Tag Archives: haibun

The islands of Matsushima

Wade's Drawing

"Untitled (Morning coffee)," by Wade Wenzel

“Much praise had already been lavished upon the wonders of the islands of Matsushima. Yet if further praise is possible, I would like to say that here is the most beautiful spot in the whole country of Japan, and that the beauty of these islands is not in the least inferior to the beauty of Lake Dotei or Lake Seiko in China. The islands are situated in a bay about three miles wide in every direction and open to the sea through a narrow mouth on the south-east side. Just as the River Sekko in China is made full at each swell of the tide, so is this bay filled with the brimming water of the ocean, and innumerable islands are scattered over it from one end to the other. Tall islands point to the sky and level ones prostrate themselves before the surges of water. Islands are piled above islands, and islands are joined to islands, so that they look exactly like parents caressing their children or walking with them arm in arm. The pines are of the freshest green, and their branches are curved in exquisite lines, bent by the wind constantly blowing through them. Indeed, the beauty of the scene can only be compared to the most divinely endowed of feminine countenances, for who else could have created such beauty but the great god of nature himself? My pen strove in vain to equal this superb creation of divine artifice.

“Ojima Island where I landed was in reality a peninsula projecting far out into the sea. This was the place where the Priest Ungo had once retired, and the rock on which he used to sit for meditation was still there. I noticed a number of tiny cottages scattered among pine trees and pale blue threads of smoke rising from them. I wondered what kind of people were living in those isolated houses, and was approaching one of them with a strange sense of yearning, when, as if to interrupt me, the moon rose glittering over the darkened sea, completing the full transformation to a night-time scene. I lodged in an inn overlooking the bay, and went to bed in my upstairs room with all the windows open. As I lay there in the midst of the roaring wind and driving clouds, I felt myself to be in a world totally different from the one I was accustomed to. My companion Sora wrote:

Clear voiced cuckoo
Even you will need
The silver wings of a crane
To span the islands of Matsushima.”

- Matsuo Basho, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, translated by Noboyuki Yuasa

June Haibun: Dreaming in real life

It does feel like I went to sleep one night and woke up the next morning in late fall. If it weren’t for the deep, fresh green of the trees it could be November. The air is wet and the skies are gray and the temperatures cool.

It is of course a small disappointment. As much as I just want to see what it is and what it means, after so much anticipation to have this sort of unseasonal weather in such a short season is frustrating.

No, this should be the time of lightning bugs and driving home late on dark damp nights when the air is palpable on a hand out the window of the car. This should be the time of orange evenings and drinks on patios. But, as always, there is absolutely nothing to be done about it.

So I sit here in a sweatshirt and jeans and the patio is damp from vague light rain. We are going canoeing on the river this weekend anyway, current conditions be damned, answering the call of an improving forecast, January pledges, and the unrelenting calendar.

To live, not exist
   The promise of the season
Which I must fulfill

June Haibun: Here and Now

I’m thinking about snapping the bottoms off stalks of asparagus, a regular ritual the past couple months. Standing over the sink, the radio on, other cooking activity behind me, the quick task of two servings of asparagus in my hands. The season is probably tapering off now, but new harvests are just beginning.

And I’m thinking of walking to my car at lunchtime to check the tires for chalk. I can be a cheap son-of-a-gun and have manipulated the nearby free four-hour parking since I started the job more than a year ago. So around noon I walk out and see if the meter cop has been by. If they have, it’s a quick drive around the block and a different parking spot. Before the recent snap of autumnal weather, when the temperatures at mid-day were in the low 70s and the skies were blue, the walk was a moment to notice and remark on the wondrousness of summer (and how we really needed some rain).

And I’m thinking of the St. Paul Farmer’s Market. Of rising on a Saturday and heading straight down there because the coffee and bagels at the coffee and bagel place are so good. So we beeline right there and sit at a picnic table in the sun, sandwiched between our neighbors, and then wander the aisles. Some days it’s about cheese and meats, others about fruit and vegetables, toward the end of the season bushels of basil for pesto. This time of year it’s the flower sellers with their plastic flats of fragile flora, delicate petals that look up toward the shopper, asking to be taken home like a puppy from the pound.

Tip-toe down aisles
    of candy-colored flowers
Crouch to see just one

June Haibun: False Seasons

I traveled through a fine, cold mist all weekend. Unlikely temperatures for June, more appropriate for November, led to extra layers of clothing and the type of introspection befitting autumn.

My rambling took me to a friend’s house last night where the neighboring house, a foreclosure with a sheriff’s notice on the door last time I visited, was gone now, wiped away with just a flat house-sized rectangle of dirt and some straw laying about.

And my rambles took me with Katie and Lola to my parents’ house tonight. Gray skies and such a chill, we ate hot dogs and grilled vegetables at the kitchen table.

Parched trees drink up rain
     Darkest green I ever seen
Gray skies all above

June Haibun: The sun will outlast you and me

The sun will outlast you and meThe waters of the creek were warm and slippery. You had to walk carefully on the slimy rocks but after a day in the stream you were a sure-footed water child.

I wasn’t much for slimy creatures like the leeches which were the creek’s one significant drawback but yet I didn’t let them get in the way. I would find one on me, stifle a gag, yank it off, and go on with the chaos of youth.

There wasn’t anything to the creek beyond the corner where we swam. You came down to it at a grassy spot where some parents would be set up in aluminum and nylon lawn chairs and a cooler. With little ceremony, a t-shirt and shoes dropped careless on the bank,  it was into the water.

Fifty feet upstream there was a natural waterslide where the activity centered. Big slanted slabs of limestone with a couple inches of water running over it. I swear I went down that rock more times than there were pebbles on the creekbed.

The creek turned above the slide and then straightened out. That was the upper reaches of the known waterway. Seeking adventure one time, my cousin and I hiked upstream another 30 yards, fighting our way up the bank, swarmed by mosquitoes in the bushes, dragging a little two-man rubber raft that was my introduction to watercraft. Bit to shit, we pushed through the brambles finally and launched the raft.

Our arrival at the slide, and then our descent of it, was some small victory, but we did not see the point in repeating the journey.

The days in the creek were limitless and fleeting. The warm afternoon seemed infinite, and gladly so, but with little fanfare I’d find myself wrinkled and chilled and only then notice the sun dipping behind the tall trees with their thick mid-summer foliage.

    We are born of water
dissolve someday like the clouds
      The sun will outlast you and me

      (With apologies to Cloud Cult)

June Haibun: Trout Dreams

I left the house as the world awoke, the sun coming up about as early as it ever comes up, birds singing the day awake, dew drenched grass, the very soil breathing deep sustaining breaths.

Three-quarters of an hour’s drive later, I was on roads that wound through gullied country, past small farm plots, rolling pastures, wooded hillsides. After going around a corner and past a house with a big dog laying in front of the garage, the road dropped suddenly down into the valley.

There were no other cars at the bridge and I got ready slowly, methodically. Vest on, rod together, line strung up– and then turned from the car and walked in measured steps toward the water.

Drive through the morning
   Arrive at lonely midday
Fill the void with peace

It didn’t take long to figure out that the fishing would be difficult. The water was low and the sun was bright and I had been here before. My stubbornness took over, though, and I walked a good long way downstream, stopping at riffles, their tail-outs, the flats, the head of the next quick part, watching the water, trying to read trout’s mind. But always I figured there would be a better spot around the next bend and I moved on.

When I finally stopped to fish I wasn’t successful until once when I was about to pull my fly up off the water and cast again a fish suddenly grabbed it and without any sound I played it in to my hand. I looked around after letting it go, somehow expecting there to have been an equally silent audience, but there was no one.

The sun burns my neck
   Spring-fed river chills my legs
My soul sleeps alone