Saturday, August 27, 2016


this word of the day from an alert reader who, when looking up places to kayak noted "oxbow park".  it turns out "oxbow" not only refers to a yoke for oxen, but is also a U-shaped bend in a river. in turn, an oxbow lake is created when such a U-shaped meander is formed from a wider meander being cut off to create a free-standing body of water.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

bachelors & bachelorettes

of the mountainous stacks of books i have from the library this month, two rise to the surface.  i watched the movie "babette's feast" back in college and immediately loved it, resonating with the main character.  but it was through richard rohr's reference of the story that i learned it was also a book.

the movie is adapted from a larger collection of destiny tales by isak dinesen (a pen name of karen blixen) who also wrote "out of africa".  babette, a world famous french chef, comes to reside in a small traditional village with two elderly bachelorettes.  after winning the french lottery, babette uses her wealth to return their hospitality by cooking the villagers an authentic french meal, teaching them by experience to transcend the confines of their legalistic lifestyle.

as moved on many levels as i am by dinesen's timeless tale, i laughed just as hard at bill richardson's "bachelor brothers' bed and breakfast".  in a true tale of  fraternal twin bachelors, hector and virgil, who open their childhood home as a bookish refuge for travelers, richardson has collected not only hilarious first-person anecdotes from the brothers, but also from the pages of their guest book.  complete with a cat named waffle and a foul-mouthed parrot mrs. rochester (nomenclature a reference to the crazy attic lady in "jane eyre" by charlotte bronte) this book delighted me no end.  their setting, use of language, and comedic ways had me laughing out loud in no uncertain literary terms.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

dear authors

dear authors,

first of all, thank you.  if not for you i could not continue with my habit, nay addiction, of book-eating.  writing is a solitary profession and i appreciate what you have sacrificed, learned, and evoked from yourself in putting things to paper.

i only realized, when voicing this to my equally bookish friend recently, that i have come--albeit unconsciously--to expect three main things from you.  call it reader-author trust if you will, namely:  1) structure 2) rhythm and 3) reference.  it's because of your mastery that, when done well, these serve the body of work rather than distract from it.

structure  i love it when i can tell you have something on which to hang your words. it matters not whether it comes to you beforehand or afterwards in your process, point being it's there.  it doesn't have to scream "structure" either because you know the tone you're going for.  you're teaching.  we're having coffee.  you want to make us laugh.  if you ramble it's because you had every intention of rambling and there's a reason for it.  even if the structure is the intention to have no structure at least that too was planned and i find that reassuring.  because, frankly, if it's not there i will make up a structure for it myself and then i've ceased to be blissfully immersed in your narrative and am instead grasping for scaffolding.  chapters, subtitles, story-within-a-story, part one/part two, short essay collections, flashbacks, les belles lettres, recipes, even characters who dream in poetry.  for anything that's a good clothes-on-hanger fit for what you have to say, you have my most humble thanks.

rhythm  a good book, as you know, has rhythm.  it could be unexpected genius like jazz  (see also brian doyle) or a more predictable two-step.  but only you can provide the cadence of your voice.  like a windmill, it's fitting to speed up or slow down according to the particular wind guiding your book's direction.  i read something recently that was going back and forth between concrete objects and philosophical connections to those objects. and it was going on with this great musical meter and the author and i were dancing until they, who shall remain nameless, tried to get way too "artsy" in what i can only call a spasmatic fit of hallucinogenic phraseology moves that left my eyebrows stuck in an upright position. what are they talking about?!  i said out loud.  i forgive them because this is a masterful author and i can only believe they meant to do this. maybe they meant to do the macarena.  and the waltz?  well, they were only kidding about that. but i was really into the waltz.  i just thought other readers might get lost too or perhaps i simply lack the dance skills to keep up.  believe me, i can make connections out of anything or nothing at all, but in this case i was completely lost.  it wasn't a good or necessary break in rhythm, at least for me.  i can tango if you ask me to.  charleston unexpectedly?  ok, i'll be flexible.  but it was more like suddenly being flung from the dance floor altogether.  some readers may like that.  again, just my opinion, but i trusted them not to lose me! (it was with a wary brow that i continued the next chapter.) so thank you for keeping time for us and for saying things simply if that's what the music calls for. *ockham's razor and all that...

reference assuming intelligence on the part of your readers is kind.  dropping in french or latin phrases, cool.  (*speaking of which, before i get too far i should reference my own aforementioned use of ockham's--sometimes also spelled occam's--razor as the premise that the simplest answer is probably right). somewhere, though, i want to know what you mean or at least where to find it because chances are i might have been sick the day they covered that in french class, plus i never took latin. i like new words and yes, i can look them up.  and every historic allusion has it's time.  you don't have to hold my hand parenthetically, but it is nice to know that somewhere at the bottom of the page or in the back i can look up said reference.  in bigger terms, honesty is appealing in terms of why you feel the need to share certain things with us.  not only how do you use references , but what is your reference point?  it may be to help yourself process a life event, to comfort, to create an escape, or because you are fascinated by something you learned and want to teach.  there are personal journals destined to be books (see also famous annes, as in frank and lindbergh).  and sometimes, honestly, i think there are books that should have just stayed personal journals.  (perhaps social media has clouded the filter of public vs. private consumption?)  at any rate, thank you for circling back to something if you take the time to draw special attention to it in the first place.

and of the writing gospel these three remain:  structure, rhythm and reference.
but the greatest of these is still love.

an alert and grateful reader

direction matters

as a lifetime learner, i find it so reassuring that you can live for a substantial period of time and still learn the simplest of new things.

for example, yesterday from the homes & gardens section of the paper, i learned that ceiling fans go in different directions for different seasons.  really!?  i got up from the couch and checked.  sure enough, there's a nifty little button on it that reverses the blade direction. whoa. (and yes, i'm easily entertained.)

the recommended setting is counterclockwise for summer (which cools and brings air down) and clockwise for winter (which takes air up and creates even circulation).  i had no idea.

setting my fan to the desired rotation for august (in my air current ignorance, i'd had it backwards) i stood underneath and really could tell the difference.  and to think all these years i've had it on the same setting all year long...

Friday, August 5, 2016

on country walks

no matter where i've lived, i always feel at home when i have a walking route.  my current one is by far my favorite and, when i head uphill to the vineyards, i always breathe a sigh of gratefulness for where i live.

because of this loop, my ears are trained to hear snakes in the grass and doves perched on telephone wires.  i know where the blackberries are and often stop to pick fresh plums on tip-toe.  once i saw a hummingbird resting on a branch not far from the now-familiar field of sweet peas.

if it is late morning, the boy with downs syndrome will often run along his side of the fence with a beach ball saying hello to me the entire way.  i look forward to saying hello back.  the killdeer lay their eggs among the river rocks by the stables and the jersey cow looks at me with her big brown eyes as if to say, "all will be well".

luxury cars speed past me on their way to and from wineries while riding lawnmowers stir up august dust.  somehow the queen anne's lace defy this dust, bobbing gently in the evening breeze--a nod to grace--and guiding my steps back home.

Monday, August 1, 2016

annie dillard made me do it

if you ask me about writing, i'd say we are what we read and that's been my preoccupation.  when i write, it's to condense in poetry, whereas novelists enlarge.  and why i don't write a novel is because of the problem of selection:  too many ideas, rather than too few, it seems.

but in reading a collection of annie dillard's writings in "the abundance" i couldn't NOT start writing.  it's as though her way of putting things forces you somehow into either being a writer or not being one.  and i am one, so i wrote more than just a poem for the first time in a while.  it's called "moon rise":

     I remember the day I realized the moon did not just rise at night. I remember thinking, “How could I not have noticed this before?” Sure, I had passed fifth grade science class and even done a little styrofoam model of the solar system with Charity Masterson for the science fair.

      But more than thirty years had gone by since our parents came to the gym to noddingly search out and approve our earnest research with accompanying poster boards. And ever since the moon had been nothing more to me than a snickerdoodle in the sky with a bite taken out, always on the left side, like a child's drawing.

      That the moon was a reflection of the sun, I remember. That it had its own orbit I had somehow missed. And that it both waxed and waned (with sometimes a bite out of the right side, gasp!) was an entire revelation.

      Sure enough, there it was at ten in the morning...high noon, sometimes after dinner making its trip across the sky. It made me want to return to my childhood and make drawings of both a sun and moon in the sky above a house with the proverbial chimney and row of flowers. (Come to think of it, as an art teacher, I have yet to see a child's drawing of a moon in the daytime, but I'll keep you posted.)

      How much I had seen and paid attention to the sun. How not so much to the secondary light. What now drew me to the less-bright, to the essential shadow of things? If the sun was knowledge and understanding the moon seemed to represent mystery and silence.

      Along with ts eliot, the “eyes of my eyes were seeing and the ears of my ears heard”. I suddenly noticed the moon all the time. What else had I glibly gone throughout my days not noticing or appreciating? Birdsong, tree buds, tides, direction of the wind...and what egocentricity was it that made it seem as though it had just begun since I had noticed?

      It made me want to know other things that had been going on the entire time. I wanted to see our land from the river's perspective instead of from the highway; to pause at the windmill on my country walk loop and notice its direction and to let the sea tell me when I would walk her shores at low tide.

      I wondered what would happen if I allowed the grace of nature to dictate my days; to inform, rather than me telling her, where and when I would go and what I would do. Could I trust her to not only feed me in season and provide beauty when I least expected it but also to remind me that there are no bad weather days, only days in which to venture out more than others? To sleep when it was dark and to wake when it was light? To become appropriately small in position to increase my perspective?

      This was a letting go, an enlargement; the glass of theology that shatters in the presence of Love.  Of putting down the crayon of certainty that colored the moon in the same way and allowed room in my mind for it to rise in the middle of the day as it had always done. And now, when I do see it in the more-expected night sky--even when it is barely a slice—we both seem fuller for it.