Monday, April 30, 2012

Places I Would Rather Be

I could sit at this window forever, dreaming— wherever it might be.  This, to me, is the perfect place, the perfect view, the perfect time of year, the perfect quiet company (a book and a vase of flowers).

All it needs is a friend visiting from time to time, to share and contribute to the perfection.  That, too, is essential.

image:  Spring Windowboxes and Patios, Seven Arts Friends

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Gift of Flowers

There are now, just this week, red poppies on campus; I must confess that I like them even better than the California orange—maybe because they remind me of Greece, of Adonis, of my Cretan novel which still languishes waiting for a long lazy summer (and the wisdom) to revise it.

Georgia O’Keeffe, who famously lived in my home state, and whose museum now stands on the site of my father’s old office, was generous in her gift of bright flowers.  She said of the need for that:

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.  Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower.  I want them to see it whether they want to or not."  
—Georgia O'Keeffe

Take time, today, to look at whatever flower comes to hand, painted or live.  Lose—and find—yourself in that world.

image:  Red poppy (Papaver rhoeas), 55294 Bodenheim, Germany, Vera Buhl

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spirit of Eternal Repose

I take coffee and brioche out to a table under the trees in the Rodin Sculpture Garden on campus, for breakfast in the company of caryatids and Orpheus with his lyre and grief, and the lofty Spirit of Eternal Repose off on his high column, who always intrigues me so—poised as he is at the very moment of toppling, all but unbalanced, forever at the brink of losing that precarious repose, the graceful leaning balance on one foot.   

I didn’t feel any too reposeful myself, hearing legions of caterpillars chewing in the oak trees overhead.  Spring has sprung!

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Rodin’s Spirit of Eternal Repose

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Color

It’s odd, but the right bright colors feel more calming to me than many dull, tedious colors— which distress me psychologically and thus stress me.  So the colors of this Matisse make me happy and calm.

Definitions of calm are “undisturbed,” “not agitated.”  And “composed,” like my thoughts here.

Here’s a calm poem for today, though I think Google may have mistaken calm for “clam.”  What more calm than a clam, after all?

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
~ Mary Oliver ~

image:  Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954): The Peonies (Les Pivoines), 1907. Painted in Collioure. Oil on canvas. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2012.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Time and Rain

Time has been escaping me this week—faster than ever.  It’s Thursday already, and nearly the end of April.  It feels almost as if there’s been some kind of time warp.  Our weather has transported us forward into summer, and even the rain we had last night felt like a summer rain as I came out of poetry class into the quad, warm and nurturing, like walking in a kind of balm.

I remember a similar rain one August in childhood, snug inside the cavernous wooden interior of Yellowstone Lodge, when my father taught me to play ping-pong.  Rain this time of year in Santa Fe just before school was out for the summer, riding bicycles with a new friend past Gormley’s Grocery on Canyon Road (long gone) and all the artists’ studios up to the school in the canyon.  Rain at Hadrian’s Wall two years ago, the “edges of empire,” with sheep calling on all sides, amiable spirits, and a swath of green below.  Rain in Kona, one later Thanksgiving or Christmas, sitting in a favorite sweater and old pair of jeans in my room at the hotel across the harbor from the birthplace of the stillborn king, watching a single kayak riding in at dusk.

Rain allows crops, and crops of memories as well.  The resurgence of times past, in lush profusion, even when time present is so scant.

And it encourages the drinking of tea, in a smooth lipped cup from St.-Martin-in-the-Fields, and the concoction of a tagine with chicken and eggplant for today’s supper, after Pilates, after another fleeting April day.

I will end with a sun-summoning thought from a book of Cherokee meditations I’ve just found again on my shelves,
Very soon, we will sit together in the sun a whole day and just be happy that we can sit together in the sun all day and just be happy.
That, like the rain, offers a sense of great abundance.

image:  Drops of rain (1903), Clarence H. White

Monday, April 23, 2012

Joies de Vivre

Chèvre with fire roasted green chili!  The best of my childhood flavors in combination with those of my assumed homeland (my heartland), the Mediterranean.

My new breakfast, on whole-grain bread.

image:  chèvre frais du hameau des Anglars, L'Hospitaler (04), Véronique Pagnier

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Spring Murmurings

Moon, plum blossoms,
this, that,
and the day goes.


image:  Henri Le Sidaner, Spring Evening

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Places I Would Rather Be

In Santa Fe, helping with the annual cleaning of the Acequia Madre.  The ancient ritual of care and clearing the important irrigation ditch.

image:  Historic Santa Fe Foundation

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Calm: Reading

He would sit on a wooden bench leaning against a decrepit trellis and look at the stars through the irregular outlines of his fruit trees.  This quarter of an acre of ground, so sparingly planted, so cluttered with shed and ruins, was dear to him and satisfied him.  What more was needed by this old man, who divided the leisure hours of his life, where he had so little leisure, between gardening in the daytime and contemplation at night?  Was this narrow enclosure with the sky for a background not space enough for him to adore God in his most beautiful, sublime works?  Indeed, is that not everything?  What more do you need?  A little garden to walk in, and immensity to reflect on.  At his feet something to cultivate and gather; above his head something to study and meditate on; a few flowers on earth and all the stars in heaven.
—Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

image: a tree at night, experiment, helix84

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Inner Gardens

The books open on my writing table lead me into quiet inner gardens beyond the keyhole through which we all enviously peer, wanting to be allowed past the wall, through the gate with its rusted latch, hard to open, resisting even the most urgent push.

I need to sit, settle, feel the orderly words around me like familiar blooming plants and chuckling birds, soothing and sooth-saying.

Connection with gardens, even small ones, even potted plants, can become windows to the inner life.  The simple act of stopping and looking at the beauty around us can be prayer.
—Patricia R. Barrett, The Sacred Garden, 2001

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, On My Desk

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

In Parentheses

Just as I'm inordinately fond of slipping peripherally related (or wildly farfetched) things in parentheses into humdrum old sentences, to add curious vignettes to the main narrative; I like similarly to take pictures of things unexpectedly glimpsed through/framed by/in relationship with other things, like these distant grand old buildings nestled between the crumbling stones of a castle wall in Scarborough—or other such juxtapositions that open out the view (or mental landscape) in interesting ways.

This also reminds me of a geode, outwardly one of those dull, prosaic rocks which you wouldn't look at twice, which discloses when opened a treasure of crystals—hidden delights like luscious pomegranate seeds bursting out of an unassuming coarse-skinned globe.

Always peek between the cracks . . .

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Scarborough, August 2010

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thought for the Day

“I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.”

—Anne Tyler

image: The Maya People, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Jimmy Baikovicius 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Calm

I have never been so utterly at peace and in my element as I was on the terraces outside the caseta where this perfect rustic table gave on a view of the distant sea—a writer’s table, an artist’s table, the table of a person who loves beauty for its own sake and loves the simple, elemental things that make life rich and satisfying without a lot of obvious effort.

Looking out, looking inward, both were inspirational there on that quiet hilltop in Mallorca.  I wrote as well as I ever have, during my time there, a week’s retreat after each writers’ workshop two years apart.

Oddly, much though I love Lake Como, I was not especially peaceful there during the last week I spent in wondrous Bellagio.  I felt restless, removed from my real being, an outsider who had come too far from home and what I was at best.  Disconcerting, since I should have been perfectly at peace there.  It shook me, finding I felt that way.  (Crete, on the other hand, was wonderful but strange, with never any expectation on my part of feeling at home there—though it appealed to me hugely, to the adventurer of my Gemini twins.)

What is it in certain foreign places that calls us by name?  Why do some feel familiar as our own birthplace, or even more so?  And why do others have nothing of importance to say to us?

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Table on Lower Terrace, The Writing Mills, Mallorca

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle......and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green, 
A sprig, with its flower, I break.
—Walt Whitman, When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d
I caught a glimpse of lilacs this morning in a yard near the office; they are so rare here, they always surprise me and gladden my heart.  They are so evocative of Santa Fe, of growing up there and yearning for the future as I now yearn for the past.  In those “lilac years,” like the name of Gustave Baumann’s woodcut print of purple lilacs draped over typical coyote fences, the dusky flowers draped, dripped, poured out of gardens everywhere, all over town, as irrepressible as the beginning spring, with that haunting fragrance, promising things I didn’t then know how to name.

Lilacs are reminiscent of the old world, too, carrying with them memories of old-world gardens left behind.  It was Bishop Lamy (famous from Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop) who brought lilacs to Santa Fe:
 “In the summer of 1867, following a journey to Rome and a stopover in his native France, he started over the Santa Fe Trail to return to New Mexico. In his supply wagon were precious cuttings of French lilacs.”

images:  Heirloom Lilacs, Michael Weishan
A Lilac Year, Gustave Baumann

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


A morning devoid of inspiration, which leads me to wonder what might in fact inspire me.

I think of a cabin I once visited on weekends at the Russian River, on Cazadero Creek, with sunlight coming dappled through the redwoods and the water slow, purling (or even pearling), green as I remember it, offering quiet advice.  One particular morning I could hear Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto coming from the cabin across the creek through an open window or door; I absorbed it utterly, like an eager sponge, and was quite prefectly happy—until I was interrupted, disturbed.  

I think that’s what I need now, more than anything:  clarity of mind, which is only going to come from quiet, solitary actions.  Avoiding the disturbances.  Walking in the woods (such as they are here); finding a little chuckling stream or maybe fountain; letting the confusion of work and obligations and unwanted distractions settle, the muddy thoughts clear.  A week at Tassajara would be perfect, or a week on the long-lost Mallorcan hilltop swathed in olives and aleppo pine.  

But if retreat isn’t possible, I guess the only answer is a strategic advance.  Walking this muddled mood out; leaving this troubled inner place behind, to arrive at another.  Music too might help. Something as lucid as the Emperor Concerto or sunny as Mozart.  The water-glimmer of a piano.

image:  Gustav Klimt, The Park of Schloss Kammer

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thought for the Day

Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.

—Joseph Campbell

image:  Marc Chagall

Saturday, April 7, 2012

She Sings!

Spring! And Earth is like a child
who has learned many poems by heart.
For the trouble of that long learning
she wins the prize.

Her teacher was strict. We loved the white
of the old man's beard. Now we can ask her
the many names of green, of blue,
and she knows them, she knows them!

Earth, school is out now. You're free
to play with the children. We'll catch you,
joyous Earth. The happiest will catch you!

All that the teacher taught her—the many thoughts
pressed now into roots and long
tough stems: she sings! She sings!

—Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus I, 21

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Eggs

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Calm: Reading

Reading on the bank of a slow river . . .  what greater calm can there be?

On a spring day such as this, I’m remembering as if I’d eaten it myself the simple Parisian omelette which struck me with such force in Henry James’s wistful The Ambassadors when I read it many springs ago, wistful too, and has stayed with me all these years (feeding some kind of aesthetic hunger).
It was on this pleasant basis of costly disorder, consequently, that they eventually seated themselves, on either side of a small table, at a window adjusted to the busy quay and the shining barge-burdened Seine; where, for an hour, in the matter of letting himself go, of diving deep, Strether was to feel he had touched bottom. He was to feel many things on this occasion, and one of the first of them was that he had travelled far since that evening in London, before the theatre, when his dinner with Maria Gostrey, between the pink-shaded candles, had struck him as requiring so many explanations.
. . .
He, for the hour, saw reasons enough in the mere way the bright clean ordered water-side life came in at the open window?— the mere way Madame de Vionnet, opposite him over their intensely white table-linen, their omelette aux tomates, their bottle of straw-coloured Chablis, thanked him for everything almost with the smile of a child, while her grey eyes moved in and out of their talk, back to the quarter of the warm spring air, in which early summer had already begun to throb, and then back again to his face and their human questions.

image:  Theodore Robinson, La Roche Guyon, Brooklyn Museum

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Today I’m celebrating the wisteria that’s in bloom all over the cover to the trashcans, gladly abetting me in my efforts to ignore what isn’t worth my limited energy or attention.

Field Guide

No one I ask knows the name of the flower
we pulled the car to the side of the road to pick
and that I point to dangling purple from my lapel.

I am passing through the needle of spring
in North Carolina, as ignorant of the flowers of the south
as the woman at the barbecue stand who laughs
and the man who gives me a look as he pumps the gas

and everyone else I ask on the way to the airport
to return to where this purple madness is not seen
blazing against the sober pines and rioting along the

On the plane, the stewardess is afraid she cannot answer
my question, now insistent with the fear that I will leave
the province of this flower without its sound in my ear.

Then, as if he were giving me the time of day, a passenger
looks up from his magazine and says wisteria

—Billy Collins

I’m not sure the flower Billy Collins saw along the southern road was really wisteria, away from its usual trellis, but I’ve had that same experience with purple flowers spotted in a foreign land, hungry for their name.  Mine, in Canada, turned out to be fireweed.  I’m not sure how I finally tracked that down, but it made a surprising difference to be able to call it what others did.

image:  Wisteria sinensis, Christer Johansson

Monday, April 2, 2012

Back to Blossoms

Sorry—that last post was too wintry, and lowers my spirits!  (Though the photo was taken in July.)  Here's a Monet orchard to get us back on track.

Happy poetry month!

image:  Claude Monet, Orchard in Bloom

Thought for the Day

 The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.

—St. Augustine

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, St. Bernard Monastery

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning With The Sensational Nightingales   

It was not the Five Mississippi Blind Boys
who lifted me off the ground
that Sunday morning
as I drove down for the paper, some oranges, and bread.
Nor was it the Dixie Hummingbirds
or the Soul Stirrers, despite their quickening name,
or even the Swan Silvertones
who inspired me to look over the commotion of trees
into the open vault of the sky.

No, it was the Sensational Nightingales
who happened to be singing on the gospel
station early that Sunday morning
and must be credited with the bumping up
of my spirit, the arousal of the mice within.

I have always loved this harmony,
like four, sometimes five trains running
side by side over a contoured landscape––
make that a shimmering, red-dirt landscape,
wildflowers growing along the silver tracks,
lace tablecloths covering the hills,
the men and women in white shirts and dresses
walking in the direction of a tall steeple.
Sunday morning in a perfect Georgia.

But I am not here to describe the sound
of the falsetto whine, sepulchral bass,
alto and tenor fitted snugly in between;
only to witness my own minor ascension
that morning as they sang, so parallel,
about the usual themes,
the garden of suffering,
the beads of blood on the forehead,
the stone before the hillside tomb,
and the ancient rolling waters
we would all have to cross some day.

God bless the Sensational Nightingales,
I thought as I turned up the volume,
God bless their families and their powder blue suits.
They are a far cry from the quiet kneeling
I was raised with,
a far, hand-clapping cry from the candles
that glowed in the alcoves
and the fixed eyes of saints staring down
from their corners.

Oh, my cap was on straight that Sunday morning
and I was fine keeping the car on the road.
No one would ever have guessed
I was being lifted into the air by nightingales,
hoisted by their beaks like a long banner
that curls across an empty blue sky,
caught up in the annunciation
of these high, most encouraging tidings. 

—Billy Collins

image:  Pierre Bonnard, Amandier en fleurs