Thursday, May 28, 2009
It all started at the firehall in Backus, Minnesota. The town library was in a room in the back. I remember it as tall dusty shelves crammed with books. I couldn't get enough of it. I began with Nancy Drew and read everything I could get my hands on. I was in love. I hated that I was confined to four a week when I could devour a book in a couple of hours. And fully comprehend it. Those were the days.
A couple of weekends ago, at a friends house in Denver, a new acquaintance had the latest techno-gizmo, a small laptop. The subject turned to the Kindle. We had a small "To Kindle or Not to Kindle" debate, of sorts. I love books. In my hands. I don't want to scroll, I want to turn the page. I love the weight, the feel, even the smell of books. It's not that I can't be distracted by shiny things. I can. But, it's back to that written word on paper that I can't live without.
It's been reported that the use of libraries has gone up markedly during these tough economic times. Maybe it's the freebies, maybe it's the longing for a past that may or may not have ever really happened. I think it's the books. They can be comforting. They can enlighten. They can work magic. They can even make you fall in love.
I worked in a small town library once upon a time, fell in love in the same library. He was tall, dark, and very handsome. He came in to read the paper, and when he went into the stacks, so did I. He was looking through the William Goldman section of fiction. I had my opening. I asked him if he liked WG. Turns out we had the same favorite book, "Boys and Girls Together. " He remembered the opening line, "Aaron would not come out." I remembered the closing, "Aaron entered into agony."
Profound change can take place in your life because of books. Have you heard the group, My Morning Jacket? Start with their song, "Librarian," and you'll know what I mean.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Before my move to the Southwest I spent a good deal of time hiking and exploring canyon country around southeastern Utah. I yearned to see more of what I was naturally drawn to geographically if not spiritually. It was partly about hiking and partly about my love of red rock but mostly it was about being entranced by all things Anasazi. This ancient culture called to me almost halfway across a continent and I couldn't get enough of it. I needed to see where they had lived eight hundred plus years ago.
A small town named Bluff became base camp. The greatest hiking in the world - Comb Ridge and Butler Wash among the possibilities - was just outside of town. Hikes were planned around the hope that a ruin would be discovered hidden in an alcove on the canyon wall. I knew all about the Federal Antiquities Act and had no desire to hunt pots but I did want to photograph these incredible dwellings and the artifacts around them, in situ. Every spring yielded sweet surprises.
Cedar Mesa is where the adventure really began. There was Mule Canyon, which gave us what we referred to as Mule Canyon Towers and Mule Canyon Apartments, modern day appellations for ancient dwellings. We'd spend the afternoon absorbing the ambience and imagining their day to day lives. Midden became one of the sweetest words in the English language. We took some great photographs, always followed by a lunch of canned sardines. It was tradition.
The finest hike for me was in Owl Creek Canyon. We didn't know what to expect except a great hike between rock walls and the possibility of astounding discoveries. We didn't have to wait long. Half way down the canyon we turned to check our back trail (always a good idea), and saw part of a ruin in an alcove just above and behind us. There was a granary with the stone slab door still covering it and a couple of other structures that were a photographer's delight. It got better from there. By the time we got to where the going got really fun we realized we were on a grand adventure. I could feel it, knew this was going to be life-altering.
En route we passed three other hikers, something that rarely happened back then. Canyon country had not yet been discovered. They were two guys and a gal on spring break who were just coming out after spending almost a month down in the canyons. She apologized for being a bit "whiffy" and admired my bear claw earrings. After we moved on I kicked myself for not taking them off on the spot and offering them to her in honor of her intrepid spirit.
By the time we reached the pour off I realized I would have to meet my fears and subsume them enough to get down to the pool below and Neville's Arch waiting just around the corner. A long ledge at a slight angle high above our destination was the only route. Going across gave new meaning to sweating bullets. Temporarily sitting on my sorry butt and looking down into the canyon below only exacerbated the effect. I knew I had to stay on my feet where my boots would provide traction in case I lost my footing. JB, my cohort in crime and hiking, was there to provide encouragement as well as the opportunity to save face if I simply couldn't do it. He was a mountain goat. I was not. We kept moving along the ledge, one step at a time and a lot of positive thinking. Failure was not an option.
Eventually we made it down and took a big breather at the bottom. Then, we moved on to Neville's Arch. As I looked at it from a distance, I became fully aware that I would have to retrace my footsteps across that ledge to get out of there. We were day hikers and not prepared for a night in the desert's extreme cold. I said a little prayer. Okay, okay. I said a big prayer. Then we headed back.
It became an interesting lesson in the dynamics of being right versus left handed. This is my posit: going across was very scary because my right hand, the one I use, was exposed with no place to reach for safety. On the return trip, my right hand was up close to the rock wall and thus a greater sense of safety. Anyhoo, I made it back across feeling a great deal less fear, a bit more enlightened, and with a whole lot of gratitude for an experience I'm obviously still talking about. JB dubbed the ledge, Teresa's Traverse, and so it remains in my memory and, as memories go, it's a pretty good one.
The photograph is of me, in one of the canyons we explored.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
"Summer afternoon - Summer afternoon ... the two most beautiful words in the English language." Henry James
They are beauties, that's for sure, but I have many others I could add to that list. Countless. Words communicate ideas. Every single word carries with it that idea. How we talk with friends and how we establish communication via words carries weight, holds meaning. What I love most though is the written word. That's where dictionaries come into play, and I do mean play. I love a spirited but gentle debate over what a word means or how it's pronounced. Nothing like a good dictionary to settle the question.
Early last winter a dear friend and I had just such a debate over the word homage. He, like so many other misguided folks, wanted to use it with this faux French pronunciation that's been making the rounds. There is no such word as "Oh- mazh" (accent on the second syllable). It is homage, accent on the first syllable, with or without the h. Look it up. In a real dictionary. Which brings me to Merriam-Webster.
I like to imagine Merriam-Webster as a 1950's farm wife, sitting at her kitchen table in plaid cotton house dress, apron on, getting ready to fix supper, her full bosom resting on the table. She's writing in longhand, intent on getting just the right nuance to a word that crossed her mind while at the stove, meticulously recording it in notebooks for future generations.
M-W's Collegiate Dictionary has been my dictionary of choice for many years. It doesn't mean I don't like others, but I love M-W, the current one being the Eleventh Edition. My favorite, though, is Webster's Seventh New Collegiate, published by M-W. It's not just any dictionary. It once belonged to the Cripple Creek-Victor High School in Colorado. My ex was the janitor there in the early-to-mid '70's and when the school was razed for a new one some of the books, including this dictionary, ended up in the discarded pile. It still has the CCVHS Library stamp on the title page and glued in the back is the card holder, with card, for checking out Copy 17. He carried this beauty with him for many years accumulating notes and lists and various bookmarks inside as he went along. I coveted it. I mean Biblical covetousness.
Imagine my surprise when it arrived in the mail in April of last year as a birthday present from him. It came complete with his notes, lists, bookmarks and sundry other items that carry with them the kindness of memory. There was the sales slip from the t-shirt shop in Moab, Utah where we bought shirts for his sons on a vacation back in '92, and the pressed paper from a pack of cigarettes he bought on one of our trips into Mexico. His lists contained such items as "Barn Bluff, Red Wing - pix" and "St. Parks of the N. Shore." Words to look up included panegyrist, seigneurial, and the ever popular salacious. He knew what it meant. He just wanted to be sure. Life goes on and he lives in Moab now. I'm glad we're still friends.
Dictionary.com? Not for me. I want to go to a real one and experience life as it's meant to be experienced, in real time with real objects, objects that carry with them not the weight of memory, but the kindness.
Monday, May 4, 2009
I've been in love with the talking pictures for as long as I can remember. It all started with the ubiquitous, "Snow White", which scared the hell out of me, stepmothers talking in mirrors and all. Then, "Last Train From Gun Hill," "River of No Return," "Friendly Persuasion," and this thing called, "Something of Value". This was long before ratings came into being and parents had a little guidance to help them in their decision-making. "Little Women," came 'round again about the time I thought I'd make my mark as a great actress. I practiced crying on cue with good results. It's a talent that came in handy in a large family. My siblings often used it to their advantage. If there was a movie we all wanted to see - this particular memory contains, "The Nutty Professor," with Jerry Lewis - I was sent. When I returned and the answer was no they asked, "Did you cry?" If I hadn't they said,"Well, go back and cry!" We didn't care what was on the marquee, we just knew there was a movie at the Marlowe and we were going.
One of the reasons I love Santa Fe is the wonderful, diverse options for movie-going. I'm particularly fond of The Screen. it consistently shows great independent and foreign films along with some outstanding documentaries. Those who go there understand what movie-going is, or should be, all about. Great respect is shown to the filmmakers and the film itself with quiet watching, the lights staying down for the entire credits and everyone allowing themselves a chance to let the film soak into their being. The best films leave you with a feeling that you're caught between two worlds - the so-called real world and, well, the reel world. I love that surreal feeling when I leave the theater and still feel engaged in the world I just left.
I rarely walk out of a movie. I don't want to disrupt other people's viewing and I don't want to make a statement that in turn makes others uncomfortable ... unless there's more at stake. In the case of, "The Informers," I had to make an exception. It's based on a Bret Easton Ellis story so I really was forewarned in a way, but the group of actors participating drew me into it. I am not a prude so the sexuality wasn't a problem and I've seen plenty of violence that didn't make me run from the theater. But this group of characters consisted of stupid, if not bad people, doing stupid, bad things. They hurt each other, hurt themselves on every level and they just kept on making really bad choices. It may have been the eighties, the Me Decade, but that's no excuse. Bad behavior or bad choices just doesn't cut it anymore and I don't want to see it on the screen in some glorified fashion. I tried to wait for some redeeming value to show up, lasting almost an hour, and then I just couldn't waste another minute of my life. The scene of the so-called rock star and the poor naive girl from Lincoln, Nebraska forced me out of my seat and out of the theater. It was very liberating, in every sense. Way yucky! I felt like the goose who is force-fed to create foie gras. Watch at your own peril.