sept 23/RUN

2.05 miles
edmund, south/north
67 degrees
humidity: 87% / dew point: 63

a quick note before describing my run: For some reason, I felt compelled to rhyme things today. Most of it was unintentional, but a few times it was deliberate. Was I somehow inspired by a line from the song, “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”? I watched a video of Gwen Verdon singing this song — and dancing too — last night. Here’s the line:

Hello, lamppost, what’cha knowin’?
I’ve come to watch your flowers growin’
Ain’t’cha got no rhymes for me?

Sticky. Uncomfortable. Thick. Lots of sweating. Flushed face. Heavy legs. Dark with hazy, humid air. I had intended to cross over to the Winchell Trail, but it looked crowded near the river. So I just turned around and went back north on Edmund. A chance to check the house that posts poems in their front window. Was there a new one? Unfortunately, in this bad light and with my bad vision, I couldn’t tell. Oh well.

before the run

A few more stanzas from Forrest Gander’s “Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpas”:

Cardiac Hill’s granite boulders appear
freshly sheared Look, you say,
I can see the Farallon Islands there
to the south over those long-backed hills
one behind another a crow honks

Running above the river on the paved trail it’s difficult, even in the winter, to see the terrain below — the limestone ledges, the steep slopes. Often, it’s all leaves (on the trees or the ground) and brambles and bushes.

Do crows honk?

the moon still up over Douglas
firs on the climb to Rock Spring yellow
jackets and Painted Lady butterflies
settle on the path where some under-
ground trickle moistens the soil

It doesn’t happen that often — because of my vision, pollution, the bright light during the day — but I like being able to see the faint outline of the moon in the morning or the middle of the day.

Throughout the gorge and on the Winchell Trail, there are springs and seeps. They are especially visible in the winter when they freeze over and turn into strangely shaped columns of ice.

A plan for the run? Not much of one: to take the Winchell Trail instead of the paved path.

during the run

Nope. I didn’t take the trail so no chance to get a view of the river or the bluff or any limestone ledges. Instead I listened to Taylor Swift and tried to keep my cadence steady and quick(er). Between 170 and 180.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. kids laughter drifting over the fence of my neighbor’s yard — a birthday party for her 3 year-old
  2. a big backhoe parked on the street — no digging today, hooray!
  3. a plastic orange slide, spied through the slats of another neighbor’s fence
  4. a dusty dirt trail, so dry it was slippery and uneven
  5. yellow leaves all around
  6. lots of red on the ground
  7. a biker’s bright headlight over on the river road
  8. a mountain bike — don’t think it had fat tires — on the dirt trail, approaching me
  9. 2 people in bright yellow construction vests, walking on Edmund
  10. a biker stalking me — approaching from behind. Not really stalking, just unable to pass me before we crossed an intersection

Don’t remember any birds or swirling leaves or bugs or roller skiers or music being blasted from car radios or leaf blowers or falling acorns.

after the run

I’ll have to think about Forrest Gander’s words some other day. For now, I’ll post something else I’d like to remember because I’m always looking for poems about erosion:

Erosion/ David Hanlon

You’re eight hours of sleep & careful folding;
I’m a mouthful of ulcers & grasping at hours
lost to obligation,
lost to obsession.

You’re made of granite & marble,
made for building;
you make

sheet music of my skin,
exhume a melody in me.

I’m chalk & sandstone,
used in paint;

I’m weak
because life runs through me.

I’ll move, I’ll go
wherever it takes me—

I’ll still
hold your hand,

sing my song,

our existence.

sept 22/RUN

3.8 miles
river road, north/south
70 degrees

Gloomy, everything looking dark and mysterious. I like these overcast mornings, especially when running beside the gorge. All the colors feel more intense — dark greens, yellows, reds, oranges. Today I saw at least 3 different versions of orange: orange leaves pale and almost pink; then orange leaves like a neon crayola; finally the classic orange — what I call orange orange — of construction cones and a sidewalk closed sign.

Greeted Dave, the Daily Walker. Smiled at a dozen walkers and runners. Forgot to try and see the river. Heard some birds (more about that below), the clicking and clacking of ski poles from a roller skier, the irritating squish of a walker’s slides. Smelled tar. Noticed that the path was covered in green leaves.

I felt relaxed and dreamy at the beginning, sweaty and a little sore at the end.

before the run

More with Forrest Gander and his circumambulation. Today, the next few stanzas of Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpas:

 as we hike upward mist holds
the butterscotch taste of Jeffrey pine 
to the air until we reach a serpentine
barren, redbud lilac and open sky, a crust
of frost on low-lying clumps of manzanita

mist holds/the butterscotch taste of Jeffrey pine I rarely think about (or remember if it happened) tasting the air. What might the air taste like on my run today?

Serpentine — another word for winding or twisting? Are there any parts of my running route that are serpentine? I’ll try to pay attention.

at Redwood Creek, two
tandem runners cross
a wooden bridge over
the stream ahead of us the raspy
check check check of a scrub jay

Looked up scrub jays. Also called California scrub jays. Like the blue jays here, which are just called blue jays (at least, that’s what I found in my minimal research), they are LOUD. Here’s what the Cornell Lab writes about their sounds:


California Scrub-Jays, like other jays, are extremely vocal. Behaviorists have described more than 20 separate types of calls for this and the closely related Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay. Examples include a weep uttered during flight, while carrying nesting material, or while taking cover from a flying predator; a bell-like shlenk used antagonistically, a quiet kuk exchanged between mates, and loud, rasping scolds for mobbing predators.


Scrub-jays often clack their bill mandibles together to make a sharp rapping. Their wings make a whooshing sound on takeoff, and they exaggerated this during altercations.

California Scrub-Jay: Sounds

Gander’s rasping check check check must be the Cornell Lab’s rasping scolds. You can also hear the delightfully irritating clicking of the bill mandibles and the exaggerated flapping of their wings.

hewing to the Dipsea path while
a plane’s slow groan diminishes bayward,
my sweat-wet shirt going cool
around my torso as another runner
goes by, his cocked arms held too high

hew = adhere, conform…a plane’s slow groan — I’ve never heard a plane as groaning. Usually I write roar or buzz — a boom? I’ll have to listen for groaning planes today.

Yesterday when I was running, and it has too hot and sticky, I checked to see if my shirt was sticking to me. Nope. Not or long enough to have that happen. Does it ever happen? I sweat a lot, but rarely to the point where my shirt is soaked and stuck. With this brief description, I know that Gander’s circumambulation has been going on for a long time and that it is really HOT.

I like Gander’s last line about the cocked arms held too high. I often give attention to walkers’ and runners’ gaits and how they hold their arms. Some small part of it might be out of judgment, but primarily it’s about: admiring moving bodies, especially graceful ones; studying them to see what doesn’t feel right — this is a way to work through my vision limitations and to determine what I am actually seeing; and as a way to identify different movers out by the gorge. I can’t see faces clearly enough to recognize people (not even my husband or my kids), so I rely on other methods, like wide arm swings (that’s how I identify the Daily Walker) or gangly legs (the long- legged walker I call Daddy Long Legs).

Okay, so during my run today if I can, I’d like to think about/notice the following:

  1. tasting the gorge
  2. looking for serpentines
  3. listening for blue jays and groaning planes
  4. noticing how and where (and if) my sweat collects
  5. making note of the different gaits of walkers and runners

during the run

I wasn’t sure how I would try to notice all of the things I wanted to — a taste, a twist, an irritating sound, where my sweat collects, and a distinctive gait — but as I ran, I just started collecting images. It became a game or a scavenger hunt. Here’s how I did it: First, I tried to be open to things on my list. Not searching too hard for them, but being ready if they appeared. Then I briefly stopped at the end of each mile (roughly), and recorded the images I collected — I described them on a voice memo app. I was able to collect all 5, with taste being the last to be found.

mile 1

serpentine twist: looking up, noticing the trees winding through the air, almost like a river reversed.

irritating bird: Heard the clicking of a bird and I’ve been wondering (for some time) what bird makes those clicking sounds and I think it might be the clicking of the bill mandibles of a blue jay!

mile 2

My sweat is collecting on the side of my nose. I can sometimes see it through my peripheral vision. Now it’s dripping down my cheeks.

a gait: Passed a runner with very fast cadence — short, little steps. This inspired me to pick up my cadence.

right after recording these two images, I took a picture of my view, down on the Winchell Trail at a small overlook, perched above a sewer pipe:

a black railing, a leaf-covered trail, some red leaves on a tree. On the left side, above the railing, a sliver of river
a view from the Winchell Trail between Lake Street and Franklin Avenue

mile 3

taste: Bitter burnt toast coming from the tar they were using to cover the cracks near the trestle.

Bonus: a blue umbrella

A bright blue umbrella on a bench, looking strange and out of place. I noticed someone sitting next to the umbrella. I found this umbrella wonderful for the pop of color it brought to the gloomy gorge, for how unexpected it was, and for how it made me wonder about its companion: a person who likes to be prepared? who loves walking by the gorge so much that they’ll go even if it’s about to rain? who loves the rain? And, why did they leave the umbrella open — to give us all a gift of bright blue? they despise closing umbrellas? the umbrella is broken? Maybe if I was standing still, some of these questions would have been answered, but I like the mystery that moving made!

after the run

This “game” was a lot of fun, and I’d like to try doing it again. Would it work as well the next time? I’ll have to see. It made the run go by faster and helped me notice and remember things I might not have otherwise.

Also: I don’t taste a lot of things while I’m running. I should try and work on that by practicing and maybe reading more of other peoples’ words about tasting the world.

sept 21/RUN

3.1 miles
2 trails
70 degrees / dew point: 59

Another warm morning. Sunny, too. Not much wind. Almost a mile into the run my back on the right side, just under the shoulder blade, started to hurt. Enough that I needed to stop and walk for a few steps. When I started again, and ran more upright, it felt better, and didn’t hurt for the rest of the run. I wondered what it was, then suddenly realized: yesterday Scott and I cleaned out a lot of crap in the garage, some of it heavy; I must have pulled something.

Running south, I listened to cars, construction, kids arriving for school at Dowling Elementary, screeching blue jays, trickling water out of the sewer pipe. For the last mile, I put in my headphones and listened to more Olivia Rodrigo.

before the run

Thinking about Gary Snyder and circumambulation and Forrest Gander’s poem, “Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpas.” I listened to him reading the first stanza:

from Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpais/ Forrest Gander

maculas of light fallen weightless from
pores in the canopy our senses
part of the wheeling life around us and through
an undergrowth stoked with the unseen
go the reverberations of our steps

my notes: I was immediately drawn in with his use of maculas. I think a lot about maculas because the macula (in the center of the retina in the back of our eyes) is where all the cones reside in your central vision and my cones are almost all dead. I looked up macula and it can also mean, more generally, spot or blotch. Here I like how his use of macula and pores reminds me that the canopy is a living thing, and living in ways that are similar to humans. “the undergrowth stoked with the unseen” — I’m thinking of how thick the trees are beside the path, how much goes unseen — but always felt — above the gorge.

During my run, I want to think about and notice the maculas of light falling weightless, the pores in the canopy, wheeling life (cars? bikes?), the undergrowth, the unseen, and the reverberations of our steps. That’s a lot!

during the run

I did it! I thought about most of these things and it made the run more interesting and meaningful. At the 38th street steps, before I ascend to the river road trail, I stopped to record what I thought about and noticed:

running notes, 21 sept 2023

transcript: September 21st, 2 miles into my run, at 38th street steps. Thinking about the Forest Gander poem and first, the idea of the maculas weightless. Then I was thinking of dappling light but the light today is not weightless, but thick. It must be humid, feels warm, and it’s pouring through, which makes me think of pores and difficult breathing. My nose, hard to breathe through my nose, and my back behind the rib cage, it hurt. And then I was thinking of the wheeling life and taking that literally: the wheeling of cars, whooshing off to work. And then I saw 2 different sets of bicycles: an adult on one bicycle, a young kid on the other, biking to school at Dowling. And then I was thinking of the wheeling life and the changing of seasons and transformations and the idea of life continuing to move, not necessarily forward (although it does that too), but also just a constant motion, even when you might want it to stand still for a while. Then I was thinking of the wheeling life as the hamster wheel [I thought about the hamster because I heard the rustling of a squirrel or chipmunk in the dry brush] and repetitions and routines and continuing to do the same thing over and over again — the loops, the way it’s warm every year at this time in September: too hot, too humid, too sunny.

Wow, when I’m talking into the phone about my ideas mid-run, I have a lot of run-on sentences!

after the run

 I love Forrest Gander’s poetry. And I love how packed with meaning his words are, like “wheeling life.”

the wheeling life: 10 things

  1. car wheels, near the road — relentless, too fast, noisy
  2. car wheels, below, on the winchell trail — a gentle hum, quiet, distant
  3. bike wheels, approaching from behind very slowly — a little kid biking to school with his mom who had a carrier with another kid behind her seat
  4. bike wheels, nearby, another kid and adult on the way to school
  5. the wheel of life as a loop: a favorite route, running south, looping back north, first on edmund, then on the winchell trail
  6. the wheel of life as transformation: red leaves decorate a tree halfway to the river
  7. the wheel of life as cycles: not the end of the year, but the beginning — school time: kids at the elementary school
  8. the wheel of life as constant motion: on the trail, below the road and above the river, everything is active: birds calling, squirrels rustling, wheels traveling, river flowing, feet moving, leaves and lungs breathing
  9. the wheels of life as cycle: always in late september, hot and humid and too sunny
  10. the wheels of life as transformation: thinning leaves, falling acorns, a small view of the river
Thinning leaves, some yellow, some green. Straight and slender brown trunks. A view of the river -- blue? gray? a few ripples
a picture of my view wile recording my notes, near the 38th street steps

may 3/RUN

5.4 miles
bottom of franklin hill and back
55 degrees

What a beautiful morning for a run! Back to shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Could it finally be spring? The floodplain forest seems to think so, green everywhere. Saw Dave the Daily Walker, lots of runners, walkers, bikers. Heard some black-capped chickadees and woodpeckers. Smelled some cigarette smoke. The trail is open again in the flats. The river is still high and moving fast but it’s not passing over the railing and onto the road. Ran to the bottom of the hill, stopped to check out the water, put in the soundtrack to “Dear Evan Hansen” (we’re playing it in the community band I’m in), ran up the hill, then, on the way back, ran down on the Winchell Trail. I had to step carefully because the path was slanted with a steep drop off.

During the run, I had several feel good/runner’s high moments. So nice!

Running north, somewhere above the white sands beach, I started thinking about something I was working on earlier today about how my changing vision is closing some doors, opening others. I’m particularly interested in thinking about how it opens doors without ignoring/denying the shut ones too. Anyway, I suddenly had a thought: it’s not just that it opens doors, but it makes it so those doors can’t shut. I waited until I reached the bottom of the hill and then spoke my idea into my phone. Here’s a transcript:

It’s not just that doors open, they won’t shut. I can’t close them to the understandings that I’m both forced to confront but also have the opportunity to explore. But the key thing is that the doors can’t be shut.

my notes recorded during a run on 3 may 2023

I came to this idea after thinking about how vision is strange and tenuous and a lot of guesswork for everyone. A big difference between me and a lot of other people is that I can’t ignore or deny that fact. It’s much easier for people with “normal” vision to imagine, with their sharp vision and their ability to focus fast, that they are seeing exactly what is there. They’re not. Even if I wanted to, I can’t pretend that that is true. I’m reminded all of the time of how tenuous converting electrical impulses into images is and what the brain does for us to make those images intelligible.

Mary Ruefle

Before the Run

I’m trying something different, or maybe it’s not different, just something I often do without recognizing it as an approach: I’m following a wandering path through Ruefle’s work that is not systematic, but seems to suddenly appear as I encounter ideas, words, lines from other poems. This morning, during my daily routine of reading the poem of the day on, then, then, I found a wonderful poem that features the color red. Red I said, then thought, why not read Ruefle’s sadness poem about red for today? So I will. First, the poem that set my course:

A Tiny Little Equation/ Shuri Kido

Translated from the Japanese by Tomoyuki Endo & Forrest Gander

For whom is (the evening glow)
To human eyes,
the red wavelength shimmering in the air
is reflected,
but to the eyes of birds
which recognize even ultraviolet rays,
the evening glow looks much paler.
And when all the lives on Earth are finally snuffed out,
and the human solstice has passed,
every color will cease to “exist.”
As clouds pile up densely above the sea,
kids get restless
feeling some sort of invitation.
On such occasions, when you’re unable to read a “book”
while splashing around in the sea or river
as though dancing with water gods,
you’ll notice beads of water on your skin
reflecting the world.
In such an optical play,
the summer vanishes;
some people have gone off
with the water gods
and have never come back.
Textbooks, left on a desk unopened,
hold on to their tiny equations.
When each and every living thing has lost its life
and there remains not a single being,
for whom is (the evening glow)

This poem! For whom (is the evening glow) “red”? Okay, this will be the next poem I memorize. I want to own every word of it. Should I try to fit one of its lines in my colorblind plate cento? I’ll think about it.

Now, Ruefle’s red sadness:

from My Private Property/ Mary Ruefle

Red sadness is the secret one. Red sadness never appears
sad, it appears as Nijinsky bolting across the stage in mid-
air, it appears in flashes of passion, anger, fear, inspiration,
and courage, in dark unsellable visions; it is an upside-
down penny concealed beneath a tea cozy, the even-tem-
pered and steady-minded are not exempt from it, and a
curator once attached this tag to it: Because of the fragile
nature of the pouch no attempt has been made to extract
the note.

as an aside: In my initial typing up of this poem, I left out the is in the first sentence: Red sadness the secret one. I do that a lot, leave out words. I think it’s partly that my failing vision makes me sloppier, but I wonder if it’s not also because my way of reading/thinking has changed, become more abbreviated. I cut out the unnecessary words, worry less about full sentences, want more condensed, compact ideas. I’m tired of extra words — literally, it hurts my brain when I have to read so many words, but also figuratively, having spent so many years wasting all of my energy on finding the right words (right = smart enough, fancy enough, researched enough) to make an argument that finally maybe almost gets to the point. I also like using less words like a fun experiment — how many words do we actually need in order to understand something or to communicate an idea?

I need to think more about this poem and what it means or does. In the meantime, while searching for an online version of this poem (so I wouldn’t have to type it up myself), I found another red poem by Ruefle. I’ve read it before.

Red/ Mary Ruefle

I fucking depended on you and
you left the fucking wheelbarrow
out and it’s fucking raining
and now the white chickens
are fucking filthy

note: Future Sara, and anyone else reading this, I recommend listening to Ruefle read this poem on the poetry foundation site (link in title). The way she spits out fucking is the best.

another note, 9 oct 2023, from future (but now present) Sara: thanks past Sara! Reviewing this post for a class I’m teaching, I came across the note and listened to Ruefle read “Red.” So fucking great!

Ruefle’s poem is a response to William Carlos Williams iconic red wheel barrow poem. I know that tons of poetry people have studied/obsessed over this poem and have tons of great (and not so great) ideas about what it means. I have not, and am not entirely sure what Ruefle intends/means with her poem. I like it anyway. Maybe she’s sick of all of the attention it’s received?

Read WCW’s poem and Ruefle’s side by side on this twitter thread.

On that same thread, I also found these lines from Fiona Apple and her song, “Red Red Red”:

I don’t understand about complementary colors
And what they say
Side by side they both get bright
Together they both get gray

But he’s been pretty much yellow
And I’ve been kinda blue
But all I can see is
Red, red, red, red, red now
What am I to do

Now it’s time to go out for a run. I’ll try to find red.

During the Run

10 Red Thoughts, Ideas, Things Noticed

  1. the deep and sharp bark of a neighbor’s dog — a red bark, I thought
  2. a red stop sign
  3. a walker up ahead of me, rounding a corner and heading out of sight, a red sweatshirt around their waist
  4. a roller skier in bright red shorts — tomato red
  5. my raspberry red shoes striking the ground
  6. graffiti on a sewer pipe drip drip dripping water, letters in rusted red
  7. a biker in a red shirt zooming by
  8. my face under the bright shadeless sun, a ruddy red
  9. a moment of tenderness inspired by swelling music, a runner’s high, and last night’s haunting and strange dream about cradling my mom’s head not too long before she died: the soft glow of a warm red heart
  10. car, car, car, truck — all red (at least in my head)

A funny thing about looking for red: I found it everywhere. Today anything that registered as a color other than blue, green, brown, or gray was red. Red cars, red shirts, red leaves on the trees from last fall. No orange, hardly any yellow, all red. Red red red.

nov 9/RUN

4.3 miles
minnehaha falls turn around
53 degrees / humidity: 96%

A great run this morning. I felt strong and relaxed and never like I wanted or needed to stop. A gray morning. At the start, the sky was almost white with a little gray and the idea of light blue. By the end, the sky was still white, but a little more gray and thick, heavy. Returning above the gorge, there was some haze over the water.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. gushing water from the sewer pipe at 42nd st
  2. trickling water at the falls
  3. most of the leaves are off the trees, the ones that remain are burnt orange
  4. other colors: blue-gray asphalt at minnehaha park, green grass, my bright orange sweatshirt
  5. a runner in a light colored shirt passed me going fast under the ford bridge. I enjoyed watching his bobbing shoulders bounce off into the distance for the next 5 minutes
  6. almost empty parking lots at the falls, a few groups of walkers
  7. the beep beep beep of a car alarm from a car being towed through the roundabout near the falls
  8. even though it was a little dark and gloomy, few cars had on their lights
  9. the river was half light, half dark
  10. a elementary school class visiting the ravine, a line of them stretching across the sidewalk. I found a big gap and tried to quickly pass through. Some kids sprinted, trying to catch me or run into me (they didn’t)

Little Gray Cells

Today’s gray theme is: the brain, the little gray cells, gray matter. When I think of gray matter, I first think of the “little gray cells” and Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, especially in one my favorite movies, Death on the Nile:

“And to rest the little gray cells.”

Gray matter is tissue found in the brain. It contains a lot of neuronal cells. Reading about it, I could feel myself shutting down. Too much science-y jargon! Here’s a description of their function to remember for later:

Grey matter serves to process information in the brain. The structures within the grey matter process signals from the sensory organs or from other areas of the grey matter. This tissue directs sensory stimuli to the neurons in the central nervous system where synapses induce a response to the stimuli.

These signals reach the grey matter through the myelinated axons that make up the bulk of the white matter. The grey matter that surrounds the cerebrum, also given the name cerebral cortex is involved in several functions such as being involved in personality, intelligence, motor function, planning, organization, language processing, and processing sensory information.

Grey Matter in the Brain

Reading this description I’m wondering how they work with vision for both motor function and processing sensory information. As I walked through my alley at the end of my run I also wondered, How does exercise affect gray matter? Looked it up and found a pop description of a recent small study from an Australian site that suggests aerobic activity increases the gray matter, especially in terms of cognition. I found the word choice in this line interesting:

Recent research from Germany shows that aerobic exercise increases local and overall gray matter volume in the brain by an average 5.3 cubic centimetres.

This is a significant increase and more than the total brain volume of some American Presidents.

Well played, Australia.

I looked up “gray matter vision poem” and this one came up. I’d like to spend more time with it and Forrest Gander’s notes about his translation.

Echo/ Pura López-Colomé

translated by Forrest Gander

It would not sound so deep
Were it a Firmamental Product—
Airs no Oceans keep—

—Emily Dickinson

Afloat between your lens
and your gaze,
the last consideration to go
across my gray matter
and its salubrious
whether or not I’ll swim,
whether I’ll be able to breathe,
whether I’ll live like before.

I’m caught in the bubble
of your breath.
It locks me in.
Drives me mad.

Confined to speak alone,
I talk and listen,
ask questions and answer myself.
I hum, I think I sing,
I breathe in, breathe in and don’t explode.
I’m no one.

Behind the wall
of hydrogen and oxygen,
very clear, almost illuminated,
you allow me to think
that the Root of the Wind is Water
and the atmosphere
smells of salt and microbes and intimacy.

And in that instant comes
the low echo
of a beyond beyond,
a language archaic and soaked
in syllables and accents suited
for re-de-trans-forming,
giving light,
giving birth to
hidden within another skin:
the hollow echo of the voice
which speaks alone.

It would have taken me a lot longer to understand (some of) what’s happening with Emily Dickinson in this poem if I hadn’t listened to Forrest Gander’s introduction, or read his translator notes. First, he says in his introduction before reading the poem:

Her poem seems to take place at a time when she’s undergoing physical trauma, which is cancer, and in this poem she is sort of slipping under a narcotic before some kind of treatment or operation, and in the last moments of consciousness what’s going through her mind is a poem of Emily Dickinson’s

And then he writes, in his translator notes:

Written at a difficult time in the poet’s life, at a time when her life was emphatically at stake, this poem includes an echo of Emily Dickinson’s #1295:

I think that the Root of the Wind is Water—
It would not sound so deep
Were it a Firmamental Product—
Airs no Oceans keep—
Mediterranean intonations—
To a Current’s Ear—
There is a maritime conviction
In the Atmosphere—

In Pura López-Colomé’s “Echo,” it seems as though the poet, going under in both the sedative and the psychological sense—”the last consideration to go”—finds her mind looping a Dickinson poem concerned with going under, for if air is water, we drown in it. (There are allusions to other Dickinson poems as well.) But Dickinson’s re-de-transformational language brings her into the living poet’s present, even as that present may be slipping away. (I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s hope that “in black ink my love may still shine bright.”) Dickinson’s addictive syllables and rhythms bring her to life—her flesh takes on color (so the melanin). And López-Colomé, who has been speaking to herself alone, finds in herself a place where another poet is speaking to herself.

Translator’s notes/ Forrest Gander

Wow, it’s funny that I randomly came across this poem because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how Emily Dickinson is shaping my experiences of understanding and coping with vision loss. I’ve wondered about how to gesture at this influence in some new poems about my current seeing status. Also, I’ve been quoting some Dickinson, especially, “Before I got my eye put out” and “We grow accustomed to the Dark” in my head as I drift off to sleep.

one thing thing, added on November 13: Last night, while out for dinner with my son after his fabulous fall band concert, I happened to mention that I did a day on gray matter. FWA, a Breaking Bad fan, said, Gray matter is the name of the company that Walter White co-founded and then was cheated (or did he say screwed?) out of. It’s why he had to become a chemistry teacher and why he started making meth. I’ve never watched the show, although FWA really wants us to check it out. Maybe I will…

update, 9 nov 2023: Not too long after writing this, Scott and I started watching Breaking Bad and loved it. It took most of the spring, but we watched (and enjoyed? appreciated?) it all. After an extended break from the Walt world, we started watching Better Call Saul last week.

april 29/RUN

3.5 miles
2 trails + extra
53 degrees
wind: 13 mph with 23 mph gusts

Windy. Sometimes sunny, sometimes not. Ran south up above, north below. Just after turning down onto the Winchell Trail, spotted a runner heading even deeper into the gorge. Wow, I’ve hiked that bit, right down by the water, with Scott. There’s not much of a trail and it’s steep and rocky. As I ran above, I looked for them again. Nothing. Had I imagined it? I don’t think so.

Ran over some mud; it rained last night. Past the 38th street steps, nearing the oak savanna, I noticed even more mud and spots where it looked like the trail was eroding. I wondered, how soon before this bit of the trail is impassable?

Almost finished, running on Edmund above the trail, I heard a man on a bike call out, “good job guys!” At first I thought he was a coach, calling out to his athletes, but then I realized he was talking to some young kids (his kids?) biking with him. I also heard him say something like, “you need to push down harder on the pedals to go fast!”

As I passed by the short hill near 42nd, I heard some black capped chickadees singing to each other. Usually it’s a fee bee song, with the first bird singing 2 ascending descending notes of equal length, and the second bird singing 2 descending notes back*. Today I heard one bird follow the formula of “fee bee.” The other responded with one flat note. Was this second bird a different type of bird? Do they ever respond with one note? Was it a juvenile just learning how to sing? Not sure, but it was strange and delightful to hear this new song.

*sometime in April of 2024, I finally realized that the first set of fee bees were not ascending but descending from a higher note than the second set. Now, whenever I’m reading through an old entry that describes them incorrectly, I’m fixing it.

before the run

One final before/during/after for the month. Yesterday I took a break from running, but not from thinking about entanglement and mycelium and hyphae and dirt. Here are some of the things I thought about:

1 — fungi at the mississippi gorge

Earlier in the month I wrote about the mushroom caves in St. Paul, but I was curious what other fungi is around here so I googled it and found an amazing picture of “Dead Man’s Fingers,” or Xylaria polymorpha (“Xylaria” means it grows on wood, “poly-” means “many,” and “morpha” means “shapes”).

a fungus coming out of the ground that looks like human fingers

Dead man’s fingers is found in deciduous forests throughout North America and Europe where it grows at the base of rotting tree stumps. The FMR conservation team found this spooky looking fungus deep in the oak forest ravines at Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area in Inver Grove Heights. Maple trees seem to be their preferred host in our area, but they also favor oak, locust, elm and apple.

While most fungi either consume the cellulose of wood or the lignins, dead man’s fingers is somewhat unusual in that it digests the glucans or “glues” that bind the cells together. As they feed, they literally help break down dead or dying trees in the forest. 

Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR)

Very cool. This was found at Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area, which is farther north on the Mississippi. This summer, I’d like to check it out.

Then I found this:

9/13/2012: Harriet Island/Lilydale Regional Park Hike (St. Paul)

Join the hiking group for a hike along the south bank of the Mississippi River west from St. Paul’s historic Harriet Island through the former Lilydale town site. The hike passes a three-kilometer reach of the Mississippi River gorge that is known locally as “Mushroom Valley” because of the abundance of man-made mushroom caves carved into the sandstone bluffs. Mushroom growing lasted a century, from its introduction by Parisian immigrants in the 1880’s until the last cave ceased production in the 1980’s, during the creation of the Lilydale Regional Park. Some of the approximately 50 caves originated as sand mines, but other common uses were the aging of cheese (Land O’ Lakes,) the lagering of beer (Yoerg’s Brewery,) and storage (Villaume Box & Lumber.) The Lilydale Regional Park area was settled early in Minnesota’s history, but because of repeated flooding, the original town was moved up on top of the bluff. In the Lilydale Regional Park, a mesic prairie has been recreated along the Mississippi River floodplain. Shale beds in the Lilydale Regional Park also are a good place to find fossils.

Directions: From I-94 on the east side of downtown St. Paul, take the Highway 52/Lafayette freeway exit south and cross the Mississippi River on the Lafayette bridge to the Plato Boulevard exit. Go west on Plato Boulevard about 2/3rds mile to Wabasha Street and turn north (right). Proceed a short distance to Water Street and turn east (right) and then turn left onto Levee Road. Proceed on Levee Road under the Wabasha Street bridge. The parking lot is on the left.


This is another place I need to hike around this summer! Here’s one more link from Greg Brick, the Subterranean Twin Cities guy, with information: Lilydale Caves / Mushroom Valley

2 — mushrooms are strong!

They can burst through asphalt!

The rapid growth of mushrooms is well known, how they can come up overnight, but how they exert such force is not so obvious. The hollow stalk of the mushroom is made up of vertically arranged hyphae that grow at their tips, much like those balloon used to make balloon animals. The wall of a hypha is composed of fibres of chitin that are arranged helically and limits the ability of the hypha to expand in width. All the pressure of growth is through elongation and growth at the tip (Isaac 1999). It is this concerted pressure applied by each expanding hypha that can create the pressure to lift the pavement.


3 — polyphony

In Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake discusses polyphony (Anna Tsing does too). He mention this recording:

and discusses how each woman sings a different melody, each voice tells a different musical story. Many melodies intertwine without ceasing to be many. Voices flow around other voices, twisting into and beside one another. There is no central planning, nevertheless a form emerges….attention becomes less focused, more distributed — mycelium is polyphony in bodily form, when streams of embodiment come together and commingle.

I wrote this in my notes:

I’m thinking about this in relation to peripheral vision and movement and distribution, less focused and singular, involving a bigger picture, encompassing many voices, images, organisms, happenings (?) — the idea of learning how to hold these different voices together into a form — what would it look like to try and grasp/notice/attend to a world this way? How does that change what we notice, and how we notice it? How we experience delight? wonder? awe? how we understand the relationships between a self and other selves/communities? Less interested in the details, the focus on one person, more interested in the form we create together — the bigger picture…

I imagine this as part of my larger project on shifting away from central vision (which barely works for me anymore) and toward peripheral vision. How does peripheral vision enable me to see things in a new, potentially highly beneficial, way?

4 — more whimsy, please!

I found this poem that other day that delighted me, and reminded me that I’d like to write more stuff that taps into my strange and wonderful whimsy. Often, the things I write are too serious (I think). I’d like to write something about fungi and mushrooms that tapped into my delight of how strange and alien and gross they are.)

I’d Rather Be / Mitchell Nobis

The small blue Nissan ahead of
Me at the stoplight has a plastic
License plate holder that says I’D
CONCERT, and buddy, wouldn’t we
All rather be catching a tan
In the summertime lawn seats at
Some amphitheater off the

Highway, wearing sunglasses to
Protect our eyes form the sun and
The gleam of Rick’s professional
Teeth, watching his wavy dyed brown

Septuagenarian goatee
Frame his mouth as it sings “Jessie’s
Girl” with his mind on autopilot,
Wondering what he’ll have for dinner

Later as he croons Where can I
Find a woman like that?
for the
100,000th time as we
Dream of this life we’re in for the

100,000th time instead
Of cubicles and gray, teh beige
Hallways we walk for decades before
Demise? We dream, relaxed in the

Warm air we ignore for another
Decade as some gulls try to steal
Fries from a couple who are busy
Groping their fifty something bodies,

Their bodies here still, soft & alive,
Sagging in the lawn but fifteen
Again and lost in their friend’s basement
Again making out on the bean bag

In the corner, frantic in hazy
Afterschool limbo before
The friend’s parents get home from work.
They know over what’s left of a

Margarita in a can. It
Trickles green through the grass as Rick’s
Band cuts straight to the opening
Riff for “Love Somebody.” The drummer

Pounds the toms, the thuds summoning
1984 as the guitar
Chimes and harmonies swoop in and
Swallow the heating air. You better

Love somebody / it’s late, the frogs
Evaporating in the wetlands
By the offramp.

during the run

I thought about melodies and voices and sounds I was hearing simultaneously, sometimes difficult to distinguish, blending into each other. At the beginning of the run: birds, a car, my breathing, my feet striking the ground, the wind through the trees. I’m not sure if that was all of the sounds. Now I wish I had stopped and recorded some of my thoughts.

I also thought about dirt and what, under my feet and deeper in the ground, I might be disturbing/disrupting/destroying as I ran.

I probably thought about more, but I’ve forgotten it now. It scattered in the wind, I guess.

after the run

Now, after the run and after writing this log up to this point, I’m thinking about lichen and Forrest Gander and telling everyone in the house about how lichen can be killed, but if it has what it needs, it might never die (which I heard him say on a podcast I listened to this morning while doing the dishes). I wouldn’t want to live forever, but I like imagining a world in which inevitable death didn’t overshadow almost everything else. I’m not consumed by it, but it’s in all of our stories, our understandings, our philosophies, how we frame and experience joy and delight. How would we orient ourselves without that endpoint, without that guaranteed conclusion?

I’m also thinking about something I read about the biggest fungi in the world — at least the biggest that has been found and documented by scientists, the “Oregon Humongous Fungus.” Everything else I’ve heard about this fungus, and the one in Crystal Falls, MI, involves awe and fascination and wonder. In contrast, this report describes the fungus “as the baddest fungus on the block.” It’s killing tons of trees in the forest and, even after diligently trying for 40 years, they can’t get rid of it. The perspective here seems to be from timber companies who are losing all their trees/assets/profit. Interesting…

Oregon Humongous Fungus Sets Record As Largest Single Living Organism On Earth (click on link to see video of the news report + a transcript)

april 13/RUN

3.4 miles
edmund, heading north loop
35 degrees/ 15 mph wind
snow flurries

O, cruel April with your warm sun, blooming flowers, then snow flurries and mornings where it feels like 25 degrees. Even so, it was a good run. Bundled up, with the pink hood of my jacket up and my gloves on, I didn’t feel the wind. A benefit of colder, windier weather: no one on the trail! I ran through the tunnel of trees and was able to attend to its slow and gradual greening. The trees are coming into leaf/like something almost being said/the recent buds relax and spread/their greenness is a kind of grief (Phillip Larkin). I memorized that poem last year in May and it has stuck.

Ran past the ancient boulder with a few stones stacked on top, past the welcoming oaks, above the ravine and the oak savanna and the muddy trail that climbs up near the tree stump with chain link limbs. Looked down at the Winchell Trail and thought about taking it, but I didn’t. At 42nd, I heard a bird that almost sounded like a black-capped chickadee, but not quite. 3 notes instead of 2, and no rising up or down the scale. What was it? Also heard the drumming and calling of some woodpeckers.

Even though this is not a Mary Oliver poem, I had to post it–because I’d like it and because it gave me an opportunity to reflect more on my vision loss:

Pastoral/ Forest Gander

before me before
the picture
window, my arms
around you, our
eyes pitched
beyond our
reflections into—

(“into,” I’d
written, as
though there
swung at the end
of a tunnel,
a passage dotted
with endless
points of
arrival, as
though our gaze
started just outside
our faces and
corkscrewed its way
toward the horizon,
as if looking
took time to happen
and weren’t
offered whole in
one gesture
before we
ask, before our
will, as if the far
Sonoma mountains
weren’t equally ready
to be beheld as
the dead
fly on the sill)—

the distance, a
broad hill of
bright mustard flowers
the morning light
coaxes open.

I really like this poem and Gander’s reading of it. I was struck by his explanation of it, especially the idea that we see all instantly, that seeing, as a process, happens without effort, is immediate, and whole/complete. Occasionally seeing is not like this for many people–they experience visual errors, their brains receive conflicting data from their photoreceptor cells and generates confusing, ambiguous images. More frequently, seeing is like this for me. It is work, and sometimes, I can almost feel my brain trying to make sense of an image or a landscape. I witness them changing shape until they settle into what my brain decides they are. But, unlike Gander suggests in his recorded explanation of the poem, I can’t just “look once and find the near and far equally accessible” and the world doesn’t just present itself to me.

I like how Naomi Cohn describes it in her essay, “In Light of a White Cane.”

What I remember of better eyesight is how the world assembled all at once, an effortless gestalt—the light, the distance, the dappled detail of shade, exact crinkles of a facial expression through a car windshield, the lift of a single finger from a steering wheel, sunlight bouncing off a waxed hood.

Naomi Cohn

more mary oliver

So far, I’ve read through Devotions and Swan. Now I’m reading Evidence and Dream Work and then New and Selected Poems, Volumes I and II. I’ve read her collection of essays, Upstream too. And, I’m planning an extended study of her book length poem, The Leaf and the Cloud. I’m reading through it several times, along with the article, “‘An Attitude of Noticing’: Mary Oliver’s Ecological Ethic” by Kirstin Hotelling Zona. It sounds like a lot, but I’m not doing a close reading of every poem in every book. Just reading through, letting the words wash over me, and picking out a few things I want to remember.

more Evidence

Deep Summer

The mockingbird
opens his throat
among the thorns
for his own reasons
but doesn’t mind
if we pause
to listen
and learn something
for ourselves;
he doesn’t stop,
he nods
his gray head
with the frightfully bright eyes,
he flirts
his supple tail,
he says:
listen, if you would listen.
There’s no end
to good talk,
to passion songs,
to the melodies
that say
this branch,
this tree is mine,
to the wholesome
of being alive
on a patch
of this green earth
in the deep
pleasures of summer.
What a bird!
Your clocks, he says plainly,
which are always ticking,
do not have to be listened to.
The spirit of his every word.

I Want to Write Something So Simple

“And this is good for us.”
I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.