Monday, August 27, 2012

The Circle of Life

Mountains of the Moon

“The earth will see you on through this time”

Sometimes when roaming in the deep forest I imagine a scenario that goes like this. Consider for your enjoyment a felincpa roamer is wandering the crisscrossing network of trails and takes a left turn. After some time he immerges into a familiar valley but something is different. The traveler is in the same place but four hundred years in the past. He notices the roads and power lines have vanished leaving only a shadow of a village. Okay Zone fans will realize this idea is a copy cat episode of the airplane flying through the portal into prehistoric Manhattan. We all shivered when the cockpit crew saw the dinosaurs and we never knew if they made it back ALL the way to the present. When I wander in the oak grove it might be 20,000 B.C or a distant planet. Time and space are stretchable in the twilight zone. Today I meditated on a rock overlooking the western valley trying to conjure up a Karmaling Dream Moth to swoop through the corridor and pick me up. Riding on its translucent wings we’d fly over Yangtse, Tawang, Tibet, Sikkim, Ladakh, Kashmir, Lahore, and finally Kabul where I would shoot a golden arrow of light that would destroy the demon of war and restore peace to the region forever. All countries would be abolished and kind monarchs would coexist happily under the tutelage of Guru Rinpoche. From here good will would spread to the four corners of the earth and religion itself would transform into compassionate awareness, a world full of Buddha’s and Christ’s. But alas the KDM didn’t manifest and discord prevails. A mere few hundred miles away in Assam tribal groups slaughter one another in a frivolous effort to secede from India. The world’s hell creeps into Shangri-La which hides away tucked between the jungle and abode of the gods. Not even these natural barriers can protect the Dragon folk forever. But there is hope! Over a meal of pork bits I realized the irony of preaching peace while consuming a slaughtered animal. Vegetarians are far more evolved humans than their murderous counterparts. Civilized people are taught not to kill each other but most eat animals without recourse.  In room #113 watching lions devour zebras on the Serengeti and Syrian civil war on TV one could argue that its jungle law everywhere.
Outside my own mind, earth functions like a Swiss watch. I took some time out from class with 7A to do social work and purge paradise from the scourge of plastic. The rain rained, flowers drank, crickets chirped, cow’s moo, dogs bark, rooster’s crow, kids play, Booty meows, EIEI-O!  It takes a long time to absorb this landscape and culture. I mention them together since ubiquitous prayer flags and chortens dot every pass and ridge. I like how god is represented in nature and today I found a voodoo bonpo statue made of wax and pine bow’s near a chorten. The vertical white prayer flags are my favorite for their simplistic elegance and purity. Some poles are slanted over or fallen but those standing are always flapping up towards heaven. Father Mackey who observed prayer flags for years never saw them blowing any direction but up. I imagine those who leave Bhutan miss prayer flags at least on a subconscious level. They are a wonderful punctuation of the landscape here along with the chortens overgrown with moss on forgotten trails.  Becky and I concur that we will never live like this again. What would L.A traffic sound like right now? Instead I am hearing crickets and cheery Sonam next door. The lonely spaces in the soul are filled by birdsong and rushing river. Slowly I try to detach from my former life which is important to embrace my new life. Things take time in Bhutan yet time isn’t real just ticks and tocks attempting to measure cycles, birth and death. Jamie if you’re reading this someone in Becky’s class ate their spelling test today, some things never change in East Bhutan, eh?


“May the force be with you, always…” Obi  -Wan Kenobi 

The last time I was in Yangtse a Jedi marooned robed monk fended off a pack of dogs with his wooden saber at the old Yangtse Dzong. Without his mastery of the force I would have been bitten for sure and had to call Scotty in Yadi for rabies counseling. Below the gutted Dzong sits a giant cypress and the path to Lhuntse, leading deep into the shades of green. Before coming to Bhutan while napping one afternoon I had a dream of a hollow with twisted golden oaks and syrupy sunlight with a river running nearby. I haven’t found the exact place yet but know it is in Bhutan. Once on the aforementioned path I found a similar hollow and also a vaguely reminiscent spot on the flat section of trail leaving the shire of Jhonkhar.  In my dream I lay in the amber grass and dreamt of a pixie princess, alas a dream within a dream…At some point deep in “The Mists” Morgain slips into East Bhutan and can’t escape the pixie realm where she comes close to losing her memory and purpose. She can barely see herself out into Britain before completely dissolving into the enchanted otherworld.  

I finally returned to my de facto hometown to track down my bank statement. I was paid for two months and celebrated by going to Bumdeling a 13 KM mud track connects Yangtse to the wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to the enormous national butterfly and the winter roosting spot of the Black Necked Cranes. On my hike I was stopped by a ranger who demanded my permit. After begging him, he allowed me a free pass for the afternoon. Bumdeling stretches all the way north to the Tibetan border which according to the ranger is a four day climb. The park is home to tigers, red pandas, and the northern region of the park is snowbound for much of the year. The mouth of the park is an open valley with the emerald Kulongchu rushing through it. Along the shore Horse and cattle graze the fields. Hiking in the valley has become difficult since Bunky and I roamed here in April. At several points I shook off my boots and hoofed across swift streams as a light rain fell. Wind blew the fern throngs along the banks and eventually the elements sent me jogging back to the taxi, waiting in the tiny village.  After my hike I took the long ride to Trashigang through the lushness near Chorten Kora where a white monkey swung in a tree. Passed the rough and tumble gorge harboring golden Gom Kora, across Chasm, and into the friendly hamlet of Trashigang. On my evening walk to the Dzong I sat in the courtyard overlooking the river where a stout deer joined me resting on the ledge. In Trashigang I did some earnest shopping acquiring a tent, sleeping roll, bananas, garlic, fiddlehead fern, Oreo’s, and Coke. Besides the Dzong I hit all the hot spots including the chorten, Phuntso’s, The K.C, and the bakery garden. While dinning solitary alfresco the server remarked that I looked sad and asked “where my friend was?” 

At night I perched on a thrown overlooking the ravine and the illuminated Dzong. I felt like Lucy after her first snowy steps through the wardrobe into Narnia. In a recent conversation Rebecca highlighted the fact that Lucy, Alas, and Dorothy all returned to their alternative realities. The three protagonists suffered for their soup becoming marginal characters stuck between realities. After all, you can’t go home again after seeing the other side. In Lucy’s case her return might have had something to do with helping Aslan’s crusade. Like all BCF teachers in the space time continuum she was called to help. Our portal is not a tornado, rabbit hole, or wardrobe rather a dragon disguised as a Druk aircraft. But like the fictional trio, we are the chosen ones. As this tiger returns to his far eastern territory atop a mountain below several others, he must reaffirm his mission which isn’t mere survival. As the pieces fall into place I will fill you in. But the real truth lies in the classroom as it occurred to me that teachers are a lot like the herders on the road, moving their herd in the right direction.
Back in my community of Tsenkharla I got a rare invite to Sonam’s for dinner and gifted half my veggies to them in return. I want to tackle my washing but have no running water.  At the time of writing this a troop of boys came by chanting, clasping a plastic silver trophy celebrating their second place finish in Yangtse at a football competition. I gave them a 300 NU donation since many of the students are in my class. Of course the next day I had to give 300 to the girls as well. Giving back to the community financially is necessary as a teacher here. I like giving to the students more than for faculty events but WTDL, when in Rome… So I will leave you here and settle into my Sunday night activities of preparing lessons and cleaning hut as my orbit spins further away from your celestial body. Take heart, I know that someday I will swing back around and we will be together again. 

(Fern Canyon interlude)

“Wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you, it’s late September and I  really should be back at school”

We all mark time differently. For the most part the world revolves around the Christian Calendar. But in the orient including Bhutan we are in the year of the Male Water Dragon that started in February or in my case when the cardboard monster crept out of its curtain with beaming red eyes. Of course any participant in worldly affairs must adhere to JC’s calendar. If I had to invent my own version of the passage of time, I would have B.C and A.D too, except mine would stand for “Before Canyon” and “After Canyon.”  The canyon in question is “Fern Canyon” in Humboldt County, my own Avalon. I hesitate to even write about it but you are my close peeps so I will relent. I took four separate trips to The Canyon with my four best friends, which makes me think of the four friend’s legend in Bhutan where the elephant, monkey, rabbit, and peacock cooperate by standing on one another to obtain the fruit off the highest branch.  My first voyage was with John, followed by Tyler, and Marty respectively. A few years later I returned in early October with Morgan to solidify and consecrate our love in a hollowed out redwood. For the record AC begins after my fourth trip with Morgan. Since I am focusing on Bhutan’s landscape I won’t attempt to describe the natural cathedral, only to say if you go, carry an open heart and a flashlight. For an instant alone in Bumdeling amongst gigantic ferns I was transported back to my origin where I could hear Rabes singing Maggie May.

Waking up is hard to do

“Wake up; it’s time for a revolution” Julia Butterfly

Weird Al should have composed a song called “Waking up is hard to do” a spoof on the song “Breaking up is hard to do” Isn’t it? I have never been a morning person even when I worked at Trout Creek and had to rise at 4:30. I need to get up earlier to allow more time to compose myself before assembly. I usually wake up at 7:30 or 8 and report to school after a frantic bucket bath and dressing. It’s rare I take breakfast until my first free period. I cherish the night and do my prepping after roaming in the evening but would benefit from a schedule adjustment. Plus it gets light at 5. Trashiyangtse is the land of spiritual awakening but first one must get out of bed. In Mare’s mantra of shifting perspective it can be necessary to change both physical and mental habits. Pooh! The reader will see if the author is capable of such change. So far you might have only noticed that I seem crazier or perhaps you even think this blogger has lost the plot. Is It?  What does that say about you my reader? Isn’t it? (Insert sound effect, BONK!) Perhaps you have a better idea of my predicament than I do? And I am sure you have a better idea at when to use than or then than or then I do. How am I doing anyway? Is the author happy, sad, mad, or glad? Two of my family members commented that I seem all over the place. Perhaps they are on to it. Tisk tisk snickers Sangay Dempa, remember the middle way? We are all on the path now so enjoy the circle of life! Oh and put out that colortini and go to bed. 

(Happy Birthday Dave Malone! Interlude)

“Just a few more miles to the blue horizon, my love don’t give up on me”

It was four years ago that we collided on that Thursday at the Aruba in Vegas in the wee hours of your 56th birthday. That night was a blur of sweat and neon and I’m still thrashing on the scorched sidewalk after you hooked me. Morgan was across the desert on The Playa doing god knows what with god knows who, while we were hurtling through interstellar space. You stood in command, the fan from the boat blowing your hair as you strummed and picked your guitars, serenading a crowd of affable degenerates pausing only to sip your cocktail. That night was charted in the stars of a distant galaxy and the ancient light shown on our astonished faces. I woke up in the atomic dawn of old town with the transvestite whores beneath the Morgan’s Termite billboard. Hats off to you brother, you are a swampy bluesman with a heart of gold and an unforgettable smile. Our time together was the best of all…Rock On!!!

 Born Cross Eyed

 “Goodbye, goodbye I don’t want to see anybody cry, I’ll meet you some morning in the sweet bye and bye” Bob Weir

Although my congenital nastagmus will never be corrected or cured my reading glasses do help. Though the frames slide off my face on occasion. I feel lucky to have the vision I do and that is part of the reason I feel compelled to help the school for the blind in Kaling. My visit there in April was a revelation for me. The students were inspirational and could provide lessons for all of us. I even aspired to transfer there but transfers are not permitted until after three years of service and the chance I would be accepted in Kaling is unlikely. In Bhutan you get what you get don’t pitch a fit. But even if I was only granted one visit to the institute, my impressions will last a lifetime. I fondly recall Dorji the famous teenaged singer guiding me around campus and laughing together as he bumped into another boy crossing canes. Or the albino kids trying to explain the game of blind ball to me. And the students proudly showing off their brail tablets and pokers. I am trying to find out any needs the school has and will keep the reader informed of areas we can help.  People often ask me what things look like through my eyes. I can’t explain what I see since I have never had “clear” vision to compare with. Generally things are fuzzy and my acuity is poor. I also tilt my head to the side to find a gazing point for my peepers that allows me to see better. I can see well enough to do what I love, including hiking and skiing, but I will probably never drive a car. My eyes shake especially when I am nervous or uncomfortable (so basically all the time) and they have been affectionately called “dancing eyes.” For my entire life I have felt shame for this disability and still don’t like talking about it much. I know in reality there is nothing to feel shame about but this is why being a human is complicated. Self image is so vital to the ego that we perceive as necessary to survival.  I sincerely feel this personal challenge gives me a unique empathy as a teacher towards my student’s struggles.  Spending any time with people with severe disabilities is a valuable life lesson. Most of us are very fortunate.   

Dead Eyes

“Get up in the morning with the ding dong ring, work school or the corner it’s the same damn thing”

My students are exhausted after their educational meet in Yangtse. Several were dozing in class with their heads flat on the table. As a teacher one sincerely hopes that by preparing interesting activities that students will be engaged. Of course that is the challenge. The Harris line of 80/20 is hard to obtain but a balance must be struck. Remember the Harris line is eighty percent student activities to twenty percent direct instruction from the teacher. Most typical Bhutanese instruction is about 5/95 so students are not adept at group work. Meanwhile girls pick their noses and spit on the dirt. Have I mentioned before that Bhutan is a dirty place? I am the worst offender in my dirty clothes and feel like the peanuts character Pigpen or the late GD keyboardist, it’s a pick em’. Even if I had water it would be challenging to keep up. I don’t want to end up like the former BCF teacher who never washed her clothes and bred mice in her spare room.  I do an adequate job of keeping my body and hut clean. Laundry is the biggest challenge since water comes at unpredictable times and for short bursts. Perhaps one advantage of wearing a gho is not changing outfits, therefore less to wash. Students wash their uniforms once a week. This is a challenging time in the semester as students habits can deteriorate and a teacher must be vigilant to cove the syllabus and prepare the student for the final. Final Exams are worth 80% of the total grade and that is not negotiable as we must adhere to the system regulations. Joy!  I wonder what my legacy will be when I leave here. The trash piles up and I tire of picking up after the community. My speeches and pleas seem to go in one waxy ear and out the other and my recycling bins are AWOL, WTDL.  So why not enjoy the moments and greenery imagining that I am a mountain king surveying his vast domain and semi-loyal subjects. It seems in times of distress one must triple their effort to persevere.  We all have to find the motivation to endure and thrive in our professions. Luckily for teachers our motivation is sitting right in front of us each day.  I can’t say I love my job as much as Dave Malone but maybe someday I will. I am satisfied and enjoy my new career. I especially find gratification in the interaction with students and hope that I am teaching them well. At least I am certain they have relaxed and seem more willing to speak. They are not sticking their tongues out at me anymore like geckos. I pride myself on having students willing to take chances in speaking English. The flip side is that this confidence and comfortableness leads to silly and undisciplined behavior on occasion, another challenge for the teacher/author to conquer.
In a country with so many varying ethnicities and languages, English has a special niche. On the surface Bhutanese culture seems homogenous with the gho and kira and ritualistic practice of Buddhism. But scratch and an observer finds diversity. All the more reason a singular cultural bent is essential for the Bhutanese identity. Even though Sharshop and Dzonka speakers can’t communicate their dress and mythology binds them tight as there rainbow belts. Ah the Sharshop’s, who will always be the wacky clansmen from the East. The power will always flow from Thimphu and the Drukpa lineage of my revered Divine Madman. It’s important that Sharubse College is in the heart of the wild east. This will help keep the country honest. The royal family also has its roots in Lhuntse and the Queen is from Trashigang. It was my dream to come east for reasons I can’t put into words. Most of the highest peaks are located in the northwest while the east is a verdant paradise of deep forested canyons and green valleys and of course the rocky wasteland of Tsenkharla. As Jamie eloquently illustrated in her book, I too have been called home. For me culturally I remain confused but the land comforts me eternally. Not as my mother or lover rather my best friend who I am getting to know slowly. Love has so many branches but friendship is the trunk. Although I consider myself a loner I have been fortunate to make many wonderful friends who are scattered around the world. And thank you readers, for taking a moment to catch up with the tiger.

Here’s some bonus material. I try to stick the freaky Deki stuff in the end..As Judge Smails would say, Well we’re waiting!

a walk in the woods

“When all music is stilled you shall hear the singing of the stream and enter the living shelter of the forest” John Glascock Baldwin

One of Bobby’s favorite and oft used phrases is “we like to take the song for a walk in the woods” He repeated this idiom to every local reporter across the U.S.A while touring with his band Ratdog. My iconoclast hero was referring to the jams that wander off from a song. Of course the song is the thing, but in Grateful Dead tradition the band would stretch out and jam therefore walking a tune in the sonic woods. Ratdog jams often lurked into some dark and disjointed woodland but more often than not immerged to reveal sweeping vistas. I did my loop to Tsangma and Zongdopelri, than descended into the cypress grove. Three trees in particular interested me the most. There are two gorgeous cypress trees in the heart of the grove that stand close to each other their wispy feathers interloping. This is where I can actually meditate in the cool duff. The trunks of these trees are a rich brown with amazing lichen and moss growing on them. The third tree is the queen of the grove which I hugged for a long spell. Yes I am a literal tree hugger and this beauty gave off kind vibrations. I have only named one tree in the whole world and that is “Cassidy” a stout redwood that is the century of Friendship Bridge.  But I felt compelled to name this queen “Stella” after the Garcia song.  Through the branches sunlight glowed, playing with shadows on the mountain displaying true love just as my purest relationships have. Love represented naturally as moss growing on a stone, or sun meeting shadow on the crest of a ridge, or the silver edge of a cloud scrapping fathomless blue ozone. This is Tim’s bell! From the grove I can see the scorched riverbed where I struggled to the sacred pool and Dagme Chu. The pool is a portal much like in the Magicians Nephew but I didn’t have the glowing ring so teleportation was not in the cards. Although I often do feel like Captain Picard energizing on a strange new planet or maybe Commander Data exclaiming, “Interesting.” Or sometimes I feel like Sam (sans Al & Ziggy) in Quantum Leap moving from one leap to the next.  I know what you’re thinking my life is a TV episode. On the way back from my wooded stroll I scouted some primo camping spots and scolded a village boy for throwing a rock at a dog. Some nearby teachers started defending the boy and mocking me a bit about “trashes.” They must think I am aloof and arrogant keeping to myself and roaming alone in the forest gripping about an issue they scoff at. It’s hard to know where I stand with the populous, and I try not to dwell on it.
I remember Murph at Regeneration asking rhetorically, “How great is it we get to do this?” He had just whooped cancer and was pumped. Well that trickster’s message was actually addressing life on this planet for all of us. Yes Murph, “we are truly blessed yo!” At this point the phone rang and it was Becky telling me about Pema Chodron an author my friend Lisa informed me about recently. The link is that both Becky and Lisa hail from Colorado via the east coast. Pema is an American born woman who embraced Tibetan insights. She writes about topics including the six kinds of loneliness and being comfortable with uncertainty, two future blog titles I’m sure. At my door Sangay Dema and Tswering Choden the most adorable village girls came by for some candy and attention. The two have matching cropped hair and purple outfits and always want to look at my pictures and food stores.  Lightning flashes across a moonlit sky knocking out power leaving only the distant lights in rural Tawang to flicker like stars at the edge of our universe.  Becky remarked that Pema suggested befriending ones loneliness. Mare said the same thing once in my mom’s laundry room when I was a moody teenager. Now that I am a moody thirty something it still applies. Oh well, hang it up and see what tomorrow brings…

Tuesday Blues

“Tuesday blues had em’ all week long, kick in easy, but they come on so strong”

The best Tuesdays were bluebird powder days at Alpine Meadows taking face shots in Gentian Gulley while the rest of the world was working. Hmmm the tables have turned, sort of. In those days my concern was picking the freshest line and inhaling it through the thick clumps of pine and boulders, maybe hitting “The Lounge” for a siesta. Now I am in a remote corner of Bhutan implementing ESL lessons, yes this is ESL teaching folks. But it’s not a bad life especially if you like interesting work. Each day I have the opportunity to walk the beauty way and practice in the wild. I tend to complain a lot (have you noticed, wink) but if I shift my perspective or do a quick kick turn the picture clears up. I mean I live in the most beautiful place on earth and have an opportunity to teach a group of remarkable kids. If I could get out of my own way things would look bright. This is also my chance to payback the universe for the bounty it has bestowed on me, although I must admit to my faithful followers that I am still ruled by desire. Oh desire, it’s everywhere. The desire to be liked, loved, to fit in, to go out, to possess, to control. Thus the main attraction DESIRE, starring Homo Sapiens, playing at a theater in samsara near you.  Gosh Buddha you ask a lot of the devoted. Can’t I just stuff some money in a basket and rush back to catch the second half of the 49er game. And since I’m watching the game how about some chips and “special” salsa, and some grilled delights like Steak, chicken, ribs, desire, desire and more desire!  Don’t forget the BBQ sauce.

As a younger man I always looked at Jesus and Buddha with a suspicious eye. Why from my perspective their lives looked boring and tedious. After all I am ruled by adventure and excitement not enlightenment and service. The Guru Rinpoche and Divine Madman have shown me the spicier side of spirituality and teaching has shown me a glimpse of service. But what of poor JC, I mean did he die a virgin?  Then again so might I. What is left for one who transforms carnal and earthly desires? Some fool on a hill acting like a raven. Who am I without sex, hugs, and rock n roll? Just plain old sir. That begs the question once barked at me in a dark closet, “This is the real me, how do you like it?”

Kinney Near the border

Chorten Kora


Trashigang Dzong Est. 1667

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