Westport Pelicans

I’ve got some great shots of Brown Pelicans at Westport in the past. Unfortunately, that means I’m always a little disappointed if I don’t get as good of shots when I visit the next time. Apparently I showed up at the wrong time Sunday because there wasn’t many Pelicans flying in or out of the marina.

I managed to get a few shots I liked, though, like this one circling over our heads, so close I couldn’t fit it all in the frame.

Brown Pelican

After driving to the other side of the marina, I managed to get a shot of one landing with better lighting.

Brown Pelican

I’ve never seen a pose quite like this one.

Brown Pelican

I had hoped to get more shots of pelicans in breeding colors like this one,

Brown Pelican

but somehow I manage to photograph them too early or too late in the season to catch them in full breeding colors. Perhaps they’re like White Pelicans, and breeding pairs fly off somewhere to breed in a colony.

“All We Need is One Good Bird”

I attended Ruth Sullivan’s memorial in Ocean Shores this weekend. I met Ruth just as I was beginning to bird, and she taught me much of what I know about birding, particularly the best places to find birds on the Coast.

After all our birding trips to Ocean Shores and Westport, it seemed wrong to drive to the beach and not do some birding. Because we were out of sync with the tides, I decided to go to Westport in hopes of seeing loons and pelicans.

Instead, we were surprised by large flocks of Marbled Godwits in the marina. Perhaps I should have expected to see Godwits, though, because Ruth loved Marbled Godwits; we almost always ended a beach trip by looking for Godwits at Tokeland.


The Marbled Godwit is an elegant shorebird with an upturned bill


which it uses to probe for insects.


Just how far it probes was made clear by the many Godwits who had mud caked at the top of their beaks.


We didn’t see a single loon at Westport and remarkably few Pelicans, but it was hard to forget Ruth’s mantra “All we need is One Good Bird.”

These beautiful Marbled Godwits were certainly our “One Good Bird” for the day.

Favorites from The Clouds Should Know Me By Now

Without a doubt my favorite poems in The Clouds Should Know Me By Now are those “From Stones and Trees: The Poetry of Shih-shu” translated by James H. Sanford. For me, the poems in this 32 page section are worth the price of the book, especially since I haven’t been able to find a selection comparable even after considerable searching.

Even the introduction to the section stands out and provides a vital understanding of the context of the poems. Perhaps the reason I liked the poems so much is best explained by”: “… Shih-shu —typical of his era perhaps — seems as much Taoist as Buddhist, more a lay hermit than an entempled monk. … Further, as a Buddhist, he is clearly of the ‘samsara is itself nirvana’ variety; for him, the world is far more a realm of enlightenment than a prison-house of sorrow. Indeed, at times he even seems to approach the tantric view of esoteric Buddhism and its watchword ‘the passions are themselves enlightenment.’”

There’s hardly a poem in the section that I didn’t like, but these two might resonate with me the most. This first one sounds a lot like my sentiment since I finally retired.


against the gently flowing spring morning
the arrogant rattle of a passing coach
peach blossoms beckon from the distant village
willow branches caress the shoulder of my pond

as bream and carp flash their golden scales
and mated ducks link embroidered wings
The poet stares about; this way, then that—
caught in a web beyond all speaking

That opening image contrasting the noisy coach passing by and the gently flowing spring seems surprisingly contemporary, even if we don’t have coaches anymore. We’re all too busy to sit around and enjoy nature, even Spring’s beauty. Only the poet “stares about” and finds himself caught in a “web beyond all speaking.”

Most of all, I love the imagery in this poem which almost makes that last line superfluous, at least for the reader who has identified with the imagery.

This next poem doesn’t rely on imagery as much as the previous poem, or even as much as I usually like, but the message rings true to me and sometimes that’s enough, too.


as flowing waters disappear into the mist
we lose all track of their passage
every heart is its own Buddha
ease off; become immortal

wake up: the world’s a mote of dust
behold heaven’s round mirror
turn loose: slip past shape and shadow
sit side by side with nothing—save Tao

The idea of going with the “flowing waters” which disappear into the unseen and unknown also seems very contemporary, if not just plain “New Age,” but it is also a good metaphor for the Tao, for the Taoist Way, and one that appears throughout the Tao Te Ching.

Combining it with the idea that “every heart is its own Buddha” is a little more striking as is the line “sit side by side with nothing —save Tao.” Hanging on to things too long is the source of many sorrows, but, of course, it’s not easy to “turn loose.”

Time for Some Poetry

Despite the lack of poetry posts, I have continued to read poetry regularly. I have several partially read books of poetry lying around I want to finish and comment on before I forget my first impressions. I started reading The Clouds Should Know Me by Now over a year ago when I was running my grandson around and waiting for him. Unfortunately, keeping it in the car and reading it only during his appointments was too disjointed to be effective. Ideally, I would love to sit down and read a book in one sitting, the way I used to read novels in college. Now I would have trouble getting up afterward.

I ended up marking several poems as worth re-reading, but this is certainly not my favorite collection of Chinese poetry I’ve read. I’ve been quite fond of previous translations I’ve read by both Red Pine and Mike O’Conner, but this was the first time I’ve read a collection of poems exclusively by “Chinese Buddhist Poet Monks.”

A clue to why I might not enjoy them as much as previous Chinese poetry I have read is suggested in the introduction to “Ching An” when the editor notes that “In the poems of this selection, the poet avoids both the Buddhist technical vocabulary and overt moralizing that is a feature of Buddhist poetry by lesser poets of the tradition.” It was an “aha” moment when I read that line since I was unable to put my finger on why I wasn’t relating to many of the poems I had previously read in the collection.

It is the concrete imagery in Chinese and Japanese poetry, particularly in haiku, that most attracts me to Asian poetry. William Carlos Williams is one of my favorite modern poets, and Imagists were a favorite “school” of poetry. When imagery becomes secondary to technical vocabulary or, worse yet, moralizing, I tend to lose interest quickly. As I age, I find myself even less willing to get lost in words, whether in postmodern poetry or contemporary philosophy.

Keeping that caveat in mind, I’d have to be quite the dolt not to find any new or challenging ideas in a 213-page anthology of “Buddhist poet monks of china.” Hoping not to be known as a dolt, I suggest this poem by Ch’i-Chi and translated by Burton Watson manages to walk the line between “overt moralizing” and poetry.

(Fifth in the series)

Don’t ask why I shut my gate—
from times past, few comings and goings.
The Way should rest in simplicity,
the body’s best suited to vacant idleness.
On four sides green moss surrounds me,
my lone window dotted with rain spatters.
And where do dream-wanderings take me?
To where autumn is coloring the riverside hills.

Lines 3 and 4 are clearly “overt moralizing” because the simple life and meditation are staples of Chan Buddhism, though they may seem radical to westerners who worship material possessions and take pride in their work ethic. Still, there’s poetry in those first two lines where the literal “gate” becomes a metaphor for forgetting the past and even more poetry in those last two lines where “dream wanderings” take us not to some abstract void but to the beauty of “where autumn is coloring the riverside hills.”

A favorite section in this collection was Han-shan Te-ch’ing’s “Twenty Eight Mountain Poems” translated by Red Pine. This first one, at least, reminded me a little of myself.

My body is like deadwood my thoughts are like ashes
there’s snow on my skull and frost on my jaw
I don’t disdain the world just because I’m old
dust finds no place to land in my eyes

If you knew how hard I’ve found it lately to do anything more than just post poems without commentary, you would not doubt for a moment that “my thoughts are like ashes.” Like the poet I have (some) white hair and a very white beard. It’s hard not to “disdain the world” with the state of the world, but I prefer to think it is not just because I’m old. I really didn’t understand that last line until (after a couple of hours of searching) I found this quote from the Shurangama Sūtra, “Your afflictions are like visitors, like dust floating in and out of the space of your Mind.” I’m afraid I haven’t quite reached this state of enlightenment, but it’s still a goal.

The same reference to dust occurs in this later poem in the sequence.

Snow covers earth and sky everything is new
my body is concealed inside a silver world
suddenly I enter a treasury of light
a place forever free of any trace of dust.

The first three lines remind me why I went cross-country skiing and snowshoeing for so many years. Growing up in the Puget Sound we got so little snow that it was magical on those few times when snow erased school and covered empty lots with magic. The second and third lines remind me of the many snow globes I loved as a child. Not as magical as en-lighten-ment, of course, but certainly a momentary escape from the real world.