Monday, December 29, 2008


Well the grandees arrived yesterday afternoon and, having suffered one long child-year of deep snow deprivation, were unable to get out of the car without squealing and running straight to the snow mountains I'd made in front of the deck and climbing right up and down them over and over for immediate replenishment, in the fever of their delirium making snowballs to throw at anything at all until they came to the next level of their senses and ran en masse to the tool shed - filling their boots with snow at every step, but who cares about feet when there's food for the starving - to get any item at all that could hold snow, like shovels, trowels, buckets etc., then they fanned out into the garden and began to fill in holes and elevate hills and otherwise rearrange the snowscape to their frenzied liking when at some point I mentioned a nice big open snowy slope up in the forest where they might want to go and play, and with one voice of yes they flung their forgotten tools to the ground (where the tools still are, as I notice out the window on the garden) so we all walked upmountain into the forest - actually we adults walked and the kids ran - where we came to a nice clear slope of virgin snow and the three filled the forest with squeals at the sight, a sound most awesome yet somehow quite at home in the sylvan silence, as they ran up the hill arms waving, scarves flying, boots falling off, the hill would be perfect for tobogganning if we had a toboggan but they don't have toboggans in Japan so the snowcovered trio just used their bodies and ran up and slid, rolled, tumbled and galloomphed to the bottom then back up again, quickly exhausting the adults, who at last herded the snowsodden three back through the woods with their snowmelt mittens and icewater boots, I gave one my handwarmer to help her survive till we arrived back at the house with three little melting snowladies who right away gathered by the toasty woodstove and had some hot tea and opened their presents, all without the slightest bit of a fight it was great, we all sat around the low homemade wooden table in front of the stove and had homemade pizza before the kids all took turns wearing the moonmask. A typical first day of the snow cure.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


It’s such fun living up here on the edge of yukiguni because, among so many other reasons you get sudden big snowfalls like we did yesterday, after a splendid but way extended autumn.

The moody sky let loose all day with the conviction of ten trillion snowflakes while I was working in the same-old big city where it was snowless as usual and otherwise uninteresting, so when I got home I couldn’t even drive up to the house, had to park in the tunnel under the lakeside road and walk up the rest of the even steeper part of our local roadway through half-meter deep snow to the house in the dark.

It was dark because that's the way the night gets up here where there are no streetlights - another fun thing because of the astonishment of stars in summer - but in the winter, when you walk your way here after the early end of day, going step by step upward into the hush of a mountainwide snowfall in the dark as night ever gets, wearing your mountain shoes - this is no place for tasseled loafers - you get to share the power of the snow and its silence, and the night and its dark, like nowhere in any city.

This just the first snow of the year, so before we get to see the flowers sing in color again there are few more meters of white yet to come down and rise high on the ground for their turn at being, because when it finally snows up here in yukiguni, it gives you all it’s got.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Sorry to jump up and down and shout all suddenly like that at this hour of the morning, but I was up till after midnight last night not watching tv but rather engaged in an increasingly antique activity known to members of my generation as “reading a book.”

As a result of that and the fact that it was dark until so late this morning, I overslept on what I suddenly realized was a work day, so when I lumbered out of bed and looked out the window I couldn’t help but jump and shout since even in the dark I could tell it had snowed, because the entire landscape was just the opposite.

All over the ground I could see this whiteness that must be snow, unless during the night there'd been a bigtime explosion at a styrofoam factory nearby which I doubted because there isn’t one and anyway I would have heard it, since dreams mean shallow sleep and as I recall I dreamed a lot last night-- I dream in color, which makes them easier to remember. I’ve heard that more people who were born before color tv dream in black and white, but if they lived here even they could tell it snowed last night and would jump and shout in the morning dark like I did.

But then again, since I grew up before color tv and read books, maybe I’m dreaming all this in black and white, and this might not be a work day, so I'll just stay asleep a bit longer and see...

Thursday, December 25, 2008


The furoshiki is a gift in itself...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

FIREWOOD TREE Alastair Heseltine

Sunday, December 21, 2008


There are secrets you can’t keep from firewood, especially oak. Such as where your feet are. Oak has relentless inertial curiosity, coupled with a strong affinity for toes. In fact we might be dealing here with one of the as yet unidentified forces at play in the universe-- so much remains a mystery to us. Someone with a scientific smirk on his face might remark “Oh, that’s just gravity at work,” but he’s simply confirming our instant hypothesis that he’s never split any oak in his life.

In my previous struggles regarding the wood, with its heavy agenda and grainy gravitas, it was generally the oak that had the upper hand, so to speak; it always knew where my feet were and how to reach them by the shortest route. Oak is deeply savvy, in its way; growing for centuries affords a pretty thorough education, well-grounded in gravity and inertia.

So because I have big feet I've been wasting a lot of energy anticipating, avoiding and however preventing firewood-toe interaction, so I finally got the message (you do not want to see my left big toe!) and took action. This morning I put on the brand-new size 11 steel-toed rubber boots I received at lightning speed from the surprisingly low-priced, yet high-quality Gempler’s (big-footed, long-armed rural expats take note), but the firewood didn’t know a thing about it. I was curious as to how quickly the oak would find out.

It didn't take long. This morning I was out firewooding as usual this time of year, in this instance splitting a 40 cm-diameter oak section into 8 splits, all of which were itching to get at my feet - it’s hard to herd oak once it’s split and on its own - in the woody melee, one of the splits broke free and headed instantly for that big toe you didn’t want to see - oak knows these things (e.g., left, not right) - it struck hard and fast, as usual, with that little vicious noogie in there for good measure that oak likes to give when it gets the chance, but it just-- bounced off my boot, giving a little oaken Huh? of surprise in mid-air, then falling to earth and just laying there stunned, not doing the usual hard bounce and wicked spin to maybe zing a shin or whang an ankle.

The oak was still crackling to itself as I tossed it among its fellows in the wheelbarrow, trying to keep the smirk off my face, you've got to be careful around oak. I noted though that the splits went on crackling and whispering in the wheelbarrow all the way to the woodpile… Maybe I should order shin guards and a helmet?

Friday, December 19, 2008


"As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday, and employees will receive their cards in two weeks."
---Actual managerial quote (and you thought it was a comic strip)!

I'd swear I used to be managed by some of these dim bulbs, but that can't be true-- those people must be retired into full shadow by now; the lightless quality must be passed down by some kind of mutated managerial genetics. As millennia of experience indicate, there will always be pointy-haired bosses.

The directive quoted above is but one of the winners of a 'Dilbert Quotes' contest asking the managed to submit quotes from their Dilbertean superiors. These were voted the top ten Dilbertic quotes in corporate America, should you desire to re-experience some managerial moments of your own...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The quotidian vacuum of presidential existence was violated in Iraq yesterday when an Iraqi journalist attending an impromptu boilerplate bunker news conference threw both of his shoes (one of the actual shoes is seen at left, likely soon to be soaring on ebay) at the President of the United States in a non-sartorial statement that had nothing to do with footwear per se, the US per se or its presidency per se, just with the target of the shoes. Footwear is a standard fixture of insults in the Middle East.

The first thing I thought upon seeing the news video was that this guy has a major-league arm! Two fastball shoes like that, in quick succession, under World-Series-seventh-game kind of pressure, and they were both strikes, right down the old pipe! This guy's got some serious stuff! Probably being scouted by the Yankees even now, as a game saver with major potential. In fact, right at this moment a lot of folks (baseball fans, shoe fans, insult fans etc.) are parading for the thrower's release, and sending him more shoes.

He's a hero on many levels to many classes of people, though I think - apart from the career-changing revelation of his skills to major league scouts - he should have simply donated his shoes to the shoeless, instead of wasting them on the guy who's probably the world's best avoider of shoes and other objects, both real and abstract. From the facility with which the target ducked the strikezone footwear it was obvious that he's an Artful Dodger with a lifetime of practice. He was clearly in his element. It's a skill that after all got him 8 years in the highest office in the world and topped off his Middle-East legacy with the deft avoidance of two shoes. Metaphors just don't get any better than that.


"I took a shoe for the President..."


Egyptian offers daughter to Iraqi shoe-thrower

God is a lot like the Marx Brothers.


Saudi man seeks 'Shoe of Dignity'

Way better price than on e-bay...


Model 271, "The Bush Shoe," Flying off the shelves...

From around the globe, orders are flying in like crazy
for the world's most popular shoe...


Stampede for 'Bush Shoe' Creates 100 New Jobs

"BLACK leather shoes"? Is this another intel mixup?


Shoes Thrown at Bush Have Message Written on Bottoms

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I was out making kindling in the late afternoon today when Corvinus Maximus, with the classic Roman beak, stopped by on his branch of the chestnut tree and began to harangue me at high volume, cawing on at length about how uncooperatively I've been handling the kitchen garbage these days when I dump it on the compost pile or something, he's non-stop with the complaints - I've been dumping woodstove ash at the same time and right on top of the kitchen garbage - how is he supposed to make a living, how can he find anything there amid all those leaves, let alone eat it, am I trying to poison him or interfere with his livelihood, meager as it is, not to mention scaring him and his friends the other day by the way, and even worse, putting nets over my garden with all those delectations there, did I know how hungry his mother is, and not only that and on he went, he has so many woes, his life is as dark as his outlook and no one treats him right, no job, reduced to scavenging etc.

He could go on forever and I'd never finish the kindling, so I just gave him a dose of his own medicine and started complaining loudly back, more eloquently and less selfishly I hope - though he didn't want to hear a word of it - about how he had upset that stuff on the deck just the other day, and broken into a trash bag out front, and eaten all my soybean sprouts that time, and crapped on my new car, I too went on at length, I have a lot of complaints against Corvinus Maximus and we have no other mutual court of justice so I just laid it out there on the air for all the world to hear, even though it was just he and I-- but like all crows, though Maximus can dish it out he can't take it. He flew off in the embodiment of huff, shoulders hunched, yelling complaints, his black toga trailing behind. But he'll be back.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Just thinking as I was working the garden (good metaphor for mental processes!) about the Humanities, how beneficial they are in nurturing the most important quality in living: an interesting and interested life.

The Humanities are not taught primarily in preparation for a job, which seems to be the astigmatic purpose of most education in our time - for a career that ends when you retire - but in laying the groundwork for the lifelong cultivation of interests that keep one curious and excited in new ways at every age.

In my case, it fed my desire to read, and then to write, led me to travel - I'm still exploring after all these years, an alien in a foreign land - and to ongoing natural education (see children, grandchildren, world, nations, cultures, languages, gardening, monkeys, firewood etc.) as a way of life, unlike training that in time becomes outmoded, less and less part of a life retired...

Which is not to say that other fields of study lack this beneficial aspect - it depends to some extent on the breadth and depth of one's innate curiosity, though the Humanities has the broadest cast of all. But all this came to mind (suggestively, while weeding) because the Humanities are being so dissed these days as having least relevance to a sizable income (though this table indicates otherwise -- the philosopher does quite well!) when in fact they are the richest source of the greatest wealth-- not the external kind that isolates, but the wealth one builds within oneself, to enjoy and share for a life entire.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Sure could say a lot of Onion-like things about this,
but I'll forbear, in view of the potential awesomeness...

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Below is a link to a site showing photos of creative school lunch bento ideas for the season/month. Only in Japanese, unfortunately, but easy to navigate to see some of the rad-mad lunch/dessert design ideas for the once simple bento, posted since 2002...

On the page for November 2008 (years and months indexed at top of linked page), that is not my house in the woods, but it sure looks like one of my many marauding monkeys, likely looking for purloinable dainties to put in his bento.

To give you some further idea of how far the bento-as-art phenomenon has gone...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


It is long, too long, since I have done the simplest tasks for which the body is fitted, such as carrying stones. It is good, very good, to do things for which standard education is of no avail.

Building with stone for the first time meant hefting stones in a way I never had before. Most of my earlier stone hefting had been in preparation for throwing; the rest was just the unalloyed, aimless hefting that comprises most human/stone relations. Never had I sought to address stones in their individual natures.

I began to turn them over in their beds and behold their personalities from all angles, and saw the light that shines from a stone that has anything like the shape of that particular emptiness in the wall you're building, and how the stone that fits acquires a very valuable value and cannot easily be replaced.

The stone builder also learns what hands actually evolved for: not for derivative things like grasping handles, pounding keyboards, turning steering wheels or operating remote controls, but for holding stones! Hands evolved to lift, heft, and hurl stones (such hard, straight, primitive words those three, clearly made for use with stones). For of course man the word-user first 'lifted' stones, first 'hefted' stones and first 'hurled' stones. The palms are made to hold stones, and the fingers to adapt the grip to stone facets, in a way not necessary with a fruit or a club or a martini; there was need to be able to quickly pick up something heavy of non-repeating shape, what else fills the bill in every respect but a stone; thus the human hand evolved from mere treelimb-grasper into quick stone-grabber, which doesn't say much for the evolution of our disposition, but does explain the ongoing need for stone walls, and the basic and somehow surprisingly right-at-home feeling hands feel when holding a stone.

And stones for their part have much to say to us, in their own forthrightly reticent way, of time and purpose, of trust, constancy and patience. If one can fall sufficiently silent to hear them, they are well worth listening to.

Thus in a pleasant place on a pleasant day, it is pleasant indeed, particularly in retrospect, and more than fully organic, to have one's head filled with stones, that rattle around and crack open new thoughts, polish old attitudes to a new sheen and grind up fixed ideas into the wherewithal of germination.

The stones on my place (my land is a veritable stone mine) are mainly of the metamorphic type, born of fire and pressure and therefore oddly and stubbornly shaped, so for the most part I must use as-is what I pick and choose, a lot like being born has turned out to be.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


If a new neighbor were to come to you and say, "Howdy, neighbor, I have a few too many producing oil wells on my property I have to get rid of so I can build my house, do you want them? They have to be out of there in one week, though, or the builders will take them away-- I'm asking cause I heard that you heat your house with oil," you would naturally at once become blurry with feels like 24/7 action-- Free oil! Free heat! And of course would be frenziously unceasing in your effort to max the oil before the deadline, all of which is by way of explaining my elbow.

Because oil and wood, apart from their both being sun derivative, are one and the same if they are your fuel. Both need a bit of processing first of course, to make them usable in your heating system: exploring, drilling, pumping, refining and shipping in the case of non-renewable oil, and felling, bucking, splitting, lugging and drying in the case of renewable wood. All of which takes time-- in the case of oil, mainly by complex and costly manmade machinery, terminally hooked up to vast tankers and pipelines; in the case of wood, complex natural machinery comprising sun, air, rain and earth, simple tools like an axe and a wedge, and a recently evolved but complex refining device, i. e., me.

The result is the same: a warm house at the heart of winter, where, unlike oily machines that get no joy at the end, when my refining work is done I stand toasty beside my woodstove, warmed with homemade fuel, watching the snow fall among the trees...

Oh yeah, the elbow. My right elbow. All that chainsawing, felling, tossing, lugging, stacking and splitting compressed into those few days by the deadline (we made it), predominantly using my right elbow, has caused some sort of irritation to the muscles and possibly the joint of said juncture, which feels for the moment as though I might be my actual age, at least for a while, as I stand here at the window enjoying myself by not bending my arm, because I have to take it easy till my slower-paced youth returns, when I can go back to my labors at a measured pace using a natural elbow.

Beautiful replenishing refinery I have outside there, though, whole forests of it, rising into the sky. Plus, my golden firewood is all the way prettier and more fragrant than oil. And though cheaper as well, it's worth more, too, in terms of care, excitement, exercise and other true values, like supertankers of elbow grease.

Monday, December 08, 2008


The Baron not in blue, but in the natural majesty
suited to a portrait for the hall of noble ancestors,
as kindly restored by Mark Alberding...

Friday, December 05, 2008


When I first came to Japan nearly 40 years ago I was impressed that Japanese of all ages were such a hardy bunch of folks in any situation, just having come through the devastation of war, and with their traditional lack of central heating and their uninsulated houses (I used to wake up on Tokyo winter mornings beside little snow drifts that had blown through the cracks between the thin boards of my house). The grammar school boys back then used to go to school in the iciest weather wearing thin jackets and short-shorts. Wow, are they going to be hardy when they grow up, I used to think.

In the broil of those summers as well, everyone bore up without complaint in their unairconditioned, sweltering, breezeless big-city cheek-to-jowl neighborhoods. They simply adjusted, as they always had, in the bushido way, to whatever conditions came along; old pictures of Japanese standing around in the snow in their shin-high kimonos and straw sandals come to mind. Gambaru was the word.

But since then things have changed in unexpected ways. These winter days, when I head for the office in the Big City I am sanely dressed for motorcycling down an icy winter mountain road and waiting on a blizzardy train platform, then a walk though blustery city streets to the office, where it is so hot you could grow orchids. This is an institutional example of what I call neogambaru, in which one pays to suffer, in this case via artificial discomfort achieved through high heating bills. (Another retroexample is to pay for and consume junk food by which one's health deteriorates.)

Then after a confusing seasonal retrotransition we segue into the summer version of neogambaru, when I come in dressed for an afternoon on Waikiki and after the train you could chip ice off my shoulders, then you could break icicles off my desk. Everyone has shawls over their shoulders and blankets over their knees, the modern, expensive version of standing out in the snow in kimono and straw sandals. Paid for in the form of airconditioning bills. (Another retroexample is paying for exercise to offset the atrophying effects of offices.)

I'm not proposing that everyone return to kimono and straw sandals in the snow as a way of life, or give up artificial exercise as a way of counterbalancing some of the patent shortcomings of current living. I'm aware that we must progress, we must improve our lot, elevate our situation, raise our comfort level I guess, and even go mad now and then if we want; but this much? Do we have to be winter orchids, for godsake? Or summer popsicles?

Excuse me while I undress for the office winter tropics, and explain to you my simple compound solution. Henceforth, let's just decree that summer is winter indoors, and that winter is summer indoors! Sort of a seasonal savings time. That way, we'll all be able to stay suitably dressed for the occasion, and not feel insane. Hawaiian shirts in winter, down anoraks in summer: that should be easy to remember.

I've also devised a groundbreaking program by which, for a modest fee of 2000 yen per hour, anyone can come to my house and split and stack firewood for as many hours as they like, to ward off the chills of popsicality and melt away the lassitudinal layers of orchidity. Monthly rates available.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Here it is December already and there is no snow on the mountains, the oak tree still has green leaves on it, we haven't had a single frost and my potatoes think they're in Hawaii, despite the black hole in the world economy. I too, when I'm working outside, am soon down to my t-shirt when it should be snowing, and as I work I have the distinct feeling that glaciers are melting, ice sheets are shattering, polar bears are disappearing and Eskimos are developing beachfront...

Of course it could all be just a centurial anomaly or something, as the folks who know as little as anyone else insist; besides, what do we mere mortals know about the history of anything, really, short term as we are, just a few gossipy fragments of surmises here and there written down as gospel, either way we don't really know what we're talking about, we can't even explain our own desires or the ice ages, or even the words we say about them, though our minds know more than we do.

The puzzles nevertheless are ongoing, like the strange lack of acorns and other nuts (excluding human) in the northeast US this year, and the disappearance of tuna and sharks from the sea and certain birds from the sky, what does our knowledge really know, the sun's getting weird, the solar system prefers to be alone, the galaxy is acting quirky, galactic clusters are accelerating away from something, space is bent and now they've sensed some strange attractions from outside the universe as we call it; so what else is new, is this all normal, are we having guests, should I put my shirt back on?

Sunday, November 30, 2008


This morning we had the co-op work event, so everyone who lives in this section - and a few who don't but have vacation homes here - went up to the gathering place on an upmountain forest road with a thick overhead canopy of trees and there set about our collective task, which was to clear the debris from one of the roadside culverts for the waterpipe soon to be laid along within it.

We all set about clearing the culvert and raking the leaves from the road, of the kind less traveled and so heavily leaf-strewn. I was using a big traditional Japanese bamboo rake and soon worked out a system, got into the rhythm of it-- down one side of the road for a while, then back up the other side, gathering the leaves in a long pile in the middle, thence to be scooped up and thrown into the roadside woods (I'm gonna go back and get some for my compost pile) and as I got into the hypnosis that attends all extended and worthy tasks, I reached a part of the road that, due to the shade of canopy, had wide beds of moss on both sides near the culverts: a rich, green, thick forest moss, growing on the dirt that tends to gather there in the light rain runoff, and soon I hit a patch of sunlight where the low wintering sun shone in from the open end.

When I began to rake those leaves away, the moss there, abruptly freed from that long beneath, all at once gleamed with a happy sunlit green that was almost startling, it glowed like a jewel brought suddenly from darkness into light, and across that emerald velvet were strewn bright golden ginkgo leaves, tiny ruby and topaz momiji leaves, amber beech leaves, imperial jade oak leaves edged with gold, leaves of every kind, color and size that grew around there, it was a galaxy of leaves strewn there across a vivid green sky lit by a sun of its own, it was like staring out among the stars at night, but here I was in the morning sunlight working, yet learning in a new way that the difference between night and day is purely local, as after all is the difference between leaves and stars, between moss and sky—

Locally, when the road was done, on the way home I walked with rake over shoulder past all the trees that still wore leaves along the roadside way-- the dayglow momiji, some die-hard oaks, bright orange wild persimmons here and there where leaves used to be, all wrapped in an eye-watering blue autumn sky with a few high clouds towering far off, from which was falling and blowing toward me on the brisk wind the barest vapor of a rain-- I’d felt it then looked for and saw it, whirling like diamond dust across the blue between, and then ahead of me on my way lay a glass-clear view of the sapphire slab of the Lake stretching out down below, and I thought to myself what a privilege to live such vistas in the morning...

Friday, November 28, 2008


Our good friend Sogyu came by the other day to talk about our driveway, we want to have a new driveway, nothing fancy mind you, just one that doesn't develop potholes every year and that can be shoveled in winter - given that we live on such a slope - and so that Echo can drive right up close to the house in the winter and fully open the car door, yet not slide down the mountain.

Sogyu built the stone wall in front of our house several years ago and did a great job, so there he was on a chilly evening ready to talk driveway, and in one of my usual seeming non-sequiturs I asked him about his monkey problems way out where he lives in the countryside over on the other beyond of these mountains, where all those monkeys must be ogling his garden day and night, and he said he didn't have a monkey problem, a statement that rendered me speechless as he went on to say that he did have a deer problem though, they had put up high nets around the 2 or 3 thousand soybean plants they'd planted last year, but then while they were away for a time the deer had chewed through the netting (large opening!) and then through all the soy plants, a total loss.

I was still speechless though so I didn't think to ask what kind of netting they had used. Reason I asked about monkeys - as if you don't know by now - I've put some netting on hoops over my rows in the garden, as a prototype test against monkeys mainly-- the wild pigs haven't bothered me much yet, but now that I have potatoes (cue theremin riff)...

I know that the deer come through every night and would gladly eat just about everything I have planted, as they have in my prenet past, but I can tell they seem especially to desire the tender leaves of delicious boston lettuce, the delicate fronds of luscious rainbow chard and the toothsome bunches of savory spinach, because every morning when I come out to check and harvest for lunch I see where the deer have fervently tried to push their hooves through the net, or maybe it's their noses, deer fervency can be pretty intense.

I picture them straining for all those illicitly free green preciouses-- just inches-- mere inches-- away from yearning teeth-- and falling short. The vision warms my heart with delight as I tighten the nets once more. These are tough, multifiber plastic nets, with no sign (so far) of deer teeth attempting to chew through them. Sogyu, being a nice guy, must be using tasty cotton nets... Though I still don’t know if these nets of mine will withstand the wiles of monkeys, who have oodles of godgiven time and hunger to outsmart me...

As to what's happening with the driveway, I have no idea. When Sogyu comes again this weekend, I'll be sure to ask him why in the world he has no monkey problems.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Great moves coming up in the big skydance...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Yesterday afternoon I was up in the loft editing my brains out when Echo yelled Look out into the garden! I was up like a shot ready to make some big noise, thinking it was a horde of monkeys after my new onions or the last of my shiitake, but to my pleasant surprise it was The Baron himself, in full regalia, after a long night of heavy cruising and courtship, of lovey-dovey deer-yelling all over the place, a lot of of it right in our garden, a popular wild bordello at this time of year.

But here he was in broad daylight! He never leaves his palace during the day, let alone wander among his subjects out in the open like that, browsing lazily on the various herbs of ours (actually his, under deer jurisprudence) that he likes to indulge in when passing through as though it were night and we asleep.

I ran to get my camera and snapped a shot through the loft window just before his lordship suspected the presence of paparazzi and glided off into the neighboring woods. Turned out I'd had had the camera set for indoor lighting (having last night taken a pic of the holiday lights we put up, to send to the really grandkids), so the only known photo of The Baron is in blue. Seems fitting somehow, for that stately mien-- like a picture on a wall in a big room of a noble house, The Baron in his blue phase, looking good even after a long night of rampant passion... (Note background of monkey-tossed shiitake logs...)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Flashback > from PLM November 2003


After Kaya left a few evenings ago, as I was emptying my pockets before going to bed I found a leaf that she had picked up on our afternoon walk that day, from among all the other leaves lying on the ground. I suppose she had picked it out because of its unusualness in being half crimson and half bright yellow, the colors divided right down the middle of the leaf, had picked it up and given it to me, I had looked at it, and remarked upon it, and thought and I suppose said, in the brief instant of attention young children allow for such things, how special it was that she had seen the very beauty in that particular leaf among all the others. Then I had put the leaf in my pocket and forgotten about it as we continued on our walk. When I found it in my pocket that night, I put it on the table beside my bed. Now for the days since, each time I go to bed at night and each time I rise in the morning the beauty of that leaf, at first so bright and attention-grabbing, has begun to fade a little bit as the red weakens toward brown and the yellow does too. Soon it will be the one color all the other leaves have become, so is grabbing my attention in a different way. It is a little record, there, of the life of all things, once in their greenness, thence to their fullest beauty, that falls in time to the beginning children give to us.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


How like our own rooted life, the slow life of the land. The paddies are all shorn now, the gifts of sun, rain and earth have been taken home. The fields lie golden in the slanting light of the last of day, the cut stalks yet sending up new shoots in timeless green hope, vested in the same faith we accord tomorrow.

Their shearing marked the end of summer, now their turning marks the end of fall. All the more beauteous for their loss of glory, the paddies gild the mountainside.

They are done now, these fields, unattended but by the wood doves, who come in pairs to search for overlooked grains, until soon the long white sleep of winter begins again to ready the land for spring, as it readies ourselves.

Friday, November 21, 2008


I had never seen a funnier waiting room in my life.

The expression on the walls, the look on the door combined to drive me into shrieks of laughter.

I was rolling on the floor, my sides aching, tears streaming from my eyes when the secretary called my name, announcing my turn for the job interview.

I straightened myself as best I could and brushed the floor dust off my suit, still chuckling at the color of the carpet and stifling guffaws at the lamps on the hilarious stands at the ends of the outrageous couch, as I gathered my papers together and wiped my eyes with my tie.

By the time I opened the door to the inner office, overcoming a new surge of laughter at the sight of the ludicrous doorknob, I had gained sufficient control over myself to present a reasonably staid appearance, suited to the position for which I was applying, that of bank manager.

The board of interviewers, however, was seated around such a side-splitting table that I lost control at once and doubled over roaring, dropping my briefcase onto a carpet even funnier than the one I'd just left, and going into absolute convulsions at each boffo question the comical crew asked me.

It was too much; I nearly crack up even now, just thinking about it.

Anyway, I howled all the way through the interview-- you should have seen their ties! I simply couldn't contain myself!

At the end of it, they had the secretary help me out of there - I was absolute jelly by then - and later I was informed that I had gotten the job.

As you can see, I don't laugh at all any more. Now that I actually manage money, it isn't the least bit funny.

Used to read this at the Kyoto Connection, over 20 years ago,
perhaps anticipating our current surreal global financial comedy;
a slightly different version was published later, in Kyoto Journal #19...
w/thanks to Ken Rodgers.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Monday, November 17, 2008


I was out there this fine early evening finishing up with splitting firewood (what else? actually, I also earlier transplanted about 500 onion sandwiches worth of red and white onions) when I heard Dr. Crow up there atop his pole, where he likes to make random stops during the day to gather key information on general Brady activities (such as onion planting) and where at evening he always makes his final stop to survey his vast realms, make sure everything is buttoned down for the night just the way he likes it, before winging off to his forest penthouse.

But the sound I was hearing from the good doctor was not his usual raucous yet commanding note; it was more like a caHOINK, caHOINK, caHOINK, caHOINK, ongoing at regular deep-breath intervals. Finally I looked up and shouted to the dark silhouette up there: “Whadda you, been hangin’ around with pigs or sumthin?” (We’re completely informal amongst ourselves up here on the mountain.) But then my eyes focused and it wasn’t Crow I was talking to, it was a much bigger silhouette, in fact it was a huge pinecone of feathers up there like I’d never seen, going caHOINK, caHOINK, caHOINK, then my eyes focused more and I saw the scimitar beak: it was Master Hawk, standing austerely silent in his humungifying pineconeness. So where were all the caHOINKs coming from?

Then I saw Hawk turn and look down like a king at a peasant, and out from behind the pole, hopping mad on the wires below Hawk, came Crow, caHOINKing up at the usurper of his rightful place, trying to be annoying enough to get Hawk to take wing, because then Crow would have the advantage and could chase him away. Hard to believe, but in airborne tangles, floppy-flying Crow is more agile; but when sitting there like that in Crow’s fave spot (and right at Realm surveying time, no less!) Hawk had the upper wing-- all he had to do was put on his impressive featherbristle show to double his size, and it was working.

Crow would be just about to attack but then think better of it, honing his razor beak overandover on the wire and mumbling Ok, Ok, this time I really mean it, you better watch out, and then a little bit of a Crow feint and those huge bristly wings up there would instantly spread their WHOA! shadow and Crow would have second thoughts a fourth time and then a tenth (birds have lots of time for this kind of stuff). Finally Crow cawed The Hell with This and flew away with a huffy wingbeat yelling an angry hacking sound you could tell he was really pissed, he never flies that straight or with that intensity, grumbling all the way to his penthouse.

Hawk savored his victory, remaining proudly bristly as he surveyed HIS realm, which interestingly included one strange featherless biped, engaged in an odd activity involving what appeared to be segments of trees.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


They used to say it was 40, back when things were darker and less open, but 60 is where life begins now, life that's at last on the path of your own, as last it was when you were a child, before school and becoming, career and family filled it all up to the brim with hopefully happy and fulfilling goodness.

But now, if you've been paying attention and truly living, you've done it right: that part is complete, the perforce part is finished and it's all receiving now, when life reaches its most personal culmination and things get so much better in so many ways than they ever did at any age transition gone before. The dread is past, like the fear of a first date. Because now, if you've been living, you've earned what's ahead.

Even if you retire early (I "retired" (I despise that dismissive word, use it only when I must refer to the artificial concept) at the age of 30, stayed retired for 10 years of wanderment, then started a family and unretired, taking up a job that during my travels I'd learned that I like. It was all on my terms. Still is. The only terms there should be for a true life. Fact is, I guess I've stayed "retired.")... Like an unlived life, where did the rest of that sentence go?

For me 60 was an easy transition, no different in essence from 0 to 10, 20 to 30, 30 to 40 or 40 to 50. Only now is more focused, with less distraction, for the road ahead is at last my own.

I remember reading some reporters saying that boomers were carrying into their old age some risky behaviors from when they were young - don't Bogart that joint, my friend - and that many of the boomers now have problems that earlier generations didn't bring to old age. Hogwash, as my Gramps used to say, back when it was common to wash hogs. Anybody seen my bong?

I'd say that a greater percentage of boomers are reaching the high promontory of age with a better view of the big pixels than has ever happened before in human history. If anything, that means changes for the good, in my book. A few didn't make it because for them aging didn't bring wisdom. But that's not unique to the boomers. Let's get real here, as most boomers have been doing all along.

And as I said, anybody seen my bong? Metaphorically speaking.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Can't help thinking Basho would have loved this.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Yesterday morning I was over on the other land clearing up the last of the new firewood, my eyes looking at the maul and wedge, the grain of the oak sections I was manhandling or among the downed branches for limbs of worthwhile size, hunched over and gazing downward all the time, without thought, rapt in the mu of continuous and autofocused labor, when for a break while edging my way through downed branches I stretched, looked up and there beheld, rising into the blue, all the gold of the tall old ginkgo tree that stands beside the pond, arms spread wide as though reaching to embrace the sky, reveling in existence like an exulting dancer covered in golden feathers tingling in the air--

All that bright and sudden yellow alone amid the evergreens-- it stopped me in my tracks, snatched my emptied mind from mundane tasks and filled it to the brim with things that made me reach for understanding, comprehensions beyond the brackets of my life and its reaches, it was splendid to stand there, as if new, before such living beauty, beauty offered without reward. This was a wild ginkgo, in its native autumnal costume.

Perhaps the most anciently originating tree species surviving today - a living fossil in fact - ginkgo [from the Japanese gin (silver) + kyo (apricot)] must have been showing their gold to empty air, in the eons before we humans came along with our burgeoning capacity to enjoy-- and that's where it hit me, right in that capacity. It wasn't art, it wasn't scenery, it was just a tree but more, arms reaching for heaven just as ours still do in the reflex of high emotion, an ancient stance for both tree and man-- I just stood there and looked at it long where it stood, a single yellow tree against the dark green mountains, but what a gift to a tired man, a break from labor, an opening of mind, an exchange of languages ancient before my time...

It was almost as though the ginkgo had been standing there quietly all along, holding its pose, waiting-- somebody's gonna look up any minute-- wait-- wait--- now: there, he's turning: ta-DA!! It was like that, it was a communication that happened, I don't know why or how, and likely never will, but the ginkgo was telling me in unmistakable terms about humans, color, dance, trees, art, time, knowledge, thought, communication, history, life, patience, it's a long list, and just days from now that golden gift of leaves will all be fallen. I have to go back again. Why does this tree want to tell me so much?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


But then they'd never give their money away without a trace like this...

"The Federal Reserve [a corporation privately owned by unidentified parties; questionably founded in the same year as the federal income tax] is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in September they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn't require approval by Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return." Bloomberg

There's a big reason the Fed and economics are not part of the basic public education curriculum, as is now becoming clear... Public Servants these guys are not.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Late this afternoon, just after I'd dumped some kitchen garbage on the compost pile and was soon going to get the shovel to cover it up, I was out on the deck moving firewood over to the firewood holder by the big glass doors when the crow scout who's assigned to the top of the pole beside the inner road along the back of our property, and who's in charge of monitoring the general status of the Brady area, began to call loudly and repeatedly in Crow (extended translation for reader convenience; the actual Crow version is loud, brusque and devoid of grammatical niceties, sounds like nothing more than repeats of the syllable CAW! to a non-speaker): "Hey you guys Brady just dumped some what looks like good stuff over here we should go through: garbage alert garbage alert now hear this, gather round," and one by one his relatives, schoolmates, office colleagues, guys he's met in the air and who not began to gather, but since I was right out there on the deck all they could do was scan the beak-tempting delicacies from a safe treetop distance-- Is that fishbones I see? Dibs on that fishhead! Those corncobs are MINE and such like beaky droolings from up in the trees around, a prefestive confab, but soon they got impatient and started mumbling to each other about how the hell long is he going to stay out here fiddling with those dumb pieces of wood, then they began to try to softly encawrage me to go into the house, that would be best, their tone reminding me of those financial guys who a while back tried to talk me into investing in a recession-proof hedge fund, same kind of guys that just ruined the world economy, except in the present case the matter at hand was clearly garbage to begin with...

Finally the feathery salesmen gave up with the niceties and while I was hunched down gathering another armful of wood two honcho crows glided quietly down there to check it out. They were just beginning to poke about in the decadent buffet when I rose from my firewood hunch up there on the deck, arms spread wide, dropping a rumble of firewood, and went BOOYA! The duo freaked as only crows can, took off on wings outta hell, all the lesser crows following and what a ruckus, complaining something like those big firms on Wall Street that none of this was their fault, they'd done the best they could, they shouldn't be allowed to go hungry, a few hundred billion would do for starters...

I had to cease their impudence in my presence or they would have taken the place over. Crows and financiers have to be taught their place in the scheme of things, which is somewhere way below investors...

Friday, November 07, 2008


Damn, the leaves are falling...

It didn't used to be this way. I used to look forward to the rainbow of leaves cascading in whispers over the days as the air grew cool, back when autumn was a delightful time of year with just that touch of sadness at the steadfast passage of time, tinged with the beauty of all the bright colors of life on the move from light into dark, warm into cold, yet steeped in the comfort of knowing that they will be back, that there will be bright green tomorrows budding once more in the ancient cycle of things, but right now there's that overhanging threat of distaste, the ominous dread of imminent exposure to the dark side of human invention, because as soon as all the oak leaves fall I get satellite tv again.

It's a toxic cascade with a few bright spots, and it's free, so I can take it for a while, the price being unavoidable glimpses of toxic broadcasting trolls, troglodytes and zombies, strange half-creatures from the cave-dweller side of the mind, causing me to argue with the screen and then with myself. I'm usually on my side, so that's disturbing.

But then, as I say, there's always the comfort of knowing that things will grow once more, that summer will return, flowers will bloom and sweet fragrance fill the air, fruits will swell with actual life, that there will be natural tomorrows budding once more as the ancient cycle of things again obscures the 400 channels with living beauty...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Excerpts from the diary of Elizabeth Dixon Smith, a pioneer woman migrating with her family to Oregon, started April 21, 1847-- excerpts here [original spelling and absent punctuation (with sentence break-pauses I can't reproduce here)] are from the latter part of the journey, waiting to portage down the Columbia River:

Nov 18 my husband is sick it rains and snows we start this morning round the falls with our wagons we have 5 miles to go I carry my babe and lead or rather carry another through snow and mud and water al most to my knees it is the worst road that a team could possibly travel I went a head with my children and I was affraid to look behind me for fear of seeing the wagon turn over in to the mud and water with evry thing in them my children give out with cold and fatigue and could not travle and the boys had to unhitch the oxon and bring them and carry the children on to camp I was so cold and numb that I could not tell by feeling that I had any feet at all we started this morning at sunrise and did not get to camp untill after dark and there was not one dry thread on one of us not even my babe I had carryed my babe and I was so fatigued that I could scarcely speak or step when I got here I found my husband lying in Welches wagon very sick[...]

Nov 20 Rain all day it is allmost an imposibility to cook and quite so to keep warm or dry I froze or chilled my feet so that I cannot wear a shoe so I have to go round in the cold water bearfooted.

Nov 21 rain all day the whole care of evry thing now falls upon my shoulders I cannot write any more at present[...]

Feb 2 to day we buried my earthly companion, now I know what none but widows know that is how comfortless is that of a widows life espesily when left in a strange land without money or friends and the care of seven children -- cloudy

Feb 22, 23 [...] to day we left Portland at sunrise no one to assist us we had to leave one waggon and part of our things for the want of a teem we travled 4 or 5 miles all the way up hill and through the thickest woods I ever saw all furr from 2 to 4 ft through with now and then a scattering cedar and an intolerable bad road we all had to walk some times I had to sit down my babe and help to keep the wagon from turning over when we got to the top of the mountain we descended through mud up to wagon hubs and over logs 2 feet through and log bridges torn to pieces in the mud sometimes I would be behind out of the sight of the wagon carrying and tuging my little ones along sometimes the boys would stop the teams and come back after us made 9 miles encamped in thick woods found some grass unhitched the oxon let them feed 2 hours then chained them to trees these woods are infested with wild cats panthers bears and wolves ... we made us a fire and made a bed down on the wet ground and layed down as happy as circumstances would ad mit[...]


When you realize the courage and risk, pain and effort, trust in one's own powers that went into building America, you can only hope that we of this day have inherited that courage, that that power is still in good hands...


By now, you kind and discerning visitors to these homely efforts of mine must be growing tired of my recurrent converse about firewood, splitting it, stacking it, all its charm and solid value etc., but when you heat using only a woodstove (catalytic combustor), firewood is a big topic; and because you can only store wood for about three years (especially in this climate) before it begins to lose its firewoodiness, and I've never had a three-year supply since I've lived here - we've been burning pretty much hand to stovemouth for the last 13 years - whereas this year, golden firewood is raining on me from all around and I must strike while the axe is hot, must I not, no time even to straighten out my metaphors, I'm doing pretty much nothing else these non-office days, apart from putting maybe a few spinach seeds in the ground on my way between trees, at odd intervals blowing neighborhood kids' minds with the magnificent menagerie of my humungous compost kabutomushi larvae collection (OK kids, now get ready, I'm gonna lift this used-up shiitake log... OHMIGOD!!) (scroll down to late September for humungolarval pics - they're even bigger now!)... And dealing with firewood, bucking logs, quartering, carrying, stacking, finalsplitting and finalstacking, at the end of the day, before toppling into bed like a felled log, who can keyboard with oaken fingers?

Sunday, November 02, 2008


"The swindle of American taxpayers is proceeding more or less in broad daylight, as the unwitting voters are preoccupied with the national election. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson agreed to invest $125 billion in the nine largest banks, including $10 billion for Goldman Sachs, his old firm. But, if you look more closely at Paulson's transaction, the taxpayers were taken for a ride--a very expensive ride. They paid $125 billion for bank stock that a private investor could purchase for $62.5 billion. That means half of the public's money was a straight-out gift to Wall Street, for which taxpayers got nothing in return."


"How else to make sense of the bizarre decisions that have governed the allocation of the bail-out money? When the Bush administration announced it would be injecting $250bn into US banks in exchange for equity, the plan was widely referred to as 'partial nationalisation' - a radical measure required to get banks lending again. Henry Paulson, the treasury secretary, had seen the light, we were told, and was following the lead of Gordon Brown.

In fact, there has been no nationalisation, partial or otherwise. American taxpayers have gained no meaningful control over the banks, which is why the banks are free to spend the new money as they wish. At Morgan Stanley, it looks as if much of the windfall will cover this year's bonuses. Citigroup has been hinting it will use its $25bn buying other banks, while John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch, told analysts: 'At least for the next quarter, it's just going to be a cushion.'"


"Goldman Sachs is on course to pay its top City bankers multimillion-pound bonuses - despite asking the U.S. government for an emergency bail-out.

The struggling Wall Street bank has set aside £7billion for salaries and 2008 year-end bonuses, it emerged yesterday.

Each of the firm's 443 partners is on course to pocket an average Christmas bonus of more than £3million.

The size of the pay pool comfortably dwarfs the £6.1billion lifeline which the U.S. government is throwing to Goldman as part of its £430billion bail-out.

As Washington pours money into the bank, the cash will immediately be channelled to Goldman's already well-heeled employees."


In the old days, crowds would be heading for Wall Street with pitchforks, tar and feathers!

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Since early times, English-speaking travelers (yours truly included) have made fun of the "English" signs etc. they find around the world, as though they never did the same thing themselves...

Someone spotted this English road sign in Swansea, with helpful Welsh translation for frequent travelers from Wales...

Looks great to the natives, but Welsh folks driving through laugh their heads off at these linguistically inept Brits when they read the Welsh part that says"I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated." A colonial history catches up with you sooner or later...

Friday, October 31, 2008


Out on the Lake there is a tiny island just a few meters wide, on days like today sitting on the surface like a thick, dark cookie on a silverblue baking sheet. I've passed close by it on boats and am always surprised by its tininess-- it seems to grow bigger in the mind.

I have also seen at the Lake Biwa Museum, in a scale geological model of the Lake bed, how that mini-island - like most of the larger islands that dot the Lake - is but the point of a tall needle of once-liquid volcanic rock, eons ago thrust upward from the core of the earth, reaching now through far deeps of water to barely touch the surface enough to be an island. Likely the island was once much higher than the cookie it is now, and will disappear below the surface before too geologically long. These molten facts are reflected in the mountains around the Lake, which comprise the timeworn caldera of an ancient volcano.

Most days that little island, because of its size, is invisible; even the slightest haze or shadow of cloud erases it, to say nothing of water-reflected light. But on certain rare days like today, when water, air and light combine in just the right way, the Lake appears to end about halfway across, as natural currents turmoil the near waters and tranquilize the far, and there the island appears: not atop the water, like the usual island, but floating in the sky, high above the apparent surface of the Lake.

If I didn't know the true distance to the far shore, that floating island would be as inexplicable as any other miracle around here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


"It's really hurt the profitability of the items on the dollar menu, even though it's driving traffic to the restaurants," said Morningstar Inc. stock analyst John Owens. Analysts have been expecting a price hike for the double cheeseburger, the company's best-selling U.S. sandwich."

Imagine that: there are people around the world who analyze the prices of double cheeseburgers.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


"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 regarding clearcutting of the greater soul. Walden wasn't a big success until well after the results of manifest destiny had become manifest.

Since then, it seems we still haven't realized that the outer wild is the counterpart, the balance, to the wild we carry in ourselves, in every cell and sinew in 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 a discount, the further we get from whatever wild there once was, and the more we are isolated and channeled by the careers, garments, 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.

Mostly as published in Kyoto Journal #62

Monday, October 27, 2008


Call me Ahab.

Well, the day finally came when with the help of a friend I erected the structural framework of the anti-monkey infrastructure project I have at last initiated in my garden. As I expected, it is an ongoing - not to say obsessive - discover-as-I go process, an ad hoc learning curve that ominously approximates the trajectory of a boomerang.

But as the short snake said, you've got to start somewhere. So I took as my parameters the dimensions of my garden and the dimensions of the patented anti-monkey netting that I planned to use since it was the only product that expressly depicted disappointed monkeys on the label. I know better than to trust mere advertising as a general thing, but when it comes to outwitting monkeys, advertising may be all we have.

Whatever. I ordered the framework piping a few weeks ago, bought the clamps and netting myself, pondered the vertiginous undertaking for a week or so and then my friend Ian came out on Saturday afternoon and we set to work achieving what in the case of Stonehenge, for example, took a millennium or so, and was a bit larger, but then they had to use stone didn't they, as with the pyramids-- and after everything has tracked out, my fence may take a millennium as well, who can say-- Not me, I won't be here, I don't really care beyond a few decades, maybe a generation or two-- after that, it's all in their hands, if the monkeys haven't taken over completely by then in accordance with their long evolutionary plan. Look what they've already done to the world financial system.

Anyway there I was, thanks to the history of monkeys, at the end of a fine afternoon teetering atop a tall ladder, one hand clutching a tall and similarly teetering metal pole, the other hand grasping at the end of a long horizontal metal pole that I intended to attach to the teetering pole with the flexible two-part clamp I held in my third hand while tightening the nuts thereon using the pliers in my fourth hand. It was a clearcut procedure-- not really designed for humans, monkeys would be good at it, but I'm nothing if not idiotic enough to try anything several meters in the air in a darkling wind.

We had earlier (I know I'm going backward in time while going forward in the story but if you think I'm going to rearrange all this you can go tweak my anti-monkey infrastructure; I'm going to take a nap) driven a wooden post into the ground with a major mallet at several points (8 in all) around the garden perimeter; into these holes we inserted the poles to an ultimate depth of 80cm, leaving 3.2 meters of pole above ground, slightly less than double my height. Each of these was but a single example of the aforementioned poles teetering in company with yours truly. When the last clamp was clamped, the whole thing took on a unified integrity and became a strong solid structure of nonetheless questionable character.

It was hard to see Monkeyhenge from closeup in the dusk. The next morning I looked out the window into the morning sunshine falling golden on the garden and there beheld a structure that needed... my first reaction was Removal, but then the monkeys would love that wouldn't they, so onward we Ahab in our ways. Tweaking is maybe what it needs, some nice blue stones from Wales, perhaps, maybe a point on top...

I am so glad I do not have a large garden. This is just an experiment, anyway, it's not exactly a Tower of Babel yet, but who knows where it will lead, I'm not putting any photos in here because the structure is going to change from day to day, week to week etc. as I steadily approach the ideal form of antimonkey perfection, or maybe wind up replicating the Eiffel Tower.

Some of my more questionable acquaintances seem to share the delusion that this whole protogeodesic affair has affected my mind, simply because I've said a few dozen times or so that I might give up this vegetable obsession and enjoy a rock garden instead... Thinking I might go into rock gardening at some point is no reason to question my mental integrity; fact is, I think I could raise rocks rather well... I wonder where I could buy some seeds...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008


A time-darkened chair of oak, it stood among other chairs of other kinds, empty of all but time and craft, in a warehouse for antiques; a sign said the chair had been made in England a couple of hundred years ago. It was a spoked, round-back chair with arms, a practical chair, its seat a single slab of wood, selected with care that the beautiful grain would be polished to this very sheen by centuries of backsides, and it looked in the physical language inviting so I sat in it.

The chair had been made for the body the way only a lifelong maker of chairs for folks he will see every day for the rest of his life makes a chair. It wasn't a quick production line assembly for a never-known stranger somewhere else in the world; it was the hand-fashioned essence of chair, that the maker himself had been fashioning, by way of his family, for three or four hundred years or even more, until his fingers, hands and heart knew vastly more than just how to make chairs-- the feeling was born into the hands by then, and one man could conjure an entire chair, for the entire body, out of wood with just fire and iron, make it sing with function.

I could feel that song in my self when I leaned my back upon the back of the chair and lay my arms upon its arms, my hands coming to rest where hands had been anticipated with simple grace, the maker saying to me thus eloquently over centuries that he had known how and where my elbows and hands would come to rest, how they would want to rest and how to welcome them-- where hands had in fact been coming to rest for centuries-- are we not one, after all, for here was a chair that was made for the one we each are: not a market unit but a person, with whom a chair should be a private conversation.

It was a chair made to last beyond a life, like a poem or a song, the craft of it to be remembered, another form of the name of the maker, of himself and the grace of his hands to be passed on and spoken of, sung of in wood, taken good comfort in, and I realized I had in all my years on earth never been so well understood by a chair; no chair had ever told me of these things. Every chair I'd ever sat in had been mute, built for a phantom, a non-existent entity, an average consumer. Few go this far to make chairs any more; and if they do, the result is a remarkable not to say purely aesthetic artifact unique to its time and form, costing too much to be actually sat in, more design than chair and so not comfortable to the sitter, who feels less valuable than what he sits in, as though there were truth in a throne.

In my time I have sat in many chairs, that made me feel all sorts of ways-- from the tubular kind with the plastic caps on the leg-ends that chaired the 1950's to bags of styrofoam beads to leather/steel trapezoids on legs to straight-back chairs, bentwood chairs, easy chairs, reclining chairs, and on and on, and this was the first chair that had ever, how shall I say it, welcomed me, personally. The back curled round and the arms curled round and I was really in the chair, felt both embraced and rooted as I sat there, rooted like an ancient tree; there was no postural insistence from the chair, no disquieting tipsiness, no jittery ricketyness, no gangly angularity, no shoddy looseness, no shivery tubularity, no artistic misfitting, but solidity: simple, rooted, oaktree solidity, after 200 years of use!!!

What today is made like that? What today like that is made by a man who, like his father and grandfather and further back, has fashioned his very life into comfort for people he knows and will never know, from whom he seeks respect and appreciation, even centuries hence? Sitting in the chair I could feel in my heart as in my body every measure of the distance we have come from all the things that in their ways once filled life quietly and elegantly to the brim, how things in themselves used to tell us of one another, and show in their use the care that resided in what we crafted, how wholeheartedly we gave of our lives in our creations.

This was a chair that had been made by transforming the beauty of trees through the beauty of hands into the beauty of chairs. How far from there we are, on the chairs that bear us now, when we never set eyes on or even sense who makes the chairs we use, and more and more likely it's not even a who but a series of whats, as the spirit of hands fades from the products around us until there isn't a caress in a carload, and we live unknown by our surroundings is what the chair said, with an eloquence increasingly lost to our time.
[Rewritten from the archives]