Poor early petal
There’s no shelter from the storm
No place to settle

One morning I came into the dojo to find this single petal, mid winter, on the floor. It was a little sad to see promise of a spring so forlorn and far away. But the cherry tree regrouped after its disappointment and is blossoming again in the arrival of the warm sun. One swallow doesn’t make a spring, and one petal doesn’t either. I wonder how easily we fool ourselves into a false sense of security. And how often?


‘Te’ offered nothing,
But a dragon with a pearl,
Dare I reach for it?

Seeking, without eyes,
but this joyous void is,
another dead end.

I wend my way back
Again seek the hidden path
to a far mountain.

An endless voyage
A shadowed path before me
The Way is all there is.

It seems to me ‘Budo’ karate, and the value that it can bring to my life, is a bit like a pearl in the mouth of a Dragon. Face the dragon, and the pearl is yours. No point complaining about the Dragon, or wishing it was easier. But every ‘mountain top’, every modicum of progress, never turned out to be a destination. I look up and think ‘If I can get there, wouldn’t that be great! The view would be terrific’. When I get up there, it’s all well and good, but there’s just the next peak. There is no destination really, there’s a point where trying to go where others have been is a waste of time.  But staying where you are is a waste of effort. So the Way is all there is. This poem is a long way of saying Kyu Do Mu Gen. Investigating the Way is Endless. 


Heavy morning dew
Wrens alight, blue jewels fall
Now grass green, by twos


Dew drops don’t have a colour, they reflect their surroundings.  


Maples bare arms bask
in northern sun’s Spring promise
All those frosts forgiven

Notes: Last week, after practise, my teacher (sensei) and I were talking in general terms about how fickle our moods can be.  Our session had been a fairly tough one, with lots of effort and no small amount of discomfort (for me anyway!).  But afterwards, it took just a cup of tea and a moment for me to look back fondly on the very discomfort I was struggling with moments before. The fondness came from the fact I did not resile from it, and I felt gratitude to my teacher for putting those tasks in my way.   Last weekend, the entire garden was dressed in winter. Maples are still just sticks and it was a very icy morning; but sunny and clear. Only a couple of hours later it was warm, and life didn’t seem so bad after all. Even the chickens, rolling in a nice dirt bath, seemed to agree! 


Black hole sun, will come
following yellow respite.
How long will you stay?

Notes: Perhaps my first Seattle grunge haiku? In between cold fronts, two days of gloriously warm winter sun. The Chinese elm (above) glowed yellow as did most everything in the long winter light. Practising in this ‘perfect’ condition was just as challenging as getting up in the dark.  The preoccupation with ‘how nice it was’ was just as distracting from the present moment as ‘how cold is this??’.  Then there was the thought of how long it will last, and longing for it to last longer (a great way to waste a moment). Knowing this respite was brief, and that the cold would return, I tried not to get caught up in ‘wishes and fishes’ and just get into the moment the same as if it was freezing. The better to appreciate it. Of course, this one is also a ‘homage’ to genius Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden), a master of ‘evocative’ poetry himself.  – Rest in Peace. 


‘Eastern grey promise
The pre-dawn breath wets my face
Roosters rouse sleepy-heads!’


Notes: I’m learning the love the greying pre-dawn light, but some mornings my face is all wet just walking in the garden.  My muscles are warm, but there’s a chilled shell of slick wet skin like a cold sweat. The rooster is crowing, waking everybody up, but I notice when it’s cold he stays in the henhouse.


‘Winter solstice treat
Sunshine slants to zazen seat!
the wood warms my toes’


Notes: I couldn’t have planned it any better. I doubt I would have had the imagination to plan it at all, but it happens that around the winter solstice when the days are shortest, the midmorning sunshine slants into the window precisely in front of the shomen (front centrepiece of the dojo) where I sit in zazen (sitting meditation).  During the week I practise while it is dark and cold. But on Sundays, when I have the luxury of practising midmorning, I enjoy a few moments when the sun has warmed a patch of wooden floor and my toes thaw out. Reward for my week’s persistence. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a very pleasant change from the usual icy floor!


‘Swirling yellow notes
gather cool in damp corners’
mossy green pillows’


Notes: Every corner of the garden seems to be filled with yellow post it notes heralding the death of autumn, when the trees sleep.  The wind eddies round them up and dump them on the mossiest patches as if they were finding them a bed.

Wet hens

‘Wet day with no eggs
Hens have better things to do
Dream of distant sun!’


Notes: Given how much they eat, I’m sometimes mildly irritated when there are no eggs for the day (and 12 chickens!). But today, it was so cold, it was too much to ask of any hen. Best off they huddle in the henhouse and look forward to the spring dust baths.


‘Only a few days
but the sun just memories!
of warm scented grass.’

‘Welcome concrete skies
without your numbing icy breath
would I love the Spring?’


Notes: I wrote these two together, and they need each other. I can lament the easier warmer days, but the occasional austerity hollows out the cup that holds life’s pleasures, so should we resent them? All is contrast. There’s no growth where there’s no change, and growth – I suppose – is the only evidence of life.


‘Morning sun shower
Falling jewels scatter off
winter’s naked arms’


Notes: I didn’t get a photo, but one morning the sun was shining when huge diamond raindrops came down, bouncing off the cherry trees which at the time had no leaves. Not much else to say about that, it was spectacular. (The pic is my very favourite zen gravel garden in Kyoto. It was pouring rain that day and young Finn – 3 at the time – didn’t really share my enthusiasm for marvelling at gravel you couldn’t even kick!!).

Boys in winter

‘Even old men learn
Laughter warms the coldest homes
prepare her warm return’


Notes: A sentimental reflection. Melissa had to travel to Thailand for work last year in midwinter.  On the way, there was a mix up with flights and no-one (including Melissa) was really sure where she was for some hours. I was surprised at how unsettled I was by that – and very relieved to find she was safely ensconced in a hotel room in Singapore for the night. The boys and I missed her very much. We boys made the best of it – movie marathons, games and special dinners. I wanted Melissa to return to a joyful home – and we three lads pulled it off in style!