Saturday, April 30, 2011

At the Close of April

It's been raining for several hours, just a light rain, but it seems to be greening up out there as I watch. The leaves on the lilac bushes are finally emerging, and several trees are showing promise. I am looking forward to a bouquet of lilacs on my kitchen table.

When I moved back to Minnesota, I gave away a collection of old green vases, you probably know the ones, in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs. I briefly wondered if it had been the right decision when I saw all the flower beds here, but the day I arrived, I found that inside a cupboard, a green vase had been left behind. It was exactly like one of those I had given away the summer before. It will do just fine.

And so, it is the end of National Poetry Month, though I will continue to read one each day as I have been doing for some time. I often find they take the form of a prayer, a way to begin or end a day.

Last week, I was visiting with a friend who happened to mention one of her recent discoveries, a new poem that she enjoyed very much, simply titled, "Socks."  It was by Pablo Neruda. He is a Chilean poet, now passed on, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. I had occasionally read a poem by him over the years, but none seemed to really grab me and so I moved on. After she mentioned him, I decided to find the poem she was referring to and give him another listen. When I read poetry, I feel as though I am listening to the poet, really hearing them speak the words they've written. It brings the poem to life for me. While I was reading, I came across another of his poems that I liked very much. Several lines stood out, leaving me with a feeling of wholeness, like a complete idea had been set forth. I decided to share it in honor of the closing of April.

"Keeping Quiet'

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let's not speak any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn't be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren't unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,

if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I'll go.

~ Pablo Neruda

Andrew Wyeth   "Distant Thunder"

Friday, April 29, 2011

Empires in Decline

The phone rings at 10:15 P.M. and it's Michael calling from Santa Fe. He has just left the cinema and knowing I love the talking pictures wants to tell me about the movie he has just seen. He thought I'd like it, too. He has obviously gotten into the movie as he is still carrying the accent that went with it. I claw my way into consciousness (having gone to bed a short while earlier and fallen into a deep sleep) while he proceeds to share, with a heavy accent (Finnish, I believe) the spell the movie had on him. I start giggling because that's what I do when I'm woken up in the middle of the night, which could be any time after I've fallen asleep as far as my brain is concerned. He riffs, I giggle, and that's how it goes. It's sorta like what I imagine talking to Jack Kerouac in the middle of the night would be like minus the alcohol: stream of consciousness on serious and not-so-serious subjects riddled with humorous takes on everything from the economic state of the country to the royal wedding.

These are the opinions that were formed during our exchange:

1. Cate Blanchett is a great actress and beautiful, too.
2. Living in a warehouse in Santa Fe is not the same as living in a warehouse in New York City, thus his procrastination in looking at a possible home/art studio in a warehouse on Agua Fria Street. Decision: don't live anywhere on Agua Fria.
3. America is an empire in decline.
4. Kate Middleton will probably not be wearing an empire waisted gown. Note: Michael is the only man I know who knows that it's not pronounced em-pire, but ahm-peer and he is definitely not gay.
5. Puppies are a handful, but we love them to bits. Michael and one of his wives once owned four Mastiffs. That's right. One of his wives. Four Mastiffs.

Not much else made sense, but it was fun anyway. The riffing and the giggling went on for about forty-five minutes and then it was, "Big hug," and, "Good night."

You know what I love about this?  I have a friend who knows how much I love movies and will always love talking about them, who knows he can call anytime (even waking me up) and it will be okay, who knows I understand how nice it is to have someone with whom we can share our enthusiasm over something, anything, and all from 1500 miles away.

The movie he had just watched?  "Hanna," with Cate, Saoirse Ronan, and Eric Bana, (in the middle of the night I said he was in the movie Zurich, which really was "Munich," and that's how that went). So, here's a link for the trailer. You might want to check it out. It's a spy thriller. It sounded and looks really good, I think.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Farm Across the River

Snow is falling ever so softly, and I have to say it's a vast improvement over days where nothing is happening except steel gray skies and their ongoing threat. I prefer snow, but even more, I prefer thunderstorms. I'm already looking forward to summer clouds full of the promise of thunder and lightning and a downpour that turns everything a brighter shade of green.

I'm also looking forward to the promise contained in a letter I received this morning. My neighbors across the bridge have forwarded their plan to our county commissioners for a u-pick farm: vegetables, berries and flowers. I spoke about this last summer in my post,  "Community: A River Flows Through It."  We stood on the bridge that spans the river running alongside both of our properties and he talked to me then of the changes coming, that they were planning to embark on this new phase of farming. And I couldn't be happier about it. I will be able to walk to get my groceries. I wrote an email to the county commissioner listed on the letter to express my support and gratitude for their new adventure in farming. It will be a great asset to our little community. I'm certain it will pass with flying colors.

I had already made the decision to concentrate more on my flowers this year, getting them well-cared for, providing ground cover to help allay the endless weeding and to plant only a very small amount of vegetables. Once I get the flowers in a good place and feel that I have them not just under control, but where I can enjoy them more and fret over them less, then I will move into more vegetable gardening. This letter affirms my decision. I will frequent their farm, go there to get my berries and veggies, along with the farmer's market in town, and support their efforts until I expand my own.

In the meantime, Buddy has been out rolling in the snow, rubbing his face against it and living with that joyful abandon dogs seem to have in abundance. I do believe he's going to be my greatest teacher.

Winslow Homer  "Fresh Eggs"

Monday, April 25, 2011

Marwencol: Weird and Wonderful

Every once in a while, something weird comes along (weird in a good way), that really makes me sit up and take notice.  "Marwencol" is one of those things. It's the name given to a WWII Belgian village inhabited by Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes, the brain-child of one Mark Hogencamp, who suffered brain damage from the severe beating he got in a bar fight back in the year 2000. He couldn't afford ongoing care or therapy, so he decided to find his own way through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by creating this village.

It all seems very intriguing, yet somehow disturbing. It's odd to see someone's psyche so raw and exposed. The images draw me in, making me feel almost voyeuristic, despite having been invited to watch through the photographs he took of his various vignettes. It undoubtedly provided an opportunity for him to look at his life from another perspective. Quite literally.

To be allowed to see inside the mind of someone who has created another world for themselves - the characters they've chosen, the scenes they've depicted, all providing pieces to the puzzle that is one human beings life - is pretty generous. It's amazing, what the human spirit will do, and where it will go, in order to find the healing it needs.

A film by Jeff Malmberg that tells his story, is showing on Independent Lens this week. You might want to check out the PBS website that includes the town (be sure to click on that - very cool), the characters (ditto), and background information on Mark Hogencamp, also very interesting.

Marwencol | Documentary about Mark Hogancamp | Independent Lens | PBS

Hey, it's his village, his dolls, and his therapy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Shoulders Mantled with the Light


I was walking in a dark valley
And above me the tops of the hills
had caught the morning light.
I heard the light singing as it went out
among the grassblades and the leaves.
I waded upward through the shadow
until my head emerged,
my shoulders were mantled with the light,
and my whole body came up
out of the darkness, and stood
on the new shore of the day.
Where I had come was home,
for my own house stood white
where the dark river wore the earth.
The sheen of bounty was on the grass,
and the spring of the year had come.

~ Wendell Berry

Photo: Easter morning, the late 1950's. I'm in my Easter dress, white with yellow flowers and green leaves, and shoes. Next to me are two of my sisters, Christy and Jane.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Equator in My Heart

Back when Borders was sort of my home away from home, I would go there often just to see what jumped out from the stacks. Sometimes I would hear a book call to me and I would reach up and pull it down without question, knowing it would introduce something that would intrigue me, illuminate an idea, or provide food for thought. Such was my introduction to Hafiz.

While roaming around my bookshelves yesterday, I opened to this poem and wanted to share it. The line with the words "water-mark" reminded me of the beautiful collection of music by Enya of the same title. When it first arrived on the scene I was living at my farmhouse in Ansel. The moon over the fields would fall inside those long windows lulling me to sleep with,  "Storms in Africa,"  and  "Miss Clare Remembers."  I listened to it again last night and felt that same sense of peace. The world is a mysterious and beautiful place.

Here is Hafiz:

"All the Hemispheres"

Leave the familiar for awhile.
Let your senses and body stretch out

Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.

Open up to the Roof.
Make a water-mark on your excitement
And love.

Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
And giving
Upon our intimate assembly.

Change rooms in your mind for a day.

All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.

Greet yourself
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
Back home.

All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire

While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of

~ Hafiz

Translation by Daniel Ladinsky

Watercolor:  "On the Hill"  by Winslow Homer

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pelicans on the River

Yesterday afternoon, while I was visiting on the phone with my friend, Anne, who lives in Carson, New Mexico, my neighbor knocked on the door to say I might want to grab my camera and head for the river, pelicans were resting there. I bought this place last year after spring was turning into summer so I missed some of the regular spring occurrences. Apparently, this is one of them.

I put Buddy in his crate and told Anne I'd have to get back to her. Mother Nature had brought some visitors.

As I was heading to the river, another neighbor from down the road stopped and said he'd seen a large group of them where the river meets Whitefish Lake. He estimated at least five hundred altogether with about two hundred and fifty of them right here on my elbow of the river.

I took the steps leading down slowly and quietly, not wanting to disturb them. I wasn't prepared for what I saw:  beautiful white pelicans lining the banks with many more resting on the small island where the river makes the turn. Though I tried to be quiet, a few took flight and flew upriver before circling back and landing again near the island. It was quite a sight.

Maybe spring really is arriving after all.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Comfort of Low Light

There's something I find comforting about low light. Perhaps it's that back to the cave feeling that makes me want to settle in for the evening. The other night, while doing just that, I looked over at the corner where the lamp next to my bookcase casts a soft glow. Maybe it was the books themselves, or the pottery, or the doo-dads that I've accumulated over the years, now at home on my shelves, that made me feel cozy inside and out, but it seemed they were calling to me. I sometimes place things on a shelf and then become so used to their presence that I walk by them daily without a glance. I needed to take a closer look again.

I admit to being tired of dusting, even though I can't say I do a lot of it. I've put several things away to make it easier, but also to allow for a deeper appreciation of the things I've accumulated over the years, stuff too valuable in memory to dispose of. Rotating seems like a good solution. I need to take the time to really see those things I do have out, otherwise it's just stuff. I'm sure you've seen George Carlin's routine on "stuff."  Anyway, as long as I can see past the dust I'm good.

A few things that made the cut: a rock of unknown geology, possibly volcanic, that my dad, Duane, brought back from Alaska and a photo of him in Kotzebue, back in 1973, a salmon fishing village then, perhaps still. Alongside these are mini-binoculars that once belonged to him. The binoculars original strap disappeared many years ago to be replaced by him, perhaps in the field, with a brown shoe string. It isn't going anywhere, it's part of the memory.

There's a photo of my mother on a fishing trip to Canada, holding up a big northern. I love that photo because it so clearly shows an important aspect of who she was, outdoorsy and adventurous when she had the time. Next to it is a small photo of my older son, Trevor, and me, on a trip that included a stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. We were en route west, on a camping trip, with a stop in the Black Hills before heading out to Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It was the mid-1970's and I had just graduated from college and was ready to hit the road.

Three of my favorite books sit next to these things. There's a copy of  The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Hamilton. That is one great adventure story. It kept me enthralled one winter, just after we turned the corner into a new millennium. Two winter's later, I was living in Santa Fe and one of my first evenings out exploring the cinematic possibilities was to see the documentary based on that book. Angelheaded Hipster, by Steve Turner sits next to it. It's chock full of photos and pages of Jack Kerouac's letters, rough drafts of his writing, stuff my dreams are made of. Then, Cowboys and Cave Dwellers: Basketmaker Archaeology in Utah's Grand Gulch, by Fred M. Blackburn and Ray A. Williamson. It's what is known as, "an indispensable guide."  I've studied it more than once to determine place and time while hiking in that area.

All of this makes for some pretty fine companionship most evenings: soft light, good books, warm memories, and on recent nights, one sweet little golden retriever named Buddy. Right now, he prefers chewing to reading, but perhaps one day he'll come around.

On the back of the photo of my dad, my mom wrote: Village of Kotzebue, Alaska. 1973. Duane flew out of here to hunt Dahl sheep in the Brooks Range.

The photo of my mom is from about the same time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Head Over Heels

Now I've gone and done it. Fallen in love. Hard. I knew it was just a matter of time. It's been awhile. He's a bit younger than me, but that's okay. It doesn't mean my love for Winslow has changed, or Jack Kerouac, or Wilfred Owen, or any of those fabulous gentlemen that have so long been a part of my life, but life must go on. That's what it does. Some love remains unrequited.

I haven't slept with him yet, cause I'm not that kinda girl. Maybe down the line, but for now he's been settling for sleeping near me. Like on the floor near my bed. As close as he can get without actually being In the bed. It was love at first sight.

His name is Buddy.

He's a golden retriever. Eight weeks old. He could well be the love of my life. I really thought someone else who shall remain nameless would always fill that bill, but time changes everything. He is sleeping in a shaft of sunlight at my feet as I write this. I think he loves me, too.

You know how something happens in your life and then you start seeing affirmations of its value in the world around you? This Sunday morning, the morning after I picked Buddy up and brought him home, I turned on the CBS Sunday Morning show and the entire show was on our love of animals. It included a segment on Dean Koontz, the mystery writer, who, after a lifetime of not really getting the whole dog = god thing, fell in love with a golden retriever that, in his own words, changed his life forever. He suddenly saw this dog, Trixie, as an angel. Truly. Trixie is gone now. She died of cancer and he has written a book about his experiences with her and the impact she had on his life. The book is titled, A Big Little Life.

He has since found another golden retriever to fill his life with the kind of happiness these wonderful beings bring, but it was Trixie that changed it. I kind of feel that way about Buddy, too.

I named him Buddy when I found myself thinking of him as such all the way down to St. Cloud, where I met him. And he is definitely my buddy. I met his mom and dad, too, and they are two really fine dogs. He comes from a good family. I kneeled down in front of Dad and explained to him that I would love Buddy all my life and take really good care of him. Duke, the dad, actually put up his paw for me to shake. It was awesome.

Casey, Mom, followed us to the car, almost trying to get in with us, so I stopped, kneeled down again and had a similar visit with her, telling her I would love and take care of him always. She settled down, sat back and smiled at me, while I put Buddy in the car. I'm so glad I got to meet them.

So, Buddy and I are just hanging out, getting to know each other, doing a little yard work, playing with squeaky toys and a washcloth he likes to drag around, prancing as he goes. He actually scratches at the door already when he needs to go out and do his toilette. In the vernacular of the peasantry that's pooping and peeing. Almost every time.

He likes those little carrots for snacks, organic, of course. He likes to help in the kitchen and keeps me company there. A prerequisite for me in any relationship. And he doesn't bark unless he's very happy and having a lot of fun and then just a bit. He doesn't whine unless I haven't noticed his signals about going outside. He's one cool dog.

It's good to be in love again.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rowing for Your Life

"West Wind #2"

You are young. So you know everything. You leap into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me. Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me. Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and your heart, and heart's little intelligence, and listen to me:

There is life without love. It is not worth a bent penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight, the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the sharp rocks - when you hear that unmistakable pounding - when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls plunging and steaming - then row, row for your life toward it.

~ Mary Oliver

Painting: Winslow Homer, "Rowing at Prouts Neck"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Witnessing the World

While looking at several paintings by Winslow Homer the other day, I found that, as usual, I am more drawn to his quiet scenes of plain folk going about their lives, whether it's a young woman carrying a pail of fresh milk, a lobster fisherman in Maine, a shepherdess resting with her flock, or the girl with a hay rake, there in my side bar, with those small brush strokes of blue shining in the sunlight.

But while I was moving through them, one titled, "Houses of Parliament," called me back for another look. I found myself very drawn to this painting. Its simplicity and its ethereal quality were enticing. But there was something else. The men in the boat pulling their oars made me pause and then spend some time there. I had this vague feeling that I couldn't articulate even to myself. What was it about that boat on the Thames, those men at their oars, that made me sit there just watching them?  Were they ferryman in a race against time and the turning of the tide?  Or was it something else, something more?

The qualities you see and experience in a painting may be quite different than mine. You may not be struck by the same thought or feeling. Whatever nameless feeling I had while viewing this painting, whatever well from which I drew this response, in that moment it was as though everything depended on the men in that boat. Everything. Life itself was counting on them. Perhaps even some great good could come from simply watching them, witnessing their efforts to keep the world spinning on its axis.

Winslow Homer   "Houses of Parliament"

Remember to click on and enlarge the image.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I'm a Winslow Homer Groupie

I've got it bad. And that ain't good. A while back I said if Winslow Homer were alive today, I fear I'd be a groupie. I think I meant it. My God, that man could paint.

I've spent the last hour lost in cyberspace, pouring over images of his paintings on a new website I found just this afternoon. I thought I'd died and went to heaven. They are everything good about American painting. I may be prejudiced, but I know what moves me and his stuff moves me like no other.

I'm going to be posting a singular painting from time to time, much like I do on my sidebar. They will be chosen simply by what strikes me in that moment, that day. Like visual poems. Some poems are written and some are painted. It is, after all, National Poetry Month.

I should probably tell you, they might continue after April.

Up to now, you've been very patient regarding my obsession and I appreciate it very much. Please do me the kindness of pretending I'm not an addict and that no intervention will be necessary.

"Girl Seated"

Remember to click on the image and view it larger, she said, rather obsessively.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What's It All About, Alfie?

For the last couple of days, I've been going through a bit of, "What's it all about, Alfie?" Every answer I've received, whether from my own inner listening or through the thoughts of friends when I posed the question to them, came back to this: all that matters is Now, and the value we ourselves ascribe to it.

Last evening, I was reading Rob Brezny, a metaphysical writer, and he posed a similar question with some additional things to think about. He said,  "A thousand years from now, everyone you know will be long dead and forgotten. There will be nothing left of the life you love, no evidence that you ever walked this planet."   Now, that's not necessarily a grim scenario, just one without higher meaning, and I have long been someone who ascribes higher meaning to, well, pretty much everything. And I'm not counting it out. I just want to be certain I'm being very present to my life as a human being on planet Earth now. What happens later, in any supposed afterlife, is of little consequence compared to how I'm living my life right here and now.

I look at awakening, resurrection, reincarnation, alternate realities in parallel universes, other lives I may be living in those universes, simultaneous time (which happens to be a favorite and feels right) and all things in between and on either side of that. It's all very fascinating and much of it rings true as I look at the possibilities. That's what I do. I look at everything in this field of possibilities. So much so that I've often told people, 'It's the air I breathe.'  But, what about the air that seems to be here and now, in this Universe as I know it?  How am I doing with that?

In going back to the original question, I am reminded of the title of a John Mellencamp album from several years ago, the title of which was, "Nothing Matters and What if it Did."  It's another twist on the "What's it All About, Alfie," question from the movie of that title, and the crux of my current introspection.

Anyway, Brezny went on to say, "Suppose the truth is very different. What if in fact every little thing you do subtly alters the course of world history?  What if your day-to-day decisions will actually help determine how the human species navigates its way through the epic turning point we're living through? And finally, what if you will be alive in a thousand years and reincarnated into a fresh body and in possession of the memory of the person you were back in this era?"

He adds,  "Live as if your soul is eternal."

And I agree. It really doesn't matter if you accept reincarnation or not, or any of the other theories that are out there being examined and reexamined. At the very least, we should still be living as though what we do matters. If to no one else, now or down the line, than to ourselves. It feels like a win-win to me.

Kindness. Love. It seems pretty simple.

But, good can come in many forms, be lived in many ways. I'm not talking about being a do-gooder, self-described or otherwise. I'm not talking about what we do to "earn a living."  I'm not talking about how we serve the greater good through community work (I have my own views on this and other forms of altruism), and I'm not talking about what others perceive to be good. As much as I strive to live an honest and ethical life, I'm not a believer that someone holds the rulebook and we must toe some imaginary line. Human culture, as developed down through the ages by an aristocratic, patriarchal, intolerant religiosity is not my thing. What's most important, maybe all that matters, it seems to me, is how we live our individual lives when no one's looking.

And even that can get tricky.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Springtime in the Rockies

Springtime in the '90's meant a trip out west, driving through the Rocky Mountains to Utah to explore the canyons and photograph Anasazi ruins. We usually spent the equinox under the moonlight somewhere on Cedar Mesa. Oftentimes, we would camp out of the back of my little red hatchback. We spent more than one night at the edge of a canyon, eager for the morning hike down to the bottom where petroglyphs, pictographs, and ruins awaited.

One evening in early April, en route home, we headed out of Durango, Colorado, just as the sun was setting. We were hoping to find a place to camp for the night somewhere outside of town. A few miles down the road, darkness had fallen and finding a spot became somewhat problematical. It's not much fun to arrive in the dark. It's good to get the lay of the land before decisions are made, but that night we did not have that luxury. We decided to turn down a forest road that skirted a section of the Piedra River. We drove down it a ways and found a spot where we could at least park the car and get some sleep. It was dark enough that seeing our surroundings clearly wasn't possible. It felt isolated, with just a tinge of spooky.

We settled in for the night in the back of that hatchback.

About two in the morning, I had to go to the bathroom, the bathroom being whatever patch of ground struck your fancy, preferably a short distance away from the car. When I got out of the car, I could hear the river flowing beyond the ponderosa pines in silhouette all around us. The cool light of the stars peeking through the trees looked so close, as though I could reach out and touch them with my fingertips. I could sense the cold rock walls of mountains just beyond. It felt like wilderness. I spent a few minutes taking it all in, then climbed back in the car and fell asleep.

At first light, I woke up and looked around to get a better sense of where we had spent the night. I crawled out of the warm sleeping bag into the crisp mountain air. It was as beautiful as the glimpse I'd had during the night: the pine trees, the river, the Rocky Mountains just beyond, all to ourselves. It felt good to be guided, in some fashion, to this beautiful surprise.

John Muir wrote about his encounter with the mountains and his first summer in the Sierra with words that remind me of my own memories:

How deep our sleep last night in the mountain's heart, beneath the trees and stars, hushed by solemn-sounding waterfalls and many small soothing voices in sweet accord whispering peace.

And our first pure mountain day, warm, calm, cloudless, -- how immeasurable it seems, how serenely wild!  I can scarcely remember its beginning. Along the river, over the hills, in the ground, in the sky, spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm, new life, new beauty, unfolding, unrolling in glorious exuberant extravagance, -- new birds in their nests, new winged creatures in the air, and new leaves, new flowers, spreading, shining, rejoicing everywhere. 

Springtime in the canyons, springtime in the Rockies, springtime here in Minnesota:  "Rejoicing everywhere."

Photo from my first trip to Cedar Mesa, in southern Utah, at the edge of Owl Canyon, dated April 2, 1992.