Of Gardens and Buddhas

Before I began gardening in earnest; before I allowed myself the luxury of flowers rather than the scratching of necessities, firewood and food; before my vision exploded into islands of umber and emerald with spikes of magenta and indigo flanked by tiny waxen buds, I asked my gardening sister how she did it. How to begin, so as not to  spend time in futile effort, to somehow create the perfect plot on the first attempt. How she responded and what I have never forgotten since, all these years later, was to begin in a corner and go from there. Just take that first shovelful and the rest will follow.

Moons and rains too numerous to count have passed and I have learned what survives in xeriscape and what thrives so well in moisture that it must be cut back more or less, depending on what is selected. I have mostly learned more about life. There is no greater teacher for me than the garden. There is no Buddha more evolved than this earth. All the lessons of mindfulness, detachment, the need to let go and drop any preconceived notions of perfection exist in the eternal now of the garden. There’s an alchemy that happens when sweat and creativity mingle and merge into landscape; a transformation that happens quite by chance if not intention.

Hau blossoms begin yellow but turn this lovely color when they drop to the ground.
Some of my first harvested cloves. The tree is now far too big and produces thousands of cloves; so much so, that foregoing the harvest was exercised this year.
Pink Shower Tree blossoms. They smell divine and the tree’s canopy covers nearly half our 1/2+ acre yard.
A variety of Datura, the Angel Trumpet tree seeks wet and shelter from high winds. Started from a stick in the ground, ours now suffuses the southern view out the living room windows.
One of many hybrid Hibiscus cultivated on these islands. This is closest to the Wsdom variety, but it’s not the name I remember and have now misplaced.

The Turning

She knew it was safe, now her feet chose a path leading far
from dark uncertainties, of boarded-up options into an oasis
of light, a clearing of both heart and mind, a dendrological dive
into oneness with nature, which tree was which, identifying
those whose leaves dropped with the chill and those
that remained, holding space in that jigsaw landscape;

Forays down to the wellhead were spongy with moss, layers
of leaf and needle underfoot, trickling underground streams
flowing beneath quasi-soil draped over granite boulders
and pooling into a still point where, aboveground, stood
a granite casing with crude wooden cover; deeper still, tethered
to the bale of a three-gallon pail, lay the object of desire, cool drink
or promise of a steaming kettle as the vessel was cast into depths
repeatedly until just the right toss dredged itself clear and icy cold;

Filling buckets for each hand to grasp before carefully replacing
the cover, hoisting the weight of water and heading uphill, back
to the moonglow arc of light softly radiating from the cabin, tinge
of woodsmoke in chill air, teapot gently rattling on iron grates,
home was harbor into which her boat slipped silently
and without complaint;

And part of her began to grasp the value in releasing, shedding
non-essentials, detritus to which one could become accustomed
as if plugging all the holes, those islands of free-ranging thought,
could confer security somehow, would grant serenity, tranquility
of mind first and finally; still, peace was innate when she was able
to handle the shake-down, that honest meeting, self to self, dark
to light and back again, the terror of un-being confronted,
a deer caught in crosshairs, vole surrendering to the fox;

And as the seasons turned like leaves in the wind, dancing,
spinning, settling; as ice and snow gave rise to muck and flow
and the lake groaned and shifted, turning impossibly heavy crust
over into crystal prisms glinting in the narrow shafts of sunlight;
as the waters opened up and the loons returned, echoing
their mournful cries into a deepening dawn and dusk, she, too
began to thaw and sense, as if the first time, creation awakening
in her bones, and her own heart likewise took flight and soared
like the great blue heron, circling freely in those endless cerulean skies.

Lake lies beyond the granite boulder you see in the distance.
Looking across the water where we could ski when the lake was frozen.

All photos taken many years ago on a cheap camera. Not nearly as good quality as the newer equipment, but these photos framed the memories. Aloha.
© Bela Johnson

Moonglow

I see you, Sister Moon, as you skitter across metal
rooftops, bathing the landscape in your pale
silvery frost, calling me up and out of fretful
sleeplessness, leaving me now to wonder
on which coast I lie, memories of chill mornings,
stoking wood fires, perpetually icy floors,
never warm save for the evening bath steaming
in the early black of night before a tumble
into cool wool blankets, waiting for him to generate
enough heat so muscles could relax enough
to drift into star-spiked dreams;

No choice but to follow as you beckon, teasing
loose the borders of sleep’s inception, drifted wisps
of thought creeping in, vines of phrases twining
into form, spinning wakefulness out of slumber,
then once arisen, watching skies darken implausibly
into pitchy night, once again;

Sleep is respite, not much dissuades me from its
sound embrace, only the occasional ghost tapping
at the windows of my mind, plucking cobwebs
from corners heretofore ignored, prodding questions,
where, what, when and the damnable why,
as if final answers are ever going to be forthcoming
in the pique of midnight hours;

Watch and wait, learn to live in moments, lay aside
expectations, decisions can wait until sunrise,
discover grace under pressure, reside under this
perpetual cloak of uncertainty; life guarantees
nothing, that much I know, and if nothing else,
always remember peace is personal.

Moonset in early morning light through lace curtains ~ © Bela Johnson

Clear Vision

I saw her today, glimpsed her like a new creature
shining and bright, free of the heavy cloak of denotation,
bronze I have cast her in despite myself, all these years
of believing she could in any way be known;

Inside my own skin I remain a mystery, unfolding
like the lotus flower, each new leaf and bud tender
and unfurling, tainted only through these selfsame
definitions, assumptions; we all do this in the dance
of discovery, alone or in tandem;

And I really wonder at the fabric of existence, itself,
a morphing, unified body with attributes thought to be
self and self, unique only insofar as they escape demarcation,
for once named, limitations are imposed and wrapped,
neat little packages, box steps imposed on modern dance,
monotones seeping into a technicolor palette;

What if we could begin again and again, mindful
of past assumptions, apprehend the self and others, eyes
unshuttered, clearly seeing and without bias what lies
before or within us, without guile?


photo ©Bela Johnson

Portal

There’s an invisible portal
in the mantle covering Earth;
look closely without staring:
focus softly, not sharp, and you
might conjure enough filaments
to pop through, unexpectedly
shifting into another realm
long ago expunged
from collective recall;

Most mortals have crowded
out memories beyond three
generations if that, not nearly
enough to make lucid a time
when indigenous folk and their
predecessors roamed a
wondrous green and blue planet,
gathering food and medicine,
striking camp to ramble because
that is what humans do, plagued
as we are with restless impulses,
compelled to elude perceived
restrictions;

The great Mystery held magic,
little known beyond one’s own
boundaries, where wildness
thrived, was necessary to a world
where life seemed more equally
met between predator and prey,
lacking modern means
of expunction;

Where have we come
in telescopic time, how now
to call ourselves civil, struggles
now stranded in boardrooms
and alleyways, even into ethers
of social media where the enemy
that is our own mind can be
sequestered in shadows
without cast;

Are we simply stuffing monsters
back under the bed as bequest
to future generations?

Rock face, Kohala coast
Spirit of the waterfall, Palouse Falls, WA. (See the face looking toward the right? And the leg ‘stepping out of the shower?’
Pele’s fire tender, Kalapana, HI
Do you ‘see’ the greenish/bluish fish toward the bottom of the frame? It wasn’t there, but then again it was. Near Walla Walla, WA.
Even this: someone hung an old deer or elk skull on a tree (to mark a trail? To scare someone or something?) Yet look at it from the side, and you can see an owl pecking at the bark. Clancy, MT.

Welcome to my world. I don’t often write about such extra-sensory experiences, but I have always observed things in nature that are difficult to describe to others (save my husband and girls, who likewise see what most do not.) Don’t look too hard, but try the soft focus suggested in the poem. You might view things differently, and maybe you’ll strike out in nature more often to ‘see’ for yourself! Aloha. (All photos © Bela Johnson)Rock face, Kohala coast.

Gaps

The compulsion when an overtaxed
mind, yearning to occupy another’s
rendering of reality twists, knife-like,
between the blades, sabotaging
the creative process, stifling
the necessary tension held
between opposites, that fractional
moment before the water droplet
falls and spreads into the infinite,
protracted in time which in itself
is illusion;

There’s not a thing silence won’t
cure, spreading thin, square
of sweet Irish butter in the warming
pan or rolling thick, lava flowing
over parched earth, a conductor’s
arms bringing down the footlights
at concert’s end;

The ache of pulsing atoms
to ears unfamiliar with its quality
can be deafening, feeling anything
but soothing, instead a thing
to be shunned, avoided as though
life itself could be extinguished
in its company; yet even lacking
familiarity, it occupies the interstices
wedged between the chaos
of everyday living, dwelling in
gaps of glimpsed awareness;

In the beginning and end, it is
to the silence we return, din to
be relinquished in favor
of expansiveness beyond
the mind’s grasping.

 

One exquisite journey off the grid and into the silence is 4-wheel driving up Parker Ranch’s  Mana Road. We passed no humans for the hour plus that it takes to get to the top where there is a long forest hike. Heaven. Oh, we did see some creatures  though 😉

all photos ©Bela Johnson

Buried Alive

Not unusual, this Tuesday. I hop on my bike and head downhill toward the vast indigo ocean with Maui shimmering across the channel, verdant rolling fields a parenthesis between me and the sea. I fondly regard the local dairy’s towering wooden silo alongside giant red and white windmills, revolving in rhythm to the crispy gust of tradewinds. On my ten mile cruise along Akoni Pule Highway, I try not to focus too much on the roadside garbage, but thoughts creep in unbidden. When was it we began to ignore this blatant insult to the landscape? When did we collectively decide that walking, cycling and driving amidst rubbish was an acceptable state of being? And more broadly now, when did we collude in the wholesale polluting of the planet?

I remember growing up in the 1950’s and ‘60’s; recall milk deliveries, ice cream trucks, the separate weekly groupings of glass, paper and household rubbish. Into present awareness jump newspaper drives in grammar school, mammoth bundles tied with string, awaiting collection. Competition for our scout troop, summer camp, church fundraisers blends with somatic recall of smog alerts, times we had to refrain from playing at recess because our lungs burned with acrid air.

I reminisce on struggling with President Kennedy’s fitness programs, for we were not conditioned before running long distances around a track, not encouraged to stretch before attempting records at the long jump. My lungs and muscles ached for days, not to mention incurring virtual heat stroke from the solar-saturated asphalt surrounding islands of sand and swings. A playground promising blessed relief from forced intellectual and behavioral incarceration could likewise conjure mirages on the most blistering of days. I remember square dancing, pergola lunches, endless spinning around monkey bars, tetherball and five cent lunch milk in paper cartons. Recall going steady with boys in the fifth grade, playing spin the bottle in the bushes at Hamilton Park. And yet try though I might, I cannot summon the existence of roadside trash. All the way through high school, I covered mile after mile to and from those halls of learning. I walked to school, Brownies, band, drill team and water polo practice, I walked to the store, to friends’ houses, I walked to avoid going home. And I am certain I would have remembered curbside litter, as I was raised in the suburbs yet educated in the natural world of canyons and mountains, of ocean, high and low desert, of fresh and salt water lakes.

It was somewhere between thirty years in the Maine woods and spending quality time with a dear friend in Boston that I ventured into that city for focused periods of time. And one of the most striking features of forays into these urban environs was the sheer volume of rubbish blowing about the streets. Strolling through Somerville with plastic, styrofoam and paper collecting around my ankles lent stark contrast to long stretches of trees, grasses and pristine shorelines of the north country. And yet this began a time, for me, of mentally recording the emergence of a refuse culture, either ignorant, ignominious or both, in breed. We had somehow, somewhere and at some point become overwhelmed with our non-biodegradable consumerist compost. We had somehow, somewhere, and at some time chosen to ignore it spilling out from our homes and into our roads, highways, and landscapes. We had mysteriously made the collective decision not to care if it did.

Today I took note of the following items tossed from car windows, blown from beds of trucks and moved mauka to makai – from mountain to ocean – by the ever-present trade winds of Kohala. Grasping for perspective, I could not help but wonder what if anything moves through the minds of those who discard these objects; I who swoon with guilt anytime I’ve cast banana or orange peels far out the car window and into the scrub of landscape. Part of me knows they are biodegradable while another part wonders what would happen if a thousand people performed this act at the same time. To wit: beer bottles, large and small – some smashed, others whole, a disposable diaper, wadded paper towels, a large black sock, clear plastic roofing scraps, an entire plate lunch wrapped first in styrofoam then tied securely in a white plastic bag, red plastic drawstring from a garbage bag, cds, a cardboard box, a full orange adopted highway plastic rubbish bag that somehow had been moved off the highway collection spot and into the bushes, a Gatorade bottle left over from the last Ironman race, a rubber marker for a baseball diamond, plastic drinking bottles of all sizes and colors, plastic and galvanized garbage can lids (some shredded by the county mower), innumerable plastic bags blowing around, stuck to barbed wire fences and caught on tree branches, assorted aluminum cans, a child’s large inflatable toy, balloon bodies, woven plastic covers to county sandbags, a child’s rubber slipper, cigarette boxes, a man’s XXL “Year of the Tiger” tee shirt covered in dirt but otherwise perfectly wearable, an automobile wheel cover, plastic floor mat and old garage sale signs, both plastic and cardboard.

This rubbish collects along Akoni Pule Highway, gateway to our lovely community as it winds through some of Hawaii’s most striking landscapes and terminates in the incomparable Pololu Valley overlook. I have cycled this highway since moving here a dozen years ago, and for all the cleanup that periodically transpires, there is ever a recurring impulse to junk it up again with the telltale signs of a culture gone made with consumerism, the same culture that ignores a middle aged woman in the cashier’s line in front of me two days ago carting no fewer than ten well boxed and styrofoamed lights, requesting that each be securely stowed in its own brown and orange plastic Home Depot bag.

 

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