Friday, April 30, 2010

You Can Go Home Again

It seems unfortunate that the phrase, "You can't go home again," has become so firmly embedded in our collective consciousness. When Thomas Wolfe wrote his novel of the same name, he said at the end, "You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood...back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time - back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."  Yes, the old forms and systems of things are always changing and escaping into time and memory is never a good idea. But, we are also changing and I believe we can always approach our past with fresh eyes, with a new perspective and out of that can emerge an entirely new body of experience that speaks to our new selves. It's not about returning to the past. It's not about getting stuck in the past. It's about moving forward into familiar places with a willingness to see things differently, recognize those places where a new attitude and a new outlook could bring healing and even regeneration. And sometimes, it's just nice to be home, to return to a place that feels right. We cannot buy into ideas that someone else puts forth and let it become our truth. We have a right if not a responsibility to test those notions before we accept them.

Returning to Minnesota feels right. I'm finding that what once seemed like a stultifying atmosphere has expanded. I have grown and thus I see growth all around me. In this little town of around 800 people, there's now a hatha yoga studio on the main street of downtown and a farmers market during the summer. As I open my eyes I'll see more and more. This old world is expanding from a boundless basis and a limitless horizon right here in the middle of Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes. It's a place of growth with a full range of all that nature has to offer. I look forward to seeing what my old but ever new home has in store for me.

That's me on the right, in the striped dress, with Jane, and our brother, Jerry. My kitten handling skills have vastly improved.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Letters from the Sea

My time at the ocean is drawing to a close. This will be my last post from my hermitage by the sea. As with most things in life, it's from a distance that the story will  begin to reveal itself. I'm so grateful for the opportunity I've had to see life from a fresh perspective, to listen to the sea, to stay present to each day and what it offered. Large lessons have been learned and I look forward to seeing what will be revealed to me as I move forward.

When I first arrived in Maine, about six weeks ago, I thought perhaps I would stay, explore my life from this new place. As the weeks unfolded, I knew that would not be the case, that my time here was limited. Last summer, while still living in Santa Fe, I returned home to Minnesota for a visit. Shortly after arriving, I knew, with a deep inner knowing, that I was to return to Minnesota, the land of my childhood. I was to put down roots and make a life there. But, before I could do that, I apparently had unfinished business I needed to attend to. Unfinished business with myself. I needed to gain a greater sense of peace, to discover my center, to learn to put my whole self in my life; riding fences would no longer cut it. It simply wouldn't be allowed. I had to move forward on a sure basis. I cannot imagine having a more perfect place from which to do this.

I'm going to miss falling asleep to the sound of the waves against the shore, and the train, the Downeaster, passing through, just a couple of blocks away. Waking up to the sun glinting off the water, brewing morning coffee, then sitting down to write at the kitchen window that overlooks the ocean. Nothing but sky and ocean for thousands of miles.

It's been wonderful.

But, I've been getting that prompting, that inner knowing, that it's time to return to Minnesota. I'm anxious to get my hands in the earth, to garden, to plant flowers, to find a chunk of land and carve out a life, a more self-reliant life, that speaks to my truest self. Perhaps something akin to my farmhouse in Ansel but smaller, more efficient. A New Ansel. That sounds good. Very good. We shall see what unfolds.

I mentioned to several people, and in my writing have alluded to it, that I felt the presence of my mother here at the ocean. My niece, Tanya, surprised me with a phone call just as I walked onto the beach one day. She said,  "I have always felt that Grandma went to the ocean when she passed."  Mom loved being near the water. She visited the east coast right after high school. There's a photo of her standing alongside a railing on the Atlantic City boardwalk. I have no doubt that I've had her loving support during this odyssey. It did not seem at all odd that Tanya would affirm this for me. She often has very strong intuitive thoughts.

While walking on the beach a couple of weeks ago, I saw two words written in the sand. You might recall my previous post in which I found letters in the sand spelling "Love is Beautiful," just down the beach a ways, and posted a photo of it. This time, I stopped to read, but was too preoccupied to pay full attention. It was not until an hour or so later that I knew I had to go back down and see if the letters were still there. I wanted to photograph them. They were large letters, so I wouldn't miss them. They were there. It took two photos. These were the two words:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mark Twain and The Eagles

Yesterday marked the passing of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. As you probably have heard, he came in on the tail of Haley's Comet, November 30th, 1835, and left seventy five years later, on April 21, 1910, the day after its return. Which is pretty cool, I think. I've been a Mark Twain fan for a very long time and have come to love his often acerbic wit. He had his finger on the pulse of human absurdity and was never afraid to tell it like it was. And is.

Lest we feel our current Congress is failing to show any signs of intelligence, divine or otherwise, perhaps we can find some small solace in knowing that story is not new. Twain has been quoted as saying,  "Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But, I repeat myself."  His feelings towards those who call themselves patriots is equally telling and seems to have stood the test of time: "Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about."  Another one of my favorites, though I probably shouldn't admit it, "The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right."

When I was in college, lo those many years ago, I was fortunate to be able to take an entire class devoted to Mark Twain. I read close to everything he had written and came out of it with a brand new favorite book, Roughing It. It remains to this day among my favorites. I wish I had a copy in front of me so I could quote from it but taken out of context it might lack that flair he had for sarcasm. His description of the waystation the stagecoach stops at as he traveled out west, is, for me, some of the funniest writing ever. Don't know why but it always makes me laugh 'til I cry. There are lines in that book I still like to drop in conversation every chance I get. It doesn't happen often.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, will always remain one of the greatest books ever written.  I read it out loud to Coleman when he was about ten. Yes, he could read very well for himself but it was a nightly ritual, a chapter or two before bed. He recently wanted to buy a copy and re-read it. That certainly did my heart good. I read out loud to both Coleman and Trevor. It started before they were born. I hope parents still read to their children. Not many things finer.

Twain did not shy away from tough subjects nor was he afraid to do battle with the powers that be. He rode in well armed. He knew that humor comes more often out of sorrow than happy times. And he had more than his fair share of sorrow. He said,  "Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand."  I was able to see Hal Holbrook in his one man show on Twain several years ago in Albuquerque. I had wanted to see it for some time. What a treat.

Ken Burns did his usual outstanding job with a PBS show on him several years back and a great book to go with it. It is chock full of interesting images and the accompanying text is very well-written, Mark Twain: an Illustrated Biography. If you're a Twain fan at all I'd suggest getting your hands on this book. I sure hope the film comes around to PBS again.

Twain loved cats. He had many lounging around his home and offered this observation: "If a man could be crossed with a cat, it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat."

From A Tramp Abroad: "You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does -- but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you'll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it's the sickening grammar they use."  

I have a slim volume of the best of his witticisms. I often go there when I need to be reminded that it's important to keep a sense of humor, to find the silliness in the human condition. And silly it can be. Silly and beautiful. At times it seems like we are all just flailing around trying to figure it all out. Well, at least I am. Maybe that's the great gift of the sea for me, to learn how to be still. It might seem rather disparate but I believe everything is connected, so here it is, my real lesson from Mark Twain and perhaps my favorite song by the Eagles, "Learn to Be Still." It has some nice images, and it does show the lyrics, but I suggest, at least once, just close your eyes and listen.

Note on Jan. 9, 2013: There are no longer any videos of this available so I have substituted with the lyrics:

It's just another day in paradise
As you stumble to your bed
You'd give anything to silence
Those voices ringing in your head
You thought you could find happiness
Just over that green hill
You thought you would be satisfied
But you never will-
Learn to be still

We are like sheep without a shepherd
We don't know how to be alone
So we wander 'round this desert
And wind up following the wrong gods home
But the flock cries out for another
And they keep answering that bell
And one more starry-eyed messiah
Meets a violent farewell-
Learn to be still
Learn to be still

Now the flowers in your garden
They don't smell so sweet
Maybe you've forgotten
The heaven lying at your feet

There are so many contradictions
In all these messages we send
(we keep asking)
How do I get out of here
Where do I fit in?
Though the world is torn and shaken
Even if your heart is breakin'
It's waiting for you to awaken
And someday you will-
Learn to be still
Learn to be still

Thank you, JB, for reminding me... 

Monday, April 19, 2010


I been thinkin' about time. There's a wonderful little book called Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman. Each chapter represents a dream that supposedly helped him develop his theory of relativity. It's fiction, of course, but it's a really cool idea. I wish I'd thought of it. I find it a fascinating little compendium of possibility.

For example, one of the chapters deals with a village in which those who live higher up the mountain experience time entirely different than those who live down at the bottom. In another scenario, everyone begins each day again, as though it's the first day, a group amnesia sort of thing. Then, there are those who repeat their lives over and over again with only minor variations. Not-So-Instant Karma meet Groundhog Day. And, there are those who are destined to repeat their lives over and over again with absolutely no variation, not even a gesture. I refer to that as the Vicious Circle. I love this book. And I love looking at time, all the possibilities. For a long while, I've been seeing time as a simultaneous thing; everything is happening now, in this moment, but we are choosing to experience it in a linear fashion. For reasons known only to us. Apparently. I haven't got all the kinks worked out yet, only been workin' on it for about forty years. But, it's sure fun to look at and I like to think it has helped me to better understand human nature, at least my own. Hopefully. 

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about our mutual appreciation for Leonard Cohen and his CD "Ten New Songs." His voice has become so rich and deep. A wonderful group of songs. Anyway, he was trying to remember a particular song from many years ago and I thought it was "Suzanne," by Leonard Cohen. Turns out it wasn't. So he sang a few bars for me, to see if I would recognize it. And I did. It was, "Joanne,"  by Michael Nesmith. He was one of the Monkees, my favorite Monkee, as a matter of fact. The quiet, thoughtful one. When I hear his song on the radio, time stops, I listen.

A couple of days later, I found a youtube video; a musical/photographic tribute to Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, with "Joanne," as the theme song. It's a paen to love itself. Those two lovebirds are pretty much the coolest couple to ever grace this planet. I bought some Joanne Woodward paper dolls at a Five and Dime in a suburb of Minneapolis, way too many years ago. I wanted to be her when I grew up. Alas, that did not work out. Paul, now gone, lovingly referred to her as  "one of the last of the great broads."  She still lives in Westport, Connecticut. This is my favorite photo of them.

I"m not sure what that has to do with time, but it seems to have everything to do with it. I hope you enjoy the video and not just for Paul and Joanne, but for Michael Nesmith, one amazing songwriter and I'm betting a pretty cool guy. His song is beautiful. His voice is thoughtful. I like his energy and I've never even seen him in person. Some people just feel good, even from what seems to be a long distance. Like Paul and Joanne.

Note on Dec 12, 2021: I revisted this post after Michael's passing and found the video of Joanne using the Paul and Joanne images is no longer available, so I've replaced it. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

When you leave the area called Oxford Hills, up north of here, there's a road heading even further north that leads to some pretty wild country. It reminds me a great deal of Canada, at least the parts of Canada I've been to. Pine trees and rocks. Lakes with islands. And roads that appear to be in perpetual need of repair. The kind of place where a person could get lost.

There's something about Maine that causes me to get disoriented easily. It's all that talk about downeast. Which isn't down east at all. It's a maritime term, having to do with water, wind, stuff like that. Down East is heading up. East. I think. I'm pretty good at reading road maps. I said, 'pretty good.' And getting my bearings, direction wise, isn't a problem. But, driving the back roads here is like trying to find my way out of a maze. I usually know where I'm going, I kinda know how to get there, it's the in-between part that can get interesting. I'm learning to relax, though, knowing I will arrive someplace and from there I can take another leap into the unknown.

The other day, I decided to head out and see what the insides of Maine look like. I felt a bit like that youngster, I'm tellin' this story, who heads out to stake a claim in the wilds of the new frontier. Threw a pack across my horse's back, put my foot in the stirrup and into the wild blue yonder I went, armed only with my camera. Okay, it was just a little day trip, in my blue Nissan, but it felt kinda fun, like a mini-adventure. Johnny Horton's "North to Alaska," started running through my mind. Much better than the last song that wouldn't let go. Some maudlin thing by Bread (I believe that may be redundant), about some dern diary:  "I found her diary underneath a tree, and started reading about me..." To make a tiresome story short, turns out it wasn't about him. Anyway, here's something better, with images of the Klondike Gold Rush. Love the movie with John Wayne. Love the song. Here's Johnny Horton:  

First stop was Coos Canyon, a river much like those along Highway 61, on the north shore of Lake Superior; small waterfalls in rocky steps flowing under a rather picturesque bridge. Did I mention rocks? Lots of big rocks. It took me by surprise and was a nice way to begin.

My cell phone went into "searching for service" mode, but I stayed cool and settled into the sense of isolation. It felt good in its own way, the old way. Much of my life has been spent on back roads with nary a communication device in sight. I could do this. I  soon found myself in the middle of nowhere. And have the sign to prove it. Sometimes the sign said, "next three miles," sometimes it said, "next seven miles." You get the idea.

I passed a small lake that was still mostly ice-covered. The blue sky reflected in the ice, and the stillness, the absolute quiet, kept me there for a good while, listening to the "sound of silence." 

Next, "the long and winding road" (don't stop me, I'm apparently on a Golden Oldies bender) took me right to the top of this back country. It's referred to as Height O' Land, in these parts. I got outside and walked over to the edge to take a gander. Not too shabby.

I hung out there for awhile, at the top of the world, before I wound my way back down and into rolling hill country, right up to the old farmhouse I'd been tracking all day. As you know, I brake for old farmhouses. And this was a good one. I pulled over to the side of the road and got out to take a few pictures. Alright, more than a few. I was on a roll. Which would make a good pun in the old days, when we still took pictures with film. Anyway, you might think it looks familiar and you would be right. A photograph of it, a much better version, taken by Murad, was included in my post,  "Murad Sayen and the Gift of Light."  Ever since I saw his photo, I'd been wanting to see this farm in person. It looks like a place I could call home. When I came around the corner and topped the hill, there it was. For me, it's the roofs , the outlines formed by the houses and barns, that draw me to these aging beauties. This roof is especially nice. I've posted a photo at the top. Then, another photo of it below. And then another. And yes, I seem to have a thing for this farmhouse. As I drove away, it called me back to take its picture from the other side.

So, I was pickin' up a little bit of steam, gettin' in the groove, when I came, possibly careening, around a corner and found myself smack dab in the middle of an old mill town. Well, the remnants of it, anyway. It was there I met the coolest old ramshackle building sitting next to the river. It was quietly waiting to have its picture taken. And I happily obliged. I may have gotten carried away. It may have even started to feel like I was invading its space. It's kinda fun to view everything as alive, to feel the life that once existed inside the walls of those earlier days. It was probably a pretty busy place once upon a time. The fading turquoise window and door frames grabbed me first. I'm not sure why I find peeling paint so attractive, but I do. Especially in this color. The play of light created interesting shadows and the mottled paint around the window was, uh, appealing.

As I drove through the day, I saw a variety of social landscapes, shall we say. Have you ever read the novel, The Beans of Egypt, Maine, by Carolyn Chute?  I believe I may have passed their place. I started thinking about poverty and the so-called  "under-privileged."  What an ill-fitting way to describe those who eke out a hardscrabble existence, with no privileges whatsoever. It's a way of life that settles in for some and finding a way out becomes difficult, if not impossible. I don't like to use those words, because I like to think anything is possible. And, I truly believe it is. But then, I've never gotten trapped by life choices, nor by life circumstances. At least, not for long. Some folks do. I had to wander about the person who had inhabited this dwelling. Maine winters can be tough. Definitely a scaled down version of a summer place. But, man, did I love the colors and the car. What a first-class photo opp. Well, it would have been, given the right time of day, the right light, but what the heck, I shot them anyway.

Later in the afternoon, I landed in Farmington, a small, picturesque college town. I've always loved the vibe of college towns, that youthful energy that moves down the sidewalks and fills the halls of academia. It seems like yesterday that I walked out of my house, just off Beltrami Avenue in Bemidji, headed down the sidewalk to the college three blocks away, saying to myself,  'These years will go by fast. Make 'em count.'  That was back in  1972. May I repeat that for anyone younger who might be reading this? These years will go by fast. Make 'em count. And not just the years, but the days out of which they're made.

There was the usual library. Except in this case, it wasn't usual. Someone had the good sense to create new architectural elements to compliment the old. It worked beautifully. I have to show you a few photos to do it justice. Well, as much justice as I can, given the time of day and a pocket camera. I may have gotten a tad carried away. I love libraries. Variations on turquoise seems to be another theme here.

The bell tower of a church is a photographic cliche, but I include it anyway. I love the variety of designs in the wood, a little bit of Queen Anne, a little bit of gingerbread. There's something about how they reach toward the sky that I still find, well, uh, inspiring, that makes me want to stand under them and just look up.

I walked a portion of the main street, ducked into Dunkin' Donuts for a too-late-in-the-afternoon iced coffee and then hit the road again. I had driven a loop through some interesting country and was back on Highway 95, heading for Old Orchard Beach and home. The freeways and turnpikes might take us where we need to go, but it's on those back roads where life is really happening. Another good day behind the wheel.

P.S. The next morning I got down to the beach in time to witness this. So beautiful, it almost broke my heart.

Here are the Beatles:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Feeding My Soul

Yesterday was a town day. Lunch at Whole Foods and a visit to the Museum of Art on Congress Street. Portland is an interesting city with an nice arts district and a lot of history. Many great artists came from Maine or made it their home. The Wyeth family, which now includes three generations of great painters, is the highlight of a trip to the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, up Highway 1 along the coast. I visited it last fall when I was here and had a hard time pulling myself away. "Curtain Call," by Andrew Wyeth, although not showing at the Farnsworth, is a nice example of his work and a favorite of mine. That red coat against the starkness of the interior...

Yesterday, during a visit to the museum in Portland, I was quite taken with a piece by Renoir titled, "Confidences." I love studying certain paintings to see what might have been in the artist's mind as he, or she, made a stroke with their paintbrush, laying down color and line, creating form out of imagination and life experience. I can easily be drawn into the emotions of a piece, the mood, the light, and what it evokes; it invites me to relate to it in a way that feels personal, yet universal. I love the little areas of color that somehow make it come alive for me. The traditional poppies, this time in his female figure's hat, are always a nice touch, but yesterday it was her red shoes that caught my attention and held me there, wanting to investigate every corner, every bit of color he chose. I could have stayed and lived inside that painting for quite awhile. Here is an image, although the shoes do not come through nearly as fetching as they are in person:

After pulling myself away, and before heading home, it was back to the grocery store and a trip through the produce section. It was like an ocean of color, a living, almost breathing, work of art.

A nice day. Food for the body, food for the soul, and a banquet for the eyes.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Getting off the Roller Coaster

Amusement parks were not a mainstay of my life growing up. We had the annual county fair, a much-anticipated event, which arrived in mid-August and lasted four days.  I revisited those days last October while sharing my account of a visit to the Fryeburg Fair here in Maine. But, we rarely had encounters with amusement parks, only once in awhile with the one found on the shores of Lake Bemidji, where we would travel every summer via train to visit our cousins. It had a Paul Bunyan theme, as they seem to in northern Minnesota.

After my return to Maine a few weeks ago, I realized there's a park right down the beach from me, the only oceanfront amusement park in New England. It's closed for the season, but that's what intrigued me. I  was drawn in by the atmosphere it creates which drifts a bit towards the melancholy. Apparently, it's a hoppin' joint in the summertime with over two hundred arcade games and rides for kids of all ages including us grown up ones.  I was particularly smitten by the empty roller coasters. It seemed a fitting metaphor for my time here: getting off the roller coaster of life, especially the emotional aspects of it, and getting grounded.

There's a pier jutting out into the water, with one food shack after another, offering everything from ice cream to the now ubiquitous chicken wings. I was intrigued by the structure and couldn't resist a photo or two. Or three. Possibly several.

When I headed back down the beach towards home, my inclination was to walk closer to the amusement park, keeping an eye out for other photo opps. But, I found myself walking down closer to the water, not consciously choosing to, but moving to where I felt led. Looking down, I saw that the two people who had been sitting there a few minutes earlier had left a message in the sand. I love getting messages from the Universe, especially through people who might not even be aware that they were angels in that moment. It was a variation on a theme I had recently been encountering in a variety of places, things I'd read, songs I'd heard, both on the radio and running through my head. It is probably, no, it is, the singular most important thing to remember as we navigate through life:

 Love is Beautiful, indeed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sunrise at the Ocean

Just before dawn I was lying in bed thinking about how much I love waking up early. I even love getting up early. It was the getting outside early that had become all too infrequent. I had forgotten how much I love it. Until this morning. Lying there, I soon realized there was a big event happening right outside my door and I needed to attend. It's called sunrise. The colors coming through my window caught my attention. Time was of the essence. I scrambled for my clothes and almost ran out the door, down the steps and onto the beach. I got there just in time. Things were happening quickly, as they are wont to do when we're talking light. I started snapping and kept on snapping, stopping only long enough to try to take it all in at the same time. The orange and pink and lavender were creating quite a show.  The sun rose, the colors changed, the light on the water danced in time to the silent music playing overhead. 

Then I saw what was happening at my feet. It was creating a beautiful postlude.


The light on the wet sand and the waves rolling in and receding left quite an impression. It helped me understand more fully why the Impressionists were so smitten by their approach to painting. Life is impressionistic. Pointillists, who found a way to capture a scene, a moment in time, with small dots of color and light, certainly knew this. Neo-impressionist, Georges Seurat, was a master of this method. His painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte," is considered a perfect example.

The light on the water was creating just such a moment. It was all about the water and the light. The necessities of Life.

It was also easy to see this morning why many aboriginal and indigenous tribes, living in the world today, still worship the sun. It's easy to identify it as God, as Source, Ra. I didn't want to turn my back on it to return home. Then, in making the turn towards home, I realized the sunshine was on my shoulder and John Denver's song instantly came to mind. I quietly sang it to myself. Here is a video of John singing it accompanied by some pretty fine images. I especially love the opening scenes, taken from space.

I walked on the beach for a few minutes and then came in to make my morning coffee. Watching the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean is pretty spectacular. I'm so blessed to be present to it. But, the sun rising anywhere, on any day, is something to behold. We forget, we take it for granted. This morning, I'm grateful to be reminded of its beauty and its place in our lives. Source, The Light. Life itself.

Note: I do not have photoshop, only a windows program which allows for some minor adjustments. These photos, however, are exactly as I shot them, no adjustments made. The light was that amazing.