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Inverallochy, Week 18: 30 April

I’ve been immersing myself in Zen poetry these last few days, and I think there’s probably a good reason why Zen originated as an Eastern philosophy, rather than in the North. We have our own religious traditions, of course—all those witches won’t burn themselves, after all—but it’s also a question of climate.

Achavanich stones and distant mountains

Take the 12th century Chinese philosopher-poet To Fu, who came to Caithness on his travels. One verse fragment written at John O’Groats records the moment his meditations were interrupted by a force nine gale: 

How lovely the cherry blossom—
Bugger, no, it’s gone,
Scattered somewhere in the general direction of Norway.
Well there goes my best chance of enlightenment
This side of Christmas,
Thank you so very bloody much.

It was To who famously discovered a solution to the celebrated Zen koan, What is the sound of one hand clapping? Driven half-mad one afternoon by his master’s repeatedly asking this question, he jumped to his feet, shouted “This is, you old fool!” and landed a sweet right hook on his master’s jaw, lifting him several inches off the mat and knocking him out. Afterwards he justified his actions by saying that he had freed his master from the burden of consciousness, which was as near to enlightenment as any of them were likely to get so close to teatime on a Sunday. (Later that day he left the school and started his wanderings.)

High Rise Living – Guillemots nesting on cliff

And, as To later remarked to his disciples, it is hard to free yourself from the endless cycle of death and rebirth when you keep checking your phone to see the latest score in the match between Manchester United and Arsenal, yes, you at the back Little Chrysanthemum, I’m talking to you.

And the gansey is finished! As I’ve mentioned before, at such moments I celebrate along with Wagner’s Wotan, chief of the gods, when he realises the fortress of Valhalla has been built: Vollendet das ewige werk, the eternal task is completed. But soon comes the moment in the time of every such gift, when the euphoria of getting it done is gradually replaced by the nerve-shredding anxiety of seeing if it fits…

Who knew? A statue of Abraham Lincoln in Edinburgh

Finally this week, we’ve been listening to Kipling’s The Jungle Book as an audiobook while we knit. And there’s one rather lovely story, of a successful man of the world called Purun Baghat who gives everything up to become a holy man. I thought I’d share with you this beautiful passage:

Yet nothing was farther from his mind than miracles. He believed that all things were one big Miracle, and when a man knows that much he knows something to go upon. He knew for a certainty that there was nothing great and nothing little in this world: and day and night he strove to think out his way into the heart of things, back to the place whence his soul had come.

Which, now I come to think about it, will do until actual enlightenment comes along. Well, that and knitting another gansey…

9 comments to Inverallochy, Week 18: 30 April

  • Annie

    I would appreciate your giving some kind of warning in the future about the content of your Monday musings when it is appropriate. When was the last time you had your milk or coffee come out your nose for laughing? Hahahaha, oh my stars, as my Texas grammaw would say as she’d get the giggles in church! And your latest creation is lovely, lovely.

  • Lynne

    Finished – Ta Da ! and it’s stunning the way the stitch definition pops on that white. I do hope the recipient will be photographed proudly in his new gansey.

  • Suzanne

    The gansey is very beautiful, Gordon, but you totally upstaged it with your musings on Zen philosophy and the quote from Kipling. Won’t know for sure until I visit you, but it seems to me that your remote northern haven is as good a place to reach enlightenment as any. Since the fast track to enlightenment allegedly passes through recognizing and releasing the things that aggravate (a process similar to that of forming a pearl – can’t do it without an irritant), I reckon a force nine gale should do the trick. I would assume that old To just leaned into it and smiled. Not that I will be doing that. I hate wind! I’ll curse and make a beeline for the pub, leaving enlightenment for later; which may be why it eludes me! 🙂

  • Julie

    He’s gone off his meds, folks, but not until after completing a great piece of work. I like the little separating bands. They make a nice visual change from cables.

  • Song Bird

    Oh Gordon, that gansey is stunning. So beautiful and crisp, with the echoes of waves and mountains and nets catching … apparently, catching wayward cherry blossoms.

  • What an amazing gansey ! I hope the gentleman who will be the happiest man in the UK getting this fabulous garment will somehow acknowledge you for 18 weeks work . And he is the person who was is in your thoughts for 126 days every single day ! After this effort you have to knit a gansey for a wee toddler.
    Best regards from the north : 6 degrees Celsius, no leaves on the trees -yet ! Time for knitting .

  • sharon pottinger

    Brilliant! And congrats on getting it done. What stitch witchery is that lovely X effect that looks almost like smocking?

  • =Tamar

    A triumph! in fact a series of triumphs!

  • Gordon

    Hello everyone, and thank you for the kind words! It’s not often I knit a gansey that’s designed to look its best when seen from space, but there’s a first time for everything. Too many comments to reply to individually, but thank you.

    I’m surprised To’s poems aren’t better known. Here’s one of his more idiosyncratic verses, intended as a Zen koan to prompt meditation leading to enlightenment—

    Early morning shower—
    If I, as a monk, have a shaven head,
    Whence come all these long hairs,
    Blocking up the plughole?

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