On a nameless path I looked for signs, but found none. On my map it's a circle with no circumference. I've seen footprints, made by a tengu?, a winged, pencil-nosed goblin who perches in trees and with the tip of its beak scribbles riddles that don't have answer. Everything's possible, if one walks slow enough.
The trail is muddy today. Rocks pop up, leaves have slick faces. Puffs of breath mix with low-hanging clouds; the creek is hardly heard. I climb higher, brightened by chips of redwood bark, darkened by detritus of this year's fall, then down slippery wooden steps, stopping for a moment to jot down notes. Walking deeper into the woods there is no Yahweh to scold me, no Christ to heal me, no Buddha to guide me.
A few years short of Po Chü-i's age when he wrote, "feeble and frail by a hundred diseases, / but a rotting tree never avoids grubs, / and wind finds empty hollows with ease," last night I had this dream:
The forest seems poised between living and dying. Pelts of wet moss lounge on naked branches, sword ferns waver. Having not rained for months, the Wailing Wall is dry. Older than Solomon's Temple, once its caves housed tiny Daoist hermits. Now Jews are like farmers: they practice an exacting way of life where details matter and transcendent spiritual value lies too deep for outsiders to see. Like farmers, Jews are attachedthey always know the time and season. They always know when the sun sets, when Shabbat starts and when they've exchanged an ancient vision for a modern one. But a path "shouldn't lead from here to there. It should lead from here to here."
My studies and my dreams always lead me back to the Paleolithic caves. To enter them is to crawl past the fear of death. What price to bring light and culture into a forbidding realm, squeezing through psychic tunnels pushing a flickering oil lamp ahead. Jung said that the process of individuation is contra naturarum. Yet life is biological, death ecological. There are handprints all over the Void.
The mountains are visible today, ringlets of rock, crevassed snow and ice, peaking the spirit's possibilities in all directions. It will not be this way for long. Already the horizon's lips are muttering threats. Nature has a temper! She blows up volcanos, spewing lava and smoke, battering with hurricanes, spinning material lives apart with tornados, drowning with tsunamis. While heat scorches skin into malignant blisters, cold blackens and breaks off digits like spent matchsticks.
A new neighbor hammers nails into our shared wall. My sinuses drip, the old cough returns. With neutrinos zipping through my body, I walk through the world while with the magical power of replication, the image affecting what it is an image of, wherein the representation shares in or takes power from the represented—testimony to the power of the mimetic faculty through whose awakening we might not so much understand that it speeds through me.
When humans enter the woods in loud conversation, their dogs sniffing ahead, wildlife hides behind guidebooks. "Over one hundred twelve species of birds and sixty-two species of mammals can be observed living and ranging through Forest Park." Black Bear, Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Elk, Black-tailed Deer, somewhere. This trail is a promenade now, a heresy that would be compounded by the Neolithic commitment to artificially producing these plants and animals, stripping them of whatever remained of their spiritual volition, their permission—the gift—in the process. In the case of plants, it was probably more a matter of repositioning their spiritual virtue, which I prefer to call their grace, into the theater of the sky gods of weather and time, the keepers of ground packed hard from shoes. Mystery is paved over with both prayers and calculations. One day I saw two visions as one—
What season is this? Mild air, the creek running at full chortle, snow piled deep in high mountain passes, a man with stumpy legs stemming from short pants passes me, leaving the woods in a determined gait. A familiar tree and I exchange words. "I haven't seen you in weeks." "I've been ill." "Oh? Blight? Termites?" "Post-nasal drip." Though millennia ago we took different paths, there are feelings between us ominous as smoke rising from a chimney into the mid-winter sky.
Screwed into a bench:
But did they care for her?
I don't tramp through wilderness months at a time, "letting a dragonfly sit on my hat walking along," but a few hours at a time. How many worlds are there to explore? Each birth begins a new journey, and then what? One tree stands on a hillside, tall and scroungy against a sky sponged with darkening clouds. I hadn't noticed it before: so apart, so vulnerable. I am still challenged by the obvious.
Where a tree sits with leafless branches the road goes through a tunnel, on the other side of which a steep path rises to a another path, muddy but level. One way leads to a copse of houses, the other further into the woods.
We are born with a feeling for Something beyond the range of our brain, but not with its realization, a gnosis each of us must request on our own. Spiritual teaching is not revelation but the point of these bifurs or word- erasing is not even about pondering their corrected meaning, but rather about pinpointing thought at the rare moment when it sidesteps into something other than inspiration, and a collection of techniques.
With a terrible headache, I arrived back in Tokyo, spending a smoggy afternoon in office buildings, selling cheap woodcuts and a few words of English for train fare to Kyoto. By early evening, we were on the train to the old capital, where I was hoping for a wiff of the past. I've been trying to make this city strange again, to retrieve the excitement of arrival. Seeing seasonal changes, writing seasonal words, thinking in cycles. Chipping, flaking, fissuring, generally deteriorating, temporarily patched up; finally subsumed, or pinned with an Historical Building plaque, like us, a building's obsolescence is inevitable. Sustainability, as opposed to a model of disposable products depleting the planet until we, too, cannot survive, begins with turning "I want" on its head.
A god who ascended, who disappeared, an avatar in reverse. What was once a strategy for survival has become ceremony, social morality, desperation in midst of distruction. When the earth speaks, the carver holds the unworked ivory lightly in his hand. Turning it this way and that, he whispers, 'Who are you! Who hides there!' And then, "Ah, Seal!' He rarely sets out to carve, say, a seal, but picks up the ivory, examines it to find we fail to hear it in the din of our prayers.