Saturday, January 31, 2009

Doughton State Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina 1.11.1996: Luminous Hills, Rested Souls

At Doughton State Park, Blue Ridge Parkway. We’ve not been here quite this late in the fall. I quite like it now. The soft muted colors after the leaves have fallen are restful and healing. They seem to reach right into my soul, in an immediate way.

I don’t know quite how to put the point. It’s as if my soul’s alive in a new way to what previously it could receive only in a mediated way, through thought, reading, reflection, mental processing.

That feels good.

If only one could get beyond oneself, to the soul beneath, or to things as they are, and not as one wishes them to be or thinks they are.

To wit: the scenes before me—I wish I could describe them as they are, as I see (and feel) them now. The sky’s slate gray with heavy low clouds of even darker gray. The slate’s everywhere relieved by bands of lighter gray shading to blue and white.

The hills underneath have that luminous blue quality that earned them their name—luminous from within, as if the soft light they exude comes from deep inside their earthen hearts. Stubble of bare trees—dark and light, intricate chiaroscuro—crowns them.

Closer up, one sees fields, undulant green or spiky red sedge grass. Rock outcroppings mirror the sky both in their color, with its striations like the sky’s, and literally, since they have pools of water reflecting the skies.

Three white-tailed deer we startled in the grass as we walked bounded off, one against the sky on a hilltop, the very embodiment of lithe, graceful abandon.

+ + + + +

Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life: “The genius [of a place] lies deep within, and as Richard Onians suggests in his extraordinary book on Roman ideas about the soul, it can’t be uncovered by conscious thought or explained by literal fact. It requires from us trust in our less rational ways of knowing and in whatever practices of magic we feel comfortable with and capable of performing” (p. 81).

Friday, January 30, 2009

Charlotte, North Carolina 29.3.1996: Much Ado about Nudity and Self-Conscious Sophistication

A day of inverted syntax, after a late night at “Angels in America.” Ludicrous, the way the Charlotte crowd sat through the play in reverent silence (at the wrong points) and self-conscious twitters (at the wrong lines). The brief nude scene, which has been the ostensible reason for fierce controversy here, was like the consecration at Mass: we held our breath—see how nonplussed we Charlotteans are! This is art, for godsake, and we durned well know how to appreciate it . . . .

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Salt Lake City 12.12.1997: Phallic Power and Meretricious Buttresses

The new Salt Lake visitors’ center: go, modernity! It’s glass and steel, all angles and useless corners, with totally meretricious buttresses and a phallic tower. Interesting, is it not, that the most patriarchal religions now champion modernity precisely as the postmodern turn occurs? It’s because modernity invests so much in male control and power . . . . That’s what the sleight-of-hand buttresses are all about.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Salt Lake City 8.4.01: Blithe Cheerfulness and Aggrieved Messianism

Salt Lake City: that blithe cheerfulness, inhabited at its depths by that scary mix of puritanism, aggrieved messianism, and patriarchy.

+ + + + +

I have no idea, this go-round, what I expect to find at the LDS library. I suppose I should look to 1) new finds I’ve made since last visit and how to explore them more; 2) what moves my soul What do I expect to find?

+ + + + +

Head o’ hair, he kept saying. And I didn’t know if I’d heard right, or if so, what it could mean. The girls left their heads o’ hair the night before they went off to Amerikay. There’s a trunk full of them upstairs. We’ve plenty of them, year by year. Toothless, thick Northern brogue: perhaps he meant something altogether different.

And then he showed me: old plaits, snaked like silk one around another, red, blond, and brown, the final scrap of blood and bone an Irish mother claimed, her daughters sailed forever gone over seas.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

San Francisco 28.5.01: Old Haciendas and Exotic Flowers

Another story told to me by Mike F., partner of Steve’s cousin Chuck B. Mike taught first grade, and says he loved it. Says the students called him Mommy.

+ + + + +

More plants, plants everywhere: did I mention the very handsome bottlebrush? I think I did. I’ve seen it only in New Orleans, where the yard at Galvez and Esplanade had a specimen in a summer corner. There, it grew as a shrub, perhaps because of the humidity? Whereas in Oakland, it’s a tree. I remember Stanislaw C. telling me either that it’s a native of Australia or that it grows well there. This made me think it prefers a dry climate. I seem to recall Stan saying there’s a yellow variety.

At the old Perralta hacienda (the original large grantees of the region), I snipped a piece of what J. calls potato tree or shrub. It’s a shrubby tree or a tree that also grows as a shrub. One source I consulted at Barnes and Noble identified it as the potato vine, a Solanum. But another garden book indicates it has been removed from the Solanum category. It has inconsequential leaves a bit like Ligustrum vulgare, and purple flowers like flattened dark morning glories, with crinkly edges and a dark yellow throat. I fear it won’t do in our less-than-tropical climate.

J. also pulled up for me a bit of some curious shrub-like perennial with the square stems and opposite leaves of a mint. It is aromatic when crushed, and has a dark red small flower, tufted like a honeysuckle or shrimp plant.

Monday, January 26, 2009

San Francisco 25.5.01: Bowers of Jasmine, Syncretistic Brew

In San Francisco. And I dreamt last night of some plants in my garden. They were thistle-like and had gone to seed. They were disfigured, smutted over, by some black fungus.

Yet atop them were goldfinches, three of them. I got down at eye level to the birds, where I could see right into their eyes. One looked back uncuriously, unafraid.

I couldn’t even see if it were a goldfinch, since all I could see were its face and eyes. I had to back away and stand up to see its color. I was afraid to do that, for fear I’d scare it.

I did so. It—nor the other two birds—didn’t move at all. I see that it is a goldfinch.

+ + + + +

I didn’t even remember this dream until today, at Cody’s bookshop. I picked up a book of poetry and opened to a poem about goldfinches.

+ + + + +

The gardens. One I saw yesterday in front of the Franciscan friary at St. Elizabeth’s church, an old German—now Hispanic—church in Oakland, was absolutely stunning. The colors in the clear California air seem to leap right through the eyes to the brain. As that happened, a rush inside, warm in the chest, bringing tears of sheer joy.

The flowers were foxgloves of all hues of lavender, with a bell-shaped flower in front I should know, and can’t recall, blue, white, pink, purple.

So much else to note. Agave with its mottled serpentine-looking leaves and strange canopy of orange tubular flowers. Bougainvillea/mandevilla trained to tree shape. Bowers of nutmeg-scented Confederate jasmine. And roses roses roses, everywhere, especially in old gardens, growing so abundantly that they seem almost to outgrow themselves.

+ + + + +

The syncretistic brew, always fermenting, that is San Francisco and its environs: here in this old German neighborhood in Oakland, that was a ranch into this century, people are now black, Hispanic, Asian. And plop in the middle a Greek Assembly of God church. Where there are no Greeks at all, that I can see. A Hawaiian eat-in restaurant (as opposed to a take-out one; and what would Hawaiian take-out food be?). Taco Bell and KFC in the same fast-food outlet—are the people driving through seeking burritos or hot wings? Ads for sex therapy and tantric healing in the daily newspaper cheek by jowl with Pogo.

Friday, January 23, 2009

San Francisco 26.5.01: Tall Tales and Hedges of Lavender

Line overheard at Steve’s cousins’ party last night: his cousin Treecy S.—“We call him Japanese Frank, since there are so many Franks in the building. I asked him, ‘Are you the one who pastors the Korean Presbyterian church?’”

+ + + + +

Steve’s cousin today, stories: someone in his wife’s family from Tabasco locked his daughter, who had a child out of wedlock, into a bedroom with the child, until both starved to death.

Another story: J.’s (Steve’s cousin’s) brother-in-law, who practices voodoo and folk magic from Tabasco, had an argument with J.. J. sat down and wrote the brother-in-law a letter after the latter stormed out of the room.

J. thought better of the letter, tore it up, flushed it down the toilet. Brother-in-law returns, walks into the bathroom, makes the sign of the cross over the toilet, and proceeds to tell J. everything he had written in the letter.

J. also says he slept with Rock Hudson in the 1960s (’60 or ’61). Didn’t know it was Rock Hudson till afterwards. It was an orgy, and Rock Hudson was surrounded by a bevy of beautiful naked boys, to whom he paid attention while in flagrante delicto with J.

+ + + + +

The wonderful flowers here—hedges of lavender, rosemary four feet high and blooming profusely, a purple and red althea covered in blossoms. Beautiful beyond compare. What must be bottlebrush trees sculpted into ovals and covered in red blooms.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

El Paso, Texas 24.11.01: Lure of Silence and Vast Space

Sunrise in El Paso, as we wait at the airport for our flight to Little Rock by way of Dallas. The mountains outside the window now totally in the light, ribs of brown, taupe, and gray against the light blue. The light leaves little undisclosed in the West.

All day yesterday, a fierce dust storm that caused the death of two people on the interstate in New Mexico, and the closing of the interstate. The dust began, by noon, to hang on the horizon, a thick yellowish haze in the air like smoke from a distant fire. It came into cracks in buildings and coated our skins with fine powder, putting grit onto our teeth.

Life here: the lure of mountain and dry land, the lure people like Georgia O’Keefe felt, must be the lure of silence and vast space. Everything else—including the nattering of human concern—vanishes in such a landscape, so that one is left alone. Or with God. No wonder the desert fathers; no wonder the birth of Judaism, Islam, Christianity in desert places.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dallas 4.3.02: Yuppie Consumption and Frozen Japonicas

In Dallas from Thursday 28.2 to Sunday 3.3. Friday, we had lunch at Kuby’s, a German restaurant in the “Park” (Highland and University) area. I had a sausage sampler plate, which proved to be over-fried in stale grease. The potato salad, red cabbage, and sauerkraut were good, but I soon tired of the omnipresent sweet-sour taste that was reinforced by the mustard.

Afterwards, an interesting tour of the Community Market, evidently an Austin-based chain now reaching Dallas. A huge, cavernous warehouse with concrete floors, chock full of every kind of food imaginable.

That is, I suppose, what gets me about Dallas—the soulless yuppie culture of casual consumption that dominates its suburbs. In principle, access to all those foods is wonderful. But the place is more than a supermarket: it’s a temple full of devotees worshiping at the shrine of sun-dried tomatoes, bowing before the vats of olives. It has no . . . thought . . . at all attached to it, this devotion.

And the prices are horrendous. Steve and I bought a little basting brush for $6.98, and saw a very similar brush at a regular grocery store the next day for 99 cents. Serves us right.

Saturday to McKinney to see antique shops that were closed, as it sleeted and dropped to 14º in the night5. Here, too, but on Sunday night, it fell to 17º. The japonica, which had been full of beautiful salmon-pink blossoms, is now covered in tattered shreds of brown paper. The daffodils are all bent to the ground and appear unlikely to recover after this second hard freeze in a week.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Salt Lake City 28.1.02: Mountain Peaks and Sage Green Carpets

Just back from a hike up Ensign Peak Mountain or park on the outskirts of Salt Lake. A beautiful fall day, clear skies, not too warm. The leaves that have changed are mostly yellow, brilliant against the blue skies of the West. Sumac adds a splash of deep wine red, but it seems uncommon, and some small tree—hawthorn?—has yellow leaves tinged with maroon.

On the mountain peak, I picked dried yellow flowers, to show I made it to the top. And just below this stuck into the journal, a leaf from the tree I think is hawthorn.

All in all, a pleasant day, with invigorating air on the mountain, and a beautiful view of the city in the valley below on both sides of the peak. Hills carpeted in sage green, muted brown, yellow, and tan. I begin to see the appeal of the West, bleak as it can seem at other times.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Boston 6.7.02: Museum Courtyards, Companionable Couples

At the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. Two gay men sitting in the courtyard across from us. Obviously married (wedding rings on the ring finger of their right hands). I knew they were a couple before I saw the wedding bands. How?

It was somehow they way in which they were sitting companionably together, shoulder to shoulder. But not even that. Two straight men might sit side-by-side in just the same way, and I wouldn’t think they were a couple.

Was it the familiar, companion-like glance? I don’t think so. I think it was a kind of energy, an electric wave that ran between them and inhabited the space between them. I’ve seen—rather, felt—that energy (as sexual tension) running between ostensibly straight men who are obviously attracted to each other, and possibly not even conscious of the attraction.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Boston 3.7.02: Heat Wave and Calls for Plastahs

Have I mentioned there’s a heat wave in Boston? 95º yesterday, and supposed to be even hotter today, with suffocating steaminess.

Steve and I had dinner last night with Roger H., in an Irish pub-cum-restaurant in Harvard Square. Nice to see him, but I feel abashed with people, taciturn, hardly able to articulate an idea. Shell-shocked. Gun-shy.

He talks of people we knew in Toronto, with whom he’s kept in touch, and I feel 1000 miles away. It’s like I knew them in some other life. They have secure, cushy jobs, tenure, good salaries; they’ve had sabbaticals. They travel; they write.

I, by contrast, seem to continue struggling just to exist—I fear, none too successfully. . . . .

+ + + + +

People I’ve seen in Boston: a black man on a bicycle talking wildly to himself, throwing his head (which was covered by a wool toque on a hot summer’s night) wildly about. When the light changed, he suddenly jolted into action, trying to cross against the light.

A large woman in a t-shirt too tight for her, bright yellow at that, and a cotton skirt with indeterminate hemline. She came into the pharmacy while we were there, shouting repeatedly for adhesives. The clerk couldn’t understand, so she shouted, “Plastah!” Her hair was covered with a scarf, a bright bandana, though it was a hot day. She had on huge brown hiking boots. And, oh yes: she had a long beard, grizzled and gray-brown. And her pendulous huge breasts hung to her waist.

By the subway, another woman with hair tied up and cotton skirt that also had an indeterminate hemline. This one was thin and worried-looking, but with an air of intense moral superiority. She, too, had a t-shirt, with a cross and a logo I couldn’t read. On her feet, tennis shoes and thick white socks.

As she waited for the train, she paced in an intense figure-8 pattern, weaving around the pillars, head down and oblivious to the world.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Boston 2.7.02: Fens and Tiny Jewels of Gardens

In Boston. Chuck lives near what are called the Victory Gardens, in the Fenway. They’re little fenced-in plots in a park, which one rents for $10/year. Absolutely gorgeous little jewels of gardens, flowing with roses, hollyhocks, poppies, perennial sweetpeas, and everything else imaginable.

Some are little hiding places, with ferns, hostas, shade-loving plants. Some have arbors and swings, others picnic tables. A number have mini rock gardens or tiny ponds.

The gardens are in rows, like houses on a street, with woodchip walkways running throughout like a grid of streets in a neighborhood. All totally enchanting.

The park has a tiny river, the Muddy River, running through it, bordered by reeds—the fens for which Fenway is named. Paths run into the reeds, but we didn’t venture there. My Southern sensibility makes me fearful of places snakes may live, though this may not be a problem in Boston. And Chuck tells us the reeds are used for trysts and sexual assignations. We did see some very unsavory characters weaving in and out of them.

The park and much of this area of the city are full of lindens in full bloom, with a fragrance I didn’t know lindens could have—overpowering, heavy, sweet: at times almost like night-blooming jasmine in New Orleans. I’ve smelled linden in northern Europe, but there it’s demure and almost medicinal in its clean smell. In the warm muggy air of a Boston July, it must become something else.

+ + + + +

Sunday was a rest day. After the walk through the Victory Gardens, we shopped for groceries to fix grillades and grits for Chuck. Otherwise, we lazed about in the evening and watched “The Others,” which we’d rented at a video shop near Chuck.

Monday, Steve and I went to Harvard Square by subway and shopped. Had lunch at a place Bartley’s, which serves a dreadful Cobb salad, all cubes of pressed “turkey” and processed cheese, and one miserable tomato slice. The dressing, a lemon vinaigrette, had absolutely no taste of lemon and was sickeningly sweet. Why do people in the enlightened north seem to think that salad dressings should be sweet, and salads should taste like desserts?

Today to Dedham, where Steve wants to find records of his Kuld ancestors. We’re waiting now outside Longview/Shapiro hospital, where Chuck is retrieving his MRI records.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Boston 29.6.02: Empty Trains, Trying Fellow Passengers

Evening train, Hartford, CT, to Boston, and little to write about. I’m here for the conference re: the Mark S. project and now Steve and I go to Boston to see Chuck F. and to vacation.

A man behind me is saying to a boy, “No bloody way. No flippin’ way. No bloody flippin’ way.” We now stop past Windsor, CT, beside a small lake fringed, on the track side, by sumac, elder flower, the yellow spike of mullein. The deep brown red of the sumac with the yellow mullein is striking, a combination someone should replicate in a garden. . . .

It’s funny how long an annoying phrase can stay with you. A man in the seat behind me is coughing pugnaciously, a no-need, I’m-here kind of cough, and he’s not covering his mouth from the sound of it.

And it makes me think back to something I heard Sr. Grace S. tell Sr. Kathleen O’H. 30 years ago or thereabouts. Grace was talking re: a night she’d spent recently at her motherhouse (Ursulines, Kansas). The nuns slept in a kind of dormitory partitioned by curtains. Another nun in the dormitory coughed all night long.

Grace told Kathleen that the coughs were spaced the interval of an Our Father. I was annoyed when I heard this, and am annoyed now, because of the sly self-referential say this says, “I was awake all night. And praying.”

+ + + + +

Eerie being on this almost empty train, knowing the days of commuter trains in the U.S. are numbered. The air conditioning has been off almost the whole trip. Now, as night thickens and we least need it, it’s blaring forth. All this made even more surreal by the scenes in Framingham as we pull into it—including a fair of some sort with a red Chinese arch in its middle and yellow blinking lights.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Orleans 14-15.12.03: Red and Brown Cypress, Slate-Colored Swamps

Light fascinating perhaps more than ever in winter, when the world becomes a monochromatic gray. The way one ray picks out the stand of red and brown cypress in the slate-colored swamp . . . .

+ + + + +

This trip to New Orleans, seeing K. Fandal: I did not expect her to be lucid. I had long ago assumed (on what basis?) that she had lost mental acuity. The sharpness of the pain I feel at not keeping in touch, the bitter self-reproach: this is a tendency of mine, an ugly one. Life is littered with people I half knew and dropped.

Oh, the glorious sunrise! One of those symphonic mornings, when you look away to write, and in that instant, silently but with trumpets blaring somewhere, sky has turned lemon pink to dove gray and magenta, a momentous change of key and theme. The black tracery of winter tree branches accentuates the color.

Kathleen: I do feel deeply connected. But as people recede to death, I also feel helpless. It’s as if facilitate the process by withdrawing. Or is this something cultural, something Anglos do, our discomfort with facing and discussing the facts of life (and death)?

I am very glad we saw her. Today’s her birthday. May many blessings come her way today. But I’m also deeply ashamed of my carelessness. How did it happen? Yes, I knew my number and address for her were obsolete, but Steve had contact information. And yet when he called, it seemed she was out of it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Orleans 12.12.03: Green Depths of Patios, Healing Psalms

Our Lady of Guadalupe’s day, and I’m in New Orleans, on St. Philip St. at a b and b with Steve, Kate, and Luke. The latter just finished exams and will fly home Sunday, the 14th. I'm here to help them pack and to assist Luke, in particular, after his serious illness last month. I’m looking out into the green depths of a patio. We’re in the servants’ quarters, and french doors give onto the brick-paved courtyard. A huge yucca spirals up with a hedge of nandina beside it.

So much of my spiritual life has been lived in this city, looking into and sitting in such patios. And my sensual life definitely came alive here, too. There’s always a fitness in returning, in our lives.

Turbulence in my soul, caused by T. Reed—deliberately engineered by her in vicious attacks on me through the new provost. Yesterday as we drove, I read Psalm 107:25-30, and was very glad to think that the Lord calms storms and brings us to safe haven. Have also been reading Micah 2:8-13. This is a time in which it seems as if T. Reed is intent on persecuting—once again. And all that is left is to pray—once again.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Minnesota 22.7.02: Famly Reunions and Wheedling Devil

Lots of thoughts these days of Mother’s last years and death. I feel great sadness. Obviously it’s always with me, bubbling inside. She lived less than a decade after Simpson’s death, something I foresaw and could do nothing to change. If anything, I prolonged her demise. Had I not taken her to live with us, she would have certainly died in 1995-6. That’s what she wanted.

I feel guilt about putting her into a nursing home. Yet the doctor insisted. . . .

But I feel I failed. That was the predominant feeling when I placed her there. I failed to redeem . . . something: her, our relationship, both of our lives. . . .

+ + + + +

The sermon at Steve’s family reunion at Pearl Lake was by Fr. George. He talked about how his Uncle John and Aunt Mary, Steve’s great-grandparents, took him in and raised him as their own when his parents died. Told stories of how Steve’s great-grandmother fasted every Saturday for priests.

Then he launched into a hair-raising sermon about how the devil tempts us to lose our Catholic faith, and how we must resist and be countercultural. To whom was that sermon addressed? The younger members of the family who perhaps need to hear it (in George’s view) weren’t there, don’t go to church anymore.

It’s not the world and its values that are the problem. It’s the church, which is fossilized in a cultural system that is simply beside the point for most of these younger family members. They can’t return to that tight-knit rural ethnic world the sermon implicitly idealizes. But that’s all the church can imagine for them.

The church of our days fails to be church. Its failure to be church is most evident when it’s most intransigent, most nostalgically countercultural. There’s nothing at all really countercultural about the church in that reactive mode. That church is like any other rigid male hierarchy that plays power games and keeps secrets—no different than the Pentagon, the CIA, or a smoky backroom filled with corporate board members.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Minnesota 21.7.02: Idyllic Farmland and Catseye Glasses

Idyllic farmland and ugly people with horrific secrets hidden under the guise of holy family: but that theme’s been done to death.

+ + + + +

Last night, in Hutchinson, Minnesota, I watched a man and wife eating dinner, never saying a word to each other. They were at a small square table, but sitting catty-corner from each other. She had badly dyed hair, coal black, in a tight wavy frizz across the top of her head. Her eyes were rapacious, curiously vacant and at the same time fixed greedily on her feed. He was nondescript, a beefy-faced aging farmer, iron-gray hair slicked back from the forehead.

They ate and ate, meat and potatoes, methodically sawing at the meat, putting forkful after forkful into their mouths, never saying a word or showing the slightest interest in their surroundings. She would occasionally cut a forkful of meat, raise it into the air, and look at it and sigh, as if it daunted her.

Then they stopped eating, exchanged a word or two about the quality of the meat (she was displeased), and prepared to leave. She put on those catseye glasses in silver frames that seem always to have a chain on them, wrote a check, and they left.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Minnesota 26.5.02: Nature Is as Nature Does

Steve’s father, as we pass a farm with a row of newly planted trees today: I don’t know why they planted them trees there. They don’t do anything.

There is an almost ruthlessly utilitarian approach to nature here: nature is what does, not what is. Yet that approach stops sharply at reproductive life: there, nature decidedly is. Interesting, the difference, and much commented on by theologians.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Minnesota 25.5.02: Buckle Up Blvd., A Gallon of Blood

Drove to Grand Forks, North Dakota, today. Along the way, in a ditch—rather, on the side of the ditch facing the road—a large American flag. Above it, Mickey and Minnie Mouse cavorting and pointing down at it.

Midwesterners tickle the hell out of me. In any other culture, this “patriotic” display would be considered ludicrous, or playfully subversive and ironic. But I feel absolutely certain those who created it intended it as a serious and attractive display of patriotism. Not an ounce of irony in these bones, no siree.

In Grand Forks, we saw a restaurant on the main highway (Buckle Up Blvd.) called Fire Island. I told Steve I was quite sure the owner had no clue what Fire Island was all about—perhaps, had no inkling a real Fire Island even exists.

Steve later asked some of his relatives about the place. One who is gay told him that at a recent conference about being gay in the rural upper Midwest, a number of attendees went there, assuming it was gay-owned or gay-friendly. The owner had not a clue.

+ + + + +

Sentences you don’t hear every day: Steve’s mother today, “I have a gallon of blood in the freezer. Should I cook up some blood sausage?”

Mary Ann also said today she and John had been good to accept Louis’s partner “into the yard.” This reminds me of the German word Hof, which I’ve heard used in much the same way. In fact, I wonder if Mary Ann’s use of “yard” here is one of those many Germanisms that linger in Steve’s family’s speech. I can recall one of her Schindler cousins in Germany who lives in the house and on the farmplace from which Steve’s ancestor emigrated referring to when their common ancestor Vity Schindler established the Hof there.

The image I get when I hear it used that way is of the enclosed inner courtyard many German farms have—the yard—where house, barn, and work buildings form a kind of enclosure private to the farm. Something very primitive in this use of Hof/yard: our little space, a guarded one, that we open to strangers only with some forethought.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Minnesota 21.5.02: Bright Blond Babies and Menacing Signs

Crudely stenciled billboard sign coming into St. Cloud from the southwest, bright red letters: If you think no means yes, then no, you won’t go to prison. No context for the statement; just the bold assertion. Make what you will of it. If the shoe fits, wear it.

What kind of social nexus produces such vaguely menacing signs? We threaten folks with prison when we feel things are out of control, about to spin wildly in directions uncertain or inimical to us? Is it a warning about date rape? If so, how can anyone know this, with no context for interpretation?

We’ve entered few small towns in Minnesota without seeing right-to-life signs, many of them combining kitsch with guilt: pictures of bright blond babies and the slogan, Choose life; your mother did.

I asked Steve if abortion is such a problem in rural Minnesota towns. No, he thought. It seems the good burghers and farmers of Minnesota want to outlaw other people’s abortions.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Minnesota 20.5.02: Vexed Shimmies and Go Go Gas and Groceries

In New Ulm, in the car outside the Schell brewing company, Steve and I having just taken a walk in the park nearby. Raucous talk radio-cum-country rock station playing loudly in the brewery. As we drove up, an extraordinary thing, a peacock in full display.

When we got out of the car carefully and stood watching, he turned around, insolently, slowly, one foot then another, back to us: an act of aggression? He remained that way, turning slowly at an angle as we tried to retrieve the frontal view, determined to shun us.

Then we approached slightly—aggression for aggression—and he righted himself again, displaying his eyes and feathers, those little spring-like tufts at the nether end of each pin, with a vexed shimmy. The eyes stood out, glaring and moving like the eyes of some menacing predator—as nature has obviously designed them to do in order to protect the male peafowl.

+ + + + +

Now gassing up at a Little Dukes On the Go Go Gas and Groceries. More music blaring on loudspeakers—“Sugar Shack.” When we arrived at the Holiday Inn last night, it was also pouring out of speakers into the parking area, country music fitting incongruously with the kitschy Fachwerk and German flag flapping in the breeze outside the hotel.

+ + + + +

Expressions I’ve heard: Steve’s cousin Beverly’s husband calls Hutchison a “spendy” place; Steve’s aunt Josephine says, “He was natured that way.”

At the restaurant last night, two American Indians were ahead of us in line. When the hostess finally emerges, she looks at them and says, “You want a table?” Then pauses, “Or?” What the hell else could they want, standing in a queue in a restaurant foyer? And what does “or” mean in such a context? The question itself, re: wanting a table, is either-or.

At first, I thought this linguistic subterfuge was her way of coping with anxiety at the presence of wild Indians in Perkins’ Family Restaurant. But no, I think it’s just that way people have in MN—an absolutely maddening way—of pulling the linguistic rug out from under any direct statement. God forbid we should ever express an opinion, reveal a true feeling directly, take a stand, put a foot forward.

This drives me up a wall. The night we arrived, Steve and I talked in the car about how nice it would be to have a Vietnamese meal. After we sit around having a glass of wine and chatting, Glenn proposes going out to eat. He asks what we’d like. Steve asks about Vietnamese places. Glenn says there’s a Vietnamese restaurant at which they’re regulars.

Shall we go there? he asks. Steve says, Anything is fine. And didn’t you mention Greek? And a fish place? Glenn enumerates. Another question: What would you like? Steve: Anything is fine. Glenn: Vietnamese? Steve: We like anything.

I was wild with hunger after a day’s travel in which we had eaten half a sandwich in the Memphis airport. And we’d agreed on Vietnamese ahead of time! But Steve was determined to do all in his power to side-step, duck, evade, avoid commitment, field a direct question, provide a tangential answer. It’s deep in this culture, and I simply cannot comprehend it.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Ozarks 30.7.04: Magic Waterfalls, Healing Green Smells

The green, healing smell of a mountain woodland. Or should it be “the green holy smell,” since we forget the etymological links between heal-whole-holy? To fernes halwes . . . .

I woke thinking of the description of my great-great-grandfather Lindsey’s brother Thomas Madison Lindsey. A biography of this man in a history of Moody, Texas, says that each morning when he arose, he would go to his back porch, wash his face at the washstand, jump high into the air, touch his toes with his hands, and yodel.

I don’t have the energy of my forebears, but these stories seem to run through the Lindsey line. Where is my energy gone?

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Richard Adams, Plague Dogs: “If you can’t live by rotten rules, you have to find some of your own” (438).

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Our hottest day yet here, afternoon sun picking out the colors of the fine display ahead of me, turning the brown surface of the mere to lacquered old bronze displayed in glass with lights above.

The waterfall is magic in this light—gleaming, playing motion of light, water, rock—conspiring to seduce the heart, enthrall the mind. I could gladly lie upon a lichened, sun-warmed stone across from it. I’d gladly be the stone, no other world to occupy my time than silent adoration of the fall.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ozarks 29.7.04: Rain on Tin Roofs, Tonking Windchimes

I meant to tell about the butterflies. In yesterday’s mild afternoon sun, they gathered in droves on the flat sandstone rocks that form the now-dry portion of the creek bed below the cabin.

Why they do this is mysterious to me. They flatten themselves on the rocks, displaying their wings like patches of Turkey carpets. And what bejeweled patches to look upon: bright yellow and black intermixed in different patterns and shapes on various butterflies, or blue and black on others. Is it the sun itself they crave? Whatever, they provide a rare show when they’re in this mode.

Raining now as I write, a light patter on the tin roof above me. The loss of a sunny day will be more than recompensed, if the rain continues, by the increased force of the music of waterfall and creek.

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Mary Oliver, Long Life: “But there are few stories in the world, after all. There is the story of Wickedness, the story of Good, the story of Love, and the story of Time. It is the telling that is the charm, for it is the expression that gives to the imaginations the experience of the tale” (62).

“Opulent and ornate world, because at its root, and its axis, and its ocean bed, it swings through the universe quietly and certainly. It is: fun, and familiar, and healthful, and unbelievably refreshing, and lovely. And it is the theater of the spiritual; it is the multiform utterly obedient to a mystery” (90).

“It is the intimate, never the general, that is teacherly. The idea of love is not love. The idea of ocean is neither salt nor sand; the face of the seal cannot rise from the idea to stare at you, to astound your heart. Time must grow thick and merry with incident, before thought can begin” (89).

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Thoreau, Walden, “Higher Laws”: “Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant’s truce between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only investment that never fails. In the music of the harp which trembles round the world it is the insisting on this which thrills us.”

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Ozark rain, summer passing into fall: soft, slow, gentle as the velvet hand of a nurse soothing a fevered brow. Tin roof makes it seem louder and more plenteous than it actually is. The waterfall mere is not even troubled by it until the rain suddenly picks up its tempo, just as suddenly to cease. Then, as drops fall direct as bullets to the water’s rippling skin, tiny spires rise up as though to meet the falling rain.

With no blue above to reach the waiting earth, the silent mere, all the pool is brown, like earth itself in liquid shape. But the chute of water emptying thereunto stays white, fresh, an ever-flowing source of water from above to replenish the bowl into which it flows.

All around the northern edge of the hill above the creek, a fringe of pines runs, darker in the misty air. Beneath, lighter-colored oaks and then the row of trees as if planted like a European allée along the creek bed, which I don’t recognize? Hackberry? Wild cherry? Alder?

The bed of many-layered and lichen-dotted rock at the base of the hill, with its cool mysterious cavities that must welcome small creatures, is beautiful to behold—a reminder that, beneath the trees and the top layers of soil, all is rock. Mountains are not earth upraised to the sky but rock, the rippling muscle of a land once volatile, with molten force beneath it. What now stands still and seems so fixed is evidence of cataclysmic upheaval almost impossible for us to imagine, sitting on this porch.

In the distance, up the shelf of stone that forms the waterfall lip, a calling, croaking, that has to be a frog. And off in the woods to the north, some knocking sound like hollow bamboo canes, those Chinese windchimes you can buy, tonking, tonking, in the still beyond the rain.