Monday, April 6, 2015

Lighten Up and Don't Look Down

                             
     Yes, there's still ice on the river, but we're getting there...

Geez. It's April already. Long time, no post. I'm sitting here looking out the window at pussy willows blooming, the ground snowless; dry and brown as rusty gutters. No rain. It's that edgeless time of year when there are no sharp distinctions, a sort of borderless time when clear boundaries between "this" season and "that," are pretty much truant. It isn't spring, and it isn't winter, and it sure as hell isn't even close to being summer. I'm planting seeds indoors, eager to stick my hands into warm black earth, but the earth in my backyard is still frozen solid. Birds are clearing their throats and chirping, reluctant to sing too loud and get all our hopes up.

I went on a hike with some friends this weekend, a really good one; the panoramic views of snow capped mountains meeting the sea at Turnagain Arm is such a rush. Ten and a half miles, 24,587 steps (I love my IPhone health gizmo) and a couple places on the trail so calamitous I was thankful to have brought my hiking poles. Better to dig deep with, in loose scree, said Mama Bear in my head. 

I voiced a mantra under my breath..."don't look down, don't look down, don't look down" and I didn't, or I would have been toast. Didn't know I had such an innate fear of heights until that moment; the more probable scenario, however, is I'm growing older and as you grow older you, in a sense, digress into being a big fat baby again. Mommy don't let me fall! I had a good mom; she let me fall and that taught me courage and a very useful "stick-to-it-edness", which was a serviceable way of being on this hike and countless others; not to mention the many unexpected obstructions, and various forks on the very short (though at first glance, seemingly long-haul) road of life. 

Wait. I don't mean that; the growing old part. No one "grows" into old age; it's more like you're hammered and forged into a foreign body you hardly recognize anymore. No worries, though.

Something new I've learned. I hold on to things too tightly. Like this blog and my work of creating art. Art that sustains me. A friend recently told me, when I was complaining about having too many balls juggling in the air at one time,  to just let things go. Let my writing breathe, push the ol' photo processing limits (the ones with steep learning curves), get your hands messy at the paint table, she said. Set sail for a distant shore without knowing where you're headed, or where you'll end up. Don't worry so much about "time frames." (who made that phrase up, anyway?) I love friends. They always come to the rescue, no strings attached. They teach me about air, and breathlessness.

I used to think it was a handicap, having too many ideas in my head at one time; what to focus on, which one to reel in and land. But when she told me it's OK to be working on two different projects at one time, hell three, even four (while you're ignoring your blog responsibilities), I felt a breath of fresh air blow into the atmosphere. Sometimes you just need someone to give you permission to run with it and dump all the self-imposed obligations; you know, all the heavy as a bag of hammers, "should's."  My friend didn't lay a hand on bursting my bubble; she just brought me back down to solid ground...easy-like.

So I stopped hugging the slopes, except for the scree covered ones with 300 foot drops. Post when I want; don't when I don't want. Finish projects with a loose grip, and erase that serious smirk on my face, for God's sake. Lighten up. 

It all works out.


       
           Ice on the river saying,should I stay, or should I go?





Friday, December 12, 2014

Cold Blue Steel


The days are short in mid December.

You have to chase light, what little of it is left to catch. 

But without sun there is drama,

a pull to water and sky,

the frosted tips of dead-still trees and bent, frozen grasses.  


At first glance, you think, there’s so much emptiness here. 

As if colorless is akin to depression, a voided wasteland. 

There is noise, daily noise not far away on a highway of commuters. 

There are voles, scurrying under snow mounds, trying to punch out a living here. 

Moose tracks. Your dog in a perpetual zig-zag of ground sniffing



Hoar frost. Old wooden beams. Steel.




You wait for the thunder of a train to rummage steel tracks over the frozen river. 

But your fingers and toes won’t wait long; the hairs in your nose freeze. 

Despite first impressions, there is life in cold places.


Power. Noise. 

And silence.










Friday, November 21, 2014

Winter Moth



Winter Moth

A deranged sky, late November

Raindrops glisten the limbs of trees

Snow, the impossible dream

Archives of winter under my skin.

Let's stay in tonight

Lay back the quilt, olives

A glass of cold beer


Let old leaves tell the story

They know the truth

What ripens late, what

A hurdle the change

From brown to white


What a hurdle the change 

From brown to white, wingless

Warm winter, a newly-splendored thing.





Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sun. Stone. Sky

    Annie Leibovitz


These pastels, handmade by the late painter, Georgia O'Keefe, were colored with ingredients found in the local landscape at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Everyday on my walk from the casa to the ranch's dining hall for supper, I see these colors in hills and stones and sky. Everyday I am left breathless with the majesty of the natural world.


    Casa del Sol

Indulging in true creativity requires empty time and empty space. In those spaces of time, where the land creates a quickening in your heart, writing and drawing and painting leap forth like kenneled dogs, yearning to be set free. 





The pinks and oranges and purples stun the senses, appearing quickly, then disappearing; an ethereal show in the sky perfect to paint in pastels and acrylics. 

I'm always the first one in line at the dining hall, to have supper at 5:30, because the walk back to the Casa is 2 miles. Light changes quickly, creating shadows and colors that flutter like hummingbirds, present for a few moments, then gone. I have to hurry to get home before dark, before the whole show packs up and readies itself for the next day's performance. Nature really is performance art...wouldn't you agree?




Sometimes I just can't believe my own eyes. As Mary Oliver said: I am a bride married to amazement. My greatest indulgences are innocent:  color, shadow, light, stones, sky, sun, dirt, texture, and all sorts of creatures, both great and small.

I have lost myself, dwelling in Them.



Thursday, October 9, 2014

You know how I like barbed wire


You know how I like barbed wire, how it twists
    Around old wood

How fenceposts lean; how I like to find a good place
To sit down on the sandstone


A mouse ran up the stone, sat right next to me
Whiskers flicking


"Do you know the tall and the dark under?" it said.
"No, I don't think so," I said.

"Just wait. You'll see."




I wonder: are we having a dialogue on the dead, here?



I  hear a hawk screech, or is it
An owl?

Under my feet are millions of voices, but 
All I hear is this brown mouse

Glancing sidelong and running like hell to
Slip into the shade.




*Photo location: Abiquiu, New Mexico



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,

PAID IN FULL

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

    McClennan

      
   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

Birth

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