Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Calm: Summer Light

Growing up where I did, summer was nicely bound, and defined, by Memorial Day and Labor Day.  We are therefore now at the beginning of summer—though technically not yet, not quite, not according to the astronomical calendar or the school calendar or even the weather.

There, too, it was marked by the blooming of roses, the bush of fragrant Peace that grew in the back yard; and by the opening of doors and windows to the new warmth, to the sound of lawn sprinklers.

Here, just last night I noticed how late the light lingered, long into the evening, as I walked a bag of trash down the driveway to the can (bits and pieces from the Latin American feast I prepared for a retirement lunch midweek); and we spilled out onto the patio of the Humanities Center on campus during a reception there; wearing our summer shirt-sleeves and drinking white wine or Perrier; eating asparagus, roasted peppers, berries; watching moths dancing in the oak trees.

So for all intents and purposes, in bones and blood and tribal memory, Peace has come.  Summer is here.  Another month, and season, begins.  I shall throw things open; venture out.

image:  Nancy Delouis, Thé du Matin

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bees That Burned with Sweetness

 “There is so little to remember of anyone—an anecdote, a conversation at a table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness not having meant to keep us waiting long.”
—Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping
To mark this Memorial Day, 2013, the day of remembering, the laying of wreaths and of ghosts, I lay out some words about memory that resonate with me.  How we remember.  What we remember.  How miraculous it is, that through remembering what’s dead and gone can live again.  Writing is just one sort of memory; bees are another, and so too, far older, are the memories of fox and worm and moss.
“The days aren't discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting:  the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of years doesn't unweave: there is no net.
They don't fall drop by drop from a river:  there is no river.
Sleep doesn't divide life into halves,
or action, or silence, or honor:
life is like a stone, a single motion,
a lonesome bonfire reflected on the leaves,
an arrow, only one, slow or swift, a metal
that climbs or descends burning in your bones.”
—Pablo Neruda, Still Another Day
“Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic. As one tends the graves of the dead, so I tend the books. And every day I open a volume or two, read a few lines or pages, allow the voices of the forgotten dead to resonate inside my head.”
—Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
Maybe the idea of the world as flat isn’t a tribal memory or an archetypal memory, but something far older—a fox memory, a worm memory, a moss memory.
—Mary Oliver

image:  She Who Is

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Calm: Nancy Delouis

I am excited to have found this wonderful new artist, born in Limoges in 1941, with her colors and subjects reminiscent of Bonnard—who is, she says, one of the artists who has most influenced her art.  (Further, her mother was an art teacher, and her grandfather was Auguste Rodin's cousin.)

"Delouis celebrates the role of the woman at the very soul of the home, whether at her washing, in the kitchen or sewing, all set in an atmosphere of peace, gentleness and beauty."

image:  Nancy Delouis, Hésitation

Thursday, May 23, 2013

If Only It Were This Simple

I have been longing all day to be sitting by this open window, simply.
Simply sitting.
Simply welcoming the nearly-summer breeze, the rich green view.
Keeping company with the unpretentious roses; simply happy in each other's presence.  Simply there.
Having nowhere else to go, no obligations calling me away.  Maybe a book or notebook to coax away my attention from time to time, but the roses there whenever I look up.  Simply being.

Simple, right?

An answer, from Mary Oliver’s When I Am Among the Trees:

“It’s simple,” they say,

“and you too have come

into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.”

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

With So Much on the Line

With so much on the line . . .

I’ve been wondering about the origins of the phrase “on the line,” in its sense of risking the chance of loss; at risk of failing or being harmed.  I can’t find any explanation of the kind of line that’s holding all that tension here, just that to “bell the cat” is taking a risk of a different sort.

Boundaries?—a borderline between warring countries? 
Fishing?  That seems most likely, somehow, the thought of having on one's line “the big one that got away.”
A ley line, one of those ancient tracks, determining the earth’s energies? 
Genealogy?—not letting down one’s family, one’s noble blood? 
A tether, with a mastiff or lynx snarling at the end of it?

Unlikely, but maybe just the risk of having all one’s clean dry laundry rained on, hung sunnily out hours earlier on the clothesline, with wooden clothespins, in a big yard with an apricot tree or maybe some pines.  This would have been a real threat in Santa Fe in late summer, with an afternoon thunderstorm brewing over the mountains, sweeping darkly into town.  (Though now, all thunder and no rain.)

Having so much on the line right now, I choose this image for the gentle brightly-colored things I have to lose.  Because it's not, after all, quite so bad.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pour It Forth

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today," said Pooh."There there," said Piglet. "I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”
­—A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Tea for comfort, tea for rescue, tea for restoring oneself to oneself, tea as unqualified largesse, the world itself poured forth.

Recalling a Sung Dynasty Landscape

Palest wash of stone-rubbed ink

leaves open the moon: unpainted circle,

how does it raise so much light?
Below, the mountains
lose themselves in dreaming

a single, thatch-roofed hut.
Not that the hut lends meaning
to the mountains or the moon—

it is a place to rest the eye after much traveling, is all.

And the heart, unscrolled,
is comforted by such small things:
a cup of green tea rescues us, grows deep and large, a lake.

—Jane Hirshfield

image:  Provence Mon Amour

Thursday, May 16, 2013

First Light

Today, what I see first is washed, wet with color, after rain in the night.  Hummingbirds come to the dripping honeysuckle outside my window, drinking in the sweetness.  (And I learn, by coincidence, just after writing that, that honeysuckle is a medicinal flower, revered for thousands of years for its anti-inflamatory, anti-bacterial, and calming and relaxing properties.)

And here is Mary Oliver on mornings, and first light.

And here my character Audrey, in my yet-to-be-revised novel about Greek myths, and Crete, and story-telling.  Her observation that with light, the world is back.  Something akin to what Leonardo da Vinci says:
 “A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.”
My goal today will be to hold that light in me, to remember what revelations its coming brings.

image:  "First Light: by: © Matjaz Cater

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Thought for Tuesday

“Every day I see or hear something that
more or less kills me with delight.”
—Mary Oliver

image:  Provence Mon Amour

Monday, May 13, 2013

Considering the Cow

“The cattle crouched round them in soft shadowy clumps, placidly munching, and dreaming with wide-open eyes.”—Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist 
Today I am considering the cow.
Feeling pastoral and slow, ruminative.
Feeling like nothing more than standing in a grassy meadow somewhere with a lot of shade, chewing it over.
And chewing.
Chewing and eschewing.

Cows have that certain indefinably amiable air, which can sometimes seem droll.
“The cow is of the bovine ilk; one end is moo, the other milk.”  
—Ogden Nash 
“But when I say 'cow', don’t go running away with the idea of some decent, self-respecting cudster such as you may observe loading grass into itself in the nearest meadow.” 
—P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

Yet even in the dreamiest meadow, the balmiest barnyard, there are cautions to be mulled. 
“Cease, cows, life is short.”
 Gabriel Garcia Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

images:  Pierre Bonnard, The Barn (Cow in the Stable), 1912
Christie B. Cochrell, Hadrian’s Wall with Cow, Early British Cow

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Food for Thought, Food for Love

“I am more modest now, but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”
—M.F.K. Fisher 
My mother’s favorite author was M.F.K. Fisher, writer about food and France and life; I gave her all her books over the years (and there were always more—that was a joy), and she read and reread them, like nothing else. 

I’m glad I had that small way of giving her nourishment, the way she nourished us, her beloved few, with her cooking and home-making over the years.  Sustaining us truly.  And giving me this lasting joy in cooking things myself, in food that satisfies many of my hungers.

Some of her cooking that I can list off by heart:  her yulekage, Norwegian Christmas bread, kneaded in the big wooden bowl (also used for Sunday popcorn), scented with cardamon, rich with candied cherries.  Her lefse, Norwegian potato flatbread, which it tickled my father to use instead of tortillas to wrap green chili and pork in.  Her jambalaya, with two bay leaves, which she’d make with leftover ham.  The simple macaroni with tomato sauce which she and I found immensely comforting.  The clam chowder with lots of bacon and potatoes which she made for Christmas Eve.  Denver omelettes, eggs with a bunch of things thrown in (pickle, onion, lunchmeat), best slapped between two pieces of white bread for a sandwich, to be dipped in catsup.  (Another childhood treat.)  Her barbequed brisket, for picnics by a mountain stream; and for the same, bagels with green chili cream cheese from Santa Fe and smoked salmon from Oregon.

I could go on and on, fancy and plain, stews and stories, but it’s making me sad, missing the person and occasions the food conjures.  I miss her so, and all those others with us at the table in the dining room or patio or picnic site in Bandelier or Pecos or at Nambe Falls, and am so grateful for the long lifetime of nourishing.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  How I wish you were still with me.

image: Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) Madame Misia Godebska Natanson 1895

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Being Listless

Being listless makes me want to make lists, to compensate.

things I notice on the way home on Friday:
  • an olive tree
  • bright cherry-red pants at bus stop
  • man selling flowers from his open trunk
  • tall scarlet poppies
  • clothes hung on the line in late sunlight

things that take my fancy in my present dull mood:
  • this lovely outdoor sink and flowered boots
  • rose, sweet orange, & geranium bathsalts
  • ampersands
  • papoutsakia:  Greek eggplant “slippers”
  • eggplants = “the garden egg”
  • the van de Wetering mysteries, long ago read

So now I’m listing to the left . . .

List, list, O list!  (says Hamlet)

images:  sink, Provence Mon Amour
ampersands, thebestremedi

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tenderness Only

Today, with tender words and images, I want to have a quiet look at tenderness. 

May is a tender month still, always.  Not fragile exactly, just open to hurt and disappointment, and to waking joy 
that can too easily be chased.

Let’s be still as we can, consider it.

Incipience.  Smallness against bigness.  The awkward.  The ephemeral.  The doomed.  Each little thing that breaks our heart—and then mends it again.

A root seeks water.Tenderness only breaks open the earth.This morning, out the window,the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.” 
—Jane Hirshfield, from Standing Deer

“The nourishment of Cezanne's awkward apples is in the tenderness and alertness they awaken inside us.” 
—Jane Hirshfield

“Tender," she said again. "Tender is kind and gentle. It's also sore, like the skin around an injury.”
—Brenna Yovanoff, The Space Between 

Be tender, in this often less than tender world.  Be tender and be well.

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, cobweb, tendrils, bird on Hadrian’s Wall, statue hand
Cezanne apples
Gaston de la Touche
pine buds, Brylie Oxley

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Little-Observed Day

I think I will declare a month of holidays, of holy days.  May Day, Cinco de Mayo—already in place.  But today I’m celebrating the Second of May, a little-observed day of meditation and feasting.  (I’ll feast on barbequed shrimp salad; pork loin roasted with garlic and bay leaves and shallot—like the Lady of Shallot.)  I celebrate the ascension of the flowers, the blessing of the wrens, the 122nd day of the Gregorian Calendar.

I’ll light some candles on this birthday of Italian architects and Dutch economists, of diplomats and water polo players, Empresses and Earls, the odd English historian and the inventor of the magic lantern.

I’ll mark with a moment of silence Anne Boleyn’s imprisonment, and the escape (not to last long) of Mary, Queen of Scots.  The dear departed King James Bible, published today, the Second Day of May.  The first ascent of Shishapangma, the fourteenth highest mountain in the world.  The death of Leonardo da Vinci, he who painted those glorious angels with their wings aerodynamically correct.

Appropriate that today is the feast day of St. Athanasius of Alexandra, student of the Classics and perhaps the patron saint of those waiting for letters, who said (as I just did!) “Brethren, how fine a thing it is to move from festival to festival, from prayer to prayer, from holy day to holy day.”

images:  flowers, The Beauty of Arts
Leonardo da Vinci, Angel

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy May Day

Happy May Day!

Some flowers for my friends.  I wish that I could leave them quietly on each doorstep; but pretend I have.

For this is the month of possibility.  Of yes, we may.  That verb expressing hope and chance and promise and permission and maybe even some hawthorn blossoms (in its other, nounish, sense).

The quails are making happy noises this morning outside the open bedroom window, and I feel like I may do the same.  Sidling along the fence, calling to one another.  Enjoying the new morning, the new month.

May it be a bright one for you all.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Blossoms and Wall