Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

SWIMMING WITH PISCES

Why wait for the dust to settle? Here are 10 bullets from my end.

~*~

  1. Would love to get back to another personal routine that’s somehow fallen by the wayside: sitting abed and “simmering” each morning with a cup of coffee to accompany some reading or just my own thoughts. Rather than popping right up and getting in gear. Theologian Howard Thurman was a big advocate of the practice and its reversal in the evening.
  2. Do have the indolent luxury of hiding out in our third-floor guest room (a.k.a. crafts room), opposite my studio, maybe even allowing a whole thick novel to wash over me as I read if I’m not napping there. It’s the room up there that gets direct sunlight, unlike my north-facing studio.
  3. Forsythia, which she insists are as hardy as weeds, are in danger of blooming too early. One more sign of disaster we’ve observed. We’re watching them, all the same, to bring a few sprigs in to force into flower sometime approaching Easter.
  4. Returning to the memory of hitchhiking – giving a lift to others when you can or extending their generosity, in some manner – suggests compiling a long annotated list of our experiences and what we learned, pro and con. Maybe as Letters to Youth from a retired hitchhiker or a way of finally gleaning some wisdom in reflecting on the era. Yes, it could be giddy but also risky. And I’m not the one to see it from the “hippie chick” perspective. Anyone else want to rise to the challenge?
  5. We’re well into sauna season, the little cabin at the edge of the pond. I’m still not breaking the ice for a dip. Let the younger, more foolhardy guys to that. No, there’s no reason for us geezers to tempt cardiac arrest.
  6. Curiously, I don’t seem to be getting any more done in my personal pursuits than when I was working fulltime. Or was I really neglecting a lot more then than I remember?
  7. February is such a short month, especially for those of us who have legal obligations to fulfill – car inspections and new tags, for instance. And then there are all those monthly payments coming due the equivalent of at least a weekend earlier.
  8. Quakers traditionally eschew a liturgical calendar, preferring instead that every day should be holy. Not that we commonly manage that. But that doesn’t preclude some of us from voluntarily taking up disciplines that would be mandatory in other denominations. For example, my wife and I customarily delve into Advent and Lenten readings and abstain from alcohol for those periods. (As a practice, it’s good to be able to say “No” and stick with it, especially when it comes to temptations like my martinis.) This past Advent we engaged Eastern Orthodox “fasting,” realizing a vegan diet would fit the rules if we eliminated oil on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, apart from the fish allowed on weekends. The avoidance of meat was no problem, but we really missed the cheese and eggs, which many vegetarians allow, and I nearly added milk to my coffee more than once. Almond milk, by the way, is a fine substitute, but I also gained an actual fondness for black coffee. So much for the sugar. Still, it’s surprising how many labels I began reading – cookies, chocolate – and found offending additives. With Orthodox Lent beginning February 27, we’re looking at even stricter rules. It’s what she describes as being a tea-totaling vegan with no olive oil. We really have to admire all those who take this in stride.
  9. And any day now we’ll be invaded by ants. They seldom wait for mid-May.
  10. We’ve seen too many who shout “law and order” turn out themselves to be lawless and disorderly.

~*~

You know it's a cold morning when you look out the window and see this. Especially when all the other neighbors are in the same boat.

You know it’s a cold morning when you look out the window and see this. Especially when all the other neighbors are in the same boat.

BEWARE OF OWLS DISGUISED AS PARAKEETS OR SPARROWS

Ever seen a squirrel caught in a bramble?
A seeming escape leading nowhere?
He could tell you.

*   *   *

He could tell you
he’s lucky to still be alive.

*   *   *

There are those who insist love is nothing more
than a seasonal disorder, an allergy or a virus.
Makes sense when you’re speaking of Sick With Love.
But how do you cope dealing with females
happier with thorns than leaves and berries?
Or when confronted by some dog?

*   *   *

Running along a phone line, a squirrel
never falls over. To hell with gravity.
It’s the strength of those long, skinny toes
can reach around a stick. Hold tight.

Poem copyright 2015 by Jnana Hodson
To read the full set of squirrelly poems,
click here.

 

PARADING THROUGH THE PUBLIC GARDEN

Happy birthday, Mr. President!

Happy birthday, Mr. President!

George Washington rides in full splendor at an entrance to the Public Garden. Sometimes he’s not alone, no matter how much he overshadows mere human equestrians.

Boston is a rich and varied destination – the Hub of New England, or the Universe, as they used to say. Living a little more than an hour to the north, we’re well within its orb.

The horse really adds to the impression.

The horse really adds to the impression.

SITING THE MILL

rhythm of earth
rhythm of water
rhythm of wind

in the penstock
in the flywheel
in the turbine
conjoining

rhythm of fire

~*~

home in time to vacuum, dust
and change the sheets
other than that, she was pretty flexible

all together now
there are no riverboats
where canal locks skirted the cascades

To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015

THE INTERIOR SURPRISES

When the Pacific Northwest is mentioned, most people envision lush evergreen rainforests amid glacial mountains; few consider the desert that occupies most of Washington State, Oregon, and Idaho. I now explore the western end of the largely treeless expanse beginning within the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas and extending almost to the Pacific Rim itself. Remember, a leafy tree requires thirty inches of rainfall a year to survive; an evergreen, somewhat less. My valley received an average of a little more than seven inches a year. Having grown up adjusting to muggy summers, I find a desert can affect my spirit in more ways than I ever would have imagined.

But you can choose, too, not to call everything by the names on maps. As geographies are being transformed ever more rapidly, few outward specifics hold long. Seek instead the vibrations of a site, sense its unseen roots and unexpressed timeless potential. In that vein, another depth appears. Perhaps each human inhabitant will go beyond basic misunderstandings. As I still hope.

Some maps are even jigsaw puzzles. And you think they’re for children?

Returning from that first trip to India, my spiritual mentor remarked that each village had felt different. “It’s more than appearances. The difference is the distinct vibration of a site. Many of their deities belong to a specific locality. One village will worship one god; another will enshrine another.” That’s how they identified the unique quality of a spot, just as Westerners have chemical elements to define physical qualities of a substance.

Even though I wasn’t quite certain of their origin or all of their psychic flavors, I sensed such subtleties. There are spiritual fingerprints certain people leave behind: a Quaker or Dunker neighborhood, for instance, may have a distinctive feel even a century after those worshipers depart. The same seems to be true for American Indian sites.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

JUST HOW BIG IS THAT TOWN WITH THE MILLS?

When I began drafting Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider, I was coming off a two-year stint that had me traveling across the Northeast, including the Atlantic Seaboard from Maine through Virginia. I hunkered down in Baltimore to concentrate on a handful of major writing projects in a very intense year of self-imposed sabbatical. (No university support, if you were wondering.)

While Big Inca marked a sharp departure from my other works, moving into dark subconscious realms and mysterious meanderings, it did incorporate castoffs from some of the other projects. The prompt, though, was a vague dream of restoring landmark mills beside a river, a project that could have happened just about anywhere in the region I’d been traveling.

We think of them as textile mills, and many of them were. But the water power could be employed for just about any kind of manufacturing, as I’ve since learned, from machine-making itself to shoes to clothespins to locomotives, as well as the grain and sawmill operations I’d been introduced to on our trips to historic sites in my childhood, starting with the overshot wheel and grindstones in Carillon Park in Dayton and the reconstructed Spring Mill village in Indiana.

As a youth, I’d also owned a gorgeous volume the duPont company had published to celebrate its history, and my favorite parts were the illustrations of its early mills and supporting waterways and lands in Delaware.

So there was already a degree of romance in my thinking about the use of old-fashioned waterpower.

Then, in my first job after college, I was introduced to the ruins of cigar factories beside a dam in the Susquehanna River, a tangled patch I returned to frequently, as I describe in my set of poems, Susquehanna. Just how would the mills have looked, anyway? And how would they have shaped the adjacent neighborhood, a setting reflected in Riverside, another of my poetry collections?

My more recent employment had me calling on places like Fall River, Massachusetts, with its array of vacant stone mills, as well as towns incorporating the more common red brick versions, large and small.

Add to that mention of the entrepreneurial impact of the many mills that once stood along the Jones Falls in Baltimore itself, before the freeway wound through the sites, and I was quickly writing.

Since releasing the novel, though, I’ve been wondering about scale. Just how big a town are we dealing with? And, for that matter, how big a mill yard?

In the back of my head I’d imagined something along the lines of Binghamton, New York, a city of roughly 50,000 – large enough to move about in inconspicuously but not too big to be, well, anywhere in the corporate radar these days. Or, more accurately, the recent past when the action takes place.

That’s had me looking more closely at old mill towns, of course, and asking if this one or that could be the right setting. Security, by the way, adds another consideration – I wouldn’t want the novel’s mills sitting right downtown, as they do where I now live or in several of the neighboring towns. Somersworth, to the north, has train tracks separating its old mills from the rest of the town, and Binghamton had a freeway.

A smaller town, in contrast, might simply have too many nosy neighbors who would insist on knowing everything about a newcomer like Bill, and that wouldn’t do. Still, there are some beautiful sites for imagining as you move about.

WHATEVER THE NEXT STAGE

the Late Quartets
meaning, always, Beethoven
always attended most intensely
late at night
alone

something here liberated from audience
or sound itself
or even emotion or intellect, solely
some pure essence
released within four players’ labor

~*~

the labor has me thinking
of Stephen Foster, his two strands of work
the minstrel songs that provided
his income and reputation
but his parlor art songs from his depth

yes, I’m far more compartmentalized

journalism, poetry, fiction, religion, et al

~*~

imagining my own funeral
a performance of Schubert’s string quintet
or a hymn-sing
if not my Quaker silence with vocal
messages therein
whatever the next stage

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set, click here.

OUT OF OBSESSION INTO THE BLAZE

Words or appearances often mask deeper, contradictory currents. Sometimes, as they tangle, each knot becomes an aching triangle.

In the throes of romantic passion, a participant will choose one line of argument over the evidence of another. To call him or her a victim is hardly accurate, no matter the pain, even after the heart and mind conflict.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross arise in such obsession, the white-hot tension rather than in some cool quietude years later – the pursuit of a golden ideal and then falling. Call them love poems if you dare.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

LEVIATHAN, AS AN EMBLEM

1

now to see
North Atlantic
in my sphere

landlocked
till twenty-eight

that week, camping tide-to-tide
beside North Pacific

and you speak of turning to Christ?

2

who found the eagle in the desert canyon
and high mountains
before the Upper Mississippi
or Great Falls of the Potomac?

still, moose fail to inspire me
as elk did

3

whales, then
rather than moose
in contrast to elk of the Yakima Valley

this mirror of historic economy

besides, moose and whales do not leave tracks
everywhere we trek here,
unlike the elk out west

to say nothing of ticks

4

water, defining land
defining water
and the overlap

I want to know what the ocean voices
in its repetition
addressing the absent moon
or distance, even in the erasure

bank of fog
curtain of resounding
fog horn or bell

or vast silence
before

the hundred thousand variations of nor’easter
just off this point

no need to circle the planet

we have our fill of floundering
agents of change

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set of seacoast poems,
click here.

TRAPPED IN THE SCHEDULING

Thinking, too, of Bill Taber’s observation that Quakerism is filled with “strong women and tender men.” Think that describes us?

Which reminds me of a story Sondra Cronk was telling at Tract Association; she was back stateside between semesters at Woodbrooke (the English Pendle Hill center). Friends Meetings there (so she said) are in a very decrepit and lowly state, although as thee may imagine, some of the most powerful worship occurs in the very small Meetings that appear physically most ghostly. In any case, at one of the Quarterly or Yearly Meeting sessions, someone raised the question of whether we were letting the scheduling get in the way of Divine Leading – that is, whether our sessions are too busy to allow the Lord to do His work. Without seeing the irony that followed, the clerk replied: “I don’t see how we can possibly discuss that before 1988!” To which he was challenged: “We can’t wait that long!” “Well, then, maybe we can work it in later in 1986.” No wonder I’m so frustrated with committees! What I’m realizing is that in responding to the call not to serve on committees, I’ve been liberated to perform much needed intervisitation, as the Lord leads me. If I were to do this as part of a committee – and I may still have notes from the gatherings Ohio Yearly Meeting extended when the Lake Erie Association of Friends was not yet a YM – there would be so much effort involved in simply getting everyone together, establishing schedules, packing lunches, carpooling, and writing and duplicating reports, that the visitation would never get off the ground. Well, a committee of two, perhaps: thee and me, or Charles and me. Or even three or four in close combinations such as thee, Charles, Paula, and me. Which seems to be how early Friends did it! How enlightening!

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.