01 November 2009

Kula: A Meditation on Warmth

Kula: now I know why they call it that - it's Kula than anywhere else. It's the Canada of Maui. With nothing but the wild north of 10,000-foot Haleakala rising above it, and those hardy souls who don't mind cold at night and clouds all day to settle its backwoods, it puts me in fleece and felt slippers as I snack on passion fruit, lemon and plum, mango, coconut, yogurt. When I drive up to that summit above the clouds and hike into the barren crater under the hot sun, I'm greeted by the tame birds called Nene, a long-lost tribe of Canada geese.

At least I'm within 30 minutes of the real thing, the West African dance class with full traditional drum ensemble. After Oahu's tame FireTribe over the weekend, I was ready to taste this magic again and still it caught me by surprise. Now, I thought, I'm home. New friends opened up, the road home became mellower, and I savored the warm evening air of upper Haiku. On the one hand, I could live here. On the other, what I keep hearing is that people come and go. Kind of a lifestyle thing, in tune with wide ocean breezes, always new. In the heart of the ocean, beating with its pulse ...

Maui is a Mother, like the plant medicines many grow and use here - a nuturing, forgiving spirit. "Come and be healed," she says, with soothing breezes, heartstrong sun, wholly waves. I suppose it's no accident that I'm drawn to nest here and take warmth from the slopes of a volcano, the very body of Pele.

In mid-October here in what's called the "cloud forest," I turn to hot baths in the evening, retreating to my cave of a bedroom with the propane heater, and contemplate cutting more wood in the mornings for the living room fireplace, and those rainy cold winter days everyone's warning me about.

On the other hand, I can do cold. I lived in the arctic for three years, even; doing as the Inuit do, and just dressing warm (except of course for those teens who liked to run around in jeans and T-shirts at thirty below). I got in eight cords of wood for winter in the drafty old Beguin house in Argenta, BC, then lived in a tipi three winters while building my house. Am I just getting old and soft now, bending to the tropic persuasion so lazily, that at times I'm even swinging to the extreme of "never wanting to be cold again"?

Maybe's it's the infantile urge to get back to Mommy - no, earlier: to inside Mommy's womb, fully enclosed by body temperature 24/7. Safety, security ... the ease to breathe, as through an invisible umbilical cord, and to move without effort, languidly through water, over soft sand and among swaying palms. It's a persuasive advertising message, at that. Witness the resort component of Maui's demographic triad, resort-rural-wild. The rural and the wild have the root effect fueling the resort set, for that matter, for these are the real thing: living in Maui time. They also provide the source of marketed concepts, like the aloha spirit.

The English writers (Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, even BCer Malcolm Lowry) observed it, and succumbed to it, when in the garb of the colonialist. The lassitude of the easy life. Not that the colonial era has passed, mind you. Here I am in my hill station as in the India of the Raj, playing my civilized games of music and literature while the native masses seethe below ...

So is it indulgent to press on with this quest for eternal warmth? It's only natural, I might say, as I'm joined by that punctual pair of orange cats each morning in the hot rising sunshine. Or are the tabbies not natural at all, but just more accessories in the colonial trappings; like all the invasive species here? Maybe human beings, of whatever race or origin, are an invasive species ...

Back to the subject: neither hot nor cold. Actually I don't mind hot: I prefer it. But I think that it's just a compensation for cold. If I were always warm, I don't think I'd need to seek more heat. As it is, there's this oscillation effect, so that for every hour I spend dealing with temperatures, say, of 15/59 degrees, I need to compensate with an hour at 25/77 degrees, to balance out as a room-temperature average warmth of 20/68 degrees. When I lived in Quebec, the summer/winter temperatures in Montreal and Quebec City ranged from plus 40 to minus 40. But the midpoint of 0 (freezing) is not my idea of moderation.

For me it probably goes back to that time of birth, when I came out of the womb a month premature: maybe I'm still trying to recapture that lost month of comfort. So while we're at it, let's adjust the thermostat. Because actually my preferred midrange might be 25, with a comfortable range of 20 to 30 degrees centigrade. That would fit my definition, at least, of "never being cold."

It was the root motivation behind that item on my previous "5-Year Plan" that called for "Living in the tropics (or equivalent) for a full year." I did kind of do that two years ago when I traveled in South Asia and the Pacific for six months, next to a "summer" in Victoria, BC. Trouble is, that was quite a hedge considering that true summer (temperatures consistently above 20, and warm-water lake and selected ocean swimming) in Victoria typically lasts only two months at best; sometimes just one. Last summer was exceptional and, after a full winter spent through the gray, cool, misty days, I swam in my favorite ocean spot, almost comfortably, from the end of May through the end of August.

Now I'm already starting to hesitate when I enter the ocean here. "I think Thailand was warmer than this. I'm sure it was warmer than this in southern India, and the ocean off Guinea as well ..."

But here at least they speak English. They even speak, in a rather watered-down polyglot way, American. You still hear New Jersey or Boston, Atlanta or Dallas, but also a lot of generic California and Colorado, Oregon and Arizona. The roads are mostly smooth highways, the ATMs work, and there's shopping and fast food and drink aplenty. Infrastructure and finance all familiar, the empire intact in one of its more benign outposts ... But now I'm drifting off topic again.

I'm getting drowsy already, and it's only 10:40. Was it the hot bath, or is it the oxygen in this room with the windows closed being burned up by the propane stove and replaced by carbon dioxide or worse, which by the way also adds to my carbon debt along with all the gas I burn in that American national pet the automobile to carry me to my sweaty drum-dance workouts and my yuppiistic sunbathing on the distant beaches.

Experiment: open the window ...

Ah, a little warmer than I expected - yet still cool ... like a summer evening in BC. Funny, on those warmest of summer evenings in Victoria, I always remark, "... just like Hawaii." Somewhere in the middle of the two, is that elusive ideal.

The middle way: between hot and cold. Too hot all the time wouldn't work either: sweltering, shut down, debilitating. You at least have to find shade. Or as I did in Baltimore as a kid in the summer, retreat to the basement.

Earth-sheltered house I built in Argenta: to moderate the extremes of hot and cold. Passive solar heating of rock walls and floors, to save excess heat from the sun and release it later in the cooler night. Rock hot tub next to the wood stove, to hold its heat and save it for a melting soak on a winter's day, and ease it back into the room constantly. Sunbathing is like that: storing in the skin the warming rays, to feel later as a slow burn, nightglow ...

I had a conversation with Larry tonight about my church of Bembe experience on Tuesday at Zephyr's place, wavering back and forth in my feeling of the short bell part, and in general that knife-edge between 6/8 and 3/4, where the ideal is neutral in between, so the listener can have the subjective magical experience of hearing it one way or the other, instead of handing it to them my way but continually changing my mind, or like driving a car, Larry says, weaving back and forth from one side of the road to the other, or just letting that playful spirit carry me away with it instead of remaining firm and straight and consistent on the part, keeping it in the middle, remaining neutral.

Like my conversation with Eugene before that, about sharing life's vicissitudes, the good and the bad, equally, among friends. We can accept whatever it is, from our friend.

And the book by Cope, The Wisdom of Yoga, going deeper into that same universal question, of the nature of the mind, the brain, to respond and evaluate and react according to the simplistic label "attraction" or "aversion," on a continual basis processing input of senses and thoughts. Instead, the process can be subject to a witnessing awareness, so that at least the chain of reaction can be broken, and subtler still, the chain of habitual evaluation.

So, true, I can choose not to bemoan my state if I am cold, adding suffering to the experience of cold itself. Or I can choose to do something about it: like, taking a bath, lighting the propane stove, keeping the windows shut, wearing a long-sleeved shirt, going to bed soon, staying in bed till the sun comes up, carrying and cutting firewood by hand to get warmed up before it even burns, and, whenever possible, going to the beach. I did, after all, move to Maui, so it's all here somewhere, 24/7, if I want it.

Check that:See, even if I had that vision - that moving to Kihei, say, or even more radically, ditching Hawaii for Thailand or India or Africa, would solve the problem of ever being cold again - there are a couple of big problems. First of all, that restrictive vision is kind of anti-warm, which is to say stressful if there's pressure to maintain it. Suppose I live down near the beach in Kihei, for instance. Then what do I do, how do I feel, if I get invited to a jam at Mick Fleetwood's right here on Alae Road in Kula, some rainy January night? Even in Danya's jungle in Huelo on my last visit in January, I compared it to June in Victoria: or as we call it there, "Junuary." Coldest winter in 12 years, they told me, but it happened just the same. What do I do, cry, flee, complain, write a manifesto?

The middle way isn't just a range on the thermometer. Even if I achieved perfect temperature control in my environment, what about all the other aspects of that environment that I also evaluate as important but variable, with certain strong preferences and needs to consider? There are a multitude of manifestoes that end up having to compete in the personal boardroom for decision-making clout. Who's the CEO around here anyway? Oh, he couldn't make it this time. He's taking an extended vacation on Maui ...

Then there's the quantum connection: the middle way between particle and wave. The experiment says that if you're looking for a particle, that's what you see. If you're looking for a wave, that's what you see. Elemental reality is both, at the same time; but we can't see both at the same time, only one or the other. So my quest, on this more elemental level, is to neutralize the swings between hot and cold, between desire and aversion, and find the equanimity of the warmth between.

There is a further twist, though. The above ideal is just that: a perfectionist's ideal. Real life, living in the world in human form, puts us on the see-saw, the roller coaster of the this grand amusement park. Fitted with the instrumentation at hand, we see first particle, then wave; the bliss and conflict of relationship; the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the realm of competitive sports (or business); the arctic and tropic realms of earthly experience. Heaven and Hell lie within the range of daily human experience.

Is even the impulse to moderate the extremes, then, well-meaning as it is in the interest of healthy balance, at odds with the nature of life? Maybe; but it's all open to choice. The wilder the swings, the greater the ecstasies of desire and the sufferings of disappointment. Get high if you want, but be ready for the hangover.

The true middle path of constant equanimity is another choice: the life of the yogi, the celibate, the monk or saint. And this doesn't necessarily mean renunciation of the world. It can mean bringing a neutralizing influence of attention to bear during every step, every breath, in the midst of whatever our engagement with the world is. We can choose the range we live in, which is not dependent on our economic status or even our personal conditioning, but on our inner freedom in responding to impulses, desires, aversions, and judgments. We can take on the degree of involvement, in the worldly see-saw of emotion, that makes sense for us; and this degree itself can change, in a larger wave of our path of growth and experience. At one time, celibacy; at another, delving into relationship again. From Arctic, to Tropic, and back to the Temperate zone again, for another while.

At the top of Haleakala, realm of the fire-goddess, Pele, I'm challenged by the altitude, recalling Nepal; and by the exertion of a full-day hike, recalling my expedition to the top of Mt. Cooper. That pointed cone of ice presents the opposite image of my destination here, a so-called "bottomless pit" (Kawilinau) where lava once spewed forth, now closed off at a depth of 65 feet. This mountain is a breast of the goddess rising out of the sea - or a mere nipple on the wide oceanic bosom - from which, from time to time, her milky fire flows.

10 October 2009

Wild Ride, Tame Music, Last Resort: FireTribe, Fall Equinox 2009

On the plane to Honolulu I sat next to a guy who had just sold his top-100 dot-com business, and so I wound up picking his brain on keys to success: the right domain name, key paying partnerships, reverse engineering Google from competing sites. All this I knew already; the difference was, he actually followed through and did the grunt work to make it happen.

On our approach to land we had a brief scare . . . to add to my list of "28 brushes with death." Actually I didn't realize until a woman told me later, that the wing almost dipped into the water. All I noticed was a rough rock-and-roll on the approach to Honolulu, as the small jet, with every seat filled, was buffeted by strong winds. She said she was shaken awake and looked out the window to see the water shockingly close.

I had noticed the funky young woman in the gate lounge; in fact I boarded the plane just behind her. A ukulele stuck out of a rip in a small backpack. She had one other small bag, and wore orange clogs or whatever you call those new plastic versions of the old Dutch wooden shoes. I thought she looked maybe the FireTribe type, but the packing list posted on the website specified non-melodic instruments. She sang a few notes softly just before entering the plane. Hours later in camp - it took a full hour and half just to pick up my pre-reserved, prepaid rental car from the zoo of an Alamo office - I recognized her and we became acquainted. Sure enough, the ukulele got some airplay at various times in the circle.

That rental fiasco began when I paid online as an add-on to my flight, via priceline.com. 40% off! the banner blared, but then it got tacked on again as hidden fees after I paid (not to mention the extra airline baggage fee when checking in my drum). Another $24 was tacked on for liability insurance at the time of pickup. And on top of it all, Alamo put the full charge on my credit card even though I'd paid already through Priceline; so I had to sort it out with a call to customer service a week later when I saw my credit card bill. Honolulu: what did I expect? While waiting I tried to buy a bottle of plain water from the machine, but it didn't deliver, so I punched the next choice - some high-performance mineral supplement concoction in blue, of which the first ingredient was sugar, topping a chemical stew.

There was a small gathering at the camp site, a Christian-run place where I'd been once before, at Winter Solstice 2002. Partly as a result of the low numbers, and partly as an ongoing intention of these gatherings to de-emphasize the heavy drums and open more space for light percussion, frame drums, singing and chanting, the energy of this circle on the first night was low-key. A few more people showed up on the second night so there was more dance energy, and one drummer in particular just wanted to keep pounding it out ... until he was told quietly to give it a rest. Ukulele, harmonium came in to fill the gap. Coffee with coconut milk was delivered to musicians in the wee hours. Still, on the first night I didn't make it all the way through, but only till around 4.

I dreamed I was in love with another man's woman. This is the reminder of what Eckhart Tolle calls "the pain body." I awoke from the drama to a sleepy camp, dull stirrings for breakfast at mid-morning. I wanted a break from the camp and a refresher for my dusty body and foggy mind. So I headed back down to the highway and the Ko'olina Resort, which could be seen off in the distance from the camp up on the mountainside. On the way I missed the turn and wound up headed back toward Honolulu. Everywhere on the highway there were construction lanes, last-minute signs for turnoffs, speeding traffic four to six lanes in each direction. I thought I would try Ewa beach as a second choice, but when I finally got to the area it was run down, not a good choice for parking a rental car or leaving backpack on beach while swimming. So I backtracked and finally made it to resort land - the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Here the shoreline was sculpted into a series of four artificial "lagoons," each with large rocks piled to break the incoming waves. The grass around the impeccable crescent beachs was cropped like a putting green, and sprouted palm trees laden not with coconuts, but security lights and cameras. The water was all very lovely, the sand squeaky white and clean, but it was all a bit creepy.

Along the way, images:

- In a big black pickup truck, a young Hawaiian woman rides on the passenger side, with a bright flower (plastic?) in her hair over her ear.

- On the boulevards enroute to Ewa beach, people are walking under umbrellas against the midday sun.

- On an actual putting green of the resort golf course, a guy is doing pushups.

- At the resort, electronic speed monitors appear every 100 feet, flashing my crimes at me and scolding me to do as I'm told.

- Back at the FireTribe camp, above the fire pit where we engage in our pagan rites, a trail leads to another fire pit surrounded by benches like a little amphitheatre, topped by a large wooden cross.

On the second night I stuck it out to the end, feeling that the discipline of the practice demanded it. It wasn't about the jam or the party or the dance, as I am used to; but about setting aside whatever it is that I identify with, and opening space for the collective spirit and other individual spirits to unfold. Within this setting aside, though, the other challenge is to still allow and express what is genuine to flow forth through each of us to feed the fire and the dance and the song of the long night. So I was there at the end with Tara and Michael and a few others, with a long samba jam into dawn, where we had found that sweet sustained meeting ground of volume and tempo and groove and spice and holding it down and going off and coming back, listening and speaking in turn, organically, honestly, humbly; graciously and gratefully.

View slide show with more photos from Oahu and Maui

14 September 2009

Editing Life: from Dzogchen View

Funny how the professional life and the personal life overlap. Now back working steadily as a copy editor - with music performance season passing into more of a lull, and my former nightly avocation of music editing also on hold - I'm seeing how life itself can be a kind of perpetual editing project. Forever tweaking, doing major retuning (as in this 7-month move to Maui) or minor fine-tuning (carrying the laptop around the house and to "hotspots" outside to catch the rays).

During this time of transition I've found some quality reading time, finally checking out Eckhardt Tolle's A New Earth, and Stephen Cope's The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living, along with Jeremy Narby's Intelligence in Nature (thanks, Paul, for these selections!). It's fascinating how these different writings overlap ... which is no surprise, as each would acknowledge the universal essence of life in its holographic flowering from form to form, and each would stress the underlying unity of consciousness.

Back on the ranch of the mundane ... I have been mostly preoccupied over the last three weeks with getting set up in my new household, with the help of my host Marianna, who was still here for two weeks of that time busily preparing for her own winter journeys. She's an artist of some renown who paints Tibetan deities, sometimes as wall-sized murals, such as the one in Maui's own stupa at the Dharma center, where we recently attended a talk by the visiting Oracle of Tibet.

I won't bore you here with the extensive details of buying a car to use during my stay here (or, read further below if you must); of reorganizing the kitchen to my own taste (all right: stashing away unwieldy large pots and pans, sharpening a motley collection of knives buried in a drawer, rearranging items on counters and in cupboards); of various attempts to find shortcut routes down the mountain to the beach (it's so tantalizing to see sunny Kihei laid out directly below, but frustrating to have to drive the roundabout highway to get there; sadly, the Google Earth aerial views don't anticipate gates and "No Trespassing" signs on the back roads that do run straight down the mountain through the cane fields and ranch country); or of the trivia of electronic tasks such as setting up printer, router, and phone options (all systems go). Suffice it to say that now the basics are in place, I'm comfortable here in this mountainside nest, and I'm finally able to breathe a little, take stock, and deepen my vision of the life I came here to live.

The core motive of my move here, of course - as well as my skinny guy's daily quest - is heat. Sunrays. Warm ocean swimming. Endless summer. That's the theory, anyway. I mean, Victoria's as good as it gets, in Canada that is. But that's Canada. So, when the offer to move here came up last April after a long dreary March, I instinctively sprang for it. I knew from the description I had, however, that living 3600 feet up the side of the Haleakala volcano would be a compromise of the tropical ideal.

The fact is, there's beautiful warm sun here for a couple of hours first thing in the morning. Then clouds form from the ocean breezes on the mountain and hang over it like a sombrero for the rest of the day. Around mid-afternoon the sun clears the canopy and shines back in from the west, ending in a glorious unique sunset each day. The nights and mornings are chilly, the days moderate. "Winter," I hear, is somewhat more challenging, but it's all relative. This is Hawaii, after all.

The flip side of this rural mountain location, as I came to know so well at my homestead in interior BC, is space, solitude, and the beauty of peaceful nature. And of course the key difference here is that in 30 minutes I can drive to that tropical beach, any time of year. The choicest beaches are an hour away ... still no big deal, considering that in Victoria in summertime I do just that, driving 30 to 60 minutes every chance I get to go swimming in a favorite natural location.

The other throwback to my days in rural BC is a garden - my first in 15 years. This one has been just too easy. Three raised beds behind the house were nicely rototilled in advance of my arrival. I bought a flat of starter seedlings and plunked them in the ground in less than an hour. The trick now is to wait. In the meantime, groceries. The tree crops here have been a disappointment. I heard macadamias, avocados, various fruits ... in reality the only things bearing now are plums and some tiny dry tangerines. So, once again the ideal needs modification: the grail of rural self-sufficiency, as I learned once long before, remains elusive.

On the music front, things are progressing more as expected, with opportunities sprouting up frequently. For starters, I hooked up with a longtime West African drumming class I'd played with on both my previous visits, and fit right in. Same with the epic Sunday afternoon jams at Little Beach, where again the djembes and dununs set the pace. Here the added spice is that it's a semi-performance, since the beach is crowded, always produces eager dancers, and is ... oh didn't I mention? ... clothing-optional. I've also been invited to sit in and play at the dance classes happening down the road in Haiku. Then there's the FireTribe Equinox celebration next weekend on Oahu ... and after that, a class workshop and performance near the "seven sacred pools" on Maui ...

In case I get bored with too much time on my hands, there's always the full slate of yoga and dance classes going on at the Studio in Haiku ... but something tells me I'll have enough going on soon enough, and that I'll be content to take spare moments of peace and solitude to enjoy here at home in Kula, at the place Marianna calls "Dzogchen View."

A Tantra of Dzogchen

As a bee seeks nectar

from all kinds of flowers,

seek teachings everywhere;

like a deer that finds

a quiet place to graze,

seek seclusion to digest

all you have gathered.

Like a madman,

beyond all limits,

go wherever you please;

and live like a lion,

completely free of all fear.

-a tantra of Zogqen

The Unedited Life

1 September 2009

The world is too much with us; late and soon,Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;Little we see in Nature that is ours;We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,The winds that will be howling at all hours,And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,For this, for everything, we are out of tune;It moves us not. -Great God! I'd rather beA Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


The car business was something I anticipated with some trepidation, not knowing exactly how I would manage payment between various options that weren't obvious; researching the best options for sale; contacting and getting around to see the cars I wanted; deciding among innumerable choices of make and model, year, mileage, gas consumption, repair history, and so on; getting ones checked by a mechanic; and arranging transportation involving various parts of the island if it did come to a sale.

It all came down to Saturday when, on very little sleep following intensive Internet research and spreadsheet comparisons of local ads, I set out to make the rounds of my top candidates. First on the list was a '96 Mazda Protege with only 97,000 miles and an asking price of $1500 obo. It happened that the car sat off a little road in Huelo, Ulalena, that I recognized as the road to Danya's where I stayed a year and a half ago on my last visit to Maui. On arriving I called the owner, Tony, on my cell, as he was working on a construction site nearby. No answer. After leaving a message and waiting awhile, I got vague and uncertain directions from a housemate of his. Another person along the road directed me further. But the house I came to did not match the earlier description, and no one was there anyway, so I proceeded further down the road for a visit to Danya and to get directions from her.

On the way I met Kevin driving up the road - a fellow I'd met when staying at Danya's. He actually wasn't staying there but at the neighboring land - which Danya didn't even know, when I mentioned it to her. On the way out again I encountered another person from my previous stay, Arianna. It all seemed so karmic. The house I was directed to was indeed the one I had found earlier, but there was no sign of Tony, so I returned to his house where the Mazda sat, to wait and ponder next steps.

After a while Tony called me on my cell, and said he would be there shortly. The car was in decent shape, except for a banged-up front turn light. I took a test drive. It drove and handled reasonably well, though a little rough on acceleration. I said I liked it and wanted a nearby mechanic, a friend of Marianna's, to have a look. Peter the mechanic actually owned a similar Mazda and so was familiar with the engine; he took another test drive with me and noted the same hitch in the acceleration; and on inspecting the engine, decided the probable cause was worn spark plug wires. He contradicted Tony's reference to another mechanic saying this car didn't have a timing belt. He also mentioned the need for a CVR boot ($75), and an immediate need for a front brake job ($100). In addition would be the probable replacement of spark plug wires, another $60. I paid him $40 for his time and drove away ... though on doing so, it seemed so much rougher than before, that I more than once turned around to go back for another evaluation, before deciding I was just not used to the car and anyway the new plug wires would probably do the trick.

Back at Tony's ranch, I sat in my rental car for a few moments and tried to figure out what to do next. Should I buy the car and then take it immediately back to the mechanic to deal with now, hoping to get a ride back here from Marianna when it was ready? But if I did that, would I have to ask the mechanic to bring me back to my rental car at Tony's? Or ask Tony to follow me to the mechanic's and then bring me back? I was too tired, hot, hungry and confused to think straight. Okay, I finally decided, first things first; I'll buy the car and then worry about the mechanical issues later.

I phoned Tony who had returned to work with his cell phone on, told him what my extra costs would be and offered him $1300 - to which he responded cooly, "Okay, whatever." On detailing what the mechanic said, I heard from Tony that he'd already recently replaced the spark plug wires, and had also bought new spark plugs which he hadn't yet installed because he didn't have the proper tool; he thought the new plugs would solve the problem of rough acceleration.

"Hmm," I said, "that's interesting, because the mechanic checked the plugs and they were okay; he thought it was the wires that needed replacing. Here, look at what he showed me ..."

But as I opened the hood, Tony with the papers in his hand said, "Look, do you want the car or not? I don't know what you expect for $1300."

"I'm just trying to understand what I need to do to get it running properly, and it doesn't make sense ..."

"Well I don't have time to dick around like this. I have to get back to work."

My hand was in my pocket ready to hand him the cash and get it over with. But I couldn't quite bring myself to do it, and with that extra moment's hesitation, Tony lost what little patience he had left. "Fuck it, man, I don't have time for this shit."

I stood there at a loss for words as he shut the car door, got back into his truck and drove off.

[happy ending: "Old Paint" Toyota Corolla to the rescue:]

The jam at Little Beach was another test. No so stressful on the surface ... in fact that part was mostly blissful. The magical blue-green waves, shimmering olive and silver when the sun went behind clouds. The soft golden sand, the beautiful naked bodies, the all-forgiving vibe of the drumming. The usual smattering of jammers were there, with one black-skinned dreadhead more or less leading and soloing, but with a drum that wasn't overpowering. Some duns showed up to add some foundation to the rhythms; otherwise it was mostly the steady pitta-patta of beginning drummers, spiced with the odd percussion, didge or flute. Some people were friendly and easygoing; others more standoffish or uptight. No big deal. At one point a dancer asked for "Yankadi," and I took over the duns, but the djembe support was not there and then someone alerted me that the woman I'd taken over from wanted her duns back. Okay, sorry, whatever. There was room to solo, to play my flute, to play a little didge and wooden frog clave. The dancers increased from two or three to a dozen, as the sun went down and the rhythms built in intensity. Then the dark came, and it was time to pack up and get to the parking lot before the tow trucks arrived.

I stopped in Kihei for a fish sandwich which I ate by moonlight on the lava rocks by the water at Kamaole Park. Here was the other side of bliss: ordinary life, alone, in the dark. I drove back home the hour by highway and sank into bed with exhaustion from the 4-hour marathon of drumming and swimming, on top of everything else, still processing the reality of the event. It was phantasmagorical in its own way, and yet mundane as reality always is, in comparison to the conception of it that has been built up in the mind of expectations.

So this is why I came to Maui ... very good ... but then what, now what, right now, today?

Bird song outside my window, sun in the garden.

15 May 2009


Normally we think of culture as human culture, the artifacts and interactions of human society and creativity. It is easy in the civilized world to forget the basis of human culture in nature. That denial is now being put to the test, as environmental issues dovetail with an untenable financial system to present a crisis of millennial proportions. Will we all be thrown back abruptly to a more fundamental relationship with ever-present but rapidly degrading nature? While the question hovers, many are exploring again or anew how to begin making constructive moves in that direction.What does a sustainable lifestyle look like in the 21st century? We have plenty of models from the past to go on - the Inuit, Bushmen, or Aborigines offering examples to recent times of roughly sustainable ways of life that demonstrate success without modern technology. To examine other aspects of culture besides the central requirements of food gathering and shelter, supplies and transportation, is perhaps beside the point; as those secondary needs might be considered frills, optional variations. On the other hand, maybe the whole of a culture must be considered when evaluating "what works." Maybe the music of the Mande peoples of West Africa really is necessary to maintain cultural success in their geographic context. The same might be said of the Inuit shaman and the associated set of taboos; or - who knows? - even of the custom of circumcision (though I would like to think this practice could be left behind in any sustainable culture of the future).

In the moment, I am satisfied with my cheese-and-beet sandwich, brought to this lakeside in a handy plastic container, with a jar of green tea, computer to write with, flutes to play, cell phone to talk with a friend. The ducks are my company now, as I have brought other food products to tide me over in this place. Take away the grocery store cheese and bakery bread, and I am left with the beets and a lust for protein that those poor ducks will have to fend off. More likely, they laugh at the poor human who gazes at them longingly from the shore, lacking ammo or arrows, nets or help from the opposite shore. This survival business is no simple enterprise, and hardly a matter for one man to attempt to vision and dream his way through. It is a collective enterprise, to which the visions and dreams of each have relevance. Collectively we will face again as we once did consciously, the question of how to provide. Today the veils of complacency and denial are wearing thin, as the systems we have built or allowed to be built to stand between us and our daily bread, are tottering.

read more: Nature, Culture and Spirit

05 February 2009