Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Texture

A few more thoughts on this slipping away of Fall (December will never be Fall to me).  It struck me again this year how important texture becomes at this time of year.  We feel it intuitively (everyone starts liking things like velvet and burlap for their decorating, right?) but I wonder if it's more that there are more textures around us, or just that we notice them more?  When the variables of color are taken away, maybe our eyes just become more discerning---the same way when you're putting a puzzle together, all the sky pieces appear indistinguishable at first, but after staring at them for long enough they begin to sort themselves into gradients and differing shades until you wonder how you ever missed the differences.

It's almost like I've been staring at some truth all Summer and only as Fall fades into Winter does that truth  suddenly spring into sharp relief, formerly smooth and uninteresting platitudes suddenly revealing themselves to me in all their terrifying complexity: "Time quickens as you age;" "Youth is wasted on the young;" "Life is short."  When the colors fade, suddenly I can see the textures---and they are beautiful, but certainly many-layered, complicated, harder to classify.  Unsettling.  Which is maybe why I want so desperately to BE settled in the winter, to pull in, to gather myself, to let my thoughts run their long winding courses through the long cold nights, to keep my family close and safe.

There's a song Abe's choir sings right now, a Manx Lullaby, where the mother sings over her baby: "Oh hush thee my dove, oh hush thee my rowan, oh hush thee my lapwing, my little brown bird.  Oh fold thy wings, and seek thy nest now, Oh shine the berry on the bright tree.  The bird is home from the mountain and valley."  I want to fold my wings over my little birds and keep them warm, and I will---but I see the complexities of it too, see how temporary and how small our little nest is against the many-layered world.  And even, I see how it's best that way.  But it doesn't stop me wanting to freeze things just how they are now: the golden air and the glow on the horizon, sending sparks of light over those bright little heads.
I didn't understand that line "Oh shine the berry on the bright tree" until I saw this tree.  It was completely covered with yellow berries, like little bright coals.  It was unbelievable.  I couldn't get close enough to capture it sufficiently with the camera, but the effect of all those tiny berries en masse was staggering.

You can kind of see them here, maybe, if you click to enlarge

I love the textures in the pond here---the layers formed by the different thicknesses of ice, and then overlaid with reflected trees--sky--clouds.  Layers upon layers.

There is color here, especially in the light, but since the colors are all so similar, each variation is exaggerated, and the overall effect is still depth.

Another berry tree.  Red this time.

Berry clusters against sky

You would think the lighter parts would be easier to see here, but it's actually the shadowed areas that seem to hold more information.  Again the details come out when the contrasts are lower.

Those furry grasses show up on the picture almost like sunflares: hazy and glowing, like they were transposed onto our eyes by some magical effect and not through mundane reality.

These reds have a brave, desperate quality to them: holding on against the inevitable end 

Back-lit, these grasses turn into feathers, or wings

Velvet-textured seed pods, rimmed with gold

More glowing sparks: luminous pussywillow-lookalikes here, almost translucent in the last rays of light

Reluctance

Melissa reminded me of this poem last year and I've had it on my mind all season long.  I tend to be melodramatic (inside my own head) (or do I mean melancholic?) anyway, and it only gets worse when the seasons change.  I was watching my little bears and birdies running around in this short-lived liquid-gold light, feeling like I could watch them running right out of childhood before my very eyes.  I felt so contented and yet so sad at the same time: "Why does it all have to go so quickly?"  That flash of brilliance before the sunset in winter is so short!  If you turn your back you'll miss it---and I have too many days where I do turn my back, busy with futures and unknowns and perceived immediacies, too distracted for the actual immediacy of the moment.

I like the way Frost puts it, though, with his usual brevity.  This is more than the usual "enjoy-what-you-have-while-you-have-it" chiding; he fully acknowledges the loss that accompanies a change of season.  But yet he reminds us that when we cling to the past, we aren't really preserving a colorful, living reality---we're clinging to a dead world, to something that is actually already gone.  I can't help but sense some religious angst here as well---the man "descending" back to earth like a fallen God, the allusion to Christ's "it is finished," the subordination of grace to the cold hard hand of reason.  But I think for me the poem is more of a reminder that accepting the end of something is also acknowledging a beginning.  No need to cling to the dry stalks of things gone when there are new things preparing to emerge, gestating under the seemingly dead surfaces.  Better to "yield," as Frost says, to the natural progression of things.  I don't think "the heart still aching to seek"  needs to STOP seeking---but it must learn where to seek, and that's in the future, not the past.

Reluctance
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Whither?"

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Robert Frost

Monday, November 14, 2011

I'm going to build this when I get home

One of my favorite things about my boys is their insatiable need to build things.  Every time---and I mean every time---we go anywhere remotely out-of-the-ordinary, they start saying (before we've even left the place), "Ooh, I'm going to build this when I get home!"  I love it because it results in them playing such funny, interesting, creative things; and because it shows such genuine enjoyment of and interest in what we're doing.  Every activity feels "worth it," because we're experiencing it not just once but multiple times. :)  

Anyway, this love of re-creation is how the carwash obsession got started (they wanted to build their own carwashes after going to a real one with Grandma) and it has led to them building everything from tumbling gyms to Squaw Peak to Disneyland to pendulums to doctor's offices to swimming pools to temples to the Red Barn/Pumpkin Patch.  

They use the blocks constantly, but they also build with anything else that's to hand (unfortunately, now that they are tall and can climb on chairs, everything is "to hand") and they build in any scale: fwuffball size, monkey size, boy size.  Sebby likes to build something on the block table and then climb up to the top bunk (in the other room) and say, "I can see it from the 'Y'!"  Anyway, I love seeing what they build.  (Even though I am sometimes roused from my bed on Saturday mornings to come admire.)  Sebby, particularly, has such attention to detail and he uses so many creative building materials that he genuinely amazes me with his re-creations.

Here are a couple of Sebastian's recent "Monkey San Francisco"s.  (Monkey San Francisco is much like the real one,  with a few additions, and name changes such as the "Monken Gate Bridge.")

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I'm a twenty-first century Mormon poet!

I  have several poems appearing in this new anthology, which also includes work from many, many other poets I have learned from and admired.  It's a great collection (even historic, apparently), with lots of thought-provoking and beautiful writing, and I am honored to have been included!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Blondies

I have a favorite brownie recipe, but it has taken a long time for me to perfect a blondie recipe that's just as good.  I like the buttery taste of blondies but I can't stand it if they feel greasy.  I don't want them to be doughy or gooey, but they definitely must not be dry.  These blondies fulfill all my requirements.  I like the fact that, like brownies, these are just as good the day after baking (in contrast, I much prefer chocolate chip cookies the same day they are baked).  I love the butterscotchiness the toffee bits add to these blondies; I love the occasional surprise of the melty chocolate; I love the crackly, papery skin on top that adds a feeling  of crispness before your teeth sink into the soft chewy (not gooey) center.  

You can, of course, increase the amount of chocolate chips (I don't like my blondie-taste overpowered with chocolate, but it's obviously a matter of opinion) or even use butterscotch chips for a change.  Or the chopped-up Heath bars as I suggest in the recipe.  If my kids had gotten any Heath bars in their Halloween trick-or-treating candy (why do they always gravitate toward yucky things like tootsie pops and rock-hard laffy taffys?), I would certainly appropriate those for making a batch of these blondies immediately.

Blondies

2 1/2 c. flour (I shake the flour to pack it down a little in the measuring cup)--about 14 oz.
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 c. brown sugar
1 c. melted butter
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1/4 c. chocolate chips
1/4 c. toffee chips
(or substitute 1/2 c. chopped up Heath bars for both chocolate and toffee chips)

Melt butter and stir in brown sugar.  Add eggs, mixing thoroughly between each.  Add vanilla.  Sift together dry ingredients and add to butter mixture; then stir in chocolate and toffee bits.

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until they don't jiggle when you shake the pan.  You can also test for when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or has only a few moist crumbs clinging to it.

These were made with Heath Bar bits which were very finely chopped, so it looks like there's no chocolate in them even though there is and you can taste it.  Chocolate chips will give you more pronounced pockets of chocolate.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

S.F. (unexpurgated version)

Self-portrait with Shadows

A few more things from our trip.  Happier things.  Textures and snippets we might forget someday---but that will bring everything rushing back when we see them again.
Bonneville Salt Flats.  If you've never been there, you should go---it's otherworldly.  The textures and paleness and vastness of it all make it feel like a dreamscape.  The children like to run, and run, and run.

We picnicked in the most lovely places.  This canyon, with river and deep pools.

And woods like these---magical to desert-dwellers like us.

And every day, my favorite foods.  Bread.  Olive oil.  Interesting cheeses.  I could happily eat that sourdough daily for the rest of my life.

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset.  Isn't it a strange feeling, when you are looking at something so iconic in real life?  My first thought is usually, "This seems just like a postcard," which is really quite backwards, when you think of it.  I love the way the light glinted off the water and pulled the bridge into shadow.

The boys (and girl) have a quite remarkable ability to annoy each other.  This time I bought them earmuffs.  Every time someone complained about someone else (usually it stemmed from them all trying to sing at the same time: they are inveterate car-singers.  "He's messing me up!"  "I'm not on that verse yet!"  ), I called back unfeelingly, "Put your earmuffs on then!"  It was moderately successful.

This is the water at Lake Tahoe.  The clarity is unlike any lake-water I've seen.  I can't get over that web of light, falling over and into the water from above, tracing the ripples and pulling the sunshine between that gradient from brown to blue.

Why yes, I did spend every few hours in this attitude.  I may know every bench in the greater Bay Area.

The boys LOVE revolving doors.  Not sure the snooty hotel-workers loved them loving them, if you know what I mean.  But they weren't breaking anything, or even getting in anyone's way, so I smiled beatifically and allowed it for a few minutes.

Golden Gate Bridge from underneath.  Aren't those girders cool?  They look so delicate from this distance, but you know they are enormous.  A man-made web of wires.

This was the greatest arcade machine ever.  We each got to pick a machine to try and Sam, Game Expert, picked this one.  I love the caption on top: THEY DANCE.  Yep, they did.  Love Seb's face all lit up in wonder, too.

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Here Sebastian sits in time-out and Daisy joins him of her own free will.  Seb is touched in spite of himself.

More picnic-ing, and donut carnage.  We have a big family, and the way we handle (manhandle?) a dozen donuts brings this truth home to me.  I didn't intend to include a grasping hand in this picture, but it's fitting, somehow.

Love this boy and his tiptoeing feet.  He tiptoed right up to the water---then ran away giggling before it barely had time to touch those toes.  Just like how many generations of little boys before him, I wonder?

If only I could re-create the feeling under these redwood trees.  They have a presence almost like people, but slower, and statelier.  I love Tolkien's trees and have felt a sort of watchfulness in European forests, but these redwoods encroach on my consciousness even more strongly.  They have a cathedral-like stillness: quiet and unruffled, but with that waiting silence that precedes something important.  And sunlight illuminates the spaces  through the leaves like blue stained glass.