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.)
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