Friday, October 8, 2010

The Teachings of Tea

The scroll has three characters on it. Three hundred brush strokes. Three thousand meanings.

“Calm in busyness,” she translates and bows to the scroll. For a moment her face is folded in the fabric that drips down to her ankles. A thin wisp of air separates her forehead from the floor.

Shuffling back to the entrance, she exits the tearoom, carefully sliding the rice paper screen door closed in three precise movements.

If you listen hard enough you can hear a muffle of a sound when the screen shuts against its wooden frame.

A bird coos in the garden.

An old man coughs.

In the space that silence opens, her words reverberate.

Calm in busyness.

She slides across the tatami mat on her knees with a tray of pink confections.

Another bow.

Then swiftly she spreads her kimono wings, and they sway under each movement.

Wipes the bowl. Folds the wipe. Dips the ladle. Ladles the water.

Steam rises in sync to the sound of the cast iron lid as it scrapes the pot and seals the heat in.

Whips the tea. Sets down the whip. Nothing is tossed. Nothing is torn.

If you look closely enough you can see what appears to be one movement is really one hundred. Like the way a centipede crawls. Like the way a spine bends backwards.

And each sip of tea is followed by fifty swallows.

And each shuffle across the room is a journey of a thousand years.

*          *          *

These days there’s a bite to the night air. It’s softened during the day by the scent of fading roses and fallen leaves.

A misty rain descends and sometimes feels like the weight of a thousand swords. But when it clears, the greens are greener and the cricket sounds echo a little louder.

I forgot how exquisite the landscape is after a storm. Life has so many details to offer if one chooses to be aware of them.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Soliloquy on the Seasons

Sometimes I wonder if I left my sense of humor back in summer.

I’m smiling less. Brilliant, sun-soaked flowers are fading fast. Blues freeze to grays, and yellows burn to browns.

Fall is a season of fluctuation. The corners of my mouth seem to rise and fall with the weather.

“Don’t let the weather get you down,” says a friend. “Curl up with a book and some hot cocoa.”

Hot cocoa?

As a foreigner in Japan, I’m noticing the seasons change, but I can’t find my usual autumn comforts.

I’m a bit thrown off.

Sweet beans become my chocolate, figs my fruit of choice.

There’s an unidentifiable smell in the air. I can’t tell if it’s a flower at its peak or a plum tree beyond its prime. Winter looms too close for me.

When the wind blows, the leaves rustle at my feet. I’m callously floating, being blown around.

And then one day I ask my students what their favorite season is. Everyone always says fall or spring.

“Winter,” he says.

“Why?” I retort with an unconscious defensiveness.

“It’s peaceful time.”

“It’s A peaceful time.” But my correction seems less about correcting.

Those words are gnawing at me.

*            *            *

The days are getting shorter. My eyes linger a little longer on the sunsets.

The nights are getting cooler. I’m snuggling deeper into my comforter. I think there’s a print of my body in its folds.

I crave steaming pots of tea and soup.

As I settle into this new season, I have to shed my old habits.

There’s a hole where traces of summer used to dwell.

I’m slowly filling it with the Japanese version of hot cocoa and marshmellows.

Maybe winter can be “peaceful time” for me, too.