May 8, 2011


It's been unsettled on the Island this week, with Blakean skies, muscular with gods and chirascuro portents. Strange winds have led to unsettled nights of uneasy dreams. Far away black helicopters dropped down a sort of solution to a sort of problem maniac that had been bothering many, but at the end of the day we are left even more unsettled as to how this all came to be.

For what have we made of ourselves that we are become so unworthy?

If it comes to torture getting information to where this old sod happened to land, then it would have been better to let him rot there quietly as every courier letter was intercepted, decoded and neutralized. For what does it mean that no one of integrity anywhere will any longer voluntarily provide the information because the cause is right and just? Supposedly the head of a vast organization and not one member, not one associate, not one connected in the remotest way was willing to change heart and do the right thing. This says more about us than about them. For what have we made of ourselves that we are become so unworthy?

Nevertheless, the Island is a small place in the scheme of things. Today was Mother's Day. Some might say that this sort of things ranks a bit above politics of any kind.

And since this was Mother's Day the Island convulsed through its usual traditions. Some say we are just full of that Tradition, but nevermind.

The girls living in Marlene and Andre's Household all took out their mothers to Mama's Royal Cafe in Oaktown. Suan, whose mother has gone AWOL chipped in as did Marsha and Tipitina. The gang wound up heading back to the Island where they all got drunk on tequila shots at the Lucky 13, which has become a favorite hangout for those with still some bucks to spend.

Bear and Susan took Bear's mother out to brunch at Skates by the Bay and Mrs. Bear got tipsy on orange juice mixed with champagne so Susan had to drive her back to her home in the Palo Alto trailor park using the pickup. They bundled the woman into the flatbed and she sang Woodie Guthrie songs all the way down.

She had been sent to Napa with a diagnosis of schizophrenia with Manic Bipolar syndrome some time ago. . .

Denby drove up for the dreaded meeting with his mother at Napa State, where she was more lucid than usual. She had been sent to Napa with a diagnosis of schizophrenia with Manic Bipolar syndrome some time ago and was not often on the same page with other folks around her because of the medication. She had found as a friend a woman there whose daughter had become a Buddhist monk and she thought that maybe something could be worked out.

"She sounds like a nice girl." Ms. Montana said. "Look her up. Easy to find."

"Sure mom." Denby said.

"Namaste. Ubi dooby doo. Renkee, um, something. Sang hee oh ahh or whatever. Its easy. You will get it. Her father was a doctor. They are good people."

"Sure mom."

Meanwhile Adam was talking with the monk named Sally. Adam had been shunted to the Island Buddhist temple after falling among the household after he had been shoved out of a moving car a few months ago. Marlene had enrolled the boy in Wood Middle School but had felt the undisciplined household was not healthy for the kid during the long idle summer, so she had sent him over to the temple there on Santa Clara.

Sally asked about Adam's mother, who, it turned out, had died doing smack shortly after his birth on the 'Ave. His father had never been known to him and probably not to his mother and it had been the stepfather who had shoved him out of the car door on Otis Drive that night.

As for Sally's mother, well, she was incarcerated at Napa State and she did not want to talk about that.

"Do you want to go on a little trip? See something different?" Sally said.

"Long as I don't hafta get up outta bed when its still dark," Adam said.

"Well I can' promise that." Sally said. "But it definitely will be different."

Sure enough, before the sun rose a number of the monks piled into a rented bus that drove over the bridge and headed south. The bus followed highway for a number of miles before heading up into hills clad with green pines while the monks sang songs and clapped their hands. This was a real joyride, at least as far as monks went.

Adam had only a little trouble with waking before dawn at the monestary and with manually cleaning the floors before breakfast and with the odd rituals he now found oddly comforting at mealtime. Sally said his life had begun hard and so hard was the way until it became easy from there on out. He had been born of fire and therefore nothing would come easy. That was simply the way it was.

After a while the landscape began to change. The green gave way to charred stumps and blasted earth. When they turned up a road it looked like the entire world had been laid waste by an atomic bomb. Everything in sight for miles was burnt, withered, dessicated. All the trees had been blasted clean of leaves, leaving black tree bones jabbing at the bone white sky. What kind of place were they going to? It looked like some kind of hell.

Adam grabbed hold of Sally's hand. He was afraid. "Don't worry," she said. "I will be nearby."

In the midst of this forsaken wilderness of stones and ash they arrived at the gates of a place with buildings and a few green plants and some water. A creek ran by with some remaining sedge growing along the edges.

"She is a firemonk. She will explain."

A bald woman stood there waiting. "This is Mako." Sally said. "She is a firemonk. She will explain." And with that his protector walked off and disappeared.

"Hello," Mako said with a friendly voice. "You are Adam. I have heard about you."

"Yeah, well I aint no fool so don't mess with me." Adam said.

Mako pursed her lips. "I expect so. Come along with me."

They walked up a path past a place where a huge satellite dish had crashed down. Everywhere he looked he saw the signs of destruction and some terrible disaster.

Up the slope of shattered shale rock and burnt carbon limbs the monk called Mako paused. "Look here." She said. All along the slope of dry shale Adam saw small green shoots sprouting in the desolation.

"The terrible fire went though here and killed almost everything yet life renews." Mako said.

"Man, this fire must've killed everything here!" Adam said. "No way anything could have survived that!"

"No," Mako said. "Richard, Graham, Steven, and me survived this storm. This is something you must learn."

"No effing way!" Adam said.

"The firestorm came at us thirty feet high and forty miles per hour. There was no opportunity to run. "

"I stood right down there," Mako said, pointing at a place below where the satellite dish had collapsed. "The firestorm came at us thirty feet high and forty miles per hour. There was no opportunity to run. The federal fire command had pulled back from the turnoff down the road there and none of the monks could come up the way for the road was overrun by fire. We four were alone when the big waves of fire came at us from all four sides. Even a pile of hoses got singed.

All that night we fought to save the only thing that had given us some sense of center, some sense of mother in the nature of its place. The gazebo went up fast and part of the woodshed, and the fire chewed up even part of the front gate, but we managed to save most of it. This place had given us life during its time and we were prepared to die without attachments to defend her and so we stayed and met the fire as a challenge, not as an adversary."

"So what happened? How did you survive?"

"They told us they had expected to see only lifeless bodies."

"We had prepared the buildings with what we called "Dharma Rain." It was pipes laid along the rooftrees so water would drip down. And we ran like mad back and forth to quench the flames with our hoses and shovels even as things broke apart in our hands and dissolved in the heat as the fire came into the compound. We were lucky, for our last plan was to get into the creek as the fire roared overhead. There we surely would have been boiled alive like crabs, were that to have happened. No one could get to us and there was no way to get out. Nobody knew what had happened here until the helicopter flew over in the morning. They told us they had expected to see only lifeless bodies."

The two of them stood on that place above the fire disaster and looked at the burnt valley. "Adam, you need to find the place in you where life still thrives. I cannot be your mother or anything like it. Nor Sally. Everything is impermanent and only attentiveness will serve you."

And Adam went away from that place deep in thought.

Over the next few days Adam helped lay in water pipes and plant new greenery around the buildings which had been a mainstay of income for the monastic group. His body was too small to carry tools and use them effectively but he was able to bring things here and there by means of the wheelbarrow. Eventually, the time came to leave that place in the hills and return to the Island.

"You must enter the fire, but not be consumed by it."

Another thing Mako had said to him stuck with him.

"You must enter the fire, but not be consumed by it."

Late at night back on the Island, Adam lay awake in his bunk listening to the wind in the trees outside which sound mingled with the sound of the fountain in the courtyard. It could have been the sound of a distant violent fire. Or peaceful Dharma rain.

From far across the way, the long howl of the the throughpassing train ululated across the all-merciful waves of the estuary and the compassionate wildflowers of the Buena Vista flats as the locomotive wended its way past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its journey to parts unknown.

That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.