variations on a theme

seclusion retreat … 10th day

The loneliness

of my ramshackle

grass hut,

where no one but the wind

comes to call (Saigyō Trans: B Watson, Poems of a Mountain Home)

Nikon D750… f/1.8 1,2000s 38mm 200 ISO

“One can live without coffee and without cigarettes, Liesl said rebelliously, but not without nature, that’s impossible, no one should be allowed to deprive you of that. I said, ‘Think of it as if we’d got to spend a prison sentence here, for a few years perhaps, and learn to look at the couple of trees over there across the road as if they were a forest. …” (Etty Hillesum, Trans: A Pomerans, An Interrupted Life The Diaries of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943. pg. 127)

Nikon D750… f/1.8 1,2000s 38mm 200 ISO

“… Were it possible for us to see further than our own knowledges reaches, and yet a little way beyond the outworks of our divining, perhaps we would endure our sadnesses with greater confidences than our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown, our feelings grow more mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdrawn, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent. …” (Rainer Maria Rilke Trans: M D Herter Norton, Letters to a Young Poet. pg.40

Nikon D750… f/1.8 1,2000s 38mm 200 ISO

marcescence

Solitude Retreat … 9th day

In the Hida Mountains

the village pawnshop is closed –

a winter evening

~Buson (cited: Y Sawa & E M Shiffert, Haiku Master Buson

Nikon D750 f/1.8 1/1600 35mm 200 ISO

you just can’t go and ask a tree

“Fall is so wonderful because of the change in the colors of the leaves, and [during the autumn months], the deciduous trees pretty much shed their leaves and become bare—well, most of those trees. …

“The process of shedding leaves is really interesting and shows the intricate evolution of nature as a way to survive through all seasons. When the days grow shorter and the amount of sunshine available to leaves decreases, the process that makes food for the trees ends. Chlorophyll begins to break down, the green color disappears, and we get those splendid colors of the fall before most trees drop their leaves.

“The process of leaf drop is also a neat little trick of nature. At the base of their stem (referred to as the petiole), leaves have a zone called the abscission layer, located near the branch to which they are attached.

“The word abscission (sounds like scissors) comes from the Latin ‘to cut away’. The abscission zone has special cells that act like scissors, cutting the leaf off from the main part of the tree in autumn. The part of the leaf stem, or petiole, nearer the leaf contains a separation layer of thin-walled cells that break readily, allowing the leaf to drop. On the branch or twig side of the petiole, there’s another special layer of cells that have a corky structure, which forms a protective layer on the tree, neatly closing up the break to prevent injury or disease. So, the cold of winter gets sealed out, while precious water that the tree continues to use through the winter is sealed in. When spring finally arrives, the return to rapid growth from the trees limbs makes leaf buds expand and swell, and the old leaves finally break off if they haven’t already. Nature is so cool!

“Most, but not all, deciduous trees go through the abscission process. But there are a number of species that exhibit marcescence, or the retention of their leaves, to some degree through the winter months. That’s what you may see when you walk through the forest in the winter. Marcescence is most common by far in the beech, followed by many species of oak as well as hornbeam

“Scientists have not established the exact reason why certain trees exhibit marcescence—you just can’t go and ask a tree. However, there are some common theories. A few of those theories are based on the observation that marcescent leaves are found most often on younger or smaller trees or on the lower limbs of bigger trees.

“One theory suggests trees may keep their leaves to deter deer and other browsing animals from eating the nutrient-rich twigs. The leaves may conceal sumptuous new buds. In fact, researchers have found that the dried leaves are less nutritious than the twigs, and that characteristic might keep the animal from trying to munch on the lower twigs of trees.

Nikon D750 f/1.8 1/1600 35mm 200 ISO

“Researchers suggest another possibility for trees holding their leaves through the winter. It relates to the availability of nutrients for trees as they head into the growing season in the spring. When leaves drop in the fall, the nutrients from those leaves that accumulate on the forest floor are pretty much gone by the next spring when the tree needs food to kick off the growing season. This mulch layer would also hold in precious moisture for the trees. If the tree holds its leaves until spring, then releases them to the ground below, they may act as quick-start nutrients as the growing season begins, and this is most important for the smaller trees under much of the canopy from larger trees.

“On a related note, in some years, rapid onset of early frosts or freezes may halt the abscission process and cause many other deciduous trees to hold their leaves into part of the winter season. This would include varieties of maples and other species, but as the winter wears on most of these trees finally do lose their leaves.

“There’s no debate that the muted browns and yellows of marcescent leaves provide a beautiful backdrop in the bare forests of the winter. In addition, one benefit of trees like the beech, which keep most of their leaf canopy during the winter, is for birds who can seek shelter from the cold winter temperatures and winds among those clumps of leaves.

“For those who choose to take that wonderful saunter through a forest path during the winter, you now know why there are trees who choose “not to go naked” during the season, but wait to complete a quick change as nature’s spring fashion season swings into full gear.”

cited: Weather Underground,Tom Niziol. Marcescence: why some trees keep their leaves in winter, January 22, 2020

a fatherless child

Nikon D750 f/7.1 1/40s 50mm 100 ISO

“… literature provided me with alternate threads by which to darn a harmonious, yet delusional, understanding of death, of fatherless children, of a family. To move into this realm is to be cuddled in the arms of a chair, mesmerized by the pages of a book unfolding like an accordion, embraced by a transparent sound barrier, and transported into fantasies found through fictional characters.  While my mind’s eye grasped the hand of my naïve emotional self and together we observed the telling of storied lives, there was a seeking mind that simultaneously identified revealing markers to create a map, not to a place of hidden treasures, but to a place that felt like a home.

 I was six years old the first time this happened.  Martin and Cooney’s Five Little Peppers and How they Grew eased my aloneness with the emptiness left by my father’s death and filled it with a reformulated concept of family.  Later, it was Alcott’s characters within Little Women and Little Men who gave me permission to vicariously be a fatherless child united with loving adults who validated sacrifice, patience, and compassion.  Burnett’s themes of grief and loss within The Little Princess identified the behaviors, choices, and attitudes necessary to survive the evils of dark despair until the rescue by an unknown and unidentified savior, just and righteous.”

~B Catherine Koeford, A Mediative Journey with Saldage homesickness for a place, a time, a person that cannot be

the petrified forest

May I find the Wisdom that silences the fortress of my mind’s discontent so I may hear with understanding teachings absent of greed, anger, and ignorance.

forest4

I often feel as though I am an old blind woman walking through a petrified forest with only a staff to ensure that my steps find solid ground.  I remain ignorant, as I unconsciously look away from that which will break my heart and seek stability through the creation of and attachment to ideas, beliefs, principles, and concepts.  I yearn for certainty; anger erupts each time I stumble and fall and forges a dogmatic fortress that encircles my heart and mind. The desire to hear with understanding teachings absent of greed, anger, and ignorance speaks of an awareness of how this protective barrier deafens me to words of wisdom that shed light into the shrouded mysteries of life.  During those moments when I find myself attempting to engage the unknown, I ask of myself, “What energies would flow into a life emptied of greed, anger, and ignorance?”

As I reflect upon the fortress of my mind’s discontent, an imagined stained and scratched door opens before me as if to invite me into a dark and musty attic.  As my eyes scan beyond the entrance, I see streaks of yellowed sun beams, weakened by dust laden drapes; a scuffed wooden floor, covered by a bare-thread carpet of muted colors; and wall paper, grayed and yellowed, tugged away at the top most of a corner by the collected weight of long ago wisps of cigarette smoke.

My observing mind notices that there is no other furniture other than two rocking chairs placed facing each other in the center of the room.  Sitting in one is a slender child.  She seems to be no older than four years old.  A slight musty scent of aged vanilla greets me as I enter the room with a request that the child not be disturbed. The sound of her voice, which I first heard as a distant mumble, intensifies into an animated stream of words.  The words seem to rush from her with such passion that a focused listener would surrender to an impulse to talk over the justifying, rationalizing, point–counter-point, argumentative, single-person monologue.

I stand quietly at the edge of the room listening not to the words but to the power within her words and note to myself, “Her words are gushing out from a center of guilt, shame, remorse.”

I again return to her words and listen so deeply that a crinkle forms on my forehead as I wonder, “Is there anxiety about a deed so wrong it is punishable by banishment?”

I quiet my distracting thoughts and listen even more deeply and then I acknowledge a profound sadness in the threads of defensive anger that is begging to be heard and understood.

If one comes across a person who has been shot by an arrow, one does not spend time wondering about where the arrow came from, or the caste of the individual who shot it, or analyzing what type of wood the shaft is made of, or the manner in which the arrowhead was fashioned.  Rather, one should focus on immediately pulling out the arrow.  

~ The Buddha

My compassionate self moves to the young child.  As she embraces the young child, she begins to rock and whisper, gently, softly, “How long have you been here?”  The young child tells of wakening to this room after a night of hiding under blankets trying to be unseen, holding her breath trying to be unheard, swallowing her fear trying to be still as the sounds of distant shattering glass and disembodied voices crashed and stumbled upon and into each other.

My compassionate self hears of the homesickness that emerged with such intensity that it overflowed her soul and traveled across rivers, over mountains, and through valleys searching for someone to bring her home. The yearning returned from its fruitless travels and surrounded her as if it were the voice of an unseen other.  In a painfully frustrated response, anger roused within the child an intention to destroy this other’s yearning that come in the place of her heart’s desire.

My compassionate self awakens to the realization that this young child is ignorant of the fact that the chair opposite her is empty and that she is being persecuted by a phantom of her own creation. Slowly my compassionate self understands how this young child’s powerlessness created not a monologue but an internal dialogue between a phantom, lost within her homesickness, and a child, lost within her wounds.  My mind recalls the story of Narcissus who believed that the image in his reflection was a water spirit with the same characteristics as Apollo, and hears how this child’s unproductive attempts to be heard and understood by her own echo has condemned her to remain forever alone in this shadowy dust-filled room.   Narcissus clung to the image of his love; she clings to the sound of her anger.

Touching the present moment, we come to know the past created the present and together the future is being created.

Shu-shu“, my compassionate self whispers as she rocks the small child with the sound of ancient mother’s loving-kindness. “Shu-shu, feel the sadness within you, hear its voice, be with it’s tone and texture, and release this caged discontent with the outward flow of my breath. Shu-shu. Silence your thoughts and listen only for the sounds within this room.”  And together, they rocked back and forth, listening to the sounds in the room.

My compassionate self moves to the empty chair opposite the small child. I begin the practice of ‘Giving and Taking’ by first resting my thoughts and opening myself to silence. I then imagine a small black cloud filled with the child’s aloneness, anger, sadness, and anxiety surround her heart.  I feel the inky dark cloud move away from her heart and leave her body as it rides upon the gentle wind of my in-breath.  It enters my body; it touches my heart, and a sudden sensation of wondrous energy spreads throughout my body.

forest2

A tiny silvery whisper emerges, “It is your wish to be released from this room so that you may walk with the summer sun and feel its warmth touch your face.  You wish to see the multiple colored leaves blanket the sidewalk and hear them crackle as their scent is released into the autumn air. You wish to feel the tingle of the first winter’s snow upon your tongue.  You wish to release all that is frozen as the spring wind awakens mother earth. You wish to look into the eyes of others and see the reflection of love.”

On my exhalation, I release to her those wishes on a white cloud knowing they will give her the courage to leave this room, to open her door to life.

Silently, the sun’s rays departed to the west and unveiled the moon’s spherical disk. A pause fills the room with stilled silence as if time paused to honor this universal transition. My compassionate self inquires, “Where in this moment is the voice of your phantom?   How will you allow yourself to hear the emptiness within this room and then know the other chair holds no one?  What will you do with this absence? When will you give yourself permission to greet this absence, acquaint yourself with it, feel it, know it in its entirety, and allow it to settle within? I wonder what will open your mind to see that what your words attempt to harm, silence, or destroy is but a memory and thus you are in a perpetual state of cyclical suffering.

“Your desire to be heard and understood can be heard and understood only by you, not this phantom of a memory.  I appeal to your imaginative skills to see and hear how you, as this phantom and small child, wish to be free from suffering, wish to be happy.

“Each time you become aware that you once again have entered this room and are engaged in a confrontation with your phantom, trust in the freedom that accompanies the awareness that both you and this transitory memory wish to be free from suffering.  Breathe in with your whole body an image of your phantom’s pain; on your out breath release to your memory the happiness, joy, and calmness of mind that will bring an end to it’s suffering. This practice of ‘Giving and Taking’ is the silver key that opens a door to a space of tranquil abiding.”

forest

The Buddha suggested that whatever it is that we reflect upon frequently becomes the inclination of our mind.  If one recurrently thinks greedy, hostile, or harmful thoughts, desire, ill will, and harmfulness shape the mind. If one repeatedly thinks in the opposite way, compassion, loving-kindness, sympathetic joy, and equanimity become the preference of the mind.  The direction we take always comes back to ourselves, to the intentions we generate moment by moment in the course of our lives.

Excerpts from B Koeford, A Meditative Journey with Saldage

mother earth

contemplativephoto

Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground, stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. You are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely as she will engulf  you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering. And not merely ‘some day’: now, today, every day she is bringing you forth, not once but thousands upon thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you a thousand times over. For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now, the present is the only thing and that has no end.

~Edwin Schrödinger  (My View of the World)