Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Today's In-Box

assorted items in today’s in-box:
Sage Inn
flash fiction on sidewalks
art appraisals
chicken soup and Bruckner
a friend about a car
The Thinker
slow-cooker veggie chili
transcription services
An Elephant in the Library

image:  Typical Norwegian post boxes, Quevaal

Monday, January 30, 2012

Good Cheer

Things that have enormously cheered me in the past few days:

. Seeing The Pitmen Painters

. Getting to hear the daring Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante play Italian concertos

. Getting to hear the divine Pinchas Zukerman play Mozart

. An inscription on a rock:
“Nothing is written in stone”

image:  Irridescence in the wings of a dragonfly, Mila

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I’m writing some difficult poems about loss—my father, seventeen years ago (but for all time); the sun.  I’ve been recently disturbed by the idea that the sun might be cooling, as some scientists think, and by all that would mean.  Hard to express, of course, having to consider such enormous metaphysical concepts, but the same way I tend to photograph big things that don’t come across well, like waterfalls or the Grand Canyon, by focusing on a single sunlit waterdrop or a little red stone at the brink of such vastness, I’ve closed the latter poem at least tentatively with the slight, ephemeral details that cause me most sadness to think of not seeing ever again. 

It all comes down to irridescence, in the end—whether in a waterdrop or in the human spirit.

image:  Two soap bubbles, illustrating iridescent colours, against a foliage background. Photograph taken at Traquair House, Scotland on the 1st August 2003 by BDB

Friday, January 27, 2012

Quietly Circling the Bowl


I adore this poem, talking about the kind of composure I long to have—


I am an ant inside a blue bowl
on the table of a cruel prince.

Battle plans are being discussed.

Much rice wine is poured.

But even when he angers

and drives a long knife into the table,

I continue to quietly circle 
the bowl,
hand-painted with oranges and green vines.

—Billy Collins

image:  Etruscan Glass Bowl, Wolfgang Sauber

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Within the constant motion of my life, I’ve had to learn to find stillness within the rush, and to understand what the Chinese philosophers mean about there being five directions, not just four— north, south, east, and west, but center too, where all the others come together.   

I found a greenish glazed clay sphere one summer at an art fair, marked with the alchemical symbol for “compose”—reminding me that composure and composition come from the same place; that the ability to combine diverse experiences into meaning rests specifically in one’s own quiet core.

A passage I found in a wonderful book by Padma Hejmadi, a friend of a friend, describes so perfectly how one’s life is composed in traveling or the return home:  “It is, after all, that old process which Katherine Mansfield once described as ‘going out and looking at a tree and coming back plus the tree.’”   

I’ve come back from travels plus so much of the world, plus a rich history.  Plus Bonnard, plus Mahler and Bach, plus the frescoes on old Roman walls, the short-lived mountain flowers called settembre, the Etruscan towns of painted horses passed at dusk, the shimmer of cottonwoods and thunderheads and high aqueducts or abandoned poi and rice fields in far valleys (like the white heron in the vanished lake:  remembering water).

Across the moment, aeons speak with aeons.
More than we experienced has gone by.
(Rainer Maria Rilke, The Sonnets to Orpheus, appendix, II)
I’ve found a strong sense of the continuities of time as well as space.  I loved tracing the water of the fountains back to snow-melt, through the water-channels of Roman aqueducts, late in the day, late in the turning year—back up into the mountains where the temples were to gods of storm.  I was thankful for the moments and the aeons, both together; for the concurrence of the two thousand year old frescoes and the blue mountain flowers that are called settembre because they don’t live out the month. 

They give me pause, these backwards glances, the pause it takes to become composed.

image:  Pont d'Ael (Il Pondel),  Tapazovaldoten

Monday, January 23, 2012

Welcome, O Dragon

Happy Year of the Dragon!

(It can only be better than the Year of the Murderous Rabbit, for which I'd had such high hopes—for a misguided day or two.)

I shall mull soon on dragons in fairy tales and German opera and such, but I've always been rather fond of dragons, and especially this amiable Edward Gorey creature ready to bestow his largess on us.
image:  Edward Gorey, Dragon

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Tomorrow, back to the grind of work that means nothing, that adds nothing, that keeps me busy while reducing me to a factory worker without personality or mind, and desperately unhappy.  I fault my bosses for making it thus, when before I was at least content, making my own rules, respecting the work as worthy of me, and I of it.

Personally, I have nothing against work, particularly when performed, quietly and unobtrusively, by someone else.  —Barbara Ehrenreich, "Goodbye to the Work Ethic" (1988), in The Worst Years of Our Lives: Irreverent Notes from a Decade of Greed (1991)
Vitam perdidi laboricose agendo. 
I have spent my life laboriously doing nothing.
—quoted by Grotius on his death bed
“On your deathbed you’re not going to say ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’”
—my doctor

image:  Sisyphus, Titian 

Pinewood and Olallieberry Jam

Going out into the rain to print out a draft of my poem for class (having put off too long getting toner for my Canon at home), I stop by the farmers’ market to buy Olallieberry jam.  Having a stream of consciousness morning I come across the fragrance of a man planing pinewood on the open tailgate of his van, the Turkish restaurant grilling lamb basted with lemon and oregano for lunch, the little shop that offers Qigong lessons closed, a bag of old Morse mysteries, aged rum and brilliant oranges for sangria for our writers’ gathering later today.  All these are given added texture by the rain, the general grayness.

image:  Pine Grain #2, Brett Jordan 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Thought for the Day

Thought for the day:

What do the Fencing Pros on El Camino offer?

To teach you parries, feints with silver blades,
duelling at dawn at the secluded edge of a birch forest?

Or only chain link, barbed wire, split rail?

I wonder every time I pass.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Point Reyes Fence

Friday, January 20, 2012

Collective Nouns

My favorite collective nouns of the week:

a charm of hummingbirds
a smack of jellyfish
a parliament of owls

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Jellyfish

Thursday, January 19, 2012

'tis the Cezanne

Happy birthday, Paul Cezanne.

You once said “Here, on the river's verge, I could be busy for months without changing my place, simply leaning a little more to right or left.”  How well that fits my own outlook on life and rivers and keeping busy with artistic creation.

And I love your greens and oranges in this still-life with fruit. 

image:  Paul Cezanne, Un coin de table, Barnes Foundation

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Literal Latté

I’m pleased that two of my short-short stories, Swallows and Moss, have been posted on the Literal Latté site.

Please visit, and submit comments.

It’s fun to be pioneering a revolutionary new genre (or one daringly retro)—the happy ending.

images:  Unknown Minoan Fresco 
             Swallows, Akrotiri

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I've always loved John Steinbeck's Cannery Row for its vivid descriptions of a unique place.  It begins, famously,
"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron . . ."
It's been sad to watch Cannery Row lose its character over the years, in return visits (though Doc's laboratory is still there, untouched), but this area does feel very much still like the "stuff" of Steinbeck.  And I learn from the Asilomar State Park Guide:
     John Steinbeck’s oldest sister, Esther Steinbeck Rogers, and her husband, Carrol Rodgers, did own a small cottage at 825 Asilomar Avenue that is now part of the Asilomar conference grounds.  The cottage was purchased by California State Parks in 1972.
     Esther and Carrol Rodgers owned an apple farm in Watsonville, CA, and bought the small house on Asilomar Avenue in 1932 for “their seaside cabin.”
     John Steinbeck and Gwendolyn Conger stayed in the cabin in 1941.  In 1946, Steinbeck wrote to a friend stating he was writing the Log from the Sea of Cortez when he and Gwen “were hiding in the pine woods” in his sister’s cabin.  Steinbeck wrote, “She would sleep late and I would get up and build a big fire and work until noon when she woke up.  That would be the end of work for the day and we would go walking in the sand dunes and eat thousands of doughnuts and drink coffee.  I worked very hard.”  The Log from the Sea of Cortez was published in the spring of 1951.

image:  Steinbeck Country 

Monday, January 16, 2012


There's something endlessly restorative about the waves, wherever in the world they are.

Here's an ode to the sea, to celebrate—

Stroke by
stroke my
body remembers that life and cries for
the lost parts of itself—
fins, gills
opening like flowers into
the flesh—my legs
want to lock and become
one muscle, I swear I know
just what the blue-gray scales
the rest of me would
Feel like!
paradise!  Sprawle
in that motherlap,
in that dreamhouse
of salt and exercies,
what a spillage
of nostalgia pleads
from the very bones! How
they long to give up the long trek
inland, the brittle
beauty of understanding,
and dive,
and simply
become gain a flaming body
of blind feeling
sleeking along
in the luminous roughage of the sea’s body,
like victory inside that
Insucking genesis, that
roaring flamboyance, that
beginning and
conclusion of our own.

—Mary Oliver

image:  Breaking Wave, Asilomar State Beach, Tewy

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Places I Would Rather Be


And so I shall be!  Stealing an extra day to add to the long weekend . . .  Sitting by the fireplace with a good book after a bracing walk down to the beach and back, an early dinner of fresh fish.

The historic wooden buildings remind me of Lake Lodge in Yellowstone, where my father taught me to play ping-pong one long-ago rainy August afternoon.  Snug and deeply comforting somehow.

image:  Asilomar State Beach, Jon Sullivan

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Thought for the Day


What loved little islands, twice seen in their lakes,
Can the wild water-lily restore.
—Thomas Campbell, Field Flowers

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Waterlily Abstract

Friday, January 13, 2012

Neighborhood Watch

We are to write about our neighborhood, for the poetry class I’m taking from Continuing Studies.  What comes to mind immediately is
. the escaped Egyptian Cranes
. Wallace Stegner writing about oaks and Eucalyptus and Denmark, nearby (before he died in the hospital where I was born, two states away)
. the quails
. song coming from the synagogue at dusk
. the vineyard bare in winter, like the crosses (I imagine) on the Somme, the other battlefields in France
. the green meteor that landed one December in the neighbors’ pasture back beyond the little fruit trees—apple, pear
. the horses up on Deer Creek Road, next to the software companies, Tesla
. the name of our lane, from the Algonquin
. the owls in the darkness that we never see but are somehow profoundly comforting

Thursday, January 12, 2012


My day off did end at Shoreline, in this irresistible January warmth.  (Many years it’s heartbreaking, sure to be nothing but false promises before winter swoops down again and closes us tightly inside for gray and dismal months.)  I had it mostly to myself:  sailboards stacked along the winter lake, and kayaks overturned in even rows on the dry grass.

I watched a young man under blue umbrellas at the lakeside café with a pile of books, studying somehow intently with the lake sparkle beyond him.  Erasing, correcting, studying algebra or whatever.  I remember puzzling out the equations, and studying the French chateaux—Amboise, Chenonceaux, Cheverny; the only geography that interested me in school.  I was envious that he was so lost in his learning, yet sitting in that perfect locale.

And envious too of the delighted absorption of a pair of two-year-old twins chasing after Canada geese.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Shorebird and Foam

Monday, January 9, 2012


A precious day off to myself after losing the weekend—and month—to work.  But as usual I’m besotted by choices, and will probably lose the day trying to decide.  Stay in under the covers and reread The Name of the Rose, or Possession?  Work on one of my short-stories?  (But then which?) Take advantage of the gorgeous January weather, before it’s gone, and take a walk at the bird sanctuary further up Arastradero, or on the water at Shoreline?  Have a bite of lunch at the café there?  Take a sandwich to the beach; wander with my camera?  Walk up to the horses, or buy cracked crab?  Or clean out my writing room (a task for Hercules that leaves me in despair) and enjoy in stillness the late afternoon sun that comes in hazy stripes through its window, writing a letter, drinking some of my new sweet-scented tea from the apple-green teapot?  That way lies daydreaming—hibiscus petals blended with dried cherries and vanilla, from Argo tea; the name reminding me of the argonauts and their journeys (so enchantingly recreated by Mary Zimmerman in Argonautika).

There are no wrong choices, of course, but I am so afraid of missing any of the possibilities, of finding myself out of time without having given my all to this day that has given itself to me.  So toss a whole handful of coins?  I’ll just take my notebook and sandwich and camera and see where I am led, what serendipity lies in wait.  Time enough for reading, I suppose, when the sun has gone down and my turkey and herbs, slow-cooking, is steaming the windows.  I’ve found the walking shoes I wore for archaeology at Hadrian’s Wall, with their amiable green laces, so am off—with only half the day gone in waffling.  Anticipation is a happy pastime too, after all.

image:  Coins of the World, Art Print by John K. Nakata 

Friendly Creatures

An amiable Getty Villa rooster, with inscriptions.  I am captivated by its plucky (or is that clucky?) charm.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Getty rooster

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Days Away

I'm maybe diametrically opposed to Santa Monica on this trip to Chicago, but I remain grounded, centered, by tangerine trees through window screens, as by city lights through uncurtained hotel windows.  

I always want my windows open to the possibilities outside.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Tangerines 2 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Classical Art

I went to the Field Museum specifically to find a Roman mosaic , which was magical and composed of so many interesting images.

And I was charmed at the Getty Villa in Malibu by the amazing collection of classical pieces from favorite parts of the world.

But it was a revelation at the Field to find things I don't usually seek out—from dinosaurs to chocolate to the ancient peoples of the Americas to whales to tiny birds to brightly colored bird-feather headpieces.  I'm a culture snob, I admit, and though it gave me immense satisfaction at the Getty to see so many Greek, Roman, and Etruscan masterworks, it gave me joy at the Field to connect with the world on a more visceral level.

I am, after all, Gemini, and split in two.  (Or, rather, doubled.)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Greek women, Getty Villa

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tiffany Window

It made me so happy to find this lovely window today.  I almost missed it, in the Field Museum Hall of Gems, since my attention was at eye level, with the precious stones.  Among those, I was most taken by the Bixbite and Red Spinel , for their colors.  And I'm presently looking for crystals (which I used to love as a child) to ward off negative energy.  I bought some amethyst and quartz in the shop, along with chocolate from the chocolate exhibition.

image:  Tiffany window 

Bodies of Water

I realize it makes me uneasy getting too far from the ocean—perhaps because I grew up in so dry an inland place, or because I feel better breathing those negative ions.  I'm always happiest on islands (including Manhattan)—Mallorca, Crete, Santorini, Hawaii, Key West, the big virtual island that is England, little pine-scented Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay.

But hung suspended between lake and cloud yesterday evening at sunset, coming into Chicago to land, I decided that massive lakes welcome me too, and make me feel at home.  So I'm happily situated on the water here, on the river where it flows into Lake Michigan, and have the best of both worlds—my essential big body of water, and the enchanting lights of the big cities which also draw me.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Ventura at dusk  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Days Away

About to take off on another trip, I'll record some favorite images and moments from the trip I've just returned from.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Ventura fountain

Monday, January 2, 2012

January 2012

The reflections of a ship, for sailing those uncharted seas, inner and otherwise.

A ship because we've been along the ocean this past week, as often in my past over the changing year.

A ship because I always have the urge to reinvent myself around this time, while I have the necessary leisure to look out and back and to reflect.  And as André Gide said, "One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time."

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Monterey Ship