Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tea by Moonlight

On Sunday I got to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time – tea under the full moon.

This is one of a set of three traditional outdoor tea ceremonies: One for cherry blossom viewing in the spring, one for the first snowfall, and one for the full moon in the autumn. Even though there’s a special temae (tea ceremony) dedicated specifically to doing tea during this full moon, and we practice the form, our group rarely ever actually does it for real. The last time I did it, it wasn’t a formal gathering; Shofuso was having a moon-viewing party, and my teacher spontaneously brought a tea set and had tea while the party was going on. It was so beautiful that I decided I was going to do one myself someday, but it’s been many years in the making!

So when my fellow teacher Drew agreed that we should go for it, I researched when the full moon was happening, when the moon would rise, the time of sunset, etc. Sunset time was particularly crucial because Shofuso (which, in case you haven’t seen it yourself, is a replica of the 16th century Japanese house) has electricity but no interior lights, so we wanted to get the bulk of the work done before it got so dark we would need artificial lighting.

I was a little bit nervous the day of because, first of all, I had a minor crisis with the sweets I was planning to make -- one of the key ingredients was nowhere to be found at any of our local Asian grocery stores, and the alternatives I tried weren’t working. Thankfully, my fallback plan worked, and I was able to come to the gathering bearing little mochi bunny rabbits.

The other wild card was the weather. They were calling for thunderstorms that evening, and it was ominously cloudy early in the day, but we really lucked out. In late afternoon it cleared up, and by the time the gathering started at 7:30, the moon was just peeking over the treeline! Shofuso is fortuitously oriented so that the main part of the veranda, overlooking the koi pond, is facing east, so by the time the tea was over the moon was high in the sky and reflecting beautifully off the pond.

The gathering itself was small, and we had a great group of guests. Some of them were volunteers at Shofuso who had seen us do demonstrations and classes, but never had time to sit and drink tea with us, and it was a lot of fun to be able to serve them tea and answer their questions.

In the end, I think everyone had a good time, which in tea is the most important thing. I’m really psyched to do it again next year!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Rain in September

Between Hurricane Irene last week and another day-long storm blowing through today, we’ve been getting hit with a lot of rain lately, and it made me think about rain in the context of tea. There’s the obvious angle, of course – it’s nice to have a bowl of hot tea on a wet day. But there are also a lot of seasonal variations on rain. For example, there are gentle showers in the spring, and afternoon thunderstorms in the summer, and in this area there are the tropical storms that blow up the coast starting in August.

Looking through my tea books, I found a great word – nowake. It literally means “field dividing,” meaning a wind that blows through a field and divides the crops. Here, for your wet weather enjoyment, are a couple of poems:

Inoshishi mo

Tomo ni fukaruru

Nowaki kana

Even the wild boars

Are blown away by the autumn storm

Diligence is needed

-- Basho

Oharame ya

Nowaki ni mukau


Female peddlers from Ohara [Kyoto]

Have hitched up their kimonos

To do battle against nowake

-- Sonojo