Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nattering

I do not feel like reading. The boys are both in bed. They are nervous about the first day of school and have set out their clothes for tomorrow like priests about to be ordained. I am nervous as well. But I am filled with a rather guilty happiness. There is so little possibility of uninterrupted writing time when the boys are home, that to have them in school---is like having recess for hours on end.  Of course, I must remember I am to do some prosaic and necessary things at home---- while they are slaving at school---- such as the limited duties of a mother, a daughter and a sister –in other words—I will be doing the handmaiden-thing----- to multiple generations of relatives—but –still—I am buoyed up by the simple possibility that I will be able to write a few paragraphs--- without an interruption.

It is not that I dislike having the boys around but they are notoriously hapless and do not seem to understand that their mother’s brain on words is a fragile thing.  So every few seconds they will enter the writing room—as if they belonged here and not in their other parts of the house that are open to their travels and they will ask me an innocuous question such as “What time is lunch?” and set me off like an alarm clock into a spasm of disorientation with reference to what I was trying to write.

Once I am interrupted a few times like this, I give up.
I simply go do laundry which is sort of my symbol for defeat in writing.

Right now both boys have been asleep for almost an hour.  My mind has been pushed  forward like a boulder that does not want to budge but is being asked to do movement while the road is free of the avalanche that will be the boys when they next appear (tomorrow morning, running around trying to get ready for school).   I will have to go to bed myself if I hope to be able to get them to school. The school supplies have still not been bought –yet---but at least they are shod in new shoes, and have a set of clothes to wear for the first few days of school.  After that, well, we have run out of money and they will have to use the leftovers.

While a mother’s life is a very frantic one when children are around, the fact that schools are open for a great many months—does much to save this mother from devastation and attrition.  I can recuperate from the summer’s constant contact with the boys and they can hibernate through their ten months of educational seclusion in apathy and resignation.  Both camps know their states and adapt to them readily.   When the school year is over, we both rejoin in one force, for the two months of summer and pretend that we were not estranged from each other during the busy indoctrination period.

I suppose I should think of school in more positive terms –other than as a sanctuary for children from fed up mothers or as a penitentiary for young offenders who are serving time and thereby preserving the sanity of their mothers.  I mean I liked school.  I think my sons enjoy school (at least the social component of school).  But do they want to learn?  Nope.

My sons go to school because they are told by their parents to go to school or suffer through a home schooling program with their mother that would have deleterious effects on both the sons and on the mother. They go to school so that they can make it to adulthood.   I hope that eventually—perhaps in university or graduate school—they will suddenly go from light bulbs at 60W to ones at 100W.

I think it is possible.  I think they will learn the curriculum they must learn to get pieces of paper to buy their freedom and then work in the world and one day---they will arrive at a place—where what they learn –is something so amazing –that they will work at it as if they were in love with it.

Then, when they have found the work that turns them on, they will able to shrug through the pages and pages of labor that –seems to be the only way –that one ever moves from beginner to some sort of proficiency.  The way that this metamorphosis happens—is simple. You love the work so much that you are able to do it –even when you have a boulder of a mind--- in front of you—and you are an ant-pushing ineffectually at this mass.

Bringing down walls

Poems are guns. Point them carefully. They are made in the human factory –inside a poet---that rises up both---ammunition and weaponry. At least ---they are made this way--- in my head. I write when I am most moved and do not suppress what rises up. Then I pick them up –these flaccid firearms---and then--- I put them down. They are not fine enough. What they use –are bullets of rubber.  What they inflict –are cautionary messages.

What I want is a poem—as lethal and assertive--as a cannon.  I want it to do damage. I want it to hurt me as I fire it. I want it to devastate where it lands. I do not want it to leave a wall standing. I want the wall to fall.  How am I--- to do this?  Poems are not ---given to me ----with instructions.  I get some tendril of metal shrapnel inside my head.  Perhaps I can tease it out and make it into a part.  Perhaps not.  They fill pages and pages and when I go back to them---- I am bewildered at their decompositions---and I ask myself—what was I trying to do here?  Was this a knife for scraping the heart? Was it a stone to smash in a head?  Was it a javelin throw of a spear to guillotine a frame? I do not know what these old poems were for and how I am to make them into something that is not tame--is something I do not know how to do.   I look at a handful of poems written in a journal in 2009.  What was I trying to make in 2009? Something that speaks of salt.  Something about necessity.  And the ocean.  But this is all gone.  The paper flutters like eviscerated organs in the hands--- and I shudder as I put them away with the rows of nature journals that need to be transcribed. Endless, endless work.

Reading a thousand books will not get me to the poem that fires--- the cannon to bring down a wall.   I do not think so. What might do it ---for me---is repetition--the making—of  a thousand such  defeated poems. I ask myself if this terrible labor –is at all possible without reading the works of other poets.  Reading is plasma transfusion into a poet --who is losing blood microscopically ---and reading alone—keeps her going. Poets –with their poems---  provide the encouragement and hope and evidence that such work is possible –that out of words and time—a weapon can be made by a single mind—and fired into the world –and it may do the good and necessary work—of bringing down walls.

I go back to the poem I wrote in 2009.  I copy it out.  I think about it.  How it arrived in a book that I picked up in the piles of such writing, and how I looked at it and thought—This has possibilities.  I do not think it is a gun. But it has something in it that I like.  Small episodes with the past—like this---coming upon your own writing—and not recognizing the make and model of the weapon—such occasions are always jarring. I sometimes read a piece and am not able to see myself in it.  When I write a poem—am I out of the poem or am I in it –in some other person’s vision?   I can’t say.  It feels as if I am there—but not there –as if –there was a leap ---off a high point and a drop down to nothingness. 

Maybe the walls, the poem  brings down is inside the poet herself.  Maybe I do not need to point the weapon at anyone.  Maybe it is enough to pick up the gun, and carefully, put it back on the gun rack.

"Poem 592" from "The Poems of Emily Dickinson"

The Soul that hath a Guest,
Doth seldom go abroad –
Diviner Crowd – at Home –
Obliterates the need –

And Courtesy forbids
The Host’s departure – when
Opon Himself – be visiting
The Emperor of Men -

From death we go to the soul within the body. This particular soul is busy at home—with a “Guest” and who might this be?  I would imagine it is perhaps the company of a poet in a book.  Company of this sort—forbids the soul to depart and certainly –how is the “Host” of the soul—it’s clever body—to shove off when the soul requires its presence. 

Stanza # 1

The Soul that hath a Guest,
Doth seldom go abroad
Diviner Crowd – at Home –
Obliterates the need –

*
In the “Diviner Crowd – at Home –“ of say –a passel of poets or a bundle of Avram Davidson stories—why linger out doors—in the variable weather of fall?  These satisfactions of text “Obliterates the need –“ for the company of any other but these booked hours with great minds and hearts and souls.

It is a watered down milk—elsewhere –that is given to us to drink.

Stanza # 2

And Courtesy forbids
The Host’s departure – when
Opon Himself – be visiting
The Emperor of Men -
**
When the soul is thus occupied—it is impudent of the body to go off with it –against its will.  “Courtesy forbids” such an escape when others are within his head—“visiting / The Emperor of Men –“.

Well, I hope this is what the poem means. I’m shattered after a day at the mall shopping for a teenager and an almost teenager and who knew boys were more fussy about purchasing stuff than girls?

"Poem 591" from "The Poems of Emily Dickinson"

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –
*******
Quite a few poets write what I call these “fly poems” where the dratted insects are either bothersome or are frank metaphors for the worm meat they will reduce us to. I –myself—prefer a more lyrical depiction of my corpse—as supplement for the Earth—as some sort of plant that is never going to grow –as some buried treasure that is forever retained in the chest of Earth—but Emily is far more practical than I am –and focuses on the good agent of bodily decay.

So here is the fly. Emily is about to croak in this poem and she sees it as she expects to see God –any time in the story—and yet, I am less interested in her encounter with “the King” that she waits to encounter “in the Room –“ –than in the Fly that takes up most of this poem. 

We all have a fascination with what will happen to the body that betrays us in so many ways in life—how will it be punished for its deficiencies in death?  The fly.

So let me go right to the whip.

Stanza #1


I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm
**

Here is Emily—imagining herself dead, and a dratted fly whizzing around  in the silence, interrupting a quiet end.  The room’s silence was like the premonition of a storm to come—that state of waiting for a gush of water—the quiet “Between the Heaves of Storm –“.  But the fly –isn’t into sensing either the “Stillness in the Air –“ or Emily’s death—but merely doing what it does best—swoop around and buzz its introductions to all.

Stanza # 2

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –
**
Around Emily –onlookers were finished crying, and were poised –in control—“Breaths were gathering firm” for her death—“For that last Onset –“ when Death arrives—and simultaneously –God as well.  Now I don’t know if Emily meant that the King—who was to “Be witnessed – in  the Room – “ was Death or God or if they are the same matter—so I will leave it as variable.


Stanza # 3 and # 4

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –
**

Last part of the poem has Emily giving away her worldly possessions---“Signed away / What portion of me be / Assignable” and having made her last will and testament, she is kept from the light—by the intrusion---of the fly and its blue buzz ----“There interposed a Fly –“  and finally even “The Windows failed-“ –her vision was next to go—and she was gone—“I could not see to see –“. 

Poets like to evaporate uncertainty. Death is a major disequilibrium to the system. A way out of not knowing –the nature of death—is to write out one’s death. Why is the fly there?  I suppose we all consider ourselves to be the fly’s last banquet and it is fitting that he show up at the table and greet us before the meal—for the meat and bone of it –will be what we provide for him.

A horrific total

Registration for older boy is over and $650 poorer, we travelled to Southgate Mall where I spent another $400 on clothes and shoes.  I'm not going to think about the shopping we did at WEM and add the total up.

I'm leaving the school supplies until the weekend.  Younger boy's school fees will be given to me tomorrow.  A horrific total looms as our September credit card bill--enough to rival our August credit card bill. It is no wonder we have no money in our bank. Our sons are savings-busters.

But there you go. What do you want?  A lot of money----or a lot of love?

I'd like both, but since I am incurably lazy, I have only the love.  And two happy boys. 

Both of them are ready for school --in terms of rested --since I did not touch school work during the summer even though I had wanted to do some preview of this year's curriculum.  I did not even get to do most of the reading I wanted to get done this summer.

Oh, well. I guess I will read each day --to younger boy---until he is fifty years old.  A mother can do that --I know.

Last day before school starts

Already the broken safety pins of Canada geese are attempting to make their repairs of the early morning sky --their long flowing strings of metal are evident ---each morning as I get up to look outside---- at the light splitting prism of the world. The maple tree in the garden is drooping yellow limbs and appears bandaged in loose green and yellow rags.  Beside him-----a fan group of sunflowers ---loudly buzzing with fat heavy honey bee heads aglow---force their yellow effusions of affection upon the hapless maple tree. They gang up on him---- sidling up to his hard frame of gaunt model-like perfection like overwrought females---and lean heavily ---on his shoulders.

Blue sky day in Alberta. I can hardly believe school starts tomorrow. It is criminal to lock children away in dark, dank prison cells of concrete when the world is still fervently and vividly alive and pushing forth flowers. The snapdragons that I rescued for 50 cents from Sobeys have repaid me for my cheap saving of their lives by making a mat of pink gaping blooms that mouth forth Hosannas for the morning light.  It is a very bright morning.

You --who do not see the last lingering summer blooms in the garden, the shaved goldening lawns, the falling plaster of leaves from the walls of trees--look again.  The world is turning, turning, turning, its one face of blue skies and white cheeks and blinding sun-eye and becoming the lower wattage of fall light.  Soon there will be a nudist camp of trees and shrubs in my garden, with their baby limbs and adolescent bodies all exposed to any gaping passerby. The peonies on the compost heap--grumpy and withered--will lay down their palms and assume yogic positions of submission. The clematis that is inundated with spider gifts of flies and grasshoppers will turn brown and leaves will become dust behind the Burka of the webbing--to show the dark veins of the face of the one hidden there.

Out of the last day of August, let me --sit in the tangle of things not done, the school supplies not yet bought, the school clothes not yet searched for, the gym shoes that are mysteriously not found, the endless last minute school offerings that have been listed by the schools as being essential for the academic health of the boys--that I have ignored--and let me wallow in the good light of this day like a hippopotamus in mud.

Eventually, I will unwrap from this mud bath to venture forth---courageously with older boy to Scona High School --where we will register for grade 11.  Then onwards to Southgate Mall  where older boy will show younger boy what clothes he needs to buy in order to achieve the dream of masculine "cool". I will be there as merely the one who pays for it all on the credit card--that is ballooning to bursting size now.  When we are done at Southgate Mall, it is a search for shoes that will no doubt end in a mother in tears. Shoes. Who knew that shoes were so difficult to find for a 12 year old who must have a specific brand at $150 a pop?  I mean I am happy with my hiking boots.

Being a mother --the day before school starts----is rather difficult. Of course, it might be easy --if you are the sort that plans a year in advance or even before the child is born for his future in medical school. I'm not that sort of mother. The type of mother I have become, is the sort of mother --my boys wanted me to become--one that does not impose her will on the boys to be my dreams but instead, does her own dreams and lets her sons find their own dreams of life.  This is the real reason--I tell myself that we now have to shop at the last minute. Not because I would rather sip the cream of life first--but because the coffee grinds at the bottom of the cup of life--are only good for throwing out.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Night walking

I like night walks--like the one I did just now--- simply because it is impossible to find out details.  The moon sits in its cloudy throne and the whisper of its face shows up on the marsh surface where the muskrat splashing--- leaves a round of repeating circular traces.  The dollop of duck that sits on a bed of soft batting--next to a headboard of cattails clucks annoyingly-- and there is an obscure coverlet of algae --also on that bed---that is turned silver in the dim light.  The houses around the marsh become wagons settled down for the night and where I sit, half asleep by the water, the grasses become wheels of motioning spokes.  There is a sudden lull in the wind and the wagons stop their incessant motion as the grasses brake.

Often at night, I follow my automatic route in the forest and everything that was familiar and old becomes rare and speechless.  The birds --mysteriously greet and evaporate in the bushes. The berries make a furtive swing across the face and then also disappear.  Even leaves, layer upon layer of them--- become darkness.

At night, footsteps seem to echo and stumbling is a fact. The trees are shades. There is shadow of a hare that slips back into the still statue it once was.  The rows of Alberta roses seem to merge into each others arms as if to keep each other safe in the dangerous night hours.  An apple tree laid low with apples plops a mouthful of fruit now and then as I slip by its long fragrant rows.  It is the best hour --quiet and empty of any others --except for fruit fall, bat wings of moths, the slow languorous movement of my tired body and---the sway and shove of the cattails ---as they prod each other into waves of dark motion.

At night, the thoughts of the day ahead are vanquished and what hours I have left are so minor that I decide that I might as well give up on the bottles of strong print that are waiting---to be drunk---and instead, I might as well--- simply doodle in words ---as I am doing here---- running slow motion--through meadows of wet dew and polished night blades---and looking up at the rowing black clouds to see a single star ripping up its one page of light to let shards of dust--- fall about me.  All this happens when I go night walking.

The uses of a landscape

The uses I make of the landscape –in Alberta---are clear to me. I sit in the cathedral and I pray. There is no other way to look at the delight and joy and peace of being in the holy place.

Land is simply a commodity for us now. We see it in terms of net worth and money we can raise from its current market value—some sort of personal bank we can access to supply us with a flow of ready cash.

In the mind the land we occupy therefore is reduced to nothing but dollar bills. We do not see its ability to feed us—by growing what we need –we often do not see the land—other than as a place to store our possessions in the house we build on the land.

But land is more than a foundation of our net worth  and more than a place we visit on vacations and more than a place we bed down on.

It is something we use –even unconsciously to define our insides.  Or at least—it influences who we think we are. Canadian?  Then you come from a big open territory that is mostly ice and snow.  Bengali? Then you come from a monsoon clotted landscape that is hot and fertile.  Such are the landscapes out of which we pry out some sort of identity that we might not recognize—until we sit down and think about it.

But when I do this matter of going out to the land and noting its particulars-is this worship or is this praise or is this study of something that is of great interest or is it a lifelong project –that occupies a core area of my mental baggage space? 

I think –it must be a matter of all of these things.  I love the land and think of it as the only sacred space. I think of the work I do in poems as praise of the deity. I think of the singular writing that I wish to do about the world—as a sort of religious work. I am in the midst of some sort of calamity that is uncertain and I do not understand it clearly –but no matter—I am in the middle of the storm and what it inflicts—will be known eventually.  What I understand from other nature writers—is that there is more to this matter of prayer and investigation and love—of the land than I had suspected. There are all the aspects of the land that are its constant physical features  --and there is the matter of the land over time—its history –both geological and climatic and cultural---and there is the role of man in this arena—as both modifier and destroyer and creator of the place.

It is far more complicated than I ever thought possible and it is impossible for me to consider all these aspects of land speech as I go about remarking on the beloved.  What I learn, I hope to incorporate—but I do not aim to be an endless litany of information on this subject. What I am doing here is some sort of personal study –that is closely tied to my sense that the land in Alberta answers a great many holes in my soul –and it is a very positive place where I can grow as a human being.  I do not expect any of this knowledge to translate into theories of the land, and there may even be some sort of collapsing card of energies in study of this subject for I am a bridge over which a few people walk and there is very little time where I am empty of others.

What I am doing here is sort of superficial case study of what little nature now exists in my part of Edmonton. And I sometimes have the felicity of extending this nature study to Jasper and other national parks.  It is not that I do not want to do more. It is just that I have only so much time, the days are flung clay on a wheel over which I have no control or skill—and there is muck everywhere.  It is always like this in the beginning.

But not being an expert, not having the background, not having the terminology or the requisite understanding to understand a field is no reason to stop outside the door and not even knock on it. The courage required to do a hard thing is the same courage required to do a paltry thing and so why not do a large and noble thing?

So what uses other than worship—am I to make of the land?  As a subject to study, as a place to enter and reduce the self in, as a sort of body working arena—where the body realizes its full use as a locomotive device.  In short—the landscape is the place to paint murals—larger than my ordinary life—and where I am free—to do what I wish—which is something of interest—that my ordinary life may not always provide. Study—of nature—is inexhaustibly interesting.  And if out of all this work—some sort of divine line rises out to form the tendril of motility to sperm forth a poem—who am I to turn my face away from this sort of fertilization?

"Living Like Weasels" from "Nature Writing The Tradition in English"

While waiting at the Heritage Village Medicentre today---to see Dr. Salopek for my handicapped sister's appointment I raced through a few essays in this book. I found something of interest in this essay by Annie Dillard ---"Living Like Weasels".  Even though I have no interest in weasels, I was interested in why she was.


When we look to the land and its wild inhabitants--do we do this in order to make the land a setting for ourselves?  Are we simply using land as--- the backdrop---of our own personal narratives?  Or are we looking at land as distinct subjects--as  places for scholarly study?  And --as Barry Lopez says in his section from his book "Arctic Dreams"- do we need to have a bit of ourselves in that vast wilderness --in order to be able to see it adequately? Mr. Lopez says --we do need to have something of ourselves present in order to interpret landscapes--that we insert ourselves into the land --in order to make it seeable:

Page 911

   Try as we might, we ultimately can make very little sense at all of nature without resorting to such devices.  Whether they are such bald assertions of human presence as Church's cruciform mast or the intangible, metaphorical tools of the mind - contrast, remembrance, analogy - we bring our own worlds to bear in foreign landscapes in order to clarify them for ourselves.

Barry Lopez, From Arctic Dreams  in "Nature Writing  The Tradition in English", pages 900-913

**

We bring ourselves into the landscape and we interpret this landscape according to what sits in us, and then Mr. Lopez says, we are forced--in this interpretation--to look at the landscape inside ourselves--and fashion something there as well.  Land --shapes itself in our mind and shapes our configuration of mental land inside ourselves as well as the architecture of the past---memory --itself.

Page 911

It is hard to imagine that we could do otherwise.  The risk we take is of finding our final authority in the metaphors rather than in the land.  To inquire into the intricacies of a distant landscape, then, is to provoke thoughts about one's own interior landscape, and the familiar landscapes of memory.  The land urges us to come around to an understanding of ourselves.

Barry Lopez, From Arctic Dreams  in "Nature Writing  The Tradition in English", pages 900-913
**

Why can't we remain pristine?  In other words, is it possible to exist like a piece of metal in the gut and not be absorbed by the gut surfaces?  We are able to do this. We most often live like this. But if we decide to be awake to the world--and then see the landscape--we must attempt to interpret it and not just as setting and not just by our own favorite telescopes and microscopes.  What must we do?  I'm not sure. We have to bring our baggage wherever we go -and doing the work of interpretation without contamination is impossible. We have to use our mental texts --that we have learned--from others--in order--- to see the world.

Yet, this is not seen as useful by Jan Zita Grover in her story "Cutover". In this essay--which I can say ---I did not understand completely--I think she is saying that the way we interpret the land--our use of personal backgrounds, educational scope, the language we bring --all our mental texts--they may not be useful in describing the landscape and in fact, may be harmful and certainly--will determine how we study the land.

I've never thought of this aspect of nature study at all. I've never considered that my own background determines the methods I use to study the land and that what I report maybe--- tainted or even perverted observations--- of an entity that is sublimely independent of human opinions.

This is how Ms. Grover puts it in her essay:

Page 895

   There are dangers in reading landscapes and other cultural artifacts as texts. The meaning of any text greatly exceeds the words used to constitute it: this is what intertextuality is about--the excess of cultural baggage we bring to reading something seemingly circumscribed and specific. The references we bring tend to be from other textual systems - films, music, literature - which for all their differences are still a particular kind of human artifact: symbolic representation of real acts.

Jan Zita Grover, From Cutover in "Nature Writing  The Tradition in English", pages 891-899
**

But what are we supposed to do if we aren't able to use text? We have to use symbols of "real acts" in order to format reality and so if we limit this--take ourselves out of the equation--we might as well be robots. How do we then report the landscape? I ask myself.

Fine. So we have a specific mindset to which we approach the land --and how are we to divorce ourselves from this mindset?  Are we all to become clinicians of the body of land? Are we to let the land magically ---tell us its music? And then represent that knowing--- in mud puddles?

I think it is useful to remember the baggage I am bringing to the landscape --but reporting as a journalist is not going to be what I will do--I will be infusing the data with all my personal attributes and I don't see  a way out of this. She sees the process of imposing our "cultural baggage" on the reading of land as  nature study --as not being --- "applicable" to the lands being studied.  Hmm... all this is getting rather complicated and so I will just jot down a short section of the essay so you can mull over this idea of the way we culturally represent land--is perhaps not a true representation of what the land actually is.

Page 895

    Treating landscape as text is a dangerous project because land is not merely a representation.  It is also a physical palimpsest of complex human, animal, and geologic acts, most of which are not primarily symbolic, but written in flesh and soil and rock.  While most landscapes are unquestionably cultural,it doesn't follow that theories devised for analyzing cultural representations are particularly applicable to reading them.

Jan Zita Grover, From Cutover in "Nature Writing  The Tradition in English", pages 891-899


Dispassionate observers? Is that what we are to be? I don't think she means this--I think she means we are to be aware of how we are --shaping---what we see---- how we are -- theoretically making the land to be. When it might not at all---actually be the way we conceive it. Interesting.

This reminds me of the mindset of all the settlers who arrived in Canada and considered the land and its First Nations people according to the European mindset and shaped their visions and theories of the settling of the land --according to this "cultural baggage."

And this point --of what sits in us--shaping the land in our heads--contaminating it so to speak with excess ideas when the land is just rock, water, wildlife and endless time--this is useful. I mean--I'd never even thought of the landscape I see around me as being represented a single way--the North American way but surely to god--I should have seen this as so?  A First Nations viewpoint of Canadian prairies is different than that of ----a Francophone or Anglophone citizen and also --is different from that of a new immigrant from the Third World. Who we are --and what culture shaped us---determines what we see in the land.

I'm not sure I "got" this essay --and so I truck over to an essay that was a little easier to bullet through.

In Anne Dillard's essay "Living Like Weasels" which I will be spending the rest of this post on --I come to some reasons for studying the land----perhaps land is the gap space from one way of being in the world to the final way we choose to be in the world.

I mean -why even bother to study the land?  Why not just exist, work and buy and die? It seems far more relaxed to be unconscious than to do all this work of figuring out a place in a space we already occupy --right?  We are in a land ---that is like a shell around the white and yolk that we conceive ourselves to be--we are enclosed in its safety. It is always there--seemingly unchanging. Why bother to shove holes into this impermeable, hard and protective shell ----to what may simply be outer darkness?  We are immune to outer uncertainties---when we sit inside the land--oblivious. By studying the shell--breaking through it--we are exposed to chaos--- its horrors and our own vulnerable state ---in a new landscape we will have to reconfigure and make into a new reality--- to safeguard our need for safety. Why even go there?

I suppose it is is a matter of aging and of all other choices not being attractive enough. Perhaps we arrive at midlife and all that gave you something of a rush in the past --no longer does the good  jab of invigorating you to your own life. You spend all your time mulling over a life that is infinitely elastic but is not being elongated by you --to its maximum extensions.

You might then do what any woman without a job and time does--you walk and think and you waste a great many years doing both.  You go out to the landscape around you and having nothing else to contemplate ---you sink yourself into its bloodlines.

You begin to see the land as more than a shell that is constant and unchanging.  You begin to see what land is--some sort of improbable mirror that reflects back at you ---your own inner landscape. It is also a mirror that is --unlike other illusionary mirrors---an inescapable presence.   Land is always there.  We are bodies floating over this solid medium and we are in contact with it constantly. If you are detached from the monolayer of society and roaming freely in this landscape, it is almost impossible to remain cold to it. We are social creatures --no matter how reclusive we are--and if we are detached from the human herd--we will immerse ourselves in the new herd  --which is wilderness associated.

Strange. I know. And yet--this is a clean canvas. You begin again. You are allowed mistakes. It is forgiving and you can endlessly repeat yourself in this new place.

It allows for error and it allows for slow learning. Both gifts allow for the development of love.

We must love something or someone and land offers the chance to love something that does not require endless communication and upkeep.  You go out of the house. You walk to a forest. There is no care giving or babying or being the mother--required of you. Rather restful. To be female and not to be asked to take care of the entity you are with.  It's a good feeling.  The land sits like a cushion on a seat and you are allowed to rest there.

Why bother?  Why do anything at all at this point?  Good question. Writers are stupid. They go beyond just looking and resting in the landscape to asking questions about the beloved.  Because you begin to love it.  Because you want to do it.  Because it satisfies something in you that is holed and tattered and longing for repair.

If you are tired of all the fancy ways of being happy--you reach for the simplest ways and routes to such states of bliss. And land---in its weedy, unkempt and undemanding breast state--gives you the nipple--that you have been searching for--that --- you can latch onto--- forever.

But what about Annie Dillard's reasons for taking to the land?  Let me look at her essay. She uses a weasel and an eagle as her metaphors to arrive at some sort of reason for being in her place in the world, for learning a new way to live in the world, for some sort of intransigent position in the world --where she is bonded to her calling. She says she is trying to remove herself from some other place--to arrive at the wild creature's state of natural.  I suppose she is trying to expectantly live in a world that she no longer expectantly lived in--that she conceives the weasel to live in this way.

Page 878-879

  I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don't think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular---shall I suck warm blood, hold my tail high, walk with my footprints precisely over the prints of my hands? ---but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical senses and the dignity of living without bias or motive.  

Annie  Dillard from Living Like Weasels in "Nature Writing  The Tradition in English", pages 876-879
**

So she is saying, like Thoreau--she would live without all the human compulsions-in some sort of pure and easy state of a weasel--in his own natural habitat.  Is this some sort of natural living that she is seeking?

I suppose so.  We are such artificial creatures now --plunk in concrete villages with walls to keep out strangers -that the easy liberation of weasels ---and their ferocious will to live--well--this might seem attractive--but is this what she is saying here?  Is she wanting to live on easy terms with her life and her future death?  I think so. I would like this comfortable, accepting stance in the world as well--but can we not get this stance in any other way?

Page 879

The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons.  I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should.

Annie  Dillard from Living Like Weasels in "Nature Writing  The Tradition in English", pages 876-879 **

Now what does this mean?  I suppose it means--living true to who you are--to your own nature--- and not warping it and distorting it to meet the needs of what we must be in the world.

I suppose it means to find what it is you are to do in the world and not give up on this ignoble and horrific work--simply because you are not paid to do it.  It is as she confirms--a matter really-of recognition first--and then making the choice to do your life --as you are naturally confirmed to do it.

Page 879

And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel's: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.

Annie  Dillard from Living Like Weasels in "Nature Writing  The Tradition in English", pages 876-879 ***

Rather a cold blooded way to live in the world--and very dispassionate and Zen too.  But she has found her metaphor--and she understands the cost of it.

This "one necessity" that makes for  a vivid life--which for Annie Dillard is --possibly --her writing--is what animates the whole of life and keeps it sacred.

But she says she lost her chance to do this matter of being wild as the weasel--of going back to "your careless senses".  And yet, it might be possible to choose to do this way of wild living.

Page 879

  We could, you know.  We can live any way we want.  People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience--even of silence ---by choice.  The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse.

Annie  Dillard from Living Like Weasels in "Nature Writing  The Tradition in English", pages 876-879 **

Choosing to live like this is a matter of simply becoming weasel like--in your selection of your "calling" and adhering to that life.   What is your "calling"?  It is that part of you --when you do it---that makes you vibrate --inside you-- so that you are ---alive--- most intensely. If you have something you love to do-- that you cannot cut away from yourself--that is a Siamese twin to you--then---this is the "calling" business she speaks of here. She  whispers ---you into gripping it----tightly to you and keeping it fast in your presence. You do this by --- what she calls "yielding" ---you"stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse"---and this---is what I think of as submission to the Muse.

You do not fight for its presence in your life--you give in to its inevitable nucleus place in the core of you.


Page 879

This is yielding, not fighting.  A weasel doesn't "attack" anything; a weasel lives as he's meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity.

Annie  Dillard from Living Like Weasels in "Nature Writing  The Tradition in English", pages 876-879 **

I suppose if you live in your natural element--say of words--if you are a writer-- or say of paint--if you are a painter--then all else will shape and drape itself----unresistingly---- over that natural place in the world.  You don't have to expend extra energy to keep at the work.  But so few of us do this. Why?

It is as if we are given only certain planks to throw ourselves off into the great sea of life. And we all decide to do the same planks over and over again.

What if we refused these rote gangplanks?  What is we decide to simply rise to the side of the great ship of our society's making and fling ourselves --like free men and women --into that life --and do what we wish we we enter it's waters? We all end up in the same sea. We are all there by choice. But the route we took--would be our own--we would be in charge of who we are and how we are to swim in that great body of animated life.

Page 879

  I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.

Annie  Dillard from Living Like Weasels in "Nature Writing  The Tradition in English", pages 876-879
**

Easier said than done. You must be braver than you think you are to do this matter of grasping the nettle in your hands and making out  of it--the text of your own life.  But the payoff is high.

Page 879

Then even death, where you're going no matter how you live, cannot you part.  Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.

Annie  Dillard from Living Like Weasels in "Nature Writing  The Tradition in English", pages 876-879 **

So here is the reward. You get to be in the natural motion ---the essential rhythms ----of your own life. Then--in this vivid, irresistible state--even death is something you actively tackle --as you have tackled the "one necessity"of your life. This is a good payoff. Not the despairing stance of one without hope and without backbone. But the military offensive of a seasoned soldier in life who does death with equal gallantry.

So what do these essays actually sum up? I suppose we look to the landscape --if we so choose to do so--and then we cannot spring that chest open without some element of self or human being in that key turn.

Then ---we must not contaminate this discovery of what lies in the chest, with junk from our cultures but perhaps look at it scientifically to a certain extent--and purely see what is present in the landscape that is open to our innocent gaze.

From this stance of innocence--we are to enter into our calling--which for a nature writer--and a poet--is always one of wonder and praise and egolessness.  We are to erase ourselves as much as possible from the natural wave function of the world and harmonize our own wave function with the existing music. We are to accompany what already is. We are to sing with that same shape and candor.


I suppose all of this sounds like gibberish.  It might indeed be. What we impose on the land is human made---but if we simply go to the land we are able to rest in its wilderness and leave all the perils of humanity behind us. Perhaps this is its greatest gift--to split us away from our shadow and leave us as bodies floating in that brilliant and endless light.

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On the way to the Icefields






















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At the start of the Saskatchewan Glacier hike.







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Athabasca Falls and that light --only in Alberta.

Waiting in the writing room

Here is a room. The stone sky outside pouts and breaks up. It is not stone but some foam released from an inexhaustible hose. The sun has gone to work out somewhere else. The poems are still not read. Some days are like this. I come to the writing place and there is only the whir of wings in the background, some sense that time is escaping with the last summer grasshoppers, the machinery of day already faltering. I can’t stick a pin through my mind to attack the words. I want to sit here and sugar out the sap.

When the mind is like this--- I let it do what it wants which is leak out words and say something that I have no idea  of--that sings below the water’s surface—that is a silent current that is invisible to me—that powers up the lines.

You think you are in charge of your writing? I laugh. There is another behind the words. That other says what it will out of the great mass of thoughts that tumor forth each day. If you are poet, you will let this other out and let this other—what I call the Muse—to do the silly work that is writing.

When I am in this not-amenable to reading mood—when I do not want to look at another book again for as long as I am alive—when I am saturated with stories from other writers and cannot even grasp a single plot in a short story or the flocks of echoing seagulls in a poem—when I am in this state, I let my mind blather on and on --in this circular fashion---and call this writing practice for the day.  My sort of writing practice.

Before, I would not be this easy.  I would pry open the paint can lid and dabble on the blank walls according to the painting prescriptions of writing books. All of these books are wrong. Wrong for me that is.   For me writing is a river running--some sort of natural singing that goes on inevitably --no matter how much I try to swim against this river.   For me, writing is a room, where I wait.  Writing happens --for me --when I sit without guile and without hope. In a room. In this room, the owner has given up trying to be immortal in language. There are far better writers out there. This writer is trying to stay alive in the great ocean of words, that are flinging their waves at her and trying to drown her. In this great body of words-- the mind is boosting itself to do something—anything---- but is only capable of this sluggish spitting out of words –--as the waves push me down---to make what? I do not think it is possible to know. At least I do not know. All I know is that I sit and wait. Words wash over me.  There is a mess.  I watch it form.  How to turn this into meaning?  How does one turn anything into meaning? In science, you simply make a project and keep attempting to answer its questions by doing experiments.  So I try to do the same thing here in this great foaming ocean of words.   Experiments, over and over, and one day--I hope---that they add up to something –some sort of picture.

Out of this expected rudimentary picture, I think I will be able to write something coherent--something that tells me what I am trying to say in this dark space of my mind, where there is no light and very little sense of what I am doing here. I try to write something that might mean something but I’m not hopeful.  I sit in these puddles of words like a patient in a hospital bed, weak as a newborn and let forth a thin, weedy wail.  When the words arrive to answer that call, they do not offer comfort. They are here and they form some sort of image before me that I do not recognize and yet is familiar. Is this how you must write? I ask myself this question continually---As if you were coming to recognition? Not quite there, but always approaching something that might make sense of a small part of the ocean.

I no longer bother with trying to navigate this land where there is this continual obscurity of landscape---- where there is –this long swirl of dust—always----that I do not understand. I merely wait in the hospital bed that I figuratively see myself in—and watch the coalescing words whirl into long spumes of sand---and light is blotted out. Shadows form. I see some lines form. ---Magic –is when you give up the control and let the mind tornado you to another country, another time, and then deposited there—in that new place—you rise out of the debris and walk about—wondering why you are here, in this strange place of destruction and why you are writing yourself out of one foundation and into another.

Is it possible that clarity only arrives after the blindness of dust-storms? Is it only after great chaos and disorientation—and confusion—that it is possible to alter that famous monotony of days to make something that is different? Out of shadows  in a room—is it possible that writing—is the echoes of the seagulls on the sandy beaches of time---calling to you to surrender your safety –and go to the limits where the ocean will grip you with its wet fists and take you out---to the deep where you will finally be able to swim in this new medium?


I don't know. I wonder sometimes why I am sitting here doing experiments in words.  Why I need to be here at all when the world is marching along in the orderly rhythm of others --as if they all knew their lives from beginning to end --while I am sitting in chaos--without any sense of any meaning --in any of these words--trying to rise out of the depths--to reach out to the shoreline and arrive there, spitting words, and trying to see the new place --that I have written myself to. Is writing the way we recognize ourselves?  Is writing ---the way we see who we are? Is writing the way we know landscape--inner, outer, final?

Again, I don't know. I know nothing about how writing happens--in theories or practices researched and put forth in educational manuals.  Writing seems frankly --rather impossible to make science out of.  When I write--I follow the words---they arrive from the brain--and --- when I sit with these words--- some of the most real thoughts I have ever had---arrive here ---with the squawking of seagulls swooping down on a far off beach--travelling over water to the small room in the darkness of the mind's hollowed out center.These real thoughts are different from the chatter that populates the mind--that stabilizes the current version of reality. These real thoughts lead to other thoughts--- and day after day---- some sort of recursive cycling goes on until I feel I am going mad.  Words are seagulls that never stop their sounding in your head.  All I must do is wait for their descent.

Is writing a sort of submission to the ocean of words that you only arrive at after all the other crusts that you line yourself with are eaten away?  Who knows what the hell I am going on about here.  It all seems to be some sort of obscure state that leads you back to where you started and you begin again.  I am tired of it.  The reading is endless. The writing equally so. The books are like guns pointed at you.  And so here we are again. The room.  The one sitting in the room. The book of Emily's poems as stark evidence of a mind in a room as well. All I know is that in the writing room, I no longer---have any expectations about writing and what arrives.The words sting or rub out. They float on the stormed waves like fragments of a boat. I do nothing. I wait at the shoreline. The water pulls me out.