Wednesday, 31 October 2012

WW: Sunburst

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Swords Drawn at Fifty Feet

When the bridge collapsed, the telephone company erected a pole behind each abutment, guyed them with heavy galvanised cable, and stretched twenty feet of the same between their tops. Over that they looped a single black phone wire, to preserve service for any future settler who proved game.

The Wilson Creek high-wire served two unintended ends. It reminded passersby that, present appearances notwithstanding, the Acres had once been someone's home. And it gave the belted kingfishers a platform from which to fish without belabouring their wings midair like giant hummingbirds.

I often spied their blue jay silhouette on that high perch, overlooking a deep, fish-filled pool; it was also a handy anvil against which to beat senseless, with wetly emphatic blows, whatever prey they lifted back to it. Phone pole height, it also commanded three hundred yards of open river, the forest having been held off to create the pastures, and so was a property prick's dream.

For a kingfisher brooks no challenge. I often heard their ratcheting war cry from the meadows high above, and once observed a pitched battle in the tall alders between Paul's drive and the Willapa River. There two rivals expended an entire afternoon, attempting in real earnest to
skewer one another on their overlarge beaks. They fenced in and out of the treetops, slate blue wings feinting and flourishing like a swordsman's cloak, fifty feet high and in mid-flight. Like hummingbirds again, they expended far more energy patrolling their territory than they would ever extract from it, but their neurosis compelled.

On other occasions I heard the sploosh as they drove like harpoons into the creek. How did they not dash their brains out, smacking the surface like that? Nothing of the smooth entry of seabirds. Nor was mine the only ear listening, as I learned one afternoon when I allowed a slab of clay I'd levered up in the jungle stretch to splash back into the water. Seconds later a kingfisher came shooting upstream, over and under the slanting trunks, to perch on a crabapple and ratchet himself into a lather, his grey flat-top shaking with rage, like a Bircher before a trespasser. A moment passed before I understood: he'd taken my splash for another kingfisher, pirating frogs and cutthroat smolt from a run he judged his own, and finding nothing there at last but a muddy monk, chose to rave about his rights rather than acknowledge the chip on his shoulder. I ran across many his equal in the landowners of my childhood.

But politics aside, I've always been pleased to meet these handsome birds, on both sides of the continent. I learned to name them in Grade 2, and every next one has been brisk company.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photos courtesy of Linda Tanner (male belted kingfisher on lamp post), Magnus Manske (kingfisher in flight), Teddy Llovet (female kingfisher feeding), and WikiMedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

WW: Robin in huckleberries

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Blessing of Hardship

Hardship survived is the most precious thing I own.

In my twenties I lived in a dormitory on a university campus in southern France. The place looked and sounded like a penal institution, the vitality of five hundred young men clanging through cavernous bare bulb corridors, a single phone and two washing machines serving all of us.

In winter the rooms were a steady ten degrees Celsius, except for an eight-day stretch in January, when we had no heat or hot water at all. The bathroom was frigid at all times; one of the windows was permanently open to the bitter Mistral, to evacuate steam.

There were no seats on the toilets.

The meals, which consisted of raw hamburger, rotten vegetables, and other challenging fare, poisoned me on several occasions. But not on weekends; then, we weren't
fed at all. To bridge the gap, each floor was provided with a single hotplate, for which we all competed. Its adjustment knobs were long gone. Everything in Bâtiment C was old, spare, hard, and broken.

Except for us: students from every clime on Earth, and our French brothers, whose insolence and ingenuity helped us survive. It was living hard, and it has made the living since a lot easier.

Today, when circumstances get rough, I ask myself if it's worse than Bâtiment C. It seldom is, and so I am satisfied. The fact is, I was an impatient and impolitic young man, and I was living in country, if not conditions, I adored. The campus was on the edge of a vast, empty Provençal wilderness, and I spent hours -- whole days -- in it, beneath an endless sky, above a timeless sea. So fortunate I knew it, in hallowed moments.

Even Bâtiment C wasn't so villainous, to the old forest monk I've become. Had I been practicing Zen, I might have found the mordant beauty even of that garlic-scented gulag.

Living without puts the mindfulness back in living with. We need to do both. Often.

(Text adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Interior view of corridor in Bâtiment C courtesy of Capharnaüm’s; exterior photos of Bâtiment C and Mont Puget courtesy of nice_done, Leipold, and Panoramio.)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

WW: Gaff schooner

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Koan: Ole and Lena

Ja, times is sad down dere in Ambivalence Bay, shoor. Old Ole's lyin upstairs dyin, been in a coma for days now, and da family's cryin and carryin on, and everybody's in and out. Not too long now, says da doktor.

So all da women's fillin da kitchen wid lefse and cakes and finally night comes and da house is all quiet. Up in da bedroom Ole smells all dem good tings, and it wakes im up! He comes downstairs and sees all dat on da table and tinks, "I musta died and gone ta heaven!"

He reaches out to take a piece o wunada cakes, and suddenly Lena smacks his hand.

"Don't you touch dat!" she says. "Dat's for da funeral!"

Wu Ya's commentary: "Respect the forms, for Christ's sake!"

(Photo courtesy of PD Photo and Jon Sullivan.)

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

WW: My cowboy grandfather, Crooked River, 1918

(Far left, holding his horse.)

Thursday, 4 October 2012

More Than Less

The concept of reading one's future in tea leaves seems plausible when you're holding a bowl of genmaicha: the ragged leaves and swollen rice, some grains waterlogged and littering the bottom, others afloat and clinging to the edge; the bits of stem strewn about like drift logs; and here and there the starburst of a popped kernel. Seaweed fronds pulsing in an algal olive tide, yellow, green, and brown beneath an oily, almost soup-like steam.

Yep, that's my life, alright.

Genmaicha is a mixture of roasted (gen) rice (mai) and green tea (cha). The rice is for flavour and body, and to cut the tea, which would otherwise outprice the intended customer. The tea itself is minimally-processed cull-grade chaff, up to a quarter stem, with a musty character reminiscent of old books. It's steeped a good long time before drinking, sometimes even chafed. The overall effect is hearty, wholesome, and rural.

Like brown rice and pinto beans, genmaicha is poor man's provender, traditionally sold to Japanese peasants as "tea, more or less". And like those other pillars of my mountain diet, it's superior, warp and woof, to the fine feeble fare of the entitled. It's a supportive bowl, generous and competent, and far more valuable than sencha, the fragile, astringent stuff of the Japanese middle class.

Not that foreigners always "get" genmaicha, either; I've often wondered what Japanese visitors think, seeing it sold at gyokuro prices in trendy American boutiques. By contrast, the giant package I brought to the woods was purchased in a Canadian supermarket for seven dollars. Savoury and sustaining, it quickly became my everyday tea, shifting my fancy Dragon Well to between-meal treats on barn days.

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

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

WW: First Nations fishing boat

Monday, 1 October 2012

Reality Check Kyôsaku

"I do not say there is no Ch'an.
Just no teachers."

(Photo of Evasterias troschelii [mottled seastar] fry, on the underside of a rock. The orange guy is about 2 inches long.)
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