Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Land Along the River

Sometime during the night I had a dream in which I was floating down a river in a very small wooden boat, the kind one might have taken into a duck blind, say about sixty years ago, not unlike the one turned upside down behind  our garage when I was growing up. Several people were in the boat with me, it was pretty crowded, but everyone was very quiet, there wasn't a sound. We just drifted down the river, which was really more of a creek. None of us had an oar or a paddle. I looked behind me and there were several more boats all floating down the river, very crowded boats, and no one had any paddles.

I was watching myself from a very short distance away, as I usually do in my dreams. Some aspect of myself was following the boat I was sitting in as it moved down the river. There was a green, grassy bank on both sides. It felt very peaceful, but yet, I knew something wasn't right. It was too quiet. Did any of us know where we were going?  It didn't seem so, but no one was talking. We were just silently drifting along.

I started looking around me, the me in the boat, and I realized that the water wasn't very deep, in fact, it was very shallow. I knew I could choose to step out of the boat whenever I wanted to. And so I did. I simply stood up and stepped out. I found myself standing in water that was just above my ankles. I stood there and watched boats go by me, no one said anything. I just watched them go down the river, boat after boat filled with people sitting quietly. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, everything appeared to be calm and peaceful. But, I still knew I didn't want to continue down that creek. Then I realized that the grassy bank along the river was just a few feet away. I could easily walk over to it and stand on the bank. And so I did. I walked over and stood on the very green grass just above the river. I stood there in the sunshine with a light warm breeze on my face as I watched the boats go by.

I thought briefly about why everyone was choosing to continue down the river without question when they, too, could get out of the boat they were in, walk over and stand on the bank.

Then, I found myself awake and at peace. The grass on my land along the river is very green.

But, I'm left wondering about the others still in the boats, still on the river, not questioning.

They're awfully quiet.  Too quiet.

Painting:  Harry Sutton Palmer (1884 - 1933).

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again

It's the summer of 2005 and I'm visiting a friend, someone I've known for over twenty-five years. We had a relationship once upon a time. Twice upon a time, actually. We tried again, a dozen years after that summer of  '79.  Love doesn't conquer all.

We're sitting on his porch; the soundtrack of our lives is coming through the screen door behind us. We talk of books we've read, movies we've seen, crazy stuff that's happening in the world. He has a whiskey coke sitting next to him. I reach over once in awhile and, with his permission, take a sip. He always offers me a drink, I always say no, and then I always reach over and take a sip from his. It's just what we've been doing for a very long time.

Crickets are chirping in the grass as the moon comes up over the pines across the road. We sit and watch it rise. Creedence Clearwater Revival is on the radio, asking again and again,  "Who'll Stop the Rain?"  as time marches on. In large and small increments we watch it go, like a movie we saw years before, like a book we once read in school.

Now, it's getting very late. We're way past the whiskey, and it's time for me to go. We walk quietly down the steps, across his yard, and to the gate. He's walked me to this gate more times than it's possible to count. As I walk through I turn and, at the same time, we say to each other, "Deja vu all over again."

Here's John Fogerty and his song/video,  "Deja Vu All Over Again:"

Maybe love does conquer all.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Skeleton at the Feast

"Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back - in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are woofing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you."

~ Frederick Buechner

Image: Salvador Dali, The Face of War

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Art of Becoming

Most folks in the so-called civilized world have probably become aware of Lascaux and Chauvet, caves in France, home to some amazing Paleolithic art. Chauvet is considered the oldest, with drawings dating back about 32,000 years. It is the oldest art known to man. They've always intrigued me and I've spent a fair amount of time looking at them and reading about them, mostly out of a desire to understand that impulse that drives people to create, to paint, specifically.

I've become very familiar with the petroglyphs and pictographs of the American southwest, having come across them numerous times on hikes in canyons and on drives along the Colorado River outside Moab, Utah. The cave paintings in France were a natural extension for me. The average person will never lay eyes on them, which is probably for the best, but there are some fine websites dedicated to educating people about them. The one I ran across today was intriguing in that it mentioned the documentary film by Werner Herzog, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," which centers on Chauvet. I have not yet had an opportunity to see it, but I hope to remedy that soon. Here's a link to the Bradshaw Foundation site which has showcased them:

What brought them to mind today was some photographs my friend and southwest hiking pal, JB, recently emailed to me. When I saw them, I immediately assumed they were from Chauvet. I drooled over them for a minute and then he sent a follow-up email telling me he had only the day before discovered them in a cave just outside Moab, Utah. Apparently, someone went in there to create copies of these paintings, even going so far as to use earth pigments for paint. This is a cave with many rooms that JB had explored before, so he feels they were done sometime in the past two years, since his last visit to the cave. They're remarkable replicas.

Ancient art and all that history, so very long ago, created by people like you and me, feeling the need to express themselves, to tell their stories and share their lives, to record the beauty they saw in the everyday. It's a world we create anew every time we tell our stories and share our lives, record the beauty we, too, see in the everyday. It's the ongoing story of Us.

Someday, we'll be the ancient ones.

These four photographs were taken by JB, in the cave outside Moab, Utah. He has not yet found any information about the artist who re-created these.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Admonition to Myself

Yesterday the world seemed to be askew, tilted on its axis by all the troubling news from every corner. As the day wore on and my thoughts became more and more agitated I knew I had to go within for answers. These answers always come from a quiet place, from that still, small voice. I just have to remember to be still and listen.

This morning a book popped into my thought shortly after waking. I hadn't opened this book for a few months, but I felt certain I would find something to hang on to, something that would help me move into healthier thinking. I went to my bookshelves to retrieve it and then opened it to what feels like the perfect admonition to myself:


Why scurry about looking for the truth?
It vibrates in everything and every no-thing, right off
    the tip of your nose,
Can you be still and see it in the mountains?   the pine
   tree?  yourself?

Don't imagine that you'll discover it by accumulating
   more knowledge.
Knowledge creates doubt, and doubt makes you
   ravenous for more knowledge.
You can't get full eating this way.
The wise person dines on something more subtle:
He eats the understanding that the named was born
   from the unnamed, that all being flows from non-
   being, that the describable world emanates from an
   indescribable source.
He finds this subtle truth inside his own self, and
   becomes completely content.

So who can be still and watch the chess game of the
The foolish are always making impulsive moves, but
   the wise know that victory and defeat are decided by
   something more subtle.
They see that something perfect exists before any move
   is made.
This subtle perfection deteriorates when artificial
   actions are taken, so be content not to disturb the
Remain quiet.
Discover the harmony in your own being.
Embrace it.

If you can do this, you will gain everything, and the
   world will become healthy again.
If you can't, you will be lost in the shadows forever.

From Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown teachings of Lao Tzu, translation by Brian Walker.

Painting: "House on a Hill,"  by Winslow Homer

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Hand, Writing

You will need to click on this and then click again, if necessary, to enlarge it for reading.  After seeing this, I spent a minute or two cursing cursive, or what passes for it in my world.

Image: Cindy Sherman's photograph, Untitled #96, which recently sold at auction for $3.89 million. Yes, that's right, 3.89 million dollars, the most expensive photograph to date. Don't get me started....

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summertime and the Living is Easy?

Teresa here, reporting from the lower levels of hell, or perhaps I should say, the upper levels, as heat rises. I have never in all my borned days, as Festus used to say on Gunsmoke, endured such hellish conditions. The humidity has made the atmosphere even more rain foresty than it already was and the mosquitoes and bugs are making me long for the comforts of a "tiger cage" near a rice paddy in Viet Nam.  Too soon?  Maybe that will always be too soon.

I must say, though, when I walked out barefoot to my gardens this morning, to cut a fresh bouquet, hell never looked so good.

How it feels is another thing.

 Buddy's chillin'.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Way It Goes

A couple of days ago, I heard Gillian Welch had a new album out. Finally. It's been something like eight years. So I started prowling around the internet this evening to find out what I could. I've always had a soft spot for anyone who sings in an Appalachian folk style with that old-timey, heartbreaking harmony. Whether they're from Appalachia or not. A few people through the years have added to this style quite nicely, but not many do it better than Gillian. Her new album is called, "The Harrow and the Harvest."  I'll tell you right now, not everyone will find this to their taste. It's a tad dark, but then, so is life sometimes. If a little dark doesn't sound inviting, I understand, but you'll be missing out on what I feel is some very fine harmonizing by two very fine musicians, singing about some very real people.

Here's Gillian Welch and David Rawlings with, "The Way It Goes."


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Have I Reached the Party to Whom I Am Speaking?

Did you ever watch Laugh-In?  It was a weekly television show in the late '60's to early '70's that featured several people who went on to become well-known comediennes and actresses. One of them was Lily Tomlin, one funny lady, who introduced a character she named Ernestine. Ernestine was a telephone operator dressed in clothes and with a hairstyle reminiscent of the late 1940's or early '50's. She snorted and dialed with a flourish, usually asking the party she had just reached, "Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?"  I started many a phone call to a friend in that way and, depending on the call, still do to this day. Funny, how those things stick.

Anyway, at the time my own family was not far removed from the day in which we had replaced our oak box on the wall with black ear and mouth piece and a number that was "two longs and a short," with a black rotary dial phone that seemed like something out of science fiction. We thought we'd really moved up in the world as we no longer had the neighbors down the road listening in on our party line. We all had new numbers that started with nice words. Windsor Seven was ours, which had nothing to do with likker, Kimball Eight was to the south of us and folks to the north had numbers that started with Orchard Five. Heady times.

Let's zip ahead about forty years.

Just before we turned the corner into 2002 and shortly after I arrived in Santa Fe, I bought my first cellphone. I knew I'd be spending a fair amount of time on the road and it seemed like a good idea. I could appreciate the almost instantaneous connections it allows for and more than once it's come in very handy. Once, while returning some paintings to an artist who was up in Denver, I ran over something in the road which mangled my tire, and while I helped my car limp off the interstate, I was able to call on my cellphone, get a tow truck out to my location just outside Trinidad, Colorado, and get back on the road with a new tire all in just about an hours time, with no harm to my valuable cargo.

On a lesser occasion, my sister and I were able to find each other while shopping without having to walk from aisle to aisle with eyes peeled, but instead called and said something terribly erudite like, "I'll meet you up front."  Hey, it has its conveniences.

Having said that, and after almost ten years of having a cellphone exclusively, I've recently returned to using a land line. The local internet provider offered one for less than five extra dollars a month. I said yes. No, I didn't completely give up my cell, it will still be nice to have on the road when I travel, and I'm still using it for some long distance calls, but I gotta tell you, I'm loving the return to a land-based phone to match my more land-based life. It actually has a cord on it. And it feels so good in my hand and against my ear. It feels real. It feels solid. I can hold it between my ear and shoulder if I need to. I like that.

Maybe it just reminds me of what was, once upon a time, but I like the notion of heading back to the future, in more ways than one. I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says, "Sometimes, right back where you started from is right where you belong." The same could be said for many things, many aspects of our lives. I don't view it as going backwards, I view it as moving forward with all the good that existed then, and still exists. I aim to make that good not just a part of my life, but my life.

I can't explain it, but it feels really good. I feel liberated.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Dancing Around on the Soapbox of Hope

The other day, while returning from a days drive over to the far western part of the state, I drove by a section of road a few miles out of town where the landowner had posted a homemade sign stating, "Do not spray. Fruit Trees." I made a wish as I went by that those who worked for the state would appreciate this and listen.  I did not extrapolate with concern over my own wildflower strewn roadside; it didn't cross my mind that anyone would be down our township road to spray, or for that matter mow. How naive I can be.

The next evening the neighbor happened to call and mentioned that they often come by to spray or mow the roadside this time of year and would I mind if he put out a sign telling them not to do either along our road; between the road and my old fence line several wild flowers are in bloom, which enhance his walk to the mailbox.

Buddy and I have, also, been appreciating the changing wildflowers while on our walks. Earlier, several wild iris were along our regular route, not to mention the meadow full of buttercups. Now, there's a tangle of wildflowers that make the days feel sunny even when they're not.

By eight o' clock that evening the signs were in, one on each end of that stretch of road. I'm very grateful for his presence of mind and that he's lived on this road longer than I with an understanding of the possibilities. I would have been heartsick had they done either. Systems have a life of their own and often don't come with compassion or a love of wildness. I'd like to think that will change. I hope. 

Seeing these wildflowers gives you a sense of just how proliferative nature can and will be when left to her own devices.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Grant Wood Kind of Day

For some reason, I'm thinking about Grant Wood this morning. Perhaps it's the way the light is falling on the slope of lawn outside my window, or the low rumble of farm machinery moving through the fields down the road in the first haying of summer, or maybe it's just the summer itself, with its green heat and thunderstorms in the night, that's bringing him to mind.

He's been one of my favorite artists for many years, going back to the mid-1980's when a retrospective of his work was making the rounds and getting a lot of press. I had known about his iconic painting, "American Gothic," forever, it seems, but becoming aware of his oeuvre made my appreciation of him run even deeper. There's something about the rolling hills and his somewhat idealistic vision of mid-western farm life that appeals to me.

He was born near Anamosa, Iowa, in the late 1800's, living on a farm during his early years. In his formative years as an artist, he lived a rather Bohemian lifestyle in Europe, studying art and discovering the direction towards which he wanted his work to develop.

He began to realize that for all Europe offered, there was incredible value and beauty in the place he was born. And so, he returned to his roots, this rural beginning. In doing so, he became a vital aspect to Regionalism as an art form, and helped to found the Stone City Art Colony during the Depression. He has been quoted as saying, "I realized that all the really good ideas I'd ever had came to me while I was milking a cow."

While familiarizing myself again with his story, I came across a website I found very appealing which gives an interesting account of his life, along with information on the art colony and a gallery showing some of his paintings. He identified strongly with his roots, adopting the habit of wearing overalls, often depicted as the quintessential garb of a farmer, even painting his self-portrait in them. One of the bits of information I found interesting was that in later years he painted his self-portraits with a v-necked shirt, replacing the overalls, perhaps in an attempt to be viewed as a more universal artist rather than a regionalist.

I think for most artists there's a need to not be pigeon-holed, but remain free to express themselves in whatever way they feel moved to do so. That might best be expressed in still life, or in portraits, perhaps even in a more abstract vision of life.

Grant Wood found himself in all of these, but it's his rounded, rolling views of the land that he has become most well-known for, and for that I'm glad. I like them.

If you'd like to check out that website:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A New Way of Looking at Life

Last evening, while on a walk with Buddy, as we approached the meadow just down the road, I saw what appeared to be some kind of animal standing near the edge of it. I couldn't quite make out what it was, but I knew it wasn't a bear. It wasn't dark enough for one. At first I thought it was a deer, as I had seen a pair of very young fawns prancing around on the road the day before. As we got closer, Buddy discovered two feathers lying on the side of the road. While I'm fishing one out of his mouth, a very large wild turkey made a beeline for the woods. Deer, wild turkey, I know. Not even close. But, from a distance.... We both continued to watch, hoping it would reappear.  After a couple of minutes, with evening waning, we turned and headed for home, feathers in hand. One for Buddy and one for me.

Okay, so my eyesight isn't what it once might have been, but the changes wrought have brought about some rather interesting encounters.  Earlier in the day, I had reread a poem by Lisel Mueller that I liked very much when introduced to it a few years ago. It's about the painter, Claude Monet, and how he saw the world around him. I was, at the time, enamored of these lines and wrote about them in a very early post:

"I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent."

Now, despite my eyesight, I see so much more. It's interesting to revisit a poem or a piece of prose and realize how my viewpoints on life have changed. Sometimes these changes are miniscule, other times it's clear I've moved into an entirely new way of looking at life. In this poem the changes are not profound, but I'm enjoying how different words carry weight now and other phrases have caught my attention. Anyway, you will see what you see. That's the beauty of the written word.

"Monet Refuses the Operation"

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen Cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolves
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes,
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

~Lisel Mueller

Cletis L. Stump, at  has what he refers to as Creative Sunday on his blog. He has generously featured two of my posts on previous Sundays and now one today. I'm very grateful to him for his encouragement and support. We meet some pretty cool people out here in Bloggerville, don't we?

No, that's not Cletis in the picture above. That's Claude. The image at the top is one of his water lily paintings.