Wednesday, 18 July 2018

WW: Golf pollution

(I have no idea why golfers are so avid to bat their little balls into the world's watercourses, but I wish they would stop. Here you see just four of about a dozen I encountered on the tideland a few days ago.

I once snorkelled around a small island that was within view of several waterfront houses, and collected a bucketful of balls off the bottom in the process. The presence of a few more on the littoral itself suggested someone in those houses was playing "hit the island".

Another time my nephew and I were anchored in a pretty little bay, fishing, and a householder came out and started driving at
us. His shots consistently fell short, and I suspect he knew we were out of range and meant no insult beyond a little joke, but... fishing, remember? I'd bet the bottom beneath us was already littered with those insufferable little plastic balls.

This snotty habit probably has little environmental impact beyond unsightliness, but it's still contemptuous and annoying.

Grow up, people.)

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Rock Groups 2018

Inuksuk Gardens Peggys Cove

Well, it's somehow July again, which means it's time to invert the year's box of rock groups.

As I explain each July, my unearned facility for naming rock groups has kept me hoarding same since I was a teenager. As I have no outlet for this superpower, I commend them to the world here.

The rules remain constant:

1. Anybody who wants one for their group is welcome to it. I claim no copyright, trademark, patent, or juju.

2. Be aware that sometimes my muse two-times me, so if you see something you like, vet it carefully to be sure someone hasn't already had the same idea.

3. The genre suggestions that follow some entries are my fancy alone. If a name implies a different sound to you, have at it.

4. All who assume these identities are entitled to tell interviewers they were named by a Zen hermit monk. Because that is the awesomest of rock 'n' roll backstories.

Harken therefore ye unto:

Rock Groups 2018

(A service mark of Rusty Ring® Zen hermit products. No rights reserved.)

Logjam (Northwest country rock)
Ice Train
Elvet Velvis (courtesy of my brother Fletcher)
ASA (Canadian rock)
Blue Highways
Briar Blade
The Wadcutters
Enumclaw (that's EE-numb-claw)
Davy Jones and the MTC
The Tank Tops
Betty Bell and the Dial-Tones
Große Straße
Danny Dillinger and the Usual Suspects
Gila Joe and the Rattlers (rockabilly)
The 9 Lords of Li Ping
Whitby Manor (emo)
Stream of Conscience
Ignore Amos
The Whangdoodles
The Dogs of War
Big Bill and the Fruits of Labour
The New Christy Wastrels
Boiled White
Blank Reg (as in the short form of Reginald)
Uppish With People
Endangered Eel
Drumnadrochit (Scottish folk rock)
Pygargue (French power rock)
African Genesis (soul)
Brother John and the Crimonious Clarks
The Cut-Outs (ask an old person for the reference)
Trump T. Trump and the Indelible Stains
Los Focos
Rubber Puppies
Led Sadr and The Brass Sponge
Ouch Mouse

(Photo of inuksuks at Peggy's Cove Lighthouse courtesy of Shawn M. Kent and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

WW: Giant agate

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Forest Practice

Buddhist monk meditation As I was nearing the end of the night sit, I heard something big go bump beyond the ravine.

I blanched. A bear?

There are few things more disheartening than sitting lotus in the woods, holding mudra, back straight, in full monk mode, and something frightening happens.

Before, you were Zen Guy. Now you're just a dork.

Fortunately, I'm good at dork.

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

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

WW: Anorak

(Doyenne of the offshore pirates, since gone straight but still just as cutting-edge. Hear her here.)

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Flat Earth Koan

Paisley Abbey gargoyle 10

"Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the centre of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet.

"Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

Agent K
Men in Black

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

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

WW: Neighbourhood deer

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Good Song: The Wind

This song holds a special place in my heart, because it held a special place in my practice when I first became a monk. As is often the case, my early experiences with meditation were thunderously transforming. I encountered personal peace for the first time in my life, and insights fell from the sky like rain in the spring. (Which was itself falling outside at the time.)

It's typical in this phase to re-experience familiar things as new. Old aversions become less objectionable; maybe downright acceptable. And old favourites shine with a renewed light, as if seen for the first time.

During that period I hungrily re-consumed many former pleasures, chasing that Christmas-like sense of discovery.

Prominent among these was the music that has enjoyed a prominent place in my life for as far back as I can remember. A few artists and albums struck particularly true, and today I consider them part of my foundational practice, though my relationship with some goes back to childhood.

Of the latter, none stand out more conspicuously than The Wind.

I've been a rabid Cat Stevens fan since he first hit back in the late 60s. My own songwriting style (I was a bit of a coffee-house artist in my youth) bore, and probably still bears, the unmistakable marks of Stevens' influence. I was even told I looked like him, though not by any (conscious) design.

So naturally, Stevens' work was among the first I revisited during that period of awakening.

It was all brilliant, but The Wind had something extra. The beauty of the words and music evoked the sensation of sitting, and I lifted the needle over and over to listen again.

There's no real mystery here; Stevens was interested in Buddhism during that era, and much of the compelling catalogue he compiled then is Zen-friendly.

But The Wind is unique. It's so simple, so short… and so bang-on. Stevens himself apparently understood this, because he made it the inaugural track of Teaser and the Firecat, setting the tone for the entire album.

In the intervening years Stevens has had a colourful spiritual journey of his own. In 1977 he converted to Islam, and as part of his religious commitment, changed his name to Yusuf Islam and renounced his musical career.

He may have had a particularly thorny relationship with what I once heard him describe as "my Buddhist stuff".

But Yusuf's spiritual practice has been straight and sincere, as evidenced by his willingness to change his mind. In the early Oughts he decided that music was a perfectly appropriate way to celebrate the 99 Names of God.

So I'm pleased to report that Yusuf (his current stage name) is writing, recording, and performing again, and that The Wind has actually become the centrepiece of those performances. Though I've never practiced Sufism, it certainly does echo the Sufi teaching I've studied, and I don't see why it can't be Muslim as well as – or even instead of – Buddhist.

Anyway, as this modest little treasure has been instrumental (no pun intended) in my own enlightenment practice, I hereby commend The Wind to others, in the brotherly wish that it bring the same peace and encouragement it brought me.

It really does capture a deep experience that evades words.

You be the judge.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

WW: Juneberries

(Genus Amelanchier.)

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Meditation Meme

Meditate opElevate

I recently ran across this meme online. Though I'm generally sceptical of magical claims – meditation definitely helps with stress-related medical conditions, and also with mental and emotional issues, but whether it "increases creativity" or "increases immunity" invites further research – you can't argue with the rest.

I'm also a little leery of that imperative: MEDITATE (you unenlightened bastard). I might like it better with an exclamation point: MEDITATE! sounds more like "let's meditate!" and less like "didn't Ah tell yew to meditate, boot??? GIMME FIFTY!!"

But were it I, I'd just go nominal: MEDITATION. Because, like the advert says, there's no need for gurus.

But it's still an effective notice. Short and to the point. Undemanding. (Except for the implied call to obedience.) So I'm sharing it, so you can share it as well.

Because the fact is, meditation is simple. I'm astonished by those who tell me they'd like to meditate... eventually. Not now. Someday when conditions are right. When they have time to learn.

Well, if that's you, I got good news.

(Hang on, I have to pull on a colourful sweater... OK.)

You can meditate! Right here, right now!

"But Rob!" you say. "How can I meditate, right here, right now??"

Just follow our patented Three Easy Steps®:

1. Do not move. Do not change your clothes or put on New Age music or light incense or buy an expensive bell. Do not memorise a chant. Do not prepare a macrobiotic vegetarian meal. Do not shave your head.

2. Do not do anything but read the short instructions above, under "Simple Meditation". (For the record, that's redundant. At the risk of chapping practitioners of other religions, if you're doing anything other than that, you're not meditating. NTTAWWT.)

3. Now do those instructions, in order. I assume you're already sitting. If not, just skip that one.

When you get to the end of the list, you've meditated. Congratulations, you're Gautama Buddha.

You can stop there, or keep going until you feel like stopping. If you need a reminder of the rules as you continue, reread "Simple Mediation".

That's it. That's what you've been waiting for.

Bit anticlimactic, maybe.

But for some – me, for instance – a revelation.

(Meme courtesy of Bryan Helfrich and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

WW: Reflector shoelaces

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Street Level Zen: Attainment

« Croyez ceux qui cherchent la vérité, doutez de ceux qui la trouvent. »

André Gide

(English translation here.)

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

WW: California poppy

(Eschscholtzia californica.
Harbinger of school's end on the North Coast.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Cougar Update

Saguaro National Park1 Last week a cougar killed a mountain biker in North Bend, Washington, about an hour from where I live. The Spokane Spokesman-Review's Eli Francovich offers a well-researched overview of the incident and the conversation about it.

Many points I touched on in my review of Cat Attacks resurface in his story. Namely:

  • The cougar attacked not one, but two human beings, travelling together. Specifics are elusive, but in the end, the lion killed one of the thirty-something men and wounded the other.

  • Both riders were struck in the head, as is typical of big cats.

  • Not only was this one unimpressed with their number (they routinely hunt in the midst of large herds), he wasn't even deterred by the rattly, metallic, petroleum-smelling contraptions the creatures were riding.

  • This cat uncharacteristically revealed itself before the assault. In that first confrontation, the two cyclists did everything by the book, up to and including straight-up attacking their stalker with their bikes.

  • Afterward, the panther demonstrated the cold calculation for which his order is justly renowned, running off through the forest as if frightened, only to loop back, track and observe his targets unseen, and finally, strike decisively from cover.

Authorities agree there was likely nothing the men could have done differently; these guys were well-trained in mountain lion drill. Sadly, this time it was only partially effective against their intelligent, unpredictable alpha predator.

But Francovich's piece raises an interesting data point unconsidered in my book review: the reliance of cougar researchers on bear spray.

Bear spray is the meanest crap on the planet. The effect is physiological, and instantaneous; it literally burns and asphyxiates its object. And cats, even more than bears, are highly sensitive to olfactory insult.

Like a shotgun (and unlike other firearms, which are all but useless in this context), it barely needs to be aimed. This is vital when you're startled and terrified. Point it in the general direction and squeeze. Even if you don't score a direct hit, you'll put the animal on notice that you can hurt it badly if you want to.

Better still: the stuff hisses as it comes out. Language any feline understands.

Doesn't change the fact that you have to see one to use it. These men had an unusual opportunity to use bear spray in their first encounter, but probably did not in the second, fatal, one.

But I'm still gonna get a can. In this case, anyway, that initial hosing-down almost certainly would have made the difference.

For the rest, this latest tragedy re-illustrates, for the benefit of a species famous for its self-regard, the Dharma of the Outback:

"It's their forest. It always has been."

(Warning sign from Arizona's Saguaro National Park courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

WW: Elderberry

(Sambucus racemosa)

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Good Story: To See the Invisible Man

"And then they found me guilty."

I've been meaning to post on this found teisho since I launched Rusty Ring, away back in the Kamakura Period. Somehow I always found a reason not to; afraid to cock it up, I imagine. But conditions have conspired to kick me into gear.

It seems we've entered the Age of Vengeance, wherein no limitation on the godlike All-Seeing I will be endured. Both Right and Left are stomping about, meting out "justice" from a position of self-declared moral superiority, yet in style remarkably similar to a pogrom. (And also to each other. Here's a koan: if you must become your enemy to defeat him, can you?)

As for insight; empathy; forgiveness; compassion; the instinctive restraint that governs men and women of good faith…

Get a rope.

In such times, a hermit monk could do worse than invite his brothers and sisters To See the Invisible Man.

Robert Silverberg's seminal contemplation on the nature of true decency first appeared in the inaugural (April 1963) issue of sci-fi pulp Worlds of Tomorrow. I became aware of it in 1985, when it was faithfully adapted for the first revival of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone.

For those 20-odd minutes I was riveted to the television; though still in my early 20s, I'd lived enough to recognise the unflinching truth Silverberg was burning into my screen. It's nothing less than a Jataka Tale on the gulf that separates bourgeois morality from the real thing.

In this case, we have a man sent up the river for the crime of "being an arsehole". (No wonder Silverberg's utopian society has done away with prisons; with laws like that, there'd have to be one on every block.)

Will their ingenious, diabolic alternative sentence turn this egocentric bastard into a productive citizen? You'll have to see it to find out.

At this writing, two uploads of the Twilight Zone segment are available on YouTube:

The entire series is also available on DVD.

With track records like these, and any good luck, you'll be able to find at least one of them. The writing, performances, and direction are all excellent. Allowance allowed the changing norms of television production, it's aged very well.

If on the other hand you prefer to read the original, then by truly miraculous wrinkle of the Enlightenment Super-Path:

For the rest, I'll leave you with my war cry:

"That which does not kill me, makes me kinder."

It's a simple insight that I realised soon after I become a monk.

It also explains why my own society frequently hates me.

(Mad-scientist chortle.)

(Photo from a screen-cap of the Twilight Zone episode.)

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

WW: Before the plague

(I took this photo on the beach in front of my house in 2009. Pretty much every subtidal rock on the North Coast looked like this then; it's a scene deeply rooted in my childhood.

Pisaster ochraceus, the purple sea star (variation notwithstanding), is among the species most vulnerable to sea star wasting disease. Over the last five years that horrific plague, which literally causes infected individuals to melt into a tapioca-like substance and flush away with the tide, has wiped out virtually all intertidal starfish in the northeast Pacific.

The epidemic is associated with an invasive virus, which is itself believed to be symptomatic of rising ocean temperatures and related conditions.

Regional outbreaks of SSWD were recorded in 1972 and 1978. Continued monitoring of the latter suggests that permanent extinction, at least on this coast, is not off the table.)

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Used-To-Do Zen

I often meet people who "used to do" Zen.

Many were deeply engaged, once; some were students of famous teachers. It's an inherent weakness of institutionalised practice. Where Zen is a social act it becomes a lifestyle, and like all lifestyles it demands a weighty sacrifice of time, money, and freedom. Your whole existence becomes Zen Centre. And Zen Centre always wants more: more time, more money, more obedience.

That wears people down, uses them up. And when they reach the end, they don't just drop the kowtowing and the koo-koo-ka-choo. They drop Zen.

Hence the risk of the ordained path. It can displace real Zen, at the cost of old suffering unhealed and new suffering inflicted.

It doesn't always end that way, of course; many find a healthful home in the zendo.

But wherever my hermit path leads, it guarantees one thing: I will never used-to-do Zen.

There's nothing for me to stop doing.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Bodhidharma painting courtesy of Sojiji Temple and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

WW: Righteous cluster of oyster mushrooms

(Pleurotus ostreatus.)

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Koan: Shame

Beatus Escorial - 18 Adam and Eve

Who told you that you were naked?

Genesis 3:11

(Plate from the Escorial Beatus courtesy of Deutsches Archäologisches Institut and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

WW: We have spring. Repeat...

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Attitude Adjustment

Check and mate

How do you know you're a decent person? Because you're afraid you're not.

People who aren't decent never fear they're indecent.

If they were capable of that... they'd be decent.

(Artwork courtesy of Erik Pevernagie and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

WW: Antenna launcher

(Been refining this fundamental design, which is fairly universal in ham radio, for a few years now. This latest iteration works incredibly well. It'll shoot a line a hundred feet into a tree, accurately and usually on the first attempt. Afterward you use that line to raise a heavier one, and then that one to raise a wire antenna.

And that's not all it does. Any time you need to link two inaccessible locales [ship-to-ship transport on the high seas, suspension bridge construction, rescue operations, telephone and electric wiring, installing zungas and zip lines...], this is the tool for the job.)

Thursday, 26 April 2018


Снежинка на разноцветном фоне

"The smallest snowstorm on record took place an hour ago in my back yard. It was approximately two flakes. I waited for more to fall, but that was it. The entire storm was just two flakes."

Richard Brautigan

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

WW: Le printemps a pissé dans mon lit

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Hermitcraft: Pickleweed

Unlikely as it seems, this common plant of the high tide line (Salicornia spp.) is a member of the spinach family, and a righteous edible in its own right. Common names include sea bean, samphire, sea asparagus, and glasswort, but when I was growing up on the North Pacific coast we called it pickleweed.

Salicornia is delicious raw, and adds salty crispness to salads and sandwiches. (Egg salad and hamburgers being two of my favourites.)

The name "pickleweed" may come from the fact that Old Settlers jarred and pickled it; the French, among others, still do.

Or maybe it just looks like pickles. (Likewise, "sea beans" is a reference to its visual and culinary resemblance to string beans.)

The larger, mature stems, which develop a stronger, "greener" flavour, can be steamed, then the entire branch placed in the mouth and the twiggy, woody heart pulled out by the base. This novel dish is a great accompaniment to fish and seafood, and can be enjoyed with or without lemon butter. Salicornia is also one of several marine vegetables layered into New England clambakes for flavour.

In Bretagne, where it blankets whole acres, farmers run flocks of sheep on pickleweed to produce a rare and expensive delicacy called agneau pré salée (salt-pasture lamb).

Finally, the term "glasswort" recalls glassmakers of times past who burned it in large quantities to make soda ash for their craft. And Salicornia may be on the industrial rebound these days, as it's currently being investigated as a biodiesel crop.

Pickleweed is one of those plants many have seen but few have noticed; most only know it as the weed they pass on the way to the tidelands. But because it sets in quantity, is easily identified, and good eating, it's a valuable edible to know.

So keep an eye out for Salicornia in your beach rambles. This uniquely delicious wild food may significantly enrich the experience.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

WW: What is this?

(One of several found in two wooded parks in my hometown. Hint number one: It's not modern art. Hint number two: it is the sort of thing you'd expect to find on the West Coast.)

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Hummingbird Sense

"I will do what I can, even when there is little chance of effect," is an unwritten subvow of my Rule.

I think of it often. I have to; my natural inclination in the face of unsurmountable opposition is to give up.

But surmounting things is not why we're here.

Now I find that internationally-recognised Kenyan academic, activist, Nobel laureate, and convicted uncontrollable woman Wangari Maathai also embraced this principle, though her interpretation was a little less… dour?

For even though hummingbirds aren't present in Africa (they're New World fauna), having known a great many of them, I'd say they are in fact the woodland creature most likely to employ such logic.

Because hummingbirds don't sit things out well.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

WW: Pounding brass

(Me at the controls of my beloved Tentec 580 Delta. Nearly forty years old, it's still the best CW [radiotelegraphy] rig ever made.)

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Blogger Kyôsaku

Water calligraphy Peking 03

"When I talk I am telling my story and also the collective story."

Claude Anshin Thomas

(Photo of the original Zen blog courtesy of Immanuel Giel and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

WW: Home port

(Open in a new window to see it larger.)

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Family Problems

Albrecht Dürer - Cain Killing Abel (NGA 1943.3.3671) Last week a sangha sister drew my attention to a dramatic event in the Zenosphere: Adam Tebbe, founder of blog hub/online magazine Sweeping Zen, outed himself as an Evangelical Christian on that organisation's Facebook page.

Details are convoluted, but there's been much calumny heaped on him by earnest advocates of "don't know mind" and "radical acceptance". Which is also par for the course.

In the meantime, the principal is spewing Bible-babble in the Zen forum he built, in that tone-deaf way some Christians have. (When a former colleague muses that the account may have been hacked, he's told, "It's been hacked by Jesus Christ. Have a blessed day!")

As some comments under Adam's confession of faith attest, none of this has endeared him to his erstwhile co-travellers,

I've spent a week sleuthing the thing out – in classic institutional-Zen fashion, public acknowledgement has been nil – and have since developed a throbbing discursive headache. The brother in question is not uncomplicated, and Sweeping Zen has never been uncontroversial. I myself have serious reservations about the way some members use that podium to call down violence on individuals they judge deviant.

With Buddhists like that, who needs Christians?

So I'm not going to pronounce. I take the Ancestors at their word: if a behaviour isn't hurting you, and you have no objective evidence it's hurting others, do nothing. Wait for insight before drawing your own sword and hacking away.

But as regular readers will have divined, I do in fact have a few observations to offer on the phenomenon of Zen re-un-conversion.

First off, it's nothing new. Western Zen is a convert religion. Virtually all of us – 99+%, I'm dead certain – got here under our own steam, as seekers. Necessarily, many of us will continue straight through and out the other side. I confess that sometimes the behaviour of others in the Great Sangha prompts me to ponder doing the same.

Then I remember that nowhere else is better. Enlightenment (and salvation) is about me and what I do, not others or what they do.

Anyway, this is not the first come-to-Jesus the Zen community has seen, even of the ordained. (Among us "true people of no rank", of course.) The brass swept (no pun intended) those under the tatami too, but they happened and I saw them and I so bear witness.

Because hermits don't cover for institutions.

I'm also deeply sceptical of any self-proclaimed religious awakening that expresses contempt for former paths. You often see this in Zenners – we're a convert religion, remember – who smirk and jeer at Christians, Christianity, and even Christ.

Except for the Jews. They're very different. They smirk and jeer about Jews, Judaism, and the rabbinate.

By that measure, Adam has been remarkably even-handed, especially for a Christian. His rambling testimony includes a single brief sneer on Zen, toward the end. I've seen other recently former Zenners exhaustively call down the Lord on us, preaching incessantly about the Devil. (And so reminding me why I'm not a Christian anymore.)

However, he has apparently not done what ethics require and turned over his creation and dependent projects to former collaborators, giving them everything he has of value to those undertakings, and wishing them success and happiness in this life and the next.

The Christianity of our time is so perverted with contention and enemy-think that such loving sentiment is condemned as apostasy, even by mainstream churches. It simply will not do to help, or even fail to hinder, members of another faith.

The notion – indeed, the truth – that all authentic walkers of all paths further everyone's understanding of God; that the work of all honest seekers is vital and good, is buried under a mountain of triumphalist doubletalk.

So fie on the Holy Rollers, right?

But let's be careful not to look too closely at ourselves while all of this is going on. Certainly, let's not look deeply into the way some of us respond to this unexpected (on our path that misdoubts expectation) turn of events.

Sweeping Zen has been criticised by sincere, disciplined Zenners – including Your Servant – for the self-satisfied way it sometimes reacts to inconvenient humanity.

And now that humanity has happened again.

Brothers and sisters in the sangha: may I respectfully suggest that this is just the break we need to stop talking about Zen and start doing it.

(Photo of Albrecht Dürer's Kain erschlägt Abel courtesy of the US National Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

WW: No-one suspects... the 1970s!

(Until it's too late. #thingsbuddhistmonksdontneed)

Thursday, 22 March 2018

UFO Sighting

When I started writing Rusty Ring, away back in 2011 CE, one of the first fellow bloggers I connected with was the keeper of, a site dedicated to environmental and lifestyle issues. I don't remember who found whom first, but for a while there much ping was ponged between our fora, as each made regular appearances in the other's comment sections.

And then Will stopped blogging. The Internet is an object lesson in Zen; what's here today is gone tomorrow, and by gone I mean "vanished as if it had never existed." As do all things, of course, but online the effect is instantaneous; whereas the analog world generally offers a cushion of time to watch things fall apart and process the changes, the Enlightenment Superpath blanks everything, immediately.

Anyway, Will's blog is still up and worth a visit, but hasn't been updated for some time now.

Which is why the message I received from him this week was especially exhilarating.
"Believe it or not,"
wrote Will,
"after all these years, I still occasionally read your blog. Even more of a 'believe it or not', I still make and hang fudos when I place a geocache and sometimes when out on a hike. So I guess my comment musing on this post many years ago, wondering if my initial attraction would remain intact, turned out to be yes.

"Anyway I thought of you a few days ago when on a hike with my daughter and we came across the fudo in the attached photo. It certainly does not compare to the ones you create or even the ones I put out, but what else could it be?

"I choose to believe that it is what it seems and as it is the first one I have ever encountered put out by someone other than me, I found it strangely moving.

"Below that photo is a picture where, if you look closely, you can see one of the fudos I hung while on a hike several years ago, still surviving well. [See end of this post – ed.]"
Everything works about that email. First, I heard from Will, about whom I have often thought in the intervening years. Second, he's still making and hanging fudos. And third, marvellously, we have evidence – however tenuous – that someone else may be trekking the mountains of Oregon, tagging trail for the Good Guys.

Will's right. Check out that photo; unless it's been Photoshopped, that's a fair-dinkum Unidentified Fudo Object. Why else would someone hang a rusty ring in a tree?

Let's just say that, while it wants substantiation, this may yet be a sign of intelligent life.

He adds:
"And you know, I have found something in the process of making them in addition to hanging them. I do really hope to come across another put out by someone else someday, as that moved me in a surprising way."
That is also my greatest ambition: to happen upon a fudo I didn't make, nor anyone I know. As it was for Will, such a sight would be deeply emotional.

Any road, as I've often said, I may have few readers, but you're the cream of the crop. This-here is just the latest proof.

(Look carefully; can you see Will's fudo, hung years ago and still on-post?)

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

WW: 8-strand flat kumihimo

(In the process of making fudos I generate a lot of scrap cordage. When the quantity gets too unmanageable, I knot it together into one long string, cut it into 8 lengths, and spend a week or two braiding up a spool of flat 8-strand kumihimo, to be used to various ends. [No pun intended.]

The photo above is a single 24-foot example, wound on a wooden frame. The braid is about half an inch wide.

If nothing else, this photo demonstrates how much red yarn I use in my fudo practice.)

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Tuesday, 20 March, is Bodhisattva Day

Mr. Rogers Ofrenda Detail (1805130790) It's happening, droogies! This Tuesday the time comes again to emulate Mr. Rogers and throw down for Bodhisattva Day.



That's pretty much it. No need to wear a colour-coded ribbon or do an interpretative dance or march about in the streets chanting "Hey-hey ho-ho!" or sing a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walk out.

Just wear the wool of compassion.

Or the acrylic. Your call.

Because enlightenment is its own movement.

Again, that's THIS TUESDAY, 20 MARCH. All over the world. Boys and girls. Buddhists and non-Buddhists. People who are legitimately cold and those who are just posing. Crunchy and smooth. Waterfall and window shade.


20 March.



(Photograph of Día de los Muertes ofrenda to Mr. Rogers at Carmichael Library courtesy of Albert Herring and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

WW: Stained glass

Thursday, 8 March 2018


If you'd told me when I was 22 that the day would come when I would cherish my ex-girlfriends, I would have called you mad.

As a young man, I did relationships like a drug. Heroin, to be specific. I loved hard, like diamonds, and lost harder. I wore rejection like a crown of thorns, bled from it like stigmata, dragged it across the earth like the Holy Cross. Cowardice, caprice, indifference, were feminine vagaries I could not forgive.

I was the ex-boyfriend from hell.

I don't know what changed. I didn't hear from my ex-girlfriends for years, and then I did. And I was ecstatic, like a pilgrim who falls to his knees on the far edge of the desert, weeping for the pain, and laughing for the weeping.

No-one was more surprised than I.

So perhaps, sometimes, even I grow up.

Perhaps even heal.

My ex-girlfriends are interesting, caring, engaging women, and a gift to my life. They have great husbands, brilliant children, and there is nothing I wouldn't do for any of them.

There's no word for this unexpected love. It's not possessive, like a lover's, or exclusive, like brother's, or conditional, like friend's.

It just is.

And whatever it is, it brings me endless joy.

(Adapted from Rough Around the Edges: A Journey Around Washington's Borderlands, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Peter Dowley and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

WW: Morse code key

(After ten years fighting off my ham radio addiction, I recently dug out my old station and set it up again.

This is my classic brass straight key, the one I first used to get on the air.

Been in storage for a decade. I've missed it.)

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Good Book: Cat Attacks

I didn't want to read this book. And I really didn't want to keep reading after I started. But as I've often said, denial is an unskilful response to danger.

Most of my life has happened in cougar country, much of it in the woods, where I prefer to practice Zen when possible. A few years back I sat 100 Days on the Mountain, an ancient Buddhist ritual, in Washington's coastal jungle.

The cat threat there, of which I was generally aware, comes up several times in my book. (Which is now finished and seeking a publisher.) But if I'd read Cat Attacks: True Stories and Hard Lessons from Cougar Country, I wouldn't have slept once during those more than three months.

Authors Dean Miller and Jo Deurbrouck are careful to point out that human-cougar encounters are extremely rare, and physical contact a tiny blip in that statistic. But they are also conscientious – downright didactic, in fact – in recounting, second by horrific second, exactly what happens in a mountain lion attack.

And though it's apparently impossible to escape a gruesome death if you're alone when the stats turn against you, your chances of avoiding that actuarial convergence drop to zero if you've no hard data on your predator's habits and methods.

Some of which, thanks to Miller and Deurbrouck, I now know:

•    Cougars prefer silent, lightning ambush from behind and above, after extensive stalking at close quarters. When in the woods, turn and look behind you, thoroughly and often.

•    Your predator's single-minded intent is to kill and eat you. This makes your bear-mollifying skills guaranteed death. Instead, if one atypically shows itself before lunging, go big, mean, and criminally insane. This may convince the cougar to go back to just stalking you for now. If on the other hand you make yourself quiet and small and avoid eye contact, you've green-lit a kill.

•    The charge, when it comes, is supernaturally fast; witnesses uniformly report a "brown blur". And its dump-truck impact is instantaneous. So even if you see a lion crouching to strike (which they take great pains to conceal) you have no time to raise or aim, much less draw, a firearm.

•    Though they'll attack groups, particularly children in the midst of one, as readily as they'll strike a loner, cougars rarely turn on rescuers. (It's bizarre, un-prey behaviour that evolution has not prepared them to answer.) So if a companion is hit, come in hot and hostile and fight hard at close quarters, with feet and fists if necessary. Once engaged, a lion may cling stubbornly to its quarry, but they seldom or never accept third-party combat. So keep on hammering until you completely weird it out and it withdraws.

•    Solitary humans have no chance of survival.

This is just a smattering of the practical, unromantic intelligence Cat Attacks contains. The authors' steely pragmatism, while traumatic, gives the work great strength. Particularly valuable is their bullheaded refusal to get sucked into either of the silly postures – "kill 'em all" or "poor persecuted kitties" – one usually encounters when the topic is raised.

To counteract the first, they illuminate in equal detail the harsh reality of a cougar's life, which is astonishingly brutal and getting crueller by the day, thanks to overweaning human arrogance.

As for the second, well… in the same instant a cougar touches you it rips your face off. This allows it to begin eating you without waiting for you to die.

That image brings me keenly in mind of Meditation in the Wild, wherein Charles S. Fisher points out that early Buddhist monks – originally all, and then most, of whom were hermits – had a tendency to enter Asia's primordial jungles and never be seen again. Tigers are even bigger than cougars, and not one whit more sentimental.

These are the conditions that forged our nihilistic Zen world view.

So if you live or travel in the northern and/or western half of North America, read Cat Attacks. Get schooled. Be prudently terrified.

Because when I think of all the times I've been afoot in the rough at dusk – including every day of ango – I break into a cold sweat. One unmoderated by the knowledge that cats also attack people in broad daylight. (Even housecats creep me out now.)

So be safe out there, brothers and sisters.

As safe as this existence allows.

(Note: a slightly updated release of this book came out in 2007 under the title Stalked by a Mountain Lion: Fear, Fact, And The Uncertain Future Of Cougars In America.)

UPDATE, 31 MAY 2018. Coverage of a local fatal attack, with further information on staying safe in the forest, is available here.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

WW: Thunderheads

(Thunderstorms – and their accompanying cloud formations – were rare here when I was a kid. Over the last few decades they've become much more common; yet another effect of changing climate patterns. But I've never seen a conga line of anvils like this one. Here or anywhere.)

Thursday, 22 February 2018


"This is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself.”
-the Buddha

(Photo courtesy of Max Pixel and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

WW: Dirt road satori

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Food For Thought On The Occasion Of My 56th Birthday

Moon on Earth horizon.png From the Shasekishū:

When Shoun was old he knew his end was approaching. He asked his disciples to gather around him in the morning, telling them he was going to pass on at noon. Burning incense before pictures of his mother and his old teacher, he wrote a poem:

For fifty-six years I lived as best I could,
Making my way in this world.
Now the rain has ended, the clouds are clearing,
The blue sky has a full moon.

His disciples gathered about him, reciting a sutra, and Shoun passed on during the invocation.

(Photo of full moon above Earth atmosphere courtesy of International Space Station Expedition 10 Commander Leroy Chiao; NASA; and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

WW: Ghost shrimp

(Neotrypaea californiensis.)

Thursday, 8 February 2018

You Damn Well Can Do Something About It

This week I encountered a piece of apparent fluff from The Stranger, Seattle's edgier (or maybe just more sophomoric) alternative newspaper. And as often happens in The Stranger, it turned out to be hard-hitting insightful fluff.

A Playlist for the Brokenhearted is a Valentine's Day laundry list of good hurtin' songs for the damaged, courtesy of Sean Nelson. (By the way, Sean, if you see this: pretty much the entire Magnetic Fields catalogue. Not just Smoke and Mirrors. I Don't Want to Get Over You. I Don't Believe You. You Must Be Out Of Your Mind. I Don't Believe in the Sun. Seriously. Throw a dart.)

Seems like a throwaway premise, until you start the half-page preamble, which turns out to be an extended Zen contemplation on a "little morsel of non-insight" that crushed people are often thrown:

"The past is past. Nothing you can do about it now."

Regular readers know that facile responses to suffering are one of my detonators. And the writer goes on to vivisect this one with literary power, even citing at one point an early work by Alan Watts. (Is Nelson a Zenner? He writes like one. Not a Baby Boomer Western Zen "When Things Fall Apart" mandarin, but a gritty younger guru-sceptic "Hardcore Zen" type, from our invisible-but-still-next generation.)

The text amounts to a didactic consideration of the philosophical ramifications of love – something the Buddha suggested we'd be better off just not doing. But we're gonna do it, since it's our nature. It's also about forgiveness – of others, of ourselves, of love itself. To which end he offers his mixtape, as a means to revisit and reanalyse the reader's specific train wreck.

So I'll just let you savour it yourself. There's much to appreciate, even if the playlist itself turns out to be beyond your tastes or knowledge. (Again, you'll find the Stranger article here.)

In the meantime, I'd like to drop a bomb of my own:

You damn well can do something about it.

As William Faulkner famously said, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."

Yeah, the events – and often the people – that hurt you have fled into the past, where you can't reach them.

But the suffering is right here and right now. Where you can totally kick its butt.

The fact that Zen is all about here and now leads some to imagine it means ignoring the wrongs and wounds of the past; to insist they're not alive, not important, not still banging around out there causing suffering in all directions.

If that were so, Zen would be a pointless New Age pipe dream.

So let me be perfectly clear: You damn well can do something about the pain, regardless of what caused it or when. You can make it bearable, which is the same as declawing it. You can even turn it into insight, forgiveness, fulfilment, contentment. And in a very concrete sense, you can go back into the past, to the place where the past lives, and pull it out by the roots.

Many paths will take you there, but I advocate zazen as a good start and the foundation of a lifetime practice.

I also advocate Zen and Buddhist insight into the origin and nature of emotional pain.

Most of all, I advocate awakening to the fundamental nature of reality and our own existence.

It works.

Peace and progress to all brother and sister seekers.

(Art from Sean's article in The Stranger.)

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

WW: Sea dog

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Street Level Zen: Delusion

Cup of tea (High Speed Photography)-MJ

"First you get mad, then you go crazy, and when you combine the two, you've gone mad."

Eddie Joe Cotton

(Photograph courtesy of Najwa Marafie and Wikimedia Commons.)
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