Late last night I sent an email with three attached poems to three friends. As with so many writers, I have a small group of peers I pass on words for critique. An approaching lit journal deadline (two days) prompted the email and I hastily decided to submit a batch of three connected poems. The email (with attachments) asked for comments on the poems, the order and any other thoughts.
One email. Three attachments.
Sent without thinking. A click of the send button. Gone. Off.
Even later last night, I received the first response.
“Sand in my toes, listening to Mexican music and waves on the beach. . “
Three recipients to a single email. And I thought about the distance. And time.
One recipient will be ensconced in 901 Fernie, comfortable condos in the re-purposed old school in the middle of town. Another recipient is visiting family in London (the original in England) and the last (first to answer) is lolling around on the beach in Mexico.
20 years ago this sort of effort would have involved separate letters to three very dispersed locations. Copies. Envelopes. A trip to the post office. Waiting in line and buying a bunch of foreign postage stamps. A week to get there and a week to get back, assuming good weeks on both ends. Today, push send and it’s literally there. The first reply dropped into my in-box less than two hours after sending the original email. Written on an iPhone. Pina Colada in one hand. Warm sand between the toes. The soft hiss of waves breaking on the beach.
The wonder of it all.
We’re back. These are the Fernie ski days we live for. When I left my house Thursday morning a few cms covered the walkway. At the end of the day, fresh snow broke my boot tops.
On the hill every run was new tracks knee deep. And light. And there was no one. No one.
Repeat until the legs give out.
Let’s go here. Let’s go there. Let’s just go.
This is the Fernie we love. Yahoo. Let ‘er rip.
My Year starts with the opening of the ski hill, not with an artificial, overblown and facile celebration on December 31. There’s a simple unexplainable joy in those first 20 feet sliding down the ramp at the end of the first ride. There’s a freedom. A whole new world opens in that single moment and becomes real. Tangible. A fundamental shift in the world.
We are skiing.
And underneath it all is the question, the nagging doubt, Do I remember how to turn? How much have I lost over the summer?
As with most of our fears, the answer is, Get over it. You’re just fine.
At the top of the Bear I ran into a gathering gang. As we stood talking, the group became larger as one person then another joined off the Bear. The consensus was Cedar Bowl. As they skated off, I ducked into Lizard. They’d been up since the first chair. I’d just arrived and irrationally believed I’d forgotten how to turn. A couple runs down the edges of Arrow and Cascade and I was telling myself, Get over it. You’re just fine.
Life is good. It’s a New Year and anything can happen.
a poem for a snowy spring day.
carrying the shape of an orchard apple tree
the mountain ash across the street
then this morning
in lieu of spring leaves
the ash accepts a suit
standing still as piles grow
on the branches
hiding the berries
and burying it’s feet
wrapped in the whole cloth
socks in the dryer (Salmonberry Press, 2013)
When I’ve find myself wondering what am I doing? When it seems like I’m spinning my wheels writing, I seek for immediate tangible daily gratification. Something concrete. Do it. Look at it. Be done with it.
Hard work is good. Physical work is good. Physical work with a mental component is even better.
Most of this non-writing work is carpentry. At the end of the day, you stand back, look at job that is visibly further along. Real measures exist. The living room windows are trimmed out. The bedroom doors are hung. The floor in the hall is finished.
Recently I trimmed out a house in a traditional manner. The owner wanted the finish to reflect the old school craftsmen manner and quality. In that way, it was a traditional trim job. We installed all the wood from the walls out. Trimmed the windows. Laid the floor. Hung the doors. He wanted no end grain showing, so every piece of wood was cut at a 45 on the end and another matching, short 45 piece was slid in to finish the end into the wall. The grain, the stain, all had to match so as to be un-noticeable. Each finished window required the cutting and fitting of 23 pieces. From the extension jambs bringing the window casing out to the plane of the wall to the crown molding running across the head, each piece required thought, precision and care.
And now that I think about it, the project was as mental as it was physical. Each piece became a mental challenge as well as a physical challenge.
After the windows, we laid the floor.
The flooring was re-sawn four by six larch beams re-sawn, then run through a molder to shape into tongue and groove. The beams weathered heavily before being taken down and held spike holes with black stains from the rusted materials that once held them together. When we finished the floor, the owner spent hours filling the holes, matching each with one of four or five stained fillers he mixed for the job. Three coats of satin finish topped it off. The floor became a central feature of the house, finely finished with a rustic undertone.
As we worked on the floor, at the end of each day we could look back and state, “We started there and we finished here.”
No question about the worth of the day.
And then, we hung and trimmed the doors. There were a bunch. Not as complicated as the widows, but similar. Only 16 pieces per door. But then remember, there are two sides to every door, so in reality 32 pieces trimmed out each door. Lots of little pieces. Finicky little pieces.
You learn tricks. Like using tape to hold a piece is only so good. There is bound to be a little slippage. When it dries, the edges will not remain exactly aligned. The best using good contact cement. Put two coats on the face of little piece and the larger piece. The grain tends to absorb the first layer of glue. The second layer really creates the bond. Let it fully dry and then –thunk—it holds.
That’s done now.
I am back to following up with editors, sending out queries, and trying to write little essays like this one to keep me feeling like am making progress.
And there is no longer any measure.
Growing up on the Roadrunner cartoons affected a whole generation and a half. It was OK to blow someone up with Acme Dynamite. Acme Catapults were perfect for throwing things long distances. And so on. There was no PC. And there was good ol’ violence. Violence after a fashion, since most was self-inflicted by/on Wiley Coyote.
I thought of that Monday morning. We’ve been ripping along in full-on summer mode. A little cool the last few days, but remaining summer. Shorts, Flip-flops. T-shirts with a sweater in the early morning and then again in the evening.
And then Monday, we dropped through a trap door into another country and another world. The mountains disappeared. It was cold. No, not just cold, but almost freezing. And raining, snowing, groppling and then raining again. And blowing. It never blows in Fernie. And cold enough to look for long pants and even socks. Did I say cold?
Who pulled the Wiley Coyote dropping us unexpectedly through an Acme Trap Door in the sidewalk?
Whose hand is on the switch?
Flip it back. Now.
We’re a whole town of Wiley Coyotes dropped through a trap door into late fall/early winter and we need a ladder to get back up to the real world. We desperately need to return to our last precious vestiges of summer.
Anyone got the ladder?
I’m back on the deck. It’s early. The sun has yet to hit the valley. Clouds shroud the mountains beyond the ridge across the river. The trees on the crest of the ridge are defined by the grey of the clouds behind. In a couple hours, the heat of the day will disperse the clouds and the sharp granite spires behind will appear.
After Midnight from the Cowboy Junkies powers gently out of the deck speakers. They play like the far off whistle of a train recently passed. Half memory. Soft. Half myth of an event. A memory, only a memory, without concrete matter remaining. As they finish a bald eagle flies across the opening in the trees that runs to the river. Low, skimming over the crowns of the birches, he weaves between the taller cedars. The squirrels start calliope of chatter warning of the bird. Quieting after he passes, they return to searching for lost pine comes.
For a few minutes all is quiet. A goose honks on the river and the Cowboy Junkies start in again. I remember the lonesome wail of the train passed hours ago.
August 6, 2013. Early morning.
This early morning I am sitting on a deck overlooking a relatively placid river. The current is obvious, but there is no sound of rushing water. The water runs deep between two grassy cut banks. Across the river, on the floodplain, black Angus graze. Above the cows, on the first river bench, an old farmhouse and several aged barns house the workings of the farm. Mature trees shade and serve as a windbreak to the house and a couple of the barns. The largest barn is a classic hay barn. The sort of barn every kid draws when asked, “Draw a barn.” The farm lies organic on the land. Over time the buildings grew into the land as the land they worked became a part of them. They belong to each other, like fingers of opposing hands meshed together.
Behind the farm, a mountain rises steeply forming a long north/south forested running ridge. Behind that ridge, on the other side of the valley, a provincial park starts. The next road is a few days’ walk across the mountains. Mountains full of glaciers, granite cliffs, mountain goats and the occasional climber. The peaks on the horizon resemble saw teeth. Granite saw teeth.
This side of the river is a 60 or 70 year-old second growth forest. A maturing mix of birches, fir and cedar, the forest floor is open and covered with duff. In front of the deck a broad swath of mowed grass runs down to the water.
Half way to the river, the grass is broken by the remnants of a garden. Maybe 40 by 80, square grey weathered cedar posts once holding deer fencing outline the plot. Inside and along the edges stand several fruit trees. Two pear trees, just about to ripen, a couple sweet plum trees now ripe, and a peach tree. These are the only bearing remnants of the garden. The balance is now grass.
At the house end of the enclosure, a green steel gate lies open to the interior. Yesterday, walking down to the river I walked thought the gate and just as easily out the other end, as a matter of principle. To see how it felt to walk effortlessly though a deer fence. To be a present day ghost visiting the past.
The cabin offers all the amenities of modern life. Almost all. Hot and cold water. Shower and tub. A full kitchen and a fine outdoor barbeque. Dishwasher. Both wood and hot air heat. Lights. Music from a 200 disc CD player.
But in this small interior BC valley there is no internet and no cell coverage. The coffee shops (with great dark coffee) offer WiFi, but cell coverage remains not an option.
And I’m writing this by hand. With a #2 mechanical pencil. A Bic. Blue with a white soft plastic molding where you grip the pencil with your fingers. In recent years, this particular mechanical pencil replaced the original yellow hexagonal #2. It moves easily across the page. Words fall onto the page in my half readable scratchings. Some words fall into full sentences. Some words form brief notes left to fill in when I start to translate this onto my computer.
And as I write this, I wonder about the difference in the creativity in composing on lined paper with a pencil versus composing directly on a computer. If I wrote at home, at my desk with the world at my fingertips, I would move away from this piece and Goggle “writing with a pencil” to see what came up. And then I’d follow that thread for an hour, maybe more, leaving behind my original thoughts, feelings and incorporate the thoughts and research of others. I’d find out about the mind/physical balance of writing with a pencil. And how that differs from composing solely on a computer. How each fosters a particular type of creativity.
Who really needs Goggle?
For my writing, all I really need is a few lined sheets of paper and a pencil. Not even my current fav, just a pencil.
I know what I need to create. I don’t need to be validated (or not) by a series of creativity studies dredged off Goggle.
Time, a pencil and a stack of paper and I’m good. And adding a cup of Bean Pod coffee on a deck with a view helps just a bit.
The Poet Strings Barbed Wire
It’s been a long time since the poet strung a stand of barbed wire taunt and hammered a staple into a post to keep the wire in place.
More than 35 years in fact.
The first time was also in the spring. Asked to help the horse packer supplying the Grand Teton backcountry trail crews and range cabins, we spent a couple weeks repairing the fences around the park pasture. Migrating elk and marauding moose popped stands at will. It took a couple weeks, all off horseback. At the end of the weeks of pulling and twisting, we drove the stake truck and a trailer to the winter pasture and hauled the horses back.
A few years later, on a ranch in the high Colorado mountains, we ran cattle and horses. Again the elk ignored the issue of fence wire, as did the large white Brahma bull next door. They all strolled at will through five wires of barbs expecting us to trail behind joining the broken strands. And again, on a horse we rode the fences, twisting and pulling the broken twisted strands together in a semblance of a border.
So this last week, I repaired a half kilometers of fence and built another couple of kilometers new.
The first day was filled with slight and sometimes stronger memories and tricks.
You know, if we do this. . .
Opps, that’s not it.
At the end of the first day, I ambled down to the local hardware store and bought a new pair of calfskin work gloves. The smell of the leather’s tannins and the feel of the leather pulled snug on my hands took me right back to the cold mornings in the Tetons gathering the fencing tools in the first light. Cold. Quiet. The tool steel seeming even more brittle in the cold. The smell of the hay and oiled tack in the barn. The hard clank of steel on steel. The soft half swish of leather settling on the saddle blanket.
At the end of the second day, with tricks and memories coming back. I said to the boss man,
You know, it’s coming back.
You know what would really help?
A horse. I want a horse tomorrow.
He shook his head, the boss.