Monday, August 31, 2009

Here We Go
Nothing like camping with the Bylers. Picture this: Jennifer perched for whatever reason on a small piece of firewood, my brother and I propped up on rolled up sleeping bags against the wheel-well of our Dark Red Mistsubishi car which resists every attempt to be nicknamed telling stories of regrettable but fortunate heartache around a flickering fire under a giant thousand year-old Sitka spruce next to a river, deep mineral gray from the glacier 17 miles up-stream. When the stories of heartache were finished we talked about food, about politics, about not caring and being happy. We slept late and moved slow out to the beach where the giant logs of driftwood are piled slowly rotting for a thousand years.
We spent the afternoon on an old skinny log for no apparent reason, we were thinking that Dustan would go swimming but it didn’t happen and eventually we made our way down to some sea stacks and arches where waves pound on and on in little carved channels washing over the little pools of anemone and star fish and crabs. An old woman told me that I “sure am sure footed,” but I didn’t climb the craggy cliffs like Dustan and instead we squatted over the little pools and looked for a long time.
Dustan did eventually swim for a little bit and we disrupted some really amazing rock sculptures which were impossible to put back together no matter how hard we tried. We ended up at a little local restaurant in Port Townsend eating poutine and fruit de mer until we were stuffed and happy. Then finally waiting for the ferry to take our car back home we saw a big 4 foot sand shark under the street lights in the shallows of the Sound and Jennifer did not believe us, but this, and not all the other lies we told, is the truth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Aquatic Adventurers
There is something amazing about swooping into a wall of fish. Fish that make you feel as though you are in a National Geographic submarine peering into a deep blue wilderness. Fish that feel like rocks that don't move, fish that look like rocks that move. Fish that look like nothing wild you have ever seen, fish that look like illustrations from a book. We wandered into a wall of fish last weekend with Dustan my visiting brother and we stared at them until they shut the place down. Dustan and I are going back today.

all photos of our Seattle fish by scott beale of the laughing squid

Monday, August 17, 2009

Year of the Goats

According to the Chinese Zodiac Jennifer was born in the year of the monkey and I was born in the year of the rooster. This seems strange as I have long thought of myself as an agile goat or spitting camel sorting through trash and digesting dirt at the site of a future community garden. Nope, I’m a mature rooster, a fourth-shadow iron rooster born at the tail end of the 1981 lunar year for Chinese peasants. On the positive side, this nature means I am “very observant: His mind is cautious and skeptical, and with this perceptive gift, Roosters make excellent trouble shooters, detectives,” but I like to “be noticed and flattered.”

We got a membership at the YMCA a few weeks ago and now J-Bird is constantly having me feel her muscles and tell her how much they have changed. Today on our way to a vegan lunch buffet she said, “I can feel my abs all over” and then told me the long story of how she came to know that abs was short for abdominal muscles (she at first thought they signified something obscene). A monkey not only grunts in the gym and demands constant feeding, but according to the Chinese bestiary, “monkeys are fun and loving persons who are always cheerful and energetic. They are very clever. Monkey-types possess acute psychological perspicacity which enables them to read people like books.”

Jennifer is making a CD of her favorite music for our friend Matthew right now. The point is to make him feel a little less sad that his sister died last week. Actually the point is to try to say that we care about him by giving him a whole bunch of songs like flowers which are sad and profound and feel like real life: which is always catching up with nature.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Two Fish Under a Rock

We went to the Seattle Asian Art Museum Saturday to look for paintings that would give us poems. We found a few: a painting of a white heron in a tree of green paint bent over against the wind, rubbings of the 16 Lohans with Chinese characteristics – wild eyebrows and tired feet. It was inevitable that the museum and its park designed by the same brothers who designed Central Park would give us back our peace of mind. Giving the material its due we walked to the top of the water tower and looked at the Sound spiting silver clouds at Seattle. Back down under the trees, Jennifer thought she could see through a white coy to it’s spine in the clear dark brown fish pond. We under-appreciated the black sun sculpture by Naguchi because it was crowded with American Born Chinese (ABCs my Chinese teacher says).

Still thinking of the cold mountain we were on, we went down Capitol Hill in search of books and coffee. We stumbled into Second Place Books, a dirty warren of feral cats and cigarettes chain-smoked. Stuck in the literary anthologies was a 1965 gem of Chinese literature translations: Gary Snyder’s Han Shan/Cold Mountain poems and Arthur Waley’s Li Po among others. All of which were carefully annotated with flowing pen strokes by Deb McKnight, the former owner. We took it up the street to a coffee shop and looked it over learning from Lu Chi that the “shapes of tame animals by the sudden shining forth of a tiger are illuminated.”

We read well to what sounded like Beethoven, drinking coffee perked by a man with a mohawk to improve our minds and change our writing until we were ready to walk steadily back to our car – on an improvised path once again to Cold Mountain.

We wanted a good place to settle:

Cold Mountain would be safe.

Light wind in a hidden pine –

Listen close – the sound gets better.

Under it a gray-haired couple

Mumbles along reading Chinese Classics

For ten years we won’t go back home

We won’t even remember the way we came.

Photo above by Lopolis

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Friends Meetings Against Anxiety

Yesterday we went to our weekly circle, where quiet as Quakers we sit, waiting for the Light, as is true to their tradition. Women outnumber men 3 to 1, mismatched shades of green against beards; talismans of keys and mini-flashlights cradled between the broad breasts are matched in equal number by waist-length beards. We are like Annie Dillard here seeking solace, we are like John Updike trying to participate in a tradition in a place where it doesn’t seem too strange, even Soren Kierkegaard tried this. Giving the mundane it’s beautiful due, we sit here thinking, letting the heaviness seep down in our bodies while our brains float higher in their fluid. Outside the Quaker meeting-house, a light-filled smoke lodge, a peace park flutters little flags for bikers, electric buses, and travelers. The boats on Lake Union filtered through the trees blow their horns, which are not rams' horns, and the weather seems perfect. On the veranda wall, next to the rack of newsletters called Gleamings, is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods."

This is the third time I’ve seen an Emerson quote in the past three weeks, the first in my mom’s living room above a flowery tea pot and stacks of the New Republic (I forget what it said), and the other at last week’s art musuem: “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." These thoughts make me want to forgive Emerson (but not Ben Franklin), a little, his invention of the American religion of self-reliance. Perhaps his intent was less Darwinian and more meditative, more engaged and less self-interested, than I previously gave him credit. Perhaps like Nikos Kazantzakis his interest was a "process theology:" the metaphysics made out of what people value, collect, and create through deep attention. Which brings me to Simone Weil’s most often clichéd remark: “absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”

We went to Discovery Park last night traveling myriad trails and saw three raccoons. Down on the rocks of the North Beach, Jen summoned all her powers against pleasure boats and for Orcas. We sat for hours doing nothing but inhaling our breath and staring with absolutely unmixed attention at the Sound. And still no whales. We made new myths intricately weaving our actions into their potential ones. Still nothing. Jennifer blamed me for lack of faith since Weilian prayer presupposes faith and love. I told her, the new myths were not sound, they did not sound true. At last two seals appeared as a reward for patience. As we left, the sun misshapen by the opaque Olympics, Jen whispered in the enchanting forest, “I’m glad we didn’t see them, because they seem more mysterious that way.” And we went home and listened to Blitzen Trapper (who we saw on Friday down by the Orca mural) sing about how to be wild and sure.
Photo by He Who Shall