Thursday, 29 December 2016


„Die Zeit hat in Wirklichkeit keine Einschnitte, es gibt kein Gewitter oder Drommetengetön beim Beginn eines neuen Monats oder Jahres, und selbst bei dem eines neuen Säkulums sind es nur wir Menschen, die schießen und läuten.“

Thomas Mann

(English interpretation here.)

(Title courtesy of sangha sister Eva Neske. Photo of a traditional Seattle New Year celebration courtesy of James Chen.)

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

WW: Sunbreak tractor

(No need to turn the lights on. Like American cars in the 70s, it works great, as long as you don't actually go anywhere.)

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Christmas Koan

Pictured: not the Buddha.
Ask a random Westerner to describe the Buddha, and you're likely to hear something about a "big fat laughing guy." I once heard a radio preacher sneer down my entire religion as "people who think you kin git ta heaven bah prayin' to a big, fat Byoo-dah."

(By the way, if he happens to read this, may I suggest you refrain from commenting on others' beliefs until you know, at minimum, whether they pray, and if so, to whom.)

We Zenners find this nonsense especially grating since we barely even acknowledge the figure they're referring to.

For the record, the dude in the above photo is Hotei (Budai, Pu-Tai, 布袋, Bố Đại...). Not the Buddha. Not a buddha. Not even a significant legendary figure, like Fudo or Kanzeon. Just a rankless Ch'an monk of the Liang Dynasty.

Not that my brother Hotei didn't have his noteworthy points. First off, unlike most Buddhist monks, he was fat. (Note that the actual Buddha once starved himself nearly to death, and then adjusted his practice to embrace, shall we say, non-stupid asceticism. That's why he's usually depicted as sensibly slim, and occasionally as terrifyingly emaciated, in admiration of his earlier, if misguided, conviction.)

Hotei's girth was all the more miraculous because he was a begging hermit. (High five to the Homeless Brothers!) How you maintain such a waistline on handouts is one of the mysteries of his practice.

Especially since he gave away everything he got. Hotei carried this dimly-sourced loot in a bag over his shoulder, which, upon deposition, turned out to be mostly filled with sugary treats that he handed out to children like… (Sorry. Even I can't go there.)

You see this coming, right?

Not yet?

OK, dig this: the central practice of Hotei's monastic rule was laughter. He was always cutting loose with a big, jolly laugh that announced joy and peace to the world, as he humped a bottomless bag through town on his fat back, doling out presents to every child...


Oh, come on! Now you're just trying to piss me off.

The reason you see more statues of Hotei than Gautama in Asia is the same reason you see more Santas than Jesuses at Christmastime: he's more fun, less threatening, and doesn't remind people of suffering.

And it's that last bit I like to meditate on.

Hotei is unpopular among modern Zenners because he's embarrassingly emotional, dangerously untamed – wandering around teacherless, eschewing all acts of devotion save his self-authored laughter practice – and worst of all, he does that annoying Bodhidharma thing of preaching no-key enlightenment.

Don't waste time bowing and chanting and folding things just so and being obedient to this and that, says Hotei. Especially, don't confuse misery with discipline.

Bodhidharma said "just sit." Hotei says "just laugh."

And that's what offends us. Because if Bodhidharma crapped on social ambition and Confucianism and gracious deference to hierarchies, at least he wasn't ho-ho-ho-ing it up in the town square, rubbing our pious faces in it.

"You're in pain?" says the fat old hobo. "I hate it when that happens. But don't sweat it, because sooner or later, one way or another, your problems are doomed. Hey, they can't survive without you, can they?"

And then he laughs. Because that's freakin' hysterical.

Therefore, in honour of Christmas, and to bow in ironic deference to my unpretentious brother, I offer fellow seekers the Koan of Hotei. To my certain knowledge, it's the only nod to the Buddhist Santa Claus in our entire canon. It's also my favourite koan. (A distinction it shares with all of them.)


A monk asked Hotei, "What is the meaning of Ch'an?"

Hotei put down his bag.

"How does one realise Ch'an?" the monk asked.

Hotei threw his bag on his back and walked on.

Happy holidays, brothers and sisters. See you on the road.

Emaciated Siddhartha Fasting Gautama Buddha
Jolly old Gautama.

(Photos courtesy of Helanhuaren [Hotei figurine], Akuppa John Wigham [emaciated Siddhartha statue], and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

WW: Why we can't have nice things

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Street Level Zen: Origin of Suffering

Carceleros guatanamo

"I don't permit the suffering - you do."


(Photo of Guantanamo, by sculptor José Antonio Elvira, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

WW: Snow in the Spokane country

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Good Song: Christmas Song

I've pointed out before that Christmas is a Buddhist holiday. Now comes a brother (not Buddhist, so far as I know) who's found the same wisdom in this ancient pagan celebration.

The lyrics (below) to Eliot Bronson's Christmas Song mirror orthodox Zen teaching on the self. They also gibe perfectly with the timeless Yule theme of the past ceding to the future.

This year I'm sharing Eliot's brilliant meditation because Christmas is a tough emotional time for many of us. Especially those who find themselves alone, cast out, lost, or remorseful amidst all the love and conviviality. Some even come to hate this season.

But my brother is telling it like it is here. And his Zen-friendly, John Lennon cadences are all the more powerful for their simplicity.

The millstones of time are a gift, brothers and sisters. And you are a great deal more than anything you've ever been or done. It's a central tenet of the Buddha's teaching: you can change your bio anytime.

Merry Christmas.
You can start over.

Again and again and again.

If you've got nothing else to celebrate, celebrate that.

(By the way, this recording is available for sale here. Note that Eliot has donated it to a charitable project that funds pediatric cancer research. At a big 79¢ US for the file, it's a karmic bump we all can use.)

by Eliot Bronson

You're not the place you're from
You're not the things you've done
In a world turning 'round the sun
Isn't that strange?

You're not the name you're called
You're not who you recall
Because after all
We can change

Merry Christmas
You can start over
You can start over
Merry Christmas
You can start over
Whenever you want to

You're not what you can do
You're not what you've been through
And the lines between me and you
Are lies

You're not what you can see
Not even what you believe
And there's a part of us that's always free
Like the sky

And Merry Christmas
You can start over
You can start over
Merry Christmas
You can start over
Whenever you want to

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

WW: Christmas in Oxfordshire

(Photo by friend and fellow Blogger blogger Bill Nicholls. One of several brilliant morning captures of his home county that he posted last Wednesday.

England shares the same Christmas vibe as my own North Pacific homeland: more grey than white, more frost than snow, but timeless and deeply compelling if you were raised on it.

This scene is also my Yuletide desktop this year. With the holiday lights app blinking around the edges, it looks like home to me.)

Thursday, 1 December 2016

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being Wrong

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got came from my dad. I was in high school, and on the horns of some dilemma.

For some reason, my dad – whose counsel trended to the brief and prescriptive – heard me out this time, as I explained my choices and why I feared I might be censured either way.

My dad nodded a few times, and after a brief silence, said:

"Well, in the end, it doesn't matter."

I hadn't expected this.

"What? Why not?" I asked.

"Because you're always going to get criticised. No matter how carefully you choose your course of action, someone's going to call you an idiot, or a jerk, or a traitor. There is literally no decision a man can take, about anything, that isn't morally reprehensible to somebody."

"Great," I said. "So what do I do?"

"You choose your critic," he said.

I raised an eyebrow, and he continued.

"Suppose you're walking down the street and a panhandler asks you for spare change.

"If you give it to him, I guarantee you somebody will say, 'Nice going, you jerk! You know he's just going to spend that on booze. You're keeping him addicted, undermining the economy, making it possible for freeloaders to live off society. People like you make me sick!'

"On the other hand, if you don't give it to him, someone else will say, 'You selfish bastard! You wouldn't go hungry tonight without that 75¢, but he might! You can't spare a handful of coins for a brother who's down on his luck? Even drunks have to eat. You're the reason life is so lousy!'

"So that's the choice: which gripe can you live with?"

In my life I've consistently found that this formula busts up ethical logjams like nobody's business. It doesn't always lead to the safest decision – to put it mildly – but it does generally reveal the one I'm least likely to be ashamed of later, even in the face of inevitable criticism.

My dad's gone now; he died in September. And since I don't have any kids of my own, I figured this was as good a time and place as any to pass on his thunderously effective mindfulness tool.

In these morally challenging times, when even the citizens of heretofore principled societies face dubious and potentially dangerous demands on their allegiance, this is the sort of advice we can all use.

(Adapted from Growing Up Home, copyright RK Henderson.)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

WW: Winter on the point

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Pháp Dung's Timely Teaching

Meditation (17451472849)
I'm not much of a rock.

As a Zenner I aspire to be unmovable. The patron of my practice is a fellow who's made a career of it. And I often exhort others – principally here – to remain calm, to look deeply before acting, to avoid multiplying suffering by making a bad situation worse.

In the blogosphere, no-one can see your hypocrisy.

The fact is, I have a warrior spirit. I want to horse up and ram a swift lance through as many jerks as I can jab before one of them takes me out. Call it an ethnic weakness, but I am by nature a doer, a get'er'doner, and especially a defender. When arrogant pricks start kicking folk around, my first impulse is to cut them off at the knees.

Literally, if possible.

Which means that recent events have handed the monk I decided to be fourteen years ago a steep challenge. By way of meeting it, I've largely withdrawn into meditation and monastic discipline these last weeks, to sit with my conflicting values. If you were to ask me what honour demands in these times, depending on time of day you'd either hear, "Look deeply, understand, and proceed like a grown-up," or "Behead the mofos."

I'm working on that second thought.

And in that task I've greatly been helped by this Vox interview with Pháp Dung. As a senior student of Thich Nhat Hanh, he's received a great deal of training in mindful activism (a concept that conventional Zen considers oxymoronic, but one that Thich Nhat Hanh founded a lineage upon), as well as holding his ground under fire.

As I've found the student as lucid as the teacher, I pass his teaching on here to brothers and sisters who find themselves in the same dilemma.

I guess anybody can be a Buddhist when it's easy, eh?

(Photo courtesy of Moyan Brenn and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

WW: Winter from the water tower

(Something about this shot just grabbed me. Also gives me deep Christmas vibes, but I suspect you have to be from the North Coast – or maybe the UK – to pick that up.)

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Tough Love

Once, when I was in Grade 2, my teacher had all of us save our milk carton from lunch. Afterward we folded it into a flower pot, filled it with dirt, and planted a single bean in it. Then we lined up our little pots on the windowsill and waited.

To nobody's surprise, within a week each had produced a shoot. Our teacher then divided us into groups and issued new orders. Group Number 1 got to leave their bean plants in the sun and care for them as usual, but everyone else had to stop watering theirs, relocate it to a closet, sit it on the radiator, or the like.

I was ordered to put mine in the refrigerator.

What happened next remains as vivid to me as this morning.

I have a loving, if independent, nature, and in the few days I'd been tending it I'd conceived an affection for the bright green tendril striving upward. I also wasn't a moron. What seven-year-old doesn't know what happens to a living thing in the faculty room fridge? Years later, as a teacher myself, I could have prepared a better lesson plan than that during passing period. Using nothing more than what I had in my desk.

On a Friday afternoon.

I hung back as the rest of my group came forward, hoping she wouldn't tally us. But she did.

"Robert?" she demanded. "Where's Robert? Don't you have a plant?"

I mumbled the affirmative.

"Bring it here."

I hesitated, carton in hand.

"Do you hear me? Bring it here."

"But…" I stammered, barely audible. "I don't want to kill it."

"What?" she snapped, incredulous.

I raised my eyes.

"I don't want to kill it."

At this point my teacher pitched what can only be called a power tantrum. "Oh, I see!" she snarked, enraged beyond self-respect. "Everyone else is participating, everyone else has to do what they're supposed to, but Robert (her voice dripped) doesn't want to kill his!

"Everybody look at Robert! He's not like us! He's special!"

I began to sob, and she continued to demonstrate why I have so little respect for authority. (And possibly why my attitude toward women was for so long uncharacteristically hostile.)

"You put that bean plant on the cart THIS INSTANT!" she commanded.

I did. But I didn't stop crying for some time.

Half a century later, I'm just starting to catch a whisper of public commentary about the state of empathy on this backwater planet. Not much. Not enough. But a few writers, here and there, are beginning to question the fitness of our souls to ensure our continued survival.

Empathy is the defining human strength, the single advantage that pushed our fangless, clawless arse to the top of this heap.

But we have a knotty relationship with the stuff of our success. The "toughness" and "courage" we admire in leaders and ourselves amounts most often to cruelty, self-centredness, and indifference. Those who betray a glimmer of "weakness" – empathy, compassion, sophistication, humanity, evolutionary superiority – are abused and ridiculed. The rest of us are conditioned to look on silently.

Which is why empathy needs claws and fangs.

In my life I've consistently been punished more severely for empathy than for cruelty. When guilty of the latter, I've been disciplined; when the former, I've been humiliated, ejected, and blacklisted.

Therefore, it's increasingly critical that decent, fully-evolved human beings learn the difference between insensitivity and just pissing others off. We must refuse to pipe down when advocating forgiveness, generosity, and the objective analysis of karma, regardless of sneers and threats. The alternative is what we already have, what's killing us progressively faster: government by the least human. Whether national, local, or in some grade school classroom.

Most importantly, we must actively patrol the state of empathy in our communities, and teach future generations to honour and protect their own evolved souls and defend those of others.

So check it out, bitch: this entire species depends on the beans we produce.

Stand aside, please.

(Adapted from Growing Up Home, copyright RK Henderson. New Life [photo] courtesy of Juanita Mulder and

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

WW: The grand prize

(Regulars will recognise this as the origin of my profile picture. It's a giant Chinese fishing float, blown from recycled bottles. We seldom find glass balls at all any more; ones this size are exceedingly rare. There's another like it – but not as nice – for sale in the village for $80.)

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Courage Kyôsaku

Blue Fudō

"To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house."


(Photo of The Blue Fudo – National Treasure of Japan, Heian period [794-1185 CE] – holding his ground in the fires of Hell, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

WW: Autumn ride

Thursday, 3 November 2016



Some time ago I had the good fortune to spend a month in Guatemala. While in the ancient capital I visited the tomb of Hermano Pedro, a Franciscan saint who looms large in the faith and history of that country and region.

Preserved there is Pedro's old cell, wherein visitors can meditate on the meagre possessions of a man who gave his life to advocating for and serving the poor. It boils down to one change of clothing; a chair and a walking stick; a bed sheet and sundry devotional items; and a human skull, used by Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu monastics in times past to keep their head in the game, so to speak.

But what really caught my attention was his cilice collection: instruments he used to scratch, flog, and rip his flesh. There was a hair shirt, a rope knout with big, mean knots, and a steel contraption that looked remarkably like a small chain harrow. This last turned out to be worn beneath the shirt, to much the effect you'd imagine.

Later, describing this visit to a close Franciscan friend, I teased him about the equipment I'd seen. Why, I asked, had he never shown me the torture devices he'd been issued on his own ordination?

"Since my brother's day," Pierre answered, "our Order has learned that chasing pain is a waste of time.

"If you just sit quietly and wait, suffering will find you."

2010.05.13.172409 Iglesia San Francisco Antigua Guatemala

(Photos courtesy of Opus Dei Awareness Network [contemporary cilice], Hermann Luyken [Hermano Pedro's tomb and chapel in Antigua, Guatemala], and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

WW: Sand dollar

(Dendraster excentricus)

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Issa Nails The Thing

Kobayashi Issa is my all-time favourite poet. Regular readers will find this tediously typical, for though he's one of Japan's Four Great Haiku Masters, Issa is not "the Zen one". (That would be Bashō. I like Bashō too, but he doesn't "hit" nearly as often as Issa.)

Issa annoys modern Zen on many levels. He was ordained in the Jōdo-shū sect, a Pure Land Buddhist denomination that Zenners (including myself) find a bit futile. Worse yet, he was a hermit, and on the contemporary model: he had a family, and socketed his stick dead-centre of the Red Dust World.

Yet his descriptions of hermit practice, and his distillations of eremitical insight, are the most concise, most incisive, and most accurate I've found.

Witness his most famous lines, written hours after his baby daughter died:
This world of dew
Is a world of dew
And yet.
And yet.
That simply can't be improved. If you take anything out, it falls short. If you put anything in, it collapses.

Non-Buddhists may miss the sad satire here. Our teachers often compare human existence (mistakenly but universally called "the world") to dew: it comes from nowhere, sparkles for minutes, and goes back to nowhere. Attachment to same – craving permanence in the eternally temporary – is the origin of suffering.

Accepting this sets us up for cushion error: proudly declaring that we're liberated, because we know the truth.

And yet.
And yet.

Starting to get why this middle-aged suburban church-boy so troubles Zenners?

He's also easy-going, an affront to Zen's samurai puritanism, and accepting of his own nature. His perspective is, in short, eremitical.

Exhibit B:
Napped half the day
no one
punished me.
On the eremitical path, you do what practice suggests. This is different from monastery life, where you do what order demands, what tradition demands, sometimes what the current master demands, whether it makes sense or not.

Life inside requires that kind of discipline; life outside, another kind. Issa's poem suggests that on this day, this was the right call.

And as always, his trademark self-mockery. "If only I were half the monk I claim to be."


Note the same theme, with a different conclusion, here:
Napping at midday
I hear the song of rice planters
and feel ashamed of myself.
And then there's me on ango:
All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
killing mosquitoes.
And what of those elegant Zen dilettantes, as hip in the West today as they were in 18th century Japan?
Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.
I gotta stop there or I'll copy and paste every poem my brother ever wrote. (I've literally never found one – not one – that isn't my favourite.) If these crumbs have whetted your appetite, you may binge at will here.

OK, one more. Until next week, here's Issa's take on being a haikunist. (Essentially, the blogger of his time and place.)
Pissing in the snow
outside my door
it makes a very straight hole.

(Photo of Kobayashi Issa's monument courtesy of 震天動地 and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

WW: View from the Hill

(Command-click to see full-sized.)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Seasonal Practice

Raked with great effort
I lost my piles. I found them
Beneath fallen leaves

(Feuilles d'automne [1909], by Jean Philippe Edouard Robert, courtesy of Herr Auktionen and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

WW: The way of all things

(On the beach in front of an old log dump, closed since the early 80s. Remains of an ancient automobile.)

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Generosity Meditation

Prince Vessantara Gives Away His White Elephant, Scene from Vessantara Jataka on Generosity LACMA M.76.112.20
Try this:
  • Name the virtue that's the basis of all human morality.
And now this:
  • Which fundamental virtue is seldom discussed, never identified as a moral or social imperative, never urged on children, never used to shame leaders?

PSYCH! They're one and the same.

We endure a lot of banging on these days about "truth". It's one of the most popular Twitter hashtags, and the worst thing a candidate can be accused of not having. A whole tribe of conspiracy freaks are called "truthers"; another of protesters relentlessly "speaks truth to power".

And how about this gem from my Internet games collection: Google the string "truth about" (with quotation marks). Then binge on thousands upon thousands of pages wherein CRAP! is repeatedly DEBUNKED! by thousands of EXPOZAYS! of everything from GUNS! to EGGS!!!

Truth is a weapon-word. It can be wangled and pounded into any shape, and then used to bludgeon your enemies ad infinitum. By contrast, generosity makes a punky cudgel at best. Observe:
  • "I say before all of you today, that my opponent is demonstrably UNGENEROUS!" (Such a broadside will probably send her more votes than it subtracts.)
  • "The proposed legislation is of unprecedented generosity." (Can you hear the chorus of consternation?)
  • "You should take anything my ex says with a grain of salt. Generosity is not his strong suit." (Admit it; you immediately took this as a confession of guilt on the part of the speaker.)

We don't just ignore generosity; we actively discourage it. Torture became a proud part of Western democracy on the insistence that we can no longer afford to be generous. Critics of the Black Lives Matter movement deplore the generosity that slogan implies. At base, the American obsession with firearms is about an alleged right to be ungenerous. "Vex me and I'll shoot you."

Health care, refugees, economic policy, welfare, education, criminal justice, immigration… every bone of contention before us today rests on the assertion that generosity is a character flaw.

It is not. Generosity is in fact the highest expression of evolution, the mother of all virtues. It's the origin of forgiveness, and the rationale for acceptance. Generosity makes us human – or not. None of its army of antonyms – stinginess, greed, vengeance, legalism, self-centredness, judgment, cowardice, indifference, narrowness, materialism, shallowness, hostility, bigotry, triumphalism, stubbornness – are counted strengths. At least not when called by name.

Therefore, as is my habit, I've worked up a meditation to discipline my monkey mind (which truthfully amounts to a Sasquatch mind) to remain alert to the state of generosity in my life and actions. Thus:

  • How generous are the propositions of this speaker, this scholar, this candidate?
  • How generous is this religious teaching?
  • How often do I suggest generosity to those younger? (If you're a parent: how often do you advise your kids to be generous, and demonstrate it?)
  • How often do I pronounce or write the words "generosity" and "generous"?
  • How often do I use the word "ungenerous" in argument, and defend it when sneered down?
  • How often did I reconsider my actions today, in light of generosity?
  • To whom was I more generous: strangers, or friends and family? (You'll find it's usually the former. Is this moral, or even logical?)
  • What did I give today? (If, like me, your day often includes little human contact, then what did I give to plants and animals, or humanity, or myself?)
  • Did I give anything I didn't initially want to give? Did I only give things I was prepared to part with?

And so on.

Lakota scholar Luther Standing Bear, assessing the moral worth of the nation-state, concluded: "Civilisation has been thrust upon me… and it has not added one whit to my love for truth, honesty, and generosity."

My experience (minus the thrusting) has been identical. Henceforward I'm making generosity a conscious, deliberate part of my monastic practice, both in what I expect of myself, and how I measure others.

(Prince Vessantara Gives Away His White Elephant, from the Vessantara Jataka, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

WW: Scrumping season

(Feral apples. Almost always the best-tasting, and absolutely free.
Yet another blessing of life in the outback.)

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Practice Models

Flauta paleolítica What I most ached for on the mountain was a musical instrument. They're like languages, each complete and distinct and irreplaceable. Sadly, of the several I play, only the harmonica is easily carried. Which is why I learned it, but as I never acquired the true harpist's seatbelt-sense of "nowhere without it", I'd managed to forget mine before leaving. And I missed it every day.

Flautists have it figured out: a simple tube, and a jackknife with a reamer, and you've got music. Archaeologists believe that, percussion excepted, the transverse flute was the first instrument we invented.

Of course, simplicity on that order demands complexity on another. I tried to learn, once.

And so, the harmonica. Because anything your instrument won't do for you, you have to find in yourself.

(Photo of 43,000-year-old Aurignacian bone flute, which clearly demanded more talent than I have, courtesy of José-Manuel Benito, Parque de la Prehistoria de Teverga, and Wikimedia Commons. Photo of my old Hohner Chromonica model also courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

WW: Junco

(Junco hyemalis)

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Holy Hogwash

Milkyway-summit-lake-wv1 - West Virginia - ForestWander

I have Christian friends who revel in the notion that God attends to them personally, that they are important. But true peace lies in the opposite. For then your sadness is nothing. Your hopes, fears, disappointments, and ambitions, all made of the same hogwash. Creation stretches on and on, tangible and timeless, and you...

Well, there is no you, is there?

Perhaps you died laughing.

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

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

WW: Meditating mantis

(Encountered this large lady (Mantis religiosa), about 3 inches long, in the road a few days ago. I almost ran over her on my bike; she looked like a leaf, until she skittered away.

We don't have mantises here. Which leaves two possibilities:

1. She's a doomed relic of organic pest control. As I've never seen an adult here, I've always assumed that purchased egg cases either don't hatch or the hatchlings spread to the four winds and are lost. However, there is a large garden nearby.

2. This is yet another indicator [along with this and this and this and this] that we've pushed the weather cycle into freefall.

Note abdomen full of eggs.)

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Street Level Zen: Suchness

Autumn Maple Leaves

"There’s no such thing as a cliché maple tree. You don’t walk by one and say, 'Oh God, there’s another maple tree!'"

Nelson Bentley

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

WW: Monk robe

(Why is it so satisfying to see it neatly folded for the road, like this? I'll actually come up with excuses to meditate in something else, just so I don't have to unfold it. See it in action here.)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Hermitcraft: Hawthorn

(Some of this information originally appeared in my book, The Neighborhood Forager, Chelsea Green, 2000)

The neck of the woods where I've been staying has the most fabulous hawthorns (Crataegus) I've ever seen. In this harvest season they're as red as they are green, their branches clustered with fat crimson haws the size of small grapes. One is sorely tempted to put up a batch of jelly. (The fact that the same district is full of beautiful crabapples – the other ingredient, along with sugar, for perfect preserves – only makes it worse.)

Overlooked today, haws have a long history of culinary use. Most are fairly insipid when eaten raw, but their vibrant colour – red usually; sometimes yellow, orange, or purple – makes for visually stunning jams, jellies, and wines. Traditionally you run them with something else, such as crabapples, blackberries, sorbs (rowan berries), or sumac, that has better flavour. In a pinch you can simply to add a teaspoon of lemon juice.

In times past, haws were pitched into a run of cider to give it body and a crimson sheen. Their association with apples, to which they are closely related, and with which they come ripe each year, also extends to use in apple pies and pastries, again largely for colour. (I suspect the reason the haws here-around are so big and beautiful is because they've cross-pollinated with the many apple trees in the area.)

Hawthorn itself is hard and strong, sands and oils well, and makes a fine walking stick, if a bit heavy. When I lived in Québec, where I did a lot of snowshoeing, I carried a long hawthorn walking stick that I could easily drive through snow and ice to probe for ground level, and which handily bore my entire weight when necessary, as it frequently was when climbing over obstacles or getting out of a tight spot. A hawthorn stick also tends to writhe and twist right and left, which gives it a poetical look and affords multiple varied handholds. (Again, I'm thinking of the hard winter service mine did.)

The same wood is useful for tool handles and mallet heads, and in fact any application requiring durable, inflexible service.

I've also pruned off the thorns of long-spined varieties, dried them steel-hard, and used them in cork and cardboard for thumbtacks and map pins. Dimensions vary tremendously from strain to strain, from short and fairly blunt through long and hypodermic. This is something to be aware of when scouting a hawthorn, both for the potential practicality and self-preservation.

If you've got hawthorns around (and thanks to the birds, you almost certainly have hawthorns around), and the fruit looks serviceable, try putting up a few jars of haw jelly. Its appearance alone is worth the effort.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

WW: Pacific poison oak

(Toxicodendron diversilobum, in brilliant autumn livery.)

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Squish Goes the World

This is the crystal jellyfish, also called Aequorea aequorea in my day, but since patriotically retaxonated Aequorea victoria. I took these pictures last weekend while out on the bay. The bottom one tells the larger tale: these creatures have fairly choked the lower Sound. (The large white mass at the top of that photo is a solid block of Aequorea, extending how far into the depths only they know.)

And it's not just here. Jellyfish – direct descendants of the earliest animals ever fossilised – have exploded in all the oceans of the world.

When I was a kid we'd get this sort of thing once every few years. My grandmother called it a "jellyfish raid", and I vividly remember catching several participants in a jar to marvel at during one when I was about 10.

But this isn't that. To start with, where those raiders of old averaged less than two inches across, most of these start at four and move up from there. In other words, the raids of my childhood were caused by a temporary fertility spike, prodded by what intermittent stimulus I never learned. Whatever's behind the new status quo is actually sustaining these extreme populations throughout their life cycle.

Aequorea have been a favourite of mine since I stared into that jar on the wooden arm of my grandmother's old Morris chair. In addition to the simple beauty of their glasslike, gently-undulating cloche, and the added wonder of bioluminescence, they're completely harmless. Nobody larger than plankton ever got stung by Aequorea victoria.

Which is why it pains me to look on them now with discontent. Along with the sudden surge in size and number of lion's manes (which I've also documented here), it's a compelling sign that we've finally cocked up this planet so badly it's headed back to the Cambrian.

And there weren't any people in the Cambrian.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

WW: Aerial sheep

(Brilliant late-summer day on the bay. To see the photo full-sized, open image in a new tab.)

Thursday, 1 September 2016

No-Rank Koan

The hermit Hyung asked: "What has more value, a fake lion
or a real cat?"

Wu Ya's commentary: "Depends on what you're selling."

(Photo of unknown provenence.)

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

WW: Square fudo

(100-year model; square ring, representing the Four Noble Truths, i.e. the four walls of the eremitical monastery.)

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Banana Seat Buddhism

"Popping a wheelie just meant pulling the front wheel off the ground for a moment, but riding a wheelie was the measure of the kid. Alfred Dickerson could ride a wheelie all day long, as if riding on one wheel was God's plan."

(Definitive definition of enlightenment, vs simple kensho, courtesy of fellow Blogger blogger Jim Neill. From his Blogger blogger blog, Life in the Nohodome. Jim's whole meditation on the 70s-kid bike culture, from which this excerpt was excerpted, is brilliant. And scientifically accurate. To the third decimal place. After multiple blind and diverse dates. Go see it.)

(Snapshot of unknown provenance.)

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

WW: August moment

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Hermit Manifesto

Yoga and meditation on Lake Titicaca Bolivia There is no compromise with the Devil; either you win, or he does. Intellectuals resist this truth, with their instinctive fear of absolutes, while fanatics, in their contempt for ambiguity, snatch it up too eagerly. But the fact remains that watered poison and poisoned water are the same.

Groups – all of them, political, social, and religious – convince their members to put up with them, to ride along on their acts of unreason, violence, and injustice. Many of those individuals disagree with the acts in question, but defer to a collective morality they hope is greater and wiser than their own. But just one dissent, one shaking head, explodes the illusion of finality.

That's why power must kill every seeker to triumph. It's the logic of resistance: it takes thousands of repressors, striving constantly, to enforce uniformity, but just one of us, merely existing, to destroy it. Power crows, "We've won! Give up!", but those last words are telling: if you don't, it can't.

So oligarchies obsess over enemies, earned and invented, and the wicked wallow in witch hunts. Because no matter how large the majority, how positive the polls, leave one independent thought zapping between two ears, and dominion is denied.

Therefore, evil is collective; good individual. Never – never – surrender your autonomy to any group, movement, or leader.

(Photo courtesy of Juan Gatica and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

WW: 12-strand diamond fudo

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Analysis Kyôsaku

Why are you unhappy?

Because 99.9 per cent
Of everything you think,
And of everything you do,
Is for yourself

And there isn't one.

Wei Wu Wei

(Photo of redundant analyst's couch courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

WW: Representin'

(Particulars here.)

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Prison Koan

Wisdom Window

The hermit Hyung asked:
"What's the difference between a monastery and a prison?"

Wu Ya's commentary: "Fuck you for asking."

(Photo of Nelson Mandela's cell window courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

WW: First Nations canoes

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Hermitcraft: Bindle Cookset

For some time now I've been designing a bindle cookset (and by "designing" I mean thinking about it, for example when I'm supposed to be meditating), and I thought I'd share my process to date. The project has proven more difficult than one might guess, given the low level of technology.

When I was a kid, my dad had a mess kit he'd made out of old food tins. As I recall, it consisted of a small pot, maybe a pint in capacity, nested inside a larger one. Both had lids with wooden knobs made at my dad's bench, and coat hanger bales. In the middle was a cup made from a pineapple tin. Try as I might, I can't remember how he attached its handle.

But it's the lids that really make the stunt difficult now; in my dad's time, the food tins that have plastic covers in our day, had fitted metal ones that made fine pot lids. Filling this deficiency is a challenge, though some of the new "safe" can openers are promising: they cut the top of the lip rather than the bottom of it or the inside, leaving a lid that mates back in place.

Nor has the Internet – which generally solves such problems for me – been very helpful. Most of the short list of examples I found aren't worthy of mention; they're tiny or weirdly-shaped ultralight gear, and/or have no lid, rendering them unusable for practical cookery.

But this week I found a good one. Fittingly, it's made by a metalsmith, and features a (very nifty) cup that requires specialised skills to fashion. But the pot is within reach of even a clumsy tinbanger like me, and the sort of thing any self-respecting hermit would be proud to cook in.

So without further ado I'll send you off to see it. Note how he's solved the lid problem. I considered a similar approach, and am gratified to see I wasn't completely dim, although his design is much better than what I was imagining. (His wok, though beyond my needs, is also terrific.)

Anyway, have a look. It's a great job. Be sure to scroll down for details.

PaleoPlanet > Metal Working > Tin Can Cookware

(Photo courtesy of the fellow who made the kit, Photobucket, and PaleoPlanet.)
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