Ikkyū’s Frosty Love Letters

New Tree School members are less likely to read Zen poetry than floras and field guides, with the exception of the young naturalist that shared with me the poetry of the 15-century Zen monk  Ikkyū. And while we are more likely to study sedges than sutras, Ikkyū’s poem speaks to this season:

Every day, priests minutely examine the Dharma

And endlessly chant complicated sutras.

Before doing that, though, they should learn

How to read the love letters sent by the wind and rain, the snow and moon.


New Tree School at College Woods. Durham, New Hampshire 2005.

Winter bids us to lay aside manuals and field guides and briefly forget the taxonomic sutras of woods and meadows. We read clearly now the bare lines of stories and love letters. Under and above the snow, the long arch of nature meets the sun at both ends of the day. Even the night, still falling early but later each day, writes inky verses that wax, then fade with new moons.

Pull on your wool socks and find yourself in a wild place. Winter soon will wane as days grow longer and the nights, shorter.