Magical Seeing

Storm Cell

Magical Seeing

When I was a very young girl, I was immersed in a magical, light-drenched natural world. I lived by the wild and undammed Wenatchee River. The mountain range called The Enchantments floated above my childhood home like an Avalon in the sky, seeming to be untethered to my little earth. The snow-covered mountains soared high and free above me and my family, guardian of all I was, protector of all I would become.

The Enchantments and Colchuck Lake.
The Enchantments and Colchuck Lake. I’m not sure exactly who took this photograph–probably my dad, but maybe one of his friends or a member of his climbing club.

My dad photographed all this high country wilderness–macro, micro, telephoto and wide-angled lens and eyes.

My dad, Warren Brown, circa 194, with his Leica.
My dad, Warren Brown, circa 1974, with his Leica.

My sister became a watercolor painter of trees and skies with a fine brush for the details of the snowy owl, the raven, the vultures and the eagles.

My sister Cheryl Long, became a painter; this is her Snowy Owl.
My sister Cheryl R. Long, became a painter; this is her Snowy Owl.

We were a family caught up in a shimmering net of the beauty of place, and each in his or her own way struggled to live up to the emotional privilege of being somehow allowed to exist there for so many years in the wide arm of the river, under the great wing of The Enchantments.

We lived in a dreamlike world...Circa 1967. Left to right: my sister Cheryl, brother Lisle, me, our dad, Warren, sister Toren.
We lived in a dreamlike world…Circa 1967. Left to right: my sister Cheryl, brother Lisle, me, our dad, Warren, sister Toren.

I found my own way into the heart of this enchanted world through poetry and story and was lucky enough to stumble upon a career that sustained me in those passions. It was through poetry I first learned the power of what my photo teacher Laura Valenti calls, “Magical Seeing.”

Like poets, photographers immersed in exploration of soul must consider the contrasts between the elusive light and a rich and suggestive dark. In both word and image, poets and photographers like me struggle to capture the haunting, evocative mood, that sense of timelessness and nostalgia.

Memory, dream, reflections...
Memory, dream, reflections…

I like that these years I live in now are called my “golden years.” I can look back at that young girl and see that she spent her entire life in pursuit of this magical seeing. She understood with her heart what I can now not only feel but explain: that we live mythic lives thrumming with the vitality of light, and, as Valenti puts it, “Rich with meaning and mythology and magic.”

Valenti’s challenge to me is the one I have always put to myself, “What can I do to express ever more profoundly a magical way of seeing and being in my world?”

I still live in a natural world so explosive with beauty and detail that I could weep with despair over my inability to photograph it in a new and “more magical” way.

Cow Parsnip Diva
Every once in a while, numinous figures appear from the other side to guide me and reassure me I’m on the right track. In this moment, it was The Cow Parsnip Diva who brought the good news.

I read a book once on designing a Romantic garden. The primary tip my husband and I implemented in our garden is the concept of using arches to create receding vistas that open up to little rooms in the garden. Even a small lot like ours became extraordinary when we thought through adding these layers, these glimpsed views into other little secret gardens within the garden.

On an ordinary walk from my house, I can look through the surprising doorway into the deep reflective green of Delta Pond.
On an ordinary walk from my house, I can look through the surprising doorway into the deep reflective green of Delta Pond.

Earlier this week, I was out specifically shooting for “Secret Places,” and now I add this memory about building a garden to Valenti’s thoughts on seeing opportunities to photograph layers–through archways, under trees into remote and beckoning meadows, through the scrim of a rain cell moving fast across a sunlit valley.

From high up on the shoulder of Spencer Butte, I photographed this storm cell sweeping across the sunlit valley before. I used my iPhone 7+ for this shot.
From high up on the shoulder of Spencer Butte, I photographed this storm cell sweeping across the sunlit valley before. I used my iPhone 7+ for this shot.

“Tell me,” asks poet Mary Oliver, “what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I am trying to answer this question as best I can: I’m trying to give back the magic to the world it has given to me.

A Faraway Gaze

A Faraway Gaze

My friend Alan Levine who blogs with his dog out of Strawberry, Arizona, had a fun and interesting challenge up the other day. He and other blogger friends of mine are finding it fun to do a random blog post search of their sites, then interrogating that random post thusly:

  1. What, if anything, is still relevant?
  2. What has changed?
  3. Does this reveal anything more generally about my discipline?
  4. What is my personal reaction to it?

So let me digress briefly into the alien guts of the English/Writing teaching profession. During my quarter century flapping my clipped wings in that particular zoo, it was very popular to have students collect their writing in portfolios–nowadays, e-portfolios. The one thing all the free range chicken writing instructors seemed to agree on was the value of metacognitive writing, which you might call reflective writing, but no, we gotta call it metacog ‘r nuttin’.

The concept here was that it would be good for students if they reflected on why they made certain writerly choices in their portfolios and not others. This is supposed to push them to do synthesis, the highest order of thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, and, in my observation, students hated it pretty much across the board. It was just another bloody hoop to jump through on the way to their dental hygiene or sustainable energy certification where most of them hoped to God they’d never have to either write or self–reflect on another essay in their lives.

And I don’t blame them. It never did much for me to read that pained and painful writing, and after a long, downward spiral of disillusion, I gave up on portfolios altogether. Now all I do in retirement is teach Technical Writing online. Students like it because to them it is more cut and dried, seemingly more objective than the navel gazing of the Frosh Comp writing sequence.

Okay, end of crawl through the murky craw of Alien.

Back to our regularly scheduled programing. I may have lost faith in the value of metacognition, uh, I mean navel-gazing, uh, I actually mean thoughtful self-reflection for students en masse, but personally, I find it interesting and useful.

That said, I spun the wheel of Mind on Fire. The arrow made distressed clicking sounds as it went back in time, but it finally hesitated and jolted to a stop, pointing firmly at Dec. 30, 2011, a blog post called “Boketto.” “Boketto” means “a faraway gaze.”

I chose the word “boketto” to go with my current mood this stormy day at the end of 2011. I had dreamed about searching for my grandmother in the river of my childhood, and she had appeared for the third time in a dream as a great fish. I have often seen my father (who passed long ago in 1979), with that boketto look on his face. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/
I chose the word “boketto” to go with my current mood this stormy day at the end of 2011. I had dreamed about searching for my grandmother in the river of my childhood, and she had appeared for the third time in a dream as a great fish. I have often seen my father (who passed long ago in 1979), with that boketto look on his face. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/

What were the chances?

Life likes to rhyme.

Currently, my dining room table is covered with a light table and thousands of my father’s slides taken 1950s–1979.  I am deep into archiving his legacy in a variety of forms–prints, books, and front and center is a new website Warren Brown Photography

Currently, my dining room table is covered with a light table and thousands of my father’s slides taken 1950s–1979.
Currently, my dining room table is covered with a light table and thousands of my father’s slides taken 1950s–1979.

This is a huge project I only dared begin after I retired. Although I have made stories about my dad before, this sorting of his slides takes me deep into my Myth of Psyche place where Psyche (who represents the soul–her animal aspect is a butterfly) is given the first of four tasks by Aphrodite to sort all the seeds in a pile of grain. The seeds represent all the possibilities that ever were for my dad and for me; they are all the emotions I have to sort through as I bring his legacy to order and to beauty.

Psyche’s first reaction is despair, and I get that. Image by Kevin J. Beltz. http://conveyorbeltz.wix.com/kevin-portfolio#!__psyche
Psyche’s first reaction is despair, and I get that. Image by Kevin J. Beltz. http://conveyorbeltz.wix.com/kevin-portfolio#!__psyche

Both the inner and outer challenges are overwhelming. I have to wrestle the great Bear of Guilt to the ground with every slide I throw into the “reject” pile.

But Psyche gets help from–of course!–the ants. Like the ants, I sort slides into piles called “Mountains,” and “Flowers,” and “Family,” and the heap of rejected slides grows like a giant ant hill in the center of the table.

So that’s where I am right at the moment I spin the blog random-o-matic meter and come up with a five year old blog post called “Boketto,” or “a faraway gaze.” The faraway gaze is in the photo of my father, and I write in the blog post about a dream I had that night about my father, who died of a brain tumor in 1979 at the age of 54.

When I woke up, I made a page in my art journal illustrating the dream, My dad is entering the Museum of Modern Art of MOMA, which is his soul mate connection to my MOM. (It was also five years ago that I began reviewing art on the radio for KLCC four months after this dream. So there’s that…)

I pulled the skein of my artwork and dreams together into this poem. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/
I pulled the skein of my artwork and dreams together into this poem. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/

Life likes to rhyme.

Now to the metacognitive questions:

  1. What is still relevant? I am still haunted by my legacy responsibilities to my father. He is still in my dreams, and I am still doing dream art.
  2. What has changed? Five years ago, he was still far away and ill. In my dreams since then, he has come back to us but still thin and not vibrant. However, now he or his spirit or how I internalize his memory, is much more with me on a daily basis watching me shoot, giving me advice on composing shots, clearly an active parental muse.
  3. Does this reveal anything about my discipline? I have had a lifelong connection with my father and have never given up on trying to provide a legacy for him. Before blogging, I kept and continue to keep, handwritten journals, so my discipline extends back to April 1964 when I first got serious about blogging uh journaling at age 14.
  4. What is my personal reaction now to the Boketto blog post? I value this piece of art a lot because it expresses and recalls what has been going on at the level of dream. Part of my father’s legacy website will be my videos and art (and that of other family members, too) about him, and I would have forgotten this piece.

This is just another piece of evidence showing how valuable the Daily Create is, and how valuable it is to have creative friends like Alan Levine to spin off new posts, new lines of thinking, and, dare I say it? Self-reflection.

My dad’s gaze is no longer boketto or far away. It is focused and interested. He’s pretty excited about having his very own website!

This guy looks a lot like his four brothers, but you can tell its Warren by the camera.
This guy looks a lot like his four brothers, but you can tell its Warren by the camera.

A Story

Me probing the muddy bottom of the lake of time.

Strange Falling Out Among Relatives

The rumor sifted up out of the layers that settle on the muddy bottom of the lake of time. In the 1940s, two families, the Brightwells and the Touchstones lived across a vivid lake from each other, each with seven children. The oldest two, Autumn Apple–she was a Brightwell–and Cougar Blue, a Touchstone, married.

But apparently there were a few other connubial pairings going on in the many secret love bowers afforded by the almost grotesquely lush vegetation surrounding the sparkling green eye of the lake.

Great Grandma Brightwell let it slip before she died that the family of Autumn Apple and Cougar Blue had a double cousin, a child born of two younger siblings, Unholy Annie and Bear in the Air (so called because he was very light on his feet), a child born in secret, given away and forgotten.

Why fifty years later did this rumor or remembrance bubble to the surface like gasses released from organic matter decomposing at the bottom of the lake?

Or was it a collective dream they were all slowly swimming through like green bottle glass? Because with strange inevitability, the adopted child, Angelica, now in her late fifties, began her search for her roots and found the Brightwells to glad cries of reunion and jubilation by her newfound cousins.

The Touchstones grew angry at the accusations that Bear in the Air might be the father of this sudden stranger in their midst. “You are slandering the good name of our brother, father, grandfather!” Dragging his name through the mud.

However, these are modern times, and the DNA test proved negative for Bear in the Air’s possible paternity. It was Angelica’s mom’s husband all along.

Yet that wasn’t the point to the Touchstones, and that side of the combined family withdrew without discussion or confrontation. The outward silence was inwardly fueled by gossip until the imagined slight achieved the status of epic insult.

This peculiar boulder lodged in the streambed of the once freeflowing river of the Brightwells and Touchstones, the extended two family family.

It was twenty-four months before the four Brightwell sisters found out about the silence they had suspected but only recently confirmed.

One night, they began to text each other, brainstorming a solution. A letter of apology? A phone call? The texts flew back and forth until they had woven a kind of counter-dream that floated above them all, misted out over the lake, the mountains and over the Touchstones, too.

That night, each Brightwell sister dreamed of speaking to a Touchstone uncle. In the dreams, barriers fell; the old camaraderie returned.

In every dream, the dreamers walked by that shimmering lake, and the overgrown leaves and branches reached out to brush their backs, their shoulders, to tangle briefly in their hair.

They passed through the old love bowers and finally came to the shore. They stood together on the wooden dock, looking out across green water.

It was so deep and so still.

 

The Heronry

heron_reflected

Why this story; why now?

I wrote this memoir piece on the last gasping breath of the 1980s. In those days, I was more serious about trying to sell writing, and I sent it out various places late in 1989.

I spent the summer of 1990 in Missoula, Montana. I lived in a little apartment down by the Clark Fork River, and every day I walked to the post office–mostly for the walk, and also for whatever letters or bills might have winkled me out. One day, I found a check in the mail from First for Women Magazine for $1500.  I was over the moon! It was my first big sale (yeah, okay, my ONLY big sale, like, in my entire life), and I ran screaming down the street waving the check in the air.

I worked with a line editor over the next few weeks, and the story came out for Father’s Day in 1991 (no, that can’t be right. Maybe I was in Missoula in 1989…? Scary how the years run together…). It was liking dropping a manuscript from 13,000 feet– I never heard it hit. That magazine has millions of readers, and only one stranger ever said anything to me about it. An author my editor said was well-known complimented her on my story saying it reminded him of E.B. White’s classic 1941 memoir essay, “Once More to the Lake.”

In September 1968, I was in my frosh year at Washington State University, and I enrolled in the required introductory writing class (one I have now taught myself literally hundreds of times). The first essay Dr. Taylor assigned was that same E.B. White essay, “Once More to the Lake.” I learned the art of deep reading on that essay, and it went in deep, too–all the way into my writer’s RNA.

Did I remember that essay while I was writing “The Heronry”? No. “The Heronry” is a true story, and I was struggling to put it down detail by detail, trying hard to get it right.

On retrospect, do I think the shape of the story was unconsciously influenced by E.B. White? Absolutely.

Recently a friend, John Gray, and I were reading the same essay by Natalie Goldberg, “The Lost Purse,” in her new book The Great Spring: Writing, Zen, and This Zigzag Life. It seems to me that the story has so many elements that echo, bounce off, run parallel to “Once More to the Lake.”  John’s question was whether or not Goldberg would be aware of or acknowledge the correlation. My answer is in my experience.

Rare is the writer of my generation who hasn’t read White. We all have him down there in our unconscious minds along with the rest of the Norton Anthologies that were standard in the English major curriculum. This stuff doesn’t have to surface consciously for it to shape our thinking and creating. I have no doubt if the similarities were delineated for Goldberg that she’d get a big kick out of seeing how that magic continues to work.

I, for one, love this back and forth weave of just one story strand in and out of my own life, adding strength to whole.


GBH_crook neck

(Originally published as “To the Lake,” in First for Women which started out as a decent magazine that included fiction and memoir. It has turned into something else, I’m sorry to say.)

THE HERONRY

By Sandy Brown Jensen

There is a lake called Moses in Washington State, and the Great Blue Herons come there to nest and breed in the cold, sharp spring.  They feed on fish and frogs and salamanders.  The fisherfolk say that the herons catch the trout before they can get around to it themselves, and for that reason they dislike the birds.  The tall herons with their awkward grace and unseemly nesting habits fascinated my father, a half-hearted angler at best.  He liked to photograph the birds as they flew up the Wenatchee River by our house. This seldom happened, however, for although it is nothing for the herons to fly 30 or 40 miles on a hunt, the Moses Lake heronry was twice that distance from our home and we saw only the occasional lone hunter.

So one morning when I was 15 years old my father and I lashed our red, eight-foot fiberglass boat to the roof of the car and drove over the Columbia River Bridge, and east across the Columbia Plateau to Moses Lake.  The day was cold with a thin March sunshine.  I was looking forward to this outing in my father’s company, a thing which had never happened–not just him and me without the surrounding activity of Mom and the other kids.  I was shy with him and didn’t know how to make conversation, or how to ask the questions that burned in me to be asked.

He didn’t much know what to make of me either. I swung hourly between incessant chattering and agonized shyness.  Clothes didn’t fit, ideas didn’t fit.  I wanted to think of myself as graceful and was humiliated when someone saw me drop a plate or trip over my own feet.  I, like all adolescent girls, yearned for something from my father that few men know how to give.  I wanted him to reassure me that I was beautiful and intelligent, when in fact I was neither.  I wanted to be given sexual poise and adult status yet retain the amniotic blindness of childhood.   I longed for intimacy of the spirit, yet was surprised when it came.  

    “Tell me about the herons.”  I considered this question many miles before I found voice to say the words.   My father was beautiful and intelligent, and I was all but inarticulate before him.  The question broke the silence.  His blue eyes wrinkled at the corners and his blond head kept turning from the road to me as he talked. At first I didn’t think he was looking at me; I thought he saw something out the window on the other side of my head.

He pointed to a flock of long-legged birds flying low across the marsh, against the pewter sky. “Those are Great Blue Herons, the tallest native bird. You can tell them apart from cranes by the way they fly.  Look.”   The car slowed.  “See, the cranes fly with their necks straight out.”

I knew the difference between herons and cranes by the time I was six years old, but my father was a walking encyclopedia and taught us by repeating information over and over in different combinations, in different settings.  While riding long-distances in the car (to photograph a flower in Mexico that bloomed only once every seven years) Daddy would amuse himself by asking us the difference between a mushroom and a toadstool, a dove and a pigeon, a robin and thrush–or the common name of ranunculus glaberimus.

He stopped the car and we got out.  From an island a few hundred yards offshore came the boom of wings. A flock of forty birds circled over the road. Daddy handed me the binoculars.  Pointing, he said,  “Those are the Great Blues.  See how they fly with their necks folded back in a flat “S” loop?

I brought the field glasses back from the flying herons to the island rookery.  The bare trees were full of huge scraggly nests.  I spotted the young birds.  Excited, I handed the glasses back to Daddy, “Look, you can see the chicks with their beaks open.”

He looked for a long time.  “Good eye,” he said.  I blushed with the casual praise.  My father seldom complimented me on anything I can remember, except my powers of observation which became so much like his.  Vision was his gift to me, the ability to observe the natural world, its health and beauty and intricacy.

GBH_tall grass

    “In fact, I think you’ve spotted a good rookery.  We’ll row over together in the boat.  I’ll set up a birdblind at one end and you row back to shore. The birds know enough to see a boat come over and that disturbs them; then they see a boat return and they relax.  They don’t count two people coming and only one going back.  If I’m careful they won’t spot me and I can get some good pictures.  You come back in a few hours and pick me up.”

My disappointment was sharp. I had looked forward to spending the day with him.  I felt I was being abandoned.  But my logical mind knew he was treating me like an adult, trusting me with the boat and the day.  If I yielded to my emotion, showed him my need, no doubt his response would be warmer–but the results would be the same: I’d leave with the boat.  Or if he let me stay with him, the birds would be disturbed and I’d be responsible for ruining his outing.  

The shoreline was steep here–huge tumbled boulders falling straight off into deep water.  I was barely strong enough to handle my end of the boat as we maneuvered it down the rocks.  Finally settled on the water, the boat bobbed like a red fisherman’s float, the large white name, “Tonalea,” painted in block letters on the stern.  Tonalea was the name of a remote desert town, symbolizing the edge of frontier, the beginning of wilderness to my parents who felt that indeed in wildness is the preservation of the world.

heron_brush

Out on the lake my father pointed out terns, mallards, grebes, shikepokes and goldeneye to me.  The lake was alive with birds, their voices carrying in graaks and whistles and creaks across the surface.  Daddy stopped with the oars in the air so I could look down and see the dim shapes of fish far below in the green and black water.

    “Rainbows,” he said, “Bass, crappie, sunfish.  In the summer we’ll go to Ol’ Sullivan Dam at the other end of the lake and catch sunfish and grill them on a greasewood fire.”  As I listened to him my mind opened and I received the images of the world that he described as well as the words.  I saw how the interconnected strands of the natural world were like a spider’s web–each movement along a strand was conveyed to every other part of the web. The day was movement, flux, and light, from the smallest insect to the birds and lake and the weather above.

We landed on the south end of the island, together pulling the boat, one hand each, side by side on the gunwale, black sand grating under the hull.  We hiked into the central thicket of willow and built a birdblind there.  The noise of the heronry was terrific, all grunts and squawks of old and young birds.  The smell of cottonwood mixed with the decaying remains of infertile eggs, lost food and other waste materials from the nests.  The herons were not tidy housekeepers.  Their nests were enormous, untidy architectures of broken sticks.  The air churned with constant movement, the birds well aware of our presence.  The adult Great Blue herons stood about four feet tall and had long sharp bills that Daddy said could be a dangerous weapon when the bird is attacked.

 I left Daddy crouched down inside the blind setting up a tripod.  “Let’s synchronize watches,” he said, “Why don’t you come back for me at 4:00 and we’ll have lunch on the way home?” I was hungry then, but felt there was a communion in shared meals and would have starved for a week to sit in a car and share a sandwich with my father.

I rowed back over glassy water.  Daddy pointed out that the lake had a strong current north to south and suggested I row uplake so that on the way back it would be easy to hit the island.  The going was smooth so I landed a half mile upshore from the car.  There were no sticks to tie the boat to so I wrapped the tow rope around a rock and built a cairn over it.  Tonalea bumped against the rocks, but the tough fiberglass was all but impossible to scratch.

The climb to roadbed level, combined with the row, left me breathless and warm.  I looked back at the island and tried to spot Daddy in his birdblind. From the place where he was an exceptionally large heron flapped gently skyward.  I had heard from the Indians around Colville about totem animals–how the spirit of each person has affinity with that of an animal, and on occasion, if the light is just right, or the time of day holds suspended, then the person can become that animal and learn their ways, see the world through different eyes.  I wondered if I was seeing my father turn into a Great Blue Heron, flying with dignity northward up Moses Lake, his neck folded back in a flat “S” loop.  I knew he was looking down from his great distance at the rainbow trout and bass and sunfish.  I knew he could see me and thought he nodded his feathered head.

egret_GBH

On the other side of the roadbed the marsh opened up.  There I spent the day with the red-winged blackbirds and the horned larks among the tule rushes and cattails.  The earliest spring monkeyflowers grew red and yellow along the streambeds, and there were toads and crawdaddies and salamanders.  I especially liked the waterskippers because of their bear-paw shadows.  It was an easy world to get lost in.  My mother and I used to play the game of imagining we were tiny skindivers, exploring the aquatic landscapes created by rivulets and other miniature flows of water.  Now I played this game in the life-and-death fastnesses of the marsh.  I braided feathers and reeds together, performing small ceremonies on mossy promontories.  A raft with two spiders set sail on a blue stream.  Slowly the day around me began to lose light and what little warmth there was.   Clouds that must have gathered earlier on the horizon marched forward and started to mill briskly around each other.  I looked up from my play when I felt the temperature drop quickly.  Shivering, I remembered my mission, my father, and the island–and ran for the boat.

White caps tipped the waves and the wind ran south with the lake current. Frightened not so much by the change in weather, but by my failure to notice it earlier, I got the boat out on the water, pulling as strongly as I could for the island.  The few hundred feet seemed like a mile.  Halfway across the rain came down, slanting across the dark water, obscuring the shore.  The current pulled me south faster than I could row.  If I missed the island it was rough open water all the way to Ol’ Sullivan Dam.  Turning to look over my shoulder I saw Daddy on the southernmost shoal, wading out into the lake.  I was rowing like an Amazon, strength coming to me like a force of nature and I was still going to miss the island.

    “Throw me the rope!”  His voice blew downwind to me, seeming to come from inside my own head.  I clambered forward, quickly coiled the rope like a lariat and threw it upwind.  It landed a yard from Daddy who lunged, wet to his waist, to catch hold of it.  He hauled me in and together we loaded his expensive camera equipment in under the gunwale, securing it with a tarpaulin.

    “Pull the boat!”  Daddy shouted at me.  Together we towed the boat the quarter mile length of the island.  I was not used to physical hardship.  Rock and mountain climbing, horseback riding and canoeing were all part of my daily life, but hard work was always for the men.  I didn’t know about strength, about stamina or where one found such things in oneself.  I was a frightened adolescent girl feeling her weakness against the storm, yet surprised by what strength I had found in the rowing.  I felt like a leaf or a twig torn off a cottonwood and flung into the wind, abandoned, exhilarated.

At the top of the island Daddy and I got into the boat, sitting side by side, each with an oar.  The rain turned to sleet.

    “Pull,” he said, “Pull.  Hard.”  We quickly got a rhythm–no doubt he adjusted the power of his stroke to mine, and we headed for the opposite shore. Halfway across the current pulled us south of the car, and then we were south of the island, headed rapidly downlake and still rowing deeply, steadily, with concentration.  I felt the cold wind and sleet against the side of my face but I was warm in the shadow of my father, and there was nothing on my mind but keeping my body and oar synchronous with Daddy’s. I am aware now of the sexual power there was in that struggle against the storm and I think that it is this that fathers have to give their daughters:  experiences of union which teach the pleasures of fearlessness, intimacy and power in the most innocent ways.

We completed the few hundred yard crossing a mile south.  The roadbed was not directly above us, for it turned inland a few hundred yards from where we had parked.  There were no choices–we had to tow the boat back over the interminable boulders, crawling up and sliding down, looking for footings, the two of us sharing the weight of the tow rope on our shoulders.  The wind and sleet settled down into a continual, cold opposing force.

    Daddy turned around once and asked, “How’s it going?”  My shoulders ached, both of them, as I kept switching the rope from side to side to relieve the pain, but it was useless to mention it–it wouldn’t change what had to be done. I nodded my head and half-panted, “Fine.”

    “Good girl.”  When we rested it was in the lee of a boulder.  The wind changed direction and the clouds broke up.  Daddy pointed out a huge ragged heron hung suspended in the north wind, effortlessly, as if preoccupied by some profound thought or image.  The long legs trailed out behind, acting as a kind of rudder, holding the long, tucked-up head into the wind.  I felt I was in the primordial place where creation is made.  Within the surround of the invisible wind and the cold water and the warm will of my father all things were possible. I was in girl form  but the life of a heron was comprehensible to me, its wildness, its strand of belonging so woven into the web of life at the lake.  My father and I were woven into that web:  the wind was our thought, the water our depth. We had the heron’s eyes and saw far out over the land.

heron_goldreflect

The cold kept us from resting too long.  After a while it got dark and the storm continued.  I couldn’t guess how Daddy would know when we arrived at the place where the car would be above us on the road.  The journey with the boat on my back was like my journey into adulthood, and hence was to have no end.

    “Here,” he said, pointing, and I recognized a boulder blacker than the others, a chunk of vesicular basalt that was rough rather than rounded like the others.  It wasn’t the end, though.  In a final effort, we hauled the camera equipment to the car, then returned for the boat, which the lake preferred to take as sacrifice and was reluctant to yield up.  Against the pressure of a steady wind and the sucking of the lake, we turned Tonalea over like a canoe and began carrying her up the steep boulder slope.  Daddy would go up one boulder, then brace the boat while I scrambled down and up onto another. Wrestling the boat was like trying to manhandle a fiberglass leviathan.  The wind and our fatigue battled us, causing us to drop her several times.  When we reached the roadbed and had to heave the boat on top of the car, I couldn’t do it.  Shaking all over, my arms limp with exhaustion, I leaned against the car door, sweat chilling against my skin as it dried.

    “Let’s catch our breath,” Daddy suggested, “then try it again.”

The second time strength surged up from my spine and the boat fell into place.  I managed the latches and ropes on my side with blue, numb lumps of fingers.

We got into the car.  Daddy turned on the motor.  Soon the floor heater was blasting.  I was shivering uncontrollably, teeth chattering.  I was delirious with fatigue and cold and what I had seen out on the lake of both myself and my father. I had seen that on the lake he and I were equal–we each faced the storm and the task alone–and yet together.  I’d learned something about my own strength, that it was a force of nature no less than the wind. And I’d seen how my father was essentially wild and beautiful, like the birds. Daddy unwrapped tamale pie sandwiches and handed me one.  We had graham crackers with chocolate frosting and, although I had never tried coffee before, Daddy poured us each a cup from a thermos.

  “Feel better?” he asked, pulling out onto the road. He turned his head and looked at me, then winked.  We were in this together.  As we reached the far end of the lake a long line of Great Blues flew low in front of the windshield, the headlights shining on their long wing feathers.  One by one they turned their heads to peer curiously in at us, then banked sharply up and over the car, heading back towards the dark lake.

    “Did you see that?”  Daddy exclaimed. “Did you see that?”

We saw the herons again many times during that difficult year–is 15 ever easy? We saw them wading in the shallows at the Quincy Potholes the week after my first date.  The young man had taken me roller skating and I was still nursing bruises and floor burns.  I watched the herons through Daddy’s binoculars.  I felt there was a special affinity between me and the birds. Their awkward lift-offs and landings were understandable to me–I knew a lot about being all arms and legs.  It was their flight I envied, that clarity, their economy of wingbeat.

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Image by Mike Peters / Luling, LA. All others by Sandy Brown Jensen

Over a year later, in May, I thought my father had forgotten the incident at Moses Lake, but on my 16th birthday he gave me a black and white print, grainy and moody, in very high contrast, on a clear German paper.  The photograph was of a young heron poised on the edge of the nest, halfway between awkward and grace. Its wings were outstretched, reaching for air.  One foot was already off the mess of sticks that was the nest, the other foot was on tiptoe, elongated like a willow limb.  The parent bird was in front, flying, and through a trick of the photographer’s exact timing, was looking back over its shoulder at the fledgling.  It was a photograph of precise vision and infinite understanding.

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October Friends

OCTOBER FRIENDS 

This video is a personal documentary of a weekend spent in Ashland, Oregon, Oct. 2, 3, 2015 with:

  • Peter and Sandy Jensen, Eugene, OR,
  • Richard Heinberg and Janet Barocco, Santa Rosa, CA,
  • Michael and Barbara Cecil, Anna Celestino, of Ashland, OR, and
  • Sandra Lindley, Phoenix, OR.

“Ashoken Farewell” is the music played by Richard Heinberg, Violinist. All photography (except the last group frame by Janet Barocco) by Sandy Brown Jensen.

 

 

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NOW, BLUE OCTOBER

Now blue October, smoky in the sun,

Must end the long, sweet summer of the heart.

The last brief visit of the birds is done;

They sing the autumn songs before they part.

Listen, how lovely – there’s the thrush we heard

When June was small with roses, and the bending

Blossom of branches covered nest and bird,

Singing the summer in, summer unending-

Give me your hand once more before the night,

See how the meadows darken with the frost,

How fades the green that was the summer’s light.

Beauty is only altered, never lost,

And love, before the cold November rain,

Will make its summer in the heart again.

Robert Nathan (1894-1985)

Moving Mickey

Moving Mickey

Our 89-year-old Mickey/Mom swore when she moved into this independent living apartment eight years ago that we would only take her out “feet first.” Over the last few years of a hip replacement and then open heart surgery, she felt so terrible that she was sure she was going to cash in her chips.

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However, the doctors say she’s in great shape for the shape she’s in, so her granddaughter Tristan Lockard said, “Why don’t we be roommates, share the rent, share the love, and put our money where our mouths are in terms of a multi-generational household (Tristan has two teens)?”

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Tristan found a big, three-level house up on Cougar Mountain in Bellevue, WA with a view down over Lake Sammamish. Mom has her own ground floor suite of two rooms and a bath which can be closed off to be private or opened up directly into the warm kitchen and spacious living room. What’s not to like?

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So on September 18 and 19, her extended family swooped down on her Beaverton apartment and moved her out lock, stock, and sewing table.

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Nothing in this family happens without ceremony, and there were two–both are in the video.

Walking in the Air

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Last Feb. 2014, my Mom turned 88–and had open heart surgery for a leaky valve. Three months later, and she’s ready to rise above it all. She requested a hot air balloon ride for her birthday, so up, up and away with the whole family!

If you have an eye for such things, you’ll see some frames from my very first effort at shooting with my new Go Pro camera.

64th Birthday!

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Me, lost in time somewhere in 2013…

They say it’s my birthday…the dedicated digital storyteller must let no opportunity for digital storytelling to go by uncelebrated, even her own birthday. This video was originally targeted for the Vimeo Weekend Challenge, which was to make a video opening a window into family culture: that by way of explaining why I’m talking about family culture in the video!

Richard Lennox shot party pictures, and I included some classic KIIs (Kodachrome II’s).