Quotidian Update 91.2b.ii

Li Bai inspecting the bean field

Yesterday I spent the hottest part of the day overcoming a 4 foot square patch of dirt and grass. I’m proud to say that, for now, I’ve achieved mastery over the bean field. I hope next weekend to convey Li Bai, Tu Fu and Li Ho to their residences.

There’s something satisfying about going at the ground with a pick axe, mainly that it works. It breaks the sod, it cuts deep enough for any plant and for the 2 x 4s I use for the borders. Another satisfying tool is the hand saw. I had an 8 foot 2 x 4 and when I had the field measured out all I had to do was lay the board on the ground and saw it.

One of the good things about gardening is you get to see something happen for the better which, in these times, is pretty cool.

Yesterday I got an email from Louise, the woman who runs the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte where I did a reading last December from As A Baby Duck Listens to Thunder. Our plan for June was another reading, this time from one of my Swiss books — The Price- and an exhibit of the Swiss immigrants to Rio Grande County, Colorado. There were many. I was going to put together a timeline/mural of Swiss events from the 16th century to the 18th when my family emigrated, and Louise, who runs the museum, was going to do the same thing for the people who’d settled here.

Louise’ family and that of her husband were among the original non-Hispanic settlers of the San Luis Valley and they both have incredible stories, the kind that, in the old days, you might sit around the fireplace and listen to into the wee hours.

Naturally, this is on hold indefinitely. We can’t meet to discuss it or share materials. I haven’t been able to think about it, but now I’m thinking that working on it now might be an act of faith.

As is gardening, when it comes to it. One of my favorite films (liked it better than the book 😦 ) is Milagro Beanfield War. It was filmed in the village of Truchas, New Mexico, about 1 hour south of me. It is really about a bean field. The other bean field that went through my mind as I broke the earth open with my trusty pick axe was Thoreau’s bean field, described in Walden.

Thoreau’s bean field was a few acres and he tilled it by hand. My bean field will hold three bean plants that will give me fruit I might not even eat. It’s really all about watching them grow and attract butterflies and hummingbirds, plus, the beans are growing from beans I grew myself. Thoreau writes of his bean field as I could write about standing out there in the Big Empty and maybe as any farmer could write about the San Luis Valley:

As I drew a still fresher soil about the rows with my hoe, I disturbed the ashes of unchronicled nations who in primeval years lived under these heavens, and their small implements of war and hunting were brought to the light of this modern day. They lay mingled with other natural stones, some of which bore the marks of having been burned by Indian fires, and some by the sun, and also bits of pottery and glass brought hither by the recent cultivators of the soil. When my hoe tinkled against the stones, that music echoed to the woods and the sky, and was an accompaniment to my labor which yielded an instant and immeasurable crop. It was no longer beans that I hoed, nor I that hoed beans…

The nighthawk circled overhead in the sunny afternoons…like a mote in the eye, or in heaven’s eye, falling from time to time with a swoop and a sound as if the heavens were rent, torn at last to very rags and tatters, and yet a seamless cope remained; small imps that fill the air and lay their eggs on the ground on bare sand or rocks on the tops of hills, where few have found them; graceful and slender like ripples caught up from the pond, as leaves are raised by the wind to float in the heavens; such kinship is in nature. The hawk is aerial brother of the wave which he sails over and surveys… When I paused to lean on my hoe, these sounds and sights I heard and saw anywhere in the row, a part of the inexhaustible entertainment which the country offers.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, “The Bean Field”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/17/rdp-sunday-overcome/

Take a Walk

A long time ago — in the 80s — in SELF magazine — was an ad for Reebox. It showed a woman walking on a wooden sidewalk near a lake. Behind her was a wet golden retriever who looked (obviously) very happy. The caption was, “You CAN Walk Away from Your Problems.”

I cut out the ad and glued it into one of the journals I can’t throw away but never look at. 

Something from one of those journals ❤

I learned this lesson as a kid and I was happy to see it validated in a magazine. But others have discovered this, too. 

II think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements…. Henry David Thoreau, “Walking.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1862/06/walking/304674/

Walking in a dry stream bed in the chaparral, 1990

I’ve probably written a hundred blog posts — and a whole book! — on this topic. and the book, My Everest pretty much just says this:

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see… There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

Almost everything I’ve done for the past year has been directed toward continuing to be able to…

Walk.

Walking IS exercise, but not very efficient exercise for things we might need, such as weight loss or flexibility. For years I mocked people who went to gyms or did yoga in studios with lots of other people. My mockery was unfair, but I’m an extremely flawed human. Now I work out on a piece of gym equipment and do yoga but the purpose of all that is to make it easier for me to walk. 

But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours—as the Swinging of dumb- bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life.

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

Some people don’t get this. Once, out on a walk in the California chaparral, an acquaintance and I walked about 8 miles. She asked me how far we’d gone and I told her. Her response, “Do you do this every day?”

“Just about.”

“Why aren’t you thin?”

In my defense, I wasn’t fat. I’m a compact muscular person; she was a tall lithe person. I thought, “You’re not coming with me again, ever.” She had no idea why we were there, or what I was doing. I took off running, calling out behind me, “If you can keep up with me, you can call me fat.”

She couldn’t catch me. I was in my car and about to pull out of the parking lot before she caught up, red-faced and breathing hard. 

Some people do get it. Last month I took a mountain hike with my friend, Elizabeth. It was a big moment for me, my first mountain hike since I moved back here four years ago. Plus, you know, my “religion.” Going out there is an experience I don’t really have words for. Elizabeth is Church of England. We were walking along — not fast. I have asthma and until I’m warmed up speed is impossible, and, anyway, I wanted to look around. Groves of aspen trees such as I have never seen, a foot-rough but easy trail, a stream on the bottom.

Geologically it was exactly the same as one of my favorite hikes in San Diego County, but the vegetation belonged to Colorado. Where in California there were sycamore and oak trees lining the trail, here were aspen and spruce. I love that aspect to nature, that if you’ve wandered enough you experience the grand repetition of natural forms in different scales appropriate to the place. 

We stopped and looked at the hundreds of aspen trees reaching high into the sky. Young spruce huddled happily, hopefully, on the base of the forest. I was awed, with tears in my eyes, so happy to be there, to see them, to be able to walk again after years of debilitation pain, surgery and rehab. I was definitely repaired. My walking possibilities had been returned to me, and here was this miracle of nature. I said to Elizabeth, “This is my church.”

She said, “I know,” and said she hoped we could visit my church again soon. 

Elizabeth in the aspen trees


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/27/rdp-tuesday-walk/

Enough IS Enough

It was business communication a long time ago. We were talking about how conventional composition — rhetoric and writing — classes teach students to write more words and then in Bus Comm I’m there saying, “It’s wordy.” I remember actually saying, “In business you write for people. In rhetoric and writing you write for teachers.” I said that. Yep. And I said, “In a writing class people are paid to read your writing. In real life, people aren’t. Don’t waste their time.”

The students were shocked. “Time is money, right, professor?”

“That’s the idea. Write clearly and concisely so even people who don’t want to read what you’ve written will get the point.”

Somehow, no idea how, we got off on Thoreau and “Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” They’d all read it, so it was a common point and an example of wordiness (for business writing, anyway). In there, in the midst of Thoreau’s convoluted, complicated sentences, in his complex, descriptive enumeration, his rhapsodic litany of how people complicate their lives he wrote, “Simplify! Simplify!”

Kid in the very back corner, football player, spoke up. “I get it teach. One ‘simplify’ would have done!”

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/complicated/

“I Heard the News Today…” So What?

I generally find the news uninteresting. That it is often sensational doesn’t make it interesting. This began for me as a high school junior when I met Henry David Thoreau. We (of course) read “Civil Disobedience” which I found ho-hum, but Walden was magical. In Walden, Thoreau writes:

“And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, – we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”

My household (meaning my mom) was an avid news watcher/reader. She believed it was important to “be informed.” She read the paper from cover to cover; we subscribed to news magazines (anyone under 30 in this country has not seen Time Magazine when it was mostly words) and watched the news twice each day — that was as often as it could be watched in the 60s, by the way. The radio was on most of the time with hourly news reports.

“Watch the news,” she said. “You need to know what’s going on. It’s going to be your turn to take over the world soon.” With teenage cockiness I simply replied that I would be the news. 🙂 But just as she had little life of her own, she knew little about mine. Instead of knowing about me, she knew what the news said about “teenagers today.”

These were pretty wild days in the news. The goal of the news at that time really was to tell and show. The US government had not yet discovered the result of broadcasting facts — real facts — and the Viet Nam War in all it’s gory glory was on television as were street riots over race, the draft and the right for young people to vote. The result of those years on broadcast media is that the Gulf War was more like a TV show than a war, complete with a theme song and opening graphics. It’s even worse now… The effect of the news on many people is to render them impotent to act in their own lives. “What’s the point of voting?” for example. Well, if they knew that the news is an illusion and nothing but marketing and propaganda, they might realize that their vote IS the one thing that they can do that does matter (unless it’s GWB and it’s Florida or Ohio).

So, at seventeen, I put a permanent boycott on the news, a boycott I have seldom suspended. I decided that only the news that has direct bearing on  my life is important because it affects what I may or may not be able to change. Other news? Such as the idiocy that comes out of the mouths of Presidential candidates or the relentless business of war in this country? I can’t change it. In the first case, the best I can do is vote, and in the second, the best I could do was help returning soldiers, with their fractured brains and broken hearts, find a way into life here.

The news in the United States is mostly ‘bad’ news — this point was brought home to me by my students in China. China Daily and other Chinese papers print mostly GOOD news. As my students’ English was good enough to read American newspapers — and they did — they went at our news with the bias that ALL newspapers print only the good news. If the stories in American papers were the good news from America, what a horrible place the United States must be! “Aren’t you afraid to go outside your house, teacher? You can be murdered or raped!” True. They believed this. Our way of reporting news fed right into China’s anti-American propaganda machine.

Thoreau has something to say about the ‘bad news’ obsession, too. He views news as gossip and gossip likes the juicy tid-bits of human pain and failure. In Life Without Principle Thoreau uses the example of two men sharing the news of the day, moaning about the state of affairs, leaving each other feeling a strange sense of hopelessness and triumph (which we feel when we are let off the hook yet know that should not be the case). Neither man has spoken of the “real” news of his life and what has happened between them is flat, empty and unsatisfying. Thoreau writes:

We may well be ashamed to tell what things we have read or heard in our day. I did not know why my news should be so trivial, — considering what one’s dreams and expectations are, why the developments should be so paltry. The news we hear, for the most part, is not news to our genius. It is the stalest repetition.

The real news is not in the paper, but in our lives, thoughts, experiences and the newspaper is a distraction from both our true outer life and the even more true (to Thoreau) inner life.

I do not know but it is too much to read one newspaper a week. I have tried it recently, and for so long it seems to me that I have not dwelt in my native region. The sun, the clouds, the snow, the trees say not so much to me. You cannot serve two masters. It requires more than a day’s devotion to know and to possess the wealth of a day.

Iggy Pop says it well, too. 🙂