Poem of the Day

Sitting in a Small Screenhouse on a Summer Morning

Ten more miles, it is South Dakota.
Somehow, the roads there turn blue,
When no one walks down them.
One more night of walking, and I could have become
A horse, a blue horse, dancing
Down a road, alone.

I have got this far. It is almost noon. But never mind time:
That is all over.
It is still Minnesota.
Among a few dead cornstalks, the starving shadow
Of a crow leaps to his death.
At least, it is green here,
Although between my body and the elder trees
A savage hornet strains at the wire screen.
He can’t get in yet.

It is so still now, I hear the horse
Clear his nostrils.
He has crept out of the green places behind me.
Patient and affectionate, he reads over my shoulder
These words I have written.
He has lived a long time, and he loves to pretend
No one can see him.
Last night I paused at the edge of darkness,
And slept with green dew, alone.
I have come a long way, to surrender my shadow
To the shadow of a horse.

 James Wright

It is 1 am and my heart is pounding from these words.

On Saṃsāra

Saṃsāra, Sanskrit for the eternal cycle of death and rebirth, of endless reincarnations determined by karma, is a concept that permeates many Asian religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. It means “wandering through”, and is used to highlight the impermanence of life. It teaches one to abandon over-attachment to worldly desires and experiences.

Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson, the creators of the marvellous Baraka, ground their film in this concept, through beautifully crafted filmography, void of any dialogue or explanation. It is a purely image-driven film. Ranging from the beauty of the earth, to religious worship, human discipline, sombre examination of consumerism, the film is a wondrous accomplishment. A fantastic tribute to humanity that also underscores the transience of our momentary existence, Saṃsāra is an altogether awe-inspiring experience.

Saṃsāra truly begins and ends with Tibetan monks painstakingly crafting sand mandalas and subsequently destroying them. “A sand mandala is ritualistically dismantled once it has been completed and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished to symbolise the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.” The film embodies the struggle of reconciling the vibrancy of life and its impermanence, something that deeply resonates with me.

It brings to mind a favourite haiku by Kobayashi Issa, written a month after the passing of his daughter:

The world of dew —
A world of dew it is indeed,
And yet, and yet . . .

Watch the trailer below. A masterpiece.

In the Midst of Such Paradox

How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.

Sage advice by Barry Lopez.

On Arches National Park (Part 2)

Yuriy and Julia (i.e. Mr and Mrs Globetrot) took some incredible photos of Arches National Park in Utah. I love this national park (see my earlier post) and having climbed up to view Delicate Arch myself, I can assure you it is every bit as spectacular as these photos.

I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams… (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince)

Coffee Cravings (Part 1/?)

“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.” – Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

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Bread & Cocoa

It’s one in the morning, I plowed through Heart of Darkness today and reading T.S. Eliot and Bukowski gives me an intense craving for strong, black bitter brew. Joseph Conrad employs beautiful rhythms and lyrical turn of phrase, almost poetic in his execution:

And from right to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman. She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments. She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witchmen, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step. She must have had the value of several elephant tusks upon her. She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress. And in the hush that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful land, the immense wilderness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life seemed to look at her, pensive, as though it had been looking at the image of its own tenebrous and passionate soul.

Her face had a tragic and fierce aspect of wild sorrow and of dumb pain mingled with the fear of some struggling, halt-shaped resolve. She stood looking at us without a stir, and like the wilderness itself, with an air of brooding over an inscoutable purpose. A whole minute passed, and then she made a step forward. There was a low jingle, a glint of yellow metal, a sway of fringed draperies, and she stopped as if her heart had failed her. She looked at us all as if her life had depended upon the unswerving steadiness of her glance.

(To be very honest, I want to hear more about this wild queen, someone write something like Wide Sargasso Sea for her!)

On Ball’s Pyramid

The Lord Howe Island Group is situated off the southeastern coast of Australia. Australia, where I have spent many Decembers during my childhood, is a place of many wonders and these islands are no exception. Particular reverence is to be paid to Ball’s Pyramid, a stark, jagged volcanic stack rising steeply from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. Born of an ancient shield volcano and caldera formed 7 million years ago, discovered in 1788, it holds the allure of peaks like the K2 or Everest, a siren call to climbers and adventurers to come forth and conquer it. A team from Sydney finally did, in 1965.

Hatty Gottschalk‘s photographs take us where these adventurers have been.

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“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts. – Captain Ahab, Moby Dick”

On the Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar desert in the world. It lies west of the Andes Mountains, on the Chilean coast. It has been described as a desolate lunar landscape on Earth, with lunar rovers being test-run on the terrain. This parched landscape also has its share of geysers and volcanoes, believe it or not. During years where the El Niño effect is especially strong, where the waters off the Peruvian coast warm, the Atacama desert blooms into what is called a “flowering desert” or desierto florido (because Spanish sounds so much more romantic).

The arresting landscape, as seen below in photos taken by Stéphane San Quirce and lepinephotos.

The geological landforms are stunning. Photos by mikkol79gaujourfrancoise,

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The blooming desert after rain, by Miss Mountain and lephinephotos.

And the beautiful Licancubar volcano, by Francoise Gaujour.

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The blue, shimmering Altipatic Lagoon:

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The Paranal observatory situated on a mountain in the desert, that study the skies for worlds vast beyond our imagination, beautifully photographed by Owen Perry or Circa 1983. These deserve a later post all of their own.

On Gingerbread Terrariums, Christmas Wreaths and Robert Frost

I dream of a white Christmas with mugs of hot chocolate by a warm fire. Meanwhile, these gingerbread terrariums by yeh on mynameisyeh are so delicious and pretty to look at.

If you’re inspired by the smell of cinnamon and cloves and fresh pine when you make these terrariums, why not make your own Christmas wreath with the people behind Treasures and Travels.

Not for the first time, I wish I lived in a place with winters and christmas tree farms so I could do Christmassy things like hunting down an innocent tree and asking my imaginary sweater-clad husband to get it into the house, as inspired by the following image from Kinfolk:

Or I could be paddling down half-frozen rivers and watching the snow settle across the land, like David Lindwall below.

What would (imaginary) winters be like without Robert Frost?

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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.

On the Alhambra

The Alhambra is a mystical, beautiful place, a Moorish fortress palace sitting atop a hill rising above the Spanish town of Granda. It is a relic from the time when the Moors ruled Granda and filled it with music, artists, poets and poetresses who dreamt up poetry “like the language of doves”. Granada, the birthplace of the spirited poet Federico Garcia Lorca and his passion for duende. Lorca, Leonard Cohen’s greatest influence and probably the greatest Spanish poet to have graced this earth, lived and died in his beloved Granada at the hands of fascist soldiers during the Spanish Civil War.

Lorca, who weaved immortal words from duende, Spanish nights and roses:

Today in my heart
a vague trembling of stars
and all roses are
as white as my pain.

Listen to Frances Mayes describe the Alhambra’s Courtyard of Lions:

“The root of the word paradise means “walled garden”. The enclosed Islamic gardens profoundly influenced the western medieval gardens. The cruciform designs of the monasteries conveniently paralleled Christian iconography, but the design previously reflected the Islamic concept of paradise, with four rivers flowing out in the cardinal directions from a single source. “Four-chambered heart,” Ed muses. “Did they think of that too?”

Leslie Stainton speaks of the view from the Alhambra:

“From the heights of the Alhambra I have often watched the sun linger on the horizon and contemplated the mournful sound of Granada’s church bells at dusk. Lorca said there were a thousand of them. They blend with the music of the city’s two rivers and its hundreds of fountains and hidden springs. The water in Granada is somber. In its presence you feel you have touched the city’s pulse.”

Intricate and elegant Arabic inscriptions have been carefully carved into the walls of the Alhambra. Tourists and visitors continue to be perplexed by the artful words, a language beautiful but incomprehensible. “The form of script is angular kufic, whose uprights sprout into decorative foliage, or intertwine; curlicue cursive; or a mixture of forms. In a culture that banned human images, the form as well as the content of the calligraphy was designed to exalt temporal and heavenly rulers.” These writings have been decoded by researchers and they reveal stunning lyricism.

On the basin of the Fountain of Lions:

For, are there not in this garden wonders
that God has made incomparable in their beauty,
and a sculpture of pearls with a transparently light,
the borders of which are trimmed with seed pearl?
Melted silver flows through the pearls,
to which it resembles in its pure dawn beauty.
Apparently, water and marble seem to be one,
without letting us know which of them is flowing.
Don’t you see how the water spills on the basin,
but its spouts hide it immediately?
It is a lover whose eyelids are brimming over with tears,
tears that it hides from fear of a betrayer.
Isn’t it, in fact, like a white cloud
that pours its water channels on the lions
and seems the hand of the caliph, who, in the morning,
grants the war lions with his favours?

And in the Hall of the Two Sisters, it is declared:

I am a garden adorned by beauty:
my being will know whether you look at my beauty.
Oh, Mohammed, my king, I try to equal
the noblest thing that has ever existed or will ever exist.
Sublime work of art, fate wants me to outshine every other moment in history.
How much delight for the eyes!
The noble one renews his desires here.
The Pleiads serve as his amulet;
the breeze defends it with its magic.
A gleaming vault shines in a unique way,
with apparent and hidden beauties.
The hand of a devoted to Gemini;
and the Moon comes to converse with her.
The stars wish to rest there,
and not turn around the celestial wheel,
and they wish to await submissively in both courtyards,
and serve tenaciously like slaves:

The Alhambra stands as one of the pinnacles of Islamic architecture, overflowing with light, shadows and the Arabic love of numbers, poetry and geometry. I shall continue to dream of it, hazy in the golden sunlight, the sound of water trickling past walls carved with untold stories, a paradise tended to by the hearts, hands and minds of men.