field notes:

8.28.2003

EVERY MORNING ALL OVER AGAIN
--William Stafford
from The Long Sigh The Wind Makes


Only the world guides me.
Weather pushes, or when it entices
I follow. Some kind of magnetism
turns me when I am walking
in the woods with no intentions.

There are leadings without any
reason, but they attract;
if I find there is nothing to gain
from them, I still follow---their power
is the power of the surrounding world.

But things that promise, or those
that will serve my purposes---they
interfere with the pure wind
from nowhere that sustains a kite,
or a gull, or a free spirit.

So, afloat again every morning,
I find the current: all the best
rivers have secret channels that
you have to find by whispering
like this, and then hear them and follow.


Old William Stafford awoke each morning, and even on the day of his death, wrote a poem. This morning, when I was blasted out of possibly the best dream ever--since I can't remember a slip of it but the feeling that something more important than here is calling me--by an alarm clock pulsing out of the darkness, I wanted to see what Bill had to say about mornings.

I ache for mornings like rivers, like thermals.

posted by Lisa on 6:13 AM link |

8.26.2003

An osprey cried again and again last night. As I walked from here to the beach I craned my neck but couldn't find the bird through the trees. I took the path above the sand, above the small retaining wall and looked up once more. The osprey was high, high above, still calling mournfully. Held in place by fanning wings, golden against the evening sky, lit from below by last day's light, reflecting all remembrance of the passing summer day.

I lay down on the hard-packed earth. Snowy egrets flew over my head, then descended into the trees.

At the end of the pier I took off my clothes, climbed down the ladder and onto the raft. I dove sharply into the green water, the green world of salt and life. As I dove, there was no sense of parting those waters--they enclosed me. The water held both the warmth of the day and the coolness of the coming night, and gave me exactly what measure of each I sought.

The water will hold you. You need only lean back your head, heart exposed to the sky. Bring your head up and you begin to sink. Let the water cradle you. It's been a long day, there is comfort in being held.

posted by Lisa on 7:05 AM link |

8.25.2003

I swam twice yesterday. Yup, still here in Inverness, the baby hasn't come yet. I was introduced to a doctor yesterday, he said babies are more likely to come on the outgoing tide. That leaves plenty of time each day, but so far, this baby is staying put.

So I wait, and swim. Today promises to be another day that needs swimming. The leafy canopy above me is illuminated with golden light and I can tell that today will be hot. Yesterday, I swam. I took most of the day off after a manic several weeks of constant work. I had several long conversations with friends, family and neighbors. I read some. I drank a few sips of wine, and I ate chocolate peanut butter Dryers after dinner. An indulgent late summer day, if ever.

In the late morning swim I dove for the first time off the restored float at the end of our dock. A shallow dive to the southeast through pleasant chop, swimming with the wind and against the tide. In the evening, the water was calm and a deep emerald green. I couldn't see my hands in front of me. That second swim was pure pleasure. I didn't go anywhere but out, didn't need anything but the feeling of the water, the salty cup of her hand.

posted by Lisa on 8:16 AM link |

8.24.2003

We had a localized blackout this morning. One neighbor knocked on my door early, waking me up, with a non-electrical phone in hand, knowing that I was waiting for my brother's call about the coming birth. So, in turn, I called another neighbor and we shared coffee and tea cooked on my propane camp stove. She brought Il Fornaio raisin bread and orange juice. She told me stories about sugar rationing during World War 2, and that she learned then to take her tea straight. She left college during the war in order to work at an oil refinery, helping out. One of her favorite jobs was folling the welders as they worked on tanks. She'd stand nearby holding the warm firehose, and talk to them--"small brown men from Oklahoma"--Indians.

She told me about the great floods here in the 80's, when residents were cut off from water, power and the outside world for five days. One of our nieghbors had a gas stove, and allowed all the neighbors to come over and cook on it each evening, and to have one flush each day as well. St. Columbia's church allowed folks to come in and help themselves to any food in their freezers, and to use their self-generated power to get warm and get dry. The "hippies" and the "old guard" came together during that time, digging ditches, clearing trees side by side, and helping each other out in neighborly ways.

That's part of the beauty of this area--it is a community--it's not just beautiful. People here work to help each other and that what makes it work. That sense of community is threatened by the trend toward weekenders here, and from other trends as well.

This excerpt from a letter to the editor in this week's Point Reyes Light says it well. It's an open letter to Mrs. Pritzker, part of the Hyatt family trying to get permitted to build a family compound here with more than 35,000 square feet of buildings, from a local rancher and director of the Marin Resource Conservation District:

...One can drive through West Marin and admire ranches and dairies nestled among rolling hills, in almost all cases the same ranches and dairies that have been there for more than 100 years. Perhaps this is part of your reason for buying property here.

But an agricultural community is more than that beautiful scenery and charming buildings. It is a community of people engaged in the business of providing food for the rest of the community. It is a collection of people who are connected to the land in ways that reflect their long family histories here. It is an interlocking network of people who embrace the wider community as service providers and customers.

...It is a collection of people who see and relate to each other regularly, in ways that join their lives together to make a working community.

This is what you imperil with your desire to build a corporate retreat or family retreat to enable your people to get away from it all. You take a big bite out of the heart of our community. You leave a space that could be filled by someone else who would enhance our community rather than diminish it. You pave the way for other wealthy people to move in and make us into a collection of over-sized houses and exclusive trophy ranches.

Beacause you are from Chicago and very wealthy is not something that bothers us...What does bother us is your belief that it is OK to build a lot of very large houses for you and your children and friends to breeze in and out of. That you have no intention of being part of us, despite your concession to having beef cows on the property.

...Your face in the paper looked open and decent, your sweater comfy and rural. You are the first to propose a large development right in the middle of ranch lands. But you can also be the first to do the right thing. You could build a real ranch and be part of us.

--Sally Gale


I think about all of this while I eat my tomato and cheese and bread for lunch today. I know who grew the tomato, who baked the bread, and who made the cheese. And if I should run out, a neighbor will surely give me more. Now that's community.


posted by Lisa on 12:45 PM link |

8.23.2003



in memorium

posted by Lisa on 4:01 PM link |

Last night I dreamt that we were always in sight of a tall mountain, and that this peak was responsible for keeping moisture away, and for keeping us warm.

I've woken up to a world of moisture.

I'm told that I should go to Abbott's Lagoon--that many shorebirds have arrived and that the lagoon is phat with birds. If I'm still here tomorrow, I'll go to see them, but I knew that shorebirds were coming in several days ago. I saw a solitary spotted sandpiper on the beach after my swim. I had missed it, (I like to think it's the same one who was hanging out here earlier in the year).

The things these birds have seen, the distance they've travelled--yet they stand here as if they've always been right here. As if you only imagined that they'd been gone for a season. As if it were yesterday that the sandpiper stood on the shore until I walked just so close that it would flit a bit further up the beach, and stay there until I came that close again, when he'd again find another rock outcropping, or spit of sand from which to forage.

I'll be leaving here at any moment. I'm waiting for my sister-in-law's labor to get underway, and then I'll throw my things into my truck (checklist by the door) and try to reach the hospital in Laguna Beach before the baby is born. I want to be there to greet little Ashton or Sophia or Isabelle. I'm full of wonder at the prospect of new human life, and at the profound optimism and courage it takes to bring a child forth, unclothed and with an uncertain destiny.

So many people have children. And I wonder, do they all think they're prepared to guide that child into its right humanity? Maybe that's why most people have children at a young age. Maybe then it's easier to believe that you'll do a better job than your parents have, or maybe then it's easier not to worry about the implications of parenthood quite as much.

Or perhaps it's not so much a matter of doing anything right. Perhaps it's enough to want that new life, to want a family around you, and to do your best. After all, we've all been marked by our parents, it's their job to mark us. And I'm grateful for either the bravado or the instinct that drove mine to have me and my brother. Life is worth having. Actually, I'm hoping that we get more than one shot at it.


posted by Lisa on 7:46 AM link |

8.20.2003

Bridge from the Other World

Amongst Bedouins, certain men are the coffee grinders. They awake before the rest of their tribe and using a large mortar and pestle, grind the morning coffee with a deep rhythmic beat. The others lie in their beds, allowing the rhythms to hold their dreams in place so they can be remembered and brought up into the waking world. When the coffee is ready, they arise, and tell each other their dreams and sip the hot coffee.


posted by Lisa on 8:51 AM link |

8.18.2003

Last night, I heard Barbara Gates, author of Already Home: A Topography of Spirit and Place read from her memoir. I've just begun to read it, drawn by the obvious affinity of topic. She lives in the Berkeley flats, and explores the geologic and cultural history of the area, as she deepens her presence to the experience of living there while learning to accept her mortality after a breast cancer diagnosis.

She spoke about a practice she developed during difficult times of "lying on the earth".

I love this idea. The earth can rejuvenate and heal. She can comfort and hold. She can remind us where our bodies come from, and where they will return. Gates also spoke about the shellmound that predated her neighborhood and existed for almost 5,000 years. It was not only a burial ground for Ohlone ancestors and the shells of the food that sustained them, it also served as the platform for their community. We need to practice lying on the earth because we no longer have that kind of connection to our lineage, and to the visceral reminders of our impermanent but necessary perch on the bones of our ancestors.

posted by Lisa on 7:18 AM link |

8.16.2003

This morning I awoke to familiar fog—reminder that this summer is legend in the making. Already the stories I hear and the stories I tell are creating that legend. This is the summer of the best weather in memory, the summer of the best July watermelons ever, the summer of no jellyfish in the bay, the summer when the wind was always welcome for it's cooling, the summer that my friends discovered a new swimming pond on Mt Vision.

But inside each story we tell of summer, each peach, each cherry lies the pit of knowledge of its passing. Summer is prone to legendizing, like a movie star. That sweet youth we've all touched, it passes too quickly—fades away to fall and the knowledge of winter. Summer will come again, and soon, marking the passage of our own time, while reminding us of the best of times in summers that came before, reminding us of the shortness of time in the few summers that remain.

Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.

—Russell Baker


posted by Lisa on 8:19 AM link |

8.14.2003

Long, slow, hot summer days have turned into early-mornings-til-late-nights of work and nothing but work. I fall into bed exhausted, wake up surprised at how many hours I've slept, turn on the computer, and go at it again. I still swim every day and that is my respite, my rest, my return to humanity.

I also appreciate the foods of august. The heirloom tomatoes are IN. Toby's Feed Barn is my favorite place lately to buy produce. Tables and bins filled with eggplants, apple varieties, figs, strawberries, melons, and beans. People are happy and friendly, shopping amongst the goods and goodies. The tomatoes! The tomatoes are finally here. I love them. I continue to eat them year-round, but only the little organic cherry tomatoes that we get from Mexico, and which by mid-summer are often over $4 for a small tub. But the only time of year for big tomatoes is now, when they are lucsious, fresh and flavorful. The heirlooms come in beautiful colors and shapes: orange and yellow and green with red stripes, some as big as my hand. Those are the best, for one slice covers any chunk of bread. With that, add any cheese, or a dash of oil and vinegar, and it's the best summer meal.

So you may not hear much from me for the next week or more while I catch up with my workload. But know that I'm doing my best to stay in touch with the world outside my window. Sometime in the middle of the day, I'll still dive into the warming waters of Tomales bay, and I'll bite into some local tomato, or a cherry.

I'll try to slow this summer down with those beauties.


posted by Lisa on 8:53 AM link |

8.13.2003

Out of Step with Natural Law

After Fred mentioned The Last American Man in the comments here last week I picked up the book and have almost completely devoured it. It's a biography of Eustace Conway, a man who lives devoted to ideas of living self-subsistent in nature, and who believes it's his destiny to change America and americans. I'm coming to the end of the book, and he seems tired, so perhaps he no longer believes that he really can change America, or even one person. He says this about trying to show schoolchildren how to roll a hoop:

I see this played out over and over. I watch these kids and I think, 'Can this unbelievable crisis be real?' What kind of childen are we raising in North America? Listen, I can guaran-damn-tee you that every child in Africa knows how to roll a fucking wheel. It's a question of understanding natural law. The world is ruled by a few basic physical laws—leverage, inertia, momentum, thermodynamics—and if you're out of touch with these fundamental principles, then you can't hammer a nail, carry a bucket, or roll a wheel. That means you're out of touch with the natural world. Being out of touch with the natural world means you've lost your humanity and that you live in an environment that you completely do not understand. Can you even begin to imagine my horror at this? Can you begin to comprehend what's been forgotten in just a few generations? It took mankind one million years to learn how to roll a wheel, but it only took us fifty years to forget."


Well, I think Eustace might be even more apalled if he'd read the Wall Street Journal on the 8th of August, where he'd have learned that more and more women, in order to squeeze into the latest toe-scrunching Manolo Blahnik or Kate Spade mega-high-heeled pumps, are having bones removed from their toes. Okay, it's a slightly different class of cultural perversity, but still. How far removed from natural law have you gotten when you mutate your body in order to walk in shoes that weren't meant for your feet? Your very feet, for god's sake. Are we rendering ourselves completely useless in the physical world, mirroring the impotence we experience as world events spin out of our control?

A friend of mine revealed the other night after my feet began to hurt, walking around the city in clumpy platform sandals, that she never goes to the city in shoes she can't run in. Now that's practical. A little paranoid, but definitely smart. That's a girl who isn't worried about her "toe cleavage", but instead understands her environment.

The new shoes are 20% pointier and the heels are 4.2" high. I admit, there's a real fun in wearing heels and dressing all the way "up" sometimes. Those high heels make the calf muscles taut and sexy. Is self-esteem the new 'natural law'? The pursuit of it can justify botox injections, unnatural footwear, or the pursuit of cleavage, breast or toe.

posted by Lisa on 8:22 AM link |

8.12.2003

Have you seen the Recall Blog? Now, you'd think this guy would have a sense of humor: maybe he's punch drunk from becoming a candidate, joining the circus he's trying to lampoon, or maybe he's just reading too much email.

When I wrote him asking for a current list of all candidates, I mentioned that my ex-stepmother was in the running. I mentioned that she might be a felon, but said I wasn't sure whether brandishing a shotgun at a Nevada sherrif would get you a felony, or just a misdemeanor. He blithely emailed back asking if my "friend" would like to post her candidacy in his Candidates' Corner.

Do you ever feel like nobody's listening?

I miss writing here when I get tied up with work or houseguests and don't post. My friend K. from Portland visited me on the eve of launching a 5-day kayak trip with eleven 12-year-old girls and several other instructors. They left from Heart's Desire and were attempting to make the mouth--about 10 miles, I believe. That doesn't seem far, but against the winds we usually have, and half the time against serious tides, with young, first-time kayakers--they've never yet made the mouth in all the years of the program. I hope they do. So far this morning, there's no wind. I hope they've gotten off to an early start. I imagine that yesterday they didn't even attempt to paddle. It would be disastrous to launch the girls in the kinds of winds we had. I hope they stayed in sheltered water and practiced 'wet exits' and built up their skills, laughing and getting to know each other. After the kayak journey they head off to Sonoma for 2 days of rock climbing, and after that it's a four-day backpacking trip, and finally a return to the city for graduation. What a great program--a great beginning-of-teenagerness ritual.

I wonder if my teenage years had begun with an introduction to outdoor life and the thrill of meeting physical challenges whether they would have gone better. I might have made better choices, or developed interests that could have kept me from pursuing trouble, thrills of another kind. K. has lots of stories about kids--some who make it out of serious trouble, and some who don't. Some that are headed there, but still can't be helped. Nobody knows why. I would like to do some direct work with kids. I'd like to walk away from this desk for five days and paddle and camp and lead girls up the bay, negotiating the currents and the winds, the cliques and the fears and the temptations, land them safely on a sheltered beach and teach them how to find warmth and make shelter, and find beauty, and maybe a little joy.

posted by Lisa on 8:22 AM link |

8.09.2003

Flashmobs and Guvs

I checked the candidates list this morning, and sure enough, just as my mom reported, there's my dad's third wife. Apparently, she hasn't turned in her paperwork yet, but there's still all of today. Who knows what might happen.

I noticed Peter Ueberroth might run. There's a man I could get behind: a principled man, a good manager, and a humble person who hasn't let fame or praise determine how he sees himself. I've been in his home: he does keep a framed picture of himself as Times' Man of the Year--but its hung in the laundry room. Not exactly Arnold "bikini wax" Schwarzenegger.

I've decided that it's time to abandon my principles about this recall election. It's worthless and pointless to argue that the recall is a sham perpetrated in order to subvert the election process, and that it's a threat to democracy. That doesn't really matter, and it isn't the point. The point is that nobody really wants Davis as governor. Arguing my point about the recall just brings home the reality that I can't defend Davis, and wouldn't if I could. Nobody I know voted for him because they were passionate about the man, or the job he could do for us. We voted for him because Bill Simon scared the bejesus out of us. I actually voted for Camejo, but only late in the day and because I was pretty certain by that point that Davis wouldn't lose.

The other reason not to argue whether the recall should occur, or why it's a bad idea is that people don't care: they only care that jobs are leaving California, they care that we have a 34B$ deficit, they care that services are being slashed. I care about all that too.

That's why the recall happened. It's not just Darrell Issa and his money that created this mess, this "circus"--the conditions had to be ripe for it to occur. Davis made a mess, and the one thing we can all agree on is that.

But before I completely give up my position that the recall shouldn't happen, I have this solution to offer. If Davis were to resign today, Bustamente could take over, and the recall balloon would deflate and the whole circus would be defused.

**

Meanwhile, there's a Flash Mob scheduled today in San Francisco, according to cheesebikini, and the information will be posted here.

posted by Lisa on 9:07 AM link |

8.08.2003

In the Mission district the other night, a bookstore called 'The Abandoned Planet' yielded a signed copy of Passwords, an out-of-print William Stafford. This poem is beautiful:


Some Things the World Gave
--William Stafford

     1
Times in the morning early
when it rained and the long gray
buildings came forward from darkness
offering their windows for light.

     2
Evenings out there on the plains
when sunset donated farms
that yearned so far to the west that the world
centered there and bowed down.

     3
A teacher at a country school
walking home past a great marsh
where ducks came gliding in—
she saw the boy out hunting and waved.

     4
Silence on a hill where the path ended
and then the forest below
moving in one long whisper
as evening touched the leaves.

     5
Shelter in winter that day—
a storm coming, but in the lee
of an island in a cover with friends—
oh, little bright cup of sun.

from Passwords

posted by Lisa on 7:32 AM link |

8.06.2003

What are the stories we tell each other about our origins, and about life? It was the old way to tell the creation story when you wanted to evoke creation in any form. If you were writing a song or creating a new child or healing any kind of sickness, the creation story would be evoked.

We get the impression that for archaic societies life cannot be repaired, it can only be re-created by a return to sources. And the "source of sources" is the prodigious outpouring of energy, life, and fecundity that occurred at the Creation of the World.

--Mircea Eliade
--Myth And Reality


I feel the need for such stories. In my childhood, creation stories were told to me in a strange context called Sunday School. This took place in an upstairs room with many chairs and an upright piano wedged in near some tables. Sunday School was what we had to endure before going to eat at the House of Pancakes, the house of many flavors of syrup. The stories we heard in that cramped, sweaty room had less to do with our lives than any story you could have told us about who invented blue syrup. Those old stories never left that room, never inhabited us. We were left to create on our own.

Maybe that's why I was drawn to the study of literature in school. I felt the need for stories that could hold me up, and induct me into the greater civilization where stories have been told and stored in stacks. My ancestors live in the libraries. When I need wisdom or structure I can go to the poets, to the Greeks, or to Blake.

As Americans, we have creation stories that we all know and share: Washington crossing the Delaware, Paul Revere and his midnight ride, Patrick Henry's Give me Liberty or Give me Death, and Frederick Douglas. We've also got the deaths of countless indigenous people, the Civil War, slavery, and other nightmares. What are we left with? When we're facing a crisis of leadership, which of these stories do we tell each other in order to re-create a democracy that inspires us?

The Boston Tea Party would be a great place to start. Our ancestors felt deeply every turn of the screw that parliament put on their perceived liberties in the form of pernicious taxes like the Stamp Act. They wrote letters, boycotted English goods, wore homespun clothes--all for liberty out of indignation. They didn't even want independence, it just became a need. Those aren't the oldest stories we can tell, but I think we need to retell these stories of democracy--they're stories that could serve us now.

****

What I want to know is this. Jon Carroll is only in town for two weeks, and he knows way more gossip than I do. How is that? Am I hanging out with the wrong people? I'm only slightly consoled that I might know more about birds than he does.


posted by Lisa on 7:35 AM link |

8.05.2003

Some of us place bloggers are getting together for a radio interview on my local community radio station, KWMR, later today. So I've been giving some thought to what this whole place blogging phenomenon imeans to me:

Writing about place enhances my connection to the immediate world around me, by increasing my awareness and understanding of how I impact it and how it infects my life with its beauty and peace. Of course, there are many lessons to be learned from nature, but in any place there's value in increasing our connectedness not only to our own communities, but also to the larger community of the planet--a feeling at home here, that this greater place is ours, and that we do have some ownership and some responsibility and something to say and an effect on what happens here.

I believe that we should delve deeply into whatever moves us. This place moves me and that's why I began to write about it. If we follow our passions, that's where any hope lies in reclaiming the lost spirit in our modern world.

On one level there's the environmental mission of saving the planet, but the ecological value goes even deeper than that. It's not just how we interact with the earth to save the earth, it's how we interact with the earth, and with our communities, to save ourselves. It's become very obvious that we've forgotten, or don't know, how to live in a soulful manner. All I'm really trying to do is save myself.

Dissonance, distraction, disconnection.

Michael Meade says that we're in a slow apocalypse. The veil is being lifted on our world, and revealing what has been hidden. What's being revealed in our institutions, in ourselves, and our forms, is a world where there is no meaning, or where the meaning has been completely subverted. We have leaders who can't be trusted with intelligence, a clergy with its hands in the profane, and we're fighting war to get peace. Words, as spoken in our mainstream arenas, no longer mean what they say. That's why there's a groundswell movement of poetry and hip-hop. People are hungry for words that mean something, and for meaning in general. There's a post-modern emptiness that's left us wondering what is true, and where we can find value.

In a world like this, the primary act that is called for is to reinvest form with meaning. To stand for something. To stand in one place and say, this place has more meaning that that place. This is sacred ground, this is my home, this view out my window has value beyond the value of any random other thing that can be seen.

The world, particularly the world as seen through the internet, is an endless series of horizontal links, all leading out from random starting points and with no particular end point. Connection to place is an antidote to that scattershot trend. I'm engaged in delving into the very ground beneath my feet, and upwards into the heavens. There's a vertical interest here. It feels like staking a flag into the dirt, saying "I am here, I know this ground". It's saying there is meaning in this literal path where my feet walk to the beach, and it moves from the dirt, into me and upwards into the firmament. There is spirit above, spirit in me, and spirit in the ground below me.

posted by Lisa on 2:34 PM link |

8.04.2003

I've just read Geoff Dyer's Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It, which, no, is not a self-help book, nor is it anything to do with yoga. It's travel stories by the author. I read it based on an NYT review I read awhile back, and last night I ran across the passage which was quoted there, and which was part of the inspiration to read. He and his girlfriend, Circle, are in Cambodia, and he describes the greens of the rice paddies as they walk through them.

It was not just the paddies themselves: the surrounding vegetation--foliage so dense the trees lost track of whose leaves were whose--was a rainbow coalition of one colour: green. There was an infinity of greens, rendered all the greener by splashes of red hibiscus and the herons floating past, so white and big it seemed as if sheets hung out to dry had suddenly taken wing. All other colours--even purple and black--were shades of green. Light and shade were degrees of green. Greenness, here, was less a colour than a colonising impulse. Everything was either already green--like a snake, bright as a blade of grass, sidling across the footpath--or in the process of becoming so. Statues of the Buddha were mossy, furred with green. Stone had become plant, the inanimate had become organic. "Annihilating all that's made /To a green thought in a green shade"? No, even thought had been annihilated. This was an entirely sensual green, one that rendered thought not just impossible but inconceivable.


The book isn't at all about nature, and descriptions of the landscape are rare--actually this may be the only such--so quoting this passage is almost entirely out-of-context. Often, reading these stories, I thought how much I wouldn't want to travel with this man. His existential boredom, his clever intellectualism would bore me, throw me into despair, and in fact sometimes just reading the book I felt that way. But as the stories continued, as he unfolded himself around the world, eventually chronicling the realization that he was having a nervous breakdown over a plate of eggs in Detroit, I saw how much he could well be a friend of mine. Who doesn't wonder about his place in the scheme of things, and who doesn't anguish that their contribution to it all amounts to nothing, in his case "ink". I was put off by his boredom while traveling the world, while living in Rome, tripping in Amsterdam or southeast Asia, or stoned in Amsterdam, or bored (again) in New Orleans, because the travel itself seemed so exotic, because one who could travel seemed so fortunate, that I disdained his having normal anxiety in those circumstances. But the story is an old one. It doesn't matter what path you take--you will question whether it's the right one.

I read the book in all of my spare moments this weekend, and finished it last night. I'm tempted to read it again. It's funny, and brilliant in parts, and human. It's completely conflicted, and that's what I love about it. Take this passage from Leptis Magna where Dyer travels to Libya to see a ruin he knows almost nothing about, but has always wanted to see based on the childhood photograph of a friend.

Obviously a vocabulary of architecture is essential if you are to articulate what you have seen in a building, but perhaps the act of seeing itself is dependent on that lexicon. Without words are you not only mute but partially blind too? Was I going to Leptis to not see it? Alternating between confidence and extreme doubt, I felt myself on the brink of methodological panic. Gradually, as this panic deepened, I felt my confidence returning.


In the end, he tells the story of Black Rock City at Burning Man interwoven with walks of pilgrimage in Asia. After closing the book, this is what I remember:

The Buddha exuded such serenity that I had an impulse to fall to my knees. I resisted it, but what can you do when you are profoundly moved? There is only a limited repertoire of gestures available to us in moments like these.

posted by Lisa on 7:37 AM link |

8.01.2003

His obsession was the result of unwavering imagination. And so when I'd awake just past dawn and find myself alone in the dome, I'd know where to find him. Coffee cup in hand he stood with a hose or a hoe, ant spray or fertilizer, tending his trees. When I looked at them, I saw their upward form, their tall smooth trunks, graceful few fronds on top, and the coconuts that greened and fattened there, then dropped milky and full. But he saw something hidden, something I couldn't see. His battle was with the roots. The roots needed tending, for it was the roots that would save him. Whatever time of year, the rainy season haunted him. There was never enough time to prepare, to fortify against the torrents that would inevitably come and wash away his land. Roots were needed.

The two-and-a-half hectares sloped down towards the ocean, and when he first bought the land, he'd done two things: he'd planted it with coco palms to stave off erosion, and he'd built a sea wall to fight off waves and the tides. The sea wall could be worried over--was it holding? was it tall enough?--but it couldn't be worked like the trees could be.

Every day was a march against the weather. Mornings, he'd do the weeding, the turning of soil; late afternoons he'd set up a hose from the holding tank at the top of the property, and water the trees. He never stopped, and in the evenings he'd worry because he hadn't done enough--could never do enough.

And in this way it was established that I could never do enough. There was no room in his world for a person who wasn't working. The world was a harsh place, and in Mexico, harsher still than elsewhere. He judged the inhabitants of our villge, our friends, by their willingness to work hard. A person who worked from dawn til dusk and beyond was doing just what was required. And many of our american neighbors shared this work ethic, obsessively fighting the jungle, the decay, the weather, and the relaxed work habits of our hired hands.

He never loved what I loved about Mexico. I loved what he hated, and what he feared. I loved and still do, the almost indecipherable shrug, the turn of the mouth, the raised eyebrow, the words half-praise, half-surrender, "manana, this is Mexico". I love the crashing of the rainy season, pounding pouring rains that leave mud and rivers where there was parched earth yesterday, the sweet smell of fecund jungle--decay and growth indistinguishable, the slow afternoons when friends stop by unannounced and everything stops, meals prepared, games played, conversations go all night chased by laughter.

But in his way, he loved his trees. He'd nurtured and cared for them like nothing else on this earth. For years, he'd kept a year-round caretaker who tended the trees while he was in the states. Now, we lived here, and he bent to the work daily. He'd wrap a shirt around his head for coolness, but leave his brown back exposed to the heat.

After each meal, I'd dump a little bucket of rinds and leftovers into the dirt around one of the palms, then chop the food into small pieces with a long-handled shovel, burying the coffee grounds, the egg shells, the tortillas that had hardened beyond use. The palms near the kitchen got the most compost, and they needed it more than the rest, because they were closer to the salt spray of the ocean. Gardening on the beach is challenging for that reason. On our land the challenges were greater yet, because the soil was loamy. That's why the dirt at the base of the trees needed constant turning. The ground was red with clay, and didn't absorb water well. When the rains came, streams ran down the property everywhere: the driveway, at the edges, and around the buildings. The soil just left with the rain, leaving a new upturning of Huichol Indian shards to be discovered, taking the topsoil and depositing it useless onto the sand.

Perhaps ground cover would have been a more useful obsession. But where I saw streams and topsoil runoff, he saw a bigger calamity. He saw that someday the land would be taken away from him, ripped away by the roots. He knew that no matter who his lawyer paid off, no matter how many trees he planted, no matter how many fences he built, that land wouldn't hold: it would slip through his hands. He was right, the hurricane last year decimated the kitchen and both of the other palapas, but that was just the beginning. After his long fight with the federal agency who originally held the land, it was finally taken away from him early this year. After almost 20 years holding the soil, those trees will come down now, if they aren't already down. In their place will be a hotel, and nobody in those rooms will ever know what toil came before, what held the land, what lost it.

I like to remember hot afternoon breaks. We'd lay a coconut on a stump, then holding a machete high overhead, chip away at one end until a thin membrame was exposed. Then with the point of the blade, we'd pop a hole, and pass the coconut around and drink its sweet thin milk. Afterwards, we'd chop the hollowed ball and chew the fruit until we tired of it, and went back to work.

**

This post is part of a collective of posts--all in one way or another about Trees and Place--over at Ecotone: Writing About Place Please come and join us for discussion, or add a post. We'd love to have you!

posted by Lisa on 7:09 AM link |

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005 Lisa Thompson. All Rights Reserved.

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