Friday, June 29, 2012

Much to Hope from the Flowers

Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers.  All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance.  But this rose is an extra.  Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it.  It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.

—Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Naval Treaty”

And for those who want to linger in the garden awhile on this end-of-the-month Friday, here are some poems on geraniums (though none quite so red, and good, as those I came across in Santa Fe).

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Santa Fe Geraniums

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Places I Would Rather Be

Barefoot, in this lovely, shady yard.  Eating plums and reading Colette.

image:  Therese Nicolas

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Birthday Reminiscences

Happy birthday to my mother—the first year without her.

I would have loved to bake her a lemon cake, to take her on a picnic next to little “Bean Creek” at Bandelier with green chili bagels and smoked salmon, to enjoy her wry humor over some Johnny Walker Black Label in the patio, under the linden.

How dearly I miss being able to do any of those things.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Santa Fe wall

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why It's Called Plum Perfect

I’ve been working at home all afternoon, and have just come up for air.  I knew I was in need of something, and saw a lone purple plum sitting in the fruit bowl.  I devoured it with utter abandon, standing over the sink with plum juice running down my wrist and chin.  I feel like the narrator of the famous William Carlos Williams poem—
This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
I had intended the plum for a salad, but that would have been gilding the lily.  Plum tart (especially “rustic”)?  Plum brandy?  Unnecessary, but calling me seductively in the voice of a different sort of poet.

image:  Plums, The Dressing Room

Monday, June 25, 2012

Journeys by Water

And on the other hand, I do love being ON the water.  One of my favorite ways of exploring a new place is to take a boat ride around it— whether an architecture river cruise in Chicago, a ferry to Tiburon or Sausalito with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the diminished San Francisco skyline, a cruise on the slow green river below Durham Cathedral, a ferry from Boston down to Cape Cod, a kayak trip down the irrigation ditch in Kohala, a ride around the San Juan Islands or to Victoria, BC, a hydrofoil up Lago di Como or from Crete to Santorini, a rowboat on Wisconsin’s Bone Lake, or a paddlewheeler down the Mississippi from New Orleans.

Since wristbands have been invented to prevent seasickness, I can be happy sailing anywhere.

image:  Renoir, Skiff

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Swimming on Dry Land

I think lazily of swimming, on these summer afternoons, though I’d always rather sit on the shady bank and watch others swim—just as I like to do my underwater photography with a telephoto lens from far above the water’s surface.

This water of Klimt’s is dreamy, alluring, with light dissolved in it.  And the Impressionists always do wonderful things with water and those around—and in—it.

Thinking of swimming, my mind drifts to the mysterious Cave of the Swimmers at Wadi Sora in the Sahara, discovered by Hungarian explorer Laszlo Almasy (made famous by Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient).  Like me, the artists dreamed water from a dry location far from the water, and that charms me as much as the little lissome swimmers themselves.

images:  Gustav Klimt, The Swamp
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Bathers
The Cave of the Swimmers, Desert Planet

Friday, June 22, 2012

Joies de Vivre: Kaleidoscope

I've always loved the symmetrical but chancy light- and color-filled window of the kaleidoscope.  As with a geode, or a pomegranate, the wonder inside the unassuming tube is entirely concealed until you venture in.

image:  Kaleidoscope, About . com

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Solace for the Solstice

On this first day of summer, I’m happily doing summery things.
. Brewing peppermint tea.
. Rereading Marcovaldo.
. Getting ready to write the last scenes of my Mallorcan mystery story.
. Making sandwiches with avocado, spinach, and goat cheese.
. Thinking about Stonehenge, about King Arthur, about maybe rereading The Once and Future King, and The Astrology of the Ancients.
. Buying carnations for the Italian pitcher, remembering the long-ago summer of staying in a borrowed flat with polished wooden floors on Russian Hill in San Francisco and replenishing a vase of pale yellow carnations every week.  How cool it was up there after the heat of Palo Alto.
. Choosing a galia melon.
. Writing a postcard of a sailboat with full-bellied sails.

image:  Summer Solstice, Stonehenge,

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lazy Summer Reading

While Proust seems to me the perfect winter reading (all holed up by the fireplace with your favorite slippers and Old English Sheepdog), the books I want to read during those lazy, dazy summer days are something quite different.  Here are some old favorites, perfect for the riverbank or other deep shade:

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (favorite quotes here)
Marguerite Duras, Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia
Marguerite Duras, The Sailor from Gibraltar
Herman Raucher, Summer of ‘42
John Cheever, Oh, What a Paradise It Seems
John Fowles, The Magus
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
Rumer Godden, Battle of the Villa Fiorita
Henry James, Portrait of a Lady
Lawrence Clark Powell, The Blue Train
Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond
J.L. Carr, A Month in the Country
Basho, Narrow Road to the Deep North
David Payne, Early from the Dance
Elizabeth Buchan, Consider the Lily
Arthur Phillips, The Egyptologist
Agatha Christie, Murder in Mesopotamia
Mary Stewart, My Brother Michael
Josephine Tey, The Singing Sands
Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog
Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot
(I could go on!)

image:  Claude Monet, Bathing at La Grenouille 1869

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Picnic for Week's End

A photo of the gorgeous picnic that graced my birthday week.  What a treat it is to have good friends.

Thank you!
Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
—Marcel Proust

image:  Picnic June 15, 2012, Davey Hubay

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Rosy Days of Summer

I would love a proper rose garden, thick with shade and bloom and laden trellises, where I could sit and read on summer days.  (With or without mission or castle.)

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Roses:  Mission Santa Clara, Thendara Lane, Warwick Castle

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Handful of Birthday Poems

from On Turning Ten

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
. . .

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.

—Billy Collins



More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs—all this resinous, unretractable earth.

—Jane Hirshfield


Poem in October

  It was my thirtieth year to heaven     
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood        
  And the mussel pooled and the heron                
        Priested shore           
   The morning beckon     
With water praying and call of seagull and rook     
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall           
   Myself to set foot                
      That second        
In the still sleeping town and set forth.       
  My birthday began with the water-     
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name        
  Above the farms and the white horses                 
      And I rose            
    In a rainy autumn     
And walked abroad in shower of all my days     
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road            
    Over the border                
      And the gates        
Of the town closed as the town awoke.     
  A springful of larks in a rolling    
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling        
  Blackbirds and the sun of October                
     On the hill's shoulder,     
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly     
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened            
   To the rain wringing                
      Wind blow cold        
In the wood faraway under me.  
  Pale rain over the dwindling harbour     
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail        
  With its horns through mist and the castle                
        Brown as owls             
     But all the gardens     
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales     
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
     There could I marvel                
        My birthday        
  Away but the weather turned around.     
  It turned away from the blithe country     
And down the other air and the blue altered sky        
  Streamed again a wonder of summer                
        With apples             
     Pears and red currants     
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's     
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother             
     Through the parables                
        Of sunlight        
  And the legends of the green chapels    
  And the twice told fields of infancy     
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.        
  These were the woods the river and the sea                
        Where a boy             
     In the listening     
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy     
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.            
     And the mystery                
        Sang alive        
  Still in the water and singing birds.    
  And there could I marvel my birthday     
Away but the weather turned around. And the true        
  Joy of the long dead child sang burning                
        In the sun.             
     It was my thirtieth        
  Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon        
  Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.             
     O may my heart's truth                
        Still be sung        
  On this high hill in a year's turning.

—Dylan Thomas

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Ribbons

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Places I Would Rather Be

Today, and indeed every day.
"You may have the universe if I may have Italy."
—Giuseppe Verdi
(You see I am torn between home and elsewhere—though this could easily be home.)

Monday, June 11, 2012


Much as I love to travel, there are certain times I just want to be at home, nestled—or nested—in.  My rituals this time of year include making sure there’s cold tea in the refrigerator, berries in a painted bowl, tomatoes and haricots verts handy for salads, and a little fish to grill; watering the lime tree and my new Japanese eggplant and herb plants while it’s cool in the patio; pulling out favorite old jeans and my Thoreau Sauntering Society t-shirt; finding a good book for summer reading (such as The Wisdom of Donkeys); settling down to write in a shady outdoor corner or gently sun-dappled room; eating supper outdoors to accompanying birdsong.

Nesting is a bit more hectic among the finches, who are busily all morning pulling stuffing out of the arms of the easychair on the patio, thinking it a terrific find.  At least they’re not building their nest behind the washing machine this year, bless them, where last year having to politely avoid going near the nursery was a continual nuisance!

Image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Backyard

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Pleasures of the Weekend

How I love the small pleasures of a weekend—
. roasting peppers, to marinate
. making tapenade with orange peel and mint from my new mint plant
. wrapping gifts with complementary green and purple ribbons
. working on my Prospero poem to finish the collection
. listening to a violin concerto by a forgotten composer
. watching peonies open in my majolica pitcher
. the illusion of abundant time
. putting on my Shakespeare Santa Cruz sweatshirt against the welcome evening chill

image:  Pierre Bonnard, The Provençal Jug (Le Pot provençal), 1930

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bells Ringing out a Blessing

One thing I always love about Europe, and Italy in particular, is the ringing of the church bells on Sundays, the awakening to an exuberant new day.  In Durham, too, when I was staying in the old castle that is the University, across the close from the Cathedral, the bells were a large and friendly presence.

These lines from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Fawn” speak of the experience that I remember and 
    the bells once more tipped and tumbled
And rang through the morning, announcing
The going forth of the blessed.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Bells, San Juan Capistrano Mission

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sitting Down a Lot

The Great Outdoors, to me, does not mean ten mile hikes up challenging mountains, with water and protein bars strapped on my back and heavy boots laced on my feet.  Instead, it speaks to me of a lovely sidewalk café at which I can sit, near an amiable bookstore, with notebook and iced flamingo chai, or tables such as these aging French bistro tables in the (domesticated) wilds of my own garden.

My attitude is much like that of Colette, who writes with great wisdom 
The true traveler is he who goes on foot, and even then, he sits down a lot of the time.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Writing Tables