Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Yesterday I discussed briefly the spirituality of my childhood. For the last eight years or so, the arrow of my moral compass has pointed toward India (though recently it was begun to shift back toward Japan, where it had been for at least a decade prior.) My yoga teaching has been largely inspired by my teacher Tias Little, and one of the reasons I chose Santa Fe as my point of re-entry was in order to study with him. In 2010 I took three, one-week yoga teacher trainings, two as a participant and one as his assistant. During my times on the mat with Tias, I learn far more than I can hope to pass on. And more important, I follow verbal breadcrumbs that lead me exactly to where I am.
(The following entries are things that profoundly resonated with me at the time of training and are basically nothing more than a self-indulgent recording of that. Be forewarned.)

How interesting that as infants we engage the world strictly orally. Later, we create the world through another oral process, through words.

Reality as film: the illusion of the continuation of image. The stills are the aggregates. The light of our being serving as the light that animates.

Regarding the Chakras (ala the Anatomy of the Chakras training I was in), I'm currently stuck in the Vishuddha, as a writer, and as one who has recently returned to the land of my mother tongue.

Humor in the US of the put-down variety, a competition like everything else here. Japanese humor more of the pratfall variety, a social release valve.

Time spent near water increases prana. Relates to my own philosophy that the World's most beautiful cities are those that utilize their waterfronts well.

Incense is time literally passing before our eyes.

I'm an introvert with extrovert tendencies. I consistently play out my internal dramas and process in conversation. (Sorry!)

In Japanese, 'perception' is chikaku. Chi=knowledge. Kaku=Comprehension, satori, awakening.

Disillusionment with American life is a sign that I'm once again emotionally invested.

Buddhist eight-fold path related to Chakras, as stages toward liberation. (As are the 7 cities of Cibola, according to the incredible writing of Frank Waters).

I wanted to be a star in the land of conformity (Japan). I want to be conformist in a land where everyone wants to be a superstar. (US)

In this New Mexico of dramatic outer landscapes, I pass most of my time in inner landscapes. I need to return to external landscapes, including those citified.

On the turntable: Stiff Little Fingers, "B's, Live, Unplugged, and Demos"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Church is a Verb

While at Upaya Zen center, we had the opportunity hear Father John Deer speak passionately about Gandhian non-violent social action. We joined him for a demonstration at Los Alamos, and afterward, joined in a private discussion with some of that event's organizers. One of them was a Catholic priest with whom we eventually struck up a friendship. My return to New Mexico was confusing in many ways, but none more confusing than my feeling a pull toward the religion of my youth, which I quite deliberately left behind over two decades ago.

So it was to my surprise that I found myself attending a mass said by our new friend, Father Earl. The church was progressive in the same way that Santa Fe itself is, down to the art hung in the lobby. Rather than the long, narrow, and aged mission style churches found throughout New Mexico, this was a circular structure, all white and well lit. We were seated in the first row, made to feel welcome by the smiling faces around us. I've attended a few masses over the years with my mother down at her 300 year old church in Tome, but the mass said was world's apart from any I'd experienced before. The song were new, and our voices were led by a pair of altar girls, no less. There was a strong emphasis on study, rather than on mere worship and faith, an emphasis that knowing God takes some hard work. And being offered communion wine was something I hadn't seen since my childhood in the '70s. Most of all, was the sense of inclusiveness. Many of the pews up front were led to by ramps for wheelchairs. And the statues around the church showed faces beyond the usual long-haired, bearded hippie types; here was an African, there a Native American.

It would take a huge ideological shift in Rome to bring me back to the flock. But for one afternoon, I saw a glimpse of how wonderful Catholicism can be, if it were to listen to the tenets of love on which it was founded.

On the turntable: Dinosaur, Jr., "Where You Been"

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Papers: Maia Duerr

"Freedom...It's An Inside Job."

---header for her blog, "The Liberated Life Project"

On the turntable: Mr Fox, "The Gipsy"

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Weil away the morning

Got a chance to see Andrew Weil speak in downtown Albuquerque. After a nice announcement, he came striding up to the podium, a friend of the universe-ity. (This close to Christmas, it was impossible to ignore the man's resemblance to Santa Claus.) As he spoke, he constantly moved his large, nervous hands, but his talk was focused and casual, and filled with fascinating points I found myself frequently returning to later. Such as:

The word 'medicine' has Indian roots, and is etymologically related to 'meditate' and 'measure.'

Fewer than 27% of doctors in the US are members of the AMA.

Health care in the US is along the lines of a "disease management system," rather than true health care, which is more holistic and preventative.

Soy gets all the subsidies, rather than fruit or vegetables, which is where the truly healthy vitamins live.

It is illegal to advertise drugs in New Zealand.

The US government is finally beginning to recognize obesity as a problem, not out of concern for citizens, but because it threatens the pool of potential military recruits.
And finally, the word 'conspiracy' literally means to breathe together...

On the turntable: "Sub Pop 200" (Various)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It was much more than a hunch...

As children, we were all charmed by the quirkiness of The Brady Bunch. Little did we know that the melding of broken families would become the paradigm by the end of the 70s. It continues to resonate across an entire generation.

On the turntable: The Seeds, "A Web of Sound"
On the nighttable: Eli Levin, "Santa Fe Bohemia"

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Papers: Betrand Russell

"War does not determine who is right, only who is left."

On the turntable: The Doors, "Apocalypse Now"

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It was 30 Years Ago Today...

My alarm radio turned on at 6:30 as it always did. I had it set to WPLJ, a station I'd discovered a few months before. During the summer, my musical interests were expanding, due in part to an older friend up the street who turned me onto The Ramones "Rocket to Russia" and the first album by The Clash. One September afternoon, I flipped my radio's switch to FM for the first time, and there were The Talking Heads doing "Life without Wartime." My radio never played AM ever again.

This particular morning, the first words I heard were, "New York has been living a nightmare." My brain switched on instantly, wondering what had happened. Soviet attack? Another blackout? Then I heard that John Lennon had been killed.

When I didn't get out of bed, my mother came in to see what was going on. I told her I felt sick. She brought me the thermometer to take my temp, which I then held in front of the heater until the mercury rose past 100. I spent the rest of the day with the music.

I've often had the experience where I really heard a band for the first time, despite having listened to them for years. It's happened with Dylan, with The Clash, and many others. Lennon's music too seemed to flow in and out of my life. One night in college, while watching the film, "Track 29," I was floored by the song "Mother,' it having special resonance as I was in the midst of an existential coming to terms with the fact that I'd been adopted.

In Japan, I found traces of Lennon all around, not really a surprise considering the Yoko connection. The tribute compilation, "Working Class Hero,' was in frequent rotation during my first year there. When I was in the national finals for Shorinji Kempo, standing on the floor of the Budokan with the other martial artists, my thoughts weren't on how far I'd come, or on the competition later in the day. My mind was instead fixed solely on "Holy Crap! John Lennon played here, man!" After my son was born, I'd often sing to him, "Beautiful Boy." That line saying life is what happens when you are busy making other plans took on a horrible resonance after Ken died.

Today, thirty years after Lennon's murder, I again find myself with the day off. I'll simply sit, dream my life away, and watch the wheels go round and round...

On the turntable: John Lennon, "The Lost Lennon Tapes"

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Papers: Porter Fox

"Travel is not exploration. It is about taking things from each other."

On the turntable: Graham Bond, "Holy Magick"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Temps Perdu

"When a person, a storehouse of memories, dies, do the things remembered cease to exist?"

Grateful Dead, Reckoning"

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A thought on Thanksgiving

Is Man's dislike of fishy smells a resistance to his aquatic ancestry?

On the turntable: Professor Longhair, "New Orleans, 1978"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


It's funny, but emails can be a lot like haiku. There is a deliberate sparsity of language, yet the meaning can be inferred in multiple ways. Ironically, this sparsity leads toward experiential truth in the case of haiku, and toward perceived (and ofttimes misperceived) meaning in the case of mail.

On the turntable: Johnny Winter with Muddy Waters, "Live at the Tower Theater, 1977"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Papers: Hunter S. Thompson

"All energy flows according to the whims of the great magnet."

----"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"

On the turntable: Dr John, "St Bernard Cultural Center, 1975-02-08"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Life Following Art

I am currently reading John Nichols New Mexico trilogy, which begins with The Milagro Beanfield War. I have read them before, during my first autumn in Japan, in an attempt to capture a little of that NM fall magic that I love so much.

I remember calling my folks back then and asking them to send the novels over. As they affixed the stamps to the package, it was like the release of water from an acequia, followed by a flood of books to follow over the next 15 years.

On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "1972 - 04 -14"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Papers: Homer Simpson

"It could be anything! Scrapbooking, high-stakes poker or the Santa Fe lifestyle: just pick a dead-end and chill out til you die.”

On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "KQED Studios San Francisco 1970"

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Desert Soul Affair (Pt. III)

It wasn't long until dark, so after a quick camp set up, Miki and I moved off in separate directions to find wood for a fire. We hadn't had one at Chaco since there are no trees in the canyon there. Our picking here too were meager, until I found a huge cache of wood behind the tree just next to our tent. Great luck! With dark came the cold, so the fire was a blessing. We ate quietly before the heat, watching the junipers dematerialize into the shadows. We were the only apparent ones at the campground in a tent, with two other sites here being occupied by RVs. With six layers on top I crawled into my bag and slept pretty well until just before dawn, when the chill in my legs awoke me. I crawled out into the predawn dark and built another fire, which helped with the chill. Miki awoke just afterward. She'd been warm but had slept poorly. I told her I'd heard something walking near the tent, but hadn't seen any prints. She told me she'd heard the bugling of elk, but further out in the forest. The sun began to cast its rays over the near hills, lighting up the face of El Morro in a rich yellow. The junipers stretched away toward the north, spaced in a way that recalled the Savannah of Africa. After a quick visit to the Visitor Center (where we were teased a little for tent camping on a 25 degree night), we got a closer look at the rock, El Morro's face autographed hundreds of times over the centuries. The trail led us up and across the top, above the hidden box canyon and past the short lived pueblo of some ancients, our trail a white strip of sandstone across the top.

The ancestors of El Morro's former resident lived just up the road, at Zuni Pueblo. This trip had been an attempt to visit the past, but arriving at the pueblo, we were immediately thrust back into the present. Unbeknownst to us, the Harvest dance was underway. It startled us at first, rounding the corner of the old Mission to find a hundred natives moving aggressively toward us, spurred on by incessant drumming. The dancers were in two long lines, their steps synchronized, the choreography a link to times past. The drummers were most interesting to me, the entire group of a dozen or so men pulsing to the beat, the right leg bending slightly at the knee to form a subtle sink and dip. The drummers were in the more common NM dress of plaid shirts and jeans, but the majority of the dancers were in dressed traditionally, surely uncomfortable on such a hot day. I especially liked how on occasion, an old woman would join the dance, moving with the rest as she wore 'street clothes,' her hands moving in small circles like the others, despite being empty of feather or gourds like the others. When this first group rested, another group, perhaps a different clan, took over. This one had was led by a bare chested man smeared in white, who looked the part of the trickster, even more so with his dark sunglasses. Another man, the one most intricately clad, carried a long staff with a fox pelt lashed to the top. The young girls had headwear with long bangles in front that reminded me of the bangs of the Japanese. A couple of young men had such looks of intensity on their faces that it was easy to see how such rituals are used to stir men to battle, rituals that cut across cultures. The group danced for the better part of an hour, causing some of them to drop out and find shade and water. Even the dog found it hot, sleeping in the shade of the drum group. Miki and watched awhile until it grew too hot for us as well. As we walked away, past the Mission and its overgrown, unkept graves of Spanish dead, I thought how odd it was that despite all the stomping and sudden turning, none of the dancers had left any footprints.

After a nice lunch at Chu-chu's, a small Zuni pizzeria, we headed east again. Passing the turnoff for Gallup a third time, we once again noticed a black dog by the roadside, apparently abandoned. When we'd come by last night, the dog watched our truck pass, as if in recognition. Further along Rte 53, we stopped at Inscription Rock Trading and Coffee Company for a cuppa. Miki examined an old heater in the pile of yard sale junk out front. I picked up a guide to the area's hot springs. Published in 1979, it was illustrated by dozens of photos of nude bathers. We stayed awhile and talked with the cafe owners, eavesdropping a little on the conversation of a couple people sitting beside us. It was a warm place, filled with local and native art, and a place I'd like to visit again, and longer.

Not far up 53, we turned south on a bad road that traced the western edge of El Malpais. A hillside of dull gray rose through the trees, a hillside composed of a old lave flow, now frozen in place. We stepped out onto the flow, following a line of cairns piled up to prevent hikers from losing their way in this confusing landscape. The rocks over which we walked were triangular, with sharp edges that would tear at the soles of boots and the paws of dogs. I wondered how the natives dealt with it as they moved back and froth between Zuni and Acoma. The earth below us was hallowed out by caves and long tubes. Our 'trail' led to a section of a collapsed lava tube, at the ends of which were huge mouths leading away into darkness. The floor of this 'canyon' was piled high with rocks the size of small cars. There was a spooky feeling out here, this landscape devoid of life, and the uncomfortable thought that the ground itself may at any time give way beneath.

Back on asphalt again, moving through the town of San Rafael, one building dwarfing the others in a size so great it looked like a plantation. Along the road, a deer head had been lashed to the hood of a truck, a sign of a successful hunt and an appropriate image, this being Halloween. Then I-40 again, leading me home as it often did, though this time 'home' was in a completely different place, a hundred miles north from where it had always been.

On the turntable: Allman Brothers, "New Orleans, 3/20/71"

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Desert Soul Affair (Pt. II)

The next morning we awoke early to the cold. It had dropped to 30F, and I'd felt it. (We weren't the only ones. A few days later, I noticed that mice had climbed up onto the engine block to keep warm. They'd chewed holes in the windshield wiper lines, plus the starter cables, a fact I'm relieved to have found early.) After breakfast we moved over to the Visitor Center. A jeep with German plates was parked in the parking lot, the words 'California to Syria' emblazoned on both sides. It was one of the smaller models, the size nearly doubled with all the gear lashed to all four sides. (I particularly liked the Coleman cooler strapped to the front grill.) The driver and his son wore matching red jumpsuits and were sharing coffee with the rangers when we walked in. Just after us, a thin blonde woman walked in, and began to complain to the head Ranger about a man who had a unleashed dog in the camp area, and that the dog had jumped up and frightened her. Her main complaint seemed less about the dog than that the owner "hadn't properly apologized." Miki and I had actually witnessed this encounter, and the owner HAD apologized, though in a casual, friendly way. The German too had said that he found the dog to be gentle, and that the woman was simply freaking out. So there it was, that sense of entitlement that many people so freely display here.

We spent the rest of the morning walking amongst the ruins, ducking through doorways and staring down into kivas. It was a warm morning, made more pleasant by the fact that we had the ruins to ourselves. For the week leading up to this trip, I'd read a half dozen books about Chaco
and the Anasazi, to help understand things better and to get some perspective. The photos in these books (nor this blog entry) can't come close to matching the incredible scale and beauty of the place. The fallen Threatening Rock, now strewn over a quarter of Pueblo Bonito, was far more immense than I'd thought. Interesting how it had hung over the Pueblo for a millennium, falling only after the archaeologists began poking around and removing the prayer sticks that had reenforced it. We followed a trail through a gap in the wall up to the mesatop, looking out over the ruins and the entire canyon. The trail led to Pueblo Alto, partially buried in the sand. We stood out here at the edge of the desert watching the ancient road leading away over terrain that had so troubled our truck on the way in. What had these ancients thought as they began to move along it, out into the wild? That said, what wasn't wild back then?

Our last stop was at Casa Rinconada, the place I most wanted to see. This had been the spiritual center of the Chacoan people, and I wanted to see what I could feel. But my mind was too busy with the fact that our truck had about an eighth of a tank of gas, with the nearest gas far away, out along very bad roads. I sped along, moving way too fast, hoping to get closer to civilization should our tank run dry. There seemed little out here but a few abandoned Navajo hogans, rotting into the desert floor. We overtook a few cars on the way, passing them in the hope that they'd not be too pissed at our dust to give us aid should we need it. A few of the inclines along this bumpy road dropped at near right angles on the far side, both of my feet hitting the brakes near their crests. I began to slow down after a couple of these, yet still moving at a clip that was both dangerous and stupid. After twenty miles, we were to bisect Navajo Rte 9, the condition of which I didn't know what to expect since the map showed a thin red line. How thrilled I was to find it newly paved, probably during the past few months. We overtook a wrecker, (bad omen?) and came finally to Crownpoint. I never expected to ever feel so happy to arrive at Crownpoint. However, after driving around a little we didn't find a gas station, and the gas gauge's needle was by now buried 6 feet below E. I thought we might find a gas station out on the highway, so headed south again. Luckily, we found a few Navajo parked on the side of the road, who led us back into town and to the pumps. We filled both the tank and our bellys, sitting awhile until our nerves finally calmed. Then south again meeting the Interstate at Thoreau, a name pronounced out here with an accent more redneck than Boston Brahmin. I usually hate the Interstate, but here couldn't avoid it, forced to move along in the shadows of the big trucks that infest this one. Finally, we arrived at the campsite in the shadow of El Morro...

On the turntable: Rolling Stones, "Got to be Worked On'
On the nighttable: John Nichols, "The Milagro Beanfield War"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Desert Soul Affair (Pt. I)

We were somewhere around Abiquiu on the edge of the desert when the caffeine began to take hold. I'd just finished a coffee bought at that Java place near Cuyumungue, where Miki had yet again been called beautiful by a Native girl. The scenery around us was equally beautiful, scenery that captivated Georgia O'Keeffe and so betook us that we missed our turn. When we noticed, we simply pulled over, got out of the car and admired those sandstone pillars that resembled grain silos, those cliff features that looked like Buddhas.

We wound along Rte 96 to where it fed us onto Highway 550, a bigger and busier road than I'd expected. We connected the dots between Trading Posts until the turn-off for Angel Peak. This was a grand misnomer since there were no peaks to be seen, save for the higher, snow covered ones over the border in Colorado. The name actually refers to a strange rock formation hanging onto a narrow mesa, a formation that does kinda look like an angel if you cock your head and squint some. The desert floor dropped away, and the real beauty was below us. We followed the canyon's edge to a small picnic area, then walked down a short trail to a bench for lunch. The view truly was amazing, but the land had been badly messed with. All around us, small wells drilled for natural gas, hissing and sputtering like demented snakes. A short drive away was the campsite on the western edge of the bluff, an ideal spot for watching the sunset. There were a couple of pickup trucks here, one of them blaring Guns and Roses from the CD player. As we got out of our truck a bare-chested barrel of a man came walking over. Larry was a local Navajo who worked out here in the gas fields. Today was a day off, and he'd come out to help the driver of the other truck, who'd had some engine trouble. That driver, a white man in his 50s came up to me with his hand extended. As I reached out to take it, I noticed that what he intended was to show me a photo he had in his hand, of his young granddaughter. Meanwhile, Larry was busy telling us that this area was rife with arrowheads, and if we walked down to the bottom of the canyon, we'd be sure to find some. He also mentioned obsidians, adding that if we found any, to please share with him since they fetched about $3000 apiece these days. This whole encounter was a little bizarre, like a scene in a road movie. But, in my experience, men who live in the desert are always a little bizarre. These guys were definitely friendly, but there was also something a little off-putting about them, with the rock music and with how they'd apparently had a few, despite it being before noon. After Harry taught us a few Navajo words, we walked along the rim of the canyon. There was no trail, so we simply placed our feet in spaces between rocks and prickly brush. The valley below was rugged, striated walls falling away toward the floor. It was easy to see how this had all once been the sea bed, with the plants surrounding us looking like fans of coral. Our intention had been to climb down, but the lack of features here and our late start made us reconsider. There was something ominous about the gas rigs and their hissing. The poor Navajo. After all the battles and their eventual resettlement out here, the government and the gas companies were still after their land, under which lay this nation's largest natural gas reserves. There was no doubt that some people were making money, but I doubt it spread very far. As we walked back to our truck, white pick-ups with tall red banners sped along the roads, the gravel well groomed so as to lead tankers to all that natural wealth.

We backtracked along 550 a little, then turned west along a road which started out graded, then fell into ruts beyond the wells. It fed us eventually onto Rte. 371, and the entrance to Bisti Badlands. We walked away from the parking area out into a wide flat of earth, following a small arroyo out toward where the sandstone extended out of the desert floor as if it attempting to express itself in bizarre geometric contortions. Most looked like tall mushrooms, others had contorted features like the most talented of Butoh performers. It was a hot day, so we sat in the shade of one sandstone pillar and ate apples. This area had once been mined for coal, bits of black lying about like hundreds of broken Oreos. Otherwise, white shapes extended away in all directions. What there was plenty of, was silence. It lent a feeling of being a part of the infinity of time, of history. Here, as at Angel Peak, it was easy to see how the Navajo might hide out in this canyon in order to escape their enemies. Eventually needing a pee, I wandered into one crevice, my urine arc snap-, crackle-, and popping as it soaked into the parched soil. We wandered a couple of hours out here, mainly circumambulating an especially tall spire that looked remarkably like Mt. Kailas.

We drove out again to the highway, rocks pinging up against our truck's undercarriage. The next road was even worse, at one point crossing a wide dry riverbed that is surely impassable in the rains. The road beyond worsened until arriving at the paved section that marks the entrance to Chaco Canyon. It was close to 5pm, so we went immediately to the campground, scoring a site just in front of a set of small ruins wedged into the canyon wall beneath an equally impressive ruin of abandoned sparrow's nests. We walked over to ask permission of the former residents, then got down to the business of setting up camp. After dinner, we walked through the darkness, myself secretly pleased that the lateness of season had sent the rattlers underground. At the top of the campground, a few campers had set up their tents between the high pillars of rock, literally surrounded by stone. Their fires would insulate the space, the light flickering off the walls in a scene repeated since the birth of man. Above us too was an ancient connection of another sort. The Chacoans had had an advanced understanding of the night sky, and I don't believe I've ever seen so many stars, nor the shape of constellations so obvious. Later too, I'd come out to pee long after the moon rose, its face lighting the ruins and the canyon walls above us in a tranquil blue...

On the turntable: Ministry, "Every Day is Halloween"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Papers: Steve Dublanica

"It amazes me that we ever reproduce at all. That’s probably why God created alcohol."

On the turntable: Mumford and Sons, "Sigh No More"

Thursday, November 4, 2010

On Gossamer Wings

Somewhere out along Bishop's Lodge Road there's a peacock. Often when I drive past, I hear its call, and am immediately taken back to India. Every time.

On the turntable: The Box Tops, "Nonstop"

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Papers: Franklyn Ajaye

"James Brown was a genius. Took six words and made 50 songs out of 'em."

On the turntable: Willie Dixon, "I am the Blues"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cumbia de los Muertos

This place, this America, this country of death where we are so afraid of death that we squander our lives, living in a way that is like running to get home quicker so that our shoes don't get dirty.

On the turntable: Jefferson Airplane, "Loves You"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Papers: Scott P. Phillips

"Ritual is a way to make the unconscious conscious."

On the turntable: The Move, "Looking On"

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tones on Tale

Summer ain't summer without a festival. A festival ain't a festival without weather. It was only June, but rainy season had come on stage early. Jakob Dylan had just finished his set and Robert Mirabal's guys were setting up for him. Despite this being the Taos Solar Music Festival, the clouds had come over quickly, with lightning falling skittishly all around. I wondered how many concert fatalities occur each summer due to electrical storms? I remember back to a Dead show in Vegas, circa 1993 I think, where a guy in the parking lot had been struck. I wondered if he'd been tripping, and if so, how would he know what had happened to him? But I too had been tripping at that show, and may have imagined the whole thing. Anyway, here in Taos, Dylan Jr. had put on a great set, but nothing prepared me for Mirabal. I'd intended to watch it from my camp chair, expecting some mellow Native American flute music. But the guy ripped, his band working through a set of hard blues, the guitar player all tall and black and cool in his cowboy hat and boots, Mirabal nearby spinning and swirling, mostly on one leg. I was dancing up front again by song number two. He put on one of the best shows I've seen in a while, and I was sad to hear that it may be his last, but props to the guy for wanting to spend more time with his young daughter. The main event was Michael Franti and Spearhead, who I'd been wanting to see for awhile. I started out up front again, getting more and more caught in the crush. One guy beside me started to pick a fight, not liking how I was crowding his lady. I said, hey brother, who isn't getting crowded up here? I assumed that this guy was probably prone to pot fueled brawling, for the girlfriend got really pissed at him and quickly rushed away, him following and pleading. I alternated between my usual feelings about how violent this society can be, and the irony of someone starting a fight at a Franti concert. The rest of the set went peacefully, Franti rocking out with his band of look-alikes: Robbie Robertson and Comic Book Guy and Fred Egerer from my college days. The latter had only been with the group a few weeks, and he had this MASSIVE grin on his face, like the happiest boy in the world. By the second hour, I grew tired of the crush, and retired back to my chair to watch the sky. I hadn't been to a big time rock'n'roll show in awhile, preferring smaller, more intimate club gigs. So, I sat in my chair, watching the stars disappear to the flash of lightning, as dozens of kids bounced up and down on stage, way past their bedtimes.

Taos again, this time the 2nd Annual Mountain Music Fest, held up at the ski grounds. Until I'd arrived I hadn't really gotten the name, wondering why Gov't Mule was headlining. Then I turned around and saw Mt Wheeler towering over us and I thought "Oh, right!" We'd chosen Out Back Pizza over the opening acts, but arrived just in time for Yonder Mountain String Band to inspire us to make every muscle twitch in time to their bluegrass twang. Between acts Miki and I watched the kids playing in the play area, on mechanisms I'd never seen before. Then Gov't Mule took us into night, giving us a Whole Lotta Love...

There were also shows closer to home. Lyle Lovett closed out the Paolo Soleri, though whether it is for good remains to be seen. I had thought they'd never let the Paolo die, that some benefactors would come up with the required amounts for renovations, until a wise friend mentioned that the Natives who own the place don't care about the sentimentality of rich white people. Lyle's band was very large, including these backup singers who swung low through the gospel numbers. When I say low, I mean low, for the baritone sang in such a low register that I half expected his voice to get road rash. Lyle kept up the stage banter, the highlight being for me the bluegrass quartet stepping to the mike to take a verse.

A surprise gig was at Buffalo Thunder Casino up on the Tesuque Rez. It was private invite only thing, with us on the list. Miki had befriended a woman in town who is married to a born-in -Japan percussionist, and his band was putting on a short set, the day before playing the music festival on the following afternoon. I ran into the wife at REI the day before, saying that I'd been thinking of going to the festival, since I wanted to see Ozomatli. She laughed and said, Ted, my husband's band is Ozomatli. And they provided, our feet off the floor for half the set, as the hipsters raided the free food table behind us.

There was non-rock going on too, with devotional singing on a chilly night with Deva Premal and Krishna Das. And later in the summer, Miki and I scored 29 dollar nose bleed tickets for "The Magic Flute" at the Santa Fe Opera, where half the fun was tailgating in the parking lot and people watching. Mozart's classic surprised me in how anti-Christian it was. The locals gods apparently agreed, tossing lightning onto the desert behind the open backed stage.

And the summer was equally defined by the shows I missed--Telluride Bluegrass and Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, Aspen Music Festival and Primus up at Red Rocks. But I know that they, and the music will be back next summer too.

On the turntable: Bob Marley, "Burnin'"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Days Away

This was a summer of sacrifice, but there was still time allotted for road trips. Early in the summer, we drove the short drive out to Pecos National Monument, following the Santa Fe Trail where we could. The clouds were low but it didn't detract any from this valley's beauty, between the tall, squared mesas, and the softer, higher peaks where the gods dwell above the trees. We wandered the ruins for most of the morning; above the open grassy field where tribes once came together to trade; around the ruined, roofless Pueblo looking like a game board; and in the shadows of the crumbling mission church standing imposing on the bluff. One could imagine the sight of this place, abandoned and forlorn, from a wagon lumbering slowly along the Santa Fe trail.

Our admission ticket enabled us entrance also to Fort Union, so on a day far hotter we followed the Trail up its northern spur to that monument, now little more than a handful of wooden dwellings lined up in rows of rotting frames of exposed wood pointing out in random displays of geographic possibilities. We were beyond the mountains here, where the plains stretch away for a thousand miles east. It was exposed and very hot, as we walked what were once roads, our eyes open for snakes. There was very little to see, but it was quite romantic to imagine the town that once was, and the soldiers' families who tried to fake a semblance of a life in a place well beyond civilization. Most appealing to me was the parallel lines ground into the earth, the Santa Fe trailing ambling off toward Santa Fe. Back in the visitor center we watched a film in a room that looked like a funeral home, then walked among the exhibits which helped me fill in the blanks about the place I was now living. Earlier in the day we'd stopped at a bizarre little DIY monument at Glorietta Pass, marking where the westernmost battle of the Civil War had been fought. It was no surprise to see here that Arizona had been confederate, especially with the recent immigration laws controversially playing out in the press.

On the way home, we stopped at Las Vegas, NM. We walked the old town that is just down the hill from Highland U. While most of the traditional architecture remains, horseshoeing around a lovely little plaza, the businesses inside have not. Many of these shuttered businesses had fliers or posters from 2005, announcing pride in the place and the intent to restore this little town to its former glory. But the economic downturn had done its thing. Las Vegas, 2005-2010. RIP. A few blocks over we found some life in the old timey Spic'n'Span diner. As we were pulled out, a well-to-do white couple was pulling a small Indian girl (SW Asia, not SW US) along by the hand, her eyes turned in the direction of the Ganesha sticker affixed to our front bumper.

Later still in the summer, we drove south for an intended hike up to 10000 foot Monzano Peak, which I'd never climbed but had seen daily from the house where I'd grown up. After a night visiting with mom, we drove south, turning east onto Rte 60 toward Mountainair. A forest fire had devastated the hills out here, including the trail where we'd hike. Where the scenery had been burned away was now the lair of aggressive bears looking futilely for food. Perhaps the hike can wait. Mountainair itself was charming enough, with an old hotel which, like most of its vintage, had a look seeped in history, a menu filled with comfort food (though not for poor vegetarian Miki), and a resident ghost rattling around upstairs. After lunch, we lurked awhile in the aged shops filled with aged merchandise, had a malt at the pharmacy counter, then moved out to explore the trio of Salinas ruins near town. The name Salinas comes from the huge saline lake on whose banks mammoths were once hunted. Water still plays a part out at Abo, in the form of a stream cutting across the rocky desert floor. Wildflowers filled in the arroyo with color, while above, a reddish mission church was in a bad state of ruin. Unique to this place was the kiva built within the mission itself, hinting at a semblance of religious understanding between the natives and the Spanish conquerors. Some archeology students from UNM were hard at work at restoration, but they could do little for the pueblo itself, most of which had been reclaimed by the clay earth. The discoverer and original preserver of this site lay buried beneath a lone cottonwood at the streams edge. A long drove to the south brought us to Gran Quivira, isolated and lonely out on the storm-swept low desert. I stood out on the bluffs at the edge of the site, watching storms play above the mountains further out. What better metaphor for the dangers presented by the Apache and Comanche tribes which continually harassed this place until the residents moved west to mingle with the Puebloans of the Rio Grande. How did they survive out here, far from any visible water source and on land that looked like it gave up little but the salt reminder of that long dead lake. To complete the trilogy, we visited a site who's name had me punning badly: Quarai (For the Straight Guy). It was in a more hospitable place, nestled in some low mountains beside a lovely stream lined with cottonwoods. Miki and I walked awhile beneath the trees, happy to finally get out of the sun. Like at Abo, the ruins here are unexcavated, giving up little but the crumbling Mission, sticking up literally like a sore, red thumb.

On the turntable: Derek and the Dominos, "Let's Play Domino"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Papers: Noam Chomsky

'In the phrase “North American free trade agreement,” the only accurate words are "North American."'

--Hopes and Prospects

On the turntable: Ozomatli, "Embrace the Chaos"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


This summer, my brother and I started a editing services company. In addition to our main site, New Wordsmiths, we also started a blog where we'll post flash reviews of books and short stories. My first contribution is here:

Spiritual Memoir and Eat, Pray, Love

On the turntable: Albert King, "At Montreux"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Papers: Santa Fe New Mexican

Published March 2, 1914


The New Mexican does not wish to be unpleasantly or unduly critical, but there is a dead rooster at the corner of Palace and Lincoln Avenues which has lain unburied for three consecutive days.

There is no doubt about that rooster's death. No physician's certificate is required, as the passerby may testify. He has passed away. Now, while one rooster occupies comparatively little space, and while the casual visitor to the city might not notice him, the principle of the thing is wrong. One tourist might see that rooster and fail to see the Old Palace; and his report on Santa Fe would feature the fact that it had no facilities for interring or removing defunct roosters.

Let no visitor to the Oldest-Newest city in the United States see unburied roosters on our street corners. It is the little things that go to make the big impressions. Every rooster removed and buried makes Santa Fe one rooster the cleaner, one rooster the brighter and more attractive.

Let us let no dead rooster escape--or any other debris, animal vegetable, or mineral, on the streets of this beautiful capital city of New Mexico."

On the turntable: Alex Chilton, "19 Years"

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Peace in the Valle

The next day was even more brilliant than the last. We drove north through Taos, stopping at whim. Ice cream in Embudo. Mexican food in Questa. A mile shy of the Colorado border, we turned down a road that would remain dirt for the 50 miles that it passed through the Valle Vidal. I'd been expecting some pretty hard road, having read that I'd need a spare tire, and shouldn't expect to get out of second gear. But this was nothing like the road leading from Madrid out to Bud's place, a road that continues to set the bar.

We followed a fast stream as it zigzagged around the parked 4x4s of flyfishermen. Further in, horse trailers were left at scattered parking areas, their inhabitants out in the deeper woods, ridden by bowhunters seeking the elk that are protected during the 7 months that the Valle is closed off. (Prior to the trip, a friend had mentioned that the elk travel in 100-head herds, and the sound of them moving past is like thunder.) We moved further and further in, each meadow more spectacular than the last. In the true proper Valley of Life we found Shuree Pond, glimmering at the head of a drainage that flowed toward Mt Wheeler far to the south. Nearby, we topped out at The Rock, from which we found an amazing lookout over the entire eastern half of the Valle. The road switchbacked down, and before long we found our campsite. A few horse trailers were parked near the entrance but the back of the campground was near empty. We chose a site, and began to get to work. A minute into putting up our tent, one borrowed from REI, one of the poles irreparably broke. This was particularly ironic since this night out was to be a gear test of sorts. Plan B was to sleep in the back of our Subaru, another trial. The new Jetboil stove and GSI cookware worked great, and as darkness fell, we built a fire using matches borrowed from our boyscout neighbors. (Forgetting matches while camping is a terminable offense at REI. But, hey, I thought I had had a lighter.) As our fire began to sputter and die, the moon rose full through the trees, bringing with it coyote song, and the baritone accompaniment of snorting horses.

We hadn't slept too well, with the moonlight and a narrow sleeping space. (Though I have no qualms about sleeping in that car again. It passed the test.) We left as the sun rose, with the frost still streaked along the western edges of the wooden rails lining the road. Deeper in the forest, we herd the bark of elk and a lower-pitched growl of some predator in pursuit. Seeing nothing, we wound back out through meadows that narrowed into canyons, with classical music setting the tone. After an hour or so, we reached the Valle's eastern edge, the next 500000-acres belonging to Ted Turner's private Vermejo Park Ranch. Just where the blacktop began again, a herd of buffalo grazed. I stood there in the warm morning sun, eyeing the buffs as I took pleasure in peeing on Turner's land, my stream arcing through an electrical fence that tried to prevent me from doing so. (No politics at all in my action. I strongly admire ole Ted and his conservation efforts.)

A few miles up the road was Cimarron, which got me paraphrasing a Neil Young song. We saw more wildlife here, in the form of deer wandering the narrow town streets, and a gaggle of turkeys strolling the amongst the boy scout cabins at Philmont. The real wild life used to be found at Cimarron's St James hotel, gathering place for famed names of the old west and the site where 26 lesser-known names were gunned down. We had a quiet second breakfast here, enjoying our coffee and toast under the glazed eyes of a couple dozen trophy heads hanging from the walls. (These people must really hate animals here.)

Our drive south took us through the impressive Cimarron canyon, past the lakeside Eagles Nest, and over the ski resort of Angel Fire. Outside the latter, we made a brief stop at this country's first Vietnam memorial. Built twenty years before its better-known DC cousin, the chapel and memorial are built in the shape of a large white dove that looks over the valley. Ironically, hawks circled high overhead. Even more ironic was the sight of a few orange-garbed convicts working in the hot sun, while the words "freedom' repeated endlessly from the media room not far away.

The road took us again, down to Moya, where alpaca grazed with wool newly shorn. A crow perched atop the chimney remains of a long gone homestead, and beneath us, a huge scorpion crossed the road looking like a lost crab. In town, we enjoyed a nice lunch followed by ice cream. Not far away was another stop, at La Cueva for some raspberry jam and raspberry salsa. Back on the road, past a rope swing tied to the bough of a cottonwood weeks away from coming into color. On the grounds of a neighboring farm was a large trough written with the words, "God and the USA," the iron, and the sentiment, slowly rusting away. It wasn't far from here to Las Vegas and the Interstate, which demarkated the true path home.

I returned to the house happy and pleased with the fact that I still had two full days in front of me, as the words began to gather like clouds and sentences formed in my head.

(Miki's view, with photos, is here.)

On the turntable: Mumford and Sons, "Sigh No More"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The High Country: Deception Peak

A month ago, Miki asked me how I would spend a week off. Without thinking, I immediately answered, "four days in the mountains, three at my desk." It hadn't even occurred to me that I could do this. Which frightens the crap out of me, how accustomed I have become to my heavy schedule, as if it is perfectly normal to do little else but work.

So I cleared a week for my own use. The first day, Miki and I hiked the Bear Wallow/Borrego loop, my eyes scanning the forest floor for that massive vertebral column I'd see on this trail a few weeks ago. The air was cooler, and the trees coming into color made it seem a whole different place. We arrived back at the trailhead to meet a few of my fellow REI employees and the rangers who would lead is in a full moon trail clean-up. We were given our matching T-shirts, hard-hats, and glow sticks which we tied to our shoelaces. Not far down the trail we got to work, smoothing down small rises and creating channels for a more efficient water run-off. Being a guy, I had good fun using a couple new tools, a double sided axe called a 'Pulaski', (which I continually referred to as a 'kowalski,') and a heavy, metal rake thing called a 'MacCloud (though to me it was a 'McMillan and Wife'). After an hour or so, we moved off trail down to a camp area, for a campfire. With the autumn moon rising through the pines, we celebrated not in the usual Japanese way with tsukimi dango, but with the more American s'mores.

The following morning, Miki and I were once again heading to the high country, to meet Derek and Amanda for a hike up Aspen Vista. The trees that give this trail its name were ablaze with yellow. The hike took us up a fire road and into blue spruce country. Near the ski area, we had lunch under one spruce, as camp-robbers flew near to get a hand-out. We were happy to oblige, tossing stale bread into the higher branches. It was a perfect autumn afternoon, with the birds above and most of northern New Mexico far below. We stayed below the ridge until it curved downward like the crook of an elbow. From here, we shot straight up to Raven's Ridge, with Nambe Lake far below and winking at us until we got above tree line. From the summit of Deception Peak, the beauty of the deeper Pecos was revealed to me once again. The crumbly knife ridge over to Lake Peak teased, as did the trail further on to Penetente. Resisting these temptations and chose to instead sit in the sun up here awhile. Far across the high desert, canyons of deep rock led into those nooks where the Anasazi thrived. Within a month, when the snow once again takes the high country, those canyons will be our sole playground.

We could resist the colors far below no more. Heading off trail, we shot straight down the mountainside, into a riot of white and blue and gold. It went from summer to autumn within minutes. We eventually found a small trail, as a large dog bolted from between the trees. The previous winter must've been hard up here, for dozens of trees had fallen across the trail, with us climbing over or ducking under, in a back-country game of pick-up sticks. Back on the main trail again, we wondered if it were possible that the color had deepened even more since our ascent, as dozens of hikers passed us, kids and dogs in tow, heading one last time toward higher ground before the snows of October once again cover it all.

On the turntable: Ozomatli, "Coming Up"
On the nighttable: Robert M. Utley, "High Noon in Lincoln"

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Papers: Edward Abbey

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."

On the turntable: "Parliament, "Tear the Roof Off"

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Male Writes of Passage

There are many, myself included, who bemoan the lack of ritual in modern life. We've lost those rites of passage that have guided us like beacons through the darkness of centuries. How ironic then, that on my birthday, I taught a yoga class composed solely of men. It wasn't planned, yet it happened. In a decade and a half both practicing and teaching yoga, I've never attended a class that wasn't at least 80% women.

More interesting for me was that it was my Monday night meditation class, my most gentle class. In my asana classes, I would've presented a more dynamic 'yang' class to challenge these guys, but tonight I had to stay along the softer edges. And funny how this fact made me uncomfortable, having to lay myself open and present this less "masculine" energy to a roomful of men.

Where does this discomfort stem from? I am always more comfortable amongst women, able to be more myself. With men (aside from my closest friends), I still feel the need to show toughness, to be hard to a certain extent. This feeling to prove myself could be based in a poor relationship with my father. But poor relationships with fathers are so common these days that they could almost be considered rites of passage in themselves. While around men, I often catch myself trying to impress them in some way, most often relating tales of things I've accomplished.

My dual 'careers' could be considered by many to be soft, being both a writer and a yoga teacher. I consider myself to be pretty in touch with my feminine side, and make no apologies for that. So why do I still fall in the trap of measuring my masculinity in materialist terms: the aforementioned hardness and emphasizing my deeds. My generation in particular was the last that seemed to have decent male role models, before the days of the fallen hero that we read about every day in the sports pages, in the celebrity rags, and in the political coverage of the New York Times. Mine was probably the first generation who didn't want to become president when they grew up (thanks to Richard Milhouse), but how could one chose between the soft-talking Georgia man of peace, dubbed weak by his opponents, and his Movie Star successor who rode into DC with tough talk and nukes in his holsters? History sided with Cowboy Ronnie, who ushered in the beginning of an era where a man was measured by his ability to win. To win, that most American of afflictions, shaped our foreign policy and cultural zeitgeist from then on.

So, is to show softness a sign of weakness, or is it a sign of balance? I began my yoga as a counterpoint to my martial arts training, as a means toward better self-care. And even those alleged 'manly fighting arts' taught me to deal with my anger, to act rather than react, to flow like water through the hardness of stone. I have become a man who learned to walk in peace through the world. Or better yet, how to sit still. And to breathe.

On the turntable: Donald Byrd, "Black Byrd"
On the nighttable: Aldo Leopold, "Aldo Leopold's Southwest"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Immaterial Witness

I live in Santa Fe. This means I live amidst a hodge-podge of religions as great as at any other place or time in history. After the indigenous earth religions of the natives came the Spanish Catholicism that attempted to eradicate it. The Third Wave brought the Anglo seekers of the original draft, those artists and writers of the early decades of the last century, who created the myth of the noble Indian, which motivated further waves of Anglos to follow. More recently came the hippies and the neo-hippies, who too came looking for that simple native spirituality, yet this round of pilgrims had one eye ever on the East, diluting the local brand with elements of Buddhism and the New Age. Most recently came Indians of a different genetic strand. There are currently a handful of vedic ashrams or ayurvedic schools in the area, with yoga schools thick on the ground. Living here I am exposed daily to a wide variety of people, all grounded (or in far too many cases, ungrounded) by some belief system or other.

Spirituality in 21st Century America is far different than what I've experienced in Asia. During my own training and travels, I have noticed no real separation at all between spirituality and daily life. The evidence is everywhere, no matter the country or culture or class. Spirituality is at once sacred and personal, and is at the same time secular and universal. They walk their talk. Or more appropriately, there is little talk at all, and why would there be, since it is like talking about how to breathe or how to eat? By contrast, expressions of personal emotion here in the US feel dramatized, but that's not really our fault considering all the way we're constantly spoon fed overblown emotions by the media.

But why then, do we Americans talk so much shit about our feelings but rarely focus on what's valid, on what's real? Self-expression sounds scripted, like in a bad TV show. I naturally find myself making comparisons with the Japanese, who are as impenetrable as the concrete that they're so busy girding their nation with: a cultural and historic hardening and protecting from the inside out. By contrast, American emotions run as wild and unpredictable as a river. The approach to spirituality is interesting, frequently talked-up and emphasized as a sort of adventure. Which strikes me as odd considering that spirituality's purpose is to dam that unpredictable river of the emotions. Long ago, Trungpa Rinpoche downplayed this as spiritual materialism. In Japan, I found most people just turned up at a retreat and silently did their thing, uncomplaining about the omnipresent pain, physical or psychic. In the US, it's like it didn't happen unless we promote it. We wear our spirituality like a coat, putting it on and taking it off with every slight change in the weather. The worst are those who talk up others' spirituality, spouting aphorisms or stories of long-dead sages, as if we haven't already heard them. I often want to say to them, firmly but politely, "Just do your practice and cut the Zen talk already!"

On the turntable: Krishna Das, "Heart as Big as the World"
On the nighttable: Jack Kutz, "Mysteries and Miracles of New Mexico"

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Papers: Stanley Crawford

"If you read it on paper, it's already out of date."

--The River in Winter

On the turntable: The Allman Bros. "Fillmore Concerts"

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Spurning Japanese

The grass is always greener, right?. With the coming of autumn comes the usual introspection. I'm missing Japan pretty badly at the moment. My life here, while rewarding, is far busier than I'm used to. And though difficult at times, I recognize that this return to the US is important, big-picture wise.

A few months before the move, Miki and I climbed up Daimonji. As we looked out over Kyoto, she suddenly asked, what if we didn't go? And I went cold, physically uncomfortable with the idea of staying in that city any longer.

A large part of that reaction had to do with how the local government (and I use the term loosely) presents the ancient capital. This summer, they surprised me with their capacity for shortsighted stupidity, going through with the construction of an aquarium for the 'benefit of Chinese tourists.' As I write this, the Chinese are in a rage and are canceling their travel plans by the thousands. The Heians may or may not be turning in their graves, but we can now see that the graves themselves are.

A fellow devotee to Ninkasi, Micheal has taken a sober approach in helping spearhead a movement in stopping this senseless project, one that went ahead despite overwhelming public protest. Check his Deep Kyoto for more information...

The petition site is here.

On the turntable: Neil Young, "Fork in the Road"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Children of Water

Fall in Kyoto has much to offer. Multi-colored maple leaves strewn across stone like little lost gloves. Dango eaten beneath the full autumnal moon. Festive student carnivals played out in game and song.

This fall, there is even more. On October 1st, a band I used to play with, Morphic Jukebox, will play a short set prior to the screening of a film in which I had a hand in, "Children of Water."
It's as if I never left...

Details here at Deep Kyoto

On the turntable: Neil Young, "Dreamin' Man 92" (I'm here too, in the audience...)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Papers: Henry David Thoreau

"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

On the turntable: "Putumayo Presents Puerto Rico"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Losing Nicole

I found out yesterday that a close friend has died. I found out in a bizarre way, on Facebook. In a passing glance, I noticed that a friend had referred in the past tense to someone named Nicole. I thought at first that some celeb had died, but then, as a chill passed over me, I clicked over to Nicole's page, and saw the message from her mom, posted 10 days before. A first for me, notification of a friend's death via social network.

While I knew about the cancer, I hadn't realized it was terminal. Last I'd heard, she'd seemed OK, in her usual good spirits. I went back through her postings, to see when she'd written last. I scrolled past all the birthday greetings, including mine, greetings that went unanswered. Her last post was back in mid-July, a photograph of her sitting on a bench, her face lit by the summer sun. She looks happy, if a little thin, with a straw hat that partially shades her face. Present is the smile we were all blessed with. One of the last things she'd written was not long before that, a response to my wondering if she were in Canada. She said she was, then as if an afterthought, she replied again, this time the single word: "Permanently." I'm haunted by this 'permanently.'

Her 6 week absence on Facebook is now writ huge. I'm ashamed that I'd hardly noticed, yet a person's frequency of posts can be so nebulous. We can easily nuance things in any way we like. But, I can't help but wonder if anyone wondered about this silence. Did they know that she was nearing the end of her life? As I myself thought she was fine, I have to ask whether she herself knew.

In thinking back over my time in Tottori, I'm surprised at how many of my memories include Nicole. It's like she quietly instilled herself into my life to become one of my better friends. If you asked me who I was closest to, I might come up with other names first, but it dawns on me now that Nicole would definitely be somewhere near the top of that list. And I'm not alone in feeling that her ever-present joy and penchant for slightly awkward mischief made her so much fun to be around. And I'm surely not alone in how incredibly devastated I feel right now.

I remember teaching her to play drums, a skill that never seemed to take hold, but the rhythm presented itself in other forms, as a DJ and as our sometime on-stage percussionist. I remember our multiple music swaps and book recommendations. I remember the difficulty she had in adapting her boobs to yoga poses. I remember her compassion when I was divorcing and leaving Yonago behind.

And if I'm not mistaken, I believe she still owes me 20,000 yen.

Don't worry about it sweetie, you've always given me so much more.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday papers: Leonardo da Vinci

"Art is never finished, only abandoned."

On the turntable: CSN&Y, "So Far"

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Resurrection Day

Shortly after leaving the Zen Center, I went down to Belen to attend Easter mass with my mom. I hadn't been in a church for close to a decade, and I was surprised how much my attitude towards it has changed. Mostly, that has been influenced by own openness to spirituality. Ten years ago, I was a firm believer in the Japanese concept of "jiriki,' or self-power. This was apparent in the paths I walked, as a martial artist and a practitioner of yoga and zen. It was only after my son died, during that 'lost year' when my soul was open and stripped bare, that I found myself in numerous situations where I felt guided, and had experiences that even today I can't explain. I began to accept that while I was free to play the game of life according to my own strategies, the game board itself had been set up for me. Over the subsequent years, I began to identify the richness of a spiritual world, in particular as it relates to place.

So it was in the little Spanish church in the little village of Tome on that Easter weekend. As I entered the church, I bowed deeply, then bent over to take off my shoes. The residue from a month in the zen center was apparently still upon me. Hands in shasshu, I slid into an empty pew, the seat wooden and hard with a back at nearly a right angle. While self-flagellation is now frowned upon by the modern church, those little touches of discipline still remain. These seats would allow no sleeping, and little relaxing. Then the music started up, hymns sung in Spanish. I always found it funny how not only the churchgoers but the musicians themselves sing these verses in what is almost a mumble, as if embarrassed. One of the hymns had me humming along, as the melody was similar to Bob Marley tune, with that trad Mexican-style of picking on the downbeat.

As for the mass, I was surprised by how much of the ritual I'd forgotten, despite years of indoctrination. One change new to me was the collection system. When I'd been young, it used to be a small basket that was passed around. (When taking this from the hands of a neighboring stranger, I'd always wanted to say, "No thank you," but never had the guts to actually make this joke.) Today, two man came down aisle by aisle, their baskets at the end of a long pole. As they'd lean in so as to reach the innermost seats, they 'd smoothly thrust their arms forward as if shooting pool.

Most expectedly, I found myself remembering the Lord's Prayer, reciting it as automatically as I now chant the Heart Sutra. The rest of the mass went on as it always has. I really enjoy the priest here, with his common-sense approach to spirituality, and unwillingness to get caught up in the more radical dogma, as expressed in those right-to-life signs out on the front lawn. (When I met him a couple years ago and relayed the story of Miki confusing a confessional for a bathroom, he threw back his head in laughter.) During the sermon, he compassionately acknowledged an apparently epileptic young man having a seizure in one of the pews, yet continued on in order to keep the flock on focus. This seizure was evidence of my jaded view of Catholicism; how it maintains its strongest presence in countries with the most poor and disenfranchised, where the population has little but their faith. While thinking this, I looked over at the woman in the pew in front of me, sitting there attached to her oxygen tank. From the perspective of Great Faith, how does she relate to a God who would put her through such a trial?

While I think it would take a major effort for me to lose such a cynical stance to organized religion, I did feel a profound shift, from the feeling a decade earlier of crushing repression, to one of welcome. I think that I found much joy and peace in the community that had gathered for this holiday. Heading home, I managed to walk out the doors without bowing, carrying a strange desire to reconnect.

On the turntable: Frank Zappa, "Sheik Yerbouti"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Belabored Day

"In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?"

--The oft-omitted sixth verse of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land"

On the turntable: ELP, "Trilogy"

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Perseids Faith

Once again I can't sleep, laying there, thoughts running through my head. Nothing worrisome or stressful, simply a series of ideas moving through like a news-ticker. It happens far more now that I am in New Mexico, perhaps caused by the altitude, sleeping closer to a sky alive with lightning or moonlight. I wonder how these atmospheric conditions interact with the electrical activity of my brain.

So I sat out in the living room, looking at the stars filling most of the large bay windows. A few of them skidded past as if streaking the glass itself. Oh, right, tonight is the first night of a meteor shower. Maybe that's why I can't sleep.

And the thoughts continued. I've been so busy here, working over 40 hours a week after a decade working fewer than 15. I no longer have the time to write, to read, to hike, to cook a meal eaten before a DVD. The summer has moved past with little3 acknowledgement.

Spatially too, I feel compressed. We live in a beautiful casita north of town, surrounded by mountains and trees and wildlife. But I miss walking and biking around town. It is tough being tied to an automobile. When we decided to live out here, we justified it by saying that even if we live a minute away from the plaza, we'd still have to drive for shopping and to dine with friends. But everytime I visit someone, I envy their proximity to bike paths and cafes. I especially envy one friend who takes nightly strolls to the plaza to watch the live music there.

I sit in my chair, the clock ticking toward morning. Gradually, my thoughts slow, and my mind is taken more with what I see before me. And it hits me. How can I feel hemmed in when I surrounded by so much space, by the desert, by the stars? I realize now that the reason for my anxiety has been my attempting the impossible task of trying to fit new life into old patterns. Why not instead open up to the new possibilities?

Back when I was twenty-two, I spent the better part of the winter reading the biographies of those writers and artists who intrigued me. I found that in many cases, I was more taken with their lives than with the works themselves. And it was then that I decided that I would make my life my art. And from that moment began my restless seeking, and roaming, and study. Nearly every moment of my time in Japan felt under the pressure to do everything I possibly could there, to accept every opportunity. And I admittedly did a helluva lot. And it was rewarding.

Now back in the States, I don't have that sense of "I gotta do this, and I gotta do this, then I wanna do this." But as the months have passed and I've tried to settle, to establish balance, I've tricked myself into a life out of balance. I should know better, since experience has taught me that this balance is illusion anyway. What really exists is flow. But now I'm fighting the current.

While I was living and practicing at Upaya, I knew this. The very first week there, I was overwhelmed by how good it felt to simply sit, and I promised myself that I would pass a calendar year without leaving the state, and stay connect to the here and now. And as I sit watching the sky I remember this feeling of presence. What follows is a shift in my vow to live my life as art. I will seek instead the value and joy of being present in the moment instead of trying to do it all. I'll seek quality rather than quantity. If I have less time to do the things that define me, they'll have more power if fully delved into.

I recognize now that I've spent too much time expecting relationships to function on auto-pilot, since I was ever moving on to the next book or trip or happening. Which goes some length at explaining why I'm so crap about keeping in touch. When I was younger I thought it was cool to never look back, just forward. Later it was frightening to look back, since to reflect on something was to own it, and to own something sets us up for its loss. It reminds me -- in a very roundabout way -- of something I heard David Lee Roth once say. Something like, "While driving, I always have one eye on the road and one eye on the rearview mirror to see how good I look getting there." Good ol' Diamond Dave, always living in the present.

On the turntable: The Eagles, "Desperado"
On the nighttable: Lynn Cline, "Literary Pilgrims"

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The High Country: Jicarilla

One afternoon at REI, an older gentleman came up to me with the hope that I would order for him a new pair of hiking boots. When I got the email address by which to contact him, I was intrigued by his name. Musai. Somewhere I'd heard it before, this obvious dharma name. Googling it later, I found out that he was the dharma heir to the priest who had performed the ceremony for my first marriage back in 1997. He was now Roshi to a Zen group just outside Santa Fe. Looking over their website, I noted that he did hikes monthly with friends and sangha members.

Last Saturday I joined him for the first time. There were just three of us, waking at dawn for the long drive up the High Road to Taos. We hung a left at Truchas (where Redford filmed " The Milagro Beanfield War"), passed the still operating flume at Trampas, then turned right onto the long dirt road past the village of El Valle, spread proud and isolated along its grassy valley. Where the road ended we moved onto trail, tracing the San Leonardo watershed to its eponymous lake source, up over 11000 ft. It was a lovely hike, crossing the stream a few times, with a long snack break for 'Elevenses.' The conversation was light, mostly about the wildflowers and the ample supply of fleshy mushrooms growing to impossible sizes.

It felt great to get into the hills. I'd too long been putting it off. It seemed that the timing had never been right. The snow season gave way to mud season, a time when even down in town, the dust turns to mud, splashing up to dirty the undercarriages of all those expensive European toys people here drive. I couldn't even imagine what the roads at altitude were like. Then the spring winds came, and in the window between when they clear the stage for the summer monsoon, somehow work told hold of me, taking away triple the weekly hours I had been working over the past decade. Inertia creeps as always, and over this past month a terrible craving for space, both temporal and spatial, has begun to build.

Again, it felt great to get into the hills. While it is admittedly a blessing to have a wife who shares my love for the mountains (and in many ways, is more intrepid than I), it is a treat to be out with the fellows. It also reminds me how much I enjoy walking solo, something I'll need to attend to before the snows come again.

There was a large open meadow at 10,000 ft, the trees all blown down or pushed over by avalanches. From here the trail showed its seriousness, leading us up a 1000 ft climb in less than a mile. It was here that I was truly awestruck by Musai. His pace across the level trails or slight inclines matched my own. It was only on the more steep ascents that his legs revealed their mileage. Lunch was well earned, beside the smaller of the two San Leandro lakes. Small fish swam in water which surely must freeze at this altitude. Across the water was the steep slope that we'd later climb, between the trees and up over the talus, looking for footholds where no trail has ever been. It was tough going, even with the hiking poles I was initiating. I'd always questioned their use, but was now forever sold. Four legs are indeed better than two. Using the poles brought more stability and balance, and occasionally I'd lean onto one, looking down at the floor far below, and across at the adjacent rock wall, where big horn sheep leap and strut, though not today. I'd have envied their sureness of foot. To slip here meant a long and dangerous fall, every step requiring full attention. Awareness built into every step.

It took a couple hours to reach the ridge. I'd sat awhile on a rock just below it, looking over the scenery over which we'd walked, over which we'd driven. All the familiar landmarks were there: Taos and Los Alamos; Black Mesa and the Jemez. Yet, by contrast, the view over the back of the ridge introduced the unfamiliar: the higher Pecos with all that open space, and the ridge that looked like it encircled it all. The Sandia range was visible far to the south, with the Truchas Peaks closer in, all gnarled and misshapen like deformed hands. The beauty ensnared me. I was both in, and of, the landscape. I simultaneously began to expand and disappear.

Then my eyes began to greedily seek more details within the view, and the mind joined in by wanting to capture everything in photos. I wanted to linger, but we still had a short climb ahead. We followed the ridgeline up to Jicarilla Peak, nearly 12500 ft and a good place for tea. I believe I said something like, "Three-sixty is a fine number." All of northern New Mexico was there for us.

There weather was good, but it was nearing three. We didn't dawdle as we moved down the ridgeline, trying to keep equidistant between the two watersheds on either side of us, the truck parked near their confluence. When the descent would grow steeper, dropping us into one of them, we'd veer off at a diagonal for higher ground. It was a long afternoon, feet sore at taking near sideways steps, ankles pitching and rolling. We wound up in a creek bed, thankfully dry, but which required some bobbing and weaving over fallen trees and over rough terrain. Finally, we found the Trampas Lake Trail, wide and well-kept. I'm rarely so grateful to see something constructed by man. The rapidly encroaching dark reminded us that this was the time of the animals, not so subtly demonstrated by the paw print of a very large cat, and in the half-devoured carcass of a porcupine, its quills scattered about like spilled toothpicks.

The truck was there, outlined in the nearly full dark. It had taken us about four hours to get down. Musai mentioned that his goal with these hikes is to be completely emptied out. I felt the opposite, full and re-energized after all those summer days seen from indoors. Not that I wasn't suffering. My stomach was crying for food, but luckily we arrived at Rancho de Chimayo a few minutes before its 9 o'clock close. The ride home seemed long, myself crammed sideways in the jumpseats of the truck cab, my neck stiff from altitude and dehydration. What didn't help matters was arriving at a police DWI checkpoint back in town, me rankling at such a deliberate display of control after a full day of freedom in the wild. Finally, my fatigue found a cure in sleep, crawling into bed nearly 18 hours after I'd left it.

(Musai has posted his own take on things, with pics. Scroll down to Aug 21 post.)

On the turntable: Gentle Giant, "Gentle Giant"
On the nighttable: David Hatcher Childress, "Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of the Southwest"