1. Aspirin is your friend. Ask my lower back if you doubt this.
2. Hip sore still has a way to go. It no longer weeps as much, though, which is good.
3. I was watching a bit of HBO (horrific body odor) this morning after I woke up, and I caught a behind-the-scenes look at "Kung Fu Panda." Wanna see it.
4. With many thanks to Alan Cook and the CouchSurfing website, I have found free lodging for Monday night and am working on free lodging for Sunday. Might also have Tuesday under control if a gurdwara in Marysville comes through.
5. Thanks to Addofio for her advice and concerns. Will try for a KOA membership once I'm at a real computer again.
6. Will soon be mailing back a couple pounds of things I realize I don't need. I imagine this sort of thing will be happening many times over the course of this trip, both mailing things back and receiving care packages.
7. Am about to go shopping for a decent map of Washington. Trying to squint at maps on the BlackBerry is too strenuous for this old boy.
And that's all for the moment.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
1. Aspirin is your friend. Ask my lower back if you doubt this.
I'm not in Burlington-- I'm in Mount Vernon! When I'd spoken with Glen, he had mentioned Burlington as one of the places close to Samish Island where I could find a hotel, so I assumed, yesterday, that that was where we headed. I just checked this hotel's address, however, and nope-- not Burlington. My bad.
You know, it's all very confusing. I'm originally from the Mount Vernon area of Alexandria, Virginia, and here in Washington State I see all sorts of familiar names I associate with the east coast: Mount Vernon, Arlington, and Washington itself come readily to mind. Weird symmetry.
What follows is the text of an email I sent my father about events spanning Thursday night to Friday midafternoon.
I'm so sorry to hear about Paul Garber's passing. I regret not having visited him in the hospital when you invited me to do so. Please relay my sincere condolences to Mr. Garber's family if you see them.
I didn't realize the weather was so bad in DC; I'm glad, though, that you didn't suffer another in-house flood. Also-- sounds as though the generator works just fine. That's great. Good luck dealing with the upcoming heat!
After being pampered for a string of days here in Washington, we've been under the lash of near-constant cloudiness, cold (yes, COLD), and rain. While not torrential, the rain, when combined with the cold, has been a nasty business for me. Area locals all say that this weather is not normal for this time of year.
Last night (Thurs), I was supposed to walk over and spend the night at this hookah bar...I went over to the address around 1:45AM (had been at the Western Washington University library until it closed at midnight) and...NO BAR! At least, I couldn't find it. Maybe it was there somewhere. I checked the address several times to make sure I wasn't hallucinating, and the address seemed correct. So either the bar is extremely well hidden (one online article about the place says the entrance is unobtrusive), or the address I had was somehow wrong, or the bar had gone under sometime within the past year.
So there I was, in downtown Bellingham, a long walk from any decent hotel and a VERY long walk from any good campground, and I had a choice: wander aimlessly about town at 2AM, hoping to find some place that would take me in, or just get a-walking to Samish Island (where the Zen folks had told me I could find a huge campground run by The Community of Christ, a congregation that has allowed the Zen group to use its grounds for retreats).
I decided that because the night was cold and rainy, the best way to keep warm was to walk. I did a mental calculation; Samish Island was nearly 22 miles from where I was, and I knew I'd be dead tired by the end of such a long walk, so I guessed that I'd arrive around noon.
It was an amazing walk, visually speaking. Even at 2 or 3AM, the sky was never completely dark; it was a deep, rich, dark blue, and even along stretches of road with no lighting, I could find my way with ease. Cars were few and far between; for the most part, the walk proceeded in silence except for the natural noises of the forest's interaction with wind and rain. I felt a great deal of regret when the cadaverous dawn arrived; that eldritch blue night sky was something to behold.
I took periodic breaks during the walk, relieved myself at the roadside (sorry, neighbors), and sipped away at my Camelbak. NB: in this weather, at the distance I walked, and on terrain that presented few significant hills, my Camelbak stored just enough water to last the whole 21-point-however-many miles the walk was. Good to know: if I ever hit a desert, I suspect I'll need at least 2 to 3 times that volume of water per day.
I had a scare at first, wandering through dark neighborhoods dominated by tall forest and, off to the side, the great water of the bay; I was irrationally worried about this being bear country. Then I got a look at the garbage cans being left at streetside by the local residents (all of whose houses must cost a fortune; it's all essentially waterfront property along the route I walked), and realized that none of the cans were bearproofed. Felt better (and a mite silly) after that.
By the time I was only a few miles away from my destination (forest had given way to farmland and a big, gray sky), my feet and back were killing me. I was pretty sure I had developed blisters on my pinky toes and on the pads of my feet because my un-GoreTexed boots, while comfortable for the first few miles, became decidedly less so as the miles wore on. (My left foot also chewed that Dr. Scholl's "gel" pad to ribbons.)
As I passed some fields, horses stared at me; some even trotted up to get a closer look, becoming agitated when they saw I wasn't someone familiar. A couple huge farm dogs growled and gave small warning woofs, but none ran up to me, as happened when I did my three-day hike in Switzerland.
The rain let up for a short while in late morning, but when I got to the Community of Christ campground, we were back to a depressing gray drizzle. I was worried that my electronics were getting soaked, and in fact, my digicam ended up with a steamy, water-beaded lens (it's better now). Nothing tragic, but I'll have to rethink where and how I store things.
I reached the large COC church building. A lady working on the grounds of the church, which was about a half-mile from the camp, told me with a sure tone of voice that there would be no room for me this weekend because a children's group was having a camping event there. I thanked her and walked over to the camp anyway, determined to talk with whoever was managing the camp (I didn't realize at the time that the lady I'd spoken with was co-chair of the church's property council and the wife of one of the camp supervisors). I couldn't find a distinct admin building on the grounds, so I called the manager (saw the phone number printed on the sign at the camp's entrance); he was an older gent named Lee who spoke in a slow, deliberate manner. Lee basically apologized for the bad timing and told me the same thing the lady had said: no spaces available because of the weekend event.
So the walk was for nothing.
While I was on the phone, another gentleman at the camp sauntered up, overheard my phone conversation, and said, "May I interrupt?" This gentleman, named Glen, turned out to be the husband of the woman I'd spoken with earlier (he was the other property council co-chair). He offered me a ride to the nearest hotel, and I decided to let go of my pride for once and say yes. So much for "only in case of serious injury," eh?
Letting go wasn't hard; I could barely stand after walking 21-plus miles with no sleep. Glen said that, when he saw me, I looked like a man who probably couldn't go much farther. He was right. There was no way in hell I could have walked the fifteen extra miles to where I am now, a small Best Western in
By the time I checked into my room, I was pretty much ready to slump into boneless goo. I wrote a semi-coherent email to Alan Cook explaining my situation, took a shower, and collapsed for three or four hours.
I'm back from a late dinner; because my "wounds," such as they are, need a chance to heal, I'll be in this motel a second night before moving on.
The hip abrasions seem to be healing, but this is happening at the expense of my back: I keep the hip belt only loosely fastened to prevent further chafing, so it provides no support.
It was great meeting Glen and his wife. Glen, who was supposed to be doing some landscaping work at the camp, went out of his way to help me when he saw how pooped I was. We had a good talk in his truck while he drove; he had high praise for the Zen group's sensitive care of the campground. Thank goodness for people like Glen.
OK...off to bed for some REAL shuteye this time.
Friday, June 6, 2008
I'm going to be staying at that hookah bar tonight, and the library closes at midnight, so while I've got the time and have a roof over my head, I thought that now would be a good time to catch up on the posting I've been needing to do.
As you saw in my recent entries, I was finally(!) able to upload the pics of Reverend Jay Rozendaal and his church, Christ Episcopal Church of Blaine, WA. I've got my note pad with me-- the very one on which I chicken-scrawled notes during my brief entretien with the vicar-- so now it's a matter of trying to remember the interview rightly. My apologies to Jay for whatever I've gotten wrong; I encourage Jay and others to comment on any and all of my blog posts whenever it seems I need to have my feet held to the fire.
Reverend Rozendaal is comfortable in his Christianity, even though he says he went through a period of "disgruntlement" with it long ago. He saw how his father, a Presbyterian minister, had suffered when taking an anti-war stand decades ago. I didn't ask, "Suffered at the hands of whom?", but I assume the answer to that question would be something along the lines of, "At the hands of fellow Christians."
Rev. Rozendaal was in seminary back in the early years of the Anglican Church's granting of the right of ordination to women. Before that time, during his "reading and seeking" period, he engaged in Buddhist practice and even went so far as to take precepts (the jukai ceremony in the Japanese tradition, as Jay reminded me), i.e., to publicly declare himself Buddhist. Jay became interested in the connection between Buddhism's meditative aspect and the meditative strains found in the larger Christian tradition, especially in Catholicism. His partner gave him a copy of Thomas Merton's journals, which I assume reinforced this connection (or was this the gesture that established the connection, Jay?), this awareness that Christianity, too, had a contemplative tradition.
Jay says his return to Christianity wasn't explicitly intentional. I asked him flat out, "Are you still a Buddhist?" and he said no, though he knows people who profess to be adherents of two traditions at once. He mentioned one person I should meet: Ann Redding, who teaches at Seattle University. She's an Episcopal priest as well as a Muslim. I admit I was surprised at this; while I can imagine certain liberal Christians who would be fine with this sort of pairing, I'd love to meet the Muslims who approve of Ms. Redding's religious orientation!
I'll inject a remark here: back when I was in grad school, one of my profs, Father William Cenkner, said that it's not really possible to hold on to two religions at once in a purely integrated manner. In his view, the best one can manage is a sort of bifurcated stasis, where the two religious tendencies are held together in tension, not harmony, and the dual-adherent is obliged to "switch" from one religious mode to the other depending on the situation. I wasn't too comfortable with Fr. Cenkner's formulation, but I haven't had the chance to speak with people who openly proclaim themselves to be members of two distinct traditions. Given the subjective nature of religious belief, Cenkner's contention would be hard to test.
What I often see, when I meet someone who claims to be of two traditions, is a person in transition-- they're leaving their "cradle" tradition and sliding more or less comfortably into their adopted tradition. Some of these folks leave not out of bitterness, but out of disappointment or disaffection; something about the new tradition appeals to them and attracts them. These folks strike me as fairly happy and grounded. Others, however, are bitter about their cradle religion and seem to be seeking ways to reject it.
This second group often has trouble truly moving into their adopted tradition; I have, for example, encountered plenty of ex-Christian Buddhists who have retained their black-and-white reificationist outlook despite years of Buddhist practice. These people, still walking around with chips on their shoulders, are prone to be combative with others not of their new tradition, often talking about what is "real" Buddhism and what isn't. Buddhist metaphysics, however, admits of no essences, so it's not consistent or legitimate for Buddhists to speak essentialistically.
Back to Jay. We talked a bit about scripture and its ambivalence. Jay calls this "a big issue" when we think about what evidence the Bible provides for religious exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. On one hand, as Jay notes, you've got the exclusivistic formulation, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes before the Father but by me"; and on the other hand, you have a more conciliatory passage in the Book of Revelation: "In my father's house there are many mansions" --an inclusive vision.
Jay zoomed back a bit to offer a global perspective: overall, "Christianity is a minority religion" in this world of nearly seven billion people. "The God I believe in," Jay said, "isn't a God who dismisses most of the human family because of how they worship."
Part of the problem with religion, Jay noted, is that people like Jesus and the Buddha (with Muhammad as a unique exception) didn't set out to start a religion. But as the number of adherents to a certain doctrine/tradition increased, it was inevitable that institutions would form. Institutions are necessary, but "when we humans do the work, mistakes are going to be made."
When I asked Jay what religion is, he said he preferred to go back to the Latin root of religare: re-bond, reconnect.* Religion is what re-binds us to what is essential, to what is "our source, the ground of our being." We are made in God's image, and our journey is toward that godly state.
Jay remarked on a section of Thien** Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh's book Living Buddha, Living Christ, in which Nhat Hanh urges some non-Buddhist listeners not to convert to Buddhism, but instead to view Christianity (etc.) as that in which they are rooted, and that they should take the lessons in mindfulness they had learned from Nhat Hanh and discover how those lessons could be meaningful to them as Christians.
When Jay reflected on his past, he said that he still loved the Buddha, but in the end there was "a depth" to his Christian experience, because that's the tradition in which he was born. I'd agree that it's hard to tear out your own roots. Many people who leave the church-- or whatever their home tradition is-- often come back after a time. It's good that people can leave and come back: the difference between a good religion and a cult is that cults don't let you leave, but once you're gone-- escaped or driven out-- you're an apostate, branded for life. At the corporate level, cults know no forgiveness. When major religions behave like cults, this is a sign that something very unhealthy is going on in that community.
In talking about the internal strife of the Anglican Church, Jay noted that the root problem isn't about sexuality, nor is it about the ordination of women. It is, instead, a larger issue, occupying a larger framework: it's about one's basic approach to faith and the particulars of one's beliefs. Are those beliefs given and unalterable, or are they subject to revision upon the experience of new understandings and insights? Jay contends that revelation is ongoing. I would agree that, if we describe ultimate reality as a "living" reality, then we have to take seriously what that image implies: things that are alive move and change and grow and die; they are in process and exist always in relationship. The story never ends.
Jay has dealt with this issue, the issue of the processual nature of faith, in some of the classes he has taught. He has talked with his students about the question of authority and revelation, for example; he and his students have looked at the New Testament and seen it as a new interpretation of old scripture.*** The idea of finding new meaning in old scripture**** is, as Jay puts it, "enshrined in scripture itself." And Jay finished our conversation with a quote that I was at pains to get right:
"If we cut off our brains, we're doing a disservice to scripture."
Reverend Rozendaal, whom I've presumed to call "Jay" through most of this post, has been vicar of CEC for only about a year, but I think he's the right man for the job. He's earnest and energetic; he's accepting and perceptive; he's obviously interested in the promotion of human connection. He was also the driving force behind my visits to the Lynden gurdwara and the Bellingham Zen center, so I thank him for his kind help despite his busy schedule.
*Be aware that there's still debate about what the actual root of the word "religion" is. For the merest glimpse of this issue, see here.
**Thien = Vietnamese Zen Buddhism
***I failed to leap on the opportunity to ask Jay his opinion of Christian supersessionism-- the idea that the New Testament's existence implicitly denigrates Judaism because its revelation supersedes the previous revelation. Islam, too, is supersessionist: Muhammad is "the Seal of the Prophets." The word "seal" here refers to the idea that something (like correspondence on a scroll that has been shut with a wax seal) is closed off-- nothing more can be written. This makes Muhammad the last and greatest of the prophets of Allah.
****I remember this from my Bib Lit classes: it's not merely a matter of using the New Testament to make theology; the books of the New Testament are themselves theological works-- they are snapshots of hermeneutics in action. Scriptural hermeneutics is actually and always meta-hermeneutics.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
NB: most of these pics are probably cut off on the right side because I didn't reduce the file size. To view them as they're meant to be seen, right-click and select "View Picture" (or "View Image").
Red Cedar Zen Community building, downstairs. This is where I slept. I had been told I could sleep in an upstairs classroom because the upstairs was warmer, but the downstairs turned out to be perfectly comfortable.
My note pad on the long table downstairs:
A closer look at the library:
A glimpse of the downstairs kitchen:
Peering into the kitchen a little less shyly:
And again, leftward:
The message on the fridge warns against slovenliness: keep the place clean, otherwise pests come in, and then you're faced with the dilemma of getting rid of them.
The bathroom, where Nature's beauty so generously pours forth:
The bathroom is also the laundry room. I was sitting on the toilet and staring at these laundry machines, marvelling at how precisely they had been fitted into that niche. The more I thought about the danger of pinched fingers and the difficulty of hooking up the wires and tubes behind the machines, the more I appreciated this Zen community's dedication. This might sound silly to some, but you're looking at an example of mindfulness.
One of the downstairs bulletin boards shows you how active this sangha is:
We're going to head upstairs to the dharma hall now:
At the top of the stairs and looking toward the front exit/entrance:
This passage through the curtains leads off to a classroom or two, and some restrooms:
This was cute: the official bee-catching cup (practice ahimsa!):
A closer look at the altar:
Nomon Tim Burnett provided me with this fold-out bed, which I set up downstairs on the floor by the library books. My coiled-up foam pad served as a perfect pillow.
The aforementioned foam pad:
A brief glimpse of the Bellingham Public Library (back entrance), where I spent several hours today:
Sadly, I took no pictures of all the people I met. After sitting zazen three times in a row in the space of 24 hours, I met a lot of people! My apologies for not immortalizing you guys, but feel free to send pics of yourselves and I'll gladly blog them!
Bellingham is a nice town, so I don't mind spending another night here. But where to stay? Alan's been going nuts throwing possibilities at me. He created a profile for me on Couchsurfing.com, and has found some interesting potential crash sites in town (I might just try the hookah bar he found! that's hookah, not hooker). I need to call or email some of these folks right away and find out what's up. (Actually, I've contacted two places already-- got a "no" from one and haven't heard back from the other.)
Alan has (along with other people who have offered their thoughts) persuaded me to think bigger-- and more specifically-- about what my route across the country will be. I know some of my readers are interested in knowing this, too, so they can provide info on possible sites to visit or possible rest stops.* I don't have the plan locked down by any means, but right now, I think I'll be following Alan's (and Tom Dorsey's) suggestion about following the Columbia River eastward. The river flows along the Washington/Oregon border.
Alan also suggested Salt Lake City as a religiously significant stopping point, and I'd agree. SLC lies smack against the western side of the Rockies; it marks either the end of a comparatively easy route (well, easy for those who are in shape) and the beginning of the arduous route. I'll be happy to reach Denver alive. I've also decided to keep heading toward Seattle.** There are doubtless plenty of people to visit and talk with about religion there.
Note to Nathan: you were right. Having a support team (right now, a team of one, but I hope that'll change soon, because poor Alan's been busy all day with me) is probably the way to go, at least for now. I do still hope the walk eventually becomes self-planning, but that transformation may be tied as much to the publicity this walk gets as to anything else.
So a very likely route across the US will have me hit Seattle, work my way down to the WA/OR border, follow the Columbia eastward as best I can, plow through Idaho and into Utah, eventually reaching Salt Lake City before confronting the challenge of the Rockies (good Lord, what season will it be when I get there?). I hope to be somewhat thinner and to have slightly more muscular legs by that point.
*Please be sure to email your suggestions to "kevinswalkcentral [at] gmail [dot] com."
**Help Alan by offering suggestions as to possible crash sites! Email Kevin's Walk Central with your thoughts!
Many thanks to Matt, a junior at Western Washington University who tolerated my noisome funk long enough to lead me to the university's library. Matt's majoring in Finance and wants to graduate a semester early so he can start work right away on a Master's degree.
Good luck, man. Study hard! And thanks again for showing me the 'brary.
Kevin's Walk Central is composed, for the moment, of only one intrepid volunteer, Mr. Alan Cook. Alan has very kindly donated his time to helping me plan my route back to the east coast. Given the straits I've been in, I'd say he has taken on a massive responsibility. This means two things to you:
1. If you want to become part of Kevin's Walk Central to help with route planning, please write Alan at:
kevinswalkcentral [at] gmail [dot] com
2. If you have info or ideas you'd like to pass along to Kevin's Walk Central (e.g., houses that might volunteer a couch or bed, potential houses of worship or cheap university dorms or decent campsites along my probable route, interesting people I should meet, etc.), please email Kevin's Walk Central at the same address so Alan can examine your ideas more closely:
kevinswalkcentral [at] gmail [dot] com
Let me discuss KWC in more detail.
The primary, and admittedly selfish, purpose of KWC is to free me up to just walk to a destination, arrive there, talk, and leave, confident that I've got another place to go. Kevin's Walk Central is like Mission Control, then, and I'm the plump astronaut hurtling through theospace. As things stand, we still haven't built up enough momentum to get the route to start planning itself, so I'm hoping that a group of volunteers can kick-start that process. What's happened thus far is that I've arrived at a place, and then the trail's gone cold, causing delay and expense (not that I'm blaming the places where I'm staying! I've already discussed why I'm in the current predicament).
KWC volunteers will be poring over maps, discussing plausible routes over this or that patch of land (I'm looking for ease more than anything, so routes that take me along roads will be better than rough mountain trails), contacting various religious institutions, homes, etc. If we end up with several volunteers, I'm hoping they coordinate with each other. The end result will be to present me with my next destination(s), and my route(s) to it/them. The people at those destinations will already be expecting me.
Assuming we get a group of KWC volunteers, my hope is that they will take the time to get to know each other, as one major theme of this walk is interconnection. It's not enough just to be a cypher at a keyboard; let's foster some human relationships. A practical reason for this is that the group can, over time, develop an "institutional memory," so that if one or two people drop out later on, the rest of the volunteers can recruit newbies and quickly train them as to what to do.
When planning the routes, volunteers might try thinking outside of the box: start with a far-off destination and plan the route towards where I am, for example.
Alan's the only guy working KWC at the moment, so he's the Big Cheese. As I noted at the beginning of this post, if you're interested in helping us out, please write Alan at the above KWC address.
We're hoping to hear from you soon! Remember that it doesn't really matter where you're located (except maybe for long-distance phone charges). Alan himself is thousands of miles from where I am.
Yes, you read that right: I met the lean and dangerous Jason Bourne on the streets of Bellingham this morning. He needed a buck's change for the parking meter, but I had only a quarter plus a couple nickels and a dime.
Jason works at Bourne Engineering, PLLC, so I assume he either founded the company or is in the family business. (His card lists him as "Jason Bourne, PE," but I don't know what "PE" means.)
I gave Jason my blog's URL and briefly told him about the walk. "God bless!" He said in parting. Thanks, man. Spread the word about my blog and this walk!
UPDATE: I went a-searching through Wikipedia, which offered a long list of possible "PE"s, and "Professional Engineer" strikes me as most likely.
Tonight's zazen session was very educational: I did almost everything wrong. Up to now, my only frame of reference has been Korean Seon practice, which has its own procedures. Those procedures didn't prepare me for the many extra steps involved in Red Cedar's Soto style.
While the actual seated meditation was no different from what I did at temples in Korea and Maryland, other aspects of the meditative ritual were very different.
Example: in neither Korean temple (Hanguk-sa in Germantown, MD and Hwagye-sa in Seoul) did I ever see people rotating on their seat cushions when standing up or sitting down, but I saw that tonight. Tonight's session also included much more bowing (both from the waist and full prostration), and the chants were mostly different from the ones I heard in the Korean context (one chant was the same; the Three Refuges, though in this Zen center the chant is done in Sanskrit, not the vernacular).
The most amazing difference was in how Red Cedar handles walking meditation. In both Hanguk-sa and Hwagye-sa, walking meditation means walking-- you pad around the dharma hall's interior at a bit less than normal walking speed. At Red Cedar, walking meditation means taking tiny steps at widely spaced intervals, all performed in very slow motion. I doubt I covered ten meters before we sat back down again.
Tonight was also a "work night," i.e., the attendees did chores for the better part of an hour to help maintain the center. I worked with a gentleman named Don to sweep the wooden floors. Don, an urbane fellow, smiled gently as we were sweeping and said, "There's an art to this, you know."
I talked with a few people after we finished the chores, but didn't record the conversation. I asked my interlocutors about their personal backgrounds and discovered that none was a cradle Buddhist (considering the history and demographics of Buddhism in the West, this isn't too surprising). One person called herself Christian (Methodist background), but was at pains to clarify that she meant she cleaved to Christ himself. Another person professed to be an ex-Catholic who had had, at one point, an "antagonistic" relationship with the church. He doesn't strike me as bitter now. Quite the contrary: he's happy that he'll be taking the precepts soon.
I asked what people thought about violence done for religious reasons and got answers that ranged from questioning the assumptions underlying my question (which I think is perfectly legitimate) to a profound observation about the ambiguity of religion and the ways in which it gets used and misused.
It's an interesting group of people in this sangha-- varied in background, but happy together and headed up by a more-than-capable priest. I'll be leaving them in the morning and heading south toward Samish Island... but first there's the 6:30AM zazen!
My thanks to the Red Cedar community for their kindness in having me over. Work out your salvation with diligence!
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
I woke up around 8:30AM, left the motel a tiny bit after 10AM, and lumbered back into town. I arrived at the Red Cedar Zen Community doorstep, and the head priest, Tim Burnett, was standing at the door and talking with a lady. I went up to the two, and Tim knew who I was right away: "You must be Kevin," he said. He ushered me into the building; I took my boots off in the foyer and Tim, who struck me as quiet but friendly, showed me where I could stay for the night, stow my personal effects, and very quickly take my second shower of the day.
I managed to shower and change before the noon zazen session. The beginning of the session didn't seem that different from doing ch'am-seon in the Korean tradition: be quiet upon entering the dharma hall, bow formally to the Buddha image, then take a seat on an empty pillow (I had been worried about taking someone's usual seat, but Tim, very relaxed, told me to just pick an empty spot).
The structure of the session was:
1. seated meditation for about thirty minutes (no walking meditation)
2. bowing (three full prostrations) to the Buddha
3. chanting the Metta* Sutra (a gentleman handed out sheets on which the sutra had been printed in English, in prose form)
4. bowing (three full prostrations again)
5. announcements, introduction of new people
Perhaps the most startling difference between the ch'am-seon I've done in Seoul and Germantown, Maryland and what I did at lunchtime today was that, several minutes into zazen, Tim started talking. I admit I was pretty surprised. I need to ask him whether this is normal in the Japanese meditative traditions, or whether this discursive interlude is a concession to logocentric Western culture. I suppose I should ask the logically prior question first: does this usually happen?
Some of the meditators used chairs; others used the standard cushions. There were about six of us in the dharma hall, not counting Tim. We sat in two ranks, facing away from each other.
I had the chance to meet several fellow attendees after the session was over. Edie Norton led bells and chanting this afternoon. She's an accomplished meditator with experience in both Zen and Vipassana traditions. Her good friend Lorna (last name?) was also there; Lorna invited me to join with her as she peppered Edie with a list of fascinating questions that had arisen ever since she (Lorna) began reading Shunryu Suzuki's classic collection of dharma talks, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.. Edie's answers were very educational; she spoke from long experience. Lorna took notes on a legal pad.
Tim was sitting with us, and he called me away for a moment to discuss a possible southward route for tomorrow morning, as well as to call the Community of Christ on Samish Island and see whether arrangements could be made for me. I think we're still waiting for word on that.
I also had the chance to meet Dr. Diane Mirro, the Zen community's registrar. Diane, who was working away on a laptop in the downstairs area, told me she had done aikido and iaido (sword-drawing art) in Texas, but after nearly twenty years of practice she had put it all aside to be "among the snow-capped peaks and bald eagles" here in Washington. She, too, is a long-time Buddhist practitioner as well as a professional chiropractor.
When the time came for Edie and Lorna to leave, Lorna said she would read my blog (thanks, Lorna!). She also said she was heading out to Germany to see her son, who lives there with his wife and child.
I'll be meeting even more people tonight, as there will be a 7-9PM zazen session with a brief cleanup/chores period afterward.
*"Metta" is often translated "loving-kindness."
When I walked across the border into Blaine, my goal was the First Church Unitarian, thanks to that fortuitous comment left on the blog. I had hoped to meet the church's pastor, Nan Geer (her husband's named Richard-- yes, Richard Geer), but the first person I met on the church grounds was Tom Dorsey, the church sexton.
Tom's an amazing fellow; he's both a hard worker and a great storyteller. He's been all over the world and is an avid sailor. In fact, he lives on a boat now.
Tom took me under his wing right away, offering me sage advice about what route I should probably take across the country, telling me about the weather and terrain I'd be likely to encounter, and expressing his enthusiastic support for my project.
Tom gave me Nan's phone number, so my first "meeting" with her wasn't face to face. I was a little worried at first that Nan might actually be a somewhat remote, standoffish individual, disinclined to meet and talk with strangers who appeared on the church threshold obnoxiously requesting free lodging for an indefinite period.
How wrong I was.
Over the phone, Nan unhesitatingly offered me the use of Hagen House, the outbuilding next to her church that contained her office, a kitchen and bathroom, a living room and some classrooms for kids. Hagen House was once a parsonage back when the church building was built and used by Icelandic Christians; both Nan and Tom had plenty to say about the church's interesting history and the evolving demographics of Blaine's religious communities.
Nan and I met the day I left the Anchor Inn Motel and moved into Hagen House, which is how I discovered she was a hugger. Feisty at 70, Nan speaks her mind. She wasn't shy in noting that the Unitarians in Blaine are "shunned," an interreligious situation I would have liked to discuss further. The day I met her, however, the talk was mostly about Blaine's and the local UU church's history and demography.
Blaine has a large Russian community; the Orthodox group that meets on the FCU premises is apparently Pentecostal; I have no clue how "Orthodox" and "Pentecostal" fit together, but having sat outside Hagen House as the Russians were winding down, I heard plenty of shouting, which was a strong hint that something of a Pentecostal nature was happening within.
Aside: the Russian gentleman I had met earlier, Vasiliy (note proper Romanization of his name this time), was apparently the leader of the religious group. He actually apologized to me when I saw him again around 10:30PM, saying, "When we met, I think I made a mistake by not inviting you to join us." I told him it was no problem, though I privately thought it would have been interesting, from a ritual studies perspective, to have observed the proceedings.
I explained my trans-America project to the youngsters who remained, and one teen girl said with a cute Russian lilt, "It's like Lewis and Clark!" to which I replied, "Yes, but the other way around!"
The oldest generation of Russians I met (I greeted them as they were exiting Hagen House) can speak almost no English; Vasiliy is fluent but has an accent; the kids have native fluency in English and seem also to have it in Russian.
Back to Nan. Nan knows all the best places to see in Blaine; she suggested that I hang out in eateries like Blackberry House and the Seaside Bakery; she also told me about the Goff Department Store, where resides the 1909-era cash register referred to in an earlier post.
Nan knows business, too. Property values just across the border in British Columbia are, she told me, double what you find in Blaine. Many of the richer BC natives have crossed the border and bought second homes in Blaine.
About her current church building, Nan explained it was originally built by Icelandic fishermen, Lutherans, who "knew nothing about construction," but still managed to build a sturdy structure that endures to this day, its fundamental framework intact.
At some point in the church's early history (was it at or near the beginning, Nan?), a Lutheran minister converted to Unitarianism and brought around forty Icelanders with him; sermons were preached in Icelandic until 1949.
One characteristic of this church its strong ethnic cohesion. However, numbers were dwindling and when Nan arrived as pastor, membership was down to a mere seventeen people; the current membership is up around forty.
Nan's many duties-- for she is, like most people of the cloth I know, truly a busy woman-- include "extension work" (presumably the establishment of new churches) and the closing of churches that are no longer viable for financial or other reasons.
Our conversation drifted again to interesting sights in town, and that's how I discovered that Blaine harbors the second-largest copper beech tree west of the Mississippi. I didn't go see it, but I like Blaine enough to think that I'll go back there someday and tour the town, gorging myself on the good Mexican food and waddling around to see all the town's nooks and crannies.
Because of the way I had to rush off to the Sikh temple on Saturday morning, it was too bad that I wasn't able to say a proper goodbye to pert, feisty Nan and hardworking, kind-hearted Tom, but we've all promised to keep in touch. Tom is working on a book about his sailing adventures; once it's published, I hope to buy a copy. The man has been almost literally everywhere. Nan makes for an interesting complement to Tom's roving nature: like a good Zen master, she's very much here.
I hope you've enjoyed this brief profile, which was a long time coming! It doesn't do justoce to these two wonderful people, but I trust it gives you some glimpse into their character.
After I had checked out of the Chrysalis Inn today, I heaved myself through the rain into town and spent some time in the Bellingham Public Library trying to figure out how best to order the rest of my day.
I needed to make some phone calls, but I always feel weird standing in the street and gabbling into a cell phone, so I lumbered into downtown and paused before the vitrine of a very nice-looking Viet-Thai resto with the rather Konglishy name "House of Orient"*
This is where I met Isabel, the woman who served me my food. Isabel is obviously a people person; very relaxed, she joked about the stylized Sterno pot that accompanied my chicken satay appetizer, claiming it gave the dish a "Temple of Doom" look. I had a good laugh. (I hope your boss doesn't read this and take it the wrong way, Isabel!)
As she brought over my main course, which was ginormous but surprisingly cheap, we got to talking about my project (me, me, me-- yeah, it's me all the time), and Isabel told about her boyfriend's spiritual evolution: he's a Catholic, but he underwent something of a reorientation after spending time in Tibet (I don't think Isabel said it was a conversion, per se, but her guy really took to Vajrayana metaphysics, especially as relates to karma).
We also talked about the missionary impulse in religion. Isabel's take, if I remember correctly, is that religions are fine as long as they're not imposing their belief structures on others. I mentioned that this was a sticky issue because that impulse is pervasive in many religious traditions (people sometimes forget that Buddhism is one of the world's three major missionary religions [see Charles B. Jones's The View From Mars Hill for more on this], though its notion of mission differs profoundly from what we often see in Christianity and Islam). Isabel agreed that many adherents proselytize not so much out of arrogance as because they feel they have to share a boon with others, or to try to save them from damnation.
Isabel spent time in Spain and "learned a lot of Spanish" while there. She's itching to finish her studies and pursue some of her personal goals. I wish her well. As Koreans often say: study hard! May you find happiness in your pursuits.
You might think that Isabel spent all her time conversing and none of it actually waitressing, but you'd be wrong: she flew all around the room with grace and poise, keeping the patrons happy with her social skills. What information I received from her arrived in focused sound bites.
Because I watched my brother David do his time as a server at the fast-paced California Pizza Kitchen, I appreciate how hard such work is. I'm far too lazy, introverted, and impatient to be competent in such a capacity; I'd likely throttle the first customer who gave me any lip. I respect those folks in the food business who do their jobs well. It takes patience, grace, and amazing reserves of energy.
The second person I met this evening was a young, 20-something bearded guy on a bike. As he tooled along past me on the opposite side of the street, he saw my backpack and called out over his shoulder:
"Dude! That-- is-- HEAVY!"
"About sixty pounds!" I shouted across the street.
"I've been there, bro!" he shouted back. "God bless!"
We didn't stop to talk, so unlike what happened in the encounter with Isabel, I wasn't able to give this guy my blog's URL and ask him to Spread The Word (do you like my AA Milne-style capitalization? it makes words and concepts Look Very Important, but in a silly way).
The third person I met was a dignified gent with a close-shaved gray beard; his name was Wolf (short for Wolfgang). "You look like you're going on a long pilgrimage," Wolf said as he and his very fluffy dog approached me. I told Wolf about my project; he told me about some of his own travel projects (like many people I've met in this area, he's an avid sailor), and he mentioned one very happy fact: he's getting married this July!
Wolf's an interesting religious mix: he self-identifies as both Christian and shaman! I asked what kind of shamanism he was into (the only shamanism with which I have even a passing familiarity is the Korean variety), and he responded that it was an integrated shamanism (only in America, right?) that combined several shamanistic strands.
Maybe it's the glow imparted by Wolf's upcoming marriage, but he strikes me as a very happy man. Something about the cut of his beard and the look in his eye reminded me strongly of Robert Buswell, the ex-monk (Korean Seon/Zen tradition) who teaches at UCLA, and who also radiates a cheerful bonhomie.
Great meeting you, Wolf! Sorry if I made your dog nervous, but as we all know, dogs can smell both Terminators and evil people, so your pet was only reacting to the danger he sensed in me.
Finally, hats off to the very nice lady at the Exxon station, who helped me out by calling ahead to ask whether the Shamrock Motel had any available rooms. She didn't have to do that for me, but she went the extra mile.
In an earlier post, I remarked that the citizens of Bellingham were less forthcoming with greetings and smiles than the good folks I had met in Blaine. I spoke too soon, I think, and I apologize. I've been fortunate to have met good people every day, no matter where I've been.
*Most of you know that "Orient" has become a politically incorrect term, ja? You no longer say, "He's Oriental"; instead, you must say, "He's East Asian," or "She's South Asian," or "They're Southeast Asian," etc. The reason for this change has to do with a recognition of the Eurocentrism of the term. "Orient" means "east" (and "Occident" means "west"); a "disoriented" person is literally someone who can't find east. But Asia is "east" in relation to what? Why, to Europe, of course! Hence the accusation of Eurocentrism and the supposed need to correct this dreadful act of oppression through language.
[NB: I wonder why this issue might be of concern to North Americans, from whose perspective Asia lies to the west. Who are the real Westerners, eh? EH??]
Personally, I find the whole thing silly. Easterners themselves use a Chinese expression (pronounced "dohng-bahng" in Korean) that means "eastern" in reference to their own food and culture. If Easterners can tolerate the awful Eurocentrism of the term, why should Westerners be losing any sleep over it?
Political correctness-- whose ultimate goal is a utopia in which no one will have cause to feel offended by anything-- is often little more than paternalistic arrogance. As the parrot in Tom Robbins's Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates says: "People of zee wurl, RELAX!"
Having said all that, I admit I've bowed to the pressure and no longer say "Oriental."
I didn't bring along Brad Smith's tent, which I hope doesn't offend Brad. The tent's a nice one, but I simply had no room for it in (or hanging on the outside of) my backpack. I'm keeping the tent in reserve, however, for when the weather gets colder (it is, of course, possible that I might need it sooner when I hit the mountains).
Instead of the tent, I've got the sort of setup I used twice (with only arguable success) when I camped in Interlaken, Switzerland: a poncho, a groundsheet, a foam pad, a sleeping bag, and various standard and bungee cords with which to string up said poncho. It's a serviceable setup if you've got trees.
And that's tonight's problem. I used Ye Olde BlackBerrie to look up campsites in the Bellingham area and discovered an RV park about three miles from downtown, or almost four miles from Red Cedar Zen Community, where I'm headed again tomorrow. I called the place (which bills itself as a campground as well as an RV park) and asked whether a person without a vehicle could camp there.
"Sure," the gentleman on the phone said. "But tenters [I learned a new term!] have to pay the same fee as the RVers. Thirty-three dollars."
I asked whether there were trees.
After the massive hemorrhage my wallet had suffered over the past two days (sorry, Chrysalis Inn-- your hotel is truly fantastic, and I'd love to visit it again, but I really couldn't afford that splurge), thirty-three dollars sounded like a bargain. The fact that it was cold and rainy today didn't bother me; I was looking forward to setting up camp and getting some early shuteye.
But it was not to be. When I reached the RV park, I saw trees, all right; all around the perimeter. I had thought there was some sort of special tree-filled area for campers, but all the usable space was either gravel or flat, mown grass. Without trees, I had no way to set up my camp.
And that was that. (FYI, the other campsites were much farther out of town; using them would have been impractical, as I'd have had to get up around 4AM to wash and pack in time to walk back into town at a decent hour.)
There was a Hampton Inn right next door to the RV park, so I walked over to it. Full tonight, the lady said; all sold out. I walked over to an Exxon gas station and asked the lady there if there were any other hotels in the area. With some hesitation, she mentioned the place I'm in now: the Shamrock, which is run by what appears to be a father-son team who look as Irish as I look Zulu.
The room's fine. The walls are paper-thin, which means I'd better not fart too loudly, and the toilet's built into a stifling little niche that makes me feel as if I'm crammed inside an airplane toilet.
Aside from that, the bed is good, the room's thermostat works (it's actually cold out there, though I've seen some hardy natives walking around in short pants and shirts), and my next-door neighbor is either too drunk or too tired to do much talking.
Not much more a man can ask for.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
If you visit the archives of Steve Vaught's The Fat Man Walking blog, you will see many entries that begin with an apology for not having provided an update in a while. Vaught was very good at expressing whatever was on his mind, but I suspect that he was experiencing something similar to what I've been experiencing: writer's backlog, i.e., the backlog that comes of having too much information to write about.
When you plunge into a project like this, where you're meeting new people and seeing new places almost every day, there's a desire to document every single thing, but there simply aren't enough hours in the day to do that. Inevitably, compromises have to be made; some information is dropped. The story you've been wanting to tell can't be told properly.
Today, for example, I would have liked to snap some pics of the beautiful ladies at the Chrysalis Inn's front desk (and a pic of the equally lovely staffer who helped me out the night I checked in), but this wasn't possible because I was checking out and fully packed: the digicam is safely ensconced in a plastic box, buried deep inside the backpack. Taking it out would have meant unpacking half the contents.
I also still owe you write-ups of my talks in Blaine, and other updates as well. It's frustrating not to have the time-- and energy-- to sit down and write everything out in one fell swoop. As you might imagine, I'm frustrated by the backlog.
So I'm wondering whether it's too much to visit a new religious community every night. While I still hesitate to burden any one community for more than a single night, I think some travel time between places is called for.
If so, this notion has to be passed along from waypoint to waypoint, otherwise people will think they have to find a place that's within a day's walk from them. This goes back to the idea expressed in the previous post: any two major dots can be connected through smaller dots whose only purpose can be as simple as lodging and laundry.
Note to people with my phone number: please don't call me for a couple hours. I don't want to disturb the other patrons.
It's cool and rainy today, so my giant blue backpack shroud is out and doing its job. I've got the rain pants on along with the jacket, but given how much I sweat, I wonder whether it's all worth it.
A couple notes:
I'm going to head to a campground later today; I'm hoping to visit Red Cedar Zen Community tomorrow and engage in some sitting meditation, talk with some folks, do some chores (this sharing of work is normal in a Zen community; you probably distribute chores in your own household, yes?), and leave the following day.
Red Cedar's head priest, Tim Burnett, wrote me about arrangements (I actually want to talk more about one thing he said, but will save that for later). I think he's going to direct me to the Community of Christ on Samish Island (though I might not be able to go there if there's no bridge allowing me to walk across). This community apparently has a campground that the Zen community has used. Whether the COC will be ready to receive me immediately is an open question; I'll know more shortly. Because I'm having some trouble getting people to understand and follow through on the third of my "three requested things" (i.e., pointing me to my next destination and telling those folks that they, in turn, need to point me onward), it's been very hard to get the ball rolling. Very hard.
To that end, I'll be contacting intrepid commenter Alan Cook, a gent based in Texas, about helping out with arrangements. Alan very kindly volunteered his services as a scout and PR person; I need to contact him today so we can start up Kevin's Walk Central. I might even start asking those folks who are willing to host me to refer their questions to Alan!
I haven't asked Alan about this, but I'll put it to the public: many hands make light work, so if other readers actually have the time and wherewithal, more volunteers for Kevin's Walk Central will be appreciated. At least by me-- for all I know, Alan's a frothing megalomaniac bent on world domination, a man not given to working with others. (Joking aside, Alan is a sharp guy with a great blog called Milinda's Questions. I've never met him face to face, but we live in an age of e-friendship, so this isn't particularly disturbing. Many of us have e-friends these days. Is that weird?)
Some point soon, perhaps if/when I'm with the Community of Christ, I'll need to stop for a few days and let my poor hips heal-- just lie in my tent all day and air out that bloody mess. If not at the Community itself, then I'll do this at some nearby campground. The other reason for doing this is to give me and Kevin's Walk Central some time to organize a few of the dots in our connect-the-dots.
Thinking aloud now: one way to do this would be to find centers in far-off cities and work backwards, connecting the bigger dots by finding smaller dots in between, filling in the projected path long before I arrive at those waypoints. Those smaller dots wouldn't have to be religious communities, necessarily; they could be individual homes (or some crazy-happy family with a Winnebago), similar to French "gites," places with simple accommodations where I could spend a night before moving on. (Sorry about not adding a circumflex to the "I" in "gite"; I'm typing this via email, so I can't use HTML.)
Right-- lots to ponder. More updates in a bit. Oh, before I forget: remember that picture of the breakfast I ate that the gurdwara? I've got my notes out, now, so here goes (pardon the incorrect spellings; all mistakes are my own):
1. The fried veggies that you dip in ketchup are called "bhukora."
2. The fried, pale, chip-like morsels are called "matri" or "maturi" (I may be way off here, but I think this is what I heard from Charnjit and Mr. Sidhu).
3. The large blocks are "burfi," pronounced a bit like "Murphy"; they're sweet, being made out of flour and sugar.
I could have been a pig and eaten several plates of all the food, but didn't want to appear as greedy as I really am.
There we go. Back later. Enjoy the weather, wherever you are!
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
Sculpture along Peace Portal Drive (Blaine):
The sculpture's pediment testifies to the town's Icelandic heritage:
The sculpture again (it's titled "Vigil"):
This looked more dignified when the flag was flapping freely; now it looks as though the guy is spearing the flag:
The dessert I had at the Mexican restaurant on Peace Portal: fried taco shell containing apple pie filling, topped with strawberry sauce and whipped cream. Delish.
Goff's Department store in Blaine, which Nan Geer told me contained something famous...
...a 1909-era cash register that still works!
A last look at First Church Unitarian on the day I left it (this past Saturday):
Down the long road we go...
This snake greeted me while I was on the Birch Bay-Lynden road:
Making it to Lynden:
The entrance to the Sikh gurdwara (place of worship):
A closer shot of the gurdwara itself. I stayed in an outbuilding off to the left.
An interior shot of my digs:
The Korean-style bed I enjoyed after my 16.67-mile walk:
The Hugeness. Note the cryptic salt patterns.
See the khanda on the door of my place? Interestingly, the only room that had a doorknob was the bathroom. I wonder why.
The garden outside my outbuilding:
What's this flower?
Another refectory shot:
Charnjit, the guy who first helped me out when I entered the temple. He practices taekwondo and recently had to fight his sister, whom he described as "energetic."
Charnjit suggested I take a picture of the bulletin board:
I need to read through my notes to describe the food I was eating, but it was good:
Mr. Satpal Sidhu (center, no turban) with Charnjit and friend:
Another refectory shot:
A glimpse of the anteroom before the prayer hall:
The red line divides the worship space into the women's side (left, from your point of view) and the men's side (right). Note the people sitting on the small stage. They are like musical liturgists, singing/chanting the scripture and thereby providing the textual content of the service (or at least, the part of the service I saw, and I was there at least 30-40 minutes):
This man, who said nothing the entire time I sat in on the worship service, had a magnificent brush that he would wave about periodically. I tried to determine what would motivate him to wave the brush (which looks a lot like one of those giant horsehair brushes used by Korean calligraphers when they make those gargantuan Chinese characters)... near as I can figure, he would wave the brush whenever someone was crossing the worship area's threshold, but that's only a guess. (Sorry for the blurriness.)
The expensive hotel where I'm currently staying-- the Chrysalis:
We're walking out to the water now with the intention of touching the ocean...
One witness to the act:
And here's the video of the golden moment.
Another couple shots of my hotel:
In Bellingham Bay:
The Zen center I'd been hoping to visit. Each time I've been there, no one was in. Poor timing, I guess.
Some plantish action happening at the Zen center:
These sure look like Korean tap (tiny tower/cairns formed of stones piled on each other and often expressing prayers or wishes; the word also refers to pagodas), but why all the crumbly concrete?
I must be at the right place:
There are eight flagstones. Eight-fold Path?
What follows are pics of my over-luxurious accommodations. I'll never be able to do this again.
And now... a picture not for the squeamish:
The above is from my left hip, where the fat roll was pinched and otherwise severely chafed. Some pus action happening. I've done the disinfecting thing, but as long as I keep wearing this backpack, this is going to happen. Luckily, the pain goes away after I belt myself in and walk about a hundred yards. Of course, it returns after I've rested for a bit...