Category Archives: creative

From the Himalayan orogeny to the crystalline Appalachians

Tired out by the daily flood of predictability and insanity in the news, it was a pleasure to come across Mahedra Rathod’s refreshed appreciation of Deepika Padukone.

Rewatching some of her later films, I looked for Chennai Express, but couldn’t find it. Netflix had some of SRKs’ earliest movies, though, and so today was a block of solid masala films.

Masala is a form that hides deep values behind its ebullient layers: things like love, persistence in the face of adversity, loyalty to family and friends (with loyalty to self as the basis for all other loyalties), generosity, playfulness, cleverness, and honesty.

Lost in the story and sound of SRK’s voice, I was surprised when a song rose up in me during Kabhi Haa Kabhi Naa. It was the sound and words of Oh Shenandoah. I tried to sing it, but realized I wasn’t sure of the lyrics. It turns out that because it’s an old, old song, it comes in several versions.

The performance shared here is sung, a capella, by Peter Hollens, in a video set in the country on a wet, snowy day.

The song’s simplicity, the celebration in its melody, and the longing repeated in each of its verses, express something that I also sense in masala movies, and the culture that makes them: a deep sense of place, and a parallel separation that results from social stressors like famine, invasion or war, as well as people’s curiosity, courage, and urge to wander.

That same sense of excitement, challenge, and homeliness is what makes me feel connected to the Himalayan orogeny and its many cultures and histories.

I feel that, living in the Catskills, a northern branch of the crystalline Appalachians, the setting of the Shendandoah River and its Valley, I’m somehow also tied to ancient lives and ways, in the Karakorum, the Kashmir Valley, the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush, Ladakh, the Himalayan foothills, and the orogeny’s watershed valleys.

It’s that connection that pulled Oh Shenandoah from a past usually weighed down by a sentimentality that I resist, to the front of my mind, where it showed me that that sentimentality is nothing more than a throw-away sketch of a genuine, more profound, reality.

People who traveled the subcontinent through the eons, especially when they moved through steep highlands and other difficult terrains, including the Himalayan region, made music with glorious yet simple sounds.

That is similar to what I hear in Oh Shenandoah.

Songs of leaving and coming home, being away and longing to return, supported the rhythms of feet, bodies and trekking animals’ strides, as people moved here and there. What beauty, in human wandering. What poetry, courage and caring, what hardships and love.

November dream, Bearsville 2017

The crow,
its call a silver
laughed, and broke
the morning’s
curved blue air.
A squirrel, in luxurious November
scolding, nervous,
insistent, holding firm,
close to my right hand,
in a Japanese maple tree.

That night,
I’d dreamed I stood
on Bunny Knoll, the neighbor’s
flowering trees reaching
over the fence,
with Rousseau colors, smells and
heavy leaves,
to shield my voids.
Where twigs had fallen,
my feet hurt.
Otherwise, the lawn was
cool and soft.
My heart felt childish,
and I felt whole, and at liberty
to do what will and mood
I called to no one,
“Here I am!” No one heard.
I’d called the sky,
and you,
to let you know
I’m here and whole,
and like a child,
happy, happy.

This was two nights before
USA Election Night 2017.
I took it to mean I would
be growing younger.
Now I think it meant
we’ll all get well.

Soft Basket, 2017 edit

On my shoulder
— slung on straps,
in three kinds of grasses,
three colors thickly-striped,
woven to a shape something like
a flattened plum —
a basket holds
my shadow-self,
a river’s stones,
cool hollows where my
bare feet feel the earth,
the cool of spume
and morning suns,
the cooler tenth-month moon,
and, hanging in the apple tree,
a hooped wicker basket
of brinjals and walnuts
and, on a table below,
an emergency lantern.
Provisions to feed
and lamp to light
my how’s.
ten years ago
I dreamed your name
and dreamed
your call
and dreamed your hair,
my fingers there,
our quiet talk,
our kisses
between words.

Country living, and art

People who know me also know I was affected in a devastating way by Levaquin, a fluoroquinolone antibiotic. The syndrome that results is called FQT or FQAD. It’s progressively disabling, unless identified and treated to minimize symptoms. And it’s very hard to identify. Many doctors are unaware of it, and at this time still blithely prescribe fluoroquinolones as a quick fix for any kind of infection, despite the FDA’s black box warning to the contrary.

FQT has some pretty severe effects on the mind. One has to do with fear of death.

The biggest psychological barrier for me, with FQT, is seeing that a long road ahead still exists for me. FQT has a wacky mix of floating, pop-up symptoms. They keep me guessing all the time, teaching me to take baby steps and hold my eyes close to a limited forward path.

Well, that works when it comes to learning how to hold back with movement therapy and getting enough rest in. And in fact, it is the only way to handle movement therapies, without incurring tendon and muscle damage that makes one more disabled.

But it’s a fearful, disheartening and counterproductive approach, when it comes to understanding oneself as a individual who has the right to life – and a joyful one, at that.

More than a year ago, I had a numinous dream, that included a turtle embedded in muddy, red earth outside a bluestone doorstep and path belonging to a cottage I was living in, in the dream. The turtle was pale – almost translucent – and green – with a look as if it was made of jade, or celadon-glazed porcelain.

I looked up the meaning of turtle in dream, yesterday. The online “Dream Dictionary” said this:

“A dream with a turtle symbolizes motherhood, fertility, wisdom, shelter, loyalty, spiritual development and longevity. … The dream may also imply that you are going through a slow period in your life, or you need to take things slow or be more patient and progress at a steady pace in some part of your waking life.”

I like the longevity part. I’m already doing the patient, slow part.

In the dream, it was my task to gently work the turtle out of the mud so it wouldn’t suffocate.

It was significant in the dream that the earth was muddy and red, and the turtle was pale green.

Here’s what Dream Dictionary says about mud:

“To dream that you are walking in mud suggests that you are feeling weighed down by a situation, problem, or relationship. You are feeling frustrated. To dream that mud has gotten on your clothing means that your reputation is being attacked and called into question.”

Here’s what Dream Dictionary says about red:

“Red is an indication of raw energy, force, vigor, intense passion, aggression, power, courage, impulsiveness and passion. The color red has deep emotional and spiritual connotations. Consider the phrase “seeing red” to denote anger. Alternatively, the color red in your dream indicates a lack of energy.”

Here is what Dream Dictionary says about green:

“Green can often mean “go”, such as power on button or a traffic light. Green can symbolize newness and freshness. It can also symbolize money, wealth, riches, and prosperity.”

These symbolic interpretations of the mud, turtle and two colors express what’s in conflict in my life, right now.

Also in the dream, across the road from the cottage was a huge warehouse filled with art supplies. It was all mine (spoken with a Gollum-like joyful, greedy cackle). It was red, too, as was the interior of the cottage. My sense in the dream was that I had more wealth (artistically) than I knew – I was surprised that the warehouse was there, that it was mine, and that it was fully stocked. I also had a sense that that wealth would always be available, that there was no strong urgency to cross the road and take things from the warehouse, as yet.

While this is all symbolic, it’s also playing out in my life, in profound ways, right now.

When I had the dream, I could barely interpret it.

Now it seems like the story of my future.

I have work to do – with, and on, myself – to take myself to a *new* place where I will be doing thing I’ve wanted to do all my life, but didn’t have a way to achieve.

So, now, I’m grimly hopeful that there’s a long road ahead for me, and that I can live, and be healthy enough to walk that journey, and get the turtle out of the mud, and cross the road and get the things I need to make art, and welcome people into a warm-interiored country cottage with a stone path and doorstep.

A year ago, I’d have said you were nuts, if you’d proposed I’d be seeing life like that now.

Bearsville Pop-Up

This is what’s happening now:

  • Rain, fine yet driving hard, a misty veil that shifts and sparkles in the sun.
  • Wind in the trees at two levels, like two thicknesses of silk, one of organza being quietly folded, the other of taffeta in the hands of someone who wants to shred it and throw it away.
  • Thunder to the west.
  • Leaves flipped by the wind.
  • Blue sky behind fast-moving clouds.
  • Birds never quiet, bees unafraid.
  • The background hiss of a stream broken by groups of stones, memorials to ancient ice-sheet retreat.

This is: a sudden storm, shaped by the knotted peaks and valleys of two mountains, here, in the rumpled Catskills.

Below the storm is: me, and this place where I live.

Last night some animal screamed for minutes at a time. I don’t know what it was. I heard it last year at about the same time, and was scared then. This time I was respectful.

A bluejay flies into an apple tree’s darkened hollows, another calls loudly (which I interpret as it shouting, “this is mine, this land… it’s ours!”), and a small, brown bird seems to chuckle while flying through the misty rain. The thunder is louder. The internet connection goes out.

Jump cut to an imaginary, miniature girl, sitting on the edge of the round, wet, wooden table on the deck, legs dangling. She dreams she’s resting on a pyung sang (a platform-table in the courtyard of a hanok, a traditional Korean compound dwelling), shielded by a parasol.

She’s high up, compared to her tiny size. About five body-lengths above the ground, she enjoys balancing risk and safety, like I do. If she falls, she’ll be crushed. So she doesn’t fall. She lives on, a story-to-be.

The storm is off to the southeast now, its thunder low and distant. Rain-glossed leaves in many different greens shape themselves around open spaces where birds sleep, this early evening, just for now.

I sit and practice cursive, in a ragged hand that’s hard to read. Life is on one side of my nervous motion, and the certainty of death is on the other.

That quality of contrast — or more precisely, the boundary between two different things — is one of the things I like best in life. Like truth and dreams. Or facts and stories. Or practicality and love.

Or, courage’s strength, and the innocent tenderness that feels like fear but isn’t. And then, to take things to the next step, our universe’s requirements of compassion, persistence, gentleness, and redemption.

This is an awkward narrative. I’m grateful that I can see that, and say it, too, and that I can end this writing, even if gracelessly, and not diminish myself by doing so.



Image credit:
Lovers Under the Moon, by Shin Yun-bok, aka Hyewon (1758–1813) – painting of two lovers outside a hanok, a traditional Korean courtyard-centered compound dwelling.

From Wikipedia. Painting by Shin Yun-bok. Originally found at:
Shin Yun-bok [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bearsville Fiction Saga, fragment, 17 July ’17

She was wearing surf shoes. He knew she liked to feel the ground underfoot, and would walk barefoot if she could do it safely. He wished she had dressed more carefully. Denim shorts and a lightweight striped-cotton shirt were not going to keep the bugs off.

She was walking west along the access road, shoulders slumped. Birds’ songs dropped into the forest, like celebratory mini-bombs. She seemed distracted, maybe even unconscious of the birds’ music.

To her south, the Sawkill gurgled over clusters of boulders left by thousands of years of thaws and floods. To her north, forest understory rustled when brushed by her knees and shoulders.

He worried, when she shortened stride and stayed more on her toes on slippery patches of moss. He worried, when the forest touched her shoulders, prime landing spots for ticks. He worried, as she walked, that she might not come home.

Though his following her was urgent, he didn’t want her to know he was there. So when when she stopped by an old wild-apple tree, he ducked.

She raised her chin to peek up into the tree. Her mouth was turned down. Maybe she was counting time lost, in her so-far no-vacations life?

A couple of squirrels lunged through the tall tree’s branches, making a muffled ruckus. Every few moments, leafy twigs or small, green apples fell through the tree, onto the forest floor.

Bearsville Fourth, 2017

Not a bird called, no animal moved. The Sawkill rippled beyond the fence, under a turquoise-and-lapis sky.

Trees seemed close, as if they’d taken a step or two in her direction, holding their breath, touching limbs, leaves quiet. No insects buzzed.

When a cloud blocked the sunlight, something shifted. Evening had come.

A rabbit ran from a neighbor’s yard to the mossy shed near the woods where its burrow lay. A couple of birds fought silently in a tall wild-apple tree. A banjo twanged, and then a chime-like bell. Dinner?

The evening’s action should have been on the lawn, spread out before her, its varied textures and colors mapping this tree root system, or that habitual block of shadow. But now, as darkness lowered itself into the yard, the tiny to mid-sized creatures that normally ran, crawled, hopped, slithered or flew through it were nowhere to be seen. The space between house and woods, theirs and usually safe, was this evening motionless, except for the rabbit and a newly-calling mourning dove.

Do wild animals have calendars? Do they tell stories and count time, around their equivalents of campfires?

For her, an earthy, bright perfume of peppermint, sweetening, and mixing with, soft sparkles of pine and a diffuse base note of general ripening and decay, plus the talk of crows and jays these past few early mornings, said autumn was on its way.

A chipmunk ran out to the edge of the deck. Its target was a clump of sage laden with seedheads. Firecrackers started up. It ran away. The crackers stopped. The chippie ran out again. The dove lullabied the evening with a sad, soft cry, while from far away came a big, though faint, sound of real fireworks.

Bearsville Solstice, 2017

This was where she lived. Her mind she saw as a purple martin colony house. Roof, floors and walls served to divide, to protect her feelings from stormy people, and predators. The doors connected her to the open world.

If life could be lived fearlessly, such a house would be redundant. She listened. Transition. Baby animals had their early-summer, hungry cries going. Wind teased the pines, their needles soft like smoke. A crow sat and held the topmost branch, whether for watching, or for food, she didn’t know.

A pale-yellow butterfly, a swallowtail, with black stripes and borders, but missing its tails, drank from scarlet lilies by the east fence. That bright but deep red, with a hint of persimmon, she hadn’t found a name for that color, yet.

The sage blooms were almost done. That baby animal cry came again.

“Watching,” said the crow.

A mate answered, “Watching, too.”

They talked back and forth.

Were they conversing, or were they saying, “That woman’s in the field again.”?

Then, some bird who chuckles. Some chirping, as you’d expect. Babies calling high but small. A thrush-type bird with a complicated song, delivered in couplets, sounding like a performance by twenty different birds in succession. And now a chorus rises. Have they gotten used to her, or is it their crepuscular habit? Whistles. And woodpecker hammers.

Sugar ants on the table: avoid the binoculars, please.

A small, dark shadow, emitting a low-pitched hum, five feet from her, at face height, looking at her, watching her surprise. Zooms off, with a long, low, “Z-z-z-z-z.” A first hummingbird.

Crow closer now, sending his call down into the yard, in her direction. Does he approve her stillness, appreciate her surprise? Is he a guardian?

Woods so full of birdsong and wind that the creek is almost inaudible. She hears it when she turns away.

The hollow where a rabbit lay last night. She hopes they’ll come again.

Till then, she’ll practice her cursive, which dances sometimes now, but otherwise stumbles, stutters and looks for a steady bass line.

Your emotions are clear, when writing slow, on paper. You can tell when something is too much. (Too little is no problem: a future open door.)

As she packs up, she notes a small, brownish bird, in the grass by the lilies.

No, it’s a baby rabbit. Maybe three inches long. It hops, and holds. She watches. It watches. She rises and takes her basket, and it holds still, still.

Too cute by half. Or more. No writing cursive anymore, can’t tell when it’s too much, now.

Love that little rabbit.

June evening in Bearsville

A half-lit moon
in subdued sky,
an evening breeze
and rustling leaves,
and scents of pine
and sweetgum,
above the intermittent
runs of tires
on Yerry Hill,
and Sawkill’s
steady, hissing sough.

Then two birds sing
and one dove mourns
the loss of day,
while darkest squirrel
flies shadowed path
the sage in bloom.

#spring #roughhaiga