Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

COLD COAST

Waves pound the rocks at Sohier Park in York, Maine.

Waves pound the rocks at Sohier Park in York, Maine.

The New England coastline can be impressive anytime of the year. While most visitors see it only from midsummer into early autumn, it is unmasked much the rest of the year.

Pools of sea spray are frozen tight in the crevices of boulders overlooking the water.

Pools of sea spray are frozen tight in the crevices of boulders overlooking the water.

The ocean seems especially restless every winter.

The ocean seems especially restless every winter.

The waves keep pouring in.

The waves keep pouring in.

NATURALLY, A SEASON OF STREETS

Here’s the final proof we live in a four-season city.

It's one way, too.

It’s one way, too.

OUR HOLLY

The red holly berries and intense green foliage stand out against snow at the front of our house.

The red holly berries and intense green foliage stand out against snow at the front of our house.

GINGERBREAD LIGHTHOUSE

A small electric candle hangs upside down to illuminate the caramelized window panes of the lamp room. A candy kiss provides an improvised cone to top the lighthouse.

A small electric candle hangs upside down to illuminate the caramelized window panes of the lamp room. A candy kiss provides an improvised cone to top the lighthouse.

The rugged appearance is part of the fun, especially when surrounded by lobsters and sharks. Not that we have sharks in real life ... I prefer to see them as porpoises.

The rugged appearance is part of the fun, especially when surrounded by lobsters and sharks. Not that we have sharks in real life … I prefer to see them as porpoises.

While I’ve never gotten wrapped up in my wife’s fascination with gingerbread houses, my contrarian nature has embraced the idea of making an annual gingerbread LIGHT house, and here’s one result .

For the recipe and the templates, especially if you want to go for fancier results, check out this story, recipe, and assembly directions. (It’s not the only gingerbread lighthouse at Coastal Living, by the way, in case you’re really adventurous.)

The model was based on the Whaleback Light just downriver from us, so I feel it’s an extra special touch. And the gummy lobsters and gummy sharks, along with the candy rocks for the lighthouse wall, were purchased from Yummies just beyond the Kittery Outlet stores. That can be a destination for Maine visitors all in its own.

Inserting the candy rocks into the frosting "mortar" was fun, but let me suggest doing it with the sheets flat, before you erect the walls into place.

Inserting the candy rocks into the frosting “mortar” was fun, but let me suggest doing it with the sheets flat, before you erect the walls into place.

What would Maine be without lobsters?

What would Maine be without lobsters?

A FINE STATE OF THE SEASON

Sorting the holiday cards coming into the house renews my appreciation for the human scale of the state we live in.

There’s a card from the governor and her family, and another from our U.S. senator. (Note the singular: the other one’s a national embarrassment who represents the One Percent, non-fulltime-residents of New Hampshire all, even including any who do summer here.)

OK, these cards aren’t personally signed, but it’s still a reminder that retail politics is a Granite State tradition, one that carries some responsibility as well.

No, we aren’t responding with cards to them as well. But we still wish them a very merry Christmas. And we’re glad they’re on the case.

NUBBLE LIGHT

The Nubble is easily identified at sea by its red beam. The fog horn was booming when I shot this.

The Nubble is easily identified at sea by its red beam. The fog horn was booming when I shot this.

Perhaps the most photographed lighthouse in the United States is this one at the tip of Cape Neddick in York, Maine. Also known as Nubble Point, the site is easily accessible by car, and a small park allows excellent views of the island where the lighthouse stands.

Every Christmas, the buildings are outlined in holiday lights.

The effect is magical.

The effect is magical.

RETURNING TO THE TABLE

In 2008 I self-published a set of 20 poems reflecting things women do and preserve. Its opening piece, “Counsel to a Bride from the Housewives of Baltimore City,” touched on the tradition of cleansing the marble steps in front of the city’s row houses as part of daily routine. What happens within the house, especially involving the kitchen and its table, feeds the heart of the collection.

Returning 1Returning to the Table is now reissued as a free PDF download at Thistle/Flinch editions. For your own copy, click here.

JUST PAGES APART

As I said at the time …

For me, writing means watching my own shifting mind while opening myself up to all the living energies around me. It means simplifying, following unexpected leadings and openings, sometimes to dead ends, other times to unanticipated ranges. Some time ago I discovered that to write poetry I had to be sitting in meditation every day. And later, I found once a week would suffice.

If ego is an ever present trap, the practice can introduce repeated humbling. As do the rejection slips.

Detachment: who wrote that! And when? (The surprise of rediscovering your own work five or ten years later. Who wrote that, it is so incredibly fine! Or: Who wrote that piece of tripe? I’m glad it never saw publication. Sometimes only pages apart.)

And then the piece goes its own way: a living organism: readers, editors see it differently from you. What you would cut they love. What you love they see as sore thumb.

What we’re most fond of is likely to be what bothers others the most; what we’re about to toss out in the next revision may be what is most effective with our readers. (Point raised, I believe, by Joyce Carol Oates; true to my experience.)

As critics of others’ work: harshest, at times, on those whose work is most like our own! Too much mirror? Push ourselves as far as we can, coming to a point where we no longer know if a piece is any good or not only that we’ve done everything in its pursuit that we possibly can at this period in our life.

Prophetic practice: light in the wilderness.

The dilemma of arts/responsibility/spirituality brought into focus by looking at something like the Florentine court of the Medici: High Art interwound with brutal political/economic force. (Throw the man out the fourth floor window; nowadays, we have helicopters. How exquisite.)

The dilemma of the news photographer: Should I save the victim and lose the opportunity of taking a great photograph? Or should I be “professional” and observe the world as an outsider? This holds for all artists: at one point are we being selfish in our pursuits? At what point is our solitude essential for the well being of all?

Into solitude / the Silence / the Holy Now, as Thomas Kelley phrased it.

At its core, I write to discover / remember / connect / distill.

In my writing I collect – that is, bring myself back together. More and more, I think on paper. I write to find what is under the words and phrases before me. Go deeper, and then wider. I write to listen. Eventually, I write to sing.

REGARDING THE THREE-FINGERED MOUSE

I’m inclined to agree with Bukowski in blaming Disney (with all that “happy, happy, happy”) for America’s problems. Or even the world’s. Not that I’d agree with his solution for escaping them, meaning cigarettes and the bottle or a barroom brawl and violent sex.

You see, I’m uneasy when it comes to “happiness” as a goal or a life’s purpose. There’s too much suffering and oppression around us, after all, and no spiritual unity with the universe can exist by denying that. Still, that’s not to argue we need to be pulled under with its negative impact.

As for “fun”? I see that as a self-defeating destination. Its flipside, we should note, is boredom.

Joy, however, is another matter. It’s central to the message of Jesus, as the 16th chapter of John makes clear.

To that we could add bliss or contentment, not in the sense of denying the upheavals and evil of the world but rather in the dimension of accepting a personal inner peace that allows one to labor in furthering the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

For me, this means learning to be more loving, and that’s a never ending challenge. It’s quite different from being giddy or depressed or self-centered or even blaming, gee, I was at the beginning of this post.

Oops! Back to Square One, once again.

PREPARING FOR THE TREE

Although we don’t bring the Yule tree indoors until Christmas Eve, baking and decorating the gingerbread cookies that will adorn its branches can be done days ahead.

An acorn on a pine tree? Why not, when it's among these?

An acorn on a pine tree? Why not, when it’s among these?

Large gingerbread snowflakes just might be suspended in our windows instead of the tree. Unlike those three oranges, just waiting to be peeled and eaten.

Large gingerbread snowflakes just might be suspended in our windows instead of the tree. Unlike those three oranges, just waiting to be peeled and eaten.

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