A River of Stars

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The South Fork Smith River flowing through the Siskiyou Mountains.

The form of running water is literally radical; the networks which streams cut into land resemble the root systems of plants. As plant roots link soil and sky, so rivers form branching ways in which the life of sea and land move up and down.

~ David Rains Wallace (“The Klamath Knot”)

I am continuing with writing haiku, as I find inspiration here and there. Here is a series of attempts at capturing the beauty of a recent camping trip. We camped along the South Fork Smith River, downstream from where it flows out of the Siskiyou Wilderness. It is a pristine river with a clarity and color all its own. If it were a crayon it would be called “Smith River Green” at least at this time of year. The Smith River watershed, the only major watershed in California that is undammed, is well-known for its recreation opportunites, especially steelhead fishing and whitewater kayaking. The water flows cold and clear and the night skies are undimmed by the artificial lights of cities and towns (no cities nearby and few small towns). This is a wild and rugged region of California.

Our final night of camping ended with ukelele playing and singing along the banks of this mighty river. Our newly made friends, two sisters from Austin (TX) and San Diego (CA) and a local guy, Alex from McKinleyville played and sang while bats dove and swooped, eating their way along the river. As dusk faded into night, more and more stars appeared. There was ursa major, downstream to the northwest; and scorpio, upsteam to the southeast whose tail dragged below the mountainous horizon. The eastern sky, above the ridgeline, got brighter and brighter as we continued to sing, as if our singing and the bats movement called the stars into existence. I kept waiting for the moon to appear over the horizon until I remembered that we were just past the new moon and that it was simply the Milky Way that was lighting up the eastern sky. It was so luminous  and so vast that it looked like a river flowing across the sky, lighting up the world below. It brought back memories of past trips in the Siskiyous, Rattlesnake Lake and the Bear Lakes, where I had experienced the same thing. Outside of Africa, I have not seen so many stars nor such clear night skies as here in these mountains. With a yawn and nod to the beauty all around me, I quietly slipped into the darkness and off to bed.

Here is my attempt, in the form of haiku, to capture this moment:

A river of stars

Flowing on, one shoots across

Brightly. The dark night.

And one more:

A river of stars

Above. River of water, below.

Which river am I?


A gift of Haiku

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Camping on the edge of the world, Eastern High Atlas Mountains, Morocco.

The currant shudders.

A clear, calm morning; what cause?

A sparrow jumps out.

In an attempt to append the above haiku I want to add some explanation of why I wrote what I wrote. Haiku is a Japanese style of poetry whose form, in English anyway, is 3 lines of: 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables which is often nature based and usually juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated things in a relational way. What I love about haiku is that it is simple, to the point and says so much with just a few words. Its challenging to express deep meaning with scant language. In the haiku that I write, the point is to express a precise moment so that both the writer and reader are there at the same time. The moment described in this haiku was what I saw on a given morning as I looked out our front window. I was sitting on the couch and the first rays of the sun were peaking up over the mountains. A red flowering currant (a native plant to this area) shuddered and shook but there was no apparent wind. It was a very calm and clear morning, so I wondered at the cause. Was there a slight breeze that I could not detect or was it something else? And then suddenly out hopped a sparrow, telling me in an instant something about the world. A beautiful, perfect moment to be alive. And so haiku, as I interpret it anyway, aims at putting the reader into that moment, into that realization about life: that its simple, beautiful and perfect just the way it is and that it is the ordinary moments that are sublime. Its not necessarily supposed to make sense in the left brain way that we usually think of things (logic and reason and language); rather its supposed to be a direct experience and so in that way makes the most sense of all.


What is “Useless”?

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Let your mind be like a pearl rolling in a silver bowl.

~ Zen Saying

The short answer is: everything. You, me, the earth, the moon and the stars. Our inherent nature is to be useless; not useful as we erroneously believe. In order for that to happen we need to stop trying to make ourselves and everything else in this universe so damned useful. We need to let someone or something simply be what it is and not try to make it something else. If you are like me, and I believe this is a fundamental human characteristic, we are constantly trying to make something or someone into something different than it actually is; often something useful. Because whether we are conscious of it or not we believe that until something is useful it doesn’t have worth, value or merit and therefore we can simply throw it away (wherever away is),use it up, destroy it, neglect it, pollute it.  Being most true to ourselves and others would be letting things be useless. Let the wind blow and let the rain fall. Useless. Let the sun shine and the plants grow. Useless. The rain is useless and the wind is useless and the sun is useless and so too are the plants, and the moon and the mountains and the rivers that flow. This life, this death, this breath and these words are all utterly useless. Nothing more than witless wanderings. If I can know them deeply, intimately and let them be, I too can be useless and free. Like nibbling sheep or a cow chewing its cud. Unrehearsed, unconditioned, useless and utterly free.