Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Poem for the Last Sunday in February


Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war,
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

~ Sheenagh Pugh

Sheenagh Pugh is a poet from Cardiff, Wales.

Winslow Homer  "Weary"

Saturday, February 26, 2011

To Wildlife and Breaking Bread

When I finally settled into a place of calmed thought yesterday, things really started happening. Good things. That's how it works. I felt like all of nature came out to play. Well, 'all' might be a bit of hyperbole, but it felt that way at the time. I know some of you, maybe all, might be thinking, Will she never stop blathering about that wildlife?  Apparently the answer is no. It makes me happy.

I was wondering if the deer would show up again. After all, the turkeys had been around off and on all day, wandering between here and the neighbors (those fickle birds), and I was hoping the deer would bed down again in the yard. It feels good to fall asleep with animals right outside the door. Shortly after, four wandered in and stood around under that same big Norway. It's as though that tree has magical powers. There are others on the property, some only a few feet away, but that one seems to hold the key.

While I watched, five more wandered in and they all congregated around that tree!  Nine! Here's the photo, taken inside of course, after I came to my senses and decided to capture it on, uh, film (digital just does not have the same ring to it).

I watched the goings-on for a few minutes, some of them watched me back. I noticed something in the pines had caught their attention. They stood looking in that direction. Then one of them headed into the pines to either get a closer look or flush out whatever it was they saw. I assumed it was the turkeys who had just been through a short while earlier. Yet another fine lesson on not assuming anything.

While I watched, an animal moved through the pines and then out into the open, right behind the deer, heading for the old chicken coop. It was a large red fox!  Beautiful!  I hadn't seen it since last summer. I was torn in that moment between just watching and capturing it on camera. Well, I tried to do both and all I got in my camera was an orange-red blur. Now, I'm hoping it's a her and there will be kits in the spring. Good thing it's not an active chicken coop. I'd have a lot of fixing up of the coop to do.

I cannot imagine my life without wildlife. Besides the usual sightings as a child growing up in the country, my parents built what was then referred to as a wild animal park, back in the early '60's. They built it from the ground up, bought deer from other parks to roam freely so people could walk around the park and even hand feed them. There were pens with several other animals, as well. Bear, fox, buffalo (which will have their own post someday), and such. It gave people a chance to see these animals close up. Now, please keep in mind, this was a less-than-enlightened time and my parents were not the first or the only to think this was a good idea. It was, shall I say, a going concern. They named it Deer Valley.

It was a lot of work. Here's a photo, taken when I was eleven. Note the brush pile behind me.  Yeah. That's my mom, piling brush while we take a break. As long a break as we could get away with. My older sister, Christy, is on the right.

Meanwhile, back at Lonewolf, some of the deer wandered into the woods for the night and some decided to make camp under the tree just outside my window. As darkness fell, they bedded down.

I woke up a few times during the night, hoping they were still there. At first light, I looked outside my bedroom window. They'd already broke camp. Then I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and there was one looking back at me, just a few feet away. I looked, he looked, and then I laid back down and dozed off again for awhile. Six o'clock and all was well.

P.S. Tonight, the neighbors are coming over for some homemade vegetable soup, my first batch in the slow-cooker Coleman and Britta gave me for Christmas (photo at the top). I hadn't had a chance to use it yet, as I'd high-tailed it out of here right after the new year, heading for the Southwest. I threw in all the root vegetables I could think of : parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, potatoes, carrots and onions, along with some butter, chicken stock and a little S&P. It turned out pretty yummy, if I do say so myself. They're bringing the bread. It's nice, breaking bread with the neighbors. We share a love of wildlife and simple living.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Listening to Black Elk

This morning, I find myself still wrestling with the world. Every moment there's a choice to be made.

I need to get better at this.

When I pulled back the drapes to let in the first light, I noticed a slight movement under one of the large Norway pines in the back yard. Two deer were bedded down under it. Their ears twitched as they became alert, but as I settled in so did they. When I looked up a while later they had moved on.

Yesterday, in an attempt to move beyond the rising anger I was feeling I re-read several things attributed to Black Elk, the great Lakota Sioux who, through visions that came to him as a child, helped build an awareness around Native American spirituality. His story is both sad and uplifting. It is reported that at the age of 12 he fought at the Little Big Horn and later was injured at Wounded Knee. He said of that time:

I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.

A beautiful dream, indeed.

Rather than stay with that thought I'd like to dwell on those things he shared that can bring healing. Perhaps a dream can be reborn. His words remind me of the value of staying in the light, choosing it as often as necessary until we realize it is our very nature.

Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round ... The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours ... even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.

The first peace, which is most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit and that its center is really everywhere, it is in each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this.

So I will keep practicing moment by moment, day by day - choosing peace, seeing beauty. Perhaps there is no more important work on this planet.

All over the sky a sacred voice is calling your name.

Black Elk ...

My name ...

Your name ...

All italicized quotes are from Black Elk.

Photos are from google:
Black Elk
The eyes of a Daddy Long Legs
The Sombrero Galaxy

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spartacus, Wordsworth, and Young

When I was a kid, the movie Spartacus appealed to me for reasons I've never looked into, it just did. I can recall feeling a sense of hopefulness in the heroic destiny of Kirk Douglas' portrayal and the equally hopeless feeling of fighting against the powers that be. So when I woke up this morning, with mild annoyance slowly burning and turning into anger, I thought of him. I was angry at the state of the Union, at the more-than-dismal scenario that continues to unfold in our country and around the world. Righteous rebellions and peaceful revolution notwithstanding, there's a lot of, well, I'll use the word tomfoolery, going on all around us. I am reluctant to go there, as the last time I decided to write about politics ("Pollyanna, Meet Private Benjamin") an anonymous commenter suggested, among other things, I might be happier living in another country, Cuba. Naaah. I like this one. One of the things I like about it is being able to speak my mind.

Anyhoo, against my better judgment, I decided to write about my feelings, how we all seem to be at the mercy of the media, how everything we hear or read is white-washed, heavy on the white (sorry, but I've also been reading Black Elk and that has not improved my mood at all), how great the divide is and becoming greater. Opening lines of Wordsworth's poem, "The World is Too Much With Us," paid a visit, along with an assortment of other historical figures and bits. Spartacus and his little slave revolt of the early 70's. BC. Anyone remember the Appian Way?  How about the Balkans, WWII, when village lamp posts came in handy for those sent in to quash any thoughts of further rebellion. Perhaps something only a little more current might ring a bell, like Kent State. Neil Young's song, "Ohio," ("four dead in Ohio"), began looping in my agitated head. Nobody cooler than Neil.

I tell myself I have no reason to complain. I'm not hauling Grandma, along with everything I own, over the Albanian Alps in a handcart. My life is pretty darn good. But, for millions of Americans it is not. I get angry when I hear the media suggesting that those who remain unemployed and whose benefits are long gone, might consider living with relatives in order to get through these hard times. I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like a pleasant alternative to me. Not at all. And that's all I'll say about that.

Our Little Band of Nitwits in D.C., who are fiddling while Rome burns, need to know: the villagers are not going to stay complacent forever. The lanterns and pitchforks aren't out yet, but if Wisconsin is any bell weather, the tide may be turning. I know, I know, I'm not out there myself, fomenting rebellion, so perhaps I should just keep quiet. I try to stay peaceful and calm and centered and usually I am. This morning, I was so caught up in anger, I almost didn't see the deer slowly walking through my yard. I almost forgot about the wild turkeys. I saw them roosting in the lower branches of my lilac bushes very early yesterday morning. They kept me company throughout the day.

Okay, what's goin' on...

I just took a break and noticed someone had read one of my older posts, from this fall, "What Peace Feels Like,"  and, as you might know, I try to heed signs as they're  "comin' through the rye,"  so I re-read it and realized I do need to find some peace. And these words from Wordsworth need to find a remedy:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;-
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.

So, I need to try and see the world I really want to see, to reclaim my heart with a walk in Nature. Reclaim my powers that reside there. Find peace there. And that, my friends, is the perfect remedy.

P.S. I just looked up and I see the turkeys are back again today. They are moving to the beautiful stand of Norway pines on the backside of my property. No "sordid boon" today.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

All Along the Watchtower

As I often do in the morning, I went to my bookcase to see what I felt impelled to bring down and open. This morning it was, Poets on the Peaks, by John Suiter, instructor at the New England School of Photography, and who apparently has a fascination with the Beats, as I do. His book covers the summers Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Jack Kerouac spent in fire lookout towers in the Cascades during the mid-1950's and the literary lives they began to develop there.

I've always been intrigued by fire towers and those who kept watch. I once had a yearning to spend time on a mountain keeping watch myself. The idea of being in a remote location with the wilderness for company seemed like it might be a good way to spend a summer. There was a job to do, and loneliness would need to be let go of, perhaps repeatedly, but still I held on to this romantic notion that fed into my love of the wild. At the time I thought of myself as a budding poet who might find her muse waiting for her there much like these fine writers did.

When I was a teenager, friends would come up north from Iowa to spend a couple of weeks each summer and we would spend our days driving around on the back roads in their little red Volkswagen Bug looking for then unoccupied fire towers to climb. We hung out at the top, carved our initials into the wooden steps, and surveyed our wooded kingdom. The vertigo that sometimes catches me never showed its face. I felt no fear at the height or the openness of those towers. I felt free, like anything was possible.

One of the early chapters in the book begins with this paragraph, words that sing for me:
In June of 1953, Gary Snyder was back in the Skagit, this time assigned to the lookout on Sourdough Mountain. As he had done the year before, Gary hitchhiked up from San Francisco to Portland first, where he stopped off to visit his mother and catch up on old friends for a week before moving north. On a whim he bought a battered 1937 Model A Ford from a man in Portland and drove up Highway 99 to Burlington and then out to Marblemount, where he sold it for $25 to Harold Vail's brother Roger.

There's something about the time, the name places, the Model A ... I spent a few very young summers sitting in one (or was it a Model T?) parked at the edge of our field, pretending to be on some journey to a far away corner of the world. Oh, the places I went.

I knew a lot about Jack but this book taught me more about Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen, two writers I had often thought I should get to know better. This gets to the heart of their experiences, especially Snyder and how those summers helped give shape to his life. They were all so young then - early to mid-twenties - with life just starting to unfold before them.

Poets on the Peaks, is about summers in lookout towers, writing, and fine literature. It's about Zen Buddhism, solitude, and learning to be alone. It's about really Seeing. For Snyder it was a natural fit. He said, regarding the solitude he had always been drawn to:
When I was  eleven or twelve, I would sometimes make up a pack and go out for a night or two and camp in the woods by myself, just walk from our house out into the forest. I liked solitude... That's the way you learn, by sitting still and being quiet in nature. Then things start happening around you."

Life on these lookout mountains broke everything down to the essentials. It's a notion that still appeals to me. That, and the infinite beauty they surely found there.

I don't think I would like to be in my twenties again. I like being here with a body of experience to draw from still willing to look at all the possibilities, possibilities that have nothing to do with how many times the earth has revolved around the sun but have everything to do with the willingness. I like being open to exploring life where every day offers some new discovery no matter how small. And I want to learn to remain calm regardless of what is swirling around me, to still those voices of uncertainty, to find that perfect center where peace lives.

During the time Gary Snyder spent on Sourdough a man named Blackie Burns was more or less in charge of the local Forest Service. He spoke in rather colorful colloquialisms. Of Snyder he said: 

I like that boy Snyder on Sourdough. He's a calm son of a bitch.

P.S. Gary Snyder, shown in the photos above, won, among other literary prizes, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for, Turtle Island. Now in his 80's, he still lives pretty much off the grid in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in northern California.

The title of this post is a song written by Bob Dylan.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dancing the Turkey Trot

It took the Welcome Wagon long enough but they finally showed up yesterday afternoon. The Wild Turkeys, my fine feathered friends. While I was en route home from the Southwest I had put in a request to the Universe that I'd like to have the turkeys there to greet me. And they were. Right after I crossed the border into Minnesota a small flock was pecking around in a field next to the highway, the only flock I'd seen since the San Juans a few weeks earlier. San Juans being mountains, not a family of turkeys.

It was a nice sight, but I guess I should have been more specific. Not that I'm an ingrate. I was just hoping for something more. Such as, in my yard. So when I got up yesterday morning I thought again how nice it would be to see that little flock that lives in the nearby woods. A couple of hours later I was nodding off on the couch while reading when I got the nudge to get up and look out the kitchen window. There they were. The Gang of Eight is now the Gang of Four. They hung around for almost an hour, mostly under one of the large Norway pines in the back yard.

The photos aren't good, taken from inside the house with little chance for a clear view. The last time I saw them here, sometime in late fall, I tried to sneak around the corner of the house to take their picture and they hurried off, wanting nothing to do with it. You'd think they were members of some indigenous tribe who believe the camera steals their soul if you take their picture. And they are. Indigenous. I'm not sure how they feel about their souls. So, again, the pictures aren't good, but I sure had a good time watching them. They really are beautiful birds. I can't imagine ever tiring of their presence. It made a day of steel gray skies a whole lot nicer.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Bone Lady That Lives Inside Me

Shortly after I moved into my farmhouse in Ansel, back in the spring of 1990, I realized my passion for bones might just have found a rather extensive playing field. Although I only owned five and a half acres, I was surrounded by pasture land, grazing for the cattle owned by my neighbors. These neighbors were over a mile away to the north and about three miles away to the south, but I could look out on any given day, for at least half the year, and see their cattle off in the distance. I told myself, 'Thar's bones in them thar hills."  At least I hoped so.

I had also been a big fan of Georgia O'Keeffe and all things Southwest, as I may have mentioned a time or two, and I was particularly enamored of her paintings that included bones, skulls and such. I don't view it as a ghoulish interest, just loved the shapes and I suppose the romantic insinuation of the west captured in them.

So, not too long after I'd moved in, I went on a bone expedition to see what I could turn up. It didn't yield the skulls I'd hoped for, but a few larger bones here and there. I hauled my booty home, bones that is, and placed them in my flower beds near the porch and main entrance. As I was hauling them, I realized that I may well become known as The Bone Lady as the years went by, and my semi-reclusive nature would not do much to alter that image. Not that I had too many folks who were paying attention. I just hoped any neighbor kids that might become aware of my presence wouldn't start tagging my house and then run like hell, crazy lady inside and all.

Inside my house were more bones: a small muskrat skull, a beaver skull a friend had painted a flower on, all very tacky and wonderful, a couple of jawbones, along with various and sundry small bones that had a look to them that appealed to me for reasons I can't call forth now. That's just the way it was. I liked bones.

Every time I looked out on those small rolling hills, I could well imagine buffalo roaming them many years before, and because I like to name things, I named my place Buffalo Woman Ridge.

When I started spending a part of each spring in the west, particularly the Southwest, I longed to find a buffalo skull to hang over my imagined entrance at the end of my driveway. I thought it would look kinda cool. I didn't expect to actually find one in the wild, but thought I might find someone else who had. I once stopped in Alamosa, Colorado, en route home, to check out some skulls at a roadside stop. They ran a bit over my allowed budget and so I never owned one.

The years went by and I eventually moved to the southwest, Santa Fe, to be exact.

One of my early daytrips there took me to an outlier of Salinas National Monument. It consists of old missions in three parts spread over several miles. It's south of Santa Fe, off the Turquoise Trail. It was at one of these that I wandered off in the cover of pinons to take a pee and hit pay dirt, so to speak. Right next to me were the sun-bleached skeletal remains of a cow or deer. Which one, I couldn't say for certain, but they were bones worth hauling back home with me, I knew that. The skull had already been parlayed into someone's home decor, either animal or human, so that was that, but what did remain was one very fine pelvis bone, very O'keeffe-ish, and it went home with me, along with several rib bones. There was a potter who showed at the gallery I worked at and she had recently started doing pots with bone handles, so I scored those for her. I left them in the trunk of my car and next time she stopped in we switched them over to hers. We were both happy.

The pelvis bone graced the entrance to my home for several years.

When I was planning to return to Minnesota, I took it down to my sister's home in Texas Hill Country and there it remains, gracing her garden entrance. It was a perfect fit.

My life here at Lonewolf is bone free as I write this. I don't have the unexplainable yearning I once had. I guess my love of live animals far outweighs my love of their bones. But, if I should come across one or two outstanding examples, or a skull shows up somewhere in my wanderings, I shan't pass them up. Somewhere deep inside me, The Bone Lady still lives.

All the images are of O'Keeffe paintings, of course.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ernest and Raquel and Ciber Toothed Tigers

Well, the wind's howlin' 'round the old cabin door tonight. I have about an hour of battery on this thing and then I'll be shut down. The lights went out while I was in the tub with my usual libation. I feel like Ernest Shackleton, one of my heroes, except he didn't have a computer, and was probably a hell of a lot colder than I am right now. Just a couple of differences.

I can stand the wind in small increments and then it becomes noisome. It makes some people do crazy things. I'm not one of them, not anymore. Right now, it feels kind of nice, cozy even. I have a candle on my right and a trusty flashlight, waiting for further duty, on my left.

I had just an hour or so ago, finished reading Bill's latest entry over at  about, among other things, our love of all things shiny, electronic gadgetry and all. I am guilty somewhat myself. I much prefer writing on my computer than writing it all out in longhand. I was decrying our lack of the strong connections we once had, now replaced with equipment that seems meant to keep people at bay. We act as though we're more connected when really we're less so. At least, for any real connection or communication to take place.

Now, I sit in the almost dark, one little candle, and I'm thinking, 'I think I like this.' For how long remains to be seen, but for right now, in this moment, with the wind howling outside and all around my house, I feel positively at peace. Yes, I'm writing on this infernal contraption, but there's something about this that seems almost primordial. Forgive my hyperbole, but it is a good feeling. Sort of like I'm in the back of the cave, the kids are sleeping, the old folks are snoring, and all is well with the world. Now, if I can just keep those darn saber toothed tigers at bay. God help me, I just spelled it ciber toothed. It's too late for me. Save yourself.

Top photos: Ernest and his ship, The Endurance.

Bottom: a severe case of wishful thinking.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Here In The Real World

Since my return from Santa Fe and the southwest every day has been mostly sunny and in the high 40's. The snow has been melting and dripping from the eaves all day. It took a couple of days for the squirrels and birds to discover my return and with it a replenished feeder. This morning, while the jays kept a cautious distance, the squirrels duked it out. One in particular seemed to have commandeered it and was holding his ground, hard fought, and wasn't about to give it up.

The large black squirrel, who seems to have slimmed down a bit in my absence, was attempting a coup. The Colonel, a large gray squirrel who'd placed himself in charge of the feeder, wouldn't let him anywhere near. He chased him into no man's land, in this case two trees over, and let him know in no uncertain terms those nuts and seeds were his by God, and he would not go down without a fight. While they tussled a couple of chickadees flew in and snagged a few appetizers. Shortly thereafter The Colonel returned and continued to gorge himself. As he grew lethargic a couple of blue jays set down near him and quietly set about picking through the leftovers.

Gluttony assuaged, he leapt, well, plopped really, onto a nearby crab apple branch, clung tenaciously to it while he got his bearings with all that new weight he was packing, then climbed down, and into the woods he went, to sleep it off, I suppose.

Those crazy little critters. How I missed them. And all from my kitchen window. Front row seats, here in the real world.

And for those who like a soundtrack, here is George Jones singing Alan Jackson's song, "Here in the Real World."  Alan's good, but there's no one like George. Besides, my friend, Michael, does a spot on impersonation of him that had me in stitches at the Blue Corn Cafe on a cold night in Santa Fe, week before last. Here's George (Now, get up and dance, Kittie and Dick, Jack and Brenda, Linda and Art, all you couples out there, even if you're not a couple, dance anyway):

The Colonel, at the top. Cheeky little thing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A New Blue Notebook and Empty White Pages

Yesterday, I bought myself a new, blue, spiral bound notebook. I use these at my computer to make notes an write down quotes that resonate with me for whatever reason in that moment. Sometimes these notes become subjects for a blog post, other times they languish and get put on the back burner. I have a few of these notebooks in a variety of sizes and colors. Nothing like a fresh notebook of empty white pages ready to be filled with new ideas.

Most mornings, I open a book of poetry. It might be a particular poem I'd been meaning to take another look at, or a certain poet with whom I wanted to become more familiar. Sometimes it's random. I just take one from the shelf, open it up and see what it has to say to me. This morning, it was a book of poetry compiled by Garrison Keillor from his public radio show, The Writer's Almanac. It's titled, Good Poems for Hard Times. I opened it to a poem by Ted Kooser. Ted is sort of the poet's everyman. He was an insurance agent in Nebraska for most of his life who went on to become the Poet Laureate of The United States. This is the poem:

"The Spiral Notebook"

The bright wire rolls like a porpoise
in and out of the calm blue sea
of the cover, or perhaps like a sleeper
twisting in and out of his dreams,
for it could hold a record of dreams
if you wanted to buy it for that,
though it seems to be meant for
more serious work, with its
college-ruled lines and its cover
that states in emphatic white letters,
a part of growing old is no longer
to have five subjects, each
demanding an equal share of attention,
set apart by brown cardboard dividers,
but instead to stand in a drugstore
and hang on to one subject
a little too long, like this notebook
you weigh in your hands, passing
your fingers over its surfaces
as if it were some kind of wonder.

~ Ted Kooser

Well, I may have been hanging onto one subject a little too long yesterday and so, today, here was this message encouraging me to let go and remember again the empty white pages that await, ready to begin again.

Here are my first few entries in my new, blue notebook. You might notice a theme emerged. It's a lesson I'm still learning, apparently. I'm also learning to embrace it wholeheartedly.

Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous - to poetry.
~ Thomas Mann

Without great solitude no serious work is possible.
~ Pablo Picasso 

You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
~ Franz Kafka

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Journeying Home

Just as surely as I knew it was time for me to head west, I knew it was time for me to return home, so I am en route, with my usual stopover in North Platte, Nebraska. I am looking forward to the sweet surprises the land reveals, there on my little acreage. The morning I left, about six weeks ago now, as I watched from the kitchen window, two deer walked slowly down the driveway. They paused by the road, then continued on, just out for a leisurely stroll in the fresh snow.

I miss them.

And just a couple of weeks ago, while driving through the San Juan Mountains of New Mexico, I had a nice reminder of the wild turkeys that visit my Minnesota home. As I came off the mountain, rounding a corner in the road, there was a small flock, perhaps seven, strutting across the highway. As usual, a couple were loitering. When I pulled over to take their picture, they skedaddled, following the rest into the cover of nearby woods.  Perhaps these three will be there to greet me on my return.

I look forward to early mornings at my kitchen table, watching the day arrive, walking down by the river, snow crunching under foot, while crows call out from the tree tops. Naturalist John Burroughs said,  "To learn something new, take the path you took yesterday."  There is always something new revealing itself. Our job is to keep our eyes open, our hearts expectant.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Another Day in Santa Fe

Early this afternoon, I stopped in at the gallery and studio of my friend, Theo, a potter here in Santa Fe. He's just off Second Street, on Lena, a small community of artist's tucked into a side street. I've always liked picking out new pottery to bring home with me. He makes beautiful pieces, from large vases to tea cups. Eating rice and veggies out of one of his bowls makes the meal that much more tasty.

We had a nice visit about a variety of topics, but we always seem to gravitate toward movies, a favorite for both of us. One of the things I like about Santa Fe is the great selection of films available, from mainstream to foreign and independent, as well as some interesting documentaries. This afternoon, I chose one from the mainstream, "The King's Speech."  What a good film it is. I shed more than a few tears over the story and the look at history it provides. Very fine performances by everyone.

Yesterday, I went to see "The Fighter." It's based on a true story about a boxing family, and a less than pleasant one at that. It wasn't always easy to watch, but Christian Bale is beyond good, I was mesmerized by his performance from the opening scene. Not one false moment. I watched him and Mark Wahlberg, as well as the director of the film, on Charlie Rose awhile back and I was very impressed. Despite his bad boy image, he was gracious and thoughtful, and the conversation amongst the four of them was very interesting.

On my way back from the theater, I stopped at Sunflower Farmers Market, a small natural grocery chain that came to Santa Fe about a year ago.  So tonight, I'm going to have some sushi in my new bowl. Last year, Theo was in Minnesota for a pottery conference and while visiting friends near Duluth he found some clay along the shores of Lake Superior. He made this bowl from it. I love the swirls and the bits of green glaze.

Every day I think, 'Maybe tomorrow I'll head home,' but I can't seem to leave. I'll probably hang out in Santa Fe a couple more days....

Monday, February 7, 2011

Angels Among Us

Yesterday was a good day. In fact, a very good day. Just as I was heading out, my friend, Michael von Helms, artist of the "Open Boat," and fellow Bedoin of the soul, called and asked if I'd like to have a late breakfast or lunch. I mentioned that I was on my way to El Tesoro and would meet him there in twenty minutes.

Our lunch turned into almost two hours of talk about art, literature, life, and all that jazz. We tend to cover the gamut. While talking about the need for a creative process in our lives he mentioned that with the challenges in his own life and in this economy he may well be leaving painting behind. He would find another avenue for creative expression. He is well-armed for that, but still ...  I recalled him saying in a phone conversation a few months ago that he knew several artists whose, "lights are going out one by one." This news made me sad, sad for him and all artists who are struggling to continue on their path over such rugged economic terrain. We need our artists. They represent and provide spiritual sustenance. Yes, it can be found in nature, absolutely, but I like knowing there are people in this world who mirror that, each in their own unique way. 

We also talked about our mutual love of music and how he uses it while in the studio, noting that several artists later in life chose silence to accompany them while painting. We talked about the folks of Appalachia who sing in that high lonesome sound, folks like Gillian Welch, and how music can shape our day, our lives.

As I drove away, down Guadalupe and onto Cerrillos Road, I decided to stop in at Book Mountain, the used book store I had planned to go to earlier in the day. Michael's invitation rearranged my day ever so slightly and for that I'm very grateful. Let me tell you why.

When I got there, sitting inside was a circle of ten people, each with at least one musical instrument. There were several guitars, a dobro, a fiddle, a mandolin, a banjo, and a bass. Oh yeah, there was even an accordion.They were playing and singing folk and traditional music. They asked me to join them. One of them pulled a chair into their circle and I sat down. What followed was almost two hours of picking and singing and yes even some grinning. They were a fun and diverse group of people who meet once a month with an open invitation to anyone who'd like to join them.

I'd met the owners of the book store previously, Tom and Peggy, who also originate from Minnesota, but have lived in Santa Fe for many years. There was a woman to my right who was from Wisconsin and the man on my left was from Maine. We shared our stories in a few words. Amazing what you can learn in a short time. They went around the circle with each introducing a song and then all would join in singing and playing. I knew almost every song and sang along, too. They asked me if I had a request and the first song that popped into my noggin was John Prine's,"Speed of the Sound of Loneliness." Turns out that one of the guitar players knew the entire John Prine songbook and we were off and running. Everyone knew it. It's a sad song, but we sang it with gusto.

What a beautiful gift from the universe the day was. Perhaps setting forth the idea that it was a good day from the get-go allowed for this to emerge, bringing with it a clear reminder of why I love Santa Fe. Good things can happen anywhere, at any time. We just have to be open to it. But Santa Fe, for me and for so many folks, seems to arrange these serendipitous encounters that point to something larger at work in the world. Those big, blue skies certainly create the right atmosphere. And, Michael's invite made the timing flawless. 

P.S. I've always liked Nanci Griffith's version Of John Prine's song, in which he sings back-up. It comes from her classic album, "Other Voices, Other Rooms," a tribute to many great folk artists, the title of which is taken from the Truman Capote novel by the same name. So, I can't resist sharing a video with you of the two of them together. It's one of the coolest music videos I've seen. There are ruins and tombs and angels on roof tops. And there are feathers, white feathers. I think you'll like it, too.

Paintings: Andrew Wyeth.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It's a Good Day

For about a month now, I've been circling the perimeter of Santa Fe, never quite landing inside. But, that's all changed now. I'm here and it feels pretty good. I was concerned that I would hang on to the misgivings I apparently had about returning after almost a year, but they disappeared as I drove into town.

I haven't made my travels a real travelogue mainly because it's a return to the familiar. Today, I will more than likely check out Book Mountain, one of my favorite used bookstores, then head over to Borders, the one just off Guadalupe St., and perhaps lunch next door at El Tesoro, a small Guatemalan cafe on the mezzanine in the Sanbusco Center. They're good people with interesting and tasty food.

Driving through the high desert on my way to here really fed my love of the West. It was as though a vintage postcard or photograph had come to life, like a train rolling through the western landscape and Peggy Lee's, "It's a Good Day," riding along on the rails. Here she is, in a recording session of that song. And it is a good day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sifting Through the Ruins

Ruins have long held a fascination for me, whether they're in the canyons of the Southwest, the canopied jungles of the rain forest, or in our deteriorating cities. The history combined with an odd romanticism is an intoxicating mix. They are a doorway to understanding, archival dioramas that provide information about our collective past, while allowing us to gain a better understanding of the present, perhaps even offering clues to our future. The Story of Us is a story I never tire of, never lose interest in. It provides ongoing illumination into the Self.

The ruins of Detroit are again in the news. In a new book, The Ruins of Detroit, images by photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre offer a window into the decay of this once robust city, a city that was, as they state, "the dazzling beacon of the American Dream."

"Detroit, industrial capital of the XX century, played a fundamental role in shaping the modern world. The logic that created the city also destroyed it. Nowadays, unlike anywhere else, the cities ruins are not isolated details in the urban environment. They have become a natural component of the landscape."

"Detroit presents all archetypal buildings of an American city in a state of mummification."

"Its splendid decaying monuments are no less than the Pyramids of Egypt, the Coliseum of Rome, or the Acropolis in Athens, remnants of the passing of a great empire."

So, the question remains, pun intended, are we in the throes of the Fall?  The fall of a once great empire?   Or, will we rise again in greatness?  And, Should we?  Is the desire to regain that greatness the vestiges of an old paradigm which is no longer valid?  Are we already in a new paradigm that requires major shifts in thinking as well as doing?  Will we get on board this new paradigm or rail against the passing of the old, while opportunities for moving forward are squandered?   Perhaps the answers remain in the choices of the individual.

You can view these and other images here:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

For John and Janis, Poetry and Purses

When I was in college, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I found the raw emotions of poets like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Randall Jarrell, and John Berryman to be enticing in a don't-stand-too-close-to-the-abyss sort of way. I even wrote a bit of confessional poetry myself. When I was a sophomore and sophomoric was aptly applied, I would take the occasional stroll with one of these folks, through their poetry, eventually flinging myself headlong into the emotional maelstrom from which their work seemed to have been created. It was an attempt to shake up my little world, I suppose, and pretend for awhile that I belonged to this august bunch of sad sacks whose work seemed so very important.

Looking back at Berryman's 77 Dream Songs the past two days, all I can conclude is that I'm so very glad that part of my human experience is over. 

Berryman's narrator, Henry, who more than likely was his alter-ego, had his struggles, struggles that garnered Berryman both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, along with pretty much every other award and accolade handed out for such things. But, the accolades didn't keep his demons at bay and the awards didn't fill the emptiness that surely accompanied him from his home to his office on the campus at the University of Minnesota where he taught, until one cold morning in early January, 1972, he walked to the Washington Avenue Bridge, swung both legs over the railing and dropped into the icy river below. The demons moved on, emptiness won. At least, in that moment.

I am not judging what I myself once found so appealing, and Confessional poetry surely still appeals to many people, particularly the young who so often seem to struggle while finding their way in the world. I do understand. But there is a part of me that has trouble understanding why we so often celebrate this frank, emotion-laden poetry. Is the human condition that difficult to navigate?  And the bigger, more pertinent question is, does it need to be, or do we create the need? And, if that is the case, how can we do better?  How can we help create a world where people, young and old, suffer less at the hands of life and celebrate it more?

So, what brought this up? I'd been thinking a bit about Berryman, as I mentioned in my last post. Then this morning another casualty of creativity showed up in the news: Janis Joplin. It seems there's a new book and film coming out in which the contents of Ms. Joplin's purse becomes a topic for discussion. I was never particularly taken with Janis Joplin and her music, just not my cup o' tea, nor am I particularly taken with the contents of her purse as described in the article in the Huffington Post. It seems pretty typical, not completely unlike my own purse contents: movie stubs, a notebook, a couple of pens, an eyebrow pencil (only one for me, as opposed to her bunch gathered in a rubber band), bits of paper, business cards, chewing gum and sunglasses. No Southern Comfort bottle, no hip flask, no hotel room keys (glad those days are behind me, and I'm not referring to my current travels), and as much as I liked Nancy Milford's biography of Zelda Fitzgerald, I would not want to tote that tome around with me.  Ditto the Thomas Wolfe.

And what does this have to do with John Berryman? Well, I recalled a dream I once had (mine are not numbered), about fifteen years ago. I dreamed I was standing on the Washington Avenue Bridge and I opened my purse, turned it upside down, and let the contents fall into the icy river below. Now, for a nature-loving girl, I've also had a life-long fascination with purses, so this was not an easy thing for me to do and seemed fraught with meaning, a meaning I'm sure I gave some thought to at the time, a meaning that has been lost to that river.  And for that I'm grateful. Because that means that I no longer want to dance with the devil and I no longer want to fall into the emotional abyss. I like it right here, thank you very much, far from the edge, far from maudlin pursuits and pajama parties.

Does this mean I'm an adult?  Finally?

I get to answer that. And my answer is Yes.

John Berryman, at the top.

Janis Joplin, in the middle.

And me, about the time I dreamed of the Washington Avenue Bridge.