Monday, October 31, 2011


For your Halloween listening pleasure, here's my favorite old Monster Mash.

I never like to celebrate by being other than I am.  Costumes are not my thing.  Instead, a pot of chili beans and a BBC mystery are my favorite Halloween; a piñon fire in the fireplace, if such is possible.  And maybe baking some pumpkin bread with chocolate chips.  Only the writer in me is intrigued by taking on the guise of others—at least on the page, where the destiny of characters is in my hands.  (See the second part of this writing exercise.)

image:  Venetian Mask, Ficelle 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Again, Letting Go

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

—Mary Oliver

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, dandelion seeds

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Power of Music

Sitting rapt under the spell of Simon Keenlyside's baritone last night at Herbst Theatre, after a numbing day and year, I was reminded of Willa Cather's poignant short story, A Wagner Matinee.
The second half of the program consisted of four numbers from the Ring, and closed with Siegfried's funeral march. My aunt wept quietly, but almost continuously, as a shallow vessel overflows in a rainstorm. From time to time her dim eyes looked up at the lights which studded the ceiling, burning softly under their dull glass globes; doubtless they were stars in truth to her. I was still perplexed as to what measure of musical comprehension was left to her, she who had heard nothing but the singing of gospel hymns at Methodist services in the square frame schoolhouse on Section Thirteen for so many years. I was wholly unable to gauge how much of it had been dissolved in soapsuds, or worked into bread, or milked into the bottom of a pail.  The deluge of sound poured on and on; I never knew what she found in the shining current of it; I never knew how far it bore her, or past what happy islands. From the trembling of her face I could well believe that before the last numbers she had been carried out where the myriad graves are, into the gray, nameless burying grounds of the sea; or into some world of death vaster yet, where, from the beginning of the world, hope has lain down with hope and dream with dream and, renouncing, slept.
Reminded, too, of another difficult period of my life when I, like the worn aunt in Cather's story, almost refused one night to leave the opera house, to go back into the real world.  It was Tosca that I almost lost myself in for good, the second act with church candles and gold and vaults and music so exquisite it claimed my soul utterly and I didn't think I could bear to come out of it again.  (Persephone in the underworld?)

images:  Chagall, Blue Violinist, Terminartors

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Calm

It was only from an inner calm that man was able to discover and shape calm surroundings.
(Stephen Gardiner)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Early British Figure

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Positive Thinking

"Today I live in the quiet joyous expectation of good."

—Ernest Holmes

(quoted in Healing River)

image:   Baku, Azerbaijan, Martin Talbot

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Aztec Calendar

At one particularly bureaucratic time at work I was maddened by the unnecessary and wasted effort that was going into keeping several versions of the departmental calendar, each of which had to be maintained separately, and some of which had to be printed out in a given format and posted somewhere or another where all could see and respond.  My own response was to pin up a colorful rendition of the Aztec calendar, which I declared I was following instead.

And now, again, I’m being dominated and abused by my calendar and scheduling software—all versions ugly, demanding, over-full, uncompromising, and overwhelming.  Again I turn to the Aztec calendar for solace and an alternative way of regarding time and marking days and weeks—whether weeks ruled by deities associated with fermented maguey beverages, or days involving getting eaten whole by long green snakes (more representative of daily doings, surely, than “send supplies to AAR exhibit” or “launch meeting”).

This is my own innovative version of time management, and I can see it as the subject of a highly successful self-help book.  Remember—you read it here first.

images:  La page 12 du Codex Borbonicus;  scene from the Codex Borbonicus, which shows the gods Tlachitonátiuh and Xolotl, while on the side are the 8 to 13 days of the sixteenth series of the ritual series

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Saint Crispin's Day

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'

And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers . . .

—William Shakespeare, King Henry V

image:  Saint Crispin, by Master of Saint Crispinus, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Fine Art Images

Monday, October 24, 2011

Today's Gratitude

For cold tea (white pear) in the hand-turned pottery cup Paqui gave me.

For my grandmother Nora.

For autumn days of optimism and splendor.

For peridot, the green-hearted stone.

For all the fountains in Rome.

For Mozart.

For chocolate with orange peel.

For flannel nightgowns, and chilly nights on which to snuggle into them.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Lion Fountain, Rome

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Today's To Do List

Mozart clarinet concerto
salmon and brown rice
a tree, a stretch of grass
bird photograph
Michael Frayn play
clean sheets
slow down

image:  clothesline, ayearfromoakcottage

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thought for the Day (Letting Go)

The little path lets go—lets go horses or dogwalkers or a retired couple going out together every afternoon in matching old straw hats to pick up the mail or newspaper before supper.

image:  A colourful path in the woods near Kokalyane, Sofia municipality, Bulgaria, Tsvetomira Zaharieva

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Calm

The secret of success is to be in harmony with existence, to be always calm to let each wave of life wash us a little farther up the shore. 

—Cyril Connolly

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Appletree at Kenilworth Castle

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Letting Regret Go

Autumn Quince

How sad they are,
the promises we never return to.
They stay in our mouths,
roughen the tongue, lead lives of their own.
Houses built and unwittingly lived in;
a succession of milk bottles brought to the door
every morning and taken inside.

And which one is real?
The music in the composer's ear
or the lapsed piece the orchestra plays?
The world is a blurred version of itself—
marred, lovely, and flawed.
It is enough.

—Jane Hirshfield

And tasting the quince of autumn helps...

image:  Quince Trio, Flypapertextures

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


On this opportunity, this chance of for once detaching oneself from the implacable process, life itself depends. Farewell to savages, then, farewell to journeying! And instead, during the brief intervals in which humanity can bear to interrupt its hive-like labours, let us grasp the essence of what our species has been and still is, beyond thought and beneath society: an essence that may be vouchsafed to us in a mineral more beautiful than any work of Man; in the scent, more subtly evolved than our books, that lingers in the heart of a lily; or in the wink of an eye, heavy with patience, serenity, and mutual forgiveness, that sometimes, through an involuntary understanding, one can exchange with a cat. 

—Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques

image:   Panther lily (Lilium pardalinum), Larry Miller

Monday, October 17, 2011

Letting Go

My theme for the week, for the foreseeable future, will be letting go—that hardest thing for me.  Afraid of losing everything, mistrusting my memory (and even my being) without physical reminders or anchors, I cling and cling.  

Clearing out my childhood house, the history of our lives written I thought indelibly over more than fifty years, has been excruciating.  Here is the wisdom I need to keep reminding myself of:
Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.
                 —Dr. Seuss
Let me easily set off my fleet of paper boats . . .

image:  The Crescent Moon, Surendranath Ganguli

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Color of the Day

Winsome green—a cocktail for the eyes as well as the other senses.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Green Scooter:  The Cocktail

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Calm

A lovely, quiet road, the quintessence of calm.

image:   Lawrence County Back Road, Hubert Stoffels

The Road Taken

The Black Snake

When the black snake
flashed onto the morning road,
and the truck could not swerve--
death, that is how it happens.

Now he lies looped and useless
as an old bicycle tire.
I stop the car
and carry him into the bushes.

He is as cool and gleaming
as a braided whip, he is as beautiful and quiet
as a dead brother.
I leave him under the leaves

and drive on, thinking
about death: its suddenness,
its terrible weight,
its certain coming. Yet under

reason burns a brighter fire, which the bones
have always preferred.
It is the story of endless good fortune.
It says to oblivion: not me!

It is the light at the center of every cell.
It is what sent the snake coiling and flowing forward
happily all spring through the green leaves before
he came to the road.

—Mary Oliver

image:   Pituophis catenifer sayi - gravel forest road in Cheney, WA, Jrtayloriv

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

—Robert Frost

image:   Back Road in Ireland, Trevor Miller

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Roman Roads

This, on Roman roads in the Alps.

Though the Great Saint Bernard Pass might seem cut off from the world, especially when the clouds and snow move in again and the familiar figures of the roofers have come down at the end of the day, the roads all crossed here:  Neolithic,Celtic, Roman, Medieval, Napoleonic.  Everyone came building roads.
     The Veragri and Salassi, the ancient tribes of the region, made paths and came to worship their god of the mountains, appropriately called the "most high," at the summit of the Pass.  The famous Roman road-builders came through laying their measured miles of stone, and with them Claudius Caesar, out to conquor Britain and all Gaul.  Charlemagne came on his own road, and on it too Pope Stephen crossed, from the Lombard kingdom into the kingdom of the Franks.  Two hundred years ago last summer Napoleon mounted the Pass with 40,000 troops on the way to the battle of Marengo, with heavy ornate cannons hauled behind on sleds, along a road built to accommodate them.  (Stendhal, at seventeen, was one of the 40,000.  He wrote dismissively of the crossing in a letter to his sister from Milan afterwards, but by the time he wrote his autobiography, Mont Saint-Bernard had acquired a more Romantic stature in the narrative of his life, and become a "great feat."  Charles Dickens wrote of crossing the Pass as well, and described the hospice and morgue, in a chapter of Little Dorritt; and in J.M.W. Turner's Swiss sketchbooks you find drawings of the monastery.)
         Long after came the modern highway, bringing the bright red tour busses which blossom by day like Alpine poppies and vanish again at nightfall; closed by snow seven months of the year.  And hiking trails too ascend the mountains to clouded Alpine lakes and Roman marble quarries; plummet down to villages in Switzerland or Italy—the route the seventeen-year-old American pilgrim is taking tomorrow morning, walking from Brussels to Rome in her brown cloak in constant prayer against her sister's cancer.
         The bedrock is a cicatrix of half-remembered roads.  But I'm fooled by what look like endless paths, in a picture I've taken, criss-crossing the summer stone.  Too many paths to count.  I'm told when I wonder at their number that I'm looking at the scars of avalanches.  These, too, look like ways down from the mountains.

(From my creative nonfiction piece, Crossroads of the Alps, The World & I, September 2001)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, At the Temple of Jupiter

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

Most famous, perhaps, is the long and winding road . . .
The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I've seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to you door

The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day
Why leave me standing here?
Let me know the way

Many times I've been alone
And many times I've cried
Anyway you'll never know
The many ways I've tried

And still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long long time ago
Don't leave me waiting here
Lead me to your door

But still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long long time ago
Don't keep me waiting here
Lead me to your door

—Paul McCartney, John Lennon

image:   Porto Moniz, Madeira, Leo-setä

Monday, October 10, 2011

On the Road

Embarking on a road trip, I am taken with the idea of road as metaphor, as powerful symbol in our psyche, popular culture, identity (romantic or otherwise).

There are roads, and there are roads.  Each is what we make of it.  As Jane Hirschfield writes (talking about moments of decision, which journeys are full of)— 
As a sandy track-rut changes when called a Silk Road:
it cannot be after turned back from.

I'll be playing around with roads this week, and wherever they lead.

image:  Batumi (Georgia), country road, Ephraim Stillberg

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Balloon Festival

It's been the balloon festival in Albuquerque this week.  Reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in Remarque's Heaven Has No Favorites, or at least the movie version (Bobby Deerfield) with Al Pacino and Marthe Keller.

I'm reminded also of the parachutes drifting over Mont Blanc which I saw in 1999.

image:  Albuquerque International Balloon Festival

Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday Calm

The language of excitement is at best picturesque merely. You must be calm before you can utter oracles.
(Henry David Thoreau)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Grasses

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall Colors

Boat abandoned in the dunes, Provincetown, Cape Cod.  The paint is remarkable fresh.  And such a quintessential red—by no means the red of abandonment.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Cape Cod Boat

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Color of the Day

Raspberry (if there were any doubt)!

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Berries

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fall Colors

It's the time of year for pumpkins, squashes, gourds, in all their earthy finery.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell

Sunday, October 2, 2011