Friday, March 30, 2012

stupid me
I blamed the chisel
when it was
the hammer's fault

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Crow comes gallumphing in over the garden, settles on the telephone wire that runs along the road up the mountain, turns his big beaky head this way and that like he's admiring all the exquisite natural objects that would delight any tasteful individual, any connoisseur of the lovely-- like the cherry blossoms up there, say, but there aren't any yet, the con doesn't work from the start.

So he looks down as though to admire the bright new daffodils there by the oak, but he’s really checking out my shallots. I happen to have observed that he flopwinged in from the north, yet is sitting on the wire facing north; he turned around after landing, who does he think he's kidding, does he really think I'm still new at this? He's checking out my garden while pretending to be a nonchalant dilettante of the sylvan environs, what a poseur; makes me laugh like a crow, and he does not like that, no, he is not pleased, fixes me with a dark gaze over a stern beak.

He's a big one for sure, eats well, he's probably the Baby Huey I posted about a few years ago, couldn't stop caaawing for his mama to come back and bring him some food, he was so alone and starving, the big baby, his weight bending the chestnut branch, he was bigger than his mother and kept her on the wing I tell you, now he's like a lounge lizard in a tux looking for an easy mark, but he must know me somewhat by now, which is maybe why he's putting on this act...

He raves over those lovely daffodils, all white and yellow, great fragrance, yeah sure, I can see his beady eye counting my beans, they're those snap kind he likes, but they're covered with netting drat, because I know about crows, he likes my shallots too, but also netted and also drat, the chard is uncovered but he hates chard and this access is a disappointment. The shiny onyx eye beading at me seems to cloud over, but he's remembering for later, I can tell; he enters corvine calculating mode, forgets where he is, that I'm staring at him, getting his number.

He's thinking that the netting may very well come off those foody beans in a couple weeks, leaving them ripe for the taking on Thursdays and Fridays - when I’m in the office - and those spring onions too; then there are those promising young strawberry leaves over there, with no netting either, puts that in his potential summer dessert column; plus that's a likely spot for tomatoes right there, melons over there, zucchini, hmmmm... All going into his dark memory maw, the way crows operate but he has no idea I know this.

He concludes unhappily for now that there are NO bean sprouts NO strawberries NO naked beans or beakable young onions - What food then is this moment? What nourishment, this empty frame of time? He gets carried away with the drama part sometimes. But the mask of discrete connoisseurship soon falls away and he starts looking further afield: is that another garden over there? Now he's flopping across the air to act nonchalant for some other gardener, hopefully a novice with little crow experience...

Better keep the nets over everything till I've eaten it all...

Saturday, March 24, 2012


When the early monkeys came to that specific evolutionary fork in the big old tree of life and looked forward along the left branch, they saw strange things up ahead, like more intelligence, protoconscience, moralities all vague and misty, and said
Whoa, let's not go that way - they had their reasons - so they chose the other branch, took the path more traveled and got to the upper canopy where they are now, which isn't bad, actually-- mostly the tropics.

Then when our own foresimians came to the same fork they looked to the right branch and saw all those monkeys jammed up ahead, said Damn, that is way too crowded, give me some space, so they headed left into all that shifting civiloplasm where they had some room to think and did, and here we all are with a long list of haftashouldy stuff eats up our time.

So it happens that now and then, when I pause in my work at tilling and planting to grow some of my own food on my mortgaged soil, or at patching up my weathering residence, I watch the monkeys ambling houseless past my garden into the food-laden forest or sitting up in the arms of a tree comfy-munching on a natural snack that many humans say God has provided, and I think about the monkeys’ choice way back then, since now they can go anywhere, anytime, no 9 to 5, no visas, mortgages, suits, appliances or infidels... If I was back at that evofork right now on behalf of all humanity up ahead somewhere on the timepike, I think I’d check to see whether maybe there was a third branch we might have overlooked; you never know...

May as well think about it, since we wound up being able to.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


It was a foggy Saturday evening in early Spring, the way early Spring gets up here when it heightens all the heartbreak. Like any green-thumbed shamus I was standing in my garden, my never quite finished garden, enjoying the fragrances that were burgeoning all over the place. Don't ask me about onions. Ok, ok, I was thinking about planting onions, anticipating that homegrown savor, when I should know way better than to plant onions up here.

Anticipating onions is bound to end in heartbreak, I know that too, but like a fool, again and again I throw handfuls of hope at dreams of the sultry bulbs and all they do is mock me with misty images that fade like the light in the dusk with their luscious come-ons, their tantalizing fragrances, their succulent textures, lead me on into dreams that don't even end in tears...

I was standing there lost once more in the dim reaches of unrequited vegetarianism when I heard a bunch of monkeys arguing. From somewhere below in the mountain forests came that horrible, grating sound all mountain onion fantasists abhor. When you've been up here long enough, you know that noise and what it means. You get to know it real fast if you love onions, it's not like anything else you ever heard, not like any other two creatures arguing, it’s a scrapy, whiny, selfish sound, a sound that knows no conscience, carries no morals or scruples at its heart, it is the sound of creatures that claim all onions, and it means they will be moving closer, they may be here any minute, they'd be coming for my onions, if I'd been fool enough to plant them again. Face it, onions are a nuisance.

Sure, I could wait around, grab some rocks, stand my ground, put up a nuclear-powered electric fence, but sooner or later I'll have to sleep, and then have to go away, do some shopping, buy some onions, go to a dentist, bank, post office... those monkeys may be redfaced but they're not stupid, they know things, they have savage skills, they know your habits and they can wait; they have no jobs, no place to be, no dental appointments no bank accounts, they just wait. You don't have that luxury, you're human: your life is not your own, you have a family, a job, a government, you have obligations, bills to pay, places to be, conscience, morals, papers to sign-- but not the monkeys, they occupy the other end of the responsibility spectrum. All your onions belong to them.

“But not this time,” you say to yourself in the dusk, pulling your hatbrim lower as monkeys argue in the distance...

Thursday, March 15, 2012


You drive down past the junior high school sports ground at the foot of the only cleared mountain slope faceted with rice paddies all the way up to where the mountain forests begin, roll on down past the public rice-polishing machine and the kitchen gardens left and right of the village houses - must be nice to grow onions, no monkeys down here - past the new log house across from the village hairdresser, then past the village doctor's office on the corner of the street that if you turn north leads to the workshop of the late Shimizu Uichi, a famed local potter, but today as you continue east the road slopes downward beneath the imminent annual pink rainbow of blossoming cherry trees that arch softly overhead, on past the metal workshop to the intersection, take a right onto the national lakeside highway, head past the two ancient boat-launching shrines, roll on past the marinas and the sailing school, then the nice old shrine by the small piney beach, with the kitchen gardens all along the narrow road back there-- you have to slow to 40 when you get past that shrine anyway, as it gets more residential, with the houses close to the road in the old-fashioned way, elderly folks walking with canes, kids bicycling along the narrow walk, and there's the famous old Arare senbei shop, then the gas heater shop and the sake store; the rest is mostly houses of the old kind that give the charm to these rural villages (our new neighbor way across the paddy slope says she moved here because she loved driving through that village, wanted to live near there).

It's still a narrow road, about as wide and curvy as it was a thousand years and more ago, when it was the only central way from one sea to the other via Kyoto, a way crowded with traffic of commercial and noble retinues, along which road folks of all classes also came out from Heian (later, Kyoto) for the summer coolness of Lake and mountainsides combined, went to famous old beach places like Ogoto and Omimaiko, where they could party, watch fireworks and stay cool in the hot times, which folks still do, come from the sunbowl of Kyoto over the mountain pass - what a journey, though, in those old woodwheeled oxcart days, jarring over the stony roads with the noble ladies' luxurious sleeves hanging out beneath the screens; slow travel, and dangerous; they had to have a retinue of guards...

They'd stop and visit the old and far-apart temples along the way, the ride would take them days and nights and days and nights over a distance we traverse in half an hour or so by train or car - though I'm driving a shorter distance this morning - you gotta wonder as you move along this way in the brightness, looking out the window and visualizing these things, what it must have been like to live that slowly, with no alternative in sight, but here I am already, just on time for my dentist appointment...

Sunday, March 11, 2012


“I dreaded finding my mother’s body, lying alone on the cold ground among strangers,” Mrs. Arai, 36, said. “When I saw her peaceful, clean face, I knew someone had taken care of her until I arrived.



Children of the Tsunami - BBC
(w/English subtitles)

Thursday, March 08, 2012


Artemisia vulgaris L. var. indica Maxim can be a real pain in the acreage if it takes over. Which like any weed it is always trying to do. I know, I know-- I'm being a bully, I'm being unfair in so crassly calling such a wonderful plant a weed, it's--well, the thing is, yomogi is a nice weed, I have to agree. It even looks gentle and unassuming, like a short friendly sheepdog with a splotchy green coat of droopy leaves. It grows all over the place in Spring-Summer; the garden is practically covered in green sheepdogs by mid-June. Need some yomogi? Just stick out an open hand and close it. If you're at my house you'll get a handful of yomogi; if you're elsewhere, who knows.

Yomogi spreads like a slow green fire, and would definitely be a noxious weed were it not so easy to pull up and so darned not-noxious at all, not to mention uniquely fragrant, in fact-- ok, downright useful, and in so many ways no less, and plants that grow wild in that quantity are just not supposed to be useful, it never happens; throughout life one wonders (mainly in childhood, when such questions are less subject to prompt resolution, and then again in the gardenhood of latterly life, when specially grown thoroughbred plant varieties too often wither and die as if cursed, and one cries to the garden gods in greater measure the question one first asked as a child, to wit): why don't plants we love grow like weeds do? Well, yomogi does grow like that, ergo the love thereof is somewhat iffy. Just goes to show you can't have everything, even when you do.

This yomogi I speak of in such rampantly weedy terms is mugwort, Japanese mugwort - mogusa, to be locally specific (hence, moxa, as in moxibustion) - in addition to being the yomogi of excellent tempura and yomogimochi (q.v.). What other not-really-a-weed type plant has the range of uses yomogi has, from profound medical to profound comestible, and gets away with looking and growing like a bona fide weed, yet puts into the Green Meanie Club those who would call it a weed?

Back when I had a big pain in the-- when I had sciatica and plunged a thick glowing toke of moxa onto a shochu-marinated biwa leaf placed right atop the sore region, the heat went in and in, and took the place of the pain, and left me grateful throughout. Still am. Yomogi is my friend, actually; I love yomogi. Who called it a weed? It's one of my best green friends!


Thursday, March 01, 2012


As ever younger readers of these slapdash chronicles may remember, I have posted a few items about going up to clean the mountain forest stream from which we get our water via a system of tanks and pipes and gravity, and which requires outdoor maintenance because the stream, being alive, is naturally fidgety with gravity, topography, meteorology etc. Streams can get oppressively scientific; plus, like anyone else this one gets seasonally feisty and thrashes around in its bed on occasion, moving big rocks around; washes down tree branches and leaves, so the collector gizmo has to be checked and cleared weekly by residents taking turns, in addition to regular overall maintenance.

And like any system, this one has been showing its age. Mainly built about 50 years ago, it has been tweakily updated ever since but isn't going to be economically viable for much longer, and will sooner more than later have to be replaced in toto for quite a sum, so the committee decided to investigate the possibility of drilling a well at less cost.

We called in a geologist specializing in mountain aquifers, who explored and assessed the heights above us at the true foot of the mountain; there he selected a likely spot for drilling. We then contracted with a local well-drilling company to test-drill down to 60-70 meters, which we figured should be sufficient to reach water and our budget. They drilled that deep, but no water.

The subcommittee then gave them permission to double that depth, which was about as far as there could be water that we were willing to pay to reach. So they drilled down to 140 meters and struck water, which then had to be tested. The water testing lab said that this was the highest quality well water they had seen on this side of the Lake; they recommended that we bottle and sell it.

I can see it all now: Pure Land Mountain Spring Water ("It's Sacred!"), "Straight from the Gates of Nirvana!" "Holier than Evian!" Nah. Think I’ll just chill some, make some tea... In any case, water more sacred than Perrier will spring from our taps in April.

No more cleaning the stream, though; I’ll miss that, going up there mornings in all seasons, following the stream edge up through the forest, to do some work on behalf of my neighbors...

I suppose I could always lend a hand at Pure Land Mountain Water Enterprises...