Thursday, April 29, 2010


Scattered over the mountains - the green parts and the stony parts, with a little cap of snow at the top - here and there glow puffs of pinkish-white where a cherry tree has somehow managed to be. How did each of them come to brighten there, like slow fireworks with those shimmery petals, amidst the solid shades of cedar, hinoki, oak, beech-- all the other stolidly green, right-at-home trees?

Single cherry seeds must have been dropped in each of those places way up there, in those most difficult of locations, by animals or birds, or by rainstreams flowing down from a parent tree above, now long gone. Perhaps that's why there are never two cherry trees together; they are scattered singly across these mountainsides, those little bursts of pink confetti, at least for this moment-- roundish wisps of brightness up there, flickering now in the wind, amid the overall somberness of the forest.

In the midst of one mountainside there is something white, not pink - as alone as any cherry tree, but not roundish like a cherry - it is tall and pointed... My handy binoculars tell me it is a tulip tree up there in full bloom, limbs raised high as though all the world should see its beauty-- perhaps indeed secretly stirring beauty everywhere, as the beat of a butterfly's wing begins a breeze.

The road below us is lined with cherry trees, as is the main road up through the village, that at this time of day are lit from behind us by the setting sun as the lake below turns dark sapphire in the background, white sails in the darkling air above the blossoming trees. All that beauty, like all the finest beauty - like the cherry blossoms themselves - lasts but a moment; then the sun fades behind the mountains, and that much splendor is nowhere but in ourselves.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Well maybe not exactly high noon, but pretty near - near enough for the purpose of this tale I'm about to relate. Gimme a whiskey. Sogyu was due at noon. Sogyu was Gary Cooper-- cool and taciturn, Japanese gardening and landscaping expert. It was high noon, or pretty near, when he came from Kyoto town, out the dusty road to the mountain ranch. It was time. I went out to meet him.

In the holster at my side I was wearing my trusty Gracemaker. And what a tool it was, signed by the maker Wakajishi, the clippers that won the East, or at least my part of it. Popular in fast-draw gardening circles hereabouts, and bonsai too. A name to reckon with in these parts. Not for the mountain country those imitations of quality you see all over the place, sometimes with aluminum blades even, dadblast it; no, this was quality iron, forged in the ancient Japanese way swords were forged, from select steel, with care. Sure it cost more - a lot more - but it's worth every yen when your lifestyle is on the line. And man is it a beauty to use-- cuts like a bonsai master's dream, sharpens like it was up front in the Seven Samurai.

I was wearing my old Gracemaker as I say in the holster on my gardening belt when I stepped outside to meet Sogyu, who had stopped by to talk about some work, when something caught his eye and he suddenly went silent like Gary Cooper; he was looking at the holster on my hip. "Ahh, I see you have the fine clippers..." Yes I said, showing my quick draw. He examined the well-maintained artistry; there was a kind of Samurai/High Noon background music playing up in the sky somewhere.

We talked our talk, then Sogyu went on his way down the mountain road; I turned and set off into the garden. Getting a bit wild; it needed taming.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

soaring hawk
in the sky below -
paddies flooded

Saturday, April 24, 2010


What with all this global freezing going on, here we are in mid-April building a fire in the woodstove to keep from shivering even with a sweater on, I bet this is what happened to the dinosaurs or maybe it swung the other way and got hot; on the other hand there might have been a meteor or it could even have been some kind of major dinosaur flu; whatever happened, the dinosaurs didn't have a chance, except the ones who could fly...

Onions are survivors too; they know all about this stuff. Even though rooted, they adapt on the fly. Which is why all my onions are now prematurely (from my point of view) sending up flower stalks, because they have been paying attention to the weather patterns a la their how many eons of experience and they're no fools, so our diet will be heavy on premature onions for the next few weeks, apart from the monkeys' cut.

As for us neodinosaurs - enraptured with sapience as we are - the upper ones talk a lot about global warming, bird flu and terrorism to keep the lower ones distracted, but the true problem with our modern interregnum is lack of Reality. Not the Action! Cut! reality as portrayed by the upper ones on Faux News or "reality" tv, or by the gladiators of today, action-packed movies and cage fighting - which make the everyday boring in the same way fast food makes true nutrition boring - but capital-R Reality, of the kind that love is and children are, that trees are, that play is. Birth and Life, Joy and Sorrow, Self and Death, that kind of thing. The actual stuff.

It takes a kind of unlearning, an undesiring, to get back to where we were when we first got here, to where we can once more look around and see what is truly there and what life time is, regain the mental status that flies in the face of everything disney, vegas, mcdonalds, survivor et al. stand for, in their respective variations on the Glitzy Premise: that we must suspend common sense in order to find joy and be nourished, that we must step aside and stop looking, stop being like little children, stop noticing the rips in the fabric, the man behind the curtain, instead have a big glass of coke and some fries, buy a ticket, make our bet, settle back on the couch to watch Transformer 42 so that when it's over we'll need more of the same, so that never having won, we'll have nothing to lose by the time whatever's coming comes, so who cares...

Next autumn I'm planting seeds, not sets. If onions can learn that much, so can I.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


If you look at it like the back of a cereal box, the countryside is all natural, contains no trans fat, filler, artificial color, flavor or preservatives, is high in fiber and fully organic. A shocking difference compared to the urban cereal box.

In fact we don't really use those concepts out here; the words sound kind of funny in these surrounds, as we idle here in the shade of a thousand-year-old tree on the edge of a mountain glade listening to the stream's part of the conversation and thinking: high fiber? Bizarre. Trans fat-- what for? Triglycerides? Get out.

Even the house we live in is organic and high fiber, comprising mostly wood, and low in saturated fats. The only sugar we have is in the strawberries from the garden, the cherries, persimmons, apples, tangerines, wild grapes, raspberries and blueberries (all made with real fruit, btw, with no artificial colors or flavors; hard to believe in this day and age). It's a long list, all the stuff that grows out here (you just pick them off the plants), as compared to urbanity, which has no such list, but where cliffsides of cans, bottles, boxes and bags say the contents are made using, for example, "real fruit," which logically must mean something other than real fruit, since that would be called Fruit. Is there another kind? How did we get here? If this keeps up, we won't even be able to trust Wall Street.

Basically there's no need for those bizarre concepts out here, because out here we get the real deal. So no, there's no trans fat in the mountain stream, and yes the forest is high in fiber, the wild animals are unsalted, the fish are fully organic (unlike some city streams), there's no fast life here necessitating dietary and fiber info on the backs of boxes and sides of cans, no fast food (whatdidIjusteat?), none of the autoimposed nutritional dangers so common in the unfortunately less countrified regions where fiber is rare, concrete is big, asphalt is a fave and "totally organic" - whatever that might mean in those regions - if you can afford it, you have to buy it in a special supermarket, for a Price, whereas it's pretty much free out in the country and right at hand, since this is where it actually grows-- in fact those free sansai are just coming up now, the fukinoto, the taranome, the warabi, the koshiabura, all salt-free by the way, with zero trans fat, high in fiber, 100% organic and money free too...

Now if you'll excuse us while we take a slow walk around the mountainside among the sunbeams and harvest some of those natural goodies, then sit under the old tree by the stream and savor our wealth, join the big conversation...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


That bit of a haiku I posted yesterday was prompted when I stepped out the door onto the deck in the morning on my way to some work in the garden and was surprised at how bright it was out there, the light itself was different, until I looked around and saw that two of the paddies across the road had been flooded since yesterday.

Like the paddies downmountain, they were now as blue as the morning sky and as bright, and as I set to planting ginger I thought about how every year around this time the whole mountainside is a mirror that remains at max brightness for a good while after all the paddies are flooded and the whole mountainside is sky, even at night when it fills with starlight, until the rice is planted and the light of the mountainsky diminishes day by day, week by week as the rice stalks grow and replace light with life, the whole mountainside changing in shade toward imperial jade at the pace of a rice plant's growth, the ambient light changing as well all along the way of the process, light thus traveling at vegetable speed, which is quite a switch, stirring interesting yet calming perturbations in the spirit, itself a matter of light that takes much of its nourishment from beauty and transition.

The habituated mind as well is reminded as it steps out onto the deck blithely thinking that all is just as it was, and so perforce comes to do its job and realize reality, which is good, by and large, especially out in the countryside, where light plays... and grows...

Monday, April 19, 2010

One by one
the paddies fill with water -
sky all over the ground

Friday, April 16, 2010


One of the deeper powers of the Japanese people is their undying love of simple things. They come from a long and concentrated past, uncolonized, and have willingly adopted all the diversions and distractions that the modern world has to offer, from trains, cars and planes to movies, tv, fast food, computers - it's a long list - and they enjoy and use it all, even improve on much of it, but at the core they're still much the way they were before all that came along.

I saw a good example of this the other morning when Echo and I joined the crowds going up the cherry blossom-lined mountain road not far from our house, to the cherry-inundated ski ropeway area where locals throng during cherry season to picnic and view the Lake, visit the stalls at the local product hall, buy some local foods and wines, pickles, sake, senbei, shochu, sit around on the red cloth-covered platforms and enjoy the events, some singers, some taiko drummers and other performances out in the open air.

All are just getting into enjoying their picnic bento when the MC announces that the mochi-making will now begin and whhhooooosssshhh: instantly all the platforms are empty and there is a steadily growing crowd of folks of every age gathered around the mochi-making place to watch an event that everybody there has seen dozens, hundreds, thousands of times (Echo is up there too watching, but for me a few dozen viewings is pretty much enough): someone plops a hefty hunk of hot glutinous rice into a big wooden or stone mortar and someone else pounds it with a big wooden hammer as the first someone, after each hammerstrike, with wet hands turns the blob of increasingly sticky rice, the crowd yelling at each turning of the gooey glob before each descent of the hammer Yoisho -- Yoisho -- even the tiny kids join in, yelling at the top of their lungs; they never tire of this, even the teenagers take part, then when at last the mochi is done, at the MC's announcement that they will now hand out the finished product, each person to receive two small portions of mochi, they all right away get in a line that snakes down the mountain and wait for up to 20 minutes to get their mochi, no problem, this is all fun, all joy, this timeless tradition, this symbol of strength and unity from way before any of the lives here, it means much more than the little it appears to be, all somehow deeply and importantly spiritual, but above all, as simple as you can get.

The Japanese love this kind of thing and always will; the grandmas love it, the new mothers love it, the farmers love it, the city folks love it, the young punks love it, the little kids love it, the babies love it, even the cynics love it, it resonates in all their hearts, this simple kind of thing, like the bon-odori dancing and the omikoshi carrying, the many societal embraces that the members take deep comfort in, because in all simple things, beyond the deceptive mask there are profound reaches, umbilicals of time and existence.

To those who by custom can appreciate that much dimension, it's all so simple, really...

Thursday, April 15, 2010


While working on words upstairs, I heard an unusually loud call from Crow, the one who loves pineapple and hangs close around here a lot、 in hopes of more. He was so loud in fact that I thought he must be close above me on the roof; then not long after I heard a hard rapping on the thick glass of one of the big living room doors downstairs (visitors from up mountain who come by the inner road sometimes knock there).

I got up, went over to the loft railing and looked down to see who it was, and there was Crow, pecking at the glass! BOOM! BOOM! He pecked a few more times and, rumblecawing the while like a mafia wingman, tilted his head to look through the window and examine the inside of the house (he knew there was an inside!) as though to see if anyone was there, then he crowed again. To me, peering down from upstairs, the tone of it sounded a lot like "I know you're in there, where's my pineapple? I saw it in the kitchen window! I know you're in there... Fork the fruit over if you know what's good for you! I know where you live!" etc.

Then he hopped up onto the table by the door to get a higher look inside - I don't think he spotted me up there peeking over the railing - then one of his goodfellas called and he flew off, rumblecawing intimations of his return.

I guess I better peel that pineapple if I know what's good for me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I had to slow down on the curve, which was why I noticed the monkey.

It was that curve behind the school, where the road turns sharply to the left on the way down to the station. As I slowed I observed a youngish monkey sitting alone atop the red roof of the school. The solo part was unusual, especially for a youngster, but even stranger was the way the monkey was sitting, as though in complete dejection; didn't even lift his head to look at the human passing by not so far away on a motorcycle. His pose was part Rodin thinker and part the guy sitting there head down, with right leg extended and left arm flung straight out across his left knee in a kind of exhausted despair.

In the simian part of myself, I took a good measure of delight in this. Seeing monkeys in unpleasant situations is a form of pleasure for a mountain gardener. But then my higher faculties jumped in with their righteous batons and moral direction signs and I felt the stirrings of sympathy, because perhaps I was beholding an early version of we humans ourselves, as the proto-human first raised his or her head to look upon at the world around and thought... Hey, I just had a weird experience in my head! What the hell was that? as the first iota of memory found its place, held on, stayed there, and knowledge was born in us: lo, we had perspective - time perspective, emotional perspective - there were tangents and pathways, there were decisions... and so the path led on, to roads, schools, motorcycles...

But this monkey hadn't reached that point yet, he was an early branch of us sitting up there alone in simian despair, perhaps hungry in a way he could not fathom; perhaps he had looked in the school windows yesterday and seen all those furless kids eagerly poring over books and symbols, learning about everything around them, but it wasn't even Greek to him; he thought what are they doing in there, why can't I do that and why would I want to-- then perhaps came the realization, in some proto-human way, that he could not get in: he did not have whatever qualifications were.

Monkeys can raise their eyes and behold the land and its character all around them, but it has no meaning, for they know nothing of topography, have no inkling of geography, history, biology, mathematics, all the human labels for humanly organized categories of monkey-useless things (no doubt an instantly sapient monkey would come up with completely different categories that better suit the simian mindset). The world that monkeys see is just as it is, without heuristic depth or duration, for they cannot build upon memories the way we do (to whatever end), not only because they don't desire to, but mainly because they don't need to. Which was our own status at one time, until it changed for reasons that can only be approached mythologically.

Sitting up there alone the young monkey looked as though he had just beheld for a brief moment what we call The Light, and then had lost it, could not hold onto it, as may have been - indeed, likely was - the case back at our own beginning, so as I passed on by I could not but commiserate, a little bit.

Hang in there, buddy; no matter what happens, just stay away from my onions.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Shiitake can be surprisingly erratic when it comes to the eroticism that is their destiny, they'll be tiny for a few dry days, then after an overnight rain they're umbrellas for increasingly larger elves.

All last night there was a heavy rain that is still ongoing, and a glance out the window this morning showed me an elf umbrella expo out there on the stacks of logs and on the ones laid out under the trees by the inner road. With this ongoing downpour I didn't want them to overdose the way they do sometimes, get all quick big and watery, so I donned the old trusty raincoat and went out there with a basket and harvested in the pouring rain.

Not surprisingly, shiitake are slippery when wet, can skitter all over the place if you don't have a grip, plus the escapees always try to hide, stubborn and sly as any natural thing. They'd much rather stay right where they are and pigout on the rain of course, this being their one big shot at fulfillment2Zmax; they do not want to go into some old final basket without having experienced their ecstatic role in the vast and complex process that is mushroom eroticism, with which emotions I sympathize, believe me, I went to Catholic schools, but there are other priorities here, such as imminent human mealtime, human in this specific case being the guy who inoculated these logs years ago, and to whom in his world they therefore "belong."

Perspectives are particularly limited just before lunch, but I do leave some of the mushrooms in place to fruit; whose heart is so cold that it cannot honor passion so manifest?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sounds like deer
eating my new radish leaves -
early morning rain

Thursday, April 08, 2010


Yeah, that's sort of the way it happened, I was the last one in on it. It started when I went out to dump some wood ash on the compost pile and I noticed the rampant billboard of new shiitake that had emerged since the weekend.

Whenever that happens out there under the spell of the garden I start thinking of plates full of shiitake in various arrangements but I'm a lover of cuisinal simplicity and it's not salad season so as my mind ground along it came up with a pleasing image, in this case spinning one out of the potato urgency now swelling the tool shed (see previous post), that fact prompting my mental mill to recall the baby garlic that was still standing in the way of complete tuberization, with a deep pause in there to ponder the impressive similarity of the mind's workings to those of Rube Goldberg...

Last year I had finished planting garlic and had the littler cloves left over, regarding which those in the know say Just eat them, but being a contrarian I wanted to learn what would happen if I planted them, in comparison to the larger cloves, so I planted the wee ones in a square meter or so left over from the onions. By the time Spring had rolled around they had come up much smaller than their bigger fellows, nor would they ever catch up and get as big-- no surprise there, upon reflection.

But instead of eating them back in the Autumn as little cloves, I'm eating them now as spritely spring garlic-- or better yet, aglio primavera (there's something Italian about Spring produce) and with a dual purpose (so I can plant those potatoes!). You see how everything ties together here in the mindgarden as in the universe at large, where the interconnections are often less obvious, but don't let that fool you.

So as my mind cuisined along I began to envision sliced aglio primavera sauteing lightly in olio d'oliva awaiting handfuls of thinly sliced, freshly harvested funghi shiitake, tutti nella moda Bob. Topped of course with grated pecorino romano, and an insalata di spinaci on the side, all the better to become yours truly.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


OK, OK, so I overdid it on the tubers. That can happen at the farm store when you stand in front of 10 different potato varieties to choose from quick before they're all sold out, but now my garden is full of stuff growing anew or just finishing up while I tap my foot beside the rows because I still have three bags of planting potatoes sprouting in the tool shed.

Potatoes never heard of wristwatches, understandably, but they always know what time it is; you can't fool them even in the dark, they're right at home in there tapping their own little sprouty feet while I'm out here telling my spinach and other greens to get cracking, urging my onions on toward bulbhood, what do they think this is, a public park, get them to hurry up and bolt or bulb so I can pull them up for lunch or dinner or storage and have new room for potatoes, but impatience has no place in gardeners, only in vegetables, and the potatoes are impatient.

They're on a fixed schedule after all, it's built in, they're on their hardwired way down the long and endless potato road, they have their destination all planned out and can't stop for my little traffic problems, they're not gonna restrain themselves for my convenience, they have their job to do and that's all that matters to a potato; they're gonna do it with or without me. There's nothing more dedicated than a tuber whose time has come.

So it's too angsty now, opening the tool shed door and seeing those eager wide-eyed sprouts ready to go, just pushing their pale way out through the net bags, purpling as they reach for the garden, so I don't open the tool shed much anymore I can't bear it, at night I toss and turn and it's not just potatoes you know, its beans, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, it's a long alphabet and it doesn't end with zucchini.

I've got a vegetable traffic jam going here, and I'm not used to being a vegetable cop. Maybe I need a uniform...

Saturday, April 03, 2010


At last the sunny cool spring day came when I could harvest my oldest compost, that has been nurturing for a good three years now, so I went out there and set to raking the two long piles into one center pile, a manageable form for bit-by-bit shoveling ad hoc onto my garden.

I was pumped, man: that rich black loamy goodness born of leaves and cuttings, kitchen leavings and wood ash topped off with occasional additions of nature's helpful organisms like a big organic hot fudge sundae would in time elegantly transform the sunrainair and my soil into rotundo potatoes and onions with silly grins, dancing lettuce, rosy-cheeked radishes, a maharajah's weight in ruby tomatoes, golden squashes galore and zucchini choruses fuggeddaboddit, so you can imagine the dimensions of my chagrin when I raked over the first side mound into the center and about a dozen huge kabutomushi larvae tumbled senselessly into the sudden light like big helpless baby aliens and just lay there silently going Huh? Wha? Huh?, slowly grabbing with their suddenly useless little arms at mere air of no purchase.

This I was not expecting. Turns out that the kabuto dynasty had really taken to that patch of compost, made a family tradition out of it even though this year there were no more used-up shiitake logs, which they had flipped for a couple years ago, so there I was just a minute ago all ready to go and now leaning ponderously on my rake realizing that there were probably a couple hundred kabutomushi gonnabes hanging out there in my compost, and no other place to put them even if I wanted to bother winkling them all out and and putting them elsewhere, so I couldn't help thinking along the lines of hey gods aren't we supposed to be sort of working hand in hand here or what, you keep throwing these off-wall problems at me how'm I gonna get this garden in shape, ok, ok, ok, I will...

So I raked it all, the whole thing, into a pile like a huge kabutomushi cake and according to the new rules I have to wait until all the larvae grow up and leave home to pursue their individual beetle careers, which maybe start in June sometime I hope yer happy, gods.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


Waiting to go home yesterday at the new train station in the Big City , saw on the opposite brand-new platform a wide-eyed little girl coming up on the escalator, she was all new too, about 4 years old, new to trains and stations, especially escalators, not been walking for all that long, legs still new, eyes still new, a fresh world it was everywhere, she soaking it up, not really walking but anyway holding on to her grandpa's hand there in the crowding rush of tall folks flowing around her, her hair tied in two bunches, one sprouting from each side of her head, she wearing a pink jacket covered in kittens, bouncing around every way she could because walking at just a plain old regular grandpa pace was simply not enough for all she contained, practically shimmering she was with the energy and excitement of having this vast place in her mind, her head turning, eyes looking everywhere at all this newness, skipping, bouncing, swaying, jumping, everything she could manage while holding a big hand and being good at the same time amid all the colors, lights and sounds, huge announcements were there, and thousands of folks hurrying or standing in lines waiting for trains that rumbled in her feet, other people buying food or papers or drinks from people and machines.

There she bounce-marched along at the heart of all that serious train-waiting business, done in mostly dark blues and browns, grays and blacks, with eyes to books and magazines, racing sheets and games, phones and pods of all kinds but she, oh, she was bright and all eyes, mostly in any direction but forward, though sometimes there too, grandpa was her guide so she was free to look and see, not to walk along but to skip along, hair bouncing, way more fun, taking everything into the whole new life of herself.

As far as I could see, she was the soul of that whole rush-hour station, and as I watched her brighten her way through the shadowy throng I couldn't help think how much hope there is after all, so long as there are children, who do for us former children what we no longer do for ourselves, and thus carry on the grand endeavor so many grownups seem to have left behind or even given up on, bearing the true soul from all the way in the past all the way into the future: skipping, usually, among us busy, preoccupied shadows who should remember to skip now and then as well along our ways, however we can, for that is how we once were and still are, at the heart of ourselves-- that is the deep reality of it, as children are here to remind us, even as we wait for our train.