Friday, August 19, 2011

Reading, Writing, and Isolation

Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and selectiveness peculiar to himself. . . . We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.  We are not content to be Leibnitzian nomads.  We demand windows.  Literature . . . is a series of windows, even of doors.  One of the things we feel after reading a great work is “I have got out.”  Or from another point of view, “I have got in”; pierced the shell of some other nomad and discovered what it is like inside.                                           
C.S. Lewis1

In the movie Shadowlands, one of C.S. Lewis’ students quotes his father when he says, “We read to know we’re not alone.”  I’m not sure if that line flowed from the mind of some philosophic scriptwriter or whether it has biographical basis, perhaps even from Lewis’ own writings, but it is a truism nonetheless.  There is within all of us a desire to link minds and hearts with others—to know we are not alone in this vast world of like and unlike. 
Sometimes I read well-crafted words that put into one succinct thought an impression that before only floated round the edges of my mind, without form. Those words give exact shape to my thought—help me say what I could not say, only feel.
Sometimes a truth leaps off the page and finds a roosting place in my receptive mind.  I have never thought this way before, but it suits.  I embrace the truth as a companion.  I own it.   It is at home—a part of other thoughts that are making me.
Sometimes I read words that parallel exactly how I think about things.  The author and I are walking in matched steps—no hitches, step for step.  I feel kinship, a knowing that this person has walked where I’ve walked, is standing where I stand.  This human heart resonates with the beat of my own, and I am not alone in the universe.
Books go back on shelves, but many sing a siren song, calling to be read again and again.  Such is a friend to finger and cherish over tea—live, pithy food.  Words labored over in a far off cloister by some lonesome wordsmith have found a broader world in me. 
*  *  *  *  *  *
Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious.  When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader.  He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation . . .
Anne Lamott2

            I write to know I’m not alone.  I am a fisherman sending out hooks with thoughtful bait.  Line upon wriggling line skims the water, sinking deep; then, the long finger-biting wait to see if anything comes back.  Did I hook someone? 
            It’s not, did I sell meaningless page fillers to the constantly hungry monster of consumerism that skims and scans and tosses aside?  It’s not, did I make a few dollars to add to the coffers that fund my Starbucks addiction?  I write to send a distinct call to like-minded intellects, passionate hearts, and hungry souls.  Do you see what I see?  Can I show you what I’ve learned?  Do you feel the longing to connect—to share in the “ah-ha?”  Can you see through the window of my nomadic soul and be changed as I am being changed?  
Word on word, line on line, strong words on lifeless fragile pulp—essence poured into the mold of pages.  Letters inconsequential yet sequential, rearranged, deleted, retrieved over and over till the message reads clear—time looking over my shoulder.
Fear of criticism causes pause—rejection sniffs around the corners of my self-confidence, and I’m tempted to hide.  I could safely file things away and wait for yellowing brittle papers to be discovered posthumously in dusty drawers—a romantic thought.  But I am no aesthete.  I love the creation, but not for creation’s sake alone.  I want my words to rub shoulders with someone; to sidle up and get comfortable with someone; to nourish someone’s soul hunger.  Perhaps valued, perhaps not—that’s the great risk. 
As in a small room of a small house, I read to view a life that is larger than my own; I write to know that I do not breathe and move in isolation.  I paint a canvas of words not just to decorate a shelf but to make meaningful difference—to reach out fingertip to fingertip to unknown pilgrims in a fallen world.
 I read to know. 
 I write to be known.
 To know that I am not alone.


1 The Quotable Lewis
Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, editors
Page 397

2 bird by bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Anne Lamott
Page 225-6

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The long “LEG” leg of the journey, followed by the last leg:

After breaking down the tent and making our goodbyes, we were off to Oregon.  This was going to be a long day of driving.  We were due in to Eugene by 6 p.m. for a dinner, cooked by our friend Bill, a serious foodie.  We had thought we could squeeze in Crater Lake on the way, but we would have driven to the shore and gave a very brief “Wow!” and then would have had to run, so we opted to take a more direct route instead.
We have all decided that Oregon is one of our most favorite places—green green with tall trees and mountains and 0% state sales tax.  The volcanoes that dot Northern CA and OR can give pause, but I’ve seen Dantés Peak and know how to survive the pyroclastic cloud—if I can only find a mine shaft big enough for an Expedition . . . or even a Honda. 
Mt. Shasta

We arrived at 5:58, even with a stop for a picnic lunch, all the potty breaks, and stretch time in this 9-hour drive.  Bill and Sheila had prepared a feast, and we enjoyed food, fellowship, and our environs, including 2 puckish raccoons, who were feasting on wild cherries in the trees above the deck. 

Bill is one of those friends from the 70s who we have reconnected with in the last couple of years through email and Facebook.  We had never met Sheila and the girls except through pictures, and it was fun to flesh out pictures with life and personality.  They are a homeschool family (as are the Begins), so right there we have much in common.  We spent time catching up, solving the world’s problems, and analyzing thrash metal and screamo . . . or whatever (one of Daniel’s tutorials J).  I kind of hoped that Bill’s love of classical music would have rubbed off on Danny, but Danny may have made such an impression that Bill and Sheila may feel the urge to hit the mosh pit.  Or not.
And now the LEG leg of the journey:  Kelly’s bad leg (Think:  motorcycle wreck.) had been bothering him before we left—enough so that he made an appointment with the orthopedic.  (You know it is probably long past necessary when a guy makes a doctor appointment for himself.)  Obviously, his doc was also in vacation mode since Kel couldn’t get an appointment till the end of August.   He had been trying to baby it and stay off it as much as possible, but it got really bad at Bill’s—the worst it has looked in years.   I’ll spare the gruesome details.  It was of great concern, and we didn’t know whether or not we should get Kelly on a plane for home and medical care.  We opted to go to an urgent care, and the one the Jensens had suggested just happened to be the only one in the area to take Kaiser patients.  Another providential accident. 

If you are ever in Eugene, OR, and find yourself in need of care, this is the place to be.  They were not only efficient and friendly and close to a Dutch Brothers coffee place, but they also knew enough to suggest they may be in over their heads with this one.  The PA debreeded the eruption site (Look that one up in your medical dictionary!), prescribed antibiotics, and bandaged the site with an antibiotic wrap and sterile bandages.  (We thought about opting for the unsterile, but figured, hey, we’re on vacation!)  They recommended seeing a wound care specialist at the Kaiser in Salem, but when we got there, we realized they had no urgent care, and we could get an appointment if we wanted to check in to a hotel, lounge round the pool, and wait for 2 weeks.  So onward to Seattle!
. . . on the street where you live ♪♫

The duplex

We arrived in Seattle and proceeded to invade Adam and Monica’s already cramped quarters, moving boxes lining the walls.  We had a great meal and settled down for the night.  Kelly was sure to take his Zyrtec and to lock the cats out of the bedroom.  It is amazing how feline animals gravitate to Kelly, who does not particularly like them, especially since he is so allergic.  But I, however, who love kitties, they disdain as the relative they begrudgingly are required to endure.

Gloria . . . I think I got your number. ♪♫

The eyeliner is a real trick to apply.

In the morning, we left AB and Monica to do more work at dismantling their duplex.  Seth, Erin and Danny went to the Seattle Zoo to observe all things cute, ferocious, and in all ways interesting.  Kelly and I went to the local hospital’s ER to stare at the wildlife in the waiting room, which amounted to tropical fish (but they may have been virtual) and some local color from a group home who apparently like to hang out and swap stories and toothless exclamations. 

Fish people-watching

It seemed important to have a doctor, and hopefully a wound specialist, examine the leg.  We waited about 6 hours and were seen long enough for the folks to tell Kelly that all the Eugene folks had done and prescribed was perfect, and have a nice day.  So, not as much fun as the zoo, but we got naps, some reading done, and 2 big chef’s salads from the cafeteria that I paid for by the pound (a dangerous practice).  When you get as old as we are, I guess that’s about as much fun as a roller coaster at Magic Mountain. 
Actually, while Kelly was being poked and prodded, I walked the neighborhood to get some air and exercise and also try to trap some local “souls” in my camera.  At one point, I was standing under a tree with my camera held low in front of me, lens facing up.  I like taking pictures of gnarly trees from that perspective, and my camera can go places that my knees will not take me.  Every so often, I would look up to see again what image I was trying to capture.  This lady, a hospital employee, came by and started looking up also and asked me what I saw up there.  Perhaps she thought I too was part of the local color.  I very briefly thought about pulling her leg, but I don’t lie well.  We had a nice chat as I explained my preoccupation with capturing knobby trees, color, texture, and pattern.  By the time I was finished my wanderings, Kelly was ready and the zoo contingent had arrived to take us back. 

The next day was filled with boxing up and loading up the Seattle Greens’ belongings in the rental truck, and the following morning we hit the road for the final leg of the journey, Seth driving the Expedition and Adam driving the rental truck.  This trip had so many legs, it could have been a spider. 

The last leg of the journey: 
We kind of meandered north, but the trip south was to be a fairly straight, no-nonsense shot.  The first leg of the last leg J ended in Redding, CA.  We had booked a camping space near Mount Shasta to pitch our tents for the night.  We arrived late and left early, and other than Danny overcoming a possible aversion to the thought of sharing a tent with his older brother and parents, the stay was brief and uneventful.  So much so, I forgot to take a picture.
By the way, our ever efficient Eugene UC called Kelly twice on the way home:  The first time to see how he was doing and to tell him his culture showed staph.  The second time, they called to tell us that the staph was not MRSA.  They are a very impressive group!

The next day we drove straight through to Dinuba to visit two of Adam’s college friends: Chris, his college roommate, and Jenny, Chris’ wife.  Chris and Jenny supplied a tasty lunch, while their cute toddler twin boys provided the entertainment; and then we were on the road again. 

When we saw the wind farms of Tehachapi, we could almost experience the tastes home, which is very much like the taste of grit in the teeth.  The cirrus and cirrostratus clouds sweeping across the sky with weavings of grey, peach, and gold could almost convince you for a second that living in the desert has its very own beauty. For a second, you could imagine that those streaks were not the contrails of a subversive democratic government, seeding aluminum into the air to combat global warming and destroy the life and vitality of our innocent young.  Well, maybe for a second. 

It was a worthy trek of about 2400 miles with fun, food, laughter, stress, and scenery all in the mix.  But it is always good to be home where your dog loves you (though he barely noticed you were gone) and where the ants know you by name.  Home again, home again, jiggity jig!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Second leg of the journey:

Typically, things take longer than you anticipate and seldom do you ever leave on time.  We got away a bit later than planned and headed to Yosemite for our next site-seeing stop on the way to Seattle.    We ran into a traffic jam, which we eventually realized was the line to get into the park.  We crawled along at breakneck speed (for a handicapped snail) and after an hour actually saw the gate where you pay your entrance fees.  Once inside, traffic thinned out some as each went their own way to explore the beauty of this place. 
When you are stopped, you can take lots of pics of the side of the road.

There is hope!
After turning out at a couple of vistas to view the valley and surrounding rock formations, El Capitan and Half Dome included, we eventually landed at the path to Bridalveil Falls.  Having a handicap placard does come in handy at the height of tourist season.  We parked right across from the start of the path, ate our picnic, then hiked (and in some cases, hobbled) in.  Because of such huge snowfalls and cooler temperatures, there was still a lot of water rushing over the 4000 foot high falls.   The hike in takes you over bridges and along well-worn paths, with lush green overhead and on every side.  The falls and the ubiquitous mist are magnificent.  It is a challenge, however, to snap a nature shot with all those other pesky picture-takers getting in the way.  I guess no one got the memo about this being a private party. 

Kelly, Erin, and I meandered to the car while Seth and Danny climbed on misty, slime-covered rocks, vying to be the 15th and 16th fatalities of Yosemite National Park’s 2011 season.  However, since I didn’t see that precarious hike, it didn’t exist.
Note to self:  Don’t visit Yosemite in the summer when everyone else in the world is in attendance.

Heading back to the car

After winding our way out of the park, admiring the views along the way and making urgent potty runs, we headed north.  Our destination was Colfax, CA, where we planned to spend the night with some more friends.  These we had not seen for at least 15 years, except of course on Facebook.  Mildred, our British-speaking GPS lady, took us on the scenic route.  If we had been crows, it perhaps may have been the shortest course; but after all the twists and turns and bumps (Who knew state roadways used speed bumps!) out in the northern California farmlands, our stomachs were a bit queasy and the sun was settling mighty low in the sky.  By the time we landed at the Begins, it was dark and the deer were out playing dodge ball with moving vehicles.  We arrived safely, quickly set up the tent, and still had time for some music and conversation.  Phil and Gail’s daughter Annie entertained us with Bach and breakdowns on her gorgeous 1776? violin.  Seth sang the song on the piano that he had written and sung to Erin at their wedding.  We had gotten there too late to hear the whole Begin family band or for more contributions from the Green contingent, but maybe next time.  When Annie hauled out her cello, Danny started salivating.  He got to experiment on an instrument that has always been on his wish list; but it is a bit overwhelming to think that these instruments, and even the bows, individually cost more than his best electric guitar. 
Gail took this pic and wasn't sure if he was loving it or not.

Note to Danny:  Save your pennies.
The kids abandoned Kelly and me for the safety and comfort of beds inside and indoor plumbing.  Maybe it was the talk of bears, skunks, mountain lions, deer, and other wild animals that scared them off, but Kelly and I braved the wilds of almost-rural Colfax on our air mattress, pee bottles at the ready.  You could hear the pitter patter of deer feet close by as they munched on the Begin foliage, but by first light when I tried to get a picture, they had run for cover.  No bears or skunks were on hand for the party.
Gail made us a yummy breakfast and after another round of picture-taking, we were off on our trek to Oregon. 

The LEG leg of the journey to follow……………………………………….

To Seattle We Go......................................

First leg of the journey:
Seth and Kelly went to the rental place to pick up our “reserved” car, only to find out it was still having its hair done—okay, oil changed.  So rather than make us wait and miss our self-imposed deadline, for the same price they gave us a bigger SUV to play with—an Expedition.  Read that:  More gas.  However, it turned out to be one of those providential accidents, given the fact that all our “stuff” and camping gear and 5 bodies would have not fit in the smaller vehicle, and Danny would have had to be fastened to the top.
After loading up the vehicle like a jigsaw puzzle, we headed north to the Sequoias.  Since the south end was battling a big fire, we opted for the north entrance.  Smarts R Us.

Our first stop was at a turnout with a view of what I think was some fork of the Kern River.  But don’t quote me on that.  It was wet and had sharp rocks and rapids.  Right beside the path down to the river was the sign that boasted that it is a “mortal” river.  People die on the river every year.  Seth made up a park promotional jingle to that effect, and then he and Danny hiked down to test the capabilities of their guardian angels and give their mother a stomach ache. 

We stopped to picnic a little further inside the park.  Unfortunately, some ground wasps had the same idea.  When Kelly went to open the bear-proof trash container, he got stung 3 or 4 times and proceeded to dance and yell, something I haven’t seen since his youth!  Some person(s), instead of actually depositing their sweet roll trash in the container, instead wedged it up in the handle.  They may not have been deliberately evil, just deliberately stupid.  My thought is that they possibly thought that tiny space, which kind of appeared as an opening, somehow led to the belly of the container below.  They did their best to find the missing hole.  Because the roll was not immediately visible, and because it was supplying a luscious feast for the wasps, Kelly innocently put his hand on the handle, thus supplying the wasps with fresh meat.
Note to the Sequoia Park Rangers:  (1) Supply opening instructions to the trash can.  And fear not:  Bears do not read.  And (2) it might be a good idea to carry Benadryl at least at one of your outposts and visitor centers.
Note to Harbor Freight:  Your 1500-volt insect zapper thingy is really not worth a hoot. 
We viewed, oohed, and ahhed at the wide and tall trees.  Kelly held his thumb up in the air.  We tried unsuccessfully to get adequate first aid at Visitor Centers, while Kelly held his thumb up in the air.  We eventually found a market with a long line that snaked through the store and made some purchases while Kelly held his thumb up in the air. 

After exploring in and around the accessible Sequoias and climbing to some high “mortal” places, we hit the road again.  (The highest place I climbed was a log fence, and I have confirmed to my in-denial self that my climbing days are over.  That’s what zooms in cameras are for.)

We headed for Fresno to spend the night with Brigid De Jong, a friend we had not seen for at least 35 years.  She supplied us with delicious food and conversation.  We didn’t exactly fill in the blanks for all those years, but we made a jolly good try.  We didn’t get to see Rick because he was getting off patrol at 2:30 a.m.  We thought about waking him in the morning with a pillow fight, but Brigid suggested it was probably not wise to attack a man who wears a gun for a living.  So to bed we went, and in the morning after some awesome expresso, we hit the road again, a wonderful homemade De Jong hot sauce (all legal) in hand. 

Second leg to follow....................................... 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Bonnechère

A river snakes through sylvan lands
with quiet ebb and flow;
the birches greet with silver palms
in evanescent glow;
and slipping on past concrete piers
where children’s stones are cast,
the river sings of dreams and things,
fond wishes from the past.

A river snakes through sylvan lands,
past rich and fertile soil,
tilled by firm and tawny hands,
nails blackened from the toil.
Giant alders both frame the land
and shelter river’s lee,
and still the water moves along
with strength to carry me.

A river snakes through sylvan lands,
through boroughs and through town,
then rushing brazen through the dam,
its course comes crashing down.
Over rocks and rapids poured,
strength begins to wane,

till quiet and obsequious,
the river slows again.

A river snakes through sylvan lands
with steady quiet lilt,
quick to catch the private thoughts
on which our dreams are built.
I was the child upon the bridge
with little stones to cast.

I love the secret waters deep
that flow into my past.

Sepia toned pictures were taken by my mum, others by me a long time ago.