Ode to Port Townsend

Weathered, old, musty
Anachronistic
From days long gone
No longer remembered
Save for pictures
A faulty and impersonal
Memory, at best

Years have marched on
History has been made
Not here, though
Left behind in an earlier time
Forgotten, yet still here
Sharing glimpses of secrets
–A proffered hand full of mysteries

A sublime place
A masquerade where the clock stands still
The town that time forgot
Port Townsend
Playful ghost town kept alive

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Written while adventuring in Washington’s wonderful Olympic Peninsula a couple weeks back. I hope this inspires you to take a trip there as well.

Gassho!

Visit to the Tsubaki Grand Shrine

Recently, I went to the Tsubaki Grand Shrine–the 1st Shinto shrine built in North America (although moved from its original location in California to the current one in Washington State). It’s only about an hour drive from my place, surprisingly enough.

It’s located in some serene woods northeast of Everett, WA. It sits nestled amidst trees, alongside a soothing river. I can think of no better location for a religious shrine of a tradition that praises nature in all of her rhythms, cycles, blessings, changes, and unfoldings.

There were many altars, laced with traditions and rituals, speaking to the genuine Japanese heritage of this shrine–not some second-rate American attempt. For instance, there was a column with the animals of the Chinese zodiac carved around it, chasing each other endlessly through the ongoing years of the calendar.

Chinese Zodiac Column - Tsubaki Shrine

There was also a basin with long-handled wooden ladles for cleansing one’s hands and face before entering the nearby door to the shrine proper. The basin lay below an awning, keeping the water from being fouled by falling leaves, and a wise, kindly dragon stood above and behind it, his stony visage protecting from spiritual impurities.

A few steps away, a thick rope hung from another awning, attached to a large bell. This implement for announcing oneself at the temple entrance was above another basin–this one empty of water, but the open space was meant to collect offerings from visitors.

Tsubaki Shrine entrance

I’m standing at the entrance in the background, and the washbasin is in the foreground to the right. The description of the shop that follows is hidden behind the washbasin area.

To the right, a window displayed many small amulets and talismans that visitors can purchase for blessings in the year ahead.

My companion and I asked questions about the amulets, and the middle-aged, Japanese woman called out to her “sensei” to help us. She disappeared behind a partition and was soon replaced by a white-haired, Western man in his later 50s who answered our questions with gusto and greeted us to the shrine. He even let us inside to use the restroom despite the entrance having been cordoned off for the day already.

He pointed out a “portable shrine”–a large, golden relic atop wooden struts with colorful supports holding the shrine in place–and explained there are festivals which will require this. One is in Bellevue in September. We immediately agreed to go.

Here it is as well as the shrine’s reverend. This was found on the Northwest Public Radio’s site: nwpr.org.

After this, we walked outside and looked at the other altars for blessings and contemplation below the main shrine. There was a small enclosure, overgrown with moss and populated by some kami. Nearby, there was a board to hang small plaques with wishes for the kami to read and bless.

Guardians

Here are the guardians sitting atop a boulder in that small enclosure.

Further down the past was a large stone orb on a pedestal with instructions for a prayer that should be said three times while rubbing the orb. It is supposed to bring overall well-being to one’s life and relationships. This pedestal overlooked the peaceful course of the river below, which we walked down to and admired after each struggling to pronounce the Japanese prayer (written out for us poor gaijin in Romaji, so it was possible to phonetically sound out) three times. 🙂

Good Luck Prayer

Here I am saying the prayer and rubbing the orb.

Near the pedestal, there was a simple post with the wish that peace prevail on Earth written on it in numerous languages…

May Peace Prevail

The peaceful post with the river in the distance…

Finally, at the end of the path below the main shrine was a small shrine adorned with statues of mystical, white, Japanese foxes–those magical creatures of Japanese lore. This shrine had several of the iconic Japanese arches before it–in red and gold.

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Just beyond the arches, before ending at the fox shrine, there was a large stone in the shape of what looked like the yin from a yin-yang symbol. A plaque explained its meaning as well as the tripartite Shinto symbol made of three of these swirling icons. The plaque said that Shinto beliefs hold that the entire universe down to the structure of subatomic particles is composed of spirals. Thus, the spiral is a symbol for revering the myriad and mysterious unfoldings of nature. I was awestruck by this simple yet profound praise of Nature in a quaint forest glade. Here was a simple pointer to the wonder of All rather than “my” mastery of it.

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“I am sure everyone who visits the shrine is struck by the mysterious and undeniable beauty and the peaceful atmosphere that surrounds it. These are things I still notice everyday when I arrive. I find the earlier mornings at the shrine to be a true treasure because these are the times I can feel the world awakening around me. I love walking down the main path, listening to the birds and the river while seeing the morning sunlight shining through the trees. I can’t help but feel connected at these moments.

I’ve noticed while helping to maintain the shrine grounds it can often feel like you’re fighting an unwinnable battle against the forces of nature. You can pick up hundreds of leaves but more are constantly falling onto the ground, areas that have been cleared of weeds all of a sudden have weeds again a week later, and areas that have been raked soon need raking again. However it has dawned on me that maintaining the shrine grounds is not a struggle with nature but is instead an important part of the natural order of the shrine. Leaves fall and I pick them up; it’s part of the cycle. In a way it’s a balancing act between nature’s chaos and the human need for order. By clearing the shrine grounds, you get to be a part of the process.” — Teddy Rodriguez, a volunteer who helped maintain the shrine for some months–taken from the Shrine’s newsletter

May this adventure inspire you to see your engagement and interaction with nature. May it help you see your place within it, not different, not separate–but a piece of the whole; spirals all the way down.

Gassho!