3.5 miles trestle turn around 17 degrees / feels like 4 99% snow-covered
Is this the coldest day of the season? Just checked, and the next coldest was on November 20th when it was 19, feels like 9. I was worried it might be too cold, but it felt great! What a winter wonderland. White ground, pale blue sky, dark gray river. The trails were plowed — thanks Minneapolis Parks! — with only a few rough spots. I didn’t notice the ice because I was wearing yak trax. Just past the railroad trestle, I stopped to put in my headphones and a Taylor Swift playlist.
2 pairs of black running tights
green base layer shirt
pink jacket with hood
2 pairs of gloves — 1 black, 1 pink and white striped
1 pair of white socks with stripes, mismatched — 1 with green stripes, the other teal
fleece lined cap with ear flaps
yak trax, a new pair
10 Things I Noticed
a pale blue sky — not an intense BLUE! sky, more like the hint of blue, like if someone had taken a black and white photo of the gorge and painted in a blue sky
lots of dry, brittle leaves swirling in the wind. Running by the double bridge to the north, I watched something dark fly through the fence then back again. A bug? A bird? No, a dead leaf
Later on, I saw a few birds flying very fast across the path in front of me. They added to the chaos of the blustery wind and the swirling leaves
2 other runners, one near the trestle, the other further south
a few walkers — any dogs? I don’t think so
a group, some kids and adults, spread across the entire path, getting ready to go sledding down by the river
remember to look at the river. A strange illusion. It was a dark, dark gray with a hint of brown and it looked like a wall. Instead of stretching flat on the gorge floor, it looked like it rose out of it, up towards the other bank. I’ve written about this wall of water in past winters
the path was covered in mostly packed snow. The sun illuminated some of the slicker spots
smelled a burnt something — I think I might have seen bits of rubber on the side of the road
a truck with a plow, clearing the parking lot above the tunnel of trees
I don’t remember thinking about gray at all. Did I? Thought more about how I love running in the winter and whether or not my fingers were going numb or if my sunglasses would fog up or my foot would be sore again later today. Oh, and of course, I wondered what the drivers thought when they saw me running on this cold and windy day.
Today on the last day for singing a song of gray, I’m thinking about gravel. Here’s a bit from Mary Oliver’s “Gravel” in The Leaf and the Cloud. I’m struck by how she makes gray here with equal mentions of black and white: the black bog and white-circled eye, the white lilies and the black ant.
from “Gravel” in The Leaf and the Cloud/ Mary Oliver
Even the mosquito’s dark dart, flashing and groaning; even the berries, softening back into the black bog; even the wood duck’s white-circled eye,
and the first white lilies on the shaggy pond,
and the big owl, shaking herself out of the pitchpines,
even the turtle scratching in the dust, even the black ant, climbing the mile-high hill,
even the little chattering swift diving down into the black chimney.
Everything is participate. Everything is a part of the world we can see, taste, tickle, touch, hold onto,
and then it is dust. Dust at last. Dust and gravel.
In the distance, the rabbit-field. Ben—his face in the grass, his chomping. His sweet, wild eyes.
Thinking about gray as balanced, as both dark and light, black and white, grief and delight.
bike: 8 miles lake nokomis and back 75 degrees (there) / 80 degrees (back) 9:15 am (there) / 10:45 am
Biked with Scott to the lake. Went a little faster than with FWA. Do I remember anything? Not much. Hearing the lifeguards setting up the buoys as we neared the lake, feeling the wind rush past my ears, being passed by a very nice biker near Nokomis.
When I asked Scott what he remembered, he reminded me of a cool image I pointed out to him: a band of orange light, about a foot high, stretching across the brick wall of the beach house, above the bike racks. It was a reflection from the solar panels near Sandcastle.
swim: 3 loops lake nokomis open swim 78 degrees 9:45
Very choppy today. Still wonderful. Open swim is one of my favorite things. For the first loop, the waves pushed me out farther away from the buoys. Mostly, I liked the rocking — not too rough, but not gentle either. I think I noticed a few silver flashes below me. Didn’t see the sky much, too many waves. Today I mostly saw water or a lifeguard kayak, a pink cap, or a yellow or orange buoy tethered to a swimmer. Swimming around the last green buoy was a wild ride; it felt like the water was pushing me along. Noticed a few other swimmers getting away off course, being pushed by the waves. Sometimes I breathed every 5 strokes, but more often it was every 4. I breathed on the side that was away from the waves.
I don’t remember seeing any ducks, or being brushed by any vegetation, or waring noticing a menancing sailboat. No extra loud beaches or little kids asking me questions about swimming across the lake.
I found a quote from a Mary Oliver poem (in Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s first post for her World of Wonder column) that I’m planning to use in my lecture for my class this week. This is the orgin of the quote (with the quote in italics):
Every year the lilies are so perfect I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding the black, mid-summer ponds. Nobody could count all of them —
the muskrats swimming among the pads and the grasses can reach out their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that rife and wild. But what in this world is perfect?
I bend closer and see how this one is clearly lopsided — and that one wears an orange blight — and this one is a glossy cheek
half nibbled away — and that one is a slumped purse full of its own unstoppable decay.
Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled — to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery. I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing — that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
MO’s description here of choosing to believe in the beauty or the good or whatever you’d call it, and not the flaws, reminds me of how I mostly see the world with my diseased eyes: because I can’t always look closer (not much central vision), I see the world as softer, in more general forms. I can’t see the small flaws or the ugliness as often. This inability to see details causes lots of problems, but it also enables me to look on the world with less scrutiny. Not sure how it works for other people who have damaged central vision, but that’s how it works for me.
4 miles marshall loop 35 degrees / feels like 25 wind: 16 mph / snow flurries
Before heading out for a run, watched the Boston Marathon. The thing I remember most about it was during the men’s push-rim race, when the announcer (who I think was a push-rim racer himself) talking about the racer’s gloves: they’re plastic and 3D-printed for precision, and when they bang on the metal wheel rim, they create a steady rhythm that the racer’s use for pacing themselves. Very cool. Later, I remembered this fact as I neared the end of my run.
Today, it is cold and windy and snowing again, but the birds are singing and calling — lots of fee bees — so I know spring will be here soon. Maybe by next weekend? I picked the right route for the direction of the wind. It was at my back as I ran over the lake street bridge and up the Marshall Hill. The only part where I was running directly into it was on the way back over the bridge.
Heard: the bells chiming near Shadow Falls; a dog barking and kid yelling below in the gorge; and the branches creaking from the wind again. This time the branches creaking sounded almost like a rusty hinge, with a door slowly creaking open. I like that image and the idea that some sort of door to somewhere was opening for me at that moment — and that there was something mysterious and scary about this door leading down into the woods or the earth. I like mysterious and scary.
Near the end of my run, I think after I remembered the rhythm of the gloves hitting the push-rim, I started chanting some of an ED poem:
Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath
Stopped to study the river for a minute — and to get a break from the wind — on the lake street bridge: it was a steely gray with ripples and a few eddies.
One more thing: Running above the floodplain forest and the Hiawatha Sand Flats, I heard a ferocious dog bark, then a whimper, almost but not quite, like a squeaky toy. Was the dog chasing or killing a bunny down there? Possibly. A minute later, I heard the deep voice of a human calling out repeatedly, then a steady rhythm of dog barks and sharp commands of some sort.
before the run
Scrolling through poems I’ve archived on my Safari Reading List, I found one that builds off of being dug up and excavated, but is also about returning, caring for, and re-planting:
A flood unzips a graveyard. Cadavers sluice down Main St. It’s my job to find the dead, chauffeur them back to their plots. The problem being the dead speak. They want to swing by their old places, check on spouses, kids grandkids glimpsed in sepia windows beneath the blue of evening news. They whisper: “That tree was a sapling when I planted it,” or: “I forgot what her laugh was like,” or they call a dog that refuses to come. Then, embarrassed by their weeping, by how dry it is, the dead ask me to take them home, and on the drive I recite this line I’m working on about the graininess of two-day-old snow. “Pear snow,” I call it. The dead say nothing in response. The air velvets as if it’s going to rain, though the sky is clear, the moon wet as the light in a child’s pupil. Gentle, I lower the dead back into their cradles. The earth, for all its stripped rancor, heavy in my shovel. The work hard, but familiar. The pay, at least, good.
What do we do with the ghosts that resurface, whether we want them to or not? How do we care for the stories of those who came before us?
Here’s another poem I posted last year about what the earth can yield and how we might notice it:
After the rain, it’s time to walk the field again, near where the river bends. Each year I come to look for what this place will yield – lost things still rising here.
The farmer’s plow turns over, without fail, a crop of arrowheads, but where or why they fall is hard to say. They seem, like hail, dropped from an empty sky,
Yet for an hour or two, after the rain has washed away the dusty afterbirth of their return, a few will show up plain on the reopened earth.
Still, even these are hard to see – at first they look like any other stone. The trick to finding them is not to be too sure about what’s known;
Conviction’s liable to say straight off this one’s a leaf, or that one’s merely clay, and miss the point: after the rain, soft furrows show one way
Across the field, but what is hidden here requires a different view – the glance of one not looking straight ahead, who in the clear light of the morning sun
Simply keeps wandering across the rows, letting his own perspective change. After the rain, perhaps, something will show, glittering and strange.
during the run
I tried to think about these two poems and excavating truths and caring for ghosts and noticing the things that are buried in the ground, but I couldn’t hang onto my thoughts. It could have been wind or the effort I was making to run in it that distracted me. Near the end of my run I thought about this before/during/after the run experiment and how it works sometimes and not others. I think I need to fine-tune it — maybe narrow my focus, or be more deliberate with what I want to think about before I head out on my run?
One other thing I remember was thinking about surfaces and depths, and the value of both. And now, writing this entry hours later, I’m thinking about how both of the poems in my “before the run” section involve water (rain) and how it brings the things buried to the surface. This reminds me of writing about water last July and Maxine Kumin’s idea of the thinker as the sinker (july 22, 2021). I’m also thinking about floating and bobbing to the surface and how humus (which I wrote about earlier this month) is the top layer of soil — 12 inches at the surface.
after the run
I want to return to the creaky branches sounding like the rusty hinge of a door. Last April, I read a poem by Mary Oliver with a hinge in it:
from Dogfish/ Mary Oliver
I wanted my life to close, and open like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song where it falls down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery
I’m thinking of door hinges and poems as opening a thousand doors and the wings of the seven white butterflies and “how they bang the pages/or their wings as they fly/to the fields of mustard and yellow/and orange and plain/gold all eternity” (Seven White Butterflies/ from West Wind)
A wonderful morning for a run. Sunny, warm, mostly calm, not too crowded. Saw Dave the Daily Walker at the start of my run. “Good morning Dave!” Ran south. Noticed the river a few times, sparkling in the sun. Heard lots of woodpeckers. The falls and creek were rolling along. I heard Minnehaha as I ran above it, over to the Veterans’ Home.
My favorite sound was the unexpected duet between a roller skier’s clicking and clacking poles and the sharp steady beak of a woodpecker. My second favorite sound was the way water gurgled and gushed in spurts out of the sewer pipe below the 44th street parking lot.
before the run
today’s theme for dirt: gravel, rubbled asphalt.
1 — definitions of gravel
Here are a few definitions from the online OED:
gravel (n): a material consisting of coarse sand and water-worn stones of various sizes, often with a slight intermixture of clay, much used for laying roads and paths.
gravel (v): 4. To set fast, confound, embarrass, non-plus, perplex, puzzle; and 5. of a question, difficulty, practice, subject of discussion, etc.: To prove embarrassing to; to confound, perplex, puzzle. Also U.S. To irritate, to ‘go against the grain with’.
2 — gravel in the gorge
Looked up gravel in the Gorge Management plan from an extensive study in 2002, and found out this about what I’m above near the start of my run:
Sandberg Loamy Coarse Sand is found within the savanna areas near the end of 36th Street and sloping areas to the north. Depth to bedrock is generally more than 60 inches and the soil is excessively drained. The soil has an available water capacity to a depth of 60 inches and an organic content in the upper 10 inches of 2%. A typical profile is as follows:A — 0 to11 inches; loamy coarse sand Bw —11 to 27 inches; coarse sand C — 27 to 80 inches; gravelly coarse sand.
3 — gritty gravel
I like the grit of gravel under my feet as I run. I’ve written about it a lot: the sibilant sound, the soft slippery slide when I run over it.
4 — dirt and gravel words
Had a vague recollection of posting a tweet that talked about words that were like gravel. It took me several minutes to find it, but I finally did! It’s from a log entry on august 21, 2020:
I’ve been thinking about how useful and wonderful it is to record myself reciting a poem and then listening back to the words, which are often correct but sometimes wrong in unexpected ways. I found a tweet yesterday, which doesn’t totally fit with this memorizing but connects:
“transcriptions rly show how much of our talk is dirt & gravel, how clear thoughts have to be panned for like gold
yet all the human pleasure is in the gravel, in the second-guessing & laughter & short sighs, the repetitions & amens, the silences where thoughts turn & settle
One bit of “gravel” I find in my recitation recordings is when I struggle to remember a word or phrase or line. Such delight in hearing the moment of remembering and the struggle to achieve it! What would it look like to transcribe that into a poem, I wonder?
Reading the bit about panning for gold, I’m reminded of Alice Oswald’s Dart and her lines about the Tin-extractor (pages 17-18):
you can go down with a wide bowl, where it eddies round bends or large boulders. A special not easy motion, you fill it with gravel and a fair amount of water, you shake it and settle it and tilt it forward. You get a bit of gold, enough over the years to make a wedding ring but mostly these dense black stones what are they?
he puts them in Hydrochloric acid, it makes his fingers yellow, but they came up shiny, little wobbly nuts of tin
and the stones’ hollows hooting back at them off-beat, as if luck should play the flute
can you hear them at all, muted and plucked, muttering something that only be expressed as hitting a series of small bells just under the level of your listening?
you rinse it through a shaking screen, you take out a ton of gravelly mud for say fifty pounds of tin…
Dart / Alice Oswald
6 — Mary Oliver and gravel as dust as death
One section of The Leaf and the Cloud is titled, “Gravel.”
Everything is participate. Everything is a part of the world we can see, taste, touch, hold onto,
and then it is dust. Dust at last. Dust and gravel.
Listen, I don’t think we’re going to rise in gauze and halos. Maybe as grass, and slowly. Maybe as the long leaved, beautiful grass
I have known, and you have known— or the pine trees— or the dark rocks of the zigzag creek hastening along—
or the silver rain—
or the hummingbird.
I look up into the face of the stars, into their deep silence.
This is the poem of goodbye. And this is the poem of don’t know.
My hands touch the lilies then withdraw,
my hands touch the blue iris then withdraw;
and I say, not easily but carefully— the words round in the moth, crisp on the tongue—
dirt, mud, stars, water— I know you as if you were myself.
during the run
Difficult to remember now that the run’s done, but I remember listening for the grit under my feet and thinking about how I like feeling something under me as I run. Also thought about Wittgenstein and the importance of rough ground, how smooth surfaces offer nothing to grab onto, to notice. And how uneven, gravelly ground offers a good distraction from the effort of a run.
Running past the Wabun playground, I suddenly remembered the time that Scott ran up the slide with the kids and into the metal bar at the top with his head. If he had hit it just right, or just wrong, he might have died — at least that’s what we thought when it happened. He was fine, but as I kept running, thinking about dust and death, I had a quick flash — how different life would have been for me and the kids if he had hit it wrong and would have been gone for more than a decade now. Thankfully the thought evaporated quickly, replaced by the rush of the river as it roared over the dam, and the ache in my legs as I ran down the steep hill below the Veterans’ Home.
I know I had more thoughts than that, but they’re all gone now.
addendum, 12 april: I almost forgot. I chanted about gravel to keep my pace steady and my mind focused (or distracted or shut off?):
gravel gravel pebble pebble rock / rock / stone / / /
Nothing that creative, but it worked as a chant and I liked the sharpness of rock and the way stone stopped the sound, making room for 3 beats of silence.
addendum, 23 april: Re-reading this entry, I think I like this chant slightly better:
gravel gravel pebble pebble rock rock stone /
after the run
Searched “walt whitman gravel” and this was the first result:
A high nutrient amendment comprised of compost, rice hulls and chicken manure. A little goes a long way. Blend with existing soil at 25-30% by volume and follow with a thorough irrigation immediately after planting. Walt Whitman when used at an appropriate rate will provide adequate fertility for plant establishment.
“Walt Whitman when used at an appropriate rate will provide adequate fertility…”. Yes, this sounds about right—with his excess of words and exclamation points and enthusiasm for everything, I always need to use moderation when reading Whitman!
Also, searched “gravel” on Poetry Foundation and found this haunting poem. Wow.
She is girl. She is gravel. She is grabbed. She is grabbed like handfuls of gravel. Gravel grated by water. Her village is full of gravel fields. It is 1950. She is girl. She is grabbed. She is not my grandmother, though my grandmother is girl. My grandmother’s father closes the gates. Against American soldiers, though they jump over stone walls. To a girl who is not my grandmother. The girl is gravel grabbed. Her language is gravel because it means nothing. Hands full of girl. Fields full of gravel. Korea is gravel and graves. Girl is girl and she will never be a grandmother. She will be girl, girl is gravel and history will skip her like stone over water. Oh girl, oh glory. Girl.
Ran with Scott in Austin. Forgot to bring my running tights. This might have been the coldest temp I’ve run in with bare legs. It wasn’t too bad. Don’t remember much about my run except for discussing how to help aging parents.
Anything else? Gloomy, windy, some mist. Spring decided not to stay; winter’s back.
Slowly the fog did what fog does, eventually: it lifted, the way veils tend to at some point in epic verse so that the hero can see the divinity at work constantly behind all things mortal, or that’s the idea, anyway, I’m not saying I do or don’t believe that, I’m not even sure that belief can change any of it, at least in terms of the facts of how, moment by moment, any life unfurls, we can call it fate or call it just what happened, what happens, while we’re busy trying to describe or explain what happens, how a mimosa tree caught growing close beside a house gets described as “hugging the house,” for example, as if an impulse to find affection everywhere made us have to put it there, a spell against indifference, as if that were the worst thing— is it? Isn’t it? The fog lifted. It was early spring, still. The dogwood brandished those pollen-laden buds that precede a flowering. History. What survives, or doesn’t. How the healthiest huddled, as much at least as was possible, more closely together, to give the sick more room. How they mostly all died, all the same. I was nowhere I’d ever been before. Nothing mattered. I practiced standing as still as I could, for as long as I could.
The lifting of the veil reminds me of a quote from Alice Oswald that I read the other day on twitter:
“The Greeks thought of language as a veil which protects us from the brightness of things, I think poetry is a tear in that veil.” —Alice Oswald
4.4 miles minnehaha falls and back 18 degrees / feels like 8 less than 5% snow-covered!
Over the past couple of years, I’ve listened to several running podcasts. On one of them, the host ends the show by asking the guest to give listeners one reason to go out for a run today. More than half of the time, the answer they give is: because you’ll feel better and never regret it. For me, this is true. I’m better after every run and I’m glad I made it outside (or to the basement). Today included. It was colder than I expected, and I felt more sluggish than I’d like, but running for 40 minutes above the gorge and around the falls was an excellent way to occupy the late morning.
10 Things I Noticed
the drumming of a woodpecker on a tree just above the oak savanna
the river, white and flat and quiet
2 or 3 park vehicles in turkey hollow — are they trimming some trees, or what?
the falls, frozen and still
clearest view of the river: between folwell and 38th, beside a split rail fence
best view of the falls: on the opposite end, near Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” etched on top of a low stone wall. I stopped and stood on some packed down snow — a clear, straight shot of the falls, the creek, and the bluffs around it
the paths were almost completely clear except for a few spots where ice spread across one side (the result of snow that melted in the warm temps on Monday refroze)
kids yelling and laughing at the playground at Minnehaha Academy
a car pulling into one of the parking lots at the falls, then looping around quickly and leaving
About 10 people at the falls, walking above, admiring the view
I’m still working on thinking about “what you see is what you get” and the state fair mannequins, but I’m struggling. Is it possible for me to write about them in a meaningful way? Not sure. This morning, I was thinking more about form. I thought about how I imagine my poem as one of praise for the mannequins, and the improbability that they continue to exist. Then I thought about hymns and how Emily Dickinson wrote in common meter/hymn form. Quatrains: 8/6/8/6, mostly iambic tetrameter/iambic trimeter ABAB rhyme scheme (with lots of slant rhymes) (Common Questions on Emily Dickinson). This sounds exciting and promising, but do I have words to fit this form? Unsure. I also thought about one structure Mary Oliver uses in her poems of praise: First, a detailed description of the delightful thing; then a display of wonder/astonishment, possibly the posing of a question; and, finally, a revelation. I want to try these different approaches with some sort of praise poems, but I’m not sure they work for the mannequins.
One approach to the poem could be to provide more detail and development of the “as-is” mannequins’ location in the creative activities building at the Minnesota State Fair: encased in glass, jammed with sweaters and ponchos, dresses, hats, mittens, aprons. Close to the quilts, the rugs, the weavings. Across from the jars of jellies and jams and pickled beans, pickled peppers, pickled cucumbers. Cookies, breads, cakes, honey. And, for a few years, melted crayon art. The domestic arts. The enemy of convenience, the ready-made, the instant, the quick. Homemade, not store-bought, requiring slow, patient effort, “traditional” techniques. The point of this effort is not to sell (or buy) more of anything, but to pass on these practices, different forms of knowledge (and to win a ribbon). Things in this building are not typically recognized as artistic or possessing Beauty (as a form), but as functional, useful, necessary for survival. Women’s work. How much of this to put in this poem? And, how do I connect that with another important aspect of the mannequins: my kinship with them as strange not quite human aliens who almost look real — almost — but lack that extra something, like the spark in the eye, the direct eye contact. Not sure how (or if) I’ll do this yet.
Here are 2 praise poem that offer some good inspiration as I continue to push through how to write my poem:
Praise the rain; the seagull dive The curl of plant, the raven talk— Praise the hurt, the house slack The stand of trees, the dignity— Praise the dark, the moon cradle The sky fall, the bear sleep— Praise the mist, the warrior name The earth eclipse, the fired leap— Praise the backwards, upward sky The baby cry, the spirit food— Praise canoe, the fish rush The hole for frog, the upside-down— Praise the day, the cloud cup The mind flat, forget it all—
Praise crazy. Praise sad. Praise the path on which we’re led. Praise the roads on earth and water. Praise the eater and the eaten. Praise beginnings; praise the end. Praise the song and praise the singer.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain. Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
I especially like the repetition and the detail of this poem.
Another nice, late fall run. My cold is almost gone. Sun, not too much wind, lower humidity. I have decided that the ford loop is my favorite fall loop for 2021.
10+ Things I Noticed
Sibilant sounds coming up from the ravine where Shadow Falls is located — possibly wind, but most likely falling water
On the lake street bridge: a trail and some sort of disruption of the water. In my periphery, it always looked like something was there, but when I turned to use my central vision, nothing. Dead cones or faulty peripheral vision?
The memorial plastic flowers leaning on the railing on the st. paul side are slowly falling apart
The view down into the ravine by shadow falls is much clearer than before: a veil lifted. Looking down from the trail above, the gorge isn’t deep but wide and strangely shaped
Also from the view above the ravine: the direction of the sun cast my shadow down in the ravine. As I ran above, she ran below next to the trickling water
A small plaque on a random rock that I didn’t stop to read
The tangy smell of decomposing leaves. Sometimes this smell is sweet, or almost too sweet, but today it was sharp and not quite salty — sour?
At the last parking lot before reaching the ford bridge: an information sign with the history of the forming of the gorge. Some accounts claim the river warren arrived to carve the gorge starting 10,000 years, some 12,000 years, this sign: 13,000 years
My aching toe! The toe box of my new shoe is rubbing against my big toe. It hurt whenever I ran downhill
Crossing the ford bridge: small ripples on the very dark blue water caused by the wind, making a pattern I could see, a texture I could almost feel
The stretch of the sky covered with a ripped veil of clouds
Thinking more about #5, my shadow down in the ravine. As I watched it below me, I thought about ghosts and shadows and faint traces of things not quite here. I imagined the shadow as a different version of me, having the chance to run below in the ravine. And I thought (again, because I’m sure I’ve thought this before) about these quick moments or flashes of something else — shadows, faint trails, breaks in the trees, a disembodied sound coming from somewhere un-locatable — as opportunities, possibilities, evidence of other ways of being or doing. Are these things real? That’s not the point. They’re suggestions or indications, other options.
Before I went out for my run, I skimmed through Mary Oliver’s The Leaf and the Cloud. I was trying to get myself primed for thinking about veils and lifting them. I settled on this bit at the end of a section titled, “Work”:
I will sing for the veil that never lifts. I will sing for the veil that begins, once in a lifetime, maybe, to lift. I will sing for the rent in the veil. I will sing for what is in front of the veil, the floating light. I will sing for what is behind the veil— light, light, and more light.
This is the world, and this is the work of the world.
These are the lines that I read on the window of neighbor’s house that inspired to find this book and to devote a month to Mary Oliver.
Rent: to rend, or tear, split violently, break apart, wrest, pierce
One of the reasons I love late fall, after the leaves have fallen and before the snow comes, is because it is when I have the best view of the river, the gorge, the other side. The veil of leaves and excessive greenery has temporarily lifted. For a few years, I’ve been trying to understand why I like it so much, especially when it seems to be a time of sadness and loss and dread for so many other people. I think this lifting of the veil is a useful way for me to think about it: a better view, more space, a chance to breathe and stretch and connect with things usually hidden, covered, concealed. I like the idea of lifting much better than renting/rending. This lifting is not violent or destructive.
One (boring?) thing I’ve been noticing that I never see when the trees are choked with leaves: cars parked at parking lots on the other side of the river. Today I noticed a white car, glimmering in the sunlight, positioned amongst a line of bare tree trunks. Why do I find this interesting? Maybe because it helps to orient me in relation to the other side or because it’s evidence that more than trees are over there (usually a view of the other side seems the same: tree after tree after tree, and nothing else).
planes sprinklers cicadas shimmering leaves in trees interrupting hoses dry dusty dirt 2 rowers — bright orange shirt — flickering like a bad signal honking geese drumming woodpeckers crowing bikers a steep hill resting roller skiers panting runners hungry bugs underwater in a sea of green above water in a sky of blue sweaty and stuffed up alone together in a quiet early morning
Cooler today. Not an easy run, but a peaceful one. I love the early(ish) morning outside before most people are up.
Before heading out for my run, I read about the lobster diver who was swallowed and then spit out by a humpback whale. Woah. He dives in shark-infested waters, has lost many friends to great whites, almost died in a plane crash in Costa Rica where the pilot and several people were killed and he was stranded, half-dead in the jungle for days. He only had “soft-tissue” injuries and can’t wait to get back in the water and start scooping lobsters off of the sea floor again. He’s the last lobster diver left. Skimming through the article (Man swallowed by whale by Cape Cod, MA) again. He’s from Provincetown, the hometown of Mary Oliver and the source and inspiration for much of her poetry. If she were still alive would she have written about him? Probably not. More likely, she would have written about the whale:
The Humpbacks by Mary Oliver
Listen, whatever it is you try to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you like the dreams of your body,
its spirit longing to fly while the dead-weight bones
toss their dark mane and hurry back into the fields of glittering fire
where everything, even the great whale, throbs with song.
Most likely, the whale didn’t intend to swallow the man; they were blinded by their billowing mouth as they opened it to feed.
Here’s another poem I posted a few years back, but it’s too fitting not to post again:
Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale/ Dan Albergotti
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days. Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals. Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices. Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you. Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart. Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope, where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all the things you did and could have done. Remember treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.
3.35 miles edmund loop, starting north with extra loop around Cooper 60 degrees
Another beautiful morning in shorts! The same pair of shorts I’ve been wearing for probably 6 or 7 years, almost every day in the summer and sometimes with tights in the winter. How many hundreds of times have I worn these shorts? I wish Brooks still made them. I’ve looked but can’t find a pair like them anywhere. They’ve faded a lot and lost a drawstring but they’re still working. How much longer can they last?
Things I remember from my run:
running in the street at least 2 or 3 times to avoid people
the gorgeous fragrance of the blossoms on the fence of the house with the free fruit—still can’t recall what kind of fruit it is or when it’s free
two oak trees lining the path that look like they’re leaning in to chat with each other, while a third oak with the hunched up limbs looks like they’re shrugging their shoulders to gesture, “I don’t know”
the old stone steps inviting me to take them down to the river
some stones stacked on the ancient boulder
a person sitting on the bench near the entrance to the Winchell Trail with the worn wooden steps
a runner in a bright red shirt slowly passing me
someone using a leaf blower (really?) down on the Winchell Trail to clear out the leaves that pile up against the wrought iron fence
the river sparkling at spots—one spot over on the other side was extra bright
more pale green leaves
several black-capped chickadee conversations
a bug buzzing past my face–was it a bee? a dragonfly?
more shshshuffling on the sandy debris
ending my run thinking about how I’m getting my second Pfizer shot tomorrow and wondering when I’ll feel up to running again. Hopefully on Sunday
Work/ Mary Oliver
How beautiful this morning was Pasture Pond. It had lain in the dark, all night, catching the rain on its broad back. All day I work with the linen of words and the pins of punctuation all day I hang out over a desk grinding my teeth staring. Then I sleep. Then I come out of the house, even before the sun is up, and walk back through the pinewoods to Pasture Pond.
I like the simplicity of this poem and the broad back of the pond catching the rain and the connection between her writing work and sewing–the linen of words and the pins of punctuation. My mom was an amazing sewer. I am not. I think this might have something to do with my bad vision, but also my disposition. I don’t have the patience or the desire for precision or the interest in clothes. I’ve always wished I could sew and could make things: useful, practical things. Now I make poems which are not practical but are things I’ve created and are useful, at least to me. This year for her 15th birthday, we got RJP a sewing machine. She’s been knitting for 3 years, crocheting for 6 months, and now sewing for a few weeks. If my mom were alive, she would have loved this and would have mentored RJP. What a loss! Still, it’s exciting to see RJP’s passion for fiber arts and to witness at least one part of my mom reborn in her.
Maybe it was thinking about sewing and then the idea of seams that made me do it: I googled “Emily Dickinson sewing” and found this amazing poem through this very cool blog entry. Not only about sewing but about ED’s failing vision. Nice!
Don’t put up my Thread and Needle — / Emily Dickinson
Don’t put up my Thread and Needle — I’ll begin to Sew [Sow] When the Birds begin to whistle — Better Stitches — so —
These were bent — my sight got crooked — When my mind — is plain I’ll do seams — a Queen’s endeavor Would not blush to own —
Hems — too fine for Lady’s tracing To the sightless Knot — Tucks — of dainty interspersion — Like a dotted Dot —
Leave my Needle in the furrow — Where I put it down — I can make the zigzag stitches Straight — when I am strong —
Till then — dreaming I am sewing [sowing] Fetch the seam I missed — Closer — so I — at my sleeping — Still surmise I stitch —
Now I want to think about edges and limits in terms of seams and stitches!
4 miles river road trail, south/waban park/turkey hollow/edmund, north 50 degrees
Shorts! Sun! Spring! Yesterday’s cold rain really pushed me over the edge. I’m ready for more sun, more sitting on the deck, more spring-y weather. Today the river was calm and blue, peeking through the green that is already starting to spoil my view. Ran on the river road trail all the way to the turn-off to Wabun park, then ran up and turned right just before reaching the Ford Bridge.
Franny Choi: there’s something different between maybe like, looking versus listening, right? Like, I feel like there’s some, I don’t know, what is that thing.
Taylor Johnson: I think there’s a goal in mind. I think with searching, it’s like, I know I’m gonna come out, let’s say, onto the sidewalk or in the woods, and I’m gonna see a particular X, Y, and Z, you know what I mean? Whereas listening, it’s like, things kind of wash over you and happen with you, rather than you having something in your mind where it’s like, I need to see this particular thing, or I’m listening for this particular thing. It’s kind of a more open, open experience.
I listened as I started my run and I remember taking note of many different sounds, all mixing into each other, none seeming that distinctive. Birds, traffic, laughing kids on the playground, shuffling feet on debris, someone raking a yard, wind chimes, my breathing as I settled into my run, a song blasting from a car radio, the faint jingle of my house key in my running belt, a woman sneezing–or was it coughing?
I also thought about Mary Oliver and a few things I was reading this morning–poems and an article by Rose Lucas about MO: Drifting in the Weeds of Heaven: Mary Oliver and the Poetics of the Immeasurable. And thought about the idea of the self and their relationship to nature as observer and observed, as someone who stares/pays attention to the world and someone who participates in it. Then I had a thought—I remember having it just as I was crossing 42nd from the stretch of grass between 42nd and Becketwood (what STA and I call the gauntlet because it’s narrow and close to the road and difficult to avoid other people if they’re on it too) and the wide boulevard of grass separating Edmund and the River Road—about how Mary Oliver’s ethical poetics of noticing, being astonished, and telling others about it involves a lot of standing back and still, staring, stopping, taking notes, sitting at a desk and writing. Yes, becoming connected or immersed in what you are noticing does happen, but the emphasis is on observing/seeing/staring at the world at some sort of distance and when you have stopped moving or doing anything. You stop to notice, or notice then stop, observe or behold (this makes me want to revisit Ross Gay and the idea of beholding), then sit and write. What if you didn’t stop? What if you observed while moving (while running?) Took notes while moving? Wrote while moving? I wonder how far I can push at the limits of writing about the gorge while running at the gorge–not running and noticing then writing, but running while noticing while writing.
Before I went out for my run, I was thinking about a few poems.
Here are two different versions of the same general idea: being lifted out of the tyranny of your thoughts by the beauty of nature.
It’s a gift, this cloudless November morning warm enough to walk without a jacket along your favorite path. The rhythmic shushing of your feet through fallen leaves should be enough to quiet the mind, so it surprises you when you catch yourself telling off your boss for a decade of accumulated injustices, all the things you’ve never said circling inside you.
The rising wind pulls you out of it, and you look up to see a cloud of leaves wheeling in sunlight, flickering against the blue and lifting above the treetops, as if the whole day were sighing, Let it go, let it go, for this moment at least, let it all go.
Terns/ Mary Oliver
Don’t think just now of the trudging forward of thought, but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.
It’s summer, you never saw such a blue sky, and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,
sweeping over the waves, chattering and plunging,
their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes happy as little nails.
The years to come — this is a promise — will grant you ample time
to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.
But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding, than this deep affinity between your eyes and the world.
The flock thickens over the roiling, salt brightness. Listen,
maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer,
but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt, is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,
but of pure submission. Tell me, what else could beauty be for? And now the tide
is at its very crown, the white birds sprinkle down,
gathering up the loose silver, rising as if weightless. It isn’t instruction, or a parable.
It isn’t for any vanity or ambition except for the one allowed, to stay alive.
It’s only a nimble frolic over the waves. And you find, for hours,
you cannot even remember the questions that weigh so in your mind.
For most of my life, up until last year when, during the pandemic, I felt compelled to finally notice them, I haven’t payed attention to birds. So I wasn’t familiar with terns–that might also be because, sadly, I’ve never lived by the sea. Anyway, terns is not a term I’ve known. In fact, my first encounter with it happened just last month, while reading a New Yorker article about the marvelous methods animals have for navigating and not getting lost. Buried deep in the article is this interesting bit of trivia:
Or consider the Arctic tern, which has a taste for the poles that would put even Shackleton to shame; it lays its eggs in the Far North but winters on the Antarctic coast, yielding annual travels that can exceed fifty thousand miles. That makes the four-thousand-mile migration of the rufous hummingbird seem unimpressive by comparison, until you realize that this particular commuter weighs only around a tenth of an ounce. The astonishment isn’t just that a bird that size can complete such a voyage, trade winds and thunderstorms be damned; it’s that so minuscule a physiology can contain a sufficiently powerful G.P.S. to keep it on course.
Very cool. MO’s line about gathering up the loose silver reminds me of a ED poem that I read in March:
A Bird came down the Walk—/ Emily Dickinson
A Bird came down the Walk— He did not know I saw— He bit an Angleworm in halves And ate the fellow, raw,
And then he drank a Dew From a convenient Grass— And then hopped sidewise to the Wall To let a Beetle pass—
He glanced with rapid eyes That hurried all around— They looked like frightened Beads, I thought, He stirred his Velvet Head—
Like one in danger, Cautious, I offered him a Crumb And he unrolled his feathers And rowed him softer Home—
Than Oars divide the Ocean, Too silver for a seam— Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon Leap, plashless as they swim.
I have many thoughts about these three poems that I can’t quite express. About the narrator and their involvement in the scene they’re describing, about the “You”—who they are, what they’re for, about being didactic, about circling, about silver and seams and when the observed becomes the observer. And, about this line from MO:
But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding, than this deep affinity between your eyes and the world.
So I’m thinking about this in relation to my quote about the difference between looking and listening at the beginning of this post, and in terms of my own desire to feel with senses other than sight, or with sight not as Sight (as an objective, unfiltered way of being in and with the world). This idea of sight not as Sight, comes out of my thinking about how I see through my damaged eyes. I can see, but not with sharp focus or precision or mastery–I don’t look and See, as in, capture/own what I see with my eyes. My seeing is softer and involves more fluid waves and forms being felt. Returning to MO’s poem, I could definitely be delighted by the terns as I watched them moving—sweeping and plunging and thickening–because you detect motion in your peripheral vision and my peripheral vision is great. But I probably couldn’t see how many terns there are or how their thin beaks snapped. And I wouldn’t be able to see their hard eyes happy as little nails. But, seriously, can anyone see bird eyes in this way, other than MO?
Thinking about how MO uses seeing as a way to pay attention reminds me of another poem of hers with one of my favorite titles:
The little hawk leaned sideways and, tilted, rode the wind. Its eye at this distance looked like green glass; its feet were the color of butter. Speed, obviously, was joy. But then, so was the sudden, slow circle it carved into the slightly silvery air, and the squaring of its shoulders, and the pulling into itself the sharp-edged wings, and the falling into the grass where it tussled a moment, like a bundle of brown leaves, and then, again, lifted itself into the air, that butter-color clenched in order to hold a small, still body, and it flew off as my mind sang out oh all that loose, blue rink of sky, where does it go to, and why?
I remember reading this a few years ago and thinking how little I might have been able to see of the hawk she describes. I could see the tilting, the riding of the wind, the circling and carving, but not the color of its feet or its green eyes or that it was holding something in its claws. It’s interesting to read these poems and think about them in relation to my vision and the limits of my seeing. I especially like thinking about the ways I can still see and how they might be reflected/communicated in a poem about attention. This idea of describing how I see differently is as important to me as learning how to feel with senses other than sight.
Wow, lots of not quite focused thoughts in this post. Not sure if it makes sense but the act of writing it has been helpful for me in thinking about MO, and attention, and my project of writing while running and running while writing.