Tuesday, 31 December 2013

WW: New Year's sunburst

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Street Level Zen: Resolution

Ostrich 057

"I know how hard it is in these times to have faith. But maybe, if you could have the faith to start with, maybe the times would change. You could change them. Think about it. Try. And try not to hurt each other. There's been enough of that. It really gets in the way. [...]

"However hopeless, helpless, mixed up, and scary it all gets, it can work. If you find it hard to believe in me, maybe it would help you to know that I believe in you."

-- God

(Portrait of bemused ostrich ["Silly-looking things." -- God] courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Trisha Shears.)

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

WW: Christmas pudding

(Burn on, my dawgs. Happy Holidays to all.)

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Christmas With the Devil

Last Christmas I shared my Perfect Chai, for the greater enlightenment of all sentient beings. But I left them hungry. So this year, I offer my Sourdough Devil's Food Cake. It's sourdough. It's cake. And it's devilishly unique. (Which is à propos, since as Spinal Tap have pointed out, Christmas is all about the Devil. What was it Christopher Guest said? "Merry Christmas – poke, poke!" Full video embedded after recipe.)

Anyway, without further, here 'tis:

Sourdough Devil's Food Cake

1 cup sourdough starter, well-hungry
1/2 cup flour
2 individual packages instant cocoa mix (preferably "dark"; quantity equals 1/3 cup. Or substitute 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon dehydrated milk, and 1 tablespoon sugar)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup prepared mayonnaise (or separate one egg yolk into a 1/4 cup measure and fill the rest with oil.)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
flour to stiffen
1 teaspoon soda mixed into 1/4 cup flour

Liberally grease an 8-inch pan. (Cast iron serves sourdough best.)

Stir together all ingredients except soda mixture, and beat till smooth. Add flour (ending with the soda mixture) as necessary to make a stiff cake batter. Beat hard to release gluten. (Batter will take a dull sheen and become ropey.)

Scrape batter into the greased pan, cover, and allow to work at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until a pick comes out clean. Serve hot.

Sourdough devil's food cake can be served as is, or with whipped cream, ice cream, or hard sauce. Cold pieces taste better if microwaved for 30 seconds; reheated in the oven in a damp paper sack; or on a rack in a covered skillet, over a tablespoon of water, at medium heat.

And it goes great with chai.

(The video here-below was taken from the 1992 reunion disc Return of Spinal Tap. Prepare to bang your head on some metal, or whatever people do to this music.)

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

WW: Asian helmet

(This is one of those compact white hardhats that workers wear in Asia. This one turned up on the high tideline after a gale. I picture a seaman offshore, fighting his way across the deck. He turns to check something, and flip! -- no more helmet.)

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Buddha is the Reason for the Season

Irish Christmas card, ca. 1880
Know any Scrooge-sans? You know, Zenners who pout all December because it's Christmas and they're not Christian. If so, you might point out that Christmas is a secular holiday thousands of years old, bent to religious ends by the Druids and their contemporaries, long before Christians got their prideful hands on it. But some sangha just have a giant chip on their shoulder about the Church, and so become the jutting jaw we hear about every year in the carol. You know: "Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a big honkin' juttin' Zen jaw." In so doing, they surrender all Yule to a fanatical fringe that speciously demands ownership of it, and their own religious convictions to crass competition.

We Boreals have a deep physiological need to confront the terrifying cold and black of Dark Solstice, and so the symbols of light and fire, of evergreen, ever-living, winter-fruiting vegetation, and general contempt of death and fear, crop up repeatedly throughout our hemisphere. It's perfectly logical to find religious significance in natural phenomena, the only indisputable scripture there is. That's why Rohatsu – marking the time the Buddha sat under a symbol of the cosmos for eight days straight and was reborn in the laser light of the morning star – is in December. The Jews commemorate a lamp that burned for eight days without oil; Greeks and Romans sacrificed to the Harvest God, who dies every year and is reborn the next. And Christians celebrate the birth of their Saviour – bringer of light, defeater of death – though he was actually born in March.

In other words, they celebrate the effect of Christ's coming, not its fact, but sadly that's more insight than many contemporary Christians can muster. And so they've made the Season of Peace a battleground. "Jesus is the reason for the season!" is not a cry of gratitude; it's a rebuke to people who take their kids to see Santa Claus.

So it's game, point, and match to hatred. But wait, here's Team Zen, taking the ice! Will they make this a game?


Some Zenners campaign to remove Christmas trees from airports; razor Christ-themed carols from school "Winter" concerts; even ban Santa from the mall. (I don't even know where to start with those.) Others just wall themselves up in their little cells and chant loudly in fake Chinese to fend off any errant strains of Bing Crosby that might filtre through their double-glazing.

This in spite of the fact that Christmas is the most Buddhist of holidays; arguably more, actually, than it ever was Christian. It's Sekito Kisen all over again:

Darkness is a word for merging upper and lower,
light is an expression for distinguishing pure and defiled.
The four gross elements return to their own natures like a baby taking to its mother:
fire heats, wind moves, water wets, earth is solid;
eye and form, ear and sound, nose and smell, tongue and taste—
thus in all things the leaves spread from the root.
The whole process must return to the source.
Noble and base are only manners of speaking;
right in light there is darkness but don’t confront it as darkness,
right in darkness there is light but don’t see it as light.
Light and dark are relative to one another like forward and backward steps.

Read this chant – possibly for a first honest time – and tell me it ain't a fair-dinkum Zen Christmas carol.

The only reasonable Zen response to the ancient rite of Jul is acceptance. Acceptance of its universal origin; of its truth; and crucially, of the Dharma, which clearly passes right down the middle of it.

We are in the delusion-slashing business. I respectfully suggest we apply those skills, now they are more vital than usual, to restoring the true meaning of – and demilitarising – Christmas.

May we look deeply, every one.

(Photo of Irish Christmas card courtesy of Shirley Wynne and Wikimedia Commons, from an album of Christmas cards collected by Georgina Pim of Crosthwaite Park, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, between 1881 and 1893.)

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

WW: Wintervision

(As documented by Tara Lince.)

Thursday, 5 December 2013


When I sat 100 Days on the Mountain, I cached about a hundred pounds of a cereal I'd invented for the purpose, a mixture of rolled oats, dehydrated milk, dried fruit, and nuts. A splash of cold water, and it provided both bulk and balanced nutrition. It also tasted good, which is an important nutrient for the morale. I called this fall-back manna "zenola".

As weeks went by and bowls disappeared, it occurred to me that a more clever man than I might have converted this stuff into cash. Hence the above advertisement, scratched into the daily log. Top to bottom and left to right, it reads:

"Z E N O L A !"
"Part of this complete enlightenment!"
"Bashôo says... 'If you have no Zenola, I will take it from you!'"
"... another fine product from Hungry Ghost!"

The trademark of this Buddhist-friendly food company is a ghost with a napkin tied around its neck, holding a spoon and, uh... spork, apparently. Corporate slogan: "No matter how much you get, it's never enough!"

I'm sitting on a gold mine here. Dealership enquiries welcome.

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

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

WW: Aboriginal clam gun

(I recently found this well-used First Nations clam gun [right] in the surf. It's in fine shape; the tape is apparently just padding. I've no idea why it was discarded.

The blade is pitched much more steeply than the boston gun [left]; logical, since these shovels pry sand more than scoop it. And its heavy steel is welded up three ways from Sunday. The store-bought design, wielded by Old Settlers like me, is much lighter, but that's its sole advantage. The physics are clearly inferior, and the flimsy blade cracks after just a few outings.

Nine thousand years of experience will tell.)

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Zen Thanksgiving

I don't have much admiration for people who say they have no regrets. They must be afraid, or incapable, of considering the things left undone. You can't walk every path; you can't even walk two paths. You can only walk one. And that leaves ten thousand wells undrawn, ten thousand shafts unmined, an infinity of wealth and wisdom unattained, no matter how much you manage to know in this narrow life .

Deploring your human limits is a form of gratitude.

As for me, I got almost none of what I wanted in this life. But if someone were to offer it to me – the loving wife, the children, the career, the physical security – against what I've had, I'd have to say:
ちょっと... Take the mountains I stood on? The rain watched through barn doors and windshields, the snow shoed in silence, the lightning sweeping upriver? My midnight moons, rolling seas, sifting sand, and all the calm and joy and passion?

I'll need an appraisal before I sign that deal. Because I've gotten so much. Unexpected, unbidden, unwanted sometimes, it's true. But gifted, as no woman, no employer, ever gifted me. Blessings tumbling from the sky, in every shape and shade. What's the exchange rate, unrequited for unsought?

Not enough. I'll keep what's mine, thank you. The unpaid, unenvied, and unimpressive. But, henceforward: no longer unheeded.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Friend Milton.)

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

WW: The village

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Burden of Belief Kyôsaku

Yellow Lamas with Prayer Wheels "Believing something is not an accomplishment.

"I grew up thinking that beliefs are something to be proud of, but they’re really nothing but opinions one refuses to reconsider. Beliefs are easy. The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because 'strength of belief' is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself.

"As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you’ve made it a part of your ego. […] It is gratifying to speak forcefully, it is gratifying to be agreed with, and this high is what the die-hards are chasing…

"Take on the beliefs that stand up to your most honest, humble scrutiny, and never be afraid to lose them."

David Cain

(Photo of 1905 illustration of Buddhist monks with prayer wheels courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Arnold Henry Savage Landor.)

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

WW: Squadron of pelicans

(Click to see it bigger.)

Thursday, 14 November 2013

How to Meditate

(More experienced sitters may also find Meditation Tips useful.)

Meditation is easy to do but challenging to learn, mostly because it is so easy; practitioners either don't talk about technique at all, or tart it up with so much precious tripe it's hard to discern the fundamentals. When I became a hermit monk, with the Internet and common sense my only master, I had some difficulty getting the hang of this sitting thing. After a few weeks, with mixed results and the general feeling I must be "doing it wrong", I finally Googled my way to Zen Mountain Monastery's concise, complete, flake-free instructions. Without further koo-koo-ka-choo, here they are:

ZEN MOUNTAIN MONASTERY ZAZEN INSTRUCTIONS, aka Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Zen Meditation But Nobody Would Answer Your Goddam Questions. (If this link goes nowhere, you'll find a pdf file here.)

In respect and support of all enlightenment practices, I would also like to share some lessons learned during that founding period, to help others avoid common cul-de-sacs.

o When the Buddha said "sit", he meant "sit". The most important thing in your meditation practice is meditation. It's more important than equipment, posture, teachings, sutras, doctrine, or literally anything else. Just getting yourself to sit down and stay down is both the point and the hardest part of this practice.

o We don't meditate to accomplish things. We don't do it to become calmer, kinder people. We don't do it to sharpen our attention, or gain insight into our lives or the human condition. We sure as hell don't do it to have "visions" or become Awesome Zen Masters. Some sits are "good", full of wisdom, acceptance, and clarity. Others are "bad", full of rage and grief and unrest. But whatever happens is what's supposed to happen.

o Benefits are often realised only after you stop. Sometimes I sit for an hour without a second of peace. My mind snarls and chews, my body creaks and whines; nothing's good. But when I finally get up, a sort of quiet contentment washes over me. If I hadn't kept sitting, I wouldn't have received that compensation.

o Sometimes – particularly in the beginning – you may in fact have visions, or openings, or other types of mental recoil. Greet these like you greet everything that happens on the cushion: with a firm "Hmmmm." An experience may have meaning to you, but don't become attached to it – i.e., consider it a "revelation", or any other twee bunkum. These insights come from inside of you, from your own mind. Take delivery, and pass on to the next breath.

o When I first started, I read a lot of Zen teachings about being unmovable and disciplined and determined. As I was (and am) hard-core in my pursuit of enlightenment, if I dozed off on the cushion, I would slap myself, hard, to stay awake. One day I gave myself a bloody nose. "This can't be what the Buddha had in mind," I thought. I was right. Zen comes from Asia, where it's cool to inflict suffering on yourself. Monks there are beaten, made to sit in uncomfortable conditions or for tortuously long periods, denied sleep, food, leisure, and hygiene. (See Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple, by Nonomura Kaoru.) The Buddha flat-out ordered us not to do this. Machismo is one of the stickiest attachments, right up there with greed, approval, and Facebook. You get zero credit for "powering through" avoidable suffering; in fact, it sets you back. If physical misery rises to the point you can no longer focus, modify your technique, or terminate the session.

o Beware the stories of others (including mine). Listening to other meditators' experiences is a sure path to discontent. "Everybody else talks about transcending/kensho/insight/oneness/visions/out-of-body experiences/indifference to pain/recovering lost memories/curing warts; something must be wrong with me." Your meditation practice is tailored to you. No-one else can command it, forbid it, certify it, or control it. You have one task: to sit. Are you doing it? Goooood.

o Finally, the effects of meditation are cumulative. You will feel much greater "effect" (for want of a better word) if you meditate twice a day, every day, than if you sit only once, or erratically. Life conspires to break up practice; sometimes you can't sit as well, or as often, as you'd like. Overcoming such obstacles (including the most debilitating: your internal excuse factory), and accepting them when they can't be overcome, is the nature of practice.

Somebody smart once said, "Each time you sit is the first time." This isn't poetry; no matter what's happened before, or what you've come to expect, every sit is its own event, ungovernable and unpredictable. And despite what some would have you believe, there are no meditation masters, any more than there are sleeping masters, dreaming masters, or boredom masters. Meditation is a natural state, arising when conditions are such. Following the Zen Mountain instructions (or pdf) establishes those conditions; whatever happens next is zazen.

Are you doing it? Goooood.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

WW: Surf scoter

(Melanitta perspicillata [hen] resting up after a storm.)

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Mindfulness Stick

'Way back in January 2011 I wrote an article about walking sticks. In it I posited that this oldest of purpose-made tools was quintessentially – and uniquely – human. "When," I asked, "was the last time you saw a lion, or a kangaroo, or even a chimpanzee, walk with a stick?"

Well, as it happens, the universe loves knocking over cocky eejits, and now I learn that 'way backer in 2005, scientists in the Republic of Congo documented the crap out of several lowland gorillas doing exactly that. Not only did they carry their walking sticks just like humans (see photo), they used them to steady themselves on erratic surfaces and to probe streambeds for footworthiness. And that’s not all: they also mindfully collected their stick blanks and specifically and systematically crafted them into useful tools. Hell, they did everything but rub them with trinity tar. (At least, they haven't been observed doing it. Yet.)

So there we have it, oh-so-brilliant humanity. That sound we hear behind us is dependent co-arising, dependently co-arising.

(Photo courtesy of PLOS Biology.)

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

WW: My axe

(OK, it's more of a hatchet: Jupiter pocket trumpet 416BL.)

Thursday, 31 October 2013


There were random bones all over the Acres, hauled by ones and twos into crannies and under trees. Ribs, vertebrae, mandibles, scapulae. Mostly elk and deer, along with one llama, whose carcass Jim dragged into the Plantation and found stripped bare a week later. Bits of it turned up all over the mountain; the Squirrel Grove phalanges, plastic white and chunky, were an example.

All were a reminder that things lived, and so died – and killed – on the Acres. Their prevalence suggested that these hills were very different in winter. And, more cause for reflection: the bones by my tent moved. Often. Something, or things, nosed them in the night.

The Plantation in particular was a veritable boneyard, where glowed green-stained remains in the eternal twilight. From there I collected a brain case and a face, and as I had done with the cranium I found on the far side of Bear Ridge, racked them on branches.

My species has a compulsion for headbones. I've happened on them in a dozen countries: skulls of horse, deer, goat and cow – not yet any human – seeming to float above the ground, spiked on branches and fence posts in the middle of nowhere. Also, entire crania of moose and mountain sheep, defences intact, nailed over cabin doors. Our cave-painting elders are not so remote, after all.

The import, subconscious perhaps but clear, is that little in this life meets death in bed. Everything before us died by violence, and was pooped out by something else.

We who are so proud to die fighting, when the real achievement in this world is to die in peace.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Frank Vincentz.)

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

WW: Perfect pizza

(With lobster mushrooms and sourdough crust. Baked on my new flower pot-bottom bindle-tech pizza stone.)

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Hermitcraft: Pumpkin Pickles

October is an odd time in North America: for these thirty-one days, you can buy a pumpkin here. Any other time, you get: "What, are you crazy?" (One of us must be.)

And it only gets weirder: virtually none of the pumpkins Canucks and Yanks buy by the metric tonne this month will be eaten. Come All Saints Day, they will be thrown in the garbage. Even the thousands that were never cut.

Why are overseas readers now aghast? Because on all other continents, people know pumpkin for excellent food. One of the most versatile vegetables on earth, useful in every course of a meal, it's both delicious and nutritious. I've no idea why North Americans have demoted it to a gourd, but if it weren't for that Druid holiday we dug up and transplanted across the sea, this First Nations masterpiece (utterly unknown to the Druids) would have gone extinct here a century ago. If the irony gets any thicker, we can carve our jack o' lanterns out of that instead.

Or you can; I pickle mine. Pickles – a staple of Japanese monasteries – anchor the flavour plates I build for sesshins. (It's an ancient Zen art intended to pique mindfulness with a shotgun blast to the senses). And the pumpkin ones are my favourite: marrowy, neon orange, and sweet spicy-sour, with just a hint of musky bitterness from the lime.

The recipe:


(Makes about 3 1/2 pints. Note that after step 3, you will have to wait 24 hours before continuing.)

7 cups raw pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 sticks cinnamon, shredded
2 1/3 cups cider vinegar
2 1/3 cups sugar
15 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole black pepper corns
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons whole allspice
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 inches gingerroot, sliced thin
lime slices, 1/4 inch thick, one per jar
dried cranberries ("craisins")
canning jars and lids

1. Cover the pumpkin cubes with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and lightly blanch, about 10 minutes. (Not longer; they'll cook another three times before you're done.) Drain immediately to avoid overcooking.

2. Put all other ingredients except lime slices and cranberries in a large pot and bring to a boil. (Warning: hot syrup boils over very quickly; stay present and alert.) Turn heat down to lowest setting, cover the pot, and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Add the pumpkin cubes and bring back to a boil. Then cover the pot, lower heat, and simmer for 3 minutes. Afterward, remove the pot from the burner and set it aside for 24 hours.

4.Next day: Sterilise jars in a water bath canner. Heat the pumpkin and syrup mixture to boiling, then lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

5. Remove the jars one at a time from the hot water, drop in four to five cranberries, and ladle in hot pickles to 1/2 inch from the rim. Be sure to include spices.

6. Slide a lime slice between the pickles and the jar's side, fit a sterilised lid, screw the band down tight, and return the sealed jar to the water bath. Repeat until all the pickles are packed.

7. Turn up the heat under the canner and process (cook) the jars for an additional 5 minutes after the water has returned to a boil.

10. Remove the jars from the water and allow them to cool naturally until the lids pop. Store in a cool dark place for at least a month before opening. (Any that don't pop should be stored in the fridge and eaten first.)

Specific points on pickling jack o' lanterns:

To insure fresh pickle stock, carve your jack o' lantern on Hallowe'en and refrigerate the scraps; if you light it with a candle, line the lid with aluminium foil. Make your pickles next day, peeling off any soot or scorched flesh with a vegetable peeler. Later, when you eat them, you'll recognise bits of eye and teeth on your plate.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

WW: Shipwreck coal

(Unusually large lump; most are fist-sized.)

Thursday, 17 October 2013


instead of morning glories unfolding
autumn dusk

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

WW: My meditation hut

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Foolish Wisdom

Jean-François Millet (II) 008 In the woods you take stock, make adjustments, and move on. Small matter, great matter. Life or death. Rain or less rain.

It's different from ordained practice, for a different enlightenment. Hermit rituals must be practical; nothing is done on someone else's promise that you will, in a year or twenty, find meaning in it. We are fundamentalists; winnowers, tossing the kernels of the ancient masters to the wind, and blowing off the chaff.

Yet the monastery is germane: oryoki, housekeeping, mindfulness. Shaving off hair that becomes tangled and greasy is symbolic inside the walls, but entirely practical on the mountain. One of many "foolish" zendo ceremonies that look less foolish when you live at their source.

That summer I learned that order and form, so seemingly obsessive in coenobitic Zen, are the bedrock of hermit practice. Things go to hell fast outdoors; they get dirty, broken, and lost. Exterior things, and interior things too. You must attend to them. Zen centre training gave me the skills to do that.

Who knew?

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of Le Vanneur, by Jean-François Millet, courtesy of The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei; le Musée D'Orsay; and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

WW: Fremont Bridge

(Further insight from cell phone artist Dannon Raith.)

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Good Movie: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

Here's one you gotta see. No, I mean you gotta see it. Because I can't describe it. (Goes on to describe movie.)

Kim Ki-duk's Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring seems to end suddenly after half an hour, then you look at your watch and 103 minutes have gone by. Movie buffs consider this a mark of excellence. What then to say about a film that still does this to you the third time you see it?

The basic story turns on the relationship between a hermit monk (shout out to the Homeless Brothers!) and an orphan left in his charge. Together they care for a temple in the middle of a remote mountain lake that doesn’t quite seem to be in this dimension; the sun speeds up and slows down, the temple rooms have no walls, and the pier it's built on drifts – upwind – without actually moving. (Or is the world drifting past it?)

Like Heraclitus' river, Spring, Summer is so packed with encoded clues that it's a new movie each time you watch it. The temple pet alone is fascinating. First it's a dog, then a cock, then a cat, and finally a snake. Why does the teenager steal the rooster? Why does the old man replace it with a cat? Is it solely to set up one of the best enlightenment metaphors ever filmed? (Plus that cat is an awesome actor. Uncredited,
of course. The Man strikes again.) And what's up with that (apparently winterised) snake?

And the koans keep coming: stunning tai-chi performed on ice by a "broken" man; a boat anchor used as penitence, from a boat that's never anchored; humiliated people literally losing their faces. And just when you're sure the whole thing takes place in some kind of snow globe, two police detectives show up. Carrying guns. And cell phones.

Unlike other "weird" movies, this one is never pretentious. Instead, Kim invites us on an Easter egg hunt, with permission to find a few even he may have missed; he's sangha, not teacher. And the insight is conveyed virtually without dialogue. What lines there are, are pithy and important. Take the old man's entire summation of the futility of greed: "The things you like, others also like."

Kim, who also plays the old hermit's successor (or predecessor, or maybe the old monk himself), gets seamless performances from his
actors: Jong-ho Kim as the mischievous, engaging child; Jae-kyeong Seo as an earnest, intense teenager; Young-min Kim as a man on the horns of yearning; and especially Yeong-su Oh, as the old hermit. Even the cops, walk-ons meant to inject you and me into the temple's universe, are skilfully out of synch. All of it gives Spring, Summer a fly-on-the-wall documentary feel, imparting a realism to the surrealism that, well, you have to see to get.

As a dissertation on samsara, it all could have been dull as dukkha, but in the end it's a very Korean film, full of humanity and passion. Just watching the director pull it off is worth the price of admission.

Finally, please be advised that none of this is accurate. Like sitting itself, the Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring that can be named is not Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

WW: Salmon shark

(Lamna ditropis)

Thursday, 26 September 2013

A Poem About Dogs

No-one ever writes a poem about dogs.
Oh, people love their cats
Every other poem these days is about cats
How cute they are, how they lick themselves
How they don’t care a fig for anyone else
Now how much would you pay?

But wait, there’s more
They’ll also scratch up your upholstery
Stand on your face at 4 AM
Kill your budgie.

When did a cat ever come to you when you asked?
Chase off an intruder
Catch a frisbee?
The thing’s like a doorstop
That doesn’t stop any doors.

The only thing I ever got from a cat
Was a dead rat
And when I wouldn’t eat it
He did.

Let’s face it, when it comes to cats it’s all about the purring
You pet the damn thing, and it purrs
If cats didn’t purr, we’d keep something else
Iguanas, maybe.

But it’s all about the cats
They’re cuddly, they’re comic, they’re cosmopolitan
They give you the abuse you don’t get from your family
You can’t pick up a newspaper
Or a greeting card
Without reading about cats.

But nobody
Writes a poem
About dogs.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

WW: Boom seals

(Phoca vitulina)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Enlightenment Koan

Japanese buddhist monk by Arashiyama cut

The hermit Hyung asked:

"Would you seek enlightenment even if it were easy?"

Wu Ya's commentary: "I do not like green eggs and ham."

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of Soto Zen monk on his begging rounds courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

WW: Pterodactyl invasion

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Hermitcraft: Lobster Mushrooms

Lobster mushrooms punch up all over the North Coast this time of year, which is remarkable since they don't really exist. The grotesque red masses you see here are really coarse old Russula brevipes infected with Hypomyces lactifluorum mould. But the effect is striking, both visually and gastronomically. By themselves, R. brevipes and Lactarius piperatus (the other common host) are plain to ugly, and not very good eating. (The latter in particular is apt to be too horseradish-peppery for many palates.) But attacked by the B-movie mildew, they become choice.

The origin of their common name is a bit mysterious. It may be the flaming colour, similar to boiled crustacea. Or it may a hint of lobster flesh in their flavour and consistency. But they're delicious in any case, and very showy on the plate. Better still, enormous average size and a tendency to grow in dense colonies means you can harvest a bucketful in no time.

Where I live, lobster mushrooms revel in gravelly roadsides and driveways (where they get absolutely filthy), and the fringes of salal banks. Many are almost subterranean, barely cracking the ground, having to be dug as much as cut.

However you find them, lobsters should be sliced cleanly at the base, whereupon you will be blinded by their snowy-white flesh. (The sooner the better; worms like them, too.) A toothbrush under running water scrapes the muddy dross from their rutted, ruffled caps.

Traditionally these mushrooms are chunked and pitched into seafood stew, either alongside the catch of the day, or as it. (In which case you've got vegetarian lobster bisque.) You can also slice them into steaks, marinate mildly, and grill them over charcoal. Or just enjoy the classic 'shroomer standby: sautéed with a little garlic and a pinch of herbs. (Also a good way to prepare them for freezing.)

Sources are vague on the risks implied. In theory, a poisonous mushroom infected by Hypomyces lactifluorum might be dangerous, and most sources urge collectors to be certain of the host before indulging. Problem is, my mould H-Bomb so disfigures its partner that identification is difficult; I've seen professionals throw up their hands. Then there's the dramatic power of Hypomyces to alter mushroom chemistry, well-demonstrated in the resulting flavour. Some experts believe it has the same effect on any toxins present. Finally, it rarely (possibly never?) infects any but its favoured hosts.

As a lifelong forager, here's my take: lobster mushrooms are among the most sought-after fungi in the world. Tonnes of them are swallowed each year in dozens of countries. And I can't find a single documented reference to any specific case of lobster mushroom poisoning anywhere.

So I eat them. (Note: like all wild mushrooms, lobsters should be cooked before eating, which has a moderating effect on some toxins, assuming there are any, which there's not supposed to be, because you identified the mushroom before you ate it.)

So if you see a large, velvety, blood red, tortured, muddy glob on the ground, have a second look. These unique organisms may appear unappetising, but they don't taste that way.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

WW: Tugboats RW Confer and Galene race all-out

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Hermitcraft: Shelters For Forest Practice

The interior of Thoreaus original cabin replica, Walden Pond

Thoreau's cabin at Walden
My decision to live in a tiny tent during my 100 Days on the Mountain, rather than more comfortable quarters, was largely influenced by my determination to live in the forest, rather than just near it. (It was also my only option when I thought I'd have to sit on public land.) But in the doing I discovered that a cabin is necessary to do this right; it spares you practice-robbing work and health risks. Let's be clear: by "cabin", I mean four walls and a roof. A shepherd's trailer; a wall tent; a tool shed; a plywood hut; eight by twelve of simple headroom. More, and you're no longer in the woods.

• Your shelter should have as many windows as possible, for morale and to keep you "in-frame". A broad, wrap-around opening in the walls, screened and shuttered, is perfect. A roofed porch or awning is also useful.

• As I learned, a woodstove can be invaluable in northern climes, even in summer. Otherwise it can be impossible to stay clean; you can't dry your clothes and it's difficult to bathe through cold and rainy weeks. The small portable models they make for hunters are fine.

Shepherd's trailers
• Since cooking on a woodstove is an arcane skill, uncomfortable in warm weather and time-consuming, you'll need a camp stove as well. A single propane or butane burner is entirely adequate and can be used indoors with adequate ventilation.

• Take pains to secure a comfortable cot and a good pillow; unbroken sleep is vital to effective practice.

• You will also need a table and chair. Lack of comfortable seating is a technique governments use to torture prisoners. They do not become enlightened. (Mandarin or convict.)

• Install shelves or cabinets, and a variety of hooks, for storage.

Simple garden shed
A corrugated metal roof and/or sides makes for a fast and solid building, fine for one-season use. A corrugated plastic roof, light to carry and cheap to buy, also acts as a skylight. A wood floor, while not necessary, makes staying clean a lot easier. (If using a tent, consider a plywood platform, a sewn-in floor, or at least a heavy canvas ground cloth.)

Finally, it's a good idea to make whatever structure you choose as neat as possible. People are already suspicious of us. You don't want to give those Ted Kaczynski references any free hand.

Basically, you want something that's dirt-basic but a whole lot cleaner. Then raise the Bandana Ensign in the dooryard and bust some suffering!

UPDATE, 19 June 2014: see my post on Kamo no Chômei's classic hermit hut.

UPDATE, 30 July 2015: Swedish architect draws designer hermit digs! Read about it here.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photos: Thoreau's cabin (Tom Stohlman) and shepherd's trailers (John Shortland) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; simple garden shed from Sheddiy.com.)

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

WW: Six-ring walk in the city

(Including three 1 1/2-inch male rings! Rare find.)

Thursday, 29 August 2013

How To Be a Monk

Little boy without training wheels with helmet and sandals

Get up.
Get up.

(Photo courtesy of Mohd Nor Azmil Abdul Rahman and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

WW: Late summer still life

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Landlords

Ravens have a cagey range of Foley effects, mechanical-sounding riffs you would never suspect from a bird. One is a deep Vibraslap, like a roulette spinning in the treetops. Another is four ascending pops, like a temple block glissando. The Vibraslap means, "Yeah, well… anyway." And the glissando: "Bob's your uncle!" You live with it, and you start to grok.

Primates don't think much of birds. Even Koko the gorilla jeered her researchers by signing "Bird!" at them. But those ravens.

You can take my word for it. Humans do not run this planet.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

WW: Jewish cemetery

The Jewish community in the North Coast town where I grew up kept a low profile; though it gave us a few influential pioneers, I never met a practicing Jew until I grew up and moved away. But we knew they were there, thanks to a discreetly dignified synagogue downtown – which never seemed to be open – and this tiny section of the Odd Fellows graveyard. Giving rise to the following explanation: "One day a Jewish person came to town, built a synagogue, and died." Judging by the pebbles lining the memorials, rumours of the community's demise are greatly exaggerated.

Another mystery for us young goyim: "Who's Beth Hatfiloh?" Solved by my Lutheran friends: "She's a friend of Gloria Dei!"

Thursday, 15 August 2013

No-one's Laughing at God

Why has Regina Spektor so brilliantly and thoroughly nailed this thing? Is it because she's Jewish, legatee of millennia of probing meditation on the nature of God and his relationship with Man? Or is it because she's Russian, and accustomed to piercing sugar-coatings and staring daunting truths square in the eye? Or is it because she's American, gifted with a dancing kind of insight that expresses itself in gentle-scathing satire?

Or is it New York?

I don't know. All I know is, in Laughing With, Spektor totally nails it. This is exactly how I feel about God. It's also the definitive response to the fanatics ("crazies", she perceptively calls them) who constantly deplore the "secular" or irreligious nature of society, who insist they own God, that he speaks through them, and that everyone outside their circle lives apart from him. Practices the founders of all world religions pointedly condemned.

"… or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus."


(See what I did there?)

Laughing With
by Regina Spektor

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one's laughing at God
When they're starving or freezing or so very poor

No one laughs at God
When the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one's laughing at God
When it's gotten real late
And their kid's not back from that party yet

No one laughs at God
When their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake
No one's laughing at God
When they see the one they love hand in hand with someone else
And they hope that they're mistaken

No one laughs at God
When the cops knock on their door
And they say we got some bad news, sir
No one's laughing at God
When there's a famine or fire or flood

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they're about to choke
God can be funny,
When told he'll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious
Ha ha
Ha ha

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one's laughing at God
When they've lost all they've got
And they don't know what for

No one laughs at God on the day they realize
That the last sight they'll ever see is a pair of hateful eyes
No one's laughing at God when they're saying their goodbyes

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they're about to choke
God can be funny,
When told he'll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one's laughing at God in hospital
No one's laughing at God in a war
No one's laughing at God when they're starving or freezing or so very poor

No one's laughing at God
No one's laughing at God
No one's laughing at God
We're all laughing with God

Regina Spektor, July 2006

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

WW: Evening rainforest

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Suicide: The Cure

Bunter Teller (27 Stücke) A year ago this month the suicide of a former student prompted me to get real on polite society's fancy backside and name the actual perpetrators of suicide, right out loud. I ended with a direct request that they knock it the hell off.

You'd think that would do it, but here we are a whole year later and my demands still haven't been met. So while we're waiting, here's a tip on how not to be their victim.

As I pointed out then, suicide happens because the culture refuses to admit that life sucks. This leads people to desperate measures to escape the deep loneliness of being the only hurting person in the world. How did they reach this improbable conclusion? Because they were lied to about the pie.

Stay with me, here. All of your life, The Consensus (aka society, "the world", people, the public, The Man, The Matrix, "they", the culture…) has force-fed you a definition of happiness based on others' acceptance: equal parts companionship (for which you must beg peers) and material success (for which you must beg The Man: teachers, the public, employers, etc.) Let's be clear: you didn't come up with this definition, and (o thunderous coincidence) you can't get either of its two requirements by yourself. The approval you need to buy Consensus-brand happiness is only sold by The Consensus.

If this sounds like some kind of dystopian sci-fi hell, welcome home. I call it "the pie". Because I love lemon pie. There isn't much I wouldn't do for lemon pie. Make that: there didn't used to be much I wouldn’t do. Dig:

The universe is a giant dessert table. It's got every dessert ever invented, plus millions more not yet invented. But you've been told that the onliest dessert worth having is the lemon pie.

Yeah. That's likely.

And – what are the odds?? – lemon pie is also the only one you have to ask for. You could grab literally tonnes of others, FOB. But Consensus says the lemon pie is "the only true happiness". And you literally have to sell your soul (to The Consensus) to get it. What’s more, The Consensus gets to decide if it even wants your soul. Which it often doesn't. In which case you're screwed. For life.

Unless you take the trifle. Or the cobbler. Or the fruit plate. Or the beavertail. Or any one of a billion other happinesses The Consensus insists aren't even there. Every one shouting "Bite me!" (Get it?)

Enough about the pie. Listen. Some people never find a wife or husband. (And lots more do and wish they didn't.) Some never make a comfortable living. Many never attain social acclaim, whether by choice or default. Literally millions of us never get lemon pie… I mean, "success". And we're doing just fine, out here with the dogs. It's not that Consensus-endorsed happiness isn't good. It's just not better than the others.

I have close friends in (apparently) ideal marriages and/or careers. They have problems, challenges, compromises, regrets. Things are missing from their lives. I have others that have neither love nor status. Some wanted them dearly, once. (I sure did.) But it didn't happen, so we cultivated other happinesses. And we're as fulfilled as the pie-eaters.

In sum:

1. WE suffer because we don't have their happiness.
2. THEY suffer because they don't have ours.

––––> Balance: there is no pie.

In adolescence, the contradiction between pompous promises and bedrock hypocrisy comes into stark relief. As their souls come online, lots of young people find themselves at the wrong end of the table. They don't date well. God didn't make them mathematicians. They aren't reassured by conventional copouts. They like weird music, clothes, books, movies. They're too sensitive. Too visionary. Too intelligent. Too gay. And the suicide begins.

But here's the thing: you don't have to play. When I meditate (you knew it was coming; does this look like a fashion blog?) I clear my mind, shut up the critics– including the one I was trained to be – and walk right past the pie. No more starving navel-deep in food. When you cultivate inner silence, truth finally gets a word in edgewise. Suddenly sunsets and rivers and flowers and wildlife are blindingly awesome; a provocative book, a road trip, a cup of really fine chai; the drum of the surf, the om of a city; a song, a joke, the utter indifference of Time itself. That's the real world. And it's infinitely bigger than people.

They tell you not to settle for that. I just go ahead and settle for it. And you'd be astonished how unhappy it doesn't make me. I'm still sad sometimes; lonely, especially. I have regrets and misgivings, fear and anger, roads I wish I'd taken, roads I wish I'd never seen. In short, I'm living exactly the same life as the pie-eaters. It's just that now, it's devoted to ending suffering. (Trade secret: start with your own.)

Word up to all my world-weary brothers and sisters. No time for small minds. Eyes on the prize.

(But why am I so hungry all of a sudden?)

(Photo of Bunter Teller (27 Stücke) im Tortenkarton courtesy of Hedwig Storch and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

WW: St. John's by night

(Command-click to see it bigger)
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