Thursday, 26 June 2014

Kenshô Koan

How many light bulbs does it take to change a Zenner?

Wu Ya's commentary: "How many you got?"

(Red light bulb courtesy of Marcel Klinger and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

WW: Banoffee pie

(Because sometimes you just feel English.)

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Hut Lust

You know when you're researching a blog article and then you run across something entirely unrelated thanks to Google's arcane search algorithms, but it's so awesome you stop writing about that other thing and write about this one instead?

I love that.

Some time ago I wrote a post about suitable shelters for forest practice. Now I find that some scholarship into that subject has already been done, thanks to interest in Kamo no Chômei. Buddhist hermit of indeterminate lineage, Chômei is most famous for his essay Hôjôki (方丈記), or The Ten Foot Square Hut. And you'll never guess what that essay is about.

To this day there's a certain amount of fascination with his accommodations among fans. Very few of whom, interestingly, are in the English-speaking world. That the most complete and succinct source I could find was Japanese is perhaps not so surprising, but even the runners-up were German and Hungarian. (One wonders if their appreciation of Chômei might be insight into their cultures.)

Anyway, having perused these blueprints in three languages, I'm prepared to certify them. Chômei's hut looks entirely serviceable, without being excessive, and a fitting counterpart to the similar cribs of Ryokan, Issa, and Thoreau.

Perhaps the man himself put it best:
But in this little impermanent hut of mine all is calm and there is nothing to fear. It may be small, but there is room to sleep at night, and to sit down in the day-time, so that for one person there is no inconvenience. […] If one knows himself and knows what the world is he will merely wish for quiet and be pleased when he has nothing to grieve about, wanting nothing and caring for nobody.

UPDATE, 21 June 2014: A reader directed me to this excellent video tour of Kamo no Chômei's hut. Check it out!

(Photo of Kamo no Chômei's hut by Professor Brian Hoffert, North Central College; diagrams by アトリエかわしろ一級建築士事務所 and Carpe Diem Teaház.)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

WW: Red waterlily

(Nymphaea odorata.)

Thursday, 12 June 2014


The cries and laughter from the little school in the hollow grew steadily, both in power and passion, until by mid-June they'd become a joyous fanfare.

I remembered that hum, and another June day, far away, when I biked out of Grade 7 for the last time, on an afternoon that sparkled on my tongue like elderflower champagne. I pedalled four miles of fields, forests, and subdivisions, with a stack of schoolwork and a yearbook smelling of fresh ink strapped behind, and endless prospects ahead.

Nothing on Earth is as free, nor heart as full, as a schoolboy riding into summer.

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

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

WW: Sunny shore

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Language of Squirrels

Douglas Squirrel Lake Forest CAThe Squirrel Grove was musty and muddy, with stout low branches I had to duck under. The clearing in its midst was rimmed by glistening fern and Usnea and drenched in dismal light like Dracula's patio. Yet it was proof to the rain, and so a good place for camp. Here and there burned the soft ember of a jungleberry blossom, or the bright torch of a trillium. And everywhere the scrabbling of Douglas squirrels (Tamiasciurus douglasii); industrious little bureaucrats who never stopped shuffling their affairs, except to make war on others doing likewise.

They were surprisingly intelligent – wide, encircled black eyes shining below elfin ears – and seemingly exempt from the law of gravity, equally at home head up or down on the trunk; on a branch or under it. Seeing them skip from treetop to treetop reminded me how ponderous I was. They seemed hardly to touch the ground when they bounded along it; and while I held correct posture on the cushion, they bounced cone spindles off the Tyvek.

How long had they been here? Had their forebears dwelt in the primordial old growth forest? How much country does a Douglas squirrel's family tree span? The Squirrel Grove bloodline might have inhabited the Acres since the last ice age. Or maybe their territory creeps, a hundred feet, two hundred, each generation pressured by those already established, until the fiftieth is born a mile from the first. Or do rare individuals take the road, to wander far from their birthplace and breed in places as distant to their kind as death?

Stories never told.

If I could speak the language of squirrels, I might have found that their collective memory out-fathomed the mountain itself. I might have learned that these vocal little creatures, whose lifetime barely spans a decade, had been handing off this land, parent to child, since before humans came here.

Of course, if I were that man, I'd also have a pushmi-pullyu.

However long they'd been there, my little neighbours soon grew blasé to my presence. Soon I could stand within touching distance when they sat on low branches, bottlebrush tail erect, stripping the scales off spruce cones. Which they did all day, only leaving off to chase each other with vociferous curses. Once a pair of them pushed a pitched battle right up to my knee, rolling along the ground in a single chomping ball, screaming blue murder. In their bloodlust they completely ignored me, and for an instant I feared they might burst apart and go clawing around and around me in a rusty blur, like they did the spruces.

They paid fortunes on defence, those little Dougs. Interestingly, they also opened themselves to danger, for had I been less charitable, or more hungry, I'd've had two of them for dinner that day.

Proof of our origins is all around.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of Tamiasciurus douglasii courtesy of Len Blumin and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

WW: Foxgloves

(Digitalis purpurea)

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