Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Winter at Green Lake

January 28, 2017

I didn’t get a mid winter break this year!  Maybe this is why I am officially tired of winter.  If only winter could be as short as this blog post.  It’s been one cold winter.  On January 17, Green Lake was completely frozen over.  That was the first time I have seen Green Lake freeze over.  The last time the lake froze was in 1972, long before I ever lived in Seattle.

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Today, however, felt balmy as the temperature reached 53 degrees. The lake is no longer frozen.  Buffleheads were frolicking in the water.  I saw a ruby-throated hummingbird land on a bare branch. Winter blooming sarcacocca filled the air with an intoxicating scent.  Skate boarders and in-line skaters sped along the trail. The day felt warm compared to the low temperatures we have had in the mornings and it seemed everyone was out walking.

Here are just a few photos taken today.  I feel so lucky to look out over the lake every morning when I wake up.

Horizontal view of winter trees and Green Lkae

Horizontal view of winter trees and Green Lake

Bare Trees and Winter Sky

Bare Trees and Winter Sky

Christmas Growing Up: Indiana 1960s

December 27, 2016

When I was growing up in Indiana in the 1960s, Christmas meant time off school, time to play in the snow and make a snowman. I always received Perfect Attendance Awards in school, mostly because I was healthy, but also because, even if I had a tummy ache, my mom ignored my complaints and sent me off to catch the bus. Unfortunately, as soon as Christmas vacation came around, I usually got sick and spent the first day or two in bed with the flu.

Christmas time meant a family drive to Chicago to see the Christmas decorations in the shop windows along the Magnificent Mile, a one-mile stretch of shops on North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River. I loved my Dad fiercely as he fearlessly drove alongside big trucks and thick traffic to get us safely into the heart of the big city. We splurged on paid parking, but we saved on meals: mom packed her homemade impinialata (olive onion bread) and had prepared plenty of hardboiled eggs. In our family, there was no driving adventure without at least a dozen hardboiled eggs in tow. (Years later, the first time Rick went on a road trip with my family, when offered a second hard boiled egg, he asked me, “What’s with the eggs?”) In the big city, bundled up as I was, my little feet always got painfully cold and my dad had to give me horseback rides up on his shoulders! The Christmas decorations looked especially beautiful from up high.

Christmas meant having the whole family together. It meant dad coming home early from work at the Indiana Toll Road on Christmas Eve. He entered the house, bringing in snowflakes and a gust of freezing wind, holding a gigantic basket filled with jam, cured meats, mustards, nuts, various types of cheese, crackers, fresh pears, dried fruits, and deluxe chocolates. He proudly handed the basket over to us as we unwrapped it and inspected its rich contents. He won a gift basket year after year for being one of Indiana Toll Road’s best and hardest working employees.

We loved Christmas because it meant my dad had a few days off work and we got to spend every waking moment in his lovely company, all of us! We played his favorite opera and Sicilian folk music records on the turntable. He told us stories of the old country, he sang for us, and he smiled his beautiful contagious smile as he and mom made homemade sausage. The sausage meat mix was ground pork, flavored with salt, cracked pepper, oregano, aniseed, and red pepper flakes. I begged for bits of raw seasoned meat before it made its way into the sausage casings via the hand-crank machine. Again and again, mom and dad patiently swatted my little hands away. Those were the happiest of times.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Stephen’s was packed with other large Catholic families. Some families were so big, they took up a whole pew. My family -seven of us always arriving late- took the back row. Why were we late? Because mom always had one more chore to do, one more dish to prepare, one more item to put away, one more daughter to dress, one more door to lock. Dad waited patiently in the car. He sat rubbing his gloved frigid hands together and kept the engine running, the car warming up, the windows frost-free.

No one saw our new outfits at Midnight Mass. We kept our heavy coats on during mass because it was so cold. I felt like an Italian-American Eskimo, but at least I could snuggle deep into my coat and doze on and off, unnoticed, during the long late-night mass. The priest, rather than celebrating the many people attending midnight mass, scolded those who only showed up for the holiday masses. I counted the seconds for mass to end. Mom stood at her full height, which was not very tall at all, proud of her well-dressed, bundled up daughters and her handsome husband, proud of the fact that my family never missed a single Sunday mass throughout the year. We were not the ones being scolded. Dad had a smirk on his face as he remembered Midnight Mass of his boyhood at Santo Rocco back in Grotte, where he, the cute blond prankster, tied all the widows’ black shawls together so when they made to leave, their shawls fell off their shoulders in one big tangle! What a commotion! He dared repeat his prank every year and no one ever figured out who the prankster was!

After mass, we came back home and opened gifts under the artificial silver Christmas tree that we, as a family, had proudly assembled and decorated with tinsel and mom’s ancient Christmas ornaments from Grotte, Sicily. The ornaments were hand-painted, made of delicate glass. How carefully we handled them, knowing they were mom’s treasures. She’d certainly kill us if we broke one.

The other treasure was the nativity set my family had brought over from Sicily. On the days leading up to Christmas and for days after the holiday, I loved to say goodnight to baby Jesus before going to bed. I could stare at the tiny figures for a long time and study the faces of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the three kings, the sheep and the cows. The figures of the nativity cast a spell over me. Their faces held magic, a mystery that was too profound for me, a mere child, to understand. The nativity set, I knew, represented the rock that held my family in a steadfast knot of faith.

After midnight mass, we were each handed a wrapped gift from under the tree, while an electric light-gadget facing the silver decorated tree went round and round, magically casting colors and turning the silver tree and tinsel into a spectrum of red, blue, green, gold, and orange.

When I was little, my big sisters told me that Santa was a hoax and that the gifts from Santa actually came from mom and dad. I cried because what they told me was dreadful. How could they have come up with such a cruel story? I told my mom what I had heard. My mom sternly told me that if I continued to believe in Santa, I’d keep getting gifts from him, but that if I chose to believe that he did not exist, Santa would then stop bringing me gifts. It didn’t take genius-brains to figure out what I was supposed to do. I continued to receive gifts from Santa until I was 12.

I received dolls and toys until I lost interest in them. Most of the dolls came from Aunt Lily. Aunt Lily did not have children, so she splurged when it came to gift giving for her brother’s children. She was my godmother and adored me! She brought gifts for all my sisters, but I thought my gifts from her were always super special. I secretly believed she loved me more than anyone else in the world. When I lost interest in dolls, I started receiving practical gifts: underwear, socks, a winter coat, boots, a sweater, scarf, hat, mittens, flannel pajamas, slippers, and long underwear. We children received clothing items to keep us warm during long Indiana winters.

Mom cooked and baked for days before Christmas. We children were given the difficult jobs, like cutting onions and peeling garlic. Can’t believe I am divulging this embarrassing detail, but she made us girls wear hairnets in the kitchen! Serious eating began for my family on December 24 and continued for the next 24 hours. On Christmas day, Mom put a sea of fold-up tables together in the basement and then came the tablecloths, one tablecloth overlapping another. Out came her finest plates, the best glassware, and polished silverware. The concept of potluck did not exist in my family. If my mom was hosting Christmas, she made the entire meal. My dad’s sisters came over and helped with the finishing touches.

The gathering was no fewer than 20 people. We began with a pasta dish, usually lasagna or spaghetti with meatballs, followed by Italian Sausage with roasted peppers and onions. There was always a potato salad with hard-boiled eggs, a baked ham, salad, homemade bread, olives, and dad’s homemade wine. The meal went on and on. I will never forget those Christmas meals!

We ate with gusto and we all drank wine, including the children. Everyone talked and laughed at the same time. The noise level kept going up. My boy cousins could really tuck the food away into their bellies. Watching them eat pleased my mom to no end! The adults and the children all sat at the same table and we all interacted with one another.

At some point, eventually, my mom and the other adult ladies would clear the table, quickly do the dishes, and pull out the baked cookies! Someone started a pot of coffee. Even though I was allowed to drink wine, I was not allowed to drink coffee. A well-kept secret was that Aunt Lily let me drink coffee when I spent the night at her house. I kept my word to Aunt Lily and I never told my mother. I loved how the coffee made my heart pound! I always loved the smell of coffee. It smelled of comfort, warmth, of happiness. It smelled of home. My home.

And out came the desserts! Mom’s Sicilian Fig Cookies were the best. Mom called them cucciddrati. I think she made them from memory because I never found her recipe for them (recipes are below, just before the photos). The best part of cucciddrati is that they are topped with a frosting made of butter, confectioner’s sugar, and milk, and topped with colorful nonpareil sprinkles. Mom also made Anisette Cookies. Nonna Licata used to send a box of baked cookies for Christmas. The treasure in Nonna’s box sent to us from Grotte was the cobaita, a pure-goodness-almond-brittle that my grandmother made with sun-roasted almonds from her orchard. They tasted of Sicily!

Mom also made Sesame Seed Cookies, which are called giugiuleni in Sicilian. These hard cookies were delicious dipped in coffee. When in my mother’s house, I dipped them in milk. At Aunt Lily’s house, I dipped them in coffee!

Don’t forget we lived in Indiana, so a bit of the Midwest came into the dessert scene. Alongside the almond cobaita, the dried fig filled cucciddrati, and the sesame studded giugiuleni, mom presented her freshly made Hoosier delicacies such as potato chip cookies, or jello embedded with either cottage cheese or miniature marshmallows.

And NUTS! Christmas was not Christmas without a huge bag of roasted nuts. By the end of the evening, there were piles of nutshells on the table. My dad would crack nuts for me because I didn’t have the strength to crack a single nut. I couldn’t even crack open my favorite almonds and hazelnuts! As my dad cracked the nuts for me, he’d tell his stories!

After the gargantuan meal, the adults played card games. Sounds of coins, banter, laughter still fills my ears. It feels like yesterday when I watched the adults become as playful as we children were. Sometimes we all formed a circle or a train and did Sicilian folk dancing. We’d move the tables so mom and dad could dance the tarantella. They were so light on their feet. Sometimes we children played “chase” and if you got caught, you nearly got tickled to death. The adults told jokes not meant for children’s ears. We were sent off to play, but we hid nearby and listened. We had a hard time understanding the play on words and the various puns in their slurred fast-clipped wine-dipped Sicilian dialect. The jokes went over our heads.

My mom would tell her animated played-out funny stories for all of us to hear. Every year, her bawdy stories grew more embellished, more dramatic, more comical!  She told her entertaining stories about flatulence happening at the most inopportune moments.  One of her stories, which took place at the Italian-American picnic grounds, was about an unfortunate elderly Sicilian immigrant lady, about to sit on a toilet seat, surprising a bird that was taking a dip in the very toilet she was about to sit on.  Mom also had a pocketful of stories about the many colorful characters back in Grotte.  Her stories filled every corner of our humble home with resounding laughter. Every Christmas, our house became a palace, complete with a banquet hall, a ballroom, and a court jester!

My Christmases as an adult are now quiet, the way I have grown to love them. This year, Rick and I spent three exquisite days at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. The weather treated us well. We enjoyed cold crisp frost-and-sun-filled days, took long walks, enjoyed each others’ company, caught up on sleep, read books, watched the sunrises and sunsets, and savored life as it is today. I find I do not yearn for the Christmases of my childhood, but every Christmas I do say a silent prayer of thanks to my parents and my aunties for giving me the gift of Christmas memories I will carry in my heart for as long as I live.

And below are photos from our fabulous Christmas this year at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula.

Haystacks in the sea

Haystacks in the sea

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick

Selfie: The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick at La Push

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle II

Ice Puddle II

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Mist and Sea

Mist and Sea

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand (unbelievable naturally occurring colors!)

Reminds me of my family's "steadfast knot of faith".

Kelp Strand: Reminds me of my family’s “steadfast knot of faith”.

The road leading to La Push

The frosted curvy road leading to La Push

Sunset at La Push

Sunset at La Push

The Best Season

December 12, 2016

In the memoir, Poser: My Life in 23 Poses, author Claire Dederer talks about how my yoga classes often have a theme related to the seasons.  Claire was my yoga student for years, and wrote a book about her life and, in part, about me/my teaching, so she would know the truth about my interest in the seasons and how we are affected by seasonal changes. Spring fills us with hope!  We are more energetic in the summer.  Kids do much of their growing spurts in the summer.  We tend to shed more hair in autumn.  My mother used to say in Sicilian, “Cadano li castagni”, which translates to “chestnuts are falling” because my chestnut-colored shedding hair was everywhere. We need more rest in the winter.  We crave light foods in the summer such as seasonal fruits and vegetables.  In the winter, we crave warm soups and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and root vegetables.

Below is a poem I shared yesterday during the two yoga workshops I taught in Seattle.  The poem has to do with the seasons (!) and is followed by photos, shot throughout the years, representing the four seasons.  I took all of the photos with one exception: Rick took the tulip against the blue sky.  The author of the poem is Wu-men Huikai.  He was a Chinese Zen master who lived from 1183-1260.  He wrote poems about enlightenment and called his poetry “sacred poetry”.  He also wrote social, political, and anti-war poems.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

“Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring” by Wu-Men

SPRING

Nothing like a tulip to say SPRING

Nothing like a tulip to say SPRING (Ocean Shores)

Fawns

Fawns (Ocean Shores)

Simone's poppy

Simone’s poppy (Simone’s garden)

Fragrant late spring rose

Fragrant late spring rose (Simone’s garden)

SUMMER

Summer Dahlia

Summer Dahlia (Carl’s garden in Stehekin)

Flower Power of Summer

Flower Power of Summer (Stehekin Garden)

Lilies in the Sun

Lilies in the Sun (Kelley’s garden)

AUTUMN

Color of Autumn

Color of Autumn (Fremont, Seattle)

Fire walking

Fire walking (Wallingford, Seattle)

Autumn Boots

Autumn Boots (Wallingford, Seattle)

A long stretch of Autumn

A long stretch of Autumn (Capitol Hill, Seattle)

WINTER

Jack Frost painted this fern.

Jack Frost painted this fern. (La Push, Washington)

Frosted vegetation

Frosted vegetation (La Push, Washington)

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Autumn Haiku Encore

December 9, 2016

As Seattle stands tall, bundled up against freezing temperatures and braced for the current snowfall,  I write this year’s final Autumn Haiku Encore.

As before, you will see a haiku poem followed by a photo/photos inspired by the haiku.  The haiku and photos appear in the order I received them.  The first one below is the Basho haiku Kevin received:

The smell of sake,

and the waves,

and the wine-cup

-Basho

Kevin put his photos into a collage

Kevin made this collage using his photos

Who was this sake-loving, nature-observing, student-of-humanity poet Basho?  Basho lived from 1644-1694.  He was born near Kyoto to a samurai family.  He abandoned the samurai warrior status he was born into in order to become a poet.  Over time, he was regarded as one of the greatest poets of Japan. As a poet he is credited with elevating haiku to a highly refined art form.

Once he became a poet, Basho left Kyoto for Edo (Tokyo) and became a haiku master (Sosho).  His name was not always Basho.  He was born as Matsuo Munefusa.  Over the years, he wandered all over Japan in search of imagery and composed poetry based on what he observed.  He also practiced meditation.  He was unconcerned with money matters, but was able to establish a small cottage in Fukagawa, Edo (Tokyo) due to a generous monetary gift from an admirer of his art.  At his cottage, Basho was gifted a banana tree, which he planted in his garden.  The banana tree, called basho-an in Japanese, became his favorite tree and he decided to name himself after it.

JD received the following haiku written by Issa, a poet and Buddhist monk, and was able to find a great old pine tree to go with it:

It has aged indeed

The pine tree that I planted

Now autumn’s ending

-Issa

300 year old pine tree

300 year old pine tree  “Of course this is a picture of the 300 year old pine from the Hama-Rikyu Onshi-Teien waterfront garden in Tokyo.  Alas, Tokyo had no real signs of Autumn, much less Autumn ending…

Here’s another angle, and a sign that tells about it being planted 300 years ago. Perhaps the Shogun who had it planted stood here many years later, at the end of Autumn, and reflected on this haiku...

“Here’s another angle, and a sign that tells about it being planted 300 years ago. Perhaps the Shogun who had it planted stood here many years later, at the end of Autumn, and reflected on this haiku…”

The sign in the above photo says, “The pine is named “300-year Pine” because it was planted in 1709, about 300 years ago, when the sixth shogun, Ienobu greatly repaired the garden.  Its majestic form, praising the great work, is reminiscent of the old days.  It is one of the largest black pines in Tokyo.”

And I watched Kim as she searched for her frog!  Luckily, Kim found two photos to go with her haiku:

The Old Pond-
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.

-Basho

,,,

“The pond at Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion”

and below, the frog friend who lives in the garden at the Kimono Dressing house

“The frog friend who lives in the garden at the Kimono Dressing house”

A note from Kim: “What I really wanted to submit was super difficult to photograph. It’s more of a mind picture and it is metaphorical. We all experienced it, many more than once. It is the image of the gaijin (foreigner) wearing the bathroom slippers OUTSIDE of the bathroom. That never failed to make a splash and produce the “sound of water”!

Wendy found a unique way to represent the following haiku by Basho via her photo below.

It is deep autumn

My neighbor

How does he live, I wonder

-Basho

deer

Wendy wrote the following: “From my photo attempts to represent one of Basho’s last written haikus (translated as ‘Deep Autumn” or “Deepening Autumn”), I chose this (above) photo from Miyajima Island.

I don’t think Basho was thinking about deer when he wrote this haiku, but I imagine that he hoped that readers would look broadly outward while finding personal connections in his words.”

Below: Wendy’s photo of the autumn foliage.  This photo is not enhanced in any way.  The colors are just as we saw them!img_1609

Long Dark Nights of Winter

December 6, 2016

Winter Solstice comes early to Little Renaissance.  Every year, we celebrate a Hatha Yoga Winter Solstice Retreat on the first weekend of December at Little Renaissance.   We celebrate early before the busy-ness of the holiday season takes hold.

Winter Solstice is a time of quiet firelight, a time to nurture dreams.  The dark clear nights reveal the bright stars.  Late at night, I can sit quietly in the hot tub and see shooting stars trailing across the  sky.  I celebrate the shortest day and the longest night of the year with a wonderful group of yogis.  We anticipate the rebirth of the sun and contemplate our own spiritual rebirth.  We see this time of year as a turning point and a time of year to renew energy.

I look out the window and see the garden boxes through sheets of rain.  The garden boxes look spent from having produced so generously all summer long.  Gratefully, the soil lies resting, patiently waiting for the warmer and brighter days of spring.   The resting soil of the cold winter days and nights reminds me that the future holds promise, always.  Come spring, seeds will germinate and take root.  Likewise, I believe the future will manifest our visions and dreams.

For now, while we wait for the rebirth of the sun, we stand still.  Winter Solstice is a time of repose, a time to light the wood stove, stoke up the heat, soak in the hot tub, sit quietly surrounded by lit candles, delve into a good novel, and dream.

Below are photos from our past weekend’s Winter Solstice Yoga Retreat.  This group of yogis has been coming to Ocean Shores biannually for 10 years running!

The dunes leading to the Pacific Ocean beach

The dunes leading to the Pacific Ocean beach

Carol and Skye walking past driftwood

Ready for winter winds: Carol and Skye walking past driftwood

Pretty driftwood log

Pretty driftwood log

Vast Ocean Beach

Vast Ocean Beach  (Skye and Dan)

Remnants of an old boardwalk

Remnants of an old dock

Group Shot I

Group Shot I

Group Shot II

Group Shot II

A Forest Takes Root in the House

A Forest Takes Root in the House

Collage I put together from Skye's photos

Collage I put together from Skye’s photos

Second collage I put together using Skye's photos

Second collage I put together using Skye’s photos

Autumn Haiku

December 2, 2016

It’s already December!  Have I really been back from Japan for almost a month now?

On the first day the group was together in Japan, I gave everyone an index card containing a haiku translated into English. Each haiku had an autumn theme.  I asked everyone, if possible, to capture an image with their cameras to match their particular haiku.

A haiku poem traditionally contains a specific image which becomes a symbol for a given season.  For example, crows, red dragonflies, colorful leaves, full moon, moonlight, bamboo, sake, frogs, wild geese, cranes, and herons are common images or symbols for autumn haiku. It was a tough assignment I gave out.  It was not always possible or easy to capture the simple-yet-rich imagery depicted in the haiku.

I did, however, receive the following examples of Autumn Haiku with their corresponding photos below.

The first haiku below is the one I assigned myself (!).  I thought it would be easy to find a lone empty road, but I couldn’t seem to find what I wanted.  Instead, I captured the lonely beauty of the ancient cemetery at Mt. Koya.  The tombstones, tilted drunken sentinels standing watch next to ancient trees atop the forested mountain, were covered in moss.  Instead of a road, there was a footpath running the length of this vast cemetery.  I certainly would not want to brave this path alone at night.

Not one traveller
braves this road –
autumn night.

-BASHO

Cemetery at Mt. Koya

Lonesome path. Cemetery at Mt. Koya. The five stacked stones represent the five elements Earth, Water, Fire, Wind/Air, Space.

And Jeff was the first to submit a photo for his haiku!  Here is his assigned haiku and his photo from the bamboo forest:

Moonlight slants through
The vast bamboo grove:
A cuckoo cries

-Basho

Jeff's photo of the bamboo forest

Jeff’s photo of the bamboo forest

Bill was not able to photograph the solitary leaf of a kiri tree while in Japan, but when he returned to Vancouver, BC, he saw an image which would help him investigate the loneliness Basho describes:

Come, investigate loneliness
a solitary leaf
clings to the kiri tree

-Basho

Bill's photo and haiku below

Bill’s photo of the solitary leaf

Desert: A Healing Place

November 20, 2016

After coming back from Japan, I made a quick escape to the desert with Rick. We spent a few days in Palm Springs, California with friends Linda and Steve.  I had no idea how much I would appreciate this escape when we planned this trip months ago.  Linda and Steve jokingly call their desert home the “fat farm” probably because we ate low-fat healthy meals.  To further go with the theme, we went on three great calorie-burning hikes in the desert.  I love the “fat-farm”!

We walked through nature preserves, desert springs and oases where thick palms groves thrive, sculpted gardens and sculpture gardens, and national parks and trails.  Mockingbirds, rabbits, lizards, a coyote, cactus wrens, butterflies, dragonflies, and many other creatures treated us to viewing them.

How lucky to have spent a few days in the desert sun and air!  How lucky to have spent time, away from the onslaught of media, with like-minded friends whose values are a true inspiration!

Enjoy the slideshow from Palm Springs and the surrounding trails and places of nature.

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Autumn in Japan Slideshow

November 13, 2016

And so our autumn journey to Japan is wrapped up in a slide show. As you watch, you’ll hear shakuhachi music, Silver Bamboo, by Dean Evanson.  Be sure to turn up your speakers as you watch these lovely images float by like autumn leaves swaying in the wind.  A great big thank you to my fellow travelers. Your laughter still rings in my ears! The trip was fantastic and I will offer it again in November 2017.

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves;

And we travel, next to find ourselves.

We travel to open our hearts and eyes

And learn more about the world than

Our newspapers will accommodate.

-Pico Iyer

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Take only memories,

Leave only footprints.

-Chief Seattle

Up the Holy Mountain

November 6, 2016

Last night was our last night at the monastery in Mt. Koya. Mt Koya is the center of Shingon Buddhism, a sect introduced to Japan in 805AD by Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi), one of Japan’s most significant religious figures.  Mt. Koya is also the site of Kukai’s mausoleum and the start of Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. 

We have been staying at a Shukubo (authentic temple lodging and Buddhist monastery) and have a huge tatami room for yoga. It’s not the easiest place to stay, but we have had rich experiences here.  The monastery is very spartan.  Monk-like living quarters.  Very authentic. We sleep on futon mats placed over the tatami mats.  Our shared bathrooms are a schlep down the hall.  And if you prefer a shared bathroom that has Western-style toilets, and has one room designated for women and the other for men, then it is worth your while to wind your way down two flights of stairs, across long hallways and over an outdoor bridge (in the frigid weather at night) and across long corridors that are not heated and walled in by paper windows.  In this special bathroom, you will find a heated toilet seat and all is clean and pleasant.  I think it was worth the hike!  Bathing is in a sento (one for men and one for women) and the hours for hot water are restricted between 4:30pm and 9pm. Our life here is filled with the monks’ chanting, prayer and fire ceremony in the morning, a walk through the mysterious ancient forested Buddhist cemetery Okunoin, making Buddhist prayer bead bracelets, visiting various temples and shrines, seeing gorgeous autumn leaves.  The chanting, prayer, and fire ceremony was a deeply meditative and powerful experience for all of us.  Here we experience sunny days that warm the heart and fill your vision with views of brilliant red maple leaves and golden ginko leaves, and cold nights that bring frost over tiled roofs and pine branches. 

To counter the purity of vegan meals and the simplicity of sleeping on futon beds spread over tatami mats within a room with paper doors (shoji) and paper screened windows, many of us gather at night to enjoy clandestine  sake/whiskey/wine. These furtive parties take place in Kevin’s “abode” or in the Richardson’s tatami “suite”.  We sit on cushions piled high.  We drink the bootleg from our tea cups.  Here on this most sacred Buddhist mountain in the world, it may be 34 degrees Fahrenheit outside at night, but, indoors, we embrace the warmth of our group as well as the warmth from the heater in the corner of the tatami room. Our hearts are full and our spirits rich.

Oh, Japan! You are slipping away too quickly….I hear gongs in the distant night as I pull the covers tight and fall asleep. And again, upon waking, I hear the gongs as the monks gather to chant at 6am.

 

Photo by Karin ...Autumn Leaves at Mt. Koya

Photo by Karin Bigman …Autumn Leaves at Mt. Koya

Autumn in Japan, Mt. Koya

Autumn in Japan, Mt. Koya (photo by Karin Bigman)

Mt. Koya's temples

Mt. Koya’s temples

Temple Walls

Temple Walls

Prayers and Lit Candles: Inside the temples

Prayers and Lit Candles: Inside the temples

Oh, let's pose with a monk! with Ginger and Woody Howse

Oh, let’s pose with a monk! with Ginger and Woody Howse

Stone Garden

Stone Garden and Temple

Perfectly raked stone garden temple

Perfectly raked stone garden temple

Pillars inside temple

Pillars inside temple

Panorama of Fall Leaves Mt Koya

Panorama of Fall Leaves Mt Koya

Autumn Leaves and Rooftops

Autumn Leaves and Rooftops

Novice Monk fallen asleep on drum

Novice Monk fallen asleep on drum

Mt Koya cemetery: Okunoin, situated in the middle of an ancient forest

Mt Koya cemetery: Okunoin, situated in the middle of an ancient forest

The great Buddhist Monk, Kobo Daishi Kukai. Koyasan (Mt Koya) was founded by him twelve centuries ago.

The great Buddhist Monk, Kobo Daishi Kukai. Koyasan (Mt Koya) was founded by him twelve centuries ago.

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Okunoin

Dressed statues commemorate children who did not live long in this world

Dressed statues commemorate children who did not live long in this world.  They wear red bibs and are called Ojizu.

these stone carvings represent earth, water, fire, air, and ether, often the elements are marked in Sanskrit

these stone carvings represent earth, water, fire, air, and ether, often the elements are marked in Sanskrit

Ojizu

Ojizu

Moss covered head stone

Moss covered head stone

Autumn Leaves..Koyasan is the only place where the have leaves started to turn red already.

Autumn Leaves..Koyasan is the only place where the have leaves started to turn red already.

Cemetery Statue

Cemetery Statue

Cemetery Statue

Cemetery Statue

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Japan: Land of Kindness

October 21, 2016

I am in Japan!  Twenty-eight years ago, I lived and worked in Japan for three years and three months.  I left 25 years ago and this is the first time I have come back.

I am overwhelmed by the kindness I experience here.  The photos below are from my first two days here.  Long-time friend Yoko Kase took two whole days to take Don Bothell and me all over Tokyo to visit her favorite sites.

This first week is a time to reconnect with Japanese friends before the start of our two week tour with daily yoga.  Soon my wonderful group will arrive and months and months of planning this trip will come into play.  I am so excited to be here and to experience this time in Japan!

Enjoy the photos and comments below!

Jet lag has me waking up at 4am.  What on earth do you do at 4am?  Coffee shops don’t even open up before 7am here.  The throngs of workers are still asleep.  Streets are quiet.

Well, at 4am you walk!  You walk the empty streets and discover amazing parks.

First, you are befuddled by the hot water pot's buttons you cannot read!  I do know "On" and "Off", life saving characters!

First, you are befuddled by the hot water pot’s buttons you cannot read! I do know “On” and “Off”, life saving characters!

And sorry if this seems strange to include, but seriously, this is even funnier in the early morning.  Remember, you read from right to left in Japan...("bottom" washer and "bottom" dryer!)  Sophisticated toilet!

And sorry if this seems strange to include, but seriously, this is even funnier in the early morning. Remember, you read from right to left in Japan…(“bottom” washer and “bottom” dryer!) Sophisticated toilet!

Signs like this could be discouraging if you speak not one work of Nihongo!

Signs like this could be discouraging if you speak not one word of Nihongo!

And then you have fun with giant billboards and pretend you can eat the giant sushi within your grasp!

And then you have fun with giant billboards and pretend you can eat the giant sushi within your grasp!

And you discover a Reflexology Park!  Painful but energizing!

And you discover a Reflexology Park! Painful but energizing!

Step on it!

Step on it!

Here's the guide.

Here’s the guide.

My toes curled under the intensity!

My toes curled under the intensity!

And we discovered this beautiful statue of the dog and her powerful story.  Please read below!

And we discovered this beautiful statue of a dog and her powerful story. Please read below!

Story of CHIRORI: The First Certified Therapy Dog in Japan

Chirori was abandoned along with her five young offspring and was about to be put down. Somehow, she and her puppies were adopted and given another chance to live. She became a therapy dog. At various medical institutions throughout Japan, she encouraged and supported elderly and disabled people with her gifted charm. She greatly contributed to the social awareness of the power of therapy dogs and was influential in the re-drafting of the Japanese law for the prevention of cruelty to animals. “Nothing but Love to you, Chirori.” -Honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Social Welfare, Toru Oki Ph.D.

Vats of Sake line the trail leading to Meiji Shrine.  Emperor Meiji loved sake.

Vats of Sake line the trail leading to Meiji Shrine. Emperor Meiji loved sake.

Barrels of wine, gifts to Emperor Meiji from Bourgogne.  Everyone knew of the emperor's love of sake and wine!

Barrels of wine, gifts to Emperor Meiji from Bourgogne, also line the trail to the shrine. Everyone knew of the emperor’s love of sake and wine!

Yoko shows Don how to purify his hands before approaching the Meiji Shrine

Yoko shows Don how to purify his hands before approaching the Meiji Shrine

Prayers and Wishes line the walls at the shrine

Prayers and Wishes line the walls at the shrine

Shrines are Shinto (not Buddhist) In Shintoism, trees are sacred because they embody the spirit of the gods. There are two camphor trees tied together (this is one of the trees) and they represent a symbol of happy marriage and harmonious life.

Shrines are Shinto (not Buddhist) In Shintoism, trees are sacred because they embody the spirit of the gods. There are two camphor trees tied together (this is one of the trees) and they represent a symbol of happy marriage and harmonious life.

Statue of Hachiko at Shibuya Station.  If you have not yet seen the movie, it is a must see. People mob the statue of Hachiko and pet him and sometimes they cry!

Statue of Hachiko at Shibuya Station. If you have not yet seen the movie, it is a must see. People mob the statue of Hachiko and pet him and sometimes they cry!

Shibuya intersection!!

Shibuya pedestrian crossing

Taro Okamoto 1969 Myth of Tomorrow (artist/muralist) featured at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park

Taro Okamoto 1969 Myth of Tomorrow (artist/muralist) featured at the Shibuya Station in Tokyo (for more info see this link)

Fantastic Exhibit we saw at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park called The Art of Zen from Mind to Form

Fantastic Exhibit we saw at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park called The Art of Zen from Mind to Form

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Meiji Jingu Inner Garden (Gyoen)-near the Meiji Shrine

Meiji Jingu Inner Garden (Gyoen), near Shibuya. 1603-1867

The Gyoen (garden) gave the Emperor Meiji great pleasure because it is so tranquil.  He composed a Waka poem to honor it:

Deep in the woodland of Yoyogi, the quietude creates an illusion of seclusion from the city.

Utsusemino Yoyogi no sato wa Shizukanite Miyako no hokano Kokochi koso sure

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Above: beautiful joyful light-filled Yoko Kase!  Don and I are ever so grateful to her for taking two whole days to show us some of her favorite spots in Tokyo.  Thank you, Yoko for showing us around!  You represent the beauty and kindness of your country!

Japan: a land of kindness, manners, warm hospitality, formality, organization, order, rules, and great tranquil beauty.

Japan: a land of kindness, manners, cleanliness, warm hospitality, formality, organization, order, rules, rich heritage and beautiful cultural arts, great busy-ness… and also a place of tranquil beauty.

Imperial Palace grounds and moat

Imperial Palace grounds and moat

Entrance to wonderful dining

Entrance to wonderful lunch spot near Ryogoku Station, Hosokawa Restaurant for Soba Noodles.  We sat at shared tables and I was so darned nervous (because the all the diners at the table had to sit and watch me eat the soba noodles) that I hardly ate a thing.

No photography allowed in the Japan Folk Art Museum.  I begged and was granted TWO photos!  This is the more interesting of the two. Near the Komaba Todai-mae Station, two stops from Shibuya

The Japan Folk Art Museum (focus on the crafts of Japan). No photos allowed so I begged in my pitiful limited Japanese and was granted TWO photos! They probably felt sorry for me.  It is unusual to bend rules. This photo is the more interesting of the two. Museum is near the Komaba Todai-mae Station, two stops from Shibuya.

Kagurazaka-Dori area in Tokyo:

Kagurazaka-Dori is an interesting area in Tokyo, often referred to as Old Tokyo.  We walked until our legs ached!

Kagurazaka-Dori is an interesting area in Tokyo, often referred to as Old Tokyo. We walked until our legs ached!

NABE dinner.  Wonderful!

NABE dinner. Wonderful!  It is cooked right at the table

Fresh seasonal ingredients about to be cooked at the table

Fresh seasonal ingredients about to be cooked at the table. The restaurant is called Torijaya (torijaya.com) in the Kagurazaka area in Tokyo.


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