Free your mind and your ass will follow.
I settled into my seat, buckled the lap belt, took a deep breath, and looked out the window at the tarmac. I have enjoyed airplane travel over the years, mostly because of the sense of adventure associated with going somewhere far, but I am still nervous when it comes down to it. In part this is due to the insanity of leaving the earth beyond in such a heavy bird and expecting it not to crash, but also there is the nervousness of so many strangers being so intimately packed into what is really just a large sardine container. It’s really quite amazing to think about how well we all get along as we total strangers come together in such a way. I took a deep breath, grabbed my notebook, and was about to begin writing when I read the writing on the back of the seat in front of me. It said, “Fasten seat belt while seated, Use cushion as flotation device.” This was something that I had read many times before, and it was almost always the exact same with nothing profound or out-of-the-ordinary. I read it again and thought to myself, “Could I write something equally succinct and terse about my life, my values,” like a modern day, American haiku. Here is what I came up with from seat 14A, with a few variations to boot:
Unfasten the self, be wild and free.
Use your life well, don’t waste it.
Unfasten yourself while in flight
Use bottom for cushion and float away free.
Unfasten your mind
Let it flow freely.
What would you write, dear reader, for your life? If you are comfortable doing so, please share with all of us by replying below or emailing me directly.
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?
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.