Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Eternal Forget-Me-Not

In these times of U.S. terrorism at home and abroad, of an estimated 60 million displaced people (per the United Nations) around the world, land and sea confrontations in regions that overlie mineral wealth and persistent speech denying that there is a climate crisis, I feel like nobody's advocate so much as earth's own, let the people just blend cunningly into the many surface layers. A week ago I stepped back in time again, on my own with among family ghosts (not seen, though felt.) There are rocky, thin-soil places with dark nights and extremes of temperature where you can still lose yourself in the manner of a lone, last survivor, the matter facilitated by having no phone or electronics. My sister and I are heirs to a piece of shoreline known most of all for cliffs, boulders and cold water. Any neighbor was at least a mile away while I was there seeing about roof repairs, wandering among trees and rock outcrops, renewing familiarity with the features and voices of June, and ultimately painting the flower called true forget-me-not, Myosotis scorpioides. The plant crowds the borders of our up-and-downhill road full of seeps and swarming puddles and mosquitoes, and fills the crown of the road with early summer blossoms the size of your smallest fingernail, most sky-blue, some white, with a yellow opening in the middle like an eye-hole.  My acquaintance with this region goes back to early childhood.




When we were growing up, the cars of family and friends came and went here, especially in August. For years our Daddy, our uncle and cousins sawed fallen trees for firewood with chain saws; an engine would be squalling or puttering some time or other between the clatter of one or the other gasoline-engine pump. Our pump filled two fifty-gallon tanks from the lake with water that for years was fit for washing and drinking, provided we treated a pitcherful with halazone tablets before we drank from it. Neither of us middle-aged sisters runs that equipment now; we don't want the bother of spark plugs, oil and gas, chokes, filters and small-engine repair because this stuff defines our incompetence. We carry our water, and there is a whole variety of benefit for me to hand-saw and split firewood with the exact same saw, sledge hammer and wedges our dad used to ply before we had the chain saw, even in Indiana in the 1960s.

Everything in the house or its distant, mouldering shed, and all the wavelets lapping or the surf, the Swainson's thrushes' song with the tonal quality of air blown through the valve of an inflatable mattress, the red-eyed vireo or the warblers in the tree crowns is a throwback to the 1960s and 70s for me, but I'm the one human being hearing it. The songbirds seem fewer in number than in those times, though the same variety is still around. I don't crave civilization but how did I get to be this single person left to talk to myself, read fiction and essays, wild plant handbooks and the French-English dictionary? I have moved on to a more innate lifestyle, leaving behind a man or two whose priorities will only ever differ from mine. Is this much independence really the choice of the many single women and men moving through and past their prime years? Often there would seem to be no choice, and that's true among many creatures larger and smaller than ourselves:


                                      The spoor of a moose


So often I find I'm living on the glow of memory as much as anything else, with family dwelling in it, and wondering what's to come, and what course my inevitable dwindling process will take. But I have energy yet. The forget-me-nots were my best focus for new spring floral art, upon completion of a root system for the illustrated miterwort, a less than common plant growing on the land of my neighbor Deb in Minnesota. The drawing of the miterwort, or bishop's cap, is bordered with sprigs of forget-me-not.

Every day I'm reminded that what doesn't want to be forgotten is not lost, though its passage into memory was due process--this is the nature of change. In spite of calamity and outrages that fill news pages, the greatest share of death or breakup in this world, wrenching though the experience may have been, ends up taken as a parting of the ways based on foreseeable causes. One soothing realization has been that the sharpest grief need not be equated with depression, which I think grows out of aggravating circumstances such as anger at fate. Grief, apart from anything else, is a packet of emotion that can bulge, not necessarily crippling but able to grab at the core of a person quickly wringing the tear ducts in the next moment. It seasons the present with a powerful tang from the past.



                                                           The miterwort, Mitella diphylla

My forget-me-not is featured this way on the newest of my cards:

                                              See the 'Card Images' page at www.epiphaniesafield.com



The text on the back is: Forget me not, though I recreate myself. It took me a while to decide between that wording and ...though I regenerate myself .

Days, weeks, months and years after the loss of someone dear, any one of us may still be thinking 'if you could only know what I'm up to/who I've become/what happened to me/her/him/them...in light of all the many things that may happen to re-shape one soul or the body that bears it.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why I Joined 5,000 Citizens, Marching for all we Hold Dearest and Most Hopefully

Once in a while, I s'pose, whether child or adult everybody gains something by being thrown into a role that is barely suitable for who they are, it's just: too bad for you! One of my oldest friends down in St. Paul signed me up for a chant leader, even though I had already said I would come to yesterday's Tar Sands Resistance March, since public events, especially ones as relevant to health and well-being in the North American heartland, are best enjoyed when two together can double the pleasure. I came unpracticed, had never used a bull horn, and felt my personal resistance to the task of leading chants mounting since I lack almost all the instincts of a cheerleader. Moreover, eighteen years ago a long, severe bronchitis seems to have thinned out what yelling voice I have, much as I remember my mom's voice in her middle years made forever a small degree hoarser by laryngitis and all the accompaniment. Even a syllable attempted in a bawling voice simply scatters; it's a job for someone intensely motivated by a crowd and best of all endowed with a big voice.
     Demonstrating is a practiced skill like anything else, I see that now. I could, after all, hold and flip around the little scripts bearing the words of call-and-response while holding the speaker of the bull horn and pressing the button, even if I rebelled against the words themselves because, being as I am, I was instinctively, subconsciously rummaging for new word arrangements with no vagueness or unintended meaning like 'Tar sands oil has got to go!'--because that could be read as 'tar sands oil has got to go down the pipelines to the refineries for gosh sakes.' I kept grousing to my companion that I can't do this in various terms that I didn't like hearing out of my own mouth--what else had I come to these long-familiar streets to do? Frustration attended me down the course between police barricades with the sense that I was a terrible slacker, on display like a dummy marcher with a silent megaphone. My companion, also given a bull horn, had some qualms about how un-vocal our whole block of marchers was coming across but no inhibition about a delivery that lacked all sense of tempo much less tonal quality; to the entertainment and awe of others around us he evinced all the raw youthfulness deliverable from a geezer (his own term as he approaches 64 years of age, his boyhood voice and zests intact) along with a keen wish to witness the people united, never defeated. There were times I had to chime in with him because I could and should. When I did and we were a pair with bull horns, other voices to the sides and rear joined ours.
     'LOVE WATER, NOT OIL! Love water, not oil!' the chanting proceeded till individually and together chanters felt the words going stale. Up the line would be strains of something else. 'LOVE BICYCLES!' he began chanting, and then the response 'not oil!' would murmur. 'Love bicycles!' I chanted along with him, then changed it: 'LOVE HYBRIDS!' which remained our chant alone, no sharers. Those much younger marchers around us relished a chant leader but wanted to do chants either known to them or of their own making. We listened to them and then, through our bull horns, amplified at least one of their chants, whether someone had conjured it on the spot or not; 'Hey! Obama! It's hot out here! Hey! Obama! You talked the talk, now walk the walk! No Keystone pipeline!'
     As I listened to our disharmony at the outset and strained against my own revulsion at the wording we were supposed to incite in others' mouths I thought: we need rehearsals and orchestration...this needs to be carried off by people who have a feel for performance, better organized so the effect is maximum and elegant in the ears...  But this is for heavens' sake a people's march, I am missing the beat and everything. It's for anyone and right now. Anyone can do better than I'm doing including me.
     What if though, in a state like Minnesota, rich in big choirs thanks to the German-Scandinavian heritage which gives rise to such music, there were an endowment for a street procession, costumed and sung in harmonic parts, miked to ultimate glory, danced and be-sloganed with upheld signs and the most evocative of T-shirt art on the torsos of huge opera singers trained to the utmost limberness as they capered to the capitol or city hall--in towns all over the state, into neighboring states and provinces? What if? This could be done; we don't lack for theatrical people and composers who could collaborate for the cause of a climate that keeps us and a biosphere that functions as beautifully as ever...
     We were doing the best that we could, getting better as we went. Demonstrations are normally ad-libbed a lot; the training and preparation led by brave souls like our Patti and others of mixed generations, unflappable-seeming people with dedication worthy of as much reward as a city contractor's, at their best an attempt to place order on something that will inevitably develop as it goes, according to the inspiration that hits the different personalities caught up in it.
     I learned that demonstrations can become a habit, or avocation, in which a person's own style has value that should not be overlooked in the planning stages: don't let anyone else sign you up for a role best expressed through someone else's unique energy. Know what your own is and go prepared. Somewhere--I remember where now--I had written myself a note for a sign I could fashion that reads from my heart and soul--I just didn't think of it in time to draw it up and put it, two-sided, on a flat wooden stake so I could hold it up for all the community to sample.



 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Then I could have marched, even carrying my own megaphone if I wanted to invest in one, and been
a type of voice most natural to me. But there will be future marches. As more than one of the spokespeople on the state capitol steps yesterday said: we have a lot of work to do.
     The photo above was of a sign I spied at Lambert's Landing beside the Mississippi River, the gathering point for the march before it got moving, where we all felt as much disorganized and miscast as we were probably going to feel. I wished then that I had a sign like this lady's, as hers expressed the out-and-out danger facing us if we do not face down, undercut and replace or reorganize the corporate interests whose main interest appears to be doing whatever they deem most profitable in dollars even if the most valid indicators of the most basic science show it will make our only planet deadly for our very selves or our offspring.
     It would be useless in a way, then or now, to add to the list of further threats that we can't escape as a result of our overpopulation: soil depletion, mineral depletion affecting all industry and urban expansion, water depletion, the increasing strife among the desperate. The idea that nothing grows without limit besides a cancer is too grim for politicians and business modelers to include in their public statements. We are each of us coming from where we're coming from. The focus of the day, of the decade and coming ones, is climate change.
     I took up global warming or climate change as a personal threat even at ten years of age or so, on first hearing of it on a TV program, probably a National Geographic special, somewhere at the beginning of the 1970s. Because I have always loved winter and chilly windblown landscapes where snows are abundant and welcome and so are all the wild animals, I was affronted even then that we all put together could inflict fever on an earth so generous in varieties of climate, suitable for all temperaments. Now that I'm past fifty years of age and able to live year-round in what's left of the boreal region with its tamarack swamps, aurora borealis, long winter nights, porcupines, bear, moose and their main predator the wolf, I'm doing as much art as I can evoke in reverence to this realm,




Freshet from a Ghost-Marsh - original watercolor/mixed media painting about 18 x 32"

even though my watercolor/mixed media landscapes are so hard to sell. They are gloomy I suppose, to a lot of art buyers, barely if at all familiar and symbolic of the cold and unwelcome, the dank and the repressed.
     The work above suggests the real landscape's dissolution by melt; an icy lakelet is offset by the river in the rapids of ice-out, a flock of red-throated loons--which nest on Arctic shorelines--awash into the foreground. A sole wolf looks over his shoulder back beyond upheaved root systems, snags and stumps that, typically, have outlines and features of a beast or corpse, or a defunct cannon or other throwaway. From the lodging a flooded lean-to exposes its washed-out interior with an old coat billowing forth on the rivulet that took out two walls.
     This semi-forbidding, spongy and rocky community of plants and fish, birds and bugs all specialized to cold, long light and long dark with watery seepage is one of many kinds of places that will succumb, at least at the latitudes where we see it now, to a hotter climate worldwide. Being out on that land normally quickens me, the way a week-end outing does when we feel its brevity before the long work week. What shy thing might I see through there that I've never seen before? But in my soul its ragged horizons will live as long as I do, even if I'm denied the real vision of them. This is not true for many of the native inhabitants, certainly not for the Ojibwe and the Hidatsa, within Minnesota and to the north and west into Alberta, or assorted people whose lives, as they say, are the land that would be crossed by and fouled by the inevitable leaks in multiple oil and gas pipelines. The First Nations' spoken language, their names when uttered, convey a kind of foreign lyricism to my Euro-American ears that sings a bit of other ages, a lost adaptiveness and intuition and built-in rhythms that took direction from earthly behaviors, those of animals and wind and water currents, that I know a bit but not in that put-together that means everything that ever mattered since creation.
     Somehow, in ways all put together, there will need to be ongoing resistance, changes in profit base, changes in the whole economy, our diets, our modes of transit--everything we do--if we are to keep the generations of humanity alive within the land that bore more and more of our ancestors. Yesterday was one of the rare few days when I and a lot of people of so many, many different origins who convened in St. Paul could feel a sense of collective will toward making the best of the coming crisis, whatever it will look like. If you gravitate to legend, I believe there is one from our aboriginal people that says if you see a hawk or an eagle, it means you are on the right path. As everyone yesterday sat hearing the speakers on the capitol lawn, a red-tailed hawk dipped over us in spirals, then coasted away, and back. I then thought I saw it tuck itself into one of the slots on the far edge of the capitol dome, on some business or other.