The other day when I was walking along the rim of the Glenmore Reservoir, I had a haiku moment. It has been a long time since I’ve had that feeling when the boundary seems to disappear between me and the thing I’m observing.
A few years ago, I immersed myself in haiku. I’m not sure why. I hadn’t written haiku since junior high school; I don’t consider myself a poet. Frustrated with the overworked personal essays I was writing at the time, and stymied by a big project I couldn’t find my way into, haiku was fresh, manageable. Three lines, seventeen syllables. I could do that. Besides, as a rookie meditator, I was looking for ways to practice mindfulness.
I read books like How to Haiku. I discovered haibun, a form combining prose with haiku or tanka, its slightly longer, five-line, 31-syllable cousin. With a friend, I learned to write renga, an exchange of linked haiku. I even went on a gingko – a haiku nature walk – with a local collective of poets.
Most of my seventeen-syllable efforts were mediocre, but on a few occasions, I hit the haiku sweet spot: a sensual experience captured in the present moment, connected to nature, and rendered with simplicity.
My haiku cleanse lasted about a year. Even as I found my way back into the high-calorie writing of essays, I noticed my prose was leaner, tighter. I paid a new kind of attention to those luminous places where the words and ideas click.
As always, in this part of the world, spring has been slow to start. On top of that, it’s been a particularly rough week. Boston; West, Texas; a friend facing cancer.
Outside my window, the wind whips the bare branches of the weeping birch, sets the chimes into a frenzy. The sky, grey again, promises more snow. Walking the other day, the sun was shining, the air felt warm and still. I pulled myself away from thinking and scanned the frozen, mottled surface of the reservoir for the swans that swoop in every spring. Basho, the 17th century haiku master saw the cherry tree as a sign of spring. In Calgary, we have swans. Tall, noble birds strutting on the snow.
on open water –
Photo of Glenmore Reservoir by Kevin Saff via Wikimedia Commons