Posts Tagged ‘spring’

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

February 15, 2012

The Ides of February

Just past Valentine’s Day, and we’re still relishing mild temperatures, sometimes in the thirties. We now have eight hours and some odd minutes of daylight and it’s beginning to feel like spring; n fact, we were warmer than Orlando over the weekend. After the long weeks of below twenty below weather—with a string of days where it hit fifty below in the lower spots in the Interior—we’re all a bit giddy and, groundhog of not, ready for spring.

I just read an entry I wrote last year at this time, though, and the temperatures had dipped to thirty below again. I am forewarned.

It’s a time of year when we are all a bit groundhoggish, sticking our figurative noses up out of our hibernation of spirit to test the air and see if we can really hope for warmer days—even summer—ahead. Last weekend a group of us came out of hibernation to gather at a the Four Winds Foundation for a day of writing and sharing, guided by poet, and my long-time mentor, John Morgan. I don’t usually go to these retreats, but I went because John and my friend Jean Anderson, who writes marvelous stories of the inner life, were going to be there. It was delightful and comforting to be in their presence, to be writing after this season of not much writing, and to be hearing the work of other writers, some of whom I didn’t know. At the first prompt, I wrote three drafts of poems, then continued to write several more, some of which I’ll keep. It was a good start to the weekend which ended with an afternoon of intense corral cleaning, making up for weeks of neglect when it was just too cold at thirty below to grip a rake and shovel.

I’m feeling my energy returning, but it will take a while—sticking with my dance schedule and starting riding lessons again—for my sluggish body to shed the deep lethargy it’s sunk into this winter. As I talk to people around campus, I hear the same story—a sleepy inertia bordering, for some, on depression, set in during the time between Thanksgiving when we had the first bout of deep cold, and, well about a week ago when the cold broke. This may have something to do with the lack of entries here, come to think about it.

Mattie and Sam made it through the cold well, with their thick coats and the warm quilted blankets I’ve collected for them over the years. We went through a bit of hay, but mostly I supplemented their night feeding with brome pellets soaked in warm water to add to their hay intake. They are still on a bit of lay off till my schedule settles down and the light lingers a bit longer in the evening. By next week I should be able to get home and still have enough light to groom and longe them in the afternoon.

Today, as I pulled into the driveway, I heard what sounded like gunshots, but was really someone shooting off rocket fireworks nearby. Sam and Mattie began trotting around their sides of the corral; I could see the colored sparks rise and fall in the air above the corral. Even after the noise stopped, the horses kept trotting, cantering, generally larking around as if the noise were merely a convenient excuse for a bit of play.

We’re all ready for the spark of an excuse; spring is somewhere at the end of another month or two (or three) of winter, but we can feel the first nudgings of it now.

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The View from Mattie’s Pillow

May 25, 2011

We’re into full green-up now.  Just a week and a half ago, everything was still so brown that we all fell into a funk.  The land was stripped of snow and no green leaves or grass or flowers had yet dared to grow toward the sun.  But not now.  The last few days have been in the seventies and, being Alaskans and tough enough to walk out in forty below, we griped about the heat.  But not for long.  The lingering dusk/dawn, and the brilliant daylight have increased our energy and our vitamin D levels to an effervescence.

Still, spring has its perils.  Though grass in my lawn is growing inches a day, by last Friday there was plenty of last year’s dead grass and brush on the ground in the woods in the surrounding hills.  On one hill, Murphy Dome, a fire flared up and filled the sky with smoke.  From Ballaine Road, I could see the smoke roll up into the sky and see the darker smoke where a tree went up or where fire retardant was dropped.   I know lots of people who live in that area—in fact, I had trailered Mattie and Sam over to Colleen’s new riding arena on Murphy Dome Road the day before, and, until I realized that the fire was not near her place, felt a chill of fear for her and her horses.  As it turned out, no homes were lost, though several friends had some worrisome moments watching the water dump planes fly overhead.  Our firefighters were right on the spot and even managed to put out a fire on the other side of town at the same time.  But the heat and the long dry spell we’re in have us worried and nervous for the fire season to come.

We go on.  The light lulls us. It’s hard to be too blue in this weather—at least that’s how it feels to me.  Tonight, as I write this, I’m also thinking of a former student, Matt or Soup, who decided that he’d had enough on Sunday night and left the planet.  Perhaps he experienced his own personal apocalypse; it’s hard to tell.  It’s another in the long line of sorrows that have formed an undercurrent to the spring.  It’s an inexplicable thing, but depression has its own logic.  I wish everyone could love plants or horses as I do and be healed by them.  I wish that the sense I have in this season of the energy of growing things pulsing along could buoy up everyone I care about.

Perhaps the allure of owning animals and growing plants it that it gives us the opportunity to create a micro-universe where our best intentions can have some good effect.  Sam, I tell people, would have a much worse life if I weren’t taking care of him—he’s not lame anymore and he’s trusting me more than ever.  Mattie, too, with her sense of her own bigness and her fear of pain, would not fare well with someone else, perhaps.  They’re better off in my corral, I tell myself.

But what of the humans we care about?  Could anyone’s best intentions have saved Joe’s magnificent brain from cancer?  Could anyone have stopped Frank from shoveling snow?  And Soup—could anyone have read behind his smile, his goofy kindness to see how hurt he was and where it was driving him?

I’ll keep planting cabbages, squash, carrots, kale, peas, beans, and all those pansies I bought at the greenhouse the other day.  I’ll keep transplanting tomatoes till all my little plants are in their big square buckets where they’ll stay all summer.  I’ll keep hoping for the best.

Poetry Challenge 68

May 10, 2011

Pasque flowers

We’re still in a holding pattern for spring.  Every day, the sun heats the air enough that we can go out and about without our jackets, but in the shadows, a chill still radiates from the frozen ground.  Gardeners are restless.  A friend described his impatience to get on with the matters of summer by digging a fence post hole, and found that he could only dig a few inches down before hitting frozen dirt.  The garden looks bedraggled in its fall mulch or the bleached stalks of the last broccoli I couldn’t bear to cut down before last fall’s snows.

In the midst of all this brown and our impatience with it, I looked up on the steep bank above my house and saw that my pasque flowers were blooming, always the first sign that spring will come.   They are a perennial, shaped a bit like a fuzzy crocus, purple with yellow centers, there against the brown dirt of the cutbank.  They will last a week or so, then the rest of the greening up will start in earnest.

I have a fondness for purple flowers–the pasque flower, the irises that will follow–and I’m a sucker for purple garden vegetables: purple broccoli, cauliflower, string beans, carrots.   Write a poem about a color that has meaning for you–that repeats itself in your life or in your dreams.

Post it in comments and I’ll post it here.  And maybe,  now that finals are coming to an end, I’ll post one, too.

Poetry Challenge 67

April 28, 2011

After a month of sad news, the snow is melted and the temperatures are above freezing pretty much consistently.  We’re in what passes for spring in the Interior–the brown-up period of mud, dead grass, and January’s trash come back to remind us of winter’s events.   The air is warm and moist after months of dry and bitter cold.

In her blog Wild Roots Homestead, my neighbor, Emily, writes of her toddler’s reaction to seeing the dirt emerge after a whole winter’s snow.  “What’s that?” she asked, and Emily said, “It’s dirt, remember?”

So write about something that was once as familiar as dirt, but now seems new and strange–full of possibilities.

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

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This came from Karen at KD’s Bookblog:

At the Level of Dirt

Until Gram died when I was seven, I lived
at the level of dirt—powdery and dry
beneath the overarching honeysuckle
near the porch, drifted deep into cracks
of the empty carriage shed, scuffed
and tamped hard beneath my rope swing
hanging from one of four huge sugar maples.

The long gravel driveway ended in a patch
of yellow sand where I traced thin roads leading
nowhere. Our narrow blacktop circled
to the village either way. Side roads
without signs suggested nothing. Mostly,

Gram and I walked through the hayfield
and crossed a low stone wall to visit
Millie Stuart. She and Gram listened
to their stories on the radio. Millie died
first and her husband, Cecil, burned
things in a barrel. Ash drifted upward,
pulling my gaze away from the ground
where I stood, rooted and uprooted.

Karen Douglass

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

April 17, 2011

The Cruelest Month

The days are warmer now—in the 40s (Fahrenheit) but in the teens at night.  In the corral, the snow is melting and compacting to hardpack ice, and gradually all the manure we didn’t manage to collect throughout the winter—first the ice storm, a series of deep snowstorms, several flus, and other distractions—is emerging in ragged brown mounds through the ice.  Sam looks pretty ragged, too.  His gloriously long teddy bear coat is coming out in clumps and hangs from his belly in a ratty profile.  I was afraid that there was no horse beneath all that hair, but after much work with the shedding blade, his fine short summer coat is emerging and with it his aging athlete’s muscle definition.

As Eliot says, “April is the cruelest month”—for there have been a string of deaths that have emptied out my reserve of grief.  The most recent, yesterday, was my long-time poet friend, Joe Enzweiler.  Joe has been struggling with brain cancer for the past two years—who knows how long the tumors had actually been there, but by the time they were diagnosed, he was on a slow slide off the slippery slope of the planet.

Joe trained as a physicist, but always wrote poetry and, when I met him, he was one of the brilliant young men in a writers’ workshop that also included Dan O’Neill, Linda Schandelmeier, Jean Anderson, Patricia Monaghan, Gerald Cable, Elyse Guttenberg, and me.  Joe was the one whose poems always seemed to contain a vocabulary that flew off the page to somewhere unexpected.   He was tall and wiry with an unruly tangle of blonde hair and an elusive quality—he would leave town for his brother’s farm in Kentucky nearly every year, so that he seemed to have the Cheshire quality of appearing and disappearing.

He managed to make a life for himself in a cabin he built among birch trees on Old Cat Trail.  He had electricity, but no running water, and he heated with wood.  One of the ways he meditated on the nature of this world and generated poems was to head out to his woods with a Swede saw and cut small trees—thinning out his patch of forest—which he stacked in a mosaic pattern under his porch.  He also stacked rocks, and had a years’-long project building a fieldstone wall through his brother’s Kentucky property.

Joe believed writers should write, no more, no less.  Because he had his land and could do carpentry work in the summer, most of his time was spent just writing—or running, or reading, or cutting wood, or engaging us in long conversations that drifted along as if there were no other demands on either person’s life.  Talking to Joe could make you feel that work was an indulgence, a distraction.  The true work was the written word.

Joe and I had a years’-long habit of getting together for Poetry Thursdays.  It started when he needed help navigating a computer version of one of his books—what to do about margins, fonts, etc.  It evolved into sometimes his reading aloud new drafts of his developing memoir, or my reading him new poems or horse essays.  He took the manuscript of my book and chapbook and gave me useful suggestions on poem order, sections, and the paring away of words.

Every Christmas, we would go to Joe’s place to thin out a spruce from “Joe’s Tree Farm.”  We would stop for tea first, then head out in a rush to find a tree before the waning light left us.

Now, he has left us.  “So many,” Eliot says, “I had not known death had undone so many.”  But Eliot’s words still live—and so will Joe’s.  And he was right: writing (or art or whatever we can create out of our own uniqueness) is the true work.  The rest is distraction.

Poetry Challenge 66

April 8, 2011

On Friendship and Transience

The days are warmer now–in the 40s (Fahrenheit), and a fresh snow has fallen on the melting snow, covering all the emerging dirt, spruce needles, scraps of paper.   I am glad of this warmth, even though it’s relative.  And I’m thinking of transitions.

I learned yesterday that my friend Kim had given up the struggle of her last days and slipped off into the vast ocean of consciousness–an image I once heard from a Buddhist monk.  I have been grieving her going for over a week now, and to learn that she had finally let go was a relief–followed by these warm bright days.

I still have not written the longer piece I want to write about her, but, for now, am thinking about transition–winter to spring, seed to plant, wood to fire, being to non-being, or as Faulkner put it “Was. Not was.”  Write about something in transition–the moment before the bird alights, the pause before sunup, the day before the river breaks up.   Write about things that are so transient they are lost before we have time to realize they have been present.

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

—————————————————————-

Here’s one from an old friend, Larry Laraby;

Recipe for the perfect ‘Life.’

Indifference
Apathy
Fear
Pain

Strip
Salt and pepper
Sift
Simmer
Bake

Kill the beast of indifference,
Strip the beast of its apathy.
Cut the pain of sorrow from
The flesh of oppression.

Salt and pepper to taste

Sift the fear from the first blush
Of innocence. Combine equal parts
Of love and forgetting
And stir in a generous helping of hope.

Bake at the speed of light,
Sprinkle with grace
Let cool until Autumn colors the days with memories.

Larry Laraby (1-21-2010)

 

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

March 31, 2011

My grandmother has been in my dreams lately.  She was a woman who painted, gardened, swam daily, and taught me to eat with the right fork.  I’ve been puzzling over her sudden return to my sleeping life.  Then, this week, I learned that a dear friend I met in my twenties, a painter, calligrapher, gardener, who also knew about the right fork and who spent her entire life living her own way, is in hospice care with terminal cancer.  Now, it seems clear that, in the way of dreams, she and my grandmother have conflated and that she, Kim, was tugging at the fabric of the collective unconscious to let me know that she was in this transitional time.

I will write more about Kim later.  Some of you reading this blog know her, by coincidence.  She would be abashed to know that I am writing about her.  For now, I’ll post this recent poem about my grandmother and, I see now, about Kim McDodge.

——————————-

I Dream of My Grandmother in a Frank Lloyd Wright House

 

The roof pebbled flat,

the rectangular windows,

white stucco walls.

 

Inside, the light, underwater green,

filtered through curtains.

 

I find she

isn’t  home.  She has gone

somewhere interesting

in a big car.

 

On the table:

her bracelets, a necklace,

a few crushed tissues,

a filmy scarf,

dull gold.  And pens

and magazines, detritus

of a life–

 

she can’t wait any

longer for me.  I stand

with my intentions

smelling the stale air

in the house—or

is it the exhale

of her impatience

as she gathered up her keys?

 

In any case, she is off,

driving away

her own self, now,

headed to a gathering

of clear minds

 

 

Poetry Challenge 65

March 22, 2011

We are well into the season of light here in the Interior.   Everywhere, the sun intensifies the whiteness of snow, or gleams off the slick patches of ice still on the road since November’s ice storm.  The air is warm during the day–or warm for us, in the 40s.   On the south-facing sides of snowbanks, the light is carving away the packed snow into the shape of a wave, arching and crashing slowly, in one-frame-at-a-time stop animation, into summer still months away.

Today I heard MFA student Eddie Kim present his poetry thesis and thought about how his poems both invited the reader, like the March sun does, and kept the reader at a distance, like the ice patches, or the below zero nights.   A poem lures us in then pushes us back, surprises us, or challenges us.  Do we make the meaning for the reader?  Is the meaning only in what the reader brings to the poem?  Or like  sun on snow, do we carve a new shape, a new vision for the reader so imperceptibly that he or she is moved without even knowing why or how?

Write about something that moves you and something that pushes you back.  Write about something beautiful in something unlovely.  Write about the profound in the ordinary.

Post it as a comment and I’ll add it to this post.

——————————

Here’s a poem from Greg at 21st Romantic:

Makeup

She paints herself
in long lines
and short punctuations of color, swings
open drawers, blasts

the hairdryer through her
thick black hair, hair as heavy
as night, not like
the light fluff

of shadows. Her lancing–so
purposeful, so
crafted, as if
appearance could be everything

in Art–pricks a
question: how much
does appearance matter
to an Artist? Is she

like a cook
protecting a secret ingredient?
The same ingredient mothers
stir in potatoes? And so what

more could he offer her, then? As he
drapes his arms over her
shoulders like two long, white locks
of hair, curling; both faces

reflect in her vanity
mirror, smiling. What was the man guarding
when he instructed her, “look at the us that we
will never be”?

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

March 8, 2011

Still thinking of John Haines.  The days are brighter now.  The morning sun glows through the glass southeast wall as I sit with my back, warm, to it, grading a few more papers and sipping coffee with honey.  In the late afternoon, returning from classes, meetings, e-mail, I head down the straight east-west course of Chena Pump Road, built, so a railroad friend tells me, along the old railbed of the Tanana Valley Railroad. The sun is high enough around five o’clock to flare in my eyes, driving straight into it, and the ice still thick on the road from last November’s three-day ice storm shines in a mirror of the sun’s glare.

 

Sunday night, coming home around seven from a gathering, I noticed that the light in the sky was soft pale blue, a bit yellow toward the hills where the sun had set an hour before.   This is a tender light, silvery in texture, that lingers longer as the days edge toward spring and summer.  This is a light that passes quickly in places closer to the equator, but that those of us who live here relish—it’s a light that is soft as a slow exhale into spring.

 

I thought of John that night as I drove through that light along a four-lane highway past a cluster of box stores, most less than five years old, none more than ten years old.  John hated such things, though he liked his comforts when they were offered to him—a good meal, someone’s car to drive, an apartment with running water.   For the twenty minutes it took me to drive home, I watched the sky darken, imagining how he might have seen it.  The light, a complex mix of pastel blues, pinks, yellows, spread ahead of me to the west.  The spruces along the ridgeline as I drove closer made a dark jagged line like teeth or fur against the palest light.  The slim fingernail of moon hung low and slipped gradually toward the western hills. For the sixty some years John lived in the Interior, he had seen these things, or sights like them—but had seen them without fast roads or chain stores, even after they were built.  To him, the development of recent years was a temporary phase, while the land was—is—enduring.

 

It occurred to me, on that drive, that I had let the vision in John’s poems–the spare images of the north, its wildness, its curmudgeonly truths, its tenderness toward the fellowship of others in this difficult place—dim in my own passage through winter and summer.  After all, I live in—or pretty near—town.  I spend my days in a large institution surrounded by people and infernal computers.  I’m keeping this blog, if erratically.  John was a typewriter man, the manual kind with all the satisfaction that pounding on the keys could bring.  I think that, in recent years, he may have learned to write on a computer, but I know that he didn’t hesitate to share his distrust of modern technology, even while he made use of it.

 

John was a complex, difficult man, but now, with him a week gone, I find him in the spikes of spruce, the bite of cold in the morning, the gleam of March sun on snow.  By the south window, chickadees and redpolls dart up to the bird feeder.  The cat sits watching, tipping her head toward them as they swoop up and away.  I see the gray topline of the Alaska Range, irregular along the south horizon.  The valley and the flats stretch white, cross-hatched with darker spruce, all hundred fifty miles to the foothills of those peaks.  Out there, a musher may be following a trail John or someone he knew once followed.  The dogs rush on, panting, eager to lick at the wind they make.  The musher holds the sled and runs and rides behind.  The sky arcs over, darkening, with a hint of aurora, the ghosts of ancestors.  There’s John Haines.

Poetry Challenge 63

February 2, 2011

There’s more light on the corral every day now.  Each afternoon, as I leave campus, I take the measure of it–the level of dusk at 5 o’clock, or 4.  Soon, I’ll be able to come home with enough daylight to begin an evening longeing routine for Mattie and Sam, to get all of us in shape for riding season in May.

Last night, I ordered seeds–radishes, my favorite Chianti Rose tomatoes, Laciato kale, zukes and yellow crookneck squash, and an assortment of flowers that I may be able to convince to grow on the steep bank behind the house.

These are all signs of the easing of the season–and then there’s Groundhog Day.  I wrote about it here last year or the year before, but it’s a holiday that has a certain resonance in my memory of being a teenager in Central Pennsylvania: the smell of mud and manure, anticipating the first crocuses, and the ludicrous seriousness of the Slumbering Groundhog Lodge in Quarryville, PA.  I tell the story to my students every year–how the groundhog sees a blinding flash of light, sees his shadow, bolts back into his hole, and we have six more weeks of winter.  Or he doesn’t see the shadow and we have six more weeks till spring.  In either case, here in the Interior, we have three months till break-up, so we look for other signs–our moods lift, for example, as the sun cycles higher above the horizon.

You may be socked in with snow right now of mired in the bad news of the world.  What images keep you hopeful of spring?

Post a poem in response to this challenge and I’ll add it to this post.


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