Poetry in Perilous Times (3)

We have not had very much precipitation in the mountains this winter.  We’ve had three big storms that deposited a lot of snow in the city proper and on the mountain.  However, it was quickly washed away with rain at the lower elevations.  February brought idyllic spring-like weather.  While we enjoyed it, we also felt some trepidation.  The summer and fall of 2018 were frightening to us living in this highly forested area.  Fires sprung up in every direction around us.  We were told to be packed and ready to evacuate…but where to, we wondered.  Some of us stashed non-perishable food staples in the car, packed a suitcase, a tent, sleeping bag, bottled water, clothing, important papers, etc.

The smoky skies extended throughout the summer months starting in early July through October.  It was an intense panorama of smoke-filled days and nights.  We wore masks when we ventured out.  Typically, summer is a time to appreciate the lakes and hiking trails, to walk briskly, climb, swim and breathe deeply the fresh mountain air.  Not then.  Honestly, there is a certain dread of the coming summer.  Without a winter of sufficient rain and snow, we pray for our own safety and that of our forests and forest creatures.

I wrote this poem in September of 2018…

When the not-so-far ridges have been obscured
by smoke for months…
When your mind is clouded with confusing thoughts…
When what you once perceived proves to be false
or limiting…
When you sip your morning
cup of tea and place one foot
in front of the other
and say yes to this new day,
you have learned faith.

The smoke hangs on the ridge waiting for
directions from the wind.
The firefighters are out there
day and night manning
bulldozers, helicopters, heavy machinery–
we trust them to do their jobs–
to be wisely directed by those
who understand the nature
of fighting fire in a heavily forested area
with up and down rugged terrain.  We
have to trust them.  We have to trust
and to hold onto faith that everything is
going to be alright…
and until then,
that we can bear it–
be strong
be patient
and live our lives truly
and boldly.

We have to trust that we have
sufficient courage,
to share our gifts and
to proceed
into this new day.
We go forward into the uncertainty
on wings of prayer, hope and trust
and faith
and whatever love looks like today.

Then, I go into the garden to harvest tomatillos.

tomatillos

As of this moment, it is snowing and accumulating.  Yay!  And the rest of March might bring more precipitation.  We hope so.

 

Freedom…

Freedom is a choice.  Is it?  Stand beside the ocean in your birthday suit.  Or walk into that floral painting .  Daffodils?  Delphiniums?  Crocus?  Lupine?  Horizon lines.  Yesterday, someone said that as artists, we are fascinated with painting horizon lines.  The sky meets the sea.  The land touches the water.  I roll in flowers in fields of forever, at least in some dreams.  If I ruled the world…every day might be the first day of spring.  That jubilant season.

Truly, in the mountains I don’t want spring to come too soon.  I want the deep cold that encourages spring flowering and summer fruiting.  I whisper to the cherry tree and the bulbs beneath the earth, if they are listening, don’t blossom too soon.  The deceit of a false spring could halt the blossoming and inhibit the bees when temperatures fall to freezing again.  I wonder if the trees can understand my language–if they know I care.  Do they witness my own wishy-washiness when it comes to not using plastic?

Is this a fantasy that I’m living?  Is this reality a tiny wedge (Kathy would ask “a wedge of cheese”) in an orgasmic universe?  I want to say omniverse although I’m not sure why.  Is that what the big bang means–one giant orgasm that sprung the worlds into being?  Can I say that here?  Freedom to write what I want, to have my own secular thoughts.  The ones that were forbidden by a childhood of too little freedom with an autocratic ruler.

It occurred to me again, that I really only found my voice recently.  No wonder I save volumes of my writing.  I won’t say everything on this blog.  Some things I hold sacred, private.  Having freedom entitles one not to speak when one chooses.

Yesterday, at the lake, I noticed the sky.  The clouds were reflected in the water.  I thought I could dive into the sky.

Freedom, claiming it, takes courage especially if you’ve been oppressed.

Freedom’s close companion is responsibility.

Castle Lake.1a

Changing Colors

In her memoir, An Unfinished Woman:  A Memoir, Lilian Hellman writes:

“I do regret that I have spent too much of my life trying to find what I called ‘truth,’ trying to find what I called ‘sense.’  I never knew what I meant by truth, never made the sense I hoped for.  All I mean is that I left too much of me unfinished because, I wasted too much time.”

I haven’t read her memoir…I’ve held onto this quote of hers for years.  Perhaps I clipped this from an article I read because I wondered if it was true for me.  Have I quested after the truth long and hard and what do I have to show for it?  Have I fruitlessly tried to make some sense of nonsense to no avail?

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Changing Colors
© by Christine O’Brien

The Goddess is the mistress of these cycles.
“I’ve found a sense of my place in the world,” I say.
as we share a pot of milky oolong tea on the deck of the boat.
The early evening sky is bathed in sunset hues.

“Sharing your gifts is the path to enlightenment,” you say.

We sail our boat in the protected bay.
“If you want, coast when the wind is right,” I offer.

Red and gold tint the sky.
“There is no black and white pendulum of truth,” you say.
“Crystal clarity is rare.”

Our wisest thoughts dissipate into the blue serenity of water
and the dove peace of this day.

The yet to be lived is our uncertain map.

“People’s dreams are where the nectar is,” you say dreamily.

Colors change regardless.

scenery`

A portal

…is an entry point, a place you might not usually notice…for a moment, it is visible.  And then it seems to dissolve into the ethers, defined as “the essence of the universe.”  You enter rather spontaneously or you might miss it entirely.  A lost opportunity.  Hesitation, over-consideration, distractions camouflage the opening.  If you enter, you are in new territory.  You can be certain of disorientation.  Remember Alice in Wonderland and the rabbit hole?

blacandwhite1

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I remember a time when I was hiking at Southgate Meadows on Mount Shasta.  It was my birthday.  A friend had tied a scarf, a birthday gift from her, around my curls and I had set out alone.  After hiking a couple of hours, I came across a bubbling spring.  The sound of it was like a herald.  A man, also hiking, stopped and told me that this spot was  a portal.  He said that if I sat and listened for awhile, I might be able to hear the quality of musical notes that the water running over the rocks was creating.  That a certain combination of sounds produced an opening, a portal.  He wandered on.  I sat and listened.  There was definitely a music of sorts.  However, I can’t say that I found the entry point.

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In writing or painting, the writer or painter looks for a portal…an entry point to the story that wants to unfold or the painting that wants to evolve.  I think that there might be two portals–one for the writer to begin writing and then one for the reader to be drawn into the story.  One for the artist to enter the painting and one for the viewer to bear witness.  Each entrance requires a surrender…which is the consent to be changed by something external to us.

Have you discovered such portals in your life, in your creative pursuit?

The Salmon

If I wrote a similar blog before, oops…I apologize.  That said, it’s probably worth repeating as the salmon are sacred to the Native Americans.  They symbolize, among other things, that the water is healthy.

I pull off the Klamath River Highway 96 into the Temple of Heaven campground and drive down the 200 feet to be beside the Klamath River and perhaps get a glimpse of the salmon swimming upstream to spawn.  As a woman alone, an insecurity haunts me.  No one knows that I’m here except an old man at The Visitor’s Center at the last rest stop.  He gave me directions on how to get here.  I told him that I wanted to see the salmon running upstream.

“Likely place as any to see the salmon, though I’ve only seen one myself this year, so far, back about two weeks ago,” he ruminates.

“Why, when I was a boy growing up here, the salmon were so thick you could walk across the river on their backs.”

His eyes squint, studying me to see if I bought that.

“It’s true,” he said.

Then, “Go to the right; stay on the road for six miles.  You’re gonna be up 200 feet and you’ll come to a hairpin turn.  Cross over to the left and drive down.  It’s a campsite and there’s a sign, “Temple of Heaven.”

He looks me over, “It’s safe there,” he says as if reading my thoughts.

At Temple of Heaven, I park the car noting the one other car there.  I don’t see anyone but you can bet that my instincts are sharpened.  I find a place not far from the car beside the river.  A wide pool seems to have an underwater light infusing it.  I spot not a single salmon.  I feel somewhat wary, out of my familiar zone, off the well-trod path.  I don’t stay long, though it’s a beautiful spot, pristine and remote.

Driving out of the Temple of Heaven, I pull off the highway several times to see the river from different aspects.  The 1901 rough hewn wooden bridge over Ash Creek which Abner Weed (of the town of Weed fame) had a hand in constructing.  On the ground next to my parked car, I see a scrap of a paper wrapper.  It reads “Live to experience ‘MY INSOLENCE.”  I can only guess that it’s the name of a perfume, or a condom or an insolent miniaturized alien who obviously left because she’s not here when I kick the paper over.

The Klamath River, like most of the rivers I’ve seen, is distinctly beautiful.  I drive towards Yreka along a stretch of road I’ve never traveled before.  Highway 263 parallels the Shasta River.  The Shasta River snakes through Dry Gulch.  At one point, there’s a pocket of houses in a canyon beside the river.  I stop the car to take a picture.  I pull over several times to let the occasional car pass or to view the winding river stretching though the rocky gorge.  White foam and ripples brace the vegetation on the banks.  Another distance and then, Mount Shasta appears with new snow on its north face, rivaling Shangri La.

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The Native American Tribe, Winnemem Wintu, is local to northern California…they are the protectors of the salmon, the river, the water.

 

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

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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.

“Water Water Everywhere Nor Any Drop to Drink…”

When Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, he was surrounded by an ocean of undrinkable water.

The upcoming art show at Siskiyou Art Museum in Dunsmuir, California has the theme of EBB AND FLOW.  It is an open call to artists of any ilk to create something to do with water–“celebrating water in all its forms.”  We have come to call water our most precious resource.  There are those in the world who deny global warming.  There are others who are ready to prove that global warming is without a doubt something we need to face –yesterday!

Drinking tea in the morning is the way I begin my day.  I do like my tea…and a cup in the afternoon or at the end of the day is a pleasant ritual.  What would I do without my tea…I began this painting a few years ago before this art show was conceived.  Now, it has become timely and I think I’ve finished it.  Just a few touches and then it’s ready for the show in July of 2019.  And I am calling it “water, water everywhere…”  Doesn’t she look a bit parched?

water,water2.jpg