Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tree Skeletons

I love to look at deciduous trees in winter and try to follow each large branch out to the tips. Some recurve towards the trunk, others reach out sideways for a long time and then flip up or droop. The color and texture of the bark as well as the pattern with which the branches pop out from the trunk vary with the type of tree. My village is probably one of the last places in the US with a lot of elm trees, especially along the road next to the big park in the middle of town. The grace of the branches of those elms is moving to me, and I often choose that street to drive down. I think that if it weren’t for elm blight, every main street in the Eastern part of the US would have this same beautiful pattern lacing the sky. My daughter hates the leaf-drop, and would love it if our village only planted non-deciduous trees. But to me, the lovely bones of the trees, especially silhouetted against sky, are a welcome sight.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Starry, Starry Night

One of the pleasures of living in Southern California is the close proximity of the desert. Camping overnight a Joshua Tree makes you aware of stars as you can never be inside of Los Angeles. The clear, dry sky shows vast numbers of lights, ranging from tiny twinkles that you cannot be sure exist to sparklers of red, blue, and white tint that no one could miss. The Milky Way is a lot like spilled milk on such a night, connected across the sky, but spilling out of bounds and then shrinking back to a narrower path. You can’t help thinking yourself along it, the yellow brick road in the sky. It doesn’t look like stars at all, they are too numerous, too diffuse. Constellations are easier to see than in LA, but draped with mysterious sweeps of light or smaller, dimmer stars.

The first thing a new desert camper must exclaim is “Wow, there are so many stars.” After staring up for a while, the next exclamation is “They’re moving.” Yes, and no. They are moving but what we’re seeing is the changing perspective on them as the earth rotates. You don’t notice that in LA because the sky is so big and the stars so few that you can’t stand to keep watching long enough to see them “move” at all.

Have you had an experience in which the stars suddenly come into your consciousness, camping in the desert or going out to the car and looking up?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Doctors Dealing with Death

I have been reading Final Exam by Pauline Chen. She is an eloquent surgeon who describes how medical training desensitizes a medical student (and later an intern/resident) to the pain of death, and how she recovered her touch with patients facing death by watching a few humane doctors work with their patients, and by feeling her way through some cases with dying patients. Both the barriers against feelings and the ways she has broken through those barriers resonated with me, as a double cancer survivor whose surgeons were very supportive.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New Orleans

New Orleans, the dreamscape, before, and then during Katrina. I have no images of the aftermath. Last night, I heard a very gifted poet read his surrealistic poem about the aftermath and felt touched by his grief and pain. On the way back, my friend told me of a recent trip to the destroyed part of New Orleans. She saw lines halfway up houses, where the water had submerged them. One house had “NO DOG FOUND” in big black letters on the clapboard front of the house. I can’t get that phrase out of my mind, that and the fact that it was fine to write on the clapboard where no word had ever appeared before. If you know about New Orleans post-Katrina, or can connect with the feelings of a city that has “lost” about a third of its population, use that for inspiration.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Seeing with Writing

I’ve recently read an article in the New York Times about a photographer named Lee Friedlander. An exhibition of his photographs is about to begin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was struck by a comment he made in the introduction to the exhibition, “The photographs of these places are a hint, just a blink at a piece of the real world. At most, an aphrodisiac.” I’d like to think we can write about nature that way, at our best. The whole experience slips through our grasp, but there is a wisp of the experience, a whiff of nature’s perfume, left on our fingers.