All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite. We feel what the Japanese call “aware” — an almost untranslatable word meaning something like “beauty tinged with sadness.“
—  Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces
An animal’s wordlessness takes on the cleansing qualities of space: we free-fall through the beguiling operations of our own minds with which we calculate our miseries to responses that are immediate. Animals hold us to what is present: to who we are at one time, not who we’ve been or how our bank account describes us. What is obvious to an animal is not the embellishment that fattens our emotional resumes, but what’s bedrock and current in us: aggression, fear, insecurity, happiness or equanimity. Because the have the ability to read our involuntary tics and scents, we’re transparent to them and thus exposed - we’re finally ourselves.
—  Gretel Ehrlich (The Solace of Open Spaces)

The ways in which we come to know a landscape are preliterate. “A sense of place” implies a sensory knowledge. It mounts up in our minds: empires of smells and sounds, textures and sights held fast by memory, flooding back again and again in such urgent, pungent ways as to let us reenter those places…

All during our lives, in any and every place we live or visit, the sacramental landscape unrolls before us. It is our text. It is public and private, social and wild, political and aesthetic. To see–that is, to discover–is not an act of interpretation, of transfixing with preconceived ideas what is before us; rather, it is an act of surrender.

—  –Gretel Ehrlich

“To trace the history of a river or a raindrop … is also to trace the history of the soul, the history of the mind descending and arising in the body.  In both, we constantly seek and stumble upon divinity, which like feeding the lake, and the spring becoming a waterfall, feeds, spills, falls, and feeds itself all over again.”

Gretel Ehrlich, from Islands, The Universe, Home 

The writer Gretel Ehrlich, a longtime passionate student of Japanese poetry and culture, returned to Japan in 2011 after an earthquake and Tsunami devastated the Tohoku coast. As Ehrlich explains, during a literally earth-shattering six minutes on March 11, there were “Three sorrows: quake, tsunami, meltdown. In the quake’s ‘seismic moment,’ the total energy released was two hundred thousand times the energy at the earth’s surface, equal to six hundred million times the energy of the bomb dropped at Hiroshima.” In Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami, poetry is one of the tools she uses to try to understand what she is seeing and the hardships suffered by the people of that region. She finds solace in lines from T. S. Eliot, Roberto Calasso, Basho, Saigyo, and others, and she writes poems of her own along the way. Even the instructions of her driver and friend Abyss-San—advice on how to avoid radiation or how to make curry—become poetry, their sustenance worthy of heightened attention in the face of seismic devastation and grief. Below, one from Ehrlich’s pen, and one from Abyss-San.

At Ishinomaki Where Matsuo Basho Once Wrote a Poem

Finally the twisted roadbed drains
and the daily floodtides at
Ishinomaki dry out.
The sky unmists itself and
loss upon loss begins to
feel like company.
Nothing touches. Nights are brittle and soft,
ink scraped smooth.
To the south Fukushima Daiichi blazes. Flames
we can’t see. Sixty-six years ago
two other seacoast towns vanished.
I stick my forearm out
in moonlight. Looking seaward
my skin burns.

Abyss-San’s Curry Recipe

Sauté cloves, bay leaves, fenugreek, chili peppers, cardamom,
     curry leaf, and garlic in mustard oil.
Add sliced onion, turmeric, coriander, and cumin.
Add chopped potatoes and carrots, then tomatoes.
Rinse China beans and lentils, then add in with salt.
Add enough water to cover. Cover and cook for one hour or
     more, or until beans are soft.
Make an equally large pot of rice with wheat berries.
Fry Aju hing seeds and add to the curry at the end. Serve.
Eat with gratitude.

Learn more about Gretel Ehrlich’s Facing the Wave and browse other titles by Gretel Ehrlich.

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