30 May 2008

Journal 47

December 25 - Merry Xmas. (Let's put the X back in Xmas.) Left Kirinda this morning, after declining an extremely pressing invitation from the Maha Thera there to remain for a few months. He says – surprise - that he likes my manners. I think it might be to my advantage to return there some time for a more extended stay. It's rather artificial, of course, but it's like playing Czerny exercises on the piano. Before one can play Bach, one must master Czerny, no matter how artificial and non-musical it may be. So too with the strict regulated life of Kirinda. They spend 3 hours every morning getting their noon meal, and also time for morning meal; they recite suttas at 9, 12, and 6 o'clock daily, sweep twice daily - very different from the freedom of Island Hermitage, where each person is, within the confines of the island, free to do pretty much as he wants, whether to use his time well or to waste it.

Today - went 15 miles to Tangalla, reaching the seacoast road; it is 26 miles to Humbantota; but there is one more arañña, inland, which I will visit first. Alms was rather difficult today; the area being both poor and depopulated, but I finally managed to get a bowl full of bananas and biscuits, which sufficed. Nothing eventful, but hot and tiring; am staying the night at a temple outside Tangalla on the main road. This is the least Xmasy Xmas I've spent, even less Xmasy than last year in Calcutta (not Marienbad), or before that in Eilat or before that in Bin Gedi, Munich, and Iowa. For all I know there is not even a Christian (X-tian?) for miles and miles around.

Nature notes: Monkeys do not eat oranges. A crow's head, seen sideways, looks like a Marine. And I have found today, in addition to red, black, and white ants, that there is also a brown ant, actually sort of brown-grey, longish and looking decrepit, like it was made of old and dusty secondhand parts but together by an unskilled mechanic. Also there is a plant which has bracken-like leaves and a flower of a delicate purple tint looking like purple needles stuck into a tiny pincushion, forming a fine globe. The amazing property of this plant is that if the leaf is touched, it folds up like a pair of arms cowering against attack. The leaves function in pairs, on opposite sides of the stem, and apparently all leaves farther from the branch than the one struck also react to this process, which is very marked - the opposite leaves actually touch each other and give the plant the appearance of having shrivelled up. It takes only 2 or 3 seconds for the plant to react, and about 5 or 10 minutes - related, I suppose, to the hardness with which the leaf is struck (a very light tap will only partly 'close' it) - for it to 'relax' again and assume its normal posture. Great fun to attack these plants and see all the leaves cower under the onslaught, and know that it's all a game. Then one glances over one's shoulder and wonders…d There are many flowers in the jungle but most are very inconspicuous. Some are very pretty, A large yellow flower grows on a tree and a bush alike. There is a fairly common small orchid, which frequently dwells on an old coconut shell; many tiny flowers; a rose-like flower on a thorny bush. There are also some colorful red and silver leaves, but all these are hidden in the masses of green that dominate the landscape, and one becomes aware of them only slowly.

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