Friday, February 26, 2010

Sea butterfly

Clione antarctica

She lights up

the dark is all


and grace.



in flight

she trusts

the wisdom

of tides

rides lightly

on every moment.

(Introducing the pteropod. She's tiny. Unselfconscious. A flame-orange dancer.)

I'm heading away for a couple of days/a week - not sure yet how long I'll be gone. Up the coast to Waikouaiti, then on to Naseby and possibly North West from there. 'Tis time for a little rest, flight and floating.

These are interesting days with interesting ways.

Be well. Take care.

PS. How curious is this? I came across this painting made by my daughter Alisaundre when she was about five. We'd been to a theatre performance; hence the dark 'stage' and backs of heads. (My hair was waist-length at the time - you can tell I'd had one of those 'wavy, hippy' perms... )

Of course she would never have intended this but I can't help myself (and am sure she won't mind)... Every time I look at her little airborne angel, I see a pteropod... Bless her. Bless them both. x

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Learning curves

I've been tottering along on one - a learning curve, that is - which explains why I've been a bit off the wires lately. What can I say about this latest little adventure? For one, it's not been plain sailing. It's been stormy. There were unseen rocks and reefs. I nearly ran aground. Several times. My boat threatened to capsize, but didn't. We took on a fair bit of water, though; thankfully, I tend not to mind getting wet and discovered I had buckets and stamina enough to stay up all night (or two, as was required) and scoop, scoop, scooooop!

I've been immersed in my film-making project lately; it's titled Hidden Depths - Poetry for Science. The cast includes a science diver, a pteropod (I'll find my pics of this exquisite small wonder and post them here soon), an ancient giant of the uni-cellular world, foraminiferan Notodendrodes antarctikos - and the flotilla of bamboo boats that I posted a week ago. I'd initially visualized this film as a collaborative endeavour but after a series of twists, turns and odd disjunctions, I realized it was something I really had to give shape and voice to on my own. This was nobody's fault. It was simply 'one of those things.'

Apparently there are times when - for reasons both obvious and subtle - it's just not possible to articulate the images and atmospheres that occupy the space of one's head into language and shapes that others can take away and work with. Even though this is stating the obvious, it almost always takes me by surprise. I'm by nature The Eternal Optimist, and accede to feeling momentarily bruised and bewildered at the realization that ideas and dreams I'm excited by are not necessarily all that captivating to others! We're all differently wired - and 'tis good so. For all the upheaval of this past week, it's been reassuring to realize - again - that most, if not all, of the time, these sorts of experiences are thoroughly worthwhile in terms of The Overhaul (yes) Picture.

I've been wrestling with language recently. Does this happen to you? Speech has not been coming easily; as though my mouth and tongue are having to deal with a foreign alphabet. Then again, life does at times take on a wordless (or is it word-free?) shape.

Sometimes, I wonder whether in fact it's primarily in and about the silent conversations.

Anyway, the exciting news is that my first film 'proper' is wrapped up (all 13 mins, 08.22 secs of it!) and on its way to Oslo where it will enter the stream of other films being considered for Norway's International Polar Year's PolarCINEMA screening at the end of June; this is an adjunct event to the 2010 Polar Science Conference I submitted a paper to some weeks back (haven't heard anything re; the outcome of that yet; it can't be long now till we're all notified.).

Cadence, The Intertidal Zone & I went for a pounding walk along St.Clair and St.Kilda beaches on Friday evening. The light was dramatic, portentous almost - in an illuminating way. When we started out, I was feeling stressed and gruntled by the unforeseen challenges of what seemed (just days ago) to be an ailing project - standing on a knife-edge between letting the whole thing go and stubbornly trying to find a constructive way forward.

We were talking about learning curves. The beach must have overheard our conversation; it offered up some stunners -

Kelp drawings - in the first, a boundary, threshold space, line of music; in the second, a vessel, horseshoe, effervescing hull?

Every time I look at this small sand stage, another dancer emerges. What - or who - might come forward to meet you...?

There's no telling the scale of this form from a photograph. Might it be a child's dropped lollipop? A sculptor's mallet? A burnt-out torch, tympanist's drumstick or broken chunk of quay?

Come to think of it, the film's a bit like this --- it, too, plays with concepts of scale and is more about questions than answers. A meditation on wonder. My wish is that it will s l o w us down (for at least 13 mins 08.22 secs!), encourage a fresh sense of connection with the natural world, each other and our small-large selves.

Friday, February 12, 2010

More Verlyn Klinkenborg

    'No Messages on This Server,' and Other Lessons of Our Time

    "I do not own a BlackBerry or a pager.

    I don't chat or instant-message or text-message.

    My cellphone could connect to the Web if I let it, but I don't.

    I don't gamble on the Internet nor do I game on it (or on any other electronic device).

    And yet I'm starting to twitch.

    I have three everyday telephone numbers, not counting Skype and a calling card, and two fax numbers.

    I have six working e-mail addresses, as well as a few no longer in use.

    A couple of weeks ago I started writing a blog for The Times.

    Part of my job, as a blogger, is to read and approve the publication of readers' comments.

    That is the equivalent of another form of e-mail.

    There are probably half a dozen Really Simple Syndication tools on my computer, and one or another of them is always unfurling the latest ribbon of news in the background.

    It is astonishing how old the morning's headlines seem by evening.

    Back in the dial-up days, computer users made brief forays onto a bulletin board or some outpost of the primitive Internet, all the while clocking connection time in order to keep costs down.

    Going online was like driving a Stanley Steamer — better for scaring horses and wowing the youth than for long-distance hauling.

    There was always a slightly neurotic edge to it.

    You could feel the seconds ticking away while nothing happened.

    But nowadays turning on the computer is synonymous with being online.

    Who turns the computer off?

    It's rarely worth severing that digital link. 
    For some of us, the computer has become less and less a place to work and more and more a place to await messages from the ether, like hopeful spiritualists.

    I thought I was a fairly temperate user of computers.

    But in the past year or so I have become addicted to e-mail.

    I confess it.

    You probably know the signs.

    Do you tell your e-mail program to check for messages automatically every two minutes — and then disbelieve it when it comes up empty?

    Have you learned to hesitate before answering a new message so it doesn't look as though you were hunched over the keyboard, waiting?

    Do you secretly think of lunch as a time for your inbox to fill up?

    But the clearest sign of e-mail addiction is simply to ask yourself, what is the longest you've gone without checking your e-mail in the past two months?

    Anything longer than a broken night's sleep is good.

    I blame my e-mail addiction, in part, on the United States Postal Service.

    Seeing the mail lady pull up to our rural mailbox in her red station wagon with the flashing amber light on top is one of the high points of my day, whether there is anything "good" in the mail or not. (The "goodness" of mail is another question entirely.)

    When you think about it, the postal system is a remarkable thing, even in this new universe of instant-delivery systems.

    Its genius is this: The mail comes only once a day.

    All that expectation gathered into a single visit!

    And once-a-day-ness is built right into the system.

    I try to imagine the mail lady bringing every piece of mail to our mailbox as she gets it.

    In fact, that's exactly what she does, because the mail shows up only once a day at the local post office.

    I suppose I could tell my e-mail program to check for mail on a postal schedule — once a day — although minutes are the only intervals the software understands.

    But that would defeat the logic of e-mail, which is meant to arrive seriatim — hence, its addictive punch.

    The principle of snail mail is infrequency; the principle of e-mail is frequency.

    The real question is, what is the frequency for?

    I think of e-mail as a continuing psychology experiment that studies the effect on humans of abrupt, frequently repeated stimuli — often pleasurable, sometimes not, but always with the positive charge that comes from seeing new mail in the inbox.

    So far, the experiment has revealed, in me, the synaptic responses of a squirrel.

    It is a truism of our time that we now have shorter attention spans than ever before.

    I don't think that is true.

    What we have now are electronic media that can pulse at the actual rate of human thought.

    We have the distinct discomfort of seeing our neural pace reflected in the electronic world around us.

    Amid all that is wasteful, distracting, irrelevant and downright evil about e-mail, there is also this.

    We carry dozens of people, sometimes hundreds, around with us in our heads.

    They pass in and out of our thoughts as quickly as thought itself.

    E-mail is a way to gather these people — so many of them scattered across the globe — into the immediacy of our lives in a way that makes even a phone call feel highly formalized.

    It is the nearness of e-mail, the conversations it creates, that is addicting as much as the minute-by-minute stimuli.

    I try to remember that when I am getting twitchy, when I start wondering whether the mail server is down again.

    I tell myself that I'm just listening for a chorus of voices, a chorus of friends."

Verlyn Klinkenborg writes a blog for the New York Times. 

Lucky us. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A swallow in the hand

"A couple of times in the past few weeks, I've stopped by a local swamp where the peepers live. It's hard to believe that the high-pitched chorus of such small frogs could amount to a roar, but it does. It rises into the night sky and swallows the listener. My internal compass seems to go awry in the midst of such an outcry. In the darkness, there is no horizon except a silence somewhere on the far edge of that cacophony. To the extent that any one peeper has a sense of identity, it must dissolve completely in that night song, because I certainly feel myself dissolving when I hear it.

Somehow the question of identity is always emerging on this farm. I found the body of a barn swallow lying just inside the barn the other day. There was no telling how it died, but it must have done so very soon after it returned to the farm. I noticed the intense particularity of its body, its sharply cut wings, the way its plumage seemed to glow with some residual celestial heat. But it was the particularity of death, not the identity of life, a body in stillness while all around me its kin were twittering and swooping in and out of the hayloft. 

I wonder what the roar of the human consciousness rising over our swamp would sound like it if was audible. I am stunned by the human ability to think of one's life as a thing apart - with the particularity of a swallow held in the hand. I end up admiring the thoughtless animate persistence of every creature around me, the woodchuck without a doubt in the goldenrod stubble, the horses certain in the pasture, the arrogant geese whose footprints melted the frost this morning.

I keep a dead hummingbird and a downy woodpecker in a bag in the freezer. Down at the barn, the dead swallow lies beside a wren I found this winter, its tail as sharply cocked, as impertinent, as when it was alive. I don't know why I keep them, except to notice, as I often do, that among small birds, death is not very corrupting. The flight vanishes, and the song. But the feathers live on as if that swallow might wake at any moment, surprised to find itself perched in my hand."
Verlyn Klinkenborg. 

Monday, February 08, 2010

Dulcie's toaster house

Spring in Port Chalmers - Dulcie Kirk*, felt-tip pens on paper, 2002


Dulcie draws a toaster house. 

Outside, a web of copper wire 
weaves windows into walls, ties bricks 
to fascias, laces gutters to roof 
to chimney to fly-away
chimney smoke. 

She sends a charge 
across the facade
singes the white sky 
blue, flashes red 
onto the front doormat. 

Inside, there are no lines 
in sight. Breath settles 
into shadows, thought hovers
underfoot. There are shivers
of sound, the invisible murmur 
of magnetic fields waking. 
They shift and fold the paper 
        envelope of home. 
Dulcie walks us down her street. 

Beneath the double light of moon 
and sun, she draws electricity, trees
and bees. Her felt-tips ripen
fruit, coax flowers to open. She understands 
the secrets of dragonflies, seeds germinating 
in silent underground places. 

You can tell 
she knows that ink 
dreams in water. 

* I recently learned that Dulcie Kirk has died. I did not know her well but on the few occasions we met, was touched by her refreshing transparency and lack of compromise when it came to her art-making. She was remarkably prolific. 

Whilst sifting through boxes and files from my past, I came across this poem I'd written for Dulcie eight years ago in response to her Port Chalmers drawing. She was in her late seventies when she drew this house; well into her eighties at the time of her passing. 


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Reminders of fireflies

I wake happily before 5 most mornings these days - love being up in the early dark, early light. It's blissfully quiet. There are no cars. No dogs barking. The harbour gulls and neighbourhood birds are still asleep, sweet heads tucked neatly underwing. 

There's an interesting energy in the air at the moment and it's not just because we're finally experiencing summer. It's deliciously warm for a change, but this is about more than that. The energy I'm talking about is fiery - the kind that comes with a buzz and crackle. Good fire. Welcome fire. Fire that energizes, rather than scolds, devastates or scorches. It's transformational - in the way light is. 

Do you feel it, too? 

Light dancing in a tin bucket  - Antarctica 2005

Speaking of light, this morning I visited The Tearful Dishwasher and was reminded of fireflies. (Thank you, Tearful.). The image on his latest post took me back to a time and place I return to often in heart and mind and is one I am always grateful to be reminded of. 

Four years ago, my good friend Katherine and I spent three days and nights with a river in the lap of the Du Toit's Kloof mountains. 

I told Tearful how we'd both needed the river "... to be afloat in it, carried by it, near it' and how on the third night '... the black mountains flanking the river like curious custodians came alive with flocks (not swarms) of fireflies. They were big as birds. We had never seen anything like it before - and haven't since. For what might have been an hour or so, but was a timeless time in the way such moments are, we watched them delighting in the moonless night... I have never forgotten its magic."

How susceptible are we to seduction by light and fire? 

I know I am. At the moment, for instance, I'm working on an exciting and somewhat unexpected project - a film. It's totally firing me up - I especially love the fact that it's a collaboration, that we have an absurdly tight timeline and that its completion depends entirely on people's trust, creative surrender and generosity of spirit. This is the very best way to work. Fire under foot, in the belly, ablaze in the group.  

Robert Wilkinson over on Aquarius Papers posted this marvelous piece by Goethe a day or two ago - 

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

Goethe's encouraging us to think in terms of capacity, rather than limitation. Not necessarily a simple straight line, this, but definitely worth a try!


PS. I have enough parsley in my garden right now - Italian and the old-fashioned, crinkly-perm kind - to send in all directions; as fast as I pick it, it multiplies. Every day, I bring a small armful into the kitchen to snip and pop into the freezer. It'll come in handy some months from now, when soup weather returns... would anyone out there like some?