Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hidden From Me in Veils of Cloud

I was in Seattle for much of this past week at Winter Institute, a conference for booksellers. It's always such a buzz to be with 500 other slightly insane bookstore types and writers, discussing business, authors, reading, and the like. Not to mention hauling away a metric ton of free books. The sad part was that I didn't actually get to experience much of Seattle. The conference business starts in the early morning and goes on through the day, with publisher sponsored dinners at fancy venues in the evening. On the last day I took a walk with my coworker Sarah and we went to the Pike Place fish market.  And on the first night there was an opening party at Elliot Bay Book Company, where I could not resist buying the new Mary Ruefle collection and Frank Stanford's book-length poem The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. They were right there on the staff recommends shelf, looking at me.

After a breakfast with New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, among others, It was off to the airport, where we discovered a nerve-wracking wait to see if our 11 am flight would actually ever leave.  Two things make the wait worth it. I was daydreaming, looking out at the trees-- it was a sunny warm day-- and I realized suddenly that the huge bird that had just landed on a telephone pole about 200 feet from me was a bald eagle.   All winter long I've been wanting to see a snowy owl, but this was just as good; it was the first bald eagle I've ever seen that close with my own eyes. The eagle was only there for two minutes before two crows swooped down and drove it away.

About the same time I saw the eagle, I noticed Mt. Rainier in the distance. Since there was not much chance of crows casing the mountain away, I got to see it over a period of several hours, mist-shrouded, clear but distant, and suddenly sharply clear, as if it had moved closer when I wasn't looking. I suddenly remembered the poet Denise Levertov wrote several poems about the Mountain when she moved to Seattle at the end of her life.


Sometimes the mountain
Is hidden from me in veils
Of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain 
In veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
When I forget or refuse to go
Down to the shore or a few yards
Up the road, on a clear day,
To reconfirm
That witnessing presence.

-- Denise Levertov, in  Evening Train

Monday, January 13, 2014

One of the Ancient Spirits of the World.

Just before Christmas I went to the lakefront, hoping to see one of the snowy owls who have landed here in Chicago for a while. I drove past a group of people who were all staring up into the black branches of an apple tree, some of them pointing, some of them aiming cameras. By the time I parked the car and reached that slushy point on the lawn, the group was disbanding. One woman walked away yelling" who- wee, who- wee" over and over, like she was calling a pig in at slop time.  I hoped a snowy owl would not respond to that sort of thing. I went walking on a sliding cold trail, through the slush, out into the prairie field at Montrose Point.  I saw a squirrel, and a man with binoculars looking at finches, and breathed in the scent of dry grass and winter. But I didn't see a snowy owl.

I thought of the first poetry workshop I ever attended, led by Diane Wakoski. For the first session, she just read us recent poems she'd written, and one of them was the poem "Removed from Natural Habitiat," about the speaker viewing snowy owls in a zoo:

...Part of their beauty is
In their stillness, the unblinking eyes like money that is hoarded,
The head cocked a little, the body stationary, and seemingly

I wanted to see a snowy owl at the lakefront, in the snow fields on the beach, or in a low tree, or out on the cold pier.  I wanted to see one snowy owl, even though I'd seen videos and photos of many of these recent city visitors online.  you can't google " snowy owl chicago" without plenty of information. And images appearing. I found for example, that these owls descending from the north are called an irruption, not a migration, and that more than likely it comes of there being an overabundance of owls in the north, so that the younger ones are driven away by the elders, and come to us looking for food.

I thought I might see one of the ancient spirits of the world.

I wanted to see a snowy owl, with my own eyes, but did not, and so had to cast around for other forms of ferocity, and beauty.