Laid-back gardening

Me and my teenage lad have been volunteering for a few months now with the neighbourhood group that looks after a local park. An intentional group for an accidental sort of park – an open square of grass, bushes and trees surrounding but not managed by a grand old church. It’s a verdant, much-loved space home to splendid oaks, squirrels galore and cackling corvids.

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“Hello, Beauty!”

Some notes about our friend Richard Taylor

“Hello, Beauty!” was the way Richard often greeted me, which embarrassed me, but I knew he meant it as a general greeting to the world and all its wonders.  I am going to miss him saying that now, so I guess I will have to say it to the world myself.

Nearly fifty years ago now I went to the Buddhist funeral service for my cousinʻs Japanese grandmother in the little neighboring town of Pahala.  I remember the priest saying that life and death are just two sides of the same coin. Our dear friend Richard Taylor has passed from this world of the living, but he is still here, still part of the same coin, but on the dark side of it.  

Richard had health troubles for the last few years but he was tough as nails and pulled through many a dire episode.  The last time I saw him, just a few weeks ago,  he looked pale but also radiantly  happy as he took a new friend to see the green pastures and beautiful vistas of the upper road, where I live. We serendipitously happened upon each other and it was a joy and a privilege.

That is how Richard and I became friends, we happened upon each other at a community meeting about agriculture almost a decade ago.  He got up to speak  about being new in the area, but wanting to help, and his incisive, original intelligence and compassion were unmistakable.  I did not run into him again for months but our friendship was almost inevitable. We had a lot in common – in our love of animals and wide, open spaces, solitude and poetry, simple things and circuitous thoughts; in being misfits and obsessive questioners.  I  got to know him slowly over the years. We would visit with each other a handful of times a year..  And he would send me beautiful snippets of things by email.  I am grateful that he posted a few examples of his thoughts here on this blog. 

He often told me that he saw my writing as “someone sitting in the dark scratching wires together, looking to create a spark.”  Which of course is how I would also describe him.  We both loved the dark, and all the sparkling things (and the owls) that come out in the dark.   His certainly was a sparkling mind.

And that is what life itself is, a sparkling thing that we are born into – thrown into an obstacle course that we try to figure out as we go along, and by the time we think we have mastered the obstacles, we realize that the obstacles actually donʻt matter that much  – the most important parts, the eternal parts, are the little things actually.  Itʻs the friends and the shining moments, not the jobs and achievements. 

We also shared the complicated feeling of being horrified by the world even while being madly in love with it.  Emblematic of that was the day I managed to have some time to  visit him at his house, which like mine, is a bit of expedition to get to.  It happened to be February 14, 2018.  He was pleased that I had come to visit him on Valentineʻs Day.  He had the TV on in his living room but with the sound off, and as we talked I caught glimpses of the events at Marjorie Stonemason Douglas High School unfolding. Footage of SWAT teams and frightened kids.   It was difficult to talk to each other but it also didnʻt seem right to turn it off.  We often talked of the dark things happening in the world and how powerless we felt to  address them.  And yet we both felt a responsibility to try, in whatever way we could.

I believe that was also the first time he showed me his extraordinary photographs of the owls that lived around his house.  He told me about his many amazing encounters with them.  How he would put out rats and mice that he had caught for them, and how they had become comfortable with him, as comfortable as wild owls can be, anyway.  He learned about their habits and where they lived, as individuals and as families.  How they had a language together.  How they felt of each other, minded each other. He was their friend.  I know they will be missing him too. 

A moment in time

Yesterday, in the sea-side town of Kailua-Kona, in the little space of greenery between the post office and the shopping mall, a group of four homeless people were sitting together in a square, as if around a table or a fire.  They had with them a small feral piglet, spotted black, white, and orange – what we would call in Hawaiian pidgin kalakoa.  The woman in the group was giving the piglet something to eat and it was nosing the ground in the way of pigs.   There was a kind of peacefulness about this little group, especially amid the frenzied holiday rush of shopping, driving, and mailing.  They were, to be sure a bit ragged, sitting there amid the rocks and dirt and brush.  They were struggling, I’m sure, with the hardships, precariousness, and stigma of being homeless. But they were also it seemed to me, at that moment, living more intimately and harmoniously with the landscape and with each other than we “normal,” housed folks.

We were all homeless once upon a time. For millions of years we were wanderers, foraging and hunting as we went. Home was once and for a very long time nothing more permanent than a camp and a campfire. More recently we developed settled encampments and villages, then towns and cities, with all of their appurtenant benefits and luxuries.

It is not OK that there was a 12% rise in homelessness last year in the United States; it is not OK that we don’t have a social safety net that keeps everyone housed, regardless of their employment or mental health status. And yet all too often we fear our fellow citizens who have become unhoused, mostly I think because we are afraid of houselessness – of its vulnerabilities and humiliations. Of its precariousness and powerlessness. That fear gets in the way of looking at homelessness, and at ourselves, the housed and everything that goes into being securely housed, with any degree of clarity.

I am not a homelessness expert, by any stretch of the imagination. I am trying to learn to see the state of homelessness and the people experiencing it. And part of seeing something is to see both the good and the bad, and that moment there by the post office seemed, if not good exactly, something like it – real, timeless, gentle, human and humane.

Modernity, complicity, and the unbearable bullshitness of being (II)

It was a Thursday last week when I read about the exhibition – Shifting Landscapes – on the South Bank in London featuring an immersive installation titled Breathing with the Forest (pictured above), and figured I needed to be there. It only had three days left to run. There were no commitments stopping me making a round trip to the city on the Saturday, and I was lucky enough to get a ticket online, which was free. I managed to book a discounted train ticket.

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Modernity, complicity, and the unbearable bullshitness of being (I)

Something about the frozen, pained expression on Chandler Bing’s face whenever he sensed the joke was on him or that he’d made a massive boo-boo — just before he restored the playful vibe with a self-deflating quip — captures the off-centre mood I’ve been in for the past few weeks. It’s partly personal and partly societal. I feel like a minor moving part in a huge, accelerating machine that’s veering off-track and beginning to tilt, and while my inner gyroscope is trying to right things it’s clear there’s nothing to be done.

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Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the world as it is
Before our eyes and in our nostrils;
To the world as it moves through us
As blood & bone, breath and sensation;
To the wind and sun as they touch our skin,
To the dirt beneath our feet and under our nails;

To the world before we took a-hold of it
With our ideas.


Fentanyl and the New World Order

It has been a while since Iʻve written anything here and in the meantime Iʻve been elected to serve on our County Council – the  local legislative and oversight body for our island of Hawaiʻi.

Yesterday the Council received a presentation by the narcotics unit of our police force on the presence of fentanyl in our communities.  It was a grim discussion of course.  The lethal dose of fentanyl is so minute that the police fear for their lives simply investigating crime scenes involving drugs of any kind. They asked for better protective gear to wear in such situations – basically hazmat suits.

The police officer in charge of the narcotics unit described how most fentanyl is manufactured in China, then shipped to Mexico to smuggled over the border  into the US, and then brought into Hawaiʻi.   A lethal doze of fentanyl is 2 milligrams and the amount of fentanyl apprehended by the  police in the last year was enough to kill every resident of the island.   And that is just what was apprehended.

It is a sad and horrifying situation, but it is also a strange kind of supply chain to contemplate – this axis of China and Mexico in supplying a drug of such potency to illicit drug consumers in the US.  (Not all of whom sign on for fentanyl, as it is increasingly used to lace every other “recreational” drug, even relatively innocuous drugs such as marijuana.)

Chemical analysis of seized fentanyl can be linked back to a particular province in China, we were told.  This degree of specificity – this tracking back into the Chinese province – makes me think of the Opium War in of the mid 19th century in which England used military force to maintain its market for opium in China, bombing Chinaʻs port cities with warships, seizing Hong Kong, and even attacking the capital city of Beijing , including the desecration and occupation of its imperial palaces. The Chinese government of the time was weak and corrupt.  Civil wars in which tens of millions of people perished attempting to overthrow, or defend, the imperial order were happening contemporarily.  It was a bad situation, made worse by the English and French military forcing the Chinese to legalize the opium trade.

This is not to justify the manufacture and export of illegal fentanyl in China, but the echoes of history are hard to ignore.  It is not impossible, given the deterioration of relations between China and the Us, that the over-production of fentanyl is tacitly condoned.  That there is even a bit of fentanyl war being waged.   It is a strange world we live in, truly.

Seventh Generation vs. (sigh) ‘Longtermism’

It is said that among peoples of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederation, it was customary to have a spokesperson for future generations present for the deliberation of important decisions; someone to embody the concerns of descendants seven generations hence, at the far horizon of physical contact. (A youngster in the middle of a chain of seven generations could conceivably hold the hand of a great-great grandparent and then, in old age, the hand of a great-great grandchild.) That presence would provide emotional perspective, bringing the wisdom of hindsight perhaps, to a current challenge.

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