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?