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Friday, July 13, 2001


Supping the rich wine of the summer senses


One way to relieve the heat during the sweltering summer is to picture visual and acoustic scenes that have poetic or artistic charm.

First, there is the morning glory (asagao), whose beauty is so transitory that Matsuo Basho wrote in his haiku, "Asagao ya kore mo mata waga tomo narazu (The morning glory, too, will never be my friend)."

Just before the breath of night ceases, the morning glory begins to open its petals. The purest sunshine soaks into them. But as the eastern sky brightens, city noises increase, exhaust fumes block the sunlight and the petals of the morning glory quiver disconsolately. The rays of the sun finally lose their purity and the morning glory fades away.

The flower has experienced a single glorious moment of life. That one moment dwells in the quiet glimmer of predawn. This is the hour I love to peruse morning glories, just as the first sunlight of day touches them.

In contrast to the fragile beauty of the morning glory is the vigor of the sturdy sunflower. It stands tall in the fields under a burning sun as if it were offering up a prayer for rain.

In the Japanese summer there is also the elegant soundscape of the furin (wind-bell). This small metal or glass bell is hung under the eaves of a house and tinkles whenever the breeze moves the tanzaku (a strip of paper on which a poem is written) attached to the clapper.

The wind-bell rings to indicate the movement of the wind. It is sensitive enough to catch the faintest trace of moving air, and it changes tone quality accordingly. My wind-bell is tinkling right now; so is my neighbor's.

The two sounds touch each other and create delicate shades of coolness that drift into my room. My heart chants:

the wind-bell's song touches another: variegated coolness

Following the acoustical coolness of furin, you may also enjoy a bit of visual coolness in this cloudscape:

At midday, under a scorching sun, the air is motionless and the ground hot and dry. Trees and grasses droop and even birds have disappeared. Beads of perspiration stand out on people's brows. The unrelenting heat beats down on the languid waters of a small lake. Above, clouds have lost their power to move. Some have laid their shadows down in repose on a meadow; others lay themselves under the water:

the burning sun a white cloudlet rests in the depths of a lake

Not only day views but night views can portray the exquisite beauty of a harmonized heaven and earth. A moonless sky ripples in the starlight. Perhaps the language of the stars is their very light for they are so distant from one another, so alone and lonely that they must speak to each other and to the things on Earth. White lilies meditate in the silent darkness of my garden until they touch the ancient starlight kindled 200,000 light-years away. This mingling of the serene starlight and the white lilies must be one of the most astonishing and awesome scenes which heaven and earth together can create. My soul cries out in wonder:

a star 200,000 light-years distant lilies touch the light

Toward the end of summer, the visual and the acoustical beauty of heaven and Earth combined reveal this startling panorama:

A shooting star carves a long arc across the night sky. The darkness is torn apart by silent screams. Sparks rain from the crevice gaping in the dark. It is a dreadful scene but not without beauty as light and darkness perform together in the fractured sky. Suddenly, crickets start calling. Perhaps they, too, are feeling a violent burning inside for their cries become shrill. After a few moments, the star disappears. The crickets' voices soften. Darkness deepens and silence settles back heavily. Everything, both animate and inanimate, seems connected by an invisible string of feeling.

Needless to say, summer is the season for the sun to display its greatest power.

May the beauty carved out upon your summer mind be a sunlet to melt the ice within.

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