Currently Browsing: Gardening

Mono no aware

Sei Shonagon’s writings are filled with what the Japanese call “aware,” a poignant nostalgia for the past. It’s a melancholy, sweet ache that is almost beautiful. I feel it strongly in the late summer with the appearance of the crickets and cicadas in my garden. Summer is fading and soon we will be entering the long dark evenings and short cold days of winter.

I went away in the midst of this summer for three weeks. I knew the garden would grow unruly without my daily care but I didn’t think it would be too much, so I wasn’t worried. Before leaving, I cleaned the house and then went out to the Tea House. In the summer, if it’s humid, the tatami mats get moldy – green slimy mold on them, so I set the ceiling fan on low and removed the scroll that was hanging in the tokonoma alcove. I rolled it up and brought it inside my house where it was sure to be safe. The Tea House was bare and empty.

When I returned from vacation, the garden had grown more wild than I ever expected. It had rained constantly throughout July, something it hadn’t done in years. Weeds were three feet high, the grass had to be weed-whacked before it could be mowed. In Switzerland, where we had gone hiking near the Eiger Mountain in the Bernese Alps, I saw an old woman with long gray hair scything her small field. That was me back home with my weed whacker.

The hot, rainy month of July has ended and now in an unusual cooling with the full moon the crickets have started their mating with sounds like waves of chirping in the long deep slide from late evening into darkness.

I went out to the Tea House and opened all the windows and turned off the fan. The space felt empty and I realized that what makes it vibrant and alive besides the incense and people sitting together is the scroll, the calligraphy in black ink drawn by my teacher and other Zen masters. I’m lonely without them.

I look for a scroll. Which words do I choose to convey this sentimental melancholy that I’m feeling?  Who do I turn to? I miss my teacher who died five years ago. I pick a scroll that he had mounted for me. I hang it in the Tokonoma and sit down.

It reads, “Holding up a flower. Subtle smile.”

The space returns to its vibrancy, its depth of purpose. This is no ordinary space, it is a place that confirms and supports truth. The gold thread sewn into the cloth mounting around the white paper of the calligraphy shimmers in the shadows of the early evening.

I weep for the intensity of my training practice. My life. Now more ordinary without my teacher.

But when I hang this calligraphy of his, his spirit comes alive as he was, and it says, this is the way and I offer it to you, ordinary yet beyond time and place.

November super moon

All day I have been disoriented. One thread of myself not following the other.

The weather report says
Cloudy skies. Slight chance of a rain shower. Low near 35F. Winds light and variable.

But they didn’t mention that the full moon tonight is the closest moon to rise in almost 69 years. In fact, the full moon won’t come this close to Earth again until Nov. 25, 2034.

All I know is that my Saga Chrysanthemums have finally bloomed.



Things that just keep passing by

Sei Shonagon lists “Things that just keep passing by: A boat with its sail up. People’s age. Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter.”

This autumn there are some very cool days and one thinks about changing clothes to wools and long sleeved flannel shirts. But then the very next day the temperature soars into the 70s and there is renewed hope that the summer will linger forever though signs in the garden tell us winter is quickly approaching.

Sunsets and sunrises are lavish with color. Pale pinks and oranges flood the sky. Trees and shrubs wear a brocade of woven hue: reds, oranges, pale green, and brown. Ferns and grasses spell the end of the year, dahlias and salvias throw out the best of the season. It is truly a splendid time.


A spritz party

The Tivoli Garden Tour came to visit my garden and tea house. Instead of making everyone tea I hosted a Veneziano Spritz “ceremony”.

Ice bucket, silver tray with wine glasses, Perrier, Aperol and Prosecco. Someone added ice to the glasses, I poured the Prosecco with a good splash of Aperol (made from Orange and Rhubarb) and then a dash of Perrier. Kampai everyone!

DSC00549-smTo describe how I feel about my tea house and garden I read this poem by Wang Wei (699-759)

From my middle years I have been drawn to the Buddha;

Late in life, I built a cottage at the foot of South Mountain.

When the feeling comes, I walk there alone;

Wonderousness vainly known to me alone.

Walking I reach where the waters well forth;

Sitting, I watch the moment clouds arise.

I chance to meet an old woodcutter,

And our words and laughter know no hour of return.


In the ninth month – Hagi

In one of the most poignant scenes of The Tale of Genji when Murasaki is dying, she writes her last poem:

“So briefly rests the dew upon the hagi
Even now it scatters in the wind.”

I associate Hagi with all the poetry and romanticism of Japan and it was one of the first things I planted in my garden. I love how it cascades over my front porch in the autumn.


front porch edit-sm

A ‘Hagi’ Bush Clover in September. It spills over my front porch.

Bush Clover ( Lespedeza Japonica), known in Japan as ‘Hagi’, is one of the seven grasses of autumn and is mentioned in hundreds of verses of the Manyoshu poetry anthology compiled in the 9th century. Hagi is associated with dew and fleeting qualities of life.

In the Hein period of Sei Shonagaon, clothing was formal and women wore many layers of kimono. Color combination of the layers was of prime importance and the names given to the colors were associated with nature, usually plants and flowers. There was a ‘Hagi’ combination of maroon over spring-shoot green, worn only in the autumn.

When I was in Japan I saw Hagi growing everywhere. Brushwood fences are even made from it’s branches.

91_Imperial Palace fence-sm

Brushwood fence at the Imperial Palace, Kyoto.

Brush fence Shimogama Shrine

Brush fence Shimogama Shrine

Hagi, just beginning to bloom, at Byodo-in.



« Previous Entries