Sunday, February 25, 2007

Confocal & Copresent

Gabriel Marcel was, I guess one could say, a French existentialist philosopher, and playwright. But that ignores his interest in the creative process itself, in things transhuman, in the metaphysical, in the sublime. Marcel was rooted in mystical French Catholicism, which I think always gives philosophy a spin, away from the purely abstract and towards the ecstatic. I read some of his books a long time ago, and am prompted to read Marcel again by a quote posted by Frank Wilson:

I have frequently had the occasion to stress the metaphysical significance of the encounter, never having seen eye to eye with the rationalist who prefers to construe it as a simple, accidental meeting; but I had not noticed . . . that encounters can also occur on the level of thought. To encounter someone is not merely to cross his path but to be, for the moment at least, near to or with him. To use a term I have often used before, it means being a co-presence. . . . A real encounter with one of these thoughts, if we consider the matter carefully, is something which does not happen accidentally, and one can ready oneself for it—as for a visible encounter—but it still involves one of those shocks which punctuates the career of the soul. —Gabriel Marcel, from Creative Fidelity

Marcel's idea of co-presence makes me think of the union of opposites, the encounter with the Other, the co-existence of intermingled chaos and order, and other mergings of two and more into One. The encounter with another, for those who are sensitive, is to take on aspects of the other: the momentarily become one; to merge; to literally "walk a mile in my shoes." This is the route of empathy and identification, and it is a human birthright, if we choose to exercise it: to identify with the Other. Whoever or whatever the Other is, we can encounter one another, and merge. Marcel speaks of the shock to the soul: I think that's a good way to put it, because when you know you have really encountered someone—or something, such as an idea, an object, or another sentient being that just is a presence but not necessarily a human—when you have really encountered someone, you do get that inner shock: you are suddenly awake an aware, fully in the present moment.

I am reminded of the poet and translator Olga Broumas saying that when she first heard the modern Greek poet Odysseas Elytis read for the first time, her one eye that is unable to focus, and always wanders, came into sharp focus, and con-focus with her other eye, for the first time in her life. It was a moment of utter co-presence.

This makes me think also of the idea behind the word confocal, a word perhaps most often associated with microscopic and photographic imaging. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as: adj. Having the same focus or foci. Used of a lens.

But the word has another implication besides the literal, scientific one: focusing on a center, in conjunction with others: having the same focus, in unity. If we all sit in community around the same campfire, and we are all contemplating the flames together, we are confocal. Confocal can mean a type of community, that is focused on a center, rather than structured as a linear hierarchy; the person of importance sits in the center, rather than above. An Indian chief sits in council with others, all sitting in a circle around a fire; a king sits on a throne, above and removed from others. Confocal political power might operate best through cajoling disagreements into concensus, rather than by being dictatorial: concensus rather than hierarchy, in which every voice might be heard.

A few more Marcel quotes I find exciting to consider:

The dynamic element in my philosophy, taken as a whole, can be seen as an obstinate and untiring battle against the spirit of abstraction.

But however measurable, there is much more life in music than mathematics or logic ever dreamed of. . . . Music at times is more like perfume than mathematics.

Contemplation and wisdom are highest achievements and man is not totally at home with them.

The dynamic element in my philosophy, taken as a whole, can be seen as an obstinate and untiring battle against the spirit of abstraction.

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Friday, February 23, 2007


Humanism, in the literary arts, is the idea that "man is the measure of all things." This is a viewpoint that has been in the philosophical ascendant for centuries now, to the point where most people simply take it for granted as natural law. In fact, it's an illusion, a solipsistic illusion, and a particularly self-absorbed, culturally-egotistic one. The arrogance comes in primarily when human writing is framed as natural writing: the only natural text worth discussing.

This is worth examining in detail. Gary Snyder writes about humanism and posthumanism is his long essay Tawny Grammar, collected in his book of essays, The Practice of the Wild, published by North Point Press. Snyder is worth quoting from at length:

One of the formal criteria of humanist scholarship is that it be concerned with the scrutiny of texts. A text is information stored through time. The stratigraphy of rocks, layers of pollen in swamps, the outward expanding circles in the truck of a tree, can be seen as texts. The calligraphy of rivers winding back and forth over the land, leaving layer upon layer of traces of previous riverbeds is text. The layers of history in language become a text of language itself. . . .

Euro-American humanism has been a story of writers and scholars who were deeply moved and transformed by their immersion in earlier histories and literatures. Their writings have provided useful cultural—rather than theological or biological—perspectives on the human situation. The Periclean Greeks digested the Homeric lore, which went back to the Bronze Age and before. The Romans enlarged themselves by their study of Greece. Renaissance seekers nourished themselves on Greece and Rome. Today a new breed of posthumanists is investigating and experiencing the diverse little nations of the planet, coming to appreciate the "primitive," and finding prehistory to be an ever-expanding field of richness. We get a glimmering of the depth of our ultimately single human root. Wild nature is inextricably in the weave of self and culture. The "post" in the term posthumanism is on account of the word human. The dialogue to open next would be among all beings, toward a rhetoric of ecological relationships. This is not to put down the human: the "proper study of mankind" is what it means to be human. It's enough to be shown in school that we're kin to all the rest: we have to feel it all the way through. Then we can also be uniquely "human" with no sense of special privilege. . . .

When humans know themselves, the rest of nature is right there.
(pp. 66–68)

I find this to be remarkably similar to what Robinson Jeffers said about his ideas of Inhumanism. The parallels are striking, although the language is very different. Jeffers wrote, in his preface to The Double Axe (1948):

The first part of The Double Axe was written during the war and finished a year before the war ended, and it bears the scars; but the poem is not primarily concerned with that grim folly. Its burden, as of some previous work of mine, is to present a certain philosophical attitude, which might be called Inhumanism, a shifting of emphasis and significance from man to not-man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence. It seems time that our race began to think as an adult does, rather than like an egocentric baby or insane person. This manner of thought and feeling is neither misanthropic nor pessimist, though two or three people have said so and may again. It involves no falsehoods, and is a means of maintaining sanity in slippery times; it has objective truth and human value. It offers a reasonable detachment as rule of conduct, instead of love, hate and envy. It neutralizes fanaticism and wild hopes; but it provides magnificence for the religious instinct, and satisfies our need to admire greatness and rejoice in beauty.

Snyder speaks in a gentle, Buddhist-inflected voice, while Jeffers speaks more harshly, more directly, in his Calvinist-raised voice. Yet I believe they are essentially saying the same thing; and they are statements that I agree with strongly, both as a poet and as a human. Having visited or lived among many of the landscapes that Jeffers and Snyder have inhabited and written about, I find myself caring deeply about preserving the natural beauty of those places.

In retrospect, it is ironic that Jeffers was often misunderstood to be misanthropic or bitterly anti-human. In fact, both Snyder and Jeffers explicitly state that their philosophies are not anti-human, misanthropic, or pessimistic. That they have been perceived to be just that, is an indictment of the self-same human-centered solipsism that they are presenting an alternative to, to bring humanism into balance with those natural forces that are part of us, and also much larger than us.

In Western thought, we seem to need to continually be reminded of these ideas; they keep getting lost in recurrent waves of theoretical navel-gazing. But it is instructive to remember how many great Western thinkers have written attempts to redress the imbalance. Man's proper place in nature, as part of nature, was what Henry David Thoreau wrote about in much of his work, notably in Walden. I also am reminded of part of W.H. Auden's argument in his essay book on poetics, The Enchaféd Flood, wherein Auden reminds us that we are part of nature: nature is all around us, and in us, and the division between "City" and "Wilderness," as represented by desert and ocean, is a purely mental division, not an actual one. As Snyder writes, Wild nature is inextricably in the weave of self and culture. I read an article recently about how wild species have made comfortable homes for themselves within our major cities: peregrine falcons nest on our skyscrapers; bald eagles fly along the Mississippi River through downtown Minneapolis; there are thriving packs of coyotes living in Chicago and Boston and Denver.

Recently, I have been noting a new rise of environmentalist rhetoric, this time emerging from within the Biblical fundamentalist community (not a group I've ever considered very rigorous or logical in their theology, which often has little to do with actual Biblical scholarship). It's amazing to find allies about environmental issues coming forward from many surprising directions; regardless of any other differences, it is a hopeful sign, since the Christian evangelical community has traditionally been hostile to environmental issues.

All of these writers and poets, and their ideas about our proper place in the natural world, are converging on a point that the "primitive" (pre-Euro-American climax civilization) cultures knew quite well: we are not the lords of creation, we are part of the created. We seem to be living at last, now, in a posthumanist era, where we are being continually brought up against reminders that we're not separate from nature, or from each other, and also that we are not "in dominion over nature," one of the most grievous interpretations of Biblical theology, but rather that we must exist in partnership with nature, or die.

So, in our poetry, it is perhaps time to seek out a posthumanist poetry: a genuine antidote to the current dominance of the navel-gazing confessional lyric, and furthermore an antidote to the solipsistic self-referential hermeticism of the New York School and Language Poetry. A posthumanist poetry that does not exclude humanity, but also does not put humanity into high relief in opposition to nature, but in balanced, reverential, embodied partnership with nature.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ravens met along the way

. . . and some other images from the road.

Close encounters with unafraid raven pairs, at the Grand Canyon, and again at Petrified Forest. The ones at Petrified Forst were probably looking for food handouts, but the ones at the Grand Canyon were just huddling down in the wind and snow, and didn't seem interested in anything human. Nonetheless, it was a connection, a close encounter, a numinous moment.

at the Grand Canyon, AZ

at Petrified Forest, AZ

Hazards of the road, on Highway One, the California coastal highway. Don't look down, and don't think about being on that bridge during a quake, and grip that wheel tightly.

at Bixby Creek

Highway One—and this is one of the easier stretches of road

the reward for daring the drive is views like this:
overlooking the cove at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, CA

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Monday, February 19, 2007


Here's another older poem about nomadics, from 1986, slightly revised; again, maybe not the best poem I've ever written, but since I'm traveling right now, I'm in the mood to review some of my older writings about nomadics, travel, and pilgrimage.

Earlier this week, I visited Robinson Jeffers home in Carmel, CA, Tor House and Hawk Tower. They only do tours on weekends, and I was there on a Thursday; nonetheless, the quiet and beauty of the place, under its canopy of tall trees, with its view of the ocean at its feet, and the quiet, inhabited beauty of the buildings themselves, was enriching. I just stood there for awhile, taking in the silence and the beauty of the place, and I felt reverence enter my heart. A place of enchantment.


you start from a place
you never left behind,
crossing endless paths, never staying,
though you have smelled meadow wildflowers
and once, at a summerland place, you rested;
but never long. the road always calls
you into being in motion;
you walk into twilight.
you have slept in fields
beneath terrifying stars,
in barns, in houses, in caves, in snow,
in leaves, in beds, in ruins;
you never cared enough for shelter.

now you have no voice,
no reason to speak as you walk.
nighthawks circle in the twilight;
their calls are music enough, their speech
is full of your own words,
the same speaking, same tongues;
now you become elemental,
outside the unknown,
last time you tried to speak
it came out a waterfall,
a desert sandwind.

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Glimpses of the Redwoods

From the coastal redwoods forests of northern California.

Mostly tripod photos: it's very dark in the woods, even on a sunny day.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Glimpses from the Road

abandoned ranch, South Dakota

Montana roadside

near Bear Butte, South Dakota

Wyoming snow

arched rock, near Myers Creek, Oregon

dark backs of hills
slide into rising waves—
hawk stoops from blue rocks

bittersweet return
of wandering monk to sea-home:
without regret, a gull

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Thursday, February 08, 2007


An older poem of mine, written probably in 1982 or 1984, about nomadics, and the spirit of a journey. It may not be one of my best poems, but as I am traveling right now, it seems appropriate to the moment. Looking back, I realize I've written a lot of nomadics poems over the years. I see that this restless urge in me, to travel, goes back further than I remembered. The most vivid image, to me now, is the "breadth of sea between two volcanic islands."


everywhere there are doors,
the impulse within us (warring
    with its opposite)
    to take passage,
to pass through many kinds of entrances:
    the mountain pass, the river gorge,
    the cave mouth to the underworld,
    the natural and the manmade doors,
and each passage through the apertures,
doors filled with air and light,
leaves a physical imprint on us,
    a mark on the blood,
and kicks us into motion
(warring with the desire to not move,
    to find false security in denying the passage,
    in the urge to stay at home)
and, in motion, moving across
the elemental landscape of the world,
look for something—who knows what—
that perhaps was left behind.
every door is a passageway,
a way in, a way out,
an impulse to take flight,
to find the door into summer,
perhaps a mountain pass cleft out of old stone,
perhaps a breadth of sea between
    two volcanic islands,
    billowing in the ocean sunlight,
the gates of dawn,
the door into light,
the Gates of the Archangel,
the Door of Fire.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What Turns You On?

What turns you on? What inspires you to write, or make art, or music? What makes you want to create something? What trips that trigger in your self, that goes towards Making?

Almost everything.

Glib answer, I know, but it's true.

Getting turned on by something is mostly a mindset, I think: the receptiveness to the Perfect Moment as it appears, whatever form it takes. I've seen plenty of inspirational things in my life, that have made me want to drop everything and go make art, a poem, music, a multimedia piece, a poster, a bumpersticker, a typeface.

Reading Rumi always makes me want to write in response. Reading Rilke often does the same. Being in nature, by the ocean, or in the desert, almost always gives me a poem, or several photographs that will become a gathering of images, a sequence or set, or even a short film. Seeing the furtive coyotes that now live in all the big cities; encountering a fox, or lynx. Listening to Max Roach play a five-minute musical improvisation on nothing but a high-hat. (You either want to go home and practice, after seeing something like that, or leave all your instruments at the curb.) Standing silent before a sunset on a stony beach where the waves make archways in the cliffs. Sitting on a bright moon on a hot, sweaty night in summer, next to someone I love. Taking my father to see the doctor.

In the past two weeks of driving across the country, I've been given many more images, thoughts, poems, and sounds than I can possibly absorb right now. Later on, when I'm back home, I'll get a chance to integrate, pull them out, really look them over, and make something more of them: more finished, more polished, more thoughtful. There is some truth to the Wordsworthian dictum of poetry being emotion reflected in tranquility; in my current case, though, it is more a function of time and distance, and trying to pack in a lot of experiences into a short, intense time. Meanwhile there arise out of my daily journeying a few haiku, a few poems in my own forms, one or two essays, an idea for a multimedia piece or art-film.

Getting turned on—inspired: in-spirited, inspirational—is a normal, everyday thing, if you're open to it. (And if you don't live too much in just your head.) The Greeks used the word daimon to describe the presence of an unseen, unnamed spirit, or force, or subconscious need rising to the surface. The word liminal is used to describe experiences of standing on the threshold between realities, worlds, worldviews, viewpoints, times of life, and selves. The word numinous is used to describe things that appear to be charged with power and meaning, either in inner or outer reality.

Everything that I encounter in waking life, on a daily basis, or in dreams—everything that is numinous, liminal, and daimonic—turns me on, and makes me want to create. Creation is as much a response to these things, as it is something that arises spontaneously from within. Creation provides many wells to dip into that same water.

At root, isn't this question really: Why do we write poetry at all? (or make art, etc.) What is our source for inspiration? What is our well of fire, our daimon? What sets us on fire? Isn't the question really: Why do we do this at all?

I'm less interested in the specific trigger than the deeper upwelling of creativity.

My experience is that there are very many specific triggers, and I respond to lots of them, and not always with poetry but with image and music, or a combination of all three (and lately I'm making poetic multimedia pieces containing all three elements, such my recent film Basin & Range). The specific triggers don't matter to me as much because I find them everywhere. What matters more, to me, is the attitude of preparedness. We could call it mindfulness. I find that getting into that state of mind is what I practice—it is a discipline one can practice to attain, not a random arbitrary event but a learnable skill. When I get into that state of mind, practically anything, including a random comment someone makes in the grocery checkout line, or the way the sunlight hits a plant, can trigger a poem. So, the mindset, to me, is deeper and ultimately more important than any specific trigger.

To rephrase slightly: anything can trigger a poem (or image, etc.), if I am in the right mindset. One of the most helpful tools I have for getting into that mindset is mindfulness meditation. Once there, it's all poetry. It's all art, even the ugly bits, if I perceive them from within that mindset.

Poems can come over me at any time, sometimes literally with a shiver. My discipline is to be always ready for them, with paper and pen on hand, or whatever medium, including laptop, and just be ready, so that when a poem does come over me, I can get it down. I have been known to pull over, on the interstate, to write it down. I almost always have a notebook with me, for anything that comes up. I don't necessarily believe in "first thought, best thought" (Allen Ginsberg often quoted this truism, but the truth is, he just hated revising), but I do believe in butterfly-netting ideas as they come to you. When I transcribe them later out of my pocket notebook, or journal, I expand on them (the notebook can be in quasi-shorthand, just a word-sketch, because all I need is the memory-trigger), add more to them, flesh them out, and turn them into a real poem, or haiku, or just gather the fragments into something more coherent. (The revising that Ginsberg sometimes avoided doing; although when he did revise later on, those often became his best, most lucid poems; Howl was heavily revised, for example.)

I write a lot of essays, and some poems, in response to things people ask: they get me going, thinking, and writing. I like the aspect of dialogue and conversation that responsive writing generates.

I can give a long list of specific triggers, but that would be my list, not anyone else's. I also find it difficult to create a list of triggers that doesn't either say Everything! or end up being a detailed, Proustian listing of what everything consists of.

I think it's useful to identify the specific triggers, yes, but I also think it's useful to look past the specific tiggers, and constantly expand one's horizons: seek out new triggers, and pursue them.

This returns me to mentioning books that I find to be useful for developing the mindset of creativity, so that one can discover triggers wherever one looks. I find the following books inspirational, as triggers themselves, for that very reason: they get me into the mindset, both by example, and by inciting it.

Fredrick Franck, The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation
Michael J. Gelb: How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci
P.L. Travers: What the Bee Knows
Stephen Nachmanovitch: Free Play: The power of improvisation in life and the arts
Audrey Flack: Art and Soul

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Jeffers Pilgrimage

I arrived yesterday in the San Francisco area, where I will be staying about a week. Then, I will be driving down Highway One on the California coast. I plan to stop in at the Robinson Jeffers home, Tor House, now a foundation and historical site, at Carmel-by-the-sea, near Big Sur.

It's time for a quote or two from Jeffers, to prepare the way:

The tides are in our veins, we still mirror the stars,
  life is your child, but there is in me
Older and harder than life and more impartial, the eye
  that watched before there was an ocean.

—from Continent's End

                                Lately I was looking from a night mountain-top
On a wide city, the colored splendor, galaxies of light: how could I help but
    recall the seine-net
Gathering the luminous fish? I cannot tell you how beautiful the city appeared,
    and a little terrible.
I thought, We have geared the machines and locked all together into inter-
    dependence; we have built the great cities; now
There is no escape. We have gathered vast populations incapable of free
    survival, insulated
From the strong earth, each person in himself helpless, on all dependent.
    The circle is closed, and the net
Is being hauled in.

—from The Purse-Seine

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I find in a used bookstore in Coos Bay, Oregon, having pulled into town while they are advertising their going out of business sale, an anthology of travel writing called Journeys, ed. by Charles Nicholl. Here are a few random samples:

Fire on the mountain:
the image of the wanderer.

—I Ching

He who wishes to explore Nature must tread her books with his feet. Writing is learnt from letters, but Nature from land to land. One land, one page. Thus is the Codex Naturae, thus must its leaves be turned.
—Paracelsus, from Sieben Defensiones

To jungles and gravestones. . . . Reading torn 100-year-old newspaper clippings that come apart in your hands like wet sand, information tough as plastic dolls. Watched leopards sip slowly, watched the crow sitting restless on his branch peering about with his beak open. Have seen the outline of a large fish caught and thrown in the curl of a wave, been where nobody wears socks, where you wash your feet before you go to bed, where I watch my sister who alternately reminds me of my father, mother and brother. Driven through rainstorms that flood the streets for an hour and suddenly evaporate, where sweat falls in the path of this ballpoint, where the jak fruit rolls across your feet in the back of the jeep, where there are eighteen ways of describing the smell of a durian, where bullocks hold up traffic and steam and the rains.
—Michael Ondaatje, from Monsoon Notebook

Midway on life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is hard—so tangled and rough

And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter,
And yet, to treat the good I found there as well

I’ll tell what I saw . . .

—Dante, from The Divine Comedy

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Friday, February 02, 2007

The Writing Life & Journey Writing

dusk, Bozeman, Montana

I continue to delve into writers writing about writing: poets on poetry, on poetry's sources and terrors; writers on the philosophy and spirituality of writing; on the difficulties, joys, and solutions. I find it interesting to hear what poets have to say about their own poetry, and about the poetry of others. Meta-writing, peri-literacy, the theogeny of inspiration; call it what you will.

Here's an interesting quotes about the writing life, gleaned from these various essays, poems, and books, of writers writing about writing:

The writer knows his field—what has been done, what could be done, the limits—the way a tennis player knows the court. And like that expert, he, too, plays the edges. That is where the exhilaration is. He hits up the line. In writing, he can push the edges. Beyond this limit, here, the reader must recoil. Reason balks, poetry snaps; some madness enters, or strain. Now, courageously and carefully, can he enlarge it, can he nudge the bounds? And enclose what wild power? —Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, p. 69

I have also been reading a lot of journey writing. Not "travel writing," which is often more a guide to where to go and what to see than a meditation on where one has been, or on the journey of traveling itself. Travel writing is what you read in the travel magazines, and from essays by great travel writers such as Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer, and others. Some of our great novelists have given us some of our best travel writing: Mark Twain, E.M. Forster, others. Travel writing is often travel memoir: a logbook, a history, a diary.

Journey writing is meditation on the journey itself: on the need to travel, to take pilgrimage, to travel without destination, to just go because of the going. An essential book on the theory of nomadics is Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines, which is both a story of the writer's journey across the Australian Dreaming, in which the songlines are both signpost maps, and stories of how the land was created; and also a collection of quotes and episodes and ideas about nomadics. Robert Pirsig's Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is another essential work, as is Joni Mitchell’s “road album” Hejira. Another is Octavio Paz’ collection of poems about India and Mexico, A Tale of Two Gardens.

Journey writing is a genre I am strongly attracted to. I practice it myself, in my limited way, with road haibun and prose-poems about my travels across the USA, such as in the Basin & Range. Journey writing is what I aspire to. Matsuo Basho's great journey haibun, Oku no hosomichi, the Narrow Road to the Interior, is something I aspire to, and is one of a small set of books I constantly carry with me as I journey.

You are always alone when you ride. Even in a group you are alone. It is perhaps one of the core beauties of riding—the enforced solitude. With the pipes rapping and the wind screaming—the constant hurricane—even with a passenger on the back you are alone. The bike demands it, demands that you keep your attention on it, and the noise of the motor and wind keeps your thoughts internal. The only time I have ever been more alone with my thoughts is sailing alone on the Pacific and in both cases there is an elegance to the solitude, a grace that turns the act of thinking almost into a dance. —Gary Paulsen, Zero to Sixty: The motorcycle journey of a lifetime, pp. 86-87

There’s all sorts of walking—from heading out across the desert in a straight line to a sinuous weaving through undergrowth. Descending rocky ridges and talus slopes is a specialty in itself. It is an irregular dancing—always shifting—step of walk on slabs and scree. The breath and eye are always following this uneven rhythm. It is never paced or clocklike, but flexing—little jumps—sidesteps—going for the well-seen place to put a foot on a rock, hit flat, move on—zigzagging along and all deliberate. The alert eye looking ahead, picking the footholds to come, while never missing the step of the moment. The body-mind is so at one with this rough world that it makes these moves effortlessly once it has had a bit of practice. The mountain keeps up with the mountain. —Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild, p. 113

To be worth making at all a journey has to be made in the mind as much as in the world of objects and dimensions. What value can there be in seeing or experiencing anything for the first time unless it comes as a revelation? And for that to happen, some previously held thought or belief must be confounded, or enhanced, or even transcended. What difference can it make otherwise to see a redwood tree, a tiger, or a hummingbird? —Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

After several days, clouds gathering over the North Road, we left Sakata reluctantly, aching at the thought of a hundred thirty miles to the provincial capital of Kaga. We crossed the Nezu Barrier into Echigo Province, and from there went on to Ichiburi Barrier in Etchu, restating our resolve all along the way. Through nine hellish days of heat and rain, all my old maladies tormenting me again, feverish and weak, I could not write.

Altair meets Vega
already the night is changed

High over wild seas
surrounding Sado Island:
the river of heaven.

—Matsuo Basho, Narrow Road to the Interior, trans. Sam Hamill

The most convincing analysts of restlessness were often men who, for one reason or another, were immobilised: Pascal by stomach ailments and migraines, Baudelaire by drugs, St. John of the Cross by the bars of his cell. There are French critics who would claim that Proust, the hermit of the cork-lined room, was the greatest of literary voyagers.

The founders of monastic rule were forever devising techniques for quelling wanderlust in their novices. “A monk out of his cell,” said St. Anthony, “is like a fish out of water.” Yet Christ and the Apostles walked their journeys through the hills of Palestine.

What is this strange madness, Petrarch asked of his young secretary, this mania for sleeping each night in a different bed?

What am I doing here? —Rimbaud writing home from Ethiopia

—Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, p. 163 (“From the Notebooks”)

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Road Trip 2007

At Devil's Tower, Wyoming

Right now I'm driving across the continental USA, from Wisconsin to California. Last night I was in Portland; this bright sunny day I saw the Pacific Ocean through my truck window for the first time in six months. I'm in a hotel in coastal Oregon for the night. I've been taking many photos as I go, of course, as that is what I do when I travel.

So, random notes and photos for the moment. Here's a shot of my Faithful Steed, the DragonWagon; taken last week at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota:

And a new poem about issues of navigation:

A Book of Maps

angled lines writhe bluely: off the page, leading nowhere.
this land of feathers, soft-edged, indistinct. no place to stow a ship.
here be dragons: summation of what cannot be known.
must, mildew, stain: history of explorations. road to dust.
on every page, remembrance. where to go, not who to go with.

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