Sunday, October 30, 2011

This Land is Our Land

In my post yesterday, I mentioned the Farm Security Administration and the photographers they hired to raise awareness, as we've come to call it, about "rural poverty." Looking back at that time, and living on the edge of it myself during the mid-to-late 1950's, it seems redundant. There were no wealthy people in rural America, and very few middle-class. The rural areas consisted almost exclusively of farmers, and most weren't even in striking distance of the middle-class, let alone any semblance of wealth as it's measured by most segments of society.

Besides the photographs taken in black and white, which created a stark vision of these people and their way of life, the photographers also shot many photos in color, which put things in yet another perspective. These included other aspects of American life during this period in our history. A few years ago, the Library of Congress held an exhibit of these photos called, "Bound for Glory: America in Color."  Last week, a friend sent a link to the Denver Post and its Plog, a blog dedicated to photography, which features the images shown at that exhibit. I'm including a link to that page, along with a few of my favorites.  It's not just the subjects that speak to me in these photographs, but the colors, the compositions, and the stories they tell.

Here's the link to the Denver Post Plog and the photographs. They speak for themselves:
Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943 – Plog Photo Blog

The photos (taken from color slides) and the photographers, in order:
A starch factory in Caribou, Aroostook County, Maine, 1940, by Jack Delano
Rural school children in San Augustin County, Texas, 1943, by John Vachon
Greene County, Georgia, 1941, by Jack Delano
Farm auction, Derby, Connecticut, 1940, by Jack Delano (Note the couple in the right foreground)
Woman at roundhouse giving a locomotive a steam bath, Clinton, Iowa, 1942, by Jack Delano
Welder in rail yard, Chicago, 1943, by Jack Delano
Assembling B-25 bombers, Kansas City, Kansas, 1942, by Alfred T. Palmer
The Caudill's, Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940, by Russell Lee
Juke Joint, Belle Glade, Florida, 1941, by Marion Post Wolcott

Note: remember that they can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Just me, Harpin' About that Homemade Hope

Most of us are familiar with the iconic images that came from Dorothea Lange during her years as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration (later known as the FHA). Walker Evans and Gordon Parks are also names that come up frequently in relationship to this time. There were several others who were also sent out to capture images of rural poverty in order to sell the New Deal. Politics being what they are and have always been, it's an interesting look at what has been done to carry a message out to the many.

This particular "marketing" ploy caught on more than some others, but not enough to convince the majority of farmers to become part of  "collectivized agriculture." Yes, that was one of the less-than-modest proposals. The government wanted to round up farmers in large numbers, onto government owned land, where they would produce food, with the government controlling them through "suggestions" (read: rules and regs) offered by "experts" on what would be the most efficient and profitable for "all."  When the farmers balked at this, wanting to own their own land and make their own decisions, they then made it possible to obtain loans for land, farm equipment, and new gadgetry, all at Very low interest rates. Is any of this sounding familiar?  History having a tendency to repeat itself and all.

Anyway, farmers in droves signed up for their new farm machinery, ultimating in spanking new cabs, with heat and radios to listen to the farm report. Of course, these put them deeply in debt, things started to go haywire, and farms were auctioned off, by the banks that came to own them, in huge numbers. Add Monsanto (corporate greed run amok doesn't begin to describe this fiasco) to the mix and goodbye family farms.

Farming was not an easy life, but it was a self-reliant life, at least it was before greed took hold at every level. I understand the need for rules and regs when you're talking food for public consumption, I understand that if you're willing to sign on the dotted line you have to be willing to follow those rules and regs. Taking money from the government is not without rules, all part of the big plan. So, basically, we got collective agriculture anyway, just scattered around a bit more, allowing farmers to continue for awhile under the illusion that they actually owned their farms and had a say in how it was all going to go down.

Yes, I'm off on a tangent, and I don't know for sure why, but here it is. I started out just wanting to post some interesting images from that time (and I will, very soon), but today I need to vent. I realize there are so many ways of looking at this issue, that it's a very complicated one, and my approach is an emotional one, but it's another fine example of how we are sold a bill of goods by the government, all while thinking they're doing us a big favor.

The best way out of this is to return to small community thinking and doing. Buy local whenever possible, create your own sustainability right where you're at, and forge relationships with others who will help to create a support system that is unwavering, the only rule being "love thy neighbor as thyself," which has been said in one form or another in pretty much every spiritual tradition that's ever been. It's also a good thing to follow even without the spirituality thrown in. Ethics, pure and simple.

Anyway, here is the link that got me going, got me thinking (too much, perhaps) and put me here, in this place of consternation:

I know, this isn't exactly cheery stuff here, unless we take the possibilities to heart and head in the direction of that homemade hope I've been harping about for the past couple of years.

There. I think I'm done. For now. Plus, I've used up my quota for alliteration again, unintentional though it was.

Anyway, Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer, writer, and all around good guy, says it better, and more succinctly, than I:

We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibilities that have been turned over to government, corporations and specialists, and put those fragments back together again in our own minds, and in our families and household and neighborhoods.

Photos of and by Ms. Lange.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Rhythm of the World

When the world seems a little more than just frayed around the edges, it helps to have a reminder of its inherent goodness, and to be carried away once again by its rhythmic beauty. Yesterday, my friend, Jeff (often referred to as JB), sent a reminder in the form of a video link that knocked my socks off. It's the trailer for a series by the BBC called, "Human Planet." It's an astonishing view of life and the best 3:33 I've spent in a long time. I'm betting you'll feel the same. If you've already seen it, perhaps you'll find it worth another look. The link takes you directly to the video where you can watch it on an expanded screen in HD. You won't be disappointed. Really. I think I can even promise this.

The same stream of life
that runs through my veins
runs through the world
and dances in rhythmic measure.

It is the same life
that shoots in joy
through the dust of the earth
into numberless blades of grass,
and breaks into tumultuous waves
of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked
in the ocean cradle
of birth and death,
in ebb and flow.

My limbs are made glorious
by the touch of this world of life;
and my pride is from
the life throb of ages
dancing in my blood this moment.

~ Rabindranath Tagore, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1913

Photographs by Timothy Allen. On his website, you'll find a link to a slide show of many more beautiful images from this series, plus some interesting advice about following your "enthusiasm."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Heart of a Lion

One spring morning in the mid-1960's, when I was about eleven years old, I woke up to a sound I had never ever heard before. It was the sound of my father crying, and not just crying, but sobbing. As far as I could tell, he was sitting at the kitchen table. Though I was two rooms away in a bedroom I shared with two sisters, in my young mind I could almost see him there at the table, head in hands, more distraught than I had ever thought possible. My mother was saying soothing things to him, with words I couldn't quite make out. It was still dark, which made the sorrow even more solid and hard to understand. Our father did not cry. What could have possibly made this happen?  Life felt very odd to me at that moment, the world had tipped on its axis. I was lying in bed, with the blankets pulled up around me, and no idea what to make of this.

After the house had warmed a bit and things had gotten quiet, I got up and went into the kitchen. My father had gone out and my mother was there alone. I pretended to be busy getting a bowl of cereal or something when I asked her, in my usual vague manner - not feeling free to intrude upon their private lives - what had happened.

Our father had, a few days earlier, purchased several birds, some considered rather exotic. He was going to add them to our growing collection of animals and birds that would inhabit the wild animal park they were creating, which was opening sometime in May, fishing opener more than likely. My parents had named it Deer Valley, as it was set in a valley between two small but busy tourist towns near where we lived.

I knew Dad had carefully constructed a pen for these birds in a corner of the barn, waiting for slightly warmer weather to transport them to the park. I'm sure he felt absolutely confident he'd built it in such a way as to prevent any intruders from entering it. He was a very careful man. But, the night before, that pen hadn't stopped a mink or weasel from finding a way into the barn, digging far under the fence, and killing every single one of those birds.

I don't know if my father was terribly distraught because of the loss of the birds - their lives, which I know he valued, and the cost, which would have been a lot for us in those days - or because he couldn't get past feeling responsible for not hearing what surely must have been a ruckus in the barn. Later, we talked about how the dog hadn't even barked, which seemed unusual. He had, for reasons now lost to time, went out early, before sun-up, to check on them. I wouldn't doubt that, on some intuitive level, he already knew before he entered the barn.

As my mom and I stood there in the kitchen, it dawned on me that my dad was not invincible after all, that it was possible for him to hurt to the point of crying, that he could feel real pain over life's sometimes scarring circumstances. It was a hard thing for me, to see my dad in this new light, as a fully-realized human being. And in that moment, I wished it wasn't true, that the mink had not gotten into the pen, my father had not sat at the kitchen table in the dark in the early morning and sobbed, I had not heard my mother quietly talking to him in her attempts at making it hurt less, and that we could go back to the way things were.

But we couldn't, and we didn't, and life went on. It was not the last of my father's hurts over the care of these animals. But it was the first. And although our animals were not exotic animals - they were deer and bear, red fox, buffalo, and other native animals - you might feel we had no business keeping any such animals, and you would be right. A few years later, my father's new awareness took hold and he let the business go. I remember him telling me that he'd come to see the animals as his "relatives."  He felt close to them and no longer wanted to be the keeper of the keys.

I thought about this last week as those exotic animals in Ohio met their death at the hands of men who would say they had no recourse, and were given the order to "shoot to kill."  The whole thing left me feeling unsettled and with more than a few questions, especially after reading that the animals didn't roam much farther than a few hundred yards from their fence. Yes, I've read all the reasons why they felt they had to shoot. I'm fully aware of the reasons why they felt tranquilizer guns would not have been a timely and effective solution. But I'm still left with questions.

I understand the fear local residents must have felt, knowing some of the animals had escaped previously and knowing the terrible damage that they could inflict on their lives, but I so wish it could have been another outcome than death to those beautiful animals. The image of that lion lying there dead is heartbreaking. I know, I know, better this way than a human life lost, but I still can't quite wrap my mind around what happened. Eighteen of the tigers were Bengal tigers, which are dangerously close to extinction. Why was this man allowed to keep these animals?
My next question is this: if the man who kept these animals had been someone other than a man who'd had previous run-ins with the law (he had recently served a year in Federal prison for having unregistered weapons) say a local banker, doctor, lawyer, or other respected businessman, someone with whom local law enforcement would more than likely be on good terms, would they have looked for other ways to deal with this problem than just "shoot to kill?"  Would they have handled it differently?  Or did they perhaps, just perhaps, act out their frustration with this man by simply eliminating the animals?   I'm sorry, but these are some of my questions.

In any case, these animals were killed through no fault of their own, but just by being the animals they were, and had always been.  It's hard for me to accept.  And it makes me very sad.

Here's Neil Young and "Ohio."  I can't help but think it's connected. Everything is.

The top photo is from National Geographic. The others are from news sources in Ohio.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

All Hands on Deck

One of the things I try to do in order to avoid getting into a rut in life is listen to new music. It's music I might not look into, left to my own devices, so I'm grateful that my sons, Trevor and Coleman, who love music at least as much as I do, send me links to music they think I'd like. Without fail they're right, because even if it's not what I'd continue to listen to, I like knowing I've at least been introduced. Both of my sons are big fans of a man named Maynard Keenan, the genius behind the group Tool. Yes, genius. He may not be Dylan or Cohen to my age group, but for many in the younger generation, he fits easily into that category.

Although Tool, being a metal band, is not necessarily to my liking music-wise, I do appreciate reading the lyrics and developing an understanding of what this generation is relating to through music. Maybe three years ago now, Coleman and I agreed we'd each buy a CD we knew the other liked in order to discover music through the others eyes and ears. He asked me to buy "10,000 Days," by Tool and I asked him to buy "Modern Times," by Bob Dylan. I listened to it as I drove from Santa Fe to Minnesota in one of my visits home. It was an interesting opportunity for me as a mother to get inside my kid's head and see what was going on there. I was very happy with what I found. And although I did not convert him with the Dylan, I'm glad he gave it a try. He did like several cuts and what mother could ask for more?

Keenan is one of those multi-talented people who has developed a life around his passions. He has two other music projects, which create an interesting mix: A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, both of which are more alternative, rather than metal.  No matter which one he is speaking through, he has some solid ideas around what's happening politically and culturally, as well as some very intriguing thoughts on metaphysics and spirituality. Then, there's his wine company, which I'll get to.

Last week sometime, Coleman sent a youtube video to me from Puscifer's new album, "Conditions of My Parole." The first time I watched and listened to it, I liked it. There's something about it that drew me in and, like many music videos, it has a nice visual payoff at the end, an ending that left me wondering even more about Maynard Keenan and his perspective on life. Sort of a Mad Max meets Noah and the Ark. At least, that's what I saw. I've promised myself I would do better at keeping an open mind and gaining some measure of understanding around those things that mystify me. This man might, at first glance, be dismissed as an odd duck, to say the least, but that would be an injustice. He has a lot to say, has chosen a variety of ways to say it, and I admire that.

Now, the wine.  Keenan has developed a vineyard that has been producing consistently good wines, which have received high ratings from wine connoisseurs. I'm no connoisseur, but I'm thinking about ordering a bottle or two. I love what he's created in his site, Caduceus. Once you enter, you see a "book" that looks like an ancient script. After the introductory pages, you'll find several  pages dedicated to the different wines he offers. Click on the corners and turn the pages. The descriptions are almost poetic and the whole thing is a fun read. It's  accompanied by his song, "Indigo Children."    I think it's just a very cool site.

See, wasn't that fun?   Now, here's "Man Overboard."  May I suggest you click on it and watch it in HD (720p) on youtube itself?  Oh, come on, give it a chance. You never know, you might surprise yourself....

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Value in Remembering Katyn

For the most part, I try to stay away from politically charged themes, so for the sake of continuing in that tradition, do you mind if we call this a movie review?  It really is about a movie, which happens to be about an important story. It came up for me again today when I read where Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has made a statement regarding the slaughter of thousands of Polish men in the forest of Katyn in 1940.  The news story states the number at 2,000. So, I'm left wondering if that's the official number that Russia is willing to apologize for murdering, or is that a misprint?  Because the actual number is around 22,000. It included Polish officers as well as university professors and anyone else considered a part of the intelligentsia. They were, by orders from Joseph Stalin, executed one by one and then buried in a mass grave, with bulldozers doing the rest of that very dirty work.

Rather than show images from the excavation of those graves, I'd like to share a trailer for the film. Like so many foreign films, it deals with really tough subjects, but it does so in an atmosphere that constitutes some of the best cinematography one could find in film, which, in this case, serves to heighten the horror over what happened at Katyn. No, it's not so difficult to watch that one is left feeling manipulated, but it does underscore our terrible shared history. The key to films such as this is that one would hope it serves a greater good and that it would aid in not allowing history to repeat itself.

It follows the lives of four women who are impacted, each in their own way, by the arrest and eventual deaths of the men in their lives: brothers, husbands, fathers, sons. Directed by Andrzej Wajda, who is considered one of the finest directors we have, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008. To add even more gravitas to the film, not that it needed more, Wajda's own father was among those murdered in the Katyn forest. His story is a very personal one, indeed.

When I read the statement by the Russian foreign minister today, I almost got angry all over again. The carefully worded statement is filled with the kind of political rhetoric that still runs rampant. He said, "Russia is ready to consider a perfectly legitimate request to declare these people innocent."  Huh?  It kind of reminds me of President Obama's wording in his statement today regarding the complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq by the end of the year - except for those who will be left to guard that monstrous multi-billion dollar fiasco built by taxpayers money, our money, called the American Embassy, another monument to American greed. Okay, okay, he said, "After nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over."  Again, huh?  I'm sorry, Mr. President, but that is not and never was, "America's war." It is and always has been a Bush/Cheney war and then it became Your war. So, please stop referring to it as "America's war." I take extreme umbrage to that bullshit. But, as they say, I digress.

"Katyn" is an excellent film, telling an important story, and if you like foreign films at all, I cannot imagine you would be disappointed - sad, very sad, maybe even mad at the ways that human beings can act towards one another, a story repeated over and over again right up to the present day, but you won't be disappointed in the film. I try not to give movie-going direction, but may I please offer one suggestion?  Stay with the film even when the screen goes gray. It goes gray for a reason. Let that reason soak in. And, while you're staying with it, stay for the credits. I'm a big credit watcher. I think it's important that we honor all those who are part of films that matter. This one matters.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What the Dog Says

This morning, while on an archaeological dig through the ephemera of my life, searching for a possible post-related item, I ran across some poetry that a friend from Santa Fe introduced me to shortly after I arrived there. His love of poetry dovetailed nicely with mine, both of us having our favorites. During our occasional nights of poetry reading, he would sometimes bring out a poem by either William Stafford or Stephen Dobyns. When he ran across one he thought I would especially like, he'd make a copy of it for me to take home. So, while another idea percolates, I thought I'd share one with you that I saved from that time. I mean, who doesn't like a dog with good ideas?  And who hasn't stared into the refrigerator late at night, "as if into the place where the answers are kept?"

"How to Like It"

These are the first days of fall. The wind
at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,
while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns
is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,
the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.
A man and a dog descend their front steps.
The dog says, Let's go downtown and get crazy drunk.
Let's tip over all the trash cans we can find.
This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.
But in his sense of the season, the man is struck
by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories
which were shifting and fluid have grown more solid
until it seems he can see remembered faces
caught up among the dark places in the trees.
The dog says, Let's pick up some girls and just
rip off their clothes. Let's dig holes everywhere.
Above his house, the man notices wisps of cloud
crossing the face of the moon. Like in a movie,
he says to himself, a movie about a person
leaving on a journey. He looks down the street
to the hills outside of town and finds the cut
where the road heads north. He thinks of driving
on that road and the dusty smell of the car
heater which hasn't been used since last winter.
The dogs says, Let's go down to the diner and sniff
people's legs. Let's stuff ourselves on burgers.
In the man's mind, the road is empty and dark.
Pine trees press down to the edge of the shoulder.
Fixed in his headlights, the eyes of animals
shine like small cautions against the night.
Sometimes a trailer truck lit up like Christmas
roars past and his whole car briefly shakes.
The dog says, Let's go to sleep. Let's lie down
by the fire and put our tails over our noses.
But the man wants to drive all night, crossing
one state line after another and never stop
until the sun creeps into his rearview mirror.
Then he'll pull over and rest a while before
starting again, and at dusk he'll crest a hill
and there, filling a valley, will be the lights
of a city entirely new to him.
But the dog says, Let's just go back inside.
Let's not do anything tonight. So they
walk back up the sidewalk to the front steps.
How is it possible to want so many things
and still want nothing? The man wants to sleep
and wants to hit his head again and again
against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?
But the dog says, Let's go make a sandwich.
Let's make the tallest sandwich anyone's ever seen.
And that's what they do and that's where the man's
wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator
as if into the place where the answers are kept --
the ones telling why you get up in the morning
and how it is possible to sleep at night,
answers to what comes next and how to like it.

~ Stephen Dobyns

As I re-read this, John Updike's character, Rabbit Angstrom, came to mind, the night he went out for cigarettes and didn't come back. Perhaps if Updike had provided a dog for his character, one capable of talking some sense into him ... ah, but that would be a different tale. Thank God for Buddy, who's pretty good at keeping me in line. Most of the time.

The dog says, Let's go into the kitchen. Let's eat all the cookies in the cupboard.

The photographs of Buddy are mine.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Sound of My New Life

Last night, sleep came easy and left early, so I was up again this morning well before first light. As I stood out in the yard, with silhouettes of bare-limbed trees all around the house that just last week were dripping with fall color, thoughts about the changes life has wrought formed around me. After being away for several years from this place where I grew up, I find I'm still growing used to being back, still settling in to a new sense of home. There in the dark, I could almost feel the movement of the universe itself, taking me further away from what was - the places I've been and the people I've known - and pulling me ever closer to the new. And though the cool night air was still hanging around my porch, I was warmed by this feeling. I knew, standing there at the edge of morning, "what's past is always prologue." *

Before I could see the headlights through the trees, I could hear the neighbor's truck as it crossed the bridge that leads to their farm. The now familiar rumbling has become a comforting sound. It's the sound of my new life.

I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens with them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.

Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that's wide and timeless.

So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over the gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots embrace:

a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.

From Rainer Maria Rilke's  Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

*Paraphrased from Shakespeare's The Tempest

Paintings by Henri Rousseau  (1844-1910)

Monday, October 17, 2011

How I Went to the PO to Buy Stamps and Got a Lesson in Art Instead

Paying my bills by mail is something I don't intend to give up any time soon. I may be one of the last hold outs, but I want to see that paper bill in front of me. I want to keep track in a check book and I want to put a stamp on the envelope before dropping it in that blue metal box, sending it out the old-fashioned way. I still occasionally send a note or letter making sure to select a stamp or stamps the recipient might enjoy seeing or saving. The news that the postal service is in financial trouble is a tad troubling for me. I don't want to see it go by the wayside or be hijacked by a private corporation. I just want it to stay the United States Postal Service. Is that too much to ask?  Time will tell, but I'm going to keep buying stamps.

Last week, I went to the PO and, as always, asked the postmaster what he had that was new and interesting. He spread out the sheets before me so I could take my pick. Among the choices were stamps to remind folks to Go Green, stamps to honor animated films like, "Ratatouille," and stamps to honor Owney, the Postal Dog. Yes, the Postal Dog. There was even a stamp to honor Edward Hopper with an image of his seascape, "The Long Leg," (oh yes, I nabbed that sheet). Then, there was one that sort of stopped me in my tracks. It had images of work by an artist I'd never heard of before, at least not that I recall. I paused briefly to take a look, and then, so as not to rile any folks behind me trying to hurry through the postal experience, scooped that one up as well, paid my money to the man, and went on my merry way, ready to learn something new. And from the post office yet.

Here's what I learned:  Romare Bearden (1911-1988) was an artist who worked in a variety of mediums, including watercolors and oils, but became well-known for his collage work depicting the African-American experience. Four of them were chosen for the stamps. Wanting to learn more, I googled him as soon as I got home and spent some time familiarizing myself with his life and other images from his body of work. When speaking of his collages, which he felt brought together the past and the present, he said,  "When I conjure these memories, they are of the present to me, because after all, the artist is a kind of enchanter in time."   Enchanter in time. I like that.


You can google him, too, but here's a good place to start:

Images of work by Romare Bearden depicted on the stamps:

"Falling Star"
"Prevalence of Ritual: Conjur Woman" (conjur is Bearden's preferred spelling)
"Odysseus: Poseidon, The Sea God - Enemy of Odysseus"

Photograph of Bearden by Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Swimming in the Sea of Dreams

The wind is roughing things up a bit out there today. A panel on the tin roof of the garden shed has come loose and is moving back and forth in the wind. It rolls back, then comes crashing down on the rafters. It does this over and over like ocean waves breaking on the shore. I've made a note and tomorrow, when the wind has died down, I'll walk back there and find a way to nail it down again. There are a few odd jobs left before we move down the road toward winter.

Yesterday afternoon, I revisited a poetry site that Michael at  had mentioned to me. It includes many of my favorite poets: Mary Oliver, of course, David Whyte, Naomi Shihab Nye, Rilke and Rumi, along with many others. It also includes this woman, Wislawa Szymborska. I read through several of her poems and felt very drawn to her voice, what she had to say and how she said it, but this one stood out. It continues to grow on me, and has given me much to think about while I go about my day. I've asked myself a few questions in response to it. But first, the poem:


Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches entangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echos stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

~ Wislawa Szymborska
        (translation by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh)

The questions I posed to myself ran along these lines. I call them, 'What If.'

What if the sea into which we all seem to have plunged is really the Sea of Dreams?  What if we've never really left that island, that island where all becomes clear?   What if we're still standing on solid ground and have access to all roads?  What if we're only dreaming in the Sea of Dreams and every day we can choose instead to live with the weight of proofs, eat from the Tree of Understanding (remember, it's straight and simple), as we sit beside the spring of Now I Get It?

What if the wind does, if we let it, dispel all doubts instantly?  What if all the secrets of the world are explained in an echo, the echo we hear while swimming in the Sea of Dreams?  What if we can choose to rest in the cave where Meaning lies and bathe in the Lake of Deep Conviction, swimming through Truth?   What if we really live in the foothills of Unshakable Confidence, sheltered by its strength, as we walk through the Valley of Obviously, among the Essence of Things?

What if the island is not uninhabited, but the "faint footprints scattered on its beaches" are really the suggestion of myriad ideas who still roam freely on this island?  What if only in dreaming do we believe we've plunged into the depths of unfathomable life?  What if all we have to do is wake up and realize we've never really left this island, that we can simply stand up on solid ground, still there beneath our feet?  Look down. See those faint footprints in the sand?   What if they're yours?

Painting by Winslow Homer

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Basking in the Goodness That's Life

From the kitchen table, I can see Buddy's sweet little face, his chin resting on the arm of the couch where he lies. He's looking out the window, drifting in and out of sleep. For a moment, I wonder what he wonders. Does he have any need or desire to look beyond this perfect moment?  Or, is he just basking in the goodness that's life?

We were up early this morning, around 4:30. A light rain was coming down and dripping off the eaves as I stood under them watching Buddy watch for movement in the dark beyond the gardens. One morning we startled a doe and her two fawns as they made their way through the yard, stopping to munch on some greenery still growing on a trellis at the far end. A few days earlier, she had defiantly walked right past Buddy as she retrieved her wayward youngsters who had stopped by to help themselves to a few fallen apples. Sensing an attitude, he had repaired to the porch where he quietly watched as they walked down the driveway together, one of the fawns stopping long enough to greet a rabbit by the gate. Perhaps, this morning, he is recalling that interesting things can happen when we least expect them.

Last night, while dark settled in, I left the house and walked down the road towards the cabin to watch the full moon as it rose over the neighbor's field. The sky had suggested rain earlier, but it had blown over and the moon was shining down on the leaf covered road. As I watched it rise, something written by Wendell Berry came to mind:

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.

My photos: The old chicken coop with attached shed and the bicycle in the fall woods, which was resting there when I arrived.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Girl in the Woods

Every time I look at this image, it grows on me. There's something about the way the girl is standing in the forest, so alone and small beneath the ancient trees.  I wonder, why has she gone into these woods? What is she considering, as she stands there on the forest floor, a world of fallen leaves beneath her feet? She's holding on to something. It appears to be a solitary brush and a palette.  Has she gone into the forest to paint? Is she somehow lost? Is the world confusing, or has she found solace there?

The light coming through the trees, a gray-blue sky in the distance, a path winding its way between ... What was van Gogh trying to tell us? What did he see, what did he feel, when he painted her there, standing in the forest?  Again and again I return to the brushstrokes of green on the tree behind her. I think of him, in that moment when he moved his brush across his palette, then, reaching out, left those four small strokes of color.  It's been almost a hundred and thirty years, and they still make all the difference.

I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood, past manhood and all the living and dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.

~ Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums

Vincent van Gogh, "Girl in the Woods," 1882.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Everything Lives Inside Us

Three nights ago, after I had spent a good deal of time pouring over images of Katsushika Hokusai's prints, (which I quickly became enamored of), I dreamt about them. In my dream, I found myself living inside them. It was as though I had become part of the images, living a life set amongst these scenes with the people who inhabit them. We shared an unspoken communication, which made me feel deeply connected to them. There was nothing disturbing about the dream, just a sense of tranquility tinged with sadness that comes from knowing how tenuous life can sometimes appear to be. I was moved by their ability to remain quietly joyful.

Hokusai's most well-known piece is called, "The Great Wave off Kanagawa."  It brings to mind the earthquake and tsunami that wreaked such havoc on Japan a few months ago. This past Sunday night on 60 Minutes, Bob Simon visited a town that had been pretty much obliterated by the tsunami, a town where entire families are unaccounted for and presumed dead. There were some horrendous images of its after-effects, including large boats on tops of buildings amid devastating destruction, but his conversation with a man who had lost everything, everything, and was still able to smile, captured my heart.

In the narration, Simon talked about how in Japan it's considered a weakness to allow severe emotions to take over one's life; they believe they have an obligation to put on a very brave face and maintain a positive attitude, and yes, there is a downside to this part of their culture, but I was still amazed at this man's resiliency. During the end of the segment, he pointed out where his house had once stood. There on its site a hydrangea bush had small green shoots pushing their way out of the rubble-strewn ground. He showed them to Bob Simon, pointed at them, and with a smile said, "This is hope... We are living."

When I look at Hokusai's prints, I am awestruck by the work involved in carving a relief in wood of what is really a mirror image, which is then used to create the print. It's an interesting process that I don't fully understand, but I've been doing more reading about it and find it intriguing. I've discovered I have an affinity for them, along with a desire to better understand his passion for this work. I see it in the meticulous and loving care he's given them and I can't help myself, I'm smitten.

I encourage you to click on each image to see a somewhat larger, clearer view of them and if you're interested in doing any further reading you might want to start with these: