Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Five Voices Of The Birds and other ruminations on the winter

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Image result for georgia o'keeffe
A naked blogger by Caroline Shepard,
Georgia O'Keefe, and Hunterwasser works. 

"Stop," asks Caroline during a luminous, long walk in the woods.
"Just a quick shot ok?"

"OK," I reply, putting my arms in the air,
and vast expanses, the truth, beauty, and joy that consume us in such moments, feelings that are everywhere, pulling us in a thousand directions and nowhere.

Early on Saturday morning, I found myself looking at a few of the birds feeding at the Mohonk Lake in the Shawangunk Mountains.

They seemed so natural. But the world felt odd.
It snowed a week prior, then things warmed up, then froze, leaving ice
and tough hiking conditions. 

So, we ambled along the trail, 
taking in views of the blue jays, finches, and cardinals chirping about. 

Our loquacious tour guide regaled us with ruminations on the philosophical implications of the five voices of the birds, roughly categorized as:

#1 – Song. 
#2 – Companion calls.
 #3 – Male to male aggression. 
#4 – Juvenile Begging and feeding.
#5 – Alarm Calls. 

All you need to know about living can be found from those calls, notes our guide.


Listening, I find myself thinking of the goings on of our days together over the last few, the fun food and fellowship of the holidays,
the feast two days before.
Rob’s mom performance of Bach and Cole Porter on the Gershwin piano.
I Love Paris.
Night and Day.

Thanksgiving is a time  when we remember the deal the colonists made with the Wampanoag People they betrayed, noted the little one, doing summersaults outside,
as Mav played the ukulele. 
We've been ignoring this history ever since.

On our way to the Mohonk, we'd stopped by Val Kill,
where Eleanor Roosevelt found a room of her own,  to write
and imagine, to dream and create a new story of her life.

"When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?" she wrote in her 
"My Day," column February 16, 1946.

Fourteen years later, she reflected on her life, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, her commitment to democracy for everyone, to civil disobedience, and civil rights. 

"Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down," she wrote in 
You Learn By Living (1960), 41.

Walking along the trail, the tour guide recalled the explorers rediscovering the lost world of Neapolis, off the coast of Tunis, hidden in the water all these years.

Wonder is everywhere  if we  take the time to see it. 

"Are there any striations in the rock?" asks the little one, meandering along our geological tour of the mountains.

I usually get little further than remembering the names for the various igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock formations. 

"I'm  not sure. 
“We're the caboose of the continent.
the San Andreas fault is pulling us," our loopy tour guide replies, pointing to the cracks, breaks, fault lines and signs of time on the rock formations. The rocks, their lines, and cracks reveal a lot.

“What about the velocity of the water?” asks Caroline, stumping everyone.

I’m not sure.

All weekend we hike and skate, swim and  hang out, 
drinking Sazeracs and catching up on books.

Sunday, most of the trails are still closed. 
But we find a few open routes along the Stokes Trail and the Mossy Brook road.

Hiking alone, 
the snows melting, water falling into creeks, the sound of water pouring amidst us. 

Through the woods, back to the lake, rocks reflecting in the water, back for breakfast, more skating and back into the woods.

I am mesmerized, the trees spinning, stretching into the sky, birds dancing, 
the melting snow pouring through the woods,
into the creeks,
I flash to Hunderwasser's images of water under ice,
 his radical ecology, and repudiation of the straight line. 
We are only guests of nature so we’d better behave, he implored  us.

"The straight line leads to the downfall of humanity," he preached after watching his family perish during the second world war, the wrong ethnicity lost in a grotesque battle.

There were once lessons  we learned from those clashes over Fascism.

Put your feet in the ground.
Learn what’s there, where we have been, 
beyond amnesia into something else.
Dream he implored us:

"When we dream alone it is only a dream, but when many dream together it is the beginning of a new reality."

an expansive consciousness that was not unlike Hunderwasser's dream. 
"Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing," she said.

Her dream took her from NYC out to the dessert:

"A week ago it was the mountains I thought the most wonderful, and today it's the plains. I guess it's the feeling of bigness in both that carries me away."

Looking around, I am moved by her embrace of the majestic expansiveness of it all, the beauty we feel in  Joshua Tree or the Red Rocks or riding over the Manhattan Bridge, looking at the homes in Chinatown, wondering  about all the people below, the water running through the streets, the streams below, the life emanating everywhere. 

She showed us all the world in  her dessert, her  Manhattan skylines,  her skulls, past lives dancing with our eyes looking, wondering. 

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not."

She  showed  us something in all of  this, for all of us, all the world in that flower.

"Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time - like to have a friend takes time."

I’d like to write a story about that ship floating in the distance, I told Caroline this summer, looking out at the Tyrrhenian sea off the Amalfi Coast

Can you see all the world in that ship sitting in the sea, wondered Caroline, challenging me to  describe it. 

I can never get  there.
But the feeling remains, the sense of being part of it all, and it all being a part of me, 
walking  in the forest, the boat floating in the water, where I swim.
I am trying to put my finger on it.
But it disappears.

Hiking in the woods,  the teenager joking, pinching my cheeks.
That hurts, I reply.
Its good to play, to giggle.
Master and Servant, that’s a good song for your mix.
It’s a lot like life.

They are little for only a little bit of time. 
They play along, 
and then they move on.

The teenager then, now, and in the Sunday Times.  

Caroline snapping shots.
She seems  to see a way to capture the images in ways my blurry photos rarely do. 

Your pictures are so bad they are good, the teenager compliments. 
Can I borrow your camera?
I wanna film  band  practice.

We take in the morning air.

But the imperative remains to repair this place, to preserve it, even as it is changing all around us.

In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold outlines his deep ecology.  "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

Few of us have that balance.

We make our way back for lunch and back home. 
Traffic and storm clouds.

Light pours through the sky, rays of it.

"Its like the sun is just melting, jutting through the clouds," says Caroline,

Siouxsie and the  Banshees play on the radio, part of the teenager's winter mix.

Sometimes we all pushed by the wind, spellbound.

I remember the look Siouxsie  had when i saw her.

I  know what  the banshees must have sounded like, Caroline follows.
Those nights in  Ireland when the wind howled through the  country.
It sounded like they were outside. 
That spirit howling through the wild, seeming enveloping us.

Siouxsie  sings;

“From the cradle bars
Comes a beckoning voice
It sends you spinning
You have no choice
You hear a laughter
Cracking through the walls
It sends you spinning
You have no choice
..Following the footsteps
Of a rag doll dance
We are entranced

We all have to survive our childhoods and scary memories, the ghosts and ghouls.

Its  been two months since those  battles in DC over  the Kavanaugh hearings, when  witness after witness recalled the Brett’s who took something from them.
Indelible is the laughter.
I think of the howls, the cries to history, as we all sat there, about to get arrested.
People hoisted banners and screamed to the top of their lungs.
Believe women, we insisted. 

Helen Brosnan wrote about that arrest October 5th:

“Why should we continue to fight? Why should we continue to risk arrest? Why should we continue to pray? Why should we continue to bear our pain?
Because we need to make history so clear for our future daughters and sons — to show them what was right.
To show them that you cared. That you cared we might not be able to get married. That you cared our immigrant neighbors might be deported in higher numbers. That you cared about survivors might not feel believed. That you cared our friends with disabilities might not feel protected.
To tell someone all the truth before it kills you
They listen to your crazy laugh
Before you hang a right
And disappear from sight…”

My friend Jesus Gonzales recalled.

You know Ana Maria Archila Gualy once told me, “Your Story Matters,” at a time when I was goin’ through it. Her story and the stories of many of our mothers and sisters, Matter… she unexpectedly shared her story for the first time in the halls of Congress.
So many heros.

We ran into Judy and Barbara,  who were with us in DC, on the way out of town, 
their contagious smiles with us the whole ride back.  
They have their stories.

"The sparkle thats in your eyes keeps me alive,"  the singer from the Cult insisted, on the winter mix. 

The teenager is writing about her spotify mixes

"You could write about the story of the reason its winter," the little one chimes in, offering sage advise to her sister, starting with the feeling, then the songs.

“Demeter is mourning so much no crops can’t grow,” she explains. 
“The earth goes into hibernation with her sadness, 
all the world asleep as her daughter, Persephone, spends her winters underworld, 
disappeared with Hades, no longer picking or planting flowers.”

All around us snow is freezing and melting depending on the day, 
water making its way down from the mountains. 

Joni wished she had a river where she could sail away.

Belle and Sebastion and a Fox in the Snow.

“Girl in the snow, where do you go
To find someone that will do?
To tell someone all the truth before it kills you
They listen to your crazy laugh
Before you hang a right
And disappear from sight
What do they know anyway?”

Eventually the teenager falls asleep, along with the little one on, their earphones playing, lost in their thoughts and dreams.

The silhouette of Manhattan is ahead.
Its like the emerald city stretching into the sky, says Caroline.

Rob and I are making  plans for a nightcap when we return. 

I scrabble notes  on the back of my old trail map, thinking of the five voices of the birds,
the songs Joni from on the radio, Eleanor 's homage to a beloved community where there
are  no second class citizens, the climate destroying aggression we read about in the papers, 
the alarms the  activists sound, the kids feeding and  playing. Caroline’s words, the kids’ songs.

Its like driving with Benjamin  scribbles,  Caroline comments.
Not Walter.
But still a historical materialist. 
Trying to write one decent line about that boat floating on the Amalfi Coast. 
And the  stories of our days together. 
Maybe just maybe, “the beginning of a new reality" ?

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