January 2009

Wintry mix

In case you’ve ever wondered what kind of beverage New Englanders enjoy after a day-long snowfall has changed to freezing rain, this snow-topped trash heap provides an answer: wintry mix.


This afternoon I had the delightful task of telling my first-year writing students that Keene State is canceling classes tomorrow as we anticipate our latest snowstorm. I don’t teach on campus on Wednesdays–it’s my usual online grading day, a job I do from home regardless of the weather. But I experienced a vicarious thrill listening to my students’ excited plans to spend the day tomorrow sleeping in and making snowmen and snow-angels. What better way to spend a winter Wednesday?

Mask & mirror

When I finished teaching the last of today’s classes, I rushed home to walk Reggie in the lingering light of late afternoon. I regularly walk the dog when I’m done teaching: a late afternoon walk is a great way to shake off the workday, and I’m convinced both Reggie and I rest better because of it. But today, there was an additional urgency and thrill.

Tomorrow we’ll be snowed in, I thought, so we’d better walk now while the walking is good. While others were rushing out to the grocery store to stock their shelves and refrigerators with storm supplies, I snapped images of downtown shop windows. I have plenty of food in the house to weather our latest winter storm, but what will I blog in the meantime?

Tomorrow morning I was supposed to attend a meeting on campus, and I had another commitment in the afternoon. Now, with a single announcement, both of those obligations are obliterated, as if they themselves were buried in snow. I’d planned to do laundry tomorrow, and I have an afternoon appointment to get my car serviced…but if the sky falls as snowflakes, I can skip this week’s laundry and postpone that service appointment. If need be, I can skip out on everything tomorrow, staying hunkered down at home while grading papers online, my dog and a warm blanket to keep me company. Apart from the requisite doggy bathroom breaks, there’s really no need for me to go out into the storm until it’s over and it’s time to start shoveling and scraping.

Masks with reflection

As I hurried around town this afternoon, I realized how much I love this phenomenon of hunkering down, content in the knowledge that I have a refrigerator full of food, shelves full of books, and enough grading to keep me occupied but not overwhelmed. Even as a child, I enjoyed sick days home from school, for on those days my mom would nestle me on the couch or in bed, a soothing beverage and snack, warm blankets, and my favorite stuffed animals all within easy reach. On those days, I felt like a snug ship facing stern seas: no matter what sort of threat awaited outside, inside my warm cocoon I had everything I needed to stay safe and secure.

As I type these words, I’m tucked in for the night, my warm laptop my only link to the outside world. The sky can fall as snowflakes if it likes, and I myself don’t mind.

They never covered THIS in Driver's Ed

Be careful what you pray for: you just might get it. If you’ve ever been tempted to ask God to give you a sign, be aware that the Deity might take you literally. Does God have a sense of humor? Only if you think having a snowplow-pushed road sign land on some hapless stranger’s car is funny. Or perhaps you have to see the other side of this sign to see the humor:

Is this a sign...

Toppled street signs

Maybe parking in front of the Waban Post Office, even on a Saturday when the one-hour parking restriction isn’t in effect, is never a good idea. During snowplow season, no sign anywhere is safe, so let drivers beware.

Shepard Fairey is a poser

Even icons and icon-makers occasionally fall prey to marker-wielding vandals. (Snapped on November 30, weeks after I blogged this image of Barack Obama hanging out with another sort of icon.)

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Iconic.

Dharma room sunbeam

You’d think that last week’s Photo Friday theme, Meditation, would be an easy one for someone who practices and teaches Zen meditation, but the exact opposite is true. Because I practice meditation, I actually have very few photos of meditation.

Dharma room altar

Taking a “meditation” photo offers the same challenge as capturing the ponytail shot in my last post: how do you take a picture of yourself sitting and not taking pictures? The Dharma room is, after all, one of the few places where I don’t carry a camera, so I had to go all the way back to August, 2007 to find a handful of images I shot after practice at the Open Meadow Zen Group one morning. Notice I that I shot these photos after (not during) morning practice. These aren’t photos of meditation; instead, they’re photos of the scene of meditation. Over the years I’ve taken more than a few pictures of Buddha statues, Buddhist ceremonies, and pretty Dharma rooms…but statues, ceremonies, and Dharma rooms aren’t themselves “meditation.” The accoutrements of meditation aren’t the same as meditation itself, and that makes “meditation itself” particularly difficult to capture in images.

Stained glass bodhisattva

Over the years, I’ve illustrated most of my Zen posts with images that don’t look particularly “Zenny.” Rather than returning again and again to the same old images of statues, ceremonies, and Dharma rooms to illustrate the practice of meditation, I usually illustrate my Zen posts with whatever images I have at hand. This is, I suppose, a particularly “Zennish” way of considering the question of how to depict “meditation.” Meditation isn’t a special thing limited to a special room where you sit on special cushions while wearing special clothes, and the simple act of just looking at (and just snapping pictures of) whatever you happen to see can also be a kind of meditation. Yes, the trappings of Buddhist iconography help put practitioners in the mood to meditate, but meditation isn’t dependent upon them. If you don’t have a pretty Dharma room, a cushion in the basement will do.

(Dharma) room with a view

If I had to pick, in other words, the scenes and objects of meditation in order to illustrate what meditation “is,” what scenes and objects wouldn’t I choose? Would I show you the sink where I follow my breath while washing dishes, or the car where I follow my breath while driving between Newton and Keene? Would I show you the streets and sidewalks where I follow my breath while walking, or the bed upon which I follow my breath while folding laundry, reading, or settling into sleep? Would I show the laptop where I sit following my breath as I type these words, or would I show the kitchen table where I will follow my breath while eating a late lunch after posting them?

The scenes and objects of meditation are many, and I’ve spent these past five years quietly blogging them, sometimes affixing the label “meditation” and sometimes not. But even when unnamed or unattributed, meditation is as close at hand as the breath on your lips.

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, Meditation. I was tempted to post a photo of virtually anything as my depiction of “meditation” but decided a trip to my photo archives was a more aesthetic (and cooperative) choice.

If you’re intrigued by the pretty Dharma room that illustrates today’s post, you can join us this Sunday for a one-day retreat at the Open Meadow Zen Group in Lexington, MA.

The Abominable Snow-Dog!

When I say that neither snow nor rain stops intrepid dog-walkers, I mean it. The above image shows Reggie in his guise as the Abominable Snow-Dog on this morning’s walk, and this image shows the tell-tale hat and ponytail of the Abominable Snow-Dog-Walker.

Snow-hat with ponytail

Obviously I can’t shoot photos of the back of my own head, so thanks to J for snapping that second photo.

Gorby emerging

Although it’s been bitterly cold this week, with temperatures well below freezing, the sun has been blindingly brilliant. Day after day in my journal, I’ve marveled at how the sky has been crystal-clear and cloudless and the sun blazingly bright: how can a day look white-hot when actually the temperature is in the single digits?

Icicles, with Obama window signs

Despite the frigid temperatures, the snow is shrinking, subliming into air that is bone-dry with chill. In the morning, I slather lotion on my legs, which immediately soak it up; the second I go outside, I can feel the air sucking moisture from my skin. Winter is the closest we get to desert here in the northeast: windblown snow stings just like sand, and like Bedouins we shroud our faces in scarves and other protective headdresses. Even the shortest dog-walk feels like an Arctic expedition in weather like this: you bundle up before you go, and you unwrap yourself like a present when you return. Identities in winter are accumulative: these days, “I” exist in layers duly donned, then shed, then re-acquired. Who would I be, in January, without my coat, hat, or gloves?


Turquoise-blue skies and crystal-clear days are perfect for photography, but snapping photos means stopping and peeling off a glove, and those are the last two things I want to do on single-digit days: the secret to dog-walking on frigid days is to keep moving. I find myself growing blind to the beauties of snow, which lies strewn and heaped like last week’s laundry: what seemed so lovely and picturesque in early December has outgrown its welcome by mid-January. Lines of icicles that once gleamed gem-like now threaten like razor-sharp incisors, a reminder (as if we needed one) that winter bites.

You can compare today’s lead photo of Gorby emerging from his snow-blanket to that of Gorby almost-buried a week ago. We’re supposed to get more snow tomorrow, which means temperatures will rise into double-digits and Gorby will be re-blanketed.

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