Friday, October 16, 2009

A Roadside Shrine for your day: Endless Streams and Mountains, and the art of Chiura Obata

Regular readers of this space may recall that a week or two ago, a friend pointed out that this blog is to her like a roadside shrine, a place to pause to ponder the Holy, or just a place to rest awhile, or maybe smile. I like that a lot, and I continue to ponder anew how to create a shrine in "virtual" space.

Today, I'd like to offer you another shrine: the art of Chiura Obata (1885-1975), whose paintings of the mountains still inspire many people, including me, with their simplicity, shimmering color and rhythm.

Obata first entered the Sierra Nevada in 1927 and he went back again and again over many decades. His paintings were recently featured in the Ken Burns' series on the national parks, and rightly so.

As someone commented in the documentary, it took an artist born in another place (Japan) to help us see our own place.

Obata was a loyal American, and these mountains were his palate. But in the hysteria following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was incarcerated in an internment camp with other Japanese-Americans during World War II. In the camp, he taught others to paint. He also painted scenes from the camps, capturing the dust, the wind, and the melancholy. Another day we will feature those paintings.

My favorite poet, Gary Snyder, who spent considerable time in Japan studying as a young adult, chose Obata's art to illustrate his book Mountains and Rivers Without End. The painting at the top of Yosemite Falls, painted in 1930, is on the cover of Snyder's book, which won the Bollingen Prize for poetry in 1997 (his earlier works won a Pulitzer in 1974).

For many years I used the first poem, called "Endless Streams and Mountains," in my Morning Prayer meditation. Here is that poem, with some other paintings by Obata.

May peace and holiness follow your day.

Endless Streams and Mountains
Ch'i Shan Wu Chin

By Gary Snyder

Clearing the mind and sliding in
to that created space,
a web of waters streaming over rocks,
air misty but not raining,

seeing this land from a boat on a lake
or a broad slow river,

coasting by.

The path comes down along a lowland stream
slips behind boulders and leafy hardwoods,reappears in a pine grove,

no farms around, just tidy cottages and shelters,

gateways, rest stops, roofed but unwalled work space,
—a warm damp climate;

a trail of climbing stairsteps forks upstream.

Big ranges lurk behind these rugged little outcrops—

these spits of low ground rocky uplifts
layered pinnacles aslant,

flurries of brushy cliffs receding,
far back and high above, vague peaks.
A man hunched over, sitting on a log
another stands above him, lifts a staff,
a third, with a roll of mats or a lute, looks on;
a bit offshore two people in a boat.

The trail goes far inland,
somewhere back around a bay,
lost in distant foothill slopes

& back again
at a village on the beach, and someone's fishing.

Rider and walker cross a bridgeabove a frothy braided torrent
that descends from a flurry of roofs like flowers
temples tucked between cliffs,
a side trail goes there;

a jumble of cliffs above,
ridge tops edged with bushes,
valley fog below a hazy canyon.

A man with a shoulder load leans into the grade.

Another horse and a hiker,

the trail goes up along cascading streambed

no bridge in sight—comes back through chinquapin or
; another group of travelers.
Trail's end at the edge of an inlet
below a heavy set of dark rock hills.
Two moored boats with basket roofing,
a boatman in the bow looks
lost in thought.

Hills beyond rivers, willows in a swamp,
a gentle valley reaching far inland.

The watching boat has floated off the page.


Peter Carey+ said...

Beautiful stuff!

I also so appreciated your post about the clergy retreat - I found it to be a very rich time in many ways, and, I too, definitely took advantage of being able to get some rest.

I hope you have a wonderful Friday and good weekend. Peace to you,


mer said...

Next time you're in Sacramento, swing by with Lori. Jane and I will have an Obata treat for you.