Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thank You, Thank You

Many thanks to the generous bloggers at Madam Mayo and Vesper's Escape, who kindly wrote on their blogs about my August 17th post, Questioning the Blog. The reader responses, both by blog comments and separate e-mails, have been intriguing and supportive. I appreciate all of you out there who take the time to visit, read, respond ... and blog. Thanks.

The photo of the little robot holding a black-eyed Susan was taken this afternoon out in my yard. Click on image to enlarge.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Nature Does Not Stand Still"

“Nature does not stand still.”
Claude Monet

True. Everything is opening, closing, blossoming, withering … being carried away in a beak or jaw. The wind twists the petals of sunstruck flowers, weaves and unweaves the grass in watery patterns. Creamy cumulus clouds comb themselves into mare’s tail wisps. The human eye darts here and there, hungrily taking in all the movement, marveling at the constant, rippling change.

As I walk on my road, I sample the variety of August perfumes shifting on the warm and humid breeze. Cut grass, sunlight on damp earth -- even, on occasion, the faint skunky scent of fox at the top of the hill. Every night before I give up for the day, I stand in front of the screen doors and sniff. I take a deep breath of night air, inhaling the loose and floating molecules of the world. I imagine the nocturnal creatures digging, soaring and scurrying. (Maybe later, reading in bed, I’ll hear them moving through the woods, cracking twigs and rustling leaves.) Sometimes I step outside one more time, to see if the moon is up, to check on the constellations silently inching across the darkness. My last downstairs act is to slide the glass doors shut. I like the finality of that rolling noise, followed by the emphatic click of the latch. I can still taste the swirling night.

The photographs were taken this afternoon at Silamar Farm in Millerton, NY. Click on images to enlarge.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Questioning the Blog

No, I’m not interrogating the blog, aiming an unbearably bright light in its twitching eyes. I’m questioning myself. Why do I do this? (Blink-blink.) Even the label, blog, sounds frivolous or unclear, like a cross between “blahblahblah” and fog or bog. Originally, I created the blog (with initial set-up help from my older daughter) so that there was a place where people could find my books and contact me. One of my literary guiding lights, C. M. Mayo, had asked me to guest blog on Madam Mayo after my second book, Stirring the Mirror, came out last August. I needed a site to link to! So, in a way, it forced my hand. On August 13, 2007, the blog was born.

Since the initial days, the blog has evolved into…well, I’m not quite sure what. Essentially, I’ve let it just happen. I don’t want to build a fence around it. I've let it sprawl. To answer my own question why, I’ve come up with the following thoughts:

  1. It places me more fully in my life.

  1. It marks passage through time, engraving mile markers along the route.

  1. It clarifies nebulous thoughts.

  1. It’s a commitment to writing and art.

  1. It’s an openness to the possibilities of art/creativity in the world, a reaching out to reel in those possibilities, to anchor and join them in a specific place.

  1. It’s an exercise in synthesis, a weaving together of threads from reading, poetry , the visual arts, nature, culture, all fleeting experience.

  1. It’s an exploration of both reality and dreams.

  1. It keeps me looking, thinking, witnessing, reading and rereading, listening, feeling and creating – cinching the ragged edges of the universe a bit closer.

  1. I like the casual, rambling style of “essay” (lyric essay?) that I feel free to write here. I like that relaxed autonomy. It lets me experiment with form, with hybrid writing, which I love.

  1. I enjoy the communication, the sharing of ideas and information. I love hearing from those who visit the blog, who have other thoughts to add, who make additional connections, who offer suggestions and expand the posts. I like the idea of a network of blogs.

  1. And, hey, I like the rare free stuff! Recently, after a brief post about Matsuo Basho, I received an e-mail from the publishers of a new collection of his work, Basho: The Complete Haiku, translated by Jane Reichhold, asking if I’d like a copy. Yes. I now have the lovely hardcover, and will focus on it soon. John Glick of Plumtree Pottery also mailed me a surprise: a beautiful, swirling universe of a ceramic tile. Thanks.

  1. Along the same theme, I’ve enjoyed receiving invitations to submit work, or requests to reprint writing and photographs from the blog.

  1. I get a thrill out of taking those photographs, then finding the right words to go with them. I like setting up little scenes, going off on tangents, letting inspiration unspool. This is serious fun.

  1. Okay, and I savor the “search for the sublime.” Those are the insightful words of Annie Dillard, writing about polar explorers: “They went, I say, partly in search of the sublime, and they found it the only way it can be found, here or there – around the edges, tucked into the corners of the days.” (Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 41)

After a year, I’m setting no limits on the blog. I’m allowing it an amoeboid existence, the freedom to expand and contract. I’m here, waiting, meandering, open to the unfurling possibilities. I’ll end here with more of Dillard’s wisdom:

“Wherever we go, there can be only one business at hand – that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us.”

The final quote is again from Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 42. The photo of the colorful maple leaf (already?!) was taken –literally – on my road on 8/15/08.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Don't Look Down...

...while tempting fate...

Photo taken on my deck, 8/13/08. Click on image to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Inhabiting the Story

If you fully inhabit a story, it feels as if you live there, that you’ve shut the door behind you and have entered another world, another life. Looking through the eyes of those who people the pages, you breathe there for a spell. You take on the texture of their skin, their scent, their torn hearts and seething minds. What at first feels like a distant universe, a flat existence, becomes a place you know intimately, where you recognize the wallpaper patterns and the shape of the head pressed in the pillow. The faces in the mirror – not yours – become your own. All of the people in the story have hearts that beat with erratic rhythms, just like yours. When you closed that door, you shocked their hearts into starting.

If you fully live there, you believe everything the characters say. Including their lies. You have to. After all, you invited them there, offered them pieces of your flaws and joys, fed them facets of your own beauty and ugliness. Some seem nothing like you, but they are. They’re human.

Sometimes you become the watcher in the story, silently observing that world, but you’re still there. When you fully inhabit the words, your characters inhabit your body in return, each with a little bit of you nested inside of them. Your body is crowded with stories and poems. They expand your life. You inhabit yourself more fully having written the words.

Charles Baudelaire wrote a prose poem called “Crowds” that touches on the same theme. Here’s an excerpt:

The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege that he can, at will, be either himself or another. Like those wandering spirits that seek a body, he enters, when he likes, into the person of any man. For him alone all is vacant; and if certain places seem to be closed to him, it is that, to his eyes, they are not worth the trouble of being visited.

(From Twenty Prose Poems, translated by Michael Hamburger)

The photo was taken 7/26/08. Click on image to enlarge.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Center of the Web

About an hour ago I went outside to check on the spider waiting at the center of her/his web. The web is suspended between the hanging red impatiens and the peach begonias. As soon as I opened the entryway door, the spider raced under the rim of the flower pot and hid. I stood there until she/he emerged and returned to the web's center. I wasn't sure if the picture would turn out in the dark, but the flash illuminated the web's intricate silvery pattern and the bristly legs of the spider. Patience.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Water Lily with Sun in Its Mouth

I don't grow tired of this image. The pollen dusted sun opening at the water lily’s center; its lilac tipped rays like the arms of a gold sea anemone. The delicate black shadow-lace along the leaf’s rim at the lower left. The absolute stillness. If I look long enough, I can float inside the pale cup of opening petals.

Rilke wrote a poem called "Water Lily" (translated here by A. Poulin) that ends with these mind-shivering lines: "...into my body at the bottom of the water / I attract the beyonds of mirrors..."

The photograph was taken 5/11/08 at The New York Botanical Garden. Click on image to enlarge.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

If You Trust in Nature

If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.

These are Rainer Maria Rilke’s words from Letters to a Young Poet, a slender but powerful book that I just reread early this morning. Beyond the deep words, an incident sticks in my mind. In his introduction, Stephen Mitchell wrote that “I once showed a psychic friend of mine a late photo of Rilke, and it took her three hours to recover from the glance." I like that.

This photo of a lichen was taken at the top of my hill, at the end of June. I love looking at the details of lichens, at the strange shapes and textures. Wondering what this one was called, I discovered it was difficult to determine. In a search, I came across a fascinating Web site, Lichens of North America. I was sidetracked into a whole other gorgeous and colorful world. Dr. Irwin M. Brodo, lichenologist, and photographers Sylvia Duran Sharnoff and Stephen Sharnoff also created a beautiful, comprehensive book by the same title, Lichens of North America.

I decided to contact Dr. Brodo at the Canadian Museum of Nature to see if he could help me with my lichen. Here’s his response:

Well, if it's really gray, it may be Myelochroa aurulenta (Powdery axil-bristle lichen). The medulla of that species is pale yellow. If the lichen is yellowish green (or "green" according to some people), it may be Flavoparmelia caperata (Greenshield lichen). The latter is much more common on trees along city streets (with clean air). Or, it could be something entirely different.

Thanks, Dr. Brodo. I’m thinking it’s Greenshield lichen, but I’m not sure. Whatever it’s called, it’s beautiful.

The photo was taken 6/29/08. Click on the picture to enlarge the image.