Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A sea turtle remembers home...

Last night on the news I heard a fact that stunned me. It was a feature on how rescuers are saving the Gulf sea turtles. They are harvesting the eggs a few days before they are due to hatch and shipping them over to the Atlantic where, if all goes well, in a few days they will emerge unscathed and make their way to the sea. The fact that startled me was this. They pack the eggs in sand from the Gulf so that hopefully the turtles will recall the smell of home and return to the Gulf in twenty years time to breed and lay their eggs once again. I could not believe this detail of nature. That the turtles will recall the smell of their sand and it will lead them home. And in twenty years. Think of all that Ulysseus went through in just ten years.

This proves something that I've always suspected about the traveler. Home imprints itself in us, perhaps even more so than those who never leave, in ways we cannot imagine. I am sure that we have all had dreams of flying. I have them quite a lot, though often it is more like swimming in air. In one dream I feared I would get lost, but then I understood that my belly button was equipped with navigational redial and all I had to do was press it and I'd be home.

For many many years I had a kind of repetitive dream. I was in a jungle, a desert, walking down a Paris Street, and suddenly footprints, a way, a path in the snow would appear, and I'd follow it and it always took me back to 105 Hazel in Highland Park, Illinois where I was raised as a child. Not a particularly happy childhood, yet, for whatever reason (perhaps trauma as Alice Miller, the noted psychologist, might say) I kept going back. In my dreams at any rate.

And it turns out that people tend to buy houses or live in places that evoke some secure part of home. And just recently when visiting my cousins at Plum Farm, I had a long drive to Milwaukee to see my mother. My cousin Donna made me a tuna fish sandwich with pickles in it on white bread. As I was driving, I pulled off into a rest area and ate my sandwich. I mean, it was tuna fish, not the madelaine, but my root are Midwestern, not Combray. Still as I was eating that sandwich, I was eight years old, home from school, at summer camp, wherever a child might be. I was back as surely as if I'd flown there.

So as I write this, I think of those little travelers. The sea turtles. How far they will journey. How big they will grow. And yet imprinted inside of them, forever, is the scent of home.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Plum Farm again...

Some friends have asked why I posted Robert Lewis Stevenson. One friend said it was very retro. It's funny because this poem always meant a lot to me. It is not just farewell to the farm, but farewell to childhood, to innocense. To everything...This poem and Dylan Thomas' Fern Hill have stayed in my mind as poems about saying good-bye to our childhood selves. Where time doesn't matter and everything feels infinite and eternal. My father always wanted a farm. He dreamed of owning one. At his memorial service I had my nephew, Bill, read the Stevenson poem. From A Child's Garden of Verses, of course. I can still almost recite that book by heart. I read those poems over and over as a child. "I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me..." Anyway below I have written that my cousins sold Plum Farm the day we arrived a couple weeks ago. Places can become like people to us. In today's NYTimes Verlyn Klingkenborn writes about his garden. How a perennial garden is as much about memory as it is about plants. This is for me what happens with places. It is not simply the geography, the architecture, the antiques. It is something we laughed over, the pileated woodpecker that flew by, the times in the sugar shack when I painted all day and no one disturbed. It is meals of grilled steak, corn, tomato and basil salad. Summer menus, great wine, wonderful friends. I love that poignant moment at the end of one of my favorite books, Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather (a novella), when the man who once loved her see a childhood footprint Lucy has left behind in the cement. What could be more poignant than that? And we leave our footprints everywhere we go.

Farewell to the Farm

Farewell to the Farm
by Robert Louis Stevenson

The coach is at the door at last;
The eager children, mounting fast
And kissing hands, in chorus sing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

To house and garden, field and lawn,
The meadow-gates we swang upon,
To pump and stable, tree and swing,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

And fare you well for evermore,
O ladder at the hayloft door,
O hayloft where the cobwebs cling,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

Crack goes the whip, and off we go;
The trees and houses smaller grow;
Last, round the woody turn we sing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

Plum Farm...Good-bye.

A week or so ago we returned from Plum Farm. My cousins' place in Michigan. It was, and still is, a place of beauty and grace. A place to work and read. I could always find a quiet corner. Or show up for cocktails. There is so much to say, but little I can say now. My cousins sold Plum Farm last week. It was the right time for them and for this reason I am happy. But I need to post this last tribute to a place that brought me so much happiness and peace.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How to Trim a Bird's Wings

I run into people - neighbors, acquaintances - all the time who ask me when I am going away. Or if I've just returned. The truth is, I'm not. I'm back now from Istanbul and Rome, from Canada, and Plum Farm. From the coast of Spain...I am for the foreseeable future HERE. In the heat and humidity and stench of summer in New York. For various reasons I am spending August in the city with a few side trips upstate, Fire Island. I don't want to go to Europe in August anymore and besides it is a good time to work because no one is here and no one wants to be outside anyway. But still...Recently I called Rodrigo, the Brazilian surfer/dog groomer, who taught me how to trim my parrot's wings. Rodrigo grew up around birds. We have an African gray and she submits to this indignation with as much grace and composure as she can muster, but the process leaves me spent. And afterwards she sits on her perch as if she knows that she cannot fly. That she cannot go anywhere. So I wrote this poem about it which essentially is about travel. Or, in this instance, not being able to travel. It would be safe to say that I am identifying with my bird here.


Take a towel
Put it over your bird's head
Be careful; he may bite.
Unfold one wing.
Hold it to the light.
It should be translucent
as glass.
Avoid the blood feathers.
They are young and immature.
Now think of flight.
Imagine yourself,
soaring overhead.
You catch the wind.
The earth is small.
See the tops of trees,
entire lakes.
Doors open;
Pink flowers bloom.
Rest on a sailing ship.
Dry your wings
in the sun.
But for the bird
The process is painless.
Leave two flight feathers
for balance.
Now pick up the scissors
and snip.

Mary Morris

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Larry - various views

I've been traveling a lot this summer. But since returning from Spain and Italy it's been all domestic - Fire Island, Michigan, tomorrow Canada for our niece's wedding. Today the wonderful physical therapist who has been trying to cure various ailments asked me if travel inspired me. If I wrote better because of it. The answer is yes. Everything is better because of it...I'm sort of taking a vacation from my blog. But lately I've been trying to learn how to paint people and recently I did a few paintings of my husband. I am posting these...Both were done during journeys which is, in fact, more or less the only time I paint. I think about how many of us are away now. More on this later...I need to pack.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rusting dock - Tarifa, Spain - Two Views

I took this picture on the dock at Tarifa. I knew I wanted to try a watercolor, but when I did, the watercolor just seemed too, well, like the photo. It wasn't working for me. It bothered me for weeks. So I splattered it with paint. It's a new technique I've been playing with. I'm not sure if it exactly right, but I am happier with it now. Ah summer. A great time to do all these things! On Friday I am heading to my favorite place...Plum Farm. It really is my favorite place. I'm not entirely sure why, but I love to go there. To see Mike and Donna and have some time with family, time to read (a great place to read), write, paint, cook, eat, drink, talk...I guess that about covers it. I'll post pictures from there. I have in the past.

Proust and Travel

Proust wrote that travel isn't about seeing new places, but about seeing with new eyes. I've always felt this is true. I am not a particularly adventurous person, but I love the new perspectives travel gives to me. These images are of three fairly ordinary things - some glasses in our hotel room, a rusted railing in the port of Tarifa, the studio where I stayed in Rome. But each evokes a great deal to me. Each makes me see something differently than I had. In this case these all present themselves as watercolors which I intend to paint. But they also recall moments lived. They are simple things, but they resonate for me. xxx

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Just Wildflowers and One Cat

In Cadiz we paused in the mountains for a long walk. Everywhere there were wildflowers. Hundreds of different kinds. They were everywhere. I couldn't stop taking pictures of them. It was cold in the mountains and a mist was coming in, but it was so beautiful, I couldn't stop. The place was completely quiet. Just the sound of the wind through the mountains. It was one of those places where I would have stayed forever if I could...I've been thinking about this a lot. How sometimes we want to stay somewhere and never move on. Daily life is circular, a routine, but travel, like life, is linear, and it is a hard truth that we must keep moving. But this mountain valley is one of those places where I could have stopped, if time and the setting sun had let me.