A Tall Order

It’s amazing what you can get on Amazon. Recently, when I was in Lanesboro Minnesota visiting my friend, I learned that the nearby town of Peterson, population 200, had taken up a collection and ordered an 8 ½-foot gnome to honor their Norwegian heritage (and for fun and to drum up business I imagine). (Who knew you could get an 8 ½-foot gnome on Amazon?) Well, the gnome got lost somehow en route, so Amazon apologized and sent them another one. (How do you lose an 8 ½-foot gnome?)    Eventually, the lost one showed up, leaving Peterson with two 8 ½-foot gnomes. (Apparently Amazon thought it was too much trouble to ship one of them back.) Of course my friend and I had to drive to Peterson to see them. One gnome sits in Peterson’s city park and the other next to a sign welcoming visitors to the town. Turns out 8 ½ feet isn’t as large as you think (though still impressive). See photo. If gnomes are not your thing, we later discovered that the company that made these gnomes also sells (among many other items): A Welsh dragon that is 6 ½ feet high and 9 feet long; An African elephant that is 8 feet tall and 12 feet long; A giraffe that is nearly 12 feet tall and 6 ½ feet long; A charging triceratops that is 10 ½ feet high and 20 ½ feet long; and A Brachiosaurus that is 15 ½ feet high and 18 feet long. These huge items are probably intended for cities or companies, but I laugh, imagining one (or more!) of...

Liberating Limericks

A writer whose mind swam in fog, Was endlessly scribbling her blog. Ideas were few, And nothing felt new, So she quit, and went out for some grog.   She tried once again the next morn, But still nothing real could be born. Words wouldn’t come, Her brain stuck with gum? Her frustrated heart filled with scorn.   So she tinkered with limericks instead, Thinking playfulness might clear her head. It had been a long time Since she’d made silly rhyme, Was relieved that her mind wasn’t dead! (And she hopes they’ll amuse when they’re read.)       A tree green and lush in its crown, Stares out with a powerful frown. “This land is a wonder! Not something to plunder! All Earth is a verb, not a noun!”         A fairy with curls, looking stern, Speaks a lesson she wants us to learn: “Mother Earth needs our caring, Her magic’s still flaring, Match Her love with your own, let it burn!”         What is the limerick of your life...

Pele’s Cauldron

Today I’ve been thinking about Kilauea, the volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii that’s been reshaping the island’s terrain continuously since 1983. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I was there around this time last year… Perhaps because thinking about something red hot feels good after a long cold white winter… Perhaps the approaching spring equinox brings the volcano to mind, since they are both about transformation and new beginnings, and not always pretty, at least at first… Perhaps  I need to be reminded that the blaze of Creation is a deeper, more powerful fire than the smoky flame of anger and conflict we contend with constantly these days… Perhaps I simply miss Pele. Here is a poem I wrote in 2010, after seeing the glowing caldera of Kilauea—the realm of the goddess Pele–at night for the first time.   Halema’uma’u   She is there, stirring fire in Her enormous cauldron, simmering stew, plume of sulfurous breath rising, glowing, blood red in the black night, a primordial witch’s kettle visible for miles.   “Stare—admire me—be afraid of me if you must. You think me wild and dangerous. I am and I have been so since the beginning of time. But—kinswoman—so are you. You, too, kindled by subterranean shifts fanned by passion and instinct fire up your cauldron simmer what is needed and when it is time, burn away the obsolete to forge the new. Fire to flesh to fire to flesh . . .   You know this. Live it.”   Have you seen Halema’uma’u caldera? At night? What are you forging in your cauldron of creation? (Photo...

Christmas Sparrow

This month I offer a poem written by Billy Collins. In honor of surprises and wonder, and how they invigorate us instantly. And in honor of the resiliency of the many creatures that quietly live among us. If you have had experiences similar to the one in the poem, I’d love to hear.   Christmas Sparrow The first thing I heard this morning was a rapid flapping sound, soft, insistent— wings against glass as it turned out downstairs when I saw the small bird rioting in the frame of a high window, trying to hurl itself through the enigma of glass into the spacious light. Then a noise in the throat of the cat who was hunkered on the rug told me how the bird had gotten inside, carried in the cold night through the flap of a basement door, and later released from the soft grip of teeth. On a chair, I trapped its pulsations in a shirt and got it to the door, so weightless it seemed to have vanished into the nest of cloth. But outside, when I uncupped my hands, it burst into its element, dipping over the dormant garden in a spasm of wingbeats then disappeared over a row of tall hemlocks. For the rest of the day, I could feel its wild thrumming against my palms as I wondered about the hours it must have spent pent in the shadows of that room, hidden in the spiky branches of our decorated tree, breathing there among the metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn, its eyes open, like mine as I lie in bed...

Allowing Ambiguity

When doodling to relax the other night, I stumbled into drawing an image that I noticed makes sense the way I drew it and also upside down. Then I discovered more images in it when I turned the paper other ways.   One side up it looks to me like a clownish person with a big nose, a fancy turban, frilly collar and a slightly crazed look.   Upside down, it could be another crazed person, this time with a round nose, mustache and complicated headwear. Not sure what is in his mouth. Or, I can see the small central oval as a woman’s face–no facial features drawn in–with carefully arranged hair (around the spirals), wearing a bandana across her forehead, a flamboyant headdress above that, and sporting an elaborate collar and button placket.     Turned on either side, it looks like some kind of sea creature to me. You can probably see other things too. I like this drawing but it makes me slightly uneasy. How can it be three or four things at once? Which way is up? What is it really? I’m disappointed in my unease. Can’t I let the drawing depict three or four things simultaneously without needing to make a judgment as to which one is right or preferred? Without creating a hierarchy of the images? Especially since I actually enjoy all of them equally. Can’t I let the drawing be ambiguous? It strikes me that this discomfort–with ambiguity, with not knowing “the answer,” with allowing several realities to coexist without putting them in a hierarchy— might be perilous now. So much is...

Beyond the Sights

I just got back from 2 ½ weeks traveling around Alaska with Tom. We tasted Alaskan foods (seafood, salmon, reindeer, fireweed and honey ice cream); walked on the land; cruised on the water; rode a tram up a mountain; heard native stories, drumming and dancing; spent a day at the Alaska State Fair; and had numerous conversations with a variety of people. We saw mountains, glaciers, icebergs, rivers, ocean, waterfalls, forest, tundra, eagles, puffins, sea lions, harbor seals, porpoises, sea otters, beluga whales, humpbacks, bears, salmon, cranes, and a variety of sea birds. In our visual-centric culture of television, videos, facebook, and Instagram, What did you see? is usually our first (and often last) question. Although what I saw was gorgeous, it was when I was startled awake by other sensations that I was most awed: listening to the delicate plick of raindrops dropping on wet leaves in the Alaskan rain forest; hearing sea lions grunting and roaring to each other as they lay on rock shelves in the sea; taking in the scent of greenery, river and crisp mountain air mingled with the stink of dead fish (in pristine salmon streams in Alaska you must have both, since the salmon die after spawning); being startled by the sharp crack crack as a sea otter breaks open a crab for its meal; catching the distinctive prehistoric call of cranes as they fly high overhead on their seasonal migration; listening for the explosive exhale of humpback whales, and to the living silence they create as they fish, dive and flash their huge tails without a sound; sensing the air grow...