Reading

Sitting in the shade, I lift my eyes to glittering water and warm sand, glance back at the page, and I enter a world of beddings and beheadings and shiver the dismally damp days of 16th century England. Reading, hours and hours of it, is a prime paradise pleasure.

The older of our sons was reader child in my mind. The kind of kid who shelters in the doorway at recess, his nose in a book. He grew much more interested in what happened on the playing field, but he is still a reader with a capital R.

On this trip I thought of him when I loved Adam Gopnik’s book “Angels and Ages” about Darwin and Lincoln. Gopnik describes a reader child: “…those for whom the experiences of reading and writing are addictive, entrancing, overwhelming, and so intense as to offer a new life of their own – those for whom the moment of learning to read begins a second life of letters as rich as the primary life of experience.”

For years of sandy vacations, we read aloud and shared that second life: wandering to Oz, adventuring with Tin Tin, striding through the future with those tripod creatures of John Christopher, enduring the Long Winter.

I’m grateful for the reader child’s willingness to listen a second time around (to stories he could read himself), while we read the same books to his brother. Shared pleasures then, I cherish that they became reference points – a common imaginative landscape.

We’re no longer much part of grown children’s primary lives, relishing their independence and being saddened by it at the same time. When the reader child and I exchanged the same book as Christmas gifts, it was a welcome recognition of a still sometimes shared second life.

We each gave the other Hilary Mantel’s delicious “Wolf Hall.” Always happy for commonalities with grown children – Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, and all that English weather as backdrop to political and romantic intrigue works just fine.

A Different Focus

Apple bananas – the bananas you find in a tropical paradise, and that’s where we are as I write (but not as you read).

At first I thought to keep “her spirits rose…” honest, I needed to write about one place. I think I was wrong (this is a learning experience). Before we left on the trip, I wrote ahead some posts about February’s topics. Being here, I mostly observe how my focus fixes on the same things in a new setting.

Focus is challenging with family around. Or I suppose where you focus is the issue. Who could resist a day trip to a wild beach with the fully-grown surfer son and his sweet friend? Long ago, when he was a not even three-year old, we visited the same beach. In an old photo we’re dwarfed between cliffs at the edge of the sand and crashing breakers. Roles reversed now, I follow behind and put my feet in his big footprints in the sand. Awed by time’s changes and more than a little proud.

Food’s a focus, but like the apple bananas it’s different. From the farmers’ market we gathered avocados for a dollar(!), lettuce for salad, and beet greens to make (oh yes) that day-in day-out soup, even in paradise. We ate the beets, golden and pink pinwheel striped, one night with small white beans, dried ones cooked with onions and garlic. (The bean adventure been a worthy, portable focus). The next night the beans made a slimmed-down version of baked beans. There’s a make-do flavor to condo cooking – real cooks probably travel with tins of spices at the ready.

A long-hoarded lotus flower candle, I packed at the last minute, lights our table on warm dark nights. A meal cheered also by music from this land and cloth napkins from home – even when the dinner is happily pizza from a local parlor.

Maybe I just want to share the word pleasure of this place: papaya, palm – and puakinikini. New to me, this lei flower changes from white to orange but always possesses the fragrance of paradise.

Focus

The only member of my high school class to get anywhere near Hollywood did it big, producing movies seen near and far. When our children were medium sized and we were in L.A. for other things, I called the producer. I’d always liked him – he was funny, and he liked me – I was short.

We were staying in a hotel and the producer arrived, carrying T-shirts and ball caps ablaze with the current movie’s logo, driving his tiny, shiny black sports car practically into the lobby.

We drank a beer and tried to ignore how we didn’t look like high school anymore. I think the younger son wandered off, but the older stayed, and the producer entertained the three of us with his success story (which was impressive). What I remember most was when the producer said to the older son: ”Your parents are going to tell you can do anything!” (which of course was true), ”but I’m going to tell you that isn’t true. You can do a couple of things, maybe some one thing really well, and your job is to figure out what that is.”

More beer – we parted, the kids grew up, the producer died a too early death in a Hollywood way.

In the family mythology, this story is subject to different interpretations, but I take away the part about figuring out what you can do by focusing on that question. In spite of the sad ending, it’s a good story for young people, if they seem overwhelmed by the vast possibilities for their futures. The story also resonates for me when people say they aren’t talented or imaginative, attributes which also require focus.

Once I made a series of artists’ books called “Shoe Statements” to explore what a shoe’s type or a shoe’s relation to others might imply.

In these original drawings for the book titled “Archetypes,” well-worn shoes and boots posed on my worktable. In a book titled “Connections” they consort heel to toe; in “Crowds” they huddle together in an uncomfortable pile; and in “Mismatches,” footwear lose their regular partners: a little cowboy boot pairs with a dress shoe, a Converse-All-Star mates with a work boot.

In my favorite book “Horoscopes,” I combined shoes with some of those daily newspaper homilies. Statements like: “Develop routine that enables you to complete a variety of tasks, assignments” and “The tide suddenly turns” can seem meaningful – or absurd.

All this is to include a text from “Horoscopes” which suggests why focus might be beneficial:

“Focus and the horizon widens.”

Ti Plants and T-Shirts

hinking more about creativity, I consider other, but intertwined words – imagination for example.

A reminder of why imagining is worth pursuing comes from Emerson: “There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.”

My imagination doesn’t operate well in a vacuum or when surrounded by sour talk or negativity. I’m looking to encourage creativity – and maybe not separate it from regular life. What if, as part of honoring the everyday, we credit ourselves for little strokes: an idea given away to someone else, a thing repaired because you “figured it out,” or the untying of a knotty situation.

Every time we rethink when we forget the reusable grocery bags (without accepting new paper or plastic) or momentarily inhabit another’s mind to buy them a gift, and wrap it without buying paper, that imagining is a little hit of the same juice. If the meeting-daily-life challenges became warm-ups, practice drills, perhaps the ideas which bear on what one might want to achieve could more easily slip in.

When we neared the completion of this house, I badly wanted one of those iron pot racks – locally made, dramatic and functional. Our house designer offered the one she’d used to store tools in her basement. Since in the building we strove for reuse and recycle, I was delighted – and most dismayed to realize the rack would, when hung normally, be way too close to the burners. The designer flipped the rack and asked it be hung upside down. Perfect.

When the young writer thought she killed our tea kettle, she responded with a story which begins: “Once upon a time, there was a shiny metal beauty, on the kingdom counter outsteaming all teapots in speed of boil and elegance.” The clever language of the tale winds through her reaction and the replacement she bought “plastic charade, a placeholder, a poor substitute, lady in waiting until the true prince arrives.” Asked how she came to write such a fairy tale gem in apology and explanation, she admitted uncertainty – “Where did that come from?”

That’s an Emerson stroke for sure, an imaginative leap achieved because she was at the ready – able to express strong feelings because of practice with words. But her query is an indication also of the mystery of such vibrations.

I wish I could sum this up easily (for myself as well as for anyone reading). Put A in front of B and attach C – for creativity. It is about wooing, not demanding, making space and opportunity and being hopeful – trusting in the undermind to bring forth “Where did that come from?” ideas.

I should be able to provide here some illustration of how a burst of imagination sparked something specific in my art. In spite of only having a black and white photo, I offer a small stroke – when laundry and plant image vibrated together to make a quilt.

When in Doubt Make Soup

In the on-going bean project, I made “White Bean Soup with Pasta and Rosemary Oil” – delicious. No need to soak beans and change water, but instructed by Deborah I covered the beans with hot water while organizing and chopping carrots and celery, parsley and rosemary. The results made me glad for days – sticking to my resolution glad and soup in the house glad.

I thought this post would be about change, since I am in the midst of a computer changeover and nervously awaiting word from the new one that the old one has transferred precious contents. I am so intimate with tech support now, I have the private line of a senior advisor. We’ve enjoyed a lot of quality time, but sometimes he doesn’t call when he says he will. Sad about this and about having to eat scrambled eggs for lunch, there is nothing to do but make soup.

The everyday soup isn’t so fine as soup made carefully from a recipe with special stock – but it is a staple of a good life. This day-in day-out soup is a variation of Deborah’s hearty lentil. The only constants are lentils, parsley, carrots, garlic, and some form of allium. This time I used leeks, but shallots or most usually onions fill the bill. (Sometimes Deborah might not recognize her soup, but I don’t think she’d mind.)

The strength of this sort of soup lies in its flexibility (a worthy attribute) and the easy availability of the ingredients. Lentils wait patiently in the drawer (Deborah suggests the little green French ones). Parsley often survives long into winter in the garden, winter-sweetened kale even longer. Carrots and celery are always on hold in the fridge, cans of tomatoes in the pantry. A divine attribute of such soup is the “tastes better the next day” phenomena. The soup reliably nurtures noon after noon, and dependably provides dinner in a pinch.

Sometimes I pile vegetables on the cutting board as an encouragement, a reminder of intent. (Flexible, reliable, divine, that reminds me of tech support, I better go check the computer’s progress). Then come back to chop, filling cutting boards with vegetables of orange and green, crying over onions, glad to get them sizzling. Eager to get to the simmer.

In a way I love it that our daily soup is different each time depending on the variables – an extra like turnip or rutabaga – or leftover cooked beans!

February Outdoors

In town this month ornamental fruit trees blush pink with blossoms. Out here buds swell on the cherry tree,  flowering quince,  and a new plum tree as well. Solo frogs announce spring and coyotes sing at night. Newts begin to make their daring pilgrimage across the paved road to nearby ponds.

February weather, especially in a good winter like this one, cheers as the month goes on. Some days clouds grate like steel wool, but blustery weather means movable, changeable gray with a chance the day might lighten.

After a storm, we gather downfalls, saw and stack, rhythmically satisfying jobs, not hurried and not ending. It’s a pleasure to be outdoors, smelling the wood from sawing, listening to the wind high above in the trees, doing the work of place.

One February midday I put on gardening pants for the season’s first time (over the wool long johns) and concentrate on the big front bed – pull pop weed, compost around the already budded daffodils (stems rising in cheerful increments: two inches, four inches, six inches – a blossom!). I trim fragrant but winter-damaged lavender and rosemary, and stop as raindrops tap on my coat. That muscle between neck and shoulder activated by twisting the trowel suggests tea.

Another morning, warmed from a woods walk, the first one this year with spider web wires across the path and the heart-lifting song of the winter wren, I walked out to the bluff. Sitting on the top of the picnic table, I watch clouds separate and coalesce on their way north to Victoria. Puffier clouds and more light reveal the Olympics to the west. Wind from the south pushes the water offshore, heading north with the clouds.

I intended just to toss one of Frances’s doorstep mouse offerings over the bluff (in an almost burial at sea), but I’m warm enough to enter that garden fugue state: pull a dandelion start (one even has buds), uncover emerging poppies, stop to admire pulmonaria blooms, turning from blue to pink or is it pink to blue as they open.

The wind picks up with that high in the trees roar, firs leaning against one another groan their movement. Clouds pile up solid and gray and ominous to the south.

Convinced the day holds rain and more indoor life, I’m surprised, as always, by the ways of Washington weather. By 11 a.m., strong sunlight flickers in the house as wind moves the trees and the clouds – and, spirits rising, the sky turns blue.