Friday, April 24, 2009

Jennifer’s Big Scare

We spoke in hoarse whispers to each other, frozen in place by the sound of rustled leaves and broken branches. Behind the thicket of brambles, a scene from a Lee Friedlander picture, we saw the big ears of the deer and then another and then their mother. The deer didn’t notice us at first, but we could only do the barely breathing statue dance for so long. Inevitably, its ears pricked and it froze too, watching us with black eyes. The stand-off lasted until the desire to browse became overwhelming. Back to the marshy plants, then a quick jerk, as if we might push its nose into the drinking fountain like boys in early puberty. The song and dance cycled around for a few more minutes, until eventually I edged my camera out of its bag and took some pictures. We stood there for an hour hiding our passive-aggressive non-resistant rage at passersby that didn’t realize it is magical to watch wild animals and that one should discipline herself against jokes and the sort of contemptuous spoken language one might resort to while watching Celebrity Apprentice.
We were on the edge of a salt water marsh within sight of our apartment on a lazy weekend morning. It’s a place like Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge where sandpipers, surf scoters, red wing blackbirds, killdeers, barn swallows, and pairs of mandarin ducks have the general run of the place and fill the air with flutters and songs. Jennifer tried to whistle like a black bird to get it to answer like her mother Edith would have given the same conditions.
As we were reluctantly leaving our deer and following our stomachs home, we heard some wild snarling from the brush and our deer came running towards us, bounding to within a few feet of us in a rush to get away. After listening to the screams on the Internet as soon as we got home, Jennifer is pretty sure it was a cougar. I’m not sure about that, but here in the timberland where the ravens fly so close you can hear their wings rustle the animals are still in charge of nature. When the early sun makes the mist dance across the salt water and the wind sinks deep into your skin outside our front door, it seems wild and wonderful outside and all you want to do is watch.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Old Women of Belfair
Last Thursday the Page Turners had their monthly meeting. They schedule their discussions for the third Thursday of every month from 10-12 A.M., so it was little surprise that they turned out to be people with flexible schedules. I ducked into the library meeting room of varnished pine as 3 after ten, a dozen old women and an old white-bearded man named Don were milling around finding their name tags and filling their mugs from home with weak coffee. After some adjustment to the idea they made me a name tag and inquired as to my make and model, and intentions. Since the novel for today was set in the Qing dynasty of China (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See), I propped myself up as a scholar of China and its cultural mysteries (rather than as a visual illustrator as some poorly informed know me). We talked foot-binding and wife-beatings, Muslim comparisons abounded, the youngish 50 year old with straight brown hair across the corner from me offered sagaciously that fashion as a disciplining force is universal and that women who wear 1000 dollar shoes in New York and LA will slice their big toes in order to get the right fit. Don told of a Chinese friend of his who was married by parental arrangement back in the 50s to a “stunning” young woman (“that worked out ok”); he told nervously of the millions of Chinese graduates who will swamp our “dumbed-down” American professionals.
We talked about feminism and how women couldn’t wear pants to school in the 60’s (except during finals week). We ate freshly baked coconut bars and thought about how nice it would be a Chinese grandparent and have our children wait on us hand and foot. I was the expert for facts, figures and anecdotes. I oversimplified and provoked points off to the side and straight down the line and the old woman with the gnarled walking stick next to me (Mabel?) wished she was anthropologist too. The youngish fifty year old next to me, whom I liked, but not as much as my own little bobcat, Jennifer, wondered that perhaps I could write a book about the old women of Belfair.
As far as I can tell the old women of Belfair like to be independent, they like to read and wear Birkenstocks, they like the birds and sea and they regret the way those who built their town and named it did so by pushing the natives onto the reservation down at the bend, reducing their potlatch grounds to picnic parks and their shores to summer homes. They let the Mexicans “do a good job” in tending their yards “even though they are Mexicans,” and they care deeply about the world and about ethical living. Muslims and Asians are pretty far away and about as close to real as what they see on TV. They are strong of heart and with serious prodding they are willing to change. Next month we read Grapes of Wrath.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

That Albatross Has Really Big Wings
I’ve spent the past few weeks designing a personal curriculum for my next couple months here in the dregs of Hood's Canal. I’m hoping that with a teapot in hand and Che Guevara finger puppet (courtesy of the Wengers) on my finger I will be able to begin to “render visible” in the words of Paul Klee the workings of a practical philosophy. This is an ambitious provocation as it will require thought experiments, interventions, reflections and certainly concentration which in Senator Stevens' tubular world of libraries and high-speed Internet seems less and less possible. I’m going to have to read with an agitated, underlining and commenting pencil the works of Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, Fredric Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard, not to mention their practitioners Michel Taussig, Liu Xin, Rebecca Solnit. As digressions into the material poetic world I’ve mapped out readings of John Muir, Terry Tempest Williams, Pico Iyer, Mike Davis, and online lectures with David Harvey. The point here, again Paul Klee, is not to “undertake analyses of works because we want to copy them or because we suspect them.” But rather, “we investigate the methods by which another has created his work, in order to set ourselves in motion.” (Notebooks, V. 1: The Thinking Eye p. 99 in The Essential Foucault, vii)
Today I made my first run through the Tahuya State Forest on the hill behind our retirement community. The place is fantastic, all silver trees and mossy branches with tiny muddy tracks right through them in disorienting quiet. It will be the perfect place to spend a week among the stones when May comes with the warm dry weather. Until then I’ll be here at my fake oak table listening to music from the Folk Alley in Kent, Ohio, breathing in my Dragon Ball Jasmine tea and trying to “stop regarding as superfluous something so essential in human life and human relations as thought.” (Michel Foucault from “It it really important to think?” in Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p. 155)
I’ll make vegetarian food "as good as Berkeley" for Jennifer every evening and steam up the car with her at the drive-in on the weekends, but otherwise I plan to be here watching the water and the thousand dancing birds or in the silent pines, thinking and running. Hopefully writing this down will give me some will to power, some “set (myself) in motion.”

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Solo Drive from San Francisco
April 3, 2009
Didn’t hit my stride until the big valley of Ukiah: too much traffic and too much worry about the bike bobbing back and forth uncertainly behind the swaying ship. Then finally J. Fogerty and his Creedence Clearwater Revival in pure energy channeled into voice and guitar. I let out some little yips and starts to celebrate that the trip has finally begun.
Up into the Jackson Demonstration State Forest where the streams flow blue and as true as liquid ice. I’m lying in the pine cones of some big Ponderosa on the edge of a redwood grove. It’s getting dark fast under the canopy, sinking cold into the ground. Quick thought for J. in New York facing the music. The stream babbles on.

Settling into Belfair, Washington
April 8, 2009
Set on starting good habits, J. flashes through her Chinese flash cards reciting the tones in an increasingly frustrated rocking way. We’re sitting on 2 dollar chairs in our 1950s apartment watching the tide sweep away. We’re out of the city and into the pines. This is the quiet and simple, the volunteer fire department pancake breakfast, monthly book club at the library, grandmotherly landlords and neighbors, tales of leaping salmon 300 steps from our screen door.
The air is clean and cold, the mountains a distant and rugged white presence, the shellfish cooked, locals are ample and friendly. We like Washington just fine so far. Out across the sound a skinny man in a black suit rides on a board under a giant kite, cutting a little white gash out toward the marshland and bird reserve. This is a nice spot that man told me.