Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Over the Threshold...When Does One Grow Up?

"Girl child", a very free verse poem that I wrote last century and then left buried in one of my many notebooks, surfaced in my mind today because of a friend who is generating conversation on that notorious platform called Facebook with this question:
 "How does one know when one has crossed the threshold into adulthood? An act, a thought, a rite of passage, an event, a milestone...Thoughts?"  
My poem was in response to a similar query in a writing workshop I took to meet continuing education units that the state required of my profession.  The workshop leader shared a prompt and set a time limit and participants scribbled away. After the set ten or twenty minutes of writing we were free to share or not what one's heart and pen had produced. 

Queried, "When did you know you had become a woman? "
this is likely only one of my answers,
but that day, it came out, just like this:


I was very clear about being a girl child,
a girl child who could run and climb and dig and build,
a girl child who could sew and color and read and write poems.
A girl child who must come in now
and wash your hands and help
in the kitchen cutting piles 
of even circles of carrots, 
tiny disks of burning color 
while the orange sun sank 
without me 
into the Pacific fog of hill and shore
and the thin blue line of the horizons,
that by their very unattainable distances, 
were always inviting.

Then childhood itself was torn asunder,
or was it rolled up like a rug?
No, the carpet lay on the floor, dirty and now mine to clean. 
No woman in the house 
but this thirteen- year-old girl no longer a child 
with the work of my mother fallen to my limbs. 
How did she make that sauce? 
Do I unplug when the washer overflows? 
Will it electrocute me? 
Run to the neighbors. 
“Oh honey, why doesn’t your father hire a woman to help you?”  

There was no woman that could be hired
to help this girl at her real task.
What could make me a woman? 
Was it shoes with heels 
that made me feel the strength and length of my legs?  
Was it the jobs in the city,
the hunger in men’s eyes?  
The woman was hidden
in the girl child,
but the child fled
and no woman appeared. 

I suppose there were glimpses of her along the way
that a keen eye might have seen,
but she snuck up on me, 
sometime after college. 
When the ardent second childhood waned, 
she emerged;
neither as optimistic nor as angry, 
neither as guileless or as selfish,
not as foolhardy or as frightened. 
What made me a woman?  
When need gave way and 
the force of love 
forged through me
with eyes for others, 
and I forgave.


I didn't mention playing dress-up with my neighbor, but I did that too.

Friday, December 25, 2015

 A Prayer for Christmas Morning   by Henry Van Dyke

The day of joy returns, Father in Heaven,
    and crowns another year with peace and good will.

Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus,
    that we may share in the song of the angels,
    the gladness of the shepherds,
    and the worship of the wisemen.

Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love
     all over the world…

Let kindness come with every gift
     and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings, 
    and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy
    to be thy children, and the Christmas evening
    bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts,
    forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Morning Prayer

     The cat wanted out and so I saw the sunrise, the eastern sky uniformly orange as if one heavy stroke of a paint laden brush had been applied.  The foothills of Mt. St. Helena were still stubbed  in  muted shades of shadow.

      I returned to my darkened room and lay back on my bed but soon the memory of the color bright sky drug me up to go out and look again.  The morning was now older, I found only a pale  version of that fiery view I had so quickly  taken in.   The colors of light coming wait for no eye.

      I had not, in fact, seen the sunrise, but only the angle of one fractional moment. I had seen no more than a freeze as if captured by a  camera’s lens or a painter’s interpretive palette. I had taken  only one spectral glimpse of a majestic particulate parade that casts its bouncing rays from ever greater height as surely as one’s breath travels to and from the lungs, which breath is sometimes also, sadly, as summarily hailed.  Ah, yes, a new day, sunrise, life….

     I’m reading a memoir that Ivan Doig wrote, This House of Sky.   Speaking of one of his professors he says, “…I was given encouragement and I answered with effort.”    

     Let me answer with my efforts the primal encouragements so readily available with wakening.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

By Design, the Wonders in a Garden

One gardener's dead vines hanging from a tree is a hummingbird's swing set.

Hummingbird on a swing of dead vines in May

I can't get very close and none of my photos have quite captured it, but I see this hummingbird daily from my deck and kitchen window as it swings on dangling dead vines that escaped cleanup and trimming two years ago.  Our tenants had let vines grow crazy on all the fence lines, choking out roses and meandering into the redwoods. We pulled and pulled and got most of them out at both ends..but some were so out of reach.

 The vine remnants used to occasionally irritate me hanging down in my line of sight.

A Fuzzy Zoom

But this little bird has made me love the tangles that hang down, for everyday this bird comes and sits and swings and preens in the shade of the Sequoia tree from which the dead vines hang.  

These photos just can't convey so I just now saved my post and, camera in hand, walked into the kitchen on the chance that my little pal might be again swinging in the breeze. 

The window view

And yes, (s)he is there!

Camera to the glass...see him?

And take off!

Why have I gone to the trouble of posting these admittedly inadequate photos?  I need the reminder and plot it  here in gratitude for the sweet solace this little bird has brought me day after day. Clearly there is the reminder that many times there is purpose that we do not at first and perhaps on this side, ever see.  And then there is just the contrast...the world heats in sorrows and still the birds find a perch where they can have a quiet moment. 

And so should we...so should we. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

In my edge toward dawn...English Creek - A Book's Reflection

Does your neighborhood have any little houses, oh, bigger than a bird house, but smaller than a dog house, that hold free books to borrow and pass around? There are several, depending on my "umph" and the rise of the mercury in the thermometer, that are within walking distance from my house.

Upside down and flat back against the wall, behind the books presenting their spines of titles, a bit of the painting on the cover of this aging Penguin paperback caught my eye. I rearranged the books and pulled out English Creek  by Ivan Doig.  Wallace Stegner's front cover recommendation is fairly emphatic. He uses the word real  three times:  real Montana, real West and Doig is a real writer.
Stegner I know, so  I figured Doig was worth a try; and he is.
Doig's story is set in the summer of 1939 in a fictive Montana region but he describes the terrain with such visual clarity that I could navigate myself up and down the buttes and valleys without a map.

I was still deciding if I would plunge in and commit to read when I met, on page three, a word new to me,"brockled."

"Jick, Set your mouth for it."                                                                                                             Supper and my mother. It is indelible in me that all this began there right at the very outset of June, because I was working over my saddle and lengthening the stirrups again, to account for how much I was growing that year, for the ride up with my father on the counting trip the next morning. I can even safely say what the weather was, one of those brockled late afternoons under the Rockies when the tag ends of storm cling in the mountains and sun is reaching through wherever it can between the cloud piles. Tell me why it is that details like that, saddle stirrups a notch longer or sunshine dabbed around on the foothills some certain way, seem to be the allowance of memory while the bigger points of life hang back.
 Doig had me. Now I was ready for Jick to share the summer when he was not yet fifteen. I was ready to follow him from the light of the brockled afternoon into the family supper.  The rift that manifests at the family table that night is continually set in more far reaching contexts as Doig spins a story both specific and universal through a young observer who is curious enough about human nature, heritage, history and the connections and dislocations in his wider community to open a very broad tale indeed.

You know that feeling when you are nearing the end of a story that you've entered into and you aren't ready for it to end; you know when you read that last page you are going to feel a little bereft?  Well,  that is where I was at when I mentioned to another neighbor, unconnected with the neighborhood book swap houses, how much I was enjoying what I thought was just an obscure little Montana story.   " I love Ivan Doig," she said as she ran off to her den to retrieve three other of his books to lend to me.   I haven't begun any of them yet, but it is a fine feeling knowing more of this author is now readily available to explore.

I'll leave you with the beginning of another passage that resonated with a desire in me.
Where morning is concerned, I am my father all over again. "The day goes downhill after daybreak" was his creed.  I don't suppose there are too many people now who have seen a majority of the dawns of their life, but my father did, and I have. And of my lifetime of early rising I have never known better dawns than those when I rode from English Creek to my haying job on Noon Creek...(page 233)
That is the lead-in to some inspired descriptions wrapped in and around Jick's  deep as usual, thoughts and feelings and then Jick asks. "Is it any wonder each of these haying-time dawns  made me feel remade?"

All right, I 'll admit, while I  have sometimes been getting up in time to watch the sun climb over  Mount St. Helena and her foothills, I as often find my way back to bed to sleep a bit more. Sleep is good for remaking and healing too, but new energy and the dawn are calling.

with best wishes,


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Two Years Before the Mast by R.H. Dana Jr. Classic California Lit & History

(Monday, March 16th)

To read a classic such as

 Two Years Before the Mast

by Richard Henry Dana Jr. and not share a little about it seems selfish.  If one finds a treasure, why not share it?

I have been trying to be a bit more generous about reflecting on books I have truly enjoyed.

It's tempting to dive right into another book,  but I know my good intentions to write up at least an encouraging note for others to consider the merit of this book would then more easily be derailed.  I know that it's more likely to happen the sooner I try to distill my thoughts and before I'm too far immersed in another tome.

I have only moments this morning,  but I will leave this opener here for myself  as a magnet to draw me back to write a bit more on Dana's tale of shipping out of Boston  'round the Horn to California in the year 1835.

(Wednesday, March 18th)

A student at Harvard, Dana's eyesight suffered from a case of Measles,  so he took leave of intense studies and rather than voyage as a passenger, he signed on a merchant ship as a common seaman.

The change from the tight dress coat, silk cap and kid gloves of an undergraduate at Cambridge, to the loose duck trousers, checked shirt and tarpaulin hat of a sailor, though somewhat of a transformation, was soon made, and I supposed that I should pass very well as a jack tar.  But it is impossible to deceive the practiced eye in these matters; and while I supposed myself to be looking as salt as Neptune himself, I was, no doubt, known for a landsman by everyone on board, as soon as I hove in sight. ( page 2- The Harvard Classic Registered Edition) 

He  kept a daily brief diary of his experience and when able also wrote out his experiences at more length in a different journal.  His sea chest, where he kept his more extensive writings,  was lost upon his return to Boston. Happily for posterity, while back at law school, he rewrote his narrative from the framework of the daily log which he had  kept with him.

His determination inspires me.

 (Sunday, March 22nd)
Before I go on,  I admit that not only did I not discipline my free time to write on Dana this last week, I read a Pushkin story,  "The Captain's Daughter."  Pushkin was born in Moscow in 1799 to an old noble family.  Pushkin was sixteen years old when Dana was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to a family who had distinguished themselves in young America, so my excursion into Alexander Pushkin's tale of a young man coming of age in a remote military outpost was not totally removed in time from Dana's true tale.  Each story is told in a young man's narrative voice as struggles with self, nature, and the shifting hierarchies of mankind are faced and both  men esteemed honor and purpose.

This was my first reading of  Two Years before the Mast from cover to cover.  I was familiar with excerpts of it from my studies at University of California at Berkeley when obtaining  an undergraduate degree in American Studies.  I was reminded of it again several years ago as my eye doctor, as has been true of many an oculist over the years, used  passages from Dana's journal to test acuity of vision. In other readings of histories of the peopling of the West, quotes and commendations of Dana's work finally spurred me to read him in full.

Thus far, I realize I have primarily documented that I am often slow to pursue challenges, but this is, after all, my web log so I might as well tell the truth.

( Tuesday March 24th)
Dana was acutely touched by the day to day dangers and difficulties faced by seamen and profoundly touched by an unjust flogging he witnessed.   He vowed that if he were ever in a position to be a help to them, he would be.  His desire for equity and justice inspired his writing.  He noted that while there were already masterful of tales of sea voyages, "a voice from the forecastle has not yet been heard."

Dana has such fine powers of description in his clean prose that I was glad to travel over the seas with him, but I was even more pleased when the brig Pilgrim docked in ports I know and love.  Have you ever been to San Diego, San Pedro, Santa Barbara, Monterey, or Yerba Buena,  San Francisco?
Dana spends long periods of time on shore. It isn't an all "...aloft to furl the sail..." story.  One of the striking aspects of Dana's recollections of California in 1835-36 is how brief the lifestyle he encountered on the coast of California was to be.  He saw California and met many of her inhabitants and visitors before the 1849 Gold Rush and huge influx of overland migrants.

There are three basic editions of  Two Years Before the Mast.
1.The original 1840 edition.
2. The 1869 edition - this is a revision by Dana when the copyright reverts back to him. He removed  the "sharply unromantic opening paragraphs" and the final chapter and he added a new chapter "Twenty Fours Years After."
3. The 1911 edition - prepared by his son Richard Henry Dana based upon the 1869 edition. His son adds research about the Crew, and a Dictionary of Nautical Terms based on Dana's "The Seaman's Friend" as well as an Introduction and a new chapter "Seventy Five Years After."
 The book is available online from Project Gutenberg.

(Wednesday, March 25th)
The edition I read included  "Twenty-four Years After" where Dana revisits California.
How often do we see our own place and time in the world and not realize how fast it is changing?
When I look back through my own private journals I see notes I have made of national and international events which I have almost forgotten about in the rush of new developments, yet the impact of those events and changes is deeply shaping today and the future.

One of the sentiments Dana expressed that I found very powerful is that while social troubles need attention, the changes needed are not always the ones brought about by  the exertion of more control or the enactment of more laws.
I know that there are many men who, when a few cases of great hardship occur, and it is evident that there is an evil somewhere, think that some arrangement must be made, some law passed, or some society got up, to set all right at once.  On this subject there can be no call for any such movement; on the contrary, I fully believe that any public and strong action would do harm, and that we must be satisfied to labor in the less easy and less exciting task of gradual improvement, and abide the issues of things working slowly together for good. ( page 361- The Harvard Classic Registered Edition) 

There was one regret I experienced in reading this book, for there was a passage where I wished Dana had not been so focused. In his final chapter he begins to describe his  excursions to various parts of the state, traveling in coaches, in boats, and  on horseback as he radiates out from San Francisco into the interior, to Santa Clara and San  Jose,  up the San Joaquin river,  crossing the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and the Merced, to Mariposa, the big trees, and as he called it, Yo Semite Valley. He is briefly in full descriptive force and then he writes:
 These visits were so full of interest, with grandeurs and humors of all sorts, that I am strongly tempted to describe them.  But I remember that I am not to write a journal of a visit over the new California, but to sketch briefly the contrasts with  the old spots of 1835-6, and I forbear. ( page 392- The Harvard Classic Registered Edition) 

I hope I have conveyed enough enthusiasm about this classic to tempt you to add it to your reading list.
with best wishes,

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Springtime Project I Didn't Plan

What a funny title for me to post...as if I plan everything out so carefully and fulfill those specifications with well timed regularity. 


From sea to shining sea I suspect no one was planning on quite the weather that has been going on.  In California it is a dry and early spring, though today there were some sprinkles.  I have read reports and heard tales of snow aplenty and lots of troubles in other regions.  We've got peach blossoms and a drought to face.

But it isn't weather that is rearranging the calendar of my current intentions, it is a health need.
Sometimes it is  hard to get lined up with life having its own way.  We have our ways of insulating ourselves from the facts of life. Other times the mandates given leave little to no room for choice.  I think of a particular friend who has been given a very fast introduction to how fleeting life is.  He does still have choice, of course, for he and she who loves him, are choosing to face each day's troubles with faith. It takes courage.

So what do I want to share here? I'm being given some healing treatments that take a fairly large commitment to complete.  I don't want to do the math on five afternoons a week for 60 treatments,but I believe it will take me pretty close to summer.   I have to fence a bit with myself, to get into the right stance, to really take it on in a spirit of gratitude.

When I got back today from my two hours in a closed chamber I ran to the back yard to look and see if the peach tree was still lovely.  Everything passes and changes so quickly in spring.  Maybe relinquishing this spring to needs of my body will quicken my sense of how precious time is...maybe I will be more productive, less wasteful, of the fragile precious commodity...life.

with best wishes,