Lights

We two have seen the lights of foreign ports —
Strange constellations to our wondering eyes —
And gazed on glittering golden royal courts,
Bright mirrors of the sun beneath the skies.

And in the warmth of homes in frozen lands
By glowing hearth fires we have broken bread,
And in the northern sky we’ve seen the dance
That living flames in strange wild measures tread.

But giving sweeter pleasure than them all
A comforter (see there!) runs on ahead,
This night to meet us with a welcome call —
That light we see is burning in our hall.

~

PORTIA
That light we see is burning in my hall.
How far that little candle throws his beams!

~The Merchant of Venice, Act V. Scene i.

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The Shackles of Grand Plans

Like I said in my last post — my mind is very much over in America. I keep on making grand plans of all the things I’m going to work on when I get back.

The thing is — sometimes planning can get in the way of doing. Sometimes the longer I spend planning to do something the more I feel this weight that it has to be REALLY, REALLY good when I do it because, after all, I’ve invested so much time to it already in the planning stage.

I’m not against planning but the best way to get in the habit of doing is by doing.

One of the things I was planning to do when I got back was to blog in earnest. But here I find myself with a room, some time in the evening, and an internet connection in Switzerland. So why wait till I get home with all the pressure of the long-planned blog that must be so great?

Writing of how one should make pleasing conversation the poet George Herbert recommended one’s discourse be “courteous, useful, new, or wittie” and he explains:

“Usefulness comes by labour, wit by ease;
Courtesie grows in court; news in the citie.”

When it comes to the issue of planning, the first two he mentions, wit and usefulness, particularly stand out to me. If I say “when such a time shall come, then shall I write great poems, and essays for a great blog” can I accomplish my goal? I think that on the one hand you can labour for usefulness — you can work to communicate information. You can just commit yourself to so much labour and I think you can share something useful.

But wit is a more ticklish matter. Actually one of my (probably unfounded) fears in life is that I’ll lose my ability to tell jokes. The reason being is that unlike some things that I know how I can work to accomplish following certain ordered steps, I don’t know how I come up with jokes. It’s like I don’t know what the thought process is leading up to the creation of the joke. Then I hardly know the joke has been conceived before I’m speaking it. Sure, sometimes I work on a joke but that moment of inspiration seems in a way to happen outside of that which one can “work on.”

It’s kind of like composing a four voice song — once you have the melody  the work of voicing the harmonies can be done in this secure “I know how to work the problem out” part of your brain. I’m not afraid I’ll lose that music theory knowledge. But at least for me, making up the melody happens more in that mysterious part of my mind where I don’t know the rules, I just hope it comes up with something good. I feel like I can only indirectly try to help that part of my mind.

I think it’s an unfounded fear that I’ll lose the ability to tell jokes, but I, like a lot of you, have experienced not being able to tell jokes or be witty in certain company.  This is what I mean by indirectly helping that part of your mind. You feel like you can’t just go into that part of your mind directly with tools and make it operate exactly as you want it to, but (lest we should seem too helpless) you can affect your mood, you can stimulate your mind with interesting thoughts, and you can seek to put yourself in company you’re comfortable with.

The last one is so important. I don’t think I’ll ever lose my ability to tell jokes as long as I have that comfort area of my family and some close friends. I will always be at ease enough among them for my mind to roll out some jokes.

I think this is something like what Herbert is referring to. You can put in the work to be able to share something useful, but to have that witty, clever, funny, or to the point turn of phrase instantaneously, you need to find an ease in company.

So if I’m to be witty, I can’t just do it all by planning. You can’t plan out all your clever replies to the happenings of the moment months in advance (like freezing boiled water for later,) you have to be at ease.

I actually am going to wait till I get back to America to begin some subjects that I have in mind for a blog. But I decided I needed to start carving out an ease in writing for the internet or else those weightier subjects will end up being written in a pretty lugubrious style.

~

Perhaps when I was talking about that unconscious part of your brain, from whence it seems that ideas flow, I came across as valuing mystical inspiration over work. I actually believe you can just schedule yourself writing practice and improve — you don’t need to always wait for the lightning strike of inspiration. But part of what that practice is all about is carving out that space, that place in which you’re comfortable. There’s a lot you can do to help the flow of ideas. The point of this post is that planning, while it has benefits can also be a weight on creativity.

Herbert also gives you practical steps to learn courtesy and news. Don’t just wait for the mystical gift of these things. You can do something to gain them.

Anyway, I’m blogging so that I can gain ease at it by blogging about blogging to get more comfortable with blogging.

And I’m doing it right now so that I don’t get that freeze up that can come with keeping something at the planning stage for a long time.

 

 

Reporting from Switzerland

I never intended this to be a blog about my life adventures  — so far I’ve more just put poetry and essays here and so only showed my life in things I was thinking about.

Aside — sometimes I’ve wanted to switch that common question: “What have been doing lately?” to “What have you been thinking about?” A lot of times it’s easier for me to think of the philosophical puzzle I’ve been working on then actually what you might call actions. I suppose society has a good reason for keeping that pressure on us all to be able to give an answer of something we’ve been doing.

But here I go with the life blogger thing:  I’m traveling in Switzerland right now! I’m doing it through Workaway and right now I am staying in the stunning Lauterbrunnen valley.

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The Church in Lauterbrunnen. I can see this church and waterfall from the room I’m staying in!

I’ve found Switzerland inexpressibly beautiful both in what God wrought in nature and in the craftsmanship in the cities and towns of men. Also, the whole set up of villages and farms is very inspiring. It makes me want to build a cheesery (English for Käserei) right in the Oregon forest land, and then get a bunch of people to have dairy farms around it and build a community.

A lot of people in America don’t like the putting up of new buildings in rural and wilderness areas. They don’t like “development.” But I think a lot of the cause of this is just because the way we “develop” in America is so ugly. It demoralizes people to see lovely fields and forests turn into strip malls and blah housing tracts.

But wouldn’t people be more friendly to development if it meant the building of beautiful new towns? (Maybe the anti-development attitudes I’m thinking about are more prominent in Oregon than other parts of the America — I’ll keep on talking about the area I know.)

I think the towns we built here in the northwest around the turn of the last century were lovely and what I’d call “Human friendly.” What prevents us from building some more?Image result for elma wa main street

Now, (to answer the objections I imagine from  my fellow Oregonians) I love the beauty of our forests and our wildernesses, but as Bob Ross famously said looking at such a scene “Maybe we’ll have a happy little cabin?”

Let’s develop Oregon beautifully.  What are the economic pressures or regulatory obstacles that need to be overcome to develop beautifully? Who has the vision?

Another aside — related to this — I took a hike this morning out of Lauterbrunnen up to Wengen. In Oregon we also have good steep hikes but typically they are mere loops with no town at the end of trail.

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Hiking up to Wengen — the town of Lauterbrunnen below.

 

I have to say I like the feeling of a hike that goes to a town. I filled up my water bottle at the town fountain in Wengen and rested a while in its church building. In Oregon I love the Crown-Zellerbach trail that goes all the way from the Multnomah Channel, through Scappoose and then almost all the way to Vernonia. It’s best if you have some friends in Vernonia and a happy meeting and dinner’s found at trail’s end.

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The Crown-Zellerbach trail.

 

In America if a valley as beautiful as Lauterbrunnen were discovered (imagine that there’s a great warming and under a glacier we find one) it would be totally protected from any development. But I think the village of Lauterbrunnen does not hurt the beauty of the valley — on the contrary.

I’m not against any wilderness existing but I thinks it’s time Americans need to stop thinking so much about how to “Leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but pictures” and instead think about how to leave this earth a more beautiful place than they found it, and how to develop it in the best way possible. We don’t have to mimic Switzerland — we can have an American beauty. (One of the coolest community centers in the Portland area is the Alpenrose dairy little league field/velodrome/theatre/replica western town — the dairy has Swiss roots but the style is American.)

Actually as long as our development is as ugly as it is now I’m somewhat sympathetic with the “Don’t touch anything” directive. Keep the Alpenrose dairy (it was just in danger of being closed down! Thankfully it looks like it has been saved!) and don’t build anything ugly.

The architecture of Dairyville is nice, but I don’t just bring it up for that — I’ve enjoyed community events there and part of what I’m thinking about in terms of beauty in our buildings is how conducive they are to community.

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The entrance to the theatre at the Alpenrose dairy “Dairyville.”

The thing is, the wilderness movement goes under colour of facilitating people enjoying the beauty of the land. The actual effect, however, of such extensive wilderness protection and “spotted owl” sanctuaries  in Oregon has been to alienate people from the land. The land shouldn’t just be a place you leave the city to see occasionally (assuming it’s even accessible to you at all) your daily life should be knit to it. People should have jobs that interact with it. And in this communities can be built.

(Aside — I think this is part of our current problem in poetry writing — people don’t have connections to “place” and community to give inspiration to their work. They don’t really know the humors, and smells and contours of their place.)

Before I was here in Lauterbrunnen I was in the Emmental working on a farm. It’s obvious how tied to the countryside the Emmentalers are. They know their pastures for their cows; they know their forests for their fuel; they know the fields that supply the hay. And on top of that there is an interconnected community as the dairy farms work together to supply Käsereien with milk (the cheeseries that make the famous Emmentaler cheese — exported all over the world) and trade their skills and products among themselves as well. 

Now I don’t want to descant too much on the greatness of Switzerland with whom I’ve only just begun my acquaintance, but it is inspiring to see the towns they have built and the way of life they’ve negotiated with this incredible geography. (Also, striking for me to think about: how many Swiss people in history do you know about? I don’t know of even a handful. Yet they built this culture and way of life for their children.)

Really as beautiful as Switzerland is, my mind — as you can tell from this post — is still very much back in America.

~

It seems that though I thought I would start writing some travel blog post about myself I’ve just ended up writing another little essay of my thoughts. So I guess the question is ‘what  you been thinking about lately?’

Some nights

She walks through the day in her tippy high-heels,
With her eyes straight ahead, no one knows how she feels,
‘Cause her Maybelline face never cracks, never peals;
And she begins again,
Just the way it’s been,
Each morning.

Some nights she thinks that all is not right,
She should put down her novel — she should join in the fight.
There’s a world-wide war between darkness and light —
She should put down her phone, and just maybe she might…

‘God don’t let me forget with the dreams of the night,
When I wake up a cross is there,
For me to bear,
Each morning.’

Portland

Authentic thoughts on my hometown 

Smoke covers your city
The sun is red as blood,
Dry of human pity —
Your love with an asterisk isn’t love.

Pity’s a gentle rain,
Not a drop is seen,

You fight the fires of pain
With bloodshed, like gasoline.

~

(White bearded fools,
And flint hearted mothers,
Bequeathed you evil rules,
And closed your hearts to others.)

~

Like lions who crouch for their prey,
The strong lie in wait for the weak,
And you walking by every day
Don’t speak for the ones who can’t speak.

World citizens who won’t
Pity your most helpless neighbour,
You think your “progressive” vote
Gives you a waiver?

No more peaceful’s the lion at night
Than the lion who kills in the day;
You cry “Peace!” when the blood’s out of sight,
And the violence is hidden away.

~

Wisdom is with your crowd
Whatever it says is true —
“Love wins” shouted long and loud
Means whatever the crowd wants to do.

But love will forever win,
And so hell opens its beak,
As you as a crowd march in,
And the earth is received by the meek.

Pink Calico

For Anne Gertrude Sneller, who told this Civil War era story of her Aunt Elvie (much more concisely), in her book 1964 book, ‘A Vanished World.’

How she afforded it no one could think!
Fold upon fold of calico pink!

A beautiful bolt, not grey, black, or brown
But coral pink calico, bought in the town.

In the days of the war cotton put on fine airs,
And hand-me-down dresses were all we could wear,

But one day our mother came back to the farm
With rosy pink calico under her arm.

‘Elvie and Sarah need dresses’ she said
And before us the calico fabric she spread.

And Elvie and I had never seen such
Glorious pink, it was almost too much!

And I saw in her eyes Elvie’s heart rise to heaven,
With the wonder-filled joy of a girl just turned seven,

As with love overflowing she stood gazing upon
The calico fabric as pink as the dawn.

‘Now, girls’ said our mother ‘it’s time supper was laid’
Then safe from the sun till the dresses should be made,

She put up the cloth in the closet to stay,
But we thought on it all of the rest of the day.

Carrying candles together we went up to bed
But eyes closed or open Elvie saw in her head

That glorious fabric brought home from the store,
And she felt that she had to just see it once more.

In the parlour our mother and father were sitting,
Father read by the fire, mother worked at her knitting;

Not a sound could be heard but the needles’ soft click
And the turn of the page and the clock’s steady tick,

When all of a sudden a scream tore the air,
Then scream after scream — father leapt from his chair

And mother in haste cast her work on the floor,
And they ran to the cries — to the closed closet door!

Throwing open the door they found Elvie inside,
Clutching her candle as in terror she cried,

For before her was lying, with flames rising higher,
The sunrise pink calico blazing on fire.

Father beat out the fire, mother took in her arm
The terrified girl, and she came to no harm,

Still she cried from her fright and for the calico too,
For the folded pink fabric was burnt through and through.

Then mother said ‘Hush,  you are safe, do not sorrow,
And I’ll look at the calico fabric tomorrow.’
But how she could manage it we could not think!
Work with those cinders of calico pink?

But she worked all next day and well into the night,
Piecing together the calico bright,

Cutting and measuring, matching the grain —
And on the table by morning two dresses were lain — 

And Elvie and I had never seen such
Beautiful dresses, it was almost too much!

Beauty for ashes was no fairy story,
For there it was lying in pink calico glory!

For Richer for Poorer

For Richer for Poorer

I long to deck you with a diamond cloak
And see your smile shine in a golden ring,

As bright as sunlight when the dawn first woke,
And gleamed on every diamond dew-dropped thing.
I want to crown you with a diadem
Of silver lilies, and ruby roses shining;
With lapis hyacinth on emerald stem,
All through your dark brown forest tresses twining.
But now I’m strapped for cash, yet you are fair — 
Your clever fingers ringless, and your crown
A single rose set in your chestnut hair,
Which o’er your shoulders as a cloak falls down.
          Still, for your care shall all my strength be pressed;
          Now as my earnest, in my verse be dressed.

~Watchful