"There are four kinds of wisdom ... giving, kind speech, beneficial deeds, and cooperation."

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Lily

 

Meet my new toy.

In my own case, it's not yet what it seems: I walk a lot. 

Even hike, admittedly with two sticks.

But I absolutely cannot stand in a queue. 

I have obtained it to get in line for vaccinations and such. 

I like it; amazing what all I can store under the seat.

I'm sure it will come in even more handy later. πŸ˜„

What with the Second Law and all. 

I think I will call it Lily, as it is my lily pad where I can sit and wait for whatever turns up.


A frog's way of sitting is much better than our zazen. I always admire their practice. They never get sleepy. Their eyes are always open, and they do things intuitively in an appropriate way. When something to eat comes by, they go like this: gulp! They never miss anything, they are always calm and still. -- Shunryu Suzuki

 

 

 

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Some cold tea

The renovations that took place here seven years ago led to there being a massive pile of rubble and old cinderblocks and another of lumber studded with rusty bent nails, which quickly acquired a covering of very robust Himalaya blackberries. 

I'd had a notion of building some kind of greenhouse/shadehouse out of these bits and bobs, but renters occupied much of the premises during most of that time, and I felt shy of hammering and sawing in their sunbathing space, so ... but this year, I resolved to evict the blackberries and put up a structure in their stead, using the materials now solidly locked in their embrace.

Once the cutting, uprooting re-piling and tilling was done (this took a couple of months), I sorted materials, pulled nails, and meditated on the shape of the space. It would be about ten feet by sixteen, and would need to be tall enough to allow for a door, yet low enough not to exceed the height of my neighbor's wooden fence, which stood only six feet tall on a curb of about fourteen inches height along the property line.

I had imported the screen door from the farm, ideal for the purpose as it was made of wood and had been cut down to accommodate a low porch ceiling. I attached the door to the back corner of Manzoku-an with hinges and framed it. The height of the door frame determined the height of the east-facing wall of the structure, facing in toward the back yard. I then bolted a two-by four, eleven feet long, across the back of the hut, with enough slope to shed water past the door. This would determine the height of the walls and height and slope of the roof.

From there, I proceeded to wrap walls around to the east and north, always using wood from the rapidly diminishing pile, framing in scrap windows as I went.

It was now possible to roof the space, which was done with corrugated fiberglass also found in the pile.

On the floor, with some digging, I managed to create a path of sorts using the rubble and cinderblocks.

It would be nice to have raised beds, but I've used up the materials. So, for now, I'll spread straw. The uphill bed is straight, about fifteen feet long, and the downhill bed is a kind of keyhole pattern.

I've brought in the seedling shelves, potting table and tools, freeing up a bit of breathing room for Manzoku-an, where they spent the last year.

 

Yes, it's close to the fence line, but Manzoku-an predates the fence, this is a tiny agricultural project, and it's free-standing. None of it is attached to the fence.

Will this thing work? I expect there will be problems at first. At the moment the ambient temperature is 76F, the hut has 83 and the greenhouse is a toasty 92 (!!) -- but of course I'm not bothering to shade and ventilate much until next summer. It's not a proper shadehouse with such big windows, nor is it a proper greenhouse as it does not face south, but -- assuming I have allowed enough light -- I feel it has some potential toward season extending. We'll see.


Left to right: "deer fence," Manzoku-an, "greenhouse," tool shed. Some leftover used lumber is stored on the hut's roof.

The last construction project for the year is deer proofing the old and new beds with a bit of deer proofing. Of course, that is for the deer to decide.

I think will go now and sit in the shade with some cold tea.


There are four inherent attributes to tea: peacefulness, respectfulness, purity and quietness. -- Martine Batchelor




Daughter would approve

Even a short-timer's habits die hard. 

My dad had some kind of fishing boat, each a little smaller than the one before, well into his nineties. My mom used to read him the funnies every day, and tried to do so even in hospice, with three days left to her.

Daughter's little dog can only smell, her seeing and hearing having pretty much gone by the by, but she still checks every corner of the place, inside and out, before settling down to her all day nap.

I had gardens and fruit trees, and for awhile a downright microfarm, from about 1970 to 2022. I had built Daughter a few raised beds from scrap lumber, but, always traveling for the health department, she left them to me to fill up. I put in a crop or two of broadbeans, returning the chopped plants to the beds to build soil.

I'm sadly now one of the inheritors of Daughter's house, and no longer have the large gardens to which I had become accustomed. I'm also joining the ranks of those who spend most of their time sleeping in a recliner, due to lack of motivation and age-appropriate health concerns. I made noises to those around me that my gardening days were done.

But those beds out back did not stop calling to me. I wandered out to inspect them -- they had been taken over by a lush carpet of grass -- thought about things a bit, then on one of our furniture runs from the farm, brought over a couple of bales of straw. These had been intended as bedding for a poultry flock that had departed the world, and so were no longer needed where they were. In the autumn, I cut twine and threw straw flakes over all the grass, then as winter drew to a close, covered the beds with repurposed black poly to shut out any stray photons. 

In April, I pulled off the sheeting and found the straw had worked down a bit. No grass was in sight. I threw on a bagful of potting soil to each bed, smoothed it out, and began planting things.

There are deer in the neighborhood, who regard themselves as the landlords, so I wrapped the row of beds in scrap fencing. Anticipating (correctly) a record hot summer, I also had brought from the farm some 36" by 50' shade cloth, and hung some above and some vertically to the west of the beds. 

 

We were back in the veggie business, in a tiny way.

This is hardly tinyfarming, or even enough production to dent the grocery bill really, but along with the dozen or more fruit trees I planted seven years ago, it has done two things: it supplements our diet with fresh organically grown tomatoes, squash, kale, collards, potatoes, apples, pears and plums, and -- briefly, two hours at a time --- it gets me out of that chair.

I feel Daughter would approve.

 


 

 

Rinzai was planting pine trees. Obaku asked him, “Why do you plant so many pines in this remote mountain monastery?” Rinzai answered, “Firstly, they provide good scenery around the monastery gate, and then they are for the benefit of those who come after us,” and struck the ground three times with his hoe. Obaku said, “Although this may be so, I’ll still give you thirty blows of my stick to taste.” Again, Rinzai struck the ground three times with his hoe, sighing deeply. Obaku said, “Through you, our school will flourish throughout the world.”


Sunday, August 06, 2023

Rice and veg

I grew some things and chopped them up. I steamed them enough to call them blanched, and steeped them in rice vinegar and honey. 

It's not like I can't or don't buy groceries, but occasional water-bath canning gives one the cheery sound of lids popping, and a sense of life going ahead.

Pop. Pop. Six or seven times, then go look at the moon.

This is preparation for a winter in the hermitary. 

Pickled veg is famously what Asian hermits have with their rice (when they have rice), especially in winter. Stonehouse recalled having gone through a hundred crocks of pickles, more or less, at his hermitage.

Stonehouse  had a hermitage, whereas I merely have a hermitary, that is, in my case, a she-cave attached to a comfortable home. Sincerity comes in bursts of a few seconds; I feel I would make a terrible Zen leader. 

That's all right. We are bubbles on the stream. When I see three seconds of sincerity, I jump on -- free ride! 

In the morning, rice and veg.

 

Forty-some years I've
Lived in the mountains,
Ignorant of the world's
Rise and fall.
Warmed at night by a stove
Full of pine needles;
Satisfied at noon by a bowl
Of wild plants;
Sitting on rocks
Watching clouds and empty thoughts;
Patching my robe in sunlight;
Practicing silence
Till someone asks
Why Bodhidharma came east,
And I hang out my wash

-- Shiwu (Stonehouse) tr. Red Pine



Monday, July 31, 2023

All that we have

 

Concerning identity: it is not that our memories are or are not real. 

It is that they are all that we have.


Wednesday, July 19, 2023

His grubby face

The real estate lady hired a crew to scrape off my thirty years' accumulation of food forest at the farm, leaving mostly the larger trees -- mature apples, pears, figs, cherries, plums, oak, ash, maple, and fir. Whatever is smaller, such as most of the quince trees, is apparently a weed in the eyes of potential buyers.

The soil and detritus thus exposed is extraordinarily dry and dusty. I had worked too hard for too long trying to manage an acre with a five-gallons-per-minute well, a losing proposition in any case but all the more so with everything exhaling moisture at an ever increasing rate. Some of the ash and fir trees, and the big spruce, had already died, a sign, perhaps, of things to come.

The crew left the table and chairs in the now wide-open space we called the Secret Garden, beneath the big Gravenstein. When I'm on site, picking up things to move to la Finca (the town place Daughter left us), I brew tea and go to sit, watching the jays frolic in the big oaks across the road, and the play of cloud shadows on Jasper Mountain. It's a lesson in letting go and letting be.

The new location has much to offer an elderly urban would-be permaculturist. 

The neighborhood has very high walkability, with parks, services, little free libraries and even an honor-system honey stand. Organic gardeners and permies abound, and the local hardware and variety stores cater to that trade with alacrity.

The one-fifth acre lot, interestingly sited in the middle of a heavily afforested block, lacks tree cover. I moved saplings of various kinds to the lot from the farm during the winter. They're a spindly and rather thirsty bunch, so I've offered them mulch and square white shade blocks for their sensitive root collars, and bring them rain water from barrels. I have lost several, but I just cut them off, leaving the roots in the ground, and plan to bring more. Ash comes up from seed everywhere, and I might be best off simply encouraging them.

The fruit trees I planted six years ago are, or ought to be, established, along with several raised beds.


However, I must share them -- for now. The neighborhood is heavily populated by raccoons, squirrels, crows, turkeys and deer, and in fact the deer seem to have historically regarded our back yard as a nursery. The current doe, who can't seem to get enough of our apple twigs, apples, tomato vines, fig twigs, ash twigs, and even potato vines, is one of twins born beneath our picnic table, I think, last year -- her brother harasses gardeners one street over.

We've made an effort to fence her out -- six feet is the maximum height allowed -- and fence the garden in, but she leaps the perimeter fence and paws vigorously at the chicken wire enclosure for entry to her entrΓ©e. I go out at dawn to chase her away with the hose, but she continues to include us in her rotation about once every three days. 

I knew how this was going to go when I noticed all the neighbors that have veggie gardens cage their crops -- with a wire roof as well as walls. My work is cut out for me here.

There's a spot, behind the hut (at right above), that I began clearing six years ago, but left off when the house was occupied by renters. It has grown up in blackberries. If I can grub those out and floor the space with some rubble I've reserved for the purpose, I can build a shadehouse there and grow most of the vegetables inside it. The available space is about twelve feet by twenty -- more if I go vertical. Much will depend on my personal vitality.

A few symbolic gestures have been made, which help ease the transition. Mr. Sun, who graced the north wall of the farmhouse for three decades:

 
... now faces the street on the wall of Beloved's office. Far beneath him grows the one grapevine I saved from the landscrapers. May it someday reach to touch his grubby face.
 


Yunyan was boiling some tea. Daowu asked who he was making it for. Yunyan answered, "nobody special."
-- Soto Zen Ancestors in China, Mitchell, 72.


Wednesday, July 05, 2023

One's own deep peace

What's new? fourfold: 

1) reading, writing, watching events unfold, speaking, remembering are full of gaps, like data is dropping out in increments of about 1/10 second. I'm re-typing words in every sentence. 

2) sleeping all the time -- naps throughout the day, often right in the middle of reading or watching whatever 

3) alimentary system seems poorly, with many trips to the potty, not always making it, lots of clothing changes and doing of laundry accordingly. I'm not embarrassed; a body is a body and does not come with guarantees; however I wish I was still good at pants legs and sleeves and not getting into things inside out and backwards repeatedly under duress. πŸ˜…

4) I used to feel a flash of anger when interrupted while coding. The sharp intake of breath and pained facial expression I produced were quite alarming to the interruptor, so I generally made an effort to apologize and explain. This has spread into interrupted reading, writing, speaking, or even zoning out. I'm stressing every time I see a hand raised to let me know I need to switch on my hearing device and pay attention. It's exhausting both for me and those who have to communicate with me. I'm realizing that to shift my attention causes actual distress, which I experience as pressure behind the eyes and a short-duration dull ache in the prefrontal lobes.

Not much in the way of sharp pains, though, so there's that. No idea whether all this is CLL related or just normal demented aging.

I sit in the veranda with the Bear folk and watch for bats swooping in the gathering twilight, a good life. 

People do not realize how much they do not need; I have tried to impart this insight with varying success for 50+ years and often felt frustrated over this, but now just sitting out back seems to be its own right thing, a completion. 

Sometimes it's enough just to be responsible for one's own deep peace. 

 


 

You see the true realm of human life in the peaceful breeze and in quiet waves. You realize the original nature of the mind in plain tastes and quiet talk. 

-- Caigentan by Hong Zicheng tr. Robert Aitken with Daniel W. Y. Kwok

Monday, May 29, 2023

Lots going on

One last look at the farm, which is showing signs of neglect already after only a few weeks. 

Bees, rodents and reptiles appreciate the sudden quiet and shady growth. 

Here's a photo retrospective, if you like. 

I'm camping out here this week, using Tessa the Teardrop, while trying to knock back the jungle a bit, mostly to make a firebreak for the neighbors. 

 

There are already serious fires nearby, and it's not even June yet, so getting some vegetation dropped before it dries out standing is an appropriate activity.

All the old people we knew have died off and we were the last of our generation along this road. The lot will be sold as is, hopefully to someone who would be willing to raze the hazardous house and start over. A number of homes in the area have gone that route; others have been patiently reconstructed. 

At our new (urban) location, there are some twenty very young fruit trees and three garden beds.

Fencing on the east side of beds to keep out deer and admit watering, shades above and to the west to prevent sunburn to the plants.
 

I'm not sure if I'll hang on to my canning jars; the spirit being willing but the flesh weakening at a pretty good clip. I may just harvest fruit, choose some for eating fresh, and set the rest out by the street as free boxes. It's a kindly neighborhood and has a tradition of doing such.

The new hut is not as pretty as the old hut:

 

However, it has the basics. I can eat and nap there, and also start garden seeds in flats.

Yesterday, from the hut window, I spotted a Cooper's hawk diving into the alley. It reappeared, settling on a power line, holding a stunned garter snake. A scrub jay flew over, parked within a couple of feet of the hawk, and clearly was talking to it, bobbing obsequiously, as much as to say, "you gonna eat all of that?" The hawk lifted its wings and made off to a distant walnut tree to eat in peace.

Sometimes we are the hawk; sometimes we are the scrub jay, and sometimes we are the snake.  Sometimes we are the suddenly snakeless grass.

Oh, yes, lots going on.



Over the mountain hut
winds blow off
the yellow-tinted leaves. 
 
-- Zen Forest tr. Soiku Shigematsu




Saturday, May 13, 2023

Time flies free

 This is a post by Rev. Jundo Cohen from the Treeleaf bulletin board, republished here by permission. It is about the interpenetration of mortality and eternity, and interprets Dogen's fascicle on Being/Time.


What time is it?

Looking in the mirror, my grandfather's face stares back at me. My hair is whiter with each day, my cheeks are rough and sunken. I cannot run as fast as I did just awhile ago. The children, come to us late in life, are now grown, or nearly so. Calculating in my head (no longer as sharp), my remaining years are few at best. "Time waits for no one, flies like an arrow, sands through the hour-glass, passes with a candle flicker," and all that. Even the Buddha grew old, grew feeble, became cold ashes. He found no way to halt his own body's aging.

The Buddha could not halt aging. However, fortunately, the Buddha found the trick to halt time.

Not only halt it, but also (as later Zen masters like Master Dogen further elucidated) slow it, reverse it, make it speed up and twirl around, cause it to flow backwards, ultimately to vanish. The Buddha and Masters found something beyond aging and illness too, even death itself.

Hard to believe? And how did Buddha and Dogen grow old and die, yet were free of time, of dying too ... all at the same time?

What I claim might sound like some mystical power, a violation of the laws of physics, of common sense, impossible to achieve.

I assure you that it is all quite real.

Oh, I am not speaking of sorcery, nor a magic incantation to make the world spin backwards, wishes to a genie, secret military tech to travel faster than light. I do not mean a time machine from an H.G. Wells tale, nor have I gone mad.

Rather, it is just a matter of fresh attitudes, of changed perspectives, of new ways to count the minutes and seconds, to divide life (or, better, to stop dividing life), creative ways to see. These abilities derive from changes of heart, mind-altering insights, very literally from quieting the temporal regions of the brain so that we experience time differently, leading to our mentally substituting new inner models of time's flowing (and lack thereof) for the old. Zen practice, the stillness and silence of Zazen, opens these doors.

I think that most people have had moments when they have experienced such states to greater or lesser degree: How time grows slow when we are children waiting for the recess bell, then fast as the end of summer vacation draws near. Looking at a sunrise, or a new baby's smile, we might sense something truly infinite, timeless. Remembering our roots, our ancestors, we may feel intimately connected to the past, as if the past is still present in some way. Holding our children and grandchildren, we know our part in the future.

But I am speaking of something stronger than any of that, longer lasting abilities we can train to summon at will, to taste whenever we wish. It is a skill like any skill, learned talents that are among the fruits of this "goalless, nothing to attain" Zen practice. We can be emancipated from time, also from time's goals and push to attain. No, not from the wrinkles, the nights and days, the grave which calls ... but from concern for time, from seeing it as only slipping away.

It is hard to describe, but I will do my best. Words fail miserably in such things. Nor is this about just a single way of knowing. Rather, I would indicate a collection of ways of knowing time, some quite contradictory when described, any or all of which can be reached for as needed, like tools in a clockmaker's toolbox.

Master Dogen, our Soto Zen non-clockmaker, wrote of such time(s) ... and timeless suchness too ... in his old-time masterpiece, entitled "Being-Time." He spoke there of everybody, every thing, being in its own time, of all our times blending together yet being their own precious individual thing-moment too, of there being something timeless which encompasses it all. Hundreds of years before Einstein made “relative time” a household world, Dogen spoke of each of us, and all things, existing in our own vibrant being-time, connected to the being-time of all other beings and things in this vast, fluid universe. Why is this important? Because it allows us to see the amazing, syncopated, backward-forward, moving-still, timeless-time of this whole life-world where we temporarily find ourselves alive. It also frees us from simply witnessing time as an unstoppable flood in which our youth turns to old age, time passes quickly, life becomes death, and all is nothing but change. The Buddha taught that all composite things are impermanent and ever changing, but he also taught a way beyond all things and change. If I may quote from my own book, "The Zen Master's Dance" (please read it when you have time ), Dogen declared:

For the time being this staff or whisk here held, being-time.
For the time being a pillar or lantern, being-time.
For the time being the children of common families ... being-time.
For the time being the earth and sky, being-time.
In this word “being-time,” time is already just being, and all being is time.

We have our "common sense" measures of time, taking time for granted. However, it need not be only so:

We should come to know in this way that there are myriads
of forms of things, hundreds of blades of grasses
through the earth, and that each blade of grass and each
single appearance is not apart from the entire earth. ... And when
we arrive in the field of the ineffable, there is not but one
blade of grass and one appearance here and now. Whether
there is understanding of this phenomenon or no understanding
of this phenomenon, whether there is understanding
of things or no understanding of things, all is
only this exact moment. Since there is nothing but just
this moment, the time-being is all the time there is. All
moments of being-time are just the whole of time, as all
existent things are time too. The whole universe exists in
individual moments of time, and each moment contains
all existences and all worlds. Reflect now whether any
being or any world or the whole universe is left out of the
present moment of time.

He continues, speaking to us from so long ago:

So, we should not understand only that time flies by.
We should not feel that “flying” is time’s only ability. For if we
just let time fly away, separations from and in it might appear.
Those who fail to experience and grasp the truth of
being-time do so because they only understand time as something that passes.
Ultimately all existences are linked and become time.
Everything that exists throughout the whole universe is
lined up in a series of all individual moments, and at the
same time is each and all time. Because all moments are
being-time [and you are being-time], they are your being-time.
And because time has the nature of flowing, today flows
into tomorrow while today flows into yesterday, all as yesterday
flows into today, today flows into today, and tomorrow
flows into tomorrow.

Finally:

We should not just feel that the passage of time from one
moment to the next is like the movement from east to west
of the wind or a rainstorm. The whole universe is not
unmoving, for all is moving and changing, and the universe
is flowing from one moment to the next. An example
of such a moment-by-moment passing of time is the spring.
The spring has countless aspects arrayed as what we call
“the passage of time.” ... [Yet] because spring
embodies the momentary passing of time, passing time is
being realized and actualized in each present moment of
springtime here and now. The flowing of time occurs by
spring, thus the flowing is completed and brought to fruition
in just this moment of spring.

Dogen's poetic images may be hard to fathom. Let me summarize and bring them down to earth, hopefully not to waste your time:

One can feel, for example, that each moment is whole and complete, as if it holds all time, as if it is timeless with no before or after. It is a wonderful experience, good to know when we worry that this moment will slip away. Nothing slips away, even as time keeps passing, for this moment with no before or after, becomes this next moment with no before or after, then the next and next, each with no before or after ... and not a drop lacking from any one. There is no other moment, nor better moment, than this.

That is so even as, in our ordinary experiencing, time passes, and sometimes brings along so many moments we do wish were otherwise. Though we wish sometimes that they were otherwise, moments of sickness are just moments of sickness, times of loss just times of loss, days of sadness are simply days of sadness ... and all of life is fully life. Our heart flows with acceptance even as, in another chamber of our heart, beating as one, we wish it were not so, and that the times of suffering would never come or quickly pass. Each instant is, in its own way, a shining jewel on the bracelet of life. And, no less, so are the times of health, winning and happiness that we naturally welcome more. Our Zen practice teaches us to welcome all of it, letting each day be that day, welcoming even the hard and terribly ugly parts we do not welcome at all.

And though we might regret the past, feeling still the scars of long ago pain, or we may long for the past and something or somebody now lost, we learn to bow to the past, letting the past just be the past. We honor the past, then let it go, living on from now and here.

Likewise, though we may fear for the future, plan for the future, hold some dream for the future, we learn to grip things lightly and let the future be too. Oh, we take our medicine, work our plan, pursue practical steps to stay healthy and safe. Even so, deep down, we let what will happen happen too. If our health does not return, our project collapses, the whole world comes to an end ... the wisdom within us will flow with it all somehow.

We also sense that the whole world is connected, all things are connected, all times are really one, and all times are each other too. Much as the bird above is merely the fish flying in the sky, while the fish is but the bird in other guise swimming in the sea, tomorrow is yesterday become tomorrow, and right now is tomorrow right here. In fact, it is all now now now ... for yesterday is now as it was then, and Friday is yesterday-now as it will be on Friday. But all is also yesterday yesterday yesterday ... for now is just yesterday posing as now, and Friday is Friday on Friday too. And all is tomorrow tomorrow tomorrow no less, for they are all the same. Realizing so is powerful medicine for our usual sense that all things are separate, conflicting, broken in the world. Nothing is broken when known as the flowing whole. In the flowing, there is this which is wholly stillness yet flowing.

For time flows from today to tomorrow, but also (felt Dogen and those who share his visions) tomorrow flows into today and today into yesterday. In fact, each moment fully holds within all the future and all the past, plus embodies every other moment ... and is just flowing flowing flowing. There is also a face beyond measures of time, beyond all coming and going (thus free even of birth and death), and such is also fully present in each and every twist and change. Thus, to the wise, even moments of passing and death are also free of passing and death. Dogen said that when death comes, let it come, dive right in. He's now gone, but has he truly gone at all?

The famous Zen challenge, inscribed on the wooden Han clock in the temple, alerts us:

Life and Death are the Great Matter;
Time swiftly passes by like an arrow;
Thus, we should strive to awaken;
Do not squander this life.

It is timely advice.

How many of us waste this life, chasing unhealthy desires, caught by anger and revenge, pursuing false treasures and temporary pleasures, all to realize too quickly that the years have gone. Instead, learn to appreciate this moment and the next, all that life brings. Live gently, be kind. Learn to appreciate what is in your life, without running heedless in search of another. Oh, sometimes we must run from fire, from tigers, from wars ... but even in running, see if you can sense the stillness within.

For you see: What we awaken to, the resolution of this Great Matter, is the rediscovery that time is both flowing and still all at once, free of passing even as the clock ticks and the calendar pages are turned. The arrow is always flying and hitting the target at once. There is nothing in need of striving for, no swift or slow. Not a moment, not one drop, is ever squandered ... nor are we confined even within borders of life and death. That being so, live well, live wisely ... keep moving.

It is hard to express.

Better, please sit Zazen, and taste all these time(s) and timeless in each sitting moment.

Gassho, J

 




Monday, May 08, 2023

A droplet amid the rain

"The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable Earth. These resources are held in common even when owned privately or publicly." -- Wikipedia

 You know the commons when you see it. 

Rain is falling on "your" garden, where it becomes "your" water, and from the corner of your eye, you see a hummingbird zip in and snatch a droplet from the air. Secure in the knowledge that there is enough, this rain that you share, you admire the hummingbird and feel no grudge arising in your gullet. Rather, you feel at one with the hummingbird.

It's a little tougher to acknowledge this when you discover that a pocket gopher has shared in the commons of the beets at your feet. Perhaps you think of ways, some violent, some less so, of preventing more such sharing. πŸ˜… To hoard is human; we're not the only species that does that, but we're certainly special in a way that's nothing to be proud of, I think.

Use of force, whether warfare or simple privatization, is enclosure. Usually it can be described as class warfare over the commons, wherein those who have styled themselves as an "upper" class forcibly exclude others from resources. Disinformation is the barbed wire with which the few fence off knowledge from the many, in order to commodify resources once held in common or in equitable distribution.

Much of what we think of as religion is enclosure; some of us have a god or gods to whom we offer prayers in the form of special pleading for the fruits of a prosperity gospel. "Give to me grapes, milk and honey, to show these Canaanites they worship false gods," we say, and feel justified in displacing the Canaanites from the lands they have cultivated. Prosperity epistemology, prosperity ontology, above all prosperity teleology, with big box stores to provide us with ever more fencing and locked gates. 

Centralization/industrialization is enclosure; where once villages of weavers stood, utilizing local wool, a wagon came to carry away baled wool to a mill on a river, and the very gravity (a commons) that made the river sing is enclosed in the wheel to drive enclosed looms attended by enclosed workers to create enclosed clothing for sale in enclosed shops.

And there is, seemingly, never an end to the complexification that ensues. The crofter's looms were but a livelihood, whereas the mill on the river is a profit to an encloser, but not enough (never enough), so that then the wool must go overseas to a windowless enclosed room with enclosed humming machines attended by other machines with enclosed (prorietary) software, to make products to be shipped back overseas and sold (enclosed).

And so it goes. 

For now.

Meanwhile some of us rediscover some irreducible commons in various places. 

It's cheap to sit staring at a wall.

Bodhidharma is said to have said:

Those who turn from delusion back to reality, who meditate on walls, the absence of self and other, the oneness of mortal and sage, and who remain unmoved even by scriptures are in complete and unspoken agreement with reason. -- Two Entrances and Four Practices

I've mentioned my difficulty in sitting facing a wall. Well, I can sit "reclined." My current practice wall is the ceiling.


Sometimes this sitting provides an opportunity for attentive chanting, or for visualizing taking and sending of suffering. This is because practice is not enclosed; it's for the benefit of all. Otherwise why bother? I can calm myself down or lower my blood pressure by artificial means which are probably more efficient than "practice."

But the air I breathe is a commons, as is the light entering the room. Everywhere there are ceilings; those of us who are lying down at home may study them. Those who are lying in ambulances may regard them. Those who lie in hospital beds or return home to hospice may take note of them. At last, there may be a ceiling within a grave; the body resting there does not, perhaps, take note of such a ceiling, but there is a sense in which it is indeed a commons.

The enclosers will charge for the beds, the doctors, and the grave, and certainly for all the ceilings, but for them the view of the ceiling is an intangible; its value has eluded them. It will always elude them, I think.

So, it's there for you to harvest. 
 
Take it as your fair share, as you might take a droplet amid the rain.



Saturday, May 06, 2023

Little sips can be very tasty

I'm surprised by the number of my friends and acquaintances who have not encountered the term "Occam's Razor," which to me is like the base from which we should conduct our explorations. It's often used in science, but often also warned against in science discourse, partly because the whole principle includes an escape clause which is sometimes forgotten.

Duns Scotus formulated it thus: Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate. "Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity." It's the "beyond necessity" that disappears from detractors' versions of the formulation, a bit of a "straw man" dodge. 

I think it's a strong principle.

Aristotle sought to find the lowest common denominator in his search for first principles from which to build arguments: "We may assume the superiority ceteris paribus of the demonstration which derives from fewer postulates or hypotheses." Galileo found it so, as did Newton. 

"Necessity" does arise in physics from time to time, as when Einstein outperforms Newton on gravity calculations, something useful to know about when doing orbital mechanics. But the differences between their results are so small that as a rule of thumb we may continue to use Newton in daily life, even the daily life of construction engineers and airline pilots.

In popular culture, our Occam par excellence is Sherlock Holmes. In pursuit of his quarry, Holmes gleefully abandons complex explanations in favor of simple ones, not because the simple is always true, but because the complex is apt to be loaded up with irrelevancies, thereby likely wasting effort: "When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Stripping away specious explanatory principles improves his chances of arriving at an explanation that correctly describes what actually happened.

Society is struggling right now with a cornucopia of misinformation and disinformation. In fact, we're losing, and are most likely entering a period of unprecedented suffering brought on by a will to power, the primary weapon of which might be called a will to ignorance. 

Buddhism says we are subject to three poisons in our social setting (for our purpose they pretty much require the presence of others to be venemous): greed, anger and ignorance. Anger and ignorance are regularly fomented in service of greed.

Complex, or rather falsified, explanations are mustered to overcome knowledge in service of greed. Where someone has been duped by the greedy with such explanations, we have misinformation. The misinformed more easily harbor racism, sexism, anti-semitism, trans- "phobia," science denial, and the like, and can be recruited, wholeheartedly and with the belief that they are doing good, into campaigns against the commons, in the form of democratic elections, public health, public education, libraries and more, all of which may tend to equip us to resist the greedy.

Disinformation is the misinformation which is knowingly propagated by the greedy to foment ignorance and anger, so as to create and direct mobs -- armies that can serve as the shock troops -- in informal warfare to serve a will to power, the will of the greedy whose aim is rule in service of their greed.

Even those who recognize the caveat of "beyond necessity" may attack the razor for its imprecision. Such may have thoughts along these lines: "Occam has an out and therefore cannot be entirely trusted as it stands, hence it is misinformation and therefore its choice of theory is ultimately no better than the alternatives." This can be a reason why disinformers remain entirely within their comfort zones while laying waste to whole realms of the commons.

But it's not the micro-scale accuracy of our tools of inquiry that concerns humanity here. It's the motivation behind the uses to which they are put. We don't simply seek to know; we seek to know for benefit, and the majority (rightly, I submit) seek to benefit the many rather than the few.

When Buddha intuited that there is no permanent soul of the individual, he was applying something like Occam's razor. Dependent origination is for him the simple ontological explanation of existence, as opposed to a more complex and less demonstrable dualism, and gives rise to his four truths.

Buddhism does have an ethical position, but it's maybe hard to describe because we are used to prescriptives. The default Buddhist ethic is non-prescriptive. 

Buddha said "come, monk" to anyone who showed up. And then there was a knowledge commons. But whenever anyone took an action that was outside that bubble of right action arising from right view, he found it necessary to proscribe such actions in future, and from this arose the precepts.

Well and good; the precepts are a magnificent set of "skillful means." But Buddha and Occam both appreciate simple adherence to first principles, and at the center of first principles, I think, there is something like a still point.

When I sit zazen I don't shop. 

If I'm not shopping, I'm not under the influence of advertising. Therefore the ontological parsimony of sitting zazen resists the illusions promoted by the greedy, and by extension may be said to be resistance to fascism.

 

Here is my current zazen, in progress.


This is zero-gravity-chair-zazen, practically-reclining-in-bed zazen, very-intermittent zazen. 😁

Some might object that this cannot be zazen on the grounds that I'm not sitting up straight. Some might also object to it on the grounds that I'm probably only really doing it for a few moments at a time, rather than the full half hour of most of the Zoom zazen periods I attend. I'm just not up to much, as I've been deteriorating for some time. 

The doctors tell me they've finally located the problem, which is leukemia. I'm not in much pain, but I'm definitely sort of weak and woozy as a regular thing, so I've adapted my zazen accordingly. In like case, such as Long Covid, others may do the same. The important thing, as any Zen teacher will tell you, is not to be doing much.

The goalless goal, I think, for anyone interested in ontology at least, is to not be fooled. I admire those who aren't fooled for a whole half-hour at a time. I like to think I've been there and done that. If such practice is in the rear view mirror, though, I can at least, for the time being, be not fooled in little sips. 

Do you know the story of the tigers and the strawberry? Little sips can be very tasty.

 



 

 


Monday, April 24, 2023

Water over stones

Now, in the unhindered and unobstructed dharma-opening of the dharma- realm there is no dharma, and yet no non-dharma; no opening, and yet no non-opening. Thus it is neither large nor small, neither in a hurry nor taking its time; neither moving nor still, neither one nor many. Since it is not large, it can become an atom, leaving nothing behind. Since it is not small, it can contain all of space with room left over. Unhurried, it can include all the kalpas in the three time periods; not taking its time, it can enter fully into an instant. Since it is neither moving nor still, samsāra is nirvāna and nirvāna is samsāra. Being neither one nor many, one dharma is all dharmas and all dharmas are one dharma.

-- Wonhyo, tr. Muller 

All this neither-nor stuff is all over Buddhism, and course it's all true, but only in the cumbersome sense of talking in the realm of talking. Dharma is in a place where what is not said takes up the whole universe, so we're probably best off just standing there stunned by the riffle of a bit of water over stones.


 



Saturday, April 22, 2023

Drop that

 

Those interested in Zen tend to be hampered by the idea there is something esoteric to learn. But really all you need to know is that Zen is not "knowing about letting go" or "thinking about letting go" nor is it "feelings about letting go." (that last one is called religion)

It's just letting go.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Respect

 The reason for "fairness" is everything is equal. We insist on teaching this to children in kindergarten, but train them out of it in order to make them into "adults." Yet everything -- a cracked cup, an ocean shore, a nebula, a ruined feather -- is of equal value in the universe, that is to say, is part of the one thing. Our disaster was not to continue in fairness, which is how one respects one's universe.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

The practice of a true person

 

 

What gives me hope for the viability of Zen more than almost anything else is the extent, which is pretty wide, of appreciation for Tenzo Kyokun, Dogen's Instructions for the (Monastery) Cook.

Here is a passage to which I have returned multiple times:

When you take care of things, do not see with your common eyes, do not think with your common sentiments. Pick a single blade of grass and erect a sanctuary for the jewel king; enter a single atom and turn the great wheel of the teaching. So even when you are making a broth of coarse greens, do not arouse an attitude of distaste or dismissal. Even when you are making a high-quality cream soup, do not arouse an attitude of rapture or dancing for joy. If you already have no attachments, how could you have any disgust? Therefore, although you may encounter inferior ingredients, do not be at all negligent; although you may come across delicacies, be all the more diligent. Never alter your state of mind based on materials. People who change their mind according to ingredients, or adjust their speech to [the status of] whoever they are talking to, are not people of the Way. -- Dogen's Pure Standards for the Zen Community : A Translation of the Eihei Shingi ed./tr. Leighton and Okumura

When we make a judgment or show a preference, we impose a delusion on what's right in front of us, ignoring the co-dependent arising of all things. Buddhist ethics is training in thusness; that which is before us, rather than that which we wish is there or wish not there.

We can cover much, if not all, of the precepts by means of a single term: "honesty." Honest living simply precludes stealing, lying, misusing, murdering, willfully injuring, gossiping, disparaging, and disrespecting. Buddha spelled out these things because training in honesty is hard.

Dogen points out that the stakes are quite high. Though he continually refers to "just sitting" as the entire Buddhist project, he explicitly sets a high bar for the behavior that gives "just sitting" a chance to even happen: "People who... adjust their speech to whoever they are talking to, are not people of the Way."

We might try being honest to our vegetables and see if it doesn't feel a bit like training in "right doing." πŸ˜„ 

As for the attitude while preparing food, the essential point is deeply to arouse genuine mind and respectful mind without making judgments about the ingredients' fineness or coarseness....  Although they create relationship to buddha, [donations that are] abundant but lacking [in heart] are not as good as those that are small but sincere. This is the practice of a [true] person.

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Time and a poem

Poem and 27-post Mastodon thread about the setting of the poem. 

https://mastodon.world/@shonin/109381849027783564

In 2012, my dad said, "You put me wherever you put your momma!" We lost them both in that year; she was 84, he was 95.

The postal service misplaced my dad for a few days; we were rather frantic about it. Our postmistress handed him over with an apology in her one-room post office about five days after they'd mislaid him at the distribution center. It was a near thing.

I asked The Cowboy to help me pick the spot. We went on a long autumn day hike. 4/27

 Shonin's friend on the trail. Oregon cascades, fall 2012. View includes huckleberries, Douglas fir, mountain hemlock.

Monday, March 13, 2023

"Would you like some water?"

Dong-Shan Liang-Je Crossing the Stream, by Ma Yuan.

 Zen people have for some time sought reality by means of immediacy. 

"This right here is it," they say, waving vaguely at the walls, the table, the cup of tea on the table. 

They recommend years of sitting uncomfortably to practice seeing what is right there. 

Why? 

Even their critics will yield the point that this exercise seems useful to the amateur ontologist, but often wonder: how is knowing this supposed to make me a better person than before? (The critics tend to be preoccupied with morality.)

What's being got at by "immediacy" is that the chair, the tea, the walls and you are equal. 

They are dharmas (in the sense of interrelated elements of a universe), and as such not subject to a hierarchy of values. 

Delusion is when we impose such hierarchization on them. 

Dogen trained his cooks to avoid hierarchization even of fresh versus wilted vegetables.

Buddhist precepts don't bother with ontology. 

"Just do it!" 

Or maybe just don't -- they tend to be prohibitions. 

Their design is to prevent the suffering caused by delusion/hierachization. 

This is a way of promoting skill in honoring the social contract, which is what is meant by "morality."

When we are practicing, we are presumably keeping the prohibitory precepts, because we aren't, while sitting, prone to lie, steal, abuse, gassip and so on; so that's already less of those things floating around than if we did not practice. 

Conversely, the positives, i.e. the pure precepts, eightfold path and the paramitas, are helpful in setting conditions for good practice.

One might say that the helping hands of Avalokiteshvara begin with mudra.

Sitting well in order to see the equality of dharmas ("things as it is," said Shunryu Suzuki) promotes the honoring of the social contract. 

Honoring the social contract promotes sitting well in order to see the equality of dharmas: "suchness."

 

Dongshan, the traveler shown in the above illustration, is said to have come to a stream and was halted in the middle of the ford by seeing his reflection in the pool above the riffle. 

Suchness!

I picture him coming to the ford decades later with a student monk. 

The monk says, "oh, hey, isn't this the place where you had your great enlightenment experience?"

Dongshan reaches into the folds of his robe and produces a bowl, which he dips into the pool. 

He extends his hand with the bowl toward the young monk.

"Would you like some water?"





Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Viewing Jasper Mountain 19

Mastodon

[Written in 1995, updated 2005.]

Populations of any species explode when the limiting resource becomes, in effect, unlimited. More phosphorus in a lake, more algae. There's an exponential increase, then when the limit of the phosphorus is reached, the algae suffers a catastrophic crash.

It's the same for civilizations. Ours craves energy and has discovered that the most economical (under rather carefully engineered circumstances) form of energy is petroleum.

How do you think that's going to go? 

 

This year, Christmas fell into what around here is called a "blue hole," that is, it was a sunny day, producing shirt-sleeve weather which I felt I might as well enjoy as not. For awhile, sitting on a bench in the sun with the row of Douglas firs to my back was pretty enchanting, at least as long as the tea lasted. But, as often happens, the beauty of the view consisted in part in knowing what things ought to be done. The guests hadn't arrived yet, and I had done my indoors part in preparing for them, so I set down my cup and wandered up to the barn. Lots of straw here, full of the stuff that straw fills up with when it is called "bedding." Time to get that down to the garden. I went for the wheelbarrow, found its tire flat, rooted around in the garage for a tire pump, found one, pumped up the tire, collected a hay fork, and mucked out the barn. This made nine wheelbarrow loads.

I do enjoy putting the gardens to bed for the winter. There are hoses to be drained and rolled up, tomato cages to stack and file away, tools to organize, pots to sort, disposing of those too badly cracked to save another year, and passing Canada geese to be listened to as they go over their itinerary for the trip south.

This year the warmth has stayed very late indeed. The grass is growing, and smells of spring when cut. The daisies have sent up several December blooms, and Beloved's nasturtiums, calendulas, and miniature hollyhocks have done the same. We still have cosmos, though these are finally on their way out. I have gone round to check the lilacs and the trees, and the filberts are perilously close to bud-break. The green spikes of elephant garlic, which I usually see in February, are already a foot high. There are flies, and bees, and the air is full of songbird noises such as one might hear on a June morning. So much warmth is lovely but it is also disturbing.

El Nino? Global warming? A few years ago the creek went almost a hundred feet wide, hauling tons of our soil away to the Pacific, and shifting our well-house on its foundation. Several people in our area died that night in mudslides. This, too, I'm told, was a sign of global warming, a type of immense storm front known as the "Pineapple Express," rolling up from the waters off Hawaii, dumping six, seven, eight inches of rain at a time in various canyons of the Cascade Range, overwhelming the might and pride of the region's vast network of flood-control dams and levees.

Global warming, I've read somewhere, doesn't especially produce hot, sunny summers. It produces cloud cover, an increase in precipitation, an increase in wind, and records: record tornadoes, record hurricanes, record blizzards: spikes of hot and cold, fast and slow, all over the record books and the insurance company ledgers.

News anchors will rehearse the "the most" this, and "the biggest" that. And the most and the biggest of anything to do with weather will get our attention when we're out in it, or even when it comes knocking at our door.

I once tenanted a house built of oak, half-timbered in the Tudor style. A storm came in the night and threw a two-hundred-year-old oak tree against that house, oak bone against bones of oak. The house stood the blow, and the tree rolled down the steep pitch of the roof's edge, shredding slates and pitching them over a quarter of an acre. I awoke in time to see an enormous branch punch through the bedroom window, pass within inches of my face, and withdraw again as suddenly as it had come, leaving the empty window to fill with night and a moaning wind. If we are causing an increase in events of this kind, it's time to seriously consider our actions.

It's my understanding that while climate swings are unavoidable, there is evidence that the current one, if not caused by human activity, is influenced by it. The principal ingredient of that influence is the increase in what are called greenhouse gases, and the major component of these is carbon in the form of carbon dioxide: one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms per molecule, to the tune of millions of tons of these molecules in the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide is in fact a principal ingredient of life; plants have to have it, in order get hold of their primary building block, which is carbon. They throw away the oxygen, which is how we animals get our free oxygen molecules to breathe. When plants die and rot, or when they burn, which is a normal and frequent event in nature, they release nearly all their carbon back into the atmosphere. So one might ask: how is it carbon dioxide is a problem? Can there be too much of it if all the plants return it to the atmosphere all the time anyway, in a natural cycle?

A way to understand the problem is to use a banking metaphor. We make a certain amount of money a year, and we spend most of it to maintain our lifestyle.

We have a checking account.

All the money in the checking account will be spent eventually; but there must be a minimum balance today or we'll start bouncing checks.

Perhaps we also have a savings account, and we use its funds to cover our checks, to prevent our overdrafts from ruining our credit.

If we've been abusing the checking account's minimum balance, and if we use up the money in the savings account, we won't be able to support our current lifestyle.

Where the carbon went is into limestone and fossil fuels.

At the bottoms of the seas and peat bogs of the world, for perhaps billions of years, carbon has been taken out of circulation that would ordinarily have been exhaled into the atmosphere in the normal rot cycle. Most of this went into the limestone, but a lot of it is crude oil and natural gas, a buried and compressed soup of molecules with long names, nearly all of which contain carbon atoms. There are billions of tons of carbon in this savings account.

Our checking account of energy is sunshine and the flows of energy that are directly the product of sunshine: wind, water, wood, animals, farms, gardens, alcohol, natural rubber, hydrogen. Direct deposit.

Our savings account is the stuff from beneath the earth: coal, diesel, fuel oil, gasoline, synthetic lubricants, synthetic rubbers, and plastics: vinyl, polyethylene, nylon, polyurethane. Capital.

We spend this account at a furious rate, because we cannot live as we wish to live on our income from the sun. There are too many of us, with our real needs, and of us there are too many with artificially inflated needs.

We are perhaps at a point where bankruptcy is inevitable; where our tenure on earth has become untenable and we may soon be forced to give up the lease. Other tenants will come: perhaps the cockroaches, and perhaps this will be a good thing.

But I do love my children, and I feel I should have something to offer them. This is not about their holiday wish list, it's about seeking to stabilize my finances, my planetary-bank-account finances, on their behalf. I wish to offer them a tenable hold on our lease.

I well understand this is a project fraught with hypocrisy.

I'm a middle-class American, and Americans, about five percent of the world's people, are producing over forty per cent of the drain on the savings account. I'm going to drive in to work tomorrow, and there will be only one of me in the car. Circumstances have dictated this.

But, there are things that can be done, small gestures which, multiplied by millions of slightly changed lives, will slow the pace at which we're running toward bankruptcy, and give our children a bit more time for making more satisfactory changes. None of this need involve chaining yourself to a tree and screaming at some poor logger; just a few things here and there to keep the kids alive, on the off chance that there's more to this universe with people in it than without. Now, you've heard all this before, but let's just go down the checklist one more time:

First, consider the automobile. What's the mileage? Carry more gas (petrol to some of us) at a time, to prevent evaporation loss, get regular tune-ups, check the tire inflation. Trade down in size to better mileage: there are vehicles that do fifty miles per gallon, and this is more significant to your kids' future than the prestige that big one gets you. Get more passengers, and carpool. Be a passenger. Leave the car home and ride the bus, the train, the subway, the ferry, the monorail, the light rail, the taxi, or the bicycle. No light rail? No bike lanes? Write and call the local planners and city fathers; lobby relentlessly. Push hybrid; push electric. Sell the $*#!!! thing. While you're at it, sell the motor home, the motorboat, the plane, the skimobile, the jet ski, the go cart, and the dirt bike. You don't need 'em; if you do find you need one once in a while, don't buy, rent. Telecommute. Lobby for a shorter work week, then spend the long weekends, the holidays, and the vacations at home (working in the garden!).

Second, consider the home. Why have a big one when a well-planned small one will do? Insulate, turn the heat down a bit, put on a sweater and a lap blanket, get rid of the air conditioner and plant shade trees on the south side and a windbreak on the north side. Make things out of rocks or used bricks instead of concrete. Use hand tools. No time? Turn off the television, you'll have more time. Look for low-wattage entertainment. Try romance. Romance can be cheap; instead of diamonds and sky-line restaurant dinners, try being a good listener. For music, play an acoustic instrument. Read. Read E. F. Schumacher. Reread E. F Schumacher. For lighting, go with sunlight through a skylight, or low- wattage fluorescent or LED. Paint the walls and roof white; you won't need as many watts. Replace the hot water heater, refrigerator and the freezer if they predate the energy-saving models. Oe even do without; most people in the world do so. Install a ground cloth in the crawl space. Sort, reuse, sew, mend, repair, recycle, compost. For the furnishings, when possible make your own or buy locally made. Tear up the lawn and put in ground cover, fruit and nut trees, and fruiting perennials, on a schedule that will prevent your having to buy a new gasoline lawnmower when the present one gives out.

Third, consider the food. Cigarettes? I won't even tell you, you know better. Drink less alcohol and more water. Eat less meat and more fiber. Eat less prepared food and more fresh produce. Cook less, check out raw. Use double boilers and steamers and avoid frying. Don't send out for pizza; pizza sends for you, and what it wants from your arteries you should want to keep. Audrey Hepburn said the most effective diet is to share your food with the poor. Clean out the cabinets and put the stuff in the food drive bin. Find out who's offering organic produce in your area. Find out if what they're offering is really organic. Find out what "organic" is first, if you don't know, and don't depend on the television to tell you. Patronize local organic cooperatives, merchants and farmers. Raise your own food. Avoid those patented hybrid seeds from large corporations; patronize farmers, merchants and cooperatives providing heirloom varieties. Use hand tools. Garden organically. Plant fruit and nut trees. Preserve your own produce. No time? We already talked about that.

Fourth, look at your clothes. Buy less frequently, go for longer lasting, and think cotton and wool and natural dyes. Most clothing now comes directly from the planetary savings account, and "polyester" should become an embarrassing word in your wardrobe. When possible, make your own or buy locally made. [Since this was written, I'm seeing increasingly worry information on microplastics as well.]

Fifth, think about your work. Are you working to get your kids out of planetary debt or deeper into it? What are your living expenses? If you're a couple, consider cutting those expenses until only one of you has to work or both of you can work half time. Give the earned time to increased quality of life for the children, or, if you've wisely refrained from contributing to the disastrous population curve, to your friends and neighbors. If you're in the mining, manufacture, distribution, transportation, sales, advertising, or application of planetary-savings-account items, from autos to herbicides, re-career as soon as you feasibly can. Think small. We're not talking communism here, just common accountability, with the following: the outlawing of for-profit corporations, with retention of nonprofits, cooperatives, partnerships and sole ownerships as the only legal entities for commerce, would all by itself go a long way to fixing the drain on your kids' planetary savings. Think about that when you're looking for work. Or looking to buy, for that matter. Or about to vote.

Sixth, and I'll stop here, what about that vote? If you don't have the vote, be careful who might be reading this over your shoulder, and start working on what it will take to get the vote. For this, your life will not be too cheap a sacrifice for your childrens' future. If you have the vote, think about what you're allowed to vote on. Is it just big political party versus big political party? Or nuclear versus solar? Roads versus light rail? Agribusiness versus sustainable farming? Clear cuts versus forest maintenance? Or to put it more simply, corporate greed versus life? If your vote can't access reality, if it isn't patching the holes in the planetary savings account, change that. Campaign finance reform would be a place to begin. Get the vote, keep the vote, use the vote; get the real issues up for a vote; inform the electorate. Perhaps you won't see results on this in your lifetime. But consider the alternative.

Whew! OK, I know, I haven't done maybe a hundredth of that stuff. But I chip away at it here and there. I'm aware, particularly and painfully, of the cost of the infrastructure that maintains the glorified suburb that in our neighborhood passes for country. It takes six times as much of the planetary savings account to establish a rural home as it does for a comparable urban row house. I've elected to be a creature of privilege, and I don't care to look too deeply into what the mirror says about that. But in some things I can give back something of what I have taken. One way is to learn from the past, to gain pre-fossil-fuels skills, and to apply them, redesigning this acre of the landscape to produce food, shade, and windbreak in ways that do more good and less harm than was done here previously, and to share the knowledge gained, as best I can, with others who also care to learn.  


It was a good year in the house, and a reasonably good year in the garden. But I'm also grateful for the times I was able to spend at the high mountain lakes. The high point of my year, I think, was, as is so often true for me, at the height of summer. So I'll return to that memory for a moment, to round out this memoir.

While I was in the boat, the sun set, and as I knew a full moon was coming, I stood out from shore to the middle, and watched the last brilliant solar rays deepen in color, turning the tops of the Douglas firs and mountain hemlocks first golden, then red, and then almost purple.

Planets and stars winked into view, and I found myself surrounded by bats, more than a dozen jittery shadows that flicked across the star field in tight circles. They seemed interested in my fly rod, which stood up in the bow, supported by the gunwale of the cockpit, and would zoom toward it and away, missing my face by a few feet each time. I could feel the breath of their wings.

A small something briefly touched the shaft of my kayak paddle and fell into the water, but struggled back into the air unseen. I thought at first it might be a bat, which seemed odd, as they don't, in my experience, land on or thump into such things.

Then a small night bird, dressed in cream and gray like a swallow, landed on the front deck of the kayak before me, smoothed its feathers a bit, then sputtered off into the darkness. Mystery solved: the paddle had been mistaken for a branch, but its inorganic smoothness had defeated two tiny sets of claws.

It was then that the yellow moon rose, so hugely majestic that it seemed to me to invade the companionable darkness we creatures had peopled. I retired to my campsite, landing with the aid of a flashlight, and, lighting a candle in my tent, read Kingsolver while, outside, the unobserved bats and birds carried on their moonlit escapades.

In the morning, I took to the boat again to chase the first available sunlight and warm my bones; then, when day had reached camp, set about emptying the fire pit, which was filled with unappealing trash, especially broken glass. I've never really been one to pick up after others, even in the woods, but this time I took a personal interest and wound up 'policing' the entire site. My pack was already heavy and I had four hundred feet of elevation gain ahead of me, but I had been getting stronger of late and knew it would not be any trouble.

I once spent some time with a teacher of Zen and asked him about beer cans in the wilderness. "If I see it and it offends me, I pick it up, but I've been disturbed by the offense I've taken. But in Zen, it seems I should simply observe it and not be offended, but that seems to reduce my motivation for picking it up. And it does seem that Zen takes some of the activism out of those whom I've seen practicing Zen."

The teacher said, "Well, we should just either pick it up or not. It depends on the flow."

I must have seemed puzzled by this.

He added, "Observation is its own reward, but that neither adds to nor takes away from right action. We can think of some good reasons to pick up the can; trash is harmful to wildlife, and so on. And a natural setting, once cleaned up, is more conducive to contemplation for others. But there is no need to think about all that; you may have a tendency to speculate about whoever 'threw away' the can, and such thoughts lead to unnecessary problems. Right action begins in seeing the can without looking into its past. The can itself has had no motivation or intent and we cannot know exactly how it got there."

I tossed the contents of the wilderness firepit into our kitchen trash can and dropped the lid. Looking out the window, I could see that Jasper Mountain was wearing its winter coat, dusty green patches of second-growth fir trees alternating with the brown of frost-burned mountain meadows. This time, I thought, I might be able to see the mountain without too much fear of becoming bogged down in thoughts of who has done what to it.

It will outlast us.

That's the key to peace, I told myself. Clarity of mind comes when you deal in the things before you.

If it seems there are not enough trees, plant one. If there are a lot of cans around and you'd like them picked up, pick up one.

This can be extrapolated, if you have the energy, to planting schools and clearing minefields, or writing a check for those who do. But remember, while planting and picking, to look up.

The mountain will be there. 

 

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