Spots of Time

small moments & found meaning

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Frog Love

For my birthday a couple of weeks ago, I decided I was finally old enough to walk alone at night--an activity I've been scared to do because I'm a woman, I'm small, and I'm easily excitable. My night walks have taken me on a dirt path. On one side of the path, cars buzz by on the highway and pull into a neon shopping center with a Safeway, a Fedex, and a Dollar Store. On the other side is a ditch filled with water--a bog, in effect. Here, frogs have made wet beds. Every night, the males sing their hearts out to the females. I don't know whether I'm hearing leopard frogs, bullfrogs, or green frogs. I don't know the difference between the short pre-mating calls and the longer courtship calls. I don't know which part of frog love I'm witnessing. But the night air pulses with desire.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Rules for Writing

I find other people's rules for writing inspiring, in that self-confirming kind of way. Today, it's the "narrow down, exclude" that strikes me. What Miller doesn't say, however, is that you have to "open up, include" before you can "narrow down, exclude." Maybe the "open up, include" got cut when he narrowed down his commandments? 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Touchable Stories

"Those are your people" is what a friend said to me after I described the Louisville Oral History Association Conference. On the first day I hung out with an army medical historian interviewing soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, a documentary filmmaker interviewing loggers and environmentalists in the California Redwoods, a curator interviewing people who experienced desegregated busing in Indianapolis, a historian interviewing national forest residents in the Appalachians, and a Holocaust Museum employee interviewing survivors all over the world.

I felt so alive. Here was a conference where people wanted to hear your stories as much as they wanted to tell their own, where they listened as much as they talked.

One of the highlights was "historymaker" Timule Black talking about black migration to Chicago and hearing him refer to Studs Terkel as "Studsie." On the third day, I took a Touchable Stories workshop from conceptual artist Shannon Flattery, where we explored the many ways to create a space for the stories we make.

Flattery is super community-oriented. Her touchable stories ]focus on what's most important to people about the places where they live. Her exhibits are participatory: audiences must be active rather than passive as they walk through her story spaces.

First thing, she sent into the Louisville streets--an activity she uses with her artists (she employs up to twenty for each exhibit she creates)--and "map" it sensually. She told us to look for details that weren't necessarily obvious. As we collected things, we would begin to see how the physical details of a place pattern themselves into an abstract concept.

I walked around with Ruth Howard, director of Jumbles Theater in Toronto. Ruth drew on a sketchpad and I snapped photos. It forced me beyond stereotype and my own rigid ideas about what I should find as a tourist on a city street:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Song of the Earth

Jonathan Bate's The Song of the Earth

This is one of the books I pull out regularly when I'm teaching. I always turn to a particular passage, maybe because it resonates with me in a different way every time. It's where Bate talks about recycling: "The idea is that poetry--perhaps because of its rhythmic and mnemonic intensity--is an especially efficient system for recycling the richest thoughts and feelings of a community. Every time we read or discuss a poem, we are recycling its energy back into our cultural environment. That is how the process of survival and modification functions in the realm of art" (page 247).

That idea of recycling energy back into a community has so many implications. It's a little bit like Karma. Except Bate's recycling refers to language, rhythm, and meaning.

I recall being at a Romanticism conference in the summer of 1995 where Bate was a guest speaker. His paper was titled "Keats and the Weather." He proceeded to read "Ode to Autumn" from the perspective of weather changes that affected the environment during 1819. It was one of those moments that changes your whole perspective on a poem, a poet, and a period.

And one afternoon in the winter of 1990 when I was in Liverpool researching the British slave trade for my dissertation, Bate met with me (at my request) at a small cafe in the city to talk about Wordsworth. It was terribly gloomy outside. Pouring buckets of rain. I don't recall exactly what we discussed, but I do remember it being a very generous thing for him to do--a person of his critical stature venturing into the stormy English weather to talk about poetry with a lowly graduate student.

I wonder: does thinking of those times, or writing about them in this blog post, recycle poetic energy back into the cultural environment?

Friday, July 26, 2013

In a dark time, the eye begins to see

On sad days, filled with disappointment, or worse, the sense of how can I go on?, like today, those can be the days that I find the most beauty. A line from a poem that someone sent to me today said, "You were there with a bucket of cold water. / Among the tons of softening apples / You smelled like cinnamon burning." I ate calamari at a restaurant where I know the owner and he shook my hand with extra strength. I got lost while driving home from a western suburb. It was raining and I drove through some neighborhoods I'd never seen, saw people walking on the streets, riding bikes, a father and a son, I might not have seen if I wasn't lost. I looked closely at what I love.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Music Alert

Yesterday I was downtown trying to find unique baby gifts for two couples who are welcoming their first (and maybe only) children. The couples--my brother and sister-in-law and two former graduate students--are those kind of people that inspire you to make an extra effort. But, I realize today, I also had selfish reasons. I leave for Idaho in a few days, and this departure was part of what prompted me to go downtown instead of simply ordering something online. I'm going to miss Chicago.

But when I started searching inside of baby stores and department stores around the Loop, I became extremely tired. A gray haze hung in the air. Every pink and blue thing looked the same. It all looked too ordinary for these brand new children.

I would have to wait.

I happened to come out of a store on Adams and Wabash. I walked aimlessly for a while. I took photos of strange street art and cracks in the sidewalk with my iPhone, and before I knew it I was crossing Michigan Avenue into Millennium Park, where everyone seemed to be carrying lawn chairs in red or blue canvas shoulder bags.

I followed.

"Is it a concert?"I said to a woman who was rushing by. "It's Shostakovich," she said.

I got to the fabulous Jay Pritzker Pavilion in time to hear the pianist Kirill Gerstein play Beethoven. I stood on the sidelines with a Russian tourist who kept asking me about the music for the next hour (everyone else it seemed was prepared with bottle of wine, blanket and chairs, bread and cheese).

When I left I was wide awake.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Found Poem

Cleaning out boxes in my garage today, I found something I'd written on a torn envelope. I have a feeling I copied this from someone else, some poet whose work I saw in a gallery, or bookstore, or magazine. But I don't know. Maybe it is original to me. If it is, I have no idea what it means...

Staring past me
waiting for
someone to arrive - someone
who was
starting the
journey that would
eventually lead to her. My mother said,
"Let's go," staring past
me, to a place I could
only imagine - stepping
from there into this
place too late, only to
discover she is not there.

Long whispering night
waiting for something.
I stood
lonely height -
Why did I believe it
would arrive out of
nowhere just because
I was here. Now.

Marbled moon
great distances
open above me.

Faint and far off -

(this post was originally written on 3/27/2013)

Cooking and Land

Even though I absolutely cannot cook, I have always admired those cooking blogs, so here is my meager contribution. Last year I bought a slow cooker, excellent for making soups, and just last week, a blender.Today, I tried out Curry Cauliflower Soup from a recipe I found on RecipeZaar:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
1 tart apple, peeled, cored, chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 garlic clove
6 cups cauliflower, chopped (1 large head)
4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

First thing I was supposed to do was chop the onions and saute them in a "large stock pot." I don't really know what a large stock pot is, so I used a wok.

Then I added the apple, curry powder, and garlic, cooking it until the curry turned deep yellow. Ooo. Love that color. I didn't know that it existed outside of the Crayola box.

To which I added the cauliflower and vegetable broth.

Just then, my neighbor knocked at the door. He's an archeologist who works in the four corners of the American Southwest. I had just bought some prints from him to support the Crow Canyon Archeological Center. But that's not what he was knocking about. He wanted to have a leaf-raking party next weekend. So we set about devising an email to send to our other neighbors.

After he left, I brought it to a simmer and let it cook for 20 minutes.

While I let it cool, with tin foil as a I lid--because what happened to the lids to all my pots?--I went for a bike ride. I rode toward Moscow and out past the Toyota dealer and then circled back through town and out toward Troy. The colors were magnificent--honey and jade and magenta and sepia and olive and purple blue. There was snow on Moscow Mountain. It rained on the bikepath. I had layered myself with fleece and a shell. But I chilled nonetheless. Still, I felt cleansed when I got home.

Now came the exciting part! Using my new blender, I piled in all this goo and pulsed it until it was smooth.

Just then, another person knocked at the door: a bird-like woman with long flowing hair and tiny feet and an egg-shell voice. She was a representative from the Friends of the Clearwater. She wanted me to become a member. I said, "I'm a member already!" and invited her in. She held a little notebook with vinyl covered pages that showed the organization's projects to protect roadless areas and wildlife. There were photos of grizzlies, wolverines, earthworms, salmon, bighorn sheep, and wolves. I got out my checkbook. She said, "I noticed The Lochsa Story on your bookshelf." I told her about interviewing Bud Moore last spring at his cabin in Condon, Montana. We talked for some time about mutual friends and about the land.

After she left, I added a teaspoon of honey and another of rice wine vinegar (an ingredient I'd never heard of before now), warmed the soup again and dished it up. O.K., it does look a little like baby food, or maybe some other baby thing, but it tastes delicious, like the memory of an Indian restaurant in Central London.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nice day for a bike ride

On the bike path this afternoon, I passed a tiny child of maybe four years old riding her tiny bike with tiny training wheels, blonde curls creeping out her pearly helmet. Her dad, a balding man of forty, scooted her off the path where her tiny wheels sunk slightly into the soggy ground. I slowed to pass. "A beautiful day for a bike ride," she said.

Wait a minute! How did she know it was a beautiful day for a bike ride? Having been alive only a few years, how many midwinter springs could she have experienced? How many early January snow melts? How many Sunday afternoons when one notices the days are, indeed, longer again? Was that just a phrase she was parroting from some courteous adult, or was she some sort of savant?

Whatever the case, she was right.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Selway

On the walk out this morning, I met a guy named Phil. We pawed the muddy path as we talked, looking down at our hiking boots. He wore an expensive set of binoculars on his shoulder and a blue shirt holed with tiny tears. He spoke with a southern drawl. "I love the sound," he said. "The world disappears back here."

It was his first time up the trail, he told me. He'd driven the twenty slow miles to the trailhead on a lark, and since it was such a nice day, he'd headed up the trail, following the river. "It's a whole different kinda world back here," he said.

We shook hands. I kept thinking about the worlds and the sound.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years

These Days

whatever you have to say, leave
the roots on, let them

And the dirt

Just to make clear
where they come from

-Charles Olson

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas 09

Saturday, November 07, 2009

What I'm Reading

Allison Hedge-Coke's Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer: A Story of Survival.
I heard Allison speak at a conference recently. The title of her panel intrigued me: "Witnessing: A Workshop." I came into the room late and sat at the back. Allison was sitting at the front speaking so quietly I had to strain to hear. She told of being a shy child who was extra-sensative to the outside world. She wasn't as attentive to the social networks around her as she was to the way the shadow of a tree fell upon the grass each day or the way animals gathered in a certain section of her native landscape.
After a several minutes, I moved closer to the front so I could hear better. Allison stopped her narrative and had us do some amazingly generative exercises, instructing us to "witness" our surroundings. She then told us about survival. "Survival is a catch-all word in contemporary culture," she said. "But survival is more than that. It's an active force." Later, I looked up "active force." It's a physiological term that refers to the length of a muscle in proportion to its strength. Survival, then, is located in the heart of the body, literally (the examples I found referred to the heart muscle, specifically).
After her talk, I went up to Allison and said I had to buy her book. She told me to go to the University of Nebraska Press's table and tell them, "I know there's only one left, but Allison said I could buy it." Which I did, directly. The book table woman seemed a little flustered, but with my determination, what could she say? She slid my credit card and the book was mine.
Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer is, according to the University of Nebraska Press, a narrative of Hedge Coke's life "as a mixed-blood woman coming of age off-reservation, yet deeply immersed in her Cherokee and Huron heritage. . . . The title Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer refers to the life-revelations that brought Hedge Coke through her trials, the melding of language and experience that has brought order to her life."

Books added to my list for the holidays:

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception
Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place
Paul Sutter, Driven Wild
Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities
Donald Appleyard, Livable Streets
William Whyte, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring Cleaning

I'm in the process of updating and cleaning up my blog. Be back soon!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Jack and Dick passed this past month.

Jack, my father-in-law and Dick, my maternal uncle.

Jack had five sons, a number of grandchildren, and adored his wife. He was active in a local church and, although he made his sons tough out numerous hockey practices in -70 degree Canadian winters, he could cry at the drop of a hat.

Dick spent his life writing poetry, taking art photographs, and--as a former alcoholic--helping people who were addicted to drugs and alcohol pull themselves out of the gutter.

The memorials for both these men were crowded with people who loved them, and who were loved by them. I was fortunate to have been one of those people.


Poem read by a woman I didn't know for Dick:

The Rose
by Theodore Roethke

There are those to whom place is unimportant,
But this place, where sea and fresh water meet,
Is important–

Where the hawks sway out into the wind,
Without a single wingbeat,
And the eagles sail low over the fir trees,
And the gulls cry against the crows
In the curved harbors,
And the tide rises up against the grass
Nibbled by sheep and rabbits.

A time for watching the tide,
For the heron’s hieratic fishing,
For the sleepy cries of the towhee,
The morning birds gone, the twittering finches,
But still the flash of the kingfisher, the wingbeat of the scoter,
The sun a ball of fire coming down over the water,
The last geese crossing against the reflected afterlight,
The moon retreating into a vague cloud-shape
To the cries of the owl, the eerie whooper.
The old log subsides with the lessening waves,
And there is silence.

As when a ship sails with a light wind–
The waves less than the ripples made by rising fish,
The lacelike wrinkles of the wake widening, thinning out,
Sliding away from the traveler’s eye,
The prow pitching easily up and down,
The whole ship rolling slightly sideways,
The stern high, dipping like a child’s boat in a pond–
Our motion continues.

And this rose, this rose in the sea-wind,
Stays in its true place,
Flowering out of the dark,
Widening at high noon, face upward,
A single wild rose, struggling out of the white embrace of the morning-glory,
Out of the briary hedge, the tangle of matted underbrush,
Beyond the clover, the ragged hay,
Beyond the sea pine, the oak, the wind-tipped madrona,
Moving with the waves, the undulating driftwood,
Where the slow creek winds down to the black sand of the shore
With its thick grassy scum and crabs scuttling back into their glistening craters.

And I think of roses, roses,
White and red, in the wide six-hundred-foot greenhouses,
And my father standing astride the cement benches,
Lifting me high over the four-foot stems, the Mrs. Russells, and his own elaborate hybrids,
And how those flowerheads seemed to flow toward me, to beckon me, only a child, out of myself.

What need for heaven then,
With that man, and those roses?


Song played over the church speakers for Jack:

I Can Only Imagine
by Bart Millard

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By your side

I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When your face
Is before me
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in honour of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When that day comes
When I find myself
Standing in the Son

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever
Forever worship You
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever, forever worship you

I can only imagine