Archive for February, 2010

Joyful for Salamanders

A Sunday afternoon walk with friends up Fern Canyon in Van Damme State Park. The creek is running fast and high, the trail is squelchy. Signs of early spring growth: stream violets, trilliums and redwood sorrel in flower, green tips to the elderberry and salmonberry. Downed wood from last week’s storm.

Wendy and I, who have lagged behind,  notice a young woman squatting by a log at the side of the trail. She rolls it over.

“Found anything interesting?” Wendy asks.

“Salamanders,” says a young man at my elbow. “Six different species so far.” He holds out a cupped hand. “Ensatina eschsoltzi.” His voice floods with love for the bulbous creature on his palm, shiny gray-brown above, with pale orange underparts.

“Here’s a lovely big Slender,” calls a girl at another chunk of log. Everyone crowds around to admire her tightly curled prize.

The quartet of young people are biology students from UC Davis. “Only I had to stop out,” says the young man. “Funding ran out. But I’ll be back by summer.”

The Fern Canyon trail is blocked a mile or two up by downed trees not yet cleared. The trailhead restrooms are closed for lack of state funding. We could feel discouraged and depressed about California’s economic chaos. But the enthusiasm of these young people we met, their joy in their quest for knowledge, gives reason for hope.

Aaron’s Book Club

My grandson Aaron, visiting for the weekend, tells me about the book club that he and his fifth-grade friends have started at their school. Aaron’s teacher came up with the idea, because Aaron and his friend Alexandra were such fast readers.  They started out reading The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis (the first Narnia book), then met with their teacher, Mrs. Lara, at lunchtime a few weeks later to talk about the book. Alexandra picked the next book, Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Next up will be Aaron’s choice, which is The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. So now Aaron and his Mom are on their way to Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino to get the book.

My Writing Community

A fat issue of Poetry Flash, the literary journal and calendar out of Berkeley, CA, arrives in the mail. I’m pleased to see that the listing for our upcoming Mendocino Coast Writers Conference made it in.

I have a special fondness for Poetry Flash, from when I lived in the Bay Area and was responsible for submitting announcements for the Waverley Writers readings in Palo Alto. As I skim the “Some Information” column by editor Joyce Jenkins, I smile as I see familiar names: writers I have met and worked with, writers whose work is familiar from readings or books.  Poetry Flash now has an extensive online presence, but its purpose is still the same: to build community through literature.

I browse one of the lead stories, an interview with Nigerian poet and novelist Chris Abani, and am struck by a comment he makes: “You shouldn’t try to write with any kind of community in mind. You should just write. And if you strike the right balance in your work, a community will assemble around it, and the community will be something you never expected.”

This is what I never expected: that I would feel so connected to a community of writers, here on the Mendocino Coast, in the Bay Area, and even throughout the world who share my joy in the uses of language.

Before the Light Fails

I have been struggling all week to find words for the emotions stirred by a yellowish twilight that came one evening at sundown, after a day of rain. It does not invoke despair, like Emily Dickinson’s  certain Slant of light. But it does cause me to pause whatever I am doing, to stand at the window and simply gaze.

When I was a child, my mother brought home a painting she had fallen in love with, and hung it on our livingroom wall. It was a street scene in an English village, all somber grays: gray stone row houses on a gray cobbled street that was wet with rain. Uphill from the houses stood a gray stone church, from a window of which shone a rectangle of yellow light. If I saw this picture again today, I might dismiss it as sentimental. But what caught my mother’s attention, and what makes me remember it now, is that the artist captured that moment of otherness as a storm clears, when we see beyond the everyday world, that strange and solemn moment before the light fails.

Poetry Foundation

I received my first copy of a new subscription to Poetry yesterday.  (I read this magazine regularly years ago, and had let my subscription lapse, but couldn’t resist a promotional offer.) Along with the magazine came a letter from the Poetry Foundation president, John Barr, a five-years-on report on how the Poetry Foundation is spending Ruth Lilly’s momentous gift. The Foundation’s desire, Barr said, “was to challenge the perception that poetry is a marginal art by making it directly relevant to the American experience.” It makes exciting reading: the tripling of Poetry subscriptions, the millions of people reached by television and web, The Poetry Out Loud high school contest, in which I was involved locally a week or two back, programs to introduce young children to poetry. Read it and be encouraged.