Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Nothing is . . . out of season . . .

The Egg

The old woman dried an egg
with her working apron
heavy egg the color of ivory
which nobody claims from her
then she looks at the autumn
through the little dormer
and it is like a fine painting
the size of a picture book
nothing is
out of season
and the fragile egg
that she holds in her palm
remains the one thing that is new.
                              --Jean Follain

from Transparence of the World by Jean Follain, selected and translated by W.S.Merwin, p.63

In Northern Michigan where the sweet peas climb banks by the side of the road, I picked some, and found they went well in my thrift store vase. Happy end of April, and good night!
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Monday, April 29, 2013

Nature's Design Shop

You have to admire this Wood Duck's Beauty and he doesn't even use Pinterest. I haven't found him on Twitter, either, alas. I will miss him, and his dainty wife, when I spend actual time away from this wooded canal in Idaho. Preparing for the trip to Michigan will take almost all my focus for the next two-plus weeks. Today we picked up Sammi after her operation for what the vet thinks is a melanoma on her back! (I didn't know dogs got them.) She has to wear that plastic collar to keep her away from the incision and about eight staples; she doesn't like it much. Staples after surgery may be a great idea, but seem rough after the tidy stitching of my youth.

Memory thread on stitching: On a bus trip to visit ancestral sites with the descendants of Mormon pioneer John Lowe Butler, Mom (in her later eighties) rushed through a door (the bus was loading after lunch!) to the rest room without the advance knowledge that it was down a flight of stairs. She broke her leg and tore the skin off a long part of her shin. At the hospital, the doctors planned to send her home for a skin graft. A younger doctor (I cannot remember if he was an intern) was assigned to put on some temporary dressing for the transfer. He was from India. He began to clean the wound and look at the remnants of skin, which had coiled into tubelike lengths. "I think this one has a little blood supply," he said. And he began to clean, straighten, and stitch the wounds, and reattach the strips of skin, one after another. Eventually, he repaired it well enough that she didn't need a skin graft. Isn't that a great stitching story? The works of memory always please me. It was my brother, who wrote stories about his life as he was fighting cancer, who told me he remembered what had seem forgotten like pulling at the end of a little string, and as more and more parts of the memory returned, you pulled on the string some more. That is why I call this blog the Memory Thread.

I meant to put Gu Cheng back in the bookcase! But here he is, still by my chair! This poem is called

Child's Play

was that yesterday? or the day before?
let's just say it's the past
we wrapped a stone in a handkerchief
and hurled them both into the blue sky--

we suffered vertigo
heaven and earth turned head over heels
we let go of each other's feverish hands
expecting God's stern sentence

but no thunder clapped, no lightning flashed
the stone dropped quietly back to earth
and the handkerchief that traveled with it?
it's just hanging from the top of an old tree

since then, we have not seen each other
it seems farther away every day
all that remains is a faithful stone
that still misses its lovely companion

from Selected Poems of Gu Cheng, page 25. Translated by David Wakefield and Su Kuichun.

The tenor on Sirius Met Opera Radio is just now squeezing the ultimate salt-stained drop from "Una Furtiva Lagrima" by holding the last phrases so long you think he will run out of sweet breath! And now the audience explodes with clapping and shouts! Speaking of applause, I'm patting myself on the back and in danger of dislocating my arm a day early--dear faithful readers, thanks for your interest!--after tomorrow's post, I will have set a personal best of everyday posting for FOUR FULL MONTHS! No other New Year's Resolutions are very operational at this point. Sleep well, dream about your childhood tree or creek, and write me a poem!
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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Gray Cloud, White Cloud; two gulls on a rock

In a long ago time there was a boat on the horizon, is it arriving? Has it already left? Tonight, another poem by Li-Young Lee.


When I look at the ocean, I see
a house in various stages of ruin and beginning

When I listen to the wind in the trees,
I hear--or is it someone inside me hears--
the far voice of a woman reading out loud
from a book that opens everywhere onto day.

Her voice makes a place, and the birds
go there carrying nothing but the sky.
When I think about the hills where I was born,
someone--is he inside me? Beside me?
Does he have a mother or father, brother or sister?

Is he my dismembered story
fed to the unvanquished roses?

Is he the rosebud packed in sleep and fire,
courted, tendered, herded toward the meeting foretold?

Which of us is awake tonight?
Which of us is the lamp? Which the shadow?

Someone who won't answer remembers laughter
that sires the rocks and trees,

that fetches in its ancient skirts
the fateful fruits and seeds.

From Book of My Nights, by Li-Young Lee, pages 46-47.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

"The work of wings was always freedom"

Duck brothers down by my willow tree, which is only slowly leafing out--I think because it is in so much shade from the big cottonwoods. These fellows sat here for a long time. And I blessed digital photography as I took shot after shot! One of things they did repeatedly (and in unison!) was to wiggle their rumps in a short of shimmy, like the one "my sister, Kate" used to do. Mostly the iridescent-feathered male mallard head looks green, unless it looks purplish, as here, with just a nape of green.
Tonight's poem is by that masterful poet, Li-Young Lee. When I heard him read in San Jose, he was carrying a battered copy of Wallace Steven's Selected Poems on top of the manuscript he was going to read from. I was very impressed, because my own attempts to deal with Wallace Stevens (also recommended by Pat Shelley) had been brief and frustrate.

One Heart

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing, The first day
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

From Book of my Nights, by Li-Young Lee, page 41.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Memory Thread; Brian says it is a DIORAMA, not a Dollhouse; Michele yawns

We're at Montezuma's Castle, where Montezuma probably wasn't, either. These children (two of mine and my nephew and niece) are looking at the miniature replica. Now these children are all in their forties, with children of their own, three of them. We didn't take many vacations and this was a good one. This was another of the things we did, a red rock excursion in a pink jeep in Sedona, Arizona. It was a spectacular place and HOT in the summer. As they say, you wouldn't want to live there.
I love children's thin arms! Arms that are neither heavily muscled nor flabby, but just right for the things children need to do.
I guess I am thinking about family tonight because I just finished Early Morning; remembering my father by Kim Stafford. Reading it I found out that William Stafford was a lot more complicated person than I had suspected, and so honorable that it approaches rigidity and even comes out at the other side. There is an amazing passage quoted from a late essay, "Sometimes, Reading" about reading that was accepted by the Ohio Review  but was not published until after William Stafford's death.

"He reports what happened when he first opened a copy of Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy on the eve of World War II, in the library reading room at the University of Kansas. When he looked up from the book, he says, he found "a changed world, deeper but full of wonder and excitement, not to be trusted, but infinitely ready for revelation. Why hadn't my professors told me about this new hemisphere? They had cheated me, Or didn't they know, , ,? He reports that his world began to unravel: What held it together/ through all those years of my childhood / separated into hundreds of little pieces . . . I couldn't hold on anymore." But this loss came with a great gift which accompanied him for the rest of his life:
"a new expanse became mine, wild, reckless (so reckless it could be conservative, too), a rampage of gusto: Galileo (thought experiments), John Henry Newman (two and two only self-evident beings, myself and my creator), Pascal (the awful silence of those infinite spaces), Kierkegaard (drink from your own well, purity of heart is to will one thing), George Eliot (in death they were not divided), Tolstoy, Gandhi, Saint Teresa (let mine eyes see thee, sweet Jesus of Nazareth), Goethe (man is a creature for a limited condition), Wittgenstein (we must unlearn what educated people know) . . ." He concludes with consolation, as if to a younger companion on a dark road: "... and my world now reels on, the world of literature, of superfact. But ok, big and scary as it is.
It feels ok.
Cross my heart."
(from Remembering my Father, pp 254-255)

This is amazing to me and wonderful, partly because I have thought of Nietzsche as crazy and St. Teresa, Newman, Tolstoy and Wittgenstein,  even Gandhi as at least a little bit "off." Reading has been my life, but my few great shaking experiences mostly took place outdoors and had to do with sunlight, wind and sudden thought, untriggered by reading or by conversation. So this is hard for me to understand, but still I feel it is quite powerful. And important.
Good night and dream about philosophers and wild thought!
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Flight with orange spot; duck foot in the air!

I have so many things to write about tonight, that the thought of a coherent blog post strains my imagination. (Can't quit now almost four months into the everyday trick!) I have been reading a lot in natural history and in the life and work of William Stafford, whose son, Kim is also very interested in the natural world. Here is William Stafford's poem:


Red Wolf came and Passenger Pigeon
the Dodo Bird, all the gone or endangered
came and crowded around in a circle,
the Bison, the Irish Elk, waited
silent, the Great White Bear,fluid and strong,
sliding from the sea, streaming and creeping
in the gathering darkness, nose down,
bowing to earth its tapered head,
where the Black-footed Ferret, paws folded,
stood in the center surveying the multitude
and spoke for us all: "Dearly beloved," it said.

from Early Morning; remembering my father William Stafford, by Kim Stafford, page 65.
That's all there is, just one short list poem that expands in the middle with the description of the bear and comes to a sudden end. I read it aloud to S and my eyes filled with tears.
One year at the art fair in Petoskey, I bought a carved stone bear, which I keep on the hearth. I remember wishing that its head was a little larger and had a more bearlike shape; I came to see however, that the polar bear does have a tapered head. I could only afford one thing and I bought the bear instead of the large, very costly framed photo of the wolf's head looking right at the photographer and thus at you. I was a little afraid it would haunt me on the wall; and its golden eyes have been haunting me ever since.
I think they are now making some progress with the black-footed ferret, which lives in prairie dog towns and eats prairie dogs, I have read. And life goes on, some of it. I love this world!
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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A sign in the woods; I never spotted the dog

I thought I had found out how to make these pictures display larger. Alas, things have changed since those directions were written, but a single click on a picture will display it larger in a separate window, which will have to do for now. I wish I had the guts to move to a better blog host, but now that I have readers (!!!) here at Blogspot, I don't want to leave. Blogspot is a free service, did you ever wonder how all these free services pay the electric bills for their server farms?  A Facebook friend was surprised today that Twitter uses what people are interested in on Twitter to agglomerate large chunks of data that may be useful in selling particular-you particular-stuff. She was astonished to find this out!
Yesterday afternoon, I watered the lawn and forgot to turn the water off until after midnight (lawn does look happier today) and things have been going on along like that. A friend's boy has run away with his car, a surfboard, a friend, and a couple of hundred bucks. Age 15. And a teen-aged relative is having a fight with his mom on Facebook. We got our car back today from routine servicing and it coat almost $2000, thanks to a leak in something important. (So that's what that little non-oil dribble on the garage floor was!) My nephew caught me out in a mistake on this blog. And I decided  not to go to Europe in September after all  because my back acts up.
I did have art class today and drew an asparagus spear on toned paper with charcoal.. (Honest!) I could have drawn peanuts in the shell, or a segment of grapefruit, but the asparagus were prettier. Tonight's memory thread:: my mother used to cut up unpeeled oranges into maybe eight pieces. Then we would put the juicy part in our mouths and bite it off the crescent of orange peel. We called this "orange teeth" and it was a family favorite. Speaking of families: on our way home tonight on a lovely low-traffic curving road in front of semi-stalled developing houses, we drove past a rolled up brown-stained diaper which had been dropped on the yellow center line. It seemed careless, to say the least. There wasn't any other trash around.
For a moment of tranquility, here is W. S. Merwin's translation of a poem by Muso Soseki, born 1275 in Japan. It can be found on page 244 of Merwin's East Window; the Asian translations.


Green mountains
                have turned yellow
                   so many times
        the troubles and worries
               of the world of things
                        no longer bother me
            One grain of dust in the eye
                     will render the three worlds
               too small to see
When the mind is still
        the floor where I sit
              is endless space

It's a good night for sleeping, Rest well!    

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stirring old bones

These are ten of the fourteen children of my great-grandfather and his second wife, with the purple Post-it that was on the back. Two have already died and two are yet to be born. My grandmother, Susan Elizabeth Redd (Butler) is the middle-sized girl with the small white collar with a white string bow. The older girl in the back is "Aunt Mishie", Artemesia Redd (Romney) the great-aunt of "Mitt" Romney. Effie, the baby in the high chair was the grandnother of my adored cousin, Randall. The small boy in the lower left corner is Wiley Redd, who wrote the most delightful autobiography of any of them. I tried to digitize a few of these old typescripts a couple of years ago. This was probably taken about the time they moved to Mexico to avoid the anti-polygamy laws in Utah. Susie, who was born in 1880, was about eleven at that time. I do not know whose writing this is, but I just found it in an envelope that says return to David (my brother) -- I wonder if he remembers I have it. I don't remember getting it! Pictures like this come out way too small on the blog, but a single click will make it somewhat larger. I did a bunch more scanning today, and installed the results in Dropbox (which I highly recommend!) so I can work with them from anywhere. I'll have them up on Flickr soon, with the other ancestral treats, where they can be viewed much larger.

And here they are all grown up, left to right, Hazel (not yet born in earlier picture) Susie (my grandmother) Jennie and Effie, the littlest gals in the other picture. Through Google Magic I just discovered how to make images display larger, and will try to enlarge these tomorrow, because they just don't work this small!

And tonight, just a little poetry:  From East Window; the Asian translations by W. S. Merwin.


The body of man is like a flicker of lightning
existing only to return to Nothingness
like the spring growth that shrivels in Autumn.
Waste no thought on the process, for it has no purpose,
coming and going like the dew.

Van Hanh, Eleventh Century, Vietnamese

Now the kind of Nothingness that has to be capitalized in the translation, is seriously nothing! These ancestors flickered and went out, but we have left these few traces. Good night!

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Monday, April 22, 2013

"I want every moment to be as gorgeous as crayons are"

Tonight I was all set to write about Emil Nolde, and his small watercolor and gouache "Unpainted Paintings" which he made after the Nazis forbade him to paint or even buy art supplies. But instead I just picked up Gu Cheng again. He's been dead by his own hand a long time now. But tonight in this poem, something wonderful is left of him. Strangely, today at S's sleep therapist's, she told us that her son tried to kill himself with a shot in the heart a few days ago. These human miseries, far and wide. . . Here are all the posts, including this one, on this blog concerning Gu Cheng.

I'm an Obstinate Child

my mother spoiled me
I'm obstinate

I want
every moment
to be as gorgeous as crayons are
I want to draw pictures on lovely white sheets of paper
to paint clumsy freedom
to draw an eye
that never weeps
a sky
a feather and a leaf pertaining to the sky
a pale green night and a pale green apple

I want to paint portraits of the morning
to draw smiles witnessed by the morning dew
to draw the freshest
most painless love
to draw the lover
of my mind's eye
she who never saw dark ckouds
she whose eyes are the color of clear sky
she who would always be looking at me
always looking
never abruptly to turn her head away

I want to paint distant landscapes
to draw the clear horizon and the surf
to draw many merry streams
to draw mountains--
coated with pastel fuzz
I keep them close together
and let them love each other
let every trepidation of a quiet spring
mark the birth of a tiny flower

I want to draw the future
I have not met her yet, that's not possible
but I know she's a beauty
I draw the cape she wears in autumn
draw the burning candles and the maple leaves
draw the many hearts snuffed out
for love of her
draw the wedding
draw the feastday morning when I wake up early
a festival decked out in candy wrappers

I am an obstinate child
I want to blot out all misfortune
I want to draw windows all over the earth
to let the eyes accustomed to darkness
learn the habit of light
I want to draw the wind
to draw mountain peaks taller than the next
to paint the dreams of people of the East
to colour in the sea--
boundless murmur of merriment

and last of all on some stray corner of the sheet
I want to draw myself
to draw a koala bear
perched on a dour forest in Victoria
perched quietly on a bough
with no home
with no heart left behind in a far off land
with only an abundance
of dreams like berries
and great big eyes

I hope
but I do not know why
no one gives me crayons
not even one moment of colour
I only have me
my fingers and my pains
I can only tear off
strip after strip of lovely clean paper
to flutter off in search of butterflies
to fade away from Today

I am a child
Mother Wit's spoiled brat
I'm obstinate

Selected Poems by Gu Cheng,  pages 47-49

This is the longest poem I've typed for this blog; I will have to return to haiku, I guess. But Gu Cheng touched my heart a long time ago and I do not plan to forget. Good night.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

"Things I've lived through here become visible on the walls"

Books of letters can sometimes make very good reading. This is the case with the two-poet volume I have on my Kindle right now.Airmail: the letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Transtromer. Just came out, also published in Swedish. Those letters of Virginia Woolf almost broke my heart, mostly about invitations for tea, or whatever, before I gave up. I found her diaries better reading. I am very interested in diaries and have a good many published ones, but they, too, are often hard going, This volume between Bly and Transtromer as they were discussing translations and becoming greater friends contains a lot of delightful stuff, including visits to the past that I also lived through, like the March on Washington. It is making me very happy. Here is something I found near the end. It is so lively and full of ideas! And the murals reminded me of the ones from Akrotiri that I saw in the Archeological museum in Athens. They, too, were so lively and fresh! I recently came across two letters from Sister Neal, who went to church with us when I was young. They were letters to my mother, thanking her for help, which Sister Neal (I found out from these letters that her name was Edith!) sent after we had moved to Ohio. Now that this sort of thing has become texts or email, the stamp, the handwriting, and the yearning across distances cannot be felt in the same way. The passage I quote below was written about the experience of moving. And the idea of our past becoming visible on the now blank walls is a poet's idea, from one of the best of them.

"The apartment where I lived over half my life has to be cleaned out. It is already empty of everything. The anchor has let go—despite the continuing weight of grief it is the lightest apartment in the whole city. Truth doesn't need any furniture. My life has just completed a big circle and come back to its starting place: a room blown out. Things I've lived through here become visible on the walls like Egyptian paintings, murals from the inside of the grave chamber. But the scenes are growing fainter, because the light is getting too strong. The windows have got larger. The empty apartment is a large telescope held up to the sky. It is silent as a Quaker service. All you can hear are the doves in the backyard, their cooing."

The third section of Preludes.
Tomas Transtromer from Night Vision, translated by Robert Bly.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Not known, because not looked for. . ."

Once I asked my dear friend, Pat Shelley, about her favorite poetry.  Eliot's Four Quartets, she said without hesitation. And, since I didn't really know them well, we soon talked about something else. Last week, I remembered and got a copy. The big surprise to me was how familiar much of it was, especially the first part: Burnt Norton. Perhaps I had studied it in some class in the far distant formal education past. The second thing I noticed is the beauty of the rhythms of the English language, which seem to build on the rhythm of all our poetries that have gone before, including the King James Bible! In fact, the language is so beautiful that it is quite easy not to examine the thought, but just to be entranced by the sounds of the words.
I am giving you the very end of the final section: Little Gidding, and thus the end of the poem. I cannot really explain all the meaning, but I surely LOVE the sound of it, so when I wanted to find something to go with this picture of ethereal winter light from late January, I chose this. Many other passages might have done as well, probably. I notice, as opposed to some of my other recent choices (W. S. Merwin, Bei Dao) that Eliot makes full use of the methods of controlling the sounds in a poem--linebreaks, commas, semi-colon, hyphen, dash, parentheses--as well as preferring the classic Initial Capitals on each line. It's all available to us as poets--all the time!

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one."

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Little Gidding, page 59 of The Four Quartets; the Centenary Edition.

If you are still with me now, I would like to mention the books by Kim Stafford I have been reading lately, especially his memoir, 100 Tricks Any Boy Can Do, and The Muses Among Us; eloquent listening and other pleasures of the writer's craft. I have these both on my Kindle and will be referring to Muses frequently over the next few months. The big discovery here is how you can make substantial works out of small stuff you can gather all the time. I'll talk more about this later, but I think it is something I needed to consider. Good Night!
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Friday, April 19, 2013

Afternoon light after today's rain



I can breathe like green grass
on very high riverbanks
there is a bottomless water valley below
as black as the back of a catfish

the riverwater in the distance slowly turns transparent
flowing directly toward the opposite sandbank
where the undulations are full of temptation
where the weary sunlight is resting

farther away there is a stretch of sparkling green forest
which registers every movement and gesture of the wind
in which there are always lovely flowers
that never tie their purple scarves any tighter

ants are carrying away the sandy earth
they are never worried by love
carefree wild bees are singing
dedicating a song to all of the flowers

I can breath like green grass
I tell my light dreams to Spring
I wish I could sing so many songs
and never let my only smile disappear

from Selected Poems of Gu Cheng, page 63.

There isn't much more to say. There was beautiful after-rain light in the late afternoon. I had picked out this poem for the blog last night, just before I went to bed. Sleep well.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

What kind of springtime bud are you?

The first thing I noticed was the beautiful sharp shadow of the tree on the street. Late afternoon sun, no haze. Then I saw the two different sproutings from the tree. Now I am in, I will snap! I move closer, but my own sharp shadow obtrudes. I'll have to consider it a feature, not a bug. And then the camera makes that fake shutter-sound, so you'll know you took a picture in these days when there isn't really a shutter. Maybe I have  that wrong. If I were a sketch artist, I could leave out the ugly horizontal branch and the big white building, but I catch them, too.
The big hole in my formal education was any kind of training in natural history. After Eugene Van Vranken's 10th grade Biology, not a thing! (If you haven't thanked your best high school teacher, and they still live, DO IT NOW!) I never remember not being interested in the natural world, even though I spent all my spare time reading, preferably while lying down. Through the magic of Kindle, I am now in the middle of a book recommended at a recent  Camera Club of Eagle lecture on slowing down to improve our photographs. The book is called World Enough and Time. In a certain section, the author talks a lot about Gene Stratton Porter, the naturalist, photographer, and author of Girl of the Limberlost and many other books. Holy Cow! That was my favorite novel for maybe six or eight years before I went away to college! I never knew she was a photographer! I had forgotten about Elnora's moths and the Limberlost! Now through the magic of Amazon Used Books, I am in the middle of Coming Through the Swamp; the nature writings of Gene Stratton Porter, which have been thoughtfully assembled for just this need by Sydney Landon Plum. Thanks, Sid! Perhaps the roots of my interest are here? I do remember that my parents, both raised in Arizona, were not especially knowledgeable about our natural world near Scotia, New York! I could go on and on, but instead, here is your text for the night, which was first published in Good Housekeeping in October, 1924. Later it appeared in her collection, Tales You Wouldn't Believe. It concerns the draining of the Limberlost Swamp which was part of a "reclamation" project.

"Drying up the springs, drying up the streams and lowering the lake meant to kill the great trees that had flourished since the beginning of time around the borders of the lakes, meant to kill the vines and shrubs and bushes, the fersn and the iris and the water hyacinths, the arrowhead lilies and the rosemary and the orchids, and it meant, too, that men were madly and recklessly doing an insane thing without really understanding what they were doing, They had forgotten that where there is no moisture to arise and mass in rain clouds and fall back upon the earth, to be scattered in rain, no rain comes. They had forgotten that draining the water from all these acres of swamp land would dry and heat the air they were to breathe to an almost unendurable degree during summer. They had not studied the question scientifically and figured out for themselves how much rainfall they could take from their crops. Not one of them had take n a spadeful of soil. water soaked for ages, and had its properties examined for humus and growing qualities. They did not know as I did that the soil they are eagerly proposing to drain would take centuries to become fit for growing crops because for centuries it has been water soaked until there was not an element in it that would make anything grow unless it were accustomed to growing in water."  (page xxi)

This was written nearly 90 years ago! It is enough to make me despair!
I'll have something shorter, more interesting and even sort of mysterious for you tomorrow. And so to bed. . .
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013


The people who lived here three years ago, and have gone where other couples have gone before them--one to the cemetery and the other to a retirement home--left us a lovely yard, with roses, iris, tulips, clematis, and a dying rhododendron. I let the rhododendron go, sadly. I am sure I finished off  the clematis by trying to gradually remove the grapevine, rugosa rose, and vining bittersweet nightshade that twined throughout the mass of the plant. The hybrid tea rosebushes that line the front walks were helpfully pruned back before winter by someone doing us a favor. They are barely coming back now near the base, unless they were completely frozen. I hope to revive them slowly and won't autumn-prune them this fall. I am learning, do not do any more than tip pruning before winter! The iris are doing pretty well, but I think I need to learn how to fertilize them. As for the tulips, I was unable to deal with the grasses in the bed and eventually, my lawn grandson just mowed them. They halfheartedly tried to come back last year, but have not bloomed while I was in charge of them until now. (It isn't lawn-mowing time yet!) This is the bloom. There is one other bud. I love the way it converses with the dandelion, while delicately leaning away. I have never gardened in this climate, but I am learning slowly what I can manage at this age. And ever more, I fell the need of growing things about me. I feel as if this tough tulip is speaking to me, too!
I had a poem for tonight, but was fighting with the Internet again, and now I've told you the tulip story, the poem will keep until tomorrow. Good night!
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dabbling Around, with and without Dabbling Ducks

The beautiful light on the water this very afternoon! Oh, water!

After I wrote about William Stafford, I got some of his son Kim's books, which I have been nibbling at or gobbling up. I pretty much ate up his autobiographical work concerning his brother in a couple of sittings. It was a very sad story, but well, and lovingly, told. His use of small remembered games and childhood places was particularly evocative. I got a much more rounded and authentic view of his father, too, than I had gleaned from the few days I spent in that workshop.
Here is a passage from the first section of the book Kim edited called Writer's and Their Notebooks. Since I got the book used, several passages were marked in pencil. This is one of them, which has had me thinking about water ever since.

"The hint in my notebook about "the whole rhythm of water"? What is that about? Carved on a stone by the river in my hometown is a line from my father's writing, "Water is always ready to learn." My father, the poet William Stafford, was magnetically drawn toward moving water. We were raised by rivers. The human equivalent to the rhythm of water, for me, is the daily rhythm of entering little discoveries into my notebook. The whole rhythm of the writing hand argues softly with the ways of men, and the ways of silence, violence and injustice. The river, like the writer, keeps seeking the meeting place with other waters, on and on.
I call such phrases in the writer's notebook miniature infinities, windows to stars, crevices glimpsed,  inhaled, barely heard, never forgotten. Writing--especially in a notebook small enough to welcome "small" ideas--is my way to identify them and give them a chance to grow."
Page 25.
There is plenty to think about in this little passage. If you don't already have one, get a little notebook and see what "the whole rhythm of the writing hand can do for your thinking"
I am finding that this daily blog-typing is nourishing me. And my notebooks are coming back into play. Sleep tight.
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Monday, April 15, 2013

Three pencils: graphite, ochre, cerulean

horizontal series

(Come in, you said
but the day did not hear you.
And you saw for the first time

it wouldn't be as you supposed
the heart would always hurt
from not being chosen;

doves lined the longing streets
\with their east-colored silks, their latitudes--
you didn't have to be just like those,

you could pretend the other magic
also had returned,
even if it hadn't)

poem by Brenda Hillman from page 61 of
Loose Sugar, Wesleyan University Press, 1997

This poem has quasi-footnotes at the bottom of its page, but I did not try to reproduce that effect here. Brenda's poem is not centered in the book either (it hangs on the left margin in a proper manner) but I am fighting with Blogger tonight, "Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you." Or something. . . Notice how Hillman uses punctuation in an unusual way. Copy out some poems for yourself and see what you can learn. . .

Looking again at my photo of dry knapweed seedheads in the snow, now I think I also see a lilac pencil! And I think the east-colored silks in the poem might be just these colors. Rest well, and dream in color!
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Sunday, April 14, 2013

"like the sky long ago over China"

This is the third year that this lovely cherry has bloomed since we planted it. I am still wanting, also, to plant fruit trees, which is silly really, because I will  be too old to pick the fruit.
But it is clear to me that I don't want to live anywhere where I cannot plant things
and watch the seasons come round with bloom and leaf.

Planting things is important to W. S. Merwin, too. A major part of his life now is his land in Hawaii, which had been badly damaged. He began by wanting to restore the native ecosystem, but found that the land was so degraded that it would no longer support those plants. So he began a palm conservancy and planted many different species of palm tree.
He has established a foundation to carry on this work.


It is said that you came from China
but you never saw China
you eat up the leaves here

your ancestors travelled blind in eggs
you arrive just after dark from underground
with a clicking whir in the first night
knowing by the smell what leaves to eat here
where you have wakened for the first time

the strawberry leaves foreign as you
the beans the orchid tree the eggplant
the old leaves of the heliconia the banana some palms
and the roses from everywhere but here
and the hibiscus from here the abutilons
the royal ilima

in the night you turn them into lace
into an arid net
into sky

like the sky long ago over China

W. S. Merwin, from The Rain in the Trees, p 78

I like the way (without the pesticide of judgment!) he understands the deep unknowing life of the beetle!
I love the movement of the poem from now to then. I like the use of foreign plants and those native and special to Hawaii! And most of all I love the elegant simplicity of the diction. Typing out a poem like this, your fingers keep wanting to add commas and other devices. But, looking carefully, the words are so arranged that those commas are not necessary! This is a beautiful thing to witness. Good night. . .

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

The names of the trees

One fine day, several summers ago,I took a walk through the Thorne Swift Nature Preserve in Emmet County MI. It is one of the many splendid preserves they have in Northern Michigan under the aegis (never thought I'd have a chance to use that word!) of the Little Traverse Conservancy. We have just given most of our land to the LTC for a wildlife and nature preserve. Here is an article about that new preserve (It is on page 3 of the current newsletter!) 

Tonight when I needed some trees to go with this W.S. Merwin poem, I had these ready in digital form.


Neither my father or my mother knew
the names of the trees
where I was born
what is that
I asked and my
father and mother did not
hear they did not look where I pointed
surfaces of furniture held
the attention of their fingers
and across the room they could watch
walls they had forgotten
where there were no questions
no voices and no shade

Were there trees
where they were children
where I had not been
I asked
were there trees in those places
where my mother and father were born
and in that time did
my father and my mother see them
and when they said yes it meant
that they did not remember
What were they I asked what were they
but both my mother and my father said
they never knew

Poem by W,S,Merwin from The Rain in the Trees, page 6.

Why I love typing out a poem by Merwin and thus having to look at it carefully (I don't type that fast!)is that he doesn't need all the superstructure to do the work. You can tell where people are speaking, where the question marks are. You get a capital letter now and then, but not always with a stanza break. And you can hear the child voice and the remembering adult voice at the same time. Write a poem in this manner! You will learn a lot!
Perhaps you already know that a big part of Merwin's later life is the restoration of damaged land he has in Hawaii. He tried to restore the native trees, but the land wouldn't work for that any more. So he has made a plantation of palm trees from all over; he's founded a conservancy to carry on the work. On its web page is another great tree poem! Sleep tight!

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Afternoon Light on the Water

This is the resident pair. Don't they look well fed? A cracked corn winter! Little bits of spring green adorn the landscape. Today I even found some buds on the tulips that keep coming up in the old bed! Just hoping, since the two dozen I planted in big ceramic pots have only made three sprouts. Next year: MORE BULBS! I love bulbs; they do better here, most of them, than in California. Irises coming along nicely. I wish I knew when I should have fertilized them! Big hopes for the landscape plan for the back yard, but I have to wait another week to see the preliminary ones because my landscape guy just got a big hospital landscaping contract. Anyway, we won't be able to afford all of it. . ..
I just this minute finished the old miniseries of Middlemarch. The book was better, but this was fun! Now I have to do some research on sewing and tailoring in the early Nineteenth Century, One of the funny things about this production is that all the clothes looked new, like they had never been worn before. Many of the collars and such were even kind of rounded as if they had only been slightly pressed. When was the sewing machine invented? I think later than this. Through the magic of the internet I will study up on this before I go to bed! ( Just made a quick check-- sewing machines were being figured out for almost a hundred years, but never really worked until a few years before the American Civil War! So the people in Middlemarch would all have been wearing clothes that were hand-tailored. I'll bet they mostly wouldn't have looked that new either.
Today's reading milestone was passing the halfway mark on the SERIOUS biography of George Eliot. She is both more intelligent and more emotionally comoplicated than I had suspected. Where I am now, she is beginning to write the Mill On The Floss amid the deafening rumors as to her real identity that swirl through the drawing rooms. But she has made some good money on Adam Bede and she and Mr. Lewes are able to live much more comfortably. That's good, And so Good Night!
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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Redwings of my heart

In California, I had to drive out to marshy places to hear their incessant and raucous spring calling. I never thought I'd have them in my back yard! But here they are on the 20th of January! (See the frost on the willow branches?)
Now in early April this willow is finally budding out. The redwings have been here ever since. They have decided that since they are bigger than the house finches, sparrows, and juncos that their mission should be to drive away others from the birdfeeder. So they do, spilling an immense amount of seeds on the patio, through violent swinging of the feeder. This makes the wood ducks and the mourning doves very happy, and even pleases some quail.

On the literary front, having both finished Middlemarch we treated ourselves tonight to two more episodes of the old British miniseries via the magic of Netflix. We saw two of them earlier and then decided to defer; there are two to go. One strange thing, I thought I had formed my mental picture of the characters on the first two episodes. Now I find that I had modified them quite a bit. Their hair is the same color and I recognized them;  they were either prettier, younger, sweeter-looking or somehow quite different from the actors, due to the mental work of reading about them. And of course, the very greatest loss of all is the wit and the sapience of the authorial voice. To me, this was definitely the greatest pleasure of reading this book. I cannot care too much at this point about Nineteenth Century Reform, the corn laws, the quasi-serfdom of farm laborers, and unspeakably rigid societal mores. But the author's sharp remarks as she generalizes on how some particular event represents an illustration of some societal pattern she has seen before are right on! I mean RIGHT ON!
In the Big Book, otherwise known as the Frederick Karl biography of George Eliot (which I am just now almost halfway through, due to having been distracted by other books!) she has just published her first fiction with some success, but nobody yet knows who or what gender she is yet. Every time I pick up this book, we both think of Tolstoy (another long read!) because of the picture of the author on the back which features his long gray beard. I imagine that if you have finished this much research you might not have been able to shave for along, long time. It is an excellent biography, thorough, well-reasoned and compassionate.Good night, may all your birds be pleasing and all your TV soothe!
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

At Watercolor Class; we try flowers

Lovely weather today. Pretty soon I can sketch outside. Got the book True Nature by Barbara Bash with the most lovely fresh simple sketchy watercolors in it. Really am enjoying it, but wish the author had not lettered the text. Her lettering is clear, but type is so much easier to read. Hand lettering seems to be coming back in these sorts of books. At least she lettered it herself! Fake hand-lettered typefaces are the worst of both worlds--still hard to read--not really hand done, It reminds me of when they started making Lincoln logs out of PLASTIC! Ruined the whole concept--they were ugly to the touch! I guess I should not mention Turkey Bacon here . . .
The cover of Barbara Bash's book alone was worth it to me.. It's a grove of slender stemmed trees each made with one brush stroke, The trees in back are a lighter gray and the trunks get darker as they come towards the viewer. Then there are scattered early leaves in a variety of fresh greens, made with little dots of the brush. The whole thing might have been done on creamy paper with a slight yellow cast. The book is about solitary cabin retreats she took in each of the four seasons, where she meditated and observed and sketched the woods and fields around her.
There are a lot more people in this watercolor group than in the last one, but there are plenty of table and some very talented people. I met someone else who has ducks in her backyard,

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Afternoon Idyll; under the willow

I think this will be my resident pair of mallards this summer. The female is my old friend with so much white on her rump. Since that is distinctive, she is the only one I can tell from all the other females. All the drakes look exactly alike. The photographs haven't been very good lately (and I was about to give up) but I had forgotten about spring light and the way the willow withes are reflected in the water. And ripples. I was right by the edge of the stream, sitting in one of those plastic Adirondack chairs which seem like such a funny item to me--so plastic, when the old splintery ones of my childhood were wood and sometimes were actually in the Adirondacks. I suppose because I have been feeding these ducks they let me sit around and take pictures. They don't like it if I pick up something long, like a stick, the hook the birdfeeder hangs from, or a broom or rake. So a tripod is probably out ot the question. But Just-Me seems to be OK, So now I'm all charged up; surely the world needs more duck pictures?
I am pretty excited because a book of Bei Dao's essays came today and I'm looking forward to his thought on the page. Can't quote anything yet, And now I have to go and do some homework for my sketching class. . . .
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Monday, April 08, 2013

Paths and pathways, with plumbing & crickets

Tonght's poem is by Gu Cheng, another of the Misty Poets (read poetic, not particularly Maoist)
from China that I heard read in San Jose so long ago. The poem as printed isn't centered on the page,
 but I liked the way it looked centered, and have left it so here.

The Path

you tell me
there is a path
serene and strange
overgrown with free grass

but we have never sought it
never walked it
because we are human
and quite common

the pigeon says:
it connects to a reed pond
the beetle says:
it leads into trees

but I believe
childhood's footprints are there
and etched brick headstones
and crickets' low chirping

from Nameless Flowers; selected poems of Gu Cheng, translated by Aaron Crippen, page 32.

We had the plumber today and he installed great new outdoor faucets, that have a special expansion feature that helps them not to burst in the winter, if you take off the end in autumn. He also replaced the Leaker, our kitchen faucet. Plumbing $eem$ to be a good trade, and, the workman is worthy of his hire, so I didn't feel like I had taken advantage, or was being taken advantage of. He was a very good plumber, Vaughan Carlsen of Top Dog Plumbing, personable, and answered all my questions. I just looked him up to get the link--and found that his wife runs a pet salon!
This little watercolor is called The Purple Path--and I couldn't decide which path to use for tonight's picture--so I an using them both, and breaking my own rule! May all your paths be toward springtime and all your plumbing needs be light. 
Good night!
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Sunday, April 07, 2013

Tonight, again, I think of my brother, Robert (1945-1997)

and his particular narrow handwriting. This is page 2 of a longer letter, but still manages to cover his recent reading, thoughts about gardening shading into philosophy and then guitar-playing. One of the things about digitization is that you can copy and save anything! Even if sometimes the things you find in your archives make you terribly sad. I still think of him nearly every day.
The perfect complement to thinking about my brother is from the Orient of long ago. Again, although it is springtime now, this is an autumn poem. I cannot readily explain. . .


Sky full of autumn
earth like crystal
news arrives from a lomg way off following one wild goose
the frangrance gone fronm the ten-foot lotus
by the Heavenly Well.
Beech leaves
fall through the night into the cold river,
firefliesdrift by the bamboo fence.
Summer clothes are too thin.
Suddenly the distant flute stops
and I stand a long time waiting.
Where is Paradise
so that I can mount the phoenix and fly there?

        Ngo Chi Lan, Vietnamese, 15th century

translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich and W. S. Merwin
from W. S. Merwin; Selected Translations, 1948-2011, Copper Canyon Press, 2013
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