Tuesday, July 16, 2013


one summer day downeast

Oh summer!  We wait for you for so long, and you're actually here, now!  The days are long, and we spend time walking on dirt roads by the ocean, admiring the tangle of wildflowers on the verge:   

We step down on to the beach, and visit a beloved stump, one I painted nearly ten years when it was still a living spruce tree, with its dark green top casting a wide net of dappled shade on the sand:

Lots of people love this tree - the hollow trunk contains offerings of beach stones, placed carefully like tiny cairns.  And I love this tree still, even in death, taken down as it is to its elemental bones.  Erosion is moving the sand steadily back, but the strong roots still anchor the tree to its home.  I wonder when it will finally float out to sea, perhaps on some high winter tide, after a strong storm finally dislodges it.  When it does, the event will be front page news in the newspaper of my life, that much is certain.  The sea breeze rises and my shirt billows, and I think of Thoreau, from The Maine Woods, out on a walk of his own:

"Talk of mysteries!  Think of our life in nature, - daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, - rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense!  Contact!  Contact!  Who are we? where are we?"

We are so lucky to be here, on this remote beach, far downeast, with no one else around, on this hot July day.  Being tree huggers - nature lovers - contemplating the great mystery.

Ryan's camera-happy lately and follows me around, but I manage to turn the tables on him, once:

And then he wanders off, and I settle in to paint for a while, and try to say something wordless about this glory of a summer day, the blue and sparkle of the ocean, the high fairweather clouds, the dark islands just offshore.  Inland, ninety degrees, but here, facing open ocean, the wind off the water has a distinct chill.

And later, when we swim at high tide, the water is deliciously icy.  Nature!  Summer!  Rocks, trees, wind!  May this season find you similarly blessed, wherever you are!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013


"...a trail of drift and debris..."

I misspoke (jargon-y word, but apt nonetheless) in the comments section of my last post when I said I hadn't been reading lots of great books lately.  Not lots, but one, truly great.  Because I've been carrying Leaves of Grass from room to room, upstairs and down, for a few weeks now.  Over twenty years ago, when I had my first real job after college - in a bookstore, did you have to ask? - and I had no car, I'd ride the bus every day to and from work, and holy crackers did I get a lot of reading done.  Walt Whitman was one such travel companion, riding along with me time and again.  His inundation of cascading lines was perfect when taken in small doses, administered daily like an old-fashioned tincture meant to scour us out and cure what ails us.  And his lines remain perfect medicine.  So I return to him, over the years.

This time around I've been reading and re-reading the section called Sea-Drift - the sea as great mother and father, as holder of all life, a metaphor for the universe itself, for the unknowable.  So many wonderful poems and lines within these fourteen pages.  Here are a few.

"As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life"

"...Nature here in sight of the sea taking advantage of me to dart upon me and sting me,
Because I have dared to open my mouth to sing at all.

You oceans both, I close with you,
We murmur alike reproachfully rolling sands and drift, knowing not why,
These little shreds indeed standing for you and me and all.

You friable shore with trails of debris,
You fish-shaped island...

I too am but a trail of drift and debris,
I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish-shaped island.

...We, capricious, brought hither we know not whence, spread out before you,
You up there walking or sitting,
Whoever you are, we too lie in drifts at your feet."

I recently returned from a small fish-shaped island myself, where I spent many days and nights sitting by the edge of the ocean, observing, and wondering (you know, the usual) what it all means (life, I mean really, LIFE...), if anything.  And Whitman reassures us that meaning is there, even if we cannot comprehend it.  At his simplest and most comforting, he says, straightforwardly, Don't cry. It's all right.  In the middle of the great poem "On the Beach at Night" :

"From the beach the child holding the hand of her father,
Those burial-clouds that lower victorious soon to devour all,
Watching, silently weeps.

Weep not, child,
Weep not, my darling..."

And this wonderful poem's final stanza:

"Something there is,
(With my lips soothing thee, adding I whisper,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,)
Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
(Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,)
Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter,
Longer than sun or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant sisters the Pleiades."

One final bit, from "Aboard at a Ship's Helm", ostensibly about the steersman and his tasks, but in truth about everything (again, LIFE...), written in Whitman's inimitable way:

"But O the ship, the immortal ship! O ship aboard the ship!
Ship of the body, ship of the soul, voyaging, voyaging, voyaging."

After a rocky few weeks, full of shoals and reefs both figurative and literal, I feel as if I am sailing free once again.  With some equanimity and even optimism, on loan from Walt Whitman.  I mean, reading him is like having a library book on loan from God.  You know?

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