Thursday, 30 August 2012

How to Save the World

The world does not need another activist.
The world does not need another defender.
The world does not need another patriot.
The world does not need another Buddhist.
The world needs calm, rational adults.
Please be one.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

WW: Okanogan farmhouse

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Sweetgrass Butte

I started the engine and continued the climb to Banker Pass. In the far distance the rugged peaks rounded, and a suspicion of sage on the east wind heralded the gates of the Okanogan.

As I swung around a blind bend the scene suddenly turned to Dante: an entire mountainside razed black and smouldering, heat waves dancing over its charred crust. I cranked the window against the acrid fumes and proceeded with caution. Yellow cards staked along the verge assured me this was a fire-management burn, under the theoretical control of a man behind a desk in a town twenty miles away. The Forest Service was getting a jump on wildfire season, burning the scrub and slash from this clearcut slope while the still-forested ones were fresh enough to discourage disaster.

The road caterpillared around another ridge, and Hell vanished behind me. Now I was cutting diagonally across vertical green pastures, one after another, where browsed bands of deer and cattle, and the occasional integrated society of both, amid wildflowers. The grandeur and freedom so mesmerised me that I forgot my resolve and let the hood ornament lead. By the time I came to my senses it was too late: I'd sleepwalked onto another summit feeder, trapped on a sharp, thin track jutting cloudward at something like the Ram's maximum grade. To the left, nothing but empty space; the mountain cut away so steeply from the trail's edge, just a few feet from my tires, that I couldn't see it. It was like driving up a rope.

With no hope of turning around, and nothing lying between me and the Swan Dive of Retribution, I had no choice but to push this road, steep and squirrelly as it was, to its bitter end. So I flattened the accelerator and the truck leapt gamely forward; I clung to the steering wheel, struggling to maintain maximum thrust on that sinuous ribbon of dirt. At that moment, momentum was survival; stop for any reason, and I wouldn't have the traction, on that pitched surface, to continue forward. And the thought of having to back all the way down that winding scaffold froze me in terror.

So, heart in mouth, eyes riveted on the empty stratosphere above, I Buck-Rogered that screaming Dodge into the cosmos. The g's pressed my spine into the bench beneath it, while I fervently prayed I didn't cross another Forest Service truck bent on validating Einstein on the way down.

Time dwindles to a drip at such moments, and for that instant, truth stands in bold relief. Hanging somewhere between an unremembered beginning and an unknowable end, possessed of a theoretical but functionally inoperative ability to stop, I could only rocket, as if a Saturn V were strapped to my backside, up and out. Welcome to existence.

At last the road crested, with nothing visible beyond but open sky. The Ram shot into it like a truck in a TV commercial, seeming to lift all four wheels off the earth, and then lighting, soft as a cat, on a freshly-graded plateau. I squeezed the brake and we sprayed to a stop. As the dust blew past the cab, I discovered the wherefore of this goat path to the stars: two huge, battleship-grey communication towers, their microwave drums staring implacably at the horizon, utterly indifferent to the panting insect at their feet. Lights winked red from their mastheads through linty clouds, warning jetliners not to ding their paint jobs on the bristling antennae.

I rested my forehead on the steering wheel and drew a shaky breath. The trouble you can get into with your mind in neutral. According to the atlas, I had arrived at Sweetgrass Butte, official edge of the twentieth century, and at 1860 meters, the highest point in the region.

I lifted my hat and passed a hand through my hair. The truck purred under me, as unperturbed as if we'd stopped at a city light. Aside from the sky and the clouds, and the icy gusts that bounced the truck on its shocks like a basketball, we were completely alone; if not for those antennae, we might have touched down on some distant planet.

I reseated my hat, shifted mind and motor back into drive, and etched a tight doughnut in the gravel. By standing on the brake, I was able to shinny the truck back down that skinny access road to the mainline. This time I could see the cliff dropping directly from my right front tire, down and down, to a knife-edged Road Runner gully miles below. Where, the crease being forested, I wouldn't raise so much as a dust ring, should ever that tire wander a few inches west.

When at last I reached the bottom, I found that the intersection was well-signed after all. There was no excuse for the detour, if not lack of sleep.

(Adapted from Rough Around the Edges, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

WW: Moonrise over sage hills

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Suicide: The Cause

(See also Suicide: The Cure.)

A former student of mine recently committed suicide. He was a truly exceptional young man, still in his college years, with a powerful soul that blazed a phosphorescent trail through his community and left a persistent retinal impression.

When I was a teacher there was much talk about suicide and how to prevent it. But I was amazed at the utter lack of insight into the core causes of suicide, and truly alarmed at the rank incompetence of official responses. Virtually all anti-suicide programmes for young people can be summed up by a poster I saw in a middle school counselling centre: a big yellow sun with a smiling cartoon character beneath, and the caption: "Life is beautiful! Don't throw it away!"

I wonder how many kids that poster killed.

For the record, people don't commit suicide because life sucks. They do it because people deny that life sucks. They're in pain, and everything they see and hear defines that as failure. Suicide is not an act of sadness or disillusionment; it's an act of loneliness and alienation.

The fact is, even concentrated individual treatment of suicidal persons is often embarrassingly nugatory. Know why? Because when it's over, we dump these unfashionably-perceptive people back into the same abusive, self-satisfied population that almost killed them in the first place.

So take a deep breath, brothers and sisters, because things are gonna get real.

It's not suicidal people who need treatment. It's you.

Your eternal War on Humans makes this life an unendurable hell. The practice of identifying humanity itself as weakness, and advancing shallow, half-baked ideologies, political, social, and religious, over decency, is deadly to human life.

When you brand someone a "felon" for life and deny her a job, a place to live, the vote, you fill this fishbowl with mustard gas. And it kills, liberally and indiscriminately. Because that's what mustard gas does.

When you meet poverty, sickness, and injustice with pat excuses, employ dehumanising rhetoric to smear their victims, preach and screech about this group and that group, value trophies over solutions and money over morality, you burn up all the oxygen in this Mason jar.

When you make an individual anathema, on any grounds, hold him up to ridicule, mock, bait, and blacklist him, you kill legions of faceless bystanders, though they be far removed from your victim-du-jour.

The suicide epidemic can't be addressed with the simplistic one-to-one arithmetic our plodding culture calls data. But whether or not the link can be easily demonstrated, every time you withhold basic dignity, respect, and forgiveness, you chop up the ties that connect us all. Fear and resentment and hopelessness drive the most human of us out of the herd, where they perish. And sometimes, every so often, what goes around comes home, and someone you love dies.

As for me, I wrote this world off a long time ago, and dedicated the remainder of my time here to transcending it. So today I am commemorating my brilliant young brother's life and death in accordance with my vows, by sitting sesshin on a small uninhabited island. In the course of this day I will perform acts of atonement, renew my commitment to the Dharma, and sit metta meditation for us all.

I invite you personally, you reading this article, to join me, by whatever path you walk. Please undertake the struggle to change your heart, and so change your species. Please find the courage to remain calm. Please abandon the wisdom of this world. Please cleave to truth.

And please stop being a mass-murderer.
So here's to you, brave Uncle Francis
When the snowflakes fall, I will sing the blues
And when I think on how you left this world
I will remember how the world left you
Michael Marra

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

WW: Paradise in the desert

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Koan: Helping a Woman

Two monks were travelling through the mountains when they came upon a woman weeping by a river.

"Why are you weeping?" asked the first monk.

"I am weeping because my husband is far across this river, and I have no way to cross it without ruining my new REI boots."

The monk immediately shrugged off his pack, took the woman upon his shoulders, and ferried her across the rapids.

The two monks hiked on in silence. At last the first turned to his partner and said:

"It is many hours since the river, and you have not said anything. What preoccupies you?"

"We have taken a vow of chastity," said the second monk, "and yet you touched that woman."

"Oh, grow the hell up!" snapped his companion, and wopped him over the head with his stick.

Wu Ya's commentary: "Line drive to centre field."

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia and 本人撮影.)

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

WW: Western Skink

(Plestiodon skiltonianus)

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Top Speed in the Pitch Black

Tim Flach bat
Night was soul-stirring beauty, heavy mist tumbling down silver from the high meadow and still as the grave. The oxeyes looked like melting snow under a solid cover of cloud, illuminated by the moon above it like a movie screen.

Bats darted into the barn, slalomed through the roof trusses, and out the other end. Soft little silent beings, spinning past the timbers without a qualm. Little browns; country bats. At the stable door they whispered past my ear, so close I could feel their slipstream. One wheeled hard at eye-level and flailed briefly, astonished to see me there without, as he thought, a light. (The red beam of my torch being all but invisible to animals.)

Even dense jungle was as open sky to them. One July midnight, as I sat beneath the Tyvek, a shadow hurtled past my cheek, several times in rapid succession, like a leaf in a whirlwind. It was a bat, winding around and around my rushlight, mopping up every flying thing. Barely a foot from my nose at near orbit, she vanished like a soap bubble when she realised what I was. I hoped she would return another night, but she never did.

I had a close relationship with bats. When I was a boy, I used to lie in my boat on summer nights and watch them shoot through the constellations. I liked everything about them. They were defiantly mammal. They ate mosquitos. They outflew every other airframe in nature, in pitch black, at top speed, intercepting the tiniest prey by sound alone. And people hated them.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia and Tim Flach.)

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

WW: Jumping Cactus

(Opuntia fragilis. Talkin'-bout-dang-ol' "boing", man.)
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