Thursday, August 04, 2011

I call this one... Egg Poem. Not much ring to that...

Break, heart, and be done.
Crack like an egg, expell your gold,
Be barren, empty, dry.
Don't grieve, for what never really lived
Can never really die.
Don't look for the tiny, featherless bird;
If you see it, close your eyes.
The little love that was never born
Was never meant to fly.

Break, heart, and be done.

(I know it sounds a little angsty. There's nothing really new going on. It came to me as an image, though, a new way to look at some old things I've been working on.)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Another New Orleans Just Like in the Movies Moment

This one is right up there with the time I met a guy with my same rainbow umbrella, and his iPod was playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (see Silver Lining) But this one is better.

Some time during the day last Wednesday, February 2, I realized I still hadn't paid my rent. I think i have a three day grace period, but I am RARELY late on rent, and I pride myself on that, so this initiated a minor panic attack. Still, I recognized that I had options. I would just have to act fast.

Normally on a Wednesday, I'd drop the check off on my way to Rock'n'Bowl for Swing Night. Only there was a private party last Wednesday, no Swing Night. Now, I avoid moving my car at all costs, since I have street parking in the Quarter. But there's always the St. Charles streetcar, which runs right by my office building, and has a stop two blocks from the realty office where I drop my checks.

So that's the only reason I got on the streetcar that day, and ended up sitting a few seats back from a young man in a fedora who sat down on a side facing seat, pulled out his Macbook, and started typing. A few stops later, and old blind man was helped onto the car, and sat down next to him. They began talking about the Superbowl, how Green Bay was going to win, historic football games of note, it was just one of those wonderful moments of incidental acquaintance where everyone within earshot becomes a friend.

When the old man reached his stop, the young man mentioned that he'd left behind some stuff he need to work on, and he helped the old blind man off the streetcar and across the street as if they'd been friends forever. I was pleased and touched to be reminded that there are such effortlessly NICE people in the world, and I texted a good friend about what I'd seen, as one of those made-my-day moments.

But that's not the end of this story.

Last night I decided that there were too many distractions in my apartment, and that going down to the coffee shop for a few hours to finish my book would put me in just the right frame of mind and environment to do some writing afterwards. So I packed up my things and headed down to Community Coffee, on the corner of Royal and St. Philip. (I love living in the French Quarter.)

I was waiting at the counter when he got into line right behind me, the young man with the Macbook. With all my usual finesse, I turned to him and said, "You were on the streetcar. You helped the blind man across the street."

And somehow, with a smile and a laugh, it wasn't weird and awkward, and I was able to tell him how much I had appreciated seeing someone doing something so nice. He thanked me and held out his hand, and said, "I'm Bera, like Yogi, but only one R." So I introduced myself, then it was my turn to order.

I got my coffee, and sat down at a table (with other empty tables nearby). He did come to my area at first, but he needed a power outlet and couldn't find one, so he walked away. Looking around, I realized I was sitting right in front of one, and had been hiding it, and since he was still hovering at the other end of the coffee shop, scanning walls, I went over to him and told him I'd found one.

I offered to move to the next table, but he said the cord would reach, and I didn't have to move. Then he saw my book, Sandworms of Dune, the last of the Dune sequels by Bryan Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. He asked me how Bryan Herbert's Dune books were, and that launched a discussion which also touched on Greek tragedy, PTSD, and Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. Then we both subsided into our respective work for the next hour or so, until CCs closed down.

Standing outside the coffee shop, we talked about Clash of the Titans, both the old one and the new one, other movies, Greek epics, aural poetry, Middle English literature, Steinbeck... and where I was headed next. I said I was headed home, but I'd probably stop at Lafitte's to see if anyone I knew was around to say hi to.

"What's Laffite's?" he asked.

"Laffite's Blacksmith Shop? How long have you lived in New Orleans?" I returned.

"A week and a half."

So I told him to come with me, and I explained a bit about Jean Lafitte and the blacksmith shop and bar, and brought him to read the information they have posted on their doors. We went in and I bought him a drink (a Coke, because he doesn't drink much). He let me pay, but said that I needed to let him buy me a drink in return soon. We sat down near the piano in the back and talked for another hour about, well, life and everything. It was that sort of evening.

When we left the bar, he gave me his number ("In case something comes up. I'm really good at lifting things.") and I texted him back with mine and my name ("Ah, Berwick, that's the English/Scottish you mentioned.").

So I had a great evening, just out of nowhere, and I've definitely made a new friend...

And all because I was late with the rent. What kind of lesson is that?

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Big Bend ~ December 29 ~ Driving and Packing

What with an entire day spent sick in bed and miserable, this trip has been a bit of a disappointment, but still, not completely so. Today I was well enough to drive from one end of the park to another, reading all the exhibit plaques along the way, stopping at all the overlooks. When I start home tomorrow, I’ll go up through part of the park and drive the leg from Panther Junction up to Persimmon Gap, picking up the only leg I’ve missed so far.

Today I felt again a sense of the spirit, the energy of this place. In a swamp, so very many things are alive and teaming that there seems to be a life-force that’s an aggregate of the multitude, that all the interconnected lives breathe an eerie spirit that stirs the murky waters and the Spanish moss. Here the many lives are thin and dry and brittle, and the essence that stirs in the wind whistling over the rock and sand is the breath of the land itself. Here, where the earth has heaved and gasped and bared its bones, its essence seems to pervade one as though it were resonating from the rock itself. One vast entity, not a myriad, a singular minimal power binding the elements together under the thinnest film of animal and vegetable.

Maybe the best part of this trip has been that for once it hasn’t been too cold to go out and enjoy the stars. Just now I packed up everything I didn’t need for the morning and didn’t mind leaving in the car over night, and I sent and loaded it in the trunk. I glanced up and was instantly captivated.

In sneakers without socks and wearing my nightshirt under my jacket and knowing I should really go up to bed to get an early start tomorrow, I found myself instead wandering away from the lights, into the darkness of a gravel sideroad. The desert grasses rustled around me with the wind, with water from hidden sprinklers misting the putting green, with Javelina, who knows? And me, sleepy and still sick, I only wished I could wander farther, leave the human lights altogether, and see only brilliance of the stars.

The stars! How could I have lived so long without picking out Cephus and Scorpio and the Pleiades and Cassiopeia, along with Orion, who moves me to tears whenever I catch a glimpse of him dimly in the city lights. And how do I not know more of them? How have I forgotten? And how long has it been since I actually saw the faint gossamer trace of the Milky Way? Why do I live so far away from where I can see them all? The only thing that’s ever made me want to go honest-to-goodness, middle-of-nowhere, no-shower-no-toilet camping is the idea of a perfect darkness on earth around me so I could see and know the millions of lights above.

My eyes have been turned down to this surface world, and that isn’t a bad thing, but I was touched, moved, almost broken by longing in those brief minutes I spent looking at the stars. I remember I used to do it all the time, when I lived out in the country. I forgot, fortunately, how much I miss it. Tomorrow, back to civilization. Tonight, soon, to bed. But the moment of this trip will be the starlight of tonight.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Big Bend ~ December 28 ~ Sick

One of the worse things that can happen on vacation has happened. I got home last night feeling exhausted (to be expected) and chilled (not quite expected). I took my temperature and found I was running fever. I felt a little sick to my stomach, too. That resolved into hunger at one point, so I ate some bread and cheese. That turned out to be a mistake. I was fevered and nauseated all night and most of today. I’m mostly glad it didn’t hit me on the Ward Spring trail. I only met two people coming back ans I was headed out, and no one on my way back.

I didn’t even make it to the end, to the spring. I’d thought it was just my usual hard time with the thinner air, and the fact that I’m really not very in shape. I’d climbed down and back out of one wash and almost fallen asleep when I stopped to rest. When I saw the next downhill stretch, the tall cottonwood trees around the spring already in sight, I knew I just couldn’t do it. I’d already frightened myself by the nearly drowsing off.

It’s a real danger, hiking by myself. If I’d slept until sundown somehow, I’d have probably still found my way back to the car, since I had a flashlight and the Garmin. But I’m glad I didn’t have to find out, and I’m REALLY glad I didn’t start throwing up out in the Chisos foothills. The ravens perched nearby must have known something, but I disappointed them.

Tired as I was, I didn’t want to quit after Ward Spring. I drove up into the Basin and walked the Window View trail. That one is a sidewalk, pretty much, and I’d have to be pretty badly off to not be able to manage it. Then I stopped at Terlingua Ghost Town, but the inverse sunset on the Chisos wasn’t very dramatic and the porch of the store was pretty crowded. I saw a man in a number 8 Manning Saints jersey, and thought about striking up conversation, but I didn’t feel like it. I came here to be alone, after all. And when I got home, I found myself sick.

So today I’ve been all alone indeed, shut up in my room, away from the mountains and the desert I came here for. And even if I feel well tomorrow, I won’t be doing any more hiking. I should be able to drive and walk a little, which will be nice, but I’m sad to have missed so much of my time here.

I am, at least, feeling mostly better now. I walked around Lajitas some while the sun set. I’ll probably eat some bread and honey in a bit, if I keep feeling hungry. Here’s hoping that doesn’t ruin tonight!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Big Bend ~ December 27 ~ First Day in the Park

I think I’ve done more driving than walking today. I’m definitely a flatlander from below sea level now. A two-mile hike to Burro Spring is worlds away from my two-mile walk to and from work. The sun and breeze and thin air make me so sleepy so fast! I did finally catch a second wind on my way back, after a sit and a drink.

I had just started thinking about how ridiculously soft I am when I heard children’s voices and was passed on the trail by three Suburbans’ worth of people of all ages. ( I saw the trucks when I got back to my car.) One of them, a beautifully-coiffed older woman in pristine and expensive hiking gear asked me with a laugh if it “was worth it?” I didn’t like to say that if she was already tired, after less than half a mile, then probably not. Her family probably wouldn’t have liked me much for that.

After my late start and slow progress, I’m thinking I won’t make it to all three hikes today. Maybe I’ll save the Blue Creek fragment I had planned for some time when I’ve either planned better, or might have more than one vehicle, so I can start in the Basin and go downhill the whole way. That leaves Ward Spring, which has lighter traffic, and which I wanted to do last year, but never managed. It’s almost 1:30pm. I’d better get started if I want to get through the 3.6 mile round trip before dark.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Big Bend ~ December 26 ~ Of Morning Frost and Drowsy Owls

Today’s odyssey began at roughly 6:30am just outside of La Grange, Texas. I packed up my belongings, grabbed the muffins and juice my hosts at the Big Tin Flag bed and breakfast had provided for my dine-while-dashing convenience, and stumbled out the door into the dim pre-dawn light to find my car sparkling with frost. I loaded my bags and breakfast, turned on the defroster, pulled out an old gift card, and scraped away as a dim avian shadow, high in a leafless tree, silhouetted against the brightening horizon, hooted at me sleepily.

With visibility adequately improved, I drove to my grandmother's to launch a brief hunt for my missing sunglasses. An abbreviated search in the dark front rooms revealed nothing, and I didn’t want to turn on lights or hunt in earnest, because two of my cousins were crashed on couches within my search perimeter. I also just didn’t have much time. I dug through the suitcase I stowed last night in my sister’s Tahoe, full of the gear I wouldn’t need for Big Bend, until I came up with my old French Market Jackie O shades. Non-optimal for rugged terrain, but better than nothing. Then I hit the road for real. (I later found the missing shades on the floorboards in front of my passenger seat. Mystery solved.)

I’d forgotten about that time of day, early early, before the sun is quite awake, where every passing instant brings a change to the light, and the world looks completely different after a blink. The dry tawny fields were silver with frost, and as I crossed the Colorado, I caught a glimpse of the pearly wreaths of mist rising from its still-seeming waters. I’ve got my favorite book of all time, Jane Eyre, on my iPod now, and the miles slid by as I listened, driving through fields, past farms, churches, agricultural equipment repair shops, in the strengthening day, racing the sun as it rose.

I made excellent time, in spite of stops in Austin for groceries, Fredericksburg for a snack, and a handful of other towns along Interstates and lesser highways for gas, breaks, and additional supplies, shifting from westward to southward to westward again across the biggest state in the lower forty-eight. (It helps that the speed limit on I-10 is 80 miles per hour out west.) The road seemed to jump over the rolling hills like a kitten running through tall grass, peak around the shoulders of more rugged heights, curve in a long stretch playing with the horizon like a narrow string, then finally sprawl tired and flat for long stretches.

Around 4:15pm, during the golden hour, when the sun droops gracefully toward setting, my heart jumped to my throat as I topped a rise and recognized the Chisos Mountains and Casa Grande Peak ahead. I have so many homes these days, but the few weeks I’ve spent in the park have been so unbelievably rich that this particular horizon has been etched into my heart like the profile of an old love.

I pulled up to my hotel, cut my engine, and opened my car door to absolute silence. No traffic on the nearby roads, no people walking the surrounding gravel paths, no birdsong and not a breath of air to rustle the dry grasses. Just utter stillness for several heartbeats, until I climbed out, swung my door shut, and headed for check in. I’d found my room and was starting to unload my bags when the soft call of an early owl drifted from a nearby grove of scrub, like an echo of the cold central Texas morning I left behind.

I went for a walk after sunset, and remembered how the deepening of twilight mirrors the early dawn in that every blink brings new stars to view. I sprawled out on a park bench on a putting green in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert with the blossoming night all to myself, ignoring the cold for as long as I could just for the joy of seeing six of the seven Pleiades. I’ve been told the seventh sister just cannot be seen by the naked eye these days, but I may try again tomorrow when I’m better prepared to outlast the chill of desert night.

Now I’ve unpacked and am enjoying one of my favorite indulgences: Summer sausage and cream cheese on sesame rice crackers and a glass of sweet red wine. I’m also enjoying the broken and sporadic free wi-fi here in the Badlands portion of the Lajitas Resort. On the agenda for tomorrow: Burro Spring, Ward Spring, and the Blue Creek trail to Cedar Spring. A few relatively short hikes (one to two miles one way) to get me warmed up and to figure out just what I’ll be capable of this year.

On the agenda for tonight, coming soon: sleep.