September 2009 and I am staying in a Zen monastery in New York State. Its Abbot is dying, and I have come to interview him about his teacher and the place’s first Abbot, the Japanese Zen master Maezumi Roshi.
I am desperately impatient for my interview. A portion of Maezumi’s ashes is entombed in a stupa on the flank of the mountain. I decide to visit it and take notes, and maybe understand how the dead man has a live presence in the community.
I run up the path. Some streak of life flashes across the ground before me. I twist my tread aside to avoid stamping it to death. It is a timber rattlesnake, with a double-diamond patterned back and a paler stripe along the sides of its darkness, a juvenile about two feet long. Once off the path, it merges with the forest floor. I crouch, and then sit on the dirt floor to be in its company. Now I am still it is content to wait. Its tongue flickers and its black eyes shine. Some twenty minutes pass. I am calmer.