Sunday, January 31, 2010

Grace, A Cinquain

Mouth of the Russian River as seen from Red Hill, Sonoma County Coast in December, 2009


So kind—
Our Mother Earth.
Holding us in such grace
We think Her patience will never
Run out.

(A Cinquain is a 5 line poetic form inspired by Haiku and Tanka but adapted to English by by the American poet Adelaide Crapsey. Cinquain poetry has achieved a following over the years. In its basic form, a Cinquain's five lines display a syllabic count of 2-4-6-8-2.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

30 January 1948 A Cinquain

January 30, 1948

To evening prayers
Two palms pressed together
Greeting, blessing his assassin:
"Oh, God!"

(A Cinquain is a 5 line poetic form inspired by Haiku and Tanka but adapted to English by by the American poet Adelaide Crapsey. Cinquain poetry has achieved quite a following over the years. In its basic form, a Cinquain's five lines display a syllabic count of 2-4-6-8-2. This one I wrote today to honor a lifelong  hero of mine, Mohandes K. Gandhi whose Autobiography I read in high school.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Full Wolf Moon

The Full Wolf Moon sails overhead as I write. This full moon is at perigee, meaning it is now closer to Earth than it usually is because the moon's orbit is not a circle, but an ellipse. It's not all that often that the moon is at perigee when it is full, but it is tonight. So we are treated to a full moon that's a little bit closer (30,000 miles closer) appearing a little bit bigger and a shining bit brighter than most full moons. It also produces higher and lower tides than usual. If you want a little bit more information, go here to the Space article.

Go out and enjoy the view if you're lucky enough to have clear skies. And look for Mars that red "star" not too far away.

Leaning alone in the close bamboos,
I am playing my lute and humming a song
Too softly for anyone to hear --
Except my comrade, the bright moon.

Wang Wei


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guest Commentary: Slow Down, Sebastopol

Being married to the Mayor of my town gives me the opportunity to serve as her co-author on columns we write (I do not want credit, so I'm not cited as an author) for our local paper.

We're a good writing team and we had fun working up this piece in today's Sonoma West Times and News.

This article is about slowing down and becoming more patient. Maybe slowing down would be good for where you live, too. Here is our article:

Slow Down, Sebastopol

People love Sebastopol. Ours is a friendly small town. We recognize each other. We often say “hello” and engage in conversation.

If our conversation turns to local issues, we’re likely to talk about traffic. People talk a lot about the congestion at some of our intersections, especially the commute delays on Highway 12 and the street delays at the beginning and end of the school day.

Traffic safety issues include more than just the congestion attributed to peak times on the two California highways that intersect in our downtown. Traffic safety is an important concern of our community. The complaints about unsafe driving include:
  • driving too fast,
  • using neighborhood streets to bypass downtown,
  • rolling through stop signs,
  • ignoring pedestrians in crosswalks, and
  • talking on hand-held cell phones.
We are complaining to ourselves about ourselves and our complaints are not limited to drivers. There’s also a familiar and long list of the unsafe practices among non-drivers getting around town. We hear that pedestrians walk down the middle of the street and “jaywalk” instead of using the crosswalks. Skaters don’t wear helmets and skate on the prohibited downtown sidewalks. Cyclists ignore stop signs and ride several abreast.

SLOW DOWN SEBASTOPOL is a community awareness program designed to address these complaints. Its concept is simple. If everyone in town slows down, we will enjoy a safer community. If each of us, whatever our mode of transportation, follows the rules of the road and practices courtesy, each of us will feel safer.

All of us want to live in a friendly town where we feel safe and connected to our neighbors. We yearn to know each other and to care and be cared for. Slowing down is the quickest way to get there.

SLOW DOWN SEBASTOPOL will provide visual reminders of the SLOW DOWN goal all over town. Our Public Works Department will be installing big red signs at our entrances and red banners at key locations. Neighbors will be placing red yard signs in front of their houses. These signs will remind all passers-by to SLOW DOWN for everyone’s sake.

In addition to the sign campaign, in the coming year or so, we’ll see the results of infrastructure improvements based on Street Smart Sebastopol. Designated intersections on Main Street/Healdsburg Avenue and Petaluma Avenue/McKinley Avenue will be improved to make our streets slower, safer, and friendlier.

We can do more than wait for Street Smart to make things better. Complaining about traffic is all too easy. We can take action now and help us become the safer community we wish to live in. Use the flyer, sent out with the water and sewer bills, and post it in your front window. Pick up a sign at the Police Department and place it prominently at your house.

Taping a flyer to a window and putting up a yard sign take only minutes. It is much more difficult to cultivate the intention to become patient and to set aside the urgency we feel to speed across town when we get behind the wheel. If, when we see the signs, we remember to smile, to take in and let out a refreshing breath, and to become the change we wish to see in Sebastopol, we can get there—slowly.

Sebastopol sits in a harried, hurried, and worried world. Let us accept the challenge to awaken our patience, our courtesy, and our wisdom to slow down and appreciate the fact that we live in a small town where people know and care about each other.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Walter Update, January 27

Yesterday I took dinner to Walter's family who is gathering to be with him now. Walter just returned home from the hospital.

I had a quiet, soulful visit, twenty minutes or so, just holding his hand. Almost 24 hours a day, Walter is “sleeping.”  He's not eating or drinking now, so he didn't get to taste the food I had cooked for him. That's okay. The hospice doctors say he’s gone inside, to prepare for taking leave of this world.

I didn't want to say too much to Walter. We’ve always connected most deeply wordlessly on a heart level. I wanted mostly just to hold his warm hand and be with him. His breathing is very irregular. Long pauses separate rapid gasping breaths. Finally I know what I needed to say to him, even though I wasn’t at all sure he would hear me. Taking his hand a little more firmly I told him,

“I love you, Walter.” I supposed that he might be conscious of sound and touch, so I said just one sentence more.

“I’ll give your love to everyone at The Sutra Salon.” (I’ve appreciated Walter's regular participation in that group since 2003.)

When I finished saying these very few words, Walter still seemed comatose. But a couple of seconds after I finished, he turned to me and opened his eyes. We looked into each others’ eyes for eternal seconds. We both teared up.He tried to say thank you, but no words would come, just the most fundamental vowel, “ah, ah.”

Walter and I have chanted that “AH” sound together many times. It’s the name of God, isn’t it? “AH” appears in so many of God’s names, JehovAH, BuddAH, AllAH, KrishnAH, RAHma, YAHweh, come immediately to mind....

“AH,” the first sound we make upon birth (often screaming it) and the final sound me make as we exhale, peacefully, in our final breath at death, “ahhh.”

With the hand I wasn't holding, Walter wiped a tear from his eye. With the other he lightly squeezed my hand. Then his hand relaxed and he went back to his irregular breathing. He returned to the work he's doing now, his journey away.

I sat with Walter for a few more minutes. Finally, I let go of his hand, but have been holding him in my heart every minute since.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Puzzle Tanka

We share no language—
Just attention to design
Color, shape, and hue.
Was my pleasure in her work
Some  strange mystery to her?

Monday, January 25, 2010


So, where do you blog from?

It was Polli from The Whole Blooming World who first suggested—to me at least—the idea of posting a couple of photos, one from the front, one from the side, to reveal the setting of your blogging.

No cleaning up allowed. I followed the rules. There's a tea pot, a scatter of books, a rumpled Afghan.

Mac Book Pro with the all-important "Just Love Everybody" bumper sticker stuck to its lid, reminding me of the only thing that's really important to matter where you go or what you do.

On rainy winter days I sit here by the fire, usually in that Craftsman chair with the green leather cushions. Our furniture was made, by hand, about one kilometer from where it now happily and usefully sits in my house.

I strongly believe in local economy. The owner of the furniture-making business is Dan. That sealed the deal.

The music I favor is Haydn String Quartets (I have them all on my iPod) playing in the background.It does so now.


I don't believe in tagging people, but I must confess to having some curiosity about steven's blogspot.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hurt and Happy, A Tanka

Tanka is a syllabic form of poetry. Not counting its title, if any, a Tanka poem will have five lines with the following number of syllables: 5-7-5-7-7. Kind of like a roomier Haiku. Rhyming is optional, but lovely if you're skillful enough to manage it.

Hurt and Happy
A Tanka Poem

Contrasting feelings:
Sublime joy and deep sadness
Fill my heart at once.
My tender, vulnerable
Heart is full, broken and whole.

Tao Te Ching 3


Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling.
Not collecting treasures prevents stealing.
Not seeing desirable things prevents confusion of the heart.

The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing bellies,
      by weakening ambitions and strengthening bones.
If people lack knowledge and desire,
      then intellectuals will not try to interfere.
If nothing is done, then all will be well.

                      —Lao Tsu    TAO TE CHING
                         translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English

Saturday, January 23, 2010

HeartSteps Blog

Bonnie over at Original Art Studio has a great post today. I especially loved the poem by Wendy Smyer Yu:


I will nurse this autumn carefully,
treat its brittleness gently,
smooth its crumbling edges, its weeping afternoons.

I will rise early and go to it,
wrap it in a soft cloth
and watch its breathing.

I will nurture this autumn knowing
it is myself
in a pure and golden form,
and that childlike
soft words will be brought bubbling up
to be recorded in the patterns of leaves
and the low fog coming across the bay.

I will accept this death
and be content with its coming and watch
its coming
and speak of its coming in slow poems
until at last
there will be no more words,
you will hear only the sound of rain as you sleep.

~Wendy Smyer Yu

I don't know a thing about Wendy Smyer Yu. This poem, though, is as arresting as if it had been written by Mary Oliver.

An internet search for Wendy turned up a blog I like: HeartSteps.  This blogger had posted this poem some time ago. I've noodled around in HeartSteps just enough to see a kindred spirit there. Readers of MindfulHeart might enjoy it, too.

Siddhartha, liberty, mushrooms, life, and death

This morning I took a short walk around my neighborhood and came across a bale of straw in a ditch. A bundle of last summer’s dead grass, it was now teeming with decomposers. Was this a big, wet bundle of life or a big, wet bundle of death?

I walked on... thinking...

2500 years ago a pampered young prince ventured beyond the confines of his palace with his faithful servant, Channa. His father, the king, had instructed Channa to make sure these excursions were pure pleasure junkets. Nonetheless, it turned out that the prince saw on successive jaunts an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a mystic. And thus began the Buddha’s journey of awakening.

My musings about the Buddha were interrupted as I walked past the fire station flying the US Flag. The Pledge of Allegiance popped to mind. If you’re not from the US, you may not know that the following words are  solemnly intoned on a daily basis in most kids’ classrooms—often with a seriousness that belies our collective denial of the fact that all of history’s worst villains were first of all Patriots:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of America
And to the republic for which it stands,
One Nation, under God, indivisible,
With liberty and justice for all.”

I go along—partly to avoid the suspicions of Patriots, and partly because I’ve been reciting this national prayer-poem for so many years that its meter and rhythm are ingrained in my body/mind like a mantra. I do place particular emphasis on the final six words, “with liberty and justice for all.” well aware of their irony these days. America incarcerates more people than any other country, both in raw numbers and per capita, if Wikipedia can be believed.

I’m ashamed, too. For me. For America. I don't believe in bad people.

Mushrooms blooming in the bale of hay somehow spoke to the pledge in my ears, and they morphed into a new pledge, something more pleasing, more compelling, and truer. It is mostly faithful to the meter of the original and goes like this:

“I pledge awareness of Kind Death
Who will be faithful to us all,
And of the Compassion for which She stands,
One Life Force, call Her God, indivisible
With Serenity and Comfort for all.”

2010 has been a year of lots of death already. Haiti, of course. My wife is now at the memorial service of a friend who served on the Sebastopol City Council some years ago. Lots of people my age and younger than my age are coming up with the kinds of diagnoses that I'm glad not to have. Yet.

Yet. It's only a matter of time.

I'm trying to reframe Death from that scary, gaunt, black-shrouded Halloween figure with a scythe. That's so silly.

Death has got to be someone quite different: a caring, compassionate female figure—more like Kwan Yin, who is faithful to us all. We can count on her, Death, above all else, to call upon us.

Surely she shall, someday, soften the glare, palliate our pain, quiet the cacophony, bathe us in love, enshrine us as fond memories in the hearts of those we've loved, and transform our molecules into luscious food for fungi.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

the wishing year—a house, a man, a soul

Over Christmas I read a book written by Noelle Oxenhandler, The Wishing Year (Random House).

She gave a reading at one of my favorite local booksellers—you do support your local independent booksellers don't you?—Many Rivers Books and Tea. Noelle is a professor at nearby Sonoma State University. The Wishing Year is a delightful, satisfying, uplifting story that's been compared to a book I haven't (and probably won't) read: Eat, Pray, Love.

This book takes up the subject of wishing—actively and intentionally hoping for things to happen in your world. A long time Buddhist practitioner like me, I found her story a light and breezy read.

She begins her quest with the same skepticism I would carry. Her Catholic/Jewish heritage permitted her to wish and pray for the welfare of others, but not for anything that would benefit herself in practical ways. But she found her life was getting grayer and grayer under this view, and she decided to open herself to the possibility that the world might permit her more happiness. (She lives, after all, here in earth's best imitiation of paradise!) Noelle decided to experiment with wishing by spending one year intentionally cultivating desire for three things she didn't have and that she really wanted to bring into her life:

1. a man,

2. a house of her own, and

3. spiritual healing.

A work of nonfiction, I was delighted when a neighbor who lives a block south of me, Carol Watanabe, figures prominently in the story as the paragon of effective wishing.

Oxenhandler tells a thoughtful, intelligent, and very entertaining story about how her wishing year unfolded, month by month.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You Have No Other Moments

"Don't move. Just die over and over. Don't anticipate. Nothing can save you now, because this is your last moment. Not even enlightenment will help you now, because you have no other moments. With no future, be true to yourself—and don't move."

—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

I have the good fortune to know many of Suzuki Roshi's students. Even more auspiciously, my first meditation teacher was Kobun Chino Otogawa, Suzuki Roshi's protegé, brought from Japan to further the transmission of Soto Zen Buddhism to California. Kobun helped get Tassajara going and he ran Haiku Zendo in Los Altos in the seventies. That's when he was my teacher. I sat many many many hours with Kobun. My gratitude is boundless, infinite really.

Suzuki's advice was given to Zen students practicing meditation. The advice is perfect off the cushion if you simply remove the two mentions of "don't move."

Rictameter (a poetic form new to me): To Walter, with Love

On Wikipedia I ran across a new form of poetry called a Rictameter, a 9 line syllabic form of poetry. The syllable count in a rictameter goes 2-4-6-8-10-8-6-4-2. Rictameter is a bit more spacious than a Tanka and a lot roomier than Haiku, but still pretty brief. 

As readers of this blog might guess, I'm always trying to stay with (and love) what is. So, naturally, it is to that topic that I turned to fill the Rictameter jar.

To Walter, with love

look here.
shhh! listen, now.
all pasts and all futures—
all time exists right here—right now
this vast, eternal, ever-changing now.
Breathe in, breathe out—our heart whispers,
“Everything’s connected!”
Now, let breath go
look here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter Creek: A Tanka

A small, usually dry, creek bed runs behind my school. Really wet weather breathes life into it.
I spent a few minutes there after lunch, delighted to listen in. I even stole a candid photo.

Nameless winter creek, January 19, 2010

Winter Creek, 
A Tanka Poem

as i photographed
winter creek’s mirthful waters
in between rainstorms
creek’s laughter almost obscured
it’s reflection: “He sings, too!”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tao Te Ching 2

Fallen Japanese Maple Leaf resting on Rhododendron Azalea flower buds January 17, 2010

Tao Te Ching

Chapter Two

Under heaven we can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.
We can know good as good only because there is evil.

Therefore having and not having arise together;
Difficult and easy complement each other;
Long and short stand side by side;
High and low rest upon each other;
Voice and sound harmonize each other;
Front and back follow each other.

Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no-talking.
Ten thousand things rise and fall without stopping.

Creating, yet not possessing,
Working, yet not taking credit.
Work is done, then forgotten.
Therefore it lasts forever.

                      —Lao Tsu    TAO TE CHING
                         translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wolf Moon and The Mountainous Land

January Waxing Crescent Moon  
by Frank McCabe

Weather forecasters are predicting high winds and several days of rain—up to 5 inches—to arrive here on the Northern California Coast. Clouds have obscured the first moon of the 2010, the crescent Wolf Moon, which won't be full till January 30. In Northern California it's a wintry moon, but not quite as deeply wintry as our last one. Looking around, I can already see the earliest signs of spring.

I went to the bookstore yesterday and came home with a three books from my queue. I look forward to the coziness of reading by the fire as the rain falls.

My coziness, however will be troubled some.

A media hermit, with the exception of blogs, I'm aware of the earthquake in Haiti. I've spared myself from seeing actual images. But I've read descriptions. I hold deep sadness about the many thousands who have lost their lives and their homes. The immediate suffering in Haiti is only the most recent calamity to befall the people who've lived there.

Haiti means "Mountainous Land" in the language of its original people, the Taino. Haiti seems to have been something of a paradise in its pre-Columbian days. Columbus dramatically increased suffering there. I've read horrifying accounts of his torturous activities there. Spanish conquerors renamed Haiti Hispaniola. Columbus wrote first of many sad chapters of a tome that is still being written today.

It's very difficult for me to understand why a former paradise, the Mountainous Island, has been transformed into a center of so much suffering. Why?

I cannot know.  I hold their suffering in my heart, seek to find some peace here, and send that peace prayerfully to the Mountainous Land and all the people and all the life it holds.

May the Wolf Moon bring better fortune to all the world, especially to Haiti, the Mountainous Land.

Waxing winter moon,
Haiti earthquake—thousands die
May soft love-light shine

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

No Future: Unwrap Your Presents

The great thing about
The future is this:
There is no future.

The future can only be a present.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tao Te Ching

I've been rereading for the umpteenth time the Tao Te Ching. I don't know any text more worth rereading than this one.


The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.

                      —Lao Tsu    TAO TE CHING
                         translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English

Monday, January 11, 2010

108 Friends: Lost and Found

This poem is in a form that I call 108 Friends. It has, not counting the title, exactly 108 words. The number 108 has significance in Buddhism.

Lost and Found

on my original birthday,
i burst out—screaming—after
bathing for months
in warm, dark, inner waters
that had been pulsing, gurgling
and holding me in
safety, happiness, and ease.

at birth i was
blinded by light and dark
deafened by noise and silence
pinched, prodded
lost and abandoned—
mother gravely ill

deeply lost
finally i found
help from Shakyamuni
whose own mother died.

shut my eyes,
become only breath
laser focus:
inhale, exhale, pause, inhale exhale, pause....
count 108 pauses without once losing track
dwelling in emptiness,
bathed in a dim, warm glow
surrounded by Kindness,
swaddled in Compassion
afloat in Joy—

lost and found in Love

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Walter Update Jan. 10 in 55 words.

Linden Hills is a blog featuring very short stories told in exactly 55 words. I want to provide my readers with a nonfiction update on Walter based on a phone call I got yesterday. What follows is just 55 words:


The phone. “Hello?”

“It’s Gretchen. I’m calling about Dad.” She sounded tired.

“Hi. How’s Walter?”

“Still in ICU—on light chemo. He wakes, sleeps.... I just don’t know...”



“How’s your daughter, Emily?”

“Hard. They were, are, so close.”

“Meditating, here, they glowed. 18 and 85. How can I help?”

“Will you—pray?”


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Rings and Ribbons

In our culture we write poetry alone.

In Japan, a tradition of collaborative poetry developed called Renga. I learned about Renga from Jim Wilson's blog on poetry called Shaping Words.

Spontaneously, collaborative poetry similar to Renga happened recently when steven of golden fish wrote a poem called "with ribbons streaming" on his golden fish blog. He included a bit of my response to his poem. Here is how it went:

with ribbons streaming
by steven and Dan

in the half-light of a winter morning,
light and shadow coexist side-by-side.

inside and out.

undulating across snowy hummocks,
thin threads of sunlight rise and settle.

the shadow loves the light.

without the light's knifes-edge glare,
the shadow
is merely darkness


"light loves shadow.
because without shadow's soft depth
is merely blinding glare."

Here is another iteration of our collaboration, this one set in outer space:

Rings and Ribbons
by Dan and steven

in the cold quiet beyond Jupiter
light and shadow play side by side

inside and out.

arcing across vast planets
thin threads of sunlight rise and settle

the shadow loves the light.
because without the light’s knife-edge glare,
the shadow
is merely darkness.

light loves shadow.
because without shadow’s soft depth
is merely blinding glare.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Walter Update

It's said that people who maintain a long-term meditation practice are preparing for death.

I cannot say if that's true. Perhaps people who meditate seek to live life fully awake. I can say that in meditation ordinary day-to-day consciousness can fall far away. And in meditation's deep peace we have the possibility of discerning more skillful ways to live.


My friend, Walter, has been near death for the past few days. He had had seizures and was put on high-dosage seizure medications which put him in an unresponsive state that doctors described as a coma. Recently the doctors stopped his anti-seizure medication.  Soon after, Walter regained ordinary consciousness and began talking with people. The doctors described the process as "bringing him back from the edge."

When Walter was asked about having his eyes closed for three days he said, "I was doing zazen the whole time."

Of course!

Walter's zazen gladdens me.

Keep it up, my friend.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Stepping Out, A Tanka Poem

Stepping Out

Layoffs and furloughs,
Daughter flying far from home,
A good friend’s coma—
Many unwelcome changes.
Still,  clouds glowed rose at sunset.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Snow Man

In our Society of Friends meeting, I mentioned this poem by Wallace Stevens which Bonnie recently posted.

One of our members taught this poem in his college English class. After our discussion, several members asked me to post it here, so here you go:

The Snow Man
(from Harmonium , 1923)
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

P.S.  Now I see my blogger friend, steven, has posted it, too. Synchronicity is real.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Holding Kindness, A Tanka Poem

Image from 

Here is a Tanka poem I just wrote. Tanka is a Japanese form of poetry similar to haiku that uses a syllabic form.
Tanka poems typically have 5 lines with a syllable count of 5-7-5-7-7



Holding so gently,
Sadly, warmly—close to heart:
One day I will die.
How I wish to live fully—
Awake, and completely kind.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Walter, and Quiet Love

I took a long walk today, thinking of my friend Walter, my oldest friend, who is now in his eighties. For years now, Walter and I have studied the Dharma together. Walter's been teaching me: "It's all about opening the heart! The only thing that matters is Love!" I read these words and I hear Walter's enthusiastic voice. "The only thing that matters is Love!"

I've come to love Walter. Just a few days ago, doctors gave Walter got the kind of news no one wants: Brain cancer.

When I got back from my walk, I checked in on the few blogs I follow. Synchronicity. Three of them included poems about life and death. Original Art, Shaping Words, and Whole Blooming World.

I took bits and pieces of the poems, and assembled this:

Quiet Love

One must have a mind of winter
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

I wonder in which season I will die.

Life and death, a mystery
I don't know what's our destination

This is what I think of
in the clean cold start of the new year.

When the flame is blown out, where does the light go?

I cannot hold the answers.

I give this year to quiet love.

P.S. Tomorrow school will start up in 2010. I'll turn into "Mr. Kindergarten." As Mr. Kindergarten, I give my all to the 29 students in my care. I have a little energy left when I get home: just enough to find something to eat, take care of my spirit, and ask after my wife's day. But not enough energy to blog here regularly. So, there will be somewhat less frequent posts here starting tomorrow. I respect you, my readers, enough not to post just to put something up on the web.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Vegetarian Myth

If you are a vegetarian, or thinking about becoming one, please read this book.

The author, Lierre Keith, was a vegetarian for 20 years. For most of those years, she adopted a vegan diet for the familiar moral, political, and health-related reasons that most people consider going off meat, milk, and eggs:

  • She abhorred the idea of killing animals to eat them;
  • She was outraged by the cruelty to animals our food system perpetrates;
  • She believed that a vegan diet was protective of life and our ecosystem;
  • She thought food sourced from animals contributed to the diseases of civilization.

The thing is: she still cares about all these things. She wrote the book because she believes now that some of her reasons for being vegetarian were based not in facts, but in her fantasies. (And some of these reasons, she readily acknowledges are based in facts: our food system is heart-wrenchingly cruel.)

The book is partly a tale about how her vegan diet harmed her physical and mental health. It’s mostly a thoroughly-documented and sobering reexamination of the reasons for going vegan. The Vegetarian Myth dissects these moral, political and health reasons chapter by chapter.

She explains, for instance, that eating a bowl of organic cornflakes with organic soy milk does not avoid the wholesale killing of animal life. Eating anything involves killing, and killing a lot more than just the plants you’re munching. To eat is to kill. If you’re eating a product of our agricultural system, well.... look.

Look at any field growing corn, soy, wheat or any vineyard or any orchard. Do you see animals frolicking happily under and over those acres? Ground squirrels? Gophers? Snakes? Mice? Birds? Bugs, even? Not many. How come? Agriculture entails the killing of just about every animal that once called those acres home. Your bowl full of cornflakes has lots of ghost-animal eyes looking up at you. Plant-based foods produced by agriculture are not the innocent food we’d like them to be; they are very good, though, at hiding the killing they entail.

As a vegetarian myself, I found the chapter on the health effects of this diet the hardest to read. Arrgh! I’ve eaten so much soy! I wish I had thought harder about ingesting something that finds its way into paint, ink, and putty.

Lierre tells her story better than I can.

Get a piece of paper, write down on it:

Get a copy of Lierre Keith's book, The Vegetarian Myth.

Check it out of the library, borrow it from a friend, or buy it from your local bookseller.

Still not sure? Maybe you don't think she cares enough about life? She cares, you'll see. She cares.

Here, let Lierre speak for herself (and please forgive her if she sounds overly passionate; it's important stuff she's talking about, and it's not easy to talk about things like this):

You can read another review from Stanford University Be Well program of the book HERE.

And Mark (in the comments section) alerted me to a skeptical and critical review of this book. Thank you, Mark. You can read that review HERE. (This business of eating is important and complex.No easy answers, folks!)