may 20/RUN

3.1 miles
trestle turn around
66 degrees
dew point: 61

Ugh! Sticky out there this morning. Lots of sweating. A hard run that didn’t feel great. Mostly sore legs. My shoes have worn out and the pair I bought to replace them hurt my feet. What did I notice in this distracted, uncomfortable state?

10 Things

  1. small purple flowers lining the trail
  2. the path near the ravine that winds through the welcoming oaks was wet from last night’s rain
  3. the path leading down through the tunnel of trees was almost all shade with only a few splotches of light
  4. the flash of squirrel on my right side so faint that I thought it be a shadow or a ghost — not really but I like the idea of Ghost Squirrel
  5. a gritty, slippery path
  6. Dave, the Daily Walker — Hi Sara! Hi Dave!
  7. a hiker wearing a loaded back pack — saw them last week too. Are they camping in the gorge?
  8. at least 2 sweaty, shirtless runners
  9. my shadow beside me
  10. a motorized scooter zooming by on the bike path

That was hard!

before the run

When returning to a favorite childhood book (this works with movies too) for the first time in decades, a question arises: Does it hold up? Is it a good book, or did I love it because I didn’t know any better? In my 20s and 30s, I applied a feminist lens to these books and usually they didn’t hold up. Now, a month from 50, I’m more generous; I like to think about the influence something has had with less judgment. I don’t remember the first time (or how many times) I read The Shades. But I remember liking it and finding the idea of shadow people fascinating.

brief synopsis: Young Hollis stays with a random college friend of his mother’s (beautiful, cool, kind painter Emily) in a creepy old house near a beach while his parents travel through Europe. One day, exploring the overrun, a-century-past-its-prime-garden, he discovers a dolphin fountain. After bathing in it, an older boy in strange clothing (those pants that buckle just under the knee — britches? breeches?) appears — Carl Shade. Turns out he’s a shadow that was cast by Emily’s grandfather. And Carl is not the only one. He’s part of a family — the Shades — and they live in the garden. All of their food comes from the shadow’s cast by real food, their house cast from the shadow of the old summer house that “broke Emily’s heart” when it was torn down. Most of the time they do what they want, but when a human enters the garden, whichever of them best fits that human’s form must shadow them around the garden. Sometimes this shadowing is fun, other times it’s tedious, and occasionally it’s dangerous: if a human climbs over the garden wall, the shadow must follow and be lost to the outside world forever. There’s a benevolent dictator/God (the dolphin fountain whose magic makes the shadow world possible) and an evil, jealous enemy (the beautiful greek statue of a woman/siren who sings seductive songs designed to lure the shadows out of the garden). There’s the magic of the fountain — only those who bathe their eyes (the eyes, of course!) under the bubbling fountain can see the Shades. There are the poor, unfortunate souls of the shadows that listened to the Siren and left, and then tried to return only to be enslaved by the siren in the house (which, we learn near the end, is why the house always looks so gloomy). And there’s the biggest threat of all: the loss of the Self — and connection, memory, family, home — on the other side of the garden wall.

I could probably spend all day writing into and around this story. But that would take too much time. First — does this story hold up? Not if you think too hard about the structure — either of the world of shades and shadows within or the plot. But it was still fun to read again and to inhabit the haunting strangeness of the Shades in their weird garb and with their not-quite-tragic position between real and not real — dependent on humans, yet independent of them too, feasting on shadows yet able to “taste” and enjoy/detest the food.

It’s not the plot, but the images that hold up for me. The scene when Hollis gets a tour of the larder and all of the shadow food stored there, including Emily’s birthday cake from when she was a kid and had a party in the garden. Or the red, fluffy, wonderful rug in Hollis’ room that comforts him when he’s afraid. Or the creepy shadows of the children that encircle the evil Siren. Those little kid shadows remind me of a book that I started reading last year, but had to return before I finished. There are creepy shadowy unseen malevolent kids in it — A Good House for Children by Kate Collins.

Regardless of some plot holes and an underdeveloped Shade world (and the faint classism with its nostalgia for old money and grand houses and its disdain for encroaching “hooligans”), I still like this book and think it taps into some larger feelings I have about shades and shadows as things that are both traces of us and their own things too, and how that combination is haunting and strange and magical and delightful. Does that make any sense?

Just had another thought about the Shades and their shadow food. I’m reminded of the line from Sylvia Plath’s “Mushrooms”: We diet of water/on crumbs of Shadow.

during the run

I tried to think about shade and shadows and Hollis and Carl while I ran, but I was mostly too distracted by humidity and aching left calves and a constant voice whispering stop and walk and we’re tired in my head. Maybe that was my Shade?

after the run

Now that I have typed the word “shades” so many times, I’d like to study shades, as a variation of shadows, today. Different definitions, expressions, etc. Looking it up, I found a review for C.D. Wright’s Casting Deep Shade. I bought this book several years ago — I can’t remember why, maybe because I was really into thinking about the trees in the gorge? Anyway, I’ve been wanting to read it, but haven’t had a chance. Today’s the day, I think. Well, I’ll start it, at least.

added an hour later: I’m reading Casting Deep Shadow on my back deck under the shade of a bright green umbrella. Listening to the torpedoed call of a cardinal coming in slow waves of four (like Didi Jackson’s “Listen”), with additional notes at the end. I love this book and C.D. Wright’s wandering (and a little whimsical) approach to writing about beech trees. She describes different varieties, defines beech terms, recounts childhood stories sometimes only peripherally related to the beech, and places the trees geographically. On page 25, she even describes an anxiety dream she had about not practicing the piccolo which she believes must be “tangential to signing on to write about beeches.”

So far, she’s written about Beech Bark Disease (BBD), lingering beech leaves, trees from her childhood yard, roots. Here are a few examples of her writing:

Crowley’s Ridge is coated with a windblown sediment known as loess or rock flour. That’s where your kitty litter comes from. Grasses keep it from flying all over. Beeches don’t mind loess. Nor do peach trees, judging from the seet Elbertas that grew there–where Hemingway penned A Farewell to Arms when he was married to Pauline. It is the only rise in the Alluvial Plain of Old Man River. In the event the river floods, rather, when, head for the Ridge.

Casting Deep Shade/ C.D. Wright, page 14

The other distinctive aspect [of the beech] is that in the winter, most younger, lower branches always hold on to a few of their dead leaves all winter. They have a distinctive parchment color, and when backlit transmit light. I love that about them. However, these leaves are dropped promptly as the spring buds expand . . . .So noted by San Francisco-born Robert Frost:

We stood a moment so, in a strange world.
Myself as one his own pretense deceives;
And then I said the truth (and we moved on).
A young beech clinging to its last years’ leaves.

Casting Deep Shade/ C.D. Wright, page 19-20

As a by-product of the Ozark Mountains, I have long been at least semi-aware of my standing brothers and sisters, the hardwoods. Rocks, rivers, and trees we had in surplus. In our yard were four species of oak–white, post, blackjack, and Arkansas oak There are 29 species in the state); 7 or 9 pink and white dogwoods, a handsome blue spruce, an A1 southern magnolia, and two cedar sentinels beside the front steps. The red maple was lost early on.

Casting Deep Shade/ C.D. Wright, page 25

I love her writing style and the stories and accounts that accumulate, creating the feeling of wandering and wondering about beeches. I also like how she weaves in the I and her personal stories — including them, but not making them the center of this story. There is no center, only stories and information culled from a range of sources. I see this book as an inspiration as I continue to work towards polishing my log writing and turning some of my words here into something more condensed, crafted.