Tsunami & Blossoms

Steve Minkin writes in Brattleboro Vermont



A giant pair of celestial eyes at the base of a 30 feet high golden spire watched over her. Julie’s red hair appeared like a splotch of paint dropped impasto onto the vibrant mix of people, monkeys and dogs moving below. She had entered a realm of profound personal transformation and was overjoyed by her good fortune.

Holy texts refer to Swayambu as “the womb of creation”. The accounts of its origins have more in common with the cosmology of Quantum Physics than they do with our ordinary perceptions of cause and effect. The massive stupa came into being at the moment the Buddha of Boundless Light destroyed all illusions

The stupa consisted of a large sold white dome topped by a golden spire connected to lines of prayer flags. Around the stupa were houses, schools and temples where monks some wearing fantastical hats bellowed chants, blew long alpine trumpets, beat drums and clashed symbols. All their efforts were directed at creating esoteric pathways though the mysteries separating life and death.

Pilgrims offered food to various incarnations of the Buddha. These were quickly snatched away by thieving monkeys. Dogs wondered freely and children played, many of them shaven headed and dressed in monk’s robes. Julie couldn't stop taking picture after picture as if the camera afforded her a direct line into the experience of the people around her. 

The stupa appeared solid and there seemed to be no way inside.  It was surrounded by hundreds of prayer wheels large and small. They looked more like rotating bronze cans or wooden boxes covered with inscribed Tibetan characters. 

Julie tentatively spun one and was soon joined by several young women dressed cotton and silks who spoke to her in excellent English they learned at boarding school in India.

“Spinning these wheels will create great merit for you”.

Julie asked if she could take a photograph of her new companions and they said yes pulling out cameras and cell phones of their own. 

“Would you like to visit a Tibetan family”, an attractive woman named Tseten asked her. 

“Yes, of course,”

They agreed to meet early the next morning. Tseten arrived at Julie’s guesthouse at 8:00 am. The two then walked several blocks before climbing one flight and entering a large living room. Julie’s first impression was that these people are well off.

Tseten’s mother and a child were in an adjacent prayer room emptying bowls of water into a bucket. They cleaned the altar, which consisted of a Buddha, several relics, flowers and a large picture of the Dalai Lama. 

Eighty empty bowls nestled near the statue. 

The old woman then slowly began pouring water into each bowl. “This has to be done very slowly Tseten whispered.  This teaches us that everything we do should begin slowly. We value slow as much as you Americans value speed.” 

When the 80 bowls were filled, they sat down to a sumptuous breakfast of noodle soup and Tibetan dumplings. 

After breakfast, they were joined by several young women and went up to the roof where Julie was startled to see buildings in every direction adorned with satellite dishes.

“I believe the Dalai Lama is the wisest man on the planet”, Julie told her new friends.  One thing I learned from him is that if you react to negativity with a feeling of hurt you destroy your own peace of mind. Then the pain you feel is your own creation.” 

“That's exactly what Oprah said” Tseten and her friends replied in unison.


“Yes, Oprah is a very wise woman” the Tibetan Buddhists insisted. “We watch her every day. We think she is the wisest woman in the world.”

What we can learn from moths

Every spring and early summer when I'm riding my bike in the direction of Vernon, there is a backwater just before heading up Cotton Mill Hill where I see a turtle. It is never the same turtle; in fact, it usually starts out quite small and grows during the summer. I have tried for years to get a good picture of the turtle without success. The reason being, I have discovered, is that turtles can read peoples’ minds. I mean this quite literally!  They can read my mind the moment I think I want to take a photograph. I've tried various different approaches, but the moment I slow my bike down, they splash back into the water. Sometimes I cycle by the spot pretending I'm not looking at the turtle in the hopes that if I park further down, I might be able to sneak up and get a picture.  I’ve been very close, but by the time I found the branch in the water through the lens of my iPhone, the turtle was gone. That said, I am always thrilled to see the next generation of turtles.

This is part of a larger lesson I have been learning over the years regarding how little we really understand the lives and consciousness of all the creatures inhabiting the world around us. The best way for us to be stewards of the planet’s biodiversity is to follow the rule, “first do no harm.” But how can we know when we're helping, and how can we know when we're harming.

Patience! Years ago, a giant moth taught me an amazing lesson in Bangladesh. I was working there with a local organization on environmental restoration of the floodplain. On this particular occasion, we were staying in a government guest house near the town of Tangail. [Illus. Atlas Moth, Bangladesh]

It was a very pleasant accommodation, old style with a large bedroom and a large bathroom. We arrived in the evening.  When I went into the bathroom, I was surprised to discover a very large moth.  Decorated with eyes on its wings, it was lying on the ground next to the toilet. I thought the poor thing was somehow trapped here in the bathroom. The next day, I decided to be a good, compassionate citizen.  I gently slipped a piece of paper under the moth and carried the creature out to a marble-like ledge from where I assumed it would fly away.

We were gone from early morning until maybe around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon talking with fishermen. But when we came back to our rooms on the second floor, I saw the moth was exactly where I left it in the morning. I was surprised and thought I should figure out if it were alive or dead. So again, using a sheet of paper, I gently nudged the moth and suddenly found myself witnessing a heart palpitating drama I will never forget.

The moth lifted up into the air, and at that very moment a bird came divebombing down in an attempt to swallow the moth.  I was horrified!  In an instant, just as the bird was about to strike, the moth dodged its attacker by moving slightly to the side like an agile running back in a football game. I was so relieved.

There are many lessons to be learned in nature. One very important one is to observe rather than interfere.  The moth chose the safety of the bathroom for a reason beyond my knowledge.  Maybe to lay eggs, or simply for safety.  When outside it knew from the moment I “helped”, that it faced mortal danger.  Moths, just like the turtles who frustrate me every year, can actually read the intention of a potential predator even if it’s only a clumsy cyclist with an iPhone.

A Night in Paris

Their first stop was Fernande’s luxurious Paris apartment.

“ We need to establish some ground rules if you and I, a woman and a man, will travel together.”

Jean-Baptiste readily agreed.

She then began drawing her bath and undressing in front of him.

“The first rule,” she said is that we have a buddy system in the bathtub. That is we ALWAYS,” pausing for effect while removing her bra, “ALWAYS, bathe together.”

Fernande removed her slip.

“Do you understand rule one – any questions?”

“No Madame,” he replied completely bewildered.

Now completely naked, Fernande poured bubble bath into the tub.

“I hope you like bubbles,” she laughed.

“Oui Madame, I do.” 

“Then is it your custom to bathe with your shoes and shocks on or do you want me to undress you?”

The tub was huge.  The sound of water running from the taps carried Jean- Baptiste to a waterfall where he and Chantal his childhood sweetheart swam naked together. For an enchanted moment life was as innocent as it must have been in the Garden of Eden.

“Now we will kiss,” Chantal ordered, “just like the grown-ups.”

They stood directly under the waterfall so that its full force landed on their heads. With closed mouths and holding their noses they pressed their lips together and stayed that way until they ran out of breath. It felt good and they did it again and again almost every day for two weeks until her little sister squealed on them.

They were punished and forbidden from ever playing together.

Fernande lighted candles and dimmed the lights before slipping into the tub and resting her head on one of two pillows. This gave Jean-Baptiste time to quickly undress and slide in beside her.

“The water is hot,” she mumbled, “I hope you like it hot,” were her last words before falling asleep. Jean-Baptiste wondered what was expected of him. Should he kiss her or touch her breasts or simply watch over her as she dreamed.

“The second rule,” she told him after dinner, “is like the first. We have to sleep together, n’est-ce pas, we have a buddy system in bed.”

By this time the term buddy began to have a whole new meaning. Perhaps all Fernande wanted was the playmate she too had lost as a child.

“And my dear friend there is a third rule. Every morning when I wake up you must bring me a hot cup of tea, strong, no milk, two sugars. Oh and the newspapers. The concierge leaves them outside the door promptly at 7:30.”

Dressed only in earplugs and a facemask, Fernande was out cold in less than thirty seconds. She told him not to wake her up before ten-thirty.  Jean-Baptiste on the other hand was restless all night. His skin cooled by the touch of blue satin sheets roasted on a bed of red hot hell-fires.

Jean-Baptiste jumped out of bed the moment he heard the sound of the concierge in the hallway. Naked he scooped up the newspapers, his right foot holding the door ajar.

He was horrified to read, “Earthquake Tsunami Strike Japan. Nuclear Radiation Risk Feared.” The earthquake measured 8.9 far more powerful than the one that he survived at home in Haiti.

The door slammed behind him. He was locked out and naked in a luxury apartment building in wealthy section of Paris. Yet he felt totally detached from his own situation. Love radiated in the glow of trillions of cells; droplets of compassion evaporated out of every pore

Unfortunately these facts were lost on Mme. Pappadeaux. At the very moment of Jean-Baptist’s enlightenment, she was being pulled towards the elevator by two large, powerful poodles. Their bladders stretched to within a millimeter of exploding.

“Call the police,” she shouted to the doorman as she and the dogs scurried outside. “Tell them that a naked man …is levitating …in front of apartment… 12 C.”