Mountain Home

Mt. Morrison & Owens River in April 2022 and February 2023, Robin L. Chandler.

Vast and majestic, mountains embrace your shadow;

Broad and deep, rivers harbor your voice.

T’ao Ch’ien

Home Again Among Fields and Gardens

Nothing like all the others, even as a child,

rooted in such love for hills and mountains,

I stumbled into their net of dust, that one

departure a blunder lasting thirteen years.

But a tethered bird longs for its old forest,

and a pond fish its deep waters — so now,

my southern outlines cleared, I nurture

simplicity among these fields and gardens,

home again. I’ve got nearly two acres here,

and four or five rooms in this thatch hut,

elms and willows shading the eaves in back,

and in front, peach and plum spread wide.

Villages lost across mist-and-haze distances,

kitchen smoke drifting wide-open country,

dogs bark deep among back roads out here,

and roosters crow from mulberry treetops.

No confusion within these gates, no dust,

my empty home harbors idleness to spare.

Back again: after so long caged in that trap,

I’ve returned to occurrence coming of itself.

*****

T’ao Ch’ien (365 – 427)

The rise of wilderness poetry in the early 5th century C.E. was part of a profound new engagement with wilderness that arose among Chinese artist-intellectuals for several reasons: the recent loss of northern China to “barbarians,” forcing China’s artist-intellectuals to emigrate with the government, settling in the southeast where they were enthralled by a new landscape of serenely beautiful mountains…..born into the educated aristocracy, T’ao was expected to take his proper place in the Confucian order by serving in the government. Accordingly, he took a number of government positions. But he had little patience for the constraints and dangers of official life, and little interest in its superficial rewards, so he finally broke free and returned to the life of a recluse-farmer on the family farm at his ancestral village of Ch’ai-sang (Mulberry-Bramble), just northwest of the famous Thatch-Hut (Lu) Mountain…..this was not a romantic return to the bucolic, but to a life in which the spiritual ecology of tzu-jan was the very texture of everyday experience. This outline of T’ao Ch’ien’s life became a central organizing myth in the Chinese tradition: artist-intellecuals over millennia admired and imitated the way T’ao lived out his life as a recluse, though it meant enduring considerable poverty and hardship…..this commitment, so central to the rivers-and-mountains tradition in poetry, was the one honorable alternative to government service for the artist-intellectual class…..represented a commitment to a more spiritually fulfilling life in which one inhabits the wilderness cosmology in the most immediate day-to-day way…..if Tao’s poems seem bland, a quality much admired in them by the Sung Dynasty poets, it’s because they are never animated by the struggle for understanding. Instead they begin with the deepest wisdom.

Verse, poem, and biography from Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China translated by David Hinton

departure and arrival

After a year confined, while Shiva created and destroyed, the open road beckoned. The horizon open, the land infinite, and my mind seemed lotus-like, unbound.  And Earth shared: sky, mountains, trees, deserts, meadows, and rivers. My soul replenished: hope glimmers.

Clockwise: Thunderstorm over Wheeler Peak, Taos, NM; waterfall at Whitney Portal, Lone Pine, CA; sentinel trees at Whitney Portal, Lone Pine, CA; monsoon over Mt. Langley, Lone Pine, CA; and the San Francisco Peaks from Bonita Meadow, Flagstaff, AZ. Watercolors by Robin L. Chandler, 2021.

Jesus and Woody

Taos
Taos, New Mexico. Robin L. Chandler, 2018.

Taos, New Mexico is a beautiful place. Imagine a warm summer evening sitting by a creek that rolls quietly to the river Rio Grande; you feel the magic of water in the desert. Water grants life; renews life. So precious is a life. My mind’s eye travels miles in seconds. Looking down from the bridge that crosses the narrow Rio Grande gorge, I toss a pinyon branch and I watch it travel through the canyon by the pueblos on it’s journey to Santa Fe; and then at Albuquerque where the river flattens and widens and water birds play along the shore; and on past El Paso where the river becomes the border between Texas and Mexico – a shallow river – a place of crossings for wild things – those beings naturally wild, we call free and others made wild by violence and fear, tired, poor and hungry seeking relief and asylum. Precious lives. There is no need for brick and mortar; we have built a wall of fear. An informative article in the April 23, 2018 New Yorker “A Voyage Along Trump’s Wall” sought to inspire discussion; discussion and compromise all seem so romantic now as we enter this the latest chapter of shock and awe.

Blessed am I able to freely sit and breathe and feel the special magic of a place. On this solstice day may the light shine and illuminate our way.

Happened upon the new Ry Cooder recording The Prodigal Son. It’s a good one. Keep thinking of the lyrics of his song Jesus and Woody inspired by Woody Guthrie’s song Jesus Christ where Woody (writing in 1940) speculates modern capitalist society would kill Jesus too. Listen to Woody sing here on YouTube. Ry’s lyrics – singing from Jesus’ perspective –  stick with me:

“so sing me a song ‘bout this land is your land’

and fascists bound to lose

you were a dreamer, Mr. Guthrie, and I was a dreamer too…..”

“…..some say I was a friend to sinners

but by now you know it’s true

guess I like sinners better than fascists

and I guess that makes me a dreamer too…..”