Monday, January 31, 2011

Forests and Woods

The papers have been full this week end of the proposed forest sell offs, which the conservative government is proposing.  They will have a fight on their hands because a large amount of people do not believe their rather feeble arguments that privatisation  of the forests is for the good of everyone.   We now  have a public consultation on the subject, which are next to useless, governments still go ahead with plans whatever the public says, but I have a feeling there will have to be a lot of compromise. Both the following articles make pleas for woodland and coppicing, an old tradition that could well be used today to safeguard some of the flora to be found in our old woodlands.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ruth Fuller Sasaki

Ryoan-ji rock garden

My partner, who I shall call LS from now on, is a fount of knowledge on many things Japanese, mostly because he lived in Japan as a conservator for 20 years.  Well not exactly all that time, for when he arrived, age 20 and penniless, he became a Zen Buddhist lay monk at the Ryozen-an temple in Kyoto,  I think he found the strictures a bit hard, but his tales from this particular period are interesting.
He lived in a small hut just by the gardens of the temple, very cold and seemingly full of strange large insects such as a 6 inch poisonous centipede (fancy all those little legs scurrying over you at night) and an outside hole in a hut for a loo.  He starved on a diet of peanut butter and apples so I am informed, there was no money for food but the small amount his father sent monthly plus any money made teaching English to Japanese students.

Now this was the decade of the 1960s, when everything was on the move, young people were not only 'hippyish' but were also actively seeking out new religions and beliefs, my own half-brother, who was a so-called drug addict, was occasionally brought back to my grandfathers house to 'dry out' from squats in London, or even at one stage someone had to go to India to bring, or at least to rescue him from I suspect a 'guru' and his menage. My Canadian sister-in-law later on was also to go seeking a guru on some Pacific Island leaving behind her 3 children and husband, so this touched many families.

But I stray from the subject matter of the title, Ruth Fuller Sasaki, who intrigued me and was the person who invited LS to be a lay monk after he had written to her.  She was American and in a way was influential behind the movement of Buddhism in America in the 1950s, she had married a Buddhist priest, Sasaki though he died within a year but he was one of the first Japanese masters to teach Buddhism in America a Japanese Rinzai (one of three sects of Zen)  roshi (old teacher, old master); explanations are sometimes necessary! so Sasaki was a teacher of Rinzai.

When Ruth Fuller settled in Kyoto she became a priestess at the large Daitoku-ji temple which had 22 sub-temples, one of which was the Ryozen-an temple, she did not fulfil the role of a priestess however because as she said "because I was a foreigner, a woman, untrained in temple procedures, and because I needed the years left me to carry on the work of spreading Zen to the west."

Daitoku-ji temple

At Ryozen-an, apart from LS, there were other western lay-monks, Gary Snyder for one, and as he is a great hero of mine I was intrigued as to what he was like.  He lived in a small house in the larger precincts of Daitoku-ji, with his then wife, a poet called Joanne Kyger,*  As he was bi-lingual he was, with two other Americans, translating the works of an earlier monk under the leadership of Ruth Fuller, called the "Record of Rinzai".  Now this was in 1961, and apparently Ruth Fuller accused one of the Americans of stealing the text, Snyder resigned in protest, and it looks like he took a trip to India at this point with Joanne, for he wrote a book called "Passage through India", which was reissued in 2007.

 LS did'nt go to Kyoto till 1966, so Gary Snyder must have returned by then and continued his translating at the Ryozen-an temple, apparently he had a large motor bike, on which he would take friends either up the hills or down into town to a coffee shop. Hopefully in November this year we will take a trip to see the temples. Everyone's life moved on, two of LSs friends have moved to Hawai, another back to America to make pots.  His life also sounds interesting, for he built a wooden house at a place called Bizen so that he could make pots and fire them in his kiln.  There is an old news article about Ruth Fuller, which LS found yesterday, she is tall and graceful in her monk robes and rather beautiful.

Like my previous article on the green 'back to the earth' movements written earlier, there was a corresponding, and very much stronger movement in America, a backlash also against the Vietnamese war.

Photos from Wikipedia Creative Commons
* Though apparently he was'nt married to Joanne for long and had remarried a Japanese girl;

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

John Seymour and self sufficient communities

A couple of days ago whilst hunting through the news I came across an article on the Brecklands that borders the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk, a rather desert like heath landscape you drive though. It has Thetford Forest as part of its territory and of course also Grimes Graves, prehistoric mines. Only of note in the archaeological record is that the scotch pine trees are being cleared from around the mines.

I had known it from years back, when we went to excavate at Castle Acre priory, but it was here that John Seymour lived for several years in a large rented cottage with his then wife and daughters.

He is the great guru of the self-sufficiency movement, and his books are classics. In them you will find the whole armoury of making things, be they baskets, blacksmithing, growing food, killing your produce and farming on a small scale. It is surprising really that he chose to live in this bleak landscape, its fertility quickly drained away through the porous sands, and he did eventually move on to Wales, the home of self-sufficient escapists, still today of course.

It brings to mind Tony Wrench in his roundhouse under the Preseli mountains, a hard life for most of us and still living on borrowed time from the council and eviction.

Being self-sufficient is hard work, if you want wood you have to find it and chop the logs for winter, growing your own means that there is a limited amount of greenstuff in winter, and unless you are prepared to give your chickens some light in winter – no eggs. Yet living lightly on the Earth is important, that is what the whole green culture is about, it probably only suits a very small number of people but some communities like Tinkers Bubble in Somerset have been going for quite a while.

Sally Seymour, John Seymour's first wife illustrated occasionally for his books, and perhaps it is these illustrations that capture the essence of relying on ones own skills, they are packed with information, given a brown overtone to give the impression of 'old worlde', at least that how it seems to me.  She was also a potter, and her daughter lives near to Carn Ingli, running a small printing press with her husband given over to her parent's work.

 Of course this is a favourite part of my world, Preseli Hills with its bleak air and prehistoric sites, and Tony Wrench's roundhouse is not too far from here either.  There was also another settlement being planned in the Pembrokeshire countryside as well a few years back, though whether it got off the ground I never found out.  But I remember giving a lot of my green magazines and books to a young American in Bath, where he lived with his wife.  He had a very gentle manner, and was very appreciative of the books, noting in passing that I had given up on my dreams!

I had advertised them in Freecycle, which is probably another offshoot of green ideas, it means that stuff can be recycled into the community.  My first offering was a bike with tyres that needed fixing, a young man  collected it, and the very next day he came back, tyres had been mended, he had cycled into work that morning and he was as pleased as punch with it.  Books went, but also my very large loom as well, which I did not expect anyone to want, but one saturday a woman turned up with a  spacious estate car and we managed to get it in, she was starting some sort of business, though weaving of course takes up a lot of time.

Sometimes I wonder if it was a green 'stream of consciousness' that flowed through the veins of young people from the 1960s onwards, or perhaps that mind stopping moment, when the spaceship looked back at our earth and photographed that living blue planet, making us all so aware how fragile our Earth was. Yet today we are still plundering its resources with a recklessness that will be our undoing

To close for the moment, the Seymours reminded me of the American couple Scot and Helen Nearing on their land in Vermont, I have only read two books by them, and it is mostly Helen Nearing I remember, as she built built her 100 foot stone wall round her vegetable garden to keep the rabbits at bay, and the book 'Loving and Living the Good Life'.  Scott Nearing chose to die, at about a 100 years old I think, and simply stopped eating, just occasionally drinking some juice now and then,  Helen tended to him throughout this period accepting that he had grown tired of life.  He was a pacifist at the time of Vietnam, and had lost his job as a lecturer of economics because of his views, and I expect was a rather outspoken and grumpy person.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Koans and restoration

Slowly I have been sorting out the furniture for the dollshouse, and all the bits and pieces that have lain about for years, next thing is to restore the broken furniture, and I worked on four chairs this week.
They needed restaining and new covers for the seat, which took an age because I had to cut the cardboard out to fit the inside of the chair whilst leaving enough room for the material. 
My tools are also being expanded as well, I do have a miniature drill, which fits into a miniature lathe so that I can turn table and chair legs, but yesterday at Hobbycraft I notices they had all the little drill bits for buffing and shaping.
Why a koan, well the one below is quoted at me quite a lot when I get anxious about the myriad of things that happen, the Clapping of One Hand, has its message of course is in its title, but the explanatory story below tells more.
Yesterday I woke up thinking of roses, and realised it must be the bleak grey landscape of January, that forces one mind to remember the colour and shapes of roses, and especially their perfume at this time of the year.  The thorns that tangle in your hair and grip your clothes as you tussle with long wands that need to be cut back, and that lovely fresh green smell as you clip.  Still summer is on its way..... 

These are little kit chairs, that you put together, and very fragile, often breaking with time

 The Sound of One Hand

The master of Kennin temple was Mokurai, Silent Thunder. He had a little protege named Toyo who was only twelve years old. Toyo saw the older disciples visit the master's room each morning and evening to receive instruction in sanzen or personal guidance in which they were given koans to stop mind-wandering.
Toyo wished to do sanzen also.
"Wait a while," said Mokurai. "You are too young."
But the child insisted, so the teacher finally consented.
In the evening little Toyo went at the proper time to the threshold of Mokurai's sanzen room. He struck the gong to announce his presence, bowed respectfully three times outside the door, and went to sit before the master in respectful silence.
"You can hear the sound of two hands when they clap together," said Mokurai. "Now show me the sound of one hand."
Toyo bowed and went to his room to consider this problem. From his window he could hear the music of the geishas. "Ah, I have it!" he proclaimed.
The next evening, when his teacher asked him to illustrate the sound of one hand, Toyo began to play the music of the geishas.
"No, no," said Mokurai. "That will never do. That is not the sound of one hand. You've not got it at all."
Thinking that such music might interrupt, Toyo moved his abode to a quiet place. He meditated again. "What can the sound of one hand be?" He happened to hear some water dripping. "I have it," imagined Toyo.
When he next appeared before his teacher, Toyo imitated dripping water.
"What is that?" asked Mokurai. "That is the sound of dripping water, but not the sound of one hand. Try again."
In vain Toyo meditated to hear the sound of one hand. He heard the sighing of the wind. But the sound was rejected.
He heard the cry of an owl. This also was refused.
The sound of one hand was not the locusts.
For more than ten times Toyo visited Mokurai with different sounds. All were wrong. For almost a year he pondered what the sound of one hand might be.
At last little Toyo entered true meditation and transcended all sounds. "I could collect no more," he explained later, "so I reached the soundless sound."
Toyo had realized the sound of one hand.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Grandmas loft

Gorgeous photos on spinning which was shown on my weaving forum, must be American I think, the photographer has taken photos of his grandmas loft, a veritable heirloom piece of spinning wheels and wools to be spun....

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hanningfield Reservoir

Always love the browny-creamy colours in this little pond, reminds me of some Japanese material on Ebay

Its a female woodpecker I was informed

It seems ages since I last wrote something, could be because its winter, or that other hobbies take my time but on Sunday we went for a walk round the reservoir.  It was created in 1957, and covers a small hamlet, though apparently there are no houses still lurking under the water.  Not like the 'drowned' villages and forests round the West coast of Wales.
The mood of the place is grey and brown, leaves rotting, mud and conifer trees.  Ducks and geese congregate at feeding stations and people wander round with camera equipment.
So apart from hundreds of seagulls on the water, the birds most viewed were in front of the visitor centre.  Long tailed tits, chaffinches, yellow tits, a black and white woodpecker all fed at the bird tables, plus of course squirrels.
Of course acquiring a laptop, was supposed to take me away from the computer, it could be put to one side on my desk and I could concentrate on other things  Yesterday we made up a modular small bookcase from Argos, it took 2 hours and was supposed to balance the rather large dollshouse which is in need of some repair, and to hold some of my knitting/weaving books. The bookshelve was put together eventually, though one of the long wooden dowels broke and another had to be made out of a bamboo skewer, then of course there is the inevitable screwing together of pieces so that they face outward instead of inward. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Barnes Mill

Drowned reedmace

Barnes Mill in winter without the protective covering of green leafed trees at least shows some of the water works that must have made it an impressive working mill in its day. I have never ceased to be fascinated by mills, they have been with us from an early age, and the great turning wheels of the later centuries show a harnessing of water for energy that we could well emulate today.
The river is in full flow, not quite flooding yet, but the water meadows are an essential part of the landscape to capture the run-off from the surrounding land and the Chelmer is well protected by them. There is an excitement about swift flowing water, it ripples softly and yet noisily over the shallow mill races, foaming small white waves curving and twisting to join the mother river. The swans and ducks caught in the currents in the mill pond are swept to the far side, but they are well fed at the mill, and the two creatures are probably resident here.
No water wheel remains and one would expect the original mill to be very different to what it is today, on one old photo there is an old nissan hut just by it called The Cabin.
What else, reading a 2002 account by someone who lives there, wildlife abound, kingfishers, herons and cormorants fish the water, what lurks underneath is a bit scary the great pike can be found here as well, probably feeding on the graylings, and there is the more exotic carp to be found in the mill ponds. If I had a dog I would walk all the river banks for there are kingcup marsh marigolds to be found along the way, an exciting nature walk exploring the flora and fauna.

One of the outflow ponds, see how the water us diverted into two streams around the pond

Barnes Mill pub in the background with the now disused overflowing leat in the water meadows

The Chelmer almost full to tipping point

Barnes Mill, converted now into three dwellings 

There seems to be more than one mill race, several mill ponds of course

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Sunday and the weather is glorious, the birds are in full voice anticipating spring - think they might be a bit presumptious there, but they are probably rejoicing that the snow has disappeared.  Yesterday out for my  birthday lunch at the Cats pub, we drove along lanes that were running with water, and the Chelmer was lapping at the road at Paper Mill lock, rain, snow and the runoff from the fields must be the cause.
Everything was gray, dark and muddy; spaniels scampered along in that dirty muddy wet state that shows their true character as water loving muppets!  The following photo shows the bleak greyness of the Essex countryside, yesterday whilst out we went through a very narrow lane with deep banks, and it suddenly reminded me of hollow ways, those old roads stretching back in time that had been worn down by constant use of carts and carriages.

Life is sometimes at a standstill through the winter months, time to knit and spin and think, my cottage (notice the proprietal air) goes on apace, the builder has been to see it and thinks its gorgeous with all its little details, and does'nt think there needs much doing except for the chimney outside and decorating. The surveyors report was long and thorough, and looked worse than what it was, a certain amount of damp being found in the walls, but I think that this is power for the course for 300 year old places.
The holiday letting aspect might be difficult, all to do with fire arrangments but we will see, hopefully it will all be wound up by the end of this month or into the early part of February.
So it is time to read my books 'Wild Garden' by William Robinson and knitting books and magazines, and hopefully go for a walk this afternoon along the river.

Monday, January 3, 2011


On New Years day, this computer decided to accept my password, and now works - just like that, I'm pleased, though everything I wrote yesterday on my blog got swiped, so I am approaching it with great care!
The following photos are of the gypsy horses, it was difficult to recognise them under their dirty winter coats, I worry over them, but they had been fed hay over the snowy period, and they look quite relaxed. Someone had thrown bread to them (with plastic bags), which they did'nt seem particularly interested in. My partner fell in love with one
dark eyed beauty with a great fringe falling over his eyes, perhaps when we move to the country, we may get one - who knows......
Life is still in holiday mood, sales everywhere before crunch day 4th January when VAT goes up, sales are'nt my scene, most of it is tat. But we might walk down today to our local retail outlet, just to look at Computer World, this marvellous thing called Wireless, from which my computer works,
means that I can pick this one up and work anywhere in the house, visitors can also use my code number as well for their computers. But to get back to what I was saying, Wireless can also pick up printers in other rooms, so we need a 'joining' cable to feed info from one machine to the other - all very clever, I can't quite get my head around invisible beams!
The mill pond photo is to remind me that summer will eventually arrive, this time of the year my mind would be on raising seeds and perusing the Suffolk Herb catalogue...



Mill pond