Saturday, February 25, 2012

Windows

Come Closer

I’ve been noticing a lot of “Small Works” exhibits lately. For every artist that seeks to astonish and captivate with vast canvases, spectacles or installations, there are those who prefer to work small. Taking the adage that good things come in small packages, they dare their audience to take the time to look a little more carefully at what they have to offer. I have several friends in Blogland (you know who you are!) who continue to create amazing little windows onto rich and limitless landscapes of imagination and soul. Slow down, come closer, make the effort, they seem to say, and you will be rewarded.

Point of View

So much depends on point of view. That being deprived of natural light can undermine your mental and physical health is no longer a myth but proven fact. In every workplace I have ever occupied, workers were obsessed with the proximity of windows to their desks, the person with the cubicle nearest to windows receiving regular co-worker visits with the most flimsy of excuses. I’ve worked in offices with no windows from which one had to telephone the front desk in the lobby to find out what the weather was or if the world had ended.   In winter one arrived and left in darkness – sunlight was a weekend luxury.  I’ve also worked in offices in architecturally superior buildings with whole walls made of windows overlooking lawns and flowering trees.  Every movement of the sun, up, down, or briefly behind a cloud was known to the entire staff, from the department head to the janitor.  

Childhood View

I’ve had good, bad and better luck with my home situation. I grew up in a Manhattan apartment with a Western exposure, providing a living room flooded with indirect morning and full afternoon sunlight, and spectacular views through French door style windows of sunsets over the Hudson River. The other 80% of the apartment, which extended back into an area in which the backs of adjacent buildings all backed into each other, was in perpetual darkness and lovingly referred to as The Cave.  My bedroom had a view of brick walls and the curtained windows of other apartment dwellers.  After a few more cave dwellings, eventually I landed in a one room apartment with two street facing windows that gave me more information about the sleeplessness of city life than I required, but also gave me a young tree which over the years grew to reach my second floor vantage point. I even wrote a poem about how it helped me mark time with its changing seasonal displays – and ultimately the gap left behind when they chopped it down one day.  

New Friend

It took nearly a decade in yet another cave dwelling to find myself living in a home with so many windows and so much light that even the cat can’t decide which sunlit spot to sleep in or which view to gaze at, so spoiled for choice.  The science was right after all – sunlight does improve your health, mental and physical. Starting your day looking out onto a whole world also beginning its day, from the clouds gathering on the mountain to discuss the day’s patterns, to the birds arranging their feathers and clearing their throats to sing, to the folks on the early shift making their way to work, is a good thing. It’s one of those little things you could take for granted because you are distracted by what you consider to be bigger more important things.   But there is nothing more important than my morning view, because also outside my window is a small young tree I hope to mark time with and watch grow over many years. 

Small Works

I am so in love with this tree that when I came home a little tipsy the other night I laid my hand on it in proper greeting after watching it all these weeks from above, said thank you, and asked it for a gift. In keeping with the philosophy of small things, it did not yield a large branch but the diminutive twig you see enshrined above - brittle and bare but already putting out buds in anticipation of spring.  I’m going to keep this token as a reminder to be grateful for and mindful of little things.  What little things have you perhaps overlooked lately? A hot shower on a wintry weekend morning followed by eggs fried in butter and an armchair with a book nearby waiting for you to resume reading?  An unexpected message from an old friend you had forgotten, or a new one you didn’t know you had? Fresh air? Clean sheets?  The sound of children laughing? Your dog or cat running across the room like a mad thing just because it can? Take a moment today to put whatever it is that is demanding your full attention down and look out a window. Look out every window. Think of it as your own private Small Works show.

Lookout

And speaking of overlooked things…my apologies to all my Blogfriends whose posts I’ve allowed to accumulate this past week without my giving them the attention they are due.  This weekend I promise I will stop gazing through my own windows long enough to gaze through YOURS.

P.S. - I have just reconsidered omitting the tree poem I mentioned above, so here it is, pulled right out of a very bleak time and mindset in 1998, reminder that since then my point of view has changed in more ways than one! 


Prospect

This morning I awoke to find
that overnight my view had changed.
Oh that a change of heart or mind
could be so easily arranged!

Unseen hands had found and felled
the tree by which I tell the seasons.
Being the kind always compelled
to ask, I heard they had good reasons.

Buds, birds, leaves, snow
had visited its heights outspread
just as high as my studio.
How could I know it was already dead?

Now I see quite clear across
to the other side of the boulevard
another tree, a future loss,
assured and beautiful and hard.

So blow wind, strip, dismember
this life stubborn enough to be
sprouting green in late November
encouraging all the fools who see!

Rip it out by the roots, let
them fill whatever empty space
remains with something quick to set
and plant no new thing in its place.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Best Foot Forward

Best Foot Forward

Yesterday, thanks to the mildest winter I have ever known, Brian and I were able to enjoy some mid-February hiking in Manchester VT, without being bundled up in multiple layers of clothing allowing only small openings for seeing and breathing and shod in pace-slowing monster boots or snowshoes.  We wore light jackets and trail shoes and probably could have gone barefoot without much discomfort. That said, not being familiar with this particular system of trails and not at all good at reading topographical maps, I managed to select one of the most difficult ones, second only to a complete 2840 foot high, 3 mile long ascent of Mount Equinox. Okay, so I still have a lot to learn about the rugged country life! In fact, my following of trails was reminiscent of my approach to urban rail systems, easy to master as long as you know the color of the line that will get you where you want to go and stick with it. My reading of the trail map told me that Blue Summit Trail would proceed up the mountain until it joined up with Red Gate Trail and then provided first the choice of the aqua-colored Trillium Trail, rated as an intermediate trail, and later, the orange Maidenhair Trail, which ran more or less parallel in a level fashion, and had a pretty name, so, could not be much harder, right? 

Map Reading

This all looks easy enough on the page, especially if you ignore those faint radiating lines that indicate elevation.  Not far along the blue trail I realized exactly how vertical it was. This was the trail leading to the summit. I had hoped Blue and I would part ways long before the true uphill climb began, but Blue had other plans.  I plodded on, however, secure in the knowledge that the less vertically demanding Aqua would soon rescue me. But Aqua never showed up, and I soon found myself out of breath at a crossroads where the only choices were more Blue – which would have killed me outright – or the lesser-of-two-evils Orange, which already looked like it meant me no good either.

Nowhere to Run

At this point, I’m sure Brian was wondering why he let me take the lead. Leadership has its disadvantages in that yours is the choice when how and where to forge ahead, taking full responsibility for the experience of your followers.  The one advantage is that you are free to sputter and curse and whinge freely to the air in front of you and feel confident that anyone a few feet behind you or more will only catch part of this ongoing aria of ascending suffering. At one point I exclaimed to a tree: this trail is everything I didn’t want to do today!  If the tree had a refined sense of irony and appreciation for metaphor, it wasn’t telling. More likely it has been witness to so many such scenes it wished it could uproot itself and run away.  

 Try Not to Fall

Meantime, I remained so focused on staying on my marked path and oblivious to good map reading, that when I reached a junction of what I thought would be Orange and Some Other Color leading back around in a loop more or less to where we started, I was in for a surprise. Some Other Color didn’t even bother to announce itself with recognizable sequential blazes on trailside trees, but it didn’t need to, as its most salient features were unmistakable – a sheer descent downward through rocks and roots, in distance perhaps half of our earlier vertical ascent, with equal elevation change. There really was no way to go off this trail – any misstep would probably propel you along via gravitational pull. Perhaps that was how the path was carved out in the first place. Perhaps that is why no one ever stopped long enough to paint a directional mark on a tree. There was just one direction : down, and one optimal strategy for hiking: try not to fall.

Retraced Steps

This afforded me opportunity to gather my breath and a few more metaphors before proceeding. Here I was having begun the day properly attired and lightly packed with bottled water, a granola bar, good intentions and only a few high hopes, only to be met with obstacles perhaps not entirely of my own making, but definitely avoidable had I made a greater effort to foresee them, nevertheless surmounted in good faith. As with so many journeys that don’t go exactly as planned, it remained only for me to stop worrying about how it went wrong and do the only thing left in my power to do – finish it right. So, I took one last vertiginous look at the trail known only as Some Other Color, turned back around on the familiar Orange trail, retraced my steps, attempting not to stumble on the same rocks or slip on the same icy patches as I did the first time, rejoined Blue, and made it back to the trailhead and the parking lot to our waiting car which never looked so welcoming. 

Back the Way you Came

In long distance foot races, courses fall into three categories – point-to-point, loop, and out-and-back. There is something to be said for getting to a destination entirely different from where you started.  There are also benefits to going around in a circle back to where you began, but having covered ground and experienced new things along every step of the way.  Reaching a point of no further progress, turning around, and going back the same way you came may not seem as interesting or as glorious, in fact might appear to some as a defeat. But I can tell you from experience, things do not look or feel the same going back on the road you came forward on. The road has changed you; you have changed the road. As long as you put your best foot forward, nothing will ever be the same again.           

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I Feel a Poem Coming On

Remembering

For reasons I only partly understand, and am not entirely in a state of regret regarding, I don’t do much poetry anymore.  It is a way of remembering that has always taken a lot more out of me than simply being in the right mindset and place at the right time to snap a photo and then let the picture tell the story. But every once in a while a set of circumstances presents itself that makes the writing of a poem unavoidable, like death and taxes, except hopefully with a happier outcome.  

 Raw Materials

Last week, Australian blogfriends Barry and Fiona (whose prompt accounts you can read here and here, along with Brian’s here) took a break from their New York City holiday to visit us in Vermont. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and enriching 38 hours that left me wanting more but at the same time grateful for even this tasty morsel of an opportunity to connect with two creative spirits both witty and wise. I found myself wanting to do justice to the strangely concentrated depth and breadth of this visit in words, (and what better way than poetry?) thereby typically setting myself an impossible task.

 Park and Mark

Fortunately, I am not too proud to concede that the poem below tis but a scratch on the surface of the emotions and inspiration left in the wake of this brief encounter and offer it as my friends fly back home and I gaze out my windows at views made better by their having shared them. Thank you, B & F.

Give and Take

Some things take time
like gray clouds that prove doors to blue skies
on the one side of horizon unaccounted for
or overnight snow that lifts hearts
and lowers voices.

Art takes time.
We try to name the things we make
when it’s the naming makes us.
The best answer is a question
black on snow-white stone.

Some things make time
like distant music played
on strong ties stretched between two faraways
that sounds the same when suddenly
effortlessly near.

Love makes time.
When I was young nothing
had room to grow so none was taken.
Now the world and I are older and wide open.
I feel a poem coming on.


Written in Stone