Saturday, April 26, 2014


This morning when I stepped out the door onto the deck on my way to some garden work I was surprised at how bright it was out there-- the light itself was different, then I looked around the corner of the house and saw that two of the paddies across the road had been flooded since yesterday.

Like the paddies downmountain, these were now as blue as the morning sky and as bright, and as I set to planting my own plants I thought about how every year around this time the entire mountainside becomes a mirror that remains as bright as the sky for a good while after all the paddies are flooded and the mountain becomes the sky's reflection, even at night when it fills with galaxies.

This goes on until the rice is planted, when the sky of the mountain greens with growth each day as the stalks replace light with life, the mountainside turning toward imperial jade at the pace of growth, the ambiance changing as well all along the days as the light travels at vegetable speed, which is quite a switch, and stirs 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 all to be just as it was, and so comes to re-realize reality. Which is beneficial, by and large, and happens often out in the countryside, where light plays and grows, like widening rings in water.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I first saw one of these not long after I arrived in Japan. During a visit to Kyoto I was wandering through the beautiful garden at Katsura Rikyu and about to leave the main walk to follow a stone path toward a small but intriguing building when I noticed, perked right in the center of the first walkstone on the new path, an impertinent little roundish rock, bound with black hemp rope!

Who would tie up a single rock, and why? What could be more pointless than binding the neverbound and placing it so whereverly? Staring at the little granite package, I wondered at the why of what, and other zenny matters-- the utter thereness of it, its arrant placefulness-- so irrational, yet so neatly done and so... cute!

In such an elegant surrounding! Just put there, without reason I could see, so oddly ineffectual, right where I was about to place my foot! So easy to bypass, I remarked as I stood there. Who would be so careless, yet so careful as to take the time to tie a rock around with a couple of loops of rope and put a neat a knot at the top? What could be more pointless? Or less pointful?

Who ties one rock with rope? And what do they know that I don't? The mind I call mine continued to boggle. Which is the point, for a boggling mind; such a rock in such a place and time makes such a mind stop and wonder, even ponder; hopefully a thought will rise. How subtle an approach that is! No stabby bamboo fence, no wrought iron railing with spikes, no gargoyles, no big framed metal Keep Out signs or guards with pikes...

But still, who ties one rock with rope and puts it on a garden path? A traditional Japanese gardener, that's who. And there it was, before me. I hadn't known what the rock meant, yet I "knew." It did its job; it stopped me. Even though I didn't speak its language.

The stone is called a tome-ishi (lit: stop-stone).

There is more to understanding than we'll ever know.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Haven't seen a monkey around these parts for months now; much of the time it's almost as though the thieves have slipped my mind, but I guess the planter part of me is always on watch, because the other morning when I was behind the house selecting a net to put over the new lettuce that one of the crows had developed a taste for, I glanced out back with an instinctual feeling and saw an elderly female monkey limping up the road alone (not a screech for miles around, so she wasn't a scout; anyway, scouts don't limp). She stopped a moment to gaze into my early garden, where, thanks to careful planning, nothing was growing that monkeys like.

She stayed hunkered there in the road, resting and engaging in some form of monkey contemplation, then began limping off toward the property across the way, where the pickings were even slimmer-- zero, to be precise. Looked like she had a bad hip, maybe age, like me; maybe sciatica like me. Her many kids were all gone off on their own; she too was an empty nester. As to the whereabouts of all her former 'husbands,' Who the hell knows? she'd likely respond, if anyone cared enough to ask.

As she hobbled away, she paused and turned to look back at my garden once more, and it seemed to someplace in my heart that she was feeling a monkey version of nostalgia, perhaps wistfully recalling all the fine dining she used to enjoy in her golden years as a wandering young mountain beauty in one of the elite troupes that patronized my establishment in those days. 

The longer she gazed, the more she seemed to be wondering what had happened to all those yesterdays-- so far gone, yet so immediate, for the past has its own gravity-- in her case, of savory summer days with their tender onions and crisp cucumbers, their crunchy potatoes and other monkey delicacies I used to have on the menu at my Fresh Organic Simian Cuisine Emporium, where every ape who was anybody used to hang out with wild abandon in the golden light that lit the skies when she was a girl... 

Was she visiting once more the dining palace of her memories that she had come all this way alone to behold before she-- not retired, but maybe there's an Old Monkeys' Tree somewhere that they go to, way up in the woods there. I've never seen such a place, but as any animal expert will tell you, there's an infinity of things we do not know about monkeys, which I can back up with 20 years of personal experience.

As we stood there looking at each other for a powerful moment, there was no way I could tell her that things had changed because of monkeys like her, that now I only grow stuff that the beasts won't touch, though "beasts" may be politically incorrect these days, I don't know; humans are getting pretty fussy about the old ways, and are whipping up respect for everybody, but anyway, given the nature of the moment I felt I had to be nice and didn't think more than once about throwing a rock, even though respect is something monkeys couldn't care less about - it's always been a power thing with them: You do this or I bite you - and though she appeared to be leaving all that behind as she entered elderhood, you can never be sure; the future, too, has its own gravity... 

Then she turned away and we both limped off into the rest of our lives.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Standing out on the deck this morning in the chill breeze from the north, cooling off after a long, sweaty task involving stones, as I stood in the shallows of my immediate self with all its discomfort and other rightnow problems of oh, so many complex kinds, my body took its usual first deep, welcome breath after heavy physical labor and my nose lifted me to full delight in the sudden beauty of weeping-cherry blossom fragrance, from deep back in all time... a message from the ancestors...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mountain stage -  
wind sings 
bamboo dances 

Monday, April 07, 2014


Being frequently alone up here I have a lot of these meetings, especially lately, what with the weird weather and with pushing well into my seventies, when new questions come up at an accelerating pace, like where in hell did I put that fill in the blank. Plus it's been oddly cold for early April days; my life habit takes it tacitly to be November or so, with snow in the offing and winter ahead, wants me to eat warm calorific foods and snuggle out of reach of aimless winds and fitful rains. 

It's as though the atmosphere can't keep track of the calendar. Lately the weather seems to have gone to the dark side, but that’s just me looking out the window into the steely air, holding a meeting as the cherry blossoms try to remember what they're supposed to do at around this time every year and how. Happens to us all. 

It's confusing as well to the shiitake, who were completely suckered by that 10 minutes or so of sudden warmthiness that happened earlier in the month. Spring can be so cynical. At the feel of it, many of the newly emerged and naive shiitake came running into almost full mushroomhood completely naked, only to realize 10 minutes later that the sudden northerly wind was effing cold, what is this, and they right away wanted to go back to nubhood, but of course they couldn't, once you’re a mushroom, you're a mushroom. Talk to immigration.

The ancient mushroom code is extremely strict about this, so all the shivering newbies can do at that point is what we ourselves would do if we were full out in the frigid air on a log on a mountain somewhere completely naked, which is stop it right there, do not invest another iota of energy in growth, forget about it, just hunker down forever, because this is it! 

It's not pretty, but as I say the shroom laws are firm on this point-- buncha permanently hunkering mushrooms out there now, and speaking of firmness, those hunkerees acquire a wondrous texture that human teeth - which I and many of my acquaintances still happen to have - find most toothsome indeed.

Now back to my meeting.  

Saturday, April 05, 2014


I remember when the twins Mitsuki and Miasa were about 4 years old, we were doing garden work and I handed each of them a rake. They looked at the huge objects in their hands the way I would look at a 50-quon Grongorch from the Gas Jungles of Saturn, then their eyes turned to me with a glint of a hint at what a bonehead I was, for assuming that one is born knowing how to use whatever a "rake" is. 

This characteristic of mine doesn't seem to diminish as I get older. The other day I and the twins (now 10 years old) were out in the same garden and I gave each of them a packet of spinach seeds, showed them the new furrows I'd made, asked them to plant the seeds about 2 cm apart, said we could thin them later. 

They started at opposite ends of the long rows and worked toward each other, reaching into their packets and carefully lifting out just one seed at a time, grasping it softly between two fingertips, like a tiny egg, then reaching down and placing it gently upon the soft cushion of soil - just there - like putting a tiny doll to bed, then patting it into place with the end of a loving finger, taking each seed at its true value, even tucking it in with a little earthy blanket, then extracting the next seed in all the same way and placing it, as precisely as possible by eye, about 2 cm down the row. The rows of seeds filled slowly, but perfectly. 

With a row-and-a-half per twin, it took quite a while to get all the seeds arranged in comfort and sleeping softly, but M&M seemed to enjoy it, they were fully absorbed and far away, and I'll bet it was all worth it: that spinach will be the happiest, most nourishing, spiritually balanced and tastiest spinach I've ever grown.

But it was a rarer treasure to watch the twins in those natural moments, of the patient and caring kind that only free-range kids seem able to embody in this fast-forward world; all the more precious to the lucky elder nearby who has to go far back in his own museum to get hold of anything that real anymore, the way real used to be, that now seems to live mainly in fading recollection... 

The pure breath of life, these little girls, who still wear the aura of the eternity whence they came, still live in a when where each new thing is impeccably new, infinite with possibilities and deserving of tenderest care without embarrassment, up to a point; I was a boy, myself...