Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

Many lives, many deaths, many visions of peace.

       You were saved because you were the last.
       Alone. With others.
       On the right. The left.
       Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
       Because the day was sunny.
       – Wislawa Szymborska

My two lives, my many lives, are simultaneous. I leave home and I don’t. I die and I don’t. I’m asleep and dreaming, and also awake and dreaming. The car crash, the tyranny, the epidemic, the fire; it killed me, it missed me, I was careful, I was careless but lucky. It was my fate.

And here we are living the life we have, ramshackle and improvised, with the ice sheets melting, and the old agreements that held us together, broken.

This is our time to live. We don’t get another, we have to love and enjoy each other and get enlightened right here. 

I am also an apple tree, by which I mean that is one of my lives. 

Regrowth from brushfire in Australia

The little apple tree in the front yard was gradually shaded more each year by Monterey pines. It is a golden delicious, but though its name has the flavor of advertising, it’s a farm tree and the apples are greenish yellow, crisp, and delightful. In October three years ago, the fire from the east, pushed by Santa Ana winds, burnt through Glen Ellen, leaving only porcelain toilets and chimneys above ground, around the winding valley road beside Sonoma Mountain, destroyed the newly built house in the middle distance, but left the children’s play structure untouched and intimate against the sky, crossed a paddock, jumped the road, and burnt the little apple tree along with the persimmon tree near it and the Gravenstein apple tree, and the lilac and the cedar, and the old concord and chardonnay grape vines, though none of them fatally.

After some recovery time the trees were pruned but the great pines shed every needle and died. The little apple recovered and grew tall, rather pleased with the improved light.

This year, in August, lightning hung in great nets in the sky, like an image of the galaxy. There was little rain and the Santa Anas blew hot and hard again, whipping the lightning strikes into fires that have been burning for over a month. In our case the wind merely broke off the apple tree at a height not much taller than a person. She now looks like a young girl with wild, wild hair. We picked the apples on the broken branches and gave her some water during the heatwave that followed. I felt for her the way I feel for the little fox who comes by for dates in the dark of the night and has to dodge coyotes, dogs, gangs of raccoons, the occasional bobcat, and the rare mountain lion. 

A month later it is autumn, and the Sonoma grape harvest is in early along with its questions of insurance and smoke damage and are there enough adjustors, and will the workers harvest the cabernet and pinot noir that’s left on the vine and so get paid and so send money home to, say Oaxaca, but probably they won’t. 

There are still a few golden apples on the boughs, and the little tree has bloomed. Perhaps, in case she died, she wanted to offer something before departing. 

Which is a quest we are all engaged in. The trees and the animals do what they can in these strange, hard days. And so do we, walking through the valley of this time, describing what we can, sharing what we can, holding lanterns. 


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