Monthly Archives: March 2015

A wild strawberry flower–and my neighbor Wrench


When I popped outside one morning a few days ago, I saw that a single white flower had popped out on the west edge of my teeny weeny backyard space. It took me a second to realize that it was a wild strawberry blossom. For just a moment, I’d forgotten that I’d stuck a couple of plants into the ground about seven or eight months ago. I walked over, bent down, and saw that there were thirty or forty buds. I went in for my camera. Then I was back out and down on the ground trying to get the best angle. That’s when Wrench stuck his upper body out his sliding glass door to hang out some laundry. He’s the guy that lives next door. I already knew all to well that my smiling at flowers disgusts him.

“Oh, Jesus,” he said. “What now? You find some kind of Buddha down there?”

“It’s a wild strawberry flower,” I said. “Right now, it’s just the one. But there’s thirty or forty buds.”

“Are there going to be berries?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Geez, I’m sure that’ll get the birds swooping in. You better hope they don’t shit on any of my clothes.”

I didn’t respond.


It was pretty hard to imagine that any birds that did eye any berries might fly up onto his laundry pole. It was hanging down just a mere two or three inches from the bottom of the eave. Even a tiny sparrow would have had a heck of a time negotiating a perch.

Well, the next thing I knew Wrench had rammed his foot down (in his outdoor “work slippers) on the two-foot-high aluminum fence that separates his little plot from mine—a fence belonging to neither of us. I decided just to pretend that I thought he’d put it there in friendship, like reaching across to shake my hand.

I said, “You think it’s pretty much the same temperature here as it is up on Yatsuyama? I mean, if it’s more or less the same, there must be a thousand of these cute little guys up there right now.”


“You make me sick,” he said.

“I know,” I replied.

“Listen,” he said. “I’m going to make your life a whole lot easier for you to understand. That flower’s nothing. You are nothing. This bright bit of universe that we live in is less than 0.5 percent of all that’s out there. 99.5% of everything is just darkness–dark matter and dark energy.

I’m not so good at math, but sometimes I remember something from high school.

“You mean the dark stuff is finite?”


“It’s 99.5%!”

“But if it’s 99.5 percent, it must be finite. If it went on and on and on, it’d have to ninety-nine point nine nine nine nine nine nine forever and ever. . . . Unless the 0.5% part, too, kept going on and on and on at the same rate.”

“Always the wise ass, huh? Either way, you . . . you and that stupid flower . . .  are nothing!”


(picture of “nothing” (“nothing” seems prepared to fly to the edge of the universe))

That’s exactly what I want to ask you about—about nothing. I mean, if all that dark, that dark energy and dark matter, stops at 99.5%, then, well, it stops. Then what would there be? Beyond the dark, I mean. Would there be something or nothing? Is it kind of like they used to think about the Earth–you know, that it was flat, and if you sailed far enough, you’d eventually fall off?”


He gave the fence a kick as he turned away—then went inside.

I went in, too. I stuck my notebook, my camera, and a bottle of water into my shoulder pouch and went out and got on my bicycle.

Wrench stuck his head out a front window. Amazing, that guy.

“Enjoy your flowers,” he said. Tone of voice is everything.

“I will,” I said.



Paradise west


I was fortunate to spend a couple of laid-back days with my family in Watkinsville, Georgia.

In the US of A.


It was rainy or overcast most of the time . . .

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but spring was on the way just the same.


You could hear it early in the morning with the birds talking up a storm, and . . .


. . . see it, too. Color was popping out everywhere.

 150314_cardinal_2_290  150314_purple_tulip_magnolia_290

Once someone saw some of the pictures I’d taken of my own neighborhood—here on the east shore of the Pacific Pond—and told me I was lucky to live in paradise. What I’ve often wondered since then is . . .


. . . who doesn’t?


Eyes like the dawn

Dawn brings the day—out for me.

(unknown Shizuoka folk duo)

Stay on the trail

150308_replica_cabin_600 Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I went to Concord, Massachusetts on March 8th.

I had studied up a bit online, discovered the most direct and discernible route out of town to Walden Pond to be Walden Street ( a mile or so straight shot out from town along a paved road) but then had also discovered that not too long ago, the alleged path that Emerson and Thoreau frequently took—a more winding, not-always-so-discernible-path through the woods—had been marked and was also walkable.


At first I thought that, yeah, that true still-in-the-woods walk, the one those two guys blazed all those years ago, the one they really walked, sounded most likely to provide the most legitimate “transcendental” experience . . . but then I realized the irony that walking in their footsteps would be.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
Henry David Thoreau
When I got off the train in Concord I had no street map, just a vague image of the town’s layout and the names of three or four main streets in my head, and at first I was a bit discombobulated . . . and finally had to ask someone which street led directly into town. After that, the first major turnoff I came to was Walden Street, so I just made a spur of the moment decision to take the clear, straight-shot out, to try to get a better feel for the lay of the land as I went along, and then to try to return to Emerson’s Mill Brook back yard through the woods via the (I was soon to learn, fairly-well marked) “Emerson-Thoreau Amble.”  And that’s what I did.


“Stay on Trails.”

That’s what all the signs along the path circling Walden Pond say.

That, too, pretty ironic.


There were also signs warning of deer ticks. I wasn’t completely ignorant when it came to deer ticks, but at the moment wasn’t all that clear on how active they might be on a day on which the temperatures snuck up just slightly above freezing. Later when I checked, I discovered that the cold doesn’t usually bother ticks, but that the snow and ice do, as they are creatures that like to crawl UP UP UP from the ground.


So those “Stay on Trails” signs, yes, were a bit ironic, and yes, they were mainly intended to keep hikers from contributing to the erosion of the pond bank (that is, creating an unwanted “trail”), but not having a complete and full understanding of how ticks operated, I thought, in this case, it was probably not a good idea to go bashing through unmarked trails, boots sinking deep down into the snow and ice.

 What Emerson says himself, too, is a bit ironic, I think. Follow your own path. Leave a trail. A trail, I assume, that someone else would follow—assumedly so that someone else wouldn’t need to.

Am I missing something?

Recently, I read Into the Wild, a non-fiction account of a young Emory University graduate who decides to take the ultimate challenge—to survive in the frigid Alaska wilderness. In that book, the author calls Thoreau “prissy and staid.”


Maybe the author was thinking how the Fitchburg railway ran along one side of Walden Pond, how Thoreau could, if he didn’t feel like working up his on fire to cook on, just walk along those tracks and be back at his mother’s house in half an hour, where he’d most likely have a hot meal ready for him.

Me, I don’t call that prissy and staid at all. I mean, the man tended his own bean field. Lots of times he caught his own fish. He read. He wrote. He built a cabin he could live in—for twenty-eight dollars and twelve and a half cents. And at least, when he did take advantage of his nearby family, he walked thirty minutes for his dinner. How many people do you know who’d walk that far for a hot meal—and that being their easiest way to get a meal?

Me, I call what Thoreau did out there at the edge of Walden Pond a reasonable experience living in and exploring and contemplating nature. If you’ve read Into the Wild or seen the movie, you know that the Emory graduate dies. He starves to death in an abandoned bus in the Alaska wilderness. I don’t mean to criticize him. I merely mean to say that if Thoreau was prissy and staid, I don’t think those are very bad things to be at all.

Nature never wears a mean appearance.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


But I get it. When you get to Walden Pond you can take the trail you like to get around it. Or you can just walk across it. Walk across it whichever way suits you. Or you can ski across.

But if you’re not sure how thick the ice is, then you might want to follow in someone else’s footsteps–or someone else’s ski tracks. It’s not easy, and not necessarily necessary—or wise—to walk in fresh snow two feet deep, when the beaten path will lead you to the same place.

So make your own path when you can. Dance to your own drummer when it seems right. And when necessary, walk back to your mother’s for dinner. Don’t worry that anyone calls you prissy and staid. You’ll be doing just fine.


The site of Thoreau’s cabin sits above a cove.  A nice level bit of ground. Good view of the pond. Not far off from a good fishing spot. If you find a better place than Thoreau did to build your cabin build it there. If you think he found the best spot, build where he did.


Seems I remember in Walden, Thoreau saying that he cleared hickory and white pine to make a spot for his cabin, but as I was walking back to town through Walden Wood, along the “Emerson-Thoreau Amble” all I saw was black oak, silver birch, and pitch pine.

Things change.

But it was lovely.

A dog out for a walk came out of nowhere and almost ate me. 


Just  as I was coming out from the woods, not far from Emerson’s house, it began to snow. It snowed hard, but only for about five minutes. It was a quiet, serene snowfall. A special gift, I took it as.


Check out the look in that purple finch’s eye. He knew the snowfall was sublime.


At Emerson’s house, the day went from gray to blue in about ninety seconds. Just coincidence, you think?


Some of you know, I’m a sucker for blue skies and snow. For me, anyway, it was the perfect day to walk the streets of Concord.


And it was the perfect day to walk on to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. To pay respects to Emerson, the rock, the giant sequoia. 


But maybe I was more touched by Henry’s tombstone. It was tiny. Like a child’s.

Is this the thought of a child?



Pleasant Street


You can walk out of your B & B at 24 Irving Street and into the minus 5 degrees Celsius morning and (having been born deep in the American South and having spent the last fifteen years in one of the most temperate locations in Japan) think that it’s bitterly cold . . . or you can walk out of that B & B and think that it doesn’t really feel that cold at all—you can just think that the sky is about as lovely a blue as you could ask for, the air is crisp and invigorating—and the day will surely prove to be one of the most pleasant ever.150304_Harvard_Hollis_600

You can stand in front of this dormitory and think that it’s irrelevant to the here and now that a young man did some thinking here a long, long time ago,and that that thinking eventually led him to write (still a long, long time ago), simply, “Simplify!” . . . or you can stand there thinking that it really wasn’t all that long ago that that single word—Simplify!—was jumping out from his pencil (and maybe he made the pencil himself!)—and that it might just have the greatest of relevance.


You can choose to think that sneaking up on this dude and giving his foot a good rub is likely to bring you spectacular luck—or you can just as easily choose to think that anyone who  entertained such a thought for even a fraction of a second will have proved himself the possessor of a huge duffle bag’s worth of loose marbles.


You can stand in front of this library and think . . . well, let’s say, you’ve been assigned to decipher the twisting, pirouetting, first-madly-roller–coastering-then-flatlining-for-four-or-five-letters handwritten correspondence (oh, those t’s being crossed four or five letters down the word! oh, those frilly capital T’s and F’s and S’s and G’s ALL looking the same! oh, those words with all those u’s all in a row, no, no, those are m’s . . . or maybe l’s . . . or r’s or WHO KNOWS!!!) of the almost forgotten 19th-century novelist John Townsend Trowbridge, an act that would require four days of intense, eye-wearing concentration, at an average of eight hours a day (no lunch break) . . . well, you can stand in front of this library and think that sifting through those letters is going to be one royal pain in the ass — or that it’s going to be one of the most intriguing adventures you’ll ever embark on — one of most pleasant adventures you’ll ever embark on.

If you decide to check out who this Trowbridge guy is,  you’ll probably google him, randomly hit on his 1854 Martin Merrivale, His X Mark, and then travel to a distant libary to find it (doubt your local one does). Then you’ll randomly open the book open to, probably, wait a minute . . . here, I’ve got it . . . page 460, where you’ll sneak up on one noble young man confiding to another something like . . .

“When I arrive at the perception of truth, with the joy it brings comes the desire to communicate it to others. I could not write books from ambition only; first and foremost would be the impulse to pour out generous waters for this thirsty age; to inspire the hearts of men with some little nobility of nature, with love and faith.”

. . . you might think that bit of dialogue the sappiest thing you’ve ever heard—or an important sentiment—and one that could have been written much worse than it is.

When you read letter after letter sent to Trowbridge expressing such refined and gracious (19th-century-ish???) gratitude, letter after letter gushing on and on about what a pleasant time was had at 152 Pleasant Street (the address Trowbridge lived at for a long, long time . . . no, no, I’m not making this up), you may roll your eyes—or you may just smile and wish you’d been there—yeah, just smile and wonder if there might not be a Pleasant Street in your town, or maybe your state or province, or your country (of course, pleasant in the local language will do) that you can move to.

Well, one thing’s for sure, you can only go one way on Pleasant Street—if you can ever get yourself there.