Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Travel


At the Slater Mill ...

At the Slater Mill …

The modest Blackstone River flows through Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where it powered the birth of America’s industrial revolution.

The stream reaches to Worcester, Massachusetts, the second-largest city in New England, and once ran many factories along its way.

My fondness for old mills, by the way, did prompt a novel, Big Inca.

Just upstream ...

Just upstream …


Viewed from inside the Slater Mill ...

Viewed from inside the Slater Mill …



Initially, I regard the mountain as another slumber-induced fantasy. Its climax appears pristine, boundless, haughty, mesmerizing, even eerie. Over time I behold its hideousness and terror as well. Such beauty may suddenly turn fatal. Timberlands netted with trails and campsites, plus unfettered wildlife, extend from its ivory helix. These opportunities are my primary rationale for migrating to this corner of the nation. But these woodlands border desert, and none of my maps alert me to the consequences. Not even Georgia O’Keeffe’s brilliant renderings of New Mexico, artwork I long admired, hint at its harsh thirst. Rather, the paintings emerge as another kind of dream to be savored, confined to a gallery or oversized pages. Besides, my definition of desert would have required camels, or at least organ barrel cactus, neither of them found in the cheat grass and sagebrush foothills surrounding my new home and workplace.

A glacier-glad mountain resembles a foaming waterfall. It is, after all, an endlessly frozen cataract. Below it, in late spring or early summer, breastworks are laced with plummeting streams racing toward September irrigation in desert to the east. On the clearest days, Rainier’s ice sparkles; its beacon flashes sixty miles to the orchard where we dwelled. At sunset the inactive volcano’s shadow is a finger reaching toward the rising full moon. It points as well to places we’ve abandoned.

The predominant mountain is also the moodiest feature of the vista. Everything’s arrayed in reference to this pillar. To observe it over time is akin to regarding one’s beloved. Neither the zenith nor one’s honey is as immovable as one presumes. They are not the divinity. They’re more accurately repeated dreams, where some episodes fade out over the years while others intensify. Sleep visions of the soul, having one foot in the dreamer’s past and the other in the present, dance on water. Sometimes they drown. Even a mountain.

You should see the way Kokopelli makes it dance before sunrise.

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


On scattered reservations, a few elders rise before dawn each day and summon the sun to return. Don’t scoff. When I, too, get up in the dark and meditate, I feel my own self-confidence rising. Watch the world awaken. Light a wood fire, something I sit beside and watch for hours, its flames more imaginative than television. Bask in the radiant warmth.

Kokopelli, night owl that he is, still slumbers.

My wife, in another room, rolls toward the wall and finally rises to join me.

There’s a science, and then there’s an art. In the pyre, paper first chars, then shrinks, and finally explodes. Only then do flames engulf it. “Consider the bomb a ream would create,” I grin at her.

“Now who would you want to bomb, Buzzard?”

But I also know how difficult igniting that ream would be, and how difficult to keep it burning. Watch carefully and misconceptions turn to ash.

In the continuing drought of that fall and winter, I explore national forest well into February. Areas that should be buried in a half-dozen feet of snow are instead bare. Atop one mountain, I look over a cliff. “I think it’s dolomite.” Maybe it isn’t. Maybe the identification isn’t earth-shaking important, but learning the names of places and their minerals, fauna, and flora adds dimensions to a place. Improves your chances of survival, too, if put to the test. For now, I scramble on the scree and realize that white painted stones at the cliff’s edge marked out a heliport. Far below my feet, a table of forest spreads into basins that are invisible from my vantage, and other places I’ve already been. I trace Forest Service roads, such as they are — 1707 from Raganunda to the top or 601 down to Willy Dick’s. “Keep elk gate closed,” the sign reads when I came out, passing a few back country ranches to the highway’s rush and debris. Far above all that, I sing out: “God bless a bloody rib cage above gray fuzz. Perhaps we’ll have rain in the morning! We shouldn’t be kicking this dust.”

In a zero-degree fog, the sun rises as white as the moon.

“Let our liquid flow again despite this desiccation!” I cry in my dreams. “Why is it so difficult to recall the thoughts rainstorms instilled?”

“You put too much value on sorrow,” Kokopelli tells me. Even in my sleep, that old guide’s still at work.

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


Old North Church, in Boston's North End.

Old North Church, in Boston’s North End.

Lanterns in the spire of North Church signaled directions to Paul Revere and other riders at the outbreak of the American Revolution. The race to Lexington and Concord was on.

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.




don’t presume the ocean is smiling
or the gulls enchant
the spire warns you

especially in New England

to step
back from the wreckage
or unexpected nor’easter


gales and furies
sweep up and disappear within hours
behind placid indifference

raise public duty

expense and craftsmanship
defining coastline
signatures, on the dotted line
in the clearest conditions


pointer / referent / rhythm of light / solitude or
loneliness / romantic illusion / high-maintenance history
lightening bolt / flicker / flare / discharge
beer can or wine bottle uncorking or blowing its cork
tourist magnet / spike / whistle, horn, upturned bell
observatory / night madness / memorial / first end of the sea
fist of defiance / ordered rock on rocks / spiral staircase to sky
to the horizon / a hollow tube / a composition of lenses
slivers of glass / slivers of crystal / a glass circle carousel
a hermitage / pigeon roost / billboard / thumbtack
anchored ship’s bridge / silver cup tilting / upraised finger


Boon Island, flashing white every five seconds
projects nineteen miles out to sea

Goat, faintly to the north

to the south
White Island, out in the Shoals

and Whaleback, would be double white flashes every ten seconds
just over the trees

way off, Thacher Island Twin Lights
(aka Cape Ann Lights or Rockport, Mass.)
project seventeen, but viewed from up on rock

at Nubble, some extra distance
on a rare night

of calm

joining the squat red beam
and strobe flash
each one
proclaiming liberty
over any face of oppression

the tyrant sea offers

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


Strolling through the neighborhood.

Strolling through the neighborhood.

Boston’s Back Bay boulevards reflect the rising wealth of the city in the aftermath of the Civil War.

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.

Boulevards lined with housing like this.

Boulevards lined with housing like this.



Faithful as a dog, a refrain keeps recurring in my head: “I lift my eyes to the hills, where cometh my strength,” hills that encircle. This Biblical-sticking phrase, a misquotation of a mistranslation, as it turns out, nevertheless clears the static from my thoughts. As I drive home from the office just after dark, I concede this is not a topography man masters: he can destroy it, mutilate it, build highways upon it, bomb it, graze it, irrigate it, but not master it, not like Kansas where a man can stand in his cornfields, stand above everything except trees he plants for shade, a windscreen, and firewood. This forlorn wasteland has its own ways: a multitude of mammal life, insect, and rattlesnake, as well as sagebrush (though tumbleweed’s an import, a weed rolling through downtown).

Measureless, desolate starkness is a wild bride; human strategies of survival remain a layer of dust.

It’s not just the desert that holds treachery. Rainier, “Old Rainy,” could blow anytime, shooting lava on hundred-mile-an-hour air cushions into Tacoma and Seattle. A heavy spring rain could also slam snow, ice, and mud into those cities and their suburbs, sweeping away highways, houses, forests, and rivers — as St. Helens demonstrates when it explodes a few years hence. The most previous example was in ’47 with Kautz Glacier. Twenty-six volcano heads in the Cascade Range all manifest dangerous potential; the last time Rainier blew, five thousand years ago, Alberta, Canada, was ashed; smoking was still reported in the nineteenth century; this giant honeycomb radiates heat under all that ice, emits sulfur fumes on top, remains so fragile a good explosion could level it all. Just examine the Native-American legends and you’ll find reports of such explosions elaborated by witnesses.

Still, there are days when the mountains are camouflaged — days when you can step out on the clouds, if you desire, the way Kokopelli does.

Already, my maps no longer point only north-south/east-west, but up/down and past/future as well.

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


At a willow break on down the pathway, we scared up swallows — flight after flight, flock after flock. Tried to count them, without luck.

“How do so many all fit into one tiny bush?”I wondered.

“Beats me. I’ve been pondering that one a lot these days.”

For more of the story, click here.


Atop Fanueil Hall.

Atop Fanueil Hall.

The cricket design of the weather vane atop Faneuil Hall always delights me. Or, as I long wondered from the ground, could it be a grasshopper?

Whichever, the craftsman and the client both demonstrate a lasting sense of delight in the realms of nature. Turns out to be a cricket after all, crafted in 1742 by Deacon Shem Drowne, perhaps inspired by similar weather vanes on London’s Royal Exchange building. The cricket, by the way, is the only part of the historic building to remain unchanged from the 1742 original. A 1761 fire gutted merchant Peter Faneuil’s original structure, and in 1805 architect Charles Bulfinch designed additions that doubled the width and length of the building while keeping the basic style to produce what we see today.

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.


Someday I’ll learn the identities of clouds. Buy the chart, memorize their qualities and forms, and then watch the flowing sky afresh. This is, after all, yet another strand of mapping.

From childhood, I’ve absorbed maps. Mind travel. Concepts augmented by photographs and writings, which have often furnished a sense a such familiarity that when I arrive in a new place, strangers stop me to ask directions, even on my inaugural visit. Foliage, waters, buildings, and people fill in the lines of his maps as they stretch toward some new border. But this move, with its desert, has been an exception. Nothing’s been predictable or particularly comforting. Besides, I experience a vague agitation when venturing to the edge of my known universe. If possible, when visiting new locale, I push out a few miles further, to determine what’s over the next ridge or river — or at least down the road — as if to anchor myself within some context, rather than remain at its periphery. Curiously, I feel more secure when placing that border at some shoreline or rise — countryside, at the least — rather than within seemingly endless tracts of housing, factories, stores, and pavement. Even a round earth has places where monsters may lurk. Gaps exist in any map. Consider the clouds. Everything is, after all, changing. Even that rock, where Kokopelli is sitting.

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