Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In the Belly of the Bread

"Bread Soup: An Old Icelandic Recipe"

Start with the square heavy loaf
steamed a whole day in a hot spring
until the coarse rye, sugar, yeast
grow dense as a black hole of bread.
Let it age and dry a little,
then soak the old loaf for a day
in warm water flavored
with raisins and lemon slices.
Boil it until it is thick as molasses.
Pour it in a flat white bowl.
Ladle a good dollop of whipped cream
to melt in its brown belly.
This soup is alive as any animal,
and the yeast and cream and rye
will sing inside you after eating
for a long time.

— Bill Holm
from Playing the Black Piano
Milkweed Editions, 2004

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hands Across the Water

Listening to the oldies on the radio as I drove to town this afternoon, I thought I heard a loosely based theme emerging. I don't think it was just random choices, it seemed that each song had a strong water based theme. It brought into even sharper focus, of course, the storm on the east coast and I thought of friends out there whose lives might be impacted by it. I just want you to know I'm thinking of you, that I'm hoping for the best along with you, but also hoping that you're prepared, well-stocked, as we all should be in this age of uncertainty, and that you and yours remain safe and warm.

This is the first song that popped up during my drive. I've always found it to be a fun listen. Here's to finding joy, even in the storm:

Painting by Winslow Homer

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Through the Looking Glass: Three Odd Things

Every once in a while, life shows up with a word, a phrase, or an image, and a thread is established alongside the greater thread that takes me by surprise as it lays itself out there, as though it was there all along, I just hadn't yet seen it.  Several months ago, the word tangerine popped up and I wouldn't have paid a lot of attention except it's such a pretty word and I rarely hear it. I think it started with a song one of my sons sent me that he particularly liked at the time called, "Tangerine Sky," by the Kottonmouth Kings. It had a nice feel to it, a good beat, and I liked the words. Can you tell I grew up with American Bandstand?  Oddly enough, that was followed by another song that turned up in a roundabout way with the word 'tangerine' in it, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," by the Beatles:

Picture yourself in a boat on a river, 
with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. 
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, 
a girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

I was always a big Sgt. Pepper fan, and who doesn't like the idea of tangerine trees?

At the time I didn't give it a lot of thought, but then it started showing up in other ways, all within the next couple of days. I'm not sure now what came next, but I think it was a poem sent to me via email by a friend, the poet, Jamie Ross, from his winter home in Mexico, where he closes the poem by mentioning tangerines.

That was followed by something on television. I don't watch much television, and I almost never turn it on during the daytime, but, on that day, I found myself turning it on. The Ellen DeGeneres show was in progress and she was doing some kind of routine involving hidden cameras, this one being in the "green room" (do they still call it that?) where the current celebrity who was going to appear was waiting. One of Ellen's aides came in with a bicycle and parked it there, then started a conversation with the celebrity, and no, I don't remember who, but he asked her what she thought of the bike and then asked, "What would you call the color?" It looked sort of red to me, maybe dark orange, but out popped "tangerine" from either the aide or the celebrity's mouth, I don't recall which one. I mean, who calls the color of a bicycle 'tangerine?'

Okay, I was starting to pay attention now. It usually takes three odd things to get me to do so. I noted it, marveled a bit at how the universe seems to operate, and off I went to run some errands, which included a stop at the bookstore, where I hoped to find a book of poetry that had piqued my curiosity. I didn't find that book, but I did find another, an anthology by Garrison Keillor of the Writer's Almanac, and so it came home with me instead. As I took it out of the bag and set it on the table, it fell open. And not just any old open. It fell open to a poem by Billy Collins, whose poetry I've long loved and it was a poem titled, "Fishing on the Susquehanna in July," which just happens to include these lines:

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter 
to be perfectly honest. 

Not in July or any month 
have I had the pleasure -- if it is a pleasure -- 
of fishing on the Susquehanna. 

I am more likely to be found 
in a quiet room like this one -- 
a painting of a woman on the wall, 

a bowl of tangerines on the table --

By then I was kind of getting used to the word 'tangerine' and it looked like it was going to stay around for a while. But, the next day it was gone and hasn't turned up since. Another interesting thing happened, though. On the same day I came back with the book of poetry, I thought about writing a post about this odd sequence of events and was going to title it exactly what I have. As I was telling a friend from Taos about it, including the possible title, I opened the book of poetry and found a book marker that the gal at the checkout counter had apparently slipped inside. On it was an image of Alice and friends in "Through the Looking Glass."

I can't pretend to know how the universe actually works, I just know it does, and sometimes it surprises me in the smallest ways that have no deeper meaning, other than to show how everything is connected. And then, sometimes, it shows me in ways that change my life forever.

Say goodbye, say goodbye to a tangerine sky,
say hello, say hello to tomorrow.
When you say goodbye to a tangerine sky,
you lose your pain, lose your fear, lose your sorrow.

~ "Tangerine Sky," by the Kottonmouth Kings

Painting by Justin Clements

Friday, October 26, 2012

It's Called Relocation

During World War II, not long after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a decision was made by our government to intern Japanese-Americans at camps here in the U.S., mostly along the West Coast. These were not people who had done anything wrong, they were American citizens who just happened to be Japanese. For many years it was hard for me to wrap my mind around how our government could have done this. I knew they had, of course, had read about it several times, as through the years I'd made myself more aware of this period in our history.

Then, several months ago, my friend, JB, in Utah, told me of his visit out in the desert near Moab to a place that had once been the location of what was termed an "Isolation Center." Basically, this was a prison for what were already prisoners, sort of a maximum security facility for Japanese-Americans who had run into some sort of legal trouble within the camps where they were interned, the pseudo-official story. These centers were also for those who were seen as potential trouble: rabble-rousers, malcontents, and protesters. Perhaps they had been seen as "belligerent." The prison itself had been razed and a marker erected to tell a condensed history of this place, sort of an X marks the spot, and everybody's sorry.

About the same time he told me of his visit to this place, I came across some rather arresting images of that time. In a two year period covering 1943 and 1944, photographer Ansel Adams paid several visits to a "relocation center" named Manzanar, which had opened in March of 1942, to take photographs of the camp and those who had been "relocated" there. Apparently, he knew the camp "director," and had been given permission to do so, with caveats, of course. Now, I have to say here, that the place looks very spiffy and well-kept. The inmates themselves (lets call them what they were) had obviously done a good job of creating a life out of this arid California land.  But, make no mistake, this was a prison. Barbed wire fences and guard towers were omnipresent. Told he couldn't photograph them, Adams took pictures from them, giving away their existence. He published these photographs in 1944 under the title, "Born Free and Equal."

During their years at Manzanar and all the other camps spread along the west coast and Arizona, it's obvious they had made the best of what must have been an almost intolerable situation: imprisonment by the  hands of the government they were citizens of and towards which they had openly pledged their allegiance. Inside Manzanar, they planted gardens, raised chickens and hogs, held classes in calisthenics, did all they could for themselves within the confines of their existence. And they did it very well. But, I repeat, they were prisoners of their own government, of our own government.  

They were allowed to return home in 1944, but many had lost their homes, their businesses, all they had worked for as members of a community and citizens of this country. Perhaps it would be good to take a minute and place ourselves in their shoes, imagine life from their perspective, see it from their eyes, just in case we might be tempted to think it could never happen again ...

All images by Ansel Adams. I was particularly struck by the image of the woman holding the "jig saw map of the world." 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Carving Our Own Marble Monuments

While perusing an old anthology of poetry that goes back to my college days of the 1970's, it was interesting to find that so many of the poems were essentially poems of protest, protest against the cultural changes that were encroaching on our lives and, of course, the war in Vietnam. Almost every poem was tinged with this desire to be heard, to have the heart understood.

I remember reading the poem below aloud to a class; I believe it was Oral Interpretation of Literature. It was such a long time ago, but I still recall it as one of my favorite classes. And though I once saw this as sad, if not a little disturbing, I must have also seen it as a call to action. I would venture to guess that it consciously or unconsciously helped to shape my life. It remains a strong reminder to never become The Unknown Citizen. Unknown to whom?  Unknown to one's self.

The Unknown Citizen
(To JS/07/M/378/ This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

~ W. H. Auden

Image: W.H. Auden (1907 - 1973)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

For the Love of Ants

Like many children I enjoyed watching ants as they created their hills here and there, imagining what lay beneath the surface. No, I didn't have any desire for an ant farm. My sister, Jane, and I had already undertaken the care of two tiny turtles inside an ice cream bucket. We decorated their humble abode with various rocks, kept a bit of water in there for them, fed them flies, and hoped they would come to see it as home. But, even for the tiniest of creatures, home is where the heart is, and this definitely did not measure up. They perished under our less than stellar care, and so trying to contain any living thing inside a very small space had lost its appeal.

Several years later I discovered E. O. Wilson who has spent his life entranced by, among other things, ants. I read his autobiography and it reignited my appreciation for these little beings. I looked at them with wholly new eyes. So, it was not a surprise that I would be presented with an opportunity to witness them in a closer setting, that setting being a park bench in Santa Fe.

I was waiting for a friend and decided to sit on a bench a little further into the park. While doing so, I discovered a dead ant that had either been stepped on by me or another interloper right in front of the bench. I found myself feeling almost bereft at this discovery. I may well have ended this little beings life. I sat and watched and thought and, as I did so, I realized that a line of ants was forming several feet away and was heading in the direction of this now-dead ant. A single line had formed, as they're wont to do, but as they approached a rock (not large, but it may have seemed insurmountable to them), they split off temporarily and moved around the rock in two lines, then reemerged on the other side of the rock as a single line again.

They approached the ant and the line stopped. I watched as five ants circled the dead ant, then moved off to the side, formed a small group and began talking over the situation. No, I couldn't make out what they were saying, but a discussion of sorts was actually taking place as they faced each other. I watched in rapt attention.

These five ants again formed a circle around the dead ant. Then, yet again, another small circle of discussion was held off to the side. Decisions apparently had to be made. Soon, four of the ants moved around the dead ant, positioned themselves, picked up the dead ant, lifted the ant above their shoulders (what can I say? It's how it appeared), and carried him away under the watchful eye of the one ant whom I refer to as the funeral director. Then, the long line of ants (one might assume solemnly, but maybe rejoicing and celebration was in order in their world) followed them back in a single line.

I couldn't move, nor did I want to. I sat there transfixed by what I had witnessed. When my friend showed up I really couldn't even speak of it. It felt as though I had just witnessed something too wonderful for words. But, a couple of days ago a friend mentioned his own love for ants and now it seems like a good time to mention it. It was, after all, a beautiful affirmation of life.

The image, of course, is of dear Mr. Wilson.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Under the Milky Way

It's been far too long since I've taken a walk after dark down a country road, moonlight and shadows leading the way. When I lived in my farmhouse in Ansel, I did so quite often despite the fact that I knew a bear lived nearby and a cougar visited occasionally. I just didn't let these things prevent me from being out under that moon, particularly if it was full, or if the Milky Way was ablaze across the night sky. I liked being out there, soaking it all up.

It's still quite dark, there doesn't seem to be much moonlight as I sit here writing this, waiting for the coffee to perk. Does anyone still say that anymore? Does the coffee still perk?  Or have a multitude of Keurigs replaced that wait?  And now I'm wondering, have I lost my nerve?  Am I too concerned about meeting a bear on the road, even though it sounds like a marvelous thing to do? Oh, to meet a bear on the road, have some small bit of silent conversing there. Perhaps I should go looking for it soon, my nerve, take a walk in the moonlight - not down my driveway, I've done that a number of times - walk down the road, willing to meet whatever might be out and about, also looking up at the Milky Way, glad to be here in this beautiful world. Perhaps all those native souls that line the road and fill the woods are looking for some human company. And even if they're not, I certainly know I could use theirs.

In the meantime, I'll offer this Mary Oliver poem that took me down this path of thought:

"Some Questions You Might Ask"

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?

~ Mary Oliver

No, it's not my photo. I borrowed it from Mr. Google's wallpaper offerings.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What Shape Waits in the Seed of You?

"The poem is a little myth of man's capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see, it is, rather, a light by which we may see -- and what we see is life." ~ Robert Penn Warren

"What to Remember When Waking"

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents,
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

~ David Whyte

Today is George, at Transit Notes, 70th birthday and he has written the most beautiful post in which he talks about what this means to him. I just have to share it with you: transit-notes.blogspot.com

Happy Birthday, George!

Painting: "Dandelions,"  by Katherine Bowling

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Bicycle in the Woods

When I was younger, I thought life would never be complete if I didn't do a lot of traveling in Europe and elsewhere around the globe; that it would at some point have to include riding a bicycle down a winding country road in Italy to a small village where I would stop at the market for fresh bread. Or, I would wake up in a canopied bed somewhere in the south of France with fields of lavender outside my window, far as the eye can see. Or, some morning I would find myself having breakfast in a canvas-covered tent with a giraffe looking over my shoulder on the plains of the Serengeti.  None of which I've yet to do. The wonderful thing I've discovered is that I don't have to do those things. I've done those things in my mind's eye and, having done so, something has come alive that cannot fade away: life can be well-lived right where I'm at.

Just a few days ago, I watched as a black squirrel made its way across the lawn again and again to hide acorns in the ground below the bird feeder. I suppose that seemed like a good place to hide them. He dug a little hole by scratching the dirt away, dropped the nut inside, then took his little paws and covered his cache, smoothed out the dirt and then fluffed the grass ( he actually fluffed the grass!), so as to hide it from others. Then, he brushed the dirt from his hands, literally, and then went back for another round of finding and hiding. I had never witnessed this before and found it absolutely fascinating. Do you see? I would not have been able to witness that if I was riding a bicycle in Tuscany, or sleeping soundly in Provence. I would be experiencing other things, but not that thing. And that thing was a thing of beauty - so simple, yet profound!

In a way, the world has come to my door. It's not the one I expected but it is the one I needed, the one that has brought me immeasurable peace.

"If I could give you one key, and one key only to a more abundant life, I would give you a sense of your own worth, an unshakable sense of your own dignity as one grounded in the source of the cosmic dance, as one who plays a unique part in the unfolding of the story of the world."

~ Greta Crosby

The photograph is mine.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

In Love with Solid Ground

"The Opening of Eyes"

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before,
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.

It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.

~ David Whyte

Photograph by Montucky who lives and hikes in western Montana. I encourage you to see the beauty of this world through his eyes: http://www.montucky.wordpress.com

Friday, October 12, 2012

Could We Just Dispense with Celebrating All Anniversaries?

The first time I recall seeing any mention of the Rolling Stones was on the cover of a magazine my friend, Kathy, absconded with from the back of her parent's grocery store. We went outside and pored over the story (but mostly the pictures), and my world of music, which had centered at that point around the country music I'd grown up with and a few groups like The Beatles, along with The Dave Clark Five and Herman's Hermits, suddenly expanded by leaps and bounds.

The first album I bought for myself was by the Rolling Stones. I wasn't giving up country music, I still sang along to "Crazy," by Patsy Cline and my feeble attempts at songwriting were always country flavored, but if anybody asked, I "listened" to the Stones.

Through the years, I still listened but never became a die-hard Stones fan. I liked many of their singles, but wasn't, by any stretch of the imagination, an album collector. Now, for some reason, I'm listening to this new song. It has the ring of the old stuff. In case you haven't been introduced, please allow me... It's not "Sympathy for the Devil," but I like it:

And where, pray tell, did those fifty years go?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Ballet Dancer in My Head

It's another gloomy day in north-central Minnesota and it appears my imagination has gained control of my thinking. I have been imagining that inside me is a ballerina, forty years younger and she's wearing a silvery tutu with a garland of flowers trailing from her waist (pardon me while I wipe these tears of laughter from my eyes). It does not matter one whit that I have never been a dancer. Well, nothing classical, that is.

Oh, yeah, I played around with modern dance back in college, wore my black leotard with bare feet and a fair amount of sincerity, now mixed with a smidgen of embarrassment that I might have actually thought that was a good idea. I looked okay in the leotard, and I liked the graceful movements, but pretending to be someone I was not was always an uncomfortable experience. So, a few weeks before the performance, I took my bows early and, as gracefully as I could, made my exit, made way for someone else to fill that spot who might actually have a chance of convincing herself she fit in with that little avant garde group.

This whole train of thought arrived via images of paintings by Degas I'd been looking at online, where I found myself again drawn to his dancers. I used to have one on my sidebar that I particularly liked. I also have a tin with a Degas image on its cover that once contained Stollwerck chocolates. I now use it for mending items such as needles and thread, and a few other miscellaneous objects that got placed inside and still reside there.

To wit: a small orange jewelry box that once contained a pair of blue moonstone earrings set in sterling silver, that the owners of the art gallery in Santa Fe gifted me with one evening as we were having dinner at Santacafe. I also have the matchbook of that particular cafe with a note on the inside cover reminding me of that fine evening, October 24, 2007.

But, back to the imaginary ballet going on in my head. It's not about the tutu, it's about The Dance. This crazy life seems to be always encouraging me to walk away from the wall and just dance. Because even when I'm sure I don't want to, without fail, once I get out on the floor it becomes easier. I just have to remember to stop trying to figure out all the steps in advance, stop trying to wrest control, and just let Life lead me. It knows what steps would be best for me, and it seems to have had infinite patience with my missteps.

Now, once again, we've paused together, Life and I, listened for the musical cue and entered back into the dance, perfectly in step, perfectly in time. Because none of us came into this world to be wallflowers, we came to dance. Every One of Us.

All images are Edgar Degas paintings.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Nature of Distraction

When I read the poem, "San Francisco Remembered," earlier today, I couldn't help laughing out loud. The sweet honesty with which the poet shares his ability to be so easily distracted was most refreshing, his use of imagery to bring his main idea into focus again and again is the stuff out of which good writing is made. While sitting with it for a minute, I recalled a conversation I had recently with a friend in which we were talking about, among other things, Hank Thompson and his song, "The Wild Side of Life," which Kitty Wells answered with a song of her own, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," way back in the before time, when country and western music was really country and western.

That prompted me, albeit in a rather roundabout fashion, to think in terms of an answer to this poem in the form of my own distractions. I'm not immune to such things. So, while I think about that and the approach I might take to this little exercise, you go ahead and read the poem. Perhaps you'll come up with some thoughts of your own along these lines.

But don't be looking for that post any time soon. You know, distractions and all ...

"San Francisco Remembered"

In summer the polleny light bounces off the white buildings
& you can see their spines & nerves & where the joints knot.
You've never seen such polleny light. The whole city shining
& the women wearing dresses so thin you could see their
wing-tipped hips & their tall silvery legs alone can knock
your eye out. But this isn't about women. It's about the city of
blue waters & fog so thick it wraps round your legs & leaves
glistening trails along the dark winding streets. Once I followed
such a trail & wound up beside this redheaded woman who
looked up & smiled & let me tell you you don't see smiles like
that in Jersey City. She was wearing a black raincoat with
two hundred pockets & I wanted to put my hands in each one.
But forget about her. I was talking about the fog which steps
up & taps your shoulder like a panhandler who wants bus fare
to a joint called The Paradise & where else could this happen?
On Sundays Golden Gate Park is filled with young girls strolling
the transplanted palms & imported rhododendron beds.
You should see the sunset in their eyes & the sway, the proud
sway of their young shoulders. Believe me, it takes a day or two
to recover. Or the trolleys clanking down the steep hills—
why you see legs flashing like mirrors! Please, Lord,
please let me talk about San Francisco. How that gorilla of a
bridge twists in the ocean wind & the earth turns under
your feet & at any moment the whole works can crack
& slip back into the sea like a giant being kicked off his raft
& now, if it's all right, I would like to talk about women …

~ Philip Schultz, from The God of Loneliness: Selected and New Poems, Houghton Mifflin, 2010

Monday, October 8, 2012

Love Is Still the Answer

It was almost spring, somewhere near the middle of March in 1966. I was almost 13. It was the end of basketball season and my sister and I were waiting for our dad to pick us up at a cafe downtown after the game. It was the first time I was allowed to wait where the older kids hung out. I was standing at the jukebox, listening to a Beatles song - I can't recall now which one, but I do know it was the Beatles - and hoping I was invisible, certainly feeling that I was. I might have been more outgoing than I remember, but what I remember is a very insecure kid hiding herself from the world, maybe even living inside her own world.

So, when I finally sat down in a booth and had pressed myself into the corner with my back to the door, why did Phil McKay, somewhat older new boy in town and a pretty good looking one at that, decide to sit down across from me and start talking music? And not just any music, but he had just left the jukebox where he'd played Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction," and he wanted to talk about the song, what it meant and what was happening in the world, the war in Vietnam, and for some reason he thought I would understand. I think we even had a conversation of sorts. It was a little scary, but kinda nice, to be talking about things that mattered.

Then Dad showed up.

One of the interesting bits of information I picked up today while thinking about Barry McGuire and his song, "Eve of Destruction," is that he changed the lyrics and it now includes the phrase, "Now think of all the hate still living inside us/it's never too late to let love guide us." I don't know if that's an improvement or not, because I like my anti-war songs to remain anti-war just as they were. But I do agree with the idea, the thought. Indeed, it is never too late to let love guide us.

And just what does Buddy have to do with all this? He came into this world knowing that love is the answer. To everything.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Leaving the Dark Wood of Error

“If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line - starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King's Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led - make of that what you will.”

~ Wendell Berry

Painting by Cary Henrie, "Flight Distance"

Cary Henrie is another artist whose work we were fortunate enough to be able to represent at the gallery in Santa Fe. To see more of his work: http://www.caryhenrie.com

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Compassion: That's Earl Lewis

One day, while I was sitting at the desk in the art gallery in Santa Fe, a man came in, looked around briefly and then stopped in front of the desk. As he stood in front of me, I had this odd sensation that I knew him, although I also knew we had never met previously in this life. It happens from time to time. It was a feeling  more than appearances that brought me to this mystical yet tangible conclusion. I can't be absolutely certain, as we never spoke of it, but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that he felt the same. You can just tell when that recognition takes place between two people who are open to it.

As he introduced himself, I also realized his name, Earl B. Lewis, sounded familiar, although I had no recollection of hearing it, or where I would have heard it. He was a watercolor artist and also a children's book illustrator of some note. Perhaps that explains that, but it doesn't explain the feeling I had. It was a feeling I experienced a few times in the gallery through the years. It was as though Santa Fe and that gallery was a meeting place for many people who were coming around again, back into each other's lives in a way that just seemed to be perfect for that time and place, that particular set of circumstances.

I was very fortunate to have a position in which the owners of the gallery trusted my responses to art and I was able to play a part in who was selected by the gallery for representation. As soon as I saw E.B.'s work, I knew it was something we should consider. Actually, for me, it would have been a done deal right there. The owners were more hesitant as we didn't deal often in the medium of watercolor. There seemed to be a more limited audience for this work. So, no decision was made. I was disappointed, and time went by.

About a year later, Earl stopped in again. For whatever reason, this time the owners agreed. It was time to bring Earl aboard, to represent him and his beautiful work. We would handle both the original illustrations for his books and other fine art as he made them available. I cannot tell you how happy I was. I can't explain it, but something was happening that was beyond what was happening. And, no, it was not a personal thing, although he is a beautiful man, no, it was something else.

Every summer we would have shows with receptions for the artists. Just before his shows, Earl would come to town with new paintings, resulting in an interesting evening with many sales of his work. Several people became so enamored they became collectors. I'm grateful for that for a number of reasons. Numbers playing a part, but also that nameless something that made me want to be a part of this artist's work and do all I could to bring it into the hands of others who would appreciate it, really see it the way I did.

One summer, Earl came in with several new paintings for his upcoming show that were based on homes he had visited that had once been on the Underground Railroad. They were going to be used in what we call a "coffee table book." As we set them around the perimeter of the room to view them, my eyes were drawn to one particular painting. Taken as a whole they were beyond moving, but this particular one took my breath away, quite literally. It was a painting with a view from inside a hiding place, looking out at the world just above it. It was simple and yet so powerful. An entire history of a people seemed contained in that one watercolor, that most ethereal of all mediums. Earl certainly must have known that this was an extraordinary body of work, and I suspect he knew what my response would be.

I was almost overcome with what I can only say was a belated sense of grief. There are no other words to describe my extremely visceral response. I had to walk out of the room to collect myself, but took only a minute to do so, realizing that this white chick, me, had better pull herself together. I wasn't sure I deserved to feel what I felt. Unless I did. As I walked back around the corner and into the room, Earl was waiting for me with an outstretched arm. He gently pulled me inside the crook of his arm and just held me there while I silently wept. He understood. We both did, for reasons that will forever be impossible to articulate. Sometimes, you just know.

While I was doing a little research online, finding images to include in this post, I ran across this video that tells you more than I can about the person Earl Lewis is, and illustrates this amazing new body of work he's done. Compassion. That's Earl Lewis. 


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Finding Our Way Into the Woods

Yesterday was another beautiful fall day. It looks like today will be, as well. If I'm starting to sound like a stuck record, I cannot offer an apology. Life in the country at a time of year such as this brings it out of me effortlessly and its beauty becomes my days. These are the days we will remember more as time goes by.

Last week, I spent some time with a friend, JB's son, who was visiting Minnesota from his new home in Alaska. He told me that he and his brother, who still lives in Minnesota, had gone out to the place where they had grown up, to the homestead that their dad had carved out of the woods, hoping to be able to walk the woods, look around a bit and maybe kindle some memories. They had a nice time out there, and it turned out to be a good idea.

It made me want to pay my own visit there, a place where I had spent a considerable amount of time back in the '90's while living at my farmhouse in Ansel. JB referred to his place as Bungo, as that was the name of the township it was in, named after a Native American chief from many years ago. It sits on the edge of the foothills, amid a state forest. My township was Ansel, on the other side of those foothills, which has nothing to do with Ansel Adams, although I had often wished it did. We were not the only ones who referred to where we lived in terms of townships. Living in the country allows for these more gentle demarcations of place.

So, I made my own pilgrimage, of sorts, a few days later, on another beauty of a fall day. When I pulled into the driveway, I was struck by how tall the trees had grown, how the place seemed enshrouded in yellow and gold, with a soft light that felt really good. Unfortunately, I had done this on the spur of the moment and had ignored the nudge I'd gotten to take my camera, but I walked around and got a sense of the place it had become. I had moments of sadness, but they were quickly replaced with great peace. I'm so glad I went.

Yesterday, I decided again to get in the car and drive back out there, this time with my camera. I had mentioned to JB on the phone that I had been out there and he was hoping for photos.  It also felt like a good way to get out and see more of the fall colors.

The day was fading, but enough sunlight was left to take some pictures and feel whatever it was I was going to feel. I was wondering if the energy I had felt the other day was the day itself, or the place. This idea of energy around a place intrigues me and I have wondered where it comes from. Is it the place or the energy we bring to it? I have no answer for that and maybe none is necessary, but when I arrived, the energy definitely still was there and although the trees had turned and many leaves had fallen, it was still awash in fall beauty.

As I walked around the corner of the house nearest the woods, I startled a deer that had been browsing back there. I seem to be startling deer lately, don't I?  Anyway, as he hightailed it out of there, I was filled with this sense of what was, what had been, and not just in Bungo, but throughout this country, and not so very long ago, when Native Americans lived here and across America, before the white man's agenda involving avarice and the gutting of a way of life that was once one with the natural world. It's not something I can think of for long periods of time.

JB had built this house in stages, starting in the mid-70's when many folks were attempting to do some homesteading, build their lives from the ground up. It took more than a few years to do so, starting with the stone foundation of the house, from stones gathered in the field and hauled into place. As he did so, he also built a small barn that housed a chicken coop with an outside run for them to peck and scratch, a place for his goats, which he milked and from which he made cheese, a rabbit hutch which had once housed many rabbits. He'd built a small pig barn with a state of the art fence enclosure for the pig to move about a bit more freely without escaping, until fall, when he would become food for the table. JB did his own killing and his own butchering. He knew where his food came from and his heat. He kept his woodsheds full. It was a lifestyle that was the antithesis of debt.

In late winter, early spring, when the sap would start running from the maples and the birch, he would tap the trees, with taps he'd made himself from wood on his land, and collect it to make syrup. He had a stone fireplace he'd built where he would boil it down over an open fire, the syrup in large pans above it. It was one of the many things he did to sustain his own life as free from outside influence or aggravation as possible. Many others also did so during this time, but it's not an easy life. Not many people are willing to live with an outhouse and all that implies. JB has more than once mentioned that he always had to dig a new hole for it in the summer when it was hot and the mosquitoes many. Now, they have been outlawed and many options for self-sufficiency removed, or made very difficult by The Powers That Be.

I am not mentioning all of this out of nostalgia. I'm rather fond of indoor plumbing. I'm mentioning it partly because of how very grateful I am for my land, here and now, and for all the possibilities inherent in it. But, being out in Bungo did make me think a bit more about what has happened, the course we all took to this place where we now find ourselves. The State of the Union, if you will.

You see, one of the reasons I was able to walk around his place so freely is that there is a sign on the door, a notice of foreclosure, and it is unoccupied. At least two families have come and gone from this place since JB left it in 1999, eventually answering the siren song of the SW. The latest family could not make it work for reasons unknown. Although, from what I saw inside, someone had done some fine remodeling and it is a shame they left in such a hurry. Pieces of their lives are still in there and will probably not be removed by loving hands.

Sadly, this is a story told over and over again, all across this country. Millions of people are unemployed. Millions of people have lost their homes. We are a country in shambles. If you are not aware of that, you should probably acquaint yourself with it. It's not the message of hope I normally like to bring to the table, but it is the truth, and I have to face it along with everybody else. Does this mean we are done for?  Not at all. It does mean we have to rethink how we are living, the choices we are making, and we should probably become a lot better prepared for the possibilities than most of us are.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still a hopeaholic, believing that good things will arise out of what must fall. Rebuilding will take imagination and effort. We are all more resilient, more capable, more skilled and talented than we've been led to believe. Out of this, great good can and will come. But, it's up to us. I've said it before and I am saying it again: provide your own hope. It isn't going to come from any government source and it isn't going to come from wishful thinking, with our heads in the sand.

It's time for a great awakening all across this land, almost past time. So, we'd better get crackin'.

Why do I have so much hope still? It comes from the messages I get from the universe telling me there is reason for great hope. My hope yesterday came in the form of two little raccoons who were sitting in the dry grass, just off the edge of the road as I approached JB's former driveway. They popped up together, reminding me of the two I lost, then ran down the ditch and into the corn field. Yes, raccoons like corn, but I know it was a message. And it was all the message I needed. 

What started my thinking along this track again this morning?
This post: http://www.coyoteprime-runningcauseicantfly.blogspot.com/2012/10/welcome-to-asylum-capitalism-ceaseless.html

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Friendship is the Key to Life

Last evening, as I stepped outside to replenish the seed on the bird feeder, I startled and was startled by a yearling foraging under the crab apple trees. I saw it last night but wasn't aware it had returned. It ran a short way off as I tried to talk soothingly, reassuring it that all was well and I intended no harm. It stopped and watched as I turned the pail over and smoothed out the seeds across the feeder. As I was doing that, I heard the honking of geese and looked up to see them flying right overhead. The setting sun was lighting up their feathers underneath as they passed. I stood still, just feeling the world around me. The deer and the geese, together with the red, gold and green trees of autumn, all set against a deep blue sky, made it a perfect moment.

And now, this morning, my thoughts have turned to friendships, both old and new; those that have been around for a good long while, firm in their commitment, and those that seem to have disappeared, remaining only in kind but distant thoughts; those that have languished but are feeling a sense of revival even now in these days of autumn, and those that are burgeoning every day with a greater sense of purpose unfolding. I'm grateful for them all.

Someday many years from now
We'll sit beside the candles glow
Exchanging tales about our past
And laughing as the memories flow.
And when that distant day arrives
I know it will be understood
That friendship is the key to life
And we were friends and it was good.

~ Eileen Hehl

It appears I will never tire of photographing those trees beside the cabin. I have come to think of them, too, as good friends: they are solid and true yet always changing and evolving. They are entering a new phase even as I write this.

The photographs are mine.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Driving the Get-away Car

I like this Juan Bernal fellow, the man with the plan. I like his ... panache. In the end he was, in so many ways that matter, driving his own "get-away car."

Dedicated to Juan Bernal, died September 9, 2001, at age 41

I write a letter for my client today.
I sit with him on the deck
of the skilled nursing facility.
He eats breakfast, smokes cigarettes.
He wants me to write to his baby brother
                                  in jail doing time.
He dictates: "I love you
I need a thousand dollars
I will drive the get-away car."
He has these plans
he needs to convey—tells me
his little brother will tote the gun.

He dictates: "The doctor told me today
I am dying, but he doesn't know
how long it will take.

It is doubtful he will be able to drive
the get-away car when his legs are paralyzed
and two people have to transfer him
from his bed to his wheelchair and back.
He has a direct line morphine drip
he presses every ten minutes.

It is doubtful he will make it
home again, but he wants to go home.
He drifts in and out of sleep, nodding-out
his thoughts stop in mid-sentence,
he loses track of his message to his brother.

He asks if they'll read the letter.
The jail will, I say. He edits out the question
about whether his brother killed someone.
He thinks he did. I suggest he
take out the part about robbing a bank
but he doesn't. He thinks it's a good plan.

~ Julene Tripp Weaver

Ms. Weaver is an American poet living in Seattle where she works in HIV/AIDS services. She believes, as do I, "Time is more valuable than money."

Photograph by Jeff Barron, Moab, Utah.