To Burn Until You Fall

Painted leaves

“Hurry up, fall is always saying.  Time is growing short.  We don’t have forever.  Except I don’t believe that.  We have whatever we decide to have.  Weeks spent with children pass like hours.  Months spent writing a book seem like a weekend.  Hours wondering what to do next seem like eons.  Minutes waiting for someone are a well-known eternity.  The main thing is to keep moving.  Keep the pace that children keep.  They rise from sleep and move into a day like sunlight.  They burn until they fall.”
— Ellen Gilchrist, Falling through Space,” from Aging: An Apprenticeship, ed. Nan Narboe

Watercolor painting of fallen oak leaves
Another watercolor painting of fallen oak leaves
Fall leaves

Thinking about Work Habits on Labor Day

“A day that starts with work creates rest that can be enjoyed without guilt.  When you start early, the rest you take is the rest you’ve earned.”
— Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, from Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

“. . . two features of working days of creatives who discover the power of deliberate rest:  it starts early, and it follows a well-thought out routine.
— Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, from Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

Watercolor painting of ornamental cabbage

The lessons that Pang writes about in her book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, were modeled by the poet, William Stafford.  I wrote about his writing practice in my February 28th blog post and this post explores his routines in more detail.

Stafford’s son, Kim, describes in his memoir, Early Morning: Remembering My Father, his father’s custom of getting up to write at 4:00 a.m. every day: “This way of writing is available to anyone who wishes to rise and listen, to put words together without fear of either failure or achievement.  You wake up.  You find a stove where you make something warm.  You have a light that leaves much of the room dark.  You settle in a place you have worn with the friendly shape of your body.  You receive your own breath, recollection, the blessings of your casual gaze.  You address the wall, the table, and whatever stands this day . . .”

Stafford seemed to need this quiet solitude to welcome whatever words came:  “That early morning practice, like the cloistered devotions of a monk or nun, seems quiet on the surface, but invites extreme possibilities, adventures, and wrenching discoveries.”   Kim says, “My father’s way is not about trying, not about writing poems, not about achievement, not about fame.  His way is being private before first light, with your breath, the scratch of the pen.”

The duties, responsibilities, distractions of the day, once underway, make it hard to give proper attention to one’s craft.  “If you wake up before other people, my father said, you can be free, for a little while.”  That’s a lesson — do the most important thing first.  Kim says, “One morning he wrote, ‘Every day something keeps me from the main business of my soul.’  His remedy was to give attention early to that soul — by writing — and let the day unfold from there.”  And, “In my father’s practice, this inner life happened first.”

“And all of this happens like magic to the words
in those dark hours when others sleep.”
— William Stafford, from “How These Words Happened”

“It’s not about working fast.  It’s about returning to the work day after day, inquiring of it what it needs and giving it what it asks for.  It’s a conversation, a dialogue, at times an argument.  It’s a relationship.  As long as we keep steady, keep the faith, keep on returning to the work, the work will keep on giving us back what we need to complete it.”
— Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators

The structure of a daily practice, like Stafford’s, appeals to me.  I like the contemplative approach, the quiet solitary time, the rhythm of daily, incremental work rather than sporadic attempts to create.  I would like to try this type of art practice in my life.  I think it is doable and a worthy Labor Day resolution.

August’s Empty Hours

Himalayan blackberries

August Day
by Jane Hirshfield

You work with what you are given —
today I am blessed, today I am given luck.

It takes the shape of a dozen ripening fruit trees,
a curtain of pole beans, a thicket of berries.
It takes the shape of empty hours.

In them is neither love nor love’s muster of losses,
in them is no chance for harm or for good.
Does even my humanness matter?
A bear would be equally happy, this August day,
fat on the simple sweetness plucked between thorns.

There are some who may think, “How pitiful, how lonely.”
Others murmur, “How lazy.”

I agree with them all: pitiful, lonely, lazy.
Lost to the earth and to heaven,
thoroughly drink on its whiskeys, I wander my kingdom.

Summer at the Beach

North Tillamook jetty, Oregon coast

My Pacific Northwest summers never seem complete until I spend at least one day walking barefoot on an ocean beach.  In mid-July, my husband and I spent three nights yurt camping at Newhalem Bay Beach Campground, one of Oregon’s state parks.  The campsites were situated back from the actual beach behind a short steep trail through huge sand dunes.  We could hear the endless roar of the surf from our bed at night.  (When we returned to Seattle, we remarked that the drone of traffic that we hear from our house sounds amazingly like the ocean!)

From the covered porch of our yurt, Newhalem Bay Beach Campground
The beach at Newhalem Bay Beach Campground. A couple of afternoons and nights were windy, so we woke to drifted sand.

We had a very relaxing getaway.  Each morning we walked along the beach to the nearby town of Manzanita for coffee.  We went out to eat twice at the Rising Star Cafe in Wheeler, Oregon — our former Seattle neighbor owns and runs the restaurant.  I read several books, and my husband fished from the jetty.  We indulged ourselves with a huge ice cream cone at the Tillamook Dairy.  I took some photographs, but did not get around to picking up my paintbrush.  It felt good to be lazy.

The ocean is just far enough away from Seattle that it takes some planning and effort to visit.  Some beaches on the Washington coast are three hours away.  Newhalem Bay Beach Campground was five hours away in good traffic.  (Traffic was not good on Sunday when we returned; we spent long hours in the car.)  So every trip to the ocean feels rare and precious to me.


Cooling Off in the Sargasso Sea of July

The Fan in the Window
by Ted Kooser, from Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems

It is September, and a cool breeze
from somewhere ahead is turning the blades;
night, and the slow flash of the fan
the last light between us and the darkness.
Dust has begun to collect on the blades,
haymakers dust from distant fields,
dust riding to town on the night-black wings
of the crows, a thin frost of dust
that clings to the fan in just the way
we cling to the earth as it spins.
The fan has brought us through,
its shiny blades like the screw of a ship
that has pushed its way through summer —
cut flowers awash in its wake,
the stagnant Sargasso Sea of July
far behind us.  For the moment, we rest,
we lie in the dark hull of the house,
we rock in the troughs off the shore
of October, the engine cooling,
the fan blades so lazily turning, but turning.

Here in Seattle we are trying to stay cool.  We are in what Kooser calls “the stagnant Sargasso Sea of July,” and our fans are humming.  Few of our homes are air-conditioned.  I am thankful to work in an air-conditioned library on these hot days!  At home, our fan runs all night, and sleeping is possible under its steady breeze.

That’s summer!




A Perpetual Journal: April 14

Here’s a neat idea I’ve just read about:  the “perpetual nature journal.”  Several bloggers credit Lara Gastiger with the idea.  You start with a blank journal, and give a date to each double-page spread. Gastiger actually assigns a week of the year to each spread. Then every year, you revisit the pages and add a small drawing/sketch/painting/words of something from that day/week in nature.  You don’t fill the page; simply add some small new thing each year.  Over the course of several years, the journal builds piece by piece until you’ve captured a deeper look at your seasonal journey.

It occurred to me that my blog is something like a perpetual online journal.  When I first started blogging on this day in 2009, I wanted to write about following the Pacific Northwest seasons day by day over the course of one year.  I planned on posting photographs, seasonal recipes, poems, quotes from my reading, and short personal writings.  I fulfilled this commitment, and for several years after, I posted something every single day!  This is now my 10th year of blogging.

I do enjoy looking back on my old posts from time to time.  I thought I would use my postings this coming year as an opportunity for you to look at my perpetual journal.  I will skip over blog posts about my travels or special projects (like Thoreau Thursdays or painting a moon snail shell 100 times), but I will provide links to the posts with seasonal themes and my ordinary days over the past decade.  I hope you enjoy this look back over some old posts from this day in my life.