Archive for February, 2010

Phone home

February 28, 2010

Although I got along without a cell phone for most of my life, I guess I have had one for about 10 years now – even my 92-year-old Mum has one for emergencies, though she seldom uses it, and missed the computer generation.  My iPhone served as a cell and little else until about a year ago, but now I text (not constantly like my daughter, but it serves me), it is my GPS, compass, voice recorder, calendar, radio, currency converter, weather station, flashlight, emergency musical instrument (guitar, drums, flute), dictionary (English and Latin), restaurant guide, encyclopedia, and it has the complete works of Shakespeare (a surprising comfort).  And of course it is music and podcast entertainment center in my pocket.

But my Japanese colleagues bump phones to exchange info – hope we get that soon, and Yuki plunked hers down on the register in the 7-11 to pay for our snacks, which makes total sense once you see it.  If anyone doubts that the electronic revolution will be as profoundly disturbing and liberating as the industrial and agricultural revolution better wake up and smell the coffee.

(Coffee smell is now available as an app.)



February 27, 2010

At one of my New York seminars, a soft-spoken Japanese girl (and if I am using those two adjectives together, you know I had to bend to hear her, and her English was rudimentary) gave me a slip of paper with an address of her grandparents’ shop in Kyoto.  Finding ourselves nearby Kaori and I toggle down the rainy pathways – it’s a walking street near the temple – to find it, more for something to do than any sense of obligation. – the street is full of kitsch and crockery, though we did find one place doing interesting reworks of obi silk.

But Yoshiko’s family shop was a bleedin’ revelation: the most exquisite pottery I have seen outside of a museum.  Step inside, dropping your umbrella (a sorry $3 special I stole from Michael in New York, very naff by Tokyo standards) in the stand, awash in a Mozart quartet, and then in Ravel’s Bolero to marvel at hand painted pottery with the precise detail of cloisonné, little flower vases of whimsical design but intricate coloring that has been polished to a matte smoothness that invites the hand to caress and the eye to fall in deeper, deeper…  The prices were a week’s wage, so I had to decline, and God knows we need more objéts like a moose needs a hatrack, let alone getting them home through 4 more flights and 3 hotels,but I was sorely tempted.  Unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God, says Vonnegut, but this whispered invitation became an exquisite tango with consummate craft.

The temple itself was massive, with huge five story trunks (literally – five tall stories) holding up a balcony with a dizzying view of the mapled valley, but by this time neither Kaori nor I cared what it was for or another round of history, so off we went to pick up our bags and hustle downtown to the bullet train.

Obama actually went to Florida to celebrate the building of a speedy train (from Tampa to Orlando, for chrissake! – has he been on any of the eastern corridor trains lately?  I know Joe Biden has).  But nothing beats the lightening fast, clean, silent, punctual trains of Japan.  Never mind the rumors, the men in white gloves pushing you on are only for the rush hour subways in Tokyo, which I have avoided.  This was reserved seating, no smoke, no cell phones – and unfortunately no sun, so Mount Fuji passed in the rain somewhere, the mist poured off the hills in fine Japanese style, and Kaori and I poured out our family troubles on each other until we laughed them into perspective.

Coming into the central station, Tokyo and the New Otani Hotel were welcome familiarities. Taken altogether (although I loved the visit) Kyoto seems like the superannuated aunt you have to visit, whereas Tokyo is your young trendy friend you can’t wait to catch up with.  Let’s go Tokyo!


February 26, 2010

With Travis off to set up our workshops in Tokyo, Kaori dutifully waltzes yet another workshop leader around the temples of Kyoto for her umpteenth time.

The taxi that wends us around the bamboo grove that clankles in the foreyard of the Hyatt is a Toyota, like many. The driver and most Japanese think our government is harassing Toyota, Kaori translates, because they’ve been more successful than our own.  I don’t point out that most American Toyotas are made in America, so that we would be cutting our own workers’ noses to harass Toyota, but I do point out that people accelerating uncontrollably do not tend to go quietly bow to their mechanic and ask in an undertone if this could ever-so-please be fixed.  “How many people did this really happen to?” he asks, and stopped in my tracks as I have not been following this story, I sit back and let him drive.

Rory McLean, in a rare interview with conservative Afghan leaders – highly religious, nationalistic, but practical men – asked if they knew why the Americans were bombing and occupying them. They had heard a rumor that Bin Laden had maybe successfully knocked down and burned a 5-story building, but the whole story of 9/11 had never reached them, so the fierceness of the American war made no sense except in terms of oil – and of course they may be right. Is the USA out to get Toyota?  I doubt it, but in current atmosphere, conspiracy finds a receptive ear.

Afoot again, we walk downhill into the wooden overhangs of old Japan.  Not so bombed during the war, many of the small old style houses have been saved, as well as these huge (Buddhist) temples and (Shinto) shrines.  Kaori fiddles with the ATM in a Lawson Station (ubiquitous 7-11 equivalent) while I peruse the anime books from back to front.

Our first stop the Sanjusangen-do is a huge traditional Japanese building with the large curved eaves covering verandahs and roof tiles beyond number.  Rebuilt in 1266 after a fire took the first one, this graceful structure is literally way larger than a football field – 390’ x 54’, and set in a field of pebbles. It’s amazing that it has withstood earthquakes and fire for this long.  The construction is specific to earthquake resistance, but it is still just wood and has been lucky for 900 years.

The inside is darkened with incense and candle smoke – again, just one mistake and the whole things would go up in smoke.  The darkness feels sacred and appropriate, but just as the white marble Greek statues were actually painted when the Parthenon was new, these temples were originally garish with color, but that has disappeared under the years of incense rising to the gods – but stopping at the ceiling.

The absolutely awe-inspiring site as you turn the corner into the main hall is of 1001 (literally) golden bodhisattvas.  Arranged in rows up an ascending set of platforms, each wooden statue has his hands folded in prayer, with 20 other arms reaching from behind, each holding a symbol of Buddhism or enlightenment.  Each face is slightly different (whoever you are, it is said, you can find your face among these thousand, but whoever said that must have realized that most of us cannot tell very much about the faces beyond the third row, given all the halos and crowns, and the ‘crowd’ of gold stretches back 40 meters or so).  Though they appear to be young men (little moustaches or beards on some), the whole thing has a very feminine, Quan-Yin compassionate feel to it.  I find them much more breathtaking than the terra cotta soldiers buried with the first emperor of China – and a good deal more compassionate an undertaking in the first place – these are the saviours of the world(s), not soldiers.

In the middle, with 500 of these golden bodhisattvas on either side, sits the Kannon Bodhisattva (again, sounding like a transliteration of Quan-Yin into Japanese, but I don’t know enough to be sure).  More than 4 meters high, sitting comfortably in the large lotus flower, and incredibly intricate, with ‘1000’ (actually 20 pairs, but that’s ok, because each arm saves 25 worlds, so, a thousand) arms, and a background so festooned with gold-leafed carvings that makes Viennese baroque look as spare as, well, Japanese.

This magnificent carving was done by an 82-year-old sculptor Tankei, and his sons oversaw the carving of the other 1000 bodhisattvas over 15 years or so.

In front of the huge Buddha, a yellow-robed priest is banging a little drum and intoning chants.  No matter what devotions I see, I have a hard time thinking that God is fooled for a moment, or that He or She needs a particular form of devotion – here, eat this cracker, here, bang this drum, here, light this incense – but Kaori gently corrects me: “God doesn’t need it, we do.”

In front of the 1000 golden praying youths are 30 guardians, not gold-leafed, just brown wood.  From fierce to kind, rampant demonic figures with crystal eyes to a bent old wise man, these figures are carved with exquisite skill and beauty, and could hold their own simply as sculptures anywhere.  My favorites are the god of the wind (like Aeolus, holding the winds in a bag) and the god of thunder (who seems to hold a series of small drums, rather than a hammer).  A few have their muscles delineated in a decidedly western, uncharacteristic of the rest of the room, or indeed of the rest of Asian sculpture – I din’t know they were capable of thinking that way, and I doubt very much there was much Western influence in Japan in the 13th century.  We Europeans were still groveling in the mud and trying to scare away the Black plague with superstition.

Passing the sculptures to the side as we walk around to the other side, we see they could use a dusting – full time job for several people, if they could be trusted no to break any of the delicate arms, halos, trinkets – it’s a very crowded place!

These 'guardians' are beautifully carved. Have you ever seen muscle definition in an Asian sculpture?

As we walk the entire length of the hall on the way out, we learn of the archery contests in the 1600’s.  The western verandah in nearly 390 feet long, and one kid, in 1686, fired 13,053 arrows in succession on one day, with some 8000 of those hitting the target some 400 feet away.  OK, so it started by firelight before dawn, but this is an arrow every 9 seconds, which has to hit a target from goal post to goal post on a football field, and more than half of them hit the cloth target.  Somebody must have been handing him arrows, but still – notch the arrow, draw the 6’ bow, aim and accommodate, fire the arrow, get another one – 9 seconds at a time, all day?  Whew!

Pictures to follow.

Plum Blossom

February 25, 2010

Aware that some of my readers may have more experience than I with Asian cultures, I apologize for my superficial treatment and ignorance.  Today was a day of temples in Kyoto,.  I am so jet-legged, and they all went by so fast, that I can only comment in general, trying not to repeat last year’s blogs on Japan.  I write these mainly for my daughter, and as yet she has not been here.

Yuki-san, a local rolfer (and renal dialysis engineer) was our guide, so the four of us piled into a taxi. All the taxi drivers and doormen wear white gloves – whether it’s about germs or formality I don’t know – and all the seats are ‘gloved’ in white as well with covers.  The doors open automatically from a lever the driver can operate, and they are a little offended when I, in my helpful and impatient way, open or close the doors on my own.  I am often eager to get out of the confined space.

The first temple – with a history from 1132AD – involved the usual peaceful gardens, wooden buildings, and tatami mats, and in this case, hanging brass chandeliers with so many brass bits we wondered how they dusted it all.  One spot has a little dipper – pour some water over the bamboo surface and hear inside the workings of the well on which it stands in gentle chimes.

Most interesting to me were some workers toiling on a rock retaining wall.  Part of it had been clearly repaired using a diamond-shaped standard paving stone, but these fellows were recapitulating the old style drywalling  It was a pleasure to hear the ping of their hammers as they chipped the grocery-bag-sized but irregular boulders to fit snugly and securely on the ones below as they built almost straight up to the line of tree roots and moss where they could stop.

The first time I was in Tokyo I hit the cherry blossoms perfectly – beautiful along the Imperial Palace walls, but I had not seen them since.  Way too early this year, I asked for some plum blossoms.  I would be too early for those as well this year, but a strange spell of warm weather had pushed them for me, so the next stop was not a temple at all but a garden full of white, pink, and deep red plum blossoms, with a heady but subtle fragrance – like plum wine more than plums.  Each 5-petaled blossom reminded me of Martin and Marpa, the plum blossom being the symbol of his garden-design company.

At the entrance we were given plum blossom tea, salty with seaweed, along with little rice cakes, that started out about the size of an oreo, but disappeared in your mouth down to the size of your fingernail even before swallowing.  Reminded me of American politics – all air, no substance.

On the way out were all these stalls – like a country fair in the States: cotton candy, candied apples, fried chicken, roasted corn, hot chestnuts, and french fries in a cup, but here the correspondence ends.  I loved the constant skiffer-skiffer of the knife sharpeners, with boxes of tools and blades in front of the grinding stones.  There were the usual touristy bits, and some folks selling everyday crockery.  For those to whom I will bring presents as I return, I wish it could be the strange foods: hunks of pink cod roe looking like hot dogs, dried fish of every sort, dried ginger and other spices, little fish-shaped sweet cookies, open baskets of many kinds of green tea, fried yams in salt, pickled burdock, and some stuff I couldn’t hope to identify.

The tea created the need for water, and Yuki paid for it by laying her cell phone on top of a scanner next to the register.  I can’t do that with my iPhone at home, but surely there’s an app for that?  No?

Lunch was at an organic Japanese buffet – lots of stuff I couldn’t recognize, but enough that was readily edible.

The last visit of the day was to the Katsura Imperial Villa, a series of gardens and tea houses used by the imperial family starting in the 1600’s, but recently refurbished.  A series of simple placements leading to outstanding views, the Japanese habit of gardening, as I have said in these pages before, leads one to a benign view of the possibilities, at least, of man working in harmony with nature, rather than ‘dominating’ it, as we have valued for the last few hundred years in the western world.  I love these Japanese gardens that allow humans to enhance nature in harmony with its laws,

without entirely shutting it out or shutting it down.

At First Glance

February 17, 2010

There’s a scene in Midnight Cowboy where the bumpkin Joe Buck and the street-wise Ratso Rizzo accidentally re-encounter each other after Rizzo took his money and delivered him into the hands of a loony preacher instead of the job he promised.  There’s a distinct moment of friendly recognition from them both before Joe remembers he’s mad and starts chasing and Ratso remembers that here’s another one betrayed to be run from.

I was wheeling the cart down the grocery aisle in typical male point-man in-and-out shopping sortie when the large and distinct form of Jeffrey came across the end of the aisle.  We both had that moment of happy recognition – I have always liked his ebullience and I don’t know what he liked about me, but he did – before we remembered that we have a contretemps going these last couple of years over the cost of a job he did on our wharf.

By the time I had opened my mouth to say, “Mornin’, Jeffrey” and he had opened his to say “Hello, Tom”, I had my best-controlled schoolmaster’s face on and he had his best schoolboy bravado in his voice – our self-assigned roles in this unresolved dispute.

But for just a fraction of a second, it took its proper place in the scheme of things – done, over, forgotten, unimportant – and the simple liking we have for each other was in evidence before it was submerged under the roles we play.  He really did screw me and I really did dismiss him cuttingly, and we each have our reputations to maintain in this tiny village. So there is some reality to the other side.  But for just that second, the greater reality beneath was revealed: we all love and respond to each other, and given room, that is our instinct.  The hard part is to give it more than a fraction of a second of room before vanity and pride – aptly among seven deadly sins – shove it out the way.

Tropic 2 – Godo

February 10, 2010

A long swim down the reef today.  Know better what I am looking at, having found a guide – angelfish everywhere with royal blue edges, the wide-headed square trunkfish and cowfish, the rainbow parrotfish that really are iridescent rainbows.  The yellow-and-black striped Sergeant Major, the four-eye butterflyfish, and various chubs, damsels, grunts, and snappers – the shy lugubrious squirrelfish, the well-named chameleon peacock flounder mentioned before, the trumpetfish more like piccolos floating at the surface… it’s an embarrassment of riches.

What are the eel-like fish of such delicate pastels are near the bottom? – they race to their holes in the sand if I come near.

Been afforded a few treats:  After the visit to the turtle farm, I ‘flew’ in the water with my own wild loggerhead, about the size of a small manhole cover, feeding on sea grass at the bottom.  He didn’t seem bothered about me, but I was excited about him – and with him I could keep up.

Saw nurse sharks (that might gum me, their teeth are small), 4-5’ long, soft brown with dead grey eyes – one sleeping one I made so bold as to grab her tail, but she just snuggled in deeper under the coral head.

Saw a lobster fight, that I occasioned.  These are the spiny lobsters (langouste) with no claws, more like big shrimp.  One sees them abroad occasionally, but mostly they are under the coral with only their long antennae waving out beyond their ‘cave’.  The biggest was abroad when I came upon him, and he raced for shelter as I swam in from above.  The shelter he took had another lobster in it, so they squared off for some posturing and the smaller one was unseated and (I’m coming down again) raced off for the next overhang where he displaced yet another, smaller lobster, who then winkled out a third who found an untaken seat.  It was ever thus.  (This ‘family’ of lobsters has become part of my daily visit – I actually know my way around the coral gardens inside the reef by now.)

I have seen a few of the gray stingrays one can cuddle out at ‘Stingray City’, but I find them a bit ugly as they bottom-feed.  Yesterday, I was treated to a Spotted Eagle ray, winging under me like a relaxed bird with its sad old dog face – black snout, grey whiskers as it were beside his jaw – he is a black diamond from above, leoparded with gold, a beautiful animal, I salute him and watch him out of sight.

The current is so strong that I do not want to fight my way back, and come ashore to walk back on the little tarred road.  It is late afternoon, and the road is very hot.  I decide to try the Godo walk, having been reminded of it by my memories of Peter and the trip to the dolphins.  Walking heel first, he said – borrowing from Steiner, I think – that walking by coming down on the heel is a way of saying, “I don’t want…” with every step.  Therefore he recommended the Native American way of stepping ball of the foot first, letting the heel drop softly after the weight is mostly transferred to the ball.

Of course it’s a quieter way of walking, and I am curious that it is so much easier to maintain with my right (dominant, gestural) foot than with my left (postural) foot, but I persevere.

I don’t know if I changed my inner state of desire (“I notice, I notice…”) or not, but I did come home with a whopping set of blisters under the distal transverse arch (under my middle toe balls for the rest of you) – because of the heat or the novelty or both – that had me walking on my heels for the past two days.  ‘ I don’t want’ – these blisters!

Dolphins 1986

February 8, 2010

I swam with dolphins in 1986, so last post’s experience sent me delving nearly 25 years into my memory, but at least some of that long-ago encounter was indelible.  I was traveling with a group of seekers, spending two weeks on retreat in the Thousand Island mangrove islands of southwest Florida.  The details of that sojourn are complex, and must wait for another venue.  The relevant bit is: On the way there, and on the way back, we swam with dolphins on one of the first keys south of Miami – Dolphins Plus on Key Largo – but we had special access, and I doubt this experience is any longer obtainable.

A German doctor led our group of about 8 German, French, and English (and me, pseudo-European) – Two-Meter Peter we called him, as he was so tall and thin, with a horse face square-framing intense but kind eyes.  Always dressed in white, and certainly one for the ladies, he had the need to be the commander more than we were in need of commandment.

This lagoon was huge, perhaps 100 meters squared, with an area netted off where only the dolphins were allowed, so they were always there by choice, they could go to their ‘quarters’ anytime and we could not follow.  Six of us were allowed in at a time, but that worked out OK, as one of us didn’t want to go at all, and Celine was dithering (though she was tres français and not suited, in truth, to anything but heels and a whip – and she was very good with the whip).  She was kneeling by the edge of the pool, trying to hand a dolphin a toy as a way of deciding, and the dolphin accidentally bit her finger.  That decided her.  Smart dolphin.

There were four dolphins – two young lads, a girl, and a ‘mama’ – older lady dolphin.  Each time we were in for an hour, and there were only two programmed events, a ‘dorsal fin ride’ at the beginning and end of the hour.  In between, it was you and the dolphins – if they chose to stay.

Now, you need to know that Two-Meter Peter had come on this trip with two girlfriends, inevitably one on the wax and one on the wane.  At the beginning of the trip, Grete (names all changed to protect the guilty, God protects the innocent as part of His daily routine) was feeling pretty sore at being displaced from her longtime seat as sole girlfriend (at least when she was around, but she knew the rules) but, hey, this was the New Age, and anything was supposed to go, so she was pretending everything was fine, just fine.

To do the dorsal fin ride, we swam the length of the lagoon and waited, four of the six.  At a signal from the trainer, the dolphins disappeared, reappearing almost instantly behind us.  As they came by, you grabbed a dorsal fin thumbs down, and got a ride against a warm mammalian body across the entire lagoon at high speed.  They would drop you at the other end, and get a fish snack while you swam back to wait another turn, as this went on for about 3-4 rides, ten minutes or so of the hour.

The thing was, none of the dolphins would go by Grete.  They just didn’t seem to like her, with some getting a two-dolphin ride and she got none.  Only if we put her out there on her own would they give her a ride, and then only for the fish, I suppose.

But here’s the thing – by the time we came back two weeks later, the two girls had predictably made friends and shut Peter out – he wasn’t getting any from either of them.  But hey, this was the New Age, and though he was really pissed (little boy that he was) he was pretending everything was cool (“Zat’s kuhl.”) – and this time the dolphins liked Grete just fine, but they wouldn’t touch Peter, same deal.  Conclusion: dolphins don’t like emotional hypocrisy.

Do they see your emotions with their sonar image?  They are getting an ultrasound image of you through their sonar sense.  They can certainly tell if a woman is pregnant, and she doesn’t need to be far along.  Or is it telepathy, or as I prefer telempathy?  I am absolutely convinced that trying to decipher dolphin language from their clicks and squeaks would be like trying to understand Italian looking only at the hand gestures.  In my opinion, the noises are simply for emphasis or punctuation or color, and that the main communication is going on telempathically.

For the rest of the time in the water, it was free play.  The boys came around (regardless of your gender) hooking you behind the knee with their extended penis (which I was told was under voluntary control – your knee is about where the vagina would be on a female dolphin) a behaviour they must have discouraged at the tourist site of the previous post.

After that disconcerting encounter, I was swimming around, chasing after them, with an egoistic, “Hope they like meee!, Come play with meee?” energy.  I did come up beside the larger female and we were lying inches apart eye-to-eye – so deep, so kind, may you look into such an eye someday.  I thought to myself, “Well, I’ll just cop another ride” and surreptitiously sidled my hand around toward her dorsal fin.  Without moving her eye away from mine, either in distance or in contact, she simply rolled, a fraction of a degree at a time, to keep me from getting ahold of her.  Her eye was laughing, “I get paid for that’.

At one point one of the young males came up to me and started trying to bite my limbs.  In an instant this turned from friendly to me at a disadvantage – in the water with a 300-lb master swimmer. You’re petting a German Shepherd all cozy-like and suddenly he is on top and growling – it had that kind of feeling.  I literally had to bop him on the nose to get him to stop.  When I got out, I asked the trainer about it, and he said, “Aw, he was only trying to give you a love-bite, a dolphin hickey.”  He pointed to the fins and flukes of the other dolphins, regularly tattooed with lines of bite marks – “It’s what they do to show affection.”

So the next time, two weeks of spiritual practice and the encounter with Pati Stillwater (next paragraph), we were again in the water, and again, the same one came up to me trying to bite my limbs.  I turned to him, and said (and sounded in my mind), “OK, here I am.”  I put out my arm in front of my face, and he slid his open jaw up on my forearm.  What a string of sharp pearlies he had!  He closed his jaw gently on my arm and then looked at me, as if to say, “Alright?” and I, with an underlying feeling that I am crazy, nodded and thought back, “Alright”.  He turned his head, dragging his teeth down my arm, enough to make lines and a little blood, but nothing serious.  He was then happy, and danced away and we played a bit.

After the first encounter, I walked over to a pen where other dolphins were trained, and two, who had to recover from their time with John Lilly, were being rehabilitated.  (Interesting and difficult man, John, I met him twice – food for another post.)  Pati Stillwater, now a Continuum movement healer, was helping and swimming with them.  I asked her if she thought, given her work with dolphins, whether they were intelligent, or some such stupid question.  “Some are, some aren’t” this wise woman replied, and changed my whole speciesist thinking in a sentence.

I cannot remember other details of our conversation, but she was swimming with dolphins to improve her skills in dealing with autistic children, and very much into the non-verbal side of their communication.  In 1986 I was 36 years old, yet to have a child, and felt so naïve at the end of that conversation – I grew up a lot in those two weeks.

By the time I got back to swim the second time, I was of a different mind-set.  Once the rides were finished (poor Peter, left out this time) I went into the playtime saying, “Wow! what an opportunity, I am going to see if I can swim like them.”  Instead of trying to chase or attract them, I just started enjoying the water feeling on my skin, keeping my legs together in the dolphin kick. I could not leap the way they did, but I went spiraling down into the lagoon in imitation, again and again.  Suddenly – I had almost forgotten about the dolphins in trying to get the skill – the two females, older and younger, were spiraling around me (this image of the three of us is the inspiration for the three waves in the KMI logo) so that we were corkscrewing through the water like a three-stranded rope.

Every time I needed air – much more often then they – they would instinctively know and come out of the tight spiral to let me up, only to close in again as I twisted down from the surface.  I was slow and clumsy compared to them, but they were patient teachers and seemed to enjoy it also; we did it again and again, many breaths, all else forgotten.  It is one of the highlights of my life, those few minutes, the whole two weeks really, bookended by these encounters with yes, a brain bigger than ours, but a heart and psychic force so much bigger than ours as well.

For another encounter with non-wooly mammals, go here:


February 7, 2010

How many life forms have turned to an environment not native to their forebears?  The first humans to live on another planet will face such a challenge.  From first life on this one – a prokaryotic jiggle of reproducing chemicals, probably hung on crystals in an archaeozoic pond or swirling around a hot sea vent – or so our story goes, everything lives in the water, but then creatures took to the land and the air, and some that roamed on land learned to take to the air, and some in the air have come back to the land or the sea.  But periodically some who lived in land take on back to the ocean, carrying the land-based need for air with them.  We spent the day with two of these.

Dolphin Discovery is very commercial, very packaged, tucked on the moonscape shores of Hell (literally, Hell, the Cayman Islands – yes, all the usual jokes).  The ‘lagoon’ where human meets dolphin is utterly man made – poured cement and polypropylene nets.  Inside the new construction Florida-looking building the shop is full of dolphin snow globes and really bad carvings and T-shirts appealing to the egoistic part of conservation. The hour–long program is a half an hour of orientation and preparation, herded by the young muscular, dedicated, and largely oblivious staff, and half an hour of highly scripted in-the-water time.

But no scripting can conscribe the joy we have at being near these animals.  Every one of the 20 or so people in the three groups happening at that hour had a smile on their face, simple, unforced, and ear-to-ear.  We can see the various dolphins playing, surfacing, and then leaping when they understand the show is about to begin.

I choose the most athletic encounter, Quan a more gentle option. (When will I learn, when there’s a menu, to simply have what she orders?  Always in restaurants she orders, so I order something different, and she invariably has pinpointed the best thing in the house.)

I was paired with a family of 6 – well, three kids, an au pair, and Leandra and Salvador from Santiago (what did it cost them to take a vacation in the Caribbean? – woweee!)  They go into one room for their orientation in Spanish; I sit through the introductory video (with my thumbs in my ears – why do they have to play it so loud?) and learn nothing new, except the confirmation that dolphins in captivity live about half again as long as dolphins in the wild, a counterintuitive conclusion confirmed again and again – vet care and plentiful food? A job?

We are paired with two young males, Galileo and Neptune and the wiry black trainer – also Salvador – who regularly feeds them fish from a plastic creel.  We stand waist deep on a platform, and various activities are played out – kissing the dolphins, shaking hands with their flipper, stroking them. We see their teeth, avoid their eyes, inspect the tiny earhole behind, stroke their warm but plasticky bodies, like a soft kitchen floor covering. Their skin is striated with teeth marks from the other dolphins – maybe they do fight, I don’t know, but most are marks of affection.

When they turn over the belly button mark of a mammal is evident, their penises sheathed in something looking like white labia, the belly mostly smooth and uninterrupted, almost like a Barbi.

We get a couple of very short dorsal fin rides with two dolphins, but the highlight was lying spread eagled in the water and having two dolphins nose you into the air from your arches.  For a few seconds at the height, you are entirely out of the water, being skated over the surface, before collapsing forward as they curve around for the fish.

Quan, linked to a group of 4 rather large people from New Hampshire, starts out by asking the Hispanic guide, when the dolphin first came up, if the dolphins speak Spanish, since she was talking to them in Spanish (of course it’s the hand gestures that trigger the series of behaviours).  The poor girl took her seriously, and she got a very sincere reply that they don’t speak any of our languages, they have one of their own.

Much in evidence, the clicks and squeaks (with which Phil Spector characterized the Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever soundtrack) punctuate what I believe to be their telepathy (see the next post).

Quan’s group got to do much the same as ours, though they got pushed on a boogie board.  When it came Quan’s turn Copernicus pushed her very fast – almost into the wall (confirmed on the video they make for you) – either because she lighter then the rest, or because the dolphin (they’re all healers) wanted to adjust her neck.

But the highlight of hers (which we didn’t get to do, alas) was to ride with the dolphin belly-to-belly, hanging onto the ventral fins with the dolphin on its back below you.  I may go back just for that experience.  Those who know Quan will understand what a thrill it was to be in the water in a full frontal with e 300-lb mammal being essentially humped across the pool. ”I could feel his whole front undulating beneath me.”

The turtle farm is a bit of a letdown after this exhilarating experience, but it is a visit to a more primeval sea creature.  Whereas the dolphins seemed like neighbours, with a common ancestor probably measured in the tens of millions of years, the turtle returned to the sea hundreds of millions of years ago.

Largely eaten to extinction, this farm holds breeding turtles in the hundreds and little ones in the thousands.  They wisely sell some to the local market for meat, decreasing the pressure on the wild population, and some they release.  We see them from dinner plate size to the mothers, who are like upside-down wheelbarrows galumphing up onto the artificial beach to lay their eggs.

But all the rest are coming up for air; you can hear the sharp sips from the railing above the pool.  What must it be like for these two creatures, to have to return to the surface to do something as fundamental as taking a breath?  Do they see it as totally natural, or something unfair and constricting? As a failure to be fully aquatic, like the fish around them?  We always have the feeling that we, whoever ‘we’ are, are the end product of evolution, but of course we are in medias res, just like all the others.

You can imagine an alien intelligence, peering into this breeding farm we call Earth, and saying to its companion, “Always having to pee, always having to sleep, having to find someone and copulate to reproduce – are they ashamed of how primitive they are?  or  “Do you think they know how stunted their minds and hearts are?  How happy they will be when they evolve a consciousness to fit their body and their task?”


February 5, 2010

Here below the Tropic of Cancer, Orion sits high in the sky, threatening to hit red Mars with his club. The tail of the Ursa Major is in the water, and tail of Ursa Minor, Polaris, is straight out ahead.  At home Orion stands nearly atop the horizon of spruces, and the Bears and Cassiopeia, tied to her chair by Poseidon, run around each other overhead.  The Sun is just journeying back from the Tropic of Capricorn, far enough to begin to lengthen the days at home and tan us and warm the aqua for extended snorkels here.

A few observations from under its surface:

The hurricanes have deadened so much coral, which lies in jangled sticks amid the sand. There are some heads left, staghorns and brains and fans and all, enough to draw me on from one to the next, swimming after the small colorful fish like the lugubrious red snappers, and all the little purple and yellow whatever-they-ares, and the silvery ones with the yellow stripes darting away in schools.  The water is exceptionally clear, 30-40 feet of absolute visibility.

So how can the gun metal grey barracuda appear suddenly and silently without my noticing them arrive?  They look huge under water, though they are no more than a meter long. I close my hand around the little golden pendant on my neck, lest they try to strike it.  They should be wearing fedoras as they cruise beside me, eyeing me coldly like Cosa Nostra goombahs protecting their little charges in the neighbourhood.  I swim toward them boldly, and they move off, but resentfully, disdainfully, their underslung jaws just open enough to show their angled teeth.  (Quan has a friend who looks like this; I call her The Barracuda, her predatory air and manufactured breasts having landed her a rich husband and a dose of paranoia.)

Today I spotted five lobsters – I have learned not to look for their backs but rather the thin ends of their super-long antennae peeking out from under their lairs beneath the jumbled rocks.  I said if I found a sixth, I would bring it home for lunch, but luckily for them I didn’t.  Feels wrong anyway.

Many conches, shells furry with growth, struggle along over the bottom a few centimeters at a time with their one claw foot, googly eyes sticking out beyond their tapered trumpet end. Pick them up and they retreat along the supersmooth inner shell of sunset pinky-orange.

For a bit I track a stingray with his friend a black fish swimming just above him – YouTube makes much of these cross-species friendships, but I find them quite common.  After zig-zagging a bit they realize I will not attack and they cruise away together, blasé and unhurried.

Against the sandy bottom about 10’ down I spot a tropical flounder (don’t know all these names – it looks like a flounder – flat and thin like a crepe pan, two eyes akimbo on the upper side).  I dive down to touch it and it swims away, fluttering its little handle of a tail.  While it swims, it goes beautiful with florescent blue rings on its upper surface and an iridescent tail and fin edges, but as soon as it stops it adopts in a mere second the colours around it in perfect camouflage.  Disturb it again, and it flies off blinking neon for another haven, adopting those colours as soon as it lands.  How does it do that? And how does it know the hues around it?  Near brown coral it goes brown; on the sand it goes speckled off-white such that if I do not keep an eagle eye on it, I lose it entirely.  It is not like the stingrays, burying itself under some sand with a frump of its wings; this little guy just changes color and blends with whatever’s around it.

Back up on the beach, I can track the characteristic little Morse code to the crab’s hole in the sand, or farther up the herringbone tracks of the little lizards coming down from the waxy shrubbery.  By night the wind smoothes the Etch-a-Sketch again for another day of footprints large and small.

From the top of the dune, I look out over the reef to the unending sea.  Cuba and America’s bete noir Guantanamo lie just over the horizon, the world is too much with us, early and late.  But I love that this sea and mine are joined, as well as the Japan Sea and the South China Sea I will be gazing over soon – all one world ocean, everyone on an island.  I think of Kurt Vonnegut’s ice-nine, launched from a little tropical island such as this (in Cat’s Cradle, an absolutely seminal book if you haven’t read it) to freeze the entire waters and signal the end of the world.

I cannot leave this word until we also sound it with a long 0 – troh’-pic – the desire of all living things to grow toward something.  Sunflowers are heliotropic, root systems geotropic, tap roots hydrotropic, vines phototropic.  And what about humans?  Kids are momotropic, teenagers troubletropic, youth adrenotropic or even thanatotropic in extreme cases.  Scholars are sophotropic, those getting older in our society are neotenotropic with botox and plastic surgery.

We healers must thank God that all humans are hygeiatropic.  Throw a bunch of sticks into the air, they are very unlikely to come down more ordered than when you threw them up.  But perturb a human with your intervention, symbolically throw them up in the air, and they are very likely to come down in a more orderly state than before you intervened. Periods regularize, headaches disappear, constipation eases – and all we were trying to do was get the lower back loose.  It is called ‘placebo’, but the phenomenon is  more profound than that – in spite of the many cul-de-sacs we get trapped in, humans trope toward health.

Thank goodness, because we rarely, even now, know precisely what we are doing, yet often our well-intentioned but fumbling interventions succeed anyway, sometimes the way we meant them to, sometimes in unexpected ways.  If you cannot heal your clients, at least disturb them; perhaps in rearranging themselves to their new camouflage, they will heal themselves.  Do this for a while, and you will get more clever in your ability to poke the system minimally for maximum effect.

Maybe we should call it systematropic, rather than healthatropic, but we who sculpt in a medium that gets up and walks away should bless this tropic yearning in biological systems, whatever its source or name.

Route 1

February 3, 2010

The wind is playing whirlies with the couple of inches of powdery snow that slanted out of the sky yesterday.  Funny how the wind feels steady to our cheek or mind’s eye, but when it is made visible by the snow in the pasture or smoke from some chimney, it clearly abandons itself to swirls and twists – the wind as dancer, arms up and pirouetting.  Not so true on the sea, where there are no obstacles to start the process, or surely I would feel such spirals in my sails.  I must take a smoke bomb out on the boat and test that theory.

But not for a while: The snow ushered in a cold front, and we gulp mercury each time we step outside. Snow covers everything, and the cove is next to iced up in the silent nights, but is churned into whitecaps with this northwest, an ungloved hand goes stiff in minutes.  No boat, not even a rowboat, until these storms are gone and the icicles are off the dock.

Our turkeys have already started to slim down – fat and happy around Thanksgiving and Christmas, tempting a 12-gauge surprise (but we couldn’t) – they have now lost a few pounds as well as their caution: Where they once stood proud and circumspect at the edge of the woods, they now scratch the snow to bare earth under the bird feeder, beat their wings to knock the last of the old red bush berries off the top, and approach the deck deigning to beg ‘Please, please’.  Winter is an economic recession for anyone who doesn’t hibernate.

Suckers for animals, we give them whatever we have.  This morning we are cleaning out the drawers, and they get the rest of a tin of tired chocolate-covered almonds.  Normally I might fret about giving them something so exotic to their native diet, but they have no such compunction, and it’s a flurry of red-heads pecking like an old typewriter.

They and the cove and the overturned boats will have to fend for themselves for a bit as we step outside with the suitcases, eyes watering as we shoulder them into the trunk.

Leaving my house for a trip, as I do often, it’s a short run from the cove up a barely two-lane blacktop to the old school and the little golf course (more snow whirlies) onto the state road to town, which has had its kinks straightened out over my 60 years of making the trip.  At my age, I am nostalgic for the old meandering tar through the woods and over the ledges, but after a few delighted wanders, I would be loathe to have it remain the old half-hour drive to town.

Likewise Route 1 down to Portland has been shaved, widened, and now it’s interstate from Brunswick on down – again, soulless linear concrete, and again a great convenience when you have the bumpkin’s hankering for chu-toro or a good movie.

Motoring along brings me to Obama’s first year, the State of the Union, and the role of government.  Readers of these pages can be forgiven for thinking they are reading the rantings of a liberal, but actually these are the rantings of a radical conservative.  I believe, along with the neo-cons and Thomas Jefferson, in a small government with a limited role that leaves the individual free.  Because of my study of chaos and wiki-mathematics, I believe in the power of the unfettered marketplace to produce human benefit beyond the planned economies of Russia and Red China past.  Even Cuba, limned as a success in ‘Sicko’ and certainly communism’s longest running movie in spite of the sanctions …well, we’re all hungry to visit, but would you really want to live there?

The trouble comes in the word ‘unfettered’. I was and am for Obama because I believe he is a conservative (in the constitutional sense of the word) and because the last lot failed so miserably at being conservative.  Profligate in committing us to war, liberal in dispensing socialism to the rich and powerful, they created the fascist ‘bubble’ of too-big-to-fail privatization.  If an institution is too big to fail, then it should be owned by the people and managed by their government. Where would we be now if Bush had succeeded in sticking Social Security in the stock market?  If an institution is not too big to fail, then it should not be bailed out – let the market handle these large blips as it does small ones – rationally and without favor or prejudice.  Otherwise, we have a situation where the profits go to the profiteers, but the losses are borne by the taxpayer and little guy – as manifestly unfair and illogical as such systems get.

So if the government should have only a limited role, it needs to be confined to those areas where the market will not work to provide such benefits.  The road I am driving on was built with government money – the old one under the Democrat Roosevelt, the interstate under the Republican Nixon – both were ‘make-work’ projects to supply jobs and political favor, but both have opened up the Maine Coast to further prosperity, joining the rest of the country (for better or worse), and promoted diversity and understanding, if that’s not too grand.  I am fine for money to be invested in the aging roads and bridges to help my poorer neightbours through this hard time.  I hope also to see some money going into building our electronic infrastructure and cheap green energy, the golden keys to the 21st century.

Private enterprise would not build these roads, private enterprise would not build good schools in inner city neighbourhoods, and private enterprise will not do a good job (witness Blackwater) of defending the country.  These are government tasks for this very reason.

You can certainly ask – the country is asking itself now, however jaggedly – whether private enterprise could build a better health care system than the government.  Both have earned our suspicion in my lifetime.  Before you say, “But the private system clearly isn’t working”, please note that the current system is a mish-mash of private and public – in my state, the sole company is given a monopoly, competition exempted by government regulation, a recipe for the rising costs and lowered benefits we receive.  What if the private market were really unencumbered?

But it will not be and cannot be in political reality, so the alternative must be that the government takes over the basics of health care – if not now, then 20 or 40 years from now – leaving private enterprise to put the frosting on the top for the fortunate.

I agree with Rush & Fox Noise that health care is not a right.  Neither are highways or education.  The question is:  if we are rich enough to spend billions replacing Saddam or smoking out bin Laden, are we now a rich enough society to care for all our children?  I believe the answer is yes, which is why I will continue to push for the otherwise ‘socialist’ idea of a single-payer system.