Though I’ve lived in urban or semi-urban environments for the vast majority of my post-college life, I’ve always managed to live in a place with some type of outdoor/garden space. I find this essential to well-being, feeling connected to the natural environment beyond the people-centric environment of modernity.

Today was a particularly sunny and warm winter day here in Berkeley, and I found it a suitable opportunity to sit outside during the late morning and drink some of my last remaining Alishan I purchased from one of my favorite shops in Taipei just over 9 months ago, although this particular vacuum-sealed package was only opened maybe 4 or 5 months ago. Compared to some of the other (many) oolongs I brought back, it is of a lower grade (with corresponding price), with the intent that I would enjoy it once my “premium stock” was all used up. Little did I know that by now I’d be knee-deep in the vast land of puer (slowly moving towards waist-deep).

When I first drank this tea, I found it a little bit too light for my taste and spent 6 hours re-roasting it one summer’s day in a slow cooker. At first it just tasted like nothing and I was afraid I had burnt it, despite erring on the side of caution, but after a few weeks, it started to redevelop a flavor, and several months of resting later, I can say that it has definitely improved. It is juicier and more substantial compared to the original product. I have been thinking about the idea that the purpose of roasting is less to give a certain flavor to a tea at that time and more to prepare it to age well and allow it to naturally take on a deeper flavor without going bad. Much like the cultivation of a craft or learning in general, so much is about intense, measured practicing (under the flame), then getting out of the way and letting things work themselves out (resting). Too much of one or the other is no good and can set you back, even though you might be under the impression that you’re gaining. For the same reason, I’ve noticed that I can sometimes go a week without playing guitar or practicing aikido and still come back better with new ideas, techniques, and a finer feeling. Teaching is very much like that, although many have the (mis)conception that it is more of a relentless pounding and filling of information. This approach is no secret in Asia and serves as the standard model–although you will raise the average that way (along some measures), you also lose much. Hastily moving one way or another to achieve a specific results usually does not result in a net good. As in so much, balance is key.

Even though I love my little green spaces, it’s no match for the true outdoors. This picture is from a hike Cher and I did at Point Reyes yesterday, on an extremely scenic trail along the coast, the Palomarin trail. I have travelled many places on the Earth, but I still find it to be among the most stunning locales. Additionally, the ecosystems are incredibly rich–in the span of a 3 hour hike, we saw countless varied types of plants across multiple microclimates, hawks, rabbits, a fox, small birds, deer tracks, heard a loud frog, and spotted many kinds of mushrooms sprouting in myriad patterns! On the subject of interconnected characteristics, being in such a naturally rich ecosystem is an essential part of being alive to me, and when I go too long without venturing away from the very recent constructs of humans that have so deeply embedded themselves in our lives, I feel not quite whole. Plants (tea and otherwise) and farmers can exist without cities, but the converse is not true. I am thinking increasingly about the way that the dynamic aspects of mind/culture of population centers that so enthrall me are intertwined with these essential aspects of land/earth. As a person who can count martial arts, tea, music, writing, film, aesthetic design, urban energy among some of my great passions and interests, specific geo/national/linguistic cultural features are endlessly fascinating to me, but still, they are not the essence of our roots, merely iterated threads. Even as I love words and ideas, I find myself gradually tapping in towards a more restrained, yet more natural, sense of self and power, drawing closer to my center (and this “essence”?) as I gain experience and practice with all things. I once seriously pursued the study of science because I believed it to be the essence of truth. It is still vital to my way of understanding, but does not take away from other more subjective domains that are equally important to me.

2013, 乾杯!