Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).  Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004.

This edition has Through the Looking-Glass, the Tenniel illustrations, a short biographical sketch of Carroll, a time-line of publications and historical events, and an introduction by Tan Lin.  There are end notes, notes on works inspired by the Alice books, comments and questions for discussion, and a bibliography for suggested further reading.

The plot is a dream.  As I once again enjoyed re-reading the book, I had good memories of teaching it from time to time to high school seniors to illustrate the uses of humor, satire, parody, puns, logic, nonsense, and absurdity.

I enjoyed meeting again each Wonderland character.  I was particularly drawn to to Fish Footman, who decides, for no apparent purpose or reason, to sit.  “I shall sit here…till to-morrow …or the next day maybe”; “…I shall sit here…on and off, for days and days.”

To plan to sit is a good plan of inaction that might benefit a person.  I had not through of that idea in previous readings.

This Week’s Note to Eva.

Sometimes we have strong and prolonged winds.  This time of year they are cold. I was awakened several times Saturday night because of loud winds.  They continued through the day Sunday.  It was unpleasant.  Sometimes they last longer.  Then I need some other sound in the house, a radio playing or a clock ticking.  Late afternoon on Sunday they stopped.  I must get used to the wind.  Love from your friend, Bill

At Friends’ Property.

I was invited to spend a day out in the backcountry, where friends own a large acreage.  I went with them to prepare their camping area for winter and to enjoy a day outside.

Impressions:

Silence.  We are at least a mile from any other people.

A deep and wide blue sky.

Stark white trunks and limbs of aspen trees seen against cobalt blue.

A picnic by a stream covered with fallen leaves and traces of snow.

A wet hillside of fallen golden aspen leaves.

A trio of raves who fly across one another in play and veer off to soar individually in wide air, then rejoin.

Cool air and warm sunshine

A large tent patched, taken down, folded, stored for winter.

A storing of camping items.

A loading of split firewood not used during the summer as a gift for me to enjoy in the winter.

A sunset drive back to town, during which I felt the happiness of a day out with friends and Spirit.

Eight of This Week’s Journal Entires. 

Saturday I saw the first snow on the Sangre mountainsides.  Except that on the highest peaks, it did not last long, only three days.

I want to stay here: to stay, live, learn here.

Dogs are good creatures.  Puppies are joy.

From the website minimalism.com:  “Don’t do anything, own anything, be anywhere or around anyone that you don’t love.”  “…treat your values as doctrines and be unwavering in upholding them.”

I realize how much I enjoy the feel of clean, fresh sheets and the feel of a new, sharp razor in shaving.

I enjoy seeing Linda, a teller at the bank; Gil, a server at a bar and grill; Tom, the proprietor of the outdoor supply shop; neighbors at the condo; fellow volunteers and clients at the Sharing Center; friends and acquaintances I meet around town.

Merlots, good wines for the fall.

A pumpkin snickerdoodle style cookie tastes autumnal.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

June.

Old Farmer’s Almanac, 2020 tells us that the Full Moon of the month, the Strawberry Moon, is on Friday, June 5. Will I celebrate with strawberries for breakfast?

The Summer Solstice will be Saturday, June 20. Yes, for a little more than two weeks the days will continue to grow longer and longer, and then we’ll be in the dark half of the year. What does preferring a dark half of the year to the light half indicate, if anything, about a person’s temperament or personality?

From the Local Newspaper.

Our school celebrated the graduation of twenty-three graduates during an outdoor ceremony on the football field last weekend. The newspaper featured photographs of the graduates, with information about each one, including their plans for the future.

One senior’s plans: “To focus on my mental health and live pure minded, undisturbed by the distractions of the matrix we live in.”

I think that this student’s college application essay would be exceptional.

Notes on Reading. Fiction. John Updike, The Centaur (1963). In Updike, Novels 1959-1965. The Library of America, 2018.

The only other time I had read the novel was in the summer after my first year of teaching in the early 1970s. I remember becoming involved in the reading and staying up until two or three in the morning to read. Those days are long gone.

The novel is the story of a father and son and their growing awareness and appreciation of one another. Set in Pennsylvania during a three-day period in the winter of 1947, the novel gives a realistic view of a small town and its characters. The title character, the father, is a high school teacher devoted to his family. His fifteen-year-old son, a sophomore at his school, is depicted sympathetically.

The changes in point of view are sudden and deft. The style is lyrical. The book involves the reader. There are frequent allusions to classical mythology. Updike includes an index of mythological characters and creatures referred to, should the reader be interested.

It’s an entertaining and moving book.

Thoughts on a Walk to the Post Office.

Monday morning, June 1, 2020, mid-morning. This is the first day of the year that I’ve walked without light jacket or sweater. It’s a warm and clear day. Now the highs are mid-seventies and lows at night low-to-mid forties.

The recent rains have made dirt roads walkable without dust. I enjoy taking the long way, the way about a block from the highway. I take two dirt paths, one which parallels a paved street; the other through a field.

As I pass the Fitness Center, I see for the first time in months a few cars in the parking lot. As I pass the back of the Center, I see a yoga class in progress on the covered porch. An instructor is dressed in bright orange pants with a black design and a white top, and there are four practitioners, one man and three women, in dark pants and white tops. Meditative music is playing.

There is little snow on the Sangre Range. I do see, though, where there were snow fields, light greens of the trees of the forest, mixed with darker evergreens.

In the fields are ants, large red ants. They have made large ant hills and are busy at work. The open field is rocky with mounds and holes for other creatures. I do not think there are prairie dogs, though I keep looking for them. Half of the length of the dirt path is rocky; the other part is smooth dirt.

Near the end of the field, about a block from the street that leads to the post office, I pass a pickup truck parked at the end of a parking lot. I notice it because of a friendly “WOOF WOOF” coming from it. I don’t see the dog clearly, but when I get to the paved street, I see that he is calmly watching my progress to the drop box, where I pause to mail three items. He does not bark on my return.

As I walk back home, I think that just this week the first leaves of cottonwood trees and locust trees have manifested. I make a mental note to take a chair out to visit with my friend Tree in the field beyond my condo.

I will enjoy the walk out there. Neighbor’s lilacs are in bloom now, and the air is fragrant with their flowers. I will sit on my front porch when I get home and enjoy the smell. And I’ll share with Tree the joy of its new greenery. I’ll toast it with a glass of iced water.

Celebrating a Happiness of the Day.

Each evening I write a short paragraph about something that has brought me happiness during the day. Some days it’s hard to decide which event to celebrate.

There are the topics of the past week: enjoying Updike’s writing style; receiving a telephone call from a friend in town; volunteering at the Food Bank; enjoying the double-spread pages of the almanac with information about each month; meditating with the Wildwood Tarot Deck; watching on YouTube three groups dancing the Virginia Reel; and listening on a CD to a performance of Randy Newman’s “Marie.”

More Thoughts on Pleasures.

Adam Gopnik, in Paris to the Moon, writes, “…we see life as deeply in our pleasures as in our pains…”.

Why do we often understand our lives by our reactions to painful situations?

Our assignment, if we choose to accept it: What have been the pleasures of our lives? How have they influenced us?

Notes on Reading. Nonfiction. Adam Gopnik, Paris to the Moon. Random House, 2001.

Gopnik writes, “This is the story of the private life of a lucky American family living in Paris in the last five years of the century, less than a tour of any horizon than just a walk around the park. To the personal essays about life in Paris, I have added some private journals I wrote every Christmas.”

In discussing such topics as strikes, entertainments, restaurants, fashion, sports, and quotidian life of Parisians, Gopnik gives us an intimate look at French civilization.

Thank you for reading. I welcome comments, posted here or in an email to me. Be well.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Windy Weather.

Wind is common here, and this week has been windy. Morning breezes have changed to afternoon and early evening winds. A friend here wrote in an email, “I’m always concerned that the earth has stopped rotating when we don’t have a windy day.”

Two Ideas from Recent Issues of The New Yorker.

“Maybe it’s my imagination. But whatever’s in our imaginations, I think, is part of reality.” (Sibyl Kempson, quoted by Sarah Larson, “Gig Economy,” May 18, 2020)

“…there are no perfectly ordinary adolescents…each of them is strange, and bewildered, and in mourning, because they’re all in exile from their childhoods, just as they always longed to be.” (Fiona McFarlane, “Demolition,” story, May 25, 2020)

Crossword Puzzle Fun.

I enjoyed working out these answers, from Puzzle 151 by Mark Feldman, The New York Times Tuesday Crossword Puzzle Omnibus, edited by Will Shortz. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013.

Clue: Guinevere to Lancelot? Answer: LADYOFTHEKNIGHT

Clue: Shopper for woolen goods? Answer: KNITPICKER

Clue: Universal tie? Answer: KNOTFOREVERYONE

Notes on Reading. Fiction. Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) and Other Stories. Signet Classics, 2000.

This edition’s “Other Stories” are set in the fictional town of Dunnet Landing, a sea coast village in Maine, the setting of the short novel, with the same central characters. The works exemplify the local color movement in American literature in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

Local color writing emphasizes setting and character. What plot there is is the story frame (a writer visits the village for a summer of writing), her interactions with characters there, and the stories told her by the townspeople. The reader gains insight into the ordinary lives of the people and the geographic details of the area. The characters are primarily old and primarily women. Most of them know loneliness and isolation.

The style is plain and slow-paced. There is attention paid to small details. Jewett is a master of dialect.

This was my first re-reading since I read the book in a course in American fiction in college. I have returned the book to the bookcase and look forward to reading it again in the long, long nights of next winter.

Walking Rosita Avenue in Westcliffe.

Rosita Avenue parallels Main Street and goes by the sides of things. On one end is the bank; at the other is the county’s Search and Rescue headquarters next to the Sheriff’s Department. I park at the bank and walk east up the avenue.

There are a couple of blocks of open fields on both sides of the street. Slowly and surely they are beginning to green. There are a few dandelions at the sides of the road.

On the left, one of the fields backs up to the parking lot of the grocery store. There is a hitching post for Amish horse and buggies.

Across the street is All Aboard Westcliffe, the historic depot, with the Engine House Museum. Both are closed. The depot building is painted yellow, and in front and beyond it are wagons used to carry baggage; one is a push wagon. The other is horse-drawn. Three wooden railway cats sit on a rail.

The depot is painted yellow, and there’s an inviting Ticket Window. At the window is a thermometer advertising Lionel Trains. In front of the building is a large bulletin board. There is no information about the organization. There are maps advertising twenty-two sights in the Scenic Bypass Areas of Highways 69, 96, and 67 and recreational opportunities of the areas.

At the corner of the next block is the two story Golden Corner Suites. I pass by the side to see five suites on each floor and room doors facing outside, each with chairs or a bench or a table and chair for folks to relax when not in the rooms.

Across the street is the historic stone Wolff Hotel (1877), on the National Registry of Historic Places. It has been recently bought, and around the front on the window is advertised Rejuvenated Luxury Day Spa with a phone number, in case one is interested.

I pass by the side of the Thrift Store, with its porch for drop-off donations. Above the porch is a kite with a friendly-looking dragon head and long tails of bright red and gold.

There are a couple of blocks of residents, mostly one-story frame constructions. Some face Rosita Avenue; others face the streets crossing Rosita.

I pass the side of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, established in 1879. The side yard has three large mature aspen trees. Two of them intertwine.

Another block, and I pass by the side of the Catholic Church. There is a large parking lot behind it, which I will pass before reaching the highway.

Across the street is the Sangre de Cristo Wellness Center, which has offices for a chiropractor, two massage therapists, a practitioner of acupuncture, herbs, and nutrition, and a therapist for anxiety management. Not bad for a town of six hundred people.

Next to it, and cross from the Catholic parking lot, is the side of the United Methodist Church, with its slogan, “Open Hearts / Open Minds / Open Doors” painted on the side. I expect this congregation will split from the United Methodists. That would be good, or “Open Hypocrisy” would be appropriate to add to the slogan. Pastor Vette will be leaving in the next couple of weeks to go to graduate school for a M.Div. degree at Texas Christian. I will miss Pastor Vette.

I cross the highway and walk past the side of the county Courthouse, a stone building from 1929. Behind it is the newer Sheriff’s Department, and to its side the building for the Search and Rescue facility.

On the walk back to the bank, I enjoy seeing spring beginning. There is a lilac bush, fragrant, just starting to bloom, and on the next block I notice by its smell a honeysuckle vine.

Notes on Reading. Nonfiction. Henry David Thoreau, Cape Cod. Arranged with notes by Dudley C. Lunt. Introduction by Henry Beston. Illustrated by Henry Bugbee Kane, Bramhall House, 1951.

I enjoyed anticipating my re-reading of the book. I think this was my third reading. I looked forward to Thoreau’s natural observations, humor, depiction of characters of the area (especially the lighthouse keeper and the Wellfleet oysterman), and thoughts about life. I looked forward to the well-done illustrations and my annotations, particularly about humor, from past readings.

I do not tire of Thoreau. While others claim The Good Book for inspiration, guidance, and ideals, I go to Thoreau: Cape Cod, The Maine Woods, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Walden.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Walk Downtown. Late morning into the noon hour.

Third Street is quiet. I encounter nobody, walking or in yards. Grass is growing well but none of the yards are in need of first mowing. Bird song surrounds me.

At Hermit Road, at the kiddie park, is a group of Mennonite women and children. Children are enjoying slides and swings. I’m happy to see two of the women swinging.

Across the street at a sheltered picnic area, a vehicle pulls up and parks. A shrill voice of a woman, “Wait! Just a minute! We have to get the box with the potato chips!” (Grant me deliverance.)

The first few blocks of Fifth Street are quiet. I pass by a brick house. I have wondered if it’s the only brick house in the two towns. It calls attention to itself. It’s on a corner and the houses on both opposite sides of the street are log-cabin structures.

At a house listed for sale, there is a man sitting on the porch. “Nice day!” I say. He answers, “You bet. It’d be better if we got some rain. Or some snow.” “I’ll take either,” I said. I look up to see large cumulus clouds, high in the sky, no sight of rain. Or snow.

I approach a stop sign. A woman driving hesitates to drive through the intersection. I wave her on. As she passes, I notices she is smirking, though she doesn’t look at me. I enjoy her hesitation and smirk. I would not be surprised if her name is Earlene.

On Main Street, I pass one of my favorite landmarks, a cozy looking cottage with picket fence, well-kept yard, and inviting porch. Over the porch is a sign that says, “GO AWAY.”

A man, wearing a jacket, leaves a business and greets me, “Nice day for a walk.” “Sure is,” I say. “Warm in that sweater?” he asks. “Not yet,” I say.

I arrive at the car at the head of Third Street. It tells me that it is 12:15 and 67-degrees. Nice.

Crossword Puzzle Fun.

I enjoyed working out these answers from clues given, from Puzzle 145 by David Liben-Nowell in The New York Times Tuesday Crossword Puzzle Omnibus, edited by Will Shortz. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013.

Clue: Comment about comic actor Martin when standing next to a peewee? (Answer: SHORTISTALL)

Clue: Comment about actor Jack, racially speaking? (Answer: BLACKISWHITE)

Clue: Comment about well-dressed pop singer James? (Answer: BLUNTISSHARP)

Clue: Comment about impressionist Rich when playing a packed house? (LITTLEISBIG)

At the Fitness Center. Bonnie.

To recycle plastic, I must buy recycling bags at our local Fitness Center. I drove up and telephoned the number given on the announcement posted at the side of the building for service. I was to ask for Bonnie.

Bonnie answered. Her voice was bright, energetic, and friendly. I asked for two bags and told her I had a $20 bill for payment. She said, “I’ll bring the change!”

When I saw her leave the building, I put on my mask. She was a lively young woman with sparkling eyes. After we exchanged pleasantries and I paid, she said, “I hope to see you soon!”

I was sorry she was wearing a mask. I wanted to see her face, which I’m sure was, well, bonny.

Exploring in Custer County. The Rosita and Querida areas.

I had heard of both communities but never visited. They are both now ghost towns, although Rosita is a community now of a couple of modern housing developments with beautiful large homes, many in log-cabin style.

I turn off the highway on a paved road that leads by the county landfill and a wood worker’s sawmill and craft shop. The wood worker offers free guided tours. I think of Fargo and decide, not today.

There is barbed wire fencing on both sides of the road, and on the right I pass a lone antelope standing at the fence.

The road narrows and the speed limit drops. I’m glad. Slower speed gives me more time to see what there is to see.

Newly leafed aspen leaves, light green, quiver in the breeze and sunlight. I hope to visit in the fall to see the same leaves of gold. There are large stands of Ponderosa pines, all healthy, and there are a couple of hillsides filled with them. The scent is strong.

I turn on a dirt road to explore where the towns were. I come to the abandoned Bassick Mine and a sign marking what was once Querida. I stop to read the historic marker that tells about Edward Chase Bassick and his discovery of rocks that led to the building of the mine. I would like to know more about Bassick, but I can find little about him. The historic marker indicates his adventures in the area would make an interesting and compelling story.

The mine is massive, and visitors are warned that it is on private property and that the mine is dangerous to explore.

Across the road I notice a narrow dirt road that leads perhaps to whatever few structures are left of the old Rosita. I do not try to drive or walk there. Another day, yes.

I stop by the Rosita Cemetery. The gate indicates 1870. There is a sign that admonishes visitors about appropriate behavior. I guess they’ve had some problems there.

The first thing I notice is that almost every grave plot is adorned with artificial flowers. There are some sites with painted iron crosses close to the ground marked “Unknown.” Even these have flowers.

The well-kept cemetery is on a hillside covered with Ponderosa pines.

Family plot areas are often enclosed with fences, wooden or wire or chain-link. Some have benches, mostly wooden, where one can sit to contemplate mortality or other things at the site of the burial of loved ones.

I notice a headstone with the engraved, “To Thine Own Self Be True” above the woman’s name. There are engravings of a cat and a dog and a small seafaring vessel between them. The date is Aug. 7, 1927.

I appreciated, “At Home in the Mountains” on one gravestone.

I pause by the grave of a patriarch, the “Founder of the 100 German Colony of the Wet Mountain Valley.”

I walk up to the grave of a Confederate soldier. There is a Confederate flag. I cannot read the tombstone because the writing is now illegible.

There are several veterans buried there. Their sites are marked by flags. One has a pinwheel with the flag image on it.

My favorite site is up a hill. It is in a circle of pines and ringed with black rocks. The inscription is “Loving Father, Son, and Brother.” (I wondered why there was no Husband in the listing.). I enjoyed sitting on a bench there to rest. His life was short, 1978-2015.

Notes on Reading. Nonfiction. Mark Doty, What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life. W.W. Norton & Company, 2020.

In the preface, Doty states his two purposes in writing the book: “to account for his [Whitman’s] presence in my life” and “to seek out the wellsprings of the extraordinary flowering…in poems that look, sound and think like nothing else before him” … that have “reshaped American poetry, and the poetry of other countries and continents” and have caused us to think “of what it means to be oneself, to be anyone at all.”

The five sources that have made Whitman’s poetry significant are “a radical experience of reality, magnificent and disruptive,” exemplified in “Song of Myself”; the declaration of “queer sexuality,” his presentation of the “transformative power of a life of uncharted desire”; the influence of New York City at the time; the “energy of a new vocabulary,” American speech; and a conception and expression about the meaning of death.

In discussion of each of these influences, Doty writes about relevant experiences in his life. I particularly enjoyed those in which he describes mystical experiences, including one involving a tree when he was seventeen. He writes, “Visions are not as far from ordinary life as we somethings think…” The comment recalls Steinbeck’s chapter title in Sweet Thursday, “There’s a Hole in Reality Through Which We Can Look If We Wish.”

What I most enjoyed is Doty’s analysis of techniques of free verse, illustrated by “Song of Myself,” “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” and “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.”

Thank you for reading. I welcome comments, posted here or in an email to me.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Notes on Reading. Fiction. Niall Williams, This Is Happiness. Bloomsbury, 2019.

This novel is a warm and compelling look at life in Faha, a remote Irish village, during the time of electrification. The protagonist recalls the time at age seventeen he was living there with his grandparents, having left school to prepare for the priesthood. It is there and then that he learns much about life, from the villagers and especially from his friendship with a boarder in his grandparents’ house, a man in his sixties who is with the power company but who has come to express his regrets to a woman there whom he had jilted several decades earlier.

The book evokes the spirit of ordinary people and their ordinary lives and shows their significance. There are memorable characters. There is much humor, warmly presented; expressions of wisdom, especially from the narrator; an emphasis on music in pubs.

It is a book that I will enjoy reading again.

4 Favorite Quotations from This Is Happiness:

“I know it seems unlikely that Faha then might have been the place to learn how to live, but in my experience the likely is not in God’s lexicon.”

“…imagination is many times the size of reality.”

“There is no manual for how to greet a father after a debauch with his daughter.”

“…you could stop at, not all, but most of the moments of your life, stop for one heartbeat and, no matter what the state of your head or heart, say This is happiness, because of the simple truth that you were alive to say it….We can all pause right here, raise our heads, take a breath and accept that This is happiness…

On Walks.

Sunday early afternoon.

It’s a sweater-weather spring day. I like the weather. There is the sensation of cool or cold air and warm sun together, both crisp. I enjoy looking at the various shades of new greens.

I park at the corner of Fifth and Main and walk to the south. I pass the Catholic Church and pass several blocks of residents. In one yard, a tall man, whose back is to me, talks to a man facing me. Because they are engaged in conversation, we do not exchange greetings.

At the park a lone boy wearing orange tennis shoes does pull ups and swings on a high soccer goal post.

I cross Hermit Road and walk onto a dirt road that goes through a field. Two large women are sitting in lawn chairs in the field, enjoying lunch outside. We exchange waves.

Tuesday morning (5-12)

Rain had been forecast for yesterday, and it was cloudy all day, but there were only two pitter-patter five-minute showers, one in late morning and one in late afternoon. I wanted to go out to see if the rain had alleviated dusty conditions. It had, but not by much. My car was washed clean. I stop by the car to take a mask, since I need to to inside the post office to mail a large envelope to a friend in Denver.

I walk down to the post office my favorite way. I go down the dirt path by the condo to walk along a field down to the highway. I walk for a couple of block down the highway until I come to where Hermit Road enters it. Paralleling the road is a dirt path. I walk down it, noticing that a tennis ball has somehow found itself in the middle. Across the street from the Valley Bible Fellowship, I turn down another, smaller dirt path, which takes me to the post office through fields on both sides. I walk past the large solar panels behind the fitness center. A mild but steady wind blows from the west. My sweater is appropriate wear.

In the fields I see growths of green. Today I notice the first dandelion greens and a kind of small sage-like plant. Is it sage?

Inside the post office, everything is regimented. The two entry doors are marked one-way. Floors are marked with white lines to stand behind while waiting for service. Masks are required. There can be only one customer at a time in the service area, a separate room.

I walk home on the highway, stop at the car to leave my mask and use hand sanitizer and brush dust from my shoes pants, and baseball cap.

Notes on Reading. Drama. William Shakespeare, three favorite plays (re-readings): A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and The Tempest. Folger Shakespeare Library editions.

I know them so well that Macbeth and The Tempest read themselves to me. I had many good years teaching them both, and I never tire of them. I never taught A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I’ve never seen a live production of it, but it’s the best comedy I know.

It was a pleasure to spend time with each play. The Folger Shakespeare Library editions of paperbacks contain excellent educational materials: critical viewpoints, biographical and historic information, bibliography for further reading, and notes for students. (I did not read the study materials.)

During Pandemic Time.

In an email this week, a friend asked how I was spending time during these difficult days. My routine hasn’t changed greatly. Instead of volunteering at the Sharing Center (Food Bank) each week, I do so every other week. Men’s group every other week does not meet. Rotary Club meets on Zoom, but I do not participate. I miss the opportunity to travel.

At home, I do these things daily: I read for three hours (generally one hour in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night), write for two hours, do a crossword puzzle (I’m enjoying The New York Times Tuesday puzzles), enjoy checking and answering email, go for a twenty-to-forty minute walk, spend some time in housekeeping, and at the end of the day I listen to music, reflect on the day, meditate, pray. I do these things, not daily, but from time to time: play games (two kinds of solitaire with playing cards; solitaire Trivial Pursuit; and sometimes a Jumble puzzle), and watch movies or videos. I enjoy making meals. I have take-out about once a week.

Since the pandemic began, I have made a telephone call each day to someone I know.

That’s my good life. I recommend retirement.

Notes on Reading. Poetry. Mark Doty, Source. HarperCollins, 2001.

Mark Doty is my favorite living poet, and this collection of nineteen poems has some of my favorite poems.

I first encountered Doty through his prose. Decades ago, I was browsing at a Barnes and Noble in Denver and looking through the “Staff Recommends” section. I picked up a copy of a memoir, Heaven’s Coast, liking the title and the cover. I read comments on the cover and thought I would not like to read the book on a fall weekend. It is an account of his partner’s dying of AIDS. But I turned at random to several different sections, and I was impressed by the power of the writing. I bought the book and enjoyed it. I wanted to read more of his works.

I learned that Doty was a poet, and I began to read collections of his poetry. I appreciate his vision of life and his expression of its beauty, mystery, and sensuality. When I taught AP English, I included several of his poems in a collection to teach. The students were impressed, even to the point of asking me to invite Doty to speak to the class. (I never did so.)

In Source, I particularly enjoyed re-reading these poems: “Lost in the Stars,” an elegiac, lyrical tribute to a man who organized a fund raiser, featuring a performer who sang the eponymous song; “Manhattan: Luminism,” describing city scenes from Fifth Avenue, Lexington Avenue, Chelsea, and West 82nd Street; “Private Life,” an imaginative consideration of the life of a parrot in a store; “An Island Sheaf,” five descriptions of life at Key West; and several poems giving luminosity and celebration and meaning to life: “Principalities of June,” “Summer Landscape,” “After the Fourth,” “American Sublime,” “Time of Main,” and “Source.”

The center of the book is a long poem, “Letter to Walt Whitman.” It reflects on Whitman as a person and poet and includes thoughts of Whitman’s influence on and challenge to America.

The poem I most love is “Brian Age 7.” It describes a drawing, one of the many “self-portraits” that first graders have sent to the proprietor of the pharmacy in thanks for a tour on a field trip. Doty describes Brian’s drawing: “just balls and lines, / in wobbly crayon strokes,” his face with “That big curve of a smile / [that] reaches nearly to the rim / of his face.” Brian has included “a towering ice cream” cone “half the length of him.” Doty concludes, “…Artless boy, / he’s found a system of beauty: he shows us pleasure / and what pleasure resists / The ice cream is delicious. / He’s frail beside his relentless standard.”

This week I read in The New Yorker that Doty has recently published an appreciation of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. It is entitled What Is The Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life. Since Whitman and Doty are favorite poets, I ordered it. It arrived Monday, and I’m looking forward to beginning it. I plan to use it in “Notes on Reading” in next week’s blog.

Thank you for reading. I welcome comments, either posted here or in an email to me. Be well.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Some Downtown Signs.

Here are some signs I saw on a downtown walk. I have changed the spacing of the words, and on some, the capitalization.

There are two gift shops side-by-side. On the window of one is the word CLOSED; on the other is the word SHUT.

At the clean and well-maintained public restrooms at the park, “Restrooms Are Closed Until Further Notice Due to COV-19. Sorry For The Inconvenience.”

At a house on Main Street is a reversible sign. One one side, WELCOME; on the other side, GO AWAY. Now, and often, is the GO AWAY sign.

At Chappy’s Bar and Grill are several hand-made signs on the windows: Wish You Were Here; Stay Strong, Custer County; Never Be Scared To Try New Things!; Have A Burger and a Smile; Peace Love and French Fries; You Know What Makes Bad Days Go Better? TO GO Margaritas. We Promise.

The marquee at the movie theatre used to give dates for reopening. Now it read is, “TAKE CARE WILL SEE YOU SOON.”

A perplexing sign on a business window: JUST GONE. Does it mean that the proprietor has recently left? Does it mean that he or she is not there and there is no explanation or reason for the absence? Does it refer to the proprietor’s existential state?

At the Food Bank.

Usually I bag groceries chosen by clients. But now I help any way I can, since clients no longer choose foods.

I begin by arriving just before my shift time, sanitizing my hands and putting on gloves and mask. I go to the back room, where food is stored, and I find boxes to pack and put the first five items of a two-week supply into the boxes: a box of cereal, a can each of meat (tuna or chicken), fruit, soup, beans, and mustard. I load a cart and when I finish five boxes I take them to the front room, where four other volunteers finish packing the boxes. There I find more boxes to take to the back to load. Becky is there with me, keeping the food in order, collapsing boxes, and supplying more more items to pack.

After packing for an hour and a half, I help Becky tear down boxes. I like breaking them down more than packing them. I like the big boxes. I put them on the floor and stomp the corners to collapse them. We stack the collapsed boxes into carts and take them outdoors to a shed, from where they’ll be carried away for recycling.

Then I join three other volunteers outdoors to take the completed boxes to the vehicles of clients. Two volunteers add bread and frozen meat to the boxes, and another asks clients if they want dog or cat food. Drivers bring vehicles up to a loading station, and we put the boxes into the vehicles. Each has been signed in by two other volunteers as they drive into the lot.

“What I like about this job,” said volunteer Steve, “is that our clients are so positive and appreciative. It makes the hard work worth it.”

I agreed.

On Walks.

This is the first week I’ve noticed colors as a sign of spring. Grass is growing taller and greener, despite deer nibbling it. One day I noticed the first green leaves of young aspen trees; older aspens remained without leaves. A yellow wildflower, close to the ground, appeared this week, as well as a light purple one. A small white butterfly was visiting the yellow flowers. Mountains have little snow, and the sides are now showing greening meadows and masses of evergreen color.

In the downtown park I saw the first daffodils this week. On downtown sidewalks, mostly on the north side of Main Street, ant hills and ants busy at work.

It’s good to have song birds.

And just yesterday, the first green leaves on the large aspen tree outside my bedroom window!

Notes on Reading. Nonfiction. Bill McKibben, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun To Play Itself Out? Holt, 2019.

The answer to the question of the subtitle is yes. McKibben’s reasons are based on statistics that show that humankind is on a fast road to destruction because of global warming and unbridled growth of technologies. His conclusions from the facts are convincing.

In the final section of the book, he gives “An Outside Chance” by proposing restoration through solar energy and nonviolent disobedience. We can decide not to advance as well as to advance. The last chapter, “Epilogue,” depicts human beings as capable of responding to the beauty and magnificence of our life on earth and our ability to overcome our destructive paths.

The book is provocative and challenging.

Thank you for reading. I welcome comments, posted here, or in an email sent to me.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Simple Pleasures.

At the end of each day, I write a short paragraph about something that I enjoyed during the day, something that brought me happiness. These are the things about which I wrote the past week: taking a nap, rearranging furniture, enjoying a photographic essay in the current issue of The Sun, receiving the gift of a book, telephoning a friend not knowing it was her birthday, receiving an unexpected phone call from an old friend, and eating a take-out burger and fries from a local bar and grill.

The exercise keeps me mindful of blessings and allows me be aware of possible happinesses during the day.

Notes on Reading. Nonfiction. Emily Wallace, Road Sides: An Illustrated Companion to Dining and Driving in the American South. University of Texas Press, 2019.

This is an entertaining miscellany, a compendium of interesting ideas related to road travel and food and attractions along the route. Wallace arranges these subjects alphabetically, A (Architecture) to Z (Zealots), and gives concise and well-organized information about them. We learn about regional foods, automobile sound systems, chain restaurants, souvenirs, roadside attractions, drive-ins, food stands, kudzu, and moon shining and bootlegging, among other things. She often provides us historic backgrounds on the topics. The illustrations by the author are bright and engaging, as is her writing. I enjoyed reading, and I’ll enjoy browsing through the book again to re-read favorites topics.

A Walk, Monday Early Afternoon.

As I leave the condo, I look down at the car and notice that neighbor Buck has removed the sticker VOTE FOR BUCK / FOR MAYOR OF SILVER CLIFF. He said he would remove it a few days ago. Later this week he will be installed. He ran unopposed.

The day looks like summer. There’s a sunlit blue sky, a few cumulus clouds here and there, and bird song. I’m wearing a light sweater and baseball cap, the only outer covering I need. It’s in the low 70s. There’s no sign of leaves on aspens or cottonwood trees, though.

It’s dusty. It was a good ten degrees cooler yesterday; the sky was a Buttermilk Sky, suggesting rain but delivering none. We need rain or snow. There is snow at the top of the mountains but none on the sides. For half of the walk there is a moderate, steady breeze from the west, but it stopped so that the latter half of my walk was without wind.

I pass by a single woman seated on her porch, smoking and reading. She is there each time I take this walk. We exchange smiles and waves. I’ve never stopped for a chat. On the street where there is new construction, I pass by a couple who sit on their deck, enjoying the vista, drinking something. I will remember to buy some tea for iced tea for the rest of the spring and summer. We exchange waves. At the corner house, before I turn to return home, a man wearing only short pants, lies in a recliner. He looks up as I pass to say, “How are you!”

At the start of the walk, I did not have to wait to cross the highway. On the return, I stop for five cars to pass, three going into town and two leaving. I haven’t been to town in several days. Maybe I’ll go there tomorrow for a walk down Main Street to see what, if anything, is going on.

Bungalow Joe is not home, but there are three cars at the Lighthouse Pregnancy Center.

A block from home, a man in a white van pulls up and we have a good chat about the pandemic and the ways of the world today.

In the field across from the condo, Tree is looking good. Today Tree has the company of six deer, two lying down. On a recent visit with Tree, I was glad to hear a meadowlark in the field.

I arrive home, dusty and happy.

Notes on Reading. Fiction. Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood. Translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin. Vintage International, 2000.

This novel, set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is the story of a young man’s coming of age. The mores and attitudes of Japanese young people are presented in realistic detail. The book is of the Strum und Drang tradition, with long passages of sharing of feelings, emotional venting, and confessions in vivid details. Suicide and its effects on loved ones, explicit sex, and mental illness play large in the plot. The five major characters are skillfully presented and memorable. The tile, referring to the song by the Beatles, is apt.

Thank you for reading. I welcome comments, posted here or in an email to me.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

From This Week’s Newspaper.

Because of the pandemic, the Sangre Star Festival, scheduled for late June, which was to bring “over 400 people from 20 states,” with speakers from all over the U.S., has been postponed “until a future date in another year to be determined.”

Bears are ending their hibernation now. There is an interesting article about how we should behave toward bears for our safety and theirs.

Comparing the past two winters: this past winter was colder with less snowfall than the previous.

Writer W. A. Ewing writes: “With overnight lows in the teens and lower 20s this week, spring anticipations are rather hard to maintain, even as folks await their ordered seed packets with just such expectancy. ‘Winter advisory’ is a hard read in mid-April . . .”

Even though school is closed, senior Wulfgar Parmenter continues to write “Bobcat Corner.” He compliments teachers and administrators for their hard work in getting out instruction and assignments and being supportive and positive. He writes, “The administration is promising a graduation, whether it is in person or virtual, and they are going to try and make it as awesome as they can.”

Sunday Morning Walk.

It is a day of massive, billowy cumulus clouds. They lie in all directions, most with dark undersides, some low. Among them there is bright blue, sunlit sky.

I take a street I’ve never taken. I pass a caution sign, “SLOW (a picture of a playing child) CHILDREN” but I don’t see any children of any caliber.

A brindled Catahoula hound gives one bark as greeting and runs from a porch to meet me. He has one blue eye and one brown eye. I pause. He sniffs my hand and wags his tail and returns to the house only after I give a friendly rub under his neck and encouraging words.

I realize I am walking slower than usual. Maybe I’m older, but more likely it’s because temperatures are in the forties and lower fifties rather than in the twenties and lower thirties.

Places in Two Old Songs.

I cannot have been there. Both songs are adult perspectives. “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (music by Hoagy Carmichael; lyrics by Johnny Mercer) was released in 1951, when I was three years old. “I’ll Be Seeing You,” (music by Sammy Fain; lyrics by Irving Kahal) was released in 1938, ten years before my birth.

Of course, the settings of each song may be imaginary, but somehow I know I have, as an adult, been in those places.

I recognize these places and events.

I have been a single adult at the party in “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” with the people mentioned (Sue, Sam, Grace, Jake) and others not mentioned. There was a rented tent, with food, “boiled ham,” “bouillabaisse,” “weeny bake,” “steak,” “layer cake.” (I don’t remember the bouillabaisse.). There were singing by moonlight, general good times, and the request for someone to “save a chair.”

I have been a lover in the setting described in “I’ll Be Seeing You.” “In that small cafe, the park across the way, / The children’s carousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well.”

These are places I know. I have been there.

Notes on Reading. Fiction. Richard Powers, The Overstory. W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.

The book has provided me with a good reading experience this week. It’s one of the best novels I’ve read, and I plan to re-read it soon. It’s about trees and people who love them. I will re-read it soon and perhaps include more specific notes here when I do. Meanwhile I am giving my copy to a friend to enjoy.

Many years ago I kept several copies of Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday to give to people who needed a warm and engaging and humorous book. I plan to buy several copies of The Overstory and give them to people I know who will enjoy and be moved by the excellence and force of Power’s writing, people who love trees and all other manifestations of Nature.

Thank you for reading. I welcome comments, posted here or in an email to me.

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