Saturday, January 29, 2011

Whose Peaks These Are

Whose peaks these are I think I know
His house is in the village though.

Looking over the Presidentials
This…is how I could spend my days.  A friend and I headed up to the White Mountains this past August for some kayaking, and decided to stop at Mt. Washington en route. Near the summit, I took this picture of her looking out over the Presidential Range, which includes Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Madison.  

When there's 100+ mile-visibility at the summit, if you look to the east, sparkling streaks of sunlight gleam and bounce off the Atlantic, which transforms the coast of Maine into a shiny piece of silver. In the west, the blue summits roll on forever to the Adirondacks. In the valley below, you can spot the quaint mountain valley town of North Conway.

The White Mountains of New Hampshire are some of the most accessible and breathtaking mountains in North America.  Sure, the Colorado 14,000-footers, the High Sierras, the Canadian Rockies, the Teton Range of Wyoming, the Great Smoky Mountains on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the Bridger mountains of Montana, and the countless other jaw-dropping mountains on this continent all have their merits. 

However, during the hot, long days of summer, where else can you rise early, hit the trails at sunrise, climb up through the forest into the alpine zone, eventually rise to high altitude rock faces above treeline where you’re completely exposed to the elements, reach the summit, relax and eat some PB&Js and M&Ms...
then descend, jump in some streams or waterfalls for an ice cold swim during the return trip, and make it home in time for pizza and cold drinks? Now that’s what I call time management.  

Lastly, the words at the top are borrowed from another favorite:  

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Make Yourself a Light

Here's another favorite, and some pictures of the sun setting this past August.  This was the view from Little Compton, looking out across the bay towards Newport. 

"The Buddha's Last Instruction" by Mary Oliver

“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal—a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire—
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Adirondacks

The northern Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York hold some of the most jaw-dropping, breathtaking views I've ever seen.  I can't even begin to describe how beautiful the Lake Placid region is, so all I can really do is post some pictures I took that don't do it any justice.  It's the only place I've been to where you can actually walk to the top of a grassy hill in a matter of minutes, sit back, relax, and marvel at the storm clouds swiftly rolling in over the distant mountaintops.  You can watch the sky change from bold, royal blues and emerald greens to orange, silver and black.  The wind picks up, and thundershowers drench the earth and finally give way to rainbows in the distance.  Then a cool mist gently evaporates as the smell of metal permeates the air and sunshine slowly returns to reveal an entirely different color palette in the sky.  It is absolutely gorgeous, and as Wordsworth writes in "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud," one can't help but be happy in a place like that. It's so indulgent and luxurious to be in a place where you can witness that kind of natural beauty every single day, and it's never the same twice.  I'd return there in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Raymond Carver

Taken from The Guardian

Taken from The Guardian

I’ve been reading through All of Us, the collected poems of Raymond Carver.   I triple dog dare you—man or woman—to read this, and tell me that you weren’t moved to tears, or inspired to change your life for the better.  He lived more in the last 10 years of his life than I’ve lived in my 31.  This book is comprised of the poems in four major collections of his poetry: Fires, Where Water Comes Together with Other Water, Ultramarine, and A New Path to the Waterfall, which he completed in the final weeks of his life.  That one was published posthumously.   Tess Gallagher, the love of his life, wrote the introduction to his final book, and that too is included as an appendix in All of Us.  That introduction, emotionally, is a difficult read, and leaves me amazed at how strong she had to be to write such intimate details about him so soon after his death.
A little biographical info: Raymond Carver had it ROUGH, but unlike so many, he managed to live a remarkably full and productive life before he died at the age of 50.  His father was an alcoholic, and so was he, until his final decade.  He got married when he was 19, and had 2 kids by the time he was 20.  He worked as a sawmill laborer, delivery man, janitor, and library assistant to support his family.  Somehow, at some point, he took a creative writing class which sparked further studies in writing.  All this time, he was a really heavy drinker.  Due to his alcoholism, doctors gave him just a few months to live.  When he was 39, he decided to stop, and a new phase began:  he met Tess Gallagher, and had such a rare and remarkable relationship with her.  There are a few poems that he dedicates to her, and they are astoundingly beautiful while also remaining entirely free of mush and sappiness and red roses.  In 1987, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, which reoccurred as a brain tumor the following year.  After a few weeks of full-brain radiation, they found out that tumors were found again in his lungs.  They knew his time was short, and so they dove into working on his final book, which they were able to finish just in time.  Superhuman effort. 

Carver’s writing:  I’ll keep this short.  I haven’t read all his short stories, but I can always remember details from anything I’ve read by him.  The booze and cigarettes come out a lot in his writing, and never in a glamorous, sexy way.  His love of nature also comes out in some poems.  Regarding his poetry, Tess Gallagher writes: “Ray did not regard his poetry as simply a hobby or pastime he turned to when he wanted a rest from fiction. Poetry was a spiritual necessity.”  In my experience, that sense of urgency gets transferred to the reader, and that’s a good thing.  All I can say is that after reading most of the collection from beginning to end, I thought, “Gee, I really have to [insert life changing decision] ASAP.”

 And finally, 5 poems by Raymond Carver:

The dusk of evening comes on. Earlier a little rain
had fallen. You open a drawer and find inside
the man’s photograph, knowing he has only two years
to live. He doesn’t know this, of course,
that’s why he can mug for the camera.
How could he know what’s taking root in his head
at that moment? If one looks to the right
through boughs and tree trunks, there can be seen
crimson patches of the afterglow. Now shadows, no
half-shadows. It is still and damp….
The man goes on mugging. I put the picture back
in its place along with the others and give
my attention instead to the afterglow along the far ridge,
light golden on the roses in the garden.
Then, I can’t help myself, I glance once more
at the picture. The wink, the broad smile,
the jaunty slant of the cigarette.


No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don’t forget it.”

For Tess

Out on the Strait the water is whitecapping,
as they say here. It’s rough, and I’m glad
I’m not out. Glad I fished all day
on Morse Creek, casting a red Daredevil back
and forth. I didn’t catch anything. No bites
even, not one. But it was ok. It was fine!
I carried your dad’s pocketknife and was followed
for a while by a dog its owner called Dixie.
At times I felt so happy I had to quit
fishing. Once I lay on the bank with my eyes closed,
listening to the sound the water made,
and to the wind in the tops of the trees. The same wind
that blows out on the Strait, but a different wind, too.
For a while I even let myself imagine I had died—
and that was all right, at least for a couple
of minutes, until it really sank in: Dead.
As I was lying there with my eyes closed,
just after I’d imagined what it might be like
if in fact I never got up again, I thought of you.
I opened my eyes then and got right up
and went back to being happy again.
I’m grateful to you, you see. I wanted to tell you.


Woke up this morning with
a terrific urge to lie in bed all day
and read. Fought against it for a minute.
Then looked out the window at the rain.
And gave over. Put myself entirely
in the keep of this rainy morning.
Would I live my life over again?
Make the same unforgiveable mistakes?
Yes, given half a chance. Yes.

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.            

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by William Wordsworth is one of my favorite poems—especially the last stanza.  He describes how he once saw daffodils blowing in the breeze, and how that one moment can still bring him comfort amidst his solitude.

I think of this poem a lot during the New England winters—the only season, for me, that forces me to be solitary and holds any promise of transformation, while also being the most difficult part of the year.  The start of the new year has nothing to do with it; for me, it's the fact that the bone chilling weather and the long hours of darkness force me to bunker down at home, and then there's finally time to think.  

My favorite parts of this winter so far have been the couple times I've been out in the woods for was absolutely freezing, but so refreshing and stop-in-your-tracks gorgeous.  Below are some pictures from these walks, and also the poem.  I love mountains, and nature, and I'm a sucker for any nature poet...but Wordsworth really says it all.  

"I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud" by William Wordsworth

          I wandered lonely as a cloud
          That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
          When all at once I saw a crowd,
          A host, of golden daffodils;
          Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
          Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
          Continuous as the stars that shine
          And twinkle on the milky way,
          They stretched in never-ending line
          Along the margin of a bay:                                 
          Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
          Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

          The waves beside them danced; but they
          Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
          A poet could not but be gay,
          In such a jocund company:
          I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
          What wealth the show to me had brought:

          For oft, when on my couch I lie
          In vacant or in pensive mood,                              
          They flash upon that inward eye
          Which is the bliss of solitude;
          And then my heart with pleasure fills,
          And dances with the daffodils.