An homage…

My mom was one of nine siblings and I grew up surrounded by cousins, with our maternal grandparents at the center of the circus, always. It was one of those families where the Christmas presents fill up half the living room and the dining tables take all the space that’s left. We were raised on humor, hugs, and a knowing instilled by farmers and former military that we were expected to suck it up and survive.

But Grandpa died of lung cancer… and then when Grandma, the Queen Bee, left us at age 95… all the air went out. We went from time-honored massive family reunions to none, literally in a heartbeat. The Clan has dispersed itself around the globe over the years, so there are generations of cousins I’ll never know, even by name. And it’s sobering to realize that most of the cousins I grew up with I’ll never lay eyes on again. They’re there… I’m here… neither of us is going here nor there for all the reasons… so the last time we saw each other… was the last time we’ll ever see each other.

People change. Life changes us if we’re living it at all. We assume we know the humans with whom we share a gene pool, but it’s a delusion of youth and immaturity… the longer we live, the greater the distance between us. And sharing a bloodline doesn’t mean we’ll get along, or even like each other. The current mood of the planet has soaked into every part of society by now, making family dynamics a minefield… therefore, at least half my extended family considers me “better in theory than in practice” at best… and I’m good with that.

Everything ends. The most beautiful things in the world – like a big crazy family with love coming out its pores – don’t remain static, they can’t. So I’m paying homage to a dynasty that was and is no more. It was never what we purposely remember it to be… but close enough for family and fairytales.

WHERE IT STARTED…

WHERE IT WENT… x 3 or 4 by now

Possibly the last big reunion we had. These are all 1st cousins, about half the total at the time.

Fall melancholy… moody rambling… somber thoughts…grieving the losses… celebrating what was. All respect to a big ol’ family that’s tried as hard to be human as any I know. And on we all go…

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Hey… it’s Wednesday

Here we are at HumpDay once again, boys and girls, on the downhill run to the weekend.

WHY I LOVE WEEKENDS, by some pore ol’ retired thing

  1. They do not contain medical appointments.
  2. The already Zen pace on my side of the equation slows to an imperceptible crawl.
  3. The weekend menu is outstanding.
  4. The trace of guilt over being lazy goes totally underground for a couple of days.
  5. Sometimes weekends mean seeing actual people… and we know there’ll be more of that ahead.

It’s overcast this morning, with only a slight breeze, and it feels like the world’s at a standstill… everything static… to remain this way forever. But hark, what do I see from my window? People and dogs. Gird your loins, folks, life goes on.

Case in point…

And the trees know when it’s time for change…

Just about when we think we can’t stand the status quo another minute, we look around and our immediate situation has morphed into something else entirely. In light of what looked like an endless slate of dental appointments, I’m pleasantly surprised to find that I have only one left… this time around. Friday we see a neuro about my back. Patience… patience… and the world turns.

Maya Angelou’s profoundly simple statement of fact will stay with me…

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Beautiful day…

It’s Monday morning after a good weekend, the sun’s shining (but I haven’t looked at it yet), the coffee’s icy, as it should be, and I’m savoring an Everything bagel… the M-day and I have it going on so far. Kim’s over in NoLaw hitting PickleBalls with a big bunch of people he enjoys so I have a couple more hours to wake up before the day actually kicks in. Then… it all stretches out before me as an absolute blank… and is there anything better for weary minds than a day when nothing happens? This particular introvert’s greatest joy is a skinny calendar with whole blocks of time when there are no appointments scheduled, no deadlines to meet. I went underground sometime in mid-quarantine and I kinda like it down here, it appeals to my hermit personality… but it does nothing to improve my social skills, so there’s that, and I’m trying to surface again.

We have a need as humans surviving on an often hostile planet to connect, to understand something about our purpose here. When the connections are broken, by us or by others, the resultant hollowness goes on and on, becoming part of life’s daily fabric, and the older I get, the harder the spaces are to fill… because I toss out everything that doesn’t ring true. And yes, I do intend to live long enough to be somewhat of a problem to my progeny, although he did nothing to deserve that.

*****

You too? Or just me…

Having been made freshly-conscious of the fact that I’m “better in theory than real life,” let me just say, via someone whose name I regretfully don’t know…

This is the grace I want to extend to all. That, too, takes a lifetime to learn.

*****

And somehow, this thought is affirming and soothing…

This too, from my wise Twitter friend…

It all simply goes on. We live and are happy.

But… I stubbornly want to understand why people choose to follow ugliness when we live among wonders in the world:

Butterflies can’t see their wings.

They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can.

People are like that as well.

~Naya Rivera

Photo ©Petar Sabol

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Good hearts are safe homes…

I have brazenly committed a crime this morning and I have no shame, because I stole a piece of writing (and life) that’s too exquisite to keep to myself…

Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well — one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — from her bag — and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands — had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an Old Country tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate — once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

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Seasons of change…

***

Three Songs at the End of Summer
by Jane Kenyon

A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority
.

Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils
.

Across the lake the campers have learned
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.

*

The cicada’s dry monotony breaks
over me. The days are bright
and free, bright and free.
Then why did I cry today
for an hour, with my whole
body, the way babies cry?

*

A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket…
In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.
I had the new books—words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.

**

Jane Kenyon, “Three Songs at the End of Summer” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by The Estate of Jane Kenyon. 

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Tell me…

In the middle of ongoing disquiet, another guest author has appeared on my doorstep this morning, precisely on time. Mary Oliver left us in 2019, but her words are filled with life, and I love her…

It’s the birthday of American poet Mary Oliver (1935), born and raised in Maple Heights, Ohio, a semi-rural suburb of Cleveland. Her father was a social studies teacher and athletic coach in Cleveland public schools. Of her childhood, Oliver said, “It was a very dark and broken house that I came from. And I escaped it, barely. With years of trouble.”

She skipped school and read voraciously to escape her home life, mostly the work of John Keats and Emily Dickinson. She also began taking long walks in the woods by her house and writing poems. She says, “I got saved by poetry. And by the beauty of the world.” She calls her early poems “rotten.”

After Oliver graduated from high school she took a trip to Steepletop, the home of the famous poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, in Austerlitz, New York. She became good friends with Millay’s sister Norma and ended up staying for seven years, helping Norma organize Millay’s papers and writing her own poems. She attended both Ohio State University and Vassar College but never earned degrees.

Oliver’s first collection of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems (1963), was published to wide acclaim when she was 28. She writes short, poignant poems, most often about her observations of the natural world, particularly the world of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she spent more than 50 years with her partner, Molly Malone Cook, who was one of the first staff photographers for The Village Voice.

She finds most of her inspiration on her walks and hikes. She takes along a hand-sewn notebook so she can stop and write. Once, she lost her pencil, and now she hides pencils in the trees along the trails so she always has spares. She says, “It has frequently been remarked, about my own writings, that I emphasize the notion of attention. This began simply enough: to see that the way the flicker flies is greatly different from the way the swallow plays in the golden air of summer.”

Oliver’s books consistently hit the best-seller lists. Her collections include Dream Work (1986), Why I Wake Early (2007), Blue Horses (2014), and Felicity (2015). She was outside replacing the shingles on her house when she got the phone call that she’d won the Pulitzer Prize (1984) for American Primitive (1983). Her books about the writing of poetry, A Poetry Handbook (1994) and Rules for the Dance (1998), are routinely used in high school and college creative writing courses.

Mary Oliver died in 2019 of lymphoma.

On writing poetry Mary Oliver said, “One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear. It mustn’t be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn’t necessary shouldn’t be in a poem.”

One of her most famous poems, “The Summer Day,” ends with the line, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” When an interviewer asked her what she’d done with her own wild and precious life Oliver answered, “Used a lot of pencils.” -Copied from Facebook, author not known

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A reflection…

Photo Credit Kim Smith 09/05/2021

Today’s guest post, while I celebrate my 74th birthday, is a gift from Suzanne Reynolds…

She Was Told She Was Beautiful

When she was a little girl

they told her she was beautiful

but it had no meaning

in her world of bicycles

and pigtails

and adventures in make-believe.

Later, she hoped she was beautiful

as boys started taking notice

of her friends

and phones rang for

Saturday night dates.

She felt beautiful on her wedding day,

hopeful with her

new life partner by her side

but, later,

when her children called

her beautiful,

she was often exhausted,

her hair messily tied back,

no make up,

wide in the waist

where it used to be narrow;

she just couldn’t take it in.

Over the years, as she tried,

in fits and starts,

to look beautiful,

she found other things

to take priority,

like bills

and meals,

as she and her life partner

worked hard

to make a family,

to make ends meet,

to make children into adults,

to make a life.

Now,

she sat.

Alone.

Her children grown,

her partner flown,

and she couldn’t remember

the last time

she was called beautiful.

But she was.

It was in every line on her face,

in the strength of her arthritic hands,

the ampleness that had

a million hugs imprinted

on its very skin,

and in the jiggly thighs and

thickened ankles

that had run her race for her.

She had lived her life with a loving

and generous heart,

had wrapped her arms

around so many to

to give them comfort and peace.

Her ears had

heard both terrible news

and lovely songs,

and her eyes

had brimmed with,

oh, so many tears,

they were now bright

even as they dimmed.

She had lived and she was.

And because she was,

she was made beautiful.

Suzanne Reynolds ©2019

Photo Credit: Nina Djerff

Model: Marit Rannveig Haslestad

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Happy weekend…

The work on the water lines continues apace as we close out yet another week. It’s engaging to watch, even knowing it’s hitting our HOA in the shorts, but it does go on and on, much like life in the time of COVID. I felt overwhelmed for a bit yesterday as I suddenly registered the weight of where we find ourselves. Our case numbers in the county have gone from zero to 100 with lightning speed, and our whole U.S. healthcare system is overrun for the fourth time. Hospitals are full, children are dying in ever greater numbers, Florida’s gone to reefer trucks to store their dead… again. In the midst of all this, it’s worth noting that no hospital anywhere is full of people suffering side effects from the COVID vaccine. Where did we lose our ability to all pull in the same direction for even one split-second in history? I miss the “All for one, one for all” response to past challenges to our existence. I’m not as inspired by the “All for me, fuck that guy” philosophy. But people do what they do and believe what they believe… so we’re saddled up for Rodeo #4. We’ll see who’s still standing this time when the dust clears.

Speaking of dust, this crew is A+ at what they do, wreaking a minimum of destruction. The entire fire line is exposed now, from doors to street, and it could all be history by the end of the day, which I’m sure everyone would welcome. Beer-thirty, everyone, and happy weekend.

In the saga of the haircut, it finally happened, along with some much-needed chick therapy, and the trek to attain the new refurbished me continues. I hope the world doesn’t go to sleep on us again just when we were breathing new air.

Welp, for now, let’s all sing in the sunshine, boys and girls…

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A Sunday in the time of ‘rona…

As the fog of the past eighteen months continues to dissipate, it’s impossible not to register the hurt of humanity around us. Everyone we know, everyone we see, has absorbed pain and uncertainty since the outbreak of the pandemic, and it shows. In the human race we want somebody else or a whole lot of somebody elses to understand, to just please get it, okay? And when it feels like nobody does, it’s a lonely place, so maybe someone needs to hear this on the first day of August 2021:

Much of the world is still in dire straits, and here’s a fact: It always has been. But the trajectory as we start another new month is onward and upward, which hey, happens to be our state motto: Ad Astra Per Aspera – To The Stars Through Difficulty. Feels better, hm? And in case nobody’s mentioned it since Christmas of 2019: If you’re reading this, you’re worthy of everything the world has to offer, so getcha’ some.

So here’s a simple rule of thumb…

And this, despite its typos, says good things:

*****

This presents as an oxymoron, but it’s possible to take our time while moving forward…

We’re really not here very long…

*****

Best thing to know in the midst of chaos, sadness, happiness, all the time…

Happy Sunday, August 1, 2021, to all of us, with a hug for everyone who still stops by this blog. 💙💋

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Addendum…

There’s still such a rumble out there about Simone Biles’ supposed “dereliction of duty,” I’m posting another story that deserves to be remembered. Simone Biles stands as the Greatest Of All Time in gymnastics, and owes the world precisely nothing. That she’s being dissed for declining to risk life and limb for people she’ll never know and who will never attempt to rise to the greatest heights of anything whatsoever, is sublimely ridiculous, end of story.

🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

The woman on the left is Elena Mukhina, the 1978 women’s gymnastics World Champion. She broke her leg and was not permitted the appropriate time to heal. Soviet gymnastics coaches pressured doctors to remove her cast early so she could start training for the 1980 Olympics. She protested heavily, as she knew her leg was not properly healed and would not withstand the grueling training regimen typical of her sport. Trainers and coaches dismissed her concerns and forced her to continue her training.

While practicing the Thomas Salto (since banned for being so dangerous), she under-rotated due to her newly weakened leg, and she landed on her chin. She broke her neck, which rendered her quadriplegic for the rest of her life. She was 20 years old at the time and died at 46.

Reports from Tokyo are that Simone Biles does not trust her own mind and body right now. Given the high level of difficulty (and danger) of the skills she performs, it is asking A LOT to expect her to continue to perform before that self-trust is restored. By pulling out of the team finals, she is listening to her body and her mind and giving herself enough time to heal so she can continue being the badass Queen she was meant to be.

Simone is doing what Elena was not permitted to do – be a voice for her own body and mental health. Anybody who would malign Simone for pulling out of the team final (and daring them to settle for the silver medal) should consider how they’d feel if, instead of reading the headline “Simone Biles pulls out of team final,” they were greeted with “Simone Biles paralyzed during dismount.”

And if you asked the rest of Team USA if they’d rather have a healthy Simone Biles or a gold medal, you know damn well what they’d answer, and they wouldn’t have to think for a second.

Angie Woodson – 7/27/2021

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But did you die?

Things… they change. Having taken a step back from the abyss lately, I’ve been dragging my psyche into fewer angst-ridden areas of life, but I’m nevertheless acutely aware of the controversy swirling around Simone Biles and other Million Dollar Babies of the sports world this year, and particularly this week. Apparently some round-headed pretender who likely couldn’t pull the trigger on a chin-up has called Simone Biles “a selfish sociopath” and “a shame to the country” for putting her health and well-being ahead of gold medals. According to Charlie Kirk “We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles.” She’s so embarrassingly weak she does death-defying gymnastic moves nobody else in the world has ever thought of. What a taker.

So hey, if you live through it, no harm done, right? Everything for Mother America. That sounds a little 3rd Reich to me, so I’m giving Byron Heath a guest-essay spot this morning…

*****

This realization I had about Simone Biles is gonna make some people mad, but oh well.

Yesterday I was excited to show my daughters Kerri Strug’s famous one-leg vault. It was a defining Olympic moment that I watched live as a kid, and my girls watched raptly as Strug fell, and then limped back to leap again.

But for some reason I wasn’t as inspired watching it this time. In fact, I felt a little sick. Maybe being a father and teacher has made me soft, but all I could see was how Kerri Strug looked at her coach, Bela Karolyi, with pleading, terrified eyes, while he shouted back “You can do it!” over and over again.

My daughters didn’t cheer when Strug landed her second vault. Instead they frowned in concern as she collapsed in agony and frantic tears.

“Why did she jump again if she was hurt?” one of my girls asked. I made some inane reply about the heart of a champion or Olympic spirit, but in the back of my mind a thought was festering:

*She shouldn’t have jumped again*

The more the thought echoed, the stronger my realization became. Coach Karolyi should have gotten his visibly injured athlete medical help immediately! Now that I have two young daughters in gymnastics, I expect their safety to be the coach’s number one priority. Instead, Bela Karolyi told Strug to vault again. And he got what he wanted; a gold medal that was more important to him than his athlete’s health.

I’m sure people will say “Kerri Strug was a competitor–she WANTED to push through the injury.” That’s probably true. But since the last Olympics we’ve also learned these athletes were put into positions where they could be systematically abused both emotionally and physically, all while being inundated with “win at all costs” messaging. A teenager under those conditions should have been protected, and told “No medal is worth the risk of permanent injury.” In fact, we now know that Strug’s vault wasn’t even necessary to clinch the gold; the U.S. already had an insurmountable lead. Nevertheless, Bela Karolyi told her to vault again according to his own recounting of their conversation:

“I can’t feel my leg,” Strug told Karolyi.

“We got to go one more time,” Karolyi said. “Shake it out.”

“Do I have to do this again?” Strug asked.

“Can you, can you?” Karolyi wanted to know.

“I don’t know yet,” said Strug. “I will do it. I will, I will.”

The injury forced Strug’s retirement at 18 years old. Dominique Moceanu, a generational talent, also retired from injuries shortly after. They were top gymnasts literally pushed to the breaking point, and then put out to pasture. Coach Karolyi and Larry Nassar (the serial sexual abuser) continued their long careers, while the athletes were treated as a disposable resource.

Today Simone Biles–the greatest gymnast of all time–chose to step back from the competition, citing concerns for mental and physical health. I’ve already seen comments and posts about how Biles “failed her country,” “quit on us,” or “can’t be the greatest if she can’t handle the pressure.” Those statements are no different than Coach Karolyi telling an injured teen with wide, frightened eyes: “We got to go one more time. Shake it out.”

The subtext here is: “Our gold medal is more important than your well-being.”

Our athletes shouldn’t have to destroy themselves to meet our standards. If giving empathetic, authentic support to our Olympians means we’ll earn fewer gold medals, I’m happy to make that trade.

Here’s the message I hope we can send to Simone Biles: You are an outstanding athlete, a true role model, and a powerful woman. Nothing will change that. Please don’t sacrifice your emotional or physical well-being for our entertainment or national pride. We are proud of you for being brave enough to compete, and proud of you for having the wisdom to know when to step back. Your choice makes you an even better example to our daughters than you were before. WE’RE STILL ROOTING FOR YOU!

Byron Heath 07/27/2021

*****

I have excruciating memories of Kerri Strug’s sacrifice for those farging bastidges. No one should ever ask that of any athlete.

*****

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Are you old enough?

A lovely guest post…

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Kicking over the traces…

will rogers quote.jpg

 

Do you ever want out of your skin? You know, because you’re worn out from thinking all the thoughts that pile up in your brain like kindling, splinters poking and needling. Because the stuff held in by your skin hurts all day every day. Because someone you love is stressed and unhappy and you can’t fix it. Because the world isn’t kind and the slings & arrows extract their pound of flesh and energy every freaking day and you’re tired of the ugly. Because all the relentless hurt hurts so relentlessly. And you finally drop your guard and share some of the pain to make it feel less potent and you’re hit with the ice-bucket challenge – dispiriting to the max. Meanwhile, your heart flutters like a bird in your chest and you fully grasp why people drink and do drugs.

Yeah, me too, bubbie, getting out of this skin is Job 1 today; however, that’s apparently not happening, which leaves humor for toughing it out. What’s your antivenin of choice – deadpan, dark, ironic, satirical, blue, highbrow, slapstick, something else… what helps you get through the night? It would be a kindness to come share some of it with us – we’re dyin’ heah. Life is so simple most of the time that when it turns crunchy it’s really noticeable. The world is full of crazy-ass people who make me want to cry, mean-ass people who do make me cry, willfully-ignorant people who make me want to leave the planet – I don’t feel like seeing ANY of it today, boo-hoo.

So come share what makes you laugh. Robin Williams knows how to make the hurt better by sharing it, so he’s my go-to guy.

 

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The Unbearable Lightness of Reading…

 

A marathon it’s been, the best kind – three books in quick succession, by three distinct authors, and connected by one unbroken muscular thread – The People, as they have always called themselves – and their existence from time primeval.

First in the “series,” entirely by happy chance, was MAUD’S LINE, written by Margaret Verble and published in 2015, the fictionalized story of a young Cherokee girl becoming a woman in 20th Century Oklahoma. Its contemporary portrayal of a time just past hooked itself into my imagination from – halleluiah, page one – and delivered me directly to book two.

Which – I assume you’re taking notes – was LAKOTA WOMAN, by Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes, published in 1990, and not fictionalized at all. The author was active and instrumental in the Bureau of Land Management and American Indian Movements of the 1970s and 80s with Russell Means, Dennis Banks, so many others, and her gritty recounting of all the seemingly unrightable wrongs that have altered The People’s reality since the White Guys got here burned itself into my consciousness, not to put too fine a point on it.

So when both a friend and an esteemed nephew recommended Annie Proulx’s BARKSKINS within hours of each other it was clear that lil’ Ms. Serendipity had dropped in again and placed a shiny object in my path. Off the top, let me quickly address a few negative comments I’ve seen: that perhaps Ms. Proulx’s focus is…unevenly focused…that she hammers, that she commits “stylistic infelicities.” Yes, I caught all of that, recognized it, owned it and read on. The scope of the story is so expansive, so unexpectedly gripping, that the combined weight of all the odd little imperfections adds up to less than that of a feather – notable by virtue of existence, but in the end taking nothing from the whole.

Annie Proulx, author of THE SHIPPING NEWS, for which she won a Pulitzer in 1994; BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, for which she won the prize called “We’re turning your book into a movie;” along with at least a baker’s dozen more titles, has at 80 years of age turned out an epic about trees, of all things, that kept me absorbed from first page to last. Aside from her colossally amazing book, I love that she’s even older than I am, has been described as “sassy,” and knows how to write like a mutha.

Annie takes us from 1693, starting with the French in what became Canada, to 2013 in what is still Canada – with side trips to London, New Zealand, what we now know as the continental United States, and points everywhere around the globe, the entire saga stemming from one family line and diverging throughout multiple others, from the French, to The People, to the Dutch, et.al. And the wonder is that she makes us care about the majority of those characters, even though we sense they are soon to be swept from the stage to make room for succeeding generations, each one more fascinating than the last.

I like big books and I cannot lie, and at more than 700 pages BARKSKINS was too short. Annie Proulx knows how to put us at the scene of the tale with a lovely economy of language; how to scatter engaging and/or redeeming characters into all parts of the story, avoiding what could have become a tedious litany; how to illuminate dilemmas that we would downplay if left on our own. If that shedding of light is “hammering,” we’re clearly in need of a butt-load more of it – the denuding of nearly all this planet’s original forests is but one ongoing dilemma of many.

BARKSKINS indelibly lays out the sins of the past and their consequences for all humanity while also serving up reasons for hope, that essential tool of survival. Hang onto it, you future humans, and may it save your hide since most of your forebears have never carried, nor do they (we) carry, their (our) fair share of responsibility for what your present might look like.

As William T. Vollmann wrote in his New York Times book review:

“Now our own world is likewise fading, thanks to climate change. The root cause of our self-impoverishment is thoughtfully teased out in BARKSKINS, whose best line may well be this: ‘My life has ever been dedicated to the removal of the forest for the good of men.'”  – June 17, 2016

 

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Memory of a dream…

ethereal-large

 

I move to your warmth

but you aren’t there

tears deliver me to unhinged

dreaming

and morning shows up rude

careless

awful

.

you won’t be there

ever again

nor there

nor there

and mornings will arrive

rude careless awful

forever

.

death of hope snuffs out life

a morning has to come

not rude careless awful

breathing beings cease with

only rude careless awful

but hope is pliant

she offers herself endlessly to true believers

.

JSmith 6/23/2016

 

 

 

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