Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pre-flight thoughts. September. Paris. Rilke.

Tomorrow I fly back to Seattle for a few days; my brother-in-law is getting married. My wife flew up today. Last night she was having a hard time packing--what to wear? what does it feel like to be chily? We've forgotten...(It's supposed to hit 100 degrees in Tucson today--unusually warm, even for here)

I get a bit nostalgic in September: the changing season, thinking back to past moves...

It was in this month when I first moved to Seattle eleven years ago...and then in September of the following year, I moved to Paris.

Those were heady days, even under grey skies, to be in one's early 20's, in such very different places, alone but not lonely...

The phrase 'decadal oscillation' comes to mind...Yes, the term has to do with specific climactic variations, but I like the sound of it. Ten years may be an arbitrary division of time, but it's how we categorize trends and epochs...Where will we be ten years from now?

So, September a decade ago. Paris in autumn. Leaves beginning to fall and the back-to-the-routine-traffic along the Seine. The gargoyles of Notre Dame looking over the Latin Quarter--domain of books and cheap eats for students, now that the summer tourists have all gone home:

It had been only a year and a half, then, since my father had died, and in some ways, as I got to know Paris, I felt I was chasing his echo from decades before. He had, before meeting my mother, lived in Europe for several years, and I remember how he described his surprise at the size of the Eiffel Tower when he first went to Paris. He said he'd fully intended to go up it, but when he drove by the base, and realized the scale of the thing...well, he reconsidered...It's strange, as a young boy, to first learn of your father's phobias. Heights and enclosed-spaces--evidently, not my father's favorite combination. And so up the Eiffel Tower he never went!
Before he became ill and died, my father and I had begun having those conversations-over-coffee that make one finally realize, oh, here we are, face to face, adult to adult--still father and son, but no longer father and child...and as I would stop for a café-crème in one of Paris' innumerable cafés, I couldn't help but engage in internal soliloquies: what would I be saying to Dad right now, if he were here..

All this remembering of the past...

It reminds me of a passage from some of the writings of Rilke, the great German poet (1875-1926) and some of his musings on what it means to think and write--anything, not just poetry--about the past:

...Ah, poems amount to so little when you write them too early in your life. You ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines.

For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)--they are experiences.

For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning.

You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn't pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else--); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet, restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars,--and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that.

You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again.

But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises.

And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return.

For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves--only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tired but wired; bear with me...

Having a glass of milk late on a schoolnight...

...after an evening of stimulating conversation with some friends, I am trying to wind down...(Did you know that studies show that actively meeting and greeting people can affect the brain in a way similar to caffeine?)

A couple of nights ago, we came home to a desert full-moon, so I thought I would try the elbow-tripod method again while zooming; not professional, but not bad for a camera on a semi-automatic setting:

Only a few more days until the autumn equinox: the light is already noticeably different; here in Tucson I gauge it by how much of our front patio is in the shade in the afternoon. The sun is definitely lower in the sky. Although the thermometer is still in the upper 90's each afternoon, the angle of light makes everything look more like fall, although the mountains' lower slopes are still wearing a light coating of green from this summer's monsoon rains...

I found this diagram--the green path shows the path of the sun in Tucson on the summer solstice, the orange line is on the equinoxes, and the blue line is the winter solstice--and sunset and sunrise times, along with height in the sky are also indicated; handy, eh?

(click here for the website where you can get this sort of nerdy diagram for almost anywhere in the world.)

September. Ahh...

When I first moved to Seattle, in the late-summer light, clear over the Cascades--it was all so bright; the darkness of winter seemed impossibly far away...

A couple of years ago, when we moved back to the U.S. from Nicaragua, on one of those gorgeous September days in the Northwest that can make you almost forget the months of dreariness just about to descend upon everything, we went to Mt. Rainier for the day. (Now that I think about it, that was the last time I went to Mt. Rainier.) Here are some photos from that day:

--some fireweed by the highway that heads down to Yakima:

--Mt. Rainier, reflected in Upper Tipsoo Lake, on the Naches Loop trail:
--lake Dewey, east of Mt. Rainier:

Here in Tucson, no glaciated vistas at hand...but September is nice.
Evenings are ankle-bitten, due to the remaining few monsoon-mosquitoes buzzing around,
but the desert still has a few wildflowers, especially the remaining barrel-cactus blooms:

The other evening, we drove out to Saguaro National Park east; my wife wanted to see this 20-mile-loop route that I've been biking with a few other guys on Saturday mornings before sunrise...("Is it really real? does he really do that?" she's probably been thinking...)

And that's where we saw these blooms.

...from there you get a clear view of the entire Tucson basin, including looking south to the Santa Rita mountains, behind which lie the mile-high Sonoita grasslands that have become southern Arizona's 'wine country' in the past couple of decades...


And to continue this tired-but-wired kick, (I am finally winding down; my pillow is beginning to call me), I found few more photos that I realize I hadn't posted.

Back in early June, I got a new camera. It's not quite a fancy digital SLR 'semi-pro', but it's in-between a point-and-shoot and the big-boys. It's plenty of machine for me, for now. It was a step-up from the 5-megapixel Canon I got in Guatemala back when we still lived in Central America. And on the first morning after I bought the camera, I woke up early and went to Sabino Canyon for a short hike to try it out. Here are a few photos from that morning:

--in the midst of the saguaros, one Parry's agave (more commonly called the "century plant;" it blooms once, spectacularly, and then the plant--usually a few decades old--dies):

--a desert mourning dove perched among saguaro blooms:

--the crazy fused arms of a cristate saguaro:

--zooming high, a bumblebee pollinating a saguaro bloom, 30 feet up in the air:

Finally. The glass of milk and photo-sorting have had their effect: to bed.

Bonne nuit, buenas noches, gute nacht.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tonight with the camera...

...I'm up 'late' on a schoolnight, after a brief photo-expedition on our street.

A friend was over, and as we walked with her back to her car, I noticed an organ pipe cactus in bloom in front of a neighbor's house. These blooms come out only at night, lasting just until the morning of the following day--floral ephemera, the size of an outstretched hand, on view for 12 to 16 hours.

So, I went in the house and came back out with the camera, hoping that the flash wouldn't disturb the neighbors. It didn't look like anyone was home, so I didn't feel so bad hovering in front of their door...

And then, the moon caught my eye--about 3/4 full...I don't have any special lenses, or even a tripod, but I was able to use my elbows, leaning on the little wall in front of our yard, to stabilize the camera enough to get this:
(Excitement on this schoolnight: I've never been able to make out the lunar craters so clearly in a photo I've taken!)


Two more weeks in the school-year have gone by. My efforts to develop a new habit have succeeded; I'm now a pre-sunrise, Mon-Wed-Fri jogger, as weird as that still seems to me...I've seen a couple of hawks on recent mornings, dozens and dozens of cottontail rabbits, and even a coyote...A nice way to clear the mind before dealing with the apparently natural propensity of teenage minds towards not learning verb conjugations.

I remind myself that the larger goal is to help students to become aware of and appreciate the wider world, among other things, to become more observant and detail-oriented as a consequence of having to deal with non-phonetic spelling and new grammatical patterns...and then the melody of Offenbach's cancan comes to mind, as my sneakers hit the asphalt--a 'cheap tool' to try and drill AVOIR ("to have" in French, an irregular conjugation: j'ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez, et ils ont) into pubescent skulls in a rythmical fashion.

It kind of works.

And then, right as I cool off, walking home, the sky begins to sprinkle on me. (The monsoon's not quite dead yet.) I look up--no clouds overhead! So weird...but off to the east, I see wispy moisture coming down...and borne on morning breezes, it ends up raining a mile or two away, diagonally:

September in Tucson, so far...