Tuesday, October 31, 2006

My son Taraz gave me this photograph on Sunday, taken on our trip. He said, "Go ahead and crop it. Do whatever you want with it, Mom." I decided to leave it as it is, him standing in the sunlight, on a most glorious autumn day. I offer these quotes, which are his favorite:

"The first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. Having attained the stage of fulfilment and reached his maturity, man standeth in need of wealth, and such wealth as he acquireth through crafts or professions is commendable and praiseworthy in the estimation of men of wisdom, and especially in the eyes of servants who dedicate themselves to the education of the world and to the edification of its peoples.

They are, in truth, cup-bearers of the life-giving water of knowledge and guides unto the ideal way. They direct the peoples of the world to the straight path and acquaint them with that which is conducive to human upliftment and exaltation. The straight path is the one which guideth man to the dayspring of perception and to the dawning-place of true understanding and leadeth him to that which will redound to glory, honour and greatness."
~ from the Baha'i writings

The Subtle Consolations of War

Theodore Zeldin, in "An Intimate History of Humanity" says that humans have used three strategies to deal with their enemies: fight them, run away, or somehow manage to love them.

The problem with trying to destroy one's enemies , he says, is that it has become increasingly difficult to do so, despite the wonders of high technology. Another factor is that when wars are waged, the fighting can become an end in itself. War remains prestigious as the most dangerous of all excitements.

General Robert E. Lee confessed, "It is good that war is so terrible or else we would love it too much." He made it clear that the skills it demands and the thrills offered can be more important than the fate of the enemy. Zeldin writes, "Even unwilling conscripts, having suffered the terrible torments of the two world wars, have not infrequently looked back on them as the happiest years of their lives, because they found in war what they had searched for in vain in the monotony of their ordinary existence. When they put their lives at risk, they discovered how much they valued life, in its simplest form, much more than the vanities which accumulate around it. When they confronted an enemy they realised how precious a friend was. In the trenches and in moments of danger, comradeship could sometimes achieve the intensity of love, a sense of belonging, a comforting certainty that they would do anything to help those who faced the same perils as themselves, who would do the same for them, oblivious of all risks. Pride in joint achievements, eliminating selfishness and the jealousies of status, was sustained by a determination not to be unworthy of the life and death trust that each placed in his coleague. They had no choice but to transcend themselves, to reveal qualities they never suspected they had, to be more heroic, loyal, proud - even egalitarian - than they ever thought possible, to concentrate the mind so that no other worries troubled them but mere survival, not just for themselves but for those who had suddenly become brothers and who not long ago had been strangers. That at any rate was how some remembered war when its horrors ceased to be present, and they consoled themselves for their sacrifices with the belief that they had found a higher meaning in life, defending their nation or their principles. The brave felt bound together like a nobility, hating the cowards and malingerers in safe jobs away from the front line much more than the enemy. Humans have continued to fight wars not merely because they cannot agree, but even more because so many of them have loved the exhilarating sensations it created. Animosity against enemies has been a steadfast substitute for positive goals in life."

Monday, October 30, 2006

Exploring the Umtanum Recreational Area

The family headed over to eastern Washington on the weekend, to do some hiking and exploring. We chose the Umtanum Creek Recreational Area, about a two hour drive from Tacoma. It's situated in the Yakima River Canyon, between Ellensburg and Yakima. It is a fantas- tically beautiful area, a geologic blend of desert hills and basalt cliffs that rise above the river. Our hike was along the base of the canyon, along a well-worn trail.

There were eight of us - Rue, Annie and Daisy; Taraz, Megan and their friend Alonzo, and George and I. We all wore our backpacks, containing a prepared lunch, and extra clothing for unpredictable weather.

We hiked through groves of aspen, stands of cottonwood, and along a creek bed with beaver dams that required crossing. Although there is a dusty, well-worn trail through the valley, we took a few wrong turns and had fun bushwacking our way back through the underbrush. Taraz found some excellent sticks to help us clear an opening, and he showed us how to crawl through (me on all four, so my hair wouldn't get ripped on snags.)

Daisy was a real trooper, doing quite well on the trails. But when we had to climb over and around some of the big logs, she begged for a little help, not sure of her footing. All of us used big sticks as props to get across some of the beaver dams, or to help pull one another up over an embankment.

Taraz was a delight to w
atch on this trip. He is like a kid, experiencing a place for the first time! He climbed up onto the high ridges, like a mountain goat. Nothing stopped him from getting higher and higher. Then he came crashing down through the shale moraine, sliding rocks, causing little rocks to tumble. When he comes here again, to climb the ridges in the spring, there is an excellent chance he can see bighorn sheep, mule deer, and elk.

We were clearly on 'the wrong trail' most of the 8 mile hike, obviously on an old trail that most hikers found discouraging, so it was poorly maintained. We eventually found a way over to a better trail on the way back, and had no problems hiking through the valley.

Meandering through this aspen grove was delightful.

The leaves on the forest floor were in subtle shades of grey and light yellow. Along the trail, leaves that were still in the shade in the late afternoon still had frost skirting the edges (I've got photos, but they are blurry).

The folage on most of the trees were in brilliant colors, and all the desert plants were beautiful in the sunlight.

We stopped for lunch in a clearing in the forest, midway through the hike.

This is our son Rue. He was listening to music on his headset, bobbing his head back and forth.

And this is Taraz and Megan, arm in arm along the trail. I will say that this was one of the most enjoyable hikes I've ever experienced, primarily because I enjoyed watching all my kids have such a good time. I'm glad they like to get out into nature, soak up the sunshine, breathe the fresh air, and explore.

I have to laugh...the best part of the trip was getting 'lost', and working together to find the right trail, with everyone helping each other. I loved seeing the energy and enthusiasm, with everyone looking out for one another.

I'm very eager to come back to this location in the spring, and climb the far ridges along antelope trails. The view up there is incredibly spacious and wonderful.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Friday, October 27, 2006

A rainbow trout fingerling peers out from the gullet of a northern pike at the Alaska Depart- ment of Fish & Game aquarium in Anchorage. More here.....the best photos of the year on "Immense World".

The Journey Home

Sandhill Cranes ~ by Jane Candia Coleman

We sit on the orange-striped couch,

the old woman in a purple dress,
her face a land of gullies, seams, erosions.

It's not the bowl I bargain for that's important.
What I need is the comfort of women talking.
the sound of words that matter.
What I want is forgiveness
for coming with dollars
to buy the spirit of her grandmother
walled in clay.

I tell her I have seen blackbirds
nesting in the cottonwoods.
heard the call of frogs
from the ruins by the river.
And she tells me the cranes flew over
crying long in the moonlight.

Now we are at ease with one another,
wrapped in the music of migrating birds,
in the spirit of the grandmother
who in her bowl left one line broken--
an open door she passes through.

Photograph by Michael Forsberg - check out his "Winter Images of the Plains"

The Rowe Sanctuary & The Iain Nicolson Audubon Center offers the world's largest concentration of sandhill cranes, located on the banks of the Platte River in southcentral Nebraska. Fall migration is in the air, with waterfowl numbers increasing steadily. Look for some late songbirds, shorebirds, and raptors.

National Public Radio ~ Watching Sandhill Cranes Make the Journey South: On "All Things Considered" host Debbie Elliott interviews nature writer Candace Savage in a field in Saskatchewan. Winter is approaching, and the sandhill cranes have begun their long flight south. As in the poem above, on adaptation, reconciliation and love, the sandhill cranes show their resiliance and adaptation - they've been around for over 9 million years!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Walking Through Old Town - Tacoma

No, this photograph was not taken 70 years ago, when this little house was probably built. I took it yesterday when I was walking along a route in Old Town Tacoma, and I just happened to pass by. I've altered my walking route a little. George and I have been doing some of the hills in Old Town, as part of a 'workout' in the evening together - it gives us a chance to visit for at least an hour, and we enjoy the fresh air.

Most times, our walk is in total darkness, sometimes along cobble-stoned streets. I just know, as I walk along, that I will revisit the area, just to see what it looks like in daytime. I had the good fortune yesterday to bring my camera along as I walked along Carr, McCarver, Starr, and North 30th Street, my main route. I happened to notice that the Job Carr Museum was open, and Nancy Fishburne, the director, was there. She greeted me and we visited for about a half hour.

This is what the cabin of Job Carr looked like in 1869. He built the cabin on the south shore of Commencement Bay, living under a bark lean-to until it was completed. He founded the city of Tacoma, became its first mayor and post-master. When Job heard that the Northern Pacific Railroad planned to bring rail to Puget Sound, he determined to seek the ideal location for the terminus of the railroad. He found this location, and built his cabin. His grown sons, Anthony and Howard, and his daughter, Marietta, eventually joined him, coming from Indiana.

The little cabin that now serves as the museum was built after the fashion of Job's cabin. It has Carr family photos, original diaries and artifacts, period furnishings, early Tacoma history and memorabilia, rotating exhibits, and interactive activities. I took only a few images of the inside of the cabin, which I'll share in the post below. I hope to go back next week and really study the book of photographs, and take in a little more of the history.

Nancy gave me a few brochures to some of the other museums in our area - like a historian would! She was so congenial and enthusiastic. Sometimes, when you visit a museum, in spite of all the obvious delights, there is the memory of the caretaker, and it is this that is so memorable about my visit there. Had I known, when I was a child, that there was a 'job' working inside of a log cabin filled with history, I would have made that a childhood dream - one of the best jobs ever!

The Job Carr Museum in Old Town - Tacoma

Sooooo, you wanted apple pie.......

I used apples we found in the Duckabush Delta, and those little ones are quince, great for jelly.

I Wonder If This Is For Real!

(That is the question Oldeupher, my brother in law, asks, as he sends me this e-mail:)

The following questions and answers were collated from the SAT tests given to 16 years-old students!

Q: Name the four seasons.
A: Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar

Q: Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe todrink.
A: Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists.

Q: How is dew formed?
A: The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire.

Q: What is a planet?
A: A body of earth surrounded by sky.

Q: What causes the tides in the ocean?
A: The tides are a fight between the Earth and the Moon. All water tends to flow toward the moon because there is no water on the moon and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins in this fight.

Q: What are steroids?
A: Things for keeping carpets on the stairs.

Q: Name a major disease associated with cigarettes.
A: Premature death.

Q: How can you delay milk turning sour?
A: Keep it in the cow.

Q: How are the main parts of the body categorized? (e.g., abdomen).
A: The body is consisted into three parts - the brainium, the borax and the abdominal cavity. The brainium contains the brain, the borax contains the heart and lungs and the abdominal cavity contains the five bowels, A, E, I, O and U.

Q: What is the Fibula?
A: A small lie.

Q: What does "varicose" mean?
A: Nearby.

Q. Give the meaning of the term "Caesarian Section"
A. The caesarian section is a district in Rome.

Q: What is a seizure?
A: A Roman Emperor.

Q: What is a terminal illness?
A: When you are sick at the airport.

Q: Give an example of a fungus. What is a characteristic feature?
A: Mushrooms. They always grow in dampish places and so they look like umbrellas.

Q: What does the word "benign" mean?
A: Benign is what you will be after you be eight.

Q: What is a turbine?
A: Something an Arab wears on his head.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

In The Gloom Of Night

"Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form......
When within thee the universe is folded?"
~ from "The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys" by Baha'u'llah.

In the quiet darkness of night, we turn our eyes expectant and full of hope to the morn of God's grace.

This is a favorite prayer of mine, to be said at midnight: "O Lord, I have turned my face unto Thy kingdom of oneness and am immersed in the sea of Thy mercy. O Lord, enlighten my sight by beholding Thy lights in this dark night, and make me happy by the wine of Thy love in this wonderful age. O Lord, make me hear Thy call, and open before my face the doors of Thy heaven, so that I may see the light of Thy glory and become attracted to Thy beauty. Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Generous, the Merciful, the Forgiving."
~ Abdu'l Baha, Baha'i Prayers
~ Artwork by Joseph Farquharson

Boosting The Morale of American Troops

I received an e-mail from my daughter, Ruhiyyih, enclosing this photo of Sgt. Mike Davis in Iraq holding up a photograph of my children! He had just received a couple of care packages from Ruhiyyih, filled with cookies! Sgt. Davis runs a coffee shop in Mosul in his spare time, to help boost the morale of American soldiers there. He uses his own resources to manage it, and he was happy to get the packages of home made cookies from Ruhiyyih.

Brad Brauser, a civilian working in Iraq, took the photo, and e-mailed this message to her: "I passed along your care package for Sgt Davis with the Coffee Shop. He saw me drive up, and walked out to meet me. As I exited my truck with your boxes, he said, 'ok..let's do this fast', because if he stops to think about what you and those like you have done for him, he gets misty eyed very fast! I laugh at him when he does it...and it brings him around. So he was kind enough to stop and take a picture with your special box for him, and I also gave him your small cookie box! The soldiers outside the shop on the patio came running when he said, "home-made cookies!". He's really a great man, and does spend his share of time outside the wire in harms' way, as well as running his coffee shop / nighttime steak / barbecue pitstop for the soldiers."

Ruhiyyih found Brad's website,
"Supporting Troops", wrote to him, and he found a way to get the cookies over to Sgt. Mike for the coffee shop. The end result is a group of happy people, and an astounded mama! Little did I know that when we took those wedding photos of our children on September 16th, that a copy would be in the hands of a U.S. soldier over in Iraq. It makes me realize how small the world is, how everyone seems like a part of the human family, a family we care about.

I thought of the long hours of Brad Blauser, his dedication to the spiritual wellbeing of those caught up in war, and I felt grateful that he has dedicated this part of his life to such noble service. He writes:

"For those who don't know, I'm on a military base in a combat zone. Civilians and soldiers work everday, with civilians working 12-13 hours/day. One cool thing for me is to have the chance to hang out with the troops in the off time. I'm involved in a couple of different projects I started - Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids and Study Bibles for Soldiers. Yep, I'm an man of faith, and feel I've been placed here to help the troops who are seeking answers to eternal questions, since the foxhole conversions manifest themselves frequently during times of war and uncertainty. I'm here to help the guys who have questions get answers to their questions, and nurture them along in their faith as young Christians for those who choose the path."

I feel grateful that my daughter spent her time and resources to reach out to those who struggle so far away. She has sent out about 8 packages now, and one of the recipients, a woman, e-mailed a video of herself receiving the gift, with a 'thank-you'. It amazes me that all of this can be done over the internet, so instantly. Our ability to communicate, to show gratitude and thanksgiving is instant, with a photo or a video.

William S., pictured below, also e-mailed Ruhiyyih. He
wrote: "I visited the chapel services at Mosul, Iraq yesterday and was delighted to receive a package of delicious, home made chocolate chip cookies with your name on them. That was very thoughtful of you to do that for the soldiers and even though I am a civilian working here, I ate them and enjoyed them very much. I am a safety instructor for KBR, a large civilian contractor who provides many services for the soldiers (laundry, food, billeting, electricity, drinking water, etc., etc). I met Brad Blauser several months ago at another base (Tikrit) when he was a student in my class and was delighted to run into him again yesterday at chapel in Mosul. I am from Oklahoma where my wife and I still maintain the home where we raised our 5 grown children. Of course they are scattered to the winds now, but we are looking forward to being together in Oklahoma for Christmas. There is an old Christian monastery from the 5th century inside the Mosul military compound and my safety class went there for a field trip to do a safety inspection and take our class picture. That is me standing in the middle of the group wearing a red shirt."

"I am so proud of our soldiers here who put their lives on the line every day to try to help Iraq build a society built on peace, freedom and democracy while others oppose them who want to build a society built on death, fear, hatred and violence. These soldiers hear so much news on CNN and BBC that their sacrifices are pointless, futile and misguided. They really need to know that there are people back home who support them, love them and honor their efforts. I am delighted to be able to hear from one of them and to enjoy her cookies."

Additional link: Adopt a Chair - provides wheelchairs and other mobility products for people in developing countries without regard to political affiliation, religious beliefs or ethnic identity.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Snake Lake Nature Preserve

Last weekend was such a glorious sunshiney event, unlike the preceeding days of rain and fog. When George told me he had an 'all day meeting' on Sunday, I figured I'd be spending most of the day inside by the fire, with a good book (and I've got one!). But, Sunday emerged quietly, with a silver blue sky, and then it burst into brilliant sunshine. So, how to spend the day... I put my book down, straightened the house and went for a long walk over to the Snake Lake Nature Center.

This little refuge is about a mile from my home, and is a wetland grotto right in the middle of the city. On one side of it there is a freeway overpass, where the traffic surges by at frantic speeds. On the other two sides of it are busy city streets with four lanes of bustling, noisy traffic. One would not think that a few hills and forest, some spongy wetlands with wood ducks and red-winged blackbirds, and a cement trail would be nestled in all this urban clutter. But, someone thought to preserve it, and should you walk far enough along the trail, with its wooden markers pointing out tree specimens, you will find that even here there is the opportunity to observe and wonder.

Quite a few cars in the adjacent parking lot indicated that others thought this was a neat little place too, for an hour's repast. I noticed a father and his son gathering information about trees, with a school paper at hand, to be filled out by the student. Patiently, they turned leaves over and examined berries, in hushed voices, and placed a few specimens in a bag. Another couple walked by, she still in her nursing uniform. I suspect she was on her lunch break, mid-day, and that he was her husband, coming to escort her away for a pleasant interlude. Park Rose Care Center is across the street, and when I worked there, I sometimes did this very thing to get a breath of fresh air on my break.

Since the nature preserve is small it discouraged one man who came wearing hiking boots and carrying a large backpack. He was walking ahead of me, starting briskly, perhaps hoping for some adventure. But, within a few blocks he turned back. This place was too small. At the entrance of the preserve I noticed an old woman sitting on a park bench while holding her small dog. Since pets are not allowed on the trail, she could only sit there at the entrance, and enjoy the sunshine. She had a sack lunch, and was content just to watch the visitors arrive and enter the forest, then return from their excursion. Mothers came with children and babies in strollers. A few high school boys jostled noisily through, and I came with my camera. The old woman seemed quite at home, enjoying this remote companionability.

It was not a good time to photo- graph anything. The light was too brilliant, so I focused my eyes downward, toward the leaves covering the trail. Walk far enough, and the cement turns to hardpacked dirt and pine needles, then a trail through the forest. All the deep shades of color have now washed out and dried up. Under my feet there was the crunch of dry leaves, then a wisp of dust. At the little pond dust lay in a film across the water, and all the aquatic plants were brown and soggy. Even the vegetation along the pond's edge was crisp and brittle.

I walked along an old bridge across the pond. Metal pipes were braced against the left side, holding the walking platform level. The posts were undergoing repairs, and plywood covered rotting boards. At one end of the nature preserve the highway was under repair, and sandbags and tarps had attempted to divert a portion of the little stream creating the pond. I thought how abrupt and unsightly all these modifications were, quite a nuisance and out of touch with the natural flow of things.

I wonder how Snake Lake will look in the spring. Will the repairs be completed? Will the wood ducks and mallards return? Will the old woman sit by the entrance with her dog, and enjoy watching the enthusiasm of the children walking the pathways? I walked home, and since the day was so beautiful, I worked outside in my garden, pulling up the remainder of my tomato plants and composting the spent dahlias. It is the end of the growing season, and already I wonder about spring.

Monday, October 23, 2006

What else did you expect on a Monday morning?

~ Maxine

A Joyful Family Gathering

Taraz and Megan were honored at a wedding celebration this weekend. It included about eighteen family members, friends from Megans work, members of the Baha'i community, and some old, dear friends from Taraz's childhood.

It was held in Megan's parents' home, in the historic district of Tacoma. The house is one of those early finely-crafted homes that aren't made anymore, with the superior attention to architect- ural details like special intricate moldings, a spot of mosaic marble on the floor, and enchantments in every room.

I will have to admit that I didn't take many photographs, but rather used my video camera most of the afternoon, capturing all the friends and family as they mingled in different rooms of the home and out in the patio.

This lovely older home has three 'living rooms', one large formal one with a fireplace, another that seems like a parlor or sitting room looking out onto the backyard garden, and another that is like a den right off the kitchen. People sat and chatted everywhere, even downstairs in a large media room where Taraz showed his video of the wedding. A long divan was against a wall, and families and children took their refreshments down there.

Megan's fraternal grandparents, Allen and Sarah, caught in a relaxed moment at the end of the day when the gathering had subsided, are as gracious and friendly as they appear here. (They would like Megan and Taraz to spend Thanksgiving with them this year, and asked if that would be O.K. I encouraged it, as we have indefinite plans for November - George and I want to fly to California to visit his brother and I'd like to visit my sister Bonnie sometime in late November.)

This is Chris, a friend of Taraz's. He works as a musician in our community, leading 'open mike' in some of the coffee-houses and clubs. He played folk music while friends and family looked through the 'wedding album', finding their favorite memories.
And this little guy did not want to go home with me, in spite of all the little squeezes and conversations we had. He was simply precious, and I would have easily assumed all the challenges of motherhood once again had he done so. But, balloons and his big brother became a major distraction, and our conversation came to naught. He had the most cheerful disposition, and I must admit that a significant amount of my videotaping involved following him around. He is about a year and a half old, and had not seen such a magnificent stairway as was presented by the one down to the media room. I couldn't help cheering him along, as he surmounted each step, then challenged by the next one, alternately frustrated or delighted in the process. I thought the attitudes he brought to that endeavor is what is really required in marriage. It is a matter of learning how to negotiate all the little steps that provide healthy patterns and stability. It requires re-working and re-examining, learning the art of careful thought and conversation. As I watched Taraz and Megan, I noticed that in the short month that they've been married, Megan has become even more beautiful, and Taraz is learning .....to listen! I told him, early on, to be a good listener, as oftentimes in conversations a woman just wants the comfort of dialogue. Some men want short conversations, with the thought being to solve problems quickly. There are significant differences in the tone and intent of both approaches.

When I came home from our family gathering, I continued reading "An Intimate History of Humanity" by Theodore Zeldin. He writes a fascinating chapter on loneliness and how people devise strategies to confront it. He says that everyone needs small doses of diverse relationships, that in order to survive side by side with others it is necessary to absorb a minute part of others, and that curiosity about others is essential to one's very own existence. He shows how the world is not just a vast, frightening wilderness... some kind of order is discernible in it, and that the individual, however insignificant, contains echoes of that coherence. He writes:

"People who believe in some supernatural power have their loneliness mitigated by the sense that, despite all the misfortunes that overwhelm them, there is some minute divine spark inside them: that is how they are immunized. Those who have no such faith can develop a sense of being useful to others, and can recognise a link of generosity between themselves and others, rational and emotional connections which mean that they are part of a wider whole, even though they may be unable to decipher fully its enigmas and cruelties. Much of what is called progress has been the result of solitary individuals saved from feeling totally alone, even when persecuted, by the conviction that they have grasped a truth, a fragment of a much wider one too large to capture. "

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Shelter In The Storm

This is the view out of a little walkway on the campus of the University of Puget Sound. A light rain and a bit of fog kept me company. Most of the students were in class, and far off, in the bell tower, a solitary chime announced 3:30. It was a blissful afternoon!

History Written From A Different Perspective

I'm reading "The Intimate History of Humanity" by Theodore Zeldin. One interesting tidbit, a substantial hope, which will make for good reading:

"What we make of other people, and what we see in the mirror when we look at ourselves, depends on what we know of the world, what we believe to be possible, what memories we have, and whether our loyalties are to the past, the present or the future. Nothing influences our ability to cope with the difficulties of existence so much as the context in which we view them; the more contexts we can choose between, the less do the difficulties appear to be inevitable and insurmountable. The fact that the world has become fuller than ever of complexity of every kind may suggest at first that it is harder to find a way out of our dilemmas, but in reality the more complexities, the more crevices there are through which we can crawl. I am searching for the gaps people have not spotted, for the clues they have missed.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bloomin' Late

Poems by Denise Levertov

When Denise Levertov died in Seattle in 1997, she left behind 40 finished poems in a loose-leaf notebook. She was born in England, but came to appreciate her home in the Pacific Northwest. The first poem is about an early spring day, and the latter about the fog that now shrouds our early autumn mornings....

this day – a young virtuoso of a day.
Morning shadow cut by sharpest scissors,
deft hands. And every prodigy of green –
whether it's ferns or lichens or needles
or impatient points of buds on spindly bushes –
greener than ever before. And the way the conifers
hold new cones to the light for the blessing,
a festive right, and sing the oceanic chant the wind
transcribes for them!
A day that shines in the cold
like a first-prize brass band swinging along
the street
of a coal-dusty village,
wholly at odds
with the claims of reasonable gloom.


I was welcomed here—clear gold

of late summer, of opening autumn,
the dawn eagle sunning himself on the highest tree,
the mountain revealing herself unclouded, her snow
tinted apricot as she looked west,
Tolerant, in her steadfastness, of the restless sun
forever rising and setting.
Now I am given
a taste of the grey foretold by all and sundry,
a grey both heavy and chill.
I've boasted I would not care,
I'm London-born.
And I won't. I'll dig in,
into my days, having come here to live, not to visit.
Grey is the price
of neighboring with eagles, of knowing
a mountain's vast presence, seen or unseen.

~ Denise Levertov ~ from "The Great Unknowing: Last Poems"

The Writing of Poetry by Denise Levertov

(This speech was published in her 1981 prose collection, "Light Up the Cave". )

I was asked to talk about the life of a poet. Some of you will not find poetry at the very center of your lives though no doubt it will go on being a profound resource--both writing it and reading it. Others will find that it is indeed a dominant force in their lives--it has been for me. I started very young. The primary impulse for me was always to make a structure out of words, words that sounded right. And I think that's a rather basic foundation of the poet's world.

Of course, one also is motivated by the desire or need to "express one's feelings"--and it is essential that the poet has something he or she passionately wants to say--or rather, to sing, since poetry is closer in its essential nature to music than to expository prose. But without the impulse to make a thing out of words, as a sculptor makes a freestanding thing out of clay or wood or stone, a poem will remain only self-expression. Poetry is an art, not a form of therapy, and if a person with a love of poetry, a love of language, recognizes this early, it helps. Because then that person's natural gifts will be put at the service of the art, instead of the art being put into bondage and utilized as a "vehicle" for opinions or emotions. The arts are not vehicles, they are not like bicycles or bomber planes!

You just plunge in, not knowing what you're doing, and find that you've done something, made something. It's exciting and encouraging to take oneself by surprise like that. But even a strong talent needs nourishment: don't ever feel that if you read other people's poetry you'll lose your originality. You have to trust it--your talent. If it could be so easily destroyed it wouldn't be worth much anyway. It's useful to be influenced--after a while an influence will be absorbed into your own style. Read widely and deeply. But also use your eyes and ears. Try to avoid vague general statements about your feelings, and instead practice accurate description of things you see. You will find that because you are seeing them through your emotions, as if through tinted glass--blue or rose!--the way you evoke a picture of your street or your friend or the sky will convey more about your feelings than any statement can. And thus another person reading it will feel what you feel instead of just being informed about how you feel. When one discovers that one has a gift for writing poetry it's a solemn and also a deliriously exciting moment. Maybe many moments--because sometimes you don't believe it and then you discover it over again. One feels chosen--and if one has an adequate recognition of poetry being something larger than oneself, one feels a sense of dedication to the calling of poet. It's a secret feeling and you don't have it all the time, but it's there. And because of this dedication a poet learns to revise, to work at his or her poem until it is as perfect as it can be. Not in order to show off, to compete with others, to demonstrate personal cleverness, but for the sake of poetry itself. You can't make a poem happen, but once it begins to happen you can help it become complete. It's a little bit as if the poet were a sort of photograph developing medium, which makes the mysterious hidden image appear from the negative and become clearer and clearer. (You've probably watched a Polaroid photo appearing as if by magic while you look.) This task of working at and with the poem is what really grabs one.

I think the people who go on writing all their lives are those for whom that process is itself utterly fascinating. For the poet, not having written a poem, but the experience of writing it, is what matters. And somehow, if your gift goes on growing and making its demand on you, you will try to find the ways of living that will be most suitable for you as individuals to go on doing your work in poetry--you will find your talent giving shape to your lives.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I'd intended to photo- graph the Cherry Cheese- cake Pie I made, but I forgot!

On The Home Front

I received an e-mail from Annie's mom, with photo- graphs of Annie and others sewing Christmas stockings for our soldiers abroad. Many of the ladies (and some children, including my grand-daughter Daisy) were engaged in this service project, no doubt happy that they were supporting the war effort. They'll be stuffing the socks with personal care items, food, inspirational words, and small toys the soldiers can give to the Iraqi children. The items are specifically for Gabriel DeRoo's unit, as a holiday remembrance from the members of his church.

Over the years, and through generations, women have lent support to war efforts in America. It has perpetuated a history of its own, replete with all kinds of service projects, conservation of resources, victory gardens, and penny-pinching for fund raising.

In the early part of this century, most married women still remained at home, where they managed the household and the family budget, and were influential decision makers. Before the First World War, advertisers often targeted female consumers, while during the war, public campaigns to conserve scarce resources or raise money were often directed at women. Civic and religious organizations pursued ambitious reform agendas, sought improvements in education, and ran campaigns against alcohol. Women's wartime activism included service in the Red Cross and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA).

During World War II, thousands of average housewiv
es diverted part of the family budget to buy war bonds. They learned how to save precious cloth and conserve food. Some women also took on new jobs and responsibilities temporarily vacated by men. Remember the stories about Rosie-the-Riveter?

Katie Grant was one of those women, working in the shipyards of California during the Second World War. Her husband Melvin joined the Marines and was shipped overseas. She writes, "I worked the graveyard shift 12:00 - 8:00 a.m, in the shipyard. I took classes on how to weld. I had leather gloves, leather pants, big hood, goggles and a leather jacket. They said you weld like you crochet. Well, I did not know how to do that, but I could sew and make a neat stitch. We held the welding rod with one hand and the torch fire in the right hand. Placed the rod in a seam and melted it down in a small bead seam and brushed it off with a steel brush. They put me forty feet down in the bottom of the ship to be a tacker. I filled the long seams of the cracks in the ship corners full of hot lead and then brushed them good and you could see how pretty it was. The welders would come along and weld it so it would take the strong waves and deep water and heavy weight. I liked it pretty good. I don't remember how much I got paid for working. Lots of people came to Richmond to work in the shipyards. Lots of women went to work to help with the war. I told (my husband) Melvin later that I helped to make a ship for him to come home in."

However, most of women's war work was confined to tasks that fit within their idealized roles as mothers--nursing troops, sewing bandages, and conserving food. Because men were away fighting the war, it was up to the women on the homefront to coordinate the effort to raise money for the war and to produce and conserve important raw materials.

The First World War's greatest contribution to the nationwide women's movement was in helping to create new attitudes toward the role of women in public life. This helped secure the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 granting white women the legal right to vote.

(Resource: Robert H. Zieger, "America's Great War: World War I and the American Experience")

Posters, University of North Carolina archives