Monday, October 22, 2012


Yesterday I was out in the hot afternoon sun sweating trying to split a thick section of oak that had, right to its core, an old broken branch that locked the trunk together like a thick iron bolt and rendered the grain perverse to wedge, axe, muscle and the finest curses that can roil from the tongue of man, until at last the lock of the grain surrendered with amazing grace (how sweet the sound) and the halves fell open to reveal a miraculous record of over half a century of infinitesimal effort to counterbalance wind and gravity, seasons and the scars of living.

This one big scar in particular had been woven back to integrity by broad swathes of decades, each weaving recorded in tiny golden waves of fibergrain that swerved and swirled, intertwisted and ultratorqued until the memory of that broken branch was webbed into the past as firmly as with woven steel and with a grace beyond human ability, that now, in the light of the sun, was time itself, in lacings of ivory and gold.

I could only marvel as I squatted there, seeing it shine in the light that was its maker: what craft, what wisdom, what staunch flexibility!

If only I could be as true in all my moments...

Sunday, October 14, 2012


The portion of the road below our house has been steadily narrowing over the past month as the roadside bamboo, saplings and weeds overgrow. The gleaming polish of the autos that travel up and down here are under increasing threat from those reaching woody arms - many with thorns - all owing to local community politics.

In the past, every year at about this time, as I’ve chronicled herein, the village below and we up here get together in a big, well-organized roadside weedwhacking work party, in which dozens of husbands and wives et al. clear both sides of the entire road up the mountain in a morning. Always an impressive event. This year, though, the whacking didn’t go this far up; it stopped down around the school at the bottom of our road, because our water co-op drilled a well and was no longer getting water from the village, severing a strong obligatory tie between us.

Henceforth, due to local village mountain-water politics we are on our own, weedwhackingwise. I waited and watched and asked and listened, but it appeared that no one in our upper community was going to do anything about it (or organize to do so, which situation is likely to change at the next couple of community meetings, since all these folks drive nice shiny cars).

Along the southern roadside the weeds had by this point narrowed the road nearly by half. Immediate emergency squad action was the only viable solution. So it was that I summoned my work crew, the Trio of Brio (motto “Sudorem delectatio est,” “Sweat is Fun”), to help me do something about it. We got out the best new big green wheelbarrow with banana-yellow handles in the world, rakes large and small, clippers, shovels, buckets, hand scythes, a big scoop basket, I got out the new high-powered weedwhacker, put on the bamboo-cutting blade and we assembled at the target area not too long after dawn, figuring to finish half the work today.

An interesting thing happens when you give brief, unadorned instructions to kids regarding tasks, like “separate the few hard woody stems and throw those back onto the cut overgrowth, wheelbarrow the rest up the mountain road to the compost strip behind the garden, then clean up the leftovers on the road.” One of the twins (Miasa, I think) took that latter instruction to near nanolevel and crafted a fine tool out of some whacked bamboo, got down on her knees and with her face close to the road used the tool to scrape particles of leaf dust into little piles, which she shoved into the dustpan pile by pile using another spontaneously crafted tool, and thence into the wheelbarrow. Interesting little devices and procedure for finely detailed cleanup, but soon her sweating, hauling sisters, wrestling with thorny reality, got on her case and once again the effort went into full forward mode.

At one point, while attempting to toss a big thorny bale of hard-stemmed whackstuff back onto the overgrowth, I couldn’t see the also-overgrown culvert, so stepped in it with my left foot just as I tossed the unwieldy armful and instantly hit the road, so to speak, toppling backward downhill onto the road, my old aikido lessons (from 40 years ago!) reflexively kicking in as I struck not flat on my back, but curled and ready to roll, my feet flying up into the air as my body rocked onto its shoulders, easily dissipating the force as per the old “aikido roll” (plus even older football knowledge) as the trio watched from uproad, slackjawed.  They had never seen an adult accidentally freefall and roll till his feet were up in the air before. After returning to earth I got up with only a few scratches on one forearm and shoulder from re-entry, some woody weeds getting a bit of their own back. We continued on.

Neighborly autofolks who throughout the day drove by along the steadily widening road in their unscratched shiny cars, seeing this act of communal kindness by a foreigner and three young girls sweating in the hot sun cutting, raking and hauling, all rolled down their windows to smile Good Morning... Good afternoon... The girls smiled back, proud of what they were accomplishing. Our system and my hardy crew worked so well that we finished the job in a day.

A whole new road.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


We live in one time, flowers live in another. Ours is mostly artificial, of our own devising: time compartments of the social mind. 

I was out in the garden one morning a few days ago, not cleaning up after the wild pigs for a change (more on that later), but doing one of the autumnal things gardeners do in that absently focused way gardeners do things - not thinking of time at all, just going along with the body on functional autopilot - weeding, raking, hauling - and in the path of my task I noticed the oddness of one slim green flowerstem sticking up out of the ground, just a bright dash of green with but a dab of red at the end - it looked familiar, but incomplete - had I accidentally cut off the tip of it or what? It gave me pause, called me forth, and so the new flower reminded me what date it was. 

It was the Autumnal equinox, or higan in Japanese; yesterday was the higan holiday on the Japanese calendar: September 21 (so that's why the date was in red!). Every year around this is when the higanbana bloom, as though to remind us.

They know something big-- not about time, as all flowers do, but about a specific "date," as we humans term it, a particular timepoint in our particular framework comprising planetary orbits, rotations and suchlike; these flowers, though, know this point in time every year without all that, without our math or astronomy or information recording systems, when their new flowers suddenly sprout up overnight or it can seem right before your eyes if you haven't been watching, as so many of us don't at about this time every year, when we're busy with our own yeartime tasks and can forget for a duration the deep purpose of life, which is to bloom whenever the time is right... as the higanbana have demonstrated for eons.  

Later, from the deck at the end of the day I could see that over in the shady corner, by the stone steps down to the inner road, a cluster of higanbana stood erect on their slender green leafless stems, blossoms open to their full spread, gathered like a misty scarlet cloud, saying in unforgettable red to all who pass by Hey it's the equinox! Not that they "know" this as we know this, although they do-- it's difficult, with only a mind, to get at this aspect of reality and all its permutations that come to pertain every year with higanbana, but they "know" it not in the merely intellectual way that we do: they know it in the fiber of their lives, they rise by it from the earth itself, and stand there; they live it, they proclaim it in unmistakable scarlet for all to see, they are one with it, that is why they are there now in the shade, stating these facts as crimson in the shadows, or like fireworks out in the sun, declaring a truth to one and all in the strongest terms of red, clustered there, seven or eight of them this year beneath the tsubaki trees; next year there will be more, making the same emphatic point about time with the same bright excitement, as what they know grows in an importance we have yet to discover...