Surely part of the pleasure of reading haiku is to make the current moment more special. Literary critics probably even have a term for it: the way an especially vivid evocation of a particular time and place can lend radiance to another, so for example I can read
the silent rooms
Ann K. Schwader, Modern Haiku 53.2, Summer 2022
and for a moment I see everything in its light, this lush green meadow and forest edge on a crystal-clear morning in June. By taking me briefly out of it the poem shows me more of what makes it unique and unrepeatable. I read, smile, look up and smile again.
Walking instead of talking. Going out instead of holding forth. It’s been a year since our nearly decade-long conversation trailed off into silence and the great ridgetop oak we got married under toppled over on a still evening in late June. That spot will be choked with early successional plants and then pole timber for a generation. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out, and what tree or trees end up dominating the local conversation with the sun—probably a black cherry or red maple, but with deer numbers way down from chronic wasting disease, a hickory or even another oak seems possible. Though what kind of world, etc.
To be fair, I may have found a way to keep talking despite all my walking: you’re looking at it. But in any case the idea was to spend the time I used to spend online outside instead; walking is just one option that I happen to enjoy. Sitting in the woods and reading or writing is another. Yesterday, since a breezy cold front had driven away the gnats and mosquitoes, I was even able to compile most of the weekly blog digest in the woods.
It occurred to me the other night that this is really just a return to the patterns of my childhood. Yes, I was a bookworm, but I can’t remember spending very much time in my room, or even indoors unless it was raining. I’m not sure I’ll go back to climbing trees, though. As nice as it’s been to recover the spring in my step, I can also feel autumn in my joints.
The harmony-with-nature folks seem nice enough, but I always feel awkward around them because, I don’t know, it feels terribly presumptuous somehow. Like, that tree didn’t ask to be hugged. You’re not part of the local food chain, and you’re a member of the single most destructive invasive species in ecological history, so your position relative to the rest of nature is in fact the opposite of harmonious. Should we not begin by acknowledging this extraordinary privilege?
I mean, unless you’re hearing-impaired, how can you walk through the woods and not hear how much you are feared? So many of those adorable-sounding chirps mean “Look out! Another fucking human!” Sure, if you stay still for a while, enough critters will forget you’re there or not notice you that you can pretend you’re having a harmonious moment, but you have to literally hide in some sort of blind, or set up remote cameras, if you really want to see what the nonhumans are up to.
Except of course for invertebrates, so many of which rush heedlessly through their days, allowing even the most impatient children to get absorbed in watching them. J. Henri Fabre’s Life of Insects series is a masterpiece of world literature, because invertebrates are kind of in that uncanny valley between critter (being with face) and robot. They’re absolutely alien and absolutely everywhere, and most people seem completely blasé about that. Freaky, man. Freaky.
The Japanese have this one right. That’s one of the things that has always drawn me to Japanese poetry, in fact: the healthy appreciation for, and close attention to, insects. It shows they’re serious about nature; they see other creatures as connected with us on a deeper cultural level than any of my own ancestors have experienced in the last thousand years.
Of course, none of this supposed nature reverence matters a whit in today’s hyper-capitalist economy, where other Japanese cultural traits, such as the avoidance of conflict in pursuit of a distinctly hierarchical harmony at all costs, make the excesses of capitalism especially difficult to oppose. Their wild areas are in even worse shape than ours.
I don’t know why Western Buddhists went with “enlightenment” at all, really—“awakening” is a much more powerful root metaphor, and I gather more accurate. It’s also more immediately relatable than most high-minded religious goals, I think. Oneness with the Godhead? Sounds dodgy, like an adolescent concept of bliss. Awakening, though? We’ve all had those rare days when we felt unusually alert and alive. It’s not a great feat of imagination to extrapolate from that.
Ecstasy, getting outside oneself: that’s what Eliade said Shamanism was all about. Complete projection: that’s what Eliade was all about. Escapism is a fantasy with, I’m sure, widespread adoption across cultures. But Buddhism, along with many other, traditional belief systems, prized the opposite of escape: attention.
Which I seem to have precious little of today. Too much getting in touch with my feelings to actually feel.
This post is less than half as long as it would’ve been had I not cut out much of the blather. Even still, I don’t think you could say it is entirely lacking in blather. But who wants to go through life on a blather-free diet? Not me. (I’m even back to drinking whole milk. Delicious!)
over the dried-up pond
the first bat
Coming down from the spruce grove through a narrow part of the meadow I hear a weird shrieking noise, which turns out to be juvenile barred owls, according to Merlin. There are three of them calling all around me, but it’s too dark to really make them out. Five minutes later, from farther down in the meadow I hear the parents talking back to them in chimpanzee voices. Nice to witness that bit of family interaction. They are always such great owls to have around.
I’m told there might be people who don’t have strong feelings about their various local species of owls, but I’m not sure I believe it.