Poetry Challenge 75

January 10, 2012

Deep cold lingers here–our second long bout of it since November.  Coming out of the drowsy holiday season, we’re restless and sluggish, both.  Heading down the dark morning road, fine snow and exhaust swirling behind the cars ahead of us, obscuring the red of tail lights, it feels like we’re tunneling out of a cozy winter den into a rougher outer world.

But then there’s the light, a dusky blue that hangs in the air and lightens gradually as the earth rotates toward the sun.  We’re tilted away from it here in the sub-arctic, as if shy of it and the intensity it brings us at other times of the year.  But we long for it and turn daily toward the spot it dipped below yesterday, hoping that it will linger longer above the Alaska Range, and that we will be alert enough to be outside to see it when it does.  It always stays a bit longer now–three more minutes–and soon we’ll have an hour more of light than we did at solstice.

But we don’t feel it yet, half hibernating in our layers of clothes, still sleepy from the dark.  So write about what hibernates within or what you hibernate within.  What draws you out of your winter cocoon?

Post your poem in the comments here and I’ll add it to this post.

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The View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 6, 2012

The New Year

I had great plans for the winter break.

After the mad scramble to pull Christmas together—cutting the spruce tree from beside the horse trailer, baking three types of pie and marinating and roasting a fresh ham, decorating the tree, and wrapping then opening presents—we had a delightful dinner and sat around playing Apples to Apples till midnight Christmas night.

My plan was to spend the daylight part of each day, between 11:30 and 3, working with the horses, a reminder to them and to me that we had a partnership, that they weren’t just going feral for the rest of the winter.  But, instead, a mass of cold air descended on the Interior and we hunkered down under 30 to 40 below temperatures, stoking the woodstove, eating leftover pie, watching movies, and sleeping a lot.  Out in the corral, Mattie and Sam hung out in their run-in shed, snug in their heavyweight blankets and fresh shavings.  We brought them extra hay during the day, and I added brome pellets soaked in warm water to their usual dinner of soaked beet pellets and supplements.

My great plans melted into a dozy, slow time, interrupted by visits with friends and the occasional fiddling with cars to be sure they kept running.  When we ventured to town, everything seemed quiet except the coffee shop, filled with the people who hadn’t left town for the holidays, all a bit overheated from their layers of clothes, and talking rapidly from the caffeine.   Saturday night, New Year’s Eve, we went to the University fireworks display and stood in the 35 below air, watching the sparks boom and spray above our heads.  In the deep cold, the sound is magnified by the density of the air and the loud rocket bursts tingled our cheeks—all that was exposed—and vibrated the snow beneath us.  We stood, but some well-bundled folks lay back against a snow berm and watched the fireworks blossom in the dark sky above them.  Later, standing around a bonfire, we set off fire balloons or fire lanterns, and I thought of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Armadillo,” which has the lines:

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it’s hard
to tell them from the stars —
planets, that is — the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars…

Something in this dark, cold time keeps turning my mind back to old familiar poems.  Later, when a fine light snow fell through the cold, drifting onto the horses’ blankets, and catching the porch light, speckling the night, I thought of Frost’s “Desert Places,” which starts with the lines “Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast, ” and ends with

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars–on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

 I’m not usually one who makes a list of New Year resolutions.  As usual, I’ll make an effort to get back to my dance classes and winter indoor riding—what passes for an exercise routine—to work off the after effects of two weeks of pie eating.  And, in the weeks to come, as the afternoon lengthens and we have the promise of above zero temperatures, I’ll make the usual plans to get Mattie and Sam fit for summer riding.  The first day of class for the semester is still two weeks away, but I’ve taken on a new responsibility in my department—my resolution there is not to let it overpower the things I love about my life—and to do what I can to solve problems along the way.  And, for the most part, to keep that part of my life out of these posts—which are, after all, about the things that sustain me—horses, poetry, dance, gardening, and the things of the psyche.

Today it warmed up a bit.  It was only 10 below when I fed the horses tonight and we all—me, the horses, the poodle—felt a bit lighter-spirited because of it.  The forecast is for 40 below by the weekend, so I’m keeping the horses’ blankets on for now, keeping the fire going in the stove, getting a little more hunkering down done.   We’ve turned the year.

Nutcracker Season

December 3, 2011

There are three more chances to see the North Star Ballet’s Nutcracker this weekend.  Today at 2 and 8 and tomorrow (Sunday) at 2 in Hering Auditorium.

 

I have been watching the dancers of North Star Ballet for twenty-five years, since the afternoon my son, then seven, insisted that he go to the audition, and Norman, then and still artistic director, looked at him and said, “Well, you’re kind of small but we can find a place for you,” and assigned him the role of boy cherub, trailing behind the Sugar Plum Fairy as she made her entrance onstage.

 

I’ll be going tonight and tomorrow afternoon, watching another set of girls swoop through the beautiful snow scene or dance crisply through the Marzipan.  Nutcracker season is when those who follow our ballet can see the developing potential in the North Star dancers.  A girl who was a gawky soldier one year becomes a graceful snowflake the next.  The girls in Marzipan sparkle their way to Snow Fairy or Dew Drop.  And always, there’s the dazzling Sugar Plum, the one whose dance characterizes the ballet and forms an apotheosis in her pas de deux with her Cavalier.

 

We’ve been having Nutcracker weather, too, the past few days—a warming trend bringing fat flakes of snow falling like pillow down through the dark light.  We’re heading to the darkest days: sunrise at 10:19 and sunset at 3:01 yesterday, the morning and afternoon a long twilight, tinged with pinks and oranges, and a slaty light in the evening sky.   We’re eating more chocolate and oranges now, and driving at slower speeds.  If it weren’t for the toad, work, as Phillip Larkin once said, we’d all be sleeping most of the time, or sitting in a comfy chair curled around warm coffee or tea.

 

Except for small community that forms around the ballet every fall—a hundred parents and volunteers bustling backstage painting on Mouse and Soldier makeup, tying Cherub pinafores and Party Boy ties.  The older dancers are lining up on stage for warmup as I write this, stretching on the barre, getting ready for plies and tendus, stripping away sweats and leg warmers as their muscles begin to loosen under the stage lights.  There will be notes after warmup, then they will bustle off to the crowded dressing room to be ready to be Party Parents, or Snowflakes in the first act.

 

I never get enough of it.  Sitting in the dark auditorium with my neighbors and friends and all the four-year-olds with tiaras on their heads and dazzled eyes and all that luscious music filling the space around us, I can feel the year turn and a sweet nostalgia for each minute that passes. The dancers are so beautiful on stage, so mature in the gesture and posture of the dance; the moments are so fleeting, like Clara’s childhood entering the Land of Sweets.  I don’t even try to fight the tears that always come.

 

After this weekend, I’ll be ready for the season, the deep dark, the warmth that endures through friendships and holiday meals shared, the slowly returning light, just a few weeks away.

 

 

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

November 12, 2011

On Not Writing

Sitting at the kitchen counter, listening to Wha’dya Know on a lazy Saturday morning.  A month has gone by quickly since my last post here, and I’ve been contemplating what has stopped me from writing recently.  I know other writers who participate in National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo—every November, but, for me, November is the month when I finally accept that summer is over and our briefly glorious fall has passed.  A slump month, though this one has been eventful, so far.

Today the sky is flat gray with clouds that stretch down to the Alaska Range, a pale outline, a faintly jagged edge above a slatey line of foothills.  There are chores to do—raking manure, grooming and longing horses, but I’m here with the laptop, drinking coffee, writing at last.

Two Sundays ago, I was washing dishes when a glass, which probably had a hairline fracture that I didn’t notice, broke out a semicircle at the rim, and, when I reached into the dishwater to pick up the glass beside it, sliced open the back of my thumb.  I’ve learned about the emergency services in town, some advances in skin care (such as the pork rind-type substance that sealed the wound and started the healing process), and the power of luck.

Last Saturday, for my birthday, we went to Mark Taylor’s house where he gave us a house concert on his new baby grand.  We sat in his cabin in a room filled with music as the light faded through the birches behind him.  He stopped from time to time to explain what he was playing or to start over, and he talked to us about why he had stopped playing in public and how playing for a small audience (there were four of us) suited the purpose the music was written for.  He dedicated one piece to our friend Joe Enzweiler.

After Joe’s memorial, a strangely cheery event in which friends from all phases of his life in Fairbanks recounted stories, read poems, and played music, I haven’t felt like writing.  Perhaps it’s been that I’ve been busy.  Every weekend has had some Saturday event and, when I can, I’ve been riding at Colleen’s indoor arena on Sundays—at least as long as it’s above 10 below.  But not writing goes beyond grief or busy-ness.  I’ve always had long periods of not writing, sometimes lasting up to a year, when the part of my brain that writes goes fallow.  I have to admit that the world around me seems flatter then; I can look at the sky or the flutter of birds or Mattie trotting in the corral and these things are just what they are, not alive with words.  I love to see these things, but something is different during these times.

This wordless time leads me to contemplate what prompts me to write in the first place.  I think writers write for a variety of reasons: to explain ideas, to gain recognition, to record the life they know—but, for some, there is another reason, a compulsion, a need to frame experience in words, just as a painter frames experience in color and line or a musician in sound and tempo.  In part, I’m reflecting on Joe’s life and poems, which I’ve been reading for over thirty years, and thinking of what drove him to write—the pressure of imagination in his life.  For Joe’s poems always had a moment in them that took my breath away, lines like “the frozen blue you never lost, your halted clock tower eyes.”  When I first met Joe in a writer’s workshop—we were both in our twenties—I would wonder where such turns of phrase came from, as if there were a thesaurus or a trick of mind that could lead me to such phrases of my own.  I came to learn, as our writing friendship grew over the years, that Joe lived his life in multiple tracks—the concrete real world of cutting wood and carpentry and physics, and the invented world of possibilities that ran alongside it.  The invented world, the imaginative transformation of the real world, compelled him, always.

I finally came to realize that my impulse to write was not exactly like Joe’s, that there is no template for writing, but that the desire to channel experience through words is something writers have in common.  When I was a teenager, I believed that if I searched the language, I could find the exact words to translate any experience to the page.  I remember watching a sunset, entranced by the red and orange and the deepening of dusk light, trying out words that could capture the moment in their sound and shape and order.  Much later, I came to accept that words only suggest experience; they are charged with association, but can’t recreate the thing itself.  But they open the writer and reader to the possibility of shared evocative experience.

So, not writing may be, in part, experience exhaustion—in part because the activity of real life uses up some of the energy that words take on in times of contemplation.  Or it may be a gathering up of images for a time when they break loose on the page again.  In any case, now there are words on this blog.

Poetry Challenge 74

October 14, 2011

Tomorrow, friends of Joe Enzweiler gather at the Dog Musher’s hall to remember him and celebrate his life.   It’s been six months since he slipped into the cosmos–and it still seems to me that he will pull up in his rusty Toyota pickup, smelling of stale woodstove smoke, carrying papers under his arm for an evening of reading and food and wine and talk.   Today, in a pre-memorial, I sat with a friend and threw some birch leaves into a small fire–scrap wood and a many-armed spruce root burning in a newly-built fire pit.  We sat in silence, mostly, and I thought of how the memories we leave each other create a unique “self” in the minds of those who care about us when we are separated by distance or time or the great infinite.

So, to celebrate the lives of poets gone on ahead, find a line you like from a poet you like and take the words and toss them into a new poem.  Your words, your images, built on theirs, as we truly do in any community of writers, artists, friends.

I’ll try it and post my poem.  Send me yours and I’ll add it here.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

September 29, 2011

Randomness

A few years ago—or perhaps more—I noticed that my son began using the word “random” to mean “unknown” or “indistinct” as in, “Some random girl walked by,” or “We took a random cab.”  Even writing this, I have a hard time separating the new meaning, the slang meaning, from the one embedded in my English teacher memory.  Random: unpredictable, occurring by accident or without plan, without pattern or intent, as in “The leaves fell in a random pattern, the yellow and orange ones jumbled together.” Or “The dog would appear in our driveway at random times—sometimes before breakfast, sometimes in the late afternoon.”  Adding the term “random” into contemporary vocabulary may be an attempt to reflect the true randomness of experience, or it may be yet another post-modern “joke”—we know the girl meant to walk by and we expected her all along, but we’re giving a wink to the fact that we’re pretending that it is random.  In the facebook/cell phone age, when, as I was told once, “no one needs to plan” everything has the appearance of randomness, but if we all know what each other is doing all the time, it’s really all connected in some way and, however instantaneously, planned, not random.

All this philosophizing as a way of saying thank you to Sue Ann Bowling, Atmospheric Physicist, former dog trainer extraordinaire, animal color genetics expert, and science fiction writer, for choosing this blog for the Versatile Blogger Award, though it’s not clear where this award originated or what it means other than a chain-mail style means of linking readers to blogs and blogs to each other.  Still, it’s nice to be appreciated, and it gives me a chance to note five other blogs on this site.

As part of the award, I’m supposed to note seven random things about myself.  If you read this blog, you know some of them already, but here are a few bits that come to mind.

Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press has let me know that they only have a few copies of my chapbook, We Tempt Our Luck left and that they can no longer afford to keep their publications in print for more than a few print runs.  You can order the remaining copies through their website.   I only have one or two left, myself!

Fall is coming on here, though at a reasonable pace.  The birch leaves have gone from bright yellow to tan and line the roads, blowing up like confetti in the slipstream behind cars.

I almost have my voice back from two weeks ago.  I have been teaching by writing on the board and putting my students in groups to tell me what they know about writing.

Paragraph one is random number four.

Paragraph two is number five.

Sam is perking up with the addition of vitamin E to his diet.  He seems to have more energy and has regained some muscle tone, though I’ve been wrapped up with school, illness, fall preparations, and he’s had to self-exercise.  Mattie, as always, has a velvety winter coat coming in, pure black.  In summer, she’s dark bay.  That’s number six.

This weekend, we’ll harvest the potatoes from their buckets and the long raised bed.  We have purple skinned, red skinned, russet, Yukon gold, French fingerling, and some I-don’t-remember-what potatoes.  I’m guessing we’ll get nearly three five-gallon buckets of them.  We’ll pack them in spruce shavings and keep them in the new tack room, which is unheated but stays above freezing from heat leaking from the boiler room of the house.  It’s actually an arctic entry, but I’ve claimed it for my horse equipment storage and food storage.  OK. Seven.

Then I have to name five more blogs for the award.  Take a look at them, if you haven’t already.  They’re all friends of mine—a versatile bunch.

Alayne Blickle of Horses for Clean Water http://www.horsesforcleanwater.com/  Besides having lots of good information on her site and blog, she’s trained as a photojournalist and educational media specialist.  Her website is a model of good design—as is her farm.

Jamie Smith of Nuggets fame http://inksnow.blogspot.com/ Cartoonist and friend and former and future art teacher.  He posts daily on the art of cartooning, on place, and on the comic traditions of beavers and moose.

Karen Douglas, another writer with a love of horses http://kdsbookblog.blogspot.com/ Good tips on writing and publishing literary nonfiction and poetry.

Steve Parker, Ph D http://jungcurrents.com/ A Jungian on Jung.  A dreamer on dreams.  Randomness.

Emily http://wildrootshomestead.blogspot.com/ my neighbor and small homesteader.  Recipes and tips on gardening and kid rearing of the human and goat kind.

Enjoy.

http://homecomingbook.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/versatileblogger1.png

The Post of Don Sam Incognito

September 21, 2011

Looking back at last year’s blog entries, I see that I have slacked off quite a bit on writing here.  Tonight, recovering from a sore throat that ended with laryngitis, I’ve got a bit of unencumbered time.  Normally, I’d be in adult ballet class, sweating away, but my voice is still gone, my throat still a bit sore, and I decided to stay home.

The leaves have passed the peak gold—I think the best day was Sunday, when Alayne Blickle of Horses for Clean Water was here for a workshop organized by my horse club, University Equestrian Network, with the help of Interior Horse Council, Interior Horsemen’s Association, the UAF Office of Sustainability, the UAF Alumni Association, and Camp LiWa, where the workshop was held.  I’m adding their links so all seven of my readers can check them out.  It was a gratifying collaboration.   Alayne had lots to offer us: ideas for dealing with run-off, ideas for incorporating native plants into a horse property, solutions to manure and mud issues, barn and facility design.  She had the impressive ability to listen to our complaints and excuses about our situations without sounding critical—there are limits to what we can do depending on budget, time, availability of help, but I think we all came away seeing that our horses can be a part of a larger network of growing things.  Here at Mattie’s Pillow, I sometimes look at Mattie and Sam as manure producers—a valuable commodity among my gardening friends.  I can’t always keep enough manure here for my greenhouse and raised beds—especially once spring rolls around.

I took Alayne to see several horse properties while she was here and the blue sky and gold leaves set off the day and the good conversation.  I look forward to following up on the ideas she inspired.

The summer’s riding is pretty much over, though the days are nice enough for trail rides—if only I weren’t sick or so busy at the beginning of the semester.  I’m looking forward to groundwork again this winter, polishing up those areas that have gotten rusty in the rush of summer’s saddle up and go pace.  Sam is looking better now than he did a few weeks ago, now that I’m adding Vitamin E to his diet.  I’ll still have him tested for Cushings—and I’m reading up on all that will involve for him and for me.  It would be nice if his shaggy patchy coat this year could be attributed to a vitamin deficiency, but it hardly seems likely with the fancy supplement he gets (Platinum) and the fact that he’s done so well on it till now.  We’ll see.  An older horse has special nutritional needs, and at the last tooth floating, it seemed like he might not ever be rid of his wave—he’s getting short in the tooth, which is what horses get after getting long in the tooth, since they have a finite length of tooth that grows out and grinds down over a lifetime.

So, I’m shifting the way I think of Sam.  He will probably not ever go back to his youthful glory, but he needs to have a job or purpose for these later years.  He’s too much of a scaredy cat for much trail riding, and he continues to be the trickster in all things.  I may try teaching him actual tricks, now that I have a better understanding of what that takes.  Perhaps learning more about clicker training this winter will help.

As for Mattie, she had a good summer’s training at the Intro A, B, C level.  She’s 15 now, and gradually developing a twist in her stifle at the walk that may be a problem down the road.   She’s mellowed out lots, though still has her ears-back style.  Ground work is in order for her, too, this winter.  I’ll try to take her out on the road a few times before the dust settles and we are in full winter.  It all goes by so fast.

The moon is half full, now, fuzzy behind some low clouds.  A neighbor’s dog has adopted us—she was up on the deck with Jeter when I came home this afternoon, her creamy Lab head peeking below the deck benches beside his curly chocolate head.  She’s young and goofy—I put out a sign on the road and called the shelter to leave my number.  I expect someone is looking for her, but we walked her around the neighborhood, and she doesn’t seem to have a clue where she belongs.  The leaves are spinning down from the trees—there’s gold above and gold below.  It’s a dizzy time, full of smells and motion, brilliant light and deepening darkness.  We’re teetering on the edge of the season.

Poetry Challenge 73

September 9, 2011

Yellow Season

Driving home the other day I noticed how the clouds glowed yellow behind the ridge, as the sun slipped behind the crest of the hill. The air itself filled with yellow light–or a faint yellow tinge–and I began to notice the paling of leaves that leads to September’s yellow days.  By Labor Day, I was driving up the hill to peach-lit clouds, shaded with plum–colors so luscious my stomach growled.  The tops of the birches in certain spots are orange, catching the orange light of the
setting sun and holding it for a while into dusk.  Gradually, the green birch and aspen leaves are taking on  rims of yellow, then whole patches of yellow leaves.  In a week or a few days, the whole interior will be bright with the yellow of leaves.

It’s a short-lived season.  Rain or frost will bring the yellow down, and we’ll hunker in for the short days ahead.  But now the land and trees are gathering up light and we store it in our memories for the time to come.

So, write about how light moves through something–plants, animals, a window.  Or write about what you do now to prepare your inner light for what lies ahead.

Post a poem as a comment and I’ll re-post it here.

Poetry Challenge 72

August 17, 2011

Chores

Still August, here, but that means we’re in the limbo time, the pause between summer’s intensity and fall’s quick drop to cool days and dark nights.  There have been sightings of patches of yellow leaves on the birch trees, and there’s definitely a dark period at night.  Tomorrow, the public school kids begin their school year and the university starts two weeks later.   It’s time to get the chores done that we’ve been putting off all summer.

So, yesterday, we dug a new hole for a railroad tie post to replace a broken four by four that made up part of a pass-through along the fence line next to the horse water tank.  Today, we dug a trench for electrical conduit out to the horse shed–no more “winter” electric cord trailing out to the water tank heater.  Tomorrow, splitting and stacking wood.  Soon, back to the hay fields for the last of the hay for winter.

Write about essential chores where you are.  What are the sounds and smells of them?  What ache do they bring on–in the muscles and in the heart?  What lies beyond?

Post your poem as a comment and I’ll add it here.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

August 8, 2011

Fair Weather

 

Suddenly last night, I noticed darkness.  When clouds cover the sky, a chill fills the space we walk in, here in the Interior.  And the fair is on.  It’s a strong hint that summer is—well, I can’t bring myself to say it.  This summer seemed to start early with a May drought, sunny and warm.  In June, we had July rains.  In July, August rains.  Now that the fair is here, we’re still off kilter, if any summer can be said to be usual in the Interior, and it’s sunny and bright.    Still we have all this week to go till Saturday’s end-of-fair fireworks and plenty of weather to cram in during that time.

 

On Thursday, I take Mattie to the fair for the second year, to ride the Intro A, B, and C dressage tests.  She and I have been working hard together to find bend and regularity, and I’m discovering just how unbalanced my body has become over the years.  I knew this from dancing.  My left-handedness is so strong that my natural tendency is to mirror left for right, and, because I always lead with the left, all the dance injuries I’ve ever gotten are on the left side.  I sometimes forget that I even have a right side.

 

This becomes crucial when riding—especially an inexperienced horse like Mattie.  My right and left legs give different strength cues, and I tend to try to ride entirely with the left rein.  This leads to a pulling match between us, no fun with a half-ton horse.  But we’re working on it and Colleen and Trisha, being inventive teachers, have given me images and corrections till I am beginning to feel when I default to the left side.  When I get it right, bumping her with the inside leg so that she is contained by the outside rein, she flexes her neck and becomes soft and steady in her gaits.  This is happening more often—and I’m realizing how much of that is literally in my hands—and I hope it happens during our dressage tests.

 

As for Sam, he became a little lame a month ago and is just returning from a layoff in time for me to be looking for a second rider to join me on some long trail rides around the hills in our neighborhood.  I’m looking forward to clopping along our dirt roads as the sun slants deeper in the sky, stretching the season out through the time of yellow leaves and the panic of closing down the greenhouse before the first real frost.

 

Till then, the garden is flourishing more than I can keep up with, especially kale, broccoli, broccoli raab, zucchini, cauliflower, and the jungle of the potato patch.  In the greenhouse, I have cucumbers and peppers, but the tomatoes seem to be coming slowly.  I’ve heard that the yellowjacket population crash has made for fewer pollinators, though there have been bumblebees and honeybees in my flowers.  And, after last summer, I can’t complain that there are no yellowjackets since it means I can walk barefoot without fear.  I think that there are several factors in the case of my greenhouse: I got a late start; I mixed manure into the potting soil prematurely or used anaerobically composted manure; and, well, this is right where I was last year at this time.  Keeping a blog has its uses, after all.

 

Today, sunshine.  I am in the last week of my fiction writing class, and the students are producing wonderful work.  We have three nights left, then the fair, then—well, more on that when it comes.  No use jumping ahead to what summer takes us away from.

 


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