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Archive for July, 2010

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Exactly three weeks have passed since the girls (my daughters and my nieces) and I made the journey back from Vietnam. It feels like a dream, those days walking through Saigon and feeling the energy of the city. The beach city of Nha Trang is my new favorite spot, and I’ve been to many wonderful places in the country.

One of the things I noticed about the trip was that I didn’t have much time alone, and yet I was not torn between solitude or not solitude. I relished the hours spent with my family. We traveled together well. We shared a similar sense of adventure.

I would love to share in this blog post a story or two about our trip, but I’m in the middle of writing a print publication essay about exactly that. So I’m at a loss of what to say. Unfortunately, I need to save all my best words for the essay.
 
I can share this screen shot below from the last essay of mine that was published, this in SAGE, a monthly magazine for women that appears as part of the Albuquerque Journal. It came out while we were in Vietnam, which was fun timing since the writing happened to be about one of my previous trips to the country. You might recognize the photo from one of my previous blog posts. It was especially cool that three of my photos got published along with my writing.

The country has become as much a muse for my writing as my art. That’s a recent shift. I wonder, when I sit down and think about it, how many essays about my travels there I have in me. Maybe quite a few.



Let there be Pampering (from SAGE)
Let there be Pampering, by Roma Arellano, screen shot from SAGE, The Albuquerque Journal, July 2010, © 2010 by The Albuquerque Journal.

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By Judith Ford
 
 

You’re Invited, lang•widge, March 27, 2010, Gallery Neptune in Bethesda, Maryland.




Poetry is a lot like music. Music evokes visual images; visual art can stimulate poems. Read that backwards and it’s true that way, too.

Last March, while visiting a friend in DC, I had the opportunity to experience all three — music, my friend’s paintings, and a spontaneous poetry happening — mixed together for one entertaining evening. The event: lang•widge. The setting: Gallery Neptune in Bethesda, Maryland.

My friend, artist Freya Grand, paints landscapes. Not your ordinary landscapes. Landscapes filtered through Freya’s vision and open to interaction with the viewer. In Freya’s words, “Painting landscape begins as an internal process. As in abstraction, forms transmit a mysterious secret life, exert a presence.”

Presence was abundant on March 27 at Gallery Neptune, even before the rest of the evening’s events unfolded.  I’ve always had my own strong responses to Freya’s work, partly because I’ve traveled with her to some of the locations she later painted. More because her work is emotional, full of motion and light. Like me, the lang•widge participants responded in their own unique ways.

So here’s how it went: A few weeks before lang•widge, Freya and gallery owner Elyse Harrison asked jazz musician Steven Rogers to preview the paintings and compose short pieces of music in response. Once everyone had had a chance to walk around and see all the paintings (munch on cheese and crackers, drink wine), we were asked to gather in front of a podium and listen to a short poetry reading by Charlie Jensen, poet and director of The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, and the poet, Reb Livingston.








            



                            



                                       


Works by Freya Grand, Rock at Low Tide, 48″ x 60″, 2008, Burning Fields, 30″ x 30″, 2009, Cotopaxi, 48″ x 60″, 2006, and Fog, Benbulben, 30″ x30″, 2010, paintings © 2006-2010 by Freya Grand. All rights reserved.




Suitably warmed-up, we were each given a clipboard, a few sheets of paper, and a pencil. As Steven Rogers’ techno-jazz music played, we looked at the paintings again and quickly jotted down short lines. Whatever came to mind.

I was surprised by how much I liked the music. I am not a big jazz fan, but looking at Freya’s work and listening to this weird contemporary music, I found myself enjoying the way the visual and musical bits blended together. Whatever it was I wrote in response — I didn’t preserve any of it —  was full of the light and movement I’ve always seen in my friend’s work.  Hope, change, powerful natural forces, awe, wonder. 

When the four short pieces of music had finished, we reassembled in front of the podium. Volunteers did most of the reading, but first Charlie Jensen and Reb Livingston demonstrated the technique. They chose two from a diverse collection of colored dice. The number rolled determined the number of pieces of paper to be read together to create a spontaneous poem.

The results were surprising, to say the least. Where I had seen light and life, others had seen darkness and death, despair and violence. Sexuality. New life forms. Being lost, being found. Memories of blankets, clouds, and chaos.


 
 

During lang•widge, poets Charles Jensen and Reb Livingston explain the process, draw poem pieces, then read the resulting poetry, photos © 2010 by Judith Ford. All rights reserved.



Here are some of my favorite lines:

smiley in foam, red glee

his daughter in a box, pushed out to sea

I’ve made a mistake coming here

I’ll never eat butter cream frosting again




When my husband, Chris, who loves to perform for an audience, volunteered, things got even stranger. He happened to pick a very long series of lines that were written in five different languages. Chris speaks nothing but English. His courageous attempts to pronounce Spanish, Italian, French, German, and, I think, Swedish, were sidesplitting.

Afterward Chris sought out the writer of those lines, and, yes, she did speak all those languages. She told Chris he’d done a pretty good job at guessing the pronunciations.

I sought out Freya. “Did you realize how much pain and despair was hiding in your paintings?” I asked. Freya is not prone to darkness or despair. She told me she was actually more surprised by the butter cream frosting than the pain. She said something like, “People project into my work whatever is up for them at the present moment.”

Not sure about that butter cream.



Freya Grand and Chris Ford, photo ©
2010 by Judith Ford. All rights reserved.




So here’s an idea:  How about trying a little mini da-da poetry writing sans Steven Rogers’ music? Take a look at any of the Freya Grand paintings in this post (or visit her website). Pick out a piece of music you currently like a lot. While the music plays, quickly, without much thought, jot down five (or so) lines or phrases.

Email them to me at pinkeggs@gmail.com.  After two weeks or so (about August 9) I’ll randomly pick out lines, type them in the order I’ve picked, and post them here in the comments section. Let’s see what we come up with.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Here are two poems created during the lang•widge event; these are also posted on The Writer’s Center website.




1.



this is reversal

clouds coming up through earth’s crust

all my orange drizzles around in dust

I fly over this, I needn’t touch down

Earth is melting

manna comes down

my wings are lifted by

heat from the ground

Lift off!

Earth Burnt and Fractured

Evaporated Anger

Unexpressed Blindness

earth’s breath

greeny pastures of ooze

trudging uphill I see my shadow and a whale

I’m near a synthetic ocean

one that’s flat and even dry

cured epoxy cement

fake lily sky

but here’s where I swim

and here’s where I’ll die

your piano carries me anywhere

you play

standing stones

scottish shore

volcanic mist

walk to the top edge

as above, so below

coolness rising

You and me

never the same

mountain ranges between us

ocean depths……storms

air that we breathe

the only media

that unites

I lived there so long the ocean was like a person to me.

A giant meatball rolling towards its destiny.





2.



East coast sunsets

are less brilliant

but the sand between my toes

feels more like home.

Scary golf course littered laced

and smoking with traps sandy

silken tofu nowhere is there a

flag or a hole to crawl into

Dark fog charcoal wall

surrounding me give me grass

but it wriggles this grass

maybe the rocks will protect me

marshmallow antlers and steamy pea soup

There’s a smiley

in the foam

red glee

misty canyon aerie wheat

volcanic atmosphere rock strewn beach

geyser rivulets

yves tanguy

shadows

cliff hanger

steam

heat

his daughter in a box, pushed out to sea

wash of creation

thrum

pure thin air

Moses parts a red and vanillas sea

A single, persistent surfer.

I’d made a mistake coming here.

bleed





___________________________________________________________________________________________

Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with her 25 Reasons I Write post. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include Mystery E.R., I Write Because, and PRACTICE – Door – 20min.

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IMG00580-20100721-1158.jpg

In The Rain Garden, BlackBerry Shots, Como Park, St. Paul, Minnesota, July 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.






sizzling hot palette
summer in Minnesota
resting on the wing






-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, July 24th, 2010

-related to post: haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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Black-Eyed Susan - 200/365

Black-Eyed Susan, St. Paul, Minnesota, July 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



ONE





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Many In One, St. Paul, Minnesota, July 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



MANY





Navigation

Navigation, St. Paul, Minnesota, July 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



NAVIGATION








If the Atlantic coast stretch, or the Pacific coast
stretch, he stretching with them north or south,
Spanning between them east and west, and touch-
ing whatever is between them,
Growths growing from him to offset the growth of
pine, cedar, hemlock, live-oak,
locust, chest-
nut, cypress, hickory, lime-tree, cotton-wood,
tulip-tree, cactus, tamarind, orange, magnolia,
persimmon,
Tangles as tangled in him as any cane-brake or
swamp,
He likening sides and peaks of mountains, forests
coated with transparent ice, and icicles hang-
ing from the boughs,
Off him pasturage sweet and natural as savannah,
upland, prairie,
Through him flights, songs, screams, answering
those of the wild-pigeon, high-hold, orchard-
oriole, coot, surf-duck, red-shouldered-hawk,
fish-hawk, white-ibis, indian-hen, cat-owl,
water-pheasant, qua-bird, pied-sheldrake,
mocking-bird, buzzard, condor, night-heron,
eagle;
His spirit surrounding his country’s spirit, unclosed
to good and evil,
Surrounding the essences of real things, old times
and present times


-from Leaves of Grass (1856), p185, excerpt from “8 — Poem of Many In One.” by Walt Whitman, from The Walt Whitman Archive


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I don’t have a favorite tree. Not one — many. When I attended the ritual gathering for the oldest tree in Minneapolis, the Northern Burr Oak, I realized that the relationships people have with trees are varied and complex. One man had fallen in love with his wife under the oak; another woman had gone there to find solace and healing when she learned she had cancer. Two poets read poems for the tree. An artist talked about creating sculptures from the branches. Trees are a life force. Like food, water, the air we breathe. I don’t know why we take them for granted, like they will always be there, always be replenished. Trees are our roots.

When I lived in the Northwest, trees were a constant source of tension between landowners, state government, the U.S. National Forest Service. How many trees to let private companies cut down, who would benefit. What about controlled burns that eat up trees, reduce them to cinders. Ponderosa pines, aspens, tamaracks. In the northwest corner of California, the southern tip of Oregon, live the biggest trees I’ve ever seen in my life. The Giant Redwoods. If we had not created federal and state parks, there would be no trees left. We tore down thousands of acres to make way for the railroad, to clear fields for agriculture.

The trees that mean the most to me? Last year, it was a tall skinny Georgia pine, the longleaf pine growing over the graves of my paternal grandparents. They were not part of my life when they were living. It is only since I’ve started researching memoir that I have come to know these kin, and reconnected to family I have not seen since I was 6 years old. In the South, we called family kin. I don’t know the origin of the word. I like to think it comes from kindred, like Kindred Spirits. My Aunt Annette told me that my granddaddy wanted to be buried under that pine tree. He was very specific about that. My mother wants her ashes scattered over Clarks Hill Lake. At least part of them. Again, very specific. Do I want to be scattered over mountain, ocean, forest, or dale?

I loved seeing the pine that Georgia O’Keeffe painted at the D. H. Lawrence Ranch, Kiowa. I’ve seen it three times, each visit standing under the canopy, or lying on a bench, staring straight up through the branches, dreaming of O’Keeffe. Is she in heaven? Ash mixed into her oils? The stroke of a brush. Could she have known that people would travel to that spot in New Mexico, just to stand under her tree, to walk where D.H. Lawrence and Dorothy Brett and Aldous Huxley and Frieda walked.

Oaks make a half circle around our yard. We are surrounded on one side by old growth trees. Who knows what they have seen: the building of neighborhood homes, the planting of gardens, restless children ice skating in the park across the street. Me, moving my belongings from a tiny apartment in Northeast Minneapolis to this hilly plot of land in Golden Valley. I love the oaks. But the most important tree on our land is the green ash in front of the deck that shades us from the sweltering sun. Last year, we were careful to watch for the possibility of an Emerald Ash Borer digging a home in her bark. We watered the ash, had her branches trimmed to keep her healthy. She seems less stressed this year, bushy and green.

In our front yard in Pennsylvania, where my mother still lives, there is a Royal Red Maple that my step-dad planted when we first moved into the house in 1966. There is an old color photograph of my brother as a child, taking out the garbage — that tree is barely at the top of his head. Now it’s a giant with massive roots which tear at the pavement that makes up the hilly drive where I shoveled snow as a child. Behind the house are acres of forest where we rode our mini-bikes in the Summer, went sledding in the Winter, took long walks in the Fall. They found an endangered species there a few years ago and were prohibited from developing the lots. Relief. Spared from the dozer.

For me, New Mexico is the Cottonwood, Montana the Ponderosa, Oregon the Redwoods, Minnesota the Red and White Pines, the South those skinny little Georgia Pines, the longleafs, where I built tree forts and dug caves to keep cool in the Summer. For all my digging, I don’t have a clue. I only know I feel a kindred spirit to the trees. Shade, oxygen, bark for medicine, needles for walls, pecans for good eating, I can’t imagine life without trees.


-Related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC — TREES

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I’ve always noticed the trees where we’ve lived. Growing up on Neat Lane, we had out front a big sycamore that Dad kept trimmed into a tidy globe of leaves. In my memory, there is a sidewalk under the tree where the itch bombs fall and gather. We pick them up and for fun explode them, throw them with all our might onto the sidewalk.

Except, I’ve been back to Neat Lane several times as an adult, and there is no sidewalk. I think there’s a curb, but beyond the curb it is up to each family to landscape their yard. Some people — like Dad — kept their yards worthy of the street’s name. Others (and again, in my faulty memory I see a washing machine and old love seat on the front porch of the neighbors across the street) did not.

It is the trees that attracted me to the house where we live now. Someone, and I imagine it to be a her, lovingly picked out the many trees and placed them all around the house, knowing that one day they would grow huge and tall and would shade the place, keeping it cool from the summer heat.

There are Ponderosas and an ornamental plum that blazes a deep red you can see from the road. There are poplars, one is now diseased on one side, that grow high without becoming wide. The leaves look like the cottonwood except silvery on one side, and in hindsight I realize the poplar reminds me more of an aspen than a cottonwood, although I believe all three are from the same family.

In our old house there was a locust tree that drew me in, outside the kitchen window. How many times did I sit on the cozy warm tiles in that house and write, pausing to stare out at the small deep green leaves of the locust?

Some trees are invasive, I’m thinking now of the elms that Jim got permission from our neighbors to cut down. The elms were on the fence line, Chinese elms, of the variety a former mayor long ago imported to Albuquerque thinking they would grow well in the arid landscape. When Jim felled those elms (and I like using the word “felled” although it seems unnatural to my language) I mourned them. I looked at them as living things, yes invasive, but they provided shade and privacy. Jim saw them as water mongers, non-native species, and I suppose he imagined a different kind of tree, one better for the water table, in their place.

Dad always disliked certain trees. For a long time he and Mom complained about the large Russian olive out front next door. It dropped tiny leaves and spongy fake olives, causing Dad much consternation. A tree is a tree, I would think. Why in the world, how in the world could they dislike a tree?

Russian olives are in fact bad for the valley and come up like little weeds everywhere. Jim has gotten rid of quite a few, but I look at them and think of the old olive trees I saw once in Jerusalem, in Gethsemane’s Garden, and I see how the trees get gnarly and thick, and each layer must have seen a different scene. If you cut back the bark, you’d find a layer that saw Jesus himself.

That’s what I think of when I think of the Russian olive. Or I think of a family photo I remember that hung in the hallway of Jim’s parents’ house. I would stare at that photo when I first went there to visit with Jim. The trunk grew sideways instead of up, and it eventually did grow up, but the sideways portion made a natural bench on which the family sat or leaned. It was a photo of them long ago, when everyone was young and Jim’s parents were at their most vibrant. Something about that photo appealed to me, like I could see marrying into a family that sits around a tree.

I think of trees like people, and I think about how we want to be like trees. Grounded and firm, with strong roots going deep into the land. Sometimes when I water a tree, I think about how the root system underneath is probably as long and wide as the portion of the tree that grows above the ground. Like a mirror image.

If people are like trees, that means that beneath us we have our mirror images, supporting us as we walk, reflecting back to us whatever it is in the core of our earth.

I couldn’t imagine living in a place without trees, and yet what I love about New Mexico is that the tree is sacred. It is not abundant, and when we see it we seek it out for shade. If I had a patron tree, like a patron saint, it would be the cottonwood. Dark, rough bark that protects the soft wood inside. And deep roots. A sign always when you see it that water is nearby.



-Related to Topic post WRITING TOPIC — TREES

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Pigeon Coops at Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, NM
Homing In, Pigeon Coops at Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, NM, June 28, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.
 


When Jim and I started dating he wanted to take me to two places. One was the cabin his grandparents built in the 1940s, in the Pecos Mountains. The other place was the Rio Grande Pyramid in Southwestern Colorado — at 13,821 feet above sea level, source waters of the Rio Grande.

Within our first two months together, we went to both. They gave me a sense of who Jim is in his core — wilderness, mountains and valleys, creeks and rivers, building things by hand.



      Little homes  Little homes  Little homes  Little homes  Little homes



This past weekend in Taos, then, it is no surprise that I find myself walking with my daughters one morning up the long lane to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.

“Where are we going, Mom?” they ask.

“You’ll see.”

We reach the uneven flagstone patio in front of the house. Dee says she loves the roughness of the stones. She spies a big rock wheel laid on its side into the walkway and stands in its center, surveying all around her.

“Papa Leo helped lay these stones,” I tell her.

“He did?!” Her eyes are wide. 

My father worked one summer at this place. Mabel herself was gone, but an English author hired Dad to help put in the flagstone. Dad was 16 or 17 years old, scrawny and not a good laborer. He’s told me the author, whose name he thought to be Henry James or James Henry, was not pleased with his work. (I need to do more research on who this writer might have been. Author Henry James died just about the time Mabel Dodge arrived in Taos, so it couldn’t have been him.)

The next morning I return to Mabel Dodge Luhan House with the girls and Jim in tow. I lead them into the front door, show them the living room and dining room, point out the magical door leading to the library. It’s shaped liked a canoe that’s been sawed in half, the tip at the top. Jim and I each stoop to go through the doorway. Dee and Em stand beneath it, looking up at the strange arch. The door is made just for them.



Jumping Jack Wagon
Jumping Jack Wagon, Jumping Jack pansies at Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, NM, June 28, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



Homing in. We hold our homes in our hearts. I live in the Rio Grande Valley, next to the cottonwoods and the muddy river. This will always be more than just a place to live.

Parts of Northern New Mexico — Taos, Morada Lane and Mabel’s house, Costilla, Cimarron, maybe even the dying and not very attractive town of Raton — these are homes I will always hold inside me.

What places do you call home?



-related to posts Sitting In Solidarity, Mabel’s Dining Room, and WRITING TOPIC – A PLACE TO STAND.

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DRAGONFLY BACKDROP AUTO

Dragonfly Wings, BlackBerry Shots, Golden Valley, Minnesota, July 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I’ve seen a dragonfly every day since I took this BlackBerry photograph on July 2nd. It landed atop a daylily in the garden on a sweltering afternoon. Earlier that day, I saw two dragonflies mating on the wing, the first time I had spotted the insect all year. Dragonflies, butterflies and fireflies — highlights of Summer. We don’t see the volume of fireflies here in Minnesota that I used to see growing up in the Deep South and in Pennsylvania. So I look to the Dragons for inspiration. If I see enough of them, I start to pay attention.

According to the Minnesota DNR site, dragonflies are prehistoric insects that date back to the dinosaur:


Dragonflies and their close relatives called damselflies are ancient insects and prehistoric reminders of the age of the dinosaurs. Enormous dragonflies with a wingspread up to 30 inches across were part of the Paleozoic landscape about 300 million years ago. The largest insect ever known was a dragonfly called Meganeura monyi. It had a wingspread of 30 inches and a body 18 inches long. It lived until about 250 million years ago and then became extinct.


The last time I wrote about Dragonfly was in May of 2007. The second Canon Powershot photograph on Shadow Of A Dragonfly is one of my favorites, with the recent BlackBerry Dragonfly photo closing in for the tie. There is just something about Dragonflies. I pulled out the Medicine Cards tonight and this is what I read:


Dragonfly medicine is of the dreamtime and the illusionary facade we accept as physical reality. The iridescence of Dragonfly’s wings reminds us of colors not found in our everyday experience. Dragonfly’s shifting of color, energy, form, and movement explodes into the mind of the observer, bringing vague memories of a time or place where magic reigned. Some legends say that Dragonfly was once Dragon, and that Dragon had scales like Dragonfly’s wings.

Dragonfly is the essence of the winds of change, the messages of wisdom and enlightenment, and the communications from the elemental world. This elemental world is made up of the spirits of plants, and the elements Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. On one level, you may need to give thanks to the food you eat for sustaining your body. On a psychological level, it may be time to break down the illusions you have held that restrict your actions or ideas.

Dragonfly medicine always beckons you to seek out the parts of your habits which you need to change. Have you tended to the changes you have wanted to make in your life? If you feel the need for change, call on Dragonfly to guide you through the mists of illusion to the pathway of transformation. See how you can apply the art of illusion to your present question or situation, and remember that things are never completely as they seem.

–excerpt from the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams & David Carson, published 1988, Bear & Company, Sante Fe, New Mexico


There are over 5000 species of dragonflies and damselflies. Not only do they eat mosquitoes and fly between 19 to 38 m.p.h., they are magic. When we were at a Fourth of July gathering and ritual healing for the Gulf of Mexico, a friend found a Dragonfly wing in her garden. When she heard about my encounters with Dragonfly, she handed the veined, translucent wing to me. I tucked it inside the cover of my writing notebook. The things I carry. Dragonfly secrets. Written in the wind.


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

-related to posts: What Is Your Totem Animal? and WRITING TOPIC – INSECTS & SPIDERS & BUGS, OH MY! (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen ybonesy’s photograph of a Jerusalem Cricket in the Rio Grande Valley. Check out Child of the Earth and Me at the Insects & Spiders & Bugs Writing Topic link!)

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Northern Burr Oak - 333 Years Old - 192/365, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Northern Burr Oak – 333 Years Old – 192/365, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


On Sunday I joined over 100 people in Riverside Park near the Franklin Avenue Bridge to pay tribute to the oldest known tree in Minneapolis. It is estimated that the Northern Burr Oak dates back to 1677. In the wake of the oak’s recent death, Minneapolis Parks and Recreation will be cutting it down in the Fall. We listened to sculptors, poets, neighborhood kids, and Cancer survivors who found solace in being near this tree. It felt to me like I was standing on hallowed ground. The tree has outlived all the humans who have ever set foot here. Imagine what she has seen.

In this photograph from 1941, the ancient Northern Burr Oak seems healthy and happy, her giant crown holding court over the Mississippi River Gorge.  Here is an excerpt from documentation at the site of the gathering:


IMG00354-20100711-1942.jpgTHE ANCIENT OAK TREE  — Perhaps the oldest living thing in Minneapolis is the huge Northern Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa var. olivaeformia) that graces the west bank of the Mississippi in Riverside Park, about two blocks above the Franklin Avenue bridge, an enduring sentinel at the point where River Road West descends down into a most picturesque stretch of river gorge. Estimated by various botanists to be all the way from 150 to 700 years old, this valiant aborigine stands 58 feet tall, with a branch spread of 66 feet and a trunk girth of 14 feet at a point two feet above the ground. Symmetrically beautiful, this “first citizen” of Minneapolis, surviving the storms, drought, and fires that during the years have scourged the area of others of its kind, still remains a picture of physical strength and majestic beauty. Many are those who periodically come to Franklin Terrace to admire this grand old tree and to marvel at its great antiquity. In his little book, Riverside Reveries, published in 1928, Dr. Otto F. Schussler paints a beautiful word picture of this beloved old tree that “with a quiet dignity unsurpassed, and a perseverance unfaltering through the years continued to grow in size, in strength and ever-increasing beauty.”

-from the book Minneapolis Park System, 1941, by Theodore Wirth


IMG00318-20100711-1831.jpg

As to the fate of the tree, opinions were mixed. Should it be cut down and turned into sculptures or pins? Should it remain as it stands, a living monument to all it has seen? Should the tree be felled and replaced with sapling Burr Oaks? What is the best way to honor the life and death of an ancient tree? Let it stand or let it fall.

After I returned home, I started to think about all the posts ybonesy and I have done about trees over the years. There is the giant cottonwood in the courtyard of the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, and the Lawrence Tree that Georgia O’Keeffe painted just outside of Taos, New Mexico. ybonesy has written about the cottonwood in her backyard and the carving of the Virgen de Guadalupe in a cottonwood in Albuquerque. She also wrote a piece about the art of Patrick Dougherty who uses the limbs, trunks, and canopies of trees to build his installations.

One year on my travels to Georgia, I visited a ginkgo in Augusta that was supposedly planted in 1791 for the visit of George Washington. And last year, for the first time, I stood under the giant pine where my paternal grandmother is buried. Our guest Linda Weissinger Lupowitz writes about New Mexico cottonwoods in What’s Happened To The Corrales Bosque? And in Fourteen Dozen Roses: The World As The Jungle It Is, Erin Robertson shares her poetry and explains how her tattoo of a ginkgo leaf makes her feel closer to her grandfather.

What do trees mean to you? Is there an oak you visit that brings you peace? Do you like to write under a grove of Ponderosa pines, sketch the bark of the ash in your front yard, run your fingers across the groove of a cottonwood’s skin. Have you lost a tree that was important to you. Are there trees that make you feel closer to home. Get out a fast writing pen and spiral notebook and get started on a Writing Practice My Favorite Tree. Ten minutes, Go!

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Our guide was named Anh. Like Anne, but a long a. Ah. Ah-n. She had the look of a backpacker. At first. When I took in the rucksack and light jacket, I thought maybe she was a trekker who’d landed her dream job. Tour guide on a medium-sized wooden boat, fits about 20 passengers, floating up and down the Mekong Delta.

But first impressions are deceiving. Anh was from Hanoi originally, now living in Can Tho. She wore thick flesh-colored socks with sandals. A face mask and a traditional Vietnamese hat to keep the sun off her skin. In Vietnam, the women want to remain as fair-skinned as possible. Stark contrast to the Norwegians who shared the boat with us. The two women in that group tied silk scarves over their bathing suits and sat in the hot sun until the silk turned dark with sweat and their skin a sort of freckled orange-brown.

My friend Marcia says that eventually, given enough time, we will all evolve to look like one another. Vietnamese women will get lighter; fair-skinned Norwegians will turn a crispy brown. We’ll all go after the universal beauty ideal. Add a KFC on every corner of every city in the world and Wham-o!, we’re all the same.

Until then, I will enjoy our differences. And prawns with attached heads, which we had for lunch. And cuttle fish, passion fruit, rice. Meals on the Bassac II are gourmet. How it turned out to be just me and the girls plus a Norwegian family of four—I don’t understand. This is the best boat ever, the best crew. The captain is the same one who steered the boat the last time I was on it, and both times he masterfully navigated our vessel through narrow passages where barges carrying silt dredged from the bottom of the river came within a foot of boats that are floating fish farms. And us.

As we gawked at other people’s lives, all while eating steak and fish for lunch or sipping Tiger beer, I imagined we were a nuisance on this commercial waterway. The Vietnamese float by with all their worldly possessions contained in boats only slightly larger than canoes. And yet, they are so tolerant, even nice to us as we float by in all our laid-back luxury.

The crew of Bassac II recognized me when I boarded, and I reminded them that I said I’d return and bring my girls next time. Dee was enamored by the boat immediately, the cool of the cabin and its smell of hibiscus and lemongrass. She wandered around the boat as if under a spell, that slow walk from this end of the deck to that one, all the while tracing her hand along the deep brown wooden railings. The place suited her internal clock, slow and content to not do much.

Em explored every corner of the boat she had access to, bouncing a few minutes around the upper deck, then a few more on the deck below. “Mom, I’m going to check out the front of the boat,” she informed before shooting off again. She waited impatiently for hours, unable to just rest, before we finally boarded the canoe and made our way to a village along one of the canals.

Not being from Can Tho, Anh didn’t know the off-the-beaten-path spots where you could find a temple that wasn’t officially on the tour. Nor did she have the same sense of adventure that prompted our last tour guide to stop in at a Cao Dai temple while making our way back to the boat from the village.

But that was fine. Anh was calm and friendly, and she loved the girls. She spent a generous amount of time in the floating market, took us to a cottage factory that produced soy sauce and salt, and let us sit for almost an hour eating exotic fruits while she showed the girls how to make jewelry and animals out of palm leaves.

When I asked her if she liked her job, she smiled, shrugged her shoulders, and then looked out in the distance. “I miss my children,” she said, “when I come overnight for the tours.” Believe me, I wanted to say, I can relate. Instead I looked over at my own girls and said, “Bring them with you one day, Anh—they’ll never forget it.”

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