** NB: This will be my final entry on THE STREET. Tomorrow, on the first day of 2013, I intend to make my first entry on a new blog IN BEAUTY. I need a new beginning. We all do. '
Nothing to see but streets, streets, streets. Nothing to breathe but streets, streets, streets.' -So said Dickens long long ago, really not so long ago . . . ***
I live in a curious (and beautiful) region where the signs of change are continuous and variable, as I suppose change must be, but still it is sometimes confusing when signs of winter's onset appear simultaneously with signs of birthing spring and the demise of summer.The last leaves are dropping from the Ginko trees and at the same time, the tree branches are prickling with buds. For these trees, winter is a silly inessential comma shoved between summer and spring. Beneath their temporarily barren branches, green green grass is frosty white in early morning hours, but spring bulbs ignore the cues of winter's entry and take
advantage of increased sunlight to proclaim the arrival of spring. The first hyacinth is in full bloom, and its sweet perfume tangles with that of dozens narcissus flowers opening; indeed, some of the earliest spring flowers are already nodding, their bloom finished.What to make of this signatory confusion?
That the signs we read, those we recognize as measures of certain 'truths,' i.e. the reality of seasons, are not concrete markers but flickering shades, anchored not to any concrete reality but tied loosely to shifting context?I dunno.
'Thinking' may help me reorganize this confusion of seasons into a new sort of normalcy, but who knows. There is an argument to be made for recognizing and reading signs, but what happens when the inherent meaning of the signs changes? There are times when signs advertise a spent reality or are written in an archaic language. What then?
I tend to think that we might try abandoning our notions of knowing and instead dive into what surrounds us, swim in it, feel it, breathe it, swallow it, live it. Of course, there are things we need to know, we need to consider, to manage, if we are going to create useful joyful communities focused on the future, but we also need to dive into dream, even if the sign reads STEEP DROP. In this past year, we have all come to the edge of one cliff after another, fiscal or otherwise, and, at times, ignoring the warning signs, stepped over the edge. We haven't crashed yet.
As I write this, I hear my neighbor's wire-wheeled high-polished purple hot-rod fly by at super-speed. I look from my window and see him flash by and note that he ignores the red light on the corner and the one by the school and the one beneath the BART tracks. No one follows. This is not a good 'sign,' I think; it does not suggest peacein the New Year . . .
But is it a sign and if this is a sign, what kind of sign is it? One easily ignored or one arriving with as much vigor and determination as the fragile pink of the hyacinth beneath the leafless still-blooming rose? Is it sign of continued decay, rising anger? A sign of dismay or simple youthful recklessness? Or one of bizarre hope, the extreme hope to get from here to there at speed without crashing?
I suppose it's all in how we read it.
The pink heart above covers a hastily spray-painted swastika, a sign emblazoned on two phone poles at the opposite ends of one block by some misdirected (or angry) individual. Some days later, another more concerned and thoughtful resident (or passer by), stenciled pink hearts over the swastikas, imposing a beauty and grace over disorder and suggested mayhem. The signs shifted and the social environment of the block shifted. Anger was translated into peace.
How do we discover harmonious solutions to complicated life puzzles? By ignoring signs, or by recognizing signs and then re-imagining them, re-purposing them? By translating the negative to the positive? By learning a new language, unearthing a vocabulary of justice, discovering the grammar of love?
Maybe the only solution is to open our arms to life, to wake, to rise, to sleep, to be.
I suppose it's all in how we sing it.
And dance it.
Another storm has swept across the bay -- this one even more ferocious than the last, leaving behind flooded streets, sagging hillsides and skies bluer than they would be without all that grey to prop them up. After the roaring rains Christmas day and the tropical deluge of Christmas night, the parks on Boxer's Day were empty but sparkling, and my little dog and I enjoyed walking alone along the shore.
Well, we weren't entirely alone.
Ducks paddled happily about on the newly formed ponds covering the green expanse of the ball field. Not much chance for Christmas touch football games here, but the mallards with the shimmering green heads and neat white collars are happy indeed.
If only we humans could adapt as easily as do the ducks, if only we might paddle as peaceably in new pools of thought as these pairs of ducks in their new fresh water pools. We might discover that we, too, could find new paths, new ways of being, dive like ducks, happily pulling grasses, finding new solace in old places. But we don't.We just go on, determined to
maintain our ferocious belief in our old stodgy ways of 'progress', believing that bigger is better, more is necessary, but that 'new and improved' attitude as a foundation for living is destroying both the present and the future. It is clear now that if we don't adapt, if we don't scale back, find simpler ways of being, we will destroy the planet.
Our climate is changing with a speed not predicted, and that change is our fault. We have suffered through more extreme climate events
than ever this year, but still few are making the necessary changes in their lives that might slow the change, ensure a healthy future for future generations on the planet. Everyone thinks change is someone else's responsibility, and so storms grow ever more ferocious. And we go on, merrily consuming, consuming, consuming, demanding more oil to meet the needs of this increased consumption, this greedy scraping all there is to scrape from the bones of our Mother earth. The future destruction of the planet is preventable, but I fear we lack the willpower
to change. We are not as adaptable as ducks. Humans want their wars, their things, their luxuries.
If only more people could understand that the luxury they crave is beauty, and that beauty already surrounds them, then perhaps we could protect that beauty, save our planet.
luxury is the planet itself,
the sky wide above the willing land below, white waves on
seas, light after the storm, oxalis in yellow bloom, dry grasses suddenly green, small critters scampering from rock to rock, iridescent plumage of wild ducks, an unexpected shadow, a bright flash of color. The air we breathe.
Why can't we change, understand less as more, be content to enjoy the small moments.
Inside those small moments is a vastness that can fill our hearts and erase the boundaries of our minds.
Walking along the Alameda shoreline, I came upon this offering, left at water's edge in a location that would flood when the tides moved to high. The flowers will float, the melons bob -- for a bit anyway.
How far from shore this gentle offering will sail is anybody's guess, but if it sinks, no damage done.
Flowers and fruit at the bottom of the Bay.
Standing at low tide, staring at melons
placed side by side atop flower bouquets
of the simplest sort, the oddest colors –
chemical blue, electric yellow green –
startling but not as vibrant as the seaweed,
still living, temporarily in air
slicked fast to rock and sea creatures pulled back
into the hollows of their shells, waiting
for the flooding back of sea, as ancient
as the wings of light sparking from waves
are brand-new, color just birthed, rainbow
birds and butterflies. No wind. No sirens.
If Neptune’s here, he’s hidden well away.
Noah too. The ark with all its coupling
sailed away – two bear, two zebra, two birds.
Gone. Two dogs, two cats, two hippopotamus.
Gone. Two melons, two flower bouquets
left behind – cut flowers, uncut fruit, gifts
for Yemaya, Mother of all that lives.
Our mother sea, her arms touching stone cliffs
and sandy beaches, embracing distance
in between, holding us, rocking us -- She --
who cajoles her babies swim lightning fast
on rainbow wings, up from ocean waves to air,
breathe color, swallow light, without dying,
dance dance dance inside the flash of the world.
Anonymous, "Flight of the Peace Dove", driftwood & seaweed on sand
When J.S. Bach lost his beloved wife Maria Barbara to a sudden illness in 1720, he reportedly looked to the sky and cried out, "Dear God, let me never lose my joy." At that time, he was composing his Partita for solo violin in D-Minor (BMV 1004), and some scholars have suggested that the final movement was written in honor of Maria Barbara whom he clearly loved and mourned. She was the mother of seven children, one dying shortly before she did and four surviving her death. We can't know, of course, if Bach really said, "Dear God, never let me lose my joy," or if he wrote the Chaconne
specifically for his beloved, but by listening
to the music
we know he was writing through loss and love. Artists walk through the hollows of their hearts when creating, and the best art blooms from the love found there. Or so I do believe.
Recently, wanting to feel and taste the sea, a friend and I drove up Highway 1 to listen to the heartbeat of the planet. We found it in the breathing waters outside the cliffs of Gualala. Waves are always remarkable, pounding and spraying sandy beaches -- so joyous with their shining sliver spray -- but when deep ocean reaches a shoreline without the gentle slope of beach that encourages the surge of waves, the water swells in great green mounds of longing that speak of an even wider joy, not as transparent or as brilliant perhaps as that wrapped in a perfect wave crashing onto shore but more transcendent, the kind of joy that is linked to loss, the joy that arises when we understand death, know life is indeed short, but exquisite and wondrous. As an artist this is the joy that sustains me.
Anonymous, "Seated Dog" hand-carved on redwood table-top
I always look for such joy as I travel, and I especially seek it in the living art of the world -- the trees, the sea, the boundaries between and in the human art created in situ -- murals, music written as gift as response as joy, sculptures created for and given to a particular place.
I found the driftwood bird of peace (pictured above) on Stengel Beach and immediately fell in love with its grace. Someone (or some several) spent considerable time gathering armloads of seaweed and dozens of bits of driftwood, the bones of the sea and of the land, to create this bird, its giant wings outstretched on the canvas of sand, unafraid of waves, flying flat and high. I found the diminutive dog carved into the surface of a table top looking out to sea, a portrait perhaps of a small dog staring as I stared at the vastness of the sea below. Looking at these two images, I felt grateful for the spirit that allowed these anonymous artists to create these small gifts for those who might visit after they had long gone.
Travelers seeking beauty.
Artist: Earth. . . Materials: Wind, Cypress, years, and morning sky
Art as art belongs to the human world, but we cannot deny the artistry of our great mother Earth. Wind, rain, seasons transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, and the power of such seemingly unintentional 'sculpted' beauty always wraps our hearts. I found these silvered and stubbornly graceful cypress along a cliffside path just south of Gualala. Their invitation was so genuine, so gentle, so determined, that I laughed, grateful for the wind that even on the clearest summer day slices across the cliff edge. Few sculptors can wield the great knife of the wind or the brush of light to create such cheerful beauty as can the planet itself.
Bene Bufano, "Madonna of PEACE," Redwood, metal, mosaic
But hooray for the human sculptors who engage in call and response with invisible sculptors of the sky, matching greetings of the wind with lasting greetings of their own. Bufano's totem, entitled "Madonna of Peace
", is one such voice. First begun in 1962 and finally installed on a high cliff outside Timber Cove Inn in 1969, Peace
is a lasting reminder of human creativity and responsibility. San Francisco artist Beniamino Benevenuto Bufano was eccentric and dedicated; he never "sold" his art. He was a pacifist and one who decried the culture of consumption, one who believed wholeheartedly in the power of art. He resisted all wars with such passion that when the US entered WWI, he sliced off his trigger finger and sent it to the President. He created thorough his heart, made art believing that art the both the power and the strength to encourage the growth of peace in human communities, convince us all that it is far better to celebrate peace and joy than to argue ourselves into an unending state of belligerence and war. Like the trees on the cliff, like Bach's Partita, we too can last in beauty.
mermaid rock looking out to sea in Timber Cove
Garden days have arrived. I simply can’t help myself. As the moon creeps ever closer, as dark becomes more luminous, as morning comes sooner and daylight hours more numerous, I find myself wanting to tend the earth, to help my garden grow and bloom. I crave beauty.
This morning, I woke after strange dreams, thinking I needed to plant a lemon tree – and did,
almost before the day really began. I showered, had a cup of tea, but then left the house before eating. It was too early for the nursery to be open for business so Earnest and I went down to the shore and walked along the beach, amazed by that the waters had pulled even further from shore than I thought possible. Soon it was evident that the tide was as far out as it would go. Standing there, I could see that the waters were returning. I could hear the tide coming in.
The water was moving at such a speed across the sands that it made a brittle yet lacy sound, almost as if hundreds of fairy folk were running their fingers carefully and delicately over the rims of hundreds of tiny crystal glasses, some half-full of water, some with less water than that, some with more. As long as their fingers moved swiftly and lightly along the rim of the glass, a weeping music ran out to the stars. That swiftly disappearing music wrapped me. It anchored my feet to the rocky shore, and then the sun settling onto the ripples of the incoming tide lifted me until I felt as of I were thin-stretched and buoyant, a soap bubble on the wind, a marsh-reed on a star-sea. A very real feeling, maybe even an important feeling, but impossible to describe credibly or usefully.
I soon turned from that swiftly moving tide and drove to Encinal Nursery where I knew they had in stock a number of healthy Meyer lemon trees. Out of the sky, away from the shimmer, and back to the earth. As I drove past lines of cars, through clogs of traffic, I thought again of tides and the hearing of tides, tides that come in swiftly without warning, tides that we cannot describe.
I left the house this morning to escape one of those tides. Spit from dreams, then turning on the radio, I heard nothing except solemn voices remarking war, discussing death, a fierce tide that roared and wallowed like rust, diesel against dusk . . . a relentless uncomfortable tide. I turned the radio off.
The tide of war grinding ceaselessly against the edges of my life is not a sound I enjoy, and so I go to the sea. I stop, I listen, and then, I sink my arms into the earth, dig a hole for a lemon tree.
May it grow and prosper.
Tides turn and so can we.
On those days when the morning talk show on NPR is host to blithering idiots, I walk, looking for another sort of order, wondering if I am going crazy or is the world. Today's Forum show featured two of the most soggy self-important "thinkers" I have had the misfortune of hearing lately; both wanted to "prove" to the rest of us dunderheads that gossip can be a force for good, a useful means of keeping society orderly and well-organized. Nothing either said made any sort of sense. It was all so much twinkie-twaddle trash, dressed up to look like sober new directions in social thought. Ha. I know I would not want to live in a world precisely and maliciously ordered by gossip or hearsay.
Today, I found myself loving the lacy order of the natural world, random perhaps but resonant . . sometimes tattered and torn, sometimes soothingly geometric, lines of geese, triangles of sky, trees in parallel, stacks of stones, and sweeping curves of sea pushed against the sand.
The sea never gossips. It just pushes its waters through deep channels, sucks away sands with currents strong enough to create graceful curves as perfect as prayer is not.
When the moon pulls the tide away from the shore, great lines of red seaweed trace a delicate firm beauty on the sands that stay behind. . . . When tides of gossip pull away, what remains are gaping holes, crashed trust, ruined lives, misery.
What brings order to my chaotic world is never gossip. It is instead the sympathy of distance, mountains made light by a floating line of ducks and a settled row of rocks. Gossip is just flotsam and jetsam, so much plastic trash to be raked, sorted, and bagged.
When skies collapse, the earth breathes. Storms redraw our world by erasing distance and focusing shadow, highlighting as essential those tiny details more easily missed on brighter crisper wider days when what I notice are the broader strokes – the slant of the sun and the growth it encourages, fragile leaves, unfolding flowers, green hills, and all that rolls and rattles toward unreachable horizons. On sunny days, I am electric. My skin leaps out.
It may seem strange (even improbable) but on sunny days, I feel as if the wind offers me wings cut from the furthest edges of the sky and when I slip them on, all that blue above stretches my spine until I’m sure I’m on my way to stars, pulled way past the tops of trees. On stormy days, however, when blue skies are layered deep in grey, I am compressed, rolled into the earth. I feel in danger of short circuiting, blowing necessary fuses . . . fortunately for me, I guess, I have discovered in this new non-fuse virtual world of motherboards and cloud computing, fused circuitry is easily replaced with the imaginary.
The Golden gate gone silver grey
So let the fuses blow. As the rain draws in the details of otherwise dusty trees, washes clean the stones beneath, I fold into my heart, restart the dream.
That doesn’t mean I use rainy days as excuses to curl up under piles of blankets. When the rain came, I was up early and out early, anxious to discover some of those focused shadows, made more visible by changed light and the close quarters of a newly shuttered world. Like Francis Bacon who wrote in Novum Organinum that knowledge is built usefully from observable detail, I seek detail, knowing those details as representative of emotional states, collective decisions, that are at first invisible or insecure to the observer, but I never enter into a day certain as to what that day will offer me. I cherish that insecurity and what it yield, and here I part from Bacon and his belief that If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties. I share his interest in doubt but have little interest in certainty.
Indeed, I have never encountered it.
What is missing is remembered
On this day of rain, I was hoping for surprises – spiders descending suddenly from rain-sogged pine boughs, shiny stalks of mushrooms pushing through previously dry soil, inexplicable blooms of earth and stone that might recall those pitch black airy explosions that happen on the hot bottoms of ovens when yams burst and drip sugar-sweet orange flesh onto metal. Of course, I found none of that. What I did find was detail revealing a much larger picture. Imagine, for example, spying the spoke of the wheel belonging to a chariot so huge, so fast and powerful that it might erase the distance between earth and sun in less than the amount of time than it takes for a poppy to unfold ts petals. I found distant views brought close, great trees bowed down, cities compacted by roiling clouds, light collapsed by dark. That kind of detail.
Sometimes it is very necessary to see small bits of the larger picture up close – especially in these times when the world seems to have lost all reason. How can it even be possible, for example, that Newt Gingrich is even being considered as remotely presidential? Now there's a detail that troubles me.
There he sits, beefy red, a detail focused by the fog, a festering sore on the body politic, a man who declares (and believes) that he “articulates the deepest felt values” of American voters. I certainly hope not, but as someone who understands how specific detail can reveal the larger picture, how a flower speaks the spring, how a tree etched into a rain-swept sky can outline the days of drought it has endured, I tremble. I hope this boorish man is not representative of American thought and deed.
Who would support a sadist who wants to expand Guantanamo Bay and advocates for “enhanced interrogation procedures,” i.e. torture, and a two-tiered justice system that includes military tribunals? Who would even listen to a homophobic man who as the co-author of the Defense of Marriage Act speaks hatefully about same-sex marriage and seems to feel that it might be good idea to reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? Who would even offer to listen to a miserable misogynist who supports a ban on granting Federal funds to any organization offering abortion services? Who would pay any attention at all to such a hater of freedom and free speech who believes the Patriot Act is a good thing and wants to expand its powers to provide closer and more intense surveillance of American citizens? Why would anyone vote for a mean-spirited narrow-minded man who supports the re-establishment of orphanages to save on welfare? How can there possibly be folks who would think it a good idea to have a man in the White House who abandoned his wife because “she’s too old to be the wife of a president and besides she has cancer”? Have Americans become so heartless, so cruel, that they would consider voting for such a mean man, or are they just impossibly stupid, ignorant of the man’s words and acts?
the greater weight, the lesser freight
The Devil may well be in the details, but I have to believe that an awareness of those details and the larger picture that they represent can build useful knowledge, even wisdom, something that some might call salvation. I believe that to look closely is to remember well, making bold revision possible.
And so I rest my eyes (and my heart) on details that remind me of the power of the earth. I watch waters move from the ocean into the bay, think about the great distance those waters have traveled, recall the healing power of the sea. I watch rain drip from leaves, soak the earth below, and think of the simplicity of growth. I know when I am walking uphill under trees, watching the waters of the Golden Gate, I may be engaging in a sort of escapism, experiencing a kind of foolish hope, but I cannot allow myself to drown in the putrid swamps revealed by the pockmarked detail of mean-spirited nasty folk like Gingrich.
By early morning, the Great Storm of the winter season, scheduled to arrive several days ago, has finally produced a shift of heavy clouds that trap the glow of sunrise for more than an hour after it would have ordinarily faded from the sky. I snapped this photo just after 9am; the sun rose at 7:22am.
Trying for rain
By mid-afternoon, when the rain finally arrives, I sit on the porch in the grey drizzle, tasting the outside of the storm and watching the street. Across the way, a young woman wearing a bright turquoise ball cap –
the brightest spot in all this grey – slouches down in a late model sports car, parked at the bus stop, talking on her phone. When the street sweeper rumbles up behind, she swings her car around to the other side of the street and then back again. When the bus slows and pulls to the curb, she flips on her headlamps and drives away. Her rhythm (or lack thereof) is emblematic of this rainy afternoon -- few cars, fewer people, and little sound other the rattle of the trains passing on the overpass at the end of the street. The rain -- gentle, breathless, and almost invisible -- has emptied the street. My dog has gone to sleep. Maybe I will, too.
At first, I think she thumbs her nose at the yachts,
but when I look closely, I see she breathes, deeply
slowly through one nostril at a time, drawing the fog
into her body until her left leg lifts from the ground
and floats like a sail behind her. When she drops
her hand, her leg falls down. A pigeon flies up.
I watch as a woman lifts her right hand to her nose.
another woman stands barefoot, her trousers rolled.
She turns the faucet until the water runs strong,
then leans into the stream, splashes water
to her face, pulls back, allows the water
to flow away, soak the sand. She stands back,
bows quickly three times to the empty faucet.
She doesn’t turn away, doesn't scrub her feet.
At the outdoor faucet, nearest to the beach
to the fog but leans down to fan piled bird seed
into the air. A near-by clustered fist of pigeons
expands across the green, chasing the seed.
I go home.
A third woman at the edge of the bay keeps her back
Finally, it is 2012, a year that promises new beginnings, great wonder, much joy, and lustrous days.
If today was an example of what we might expect in the New Year, bring it on. What a gorgeous day -- clear warm and lucid. Mustard blooming white and gold by the roadside, exuberant waves breaking down to lace, delicate sun, kissing winds, great floppy elephant seals sunning themselves on the beaches, and the happiness of dogs.
Always the happiness of dogs.
Happy New Year, one and all.
May the coming year be as marvelous as any of us might imagine. May we all find ourselves lost in blue skies, shouldered into ocean waves, ankle deep in blushing sedum, blooming yellow gold and pink.
Life is good.
May there be Peace.
Everywhere there is happiness.
I am happy to be at the beach, happy to be sitting amongst the washed pebbles, searching for bits of greenstone. The ocean waves are wild, rambunctious and insistent. Great walls of green water roll over and end as a shimmer of lace that settles easily on the sand. I am made happy by the erratic rhythm of the sea, the deep voiced tumble of water against sand, the reedy whistle of the wind. There are children running on the beach and happiness.