Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘relaxation’

Zen in our Techno-Monetary society

This journal entry was originally posted in 2012.

It seemed worth repeating.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Sunset Moon

It wasn’t easy choosing a name for the blog Armchair Zen, though that’s how I’ve referred to my personal philosophy for some time. Names like “Zen in the modern world” and “Everyday Zen” and the like seemed to be taken. I guess everyone has the same idea.

Mostly the idea of ACZ is to share thoughts and philosophy with those that want to seek enlightenment, peace in their daily lives, harmony with the world, nature, the cosmos and life itself. It’s not about achieving perfection or some higher plane or a place in the next life or eternity. It’s about understanding our capabilities and limitations in this life, it’s about acceptance, understanding, compassion, forgiving and letting go.

As it says in About, these things are nothing new. Applying them to today’s world is not always that easy. We live in a world I term a Techno-Monetary society. We’re surrounded by wonderful technologies from life-saving medicine, global communications, electronic entertainment, space exploration and productivity greater than mankind has ever known, bolstered by the machines and artificial intelligences of our modern world.

In ancient times and old days, individuals and whole communities were isolated, and did not have the benefit of the vast volumes of knowledge mankind has compiled since. Their lives were filled with strife, at the mercy of the elements, filled with superstitions, fears, and lack of understanding of things that seem simple to us today. The sun, the solar system, what makes rain, thunder, tornadoes. They had more time, and perhaps a greater need, to seek peace within their lives.

We are also slaves to the monetary system. In all the developed countries (probably 90% of the globe), we need to work at something to earn money for rent, taxes, clothing, food, transportation, and the list goes on. This is really not new, nor does it strictly apply to developed countries or societies. Go back a couple thousand years and we find people did not live the simple agrarian lives we might imagine. Subsistence farmers & ranchers, mountain-men and even minimalist communities of today need to barter goods or trade cash for the things they can’t make. Cooking kettles, sewing needles, broadcloth, tack supplies, sugar, salt, bacon.

Finding our personal zen and peace within our lives seems like a considerable challenge after negotiating traffic, signing in at work, talking to customers, clients or co-workers that are not seeking enlightened ways, and any number of non-zen, non-nature, non-peace-encouraging things we must do.

Still, I find my ACZ to be pervasive. It hasn’t always been that way. I was “Two Jakes” for many years, seeking solace in nature and creative expression during my precious evenings and weekends, and turning off the peace machine when going to battle with the world. After some years of concentration, practice and informal self-cognitive behavioral therapy, the zen has spread to all hours of the day.

Nowadays there are few interactions with others wherein the conscious-competence of ACZ does not rule. Filter-monitoring, managing emotions & reactions, thinking forgiveness & acceptance, seeking to navigate all situations for the best outcome of all under the guidance of enlightened thought & behavior. Spread loving compassion by being loving and compassionate. Spread forgiveness and acceptance by being forgiving and accepting. Appreciate the beauty of the world around us by opening our eyes and minds and truly seeing. It’s not always easy, but it’s always simple!

That’s really all for this post. Perhaps it’s not a lot of meat, but an encouragement to those that may be seeking the path to peace. Sure, it takes a little time and concentration, but it can be done without extensive training or effort or money or social status or massive brain power.

You don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to be beautiful, you don’t have to be perfect. Everyone is welcome.

The cosmos, and I, love each and every thing without judgement.

That includes you!

Be at peace,

Paz

Note:

Sorry to leave the blogosphere hanging for a bit.

Then again, a post-a-month is about average for Armchair Zen.

Nothing personal, just that life and the world are very full and busy these days.

All good things, really, from babies to nature hikes, camping in the wilderness, enjoying the ease of summer days.

Hope you are, too.

Don’t forget there’s a limit on the number of days we’re allotted to blog, enjoy the world, hold babies, camp.

Soon I will parcel out a little more time from this purpose-filled life to properly honor Blogworld.

Meanwhile, take the time to enjoy every moment.

Life is wonder-filled if you just know how to look at it.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Shore Dinner DeLuxe

Editor’s note: this is the second of a 3-part journal entry, preceded by “Sojourn” (ACZ Archive, August 2015), and followed by “Return to Civilization” (ACZ Archive, September 2015) – Paz

 

 Sunrise

Sunrise

I awaken before sunrise in a tiny green and tan canvas hut to the sound of morning bird song and critters foraging about on the forest floor, what seems like inches from my bedroll. I can’t even remember the last time I slept alone in a tent. I was probably fourteen, camping on Scout Island on the Great Sacandaga Lake with my family.  Best rest I’ve had all year.

Up and out, get the coffee going first thing. Percolating coffee on the stovetop. Turn the heat down when it starts to perk to prevent scorching. How do we know when it’s done? No automatic drip or brew-and-pause or beeping sounds from the Keurig. When it looks like coffee in the glass, it’s done. No, that’s tea. No, it’s getting there. Patience. And finally-coffee! The littlest things seem like luxury at camp. This is a perspective I shall try to retain when back in the modern world of convenience and comfort.

It’s probably between 6:30 and 7 am, Joe steps out of the woods from the direction of his camp. We share the morning coffee minute briefly, then we’re ready to hit the water for the early morning rise. Greg and I strike out on the AquaMarie, head for the favorite hot spot with hopes the morning would bring a better result than yesterday. Joe and Bowin in the Tracker cruise past us as the engine on the AquaMarie begins to give us some trouble, trouble that would dog us all day. Overheating, fuel-starved, stalling.

Bowin lands the first keeper of the trip, a big bass, 18 to 20 inches or so. The rest of us snag sunfish and toss back the 10-inchers. At mid-morning we retire to camp and place Bowin’s bass inside the minnow trap so it won’t be eaten by the beasts that comb the shores for chain-ganged fish, unable to flee.

We’re feeling the pressure to catch fish now, expecting thirteen people in camp for dinner. By noon we have one fish. We troll, we drift-fish. We head for the dropoffs, we head for the inlets, we head for the weedbeds. Finally, by late afternoon, we’ve begun to add some keepers to the live well. Greg and I each add a nice bass, and Joe crosses the lake to hand off several nice fish. We’re well on our way to a traditional Forked Lake stringer-full of fish dinner.

Forked Lake Stringer

Forked Lake Stringer

By four o’clock, we’ve landed a little more than twenty pounds of fish, all bass this year. I set to work scaling and filleting the fish, then washed the fillets off in the crystal clear lake water from which they were liberated. I did the cleaning in the woods, away from camp, and carefully cleaned up the area including the leaves drenched with fish stuff. Then the remains were moved farther into the woods, a couple of hundred yards, away from campsites and the trail. This is black bear country, and we didn’t want to invite any into our camp (or our neighbors’!) Behind each site is a bear safe. A steel box in which to place your food to deter bear raids. The box has a heavy steel lid and not one, but two spring-loaded clasps that latch into hasps to keep the box closed. I typically use just one latch. I figure if there’s a bear smart enough and dexterous enough to open one spring-loaded catch (sometimes tedious for me), a second one would only make it aggravated.  Who wants an aggravated hungry bear in camp?

The bear safe

The bear safe

Joe whipped up a batch of beer batter, and heated oil in the big cast iron dutch oven over the open fire at his camp. Joe’s wife Danielle, their son Luke, and the other guests arrive in camp and preparations begin for a Shore Dinner DeLuxe, complete with grilled potatoes with onion and garlic, chips galore, watermelon and a number of other complements. In fact I can’t remember all the great offerings on our table.

Joe dropped fresh batter-dipped fillets in boiling oil, and in few minutes we were partaking of one of the finest meals in recent memory. Everyone had their fill, and plenty was left over, including some fish. And we were worried we couldn’t catch enough!

As darkness closed in on the day, those not staying took their leave. Joe ferried a couple folks to the launch, and others took the trail, a quarter-mile hike, back to the parking area. As we cleaned up, we marveled once again at the bounty of fish. So much fish we had leftovers, even with all the people we fed.

“Next year, we should keep just one fish each. Any more is a waste.” Joe stated, and I agreed.  “We brought way too much food this year.”

Somewhere around nine o’clock, Irv and his boy Collin bade us good evening and headed back to their camp. As is Saturday camp tradition, the remainder of us gathered around the open fire as the cool July night settled in. A wide variety of topics were discussed, not the least of which was our hard-won victory at fishing to feed the clan. One by one, the weary campers nodded off in their canvas umbrella chairs, Sparky finally retiring to his camp. The last one awake, it must be around eleven, and I thought of a regular Saturday night at home. Wondered if my wife (and dog) were watching monster movies on Svengoolie, falling asleep on the soft couch (or deep carpet, depending on species).

A call to my campmate, and Greg stirred. We headed back to our site next door, incarcerated the food supply in the bear safe, and hit the hay for our last night in camp.

Alone again in my little tan and green canvas hut. I fell asleep to the gentle evening breeze, punctuated by calls of the loon. Slept like a hibernating bear.

Next time: the return to “civilization”.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Sojourn

Editor’s note: this is the first of a 3-part journal entry, followed by “Shore Dinner DeLuxe”  then “Return to Civilization” (ACZ Archive, September 2015). – Paz

 

“I can’t believe we’re finally here.” Joe says as I unload gear from The AquaMarie, and begin to pitch camp.

“Like Christmas in July,” I reply, “it only comes once a year.”

Just as children eagerly await the annual return of the man in the Red Sled, Joe and I dream all year of this trip.

Sunrise in camp

Sunrise in camp

Our annual return to Forked Lake did not disappoint us in any way, living up to its legends.

A beautiful, crystal-clear glacial lake, great fishing with big smallmouth and largemouth bass, the solitude and quiet of the High Peaks Region.

A bit of change in personnel this year added new variety. With a six-month-old baby, a two-year-old and their eight-year old daughter at home, my son Ryan had to be excused from the camping trip this year, a sacrifice to domestic service. This has become a father & son tradition over the last four or five years, and Ryan was somewhat disappointed and apologetic about being unable to attend. Joe was concerned that we didn’t have Chef Ryan (who studied and considered culinary arts before becoming a nurse) or his recipe for fresh bass. I assured Joe that I knew the recipe, and was confident we’d be able to cook fish on our own.

New faces this year as our friends Greg (another guy we work with), and Irv (a guy that previously worked with us) signed up for the adventure. Along with guests in camp Saturday night, it was an action-packed and fun-filled weekend living up to its promise.

This year we reserved 3 campsites side-by-side, as we have in the past. Sparky was at site 8, Joe at 9, and I was at 10 with Greg. When Irv arrived Saturday, he managed to get site 7. Weather was perfect for sleeping in tents, fishing all day, and gathering around a fire in the evening. Certainly it was a high point for the mosquitoes. We should be glad they’re doing so well, and in no danger of being placed on a threatened species list.

Mosquito buffet

Mosquito buffet

Even in this impressionist photo (a grand term we apply to all out-of-focus and motion-blurred snapshots), you can see the universal signs of flailing and swiping ineffectively at the blood-sucking parasites, followed by the leaning-in to the fire until your eyebrows singe. Here the group sacrifices a child to the insects, forcing him to walk around those seated in an effort to draw the bugs away. (Irv’s boy Collin, a very active child that entertained in camp until bedtime.)

Friday reports from Joe and Bowin held that the fishing bounty was a bit off this year. Tried-and-true hot spots produced no action, and the few scattered takers were of modest size, some the legal minimum. Having arrived at noon and tasked with pitching camp, I had but a couple short hours in the late afternoon to put into plying the waters for our unseen quarry. My results brought a poor trend down further, as I landed nothing.

Sparky and Greg arrived late in the day, having worked the Friday and hurriedly packed to flee the mayhem of modernity and make their way to the quiet piney north woods. There was more than enough food and beverage to feed the six of us Friday night. As always, something about the outdoors and fresh, open air served to enhance the taste and satisfaction of the meal of delicious venison sausage. All-the-more fitting, the meat stuffs were the product of previous woodland adventures, the harvest of Joe’s hunting season.

Joe’s wife and second son Luke were scheduled to visit the Blue Mountain Lake Museum with some other family members on Saturday, bringing them within 12 miles of Long Lake and the Forked Lake Campground. After their excursion, they planned to join us in camp for a shore dinner of the bass of which we rave, and the most scenic of places to catch and eat it.

Now, of all times, we actually had a goal of catching fish. Normally a leisurely pursuit and friendly competition, we were charged with producing those bass we speak so highly of, and  we were getting a lukewarm greeting. The favorite hottest hot spot produced absolutely nothing. At the second-best hot spot, Greg & I each pulled a keeper out of the weed beds, both around 18 or 20 inches. Meanwhile, peppering the south shore with casts, Joe & Bowin ponied up with their fair share, adding a few more keepers to the live well. (Bowin had produced the first keeper on the morning shift. We locked it inside a minnow trap “cage” to protect it from the Cayman. (See ACZ Archives, July/August 2014; Off The Grid; The Storm Approaches; The Storm Strikes for explanation of the Cayman cage.)

The water was calm, smooth as glass, and Greg’s top-water lure got frequent strikes, but they proved to be sunfish, pumpkinseed and small bass. Greg tried his patented grappling method a couple of times with good result, presumably he was becoming concerned with eating today, and was willing to take whatever he could.

Patented Polerstock Method

Greg’s Grappling  Method

“I’ve never felt pressure to fish before.” I told Joe as we tried to determine what quantity of fish we’d need for a big shore dinner with company.

“I don’t know if we’ll have enough,” Joe reasoned, “so we may have to fill in with other stuff, maybe burgers.”

Throughout this stay there was a noticeable lack of loon activity. Normally, we’d see dozens of loons in the course of our fishing. They’d corral fish and dive, popping up hundreds of feet from where they entered. At night, the maniacal call would echo around the lake, reminding us of the origin of the term “Loony”, and the phrase “Crazy as a loon”. There were a few birds and a few night calls, but a mere fraction of the usual. I wondered if this was an indicator, a corollary to the lack of feeding game fish. (Or fish that wanted a Texas-rigged rubber worm, at least.)

Next time: Fabulous Shore Dinner, and more thoughts from the piney woods.

Take care and keep in touch.

Seek peace,

 

Paz

The Test

Remind me why we do this

Remind me why we do this

Humans love a challenge. Throw down a gauntlet, and someone will step right up.

A few hundred years ago there were great challenges to be embarked upon. The Northwest Passage, circumnavigation of the globe, settling the wild frontier of the New World, establishing the Oregon Trail, climbing to the summit of Everest, building the transcontinental railroad.

Nowadays, the great challenges lie entirely with experts. Scientists and Medical researchers. Landing on a comet, bringing samples back to earth. Finding cures for life-threatening diseases. Planning a manned mission to Mars. Back in the old days, anybody with a boat and a patron could set sail for adventure.

In my modern, comfortable, automated, mechanized life in the richest country in the world, it seems the greatest challenge sometimes is balancing the checkbook or sealing the drafty windows for winter. Unlike times past, there’s little worry about  heat, food, shelter, money, transportation.

And so, I must invent my own challenges. Winter is one. Not just surviving the winter shuttered in our rooms, sipping hot tea by the fire. Embracing winter.

Winter is a test. A test of fortitude, endurance, maybe sanity. I love the test.

Getting out in the Magic of winter is a challenge, but the rewards are many.

The Long trail

The Long trail

For one, there’s a standing promise to my dog, Chuy, that we will go out for a great hike whenever we can. This is often as much a challenge for him as it is me. This year, the snow piled up. Fluffy, soft snow. For the first half of the winter it was average, and good hiking. By the second half, the snow was still fluffy, and deeper than the length of an Akita’s legs. Stepping off the trail at the wrong point would plunge Chuy into snow up to his shoulders. Granular & powdery snow, like quicksand. More than once it was necessary to strike the path and cut a snowshoe trail to the floundering dog. I’m sure he would eventually swim his way out, but he’s older than I am (in dog years) and I can’t watch him struggle too much.

There’s also the cold, and in his golden years, Chuy’s feet don’t tolerate the sub-zero temperatures for long, and he’ll start lifting a paw. It’s actually two paws. His left front and right rear. We don’t hike when the temps are below 8 degrees.

Getting out into the winter is work. Boots, snowsuits, snowshoes, and gloves, gloves, gloves. Hats & scarves. That’s just another part of the test.  Willing yourself to step out the door is another. Once outside, the beauty of the season is all around. The sky seems bluer, the snow brighter. The winds whip up snow devils, dust the snow from pine boughs, blow drifts three or four feet deep across our snowshoe trail to the top of Nishan Hill, and beyond to the edge of the hardwoods.

 

I’m disappointed that I didn’t get more ice fishing in this winter, and now the season is over. It’s another challenge. To be out there, in the elements. To drill through fourteen inches of ice and set a tip-up line, five in a row. To feel a fish on the end of your line, while standing above the water, as far away from summer and boats as you can be. To pour hot coffee from a Thermos, the steam rising, committed to activities in the 15-degree air.

Engleville Pond, January

Engleville Pond, January

To reach down through the frozen pond and pull up a meal. A challenge and reward in one. I was alone on the pond in January, when I pulled a couple pickerel through the ice. Between flags, I’d listen to the quiet, study the snow-dusted mountains, observe the bright blue sky, vast expanses of ice, forests all around. There’s a difference between isolation and solitude.

We finally got a couple of snowmobiles going this year, another good activity to get us out of the inside and into the outside.

When I was growing up, my Dad was mad about snowmobiles. They weren’t as sophisticated (or expensive) back then, but they were every bit as much fun. A couple years ago, my Dad gave me his last sled, an ’83 Arctic Cat Jag 3000 F/C.

This winter, though the snow wasn’t perfect, my son-in-law brought his sled and his kids (grandson Max and granddaughter Elizabeth), and we spent a day riding the sleds around the same trails Chuy and I walked so frequently. Getting a 400 pound snowmobile unstuck out of three feet of powdery snow is quite a challenge, and lets you know which muscle groups you need to tone. We had hours of good old-fashioned fun, and I don’t think we ever noticed the cold. Funny how that happens.

Max & Matt

Max & Matt

Lizzy & Chuy

Lizzy & Chuy

Here we are nearing the end of March already, and, like last year, I feel a certain sadness that the snow is leaving for another year. Last year I did a post called So Long Snow, in which I expressed the same lament. Having survived and thrived, we immersed ourselves in the challenging season, and came out feeling accomplished.

We didn’t just live through winter, but lived it!

Blustering trail

Blustering trail

We’ve passed The Test for another year.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

 

The Storm Strikes

Squall line horizon

Squall line horizon

This is the third of a 3-part journal entry, beginning with Off The Grid, followed by The Storm Approaches.  -Paz

 

For Saturday night’s dinner we motored over to Joe’s camp  a bit before dark. Joe filleted the fish that were not eaten as they sat on the stringer in the water. We decided it must have been a cayman that ate our fish, even though they’re not indigenous to our area.

We gorged on fresh-cooked foods as the light faded into darkness, and upon finishing our meal we felt a couple of raindrops fall. Then pat-pat-pat they picked up their pace. Then, BLAM! It started to pour!

We must preface this with two backstories.

First: While I do my best to shun possessions in a zen way, I am one of  those over-prepared people, and this is especially true when on a sojourn. For camp, not only did I bring three changes of clothes in a barrel bag (and like a hundred pairs of socks because I can’t stand wet socks), but also a dry bag with the “last bastion” set of emergency clothes (head-to-toe including briefs, tee, pants, shirt, sweatshirt and dry shoes). Additionally, of course I brought my slicker, just in case we had to strike camp and pack out in the rain forecast for tomorrow.  I brought none of these things when boating to Joe’s camp for dinner, and was wearing just an overshirt, trotting off into the cool July evening.

Second: Joe & Bowin are “absolute minimalist” campers. They each carry a pack of their own gear, and one pack of camp gear. They sleep in hammock tents, hammocks designed for camping that have a mosquito net and rain fly. So at Joe’s camp, there is no tent. There’s no tarp, no pop-up, no lean-to. Nothing whatsoever for shelter.

BOOM! Goes the thunder, as suddenly, before we could toast an after-dinner marshmallow, a storm rolled over camp like a bulldozer. Rain fell in torrents as Joe & Bowin scrambled to put their blankets in the privy, the only place hereabouts that will remain dry in this next hour. We huddled under a tree, and as the thunder rolled again I doubted the wisdom of doing so.

“We should leave now!” I said to Ryan. “This could keep up for hours. We should get back to camp before it gets any worse.” I’m a bit nervous, frankly, that we’re across the lake, in the dark, in the rain and lightning, without shelter, a change of clothes, a fire or even a jacket. I don my fishing vest as an extra layer, some minute measure of rain shedding and warmth.

“Let’s wait it out. I think it’ll pass.” Ryan replies, as he nurses a beer relaxedly from his 32-year-old, peak-of-fitness, immune-to-rain-and-cold perspective.

The rain continues. It came up so fast Joe didn’t save his clothes, only his blankets. The fire was hissing its way to an early death as the firewood stacked on either side of the stone fireplace soaked up the water. I realize that our camp is not rain-prepared. Our firewood, too, is getting a shower, and even if—I mean when–we get back to camp, there would be no warming flames. I can’t recall what else is on the picnic table; lanterns, the camp stove, and..?

Another roll of thunder and the rain keeps up its steady downpour. Now I’m just starting to work on panic. There’s no trail out of here, so our only exit is via boat across the lake. My light-duty clothes are soaked. I curse myself for not even wearing a sweatshirt, let alone remembering the slicker. For not covering the firewood (even though rain was not expected). For putting myself out here on the edge with a 15-year-old and a couple of thirty-something, husky guys in their prime. Now here am I, at 55 years old, with a bit of a heart condition if you must know, stranded from camp without as much as a trash bag to hold over my head. Honestly, it’s not my head I’m worried about. Too much rain for too long, and a guy like me is going to get a serious chill. This is not good when your blood-pump is half worn out. A little hypothermia could spell trouble. Okay, so maybe I won’t die on the spot, but I have only three nitro pills around my neck, and we’re hours away from any kind of medical facility. In my best zen sense I am at peace with dying, but I don’t want to spoil the camping trip.

Generally, I’m pretty cool in a crisis. I can assume control of a hazardous or emergency situation and think faster than a rabbit in headlights. Problem now was, if I become incapacitated before I can take over, I’ll be useless to the entire party.

“I’m hiding in the privy.” I said, as I made my way to the outhouse, expecting a couple of takers to follow me. We’d figure out how to fit and it would be a great story to tell. No one followed. They waited and stood in their overly-manly, carefree way (even the 15-year-old) under that tree. Talking, soaking up the rain, waiting for lightning to strike the 70-foot poplar that was their shelter.

Joe in camp

Joe in camp

What if I’m stuck here for hours? Well, it really was not uncomfortable in the outhouse, now that I wasn’t getting rained on. I started thinking about how one would sleep in a little outhouse all night, still worried my wet clothes would plunge me into a trembling chill. About then, just as the other guys had suspected, the rain started to let up. I suppose the whole shower couldn’t have lasted longer than half an hour or so.

As the squall line moved off to the southeast, the lake quieted to a calm, and the night air seemed to feel a bit warmer. We made our wet way to our wet boats, pumped the bilge water out of the AquaMarie, tied a line to Sparky’s canoe, and bade farewell to Joe & Bowin. They refused all invitations to come to our camp, sleep in a dry tent, get some dry clothes.

“We’ll be fine.” Joe said, in his usual manner, taking everything in stride and making us believe they would, in fact, be fine.

We towed Sparky’s canoe under the running lights of the AquaMarie and a waxing full moon. The water was smooth as glass as Ryan rode shirtless in the bow seat, embracing the evening air, the spray of the boat, the light of the moon and the adventure of it all.

The little flashing light we posted at our camp, thankfully surviving the storm, appeared in the distance. Home! We docked the boat and tied up Sparky’s canoe for him to retrieve in the daylight. I dug around in the bottom of the wood pile for the driest pieces of wood and found a wax fire starter. In a few minutes, we had a little fire going and were in dry clothes, the storm just a memory. Sparky returned in dry clothes to share some of the warmth and the first retellings of the tale. We wondered about Joe & Bowin. Hoped they, too, had a fire by now.

Moonset

Moonset

 

Tomorrow we would strike camp. Joe & Bowin would roll up their hammocks and be at our camp for coffee in the morning. Sparky would pick up his canoe, way early, as I was just waking in the tent. Ryan would be eager to get home to his wife and my 18-month-old granddaughter Ellie (and her big sister Maddie).

And I would regret leaving this place. Take one last look around, then another. Maybe one more. I would not be in a hurry to escape Forked Lake, the High Peaks, the Adirondack Park, our beloved time in the piney woods. I learned a bit about myself on this trip. I faced my limitations.

And the best memories, the “moments” we are bound to remember and relive, were not of sleeping in a tent or catching fish, nor of boating or cooking on the fire.

This year was a great trip, filled with stories that can be exaggerated and amplified as the years pass.

“Did I ever tell you about the time a cayman ate our entire catch of the day and we almost starved?”

How about the time we weathered a hurricane by mustering in the outhouse? Or the time we crossed the lake at night in a storm? Or the time I flipped the canoe and could have drowned?

Sit down, if you have a few minutes, and I’ll tell you about the most wonderous time I had with just a few of my favorite people, and some amazing adventures.

Oh, and how I almost died. But I didn’t.

Be at peace,

 

Paz

Sabatical

AquaMarie Sunset

AquaMarie Sunset

It’s good for the soul to get away from it all. Well, unless you already live away from it all, which really describes home now that I think of it.

Life dropped one of those ripples in my pond this spring. One of those things that causes us to pause. To evaluate and assess. To scrutinize our present and future, to clarify our course as we plod through the days. If not for a few ripples, we would appreciate less the calm waters on which we sail if we are fortunate.

So for July, sail we did. We set sail for beautiful Forked lake in the Adirondack mountains. A son, a couple good friends, a couple of tents and a crystal clear lake full of delicious Largemouth Bass. Ah, a formula for relaxation.

Captain's seat

Captain’s seat

Caught enough fish to feed the pack Saturday night. A fresh bass shore dinner. There’s something rewarding in a neolithic way about bringing home food for the tribe. It doesn’t hurt that appetites double when you spend the weekend outdoors.

 

Dinner for the tribe

Dinner for the tribe

While I haven’t been writing posts and updating blogs, I’ve been pursuing my Armchair Zen out in the real world. There have been so many beauty-filled days this summer, and we (Chuy & I) have wrung the most we could out of most of them. Really, it’s an ACZ tenet to try to disconnect from the over-connected world we now live in.

 

Ryan & me

Ryan & me

Somehow, spending three days together in our boats, on the shore, around the campfire and sharing tents doesn’t sound too disconnected to me.

In fact, this sounds like the kind of connection that’s just what a wrinkled and rippled old Armchair Zen Master needs.

Connecting with nature, with friends, with my kids, my grandkids.

Just a reminder: the above things are real.

The TV, the smartphone, the iPod and ipad, the laptop, the slate, the tablet and Kindle…not real.

If you’re a follower of ACZ, you’ll know what I mean. If not, you can go into the archives and stumble down our path. Or, you’re free to virtually leave this virtual world and virtually travel to the other virtual worlds splayed before you in living backlit electronic color.

Another option: shut this stuff off, and get out into the big blue & green world.

Take someone by the hand and bring them with you.

If you have no one else, drop a line.

Ryan, Chuy & I are always available.

The Big Blue

The Big Blue

Take care & keep in touch.

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

Rural Zen: Winter

 FEB2010snow 020

As the door swings open, Chuy races past to be the first outside. He pauses just a moment as he sees the new fallen snow, ten or twelve inches deep, then leaps headlong into it. A few rolls on his back, paws nearly straight in the air, a gleeful snow bath. Then the nose digs deep, sniffing out some industrious rodent eking out a life below the snow. Then he’ll pick the snow up on the top of his nose and throw it into the air and try to catch it in his mouth. Finally, a look over his shoulder at me, as I clumsily move through the door and down the step wearing snowshoes.

And we’re off! Chuy leaps and makes turns in the air, frankly somewhat remarkable for a twelve-year-old, seventy-five pound Akita mix. “Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch” sound the snowshoes as they make their way across the yard, past the apple tree, past the barn. The sound tells us it’s very cold, certainly below twenty degrees. The snow makes a certain sound when temperatures are far below freezing.

Blizzard of February 11

Fifteen-mile-per-hour winds whip up snow devils and try to drive the cold and flakes into the carefully sealed places around my neck and head. The bright, full sun’s rays can barely be felt on the skin, hardly registering as warmth.

We trek eastward, walking the side of the runways, crossing to the rifle range trail. Birds flit about, diving and perching, singing as if it was spring. How can those tiny things be so oblivious to the cold and wind?

Crystalline snow drifts and piles at the edges of footprints, paw prints, rock walls and shrub lines. Flakes dance like diamonds before me, as shiny as gemstones, reflecting the sun. A glittering field of snow unfolds before us as we reach the top of the trail and turn north.

It’s wearing on me now. After the first quarter-mile my legs remind me that they don’t often wear boats on their feet nor try to trod through foot-deep sand. As muscles call for more oxygen, the top buttons are loosened, the scarf comes off. Even at fifteen degrees, the hike starts heating the core, demanding ventilation. The blast of icy air freezes perspiration on the skin, yet the relief from overheating is welcome.

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The last two hundred feet rises steadily to the top of the hill. Another thirty feet in elevation, another hundred steps in fluffy drifts driven by the wind. The lines, arcs, swirls and swells decorate the hill, cover our path in three-foot deep crests. By now Chuy, typically insistent on leading, is behind me. The first half mile requiring him to leap off the ground to take the next step is wearing on him. Now I am breaking trail for him with the snowshoes, and he’s satisfied with second place for a time.

Ten more steps, five, three. Each one is a bit of labor now. One more. Then one more. Then one more.

And alas, we arrive at the top of the hill. There is no sound but “the sweep of gentle wind and downy flake.”.

Here at the top, I’ll pause and rest. Three hundred degrees of views (60 are pines), all below me, radiate vast expanses of bright white. Here and there are patches of green, tangles of gray-browns, distant visages of human encroachments; barns, a road.

The wind seems to pick up, sweeping two miles from the lee of Victory Mountain to the west. Rolling down the steep grade and plummeting into the hills and hollows of Engleville, and all its 26 residents (and their pets).

It’s not really uncomfortable, though the only exposed skin on the face reminds us it is brutally cold. Five layers of fabric and a workout helps. I can feel the wind pushing on me, making me sway like a sapling. This is visceral and tangible and exciting and real. I could shout at the top of my lungs from here and be heard by none other than Chuy.  I take another moment, another 300-degrees drink of the pristine snow, the stark landscape dotted with naked deciduous trees, frozen grapevines and pines that scoff at winter.

Chuy comes alongside. It can’t be more than five minutes since we reached this place, our summit, our beautiful, silent private place. Our alter. He’s too encumbered by the deep snow for the usual twenty-minute exploratory escapades over to the tree line, back toward the woods, down the slope behind Maggie’s pond.

He looks up at me as if to say “Well, I suppose…”

The wind is whipping up the hill, blasting us in the face as we turn westward and toward home.

As we pass the pines, without thinking, I speak aloud.

“The woods are lovely. Dark and deep.”

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As the evening sky turns February Gold and January Blue, it seems the greens and yellows of our Mays and Junes are but a distant memory, a folktale, a myth.

Yet there is in this moment, in this cold, in this wind-driven snow, a sense of peace and belonging. 

As shadows grow longer, we brace and bear down into the wind.

Well, one of us does. The other is throwing snow in the air with his nose, and catching it.

“Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch…”

 

Paz

You can predict the future!

Winter menagerie

Winter menagerie

People say “you can’t predict the future”. I disagree.

Folks talk about living in the moment, but you can’t stop yourself from living in the future.

Think about it. Imagine if you just started walking and didn’t think about anything except that next step, truly living in the moment. Well, suppose the next step is right off a cliff? Before you pick your foot up you’re bound to predict a certain future here, and you know what? That’s good, or we’d all be dead.

The human brain is not thinking in the proverbial now, but always in the next.

Is there ground beneath me to support my feet?

If I stand will I strike my head on a ceiling?

If I breath in now I can avoid suffocation, things like that.

Animals predict the future, too, so don’t start with that Most Highly Developed species attitude.

Think about the constant and complex physics a bobcat is dealing with chasing a zig-zagging rabbit through the snow.

Imagine a bird of prey closing on a rodent moving through thick grass.

We flat-out count on a lot of presumptive predictions of the future. Maybe this seems obvious or even silly to some, but if you grasp this idea it helps us to understand the subconscious workings of our minds.

In “Think Not-Thinking” (ACZ Archive, 3/21/11) the process of meditation is examined. Meditation is intended to quiet the mind, to reduce stress or anxiety. When effective, it can allow you to turn down the subconscious future-telling.

This is important because your brain can’t stop living in the future, can’t stop checking the to-do list and planner. Even the Most Highly Developed Species can’t turn off the engines of instinct.

So don’t beat yourself up because you feel you can’t “live in the now” all the time. Your brain is looking out for you and those depending on you, even in your sleep, every minute of every day. It’s normal for your mind to be ruminating or mulling or planning all the time, and we’re glad about it.

Otherwise, we’d all freeze and starve.

If we didn’t walk off a cliff first.

Be at peace,

Paz

Rural Zen: Autumn

October Maple

I’ve been doing this Armchair Zen blog a bit over a year-and-a-half now, and it’s been a great experience so far. As so many on WordPress, Blogspot and other blogsites, my approach to blogging was that it was a way to practice writing. Organizing the actual content for an inspirational book was the lofty goal of those heady times. This has served as more of a compositional scratchpad and journal, and has helped usher along the idea and concept.

In other ways, it’s also been a great Armchair Zen lesson of its own. Trying to live and preach a detachment from the overloaded overconnectedness of our modern world is a difficult premise to present via mass media. Also, as noted in a post, there comes with blogging a certain scent, an attraction, a quality to covet that can become something of an “intellectual intoxication”, and that is, essentially, an “audience”. While the whole idea of blogging is to share your piece with “the world”, it can be titillating to find someone liking your work and responding to it. It’s a long way from the old days, when a snail-mail submission would take months to appear in print, and anyone the least bit interested in contacting the author would have to undergo a search worthy of Livingstone to find your name and address to send you a note.

Chuy. A main character on Rural Zen.

That brings us to now.  ACZ has developed a little character of its own. A certain tone and language we can recognize as familiar. A propensity to make posts worthwhile and hopefully helpful to someone seeking the famous “path”, as well as being standalone entries that address a subject without need for the context of chronology. (That’s some sweet phrasing and I’m proud of it. Of course it just means you don’t have to read all the posts in order.)

So, I’ve been working on a secret project. Okay, I guess it’s not really secret, it just exists in a different blogosphere for purposes of trying to keep ACZ true to its roots. It’s called “Rural Zen” and is self-described as existing to “share the experiences of a life lived simply and appreciated fully.” which are credited with providing  “Much of my sense of peace…drawn from living in one of the prettiest places I know.”

Frost’s road

 Two main differences between ACZ and Rural Zen. The first is that Rural Zen is a journal, and therefore chronological. In fact, the sights, sounds and smells of the changing seasons are often the highlights of entries, as that’s how the “rural” part intersects with the “zen” part. Secondly, Rural Zen is peppered with illustrations showing the places, events and characters described in the text.

 So the new challenge is to combine the best of both. Here we have a portrait of Chuy, my tireless companion, and in Circle of Seasons we see a photo of my granddaughter Elizabeth, as well as a photo from a day of ice fishing with grandson Max. The intent, as stated, is to share the experiences of a life that supports the pursuit of the path of peace.

  It just seemed that previous posts talk about the path but never show any pictures! Maybe, in a vicarious way, others can also benefit from this life “lived simply and appreciated fully”.  Sort of a modern Walden only without the isolation or the pond. And with illustrations.

Neversink waterfall

The fall season is a sensory overload, especially for someone chasing a child-like sense of wonder. In many ways it’s the prettiest season of the temperate zone, and really the shortest. It’s also the “biggest” in a way. Changes are drastic, on a daily basis. A tree that’s green one day is orange and red and yellow the next. A tree that was orange and red and green yesterday is naked today, just sticks reaching in vain toward the sky.

Grand Gorge

Searching for Red 23

The “flowers” are from a dinosaur age. A big, yellow blossom thirty feet wide and sixty feet tall! A wall of orange stretching a tenth of a mile down a treeline carpeted with green grass, their glowing golden leaves in the millions, piled two feet deep at their feet. You can look across a valley and pick out a brilliant fire-red oak, as if it was a candle on the mantle across the room.

Everywhere, the landscape changes. Tree-covered slopes now reveal rock ledges and hidden streams. There’s a pond where two weeks ago only a forest of maples could be seen.

Autumn glow

Vast, ordered rows of corn stood seven feet tall, gold hair adorning their fruits, tassels waving in the wind, where now there are vacant fields with a lone cornstalk appearing here and there, a brown, stubbled wasteland.

 
Spectrum of leaves

 And so, on to the next phase of this adventure, seeking the path of peace, and seeking to share the path with others. Here’s hoping the narrative and photos of a simple and beautiful world will help to inspire, or keep you grounded, or simply bring you a little snapshot of the peaceful path.

 

Ultimately, the peace and beauty brought to us in this world are in the eye of the beholder. The vast cosmos is filled with wonderments of all kinds, and one of the most fascinating is the human being. They’re also often overly-complicated, and tend to over-worry about things that are far from important.

Road Seven

Take time to relax, take time to wonder, and take time to drop me a line. Share your own observations, or the things that help you to pursue the path to peace in your life. Or just say hi! Let me know if you have any thoughts on the formats, old or new!

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

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