Monday, December 31, 2012

As Zinnias Melt into the Neck of His Guitar

It was about this time last year that I was introduced to the music of Jackie Leven, a singer/songwriter from Scotland who had recently passed from this world. Tony Zimnoch, a fellow blogger, posted a video to honor his passing. It would not be the first time I was late to a party. I discovered Jack Kerouac just weeks after his passing, something I lamented as the weeks rolled into months and then years. How does one grieve for the loss of someone with whom you have never been physically present?  Sometimes, it's their words. And sometimes, it's the sound of their voice, transcending any notion of time and place.

The video Tony posted, "My Philosophy," lead me on a voyage to a new world that continues to haunt me. There's something about the depth of his voice and his vision of life that speaks to my soul. If you haven't yet been introduced, please allow me the honor.

Here is Jackie Leven and "My Philosophy:

And forgive me, I cannot help myself, I must include his musical adaptation of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." These are such good places to start, especially on this eve of a new year.

Jackie Leven  (June 18, 1950 - November 14, 2011)

Happy New Year, Everyone. Together, we can create something better.

Tony's site, which is always intriguing:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Rene Magritte, "Face of Genius"

I've been messing around with "Soundcloud," recording a few things, having fun with it. This is a little experiment with my last post, "Standing in a Field at Midnight." I hope it's worth a listen, as a place to start... Here we go, into the wild blue yonder....


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Standing in a Field at Midnight

Yesterday, at the first hint of daylight, we stepped outside together, Buddy and I, and as I waited for him on the porch, breathing in the icy morning air and listening to the crows calling from the field, it felt as though it could be the very first morning anywhere. Perhaps this primordial feeling of leaning toward the light was due to the evening before, Christmas Eve.

I had more or less settled in for the night and was already in my robe when a friend called. I mentioned that the blues were trying to find their way in and I was thinking of going to bed. Knowing that was no way to turn in for the night, he talked with me for a few minutes, then suggested I get dressed and take a walk under the night sky, shake off whatever it was that was starting to feel heavy. I had to admit, it sounded like the perfect remedy. With a promise that I would let him know when I'd arrived back at the house safe and sound, I got dressed, bundled up against the cold December night, and down the driveway I went.

As I got closer to the road, the sounds of the river came rushing in along with the peace that had earlier eluded me. I stood above its banks, listening to it move around the little island in the middle, past the elbow where wildflowers bloom in the spring and early summer, down to the bridge below. The lights on the barn at the farm across the river cast a soft orange glow on the water and the ice. 

I walked a little further down the road, between the river and the field, keeping to the edge where the tree's shadows were dark and dense, yet even the bits of remaining leaves, still clinging to the ends of their long, slender branches, were clearly defined. It was as though the trees had lain down on the shoulder of the road to take their rest. I stood there, watching their shadows sleep. Then, I turned towards the field behind me and looked up.

A few million stars had quietly congregated in the night sky. For several minutes I watched them while a three-quarter moon looked down on the snow covered field where I stood. I could feel myself being replenished by the night, by the moon, the stars, and the river. Perhaps that moment could have become more perfect, but I really don't see how.

After a few more minutes, I walked back to the house, cold chin tucked into my collar, thinking how easy it would be to simply walk into the next universe, the one where everything is waiting.

Image from NASA

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In the Presence of Mystery


It was a night like all the others. Empty
of everything save memory. He thought
he'd got to the other side of things.
But he hadn't. He read a little
and listened to the radio. Looked out the window
for a while. Then went upstairs. In bed
realized he'd left the radio on.
But closed his eyes anyway. Inside the deep night,
as the house sailed west, he woke up
to hear voices murmuring. And froze.
Then understood it was only the radio.
He got up and went downstairs. He had
to pee anyway. A little rain
that hadn't been there before was
falling outside. The voices
on the radio faded and then came back
as if from a long way. It wasn't
the same station any longer. A man's voice
said something about Borodin,
and his opera Prince Igor. The woman
he said this to agreed, and laughed.
Began to tell a little of the story.
The man's hand drew back from the switch.
Once more he found himself in the presence
of mystery. Rain. Laughter. History.
Art. The hegemony of death.
He stood there, listening.

~ Raymond Carver

Photo from tumblr

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Perhaps it is time for my admission: I do not like Christmas.

It wasn't always this way. I grew up in a family that looked forward to it with almost the same enthusiasm we had for summer. We didn't go gaga over gift giving, but we always received what we wanted (within reason) and occasionally it was something that took us completely by surprise, like the rather well-stocked miniature bake set I received one year (I still have the tiny muffin tin), and, later, the ice skates that did not turn me into Peggy Fleming but I had fun trying.

My enthusiasm might have waned during my first marriage. We had fun decorating the tree, but putting it up was something else altogether. I have no idea why we could not get that tree up without a fight breaking out, but it happened, without fail, for ten years. Even a concerted effort not to go there ended in failure. Fighting over a Christmas tree seems a bit oxymoronic (heavy on the moron), but I suppose it's time to let bygones be bygones. It took a while, but we are friends now. Perhaps because we no longer have to put up a Christmas tree together.

My second marriage fared only slightly better. We couldn't count on a fight for that occasion, they just showed up haphazardly and that's where the fun came in, the element of surprise. Eventually, my husband had the good sense to humor me until the deed was done (correctly, I might add), and the household was happy once again. And thus another ten years.

During my brief third try (if one could call it that), putting that tree up turned out to be one of the best parts of the marriage. JB wasn't much for celebrations and so he stayed out of my way. And that's how that worked, for two whole Christmases. One of the things that made it magical was I got to put up the tree in a large rounded corner of the arts and crafts bungalow we purchased right after our marriage. It was a gorgeous tree covered in purple and silver decorations with clusters of glass grapes, apples and pears wrapped in velvet, and all manner of bejeweled birds. Garlands of crystalline snowflakes graced the open stairs. Cool house, cool tree, short marriage. Still friends.

Now, it's not that I have come to dislike Christmas, I just don't see the point. It has veered so far from any original meaning it might have had that it's become a caricature of its original if not misguided intention. Yes, my children will come over and we will exchange simple, locally made gifts by folks like Cyrus Swan, a friend and local potter. My older son likes the occasional fancy cigar and so I sometimes contribute. Would it be wrong for me to say I like standing in a good-sized, walk-in humidor and picking them out for him? I suppose it would, but there it is. I never said I would make Mother of the Year, but my kids still like me and come around regularly, and that's a good thing. I like them, too. I like the people they are and I stake no claim on that outcome. They are who they are and that's that. They'll be over on Christmas Day.

Oh, alright, I suppose I could put up that little table tree I still have, with a few of the purple and silver decorations I saved from the house on River Street. I carted those fool things out to Santa Fe and back, so maybe they deserve to be reprised, just this once, and I might as well put on my Johnny Mathis Christmas CD ... excuse me for a minute while I pull this punch bowl out of the farthest corner of the cupboard, and maybe my mother's crystal candy dish. While I'm there might as well get out her Fiestaware gravy boat so I don't forget to use it. My god, she made good gravy ... I'm telling you, it's a vortex ...

The photograph is of the bicycle atop my garage for no discernible reason, but it was there when I arrived, complete with Christmas lights, and so it shall remain.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

They Called Her Pearl

When I was barely 16, I sat down with the guidance counselor at my high school who proceeded to ask me what my future plans were, so I told him. I wanted to be a war correspondent. He replied, "Oh, a photojournalist?" I replied, 'No, a war correspondent.' I'm pretty sure I saw him hesitate before he realized I wasn't kidding. I was being specific. So, instead of trying to dissuade me, he told me what classes I should be prepared to take in order to achieve my goals. This being the late 1960's, long before the advent of computers and cell phones, the idea of taking stenography left me cold. But, I did not voice this to him, and I wasn't deterred.

I was ultimately thwarted by my own choices. Early marriage and motherhood did not allow for globetrotting journalism. Looking back, I feel fairly confident in saying I'm okay with that. It still sits in the back of my mind as something that would have led for an interesting life, but I found other ways to take life out of the mundane, and they have served me well. I also get to remind myself every day that it's not over yet. I may not find myself hunkered down in the jungle, or behind a barricade next to a bombed out building with bullets flying, while I'm trying to snap a picture and tell a story I think the world needs to know, but one never knows where life will take them.

For many years I collected National Geographic and Life magazines that contained stories written and photographed by Vietnam War correspondents. More than one held a story from my hero, Dickey Chapelle. Dickey was a girl from Wisconsin whose life took her into the heart of war, if there is such a thing, where she witnessed and recorded, so all the world could see, its harsh reality.  Wherever she went, she wore a pair of pearl earrings, small bits of beauty among the horror and a reminder to me of the biblical admonition: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine."

On November 4, 1965, while on assignment near Chu Lai, Vietnam, she died doing what she loved, perhaps was even born to do, still wearing those pearl earrings. Her friend and fellow correspondent, Henri Huett, took her picture as this brave and honorable woman received last rites. I cannot speak for her, but cannot imagine she would have wanted her death recorded any other way. A few years later, Huett, along with several other correspondents, would lose their lives when their helicopter was shot down over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.

In January of 2005, I was given a book called Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina. It contains the stories and photographs of many people I have come to admire. It covers journalists from all over the globe who lost their lives, including those from the "other side" of these conflicts. It remains among my prized possessions. Inside, my friend inscribed: "These brave men and women are an example to all of us. May we face our future with hope, courage and love." And, despite all the obstacles we put in our own way, I like to think we're still doing just that, although certainly not at the level of these very dedicated people who gave their lives to bring the truth to the world. I would be happy with even an infinitesimal part of their courage.

While looking through this book again today, I found this final message from Associated Press reporter, Mean Leange, who was in the Phnom Penh post office, where he had been receiving reports from other Cambodian reporters, shortly before Cambodia descended into hell, falling to the Khmer Rouge on April 16, 1975.

I alone in post office, losing contact with our guys. Only guy seeing me is Moonface at 13:00 [1:00 P.M.]. I have so numerous stories to cover.

Only call from Seang [an AP reporter], still at Hotel Le Phnom. Seang told me black-jacketed guys [the Khmer Rouge] want his bike.

I feel rather trembling. Do not know how to file out stories.

How quiet the streets. Every minute changes. At 13:00 local my wife came and saw me here at post office saying that Monatio [French for the National Movement, or Khmer Rouge] threatened my family out of the house. Vichith lost his camera to the black-jacketed guys.

Appreciate instructions. I not admitted to Le Phnom Hotel this morning into Red Cross security zone. Need press card. I have none. Last night they admitted me to Le Phnom.

The Red Cross ordered removal of all belongings whatsoever having military aspect.

I, with a small typewriter, shuttle between the post office and home.

May be last cable today and forever. 

George Esper, chief correspondent for the Associated Press in Indochina, replied in a message to Mean Leange, telling him to leave the post office immediately and seek safety wherever he could.

Mean lived in obscurity for a few years, hiding his involvement with the AP. Eventually, he was found out through his own inexplicable admission. Wanting for some time to return to Phnom Phenh, he asked for permission to do so from the Khmer Rouge, thereby revealing his true identity. His request resulted in his immediate execution.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sunlight Through the Pines

Well, I got my wish. Several inches of soft new snow is resting all around me. But the best part is waking up to clear blue skies. And I do mean blue.

Yesterday, while on a walk with Buddy, I heard what I thought was a hawk somewhere across the river. While I listened, a pair of trumpeter swans silently crossed the road above us, their ethereal bodies blending with the soft gray sky. I watched them, like a prayer, as they passed, and then turned my attention to the sound coming from the river where the hawk was now circling. He floated above us for a few seconds, then we watched as he glided over the treetops and out of sight.

This morning, as I watch the sunlight coming through the pines, creating shadows on the snow, patterns as fine as any found on this planet, I know life is kind and good, and this clear blue morning is as sweet as any morning that's ever been.

The photograph is of my back yard this morning.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Across the Universe

Shortly after I posted about Rene Magritte, my friend, Cletis Stump, shared with me a video by Rufus Wainwright in which one of the Magritte paintings seems to come to life, with a young Dakota Fanning wandering through. In the video, Rufus is singing John Lennon's, "Across the Universe." Later, I was reminded by fellow blogger, DJan, that today is the anniversary of John's death. She has a post which includes her poignant memory of that day. Here they are, Rufus and Dakota, John and Rene, all in one very cool video:

Yes, Dakota. Ironic, or the Universe in action?

You may find DJan's post here:

A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma

Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.

The surreal is but reality that has not been disconnected from its mystery.

To be a surrealist means barring from your mind all remembrance of what you have seen, and being always on the lookout for what has never been.

All paintings and italicized quotes by Rene Magritte ( November 1898 - August 1967)

Thank you to Tony at for posting the beautiful Magritte painting, "Empire of Light," which reminded me.

The title is alluding to a speech, "The Russian Enigma," given by Winston Churchill on October 1, 1939.

What is the true nature of reality?  That question continues to intrigue me....

Friday, December 7, 2012

Five Words I Never Thought I'd Say

I want it to snow.

The steel grey skies which seem to define November have spilled over into December and it's starting to wear. Day after day with nothing happening makes me long for simple hibernation. I can immerse myself in seed catalogues and dream of spring, but I need something to happen in the now. This morning, I was wishing the universe would surprise me with snow. And, it appears it will do just that starting tomorrow night. While I wait in sweet expectation, I have Annie Lennox to see me through. Here's one of my top five favorite songs, sung by one of the greatest song interpreters ever:

Image: the entrance to my home in November of 2010

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dreaming of Summer Along Baker Creek

It arrived in the mail a few days ago. I've left it sitting on the kitchen table so that I might peek inside from time to time, before I dive into page after page of pleasing images. On this sixth day of December, I feel a deep need rising, pulling me into the center where hedgerows of lilacs are always blooming and my soul is languishing in the highest branches of the hydrangea tree, where apple trees in the orchard are busy forming buds of eternal flowering and nasturtiums are not only edible, but life-saving, petal-soft wafers of sweet salvation on my tongue.

Pardon me while I catch my breath.

Dreams of a bountiful secret garden with words of irresistible possibility spring forth from inside this need, inside these pages. Amaranth alone could hold me hostage for a day. Listen ...

Early Splendor: "Incandescent crimson foliage, angular and recurved, eventually morphing to a rich cocoa-brown, " and what more could be said than the name of Love Lies Bleeding Red?

Artichokes, Cardoons, and asparagus: "Beloved early-spring crop in Europe since ancient times, asparagus is a perennial plant that starts slow but yields for many years ..."

Who could resist  the history of the Knife River squash?  "Color is usually salmon pink to buff, with an occasional green fruit. The variety originated when three Indian tribes, the Hidatsa, Arikara and Mandan, were living in close proximity for protection, near the confluence of the Missouri and Knife rivers. An excellent grower on vigorous vines. Superb flavor with a unique sweetness."

Then, there's the Prosperosa eggplant: "Massive fruits are nearly round to slightly teardrop shaped, and sometimes very slightly ribbed. Their rich dark purple exterior also glistens with a satiny green sheen ... the white flesh as good as the fruit looks, being mild, tender ... grown for generations in Tuscany."

Perhaps the simple garden pea, elevated to new heights in the Blue Podded Blauwschokkers (truly): "A beautiful and ornamental pea that produces lovely purple-blue pods that can be harvested young and used as a snow-pea, or let mature and shell for fine soup peas ... dates back hundreds of years in Europe."

And this, an ode to the Stelley okra:
"Louisiana variety originally collected
in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana,
at the heart of Cajun heritage and culture,
where it was found growing near an old,
abandoned homestead nearly fifty years ago ..."

Oh, Sweet Passion, I mustn't forget the melons: "According to legend, the sweet orange flesh is said to cause a state of passion if eaten straight from the garden on a moonlit summer night ..." How does one resist that?  Is it even possible?

And I didn't even touch on the herbs: Persian basil, blue hyssop, lion's tail mint, and Moldavian balm, used for "lightening a discouraged heart."

Sigh ...

Perhaps I'll just take a little nap over there by the window, where the sunlight is beginning to play on the corners of the windowsill ...

"Au milieu de l'hiver, j'apprenais enfin qu'il avait en moi un ete invincible."

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." ~ Albert Camus

Images are my photographs. The cover of the catalog is of zinnias, Senorita Pink.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Psalms According to Antony

When Antony first walked onto the stage in the Leonard Cohen documentary, "I'm Your Man," and began to sing, I was utterly transfixed. I couldn't take my eyes off him. This odd looking angel appeared as though out of the mist, transported here from another world, a modern day David singing a psalm to the universe itself. Here he is singing Leonard's "If It Be Your Will."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Trembling to Tell

I cannot tell you why I love this little poem by William Kloefkorn, but I do....

"I Stand Alone at the Foot"

I stand alone at the foot   
Of my father’s grave,   
Trembling to tell:   
The door to the granary is open,   
And someone lost the bucket   
To the well.

~William Kloefkorn  (August 1932 - May 2011)

The photograph is mine.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

For Just One Moment

Not much is happening out there today. As I pour the bird seed over the feeder I hear only the faint call of bird song. They've probably been wondering where I've been, leaving the feeder almost empty in yesterday's late afternoon, as I sat in a movie theater watching Daniel Day-Lewis become President Lincoln, and wondering why this country has always preferred war over peaceful resolution, has always wanted what others have instead of opening up its eyes to all the possibilities inherent in what we do have: sunshine, wind, and people with good souls and loving hearts. Certainly by now, we must be growing weary of the bodies in the mud and the sand.

I recall a day very near this one in feeling when I was probably thirteen years old. We had not yet moved from our small farm to the house on the lake. It was wash day, which always felt interminable. Lines of sheets and towels spread everywhere. But, in this moment, the last of the laundry was being removed so I stopped to listen more closely to a bird that seemed to be calling my name. As I listened my thoughts drifted to a Beatles song, "Nowhere Man," and I began to sing it softly to myself. I have no idea why that moment remains etched in my memory but there it is, as though it just happened.

Down in the hollow, on this morning, everything is still, and then a bird calls, loudly and persistently, to remind me that there is more happening in the world than I could ever see or hear, like the ice thawing and dripping from the edge of the cabin's metal roof onto the dead leaves below. As I listen, I sense the presence of the two little raccoon that spent the summer with me, tucked into the corner of the cabin, leaving me bereft with their passing. But, what if they didn't really leave? What if I dreamed it all out of fear and indecision, out of a learning that must now be unlearned?   What if they're still here but I can't see them?  What if all of life is concealed in the quiet of this moment, the only moment there ever really is?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On This First Morning in December

This morning, I'm just going to let William Stafford speak for me. He always does such a beautiful job of it....

"Any Morning"

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can't
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won't even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

~ William Stafford

Painting by N.C. Wyeth

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Visitor in the Vineyard

As I sit here listening to the General Assembly of the United Nations regarding the resolution to recognize Palestine, I notice I have a visitor to my blog from Palestinian Territories and this phrase in my stats, associated with this visitor: "Theresa and I were in the vineyard between the flowering apple trees and had lot of fun :)."  Yes, the smiley face was part of the search. Now, I don't spell my name with an 'h,' but even good friends forget sometimes, and I have never been in a vineyard with anyone, an orchard, yes, but not a vineyard. I have to say, the idea is very intriguing and I am not opposed to it, not at all. This is the post that his search led him to, whether he was heading there or not:

Thank you for visiting my blog, however inadvertent it might have been. I am honored.

And the vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state was just announced:

138 Yes
 9 No
42 Abstain.

Yes. This is a good day. A good step forward.

Image: my grapes, vintage 2010

She Had Angela Davis Hair

"The life that I could still live, I should live, and the thoughts that I could still think, I should think." ~ C.J. Jung

Image: me, in third grade, waiting for the school bus

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In the Currach of Thought

Currach. Isn't that a lovely word?  It's Scotch and Irish for a type of boat, canvas with a wooden frame. It's new to me, and I love almost nothing more than a new word, especially one that rolls so gently. This love of words sustains and elevates my days, nourishing my heart and soul like nothing else can. They transport my thought, like the currach, moving towards the hearts of others who are willing to meet mine and, in that meeting, find the "invisible cloak" of home.

"Beannacht / Blessing"

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

~ John O'Donohue, from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.

Painting by my beloved Winslow Homer

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Red Rubber Ball and the Summer of '66

In the summer of '66 many afternoons were spent at the bakery just down the street from my parent's cafe. The pinball machine was in the corner by one of the front windows and the jukebox in the other. We'd spin on stools of gaudy red plastic which sat in a row in front of the counter while penny candy lined the shelves on the other side. We must have driven the baker half mad as we slowly made our choices, but what I remember is his infinite patience. I was 13 that summer and knew good girls didn't buy candy cigarettes. I was not, however, adverse to bumming one off a friend. Jimmy J, the reigning pinball wizard, tried in vain to help me develop my timing, polish my wrist action, but I kept wandering over to the jukebox, the place where the secrets to life were kept, each one revealed in less than three minutes. Many songs had to have been played that summer but for the life of me I can recall only one: "Red Rubber Ball."

Note: "Red Rubber Ball" was co-written by Paul Simon.

Copyrighted image courtesy of Cletis Stump.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Empty Clothesline

"Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it." ~ Marilyn Robinson, author of Gilead

There are mornings that seem to require a softer step, a quieter entrance to the growing day, a time to let storms dissipate and fall into the nothingness from which they come. There's so much to be found in the "silent and invisible life," where anything is possible. Though the calendar tells us it's Monday, it's really just another "ordinary Sunday," deserving of all the gentleness we can bring to it, perhaps even a purer understanding of where each one of us might be on our own peculiar journey to remembering who we really are.

"Meeting the Light Completely"

Even the long-beloved
was once
an unrecognized stranger.

Just so,
the chipped lip
of a blue-glazed cup,
blown field
of a yellow curtain,
might also,
flooding and falling,
ruin your heart.

A table painted with roses.
An empty clothesline.

Each time,
the found world surprises—
that is its nature.

And then
what is said by all lovers:
"What fools we were, not to have seen."

~ Jane Hirshfield

Photo: my clothesline in summer

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Remembering Charles Doss

Surely we all have stories inside of us, waiting to be told. Some of them need to be told, some of them will never be told and some are still waiting their turn. This morning, I knew it was time for me to tell you about a man named Charles Doss, someone with whom I shared a connection many years ago, beginning in the late 1970's. I never had the privilege of meeting him in person, exchanging emails, nor speaking with him on the phone. It arrived through letters and a shared love of poetry. My oldest sister sent one of his books of poetry to me and in a desire to tell him how much his words meant to me, a correspondence began. His address: Box B - 32823, Florence, AZ. 85232, a federal penitentiary where he spent several years, waiting on death row. Some of those years were spent in solitary confinement, awaiting appeals, where he began to write.

Did I spend a lot of time researching his case? No, I did not. That was not my concern, nor was it my place to judge. The state of his heart and soul was my only concern. And someone whose life had changed so dramatically, as evidenced in his poetry, deserved nothing less. His initial letter stated: "Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you like my book. I agree with you at least 1,000% that  "Divine Love is the true source of all creativity," and I am always grateful for the opportunity to produce a poem or an essay."

It was one particular poem, contained within an essay, that struck me more deeply than the others. The essay was titled, "The Philippines of Our Soul."  I'd like to share a few excerpts from that essay along with the poem:

One of the many things that perplex me is the striking fact that I am happy...How can such a man be happy? I feel serenely confident that I can provide an answer. Let me commence by giving you a poem I wrote the other morning in the deep hours. It is called "Zamboanga."

There is an island in the Philippines,
or perhaps it is a province,
called Zamboanga.
I know nothing but its name, 
do not wish to know more.
It is pronounced with four syllables,
Zam bo AHNG ah,
and the sound to my ears is beautiful.

I don't know why it calls me so.
But I shall sojourn there one day,
and when I do I shall not be gray and old.
I shall be lean and hard, laughing and gay,
Filled with hope for the whole human race.
We should all have a Zamboanga,
lush, exotic, and beckoning,
Anchored brightly in the Philippines
                                   of our soul.

...there can be no walls in this universe high enough, no prisons tight enough, to prevent my journeys to Zamboanga. I need only to shut my eyes and make a slight wish, and there is no power on earth that can keep me from sailing away. Therefore it has communion, either in person or through the mails, with other souls that understand mystical islands that lie in perpetual tropics... What are we doing, you and I, when we speak searchingly of this magic island that shimmers in the non-existent sunlight? Where is the hemisphere that contains this place of such crucial significance in all our lives?
Can we not say simply that Zamboanga is love? 

I do not know the answer. I am simply a man who struggled to keep his sanity in a universe suddenly gone mad and tumultuous, and who was fortunate and blessed enough to discover his version of Zamboanga, which indeed was love - or shall we say Love?

Eventually, Charles Doss won a reprieve of sorts, his death sentence was commuted, and he returned to the main prison population, serving out the remaining years of his life. I'm sorry to say, my correspondence with him did not last that entire time. My life moved in new directions and our correspondence trailed off until it was no longer. In the last sentence of his last letter he wrote: "Good luck, my dear. I hope life is good to you," and then signed it, "Best love, Charles."

Even from inside those prison walls he knew that Love is the answer.

So, why did I decide to write about Charles today?  While looking at the stats for my blog this morning, I noticed that an unusual visitor arrived at almost the exact same time I got out of bed: 4:36. This visitor was from Zamboanga, Philippines.

Thank you, Cletis.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Sparrow in the Rafters

Having exhausted the pages of yet another notebook, and now on the verge of putting it to rest, I am, as usual, inclined to look back over it and see what made the cut, what didn't, and what might still be fodder for rumination and/or a blog post. Here are some samples chosen at my discretion. Parenthetical phrases shall be used in yet another miserable attempt at clarification and elucidation:

ensconced in reality  (whatever made me think that was a good idea?)

"i do love you thats why i'm leaving" (a keyword entry in my stats a few months ago)

a love poem for Tony Hoaglund (I went through a brief enchantment with this poet earlier this year from which I have since recovered)

Most life is what humans can't see.

Quote by Rilke: "This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love; the more they give, the more they possess."  (what a bunch of hooey that is)

"The Chrysanthemums," by John Steinbeck ( a short story recommendation from a friend)

"Garanimals." Zac Galifianakis' reply, when asked at the Oscars, "What are you wearing?"

Quote by Goethe: "As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live." (more hooey)

Gary was in love with Shari, Stan was in love with me, I was in love with a man I hadn't met yet, and Shari wasn't in love with anybody. (the start of a short story that should probably never see the light of day, some principal characters still alive and all)

pinochle and smelt (see above).

Dusk was deep, the air electric, the view extraordinary.  (notes on pink lightning)

Humans have a very poor record.

We shouldn't rate ourselves. Let giraffes do the rating.

"Sometimes I still miss being human. My god, it's all so beautiful." (what Jack told me one morning)

Quote by Bill, at PracticingResurrection: "If we buy products made with slave labor, we contribute to the profits of slave masters and we announce that we prefer the stuff they make to the freedom of slaves, who are usually children."

"Nil desperandum." (never despair)

The Odditorium

The Dead Relationship Scrolls (attribution goes to my friend, Diane)

The sheep's in the meadow, the cows are in mourning.

"Cook the potatoes like twenty minutes or so. Well, until they're cooked really." (cooking instructions from "Two Fat Chicks," a great cooking show on the cooking channel - don't judge me)

My mind is like a dog without a master.  (did I steal that from somebody?)

It's gonna get crowded under the bridges.

In 1881 Tolstoy took a walk in the woods and found God.

You're really quiet until someone pushes your on button. (what a friend told me)

bragging rights to who knew what pre-internet

Quote from Walker Evans: "Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. We are not here long."

pasture and back field  (words I love)

a long and tangled friendship (could be anybody)

"Senator, don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining." (I think it's from Hunter S. Thompson, but I'm not certain)

What seems perfect, sooner or later becomes less than.

Quote from Charles Bukowski: "Bad luck for the young poet would be a rich father, an early marriage, an early success or the ability to do anything well."

from the railroad tracks to the ocean

I cannot resist a burning bush.

the I of the storm

Quote of unknown origin: "He vibrates one make what one assumes is a pleading sort of noise. Females can sing, too...but their brains tell them not to."  (since when?)

Many people are having a hard time getting their eyes adjusted to the light.

dreams as avant garde plays

They create money out of nothing and charge interest on nothing.

Ghosts doing the Orange Dance (I have no idea and neither do you).

Jesus was a quantum physicist.

where meth meets myth  (lottery winner found dead from OD)

a lock of hair on barbed wire

Richard Pryor and Khalil Gibran

"The Encyclopedia of Games, Idiocy, and Disaster" (title for a book on relationships a friend and I agreed could be written by either one of us).

"Never stir the fire with a sword." ~ Pythagoras

"Hear a funky noise, the tightening of the screws." ~ from lyrics to the latest Stones song.

Beer Run at the Old Schoolhouse (a blog post I should write someday).

blackberry blossoms in autumn

"Your relationship software is incompatible." (another quote I must attribute to Diane)

a director for the movie of my life: somewhere between Wes Anderson and Tim Burton.

quote from Leonard on The Big Bang Theory: "Sometimes crazy looks like sad so it sucks you back in."

quote from Cletis Stump: "If you're a character in a Raymond Carver story, don't answer the phone."

At the end of my life, I don't want anyone to say, "She played it safe."  (and neither should you)

no more Cherry Garcia  (upon finding out Ben and Jerry's is a subsidiary of Unilever)

up on the roof as opposed to under the boardwalk

She's so close to the bottom her chin is scraping the rocks. (someone I know who's struggling more than she should be, and no, it's not me).

the sparrow in the rafters

Photograph, "Home Before Dark,"  by Eudora Welty, just because I like it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Half Moon Over the Meadow

Late yesterday afternoon, as a half-moon rose in a still-blue sky, Buddy and I went for a walk in the meadow. Intersecting paths used by all the creatures who live nearby are woven now across it. Here and there, depressions in the grass show where they have lain. Buddy stopped to sniff each one, sometimes burrowing his nose deep into the tufts of grass, savoring every last scent. As always, he ran from place to place with a big smile on his beautiful face, just so darn happy to be alive. One cannot remain passive in the presence of it. It calls for joy in equal measure, and I always return to the house better than when I left it.

I'm so grateful for his companionship, and for yours.

"Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence."  ~ Lin Yutang

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes

While wondering through a shop in New Orleans, I was reminded of my first glimpse inside a kaleidoscope. It was a birthday gift from my grandparents, just an inexpensive little thing, nothing like those I saw in the shop, but I still recall turning it over and over, watching those colored chips fall into pattern after pattern, a stained glass window in slow motion.

The shop in New Orleans was a kaleidoscope lovers paradise. They sat atop glass shelves and across the counters in every possible type of wood and in a variety of metals. They each had their own stand to cradle them, and each one I held to my eye offered something unique, with different configurations and varieties of colors.

I didn't go home with a kaleidoscope that day. Instead, I came home and bought one for myself and one for each of my sons, made of cheap cardboard, much like the one I had as a child. So much potential for beauty inside a small cardboard cylinder filled with tiny bits of colored glass.

This song popped into my head today so I went on a search and came across the most perfect video, which conjured up my love of kaleidoscopes. I think it's time for a bit of happiness:

Children of the Light

Though first recorded in 2009, this is, unfortunately, as relevant today as then, perhaps more so...  It's time to raise our voices against this and all forms of oppression and genocide, against all forms of tyranny and manipulation, against all measures that would make us believe we are anything less than Children of the Light, that we are One.

I found the video, with the words to the song, on CoyotePrime's site:

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Dolphins Under the Bridge

A few days ago, while visiting on the phone with a friend, we started talking about family, not our tribe, but the one we were born into, the one that all too often drives us nuts. You know the one. I guess with Thanksgiving approaching, it entered our minds as she was dealing with a self-inflicted invitation to the Family Fun House. We both like to think we are at least on the path to possible enlightenment and have found a way to move through these events unscathed. Then I reminded her of what Ram Dass says about that: "If you think you're enlightened, go spend a week with your family." She responded with a recent talk she'd watched by Joel Osteen (there's room for everybody at this table) who alluded to Noah's time on the ark, surrounded by nothing but family for days on end. No wonder his sons found him drunk with his clothes falling off. Given the extended family time, I told her I probably would have taken my chances in the water, flood or no flood, then she added, "...and pray for dolphins."

Dolphins have come to the rescue of humans more than once, not for me personally, but I've read of these rescues and I'm always taken with how compassionate and loving they seem to be, completely without judgment and open to us in ways that simply amaze me. Their behavior seems far superior to many humans.

My favorite dolphin story of all time is found in a documentary titled, "The Bridge." If you haven't seen it, I hope you will. It's a tough one to watch at times; the subject is not a happy one, but an important one, nonetheless. For a year, a film crew set up cameras near the Golden Gate Bridge, just to watch and record those who came to walk it, and, ultimately, those who came to end their lives there. Their job was not to interfere, it was to record the movement on the bridge. The story that unfolded was the story that unfolded.

We watch as their cameras find a variety of people, both young and old, who have lost their ability to make sense of life, who have come to end their personal nightmare.  And, we watch as some of them climb up and over, and drop to the water below. Some climb up on the railing, stand there for a few seconds and then fall backwards into eternity. Some hesitate and a person arrives just in time to prevent them from doing so. One young girl was literally pulled back from the edge, held onto by her rescuer as they waited for help to arrive, then taken away, along with her choice in that moment. We listen as family and friends talk, trying to make sense of it all, what and where it all went wrong for the person they loved so much. These are the stories of helplessness.

But, one of those stories was told by a survivor. He described how, after he had leaped, on his way down to the water, he felt remorse for his choice, and realized he wanted to live. More than anything. Not long after hitting the water and being pulled down into it, he found himself being raised up by a force he could not see. Something was working to bring him up to the surface until his head emerged above the water. What came to his rescue, what buoyed him to the surface? Dolphins. Dolphins came and formed a circle beneath him. They continued swimming in a circle, which created a buoyant force, and then swam him to the surface, holding him there, within their circle, until help arrived. It's a story about love, it's a story of how the universe works when we fully open ourselves to it, and it's a story I hope I never forget.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Silence is Not Golden

No, I haven't fallen into a deep dark hole. I'm just becoming more aware of the power of words to hurt or heal, and right now I would like to participate more fully in the healing, but there are things that cannot be ignored. We have ignored them for far too long. There comes a time when silence is complicity and I cannot remain complicit. I will write again about my love of nature. It hasn't gone anywhere. I still walk with Buddy and step outside every chance I get. But, this morning, I have returned from a video search through the music of Bruce Cockburn, who speaks out and has for years against tyranny and injustice and all things that matter.

I was first introduced to his music probably twenty five years ago, and have had the great privilege of seeing him live in small venues three times. They are the true nights to remember.

I woke up this morning to a Cockburn song emailed to me by a longtime friend, which led me on this journey through Cockburn country. That is one journey well worth taking. He sent another song, which helped to lift me above all the ludicrous ways we are lied to and led into believing things that aren't true. One of these is the history of how we stole this country away from the native people. I know there are people who will say that that's just the way it's always been. And they would be right, but that doesn't make it Right, and why are we still saying that?

A few weeks ago, I sat down to watch a program on PBS about how the government literally took Indian children from their homes, as young as 5, and put them in government schools so that they would be stripped of their language and their culture, indoctrinated into the white man's system, forced to adhere to the white man's agenda, the same system, the same agenda into which we have all been indoctrinated. Watching and listening to those who were taken from their homes as they told their stories was heartbreaking. The juxtaposition between how they had lived and how they became forced to live, leading to what they experience to this day.... there are no words.

Bruce Cockburn has a few songs which deal with this issue of being stripped of your land, your homes, even your children. I've chosen this video, which is a live performance, with images that deliver the message as strongly as Bruce does with his song. It's a powerful combination, only the more powerful because it continues to this day all over the world. Palestinian children are being killed indiscriminately right now on the Gaza Strip, this very morning, and I cannot sit by in silence. I cannot go for a walk in the woods without first honoring their lives and their families...  Yes, a story old as time, but turning away in silence cannot continue.

For a look at events leading up to this current attack on Gaza:

Thank You, RZ.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Living Among the Vampires

When I woke up this morning, I was planning to write about the beautiful evening I had last night, listening to Canada geese flying under the Milky Way and across the Big Dipper, as it lay cradled in the trees at the end of my drive. A friend and I had been talking about the wild horses of Assateague Island, off the coast of Virginia and Maryland, when I stepped outside and looked up in astonishment. No other word for it. Pure astonishment.

Yes, that was my intent, but then the Writer's Almanac delivered a poem by George Bilgere, whose poetry never fails to speak to me on some deeper level, and my subject had to change. Please understand, I'm trying to not be angry. Anger is such a wasted emotion, but right now it's hard to see that. How are we going to wrest control of our lives?  And I say 'our' because that's the only way to see it.  How are we going to take our lives out of the hands of the warmongers, the Masters of War, as Bob Dylan so aptly sang of them, and get them to wake up out of the deadly sleep into which they have fallen? Are they never going to tire of their war games? We are not talking about little packages of green plastic soldiers that can be brought out of a drawer the day after Christmas to be played with at will. When do they realize that they are dealing with real people and real lives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers?

Now, "soldiers" sit in control rooms with their fingers on remotes and detonate bombs as though playing a war game on a computer. Cognitive dissonance doesn't begin to describe the bizarre direction these bloodthirsty bastards have taken. It's vampirism. No, it is. Remote vampirism. And there won't be any new memorials, because we're too busy killing to erect any new ones. Where would we begin? And how do you erect a memorial to the hundreds of thousands dead at our hands in countries buried beneath rubble?  We've literally destroyed the cradle of civilization. How's that as a metaphor for our times?

I'm sick to my stomach.

"At the Vietnam Memorial"

The last time I saw the name Paul Castle
it was printed in gold on the wall
above the showers in the boys'
locker room, next to the school
record for the mile. I don't recall
his time, but the year was 1968
and I can look across the infield
of memory to see him on the track,
legs flashing, body bending slightly
beyond the pack of runners at his back.

He couldn't spare a word for me,
two years younger, junior varsity,
and hardly worth the waste of breath.
He owned the hallways, a cool blonde
at his side, and aimed his interests
further down the line than we could guess.

Now, reading the name again,
I see us standing in the showers,
naked kids beneath his larger,
comprehensive force—the ones who trail
obscurely, in the wake of the swift,
like my shadow on this gleaming wall.

~ George Bilgere

I was hoping Iris DeMent's song would become a part of our history, but that's not to be....

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Singing In the Dark Meadow

"Horses at Midnight Without a Moon"

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there's music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.        

~ Jack Gilbert  (February 18, 1925 - November 11, 2012)

For Jack's poem, "Forgotten Dialect of the Heart," my previous post:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Escape Pods and Sacred Places

This love affair with automobile as escape pod seems to have begun inside a Model A (or was it a Model T? I'm never certain which is which) some time back around 1959. Someone had parked it in the meadow behind the corn crib many years before I turned the metal handle and hopped inside, looking for a ride around the world. From inside that car anything seemed possible. I had no specific destination in mind, but the West began calling my name pretty early on, especially the Southwest, a place of deserts and canyons and perpetual blue skies. My earliest books told the tale, with titles like, Honey Bunch: Her First Trip West. I signed and dated them even then.

When I was 14, my friend, Rusty, who came up from Des Moines every summer to visit, taught me how to drive behind the wheel of his turquoise and white '57 Chevy. With wheels beneath me and the road ahead, spooling out into the wild blue yonder en route to Roosevelt Lake, my training began.

When I got my license at 16, the car became my escape pod and remains so to this day. If there's a need to get my head on straight, and walking doesn't quite cut it, I get behind the wheel and drive, no destination in mind, just the road melting away anxiety and shaking off any blues trying to get attached. It's always been that way. I used to spend time feeling guilty about it, mainly because others saw escaping as something to be frowned upon. But I say, a little escape can be good for the soul and others no longer decide what I'm supposed to feel guilty about, I do, and it's pretty much next to nothing, and never for very long.

Lately, my time behind the wheel seems less needed. But, like an emergency plan, my car is always ready, waiting for me to turn the key in the ignition. And, apparently, I have not been alone in this need for an escape pod, this sacred place of solitude. For many of us, this need starts early.

"The Sacred"

After the teacher asked if anyone had
    a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank

in their chairs, the most serious of them all
    said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he'd chosen, and others knew the truth
    had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
    the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
    and how far away
a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, the key
    in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

~ Stephen Dunn, from Between Angels