Tabula rasa · Sunset over Lima · The Cloudherd's Song · Nature writers · Swirl · Repeating ourselves · Chinese New Year · Island in a lake ·
Lima sunset, two views
I'm on a balcony overlooking the Pacific, a lovely sunset going on, the bright red-orange disc kind of sunset, the unblinking going-going-gone kind of sunset. (It was explained to me that nearer the equator the sun goes down much faster, diving straight down into the sea rather than sliding into it at an angle further up north. So true, don't know why it never occured to me before. Enjoy your long sunsets.) My British compatriot of Peru is in his hammock listening to Harry Potter on digital audio, the usual studiousness given up for the day as the magic of Harry Potter drew him in deeper. I am in a calm and happy moment as is usually the mood at sunsets, with a boost also from a few hours of productive work late in the afternoon, writing an equipment grant for the NGO, for which I get to stay in this lovely and privileged San Isidro house.
The organization, Shinai Serjali, does good work, great actually, honest and painstaking with no promise of easy ways out. They work with indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon who've only come into contact with national society in 1984, after which an estimated 40-60% died from introduced respiratory diseases, they've had to relocate, the loggers and petrochemical companies continue to infringe on their rights. They're facing the most important decisions for their future, but concepts such as pollution are entirely abstract to them. That's a trip. Some communities in the surrounding areas choose to stay in voluntary isolation, though they've not necessarily gotten what they wanted. It's like that old joke of someone's about to be rescued from a desert island, but ask for the day's newspaper first, then refusing the lift. It's like bringing children into the world. Serjali's task is to "bring up" the group in record time, so that they can stand up to the bullies and otherwise make something of themselves in this world.
The Cloudherd's Song
Never having done anything ever but watch
and never having actually watched anything,
never having attended to anything but cloud
and never having touched one or learned
its numbers or colors or rightful names
(except once on the slopes above Darjeeling
I wore out into the morning and breathed you in,
mother of atmosphere, green air,
eternity, vagrant, the monsoon
had brought you and I took you entirely in)
I call you cloud and call myself yours.
— Robert Kelly
» Click here for more cloudy pictures. «
Recently I have found great kinship with a couple of American nature writers in the great tradition of Thoreau: Barry Lopez and Peter Matthiessen. Matthiessen is an intrepid and true explorer, who later in life became a Zen teacher, and in his writing and his character I find great inspiration. Some have described him as "always making things hard for himself." I find this is true; anything as sharp, polished, and penetrating as his mind is, does not come easily. He did everything the hard way, went to the ends of the earth and the depth of himself, sought after snow leopards and cranes and other mystical things, endured great distances and hardships, so that he became an instrument like a glistening diamond. The process is utterly complex, the result is utterly simple. I sense I wanted to be Matthiessen, before I've heard of Matthiessen, before I had an idea of a person as such an instrument.
All this is to say, I'm doing things the hard way. I feel like I have done it that way since I was 13. And I was looking for some reassurance that I am not just dense in some way.
“The epiphany of my life came along long ago, when it struck me that sadness was a recognition and affirmation of the sweep of beauty in the world, the promiscuous swirl of it through our lives, and the scars it leaves behind.”
— Bob Shacochis, author
Chinese New Year's parade and festivities, Chinatown, New York. It's the year of the Ram, or Goat, or Sheep, or year 4700. The festivities are mostly a facade, thin. The details are nice, but without the crowds, there's not much of a show. But I appreciate the young men and women with their bleached and colored locks and their good looks doing the drumming, taking up the baton of tradition that's the lion's head, dancing their way into each storefront and wishing auspiciousness for the coming year. Some traditions and some sense of community are passed down. I pass through the parade streets alone, reviving old memories and collecting new ones. I'm an outsider to this Chinese community, and most others, yet I appreciate them deeply, if only for a smile on a Chinese baby girl's face.