Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: New England

ON INTO ARIES  

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

~*~

  1. First crocus, first hyacinth. More welcome signs.
  2. “Ice out” in our yard – the first day you can walk a diagonal pathway without stepping on snow.
  3. At the feeder, our goldfinches have regained their yellow, first as a tone under the gray and then full-out bold. How rapid the change!
  4. Jazz trumpeter Clark Terry had a special relationship with the University of New Hampshire, one town over. His legacy continues around here. Still wish I’d heard him live, when it was an option. Remember, he taught the incomparable Miles Davis. And my, how I remember that night!
  5. How I love Robert Rauschenberg’s concept of Combines! Neo-Dada, me? Harvesting? (As in wheat. Or driving into fields of corn.) His approach infuses so many of my poems and much of my fiction. What got me labeled as a Mixmaster. Let’s see what we can throw together. Don’t leave out Roy Lichtenstein, either, with his Ben-Day dots fetish from the hot-type days of newspaper production. Oh, how that dates my sense of contemporary!
  6. Another magazine renewal form, among those I’ve let drop. Constrained income has meant limiting my memberships, too.
  7. Here, in a period when I’m supposed to be emerging from my shell, I find myself retreating instead.
  8. In the graffiti at the top flight of the observation tower: “Sometimes love just isn’t enough.” (Looking down, I saw no evidence the author had acted rashly.)
  9. What do we make of capitalism that buys a company and then expects the workers to make concessions to pay for the move? Shouldn’t the ownership go straight to the workers?
  10. Buzzards – more properly, “turkey vultures” – have returned.

~*~

The spires show signs of serious damage.

The spires show signs of serious damage.

 

The stained glass has been removed as St. Charles Roman Catholic church awaits demolition. Just three blocks away from St. Mary Roman Catholic, the two congregations had sharp differences, as some oldtimers will relate. One originated in the Quebecoise immigrants; the other, in the much earlier Irish. Now they're part of one parish.

The stained glass has been removed as St. Charles Roman Catholic church awaits demolition. Just three blocks away from St. Mary Roman Catholic, the two congregations had sharp differences, as some oldtimers will relate. One originated in the Quebecoise immigrants; the other, in the much earlier Irish. Now they’re part of one parish.

 

Water damage had weakened the structure, and repairs were deemed too costly, especially after the city's three Roman Catholic congregations were merged into one parish.

Water damage had weakened the structure, and repairs were deemed too costly, especially after the city’s three Roman Catholic congregations were merged into one parish.

 

REST IN THE AGES

Tucked away in a corner of the park, this gate.

Tucked away in a corner of the park, this gate.

The burial ground in Boston Common is the resting place of early patriots, among them the composer William Billings – the latter, by assumption rather than documentation. Historians will note that the headstones in the city’s oldest graveyards no longer stand over their intended bodies, but were moved around by convenience.

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.

It's a classic New England scene, in cities, towns, and isolated countryside.

It’s a classic New England scene, in cities, towns, and isolated countryside.

 

ALL FROM ONE WHITNEY ANCESTOR

With my interest in subterranean transit systems – remember my novel Subway Hitchhikers? – I found myself fascinated with Doug Most’s The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry that Built America’s First Subways.

His 2014 book is an ambitious project, filled with some detailed but rambling asides as well as more than a few slips I wouldn’t expect from a Boston Globe managing editor. (I doubt the family ever settled into a 16-acre farmhouse, and I know that Springfield is more than an hour from Boston today while in the period he referenced the trip would have taken days. Etc.) But his description of the technological developments, urban congestion, corrupt politics, personal financial empires, and similar forces that led to the creation of what we take for granted in our largest and greatest cities can be a gripping tale.

Equally fascinating for me, though, has been a connection that emerges out of Watertown, a Boston suburb just west of Cambridge. Crucial to Most’s story is John Whitney, a 1635 arrival to the town, which was at one time the second largest settlement in Massachusetts. Two of his descendants, brothers born further west in the state, provide the “incredible rivalry” in Most’s history, but it’s the original Whitney I find suggesting yet another ambitious history. He’s the root of a most remarkable American family.

The Methodist church where my choir rehearses weekly in Watertown was founded by Whitneys, and when the current building was erected in 1895, no expense was spared. There are impressive touches. And when one of the boys from this line moved to Detroit, he became that city’s wealthiest resident by age 28.

The deep pockets that shaped the space we sing in came from the inventor of the paper bag, it turns out – and, more important, the inventor of the machine to make it.

He’s far from being the only significant inventor or investor in the family. Eli Whitney, for one, created the cotton gin that allowed slavery-based plantations to flourish in the American South.

I get the sense that the list of inventions and inventors is a long one.

More recently, the investor John Hay Whitney owned the New York Herald-Tribune in a period when it evolved into my favorite newspaper ever, even if it was the paper’s final five years. (He also owned the Sunday newspaper supplement Parade magazine.)

Don’t overlook the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan, another family legacy, or Joan Whitney Payson, an acclaimed collector who left the Portland, Maine, art museum rather than New York’s MOMA a marvelous trove of Impressionist paintings, a move that shocked much of the art world but, well, we live only an hour from Portland – we celebrate her independence.

Come to think of it, there’s one twist of note here. Watertown is still not served by a subway.

ROUNDED WITH LIGHT

rounded stones of the shoreline
or a garden path glisten
many navy blue or nearly straw

others speckled with indecision
speckled, within and without
what grows hard as rock on a rock

nearly black stones exposing white ridges
to the light, blue veins, like mothers
slate-blue orb cleft with white quartz

some color of cooked lobster
glow of berries
in dull eddies

of clamshell or snout of rising seal
given an eye, the face of a cod or shark
approaching with its mouth closed

another burnt
and still burning
none yet look like washed potatoes

between them, broken mussels and sand
firm in clear brine
each retaining its shape, for now

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

AS THE SAP FLOWS

The mind dances here and there, rarely in a linear fashion. So what’s on my mind these days? How about counting on these fingers?

~*~

  1. Wet, sloppy snow? The kind that falls all day, making me want to scream each time I look out the window, even when it’s half melting on the street and ground and even though I no longer have to commute through its hazardous, annoying conditions. The mere thought of it, though, has us going stir-crazy.
  2. Maple-sugaring season, for some of our friends. Just listen to all the discussion regarding this year’s sap run.
  3. Blame the switch back to so-called Daylight Saving Time. Keep feeling I’m way behind. Look at the clock, it’s 1:30 p.m., then have to tell myself it would have been only 12:30 just a few days ago. This internal ticking!
  4. Revisiting Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle (four operas spanning 17 hours, which somehow pop up for me in late winter), I confess it’s hard for me to wrap my head or heart around the mythological story. Gods who are not omniscient or who are ruled by lust – that is, who are not omnipotent – make the first obstacle, even before we get to all the reliance on magic and potions. Only when I see them as today’s celebrities does any of this come into focus. And then there is the matter of flawed parenting and marriage. Even more tantalizing is the concept of casting the “gods” as the superrich who are bankrupting America – off they go to their compound.
  5. In observing the Eastern Orthodox dietary restrictions for Advent and now Lent, I’m made more aware of the world’s poor and hungry. Reach for milk for my coffee or for an egg or cheese or butter, then pull my hand back, realizing they’re dairy products, and thus prohibited for the stretch. Under a lacto-vegetarian regime, which I’d practiced in my past, these would be acceptable. The vegan alternative is so much stricter. How out of reach our Western abundance is for so many in the world. As my wife says, the practice makes us tea-totaling oil-free vegans. Curiously, our temporarily limited diet (or “fasting,” in the terminology) does not have me feeling penitent but rather, as we pursue it, has me delighting in ranges of food we normally slight. Even so, I’m really looking forward to feasting come Easter.
  6. Considering many of my favorite hippie-era writers, I’m surprised to see how apolitical many of them are. Richard Brautigan, ever so playful – or even Jack Kerouac, who inspired so many of us. I am open to alternatives, like John Nichols or Edward Abbey, though their writing feels far more conventional and less heartfelt. Makes for a fresh way of revisiting the literature of the era, especially as it leaps ahead to our current political situation.
  7. Insecurity is a manifestation of ego, standing counter to humility.
  8. A sense of being released in to the NOW for the NEW. The way some work continues.
  9. How do people in the construction trades schedule their lives? Do the calls for repairs, remodeling, and new building really average out week after week?
  10. No idea what’s on tap for tomorrow.

~*~

New England Aquarium.

New England Aquarium.

Yes, I’m still swimming laps in the indoor pool, the one in downtown Dover. Glad he’s not in my lane.

 

HOME TO ENLIGHTENMENT STYLE

A prime location in the big city.

A prime location in the big city.

Beacon Hill’s narrow streets and closely set homes invite pedestrians to enter a timeless order and grace. It’s hard for us not to imagine living here early in the 19th century as American ideas took hold.

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.

A quiet break in a crowded neighborhood.

A quiet break in a crowded neighborhood.

 

Beacon Hill is, after all, hilly.

Beacon Hill is, after all, hilly.

OUT IN THE STICKS AND STONES

Reflecting on the locations of my novels reminds me of the out-of-the-way places I’ve lived. Apart from Baltimore (which shows up in my poetry but none of my fiction), I landed in generally obscure locales.

Fiction, of course, lends itself to abstraction and generalization, and sometimes to a blending of several particular models.

Thus, Prairie Depot in Promise as well as Peel (as in apple) and With a Passing Freight Train of 119 Cars and Twin Cabooses reflects any number of farm centers across the Midwest, not all of them county seats, either. They’re once-thriving communities that have been left behind in the shift to the big cities and global economics. Sometimes there’s a factory or two, plus the rail yards and crossings.

The countryside around the campus in Daffodil Sunrise is more rolling and wooded, a landscape that also appears in sections of Promise, St. Helens in the Mix, and my newest novel-in-the-works. Actually, it’s not that different from the rural places in Ashram, Hippie Drum, and Hippie Love, either. While these, too, are economically and politically bypassed, they are more scenic and present more recreational opportunities to explore.

Rehoboth in Hometown News represents the industrial cities hard-hit by globalization and the loss of unionized labor job – places aptly described as the Rust Belt, from Upstate New York and Pennsylvania westward across the Mississippi.

Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider takes place in yrUBbury, a derelict but sufficiently remote mill town somewhere in the Northeast.

Naturally, Subway Hitchhikers and Third Rail run through the big city.

And the desert interior of the Pacific Northwest is the culmination of Promise, Peel (as in apple), St. Helens in the Mix, and Kokopelli’s Hornpipe. It’s a landscape I initially found alien but eventually came to love.

Essentially, I’ve regarded these places as characters in my fiction – as much as the people who move through them.

Popular culture takes place largely in Manhattan, Hollywood, London, Paris, Chicago, or Nashville – with dashes of San Francisco, Seattle, or other trendy backdrops thrown in. I believe the communities where we live influences our outlooks and actions. I want to hear much more from the other places, ones as overlooked as the ones I explore.

MARCHING ON, BRAVELY

Being mindful of what’s right in front of us can always be a challenge. Here are 10 new items from my end.

~*~

  1. Keep an eye on the pussy willows, about ready to harvest – a sure promise of spring. How gallantly, snowdrops in bloom – green shoots of hyacinths – even in receding snowbanks.
  2. Keep an ear open at night for peepers, coming to life in their thawing vernal ponds.
  3. Time for seaweed runs, too. Off to the beach to collect mineral-rich debris for the garden. What about picking something out of the canister of kites in the loft before I go? Spend a little more time by the surf? Rather than just dashing off and back home?
  4. As I’ve said, I welcome a faith that encourages questioning and action. I’ve come to appreciate the implicit yes in the Quaker queries. (Link to Light)
  5. Keep hoping to find my appropriate schedule, my right routine, my most balanced pace of life. Years before retiring, I’d draft what I thought might be ideal daily and weekly rounds – charts that drew my wife’s derision when she finally viewed them. (To be fair, some predated our marriage.) Yes, there’s so much I overlooked or simply assumed would fit in. And so much that’s come into my life since. My weekly choir rehearsal in Boston, for instance, throws me off-kilter, since it means getting home around midnight. Otherwise, I’d be rising before 5 or 6, as she does, and sitting to meditate as a yogi or just write. So what have I really settled into?
  6. We are getting days now when the top of the barn’s warm enough for yoga exercise and meditation in early afternoon. Not the schedule I’d projected, but one that’s organic to our situation.
  7. Maybe it’s just a fantasy: past/present/future all within this moment, if you pause.
  8. Fulfillment is ultimately not on my own time scale but the Holy One’s. How terrifying!
  9. Perhaps Verdi’s most compelling plot line until Otello, his 1850 Stiffelio tells of a Protestant minister and his unfaithful wife. Tellingly, it was censored at the first performance and then lost until 1960. In the background, at the time, the composer was living with a divorced woman. Could this be the basis for yet another masterpiece?
  10. Why do Americans keep reelecting the same members of the Worst Congress in History? Is there some death wish for democracy?

~*~

Right in the heart of downtown Dover, the mill. The retail store in the front sits out over the Cocheco River.

Right in the heart of downtown Dover, the mill. The retail store in the front sits out over the Cocheco River.

IN PLANNING FOR THE YEAR

Just what more do we need
in addition to the beginnings of two panels of ferns
behind the lilacs – my woodland mirror

or a blooming tepee with gourds and climbing beans
surrounded by zinnias for my Lady of Sunday Comics
in the heart of the exposed swamp

and the race to implant the kitchen-door garden  …

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
For more,
click here.

UNDER THE SEA

 

Looking at you, too ...

Looking at you, too …

The big tank at the New England Aquarium provides close-up views of oceanic stars.

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.

Somehow, I'm reminded of a butterfly.

Somehow, I’m reminded of a butterfly.