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)
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