Friday, July 30, 2010


Funny thing the way the world is, turning and turning, wheeling through this galaxy, doing its best always, folks all over it going their ways hither and yon in city and country, forest and prairie, most of them trying their best too, me among all just sitting here in the dark on the deck with some wine, watching the sky above the Lake, waiting for Mars to rise.

We make our choices as we travel through life, mostly as tourists it seems, what with preplanned schools, careers, pensions, although strict adherence to the received plan appears to be becoming less and less a good idea the longer I live. Look at cursive writing, mortgages, pensions, books, newspapers and the PhD, for just a few examples. I'm not being cynical, that's only the way it may appear to certain vested-interest folks. The truth is never cynical.

TRUST, on the other hand - you remember that word - used to be part of all those inscriptions carved over institutional doorways now falling into economoral decline everywhere-- archaeologists dig one up every now and then from another older and forgotten society that made earlier versions of the same mistakes.

One of the first places they used the word TRUST was on the money, when the money was no longer gold and became a matter of faith, whence food comes only by miracle. TRUST was also commonly used in the names of the biggest banks and most reputable finance companies, First Trust this and National Trust that, the word had that much heft; politicians even used it once upon a time, in high-sounding speeches before microphones and tape recording exposed the de facto conversations behind the scenes. The word was embroidered on old flags as well, then later printed on t-shirts manufactured in low-wage countries. Ironically, in the present day, TRUST is still engraved on the US dollar, where the illusory cachet is now needed more than ever.

TRUST was the word, back in the day. You could find it in all the holy books-- and look what they've done with it. Things have changed so much since the word itself could be "trusted" - in the original, uncorrupted sense - to mean what it originally conveyed. We should maybe find a new word for the lost definition, a word like TRUST used to be, when it didn't cause a chuckle - you'd see it in those big bronze angular Roman letters or engraved in walls and gilded, when it still had dignity and semantic power, when it was a word you could... whatever that new word will be.

As for ourselves, there is Truth in us, of the kind we have largely misplaced, or maybe lost, here on earth-- Here's hoping that when next we put the new TRUST over doorways and on our bills of exchange, we've reclaimed the old meaning and lived up to it for at least 1000 years...

Monday, July 26, 2010


The little green frog who owns the top of our garden faucet post hangs around there all day (and night, I suppose), since it affords scenic views, is nicely situated in the dappled shade of the chestnut tree and is rent-free, plus its promontory situation gives sir frog a good view of any approaching lunch, so he has it pretty good, as lives go.

At first, he also occupied the top of the blue hose itself, which, being attached to the faucet, when not in use is draped over the faucet body behind the handle, but when Froggo used that area he would find himself on any given morning being grabbed suddenly by a giant hand and complications would ensue, so he stopped hanging out on the hose, moving now and then only as far as the cool faucet part; but then some mornings, out of nowhere this big blue coiled snake would descend toward him regardless of the fact that he was even then awaiting breakfast, and instead had to leap for dear life about a mile down to the ground, then it would take him frog hours to get up to his aerie again.

So over time and through mutually shared experience, the good green sir and I have reached a tacit agreement. I can now come close with either hand or hose and he feels no need to leap for his life, because I make no sudden moves. For his part, among other things he does not even use the hose as his privy. We've got our agreement now, we work well together, it's a nice little morning-and-evening arrangement we have. He can chill, I can chill etc. Now he stays on top of the post, a large area for one so small. You could probably fit 20 of him there. He uses it as his home, office and dining area, but, not being especially discerning in such matters he also uses it as his privy, though it turns out he can only do so for about a week, when even with careful placement he finds that that he has been crapped out of house and home.

Thus it was that one morning, after a couple weeks of no rain, I came out to get the hose for watering and noticed that there was no frog atop the post, which had all the character of a derelict frog latrine. Frogs have little skill regarding such niceties (they have no guests, nor do they care what other frogs think of them, their toilet arrangements etc.), and despite his careful spacing, it had been only a matter of time before the little green fellow had been forced off the premises. Long-term personal planning is just not that big a part of frog life.

So when I turned on the hose, I took the opportunity afforded by the absence of his greenness to blast the top of the post clean, in a small-scale version of that earlier stable-cleansing Hercules had been tasked with, only there was no immortality kickback involved; I just did it for the frog. When evening came around I went to get the hose again and there was Froggo, perched in his old place, regally surveying his fresh domain, the height of amphibian comfort. Though frogs have no facial gestures that we know of, when I bent close to look I could swear I saw a smirk of green gratitude playing about those lips.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


The apparatchiks who are assigned to think of such things tend generally to think of imagination the same way they thought of ketchup as a vegetable: just another box to be ticked on the form, another quotidian quota to be filled, one more lesson to be learned on Wednesdays in fourth grade, another certificate on the way to graduation, when you can get on with your REAL life.

In other words, to the disimagined, imagination is not essential to living or to life, may even be detrimental if practiced in excess. We have Hollywood, Bollywood and Toei Studios to do it for us. That's like saying if you pay us to breathe, you don't have to. Never before in history has imagination been so threatened in the young.

We lament the loss of the rainforests and the whales, bemoan the disappearance of the wild, but say nothing about the loss of imagination, which may be the greater loss, for it has made all the other losses possible; who could kill a thousand whales or cut down a rainforest but a person without imagination? The disimagined children of today will own the world tomorrow. To be without imagination is to be without intrinsic power, and powerlessness worships powerful things. The future begins right now.

Imagination is not greatly encouraged by human systems of organization because it is by nature free; it is beyond established control, inimical to chains, can't be enslaved, organized or taxed, depends upon no institution. It is the source of change, pure and simple, of new ideas. Imagining is anarchic; it is not at home in classrooms or file cabinets. And though wild, it is inherently benevolent. Imagination is a habitat of the spirit. Those who have been deprived of imagination will hunger for that freedom all their lives. What food it is and limitless, when you are the source!

Every consciously and responsibly caring parent and grandparent has seen the light that lights up in the eyes of still new children at the slightest spark of their own mind's imagining. One recent rainy day while Kaya (my granddaughter, nearly 3 years old) was visiting us and looking imagination hungry, I took a tiny ceramic owl I have, the size of a pinky tip, put it in a tablespoon and called it the owl's magic airplane, and began to fly the magic airplane way up high in the big blue sky that was now above the kitchen table, and then all at once the magic airplane became the magic boat, floating the tiny owl perilously upon the vast and turbulent ocean a kitchen table can so swiftly become, and Kaya's eyes lit up with the spark that took fire in her mind.

The whole idea of imagining was perfectly at home in her, as native in her as the seeds of myth have always been in ourselves: she saw how it all worked, how to tell her own stories and it was ok, it was a part of her, that big doorway in her mind that she could open anytime to anywhere, and so she did and passed on through and back again, all that rainy day.

I will do everything I can to ensure that she never loses that spark, or the key to that door. And so we should with all our children. This fire of the spirit that is the imagination, that can so warm and quicken our lives and lead us to new places, should be praised and nurtured, made the key to every entire life so as to enrich us all, not taken away, homogenized and sold back to us as cookie-cutter commodities that stifle all imagining and leave us hungry and incomplete; else tomorrow will have no dream of its own.

(My Ramble from Kyoto Journal #58)

Friday, July 23, 2010


Freewheeling down the mountain this morning into the gold of sunrise, which intensifies nearer the level of the Lake where the light thickens into some kind of mystical substance as it bounces off the water, I rounded the curve of the road behind the school, entered the stretch that leads down through the village and there, a couple hundred meters ahead of me, superimposed on that golden aura, were the silhouettes of two boys, one 9 or 10, the other 7 or 8, walking side by side in shorts, t-shirts and the bouncy mood of summer vacation, empty weeks ahead to be filled with whatever excitement kids can always come up with out of their newness, and even though the two were just silhouettes I could tell from the way they walked that they were brothers.

There's something in how the currents of emotion and strings of relation operate between little brothers out in the world; my suspicion was soon confirmed by the fact that the bigger boy, who was walking more intently and paying more attention to distant surroundings than the smaller one, right away heard my motor and turned to look, then cautioned his kid brother, who was just doodling along, to move more to the side of the road.

At that moment, in a mystical flash they became my brother and I walking into our own sunrise all those roads ago, relating to each other in just this way, he fooling around, I not as much, more cautious about traffic-- here was that road once more, but now on the other side of the world, two new boys walking down it just as it must be, every tomorrow before them...

In some distant morning may they too be privileged to see once more their summer sunrise when all that could be was met in one place, spelled in a moment of gold.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


You'd think the kitchen and bathroom faucets in our house would be more alike in their details, in view of the fact that Germany and Japan were allies during WWII.

Also on the plus side are the facts that both countries use the metric system and their faucets swivel left for HOT and right for COLD; but beyond that level of international cooperation is where the trouble begins, because when it comes to the real basic of OFF and ON, Japan and Germany are on opposite sides of the world. The J faucet (bathroom) goes down for ON and up for OFF, whereas the G faucet (kitchen) categorically rejects such unregimented folly. What do American faucets do I forget... Such culturomental gaps are common in serial expats who, in designing their own houses, can fall prey to mere design.

Also, when it comes time to replace a part on our metric G faucet you'd think it could be found in this hemisphere. If one were lacking certain scruples that hinder success in business, one could come up with a number reasons why a J/G faucet maker would find some respective way to undercome global metric and L-R system standardization so as to make their own devices most appealing to their countrymen (i.e., you have no choice), and the products of their former allies' devices less appealing (i.e., OFF is ON, and vice-versa).

On the other hand, however, whether left or right, surely the J faucets that get shipped to G don't do like they do in J, so why should the G faucets in J be totally G, when everyone here - except A's like me - goes J ON and J OFF? Is anyone minding the worldstore?

One positive aspect of all this is that if you have a J faucet in your J bathroom and a G faucet in your J kitchen, you always have to remember where you are when you want some water to flow, which keeps you alert and firmly in the now of both time and place unless you want to get drenched as you stand there. So it is that I never go into the bathroom and turn the water OFF, and always vice-versa in the kitchen, which is the way international relations should be in any case but of course they aren't, are they, just look at the faucetry for one thing, and all those international plumbers making a big mess of the world flow for all to see. They should spend some time in my kitchen and then use my bathroom, or vice-versa.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


You go outside just as the sun is beginning to clear the borders of night, out into the morning and to the herbs, in this case oregano, which at mid-July is just beginning to form its tiny white flowers, now covered with dew, the best time to capture the magic of flavor that can be got from such a simple and unpretentious plant.

As you go along the herb bed and with a jeweler's eye select from among the tallest, healthiest and so most flavorful gems of oregano plants to cut for sun-drying now, letting the rest keep growing to cut later, in time letting some of the very best grow on to seed so that this richness will go on as we hope all good things will go on-- which is what seeds are for, after all, from our brief but deep perspective.

Doing this of a cool summer morning of what will be a hot day is in its own way a seed, a seed of experience, for as you go along accepting this green and fragrant gift of a year you are planting a seed in yourself that will quicken, grow and flower somewhere in the future-- and not only your own future, if you give to others.

As for yourself, when you later fashion a salad or a pizza, or create a Sauce Bolognese from scratch (for a few simple examples), such scratch will ideally include your own-grown tomatoes and onions, to which at last you add the savor of oregano, dried in the sun that shines even now on this endeavor, this seed for which you are the garden.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Wading into the bamboo over-and-undergrowth, a broad green tapestry woofed with vines of kudzu, wild grape, wisteria, yamaimo and other strivings wrapped around every rising stalk, all battling for a bit of the sky...

You're trying to get to the opportunistic locust tree, one among the many that rise up here and there on untended properties, the flexy bamboo and curly vines grabbing at your boots and buttons, legs and arms, feet and tools, you have to be free of artifice and shaped like a snake, boar or fox to flow like life through this kind of mountain growth, this vegetable government, but you're unsuited in about every way possible so progress is slow, a constant leaning against the relentlessly buffered presence, much like trying to deal directly with a human government, which everyone living and dead knows is akin to madness, but once you get started, the further you advance the more of a waste it is to turn back, so you keep on going, you keep on trying, working at leaning farther, pushing harder, falling forward with all the meager weight you can bring to bear against it all while forging forward with your shoulders, legs and feet and you do... appear... to... make... some...... progress... though only a little—it takes a while…

But did you really advance, did you really, drenched in sweat but perhaps truly halfway there now, with scythe, clippers and saw, all targeted by the vines that pull at them, trying to wrench them from your hand or pocket, loop or holster, take them back to the earth, and you too, you might wind up here forever one big green verticality, overgrown before too long, wrapped in green, kudzu grows as fast as any bureaucracy, and you're really part of all this anyway, over your head out here in this green expanse, eyes peeled for a true sign of progress through all this green tape, this tangle that is home to snakes and hornets' nests, wild pig dens, deer beds and bear lairs, trying just to get to a tree-- the tree--

Is the view all that important from the living room of the house you used to live in back there in that other time, that other place so far away on one shore of this green sea, becoming the illusion that perhaps it always has been - that may be the true nature of things - fuzzy at the edges and shimmery at the center like an old movie, do you really need that comfort to which you may never return, can you have it more than once, be again where you spent such a pleasant portion of your life as it passes before your eyes and then you are at the tree itself, struggling to regain your focus, clippers and folding saw at the ready...

Wiping the sweat from your eyes you climb a bit, reach up and clip off the tips of the highest branches, saw off the big one that splays its fingers in front of the nose of the Sleeping Buddha out on the Lake, or so it looks from that living room you had back there, the cut branches fall, you climb down and turn around like a world turns around and begin the falling struggle of your journey homeward across and through this green governance, fighting for each step, the well-organized wildness plucking at everything about you that has an angle and seeks to be elsewhere-- and may be, before too long...

Friday, July 16, 2010


I remember the sun. As do quite of few of us elder folks in these parts. A bright yellow disc it was-- up there, above even the rain, used to be there quite a few days of the year-- used to "shine," as they put it in the old days, get pretty warm at times, before the Rain Age, back when sunshine was something of a common occurrence. "Is it true that it even got hot-- and dry?" One of the younger folks asked me curiously not long ago, when we met on the flooding road and shouted some snatches of conversation over the downpour. "Yes," I recalled, "it used to rise over there every day and set over there every night. In fact, this country used to be called the Land of the Rising Sun, if you can believe that. Don't know what they're gonna call it, now..."

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Last night the rain was so intense it took me sleeping back to the time I visited Niagara Falls as a kid of about 12 and once more I went down into those caves, donned those yellow rubber raincoats and boots and ventured out into the endless roar of that maelstrom to walk those slick, rickety boardwalks and stairways among the giant tumbled rocks and gouts of spray that threatened to wash us into the torrent if the roaring blasts of wind didn't get us first and for an entire night that vast cataract flowed on over our house and through my dreams.

These recent days and days of rainfall laugh at such feeble human artifices as raingutters, roadways and riverbanks, to say nothing of gardens I don't even want to look at my baby spinach or squash leaves, those American squashes are just not used to this they keep looking up to the sky with those big green friendly leaves expecting gentle caresses of sunshine, but instead keep getting hammered with this relentless rainsledge, I guess by now they must have figured out they're in Japan without visas, I can see the surviving leaves nodding to each other as they try to avoid the specifics of the pounding downpour; they must have learned from the native plants that this is rainy season, but still.

The rain quieted in the morning to the peaceful whisper of a standard rain, but that doesn't fool me any more than it does the riverbanks.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Plums taste even better when they have that rare quality of monkeys-didn't-get-themness.

Friday, July 09, 2010


As if those events weren't enough for one day, home alone after the morning described in The Approach of the Weedwhackers, and after I had later in the morning chased the monkeys out of the garden because the chain alarm sounded as described in The Me Squad, as I was even later trying once more to get some work done in the loft I heard a loud CR-R-RACK! and a leafy thrashing that could only have been caused by a newbie in the plum tree - young monkeys nowadays, I'm telling you... why, when I first moved here, even the youngest monkeys could climb, but ever since they've gotten used to the cushier modern lifestyle - o yeah, the plum tree... so for the third time that day I ran downstairs, this time toward the big glass doors, through which I could see a plum-filled monkey - the project supervisor - sitting on the rail of the deck picking his fangs with a pinkynail, savoring the flavor of my nearly ripe plums in a distant attitude that reminded me of a wine gourmet I once knew, until the ape heard the sound of my feet, turned, spotted me through the screen and took off redtailed, screeching to warn his crew still operating in the branches "The guy who has a thing for these plums is coming, so take off, now!"

The newbie crew in the tree itself, one of whom had snapped the branch, were not used to being chased by humans at such close range; they were but clouds of leaves whirling in the heart of the tree as they made for the exit and hit the ground running, also redtailed, the supervisor ahead of them looking back redfaced over his shoulder at me (redfaced and shaking my fist), to see if I was seriously in pursuit (a common concern among thieves of all species). I noticed that under his arm he was carrying a good cache of plums for later; unlike the empty-pawed newbies, he had anticipated a rousting. I also noticed that while supervising the hairy work force, he had eaten his take of plums fastidiously and not thrown the leftovers here and there, as one might expect a wild and unmannered monkey to do; rather, he had left a pile of peels and pits laid out along the railing in a sort of spontaneous natural nyah-nyah...

But although the monkeys had gotten a few of my plums, because I had reacted quickly most of the fruits remained on the tree and outside monkeys, so "One less for the monkeys..." became my loud mantra for each plum I picked on the spot as I walked around and beneath the tree, climbing the ladder in the hot and humid afternoon, plumbing the leafy reaches, squinting upward among the green-plum-colored and shaped underleaves, looking for orbs that might be barely tinting red but still indistinct against the glare, using my extended branch cutter when I couldn't reach high enough. I intoned "One less for the monkeys" at least a few dozen times, so the pickings were pretty good. I'll enjoy those purple goodnesses over there, by the big kitchen window.

You'd think that by now, after 15 years here with a garden and over 5 with a producing plum tree, I'd have known instinctively (how long does it take to acquire an instinct?) that after such extended rain and inactivity the monkeys would be hungry and out in force, coming for their vig-- and preempt them 100%, finally get to see a mob of monkeys nowhere near my plum tree, looking at me with respect. Maybe some day. For now, my dawning hope is that they acquire even more of a modern, processed lifestyle, maybe get a thing for couches and junk food, develop an aversion to fresh fruits and vegetables...

But I'd never stoop so low as to leave out a bunch of jumbo bags of potato chips...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


As if the panic of that very morning's weedwhacker incident weren't enough (that 40 minutes had used up a day's worth of energy), I'd finally begun settling down with a good cup of coffee in the loft, savoring the fact that at least I'd managed to show my harried face out there and do a couple of useless things to assert and maintain my part in the community effort, vowing that I would do better next time - maybe even use an alarm clock, just in case - and was getting back into the mood for some editing work at my computer when, having just finished a couple of paragraphs, I heard the sinister sound of my chain alarm.

Some time before, in apishly devious fashion (am I now I aping the apes?) I had draped a long length of chain over the upper transverse poles of my garden cube so that when any totally unscrupulous life form such as - and pretty much only - hairy red-faced marauders climbed up the supports, the chain would rattle against the metal piping, bringing the Antisimian Commando Squad (i.e., Me) on the run, ancient hi-tech weaponry (i.e., rocks) at the ready.

Not surprisingly, my unpatented chain alarm has the major flaw of only being effective when the Me is at home. (If a chain moves against metal tubing in a forest, does it make a sound?) But I was at home this time, so is there no rest for the weary, I ran downstairs and looked out the window, gathering crucial combat data. The chain alarm had been set off by a teenage monkey who, like teenage humans, was in a hurry to arrive. He and his buddy were already hefting the green tomatoes.

A big healthy female, infant on her back (monkeys teach rampant brigandage right from birth) was ambling slowly toward the open gate, taking the easy way (she'd clearly been here before, and was sharing her wisdom with the little one) when I burst from the doorway hissing and screeching like... like... a monkey, I guess, would be the closest thing, we're not really that far apart, if you think about it; it hasn't been that long since we came to that fork in the road and took it...

My tactics worked, the female took off like a carnival monkey shot from a cannon, the infant loved the ride and will no doubt be back one day, the teenagers were hairy blurs that were there only a second ago... Thanks to the prompt action of the Me squad I only lost a couple of the bigger green tomatoes, and grabbed the rest for myself. I'll let them redden in the kitchen window, where I hope the monkeys can see them.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


Silk Roads
Guest edited by Leanne Ogasawara
(Click cover photo for content details, excerpts and related links.)

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Sunday, July 04, 2010


I swear I knew beforehand that this Sunday morning from 8 to 10 am we were having the community work session, which we have a couple times a year, weather permitting, when everyone from the village - which includes all the way up here - comes out with their own tools and donates two hours of work clearing the roadsides of weeds etc., and since Echo is visiting family up north I would be soloing this time and its been a while since I took part in one of these, so I was gonna be out there with my weedwhacker and bells on even before 8 am, start on my assigned section of the roadside just below my house as the folks from down below worked up toward me. I usually get up around 6 so no problem...

Then this morning in the deeps of pleasant dreams I heard the distant sound of approaching weedwhackers and sat bolt upright, saw that it was 8:20 am and by 8:21 am I was out of the house opening the toolshed, fortunately having taken a few seconds to dress along the way so I was pretty much in my work clothes, took the weedwhacker out of the toolshed to the growing sound of approaching weedwhackers and discovered what I had already known: that the whacker had no whackstring in it.

So having had no coffee I tried for a few small eternities to wind the grudgy plastic cord around the spool as the sound of the weedwhackers grew louder, dozens of busy and dutiful participants approaching the section where I was to be doing my part for the community, a concept so deep in the J-psyche. As I of other psyche struggled with the springy string, somehow in my coffeeless state I realized that all the approaching whackers were dealing with the bamboo etc. that grew along the roadsides, not grassy weeds such as I generally deal with around my house, so they had the big-toothed blades on their whackers, not wimpy plastic string...

So I rummaged in the toolshed for my blade and then for a wrench to remove the plastic string fitting from the whacker, but remembered that I have to use a special wrench to do that, what else is new, and that that wrench was in the big tool box over by the kitchen window so I went over there and did some deep rummaging, at last reached the wrench and brought it to the surface, grabbed the debris mask and the 2-cycle engine fuel and went out front as the roar of the approaching whackers grew deafening, and me without coffee...

So now, after two or three previous failed tries at stringing the whacker, here I was at blade time at least out front with the wrench etc., so I started to take off the string fitting and put on the blade, knowing deep in my heart that the fastening bolt loosens clockwise and tightens counterclockwise, but in the growing roar of the approaching whackers and the depths of no coffee while teetering on the knife edge of no time I forgot and tried to tighten clockwise with the wrench and the bolt fell off, also the washer fell off, the metal holder fell off, and that other round metal thingy fell off, then the blade fell off, onto the stone/pebbles/grass/shrubbery of the driveway so I put the whacker down and amidst the throbbing roar of imminent whackers began searching for a washer amidst gravel in a life without coffee...

I searched as well for the bolt and the metal fittings, I searched for the round metal thingy that had rolled away down the driveway where I finally found it near the gutter, the washer had fallen straight down so I had that, then the other metal holder I found at last way under the car, so all I needed now in the deafening roar of the converging whackers was the bolt, the key to it all; I looked everywhere, everywhere in that roar for the bolt but could not find it, until just as one of the village men began working on my assigned section I lifted my left boot from the pebbles and there in my footprint was the bolt, I put it and the blade etc. on and set forth, starting my weed whacker as I went, ready to shoulder my assigned task as part of the roar of the weedwhackers but the motor wouldn't start, so the machine and I wrestled on the ground there for a while until it said uncle with a bit of a cough and began to start, sort of, and by that time the weed whackers had already done my assigned part...

So having had no coffee I started on the part just above my property and began whacking the weeds there, sort of, the 'sort of' being because as soon as I started whacking I realized that the blade wasn't cutting, it was more like putting the weeds back into the ground, because I'd put it on backwards, then as I stood there watching the whirling blade, waiting for it to stop so I could take it off and put it on the right way round, a village lady came up to me from amidst the diminishing roar of the surrounding weedwhackers and said we're not doing that section, at which point it dawned on me like a descending meteor now three feet away from my face that from the start, meaning the big bang, I had not been meant to take part in this activity today. Funny I hadn't noticed.

That can happen when you haven't had your coffee.