My last substantial post was on May 12. And then life swept me away, into the rush and tumble of day-to-day life, filled with workdays and summer activities and artistic pursuits that left no time to devote to continuing this online record of my island life. And so much has happened between my last post and today, I couldn't recount it all if I wanted to. And I don't want to. It is enough to say that I continue living on Nicollet Island, where the current month brings my residency to a full year—a year that has been fun and fascinating and filled with interesting diversions and unexpected insights.
One of those insights, though not entirely unexpected, is that life is so much more satisfying and worthwhile when spent engaged in stimulating activities that you love rather than in the Sisyphean round of home maintenance activities which were costly, thankless, time consuming, and drudgery-filled. Starting out with the belief that I owned a home only to finally discover that the home in fact owned me and that I was its slave, I have reveled in my emancipation over the past year by living—and I speak only for myself—in a way that I believe is the best way for me to live. That is to say, I live in a tranquil setting in the midst of a city, where I can pursue my own interests sans the onus of home-owner responsibilities, and spend money previously poured into the bottomless well of home upkeep and repair into delightfully remunerative and life-affirming areas such as travel, culture and entertainment.
Much has transpired on this island in the nearly six months during which I have neglected to report. There have been festivals, large sporting events held at the DeLaSalle H.S. athletic field, umpteen weddings at the Nicollet Island Pavilion, and much more. But I will simply resume with today, and what I observed during my leisurely stroll both on and off the island.
Little effort was required to dress our alcove in the costumerie of Halloween. When I was a child, I would have killed for a skeleton like that; now I can pick it up at Target for a few bucks: I daresay it delights me now, scarcely less than it would have then. Today was a beautiful day, though undoubtedly the usual winter unpleasantness is lurking in the wings, preparing to make its cold, wet and blustery entrance, and those bikes will soon be placed in storage. Tonight (Saturday) is undoubtedly when the adults will celebrate Halloween, while the real All Hallow's Eve, when children will make their way from door to door soliciting treats (or tricks) is not until Wednesday. There are not many children on the island, but the handful that live here are cute, amiable and innocuous, as all children should be. I look forward to seeing their costumes and hopeful faces, and contributing to their bags o'plenty. I miss the days of making costumes for my own children and chaperoning them around. There's nothing like watching a child's sweet face as it is transformed by gluttony and greed.
Here is the other end of the alcove, the door to our apartment, where Mr. Scarecrow stands (or sits) to welcome visitors. He did not come with the wreath. He came attached to a length of bamboo, most of which I sawed off. The remaining section of bamboo was enough to shove into the wreath and thereby provide him with a comfortable perch. Nobody but our visitors will ever see him, since he is hidden from the street view, but that's okay since he is not really there to scare anyone away. Well, maybe crows. The island is a wonderful place to be in the fall. The river air is crisp and clean and redolent with the odor of dying leaves and moist earth. People are out and about, enjoying the season while they can. The Twin Cities Marathon was held recently, on Oct. 6th, and I almost envied those runners their foot tour through Minneapolis and St. Paul, where they would have been treated to some of the loveliest fall colors to be seen anywhere.
My description is bringing to mind a song I wrote quite a few years ago, but which I have been playing again recently with a former guitar student and newfound musical collaborator. Titled 'Twin City Sunrise' it seems appropriate to include it here:
That song is about the seasons, and as I write this it is not only spooky with the advent of Halloween but also a bit spooky with the trappings of election season, which has caused the island to be overrun with signs like those pictured here. I don't mind saying that I detest their intrusion into the beautiful natural scenery. But maybe I shouldn't judge so harshly; they are simply the evidence of human beings and one of the telltale traces of their efforts to govern themselves and peacefully co-exist; much as a nocturnal creeping critter might leave behind a scent which either wards off potential antagonists or attracts those which might be compatible. So much time and effort (and money) is spent trying to convince each other of what is right (and what wrong). This, I suppose, is merely what our animal instincts prompt us to do as we wage our battle for survival—to say nothing of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, for our species is peculiar in that we not only want to survive, but also want to be happy and free to do just as we please. And that means different things to different members of our species; hence: politics!
While I recognize and acknowledge the necessity to support and respect the political process, I confess that I prefer to train my gaze on visions such as this flowered bush rather than on the unattractive signs that would dictate how I think and live. Perhaps this is selfish, and tantamount to saying that I am more interested in benefiting from the freedoms and pleasures that the political process makes possible than I am in participating in that process. Guilty as charged. And yet, I will vote. I will register my values along with my co-citizens on the first Tuesday in November and with any amount of luck (and coinciding values) the world I inhabit will continue to provide me the luxury of living in peace, in a place governed by fair laws, and free to pursue my interests. Maybe I shouldn't complain too loudly about the political signage on the island, for there is another sign on the island which I have found reason to appreciate, by which I have on occasion been inspired.
Those who have followed this blog may recall the sign at the southeastern end of the island which I have featured from time to time, primarily at times when I have noticed the sign's transformation. The sign sports a single word which seems to change from month to month; in past months it has featured words such as DREAM, CREATE, INSPIRE, etc. Recently, I was crossing the Central Ave. bridge and noticed its latest injunction to the public: LOVE. This is a message I can support. The Beatles said it was all you need, but I'm not sure everyone believes that. And that, I suppose, is why we need politics as well.
I invoked the zoom feature on my camera so as to obtain a closer look. This sign is not a work of art, not a miracle of beauty, nor yet is it graffiti, but it does seem to succeed in saying all that it really wishes to say. Would that we could all be so forthright and articulate. If I were more industrious (read: less lazy), I would scroll back through prior blog posts and list out ALL of the words this sign has sported in the past, but I will leave that for a future (less lazy) time, perhaps after additional words have been trotted out for our consideration. Until then, I will merely strive to allow the word-of-the-month into my heart in greater measure, and to sow the seeds of its injunction more frequently and in greater measure wherever I go and with whomever I meet. Surely a goal that is easier said than done, but maybe saying things more often has the happy effect of prompting us to do them more often. And maybe that is why some people have planted so many political signs. And who's to say that the desire to promulgate the concept and practice of LOVE isn't every bit as political?
Life flows on, in and around us—it is what we make it, and to make it what we wish it to be, to make that which is in us harmonize with that which surrounds us, requires belief, effort, and the willingness to offer signs that others can read.
Walking around the island recently, I noticed this peculiar sight, an attempt to bring a set of lost keys to the attention of their owner, also succeeding in bringing my attention to the fact that I had not written a blog post for quite some time.
Flash forward: It is now October 27th and I have returned to my blog to find this entry begun on 6.15.12 which was, alas, never completed or posted as intended. I am loath to simply trash the entry and accompanying photo, since it represents a moment in time, a snapshot which seems to deserve its place in the blogosphere. We indeed need to be reminded of things on occasion. I hope the owner of the keys found his or her way back to the scene of the loss. And I hope I can do better with today's intention to resume my blog than I had the last time. If there is a post succeeding this one, you will know I made good. Let's hope I've found the key back to my digital Isle of Repose ... I've missed it.
Life flows on, in and around us—and sometimes the key to solving all our problems—or at least one of them—is staring us in the face. All we need do is see it, take it, and use it.
Here is a representative for the many other specimens of his kind that I have been encountering with regularity in these nascent days of spring. We had a brief staring contest before he gave up and rejoined his sibs, scuttling around in the wake of their parents and plucking at the dew-basted grass. By now I have featured my share of Canadian geese on this blog, so will refrain from adding more unless I happen to capture something I consider to be extra special. Due to the demands of the working life, my island wandering days have been cruelly and sadly curtailed. So I will just share one more photo, and then venture out on this fine Saturday morning to see what I can see.
During my last walk (yesterday), which included a crossing of the Central Ave. Bridge, I was surprised and pleased to note that the mysterious spirit of the island had changed the sign that, from the southeastern tip of the island, exhorts bridge-crossers to consider a single word, in this most recent case: REFLECT.
Last month, we were exhorted to INSPIRE (see past posts). As I zoomed in with my camera (this pic is taken from a considerable distance), I noticed what appeared to be a chain holding the sign in place, which seemed to me a new development. Perhaps the last sign had been carried downriver in the waters which have risen considerably in recent weeks, and its sponsor had been compelled to install restraints so as to ensure his message could resist the forces of nature and endure.
Aren't we always having to engineer our own protective mechanisms against the forces of nature, whether they be climatic in origin or come to threaten our serenity in the form of human nature, whose representatives can be all too unpredictable and insensitive? We brace and fortify and protect ourselves with ropes, chains, sandbags, fences, and much more, whether literal or figurative, and we get on with the business of living. What else can we do? Surrender is not an option.
Life flows on, in and around us—it can strengthen or weaken, create or destroy, inspire or dispirit—given a little time to reflect, we can conceive and implement the measures necessary to ensure we not only survive but thrive.
A damp and overcast morning on the island, though I have hopes the day will brighten and the sky clear by evening, in time to view the supermoon... they say it will be the largest moon of 2012. If I'm lucky, I'll get a good picture of it. Meanwhile, the first thing that appealed to my eye this morning was this crouching predator's eye view of the island tepee. I can fancy myself a mountain lion sneaking up on a Native American dwelling on the Dakota plains, sometime before the real predator arrived (read: the White Man). But wait, do plains have trees and grass and willowy weeds? Whatever.
I took only a few steps farther before the anthropomorphic quality of these conspiratorial trees arrested my imagination. Huddling close together in solidarity, as if to embrace one another, one arm raised and the other extended to effect the embrace, these trees evoke the central image and metaphor of my novel, The Trees in Winter, even though these are no longer barren as those in winter, and have already slipped into their green spring attire. Here's an excerpt from the novel:
She peeled the aluminum foil from a palette and picked up a teardrop-shaped palette knife mired in a glop of cobalt blue, sat on her stool and began dabbing it along the trunk of a tree. Always the trees. The bare outlines of their skeletal forms huddled together on each of three hopeful canvases, poised to welcome the merest embellishment of their limbs, spindly and wanting, raised in supplication to an empty sky.
She’d done little painting while she was working, but since being home she had responded to the still small voice deep inside her so long neglected. Instinctively but tentatively, she had begun sketching that which came naturally, the trees, the parallel outlines of their ascendant trunks and limbs, the subtle or sweeping curvature of their postures, jagged or bowed, bisected or monolithic, always reaching for an ineffable redemption, regeneration, wholeness and salubrity.
He remembered the first time he’d seen the painting, and how it had struck him then with its stark simplicity and crisp lines, with shadings that somehow evoked the fragile brittleness of the limbs, depicted the sense of shared loss in the woe befallen attitudes of the trees as they huddled together, as if they would embrace and console one another if only nature would allow.
I think you get the idea.
I resumed my stroll and soon came upon something seen from an even greater distance, as I stood on the bluff surveying the river vista. Looking straight down to the shore below, I spotted what appeared to be a winged idler, sitting tucked underneath a fallen tree trunk in the river. At first, I took it to be a pigeon, but after zooming in and snapping a couple of shots and viewing them later, I found the creature's beak appears decidedly unpigeonlike.
But you be the judge. Here is a shot where I zoomed in closer. Pigeon or not? Whatever the species, the sight struck a chord somewhere in the cerebral piano case of analogic memory. While walking underneath the eastern Hennepin Bridge overpass during the past week, which we have done a fair number of times to attend screenings at the Minneapolis Film Festival taking place at the nearby St. Anthony Main Theater, we have noticed a couple of human idlers tucked up underneath the overpass, at the top of the slanted stone embankment and just beneath the bridge's roadway. In fact, returning home from a film just last night, one of these specimens was down on the sidewalk stretching his legs in a decidedly inebriated manner, to the extent that we thought it best to step off the sidewalk and give him a wide berth. This bird, sheltering beneath the log, called these human shelterers to mind. I can only assume that, come fairer skies, they—like the bird—will take flight in search of more hospitable milieux.
But enough of idlers. I'm sure you're more interested in creatures that are going somewhere, such as the members of this goose-stepping family, who seem to be in perfect step with one another. This is a common sight on the island these days, as the island denizens bring forth their young and begin teaching them the ways of survival.
And, as you can see, these youngsters must learn to survive on water as well as on land. Funny to think that those little yellow fluffballs, next year and in future years, will assume the appearance of the parent and be tutoring little fluffballs of their own. Just as my own son has slipped into shoes specially designed for raising small children, which I myself have slipped out of. He is now doing the goose-step, whereas I, by comparison, have become ... an idler?
Actually, I try to keep moving, even if no longer engaged in childrearing. And what better image to represent movement that the arrival of the train as it comes around the bend, the train that traverses our island many times each day, heralded by the clanging warning bell. Actually, it's not coming around a bend, but I only tried to make it appear that way from the angle of my photograph. In fact, it's coming across a bridge from the west and about to cross another bridge to the east. The train teaches a good lesson, I think, by suggesting that, though it is all right to stop and rest occasionally, to sit, observe and contemplate, it is even more important to get up again and keep moving. One can sit on a log or under a viaduct for only so long. Too long and you risk becoming a log yourself, and a log has no fun and does no one else any good, except provide them a place to sit. Does anyone really want to spend their lives being sat on by others?
Here is an actual moving picture of the train, to serve as an even better reminder to keep on moving, keep on rolling, keep on keepin' on, and as they said back in the long ago 1960's:
KEEP ON TRUCKIN' BABY!
Life flows on, in and around us—it grows and moves and reproduces, and when it no longer does any of these things, it is no longer life.
Here is how my island constitutional began on this particular day, which was not today, mind you, as I've been finding it increasingly challenging to keep up my island wanderings, image-capturings, and blog production in any kind of consistent or single-threaded fashion. And that's okay. If this is the way my life is functioning at the moment, so be it. I will do what I can, when I can, and hopefully what I produce will still manage to possess something of passing interest to others. This is a view from my usual lookout point at the northwestern tip of the island, which means, as you may have deduced, that it is evening, the time when the sun is beginning its descent in the west. Just trees, water and sun, which form an impressively synergistic trio when it comes to the vistas that together they manage to produce.
A short ways to the southeast, my eye found something striking in this barbwire-framed view of the cloud-filled sky: causing me to think of the ways in which we attempt to keep things in or out of certain places. Interesting, that someone deemed the fence between the river and its bank worthy of barbwire. As though it could really prevent a determined person from getting to the river.
Here is a beloved pet named Lily, enjoying the evening air and the breeze-blown scents in which her doggie nose may yet take pleasure. Lily is suffering from intestinal cancer, and here you see her as she is pulled along by those who love her, a friendly neighbor couple with whom my companion and I stopped to exchange pleasantries (although Lily's condition made one of the less pleasant topics).
A little farther along, while dipping underneath the Hennepin Bridge, we encountered a photo shoot in progress. I hesitated only a moment before shooting the shoot. My island wanderings, camera in hand, have trained me to be highly sensitive to potential subjects, and to be prepared to snap them in an instant. If you're not ready & quick, a magical moment will vanish before your eyes.
I don't wonder that the photographer and his subjects chose this particular spot for their shoot, although the island boasts many extraordinarily beautiful locations for picture taking. I had only to take a few steps from where I shot the shoot, and look out over the river, to behold on its surface this stunning vision of the city's reflection. The trio of water, sun and sky here is joined by a 4th party, the interloper who will never cease trying—and failing—to improve upon nature: Man, and the lofty ambitions he plants in the earth. He may never improve upon nature, and the buildings in this picture may not be the most sublime representatives, but one must concede that the human race has, on occasion, attired the earth in some beautiful vestments and ornamented her with some dazzling baubles. At least, we seem to think so.
But let's get back to nature now, shall we? Here we encounter a daffodil at the southeastern end of the island, one of the many floral developments to emerge in recent days. The picture is presented sideways, because I prefer to view it that way. In fact, many things in life are best viewed sideways, or from above, below, or through a frame that you yourself furnish. In fact, we really can't help seeing the world through our own unique frame, when you think about it. Today I viewed phenomena consisting of animal, vegetable, and mineral, and I viewed them all through my own congenital frame. Maybe, as a result, they tend to assume a rose-colored tinge. I guess I prefer to see them that way.
I'll leave you with a close-up of the scrolled-up manner in which this popular plant makes its way out of the earth and into our field of vision (and field of landscape design). I can easily imagine how primitive peoples might have yanked one of these out of the earth, raised it like a chalice, and drank of the rainwater captured there. Nature providing for nature. We come to the earth, we see (through our own frames of reference), and we conquer. We build, we create, we love, dance, laugh and cry, we do what we can before we must die, and when that day comes, it's hosta la vista, baby!
Life flows on, in and around us—growing, multiplying, thriving and dying—while we're here we see it and live it as only we can—and if we are fortunate and wise, the ways in which we collide with other living things result in synergies, successes, and smiles.
Happy Earth Day to one and all! Here, in recognition of the day, is a piece of the earth on Nicollet Island, a cut of the riverside bluff upon which I frequently stand and gaze over the river. Here we are able to examine the earth's outer attire of wild and windblown grass, as well as her nether regions, where roots and rocks and dirt conspire to provide a solid stage for all of us to enact our lives' dramas upon. We each play our roles, take our bows, and are promptly replaced by others. Through it all, the earth remains, constant and unchanging, spinning on its axis, in its orbit, in a universe without end, timeless and indifferent. Happy Earth Day, you inscrutable planet, spin on and prosper!
It seemed only fitting that I should give second billing to that which is not earth, to the earth's counterpart—namely, sky. The immensity of sky dwarfs the earth, renders it infinitesimal, almost completely insignificant. And yet, our earth seems to imbue this lovely blue sky with a beauty and significance it would not otherwise possess. But of course, this beauty and significance only exists by virtue of our human consciousness, the romantic and arbitrary notions we project upon what we see and feel and experience. And thank the heavens and the earth that we are here, and possess such awareness and sensibilities as can make of this existence a thing of joy and wonder. To look upon the blue sky and the green grass and everything in between, with eyes that may be dazzled, flesh that may rise with excitement, and minds that may be enriched and developed to nearly limitless proportions—what more can any living creature ask for?
While walking the earth this morning, I was amused to encounter this fellow periscoping his yin-yang head over the gentle rise of an island knoll. It seems like a still taken from a film titled "Attack of the 50-Foot Goose!" (If such a film existed, I would happily pay to see it.) I find that, if you go out walking each day, you can almost always encounter something interesting, amusing or thought-provoking—if you are paying attention.
I thought that, in addition to earth and sky, the other element one ought not leave out of a tribute to Earth Day, is water—which, in my small corner of the world, is represented by Old Muddy. Therefore, as I got closer to home, I peered over a bluff and snapped this shot of my favorite island bridge. The network of branches, the lines of the bridge, the reflections in the river—all of it suggests to my fanciful mind the complex and impressive scaffolding nature throws up to support our hungry imaginations. Nature and the earth feed us in so many more ways than one.
Before heading home, I turned my gaze skyward once more, only to discover that clouds had stretched their gray beards across the firmament, and—at that very moment—an aeronautic agent of human ingenuity was cutting through the beards as smoothly as a steamship glides across the ocean or a Japanese bullet train whizzes on its rails over the Nipponese countryside.
As I lowered my eyes to the earth, so as to begin moving my feet in the direction of home, I was struck by the sight that greeted me: I had just witnessed the dizzying heights to which humanity was capable of ascending, only to encounter this eloquent reminder of humanity's more lowly products, of which we are not proud, which we are loath to acknowledge, and which we quickly hide inside the earth.
Happy Earth Day indeed!
Life flows on, in and around us—and will continue to do so, as long as earth, sea and sky together give it place.