Thursday, 28 June 2012

Cats and Dogs

A good friend who is Pentecostal once told me about a sermon her pastor delivered. Witness, he said, the dog and the cat. The dog thinks, "This man gives me food and shelter, loves me, praises me, tends me when I'm sick, supplies my every need. He must be God!" The cat, meanwhile, considers the same evidence. "This man feeds me, shelters me, caresses me, takes me to the vet at the first sign of trouble, and dotes my every desire," she thinks. "I must be God!"

The parable is meant to be cute, of course. We don't know what moves an animal's mind; if they have a position at all, I'd say cats are atheists. But the preacher is on to something here.

Among humans, a blessing can bounce either way: you either find yourself lucky, and feel grateful and indebted, or you call yourself entitled, and ignore or resent others. The dog says, "Let me herd your sheep, guard your house, sniff your bombs, pull your sled, fetch your duck. For your dog biscuit has so indebted me that I can never pay it down." Meanwhile, the cat won't even come when you call it.

And that second bounce is fallacious; the self-made man is impossible. We all swirl in an infinite exchange that makes all "deserving" a non sequitur. We may argue that one payoff has more merit than another, but ten thousand kalpas of deals were cut before those coins were even struck. An honest audit must seive the entire account, every transaction, hand to hand, second by second, to the beginning of time. Thus the Quotient of Being: "I owe, therefore I am."

Yet wealth, whether money or love, suppresses this fact. That's why the wealthy – the rich man, the pretty woman, the young, the healthy, the cherished, the well-fed – are so ungrateful. And that's why Jesus and Gautama both urged poverty, material and emotional, on their disciples.

At home, in comfort and plenty, I can slurp down a whole cup of tea and not even remember. In the woods, all my gratitude could not balance the bliss of just one sip.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson.)

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

WW: Kitty lotus

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Gandhi's Seven Blunders

Gandhi dessin lanza

The following inventory of fatal errors, entitled Seven Blunders of the World, was one of Gandhi's last teachings. It was written out shortly before he was assassinated, for his grandson. Though Gandhi was a Hindu, the Buddhist character of these insights, in both style and sensibility, is striking.

Seven Blunders of the World

Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without morality.
Commerce without character.
Science without humanity.
Worship without sacrifice.
Politics without principle.

Mahatma Gandhi

(Sketch portrait of Gandhi by Lanza del Vasto; photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

WW: A Hobie cat and a good wind

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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Forgiving Our Fathers

The crack of Father's Day puts me in mind of Sherman Alexie's riff on Forgiving Our Fathers, a poem by Dick Lourie. This is something many of us must do, because, for reasons as complex as the culture itself, fatherhood is a controversial undertaking. Fortunate are those, child or parent, who come through unscathed.

This poem is hauntingly declaimed by nerd shaman Thomas Builds-the-Fire in Smoke Signals, arguably the most undeservedly obscure movie in history. That performance, narrating the heart of a young Cœur d'Alêne man as he dumps the ashes of his own complicated father into his people's holy river, can be savoured in the video below:

Forgiving Our Fathers
(edited by Sherman Alexie from an original text by Dick Lourie)

How do we forgive our fathers? Maybe in a dream.
Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often or forever when we were little?
Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage, or making us nervous because there never seemed to be any rage there at all?
Do we forgive our fathers for marrying or not marrying our mothers?
For divorcing or not divorcing our mothers?
And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning?
For shutting doors?
For speaking through walls, or never speaking, or never being silent?
Do we forgive our fathers in our age or in theirs?
Or in their deaths?
Saying it to them or not saying it?
If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

(The Lourie original is here.)

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

WW: Brisco Point

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Thursday, 7 June 2012

Model Insect

The forest teemed with invertebrates, from ants large and small, just starting in that mid-June season to troop about, to the nightmarish naked red sow bug killer spiders that invaded my tent. One day I watched a grey Emasculata moth, just out of its chrysalis, inflate its brand-new wings in a sunny patch on the Grove's floor. Their tiny feathers were the colour of hornet paper and patterned precisely after the mature alders in the upper swale, fifty yards west.

The same day a banded alder borer beetle (Rosalia funebris), in the same colours, attempted time and again to climb onto my mat while I was eating. Roughly a carpal long, not counting its sweeping antennae, the elegant bug looked exactly like the frozen World War II dogfight that hung from my bedroom ceiling when I was in middle school; as if another thirteen-year old had assembled its black plastic parts, and then, squinting at the picture on the box, daubed on a thick breakup of ash with an overlarge brush. Its coarsely-jointed, heavily-banded feelers looked 
especially styrene; I could almost make out where fingers had flinched painting those invasion stripes. 

Despite the sinister ring of its names, the larvae of this harmless beetle mostly eat dead and down wood, and so evade the county extension hit list. Adults are famously attracted to fresh paint, flocking to newly-coated barns and fences like crane flies to a candle. Something in the chemistry apparently mimics their pheromones. Which may explain the robotic resolve of this one in mounting and re-mounting my polyethylene zabuton.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia and Sean McCann.)

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

WW: Flag lily

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