The Lilac Bush

Front yard 2014

The Lilac Bush 

Flash fiction by mfptkd written as a birthday gift.

Now in a cottage built of lilacs and laughter
I know the meaning of the words “Ever after”
from Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Rick Zelle and Jay Hungerford

“Oh, Joy!” He sang. Relieved and excited, he exclaimed, “This is it. This is home!”

They had been circling his neighborhood territory for hours, looking for a place to build, when he suddenly swooped down into the sun stretching branches of an old lilac bush.  She followed cautiously, settling on a stable stem.

“Aren’t I supposed to pick?” she asked, but there was a teasing note in her voice.  The plant, brushing the brick on the front of the old ranch house, was well over six feet tall. The grandparents in residence trimmed it just enough to not obstruct the high bedroom windows. It was set directly left of the front door, so late spring and summer the entire house enjoyed the flowers’ scent.  The leaves today, in early spring, were still new but plentiful.

“Yes, of course.” He allowed. “But wouldn’t this be ideal? The house will guard us from the north wind.  In a few weeks the leaves will be full, providing cover and the flowers will bring us breakfast in bed.”

She chirped nervously at the suggestion and hopped from perch to perch. He was an odd bird, but she had followed him because of the that, rather than despite it.  His territory wasn’t as large as some, but it was well plotted and easily defensible.  There weren’t as many trees as others, but it was as if each yard was trying to outdo the next in the size and scope of shrubbery.  The orange on his chest didn’t puff out as far as his competitors and he would sometimes lose his place mid-song but she had witnessed his unexpected swift fierceness in battle and felt his harmonies sincere. “All right, then.” She relented. “Go get me things to build with.”

“Oh, Joy!” He said as he flew off.  She smiled to herself and wondered, while collecting the dry starter twigs that would support their nest, what made him so different from the other males.  She thought fleetingly that perhaps she had changed upon their meeting but shook it off; now she was being fanciful and there was work to be done. “Oh, Joy, indeed!” She scolded herself.

But when he came back, again and always leading with joy, she was pleased with how much happiness he found in their small alcove of flowers.

“Oh, Joy! I’ve brought clay to patch in holes.”
“Oh, Joy! Look at the soft fur I found for lining.”
“Oh, Joy!  Come see this ribbon I found to weave within the branches.”

After a few busy days the nest was complete. “Oh, Joy!” He said softly. “I was lucky to find the best nest maker in the county.”

The cool breezes of May translated into baleful June winds, storms strengthening with competing temperatures. She was content to sit and warm the three tiny blue eggs that also arrived with summer. He was a flurry of activity, always on guard, patching the nest or gathering food, so she could concentrate on the babies. When the weather kept them both at home he would sing softly, “Oh, Joy.  Do you see how wonderfully the leaves keep us dry?” And over the long hours waiting, he would tell her tales of past migrations, high altitude escapades and fellow travelers.  She noted however, that the ‘joy’ was reserved for only when he spoke of their hideaway.

The eggs hatched in July and their combined energy was focused on feeding and teaching.  Following their parents positive example, the little birds learned quickly.  He was a proud father but still honored their habitat as if it were a castle.  When a mean tempered cat failed to break through the bushes obstacles, he sang triumphantly. “Oh, Joy! We could not ask for a better shelter!”

Birds are generally sensible so there was no sadness or loss after the young found their wings, only pride in a life’s work well accomplished. They returned their attention to the outside world and discovered commotion all around the house.  Strangers going in and out of the front door carrying boxes.  There was a busy woman directing the activity.

And every time she walked past their nest and those bright perfumed flowers, she sneezed.

They both set out a warm late summer morning to visit feeders and maybe find some materials to spruce up the nest.  Although outside of the norm, she thought they would return next year and if all was ready, they might have time for two broods.  She worked hard and happily, tuning out the rumble of mowers and machines.  But by mid-afternoon she noticed the other birds and animals were regarding her strangely.

“What is it?” She finally asked a passing squirrel.
“We’re sorry for you, that’s all…for birds you were such a nice couple…”

She did not let him finish his thought and flew back, racing towards home.

There was a monstrous hole next to the house where the lilacs had been.  The roots were being chopped apart and tossed to the side. The new home-owners unknowingly bagged up their sanctuary, taking their bed, roof and walls.  She was overcome with sadness. In her mind, she did not doubt they could find another place, but her heart burst for what she knew he loved. She found him watching from the neighbor’s roof.

“I’m so sorry.” She cried. “They’ve taken your Joy.”

He looked at her surprised and said gently, “Oh no, my dear they didn’t. You are my joy!”

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In Defense of Fairy Tales (on censorship)

I sometimes have concerns about sharing my blog due to content. How much do you let friends or acquaintances or co-workers or your mother see?  I self censor myself rather harshly but even the hint of someone else telling me what I can or cannot share through my writing has me up in arms.  It made me remember this original poem – written as a response to a censorship discussion. (It might appear in this blog previously but a search didn’t pull it up.  It can be found in my book!)

In Defense of Fairy Tales
Distressing damsels vainly wait
in unreachable dark towers,
while poker playing princes
yawn at the late hour.
Wolves walk right past Grandma’s house;
the dwarves stay underground;
sirens see from fathoms deep,
but do not make a sound.
Giants hide in mountaintops,
where dragons breathing smoke,
watch the wizards magic fail,
and jesters tire of jokes.
Witches spells remain uncast,
no one wins or loses,
quests kept unaccomplished
by vanquishing the muses.
Children safely under wraps,
looking through the glass,
the forest is so harshly lit,
all can lamely pass.
Fairies fret and sadly wonder
why we must be burned,
and fail to see within their tales
lessons to be learned.

Wonhyo’s Understanding

It is interesting looking back, but then, I’ve always been fond of history.

Today’s Zero to Hero WP assignment was to look at our About page. I still feel Wonhyo’s journey reflects how I feel about Martial Arts and writing. So tonight, I bring to you again, the tale of Wonhyo’s enlightenment.(First version blogged in 2011).  He was a Korean Buddhist monk, honored not only for his teaching, but for allowing and encouraging the common people to become a part of a movement which before had been reserved for the wealthy. He was a poet as well, increasing my affection.

Note: Each form (series of movements defending against an imaginary attacker) is named for someone in Korean history.  Wonhyo is our green belt (5th) form learned.

Wonhyo’s Understanding (a narrative interpretation by mfptkd)

He is so thirsty.  The canteen, empty since mid-afternoon, dangles uselessly from his belt.  It is not much further.  He puts parched thoughts aside and concentrates on his breath, taking in the thin mountain air slowly and deeply.  Conversation with his travel companion, fluid and unconstrained throughout the day, ceases as the sun sets and the early shadows of twilight lengthen along the heights.  They are on a pilgrimage, climbing steadily since the break of day, seeking nothing less than wholeness and wisdom.  He focuses on their steps; they are the only sounds disturbing the quiet evening’s transition, as daylight creatures settle down and nocturnal residents awake from their rest.  They are headed towards a small cave, spied from a distance, in which to make camp, but it had not seemed so far away a half hour earlier. It is almost completely dark now, they feel their way and are relieved to find a pool of water from which to drink.  He discovers, in his exploration, a hollow rock in the shape of a bowl.  He dips it into the liquid and drinks greedily. It is the coolest, most refreshing drink of his life and he is thankful for the gift.  Morning dawns, the bright light beckons them to wakefulness, they arise at first anxious and excited to continue the journey.  He looks around for the pool and bowl so as to have another drink but finds instead a puddle of  murky water and a human skull.  He is distressed and sickened, and retches on the cavern floor.  But in that moment, he is enlightened.  He realizes that there is nothing clean and nothing dirty; all things are made by mind.  Truth is present in our consciousness, everything which exists is connected.  He ends his journey and returns home to write and teach and share his findings with his people, and unbeknownst to him, his words and thoughts will be remembered and discussed  over a thousand years into the future.

References and to Read More:

“Wonhyo – Biography” http://www.koreanbuddhism.net/master/dharma_talk.  Copyright 2006 Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.

“Wonhyo Daisa.”  Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008.  Encylopedia Britannica Online. 2 Sept. 2008  http://original.britannica.com/eb/article-9077373.

An Ok-Sun. “The Fundamental Ideas of Human Rights in the Thought of Wonhyo”  Korean Journal, Winter 2002.

Sungtaek Cho (1998). Buddhist philosophy, Korean. In E. Graig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  London: Routledge. Retrieved September 03, 2008, from http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/G201Sect3.

Sae Hyang Chung.  “The Silla Priests Uisang and Wonhyo”.  Copyright 2005 Hyundae Bulkyo Media Center.  http://engbuddhapia.com.

“Buddhism in Korea”  Copyright 2000 AsianInfo. Org. http://www.asianinfo.org/asaininfo/korea/rel/buddhism.htm.

An Hour in the Sun

Took a posting respite after finishing the poetry project to concentrate on black belt testing. There is always a little let down following the end of a test or project – that sense of ‘Great. Now what?’  The short story below was written as a birthday gift for my chief instructor.  He consistently reminds us to be happy in the present – “Breathe in the positive. Breathe out the negative.”

An Hour in the Sun

“Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam” she chatters happily, sitting tall in the front seat of the grocery cart, a Gerber baby, all eyes and smiles, proud of her first and only word.

Grandmothers would stop them in the aisles saying “How sweet. How precious.”

“Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam.” She entertains.

“Is that her father’s name?” They ask.

“No.” The young mother shakes her head, torn between embarrassment and humor.

“Sam’s the dog. “

The beloved mongrel under discussion is in his second favorite place. The lake at the camp house is his personal park. Taking his time to distinguish between new and old scents, he walks slowly around the hikers path, exploring alcoves. He is an aging dog, keeping track of raccoons, rats, cats, skunks, and possums, but chasing only when necessary. He has nothing to prove.

Mid-May, Lake Keesus bursts with life; saplings stretching for some light, birds busy planning and gathering, fish and frogs welcoming the water’s warmth, and young insects already moving at a frenetic pace with a life’s work to be accomplished in a matter of months. Sam pauses to greet Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and properly admires the line of ducklings between them. He stops to commiserate with Mother Rabbit, the bunnies slow to learn caution. He smells the newly hatched Garter before he sees him, which saves him a nip to the heels. Sam doesn’t stop to talk. Young snakes think they know everything and want to tell you. Old snakes know a lot but are always uncomfortably sizing you up as dinner.

Sam approaches a shallow inlet and spies two boys poking the waters edge with a long stick, trying to capture a recalcitrant turtle without getting their feet wet. He startles them by barking. They drop the stick and back away, uncertain of his intent. The turtle sticks his head out in relief.

“IMPECCIBLE  TIMING, SAM!” The snapper shouts. Sam’s hearing is still keen but the old turtle’s a touch more deaf and tad louder every spring.

“HOW DID YOU WINTER?”

“Warmly.” Sam stretches and scratches behind his ear. “And you?”

“SLEPT LIKE A BABY.”

Sam tilts his head to the side. “The baby at the house doesn’t sleep much.”

“SOME SOULS HAVE TROUBLE WITH QUIET.”

Sam is distressed as turtles are notorious soothsayers. He paces back and forth.

“AN OBSERVATION NOT A PROPHECY. I’M NOT AWAKE ENOUGH YET FOR FORTUNES.”

Sam relaxes and suggests, “You may have to find another spot.”

“THOSE BOYS DON’T MEAN HARM. I AM QUITE THE SPECIMEN. MAY EVEN SUGGEST AN AQUARIUM IN A FEW SPRINGS. MIGHT LIKE BEING CARED FOR. “

“It’s a give and take.” Sam replies.

The old turtle laughs. “YOU’RE A WISE ONE, SAM.  STOP BY TOMMOROW?”

“So long as it’s not raining.” Sam sees the sun coming towards it’s peak and retraces his steps back towards the house. It’s about that time.

Making his way along the water’s edge, he recalls past adventures; memories with almost tangible tastes, sounds and smells. It is unusual for him to reminisce. Dogs are current in their thinking, focused on the here and now. But today, those reflections sharpen his sense of the present – why he is where he is – the traveler and tramp, finally settling with a family.

He pushes through the door and climbs the back stairs leading to the nursery.

“Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam.” His name is chanted in time with a bouncing mattress.

He crosses the room to the other side of the crib, closest to the window. The late morning sun streams through the screen, warming the rug. He lays down, relishing the light. His favorite spot.

“Oh good. See, Sam is here.” The mother instructs. “Now lay down, only an hour or so – just like Sam.”

She copies her first friend, putting her head down to rest, peering at him through the bars, eventually closing her eyes to sleep.

Uncarbonated

Reminding myself today how important attitude is everywhere – when we teach, as we train, when we practice, and as we interact with others.  A little happiness goes a long way, even if things don’t go precisely as we want or plan.  (Poem #6 for NaPoWriMo Challenge)

Uncarbonated
The cheerful chipmunk gaily chirped
delighted at my open door.
“Still cold and wet, I see.” I said,
contrary to my core.

Never one to be cast down
she merrily replied,
happily forecasting spring,
ecstatic even as she sighed.

When from above the red tail swooped
and snatched her in mid song.
I appreciate life’s circle,
but it strongly struck me wrong.

“How could you?” I shouted up at him.
“You really are the worst!
She was always sweet and bubbly.”

“Yes.  They make the best desserts.”

Over My Shoulder

Part of our journey as martial artists is learning how to be more present, more aware of the here and now.  Take stock of your stances.  Understand the why’s of your movements.  Look where you are going before the turn.  Be watchful for messengers.  Student’s questions often remind me how much I am still learning.

Over My Shoulder
In my experience
angels don’t visit
unless they want something.
So when Gabriel came to say
“Good Morning.”
I told him to
“Fly off.”
It was barely five
and I hadn’t had any coffee.
He looked wounded,
holding up his hands in that
‘come in peace’ gesture.
“I only thought to sit with you
while you write.”
I rolled my eyes but relented,
figuring the fastest way
to have him leave.
He sat quietly, not interrupting,
but I could feel him,
so I excised the profanity
and added a tint of hope
only realizing later
that was precisely why
he hovered ’round.

(Poem #4 for the NaPoWriMo challenge)

Someone is Listening (Revisiting the Legend of the Dan-Gun)

As teachers, parents and even friends it is always gratifying to find someone listening.  This past week at our belt promotion one of our young students repeated the following story which I had told maybe twice in class. It provides good talking points on all our tenants (courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control, indomitable spirit) but is also very much about listening – to our own heart, as well as others.  

“The Parents of the Dan-Gun: A Korean Foundation Legend”

retold by mfptkd

A long time ago, when the earth was young, mountains powerful, water clear, and noble trees still covered the land, Hwanung, a young son of the Lord of Heaven, admired the world and longed to live among the people. Alone in his high tower overlooking the universe, he was conflicted, because although everything was perfect, Hwanung was unhappy. He was ambitious, wanting to do something important, even if it forced him from the safety of paradise. Looking down on the earth, he found a place where he could make a difference. Hwanung was brave, strong and wise beyond his years and went to his father to beg permission.

“I will build a great city to honor you, Father.” Hwanung said.

“Who will advise you, where I can not be present?” his father asked.

“Pung-Beg, the Earl of Wind; U-Sa, the Chancellor of Rain and, Un-Sa, the Minister of Clouds will be my guides. We will work in harmony to ensure the fruits and grains grow, the people prosper and evil will never out balance good.”

The Lord of Heaven, pleased with Hwanung’s forethought and showing of respect, allowed him his choice of islands on which to build his city. The new leader chose the most beautiful island of Korea. The city was built high on Baekdu Mountain and called “Sinsi” or “City of God.” The citizens were educated and treated with justice. The population flourished and other forming societies attempted to copy their righteous government and promising culture.

The many animals who made their home on the mountain, watched Hwanung with respect and admiration. A bear and a tiger were so impressed by his nobility, that they asked to be made human, in order to serve him. At first, Hwanung dismissed their wishes but they were so fervent and consistent in their prayers, that he relented. The seriousness of the request, prompted Hwanung to test their determination.

“You must stay out of the sunlight and in your cave for 100 days, eating only garlic and mugwort. Then you can be transformed.” He instructed.

The bear and tiger agreed, anxious but happy and sure of success. One hundred days, however, is a long time. There was nothing to do in the cave except meditate and converse. The fierce tiger grew restless, bored and hungry. After only twenty days, he left the cave, unable and unwilling to complete the test. The bear, on the other hand, was patient and dedicated, even though the task had become harder, as after the Tiger left, she was alone. She stayed true, understanding the effort needed to be worthy of the reward. By the one hundredth day, she had become a beautiful women. She was called Ungnyeo.

At first, Ungnyeo was overjoyed at her success and content to serve the prince whom she loved, but her transformation, although wondrous, made the people understandably wary, so she was still alone. During the day, she smiled at the sunshine, was thoughtful toward her neighbors, and labored uncomplainingly, so as not to seem ungrateful of Hwanung’s gifts, but at twilight, when the other women would return to the comfort of their families, Ungnyeo knelt at the base of the Sindansu Tree and wept. She cried out of loneliness and wished for a partner and a child to ease the terrible ache in her heart.

Hwanung understood loneliness and was touched by her tears. Although her strength and sincerity and beauty moved him, he was surprised by the desire to grant her another gift. When he looked to find her a mate worthy, no one satisfied him. On a cold evening as heaven’s lights shone brightly through the stars, he met Ungnyeo at the Sindansu Tree to tell her to be patient. She could not disguise her joy at his company and the warmth which suffused them opened Hwangung’s eyes and heart with understanding. He made Ungnyeo his wife.

They were blessed with a son who was called Dan-Gun. He grew to be a shrewd and intelligent leader. Dan-Gun founded Gojoseon, the first state on the Korean Peninsula. He lived over a thousand years, and his spirit still resides in the mountain, so he can watch over his people.

 

Sources:
Korean.net (http://eng.korean.net) Stories of National Spirit “Hwanin and Dangunwanggeom.”
Copyright 2005 The Overseas Koreans Foundation.
Baker, Laurie. Korean Stories of the Tiger: The Legend of Dan-gun, http://www,savethetigerfund.org.
“Korea-China Relations: Ancient Times – Founding Legend” http://english.historyfoundation.or.kr.
Copyright 2007 Northeast Asian History Foundation.
“Korean Creation Myth” http://www.natkd.com/korean_creation_myth.htm.
“Legend of Dan-Gun” http://www.atctaekwondo.co.za Copyright 2006 Acestes Taekwon-Do Clubs