Friday, August 31, 2012

Life is But a Dream

Last night I had trouble sleeping and was awake most of the night. Not even The 23rd Psalm, which I've been repeating since I was a kid to help me sleep, could do the trick. Finally, I got up around 4:00, walked into the kitchen, made coffee and went online. With the blue moon on its way the old song, "Blue Moon" popped into my head, so I went to You Tube and listened to snippets of several versions including Ella Fitzgerald's and Julie London's before listening to Chris Isaak's and then Nat King Cole's all the way through. I sent Nat's version off to a friend, and then remembered another blue moon song, "Once in a Very Blue Moon," by Nanci Griffith, and watched that.

If this sounds discombobulated it's because I am.

I decided to try sleeping again but this time on the couch. What resulted were the weirdest dreams I've had in a very long while. They may have been instigated by the videos I watched because in the dream I'm walking out of the ocean under a very full, very blue moon ... literally, a blue colored moon. As a matter of fact, the entire scene is washed in blue. As the water falls away from my body, I walk up and stand on the beach. I hear sounds behind me and realize others, many of them children - all in silhouette - are also walking out of the water and speaking in a strange language. Someone I used to know is standing where the beach meets the grass and I ask her if she knows who they are and what they're saying. She just looks at me as though she doesn't know what I'm talking about and walks away.

Later, there's smoke coming from an unknown source inside the house I'm in and then I'm lying in a bathtub I realize has been replaced with one much more shallow than I'm used to and I don't like it. It's not porcelain like the old tubs used to be but has a raised filigree design all around the wide edge. It reminds me of the white iron headboard of my bed when I was a child.

Then I woke up.

Buddy was looking at me a little oddly from his place on the end of the couch. Still half asleep, I stumbled out the door with him and walked barefoot in the yard. The dew was cool under my feet and strange bird sounds were coming from the end of the driveway. Buddy and I both looked up at the top of the almost-dead tree across the road and there was a very large bald eagle with his wings spread out, white head and gold beak glinting in the early morning sun. He continued this strange cry for a couple of minutes and then relaxed his wings. He sat there for another minute or two, spread his wings again, and flew away.

Then, we walked back in the house and I decided to tell you about it.

"Happiness consists in realizing it is all a great strange dream."  ~ Jack Kerouac

Here's Nanci and the video that may or may not have plunged me into the ocean of dreams:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Small Town Beating of My Heart

One of the things I grew to appreciate about traveling across the country was seeing small town America. There was a time, when I was much younger and in a hurry to get wherever I was going, that I would do whatever it took to avoid these little towns. They slowed me down, kept me from my destination and, at the time, I'd seen all I wanted to see of small town America in my own life. Rarely was I heading for a city, so it wasn't the towns themselves I wanted to leave behind, it was the mindset that seemed to go with them. The mindset might still exist - in my own small town I see evidence of it with a certain regularity - but I've gotten to the place where it no longer matters. What matters is the mindset I have for my own life. Now, when I travel, I like going through them to see what's happening and what they tell me about our country. Those same small towns I once eschewed invite me to play at being someone somewhere else and I have fun imagining what might be, given another life. Here's the poem that sparked the thought:

"Passing Through a Small Town"

Here the highways cross. One heads north. One heads east
and west. On the corner of the square adjacent to the
courthouse a bronze plaque marks the place where two Civil
War generals faced one another and the weaker surrendered.
A few pedestrians pass. A beauty parlor sign blinks. As I turn
to head west, I become the schoolteacher living above the
barber shop. Polishing my shoes each evening. Gazing at the
square below. In time I befriend the waitress at the cafe and
she winks as she pours my coffee. Soon people begin to
talk. And for good reason. I become so distracted I teach my
students that Cleopatra lost her head during the French
Revolution and that Leonardo perfected the railroad at the
height of the Renaissance. One day her former lover returns
from the army and creates a scene at the school. That evening
she confesses she cannot decide between us. But still we spend
one last night together. By the time I pass the grain elevators
on the edge of town I am myself again. The deep scars of love
already beginning to heal.

~ David Shumate

Note: I like what the poet says about his preference for the prose form: "[Prose poetry] allows me to use narrative and lyrical elements in ways that line break poetry does not. I find that it corresponds to my breathing, to the cadence of my heart."

The photographs are mine, taken in Valentine, Nebraska.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Grandfather's Shepherd Moon

Perhaps it was late summer, even early fall. At any rate, it was a time not unlike this one. I was a teenager, sitting in the living room of our home on Birch Lake. We had moved there from our small farm the year before. I know it was after dark, that a lamp or two was on for reading. I don't know why, but I remember the low light. My mother was on the phone with my grandmother, her mother. I could only hear my mother's part of the conversation, but from the questions she asked and the tone of her voice, I knew something was happening outside the realm of normal. My father and I waited quietly in order to try to understand what event was altering our world.

When my mother hung up the phone, she turned towards where we were sitting. "Pa" had gone out after dark to look for his sheep, sheep that had been gone for many years. My grandmother had not been able to convince him of this, could not bring him back to the present. She didn't know where he was and needed help in finding him.

My grandfather, Moses, had raised sheep during much of his life and often, as a child, I had helped move them from pasture to pasture. It was a time of what seemed to be perpetual sunshine, with the wonderful feeling of warm wool between my fingers. But, that night would become the rest of his life: a sad and not-so-slow decline into dementia. Within three years he would be gone from this world.

In the interim, life changed dramatically for them: from a small farm to a small apartment in town, just a few miles to the north of where we had, for many years, shared a dirt road. From there, it was the nursing home, and it's not too hard to imagine the changes that wrought....

That night, my father went down to their farm and found my grandfather roaming around the hillside near his barn, still looking for his lost sheep. I couldn't tell you what happened immediately after. Perhaps my father simply returned to the house with him, hoping he would remain in the present long enough for a solution to be found. Maybe he went to the hospital for observation. I don't know. I don't remember. I do remember the look on my mother's face when she hung up the phone, as she realized what had happened, that her life, as she had known it, had forever changed.

Here's Enya's "Shepherd Moons." Shepherd moons are the small moons around ringed planets, such as Saturn. Their gravity is what keeps the rings organized and defines their borders, thus filling their role as "shepherds."  This link, which I found very interesting, describes them:  

Image: Winslow Homer's "Whittling Boy." It's one of my favorites. I love the sunshine on his straw hat, his high boots, the green leaves....

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Day My Heart Broke Wide Open

Well, the two little raccoons didn't make it. About a week ago, a storm blew in that included hail and a torrential downpour. The next day, it was looking like Mama had not returned. By the second morning, one was very near death - I found him on the path to the garden - the other was still hanging in there. I thought about just letting them go, let nature take its course, and then I realized I simply could not let them die without intervening on their behalf, without doing all I could for them. For someone who has said she's absolutely not afraid of dying, a small raccoon's death was suddenly unacceptable.

The local vet gave me the number of a wildlife rehab center only one hour from home. With instructions I'd already received from the internet, along with their information which reiterated it, I packed them up and brought them there. A white, fuzzy sweater I'd donated to Buddy when he first came home with me went into the box with them, along with straw and a water bottle filled with warm water. I tucked the sweater over the one that was almost gone and his sibling got the other end, who then immediately began making sucking sounds, believing Mama had returned after all. I don't mind being involved in that kind of subterfuge. Hope occasionally requires it.

But, it didn't end well. These things rarely do. And I was unexpectedly and inexplicably heartbroken. Heart broken. I could not stop sobbing. I like to believe my place is a sanctuary for wildlife, a place of refuge for all the little wild things, and this did not go according to plan. Sometimes, nature sucks. A lot.

However, I was not left alone in my grief. A friend and fellow blogger unknowingly, well, from a human perspective, offered a much-needed message through a poem he posted when I was in the depths of despair. I know, it sounds disproportionate when phrased that way towards two little raccoons. But, that's what it was.  The depths of despair. You see, it was the day my heart broke wide open to the world.

Here's the poem he posted:


Here is a story to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter the loons came to our harbor and died,
one by one, of nothing we could see.
A friend told me of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one just where that is.
The next morning, this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.

~ Mary Oliver

Isn't that beautiful?  And isn't it a wonderful universe?

Here is where I found the poem that 

The loon is Minnesota's state bird.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Neil Young Kind of Night

"Willow," by Katherine Bowling

There's something very comforting about the onset of night, the way the air feels thick and damp as the last light slowly leaves the sky. It's my favorite time to walk around the yard in my bare feet, with the dew settling on the grass and the hummingbirds making their final pass. People like to say it grounds you, I've even said it myself, and that might be, but mostly I just like the way it feels. So, while Buddy laid down next to the steps and listened to the approaching night, I walked among the flower beds, admiring the deep red zinnias that had just arrived. 

When we finally came into the house, after dark had settled in, I had a strong desire to listen to some Neil Young. I'm not sure what Buddy was in the mood for. He acquiesces to me most nights, curls up politely at my feet and pretends to be asleep. "Bound for Glory,"came first, as it often does when I'm in the mood for Neil, then this popped out at me. Maybe it has something to do with Buffalo Springfield and how much I've always loved "For What It's Worth,"  but I think it has more to do with Neil himself. He seems like such a good soul, with his slight knowing smile, as though he's tickled as can be to be here, making music. I'm sure glad he is. Life's a little sweeter with him in it: 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Act of Bravery

Let's pretend we're in a bar in Los Angeles, an area near Echo Park. It's August 16th, let's say 1979 (that way, I could attend this soiree, as I was between marriages at the time). Just for tonight, we'll overlook the heavy smoke and make our way to the corner table where a rather rough-edged fellow, who has returned for this occasion, is seated with a few friends. RZ has just bought a round of drinks to celebrate. Someone else has brought a cake decorated with a 1950's pin-up girl in a sailor's hat (I can't say for certain, but I think "Hank" would like that). We've gathered to celebrate the birthday of a man I don't know well, probably not well enough to call him Hank, as his friends do, but I feel I've come to know him a bit through his poetry. He's not going to read his poetry tonight, though, he's just here to have a good time, as are we all, to celebrate life a bit more enthusiastically than usual. As is often the case, he has some words of wisdom to share with us, and we're ready to listen. He seems to be a brave man and brave men should be celebrated. We've learned it comes in many forms, but exposing your soul might be the bravest act of all. It's something he does well, and, it seems, fearlessly. Here's what he's telling us:

"War Some of the Time"

when you write a poem it
needn't be intense
can be nice and
and you shouldn't necessarily
concerned only with things like anger
or love or need;
at any moment the
greatest accomplishment might be to simply
up and tap the handle
on that leaking toilet;
done that twice now while typing
and now the toilet is
solve simple problems: that's
the most
satisfying thing, it
gives you a chance and it
gives everything else a chance

we were made to accomplish the easy
and made to live through the things

~ Charles Bukowski, from Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way.

Happy Birthday, Charles, and thank you for helping me to better understand another side of life.

Henry Charles Bukowski  (August 16, 1920 - March 9, 1994)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Making the Turn

Yesterday, while photographing the old cabin and checking out the summer residents, a single brown leaf fell just off my shoulder, settling on the step beside me. It felt like an omen of things to come. I had earlier sensed that slight change in the air that tells us we're turning the corner, summer is coming to a close. It seems premature, but it's been an odd summer.

On August 1, one of the ornamental crabs suddenly sprouted blossoms at the end of a branch, as though spring was beginning all over again. The picture I took simply does not do this oddity justice. Let's call it impressionistic. They hung around for at least a week, while the tree next to it began to shed its leaves. Mother Nature is certainly keeping us on our toes, isn't she?

Even as signs of an early fall take shape, the zinnias are coming on strong. What I cut for bouquets is replaced almost right before my eyes. Little beauties of all shapes, colors, and sizes. Two years ago, they hung on well into November. We shall see....

Several mushroom fairy rings are scattered about, along with these fine specimens, which I saw in the meadow on my walk with Buddy yesterday. Love that little heart-shaped thing, wrapped in a vine.

My vegetable garden has been sort of hit and miss. The parsnips ended up being a no-show. I used seeds I'd saved from two years ago, then learned it's not a good idea. I had only eaten a few pea pods before they vanished along with the kohlrabi, which disappeared as soon as it came up. I suspect the bunny family, but don't want to cast aspersions. 

My squash are doing great, though, as are the potatoes and onions. I've had several mornings of sauteed zucchini and new potatoes with scrambled farm-fresh eggs. Zucchini bread is next. 

The rain barrels have not been refreshed since last week. They're used mainly for a couple of small corner plots, planted with things like muskmelon (aka cantaloupe) and, earlier, radishes, that the sprinkler has trouble reaching in measured swoops. I like using rain water. So do the mosquitoes, unfortunately.

Getting back to the summer residents. Actually, they took up residence in the roof joists between the old and new(er) roof of the cabin sometime last winter. They, being a raccoon family. I let her and her babies stay put, despite all the online research I did that told me I should encourage them to move on. Now they're older and have set up camp outside, between the fireplace (have you seen anything so makeshift in all your born days?) and the birch tree, where the babies hide behind the boards, or try to. I'm sure Mama is nearby, as they appear very healthy, but I'll be keeping an eye on them from a safe distance.

Well, most of the time. Can you see the tail of the second one, just behind the boards near the rock? They think if they hide their faces, then I can't see them. Little cuties.

It's so peaceful today, I can almost hear them breathing. It reminds me of a quote I read a while back by Arundhati Roy, author of, The God of Small Things. She says: "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

Perhaps it begins with how we choose to see this world.

P.S. See that blue chair next to the cabin? It was there when I arrived over two years ago. I can't bring myself to move it. When Buddy first spotted it, he was a bit wary, giving it a wide berth and eyeing it furtively as he did so. I wonder if Otis is still there, quietly passing the summer away, watching over what was once his land, keeping an eye on things....

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Saudade: "the love that remains"


There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you have saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
           It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of the pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea...

~ Jane Kenyon

Occasionally, not very often, I come across a poem I love, but find myself wishing the final line or lines had either been slightly changed or not occurred at all. I don't pretend to know how every poem should end, or, for that matter, how any poem should end, but sometimes a line will speak to me more than the final line and I'll wish the poet had stopped there. And don't we all respond to what we read or hear from our own perceptions, our own feelings?  I do hope I've not been out of order those few times my heart has stopped at a particular place, closing the poem prematurely. Such is the case with the above poem. I found myself drifting away with the thought of   "to rain falling on the open sea...."

Miss Kenyon has passed from this world. But, if the veil between the seen and the unseen is as thin as it often feels to me, I'd like to think she wouldn't mind my mental omission of the last line. Not that she's giving it any thought. I'm left wondering, though, was she referring to herself in the last line, to her body, her life in which she had found a measure of happiness despite years of dealing with depression?  I don't know. But that certainly lends itself to more than one reading, and it is her poem, after all. So, when you read it again, and I hope you do, please add her closing line:

to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Painting: "Saudade," by Jose Ferraz de Almeida Junior (1850-1899), a Brazilian realist, and the wiki entry for "Saudade," which I found interesting. It provided the title for this post:

For more information on Jane Kenyon:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Still Life with Beet Leaves

Patterns have long held a fascination for me, whether they are found in nature or in the fabric of our lives. For instance, the sarong that came home with me the other day to be used as a table cover, or the amber necklace now lying inside a favorite pottery bowl. Even the notebooks I recently added to an ever-growing collection have patterns I couldn't seem to live without. On sale for $1.18 each, why would I even try?  From beet leaves to bark cloth pillows, these are just a few of the patterns that make up my life:

"... and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?"

~ Vincent van Gogh

The photos are mine.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Beauty in Abandoned Cars

"There is beauty in weathered and unpainted wood, in orchards overgrown, even in abandoned cars being incorporated into the earth...."  ~ Ernest "Chick" Callenbach, author of Ecotopia

The detritus of life has always fascinated me. So, sometime in June of '93, when I was driving through the outskirts of town and caught a glimpse of an old car hiding in the woods, I made a note to call JB and ask him to check it out with me, see what photographic opportunities might be waiting.

What we discovered was not just one, but several old cars had been abandoned in the woods, left to become entangled in the trees and underbrush. We must have spent two hours wandering among them, snapping picture after picture, trying to show some restraint. These were the days before digital, when photographic restraint was tied up in a person's film budget, which had, for me, become a line item. But, on that afternoon in '93, I was having so much fun I may have allowed these matters to take a backseat.

This is just a sampling of how much fun I had. Restraint has never been my strong suit.

It should be noted, these cars were removed at some point and the woods are alone once more. I think that's a good thing, but there's a part of me that wishes they were still there, and not just because the Days of Digital are upon us. I would love to spend at least one more afternoon among them.

Photographs are mine.