The Middle Way

Zen Spot #227 - Mindfulness, meditation, the kingfisher and the caboose November 20, 2019 00:00

Five natures

Twenty years ago, I wrote half a children’s book. Half. The idea began with a weird vision I had while canoeing. As I was paddling across 40 feet of water, I looked down and saw the top of the roof of a caboose under the boat. Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t cannonball. I was young and brave but, for some reason, after staring down for 30 seconds, I just kept paddling.

The nature of a fish

Perhaps the thing that fascinates me most about fish is a school’s ability to turn instantly — with synchronization. Since first witnessing the phenomenon while watching a Jacques Cousteau documentary as a ten year-old, I wanted to know how they communicated. However, in the age of the internet, when an explanation of the behavior is only ten seconds away, I’ve never chosen to pursue understanding. That which I wanted as child, I no longer want no matter how easy it is to attain.

The nature of a kingfisher

With the ability to splash through the water’s surface to catch fish, the kingfisher has the uncanny ability to climb from the depths and gain flight with a fish wiggling in its beak. Its capacity to erupt back through the surface, into the air, is nothing less than staggering. The rest of the animal kingdom requires a ladder to achieve the same effect and, if not a ladder, the rigorous expectation that gravity’s pull will spring for cement shoes.

The nature of a caboose

The ability to see the entirety of the length of a train while sitting in the cupola, perhaps for a mile, is an even more engaging proposition than watching a school of fish turn instantly in synchronization. Too, the ability to fall asleep next to a roaring potbelly stove, knowing that one will wake up five hundred miles away, is an icon of American folklore. Despite thirty years of movie magic, where a DeLorean motor car can be turned into a time machine, in real life it’s far more likely a caboose will be the first vehicle to break through the space/time continuum.

The nature of an unfinished story

When I began writing the story, I was enamored of the idea of fish finding a home inside the caboose, with no explanation of how it came to rest in forty feet of water. Knowing that the kingfisher couldn’t remain underwater long enough to venture inside the structure to catch fish, I never connected enough dots to have a story. Thinking that an illustration of my vision would help propel a story, I created the artwork above and never returned to the project. A wonderful aspect of visual art is that it doesn’t have to make sense. A drawing or painting can stand alone.

The nature of knowing a story will remain unfinished

In the ensuing years, the story has never drifted far from my mind. In fact, the idea that it exists as a whole, in separate parts, with no beginning, middle or end, offers a paradox worthy of any discussion of Zen. It should be noted, also, that when discussing my canoe adventure with a local resident, I asked about the origin of the caboose. Having intimate knowledge of depths of the lake, he assured me that no caboose exists.

I believe him. 


About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?