Thursday, 27 June 2013

Hoisting the Jolly Roger

Hermits need a flag. Something we can fly in our camps to let the mandarins know that we're hermits and not highwaymen, yea though we wear strange clothes, and are alone.

Therefore I proclaim, by the power invested in me by absolutely no-one, the Bandana Banner. This thrifty and ubiquitous handkerchief, hoisted at two corners, will be our sign. Just it, without symbol, cipher, or slogan – for the world has idols enough. If you can't spread it on your lap at mealtimes, or blow your nose on it, it's not a hermit flag.

I further proclaim that anyone – poustinik, dervish, vanaprastha, or nazyir; Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Christian, Bahá'í, Muslim, Jew – has the right and responsibility to raise this ensign when in the forest, as a sign that he or she is a Seeker, and no threat to any well-meaning person.

Yet, as bandanas come in many colours, so each must acquire meaning. Therefore I call dibs on the black one for us Zen hermits. Should a Seeker not of our path raise the Jolly Roger of Bodhidharma, then by the Buddha Dharma he shall be, uh… well, then He Too shall have a black bandana for a flag.

For no person or institution may confer or revoke the Cheap Bandana. Any sentient being, taking the path of enlightenment, may fly any colour, any place, any time. Let none strike it down, upon pain of karma. Should a given flyer be shown dishonest or unenlightened, tell it to the Great Pumpkin. For no insignia on Earth, conferred or affected, guarantees a damn thing. Caveat emptor, mofo.

And devil take the hindmost.

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

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

WW: Brand-new Western Tiger Swallowtail

(Papilio rutulus; newly emerged and drying its wings right above the freeway, on the sidewalk across the Capitol Way overpass.)

Thursday, 20 June 2013


Winslow Homer 006I grew up on a lake, and on the bay, and I spent hours – whole days in summer – rowing. I rowed my father's boat, I rowed my grandfather's boat, and after Christmas 1973, I rowed my own boat, built by my dad in the neighbour's garage.

Ango is like rowing. You set the stem on your destination, and steer by whatever slots over the transom: an overhanging madrona, a boathouse, a large piling. And then you row. You can cross a mile of water that way without ever looking forward, except to see that wind and tide haven't reanimated your dead reckoning. Turning stops you, and that just makes your passage longer. So you learn not to sacrifice momentum to impatience.

Ango is like that. There's nothing ahead. There's only the past, and a distant notion of the beach. If you obsess over progress, and results, and is it working?, you'll never get there. So you just fix your eye on the madrona, and you goddam pull.

Except I had a maple.

But that's what I did that summer. I watched the tree, and I rowed.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of Winslow Homer's Fog Warning/Halibut Fishing courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston .)

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

WW: Stargazers

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Father's Song

Dick Gaughan is like the voice of his entire people. Not merely its inflection; also its spirit, its passion, and its vision. As Scots debate (endlessly) the question of their national anthem, I'd like to propose a novel solution: anything sung by Dick Gaughan. At football matches, they can just drop the needle. Wherever it lands, that's the anthem of the day.

By way of Exhibit A, I offer, on this, the cusp of Father's Day, Dick's rendition of Ewan MacColl's The Father's Song. Collaboration across time of two powerful Scots artists, it encapsulates in unflinching terms a father's duty by his son. (And these days, by his daughter as well.) To wit, to protect and comfort; to inculcate a sense of justice, and of outrage in its absence; to reject all powers that would demean and diminish.

No sugar coating here. And no lies. Just "Here's your inheritance. You and me'll face it together."

That's another day gone by, son, close your eyes
Now the moon is chasing clouds across the skies
Go to sleep and have no fear, son
For your mam and dad are near, son
And the giant is just a shadow on the wall
Go to sleep and when you wake it will be light
There's no need to fear the darkness of the night
It's not like the dark you find, son
In the depths of some men's minds, son
That defies the daily coming of the dawn
Lie easy in your bed and grow up strong
You'll be needing all your strength before too long
For you'll soon be on your way, son
Fighting battles every day, son
With an enemy who thinks he owns the world
Stop your crying now, let daddy dry your tears
There's no bogeyman to get you, never fear
There's no ogres, wicked witches
Only greedy sons-of-bitches
Who are waiting to exploit your life away
Don't you let 'em buy you out or break your pride
Don't you let yourself be used then cast aside
If you listen to their lying
They will con you into dying
You won't even know that you were once alive
No more talking now it's time to go to sleep
There are answers to your questions but they'll keep
Go on asking while you grow, son
Go on asking till you know, son
And then send the answers ringing through the world

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

WW: Squid eggs

(Probably Loligo opalescens.)

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bright Blows the Broom

When wilt thou, thou bonnie bush o' broom.
Grow on a foreign strand ?
That I may think when I look on thee
I'm still in loved Scotland.

But ah ! that thought can never more be mine,
Though thou beside me sprang ;
Nor though the lintie, Scotia's bird,
Should follow wi its sang.

O thou bonnie, bonnie broom !

Thus did songwriter Robert Gilfillan sum up his love of this flower, a year before he died. Broom (Cytisus scoparius; Gaelic: bealaidh) is as emblematic of Scotland as heather. Like that other heath it’s the blazing cry of spring itself, setting whole hillsides afire and burning off the dreakie humours of winter. And like the other, broom dyes Scotlands' famous yard goods, flavours Scotland's famous ales, and holds a hero's place in her folklore. A broom of broom is believed to sweep away bad luck, and in times past, a thorough housecleaning with such a one was a rite of spring.

Here on the North Coast this scrappy wee didgie has taken our own countryside by force of arms, turning much of it to Ullapool this time of year. In British Columbia the culprit is said to be one Captain Walter Grant, British Army, who planted two shrubs either side his Vancouver Island door in 1850. (Coincidentally the year of Gilfillan's death, having perhaps nothing more to say.) But I've heard equally specific charges against another Scot in Washington. Fact is, broom was well-established in the east of this continent when we got here, so the likelihood that every plant on the coast descends from a single (and intentional) introduction is not great.

However it arrived, broom is hated here, with a passion not inflicted on other, less beautiful, invaders. There is certainly little enough reason to celebrate; it crowds out native species, contributes little to the soil, and is mostly worthless to our wildlife. As if that weren't enough, horses get drunk on the tender tops and stop caring about riders' commands. And much of our dry forest and gravelly prairies, the best riding terrain, is infested with it. Broom is also fingered for exacerbating hay fever, though experts say that's bosh.

From birth I've had a reflexive love of outlaw flowers; if they're Scottish too, it ferments into fanaticism. Thus I celebrate the great busting-out of this flag of my fathers. I love the look of the stuff, and the end-of-school smell of it; I'll often stuff a great armload in a vase and smack it bang on my table, to the horror and contempt of fellow North Coasters.

So to all those not fortunate to share my genes, let me assure you that I'm not alone, just far from home. Not for naet have Scotland's greatest poets bent their art to this beautiful bush. By way of proof, I offer the following hymn, penned by Traveller writer Betsy Whyte. For the rest, I'll just say I agree with every word.

After all, we're all Travellers, whether we've courage to live it or not.

Several of the "broom" images in this video are actually gorse [Genus Ulex], an evil, malevolent weed entirely unworthy of the confusion. And at least one other is heather [Calluna vulgaris]. Don't hold either against Ms. Whyte or the noble Cytisus, nor indeed The McCalmans; none of whom were consulted.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

WW: Deer by the bay