Wednesday, September 10, 2014

It's Time to Say Au Revoir (to summer)

Watery memories of summer, sun streaked and showy
the texture of perfect loveliness

the sea's desire a kind of praise
a creature of summer, herself, rounded

and full, the roll of her hips
the twirl of her hand

water, kelp, mountain, leaf
like a jazz dancer

adorned in improvisations
of quickened light and color and movement,

she glides away casually without looking back
ventures behind a moon of blue and

sways to the decaying tune of September.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Side roads: Marquette, Michigan

    house on Front Street, North

Side Roads

we could rent a sailboat, coast

smooth stone beaches

gorge on walleye cakes, 

whitefish in the soft shell.

we could stop at a supper club in the trees

drift like clouds,

feel boardwalk heat on our feet.

                   Suzi at the lighthouse

we could doze in screened-in porches

watch the sky topple

lightning flash on the lake,

sleep late.

                                 Jonathan, Lake Superior beach

we could push back the lace curtains

watch rain pound church steps

eat ice cream at the ore docks,

go west, turn left.

    crumbling ore docks

we could eat at an old-fashioned lunch counter,

cherry phosphates and baked

macaroni and cheese

we could hike moss covered rocks in a creek bed

climb 100 steps to a lighthouse

run the sand beaches, free.

    In front of Donckers luncheonette

we could walk the curved shoreline, obscured

fragrant of pine, 

recollecting our youth, we could leave our adulthood far

far away, and behind.

    Lake Superior, the ocean without salt, at Big Bay

Sunday, July 13, 2014

graveyard dredge: a poem

It's hard to think now, how men with their

shovelfuls and boatloads and sideroads mixed

the best color, the good rock, the pay streak, the bedrock.

Get a good look at shafts and rigs and steel hammers slamming

below the camp, beavers damming.

Get a good look at 8 square meters of tailing piles

men febrile and fevered, for miles

filling boxes with tools to reshape iron and wood

boxes of household and

grub, and wide metal tubs 

and the women lugging

ladles and bowls, stokeing wood-burning stoves.

They hauled anything they did not fear to lose, except

fingers and toes, 

 a man's body sliced in half

under pressure and hose.

Dead men, like dozers 

driving steam into frozen muck.

Get a good look at men, black-faced with grease

skin drawn tight against bone

scarred by an iron bucket's icy stones.

The dredge monster is asleep now

all rust and bones.

 So much required to pursue their desire

this great force, gold, like a god.

riches flowed

Women drank mint tea from thin rimmed cups

and men, with their restless hands and drunk injury

pierced the ground and staked fortunes,


with their blood.

*Poem and photos originated at Coal Creek Mine on the Yukon River during a writing workshop with poet, fiction writer and essayist, Gretel Ehrlich.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Go Where The Trail Takes You

    Point A: Matt & Susan's cabin near Gunsight Mountain

The author-illustrator, Tomi Ungerer said, name your destiny's destination. We didn't have a specific Point B on our ride across the tundra on the backs of sturdy 4-wheelers; we just knew we were headed into the wild to imbibe the sky and tundra, and explore ancient fossil beds on unnamed creeks along the way. 

So we loaded up tools of the trade: rock picks and hammers, chisels, shovels, and a tool bag to carry our newfound samples. Sack lunches, water, a sense of humor (or two), wiley imaginations, and the willingness to embrace whatever stumbled across our path.

We were searching for prehistoric marine life that lay directly beneath our feet. Here, in the green-covered mountains, we were looking for ancient sea life, as it were.

We followed the trail up and down mountain passes, across rushing creek beds and into the wild, getting all muddied up in the process. Fortunately, we are creatures who take well to the mixing of earth and water and actually enjoy getting exceptionally dirty (as long as there is a shower or claw-foot tub at the end of the day).

    Forget the hair and nails; just take me to the mountains

From the top of Belanger Pass, we hopped off our wheelers, and spinning slowly in place we took in the view of  4 different mountain ranges: the Alaska Range, the Talkeetna Range, the Wrangell-St. Elias Range and the familiar, in our backyard Chugach Mountain Range. 

You can lock your sight on one for a spell and get lost in a daydream of sorts. 

OK. Back to ground level now.

After some bumpy riding over boulders and fumbling with very small turn ratios, we hit the Mother Lode. In an unnamed tributary to Alfred Creek in the Talkeetna Mountains, we found, you might say, decorated stones, or embroidered rocks. Attractive and textured. 

Chip, chip, chop, chop (can you hear our hammers at work?)

Cross-sections of variegated shells, like scallops, mussels and clams unfolded before our eyes. In the base rock of sandstone, we were, quite literally, standing on the beach in our mud boots, in the rain, way the heck out in the green mountains in a place that used to be saltland. Oh, Saltlandia!

Here's what the geologists and other rock fools really die for. Ammonites...the spiral impressions of a prehistoric octopus-like animal in a shell. The only surviving and nearest relative of the ammonite today is the pearly nautilus. Everyone loves the nautilus shell, no?

I swear sometimes I feel like I'm in a science fiction movie.

Whatever your destination, keep your eyes on the path. Go where the trail takes you...

...and take notice of the flowers, though sometimes found in very hard places...

take notice and smell the flowers along the way.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Red Flagged



She hugs her baby, pats his bottom
sets him on the floor, in the center, where
spectators form a ring and watch.

The "experts": social worker, physical therapist
speech pathologist ask his parents
10,000 questions they do not

understand how to answer or
they don’t see the point

of it all.

The experts make marks on reams of paper, scribble
their impressions in the margins, as if

he is a deficiency, weak in his limitations
a flaw of nature

they show him how to roll a ball, blow bubbles
clap his hands in imitation

but his blank eyes stare at a speck on the floor.

The experts gather their papers and toys and
instruments of instruction

the boy’s mother
gathers him in her arms

the stoic father speaks:

We love him like this, the way he is.
He is our bright star in the sky.

We only want he eat Eskimo food
so he can carry us and
bury us in our village when we grow old.

An expert hands the mother a baby food grinder.

This will grind the muktuk, so the whale
can make your baby strong.

Strong enough to carry you and
bury you in the village

when you grow old.

Monday, June 9, 2014

To Breathe and Bend

    M. Devine

(Be) Venerated

Breathe like a baby and soften

Bend in the wind and feather the ground

Become pliable as a young tree

                                          K. Devine

Breathe & recapture what was yours at


Breathe & buy back your one

Beloved life

Breathe: feel the rising & falling like a 

boat on gentle waves

Become a master, spacious & open. feel your

Breath as it is: a golden thread, your connection to life

Buddha would say distance yourself from thought & concentrate on your

Breath. the way you 

Breathe is the way you live.

Become the miracle of pranayama, taking in & giving back

Breathe with the belly like a sleeping baby

Bend in the wind without snapping &

(Be) reborn

                                                   J. Smith

Monday, June 2, 2014

My Army

You should see my favorite people,
You catch a glimpse of gold through their skins.

I walk on air whenever I'm with them,
They're where the happiness begins.

And I'm alright on my own, but with them I'm much better

They're like diamonds and diamonds are forever.

Meet my friend, Lucy, whom I have known for over 30 years. This weekend she threw a great party, Retiredstock, for friends who have retired from their jobs in 2014: teachers, engineers, and artists. At Retiredstock, each retiree crossed the stage when their name was called, and instead of a diploma, Lucy pinned a set of wings to their backs.

They stand taller than giants,        
They outshine all the stars

They are the love above the love
They're my army of fortune,

They win every war
They are the love above the love

After raising kids, and filling our days with meaningful work, here we are, still laughing and loving, open to new adventures and ideas, scheming on the next new hike or art project or interesting place to visit. 

I remember when we were in our twenties, rounding Schooner Bend on the Kenai River; Lucy and I in kayaks, furiously paddling and screaming like we were on an amusement park ride, exhilarated by the fast water. And the kayak trip to Kodiak, when we flew for the first time, in a Widgeon, a small amphibious aircraft that lands on water (without floats, mind you). On the take-down, the belly of the plane set down and bobbed like a cork while mini waves rolled and splashed the airplane's windows.  

Exploring the beautiful waters of the Kodiak archipelago was priceless.  

And no one eats a marshmallow cooked over an open fire quite like Lucy. She savors every morsel in the same way she savors life. With deep enthusiasm, reverence and gratitude for all that is.

Discussing books and politics, sharing stories, creating art, writing, hiking, singing, and playing music; through all the decades of our lives, good friends are the wind under our sails.  

They're a boat when I'm underwater
They tame the sharks and they calm the waves
When I choke they pat my back harder
My load is light, my secrets are safe
And I'm alright on my own but with them I'm much better
They're like diamonds and diamonds are forever

I wonder where I would be today without that handful of friends that have given me a heart full of joy.

They stand taller than giants,
They outshine all the stars
They are the love above the love
They're my army of fortune,
They win every war
They are the love above the love

Listen to "Army" by Boy. With our friends we're much better. They're like diamonds, and diamonds are forever.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mendeltna Music Fest

I was just driving by, on my way to our cabin on the Copper River, and saw a modest sign propped up in front of the lodge:  Mendeltna Lodge Music Festival

Just before the Tazlina Trading Post, the road pushes through to the Copper River where our cabin sits. I was on my way there to spend a week clearing trees, hooking up an outdoor shower, and helping Husband build a fishwheel (since last year's wheel catapulted downriver in the big flood). By way of the "lazy man's" way of fishing, we watch red salmon swim into the revolving baskets and slide into a box, waiting to be filleted, vacuum packed and smoked. A yearly ritual carried out to fill our freezer, and the neighbor's freezer, and the friend's of friend's freezers...with fresh caught reds. That was Plan A.

Switch to Plan B: It doesn't take much for me to swing in and sleep in my car for the night if the main bait is music.

I love how the names of small villages in this area of Alaska roll off your tongue: Nelchina, Tazlina, Chistochina, Gulkana, Nenana, Mentasta. The Copper River Basin is home of the Ahtna tribe of Athabascan Indians, "Aht" meaning people, and "na" meaning river. Many of these villages only have a hundred or two full-time residents, but what they don't scrimp on is music.

                               Roy Corral of Whiskey Jacks

                               The incomparable Lulu Small...she does impressions too. 
                                It was Lulu's birthday; "I am 6, 10-year olds today," she said

You could spend the whole summer zipping around the state to music festivals held in very small venues. Most attract people who bring their instruments and jam around campfires. This is where you learn to strum and pick and sing, because it's not about showmanship, it's about community. You don't ask to join; you just pull up a chair or a stump and jump in on folk, bluegrass and gospel tunes where people play nonstop...for HOURS on end. 

                                Oudean family

The sun tried to burn a hole through the orangey haze blowing hundreds of miles from the Kenai fires blazing on the peninsula.

But that didn't stop the music makers. 

Consider the Ugly Bass guy. I met him at a campsite, where he was playing a bass he made from found objects. Said he once built a cabin called the Pallet Palace, made from discarded wood pallets.

His upright bass was made of recycled wood. He is a doctor, mind you, and as a joke, one of his buddies put a bag of bones in his mailbox (just deer bones, no worries), and he used those for the bridge on his bass. How resourceful.

Doctor Dave tunes his bass with a 7/16" box end wrench. Really, it didn't sound that bad!

    Always some booty to be had

Back to the music. The Rock Bottom Stompers, Hog Heaven String Band and Kentucky Tundra rounded out the day.

The next morning, my neck was a little kinky from sleeping in the car, but after a cup of Joe, I was ready to imbibe on more music. Let me introduce you to another Alaskan wonder, Anna Lynch. Her voice is resonant and rich as a glass of good wine.

Next up was Betty Hartford, wife of the late, great John Hartford, who sang songs of long ago, songs I haven't heard for decades. Listen all the way through to Orange Blossom Special (1978 Austin City Limits with John Hartford and the Dillards). Now that's how it's done right.

                               Betty Hartford

Looking ahead to the rest of the summer: there's the Fiddlehead Folk Festival, the Girdwood Forest Fair, Granite Creek Music Fest, the Chicken Fest (yes, that's the name of a town close to the Canadian border, 2010 census: 17), the Cantwell Music Fest and for three days of fish, fun and music, head on over to Salmon Stock 2014, featuring Lucinda Williams.

                     What a summer line-up.

Oh wait. One more thought. You gotta love the sing-along gospel numbers, like: I'll Fly Away, and How Great Thou Art. 

And so I leave you with this: Carrie Underwood bringing her fellow country music stars to tears with her rendition of How Great Thou Art.  Exquisite, spirited, heart-wrenching stuff...which is how music is meant to be.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Women Taking Steam

                            Teaching of the Sweat Lodge, A. Paquette

NoteI am participating in Diane DeBella’s #iamsubject project
Here is my #iamsubject story.

                                               WOMEN TAKING STEAM

      A dog team yelps briefly in the starry night. Our boots squeak in the snow, the temperature hovering at 20 below. The hairs in my nostrils freeze, my lungs breathe in dry air. Clothes, frozen on a line, hang out to dry; stiff white sheets silent against a violet-black sky. We walk on a narrow path beaten down by pack boots and animal tracks; a path of least resistance through knee-deep snow.

    The steam house stands in a small clearing surrounded by birch forest, interrupted by the light of a half moon. It is almost like a dream to me now. I can’t place the village, though the experience is frozen in my mind. It was fourteen, maybe fifteen years past. I am traveling in Western Alaska, and visit many villages in the course of five days as an itinerant therapist. I remember a row of spruce-log cabins facing the airstrip; a modern schoolhouse perched atop a small rise, and oil drums emerging from mounds of deep snow. Perhaps the village is New Stuyhawk, or as far north as Koliganek. The exact location puzzles, but a haunting memory lingers. I am taking a steam with two Eskimo women who are strangers to me. What is remembered most clearly is a felt-sense of care and belonging imparted by the women who never even asked my name.

      It wasn’t so long ago that schoolchildren in the villages were shy and spoke very little, relying more on facial expressions to meet and greet newcomers. The raising of eyebrows meant “yes” in response to a question. Pause patterns between sentences were comparatively longer than non-native people. It took me several years to fully understand these differences in our conversations. Future tense was not expressed (there was no need when one lives day by day, following the rhythms of weather and seasons). Value was not placed on being highly verbal as in the Anglo worldview, and people were not accustomed to being barraged with a flurry of questions. Children learned by watching and imitating members of their tribe. The women of the village, too, had a quiet ambiance about them that exuded confidence and a sure-footedness in their daily activity. I am quite sure they never compared themselves to others, or complained about their lot in life. The older the woman, the wiser she was regarded, gaining great respect from all members of her community.

        The heavy wooden door scrapes the icy ground when opened, and a warm rush of air billows out. I pull the door tight behind me.  In the small entryway, we remove boots and socks, and hang up our clothing on horn hooks. There is no light inside but the kerosene lantern one woman carries to lead our way.

         Naked, we step into the heat room. At the far end of the enclosure is a 55-gallon fuel drum serving as a wood stove that hovers above a wide bed of river rocks.  
      One woman nods for me to follow. She is small in stature, with a soft round belly, sturdy, muscled legs and a long black braid falling to the curve in her back. We sit on a long wooden bench against the wall. The woman dips a wooden scoop into a bucket of water and ladles it carefully over the rocks. Hissing steam pours forth and I breathe in deeply the welcomed moisture. The women speak a few words, laugh a little, then quiet. I close my eyes and feel my skin tingling. The heat deepens. Moisture collects along my hairline, in the creases behind my knees, between my breasts.  Feels good, yes, she says, chuckling. The woman continues dipping and pouring until the room is filled with relaxing warmth. 

      In my culture, being chatty is highly valued. We talk about everything: work, family, love, sex, weight gain, weight loss, celebrities, money…and we do so intensely, even with strangers. There are experts on every block. Chat rooms on the Internet. Coffee chats. Over-the-fence neighborly chats. That’s how we solve problems, request advice, or just air what ails us. We become close through reciprocating in conversation and in sharing our stories of triumph and heartache. Or sometimes we talk just to talk. Sometimes we talk to avoid the silence.

      Another nod. A smile. I follow as we ease ourselves down to the slatted wood floor and sit cross-legged. One of the women scoops water into the wide metal bowls at our feet. Her face holds no particular expression, just serenity. She breathes deeply. Raises her eyebrows, hands me a bottle of shampoo. Hunched over, the women flip their long black hair into the bowls and begin washing. A deep sigh follows; a letting go. I feel the warmth of the room, the sweat, the deepened glow of the wood stove.

      I am entranced by this rich moment, a simple elemental cleansing shared with two strangers. Names, titles, and accomplishments, unimportant. Making money, who’s divorcing who, the plethora of advice, complaints and criticisms…gone.   There was a sense of relief in this heavily schooled, career loaded body; a dispelling of everything worrisome, gossipy, and even intellectual from this content-laden mind; and in its place, a simple gesture of an age-old, bare handed experience. 

     I have remembered these women for a long time, and our shared, quiet intimacy; a cleansing that surpassed the need to use words from my overwrought verbal repertoire. 

      Someone once said do not speak unless you can improve on the silence. It felt good to share a tender moment with two women who had no need or desire to bare their souls by throwing their minds around. 

      It felt good to simply be...quiet.