Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Travel

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.

INDUSTRIAL AGE BIRTHPLACE

This is where it began.

This is where it began, starting with the Slater Mill on the left and building into the Wilkinson Mill, center.

The modest Slater Mill complex in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is honored as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.

The operation originated when apprentice Samuel Slater slipped through British security with secrets for textiles manufacturing and was hired by Moses Brown to replicate them in America, with the mill opening in 1793.

The fact that Brown, a Quaker, and his partners advertised for what was essentially stolen information troubles me – I do wonder how they justified their actions when questioned by their Friends meetings. The English, meanwhile, had long before enacted barriers that penalized fellow citizens in Ireland and America. Perhaps that was sufficient inspiration, even before the American Revolutionary War. Perhaps one action apologized for the other.

I was resting my finguers on this waterpowered lathe when I realized it was the origin of mass-production.

I was resting my fingers on this water-powered lathe when I realized it was the origin of mass-production. Without uniform parts, each item would have to be handcrafted from scratch.

 

There were differences between the Quaker Work Ethic and the Puritan Work Ethic, but they would have agreed on this sign.

There were differences between the Quaker Work Ethic and the Puritan Work Ethic, but they would have agreed on this sign.

More remarkably, though, Slater’s assistant, David Wilkinson, then provided the next leap – a lathe that produced large screws that were far more uniform than those painstakingly made by hand. Whether he or Henry Maudslay in England was the first to produce such precise work can be argued, but the results were the foundation for the innovative precision toolmakers who would transform industry. This was, in effect, the foundation for mass production. The thinking behind Wilkinson’s model inspired a league of New Englanders to advance the technology in applications across the region.

I doubt this was the origin of the phrase “Yankee ingenuity,” though it certainly fits.

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

SCRIBBLING OF THE UNIVERSE, IN A PERSONAL SENSE

In my novel Promise, especially, Jaya aspires to a form of literary creativity that’s not exactly poetry and not exactly prose as we know it, either. It’s part of her spiritual practice, arising in yoga, and reflects her intimate relationships with her husband and friends as well as their place in their sequence of landscapes.

In the years since publishing that novel and its sequels, Peel (as in apple) and St. Helens in the Mix, I’ve encountered something close to what she may have envisioned – the Gift Letters or Gift Songs of the American Shakers, a marvelous elixir of messages channeled from earlier leaders of the religious sect that the medium embellished with drawings and often an alien languageand alphabet. The handdrawn pages I’ve seen in art museums and online are arrestingly innocent in their purity and intent, meant to be given to a friend as encouragement and comfort, heart-to-heart, with the giver as the intermediary connecting past, present, and future. In each page, hope rings with sunlight and gentleness.

In these weekly Personal Journey entries on the Red Barn, I’ve begun presenting excerpts from a related book, Kokopelli’s Hornpipe. Like the three novels based on Jaya and her legacy, this volume has its root in the desert interior of the Pacific Northwest, this time examined with a more mythopoetical focus through the legendary character known as Kokopelli.

Like Jaya’s desire to express her deepest experiences in an entirely original art form, Kokopelli tries to elude classification. Is it fiction? I call it a novel, even if it’s only novella length. And I’d argue it’s more complex than a novella allows. Are its chapters essentially essays or memoir? The fictional characters must be taken into account as well as the underlying mythologies. I could point to some of Barry Holstun Lopez’ wondrous works and ask the same. Add to that the questions of identity, especially as a place assumes importance, even before we get to New Zion or New Jerusalem, so crucial in the American experience.

At the heart of all this is the basic matter of just who we love, and why. The matter of just where we are in the universe.

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

FROZEN IN SPACE

For now, it seemed we were driving backward in time. The freeway was well behind us, as well as the housing developments. We encountered more tarpaper, unpainted siding, elk antlers above the shed door. Forest, and then steep hillsides, closed in on the road until, as the incline pitched noticeably, we entered the national park, with its hairpin curves around canyon walls finally giving way to switchbacks rising up a mountainside to Paradise Needle a mile above sea level.

I observed a rhythm, too, in the cloud cover. Initially, it presents lapses and teasing glimpses of nearly-sheer green slopes shooting above the roadway. Finally come earnest visions of actual summits overhead. Unexpectedly, the breathtaking white immensity of Mount Rainier itself appears. Even so, you’re unprepared for the snowy mass before you. No photograph could have suggested such vast dimensions. Even if this view were displayed full-size, it would occupy an entire gallery, including the floor and ceiling, and still the camera lenses would have compressed the vertical and horizontal expanses. What you behold is so broad the windshield cannot frame both flanks simultaneously. Rather than a smooth, cloud-like shroud, the mountain’s mantled glaciers reveal themselves as fractured, violent, and disdainful amid rocky spines. Everything shimmers in the thin, cold, crystalline air. As I pulled into the trailhead parking lot, Todd regarded rocky saw-tooth ridges arrayed around the stratovolcano itself, and these remained separated from it by fathomless gorges. Starting with his chin to his chest, and rolling his head upward until my neck could stretch no more, he regarded the nearly three-mile elevation from valley bottom to summit. “Thou whose heart constantly reaches upward,” he began to pray, standing within a supreme example of spiritual architecture. “This is nothing like what I’d read in those textbooks. Wow!”

He, too, was frozen in space.

For more of the story, click here.

OH, SUCH PLEASURE IN THE SPRAY!

Penguins at the New England Aquarium take utter delight in the periodic rounds of spray around their pool.

Penguins at the New England Aquarium take utter delight in the periodic rounds of spray around their pool.

The New England Aquarium at the edge of Boston Harbor is a fascinating destination. And penguins can be endlessly amusing.

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.

 

MAPPING MORE THAN GEOGRAPHY

I had no knowledge of the streams of quiet rebels who experience divinity directly, thanks, in part, to the map of their heritage as they work with the soil and their own bodies. These days, they resist as best they can the manufactured desires beaming from satellites or television airwaves, even while they watch many of their children succumb to these temptations. They could tell us about Elijah or Jeremiah, the Babylonian captivity, or the Maccabees’ war of independence, in addition to my own ancestors’ sufferings recorded in The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians or Joseph Besse’s A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers, for the Testimony of a Good Conscience. When, at last, I reclaim this legacy, piecemeal, I ask, “So whose story are you telling, anyhow? Which grandparents are yours?” Opening their maps, I follow their footsteps, even in a strange land. Well made cartography includes supplications and blessings, as well as warnings.

My own homeland once included many woodlands well into my grandfather’s childhood. A balance of forest, with its firewood and construction timber, and farm fields and pastures. So much so, in fact, that people could travel dozens of miles on roads that never left forest between cities. By my own childhood, however, most of the trees had been leveled, and even the woodlot on an uncle’s farm doubled as pasture for hogs and cattle. In winter, the countryside was a stubble wasteland.

Similarly, a prairie denuded of buffalo is impoverished. How much poorer is a suburban lot occupied by restless greed? Here I am, dwelling in desert I consider healthier and more vibrant than the construction I see overrunning the lands around cities and towns. “Rebuild at the core,” I urge the wind. “Repent!” Turn about! Bring back the buffalo and the buffalo nickel, as well as amicable urban neighborhoods. There are all kinds of communities, and humans are only part of the equation. There is land, there is sky, there is water and flowing. To say nothing of what exists beneath them.

A person who comprehends maps will appreciate history as well. Perhaps even musical scores, as another kind of map with a dimension of time.

I listen to my wife and learn of the mental maps many women carry. The ones of kitchens or gardens. Others leading to childbirth and parenting, or even away.

I, meanwhile, come here for a taste of primeval wilderness — a hope to experience a timeless reality that holds humanity in a state of awe rather than arrogance. Just look to the mountains for salvation. Look as well to dreams, each one having one foot in your past and the other in your present.

Carried to an intelligence that daylight conceals, I sense that within many rapidly fading distinctions I’ve scorned are important markers; these ranged from where to harvest wild berries and their uses as food and medicine to my own ancestors’ hymns and religious teachings. To be creative means building on what’s come before, rather than entering a new universe. The path on the map goes from one place to another. Respect is essential — another way of honoring one’s fathers and mothers. There’s still time to cultivate individuality and character in the field. Sometimes, even where homogeneity is perceived, a people can differ as sharply among themselves as they do from others. Ponder Polish Catholics in Chicago, Congregationalists in Ohio’s once-Yankee Western Reserve, and fire-breathing Baptists and Pentecostals in Detroit and what they might do to enhance each other’s heritage, rather than striving for some common denominator. That’s another way of lifting up mountains, rather than leveling. Even on flat land, each body leaves a hidden stamp on its soil. Learn to read vibrations of an environment, and you identify communities dwelling therein, sometimes a century or two after their departure. Through the news and entertainment media, I grew up knowing more of Manhattan and Capitol Hill, though they were only incidentally closer geographically than Kansas City or Minneapolis, supposedly within my Midwestern realm. I knew more, too, of Hollywood back lots and Beverly Hills. Indeed, not until much later had I recognized the Midwest I’d considered so conservative and culturally backward was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, a hotbed of radical politics and organized labor. Many of its cities elected Socialist mayors only to replace them with Ku Klux Klan within the decade. Talk about upheaval! In the front parlors of homes in many small towns across the Plains, the latest wave of European high culture was performed; three of the nation’s oldest handful of symphony orchestras were organized (St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati). In the machine shops of isolated barns and backyard stables of small-town entrepreneurs, curious Midwestern farm boys tinkered perfecting the automobile and a thousand other industrial marvels. Kite-flying bicycle-building brothers put men in the air.

Much of this I did not understand or appreciate when dreaming only of escape. Only now did I come to see what remains of a once rich and varied heritage. In those days I looked off to the limits of a world; fixes like Boston and Seattle as strands of Utopia. What I encountered instead was a step beyond the anticipated. Of the neighborhoods I would come to call home, none quite fit what people expect of East Coast, Midwest, or Pacific Northwest, either.

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

OF MASTS, SPARS, AND BROKEN YARDS

1

in moonlight
Cape Ann, two months after the Perfect Storm
maybe three
while standing back on a broad outcropping
25 feet above the roiling and ebb

unpredictably, a wave explodes above me
from behind
washes around my feet

I could have been swept away

so step back, gingerly, if you will

2

driving a ridge, no view of shimmering expanses

between country club and great estates
sand plowed like snow
two feet deep, both sides of the state highway

mixed with kelp

3

nothing to trifle with
this fluid motion
in its hypnotic attraction

all recitative
with cymbals and snare drum

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

A BACK BAY FLOURISH

 

In the second-floor railing ...

In the second-floor railing, they strike me as a cross between lions and seahorses.

A distinctive railing adorning a Beacon Hill house somehow fits in with the district’s predominantly federalist style.

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.

MULTIPLE MAPPING

Knowing how far to go — and when to turn back, to the best effect — are difficult matters. The wise traveler relies on those who have gone there already and returned. You hope they speak truthfully. Often your life will depend on their directions. Even knowing what to pack and what to omit may be based on their counsel. Mountains and rivers are only the beginning.

When there’s too much to remember, a map begins forming. That or a guidebook. But the map presents more possibilities than the book, with its linear narrative confined to one route at a time — even maps with vast portions blank or missing. Take two points on a map and connect them, this way or that. Add a third. And then a fourth.

I never would have arrived in this desert without maps. The airliner’s navigation charts, of course. And then the highway atlas. Many others, as well, become useful. Those that show back roads. Others, topography. Still others, property divisions — including the Indian reservation and Army artillery range, both declared off-limits. Maps of emotions, economies, explorations. Maps of oceans, weather, the heavens.

Disembark and you go to work filling in details and then connecting points like a spider. What’s around that corner? What’s over that ridge? Where will we stay, and what’s the best way to get there? A single map is only an blueprint. The particulars never quite fit. Especially in two dimensions. A breeze lifts the web. Coyote walks through it.

Each one distorts — some far more than others, and rarely by intention. Who made the map in your hands? And to what purpose? Some were mathematicians of few words. Others were empire builders or real estate developers. Some weave the directions into the stories they tell beside the campfire. Some ignore shadows. Fail to repent, ask forgiveness, extend blessing. Others know survival, as well as play, requires definition and decision. Obligates searching within, as well as around, in fullest candor. Some even deceptively point you away from your destination (why should they reveal their secrets?).

Those who were born and raised here know it in a different way from those who have migrated. Magpie will tell you one thing; a Canada goose, another. Same goes for where they’re positioned. Jackrabbit and dragonfly take separate pathways, as does beaver. You simply log where they cross and hope to find meaning.

I had thought maps were the essence of geography. Now the definitions spill over into history, geology, meteorology, political science, psychology, and much more. Because many misunderstandings afflict each life, there are bound to be collisions. Sometimes you move into a thorn that pierces consciousness, but even that rarely brings clarity. You see there’s endless discord among individuals, clans, tribes, nations, denominations — all to be traversed and mapped in the search for ways out and back safely. In this knowledge, jobs, aspirations, faiths, possessions, social standing are merely reflections of fundamental conflicts between human consumption and the good earth itself. No one can dwell anywhere without disturbing the whole; individuals and collectivities distort and contort to their own ends, some more benignly than others. The lines on the page do not hold their place. Without a divinity as a guide knowing these connecting pathways, then, there’s no return to full measure and health. The breath people exhale, fires they build, grains and flesh they devour are diverted to their chosen applications. “Tell us something better,” I implore. “Teach us the highest way.” Where anyone takes it from here is another matter.

Sadly, whether this transformation’s harmonious and renewing, guiding individuals as merciful stewards and co-creators with the divine, or self-centered and destructive as thieves, is rarely considered. Just observe how communities rationalize, arguing that the welfare of their women and children comes first, even as they bankrupt the farm to support worldwide armies or strip timberlands in a rutting for coal and iron.

You could perceive many aspects of this in these orchards within desert. While the choice of irrigating and producing fruit sustains many more humans than the arid range would, also ponder the long-term impact of the poisons applied through each season. Kill harmful insects and molds, but what else? And how soon before it seeps into the groundwater and household wells? It’s all an interplay of good and evil, which I observed through a giant spider web. As a practice within my spiritual discipline, the Dedicated Laborious Quest, I place maps atop other maps and find they are drawn to different scales. Many of the words require translation, which introduces its own misunderstandings. Some of the maps are even of places far from here, landscapes in memory.

Too many details and the sheet becomes a scribble. Maybe that’s why here, at an extremity of the continental United States, I now comprehend the American Midwest of my childhood and early adult years as something other than a uniformly Protestant corn belt. Even overlooking ecological differences between woodlands and prairies, or between the Great Lakes and the Missouri or Ohio river valleys, I reconsider its varied ethnic traditions and the hidden cost of the melting-pot focus. Speaking with other exiles like myself, I become aware of unique distinctions some of our ancestors resolutely upheld, at the cost of their own lives, if necessary. There were strains of Scandinavian Lutherans in the Dakotas, Russian Mennonites in Kansas, and Scottish Presbyterians in Iowa, whose distinct cultures were eroding like the topsoil itself. You would hear, too, why so many had fled. Some, desperately hoping to forget forever their terrors or shame, buried the evidence as best they could. Others, however, defiantly kept it aloft as a reminder of their liberation and a warning.

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

RESETTLING, OUT WEST

Being uprooted also strips you of so much of what you’ve clung to. You need new words to describe many of the unfamiliar birds and plants. Uprooting also opens perspectives on places you’ve left, in addition to initial trysts with an unfamiliar arid climate. …

There was no way of imagining the expansive eastern forests that had been cleared, largely by stripping and burning by the earliest settlers. Much of its best topsoil already washed away by the time of my birth. Yet my great-grandfathers as youths could have walked the sixty miles from their farms to Cincinnati or St. Louis without ever leaving the shade. There was still a sustainable balance. But everywhere these days, people burn black rock seams and oil sucked from the earth. The populace largely clusters in rings around cities they leave rotting. Having already destroyed much of what our ancestors built, we’ve all become uprooted, to whatever extent. Lack holy rivers. Even a Jordan. Hollywood, Wall Street, Las Vegas, the White House, Fort Knox, Yankee Stadium, Graceland have instead become America’s sacred temples. Even in the Bible Belt. No wonder I was uneasy, anxious to flee the workplace, to race anywhere. In that regard, I was hardly different.

As we speeded past a bead shop at the edge of the reservation, I speculated whether I’d truly chosen to relocate across the continent or was merely a victim of some cosmic joke.

For more of the story, click here.