Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reality Distorted

Trees reflected on open water
 –distorted and disturbing–
like our winter that isn't. 

For Christ's sake,
even the johnny-jump-ups
are still in bloom.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A comment on Banksy' work: is it Graffiti or Art?

Banksy Street Art

What if ordinances existed when we lived in caves 
prohibiting drawing on the walls...
Would we be here today?

What if it is prohibited today...
Will we be here tomorrow?

You might also want to check out my 7/10/11 blog:
Cave Art, Modernity, and Human Extinction

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Aching for spring

Knee Surgery

Another day sitting with an icepack on my knee
Weighed down like the hemlock in my yard by snow
Both of us aching for Spring.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Interlaced silver maples inspire awe...

At the edge of the Merrimack River Flood Plain: January 2012           

Interlaced silver maples  
Weave an overarching cathedral canopy
Shrouding the stark bareness below.

"Interlaced Silver Maples," words and image © 2012 J. Stimmell, 
used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Aldered Experience: Connecting to those 'whispers' within

Skiing around Jenness Pond today was frigid, only around 9ยบ with a brisk wind, but I was dressed for it wearing a windproof shell, facemask, even goggles. It was a real challenge being buffeted by the wind, skittering on top of the snow most of the time, except for sudden and unexpected jolts from breaking through the crust.

My reward was soaking in with all my senses the sparse primal beauty of windswept ice and sky. Plus whatever else one might encounter.

Last week, before the snow, while skating on the lake, I spotted the huge dark body and white top of an eagle circling about 300’ away and marveled as she stopped in mid-flight, hovering motionlessly, before slowly descending straight down like a helicopter to dine on dead bait the ice fishermen left behind.

What would it be today?

Going down the far side of the lake, I found myself pulled, as if by some mysterious force, to a haphazard row of scraggly bushes leaning out over the ice. I knew what they were: common alders considered a trash plant, a nuisance and eyesore to most summer people trying to yuppify their lakefront lots.

Maybe what attracted me were the fractal shapes of the alder cones, bowing in the wind in an understated way like Buddhist monks. Or maybe because they were such good environmental Samaritans, feeding and protecting wildlife while embracing the shoreline with their roots, preventing erosion.

Whatever the reason, my attraction overruled commonsense, even on the windiest stretch of the lake, forcing me to stop, take off my down mittens, and fumble around to find my camera. Even after I was finished taking photos, I lingered, reluctant to leave, as if waiting for some secret message from the alders.

I found myself pondering the subject of my photographs, what appeared to be cones hanging off the alder branches. I was confused because growing up, I called these appendages something else, a name that I used to know well, as did everyone in my rural community who, because they lived close to the land, were well versed in local flora and fauna.

Cauking? Caitring?  Why couldn’t I remember?

Dredging deep down into old memory banks I kept trying to remember the proper name. Suddenly, it came to me…CATKIN!  But still, I wasn’t positive my recollection was correct. Was it a real recovered memory or a false memory, a spurious consequence of information overload, caused by well over half a century of new memories steeped in modernity, overlaying the old.

I decided to google “alder catkin” as soon as I got home. While making this mental note, I had another thought: perhaps my old catkin memories which had sunk, through disuse, into my subconscious were analogous to how modern humans have lost the ability to locate underground water while indigenous folks like the Australian aborigines still can because they have not become disconnected from the natural world.

My insight extended further: Beyond the human capacity to find water, there surely exists a vast reservoir of other primal knowledge and body memories – of being one with our mother, the earth, and cradled like a happy newborn within her natural rhythms that we have lost access to, submerged beneath our conscious mind by a rushing tide of unprecedented social change – waiting for us to draw them back up into our waking world, just as I had done with my memory of catkins.

After I got home and warm by the woodstove, I hit pay dirt on my very first google attempt: I landed on a blog so attuned to what I was thinking, it was as if Google’s patented algorithm had read my mind.

First off, I found that, yes, the word I had associated with alders is ‘catkin.’ But alders are unusual, one of the few shrubs able to produce both male and female flowers which can cause problems, making it difficult to tell male flowers from female. What “gives the game away” is that only last year’s female flowers develop into cones.

So it is confusing: what I photographed today used to be a female catkin last summer but isn’t one today: she has transformed herself into a seed-bearing cone.

What is not confusing is Suzi Smith’s marvelous blog, Alder... Catkins, Cycles and Continuity, where I found this informaion. She introduces us to the complex world of alders with poetic words and haunting photographs while, at the same time, connecting us to the larger ecological and spiritual implications. I highly recommend it!

All and all, I've been on quite a journey today.

I was inexplicitly drawn to the alders which connected me not just to my unconscious but to closer harmony with the rhythms of the natural world and then, as if guided by a higher power, passed directly through to Suzi who closed the circle by validating my alder experience, telling me “all of us are ‘healers’ in some way…use your intuition, connect with those ‘whispers’ within.

I feel simultaneously exhilarated and humbled.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Living a Dog's Life: The bitter politics of Envy

Coco poising by the woodstove: 1/14/12
Romney dismisses the mushrooming income disparity between the rich and the 99% of the rest of us, suggesting that anyone who broaches the subject is green with envy.

Contrary to conventional Republican wisdom, the rich getting richer is not a rising tide that lifts all boats. Quite the opposite: increasing income inequality actually stalls economic mobility. Only boats belonging to the rich keep rising.

As The New York Times reported last week, “many researchers have reached a conclusion that turns conventional wisdom on its head: Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe.” The Times report speculated that: “One reason for the mobility gap may be the depth of American poverty, which leaves poor children starting especially far behind. Another may be the unusually large premiums that American employers pay for college degrees. Since children generally follow their parents’ educational trajectory, that premium increases the importance of family background and stymies people with less schooling.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Politics, Art, and Revolution

Painting at the MFA by Hale Woodruff entitled "The Big Wind"
The sweet silence of winter solstice has returned to N.H. now the presidential primary is over, and the candidates have flown off – as suddenly as they came – like the flock of crows that stops by each morning to squabble raucously over who gets the latest tidbits in my compost pile.

Seeking to regain my balance after this political whirlwind, I head south to Boston and the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). The featured exhibit, Degas and The Nude, didn’t fit my mood.  The naked women brushing their hair languidly or leisurely bathing seemed jarringly out of place in the depth of our frigid winter but, even more so, in contrast to the frenzied rhetoric of NH's just-finished primary.

I found myself more at home in the contemporary art exhibit. I was drawn to a painting done by Hale Woodruff in the 1930s, entitled Big Wind. As opposed to the serene quality of Degas’ quiet, timeless scenes, Big Wind struck me as a more fitting metaphor for our times: a chaotic world where everything is up-rooted.

As the placard by the painting explains: “This rootlessness could reflect both the economic uncertainties of the 1930s and such weather-related calamities as the tornadoes that shattered parts of the state.”

Certainly, the similarities with today are striking.  2011 was a record-setting weather disaster year in the United States with an unprecedented number of severe blizzards, floods, and deadly tornados – even in New England.

Meanwhile, as we just witnessed during the primary, the Republicans have united in generating their own “big wind,” attempting to blow us into an alternative universe where climate change does not exist or, if it does, humans are not to blame.

What planet do these candidates come from? Their position on the weather is at odds with 99% of scientists and a large majority of the American people, including here in N.H. where a recent Carsey Institute poll[1] found that 88% of us believe that climate change is real.

The Big Wind metaphor extends beyond the weather. In addition to being uprooted by climate change, we continue to be buffeted by the worst economic headwinds since the 1930s, resulting in untold suffering and a widening disconnect between the rich and the poor.
This economic disconnect is perfectly depicted in another image in the MFA’s Contemporary Art exhibit, a photograph taken for Life magazine in 1937 by Margaret Bourke-White, showing a long line of African Americans, bundled up against the cold, waiting in a bread-line in the foreground, contrasting sharply with a happy and prosperous, white American family on a huge billboard behind them with the caption There’s no way like the American Way.

That was an iconic image from the 1930s.

Today’s equivalent would be a digital image of scruffy Occupy WallStreet protesters, without jobs or opportunity, bundled up against the cold, camping out in Zuccotti Park in the shadow of Wall Street’s Midas-like riches.

Of course, today’s protestors get no sympathy from our Republican candidates who liken them to terrorists.  At least, back in the 1930s, we had a big enough contingent of progressives in this country to force the Democrats to the left to fight the good fight for poor and middle class Americans. Today we don’t have a left. Just Obama and his campaign pledge, Change You Can Believe In, which pretty much means, not much change at all.

What’s a progressive voter in N.H. supposed to do in a campaign where peace and social justice, even saving the earth, no longer seem to count?

It’s difficult to deny that we have become a nation of consumers, even in our political campaigns: forced to listen around the clock to our leading presidential candidates selling themselves like any other kitchen gadget or a window replacement.

Following lessons learned from Madison Avenue, the candidates repeat their corporate-friendly sound bites over and over again with the expectation that, eventually, their messages will be accepted as real.

The candidate becomes just another brand no different than Kleenix or Charmin while the truth becomes a quaint relic of the past.

Jean Baudrillard (the philosopher whose ideas inspired the movie, The Matrix) says this is the nature of the world we now live in: “it is no longer a question of a false representation of reality but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real.”[2]

It’s all too easy to become disoriented and discouraged in this house of mirrors, especially in the aftermath of our first-in-the-nation primary, signifying, as it did, “much ado about nothing.”

To keep my sanity, I turn to the arts.  In the wise words of John Tusa: “the arts help citizens to express their needs and to clothe them in memorable forms. They offer a way of expressing ideas and wishes that ordinary politics do not allow. The arts regenerate the rundown and rehabilitate the neglected.”[3]

After enduring this primary campaign, I think we all deserve a week to regenerate and rehabilitate. After which, we must become foot soldiers in the grassroots revolution that is emerging all across America, empowering us to not only find our voice but to take peaceful, direct action to topple our corporate rulers and return the power to the 99% of the rest of us.

[1] 2011 Carsey Institute Poll: page 2.
[2] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A premonition of climate change Armageddon?

1/3/12:  An emaciated Northwood lake,  drained last fall as a flood control measure
Thoughts while meditating on the shore of Northwood Lake 

Biting wind sucks my breath
Ominous clouds dim the sun
Triggering apprehension in my gut:
Premonitions of climate change Armageddon  
Similar to the instinct animals have, warning them
to escape to high ground before the tsunami hits?

The question is, where is high ground for us?