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A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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Archive: American Haibun & Haiga Volume 2

[Return to Author List, Vol 2 ]

Ion Codrescu

 

 

Towards the Mountain Temple

even through mist
the light finds its way . . .
old temple bell

Early Morning. I open the window and look outside. Suddenly, I feel the moisture which comes into my room. I sip my jasmine tea and at the same time I look at the unfolded map. I take a last look before going towards the mountain temple. The English explanations are written under the Chinese text, which is smaller. To get to the narrow stepping path, I have to walk many hours on a forestry road which goes through two villages and one hamlet. I take my knapsack and say goodbye to the host where I stayed only one night.

parting time—
the host offers the guest
some dewy plums

The road ascends through bamboo, cedar, pine forests and other trees whose names I’ve forgotten. From time to time, a bird call crosses the mist. I can’t see beyond thirty or forty metres. All is gray and it’s difficult to distinguish the outline of the trees, plants and rocks. Everything seems unreal. The landscape is like an ink painting where the strong strokes and details have disappeared. It’s so quiet that I can hear the dewdrops falling on me from the branches of the tall pines.

lonely mountain road—
how smooth the surface
of the rock

After an hour of  climbing, I pause beside a large stone covered with brushwood and I take a swig of the tea I have with me. I find it strange that I have not met anyone—neither travellers nor woodcutters. Time passes while I am gazing at the dense forest, at the branches of the old trees that come together overhead and are so tangled. After some minutes a native approaches and stops his horses, and then invites me to take a seat in his cart. Guessing the place where I will go he pronounces loudly the name of the temple. In my turn, I confirm his intuition and say the same words. His face brightens up and his eyes look at the mountain peak. After some moments, by an interjection, he starts his horses. The sound of the cart and the clatter of hooves are all I hear in the silence of the mountain.

a broken tree—
it’s apricot picking time
in my country

After we pass through the two villages the mist begins to rise. The landscape can be seen far away. Unnoticeably cedars and  bamboos grow more and more rare. We approach the hamlet. From near the first house two children with their hands up run toward us. They shout the same words. When they notice that in the cart there is a foreigner, their voices fade and they become ashamed. My guide is their father. He stops the horses and raises the children onto the cart, one after another, even though their house is no more than twenty-five or thirty metres away. The faces of the children are radiant. Near their house, I get out from the cart and bend my head to thank my guide. Saying again the name of the temple he points out the place where the path begins through the woods towards the peak.

a gust of wind—
fern leaves cover and uncover
the small white mushroom

Even after the fog disappears, the moisture is on my clothes, plants and the air is full of resin scent. In the sunbeams the dewdrops sparkle. I watch the pine needles, which end with tiny, gleaming dewdrops. Butterflies zigzag around me and I wonder where they stayed hidden until now. Deep in the woods, sometimes loudly, sometimes gently, I hear a woodcutter. Worn down by time and by the steps of countless pilgrims who came to visit the temple, the stone steps are slippery and I must pay attention to each. After half an hour of difficult climbing, I stop for a short while. From far away I can barely hear the waterfall. I continue to climb and the roaring of the water is louder and louder. Unexpectedly, on the narrow path a terrace and a pavilion appear in front of me. I enter the pavilion to sit on a bench and gaze towards the waterfall. Its water is completely white.

as I
     approach
          to watch
               the waterfall
                    a lonely
                         bird
                              leaves
                                   its place

The peaks alternate far away, one by one, like petrified ships floating above a still sea made of white clouds. Suddenly I remember the first Chinese reproductions I saw when I was a teenager. At that time I thought that Chinese mountains are only the fantasy of the  painters and that their shapes are not real. Now I have the impression that the mountains I see are a copy of those paintings. I am thinking of Wang Wei, the poet-painter, who wrote in a poem:

I notice a lonely far away peak
which vanishes among clouds

As in Wang Wei’s poem, this landscape I admire behind the waterfall, far away, a solitary summit is gradually covered, and disappears into the sea of clouds. Sometimes I think that only art copies nature. In this moment I realize that nature imitates art, too.

Near me, another peak, flooded by the light of the sun, is full of green due to the pine trees. In classic Chinese painting a green mountain means stability and a white cloud suggests instability, wandering. To know a mountain you must wander through its paths, woods and rocks, hearing its sounds and voices, watching it from far away or drawing it. Frederick Frank wrote that “Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world. I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle: the branching of a tree, the structure of a dandelion’s seed puff. I discover that among The Ten Thousand Things there is no ordinary thing. All that is, is worthy of being seen, of being drawn.” I take the brush, the paper and the ink, and paint the landscape. Then I’ll go towards the mountain temple.

the last brush stroke—
a dewdrop falls
on my ink sketch

[Return to Author List, Vol 2 ]

 


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