Notes from Pure Land Mountain

From KJ 51, BY ROBERT BRADY, Image by Alan Lau
Sunday, April 07, 2002

Yesterday, out in the fine gold spring day tilling and planting spinach, I kept being distracted by loud poppings here and there in the sky, thinking them perhaps to be monkeys gathering and eating seeds in the trees or something, or maybe birds, or the trees themselves stretching in the warmth of spring, or… here and there the popping continued, catching at my ear like a mosquito, so finally I gave up and went off toward the heart of the matter, where I stood in the road near the nearest of the places whence the popping had come like some slow-motion popcorn, and… POP! POP!! I saw no monkeys, I saw no birds, I saw — movement only, up in the trees, it was like a big slow stretching, a sudden twitch, a rush of tangle, a thrash, a solid sprinkling — it was the wisteria pods unleashing their seeds in the warmth of the sun and the rise of the sap, the touch of the spring winds, all come together at the right moment and WHAP!! A pod would unleash and twist like a sling and shoot off its lifebullets, and just as I was wondering how far they could travel, WHANG! one hard brown flat seed struck the metal fence near me and came to rest by my foot. I picked it up and threw it a good deal farther on, and changed the universe forever.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

No, that’s not a recipe. Yet. It sounds increasingly mouthwatering to me, though, compared to the way I felt in my previous ignorance when I thought monkeys were cute. Monkeys were those dear little furry red-faced almost human things in the photos of the snowy Japanese hotsprings in some distant wilderness somewhere, usually with a big-eyed baby monkey clinging endearingly to its mother’s fur. And back then of course, distorting the whole reality picture in a major way was the fact that I wasn’t growing onions. Growing onions can do that to your monkey attitude. Because first of all it’s no picnic to grow onions on what was formerly pretty much mountainside, where onions have never grown before. Second, it takes a longish time for onions to reach maturity, a time measured in almost hourly fatherly glances at the current status of the preciously swelling globes with their practically individual names as the months crawl along in onion time, making the onions themselves all the more like diamonds one has fashioned by hand. And as is not commonly known among incipient onion growers, whose legions I joined a few years ago in grade-A ignorance, monkeys love onions. They love onions, in fact, almost as much as I’ve come to despise monkeys.

It was a day like any other, with the onions slightly bigger than they’d been the day before, but not yet big enough to harvest. I went off into the sunny morning to work in the city, as humans do. The monkeys yawned and looked at their watches. The leader checked his calendar, said: Zero hour. He’s gone to work. The sun is shining, and there’s no one home. Let’s go get our onions. It’s party time.

Now I know I’m the interloper here, in some idiotically rationally humanly obsessive earth-loving sense that comes straight out of Eden, 2-for-1 with the apple core. The monkeys were here first. And I don’t mind paying them their vig, maybe 10, even 20 percent if they have a case (sick kids, ailing grandma etc.). But when they come and just take 50 percent, and leave a mess, and then the next day come and take another 40 percent, leaving 10 percent only because they can’t find it in the mess they’ve made, I say it’s time for monkeys and onions.

I woke the third morning (a new day off) to the sound of trees thrashing under monkey weight enhanced by my onions. It was the dawn of the monkeys. I peered out the window as an onion-fattened female ambled solo into my garden, heading for you know what. I ran downstairs and out the door to the deck. She stopped in amazement: what the hell are you doing home? I figuratively swear she double-checked her watch, got out her organizer and scratched her head. She looked again to see if I was real. I really threw a real rock. She took off and joined the crew in the trees across the road. I went to my onions and began scavenging for my 10 percent. The beasts watched from the trees in increasing distress, jumping up and down and talking to their lawyers, saying HEY!! He’s pulling up OUR onions!!!! They began to eat mere leaves from the trees in frustration, as monkeys should dammit do at all times, I gritted as I salvaged what was left of my own onions. I say the onions are mine. I bought the land, I bought the seeds, I planted and tilled, what right do the monkeys have to the fruits of my labor, other than the fact that they get it every year?

Friday, April 12, 2002

Even out in countryside Japan there comes a pre-summer time in a boy’s father’s life that the boy’s mother knows little of, when said father looks at his prepubescent son’s awesomely ratty sneakers and with a tear in his eye remembers the equivalently ratty sneakers of his own boyhood when, as summer approached, a sacred desire filled the boy that filled those sneakers, for a new and racy pair thereof in which to run faster and jump farther than ever before toward the summer and the life that loomed, and so it is that the father takes his son into the big city to buy a summer-new pair of really good sneakers, maybe some white high-top Converse All Stars, like the father himself used to wear, that got so authentically dirty real quick, as he recalls, or maybe a pair of Jack whatsisnames, it was a long time ago runs through his mind as he enters the airplane-hangar-like supersneaker store and his son beelines toward the aerospacefully bioengineered ergonomico-scientific footwear touted by an eight-foot-tall black man whose cutout stands in the corner pointing at the footwear with big looklike dollar signs in his eyes and the son says this is what I want, and the father checks the price and cancels that dream of restoring a ’55 Corvette; after all, the kid wants shoes endorsed by a guy who zips a knobbly rubber ball through a hoop 15-20 times on a few good nights a year and for that makes more money in a season than the father will in his entire life, so why not give the guy the father’s salary? At least maybe the son will drool with gratitude, and gratitude drool is worth its weight in gold to the suddenly unmonied father of any gimme-gimme teenager, so the father springs for it, and the son walks out of the store wearing the monetary equivalent of four top-of-the-line snow tires on each foot, and the basketball player can take an extra bimbo out for burritos down in Cancun, and the boy’s mother gets to say YOU PAID HOW MUCH FOR A PAIR OF WHAT and within a month or so its ratty sneakers all over again and the father can’t help but think how wonderful it is that life relentlessly supplies us with ways to make so many people happy, over and over again like this.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

This morning about 5:30 the rain came crashing down naturally hard like it does in the mountains where it’s among friends and so doesn’t hold back like it does in the cities where it’s surprised to run into buildings and is pretty much not wanted, at least in quantities that exceed the capacity of the sewer system, and so it fell without reserve into the hug of the mountain and the arms of trees and the embrace of streams and the thirsty forest earth like they hadn’t seen each other for a long long while and onto our roof that just happened to be in the middle of all this vibrant camaraderie, like stepping out of a subway into a parade, and what a lift to have such a Sousa march of nature on the roof in the dawn fresh from the silence of dreams

Sunday, April 21, 2002

Every Spring, with no deeds or Japanese bureaucratic permits at all, the swallows build their nests above the doorways of houses and shops in the village, and homeowners and shopkeepers in a very pleasant spirit of community tenderness create ingeniously ad hoc structures of newspapers and magazines and plastic bags and bits of wood and cardboard and string and tape to catch the droppings, keep their doorsteps and wares clean, and soon the nests, just above head level, are home to eggs, and not long after come the tiny cheeps from bright yellow bigmouth beaks poking over the nest sides, and people-neighbors gather beneath for oohs and ahhs that lead to chats about the goings on in their own nests; and the adult swallows, of evenings after whirling the curlicues of their airy calligraphy of catching insects to feed the swelling brood, and soon having been put out of tiny house and home by the size of the kids, sit near their nests on a convenient awning rod or a telephone wire, soft little featherbundles calm even though within easy reach of shoppers and homeowners passing by beneath, and severely tempting kids to grab for them but the kids always find the wherewithal within themselves not to, for the tiny birds mean so much more where they are, sitting up there so proudly in their fine white ties and tails, about them a confidence and majesty that simply cannot be treated lightly, they are grace in every aspect; and even male teenagers, who in the itchy clutch of hormonal chaos are tempted to scare the tiny creatures very satisfyingly into flight, nevertheless never do, the swallows in return for such restraint giving the teenagers the priceless life lesson that grace, not size, is what really matters, and so the neighborhood kids are educated by the swallows in essential regards, and then one morning the adult birds take their own gawky teenagers to a nearby overhead wire, where the grownups sit like the people-parents in the park, taking what ease they can at last while cheerily prompting the kids to fidget and whir, whiffle their wings, learn to leap and flap and dive and climb and back and again and again, swooping over and over like people-kids on swings and sliding boards all day, until finally one evening the fledglings are soaring too through the summer sunsets, feeding themselves for autumn, and so the flocks both bird and folk are winged from day to day and year to year, and every village neighborhood is lifted to heights that once known are not forgotten, even in the swallow-empty airs of winter.

Monday, April 22, 2002

I spend great stretches of time alone up on the mountain with the sky on my hands, tending soil and plants and seeds and rearranging rocks the better to suit their natures vis-a-vis my need for stone walls, and stare out at the Lake and its majesty, get as involved as I humanly can in thunderstorms and whirlwinds, learning from them the many small things there are about myself, and my past, and my path, and the vortex of truth and illusion. There is no greater teacher than solitude, as anyone who makes it back from the desert knows. Not solitude in the negative standard societal ‘loneliness’ sense, but in the aboriginal magnificent spirit-quest uplift sense. In the city when you are alone it is a societal matter; when you are alone in the country you are alone, you realize, with everything. In persisting you learn to listen at last to the symphony of all. You learn the geography of silence, find your way at last to the gate at its heart, and pass beyond into the secret garden. You learn there are places in which the soul does not grow. The need for such knowledge is the reason children leave home and go hungrily into the solitude of their own lives, to learn what is to be learned there. But too often this quest is stifled at the very start, even before the very start, by societal and parental agendas, derivative teachings diluted to local purpose and contemporary assumptions of morality. And so in the same nature of things parents get a second chance, and are left alone at last to learn (or not) what is there for them to learn, if anything in them remains open to learning. Too often, though, because they have always done what they were told, and have always followed the conventionally dictated path, they do not know what to know or do now, because they have not been told; they are lost and unprepared, they are afraid, purposeless, guideless, and now it is all silence, as opaque to them as the future. But to those who have always learned and never stopped, there is no transition involved; one simply keeps on becoming.

Monday, April 29, 2002

And Sunday night, sitting in a little chair on the big beach at the very tip of Matsunoura while Keech fished his way up and down the coastline, I did nothing but watch it get dark. No having a beer, no talking with a friend, no swimming, no barbecueing or eating or fishing, no nothing, just sitting there watching it get dark, watching the sky and the water meet and join in one color, the nightly union that begets each tomorrow and it was splendid, being alone and un-aimed in that vast unpeopled space, not a trace of self-consciousness in sitting there, boots in the water not even fishing and who cares, one needn’t do something to do nothing, and as the night came, a big cloudy hand caressed the mountains and wrapped me in the chill of fogged-over stars and rumors of a half moon like a lovely woman peeking through a doorway, and I sank into a dream of the dream of the fish and the worms as I rose into the rain and whirled through forever on a speck of dust worth its weight in gold with eyes wide open, staring far, far into the dark.

What need of spiritual guidance, when there is the night?

Saturday, May 04, 2002

I was standing outside when an elderly couple came down the mountain road, apparently collecting wild herbs; they asked if they could cross my property to get to the other road, and I was caught unawares as a landlord; I was so unfamiliar with the fact, let alone the social niceties of property ownership, I stammered and said “Sure!” in English. They stared at me in Japanese. Then I said “Dozo!” Then they walked across “my” land. What strange feelings it involved.

Monday, May 06, 2002

Yesterday evening, in that short spell of quiet buildup that precedes the starry magnificence of night, the silence broken only by occasional finales from the manic warbler, a slight wafting of breeze now and then ruffling the cedar tops, I was cleaning the tools after working in the garden, using in this instance the planting trowel to scrape dirt off the spade. I scraped once and immediately a frog sounded once from beneath the porch. I scraped again. Frog again. I scraped twice. Scrape scrape; frog, frog. I scraped faster, frog frogged faster, I scraped rapidly, frog frogged rapidly; I scraped fast and extendedly, frog emitted a pointed silence. Who did I think I was, anyway. We were holding a conversation, but my frog is rudimentary at best, and apparently I had made a froggy faux pas. Did he think me a usurping male? A comely female? Were we talking froggy politics? The latest amphibian news? Tree frog gossip? To change the subject I tried scraping the hoe, and then the rake, to see if the frog objected to dialect, but there was no response. Didn’t like my tone of voice, or the direction the conversation was taking, or perhaps he found such talk too small. To get back to the original gist I resumed the shovelish tone, and as we conversed, lo and behold another frog joined us from up in a cedar; and then another and another joined in, and before too long I found myself part of a large froggy committee discussing various amphibian topics; I listened for the most part, now and then shoveling in an interjection, and did my best to understand, but they spoke awfully quickly; at one point I ventured to point out in my clumsy croakery that I was not amphibian, but they seemed to think it was ok. I began to think perhaps they were conversing with a human via a shovel because they were lonely, dying out so such and all as the scientists were saying; and as soon as I had that thought the more talkative frog asked me how long we humans have been around; I scraped out ‘a few million years’; the frogs chuckled among themselves, croaked they’d been around a hell of a lot longer than that, and had seen a lot worse, and were far more adaptable than we who are causing the ‘frog’ problem. We humans hadn’t seen the worst yet, though, and are a lot less adaptable than frogs. Can’t even lay eggs in water for goodness sake. Maybe we’d make it, maybe we wouldn’t. The frogs would, though. I asked what they thought our chances were, and an unsettling silence followed. We soon went on to talk of other things, very earnestly and apparently to great depth, discussing a number of interspecial topics for some time and at various tempos until the shovel was clean, but I have no true idea what we were talking about. Our little gathering reminded me of the UN in many ways, but unlike that august body at the close of session I had at least a clean shovel. I then put the shovel away and went in to dinner and a bath, but we must have started something, because the frogs went on talking all night. If you ever want to talk to one of my amphibian neighbors, I’ll let you borrow my shovel.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Sometimes when I’m up in the loft and I turn to look at the Lake lying silver blue in the brown of the mountains’ cradle, its far face muddled by a silent wind not yet arrived here, its near face clear as the blue air, the mask of drama removed, I am reminded of so many of the faces I have seen, and places I have been, and it seems as though life is but a storing up of visitations for enjoyment in the elder years, even more than the events themselves were enjoyed at the time, for true enjoyment is a thing of distance, and depths that one does not have in youth, for the elder years are when joy is at last in its prime, when youth is at last enjoyed and fulfilled. And how sad it is if one has done little, and so finds little to look back on. And as I turn and look back on the lake, it is like a looking glass into the past, where sleep all the things that ever were, as though I need only reach out and stir to hide all, or fall to utter stillness to see all revealed, which is what happens as you grow still with years, and learn that time takes nothing away.


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