Reflections

Reflections
© by Christine O’Brien

A whole forest has tumbled over
and lies, bottom side up
in the water!
A horizontal duck skims
the surface of the forest
and its twin follows upside down.
The crags promenade
above and below
snow sifted on their high points.
Ripples distort the reflections.
A bird call sounding like
a squeaky wheel
although no bird is in sight.
I promised to sit here
for one hour today
witnessing
what I see and hear.
An invisible dog’s bark.
One noisy motor boat passes
not at high speed.
The surface of the lake responds,
disturbed,
waves, the wake, plowing hard to the shore;
silt at the bottom by the shore
rises to the surface.
everything is affected
including me
It takes awhile for it all to
settle down.

Castle Lake.1a.jpg

****
When was the last time you took an hour (or half an hour) to witness your surroundings?  Something shifts when I take the time to do this.

Bear with me…

Having lived in Mount Shasta for three years, I continued to feel like a stranger in a strange land.  As if I had fallen into a life and world that were so foreign to me.  Following is an excerpt from a journal written in 2002…

Tonight after dark, I walked the loop road around my wild new neighborhood.  Tree spectres, star navigators, I felt like an orphan returned to her original home, finally and afraid.  I didn’t know this terrain.  I knew huddled box houses, concrete, asphalt-paved city streets, skyscrapers,  city lights and the sound of foghorns.  Now, living in the mountains, I walked along snow-berm lined roads and felt out of place in the deep quiet that is induced by snow.  I looked to the stars for guidance, but didn’t grow up reading them.  Foggy nights and shuttered windows allowed neither awareness of the stars nor the sun’s rising and retreating.  Is it too late for me to become familiar with nature in her rawness?  Aren’t I the daughter of this more truly than anything…or anyone?

Though the road was partially lit by a slightly waning moon, I carried a flashlight.  I had chosen to move here, to be so displaced.   Even with this yearning to connect with nature, I was surprised by a lurking fear.  What strange stalking beast might be watching me?  Yes, there are bears, mountain lions and bobcats here.  A few barking dogs raced down paths to announce themselves…and me.

A few days ago, at Castle Lake, there were about ten fish, trout I think, about 12″ long, each one laid neatly at the base of a pine tree around which a circumference of snow had melted.  The fish lay dead, intertwined, resembling a celtic knot.  A single fish laid a few trees away.  Where do fish go in winter when this mountain lake freezes over to a depth of several feet?  How did this neat pile of preserved fish get here?  Away from the water on a higher plane–the water hadn’t risen that high.  A mystery.

Were the fish, a bear’s bounty abandoned perhaps when s/he was unexpectedly intruded upon?  A bear who fished the lake before it froze, laid them in a neat design beneath the tree and then was driven off by a hunter, perhaps?  Or his suspicions of one?  Or was it an offering of some sort?  Or perhaps a bear scared a fisherman off…but then why did he leave the fish?  The cluster of fish frozen beneath all of that snow for weeks and now a temporary melting and no bear to claim this defrosted bounty.

I’d written a mini-writing workshop to share with a circle of friends about winter–exploring their feelings–about this one in particular.  This winter had lavishly dumped 90-inches of snow over our town in less than one month!  That’s a lot of snow to move around to clear pathways, driveways and streets.  Berms grew and city streets were narrowed, slushy and hard to navigate.  A precarious and often impossible situation.  Some days, I stayed  home and checked the weather reports regularly, looking towards a break.  Emerging into January, a new year, temperatures rose to the 40’s and rain fell for two weeks dissolving some of the berms.  And then, a dry spell, a few visible sunsets causing a body to halt in her routine to witness the translucent alpenglow on the mountain.  The beauty, ah yes, I remember why I moved here.  Such breathtaking beauty and nature pounding down the door.

Really, though, what does any of this rambling have to do with bear?  Or abandoned fish?  Or my winter themed writing workshop?  Only everything!  Terry Tempest Williams and other writers of our times, have likened the hibernating bear to the in-dwelling hidden deep feminine!  The introspective cave dweller.  The female bear who births her young in the spring.  Winter gestations, hibernations, cave dwelling–not to be feared but appreciated for allowing one the time and space it takes to gestate, find her voice and create.  Isn’t that what I’m doing here?  In Mount Shasta?  According to Williams…if you should meet this bear in the wild, open your blouse and show that you’re a woman and you will be allowed to pass unharmed, so the story goes.  And where has my cat wandered to after hours?  It’s well past closing time.  I hope she hasn’t encountered a bear.

And tonight, when I told my lover let’s lay in silence for awhile, “Let’s not talk,” he pinned my hands and I growled like a bear in captivity.  Then he left.  I felt angry because no man could contain me any longer.  Now I have a voice and sometimes I displease a man.

 

Nowhere to Go...Dec. 2001.jpg

Horse Camp

I wrote this entry a few years ago.

****
Nature is a vital re-balancing refuge.  Today, I hiked up to Horse Camp (elevation is 7950 feet)  from Bunny Flat on Mount Shasta.  The hike takes me about an hour in one direction.  Sitting at the backside of the Sierra Club’s stone cabin built in 1923, I face Olberman’s Causeway–a path built by Joseph Macatee Olberman.  The path leads up to Avalanche Gulch which is the beginning of the climb to the summit of Mt. Shasta.  I’ve been told that scaling Mt. Shasta is not something you want to do in late summer.  It’s the season for avalanches.  Summiting is not something I aspire to…but I love being here.

The mountain has a few slimming glaciers on this south side; it’s mostly cocoa-colored now with sparse hardy trees, shale and rocky outcroppings.  At this lower elevation, there is purple lupine and rugged bouquets of gold flowers that soften the landscape. Flutters, birdsong and a sneaky chipmunk keep me company.  The chipmunk gets more daring, checking me out to see if I have food.  A few feet away, I see that he looks healthy enough.

Voices precede their owners, filtering down from the summit trail.  Masculine voices as if through a megaphone.  There is a stone fountain with a water spicket–the most pristine
spring water to be found…and cold!  A rugged woman with an overnight pack stacked high trudges by me.  She’s no stranger to nature and camping.

I could say that I’m on a Vision Quest…questing for my next occupation, preoccupation, gift to offer the world.  Afterall, a gift given is a gift received.  Connecting to the earth at this power spot, I imagine that if I get quiet and receptive enough, something will get through to me.   I’m here yet often somewhere else in my head.  Meanwhile, the men catch up with their voices.  No one I know in this weary bunch of summiters.  They unstrap their backpacks and rest on the adjacent bench.

The chipmunk is right under my feet.  So bold.  “Go away,” I whisper.  One man clucks for the chipmunk.  The chipmunk ventures closer but sees no food offering so he retreats– back to me.  My mind wanders and I wonder if my smartphone has reception here.

.

****
In the spring, 2019, this is how Mount Shasta looks from Bunny Flat, elevation of 6950 feet, after a “real winter.”

 

mountaininthespring.jpg

Call Back the Bees

His feet are shod with gauze,
His helmet is of gold;
His breast, a single onyx
With chrysoprase, inlaid.

verse from Emily Dickinson’s poem, The Bee

It’s been in the news for several years now…that we are losing our honey bee colonies.  In some parts of the world, humans hand-pollinate the fruit-bearing trees due to the loss of bee populations.  One big reason for this loss is the use of pesticides.  The resultant disease is called Colony Collapse Disorder.Sunflowerwithbee..jpg

In late spring, I revel when I see bees pollinating my 100 year old cherry tree.  When I stand close, I hear the hum of bees doing their work.  I love the sound of this “machinery.”  I also love to see bees dallying in the bed of sunflowers or anywhere in my garden.  Everything feels right with the world on these special days.

Even if you think you are honey bee savvy, take two-and-a-half minutes to watch this short youtube about this amazing and necessary insect.  I learned something new.

Writing Prompt:
What can you do to “call back the honey bees?”  Write a poem perhaps?  Then share it.

 

The Stream of Consciousness

Is it an actual stream?  Could I go and sit beside it on a rare lazy day with a basket of food, a great book and thou?  I would hope for fresh air on this day.  So that I could breathe without dread of inhaling smoke and other toxins bred of fires.  I finally got an air purifier for the house.  When you can’t open a window for weeks on end due to unhealthy air quality, you begin to consider what you can do to protect your lungs.  I also bought an Eco-gear N95 anti pollution face mask through Amazon.com.  I haven’t worn it out on the street yet, I’ve been warned that I should.  The air quality index has been unhealthy at 166 with PM2.5 as the “dominant pollutant.”

Who would have thought it would come to this in our lifetime?  Who would have dreamt this as a possibility?  Weren’t we warned?

Yet, we still hear of people who deny global warming.  Hmmm.  What’s it going to take?

We go about the daily details of our lives.  Call the phone company to request a less expensive rate package, water the garden, check in with a friend in declining health, go to yoga class, find time for something inspiring and fun!  Write a blog.  Work on your book.  While you’re at it, pick up some food for the artists’ gathering later on today.  And, figure out a date and time to Skype with your family who, thankfully, live in a smoke-free zone.  And, of course, if there is time, begin to clear out the things in your little home that it’s time to shed.  Business as usual, right?

Yet nothing is usual.  My sister, living an hour south of here, has literally had the fires in her backyard.  She has requested “normalcy”.  I wonder if this is the new normalcy.  Things are not going to reverse by themselves.  We’ve tipped the scales.

Writing Prompt:
Over the course of your own lifetime, what has notably changed?  Is there a new normal?  How do you adapt? Do some stream of consciousness writing.

Stay safe.

 

 

 

 

Photos Are Evocative

A flat tire over the weekend with no possibility of repair until Monday, I was on foot.  I recommend it…not the flat tire, but walking through your neighborhood.  When I spied this “doggie in the window,” I grabbed my smartphone from my backpack and took a few photos.  This one tugged at my heart.  I could certainly make up a story around it.  Would I write it from the dog’s perspective?  The owner’s?  My own?  Hmmm.  It’s really all my own, no matter which perspective I choose.  Or, I could paint it…

doginthewindow.2018.jpg

There is nothing like a visual to evoke a memory, a feeling or some other emotional response.

Writing Prompt:
If you were going to use this image as inspiration for your writing today, how would you begin?  Does it inspire a poem, perhaps?  Write it!

Renascence

When I first read, Renascence by Edna St. Vincent Millay, I was dumbstruck.  Millay was about twenty years old when she wrote this epic poem.  It seemed to touch on so many things that I had experienced over the course of my life.  The first two stanzas follow:

Renascence by Edna St. Vincent Millay

“All I could see from where I stood

Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.
Over these things I could not see;
These were the things that bounded me;
And I could touch them with my hand,
Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
And all at once things seemed so small
My breath came short, and scarce at all.”
****
When I reread Renascence over ten years ago, I responded to the question “What binds you” in five pages of journal-type writing.  I titled it “Hemmed In.”  Reading this piece of my own writing ten years later, many things have changed and many things have remained the same.  It reminded me of one of those time capsule writings that you reopen all those years later and rediscover yourself in another time and perhaps another place.  And, I could respond to the same question again today and see where my writing goes.
gumboot2
Writing Prompt:
Using the line “These were the things that bounded me,” write your own Renascence style poem (or prose).  Start with your physical surroundings.  What is in your immediate environment?  Expand your writing outwards and follow where you are lead.

There is always a project (to write about)

A Strange New Cottage In Berkeley
by Alan Ginsberg

All afternoon cutting bramble blackberries off a tottering
brown fence
under a low branch with its rotten
old apricots and miscellaneous
under the leaves,
fixing the drip in the intricate gut machinery of a new toilet;
found a good coffee pot in the vines by the porch, rolled a
big tire out of the scarlet bushes, hid my marijuana;
wet the flowers, playing the sunlit water each to each,
returning for godly extra drops for the string beans and daisies;
three times walked round the grass and sighed absently:
my reward, when the garden fed me its plums from the
form of a small tree in the corner,
an angel thoughtful of my stomach, and my dry and love-
lorn tongue.

Isn’t there always a project?  One thing checked off the daily list and ten more crowd into view.  Just walk from one room to the next and see what you are confronted with.  The endless to-do list.

Ginsberg takes us on a garden tour as he cuts back the blackberries and makes his discoveries.  He ends his poem with delight.

Writing Prompt:
Write your own prose or poetry describing something that you did today, a project from your list.  Is there a reward in it?

garden1blue

When I was the Forest

rainbow2

 

When I was the Forest
by Meister Eckhart

When I was the stream, when I was the
forest, when I was still the field,
when I was every hoof, foot,
fin and wing,
when I was the sky
itself,

No one ever asked me did I have a purpose, no one ever
wondered was there anything I might need,
For there was nothing
I could not
love.

It was when I left all we once were that
the agony began, the fear and questions came;
and I wept; I wept.  And tears
I had never known
before.

So I returned to the river, I returned to
the mountains, I asked for their hand in marriage again,
I begged–I begged to wed every object
and creature.

And when they accepted,
God was ever present in my arms
and He did not say “Where have you been?”
For then, I knew my soul,
every soul has always held Him.

Writing Prompt:
Over the course life, there are things that we lose and things that we  find.
Perhaps we’ve been left and/or we’ve left others at times.
Is there something in your life that was “found” then lost and was there a yearning and then a returning?  Describe it in prose or poetry.

 

At a Certain Point…

“At a certain point you say to the woods, to the sea,
to the mountains, the world, Now I am ready.
Now I will stop and be wholly attentive.
You empty yourself and wait, listening.”
by Annie Dillard
from Teaching a Stone to Talk

If a stone could talk, what would it say?

When was the last time you walked by a lake or in the woods,
climbed a mountain (or a hill), waded in a stream,
sat beside a tree?
Contemplated by a river?

Nature is sensual.  So are we.  Nature communicates to us in many ways.  One obvious way is through the senses.  We taste the cold shock of water from a mountain spring.  We touch the rough bark of an old tree.  We are soothed by the melange of nature’s colors when viewing a landscape.  We hear bubbling springs and wind through trees.  We smell fresh air and heady spring blossoms.

Living in the mountains for nearly twenty years now, I have been impressed and imprinted with the natural world that daily surrounds me.  Though the view from my kitchen window is the same, it is always different.  The alternating seasons reference change.

I lived in a big city by the ocean for most of  my life.  Like the mountains, the ocean is a strong presence.  I was, sometimes without realizing it, in daily conversation with the sea.  I took my troubles to the ocean, sat in the sand dunes or clambered over ice plant and down to the beach below.  Every sense was piqued.  And I always felt received and replenished in some way.

Writing Prompt:
What about you?  Take yourself to a nature spot.  Bring your journal and a pen.  Spend some time there.  Sit on a boulder or beside a stream.nature9Ask your questions.  Voice your complaints.  Get quiet and listen…what is nature communicating to you today?