Absent for quite a while now - see Qwest fiasco below. Also, I feel the surf on my heels more than ever. Oddysseus longs for the sleek black prowed ships that will take him to the rocky shores of Ithaca in 20 years.
Tomorrow, I go to Baltimore to see the beloved and to dliver to her the cats - domestic overlords to watch over her. Overly familiar familiars if you will.
I hope to get back to a locale with frequent access to an internet connection that is not work soon. I will update with greater frequency. I have to say that absence makes the heart more locqacious. I've written more letters in three days than in the last three years. Sad that. I will resolve to converse more in longhand.
Ahh Qwest. I have actually had no difficulties with Qwest until just now. Since I am moving in a few days, I asked that they disconnect my DSL starting on the day that I have vacated my apartment - September 1. I lost my DSL service on Wednesday of this week. Given that I am packing up my pc tonight, it ultimately matters very little. Internet access has become one of those things that I find it very difficult to do without. It simply seems to make things easier. Perhaps I am gimpy. Perhaps I am addicted. Perhaps I just resent having to go to work to update my 'blog. To which I am addicted.
The good news is that I will re-install the 56K modem for dial-up access for the absent beloved when she receives the computer. I will use the oddpost account (see just below) for e-mail from work and Trillian (Screw AOL!) for chat (across multiple platforms). The cell phone will travel. Now if only I could keep the cats here too.
John Ashcroft's dream for America - via Metafilter. He remains the man who most threatens American's Freedoms and who is most responsible for the extrordinarily parochial tone of this administration. By November of 2004 we will be quite tired of being told that the government knows what's best for us and that our democratically expressed opinions do not matter. Fianlly, our own privacy is forfeit, while an impenetrale curtain has fallen over the machinations of the administration.
As a resident of Denver for 6 years, I find this claim somewhat specious. The air is not signifcantly cleaner than when I moved here in the fall of '96. The article even mentions the fact that the number of vehicle miles driven has doubled (along with huge increases with the population) putting intense pressuere on the environment. I wonder how much a change in the standards, along with a change of administration, has contributed to this change of designation.
More and more proposals seek to treat pollutants as a spendable currency of which an industy is alloted a certain amount. Ultimately, isn't creating a currency of pollutants misplacing the value: i.e. doesn't it esteem pollutants more than the limited resource of a healthy environment? If this is how we assign value, no wonder South East Asian are born thinking the sky is brown. Finally, we've seen how Enron handles the accounting of money; it requires little imagination to realize how they might account for their pollution debt.
If you need yet another question by which to sort humanity into distinct groups, you may add this query: which Homeric epic do you prefer – the Iliad or the Odyssey? As a poem, the Iliad moves me more. From the god-like rage of Achilles to Hector’s inevitable doom, it tells of a society that values things so elemental we cannot see them. The mysteries of composition and authorship make it a perfect poem – one that seems to fly into the close illumination of the hall like a ghostly white bird from the night – passing out of darkness and into darkness once more.
But it is Odysseus and his poem that I bring to bear on my own personal mythology. It tells the story of a man doing his best to go home. His best is terribly human. Not godlike like Achilles, not superhumanly strong like Telemonian Ajax, or superhumanly tragic like Agamemnon. Odysseus is the man of many paths – a sea farer, but also a liar, a man of many fictions. He is the arch-tactician. He is good with a bow and a spear, but would prefer to even up the odds if at all possible. He’s heroic, but requires you to bend your estimation of heroism.
Odysseus, the sacker of cities, the man of cultures, and citizen of the world: he is the first cosmopolitan, restless for twenty years. He knows the intricacies of sails and travel better than any other. He is the captain who survives surviving the Trojan war.
Some times, I feel like Odysseus - something pulls me from my bed at night, down to the beach where the dark prowed ships rest above the reach of the wine-dark sea, for fear the sea will take them back. But to those it cannot reach, it calls. At night, I hear the call more strongly than ever. To set sail – to, in essence, go once more. Some days I feel this acutely. Some days, I just want to go home. Both drives meet in the same hero. Both drives meet in me.
So if you see me, and I look past you or just nod at your voice, I am thinking of going – I am listing to the faraway surf ( “the ebb and flow of human misery”) of my imagination, imagining of plying the twists and turns, of knowing different cities. Do not take it personally, but then, you seem to be glassy-eyed as well.
In the San Luis Valley some of the tallest mountains in the Rockies meet the relentless flatness of a high plateau, forming a roughly equilateral triangle (though they have no true point, orient the triangle as a compass rose in your mind, pointing north) that extends from Poncha pass into northern New Mexico. Two mountain ranges compose the two sides (“arms”) of the triangle: the San Juans in the west and the Sangre de Cristos in the east.
The San Juans do not rise to the heights that the Sangres reach, but they gain momentum as they head north where they will join the collegiate peaks – the highest range of mountains in the entire Rocky Mountain Chain. The Sangres soar above the valley with no prefacing foothills, simply rising to jagged peaks connected by razor backed ridges. Their name means the Blood of Christ.
I had never seen the sunset in the valley before last weekend. Here you pay no heed to the sun setting in the west, but you intently watch the mountains to the east. As the sun falls behind the San Juan’s, darkness flies up the western slopes of the Sangres. It happens so quickly. And then, just as you think that darkness will set an you’ve perhaps watched the wrong thing, the Sangres begin to glow a deep red. From the black crannies of the mountains’ roots, there emanates a red that is beyond crimson, beyond burgundy. We watched the mountains softly shine from mineral spring pools. Salts from the spring formed on our skin where we rested outside of the ninety-degree water. I have no idea how long the glow lasts, The duration doesn’t matter. My presence to observe it doesn’t matter. I am filled with a small, sharp ache, and a profound joy knowing that it is happening now, as I write this, and will happen forever, whether we are there to see it or not.
At the foot of Blanca Peak lies the Sand Dunes. They are over 900 feet tall and no map of them exists because they constantly shift. They can be seem more than thirty miles away. Once I watched a storm move across the Southern end of the valley. I could see the thunderheads and the land below them drenched in the most beautiful white light. In the west, I saw curtains of rain and some lightning. When the storm finally hit the sand dunes, lightning erupted.
The shifting sands rubbing against one another as the wind constantly reshapes the dunes creates static charges that periodically discharge as lightning. Rarely, a hiker may find a perfect multicolored glass sphere created when the plasma of the lightning superheats the sand, turning it to glass.
No one knows how the sand dunes formed or why they exist where they do, Some believe that the particular shape of the valley and the mountains in the area conspire to create a sink for erosion, so that the sand that results from the slow tectonic grinding of the mountains ends up here, in a corner of the San Luis Valley. But no one knows for sure, despite many other theories.
The valley is thick with belief and theories. The valley acts as home for a monastery, a convent, a Zen Buddhist ashram, a temple, another Buddhist temple, and small evangelical churches that give way to catholic pueblos in the south. The Navajos believe that the world has passed through seven incarnations, or creations. At one time, they said that the seventh, our current world, began in the Sangre De Cristos.
Without any human structure, physical building or emotional projection, the landscape possesses something that makes me believe that this is the first place.
Below the mountains stretches the plain – an intensely flat plateau. During the day, you can see cars approaching from twenty miles away. More if they travel by the dirty roads speciously maintained by the county.
At night, the flatness of the plateau demonstrates a property of light that we rarely observe – that it will travel forever if uninterrupted. While in the northern end of the valley, you can look south at night, and, if you had not traveled from the south or if you did not have a map to prove otherwise, you would believe that you could see a large city just to the south. Lights seem to go from one side of the valley to another as if you took a lateral view of a town on the great planes (no large buildings here). But you don’t see a city. You actually see every light in the valley, from southern Colorado to New Mexico. They light they cast travels uninterrupted by landform or human artifact. Light sources seem to crown up. Compress the milky way to a single plane and then view it from the side.
Watching this reminded me of Flatland, the science / mathematical fiction of a traveler in a land of two dimensions. But just as you see the an imitation of the milky way before you on earth, here you may also see the milky way above. Away from the relative light pollution of the city, you see what we have lost through illumination.
The galaxy stretches across the whole sky, a whale road from a Norse saga. Breathless and dizzy, I stared at the sky so long my neck began to hurt. So you lay down under that stars, avoiding the terrestrial and painful cacti, to watch them wheel in the sky. In a normal night there , I counted five shooting stars in about twenty minutes. During the Leonid or the Perseid meteor showers, it rains stars. Once I heard a meteor extinguish itself as it arced across the sky. It left a contrail behind it and terminated in a soft hush – a sound that a snowball makes when thrown into a snowdrift. You hear the slight breeze, perhaps your own heartbeat, and a palpable hush.
The irreverent talk, the joyous laugh, the ecstatic stare. Sometimes, you are all three.
This is also the watershed of the Rio Grande. The Aquifer below the valley and all the streams within feed the Rio Grande River. On the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristos, you can follow the highway until it pulls along side the Rio Grande. It shines in its course like a river of silver, or as dun and yellow as sulfur against a red channel. It falls away and approaches the highway in a game it plays – threatening flood or drought. It takes you by roadside stands where nice people sell the world’s hottest burritos to gringos. You never let the food win.
Great. Bush policy wonk starts attacking the only allies we have. We reserve harsh words for the Brits, but never utter a word against the policies of the Saudis or the Israelis - two of our most difficult allies.
In this article, Jeanette Winterson, formidable novelist and critic, combines criticism with fairly blatant plug for a television program to which she contributed. Aside from the odd phrase "Emergency Zone" (soon to be trademarked), this is a pleasant but short essay on the simultaneous consolation and challenges of art objects.
I am moving to Baltimore soon. The move will take place at the end of October or the beginning of November. I am grateful to follow my advance team (an am unhappy that it shall be so long between her departure and my own arrival). With an immanent absence on our minds, we drove to my favorite places on earth.
For those who need a handy way to differentiate people, you may ask the following question: “To what landform are you most strongly drawn?” Most people will say wither “mountains” or the “sea.” There is a lot about myself that I do not know, but I know this: I cannot live without mountains.
The reason: mountains create my favorite places on earth. My favorite places on earth are high mountain valleys – specifically South Park and the San Luis Valley. Two mountain ranges form each valley. Typically, you climb through at least one pass before you make a short descent into the valley. Each of these valleys varies in elevation – rising to over 10,000 feet in South Park (near Alma), and around 7500 feet in the San Luis. The only objective description I can provide lies in this clinical description. Everything else in interpretation of beauty, of awe.
Once you crest Kenosha pass, you enter South Park. You enter in the far north-east of the valley. You can see nearly 50 miles across the valley to the collegiate peaks in the west. Between the mountains lies an amazing meadow. The average elevation in the northern portion of the valley is, as I mentioned before, 10,000 feet. Though thirteeners and fourteeners ring the valley, tree-line (11,100 feet at this latitude) seems to hang just above your head – maybe a short hike through aspen groves and over the short grassland. The South Platte river meanders in narrow ox-bows across the southern portion of the valley. Ranches (some the size of entire counties in Kentucky) attempt to divide the valley – a very few fences surround even unusually delighted cows. Highway 285 arches and heads south – sometimes it runs in a straight line – straight as a laser beam for mile on end.
It is beautiful. Simply beautiful. You can watch the clouds roil up and drop heavy rain fifty miles away. You can travel through a downpour under the most crystalline clear light in the world. The air smells wonderful. With all of this, it overwhelms you with a gentle beauty – something elegiac or heartbreaking about it. It evokes the feeling of someone you love, leaving. Or at least today it did.
Tomorrow –The Sangre de Cristo mountains and the San Luis Valley. The holiest places in the world.
Movies filmed in Baltimore include: Homicide (David Mamet) - filmed in Hampden; John Water's Pecker (also Hampden); Runaway Bride. Avalon by Barry Levinson was filmed in SoWeBo (just as we say LoDo for Lower Downtown, they say SoWeBo, for South West Baltimore).
We only had The Father Dowling Mysteries. Oh yes, and Love Pirates. Greatly exceeds the former thanks to the performance of this one actress I know.
Finally, Baltimore cannot match this bit of cinema (featuring a fine performance by "Cop #2 and excellent make-up work).
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver, House of Light. 1991, Beacon Press. Boston.
This is one of my favorite poems. In mind it continues the pattterns traced by John Donne in the Holy Sonnets and by John Coltrane in A Love Supreme. I have a beutiful memory of that prayer - the acknowledgement. I was sitting in McGee's bakery in Lexington, Kentucky. The morning found me unemployed (as did many mornings that summer) and it should have found me browsing the help wanted ads at home. Instead, the day spotted the fugitive at the bakery, reading the New Yorker, eating a poppy seed scone, and drinking sweet iced tea because, by 9 a.m., the heat made coffee unpalatable.
The New Yorker article excerpted a biography of Mr. Coltrane. It focused on the last few years, following the heroin, alcohol, etc. It spoke of music, heroin, and his new-found faith. After nearly overdosing, Mr, Coltrane gave thanks to god through his composition, A Love Supreme. It is a prayer, spoken by someone who doesn't know how to pray. Like those of Mary Oliver, and those of John Donne, the articulation of the human interaction with the invisible, with the unimaginable, is articulate, moving, and beautiful. While I sat reading the article, some wonderfully unwitting baker put A Love Supreme into the cd player and set it to playing.
The inhalation and the terrific opening flourish spilled out into the morning. On a beutiful summer moring, it felt like the the same fine aether that Coltrane exhaled in composing his prayer had filled the room. Perhaps it was the poopy seeds.
Today, we had such a summer day - a day that fills you with awe. It is a day that begins with a question to yourself - how do I live in the world today? It is a question that begins with the proposition that we will see only so many sunrises, that we will hold the ones we love a finite number of times, that we will at last die.
I hope you have such a day. When we all have these days, when we ask what we did with this precious time - what we did to acknowledge that we die at last, too soon - we will overthrow oppressors with laughter and beauty. When beauty batters the heart, the last holds of apathy and complaceny will fall. We will even lose the necessity of martial metaphors. Then the market will follow.
Forget the invisible hand of the market place. Go to Hanging Lake. Go to Cape Hatteras. Go to Glacier. Go outside and see life and death and think of what you see. Go to Amache and think of history and what we need to address. Go to Afghanistan and see the orchards and vineyards that stood a thousand years. We have looked away from the only spectacle that ever really mattered - our lives.