Only ash and sand
January 30, 2024
Possessions aren’t always what they seem to be.
I first collected sand for this bowl, or an earlier version of it, from Isla Vista beach in Santa Barbara in 1974, down the cliff and the rocky trail from where I lived. It’s still the same sand, I think. It’s been supplemented by fifty years of daily incense ash from countless sticks of Viva pine and rosewood. It is mostly all ash now, light as air, intoxicatingly fragrant, defenseless against the breeze, immediately evocative.
I carefully clean the sand and ash a few times a year, using my repurposed utensils, according to the way an older monk taught me long ago, late one night, squatting on the floor of the Los Angeles zendo. I guard the sand and ash closely, so as not to waste or lose a grain. I collect the incense stubs and burn them in the woodstove, wrapped in the paper towel, watching attentively until nothing is left. I breathe. I wipe the bowl clean, gently add back the sand and ash, and wipe the bowl rim clean again. I tamp down the sand, so it is hard and smooth, then drag a simple pattern in it, four parallel lines make a circle around the outside, then I rake ordinal lines, north, south, east, and west. I look intently at what we’ve done. I must be in there somewhere, but nothing is to be found..
If the house were afire, I would grab this bowl before my Stratocaster