Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Calm


I used to sit in the cafe of existentialism,
lost in a blue cloud of cigarette smoke,
contemplating the suicide a tiny Frenchman
might commit by leaping from the rim of my brandyglass.

I used to hunger to be engaged
as I walked the long shaded boulevards,
eyeing women of all nationalities,
a difficult paperback riding in my raincoat pocket.

But these days I like my ontology in an armchair,
a rope hammock, or better still, a warm bath
in a cork-lined room—disengaged, soaking
in the calm, restful waters of speculation.

Afternoons, when I leave the house
for the woods, I think of Aquinas at his desk,
fingers interlocked upon his stomach,
as he deduces another proof for God's existence,

intricate as the branches of these bare November trees.
And as I kick through the leaves and snap
the windfallen twigs, I consider Leibniz on his couch
reaching the astonishing conclusion that monads,

those windowless units of matter, must have souls.
But when I finally reach the top of the hill
and sit down on the flat tonnage of this boulder,
I think of Spinoza, most rarefied of them all.

I look beyond the treetops and the distant ridges
and see him sitting in a beam of Dutch sunlight
slowly stirring his milky tea with a spoon.
Since dawn he has been at his bench grinding lenses,

but now he is leaving behind the saucer and table,
the smokey chimneys and tile roofs of Amsterdam,
even the earth itself, pale blue, aqueous,
cloud-enshrined, tilted back on the stick of its axis.

He is rising into that high dome of thought
where loose pages of Shelley float on the air,
where all the formulas of calculus unravel,
tumbling in the radiance of a round Platonic sun—

that zone just below the one where angels accelerate
and the ampitheatrical rose of Dante unfolds.
And now I stand up on the ledge to salute you, Spinoza,
and when I whistle to the dog and start down the hill,

I can feel the thick glass of your eyes upon me
as I step from the rock to glacial rock, and on her
as she sniffs her way through the leaves,
her tail straight back, her body low to the ground.

—Billy Collins

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Swans, Stratford-upon-Avon

Thursday, September 29, 2011


My idea of paradise is a perfect automobile going about thirty miles an hour on a smooth road to a twelfth century cathedral.

(Henry James) 

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Lindisfarne (early 12th c.) 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Being Slick

For some reason I was thinking this morning about slickness, and then gloss came up—in the context of adding a gloss to something.

It's a word that seems positive enough on the surface (slick as that may be . . . ), meaning "Done or operating in an impressively smooth, efficient, and apparently effortless way."  And yet, I am wary of slickness, mistrusting its glib, effortless slide.

I was terribly disturbed my last year of high school to think that the short story of mine which people had most liked was what I considered slick.  Why did that so bother me?  I suppose it's that I always want, instead, roughness, texture, a down-to-earth aesthetic (wabi sabi), a homespun feel?  Old surfaces with time and weather written plainly on them.

And yet, I find looking for images that "smooth" covers quite anything, from sexy models to a Griffon Bruxellois to an otter.  It includes obsidian and agates (some with moss intrinsic in their grain), which I am drawn to; silk, which has that pleasing friction to it too.  I'm given, surprisingly,
a smooth curve
a smooth skate
a smooth newt
a smooth lumpsucker
a smooth dachsund
a smooth lanternshark
a smooth green snake
a smooth grease pencil
a smooth desert dandelion
a smooth Aston Martin
a smooth soft-shelled turtle
a Chinese smooth bore cannon
a smooth Arizona cypress
a smooth water
a smooth descent

So smoothness, slickness, gloss, is not after all as glib and without character as I have tended to think it.  I might well try to smooth my way (and writing) more . . . and in fact writing on my laptop seems to encourage that kind of efficient prose.

The foliage of a Smooth Arizona Cypress, Ragesoss
Smooth paint on the village postbox West Stow Suffolk, Keith Evans

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Thought for the Day

Making a living is not the same thing as making a life.
—Maya Angelou

images:   Traditional highland weavings, and woman using a backstrap loom, Guatemala, photo by Infrogmation

Pastore a colloquio con un soldato tedesco, mentre le pecore aspettano, in Piazza San Pietro a Roma nel 1943, photo by Funke

Monday, September 26, 2011

Places I Would Rather Be

I wonder what the weather's like today at Hadrian's Wall?  Would love to be rambling in those high, grassy spaces, with a shrimp salad sandwich and a Yorkshire curd tart to give me energy midday, and the restored dovecote to return to in the evening for a sound and dreamful sleep.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Hadrian's Cow

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Calm

The English have an extraordinary ability for flying into a great calm.
(Alexander Woolcott)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Sunstruck Leaves and Berries

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thought for the Day

We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.

(Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, January Bridge

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Joies de Vivre

Sleeping Black Lab puppy, ear in water dish.

(Or, okay—Black Lab puppy awake, too.)

image:  Shadow Mtn Labradors

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Taking Time In

Ancient water clock, Beijing’s Ming Dynasty Observatory,                    Ed Hedemann

Slow down, breathe, do something you love, take time in.  I am eternally in pursuit of time—ever more elusive—to be still, to be myself, to feel calm and centered.

I did finally find the copy of The Deep River Realm I'd lost somewhere among my time-stealing piles of this and that, and now must try to find time to read it!  It's Abby Seixas, the author, who talks about taking time in.

On the same subject, I've found this quiet little poem by Billy Collins—

Liu Yung

This poet of the Sung dynasty is so miserable.
The wind sighs around the trees,
a single swan passes overhead,
and he is alone on the water in his skiff.
If only he appreciated life
in eleventh-century China as much as I do—
no loud cartoons on television,
no music from the ice cream truck,
just the calls of elated birds
and the steady flow of the water clock.

Billy Collins

Water clock in ancient agora of Athens.  (The water clock kept time for speeches, with water emptying at a controlled speed from one bowl into another.  Senate speeches were six minutes and it became an art form to deliver an effective message in that time period.)

image:   Sharon Mollerus

Greek Water Clock: Reconstruction of a clay original of the late 5th century B.C., Dorieo

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tomato Heaven

It was tomato heaven this weekend—with two batches of my absolute favorite linguini with heirloom tomatoes, basil, and goat cheese, plus some yellow tomatoes in herbs and olive oil that I splurged on from Whole Foods, dangerously hungry when I went in to buy La Brea whole grain bread for a late breakfast at almost noon.  Those were the quintessence of tomatoes, the heart of a tomato field warm in the last summer sun.

I’m now planning to make roasted tomatoes with penne and ricotta salata, and maybe even add some figs to that.

But I’d better hurry, because this bounty isn’t going to last.

(Nor the half-price pound of pimientos de padron I bought at the market!)

image:   End of Summer Tomatoes, Mason Masteka

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Calm

Mule Heart

On the days when the rest
have failed you,
let this much be yours --
flies, dust, an unnameable odor,
the two waiting baskets:
one for the lemons and passion,
the other for all you have lost.
Both empty,
it will come to your shoulder,
breathe slowly against your bare arm.
If you offer it hay, it will eat.
Offered nothing,
it will stand as long as you ask.
The little bells of the bridle will hang
beside you quietly,
in the heat and the tree's thin shade.
Do not let its sparse mane deceive you,
or the way the left ear swivels into dream.
This too is a gift of the gods,
calm and complete.

—Jane Hirschfield

image:  Mule in Moriles,  Córdoba (Spain), Juan R. Lascorz

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thursday Tao (and Thou)

Some thoughtful thoughts for the day from The Tao of Pooh.
"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast? said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
"It's the same thing," he said.

"Lots of people talk to animals," said Pooh.
"Not that many listen though."
"That's the problem."

I also loved the novel by David Payne, Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street.

image:  Tao Te Ching

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wednesday Wisdom


You can
die for it—
an idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
and India

and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter

—Mary Oliver

image:   Dead Sea in the morning, seen from Masada, Grauesel

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday Drama

It was amazing—and delightfully funny—to watch a thrasher chasing a cat down the driveway this morning, the bird also on foot.

Earlier we'd been awakened by a cacophony of crows.  (A good collective noun, though I see it's already been used for saxophonists and woodlice.)

image:  California Thrasher, Kevin Cole

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Bonnard

A vase of cheery Bonnard flowers for a so-far gray day.  There's also a very chipper bird singing happily off in one of the fruit trees, though I can't identify it—neither robin nor mockingbird.  And behind it, a more forlorn quail.

image:  Pierre Bonnard, Pot of Flowers, 1888 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Color of the Day

Amaranth?  deep Cerise?  (or Hollywood or Vivid?)  Ruby? Raspberry?

I like that the color amaranth “represents immortality in Western civilization because the name is derived from the name in Greek mythology of a flower that was believed to never die that grew in the abode of the Greek gods on Mount Olympus. Something that is perceived as everlasting may be described by the adjective amaranthine. (The color peach represents immortality in Chinese civilization.)” 

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Banner, Hexham

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday Calm

Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.

(Michael Caine)

image:   Crepuscular Rays, Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park, Mila Zinkova

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thought for the Day

Every time the ax goes into the forest, all the trees think:  At least the handle is one of us. 

(Turkish proverb on which the "hopeless optimism" of Billy Collins is based.  See here for more on that.)

image:  Gustav Klimt, Tannenwald II


Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Nice sparkly clean windows are wonderful, but I also like atmospheric old windows with stories written on the glass—like the window looking out on turrets in my little room atop the winding stairs in the castle in Durham.

Windows with sun through them are always my favorites.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Window, Durham Castle

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Places I Would Rather Be

Poodling around York.  And having a Yorkshire Curd Tart about now, with an espresso from Caffé Nero.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Boats, York

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I'm feeling a little abstract today.  (Which reminds me that my father, who worked for an abstract and title company in Santa Fe, would get asked whether "abstracts" meant tooth-pulling or modern painting.)

And I'm feeling distressed, as I often am, that our patio is solid concrete.  Someone has suggested laying out a labyrinth on it.  I wonder if I would want to do that with polished river stones, with chalk, with colored ribbons, with what?  Andy Goldworthy would have some ideas . . .

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Acacia

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Welcome, September—what used to be my favorite month, as school started and anything seemed possible.

Now, I have the not-going-back-to-school blues, wistful as the old song Maggie May, set in September too.

image:  Sunflowers from my Firenze e Toscana calendar, 2007