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Blog Title Photo

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Noisy Place

I must loosen up and get my posture right! Also I'm not fully awake. What is the point of doing zazen while asleep?

A noisy sleepy mind!

The lake is enveloped by fog. The water is calm, motionless. Not even a ripple.


Long night, one dream salvaged:

I was in the mixing studio with Ismail. Suddenly I looked at the screen. There stood a giant airplane, shaped like a bird, but it had leather wings, like skin stretched between the long finger bones of a bat. I was aware that there was another airplane that I dreamed of all my life, that was built of feathers. I could choose which one I wanted to fly in.

The one of leather repulsed and disgusted me.

After that I could not sleep. For some reason I thought about the space program, Chuck Yeager, and John Glenn. Also for some reason I thought a lot about the chemical process for making soap, in the old days, first using wood ash to make lye, then combining the lye with various oils.

I wonder if the 'lye' in my dream had to do with any 'lies' in my life.

Ah, my dreamer sent soap, to wash my soul!


The wood in the stove burned out around one or two o'clock. The building went suddenly from being too hot, to frigid cold. My sweating turned to shivering. Towards morning I passed into a deep sleep. Now I am up, trying to begin the day's disciplines.

Writing. Zazen. Breakfast.


What spirit, other than discipline, or a mad sense of loyalty to craft, motivates me to write?

Czeslaw Milosz writes in his opening to Visions from San Francisco Bay:

"Each of us is so ashamed of his own helplessness and ignorance that he considers it appropriate to communicate only what he thinks others will understand. There are however times when somehow we slowly divest ourselves of that shame and begin to speak openly about all the things we do not understand. If I am not wise, then why must I pretend to be?"

What a synchronous gift to find these words at this time.

Never in my life have been so clearheaded about how unsure I am of everything. I feel ridiculously empty and out of answers!

The pattern that I thought organized my existence and the way I see the world seems more fragile than a butterfly's wing. The values I once regarded as rock solid, now seem useless lumps of wood, rotting back to the earth. How can I write? What can I write, what can I share? I have never been so clear in my lack of understanding. I am not wise, it would be pointless for me to pretend that. But how can I stand on one of my old soft stumps and read words to you which are not true?

Yet somehow words can be distilled out of any mental state, out of any point of being, or state of transformation  Ah, it just happens that now I am undergoing a great amount of suffering. I cannot say much about anything than what is happening inside me now. It is the only thing I am am sure of. As if in one night, all my old ideas deserted me, all the ways I used to think, are no longer there to confort me. I feel as if all the meaning wrung from my hardships of the past nine years had run away. All my conquering, which I built alone, is gone. How is that possible? And yet, since it has happened, I would find it difficult to go on living with these old bits of thinking and would not even want to.

If they left so suddenly, they must have been false.

What I wonder, turned them on their heels, and set them running?

Ah, I feel empty now. I don't feel immune anymore. Surely I will add, and build again. I suppose I will be more careful this time in what I take on.

I have been here before, once or twice. Each time I suppose it gets more difficult. I suppose it is all for the good, this cleansing process, this letting go. I thought it would happen on my trip to India, but it did not. Then I thought when I came back it would. But it didn't. Instead it rallied old energies. I built the airplane, and worked on the film. After that I was sure the collapse would happen. Like a waiter with too many dishes on his tray, I could feel it falling. I felt it falling in advance. I even planned for it.

Morning Zazen

Sitting has become easier. My crossed legs don't go to sleep as often.

Ah, but keeping my mind clear, that is very hard! Zazen is not easy.

Now I have a headache, from eating too many pancakes.


Yesterday I labored on the car. It felt odd doing city-dweller tasks in a place such as this. The tools are here, time is here, so I repaired a dent in my rear tail light. A Boston mishap, a quick turnaround became a minor collision after veering down a one-way street. A close one. Always learning.

Every so often I paused and watch the changing colors of the lake and trees. The few leaves seem to know everything that would ever happen to this world.

My work finished, I walked down to the Symonds porch and stood there, listening to the water lap on the rocky beach. I watched the day close, the way one watches a drama on stage. I saw the lavender twigs on the mountains pick up the orange and magenta glow of the setting sun. I drew in all the cool and scrubbed air that my lungs could gather. After so many breaths I caught a hint of woodsmoke. It must be my wood stove, which I could see curling pale grey exhalations from the top of the kitchen chimney.

I paused as I often do, by the set of wooden steps that I built fourteen years ago, leading from the Symonds lawn down to the water. They are nearly rotten, but have held together all these years.

I brought the picnic table which I built for them that summer out of the exposed air by the open fireplace, and stored it upside down at the back of the lean-too. I remembered well the moments spent concentrating as I built these things of wood.

One Symonds guest, L__, used to try to break that concentration by walking up and down the porch in her yellow bikini. I remember her sitting at the back of the lean-too while I explained to her what I thought should be done with the fireplace in front. She sat with legs spread wide apart. Every so often during our conversation, I saw what she wanted me to see. There wasn't much hair on it. It was very bare, and clean and firm. She taunted me with it, tried to distract me. I never broke down, though my voice faltered. I always kept it on the level of that conversation that we were having. Perhaps that's why she continued playing these little games with me.

One rainy night we drove out together to the gate at the end of the road to leave a key for some friends who were driving in. L__ didn't want to drive back right away. "Let's just sit in the car a bit," she said. I think we talked for fifteen minutes or so, then she had to pee. She opened the door of the truck, then said, "Come around and hold my hand. I don't want to fall over in the wet bushes."

So I got out and went round and held her hand as she peed.

She was twice my age. She even had children. I knew she wanted me to make a pass at her. Finally she relented and let me drive the truck back to camp.

All these memories, of people who were younger than I am now. Perhaps this is just what memory is, a repository of time, an imaginary flesh and blood album of photos, diary pages, old stories recounted. In the city, experience seems to move more quickly than one's own life. So it is difficult as an urbanite to note the passing of time. I always used to notice transitions to the countryside. Time slowed.

But with trees and leaves and snow as a witness, eternity becomes all too meaningful. It acquires an almost unbearable presence. Time whacks you on the head, as you move through it. Every moment becomes a universal birth.

I walked back to camp, heated up some stew and ate it slowly. At seven I walked over to the Brandreths and joined all the hunters that were there for a drink of cognac after dinner.


I see the sickly needles on the tamaracks and remember Monty Python's musings on 'The Larch'. Their leaves have turned a milky pumpkin color. At first I thought they were ill, perhaps they are also affected by the spruce blight. Now I realize this is the first time I've noticed a tamarack during late fall. They turn color and shed needles like a hardwood.

I'm very surprised to see that with all this snow, there are still some robins about. One of them found a bare patch beneath the big pine in front of the kitchen. If must be over the warmth of the septic tank, soil still soft, worms active. He stands there all day long listening for and pulling up worms. He must have a voracious appetite to be able to eat this much! I watched him for a solid hour, and he has eaten something at the rate of every minute or so, sometimes a large worm, other times just a little grub or beetle.

On my way to the boathouse for water he surprised me. He took a little break from his eating and was hiding to stay warm under the porch steps. As I descended, he flew out and seemed very startled. Sorry Mr. Robin. I must admit I was startled too.

Without the shouts of children and colored sails on the lake what is the the reason for all these buildings? The patient deer heads in the kitchen, with their red kerchiefs that Dad put around their necks watch over the long breakfast table, the lanterns, their wicks turned low. They'll watch another winter fly by.

Is it cruel of us not to take pity on ourselves for missing these moments? Somehow we create, but duck out on what we've created. We infuse these tokens with our own spirits, become responsible for them, but go missing precisely when they mature. What we're responsible for is not physical, it's some other quantity, that if neglected, perishes.

Could we be waiting be for something enduring, memories that last? If spirit is there is it only in the adorning aspect, the image, the friendly look, which we admire? The physical self seems as patient, as accepting, yet as dumb, as my car.

I put on some big ill fitting boots and trudged out in the snow to North Pond. The sticky snow was melting and sliding in white lumps off the branches. Every time a tree let go of a patch of snow the branches sprang up, as if glad to be rid of their load. Everywhere I heard snow falling, thump, thump, invisible ghosts converging on me through the trees.

The yellow sun poked out behind some clouds. The air between the trees drew a steady drizzle from the branch-tops. Bits of snow fell into the water of the pond, it made me think trout were jumping, and that fish are swarming near the surface.

How noisy the woods are today.

Clarence stopped by with some mail. We talked about winter fishing. Most of it was catch-up talk. He said the deer were in the height of their rut, all the bucks were running through the woods not paying attention to safety.

"If you see a doe go by, keep quiet and wait a half hour, chances are a buck will be right after her."

Early morning again, I'm stiff from zazen. Cold wet snow on the ground, cold wet snow falling out of the sky. Trees on Baldy Mountain, white with snow.

Hot coffee beside me, a fire burning in the stove. What were my dreams last night? I can't remember them now. No matter. There is so much foolishness in my life. I'd like to write about all of it but at this time I really don't know if I can accurately see what is foolish and what is not.

Wind blows snow from the roof, a white cloud swirls by the window.

Water to wash dishes and bathe with, is boiling.

November 4, 1983

The sky oozed persistent drizzle from a muddy layer of clouds. I tried not to think about the past or future, just focused my eyes ahead on the road.

The wet forced a heavy chill into my legs but my car heater for some reason wouldn't work. After just a few hours on the Taconic both feet and knees were numb. 

First stop was at the Martindale, a shiny stainless steel diner we know as "Big Chief". The rain kept pouring down. 

Shivering, I slumped into one of the booth seats near the window. A blast of hot air warmed my knees, a radiator beneath the table. The waitress took my order, a cheeseburger and coffee. 

Three salesmen with Southern accents sat at a nearby booth. They had been in Albany, on business, some kind of equipment convention. They talked about trucks. I kept hearing the term, 'twin diesel'. 

"Marty, he had five tractors last year, turned 'em all in for a pair of new twins."

After some time their bill arrived and there was some arguing betwixt them about who should pay it. The one that had talked the most ended up with the check.

"It all comes out of the same pocket anyway," he said.

The others were deferent to him, as if by paying for the burgers he had acquired another fleet of twin diesels  Then they all stood up, looking very uncomfortable in their suits and neckties. They stood by the register as the change was counted and the youngest came back to leave a tip. He put a dollar fifteen on the table. Then they all went out.

The waitress brought more coffee so I asked her what the pies were, but ended up getting powdered donuts to take with me in the car.

My associations with Big Chief have become almost philosophic. It seems that I go there just to prove some point to myself about a concurrent reality of places and events, knowing that if I sneak in there at an odd moment on a rainy day I will find life there, and that by intersecting that little bit of it I can somehow reconstitute in my imagination, all that has passed since my last visit. Checking in to a parallel path. This I find reassuring.

Some primal gene deep within.

By the time I reached Warrensburg, the day had gone. I bought vegetables, fruit, canned tuna and bread, filled up with gas, and resumed driving.

The trip sped by, strangely unmarked by events, or views of passing landmarks. The weather reduced experience to a cone of reality revealed by headlights, black roadway, falling raindrops, set to the music of the wiper blades. Night and rain limited my recognition of the passing world.

I followed a black thread, confident only that the route was correct. The rain turned to blinding whirling snow. I was a pilot, flying in zero vision. Giant snowflakes flew up at me like rare white moths. The car threw light ahead only a few feet. Occasionally the trunk of a birch would jump out of the dark, like a bandaged thumb.

Somehow I made it, stayed on the road, managed not to get stuck in the snow. I found the key and unlocked the door, and swung it open. I found a candle, and lit a fire. I went to the solemn black water of the lake and filled two buckets.


Now it is morning,

I look out but barely see an outline of mountains. Snow still falls, though lightly. All the kettles are on the new wood stove, full of water, clicking and boiling. They've struck up a tune with the fire. All else is still, and attentive.

I make coffee, have a bit of chocolate, sit down again Snow blankets the ground, makes the bare trees on the hillsides seem like the soft overlapping feathers on a duck's body. The rooftops are white with no definition, no tones of grey, no shading. They seem ready to jump off the landscape, but they are waiting. Waiting for what?

Design does not always relate to our intent, or to function.

The man who hurled a curse instead of a weapon, was he the founder of civilization? Was it Freud who said said this?  Against the yellow glow of the gas light all the slate grey world of tree bark and snow turns a deep ultramarine blue. Freud would be more interested in the colors of the world, not what that world is becoming.

I occupy my mind writing these small thoughts, aware that some other unexpressed thought must have taken charge, one I cannot yet put on paper.

Is the thing unseen more formed, but simply less noticed? Or is it unformed and unseen because it is not developed? Or is it repressed because it represents a threat to the order of the world. Dangerous, to the neat order of snow on shingles, or fog on a mountain.

Or are these little bits of idleness of no importance?

I strapped on my boots and went for a long silent meander to West Pond. Winter is preparing to put the earth to sleep. The trails are visible in light snow, but they are of no importance. The ground cover has died back, the woods are open. All paths are open.

It was near dark when I returned. I sloughed off my boots. Who heard them come off? I bathed in the tin tub with ladlefuls of hot water, from the kettles on the stove, then went for a roll in the freezing snow. The effect was not as strong as I'd have liked.

I re-stoked the fire, re-read old fragments of newspapers left in the woodbox. Cover to cover and one by one I consigned them to an ashy fate. 

The gas lights hiss and flutter. The stove clicks and purrs. My hand makes a sound like a little mouse, sliding back and forth across the paper. 

Is it better to write with longing and desire, than with the satisfaction of experience and achievement? 

Nothing kills mystery so much as knowledge. Do I love what I know, or what I dream of? 


My father has arrived, but a cold snowstorm keeps us stoking the fire in the kitchen for two straight days. Bored we try our hand at making apple pie. Cabin fever, I become locked into a spy thriller found on the shelf above my bed.

We share our table every night with Uncle Muff, also with Clarence and Lee Brandreth, and spend a lot of time listening to and telling tall tales. My heart is somewhere else, not here. My work routine and discipline collapsed when Dad arrived.

After two days the storm lets up. Lee Brandreth and I take our rifles for a slow walk over Panther Pond Mountain. I broke up small dry twigs of birch and spruce and we made tea under a slate ceiling of clouds, pregnant with rain. Lee wants to get a buck but I'm happy stooping on the wet leaves, holding a tin cup of hot tea made from melted snow.


The moon's daily period must be slower than that of the sun by approximately 1/30th. Since it waxes from right to left the sun is essentially racing ahead in relative terms across the sky. The half-moon theoretically rises at noon - then sets at midnight. The full moon rises when the sun is setting, sets when the sun is rising. All to be adjusted, and varies by season, latitude, local time zone, and adjustments for daylight savings.


What is the force driving Western Civilization? Is there some crux at the core of our mythos that pushes us to do what we do? These mountains will be bare in a half-century. Yes there are woods. The whole place is green in the summer. But the soil layer has been devastated by a century of heavy lumbering. 


I don't assume it should be self-evident, that life is better now than when we lived in caves. 

Mankind searches to purify himself, but wants to drive onwards, like the car in the rain. Our existence is in conflict with our technological explorations. As a result we have failed to osmose through our technological vanity, through our tough outer skin, and emerge like a new butterfly from a chrysalis.

If the individual may achieve kensho, why cannot the world?

A thought, like a wave, comes in, whispers something, then goes out.

A Note, an Observation

They don't strike me as men with values of their own. They recognize good when they see it in others, also dishonesty as long as they see it in others, but to their own behavior and conduct in this regard they are blind. They are more to be trusted with what they are in search of, i.e. their ideals, and ideas, than with what they have already acquired, or taken possession of and made their own. They are searchers.

They'll forfeit humanity to obtain their success. Good they'll do, once they have had a look around and have seen who will notice and how that will help their cause. Their morality is exploitive. 'Upon seeing goodness they in others, they'll import some quantity their own account so long as it is profitable. Theirs is a value system gained by mimicry. What they hear they'll repeat but only if it becomes a chorus. They disparage dishonesty in others, but to their own lies and deceits they are blind. They seem trustworthy with what they are in search of, but not with what they have already taken.


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