Earth Day

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Earth Day
by Jane Yolen

I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.
Each blade of grass,
Each honey tree,
Each bit of mud,
And stick and stone
Is blood and muscle,
Skin and bone.

And just as I
Need every bit
Of me to make
My body fit,
So Earth needs
Grass and stone and tree
And things that grow here
Naturally.

That’s why we
Celebrate this day.
That’s why across
The world we say:
As long as life,
As dear, as free,
I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.

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Earth’s temple services

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Laddawan and her sister Maliporn

A Poem for Earth

She said: “I named him Earth because he was everything to me.”

He screamed a million times. She gave him a million kisses.

He never said a word.

He went into shock a million times. She held him and gave him hugs

a million times.

He never said a word.

She said: “I named him Earth because he was everything to me.”

He smiled at her a million times. She smiled at him a million times.

He never said a word.

She said: “I named him Earth because he was everything to me.

He was everything to me.”

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Laney Yarber, Laddawan, me and Joe, Laney’s son.

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Some of our friends.

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Rangoon, Shwedagon Stupa

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Approaching Shwedagon Stupa (Roy Hamric)

Touring Rangoon (Originally published in 2010)

Roy Hamric
Special to the San Antonio Express-News

YANGON, Myanmar — A few long, wispy hairs dangled from the chin of the old, brown-robed monk. The skin on his hands was polished like dark parchment. Wearing a brown conical peaked cap, he looked like he was from an earlier age.

Hope for a better life

At mid-afternoon on the day I visited the temple, spiritual reverence filled the air. Streams of pilgrims, both men and women wearing the traditional longyi skirts, supplicated themselves before the golden stupa and the smaller temples and shrines, some of which are believed to house symbolic Nats, or spirits. Families placed mats on the ground and set out steamed chicken, fried bananas and cups of sweet milky brown tea, preparing to spend the day. 

The light surrounding the stupa casts a poignant spell. To say the stupa is golden misses it entirely. The air around the stupa is golden. The air seems to sparkle, the brilliance enhanced perhaps by the 1,383 gemstones embedded in the stupa’s surface  and especially by the single, radiant 76-carat diamond placed at the top of a diamond-filled orb, which I fancied I could actually see while standing at the exact spot where the old monk had placed me.

“It’s a nice view,” he said, his teeth dark yellow from tea and betel nut. Earlier, the monk had walked me around the temple complex. People paid him reverence and gave him space. Jathei (hermit) monks, a lineage of solitary wanderers, are highly respected for their use of herbs and potions to treat people’s physical and psychological ailments.

Many Jathei monks are homeless, roaming through rural Myanmar. Sometimes they can be spotted at their forest retreats by the small, round huts they build from twigs and large leaves. He said his last retreat was in the forest near Taungbygone, 20 miles north of Mandalay. He’d started walking toward Yangon two months earlier. This would be his last visit to the temple, he said, because he planned to move deeper into the forest.

A few steps removed from the diamond’s sparkle was a shrine to Thanga Min, the king of the Nat spirits. Nat worship is the belief that spirits can exercise a good or evil power over a person or a place, such as homes, trees, hills or lakes. There’s a saying that the Burmese people play it safe: They practice Buddhism for the future life and give gift offerings to Nats for problems in this life. A moment later when I turned back toward the monk, he was gone. I had wanted to ask him more about his life. I searched through the crowd, but he had disappeared.

A country of extremes

From the temple, I hailed a taxi, a 1956 Toyota. I had promised myself a dinner at the Strand Hotel, one of the legendary hotels of the East. The driver, named Htin Swe, was another one of those Myanmar citizens you frequently meet who describe themselves as university students. They are typically in their late 30s or 40s. They explain their studies are incomplete, through no fault of their own. Myanmar universities are usually closed more semesters than they are open, a sign of the fear the ruling military junta has of students and the people. In 1988, the junta, now known as the State Peace and Development Council, gunned down more than 2,000 students, men, women, children and monks during a demonstration in Yangon.

I asked Htin Swe what he studied.

“I am an English major,” he said. “Ahnoma topeeah.”

“Onomatopoeia? ” I said.

“Yes. The Highway Man,” he said. “Fenimore Cooper. American. Shakespeare very different. Robert Frost. Two ways to go.”

Like most of Myanmar’s ordinary citizens, Htin Swe was a poignant mixture of sincerity and arrested development, emblematic of a people and a country with enormous potential that’s been trapped in a time-warp closer to the ’50s than today’s world.

When the concierge swung open the high wooden doors of the Strand Hotel, built in 1901 by two Armenians, the Starkie brothers, I entered a world light years away from everyday Myanmar life. Recently remodeled, the hotel had retained its distinctive colonial-Asian charm and elegance with a shiny, black grand piano dominating the lobby. The natural oak and rattan furniture featured white cushions. In the nearly empty dinning room, leather-bound menus and heavy white parchment paper were stamped with the Burmese lion emblem. Delicate purple flowers sat in crystal vases on each table, and a young woman played a lilting folk melody on a xylophone.

The menu listed barramundi over glass noodles, Myanmar venison, seared Myanmar River prawns in green curry, sesame coated tuna rolls, golden crab cakes, peanut biscuits and more.

Looking through the window at the boulevard that ran parallel to the Irrawaddy River, I saw fenderless trucks sputtering along, belching black smoke, stacked with freshly cut teak trees still oozing oil from their base. Men with bulging calf muscles strained at rickety trishaw pedals, trying to dodge potholes. Students in red skirts and white blouses walked home carrying plastic book satchels.

The stark contrast between the refined Western inner world of the Strand’s elegance and the outside world of daily Yangon street life still seemed very colonial British.

Clearly, Myanmar is a country of extremes — of haves and many have-nots. Average citizens have little money or opportunity and have been repressed for decades. However, the country is slowly opening up to tourists and travel within the country is easier. The feelings you take away from a trip to Myanmar are deep, running an emotional gantlet from awe to sorrow.

As I left the Strand Hotel, I thought of the old monk at the temple. I had tried to take his picture, but he wouldn’t allow it.

“I will remember you,” he said. “You will remember me.”

He was right.


Roy Hamric writes about Southeast Asia for newspapers and magazines.


Sam Shepard, RIP

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Look at the brow in both pictures.

“The funny thing about having all this so-called success is that behind it is a certain horrible emptiness.

I feel like I’ve never had a home, you know? I feel related to the country, to this country, and yet I don’t know exactly where I fit in… There’s always this kind of nostalgia for a place, a place where you can reckon with yourself.

I’m inhabiting a life I’m not supposed to be in… and at certain times in my life, I have felt a wrongness. And not a moral wrongness but a sense that this isn’t what I was born to be doing.

Sides are being divided now. It’s very obvious. So if you’re on the other side of the fence, you’re suddenly anti-American. It’s breeding fear of being on the wrong side.

The thing about American writers is that, as a group, they get stuck in the same idea: that we’re a continent and the world falls away after us. And it’s just nonsense.

I’m a great believer in chaos. I don’t believe that you start with a formula and then you fulfill the formula. Chaos is a much better instigator, because we live in chaos – we don’t live in a rigorous form.”

– Sam Shepard, writer, died on July 30, 2017 in Midway, Kentucky.

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Achan Sumano of the Double-Eye Cave

 

47460025 copyAchan Sumano in the Double-Eye Cave in Thailand, where he has lived for more than 20 years. He practices Buddhism in the tradition of the late Achan Mun and Achan Chaa of the Forest Meditation Center near Ubon, Thailand. Photograph by Roy Hamric

“Viewing TV, reading newspapers, and staying on top of the dramas happening in the world causes a lot of anxiety and frustration to short circuit our ability to respond appropriately to events in our personal lives. In our intimate relationships, more so than any other, there is a need to function with spontaneous penetrating wisdom, with humanity, with love and with compassion. Penetrating wisdom is a critical aspect because it can see through circumstances. Wisdom recognizes the need for compassion beginning with compassion for ourselves. I regard family and intimate relationships as the ground for training ourselves to act and live as whole, kind-hearted human beings. In the family, in marriages and partnerships, we soak up massive amounts of pain from disappointment, frustration, jealousy, misunderstanding, etc. As painful as this is, all of this is needed to cultivate wisdom…” For more, see here.


Whitman, Emerson & Tibetan monks

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Finger Snapping Time

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Photograph of Blue Heron by Jesse Sublett

People can’t explain why they’re so crazy

The two evil birds on their faces

The three poison snakes in their hearts

One or another blocks their way

Making it hard to get hold of things

Lift your hand high and snap your fingers

Homage to the Buddha

– Poem #223 from The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, translated from Chinese by Red Pine