Walking Just So

 

photoOn a cool dark Sunday at dusk, there is time to perambulate the park with a scarf pulled loosely up to cup her ears. The streetlights fizzing on with their dismal orange hum remind her of insects that’ve lived past the end of their season solely by having forgotten to die. The grass turns black as the light falls; its damp makes her stockings wet and makes her aware, as well, of the earthy smell of the grass, the leaves, the soil and even the smoke of someone’s fireplace quite nearby. The walk, though short and brisk and only comprising a modest loop around the park to curl back home, is best because it took her out, away and into something else, so that the return is all the sweeter, landing her at last on the entry rug of familiarity, spun in the soft cocoon of fumes that reach her from the soup kettle waiting, steaming on the stove across the hall.photo montage

Inspirational, My Eye!

Yes, my eyes are my inspiration. Lots of the stuff that’s put out there in the world as ‘inspirational’ doesn’t work that way for me, so to that I just say, ‘Inspirational my eye!’ but when it comes to gathering up visual data for idea generation, that’s what tends to get my engine revved up more truly. So I’m really enjoying my holiday rambles in search of same.Blog.12-30-2012.1

Yesterday R (my beloved spousal-person) and I and his parents were collected midday by R’s cousin and his wife and we all went into Gruene (Texas) for lunch and a short stroll together. Lunch was grand, the company was lovely, and the day was pleasant all through. But of course what I found the most enriching on the little walk was enjoying the numerous attractions of an old town designed to be pedestrian-friendly, tourist-enticing (there were oodles of the latter) and full of details not found in our own more northerly town.Blog.12-30-2012.2

So I took pictures as a mnemonic device to help me retain some of what we’d seen and to give me images from which to (literally) draw or make digital paintings. I also get out the camera whenever I simply want to be more observant, because it’s remarkable how having that little device in my hand makes me notice all sorts of things I wouldn’t otherwise see. This, naturally, is something of a potential irritation to R since it means that I get into my ‘interval training’ mode, as I call it, wherein on our walks he continues at a steady pace and I stop over and over again to take photos of little sweet-nothings, then dash to catch up with him, at least until I see the next item of interest. Mostly he’s quite tolerant of this method, but it’s been known to irk him (understandably) when the stop-and-start means he’s talking to me and doesn’t know I’m twenty–or fifty–feet behind him. I can still hear him, or I wouldn’t stop cold, but it’s not quite the same, I know. <Sheepish grin.> He does still manage to love me enough to keep going out for walks with me, even knowing I’ll do such a pesky thing every time.Blog.12-30-2012.3And that makes the walks all the more pleasurable, you can be sure. And it makes me all the more happy to take any good opportunity to go hunting for more input for my visual files whenever I can. Click! Snap! Smile, everybody!Blog.12-30-2012.4

A Park, a Pond, at Peace

photoNow that the temperatures are gradually sliding into what I consider survivable territory, it’s a lovely opportunity to go outdoors and simply take a leisurely stroll again. I was reminded of this on our little jaunt out to the west coast over Thanksgiving, when even though it was clammy and overcast and somewhat rainy it was a welcome thing to be able to step out the door and not be pushed back in by the blast furnace of the perpetual sun. I love sunshine, really I do, and I’m not sorry to live where I do just now, but it’s a delight to be able to get out and stretch my legs in the neighborhood without any necessity to dash for cover lest I turn instantly into cracklins.

This week, a walk through the surrounding neighborhood, exploring a few streets and walkways and pockets of this town that we’ve not seen before, was the perfect soother on a Saturday afternoon, and a rare treat at that. And it makes me plot further to spend some quality time over the brief winter cooling period just getting out to soak up the happy and calming atmosphere of our more tree-dense areas, our parks and lakes and ponds and the wonderful wild grasses and prairie native plants that make this such a good place to be. To simply step out on the patio from time to time and absorb the rustling leaf sounds of the backyard greenbelt and the obbligato of the birds whistling therein. To hike over to the university campus instead of having to take the shuttle just to survive the three and a half or so miles, and then once there not to need to tear indoors instantly.

I’m only too glad to have the opportunity to recall what is actually so great about the great outdoors and to relish the enchantments of a lightly ruffled pond or the distant competitive singing of a yard full of hounds or even, should I be outdoors and doing the right thing in the right spot at the perfectly right moment, to feel that exceedingly sharp joy found only when one is not enclosed by walls and roof. What a fine joy that can be indeed.photo

The Race Well Run

digital illustration from a graphite drawingAthletic prowess of any sort is a mystery and source of amazement to me. One doesn’t have to be an Olympian, by a long stretch, to appear nearly godlike to my unskilled and uninformed eye. While I have had moments of physical fitness in my life, they never amounted to anything notable beyond getting me from Here to There and back again.

I think my attention span tends to favor short bursts of intense action rather than sustained practice, just as my brain has always rebelled against both study and studio time over lengthy stretches. When I’m doing a renovation project, it reflects my past days of art gallery installation, which more often than not veered away from the sensible approach of using a full week for the job in favor of three 18 hour days in a row. When I’d end up at 2 a.m. leaning off the twelve-foot ladder to aim the last few lights properly at the artworks, it’s likely no wonder I avoided spending longer periods acting sensible and instead ended up doing everything in a crazy cram-course style.

I know perfectly well that this approach may be inappropriate for these pursuits and is definitely wrong for athletic pursuits, just as well as I know that attempting to draw only in 18-hour sessions for three days straight and then take a nice six-week holiday before coming back, literally, to the drawing board would be ridiculous. So, considering that I have such a direly miniscule attention span for anything but what I love the most, it’s no shock that something I’m truly lousy at and ill-equipped with the strength, speed or grace to perfect has rarely been (and is unlikely to become) a long-term pursuit of mine.

This–along with the few paltry attempts at athletic activities that I have made over the years–explains quite readily why I both admire great acts of physical prowess and art and find them completely alien, athlete and action alike. Yes, I have pressed a few weights, swum a lap or ten, leapt hurdles, rowed against the current, placekicked the pigskin, arm-wrestled, done pushups and pullups and situps, and run a fair number of miles in my time, among other things. But unless I have to do any of it again to save my life, I’d ever so much rather watch someone who genuinely loves being an Action Figure do all the work, and do it ever so much better than I ever could. After all, though I’m no athlete I am a very skilled and enthusiastic spectator, and all sorts of artists deserve a good audience. That way we all get a chance to rise to the level of our highest potential.

In the Shadow of The Mountain

Perhaps this is true of other places, but I only know my hometown’s version of it: in Seattle, or pretty much anywhere in southwest Washington, Mount Rainier is frequently known simply as The Mountain. Yes, we call it by its full name, or by its ‘patrinomial’ ID of Rainier, and sometimes even by its graceful older name Tahoma. But its dominance of the skyline when visible, and of the ethos–the spirit–of western Washington thanks to its potent influences on geography and geological and meteorological character, not to mention the power it has to wipe out half the state should it decide to wake from its long dormancy, all mean that whether in plain view or not it has a hold on the hearts and minds of the locals like no other single force, natural or otherwise.photoSometimes when flying in to SeaTac airport the mountain is not only clearly visible but brilliantly etched and jutting boldly through the clouds, if any. SeaTac International Airport sits between Seattle and Tacoma, and the zone so called for its equidistance was finally officially given that insipid and cheap-sounding name some years ago–don’t get me started on it–but it’s well worth flying to a place with any ridiculous name you could conjure if and when you get the right weather, enough sunlight, and an accommodating pilot who appreciates Mt. Rainier’s beauty enough to tip a wing to the mountain’s flank and give the passengers a clearer view.photoTruth be told, we’ve seen precious little of the mountain on our current visit. It’s been pretty overcast much of the time, including when we flew in, so yes, the photos here are from other times. I’ve known of visitors who left disbelieving we even have a Mount Rainier, never having glimpsed that big white heap of sugar in weeks and weeks of waiting. The fabled wet weather of the Northwest can indeed curtain off our magnificent totem from view for seemingly interminable times and make us long to be reminded ourselves that it wasn’t all an hallucination or a passion-fueled fantasy. Even when visible, Rainier very often sports a ‘hat’ or veil that keeps a little mystery close by; being large enough to create its own weather, this geological behemoth seems to be quite often crowned with a companion cloud that rarely moves very far off or disappears entirely.photoDespite all of this hide-and-seek, the imminent danger we all know quite well as natives makes us bolt, strap, glue and otherwise thoughtfully position many of our tall or breakable belongings as though to protect them from a petulant child, because we’ve been through enough minor earthquake shakers in our lives to know preparedness pays. Still, while rainy Washington makes floods a real and frequent possibility, if that dormant volcano in our midst gives the really big belch geologists tell us is historically overdue, whatever isn’t swept off in the violent and instantaneous post-blast lahars [pyroclastic mudflows] that will likely submerge the surrounding valleys (the primary lahar channel of which was home to my family for most of my youth) will be treated pretty much like a snow-globe being handled by a curious Godzilla. Game over.photoSo we have a certain amount of respect for The Mountain, never mind it being such a fixture in our existence. No, I don’t know anyone who’s ever grown jaded about seeing it, no matter how long he or she has lived in its shade. This is not your typical mountain, looking pretty but losing its allure gradually as you realize you’re rather close and it’s stopped looming higher. It’s set in a fairly impressive range of mountains yet is so much bigger and more prominent than the rest that once the sky clears you just plain can’t miss it, and that sight quickly makes its mark on you. In snow-time, its blue-white flanks rise up to pierce the sky and look so sharply delineated you think you could stick your hand out and grab a fistful of super-vanilla ice cream from just behind that house over there across the street. As the snow melts, streaks made of billions of evergreens and a few exposed rocky prominences reflect sun and sky and passing clouds’ shadows in a changing array of colors that tease you with seeming first as near as your own breath and then suddenly as far distant as a too-sweet dream. Driving there can nearly drive you mad: you look to your left and it’s sitting right across the closest pasture; round the curve and it has shot away as far as the moon; over the next hill, in an instant it almost seems you’ll crash into the bank of snow just ahead of your front bumper.photoEventually you get onto the foot of Mount Rainier, yes you do, and you realize it’s so huge that you can still have a view of the peak that seems remarkably like the distant view of the whole that you had from an hour and a half’s drive away. The flora and fauna of this glorious bump on the earth have changed relatively little in millennia, and just being in their midst for an afternoon’s traipse along the trails makes you think both that your own sort might go on forever and that if the mountain is really going to blow, perhaps its taking you along for the ride in instant smithereens might not be altogether the worst thing. That’s how magical The Mountain is, even after all of these years of living at its foot. It might kill me, but if it does it will have fed my spirits incredibly well for a very long time indeed. That mountain there, she may keep her chapeau of a cloud-let coquettishly low on her brow for long periods of time, but when she finally does doff it, Holy Mother of Gleaming Glaciers, she’s a beauty.

A Little Northwest Pictorial

It’s certainly a fine time to be in the old familiar places of the northwest. The Evergreen State is at its lush floral best, the cool-weather walks already impossible in Texas by mid-June are still a fine evening pleasure for scoping out the neighborhood sculptures and specimen plantings in their cottage-garden settings, ferries ply the waters of Puget Sound, and even Mt. Rainier comes out of hiding behind various veils of cloud from time to time.photophotophotophotophotophotophotophotophotophotophoto

 

San Francisco, Fabulous as Always

photoSince we arrived yesterday afternoon for a couple of days OFF (excuse my yelling it!) in San Francisco, a longtime favorite city of ours, I will keep it mighty simple today. If you’ve ever had the smallest opportunity to visit this great city, you have no need to know why we’re thrilled to be here again, even for a quick stop. Stupendous food everywhere you go, glorious scenery (in this case, enhanced by perfectly clear, sunny and warm but breezy weather), fantastic walking, gorgeous architecture of all sorts, beloved historic and tourist friendly sites and sights galore, and most of all, a deeply endearing mix of cultures and ages and backgrounds among the people that make the people here memorably friendly and thoughtful and just plain fun to live among, however briefly.photo

So we are off from our temporary digs, located just outside the gate of the wonderful SF Chinatown, to enjoy the beauties of this marvelous place. I can’t be sitting around clicking and nattering on the web when San Francisco is right outside my door, much as I love talking to you lovely friends. I’ll give you a few quick snapshots from our locale here and get out to stock up on lots more.photoHappy Sunday, my fine friends!photo

I Left My Car in San Francisco

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Edmonton

Many cities are best appreciated on foot. No matter how plush or sexy a car you have, sitting in it immobile in ugly traffic is just as unattractive as ever–maybe more so, if you’re thinking that somewhere in the next six blocks, if you can ever traverse them, is the bling-swinging pedestrian, high-speed messenger’s bicycle or runaway shopping cart with your pretty car’s number on it, and nowhere in the next eighteen blocks is there such a thing as a parking space for under $40, should you negotiate the next six unscathed. Life in a car is rough enough.

But there’s so much you can see and do on foot anyway that is unattainable or at least seldom noticed from inside a car. Window shopping while driving is no safer or more successfully accomplished than texting at the steering wheel. People watching, one of the best entertainments and learning tools known to observant persons, is at best a fleeting glimpse while driving past, not like the pedestrian’s opportunity to slow down and say hello or, more covertly, sit on the nearest bench and watch the whole human show parade along its way. Some cities, like San Francisco and Prague, Seattle and Stockholm, have enough narrow hilly streets that you can’t see halfway along the block, let alone what’s up over the hill’s crest or down around the next curve.

But if you were trying to operate automotively anyway, how would you be close enough to smell the smoke of a wood-fired oven drifting out a cafe window, to peer in and notice a gilt coffered ceiling behind the revolving door of an old bank building, to catch the eye of the shop proprietor who winks at you out of the dim interior so slyly that you can’t resist going in to see the hand-woven silks so ravishingly gleaming under the curved glass of that ancient mahogany display cabinet? What chance would you have of getting ever so slightly jostled off your straight walking path so that you notice that in the almost invisible gap next to you, between the bent copper drainpipe on the left and the broken rusty post-box on the right, a narrow cobbled alley appears, with sunlight spilling into it in ragged patterns created by its tiny balconies swathed in brilliant yellow and red and purple flowers?

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Denton

I’ve always preferred in-town meanders of the bipedal variety over wheeled ones, especially those exploratory ones in a new town or just a new part of a familiar town. If there’s not too much ground to cover, I covet the freedom I have to stop and gape, to slow down, take sudden unplanned tours and detours, to take pictures of the quirky oddity that almostescaped my eye. The fitness that comes from walking certainly beats that of planting my posterior in a car seat, no matter how tensely city traffic might make me perch there, and if I do get weary there are not only refurbished old trams, pedicabs, monorails and water taxis to deliver me from my exhausted state to my actual destination if necessary, or better yet, a nice leisurely cafe break at a sidewalk table with a sparkling mineral water in hand and dark sunglasses on so I can see all of the action nearby without appearing to stare too disconcertingly while I catch my breath and give my aging parts a little welcome recovery time. I’m just grateful to have two functional legs, no matter how modest my fitness level happens to be.

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Casco Viejo

Since my dyslexic gifts (yes, I just spelled it dsylexic before editing) include complete lack of an inner compass, one of the particularities of strolling wanders for me is that I must always allow plenty of time, and assume a fair likelihood that I will be well and truly lost at least once per outing. Including in my home town. Possibly in my own yard. But so far I’ve always found my way back again, like the proverbial Bad Penny, and remained alive and unharmed. I’m reasonably canny about not going into dicey areas alone or after dusk, taking off without an emergency cell phone (now that I finally have one, though it really is strictly for emergencies thankfully), or going for a genuine who-knows-where expedition without telling someone. But beyond that, plus some welcome good luck and guardian angel accompaniments, I can say with a certain amount of pleasure, surprise and/or pride that many of my best adventures have happened as a direct result of just staying close to the ground and taking advantage of the fortuitous events that occurred along the way, embracing the goodness of the fun and fascinating people who cross paths with me in those fine and serendipitous ways that happen when you let them. They can’t put that stuff in tourist guidebooks.

So I’m glad that I got out and left behind any car in so many grand places, or I’d never have loved them so well. Munich, New York, Verona, Chicago, London .. . would any of them have been a tenth as lovely from a car as on foot? It’s possible, I suppose, but I wouldn’t take back a single pair of my worn-out soles to find out for certain. I suspect more truly that it’s because I get up and leave my car in all those wonderful, fantastic places that I end up leaving my heart in all of them too.

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Boston