Spooky Halloween Tree

Since it is a pagan holiday, allow me to begin this post with a quote from that neurotic and paranoid racist, H.P. Lovecraft. He may have been a bit distasteful and loony, but his prose lives on for anyone interested in melodramatic over-the-top writing. This is from the short story “The Colour Out of Space”:

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. ….

The trees grew too thickly, and their trunks were too big for any healthy New England wood.

Today I drove down a boring stretch of rural gravel road for perhaps the hundredth time. I had written off this stretch of road, which was featureless, bordered on either side by fields of genetically altered corn, now just stubble. As usual while driving along such roads, I let my imagination wander freely.

My attention was caught, though, by an array of Osage orange seed-balls in the road. Must be a hedge tree nearby, I thought. Then I encountered the grand-daddy of all Osage orange trees, probably the oldest and largest representative of the species for many miles around. I pulled over and got out my camera. Conditions weren’t ideal for photography, as the sun was bright in a cloudless sky, but I had to record images of this remarkable tree. This tree was a keeper, and I’ll be back to take better photos, but these are what I have now:

I stuck my billed cap into a snarl of thorny branchlets to give a sense of scale. The cap wasn’t happy:

“Larry, why did you do this! I can’t get out! Please rescue me from these thorny clutches!”

“Just a moment, I’ll be right there after I snap some photos, cap.”

“I just want to be back on your head where I’m safe!”

Why do I always end up with cowardly caps?

Here’s a view of the thoroughly uncivilized upper branches. The tan and furrowed bark seems barely able to contain the orange cambium, which seems to be wanting to escape out into the world and wreak havoc among lesser beings:

I’ll return to this tree, as it seems to offer a variety of photographic opportunities. If I don’t return one of these days the tree will most likely have devoured me, the only evidence being a white cap on the ground and a suspicious bulge in the tree’s trunk!


Susannah McCorkle

I’ve had this happen before, and it is always disturbing. I’ll discover an impressive musician or author, be blown away by the virtuosity of the artist’s work, then discover that suicide or illness has truncated yet another career.

Somehow, most likely via some ‘net link, I became aware of jazz singer Susannah McCorkle the other day. What a singer! You can hear echoes of Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Canadian singer Diana Krall in her work. I was curious; how had I not heard of this woman before? I looked her up on Wikipedia and discovered that Susannah had committed suicide when she was just fifty-five years old. Evidently she had fought depression for many years.

A tragic loss, both for her family and friends and for connoisseurs of romantic jazz singing.

Here’s a good example of Susannah’s singing:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-9vIHzO2Q4?rel=0&w=480&h=360]

Another example; she’s singing one of my favorite Gershwin songs, giving it her all:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0cVrVR1ca8?rel=0&w=480&h=360]

Luckily Susannah McCorkle left behind a large body of recorded work, a small recompense for a life cut short.


The Sunflower Box

Friday morning I was loading papers into my car at the Herald-Whig loading dock. My route boss approached me and said, “Larry, I hear that you’ve been forgetting to deliver in the Sunflower Box, out on North 244th St.”

A vague memory surfaced of my predecessor on the route showing me such a box. I had completely forgotten about it! I had been delivering into the customer’s regular mailbox.

I looked around while on that street Friday but didn’t see that particular box. Early Saturday morning I made another attempt. It was difficult, because many boxes don’t have the street address printed on them. It was also dark, which didn’t help. By a process of elimination I determined that one particular driveway must be the one.

The driveway looped around, and then the Sunflower Box was illuminated by my headlights. How could I have missed it! It was eight feet tall and featured a monstrous sunflower blossom at the top, along with several painted sheet-metal leaves.

During the decades following WWII there a was a flowering of rural metal folk art. Once rural electrification was complete, farmers and other rural people quickly acquired stick welding equipment, some of it fashioned from army surplus components. Scrap is always plentiful on a farm and a generation of farmers grew up welding, both to fix farm equipment and just for fun. This mailbox is a great example of such folk art. I can picture the scene in a farm kitchen. An adolescent boy is explaining his idea to his father:

“We need a new mailbox, Dad! The old post is falling over and using steel the new one will last forever!”

“I don’t know, son. A sunflower? Wouldn’t it be putting on airs to set such a box out by the road?”

“We could put it by the house, Dad! The mailman could just circle around to deliver to us. He’d like that — no more parking alongside the road, don’t ya think?”

“Well, okay… Knock yourself out, boy!”


Pre-Hallowe’en Post

I have some good stuff for a pagan holiday cooking slowly on the back burner, but in the meantime I wanted to share a very clever photo which my friend Claire posted on Facebook. I got a kick out of this:

That photo tells a story, doesn’t it?


Sunrise Sequence

This morning I was keeping an eye out for the appearance of the sun as I drove down deserted gravel roads. The sky was disappointingly clear but it looked like a few clouds might gather in the east to greet the new day; there’s just no predicting the vagaries of the atmosphere!

I drove up a hill and found myself on what used to be upland prairie, a broad expanse of plain with a good view of the eastern horizon. Ah! Clouds had appeared and the sunrise was beginning. I parked right in the middle of the road, got out of the car, and positioned myself next to a frosty hedge corner-post, a handy steady-rest for the camera. This is a sequence which took just a few minutes to unfold:

I wonder if anyone else saw it?


Luisa Igloria On Writing

For the past year or so I’ve been a fan of Luisa Igloria’s poetry. Her command of phrase and imagery is an inspiration for me. This morning I came across an interview with her at this site:

Writing Our Way Home

That site, by the way, is an interesting resource for writers and readers and seems to have spawned a vibrant on-line community.

How do you keep creating when things get difficult?

I used to moan and whine a lot about not having, or finding, enough time in the day/week/month/year to “get to my writing”. That’s most likely a function of wearing a number of hats at the same time: I’m a full time parent and spouse at the same time that I’m a full time academic. Finally I got tired of hearing myself complain, and have had to learn to squirrel away moments in the day to feed that part of me where the writing comes from.

Perhaps some day we’ll find that ideal world where we can have time for everything, but right now the medley of all that claims one’s attention is the reality for most of us. I used to look forward to summers, and applying for some kind of writing retreat or residency (have gone to some really nice ones too, over the years). But that’s not always something one can count on with any regularity.

So I appreciate what the last 287+ days writing a poem a day on Dave Bonta’s Via Negativa site (beginning with a prompt I find at his Morning Porch site) have helped me to achieve– the space, and ability, to keep sharply focused on nothing but writing for even just thirty to forty minutes a day. I could swear by it now – by how daily writing practice does make you limber, trains the mind and the senses to pay attention, so you can quickly get to that place where spontaneous generation can take place and you can use language, image, sound to cut even momentarily through the noise and crap, all the baggage we lug around everyday.

Luisa teaches on the faculty of Old Dominion University, where she directs the MFA Creative Writing Program.

In closing I’ll present an example of her fine poetry:

Todos los Santos

The gravestones are damp, shiny with recent rain.
Everyone we’ve ever loved sleeps beneath this ground,

smelling the grass, letting weather trickle into bones
that lie in their beds, broken rosaries wound through

what once were fingers clasped across the chest.
At their feet, pairs of good leather shoes, tightly

rolled blankets not yet riddled with holes.
In trouser pockets, soft bills, loose change.

A gold tooth that’s fallen into a circle of ash.
How long has it been like this? Soon, hundreds of

little flames flower atop white-washed tombs.
Moths in the branches sift smoke from their wings.

—Luisa A. Igloria
10 26 2011

This poem was inspired by one of Dave Bonta’s Morning Porch series of deliberately short poems:

The walk is shiny with recent rain, and the west wind is damp and full of sounds from the valley: tires humming, the heavy thrum of a train.

Dave and Luisa have a very fruitful call-and-response collaboration, with new poems every day. I observe from afar and offer comments occasionally.


A Little Owl Running

I was lurking among the many photographers who frequent the Google+ social networking site yesterday, freely offering comments on photos which impressed me. And tactfully ignoring the many which didn’t!

I happened across a wonderful photo of a Little Owl by British photographer Austin Thomas. He graciously gave me permission to reproduce a couple of his photos in exchange for attribution and a link to his site, which is here:

Austin Thomas photography

I admire the patience and persistence which are necessary to produce work of that caliber.

Here’s the photo which first attracted my attention:

I like the Latin name of that owl species: Athene noctua. “Athene” is a reference to the Greek goddess Athena, who reputedly had or has a special affection for that owl. The species isn’t native to Britain, but was introduced from the Continent in 1842. The owl has a strong resemblance to our local Screech Owl.

I also like this shot of an owl peeking around a corner at Thomas, who evidently is peeking through his camera’s lens:

I wouldn’t mind having eyes like that! Feathers, too, as long as I’m wishing for the unlikely! Wouldn’t the neighbors gossip!


Nature Calls

Yesterday I was driving down a winding gravel road in rural Adams County, Illinois. I was lost in thought; the route I was following is thoroughly embedded in my mind these days and miles can go by without leaving a trace in my memory.

The mental state known as “being lost in thought” is a peculiarly human trait. Is it a good thing? Sometimes it can be, but the state can also lead to a disconnect from that Real World out there, a messy and disorganized set of places which fortunately contains those unrepeatable and beautiful alignments of time and location which are all too easy to miss.

Being lost in thought can have a malign effect upon the world. When those thoughts become entangled in endless loops of striving, ambition, and exploitation of both other people and places on earth they can lead to irreversible damage leavened by financial profit. The common mode of “business-like” practical thinking, in other words.

For better or worse, I’m not afflicted much by that particular mode of thought, tending more towards the aesthetic as a general rule. Head in the clouds? Not really that, it’s more that I try to stay aware of the cresting wave of the present moment — except when I become lost in thought!

I take refuge in the excuse that all of us are bundles of contradictions, some of us being more aware of that universal human condition than others.

Back to the gravel road: I gradually became uncomfortably aware that I had to take a piss. I kept my eye out for a secluded dip in the road, out of sight of farm-houses or farmers on tractors. I was trying to be reasonably discreet, you see!

I found a spot, got out of the car,stretched my legs a bit, and did my business, a golden stream of urine making pockmarks and small puddles in the dry white limestone dust. Certain butterflies will appreciate my liquid contribution to that stretch of road! There are worse roles to play than being, for a short time, a benefactor to the lepidopteran tribes.

Certain readers will be wrinkling up their noses and thinking, “I don’t want to hear about such icky reminders of human animality! Yuck! Go back to pretending to be a pristine soul inhabiting a body that is best ignored!”

There are two different ways of regarding our inescapable status as organisms, creatures inhabiting the earth along with the worms, reptiles, and birds. You can try to deny biological reality or you can acknowledge it as a necessary part of our existence.

Denial results in such intellectual aberrations as a belief in Heaven or a desire to be downloaded into a silicon matrix, both of which involve fantasy and willful ignorance of the power of Occam’s Razor, a keen blade which effectively deals with ideas with no repeatable proofs or any evidence other than words.

I have an optimistic nature and in general try to see advantages and benefits in circumstances beyond my control, such as the fact that I inhabit a body which periodically exudes a variety of substances, most of which are not appealing at first sight or smell.

So what are the good points of urination, you might well ask. There is the oft-ignored, or at least not talked about, feeling of well-being which follows such voiding of the bladder. You no longer are carrying around a sack of fluid waste. That insistent pressure is gone.

More pertinent, though, is that you are forced out of the mental world of day-to-day duties and activities. You have a bit of a time-out when nature calls. You can take advantage of this forced interlude and take stock of your life and environment. Of course this works better when you are outside, rather than in a marginally clean room with a hexagonally-tiled floor, surrounded my white porcelain structures with chromed handles.

I’ve made my point, such as it is, and I sense a certain restiveness in my readers.

“Okay, Larry, so you took a piss! I didn’t come here for this! Where are the photographs, the amusing dialogs and scenarios? Maybe a book review or a cool video?”

During my time-out period, standing by the side of the road heeding a nasty and unmentionable biological urge (I can’t resist a bit of irony here!), I saw a young Black Oak sapling, a tree which may never have had the privilege or (more commonly) bad luck of being observed closely by a human being. Quercus velutina is a coarse member of the oak tribe, a tree with crudely-designed but effective leaves and black and furrowed bark. The leaves look as if they were designed by children, the master designer looking on indulgently as they practice their craft. This particular tree had the abnormally large leaves common to very young trees fighting for whatever light they can glean from what its elders had let slip by. Like a scrawny dog, its ribs showing through mangy fur, lurking beneath a kitchen table and hoping for fragments of tossed or dropped food.

It was the range of colors which attracted my attention, rooted as I was for a minute or so to the spot. The green of the leaves’ centers was darkened with admixtures of black and blue. The rims of the leaves were changing first, a border of a deep red slowly spreading inwards. The colors were muted by the diffuse light from an overcast fall sky.

I shook off golden droplets and went back to the car to fetch my camera for a couple of quick shots. These colors and textures became the backdrop of my thoughts for the remainder of the day.


Garage Beetle

Yesterday afternoon the weather was truly splendid, one of those prime fall days which Nature cruelly gives us; I know we are being lulled into complacency before the dire Hammer of Winter falls!

My friend Jeff and I were over at the garden plot, cleaning up old plants and putting the garden to rest for the winter. There is an old garage on the property in which we store garden paraphernalia. Jeff and I were standing by the old structure, imbibing heavily caffeinated Mountain Dew from cans as we prepared to tackle the overgrown tomato vines. They had done their solanaceous thing and outlived their welcome.

I noticed a lone beetle slowly making its way up the wall of the garage, engaged in some inscrutable buggy business. I fetched my camera from the car and leaned as close to the insect as I could. The beetle tried to ignore this intrusion by an inconceivably monstrous denizen of a larger realm.

I liked this shot, which inadvertently included one of my finger tips which was helping to steady me as I focused:

The beetle was phlegmatic, but betrayed a slight sense of alarm by loosening its wing-covers, perhaps in preparation for a sudden departure, if such became necessary.

In this next shot notice how the focal plane intersects the body of the beetle in just two areas, the wing covers and one of the clawed front feet. I suspect that the insect is some sort of predatory beetle.

Notice also the orange color of the bug’s body revealed beneath the wing-coverts. Perhaps the bright color is intended to startle and dissuade predators?

I left the beetle alone; it heaved multiple sighs of relief through its spiracles as Jeff and I walked towards the garden.


The Pilgrim, Chapter 33

Old Jules is an an eccentric 68-year-old man who lives in the Texas Hill Country. His blog is worth a visit, containing as it does an eclectic mix of poetry, commentary, music, and photos:

So Far From Heaven

I was wandering around Old Jules’ blog, looking at his displayed digital goods, when I decided to steal something to bring back here. Don’t worry, I just took a copy!

It had been years since I had listened to Kris Kristofferson’s song The Pilgrim, Chapter 33. I like the song, having known several characters who reminded me of the lyrics. Here’s a video of Kris singing the song, and being an ever-helpful soul, I pasted the stolen lyrics below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NAaiRYUBos?rel=0&w=480&h=360]

** The Pilgrim: Chapter 33 **

by Kris Kristofferson

See him wasted on the sidewalk in his jacket and his jeans
Wearin’ yesterday’s misfortunes like a smile
Once he had a future full of money, love, and dreams
Which he spent like they was goin’ outa style

And he keeps right on a’changin’ for the better or the worse
Searchin’ for a shrine he’s never found
Never knowin’ if believin’ is a blessin’ or a curse
Or if the goin’ up was worth the comin’ down

He’s a poet, he’s a picker
He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned
He’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction
Takin’ every wrong direction on his lonely way back home

He has tasted good and evil in your bedrooms and your bars
And he’s traded in tomorrow for today
Runnin’ from his devils, lord, and reachin’ for the stars
And losin’ all he’s loved along the way

But if this world keeps right on turnin’ for the better or the worse
And all he ever gets is older and around
From the rockin’ of the cradle to the rollin’ of the hearse
The goin’ up was worth the comin’ down.

There’s some folk poetry for ya!