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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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Melting, Awash, Brooklyn Park,
Minnesota, March 2010, photo
© 2010 by QuoinMonkey.
All rights reserved.






frozen in your tracks —
blue ice on black macadam
melting into Spring






-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, March 6th, 2010

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

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halong bay (one)

halong bay (one), view from a grotto, August 2009, photos
in collection © 2009-2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




Once upon a time, soon after the Việt people established their country, invaders came. The Jade Emperor sent Mother Dragon and her Child Dragons down to earth to help the Việt people fight against their enemy. Right at the time invaders’ boats were rushing to the shore, the dragons landed down on earth. The dragons immediately sent out from their mouths a lot of pearls, which then turned into thousands of stone islands emerging in the sea like great walls challenging the invaders’ boats. The fast boats couldn’t manage to stop and crashed into the islands and into each other and broke into pieces.

After the victory, Mother Dragon and Child Dragons believed this country to be so beautiful that they didn’t return Heaven but stayed on earth at the place where the battle had occurred. The location Mother Dragon landed is now called Hạ Long Bay and where Child Dragons descended is now Bái Tử Long. The dragons’ tails waving the water created Long Vĩ (present Trà Cổ peninsula) and formed a fine sand beach over ten kilometers long.

~Legend of Ha Long Bay, adapted from Origin Vietnam website



halong bay (three)


girls in boat (halong bay)


village (halong bay)


halong bay (four)


halong  bay (two)


village by the rocks (halong bay)


boat house (halong bay)





Every time I come to Vietnam, I try to see a part of the country that I don’t know. Last trip, August 2009, I went north to World Heritage Site Ha Long Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin. The photos speak for themselves.

Tomorrow, Friday, I’ll fly to the Central Highlands, to the ancient citadel of Hue. (I have been to Central Vietnam before, to the city of Da Nang and the ancient village of Hoi An.)

Sometimes I wonder, How did I get so lucky as to come to know this beautiful country and its compassionate people?

I’m curious. Do you believe in luck? Do you ever marvel at your good fortune? Do you curse bad luck? Let me know if you get a chance.

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Nightshade Of Bridge Blue, BlackBerry Shots, I-35 Bridge, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
 


loss runs river deep
vertebrae span the dark sky
nightshade of bridge blue
crossing when we get to it
for time will not let us choose








Berth Of The Nightowl II, Spine Of I-35 Bridge At Night, The Weight (Vertebrae), BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-Related to posts:  WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE — Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15 min (by QuoinMonkey), Berth Of The Nightowl haiku, Memorial — Day & Night, haiku 2 (one-a-day), 40 Days, 8 Flags, & 1 Mennonite Choir

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Continuity, BlackBerry Shots, pool near Clarks Hill Lake, Georgia, October 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.






streaks of Southern light
splash across concrete pool deck
sink to the bottom


wading through memoir
old gravestones crack and crumble
worn secrets revealed


John Cheever lives on
fine art of the short story
distant memories


pool to pool to pool
we have all been The Swimmer
fighting for our lives






When I travel to Georgia with Mom, we stay at my Uncle Bill’s place on Clarks Hill Lake. Mom likes the wicker room on the first floor with a view of the lake and grounds. This year I stayed in the only upstairs bedroom in the wing of the house dedicated to recreation, exercise, and watching movies. In the past, I thought it a little strange to be the only person sleeping on the whole second floor. But this year, I grew to love the room. It’s quiet. No widescreen TV on the wall, no noise. And it looks out over a sea of Georgia pines on the shore of Clarks Hill Lake.

The dividing line between Georgia and South Carolina runs right through Clarks Hill Lake. I stay on the Georgia side with my uncle; my paternal aunts, Annette and Brenda, live not far from my uncle on the South Carolina side. I reconnected with my blood father’s sisters a few years ago after nearly 50 years. They had not seen me or my mother since I was 2 years old. Small world.

One morning I awoke and saw these streaks of light pulsing through the pool below me. It struck me how they hit the concrete first, then jumped into the water and immediately sank to the bottom. One thing I like about outdoor pools is the way the sunlight plays through the water during the day. Another thing about swimming — you get really good at holding your breath.

My grandfather had a pool when I was growing up. It wasn’t far from the bomb shelter he built outside his new home; it was the 1950’s. Among the things I remember clearly are the few sultry evenings when we swam at night. I also associate pools with John Cheever’s short story, The Swimmer. Ever since Natalie Goldberg had us read it for one of her Taos workshops, I’ve never forgotten it. Neither has writer Michael Chabon. In Salon, he calls The Swimmer “a masterpiece of mystery, language and sorrow.”

Who is your favorite short story writer? Have you ever written or published a short story? What do you associate with swimming pools? Exercise, relaxation, water polo, relief from the heat, family fun? Do a Writing Practice on Swimming Pools….10 Minutes, Go!


Lifeline, Lightbending (3), BlackBerry Shots
of pool near Clarks Hill Lake, Georgia, October
2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All
rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, November 14th, 2009, with gratitude to Natalie for all the writers she has introduced us to and made us read in spite of our resistance!

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day), PRACTICE — Holding My Breath – 10min, The Vitality Of Place — Preserving The Legacy Of “Home”

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Yellow, somewhere over Minneapolis / St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



gassing up the plane
yellow sun on horizon
I’m running on fumes

restless night owl
wings clipped over the Midwest
sleeping in mid-air

voicemail remains full
apologies to callers
delayed housekeeping



wings bobbing in sun
to avoid motion sickness
touch wrist pressure points

Northwest bites the dust
D-E-L-T-A imprint on cookie
“Skymiles with Biscoff”

ankles and joints swell
somewhere over Ohio
depressurizing

smoldering remnants
of the way it used to be
cause a lot of pain



nothing can contain
my rattling restless spirit
banging in the night

Liz rises at 5
and defrags my Toshiba
gift from the heavens

BWI
destination Baltimore
home of Ace of Cakes

high altitude yawns
saturate before using
low oxygen lungs



overweight luggage
travels with Baggage Angels
checks and balances

strange things worry me
laundry, shoes, and broken glass
where is my Space pen?

clouds dance on wing tips
full of milk and sky cookies —
I’m hungry to write


opening the door
family collectibles
hide in my closet

in for a landing
sun shines over Baltimore
gloomy clouds below


______________________

Note: All is well on my travels. Wrote these haiku on the plane yesterday morning. So much has happened since I arrived in Pennsylvania. Feels like I’ve been gone a week. My sister made sliced pork with peach glaze, mashed potatoes, green beans, and Southern banana pudding. My mother made chili, grits, and took me shopping for Fall outfits. My brother and Liz helped me out with a small glitch in the BlackBerry modem. All fixed now.

Tomorrow morning we start the 10-12 hour drive down to Georgia. Will try to check in as we roll over the Mason-Dixon line. We will travel through quite a few states before hitting the Savannah River. Will try to keep in touch. Writing and photography seem like the right things to be doing. Grateful for the opportunity. More as I know it. Time, time, time, time, time.

And the New Moon. New beginnings. Some call October’s Full Moon the Blood Moon. Prepare for the cold dark months ahead. Honor your ancestors. Let go of what is unnecessary. The veil between the worlds is thin.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, October 18th, 2009

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lifeline – the rio grande , C-41 print film, close up of the Rio
Grande River from the Gorge Bridge, outside Taos, New
Mexico, January 2003, photo © 2003-2009 by QuoinMonkey.
All rights reserved.



rivers pour like words–
geological fault line
the length of my heart


gully, gulch, or wash?
the mighty Rio Grande
started as a rift


who can heal the gap?
lost key dangles from the bridge
steady leap of faith











flying – the rio grande (with lens flare), C-41 print film, longshot of the Rio Grande River from the Gorge Bridge, outside Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, photo © 2003-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.





-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, September 19th, 2009

-haiku inspired by a Flickr comment on the approach

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day), Are You River, Desert, Mountains, Ocean, Lake, City, Or None Of The Above?

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I’m at Arches National Park near the town of Moab, Utah. I don’t know if I’m looking at an arroyo or a wash. Is it both? We set up camp in a low-lying area surrounded by high boulders and pointy crops of red rock. The elevation reaches over 5500 feet.

I’m camping in the desert with photographers from RIT. They are strangers to me until this trip. I’m an MCAD student and see a flyer on the bulletin board for a summer exchange program. I make a plan for one man to swing by Minneapolis on his way to Albuquerque and pick me up. I meet him in a small town in Wisconsin, ride with him along the southern route through Iowa and Texas. We stop to chat with a friendly woman at an east Texas gas station that I would love to interview.

No time. We have to keep driving.

We visit and photograph a hot springs north of Jemez Springs, New Mexico — Spence Hot Springs. It’s a short hike across a foot log over the Jemez River, and up a wooded hill. Before that, I walked around Albuquerque and bought a pair of binoculars in a camera store. We stayed the first night in an old travel motel with a single squat room. Green linoleum floors, a refrigerator, a small stove. It smelled musty like decades of old sweat.

I don’t know what possessed me to sign up for the month trip. It was a time when I took more risks. I didn’t end up being friends with any of the RIT photographers. But the photographs – I’ll never forget pitching my borrowed Eureka! tent right on a ledge over Lake Powell. It wasn’t a smart move. I woke up in the middle of the night to tent stakes being ripped out of the ground by gale force canyon winds. Frightened, I quickly stirred, circled the green flaps and tried to pound the stakes back into the hard earth.

It was no use. I dragged my tent, with everything inside, further back into the grassy area. I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I went out to the edge of what used to be Glen Canyon (until they flooded her to make the lake) and took black and white photographs of the full moon. It was a lonely feeling. Yet the stars were so bright. The way they can only shine in New Mexico or Montana.

Arches Park. The wash. The arroyo. I’m back in Arches. Not long after we pitched our tents in the campsite, a thunderstorm approached. I was starting to get used to the afternoon rains, 108 degree daytime temperatures that dipped to freezing at dark, fierce lightening that cracked across the late night skies. But this storm was different.

The torrential rain hit suddenly and fast, pelting our sun burnt faces and skin. There were about 12 of us in various camping positions around the site. A flash flood rushed headlong down the cracks and gullies between outcropped rocks, sweeping into our campsite.

No time to think. I was taking a nap when my tent floor started filling with water. Unzipppppped the fly and poked my head out to chaos. Everyone was scrambling to get their camera equipment, clothes, and sleeping bags up off the ground and into the cars. Ankle deep water, rising to the knees. Then it was over.

The fire burned all night, flames licking sleeping bags, shirts, and cargo shorts perched on sticks in a circle around the heat. Eventually, we dried out. But I’ll never forget how quickly the arroyo filled with hot-blooded summer rains, scaring the living daylights out of me. A valuable lesson learned about the arroyo seco and the wash – dry to wet in the blink of an eye. If you are living on the land, beware.


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, September 18th, 2009

-Note: lost track of time when doing this practice. It ended somewhere between 15 -20 minutes, probably closer to 20.

-related to Writing Topic post: Standing Your Ground — Arroyo, Gulch, Gully & Wash

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Not A Velociraptor, Lake Creature spotted in Lake Harriet, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2009, by QuoinMonkey. All photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey and SkyWire7. All rights reserved.

 
 
Liz and I set out on my birthday to geocache around the Minneapolis chain of lakes. One of the joys of caching is the chance to learn about local history that might otherwise be swallowed by day-to-day routines. We dropped off two Travel Bugs and scooped up three caches that evening. Along the way, we headed over to the edge of Lake Harriet to listen to a full orchestra perform at the band shell and waved to passengers on the retro streetcar rumbling along tracks that stretched all the way from Minneapolis to Lake Harriet in the 1880s.

Perched high on glacial debris, Lake Harriet was formed when continental glaciers spread over Minnesota during the Great Ice Ages. Starting with the Mississippi River channel at the Plymouth Avenue Bridge, a preglacial valley runs almost directly south beneath Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet to the Minnesota River at Bloomington. Lake Harriet lies 250 feet over this ancient valley filled by glacial deposits, and is nestled between hills that piled up when the ice front paused in its final retreat about 10,000 years ago.

At dusk, we were making our way home when Liz spotted a shadow skimming the lake surface with a shape much like Dino, the Flintstones’ pet dinosaur, or a distant relative of the Loch Ness monster. Quickly pulling over to the side of the road, we scooted down the hillside Indiana Jones style, and landed right smack dab next to the Minneapolis Lake Creature. Had it risen from the depths of a preglacial valley?

 

Several fishermen paddled behind the creature oblivious to any danger; we decided it was safe to approach. The air smelled like honey, the night quiet and breezy — no mosquitoes. The sun fell behind the oaks, ash, and elm. A couple on a tandem bike stopped to photograph the 13-foot creature. Kids could not resist leaning over the edge of the rails to get a closer look. “I wonder if it’ll move,” one boy said. “Yeah, we wouldn’t be standing here for long!” his sister replied.

 

 

Everyone was drawn to the mystery — the power of public art.

 

 

 

After Lake Creature’s mysterious appearance in Lake Harriet on July 8th, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation came forward on July 16th to formally announce that it was the sponsor of a special art project in the parks with its first sculpture being the collaboration with New York City artist Cameron Gainer who now resides in Minneapolis. According to Cecily Hines, President of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation:

 

The Minneapolis Parks Foundation and artist Cameron Gainer came together because of our shared passion for the arts and belief that public works of art can truly enrich a community and the lives of its residents. We are proud to bring that passion and belief to life with Gainer’s _[ and invite people to share in her beauty while enjoying the Minneapolis parks with family and friends.

Gainer’s work includes film, video, sculpture, and performance art and explores human perception and the notion of “cinema inside out” when you encounter something in an environment and are not exactly sure what you are looking at. Symbolically titled _[, Lake Creature is based on the iconic, “Surgeon’s Photo” of 1934 that was presented as evidence of the existence of Scotland’s Loch Ness monster. Though later proven to be a hoax, the photograph remains a universal representation of the mystical lake creature.

In support of the Arts, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation has also established a new Public Arts Fund to support future art projects in Minneapolis parks. The Foundation believes that public art is important, especially in tough times, and can make a difference in a community’s quality of life. Public art is not only free, it’s accessible and:
 

Φ  inspires imagination
Φ  can be enjoyed by all age groups
Φ  helps foster a sense of community and mutual enjoyment
Φ  accesses audiences that may not be going to art museums
Φ  allows people to encounter art in their environment which creates an unexpected “moment of access”
Φ creates opportunities to reach audiences not expecting to see art which increases appreciation for the Arts

 
  -from the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, Public Art In The Parks, Lake Creature

 

Lake Creature At Sunset, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2009, by SkyWire7. All photos © 2009 by SkyWire7 and QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
The Lake Creature project leads me to think of Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk, another public art project collaboration between Saint Paul Public Works and the City of Saint Paul. These projects are living reminders of how the Arts matter and I’m grateful to all the people and organizations that make them possible.

_[ has been seen in New York City, the Salt Marsh Nature Preserve in Brooklyn, and Key West, Florida and is making plans to explore another Minneapolis lake sometime this summer. Keep your eyes peeled on a lake near you.

There is also a storytelling contest to name the Lake Creature and create the mythology surrounding her life. What nickname would you give to the Lake Creature? You can enter the contest and tell your story at Nickname the Lake Creature.

 
-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

-related to posts: State Of The Arts (haiku for Kuan-yin), Wet Cement (It Only Takes A Second), A Little Less War

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Cotton pickin’ cottonwood, detail of the cotton produced by
the female cottonwood out near our back patio, photos ©
2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.
 
 
 
 
…or is it prolific?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I’m a giant cottonwood, tall and stout
I make lots of cotton if there is no drought
When I get a bloomin’ then I shout
Just watch my cotton blow all about

 
 
 
 
Whatever the case may be, this particular Rio Grande cottonwood produces a heck of lot of cotton. The tree is female. You can tell by the seeds she produces in early spring, which by late spring dry and split open, revealing tufts of cotton. Breezes pick up the cotton, carrying it for miles.

Yesterday, almost eight weeks after this tree starting shedding cotton everywhere, I drove slowly on my way from work on the look-out for other cottonwoods that still had giant blobs of cotton yet to shed. I didn’t find a one. Within about a mile from home, I noticed the small white cottony seeds, floating like snowflakes past my car. Is that from our cottonwood? I wondered.
 
For two months, we’ve raked cotton out of flowerbeds, picked it out of potted geraniums and roses, and scooped it out of our pond. Each time after we clean up, everything turns white again. We have never seen a tree produce this much cotton. Ever. And we’ve lived among Rio Grande Cottonwoods almost all our lives.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Last night, as has been the case many nights, this female cottonwood is the topic of our conversation. Jim and I gripe about the fact that there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. It is almost July and cotton is still dropping in clumps on the patio and in the pond. Dee, listening to us, interjects.

“My science teacher said the Cottonwood will become extinct in my lifetime.”

Jim and I stop complaining and look at one another. “Well, that may be,” Jim sadly concurs.

The Rio Grande Cottonwood is a flood-plain tree that reproduces by seeding. Described this way by Southwest journalist Jay W. Sharp, Once free, a seed, with a viable life of no more than a few days to a few weeks, begins a desperate, and usually a hopeless, race for survival. It must land on moist alluvial soil and swiftly extend roots toward subsurface water. If the soil dries too quickly, the seedling dies. Given sufficient moisture, however, the seedling may put down roots three- to five-feet deep in the course of a summer. If it survives trampling, fire, flood and animal feeding, it will become a fast-growing tree, always heavily dependent on a reliable water supply.

But because of Rio Grande water management — dams and channels that hold back spring floods — and overgrazing and population growth, which reduce the water table, the tree is in peril.

As is often the case, a child’s innocent statement snaps us out of our disgruntled state. Instead of focusing on the work it’s taken to keep up with this one female tree, we should be sitting back and admiring her abundance. Surely a handful of her many, many seeds will make it to wet soil somewhere out there and go on to perpetuate that most characteristic feature of this Rio Grande Valley — the cottonwood.
 
 
 

Rio Grande Cottonwood Facts

 

  • Cottonwood trees are dioecious, meaning they have male and female flowers on separate trees. The female tree produces cotton, and the male tree (cotton-less) produces pollen.
  • The Cottonwood is a member of the Willow family and the poplar genus. The Rio Grande Cottonwood (populus deltoides) is a fast-growing tree; it is a variety of the Eastern Cottonwood, which is the fastest growing tree in North America.
  • The Rio Grande Cottonwood was often a welcome sight to travelers in the desert because it signaled the presence of water nearby.
  • These trees typically reach the height of 50-60 feet, although some of the grand old trees in the bosque (forest) are 90 feet tall, with trunks five feet in diameter.
  • Young cottonwoods take years to mature and flower, which is why some female cottonwoods can suddenly start producing cotton after years of no cotton production.
  • Some municipalities have ordinances against female cottonwoods, as the windborne cotton is viewed as a public nuisance.
  • The Southwest’s riparian forests — woodlands along banks of streams or rivers (what we call the bosque) —are now among the most threatened woodlands of North America.
  • Local carvers have traditionally used roots from the cottonwood that have been undercut and swept downriver to make their spiritual art (Pueblo Indians make kachina dolls and Hispanic santeros make bultos). As cottonwoods vanish, the carvers are forced to buy their wood.
  • In many communities along the Rio Grande, there is now an effort to plant and repopulate the cottonwood to ensure its survival, as it is part of our history and our culture. Time will tell whether these actions succeed.




The Rio Grande Cottonwood’s disappearance from the banks of Southwestern streams and rivers can now be regarded as a metaphor for our relentless abuse of the environment of the desert Southwest.

~Jay W. Sharp



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Vietnam Purple, blooming flower in the jungle of south Vietnam, May
2009, photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
We leave on two buses for a hydroelectric plant in south Vietnam, near the forest where later in the day we will tend trees. I wear jeans, a blue t-shirt like everyone else, and a black baseball cap. The bus I am riding is half-full. It winds through narrow roads, and after an hour I start feeling carsick and have to sit up tall so I can see over the high-backed seats out the window.

My company has a strong tradition of volunteerism. In the past year I joined work colleagues from my department in painting the interior of a Peanut Butter & Jelly preschool for low-income kids in the town of Bernalillo and preparing care packages for families supported by Roadrunner Food Bank. On my own I have over the years volunteered in my daughters’ classrooms and in the process earned the schools matching cash grants. But I have never volunteered outside my greater community, much less outside my country.
 
The area we are heading to now was hard hit during the Vietnam War. Vegetation was and continues to be contaminated by Agent Orange. My Vietnamese colleagues earlier in the year planted a type of tree known for its ability to grow quickly. As they grow, the trees pull toxins out of the soil. After 20 years the trees are cut down, taking the toxins with them.

But the trees are planted in the jungle, where vines can choke the saplings. Our job is to tend to the trees, clearing away vines and other invasive plants with hoes, allowing the trees to flourish.

But first we stop at one of the largest hydroelectricity plants in the southern part of the country. We get a tour of the facility and meet up with students from a local high school who will join us for lunch and then for the tree tending in the afternoon.
I’m not one for being fascinated by things like hydroelectricity, not to mention the tour is conducted in Vietnamese, but I honestly enjoy seeing the place. It is located in the lush countryside, about two hours from Saigon, with rivers and a reservoir created by the dam. Especially interesting are black-and-white photos from when the plant was built.
 
 
 
 
 

∞   ∞   ∞

 
 
 
 
         

         

Hydroelectric Plant (one through four), old black-and-white photos of the building
of the plant in south Vietnam, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 

∞ ∞ ∞





After the tour, the students join us for lunch in a thatched-roofed restaurant where we eat build-your-own spring rolls made with tiny prawns from the reservoir. I have never seen such miniscule shrimp. They lend new meaning to their name.

Soon comes a round of Vietnamese toasting. With arms stretched toward the center of the table, mugs in hand, we count to three and yell, “Yo!” Always the instigator, I urge my table mates to roar the loudest. We definitely succeed.




Youth Volunteers, three students who volunteered with us in the forest (and, man,
did they work!), May 2009, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





It is steamy by the time we stand ready, hoes in gloved hands. In groups of three, each team begins work on two rows of trees. Even though it often rains in the afternoons this time of year, the yellow-red earth seems bone dry. I let loose on the vines that are choking the first tree on my row. I am, after all, hardy and not afraid of hard labor.

Sun bears down, sweat seeps from under my cap. Whack! Whack! Whack! I stop between chops to drink water.

By the time I am halfway down the row, I am dizzy and queasy. I sweat large amounts of water, and I drink large amounts of water to replace the sweat. But the more water I drink, the more nauseous I get. I squat near the base of the tree I’m working on and tug weakly at the vines. When I reach the end of the row, I sit in a spot of shade and regain my strength.




∞ ∞ ∞





  

Fast Grower, Seeds, Leaf, and Scorpion, scenes from the forest, including scorpion in a bottle, May 2009, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




∞ ∞ ∞





After all the rows are done, we gather our tools and ourselves on blankets set under the shade of large trees. We gobble down fresh pineapple and papaya spears, peeled pomelo sections, and slices of watermelon. Everyone is laughing and talking. I am delighted to have been a part of the effort yet relieved that the work is over.

I pick up a couple of empty water bottles as we get ready to leave. Someone points to one of the bottles in my hand and I nearly drop it. Inside is a scorpion, caught and trapped by whoever was sharing the blanket with me. This is a different world!

The rain comes as the bus heads down the red dirt road out of the forest. I sit near the front, where I can look out the window. On the TV monitor above me, a beautiful Vietnamese singer croons a sad folk song. Life is not perfect, but this moment is.



Moon Swoon, video of a famous singer performing Vietnamese folk songs, the bus ride back to Saigon, photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


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Mississippi Drive-By, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mississippi Drive-By, sunset on the Mississippi, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








Spring thaw spills over
Mississippi’s swollen banks;
Red River rages










I’ve been thinking about rivers this week as the Red River border between Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota spreads out over the land. Happy for Spring, this mighty south to north flowing river is swelled and overreaching her banks, leaving human devastation in her wake. The Red River stood at 40.71 feet shortly after 8:15 a.m., down a bit from the 40.8 feet at the stroke of midnight. That’s nearly a foot higher than the Red River has ever before reached in recorded history.

Rivers have minds of their own. And the Red River is a rebel. I remember a 1970’s flooding of the Susquehanna River when I was in college in Pennsylvania. Everyone was evacuated to higher ground; we were out of school for a week. My hometown hosts the mighty Mississippi, a river that writer Mark Twain knew intimately. He wrote about her history and human habitation in Life on the Mississippi. He also had this to say about trying to tame her:


The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…

       – Mark Twain in Eruption

The same appears to be true of the Red River. This week, citizens of the area have lost homes and businesses swallowed up by the river. Thousands of Midwesterners in the Great White North rose to the occasion, sandbagging between the echoing dribbles of basketball’s March Madness. Cheering for the home team kept their minds from spinning, a kind of in-the-moment relief.

But yesterday, officials in the flood-plagued Minnesota community of Moorhead asked about one-third of their households to evacuate ahead of the rising river. Moorhead along with neighboring Fargo, North Dakota, a city of more than 90,000, are preparing for further evacuations. The river is not expected to crest until Sunday afternoon, an all-time high of 42 feet. Thank goodness the cold weather this week left the Red frozen to the bone, unable to push the higher limits that were predicted.

Our prayers are with our communities to the North, though the odds may not be. It has always been this way with rivers; and so it shall always be. And if it’s true what Twain says that “we form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us,” then Midwesterners will always go down as a people who show up for each other when the chips are down. Middle of the country. Middle America. High regard for the land, the rivers, the habitat, and the people who commingle there.



It is strange how little has been written about the Upper Mississippi. The river below St. Louis has been described time and again, and it is the least interesting part. One can sit on the pilot-house for a few hours and watch the low shores, the ungainly trees and the democratic buzzards, and then one might as well go to bed. One has seen everything there is to see. Along the Upper Mississippi every hour brings something new. There are crowds of odd islands, bluffs, prairies, hills, woods and villages–everything one could desire to amuse the children.

Few people every think of going there, however. Dickens, Corbett, Mother Trollope and the other discriminating English people who ‘wrote up’ the country before 1842 had hardly an idea that such a stretch of river scenery existed. Their successors have followed in their footsteps, and as we form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us, of course we ignore the finest part of the Mississippi.

 – Interview in Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1886, from Mark Twain Quotations


– For up to the minute coverage, photographs, and history, read about the Red River Floods of March 2009 at these links:


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, March 28th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day), susquehanna haiku, savannah river haiku

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The White Chair, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The White Chair, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








white chair on hard sand
pale footprints leading nowhere
dreaming of Georgia










Post Script: I had a dream about Georgia last night, swimming with the Ancestors. It reminded me of this beach at St. Simons where Liz, Mom, and I hung out for a few hours last July. The sand is so hard and compact, you can easily ride a bicycle. It was hotter than any Minnesotan can ever imagine. The breezes off the Atlantic Ocean offered quiet relief.

Liz found the most beautiful living shell; a rainbow appeared. We went back to the motel where one of Mom’s cousins waited. She had driven to St. Simons to meet us. They had not seen each other in years. There in the motel lobby, we spread out a giant paper copy of the family tree. Nicholas smiled down.


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 26th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku for the live oak, St. Simons Island haiku, black-eyed susan haiku, Georgia’s Scottish Highlanders (On Tartan & Targe), haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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By Linda Weissinger Lupowitz



Our Preserve, a sign in the Corrales Bosque Preserve, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Our Preserve, a sign in the Corrales Bosque Preserve, which is part of the Rio Grande Bosque, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




The Rio Grande supports a ribbon of green oasis along its length, from its beginnings in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, to its junction with the Gulf of Mexico. In New Mexico much of this oasis is a native bosque (Spanish for woods) of Rio Grande cottonwood, together with a few other shrubs and trees, alongside a burr-reed and willow marsh. The marshland was once extensive along the river, sustained by the yearly floods which replenished the water table and fertilized the soil. Now this marshland is rare, found only in places where mudflats persist and drainage from diversion channels keeps the soil relatively moist.

~from Jim Swan’s Rio Grande Bosque




Footprints on North Beach, Corrales Bosque Preserve along the Rio Grande, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reservedWinter walking in the Corrales bosque is cool and quiet—I hear only the sound of my shoes on the forest floor, and my own breathing. Wind vibrates faded yellow leaves hanging high above—now and then a leaf twists off, clatters down, bumping through branches to land in the path. The trails are private and winding, at times damp with snow in the shade, or most often deep, soft chalky dust, pocked by paw prints, hoof prints, bicycle tracks.

Horse – Bicycle – Pedestrian – who yields to whom? The triangular sign shows the walker yields to both.

Towering above are the textured trunks of twisted cottonwood trees, adorned with mistletoe, sometimes raucous with hundreds of crows, chanting among rattling old leaves.

On gravel bars along the river, the geese sun themselves, all facing south; a laughing duck, or the shadow of an intruder disturbs the peace. At once, a hundred Canada geese flap up in procession, wheeling into the western sun, their white breasts reflecting gold, dark wings working. Circling over the bosque, formations gather, call and respond—flying shadows ripple across the sunlit canopy.



Geese gather on the Rio Grande, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Geese gather on the Rio Grande, photo ©
2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾


Seasons change: a reminder that I have been here, walking and watching, for what seems like a very long time. At about age 40, I found out I could stroll out the back door without anyone hanging on my leg. I walk dogless these days.

Once in a wet year a giant hollow tree fell across the path, roots rudely exposed, grubs and ants and toadstools, stacked like dinner plates. Little kids clambered the slippery trunk: a mossy bridge, a balance beam. Now decades later a part of the architecture of the forest, silvery and smooth, the worn log is carved with hearts and names and charred like an old bone.

New green leaves of foresteria unfold, the orange-blossom scent of Russian olive penetrates. Cotton flies on the air, puffs and piles on the understory like a summer snowfall. We watch for signs of rain, we wish for rain. Glorious yellow Pecos sunflowers, multi-headed black-eyed Susan, preside over summer meadows, as brilliant purple asters endure long after frost has bleached the tall grass.

Here in the shelter of the bosque, the howling wind on the mesa is tamed to a smart breeze, tamarisk petals spray a soft pink glow in early spring, or, in autumn, Hallowe’en-orange flames contrast with black trunks silhouetted against the tangled underbrush. It is an evolving landscape, weeds and waters never the same for long. One flush spring I wade through high runoff to reach the small patch of silky sand, watch the clouds change and shadows slip across the face of Sandia—but now that wash is dry, a thicket of red coyote willow. The beach yields to mud and cockle-burrs, the sand shifts south.



Bending Cottonwoods, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Bending Cottonwoods, photo © 2009
by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




Rio Grande: a big nombre, this shallow stream does not seem worthy of, but it’s all we’ve got. Mud-olive brown, rippling with mystery, source in the clean headwaters of the Colorado High Country, way above Taos, up in the meandering creeks and bogs of Creede. All the way down to Mexico, it rolls on by us.

Two Sandhill Cranes, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reservedIn winter, the mirrored surface gleams an ice-blue reflection of the sky. Sandia sparkles with new snow, while I soak up the white-hot light on a bright beach—safe, miles from anyone, minutes from home. “So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, / Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn.” (Wordsworth)

The bosque is home to roadrunners and snakes, lizards, cottontails, turtles and peeping quail. Sandhill cranes, like feathered dinosaurs, walking absurdly on stick legs, clumsy taking off, and stunning in unlikely flight, wings creaking just overhead.

 
Rope swings out over the shallows, promising cool breezes on a hot day, sun and shadow, shadow and sun. Boys whack sticks, dogs chase sticks into the currents, chug smiling with a slimey log, shake on the shore. Step around coyote scat and green horse piles. Sleek bicyclists in their brilliant bodysuits speed by the slow walker.

(The rope-swing cottonwood tree, snapped and graffiti’d, lays on the bank now, with only the fading notes of children’s voices—the home-schoolers and the unschoolers and kids just let out of school for summer—reminding us that this was once a grand tree, to swing up, out and over a grande river.)


Rope swing by the Rio Grande, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Rope swing by the Rio Grande, photo ©
2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.



‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾


Last winter I was surprised by a locked gate at Romero Road, so I hiked in along the lateral ditch. A huge truck loaded with trees and brush drove by me, while from the north came the whining machine sounds of saws and chippers. What could be going on? I was afraid to ask.

Months later, on a March afternoon, I headed south on foot from the North Beach and was shocked and saddened beyond words at the recent clear-cutting and scraping of all non-native species, dead wood and brush from the bosque, for “fuel load reduction.”

In the dry Southwest, fire danger is a legitimate concern. Sadly, in the name of safety and conservation, an aggressive attack has been sustained against the ecosystem of the undergrowth…so much is gone.

At what price do we protect property, but abandon the beauty and peace of nature that sustains this fragile life?

Where have the animals and birds who lived here gone now? You can drive a semi through the woods; nothing but chipped mulch, stumps, and silence.




Cleared out, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reservedBridled weasel, found in the bosque dead, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Cleared out (left) and Bridled weasel (right), a section of cleared bosque and recently dead wildlife, photos © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾


At the Corrales Bosque Advisory Commission meeting last year, February 14, the mayor and several Village Council members heard pleas from villagers distressed by the excessive clearing of brush, dead wood, and non-native vegetative species in the preserve.

A temporary stop-work order was given based on public outcry, but has not halted this ongoing effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, despite the severe loss of habitat in what is supposedly a “nature preserve.” It seems the title is negotiable.

The jetty-jacks—those triangulated metal spikes linked by cable, installed in the bosque decades ago to protect the levees from debris in case of flood, are now ecologically unwanted, prevent big trucks from moving around, and it takes a “Little Giant” to remove them—along with all the vegetation that has grown up around them. Flood control has caused disruption in the natural cycles, so they say.

They say this old deciduous cottonwood forest is dying, anyway. That it needs to be flooded and managed, control-burned and levee’d, systematically scraped and rid of noxious trees and wildflowers. New cottonwood trees need to replace the aging generation, but the seedlings are not surviving. Councils clamor about waste-water, septic, sewers and salinization, as the bosque becomes a battleground for groundwater.


linda-10-small

Beware of tree, photo © 2009
by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




They say that tamarisk and Russian olive are illegally drinking, and ducks have no business roosting in the cattails. That the cottonwood giants, lightning-struck and mistletoe-bedecked, will fall into shattered hollow logs, in my lifetime, if I live to see the day. Maybe my kids, or my grandchildren, will see this happen. Maybe they are right, I admit, I don’t know. I hope not.

This Rio Grande—it’s just a narrow strip of life through the wide desert, source of irrigation for the valley: Without it, there would be no apple orchards, chile fields, cornfields or lush pasture with beautiful horses. From the air, the bosque is a green snake in a sere, windy brown world—we call with irony, upon landing at Albuquerque: Planet Dune.


Clear ditch afternoon, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Clear ditch afternoon, photo © 2009
by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾




Via Oreada

Walking out through the south entrance to the Corrales bosque on a Sunday afternoon, I pass by a Mexican family with a KFC picnic, fishing the clear ditch; giggling children chasing a chihuahua; two lovers arm in arm talking softly in Tewa, on a bridge over a culvert of rushing brown water.

A cartoonish Roadrunner cocks his yellow eye and scolds me for getting too close to his perch on the business end of Little Giant, a yellow machine with a toothy maw: what we used to call a “steam shovel.”

I stop to look at the posted signs. “Flora and Fauna of the Bosque Preserve” illustrates an idyllic scene of happy co-existence—Coyote and Beaver, wild Turkey, Muskrat, Toad and Frog, Weasel, Hawk and field Mouse, Skunk and Owl … There is no human in the picture, I recall, except my own reflection in the glass.

The sign says:

Our Preserve is home to a fragile plant and animal community which needs our consideration. Please remember that these living things depend on us to leave their habitat undisturbed and unimpaired for future generations.

This area of thirty acres, Via Oreada, is slated for extensive clearing by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start this spring 2009.



Ready to rumble, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Ready to rumble, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.






Linda Weissinger Lupowitz lives, works, and writes in Corrales, New Mexico. She has been walking in the bosque since 1982. You can see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Fire Restoration map and plan for the Corrales Bosque Preserve here. And you can read more of Linda’s writing on her blog, C. Little, no less, or on the red Ravine post The Face You Wore Before You Were Born.

[NOTE: A shorter version of this essay will be published in an upcoming issue of the Corrales Comment, a local newspaper for the village of Corrales.]



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Castles In The Sand, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Castles In The Sand, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo
© 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Happy New Year to all of our red Ravine readers. When I was talking to my brother on Christmas Day, he said he was going to fire up the winter grill to make my sister-in-law’s luscious Sunshine Shrimp. She commented on ybonesy’s Tamales – A Christmas Tradition  that she would send the recipe along to anyone who wanted to try it. Here it is!

I’m a big shrimp lover, and since I’m allergic to fish, tend to order shrimp whenever I get the craving for seafood (just ask Mom and Liz how many fresh shrimp I ate in Savannah and St. Simons last summer!). All this talk about shrimp led to memories of sunny days at the ocean, so I combed through the archives and landed on the beach at Ocean City, Maryland.

Liz and I joined my mother, sister, and her family there a few years back and had a great time boogie boarding and bodysurfing. (I won’t mention how many pounds of sand ended up my bathing suit when I wiped out!). It’s also the first time Liz met my family so she was very nervous. I’m happy to say, she passed with flying colors!

It’s 4 years later, New Year’s Day 2009 and we’re watching the 120th Annual Tournament of Roses parade and looking forward to more black-eyed peas for lunch. We slow-cooked them last night and ate them right up to midnight. How are you spending your New Year’s Day?



Backbone, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Flipper Claw Of A Dragon, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Face Of A Sand Dragon, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Backbone, Flipper Claw Of A Dragon, Face Of A Sand Dragon, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photos © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Sunshine Shrimp!



  • 2 lbs medium sized shrimp (peeled & deveined)
  • 2 lbs assorted fresh vegetables cut into 1 inch pieces (yellow squash, green squash, yellow & red bell peppers, red onion). You can also add mushrooms to the mix but J. & I don’t like them in this recipe.
  • 1 medium sized can frozen orange juice concentrate that has been thawed
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 tsp minced garlic or 2 cloves of garlic that have been pressed
  • 1 tsp dry Dill Weed (or fresh) that has been finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp each salt & pepper


In a large storage bag, combine all ingredients. Shake well to coat thoroughly. Chill & marinate for 30 minutes.

Preheat grill & put ingredients on a small slotted grill pan. You can also thread these on a grill skewer if you don’t have a slotted pan.

Grill for 8-12 minutes until shrimp is opaque & vegetables are tender. This can also be done in the oven rack set to broil. Best if done on a grill, though!

Serve hot with white or long grain rice.



 OC Sand Castle, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.OC Sand Castle, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.OC Sand Castle, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Thanks to alittlediddy for her Sunshine Shrimp recipe. Gratitude to all who read, comment, and visit red Ravine. I’m grateful for your presence here. And to my blog partner extraordinaire, ybonesy, I couldn’t do it without you! A very Happy New Year to you and your family and I look forward to another year in creative collaboration with you on red Ravine.

 May your 2009 bring prosperity, love, and joy.



Sand Dragon, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Sand Dragon, Ocean City, Maryland, July 2005, all photos © 2005-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, January 1st, 2009

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sticks for legs, Rocky Mountain Sandhill Cranes stop in on their way south for winter, December 14, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




The cranes are back. I don’t have my glasses on so at first I think they’re dogs. Big hump-backed dogs sitting in the middle of the field. Then I see their legs. Long spindly legs that don’t look like they could possibly support such big bodies.

This time there are six cranes. They seem to come in even numbers. Jim says they mate for life. Apparently they do, although if one of the pair dies, the survivor will find another mate. That’s only fair.

For the past 16 years, Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds have been a part of our lives. Our town is on their migration path, next to the Rio Grande bosque just north of Albuquerque. We see cranes in fields that grew corn in the summer, and we sneak up on large groups of the birds during our fall walks along the river.

We’ve come to cherish their throaty prehistoric calls as they fly overhead on the way north or south, depending on the season. (And prehistoric they are; a ten-million-year-old crane fossil found in Nebraska had a bone structure identical to the modern Sandhill Crane.)

About two-and-a-half hours south of here is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, which is a fall and winter migration spot for one of the largest concentrations of Sandhill Cranes in the world. We went there when Dee was young enough to ride in a  trailer hitched to the back of Jim’s bike. We bicycled all around the refuge, but we were in the off season and didn’t spot many cranes.

It’s almost the end of crane’s migration through this particular part of the Rio Grande Valley, at least for this year. Monday we had snow, and this week rain and threats of more snow. Soon it will be too cold for these skinny-legged birds and they’ll move on to southern New Mexico and Texas and northern Mexico.

I like to think the group of cranes from today includes the same four that were here this past weekend. That not only do they mate for life, but that they come back to the same places—even our field—again and again.

I suppose they do.






autumn: sticks for legs
then the first snowfall arrives
winter: sticks for arms











Resources on Sandhill Cranes

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Make Positive Effort For The Good, Sand Graffiti on Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Make Positive Effort For The Good, Sand Graffiti on Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I bumped into a coworker in the file room this morning. She said she finally looked at her 401K; she lost $7000. The Presidential candidates debated in a town hall forum tonight. Millions of people tuned in. Win, lose, or tie, how do we keep our center?

I’m not always that good at it. I need a little help. Practice can be anything you come back to that grounds you, moves you back to center. red Ravine was built on the premise that writing is a spiritual practice. Writing Practice can be a sane thread through the constant unraveling.

I pulled Bones and Wild Mind off the shelf after work this afternoon. The dog-eared corners lead me where I need to go — the deep-seated roots of three things Natalie learned from Katagiri Roshi. She passed them on to all of us. I thought her words might be helpful during these uncertain, anxious, and fearful times.

Three friends and I went on a weekend writing and meditation retreat last May. On one of our silent afternoon breaks, I sat by Lake Michigan writing haiku in a red notebook, and slow walked barefoot along the sand, carrying a big stick (no Presidential pun intended). Sand graffiti emerged from the fingertip of a white pine. I like to think the angels were cheering for us.

Continue, continue, continue.



Make Positive Effort For The Good


During all the thick days of my divorce eight years ago, only one thing helped. I remember Roshi saying, “Make positive effort for the good.” For me it meant, “Get up and get dressed. Just get up.” He meant to make human effort under all circumstances. If you make effort, beings seen and unseen will help. There are angels cheering for us when we lift up our pens, because they know we want to do it. In this torrential moment we have decided to change the energy of the world. We are going to write down what we think. Right or wrong doesn’t matter. We are standing up and saying who we are.

-Natalie Goldberg, from Wild Mind – Living The Writer’s Life, Chapter 37: Positive Effort, Bantam Books, 1990



Dont Be Tossed Away, Sand Graffiti on Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Don’t Be Tossed Away, Sand Graffiti on Lake
Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin,
May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey.
All rights reserved.



Don’t Be Tossed Away


Don’t be tossed away by your monkey mind. You say you want to do something — “I really want to be a writer” — then that little voice comes along, “but I might not make enough money as a writer.” “Oh, okay, then I won’t write.” That’s being tossed away. These little voices are constantly going to be nagging us. If you make a decision to do something, you do it. Don’t be tossed away. But part of not being tossed away is understanding your mind, not believing it so much when it comes up with all these objections and then loads you with all these insecurities and reasons not to do something.

-Natalie Goldberg, from Writing Down The Bones — Freeing The Writer Within, Afterward, Shambala Publications, 1986



Continue Under All Circumstances, Sand Graffiti on Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Continue Under All Circumstances, Fading
Sand Graffiti on Lake Michigan, Sheboygan
County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by
QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Continue Under All Circumstances


Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. I call this “composting.” Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.

…Katagiri Roshi said: “Your little will can’t do anything. It takes Great Determination. Great Determination doesn’t mean just you making great effort. It means the whole universe is behind you and with you — the birds, trees, sky, moon, and ten directions.” Suddenly, after much composting, you are in alignment with the stars or the moment or the dining-room chandelier above your head, and your body opens and speaks.

Understanding this process cultivates patience and produces less anxiety. We aren’t running everything, not even the writing we do. At the same time, we must keep practicing. It is not an excuse to not write and sit on the couch eating bonbons. We must continue to work the compost pile, enriching it and making it fertile so that something beautiful may bloom and so that our writing muscles are in good shape to ride the universe when it moves through us.

This understanding also helps us to accept someone else’s success and not to be too greedy. It is simply that person’s time. Ours will come in this lifetime or the next. No matter. Continue to practice.

-Natalie Goldberg, from Writing Down The Bones — Freeing The Writer Within, Composting, Shambala Publications, 1986



-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, October 7th, 2008, with gratitude to Natalie

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