Tag Archives: walking

Some poems are heavy and longing.

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Same week, some years ago…

This morning I had a date to iron altar cloths at church. If it hadn’t been for that, I think I might have read poems all day. Bright and early I found myself listening hungrily to The Daily Poem podcast, which I sometimes ignore for weeks at a time. Today, by contrast, its offerings seemed like my necessary food, cultivating hope and peace in my heart the way bodily exercise generates endorphins for the brain and psyche.

Not all poems are tasty, but even the bitter ones supply certain kinds of trace elements, hints and explorations of the worlds that lie underneath the clamoring and crowded surfaces where we walk every day. I like very much the engagement with the poets themselves, people who often do appreciate the mystery of things, but I usually avoid long poems. These very short poem podcasts help me to focus and enjoy works I might not normally read, even some longer poems; because it’s all auditory, and I can’t see how long of a poem or portion will be read, and be put off by it.

Today one of the podcast hosts, Heidi White, talked about the poem “Velvet Shoes,” by Elinor Wylie. She told us about her own longing, two days after Christmas, for peace and quiet, after the busyness of the holiday, and how this poem conveys the heaviness of the snow, and how that heaviness creates silence and a kind of weighty peace, “…the feeling you get going into the nave of a great cathedral.”

VELVET SHOES

Let us walk in the white snow
    In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow,
    At a tranquil pace,
    Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,
    And you in wool,
White as white cow’s milk,
    More beautiful
    Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town
    In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
    Upon silver fleece,
    Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:
    Wherever we go
Silence will fall like dews
    On white silence below.
    We shall walk in the snow.

-Elinor Wylie, 1885-1928

The longing expressed in the few stanzas is impressive. We do start to wonder if the narrator will break out of the future tense and make it the present. Personally, I think that if she were truly hopeful of walking in the whiteness, she would do the activity first, and then write about it. Unless it is a sort of love letter, to someone not present at the moment. It seems to be as much about longing — and maybe purity? — as it is about snow.

Winter at Pippin’s place.
The Daily Poem hosts talked to me about several other poems as I was getting dressed, by W.H. Auden, Edward Thomas, George Santayana and Mary Oliver. Of course, many of the recent offerings have been autumnal or Advent-themed poems, but I enjoyed them all. I may save some to post here in the appropriate season next year.
 

“Velvet Shoes” may have especially impressed me because I am anticipating walking in the snow myself this week, if my plans work out to visit Pippin. And here I was, just yesterday, going on about fire and warmth….

I always think I do not want to visit snowy and cold places, but whenever I do, it’s fun. Did you notice that in spite of the narrator’s silk and lace garments, there is no mention of the cold? That might mean that it is just the poem for me!

Fairy houses and flowers.

It’s hard not to step on asparagus stalks when they are barely showing above the mulch like this one. Today I tromped on one that was much taller; I was trying to get a good picture of the irises. It’s the time of year when I need to make a point of going out to the asparagus bed knife in hand at least every other day, and not ignore them as I walk up to the front door.

Every day there has been some special garden-related surprise, including rain, which in turn brings out more sprouts and flower surprises.

This month my neighbors thinned some limbs of the tall Canary Island Pine that hang over their side of the fence — most of the biomass of the tree is on their side — and I am getting a little more sunlight into the back garden, without having to cut down my only tree.

My beloved pale yellow California poppies seem to be changing to orange as they reseed themselves year by year. I’m trying to pull out a lot of the orange ones, but I think it’s a losing battle. This is the only patch of yellow ones right now.

A week ago I went to the coast and updated my Sea Log page. (I fixed it to receive comments now.) One thing I liked about that visit was watching the little shore birds that I think are Sanderlings. I’m showing you this picture because it shows their size compared to sea gulls.

This week was so busy with other things, I couldn’t get away to the coast, but the cold temperatures out there might have kept me away in any case. The sun will shine and warm things up everywhere next week, so I hope to go again.

The day after my last excursion to the beach, I was oddly inspired to walk in my neighborhood. For the last year I had done that very little, choosing rather to vegetate between beach trips. This time I took a path to the east that I hadn’t been on in years; it follows the creek as the stream gets narrower, and the walkway used to come to a dead end pretty quickly. But now, I discovered that it connects with a new housing development and paved sidewalks.

As I was trying to take a picture of a pair of shy Mallards, I spied a little toy house on the other side of the water. Then another upstream, and another… altogether there were dozens of woodsy houses and scenes with gnomes, fairies and toadstools that someone had put a lot of work into. I am going to show you a sample.

A few like this one with the red door were built against trees, and some were nestled into the banks, mostly on the far side where I couldn’t easily go. One was built on a stump in the middle of the stream. They all looked a bit weathered, which made me wonder how they didn’t get washed away in winter storms. I guess it’s a sign of how little precipitation we got this season.

A gnome in a tree swing, fairies having a tea party out of doors… My very favorite was this “Fairy House Laundry” with its sign by the door assuring customers that when treated at their establishment, “Stains magically vanish.”

Another fun thing about my walk was meeting two strangers who were happy to talk to me, like in the old days. Though I didn’t have time to extend my outing just then, it appears that with the add-on to the old path, I could walk for miles toward the hills. Even if the “adventure” would mostly take me through a new subdivision of houses, the novelty of it appeals and I want to do it soon.

Back to the greenhouse, here are a couple of the sprouts I’m seeing:

The bottom one is nasturtiums. Last time I looked the summer squash and the calendulas were coming up, too. And now that we are in March, my greenhouse is getting a little sunshine in the mornings and afternoons. When I go inside, it always feels cozy the way seeds would like.

Last but not least, the Green Beauty snow peas are living up to their reputation for being big. I’ve picked three so far and they are over 5″ long, so I am very pleased. That “blushing” you might notice is natural to their personality. Though the calendar doesn’t say so quite yet, I know that Spring has arrived.

Where to walk, what to read…

I already own a book on architecture that is just at my level, The Architecture of Happiness. But reading on the internet tempts me to explore many different realms… further than I actually want to go, when it comes right down to it.

Something I read back in the fall made me want to see the book Cognitive Architecture, by Sussman and Hollander, and my library’s “Link” feature helped me to get it, from southern California. It came in just before Christmas, and just before I needed clear away piles of books and papers, seeds and seed catalogs, to make space for a few Christmas decorations.

So I barely glanced at it, and quickly put it…. somewhere. I was pretty sure it was upstairs, probably in my bedroom, and when I found it last week — after looking everywhere several times over the last month — it was in an odd little stack of things, with a prayer book and a Christmas card and other unrelated stuff. One reason I hadn’t seen it earlier was that it was so much smaller than I remembered it.

Paris

So small, my immediate thought was, maybe I could actually get through this book! Even though I’ve sort of moved on and my current goal is to whittle down the number of half-finished books I already have, without adding more.

Another book I treasure.

So I only browsed, and it is pretty interesting, about designing buildings for the way people live and behave, the sort of “animal” that humans are. One example is, that people in cities are known to like to walk or congregate on the edges of open spaces or streets, near buildings or walls, so that the buildings “have their backs.” But not so much if the building is turned in on itself and doesn’t seem open to the people, with low windows, for example, for easy window shopping. An example of a space not conducive to this protected and friendly feeling is the Boston City Hall Plaza, which is known as an unloved space and is up for renovation:

It is known that people prefer not to climb stairs if they can avoid it. I know that doesn’t apply to toddlers. This is my neighbor Grace who was enjoying going up and down my front steps this afternoon.

I discovered that one of the authors, Ann Sussman, has co-authored a fascinating article, “The Mental Disorders that Gave Us Modern Architecture”!

Many of the other points of human-centered design were not new to me. I had learned a lot from De Botton’s book, and I also have this one that Pippin gave me, in which I can browse actual buildings and their architects, which is more appropriate for me, who am not considering a career in design.

I wonder if I have other books I could write about without having read them, and in that way get some satisfaction from my failures…? I’ve enjoyed making use of this one to organize the Architecture compartment of my mind, and I found a pleasing poem in it as well:

THINGS

What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,
and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.

-Lisel Mueller

Walking in foggy time.

I did it – I went back to the beach all on my own, only about three weeks after that last trip. Because I didn’t arrive until the afternoon, and I could only afford to spend a couple of hours at the most, I thought that time pressure would make the minutes fly.

Sea Rocket

But somehow, the opposite happened. Time swelled to be as big as the ocean; it was as vague and undefined as the fog. I walked and walked, lost in it, and when I checked my phone, I couldn’t believe how little of my allotment I had used. So I walked some more….

Believe it or not, I have the plant above, with the whitish leaves, in my garden. I bought it a the native plant nursery years ago, and knew it was a beach plant, but I’d never seen it before in its natural habitat. I recognized it immediately. I won’t worry about my plant anymore. It looks more spindly than these but otherwise … yeah. And I don’t know its name.

The sun never came out, but the air was pleasant. I wore a thin linen shirt, and carried my Teva sandals so that my feet could get the full sand experience. A girl spun cartwheels in the fringes of the incoming waves. Fathers with their children dug holes to catch the water. Bodies huddled like seals in driftwood teepees.

Coyote Brush

Bull Thistle

On my favorite shortcut road home I stopped many times to take pictures, and wished I could take scents. The masses of eucalyptus trunks and leaves exuded their distinctive aroma, which mixed with that of the cypress trees and the drying grass. Probably the coyote brush contributed to the heady perfume that was part of the afternoon’s fog on that particular hill.

Orange Bush Monkeyflower

Coyote Brush surrounded by Poison Oak surrounded by Coyote Brush

My app said that the little tree below was in the rose family. It had fruit looking like cherries, but didn’t resemble a cherry plum tree. I guessed it was a volunteer/escapee from an old farm nearby.

From the top of the hill I could look back and see just a bit of the bay and the hill above, through the fog and mist — and the barbed wire.

A wind came up and whished the slender eucalyptus leaves into a loud whisper, and they were still telling their secrets when I had to drive away. So I must go back soon for the rest of the story, right?