Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mount Wachusett: The Second Time

On August 14, 2013 I headed off for Mount Wachusett for the second time (GPS drawings appear at the end of this post). Thoreau made 2 trips to Wachusett, his second being in October of 1854. This time he went by train to Westminster and from there on foot. He stayed at the Foster house on this trip, 4 miles from the train. It was then a 2 mile walk to the summit via the summit road. On his first trip to Wachusett Mountain in 1842 which he documented in A Walk to Wachusett, Thoreau was still very much under the sway of the classics, looking to find evidence of their universality in the world around him and through them place himself, "Who knows but this hill may one day be a Helvellyn, or even a Parnassus, and the Muses haunt here, and other Homers frequent the neighboring plains?" 

By 1852, he seems more in tune with his own physical and spiritual experience and how that fits into the universal fabric. The mountains are not symbols, nor are they mythic. They are, however, for Thoreau evidence of the divine, "We could at length realize the place mountains occupy on the land, and how they come into the general scheme of the universe. When first we climb their summits and observe their lesser irregularities, we do not give credit to the comprehensive intelligence which shaped them; but when afterward we behold their outlines in the horizon, we confess that the hand which moulded their opposite slopes, making one to balance the other, worked round a deep centre, and was privy to the plan of the universe..." This is a more mature Thoreau, out from under his education and mentors.

For me, coming from a zen perspective, I appreciate Thoreau's reliance on his direct experience, but he loses me a bit with the notion of a creative "hand" involved in their making. However, on the other hand (what is the sound of that hand?), in zen there is a saying, "Before I studied Zen, mountains were mountains, and water was water. After studying Zen for some time, mountains were no longer mountains, and water was no longer water. But now, after studying Zen longer, mountains are just mountains, and water is just water."  This speaks of a deeper understanding of  things not having a separate self, but arising from a myriad of things that are not that self, what in buddhism is called sunyata which translates as emptiness. The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls this co-arising Interbeing. It is at the heart of zen and what I was referring to in my post on Dogen's Genjokoan

This is an image from the road leading to Mt. Wachusett. If a hand didn't "mould" the mountain, hands definitely created the ski trails, 3 of which I crossed over on the hike.

If my last hike on North Pack Monadnock was about water, moss, blueberries and ultimately Dogen's Genjokoan, this one seemed all about stones. On the way up I took the Bicentennial Trail to Mountain House Trail which I took to the top. As I documented in my first Mt. Wachusett post, the Bicentennial Trail is rocky and rooty and this day was a bit slick after a brief, overnight shower. To my great pleasure the dampness brought out an unexpected sight: a red eft making his way between the roots. the red eft is the juvenile, land-dwelling stage of the eastern newt. Apologies for the poor image. I was balancing on a slippery root as I made this shot.

Mountain House Trail is an almost entirely human-built trail ("the comprehensive intelligence which shaped them?"). It is a riprap of stones creating a path up the mountain. American poet Gary Snyder who worked on trail crews out west in the 1950's found a way into his mature poetry through working on ripraps. His breakthrough collection was in fact titled Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems. When I saw this trail the poem immediately came to mind. Snyder, and his work: poetry, essays, and environmental activism, has been and continues to be an important figure for me. 

by Gary Snyder

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf or wall
riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
straying planets,
These poems, people,
lost ponies with
Dragging saddles --
and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.
ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

Mountain House Trail

It was quite fun to clunk my stick on the stones as I ascended. It counted my steps and rang out like a gong. It occurred to me that I've had that stick for nearly 20 years. Near the summit I made another little friend. This peeper was hunkered down in the moss. He was no more than 2 inches long, an over-estimate. One of the things I miss, living away from the country as I now do is the sound of peepers in the spring (and tree frogs and owls and crickets and...).

I took the long way round coming down, deciding to visit Balance Rock. Balance Rock is a glacial remnant, totaling about 20 feet in height. The rocks may have been "stacked" as the glacier melted or, more likely, are the only two remaining of a boulder field shifted or scattered by the glacier. Some of those rocks may be the ones surrounding the clearing. I took Old Indian Trail to West Trail to Semuhenna Trail, which joined back up with Old Indian, to Balance Rock Trail. 

As I said, it seems to be all about the rocks. While Balance Rock is a spectacle, I feel drawn to all the stones. There is a great silence within them and around them... more than anything else I encounter in these forests, these great stones, sitting like great buddhas, are manifestations of time. 

As for drawing... if a line is the trace of a point moving in space, well...

A line drawing. The knot-like area is me circumabulating the top.

a topo version

and the terrain

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Realizing Genjo-koan

When I walked on North Pack Monadnock I came upon this hollow tree whose "gate" was about my size. At the very moment I saw it this thought, although I hesitate to call it a thought, came up, "It can see and step right through me." In that split second I came to understand on a deeper level the following from 12th century zen master Eihi Dogen's Genjo-Koan or Actualizing the Fundamental Point:

"To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening." 

And this too:

"To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly."

Language is often an inadequate tool in relating experience. I offer a short poem by Gary Snyder that might come close:

As the crickets’ soft autumn hum 
is to us 

so are we to the trees

as are they
 to the rocks and the hills. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Walking/Drawing: North Pack Monadnock

On Thursday, July 25, 2013 I walked up North Pack Monadnock, a 2278 foot mountain in Greenfield, NH. It was a beautiful day. Not too hot, but warm sun coming through the trees. I took Ted's Trail to the Cliff Trail to the Wapack Trail to the summit. On the way down I took Carolyn's Trail to Ted's Trail back to the car... about 6 miles all told. The trail passes through, and the mountain is located in, the Wapack National Wildlife Refuge (est. 1972, 1625 acres). Thoreau went up a neighboring mountain in the Wapack Range (a subrange of the Appalachians) called Pack Monadnock (Little Monadnock) in 1852, but today it's got 3 cell towers on top and while I will ascend it for this project, on this day I wanted to walk in the woods uninterrupted by roads or built structures.

The GPS Drawing Device is, after some trial, error, and swapping mine for my colleague's (John Anderson), operational. Here's that day's walk/drawing (appendage and stoppage... see below).

It' s an experiment and I'm learning its ins and outs. For instance, I neglected to delete the previous data and so my hike got connected to those coordinates when I turned the device on. That's the long, sharp, straight, diagonal line on the right. As the crow flies, a connection to my home in Fitchburg. Also, I'm learning how much life the battery holds. As you can see the line becomes sharp and straight and then stops on my return trip (more on this below). Each battery gets about 5 hours of use before it is depleted. I've got to get rechargeable ones. I'll use the spent batteries in (another) artwork.

My last walk, on Mount Wachusett (see previous post) was a relatively dry one, but for the sweat. There were no brooks or creeks to cross or meander along. By contrast, this hike had me wandering along and crossing over Otter Brook. The Wapack Range is the source of the headwaters of the Contoocook and Souhegan rivers. The north slopes of North Pack Monadnock drain into Otter Brook. There are a variety of mosses, ferns, and seemingly well-placed stones, making portions of this riparian habitat into a sort of zen garden...

This forest is quite diverse featuring a variety of habitats: 

Northern hardwood-conifer
Hemlock-hardwood pine
Old field
Talus slopes
Rock ledges

Not long into the hike my presence and movement flushed out 3 or 4 ruffed grouse from the undergrowth (scrub/shrub). I say 3 or 4 as one of them may have been flushed twiced. Their bursting forth from the vegetation in a fury of wingbeats brought me into the present moment. One's mind can wander on the trail, daydreaming, thinking about the project, about lunch, or what type of fern that might be, when BAM! the mind flies back into the body, totally present. Everything becomes whole, one thing, with no separation: me, grouse, forest, sky, brook, stones, mountain--all one. 

As a zen student for about 15 years, I understand these moments as "waking up" to one's real life... one's true nature. We often mistake our thinking for our lives, and don't realize/embody them, our lives, fully. Moments like this, without thinking, without speech, are reminders, "I am alive!" I tried to walk through the rest of the day with awareness, to be present with "what is going on right now," or as Shunryo Suzuki Roshi, zen master and author of Zen Mind Beginner's Mind, would say, "things as it is." 

Ruffed Grouse (not my photo)

There was an abundance of familiar birdsong throughout the day: robin, cardinal, chicadee, bluejay, various woodpeckers. Not being a serious birder, there were several startling and beautiful songs which I cannot identify. The Wapack is home to an abundance of songbird species. However, what most captured my attention was the continuous presence of 2 or more ravens (or 1 ventriloquist raven) croaking just out of my sight. I'm sure these great beings were quite amused at the stumbling human with the blinking light on its head. 

Common or Northern Raven (not my photo)

Near the top of the mountain: BLUEBERRIES! They were growing as far as I could see and I ate my fill, looking the whole time for any sign of black bears as blueberries are a favorite snack of our ursine friends. They will loll in a patch and eat the bushes bare. But, the berries were plentiful, delicious, surprisingly large, and super juicy.

At the summit I encountered a group of berry pickers with their bags and buckets and I was reminded that Thoreau lead a huckleberry picking party on the day he was released from jail for his famous act of civil disobedience (see Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: A History of Walking, page 8). Like the black bear, Henry was a lover of berries. This, we definitely share in common.

After passing a lovely cairn that lead me toward the summit I paused for lunch with my back against a small boulder whose size and shape held great appeal for me. I'm not sure why, but it seemed to be perfect. I don't know for certain if that stone is a glacial erratic. A "glacial erratic" is a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests. "Erratics" take their name from the Latin word errare, and are carried by glacial ice, often over distances of hundreds of kilometres. Erratics can range in size from pebbles to large boulders. Judging by the size of this rock, I don't think it was placed there by anything but natural causes. It's likely to be an erratic.

Cairn Cliff Trail

Peanut butter and banana sandwiches with my back against this rock

Erratic on the way down the mountain (Note the trail blaze on the tree)

View of Pack Monadnock from the summit of North Pack Monadnock

On the way down I followed Carolyn's Trail. It was about at the half way point where the batteries gave out. I had taken off my hat to wipe my brow and noticed that the light was off. Dang! It was working at the summit! Ah well, I shut it off and walked a bit, then tried turning it back on. The light showed briefly, blinked, then went out. The straightness of the line in the drawing shows the connection between the two points of turning it off and turning it back on and the dead battery is the end of the line. As I walked along lamenting the incomplete drawing and worrying about a growing discomfort along my right calf... SCARLET TANAGER!

  Scarlet Tanager (not my photo)

Again... a "wake-up" from nature. Bright red filled my mind, worry and pain were gone for the moment. And then... PILEATED WOODPECKER! It flew across the trail not 10 feet in front of me at eye level. "Things as it is" indeed.

Pileated Woodpecker (not my photo)

So, it's a week later and I'm a bit hampered by a calf injury. Muscle or tendon? Ligament or bone? I don't know. If it does not heal soon, I'll be off to the doctor's. But for now, the hiking is slowed, not stopped, but definitely on hold. Doesn't mean the posts will stop. I'll be back in a few days with some thoughts on  hollow trees, emptiness, and decay.