Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Week of Gratitude: Laundry

Like kites sometimes, airborne.

The laundry room at Green Gulch, which is always comforting to walk through, on our way to soup and bread or to the gardens and the trail past horses to the ocean.

The intensely yellow laundry basket in the hall at the hospice on the St. Bernard Pass, reflecting on the surface of the old polished gray stone.

The laundry line under the pines, which made me happy to regard while writing and drinking cold sencha tea.

The poem I’m not remembering about dancing with a clean nightgown or shirt as dancing partner, in the moonlight or sunlight, and the delight in that.


p.s.  I''ve been reminded that the poem I was trying to remember, and remembered so insufficiently, is Richard Wilbur's wonderful "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" 
Read it and rejoice!!

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Venetian Laundry

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Week of Gratitude: Italy and Its Benediction

“And off in the far distance, the gold on the wings of the angel atop the bell tower of San Marco flashed in the sun, bathing the entire city in its glistening benediction.”  —Donna Leon, Death in a Strange Country
I am always grateful for Italy—its gold-winged angels, its bell towers (even in the absence of bells, like Lucca in October), the houses of the composers like this brilliant pink villa of Giuseppe Verdi's, and the more subdued villa where Giacomo Puccini wrote his operas on Lake Massachiuccoli near the Tyrrhenean Sea.  Its colors and its fragrances—onions cooking in olive oil for the noontime pasta sauce, the tart purple of blackberry gelato, that whiff of rosemary.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Verdi Villa

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Week of Gratitude: Holy Places

"Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again."
— Joseph Campbell 
“The places where water comes together with other water. Those places stand out in my mind like holy places.”—Raymond Carver

Having grown up in a place without water, I do find it both holy and revelatory.  The idea of sacred springs, the Waters of Lethe, baptismal fonts, the Acequia in Santa Fe that is cleaned by townspeople in a ritual each year (as is the creek at Tassajara), the translucent bay at the Place of Refuge where I’ll take my mother’s ashes in the spring, the tides that cut off Lindisfarne, rainwater pooled in a stone basin, the snowmelt in little Bean Creek that runs underneath the Anasazi caves, the floor of water in this medieval Venetian church.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Venice Crypt

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Week of Gratitude: Red Bookshelves

I’m grateful to have grown up with these jaunty red bookshelves—the bookshelves in my father’s den, where he wrote on weekends (cursing most pithily when the carriage return of his typewriter knocked his mug of coffee off the stand, especially the second time), and went to look up words for double crostics in the big Random House dictionary that lay open at all times, offering a smorgasbord of words.  

Where the Tanqueray gin was kept for martinis, and the Christmas cookies in their festive tins, spicy gingersnaps and anise-scented biscochitos and shell-cupped Norwegian sandbakkels.  Where the poets and philosophers kept company, shouldered together on those bright red shelves, and Archy & Mehitabel, and underneath, oversized atlases—enticing colored maps that were my only contact then with foreign countries  (not knowing that I lived in one:  childhood, the most exotic and distant).

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Red Shelves, Santa Fe

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Week of Gratitude: The Bird That Sings

I am grateful for the wisdom of the sages and the poets.

For my faith in birds and light and singing:  holy auguries.

For the singing away of the dark (the way the Hopis believed their willing the sun to rise again each morning was what made it rise).

For the trees birds live in; their roots and time-drawn rings, the silver shimmer of their leaves.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”  (Hermann Hesse)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Week of Gratitude: Recognizing Beauty

“Everything in the world is beautiful, but Man only recognizes beauty if he sees it either seldom or from afar.  Listen, today we are gods!  Our blue shadows are enormous!  We move in a gigantic, joyful world!”  (Vladimir Nabokov)
I love the thought of our blue shadows being enormous, and our joy along with them.

Such enormity in even the smallest and simplest things:  morning coffee, a tame or wild bird sharing the morning with us, the colors that an artist puts down with a sable or boar's bristle brush.

image:  Morning Coffee, Alexander Sigov b.1955 ~ Russian Surrealist painter,

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Week of Gratitude: Monday

“Happiness is itself a kind of gratitude.” 
(Joseph Wood Krutch)
It made me happy today to go outside into the warm November sun and sit in a garden of rosemary, of gray stone and of thyme, my feet up on the wooden bench in favorite purple shoes, to read over what I had written over the weekend.  An hour in a day, a moment in a life, the tremendous blessing of being what I am at best.  In quiet, in stillness, in dappled sunlight with green things around me and words playing through my head where music has recently been and will be again. 

How could I be more grateful than this?

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Dapple

Friday, November 21, 2014

Coloring the Gray

A gray day—which can of course be colored in so many ways. 

I’ll add a vivid painting first (which I love is named Grey Weather), wanting to myself be the one to feel the paintbrush in a viscous glob of crimson lake or Tyrian purple.  And then perhaps dye a dozen or two Thanksgiving eggs, since Easter has enough color of its own?  Or paint Arabian poems on my hands in North African Violet ink, like ritual henna tattoos.  Or find a bazaar with Moroccan spices, and plunge my hands up to the wrists, the elbows, in warm orange turmeric, golden saffron, the combined earthy colors of ras el hanout.

Coloring too the other senses, spicing them up—like the Ondaatje poem I am reminded of, The Cinnamon Peeler, here read by the author.

image:  Armand Guillaumin (French, Post-Impressionism, 1841–1927): Crozant Landscape (Grey Weather), c. 1910, I Require Art

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Things Squirreled Away

Ready to write, the bits of things already saved as Word files catch my eye.  Yellow rice with orange rind, a recipe.  Tasseography, the start of a story.  Cognitive maps, contemporary shamanism, cousins, Montecatini Terme, Mozart KV 11, seagrass matting rug, holy clothing, grilled biftekia, Ghost Ranch.  A good writing exercise would be to weave all those things together in a couple of paragraphs, a page.  To find the connections, other than my squirreling-away nature.

The next time I am at a loss for what to write, I’ll have some fun with that.  For now, it’s off to Mallorca and my second mystery story, “Out of Whole Cloth” (which weaves together ubuntu, wild mushrooms, Mallorcan fabrics, Spanish rappers, and prehistoric goddesses).

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Collage

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Calm

And again the words are slow to come.

The silence of the vanished birds, the moss-cool stones, is all there is to listen to or say. 

Two by two the hours slip away.

There is calm in the slippage.  A certain calm in the absence of words and birdsong; no need just now to wonder where and why they've gone—that needless seeking.

image:  Sparrow

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wanting Warmth

I’m light-gathering again, color-collecting, wanting warmth.  I’m cooking comforting things: turkey with oranges, rosemary, and sage; spiced rice with cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and toasted almonds; sauteed Brussels Sprouts with red clay salt, a gift from Hawaii.  I’m wearing sweaters with texture and favorite beaded necklaces against them.  I’m bringing out fun socks.  I’m thinking about baking bread, and really kneading it, in my Mother’s big wooden bowl (which she used too for Sunday popcorn).  I’m thinking about publishing selections from Writing with Light, though I'd love to produce it on the letterpress I never weighed myself down with.

image:  My French Country Home

Monday, November 10, 2014

To Mull and Be Mulled

Wet fog.  Gray day.  Monday.  Wanting to write, but hiding out in thoughts of the Sonoma Mission Inn, and spa treatments instead.  Hot stone massage, a crushed bamboo scrub with the scent of bergamo, orange quince steam, blood orange olive body butter, pumpkin cream body wrap.

Which makes me then yearn for those yummy pumpkin chocolate bars I’ve tracked down the recipe for.  And autumn pumpkin chili (a good idea, which I see lots of others have had before me).  And pumpkin pie spices—cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, mace, nutmeg.

And then . . . and then.  My two hours of writing time are gone, with my need to gather rather than give, my need to selfishly hold these imagined comforts up against my quaking heart, along with hand-stitched quilts and sleepy puppies.  (The plunge into the cold season, the time without sun.)

I am not brave today.  I need to mull and be mulled with the mulling spices.

image:  Mulling Spices, Nina Nelson

Saturday, November 8, 2014


. one black river stone
. the masses (Messa di Gloria) of the Luccan composers we’ve found
. the Baba Yetu we heard on Thursday, the Lord’s prayer sung in Swahili (a space in which to reflect and to be together)
. the lily broken off its stem, opening flamelike in the water glass—

—despite.  Despite its injury, despite our stress and having to fight for time off in busy days, despite the absence of river, or Lucca, or the rest.

Despite.  That is my word of hope for the morning, a word of such tremendous hope and quiet strength.

image:  I Require Art, Frits Thaulow (Norwegian, Impressionism, 1847-1906): Sunset on the Arques to Péquigny (Soleil couchant sur l'Arques à Péquigny). Oil on canvas. Musée des beaux-arts de Reims, France

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What I'm Voting For Today

Here are the things I’m voting for today—

temple bells
green oranges in a walled garden in Pisa
Lady Grey tea

All of these philosophies, these poetries, these ways of being—these I choose.  These I elect, embrace, for two years, four years, for my life.  Hope for our world.  My friends in dialogue with one another.  All write-in candidates, I know; I can’t find boxes on the ballot for any of them.  They are crucial, though, and overlooked, and I write them defiantly in, with my red crayola.

“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way.  Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.  Be still, they say.  Watch and listen.  You are the result of the love of thousands.”
(Linda Hogan)

“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”   (John Muir)

“Be loyal to what you love, be true to the earth, fight your enemies with passion and laughter.”  (Edward Abbey, Confessions of a Barbarian)

"You have to pick the places you don't walk away from."  (Joan Didion)

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers. Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.”
(Mary Oliver, “Mysteries, Yes”)

"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."  (Thomas Jefferson)

"Maybe this is the way to come out of a war, he thinks. A burned man to care for, some sheets to wash in a fountain, a room painted like a garden."   (Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient)

"You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm."  (Colette)

"Look up at the sky. Ask yourself, 'Has the sheep eaten the flower or not?' And you'll see how everything changes...
And no grown-up will ever understand how such a thing could be so important."  (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince)

"I grow into these mountains like a moss. I am bewitched. The blinding snow peaks and the clarion air, the sound of earth and heaven in the silence, the requiem birds, the mythic beasts, the flags, great horns, and old carved stones, the silver ice in the black river, the Kang, the Crystal Mountain. Also, I love the common miracles-the murmur of my friends at evening, the clay fires of smudgy juniper, the coarse dull food, the hardship and simplicity, the contentment of doing one thing at a time… gradually my mind has cleared itself, and wind and sun pour through my head, as through a bell. Though we talk little here, I am never lonely; I am returned into myself. In another life—this isn’t what I know, but how I feel—these mountains were my home; there is a rising of forgotten knowledge, like a spring from hidden aquifers under the earth. To glimpse one’s own true nature is a kind of homegoing, to a place East of the Sun, West of the Moon—the homegoing that needs no home, like that waterfall on the supper Suli Gad that turns to mist before touching the earth and rises once again to the sky."   (Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard)

"So, friends, every day do something that won't compute...Give your approval to all you cannot understand...Ask the questions that have no answers. Put your faith in two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years...Laugh. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts....Practice resurrection."  (Wendell Berry, The Country of Marriage)

"The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it."  (J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan)

"Be silly. Be honest. Be kind."  (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

"Remember on this one thing, said Badger. The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memories. This is how people care for themselves."  (Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel)

 “Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.”  (Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own)

"And the reason I am writing this
on the back of a manila envelope
now that they have left the train together

is to tell you that when she turned
to lift the large, delicate cello
onto the overhead rack,

I saw him looking up at her
and what she was doing
the way the eyes of saints are painted

when they are looking up at God
when he is doing something remarkable,
something that identifies him as God."
(Billy Collins)

"I wish people were all trees and I think I could enjoy them then."  (Georgia O’Keeffe)

 “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”  (Rumi, Masnavi I Man’avi, the spiritual couplets of Maula)

 “I don't think you help people by making their conduct of no importance—you impoverish them. As long as every man and woman who crowded into the cathedrals on Easter Sunday was a principal in a gorgeous drama with God, glittering angels on one side and the shadows of evil coming and going on the other, life was a rich thing. The king and the beggar had the same chance at miracles and great temptations and revelations. And that's what makes men happy, believing in the mystery and importance of their own little individual lives. It makes us happy to surround our creature needs and bodily instincts with as much pomp and circumstance as possible. Art and religion (they are the same thing, in the end, of course) have given man the only happiness he has ever had."  (Willa Cather, The Professor’s House)

Life is an old man carrying flowers on his head."
(E.E. Cummings)

 “The heart's actions
are neither the sentence nor its reprieve.

Salt hay and thistles, above the cold granite.
One bird singing back to another because it can't not.”
(Jane Hirshfield, Come, Thief:  Poems)

“There is no god
apart from poppies and the flying fish,
men singing songs, and women brushing their hair in the sun.”
(D.H. Lawrence)

"Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms, like books written in a foreign tongue...Live the questions."  (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet)

"The moon and sun are travelers through eternity. Even the years wander on. Whether drifting through life on a boat or climbing toward old age leading a horse, each day is a journey, and the journey itself is home."   (Matsuo Basho)

image: John H. White, LesCorsetsLeFuretParis18cutA

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Farro Soup

I’m making Luccan farro soup, one of the local specialties I loved (in Ristorante Puccini, across from the composer’s birth house).  Carrots, celery, onions, garlic, white beans, farro, Parmesan—and in my version, rosemary, for further cheer.

I’m into hearty grains and beans for the colder season, and think I’ll add a little kale to the soup at the end, for added healthy spirits.

It’s smelling good already.

image:  Farro Soup,