july 16/SWIM

4 loops
lake nokomis open swim
68 degrees
foggy and drizzly

Hooray for 4 loops! A few sprinkles before I started, then some rain while I swam. Difficult to tell that it was raining; I couldn’t see it dropping through the opaque water, but I did hear hit the surface. Felt strong and happy, not too sore. Every so often my knees would lock up, but my new trick of doing 2 or 3 frog kicks was all I needed to unlock them. The water was full of swells and rocked me back and forth. The last lap was the worst. With the small waves coming from behind, it was hard to get power with my stroke. I knew I was moving, but I felt like Shaggy running in place.

Swam 3 loops then got out of the water to make the long trek to the bathroom. Annoying, but even if I wanted to (which I don’t) I can’t get myself to pee in the lake. Nothing comes out. Got back in the water and felt strange — warmed up, floating through emptiness, hardly feeling anything

10 Things

  1. before starting: cold air and cold water
  2. a woman in a pink suit, bracing herself before running in the water, first yelling, I can’t do this! then letting out a battlecry as she dove in
  3. hazy, foggy, fuzzy view — I thought my goggles were fogged up, but it was just the moisture in the air
  4. the sound of someone letting the air out of their buoy after they finished
  5. feeling buoyant, on top of the water, fast
  6. a bright light off in the distance — a car’s headlights in the parking lot
  7. bright green arms — does someone have a green wetsuit?
  8. the first orange buoy at the other end of the lake far from me as I rounded the second green buoy
  9. an empty lake in front of me then suddenly a yellow buoy appeared (with plenty of time for me to avoid the buoy and the swimmer dragging it)
  10. waves rushing over me, into my side, from behind — sometimes I could see a light spray out of the corner of my eyes caused by my body crashing into the wave

An important thing to remember

This summer some bird that I don’t ever remember hearing before has been screeching regularly. A very irritating sound that cuts through everything else, especially when it happens over and over. Scott figured out what it is: a kestrel! Beautiful, graceful birds when they’re flying, but not when they’re calling out their warnings!

dec 10/RUM

5 miles
minnehaha falls and back
32 degrees / sleet
20% snow-covered

A wonderful morning run. I was worried that it would be icy, but it was fine. Only a few slick patches. A gray day. The sky, mostly white with some gray. The ground, white and gray and almost brown. Didn’t really see the river; I was too focused on avoiding slick spots and approaching runners. Not too crowded, but more runners and walkers, 2 fat tires that I first encountered at the falls. Greeted lots of walkers with a good morning! and runners with a smile or a wave of my hand. I felt relaxed and strong as I ran above the gorge. On the way back, when I reached 42nd I crossed over to edmund to avoid the growing number of people on the path.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. smoke from a chimney as I ran by a house on edmund– in the same spot, all winter, every winter
  2. a strange whirring or dripping or buzzing sound coming from “Carly’s house” (or, as RJP pronounces it, Kerler’s house) — named after RJP’s classmate, Carly, who lives there
  3. a frozen falls
  4. 2 women hardly moving over at all on the path. I almost brushed elbows with one of the women, even as I tried to go as close to the edge I could, which prompted me to mutter, fuck, under my breath after I passed her
  5. the tinny recording of the bells of the light rail car leaving the 50th street station
  6. near the end I felt wetness on my face — sleet? rain? snow?
  7. 2 runners approaching from behind, one of them talking about planting seeds, I think?
  8. someone walking through turkey hollow, everything white and covered with snow
  9. heading back, running on edmund, I noticed a runner over on the river road running slightly faster than me. Suddenly I heard someone yell out to them — another runner who knew them was greeting them enthusiastically (I think?)
  10. finishing up my run, crossing 46th avenue, I heard some people greeting each other at the mailbox — Merry Christmas!

Found this poem the other day. How? I think I might have been searching for green? Anyway, a great poem to add to my bird poems and poems about naming and knowing:

Praise/ Michelle Poirier Brown

It is not yet time for singing.
Although I could allow this lake stroking the shore as song.

I feel a tenderness towards the small stones under my feet.
That’s a good sign.

And gratitude for the sun warming my neck.

I am learning the names of birds.
At the pond last week,
a soft-colored green bird with a white stripe down its head.
A widgeon.

And just now, a small shore bird, black with hints of red at the back of its neck,
hops across the wave foam, pert and legged like a gymnast.
It has a name.

For praise, one needs vocabulary,
to know the difference between a call and a song,
and that birds that sing are among the passerines.

passerine: A passerine is a perching bird in the formal scientific order Passeriformes. These are the most familiar, typical birds and the term can be applied to more than half the world’s unique bird species, including all the classic songbirds, sparrows, and finches (Guide to Passerine Birds).

august 10/RUN

3.4 miles
river road path, north/south
73 degrees / dew point: 66
10:10 am

A later start. A warmer day. Still a great run. Relaxed. Thought about thoughts and trying to let them pass through me like the wind. Decided it’s easier to think about something else than trying to stop thinking about something. Recited Emily Dickinson’s “Before I got my eye put out –” Favorite lines today: “The motion of the dipping birds/the morning’s amber road” Greeted Mr. Morning! and overhead a conversation that I can’t remember now. Thought I heard the rowers below, but I’m not sure.

Walking through the alley after my run finished, I heard a blue jay. First, the tin whistle sound, then the screech. I’ve decided that, whether I like it or not, the blue jay is my new bird for this year. With that in mind, here’s an ee cummings poem I found. It’s making me appreciate the blue jay just a little bit more.

crazy jay blue/ ee cummings

crazy jay blue)
demon laughshriek
ing at me
your scorn of easily

hatred of timid
& loathing for(dull all
regular righteous

thief crook cynic
fragment of heaven)

raucous rogue &
vivid voltaire
you beautiful anarchist
(i salute thee

I haven’t read much ee cummings, so I had to look up how to read/make sense of his parenthesis. Here’s something helpful I found in What is the key to reading E.E. Cummings poetry?:

“Cummings often arranges the lines of his poems in seemingly strange ways:




(Cumming Complete Poems 691)

The key is to read everything within the parentheses first, then to begin again at the top with the remaining words: Bee in the only rose, unmoving. Are you asleep? If that is all he meant to say, why didn’t he write it that way? He wants us to discover the bee for ourselves as perhaps a bee surprised him when he peered into the heart of a rose. Why the “only” rose? Because our attention is completely focused at the moment on one particular blossom, it is as though no other rose exists. Why isn’t the bee moving? Is he dead? Is  he sleeping the sleep of the sated?”

august 5/SWIM

3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
80 degrees
9:40 am

Standing at the picnic table where Scott was sitting after open swim, looking out at the sparkling water, feeling the breeze, I said, “Ah, this is the life!” That about sums it up for me. Open water swimming at this lake is one of my most favorite things to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s choppy, which it was, or hard to sight, that too. I love it. I feel calm and strong and satisfied.

images of the day

A vee of geese flying fairly low over the lake, maybe a dozen? I couldn’t hear them, but I’m pretty sure that’s what I was seeing. It’s not unusual to see geese already starting to fly south in august. I’m pretty sure I’ve written about them in past august entries.

Another swimmer, only appearing as dancing light on the surface of the water.

Anything else? Waves, swells, making it hard sometimes to do a full stroke. A few planes flying above me, and seagulls. Some dude doing tai-chi at the edge of the beach. One white sailboat — this one wasn’t menancing.

a line I should recite before entering the water:

It is time now, I said,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit
among the flux of happenings.

from “Swimming, one day in August”/ Mary Oliver

Another bird call identified! At least since last year, I’ve been hearing this metallic, kind of like a tin whistle, call from a bird, but I couldn’t figure out what kind of bird was making it. This morning, while finishing up my oatmeal, I heard it again. This time right out in our big service berry bush, which has become more like tree than bush. I couldn’t see it, but I heard it make this call a few times, then right before it flew away, it did another call. This call I knew — the irritating shriek of the blue jay. A blue jay? Looked it up and found the call on allaboutbirds.org! Well, not exactly but almost. It’s the sixth call down, the one from Florida, 1962. Excellent!

Scott and FWA are both playing in the pit for Mary Poppins this week in Austin. We went to the show last night; it was great. Kept thinking about the last song, “Anything Can Happen”:

Anything can happen if you let it

Stretch your mind beyond fantastic
Dreams are made of strong elastic

Turn it on it’s head then pirouette it
Anything can happen if you let it.

If you reach for the stars
All you get are the stars

But we’ve found a whole new spin
If you reach for the heavens
You get the stars thrown in.

There are different ways to intepret this song; I like the idea of it being about letting go, not getting in your own way, not trying too hard to do one thing but doing something else and seeing what happens. You could read these lyrics as making your dreams bigger, more expansive. I like that, but I also like thinking about them as advice for approaching your goals from the side instead of head on.

The idea of not getting in your own way, reminds me of Ron Padgett’s great poem, How to Be Perfect:

Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don’t do
anything to make it impossible.

march 2/RUN

5.5 miles
franklin loop
29 degrees
puddles + a few icy spots

Early this morning, or late last night, it snowed/sleeted. Only a little, but enough to make me wonder if I should run in the basement instead of outside by the gorge. Decided it would be fine, and went outside. Excellent decision. It was wet, occasionally slick, and great conditions for a run — at least for my run. Overcast, not too cold, uncrowded.

The river is no longer white but a few different shades of gray. I thought it was completely open/iced out, but running across the franklin bridge, I noticed a thin skin of gray ice. In a few spots, where the skin had split, it was dark. Later, as I approached the lake street bridge from the east side, the water opened up. As I ran across the lake street bridge, I noticed little ripples in the water from the wind.

The sky was mostly white-ish gray with a hint of blue. This light/color really messes with my vision and lack of cone cells. Looking up, the sky was almost pixelated, or maybe it was more like static? Not total static, like when tv stations would end programming for the night, but static sprinkled into the image, making everything dance or bounce or just barely move. All of this movement is so slight that I wonder if I’m imagining it, or making too big of a deal out of it, or if this isn’t just the “normal” way that most people see.

the delight of the day

Running on the east side of the river, lost in thought, or the absence of thought, I suddenly heard a loud noise. It sounded like a turkey gobble. I stopped and looked behind me. On the other side of the road, maybe 25 yards back, there was a small group of very big turkeys chilling out on someone’s lawn. I stood still and watched them for a minute, delighted and grateful that the turkeys reminded me to notice them. I imagined what the gobbling turkey had been thinking as I passed by, oblivious to its awesomeness: “Oh hell no, girl! Notice me now!” And I did, and now my day has been made. So often, it’s the wild turkeys that get me through the tough times.

Wild turkeys are probably my favorite. I also like woodpeckers, black-capped chickadees, and geese. Crows are okay, so are cardinals. Today I heard all of these birds by the gorge — and more that I couldn’t identify. Because of my vision, and the fact that I’m in motion, I rarely see these birds. Instead, I hear them.

Some poetry people posted about a new tool that removes everything but the questions from a text. Here’s an article by the creator of the tool. Very cool. Hooray for questions!

Randomly opened up Arthur Sze’s collection, The Glass Constellation, to this beautiful, bewildering poem:

Unfolding Center/ Arthur Sze


Tea leaves in a black bowl:
green snail spring waiting to unfurl.
Nostrils flared, I inhale:

expectancy’s a seed—
we planted two rows
of sunflowers then drove to Colorado—

no one could alter the arrival
of the ambulance,
the bulged artery; I had never

seen one hundred crows
gathered at the river,
vultures circling overhead;

I saw no carcass, smelled no rot;
the angers radiating from him
like knives in sunlight; I sit

at a river branching off a river:
three vultures on cottonwood branches
track my movement;

surrounded by weeds, I cut
two large large sunflower heads off
six-footed stalks, Apache plume

blossoms near the gate; we wake
and embrace, embace and wake,
my fingers meshed

with your fingers. Nostrils flared,
I inhale: time, time
courses through the bowl of my hands.

feb 28/RUN

4.25 miles
minnehaha falls and back
35 degrees
30% puddle-covered

Another wonderful, spring-like day, if you consider 35 degrees and white ground everywhere spring-like, which I do. When the sun is this warm, the sky this blue, the birds this chatty, how can you not think of spring? Everywhere, wet: drips, drops, wide puddles stretched across the trail soaking my socks.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. that same bird call that I’ve been hearing and wondering about happened again, right before I reached the river. I heard it, then hoped it would be followed by some drumming. It was! I’m calling it; this sound is a pileated woodpecker
  2. a distant goose, or geese?
  3. cawing crows
  4. cardinals, doing at least 3 or 4 of their 16 (is it 16?) songs
  5. black-capped chickadees
  6. my shadow: off to the side, then behind, then finally in front of me
  7. the shadow of the old-fashioned lamp posts on the trail. So big, they almost looked ,\like giant potholes to me
  8. the river slowly opening. Still white, but darkening and thinning
  9. a kid yelling at the playground. At first, I thought they were a siren — so high-pitched and insistent!
  10. a mixing of sounds: an airplane, a bobcat, a crow, a kid, all crying out

As I left for my run, I remembered something I didn’t want to forget. I’m pleased that I still remember what it was after my run. Scott and I watched the first episode of After Party last night. Very good. Anyway, this episode focused on Aniq. For much of the episode he looked ridiculous: someone/s had drawn cat whiskers and ears on his face, along with the word “nerd” in big letters. It’s very obvious and a crucial element in understanding who he is as a character. Because of my vision problems — my lack of cone cells, limited central vision — I did not see any of this on his face until someone, the detective, finally referenced it. Up to that point, about 40 minutes, it was all invisible to me. I could see his face (well, roughly, I guess) and mostly follow what was going on, but I had no idea anyone had drawn on him. He looked “normal” to me. I wanted to remember this as an example of how my vision works, or doesn’t work, how much I miss that I’m not aware of. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but you miss out on a lot of what’s happening and how it’s being communicated when you can’t see certain things and don’t even realize you’re not seeing them (and no one else realizes you’re not seeing them either; they just think you’re not paying attention or being stupid, or that you don’t care).

Here are two poems featuring birds that I encountered today. Both wonderful, both about much more than birds.

Egrets/ Kevin Young

Some say beauty
may be the egret
in the field

who follows after
the cows
sensing slaughter—

but I believe
the soul is neither
air nor water, not

this winged thing
nor the cattle
who moan

to make themselves
Instead, the horses

standing almost fifteen
hands high—
like regret they come

most the time
when called.
Hungry, the greys eat

from your palm,
their surprising

plum-dark tongues
flashing quick
& rough as a match—

striking your hand,
your arm, startled
into flame.

In her discussion of the poem for The Slowdown Show, Ada Limón discusses the soul:

The Portuguese writer José Saramago wrote: “Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.” This seems clear enough. The soul is the part of you that you cannot name. One of the reasons I love the obsession that writers have with the soul is that their interest is not confined to what happens to the soul after you die. Rather, writers seem to be interested in what the soul is doing right now. Can the soul have likes or dislikes, coffee or tea, can one soul connect to another in what is called a soul mate? Is our soul only alive in relation to others, in community with nature, with something larger?

And here’s the other poem. It’s about cardinals. I heard, but never saw, many cardinals this morning on my run.

Statement of Teaching Philosophy/ Keith Leonard

In February’s stillness, under fresh snow,
two bright red cardinals leaping 
inside a honeysuckle bush.
All day I’ve thought that would make
for a good image in a poem. 
Washing the dishes, I thought of cardinals.
Folding the laundry, cardinals.
Bright red cardinals while I drank hot cocoa.
But the poem would want something else.
Something unfortunate to balance it,
to make it honest. A recognition of death
maybe. Or hunger. Poems are hungry things.
It can’t just be dessert, says the adult in me.
It can’t just be joy. But the schools are closed
and despite the cold, the children are sledding.
The sound of boots tamping snow are the hinges 
of many doors being opened. The small flames 
of cardinals and their good talk in the honeysuckle.

Wow, do I love this line: “The sound of boots tamping snow are the hinges/of many doors being opened.”

One more thing. After my run was done, and I was home, I went outside on my back deck and sat in the sun. Then I recorded this moment of sound. I’m calling it, Spring coming, drip by drip. As I listen back to it, I’m disappointed that trucks are so much louder than the drips.

spring coming, drip by drip / 28 feb 2022

feb 23/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 2.4 miles
3 degrees / feels like -10
about 5 inches of snow

Brr. I thought about running outside (I almost always do), but the feels like temperature is -10 and the paths are covered in snow, which is probably hiding ice, so I went to the basement. Tomorrow it will be as cold as today, but I’ll go anyway.

Finished the rest of the Dickinson episode I was watching where Emily and her family take a “daycation” (Lavinia’s words) to an insane asylum. Emily’s dad does not commit her in order to become a trustee. Emily’s mom wants to stay, but isn’t allowed, so when they return home, she announces that she will be going upstairs to sleep. Confused and concerned, Lavinia asks, “For a short nap?” The elder Emily answers, “No. Wake me up when the war is over.” Meanwhile, Henry (a free Black man who used to work for the Dickinsons, abolitionist, married to Betty, who traveled South to fight for the Union) is teaching a group of free Black soldiers, or almost soldiers if the white men in charge would give them the rank and better uniforms and weapons and the pay they deserve, to read. Emily’s mentor, Higginson, is the main white man in charge and, although his intentions seem good, he patronizes and bullshits them. It’s an interesting juxtaposition: Higginson as both Emily’s mentor and a well-meaning but clueless white savior/liberal.

As the Dickinsons are leaving the asylum, Emily recites this poem (in her usual way on this show: voice-over, with the cursive words scrolling fleetingly across the screen):

A little Madness in the Spring (1356) / Emily Dickinson

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown – 
Who ponders this tremendous scene – 
This whole Experiment of Green – 
As if it were his own!

As I ran, I listened to Taylor Swift’s Reputation again. I tried to avoid looking at my watch, so the time would pass faster, or without notice. It mostly worked; it is still much harder to run for more than 20 minutes on the treadmill. Much easier outside. I didn’t think about anything as I ran — did I? I don’t plan to run on the treadmill much beyond February. I should try to experiment with ways to find delight, or be curious, or to track how words move as I do before March happens.

And here’s another poem that isn’t really about anything else I’ve mentioned here yet, but I wanted to remember it, especially the lines about the bird:

The Husband’s Answers/ Rebecca Hazelton

The images don’t explain a story. They are a counterpoint. 

It’s understandable to mistake them for metaphor, but still, a mistake. 

The trouble comes from thinking. I could stop there. The trouble comes from thinking an image is a story. 

This is how painting began. Little glimpses into little worlds. Little glimpses into the faces of the divine. 

But we know that the gods don’t really look like us. 

Yes, all Western art. 

I can’t speak to that. 

Berger says the image, disconnected from a fixed location, proliferates, and changes through new context, strange juxtapositions, reframing. 

What they do to us, yes. The stories they tell us, and how we accept those stories. 

He is less interested in the stories we bring. 

If I show you an image of a bird flying, you might think freedom, or graceful, or wings. You might remember your mother pointing to the sky, naming the bird starlingheroncrow. But all of that is yours. 

The bird is just the bird, flying, following the magnetic fields of the earth home. 

I did not say the trouble was a bad thing. I only said that it was trouble. 

may 30/RUN

5 miles
downtown loop
56 degrees

STA and I drove to the Bohemian Flats parking lot then ran to downtown Minneapolis: starting on the steep hill, past the Guthrie, under the Hennepin Avenue bridge, over the Plymouth bridge, through Boom Island Park, over the railroad bridge, over the North line tracks, on the cobblestones in St. Anthony Main, over the Stone Arch Bridge, up past the Guthrie again, and down the steep hill. My IT band was tight afterwards, but it feels okay now. I guess I need to keep taking it easy. A great run. It almost felt normal. A few things I wrote down in my plague notebook to remember: ran up the entire steep hill, noticed the calm water, heard so many birds everywhere–not cardinals or robins or chickadees, maybe finches and warblers and sparrows? Lunging dogs, porta potty stops, and the rush of the light rail crossing the Washington Avenue Bridge as I stretched in the flats parking lot.

Right as we reached the Stone Arch Bridge, I remembered Scott saying that the past tense of glow should be glued not glowed (he said this after I remarked on how someone’s bright yellow vest glowed in my peripheral vision), which made me wonder if “glued” might be an archaic past tense, which then made me think about the archaic words in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” like swound–“The ice was here. The ice was there./The ice was all around./It cracked and growled and roared and howled/like noises of a swound.” Swound is an archaic version of swoon, but I like thinking of it in the context of the poem as a collection or gathering of swoons–noises of a swound would be all the noise you’d hear when a bunch of people fainted, like maybe in a revival tent or at a pentecostal service. A rushing and wailing and whooshing and thudding and gnashing.

Yesterday I finished memorizing the first section of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”– all 80 lines. Last night I recited it to STA on the deck while we drank some beer. Then we listened to Iron Maiden’s epic, 13+ minute tribute to it. Very cool. It was hard to make out the words because they were sung so fast, but it was exciting when I heard “wedding guests” or “hermit” or “the albatross” or the dice. Nice! I’m going to try memorizing some (or all) of the next part today. I’m a little reluctant because I don’t want memorizing this epic poem to consume me. I’ll see how I feel after today.

In the midst of memorizing this poem, I came across Robert Frost’s “The Oven Bird,” and wondered, why the hell is it called an oven bird? Looked it up: it’s because the nest of this bird is shaped like an old-fashioned oven. It has a small round hole for an opening.

may 28/RUN

may 27/REST

This morning, as I listened to the rain and absorbed the green gloom, I read more about birds. Today I learned about birds’ unique and highly efficient respiratory systems. Small lungs and a series of air sacs around their bodies that store extra air and act as bellows–typically they have 9 sacs. Birds that fly higher might have more sacs, birds that do a lot of deep diving, less–birds who dive in the water need to be less buoyant. I love thinking about how birds are made up of so much air. I was wondering how much air–what percentage of their bodies is air–but I couldn’t find anything. Instead I found an article about the new record holder for the longest continuous flight: the common swift can stay in the air for 10 months straight! Common swifts raise their chicks for 2 months in Scandinavia, then migrate to sub-Saharan Africa. Wow. I also read that they are lost and “pathetic-looking” when on the ground. Awkward, clumsy, and easy prey.

It’s fun (and maybe a little dangerous because I could wander forever through bird facts) to learn more about birds–to devote attention to these “little dinosaurs” that I have often ignored in the past. And it’s satisfying to move past the generic concept of “birds”, to explore more involved, specific understandings of swifts or cardinals or two birds I read more about today:

guillemot: a deep diving bird that lives on the Arctic coast + rocky shores of Canada and Maine and looks almost like a duck except it’s black with some white and has bright red legs

albatross: a high soaring bird with the largest wing span of birds–11 to 12 feet–who flies long distances, often without even flapping their wings, through the fiercest storms, and that has tubes–called “tubenose”–in and just above their bills that remove salt so they can drink seawater

Speaking of the albatross, I came across the name while searching for “poems about birds” and “bird metaphors in poems”: Bird Metaphors in Writing. The albatross is often used as a symbol of burden or curse. This meaning comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Instead of the cross, the Albatross 
About my neck was hung. 

I’ve always thought of the albatross as the burden, as an annoying, pesky bird. But it’s not. It was thought to be good luck for sailors and it’s beautiful and graceful and impressive to see with its long wingspan. The burden is not the albatross, but the sailor’s reckless, immoral act of shooting it. It’s almost as if the albatross is killed twice, first by the sailor/ancient mariner and second by the harmful, negative metaphor it must bear!

Wow, this is a long poem. At some point while reading it I had the idea of challenging myself to memorize it–that was when I thought I was close to being done, but wasn’t. 143 verses. Could I do it? Not sure, but maybe I’ll try to start it and see if it’s possible?I like the challenge because ever since I started memorizing poems, I’ve read about how it used to be required in school, sometimes even this ridiculously long poem. Memorizing this poem could serve as the “final exam” for my memorizing exercises?!

update, 1/2 a day later: Today I memorized the first 10 verses (40 lines), which is 1/2 of the first part of 4. I will experiment with practicing while I’m running tomorrow (may 28).

From the article, “Why We Should Memorize”:

Much of our daily lives would be dizzyingly unrecognizable to people living a hundred years ago: what we wear and what we eat, how we travel, how we communicate, how we while away our leisure time. But, surely, our occasional attempts to memorize a poem would feel familiar to them—those inhabitants of a heyday of verse memorization. Little has changed. They, too, in committing a poem to memory, underwent a predictable gamut of frustrations: the pursuit of stubbornly elusive phrases, the inner hammering of rote repetition, tantalizing tip-of-the-tongue stammerings, confident forward marches that finish in an abrupt amnesiac’s cul-de-sac.

Why We Should Memorize

The author mentions the frustrations, but I also think of the joy that happens when you suddenly remember the word or the phrase you’d forgotten. I’ve found many more discussions of forgetting/losing words than of remembering them. Why is that?

may 28/RUN
3.25 miles
trestle turn around
49 degrees

Sunny, bright, and cold. Brr. I wore shorts, and warmed up by the end, but at the beginning my hands and feet were cold. Was distracted by an approaching runner that turned around in front of me. She was going about the same speed so I just had to follow her. And I did until we reached the hill from under the lake street bridge and I powered up it faster. I ran faster partly because I sometimes do that when climbing hills and partly because there was a group of elementary school kids biking up the hill and, without realizing it, I decided to race them. Of course, once I passed her, I had to keep going faster so she didn’t catch up, which messed up my plan for an easy run.

All of these encounters distracted me as I tried to recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in my head. Earlier today, while looking for an audio version of the poem, I found Ian McKellen’s wonderful recitation of it and discovered that there is an earlier, and in my opinion better, version of the poem. It’s from 1797, while the one I had been memorizing is from 1817. Most of the lines are the same, but there are a few different verses, with different lines that I think are helpful for me as I try to not just memorize the poem but convincingly try to tell the story of it from memory. Even though the popularly accepted/known version is from 1817, I’m memorizing the 1797 version.

Anyway, I attempted to recite this version as I ran. Difficult with all of the distractions. I can’t remember if I made it through all of the lines or what I thought about any of them. I struggled with this stanza, one of the few that is different in the 2 versions: “He holds him with his skinny hand/He quoth—There was a ship /Now get thee hence, thou gray beard loon!/Or my staff shall make thee skip!” In looking at it, I realized the problem: I had memorized it wrong and had quoth he at the end instead of ship; everytime I got to the line that ends skip it sounded wrong. Of course it did; it’s supposed to rhyme with ship!

Here’s the version I’m using: The Original Lyric Ballads Version of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
And here’s a link to Ian McKellen reciting the poem (the video is 30 minutes long! Yikes): Ian McKellen reads “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

may 26/RUNBIKE

2.4 miles
43rd ave, north/31st st, east/river road trail, south/edmund, north
55 degrees

Decided to run a little less distance today to make sure my knee was doing okay. It is. Cooler and windy this morning. Crowded with cars, but not people. Sunny. What do I remember from my run? Not much. Avoiding the uneven, cracked up sidewalk on 31st, looking carefully for cars as I crossed the street, noticing there were no stones stacked on the boulder, hearing voices at the overlook. I forgot to glance down at the river when I had a chance. I don’t remember hearing any woodpeckers or black-capped chickadees or red-breasted nuthatches. I’m sure I heard many cardinals and robins. No geese or ducks or hawks circling the sky. No rowers on the river. Maybe I didn’t notice much because I was worrying about my knee and listening to the rushing wind?

bike: 4 miles
to the falls and back
62 degrees

Biked with RJP in the afternoon. Wasn’t too worried about my vision, more about my left knee, which started to hurt a few minutes into the ride. When I was done, my quad–or the IT band?–felt strange and tight. Should I keep up my goal of biking every day, or take a break from it too? It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so the weather will probably decide for me. Aside from the knee pain, I’m liking the biking. It’s a little scary, but not anything I can’t handle. Yes! I hope I can bike a lot this summer.

Before I went out for my run, I started thinking about birds in songs. It started with Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird,” which I remember liking back in the day (2001). Wow, 2001. I was living in Atlanta, working on my Ph.D.

I’m Like a Bird/ Nelly Furtado

I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away
I don’t know where my soul is (Soul is)
I don’t know where my home is
And baby, all I need for you to know is
I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away

Looking up the song, I also watched the video. I’m impressed that the clothes don’t seem too dated; I’d love to have those jeans and orange shirt! Anyway, I’m not digging her simile of a bird here. The part about flying away makes sense, but “I’m like a bird…because I don’t have a soul…because I don’t know where my home is?” When I think of birds, one of the fundamental characteristics of most (all?) birds is their amazing navigation skills, their ability to find home as they migrate. I started to wonder about birds who are bad navigators–do they exist?–and then found this source about 7 Birds Who Will Never Leave You and 1 That Really Ought To (tl;dr: mallards, ravens, black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals, turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, great horned owl are the 7; european starling is the 1). When I told Scott about my search for bad navigating birds and birds who don’t migrate, he said something about flightless birds which got me wondering what characteristics define a bird, and also about what a major bummer it would be to be a bird that couldn’t fly. Then we started talking about how costly (energy zapping) it is for bird’s to fly and I thought about how many poets go on and on about birds and the freedom of flight and wanting to be as free as a bird without mentioning the immense cost of that freedom. In the process of thinking about this and searching more online, I found the article, Big Birds Don’t Fly:

Many will cite a bird’s ability to fly, sing and use its feathered wings to take flight. So it may seem a bit strange that included in the more than 10,000 species of birds in the world today is a group that literally cannot fly or sing, and whose wings are more fluff than feather. 

These are the ratites: the ostrich, emu, rhea, kiwi and cassowary.

I wonder what are the defining characteristics for birds that poets use? Is it: feathers, flight, birdsong. Anything else? Eating worms? Getting up early? Migration? I think I could follow this rabbit hole a lot deeper if I didn’t stop myself. I loved to read about the physics of flight, and search for references to birds in poems that didn’t involve flying or plumage or song, and keep trying to find out about birds that get lost, but I need to stop myself.

But of course, stopping is hard, and so I didn’t and found an article–Why do birds get lost?–that mentions new research that suggests birds use quantum mechanics to navigate–something about how cryptochromes (blue light sensitive proteins found in the retina of birds and some other animals) respond to magnetic field to create an inner compass. Wow. Is it just me or does using quantum in a phrase instantly make it seem smarter and fancier and less intelligible. Also in that article: birds are good navigators and when they get lost, it’s because something has malfunctioned–their ability to make a compass, bad weather. And: scientists discovered that some birds have magnetic particles in their ear hairs(!) so they believed that they used those particles to navigate. But, those particles are in non-sensory cells so they can’t function as compasses. Woah.

And, just one more article…In this one–Why don’t birds get lost?–I found this very exciting passage, which made me call out, “Oh my god!”:

It’s thought that light-sensitive proteins called cryptochromes — which have been found in the retinas of birds, butterflies, fruit flies, frogs and humans, among others — are at the center of the mystery. When light strikes the proteins, it creates radical pairs that begin to spin in synchrony; they’re entangled.

Ever since I listened to a podcast with Ross Gay (VS) and heard him discussing entanglement, I’ve been fascinated by that word and concept. What does it mean in the context of cryptochromes, birds, and navigation? I will stop myself from looking now.

Whew. As I mentioned before falling down this rabbit hole, I was thinking about birds in songs before my run, earlier in the morning. I had already typed up a few notes:

Don’t Worry/ Bob Marley

Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, (“This is my message to you-ou-ou: “)

What kind of bird are these 3 little birds? Googling it, I found a source that suggests 2 answers: 1. the 3 canaries that Marley would see every morning and 2. his 3 back-up singers

Edge of Seventeen/ Stevie Nicks

Just like the white winged dove
Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing
Ooh, ooh, ooh
Just like the white winged dove
Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing
Ooh, baby, ooh, said ooh

Here’s some more information about the white-winged dove, which resides in the southwest in desert thickets. It does make an “ooh ooh” call. This song is about the death of Nick’s uncle and the white-winged dove represents his soul leaving the body. The idea of the bird being the soul reminds me of ED and her poem, “‘Hope’ is a thing with feathers.” It also makes me think about Furtados line about being like a bird who doesn’t know where her soul is.

In another lyric from this song, Nicks sings about the night bird telling her to “come away.” I thought the night bird might be a blackbird, which made me think of The Beatles song “Blackbird.” Bird is slang for girl in England and Paul McCartney wrote the song after reading an article about Little Rock, Ruby Bridges, and desegregation. Ruby Bridges is the black bird he’s singing about. Speaking of McCartney, he’s big into birds. He has another great bird song: “Bluebird” with his band, Wings. And he wrote a poetry collection, released in 2001, called Blackbird.

may 25/BIKE!
to the falls and back
77 degrees

Today I rode my bike outside on the trail for the first time since September 28, 2019. A few days shy of 20 months. The absence of outdoor biking is because of the pandemic–mostly because I didn’t want to get too close to others who might have covid, but also because more people were biking last summer and it was too difficult for me, with my bad vision, to feel safe navigating the trails.

Since my last bike ride, I have learned more about my vision and how my brain, specifically my visual cortex, adjusts to the quantity and quality of data it receives from my cone cells. As I understand it, the brain is constantly adjusting and adapting to incomplete, insufficient data. For me, this adjustment is not immediate; it requires practice and repetition. My brain slowly and gradually learns how to see something even when the data is fuzzy or blurry or too bright or barely registering a fast-moving form approaching. It’s not perfect or precise, and I definitely need to travel at a slower pace and use my brakes, but I can see enough to bike. As I write this, I’m realizing that just as my visual cortex learns to do more with less data, other parts of my brain learn to live with more discomfort and uncertainty. I stop being so afraid of my unfocused view and start using my other senses to help me navigate.

The bottom line: if I keep practicing–pushing through the panic, traveling on the trails, being careful and trusting in my ability to notice and navigate and not bike into anything–it will become easier, less scary, enjoyable, manageable. And I should get better at it–unless I go through another burst of rapid deterioration of cone cells (I wanted a phrase that means the opposite of a growth spurt, but I couldn’t find it, so I went with “burst of rapid deterioration” but I’ll keep looking because I don’t quite like this phrase).

Today was my first day of trying to do this. It went well. I was scared, especially before I started, but also as other bikers approached and I tried to make sure I wasn’t missing a walker or a runner. Today’s ride involved a lot of faith and hope and willingness to trust my abilities. It didn’t involve trusting other people to see me or make room for me. I am trying to work on this lack of trust because I am sure there are many people who pay attention and share the trail and don’t expect/demand that everyone else look out for them, but they hardly ever seem to be on the trail when I am. It helps tremendously that I have memorized this trail. I know all the curves, and when it narrows or joins the walking trail or dips down or veers toward the road. And I know most of the bumps and cracks and fissures and splits.

One thing I was reminded of that I really need to remember: When a person is walking a dog I rarely can see the leash or the dog, especially when they’re small and/or not right next to their human. I have never run into a leash or a dog, but it could happen if I don’t give a wide berth to anyone I’m passing–which can be difficult when the path is crowded. Of course, if walkers kept their dogs on a tighter leash, this also wouldn’t be a problem.

Other than feeling scared about what I could and could not see, the bike ride was good. No-shift-Sara is back (I wrote about her 2 summers ago); I need to practice shifting my gears more, I think. When I got to the falls, I stopped by the Longfellow fountain–an elaborate fountain that no longer holds water but plants and that has “The Song of Hiawatha” etched on a small retaining wall that creates a rectangular perimeter around the fountain. I walked my bike to the overlook. There was someone playing the accordion and some people sitting on benches while others peered over the retaining wall admiring the view. Very nice. As I headed back, I passed a small flock of black birs, some on the grass, some in the sky, and I wondered if they were crows or ravens or rooks or what.

Googled, “birds bike poem” and found this one:

Going Down Hill on a Bicycle/ Henry Charles Beeching

A Boy’s Song

With lifted feet, hands still,
I am poised, and down the hill
Dart, with heedful mind;
The air goes by in a wind.

Swifter and yet more swift,
Till the heart with a mighty lift
Makes the lungs laugh, the throat cry:—
“O bird, see; see, bird, I fly.

“Is this, is this your joy?
O bird, then I, though a boy,
For a golden moment share
Your feathery life in air!”

Say, heart, is there aught like this
In a world that is full of bliss?
‘Tis more than skating, bound
Steel-shod to the level ground.

Speed slackens now, I float
Awhile in my airy boat;
Till, when the wheels scarce crawl,
My feet to the treadles fall.

Alas, that the longest hill
Must end in a vale; but still,
Who climbs with toil, wheresoe’er,
Shall find wings waiting there.