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"It is the fairest island eyes have beheld; mountainous and the land seems to touch the sky"

Christopher Columbus, 1494

"The blue mountain is the father of the white cloud. The white cloud is the son of the blue mountain. All day long they depend on each other, without being dependent on each other. The white cloud is always the white cloud. The blue mountain is always the blue mountain."

Zen Master Tozan

Shrouded almost perpetually by mists that give Jamaica’s highest mountains their bluish color, the Blue Mountain range sprawls across the Eastern portion of the island for a length of 28 miles with an average width of about 12 miles. A trek to the Blue Mountain Peak, 7,402 feet high, comprises a strenuous hike for 7 miles with an increase in altitude of 3000 feet and provides stunning vistas of the Caribbean even as far as Cuba. However, the best hiking is to be found in the surrounding mountain areas where there are numerous trails with enough ecological diversity to occupy one's attention for a few hours or for several weeks.

The once forested, lower slopes of the Blue Mountains are mostly grasslands but some areas are used for the cultivation of vegetables, spices and the world renowned Blue Mountain coffee. Birds, especially those that are not forest-dependent, are plentiful and easy to view. The botanical richness becomes dramatically evident when the lower slopes give way to forests. On the northern slopes, forests begin at about 2000 feet but on the southern slopes, economic and population pressures have pushed the forest line to about 3000 - 4500 feet. The Blue Mountain and John Crow Mountain National Park covering 200,000 acres has been established to prevent further degradation of the forest and to protect the island's largest watershed. John Crow National Park being named after what the Jamaican locals call the high thermal-gliding turkey vulture, Cathartes Aura.

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The most pristine montane forest area is found in the Hardwar Gap region where eucalyptus, pine, mahoe and tree ferns are abundant along with many species of ferns, bromeliads and orchids. The north eastern slopes along with the John Crow Mountains in the east comprise Jamaica's last remaining rainforest and is home to Papilo homerus, the world's second largest butterfly. Elfin forests are found on some of the peaks in the Blue Mountain range. This unique forest type is found in small patches and is characterized by the low stature of its canopy due to extreme climatic conditions

Trails in the higher elevations, above three to four thousand feet, are rugged or non-existent and many areas remain uncharted wilderness. It was amongst that rugged, uncharted and mostly trail-less wilderness area that the Wanderling, who had also studied under Yasutani Hakuun Roshi like Sensei Robert Joshin Althouse in the article below, came across the mysterious spritual man of spells called an Obeah, a meeting that came to pass with the Obeah eventually bringing the Wanderling BACK from a Near Death Experience through the ravages of Dengue Fever.

Any visit to the Blue Mountains will be a rewarding experience. It is an opportunity to discover another aspect of Jamaica with its lush beauty, breathtaking views and cooler temperatures year round. After all, it was the mountains that enraptured Columbus who could find no words to describe the island to his Queen and so crumpled a sheet of paper instead.

Tour II - From Kingston into the Hills


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by Sensei Robert Joshin Althouse (see)
(c) 1996

The blue mountain and the white cloud co-arise together, yet they do not depend on each other. Each is full and sufficient unto itself. The white cloud, solitary and alone in the vast blue sky hugs the blue mountain and gracefully rises over it. The mountain does not hinder the cloud. The cloud does not obstruct the mountain. The cloud doesn't look back from where it came. It doesn't worry about where it will go. It moves along leaving no trace. It blesses the mountain with its moisture as the mountain blesses it with it's warmth. Where does the cloud begin and where does it end? The cloud has no skin that separates it from the sky or the mountain. When conditions change, the cloud will disappear and arise again when the conditions are right.

Each of us is this white cloud. We are solitary in a vast blue sky of emptiness. This is our life. Our life is absolute, moment by moment and this is all we have. Like the cloud, we can hug the mountain, but we cannot hold on to it. There is nothing to grasp or cling to. We move along with the wind. There is no need to contemplate impermanence. Arising and disappearing, we are impermanence itself.

When we see our life as the life of a solitary cloud, nothing is missing or left out. Such a life is full and rich as it is. It is alone and sufficient unto itself. It is only when we feel separated and lonely, that we miss something, feel anxiety and fear that something has been taken from us. Then we suffer the life of a hungry ghost and chase after something outside ourselves, always eating but never satisfied, always looking but never finding.

In the same way, our practice doesn't depend on something else, yet we wake up together with everyone. Part of my root teacher, Maezumi Roshi's name was Koun which means, "solitary cloud". My Dharma grandfather, Yasutani Roshi's name was Hakuun which means "white cloud". Now, after his death, I see how this solitary cloud watered the soil to nurture and support the Buddha-Dharma in this country. It wasn't always easy for Maezumi Roshi living in America. He had his difficulties, but he kept on going. The strength of his own vows carried him over the blue mountains. He always told us, "Just keep on going".

There are many distractions that can take you away from this practice. But if you do not lose touch with the inner imperative that calls you to be upright and awake, then you will continue, regardless of the difficulties or obstacles that may be presented to you. You may fear sitting alone in silence and develop resistance to practicing and easily rationalize away the need to sit Zazen. But when you do this you are only cheating yourself. A solitary cloud doesn't exist forever, so it always practices without delay.

If you do not live your life as this solitary cloud, you will simply miss your life. You will be blown by the wind here and there, lost at sea. You will be pushed and pulled by attraction and aversion. If someone complements you, you will feel good, but if they criticize you, you will easily feel offended. Such a life is not free and does not hug the blue mountain intimately.

So please have confidence in your basic sanity and do this practice of Zazen regularly. Maezumi Roshi said, "Put yourself in the house of Buddha". That means be that solitary cloud in the vast empty sky, blessing the land with your moisture, sailing along leaving no trace. In this way you dignify everything you meet and touch. You open all dharmas moment by moment. It doesn't matter how long you live or which mountain you are hugging at the moment. What matters is to be this cloud yourself and have confidence that living your life in this way, you may fully realize blue mountains and white clouds.