Monday, December 31, 2012

Wishes for the New Year

A clean slate, but one with ancient potency and stories in its fabric.

The capacity for joy.

Companions, to warm your feet and heart.

Composure within.

Time enough, and a wealth of space in which to be.

A year of promises kept.

A year of promises yet to make.

Natural wonder.

Art and music.

A riff of birds.

A stretch of water.

Lingering rosemary.

Fortune sketched in tea leaves.

Someone to help it all come true.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Mission with Oranges

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pockets of Quiet

The ocean at year's end, but hardly quiet where we've come.  Everyone had the same instinct—to get to land's end as the year too was ending, to let the spent days go, carried like other wrack away, elsewhere, by the cleansing waves.  Some sort of primal urge draws us to the water.

And there are pockets of quiet.  A deer outside the corner window, under the oaks.  A gleam of Pacific off the small balcony off the bathroom.  Raucous neighbors gone out to play.  Some of us lost in books and picnic sandwiches by the nice fire.  These words.  Others I've promised myself in the coming year.  More meditative moments.  A still center, from which to regard the unquiet world.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Shorebird

Friday, December 28, 2012

Some Color for the Year's End

A Bonnard for the last week of the year.  This young woman is looking a little pensive, reflective.  Remembering or looking forward, as the final days of December demand.  I am wearing my cheery purple sweatshirt (my Mom's) instead of a cheery striped red blouse, but the effect is to brighten a day that has little color of its own.

image:  Pierre Bonnard, The Striped Blouse

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Evening Reverie

Coming back to a favorite place late in the day, late in the year, a winter's dusk with rain still dripping from the winter trees, to find lights on, a Christmas tree—a Noble Fir—in the entry, a fireplace, a vase of lilies and carnations, warmth and welcome, and a golden gingko dripping golden leaves out on the deck where we ate wedding cake with friends, though even then my mother couldn't make it.  And we've bought books, a clutch of new mysteries, and eaten good chicken mole and cornbread and sausage, and admired the colors of the knit sweaters on their racks for just $3 each, even some Italian, in soft Italian colors.  The dark closes, and we are snug inside it, held tenderly by this place that has somehow hugged us to it.

image:  Rainy Night in June, Another Porch

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Buon Natale

I'm feeling blessed from all around the world—carols from King's College, Oxford; wild huckleberry licorice from Montana; a CD of songs from the Maltese tenor; Sicilian mysteries; linen napkins from the south of France; my childhood Christmas stocking from Santa Fe; Peruvian coffee; purple socks with a Tibetan rose pattern; my mother's red plush bear from Mexico; greetings from friends in Malaysia and my cousin in Minnesota; bounty from truly everywhere.

Happiest Christmas to all.

image: Via Da Procida during Christmas 2007 in the old town of Salerno, Italy, soloxsalerno

Monday, December 24, 2012

Joyous Christmas Eve

Joy.  Peace.  Love.

Times ten.

Times yet another ten.

image:  Christmas Lights, sjncousin

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Lights

Shopping (wild blueberry jam, olive oil soap, Sumatra decaf, French linen napkins); and a delicious oyster sandwich with spinach, aioli, and caramelized onions, though not out on the sidewalk.  Indoors, for the foreseeable future.  Lights, cheering the rain.

image:  Christmas Lights, D3B

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Rivers and Their Secrets

“Great US Rivers Reveal Their Secrets” says one of today’s headlines.  I love the thought of the secrets of rivers.  Of the stories they murmur to the attentive listener.  Of the histories they scrawl out in the longhand of their oxbows.  Of the passages they have recorded, the voyages of paddle-wheelers, the treks of kayaks, the diagonal crossing of horse and rider, evading followers.

In today’s rain, here where we have no rivers, rivulets are appearing everywhere, on usually dry ground, promising secrets of their own.

image:  Winter River, GVKImages

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Still Point of the Year

The light is done withdrawing, ebbing like the tide, and now the days will start getting longer again—a little at a time.  This day feels like the still axis on which the seasons turn, the top spinning silently, beginning some kind of new motion.  And in the grayness, the dull chill rain, I am weaving metaphors!—tangled as bright threads in . . . well, in what?  A far Eastern bazaar?  A muffler being knit to stuff in someone's Christmas stocking while the embers of the pine wood fire finally gray and cool?

The holidays are nearly upon us, and I, young Scrooge left on his own at school when all his mates have gone to families and fun, am working on in an empty office, finding color where I can.

image:  Under the Christmas Tree, Franz Skarbina, 1892, Stiftung Stadtmuseum, Berlin

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Places I Would Rather Be

Today, in Venice.

Okay—often, in Venice.

image:  Venice Rent Apartments

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sacred Spaces

A retreat this weekend on a lovely stretch of coast just up from Stinson Beach made me wonder why the monasteries—both Buddhist and Christian— always have the finest views.  Because they are remote, one is tempted to say.  Because they are in and of the wilderness.  Because the fine blue distances invite contemplation, draw one unresistingly closer to the divine.

I have been in wonderful—and full of wonder— monasteries now in the remote Carmel Valley, on a steep coast on Mallorca (a hermitage, really), on the St. Bernard Pass, in the south of France, in Sicily's Erice, on the Amalfi Coast, and on Santorini—that one sheer, white.

image:  Meteora 2, Vaggelis Vlahos

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Twelve Twelve Twelve

We are living in momentous times.  12/12/12 feels as if it ought to bear a huge, eerie significance; and just around the corner is 12/21/12, supposed by some to be apocalyptic.  Mathematicians and numerologists must be doing their sums around the world, summing up our lives, summoning and composing the planets like the hardwood beads of an ancient abacus.

(And in the meantime work goes on as usual . . . )

images:  Aztec Calendar, Digital Trends, Lia Koltyrina/Shutterstock

Oldest Known Mayan Calendar, Guatemala, CNN

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Tenth and Counting

I'm working on getting into the spirit of things, though Christmas feels so far away still, mentally and otherwise.

I've been cheered by seasonal delights—
white roses in a vase
brilliant red blankets on the horses up the hill
the thought of peppermint brownies
a myriad varieties of apples
collaging paper trees
the fragrances of sage, of pine
written cards by friends across the world

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Collage Tree

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Sanctum

Good morning from this Piero della Francesca angel.  One of my new favorite painters, with the air of serenity and grace he conveys.  I shall strive this week to model my face on those of his subjects!

image:  Piero della Francesca

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Calm: Woods

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

—Robert Frost

A poem from my deep past . . .

image:  Thyme and Again

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Be Crumbled

Very little grows on jagged rock.  Be ground, be crumbled.  Wildflowers will come up where you are.


A happy thought, in these jagged days.  Let yourself be worn down, instead of resisting.  Burst, allow yourself to burst into eventual bloom.

image:  Gentiana septemfida or Crested Gentian is a flowering plant found in Alpine and Rock gardens.  Noumenon

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Creatures of Distance

Oh today, let me be here, in the green French distance!

“Time is the longest distance between two places.”
—Tennessee Williams
“Every once in a while, people need to be in the presence of things that are really far away.”
—Ian Frazier
“And so man, as existing transcendence abounding in and surpassing toward possibilities, is a creature of distance. Only through the primordial distances he establishes toward all being in his transcendence does a true nearness to things flourish in him.”
—Martin Heidegger, The Essence of Reasons

image:  Arched Entry- Dordogne, France, SevenArts Friends

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ant, Fish, Hawk

Yesterday’s picture of the ant transporting a large glass globe along the asphalt reminded me of Wart, King Arthur, in The Once and Future King, being changed into different creatures, from an ant to a fish to a hawk to a badger, to learn important lessons from different viewpoints within the natural world.

Lessons.  Learning.  That’s what I need in gloomy times like these, when the rain (aided by coworkers) makes my spirits as soggy and as featureless as papier-mâché.  I need to be shaped by the hand of the magician-teacher into something new and vibrantly alive.
"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake in the middle of the night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White

image:  Half Mask, Ultimate Paper Mache

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Traffic and Other Jams

Being stopped by these fine English sheep would cheer me immensely.  Quite a different experience from the usual snarls of my mornings and evenings, with a combination of dawdling Hondas hesitating at green lights ahead and ruthless SUVs roaring up impatiently behind.  Traffic is the perfect demonstration of how most people don't want to live in the moment.

Jam is "to press tightly" or "become wedged," (thank you Online Etymology Dictionary); my favorite apricot, olallieberry, and sour cherry jams, while not obviously connected to that, probably come from "to press fruit into a preserve."  So maybe traffic jams have the same happy result, and we will all end up flavorful and good with buttered toast!  I'll consider that next time I'm stopped by surly cars and feeling unduly wedged.

image:  Countryside is Great Britain

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Grapy Dusk

“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”
—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

image:   Twilight, Commander John Bortniak

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Song for the Day

I sang.
 In my voice was the hope that clings to every heartbeat.
I sang.
 In my words were the powers I inherited from my forefathers.
I sang.
 In my cupped hands lay a spruce seed, the link to creation.
I sang. 
 In my eyes sparkled love.
I sang.
 And the song floated on the sun's rays from tree to tree.

—Chief Dan George

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Red Maple 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Week, Saturday

I am thankful for my childhood, in what is now a foreign land, a far country, for my adventuring parents who came to a place on the map where neither had ever been.  I am thankful for the memories I was given of the first river (though scarcely a trickle, until snowmelt gave it substance for a week or two), the first light.

All the Ivans dreaming of their villages 

all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities, 

picking up fragments of New World slowly, 

not knowing how to put them together nor how to join 

image with image, now I know how it was with you, an old map 

made long before I was born shows ancient 

rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire 

for the world's great splendors, a child who traced voyages 

indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country 

remembers the first river, the first 

field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building, 

that new smell, and remembers 

the walls of the garden, the first light.

—from “A Map Of The Western Part Of The County Of Essex In England,” Denise Levertov 

image:  1513 World Map

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Week, Friday

I am thankful for beauty, and for the chance to gather beautiful moments into the collage that is my life (even if I'm not too good at the gluing).

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Collage with Bird

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Week, The Day Itself

I've been trying to distill everything I'm thankful for into a single phrase, or list, a kind of "favorite treasures" box kept underneath my bed or tucked behind a loosened brick in the pantry as in old English country-house stories.  But I'm feeling unable to choose, distinguish.  I'm grateful in such enormous ways for so much, so many—everyone and everything I love.  For life itself, simply irreducible.

Happiest Thanksgiving to all.

image:  The Dinner Party, Jules-Alexandre Grün

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Week, Wednesday

I am thankful for colors—like those of these Japanese Maple leaves, touched with the rain that came and went in the night.

“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.”
(Wassily Kandinsky, "Concerning the Spiritual In Art"—1910)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Maple

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Week, Tuesday

I give thanks to and for our animal companions, who give us so much love and joy.

image:  Cheryl Muir, Nikki Andrews

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Week, Monday

There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude . . . a quiet joy.
—Ralph H. Blum 
I am grateful for the memory of Venice, for the week we spent there in September, for the universal pleasure it gives, for its labyrinthine ways, its churches, its beauty, its advanced age, its turbot baked whole in the oven with potatoes, the quiet lapping of its waters against resilient stone.

I am grateful too for Joseph Brodsky’s meditation on the city, which I picked up in a bookshop there, and for its profound, poetic passages.
The boat’s slow progress through the night was like the passage of a coherent thought through the subconscious. On both sides, knee-deep in pitch-black water, stood the enormous carved chests of dark palazzi filled with unfathomable treasures—most likely gold, judging from the low-intensity yellow electric glow emerging now and then from cracks in the shutters. The overall feeling was mythological, cyclopic, to be precise: I’d entered that infinity I beheld on the steps of the stazione and now was moving among its inhabitants . . .  
—Joseph Brodsky, Watermark

image:  Venice Rent Apartments

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Week, Sunday

I am thankful for natural beauty, for sunlight and seeds and the radiance of a new morning every time all over again; and for our ability to keep it with us through photos—writing with light.

image:  Yehuda Edri

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Huddle of Blue Boats

What could be calmer?

I've been having rough seas myself this week, and find my spirit greatly agitated.  I would love to be sitting in a blue boat, and learning—as I dreamed recently—to row.

Once I did know how to row, very inexpertly.  My father took me out on Wisconsin's Bone Lake when we were staying there one summer vacation, with my grandmother, in a wooden cottage where skunks lived under the porch.

This, then, instead of being in a boat, from "Poetry" by Billy Collins:

We are busy doing nothing—
and all we need for that is an afternoon,
a rowboat under a blue sky,

and maybe a man fishing from a stone bridge,
or, better still, nobody on that bridge at all.

image:   John Hair

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Joies de Vivre

Sheer energy!

image:  Meditating Monks at Pongour Falls, Vietnam, TheEarth We Live In

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Alphabet Soup

Sitting in my nearly-sunny writing room, I'm feeling as if the words are as tangled as this—not coming clear.

My mind is still feeling dyslexic, or dysgeometrical, after working on a series of collages set on the diagonal—having to figure out how to cut the pieces to fit into odd-shaped spaces.  

And then last night it was thrown for another loop when we were asked in class to make a sheet of music look like it was not music.  I have decorative borders made from treble clefs, and from flats; disjointed notes sprinkled across the white space like poppy seeds on Danish tebirkes.  (Or like a page of cut-up music, imperfectly disguised.) Somehow the whole thing was upsetting.  I prefer my music as it was meant to be.

And the letters forming some recognizable words, syllables. Incoherence leaves me not myself.

But I am cooking a chicken with Greek herbs in the slow cooker, and drinking Earl Grey tea from my Italian mug; and sometime soon my mind will settle.  The tangled words will clear.  Will read me out as I, without these cognitive upsets, was meant to be.  My music whole again.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Word Sculpture, Treviso

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lest We Forget

To mark Veteran's Day, this passage from my father's war novel—with love and gratitude to him, and to all veterans.
Then in front of one house he saw a small boy with big solemn eyes and short black bangs of hair.  The boy stood alone beneath a wooden frame in which tiny silver fish hung to dry.  He had raised one finger beside his face in salute to the troops, and the sight of him made Willy’s throat ache.  Dimly he remembered another small boy saluting a passing convoy.  It seemed a lifetime ago and a world away.  It had been in San Diego when a replacement outfit left on a voyage coded Epic 83-A.  Had this been truly an epic, beginning and ending with a child’s salute?  What were little boys made of that they should feel sympathy for men of arms?  Why did little boys develop an urge to use real rifles and cannons and Atom Bombs?  Why had young Andrew Willy run away from his brother’s farm in Hanford, Washington, to end up years later in Nagasaki where a crop of plutonium from that selfsame Hanford, so the radio said, had helped demonstrate a process called atomic fission?  
You never knew what you were getting into when you started.  If there was a scheme to things it got more and more obscure as you went along.  
—Boyd Cochrell, The Barren Beaches of Hell 

image:  Remembrance Day ceremonies, Australia, Getty Images, Craig Golding