Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Have a Hallowed Halloween

And goodbye to October.  We shall miss you, bright and burnished month.

image:  Pumpkins, Silar

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Or Die of Namelessness

I have been feeling an enormous, nameless sorrow for the natural destruction on the East Coast and in the Caribbean, caused effectively by humankind’s abuse of the natural world.  And then I came home, already sick at heart, to find one of the noble old pines that gave shade and solace (a kind of arboreal cathedral or abbey) cut down, being sawed into pieces.  Such devastation on all sides.  Such an absence of love and respect for the world that sustains us.

It is a kind of solace to put this devastation, grief, into words.  To call things by name, as Wendell Berry counsels in this most appropriate poem; to call them out of the silence to be with us; “or die of namelessness.”  Hard to find the words, unless you’re one of the word-blessed poets, but essential.


What is one to make of a life given
to putting things into words,
saying them, writing them down?
Is there a world beyond words?
There is. But don't start, don't
go on about the tree unqualified,
standing in light that shines
to time's end beyond its summoning
name. Don't praise the speechless
starlight, the unspeakable dawn.
Just stop.

Well, we can stop
for a while, if we try hard enough,
if we are lucky. We can sit still,
keep silent, let the phoebe, the sycamore,
the river, the stone call themselves
by whatever they call themselves, their own
sounds, their own silence, and thus
may know for a moment the nearness
of the world, its vastness,
its vast variousness, far and near,
which only silence knows. And then
we must call all things by name
out of the silence again to be with us,
or die of namelessness.

—Wendell Berry

And as an elegy to my lovely, ruined tree (a loss keenly felt, within the even greater losses of the week, by someone who feels akin to trees—my grandfather working much of his life in the Forest Service), this second poem by Wendell Berry.  A kind of bittersweet hope. 

In a country once forested

The young woodland remembers
the old, a dreamer dreaming

of an old holy book,
an old set of instructions,

and the soil under the grass
is dreaming of a young forest,

and under the pavement the soil
is dreaming of grass.

—Wendell Berry

(Sorry, fonts and spacing giving me grief; Blogger not cooperating.)

image: A pinetree branch in the rain, Westend61, Getty Images

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Calm: A Bowl of My Own

I do like being "in the swim of things," but find that often others like to swim faster, and tend to thrash about more, agitating the water.  I like to envision being in a clear bowl of water inside other water, with a momentary membrane of glass between me and those others.  Not barricade but pause, or breath, allowing me to remain still within the general hurry.  To remain unmoved—when I choose—by the current.  I like having the sky and sun too in my bowl, the company of trees and clouds and colored light.

image:  A Quiet Retreat

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.
—Philip Larkin
And I, if I were asked the same, would have to insist that my religion include pitchers, to pour the water or to hold it ready to answer any coming thirst; as well as graceful niches to guard the pitchers, beautiful and utilitarian as this—or to hold other things the heart might have need of.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Blue Pitcher

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Colored with Walnut Ink

I’m discouraged that my collages look so amateurish, while everyone else in the class is a true artist, making beautiful creations.  But it’s a joy to be working with tactile treasures—
paper colored with walnut ink
     with iron filings
gold and silver leaf
pages of music
gilded wine and cognac labels
bits of old maps—
working on large drawing tables still dusty with charcoal

image:  walnut ink tag samples, The Scrapbook Store

Monday, October 22, 2012

Those Moments of Brilliance

Today we wake to rain, to a day without much color; and soon comes the end of Daylight Savings, the closing in of the dark. 

But there are still, ever, the moments of brilliance—color, voice, flavor—of essential intensity.  The orange persimmons on the little leafless tree, the Gauguin in radiant color at the back of the book of Paris with mostly black-and-white photographs, the Verdi CD I put on while slicing glossy eggplants for moussaka, the last of the good summer tomatoes I’ll eat for lunch with leaves of fresh oregano, my mother’s purple sweatshirt I will wear today over a faded denim skirt.

Such consolations, such gifts for the heart.

image:  Paul Gauguin, Breton Woman and Goose by the Water

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Homely Things

A nice, homely autumn creature, without pretense or prevarication, content to be what it is.

I am expecting a nice, homely autumn weekend, equal parts chores and resting, trying to come up with a plan for getting through the unhappily busy months ahead—something I have to suffer through each year again.  Work quite overcoming me.  I must just hunker down, batten down the hatches, weather the outer storm.

Christie B. Cochrell:  Gourd

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Nearest I Have Ever Come

This boat returning to the elements, spotted one September in the Provincetown dunes, reminds me of the nearest I have come to many things—the things, that is, I'll never do except in words and dreams and brief, yearning visits.

I did dream the other night that I was going to learn to row (wondering what word-play was working/playing in my subconscious).  But now I realize that the nearest I will ever come is looking over the shoulder of Billy Collins in his poem about rowing upstream in a wooden boat...or looking at the Susquehanna in a painting.  Life thrice removed.

Fishing On The Susquehanna In July

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure—if it is a pleasure—
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one—
a painting of a woman on the wall,

a bowl of tangerines on the table—
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,

rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.

But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia,

when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend

under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandana

sitting in a small, green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.

That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.

Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,

even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.

—Billy Collins

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Red Boat, Cape Cod

Thursday, October 18, 2012

And Speaking of Disused Rowboats's one from Giuseppe Verdi's estate, Sant'Agata, visited last month.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Boat

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Quagmire of Indecision

For this one free hour, before getting locked in for the day, I’m hesitating on the edge of a great swamp of things to do, choices to make.  What will I do with my hour?  Work on my novelito (a new form I have invented) and lose myself in a Mallorcan September, play with a collage and wade into a color-pool of purple pears and Matisse fabrics of dreams and old Italian stamps, read the new Donna Leon about a forgotten Venetian composer, start one of the letters I need to write, walk to work, sit outside with my coffee mug and listen, simply, to the Golden-crowned Sparrow, giving in to the sweet-voiced birds luring me off to idle in a patch of sunlight where a disused rowboat sits?  Or maybe five minutes of each?

I shall likely hesitate too long, and do none of these things—the danger and nature of quagmires.

image:  French Swamp, Nicolas Guionnet

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Other Places I Am Not

Some lovely marble countertops in an hugely expensive kitchen I've installed for the Australian owner of the villa where my murderer has been staying . . .

Ah, fiction!

image:  White Marble Countertops, Home Design Find

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The (Almost) Perfect Morning

morning rain
burgundy and rust dahlias
a fire in the fireplace
a comfy  easychair
a knitted throw
Edward Sherriff Curtis photographs in  
     dark wood frames
a laptop with a good story on it

no dog curled on the hearth rug

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Dahlias

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fun yesterday to walk to town and take a hot chocolate break.  Something delicious spiced with cinnamon and chili.

Then I stopped by the art store and bought Japanese papers, pressed orchids, feathers, glue, and felt-tip pens in a peacock array of greens and blues.

But mostly I am lost in a Mallorcan September, solving my murder mystery.

Such indulgences!

image (and recipes):  Simply Recipes

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Away from Tawdry Empty Stimuli

Okay—no, seriously, I am here.  Only rustic in that this lovely building is made of old adobe, with thick walls muffling sound.

I do look out on trees, and birds, and fog; and shall do nothing for four days but write and read.


... the greatest menace to our capacity for contemplation is the incessant fabrication of tawdry empty stimuli which kill the receptivity of the soul. 
—Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation

image:  The Adobe on Green

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In Retreat

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
—Henry David Thoreau
I am getting ready to go off on a four-day writing retreat.  Not, perhaps, into the proverbial Walden Pond shack, or the rustic bare-bones shelter pictured here, but away at least from those things that clamor in my daily life to be done, dusted, watered, fed, or in some other urgent way taken care of.  Away in mind and spirit.

I go with laptop, notebooks, iced tea thermos, a dish of leftover tagine, favorite sweaters and stripey socks, a Donna Leon mystery for the evening hours, music for Sunday morning, and the story that I want to finish, described here.

Of course I shall be near bookstores and cafes, and can go to the ocean if I want.  I will walk and dream and drift among the falling leaves and rising words . . .

image:   Oil Creek State Park Shack, Jason Pratt

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Deep Breath I Would Take

Good morning, world!

I breathe in deeply as I walk out to the recycling bins down the driveway, a breath of pine, of oak, of warming sun filtered through trees, of fine-ground French roast coffee on my fingertips; not yet of frying onions and meat (the Italian Sunday lunch smells).

I am happy to be awake to a new morning.

I am happy to find this, a similar thought and feeling, from Mary Oliver’s poem “Sunrise”—

What is the name

of the deep breath I would take

over and over

for all of us?  Call it

whatever you want, it is

happiness, it is another one

of the ways to enter


image:  Autumnal morning light, Western Finland, Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Conspiracy of Cartographers

Rosencrantz:     I don't believe in it anyway.
Guildenstern:    What?
Rosencrantz:     England.
Guildenstern:    Just a conspiracy of 

                             cartographers, then?

—Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

image:  Ye Olde Maps, Steve Johnson

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Fall of Autumn and the Rise of Fall

The relatively recent subtleties of this liminal season are quite interesting.
Fifteen hundred years ago, the Anglo-Saxons marked the passage of time with just one season: winter, a concept considered equivalent to hardship or adversity that metaphorically represented the year in its entirety.

Eventually, speakers of Middle English (the language used from the 11th to 15th centuries) conceived of the year in terms of halves: "sumer," the warm half, and "winter," the cold half. This two-season frame of reference dominated Western thinking as late as the 18th century.

“Autumn,” a Latin word, first appears in English in the late 14th century, and gradually gained on "harvest." In the 17th century, "fall" came into use, almost certainly as a poetic complement to "spring," and it competed with the other terms.

Natalie Wolchover |

image:  Japanese Maple, MaleneThyssen

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Day in Need of a Bonnard

Speaking, when you have something to say, is like looking.  But who looks?  If people could see properly, and see whole, they would all be painters.  And it’s because people have no idea how to look that they hardly ever understand.
—Pierre Bonnard 

image:  Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room in the Country

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Last Grapes and Windfall Apples

They’re harvesting the grapes in the vineyard across the road this morning, and in the office I find a plate of windfall apples up for grabs (tiny and sweetly tart).  This unasked for bounty of the earth makes me sad, somehow; I’m not sure why.  I’m feeling fragile, out of step with the advancing dance of time.

I’m feeling in need of some Rilke, and love this quote which came to me yesterday—
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
—Rainer Maria Rilke

Monday, October 1, 2012


October 1, already?  September was Italy, but now I feel as if that was a time warp, a kind of irridescent soap bubble in which I drifted far from ordinary time.  When I left here it was summer; when I got back it was fall.  Somehow it feels as if I missed the turn the year made here, and will continue oddly out of synch indefinitely.

Being in Los Angeles over the weekend was also a kind of time warp—back to a different age, a fairy-tale time and place.  The palm trees do that, the eternal summer weather, my memories of unreal spring breaks and Thanksgivings there during college.  It was also magical watching the fountains and fairy lights outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where we went for the opera (and timeless Placido Domingo) on Saturday night, being where all of Hollywood used to come in stretch limos and pumpkin coaches for the annual Academy Awards.

image:  Live Music and Fairy Lights, Russellism