Naturally

Come celebrate National Poetry Month, share a poem or two

Word Garden

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Naturally it’s raining
soaking the overturned lyre with its
one string left. I am going my way
which makes a strange soughing.

This way dust that way duff.
I consider both paths
but keep right on humming
remembering those leaves fixed in judgment

and then us trembling toward winter, falling.
I remember the rain with its bundle of nerves,
water taking sides, driving down
going nowhere, everywhere.

Dumb as I am, wise as I am

I forget sunrise, a blind girl tapping.
I forget love glinting off windows
cats’ eyes spying on us behind curtains
us kissing along the cobbled path
winding through smoke trees.
I forget to speak
to your one smile

to your mouth open then shut.

This must be what I wanted to be doing—
strumming alone between two deserts
drowning.

Image: Livermore Hills in Drought, 2015

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Naturally

IMG_4083 (2)

Naturally it’s raining
soaking the overturned lyre with its
one string left. I am going my way
which makes a strange soughing.

This way dust that way duff.
I consider both paths
but keep right on humming
remembering those leaves fixed in judgment

and then us trembling toward winter, falling.
I remember the rain with its bundle of nerves,
water taking sides, driving down
going nowhere, everywhere.

Dumb as I am, wise as I am

I forget sunrise, a blind girl tapping.
I forget love glinting off windows
cats’ eyes spying on us behind curtains
us kissing along the cobbled path
winding through smoke trees.
I forget to speak
to your one smile

to your mouth open then shut.

This must be what I wanted to be doing—
strumming alone between two deserts
drowning.

 

Image: Livermore Hills in Drought, 2015

Body Building Through Amazing Grace

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The first time it happened, I knew it would be a recurring theme throughout my life and resigned myself to trudge on. It happened on a Saturday in the 1950s at the New Mission Theater in San Francisco between a double feature — after watching “The Blob,” and before a screening of “Man of the West,” staring 56-year-old Gary Cooper.

The house lights came up and they brought a small hand-cranked drum onstage. They tumbled the contraption, the movie-house manager reached in and pulled out ticket stubs, announced winning numbers. Delighted children ran to the front to pick up their prizes. I studied my losing ticket, prayed a little, knowing enough at nine to rely on Amazing Grace and not too expect much.

My brother Richard won a red and yellow dump truck, huge and gaudy, the back end filled with candy. He put it on his lap, shared Milk Duds with me when the lights went down. I settled into the realization that good luck is hard to come by and prepared to be a perpetual loser, an understudy for the role of enthuser — the one who congratulates others for the good things that befall them and doesn’t betray their own disappointment.

Later iIMG_4498n life I discovered a four-leaf clover pressed in our family Bible, in the Book of Esther: Cha. 2, v. 15, and knew my Great Aunt Eva had found this Irish good-luck charm, that all benefits accrue to the finder, not to afterthoughts like me. They say the odds of finding a four-leaf clover yourself are like 10,000 to 1. I’d already given up playing long shots and closed the book.

When the phone rang yesterday, the woman called me Katherine, my given name, but a name mostly used by telemarketers, dentists and my mother, who died nearly 30 years ago. I braced for the sales pitch, was still clinched when she said, in a flowery voice, “Congratulations!” Faster than a squirrel after a nut, Yeah Right! ran through my head.

It was sitting on the tip of my tongue when she told me I’d been selected in a lottery at the sports club where I practice yoga to participate in weight lifting classes–for free. While not a toy dump truck filled with candy or a four-leaf clover, I’m delighted nonetheless with my unexpected winnings. Except I’m not sure actually what this stroke of luck means.

I’ve always sneaked past the weight room at the fitness club, hustling to get my favorite spot on the floor in the yoga studio. Stud muffins performing feats has never been a particular interest—six packs, eight packs, buns and guns—who gives a rip? Right?

But, truth is, some of my body things have gotten a bit mushy. OK, a lot mushy, like instant oatmeal with tiny apple bits, disgustingly gelatinous in hot water and inedible, if not for the sugar and cinnamon.

You’re not destined to grow softer and weaker just because you’re getting older, experts say in that “Now, Honey” voice. Most muscle loss comes from not using muscles enough as we age, they say, rather than aging itself. Using muscles regularly helps them stay strong and firm, regardless of age, adding it’s important for older adults to strength train. I’m sure there’s truth in this, but wish it didn’t sound so much like a laundry soap commercial.

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An article on the AARP website says studies show men in their 60s and 70s who strength train regularly have muscles that look and perform as well as “inactive men in their 20s and 30s.” An image of beer guzzling, pizza scarfing video game players comes to mind.

The article is supposed to be about the benefits of weight training for “Boomers,” which I thought was a unisex thing. Instead, it focuses on benefits for men.

Turning back to the Internet for further enlightenment, I find a lot of old-lady weight training photos showing white-haired women sitting in chairs at rest homes waving hand weights or worse, grannies with cigarettes dangling from their mouths hoisting a weight in one hand, throwing a middle finger in the other, with a caption something like: “You want a piece of this?”

There are also photos of contemporary young women pumping iron that feature booming bosoms and bulging buttocks and women practicing Olympic-style clean and jerks. More than a few shots feature ladies working out in high heels with adoring men spotting them. Even movie stars have tried their hands at dead weight.

I’m beginning to wonder if I had a winning lottery ticket to a geek show, but I’m not going to act like a dumbbell. No Sir. For the foreseeable future, you’ll find me in the weight room on Thursday evenings with the other winning women. We’ll work up a sweat and count our lucky charms. After all, wise men throughout the ages have noted women hold up half the world. I just want to continue carrying my share of the load with a little bit of grace.

 

Running the River: Art & Literature in the Delta

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This photo from 1900 shows European-Americans boarding rowboats on the banks of the San Joaquin River in California. Using archives records like maps and photographs, scientists are trying to revive the delta. Photo courtesy Bank of Stockton

Given its isolation from major Northern California urban centers, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has resisted development and remains suspended in time, but not for much longer. It’s a place of wonder—1.1 million square-miles of rivers, creeks, marshes, sloughs, levees, 500,000 acres of farmland, and it is the font of about 7.5 million acre-feet of water that’s distributed to cities and farms throughout California—it’s a playground for recreation, an agricultural hub and there are those who say, without blushing, it’s a paradise fraught with political maneuvering and environmental threats.

Few will say, however, that the largest river delta on the Pacific Ocean side of the Americas is a hotbed of literature and art. But those working to protect and restore the delta say that is wrong. Various groups, including writers, poets, artists, academics and community advocates are busy collecting the cultural artifacts that help mark the delta as a unique place in the world, one with a rich and diverse creative history.

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Because I’m currently working on a novel set in the delta, I attended a discussion this week sponsored by the grassroots organization Restore the Delta about the past, present, and future of Delta Literature. Although literary luminaries from Jack London to Joan Didion have written about life in the delta, and their stories speak to significant topics in American history, scholars say the full range of narratives about this vital region awaits systematic collection, presentation and interpretation. There’s a lot of work to do.

During his overview of Delta Literature, Robert Benedetti, University of the Pacific professor emeritus of political science, commented that the “subtle beauty of the delta and a quiet appreciation by poets is needed,” if the delta’s rich cultural history and natural resources are to be saved from further neglect and degradation.

He also pointed to research into the literature of the delta by Gregg Camfield, professor of literature at the University of California, Merced. Canfield noted in his research that narratives shape human action and “we try to make sense of the past by telling its story; in the process, we shape our present and our future.” His survey of delta literature is online at: http://delta.blogs.ca.gov/files/2016/10/Full_Paper_Camfield.pdf

Paula Sheil, founder and executive director of Tuleburg Press & THE WRITE PLACE in Stockton, as well as a poet and accomplished sailor, read “Out the Gate,” her poem captures the delta breeze blowing gently past farms and levees, picking up speed and spilling out to the bay, meeting the gush of ocean “like big dreams in a torrent.” She refers to the delta as the “anti-San Francisco,” suggesting the delta is the flip side of hip, slick and cool, a counter weight or cultural anchor to the excesses of its famous neighbor.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a land of stunning open spaces fed by five major rivers. A maze of creeks and sloughs spreading finger-like through some of California’s most important habitat, especially for Chinook salmon and Greater Sandhill Cranes. It’s a bird watcher’s feast for the eyes and a fisherman’s delight. It’s also home to immigrants and dreamers who prefer the delta’s cloistered backwaters to brash and garish city life.

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Photo Courtesy: Friends of the River

In reality, Sheil said, “It’s the people who make the delta.” Adding that she tells her students that through the delta they’re connected to world, meaning by following the waterway to the ocean they have access to every distant land. But, she said, “Stockton youth don’t have access to the water. Some children who live in Stockton have never seen the delta.”

The City of Stockton is located on the San Joaquin River on the eastern edge of the delta, but freeways, development, train tracks, barriers of all types prevent exploration. “We live on the San Joaquin River and there isn’t even a place to put a kayak in the water.” Sheil said.

Tama Brisbane, Stockton poet laureate and executive director of Stockton’s “With Our Words,” a national movement to combat illiteracy, isolation, alienation, and silence by bringing new voices from the margins to the core of society through literary and performing arts. She noted that young Stockton poets who’ve traveled to poetry and performance art festivals around the country often have trouble explaining where they come from, have a gap in their understanding of place, of the delta that makes the territory from which they come unique.

“Stockton is a city that doesn’t own itself,” Brisbane said. “Stockton needs to hustle to get its identity back.”

Stories matter. They make us who we are. Camfield said in his survey of delta literature that “human beings selectively interpret their lives by way of narrative arcs, by how these narratives shape human action. We try to make sense of the past by telling its story; in the process, we shape our present and our future.”

With a delta novel in progress, the discussion about the literary past and future of the region was creatively stimulating and encouraging. But, a newcomer to Stockton, I also saw how quickly the city is transforming, wiping out the connection to the past.

In downtown Stockton old buildings with ornate architectural details are rotting, while next door new structures of steel and glass are under construction. Preserving what’s beautiful and meaningful from the past, while nurturing a proud new generation, is a task delta artists, poets and writers are embracing. It’s an exciting time in the delta and I look forward to contributing to the effort with a few good words of my own.

About these photos – Before the panel discussion, I had time to wander in downtown Stockton for a few photo grabs. I’m planning some mosaic projects and was delighted to stumble on some interesting examples in the lobby of Stockton’s old Elk’s Lodge on Sutter Street.

On Writing: Please Pass the Small Potatoes

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Sorry, a P.S. about my writing routine. Again, it’s complicated. After leaving my job of 17 years, I left a familiar, productive routine behind. Interestingly, my body fell apart, maladies of all sorts. I’ve been working through the physical issues and trying to find a rhythm that works as I focus on creative writing.

I’ve tried all sorts of tricks to build a new, productive routine. I swear that has been the hardest part of retirement. Having regular deadlines, publishing several times a week is real and gratifying. Typing away on stuff people don’t care about and will probably never see is discouraging. Although, I think I’m getting closer to a “regular” way of working, it’s not yet firmly established and what others might think about the result nags at me.

But it’s getting better– I’m more productive, less inclined to think about what others might think about my work. I’m more willing to sit at the keyboard actually compose, rather that following Internet click bait down ridiculous rabbit holes, wasting time. These days I’m more inclined to do online research that is actually useful to the projects I’m working on. My novel is approaching critical mass, past the halfway mark and chugging toward the first-draft finish line. My poetry collection is awaiting editing, my magazine article is coming together and will be filed next week.

In part, I’m disciplining myself to work. It’s hard at first to stick to a new routine. But, I had a favorite editor years ago who gave me a shove down the road of self-motivation. He admonished me for turning in my freelance newspaper stories late (I had a house full of little kids, fell down the stairs, my husband went on a 3-week drunk, my car got towed and it was a week before Christmas.)

I explained to him there were extenuating circumstances that caused me to miss my deadline. He nodded, said the story was good, asked about photo choices, layout and timing. It was a productive exchange. I thanked him, made it to the newsroom door.

As I put my hand on the door handle and trip the latch, he stood up, shouted at me across the newsroom and shook his finger: “Kate Campbell! You do your work!” Every reporter turned to look at me clutching the door handle, but not clicking the release. Caught in the spotlight, what could I say? Nothing, except . . . . “Got it!”

It’s one of my grown kids’ favorite stories because they also got it, a lesson learned when they were small.

Don’t know where this new writing energy is coming from, but today I’ll take a second helping. Please pass the small potatoes, those tiny triumphs that eventually add up to full meal and real progress!

10 Steps for Stripping Down in the Garden

14577804547_17d042b819_bThis is the briefest guide to simple living, but it’s a place to start if clearing the clutter, reducing the load and building community are what you’re after. Perhaps the most personal way to make it simple is join the fun on World Naked Gardening Day – yes it’s a real thing. (Maybe it’s just me, but barefoot spade work doesn’t sound too appealing, likewise running a rototiller or trimming the blackberry canes, but hey, whatever puts zip in your skip.)

Here’s the truth: For more than a decade, people around the world have been dropping their socks and everything else on the first Saturday in May – in 2017 it’s May 6 – and heading to the garden in their birthday suits to plant, weed, prune and frolic in the buff.

WNGD observers say there’s plenty of friction, dissatisfaction and fear to go around these days. Resisting these forces takes courage and tenacity, the naked gardeners say. And, they claim one way to find strength for the long haul is to strip away the things that weigh us down and live lighter and brighter – unclothed – as nature intended.

SEASONAL INTERCHANGE

by Michael Aitken

In Winter, when the trees are bare,
We mortals don our winter wear.
In Spring, when trees begin to dress,
We mortals then start wearing less,
Until, for some, with Summer’s heat
The role reversal is complete.

Whether or not naked bathing is appealing, here are 10 simple steps you, your family, friends and neighbors can take to use less energy, become more mindful about choices, and build stronger bonds within your family and your community, while sprucing up the garden.

  1. Build community. Relationships are the foundation of resilient communities. Get to know your neighbors by organizing a potluck, sharing something, or simply stopping by to say hello.
  1. Grow some of your own food. You can start simple by growing in containers on a patio or windowsill or renting a plot in a community garden. Or, if you have access to land, start a garden or go all out with a permablitz, a way of bringing the community together and turning a suburban house into an urban homestead… in a single day.
  1. Share and repair. Two simple and rewarding ways to reduce consumption and save money are by sharing things you don’t use all the time (vacuum, car, tools, etc.) with friends and neighbors, and by repairing items when they break instead of buying new ones. The New Dream Community Action Kit is all about sharing: everything from starting a tool library to organizing a solar cooperative, from holding a clothing swap to launching a time bank.
  1. Minimize waste by buying fresh and bulk foods to avoid extra packaging, and start composting organic waste.
  1. Help keep wealth in your community. Buy local when possible, and consider switching to a local bank or credit union.
  1. Reduce home energy use and save money by hanging a clothesline or conducting a home energy efficiency audit.
  1. Conserve water. Fix the leaks, take shorter showers, sheet mulch your lawn, and install a greywater or rainwater harvesting system.
  1. Green your ride. Walk or get a bicycle, learn how to use public transport, or redesign your routine to minimize your drive.
  1. Build inner resilience. Cultivate meaningful relationships, practice mindfulness or spend time in nature. The Japanese call it “forest bathing,” a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/shinrin-yoku.html
  1. Join a Transition town or community resilience initiative near you, and start transforming your community!

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Here is the “Simple Living Manifesto” http://zenhabits.net/simple-living-manifesto-72-ideas-to-simplify-your-life/

Information about World Naked Gardening Day is online at: http://www.wngd.org/

 

Letter to My Adult Niece — About Her One Wild and Precious Life

Images from Sacramento’s 16th Street at Night

I love you, think about you all the time, always want to see you. I realize you’re too busy to bother with me, but want you to understand I know the single-mom drill, did it day in and day out for 40 years with 2 to 3 boys — depending on the situation. It’s very hard, no argument there.

Because you’re going through it, you may finally get why I quit my good-paying corporate job and the daily BART commute to San Francisco to take on freelance assignments from home in Berkeley; why I chose later to work at a small newspaper three miles from my house in Sacramento, although they paid poorly.

Commuting is the worst! When BART broke down my kids suffered — I wasn’t there to pick them up on time from daycare, got charged extra and warned if it happened too often, I’d have to make other arrangements for daycare. “Too often” wasn’t defined, so I worried and paid for daycare first, the cost came off the top, otherwise I couldn’t work.

Basically my kids lived with a grumpy, resentful mom. On Saturdays I started worrying I couldn’t get everything done on Sunday to start the workweek squared away. For many years I was a renter and didn’t have a washer and dryer. Nothing like Sundays at the laundromat followed by a rousing game of “let’s go grocery shopping!”

So you say “I’m not doing this!” I have reached that point at various times in my career. I understand. The decision to make life changes, however, comes with trade offs. In my case, it involved drastic pay cuts and constant money worries. I just refinanced my house and paid off $80,000 in accumulated credit card debt, which was absolutely crushing and paying on the debt was not sustainable in retirement.

How did that kinda debt happen? Well . . . Kids need experiences and resources to participate in American life. They need education, training, social outlets, equipment, special clothing, celebrations, toys, books, electronics and various travel and adventure opportunities, to name a few necessary resources for healthy growth and development. Then there’s college and weddings, grandchildren. Kids can’t grow up in a closet. They need opportunities to explore and participate in their world and that costs money.

When they were small, my children and my writing business had to come first, after that I’d buy my clothes at thrift stores. My car was 20 years old. My house never had a complete, professional interior paint job. I needed a new roof. It took me 17 years to afford a righteous redwood fence for my yard. (Whoo Hoo!) I bought my bed at a garage sale for $20. The sacrifice list goes on and on.

That is how I’ve lived for the past 40 years — taking care of my kids first. The truly special part of my unwavering commitment and sacrifice is that my kids are dismissive of my efforts, rude, self-centered, demanding, at times disrespectful and belligerent. Guess I made it look easy, should have complained more. But, in truth, I did my duty and don’t regret it.

Now that I’m retired, I relax — get up about 4 a.m. and write, then go to work on my house and garden, back to bed by 9 p.m. I don’t go anywhere in my rickety car except to run a few errands and get groceries. I have to save my gas. When my grandmother retired, she went blind and lost her wits. My mother died of lung cancer three years before retirement. Both of their life experiences were similar to mine. Work hard, get little in return. I’m the fool who expected something more, forgetting that life itself is precious. That’s a mistake.

I thought I could build a better life for me and my kids by myself. I was wrong. My grandmother and mother were both courageous women who persevered through incredibly tough times — The Great Depression, WW II, and I survived the Summer of Love. I’m no better than they were, which is to say I’m wonderful in many ways, in others, not so much. I will be 67 on Nov. 16 and damn proud of it. I’m surviving, but I’m not sure my struggle is better than anyone else’s. Getting here has been a lot of hard, often thankless work, I’m just grateful I made it this far.

So, as the poet Mary Oliver asked: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I’m still thinking about it and loving you.

The Summer Day — Library of Congress

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