Monday, September 27, 2010

Marking Time - Sailing to Byzantium

This past week I had the pleasure of having my two nieces here at the house, and the younger one brought her toddler and infant along.  Since Mother died seven years ago, I haven't seen the older one at all, and the younger one only at Christmas.  But then Big Sister moved to my city, only blocks away, and now that long absence seems to be over.  We all went out to lunch (Mac's Pizza Shack), five females ranging from almost sixty to almost six months.  It was a delight, even when the toddler helped herself to ice from my plastic tumbler.  We caught up on each others lives, laughed, ate too much.  I tend to think of these young women the girls as they were in this 1993 photo, and think of myself as I was too, though these days I have bifocals and silver hair.  It is strange in many ways not having children to help gauge the passing of time.  They are both grown up, dealing with children, relationships, jobs.  The boys are in college. How did this happen?

I recently re-read Sailing to Byzantium, and the poem means more and more to me each year.  Yeats
seems to say that it is a terrible thing to lose the vigor and energy of youth, but that a person might find a measure of immortality through art. I suppose for Yeats that is true.

Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday, A Poem

I realized today, looking at my bedraggled potted flowers on the deck that I have been in denial about autumn's arrival, dreading a little the time when they will all be consigned to to compost heap, and the summer colors will be replaced by fall colors, then all too quickly by the grays and blacks of winter.  I installed a reading lamp in the room where I have been spending lots of time lately, since it grows too dark for me to read earlier and earlier each day.

I haven't been doing any art at all - though I was honored to get some public recognition and a cash award this weekend in Madison for a painting I did last winter.  Instead I have been continuing to compile a vast family history, one that has brought me into communication with far flung distant cousins, and oddly enough, inspired me to add titles to my reading list.  I discovered a very distant connection between my maternal grandmother's ancestors and Daniel Boone's family, and find myself engrossed in a biography of the frontiersman.  Likewise, another branch of her people left Indiana and emigrated west to Oregon by covered wagon, and I find myself wanting to read titles by A.B. Guthrie, The Big Sky and The Way West.
What would my life be without the comfort and self-education that comes from being able to read? Billy Collins' poem First Reader brings back a memory from the two-room country schoolhouse I attended.  I only hope the last line isn't altogether true.  I want to always be able to both read, and look.

First Reader
by Billy Collins

I can see them standing politely on the wide pages
that I was still learning to turn
Jane in a blue jumper, Dick with his crayon brown hair,
playing with a ball or exploring the cosmos
of the backyard, unaware they are the first characters,
the boy and the girl who begin fiction.
Beyond the simple illustration of their neighborhood
the other protagonists were waiting in a huddle:
frightening Heathcliff, frightened Pip, Nick Adams
carrying a fishing rod, Emma Bovary riding into Rouen.
But I would read about the perfect boy and his sister
even before I would read about Adam and Eve, garden and gate,
and before I heard the name Gutenberg, the type
of their simple talk was moving into my focusing eyes.
It was always Saturday and he and she
were always pointing at something and shouting “Look!”
pointing at the dog, the bicycle, or at their father
as he pushed a hand mower over the lawn,
waving at aproned Mother framed in the kitchen doorway,
pointing toward the sky, pointing at each other.
They wanted us to look but we had looked already
and seen the shaded lawn, the wagon, the postman.
We had seen the dog, walked, watered and fed the animal,
and now it was time to discover the infinite, clicking
permutations of the alphabet’s small and capital letters.
Alphabetical ourselves in the rows of classroom desks,
we were forgetting how to look, learning how to read.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Arriving at Zion

After we left Bryce Canyon we drove about 80 miles to Zion National Park.  There were some problems, rain, a tire that was leaking air alarmingly quickly, and heavy road construction at the entrance to the park.  All this turned out fine.  We made it through the construction; the rain stopped; and a service station in Springdale hammered the bent wheel rim of the rental car back into shape for nothing, which fixed the air leak.  We had a reservation at the lodge and got a beautiful suite with a balcony.  This photo was taken from the room - and I almost cried when we had to leave.  I could sit for hours just watching the shadows shift over the face of the rocks.

One interesting thing about Zion is that it has banned people from driving through in personal vehicles.  Once you pay an entrance fee that is good for a week, you ride a shuttle bus for free.  I wondered how I'd like that, but it turned out that the buses are comfortable, and they run very often.  We never had to wait more than about five minutes to be picked up.  Every stop was near a trail head, so it was easy to hike on the trails and then either go on further or catch a ride back. 

The park is loaded with animals, but the ones we saw most often (not counting begging squirrels) were mule deer.  We took a walk at dusk, just before supper, and found this doe with a buck and two fawns.  All were unafraid, so much so that the fawn took time for a little supper of its own.  The doe walked off soon after I took the picture, bleating quietly to the fawn, who followed her across the road into some underbrush and to the Virgin River.

Every walk we took yield scenes of great beauty.  I had hoped the cottonwoods and aspens might have started turning for fall, but we were early for that.  Still, the weather was cooler than it had been even a week before, never getting above 90 degrees.  Somebody described the difference between Bryce Canyon and Zion being that at Bryce you stand at the rim and look down, while at Zion you are in the canyon and look up.  That's pretty close to right most of the time.

There were fall wildflowers everywhere, scenes of blue skies, red and gray mountains, and golden fields and flowers.  This picture was taken in a remote northern part of the park where we could drive.  Nobody was around and it was perfectly silent except for the sound of wind and the birds.  Heaven.

Eventually we had to leave, of course.  On the drive to Las Vegas we passed through the little town of Virgin - named for the river.  I couldn't resist stopping at this little book store/ post office.  The sign made me laugh, but the book store was filled with and interesting selection of titles.  There was a sign that the store was pretty much self serve until noon, since the owner also had to run the post office and had no extra help.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Red Rocks: Bryce Canyon

At some point in the spring I was considering all the states I had visited, and realized that the only one in the lower 48 I had missed was Utah.  When I suggested we do a trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, my husband agreed.  So, this past week we flew to Las Vegas, rented a car and drove to Bryce.  I only regret I didn't discover the beauty of Utah earlier.  We were stunned by the beauty around us.

Bryce is interesting, because unless you like into the canyon, you see it looking down from the rim.  I took this photo before I found myself on the trail later in the day.

I think we picked a good time of year to visit, since the weather was cool in the evening, and didn't quite reach 90 degrees during the day.  We did hike into the canyon, which was challenging for me,even though the trail we chose was described as moderate.  The altitude and my creaky knees combined to make the mile or so a real workout for me.  But the chance to see the eroded sandstone columns, called hoodoos,  from below was worth the effort.

Am I crazy to think that this window in the stone looks like a heart? 

We we got back up to the rim and rested on a bench near a pine, we saw this Stellar's Jay, who was clearly not afraid of tourists from Wisconsin.