Rising just before my alarm at 5:20am, I went for a walk in the garden. No stars in sight. Not a breath of wind. My first sounds of predawn were cries of an unseen flock of white cockatoos. The “hour of the cockatoo.”
Dimly lit by communal residential garden lights, I took my secateurs and cut a slender stalk of red flowering grevillea. Through the summer drought I’ve been watering the broken stump of this old shrub and it now has many new shoots. From the back fence I cut a sprig of orange flamed bougainvillea to place in a narrow-necked vase I inexpertly made at a mountain kiln in Japan in the 80s. This I placed beside an incense offering adorned by shells and overseen by a woodblock print of a courtesan offering tea on a red lacquer saucer.
I was keen to remotely join Adam Wojcinski and his global tea mates in their solo New Lunar Year tea ceremonies. Not sure how “wabi” my leaf tea rite would be, (no matcha for me today), I prepared “crescent-moon” slivers of raw food to accompany it. I’d bought mandarins at the supermarket yesterday, but after tasting one crescent segment, I left an offering of the remaining eleven segments to the ring-tailed possums… (or the birds, whoever gets in first). The mandarin was out of season and tasted old. Yesterday I was beguiled by memories of mikan I’ve enjoyed at Japanese New Year, but that’s in winter… so I replaced it with a crescent sliver of juicy fresh summer peach. I also included a crescent-shaped cashew nut and a lovely full-moon lychee cradled in its red peeled scaley skin—an emerging moon.
I used a small inexpensive hand-crafted teapot I’d found at an outdoor market in Nezu decades ago and given to my grandmother (and later inherited it back). After pouring a fragrant infusion of gyokuro “Yame” cha into a small teacup made by Aki Katayama using her remarkable “wood-grain” layered clay, I made an offering of the tea to grandma Kath and all my ancestors, all my dead loved ones and teachers, and all those living who have played a part is shaping who I am. The sweet fruits and raw unsalted-nut perfectly complimented the nutty flavour of the jade gyokuro.
A little later, I infused a subtle Dong-Ding cha from Nantou, Taiwan in a Yixing pot bought from an antique shop in Kunming. I drank it from a shallow fine-lipped Taiwanese teabowl with slim blue fish swimming around its white porcelain interior. A banana sliced in half length-wise in a crescent smile accompanied the pale amber infusion. Kneeling at my grandmother’s low inlaid-wooden game’s table, the dawn sky eventually revealed itself as a thick blanket of impenetrable grey. Neither the sun nor the thin sliver of new moon were visible due to cloud-cover and the smoke of distant bush-fires.
I took fuzzy snap shots of my little tea ceremony with my iPhone. Dawn is a difficult time to get photos without a good camera and a good photographer… I snapped some pics later in the day too, but still poor.
Reading Adam Wojcinski’s fabulous document about Sen no Rikyu’s New Year tea ceremony of 1582, I realise I don’t use many implements to make a leaf tea infusion as opposed to matcha mixed with auspicious foods like ume-boshi, sweet black beans, sanshō pepper and kombu… I “draw” the water from my ceramic water filter urn in my kitchen… not so sexy as visiting a spring. But I drew it in the dark at 5:30am, so perhaps captured a bit of the “vitality of the Yin of night as it shifts to the Yang of day.” A phenomena more easily understood when camping by a cold mountain stream…
Behind me on the wall hung calligraphy by my friend Nozao Shingo who wrote 一語一会 ichi go ichi e (one encounter, one opportunity) for my tea book Curiosi-tea published 10 years ago! The Zen ideal of being totally present in the moment. Never let an opportuni-tea slip by…
Adam writes that the image hanging in Rikyu’s alcove was of the white bearded Jurōjin, the God of longevity. I didn’t want a God at my table, but a playful spirit made from treasures washed up on the wild beaches of Flinders Island seemed like a wonderful portent to a new year of adventure. So she made it to the table in lieu of Jurōjin.
Oyster and other shells served as platters for my small crescent fruits. I have no famous tea caddies taken into battle by Shoguns… just treasures found on beaches including moon shells and fragments of abalone shells from Mornington.
Following my little tea ceremony, I played my “Heart Moon” version of the honkyoku meditation “Shingetsu” 心月 on 2.1 shakuhachi. A peaceful solo rendition. Then stretched by performing “Moon Salutations” with YouTube yoga instructor Helen Fong. And so my day began…
Thank you, Adam, for inspiring me to do a New Lunar-Year tea ceremony to start off a new phase of the moon and a new year of adventures. All strength to your own dawn ceremony in Paris, or is it Berlin? And a HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR to all!
I am writing this in late afternoon, rapidly becoming evening, time to head to the beach to see if I can spot the new moon once the sun disappears over the horizon.
Mornington, Australia. 5th February, 2019
Post Script: The wind was howling and dark clouds hugged the line where sky meets sea. No moon visible. Probably too close to the sun anyway. I’ll return to the beach tomorrow to try to see the new moon just after sunset.
Two previously successful moments:
dog and woman wade
small fish leap to reach the hook
a thin crescent moon
new moon’s subtle wink
arcs across the sky all day
trailing desert sun
unnoticed until sundown
but once admired
shyly dips from sight
PPS. I woke this morning, Feb 6th, at 5am disturbed by the howling wind and filled with thoughts of those fighting fires across the country, especially of friends in Tassie preparing their homes and gardens for approaching flames and making lists of what to take with them in the case of evacuation. I had planned to sleep in after a late night, but the wind brought leaping flames to mind, so I arose and had a different kind of tea ceremony using the huge tea leaves of Sao Ba Cha “broom tea” pu’er, harvested from the wild tea trees of Mt Nanuo and made by Mr Dan’Er.
Standing outside under the clear sky filled with bright stars, I dedicated this slightly smoky infusion to the fire-fighters and the people and creatures affected by relentless burning peat and exploding forests. May you have a steady, but not flooding, rain for as long as it takes to put out the flames.
PPPS: Feb 7th. Crescent Moon Report: Last night I went for a swim at sunset. Huge cloud-cover hiding sunset and therefore moonset. But tonight, the sky was clear and the sunset glorious. No sign of the crescent moon however. Back at home, 30 minutes after the sun dipped from sight, the crescent moon was now visible in the half light of dusk. Both photos inexpertly taken on iPhone.