Sunday, 31 January 2010

An Experimental Evening

Last night I went to an event at Snape Maltings featuring Mr. Iain Sinclair, Mr. Alan Moore, and a bunch of other folks (no disrespect intended). It was part of the Faster Than Sound concert series and the particular title of this show was An English Journey: Reimagined (Or EJ:R to be cutesy like Paul Smith). It was certainly an interesting mix of media and performers. I was there mainly to see Mr. Sinclair but found myself very impressed with Mr. Alan Moore, not just for the pink silk jacket he wrote or the shiny maroon boots or his unruly main or gigantic beard or the way he stood when he read. He had a lot of cool things to say, a very interesting approach to telling the history of the place we were in. And what a presence! I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I liked Mr. Sinclair. After going on about his pretentious text, I found the opposite in his live performance. He wasn't hauty and he very nicely connected the dots and took us along with him (would love it if he took the time to do that in his texts too). It was a real treat to be brought along on the journey to connecting references and stories. The two authors played very well off one another. It was a really enjoyable history/story telling, listening and learning experience.

Mr. Sinclair talked a lot of John Clare. He spoke about how J.B. Priestly's work "An English Journey" parallels John Clare's walk and his own work. Some of the questions I came away from "Edge of the Orison" with were answered in this performance. It encouraged me to read more of his work.

There was a film about Orford Ness that they showed by an artist Emily Richardson (she has the same name as one of my best friends!). It really played up to the image of the Ness as this atmospheric, creepy, dark place. I enjoyed most of it. She got some really great footage.

My least favorite part: Mr. Einheit, industrial and electronic musician. If he'd done 30 second sections, that would have been super cool. But each time the noise went on just a little bit too long for me.


Friday, 29 January 2010

All Excuses Apply

I seem to have stumbled into a writing workshop of sorts. This was not my intention. The module: Memory Maps. My reason for taking it? It's said to be the origin from which my course stems.

I'm finding this module to be a particular kind of torture. It's like flashbacks to I don't even know where exactly, but some sort of weird high school world. I made a very conscious decision not to pursue a masters in creative writing because I felt like I was done with writing workshops. Yes, they are useful and yes they can be a real treat. I have had plenty of workshops that I have absolutely loved. I've even found some of them extremely helpful: not only hearing what others have had to say about my own writing, but in reading and hearing feedback on the writing of others. But this class? It's like a half-assed writing workshop. It's part lecture, part write on a topic and then show and tell. I am all for the lecture part. I'm there to learn. I'm less enthusiastic about the writing bit--great exercise to be given topics to write on, but I'd rather take the writing prompts home than spend a quarter of the class jotting down things, but my absolute least favorite part is listening to everyone else read their bits. Why? It's complicated. Show and tell doesn't interest me anymore. These aren't carefully crafted and revised works that are deserving of consideration, but twenty minute blurbs (some better than others) and there's no time for constructive criticism. So really, it's just scribble and share. And then, there's the part that really gets me: the flagrant insecurities, the self-consciousness, the excuses before they even begin to read. And possibly worse than the excuses, the explanations. If it needs explaining, then I'm in the camp that says the writer hasn't done his job. And yes, some how, worse than the insecure babblings that proceed a reading, are the ones that launch right into it, over-eager to share, delighted by the sound of his words and his voice. Oh my god, it's not that good. And then there's the ego-inflating compliments and the oh, gosh, really? You think? Tell me more about how good of a writer you think I am. Or better yet, the ones who are happy to tell you why that part that you liked is so good, yeah, it's better than you first thought (and let me tell you why. . . ). Not to mention the undercurrent of competition and comparing.

I mean none of this to say that I am a better writer than the rest. In fact, I make no claims of the sort. It's simply the dynamic, the structure and the personalities. But I'm trying to keep my eye on the prize. I'm trying to stay focused on what I'm there for and to see the writing exercises as opportunities to think about something new or at least to outline a few blogs or make lists for grocery shopping or whatever it is that strikes me at the moment. Taking a lesson from psychogeography, I'm learning to drift. I'm trying to stay out of the politics of it, not engage with the display of insecurities or attention seekers. I'm trying to be patient, be respectful, and be open to the good that might come from this.

I must say, I am grateful to the tutor who on day one cut off the list of excuses (I'm not a writer, I've never done this before, It's not very good, I only had 20 minutes, and so on and so on ad nauseam) by saying, "All excuses apply." (Ergo, shut up and read.) Bless him. I have great respect for the graceful way he handled the situation, his ability to offer a thoughtful comment on each person's work, and his sense of humor. Surely he presents a positive model for me. Observe carefully, stay focused, and learn.

P. S. Gratuitous curse words and references to drug use do not make you cool.

Writing Exercise 2


Three generations of women
Moving about a kitchen
A small space
A woman's place
Tripping over one another
Taking turns playing mother

The Assignment

The assignment is to read something like 150 pages of Iain Sinclair's Edge of the Orison. I've made it to page 45. I've been hearing about this book since week 1, way back in October. It's been held up as a shining example of psychogeography, as a text we're to explore in this module on nature writing and the wild east. With all the build up, I didn't expect to dislike it as much as I do, especially since I've so thoroughly enjoyed so much of the rest of it. This book is a bit like torture.

I think it's the kind of book that means the most to the academics who pour through it, extrapolating references obvious and obscure and digging deeper into it. If all references uncovered were intentionally, then Mr. Sinclair is either insane or my first sentence is wrong and this book means more to him than it could possibly mean to anyone else. If it's the latter, then he needs to get a life.

I feel like I'm reading something out of the beatnik era. Something William Burroughs on drugs-ish, if you know what I mean. Maybe this is an amazing text, but without the time to spend doing years of research drawing connections and figuring out what he's talking about, I'm going to chalk it up to being unenjoyable, stream of consciousness-esque, and disjointed. Call me a lazy reader, but I do enjoy having a sense of what's going on in the things I read.

Might I think of this text differently if I were to come across it in the future? Absolutely. Might I think of it differently if I had the entire term to uncover the meanings woven into each sentence? Absolutely. Might I like it better if that were the case? It is possible. Am I going to devote anymore time to it at this point? Not a chance. I'll just put it aside, think of it as Mr. Sinclair's little inside joke, and move on to Henry David Thoreau, a man, I believe, who is more interested in making sense and engaging the reader in conversation.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Getting Lost

There was a good amount of talk about getting lost today prompted by reading Rebecca Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost. The other homework assignment for the lecture was to come up with names for campus. The goal of the exercise, beyond a challenge to be creative, is to make the place more personable, less cold and concrete. I sort of popped out on the exercise for two reasons: 1) I think the numbering system works just fine, people simply need to have it explained to them at the beginning and develop better senses of direction, and 2) I don't have any connection to this place or know enough about its history to be able to suggest names that would do its history and its student and staff alum justice (and the time to sort all of that out is simply not in my budget for this term).

So, one of the joys of Ms. Solnit's writing is that you can get lost in it--not that panicked type of lost, but the completely absorbed, not sure where you are but happy to be there because you will find your way home kind of lost. I didn't get what I expected when I opened the book; I got a whole lot more. I learned things about the human pelvis and evolution that I didn't know I would be interested to learn. I learned about peripatetic origins and as a sort of secondary coincidence I learned that Plato had a while where he didn't know what he was going to do before he started up his own school. The difference between most people and Plato, is that when they try to figure out what they want to do or get thrown off course, they find jobs doing bullshit administrative work for nut jobs and Plato goes and invents biology. Still, I'm delighted to learn that the crisis of purpose and identity is as old as the Greek philosophers. (And I wouldn't mind finding my own little island to putz around on and use my time there to document species or write books or, hell, just learn.

I've been thinking about getting lost and drifting and the difference. (Still not talking about the panicked getting lost.) Meandering. Rambling. Is my life a meander? A getting lost? A drifting? If it's a river and I know where the end is (the sea/death), then why not take my time getting there and cover as much ground as I can in the meantime?

Still, what I found myself thinking about most, was being found. I've never really been lost. There have been a few times where I was afraid of getting lost (once, in a forest where they were doing controlled burns and the path sort of disappeared and the atmosphere was smoky and brown, there were no people around, and I'd just been told to watch for snakes) but I've never been lost. I play at getting lost -- I'll go walk somewhere and not be sure where I'm going to end up. I do always know how to get back. I'm pretty good with directions and finding my way around. I consider myself lucky that way. Both my mom and grandmother are bad with directions. They can find their way home no problem, but they do have trouble if you sit them in one place (even if that place is our kitchen) and ask them to point in the direction of something else. I've heard stories of people who can't find their way home if they encounter a detour. I'm so grateful to not be amongst them.

One of my favorite things is what I'm calling location deja vu. It's when you find yourself somewhere and think I've been here before and you actually have. So it's having been taken somewhere as a child and going back as an adult and recognizing the street, the corner, some shop. And not just something that reminds you of something else, but you get a sense that you know right where you are, you know you've been there before, and you know what's next. You're not lost, but then suddenly you've found a place from your memory right there in front of you.

I've also been thinking about getting lost in the act of writing. I start out usually with an idea of where I want to go. I more often than not get lost on the way to the end and end up somewhere else.

I'm enjoying thinking about getting lost, getting lost in thoughts of getting lost.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Bits and Bobs

The stock turned out bitter, but it was salvageable, and the potato leek soup is yummy.

On Sunday, I walked along the Colne down to Arlesford Creek. It took me ages because I was jotting notes as I went. I think I notice more when I'm not taking notes. I definitely walk quicker.

My stance on 100% recycled facial tissue: the skin on my nose will heal before a new tree would even have the chance to sprout.

Today I walked to Waitrose for a bit of variety. I walked along the river to the Colne Causeway bridge, then crossed the road and to the west side of the river. The walk between there and the Hythe station is a rather depressing one. So many buildings in disrepair, a boat that looks sinkable, trash on the roads, and so on. I went up to Hythe Station, crossed back over the river and went past the backside of Tesco and across Greenstead Road. From there, straight on, in this underpass that took me to the other side of St. Andrew's Ave. This underpass was unexpected and a bit of a treat. My normal association with underpasses is dirtiness, graffiti, signs of a homeless person and some degree of the suffocating smell or urine. So there was a smell, but not too bad and not nearly suffocating. And the walls were tiled, in bright Eastery colors. No signs of any homeless people. But, for a final score of 2 out of 4, there was graffiti. But I couldn't for the life of me tell you what it was meant to say. The consonants didn't seem to have enough vowels. I wouldn't recommend it, but as underpasses go, it was not bad.

The air purifier I ordered arrived today. I've had it running on high since I opened it. I'm not thrilled about the electricity use, but I was starting to get desperate. Not even putting a towel at my door would stop the smoke from coming in. Even with keeping my window open all the time, my room would smell of smoke. Then a few nights ago, I was lying in bed, which is by the window, and I started smelling smoke. I guess someone smokes out his window. It's inescapable. Sometimes I can feel myself having an allergic reaction to it, even diluted as it is when it gets to my room. Some nights I wake up with a stuffy nose--or rather, my stuffy nose wakes me up. Most mornings, I wake up stuffy. I'm having more hyperallergenic moments. I don't want to die of second-hand smoke. I don't want to have allergic reactions or have a constant stuffy nose or break out in hives. I just want to breathe normal, non-smokey or smokey-smelling air, especially in my home. (It's bad enough having to walk past or around smokers.) I'm glad to have the purifier here. I can feel the difference already.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The hardest part about writing is . . .

Writing. Luckily the ideas aren't so hard to come by these days. The most challenging aspect of writing is actually sitting down to do it. I'm not sure why I've built up a resistance to sitting down and doing the work, but I have. It makes me wonder if they'll ever make devices that read thoughts. Maybe what I need is a computer program I can talk to.

I don't think that's really the answer, though. There's something about the act of writing that is essential to the writing process. I think using a writing utensil and putting it to paper is how things should be done. I've gotten lazy lately and used a keyboard more than a pen, mostly out of necessity and practicality. I think it would be beneficial for me to spend more time writing things out, on paper. Writing is work and if it's something I want to do, pursue, create, then I should be willing to put the work in.

At this point I feel that the main difference between writing on a computer and writing on paper is that the former goes much quicker. When I try to keep up with my thoughts on paper, my writing tends to become illegible and scrawl-like. My fingers on a keyboard do pretty well at keeping up. Both forms allow me to edit as I go, but the paper holds what I've edited away.

Dictating would have its benefits. I could just talk it out, not have to write it. But it's disadvantages would include not seeing how the words fall on the page. I suppose it could work, though. I tend to talk as I type anyway. I guess the question would be if I could read as I talked.

Still, pen to paper is not to be forgotten as where it all started. Pen and paper work when the power goes down. Pen and paper accompany me on my walks. True, you might argue that I simply haven't got the right gadget, but I'm not a gadget collector. I like the simple. I like being able to fold and unfold a piece of paper. I like being able to take a pen and put in my pocket. Today, I walked for 3 hours, taking notes on a piece of paper folded in fours, a pen in my pocket. I did worry for a bit that my pen was running out of ink--tragedy!--but it keep going.

Writing, more so than all of these, can help me to sort out my ideas. I can talk it out or I can type it out, but pen to paper is somehow more solidly connected to my thought process.

Yes, I do need to spend more time writing on paper. And I do need to spend more time journaling -- even a few minutes a day. But how to deal with the matter at hand: an essay that isn't writing itself? My approach is to keep plugging away at it. I've done the research, I've got the ideas. I simply need to put them down. I must be more disciplined. It's possible it's time to unplug.

Making Stock

Today I try my first attempt at making veggie soup stock. I've been collecting veggie bits for about ten days now (adding them to a used bread bag and storing them in the freezer) and tonight, I start what I think will be a four hour project of making soup stock.

On my page-long list of things to read for this week's lectures are a few articles about waste. Veggie stock is part of my effort to reduce my waste--making use of even the scraps--and to do more making-my-own.

A visit to my friend Emily recent convinced me I should be doing this. So I am. So far, all the veggies are in the pot (filling it about 3/4 of the way). I've brought them to boil and reduced to summer. It's about a half hour into a three hour simmer. Then, season to taste and cool for storage. Tomorrow: potato leek soup!

Friday, 22 January 2010

The Importance of Sunshine

Today I met an Italian who misses the sunshine as much as I do. I don't understand these clouds, he said, gesturing skyward with his hands. Where I come from [the south of Italy], he says, it rains and then the clouds go. Here, they stay.

It's true. England has a persistent cloud problem. It is where clouds come on holiday. It's a cloud parking lot. It's a cloud bank, where weather stores them until it needs them elsewhere. Maybe it's the cloud doldrums.

Of course, there are plenty of days where clouds race across the sky or the odd days where it's sunny, but the persistent, oppressive, low cloud cover is, in my opinion, park of the English experience. It makes me wonder if you can attribute certain cultural characteristics to the weather of a region. Why wouldn't it? Five days of no sunshine and these heavy clouds resting on my shoulders has an impact on my mental outlook.

Where I come from, sunshine is so reliable you could bet on it. One source says it's sunny 60% of the time -- the rest of the time, it's fog. Then there's the occasional cloud bank and the rare rain clouds. The weather is so consistent that the movie industry set its headquarters there. It knew it could count on not losing money or time to bad weather. It's so reliably sunny, that people get irritated when it's not. I might be one of those people. During the months of May-grey and June-gloom, when a thick fog settles on the area and takes half a day to burn back to sea and then spends the evening rolling back in, I really miss the sun. Sure, it's fascinating to see the fog come in over the hills, but I like waking up to blue skies.

It has been a rather grey and damp here for the last five days. Normally, you get count on at least an hour of sunshine at some point during the day (frequently morning). I don't think that's been the case here lately. There have been changes in the cloudiness. Some nights, the clouds come down to the ground.

The forecast predicts the sun will make it's way through tomorrow. I am hopeful.

Writing Exercise 1: Rock Creek Park

Trees like giant blades of grass tower high above and repeat across the landscape in all directions, thick, fencing against the street noise, street pollution, light pollution. Stopped, standing still, training my ears to see. Breathing is effortless here. The pure air flows through me. Trying to feel the respiration of the trees. My skin disappears, the thin layer separating me from them, inside from outside, and then my tissues and bones. A body evaporated, now a free-floating thought, a dandelion seed drifting on an imperceptible current amongst the ankles of giants.

River Research

I'm trying to find out more about the Colne for my Wild East essay that's due February 1. I spent about an hour yesterday in the library and had little luck. I first searched via the library website for the keywords "Colne" "Tidal Rivers" "England rivers" "Essex Rivers" and so forth, with various combinations of those words and phrases. No real luck. The closest I came is Stories About the Colne, but it's most about Brightlingsea, at the mouth of the Colne, and not much about the rest of it. I found that in the UK History section on Essex, but I didn't find much there. I also went into the biology section to see about animal life of the Colne. I visited the environmental section to see if they had anything on local rivers. Then I went to geography to try and find something about rivers and then just a basic intro to geography book which would hopefully explain how rivers work and types of rivers. Well, I did find one introductory book which a chapter on rivers. Otherwise, it was pretty disappointing. I'm surprised. The Colne is visible from the campus. The Quays, the university housing in which I live, could be flooded by the Colne. Yet, information on it is hard to come by in the campus library. I did a search in Nexis for news stories on the Colne. Apparently there are three river Colnes. One up by Lancashire. One in Oxfordshire and the one in Essex. Also, lots of dead bodies are found in it. So, I feel like I'm standing in a void of information. What does this mean? Well, from skimming through an entire history of Colchester, I gather that the river wasn't really important to the city. Still, I want stories. I want to know what kind of wildlife can be found by the river, what plants grow near it, how it's been altered, the boats, the stories. I want to know! I want to get to know this river better so I can be in conversation with it. I want to know it's history and its secrets.

Next stop: the Colchester main library which is said to have a good section on local stuff.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Water Preferences

One glorious day last August, I was sitting with my girlfriends on the sandy bank of a lake, a dammed river-cum-recreation facility, called Hunting Creek Lake in Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland. ( The day before, we'd driven away from Washington, DC in effort to get a bit of nature and bonding on a camping weekend. The night before, all of us sat in front of a fire pit like failed pyromaniacs and burned twigs and small branches, taking turns blowing into the glowing embers, trying to get a fire going. We talked about families, boys, friends, work, and life. We started a game of "Would you Rather . . . ?" which spilled over into the next day, sitting on the imported shore of this state-funded tourist attraction.

"Would you rather have a lake, an ocean, or a river?" came the question.

Two of us are a bit afraid of open water. We walked side by side with our feet in the water up to mid-shin while the third swam happily at the deep end of the roped-off swimming area.

It's a tough question to answer. I grew up near an ocean. I even played in the waves when I was younger. I seem to always expect to find one just beyond the horizon. It brings me comfort to visit them. To sit on the shore and stare off until the horizon curves away.

I don't know when my fear of water developed. I remember being afraid of the shadows in the pool when I was younger and swimming on my own. That's probably a result of seeing Jaws at too early an age. Or maybe it was due to the time that in the backyard of my childhood house, I was swimming with my brother and father and a lizard crawled up my back, using me as a ferry to the side of the pool. I used to swim a lot. More recently, I've had a fear of putting my head underwater.

My grandmother also has this fear, but with good reason. She saw a kid drown when she was young. It was in a lake. He'd cried wolf a couple of times, but then ended up being stuck below the floating platform and drowned. That stuck with her. To this day, she won't shower. She takes baths and washes her hair in the sink. She never learned how to stand under the water without breathing in the air.

My fear of the ocean these days I believe can be attributed to a humbling. The ocean is powerful and vast. It holds giants and mysterious creatures. When I stand before the ocean, I don't feel tempted to go in. I look at it with awe and admiration, but I know, it's no place for me. Water is not my element. I am of the earth. Plus, I'm not a huge fan of sand in cracks and crevices.

My fear of large bodies of water extends to lakes--big and not so big. Too big and it's as frightening as an ocean. Too small and it's, well, I suppose it's a pond and just not very much to look at. I do like lakes. I enjoy sitting on the shore. I like lakes big enough that they have waves--not big waves, but that gentle lapping of water at the edges.

The most beautiful lake I've ever seen is Lake Mc Kenzie on Fraser Island. ( It is positioned in a depression in the white sand dunes and sits 100 meters above sea level. Is it filtered ocean water or is it caught rain water? The water is an amazing spectrum of blue--light at the shallow edges, fading into a deep dark blue.

I guess it's my girly squimishness that makes me not want to go into lakes like Hunting Creek. The thought of the slimy aquatic plants touching my legs or any fish rubbing up against me makes me shudder. (I know, don't be such a wuss.) I'm much more of an on-the-water type, but only in comparison to the degree to which I am not an in-the-water type.

In the past few years, though, I have developed an interest in watercraft. That day, we rented a paddle boat and took turns paddling. The weather was about as good as you get in summer for that part of the world. Warm, medium humidity, blue skies and the occasionally white puffy cloud. We drove that boat around the lake, parallel to the contours of its bank. Over on the side where less people were, away from the noisy beach, the trees came right down to the water. We took turns not paddling and sitting at the back with feet dangling in the water, in the wake. We raced, we drifted, we leisurely peddled, we sunbathed. It was lovely.

My first boating experience was in 2006, a 3 day sailing trip around the Whitsundays of the coast of Queensland. ( Not being a water person, I was nervous about the trip. Not only would I be on a boat for three days, I'd be sleeping on it. My thinking was this: If it went down while I was awake, I had a good chance of survival, I knew how to swim, it would simply be a race against the sharks and jellyfish. But if it went down at night, when visibility is limited and/or I was asleep, the odds of survival went way down.

It ended up being an amazing experience. I loved sleeping on the water, feeling the gentle rocking of the boat. I loved being out, away from the city lights. One night, I watched the big dipper set into the ocean. I loved the water, which was blue and so clear you can see fish swimming around in it. (It helped immensely that the seas were calm, that we anchored near islands, and that we could see other boats around us.) I even got in the water one day and snorkeled. My heart almost stopped when I ran into a jellyfish so I went in just the once. But I wanted more boating experience. It made me want to spend more time on the water.

I'm interested in learning how to sail, but my watercraft of choice is the kayak. It sits you low on the water, close enough to touch, but safely suspended in it. They are easy to get in and out of, hard to tip, and easy to navigate. I only kayak in calm waters--after getting sucked down a waterfall when I was 10, I'm adverse to rushing water. (Maybe that's where the aquaphobia stems from?)

My first kayaking experience was in an ocean kayak. We set out in a bay area before heading into the waves. It was a fun time. But my favorite kayaking, is river kayaking. The Potomac which separates Maryland and Washington, DC from it's southern neighbor, Virgina. Kayaking there, launching out from Jack's Boathouse ( just below the Key Bridge, down the slope from Georgetown, was my favorite way to spend a few hours after work or on the weekend. The kayak provides a unique view of the city as well as some relaxation and an upper-body workout.

Back on the shore, sitting with our feet in the sand, the girls and I weighed the pros and cons of rivers, oceans and lakes against one another. We sighted reasons for wanting or not wanting each of them. And what did it mean to "have" one? Have it in the backyard? Yes, we agreed, if you could have one water feature in your backyard, what would it be?

The water-loving friend picked an ocean. The water-wary friend went back and forth between a river and a lake.

Well, so long as the others continue to exist and I would be allowed to visit them (all this was allowed), I decided I'd rather have a river. Maybe a meandering river, out back of the house, but not too close in case of flooding. My river could have fish, ideally it would have some sort of wildlife, but no crocodiles or piranhas or parasites that invade the body. It would flow but more in a babbling brook way rather than a roaring river way. The current wouldn't be strong enough to carry you away. It would be deep and wide enough for kayaks and canoes, for inner tubes, for swimming. It would have trees that filter the sunlight on either side of the bank and rocks for lounging on. Maybe it would have lightning bugs in the summer, crickets, butterflies and frogs. The water would be clean enough to drink, unpolluted by human and industrial waste and runoff. The river, I think, is the middle point between the forceful and expansive ocean and the stagnant lake. It moves. It flows. It's always changing. Who was it that said you never step in the same river twice? A river goes somewhere. It has a beginning and an end. It has moods. It has voices. It has a past and a future. And, if you pick the right river, its past might be a lake and it's future might be an ocean. Yeah, I would have a river.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Glorious Day

Today was a lovely seven degrees. I must say, I prefer this side of winter to the other side of it. When it goes from Summer to Fall to Winter, it's downhill temperature wise and summer temps to winter temps is a tough adjustment. But having been in winter, or at least in winter clothes, for a while now, a bump from zero to seven is simply delightful. That's nearly a layer less of clothing required for going out of doors. It's the difference between freezing with the window open and enjoying the fresh air.

Today was sunny and lovely. (Thanks, Clouds, glad you got my note. No hard feelings.) I wish I could have spent it all out doors. I walked around without my gloves on and only three layers of clothing. I wanted to run and visit everywhere, to say hi and celebrate the not-too-distant-now coming of spring. I wanted to tell the river that soon it will be warm enough that I can properly visit it again. Spring! When the birds come back and the insects come back. When the leaves and the flowers come back. Oh, I can't wait! Today filled me with anticipation. I'm ready for it!

(I saw four magpies flying together. I don't know that I have ever seen so many together before, and surely never so many together in flight. What is it when there are four? A boy?)

Come On, Clouds

Dear Clouds,

Please don't take this the wrong way. I write because I care. If you're going to rain, pour. Don't just hang around, moping and passing your misery onto others, withholding all possibility of sunshine. Why hang on to all that heaviness? Let it all go. Don't hold back. Get over it at once. And then move on.


P.S. If you could work up a little light show with surround sound in the near future, that would be much appreciated!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Why the Black Hills?

In 2005-2006, I was working as a researcher for a TV series. My work led me to meet a group of women called the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. They are women healers gathered together from around the world ( Their mission statement reads:

WE, THE INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF THIRTEEN INDIGENOUS GRANDMOTHERS, represent a global alliance of prayer, education and healing for our Mother Earth, all Her inhabitants, all the children, and for the next seven generations to come. We are deeply concerned with the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth and the destruction of indigenous ways of life. We believe the teachings of our ancestors will light our way through an uncertain future. We look to further our vision through the realization of projects that protect our diverse cultures: lands, medicines, language and ceremonial ways of prayer and through projects that educate and nurture our children.

In June, 2006 I traveled to South Dakota to meet the grandmothers and partake in part of the gathering. I'd never been to South Dakota before and I wasn't quite sure what to expect of it or of the grandmothers. I found that I was deeply moved by both. The Black Hills of South Dakota is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Rivers run through it, with waterfalls painting white columns on the rock cliffs. There are meadows and forests. Buffalo roam in a state park there. Deer frolic in the forests. The water is crystal clear. (Less attractive but impressive in their own right, Mt. Rushmore, the quaint towns, and the mining sites at Deadwood.) I don't know what I was expecting, but I was delighted by what I found.

As for the grandmothers, once the project was introduced, they went around and introduced themselves and their concerns for the world and their homes. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories. On the first day of the public gathering with the grandmothers, the two who are from South Dakota and the Oglala Lakota band of the Great Sioux Nation welcomed everyone. They are sisters and nurses. They welcomed people to the Black Hills, a sacred place, and talked briefly about significance of this place for their beliefs. They spoke of a desecrated landscape: the huge holes that had been left by mining, the uranium that was flowing in the rivers and poisoning them, giving them cancer, the birth defects. They cried as they talked about not only the people and their community that were suffering, but of the hills that also suffered. They spoke of the monumental task of trying to stop the mining companies from drilling more, creating more radioactive waste, and trying to get the government to clean up the current radioactive sites and rivers.

What can one do to help? Raise awareness, they said. They're working on a website. They're working on legal appeals. They're working to save their Black Hills and their families. It's not much, but hopefully by writing about it, awareness of the situation is raised a little.

The Black Hills and the Oglala Lakota are not the only victims of uranium mining or mining or pollution or cancer as a result of the quest for energy or wealth. Indigenous groups around the world are regularly kicked off their land or put at risk to deepen the pockets of large corporations. I talk about the Oglala Lakota and the Black Hills because they are an example of these atrocious goings-on, and an example that reached out and wrenched my heart.

In 2007, a call for the stoppage of all uranium mining was issued by indigenous groups from around the world ( If you feel moved as I do, raise your voice, however you see fit to, and join in the chorus calling for an end to uranium mining.

I wrote an essay on uranium mining in the Black Hills because I saw it as an opportunity to educate myself further and to raise awareness. It wasn't the best essay, but it did allow me to deepen my understanding of the situation and gave me a chance to write about an issue close to my heart. Below are excerpts from it.

A Brief History of the Black Hills (excerpt from my essay "Capital v. Culture")

Conflict over resource extraction and development has existed in the Black Hills for the Oglala Lakota for as long as they have had contact with European-American settlers.

The Black Hills, or Paha Sapa (Fixico, 1998, p 125) as it’s known in Lakota, has been a sacred place for the Oglala Lakota and the people of the Great Sioux Nation for tens of thousands of years. The Black Hills are also sacred to more than sixty indigenous nations. These nations have been traveling there for “millennia” “to conduct spiritual ceremonies, gather medicines and lodge poles” (White Face, 2007). Harney Peak in the Black Hills is said to be the center of the universe for the Lakota and Red Lodge Canyon features pictoglyphs depicting the seven rites of the sacred pipe. The Black Hills is their Mecca, their Jerusalem, their church, their burial site, their medicine cabinet, their altar upon which they go to receive sacred rites and to seek visions from Wakan Tanka. The Black Hills is the holiest of holy places for the Lakota, and all things originating from it are also holy, so holy in fact that no animals that come from the Black Hills are killed.

There were many conflicts between the Lakota and European-Americans in the process of westward expansion. In an effort to stop the violence and create lasting peace, the United States government gathered up the leaders of the Indian groups in the area and offered them all of the land of South Dakota west of the Missouri river in exchange for peace. The Lakota and other groups wanted to protect their land; the government wanted to protect its people and ensure westward expansion. Some say that the Indians were forced to sign the treaty (white people were slaughtering buffalo to try to reduce the Indians’ capacity to feed their people); others say it was in the interest of both parties and all were willing. Out of this meeting came the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868 which states that the aforementioned land is

“set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians herein named, . . . and the United States now solemnly agrees that no persons . . . shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory described in this article” (PBS, 2001).

The United States upheld its end of the bargain for seven years. When gold was discovered in the Black Hills, the government offered $6 million for the purchase of the Black Hills. When the offer was refused, the government casually turned a blind eye to the trespassing that ensued in the search of gold. In 1876, the government gave instructions that the Lakota should be “round up” and forced to remain on reservations (Bonvillain, 2001, p 227). By 1877, the government took back the land illegally and opened it up for white settlement and, thus, unfettered mining.

In 1962, after several decades of mining and development, the state of South Dakota purchased the Black Hills from the United States government and declared it “closed to all”, shutting out the Oglala Lakota completely while it turned it into a national park, bulldozing trees, move earth, building roads, and paving parking lots.

Mining for various natural resources has continued since the 1870s. After gold, there was mining for various other resources including coal (found in the 1970s) and uranium. Uranium was first mined during the Cold War period as the United States armed itself for nuclear war.

The Lakota have been fighting to regain ownership of the Black Hills since the 1870’s. They’ve filed numerous claims, some of them were rejected outright and others were successful, but never to the extent that they’ve been able to regain ownership. One ruling awarded them “just payment” in the amount of $17.5 million plus interest since 1877 for a total of $122.5 million, but the Lakota refused the money, stating that the Black Hills were not for sale. Today that money sits in a trust monitored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and continues to earn interest (Fixico, 1998) and the Lakota’s continue their fight.

The Current Situation

Powertech Uranium (the Industrial Capitalist) is a Canadian company looking to turn a profit from uranium mining. Also on the Industrial Capitalist side, and for some different reasons, are the governments of the United States and the state of South Dakota. Both stand to benefit monetarily, mostly through application and permit fees, from allowing Powertech Uranium to mine in the Black Hills. In addition, the governments would also benefit from the availability of any uranium produced by successful mining efforts as it would provide more fuel for nuclear power plants. The importance of this should not be underestimated, as energy is considered to be fundamental to social organization and a central factor in society (Lutzenhiser et al, 2002, p 224). The United States is an Industrial Capitalist society that values all of the things that Industrial Capitalists do. If it is true that evolution of a society is directly related to the amount of energy per capital available (ibid) and that “the energy available to man limits what he can do and influences what he will do” (Cottrell, 1955, p 2), then it is in the best interest of the United States to continue to provide enough energy and even excess energy so that innovation, competition, and capitalism can thrive.

Powertech has filed applications with the federal and South Dakota state governments for leases to extract uranium by means of In Situ Recovery in the Black Hills. The most recent set of applications was filed in late 2009 for a lease allowing them to drill 155 exploratory wells. Powertech is not new to the Black Hills. A 2008 article (Cramblit) states that the company has over 4,000 uncapped and unmarked uranium exploratory wells in the area from prior exploratory leases.

The Defenders of the Black Hills, the activist arm representing the indigenous society of the Oglala Lakota, is fighting to protect this sacred site by filing legal motions to prevent Powertech Uranium from drilling damaging exploratory hills in search of and mining uranium. In addition to not wanting to witness to further damage to the sacred place, they are also concerned with the health consequences for their people who live down stream from the proposed mining sites and who depend on the aquifers that would be put at risk by In Situ Recovery (or Leach) mining.

In Situ Recovery involves drilling wells into the earth to the depth of the ore deposits. A solution, lixiviant, is injected via the wells to dissolve the uranium. Two wells are drilled for each location: one for the lixiviant processing plant which mixes and sends the solvent into the ore deposit and the other for the uranium processing plant which sucks up the dissolved uranium for processing. The uranium if processed further into yellow cake which is then packed into 55-gallon drums and transported off-site for further processing (Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2009).

This process is water-intensive and the water used is exposed to radioactive material. Although Powertech claims this process is safe, there are risks. The proposed sites for Powertech’s wells are the Lakota and Fall River aquifers (Cramblit, 2008) so the wells drilled will run through the aquifer to the ore deposit below. Environmental risks include damage to the wells or pipes which could lead to radioactive water or material leaking into the aquifers or run off into surrounding rivers. Dust from the yellow cake is highly radioactive and can be carried on the wind. Any of these scenarios carry health risks. Contact with the radioactive dust has been linked to lung cancer. Contact or consumption of radioactive water has been linked to cancers and birth defects. Both of which are seen on the Pine Ridge Reservation, with an increased cancer rate being noted since the 1970s (Defenders of the Black Hills).

The Oglala Lakota’s concerns about health are not unfounded. At a meeting in 2005, “discussions centered on the radiation levels in some areas reported at a staggering 1,400 times higher than the ordinary background radiation on the Grand River in the Cave Hills . . . . Also discussed was the high proportion of cancer related illnesses and birth defects” (Cramblit, 2008). In July of 2007, warning signs were posted along the Cheyenne River near Red Shirt, SD, just outside the Pine Ridge Reservation, stating that high levels of radiation had been found in the river (Defenders of the Black Hills, 2007). The Oglala Lakota use the river to fish, to irrigate their crops and to swim in during summer months.

There are already thousands of mines in the Black Hills, and hundreds in Wyoming whose runoff comes through the Cheyenne River. There may be nothing the Oglala Lakota can do about the mines already drilled, but they are doing everything they can to prevent further mines from being built (ibid).

Motions filed in the state of South Dakota have been repeatedly denied. The Oglala Lakota has proposed that one reason their calls for the permits not to be granted have been unheard is due to the governor, who appoints the people who oversee the approval of permits, having a vested interest in the success of Powertech, stating that his relative is employed by the company (Associated Press, 2008).

In addition to fighting in the courts, they are working on a public awareness campaign, hoping to inform and activate citizens into activity that the government can’t ignore.

Politics in Nature Writing?

I was at a gathering at Anna's and she mentioned that the books we're reading in our nature writing class are political. I disagreed, saying I find that most of the books aren't political. Then I thought about it some more. Maybe you can say they're all political. Some probably not intentionally so, but others definitely have political moments. They may not be political texts, but they make statements that could be taken in a political way. Take, for example, Barry Lopez talking about how intelligent the Inuit are and how long it's taken white man to catch up in knowledge to a group of people he thought were uncivilized and stupid. Or when he says we simply need to pay attention and have the right sort of knowledge to understand things which might not at first be obvious. Or Robert Macfarlane talking about the trash that he found all over these desolate and wild places of the British Isles, or do you read it as being about the destruction of nature or in favor of the preservation and appreciation for what's left? Or J.A. Baker writing about what he images are the last days of the peregrine which dwindles in numbers due to the use of toxic agricultural chemicals. What of the politics of Jane Austen's improvements? Is any mention of climate change inherently political? Mr. Abbey is unabashedly political at times, beautifully sentimental at others, and sometimes just downright rude.

Certainly some texts lend themselves more easily than others to a political interpretation. I guess I'm now left wondering if you can apply any sort of reading to any sort of text without limitation? Can we do a feminist reading of all the books? An eco-critical reading? Surely there are limitations and surely the lens(es) through which one reads should be carefully selected.

Not being a naturally political person or reader, I suppose such a reading didn't really occur to me. The more I think about it, the more I can see it and the more I want to think about it. What eye-opening thoughts will this term bring?

Sacred Land & Broken Treaties

They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one. They promised to take our land and they took it.

Mahpiya Luta (Red Cloud), a member of the Lakota Nation, isn't being funny. But the Lakota people have a sense of humor when they say, "Doksa, Black Hills," which means "I will pay you when they give us money for the Black Hills."

I've spent the last two days reading about the loss of sacred land to the green and westward expansion of Americans. I have read about battles and treaties, promises made and broken, forced migration, forced relocation, an ever decreasing plot of land, plus the loss and desecration of a sacred site.

As far as I can tell, the Black Hills are the equivalent of Mecca for the Muslims or Jerusalem for Jews and Christians (and to a lesser extent, as the third-holiest city, for Muslims).

The Black Hills are at the center of Lakota beliefs. It's so sacred that they won't kill animals found in the Black Hills. No blood is to be spilled there. It's a place for Wakan Tanka, the great mystery, the great spirit, the great sacred, the spirit essence or force that pervades all beings and nature. It's a place for vision quests, for receiving the spirits. It's a place for rites of passage, for sun dances, for healing. It's where medicines grow. And it's not just sacred for the Lakota: "More than 60 indigenous nations had been traveling to the Black Hills for millennia to conduct spiritual ceremonies, gather medicines and lodge poles." ( One account I read said that his people are afraid to go to the sacred sites in the Black Hills for fear that they will become tourist attractions. Another account says that every time they bulldoze, they uncover remains of their ancestors or of sacred sites.

These hills have been so scarred by the activities of white men or wasicus, from mining for gold to blood spilled in battles to remove the Indians to paving roads and cutting down trees, building and invasive species, that the Lakota now believe prophesy that the Black Hills will have to burn to be saved. There is no putting a band-aid on it, they have to start from scratch.

And, because the US doesn't recognize the land as belonging to them, there is nothing they can do about it. They claim that the US violated the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 which granted the Lakota the land from West of the Missouri River to the state line of South Dakota for the "absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians." Nine years later, the US went back on that treaty when gold was found in the Black Hills and through a Congressional Act in 1877, the US took the land back and subsequently pushed the Lakota people into smaller areas, attacked settlements, murdered men women and children, and eventually relocated all of the Indians to reservations where they wouldn't be in the way of "progress".

Many years later, the Supreme Court decided that the Lakota should be paid for the Black Hills because they weren't paid a just amount in 1868, so they offered money, but the Lakota didn't want to sell. They didn't want money, they wanted their land back. So Congress put the money in a trust and it still sits there today as the Lakota fight to protect their sacred land, to regain ownership of the land. They are some of the poorest people in the United States, with high unemployment and underemployment rates, with poor healthcare. The money (close to $500 million now) could make a big difference from them, but money doesn't matter and can't buy the sacred.

I'm encouraged by the story I read that said every now and again a local paper takes a pole about the money and the majority of responses say not to take the money. Thank goodness some folks have a sense of what's important.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Down Came the Rain and Washed it all Away

Today it rained and now most of the snow that was hanging out, making everything white, is gone, melted, washed into the drains and the river and out to sea.

Yesterday it snowed. Today the weather people predicted a high of three. What a difference is made by a few degrees.

Today I did some more research for my essay on the difference of views on natural resource extraction between industrial-capitalist societies and indigenous societies. Well, I'm still learning, but I think the main one would be that the indigenous societies are by and large not subscribers to industrial-capitalism. But would they be if they could be? That's the question I'm wondering about now. Taking this conversation down to the level of the American Indian, I'm concerned that they might convert. I was reading about a few organizations, mainly the Council of energy Resource Tribes (CERT) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

Now, as I understand it, the American Indians traditionally see themselves as being a part of nature--animate and inanimate. All things in nature have what you might call a soul or a spirit. They believe that natural features, such as mountains or rocks, can be ancestors. (I am looking for a good source to back this up or correct it.) Anyway, they see themselves as part of the Creator's creation, not above anything else, connected to everything else, and they believe they have a responsibility to the creator, to their families and their tribes to protect it. Surely, this doesn't mean that they've never made mistakes, but the belief and sense of responsibility remain.

Then there's the problem of economic development. Say all along the way, all throughout colonization and the establishment of the United States, settlers, reservations, etc. the American Indians were given a choice and rejected the industrial-capitalist way of life. They said, no we don't want to participate. All along, they've been underdeveloped as compared to their non-Indian neighbors (possibly mostly due to the fact that they weren't left with the best land, sometimes removed from their traditional lands completely, and separated from their traditional ways of life, hunting, farming, obtaining water, etc). Now, they want to develop. One might say, as someone somewhere in my reading did, that economic development is essential to survival. So what routes to economic development are available to them? Selling off land as storage space for nuclear waste? Selling off land -- to developers, miners, whoever will buy it? Selling off natural resources? Developing their own land, opening doors to tourism and gamblers, casinos?

So there are these economic pressures. And CERT and BIA are interested in helping the tribes develop economically (as some tribes see the worst unemployment rates and poverty rates in the country) while balancing their environmental concerns. The concern is that these pressures might cause the tribes to trade long-term environmental problems for short-term economic benefits. There was one tribe in Minnesota, I think, that voted to be a place to store these mobile nuclear storage bins. And another in Utah, but the governor or some government official said he didn't want them in the state. Scary when some government man is the one giving more consideration to environmental and health effects and future generations.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Having just returned to campus after three weeks in the states, where I know people, places and have memories, I'm reflecting on the significance of the familiar.

When I moved to campus, October 7th, 2009, it was the first time I'd set foot here. I've been to England several times, spent nine months living in Norwich on the UEA campus, and have traveled around a the island a decent amount (I say a decent amount because I think I've seen more of Britain than most natives). I'd traveled on the tracks that run through Colchester more times than I can count on my English journeys, but I'd never been here before. It was a completely new place, full of unfamiliar roads, buildings, shops and people. It was exciting.

I'm a huge fan of new. I love seeing new places, doing and learning new things, meeting new people. I once had a friend who was also a fan of new and we'd celebrate New Experience Days. Each New Experience Day, we'd do something new. Something that one or both of us had never done before. This usually involved going somewhere but might also include cooking or baking, playing darts left-handed, or trying an usual icecream flavor.

I love exploring new places: one of the major thrills and motivations for traveling. During my three weeks in the states, I had a nice mix of the old and the new. Cushioned between visits to two places that are home to me, I drove cross country. Starting out in Los Angeles, after 10 days with my family, I drove east. The trip involved plenty of new: new people (Hi to Dave and Alison in Arizona!), new states (my first time in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Carolinas), new restaurants, new towns, my first time driving a Nissan, new highways and skies (the stars at night, very big and bright in Texas, by the way), a new year, driving while it was snowing, eating rainbow trout, beignets (yum!), and learning things about the places we were headed and passing through.

Being on the road was exciting, but arriving at a friend's family home in Frederick and staying with a good friend in Washington, DC, where I daily saw multiple people that I knew and recognized people I saw in a restaurant (or even the Virgin America employee at Dulles Airport) was a different type of exciting. It was comforting, it was warming, it was familiar. I think for most of my life I have discounted the importance of the familiar. I am learning, in my old age, that loved ones, family and friends, home are some of the most important things in life.

So now, having transversed the width of a country the size of a continent, and an ocean (overnight and by plane), I find myself again in Colchester, in this new place that is becoming familiar. I remember my first day here. My first trip to town, which was a mix of the familiar and new: the same high street shops (some new ones) but in a new layout. I remember my first walk onto campus: over the bridge and into the meadow. And there it was: an oak tree. One type of tree that I am familiar with enough that, even never having met this one before, I could identify it. I can't tell you what type of oak tree, but I'd know those leaves and the acorns anywhere. Oak trees populate the Santa Monica Mountains that stand in the greater backyard of my mother's house. Oak trees are home. Oak trees are California wilderness. They are of canyons and mountain tops. They are shade on a scorching summer day. The are for cowboys' naps. They are the markers of hiking trails. They make up the scenery of the familiar, of my childhood, of my family home. We name towns after them! Seeing that first oak tree, identifying it, and looking out for all of the others, made me feel at home, in an instant. That tree might be new, but I know it's relatives.


With gratitude to the OED

Familiar, adjective:

1. a. Of or pertaining to one's family or household. (Now rare, and with mixture of other senses.) {dag}Of an enemy: That is ‘of one's own household’: lit. and fig. {dag}Of habits: Pertaining to one's family life, private, domestic.

2. Of persons and their relations: On a family footing; extremely friendly, intimately associated, intimate.

And possibly my favorite definition, if only for the sentence that follows it.
e. transf. Of a plant: Adapted to relations with. Obs. rare.
1721 R. BRADLEY Wks. Nat. 38 Mistletoe..can never be made familiar enough with the Earth to take Root, or grow in it.

5. Of persons: Well or habitually acquainted, having a close acquaintance or intimate knowledge. Of a person's manner: Resulting from close association. Const. with.

6. Of things: Known from constant association; pertaining to every-day knowledge, well-known. Const. to, {dag}with.
1818 SCOTT Rob Roy i, I will..endeavour to tell you nothing that is familiar to you already.

b. Of every-day use, common, current, habitual, ordinary, usual. Const. to.
1599 SHAKES. Hen. V, IV. iii. 52 Familiar in his mouth as household words. . . . 1711 ADDISON Spect. No. 135 {page}10 All ridiculous Words make their first Entry into a Language by familiar Phrases.

c. Homely, plain; hence, easily understood.

8. Free, as among persons intimately acquainted, unceremonious; occas. Too free, taking liberties with; also in to make familiar with.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


It's cold. It's so cold I have on six socks (three complete pairs evenly divided between my two feet) and hiking shoes and my toes feel frozen. It's so cold, my hands have been a variation on a shade of purple for days now. It's so cold, I wore 3 sweaters and a down jacket outside and still shivered. It's so cold, the snow hasn't melted yet -- which is saying a lot for both southern England and for Washington, DC.

Cold is an unpleasant sensation for me at its best. It's quite frequently a painful sensation. It makes my joints ache. Part of my dislike for the cold has to do with psyching myself out about it. The rest has to do with the number of clothing items I have to wear to feel comfortable and the discomfort or pain.

I'm trying to toughen up mentally. I'm not sure how it happened that I ended up this way: always cold, afraid of the cold, pained by the cold. When I was 10, I remember running around on cold mornings (cold for California, but still in the 30s and 40s) with a t-shirt on, refusing to put on a sweatshirt. I was cold, but I didn't care. There'd be goosebumps on my arms but I didn't care. I didn't feel cold. I didn't shiver. It didn't hurt. I didn't worry about warming up. For whatever reason, it sort of became the thing I was known for and one day, a family friend dared me to wear a bathing suit in the snow when we went up to the mountains. As my memory has it, I did. I wore a bathing suit and ran around in the cold air, shoes on my feet, those shoes getting wet with snow. Was I an early practicer of mind over matter or was I just being stubborn? I don't know that answer, but I do know those days are no longer. I can psych myself up to go out for a bit, it's easier when I can identify heated places to stop in along the way (as was the case with a recent trip to DC -- I had a cafe tour of some parts of the city). I can tell myself I'm not going to let it get to me, or put all my layers on twenty minutes before I go out and do jumping jacks. I can tell myself I'll warm up if I keep walking. None of those things keep the cold from being an uncomfortable experience for me.

Memorable times of being cold? In the kitchen at Emily's house which for all I can tell is the exact same thing as being outside. My hands a solid purple color, aching and stiff as I chopped veggies for our soup.

Going up to Cradle Mountain the day I arrived in Tasmania. The tour guide drove us to a clothing store and say stock up, it's gonna be cold. No lie. I bought gloves nad a hat and big green wool socks, which remain my favorite cold weather socks today. We got up to the mountain and it was freezing. It snowed. We were meant to go take a walk around the lake for a more complete view of the mountain and lake and I hurt so bad, it took me a good 45 minutes to thaw out.

I remember football games in the fall. The temperature might not have been that low, but there was fog and wet cold is its own kind of bone penetrating cold.

A night spent mostly awake in a tent for tiny people or people with very short legs, in some random park on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, squeezed in there next to my roommate, curled into a ball, blanket over my head, shivering. No sleep. Nothing but giggles the next day.

Standing on a beach, any beach, sun setting, moisture in the air, an onshore wind blowing, toes and fingers, feet and hands, freezing. So cold it hurt to brush the sand off.

The office of my first job. I'd dress for winter even on the 100 plus degree summer days. It was an ice box.

Vermont. In Feburrrrrary.

The one and only time I tried skiing. Why on earth do people want to be cold?

A beautiful room I rented in a house from the 1920s. Poorly insulated and drafty. It was difficult to get out of bed in the mornings and put my feet onto the cold wood floor, then go into the cool stone-floored bathroom. The sound of the plastic shrink wrapped over the windows moving, crinkling, out as the air blew in and out.

Car windows down, heat on full blast, driving through the night, faint smell of burning rubber coming from the footwell.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Calm Waters

Water has a soothing effect. Calm waters, slow moving rivers, baths, fountains, ponds, lapping lakes: they're my favorite.

My two rivers, the Colne and the Potomac, are calm rivers. They mirror the sky and everything between the sky and their surface. Both are cloudy, sediment filled rivers. They inspire meditation on their flow, their progress, their moods, their constant movement that occurs even when you can't see it.

These rivers aid thinking. They inspire. The provide a comfortable backdrop to a wide variety of thoughts: some easy and fun, some less comfortable.

These rivers instruct. High tide, low tide, keep your head down and don't loose sight of the goal. In every moment, a continuous effort towards the sea. High tide, low tide, but always at least a trickle of water. Water is the constant. Like love, like friendship, like joy: each always there, steams within us; celebrate the times when they rise to the top of the river bank. Natural variations. The river flows, as in life, as in love, so it comes, so it goes.

These rivers try to capture glorious sunsets, like my memory, like my camera, but they fail and the sunsets fade.

Both have been witness to history.

I left the Potomac behind. I have the Colne here, meters away. I feel the urge to wade in, waist deep, and feel the river flow around me. Will it tug at my clothing? Will it stun with its winter temperature? Will I learn more by osmosis?

Blue Moon

A new year and a fresh reminder that each moment is a new one in which we have choices and in which we can change: ourselves, our situations, our nail polish.

This new years eve was made special by a blue moon. An appearance not as rare as one might think based on the saying "once in a blue moon." I've decided that "once in a blue moon" means in a little while.

The moon has been particularly beautiful and bright lately. The night before last it was cloudy but that big bright orb shone right on through. I love moon rises. I love the moon when she hangs around during the day.

On my flight to California, the moon hung just over and slightly behind the wing of the plane the whole way. She was right over my shoulder the whole flight, the moon and Orion's belt. I seem to have stumbled into readings lately about the trouble of anthropomorphizing animals. Well, what about celestial bodies? The moon and I have a funny relationship. I believe it's a she (or even gender neutral but definitely not male and 'it' sounds so cold) looks after me. Not in any real delusional sort of way, but in a comforting, may as well tell a story about her kind of a way.

I love the night sky. I used to lie in my bed at night growing up and look at the stars out the window, watch the moon progress from one end of the window to the next. Orion is my comfort constellation. I can usually find it in the night sky. Before I went to Australia a friend told me it's one of the constellations you can see from both hemispheres. I was a little apprehensive about my response to being under a foreign night sky. I have a lot of silly irrational fears about things like that. Typically, I have the thought, realize I've had the thought, laugh at it, correct it and go on, but no matter how much correcting goes on, the silly thoughts are not forgotten. They're sort of collected in this basket of things that made me think about the world in a non-traditional way.

Yeah, the moon and I go way back. I don't completely understand her. I'm a big fan of her work.

I remember my next door neighbor teaching me how to tell if she was on her way to being full or decreasing. I was in elementary school, knocking on doors trying to sell girl scout cookies or carnival raffle tickets to the poor retired people who thought they'd gotten rid of all the kids on the block. He took a few extra minutes to talk about the moon and draw on a piece of paper. Draw a line from the flatter side of the moon, he said. If after you put that line up there it looks like a lowercase b, it's beginning to get full. If it looks like a lowercase d, it's getting smaller.

Some old guy in Australia. Okay he wasn't that old. He was Scottish but his parents or grandparents were sent over to Australia. He was a tour guide. His name might have been Scott. He introduced me to Lindt chocolate with toffee, bless him. He talked to me about how the moon "works". He explained why there are phases of the moon. I can only pretend to remember what he said about it. At the time, I had a little trouble wrapping my head around it, but I think I got there even if only for a moment and I've since forgot. I think it had something to do with shadows. Sometimes I think that the explanations for why things are or how they do the things they do is fascinating, but really not essential to my enjoying the experience or the observing of what they do. It's as if someone were to tell me the chemical make up of sugar. I never took chemistry so while I have an idea of what those little letters represent, I don't have a deep understanding or what any of them mean if you add or subtract them. Certainly knowing its chemical make up doesn't make me appreciate sugar any more or in any new way.

I have memories of moon rises. Once when my family was driving for some vacation of sorts through the desert, this gigantic yellow-orange moon rising low over the flat horizon. The beautiful little sliver of a crescent moon in the western sky just after sunset, bright star sparkling below it's right hip.

Last night's moon, huge and through the clouds over the Hollywood Hills. A slight yellow tint to it at first as it rose through the LA smog. And by the time we reached our destination, there she was, free from the smog, from the gravity of the ground, rising up and over, lighting the atmosphere.

I always hoped a blue moon would refer to its color. Even after doing a google search I've not found a convincing reason for why it's called 'blue'. Still, this entry was interesting: Or this one by NASA There seems to be debate over calender or tropical years when talking about blue moons and thus about real blue moons or a misinterpretation and thus a only fake but more frequent blue moons.

Oh, Science, I simply don't care whether the moon is full twice in one calendar page. It don't enjoy it any differently. I doubt the moon minds our self-imposed time frames. She's working on her own schedule.