sept 30/RUN

6.2 miles
hidden falls loop
66 degrees
humidity: 91% / dew point: 66

That was hot and sticky and difficult, but also fun and rewarding and worth all the sweat. So much sweat! Scott and I decided to run south to St. Paul instead of east. Running over the Ford Bridge, Scott pointed out the almost motionless river — if you looked closely (which I couldn’t, but Scott could), you could see little ripples in the water.

I heard water gushing three times: 1. a hidden spot near the power plant just past the ford bridge, 2. the falls at hidden falls, and 3. the sewer pipe near 42nd street

overheard: Passing by 2 walkers, one of them said to the other, His lawyer was like
What was he like? Were they speaking metaphorically or colloquially?

I smelled exhaust from a clunky car in the neighborhood, wet pine needles, rotting leaves in a gully that I thought was stale beer.

Also heard my shoes squeaking several times on the wet pavement, the honk of one goose, a little kid in a running stroller talking to the runner pushing him.

We talked about Hemingway and Faulkner (Scott had taken a class 30 years ago in college about them). Faulkner wrote in a stream-of-consciousness, while Hemingway used sparse but robust language. I mentioned that when I walk I’m more likely to think like Faulkner, and when I run Hemingway. I like thinking like Hemingway more.

Scott also told me about an article he read in Ars TechnicaA revelation about trees is messing with climate calculations — about how trees influence cloud cover and how scientists need to adjust their climate change models to account for the complications this tree-cloud connection creates. I want to read this article, then I want to write a poem that has as a line or the title, the tree-cloud connection.

The east side of the river had more color than the west. We saw some yellow, red, and orange! trees, but also lots of green. We’re not at peak color yet.

Before we went out for our run, I looked through my entries on this day in past years: 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022. All about my mom. She died on September 30th in 2009. Scott’s mom died a year ago yesterday. I had planned to think about them as we ran, or to write about them after, but now I’m too wiped from the run.

Found this fitting poem buried in a twitter thread:

The Committee Weighs In/ Andrea Cohen

I tell my mother
I’ve won the Nobel Prize.

Again? she says. Which
discipline this time?

It’s a little game
we play: I pretend

I’m somebody, she
pretends she isn’t dead.

sept 28/RUN

4 miles
east river road and back*
65 degrees
humidity: 80% / dew point: 60

*over the lake street bridge/up the east river road, past The Monument/stopped at an unofficial overlook with a dirt trail leading closer to the edge/took a quick picture/turned around and ran back the same way

Standing on the edge of the bluff on the east side of the Mississippi, looking through some yellow red leaves to the river and its west side
my view of the river on the east bank on 28 sept, 2023

Another stretch of hot, sticky mornings. (There’s a heat advisory for the Twin Cities Marathon, which is happening on Sunday!) It felt warm enough that I wore the same thing that I do on the hottest summer day: black shorts and an orange tank top. I’m ready for this warmer weather to be over.

For the first half of the run, I listened to construction trucks, zooming cars, crunching leaves, my feet striking the asphalt, trickling water. For the second half, I put in my headphones and listened to The Wiz.

Yesterday and today I’ve been thinking about smell and trying to practice noticing smells. It’s hard! I thought I noticed more, but when I tried to dictate them into my phone, I could only remember 4.

smells: 4 noticed, 1 not

  1. a small patch of wet, muddy dirt in a neighbor’s boulevard: moist and earthy, a trace
  2. fallen, brittle leaves on the edge of the river bluff on the east side: dry, musty, sweet not tangy or sour
  3. the sewer near the ravine: rotten, subtle
  4. tar being used on a road: bitter, faint
  5. tried to smell a tree — I leaned in and inhaled deeply: nothing

My attempt at smelling the tree was inspired by this suggestion, from The Aroma of Trees:

Rest your hands on bark, feel its texture, then draw your face close. Gently rub. What aromas linger in the crevices of the tree’s surface?

It’s quite possible that I didn’t smell anything because I didn’t fully commit to this exercise. I leaned in quickly, right before heading off to run some more.

cold update: almost normal. For years now, my resting heart rate is between 50-55. Two days ago, when I felt especially crappy, it was 73. Today it’s back to 52. I’ve entered the most irritating phase: blowing my nose and trying to clear my throat all the time.

Read this about smell the other day:

When you see, hear, touch, or taste something, that sensory information first heads to the thalamus, which acts as your brain’s relay station. The thalamus then sends that information to the relevant brain areas, including the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, and the amygdala, which does the emotional processing.

But with smells, it’s different. Scents bypass the thalamus and go straight to the brain’s smell center, known as the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, which might explain why the smell of something can so immediately trigger a detailed memory or even intense emotion.

Why Smells Trigger Such Vivid Memories

Also read this about why leaves smell and the effects of changes in temperature and climate change:

“That’s what fall is all about. Leaves are falling off the trees and the bacteria and fungi that are in the soil are actively digesting [them,]” said Theresa Crimmins, director of the USA National Phenology Network. “And in the process, various [gases] are being released, and that’s a lot of what the smells are.”

The heat and humidity of summer air traps all kinds of smells, she said, creating a “mishmash” for our noses. 

But as the days get cooler and crisper, there are fewer volatile organic compounds in the air, and we’re better able to distinguish the ones that are released by dying and decomposing vegetation, leaving that sweet smell front and center.

The Science Behind the Aroma of Fall

Because of drought and warmer temperatures, fall is starting later, which is damaging to the long term health of trees — and might lead to less fiery leaf shows for us. I’ve been tracking the changing leaves by the Gorge since 2018, and so far, when I compare my descriptions of the leaves in the fall between 2018 and 2023, I’m not noticing huge changes. Acorns start falling in late July or early August. The first yellow or red leaves appear in late August. Full color is in early to mid October. But, how long will this last? And how quickly will it change?

sept 26/RUN

2.15 miles
2 trails (sort of)*
62 degrees / drizzly

*The “sort of” is because I started on the Winchell Trail, but when I heard a large school group up ahead, I turned around and went back up to the road.

Ugh. I caught a cold (I’ve tested twice and it was negative for covid) at the Twins game on Friday night and it’s been slowly moving through me: sore throat, then stuffed-up nose, now crud on my chest. I hate colds, and I hate not being able to breathe easily. I guess I’m a wimp about it. I thought about not including this sickness in my log, but I’m trying to document my actual life, not just the “running is wonderful” parts on this log, so I’m leaving my whining in.

Sometimes it was hard to breathe, sometimes it wasn’t, and there were stretches where it was wonderful to be moving my legs and admiring the orange and yellow and red leaves through the drizzly gloom.

Was it drizzling? Although I’m claiming that it was, I’m not sure. The water I was feeling could have been drips from last night’s steady rain, falling from the leaves as the wind passed through.

a moment: a few days ago, I was thinking about wind for the class I’m teaching. This morning, just after entering the Winchell Trail and before I encountered the kids, I felt and heard a gust of wind then a shimmering sound as water fell from the trees then a kerplunk as an acorn fell on the asphalt.

smells: I’m also thinking about smells for my class. I’m not very good with smells. Is it because of my sinuses and sensitivity to scents? Possibly. Anyway, I was trying to notice scents, but not having that much luck. I’m sure my cold wasn’t helping. Did I smell anything? Wet dirt. Wet leaves. Just remembered — my own sweat on the bill of my cap. Yuck!

sounds: water shimmering off of the trees, the sewer pipe almost gushing, kids calling out in delight, adults trying to wrangle them, my sharp cough as I tried to clear my throat, my shoes squeaking on the wet sidewalk, buzzing crickets.

As I wrote earlier in this entry, I’m not that good at noticing smells — bad sinuses, a lack of practice, a lack of language. I did a quick search online and found a list of descriptive words for smell. Here are some that I find useful:

  • clean
  • crisp
  • earthy
  • loamy
  • billowy
  • biting
  • heady
  • pungent
  • rancid
  • redolent
  • acrid
  • fetid
  • doggy
  • musty
  • mildowy
  • skunky
  • stale
  • aroma
  • bouquet

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 awhile. 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

sept 19/RUN

3.6 miles
trestle turn around (+ extra)
65 degrees / 72% humidity

Out near the gorge, everything is busy today — wheels whooshing, hammers pounding, bobcats speeding by. All the sounds felt electric. I’ve wondered this before (and looked it up, but forgot the answer): is the moisture in the air causing everything to sound different — louder, more intense?

Having just written something about triple berry chants for my class, I decided to do them today. Strawberry / raspberry / blueberry. I think I chanted them for at least a mile. They helped keep my cadence up. Did they do anything else?

10 Things I Noticed While Chanting Triple Berries

  1. Dave the Daily Walker had on bright blue running shoes — nice!
  2. a rollerblader passed me from behind — no clicking and clacking ski poles to alert me to their approach
  3. minneapolis parks has trimmed back the bushes and wildflowers that were blocking part of the already narrow path that splits from the biking path and dips below the road
  4. a runner, only a little faster than me, entered the path in front of me at 32nd. Very gradually, he inched away, then turned off the trail again
  5. more yellow leaves, a few slashes of red, no orange
  6. human voices and the clanging of a dog collar down below on the Winchell Trail
  7. several openings in the otherwise thick trees — dirt trails descending to the Winchell Trail
  8. a noisy runner with an awkward gait — did he swing his arms awkwardly too?
  9. another runner, speeding fast. Almost a blur with feet thumping the ground
  10. at least one loud thud as an acorn fell

Running north, I listened to feet striking the ground, an acorn falling, runners joking. I stopped at the turn around put it Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS then ran south.

At the halfway point, I took this picture. The river and the gorge are behind those leaves. In a month, I’ll get to see them again!

fall leaves, mostly yellow, several straight brown trunks, no view of the river
no view of the river, near franklin

sept 18/RUN

2.5 miles
2 trails
75 degrees

Recorded the lecture for my class this morning, so I had to run in the afternoon, when it’s warmer. Hot! Sunny! Everything dry and dusty, thirsty — the dirt trail, the dead leaves, me.

Listened to a playlist until I reached the south entrance to the Winchell Trail, then to the gorge. Dripping pipes, striking feet, my breathing, falling acorns.

10 Peripheral Things — above, below, and beside

  1. dirt flying up on my ankles as I ran on the dusty trail
  2. brittle red leaves, crunching underfoot
  3. the shadow of a bird flying overhead
  4. frantic rustling in the bushes — I flinched in anticipation of a darting squirrel that never arrived
  5. a walker moving over to the edge of the path for me to pass — thank you! / you’re welcome
  6. a slash of red just below — a changing leaf
  7. flashes of orange all around — construction signs
  8. to my right and below: dribble dribble dribble — water falling down a limestone ledge in the ravine
  9. shrill squeaking under the metal grate in the ravine as I crossed over it — a chipmunk?
  10. is this peripheral? breaking through several spider webs on the winchell trail, about chest height

For the second week of my class, which starts this Wednesday!, I’m offering alliteration as one way into the words for describing/conjuring/communicating wonder (along with abecedarians and triple berry chants). This poem-of-the-day on (Poetry Daily), is a great example of what’s possible when you write only words starting with one letter — in this case, a:

Autobiography/ Michael Dumanis

Attempted avoiding abysses, assorted
abrasions and apertures, abscesses.

At adolescence, acted absurd: acid,
amphetamines. Amorously aching

after an arguably arbitrary Abigail,
authored an awful aubade.

Am always arabesquing after Abigails.
Am always afraid: an affliction?

Animals augur an avalanche. Animals
apprehend abattoirs. Am, as an animal,

anxious. Appendages always aflutter,
am an amazing accident: alive.

Attired as an apprentice aerialist,
addressed acrophobic audiences.

Aspiring, as an adult, after applause,
attracted an angelic acolyte.

After an affirming affair, an abortion.
After an asinine affair, Avowed Agnostic
approached, alone, an abbey’s altarpiece,

asking Alleged Almighty about afterlife.
Ambled, adagio, around an arena.
Admired an ancient aqueduct. Ate aspic.
Adored and ate assorted animals.
Ascended an alp. Affected an accent.
Acquired an accountant, an abacus, assets.
Attempted atonal arpeggios

There’s also an essay about how Dumanis wrote this poem, which I haven’t had time to read yet. Very excited to check it out! Okay, I just skimmed it. Here are some resources from the end that I might want to explore:

A few terrific examples of letter-constraint-based contemporary poems include Phillip B. Williams’s tour de force “Mush-mouf’s Maybe Crown,” where all the words begin with M (or, occasionally, “em” or “im”); Izzy Casey’s univocalic “I’m Piss Witch”; several terrific single-vowel lyrics in Cathy Park Hong’s collection Engine Empire including “Ballad in A”; Harryette Mullen’s linguistic experiments, such as “Any Lit,” in her collection Sleeping with the Dictionary, and, of course, Christian Bök’s virtuosic book-length project Eunoia, in which, among other idiosyncratic constraints, every chapter can only use a single vowel. All such projects derive at least some of their inspiration from the mid-20th century French avant-garde collective Oulipo, or Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, a “workshop of potential literature,” which encouraged systematic, sometimes arbitrary, language-based constraint in the composition of texts. For my Oulipian autobiography, it was especially important to me that every individual narrative moment made clear semantic sense despite the constraint, that the alliteration did not overly affect the speaker’s syntax or natural cadence, that taken together they told the story of a life.

sept 15/RUN

3.5 miles
past the trestle turn around
63 degrees / dripping

Unexpected rain this morning. Waited until 11 to go out for a run. Everything wet. Added 1/2 of distance to one of my classic routes: the trestle turn around. Felt pretty good. A few minutes in, after I reached the river, I started chanting in triple berries: raspberry / strawberry / blueberry. Then I tried to move beyond berries to other triples — mystery, history — but I got stuck.

Running through the tunnel of trees I listened to my shoes squeaking on the wet leaves. squeak squeak I heard the squeak behind me and looked back: no one, just my own echo.

A few minutes later, thunk! — an acorn falling from a tree, landing hard and intact on the pavement.

10 Things

  1. no stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  2. lots of dirt and mud kicked up on the edge of the path — maybe from park vehicles’ wheels or from the rain
  3. a smell — something pleasant — green, almost like cilantro, fresh
  4. pale yellow leaves
  5. a coxswain’s voice (female) from below
  6. the only view of the river I had was when I ran under the lake street bridge between the posts
  7. a walker holding a blue umbrella, from a distance I couldn’t tell that they were holding an umbrella. It looked like they were missing a head
  8. the ravine by 35th street overlook: the water was glittering, you could hear it falling out of the sewer pipe, moving down the limestone ledge
  9. more earthy smells — fresh, not sweet
  10. the Welcoming Oaks are turning from green to gold

Gary Snyder and Circumambulation

A few months ago, I came across a reference to Snyder and circumambulation. Now, since I’m studying Snyder and his work for the second half of September, I get the chance to think about it some more. Very cool.

Snyder explained, “The main thing is to pay your regards, to play, to engage, to stop and pay attention. It’s just a way of stopping and looking — at yourself too.” In graduate school at UC Davis in the late 1990s, I studied poetry with Snyder. I learned from him the importance of noticing and naming where I am and what is around me, the concept of bioregionalism.

bioregionalism: noticing and naming where I am and what is around me

I recall encountering the term “bioregionalism” for the first time in Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing. I searched my files and yes!, I found some notes I took:

2 parts:
disengage from attention economy
engage in/from specific place: rootedness, bioregionalism

rooted in a place + in time (as in past, present, future…not always linear)
time/historical and space/ecological (who and what live/d here)

bioregionalism = an awareness of inhabitants AND how they/we are all connected (entangled?), identify as citizens of a bioregion as much as or more than the State

my notes, june 2021

circumambulation: the act of walking in a circle around a object of veneration.

On the morning of October 22, 1965, the Beat Generation poets Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg and Philip Whalen stood near this spot [in Muir Woods National Monument, on the Marin Peninsula north of San Francisco] and chanted the Heart Sutra before setting out to consecrate the mountain through ritual circumambulation. That historic walk would be enshrined in Snyder’s poem “The Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpais” 


He would later explain his motivation for pioneering the ritual walk: “I felt it was time to take not just another hike on Mt. Tam, the guardian peak for the Bay and for the City — as I had done so many times — but to do it with the intent of circling it, going over it, and doing it with the formality and respect I had seen mountain walks given in Asia.” Starting at Redwood Creek in Muir Woods, the three Beat poets walked clockwise around the mountain, stopping to chant at 10 “stations” — notable spots along the route that were selected spontaneously for what the poets considered their special power — before closing the loop back at the creek.

Circling the Mountain

on ritual and repetition

Without exception, everyone commented on the value of ritual. Lisa Kadyk, a geneticist, said, “I’m not religious, but I do like rituals and recognition of spirituality in a big sense.” Visual artist and environmental field educator Kerri Rosenstein put it this way: “I like the nature of practice. To do something over and over. To train. It requires patience and discipline. I trust that each time offers something new. That we evolve by repeating the same walk as we awaken both to what becomes familiar and to what becomes revealed.” Gifford Hartman had throughout the day played the important role of “sweep,” following us to make certain no one took a wrong turn or needed help. “A ritual is returning to a place,” said Hartman, an English as a second language instructor. “Rituals also reinforce the seasonal cycles of life.”

Circling the Mountain

So many ideas about doing something with my earliest tanka collection, River Running, or my latest Haunts that includes a circumambulation! I just wrote in my Plague Notebook, Vol. 16:

The sacred object I’m circling around: emptiness, open air, the gorge

I really like the idea of doing a circumambulation around the gorge while (or, and then?) writing about it. A brief google search has given me lots of sources to explore, including this one — The Circumambulation of Mount Tamalpais: Limited Series. Wow!

I’ve decided to print out Snyder’s poem about the circumambulation and put it on my desk, under the glass, to study. I did this with Schuyler’s poem, “Hymn to Life” last year and it was very useful and fun.

sept 13/RUN

5 miles
bottom of franklin hill
55 degrees

What a wonderful morning for a run! 55 degrees! Low wind, bright sun. Wore my pink jacket until I warmed up, faded black shorts, gray t-shirt, raspberry red shoes, my mostly purple with pink splotches lightweight baseball cap that I found in my mother-in-law’s closet after she died, with the tag still on, and white socks (also found with tags on in her closet).

Running south, then back up to under the Franklin bridge, I listened to chainsaws, workers yelling about trees falling, bluejays screeching, Dave the Daily Walker saying good morning, and Daddy Long Legs calling out hello. For the last 2 miles of the run I listened to Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS.

10 Things

  1. the deep voice of the coxswain calling out instructions
  2. the blue, empty river
  3. graffiti on a post under the lake street bridge — block letters outlined in black — was there blue too? I can’t remember
  4. an old convertible sports car parked under the bridge, white or cream
  5. a photographer with a telephoto lens on their camera, standing under the trestle, probably taking pictures of the river
  6. Daddy long legs stretched out on a bench
  7. some guy talking (to the gorge? on the phone? to some other person I couldn’t see?) halfway up a column under the bridge — was I seeing this right?
  8. a line of bikers in bright yellow and orange vests heading south when I was heading north
  9. someone running in a bright pink shirt, another in orange, and one without a shirt
  10. my shadow — sharp and dark in the sun, running alongside me

Found June Jordan’s Guidelines for Critiquing a Poem in one of my files. Right now, I’m especially interested in these bits:

2. Is it a poem? 

a. Poetry: A medium for telling the truth. 
b. Poetry: The achievement of maximum impact with minimal number of words. 
c. Poetry: Utmost precision in use of language, hence, density and intensity of expression. 

Technical Checklist: 

a. Strong, descriptive verbs. Eliminate all forms of the verb “to be.” 
b. Singularity and vividness of diction (choice of words) 
c. Specificity / resonant and representative details 
d. Avoidance of abstractions and generalities 
e. Defensible line breaks 
f. Compelling / appropriate horizontal and / or vertical rhythm and / or vertical line breaks. 
g. Alliteration / Assonance / Dissonance 
h. Rhyme 
i. Consistency of voice / distance from the reader / diction 
j. Dramatic inconsistencies 
k. Punctuation (Punctuation is not word choice. Poems fly or falter according to the words composing them. Therefore, omit punctuation and concentrate on every single word. E.g., if you think you need a question mark then you need to rewrite so that your syntax makes clear the interrogative nature of your thoughts. And as for commas and dashes and dots? Leave them out!)

sept 12/RUN

2.25 miles
dogwood run
61 degrees / 71% humidity

Cool. Wore my pink jacket this morning. Thick air. Fall is here. The Welcoming Oaks are starting to turn golden. Everywhere, the feeling of soft yellow. We ran north on the river road trail. I was on the outside and was nearly hit a few times by bikers speeding by without warning. Oh well. I’ll try to remember the kind bikers I encountered on Saturday and forget today’s jerks.

Saw one of my running regulars, Santa Claus! Also, as we ran through the tunnel of trees, I recounted to Scott the time I noticed some guy silently sitting in a tree. What was he doing? added an hour later: I just realized that this strange tree sitting happened on september 11, 2019. I can’t remember what we talked about, and I forgot to look down at the river.

10 Things

  1. several stacked stones on the ancient boulder
  2. the port-a-potty is back near the overlook
  3. slippery trail, a few squeaking leaves
  4. burnt toast or burnt coffee bean smell near the Lake Street bridge
  5. passing a fast walker on the inside near the trestle
  6. encountering a runner almost sprinting on the greenway
  7. a duet of chainsaws in the gorge below, probably cutting up the giant tree that we noticed on the ground last Sunday on our hike
  8. yellow vests at Brackett Park — park workers mowing the lawn?
  9. clashing colors: a pale green bench next to a pale blue church
  10. after finishing, walking to Dogwood, passing a welcome mat with thick stripes of black and white