Archive for January, 2008

Owl

January 30, 2008

Following on from the reign of death, dead rabbits continued to show up after I left for another teaching round. Each morning Quan would find another one – throat gaping, neck eaten. The poor woman was sleepless each night waiting for some noise to tell her it was happening, and afraid to go feed them in the morning for fear of whom she’d find. The first Trapper Joe was convinced that it was a weasel, showing Quan weasel hair caught on the edge of the fence. He spread the kitchen table with dangerous looking killer traps, and showed Quan how to set them, using one of the dead rabbits as bait – another instance where we have had to cut up one friend to save another. What kinds of lessons are these?

The traps were set outside the rabbitat, with one Have-a-Heart inside, and some leg-hole traps on the top of the fence in likely places. Nothing got in the traps, but another rabbit – Quill, poor thing – was decapitated in the morning. The first trapper came and took his traps away, partially because no predator was being caught, and partially because he was afraid of being fined, since this story was all around our little town and he didn’t have a license. The second trapper – also named Joe – was an old geezer who put out large Have-a-Heart traps with stinky codfish and salmon heads as bait, but these traps did nothing either.

The next morning, Louise didn’t come out to eat, and Quan saw her legs sticking out from under the hutch. She reached into the closed area under the hutch to draw Louise out, only to discover that she was in the clutches of a barred owl, who had dragged her under the hutch to eat her. The owl hissed at Quan, keeping her claws on the rabbit – “This is mine!” Quan had a moment – the owl was only couple of feet from her face – but fascination trumped fear. The owl was on top of the rabbit, with a pile of what Quan took to be feathers – and thinking the owl must be hurt, and she called everyone – vets, Avian Haven, and animal control to try to get some advice. The best advice was to throw a towel over her and bring her in. Dubious that this plan sounded better in theory than it would work out in practice, she sought help and went back out.

With George on the camera, and our young friend Peter in his long rubber oystering gloves holding the towel, Quan slowly dragged out the rabbit. But the owl wasn’t going to let go of her meal. Nor was she hurt – the ‘feathers’ turned out to be a pile of rabbit fur she had pecked off – and as soon as the owl cleared the hutch into the open, she abandoned her catch and took off over their heads before any towel could be thrown – silently, totally silently. The owl hung around on a branch for about ten minutes, to see if he was going to get dinner back, and then flew off without a sound.

Awed, Quan took Louise and left her on the top of the shed as an offering, but the owl never came back. She then put him out on a stump near the pond, but a coyote – judging by the tracks next day – took her away. What was left of the previous rabbits, at least the ones not cut up for bait, we had taken out of the rabbitat and left for the fox that is struggling for his living under the barn up on the hill.

The next morning one of Quan’s dutchies was dead – same thing, throat opened, head partially eaten. Still unsure whether the owl was the cause of the deaths or just picking up after the weasel, Quan gathered everyone she could and started putting the bunnies in a makeshift protective fence. The bunnies hated this and were tearing around, injuring themselves and fighting horribly. When a bunch of them poured (gratefully) though a hole in the fence back into the main unprotected body of the rabbitat, Quan gave up and broke down, saying, “OK, abort this project. I give up.” Everyone left – it was bitter cold – and Quan took the little dutchie back to where it was killed, and left it as an offering to the owl.

Quan’s project with the rabbits has always struck me as a little metaphor for man’s dominion over the beasts. On the one hand, she has striven for a ‘natural’ habitat for the rabbits where they can be free and have running room and make their own relationships etc. On the other hand, it ain’t natural for domestic rabbits to be outside in such concentrated numbers. We have been lucky up until now, but this year we have had more disease of unknown derivation, and now predation, which is about as natural as it gets. But of course Quan loves each rabbit like a pet, so finding one with its throat torn out each morning was a little too much naturalness, and she felt as if she was just serving up dinner, putting her little charges in harm’s way. It’s a recipe for craziness, and in my phone calls with Quan these nights, I reckoned she was darn near ready for the men in the white van.

On the third hand, we both felt that feeding an owl was somehow different from having these rabbits taken by a sneaky weasel. The owls have been particularly hungry and deprived this year because of the early snows and declining vole population up in Canada. When I am skiing in the woods, I see fewer tracks this year – of everything – then any other year we have been here. So the owl is coming to where the food is.

And here’s the part that makes this worth an entry to this blog: the offering was accepted. Each night the owl comes down and eats a bit of the frozen dutchie. No more rabbits have been taken. It’s just a small owl, and couldn’t lift the rabbits to take them with him. We, thinking the weasel had just randomly killed and drunk the blood, took each rabbit out of the rabbitat to give them to the fox, who is also hungry in this bleak winter landscape.

The owl left the rabbit each time because they were too heavy for the small owl to fly away with. We were taking the rabbits out of the rabbitat for obvious reasons. So the owl killed each night. But once she left the rabbit there, the owl – not a wanton killer like the weasels or fishers – returned only for what he needed – a bit of the rabbit each day was enough. So Quan has learned from this of the measure of nature – “I should have just left each rabbit in place, so the owl could feed, and I wouldn’t have been losing a rabbit each night.’

Which brings us to this morning:

Once again, Quan saw the legs sticking out from under a hutch, and sure enough, there was poor little Minouche, the next to die under the talons of the owl. I bent down and looked in – the owl had small but needle-sharp talons, and the strangest face, like the dwarf in ‘Don’t Look Now”, orange-eyed, yellow-beaked, the feathers laid away from his features to make a very clean Italian ‘commedia del arte’ face, wise and witchy and full of arcane knowledge – you can see how they got their rep.

We went and got a cat carrier, and put the open door over the space where the owl was, and slowly started sliding the hutch away from him. He flew / walked right into the cage, hissing and growling, but a quick snap of the door and he was trapped. I put him in the trunk of the car, along with the cold and very dead Minouche. They said 20 miles, so I drove him up the river to Head Tide. Along the way, I stopped for coffee and our friend who works at the bookstore said he would love an owl at his barn, which is overrun with pigeons (‘rats with wings’, say the New Yorkers).

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At the barn, I took him out of the car and over to the corner of the barn. I took out the rabbit and placed it in front of the cage. I told him we wished him no harm, that he could have Minouche, and we were sorry to displace him, but having the rabbits for dinner wasn’t part of the program. He was welcome to the pigeons, I said, and I hoped he would find this a good home. With gloves on, I opened the door and he lost no time in stepping out and into flight – so silent, so assured. His body was maybe a foot long, his wingspan near two feet. He flew to nearby apple tree, and stood regarding me. As I turned to pick up the cage, he flew off to a copse of trees at the edge of the field. May he find peace and another lunch – and I am glad we did not need to hurt him in any other way.

The owl flies into his new home ...

So now we see whether this was it – the single owl, not a weasel, caused all this havoc. Whatever the outcome, Quan is determined to downsize – too many rabbits to save in this world, too much angst.

As Mary Oliver (The Journey) says:

… there was a new voice
which you slowly recognized as your own,
that kept you company as you strode
deeper and deeper into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

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Empty Vessels

January 20, 2008

What with all this death, and Quan’s neck and brain problems reasserting themselves, and Mum recovering from hip replacement, we are emptied vessels.  I have been unable to return to the Maine time zone since Japan, sleeping at all hours of the day, and waking at any time in the night.  For the most part I have given in to its whims, but now I must work again to a schedule, but I am grey inside and ding-y like a cartoon character with those tiny bubbles popping off around my head.

What will work be like when I have nothing to give?  I am drained to where I make that honking noise, need a sabbatical after 14 years of non-stop push, the long list of pressures swelling behind me, the long road to a successful legacy rising into distant mists before me.  Eleanor Roosevelt must have felt like this – I cannot go on, what’s the point? The sky is falling and who cares, I am old, I am old, I shall wear my trousers rolled, we must find a way through this seeming grey and sodden wall to something else, a new mission for the farm, a new relation between Quan and I.

She is resisting how much she needs me.  I gave up that resistance years ago, though I kept it up through the first years of marriage, never really accepting her into my deepest recesses until after her injury ten years ago.  And she, though loving in most respects, retained the illusion in her corner that she could clear out, be on her own and be alright.  But these recent losses, loss upon loss, have put paid to that delusion, and she knows we are in it together, for the duration, wrinkles and bags and grey hairs and menopause, all in the wan January afternoon light that makes the line between success and failure hard to see.

I am content that this is so, but my track is more determined and has found its value, while hers – all the animals – is at a low ebb; the farm nearly thrown for a pin with the hole left by Dakota, and now the rabbits being presented to us one by one each morning, slaughtered – in three months there will be none if we cannot find and stop this slinky mink.

Quan is left with the nakedness of her need, with nothing to give back, so these two empty vessels go floating through the harbor, useless, vulnerable, but wedded to one another as never before by that invisible cord of gravity we humans call love.

We would not choose it, but only by submitting oneself to annihilation – and never have we been so close – does one find that part within one’s self that is beyond annihilation.  Shocked, addled, death-obsessed, sexless, adrift – it doesn’t matter, we are closer than ever.  The more that dies – though we won’t admit it – the more we are aware of that between us which cannot die, and will not die.  This cold comfort, what we get in a Maine winter, is the icy white light at the heart of suffering.

The Reign of Death

January 20, 2008

Rain in January is not a good sign in Maine.  It never happened when I was a kid, but now global warming throws these Cape Cod storms up across our coast as wetness, not as the sere white anger of winter snow.  Snow – usually a constant from December to April – is our dues to death, the sparkling white blanket that keeps Death at bay in the dark and the cold.  But even though we’ve had some snow this January, we’ve had more sleet and rain on its edge than we ought.  And these have been the rains of death, for each day the Grim Reaper walks outside the door.

It’s been a year for it, ever since last February we have been losing cats – Leyden, Gandhi, Sweetie – and rabbits – Gracie, Isaac, Thelma and a dozen others – with the death of Dakota crowning these Saturnian jewels.  But it didn’t stop at New Year; Quan and Lea had to kill a rabbit by hand to stop its ongoing squeal of suffering while I was in Japan.

And then just after I got back my old cat, Angie, lost it totally, shitting and pissing everywhere on the downstairs furniture.  She had been having ‘accidents’ over the last year, but this was wanton and just totally addlepated (not malicious). I called the vet to explore how it works, and she was available that very hour, so the time came upon me quickly and without preparation.

Before she came, I asked Angie if she was ready to go; she leaned into my hand – yes.  I asked her if she meant it, spelling out what ‘ready to go’ meant and she leaned in with more – yes, please.  I looked her in the eye, and she looked right back – yes, again.

When the vet came, she started at the smell, but quickly settled right back into my lap.  She hardly noticed the prick of the ketamine, even though her back legs are nearly without muscle.  The sodium pentathol looked like some blue Amway cleaner in the syringe, and this was the moment – she could come back from the wide-eyed dissociation of the K, but she would not be coming back from the pentathol.  She snuggled in closer, and Dr Welch took a limp leg and sprayed it to find a vein.

Quietly, quickly she was gone, a transition as smooth as a Mercedes, curled in my lap the whole time.  Even though she consented, even though it was peaceful, I am stricken to the core and leaden with playing God.  Even God has farmed this harvesting out to the Grim Reaper, and I have just killed my cat, my companion of bed a fire for 16 years.

Quan has suggested out by Dakota, but in dying Angie told me that’s too far from the house – too far from the fire was how she put it.  So I wrap her in her burial towel – she peed on me and the couch one more time in death, as a last laugh – and take her out among the fruit trees by the garden where she played.  The ground is not at all frozen, and the brown dirt mixes with the half a foot of white snow atop it.  Annie comes over and we mark her with a rock.

Angie was Quan’s first gift to me, first animal gift, before we were lovers even.  She said if you have a child you must have an animal, and instead she came by and left me two, and Misty named them – Angelina and Josefina.  Josefina was the more independent, and was taken by a fisher cat weasel shortly after we moved here, but Angelina – ever the lover of the warm fire and the close to home – stayed with us inside, loving me and Misty as special, and Quan for her everyday thereness.

This is so hard, to have to send her.  Why could she not just die on her own?  I resent Quan for telling me it’s time, but I know it is, she has been pleasantly senile and AWOL for some time, but I have resisted.  But now I stand with a dirty shovel, holding the reins of death.

With our two closest animals gone – Dakota and Angie – surely that’s the end?  But no, yesterday morning Quan found Cocoa Puff, out in the rabbitat with his throat neatly torn out down to the cervical bones, the blood sucked out of him.  A weasel eats like this – a dog or fox or coyote goes for the meat, a bird pecks, but this is quick and dirty work, and there is no blood on the ground beside her.

So, after ten lucky years, a predator has found his way into the rabbitat.  We lost two to dogs way back in the beginning in Scarborough, and we have lost a few periodically to disease, and a lot this past year to various ailments and old age.  But never have we had the rampant predator within the stockade.  Quan is so discouraged – her experiment in creating safety for the innocent and scared, her attempt to externalize her wounded inner child – is lying in ruins in the grey-lit January morning.

A weasel can get in the smallest hole – we track around the enclosure, looking for any gap in the chicken wire.  We cannot find one, but we’re not sure that’s how he (she?) is getting in anyway, and they are so slinky they can get through the tiniest hole or maybe over top via the trees? – who knows.

And sure enough, this morning there is another one for Quan to find, her white fur coated crimson, the head loose, the now-familiar anatomy of the tubes in the throat.  There is only one way to get it, and that is to trap the fucker.  As I leave on yet another trip for work, Quan has regained the tread of the determined and is set to find a trapper to stop this reign of death.

Travel Tunnel 2

January 16, 2008

I thought I had commercial airplanes pretty well-sussed, but today as I boarded the flight from sunny LAX to snowy Detroit, I discovered that I had a large set of red stains down my shirtfront. The last time I can remember eating anything red was the marinated tartar at the dinner with Kim et al. the night before, which means I have been sporting this old man’s stain for a whole day so far. I try mineral water and the napkins, but they are just shredding paper all over, as are the paper towels from the bathroom.

I ask the cheerful matronly stewardess at the back for a cloth. She hands my a can of club soda and says, “Fish around in the drawer next to the sink, you’ll find some maxi pads – that’s what I use when I have spilled something.” New one on me, but damned if she isn’t right – the boxes of maxi pads are right in the bathrooms – never thought of it, never having needed one in a hurry – it soaks up a lot of club soda, scrubs well, and doesn’t leave a trail of shredded paper behind. The stain soaks out and I rest my hand on hers as I leave the plane and she hits my shoulder in jest. So few of the airplane staff still have their humor and their humanity these days.
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In the end, it’s a 30-hr extravaganza from Seoul to LAX to Detroit to Portland to home. Although I had business class across the Pacific, there’s business and then there’s business. And I had no business on the LA flight – 38th row and a full plane – so that by the 5th hour of that flight my bum was aching, along with my neck, hips and feet, and there was no position that those chairs and my body could find in common. The book on ‘who wrote Shakespeare’ had lost its allure, and I am again watching the clock and not living by my zen approach to the travel tunnel.

And God was testing my zen wa in any case – I run sweating through the airport to make my flight to Portland, and then we sit on the runway for more than an hour in line for getting de-iced, so we arrive at PWM way late (without my suitcase, so that’s another hour filling out a lost bag report) but by then the limo has gone, if it was ever there, so I engage a cab, and my new best friend Yusuf, here from Somalia for less than a year, drives me home at 45 mph, again I am clock-watching his digital clock on the dash as the hours slip away. Jusuf is wandering all over the whitened road, requiring me to stay fully awake to complete the transition from the colorful East to the monochrome of a Maine winter night.

I have him leave me out at the end of the driveway – it’s not plowed anyway – so I can drink in the cold air, say hello to Cammy and CB and mourn Dakota’s empty stall, before I trudge through the powdery snow to shower quietly and crawl in with my honey, testing Dr Kim’s proposition that the most intense pleasure comes from something leaving the body and finding it wanting – the most intense pleasure comes from shared love, inning and outing at the same time.

The Travel Tunnel

January 16, 2008

Enter the travel tunnel with no thought of when you will get out.  This bit of zen wisdom informs all my travel these days.  No matter what my expectation, the myriad possibilities for delaying and frustrating the best laid planes of mice and men have been amped up these last couple of years, to where I dare not take the last plane out any more, but have to build in padding time to account for the delays.

I curtailed my walk around the Tsukiji market with Mark (wondering how I will get the sushi knife back through customs) to say good-bye to the more-bounce-per-ounce Kaori (that’s Cowrie, not Kay-oar-ee as I have been pronouncing it) and get on the bus for Narita at 11:30.  I didn’t get to the hotel at Seoul until after 10:30.  Snow in Seoul delayed the plane – feels like I could have walked quicker.

I was met by Dr Kang (It’s very difficult to render these names in the Roman alphabet – One Dr. Gong, who has applied Anatomy Trains, tensegrity, and Rolf through the practice of Prolo therapy – he showed me some films of his work, needling with lidocaine and glucose mostly horizontally under the skin.  He jams the needle in and skews it around under the skin, much like a liposuction operation, where they break up the fascia prior to sucking out the fat.  It looks horrendous and my sphincter lifts just looking at these films because the technique comes across as excruciating, but apparently he gets great results, treating 60-70 patients per day, and showing before and after videos and photos with significant postural decompensation.

Anyway, every time I refer to him, I call him Dr Gong, and Kim or Kang will correct me, saying, “No, Dr Gong!”  So I say, Oh, Dr. Gong” and they say No, Dr Gong.  There is some aspect of this sound in Korean I am simply not hearing and so cannot reproduce.)

Dr Kang is cheerily annoyed that I have not called in advance, as he has been waiting at the airport since my original arrival time, even though I have made it in earlier than my original flight – I am nearly three hours late and had no phone to call.  Korea at this moment seems very dark, as I sit in the back of his car and search for conversation.  The factories of Incheon fly past, and after an hour we are in the city and I to my bed.

Having felt badly done by by Dr. Kim whn he tried to cancel our course, I am surprised by liking him (again) immediately, and we work together very well for the two days in the Catholic Hospital, to an audience of about 50 doctors, yoga teachers, and Pilates teachers.  I lecture and demonstrate, but it is tedious for all of us, since they cannot practice, and some do not even remotely practice in this way.  We do alright until the second afternoon, when Kim fades and Dr Kang, who is pleasant enough but not a translator, takes over for him.  The audience is tired also, and the last afternoon I am in a staring contest with the clock at the back of the room.  Usually, I do not count the hours while teaching, but here I am counting the minutes.

Many business cards and photographs later, I am released from this cobbled together group.  Dr. Kang and Kim and Sook Hyang, the porcelain head of the Pilates association and another chiropractor and I repair to the hotel for a fine and convivial meal.  Kim and I discover that we are both Taoists in orientation, if not practice, and I feel a great kinship with this shaker and mover – he is doing so many things, and has got Erich Franklin to come in next week – I will have to hear what Eric thinks of teaching ideokinesis to the Korean professionals.

This is perhaps the end of my sojourns in Korea, I don’t know, but I will take the twinkle in Dr Kim’s eye with me, “Sex is the best,” he says sadly and admiringly – his wife is in China for the month with his kids, “The best pleasure is when something leaves the body.”  The two women are shocked and don’t know what to say.  I appreciate the sentiment – I like a good shit too, like Robin Williams in The Fisher King – though I remember vomiting into the Japanese hotel techno-toilet in my room without pleasure on the night I overdid the sushi-sake combo, but I don’t bring that up.

So now I am back in the travel tunnel – headed for LAX, and then into a snowstorm in the northeast, so who knows when I will get home?  I don’t, the Lord does, but She ain’t tellin’.

Diane Lee’s Good Advice

January 16, 2008

Diane, a prominent PT who has worked with the Japanese PT’s, kindly takes my panicked call as I head for Japan.  “I’m feeling inadequate, I’m not a trained PT – what do I do with these people?”

“Just put your hands on top of their hands, “ she says in her usual totally practical and friendly manor.

And she’s right:  The first two days are predominantly lecture, without much demonstration, but during the second course we fan out into the crowd of 40, laying on our hands to help them feel into the fascia and the feeling of fascial change.  It works.

And here’s how I know.  The Japanese go ‘Aaah’ in a special way when they get something.  An American may give a smile or an ‘Oh, wow,’, and a European an understated knowing look when they have an understanding, and that’s good grist for a teacher; something to live on.  Though a Japanese student might say ‘ooh’ a couple of times while searching for the feeling, or to convey that they are getting it, but when they really do get it, the “Oo-aaah!” that comes from up from their very hara through the dropped open throat is unmistakable, and there is no more satisfying sound for a teacher on the planet.

So, thanks Diane!

Japan Diary 3: Fish

January 7, 2008

I come from fish. My father dealt lobsters. I deal with salt water and chat with fishermen most every day of the year. But I’ve never seen anything like this. I set out for the riverside park I can see from my room just as the rosy-fingered dawn had its nails over the horizon – never made it. I’ll try another day, but I was sucked into the huge covered warehouse of a market – first the vegetables, where I recognized daikon and a few others among the unfamiliar shapes and textures, but then I was in the fish market. You have to get there earlier to see the whole fish auctioned, but this has got to be one of the busier places in the world, narrow walkways of near-flooded stone filled with walking smoking people, two-wheeled wooden carts with a man within the pull rail, and really deadly electric and diesel trucklets that turn on a dime without warning. The alleys are lined with tubs filled with – well, let me see what I can call up:

Clams of every size and shape from tiny vongole to huge geoducks that squirt you as you pass
Fresh water eels, twenty to a tub, their necks neatly broken, or literally nailed to the chopping board for skinning
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Salt water eels, iridescent platinum and mean-looking

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Octopi of every size – from keychain to ‘Lord save me from encountering that mo’fo’ – tentacles as big as Popeye’s arm, many turned over to present like a rubbery cactus flower, others seemingly melting together in the tubs, others still moving within plastic net bags
Crabs on ice – big legged snow crabs, other emperor-like in their crusty tiaras, little ones – but no lobsters I could see until finally I found some Maine lobsters, far from home and in reconstituted water
Conches, mussels, razor clams, scallops, whelks, and one huge something somewhere in between them all, massive numbers of these presented on the large triangular half shell
Packages of uni, endless packages of bright orange uni ($35/packet – but I couldn’t eat all that within its due date – sniff)
Sea squirts – ancient and inedible looking, large tumescent pickles floating in tubs
Squid – again every size from sliver to forearm, and every color of Turner’s rainbow
Red fish, blue fish, one fish, two fish – Fugu (the poisonous blowfish) alive and sedentary in tanks, everything else laid out in every variety imaginable.

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And of course the huge tuna that produce the maguro and toro, being sliced by experts now that the auction was over. In one stall, three men filleted a tuna about 4 feet long with a sushi knife (samurai sword? – no, a sushi knife) about 6 feet long, one at each end (the man at the blade end being rather gingerly, and the third lifting the 30 lb. filet from the bones – a perfect job.

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“Oh, Lord, “ the saying goes, ‘Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small!” But after viewing this incredible bounty – I has walked a steady 20 minutes dodging the bumper cars of these ‘outamyway’ delivery trucks before I emerged on the other side – the reality of overfishing – this simply can’t be sustainable – had mixed the wonder with rue. And of course Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd are at this very moment trying to stop the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean from harvesting another 1000 fin whales and minkes for ‘research’.

We humans are so ingenious to organize all this and yet so headlong in our exploitation of every available market. Economic collapse of the fisheries- a canary in the ecological coal mine – can already be felt in every corner of the world I have visited. The corner where I live has done as well as any to make lobstering sustainable and to develop aquaculture, but we are still not on top of it all. Economics and ecology both come from oikos – household in Greek. When the inevitable economic collapse comes – recession, depression, whatever sand jams the gears of our commodity engine – we will survive. But if the underlying ecology collapses – we lose some essential part of the food chain like the bees or some small herring we used for bait which turned out to be crucial – then we humans will die in droves, miserably and pathetically, and we will have no one to blame but our greedy, headlong collective selves.

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The trouble is that no one person is evil here, everyone, from the whaling boat captains on down, are just ‘doing their job’. If only the line between good and evil run between groups of people, then our duty would be clear. The trouble is that the line between good and evil winds through the middle of each human heart.

Japan Diary 2: Sensei

January 7, 2008

I could get used to this (but Quan won’t let me). My Japanese hosts are giving me the full rock star treatment, ushered from the green room in front of the respectfully adoring crowd. I really appreciate the care they are showing us, and I am trying to live up to their expectations, but even my gate-checked ego is having a bit of a hard time staying between my ears.

Yesterday was in fact exhausting: the second day of a 320-person workshop with full translation. It was more tiring for Kaori for sure, who must think in one language and speak it in another, totally different language – not even the common ground of Latinate terms for anatomical structures. Mark suggested I demo a session, which was a good idea, but it was an opportunity missed as I wound through the afternoon doing my usual précis of the Anatomy Trains lines.

I did demo some techniques, and showed how we teach them, resting my hands on their hands as Diane suggested. One model is apparently the organization’s clown, so he volunteered from the audience wrapped in a raincoat, which he doffed to reveal that he had one sock on and a leather belt strapped around his chest at nipple level. If this was meant to deter or phase me, it didn’t work; as I explained to them, I have opened practices in 16 cities, so I am accustomed – nay, addicted -to the crazy and desperate, who are always the first to innovate when someone new comes to town. He had one side of his lumbars short, and I was able to use a few easy moves to make the belt visibly more level.

In the breaks, there were lines of people with questions – which must be preceded with the obligatory thanks and apologies for importuning me, so each question takes a while – or books (or DVD’s, or even the handouts) to sign. Wonderfully and uniquely, people are handing me the inside back cover, because of course most of their books run from right to left, and therefore they open the book from our ‘back’. I start by trying to render a dedication in Japanese characters as they show me their nametag, but with the lines this soon degenerates into an English character rendering and finally just scribbling my signature while I bow and murmur hopefully.

Apparently, they have, over the last year, formed some study groups that translate different parts of the Anatomy Trains and discuss it – how honored can an author be? This is what I might have hoped for in doing the writing originally, but never really thought would happen. “Anatomy Trains,” says Mark, with a bit of wonder, “is pretty cross-platform, isn’t it?”

I do one thing a little sly and vindictive, but I hope it works. My publisher has promised every year that Anatomy Trains would be out in Japanese since 2004, and with every due date they say, “So sorry, but it will be published next November.” Not even the British or American divisions of the company, nor my editor, can seem to sort out why this is so – maybe a problem with the translation, since my anatomy is not as exacting as Professor Matsushita who did the translating. In any case, I put the working email of the publisher’s representative into my slide show, in hopes that she will get dozens of emails this morning urging publication of the book. This may have been mean, but hell, a little market pressure never hurt. These people could use a version in their own language. Anatomy Trains is in Portuguese, Korean, German, Italian, and now Russian – why not Japanese as well, especially after being promised for so many years now?

Last night was the organizers’ dinner, so we had about 12 people, including the India-rubber Kaori and her smart-as-a-whip husband Travis, an American happily trapped in Japan, the three of us, and Miwako, Shinichiro, Tomo, and others (forgive me) whose names are lost. Makiko deserves a mention, though, as, through an American Pilates trainer Andrew, she was the kingpin who brought my book to the ‘Diseases of Joint Physiotherapy Forum’ group to start this all rolling, as does Kouichio, PT and former TV techie, who has spent the last two days with a bud in his ear, coordinating all the backstage business of sound and logistics calmly and flawlessly.

The restaurant, 45 stories up above the brightly-lit Ginza district, was in a heavy-wooded, low-tabled room of tatami (though thankfully there was a well under the table for my Western legs) into which poured a stream of delights including tofu skin (uh, ok), some male gonad that was as creamy as uni (if only Kana hadn’t told us it was essentially sperm – it is used in America as bait, she says, and she intercepts it from the fishermen sometimes before it gets dumped into the bucket). Whale was on the menu, but we made it clear that was not on, but broiled bream, scallops, various salads and unusual veg, and some small Japanese eggplant dish that was so smoky Mark and I agreed it could pass for Laphroaig.

But going since 4 am, and pretty much ‘on’ all the time in spite of my hosts’ protectiveness, and two kinds of saki and a big meal later, my eyes were beginning to turn in my head as we wound toward 10pm – so here’s what I like: As sensei (respected teacher), I can declare what happens next, so I gently but firmly declared the meal over, and everyone happily and promptly concurred.

Japan Diary 1: Shiodome 35th floor

January 5, 2008

It’s 4:30 in the morning, but my body, thrown halfway round the world and waiting for my soul, refuses to sleep any more. My ultramodern hotel room has a huge picture window (hermetically sealed and too thick to throw myself through no matter how desperate I get for unprocessed air), which gives me a bird’s eye view down and away to an eerie Tokyo cityscape.

Immediately below me is a river (don’t ask, I’m not oriented yet) cross-crossed with a kid’s toy set of inscribed city broadways and delicately supported bridges. They are empty at this hour of a Sunday, but they are all burnished with the greenish white of the new efficient sodium lamps, reflecting in the water and giving the whole lower range of my vision a silvery crispness.

Lift a little and the city undulates away endlessly in red – every building has lots of red warning lights on the roof, and they are in turn reflected in the thousands of glass windows just like mine to form an army of blinking demon eyes marching on my high fastness.

And the purple-black bruised sky above is indeed dotted with the fairies of blinking planes. Been watching too many fantasy movies, I guess – this all smacks of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and my all time favorite, The Golden Compass. (This was very well-handled in the recent movie version, but read the book, read the book, too!)

I don’t think I have ever kvetched to myself so loudly about a teaching gig as I did this one. To be asked to give a seminar before 300 Japanese PT’s was both an honor and a responsibility. These are well-educated folks, used to the likes of Diane Lee and Paul Hodges, and who am I? So I was studying up, but was set back by the recent added responsibilities at home, and so felt unprepared.

The earthy Kaori meets me at Narita, thoroughly Westernized and full of no-nonsense vitality. We sit at Starbucks until Mark arrives, tall and gangly-onic, brimming with humor and ultra-perceptive as usual, but washed white by his recent agon with conscious separation. When you love and love, but still must part, how it tears the human heart.

At the hotel, we pick up Kana, newly arrived from snowy Hokkaido, and recently from Eugene, where she moved because her mixed-race kids were taking on prejudice – Native American prejudice aimed mistakenly at her half-Japanese, half Caucasian kids – in Helena. Fierce mother inside a gentle soul, I know how every one of Misty’s hurts pierces my heart like a hatpin, so her move from her beloved mountains holds little surprise.

The venue is a short walk away, and our little troupe wends our way up ramps and down covered walkways – even if you know the direction to walk, in this part of town you need to know which level you want to be on, as each walkway is a chutes and ladders game of escalators and stairs leading somewhere else. Miwako and her group have laid it all on – there is a green room with fresh fruit and green tea, with a TV monitor to the stage. I am kitted out with a lapel mike, and set up the Powerpoint that Mark has helped me cobble together at breakfast.

The monitor shows the auditorium filling with milling, burbling people, and I am getting more nervous but marched down the hall we are, and I am first through the door – honored I have been from the moment we crossed the threshold. The sea of faces stretches long before me – the room is deep but not wide – and zoom, with the first sentences I am back in my element – it’s just people, and they all seem so young (how did I get so old?), and I am having fun in the task of bending my knowledge of fascia around for them (and myself) to incorporate the startling work of Dr. Guimberteau.

Kaori translates as she does everything, with her whole body. One finger from her mike-holding hand on her upper lip to keep the proper distance, she renders me in Japanese, and the laugh lines, though delayed from my gestures, come right on cue, so I know I am being translated properly, always a relief. Poor Mark and Kana, come to assist, have little to do in this lecture course except help with logistics and give me feedback, but we will put them to work in the hands-on portion.

At lunch, we trek down from the venue into the Tsujiki fish market, the mother of all sushi. In the market, they are sweeping up – you have to be down there in this bruised blackness of the early morning to see the fish and auctions, but we are ducking down the small streets that smell of diesel and cigarettes and fish, checking out tiny stall restaurants in search of food, and mmm-mmm we get it – creamy toro and delicate shrimp, fresh water eel (anago) braized with flan torch, and uni which – dare I say it? – is not as good as our own Maine right-out-of-the-water stuff. The sushi chef – working at top speed to feed the 8 of us in time – danced a little dance, rocking and swaying and murmuring to himself as he slapped the fish and rice together. Someone asked him – it’s not a ritual, it’s just how he keeps himself from getting stiff in the long hours of standing on the stone floors.

One aficionado note: the calibrate the amount of wasabi they put on the fish based on its freshness – the fresher, the less – so you get soy sauce and gari ginger, but no wasabi.

And just one other image: a sea of backs. I had all 300 take a partner, and putting their hands on each other’s shoulders, bend at the hips to stretch the back line. There was barely room for 300 people sitting, so this arrangement of people presents an undulating sea of backs so crowded that we could easily have walked across them from the stage to the projection room.

I was prepared for the stony faces I have encountered in other Asian venues but this group is participatory, asking questions and taking to the exercises like any American or European audience. Quan is always poo-pooing my worry in advance of these challenges, and of course she’s forever right – it always works out. But, my New England mind persists, would it have worked out as well, would I have been as sharp if I hadn’t honed my edge with worry?

Essentials

January 3, 2008

LAX and it’s not snowing!  Wave after wave of snow has been thrown at Maine, making care for the animals difficult and skiing through the woods magical.  Hard on my Mom, who is recovering from a hip replacement operation after a freak fall on her 90th birthday, and who probably won’t be doing much outside walking on the ice this winter.  Hard on Timmy, whose grizzled face peers through the frosty windshield nearly every dark morning as the next snow gets pushed out of the way, bowing the barn doors and building up the banks on the side of the drives.

Off to Japan, and looking forward, though so many people and a foreign tongue is a bit daunting.  Also I don’t want to leave my poor wife, who is doing so poorly in the wake of Dakota’s passing, nor the Clarks Cove community, seemingly riven by the shock of such central death.

We need principles to live by, and I heard a wonderful motto for any community to live by – I believe it is of the Unitas Fratras of the Moravian sect of early Christians, but who cares where it comes from, really?

Unity in the Essentials

Freedom in the Non-Essentials

Love in All Things

Next comes the question:  what is essential?