Saturday, December 31, 2011


A bridge at dusk seems an appropriate image for the transition from one year to another, the crossing into the untried, unknown.  

May it be magical.  I still remember how unspoiled and full of promise the new millennium seemed—and how quickly human greed and hatred undid its innocence.

Another year, on my other blog, I offered a poem, my End of the Millennium Way.  I hope it will apply again, at this less momentous turning.  I like to think I'll be renewed, to cross that bridge with eager hope for what is on the other side.

Happy New Year!

image:  Niederhafen mit Blick über die Niederbaumbrücke, Heidas

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Glad Tidings

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!  

And a good week.  A week of rest and restoration, joy and plenty.  

Writing with Light will be on vacation until the new year, but in the meantime you can tour the world and its various beautifully lighted trees, in all those places I would love to be.

Image:  Floating Christmas Tree, Rio de Janeiro

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Old Car

About to give away my twenty-year-old Mazda, I am awash with nostalgia for places we have been together.

. Up the Oregon coast to meet my parents, through Rogue River, Ashland (a valley of pears), and up to Yachats, where we lit our wood fires and gathered agates on the beach and warmed up afterwards with good peaty Scotch in the crow’s nest.
. Monterey, often—the graceful old adobes plastered white, with amiable inner gardens; one where Robert Louis Stevenson stayed while he was waiting for the love of his life to join him, the two of them figuring in Steinbeck’s story “How Edith McGillcuddy Met R.L.S.”; walking down Cannery Row past all the vanished sardine canneries, and on along the ocean to Pacific Grove.  At Easter, having brunch on the bay, in the tangy sea air, watching the otters frisk.
. Carmel, Jeffers’s Tor House, the luring cottages.
. The Tassajara parking lot, almost unable to drive after a three-day retreat where I learned to change my handwriting and so my life, to draw the tails of my gs and ys forward into the future, to keep my Cs open to admit more kindness for my mother, to make the loops that might inspire financial good fortune.  (Or then again might not.)  Rising at dawn, with the running bells, to sit in the hot spring baths and watch the setting moon, before coffee and breakfast.
. Half Moon Bay, so many times.  The valley of flowers and pumpkins, ponies, the old general store with local jams and salsas, my favorite jerk spices, snap peas and artichoke bread.  Running (sending up a cloud of gulls), walking (a dancing dog; looking out to distant shores), sitting (reading mysteries), eating fish a few miles north on the harbor, and finding my favorite fishing boat, “For Tuna.”
. Sonoma, the mission, the olive trees, Mozart with friends in a vineyard and then tracing out the constellations.
. To Rancho San Antonio, to see the newborn lambs and piglets.
. To campus for writing and archaeology classes.
. Happy beyond believing, to the lamplit cottage of my own true love.
. Panicked, to go and hope to find my mother still alive in the Emergency Room in Burlingame, so many hospital visits ago.

Though the car I’m graduating to (my mother’s) is a year older than the little blue Mazda, so neither new nor glamorous, I’m nonetheless reminded of the poem Back from the Word-Processing Course, I Say to My Old Typewriter—included in my first-ever blog 

image:  Mazda 323, IFCAR 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Things That Make Me Sad

That a colleague’s daughter, at four, already knows what a cubicle is.

Humorless people wearing Santa Claus hats.



Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solstice Again

Let's celebrate the sun, and the magic of light!

After walking outside, faces turned upward, on this fine first day of winter, let's come back in, fix a pot of smoky Lapsang Souchong tea (the kind my father used to call Old Indian Moccasins), and savor this celebratory poem of Mary Oliver's, feeling more than a little pity for the hordes driving around the shopping center parking lots.

The Sun

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone--
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance--
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love--
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world--

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

 —Mary Oliver

image:  The Pen-y-Gaer Hillfort at the Winter Solstice, Eric Jones

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Solstice

Would that I were at Stonehenge, or even in the back yard in Santa Fe, under the clothesline, looking for the rings of Saturn with my simple borrowed telescope of chilly juxtaposed mirrors.

But even indoors, working frantically to beat the year-end clock—welcome back the light!

image:  2010 Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse as seen from Berkeley, Sean A. O’Hara 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Further Cheer

I feel like young Scrooge at school during the winter break, toiling on abandoned and unloved while all my mates are off frivoling (my favorite invented word) and making the most of the season's fun.  My most frantic time of year at work, this is, which makes me way behind on Christmas cards—especially now that I don't fly to Kona for the holidays and have that nice five-hour flight in which to get them all written—and cranky in general.  There is no chance to catch my breath and sit down with my new book, Mary Gordon's Home, and a peppermint latte or Flamingo Chai, in a precious patch of sunlight, and get my balance and my inner life back.

But instead of a "Bah humbug!" I send forth a Chagall angel making music to woo a little gladness from these grumpy, grudging times.

image:  Chagall, Angel on blue (glass)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Cheer

I need something cheery for today, just as I've pretty much determined that I'll wear my new purple sweater all week—today accented by the violet Shakespeare Santa Cruz scarf, inscribed with lines from favorite plays.  "There's magic in the web of it."

And we will lunch at the cheery Calafia on duck dumplings or salmon salad with sliced persimmons, wild arugula, shiitake mushrooms, carrots and golden beets, warm quinoa pilaf, and rice wine vinaigrette . . . or possibly an apple and goat cheese pizza.

image:  Winterberry Holly, Derek Ramsey

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Frost

This last week before the winter solstice (with only eight shopping days until it’s far too late to shop, except on-line and even then without some kind of impossible reindeer-conveyed courier), my sleep-befuddled eye is taken by
. a lake of frost at Stanford
. a Scottie dog strutting down the sidewalk in a handsome red sweater
. a reader sitting cross-legged and soaking up the afternoon sun in the apricot orchard outside the library

image:  Frost mist on Hjellevannet, Ernst Vikne

Friday, December 16, 2011

Late Friday Find

After a most discouraging and fretful day, and knowing I don’t have the energy to go out to our beloved sing-along Messiah tonight at the acoustically fine and aesthetically pleasing Stanford church, I have come across the following recipe in my tattered Joy of Cooking—while trying to figure out how to simply bake a potato to go with unexciting leftover chicken.  It warms the cochrells [sic] of my heart just imagining, fond as I am of fragrant pine and pungent retsina as well as potatoes in general.  I love the whole idea, and may have to experiment soon.  Well, sometime.  Well, okay, probably one of those forlorn dreams that will remain just that, like learning to play all of the Beethoven sonatas.  But you never know.  Sometimes I am inspired to great things.

Potatoes Cooked in Resin

Coming upon this sensational setup after an hour or two of skiing or skating is calculated to send the spirits of an outdoor group soaring all over again.  The kettle is cosily appealing; the scent of resin recalls the pine woods; and no method turns out a potato with so much distinctive flakiness.

Place in a large iron kettle:
10 to 25 lb. resin
This sounds extravagant, but the resin may be used repeatedly.  Heat resin to the boiling point.  Carefully lower into it on a large slotted wooden-handled spoon, one at a time:
Large baking potatoes:  1 per person
Allow them to remain in the simmering resin until they float to the top.  Remove potatoes and place at once diagonally on foot-square sheets of heavy brown paper.  Twist the ends of the paper and serve the potatoes in the wrapping.  Have on hand plenty of:
and in large grinders:
Sea salt
Cold ale makes the best of chasers.

Sounds like heaven!

image:  Basket of potatoes, Dezidor 

Friday Calm

All is calm, all is bright.

(If only!!)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Ginger Jar

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Today's Frost

frost in Danish is frost
frost in Dutch is vorst
frost in German is Frost
frost in Italian is maturo, gelo
frost in Latin is gelu
frost in Norwegian is frost, rim
frost in Portuguese is geada
frost in Spanish is escarcha, cerco, helada

frost in Los Altos is on the grasses and the citrus trees

image:  Drawing of a heart on iced wood (“Heart of Ice”). Nikon D300, Nikon 50mm f1.5, gcardinal from Norway

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Morning Frost

Alliterative moments of the day:

a black dog frisking in a frosted field
a robust red robin in the rickety pear tree
Kona coffee comforting my cup

image:  Frostbedeckte Bäume (Frost covered trees), Locked 

Monday, December 12, 2011


Things that did in fact happen:

. salmon salad (reminding me of the little teashop two miles uphill from Lake Louise, where I ate salmon salad sandwiches and homemade biscuits with fruit jam and drank a pot of fragrant Earl Gray tea after the breathtaking hike)
. a tiny live evergreen tree, decorated with “JOY”
. Satsuma tangerines (the word in Chinese similar to luck)
. birds and berries on a gift bag
. asiago fennel sausages
. exhaustion, the usual December overload, despite all my efforts to ward it off

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Things That Might Happen Today:
chicken mole amarillo tamale
amythest glass milk pitcher
apricot amaretto tea
gift wrap
a hundred cards (or envelopes)

image:  Christmas gift wrapped in Furoshiki style (Vienna, Austria), me! 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Calm

(A wordless calm.  A Zen calm.)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Bocce Ball, Tassajara

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Joies de Vivre

English oakwood smoked farmhouse cheddar.  Be still, my fat-saturated heart!

image:  Cheese Wheel 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Places I Would Rather Be

Adrift in this dreamy Whistler nocturne.

image:  James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Nocturne: The Solent, 1866

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thoughts from Thendara Lane

I’m holed up in one room with all my worldly goods, to avoid the housecleaners.  It feels as if I’m under seige!  Me and my most precious possessions, which I want to save from breakage, from clumsy handling, from disrespect.  We are all displaced for the afternoon.  

But there’s sun in the window, and spring cherry tea in my St.-Martin-in-the-Fields bone china cup, and a pot of herbs on the kitchen sill.  And  if I hadn’t brought work home I’d be tempted to address my Christmas cards instead of leaving them for Christmas Eve as usual (I used to always write them on the plane for Kona, happy to finally have some uninterrupted time in this most frantic of months). 

Tomorrow I must cook some chicken in the crock pot with buttery soft Niçoise olives, garlic, tarragon, and Herbes de Provence redolent of lavender fields in last summer’s sun.

The light is beginning to fade now, to bleach and cool, and I feel my mood taking on a chilly edge as well.  We’ll eat up the leftover winter vegetable minestrone, and try to stay warm in this icy cottage built on a slab of concrete as if on a little iceberg minus only the polar bears.


Thought for the day:   light.

I love this —“where light goes.”  Both the words and the painting of the gathering-in last light.

I love too the moods of light in Edward Steichen’s photography, like these sheep made quietly luminous by the distant rising of the moon.

We are ourselves reduced to the false flames of an electric fireplace (without the fragrance or gentle crackling of piñon), and yet it’s cheering.  As is the thought of willow branches hung with little firefly-like lights, an offering from the Acorn catalog.

And here, by whatever light is available, are some words on light by Mary Oliver—
The Society of Saint John the Evangelist is housed in a building of stone and light.  The stone is patient, the light which enters is transcendent, partly because it is the nature of light to be so and partly because of the attention with which it is greeted by the brothers who live here and their many visitors.  It gives, as is also its nature, both repose and energy.

image:  Edward Steichen, Pastoral – Moonlight , 1907

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December Sunday

Things which caught my attention today:

vanilla bean pear butter
heirloom tomatoes in glass jars
evergreen wreathes with little cones and cloudy blue berries

a kayak on the lawn across from Peet’s in Menlo Park
a wolf in a cage in the back of a pick-up
zebra-striped spandex

Joies de Vivre

Favorite paintings.  Especially in the "flesh"—or in the pigments and canvas.  Lovely to see this one in the Tate, up close.

image:  John Singer Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Spirit Bears


Let us work to save the Spirit Bears from extinction.  Let's remember respectfully their legends and their amiable bulk.

image:  Ursus americanus kermodei, Jackmont

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Calm

The calm of a rusty old keyhole on a green gate leading to a garden with all kinds of well-kept secrets . . .

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Keyhole, Lago di Como

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Possibilities for December

. memorizing Indian tribes
(Chinook, Coeur d’Alene, Klallam, Nez Perce, Klamath, Tillamook, Zuni, Mohican, Algonquin, James Bay Cree, Choctaw, Lakota . . . )

. a bag of persimmons
(persimmon pudding, spiced persimmon butter, golden persimmon pie)

. finding more stilton and grape crisps

image:   Persimmons in Nakagawa, Nanyo City, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Farewell to November


After three days of steady rain—
over two inches said the radio—
I follow the example of monks
who write by a window, sunlight on the page.

Five times this morning,
I loaded a wheelbarrow with wood
and steered it down the hill to the house,
and later I will cut down the dead garden

with a clippers and haul the soft pulp
to a grave in the woods,
but now there is only
my sunny page which is like a poem

I am covering with another poem
and the dog asleep on the tiles,
her head in her paws,
her hind legs played out like a frog.

How foolish it is to long for childhood,
to want to run in circles in the yard again,
arms outstretched,
pretending to be an airplane.

How senseless to dread whatever lies before us
when, night and day, the boats,
strong as horses in the wind,
come and go,

bringing in the tiny infants
and carrying away the bodies of the dead.

—Billy Collins

image:   Jean Colombe, Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seen in London

Though I had envisioned whole roomfuls of Pre-Raphaelites, even a precious few fine paintings were balm to the soul.  Even just this one would have been enough to justify the journey to the Tate (and the walk in autumnal royal woods along the Thames to get there).

image:  The Lady of Shalott, John William Waterhouse

Monday, November 28, 2011

Places I Would Rather Be

At University College, Durham, photographing the castle walls (or going off to study archaeology, with bacon sandwiches in my day pack and some Scottish shortbread for mid-afternoon).

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Nook

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thought for the Day

Live your questions now, and perhaps 
even without knowing it, you will live 
along some distant day into your answers.

—Rainer Maria Rilke 

image:   Capilano Suspension Bridge, Weirdly Odd

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thought for the Day

Nothing is exactly as it seems, nor is it otherwise.
—Alan Watts

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Mills Chapel, Reflections

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Some of What I'm Thankful For - Four


New and old, far and near, all dear.

Thank you, my friends—and happiest Thanksgiving.

image:  Friendship, Stephen Huneck

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Color of the Day


As I wrote in a creative nonfiction piece—

At the Musée Maillol, a few blocks from our hotel and close to the shop that displays cheeses in its windows like priceless jewels, there is the special Bonnard exhibit we learned about by chance.  Most of the paintings are from private collections and many are truly radiant, including "The Red Roof," my newest poster.  In the original the chartreuse isn't so shockingly chartreuse.  (And what is chartreuse?  It's a liqueur, but also Stendhal's famous charterhouse— and along with lavender and snake-skin, the most popular color in Parisian fashions this fall.  We see it in all the shops in Saint-Germain.  That doesn’t make me any fonder of it.)

image:  Mutant Shrimp-Chartreuse

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thought for the Day

Water which is too pure has no fish.
—Ts'ai Ken T'an

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Koi

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Calm

A fine, calm poem, about new beginnings, toward the end of another month and year.

Da Capo

Take the used-up heart like a pebble
and throw it far out.

Soon there is nothing left.
Soon the last ripple exhausts itself
in the weeds.

Returning home, slice carrots, onions, celery.
Glaze them in oil before adding
the lentils, water, and herbs.

Then the roasted chestnuts, a little pepper, the salt.
Finish with goat cheese and parsley. Eat.

You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted.
Begin again the story of your life.

—Jane Hirschfield

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Still Life