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 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

with best wishes,


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Don't Abandon Your Blogs or your Pen

Forgive me...that title is a word to myself...

Just to be sure that I haven't entirely abandoned  the other page of my  web logging, "Write Purpose,"
 I posted a bit of a book review, no I would really call it more a book exposure, that I could have just as easily published here on "Bread on the Water," but you will find it here: Robert Raynold's Narrator.  It is actually a very fitting post for Valentine's Day because it is circles around  the question of what is at the heart of any story one tells.

My neighbor's daffodils...
which she planted and then moved off to Montana
When I first began blogging, I thought I would share more of my writing than I have thus far, but I find I have often been beguiled by the lovely views that have been mine and the thrill of digital photography often sweeps my pen right out of my hand.  The other day I  took this photo with my new phone. I have not yet learned the camera features, but the moss and daffodils still speak a bit here, I  hope.

Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue

and while I am here,
a happy Valentine's Day to you.  This little girl is saying hello to anyone sitting alone today,

the rest of you, as you are not on your own, should do fine on your own.

Now I better get on  my donkey and ride...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Free Rein- One Decision after Another

One of the techniques I used to employ as a family therapist with children, and adults requested it too often times, was to give them free rein in a sand tray.  The size and depth of the box was very specified so that the diorama- like creation in the box was truly scaled to the child’s field of vision. They could make a small world from my large and very odd collections of miniature items sitting ready on nearby shelves and in trays and baskets at hand. 

 Often children who had a hard time talking would begin to relax and as they were drawn to different items and arranged them in the sand I could learn quite a bit before they ventured to explain or share anything verbally. Did they use the tray leaving all the sand as I presented it, raked smooth with a miniature rake and left level all around, or did they dig down to the blue bottom of the box and make a pond or heap the sand in little hills or make one very big mountain?  I never suggested the addition of water to the box, but then I never refused either; it was a good sign that they could ask for what they really wanted or felt they needed and water is a primal element of life and hope.  

I would  watch quietly from the other side of the box, not interfering in any way.  When creating in the box began to slow down, if talking had not begun spontaneously, I would ask to be told the story or might only need to say a gentle opening line such as,  “This is the story of…” or   “One day…”  My young charge would usually take up the tale and walk me through the world they had pieced together.  Plastic plants, something I would not use in any other realm, made me happy when they showed up in sand tray worlds, for it usually indicated the child had some connection to nature.  People and animal figures were not all of the same scale and it was always interesting to find out who different figures represented.  

There were times when the trays did not yield any words; eyes averted, little heads shook "no."  I wouldn’t press. I would ask permission, which was always granted, to photograph the tray and not take them apart until the person had departed.  I really had to watch the time when using sand trays.  I didn’t want any subsequent visitors to view another’s tray. So much for resting in between sessions, but in a way it was restful, lining all the horses back up on the animal shelf and digging up the secrets that had been buried in the sand.  Yes, the wet sand was a little messier to deal with, but those were some great worlds that were created when they had water in them.

This week I have been opening the boxes of toys I used for so many years.  They have been stored away while I was down in Carmel seven years. Since returning home I have taken yet another year to contemplate whether I want to, and whether it truly makes sense to have a dedicated therapy office again; I have decided that I will not.  It was interesting to me how like a child looking at my own story I felt as I explored the boxed up toys.  There were my little black rats, plastic flies, beautiful white doves, wedding cake toppers, muscle men, guns, garbage cans, tiny wine bottles, beer cans, horses, swans, flags, balloons on wires, fences, beds, cats, dogs, swings,umbrellas, knives, eggs and those plastic leaves and trees. I found space ships, red wagons, bikes, skateboards and cars as well as tiny money and miniature playing cards, babies and old ceramic figurines. There are even people that I made and baked out of clay to be sure the many colors of flesh and types of bodies we come in were represented. The basket trays had dividers and I  had filled them with mirrors, custom made wooden blocks, logs from my garden pruning and smooth stones from the beach. 

Just a few of the odd odds and ends...
One day a child who hid behind my couch most of his first session made a winding path of pebbles up a mountain he had shaped.  He took pieces of green cloth from the shelf, made a tent, planted a tree next to it and stuck a flag on the mountain’s peak.  He was starting to believe he could feel better about his life, but there still weren’t many people he could trust.  Not a dog or a squirrel or even a bird was up there with him; he was so alone.  But he had made a path and we talked about how he could choose to come back down the mountain when he felt safe. Eventually he chose to bring many more elements into his world and his mountain got more decorated and his valley had some new doings too.

Well, I have decided to give myself free rein. It's time for a new field of vision.  I have some ideas and like some of the young children I watched grow, I think I'll just set  down a few stepping stones one after the other … yes.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

At the Gate of the New Year

Greetings as we await the New Year.
Calendars set off time like fences define space…

and New Year’s Eve sits on the line a bit like a gate. 

I find gates fascinating in their ability to invite or repel.

A friend reflecting on how "as we enter a New Year we do not know what lies ahead," posted a few lines from a poem. Of course we don’t know what's ahead, we never really do, and that can strike one alternately as both exciting and at times repellent. 

And as I experience that it is often easy for me to overlook the obvious, I found myself grateful for her flatly stating that we do not know what lies ahead....and for the lines of poetry she shared; a poem, she says, she likes to read each new year.

At the Gate of the Year
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.
'And he replied,'Go into the darkness and put your hand
into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'
 by Minnie Louise Haskins (1908) *

At the gate of this new year, I wish much for others and 

for myself … may it be a gentle year, healthy, productive, 

joyous and full of step by step 


  Happy New Year to You

*This is actually quite a famous poem and if you would like to know more about it and the poet who lived from 1875 to 1957 and had a very varied and interesting career,  there is an excellent brief on her life 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Three Memoirs of Improbable Life Paths

None of the three autobiographical books I've read of late are hot off the press, but they were all new to me. And oddly, these three very different lives have a lot in common.

Late summer a friend gave me a copy of the 2011 New York Times Bestseller, Kisses from Katie.  I confess that I took it home and set it on a shelf.  It didn't look like "my kind of book."  I found the title to be cloying.  However, I trust my friend and wanted to be able to respond when asked if I had read the book, so I carried it on a road trip to Idaho and brought it home again, no more familiar with the story of the young woman on the cover than I was before my journey.

Once I finally began reading, I found a rather amazing tale of a girl who, based on a three week mission trip to Uganda during her senior year in high school, asked her parents for permission to postpone college for a year so she could return to Uganda and teach little children there.  Katie Davis was born in 1989 making her now twenty-five years old  in 2014.   That is especially important for her because Ugandan laws require residents to be twenty-five years old to adopt children and she has been the foster parent to thirteen little girls!  ***Yes, I know that exclamation points are best used sparingly.  I think I have have restrained myself greatly using only one; considering the  information contained in my last sentence, perhaps there should have been  thirteen of them.***

Next the 1990 Ben Carson story  Gifted Hands  fell into mine.  While Katie Davis is a daughter of privilege, her school's homecoming queen and class valedictorian,
Dr. Carson, born in 1951, was one of two sons of a working mother in inner-city Detroit.  The book opens with a letter to the reader from Sonya Carson who writes:
Dear Reader, As the mother of Ben and his brother, Curtis, I had a lot of challenges.  Being one of twenty-four children, married at age thirteen, and later having to get a divorce after finding out my husband was a bigamist were just a few of them....

Ben Carson begins his story sharing his childhood  struggles with a convincing vulnerability.  I had read on the back jacket that he became  director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Medical Institutions at age thirty-three, but I found little hint of that possibility as I read the chapters about his young life. I also had no idea how much brain surgery explanation I was getting myself into, but once I began this book there was no way I going to skip over any of it. In addition to his passion as a surgeon, Dr. Carson offers himself as a motivational speaker for young people.  He believes that "With the right help and the right incentive, many disadvantaged kids could achieve outstanding results."   He certainly has.

Son of Hamas...This incredible chronicle was published in 2010.  Mosab Hassan Yousef was born in the West Bank city of Ramallah "to one of the most religious Islamic families of the Middle East."  It was the same year I was giving birth to my first child in California so I have a very real sense of how long he has been on the planet; he is now thirty-seven years old, but he has lived in an utterly different world than the one I know. He is currently living under political asylum somewhere in America.   He didn't set out to write a New York Times bestseller, but he has.  He didn't set out to do many of the things he has done.

I am recommending these books to you.  I am  reticent to tell you much about their journeys as they are so personal and I want to neither add nor take away from the narrative of these brave souls.  Each one of them hopes to make the world a safer and better realm for others and to tell their respective stories they have to trust the reader to look beyond cultural or emotive differences.  These three lives with not a word written of them already represent tremendous  giving and impact in the world. Sharing one's story is an additional gift, a tremendous vulnerability and I am glad to have been a recipient.

I 'll be interested if you have read any of these books.

If you haven't read Mr. Yousef's book, start there, it's truly a challenging and powerful story and ever so pertinent to trouble stalking our globe.  I am already thinking of rereading it.

By the way, each of these books had an acknowledged co-writer:
Katie Davis with Beth Clark
Ben Carson with Cecil Murphy
Mosab Hassan Yousef with Ron Bracken