Tuesday, September 6, 2022

An Uncanny Magic


I was exhausted, a sputtering candle, but here in the Quinault Rain Forest the Mother Trees, the great firs and cedars, the moss and ferns rekindle me. This forest is uncannily magical.
To pick a place on a map, choose its likelihood, and drive 800 miles to stand among the trees. And connectivity flourishes as hidden fungal networks feed the plants in exchange for carbon and weave a hundred species into a living fabric. Connectivity & Diversity & Reciprocity, inseparable - what Gaia teaches me.

I have a sudden - sight? An imagining? Could I have dreamed or seen a photo of a woman in a dog hair blanket, single feather in a sleek bun, selling tightly woven baskets? They learned that white people wanted to own…..to keep, to place behind glass. 

Dream and myth merge with the deep shadowy silence. Is that the woman picking berries in the photo I discovered so long ago?

I imagine a longboat of fisherfolk, or a single man standing at the edge of the lake. And I remember the masks that we once saw by firelight, and how they became Spirit. Days later, on the Coast, we find Quin-i-ault art and I think of the time 54 years ago when I discovered the art and the peoples of this coast,

and we discover the contemporary Tlingit artist Israel Shotridge, who carries on the tradition with his many-eyed Thunderbird, Salmon & Whale. Ah, Thunderbird, who makes lightning, brings the rainstorms that create this uncanny magic.
But I also feel the same pain as I feel in every formerly indigenous space. They never believed land could be owned till we took it, till we said Mine, a word that only exists in the language of ownership. But Israel Shotridge is a We who holds those who carved and painted before him, maskmakers, polecarvers, paddlepainters, drumstainers.....

How did I come to this blessing, I who could once barely walk to the corner, or make it from the parking lot to the College? Now almost 80 and  able to hike a trail. I still remember the first path I fell in love with when I was 8. It was only beaten down grass across an empty lot, but there it was, destination. And here the trails are soft with the layers and leavings of millennia, and a trail's destiny leads  to creek-fall.
Outside the door of our cottage is an immense fir tree that will not yield to my camera.  When I stand under its 50 foot circumference, it is a shelter like no other. I will take a handful of its deep green moss to add to the basket that Lina Jane Prairie made for us. And a handful for my friend who also talks to trees. If only I could speak the language of the great strands of fungi, the hyphae, who taught the firs and ferns, the pines and maple how to connect without saying a word.








Monday, September 6, 2021

And Then The Cranes Come....

It is Elul a question mark of a month  we ask who        and how and what we have harmed. I've said they  they have harmed the earth   then I said we  we have damaged the earth    and now I say I   I have harmed the earth and each day I chant
and I pray for Her  (out on my deck in the fire-sickened air) and name one   fracking   toxic waste
after another but there are more ways we have damaged the earth than there are days of Elul  tomorrow is the last day of Elul and there is more to name before the New Year begins 

California is on fire   are the gods in retreat watching our mourning our grief our worry   have they decided there is nothing they can do for us since we are their hands?                           

A bird lands near me
  the simplicity of sweetness      the bird flies up to the tree which the fire department says is too close to the chimney  

On New Year we will dip an apple in honey                              But for now?

Two things I had to learn before I found sweetness -             1.The endangered Siberian crane called Omid in Farsi which means hope winters in rice fields on the Caspian sea.                2. When a Muslim leaves on a journey the Koran is held over their head to ensure their return.                                                                    

In her painting Naeemeh Naeemaei wears the white of cranes  she holds the holy book over the head of the bird   over the head of Omid   over the head of Hope                            






Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Wildering Mendocino


    The North Coast of California. A place of deep forest, waterfalls, wave crash & whale spout. A place we have felt connected to for decades - and yet Bill & I have just rediscovered it with eyes cleared by post-Covid solitude, when what we saw most days was the sky through the living room windows. It was as though we had never been to Mendocino County before.

     We are very connected to family, and we faced a Christmas without them, thanks to the pandemic. We decided on an alternative holiday - isolating for four days in Mendocino; wildering - no social conventions or daily habits, no restaurants, dress-up or visits to town, no must-call-and-should Zoom. Letting go of whatever we don't want, and discovering what we do. We would spend as much time in the wild as possible. Our only rule would be respecting nature. Could we arrange it?

    Somehow, just after Thanksgiving, we managed to rent a small house on a ridge above the Pacific, arriving to an unexpected panorama.  

    When we explored, the pines (the Pines!) seemed to step forward, one by one or in mass. And the ocean (the Pacific!) and seashore, forever captivating, as in capture and captive. Our first sight of this beach was through the pines.

 Jug Handle State Reserve
We walk the beach, Bill, with his sharp eyes, finds sea-treasures. A flock swoops and whirls  in. Cormorants forage along the rocks. I once wrote a poem about the journey of the godwit, and I always hope to see one - and there it is.  We listen to the high call of a long-legged avocet with upturned beak and a sleek body-sweep of black and white stripes. He is is too fast for my camera. 

    Jug Handle Reserve has the longest beach we've ever seen, and a sweet cove. I imagine the high carved stern of a Spanish ship. I imagine Pomo hunting seal and sea lion, fishing for salmon and gathering mussels. The old ones seem very close to us as we walk toward the water.  

        Though my beloved & I have hiked together for decades, how different it is to hike through forest now that we know of the Wood Wide Web! Those "Entangled Lives"! The trees connected by miles and millennia of mycelia, fungi fruiting after rain.

On another sparkly day, we hike the magical Ecological Staircase, also in Jug Handle Reserve. We climb wave-cut, glacier-carved terraces, from the beach and riparian zones up to a great community of spruce and fir. We enter the forest and are instantly enclosed in greenness, sheltered in a realm that seems to welcome us. We follow a pine-needle-soft red earth path. A raven’s call accompanies us from beginning to end, a steady rhythmic soundscape.

    Then it poured for 24 hours, a time of reading and writing by the fireplace. At night it storms off the coast, and we lie awake listening to a mildly dissonant concerto of rain and wind. Though I often object when human aggression is attributed to nature, at dawn we 'feel' the word angry - wind lashing saplings in the garden, sea slamming rocks, arcs of turbulent spray, the sea a vast tumult of gray waves, a near blackened sky. And then we laugh and lose our fear of the wildness.

I'm grateful for the rain and wind. I feel that I was receiving the knowledge of all the possible weather on this coast, from sparkle to tempest.  We left enclosure for nature, and it fulfilled us, as culture has not been able to since Covid shutdowns. 

    And there is the neutrality of nature, the lack of clamor and rancor, the lack of judgement, and the silent way that plants live their lives. What it gave us was relief from the grief and anxiety of 2020, providing clarity -  which is another word for freedom, and the beginning of wildness.       

                   Green is the color of gratitude.     

Jug Handle Reserve State Park










Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Fires, The Virus & The Day of At-One-Ment



        Sunday night. The eve of the Day of At-One-ment. For our online evening services Bill & I are asked to light the candles. “Shekinah, divine feminine, bless our children and the children of our children that they may be sustained and that they sustain the earth and each other”.              

     After services we receive news of new fires in Napa and Sonoma and evacuations. Plague upon plague! We are supposed to shelter in place if possible, but people are being driven from their homes. Dazed, they arrive in parking lots, unsure of where to go, what to do. I feel such of empathy for them.  

    It’s grape harvest time. A vintner described “Beautiful bunches…the best ever” - but there has been concern for the workers - how to keep them safe from the virus? Now the vineyards are ablaze. Beautiful old wineries have been destroyed.


     We have a Red Flag Fire warning for the  Berkeley Hills, and we are prepared to evacuate: the Go Bag with survival items and all our important documents and the cat’s supply bag are next to the door. Bill's art is too large to take with us, but how can we leave it? What irreplaceable books should I pack? The warning will end at 8AM in the morning. But when I  wake at 8 there is a message extending the warning till evening. The air is smoky, but a fire in the Oakland Hills has been put out. We are safe - for now.

    It's Yom Kippur. The Day of At-One-ment. The doors and windows of our house are closed against the smoke. I am in the living room facing the sky, the redwoods, the smoky clouds hiding Mt. Tamalpais. As I click on Zoom for the morning service, squirrels are cavorting on the deck. The singing begins. “My home is a home of prayer for all people and all nations” and I silently welcome all to my living room, making certain that I include those who we call our adversaries - those on the other side. 

       Naomi Newman, singer, actress, director, playwright, reads prayers for those who died from Covid, died from Neglect, and prayers for those who survived, because life is a wilderness. Laura Goldman, therapist & spiritual teacher, reminds us that endangered places, high wire spaces, the unknown, are places of transformation. What trapeze of possibility is swinging toward you? Is there any safety net? Must we let go of all that has brought us to this place? Will voters choose the ones who can bring us to the other side?

    Yom Kippur and the state of California and our state of being is on fire. Why can’t we summon this fervor, this grief, this fear and deep love on all other days?  I look at myself in the small square on the screen and acknowledge my vanity and my self-consciousness, such old patterns, and I laugh, forgive myself, let it go, and scroll to the faces of strangers and silently give my heart to them. 


      And then Joanna Macy, Root teacher, Buddhist scholar, environmental activist, has us look at our hands. Our hands that were once fins and flippers and all they have accomplished over millions of years. “Fear and courage are at each other’s throats” she says, summarizing our national divide, but with these hands, what we can still accomplish to save this world! Even if we fail, even if we can’t sustain - let us make the attempt in joy and with wonder”- this fearless holy activist!

     And then she reads us these lines from a poem of Rilke’s, from the Book of Hours, which she and Anita Barrows translated, and it is exactly what we needed to hear:

Dear darkening ground,                                                         You've endured so patiently the walls we've built                    Perhaps you'll give the cities one more hour                                 

and  grant the churches and cloisters two.                                and those that labor - let their work                                        grip them another five hours, or seven, 

before you become forest again, and water, and widening wilderness                                                                                   in that hour of inconceivable terror                                         when you take back your name                                                     from all things.      

Just give me a little more time!    

I want to love the things                                                             as no one has thought to love them,                                         until they're worthy of you and real.                                                                      


















Monday, February 17, 2020

Making a Poem

    I want to talk about writing poetry, which along with intimacy, is my most joyous activity. When the muse is with me, words and images flow and I happily surrender to her. When she is gone, on vacation, having an affair, I become bereft after a couple months, and feel somewhat empty. Years have taught me that I shouldn’t even try to write without her, it will come to nothing, and I don’t. Fortunately, my life has many riches.

For many years my poems were mostly mythological.  I wrote in the voice of many mythic women, from Mary and Mary Magdalene to baudy Baubo and the Japanese crane wife. I wrote about art and music and the experience of visiting sanctuaries in many countries. And then the plight of the earth and migrants and the work of nature took me over, and those are now my themes. And underlying it all, is connection. Among images, among ideas, among trees in the forest, and our common grounding. And beneath that is love.  
Connection  Photo by Allie Smith
    I worry that my poems are sometimes esoteric. I doubt that I reflect much of the collective, but I join many who have taken on similar themes in response to our times. I have choices in imagery and metaphor and structure, but I have no choice but to choose what has chosen me.

    Psycholinguist Dan Slobin has written about thinking for speaking and thinking for writing, and I have been talking to him about thinking for poetry. When I’m writing a poem the sounds of words are as important as meaning. Alliteration, my love of the repetition of vowel or consonants, takes precedence, and then there is rhythm, and meter and flow. Words come to me as sounds, which doesn’t happen writing prose or speaking. It’s rather magical. My desire is to create rivers in my poems, they flow far and fast, and through and past my meanings. Then they flow out into a sea, which is the spaciousness I hope to create with the poem’s ending. 

Place seems to have little effect on my poems. There I was in Costa Rica recently, in the midst of a tropical forest, writing about the Great Red Cedar Forest on Vancouver Island, because no place in nature has ever created such awe. The subject of the poem was the fungal connection between all the trees in the forest. I had heard of it, was enchanted, and read everything I could find. The muse insisted it become a poem.

The Great Fungal Network

    I never know how a poem is going to begin. Though 
I intended to open with the connection among trees in that first poem,  what came to me was “How she was the leader and told us kids to take one giant step  but we had to say mother may I or lose our turn and when I come years later to the Giant Red Cedar Forest I whisper mother may I.” Did I actually whisper that years ago when I went to the forest? No. But this time, when I revisited the forest in my imagination, that’s what I said immediately. The truth in the poem was not literal truth, but the intensity of what I imagined saying. I feel now what I didn’t feel when I hiked through the forest - my deep gratitude to mother earth.

Beginnings and endings. I don’t write in circles, the ending often has nothing to do with the beginning. There is a movement from image to image. One new poem begins with one million ibis buried in an Egyptian tomb, and ends with a melting glacier. That was my stream of thought. And the challenge is to create a link between ideas, so they appear to be a natural sequence. One strategy is to repeat certain phrases, or a single word like star, throughout the poem, or end with the phrases that begin the poem.

    It may take days of playing with what initially appeared, shifting stanzas, hunting through a thesaurus for synonyms, adding a new creature, finding out where they land. Other poems have a symmetrical connection. A new one, Homing, talks about the homing in of animals and people and missiles. Easier! Poetry is about intuitive problem solving without having to worry about the consequences, because choice yields choice, till finally there are no more choices that have to be made.

    When the poem feels done, I experience the deep pleasure of completion, but it’s the process that I love. What writing a poem gives me is total immersion and involvement, where the world melts away and I am in the absolute presence of my poem, inward, migrating between imagination and feeling and soul without any separation between them. And this is the gift that life has provided, and I call it life’s blessing.




Monday, November 5, 2018

A Cornucopia: Abundance & Forgetfulness

Abundance, Boboli Gardens, Florence
     I have realized that to be truly generous you must feel that you have abundance - and that does not mean financial wealth. No, this is an  inner sense of abundance; of sufficiency. It’s the feeling that who you are and what you have is Good. I  feel a certain sadness when I encounter wealthy people whose inner world is poverty-stricken.  

     We are 'strivers' and explorers, continually searching the world of self-care to make ourselves feel better. We say it is to find balance, or reduce stress, or improve memory, but underneath it all, for so many, is the insufficiency.
    But the whole strategy of American business is to ensure that no one ever feels they have enough. The hidden manifesto of advertising? Create Constant New Needs and make them Irresistible! 
Acquiring, repairing and maintaining ourselves and our things becomes  a pre-occupation, a cluttering, so there is no inner availability, no spaciousness, no capacity for generosity. And what is generosity? Writing a check or being willing to share what you have - compassion, time, skills?         

     And what of those who have the same cravings, the same desires and needs, but not the means to satisfy them? And what if they feel their government is helping everyone but them, and not addressing their worst fears? What if they feel they are becoming outnumbered?

     Needy folks who are completely dissatisfied ultimately want a Strong Man to Make it Better. They no longer believe their government works for them, and they may be willing to lose some of the openness and freedoms the society has afforded, like an uncensored free press. 
This dissatisfaction is a strong component in the rise of fascism - which is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany, as we all know. 

     But Americans tend to have no sense of any history but their own, and we have a genius, as  post-industrial humans, for not learning from the past. Memory, collectively and individually, and the desire and ability to probe and understand history and our own past, is such an important factor in democracies. Germany’s children must study the horrors of the holocaust so it won’t be repeated, and individually there is an inner freedom and relief when we face and acknowledge our demons. We hear this over and over, and we know it on some level, even if it is forgotten during our 24 hour news cycles.                                                                                        
Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali   1954
     Each generation, each election cycle, we try, unsuccessfully, to re-invent ourselves, without any agreement on what a new America would look like. It’s a dialectic without conclusion - thesis, antithesis, and no true synthesis - which would be a sustainable, mutually shared vision.  And for this improbable vision to be successful, we would have to ensure that what we have inflicted on our own people, and on other nations, must never be repeated. 
The violent displacement of Native Americans

It is so easy to lose sight of what is most dear to us, what truly
matters and move us. But the memory and continual awareness of what is most meaningful is what sustains us.

“Forgetfulness leads to exile, while remembrance is the secret of redemption.”     
                                      Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov






Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Art of Protest

Gee Vaucher Liberty
     In dark times when people have suffered, when ugly wars have ravaged people and place, when there has been economic depression, attempts at suppression, racism and other injustice, movements have risen that  attempt to change the direction of history.

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while: Right now there is a Resistance involved in a daily struggle with the regime in Washington - a cabal that threatens democracy itself.  There are movements fighting against all forms of intolerance, and others struggling with the forces that are destroying the planet.  But we need the artists, the poets, playwrights the authors who highlight these issues in a form that speaks more creatively than editorial and polemic.

    From the Greek comic playwright Aristophanes' Lysistrata to Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, theater has been a force for protest and change. Picasso’s great painting Guernica depicted the destruction of that town by Nazi bombers. The American artist Ben Shahn  painted the political outrages of his time. He also used his art as a way to bring people together. Where are the artists of our time who provide the images we need?

    Sometimes satire and caricature perform that function. A mental scan of of history brings us back to Greece, to the fifth century B.C.E., and the comic playwright Aristophanes, whose masterpiece Lysistrata uses the comic stratagem of women refusing sex to their soldier husbands to create a peaceful truce between the Athenians and Spartans. (That this play could be produced during the Pelopennesian war is some tribute to a culture that gave neither power nor place to women, and whose empirium was as dear to Athens as empire is to any modern colonial power.)
We now have the satire of the late night shows, with their nightly piercing of all the hot air balloons floating from the White House. 
But we need something beyond monologues - something to hold onto. I think of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, satirizing the  worship of nuclear power in 1964.  And I remember reading Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, a brilliant anti-war novel.

    I think of John Steinback’s  The Grapes of Wrath which drama-tized the plight of the people who were forced to leave family farms during the depression, where drought had turned productive land into a dust bowl. Steinbeck wrote the story of how they became migrant workers living in tents and desperate for work. 

Cover by Ben Shahn

And then there is Picasso’s Guernica, which is often considered the greatest work of political art in the twentieth century. 
The painting was commissioned by a revolutionary body that understood the power of uniting a great artist with a popular cause: Picasso's Guernica  was the response to a delegation from the Spanish Republican government, who asked Picasso to paint a mural for the Spanish Republican Pavilion built for the 1937 World's Fair.  
At first Picasso was going to choose a nonpolitical theme, but the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by the German Air Force occurred shortly after  the request, and that aerial terror catalyzed his imagination. The painting is neither narrative nor a blasted landscape. It is unreadable accept symbolically, but the images and the terror speak to us in the modern idiom Picasso painted. 
    And there is Ben Shahn, whose paintings were both calls to action and graphic images of injustice and suffering. From the Sacco & Vanzetti case, where two men with radical political beliefs were tried and executed for a murder they didn’t commit, to the suffering of Japanese fishermen who died from radiation poisoning, Ben Shahn was our graphic conscience. 

The poetry of protest has been a powerful force - and it need not be written by « professional » poets. Visions of War, Dreams of Peace is an anthology of poems written by military nurses who served in Vietnam, a book created to raise funds for a Women’s Vietnam Memorial. « Dusty » was the pseudonym of one of the poets, who suffered from PTSD when that acronym did not yet exist.  

Like Emily Dickinson
tucking tight little poems
into the corners and crannies
 of her father’s home
 I tuck their names
 into the crevices
 of my crenellated heart.  

    Rupert Garcia also served in Vietnam. He came home and attended San Francisco State University, receiving the first of three degrees in art, and many awards.  He joined with other Chicano and Latino artists, bringing their experiences into the art world. They were also involved in protesting the disproportionate number of minorities who served in Vietnam.  Garcia, inspired by German Expressionist art of WW I,  created both triptychs and diptychs on the theme of war, especially Fenix , which includes the death symbol of modern wars - the « chopper ». 

     Dana Schutz  is a contemporary artist whose imagery has been controversial. A large painting of Emmet Till in his coffin was derided by many, who questioned this provocation from a white woman -  but in this time of police shootings and Black Lives Matter, she evokes one of the tragedies that inspired a nation's sympathy with the Civil Rights movement. 
    Schutz's large bold, brightly colored Cubist/Expressionist canvases attempt to evoke the zeitgeist of the time. The paintings display us in our narcissism and despair, and though they are not narrative, not inherently political, they speak directly to what America has become since the last election. Schutz wrote:
  “I want to make a painting about shame. Public shaming has become an element in contemporary life. You can take a picture of someone and post it online, and thousands of people see it. We’re so ashamed, about so many things, and I think for a candidate to be without shame, like Trump, is really powerful. His lack of shame becomes our shame.”

    Finally, there are the remarkable prints created by
Pipelines and Borderlines  https://www.pipelinesandborderlines.org/ It is a non-profit organization that educates the public about the consequences of consumption and production of unsustainable energy."  The group consists of artists from North and South America who create traveling exhibits of  fine art - hand pulled prints that are profound visions of what we are facing.
Heart of the Monster, Ed 2017

      More art please! More images that inspire and move us, that we can rally around. Let art, in all its many forms, be the partner of Resistance.