Friday, 22 November 2019

I lost my voice for a few days of the last workshop. We were down in the river beating indigo dyed projects on the rocks in the fish ladder.
We had climbed back up the staggered ladder rungs imbedded in the faux rock face and were standing around all chattering from our frozen November wet feet, the excitement of the unfolding of freshly beaten beautiful indigo projects and the overall beauty of the spot with golden light filtering through breeze-fueled autumn leaves.
The old hunter guy next door was up on the road just out of sight firing a rifle over our heads.
I doubted he could see us below. Synapses fired... Is anyone dressed like a boar or a monkey by chance....No..thank God.
Are we dressed in monkey-grey hoodies with red-assed trousers on?
No... God is merciful.
I doubt he has his hearing aid in because it would deafen him when he fired the rifle.
Screaming will do no good.
But insanely animated jumping jacks and shouting seemed the only reasonable thing to do in the situation.
The workshop of United Kingdomers...
What is going on? Turned to amusement, turned to terror as I started jumping around waving my hands screaming at the half-unseen 89 year old monkey-killer-hunter on the embankment above us.
Perhaps he would hear the twelve of us screaming just below his field of vision and aim downward to shoot 'monkeys' as they ran across the bridge to escape without looking?
"Indigo workshop members shot in cold blood after rinsing their homework projects...."
He noticed us and blushed and laughed.
He might have been shooting into air just to amuse himself at our expense.
I love this old guy. Lives in the house in front of mine. One foot in hunter/ gatherer in 2019. No glass windows on the front of his old house. Just the most elegant simple entrance imaginable. A red tengu mask above the door.
I walked back to the house and told James the story.
"You mean he was shooting 'at' monkeys over your head. I thought he was shooting monkeys over your head for a moment."

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Ogata Kane 1918 - 2019

Sutras need to be chanted to send off our friends to their next destination.
Some sutras are about listing up the deceased persons life.
Born. Experienced war. Married. Kids. Grandkids. Played the role of a parent/grandparent etc. Liked to garden and cook.
The sutras read as the coffin is about to be loaded with flowers are more profound. More solemn as the casket is pushed into the furnace. Hypnotizing as the bones are picked up with chopsticks by friends and relatives and placed in the urn.
Really serious sutras about how nothing really exists but everything exists while the bone urn is placed on the alter and the journey to become a monk in the afterlife starts.
Ogata san showed up at my house when she was 85 and wanted to join the Tuesday indigo/textile class I ran for years.
At 85 I figured she wanted to drop by for an hour and dip something.
I drove to her house not far away at 8:30 in the morning to pick her up for many years.
She was often in her flower and vegetable garden. Harvesting something. Pruning something. Weeding something.
She always brought along a lacquered box with some delicious rice dish and something she made from her vegetable garden to share with the students at the house.
She made herself at home and knew the contents of every drawer and cupboard in my kitchen. She cooked for us for many years. Always delicious.
She would climb down the steep ladder into the river to collect wild greens. She would climb up the back mountain and gather mushrooms or ginger flowers.
Sometimes she sat quietly and stitched her projects.
She had immaculate taste.
She had silk farmed and wove kimono as a young woman. Her paper-like hands never forgot how to handle those thousands of fine silk filaments as she helped me warp a loom.
Sometimes she was talkative and told us stories of her life.
We all loved her and worshipped her.
Up until she was 100 years old she would come over to my house and show my foreign guests how to make noodles from scratch.
She met hundreds of foreigners. Hundreds of them.
They all loved her. She was so impressive in her demure way. She embodied a certain Japaneseness that we yearned for.
She modeled at 96 years old for a Finnish designer.
She came over and saw that I had some sexy hot tattooed Dutch guys staying at the house. She went home and changed into a kimono and came back and flirted shamelessly with these guys.
She had a sense of humor that would take us by surprise. As often happens, I would get carried away with a rather crude story..... she loved them. No prude.
We had media interviews together. We cooked and made things together and we ate together for so many years.
She sat and stitched after dinner her entire life. She stitched until a few days before her peaceful death at home.
She prepared dozens of hand stitched towels and they were handed out to wipe out tears at her funeral.
She used to buy the kits with pictures of Hello Kitty and stitch them up.
Last year at 100 she went rogue. She free stitched bright colors with random stitches on gauze and gave them to her admirers. (She was a Leo.
As my plane took off in the Southern Hemisphere on my way back to Japan she passed away. I must have seen her out the window of the plane in the blue sky above the clouds.
Our name collects karmic dirt as we move through life with our sins of greed, arrogance, selfishness......duality....
In Japan when you die a Buddhist priest gives you a new name as you move on to your training as a Buddhist monk after death. The new name is announced at the wake.
Ogata sans new name included the characters 清 and 藍。A 'pure indigo blue'. I felt honored. She showed up at 85 years old at my house to study indigo. She was born in 1918. She was 101 years old.
Thank you beautiful Ogata san. Thank you for those thousands of moments we spent together over the years.
You will always been my heart.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Summertime Indigo Life.

An Australian doctor, an artist/ teacher from Hong Kong, an artist/teacher from France. We spent ten days together in the heat here in the mountains getting to know each other and time at the indigo vats and time in the river rinsing the cloth. It was a beautiful time. There was harmony and happiness the entire time. Hiro kept us well fed. We were all valuing the precious time we had together. 
I am thinking of packing in the live-in workshops one of these years. I will have to find some solace somewhere from the sadness of not having times in the future like these past ten days.
My lovely dog Momo was bitten by a pit viper and was in the hospital for a week. She came home and for a few days Joanne, Yuk Ling and Helene were able to meet her. She is getting better day by day. 
We harvested three varieties of indigo. Persimmon dyed in the morning before the heat was too much. Some projects ready for the next steps. To be embellished and cut up and stitched together. 
Hiro arranged lotus flowers on the dining room table.
Magical days...and Momo is better....

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Most of the silkworms have been spitting out silk since yesterday. Spinning a cocoon around themselves so that they are safe to metamorphosis into moths.
They are like tubes of toothpaste. They are practically empty when the cocoon is finished three days later. The little nub that remains hardens and a moth forms.
It is quite easy to find the end of the thread and unravel over a kilometer of a silk filament. Or melt the cocoon into a floss and spin it. I do it both ways but these years I prefer the spun silk. 
They hatched 29 days ago and were the size of medium ground black pepper. They eat for days and then stop and shed their skins and then eat some more. They shed four times.
The last week they eat constantly. Fresh mulberry leaves only.
Their appetite slows and then stops. They sit still for a few hours while the liquid they have accumulated from eating mulberry leaf turns into a liquid silk inside them. Then they start to walk and climb looking for a reasonable place to make a cocoon. 
Silk farmers around the world figured out different frames from natural materials on hand to make a place for them to cocoon. Branches of shrubs evolved into bamboo and straw woven tools in Japan. And then to these cardboard suspended things.
They look like huge dreary brutal apartment buildings from
the 1960s and 70s. Japanese and Soviet style monstrosities I've seen first hand. Arghhh....
Charlie Chaplin could have done a good job on silk farming parody. 
Beneath the hilarity of being farmed and fed and pampered...the fears and sorrows of every silk worm. 
As I picked up the fallen silkworms for hours on end and replaced them inside the cubicles and hoped they would start to cocoon in the space I allotted them quickly so I can get some sleep I was thinking of Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick.
How would they use this melancholic scene as a metaphor for our Modern Times?
Ingmar would have been direct...memory... the reality of cruelty...
Kubrick...would have used dark humor and music....
I was thinking of how I took time to make those beautiful bamboo and straw cocoon spaces for the worms for years. How I despised the green plastic ones from the Ministry of Agriculture I have used. 
Some silkworms have escaped the dreary safety of pre-arranged destiny accommodation and made cocoons in corners around the house. 
There are other things around the house that are nesting.
The endangered forest frogs are laying eggs all over the yard. There is not enough space for them all to survive at my place. Tadpole mortality rates are low but with too many they attract too many poisonous snakes and other enemies. 
Yumbo Suzuki took two big foam bags of frog eggs home to his pond for his son to see hatch and grow. 
And dear Momo... she is deaf and her eyes are going. She is odd. Her trauma from being a Fukushima refugee seems to haunt her again. She has been a house dog for years. She prefers to spend her days and often nights outside now up behind the house. She has dug a little space for herself and looks forlorn up there when I look out the kitchen window and see her. 
Richard Grehan and I walked to the top village with three old silk farming houses two days ago with his wife and son. It was raining and the mist was rolling up the sides the mountains. It was pure poetry.
The slowness and sense of time almost made me gag on my busyness. It rose in my throat several times. 
We interrupted a couple and their bear dog while they were having lunch. They were siting outside with a small hibachi heating a charming cast iron kettle of water for tea. 
They have rented a small section of a barn belonging to one of the houses. 
25 years ago I was offered to rent the same small derelict space. Life would have been different if I had. 
Humble surroundings and the simplicity of the tea and the steaming rice ball they offered Richard's son made my heart ache. This extremely simple space with clothes hanging by a cheap metal pot-bellied stove seemed the epitome of sophistication. 
When is enough enough?