Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection


Three hundred sunny days a year in a fertile land may seem like Paradise.

But it’s surrounded by desert.


Desert turns everything to bone. That, or to stone. Even the scattered tufts of cheat grass and the isolated clusters of flowers turn into straw skeletons. Social conventions, too, dry away. In pursuing clarity, which parched spreads possess abundantly, I also enter an order of madness. Paradoxically, to preserve my sanity in dealing with people, it becomes periodically necessary for me to revisit this incomprehensible delirium. Settle back on this my bedrock, readjust to my own frame. Here, then, I return afresh to spaces within and without. Wait. Listen. In this place, wind is a clearing, spiraling on itself. Then, when this twisting reverses, screwing into bony alkaline soil, we give praise. At times, I even see my own heart clearly. As I come to know my way around more securely, I lift a cup of clear spring water and pour it on bleached parchment at my feet. Selah. The next day a bouquet of tiny flowers rises like fingers bent by wind. Always somewhere, wind.


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Kokopelli 1


Turquoise conveys a state of mind originating in desert country, with its echoes of vast sky and precious waters. Silver, drawn from the mountains, carries this mindset into the night and the logic of dreams. Both minerals are shaped by hammering that extends into drumming and dancing, and both are treasured by Native craftspeople across the continent in their adornment. I’ve written poems that take wing in that spirit.

Some of those  – “The Groundhog Skin Distribution” and “Cooking the Camas Root and More,” especially – are drawn from notes I made from ethnology periodicals before I had any suspicion I’d be relocating to the Pacific Northwest. While the citations have, unfortunately, been lost, I do need to acknowledge a deep indebtedness to them and to their sources, along with their suggestions of other pathways of perceiving an environment and surviving.

The influence also appears in my novels Promise, Peel, and St. Helens in the Mix, and in my memoir Kokopelli’s Hornpipe.


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Mountain 1



These days, the Greek Orthodox community has much more substance – and influence – in Dover than do the Friends, even though Quakers once formed a third of the population.

Our plumber, our wine retailer, our favorite meat store, the downtown seafood restaurant … the list goes on. Add a daughter’s boyfriend, one-half of his genetic pool. The local congregation’s participation in the ecumenical Thanksgiving service. Or its annual Labor Day weekend festival and traditional food and dancing.

Even so, it’s a largely invisible presence … and quite a legacy, as I’ve been discovering, step by step. Let me add, a very tolerant circle, too, as they’ve welcomed me to the line in dancing. Oh, my, have they!


Kodak12 134It may be summer, but this is enough to remind me Christmas is coming. Or eternity, considering it’s in our Quaker cemetery.

As for you?


With its cloudless skies, it could be an ideal agricultural cornucopia. If you had water.


In other climates, you commonly overlook the element of space, unless looking into the heavens on a brittle night. You observe objects, and space becomes the measure of distance between an object and you, or else some arrangement of objects. In contrast, desert appears more as a vacuum — a juxtaposition of surfaces, of sky and earth extending outward not to some imaged convergence (such as the perspective point where the twin rails of a train track become one) but rather away from any focus, and thus outward around both of the observer’s ears. Here, space itself becomes obvious, as if turned upright, like a wall in your face. So often in life, what should be most obvious is the hardest to see. The spider is on the window; the spider is on this page.


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Kokopelli 1


Five volunteer departments responded, “The whole hill is on fire!” – only to discover a brilliant sunset in the woods. Five, all of the members dropping their daily activities to dash off on an emergency mission.

Now the caller was running for sheriff.


All these years later, I can’t remember who won.


There are many approaches when it comes to travel. Some folks like the big cruise ships. The Jet Set, well, flies off to chic-chic hot spots – and skips everything in between. For more down-to-earth vagabonds, there are camper-trailers and the like, and a whole range of campgrounds geared to their needs. Add to that bus tours and trains or the ol’ family car or even a bicycle or motorcycle.

And the destinations can be just as varied – from big cities, foreign countries, mountains or seaside, resort or casino, dude ranch or nature preserve, family or friends.

That’s even before we throw in factors like snow (either to escape or use for skiing) and sunshine.

My preference leans toward the back pack in one way or another. When I was “on the road” covering 14 states in sales, I used to call my valet bag a businessman’s back pack, for good reason. On my own, I’m likely to be using my sleeping bag, too, so you get the picture.

Maybe now that I’m retired I’ll even get back to some backpacking in the nearby White Mountains. We’ll see. I learned the lessons well as a Boy Scout.


Back Pack 1To go further, click here.


Ever look back and wonder when you first encountered an item that’s now one of your go-to menu items?

Oh, I can remember when pizzas first invaded our neighborhood – the smell of oregano easily triggers that preschool memory!

But the Greek wrap called a gyro – and pronounced HE-ro – remains a mystery. I may have discovered it, along with souvlaki, in the late ’70s in the University District of Seattle, back when we’d visit from the interior desert. Or it may have come from a takeout place we ordered from at the newspaper, a decade-and-a-half later.

I do remember a heavenly example from a wood-fired stove at the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine, back in 2002 – along with a wait in a very long line.

More recently, it’s been the highlight of dinner before our weekly choir rehearsals in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Just remember, no onions on mine, please.


Kodak14 094A farmhouse reposes in the August breeze. I suspect it’s been there forever.



in addition to cricket profusion
skunks roving in the night

I pull Jerusalem artichokes from the hedge
which needs to be trimmed again

bouquets of cut flowers appear around the house
the Joe Pye weed’s taller than me

Chinese lanterns
in the compost barrels
puzzle me
and then it’s happy anniversary

poem copyright 2015 by Jnana Hodson


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