ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Liquid Spirit of Water


THE LIFE FORCE that moves through us, and through every drop of water and layer of slick rock, is as familiar as our own breath, yet as hard to grasp as the wind that rustles the cottonwoods.  We are told that the elements of science are kin to the elements of human nature: that those with Fire in their souls possess a radiant energy, an enthusiasm that brings color and vibrancy into the world; that those with Earth in their souls are well grounded and have enduring and nurturing qualities; that the currents of thought and spirit flow most freely through those with Airy dispositions. 
YET MODERN SCIENTISTS of ancient astrology believe that our deepest emotions – our most fervent passions – are expressed best by those with the liquid spirit of Water, the formless potential out of which all creation flows. 
Waterfalls overwhelm us with the power of their sensual – and yes – female natures
SPRING AFTER SPRING, they seem to hurl themselves over the edges of their own fast-flowing desires.  They rush wantonly toward the prairies, carving canyons into stone, reminding us of our own restless natures.  We feel their power especially during the melt of winter snow, when they rush full-boar over cliffs, tumbling over boulders made slick by their urgent passage. 
IN SUMMER, they dress themselves in sheer liquid gowns, revealing silver hearts, mossy tendrils grown long in the clear pools gathered at their feet.  Wildlife drink from their ponds, nest in the boughs of the trees that flank their beds.  Yet, come fall, they seem to pause, waiting for the coming winter in the clefts where the cliffs meet, teasing him with their lazy autumn meanders and slow seeping springs.  If we’re lucky, fall lasts long past the dying back of dogwood, long past the gold guilding of verdant fern. 
SOMETIMES WINTER COMES SOFTLY to the waterfalls, like a shy suitor – his knocking can be heard in the creak of willow branch, or in the cry of kestrel leaving, or seen in the gentle dusting of snow on fur tree.  The waterfalls seemed wrapped in winter’s icy blue arms, as if spreading their feathery water wings, dreaming of flight.  Hungry deer come to feed on the lichen that clings to nearby stone and bark.  Chickadees find shelter in the branches of the pines that grow on the stone slopes beside their chilled waters.  Crystallized droplets hang suspended like diamonds. 
SOMETIMES, IN THE DARK OF A BLUE MOON, winter’s coming is not so subtle.  He storms over mountain and prairie, staying long past the kestrel’s leaving.  He kisses the wetness from the waterfalls with frosted whiskers, slowing their passage over rock and stone, turning their bodies into sheaths of ice.  His snows bring their deeper natures to the surface, the bitter-cold bite of his breath forcing them to look inward at their own ever-changing ways. 
WATERFALLS IN WINTER have the power to slow the passage of our own busy and hectic lives.  Now is when we can reach out and touch their mysterious natures, feel life manifested within their frozen spirits.  We breathe deeply, let winter fill our lungs, feel awed by the raw power held in timeless abeyance, like pure energy sculpted in marbled ice. 
IF WE WAIT FOR THE TURNING OF THE EARTH, the heat of the sun, wait until the air in our lungs no longer chills our bones, we can once again hear our own familiar breathing.  We can watch the sheaths of ice melt, watch rivers come to life as streams and creeks fill with mountain flow.  Life will once again rush past us in a watery frenzy.  And once again, we’ll find ourselves longing to reach out and grasp the illusive beauty.
Note:  Red Room's topic of the week is Fire, Air, Earth or Water.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Shining a Light on Ted Kooser, American Life in Poetry, and Two Women Poets from Wyoming

I’ve been spending the day with two poems—both written by western women (both over 40, by the way), both published, both about a man and a woman—but both paint very different portraits of the relationship between a husband and wife. The first poem, “Denial” by Pat Frolander, just appeared on TED KOOSER'S COLUMN American Life in Poetry and is included in Pat's chapbook Grassland Genealogy (Finishing Line Press, Kentucky, 2009).  These poems are, to quote past Wyoming poet laureate Robert Roripaugh, filled with the "subtle strands of heart and mind that tie humans and animals to each other and the grasslands they share." Please click HERE to read Pat's poem.  Ted Kooser, a Pulitzer prize-winning poet and one of our nation’s esteemed poet laureates, is from the Great Plains, the heartland of America. He is widely praised for his "plainspoken style, his gift for metaphor, and his quiet discoveries of beauty in ordinary things.”  To listen to an NPR interview with Ted, click HERE.

Ted's book The Poetry Home Repair Manual (University of Nebraska Press) is one of my favorites, especially the section "At a window on the world" (pg. 31), where he talks about the presence of the poet in a poem.  It applies to memoir writing as well.  "While choosing your words it is as if you were at a window looking out into the world," writes Kooser. 

"The poem is the record of a moment at that window, but for once the author – not time nor weather – gets to control the amount of light outside. For once, you are in charge of the sun. If you want to write a poem about yourself, you turn down the light on the world and thus brighten your reflection in the glass. If you don’t want to appear very prominently in your poem, you brighten the light on the world until your reflection all but disappears. But there is always this double image, made up of the poet’s reflection in the glass – perhaps vivid, perhaps faint, perhaps somewhere in between...."  This silhouette photo, which illustrates Ted's "window on the world" so well, is by photographer, producer and friend Kathleen Jo Ryan (copyright 1989). The photo appears in her book Ranching Traditions and was taken at dawn at the Sombrero Ranch in Colorado.  Kathleen deserves an entire article just on her, so check back in.  Meantime, click HERE to learn about her fascinating documentary project, Right to Risk.  In Pat Frolander's poem "Denial" the light shines most brightly, though sadly, on the ranch wife. And Pat's presence, as the narrator, is barely felt at all (see the 2nd to last line).

The second poem that has captured my attention today I first read in Teresa Jordan's anthology Graining the Mare.  In "Timothy Draw" by SUE WALLIS, the light shines brightly and intimately on the narrator of the poem.  Sue was gracious enough to let me share it here.  The photo, (copyright Kathleen Jo Ryan 1989) is of ranch woman and cow boss, Kim Smith, of the Cottonwood Ranch in Nevada, and also appears in Ranching Traditions.  I just had the pleasure of spending a few days with Kim at the ranch.  She shines a bright light on the world too.  Here's Sue's poem, "Timothy Draw."

We pause at the top of Timothy Draw
Look down the country for stray cows
He cocks his head
Stands in the stirrups
Hands on the horn
Relaxed and easy and graceful
He moves with a horse
Like few men can

In one brief, quick space
I love him more
Than I will ever love again

Like passion, but not of sex
Like Life without death
Like the nudge and the tug and the sleepy smile
Of a too-full child at your still-full breast
Something that explodes from your toes
But flows through your bones
Like warm honey

More powerful than violence
          I lift my reins
          Our horses sidestep
          ... and we slip on down the draw


Two men.  Two women.  Both husbands and wives.  Both living their lives on land they love.  Yet such differerent experiences.  Both poets capture the human experience.  One, by standing at a distance.  The other, by entering the intimate terrain of the poem.  Both have much to teach us about life.

Sue and her husband raise grassfed beef on their Wyoming ranch.  Click HERE to find out more.