Monday, June 30, 2014

The Homing Sentiment

“This is the most beautiful place on earth. 
There are many such places.  Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.  A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those of a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio, or Rome—there's no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment.”     (Edward Abbey)
This quote (found among a collection of stray quotes I’ve been keeping on various computers, like a drawer of odds and ends) ties in perfectly with a piece I’ve started scribbling notes for, inspired by a prompt at an interactive exhibition at the wonderful Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe:  “’I feel most at home when…’  Or, ‘I don’t feel at home when…’”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and will be sharing thoughts and images and lists.  But in the meantime, just to get these mullings on homing begun, here’s my list as suggested by Abbey of my true homes (because “one true” doesn’t fit me)—
  • Como’s lakefront and the walks around and back
  • an adobe house with inner patio and apricot tree in or north of Santa Fe
  • a fieldstone village in Mallorca humming with goat-bells
  • a cathedral close somewhere in England, with the ruins of an abbey just beyond
  • a cottage with windows and wooden floors and a simple small wooden writing desk in the Carmel valley
  • a semi-detached brick house with fireplace and French doors on a quiet cobbled street in Georgetown
  • a Paris garret, where the artists lived
  • a tiny white stone house with courtyards and roof terrace and sea view in northwestern Crete
  • a room over a bakery in San Francisco’s North Beach
  • a green-roofed attic high above the St. Lawrence River in Vieux-Québec
  • (no basements, it seems…)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

How Do They Weigh a Hummingbird?

I sit among the salvias and attract curious hummingbirds, even when I’m not wearing a flower-colored shirt.  I remember the hummingbird feeders on the deck at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, where the Elringtons lived—the British Brigadier General who taught us Latin, and his wife who was a nurse there at the college.  They seemed so exotic then, the hummingbirds, as much as the mah jong which we played when I visited.  (And the Latin which I only consciously used again some thirty years after I learned it, translating Roman milestones in the Alps.)  I wrote about the hummingbirds as little ruby-throated djins, and they do still seem like magical spirits, even in my own garden, hovering near my chair, next to my ear.  To be so tiny and so quick; to live on flowers—such a life to live!
“By the way, did you fellows know that a hummingbird weighs as much as a quarter? Do you think a hummingbird also weighs the same as two dimes and a nickel? But then she asked a question of her own:  How do they weigh a hummingbird?”  (Calvin Trillin, Enough’s Enough)

image:  Hummingbird

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Fade Proof Lake

"Summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweet fern and the juniper forever and ever, summer without end..."
(E.B. White, “Once More to the Lake”)
Ah, if only!  But already I am thinking "the days are getting shorter; the summer is waning; my deep purple clematis will be finished blooming soon; I have so little time to sit out, idling my days away; it will all be over before I know it."  The glass-half-empty approach, which I deplore even as I begin to count my imagined losses.

image:  Henri Lebasque, Deux filles lisant

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Young Woman in Hammock

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
—Henry James

My favorite summer pastime used to be sitting under a lovely sprawling old oak on campus, reading Henry James—his lovely sprawling old prose that felt like summer itself in its unfolding.
But sometime over the summers I got too impatient for those lingering sentences (the way my mind got too fragmented years ago to sit and play chess any more, though I used to be happily absorbed for hours or even all day).

Now I’m sitting under our olive reading terser prose, happy that Anne Hillerman has taken up her father’s amiable series with Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, though Tony Hillerman too is an author of my past (someone my father worked with at the newspaper when he first moved to Santa Fe).

And I’m happy to have time to read at all, to lose myself if only for a short while in the spell of words.  I remember when I was studying for my master’s degree and working at a stressful job full-time besides, having only the leisure or energy left in a week to add a tiny haiku in.

image:  Henri Lebasque, Young Woman in Hammock

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer Idyll

This could be me, lazing the days away in my refurbished patio, thinking summer thoughts.

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don't they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
—Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

image:  Henri Lebasque, The Hammock

Saturday, June 21, 2014

In My Element

I meant to say in my post about the lake meditation how right it is that we should feel ourselves a lake, since we are all of us 60% water.

But as a Gemini, I am an air sign (if of dual nature), and I looked up at the sky by chance late yesterday and was immediately sent into raptures by the fine clouds, cirrus like tracks in snow (appropriate, since they are formed of ice crystals) or a boat’s wake in the water.  Clouds of drift and motion, clouds of gentle, wayward thought.

And today is the sun’s, this day of solstice.  The earth is basking in it, turning to it as its god—creator, savior, way out of the darkness.  We all want to believe that we’re responsible for bringing it back each day.  (See “Calling the Sun to Rise” here; and also Carl Jung on being badly in need of a symbolic life here.)

So I am all these elements, and more.  I resist fire, but love it in the winter and when burning sage.  I long to have a copper fire pit out in the patio.  I burned my citronella candle yesterday, sending the bugs away.

I am mixed metaphors, I am a collage, pantheistic, water, air, and earth (and then reluctantly fire), revelling in it all.
"Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly...."  (Pablo Neruda)

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Lake Louise
Cirrus Clouds,

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Places I Would Rather Be

I wish I were this lake, this house beside the lake, this fine serenity.

It all comes together, comes to that.  I’ve been practicing a Lake Meditation, in which you envision a favorite lake somewhere (I usually choose Lake Como, sometimes Lake Louise), and its constant changes of mood (reflective, ruffled, sunlit, holding moon and stars, birds and clouds, lights of passing boats or processions), through all of which it remains enduringly itself, deeper and stiller than all of those.  And then you see yourself as lake; you feel what’s surface and what’s depths.

So now I am this quiet place, this June retreat, holding a family of sisters, maybe, or a lone writer.  May Sarton or Virginia Woolf, recovering from a loss, walking a dog three times a day, baking savory scones with scallions, gruyère, goat cheese, apples.  Making sorrel soup.

image:  House by the Sea, Michele Cascella (Italian, 1892-1989), Seven Arts Friends

Friday, June 13, 2014

Two Thoughts about Roses

(From two favorite authors.)

“For millions of years flowers have been producing thorns. For millions of years sheep have been eating them all the same. And it's not serious, trying to understand why flowers go to such trouble to produce thorns that are good for nothing? It's not important, the war between the sheep and the flowers? It's no more serious and more important than the numbers that fat red gentleman is adding up? Suppose I happen to know a unique flower, one that exists nowhere in the world except on my planet, one that a little sheep can wipe out in a single bite one morning, just like that, without even realizing what he'd doing - that isn't important? If someone loves a flower of which just one example exists among all the millions and millions of stars, that's enough to make him happy when he looks at the stars. He tells himself 'My flower's up there somewhere...' But if the sheep eats the flower, then for him it's as if, suddenly, all the stars went out. And that isn't important?”
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“What a lovely thing a rose is!"

He walked past the couch to the open window and held up the drooping stalk of a moss-rose, looking down at the dainty blend of crimson and green. It was a new phase of his character to me, for I had never before seen him show any keen interest in natural objects.

"There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as religion," said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. "It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. 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

image:  Roses & Roses

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

To Sweat Is to Pray

I was chiding myself for having walked the labyrinth at Ghost Ranch during the hottest hour of the afternoon (just as I walked from Volterra out to one of the Etruscan tombs one hot Italian noon accompanied only by mad dogs and Englishmen—or not even those).  But after finding this quote I've decided it was after all appropriate, that spiritual walk in hot surroundings.
"To sweat is to pray, to make an offering of your innermost self. Sweat is holy water, prayer beads, pearls of liquid that release your past. Sweat is an ancient and universal form of self healing, whether done in the gym, the sauna, or the sweat lodge. I do it on the dance floor. The more you dance, the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the more you pray. The more you pray, the closer you come to ecstasy." (Gabrielle Roth)
I am reminded too of the pilgrimage in the Jeremy Irons film And Now…Ladies and Gentleman.  A walk in Morocco that was all sweat and prayer, looking for healing.

Christie B. Cochrell, Labyrinth

Monday, June 2, 2014

Saintmaking and Pottery Singing

The translation of santera, one who carves the wooden statues of St. Francis with his birds and animals, or San Pasqual with his long wooden spoon, seen all over northern New Mexico, is saintmaker.  To make saints would surely be a joyful way to make a living (to live a-making).  I can see that—living in a canyon, making saints.

And cooking as the heat goes from the day and the saints rest, smelling of pine shavings.  Finding the evening cooking, too, a sacred way of life.  A path of grace, a demonstration of true love.

I found this lovely quote in Santa Fe’s Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and wrote it out by hand in my notebook—
“Each vase wears a necklace of prayer and song.  ‘Come inside,’ we beseech the pottery, ‘teach us the song that brings joy to cooking.  Teach us to pray that we may be generous and humble.’  Our pottery teaches the sacred sounds of cooking.”—Luci Tapahonso, Dine Navajo
I’m always full of longings like this when I am back home.

image:  Wholesome Soul