This is a screenshot of one of the chapters that comprises my friend Barry Graham’s new book, Nothing Extra: Notes On the Zen Life (Zen for Real Life) (Volume 3). It might be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.
Maybe it hits me extra hard because I just turned another year older myself a couple days ago, and have thought long and hard about my own decay, what is acceptable because of age, and what is unacceptable because of my own behavior. In the midst of that, it’s always good to be reminded of the beauty in life as well.
Graham is a noir author, journalist and Zen Buddhist monk, and a fine companion to tip a beer or two with. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything of his I’ve read, and Nothing Extra in particular is bringing me much to reflect on lately. I highly recommend it.
With the arrival of March, a timely excerpt from Farmer by Jim Harrison:
Everyone got disgusted with winter by March and usually before, and a major April storm could bring on a fit of sheer spite in anyone. Carl used to say that winter was like a cow chewing the same cud for six months or more. And despite all the church activities, school, the dances and card parties at the Grange Hall, everyone grew morbid and nervous toward spring, about ten degrees out of kilter in fact. There were more fights at the tavern than at any other time of year and the simplest family quarrels extended into days of silence with the snow and wind outside roaring louder than the wood fire in the stove. Spring, whether false or not, brought on laughter and a kind of useful drowsiness, a time of general good feeling when people yawned and smelled the air with a few weeks’ respite before the fields would be dry enough to plow. Joseph thought it a grand time; it was simply that they had all lived through another winter and that under its heavy lid of snow and ice and frozen ground the earth was actually alive.
From the previously published story, “Goats,” appearing in For a Little While: New and Selected Stories by Rick Bass:
BABY CLAVES, $15, read the sign, each letter painted a different color, as if by a child. We parked in his muddy driveway, the low-slung station wagon dragging its belly over the corrugated troughs of countless such turnings-around, wallowing and slithering and splashing up to the front porch of a collapsing clapboard shed-house that seemed to be held up by nothing more than the thick braids and ghost vines of dead ivy.
Attached to the outside of the hovel was a jerry-built assemblage of corrals and stables, ramshackle slats of mixed-dimension scrap lumber, from behind which came an anguished cacophony of bleats and bawls and whinnies and outright bloodcurdling screams, as we got out of the car and sought to make our way dry-footed from one mud hummock to the next, up toward the sagging porch, to inquire about the baby claves, hoping very much that they were indeed calves, and not some odd bivalve oyster we’d never heard of.
The following is an excerpt from the last book I read in 2015, and one of the best (it is the winner of the 2015 National Outdoor Book Award for Literary Fiction too) , called Jimmy Bluefeather, by Kim Heacox. I had planned to post it on the last day of the year, as it seems appropriate for reflection, but I suppose late on the first day of the year to follow is just as good. Even out of context, I find it beautiful.
Father Mikal used to say that the hardest thing when you’re digging yourself into a hole is to stop digging. It’s one thing to be bold, another to be wise. One thing to be resolute, another to be judicious. Who could James and his friends trust? Who could they model themselves after? The elder who sees blue where they see black? Why is it so easy to disregard the old man? When Keb was young, a man lived alone on the edge of town, past a crude sign that said “NO TRESPASSING.” Ken could still see the lines around his eyes, the sad mouth and slumped shoulders. Live in a small town and you learn the simple act of dropping by, and discover there’s an art to it, that it’s made to look casual while in fact it’s deliberate; it involves great caring and compassion. So it was odd to have a guy who wanted none of it. Nobody dropping by. Nobody in his world but himself. Yes, people in Jinkaat watched each other. They watched out for each other. But not this guy. He lived out the road and came into town once a month for groceries and nothing more. Spoke hardly a word. His name was Mercer, first initial T. Nobody knew his first name, the one his parents gave him. He never did take that “NO TRESPASSING” sign down. He even fixed it up, painted it. When he died, he died alone; dragged himself out onto the front porch, sat in a rocking chair, and gave up. Simple as that. He died after he took his last breath and said nothing about it. Abigail Tyler, out picking blueberries, came by and saw him covered in crows. No family claimed him or his things. A dozen townspeople cleaned out his house. In a drawer they found stacks of unsent letters written to a woman who probably never knew he loved her, and never loved him back. Somebody said those letters were the most tender and lyrical they’d ever read. After that, the kids called him Mercy. Tender Mercy. Ironic, to name a man after the very thing he needed most but never received. Uncle Austin used to say that ravens build their nests out of twigs, grasses, deer hair, even their own breast feathers. Are we any different? We make our homes from parts of ourselves — the laughter of our kids, the friends who drop by. They become our finest decorations, our best memories, the things no fire can burn.
From Walking with Abel: Journeys with the Nomads of the African Savannah by Anna Badkhen:
We walk into one another’s lives, we change them and are changed deeply and forever, we part ways. Each time a part of our hearts seems to shrivel and die, it doesn’t. Simply, our hearts learn to beat a different way. We mourn, we break down, then we stand up, and we keep going. Two thousand footsteps per mile. Twenty to forty thousand footsteps per day. Every footfall brings the walkers closer to a reunion. Every footfall begets a separation. Our forward movement, erratic, fragile, relentless, is a quest: for comfort, for deliverance, for squaring the ideal of endurance with the practice of love.