The Origin of the World

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The Origin of the World
Gustave Courbet:
L’Origine du monde

The origin of the world and where I came from,
her deep, moist cave that cast me from dark to light.
She loved me, she said, depriving me of her warmth,
leaving me to go back to her lover, loving him more.

Was it guilt that drove her to drinking whisky?
A forty-ouncer a day at the end, sometimes more.
She would wake in the night, wander the house,
banging against chairs, tables, walls, and doors.

She ran up bills in local shops, and the keepers
would dun me for the money she owed. She also
borrowed cash and some days her fingers were bare.
She left pawn shop IOUs on the table and I drove

 into town to redeem her rings. Once, in a drunken
frenzy, she cursed her only child. A mother’s curse is a
terrible thing. A living albatross, it claws lungs and heart.
Its weight drove me to the bottle. I too sought oblivion.

Reborn each day, mornings cast me back from dark to light.
Joy came when blackness descended, the albatross flew,
amniotic waters rocked me in warmth and comfort,
and my body’s boat floated once again on an endless sea.

Comment: The photos show light shining through bottles in The Bottle House on Prince Edward Island. There is something very special about sunlight shining through stained and colored glass. Color distorts, speckles hands and face with a pointillistic magic, and the circular framework becomes a sun in its own right. As for Courbet’s painting, it still has the power to shock the viewer as it sets the eternal conundrum of the power relationship between the viewer (male) and the viewed (female). And remember: El ojo que ves no es ojo porque lo ves, es ojo porque te ve  / the eye you see is not an eye because you see it, it is an eye because it sees you, as Antonio Machado tells us. As for the poem, it stands or falls on its own, as does the painting. Visual shock or verbal shock: take your pick, but I hope you do not walk away unmoved.

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The Rain in Spain

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The Rain in Spain

The rain in Spain
stays mainly on the plain.
Except it doesn’t.

It falls on the Basque Country,
the Province of Santander,
now known as Cantabria,
on Asturias and on Galicia.

In Galicia, a native brown bear
has been seen after an absence
of one hundred and fifty years.

La Costa Verde, the Green Coast,
boasts dairy cattle, lush grass,
the best milk, butter and cheese.

Beyond these green hills,
over the Escudo and up to Burgos,
you find Spain’s meseta,
a tableland in a rain shadow area,
a veritable plain,
arid, dusty, dry,
a plain in Spain
that sees and feels no rain.

Comment: Un chubasco … a heavy downpour building on the meseta outside Avila. These severe rainstorms come out of nowhere. High winds, heavy rains, they drench you and the countryside in a matter of seconds and they go as suddenly as they come. However, the normal pattern of weather is dry and dusty. And no, the rain in Spain does NOT stay mainly on the plain. In Santander, on the Green Coast, la Costa verde, they have a saying: En Santander, en el verano, / no dejes el paraguas de la mano In Santander, in summer, never let your umbrella leave your hand. And its true: rain is constant and comes in from nowhere. They have other sayings, equally as efficacious, like Nunca llueve en los bares / it never rains in the bars. I miss Avila. I miss Santander and the Basque Country. I miss my childhood vacations, spent in Spain. But when they tell you that “The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain” … well, just don’t believe them. Check, double-check, and then check again. As they sing in Newfoundland, about sailors and sailing ships, “A sailor ain’t a sailor ain’t a sailor anymore.” Nor, my friends, is the truth. Cum grano salis: take everything you hear with a large pinch of salt!

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Applause

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Applause

All that I hear
around me:
the mixing and matching
of shingle and stone,
waves hissing,
grinding the beach down
as they move in and out.

Comment: We are surrounded by news, fake news, false news, and systematic deception. What can we now trust? I no longer know. But I do know that the above poem is not nihilistic. It expresses the reduction of applause and insubstantial glory to the minutiae of the daily doings of the natural world, in comparison to which we humans are nothing. “Look on my works ye mighty and despair” … hand gestures, smiles, thunderous applause from the chosen gathered to bear witness and paid to applaud, whatever the event. Alas, I cannot say it as well as Shelley. Here’s his Ozymandias (11 January 1818).

I met a traveler from an antique land
who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
tell that its sculptor well those passions read
which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:

and on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

 

 

 

Butterflies

 

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Butterflies

“Poetry gives permanence to the temporal forms of the self.”
Miguel de Unamuno.

… butterflies … temporal forms … fluttering …
existing for one sweet day … they perch … spread
their wings … fan us with their beauty … flourish …
catch our attention … then caught by a gust
tear their wings on a thorn … and perish … blink
your eye and they are gone … yet reborn … they
cluster and gather in dusty ditches …
congregate on bees’ balm … smother Black-Eyed
Susan and Cape Daisy … shimmer in shade …
butterflies by day … fireflies by night …
terrestrial stars floating in their forest
firmament … dark tamarack … black oak … bird’s
eye maple … silver birch … impermanence
surrounds us … dances beneath stars … sings with
robins … echoes the owl’s haunting cry …
eternity held briefly in our hands …
then escaping like water or sand … black
words on white paper capturing nothing …
… my dialog … my time … my place … butterflies …

Comment: This is another golden oldie that gains in meaning day by day as the lock down continues. Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) was a respected academic, philosopher novelist, essay writer, story-teller and powerful poet. He is probably most famous internationally for the philosophy he espoused in The Tragic Sense of Life. Other works of his include Our Lord Don Quixote and Niebla / Mist. The photo shows one of the butterflies that adorn the garden by my kitchen window each summer.

Deer

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Deer
CV-19 Day 24

I woke up this morning, looked out of the window at a grey, sunless day, and saw this deer at the foot of the garden, abut 50 feet away. I couldn’t believe it. Thirty years we have lived in this house, and I have never seen a deer sleeping in the yard before. Well, it wasn’t sleeping. It’s eyes were open, the head was turning, and the ears flickered with every step I took. What a way to start the day.

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Then I did a double-take and blinked. What I thought was a rock, to the first deer’s left, was another deer, also lying down. I realized it wasn’t a rock when it wiggled its ears. Behind the first deer and above it, scarcely visible among the trees is a third deer. You’ll have to look hard to see it, but it’s there. I apologize for the qualities of the photos, but grey day, early morning light, and shooting threw fly netting at a well camouflaged deer does not guarantee high artistic quality, as you will understand.

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Actually, the third deer is more clearly visible in this photo. It also shows a little bit more of the late-winter / early spring landscape. Then, when I got downstairs, lo and behold, a fourth deer underneath the fir tree. From a lower angle, I could only just sight it through the bars of the porch.

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Again, my apologies: but what a morning … four deer, ‘nesting’ in the garden, where I have never seen deer before, except wandering through.

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Crows

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Crows

A family of crows lives  and nests close to our garden. Here are four of them together on the same branch. Two years ago, there were five of them. Last year there were seven and this year ten flew in the other day. They are such beautiful flyers. All weather conditions, too, summer and winter, all year round visitors.  I wish I could photograph the sound the air makes through their pinions as they swoop low over the roof on a warm summer’s afternoon.

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And they leave such gorgeous tracks in the snow. It is always fun to have them around and totally raucous when they find something worth eating.

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Geoff Slater has captured them to perfection. He’s better with his pencil than I am with my camera.

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Good Morning, Mourning Doves

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Good Morning, Mourning Doves

They sense the snow storm on its way and come in early to feed while they can. Strange birds they are, so twitchy, so flighty. Eyes on the sides of their heads, all standing and pecking at different angles, a total world view. At the first sign of movement,the twitch of a curtain, a shadow on the floor, they give a sharp piercing call and fly in all directions. Sometimes, the shadow of the hawk falls over the feeder. Then they scatter. An individual may perish, but the flock survives.

When they leave, we throw out seed. But the yard is silent and they won’t come back, not for a long time. In the meantime, in comes that big, fat, grey squirrel and look, there’s a mourning dove in mourning for his long-lost, squirrel-gobbled breakfast!

And they are so difficult to photograph. Since the slightest movement scares them away, I must try from a distance, sometimes in not very good light. They can be so subtly beautiful, but oh dear, they can also be so dumb!

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Hawk at the Feeder

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S/he flew in at lunch time today. We haven’t seen a bird or a squirrel in the garden since. So, ipso facto, s/he must still be around somewhere. It’s very quiet out there. I just managed the one photo before s/he flew.

We have had a few discussions on Facebook and elsewhere about what type of hawk this is. Sibley says it is difficult sometimes to distinguish between the Sharp-shinned hawk and the Cooper’s Hawk. My feeling is that it is too big for a “sharpie” and therefore, in all probability, is a Cooper’s. My camera battery was on its last gap when I took the photo, and as I said yesterday, I only managed this one shot. It was certainly a beautiful bird.

Aliens

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Aliens

“I’ve got photos,” I said.

“Fake,” they replied.
“Doctored in photo shop.”

“I’ve got witnesses.”

“Bribed,
and equally deluded.”

“I’ve got letters.”
‘Forged,
handwriting and words.”

“Look,” I pointed.
“They’re out there now.
Looking at you through the window,
dancing, changing color, waving.”

“I can’t see them,” one said.
The others all shook their heads.

And now, they’re going to take me away.
There’s nothing left to say.

 

Black and White

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Black and White

There is a moment in winter photography when the world of color turns to black and white. Color is still there, but today it travels incognito, anonymous. The world is formed by shapes, trees draping their branches, snow weighing them down, dressing them in wedding gowns for their marriage with the new year spirits that haunt sunlit, moonlit snowbanks and dance across the snow. Even the clouds exist to give a soft, quiet dramatic touch to the winter beauty that visits the garden. And yes, it will always be there, even if we are not here to see it because it will carry on without us. As for us, we are secondary, mere witnesses to winter’s beauty and the nature that surrounds us.

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Amateur photographers can sometimes capture this effect in a moment of luck (or occasional inspiration). Great painters have always known this art of the minimal. El Greco drew light from darkness, his portraits often finding their own fire and lighting up from within.  Caravaggio, too, knew the values of chiaro-oscuro, light and dark, black and white. Velasquez was the master of the spotlight that highlighted the eggs frying in the pan, the hand of the water-carrier. Goya, in his etchings [The Disasters of War, The Caprichos] and dark paintings, drew mood and anguish from this contrast between light and dark, black and white.

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My friend Geoff Slater has caught such a moment in his sketches for Scarecrow. Above he catches the precise moment when the scarecrows, male and female, reach out to each other, and beneath a Van Gogh planetary sky, dare to dream of mobility and love. The dream world: so important to us all and especially to the creative artist who dwells in each of us. Deus est in nobis, the Latin poets used to say, it is god within us. The god of black and white who transforms the world into color and light.

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Black and white, light and dark, winter trees, Clare, two scarecrows, deer and crows: labors of love that reach out and catch us unawares, blowing our hearts wide open, letting in the sun and the wind and the ever present joy of seeing things, seizing them, sizing them up, in black and white.

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