Saturday, November 27, 2010

Winter Afternoon


       wind blows
       the last brown leaves
       clenched fingers

John and I spent the afternoon at the Portland Japanese Garden. After last week's storm, everything looked cold and barren. Yet, this is one of the most beautiful times of the year in a Japanese garden—when the 'bones' are in their glory. Sinuous lines of tree branches form natural sculptures against the pale backdrop of winter. We enjoyed being alone in the garden, strolling slowly, remembering it in other seasons. My thoughts returned to winters in Japan—sitting in a favorite temple in the mountains outside Kyoto, warming my hands over an iron hibachi and gazing at the garden.

       sunlight on tatami
       the old Buddhist temple
       smells of chrysanthemums

John and I ended our walk on the southeast side of the Japanese Garden pavilion with visit to the suikinkutsu (water harp). On the surface it looks like a water basin with water flowing from a bamboo spout. But buried beneath the ground is an upside down pot with a hole at the top. As water trickles through the pebbles at the base of the water basin it resonates through the underground chamber. The Japanese say it sounds like a koto, a thirteen-string zither, or a bell. To me, it sounds like pleasant splashing.

                             late November
                             even the water harp
                             is frozen silent

Haiku are from Grinding my ink, which received a Haiku Society of America Book Award. Visit for more information.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

                       the way
                       koi pleat the water
                       my lips open

On these cold, rainy days it's pleasant to remember our visit to Hakone Garden nestled in the hills of Saratoga, California. In 1915, inspired by both a lifelong interest in Japanese culture and their travels throughout Japan, Oliver and Isabel Stine purchased 18 acres  to build a summer retreat. Isabel hired Tsunematsu Shintani to design the Upper "Moon Viewing" House and Naoharu Aihara to design the gardens. Hakone is the oldest Asian and Japanese estate in the western hemisphere.

Strolling through Hakone on a late summer afternoon, John and I felt that we were visiting a daimyo's estate in the mountains of Kyoto. The hillside gardens, unique lanterns, waterfalls, ponds, and meandering pathways were all expertly designed and maintained. I especially enjoyed watching the koi swim nonchalantly over two huge tortoises in the pavilion pond. Also the wisteria tunnel, which I hope to walk through in the spring when the scent and the buzzing bees will be a sensory delight. If you're fit, climb up the path through the bamboo forest in the late afternoon light. Sit on the pavilion and look out at the "Valley of the Heart's Delight", which is present-day Silicon Valley. While we were resting there,  I overheard a man telling a group "Over that ridge is Jiko-ji." The name sounded familiar—my friend Chris Herold had sat meditation in that Buddhist temple many years ago. John and I stopped to talk with them and got invited to visit Jiko-ji, which we did the following day. Good things happen when you're in a beautiful place!  

Thursday, November 4, 2010


When John and I moved to our new home in NW Portland last autumn, I was missing Comet and the guinea hens and the deer that grazed in the pasture at dusk. But on the first day, sitting at my desk in my new study, I had a visitation. Directly ahead of me, just outside the window, was a large rabbit. We stared at each other and I said “Hello, Bunny.” He lingered for quite awhile munching on grass while I wrote poetry on my computer. Occasionally we’d both look up at one another in quiet companionship. The next morning he was there again, in the same spot, gazing at me and grazing. He’d show up in the evening as well, nibbling at the quince.

I immediately consulted my dictionary of animal totems: Animal-Speak. It reported that rabbits are known for fertility and new life. This was a propitious sign for our new lives in our house on the hill. Moreover, in Chinese folklore, the rabbit is a sign of sensitivity and artistic abilities. I felt truly blessed.

After about a week, it was time to name the bunny. I came up with Cassidy. When I told a poet friend, Charles Goodrich, that I'd named our feral bunny 'Cassidy,' he smiled and said knowingly 'Neal Cassidy?'

'No,' I said, 'Hopalong Cassidy.' I realize now, with some sadness, that many people will not get the reference to either one.

This spring, another rabbit showed up. A baby. Just one—a very cute one. I watched her  delicately nibble the grass and then stand on her hind legs to reach the azaleas.  I hoped that she wouldn't develop a taste for my beloved peonies. Just to make sure, I put metal cages around the tender red shoots. After a few weeks of daily visits, she became part of the family. I named her Camille after the French poet.

A year has passed since Cassidy first visited. Both rabbits come infrequently now. I realize that I know almost nothing about rabbits—their life span, mating habits, hibernation. I do know that coyotes walk boldly down the street at night. My best guess on the location of their burrow is that it's under the hawthorn bushes. With the hawthorn's sharp thorns and thick foliage for protection, I hope that my rabbits are more wiley than the coyote.