Saturday, September 16, 2017

Autumn Air

There, in a sea of
time-tossed exhaling,
longings are propelled,
high-flying like kites,
wind-washed and as pure
as polychrome streamers.

They flutter through a
cloud-dragon's jowls,
and fall, scattering
under bent branches.
No flame is ever lost
but leaves its mark on stone.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The mountains called to me.

And I answered.

After I had huffed and puffed up to the saddle between two peaks, I heard the sound of the headwaters of the eagles' favorite creek flowing in the valley ahead.

I sank into the moss. My fingers busied themselves with the task of plucking berries. They were so low to the ground, I found it best to assume a half-kneeling, half lying position where I could inhale all of the musky, fruity, nutty odors of the terrain.

A cloud passed over me, bathing me in a stinging hiss of mist. But it did not actually rain, and for that I was grateful.

Listening to the trickle of water, I was reminded of another mountain stream that I had frequently visited as a child. At around age 10, I christened it Tatiana's Stream. I had just finished reading Esther Hautzig's The Endless Steppe, and found myself fascinated by her recollection of the recitation of a portion of Evgeny Onegin: "An awesome dream Tatiana's dreaming..." (her translation) and her ultimate unfulfilled wish: to obtain a fufaika, a quilted jacket to mitigate the Siberian chills. As a veteran of the cold, I could relate. 

Those were the years when people wrote "BOMB IRAN" in the dust on dirty cars, and the Cold War tango was a slow burn. I was so painfully shy, that, when possible, I avoided social interactions, and instructed my imaginary and literary friends to follow me to the hills, where we could sit out the political storms. For good measure, we pretended to hide refugees from the Holocaust in our temporary Switzerland. And I dreamed, always, of visiting Russia. 

Little did I know that the dark blue, quilted Chinese jacket I had purchased at Salvation Army just before my first flight to Russia, so closely resembled the navy fufaikas or telogrekas, which were mainly worn by elderly villagers selling sunflower seeds, that I was nearly equated with one of them upon my arrival.

I laughed with no one and everyone at one of the grand jokes of my life: I had ended up finding a fufaika for Esther's sake, after all.

Years later, sitting on the opposite side of the mountains from Tatiana's Stream, I recalled her dream with a measure of amusement. Mountain-nymphs, do you hear me, I actually wore a fufaika!

The strangest dream Tatiana's dreaming
as if she is gliding through a snowy glade,
surrounded by a Cimmerian shade,
and in the drift before her, a shuffling,
where a dark and grey stream,
not restrained by winter's duress,
wreathes her with its rustling wave;
two perches fused by ice,
a trembling, fateful bridge,
are placed across the flow
and span the burbling creek;
and before the rumbling abyss,
burdened by confusion,
she stops cold in her tracks.

И снится чудный сон Татьяне.
Ей снится, будто бы она
Идет по снеговой поляне,
Печальной мглой окружена;
В сугробах снежных перед нею Шумит,
клубит волной своею Кипучий,
темный и седой Поток,
не скованный зимой;
Две жердочки, склеены льдиной,
Дрожащий, гибельный мосток,
Положены через поток:
И пред шумящею пучиной,
Недоумения полна,
Остановилася она.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

the head of the brother of Chernomor

Anyone familiar with the story of Ruslan and Ludmila will recall the Learned Cat, who appears briefly at the beginning of the Pushkin's poem, and then mysteriously disappears.

But I have long been fascinated by another character in the saga: a disembodied head (this time it is a human one, not a feline one resembling the Cheshire Cat.)

Let's pretend that, instead of wearing Ruslan's battle boots, we slip ourselves into the silken tufli of Ludmila, who has become a bit bored (and let's admit it, she might have, shockingly, gained a few extra pounds from munching on Turkish delight and sipping cordials) of life in the castle of the wicked wizard Chernomor. Let's face it, even the beards in this story are given a more active role than that of the female protagonist. 

So Ludmila steals the wizard's hat (she has already discovered its magical properties because she has been snooping in his library, ha!), and puts it on backwards, which renders her invisible. Then she marches off the hills, where her tufli are naturally encrusted by mud. Off in the distance looms the Head, intriguingly.

Bilibin's version

Even if you don't understand Russian, this video clip of Ruslan meeting the Head may be rather diverting. The Head seems to threaten the hero at first, until Ruslan gives it a smack, then the Head tells him he has actually been waiting for him to revenge himself on his brother ("I will live until I am avenged," he says), and out pops an enchanted sword, a handy tool for Ruslan to prove himself against Chernomor, who turns out to be a midget who had utilized the blade to remove his big brother's head, but the sword had somehow kept the Head alive until the arrival of the squeaky-clean hero.

The Head is just begging to be asked more questions, I think. 

What if Ludmila came upon the gigantic Head and spoke to it, and then decided that she was a bit sleepy, and so she nodded off while leaning against him. Then, while they both were snoring (as in the clip above), what if she had a dream. In her dream, it was revealed to her that both she and Ruslan, and the Duke of Kiev, and even the serving ladies tasked with taming her hair and pinning the kokoshnik on her head on a daily basis -- were all playing the parts of characters in a play inside the Head's dream, and that she was parading about as one of his embodied thoughts. What then? Would she be so quick to run back to her place in the story, or might she choose an alternative script? 

The images of the Learned Cat and the Head (let's not even go there with the midget wizard who is all-powerful but possibly impotent - we are never quite sure) lend Pushkin's tale certain quality of ambiguity that Alan Watts liked to call the yetzer hara, or the Element of Irreducible Rascality. Their appearance is a signal designed to stir up the archetypes in the psyche.

Above is a portion of a lecture by Alan Watts, who surely must have possessed the virtue of Irreducible Rascality. Can't you just see it in his eyes?

An unfinished sculpture at Peterhof which may have inspired Pushkin.

I am still curious about the Head of the brother of Chernomor, a mysterious giant who seems to speak to us from far before the 19th century. I think that perhaps I, too, shall pay him a visit, but only on my way to talk to the Learned Cat. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

the laughing stones

Yesterday afternoon, after I had gathered the usual batch of raspberries, it seemed like a fitting time to pick a bouquet of yarrow and mint.  My favorite of the three varieties of mint in my garden, happens to be the chocolate mint. I took a snippet and breathed in its rich, burgundy-rimmed scent.

It struck me that I was almost memorializing my garden, while it was still growing. It's far too early to do this: there are snap peas still on their vines, there are Saskatoons and apples yet to harvest. And I cannot forget the thorny issue of the gooseberries, which hang like emerald jewels, waiting to reach the correct tinge of amber before they are ready to be picked.



All week, I've been remembering a state that I don't want to forget, the thought of which is partly associated with a recent drive to the mountains. The road to the summit was open, and as it had been closed the last time we happened to be there, I decided to turn in that direction.

I will digress for a moment, to admit that it has not always been easy for me to acknowledge or feel my emotions. In my later years, I've had to re-learn how to open my senses, to gather impressions, to allow sensations to register in the book of my consciousness, rather than blocking them out.

I walked around the lake to greet the creek that hurries down the other side of the mountain pass. 

I sat on a large stone in front of the lake at the summit. The air smelled of snowmelt, crow-berry bushes, nutty-scented lichens, and the dust of dark slate. I closed my eyes and let the cool breeze touch my face.

I am not sure how to explain what happened next. Either I am completely mad, or I felt that the very rock I was sitting on, was communicating with me, sending an electric jolt through me, which felt curiously like a soft embrace, or an omnipresence of love.

Technically, I was sitting on a solid object. But I felt as if I had ceased to be solid in relation to it. All that was, was warmth and an unseen flow, whether up, or or down, in or out, it is difficult to say. The stones seemed to be laughing, and to be communicating to me, quite emphatically, that a universe of kindness was awakened and cognizant, and that it recognized me.

Believe it or not, those stones were on cloud nine!

On the way home, the grace of strangers was made manifest to me, when the van overheated, and I was offered water and assistance, not once, but five separate times. My cup of gratitude overflowed.

I have had more chances to recall that good-will this week, when I have seen images of strangers rescuing flooded folk from rooftops and living rooms, and even of men saving carp stranded by moving waters.


And now, we return to regularly scheduled broadcasting.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

We spied the mother eagle this evening, my daughter and I. We knew by the flash of white on its head, that this was a mature bird. 

After a few minutes, we heard a familiar screech.

When the young eagle flew towards its mother's perch, the older bird immediately took off into the air, leaving her progeny behind.

So the juvenile is not entirely alone, but is being convinced to cope on its own in the wide world. 

At that height, the eagle has an excellent chance of falling in love with the clouds. 


the eagle's cry

We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.

--Hildegard of Bingen

My walks do not take me often enough to the closest nearby creek. First on a list of possible excuses for not walking in that direction would be the roar of the traffic from a busy major roadway, which is a bit of an annoyance. However, if one ignores the buzz and frenzy of the passing engines, and turns off the sidewalk just before a small bridge, one finds a rough clearing surrounded by trees and bushes, then, after approaching the bank, the sound of the water rushing over rocks becomes the predominant aural sensation.

Feeling that Autumn is creeping up on us, I decided to walk to the creek last night, accompanied by the scent of the high-bush cranberries ,which are in their pungent, dank prime. There is a reason my best friend has nick-named them "stinky-sock" berries. But they do gleam as bright red as holly-berries against their oak-shaped leaves. The fireweed leaves have begun turning psychedelic shades, and golden patches have appeared in the birches and poplars.

I had just reached my goal, when, far above my head, and louder than the blare of the traffic or the babble of the water over the rocks, I heard the cry of an eagle. Actually, the bird had emitted a rather ear-splitting shriek. I knew instantly that this was the same juvenile bird I had seen enveloping a lamp-post a few days ago, which had resembled an awkwardly-mottled burlap sack, with spotty, youthful plumage and sagging wings. It takes a few years for an eaglet to mature into the regal stance we recognize from the national emblem.

I found a path between the alders, and, avoiding jabs from the thorns of devil's clubs, decided to shimmy my way onto a large birch tree that had fallen over the creek. Ahhh ... now my legs dangled above a satisfying sort of sound-bath, where the water hurries down a fairly steep grade and around a sudden bend. At last, I had a chance to release all of the stress of the work-day, and kitchen duties, and  ....

Yet again, the eagle cried, "Arreek! Reek! Reek!" It flew to another of the taller poplars, and then it shrieked again. And again.

My maternal instincts (with which I might be overly endowed) started to kick in. I began to be concerned about the eagle's complaints. It seemed likely that its parents had recently kicked it out of the nest, for no answer arrived in response to its plaintive screeches.

The creek itself flowed placidly, without interruption. But every few moments, the scene was punctuated by a resounding, "Areek! Reek! Reek!"

Watching the water, I marveled at how its spray had produced many-colored mosses, and delicate, hair's breadth fairy-fungi. I wondered if any salmon would survive the creek's meander through the neighborhoods, and if so, whether, not only the eagle, but our local brown and black bears might be frequent visitors to this place. The thought that the bears are likely more interested in fishing at the river further down the road was moderately reassuring.

Am I the only one who gets excited about mini-fungi?

"Reek! Reek!" The eaglet interrupted my ruminations.

I decided to explore around, and shuffled on, crackling through the bushes. From the sign of the prevalent white splashes along the bushes, I discerned that the favorite perch of the eagle was one of a pair of the tallest poplars in the grove. I could almost fit my hand in between the ridges of the poplar's bark. I made an attempt at an embrace of this grandmother-tree, but the trunk was so huge, I found myself leaning clumsily against its roughness. I closed my eyes.

And then came the realization: here I was, perceiving the eagle through my human sensibilities and emotions. Hearing the cries had triggered the nurturer in me, and ruffled my tangled nerves. But a sudden vision of the future eagle flashed into my mind. Above me hovered a native inhabitant of the fiercest and wildest places, undisputed royalty among the birds. Without these seemingly stark and lonely lessons, how else could it develop the knack of holding a bold gleam in its eyes? And by what other method could it, finally, heed the persistent call of the sea-winds, and attain the elation of stretching its resplendent wings?


Wednesday, August 02, 2017


I let you go,
but you remain

where devotion lingers
with leaf-curtains drawn;
and dreams gather in
pools of verdigris;

where clouds are knit with
crystalline seams
and the sun in the citadel
exhales celadon;

where crowds of dryads
caper on zephyrs,
casting nets in the sky
to capture starlight;

until an earthquake in the night
overturns the shrine.

And then you are every-Where
that I move, or turn my eyes.

Ivan Moravec plays an excerpt from Schubert's Piano Sonata in B-flat Major in 1993.

Autumn Air There, in a sea of time-tossed exhaling, longings are propelled, high-flying like kites, wind-washed and as pure as p...

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