Tag Archives: morning walk

One day later

Now that life has been rather stable for a while—we’ve been living in the same house for four years, Eleanor’s in school, and we haven’t had to negotiate burning barricades or tear gas for a little while—I thought I’d take advantage of the calm to undertake a proper rohatsu for the first time in a few years. The Rules: no food after noon, no television or music, no alcohol, and of course no meat, and as much meditation as I could manage in the morning, middle-of-the-day and late night slots.
Well, in a house with a small child, the no television rule meant hiding upstairs sometimes; and Bhāwanā felt obliged to give me huge bowls of broth at dinnertime. Fair enough. Most days I managed to put in two or three hours of meditation, sometimes waking early and sometimes after dinner. Two mornings, my daughter found me asleep across my zafu in some quiet corner of the house.

As it got closer to the 8th I tried, and failed, to step up the pace. I opened up Chodo Cross’s translation of the Zazengi. I made sure that I went out for long walks or runs every day. Because it’s December in Aberdeen, that meant running in the dark, which I find completely delightful even if I do fall over sometimes. One night I found myself running along the beach at high tide in a raging storm, plowing my way through runoff streams and getting slapped by waves that reached overfar. Sometimes the meditation went luminously well, sometimes it was just marking time. On the last night I found I had to help someone with a crisis rather than sit: well, an education in attachment, I suppose, and perhaps a reason to take robes someday. When I could finally sit I looked at the Zazengi: ‘Great Teacher Bodhidharma sat facing the wall for nine years.’ Then it was over; I woke up on Monday morning, read, and ate breakfast with my family. Nobody I talked to knew about rohatsu; for Bhāwanā’s family the full moon of Vaiṣākh is the important Buddhist holiday, not some Japanese holiday in December. Fair enough.

That day, a colleague walked by and when I asked him what he was up to, he said, ‘I’m wandering around. It’s one of the privileges of my job that I have to wander around.’ I told him it was an important day for Zen practitioners and that he had said something Zen people would enjoy. Two mature Japanese students talked to me for a while and we agreed we would talk some more about the relative merits of Shingon-shu and Soto-shu.

Tonight I went out for a run again. The tides have shifted, and the weather is calmer, though still cold. On the homeward stretch, coming down the beach, the sea had retreated and I could run for kilometre after kilometre along flat, open sand with the waves growling gently next to me. To the south Jupiter and Venus were up. I looked at the morning star and ran forever until the dog and I met the Don River, turned and went home.


Spring in Aberdeen

Nothing like it.

I was running at 6:30 this morning with Hakunica, thumping along the frosty beach with the tide drawn right back to expose the old stakes where the salmon nets were tied. Last night was a wonderful lunar eclipse, abhir-stained moon playing Holi with all of us. Yesterday morning Śraddhā and I wandered over to the old barracks and carefully dug up a few clumps of woodland hyacinth for our front garden. We moved the bedraggled mint into a pot where it would be happy, went off to the DIY shop to buy better light fixtures, came home and repainted the bird table. Today started cold, bright and clear: as I reached the end of my run the sun exploded, first dawn after the spring full moon.

Now it’s pelting down, chainmail sheets of North Sea rain dragging across the south side of the house.

The women at the bakery say, ‘Four seasons in one day.’

I wonder what it would be like to live someplace warm again.

Desperate weather (26 October walk)

The morning walk on the beach today was punctuated by unexpected animals.

I’ve not really been through a whole year here, and while I see the tide rise and fall along the Don, I often wonder what happens when all the dog-walkers and courting couples and aimless drunks clear off. When I came back to the morning walks after our research time in Nepal I heard from others that a seal had appeared, dead, some ways up the beach and rotted there for a few days. Eventually the tide must have been pulled back up the beach by the waxing moon and one day it was gone.

It was dark this particular morning – the clocks have not yet gone back – and Hakunicha and I stumbled across both a stranded seal and a young guillemot, I think. It was some sort of auk-ish thing that I only saw dimly as it clambered through the dark into the sea. I remembered The Sea-Thing Child and wondered whether Russell Hoban had ever lived in Scotland: the protagonists in that story could well be the ordinary denizens of our end of Balmedie Beach. Eels, seagulls, auks. A ways further on we met a seal, quite some ways above the damp sand left by the falling tide. The seal was remarkably sure of its place – it rolled around to face us and made a perfectly clear hissing noise.

It is a part of British middle class life, to which I have been rather inefficiently glued, to wonder what would happen if one were summoned to Desert Island Discs. Friday night I remembered the idealism of a California folk/hippy musical youth, and yesterday evening I dug into what happened next. I found Chris Cutler’s page at ReR and spent the next two hours weddling (web waddling?) through Recommended Records, Hannibal Records and who knows what else. Fred Frith, Henry Kaiser, Tom Cora (I was there for a Skeleton Crew concert at Reed – I talked to Fred! – I pushed their drumkit back onto the stage when it threatened to fall off) – the West African marimba bands, who formed and reformed like the CBeebies bloblets but played four six hour sets; the Golden Palominoes, Pere Ubu, John Zorn a bit but boy was he full of himself. And now where has it all gone? I have written to Simon W-S to complain.

medullar walk (16 October walk)

I got up very early this morning as I must go down to Edinburgh to look at the nearest available copy of Suśruta. That meant getting up at 4:00 to walk the dog – it is a 45 minute walk these days. The clocks have not yet relinquished summer time so in real terms that meant we arrived at the beach about 0320 GMT. The glare from the tower blocks in Seaton was reflected onto the pale sand; to the north an inchoate blackness lay twisted along the dunes. I had a torch, but refused to use it.

The inversion of brightness— black, textured sky and a glowing featureless ground—jangled some ancient circuit deep in my brain stem. I was reminded sharply of the acid world I once saw where the optic nerve itself recoded the world into different colours; perhaps in those days the hallucinogen had indeed stimulated that particular circuit. In all the years since that mad time I have never again used any psychotropic agent, never even had a flashback, but sometimes I feel as though I have found some relic of those days, when something that should feel strange also feels familiar.

The small of my back tightened as we walked out into that unkent landscape. I felt middle-aged, a bit overweight, unconfident – and again, I was reminded of those days, when the only antidote to the overwhelming sea of sensations was to breathe it and not drown, to understand that there can be no pretension in the face of experience, no special air for humans. I am middle-aged; I can’t sprint for miles down the beach the way I once could, though I do have a cheerful run when I’m sure no one is looking. Hakunicha, who was herself on the sleepy side, trotted elliptically around me, now audible, now merely inferred. Only at the end of this walk when we heard a single car howling along Beach Boulevard did I understand how much of what was happening was sonic. We were, unusually, hearing the beach and the river and the dunes and the sea. At 4 in the morning in Aberdeen there are very few cars to foul the soundscape.

My palms and my feet twitched. Standing back inside this body, the fight-or-flight response moved around me to occupy my lungs, my heart, my senses. This was a spooky place, a loud inhabited place, where I could not quite see how far in the tide had come. My gumboot slorched: too close to the water. Why hadn’t I seen that? The water was obsidian, the sand was glass, but shadows and ripples and hollows all broke into each other and my eyes could not arrive at an answer.

The dog and I kept walking. I stayed farther from the sea than I like to. She stayed much closer to me than usual. We passed along the shingled edge above the river’s mouth. My hair was up on end, something made me look around, behind, into the river. There was an enormous quiet noise, as if a great barge was sliding through the water. The dog pulled in close: she heard it too.

Out there in the middle of the Don there was a wide wake with no maker. I could see the ripples spreading out from nothing in the middle: then the seals began to surface. There were five seals swimming in a wedge. Often when we walk there at dawn, if we’re the first walkers there, a single seal will rise in the Don and follow us all the way to its mouth, ducking and popping up, clearly amused to see us. This was more like an armed inspection, a pack. Gordon, who meets us with his lurcher some mornings, never forgets to compare the seals to wolves. This was a pack of water wolves. They did not bother to duck but moved round us, rose up from the water and stared. Down into the water, then back up and stare again.

The seals assessed us and disappeared out to hunt beyond the river’s mouth. We walked on, aware of our place, out along the width of the long beach that stretches far beyond our walks so far, reached our usual marker and turned to go home. The light did not change at all; and I know that as the winter closes in the dawn will retreat further and further into my working hours. We have not yet lived in Donmouth for an entire year. I remember bodysurfing near Año Nuevo beach south of Monterey and seeing the sea lions grinning at me from within the wave; and my mother told me she had seen the same thing in her time. Had I thrown myself into the Don this morning, what would have happened? It is I who have changed; though whether I am become soft and fearty and balding, or I have somehow just lost another innocence, I do not know.

The train has reached Arbroath. People with toolboxes and neckties have started to climb onto the train. My own morning is ended: I join the world.