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Life Arts

Worshipping the Water Buddha

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I found this seagull, catching the last winks of November sun, in a moment of meditation. From the pose, it is obvious who the Aqua Buddha is, maybe even obvious who the Aerial Buddha could be.
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When marine artist, Wyland,, painted this scene in Newport, Oregon, on August 29, 1994, across from the tavern I used to run, he was renowned as a marine artist, if not maritime Michelangelo. His Whaling Wall Murals grace huge buildings around the world. His depiction of a family of Grey Whales is unusual in that it was painted on a fairly small fish plant building, right on T-111 plywood siding, in a small coastal town. I have spent 25 years on this roof, trying to deal with Oregon rain.
Wyland did not have an easy time. While he was on a bucket lift, bringing whales to life with his air nozzle, I remember a local fisherman, Mongolian Frank, who got liquored up, and threatened to harpoon Wyland, right there on the spot. It seems that Frank, a school-of-hard-knocks student of Buddhism, thought that Wyland would somehow commercialize the soul of this native deity.
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Frank had a knack for self-righteous violence. I had to "86" him (kick him out) once from my tavern because he went out in the street, right beneath where the whales hover, with a two-by-four, and clobbered Gino, the old Italian who ran a fish deli down the street, and leased out one of his salmon boats to Frank.
Another time, he almost came to blows with me, when Good Time Charlie, a fisherman, blues-harp musician, friend of Frank's, and customer of mine had too much to drink, and walked off the docks and drowned on the Fourth of July. Frank was sitting outside my tavern during Charlie's wake and I told him to stay out. He had unmercifully harangued my bartender who had served Charlie his last drink.
"I'm grieving!"--He screamed threateningly and started to rise.
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"For who?" I said. "Yourself?"
That caught him in a quandary. He had no reply. I continued into the tavern. Having a fifty-pound bottle of CO2 for the taps on my shoulder might have made him pause, also.
Later, I saw Wyland sitting on a bench, looking bummed out, below the half-finished whales, and pulled my van over. I offered him a ride to the Embarcadero Marina where his condo room was. He seemed relieved, and a little tired from his work and Frank's tirades, no doubt. From far and wide, tourists came to see Wyland's murals, and lined up to buy his paintings and signed prints. His work contributed immensely to marine ecology, but he also made thousands from sales.
Unfortunately, someone broke into his room and stole all the money. Another example of the illusory nature of worldly desire.
Nevertheless, the magnificent cetaceans were soon swimming gloriously on the wall. The mayor, marching bands, and the whole town came out, along with fans from all over the world. Bruce Mate, a marine mammal conservationist known for his videos of swimming with sperm whales, spoke glowingly. The painted whales represent actual resident grey whales of Newport, whales that stay close to shore year-round. The partially visible male beneath the mother, suffered a harpoon wound, which you can see, by the female's left fluke.
Frank is still fishing. For years, he has owed me three salmon for twenty bucks he borrowed. Frank's father was a university professor at Berkeley, and had escaped from China during Mao's rise. Before Berkeley, he was at Indiana University, teaching with the Dali Lama's eldest brother, the reincarnated saint and Professor Emeritus Thubten Norbu, who died in 2008. The last time I saw Frank a couple months ago, he was seething with a giddy fury, in sole possession of some sort of unseemly if not scatological knowledge about Norbu. What, I don't know, but when he gets drunk enough, I will find out.
The name "dalai lama" is a combination of Tibetan and Mongolian terms meaning "Ocean of Wisdom."
I am not saying that the grey whale is the Aqua Buddha. It is more likely another whale. Always the showman, Wyland had publicized his Newport visit by saying that Keiko the killer whale of Free Willy fame was coming to Newport because of Wyland's actions, which was locally viewed as an exaggeration.
Keiko came in on a flatbed truck. A few years later, when they decided to ship him off to Iceland, in January, 1996, I decided to watch the ceremonies from my canoe in the middle of Yaquina Bay. What could be more natural than watch a creature of nature return to nature from the vantage point of the most beautiful natural setting in the world? I figured there would be a flotilla of yachts and viewing vessels. Except for my dog, Sue, however, I was the only one on the water. It was anticlimactic but also I felt uniquely honored. The sheriffs on shore figured I was a terrorist, and would not let me land. I found a half-sunken, kind of mangrove island, and climbed a spindly swamp tree, to take a few photos. I watched them lift Willy on a hoist, while a host of international cameras filmed from the stands, and my dog nervously looked up. I am probably recorded as some sort of aboriginal sloth on some Japanese film. I had the bay to myself. It felt lonely, but beautiful.
Now, that was a Mongolian if not Aqua Buddha moment. It just goes to show--sometimes, little separates the benevolent from the beast.


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Conceived on west coast,born on east coast,returned to northwest spawning grounds. Never far from water. Degree in biology, minor: socio/psychology. Nature-oriented. Building trades,marine carpentry, Army Veteran, ex-social worker, ex-tavern (more...)

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