Summer Rain

Walked on a wet afternoon to clear my head, allowing myself to get drenched down to squeegee wet sneakers, only to let it pass and enjoy intermittent sunshine while I trimmed the hedges. A world temporarily sweet-smelling, a scent of wet soil, cut grass florally infused. Birdsong. These perfect young apples with their faint blush, innocent of what is to come. The blemish that has hit them year after year.

I could talk about the pounds and pounds of raspberries this season, but I won’t. It’s the stuff that can be expected – the bounty of a perfect summer. With all its imperfections, like the blemished apples to come, the pigeons that have devoured all but one of my heads of lettuce, the critters that have decided that marigolds are no longer an option, the cucumber that has trellised itself into the roses. The neighbors eager to chop down the trees that block the light. In the midst of it all, a three-legged “queen” came to rest on my wheelbarrow today.

She moved when I moved to get my phone, and then she returned – waiting to let her wings dry, perhaps. There is no empathy between us. We are on different levels of awareness. And yet. In my barely managed garden, I’ve allowed the poppies, cornflowers, wildflowers and weeds to blossom. Three or four California poppies are blooming.

It has never been more clear to me that this garden is a lesson, and a piece of work. Every year is different, and that change is the lesson. I am a guest. A passing visitor. A haphazard, erring steward. Someone who sometimes goes to great lengths to feed the birds, and sometimes doesn’t. Sharing the berries or not.

Inconsistent, impatient, wilful, and destructive human behavior – nature is infinitely less empathetic and yet, it will endure. In whatever form.

All the Same Boat

When the peonies shed their petals, I had some clean-up to do. Angel feathers, hearts and beauty going into the bio-degradable bin.

Something to behold in terms of longevity. Or meaninglessness in spite of it all. The gravity and such.

Perhaps I only really understood the interconnectedness of everything here. It is the same body of water that connects this tranquil, and yet bubbly, small town with Copenhagen, Stockholm, Gdansk, Kaliningrad, Klaipeda, Talllinn, Helsinki, Riga, and St. Petersburg. Whilst walking along Pacific Coast beaches in years past, I did think things were far away. And they were. But that, too, is an illusion. During a recent short film festival in town, I had a chance to see the documentary My Super Seawall that dates back to 2009 and is about the residents of Kivalina (Alaska) and their grim prospects living on a sinking, disappearing island.

It all reverberates – the memories of Las Vegas, NM, where, twenty years ago, residents were telling me about the drought, the bears coming in too close for comfort, and now the fires are raging. Given how much time has passed, I have to assume that those same people have left, as they intended to do back then. Some may no longer be among us. The memory remains. What do we do with that? To say, it’s in the past, it has come and gone, is not enough. The 13-year old doc about Kivalina and its ill-fated seawall and its doomed residents has not gone away. It is more important now. It is rising.

We may not agree on the resolutions, in fact, we may be pedalling backward when we should be going forward, but it’s all the same boat.

Leaving this sweet harbour for a few days, headed to Brandenburg and Berlin. Fires raging in parched Brandenburg. That universal story. Floods in one place, fire elsewhere. Check this page for updates from Berlin where I hope to visit the new documentation center on Refugees and Displaced Persons.

Halle (Saale) and Rethinking

Moritzburg

I think I’ve gone on and on about Halle before, but that was a few years ago so I’m going to give it another whirl.

The Berlin Wall went up when I was still a baby, and later, when we were living in West Berlin, I remember sneaking my Dad’s political magazines into my room to flip through pages that showed b&w images of dead bodies being dragged across the “death strip”, mostly young men in their early 20s who had tried to escape the East, perhaps less than a mile from where we were living then. This was about the same time of the worst images from the Vietnam War circling the globe. And those images were in the same magazine.

The memories go on. Train rides through the East, a dismally grey landscape of smoke stacks, the punishing stench of chemical factories, the lone figures in their uniform clothing standing behind the guard-rails at the railroad tracks, daring, in what can only be called an act of defiance, to raise their hands to wave to us. As we were flying by them in our safe cocoons. Those Eastern cities seemed to be hell on earth. I was maybe 10 or 11, and I couldn’t comprehend the sheer luck of having been born on the “right” side of that horrible border.

Since 1990, I’ve traveled often to the former East. All of it was fabulous, if for no other reason than to marvel again and again that some conflicts can be solved without bloodshed. Not intending to sugarcoat anything here. Halle was perhaps one of those places of hell I simply had no knowledge or understanding of. You end up feeling like a kid discovering a magical world you had never known existed.

Antiquated words

a wood carving, all of it

Lines 3
Herwarth Walden @ Moritzburg Museum, Halle (his real name was George Lewin, German expressionist, husband of Else Lasker-Schüler from 1901-1911). His wife named him Walden, inspired by Thoreau.

And for my Guernevillian pals, Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain of Pond Farm fame taught from 1925-1933 at Burg Giebichenstein in Halle, the famous design school. Her Bauhaus coffee pots and vases are on display at Moritzburg.

Days of Blue & Yellow

A friend reminded me years ago that we travel because it gives us a chance to tie up loose ends – not on the road, but before we leave. I cleaned out my closet when I found out that a youth art center out in the countryside was housing Ukrainian women and children for four days – a way station before they’d move into rooms or small apartments made available to them (often privately, and evidently enough to accommodate 100 people a week). The organizers said, a significant number of them had left the Ukraine with no luggage, just a plastic bag. Whatever they could carry. They needed clothes, bags, shoes, and the center needed sheets and bedlinen. I sorted and packed a big shoulder bag I hadn’t traveled with in over a decade.

When I got there, the organizer said the new arrivals hadn’t in fact arrived yet, would I like to see the facility?

And then I left and traveled – briefly – to Halle and Frankfurt. Which felt like a change of scenery. And it was – an illusion. The events are global. Global is still enormous, and hard to comprehend. Delivering a bag of clothing and shoes for Ukrainian refugees reduced the distance to inches. The rising cost of living and the changing climate are even closer. The not knowing. Realising there’s no place on this planet that is beyond reach or impact.

For the Lack Thereof

nature – unimpressed and silently doing its thing. The birds are back and the bumblebees. Not all is well on that front. But it looks like there will be pears.

As for us not so silent creatures…

“Now the words are emerging from their shelters, rising from their resting places, crawling from their niches and hiding places, escaping from their dungeons, palaces, forgotten books, shipwrecks at the bottom of the ocean, wriggling free from felled trees. Listen, they’re on their way!” – Dorothee Bachem

And the artist goes on, “They tear themselves out of context. And they love it!”

Free words. What a concept.

Am citing the artist out of context – but isn’t that the idea?

Re-discovered scissors and abandoned several articles with overgrown narrative paths and dead-ends, listened to music and chopped. Will take that concept to the word jungle.

We are ever hopeful. In spite of ourselves.

Lines II

Earlier in the day. Since then, several inches have fallen and I couldn’t resist another walk for the crunch of sticky snow under my boots. To be – in that sound-muffled, peaceful cityscape of deserted streets after dark. To see the cars, traffic signs, tree branches, rooftops, street lamps pillow-hooded. To be reminded of what it was like to walk through deep snow in parks decades ago, as a child, in Montreal or Vermont. Quite aside from beauty, silence is perhaps the best gift snow can give.

The year will end (soon) on several trajectories. The cross-pollination of creative efforts is amazing, e.g., on the question of space, drawing lines, claiming room, claiming something that is not ours to have or own, and even after we’ve given it up, still claiming the right to say what should be done with it. When we never are in any space entirely alone. Almost delusional, as if we ever truly wanted to be “alone” in any space, as a participant in a workshop noted, “the most hellish place I can imagine is to be in solitary confinement.”

And then, upon de-installing the show (see andyrumball on Instagram), we shuffled along on our hands and knees rubbing the red residue from the sticky tape off the concrete floor with our fingertips until the owner came in and said, “Enough. You’re not slaves.” In the end, it was not the words, but the demarcations that left a mark.

On that note, …

Merry Christmas.

Peace.

And R.I.P. Joan Didion

Lines I

the sphere is limited. the wind does what it does. the range of all our capabilities is somehow limited by where you or I happen to be rooted. then again, we are not grass.

we move around, sometimes a lot, frayed in the process, looking for pieces of ourselves in different places. like, where exactly did I leave that part of me?

only to go farther afield, travel – very exciting, late into this second viral year – when I decided to take a rented bicycle on a ferry to an island in the North Sea where I climbed into the dunes above and sat there, eating a congealed sandwich made in the dark on the mainland.

or discovering this place…

hundreds of miles from the sanddune. tangermuende – somewhere in the middle of “nowhere” southwest of Berlin. sagging timber, heartwarming humor and home-brew served by grandma.

read more lines soon …

Dispensable

The nest fell in early summer from a tree outside my apartment building. It stayed on the sidewalk as long as it took me to go to the post office and come back and decide on the way back that I needed to capture it. Next time I stepped outside, it was gone. Someone had swept the sidewalk or picked it up and threw it in the trash or took it home. We move on. The birds did. The fledglings did. We hope.

Several young folks are on hunger strike outside the Reichstag in Berlin. Their demand? They want the leading candidates for the upcoming general election to talk to them about their plans to combat climate change. Not one of the candidates has (not even the Green Party). They may have called the hunger strikers on their cell phones, walked past and ignored them, or said they don’t support hunger strikes, or made vague promises of engagement.

There’s a level of desperation afloat – measures being installed hand over fist for behavioral changes to reduce our CO2 footprint on a personal level – streets converted into bicycle lanes – e-mobility you name it, and the realization that this country’s emissions’ reductions won’t make any difference if the rest of the world doesn’t… wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves … if this country’s industry and energy providers don’t follow suit. Amplify that.

The young are dispensable.

Well, I could’ve opted to tell you something cheerful. Let’s try this: went on a bat watch last week. Did you know that some bats mate in the fall when the male sits in his cave and “sings” to the female, who is charmed by his song and dance, flaps in and takes her seat on top of the troubadour. She’s not alone. He piles them on, ten at a time. A love feast. In order not to get confused, he marks them so he knows, “ah, that one, been there, done that, next?” Then everyone departs. Except the male. He hibernates, the girls take on an extraordinary trek to warmer regions, but they won’t become pregnant until six months later when they return. Their babies are the size of gummy bears, and their milk is so rich that the naked gummy bear babies grow in record time into little bats spreading their wings.

We used to have several types of protected species bats in a small urban forest in town. Only thing was, our city administration and greedy investors were so stupid to chop down the trees. Bats. Gone. Dead. Moved on. All of the above.

>Body< a Poetic License prompt

The six feet of us, between us. At the market, I handle small pots of white and purple flowers, mulling over how many I can carry on the 1.5 mile walk home, given the grocery bag I’ve already slung across my shoulder. Set the flower pots down on an empty bench. The flower woman is packing up. I remain frozen as if the act of balancing the flower pots inside the bag were, is in fact, a major deal when I feel the touch of a hand on my shoulder.

An older man with snow white hair, masked, looks me in the eye and says, “Seize the day,” then adjusts the mask as if to lift it, as if to reveal his face, that is, himself as if I didn’t recognize him, but decides not to lift the mask. It would’ve been unnecessary because I don’t know him and we’ve all learned to recognize – are in fact recognizable to – each other with half of our faces veiled. He gets on his way, I buy the flowers.

How peculiar to think of myself as the older woman that older men pay attention to at the market. How peculiar to think our eyes speak louder than we thought when we were used to judging emotion, mood, attitude by focusing on the mouth, nose and chin. How surprising that we recognize each other by our hair, our posture, the way we walk. No mistaking the individuals in the sea of masked faces. So it is perhaps the soul that is worn on our sleeves and the windows of our eyes are transparent, and just that Sunday morning, the radio plays Suzanne by Leonard Cohen. The various iterations of “touching a perfect body” with one’s mind – she touching his, he touching her, and Jesus touching both.

What happens when these bodies lose their perfection? The mind is a wish-maker, a trickster that allows our minds to recognize gradually that we are changing, but it is slow and some part of it stays ignorant – as in, being asked about my grandchildren, or an old man touching my shoulder, and doing so because I am his age group.

In my mind, I’m still perhaps forty. Operating on memory, vividly recalling places, conversations, faces and things I used to do and learning gradually that they may all still exist (or not) but not in the here and now. It’s a bit like living on different levels of time and letting them continue, even though they’ve ended. And all of it through the single lens – not seeing how we are seen, but seeing others and recognizing them and their make-believe personas on a different plane. How that man at the market revealed himself in ways he never thought of then or since. And then – every seven years all new cells, but no new beginnings.

Home Cuts

The trees were planted in the 1870s.  At about a yard up from the ground, the copper beech trees had a diameter of almost 40”. Others had grown to 50”. A sycamore had a circumference of  40”.  Maples had grown even taller, thicker. All clustered around the slope of a natural spring. The saplings were left alone to grow undisturbed for 150 years, turning into  a natural forest that provided a home to bats, birds, and insects. When the saplings rooted, my paternal grandparents were born. Almost nothing of them has survived –  except a few letters and their genes. By the 1930s and 1940s they were both dead. 

The trees were doing well. One of the 100 odd trees of this urban forest – just one of them – had cleaned the air for fifty people in one day. And then came ambition and greed. The trees fell because someone decided they must and the politicians abided. I’m troubled by my rage. How did we end up split like a trunk that can never be reunited? 

One half was with the “illegal” tree occupiers since October 1st who persisted in sub-freezing temperatures, and the other half was outraged by “anarchists” from out of town setting cars on fire. The burning cars belonged to the investors. They can afford to lose a vehicle if they can afford to lose a healthy forest for their own personal gain. I know it’s illegal. Can we afford to lose another forest not to wildfire or drought but to greed?

The last thing I did when I left my home in California was to take a moment at the fairy ring in the backyard, place my hand on the trunks. I miss you. Hypocrisy. I used a wood burning stove for heat. For years. – Now I have lost a forest of my earliest memories. My parents at first carried, then wheeled me and later held my hands as I walked gingerly between them past the forest on our way home. I noticed its stillness, its darkness on the left slope beyond the railway station. It was home not just to us, but to the smallest ones among us. To them, it was habitat.

A tribute to “Bahnhofswald, Flensburg,” destroyed between February 19th and 22nd, 2021. With fond memories, and with love to the redwoods of the lower Russian River, Sonoma County, from a former resident.