Mono No Aware

Usually when I look at the garden this time of year all, all I see is work that needs to be done, work I’ve been putting off as long as possible. Still, if you’re desperate for a shot to post to your site and you look through the lens of your camera long enough, you can always find something that might possibly pass as art, particularly if you play with it long enough in Photoshop.

Obviously the Hosta plants are dying off, but their golden color emphasizes the shape of the leaves 

Though I’ll use a blower to clean dead leaves off some places,  I long ago learned that decaying leaves attract birds throughout Fall and Winter, while adding nutrients to the garden in Spring.

The fuchsia is by far the brightest flower left in the garden

but their flowers are so small that the hydrangea, despite beginning to fade, still provides the brightest spot in the Fall garden.


Here in the Pacific Northwest, we joke that it’s winter and will be until mid-June because it’s the rainy season and the rainy season runs for nearly nine months of the year with temperatures from the mid-40’s to the mid-50’s. Days when sunshine is predicted and actually shows up are special, and we had one of those last week.  We celebrated by driving up to Ft Flagler to see if the Harlequin Ducks have returned; they have.  There were at least two distinct flocks.  The first time we spotted a flock the sun was behind them and I wondered where the males were because it was hard to distinguish them from the females.

On our way out we spotted another flock closer to shore and the sunlight was nearly perfect.  I loved this shot showing three males from different views. 

However, a few minutes later I got this shot of four males and a female together.

I’m not sure how I will ever top this one. I had to back up to fit them in the frame so I’ll never get a closer shot, and the sun was right over my left should so I’ll never get better light.  

It’s a good think I go out photographing thinking “I’ll get the best shot ever today,” or I might not have a good reason to ever return to Ft. Flagler.

More Desert Poems

I’m sure David Hinton’s Desert Poems isn’t for everyone, but it has become a personal favorite because it helped to answer some questions I’ve been exploring lately while at the same time raising new questions I’d like to explore further.  Now that I’m no longer working, my goals —if I ever had any — have definitely changed. No matter how much I’d like to think that I am the same person I was at three or four years old,  my way of seeing the outside world has changed radically since then, and has changed even more in the  seventeen years since I  retired.

I long ago rejected the idea that our possessions define who we are and immediately agreed with Emerson’s quote, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind”  when I read it during my freshman year in college.  Things have always been less important to me than to many of my peers, and I’ve tried, probably unsuccessfully, to live by Emerson’s idea that not wanting something is the same as having it — and doesn’t weigh you down nearly as much.  Things have become even less important in the last few years when I started working to get rid of things so someone else doesn’t have to later.

After stating our culture’s view that we can truly understand others by studying their “things,” Hinton then calls that assumption into doubt.

We make
things. Fire, stone
tools, shelter
and language, burial

rituals, art, mytho
logies, blood-
soaked war and
love and world—wide
infrastructure: we

make things, and they
define what we
are. It seems

enough, the anthropological
given. So how
is it I

can this easily
walk out
beyond the last
scrap of abandoned wall
or story, maybe

wander a trickling
riverwash where

crows feather mountain

wind? We
must be
something other than
what we are.

If we aren’t our possessions, then what are we?  Can we find who we are by re-experiencing Nature firsthand?  I’m not sure, but I do know that I feel more at home wandering through the woods photographing nature than I do sitting in my den working at my computer. There is nothing quite like sitting on a high ridge overlooking distant mountains to make me feel like I’m where I belong.  

Old age doesn’t seem to be one of Hinton’s major themes, but this poem suggests how getting older can make you see the world differently than you did in the past.  

Thinking of home
long ago and
far away, I

can’t understand
being so old

so soon. It’s early
winter. If I
look for what
became of

all that possibility
I once

was, I find
snow lowering
day by day
across mountains. Soon
I’ll live

deep in all that
lucid white.

Wondering what happened to your youth is not at all uncommon for those of us in our 70’s.  It’s a cliché, but Hinton seems to save it by suggesting that the snow in the mountains is what has become of “all that possibility”  — and it is not just white hair.  It is a “lucid white” that somehow makes old age seem like a reward, not a punishment. Perhaps it even suggests en-light-en-ment?

David Hinton’s Desert Poems

I have read several of David Hinton’s translations of Chinese classics, but I have never read any of his personal poetry until Desert: Poems.  Though I was originally attracted by his knowledge of Chinese literature,  I was also attracted by the title because I spent a year and a half at Ft. Irwin in the Mojave Desert.  It didn’t take long to realize, though, that the desert meant something entirely different to Hinton than it did to me when I was stationed at Fort Irwin. His view is, however, closer to how I have felt about the desert since retiring.  The West’s high deserts are one of the few places left where  you can find solitude and can (almost) escape Civilization. I’ve become fond of parking my “camper” out in the middle of nowhere and spending the day doing nothing but watching wildlife, feeling the shifting light, and soaking in the silence.

For Hinton, the desert seems to take the place of the Mountains favored by Chinese hermit sages. Its solitude provides the ideal place for meditation, a place to contemplate man’s nature and his relationship to nature. This becomes quite clear in early poems like :

Empty mind 
is a mirror 
gazing out, the old 
masters say. It 
seems easy 

enough. But all 
night long, stars shimmer 
deep in my gaze. Who 

could be that 

vast? And at dawn 

I’m sure 
it’s not me 

desert, but wide

open desert 
mirroring whatever

it is 
I am.

I’ll admit my understanding of “empty mind” is nebulous at best, but a quick search of the internet revealed this definition which seems relevant here: “The still mind of the sage is the mirror of heaven and earth, the glass of all things. Vacancy, stillness, placidity, tastelessness, quietude, silence, and non-action – this is the level of heaven and earth, and the perfection of the Tao and its characteristics.” – Chuang-tzu (translated by Legge)

Hilton’s  “modernity” seems to slip into the poem with the ironical line “It/ seems easy/ enough” because anyone who has meditated knows that it is anything but “easy” to attain empty mind — as exemplified in the rest of the poem.    Whose mind is empty enough to mirror the stars?  Is Nature a reflection of us, or are we Nature’s reflection?  

Another recurring theme in Desert Poems is the inadequacy of words, an idea that, I must admit, has crossed my mind a lot lately, especially when meditating or trying to write a post. I suspect that I turned to photographs because I could never describe in words the feelings I got from hiking.  

I wish I 
could say this desert 
to you. But I 
cannot say 
in words 

what I am, only 
what I 

am not, what 
occurs beyond me 
and is 

knowable. It’s 
beautiful here: wide
-open, empty. Come 
with me. There is 

so much 
to say here.