Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Scattered over the mountains - the green parts and the stony parts, with little caps of snow at the top - here and there the eye finds puffs of pinkish-white where a cherry tree has somehow managed to be. How did each of them come to brighten there, pastel notes amidst the darker tones of cedar, hinoki, oak, beech, all the other stolid, right-at-home trees?

Cherry tree seeds reached each of those places way up there, in those difficult locations, likely dropped by birds or washed down by rainstreams from a parent tree above, now long gone. Perhaps that's why there are rarely two cherry trees together; they are scattered singly across these mountainsides, in little bursts of pink confetti for this moment at the edge of Spring - roundish wisps of brightness up there, shimmering now in the wind, small celebrations amid the overall somberness of the forest. 

Up there on one mountainside, though, is a single tree that is white, not pink, and not roundish or windshimmery like a cherry-- it is tall and pointed. My handy binoculars tell me it is a tulip tree up there at full bloom, limbs arrayed in natural majesty of the kind that finds its way into royal coats of arms.

The road below us is lined with cherry trees, that at this time of day are lit from behind us by the setting sun, the lake far below darkening blue in the background, sailboats sailing in the shadowed air above the flowering trees. All that beauty, like all the finest beauty - like those blossoms themselves - abides but a moment; then the sun is gone behind the mountains, and all that splendor now is nowhere but in ourselves.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Early this morning when I awoke and sleepily threw the bedroom window curtains aside, I was astonished to see that the red cedars flocking outside in the semidarkness were in fact fashioned of a kind of opaque amber glass, lit from within by a mystical candle, this inner light variegated with a shadowy shifting over the surface of the glass... infinitely finer work than the naturalistic semblances by Tiffany or Lalique.

I was entranced by this realization, and stood there absent with awe until dreams had fully faded and education had climbed back to its lofty place to point out that the stained glass of the cedars was in fact the rising sun dappling their trunks, through their wind-dancing branches...

Thus does the great mother vouchsafe to us, whenever we manage to step ourselves aside a moment, by whatever means, the many secret other things that can be seen with eyes.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

MONKEYS AND ONIONS     - archives

No, that's not a recipe. Yet.

It sounds increasingly mouthwatering to me, though, compared to the way I felt in my previous ignorance, when I thought monkeys were cute.

Back then, monkeys were those dear little, furry, red-faced almost-human beings in the photos of snowy Japanese hot springs in some distant mountain wilderness somewhere, usually with a big-eyed baby monkey clinging endearingly to its mother's fur. And at that time, of course, distorting the whole reality picture in a major way was the fact that I wasn't growing onions.

Growing onions can do that to your monkey attitude. Because first of all it's no picnic to grow onions on what until recently was pretty much mountainside where onions have never grown before. Second, it takes a longish time for onions to reach maturity, a time measured in almost hourly fatherly glances at the current status of the preciously swelling globes with their practically individual names as the months crawl along in onion time, making the onions themselves all the more like diamonds one has fashioned by hand.

Moreover, as is not commonly known among incipient onion growers, whose legions I joined a few years ago in grade-A ignorance, monkeys love onions. They love onions, in fact, almost as much as I've come to despise monkeys.

It was a day like any other, except the onions were slightly bigger than they'd been the day before, though they weren't yet big enough to harvest. I went off into the sunny morning to work in the city, as humans do. The monkeys yawned and looked at their watches. The leader checked his calendar, said: Zero hour. He's gone to work. The sun is shining, and there's no one home. Let's go get our onions. It's party time.

Now I know I'm the interloper here, in some idiotically rationally humanly obsessive earth-loving sense that comes straight out of Eden, 2-for-1 with the apple core. The monkeys were here first. And I don't mind paying them their vig: maybe 10, even 20 percent if they have a case (sick kids, ailing grandma etc.). But when they come and just take 50 percent and leave a mess, then come the next day and take another 40 percent, leaving 10 percent only because they can't find it in the further mess they've made, I say it's time for monkeys and onions.

I awoke the third morning (a new day off) to the sound of trees thrashing under monkey weight enhanced by my onions. It was the dawn of the monkeys. I peered out the window as an onion-fattened female ambled solo into my garden, heading for you know what.

I ran downstairs and out the door to the deck. She stopped in amazement: what the hell are you doing home? I figuratively swear she double-checked her watch, got out her organizer and scratched her head. She looked again to see if I was real. I really threw a real rock. She took off and joined the crew in the trees across the road.

I went to my onions and began scavenging for my 10 percent. The beasts watched from the trees in growing distress, jumping up and down and talking to their lawyers, saying HEY! He's pulling up OUR onions!! They began to eat mere leaves from the trees in frustration, as monkeys should dammit do at all times, I gritted as I salvaged what was left of my own onions.

I say the onions are mine. I bought the land, I bought the seeds, I planted and tilled, what right do the monkeys have to the fruits of my labor, other than the fact that they get it every year?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

ON CONTENTMENT   -  archives

Nothing like gazing upon your own well-stacked cords of firewood turning golden in the evening sun to get you feeling contented, and then in that contentment set you to thinking about contentment itself and how it arises, where it goes and what it is exactly, what is it made of, is it part of you or is it more like a shaft of sunlight warming a patch of earth? Firewood, another form of light, serves in so many ways...

That thought always leads to a line from the Tao Te Ching that glows with the light of the truth that cannot be pinned down, that shimmers in the mind’s eye: "There is no disaster greater than not being content."

Being content? Mere contentment? What does contentment have to do with disaster? Lao Tzu knew, and passes along the intimation, that contentment is the beginning of all that is worthy, it is the seed and germ of every happiness, its absence accordingly the tiny breach that ruptures into every disaster, the pinhole in the dam, the lost horseshoe nail. Contentment is all the rest: pride in the way of one's life and the fruit of it, whether one is shepherd or chieftain, a fact that hasn't changed since back in the tribal days when miracles were everywhere, and no museums yet needed to remind us of what is gone.

Contentment is the core of all that truly matters. It is the root of passion, the heights of honesty, the beating heart of every joy, the embrace of a family. There is no self in contentment; it is other-centered. The self-centered, in contrast, is perturbed, discordant, writhes with discontent and seeks release at every turn (insert the 'seven cardinal sins' here, for starters).

And where there is no contentment, deception is essential, falsehood is opportune, theft is advantageous, and enmity is natural. No one knew this better than the Chinese of Lao Tzu's time, who had seen it all for millennia, from battle and rapine to disease and famine, and knew well the silent, dry seed of the whirlwind that springs from the ash of contentment...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

HOW TO SWING A CAT - from the archives

While getting the kids to the table for supper I noticed that Haru the cat was inside the house playing with something over in the corner, behind the trunk. I scooped him up with my right hand, having a dish in my left, and held the squirming beast in place with my left forearm as best I could while trying to open the door to put him outside so we could eat in peace but the cat was playful, grabbing my left forearm painfully with his claws, so I went OW! OW! OW!, grabbed him with my right hand, pulled him away from my left arm and held him out at a distance to my right, when I felt that he must have unusually long arms because he was still clawing my left forearm, then I looked and saw that it wasn't the cat clawing my arm, it was a large hissing beetle the cat had been playing with that had fastened itself to the cat's hair in the righteous fury it was now taking out on my innocent left forearm, and I was going OW! OW! OW! but now had both hands full and couldn't put the cat down or it would run upstairs and hide unreachably under the bed or worse, nor could I get at the beetle, who by now was hissing pissed off pinching for all it was worth the tender skin of my as I say innocent left forearm and I was still going OW! OW! OW! and now Keech was going WHAT? WHAT? WHAT? to me jumping around that way, at which point in the overall desperation I started swatting at the beetle with the cat I happened to have conveniently at hand, swinging the cat in wider and wider arcs (note to cat swingers: it's hard to get pinpoint accuracy and solid impact from a cat; if you hold it by the scruff it tends to flop around when you swing it less than top speed at anything as small as even a large beetle, so you lose control on the first few swings, whereas swinging it by the hind legs or tail creates too great an arc so forget about accuracy; if you're swinging with any sense of urgency, you should ideally have a short stiff cat and a large target), trying for the very first time in my life to hit a beetle with a cat's head, though this fact was unobserved by me at the time, as I was still going OW! OW! OW! while the beetle went HISS! HISS! HISS! and Keech went WHAT? WHAT? WHAT? and the cat went YOW! YOW! YOW! What is this guy trying to do with me? till finally I got the vectors together and swung the cat (thank god we have a living room big enough to swing one in) so that his head hit the beetle and knocked it off my forearm. Altogether a memorable YOWling, HISSing, OW-ing, WHAT-ing family bug adventure of another kind. The bite was not venomous, just a fierce pinch, and so to dinner, cat and beetle not invited.

Monday, January 07, 2013

THINNER THAN A MINUTE - from the archives

Kaya has the same 24-hour day as everybody else, but at two years of age she hasn't yet got enough experience to waste it properly as a youth, flaunt it as an adolescent, market it as an adult or treasure it as an elder. Minute- by-minute, she's engaged in the lifelong process of learning to do all that, and like all of us, must begin at the beginning and take it as it comes.

So at the moment there are great differences between Kaya and me in the way we navigate the day. To her, the world is an effortlessly open book, a ready playground, an all-day carnival, an endless private banquet, every day a birthday. I have to make a bit of a metaphysical effort to stay in that world with her for the hours we are together, but she makes it easy for me.

The difference might seem to reside in the six decades that separate us, but I as with just about everything in the universe I've ever run into, I suspect there's more to it than that. Kaya paints green stripes on her legs and spends long minutes hopping back and forth across the living room with glee in her heart and eyes. She does it spontaneously, without a second thought, with complete naturalness and no embarrassment. I can't recall the last time I did anything of the sort. Maybe at a frat party. Even now that glee evades me. Being alone with Kaya for hours at a stretch gives me new perspectives like that on just about everything, even the calligraphic powers of wet rice on an oak floor.

Historically, when I was two years old I probably spent my time pretty much the same way Kaya does now: practicing faces, being completely in places, posing all the poses, making all the noises in my untried repertoire, observing the effects of my menu of screams on the large, slow servants that surrounded and sought to control me yet catered to my infant whims, came at my call-- though I discontinued all that kind of thing at some point after college. Or maybe later.

We aren't really aware of, let alone keeping track of, all the minds we phase through in the hills and valleys of our years. Then one day later in life-- if we are so fortunate, after all that, to have a later - and then have the luck to spend sunny afternoon hours with someone like Kaya, the fun part of our past comes flooding back to a wiser perspective, from a place that isn't so far away after all.

The distance between childhood and elderhood turns out to be thinner than a minute.