Wednesday, October 31, 2007

words from very long ago

wanting to assume that our lives are wholly unique and no moreso than in the daily troubles and problems we face, we have remarkably turned our backs on the wealth of knowledge of the thousands of years of learning and thinking and reflecting and suffering and loves and hates and joys that our ancestors not only experienced but occasionally documented. the selfish among us might even imagine that they did this as an act of kindness - perhaps to help us better manage the challenges that seem to await us ‘round every turn.

the two excerpts (from the very long time ago) presented here, are examples that with little reflection (but the more you spend thinking about them, the more fruit they bear) cast light on who we are as living beings granted a finite and relatively short amount of time in which to enhance and refine our selves before we too fly away ..........

a cliff
a man was chased off a cliff by a tiger. he fell, and just managed to hold onto a branch. six feet above him stood the tiger, snarling. a hundred feet below, a violent sea lashed fierce-looking rocks. to his horror, he noticed that the branch he was clutching was being gnawed at its roots by two rats. seeing he was doomed, he cried out, "o lord, save me!"
he heard a voice reply, "of course, I will save you. but first, let go of the branch!"

[Traditional Sufi Story, this version from: Perfume of the Desert, Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom, compiled by Andrew Harvey and Eryk Hanut, Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, 1999, p. 18]

The Man in the Wilderness - A Parable from The Mahabharata
From Stree Parva (The Book of Women)

a traveller, approaches a pit. he loses his judgement and leans over more than he should into the pit. he topples over and to save his life, grabs on to some protruding shoots. he looks down and sees poisonous snakes at the bottom of the pit, waiting to bite him to death. he thanks the good fortune, which prevented him from falling to the bottom of the pit to be bitten to death by the snakes, but then he sees the rats, who are gnawing at the roots, he is holding on to and then to his utter disappointment, he sees a mad elephant trying to uproot the very roots of the vegetation, he is holding on to. as luck would have it, he has uprooted a beehive and angry bees are stinging him, but in the process, quite a few drops of honey are dislodged. he reaches out and stretching his fingers as far as they can, he catches a few of these drops of honey and brings them to his lips.

even when faced with certain death, man still clings to life in all its forms.

the mahabharata is available online for free at:
a film version (that i have seen in its six hour splendour and highly recommend) directed by the brilliant peter brooks can be reviewed here and purchased in most of the usual spots:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


john cage - not a household word - which to me is a strange thing . . . . . but then too, jackson pollock isn’t either and perhaps it’s because they shared similar roles in the ongoing deconstruction of the culture they lived inside.

stepping well outside the bounds of what was nominally “music”, cage was alternately famous / infamous for his creative use of musical instruments and especially for his development of “chance music” in which some element of the work is left to chance or to the whim of the performers. through his piece entitled 4’33, cage reintroduced the notion of silence as music in and of itself. in 4’33 not a note of music is played.

cage’s writing is less challenging but still carries the presence of a singularly brilliant man who carried the burden of moving culture along its path for many years.

go here to read john’s tiny but rich stories of life both inner and outer.

once there you can choose between an “index of names” which allows you to access a list of names of people who appear in the little vignettes, or you can access a list of “first lines” which allows you to select a vignette based on its first line. you may also select from an index of “last lines”.

i have many favourites here but one that carries weight for me metaphorically is the one whose first line is: “You probably know the one about the two monks, but I’ll tell it anyway”. it is numbered “2”. oh and by the way, don’t be fooled by this sample into thinking that you are going to be reading a selection of zen parables . . . . . far from it!

“You   probably   know   the   one   about   the   two
  monks,                      but   I’ll   tell   it
 anyway.                              They   were   
walking   along   one   day   when   they   came   to
  a   stream   where   a   young   lady   was   
waiting,                       hoping   that   someone
  would   help   her   across.
       Without   hesitating,                       one
  of   the   monks   picked   her   up   and   carried
  her    across,                        putting    her
   down    safely            on    the    other    side.

 The    two    monks    continued    walking    along,
                       and    after    some    time,
                     the    second    one,
            unable    to    restrain    himself,
                     said    to    the    first,
                  “You    know    we’re    not   
allowed    to    touch    women.
           Why    did    you    carry    that    woman
   across    the    stream?”
               The    first    monk    replied,
                   “Put    her    down.
                   I    did    two     hours     ago.”

john cage

Monday, October 29, 2007

my daughter's birthday

today is my daughter’s birthday. eleven years ago she entered this world and fulfilled a wish i had that in addition to being the father of two boys, i might experience the experiences of being the father of a girl.

i have been so blessed by this girl’s being in my life. lexi is a beautiful, happy, talented, funny, bright, creative person who amazes me even when she isn’t amazing herself.

she draws light and joy into her presence and returns it in kind.

here’s my lexi in the summertime.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

poem moons

a while back i used an image of a piece of art by michigan artist jim pallas to complement an entry i wrote entitled “the red fish”.

here’s jim himself:

jim’s described as a kinetic artist and it is through his kinetic sculptures that he has garnered his well-deserved reputation as a receiver and transmitter of “zen lunacy”. “energy is what his work is about, both technically and spiritually.” (Tom Bloomer, Detroit Artists Monthly).

i decided to revisit jim’s website recently to have a closer look at what he is doing. to my great fortune, i discovered that he has magically brought together two artforms in such a way that they have entered that sanctified realm in which my insatiable and sometimes irresponsible need for objects overcomes the more responsible element of me which says food and shelter comes before everything else.

jim has taken some of the most exquisite poetry and inscribed each poem onto what appear to be pieces of metal formed to resemble a stylized moon.

the poems he has selected as worthy of inscribing onto his moon sculptures are beautiful, powerful works by the haiku poets basho and issa (not the artist formerly known as jane siberry by the way, but her namesake!), e.e. cummings, and carl sandburg.

each piece of writing, like the object they are stamped onto, is a symbolic representation of the experience they describe and so the pieces take on a multivalent quality as they reflect upon the reflection of the source of their light.

the sun.

so, while materially static, they take on a spiritually kinetic quality, dancing between the poem, the sculpture, and the object they describe. like jim’s other truly kinetic work, it requires the viewer to bring about the dance.

come on, take a look and see what i am talking about.

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

(Carl Sandburg)

All my friends
viewing the moon –
an ugly bunch

Clouds appear
and bring to men a chance to rest
from looking at the moon.


crossing the river
taking a leak…
summer moon

 Left behind
 by the thief
 the moon in the window.

luminous tendril of celestial wish

(whying diminutive bright deathlessness
to these my not themselves believing eyes
adventuring, enormous nowhere from)

querying affirmation; virginal

immediacy of precision:more
and perfectly more most ethereal
silence through twilight's mystery made flesh-

dreamslender exquisite white firstful flame

-new moon!as(by the miracle of your
sweet innocence refuted)clumsy some
dull cowardice called a world vanishes,

teach disappearing also me the keen
illimitable secret of begin


this last piece is not in jim’s “moon poem” series but i include it here because it is so simply beautiful. comprised of shards of mirror, “mirrored moon #1” captures the whole of its surroundings, shatters it into mirrored fragments and reassembles it into a new wholeness that compels the viewer to see the world in an entirely new way. without being truly holographic, in its rearranging of the world’s constituent parts, “mirrored moon #1” re-presents the world much as a shattered hologram affording the viewer the opportunity to more clearly and more fully see the whole in the part and the part in the whole.

i selected the following poem by the sufi poet jalal ad-din muhammad rumi as a textual accompaniment.

moon mirror

you’ve no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring you.
nothing seemed right.
what’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the ocean.
everything I came up with was like taking spices to the orient.
it’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.
so - i’ve brought you a mirror.
look at yourself and remember me.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

here's the mirrored moon up close:

thanks very much to jim pallas for allowing me to reproduce images of his work here.
to visit more of jim's work go here:

Saturday, October 27, 2007

toyota RiN

for the future to present itself we need to let the present become the past. perhaps more importantly, we need to stop clinging to the way that we presently know our world. the first step along this path is to get some distance from how we solve the problem of our needs as people. housing, transportation, food, warmth all arrive with a price that is clearly too high for our planet to pay. the problems of our needs have been solved but without concern for the consequences.

i live in a huge country. to get from one side to the other (legally) takes days. to travel from one side of the country i was born in to the other takes hours. using that as a measure of necessity, automakers have created solutions to the problems of transportation that consider the needs of the people in those countries.

having said that, i would be interested to know how many people actually drive their cars on a regular basis on inter-city or cross country jaunts. if the number is as relatively low as i suspect then it is long past time that we embrace the european and japanese model of developing cars that are purpose built. vehicles that afford transportation to more than one person at a time. vehicles that are capable of carrying groceries and household materials, have a minimal impact on the environment in terms of emissions, and that require a minimal amount of space for parking.

vehicles that are designed for short journeys . . . the real transportation needs that most people have, and not the imagined ones that the manufacturers have created vehicles to address. in turn, the vehicles we need to see being developed and appearing on our roads should through their own smaller scale and minimized environmental impact, lower the scale and nature of infrastructure needed to support their purpose.

“The RiN focuses on 'increased comfort' and 'serene, healthy living'. Through their relationship to the vehicle, drivers are encouraged to reevaluate themselves and, furthermore, to turn their attention to society and nature, producing a healthy rhythm for both mind and body.”

so opens the promo package for this unique vehicle - unique in both conception and appearance. the thinking (as you will see) is uniquely and decidely japanese and yet in writing that, i can see a group of north americans intuitively if not practically connecting to the essence of what is being said here both in words and in action.

* The deep-rooted and tall-growing Yakusugi tree was used as inspiration for the exterior and interior design of the RiN, to express both “harmony with nature” and “healthy mind and body”. This can be seen in details such as the leaf-shaped gas and brake pedals as well as other organic design cues.

* Promotes a healthier well-being thanks to features such as seats that help maintain good back posture and image displays aligned with the driver's psychological state that are conveyed within the meter cluster of the "mood-training" steering control.

* In addition to featuring comfortable, heated seats, an oxygen-level conditioner and pinpoint humidifier, the RiN also uses green glass that reduces the infiltration of ultraviolet and infrared light and makes the surroundings seem brighter and clearer to increase cabin comfort.

* Creates a feeling of harmony with the surrounding environment by using sliding doors with a low window that lets you view nature at ground level, as well as headlights with light distribution control that take into consideration pedestrians and vehicles coming in the opposite direction.

* Contrasts deep green with beige in its interior color scheme to richen the complexions of those onboard and evoke a healthy mental and physical feeling.

it’s difficult to imagine thinking of that order and can i say "nature" going into the development and sale of an suv isn’t it?!!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

the cloths of heaven

a beautiful poem by william butler yeats accompanies these images i took this afternoon of the skies over peterborough.

He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams.

autumnal tints

"I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived."
Henry David Thoreau

thoreau is most widely known for his work “on walden pond” - and rightly so. but many of his other works, which carry an equal literary value and weight haven’t been accorded the respect and fame that i believe they deserve. among these other titles is a piece of writing entitled “autumnal tints”. the full text of this work (which by the way isn’t a substantial piece of writing in terms of its length but as you’ll see in giving it a read, its quality more than makes up for its diminished quantity) is available at:
here’s an image of some fallen leaves that i actually took last autumn.

on this beautiful autumn day, the trees have about two thirds of their leaf cover beneath them now - a mostly yellow and red carpet covering the still green grass and disturbed by the crazed squirrels who are rocketing to and fro in their quest to gather food for the inevitable return of winter. a good day to reflect on the wonder of thoreau’s immense writing skills. here’s a sample from “autumnal tints” an excerpt from “the red maple”

By the twenty-fifth of September, the Red Maples generally are beginning to be ripe. Some large ones have been conspicuously changing for a week, and some single trees are now very brilliant. I notice a small one, half a mile off across a meadow, against the green wood-side there, a far brighter red than the blossoms of any tree in summer, and more conspicuous. I have observed this tree for several autumns invariably changing earlier than its fellows, just as one tree ripens its fruit earlier than another. It might serve to mark the season, perhaps. I should be sorry, if it were cut down. I know of two or three such trees in different parts of our town, which might, perhaps, be propagated from, as early ripeners or September trees, and their seed be advertised in the market, as well as that of radishes, if we cared as much about them.
At present, these burning bushes stand chiefly along the edge of the meadows, or I distinguish them afar on the hill-sides here and there. Sometimes you will see many small ones in a swamp turned quite crimson when all other trees around are still perfectly green, and the former appear so much the brighter for it. They take you by surprise, as you are going by on one side, across the fields thus early in the season, as if it were some gay encampment of the red men, or other foresters, of whose arrival you had not heard.
Some single trees, wholly bright scarlet, seen against others of their kind still freshly green, or against evergreens, are more memorable than whole groves will be by-and-by. How beautiful, when a whole tree is like one great scarlet fruit full of ripe juices, every leaf, from lowest limb to topmost spire, all aglow, especially if you look toward the sun! What more remarkable object can there be in the landscape? Visible for miles, too fair to be believed. If such a phenomenon occurred but once, it would be handed down by tradition to posterity, and get into the mythology at last.
The whole tree thus ripening in advance of its fellows attains a singular preeminence, and sometimes maintains it for a week or two. I am thrilled at the sight of it, bearing aloft its scarlet standard for the regiment of green-clad foresters around, and I go half a mile out of my way to examine it. A single tree becomes thus the crowning beauty of some meadowy vale, and the expression of the whole surrounding forest is at once more spirited for it.”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

the romance of solitude

i may be unique in this respect . . . and if you find yourself disconnecting from the rest of this entry then i understand . . . but there are times when i really wish that i lived entirely alone. just for a while. guilt pecks at me almost instantly as i think that and then especially when i write it down and read it to myself, but it’s true. and it has been for almost all of my life. i love the feeling of peace when i can hear my own internal voice and a flow of thinking and feeling and being rushes through me undisturbed by those i love.

there are choices i have made that have undermined the practicality of that wish fulfillment - being a father would head the list - but i have had experiences that have underscored for me the power of being truly alone, and ideally in a place other than my home, my workplace, or anywhere deeply familiar that compel me to recognize the deep need to be alone. i believe that many people experience similar sentiments. particularly those surrounded internally and externally by the demands and expectations of the general public, in whatever form that takes.

i am thinking of one experience in particular on the north yorkshire moors many years ago while tramping my way from derbyshire to the south of scotland on the pennine way. i was walking with two other people - mike and ron - mike a senior bureaucrat in margaret thatcher’s government, and ron a former police officer. we had all met on a previous holiday i had enjoyed in england and had agreed that we would meet in edale (the start of the southern end of the pennine way) a year later on a specific date to take on the 275 miles of the pennine way.

on this particular day we were crossing a particularly treacherous stretch of the pennine way across open moorland scarred with what are called peat groughs. a grough is a feature of the erosion that takes place over years that leaves ditches anywhere from three or four to twenty feet deep across the moors. mike and ron had decided to go ahead for some reason and so left me walking alone with (i’m guessing) some sense of direction because otherwise it would have been foolish for me to have separated from them.

at one point i decided to stop. a heavy fog had set in and i was getting cold. anyone who knows the english damp, knows how quickly it wends its way through whatever layers of clothing you have and gnaws insistently at your bones, digging deep and silently reducing you to a shivering pathetic heap. i headed down the side of a deep grough and sat down and lit up a small burner stove i was carrying and put together a cup of tea. i was sipping on the tea when it suddenly came to me that i was alone. at the bottom of a dark black peat ditch in a thick fog.


it was silent. mist coiled slowly above my head and some worked its way less thickly into the bottom of the grough. a little fear entered me but just as quickly left. i stayed there about half an hour. i could have stayed longer. i don’t remember everything that i thought about as i sat there, but i do remember thinking about a time when my brother david and i built a tiny little house in a shed that was attached to the house we lived in in altrincham (england).

the little house was built out of pilfered materials from an adjacent construction supply firm. it had wobbly walls, a very unstable roof and a chimney made out of real bricks. of course it collapsed when we both tried to get inside and there was a bit of a scene around the possibility of serious injury but the coziness, the security of building that tiny little wombroom was so worth it. and as i sat at the bottom of the grough thinking about that tiny house i thought how amazing and wonderful and lovely it would be to build that structure - but a really solid and insulated version - right where i was sitting and live there. that’s almost certainly connected to my childhood reading and re-reading of clive king’s children’s book “stig of the dump”.

stig was a caveman who lived at the bottom of an old quarry close to a boy named barney's grandmother's house. since the quarry was no longer in use, people chucked all their garbage down there. barney found stig by falling through the roof of stig's den. barney and stig then had a number of adventures together. it got made into a television series in england in the early eighties apparently.

i’ve been alone at other times. experienced the rush of fear. let it pass. then i’ve heard the inner dialogue begin and the thrill of the openness, of the unlimited freedom that comes with not sharing myself with another person. i have been swept along by the rush of creativity and heightened awareness that comes with the opportunity to actually listen to and address my otherwise crowded out inner dialogue.

solitude is a tempting alternative. i also know how much i crave the immersion in the lives of those i love. a craving not entirely driven by guilt either!

i just wonder what it costs us to be as available as we are?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

my antonia

a chilly misty autumn morning. time to roll out of bed, turn on the furnace or light a fire in the fireplace, find a big chair and make yourself some tea or coffee and hunker in to a piece of writing as old as the hills and almost as beautiful.

author, willa cather is not an unknown quantity to me - by reputation - but i had never read any of her writing until by chance i recently stumbled across one of her books available through the wonderful people at project gutenberg. i started to read and literally couldn’t stop! I decided to order the book - it’s a small book actually - but i’d like you to experience a few little excerpts here and see if your own fancy is tickled in the same way as mine was.

first a little background about the author and especially about “my antonia”.

willa was born on december 7, 1873 in back creek valley, a tiny community near the blue ridge mountains in virginia. in 1883 her family moved to join willa's grandparents william and caroline and her uncle george in webster county, nebraska. quite a trek! a year later they moved to red cloud, a nearby railroad town, where her father opened a loan and insurance office. the family never became rich or influential, and willa attributed their lack of financial success to her father, whom she claimed placed intellectual and spiritual matters over the commercial. imagine!

her mother was mostly concerned with fashion and tried desperately to turn willa into "a lady", in spite of the fact that willa didn’t have a lot of interest in looking like or acting like the stereotypical girl of the time and cut her hair short and wore trousers. when one of willa's stories for a writing class got published, she discovered a passion for writing had been fermenting within her.

in 1917 she wrote my antonia while living in new hampshire.

here are some selected passages from my antonia by willa cather

“I tried to go to sleep, but the jolting made me bite my tongue, and I soon began to ache all over. When the straw settled down, I had a hard bed. Cautiously I slipped from under the buffalo hide, got up on my knees and peered over the side of the wagon. There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made. No, there was nothing but land--slightly undulating, I knew, because often our wheels ground against the brake as we went down into a hollow and lurched up again on the other side. I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man's jurisdiction. I had never before looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it.”

“Alone, I should never have found the garden--except, perhaps, for the big yellow pumpkins that lay about unprotected by their withering vines--and I felt very little interest in it when I got there. I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass.”

“I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin. There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit. I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines. The gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground. There in the sheltered draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses wave. The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”

“As we walked homeward across the fields, the sun dropped and lay like a great golden globe along the west. While it hung there, the moon rose in the east, as big as a cartwheel, pale silver and streaked with rose color, thin as a bubble or a ghost moon. For five, perhaps ten minutes, the two luminaries confronted each other across the level land, resting on opposite edges of the world. In that singular light every tree and shock of wheat, every sunflower stalk and clump of snow-on-the-mountain, drew itself up high and pointed; the very clods and furrows in the fields seemed to stand up sharply. I felt the old pull of the earth, the solemn magic that comes out of those fields at night-fall. I wished I could be a little boy again, and that my way could end there.”
-from My Antonia by Willa Cather

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

high school - reality and fantasy

it's dark outside and the gentle pitter patter of rain on the roof means it's going to be a rainy ride into school today. that's alright. i just have to pack a change of clothes .....

today's post is gonna be a bit of whinge. what's a whinge you ask? well it's a whine with edge. you see, this one's about a feature of steven's high school life, a subject that he rarely broaches because it is a dark and murky little alleyway along the journey of his life and while filled with interesting insights, it is delivered in an almost undecipherable internal code that likely means nothing to anyone but the most accomplished therapist. in sum, it is a dark, gloomy, sorry-for-itself ramble that leaves you gasping for air, light, and spiritual sustenance.

still not put off? then read on.

for many people i have met and currently know, high school - that time of your life between the ages of fourteen and (at the time) nineteen- when you finally blossom into the lovely, wonderful, world-changing, creative person that you actually are - is a time of fun, riotous parties, relationships,and a pinch of schoolwork thrown in that you nail with alacrity. it is the time when you leave pimples, awkwardness, and insecurity behind along with a heap of poetry, crushes, report cards, and memories that you will draw on for the rest of your life.

my own experience was not entirely pleasant and memorable to be honest. i was glad to see the end of it. the high school i attended was probably relatively normal, average, but it didn't suit me at all. that this was as much of my own making as it was of the school goes without saying. a lot of the time i was intellectually above it all (my marks disprove this assertion but i believed it all the same) as i watched fellow students do what they were told, avoid expressing any of their own uniqueness and most definitely, spend the copious amounts of money that they had on lunches, dinners, and evenings out galavanting around with each other.

among the many ego-crushing experiences i had while at high school, i can still vividly recall the moment when i discovered that i was in a school that had kids who owned their own cars - and when i say cars i mean - mgb’s, a jag, and a bevy of vans. the "poor kids" had old but working vehicles. my own means of transportation at that time? well i had three: my feet, my parent’s car (which they drove) and my trusty golden orange raleigh three speed bicycle. oh, and the city bus. the kids came from an area that housed a mixture of nouveau riche and lower middle class families more-or-less side by side. the disparities were visible and difficult for any kid still on the "where's my gravy train?" route favoured by kids in western society.

this severely hampered many of my needs and ambitions at the time. you can create your own list of what those needs and ambitions might be. anything you put on your list was almost definitely on mine!

high school was a very slowly unfolding nightmare for me with very few highlights and (as i mentioned earlier) even fewer memories that i can say i’d wish to revisit. i immersed myself in many worlds - art, music, poetry, car design and others - all in an attempt to distance myself from the perceived enemy and to declare myself wholly and entirely unique . . . which i was regardless of what i did or how i acted or what i said or how i dressed or behaved. but you can’t tell a high school student that can you? i wouldn’t have heard you if you tried.

so i dreamt and wished and hoped the most unrealistic of dreams and thoughts and wishes and hopes among which was the most fervent desire to pull up at my school in a car so incredible that no one - not the richest kid, let alone the most miserable teacher - who drove a triumph tr6 by the way - could ignore. in showing up in my exotic fantasy mobile i would pull the loveliest girl, wow every guy on the football team and leave the teachers in awe of me. or so i fantasized.

growing up and dealing with the realities of life is a double-edged sword. on the one hand you get to leave behind the unfortunate by-products of your previous sorry existence, on the other hand you have to acknowledge the emptiness of your misguided ambitions, the purposelessness of “making a point”.

eventually, when all of this becomes either a sudden, (or more kindly) a slow realization, it is accompanied by the spectacle of balloons bursting all over, kites careening earthward, trains crashing . . . well you get the idea.

frankly i’m well past caring about all of that now, but at the time it was so powerful and so all-encompassing - to prove myself more worthy and more . . . more than any of them.

so i’ll share the cars that were meant to vault me beyond the shallowness of the quarterback, to cause my teachers who understandably held me in low regard to reconsider the error of their ways, and most especially to cause the most stunning girls to find me almost if not entirely impossible to resist.

the de tomaso pantera. ford engined, low slung, stylish. who could resist the throaty rumble of its huge exhaust, the fat tires, the italianate styling?

the nova kitcar. kitcars were a big item in the early to mid seventies. get an old clapped out volkswagen or whatever, and slap an exotic looking body on it and away you go. this one has the really cool eye-catching feature of a totally unique entrance and exit. you see it has no doors - you lift the entire roof or "canopy" up to get in and out ....... (see below)

the lotus esprit. a truly beautiful car (at the time) with the unmistakable lotus cache and then too styling that really stands out from the pack.

but the primo uno massivo splendido dream car of steven's high school years was the lamborghini urraco. at a time when lamborghini wasn't a household word. when you didn't have a million and one kids going to wal mart to buy the latest lamborghini concept car in whatever scale model they wish, this was a car and a brand that was thoroughly unique, cutting edge, stunningly attractive, and while not blindingly fast, it looked fast even standing still. i'd still like one of these actually.

Monday, October 22, 2007

popsicle sticks, train tickets, and matches

it's monday - it's pitch black outside - not even a flicker of sunlight and i haven't heard the first robin's fart yet so i'm assuming i'm up too early or something's gone wrong with the big clock. no matter. today’s entry celebrates the “reuse” portion of the environmental mantra "reduce reuse recycle".

to open, we have a replica viking longboat made out of 15 million popsicle sticks! no really. read that again, because i tell you no lies - popsicle sticks!! the ship was painstakingly glued together over a period of two years by three people including someone named robert mcdonald who is apparently a hollywood stuntman.

the sticks were collected and posted to him by children all over the world. mr. mcdonald hopes to sail the 15m (50ft) ship across the atlantic. i think it would be an amazing achievement and i would guess through his vocation that fear and earthly attachments are not a big concern and so he will likely attempt this journey.

"it's a dream come true. it's truly worth all the hard work," said mr mcdonald, quoted by reuters news agency. "i never want to look at glue again. i don't think i will be in a hurry to look at ice cream sticks again."

i wish him well and trust that he didn’t use water soluble glue and that he thoroughly washed all traces of creamsicle off the sticks so as not to attract any of the larger ocean dwellers who might have a sweet tooth. the 45-year-old, from jacksonville, florida, is president of the sea heart foundation, an organisation which runs projects for children in need.

next up is an art masterpiece made from discarded train tickets. how cool is this?! employees at a department store in osaka, japan, built a 2.3 x 1.6 metre replica of da vinci's mona lisa with nothing more than old train tickets - several hundred thousand of them. amazingly, 300 workers spent about 3 months to recreate this masterpiece by meticulously overlapping the black and white tickets.

i have many questions for this crew but the first one is, why would japanese workers recreate the mona lisa? why not something by hokusai? hmmmmm. still, it’s very cool and fairly high up the cleverness quotient scale.

finally. now this is more like it! a replica of the taj mahal “the monument to love” built out of one of the more unromantic objects on the planet - matchsticks. ron savoury- a retired gentleman hailing from an anonymous location in england - spent an inordinate amont of time chopping the heads off matchsticks and then gluing the remaing splintery little body parts together.
questions i have for ron? well, i wonder what the people at the corner store thought when he kept showing up every saturday morning and buying them out of matchsticks? also, i would love to know where the bazillion little bits of flammable substance went! i bet there's a garden shed at the end of his lawn just waiting to be england's first serious entry in the put a man on mars race!

i bet that dusting this thing is a labour of love - and no doubt accompanied by a modicom of fear. you wouldn’t want to snag anything on your duster now would you!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

an autumn sunday

sunday - today lived up to its billing as a sun day, the sky was cloudless. the wind blew every which way and tossed all the trees around. if it wasn't for the fact that i turned the heat on first thing this morning, i could have looked outside and easily imagined it was another lovely summer day. which amazingly it became as the day progressed. an unconditional gift from mother earth.

yep, it’s really autumn now . . . . . cold nights and relatively warm days and of course the leaves blowing bright orange and red and dotted yellow across the still bright green grass. autumn connects in many parts of the world with harvest. as a child i loved going into the church’s on my grandfather’s circuit at this time because the women's guild would place arrangements of vegetables and fruit and flowers and grain around the church, and there would be a quality of light and colour in the building that was distinct and connected as much to the earth as to heaven. for a boy unused to displays of food, the voluptuous and carefully arranged bouquets and cornucopias were amazing.

the harvest festival extends back to pre-christian times of course but has become more formalized such that nowadays, harvest festivals are traditionally held on or near the sunday of the harvest moon. this is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (about sept. 23). in two years out of three, the harvest moon comes in september, but in some years it occurs in october.

in canada we eventually celebrate this as thanksgiving - an event that has been tied in to some degree to the american celebration. thanksgiving. i wonder how many people are actually thankful that we have this incredible bounty of food and beauty at our disposal?

linked into nature's bounty and the harvest time, here's a previously referred to moment from mary webb's book "precious bane".
"the roof came down to the floor all round and all the beams and rafters were oak and the floor went up and down like stormy water. the apples and pears had their places according to kind all round the room. there were codlins and golden pippins, brown russets and scarlet crabs, ciffits, nonpareils, and queenings big green bakers, pear-mains and red streaks. we had a mort of pears too, for in such an old garden, always in the family, every generation 'll put in a few trees. we had worcester pears and butter pears, jargonelle, bergamot, and good christian. just after the last gathering the attic used to be as bright as a church window, all reds and golds." (mary webb; "precious bane" available on virago modern classics)

william yeats’ poem the wild swans at coole . . . almost done to an early death at the hands of an earnest and dedicated english teacher while i was in high school, resurfaced for a more mature man’s appreciation this morning, and so i’ll share it here as a place for reflection.

the wild swans at coole

the trees are in their autumn beauty,
the woodland paths are dry,
under the october twilight the water
mirrors a still sky;
upon the brimming water among the stones
are nine and fifty swans.
the nineteenth autumn has come upon me
since I first made my count;
i saw, before I had well finished,
all suddenly mount
and scatter wheeling in great broken rings
upon their clamorous wings.
i have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
and now my heart is sore.
all’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
the first time on this shore,
the bell-beat of their wings above my head,
trod with a lighter tread.
unwearied still, lover by lover,
they paddle in the cold,
companionable streams or climb the air;
their hearts have not grown old;
passion or conquest, wander where they will,
attend upon them still.
but now they drift on the still water
mysterious, beautiful;
among what rushes will they build,
by what lake’s edge or pool
delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
to find they have flown away?

william butler yeats
here are images from the unfolding evening.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

precious bane

"The past is only the present become invisible and mute; and because it is invisible and mute, its memorized glances and its murmurs are infinitely precious. We are tomorrow's past."
Mary Webb

the author of those words is one of my favourite writers. relatively unknown - particularly outside of great britain - mary was born in march of 1881 in shropshire. her father ran a boarding school and was a great lover of poetry, art, and nature. mary was greatly influenced by him and loved to wander in shropshire fields, woods and lanes, studying the natural wonders of her environment. she developed an incredible sensitivity to and awareness of minute detail in nature, which is reflected throughout her poetry and prose.

her writing captures an england that is almost entirely gone.

mary published several books including "the golden arrow", "gone to earth", "the house in dormer forest", "seven for a secret", and her most widely known, "precious bane".

mary’s writing is rich and detailed and unashamedly romantic. not in the sense of romance as so many people experience it in literature, but as a depiction of the echo we sense in nature of our deep passions. the incredible detail in her writing slows the reading process down and you find yourself rereading sections of her work just to unravel the visual tapestry she has crafted and not miss some finer detail.

mary's writing is perfectly complimented in my opinion by the viewing of the paintings of helen allingham. helen grew up in the same town as i did - altrincham - a cheshire market town dating back in the legal records to the year 1290, but there is evidence to suggest that people lived there when the romans were in england. helen lived in altrincham roughly one hundred years before i did and is likely one of the more widely known people to have emerged from the town.

here are some paintings by helen. i should add that these are not fanciful works as much as a record of buildings and situations that helen documented. the first entitled "the briars" is a building that apparently still stands more or less as is depicted in this artwork.

this painting is entitled "in wormley wood".

wormley wood is an ancient woodland in hertforshire that has been managed for timber production since the middle ages.
here is one of my favourite allingham paintings, "blackdown from whitley common".

if you would like to see more of helen's artwork then go here:
a site devoted to mary webb’s work has been created and at that site you can find a thorough overview of her work as well as sample chapters, a short story, and some of her poems.
go here:

here’s a sample of mary’s writing from her book “precious bane”. precious bane tells the story of a woman born with a harelip. in nineteenth century england, a harelip was regarded as a curse and suggested that the person was almost certainly possessed with the ability to place curses on others. in this story, the protagonist “prue” finds solace in her illumined inner world, particularly in the apple-filled attic of her home where she experiences a sort of mystical intuition, a 'blessedness' she might not have found but for her 'hare-shotten lip'. prue's inner radiance is noticed by the travelling weaver, kester woodseaves, whose love for her becomes 'the one maister-thread of pure gold'.
like kester the weaver, the story takes several plain threads - the threads of ordinary people's lives - and through webb's masterful weaving emerges a tapestry that is hard to forget.

Book 1 Chapter 1
“It was at a love-spinning that I saw Kester first. And if, in these new-fangled days, when strange inventions crowd upon us, when I hear tell there is even a machine coming into use in some parts of the country for reaping and mowing, if those that mayhappen will read this don't know what a love-spinning was, they shall hear in good time. But though it was Jancis Beguildy's love-spinning, she being three-and-twenty at that time and I being two years less, yet that is not the beginning of the story I have set out to tell.
Kester says that all tales, true tales or romancings, go farther back than the days of the child; aye, farther even than the little babe in its cot of rushes. Maybe you never slept in a cot of rushes; but all of us did at Sarn. There is such a plenty of rushes at Sarn, and old Beguildy's missus was a great one for plaiting them on rounded barrel-hoops. Then they'd be set on rockers, and a nice clean cradle they made, soft and green, so that the babe could feel as big-sorted as a little caterpillar (painted butterflies-as-is-to-be, Kester calls them) sleeping in its cocoon. Kester's very set about such things. Never will he say caterpillars. He'll say, 'There's a lot of butter-flies-as-is-to-be on our cabbages, Prue.' He won't say 'It's winter.' He'll say, 'Summer's sleeping.' And there's no bud little enough nor sad-coloured enough for Kester not to callen it the beginnings of the blow.
But the time is not yet come for speaking of Kester. It is the story of us all at Sarn, of Mother and Gideon and me, and Jancis (that was so beautiful), and Wizard Beguildy, and the two or three other folk that lived in those parts, that I did set out to tell. There were but a few, and maybe always will be, for there's a discouragement about the place. It may be the water lapping, year in and year out - everywhere you look and listen, water; or the big trees waiting and considering on your right hand and on your left; or the unbreathing quiet of the place, as if it was created but an hour gone, and not created for us. Or it may be that the soil is very poor and marshy, with little nature or goodness in the grass, which is ever so where reeds and rushes grow in plenty, and the flower of the paigle. Happen you call it cowslip, but we always named it the paigle, or keys of heaven. It was a wonderful thing to see our meadows at Sarn when the cowslip was in blow. Gold-over they were, so that you would think not even an angel's feet were good enough to walk there. You could make a tossy-ball before a thrush had gone over his song twice, for you'd only got to sit down and gather with both hands. Every way you looked there was naught but gold, saving towards Sarn, where the woods began, and the great stretch of grey water, gleaming and wincing in the sun. Neither woods nor water looked darksome in that fine spring weather, with the leaves coming new, and buds the colour of corn in the birch-tops. Only in our oak wood there was always a look of the back-end of the year, their young leaves being so brown. So there was always a breath of October in our May. But it was a pleasant thing to sit in the meadows and look away to the far hills. The larches spired up in their quick green, and the cowslip gold seemed to get into your heart, and even Sarn Mere was nothing but a blue mist in a yellow mist of birch-tops. And there was such a dream on the place that if a wild bee came by, let alone a bumble, it startled you like a shout. If a bee comes in at the window now to my jar of gillyflowers, I can see it all in clear colours, with Plash lying under the sunset, beyond the woods, looking like a jagged piece of bottle glass. Plash Mere was bigger than Sarn, and there wasn't a tree by it, so where there were no hills beyond it you could see the clouds rooted in it on the far side, and I used to think they looked like the white water-lilies that lay round the margins of Sarn half the summer through. There was nothing about plash that was different from any other lake or pool. There was no troubling of the waters, as at Sarn, nor any village sounding its bells beneath the furthest deeps. It was true, what folks said of Sarn, that there was summat to be felt there.”

i have reread this book five times that i can remember. mary webb died almost unrecognized as an author and yet ironically, very shortly after her death she was mentioned in a speech by the then prime minister and almost immediately achieved a fame denied her through her life. through the nineteen thirties she was a best seller. her fame reignited in the late eighties and nineties.
all of her books are available through the usual sources.

Friday, October 19, 2007

happy birthday mum

on this day a very long time ago my mother entered this world into the arms of a woman name irene - a baker’s daughter - and a father named harold, who among other things was a lay preacher.

through her life my mother has been a person whom i can look to when i wonder how i will ever make it through the stumbling blocks that life sends my way. my mother has invariably pushed through or climbed over whatever got in her way. through reflecting upon her example i have often found the strength to trust in the process of my becoming regardless of the challenges placed before me that sometimes seem insurmountable.

i learned much about who i wish to be through her commitment to charitable work, her personal presence, her unflagging devotion to her friends, and her deep commitment to a family that has never been a family in the form she might wish. in the same way, i have learned much of my work ethic through observing the form her labour took as a personal secretary over many decades while working in a world that doesn't fully accept the notion that the quality of your work is a reflection and extension of who you are.

i am grateful for the many life affirming and life changing experiences that she has given me - many of which were onerous to both she and i at the time but which in retrospect were wise and fruitful decisions that have allowed me to move along my appointed paths. i am also grateful that when she had the opportunity (and just cause) she didn’t cut short my earthly visit!

on my mother’s birthday today i offer my deepest gratitude for the labour of love she incurred and eventually accepted through my wishing to be in this world.

thank you mum.

i love you.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


there's a thick fog inside my head this morning that exactly parallels the thick fog outside. so today i'm going to tell you about a product that will enter this house shortly. a product i have known about for some time but which i know i need now.

many years ago a colleague entered the xerox room at my school wearing a cap to which was attached a small light that shone directly into his eyes. hmmmmm thought i. the man is wacky anyway so what harm is there in finding out what this is all about. well it turns out he had been diagnosed with s.a.d. or seasonal affective disorder. for those of you oblivious through geographical fortune or through some genetic malfunction that allows you to enjoy the many months of gloom and darkness that we experience here in southern ontario, seasonal affective disorder is an insidious little beast also known as winter depression.
the icelandic word for this is "skammdegisthunglyndi". "skamm" means short, "degi" is day, "thung" is heavy and "lyndi" means mood
people who get it are often bouncy, lively, jovial souls until the winter sets in and then ..... right down the pipes they go. s.a.d. can become a very serious issue with hospitalization and even suicide in extreme cases. documentation exists to show that this is a much more prevalent concern in the northern latitudes.
so what can be done about this?
well light therapy has been clinically available for some time but it is prohibitively expensive and relatively public. so if you prefer to treat this condition privately and without incurring a massive debt you might be interested in this companies’ products.
go here to learn about the details of their products and the technology behind them:
go here to buy a product if you live in canada
this is the one that will shortly be purchased, put to the test, and reported on for the benefit of all of my readers as winter unfolds and envelops and compresses steven’s inner burning flame!

here’s what the litebook people say about my fave litebook product:

“The Litebook® Elite™ is the new generation of light therapy, the result of years of research and development in hand-held light therapy devices. This new model features a custom lens and diffusion system which, combined with the high-performance white LEDs that all Litebook products are known for, produces a uniform field of bright yet soothing light. Additional new features for the Elite™ include a multiple-setting timer (15-30-45-60 minutes) and a long-lasting built-in rechargeable lithium-ION battery with a charge indicator – all of this in a compact, sleek, new design which fits into your lifestyle. When used everyday, the Litebook® Elite™ will improve your mood, increase your energy level and restore your sleep patterns. Most people notice results within 30 days - often sooner.
Suggested Retail Price:
$199.00 Cdn”

litebook offers a variety of products that will address your very real need for light in such a way as to discretely and reasonably offer you light therapy and perhaps spare you the agony of winter depression.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

time magazine: eco rebels article

the golden fish's west coast correspondent ali has supplied a link that leads to a time magazine article entitled "eco rebels" that posits a degree (no pun intended but actually a really good pun when you think about it) of acceptance of climate change and proposes that instead of a "let's make everything neat and tidy like it was when leave it to beaver was the big show" we work towards developing equipment, buildings, transportation and lifestyles, using an apollo space program like approach by sinking billions into research and development with an eye to manufacturing "green" objects.

for more go here:,9171,1668475,00.htm

Let me know what you think . . . . .

mazda taiki the concept of flow

biodesign - well we’ve been surrounded by it for as long as there have been human beings sharing this planet and yet it seems that it is only recently that the extraordinary achievements of the little creatures around us have not only been recognized but utilized in solving problems related to materials, structure, and design itself.

i love design of any kind - well clever design that is - that grows from a concept removed from any sort of discussion around “niche market”. not that good design doesn’t come out of deliberately planning, developing, and promoting something specifically geared toward a group of people but it’s nice to know that in a time when it is hard to sell the almost irrational, off centre, simply clever ideas that are emerging in response to the need for greater fuel efficiency and environmental considerations, someone is stepping out of the box and allowing truly creative design to happen. that it is unfettered by the usual restrictions that prevent both the practical and aesthetic needs of the world that is slowly working its way towards us to be addressed is also refreshing.

one such design that i came across recently is the mazda taiki. outwardly similar to designs developed by colani (see below), the taiki, is a mazda concept vehicle designed around the concept of "flow" which as you can see in its styling has as much to do with water or air as it does with the movement of clothing. “taiki” in japanese means atmosphere, with the design inspired by the flowing robes known as hagoromo. japanese theatre is filled with plays whose plots revolve around hagoromo as intermediaries between celestial maidens and simple men. nice metaphor.

this very lovely two-seater sports coupe features a next-generation rotary engine, in a front-engine, rear-wheel drive format.

i mentioned colani earlier and i think that if the taiki appeals to you in any way, or even if it makes you wonder at the thinking behind that sort of design, then go here:
in this movie you will see and hear colani himself - apparently a “mad inventor” but be warned - the exterior presence of colani is a sham. this is a brilliant and very successful man.
go here for his “visions”:
go here for products bearing his style stamp:
go here for a colani transportation exhibition:

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

my delight

ever since i was very young i have been drawn to images of bluebell woods. my parents had a print hanging in our home in england that has imprinted itself on my consciousness. here's a lovely pic also from england.

and for a frosty tuesday morning here in peterpatch, here's a romantic heartwarming poem.

My Delight and Thy Delight

MY delight and thy delight
Walking, like two angels white,
In the gardens of the night:

My desire and thy desire
Twinning to a tongue of fire,
Leaping live, and laughing higher;
Through the everlasting strife
In the mystery of life.

Love, from whom the world begun,
Hath the secret of the sun.

Love can tell and love alone,
Whence the million stars are strewn,
Why each atom knows its own.

This he taught us, this we knew,
Happy in his science true,
Hand in hand as we stood
'Neath the shadows of the wood,
Heart to heart as we lay
In the dawning of the day.

Robert Bridges

the image of a bluebell wood is courtesy of the clever souls at

Monday, October 15, 2007

blog action day: the environment

today is blog action day, an event coordinated by the people here:

on this day, some fifteen thousand bloggers have committed to provide writing or images with a focus on the environment.

i took this photograph last year. it’s a day lily petal up very close. its mother plant lives in my garden in a bed of river pebbles.

i like to think that in my use of the term environment (which is not entirely limited to describing the earth, air, land, and water i live in, on, beside, and around. which i care for, damage, use, love, forget about, immerse myself in, celebrate, teach about, photograph, protect myself from, play with, rearrange and so on), i like to think that everything i write about is connected to it, describes it, celebrates it and so on because the environment for me is everything from the bacteria in my intestines to the cats-eye nebula. and everything in-between and everything else that i don’t even know to know about.

i should mention here that when i first responded to this opportunity, i wrote a lengthy diatribe on the environment. on political, social, fiscal, economic, and social responsibility. you have likely already read such things and so i blew it off. you have better things to do than read my bogus rant i am sure. instead, i sat back and let the red edge of anti-them bravado leave my thinking and allowed my own knowing of what is right and good to enter my conscious mind.

and so.

in my own life i know that a small act of kindness, or goodness, or quality is indistinguishable from a large act of quality. acts of quality are not bound by the terms of quantity and so are immeasurable. therefore what might appear to be a small act and what might be described as a large act are in fact indistinguishable.

and so i engage in small acts of change which incrementally amount to something. some of those acts are practical and measurable. some of those acts are simply necessary. some of them are kites, flown high on unseen currents and carried along
without my direct influence, connected to me by a slender thread from sky to earth. intuitively, those are the ones that are causing real change. i’ll never know in the way that a dragonfly beating its wings by the edge of a little stream will never know that it has contributed to the onset of a cyclone in the south china sea.


a robert fripp aphorism which i have taped to my desk;

The way we describe our world shows how we think of our world.
How we think of our world directs how we interpret our world.
How we interpret our world governs how we participate in it.
How we participate in the world shapes the world.

in my life i try to bring some small measure of goodness into the world through my work, my play, and my being. it is about offering possibilities to the people around me that they can then embrace as their own, discard as superfluous, tickle and refine and then call them their own, whatever works for them. this blog is one small part of my work as a person to offer possibilities. our work in caring for this world in detail and in its entirety is contained in the moment, in the care full act, in the love we give.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

beautiful mud

there’s something elemental about playing with mud, or clay that almost everyone i know has experienced (or is experiencing all over again as an adult) and recalls as one of the more wonderful memories they have. i still see children - and sometimes adults - playing on muddy hillsides or slopes, shaping the paths of little rain-driven rivulets, redirecting the flow of water, building miniature dams and waiting ‘till they overflow or burst their muddy little walls and unleash a torrent of muddy water on the sleeping ants and worms downriver.

a favourite memory of mine connected to clay stems from my first experience with a day camp. located amazingly enough right next to the don valley parkway in toronto, camp mildalaca as it was called brought together kids from several don mills neighbourhoods and put them in an outdoor setting featuring tents, and a huge fire circle, arts and crafts, swimming (in a nearby pool), archery, hikes through the don valley. all-in-all it was an amazing experience.

one experience that really sticks with me though (pun unintended but still pretty good!) is a day on which we were invited to leave the area of the camp and walk over to the shore of a tributary of the don river. in a little beach area bounded by an area of undercut shoreline my group gathered to scoop handfuls of soft grey clay. each of us scooped up the slippery shiny muck and rolled it in the palms of our hands into a fist sized ball. later when we returned to the camp area we made little ashtrays or bowls and after they had dried painted them with flowers and zig zag lines. we took them home and gave them to our parents who dutifully put them on display and later - well who knows where they all are now?

it might have been such an experience that led someone long ago to formalize the process of playing and shaping clay into a quasi artform named hikoru dorodango.

william gibson, the brilliant canadian cyberpunk author hailing from british columbia described it this way: “"[A]n artifact of such utter simplicity and perfection that it seems it must be either the first object or the last..."

at some point i’ll really write about william gibson but for now go here to read gibson’s essay about the japanese pursuit of perfection which focusses on hikoru dorodango:

and then go here for a really beautiful site devoted to the same subject:

for those of you having difficulty imagining anyone writing about shiny mud balls then read these articles and see how the notion of mud perfected is embedded in a larger cultural state in which meaning can be created from our encounters with the apparently meaningless or worthless.

for those of you interested in skipping past the cerebrality of it all and wishing to just get on with it, instructions for making your own shiny mudball can be found here or right below!

Text and images below courtesy of the good people at

here are the instructions for creating your very own hikoru dorodango.

Step 1: Create the Mud
In a clean container, add water to the dirt. The ratio of water to dirt will vary depending on the type of dirt. Start by adding a small amount of water, mix, and slowly add more water until the mud reaches an even consistency, similar to dough.

Step 2: Create the Core:
Grab a handful of mud and begin to shape it into a sphere with both hands, squeeze out as much water as you can. Eliminate irregularities from the mass by gently shaking it. The vibration removes voids, increases surface moisture, and facilitates compaction. As you shape/shake the mud, clayey particles will migrate to the surface, forming a slip layer that will make it easier to smooth the mass into a sphere. Proceed to Step 3 when the ball becomes tacky to the touch.

Step 3: Create Preliminary Capsule
Holding the ball in one hand, grab handfuls of dirt with the other and sprinkle the dirt over the ball. With your thumb, gently sweep the excess off, rotating the ball as you do so. Use the outer curvature of your thumb, near the base, to do this. Fumio Kayo has a great video that demonstrates this technique. The newly added dirt will absorb the surface moisture very quickly. Work the ball to point where it retains its shape but isn't so dry that cracks begin to form.

Step 4: Draw the Moisture Out
Insert the ball into a plastic bag. At first, you will only need to do this for 20 minutes or so. Be careful to lay the ball on something soft to prevent a flat area from forming. Water will condense on the inside of the bag and the surface of the ball will become wet again. Remove the ball and repeat Step 3. Return the ball to the bag before cracks begin to appear.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the ball begins to feel leather-hard to the touch. You will find that it takes longer for water to condense on the inside of the bag - you can accelerate the process at this point by putting the bag and dorodango in the refrigerator. Note: This will cause the water to condense very quickly, be careful to remove it before too much water condenses out - it will dissolve the ball where it gathers at the bottom of the bag.

Step 5: Create Final Capsule Layer
The brilliant shine of the dorodango is created by applying a final layer of extremely fine particles of dirt. I use two different methods to do this:
On-Site - When you have unlimited access to the dirt that you're working with, simply pat the dry dirt lightly with your hand. Gently rub the fine particles that stick to your hand over the ball.
Off-Site - When you have limited access to the dirt you're working with, screen the dirt into a plastic container with a lid - a regular window screen works fine. Place the lid on the container and shake. Note: If the lid of the container doesn't seal completely, be sure to wear a dust mask. Wait a few minutes for the dust to settle. Remove the lid; there should be an abundance of very fine dust sticking to the sides. Rub the dust into the ball.
Continue this process until the surface moisture of the ball has been completely absorbed (it looks and feels powdery). Insert the ball into a new plastic bag. Repeat this step as many times as possible to create a thick capsule. When the fine particles no longer adhere to the surface of the ball after you take it out of the bag, you're ready to begin polishing.

Step 6: Polishing
Remove the ball from the bag and let it dry for 20 minutes. Polish with a soft cloth - carefully at first - if any moisture is present, the cloth will mar the surface. Polish or buff more vigorously once the ball is dry.

and here is what you can end up with depending on the type of mud you find in your neighbourhood and then also, depending on the type of dedication you have to achieve this truly spectacular end.