On Vacation. In Colorado. At a Jazz Venue.
A two-story building. On the first floor is a small bar with selective food menu. Upstairs and down there is a rotating collection of original paintings on the wall.
Tonight upstairs, my friend Mike’s jazz trio “Lost Souls.” Mike on trumpet, with bass and piano. They play good standards, such as “I Wonder What It’d Be Like To Be Free,” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” Across the room from me sits beautiful Holly from a nearby city, a friend of the piano player. Dressed in a black sleeveless dress, wearing black open-toed shoes with two straps across the feet and one at the ankles, she is obviously enjoying the music. She moves in rhythm, and she is beautiful with grey hair and a bright smile. The band asks her to sing, and she gives us a joyous and jaunty, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” and then “Body and Soul,” which she torches. Yes, Torch it, Holly. Torch it so that I cry in my Perrier.
As I enjoy the music, I enjoy shrimp cocktails and assorted olives, Perrier, and a beautifully made and presented cocktail of the evening, a Manhattan, a single cherry pierced and laid across the top of the drink, and Perrier. The attentive, competent, and friendly servers make sure that there is a carafe of fresh ice water on the table.
Evening ends with a big hug from my friend and another from me for him to take home to his wife. And congratulations to the two other players, to Holly, and thanks to the excellent servers.
On Vacation. In California. In a Redwood Forest in Sonoma County.
We enter and choose a trail to walk among the magnificent, ancient trees. We chat and make glib comments about their age and size. We stop for photos. A ranger lectures by one, but we continue with our comments and laughter. As the party I’m with turns down a fork in the trail to go to a theater built among the trees, I stay behind and sit beneath a tree, hoping for some silence and communion time. It’s not to be had. Groups come chatting and laughing and posing and photographing. I think that we do not deserve to be in the presences of ancestral spirits and their silence and intimations of things more eternal than we.
On Vacation. In Colorado. In the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Here, too, I sense the eternal, marked by open space and magnificent heights and smells of evergreen and sage and other odors, including fresh air not experienced in cities. I remembered hikes on back trails and enjoy being there at a picnic area to share lunch, including the best potato salad in the world, with good and true friends.
At Home. In My North Border. Anne.
She, a sculptured mermaid, sits on a stone promontory in part of the north border, a plot I made for her. She faces east, looking seaward, longing for the ocean. In late August and September she will realize her royalty, surrounded by Queen Anne’s lace. The white flowers will serve as remembrances of sea foam. Late in the fall or in the winter or perhaps in early spring I will take her to the sea for her return there, unless she lets me know that is is glad to remain here, dreaming of and longing for the ocean.
Notes on Reading. Fiction.
Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911). Signet Classics, 2000. This bleak short novel is a masterwork, telling the harrowing tragedy of three people living in physical, psychological, and spiritual wreckage, marked by poverty. It’s the American parallel to Jude the Obscure. The scenes of New England small town and rural life are vividly depicted and memorable. I know no literary character more disagreeable and hateful than Zenobia Frome. I know no literary characters more full of promise and thwarted by circumstances that Ethan From and Mattie Silver.
Walter Van Tillburg Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident (1940). Signet Classics, 1968. This classic western presents the attitudes and behaviors of cowboys as they seek revenge for a murder and cattle rustling. The characterizations are alarming and sobering: the need for revenge, scapegoating, and group mentality. The contrast between the characterizations of the cowboys’ being laconic and then their presenting arguments for and against lynching comes across as didactic, awkward. It’s not a great novel. Clark’s physical descriptions of the characters and the depiction of the western landscape and weather are well-done.
James Agee, A Death in the Family (1957). Penguin, 1980. Beginning with the poetic evocation of family life, “Knoxville, Summer, 1915,” the novel gives us perspectives of the various characters’ reactions to the tragic, early death of a young father. I enjoyed particularly the narration of the young son’s time spent with his father, the account of the close and loving relationship of the mother and father, the sympathetic portrayal of the alcoholic uncle, the tension between faith and unbelief, the narration of the funeral procedures, and an uncle’s portrayal of the priest as “priggish,” “mealy-mouthed son of a bitch” and his observation of the failure of the Catholic Church to “Come to one simple, single act of Christian charity.”
Notes on Reading. Nonfiction.
Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (1418-1427). Clare L. Fitzpatrick, ed., Catholic Book Publishing Corp. 1993. There is wisdom in this book, based on reflection on scriptures and observations of the nature of human beings, as interpreted in early fifteenth century Christianity. There are four short books, each divided into short chapters dealing with various situations, such as “On Having a Humble Opinion of Oneself,” “On Avoiding Superfluous Words,” “That All Our Care Must Be Placed in God,” “All Grievous Things Are To Be Borne for the Sake of Eternal Life.” Each chapter of the fours books, then, makes for an excellent devotional passage for prayer and meditation. Book 4 is an extended reflection on Holy Communion. Books 3 and 4 are written as dialogues between Disciple and Christ. There are some beautiful and powerful prayers in Section 3.
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2015. This is a comprehensive study which shows the influence of the Alice books on Victorian literature and culture, and their further influence in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Douglas-Fairfield shows insights into the life and mind of Lewis Carroll and to the original Alice, Mrs. Alice Hargreaves. The book clarified my understanding of the books and their times and the author and gave me more knowledge of the ramifications of their influence.
Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. Wiman’s meditation in eleven general areas of contemporary Christian concern and interest is marked by prayerful consideration of our lives in relation to God. His reflection is based in Christian scripture, readings from significant poems, and observations of his own life. Poems quoted include his own, Yeats, Wilbur, Brooks, Laurence, Empson, Celan, Frost, Kavanaugh, Herbert, Rilke, Larkin. The book is an interesting work that expands understanding and awareness of challenging issues to the reader.
Thank you for reading. Starting next Wednesday, I plan to post weekly. I hope your summer is going well.