Moonrise

Since we moved my bed to the living room, putting it next to the big window overlooking the river, I have been able to watch the moon rise each night. Several days ago when I began observing, the moon was waxing gibbous until reaching full a couple of nights ago. (Though from my point of view it looked more full last night.) I have been staying up late, patiently waiting fifty minutes longer each night for moonrise. Tonight it rose a few minutes past ten.

In any case, during this same period the leaves on the maples out back have been budding out, obscuring more & more of the sky, though not completely blocking it. When it has first come up over the river these last few nights, the moon has been the color of cream & very close.

Sometimes I can see nearly the whole disk, but a few minutes later, screened by branches & leaves, only a bright fragment or two are apparent. If I wake very late in the night or in the early morning, I can see the moon’s whole face high in the sky, clear of the maples. But then it appears distant & silvery. Cold.

In Zen the moon is usually a symbol for realization (enlightenment) & we are warned “not to mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself,” but even here we are in the realm of symbolic discourse. Realization is seeing the real, but the only way to mark this is with symbols, metaphors & narratives, the latter giving rise to the immense & immensely tricky koan literature, a substantial portion of which features the moon.1

So I have been watching the moon, seeing it only partially as it changes constantly through the watches of the night.2 While I was writing that last sentence midnight came & went, moving me into the frame of a different day. The moon has reached the densest part of the maple canopy & I can see no glint or fragment at all. There is just Mars hanging there above the southern horizon. Let the moon stand for my realization, then. Ever-shifting & moving, sometimes bright, more often obscure & when bright, distant. But there it is, come back out of the blackness of the trees.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. I am only a beginning student, but I think of koan as little chunks of anti-story meant to demolish our usual narratives, like anti-matter & matter.
  2. Last night I noticed a red glint in the southern sky: Mars, another symbol.

Chinese Recluse Poets with David Hinton

Heading down to ZMM tomorrow to a retreat with writer / translator David Hinton. I’m feeling increasingly like one of those old recluse poets like Han Shan. His name means Cold Mountain in Chinese. I’m thinking of taking the name Cold River, or Sông Lạnh in Vietnamese.

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Angel (1997-2012)

I buried our old chocolate lab Angel down by the river yesterday — he had progressively lost interest in food over the last six weeks & finally stopped eating. The vet diagnosed a form ofleukemiacommon in old dogs — he was almost 16 — and so we had himeuthanized yesterday afternoon while he lay comfortably in the back of the Nissan in the vet’s parking lot. A quiet end for a good dog. We adopted Angel from a family with a little boy who made him nervous enough to growl & snap — he was about five years old at the time (the dog, not the boy) & we had him for about a decade. Because he wastemperamentallyshy & a bit fearful, he could be a frustrating dog to deal with on occasion, but he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Carole called him the “poet dog” because he was so sensitive.

I brought him home & zipped him inside an old canvas dogbed cover with stylized paw prints printed on it, then went down by the river to dig a grave near where the old bluetick hound Maude and the little French Bulldog Weezer are buried. Digging on our property is difficult — you have to choose between a place full of stones & a place criss-crossed with thick tree roots. The place I chose was full of roots, but after about an hour I had a hole three feet deep & big enough to hold Angel’s body. I lowered him in & shoveled the dirt on top of him, tamped it down & put a big flat stone on top. I gathered up my tools and put them in the wheelbarrow, then paused to wipe sweat from my face. Looking up, I watched a bald eagle fly directly overhead. I like to think the eagle came to escort the dog’s spirit away into the vast emptiness that gives birth to all the myriad things of the world.

Angel in his prime.