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.

Green Pools

 

Who can resist the allure of deep green river pools moving under the shade of the big oaks in early summer? Not I!

In mid-June 2016, my husband Peter and I along with an artist friend, Charlie Johnston, spent a week at the Chetco River Inn. It is about twenty miles up the Chetco River outside Brookings, Oregon, which is on the border with California. As I often do, I decided to make a series of daily journal videoitos aka digital stories.

The third in this series of five was filmed on a day warm enough for me to get out my GoPro and get some underwater shots.

It’s just as magically green underwater as it is above. The whole time I’m under there, the words of Lorca’s famous poem are running through my head:

Romance Sonambulo (Sleepwalker’s Song)

Federico García Lorca, 18981936

Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea
and the horse on the mountain. 
With the shade around her waist 
she dreams on her balcony, 
green flesh, her hair green, 
with eyes of cold silver. 
Green, how I want you green. 
Under the gypsy moon, 
all things are watching her 
and she cannot see them.

Green, how I want you green. 
Big hoarfrost stars 
come with the fish of shadow 
that opens the road of dawn. 
The fig tree rubs its wind 
with the sandpaper of its branches, 
and the forest, cunning cat, 
bristles its brittle fibers. 
But who will come? And from where? 
She is still on her balcony 
green flesh, her hair green, 
dreaming in the bitter sea.

—My friend, I want to trade 
my horse for her house, 
my saddle for her mirror, 
my knife for her blanket. 
My friend, I come bleeding 
from the gates of Cabra.
—If it were possible, my boy, 
I’d help you fix that trade. 
But now I am not I, 
nor is my house now my house.
—My friend, I want to die
decently in my bed. 
Of iron, if that’s possible, 
with blankets of fine chambray. 
Don’t you see the wound I have 
from my chest up to my throat?
—Your white shirt has grown 
thirsty dark brown roses. 
Your blood oozes and flees a
round the corners of your sash. 
But now I am not I, 
nor is my house now my house.
—Let me climb up, at least, 
up to the high balconies; 
Let me climb up! Let me, 
up to the green balconies. 
Railings of the moon 
through which the water rumbles.

Now the two friends climb up, 
up to the high balconies.
Leaving a trail of blood. 
Leaving a trail of teardrops. 
Tin bell vines
were trembling on the roofs.
A thousand crystal tambourines 
struck at the dawn light.

Green, how I want you green, 
green wind, green branches. 
The two friends climbed up. 
The stiff wind left 
in their mouths, a strange taste 
of bile, of mint, and of basil 
My friend, where is she—tell me—
where is your bitter girl?
How many times she waited for you! 
How many times would she wait for you, 
cool face, black hair, 
on this green balcony! 
Over the mouth of the cistern
the gypsy girl was swinging, 
green flesh, her hair green, 
with eyes of cold silver. 
An icicle of moon
holds her up above the water. 
The night became intimate 
like a little plaza.
Drunken “Guardias Civiles”
were pounding on the door. 
Green, how I want you green. 
Green wind. Green branches. 
The ship out on the sea. 
And the horse on the mountain.

Green pools of the Chetco River
“Green, green, I want you green…”

 

 

Silk

A recent Daily Create was called “Silk Weaving,” and it said, “Ever had the urge to weave some silk? You’re in luck. Design your own weave here.” The link (go ahead, try it!) takes you to an interactive online app that allows you, the user, to move your mouse against a dark background to create brightly colored filaments of silk.

firetree

This is the one I created, which I called, “I Sing the Body Electric” after Walt Whitman’s famous line.

Somehow the image and the action of the falling silk strands entered the back door of my imagination, tossing lines of poetry at me as I drove home from work last night.

journalSilk

This morning, I started working out what at first I imagined as a sonnet, and it still has some of that loose structure and rhyme and variable pentameter, but I added a couple more couplets at Peter’s suggestion.

 

Silk

Tonight, fireworks explode

against the dark sky raining fiery

strands of silk zenith to horizon,

then Dark Spider darts across the road

 

to gather up those threads of memory

now in her possession.

 

It is She who shuttles back and forth

and weaves the worlds together;

only now I dare to cross

her fragile swaying web of silk and feathers.

 

I climb shining veins of the living tree

and lift my arms, shaking like a shaman

in a trance, my faint shout of, “Me!”

heard only by my father, spirit, always human.

 

Beloved dead flame like shooting stars

in solar wind that ceaseless pours

these brilliant silks streaming by;

my wild branches catch them as they fly.

You can listen to me reading “Silk” by clicking on the bright orange arrow below:

:
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Candles

Describe Something You Love

“Write a blurb about something you love but don’t say what it is until the end. Keep your audience guessing until you finally reveal what it was that you were talking about.”
I don’t actually know what a “blurb” might mean in this context as I associate blurbs with author endorsements on book jackets. However, this being DS 106, I felt free to reinterpret the genre of this challenge as a poem.
It is Sunday, I’m on the couch all day with a killer sinus infection (which accounts for the mood of the poem) , so I had the time to count out the pentameter (five beats per line) on my fingers and to work out the somewhat non-standard rhyme scheme (abba, cdcd, efef).
I came up two lines short of a 14 line sonnet, but I had run out of things to say, and anyway, there is such a thing as a twelve line sonnet, which I proclaim this to be.
 
candles
I started by trying to describe these candles without saying what they are. They are in silver candlesticks that come from Peter’s parents, Bill and Marion, and currently they are on the bare “lake of wood” of the dining room table.

Candles Burn Out

Two silver hands rising from the lake
of wood, fingers lightly clasping
the tapered arms reaching like the aspen
trees in fall, the way their leaves shake

aspenalive with light, forest dancers blazing–
or miniature suns, or passionflowers
incandescent as the stars and trembling,
waiting for the match, those lucent hours.

Sandy Candle They say you and I are melting wax–
our lives have leapt and flared, but in the end

Peter_candle

 only Love, that Light, will stay intact
as we blow out like candles in the wind.

You can listen to me read this poem out loud by clicking on the bright orange arrow below:

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My Name is Red

red-riding-hood.001-600x450

The Daily Create for Saturday, Jan. 3, 2013 was as you see with the additional instructions to write it as a poem. What a great prompt!

How the Story Goes

My name is Red
for all the usual reasons – the hair,
the character flaw of anger, a preference
since childhood for scarlet hoodies.

I am a comparative mythologist – I know,
I know, people call me the Fairy Tale Sleuth,
but the media – what can you do?
I’m really just a text wrangler,

a recorder of oral histories. I listen
at the pregnant belly button of the world,
omphalos of all story. I am
the squirrel Ratatosk running

Ratatosk
I am the squirrel Ratatosk (Image courtesy of http://powerlisting.wikia.com/wiki/Rodent_Physiology)

on Yggdrasil, the eternal green ash tree
whose branches spread over the nine worlds.
I listen to Nidhug, wily vampire dragon
of the roots, and I carry his unlikely tales

to the eagle flying from the leafy
top of the world. I see all restless heroes
setting forth from little cabins squatted
too contented in the woods. I hear

the subtle Calls to Adventure
that whistle them down the wind.

And I have been known to help the hapless hero,
but there are other helpers, too, the King of the Ants,
Jesus or the angels in disguise, the tired,
the poor – Samaritan blood spills eternal.

I watch, I listen, I see those children
cross blind into the Zone of Heightened Power
and begin that terrible Road of Trials
from which no god can save them –

not even gray-eyed Athena could save

Athena cameo - shell, French, mid-1800s (Image courtesy antiquecameos.net)
Athena cameo – shell, French, mid-1800s
(Image courtesy antiquecameos.net)

Odysseus from his tragic voyage home.

I thrust my hands in my jacket pockets,
pull the red hood up over my flaming hair,
and turn away.

I know how it goes, and knowing
maybe makes it harder to watch, easier
to turn away.

Crucifixion. Dismemberment. We laugh
when Coyote, trapped in the Great Mother Tree,
has to take himself apart to escape
that suffocating womb, pushing

his body parts, even his balls out through
the woodpecker’s hole,
all needing to be reassembled
on the Other Side. That’s tough.

It’s always tough. But that’s just
how the story always goes.
I’m up here in my Ivory Tower
trying to play it cool, but I still

The Fool from The Mystic Tarot Deck (Image courtesy of http://mysticst4r.wordpress.com/)
The Fool from The Mystic Tarot Deck
(Image courtesy of http://mysticst4r.wordpress.com/)

get angry at the dimwitted Fool
stumbling along the rocky road to love,
or power, or enlightenment.

I feel every story like bearing a first born child,
and every fairy tale or ancient myth
is that dreadful push to leave
the Mother Tree behind, to reconcile

with the Sky Father, find a name
that is our own, one that rings true
to our toes. We seek the Elixir of Life
and Mastery of Two Worlds.

Let’s face it. We’re all lost in the woods
stalked by the top predator of the soul.

My name is Red.
And I know how the story goes.

 

The Other World

RedBushes

There’s something about the structured mental work of teaching that allows for a quiet daily river of creativity, but it is only after I’ve been “on vacation” for a couple weeks that I begin to feel

the wild bird of imagination beginning to flap its wings a little harder, seeking lift off.

wildbirdofimagination

At a certain point, I feel myself heading for the full flow of that river of air, and everything I do or see or write becomes an opportunity to create. Some soul wind comes up under my wings, and I feel like I’m going to get somewhere this time.

Chance favors the prepared photographer, and this was a very magical journey to another world.

Hence, this little two mile walk out around the ponds and back turned out to be at exactly the hour of the setting sun, which has moved its scheduled setting back a little since Solstice to coincide with my daily journey out over the Willamette River and back.

Chance favors the prepared photographer, and this was a very magical journey to another world of fire and water.

Have you explored the Other World in your neighborhood? Who lives there? What are its secrets? Tell me if you know!

And oh. School starts again on Monday.

Music is Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (he only wrote one) played by Joshua Bell.

Year’s End

Year’s End, Sweet Creek

Go up the Sweet Creek Trail on a winter
afternoon. Soon the canyon closes in,
and the trail becomes a catwalk bolted
to the cliff.  
Hanging over the rail,
you can lose yourself in the white roar of falling water–
throwing everything but your body into the rush and run of the river,
turn until dizzy as a twig in a green punch bowl.
Shafts of sunlight get spattered
out by the rain.

Put your pack down.

Your soul pulls toward the water.

Perhaps the dipper birds have hidden it under
the white wing of the stream that veils their home.
You climb higher, watching steelhead leap the falls–
you see them once and will forever search
that particular cascade, forever longing to be like them
diving deep into the green plunge pools.
The year ends on so many sad stories
and yet lost between the canyon walls,
purified by the sound of many waters,
suddenly you understand how it is that

anything could happen to you.

–with inspiration from William Stafford’s poem,
“How to Regain Your Soul” from
The Darkness Around Us Is Deep collection.