issue #25




Issue #6 – In The Field

The clouds are low and long and perpetual, tufted and thick as down. It will snow soon and for a good while. This is welcome news, for even though we are breaking trail, the sleds want a good base. It is cold too, well below well-below zero, and that is good for the dogs, who are lethargic in more temperate climes. Wolves and humankind have grown up together over our short part of the long life of the Earth, and we make good partners now, having somewhat both domesticated and freed each other. All the members of my team are wild in the main – Alaskan huskies – the term used to denote that not one of them are pedigreed, but all are mixed mutts and curs, bred and chosen by nature to run. I am here in the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada to be wild with them. We have made a bargain. I will feed and shelter and protect them, and I will lead. For their part they will pull and run and pull and run and run. Out-of-harness they will frolic and I will watch. It is no disadvantage that I am a woman; on the contrary our guide tells me, in a small aside unheard by the men, that women make the best mushers. It is our empathy and intuition, our commitment to the good of the group, our innate respect, and our egalitarian understanding and appreciation of role that makes us trusted by the pack and worth following. And my six dogs do follow, they run and pull for me and run some more. It is easy. The guide, who had taken the rear position, starts to pass each team ahead of him, one by one, demonstrating and explaining his technique. We are novices, though, and not intended to follow his example. Even so, I do, when the men ahead are slow, unconvincing to their teams who are in turn aimless and purposeless, uncoordinated. My dogs are impatient, restless and itchy, so I give them permission. “On by,” I say. “On by!” I turn them to the left holding my right hand higher to keep them facing ahead heedless of the teams they pass, who thereby are unchallenged. In this way I preempt the canine equivalent of trash-talk or smirk and so avoid a dogfight. I do not look at the men I pass either, for the same reason, although unlike the dogs they are resentful. I catch up to the guide, running just behind him. He is pacing himself to stay with the group. My dogs are as one now, flying, and they don’t want to slow down. They will me to give the command, I hear them clearly. But it would be bad manners to pass the guide – I am a little afraid that I am in trouble as it is – and I don’t know where we are going either, as there is no trail to follow. So we stay behind, apace. I know I am in the clear when the guide turns and fixes me in his look. He has been paying attention to our maneuvers, to my command, and the hint of a smile flashes from his eye.

And so it goes for four wondrous days, in a great circle from base camp, to yurt, to cabin, to base again, over rivers and islands, into Canada and back.

At the end of the trip we arrive at the kennel truck. It is my last encounter with the dogs. My last act – my last gift to each of them, is to load them up into the warmth. They are not large animals – forty to forty-five pounds apiece, but still I am a girl and slight and tired. They are ready though, waiting, asking, noses up, and I lift all six one at a time shoulder high into their beds. The guide watches in his still way. I embrace the hard and the soft of it as I do the wild, unafraid to handle them, for we are the same. We are bound by joy, to each other, to the Earth, to life. They sing to me, the Earth sings to me. I am their sister and her daughter. These are her stories I tell, the notes of her songs transmuted into words.

excerpted from “In the Field” – READ FULL ESSAY

Issue #21 – Hawai’i – Part I
Issue #2 – Family



Looking Closely

Looking Closely


Issue #18 – Faulkner

I am attending a new seminar with Mark Scarbrough, this time up in Salisbury Connecticut, a town in the northwest corner of the state. The ride is another half hour beyond Washington (where we read Emily Dickinson with him), and not all of it as pleasantly rural as Route 63, but two hours with Mark is worth the roundtrip, in time and environs. The end-of-winter landscape – dirty snow, ratty leaf litter, and crumpled plastics – is not unsupportive of our subject author’s penchant for the bleak, even though he writes from and about the Deep South. This spring we are reading Faulkner, who was the center of Mark’s dissertation at Madison. Even though Mark was electrified/elated as a young man by his discovery and first reading of Absalom, Absalom! – seeing himself on a page, feeling written, known, given breath, as a southern man – he intended his scholarship to be as a medievalist. But a Faulkner seminar given by Toni Morrison changed his course. (No doubt!) Now all of that inherited and newly wrought wisdom and insight are passing to us, and I am luxuriating in it, word by precious word.

The first of Faulkner’s work we read was If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem, and we read it complete before the first seminar meeting. Without any of Mark’s commentary I found myself subsumed and entranced – embedded, silkened – giving myself over to the idiom and times, to the place of the South, willingly flooded, floating, absorbed, transported, witnessing, watching, wondering, yearning. I made my sense of the work, and then after two lectures, layered in what Mark (and Ms. Morrison) and Faulkner himself give light to, what they together uncovered, discovered, revealed about us all, the colonized peoples of modernity whose only salvation is art, that hopeful endeavor which suspends us humanely, tenuously, tenderly between meaning and meaninglessness.

For those of you that don’t know the book, If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem comprises two novellas alternately told: The Old Man and The Wild Palms. Old Man refers to the mighty Mississippi, and wild palms to the Gulf coast and from the first I wondered if the river would meet the sea, as it does in the delta; if the stories would cross either in plot or landscape or metaphor. I think they do, and not in any overt or cheap B-movie way. (Faulkner meticulously keeping his Hollywood scriptwriting separate, as work, not Art.) Rather the main characters each make their way and are carried to the same man-made landscape, a delta of sorts we call prison. The stories do wend and weave.

Both stories are tales of humans caught in the forces of nature, though they recognize, confront, and illuminate struggles that play out at greatly different natural scales: the unconquerable Earth processes outside ourselves on the one hand, and on the other, the evolutionary mandate of all life to reproduce, to procreate – that relentless internal driver no less overwhelming than flood or quake or wildfire. A Force Majeure, each: flood and passion, water and blood, rapids and flow channeling detritus, waste through human landscapes, both charted and not.

The Tall Convict in The Wild Palms battles floodwater uncontainable by levee, uncontrollable in any way, and despite his many chances to escape, despite an opportunity to survive by his own hand, satisfied, dignified by elemental labor, he chooses to return to custody, to return the boat not his, to return his charge the pregnant woman, to gainsay the safety of prison and of convention, to embrace an alienated labor and the company of men, so as to eschew the confounding circumstances of freedom and sex. He willingly pays the high price of freedom from.

In The Wild Palms Charlotte and Harry, appositively, are on the run, fleeing the tsunami of conventional domesticity, the swamping of partnered love by parenthood, the heavy heavy burdens of conformity and safety. They say no, together and separately, to security made meaningless by its provider: the two bad arts of pulp fiction and decorative figurines. And also to their never-to-be-born child, the unwanted agent of another depersonalization, another subjugation, and a harbinger of the death of romantic love. Charlotte pays the highest price for freedom to – to be other than a procreative subject and a creative serf. I see her as a heroine of sorts, although Faulkner did not write her as a main character. (Harry is an antihero, and unremarkable, unloveable in his ineffectual rebellion and sensual pander.) I identify with Charlotte’s struggle to be more than a vessel, to keep primary the love of her life, to define and create herself rather than be defined biologically, hormonally – to challenge the change in selfhood prescripted by nature. Contraception gives women this choice now; tragically for Charlotte the only out was abortion, and her gain was nought. As for myself, I am undefeated. I have wrestled nature (and society) to a tie, preserving the very intellect that makes me me, giving up procreation and its lineal claim on immortality to have instead a creative life, a life lived co-creatively, a life filled with creation. I have done this without forsaking love, or the blessings of children; miraculously they have found me, and what I am and know, what I feel and make – of sinew, nerve, and sight – will live on in them, and beyond.

Fan of KathyFan
Issue #16 – Work
Issue #23 – Observations and Reflections
Sport of Nature
Issue #17 – Health





Searching, Searching, Searching,

Issue #19 – Connections

It happened again. Out of the blue, I heard from a friend who had been gone from my life for decades. Pam and I lived in the same neighborhood from the third grade through high school, and had been friends for most of that time. She and I attended the local Catholic church and requisite catechism classes, so we were stitched together more tightly than other, looser ties of childhood bind. The neighborhood passel of grade school kids we ran with grew into the girl gang of junior and senior high, and our relationship waxed and waned in all the usual ways for all the usual reasons as we became, in fits and starts, who we are. Late in high school – junior year, I think – we drifted apart (for good, I would have said a month ago), as our classes and interests and cliques changed. I was seriously BORED of EDUCATION, and determined to graduate early in my senior year, and work and study Downtown (as Chicago was always referred to. Here we say The City, to mean New York) until I left for college that following fall. My family moved to another town then too, and my brothers changed schools, so everyday, informal, neighborly chances also fell away. When I left home I never looked back, molting out of childhood, shedding my whole skin, a butterfly  wanting to soar. I shared pieces and tidbits of my youth with Bruce, naturally, as our life grew together. But really, I never gave a thought to my childhood life and friends as anything other than memories. As anything other than a spring-trap, a morass, an un-windowed basement I had escaped.

A few months ago, Bruce had a similar experience – he heard from a childhood friend who found him on his company website. A pleasant surprise, but also unexpected, and also curious. While Bruce has deep attachments to West Virginia where he grew up, they are bonds to and of place, rather than people. He took me back to Holden once, and showed me all around the hollow (and drove fast on winding mountain roads!), but knocked on not one door. Over the years he has given more thought to his old friends than I mine, but even so, only in passing, uncompelled to weight his memories with present-ness.

Neither experience is the first for either of us. We have both heard from a handful of people in the past few years, and responded politely, but with no urgency or emotion or need. In fact we disregarded the reach-outs as odd, and – as harsh as it sounds – irrelevant. But now the accumulation is too much, I see a pattern, and I am a little undone by it all. I am asking everyone I talk to deeply, “Why?”

Why does anyone search for people from their past? And why now, at this point in life? What drives it? It appears developmental in its repetition, multiplicity. Don’t misunderstand – I am happy for the most recent occurrences. In both cases, it has been a rich and joyful experience to re-connect. Pam and I have been writing to each other, long and frequent letters about the past and present. Bruce and his old friend met recently during a convenient business trip, and found much in common, still, and reasons to stay in touch. I’m sure they will. But I am puzzled by it all. Because, I am not looking for anyone. What is the need?

Where I had gotten to about it all was an acknowledgement of a necessary, later stage of life: one of reflection, of coming to terms, of gaining perspective, of seeing the whole in context, where the past bears on the present. We have just encountered old friends in the act, becoming aware something we have come to know a little sooner. We are/were simply a part of their process towards an old-soul resolution of life and mortality and the finite.

I reencountered a Spanish idiom (while binge-watching a Netflix series, set in Mexico) that secured me in my understanding: El tiempo replace todos. I would translate this for you loosely as “time replaces everybody”, but here I’ll go deeper, because not doing so means something important is indeed lost in translation. Todos is plural in Spanish, to mean all people – as in a crowd. Whereas the words everybody, or everyone (an even less appropriate choice), denote individuals, even if collectively. The plural carries the meaning of the idiom better, as it conjures multitudes and process: time as a river, streaming, eddy-ing here and there, but continual, the flow of people riding its currents, endlessly moving on. I have always accepted the loss of people and friends and memories and meanings as a part of life. I have never expected anyone – not even family – to stay with me, forever. Except for Bruce.

And yet … Have I had I as good a friend as Pam in all the years since? I wonder. I am elated and hopeful at our reconnection, and curious to see if we can/have put our feet in the same river twice … If we will float alongside each other on the remainder of our journey(s), toward the inevitable, infinite sea.



40 Years
Issue #22 – Hawai’i – Part II
The Rewrite
Issue #19 – Connections






Issue #18 – Faulkner

I am spinning, floating, suspended after Mark’s two lectures on If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem, while all of life conspires to conflate and converse and heckle and cheer. Mark has added many layers of understanding to my read of the book – the whole of Faulkner’s work, really – bringing in contexts and criticism pertinent and rich with the meanings of transactional economics (wrought by industrial capitalism), regionalism (exalted and reconfigured, re-presented to mean a nation), the Global South, Reconstruction, the contemporaneous arts of Faulkner’s time, and gender. It is almost too much to process, to feel, to absorb.

I am caught on Mark’s first analysis, presenting the disrupted narratives of modernity (no story/ different stories/ stories differently told), in music, dance, and theater, which he uses to expose the story-less-ness of the book. His example is Martha Graham’s ballet Appalachian Spring, disjointed members, pieces without a story line. As Mark explains, the two novellas of If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem similarly are not one narrative, nor two stories either. Neither are teleological, to mean they are not linearly expositive, and do not arrive at any ends. Rather they betray elliptical or circular notions of story and time, deriving and gaining meaning and power from their juxtaposition and association, and from the conversations between themselves of gender and motif and setting, even as the novellas occur in different times. Faulkner’s stylistic choice puts me in mind of two aspects of both my art and design work: collage – so non-linear and layered – and the co-creative aspect of any audience’s experience of any art work. This is both the way I know, and the way I make.

Mark finds two novels in the book with this holistic analysis – one an anti-colonialist colonialist novel; the other an anti-existentialist existentialist novel…….

……. Heady stuff, but I find Faulkner’s critique of transactional economics subsuming, resonant, exhilarating, exalting. Because this is where I live, as an artist: I do not sell my work. I do not understand any piece of art I have made as a commodity. My works represent ideas, discovery, and learning. And so they are for viewing and sharing, and for the conversations they incite, encourage, engender. My art belongs in exhibits, it belongs together, and not to any person. It is un-owned. The realization is overwhelming. It stops me. I am tearful, affirmed and grateful: I know who I am.

And then, out of time, another story weaves in. I have received a curious email, sent to MUSE. It is an inquiry about my landscape design for the town of Bay City Oregon, done oh-so-long-ago, when I was a student. Here it is:

“Enjoyed reviewing your work on Bay City at   Hoping you could refresh my memory as to when this work was done for the city.   They are working on a new vision plan, but thought yours was for something else.
Anyway, beautiful work.”

I am astounded, who, why, what, why now? I reply, needing answers, trying to make sense of her interest:

How nice to hear an appreciation of my design work, thank you for sharing yours.

My proposal for Bay City was made as a University of Oregon Landscape Architecture student, in the spring (I think) of 2005, under the tutelage of Anita Van Asperdt .  Mine was one of many proposals, and none were built.  I believe the town was unable to raise money for any work – a tax increase proposed for that purpose was voted down. I’ve always thought it a missed opportunity. I’m happy to hear the town is again considering re-vitalizing efforts.

I’m so curious about your connection to Bay City – do you live there? I have such a sweet spot for the place, having spent so much time getting to know it. I’m almost homesick, hearing from you.  🙂
Do lmk what’s going on there –

She responds with words so generous, I am filled to overflowing. She has remembered all along, kept the vision in her mind’s eye, waiting for the moment to bring it again into the view of others.

That is where I thought this work was from.  I was mayor at the time, in fact I served on the Council from 1997 until last December.  Interest in the park and Patterson continues and something that makes that happen is your work.   I will continue to serve on the Bay City Vision Committee and presently work as a consultant on some land use projects.  It was wonderful to come across your site.

Thank you!  and thank you for portraying my community so beautifully.

Faulkner hits hard again. Here is the meaning too of my – best, most rewarding – design work; it is non-transactional. It is one reason I get no play, no pay, and yet exactly why the work endures, wherein lies its power and import. The value of the work is un-accountable but clear. Community design in its best sense is the design of place that fosters community. It is meant to enhance human life, social relations, our interactions and our bonds with each other – the non-negotiable fabric that supports meaning, life itself. These things are never for profiteering, are not for making money, not for economic gain.

Resonance with Faulkner’s meanings, knowings, offerings – and the manner of his display, his exhibit, his unearthing – spirals – expands – inflates uncontrollably. I see myself un-Reconstructed, un-Industrialized, Irreducible, More Than Exchanged, non-linear, Collaged, Interacting, Dialogical. It is too much. My body can hardly contain, bear it. I feel as though I will fly apart like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I’m sputtering, spinning, chattering, gesturing fragments at Bruce just home from the office, struggling to put it, keep it together.

He centers me with a gentle, quizzical smile and seven words. “This is why we made MUSE, Doob.” It is the gift he has given me, of MUSE, that my work exists always, is always on exhibit, elliptically and without end, new conversations starting, old ones continuing, my ideas living, breathing, talking, conflating, in a marvelously un-transacted way.
After a fraught fifty-five years, at odds with so many contemporary conventions, so many social tenets of modern life, I am wonderfully at peace.

Thank you Faulkner, Thank you Mark, Thank you Bruce.
And thank you, Dear Reader, for playing along.

See Bay City’s design again: here


Springfield Visioning
Issue #11 – Collage                   
Issue #24 – Artwork (Time and Distance)                   
Issue #9 – Heart, Head and Hands




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