Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Night Frolic — Falling Waters: A Meditation

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.                                              ~John Muir

I know why Backwoods Betty left the city. Though this, I did not always know. Nor was I certain it was a good ideaBetty being a cityfied professional for nearly three decades, held captive by the city's assiduous urban hum, it's vibrant sheen, culture and diversityI was worried, couldn't imagine how she'd negotiate the solitude of the mountains and northern boreal forests, the frigid and often dangerous winters, the slowed pace. As a second home, sure, but on a permanent basis?

But North of Franconia Notch is hardly an isolated, unfriendly or stagnant plateau. It is a series of verdant mezzanines, palisades of evergreens and brush, pillars of granite and peppery stones that line its natural corridors and wrap around its lush and coniferous woodlands. There, in the thick of this mountainous weald, it is to breathe crisp air and listen.

It is to be spoken to by a voice rooted deep in earth's core, an oracle.

It is to be in the company of good friends. Like the croaking bullfrogs at dusk.

Sunday morning we hiked Falling Waters. Here, along this rugged, root covered, stone lined trail, worn by the tread of many a trekking shoe, insulated from flurry and fuss, from what can sometimes feel like the madness of the world, we heard water falling: drips of clear liquid dropping from one green leaf to another, like Mother Nature's tears running down a stairway of foliage. Then, a trickle of water from behind slate and golden rocks, around fallen birch limbs, and quietly through the brook.

It is a conversation, accompanied by a lullaby.

Without television, radio or internet for the entire weekend, on Sunday we were still unaware of the events that had unfolded in Oslo, and Utoya. We climbed, quite blissfully, higher up the steep and sometimes muddy trail, and witnessed a different kind of unfolding: cool water plunging down granite steps. Pulling ourselves skyward, past sharp twists in the terrain, through shallow pools of water and up stone risers set by the AMC, the waterway widened and gushed from enormous slabs of stone into cascades of trilling aqua.

It is a melody.

We rested at the top of one of the largest falls, and absorbed the deep pigment of nature, whistling birds, barreling water, buzzing insects, pine and dirt and rock, the organic lyrics of the mossy forest.

It is a symphony.

Not knowing anything but the rich sounds of tall pines, clods of mud under foot, wild geese, bullfrogs, or fanning falls can be bliss. (It was Walt Whitman who said:  You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free-margin, and even vagueness - ignorance, credulity - helps your enjoyment of these things.)

But the north country is not about not knowing. The north country is about paying attention to knowing. It is a meditation on knowing the true identity of the world, and all its creatures, of self and of what brings oneself joy and peace.

It is a meditation on quality of life.

It is a libretto of life. And death. And renewal.

And it is a meditation on everything we don't know, may never know, may never understand.

We went up and down the trail unfettered by the knowledge of the chaos and killing in Norway. The whole weekend, unfettered. It's hard to believe. Some things we don't want to know. Some things we most certainly will never understand.

At the base of the trail, turning on the radio, it was a requiem.

Falling waters, slipping tears. Sounds that resonate.

I didn't want to leave.

Thomas Dybdahl is a Norwegian Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter. His music has all the serenity and lushness of a stream rippling through mountain gorges. His voice: undulating waves of light and sound. His lyrics: as colorful and emotional as the deep northern forest, flooded with the steamy warmth of southern everglades. The sound: rooted in pop, its branches having a multidirectional spread to folk, rock, country, jazz—it is as melodic, scenic and pristine as the glacial terrain and falling waters that seduce us, that speak to us.

His new album, Songs, was released this month in the U.S.

This week, Dybdahl has been touring the States, dedicating his shows to his Norwegian countrymen. Next week, he returns to Trondheim and the tears of Norway. There, he's sure to bring much comfort.

(In the background, Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss speaks of quality of life by asking, roughly, how it may be defined and how it may remain high or become heightened? He reminds us that quality of life has nothing to do with what one has, but how one feels about oneself, what brings one joy. Næss is well known for his work on the principles of deep ecology. )

I worry no longer. Betty knows exactly what she's doing, and she's doing it well. There, in the backwoods of New Hampshire, is much joy and peace. I wish it were the same the world wide.

"In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks." 
~ John Muir

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Night Frolic — Heading for the Fir Lined Hills

The Juveniles Children in N.H. Fall 2009.

To New Hampshire I go, I go
Oh yes, it's so, it's so!
for my sister waits
for these special dates
in the hills of the Great White North.

With she I find my best friend,
this sisterly love we tend
strolling the wispy-haired summit
its rocky paths down we plummet
the grand hills of the Great White North

Bathing in its giggling brooks
with smooth stones underfoot
the wade shan't be brief
as we covet relief
of heat cloaking the Great White North

Spouses away the weekend
this, being when we pretend
to have no annoyance or burden
until we recall we've the juveniles children
in the hills of the Great White North

Still, we ladies have one another
the juveniles children not too much bother
behaved, they'll  allow us to gossip
lest they desire a backhand wallop
in the HILLS of the Great White North

Right now, I'm feeling as giddy as Jade and Alex. Ready to hit the road with my babes and clamber beyond Franconia Notch to where Backwoods Betty makes her beautiful hillside home. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, who helped usher in the current folk-rock revival, are fired up to make the journey with us.

There's been mountains of rumor as to whether or not their euphoric sound is drug induced. They—Alex and Jade, at least—appear so enraptured by life, in love with their music, it's almost impossible to believe it's a natural high, a rush at the peak. But Alex Ebert and his alter ego (Edward Sharpe: "a messianic porn star whose mission to save mankind is disrupted by a series of romantic entanglements with beautiful women") has cleaned up his act since leaving Ima Robot (see him here, with Ima in a very different, darker role), and now stands high on love and life. The anthems he composes are gleeful and brimming with hope.

New Hampshire-bound jingles and hymns that set our spirits free. (Maybe I'll even turn off the droid.)

Betty: I'm coming up!

Backwoods Betty's place -- a/k/a Maggie's Farm
(photo from Design New England)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In Which I Close My Eyes and Pray

Everybody gets so much information all day long 
that they lose their common sense.
~Gertrude Stein

Picasso's Mistress [source]

If I'd left well enough alone
I'd still have a phone that acts like
a computer, that acts like an assitant
that doesn't talk back to me

Not a thrashing alien, other worldly being
bleeding time, draining the internal battery,
initiating the lost who march up the clay-like
learning curve, dense mud glomming ankles

A Lilliputian robot commanding
commitment, syncing and stroking,
dragging and downloading applications for
which I have no use, nor know how to use

I enter a thin 4 ½ by 2 ½ black coffer,
a machine, a temple, where he dwells,
and faithfully store potpourri filled tablets
which are promptly forgotten,
knowing, by baptism, I shall leave a cyborg

Mind blank, eyes still, I don't remember
where the keys are, or his phone number,
or the recipe for coq au vin,
or the doctor's appointment...

...All of it humming in the chantry, I have
given myself completely and pray I never
lose my way, feel gluttonous, envious, or
convert to a lesser religion—like worshiping Gods

The threat of excommunication as penance
for fickle minds holds me loyal to the machine
who summons me to read Stein
or Hemingway on its Kindle app.

Talk to me, oh Great one,
talk back to me, I listen, I hear,
I'm open to you, my salvation,
to your sacred glossolalia.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Night Frolic — Building Roads Beneath the Full Moon


What she'd like to do is sit down in her little striped beach chair, late, late afternoon by berylline ocean waters and watch pools of frothy tide swish to and fro the shore, as it happens, until the amber sun fades into the sea's violaceous horizon, and the sky illuminates with the shimmery light of this Friday's milky floret of a moon.

The full moon calls.

But that scene is an hour away, and driving is still somewhat restricted (perils of pain medication), so she is here at home, late afternoon, trying to forge a Frolic, feeling anxious and overwhelmed and wanting to be by the beach. She's not happy.

The large framed second story east facing window will have to do. From there, she can almost pluck a low moon from the dark sky.

And then she reads this, from Jan Spiller (whom she's never consulted):
There is an opportunity for insight and progress inherent in the FULL MOON. People often react emotionally during the days of the Full Moon due to a feeling of helplessness.  They become aware of the distance between the way they want their life to be, and the way it currently is.  Often, when they see this gap, they become upset.
Haha, she says, laughing like a madwoman. It's not my ailments, it's the moon!

She pulls the liner notes from Building a Road by Spottiswoode and His Enemies and sips on her damn green tea. There will be no wine tonight. But there will be the full moon. (Unless she fails to finish this Frolic.)

There are no liner notes, really, just perfunctory thank yous and  lists of Special Friends and Archenemies, and one Bete Noire. She cannot imagine that Spottiswoode, the frontman, guitarist and harp player for his rock and soul and cabaret avant garde  band—who reminds her of a young Leonard Cohen (with whom she has frolicked) and Harry Nilsson (with whom she'd like to frolic, lime in de coconut and all)—would have adversaries.

Yet Spottiswoode is drawn to the dark, where foes lurk.

And it is under Stygian skies that she finds a few specters Building a Road:

(She is frustrated that she does not know how to build an MP3 sample.)

And others, far from the Road, at play, building scenes like this:

And this:

And then she flips through the Farmers' Almanac to find that today is the beginning of some of the best days of the year:
According to Farmers' Almanac tradition, when the moon is in the appropriate phase and place in the zodiac, it's widely believed that activities will be more fruitful or lead to improved results. The period between the new and full moon (first and second quarters) is considered as the best time to perform tasks that require strength, fertility and growth...
Who knew! Perhaps it's not all bad, she thinks. Surely there's something that can be done here in the burbs. Ah, a tall iced tea, chilled cherries, the setting sun from the west facing dappled deck accompanied by Spottiswoode. And a stroll down the street. That'll do. Who knows where it may lead...

(Maybe she'll find more goblins along the road. Maybe she will conquer some demons.)

* * * 
You can find Spottiswoode's whole show, starting with scene 1, Live @ Joe's Pub in New York City here.

His latest album is Wild Goosechase Expedition, about the doomed course of a touring rock band. The second track is Beautiful Monday:

Beautiful music.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Medicine is Not a Pure Science

"I am always doing what I can't do yet in order to learn how to do it."
~ Vincent Van Gogh

Nor is it a perfect art.

Because I don't want to write about ruptured ovarian cysts or appendicitis, or the fact that modern medicine still doesn't have ALL the answers, I'm going to offer this, which has been posted to the Great Internet for you to view through your super-smart, hi-tech phone or gaming device or laptop or maybe even your TV or some other souped-up thingamajig:

Vincent van Gogh - Saint Rémy, June-July 1889. Oil on canvas.

We live in two worlds now. The touch, see, feel real world, and the virtual world of floating ephemera.

Isn't it incredible that in today's far far advanced and highly invested world of technology—a world built of tangible hardware, computers, routers, towers, cables, satellites, and a vast and not so tangible infrastructure of protocols, signals, foreign languages, nodes, interconnected networks and other things that I will never understand—where at the touch of a small screen one is easily transported to a world wide web enabling access to nearly anything the heart desires, that such a world, a magical world, can exist while scientists around the real world still have not found a cure for cancer or other persistent disease and illness?

How is this possible? How is it that medicine has advanced as it has in the past half century or so, but we are still unable to fully understand the human body? Why don't we know why we have an appendix? We know it has no discernable function. We know it looks like a witch's mangy finger. But what's it doing in the human body? And why can no diagnostic instrument see mine? Why can't we walk into a box, have the body scanned, and walk out with a full diagnosis and remedy for the ailment? Is it funding? Where does all the money go? Is there more money invested in the tech industry rather than life science and research? Are people getting tired of donating to life science and cancer research, seeing little return on their investment?

It's infuriating. It's not all true though, at least not based on what I found here, reprinted from Nature Biotechnology. So medicine doesn't move as quickly as the virtual world (though I bet it moves quicker than my bowels). This, I understand. But medicine has made giant leaps as technology has advanced, so what I don't understand is how we can all talk to each other like this, how we can connect and maneuver and solve problems in this virtual world, while scientific and cancer research seems to make little headway.

And in the case of  women, medical advancement seems much slower. (Every time I have that annual mammogram I think, If I were a man there'd be an easierless painfulway than this.)

But I'm no expert. I'll tell you where I put my money (the little I have), though: medical research. And if I had to give up the internet in order for us to find a cure for cancer and other ghastly illnesses of the world, then I'd do it. Hell, I'd cut off my left ear.

I miss my dad. And Rich.

(All right, well, I guess I wrote just a little about the things I didn't want to write aboutMy apologies if this post seems a bit disjointed—I'm on a teensy-weensy bit of painkiller medication. Nothing serious, just the damn cyst. Or appendicitis. Who knows?)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Night Frolic — Pink Hyaline Dreams

A week spent by the lake in a thirty-five square mile town inhabited by roughly one thousand people in Penobscot County, Maine can be wholly rejuvenating. Or not. To tell the truth, I'm not quite sure yet—being just back from the bivouac.

I have a large family, but only eight of us were at the lakeside home my father built. I did relax, at times. At other times, I drank too much wine. Or got pink with too much sun. I had some vivid and strange dreams. We played mad horseshoes and Texas hold 'em. I read The Old Man and the Sea out loud to the children (now that's a book that really ought to be read aloud, even if only to oneself). And my daughter, from the floating dock, had her own Santiago/marlin moment. Only her big fish turned out to be a rock.

The lake is absent a portal to the virtual world other than a spotty Verizon signal on my smartphone—a rather old smart phone, which seems to have lost some of its smartness—though I managed to post a few stippled, mildly smart smartphone photographs to my Facebook wall. Like the painted indigo skies and shimmery coralline waters of the early evening lake and such.

I didn't open my laptop.

I didn't write.

Well, that's not entirely true, I opened my laptop twice to slide in Pete Wernick's ("Dr. Banjo") Bluegrass Banjo CD instructions.

And I wrote a poem. A failure of a poem. But this is how all writing starts: as a ruddy failure.

I also watched a lot of this:

So, rather than write, which I find difficult to do unless I'm alone, I decided to focus on the banjo (an instrument I've been slowly learning to play since I featured this talented woman back in March). I followed Wernick's instructions and practiced right-hand rolls and slides, worked on three-finger banjo picking, and took a break from the frail. And while writing this post and researching Wernick/Dr. Banjo I unearthed some startling information: Wernick is a survivor of a horrific 1989 plane crash in which a little more than one-third of the 296 passengers and crew were killed. That he—or anyone else—was able to walk away from the catastrophe is not a minor miracle. And once again, here, I find myself writing about planes—a subject that prompts bitty seeds of sweat to articulate along the frons.

(It wasn't always like this, me and aerophobia. As a young professional I was often air bound. Only after both of my children were born did I become panicky at the thought of flying. But I do it. If I must.)

Later that same day—the day United Airlines Flight 232 went down hard, fracturing into several pieces and somersaulting into a blazing crimson orb in Sioux City, Iowa—Wernick, along with his wife and son, boarded another flight to his destination: a music festival in Albany, NY. That is a dedicated banjoist. Werner later wrote an unrecorded song about the tragedy.

Here, you will find Werner picking away at Foggy Mountain Breakdown with Steve Martin and Earl Scruggs. On Martin's Grammy Award-winning The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo, Werner played on two songs, having co-written one of them with Martin.

But Wernick and Martin, established and well recognized banjoists, are not who I'm showcasing today (though they're both certainly showcase-worthy) because it's come to my attention that I've been featuring a succession of male musicians. Meaning it's high time to make some room for the ladies:

Red Molly is a New York based folk/bluegrass force. But as the Boston Globe reported last year:
"Red Molly may be from New York, but their bluegrass and old-time gospel sounds and buoyant three-part harmonies are so down-home it's as if their notes are carried to you on the crisp air of the Ozarks."
The rosy trio is currently on a yearlong nationwide tour. You can find their schedule on their website. Here, their newest band member, Molly Venter, is introduced:

Strumming the banjo, dreaming of playing it as well as these ladies, and back to my laptop's keyboard, now, I feel rejuvenated and as buoyant as a pinkened hyaline floaty.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" — When Flying Badgers Roam

Photograph: Ansel Adams

They flew low. So low that they appeared to clip the tall oaks and pines lining the streets from where we first saw them. From the car, we caught sight of two mottled grey lusterless airships as we headed south on Abbott Valley. Theywide-bodied, slow-motion, thunderous-winged bulletssoared nearly side by side as they appeared from the east and throttled west over Bear Hill's ascent.

Lu looked worried, Are we going to be bombed, Mama? she asked.

What a question. But it made me think of 9/11. Of Vonnegut's Dresden. Of Pearl Harbor. Because this is how it works, I think in scenes. But my daughter doesn't have a scene like this. I don't either, not a real one, except for 9/11which left a deep aching imprint on anyone old enough to rememberwhich was also the same day, the same morning, that my husband left early for Washington, D.C. out of Rhode Island's T.F. Green via Pittsburgh, and lost contact with me for a good four hours. Nothing. His flight had been grounded in Pittsburgh once it was evident that we were under terrorist attack—wireless signals dead on the idling plane.

Clearly, Tuesday's flying machines were militarysimilar in size to the ones that used to buzz over the lake in Maine, before Bangor International changed their flight pattern, and nothing like the small, single engine Pipers that land at the towerless North Central airport in northern Rhode Island. I'd seen North Central's asphalt runways, been there with the kids to watch the lighter, sexier planes take off and land (what to do with your children on a Thursday afternoon), a pilot gave them plastic wing pins. Its largest runway is only 5,000 by 1,000 feet. Bangor's sole runway is nearly three times thatmore than two miles long.

I read somewhere that Air Force One can land on a 4,000 foot runway so long as it's done with full reverse thrust, hard brakes and full spoilers and flaps. I've no idea what that means, but it sounds violent.

No, we're not going to be bombed, Lu. It was curious though. Planes flying low enough to trigger that ducking impulse. Low enough to take out one of Providence's skyscrapers (if Providence actually had skyscrapers). And the only airport at which they could land was miles away in the opposite direction. They were too low. Prematurely low. Disturbingly low.

Only minutes after they flew from view, as we headed up Bear Hill, we caught the nose of another bus-swallowing aircraft coming from the north and flying south, right above Abbott Run. I could feel its weight. A second plane followed just behind. Now it was more than curious. It was odd. Were these the same two planes that we had just witnessed jetting west? They couldn't have changed their flight direction that quickly.

We drove to the bank, made a rapid deposit, and returned home within ten minutes. As we climbed the deck stairs to the back side of the house we heard another magnificent roar, and from the north, again, appeared a smoky plane. From the deck's vantage point, it appeared to be a cargo carrier, a heavy, beat up old junker lumbering along at low altitude, blue exhaust pluming from behind.

It was no longer odd. It was concerning, as if we were being harassed. I went out to the empty street, expecting to see neighbors peering at the sky, but no one was outside. No one. Lu followed and hugged me with worry. They're in their basements! Call the police! she begged.

I didn't feel like this was a rational thing to do. Call the police. What if we were being harassed, what if terrorists had hijacked the planes intending to use them as shrapnel? What the hell could our town's policemen possibly do? Have another donut quick, guys, it's all over.

So I called the police (truly, I'm not the sort of hysteric that calls the police every time I notice something amiss). Have you, by chance, been getting calls about low flying planes? I asked, feeling as nutty as one might feel when making such a call.

Yeah, the officer answered quickly, we have and we have no idea what's going on. NO IDEA. Sorry.

Oh, really? It's...

NO IDEA. Sorry, he said again.

We turned on the evening news. Trending topics dominated, but it was silent as to airborne assaults, which I thought ought to be a trending topic.

Who does one call for the answer to why a half dozen military planes might have crossed through town a few hundred yards above one's rooftop? I thought about this all night. Would one call the FBI? Would one call 911 (as Lu also suggested)? Maybe one calls the local airport? Or, of course!, the Department of Defense. Or does one take swift, fiery notes and sketch an outline for her first sci-fi thriller? No, that's been done.

The real questions, though, the questions that flashed before me like the Vietnamese nail salon's neon sign on a steamy summer evening is who does one call if one is actually getting bombed? What's to prevent those steel barrels from falling from the sky? Why am I even thinking about bombardment? Why do I like that name: Bombardier? It's sexy I tell you, that's why. And why are planes so sexy?

Well, not all planes. Not planes that can be something else. Not the planes flying over my house early Tuesday nightthe menacing planesshame on them for bullying us, for blackening my idea of the airship as magical machine navigating above snowy gossamer pillows, away from the mundane, to some faraway exotic dream.

Fleet Foxes (go visit their website, it's funclick back on Fleet Foxes after you visit each link) take me back to the days when planes were just planes. When the folk music of the 1960s and 70s was just folk music, like Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Simon and Garfunkel.

Their May 2011 release, Helplessness Blues (click to play the title songyou can also download and share it) is stunning. Gloriously stunning. Above-the-clouds stunning. It soars.