Tag Archives: nature

SEEING WITH FRESH EYES

Earlier this week it snowed in Seattle. We woke to clear blue skies and an outdoor world blanketed with an inch or two of bright white powder. My daily walk down the driveway to get the newspaper became one of discovery: the yellow witchhazel fluffs each wore a snow hat, same for the rhody leaves.

Animal tracks on the pavement led into the woods. Who knew this was a bunny crossing?

bunnytracksI was seeing my old familiar walk with fresh eyes. So exhilarating.

Seeing with fresh eyes is one reason I love hanging out with my almost-three-year old grandson. The world is new to him. On a walk around an ordinary San Francisco city block he discovers seedpods and leaves and various ornamental details. He pays attention to everything. When the MUNI tram goes by, he notices the paint scheme (he particularly loves the polka dot MUNI). He watches the sidewalk, too, and points out letters he recognizes on the public works cement vaults signage. He finds other lines in the cement that are perfect to jump between.

I understand that our adult brains, in the interest of efficiency, stop noticing familiar details. I have walked down our driveway at least 1,000 times. I guess it makes sense to tune out. But what wonders await when I tune in.

This week my sister Kate Harvey McGee was visiting so we could work on our book, SQUEAK, which is slated to come out from Philomel in 2019. I create the black and white part of our illustrations, first painting in gouache resist, then scanning, and reworking in Photoshop.

8-9mouseK I send my files to Kate for coloring. Kate works in Photoshop, too.

Kate lives near Philomath, Oregon, and we usually work through email. So it was fun to sit in the same room and kibitz, and to be able to print out our efforts and take a look together.

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Something about printing out triggers the fresh eyes thing. We hung the print on the wall and kept returning to look at it over the next few days. Pretty soon we were adding post-its: “rounder mouse butt,” “shadow plant” etc etc.

Kate and her partner Scott were also in Seattle because we had a family event to celebrate – our niece Maia is now engaged to Chris. So we were all thinking about how it is to fall in love. It’s related, isn’t it, to seeing with fresh eyes?

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Remember when you first met the person you love most deeply – and that wonder of discovering him or her?

I wish Mai and Chris all the best – and for the rest of us, here’s to seeing all the world with fresh eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IT’S SPRING!

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Baby hummingbirds just before they fledged from their nest outside my friend Samara Louton’s Seattle kitchen window.

A couple of months ago our bookclub decided that we’d each memorize a poem. I chose Pied Beauty by Gerald Manley Hopkins. I taped it to the bathroom mirror so I can work on a line or two as I brush my teeth, (while standing on one foot, I might add: trying to improve balance and memory along with good dental care).

 Pied Beauty
 
 Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
 
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.
                                      

                                  – by Gerald Manley Hopkins

 This splendid poem is called to mind everywhere I look this spring: in the dotted pink petal-fall on the patio around the cherry tree, the checkered frittilarias nodding in woodland shade, striped tulips, and notched and patterned butterfly wings. And, not least of all, in the sweet spots on our springer spaniel.

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Never miss an opportunity to include a photo of Izabella.

Once you start looking for it, you catch the quirky rhythms of pattern everywhere: yesterday in the decorations on Margaret Chodos-Irvine’s front door, today in the tiny deep blue pearls that circle the centers of the anemones we are arranging as we figure out table decorations for my daughter’s wedding.

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I love the images that this poem puts so succinctly before me. And the awareness of dappled-ness that it awakens. As I come to own each line, patting it into my memory to the buzz of the toothbrush, I have come to appreciate the texture of the words and the pattern of the lines. It is, in itself, a lovely pied creation.

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More patterns, along the driveway at the Captain Whidbey Inn.

Cats, Dogs, Rats, Cabbages…

Yesterday it rained. And rained.   Guess I should be used to it after 37 years in the Pacific Northwest, but I admit to feeling a bit “under the weather,” literally.  The French say it another way: Avoir le cafard – “to have the cockroach” – in other words, to be down in the dumps They also say that to be depressed is to “grind the black” – broyer du noir.  Maybe the rain is making me grind a black cockroach, but I sure wish it would stop. Of course, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride….I wonder how the French say that? Outside, the drizzle has chased hummingbirds away from our new feeder; inside this afternoon, I gave up and turned on the heater, and I thought “May 3rd, for heaven’s sake, and it’s raining cats and dogs.”

Why would someone think “cats and dogs” when the rain comes down?  Where do these figures of speech come from? Did you know that in Spain, it doesn’t rain cats and dogs, it rains jugs? Esta lloviendo a cantaros!  In France, it rains ropes.  Odd.  Of course, in some places in America, it rains pitchforks. Odder still, but we just don’t think it’s quite as odd because we’re used to it. One of the wonderful things about studying another language is not only learning new idioms (did you know that while American women “give birth,” Mexican women “give light”?) but also hearing our own language in a fresh way.  And that’s what a writer need to do, too – hear his or her own language almost as if it were a foreign tongue.

My wish that the rain would go away is “pie in the sky” – unattainable – or, as the French say,   prendre la lune avec les dents – taking the moon with the teeth. One of these days, it’s going to stop raining and we’ll go straight from our in-like-a-lion days to the dog days of summer – lions and dogs, odd again – without ever seeing spring.  Rats! (or, as the Italians might say Cavolo! Cabbage!)

I guess I shouldn’t get too cranky about it – the rain, the deluge.  We tolerate, we get by little by little or in fits and starts or in bits and pieces or in – well – andiamo por singhiozzo – we go by hiccups. And it’s important, in Seattle to ponder what the Romans famously said: Nos poma natamus. We apples swim.  We are unsinkable.

Next time I write a poem, I might try to write about people who are like apples floating in water. Or I might write a poem where I sink my teeth into the moon. People ask me where I get my ideas. This is where. Cats, dogs, rats, cabbages, hiccups, the moon.  Language.

It’s Poetry Friday today, by the way, and Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader is hosting the round-up. Head over there to see what poems, thoughts about poetry, and links people have posted.