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June 11th, 2021


11:11 am - A self-introduction

... by means of 24 images and a few haiku...Read more...Collapse )

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February 20th, 2017


03:17 pm - Introduction to Philosophy 101


A Radical Skeptical Hypothesis: Someone’s mental life (including his/her sensations and beliefs) is exactly the same as it is now (i.e., these sensations and beliefs are exactly like they are for standard observers). But these beliefs are all false.

There are various ways to illustrate RSH:

"The Matrix" (1999) -- 'Construct' Scenes:



"The Matrix" (1999) -- 'Construct' Scenes:
"What is real?"
"How do we define "real"?
"If you are talking about what you can feel... what you cans smell, taste, and see, ... then "real" is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain."

Morpheus offers here an interpretation of what REAL is. His interpretation already assumes that we have brains and that there are mental impulses in our brains. I would slightly part my way with him. I would prefer say that REAL is whatever exists and potentially causes us to have mental representation of the external world.

Of course, for all practical purposes we may assume there are brains and there are electric impulses in them. But, a skeptic may resist this way of thinking about REAL. A skeptic may maintain that, for all we know, we may be disembodies minds or spirits and thus we have no brains (i.e., thinking we have brains is but another illusion.)

Morpheus explain What is Matrix:


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January 13th, 2017


11:54 am - Some notes to myself

The Buddha Akshobia on my left bicep:



Akshobia is one of dhiani-transcendental-mythical Buddhas; not really a historical figure but rather an archetype represented here in a visual form. The mudra (the way his hands are placed) represents Great Fortitude (overcoming obstacles and dissolving the final doubt).


* * *

I deserve --
what?

A meal? A bandage when I am injured?
Medicine that might help with a headache?
A fair payment for a job well done?
A kind hand? An embrace by a friend?

I try to think that all of these
are but gifts and offerings
kindness and generosity of the universe
rather than what is deserved

Sort of like the Amida's smile
spreading beyond the horizons
embracing in its gentle grace all
sentient beings, both humans and animals
even the blades of grass.
Not the matter of justice
not the matter of what is earned
but rather the matter of
the Great Wisdom-Compassion
exemplified by all Buddhas and sages

So, I deserve what?
A meal? Medicine? A shelter?
A fair payment for a job?
A kind hand? An embrace?

Or perhaps none of these things
as I like to think
for it helps me be less angry
when we do not get
what I know
we really deserve

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October 19th, 2016


02:55 pm - Introduction to Philosophy 101 -- Free will and determinism

I'm posting it here for the benefit of my students in metaphysics / introduction to philosophy classes (i.e., so they have an easy access to some movie takes representing classical positions in the debate about the freedom of will, choice, determinism, and so on):

Merovingian represents a classical "statement" of hard deterministic position in the debate about the freedom of will:



A battle scene following the above scene anding at about 13:30 (purely for fun):



EVERYTHING BEGINS WITH A CHOICE (OR MAYBE NOT). Various characters depicted here represent different philosophical positions in the debate about determinism and the freedom of will.

Libertarianism is a view that we have free will and that free will is incompatible with the "event causation" (i.e., causation by previous events and states of affairs). Libertarians reject the idea of universal event causation but postulate a different special kind of causation, so called, "agent causation". Neo is a libertarian.

Hard determinism is a view that every event (including every action) is causally determined by previous events and states of affairs. Hard determinists believe that determisism and freedom of will are incompatible and that we have no free will. As a hard determinist, Merovingian, observes: choice is but an illusion (created by these in power to control others). In effect, hard determinists reject the idea of moral responsibility. This is the weakness of this position. It's hard to stomach the idea that no one is ever responsible for anything. Merovingian is a hard determinist, at least officially. Then bad things happen to him...

Soft determinism (a.k.a compatibilism) is a view that every event (including every action) is causally determined by previous events and states of affairs. Unlike hard determinists, soft determinists believe that freedom of will is compatible with determinism and causation. They maintain that freedom is incompatible with compulsion (i.e., the mental set ups where agents are somehow "fixated" on doing something). Soft determinists believe that we are responsible for what we do freely.

Oracle is clearly a determinist. It is not completely clear what kind of determinism she represents. I would argue that she is a compatibilist (or soft-determinsist). First, on many occasions she says that all we can do is to understand the causes of our actions (or reasons that make us do something). To paraphrase what she says to Neo, "you did not come here to make a choice, you have already made a choice. Yoy are here to understand why you make this choice". (This is a bit unclear. Perhaps she should say that programming and set up have aready determined the choice and all we can do is to understand what this choice is.) Furthermore, she claims that some programs (or some "beings") function as they are supposed to function while some other programs ("beings") do not. This hints at some idea of right and wrong and responsibility. In turn, it would entail compatibilism (soft determinism). By comparison, typical compatibilists contrast freedom of will with compulsion and/or obsession (rather than causation). The claim about programs no working properly raghly corresponds to the idea that some of us act in a compulsive and/or obsessive ways.

Oracle's position seems quite different from what Merovingian says and does. They both acknowledge that we can understand the causes that make us do things. But only Oracle introduces the idea that some programs acting "properly" (i.e., as they are supposed to do) while others not so much. To be completely sure where Oracle stand, we would have to know a bit more what she thinks about moral responsibility.

The Architect acknowledges there are some probabilistic elements in human actions. This represents a shift away from the XIX c. Newtonian physics that postulated fully deterministic laws of nature. Contemporary physics postulate that there are random (i.e., un-caused) events and that laws of nature are probabilistic rather than deterministic.

It is hard to know whether he is a compatibilist about the freedom of will or not. Either way, he admits that even the probabilistic programs cannot function as intended. Probabilities are in some ways "tilted" (perhaps by a genuinely free will). These "tilts" add up which eventually leads to the "systemic collapse".

Neo thinks that the "problem" and, at the same time, the cause of the "systemic collapse" is the choice. As he observes, echoing Morpheus, "everything begins with the choice". On one hand, as the Architect acknowledges, some kind of choice (even if only at the subconscious level) seems necessary for the matrix to function at all. (Again, there is an analogy to recent scientific discoveries; see the essay from "The Atlantic" linked below. It suggests that our well being requires a belief in the freedom of will. Otherwise, we become depressed and anti-social.) That is, if you eliminate the choice, sentient beings reject matrix (as they rejected the first one). Someone may suggest that all we need is but an illusion of choice; Merovingian makes this point. But the Architect seems to be making a stronger point. On the other hand, if you allow for choice, beings like us (endowed with free will) exercise freedom. This also causes a "systemic collapse" described by the Architect. It's still unclear to me how the Architect thinks about the issue of free will and responsibility.

The Agent Smith is just really pissed off...





More here (with some funny comments superimposed on the clip)



The Agent Smith is just really pissed off... "Why? Why? Why? ... Because I choose to" (3'23"):



* "There’s No Such Thing as Free Will. But we’re better off believing in it anyway"
by Stephen Cave. "The Atlantic", June 2016.
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-free-will/480750/

* "Is Free Will an Illusion? Don't trust your instincts about free will or consciousness, experimental philosophers say"
By By Shaun Nichols, "Scientific American", November 1, 2011
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-free-will-an-illusion/

* Scientists say free will probably doesn't exist, but urge: "Don't stop believing!"
By Jesse Bering, "Scientific American, April 6, 2010
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/scientists-say-free-will-probably-doesnt-exist-but-urge-dont-stop-believing/

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October 30th, 2015


06:35 pm - Morning of the Pelicans. evening of the Blues














MORNING OF THE PELICANS, EVENING OF JAZZ, AND THE NIGHT OF BLUES
(A philosophical yet frivolous rant about the sport teams’ nicknames)


Once upon a time, there was a beautiful city of New Orleans and a basketball franchise named “Jazz” playing in that city. One might think, a perfect name for a team located in the birthplace and the cradle of the great American art form also called jazz. Unfortunately, when the franchise relocated to Salt Lake City in 1979, it took its nickname with it.

Now, don’t take me wrong! There is no doubt that the Mormon country can appreciate good arts and especially music. Take, for example, the fabulous Mormon Tabernacle Choir that has gained not only local but an international reputation, too. And there is no doubt either that the city has appreciated the art of basketball, too. Utah “Jazz” was drawing great crowds, especially when they were a good team contending to take it all. But jazz? How popular is it in Utah? Does it really belong as a nickname to the franchise located in Salt Lake City? I’m not so sure. Wouldn’t it be better if the nickname stayed at home, in the Big Easy, where it so perfectly fits?

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Cool breeze
blowing blue note
on half empty bottle of beer.

Different today
yet still a good old friend
this evening blues.


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December 17th, 2013


09:21 am - a sketch
... and I wonder ...

If you were to vanish completely
into a lustrous beauty of night
would it be your smile melting in moonlight
or moonlight melting into your smile?

Questions like this are not trite
indeed, all of this may be
but and illusion on the surface of pond

Thus looking at you standing there
looking straight on the horizon I wonder
if I were to see palette of your dreams
would I find the hues of this sketch?

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November 21st, 2013


06:30 pm - Taking a Long Sunny Ride Home


TAKING A LONG SUNNY RIDE HOME
(a series of haibuns about dogs)


(I) COMING AND GOING

"A monk asked the great Zen master Joshu, "Does a dog have Budha nature or not?"Joshu replied, "Mu!"

Mumonkan, Case #1 (+)


Leaving

They do not move at all when I put on my blue jeans. Sappho blows me off completely, not even looking my way. Miss Molly traces each and every movement of mine with her eyes. Yet neither her head nor her tail moves even a quarter of an inch.

How do they know it's not a trip to the beach? Is this my clothes? Well, sometimes I put on the very same pair of jeans and the very same sweat shirt. Is it a bag with work stuff? Well, it still sitting on the chair and not yet hanging on my shoulder? So, how do they know?

I lock the door, enter the car, start driving. And here they are again staring at the slowly rolling car. They have trained me quite well. So, now I always take a path were they can see me, even if it is a bit off the way. Maybe it will be easier for them to relax when they see me in the car going away

as I leave
she does not even twitch her head
*** busy with her bone


as I leave home
my dogs stay gazing
through the window


A foggy stroll back

Another dawn, another step, another stroll through the fog on the very line of the surf. A jacket on my back for the wind is strong and the clouds heavy with rain. Good for the scorched Texan soil but we do not want a down pour to interrupt our roam too much.

The dogs follow in a perfect pack formation, in a good rhythm, not too fast and not too slow. Sappho on the East side, on the side of the sea. Molly on the dryer West side. Their paws turning around in this ethereal rhythm that inspired someone to paint the yin-yang sign.

They like this weather, too, we all do. It's warm enough to wet a paw and a tail in the surf but not too hot for a long gallop along the shore to chase Sanderlings flying forth and back, disappearing, melting into thick fog.

the morning chant
my sweet Ladies lead me
to a stranded turtle


All of the sudden the sky breaks in half, opens up, and the bright light fills in the world. Yet we do not hear any voices, no one sings soft and uplifting tunes, no mysterious truths are revealed. Just a man and two dogs walking in silence, one foot in the water one foot on the sand



[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<blockquotethe [...] turtle</blockquote>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

<br>
<b>TAKING A LONG SUNNY RIDE HOME
(a series of haibuns about dogs)</b>

<b>(I) COMING AND GOING</b>

<blockquote>"A monk asked the great Zen master Joshu, "Does a dog have Budha nature or not?"Joshu replied, "Mu!"

Mumonkan, Case #1 (+)</blockquote>

<b>Leaving</b>

They do not move at all when I put on my blue jeans. Sappho blows me off completely, not even looking my way. Miss Molly traces each and every movement of mine with her eyes. Yet neither her head nor her tail moves even a quarter of an inch.

How do they know it's not a trip to the beach? Is this my clothes? Well, sometimes I put on the very same pair of jeans and the very same sweat shirt. Is it a bag with work stuff? Well, it still sitting on the chair and not yet hanging on my shoulder? So, how do they know?

I lock the door, enter the car, start driving. And here they are again staring at the slowly rolling car. They have trained me quite well. So, now I always take a path were they can see me, even if it is a bit off the way. Maybe it will be easier for them to relax when they see me in the car going away

<blockquote>as I leave
she does not even twitch her head
*** busy with her bone</blockquote>

<blockquote>as I leave home
my dogs stay gazing
through the window</blockquote>

<b>A foggy stroll back</b>

Another dawn, another step, another stroll through the fog on the very line of the surf. A jacket on my back for the wind is strong and the clouds heavy with rain. Good for the scorched Texan soil but we do not want a down pour to interrupt our roam too much.

The dogs follow in a perfect pack formation, in a good rhythm, not too fast and not too slow. Sappho on the East side, on the side of the sea. Molly on the dryer West side. Their paws turning around in this ethereal rhythm that inspired someone to paint the yin-yang sign.

They like this weather, too, we all do. It's warm enough to wet a paw and a tail in the surf but not too hot for a long gallop along the shore to chase Sanderlings flying forth and back, disappearing, melting into thick fog.

<blockquote>the morning chant
my sweet Ladies lead me
to a stranded turtle</blockquote>

All of the sudden the sky breaks in half, opens up, and the bright light fills in the world. Yet we do not hear any voices, no one sings soft and uplifting tunes, no mysterious truths are revealed. Just a man and two dogs walking in silence, one foot in the water one foot on the sand

<img src="http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7029/6808679089_4a363b0eab_z.jpg" alt="" width="900" />

<blockquotethe morning="morning" chant="chant" my="my" sweet="sweet" ladies="Ladies" lead="lead" me="me" to="to" a="a" stranded="stranded" turtle</blockquote="turtle&lt;/blockquote">

<img src="http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7166/6808748219_a8b75f5289_z.jpg" alt="" width="900" />

<blockquote>suddenly
the sun breaks the sky
in one</blockquote>

<img src="http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7165/6808724757_079f8d23e4_z.jpg" alt="" width="900" />

<blockquote>this step by step foggy stroll
through the waves
taking us home</blockquote>

<img src="http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7142/6808699435_985be3200f_z.jpg" alt="" width="900" />

<blockquote>(after Basho)

no one walks
on this empty beach
this hazy morning</blockquote>


<b>Coming Home</b>

When I return home I see the black head of a dog sticking out from between white shades. “Were you there the whole day?”, I think. She is gone, in a moment returns with another dog, her head white, a dark spot on the forehead as if the third eye. They look at me wagging their tails. I pretend I do not see them, do nothing, breathe deeply from my <i>hara</i>, just as I do while doing <i>zazen</i>, the sitting meditation, calm down, and then start climbing the stairs.

Someone scratches the door from inside, I open it, get in, tell them to calm down, too. They do, eventually. I give them a cookie breaking it into small pieces so it lasts longer, sometimes another treat, too. After all, they are my dogs.

And then we go for an off leash roam, straight into the setting sun.

<blockquote>house sparrows
fly off when I leave home
fly off when I return</blockquote>

<b>Does a Have It?</b>

The Buddha Nature! And a dog! Has and has not! And that monk pestering the Master Joshu! Had he ever seen dog playing on the beach, melting into the rising sun? Did he keep his eyes wide open or wide shot? Did he pay attention?

<blockquote>happy dogs playing
and the happy man
watching them play</blockquote>

______________
(+) "Mumonkan" (literally "Gateless Gate") is one of the most important collections of Zen koans. The first case in this collection is "Joshu's dog" that opens this set.

In his response, Joshu says "Wu" (Japanese "Mu"). The character used to denote this term could be literally translate as "no", "not", "nothing", "nonexistence" and so on. So, it appears like the Master denies that a dog has the Buddha Nature.

But sometimes appearances are misleading. The character used to express Joshu's answer is the single most common character in the entire Chinese Buddhist canon. It serves to translate a number of terms which are standard in Indian Buddhism.

Several Mahayana Buddhist sutras (i.e., spoken words of the Buddha) assert that all sentient beings, including animals, possess the Buddha Nature or the capacity for awakening. It looks like the monk relies on this doctrine. Joshu's answer forces him to go beyond doctrinal and intellectual understanding, experience and realize the Buddha Nature, and then express or demonstrate this understanding without relying on wards and doctrines. It is clear that Joshu does not reject the wisdom of sutras but rather only rejects the monk's understanding of this wisdom and relying on doctrinal philosophies.

The case appears one more time in another great collection of Zen koans entitled "Th Book of Serenity" where it goes as follows:

<blockquote>One time a monk asked Joshu, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"
Joshu repled, "No."
Another time, a monk asked Joshu, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"
Joshu replied, "Yes."</blockquote>
<lj-cut>

<b>(II) SHE's BEEN ALWAYS FUNNY THIS WAY </b>

<b>She's Been Always Funny This Way</b>

We come home, settle down, finish a dinner and a desert. She picks up my scarf, or a French beret, or a glass, or an empty bottle of beer, glances my way as if asking for approval. I say nothing at all, giggle silently, watch her from behind the screen of a computer. She carries it slowly completely focused on her task, step-by-step to her place. Then she stores her newly acquired treasure among the other precious possessions -- missing plates and bowls, knives and beer openers, a <i>zazen</i>-meditation cushion, or a freshly acquired stick of incense. Once I even found there "The Tenor Madness" sign by the maestro Sonny Rollins himself. It was sitting in a pristine condition in the midst of her mat with her white head resting on it. One might think, my dog surely has a good taste in music.

She's been always funny that way, yes, always doing those little things that make the world go around and also make you smile when you return home. Still, thinking about it, if I were not such a mess, maybe I could find easier what I really need

<blockquote>on her bed
wrapped in my sweaty work-out pants
dog’s milk bone</blockquote>


<b>Playing at Home</b>

They play I watch hidden behind the screen of computer. Each and every move of theirs mimics the steps of their dance through the sands waves and sunlight. The match is almost exact except that now it is all happening in a slow mo.

Sappho grabs Molly's neck from behind, Molly spins around, counterattacks, they both roll over, take a pause. Molly grabs Sappho's hind paw. Her bite is gentle, always. Still, I do not like when she makes this very same move in a full gallop on the beach. Maybe I am a bit paranoid. But it is too dangerous, I think.

They wrestle for a while, rest, get bored.

Molly nibbles Sappho's ear, a sure way to start the play anew. So, they start and repeat the entire sequence again as if the great improvisers, adding a new figure, a new variation on the top of another, roll over on their backs with all fours up, wrestle some more, rest, then Molly licks Sappho's face, from outside to inside.

As soon as they notice me, they stop their business, maybe for good, one never knows about the dogs. They glance my way, look at me trying to establish an eye contact... Maybe it is the time to eat? Maybe it is the time to go out? "What would you like to do, Sir?" I almost hear them asking.

Today they are very respectful, somehow sense I am injured, need my rest and space. I did not take a good enough care of my feet, not enough pumice stone and soaking or Crisco, or something. So, the thick skin on the right heel got too dried up by the salt and broke, split deeply into the flesh. Walk is hard so we stay home. Somehow, they understand. They are very quiet.

<img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2632/4104878873_000fefeb9c_z.jpg">

<blockquote>I thought I'd love one dog
ended up loving them all
why not people?</blockquote>

<img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2655/4105648030_08c25d71c7_z.jpg">

<img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2538/4012727221_8cf3431058_z.jpg">

<img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2628/4012722283_465a04f300_z.jpg">

<img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2577/4012721259_95e7365192_z.jpg">


<b>Falling Asleep</b>

I go to bed. They are with me within a minute or two. Molly on my right, resting her head in the nook of my bent arm, her body curled into my belly. Sappho stretched out on the other side with her tummy up. I scratch it. She murmurs something which sounds like, “Finally… you got it…” or maybe, “you got to it”, I am not sure. I tell her, “You are taking too much space, dear”. She only yawns and lick my hand. I turn around. It is not too bad to feel her warmth touch on my lower back.

When I wake up, in the middle of the night, the fire is out and they are both gone. I measure my steps carefully walking to a bathroom. Frankly, it is never a good idea to step on anyone’s tail when you are asleep. For one thing, you can twist your foot.

Only when the day returns I can tell the ocean from the sky.

<blockquote>another dawn
I share breakfast tacos
with my dogs</blockquote>


<b>III. THEY SAY ANIMALS LIVE IN THE NOW</b>

<b>They Say, Animals Live in the Now</b>

<blockquote> <blockquote>"An animal or bird enjoys <i>samadhi</i> every moment. When it grazes in the meadow, it is a grazing <i>samadhi</i>. When it flies up at the sound of a gun, it is a flying samadhi. Mellowed by the evening sun, standing quietly for a long time motionless in the meadow, it is in what we might call a "mellowing <i>samadhi</i>" -- a beautiful picture and a condition to be envied even by a human being."

<blockquote> Katsuki Sekida, Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy (Wheatherhill, 1985), p. 92.</blockquote>

“Not that it's necessarily the same thing as <i>samadhi</i> [the deep state of concentration], but I think that animals in nature tend to live in perfect balance. Too bad we infect them with our neuroses and fears. I have seen too many messed up dogs.”

<blockquote>A friendly dog-whisperer met on a beach</blockquote> </blockquote> </blockquote>

They say, "Animals live in the now". Yet, my black dog Molly recoils when I raise my arm in a rapid motion. When and how did she learn it, I wonder?

Perhaps it is her heavy armor not unlike the one carried by the Girl I know, blocking my every move, every attempt to come closer. Some nights I wonder what would happen if I were to write my love letters in blood and tears? Would it help? I doubt it. For some armors are worn for so long they grow into our bodies, they become our bodies or, perhaps, we become our armors. How hard it is to remove one then?

But we are humans, we hardly live in the now, we remember, anticipate, plan, and worry. So, what about dogs? Where do their armors come from? Is it in their bodies and genes? Is it preserved in <i>alaya-vijnana</i>, the deep “store-house” consciousness that, according to Buddhist sources, we all carry from our previous lives since time immemorial? Or, perhaps, maybe body and mind are not two?

Be it as it may! The fact is she has been with us for 4 or 5 years and I have always been good to her. I have never spanked her, not once, not even lightly. And yet she still recoils when I raise my arm in a rapid motion.

When Sappho, my bigger dog, plays with her too rough, perhaps nips her a bit too hard, Molly cries. They stop for a second or two, Sappho embarrassed, looks with remorse as if trying to say "I am sorry, sister, I did not mean it." A moment later all is forgotten, they play again as if nothing has happened at all.

Yet, after all these days, all these years, all these roams on the beach, and all these nights of falling asleep in a nook of my elbow, she still recoils in fear when I raise my arm in a rapid motion. So, I wonder, is it true that animals live in the now?

<blockquote>low tide unveils
many crab houses
we walk with care</blockquote>

<b>Dog Troubles</b>

Every dog loves the beach and so does every child. No matter how busy he or she is building another sand castle, they stop whatever they do and look at us roaming through the wet sand. So, we stop, too, look at them. "Mister! Mister! Do they bite?" they ask. "Sure they do," I say, "but only someone like a dark wizard, or an evil goon from out of space." "Or a thief trying to sneak into your house?" "Yeah, a thief, too, but not a kid like you."

They smile, "Mister! Can we pet them?" I show them how to make the Ladies sit before giving them a treat, "One little piece in each hand so the dogs can get them together." We play for a while and then take off.

The beauty of this part of Texas is that you can let them off leash from time to time, at certain places. Sure, you got to be careful, teach them what you want, learn what they will do, develop this elusive trust and respect. So, they will not run into the dunes chasing after the wild geese but encountering a rattler, and will not stroll too far chasing the sanderlings. I've done all of this, many times and yet still make mistakes. Like that morning maybe two years ago when I decided to give them breakfast tacos a bit too close to an access road.

You see, Sappho is a half dalmatian, and for hundreds of years and many generations dalmatians have been bred to follow moving objects. You can still find old Europeans paintings showing their ancestors running between the wheels of a moving coach. At first she was timid, always following me a step or two back. But once she settled with me, once she relaxed, she started to explore the world and act on her genes sometimes taking off and chasing a noisy truck like a cruise rocket.

That morning, she went into a narrow access road. The banks were too steep and too soft after and extended drought. I think she must have slipped and rolled over bouncing right under the truck. The driver should have seen her, must have. I guess, some people lack compassion... Ultimately, my fault entirely, I should have foreseen all of this, should have kept them on leash, never should have fed them so close to the bottleneck of the access road. I felt guilty and depressed for days, like a total f@ck up and a failure idiot that I was that morning.

The wound on her paw was deep. The vet said another quarter-inch and the tendon and artery would have been severed which would mean an amputation. 700-800 bucks from my pocket, too, but she recovered perfectly.

They never grow through these experiences, the vet said, never learn to associate a distant pain with the immediate danger. Ladies they are, for sure. But, after all, they are basically dogs, perfect exemplification of "dogness", always perfectly in the moment, learning from each other so well. So, now the little one has developed the same vice and both learned to chase the cars. Like I said, you have to be careful with the dogs.

Fortunately, there is hardly anyone here on the beach, when we come. Just us, the dunes, the ocean. You can see every car and truck from miles away.

a breezy walk
far away
dogs barking


<b>Taking a Long Sunny Ride Home</b>

<img alt="" border="2" title="" src="http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4056/4716400697_fcbee289df_z.jpg" />

Taking a long sunny ride home while listening to blues. Dizzy, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, and “Sunny Side Up,” just a kind of music you need to go deep in the grove, just as we pass over a long span bridge, my white dog Sappho asks me “Did you have a good walk?”

Frankly, I am startled, for she has never spoken to me, not in words, not like that. Still, I try to play it cool, play it straight. “Sure!" I say, "It was great. For I love watching you chasing birds." Then glancing at a back seat where my black dog is listening intently in silence, knowing her feelings can be hurt, I scratch her ear, scratch my head, and continue "I love watching you, too, Miss Molly. You guys are so pretty together, so graceful running back and forth, yin and yang in a perfect dynamic union. Still, you've done it like 10.000 times, never caught a single bird and yet you keep doing it over and over again. That is just silly."

Molly nods her head, Sappho giggles, and it downs on me, it's not about catching, it's about the chase. So, I crank up the music, change the topic, and say, "By the way, you have helped me to find two brand new haiku. That is so cool!” They grin and wag their tails and for a while we drive in silence just listening to blues. Then I ask, “Ladies! How was your walk?”

“It was great” Sappho says, “for I love watching you watching us running." "I love that, too," Molly interjects, "and those sunglasses you bought for us, to protect our eyes from the sun and the sand, they are so cool. But, for goodness sake, haven't you noticed we go through them like you go through toilet paper. They are too fragile for us, continuing to buy them is just plain silly, man."

Molly is very practical; Sappho not so much. She speaks slowly and calmly, "Yeah, indeed, they are cool. Still I'd prefer not to wear them when they are other dogs around. First, I wanna have an eye on those mothers…, OK? If they are all right, we'll play with them and you should always feel free to cut to the chase. More importantly, I love it when they can look into my eyes. You take your sunglasses off when they are humans around, especially the ladies... I know, there is something in there. Molly has fallen for that, too. But, for goodness sake to tell you the truth, if you take your sunglasses off while keeping ours on, oh man, that is just plain rude. OK?”

"OK" I nod and for a while we drive in silence just listening to blues. And you can feel the music flowing, the energy growing, a trumpet and two tenors trading 4s, when she kind of wiggles and stretches and yawns, "I’m kind of tired now," she says, "I'd like to rest on the back seat. Could you, please, take over the wheel?”

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in crimson silence
with his two dogs
a boy sniffing sunset

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November 11th, 2013


09:11 am - Chasing the last summer sunset


CHASING THE LAST SUMMER SUNSET

"They are like Yin and Yang, your Ladies. Coincidentally, the two symbols are related to the theme of solstice! Yin is born at the Summer Solstice and Yang at the Winter one." (Olga Hooper (Origa), a haiku poet and a sumi-e painter)


The First Sunset of Fall

I was a bit surprised when the autumn arrived this year so early, not too long after the Summer Solstice. But, thinking about it, things like this happen sometimes, first time that evening long time ago...

It was the midst of a hot sunny sweaty Polish summer stuck somewhere in the green pine forests of Mazury, the land of 10 000 lakes and 10 zillions of mosquitoes. And I was stuck, too, sitting on a side of the road on my knapsack and chanting my guts out as if my life were hinging on it. And yet, no sutra, no dharani, no mantra, not even the great Sho Sai Myo... that is supposed to reverse all disasters and alleviate all obstacles, none of them was able to reverse this "being stuck on the side of the road" karma. No truck or car even as much as slowed down. It felt like stars were align to keep me right then and there on that very spot facing the lake, gazing on the setting sun.

The Big Crimson was slip sliding behind the line of horizon, ready to rest in the quiet lake and it was getting dusky dark. "I'd be sleeping under the stars, tonight", I thought, in itself not a big deal though I felt a chill in my bones and some sadness in my heart. And then, all of the sudden, things became clear, as clear as the crisp night sky filled with the light of full moon. I felt it in my guts, and in my body, and in the marrow of my bones -- the days become shorter now.



that crimson sunset
seen long ago still resounds
in this evening blues

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November 10th, 2013


05:31 am - No regrets

"The outside of oneself is hard and protected, as if by a thick shield or a wall. It is only because of love, trust, and the transcendence of egos that we can allow our bodies to merge and our hearts to beat as one."
- A.G.


I have never had regrets that I started to smoke. There is a story behind it. It involves the girl who loved me and whom I still love...

We were asked to be the bridesmaid and the best man at our best friends’ wedding. Since we did not know each other, at least not in person, we met a few days earlier to chat and generally get acquainted. I arrived with a bouquet of spring flowers, because it is what the best man does. Also because, it was an early spring. She was sitting at a cafe table sipping black coffee, no milk, her dress matching the flowers I brought, an amethyst ring on her middle finger, a simple silver necklace and bracelets on her wrists, sensuous, radiant and beautiful. Read more...Collapse )

The last Autumn Equinox, September 21st, was the 49th day without a cigarette. I decided to do 49 more days, twice 7 weeks, just to see what will happen. It should be enough time to make some progress on the path of self-discovery. I think I will not stop there, not a big deal for me one way or another. For it is not about smoking or not smoking. It is more about what is authentic and real, real like these nights together, the Big Silver Moon smiling upon us, her resting in my arms, and our kittens curling in our feet

falling asleep
the sound of muted trumpet
weaves in our dreams



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October 19th, 2013


07:16 am - AND THEN, STEP BY STEP, I WENT VEGAN (AND HOW MORAL PROINCIPLES GUIDED ME)


I keep discovering that my attitude to animals has never been an all or nothing proposition. That is, I never had one huge epiphany that totally shattered my world view and made me radically change my ways. Rather, I had several small epiphanies, each prompted by a very different event and each leading a step or two closer to where I am now -- a vegan committed to a plant-based life style for the rest of my days.

It all began in my childhood in Poland. For some reason, most kinds of meats looked gross to me, did not taste good, and sometimes even gave me a heavy feeling in my tummy. Since I did not really like meat all that much, I sometimes I skipped over it when my parents put it on my plate. So, jokingly, they started to call me ‘jarosz’ – ‘a vegetarian’. I asked what it meant and they told me that some people do not eat animal flesh at all. I was very impressed by it. Up to this point I had no idea that it is even possible to abstain from eating animals.

In the winter of 1958, when I was four and a half years old, several days before the holidays my parents bought a fish for a Christmas Eve supper. Where we lived, sometimes you had to do this sort of thing if you wanted to eat at all. It was not too long after the WWII. Our city was in ruins, and there was a shortage of everything, including fish, and especially right before Christmas. There was no hot running water at our home and no opportunity to take a shower or even a good bath; this was a frequent condition in Warsaw due to the destruction caused by the war. So, we filled the bathtub with cold tap water and that's where the fish lived for a while, me and my older brother playing with her each day. Then came what I called the "day of execution". I begged my parents not to do it, I prayed to God and all Saints to stop it, and I made every promise I possibly could have trying to spare her life, to no avail. My father killed the carp while I witnessed it, crying my eyes out. And then I refused to eat her body and the flesh of any other animal. It took my parents and my brother many lies, lots of coaxing, and at least 2 or 3 days before I caved under their pressure and abandoned my newly adopted vegetarian path. Looking back, not too bad for a 4.5 years old child under so much pressure.

I think now that some subtle yet fundamental shift occurred right then, through this experience of bonding with the fish and then witnessing what I intuitively felt was an act of murder or wrongful killing. Up to that point I thought that animals are objects, just mere things to be used in this or that way, according to what we wish. Now I started to see them, including even someone as “lowly” as a fish, as members of one community of sentient beings to which I also belong. They have needs and interests just like we do. They fear what may happen to them just like we do. They suffer in many ways in which we suffer, too. True, what is happiness for them may be quite different than what happiness is for us. What they need to be happy may be quite different from our needs. And I am fairly sure they never suffer the existential angst. But there is also no doubt that they can feel joy and flourish in many ways in which we cannot. The rest is just looks and who cares about those. Besides, you do not treat anyone belonging to the same community as someone to be used like a mere thing. Or so I thought or felt even if I was not able to verbalize it in quite these terms. Anyway, that's how I opened up to the idea of solidarity and kinship with all sentient beings; that's how I accepted at some not fully conscious level the idea of respecting them and their needs.

As far as my attitude to animals is concerned, nothing much happened for the next 10 or 12 years. I just adopted the ways of my culture, including eating meat with each and every meal and sometimes for deserts, too, and that’s only a slight exaggeration. But I was also reading voraciously. I do not remember what came first--maybe something by Leo Tolstoy, maybe Romain Rolland’s book about Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy of ahimsa (non-harm), maybe Gandhi's own account presented in his ‘Autobiography’, or maybe Mahayana Buddhist sutras putting forth the ideal of Bodhisattvas, deeply spiritually developed beings who postpone their own individual liberation to save all sentient beings. One way or another, I was becoming exposed to the lives and ideas of people who, on the grounds of compassion, had chosen not to cause harm and suffering either to people or to animals.

And then came 1972 and my first vacation away from my family. It was a hot sweaty summer day when I hit the road, in my knapsack a sleeping bag, a rain cover, few clothes, and many books -- Tagore, Gandhi, Schweitzer, Tao Te Ching, and Mahayana Buddhist sutras. I hitchhiked up the Vistula River to the ancient city of Krakow, then further into the mountains, Auschwitz on the way. The iron gate welcomed me with the Inscription: ARBEIT MACHT FREI -- WORK LIBERATES. Inside, several huge rooms filled with belongings of the prisoners -- hair, combs, toothbrushes, eyeglasses, razors, belts, prosthetics, shoes, many of them children's shoes and toys. Then the sister-camp of Brzezinka -- Birch Forest. The forest of chimneys, spread for miles along the railway tracks, welcomed me. Most barracks were burned to cover the crimes. Only a few survived and the dead forest of chimneys. Gas chambers at the end of the tracks, crematoria-furnaces right behind. All is neat and efficient: millions of people were killed here -- their hair used for blankets, bodies for soap, labor to support the war machinery in every possible way.

Right there and then it hit me. The methods used by Nazis to gather and kill humans were not so different than the methods used to slaughter animal; in fact, even the train carts used to transport people to the concentration camps were originally used to transport animals. But, if what they did to humans was profoundly wrong, does not it follow that what we do to animals is just as wrong?

I tried various objections to this hypothesis beginning with the most obvious one: we are humans and they are animals. But being a human is just a matter of certain genetic makeup. So, why should it matter at all? Generally, we do not base ethical principles on genetic differences. That’s exactly what Nazis and all other kinds of racists do. This is why we reject racism. Besides, if we were to encounter a friendly extra-terrestrial, would not we treat such a being with respect, no matter his or her genetic makeup? Clearly, morality cannot be just about the genes.

Then I tried an idea borrowed from Immanuel Kant; namely, morality is a matter of respecting someone’s autonomy and his or her rational consent. But I already knew that Nazis were killing infants, too. My mother, herself a survivor of the camp, told me the sometimes they would throw the babies alive into the flames of crematoria. And I know that some of the victims were so severely mentally handicapped that they would never be able to give, or refuse to give, a rational consent to anything. The Kantian idea would imply that, since they were unable to rationally consent to anything, there was nothing there to respect and hence there was nothing wrong about torturing and murdering such children… with obviously unacceptable implications. So, clearly, morality cannot be just about respecting someone’s consent.

And, furthermore, morality cannot be just based on what our culture permits, either. If it were, we could not rationally argue against Nazism and other cultural perversions. Any way I looked at it, my initial insight seemed correct. But if what the Nazi did was wrong, and what we are doing is so similar to their actions, does it not follow that our ways are wrong, too?

Later on I learned that several people saw a connection between what we do to animals and what the Nazis did to us. Jewish Nobel Prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer mentions it in several places speaking through the mouths of his protagonists that, from the point of view of animals, we are all Nazis and what we do to them is ‘an eternal Treblinka’. J.M. Coetzee, also a Nobel laureate in literature, compared the Nazis' treatment of Jews to methods used to herd and slaughter cattle.(1) Similarly, Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, a Holocaust victim sent to Dachau for “being a strong, autonomously thinking personality” wrote in his “Dachau Diaries” what follows:

I have suffered so much myself that I can feel other creatures' suffering by virtue of my own. [...] I believe as long as man tortures and kill animals, he will torture and kill humans as well -- and wars will be waged -- for killing must be practiced and learned on a small scale.(2)


It seems to me that this first trip to Auschwitz forced me to see this connection. For when I returned home I told my family that I decided to become a vegetarian.

My mother, herself a survivor of Auschwitz, has never recognized the connection nor did she accept my decision. On the contrary, when I told her about my it she flipped out and spearheaded the offensive: "Why are you doing this? This is not the way to do things. We do not live like this. You are harming yourself. You are destroying your life. God gave us meat to eat", and so on and so forth. And when she stopped my father would take over, then my older brother, then my friends at school, one after another feeling it was a badge of honor to take a crack at someone attempting to live in a compassionate way. I do not know why they were doing it. Maybe they were genuinely worried about my health, maybe some cultural pride was at stake, maybe they felt I was going against their religion. The fact is that no one was willing to help me with either cooking or even explaining how to design a balanced meal. Frankly, I was not eating in a healthy way at all and did not feel very well, either; essentially, too many home fries and not enough greens. I was the only vegetarian around (all others I heard about being long-gone ancient sages). I was surrounded by the sea of omnivorous people going out of their way to destroy my resolve. I withstood for more than a year. Then I broke down and backslid, for a few weeks, into eating some meat.

I could not reconcile it, however, with the principles of universal compassion and ahimsa. And the argument I considered shortly after my trip to Auschwitz were haunting me every day. So, I tried again in 1974, right before summer, and this time I did it right. I started with a book that contained lots of good science about nutritional value of vegetarian cuisine and good tips about designing balanced meals. Then I went vegetarian and I never looked back, basically happy that I was doing my share in contributing to a healthy environment and avoiding causing harm. I believed (and maybe still believe, though I am less sure about it these days) that, provided that all of us were to become vegetarians, dairy and eggs could be had without causing animals any harm or suffering. Yes, I read about billions of male chicks being destroyed at birth (frequently just buried in the ground and suffocated or just ground alive) because they are useless to the meat industry. Yes, I heard about calves raised for veal in small stalls constraining their each and every movement. Yes, I knew about cows forcefully inseminated a year after a year, so they produced milk, and then slaughtered as soon as they could not continue doing it. But I thought those were excesses that could be eliminated if enough of us adopted a vegetarian lifestyle.

Someone pointed me to the documentaries “Meet Your Meet” and “The Earthlings”, each full of the footage of tortured animals (both available on the web). Somewhere I came across a clip showing a cow crying just seconds before being slaughtered which haunts me until now.(3) The fact is, this is not an exception, this is a standard for the food industry, and my eating dairy and eggs was indirectly contributing to causing someone excruciating suffering and harm.

In addition, I started to realize more vividly how devastating meat industry is and not just for animals and environment but also for workers who make this industry possible. As one of the slaughterhouse workers noticed

Every sticker [slaughterhouse killer] I know carries a gun, and every one of them would shoot you. Most stickers I know have been arrested for assault. A lot of them have problems with alcohol. They have to drink, they have no other way of dealing with killing life, kicking animals all day long. If you stop to think about it, you’re killing several thousand beings a day.(4)


In the summer of 2011 I had to revisit the whole issue again. At that time I was working on an academic paper on the implications of consequentialist theories like one developed by Peter Singer in Animal Liberation, Practical Ethics, and in his other writings.(5) Generally, theories of this sort allow for some tradeoffs. In particular, they imply that one may be allowed to cause some suffering provided that this suffering is minimized, that it leads to something important (such as the protection of our lives or health), and that there is no other (less painful) way to achieve this important thing. I preferred this approach to more absolutist theories that disallow similar tradeoffs, e.g., to the theory put forth by Tom Regan in The Case for Animal Rights.(6) The open question was what kinds of tradeoffs might be morally justified?

It seems to me that, when we make decisions of these sorts, we must consider several factors. One of them is the importance of someone’s interests for his or her survival and well-being: one thing is to sacrifice someone to protect something as basic as someone’s life or health but a completely different thing is to sacrifice someone to get something as trivial as new fancy clothes, or shoes, or a new toy. Thus, an Eskimo hunting seals, because his life depends on it, is in a very different situation from a person engaged in trophy hunting or raising animals for leather and fur (provided there are reasonable alternatives). It is also important to consider characteristics of those whose interests are at stake: it is one thing to unavoidably destroy an ant colony when we build a hospital; it is a very different thing to kill a pack of wolfs who live on the grounds where the hospital is to be built; and it is yet another thing to kidnap a fully developed person and use her organs to someone else. In the first case, it may be justified to sacrifice the ant colony because the important interests of persons trump the important interests of ants. In addition, arguably ants are much less mentally developed than wolfs or normal human beings. The second case is quite different. Yes, our important interests are still at stake in this situation. But, on the other hand, wolfs are much more sophisticated than ants. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, there is no necessity to sacrifice the lives of wolves at all as it is not prohibitively hard to find a new home for the wolves and relocate them. (It would be yet another thing to destroy an ant colony simply because someone is too lazy to walk around it; this would be clearly unjustified action, too.) Finally, in the third case, we go against the will of fully rational person. Perhaps Kant was correct that these kinds of cases require the most stringent constraints. As he said, in his famous categorical imperative, we must never use humanity and rationality in ourselves and in others merely as a means but always also as an end. But perhaps he overstated his case while thinking about animals and claiming that, in the cases like 1 or 2, no constraints are needed because we do not deal with rational beings. It seemed to me more plausible to maintain that some limitations are still at place even though, perhaps, they are less stringent that the limitations applicable in the 3rd case, the case where the interests of fully developed persons are at stake. But what follows from this sort of reasoning for the cases of using animal products.

I knew that my actions contributed, at least indirectly, to great harm to cows, calves, pigs, birds, and many other animals. It was less clear whether they also bring about something of importance to me. Yes, I loved dairy cheese and I thought it will be very difficult to continue without it. But, on the other hand, I did not know for sure how much I would really miss it. There was only one way to find out. And so, to discover it, I made a decision to switch to a fully vegan life style, on a trial basis, for just one month. This seemed to me enough time for my body to adjust and for me to learn enough about the plant-based life style. This should allow me, I thought, to be able to start making rational decisions for the future. This seemed to be fair both to animal interests and to my own well-being.

Within two weeks some new calm, beautiful gliding energy kicked in. I had not expected it at all, I had not felt like this for years, and I loved it. But I also discovered that one product I was using had some dairy ingredient in it. So, just for an even measure, I extended the trial period for another 6 weeks and I have never looked back, staying vegan since then.

So, what I have learned through following my meandering path of little steps? The benefits for animals and environment are so great and obvious that there is no need to discuss them here. So, I will focus purely on the matters of my health. Due to sports injuries in childhood, I miss anterior ligaments in both knees, which has caused arthritis. Some 6 years ago my doctor discussed with me the possibility of two arthroscopic surgeries, one for each knee. The measure of success would have been an ability to walk for about 1 mile at one stretch. Since even then my daily roams with my dogs were much longer, I smiled and rejected the option. Since then, I lost close to 100 pounds, the last 20 after shifting to a non-inflammatory plant-based diet. Arthritis and pain receded to such an extent that I frequently forget to take my anti-inflammatory medication (meloxicam 15 mg, taken daily). In fact, after the consultation with my doctor, I decided to take it only as needed, usually twice a week 7.5 mg. In terms of energy, I have never felt better. I will continue on the vegan path for the rest of my life.

Few years ago I could barely walk and almost always it was a walk with pain. These days I am mostly pain-free. Since my doctor suggested, several years ago, that after arthroscopic surgeries walking a mile in one stretch would be a measure of success, I was curious haw far I can go by just shifting to a plant-based life style and paying a close attention to my health. On the September 07, 2013 I did my first half-marathon (just me, and my dogs who are also vegans). I did it to prove to myself that one can resolve so much by simply adopting a healthy and ethically sound life-style. That's the next small step.

What now? I am not sure, perhaps another small step. Maybe I will go vegan-raw on a trial basis, just for a few weeks to see how I will feel. One way or another, I decided to do another half-marathon this winter. This time I treat it as a stepping stone, or a training run, before going the whole distance next year. I have been inspired by many beings, both humans and non-humans. I hope this story will help someone, too.

APPENDIX:
When people learn I have been vegan for a while, and vegetarian for most of my life, one of the first questions they ask is about how I get my proteins. My answer, there is a myth of "proteins", namely that we need to eat meat and animal products to have enough of them. In fact, according to the contemporary research, if you have enough calories and most of them come from fresh vegetables (and, also, you use beans, legumes, tofu, nuts, etc.) you will automatically have enough proteins. Here is a good essay about it: http://www.tcolincampbell.org/courses-resources/article/muscling-out-the-meat-myth/ .

Also, I would suggest "googling" "The China Study" (which is a very thorough book the book by the same author based on many decades of study) and read about what they have discovered (wiki has a great write up). Here is a wiki summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Study. The whole book is available as a free download.

Finally, there are many world class athletes who adopted the plant based life, including the best ultra-marathon runner of our times Scott Jurek (please, google his name for more information).
Finally, if you are interested in my own experiments whit vegan cuisine, I post photos and recipes of my dishes on my Face Book, in the photo-album entitled “Food”.

_________________

1) J.M. Coetzee, "Exposing the beast: factory farming must be called to the slaughterhouse”, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 22, 2007, http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/factory-farming-must-be-called-to--slaughterhouse/2007/02/21/1171733846249.html.

2) Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, Animal Brothers: Reflection on an Ethical Way of Life, 4th ed.Mannaheim, Germany: Warland-Verlagsgenossenschaft eG Mannaheim, n. date. Translated by Ruth Mossner for Vegetarian Press, Denver, CO.

3) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLzBvT2v3PM

4) Gail A. Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U. S. Meat Industry, Amherst: Prometheus, 1997, p. 87

5) Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, New York: Avon Books 1990, New Revised Edition; and Practical Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 1993, 2nd ed. My paper, “Utilitarianism and Replaceability Revisited or Are Animals Expendable?” appeared in Between the Species, Vol 14:1, August 2011. http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1176&context=bts

6) Tom Regan, The Case For Animal Rights, University of California Press 1983.


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October 11th, 2013


03:33 pm - ON ANGELS

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ON ANGELS




Concerning the nature of angels, an interesting debate unfolded among philosophers and theologians of Late Antiquity. Some argued that, like humans, they have physical bodies. Others maintained that angels are purely spiritual or immaterial.

The first view has found its counterpart in visual representations portraying them as possessing not only heads, torsos, arms, and legs but also even navels. A strange approach, indeed. For if angels exist at all, then either they are eternal or everlasting, in which case they have never come into being, or else they are brought into existence ex nihilo, by the direct divine act of the Creator. One way or another, surely they are not born from other beings, they are not flesh of other flesh. So, why would they have navels?

Then again, the greatest artist of High Renaissance, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475 - 1564), follows the very same convention in his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, where the very first human, Adam, is portrayed with a navel. Interestingly enough, angels and even the God Father himself are endowed with navels, too.



The view that has eventually prevailed implies, however, something else; namely, that no matter how we might choose to represent angels, these images are but visual metaphors rather than real simulacra. For, in reality, angels are pure spirits, disembodied intellects, the bundles of mental energy not attached to anything physical. This leads, however, to some interesting problems. For if they have no physical bodies at all, and thus have no senses, then how can angels see, hear, feel, smell, or taste? How do they perceive the world? How can they relate to us? What is this thing mediating between their surroundings and their subjectivity? If not senses and sensations, what anchors them to the reality?

In Wim Wender's movie, “The Wings of Desire”, Peter Falk credited as playing “himself” but reality being… well, let us not yet reveal too much. In “The Wings of Desire” angels "see" the world in black and white, an illuminating poetic device curiously eschewed in the “City of Angels”, a loose American remake starring Nicholas Cage. To me, it is this first sip of hot coffee, a gentle kiss of breeze on my neck, a crimson dawn as sensuous as her lips, feeling the taut strings of a stunt kite tugging on my arms, holding her hands, a dance late into night, an aroma of her hair, this magical moment right before our lips meet, a soft alabaster of her skin under my touch, falling in love. To them, it is but a set of highly abstract mathematical equations and complex geometrical figures. We surely feel their calm soothing love but, some days, what we really need is passion. And passion is what their love lacks.

In turn, maybe sometimes angels need our passion, too. For, thinking about it, can we truly flourish if we are but disembodied minds? Don't we need pain to develop empathy and compassion? Can we build up fortitude and courage without overcoming obstacles and fear? But angels lack all of this. Their senses are dormant if existent at all, they agape-love is dispassionate. Thus, perhaps, something about them needs to thaw and open up, too, so they can transcend their sophisticated yet sterile mathematical ideas and ethical imperatives, awaken their senses, and open and use their hearts rather than just their intellects. Maybe, to be truly happy, they have to learn how to feel and not just how to reason. Perhaps that’s the only way to transcend the world of black-and-white.

Sometimes angels climb up high towers of churches and hang out on roofs of the tallest buildings as if waiting for the gift of a dawn, as if trying to catch the last rays of the setting sun. I do not know what they expect to see and feel. But it looks like something is missing in their lives and some sadness pervades their existence. For there is always a price to be paid for not having senses. No matter how high they climb, no matter how high they fly, they always miss out on this blue indigo red orange golden yellow wind we feel on our faces.

Sometimes angels fall.

They fall in love.

When an angel falls, I tell you, it’s not a small matter. Angels fall badly and deeply. Interesting things happen then, like thunders and lightning, sometimes even a rain and then a double rainbow. Some of the angels’ parts fall, too. That is, they fall off and then fall, for example their wings. Also, they lose all of their accessories, starting with their armor and shield and ending with their clothes and underwear. It ain't all bad, really. If you are clever and not just mathematically inclined, I mean, if you can see beyond the world of pure algebra into the world of supply and demand, if you have some street smarts, you may realize that your armor and shield are nice commodities that can fetch you a hefty lump of cash. Not a bad start on a new path to becoming fully human.

When angels fall, not only do they lose their armor, clothes and all the rest, they also take on human bodies. Now they have to learn everything from scratch including how to control parts that even for a mature human being are so darn hard to control. At first even their best efforts fall short, are humorous, sometimes even outright comical. They stand out there completely naked in those brand new beautiful human bodies and it all really shows. They are like teenagers who cannot hide anything.

I still remember when, being a young and immature man, I was forced to pull myself through some moments of real awkwardness. And I was wearing clothes. Now, imagine a naked ex-angel facing the same predicament. For the first time in his life he has been burnt by the sun, or bitten by a mosquito, or his tummy tells him something but he has not the slightest clue what it is, except that it hurts. Up to this moment no sensations at all but now his body is aching and itching. It's got to be seriously frustrating, yes?

Some of them, those who are really wise, understand why they have fallen, the whole process of falling, and what comes next. They take it slow and easy as if it is a Sunday morning, they taste the waters. They may even have a premonition that it is but the beginning of a long process and that the best is still to come. But some of them, those who are less fortunate, are pretty confused, freak out, run away and splash against the walls they used to be able to penetrate at will in their immaterial angelic “bodies”. After all, they are not angels any more, now they are made of physical stuff and, trust me, physical bodies sometimes really, really hurt. For them nothing is easy. They need to learn fast how to take good care of their new endowment.

Fortunately, fallen angels have really good looks; it is one of the perks of being an angel in a previous life. They are Peter Falk kind of good looking, when he was young, or Nicolas Cage kind of good looking. I mean it in a very sincere flattering way; I am not envious about such things. Good looks frequently help. Just imagine that someone whom you deeply and passionately love sees you completely naked and you have no control at all over what happens to your body. Fortunately, you have a choice to look like a Nicolas Cage or like a Rush Limbaugh. I surely know what I would prefer. But I digress. What I am trying to say is merely that a transition from being an angel to being a human is difficult and that it definitely feels weird, especially to an angel. That's all.

Now, according to the Buddhist and Hindu scriptures we have been migrating in the Grand Circle of Life and Death, driven by our own karma accumulated since time immemorial. Thus, at one time or another, each of us is reborn in this or another form: sometimes as a human, sometimes as an animal, sometimes as a hungry or thirsty ghost, sometimes as a being suffering in one of many hells, and sometimes as some kind of celestial or divine being. What drives us around the circle are various dispositions, desires, and cravings, especially anger, greed, and ignorance. But no matter what obstacles we may encounter, no matter what we are inclined to do, it is ultimately up to us to respond to it. And, fortunately, we can use our free will to choose our response. Yes, sometimes we yield to our anger and cravings and attachments and are reborn in less than auspicious conditions. But, ultimately, each of us has an ability to resist whatever temptations we have and to choose freely the path of wisdom-compassion.

I do not know how much of this story is true. But I do not rule out that, right now and here, I simultaneously occupy all planes of existence depicted in the myth of the Circle of Life and Death. That is, perhaps, I am both a human and an animal, both a ghost preoccupied by hunger and thirst and a heavenly being preoccupied by pleasure, both a demon suffering in hell and an angel enjoying the joys of celestial existence. Maybe the ultimate meaning of this myth is that, all of the time, various realms of existence coexist and coalesce in each and every one of us.

Be it as it may, the fact is that most of us do not remember our previous lives and especially not when we were angels. I surely do not. Maybe I have never been an angel, never have fallen, always been just a bear, or a wolf, or a ghost, or a hungry spirit, or a human, or something, I don't know. The fact is that, if I could, I would definitely give up my wings for the smells and tastes of a fresh apple pie baked by my Girl. Even better, how about a slice of home-baked sour dough bread served with peanut batter, toasted sesame seeds, and fresh ripe strawberries? Can there be anything more divine? Also, if I could make a breakfast and coffee for her, served them in bed, why would I worry about an armor or a shield? Provided we can lift a wing-shaped rainbow colored kite up to the sky, would we need any other wings to fly? And I would also gladly trade an ability to understand the proof of Fermat's last theorem and other sophisticated mathematical equations for another opportunity to see and feel and take fully in the hues of sun emerging from the ocean.

Then, again, dropping one's wings, armor, and especially shield comes with some risks. Sure, there is no such thing as a bad dawn, especially if it involves waking up with the Girl in my arms. Sure, there is nothing better than a long lingering cuddle lasting late into a lazy hazy morning. And how about a freshly brewed cup of cappuccino served in bed with a hope for another dawn, and another breakfast, and another long lasting lingering kiss and embrace? But, let us be clear about it, too, nor is there such thing as a free lunch.

"The Six Ways" (or "The Six Realms of Existence"), by Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827); translated by Robert Haas:

Hell

Bright autumn moon --
pond snails crying
in the saucepan

The Hungry Ghosts

Flowers scattering --
the water we thirst for
far off, in the mist

Animals

In the falling of petals --
they see no Buddha
no Law

Malignant Spirits

In the shadow of blossoms,
voice against voice,
the gamblers

Men

We humans --
squirming around
among the blossoming flowers

The Heaven Dwellers

A hazy day --
even the gods
must feel listless


Stef's renku

A hazy dawn or not --
I am so grateful
to be born a man





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August 29th, 2013


09:42 am - Sunlight



One day, a soft breeze bringing the scents of seaweeds from the South. Another, a stronger colder wind from the North, cleaning air out, rising waves up, inviting surfers sometimes from as far as New Mexico. One morning the horizon covered with clouds, barely letting the Sun in. Another but a vague vail of mist and subtle haze, or rain and then rainbow thrown over the gulf.

It is clear, I am one lucky man living in this paradise. So, I wonder, perhaps I should start selling tickets, each morning a brand new show. It surely would put me right there in the great tradition of master-thieves going back to the Buddha himself who was "selling water on the river bank". But, perhaps, I could do one better. How about selling sunlight on the shore of the Mexican Gulf

another dawn --
the ocean too chants
to Quan Yin








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August 21st, 2013


05:46 pm - 082113 dawn on the Mustang Island




Almost dawn. The full moon slip slides towards the dunes. I wait. And it happens, the Big Red emerges from the ocean sprinkling upon it bouquet of crimson hues. There is nothing like seeing the moon and the sun dancing together, gliding right above the line of horizon, looking into each other eyes. I wish I could whisper it (not type on the miniature keyboard of my phone misspelling every other word, whisper it) looking straight into her eyes.

Sappho lays down on the sand doing yoga. Molly just stares at her, not sure if it is already time for the chase, then joins her in the same posture. I say, "Chaz Ellik would be so proud of you." They tilt their heads in a complete silence. I repeat, "My friend Chaz would be proud of you, Ladies, he is a yoga instructor". And then it dawns on me, they are bowing to the sun, too. "Watch out," I say. "He may be but a vain beau looking down upon us and using the moon as but a mirror reflecting his strength and beauty?" Still silence, I continue, "...or they may be like some of us, looking into each other eyes in search for something... immortal." They wag their tails a few times, still saying nothing at all. Yin and yang in a perfect dynamic balance.

By now the wind has picked up, crimson hues have turned into gold. I turn away from the wind, away from the rising sun. Our long shadows dance on the dunes. Just when I'm about to give my dogs a hug, just when I'm about to tell them their shadows look like camels, they rise up, too, take few steps towards the water, start sniffing:

golden wind swept stars away
left in the sands
the lone star fish




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August 20th, 2013


11:38 pm - The Prologue


I made a commitment to make at least one longer post a week. The face book seems much too fast and busy for me, anyway. So, here is the very first installment in the new series...

THE PROLOGUE

I still remember that day, the mid of January of 2007. My life? Mess and a struggle and a continuous up and down journey sometimes through mountains but more frequently through valleys. This particular one seemed deep, cold, dark, and uninviting. I was seriously overweight, seriously void of energy, and seriously lacking a vision of where all of this may lead. Seriously, nothing in my life seemed to go well and I was giving myself maybe 10 or 15 more years of living like this. But all things in, I thought, it might be best if I just moved on the very next night.
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Here is what she looked like when I was adopting here (a photo from the shelter's web site) and another photo I took a few months later (one of the very first photos of her that I have taken and still one of my favorites). They told me she was about 3 but I had a feeling she was about 2 or 2.5. She surely was super skinny and still acted like a small puppy, too. Very quickly she put on about 12-15 pounds:





For the even measure, here is what I looked like then and what I look like now, 6.5 years and about 80-90 pounds later:






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August 10th, 2013


04:56 pm - Waking up

WAKING UP

Sure, there were always dogs around me. (There were cats around me, too, but that's another story.) My mother brought once home a pup who looked like an undersized German shepherd, sweet and obedient, when my mother was around, but completely ignoring me and my brother, when we were left home alone. Except when we had a fight, in which case she would jump between us, put each us in a separate corner, and ignore us again. She was also ignoring my invitations to a game of chess or even checkers. Smart dog!

My mother was constantly after me, "How come that Palma always follows me, wherever I go, does not even need a leash? The best dog on the block... Come here, sweet puppy" she would pet her neck and head. "But she so completely blows you off…" "I don't know, mom" I'd say, "you tell me, for I am a 5 years old kid and I have no idea why Palma is the best dog on the block when you are around yet she just so completely blows me off when you are gone". My mother would hardly ever show me anything and surely not how to lead a dog. That's just how she was. Then, when I was married, one day my wife blown away much of what we had and came home with a sweet little collie pup. Also, she liked when the dog slept between us. Sure, I was trying to do my best but I was not too optimistic about my chances and the dog whispering skills.

Still, I understood that a dog needs a strong name reaching deep into his or her heart; the name that would help to establish our bond. The first part came to me quickly. In Mahayana Buddhist mythology and iconography, there is a special category of deeply spiritually awakened beings who out of compassion postpone their complete liberation and stay with us in physical form for as long as there is anyone needing their help. They are called bodhisattvas. One of them, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is the patron of women, children, animals, and everyone else who needs protection and help. In India, he was represented as a man, Avalokitesvara -- One Who Listens to the Cries of the World (also, One Opened to the Sound, depending on translation). Further North and East the same bodhisattva became a female figure -- Quan Yin, in China, Kannon, in Japan, Gwaneum, in Korea. In Tibet Chenrezig (still a male figure) cries out while facing the suffering of the world. From his tears a female figure -- Tara -- is born. In essence, as some scholars observe, Quan Yin represents in Buddhists circles the same archetype of the great all-embracing compassion as, in the middle Eastern and Western circles, is represented by Holy Maria the mother of Christ. Even the imagery surrounding them is quite similar, both Quan Yin and Holy Maria being represented wearing long white robes and frequently embracing a little child.

My dog was completely white, except for few brownish and black spots on her ears, and a bigger dot on the top of her head just where the 3rd eye is supposed to be; a "clear sign" of some Buddhist or Hindu connections I like to joke. For all practical purposes she was saved from the dead row. It seemed fitting to dedicate her, like all other rescued being, to the Bodhisattva of Compassion. So, I dubbed her "Quan Yin's Lady" and it surely fit her.

Still, so far it sounded more like giving someone an honorific title than a name. Also, it surely was not the best way to call your dog playing in a yard or on a beach. So, I was digging deeper, and in my meditations I was going into the Greek mythology surrounding Pallas Athena -- the goddess of wisdom, courage, and arts, and the patron and protector of warriors and artists. Now, Pallas sounds a lot like palace, and surely there was something aloof and even prissy about my lady, that's why I liked her so much. To simplify the matters I just called her Princess. But what kind of princess was she? I wondered about it for a while for I was not quite sure she really was a great warrior-protector to whom we could entrust our household. Still a big puppy, she seemed more stubborn and silly than fierce. But there was also something gentle, elegant, and lyrical about her. Very quickly she started to inspire little poetic insights. So, I gave her the name of one of the very first poets in the Western tradition and called her Quan Yin's Lady, Princess Sappho or, Sappho, for short, and that's the name to which she responds.

In addition to the name, the dog needs a solid workout routine. This, according to experts, should include at least 40-45 minutes of daily walking and other pack exercises. So, I made a commitment to walk her every day for just that long. In a case I still might feel like doing a bit more, I decided to keep walking but only for fun, rather than as a part of my daily routine, or duty or a commitment. This way, I hoped, I was reducing chances that it all will soon deteriorate into another depressing chore. And that's how we started.

Or rather, we started with a scary recognition how much she has already suffered. People at the shelter told me that they had found her one morning tied up to the doorknob and my heart sunk. I did not notice it immediately but she was limping on one paw and had visible scars on all fours. And she had obvious mental scars, too, being afraid of cars and stairs. So, the first time I had to lift her up and carry into my car and then upstairs where I live, not the best start with a new pup. She was afraid to stay alone in a room, too, and followed me everywhere like a proverbial dog. And she did not say anything at all either, always totally quiet, no barking, howling, or yelping of any sort at all except when she was deeply in her dreams, growling and hoofing and even gently barking from time to time as if chasing someone or something. This silence, maybe yet another sign of abuse?

The first night she lays down next to me, just for a while, not too long, then disappears into the darkness and goes to her place. She wakes up at a crack of dawn, jumps on the bed, peals a comforter off of me and nibbles me few times with her "I am still a puppy" sharp teeth. What's going on, I think still barely conscious, for I was working late into night, my usual waking up time some 4 or 5 hours later. She is insistent, nibbles me a few more times. I have no choice but to dress up and take her out.

She repeats the whole ritual next morning and this time I am so dead tired I simply open the door, point to it, and say “please, do your thing and return when you are done". She just stands there looking at me and not moving at all. OK, I think. I have to take her for a walk anyway, so I might just as well do it now and then take a nap. The same thing the next day except that this time I do not even try the open door trick. I just swear out loud, because it is so darn early, throw a few extra profanities on the wall, because I am woozy, throw an extra sweater on my back, because it is so darn cold, and then we hit the road.

The first step is always the hardest, and then the next one, and the first minute. But soon, somehow, I settle in a groove. After a few minutes she gets in a grove, too, starts to heal as naturally as Cesar's dogs. Cold or not, it is all awesome because, maybe for the first time in my life, I feel a little boy inside waking up. And, with him, a pack leader wakes up, too. This may be for the first time ever that I have and lead my own dog. And not only that she follows me; it is lots of fun, too. The next thing that I know is that it is some 50 minutes later and, though the temperature is so low, I do not feel any cold and in fact I am sweating profusely. We return home to take a shower and clean up and, for the first time since who remembers when, I have a breakfast at about the same time as most people have their breakfasts. Then I begin my day and it is very good. I smile a lot.

The next day I wake up on my own, dress up, put a collar and leash on my dog and we hit the road. The same the next day and the day after then. And then slowly I begin to cheat. My commitment is but a 40-45 minutes long walk for the dog, each and every day, anything more than that is for fun. But I have never specified when the time of the walk starts. And now I take advantage of it. At first, I start the stop watch after Sappho evacuates, usually a few minutes into the walk. Then I push the starting time even further back, when I have already warmed up. Still, “officially” it is only about 40-45 minutes for the dogs, counting from the time I start the stop watch, but 3 long circles around the neighborhood

hidden in the fog
white butterfly blooming
on a dogwood tree

on the bay
by the bent acacia
even more bent acacia

The next day is the beginning of a long weekend. I have always loved going to the beach to chill and to fly stunt kites, and hardly ever went. You know, one of these “I'll go next day, next week, next month” excuses. But this time I have a real incentive. It’s long before a dawn when Sappho wakes me up. We take a short ride, along the JFK causeway, to the Mustang Island. Sappho tilts her head while listening to my quiet chant. On the beach, it’s still dark and cold, no wind. Stars so bright, so close to the ocean, that we can climb the highest dune to touch a few. One falls, another, one more. We chant Sho Sai Shu while the full moon spreads silver hues around. I do not remember she has ever been shining like that. Slowly she slips out of the sky, hides behind the JFK causeway. The crimson hues of the Sun pervade the world, beginning from the East, and it is for the first time since the time immemorial that I see the sun rising from the ocean.

It all feels a bit mystical, or perhaps magical, but crisp and focused in the same way as the 6th or 7th day of a meditation retreat at the mountain Zen monastery is crisp and great, full of some beautiful calming energy. I resolved to come to the beach at least one more time this week. We do, and it is great again. And thus we start to establish our new rhythm; each week 4-5 roams around the 'hood and 2-3 roams on the beach

silver moon rests in the bay
I return home
and feed the dog

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June 23rd, 2013


07:25 am - The vegan lunch and the challenge

Just had my former students, 2 omnivorous people, for a vegan lunch and THE CHALLENGE. They are the very first students of mine who have attempted to meet the challenge. It started, some time ago, in the ethics class I teach. A segment of a class is devoted to environmental issues and to the issues related to animal suffering, and tortures we impose upon them in factory farms. In this class I showed a movie about this suffering, especially on the factory farms. We had a good discussion, lots of controversial claims from all angles. Then someone asked me, "So Stef! What do you eat?" So I issued this UNIVERSAL VEGAN / VEGETARIAN CHALLENGE TO ALL HUMAN BEINGS!

It is a totally win-win situation, so it's not really a challenge; more like a gateless gate, still, here it goes. I will make you a vegan lunch or a dinner. If you do NOT like it we will go the "Padre Pizzaria", literally next door to where I live, and I will treat you to a beer and a pizza of your choice. If you like it, I will give you recipes for at least 8 meals and you either a) completely stop eating meat for 1 week or b) skip 2 days of eating meat per week during the next 4 weeks.

So, here is the play by play plus recipes:




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June 17th, 2013


09:15 pm - Vegan & vegetarian cooking

When people learn that I have been a vegetarian since 1974, frequently they ask what I eat. At good old days, I would say something flippant, like veggies, buckwheat, rice, potatoes, cheese, yogurt, etc. and I just improvise. I think now this old answer was irresponsible. First, not everyone likes culinary adventures as much as I do. I will try something just because I heard about it or, just because the colors of food seem to match, or just because I have an intuition that it will work. Furthermore, to improvise you have to first learn a basic line. For you always improvise on something. And, in fact, I learned several basic lines from my mother and other people with whom I was blessed to live. (Thinking about it, if my mama taught me also how to clean and keep my house neat I might not be a bad catch.) So, I decided to start posting pictures of dishes I usually make accompanied by recipes for making them. Bon appetite!





Stew with kasha gryczana

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Bon appetite!

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June 13th, 2013


04:04 pm - Food for vegans and vegetarians


videos about plant based life style to watch:

1) http://nutritionfacts.org/video/uprooting-the-leading-causes-of-death/

2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoUl7F7dWdE&wide=1

3) http://truthisscary.com/2012/07/video-could-veganism-end-world-hunger/


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June 11th, 2013


11:07 am - Monkey cooperation and fairness

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAFQ5kUHPkY

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June 8th, 2013


11:33 pm - The 2nd Ink -- finished





Quan Yin - The Boddhisattva of Compassion

Quan Yin: a personification of compassion, kindness, and mercy; the patron of women, especially mothers, children, animals and everyone else who needs protection. In India represented as a man, Avalokitesvara (One Who Listens to Cries of the World and also, One Opend to the Sound, depending on translation). In China and Japan represented as a female bodhisattva / buddha (Quan Yin and Kannon) . In Tibet Chenrezig (a male figure) cries facing the suffering of the world; from his tears a female figure -- Tara -- is born. So far as I can see, this is the same the same archetype as Holy Maria.

The lotus symbolizes purity, peace, and harmony, The water jar contains the nectar of good fortune, the willow branch represents flexibility and Quan Yin's healing powers.

May all being attain true dynamic peace!
NAMU DAI BOSA!



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June 7th, 2013


10:11 am - 060713 Dawn on the Mustang Island



We were hoping for clouds like these placed around where the sun emerges from the ocean.Read more...Collapse )





We found heavier clouds, thunders, and lightning.
Still, like I said many times, there is no such think as a bad dawn.


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May 30th, 2013


11:32 pm - Eighteen favorite photos - the jetty on the Mustang Island (33 - 36 )

Here are the final four sets of the project "18", 36 sets all together. It's work in progress. In essence, I need to narrow these down to 18, if I can find 18 great photos/series. Your comments and suggestions will be welcome and very appreciated.









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The previous sets are posted here:
* Migrating birds (1-3): http://stefan11.livejournal.com/480766.html
* The Mustang Island State Park (4-6, +2): http://stefan11.livejournal.com/480779.html
* Sunsets on the Laguna Madre (7-11): http://stefan11.livejournal.com/481198.html
* Potpourri (12-15): http://stefan11.livejournal.com/481522.html
* The sun and birds (16-19): http://stefan11.livejournal.com/481753.html
* Sun dawns (20-23): http://stefan11.livejournal.com/482037.html
* The Ladies (24-28 +): http://stefan11.livejournal.com/482051.html
* Driftwood (29-32): http://stefan11.livejournal.com/482498.html


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10:50 pm - eighteen favorite photos - drftwood (29 - 32 )

Work in progress. Comments and suggestions welcome and appreciated.









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07:57 pm - eighteen favorite photos - the Ladies (24 - 28 + )


Work in progress. I am trying to choose 18 favorite photos/sets.
Comments and suggestions always welcome and appreciated.









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03:17 pm - Eighteen favorite photos - sun dawns (20-23)


Work in progress. I need to narrow these down 18 favorites.
Comments and suggestions always welcome and appreciated.









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09:11 am - Eighteen favorite photos - the sun and birds (16 - 19)

Four more sets. Comments and suggestions always appreciated.









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12:40 am - Eighteen favorite photos - Potpourri (12 - 15)


A continuation of the attempt to narrow down photos I've been taking to 18 favorites.
Comments and suggestions always welcome and appreciated.













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May 28th, 2013


10:43 pm - Eighteen favorite photos - sunsets on the Laguna Madre (7 - 11)

This is a continuation of an attempt to choose 18 favorite photos / series of photos from those I have been taking. Comments and suggestions always welcome and appreciated.











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09:07 am - Eighteen favorite photos - the Mustang Island State Park (4 - 6, +2)

An attempt to choose 18 favorite photos (series of photos) from those I have been taking. Here are the second three sets (behind the cut), plus some loose ends. Comments and suggestions always welcome and appreciated.











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May 27th, 2013


03:13 pm - Eighteen favorite photos - migrating birds (1-3)

I am trying to choose 18 photos (or rather 18 series of photos) from those I have been taking. Here are the first three sets (behind the cut). Comments and suggestions always welcome and appreciated.







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