which would be difficult and take a while; whichever way this went, those guys puffing and sweating at the edge of stamina wouldn't be too happy at my intrusive presence.
Despite my time here, my western mind was kicking in at this unknown occurrence, seeing what it might expect out of old-home habit, projecting, anticipating the vibes... I could not foresee, in this new circumstance, what spontaneously came to pass: as the red vehicle and the white mass were about to merge, the big puffing, sweaty teen crowd magically disappeared, as each member pressed tightly against the fence all along both sides of the road, opening a comfortably wide gauntlet through which I could easily pass.
As I did so, and in awe moved slowly through them, they all said, over and over (in polite Japanese): "Sorry! Thank you! Sorry! Sorry! Thank you! Sorry! Thank you! Sorry! Thank you! Sorry! Sorry!" Even for me, that was so far from what I had been alienly expecting; I rolled down the window, put my hand out and waved and yelled thanks and apologies to them in return, and it felt good.
It was in fact - as they had shown me - the natural thing to do.
I knew this day would come. I just thought I might get another summer out of it. The burgeoning beauty of my select lettuce varieties must simply have been too much for the drooling deer, who've had to live on conventionally blah weeds and good grief tree bark, and finally had it up to the antlers gazing through my not-antimonkey net fence at my neat rows of appetizing salad lettuces, top-of-the-line cucumbers, spare-no-expense zucchinis and deliciously crunchy beanpods, the apex of feral menu items.
Seems the animals living on the edge of civilization these many decades, deeper and deeper in the thralls of indulgence, have been getting fussier with each generation, becoming ever more accustomed to the finer points of civilized life, such as rap music and fast food. We must have had a similar experience back when we were Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnons moved in next door.
If this keeps up, pretty soon the animals will have urbs and burbs of their own, commuting to offices in their own beastly bureaucracies, the Deer Department, the Monkey Agency, the Inoshishi IRS... For starters, though, last night one or two or three or more deer, maybe seven thousand, found a weak spot in my garden fence, widened it and partied on my lettuce, tangoed on my chard, buzzcut my chives, noshed my nasturtiums, beheaded my cukes, zapped my zukes...
I know there's no point in putting up wanted posters on trees around the forest or even in the post office, with a deer mug shot and my phone number, so I just fixed the fence pro tem - not that it matters, there's always a weak spot in a fence, fences are all just a bunch of holes anyway. I just never had an actual fence before I moved here and took up the folly that is gardening on the edge-- this working hard to feed the wild and thankless animals.
For them, the feast was just laid out there on the carefully prepared banquet table; looked like they partied pretty much through the night; they have really quiet raves, not even a crunch... It must have gone on with subtle munching excitement until well near dawn, but I wasn't even awakened by wild belches. Not until I went out in the morning to get some lettuce did I realize I had to pick up the tab...
Right now I'm pondering new fence plans. I know how the Ming dynasty felt; it didn't work for them, but those were different times. That may sound something like Alfred’s definition of insanity, but I'm not a dynasty. My ambitions are much humbler. Like lettuce.
BECOMING ARCHAEOLOGICAL I don't feel all that Jurassic, but archaeologists are already digging up relics from after I was born, a time shrouded in the mists of history along with my early playmates the Neanderthals and other formerly youthful individuals, including for example Julius, Marc and Cleo, with whom I am now aggregate, though I didn't know any of them very well until fifth grade or so. I entered this world in - let me adjust my stone calendar to Julian - 1940CE, not long after the ice age that followed the late Pleistocene, which comprised my school years. My eyes still work, so I was just reading the news on one of these newfangled computers, it uses what they call "real time," to differentiate it from the other kind. It was saying how some archaeologist - a field that started before I was born, believe it or not - had found items from a tragic fire of long ago, greenhorn readers apparently having to turn their mindclocks nearly all the way back to WWII to realize the chronospan involved: archaeological artifacts from - which archaic period is that? The 1940s? - Wait, was there time then? Yes, grasshopper, there was; we had hourglasses to prove it. And I was there, already walking and talking in the early language of those days, the archaic one spoken by Whitman, Melville, Twain, Fitzgerald, Mencken et al., famous paleoauthors of whom (or is it all-the-way 'who' now?) you may have heard. By that time I was going to school, a fairly recent phenomenon, where they had stringent language and grammar requirements and taught handwriting - perhaps you've heard of cursive? We practiced the Palmer Method (crucial for careers and professional respect in a world now archaeological) with a "nibbed" pen dipped into "ink" in an "inkwell" that was inset into our wooden "desktops" (the original kind). The inkwell had a little sliding cover and was fashioned entirely from slate, of all things. Plastic was just becoming a word. Nibbed pen calligraphy was so much more elegant than ballpoint is; the concept of elegance, like history itself, has lost quite a bit of steam (an old idiom) and relativity since Archimedes and I first played marbles together, back in the good old days.
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