Monthly Archives: September 2014

Bucket lists


Mid-September. The roses are hanging on—blooming, maybe, for the last time this year.

But the spider lilies have come out, too. They’re standing tall here and there, at the edge of rice fields, or in little clumps near sidewalks, soaking up the sun, keeping an eye on things.


I think this is the first year I’ve really noticed  white spider lilies. These I spotted on campus.


Roses and spider lilies. It’s a nice season. I like it.

It’s good to know what you like.

The other day I was reading an article providing us with a new bucket list. Bucket lists. You know, lists of all the things you really should do before you die. This particular bucket list, though, was a list of things you should do before you die that you shouldn’t do.

I’m not sure the purpose of these lists. It’s great for media to provide everyone with information about what’s out there in the world. What there is you can see. What there is you can do. I appreciate it. Greatly. But how can a journalist tell you if it is meaningful for you to swim with dolphins? How can a journalist tell you if it’s void of meaning for you to swim with dolphins?

So I’ll pass on the lists—the lists of must-dos and the list of must-dos that you must not do. But I like information. In fact, I’d like to read a good article about dolphins. Yeah, including where I might be able to swim with one. Or stuff about their habits, like how fast they can swim, or how long they can stay under water, or what they like to eat, or what all that rat-a-tat squeaking is all about, or whether they cry when someone they’re hanging out with gets injured seriously. That sort of stuff I can’t get enough of.

Anyway, the roses will be blooming in my tiny little garden for a few more days, and the shiny green kumquats are just beginning to go orange, too.

Yes, and all over town, those debonaire spider lilies have sprung up indeed. They’ll be around for a few more days, just checking things out.

A few hours of life in a minor key



Nothing will ever be perfect, not in any individual life. Yet each day we greet the morning star. Each day we are given a new chance to shine.

Ahead the clouds hung low, and the grey was thick. It was a true rain, not mist, but it was soft, didn’t splatter on the windshield. It seemed as if the drops were being dribbled out from hundreds of invisible eyedroppers, their tips fractions of inches above the glass. The windshield was already wet, so the drops spread out silently into big perfect circles.


I remembered a long time ago, during a high school summer, working with a team of brick masons. It was my job to push the wheelbarrow around the muddy lot, delivering the cement that the masons would trowel onto bricks and blocks. If it was too stiff they couldn’t work with it. If it was too soupy they couldn’t work with it. It had to be just right. And they’d get irritated if I splattered it onto their arms and clothes or into their faces. It took a while to get the hang of it, lowering the shovel right down to the edge of their “palettes,” tipping the shovel gently so that the cement—the “mud,” they called it—would spread out evenly, gently, without a mess, just like those soft raindrops on the windshield.


A bit of unpleasant business awaited. Maybe, I thought, not able to see the traffic light just a hundred meters or so up the road, the next couple of hours were going to play themselves out in a minor key. All felt somber.

But as I turned toward the park, I found myself thinking (as obvious as the fact was) that it wasn’t complete darkness. If it were, I wouldn’t even be able to see the soft drops spreading out on the windshield. For sure, light, which I seemed not to “see,” was seeping through—and as long as there was light, no matter how much or little, no matter how strong or weak, there was the opportunity to shine.


It was weird how tangible it was—how I could feel, submerged in the pea-soup grey, all the good things to come.

The next morning I was on Ryuso Mountain.  Beneath the cedars, you could see the sun filtering in.  All there was to do was to climb—and see what the light hit.

At the top, out in the open, everyone was hungry.


Thinking of Thoreau


The lotuses were still blooming when I rode my bicycle to Kita this past Saturday.  On July 4th, 1854, Thoreau had a white water lily on his mind, not a lotus, but the two are not all that different.


(just kumquats in the garden)

A month after the court system in Massachusetts had returned Anthony Burns to bondage in Virginia, Thoreau spoke in Framingham, condemning the people and government of his home state for their lack of disdain for the Fugitive Slave Law–and for their accompanying lack of morality.


(just the sky from the Nihondaira “hill”)

Thoreau could not imagine a life led without a solid moral vision–and thought he’d been thrust into a dark, dark place. He was appalled that anyone could believe that a law could make slavery just. In his speech, he did not hold back.


(just the red flowers in the garden)

I dwelt before, perhaps, in the illusion that my life passed somewhere only between heaven and hell, but now I cannot persuade myself that I do not dwell wholly within hell. The site of that political organization called Massachusetts is to me morally covered with volcanic scoriae and cinders, such as Milton describes in the infernal regions. If there is any hell more unprincipled than our rulers, and we, the ruled, I feel curious to see it.


(just the ocean . . . from the Miho Pine Grove)

He knew, though, that an unjust law did not alter Nature–and that we, by virtue of our ability “to perceive and love” Nature, were not without hope of understanding that man’s deeds could “smell as sweet” as the lily.140830_red_flower_300

(just a red flower . . . in the neighborhood)

But it chanced the other day that I scented a white water-lily, and a season I had waited for had arrived. It is the emblem of purity. It bursts up so pure and fair to the eye, and so sweet to the scent, as if to show us what purity and sweetness reside in, and can be extracted from, the slime and muck of earth. I think I have plucked the first one that has opened for a mile. What confirmation of our hopes is in the fragrance of this flower! I shall not so soon despair of the world for it, notwithstanding slavery, and the cowardice and want of principle of Northern men. It suggests what kind of laws have prevailed longest and widest, and still prevail, and that the time may come when man’s deeds will smell as sweet. Such is the odor which the plant emits. If Nature can compound this fragrance still annually, I shall believe her still young and full of vigor, her integrity and genius unimpaired, and that there is virtue even in man, too, who is fitted to perceive and love it.


(just a neighbor in the beans . . . but not Thoreau’s bean field)