Monday, January 28, 2019

The Things You Name

You say ocean. You say rock and you say tree. You point to these things, and the birds flying or diving in the surf; you make their cries. Your face shows worthy amazement, brilliant recognition.

You are the things you name.

You reach your arm, your hand stretching, effort to connect; the rock and ocean reach out by the reflected rays of the setting winter sun. The tree reaches out by its branching shadow, the wave by its spume and thunder. You are breathing them in, speaking the names breathing out. The waves speak your name as they break apart upon the worn stones of your coast.

Tonight the sea mist will come in and blanket you while you sleep.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Letters to California: Holy Fire

My daughter, this land you were named for is ablaze. The maps on the weather report are red. The satellite images of the smoke show it blanketing the continent.

Here at the coast we are somewhat sheltered. The heat inland draws the onshore breeze from the vast Pacific, her fog muffling us in the damp. It burns away by midday, and on the horizon I can see the sickly haze.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Peaks of La Sen

She stood looking down into the expanse of the valley, hazed a sick gray by the sacrificial fires. The mountains on either side blank and flat, jagged lines against a yellow sky. The pyramids led off until they disappeared into the smoke, a staggered line, white clouds billowing from their peaks and trailing west. Stones in a silty pond. She made the sign safety, three times. I am safe, I am safe, I am safe. Then she adjusted the mullein leaf mask around her nose, and started down.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Write as if you were dying... This is, after all, the case... What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?

-Annie Dillard

I ride through the coastal morning. The sea mist is in, the palms and hotels inchoate. This coast encrusted with asphalt and buildings like blocks of mineral.

I ride the river path where the mugwort grows, where herons row the air. People lined up on their cardboard beds under the bridges, colored by shadow and dust. Three men pass a forty, frothy as urine. The growl of traffic. Cigarette smoke and sea salt.

Cali is eleven months old. A few days ago she took eight steps on her own. Of the light on the walls in the morning, of the nylon straps of her high chair, of the many blooms of the rose bush, of the ringing wind chimes, she repeats the phrase again and again, so pretty, so pretty.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wild Mountain, Wild Spring

Our blood-soul carries animal memory in our spinal column; the dark hoof and the feathered wing hover in our wild aura.

- Martin Shaw, Snowy Tower

High up on the hill, there is a spring. I climb to it with the dogs. It gurgles out of the ground just downhill from a large fallen cedar, its trunk decaying into soil. The water comes out clean and clear, and runs over black silt, dark algae, tumbles of basalt stone. Down through the steep mountain meadows, where in this season the grass is flaxen and laid to the ground and grown over with the night’s crystals of hoarfrost. The pitcher plants have all turned brown in decay. Where the water runs wide and thin on the rocks it freezes in warbled patterns like medieval glass. It is nearing the solstice; the white sun is in the south.

Sunday, April 22, 2018


These are the final entries I put down during our honeymoon. I feel I have to mention there were weeks of dense experience surrounding these small notes, at which they only hint, but time and energy engaged in those experiences precluded capturing them in words. When I did put pen to paper I found it difficult to contemplate, there was so much to describe. Those sensations will come out in writing, someday, somehow. Perhaps here, perhaps in a letter to you.

April 18th, 2017

This morning we departed Scotland, after three weeks in its various landscapes, ancient and modern compressed together. Who knows when we’ll be back. We were lifted into the sky by an unseen hand. This kind of travel doesn’t promote ritual, acknowledgment of leave-taking.

We board a plane and in less than an hour we arrive in Dublin. The more surreal for how mundane it has become, launching into the sky, knifing through the clouds, as commonplace as boarding a bus. To become an expert traveler is to become jaded, at least in part. To be astonished at rocketing into the sky, over and over, a matter of course, a matter of arithmetic if we are to reach our destination in this little window of time we have – to be astonished at this every time would mean exhaustion. We both feel it, the fatigue of being uprooted, un-grounded, shot through time and space almost too quickly to grasp, to be plucked up and deposited in some distant place. Displacement.

I feel the ties in memory pulled taught. I feel myself worrying, anxious whether I can keep the details in memory, whether this whirlwind trip has been a kind of whimsy without real substance or lasting impact.

If I feel into it further I know this can’t be true. In the Azores, in Devon, in Sheffield, in Aberdeen, the Orkneys, Tain and Glasgow, I felt so intensely that it must be in me, it cannot have left. Only anxiety brought on by this disconcerting mode of travel, and also by feeling so much at such a duration. Like a rich meal; I feel full to the brim.

April 28th

Once again this surreal space of travel, launching from the ground into inconceivable heights. This time, heading home.

This afternoon we left rainy England, her deep green woods and pasture suddenly falling away beneath us. We landed in Iceland where it snowed all afternoon, our flight delayed. In a spot of clear weather we took off on the last leg of the journey. Above white clouds flowing under us. We slept and woke to see Greenland in sunset light, glaciers like elephant skin, the perfect planes of frozen lakes, the jagged saw teeth of the mountains, everything white, opalescent. Now open water in a fjord, in contrast black as oil, a fissure opening into the dark heart of the earth.

We sleep as best we can, shades down against the sun we are chasing. On the trip out the sunset was sudden, a curtain of black we flew into; now the day has been elongated to accommodate these detached hours.

At last the sun out paces us. I wake in the half-light of the cabin, raise the shade.

Below are the cities of North America shuttling past in a dark land, street lights splashed like paint on a dark floor, growths of iridescent fungus.

We are nearly home, the hours passing dreamlike. The flowing of this chapter into another.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


The woodland and the 'Happy Crapper'
April 14th, 2017

On the train again. Riding by green pasture, dark woodlands as yet bare of leaves. Snow on the black lobes of the mountains. Low gray clouds sweeping brooms of rain. Spring heralded by the eruption of yellow: daffodils, cover crop over a flat field, thick flowers of gorse in the hedgerows. Sheep and their lambs stumble slide and run from the carriages clattering passage. A hundred geese take flight from a bare field, white-banded tails.

We have spent the week at a small croft, working in the rain and cold, sunshine, mixed thick clouds. The small humid poly-tunnel full of plant starts, and salad greens, beets, cilantro. Outside, the cool spring, wintered-over kale, garden beds prepared and waiting in the ground. I built a gate for a net-covered berry patch, and a raised bed out of junk lumber which we filled with manure.

A lot of our time we spent shoveling shit in the rain. A large pile of manure (well composted) was delivered by a farmer neighbor. We loaded it into wheelbarrows and dispensed it to various vegetable beds and compost piles around the woodland plot. Mostly light spring rain, sometimes a little heavier; we wore our raincoats, and worked up a heat in our muscles.

We shoveled shit in the rain and ate wild plants off the woodland floor. Ground elder and wild garlic leaves, miner’s lettuce. These things in the urban mind are the height of poverty. From that perspective, they sound awful on their face. But in our days there was only contentment – gratification of accomplishing work, that goes to food from this place; contact with the place, the mind of the weather, the sight of the far water, the lambs asleep in pasture, the bursting yellow flowers, the smells of the fecund ground and the woodland under rain, feel of the soil in the hand. Our hobbit-like breaks for tea and snacks beside the wood stove, in a kitchen redolent with baking bread, getting warm. Time for good conversation with our hosts who make their life here, inside an old stone house, that has held how many years of words. In this kind of life, for us, there are hardly any costs, almost pure benefit. Living this way, even for a week, provides the evidence, our feeling of being at home, and the excitement we feel contemplating a similar relationship to our own place, wherever we may find it.