DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: A BAD HAIKU FOR A BIRTHDAY CARD

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There is a local photographer whose photos from the mountains of Colorado were made into some very beautiful cards sold here (Not the photo I inserted here–I just found that one). There is one of a snowy river winding through a mountain meadow, there are some pine trees near the shore, some of them fairly scraggly. Mountains rise up into the mist in the background. The sky is a typical misty overcast winter sky you often see in the mountains. It seems like a place I have been; in fact I’d almost place it somewhere in Coal Creek Canyon. I took the photo off the card, and framed it with a haiku written in Japanese below it. (I actually did this with a number of these cards–some are winter, some fall, some summer–but this was the first one I saw and I immediately knew I had the perfect haiku for it).

The haiku is one I composed back in about ’97 or ’98. We were staying in my parent’s condo up in Breckenridge Colorado. It was October, but they had already gotten some good snow that year. The condo—is actually a two-story townhouse, and was a great place to escape the city for a while. There was a cozy fireplace, a hot tub on the porch–everything you needed. The forecast called for more snow that afternoon, and I decided to go out and walk around a bit. Heavy snow clouds hung over the small ski town obscuring the peaks. As I walked, I came across a good sized crow sitting atop a pine tree, looking around, and calling out. The haiku immediately came to me:

寒烏でも
待つか
重い雪雲

kangarasu demo

matsu ka

omoi yukigumo

Even the cold crow

awaits?

heavy snow clouds

After cutting the photo off of the card, matting it, writing the haiku with some fancy calligraphy below the photo (I cheated—I have studied Japanese calligraphy with a brush in Japan, but I am not good by any means, so I carefully drew it in pencil first and then went over it with a black felt pen) and framing it, I realized that it just happened to be near my Aunt’s birthday. So I put the haiku in another card with the same photo, and then wrote about how I came across it, and then a bit about the inevitability of nature—how both myself and the already cold crow knew the storm was coming, but there was nothing to stop it, all we could do was to gaman suru–grin and bear it, a very typical Japanese concept

I was so pleased with myself that I quickly ran down to the Post Office and popped it in the mail. Only on the way back home did I realize, that I had just sent this to my aunt who was very educated, had travelled around the world, enjoyed world cultures like myself, and had also spent some significant time in the Orient–she was about to have a birthday in her early 70’s. Yes—-if anyone, my beloved aunt, one of the few in the family who I could walk through an art museum with carrying on in deep conversations about the meaning of the art we were experiencing, she would pick up on some of the other meanings implied by the haiku. Meanings that I didn’t think to explore before sending it to her—-meanings such as the inevitability of death, and the fact that we know it is coming, but there is little we can do. A fall haiku could be one referring to one’s elderly age—but winter—–that is really old! …and it wasn’t even a joyous winter haiku at that…

I quickly sent off another card, with a happy spring haiku—and an explanation that I realized too late some of the other implications of the haiku…

The framed photo, and haiku, still hangs in my basement.

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