Date of this Version
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s there are few.
Recently I moved to Las Cruces in the southern part of New Mexico. My new home lies in the Mesilla Valley of the Rio Grande, as it courses muddy through the Chihuahuan desert, North America’s largest but least celebrated arid land. The Organ Mountains rise to the east, serrating the dawn’s liminal blue. In the fi rst few weeks of my residence, I made some tentative contacts with the landscape on a series of short hikes, toting my 16-month-old boy, Riley, in a backpack.
The “beginner’s mind,” the elusive skill to look without preconceptions, to perceive originally, is an ideal in Zen and in haiku poetry. Moving to a new place, especially one so different from prior experiences, can nudge one toward that ideal. Of course I’ve read about this place, even passed through a time or two, so it is not entirely new, and I am certainly burdened with preconceptions, expectations, fears; but still, I am a neophyte, greenhorn, scurfed with innocence.
Yet, while haiku poetry nurtures a beginner’s mind, it also does so in a landscape that is familiar, not exotic. Traditionally, the audience for Japanese haiku knew the look, sound, and scent of each plant named, each animal mentioned, each landscape traversed, and had read hundreds, thousands of haiku on the same subject. Can the allusive form work here? The intimate haiku of plum blossoms, bush warblers, crows, and crickets—will it get lost in the vastness of basin and range, the vocabulary of bajada and playa, piñon and nopale, ocotillo and arroyo, acacia and mesquite? Can it speak in the prickly dialect of desert words, so remote from the verdant Japanese diction?