Archive for October, 2008

The Suitor

October 10, 2008

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind move the leaves of the box elder;
they show their light undersides,
turning all at once like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.
– Jane Kenyon



October 10, 2008

I’m treating myself to a little regressive reading this week. I picked up Meet the Austins by Madelein L’Engle and am working my way through to A Ring of Endless Light which I still hold to be on my top five favorite books of all time. Until I read Prodigal Summer in 2002 it was my favorite stand alone novel. But the other Austin books are just good fun, not serious or weighty or plotted around great world events. At the library when I looked L’Engle up I also found a couple of adult non-fiction books under her name with call numbers in the 921 region. To those who haven’t spent any parts of their lives obsessing on the Dewey Decimal System that might not mean anything but I was instantly alerted … biography. So I also picked up A Circle of Quiet which is apparently the first of a four book autobiography that L’Engle published beginning in 1972. Its beautiful prose about her life at Crosswicks, the new England farm house where she raised a family and about nature and the nature of writing. It reminds me of Annie Dillard, another great meditative author I should revisit someday soon. I wanted to include this passage, partly because its where I stopped last night before switching to fiction and partly because it struck me as something I’ve been trying to say myself for a long time in defense of a more convoluted language and … partly because I’m on a campaign to purge improper uses of the work like from my own language.
“Where would we be without the images given in metaphor and simile?
“Metaphor: She speaks poniards, and every word stabs. Simile: My love is like a red, red rose. ‘Like’ is our simile word. Madison Avenue is by mo means the first to misuse ‘like,’ but I was told that the man who wrote the famous “Winston tastes like a good cigarette should? did it with contempt for those at whom the commercial was aimed. Over and over again we hear “like? misused this way: I feel like I’m going to throw up; well, you know Mother, like I really do need it because …; tell it like it is. Every time “like is misused, it is weakened as a simile word.
“I’m not against changes in the language. I love new words and not only the ologies. I’ve just discovered “widdershins?: against the direction of the sun. In Crosswicks the bath water runs out clockwise; in Australia, widdershins. I love anything that is going to make language richer and stronger. But when words are used in a way that is going to weaken language, it has nothing to do with the beautiful way that they can wriggle and wiggle and develop and enrich our speech, but instead it is impoverishing, diminishing. If our language is watered down, then mankind becomes less human, and less free – though we buy more of the product.?
(page 17 of the 1972 HarperSanFrancisco paperback)

My New Favorite Place

October 8, 2008

Four or five nights a week I’ve been detouring on my way home from work to the county forest just east of town. Located on the bluffs which quite literally overlook the city, Hixon Arboretum is my new favorite place on earth. There is something about the angle of the hills which fits just right with some deep part of my psyche. Its not familiar, exactly – this is not the Wisconsin I was brought up knowing – but it fits. Its also covered in gorgeous fall foliage and has exactly the right size of trails and number of other people on them. I even like the way the packed dirt of the worn trail feels under my feet. A few weeks ago I drove an hour and a half on a saturday to visit a reputedly fabulous nature preserve in Vernon county. It was certainly beautiful terrrain but I just couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t like walking on a stubbly path mown six feet wide through the grass. I kept thinking that I could have saved gas and hours by just walking at my own dear park and liked it better. Which I guess, means I’m happier now knowing that I’m in a spot I prefer, just five blocks off of my commute route.
Some of the paths wind in an out along the foot of the bluffs, snaking into and then out of each new valley between the projecting hills topped with rocky outcroppings. These are perfect for medetative rambles and days with knee pain. But the days have been getting shorter and now I find that I like to get more bang for my walking buck by hiking up to the look out points and catching a glimpse of sunset before heading back down. This is my favorite spot, originally named Lookout Point, as seen from the next ridge top over. You can get up to the rocky outcropping one of two ways, by winding up along the northern valley on a moderately sloped path through the trees and then switchbacking out to the point or by heading nearly straight up hill along the front. When pressed for time I do that. you can see the way I go, but not the path itself, in that 45 degree sloped prairie remnant along the front. I climb it almost like a ladder, leaning forward on my hands as I find new footings each step up. It leaves me breathless at several points. I’ll go up that way but not down – wouldn’t even think of it. But that means that the down side, already in shaddow gets pretty dark after the sunset. On monday, by the time I got back to my car, it was so dark I couldn’t see anything but where the trail generally was because of the absense of fallen leaves. I kept tripping on stumps – it got a little exciting.

Since I’m usually racing for the sunset these days this is more often than not my view. Pausing to catch my breath and look back over my shoulder at the sun disappearing behind trees in the foreground and, far across the river valley of the Mississippi, behind the answering bluffs on the Minnesota side. I don’t really mind though. Often the time following the sunset is the nicest of all. And there is a remarkably comfortable rock to sit on and think about the day before shaking myself out of the reverie and heading down into the gathering dark.