Hittin’ The Road!

Apropos my post from the 22nd, the guys and I are hittin’ the road this morning, and with the amount of rain we’ve been getting lately there’s something incredibly satisfying about heading south.

And while there’s rain in the forecast tonight there as well, our first stop is Medford, OR, where a friend’s in-laws are letting us pitch tents on their property.

Next morning, however, it’s off to Mendocino, where it’s supposed to be sunny and dry, albeit unseasonably cool.

Cool’s ok with me, however. That’s what campfires are for. Give me a fire to stay warm by, some good food, some beverages, friends and my guitar and I’m a happy camper.

Per my post from yesterday, I’ll be trying to do some photoblogging from the road, so hopefully I’ll have some images to share soon.

Cheers!

Fish & Bicycles Goes Photoblogging

Well, now that I’m equipped with my new iPhone, I’ll finally be able to try something I’ve long wanted to do here at Fish & Bicycles.

Using the iPhone’s 5 megapixel camera, some cool photography apps, and the WordPress app, I’m going to try my hand at photoblogging; interspersing, amongst my normal, more long-winded posts, images captured on the go, with only the photo and a title.

One of the internal obstacles I’ve faced as I’ve thought about photoblogging in the past is the fact that I’ve never made any consistent attempt at photography, specifically as a form of expression. Oh, I’ve got albums, both physical and digital, filled with photos of family and friends over many, many years, but these images are purely documentation.

And so, I’ll admit it, I’ve been nervous about starting to post photos here because, well, they could very possibly be crappy for quite a while. Like most things in life, however, practice is the key, and you have to start somewhere. I knew that my regular blogging could be crappy for a while when I started nearly seven years ago, but that didn’t stop me.

In addition to the many great photblogs I’ve come across over the years, I take as one of my inspirations a blog that I wrote about at the beginning of this month: one a day. Now, I won’t be posting a photo every single day, in the way that Jessica Bonin posts a painting, but I will be thinking of my photoblogging as an ongoing work in progress, so that as you scroll through the photos they won’t be just considered individually, but rather as part of a larger work on the whole.

Now, without further ado, here’s my first photo:

Something Having To Do With Drugs?

The iPhone Is Mine!

I got my first cellphone right around the time when the iPod skyrocketed in popularity, and though I did not get any credit or remuneration, it was totally my idea to combine the two devices.

Really! It was!

I was thinking about all the people I was spotting, with their phones on one hip and their iPods on the other, and I just knew that no one, including myself, really wanted to look like they were wearing a Batman utility belt.

Now, you’d think that by the time the iPhone finally came out in 2007 that I’d be one of those fanatics who camped out on the sidewalk in front of the store the night before, in order to nab one as soon as the doors opened in the morning…but, I wasn’t.

No, the truth is that I wasn’t ready to pay for a data plan. I had Internet at work, Wi-Fi at home, Wi-Fi was becoming more ubiquitous at coffee shops and the like, and so I boycotted the iPhone because Apple and AT&T required that you buy a data plan, not offering the option to only connect to the Internet when Wi-Fi was available.

And yet, friends (yes, I’m talking about you, Tom) had the iPhone and they shamelessly flaunted their gorgeous touch screens at every turn, and I was so taken in by the interface that, a year later, I did a 180° on my no-utility-belt policy and bought the iPod Touch.

Oh, I truly love the iPod Touch, but carrying a cellphone and the iPod eventually got really, really old…

…and then the iPhone 4 came out…and the redesign blew my mind. Apple had managed to take a product that had become an icon, transformed it into a work of art, and yet retained the underlying iPhone identity.

I wanted it as soon as I laid eyes on it, but the money wasn’t available, I wasn’t eligible for an upgrade, and, as I wrote last month, the rumors about what might be coming in the iPhone 5 sucked me into that classic technology vortex: Should I wait or not?

Well, as soon as I saw a recent mockup of the iPhone 5, reportedly based on insider descriptions, a mockup that seems to abandon the iPhone 4 design that I love so much, it was like a switch got flipped, the decision had been made, the iPhone 4 was to be mine, even though the 5 was rumored to offer a larger screen, higher megapixel camera, and faster processor.

Reasoning: I’d learned with the iPod Touch that the screen size was not good enough for extensive web browsing, blogging, or watching long-ish videos (I have a netbook for that); I didn’t need anything better than the 5 megapixel camera; and the processor on the iPhone 4 would already be MUCH faster than on my 2nd Generation iPod Touch.

And so, since last Friday, the iPhone 4 is mine…and I’m LOVING it!!!

Shhhhhhhhhhhh. I’m hunting…abalone?

So, you know, as I wrote yesterday, just two nights ago I recited the Bodhisattva Vows, which includes the line:

A disciple of Buddha does not intentionally or maliciously kill, and cherishes all life.

Well, I guess I felt like I didn’t have enough ancient twisted karma in my life, so I agreed to go on what may prove to be the most unusual road trip of my life, the main objective of which is to free dive for abalone in the chilly Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of Mendocino, California.

Now, you might say, “Wow, I guess you really must love abalone!” Or, you might even ask, “What the hell IS abalone?”

Well, that rock-looking thing you see in the photo above is an abalone, a marine gastropod mollusk, an edible sea snail, actually, and, the inside of its shell, used for jewelry and inlay on guitars, looks like this:

Also, I’m told, once the insides are pounded for tenderizing and cooked in a particular way, they are one of the most delicious things a human could ever ingest.

Do I particularly like shellfish?

Well, no, not really.

Do I like putting on a wetsuit and diving without an oxygen supply in cold water, fighting the pull of the tide to keep from getting smashed onto the rocky shore?

No, not especially.

Oh, but did I mention that the diving is really just the excuse for a two-day, two-night, all-guy camping and party extravaganza, with legendary music jam sessions around a campfire?

It’s a two-day drive, with a stop in southern Oregon, there and back, and I’ll be on day two of the drive a week from today.

So, will this abalone dive involve the very intentional or malicious killing that, as a disciple of Buddha, I vowed to to refrain from?

Probably.

And yet, when I consider that I will actually be risking my own life in order to take the life of a faceless creature that I will eat for sustenance, the equation gets a little fuzzy.

To be, or not to be…a Bodhisattva?

So, last night at the zendo, I was present for my first ever Ryaku Fusatsu or Full Moon ceremony, which involves, amongst other things, the recitation of the Bodhisattva Vows and Precepts.

Not to be confused with the formal Jukai ceremony, wherein an advanced Zen student is initiated and given his/her Dharma Name, this was, nevertheless, my first time reciting the Bodhisattva Vows, and I was surprised at my reaction to them.

It begins with repentance, and like the entire ceremony, it’s call and response; every line is read by a lay leader and each line is repeated by everyone else in attendance, and all of it is chanted in a dirge-like monotone:

All my ancient twisted karma
From beginningless greed, hate, and delusion
Born through body, speech and mind
I now fully avow

Ancient twisted karma…that’s intense and foreboding! At this point I was already feeling a bit overwhelmed. Of course, I’d just been sitting and meditating for nearly an hour, and I’m still very much a beginner, and that means that an hour of meditation is equivalent to a brutal mental wrestling match.

Then, after a chant of homage to the seven Buddhas before Buddha and various other sages, we recited the Four Vows:

Beings are numberless, I vow to save them
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them
Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it

Now THOSE are some significant commitments! They make my wedding vows seem like pinky promises. How can anyone really be expected to live up to those vows? Isn’t it just a set up for massive guilt?

Moving on, there’s some recognition that keeping these vows could be a rough road, as you recite a kind of list of resources called The Refuges:

I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha

Ok, so, I won’t be in this alone, there are clues as to how to proceed, and a community of people (Sangha), who have also take the vows, to support me.

Yeah, that made me feel better, until…

Finally, there was the Buddhist equivalent of the biblical Ten Commandments, the 16 Precepts, which started off with three big-picture items, that, while huge in scale, seemed like common sense and mostly doable:

I vow to refrain from all action that increases suffering
I vow to perform all action that increases awareness
I vow to live for and with all being

But, then we got into the nitty gritty:

A disciple of Buddha does not intentionally or maliciously kill, and cherishes all life
A disciple of Buddha does not steal, and respects the possessions and lifetimes of others
A disciple of Buddha does not misuse sexual energy, and is honest and respectful in mind and action
A disciple of Buddha does not intentionally deceive, and speaks the truth
A disciple of Buddha does not misuse drugs or alcohol, and keeps the mind clear
A disciple of Buddha does not speak of others’ faults, and is understanding and sympathetic
A disciple of Buddha does not praise oneself by criticizing others, and overcomes one’s own shortcomings
A disciple of Buddha does not withhold spiritual or material aid, and gives it freely when needed
A disciple of Buddha does not give vent to anger, and seeks its source
A disciple of Buddha does not speak ill of the Three Treasures (refuges), and cherishes and upholds them

What?! Now I’m a disciple all of a sudden? Where did I sign up for that? AND, you want to boss me around, diss my social enjoyment of alcoholic beverages, tell me what to do in the bedroom, and then ask me not to be angry about it?!!!

Sitting and meditating are one thing. Nothing dogmatic about that. Makes sense purely from a mental health perspective. But, I’ve got a lot of pent up distrust of religion, which explains my reaction to what was otherwise a really beautiful experience.

The chanting was actually quite mesmerizing, soothing even, and the experience of making these kinds of commitments, or at least considering reaching for and making these commitments, in the company of a community of others, was a rather empowering and hopeful one.

In fact, as I read over what I’ve written here, I feel a renewed determination to meet my cynicism head on, to work at a more regular meditation practice, so that I might be better able to brush off those skeptical, critical, sarcastic and angry thoughts, to better able to simply be in the present moment, where all those seemingly monumental achievments are possible.

In Defense Of Moss

I don’t know whether it’s thrilling or depressing that some local news made it on the front page (albeit below the fold) in the National Edition of the New York Times today.

On one hand, it was exciting to see a beautiful photo of the lush green moss that is so prevalent here and that I love so much, and I thought the front page headline was cute:

Nature’s Wall-To-Wall Carpet

But then, here’s the headline of the story on Page A-13:

Poor Season for Sunshine Is Great One for Spores

What a frickin’ let down!

Sure, New York Times, rub it in our faces that this has been, so far, the coldest April on record here in Western Washington, remind us that it snowed just six days ago, and refer to my beloved moss diminutively as spores.

That’s.Just.Cruel.

There are some things that I never get tired of living here in the Pacific Northwest. No matter how many times I see a Bald Eagle soaring overhead, or the towering western red cedar or Douglas fir, or the jagged snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Mountains, I’m always enthralled.

Well, the same goes for nature’s wall-to-wall carpet — moss — an astounding 700 varieties of which, as I mentioned back in June 2010, grow in our Olympic National Park. Whenever I’m out on the trail and I see the green stuff covering trees and rocks, softening the rough edges, I can’t resist the urge to reach out and lay my hand on it, or in the case of a large patch on the ground, to lay my body down upon it. Every year, I notice that more of my lawn is being consumed by moss, and I look eagerly forward to when there is no grass left at all.

And yet, as if we needed any more rain, the Times rains on my mossy parade by focusing mostly on people who are busy trying to reduce or rid their environment of moss.

Hmmmm. Maybe the New York Times 20-article diet isn’t such a bad thing after all.