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Zazen at Kannon-ji Temple

I left home at 4:50 to catch a 5:20 train to Niitsu, 5 stops away from Niigata station. The early morning station was deserted except for one old man whose shuffling steps made a beautiful counterpoint with the incessant “ping” that is heard echoing throughout the empty corridors, letting us know that “the station is here.”

Compared to the empty station, the train itself was surprisingly full of drunken ghosts and strange early risers, both out of place, both at home, feeling the effects of exhaustion or one last alcoholic rally, raging against the coming of the light.

The main street in Niitsu was equally deserted, suffused with an airy freshness that only comes between 5 and 6, balanced on the edge of lack of sleep, a delicious feeling of sleepwalking wide awake. Walking with different feet, floating through the old shopping district.

I arrived at the temple, removed my shoes, and stepped inside.

Good morning, I said in Japanese.

Good morning, a man replied in English.

We laughed. Is this where the zazen practice is to be held? Yes.

I was struck by the warmth and open-heartedness of the members who had already assembled. Mostly people from the neighborhood, they ranged in age from 30s to 70s.

I think I was one of the first foreigners to take part in their zazen group, based on their surprised reaction to my presence.

You came all the way from Niigata just to practice zazen?

Is it OK for a Christian to practice Buddhism?

Well, I am not particularly Christian, and America is a very diverse country religiously…

At that time, the head priest came and started the proceedings.

There was a small, round, thick cushion (called “zafu,” or坐布 in Japanese) laid out for each participant, along with texts for the day’s chants.

I and another were the two new people, so the head priest gave us special instruction on how to do zazen. Some steps I had read in my own self-study, and some I had not.

The small, thick cushion raises the lower back, and both knees touch the floor. This provides a triangle of contact, a strong base for the upper body.

Next, the participant waves his body back and forth, in broad strokes at first, becoming narrower, finding the center balance of the body. Because we will be sitting still for a long period, establishing an initial balance is critical.

After that, how to place the hands: the right on top of the left, palms up, above the point where the legs cross, with the thumbs curving up and touching at the top in the shape of an egg.

Finally, how to breathe.

The priest advised, let the breath flow out to its natural end. When it reaches that point, don’t think about breathing in, but rather let your lungs fill again with air naturally. Let this filling reach its natural peak, and again without thinking, let it out.

When I did zazen in the past, I was focused on counting my breaths, on different ways of numerating. Counting in English, counting in Japanese…

But today, I took the priest’s advice to heart and became very interested in watching the end of each breath.

Letting  breath out. A natural release, not a forced action. Allow the air to flow to its natural end.

When breath reaches its end, there is a moment before the next breath starts.

As I sat, watching my breath, this moment in between seemed to grow larger, finally enveloping the room.

I became fascinated by the beauty of that split second when I was neither breathing in or breathing out.

Neither here nor there, neither totally alive or totally dead, hung suspended like a pendulum reaching the apex of its swing, freed from gravity.

At the end of breath, desire for air leads to the next. When the lungs are full, a sense of satisfaction leads to release.

Our breath records our lifelong path, from desire to satisfaction and back, repeating over and over as long as we are alive.

But in the moment between breaths, there is not desire and no satisfaction. We exist beyond those things, in an infinite space. This space is something like the heart of satori.

When we desire breath, we don’t consciously think, I want to breathe or I need to breathe. The lungs begin to fill again naturally, and our desire, our need is fulfilled unconsciously and without any special seeking.

When our lungs are full, we don’t consciously think, I need to get rid of this breath, I’ve had enough. Rather, as the pendulum reaches its apex, the downward swing begins and the air flows back out into the world.

Between desire and satiation, we find glimpses of the infinite in between.

Hovering in meditation on that moment, suddenly the 40 minutes were up.

We stood, gave a bow of thanks, returned our cushions to shelves in the back, and chanted two more sutras.

Then we set up the tables for a breakfast which consisted of okayu (a simple rice gruel) served with pungent pickles of turnip and cucumber and plum and a bit of dried seaweed. Simple fare, each flavor with its own story. When we finished, the head priest showed us how traditional monks wash their bowls with hot water and a slice of pickle, to save water for washing later.

Having come full circle back, I thanked my new friends and headed back out into the morning, where nothing was different but everything changed, an ordinary Sunday street in rural Japan.

At the end of my breath, I found something wonderfully new. I want to continue on this path.

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Moving from one moment to the next, what do we carry with us and what do we leave behind?

Do we try to hold on to the “good” parts and let the other parts fall away? Do we enter into each experience looking to glean the best, to “make the most” of it?

In Zen Buddhism, we often hear the opposite advice. Shunryuu Suzuki said to burn each moment up completely and leave nothing behind. Another Zen priest, Ryunosuke Koike, advises to let the moments wash away, sliding off and leaving your heart clean.

A friend and I went to eat ramen yesterday. After the meal, he remarked, “I used to go to this shop when I was young. The last time I came, 10 years ago, was great. But today was just so-so. I wonder what happened?”

Maybe the shop’s flavor really changed, or maybe just with age we become more difficult to impress…

Koike suggests there may be another reason: the memories themselves, even the good memories, may be getting in the way.

Our memories of the past prevent us from feeling the present clearly and honestly. When we pick and choose among moments, we are laying a trap, betraying ourselves. The “good moment” becomes a kind of feedback loop, endlessly doubling back upon itself, removing us from the now. This is why the quest for “happiness” alone is ultimately doomed to fail. Each moment is unique and beyond compare, but we miss that if we are holding onto dusty models from our past.

We cling to the idea of “delicious,” the satisfying meal.

But the walk to the restaurant, looking at the menu, waiting for the food to come, walking home, each of these moments is as exquisite as the meal itself. Each of these moments is an opportunity for satori, for realization, for escape.

Feeling hungry, feeling full, both can provide satisfaction. Requited or unrequited love, both can be savored fully. Moments of boredom, of pain, of sleeplessness: there is no need to run from them.

That is one of the beauties of zazen. When I first starting meditating, it was only for 10 minutes. Assuming the position, my legs soon began to hurt. My mind drifted, I was bored, I found myself making mental notes for the rest of the day. I looked forward to the 10 minutes to end, I sat just to get through it. Because I was only thinking of the end, I was robbing myself of the moments along the way.

This continued for a while.

Then one day in early May, it felt like I was lifted up and carried somewhere out of my room. I forgot my legs, I forgot my mind, and the 10 minutes passed in what seemed a moment. It was literally “no time at all.”

I began to increase my sitting time. 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 1 hour and more. In my experience, I found that sitting past the hour point removes the desire for it to end. Sitting for long times is actually easier than sitting for short times.

Time circles back into itself, and anticipation dissipates. No above and below, no forward and back, no start and finish. When I quit looking forward to the end, every moment is perfectly full, perfectly connected.

The waiting and the forgetting: no need to cling to any moment in particular.

Likewise, what I remember on the farm is not the harvest (the end result), but every morning in the field. Simply opening the door and stepping out into the dew-heavy dawn streaked fields: these steps, already perfect, before any “work” is accomplished.

Past where the chickens have eaten the low hanging cucumbers; past the swelling glistening edamame pods, almost full; a wave of summer fecundity just below the ghostly layer of cool August morning mist.

Walking, movement. My movement and the movement of the farm. Everything tumbling in and out of time, a million different tempi, a sumptuous polyrhythm before breakfast.

I thought being a farmer was about the harvest, but I learned it is about the movement, learning to appreciate it all, without clinging to any of it.

All things are in movement in that nothing lasts forever, but food moves more quickly and is easier to understand.

For example, the daikon I deliver to a customer, it soon will disappear.

There is no chance that it will be put away in a drawer and forgotten, or passed on to a friend some day.

It won’t become clutter or end up in a House Off store.

It was a tiny seed just 2 months ago, and now it is an enormous root, but this form is also an illusion. Already it is passing away…

Somebody buys it at the farmers market, takes it home, chops it up, grates it, slices it thin, takes it into their body, breaks it down, extracts the nutrients, passes on the unneeded.

Now this daikon that was moving in my world, in my hands, on my farm, is moving inside a stranger’s body, in their blood, in their cells, interacting with their chromosomes. (The blood too is always changing, remaking itself.)

The parts of the daikon that aren’t eaten, the skin, returns to the soil. Already it is moving, consumed by bacteria, breaking down, back into the city of the dark earth.

The work of a farmer disappears almost at once: nothing of me is left, and I like that best.

I felt at times like I would slide off the edge of my farm, like being in a skating rink tilted carelessly in a giant’s hands. But somehow I never fell, I just kept walking out to the chicken barn every morning, between the rows of tomatoes and melons, kabocha and sweet corn.

The garden, the sea, the shopping mall, Japan, America, all tilting together at once in every moment, then falling apart again.

Waiting at the mall for my friend to arrive for a movie date: this wait, this is everything. Even before she arrives, even before the movie begins, already almost to slide off the world, one moment tilts into another and back again. I am here.

Then she is here, too, in front of me, and everything starts again, another perfect instant, just as it is. “I want to be with you in millions of moments just like this, with nothing in the way.”

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First find a living city near the sea and wind your way through it. Take your time; don’t rush to the water, but let the smell and sound guide you. Linger in that sound before yielding the moment to your eyes—it’s best to find the sea before you even arrive.

It took me 30 years to find the sea. I grew up a thousand miles from the sea, but I had always heard it. I had always felt it. Somehow, I was familiar with the wind, the sound of waves, the heavy depths. I don’t know why. Since my youth, I often woke up hearing the day rush in like a roar.

So when I first went to the sea in Niigata, it was nothing special. It was perfect, but it was also like I’d always been standing there all along, like footprints leading the feet, time going in every direction.

When I say, how to write about the sea, I guess I mean, how to listen to the sea.

The first thing I noticed about the sea is that it is full of words. I don’t mean figuratively or poetically, but concretely. Words come blowing in off the sea, visible, audible, words with shape and resonance. The words come in many languages, in many voices. But the necessary words will cling to your skin like a salt breeze, so you can take them home.

I like to sit by the sea and simply take notes.

To someone who has listened to the siren’s song for most of his life, to actually hear it floating across the glassy surface was a revelation.

I am the kind of person who hears voices sometimes, transmissions or communications from elsewhere, ever since I was young. I don’t know why. So I have always felt companionship with the old Christian mystics and saints who found the word of God hanging from branches or fluttering with the birds, or Cold Mountain (寒山, the old Chinese monk who left his poetry written on rocks in the mountains where he lived as a hermit.

When I was a college student, I studied the 19th century spiritualists like Maurice Maeterlinck, to learn how to communicate with ghosts. I was also interested in the surrealists, who took turns dictating sleep-speech into poems of the unconscious.

Somehow, this all came together when I heard the messages in the sea.

Messages? Last thoughts? Unexpressed wishes? Unrequited love? I’ve never felt that I had anything necessarily that I wanted to say, but I am interested in gathering up these words and trying to give them shape. “Words become flesh.” As a farmer, I also found words in the soil, as is.

If William S. Burroughs is correct that language is a virus from outer space, maybe these are spores or contagions that haven’t yet attached themselves to humans? Something that has come to hurt us? But it doesn’t feel like an infection or a threat.

Words from the sea don’t fall apart when taken away from the sea, so you can unpack your experience slowly. The sea is connected to dreams, so it may be best to take a nap after a trip to the sea.

When I need new words, I know I can find them on the seashore. It’s nothing special, not even inspiration. It’s just that there are words lingering there, and I gather them in a notebook when I go.

I suppose if you are a writer you might want to visit the sea too.

I can’t tell you how to hear, but if you go, you may understand.

Most people think of sea in summer, going there to play and swim, but I prefer the rough sea of winter, the pensive sea of spring, the somnambulant sea of fall.

Something blows in with the sea. There is also something floating, drifting, flying, fleeing. Something in your eye, something at your feet. Maybe some trash from the opposite shore.

Everything ends and turns into the sea, falls into that enormous presence. Everything is consumed. The sea swallows everything, just as every moment swallows up the previous one. Nothing is left, and nothing is waiting. The sea doesn’t care about people or their plans, and I find some comfort in that.

I once spent five days riding a bicycle around Sado Island, about 200 km, spending every day on a thin line of road between sea and land, on the edge. After a while, I noticed that the rhythm of my heartbeat, the rhythm of my breathing, came to match the movement of the waves. You might also call it the tug of the depths, but I don’t think drowning is for me.

Another time, I walked out a long pier in the Niigata port, all the way to a steadily shining red tile lighthouse, simply because it was there. In the summer night, I sat there, with my back against the lighthouse, eating a rice ball and listening to a mysterious hum inside. Somewhere in the dark, strangers on boats were watching me, too, calculating a safe course to land.

For my small mind, the sea perfectly illustrates the feeling of oneness. But of course, it is not exclusive to the sea. We are connected no matter where we are, and everywhere we go is part of the same oneness. So to write about the sea, to write with the sea, to write in the sea, I realized I don’t have to visit the sea at all.

Yet now I know the sea is there, and I can visit it anytime, strangely I don’t.

I didn’t find the sea, and the sea didn’t find me. At the moment I forgot about the sea, there it was. We never find what we are looking for until we stop.

There is a path leading through the pine trees bent in the coastal wind, sloping down so that the angle carries the walker right into the waves in a kind of longing. That’s where I will meet you, whenever you want.

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I’ve always been fascinated by spaces in between: the days that fall between seasons, the space between sounds in John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, the colors between colors that only appear in early morning dreams. Liminal states, cracks, places that are neither here nor there.

Last month, I read a Japanese book on Zen Buddhism called 『「さとり」ってなんですか』(“What is satori?”) by Yoko Koide. It is a record of lengthy, in-depth interviews conducted by the author with six different Zen priests, looking for the core of Zen. I was particularly struck by one passage from the interview with a priest named Ryunosuke Koike.

He described life (or more specifically, our impression of “life”) as walking up a series of steps on an endless stairway.

Although the stairway is endless, we can only see one step at a time. As we take a step, that stair we are on lights up, but the step before and the step after is dark. The only step we can see is the step we are on now; we only have what is in this single moment.

We are always moving forward, and we cannot stop even for a moment. Even when we think we have only moved one step, actually we have moved ten or fifty. All of our experiences, all of our memories, all of our plans, only exist on that single stair, and yet already we have moved on to the next, and the next, and the next.

Moreover (and most importantly), the staircase itself does not really exist.

From birth to death, we are moving along a lighted path that is not really a path at all.

But, Koike continues, there are times when we can see a gap between the steps.

What is between the steps? True nothingness: the universe as it truly is.

So while we are always moving forward, in the tiny cracks between our steps we can glimpse what is real–but even this moment of realization, this flicker of awareness, passes by in a flash and is gone.

In collaboration, too, the in-between spaces are important. Collaboration is a concerted effort to find the gaps in each other. It is the refraction of desire, the beginning of the linking of the world. In each other we can glimpse what is real, and in the search for the spaces between, we learn to move together and integrate. Like hammer striking string when a piano key is pressed, from collision comes resonance and lingering sound余韻, the seed of attraction & the beginning of love. The act of creation becomes an attempt to occupy the same space at the same time, where individual voices meld and disappear.

But instead of “nothingness,” what we are looking for is a new kind of beauty.

Recently I’ve been thinking about collaboration and translation, about “making things together.” I’ve found a friend who is not necessarily a poet but who is an artist with deeply poetic essence, and we are thinking about creating something.

To many people, perhaps, the word “poetry” can sound difficult, arcane, removed from everyday life, or even worse, hackneyed and sentimental. But real poetry is none of this. Real poetry is in every step, every breath: moments that cannot be explained logically in words, moments that escapes language, even the language of poets themselves. That is the meaning of “poetic essence,” and that is what fuels the best poetry.

The last book of poetry I put together, I was in a dark time. In Japan, now I want to throw the doors open and let a different light shine on the words, revealing new colors, new shapes, and new shadows. That’s what collaboration is, at least for me today.

For me, now, being between languages helps. I have an English mind and a Japanese mind, in dialogue, at odds, scattered, dispersed: not quite a liminal state, but close.

In college, even though I was a literature major, I could only read about 20 pages a day before having to stop. The words accumulated and roared in my head, and I could not stand the noise. The words did not pass through, they built up.

In Japanese, I’ve learned to let words pass through; to watch the shapes they leave but letting the forms pass away. Sound, shape, shadow, impressions, wakes. To give up as much as you gain, and to savor the beautiful feeling of giving up.

Every moment invents itself again, but the spaces in between contain something more.

As we sat outside in the chilly May afternoon light, she told me the story of the 9 tailed fox spirit from Chinese mythology. It is a shape-shifting creature from a place just beyond the Land of Green Hills, located north of Sunrise.

We collected fallen leaves and she arranged them in a crack in the table to look like the 9 tails.

The faltering sunlight, on those yellow-green leaves, in that cool air, that sound, was exactly right.

Even if our collaboration produces nothing more, at least it has produced this.

(Photo by Yuki Konno)

 

 

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I like Shinto for its definition of “sacred space.”

In Christianity, we learn that God is in heaven.

In Buddhism, we learn that the heart of Buddha is infused in all things simultaneously, without bounds.

But in Shinto, the native animistic religion of Japan, we learn that gods exist in specific places.

There are gods of mountains, gods of river, gods of forests, gods of the sea. Gods associated with all kinds of crafts, like sake making.

Although the gods are manifested in material things, of course the god itself cannot be seen or communicated with directly.

The shrine represents a sacred spot where communication with the god is possible.

In Christian prayer, we may think, “Our prayer has been heard.” In Buddhist meditation like zazen, we may have a moment of understanding like satori.

But praying at a shrine, or taking place in a matsuri, is different. The physical presence of the god can be felt, a palpable sensation.

I, too, have experienced this on a number of occasions.

So I wonder, how do we find sacred spots? The gods of Shinto do not advertise their presence, and there are no sacred texts to refer to.

I’ve read an interesting theory from organic farmer Hiroyuki Tateno. He writes that the soil around shrines, especially rural shrines, tends to be unusually fertile. For example, the groves around shrines tend to have the tallest and most robust pine trees. Tateno’s theory is that the fertility of the soil itself, namely the abundance of beneficial organisms, reflects the presence of a “god.” In other words, people in olden times recognized that there was a vital life force in a particular place and made the connection between that place and the preservation of life. A sacred space, a power spot.

As for me, I think this idea can be expanded to finding sacred spaces in everyday life. It starts with the notion of vibration and frequency. Life is in constant motion, with millions of movements (vibrations, revolutions) occurring simultaneously all around us.

But we at times find words and places and people that are unusually appealing, that feel just right. That is resonance, a matching of life force, an unseen and unseeable connection.

If we are sensitive to this, we can find our own sacred spaces, too.

It may be in a song, or in a meal, or in an afternoon shared at a museum. A sacred space can open up in the middle of a conversation.

I have been fortunate enough to discover such a friendship recently, and that is what brought my imagination back to shrines.

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Since I’ve come back to Japan, particularly Niigata city, I’ve been given to taking long walks through the city. Daily, I make the rounds of old neighborhoods, temples, bridges, coffeeshops, wandering all the way to the edge of the sea.

When I’m out, I often think about the Japanese word for walk (in the sense of stroll), sanpo. It is a compound written with two Chinese characters 散 (san) and 歩 (po).

歩 (po, or ho when pronounced by itself) simply refers to the physical act of walking. Steps. 歩く (aruku, to walk) is the most common word using this character.

散 (san) is where the word gets interesting for me.

One core meaning of散 can be found in 散らす, chirasu, to scatter. Scatter, disperse, disband, break up, litter; in Japanese at least, there are more than a few negative connotations.

歩 represents the pragmatic, the foot that moves, that carries the body forward purposefully from one engagement to the next. We walk for health, with pedometers attached. (Incidentally, 歩 is the equivalent of the “ped” meaning “foot.”)

散 (san) represents the opposite, the desire to throw things in the air, to let things land where they land, to leave things to fate.

Scattered steps, two minds.

I never take a walk with a map or GPS, and I love the idea of scattered steps.

My favorite walks are when I simply let my feet take me, changing course a dozen times along the way.

What is this?

Where does this path go?

What is up there?

Who built this, and why?

What is coming next?

What have we lost?

What is this sound that leads me out to the sea?

The scattering is the id, the willful imagination that Buddhists sometimes call the monkey mind.

The health of the body is in the 歩, the careless and carefree mind is the 散, and the heart is contained somewhere in between.

I spent a long afternoon the other day talking to a friend at a cozy coffee shop in the Furumachi area of Niigata city, a shop called the Blue Café.

We’d actually only met in person for the second time, and never had a long conversation, but before long the words were scattered around and the space was full of ideas wafting on the aromas of fresh coffee and vegetarian curry.

But this, too, is exactly right. This time, these words, falling in a way that they can only fall in this moment.

The words falling on our table, on our heads, into our coffee cups, each petal represents a new life, or an alternative life, a different direction.

The peak of cherry blossom season has just past in Niigata, and the word for falling petals is chiru (散る) , but though the flower is dead, there is another beginning. The flowers fall as beautifully as the bloom, and in trees, too, flowers fall before the true fruit arrives.

Scattered days, scattered words, scattered friendships, scattered steps, each one marking a new birth, a turn of the cycle, on the warm cusp of summer.

There is no accident, and scattering follows its own deep logic, a logic made of falling rather than building up: disband, no step mistaken.

One step, then another, then another, no destination, simply entranced by the falling of feet.

Scattering is another way of finding how everything is connected.

705145_495659537132424_1378148426_o “A symphony is a suicide postponed, true or false.” (Franz Wright)

Before I started farming, I assumed that the music on the farm was going to be some mix of bluegrass and country, primitive acoustic soul. This is only because that was my image of “rural.” I thought farm music should have some kind of acoustic “authenticity” but I have been proven wrong again and again. This was perhaps the most surprising part for me. Getting down into the soil, it was entirely different. I found that plants have specific demands in terms of genre, depending on the season and the stage of growth.

I was happily surprised to discover the variety of musical currents flowing through our small farm, where every square foot seemed animated by slight shifts in genre and taste.

“Ah, this bed is given to Miles Davis’ first quintet, but this one is much more open to the second quintet.”

Becoming sensitive to the music of the farm proved to be just as important as learning other horticultural facts like optimum germination temperatures, first frost dates, and plant spacing. Find the right music and everything else will fall into place.

I realize that this playlist is uniquely my own, determined by a triangulation of me, my land, and my crops. Your playlist will necessarily be different. What I can offer is a way to listen, how to listen, not necessarily what to listen to.

Cucumbers at dawn prefer news, especially Morning Edition on NPR.

Full sized tomatoes seem to respond well to 90s hip hop, particularly Wu Tang Clan and Biggie Smalls.

Younger cherry tomatoes, just trellising up, prefer moody indie-pop in the early days, giving over to zen talks and Indian raga from mid-summer on.

I have found at harvest time that an empathy with the plant is essential. When a bond has been formed, hands move naturally to the ripest fruit with no mistake, and music helps create that connection. I suspect that the frequencies of the music match in some way the frequencies of the ripened fruit, and our bodies, when abandoned, can become a conduit between the two.

It is not as if I am listening to music while picking; rather, I exist between the music and plant, the two perfectly attuned, that I can simply be a vehicle, the cabinet that houses the speakers, the string that has just been struck.

In the early spring, seeding nightshades in the basement, something wordy like Leonard Cohen seems to provide just the right nourishment.

When setting plants out, J-pop like Perfume or Momoiro Clover Z feels best. The sunny optimism lends a boost to the early growth.

Mid-season daikon likes the Ramones, music that reaches down into the soil to make room for the roots, music that resonates.

Brownout and other Hispanic funk archivists are perfect for the heat of a high tunnel summer.

The clarity and positivism of Mozart is good for healthy plants, with the caveat that for unhealthy plants, it simply reminds them that they are inferior. I get depressed listening to Mozart when working with less than optimum beds and plants.

Edamame responded well to Chilean synth-pop last year, especially during the threshing stage.

Ornette Coleman: catches the leaps and jumps that plants perform when unobserved.

Swedish pop: when the perfect of the line corrects the eye of the observer.

Nusrat Fatah Allah Khan: the cry of a righteous gust of mid-summer air.

Debussy, for lost afternoons.

Scriabin, for mornings when morning cannot be found.

Cage, any time, any crop, the all-purpose fertilizer.

Pentangle: helps late summer tomatoes deal with the suspended heat.

Ravi Shankar stretches out the August stupor until it breaks.

Laurie Anderson: I had the best crop of kabocha squash after playing them United States Live in its entirety; the vines stretched out confidant and true.

Belle and Sebastian, for moments of gentleness and scorn; works well for cabbages.

Bach cantatas: perfect for the careful layers of fermentation; also well-matched with Chinese cabbage.

Hildegard Van Bingen, for the vines that tangle and lose themselves on their way to heaven.

For cleaning the shop, Dylan’s fourth album lends a rambunctious energy to the geometry of necessary and unnecessary things. Joy Division is just the thing for winter deliveries as a palate cleanser during the holiday rush.

Kendrick Lamar has been good for for hauling hay and building beds, music for the coming on and the structuring up.

Lil Wayne for mowing, cleaning up, sweating, tearing against the tide with syle.

There is a sake brewery on Sado Island in Japan that plays new age music for 12 years to its sake to recreate the gentle flow of ocean waves.

 

I play music while I am with the plants, as a kind of mediary, a translation of movement, a shared dance of mutual vibrations.

Beethoven late quartets are powerful, but limited to the serious, somewhat morose crops.

(Completely different from the positivism of the first two symphonies, which befit the sweet greens of every fall).

What I would like you to take away from this is not the genre, but the fine gradation, the sensitivity with which you should approach each crop.

On anpan days, our kitchen is converted into little Tokyo. Kumiko spends the day watching videos of Japanese TV broadcasts while pounding the dough and inserting the filling for her weekly share of anpan. That is where the consistency, the sweetness, the mouth feel comes from; the same could not be achieved with American shows.

There is a chance to fall into cliché, that music is peace and love and unites us all. I partially believe that, but only if we assume that it is working from a cellular or molecular scale.On an elemental level we are indeed related, made of the same stuff, and the right music just confirms this, with its vibrations and interpenetrations.

Music is how I understand people. To truly know you, I want to know what you are listening to. Is this reductive? No more so than political persuasion or religious belief. When I know your music, I feel you. I know where to start. I can talk to you. The same is true of my crops.

It may sound ridiculous to claim that cauliflower accept Metallica’s first three albums but nothing more, but when we are farming with music, we are talking about wavelengths, vibration, and (to a lesser degree) attitude. I would like to suggest an open mind when selecting music for your crops, with no preconceptions. Any sound can be beneficial, and you should not be ashamed no matter where your taste takes you.

On some days I go out with no music and simply listen to the farm’s sounds. The well attuned ear will pick up a symphony. Music is a matching of the spirit of the farmer with the soul of the plant.

Every music makes sense when reflected in the life of a plant, refracted through deep green leaves where no light can penetrate. One Beat by Sleater-Kinney is an example, but if nothing else, we realize that there is a multiplicity of beats on the farm, with the clip-clop of horses, our Amish neighbors and their dun colored horse pulls the buggy expertly and precisely into the drive.

There is the right thing, there is the right moment. Some days nothing seems right. In that case, I wait and work in silence. (There is no such thing as silence.) There is always the roar of the farm, a symphony that resists notation, sound is an aggregate, an anthology of the now.

I’m sure my own selections have been colored by my own inherent tastes, yet I believe that is how it should be. Of course my own affective filter was in place. No matter how much my plants cried out for Slipknot, I probably would not play it. I might kindly suggest an alternative (Bitches Brew, perhaps?) or choose a different variety the following year. The listener is another living being in the canvas, the network. Your own taste, your own soul is a valid participant. The playlist of your garden should be your own.

There are places that I was reluctant to go, and I think the plants could recognize that. I’m sure there are farms sustained by Slayer or Insane Clown Posse, but not mine. Some plants were not meant for some farms, and some varieties have proven too wayward and headstrong. Music not only helps the plant itself grow, but brings our spirit closer to the plant.

This may seem like a fanciful and biased game of darts but all I can say is, if you have seen our produce or bought our vegetables and and the farmers’ market and thought, “delicious,” well, this is one of the big secrets. Farming for me is more of a game than a science, and my approach to using music is the same.

I’ve seen rusty dried vines revived by the right playlist, and I can only offer my empirical observations.