Thinking and Feeling

Years ago I took a creativity class with other writers, photogs, artists, etc. The instructor said something I’ve never forgotten:

Creativity is in the doing. If we could produce art by just thinking it through, no one would have to do it; we could just sit back, imagine it, and be done! But in the doing of it–it changes. It becomes something else, something we couldn’t have known until we did it.

Richard Gilbert nails this truth in his blog Draft No. 4. I’ve reposted it below for your reading pleasure. Click here to go to Richard’s blog and his live links.

Messy Essays & Eternal Truths: The Work Under Writing’s Surface

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Richard Gilbert’s class whiteboard outlines Joyce Carol Oates’ essay A Widow’s Story.

Reposted from Richard Gilbert’s wonderful Blog, Draft No. 4

March 23, 2016 |
Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do.    Benjamin Spock

1. Writing is Thinking

“Writing is thinking! Writing is feeling!” enthused one of my students near the end of Spring term. This was at Virginia Tech, where I have been teaching in the Lifelong Learning Institute this academic year.

I’ll call her Helen. At the start of class, Helen had seemed confident of her thinking ability—she’d spent a distinguished career reasoning and writing. But she’d seemed not so sure she could emote for readers. Or ask them for an emotional response, let alone provoke it. Helen’s comment took me back to 2005, when I started writing my memoir. I enjoyed building that narrative, but it was work. Writing is concentrated thought, I marveled. That’s why it’s hard. Most of us seldom think about one thing for hours on end. But there’s a huge compensation, I came to see.

“I think what makes writing addictive is that it doesn’t just capture thought, it creates thought,” I told my class one afternoon. “You write a sentence, make a claim. And then you write another. And then you look at those two sentences and write down what you didn’t know you knew. Because you didn’t. Writing doesn’t only capture thought, it creates it.”

Now I didn’t pause to credit the sources who helped me describe this quality. So here I will. Surely writing theorist Peter Elbow influenced my thinking (See my post “Writing’s ‘dangerous method.’ ”) But Donald M. Murray, who nails writing’s rewards in The Craft of Revision (Fifth Edition), lent me the words:

Writing is not reported thought. Writing is more important than that. It is thinking itself. . . . And it is fun because I keep finding I know more than I expected, feel more than I expected, remember more, and have a stronger opinion than I expected. [See “Revise, then polish.”]

This is what I found, and I think what Helen experienced.

2. Writing is Feeling

Oates-Raymond-Smith-in-72
Oates & Raymond Smith in ’72 [1972@BernardGotfryd]
Maybe Helen was thinking of my statement: “Art is made from emotion, is about emotion, and asks for an emotional response.”

What does that mean? Was I going to ask her to emote all over the page? That wasn’t her style!

Well, on that score, everyone’s mileage varies. As a writing teacher once told me, “No one tells everything.” Indeed they don’t. As in life, we must prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet. And our mask is influenced by temperament and mood and the nature of the piece.

Helen wrote about her early years, a young Yankee professional woman who found herself starting out in the Appalachian south. She encountered a gracious but sexist, patronizing, and clannish culture. What she discovered in writing a memoir essay in my class was what she hadn’t before consciously articulated: after decades of becoming localized, as a success, she sensed yet another layer of exclusion. A deeper boundary. She hadn’t glimpsed this wall before, and now was just starting to try to articulate its nature.

What “writing is feeling” meant to Helen, I think—and what maybe it does mean, after all—embodies such discovery. Not writing emotionally, as such. But seeing clearly how you felt and conveying it. How did you feel then? How do you feel now?

Don Murray again:

The writer who writes for revision does not wait for a final draft but works through a series of discovery, development, and clarification drafts until a significant meaning is found and made clear to the reader.

3. Writing is Craft

The shortest essay I ever wrote, maybe the shortest essay anyone has ever written, was Little Essay on Form. It went like this: ‘We build the corral as we reinvent the horse.’ Later, I added: ‘Craft is what nails the gate, helps formalize the space, and keeps the horse shit out of the picture.’ It leaves us with the necessary.
—Stephen Dunn in his Georgia Review essay, “Forms and Structures.”

After I showed my memoir class how James Baldwin punctuated his great essay “Notes of a Native Son,” Helen raised her hand.

“Do you think he did that on purpose?” she asked.

“Oh, yes,” I said. “I’m certain of it. For one thing, he was a genius. For another, varying sentence rhythm is what professionals do.” I followed up by showing them how Ernest Hemingway did the same thing. (See my recent post “Sentence, substance & comma joy.”)

“Art announces itself in form,” I added. “That includes sentence and paragraph length; punctuation; the rhythm of sentences, paragraphs, passages, and the entire piece. All aspects of form must be considered and intentional.”

For all the attention we give it, of course, craft isn’t the most important part of writing—far from it. That would be who you are and your intent. (See “Between self and story.”) But craft is what we can talk about and work with. Craft not only signifies art, it’s what releases art.

Early in the term, I told my memoir class one afternoon how writers emphasize at the end: the last word in a sentence, the last sentence in a paragraph, the last paragraph in a passage, the last passage in an essay or chapter. I tried to show how creative writers use space breaks, not just as transitions from one time frame or location to another but also to spike emphasis—like hitting a gong. And to provide a resting places for readers. As I wrote in “That sweet white space,” “White space is a dramatic transition and a resonant pause filled with meaning and its own kind of content, a space pregnant with time’s passage and unstated events. This is what visual artists call negative space, the resonant blankness around the main image.”

Helen wasn’t so sure about space breaks. “They seem like cheating,” she said.

“I can remember feeling that way,” I said. “When I was a journalist, I was proud of my worded transitions. And editors wouldn’t let us use space breaks anyway—they took up too much room.”

But look at the breaks that demarcate Baldwin’s classical three-act structure in “Notes of a Native Son.” Consider how heavily Scott Sanders segmented his flowing, celebrated essay about his father’s alcoholism, “Under the Influence.”

And you know what? I got Helen to try space breaks! A teacher’s joy. Along with hearing her excited statement. Writing is thinking! Writing is feeling! What a great class. Helen’s doubt made me work harder. Helen’s doubt launched not a thousand ships but influenced several lesson plans. My students’ work in this class taught me, again, how words shaped by craft reveal someone’s soul. We may all walk around stuck in our own heads, but we go to literature to share another’s subjective experience and meaning.

Yet in art, every start is a beginning for the maker. As Jo Ann Beard told Michael Gardner in an interview for Mary:

Frankly, I thought I knew how to write, but it turned out I didn’t, and I don’t. I don’t. I get to learn it over and over and over. It isn’t supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be hard and the process of making art and the product is worth all the energy that you put into it. It is what matters. It is a noble goal. Even if you never attain it, which is true for most of us, it’s life-enhancing to try.


Ellen Meloy once told me our word essay came from the Old French essai “to try,” which is, of course, totally appropriate. Perhaps all art is actually a verb: to essay.

And I just LOVE driving by, on my way upta and overta Bryce, Asay Creek. It’s onea them thar Utar words, ya know?

 

Annual Solstice Letter 2016: A Particular Phrenology

 

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Diagram 1. My Particular Phrenology

If you have an exceptional memory, you may recall TWO years ago I wrote a post about my teenage heartthrob, John Fogarty. If not, click on the album cover below (with gratuitous photo of said heartthrob).

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In that post I mentioned I’d heard an NPR interview about Fogerty, who after fifty years playing guitar, still spends hours every morning practicing. I wrote, if anyone already knows how to play guitar, it’s John Fogerty! It set me wondering if there was anything I liked doing so much I’d spend hours doing it every day when I didn’t have to.

At first, I was disheartened, thinking I put off what I wanted to do until I’d caught up, had enough time, finished my to-do list, etc. But then I enumerated what I did every day and realized I actually did the thing(s) I wanted to be doing. I also realized there were two things I truly needed to do daily–like John Fogerty clearly needs to play guitar–and three others I wanted to do, and I could stop beating myself up about not doing whatever it was I thought I should have been doing.

I then asked “What are the thing(s) you want to/would do every day if you didn’t have to do the things you do?” And said: “Tell me yours and, in the next post, I’ll tell you mine.”

WELL. A bit o’ time has passed. I did, however, work on the answer, even though the responses from you were few. I realized that’s because many of you are: 1. OLD (i.e., you’ve already figured this out whereas although I too am old, I am still learning), 2. RETIRED (i.e., you have plenty of time to complete have-tos and want-tos whereas I was not whence I wrote the initial post), 3. TOO BUSY (i.e., either doing your have-tos like working or want-tos whatever they may be), 4. A FELLOW INTROVERT!

But I promised answers and thus here they are:

The TWO THINGS

I need to do everyday are (Ta Da): 1. THINKING and 2. BEING OUTDOORS

  1.  I spend a damn lot of time thinking (Diagrams 1 and 2). This is probably more than you want to know, but I spent a long time THINKING about it, so here it is. I Process. Contemplate. Order. Figure. Munch. Chew. Digest. Wait. Build connections, neurons. It’s part of being an introvert, or maybe introvertedness comes from having a brain that processes like this. I experience; then my brain sorts, filters, categorizes, replays, builds networks, cross references…well, you get the idea. It takes a long, goddamn time. It’s why I live alone. Input equals processing time. More input equals more processing time. Yes, I can be quick and sharp and witty, and I can also stare at you dumbly as my brain creaks and clacks and spins reels looking for the right file. “I know I’ve got that here somewhere…” In fact, I have a story about that…okay, right, I’ll keep that one for a future post. Remind me.

phrenology

Diagram 2. Mind Map  Click on Image to Enlarge
(Use at Your Own Risk; some things were omitted for your safety)

2. Being Outdoors. I dunno why this is soooo important. When I was little my mom used to say, like every other minute, “Go outside and play.” I think now it was her brain’s way of getting some processing time. I went. And when her brain reached overload and blew, I went (quickly) to escape. And after a while, outdoors became waaay more comforting a place than indoors. That’s my theory anyway. Also I think and science has confirmed, I seem to recall, that deep in our brain’s structure lurks what researchers think is a hard-wired memory of our African savanna origins. Anyway, that’s my excuse. I, like Mr. Fogerty, have NEEDS. And one is to be outside, everyday, for hours.

The THREE OTHER THINGS

I think, ahem, two of the three are really subsets of the TWO THINGS, because they are A. Writing (and reading) and B. Riding which could really be part of Thinking and Being Outdoors, but I may be OVERTHINKING this. Animals. Big Thing. I’ve never really gotten over the fact I’m not an animal–well, I know I am–but I mean a REAL animal. You know, cute little round ears, cute nose, TAIL. I suppose that’s why I spend so much time with them; they are certainly much easier than people–much easier to process. 

Speaking of which last, but by far not least, dear ones, is C. Friends. Gentle friends. I truly need my friends, in ways those who have family do not. My animals give me so much, but my friends…what can I say? Thank you.

And so my small gifts to you this solstice are my humble words, the links below for your enjoyment and play, and my many thanks for allowing me to be a small part of your world.

To make your own mind map, click here for a link to the SimpleMind+ app.

 

 

In the Shadows of Wolves and Man

Christian Houge

 

By David Gonzalez, New York Times, LENS, Jan. 16, 2013

“They say you don’t start living until you step out of your comfort zone,” the photographer Christian Houge said. “Art arises when you let go. It can be in the process, in the darkroom. But it can also be in the concept. The end product is about not having control.”

As if he needs a reminder: he photographs wolves.

His images – deep-toned close-ups sometimes printed on cowhide – have a visceral impact, showing piercing eyes, bristly fur, hunched shoulders and bared teeth. But the series Shadow Within is as much about humans as it is about wolves. Mr. Houge, who is based in Oslo, wants us to reconsider the impulses, fears and instincts we keep in check as man allows his own nature to be boxed in by nurture. It is a theme that runs through his other projects, from a nude portrait series to another on a distant, frozen island that houses the Global Seed Vault.

“I like exploring what culture does to us,” he said. “I see nature and culture being juxtaposed both within and without us. We are born as something much larger than ourselves. Then you have culture coming in with boxes, with identities, teachers, religion. Before all that, we are nature and we still have all this nature inside us. Well, some more than others.”

That’s where the wolf comes in. Growing up in Norway, Mr. Houge was well aware of the Norse legends and Viking lore in which wolves played a central role, as they did in other cultures. Then there are the fables and fairy tales – ostensibly for children — in which the Big Bad Wolf was always the dark, malevolent force. And as much as the wolf may be wise, it was also feared.

Perhaps too much.

In modern Scandinavia, he said, there has been a debate on how to deal with recent incidents in which wolves had been spotted on the outskirts of Oslo or how packs have killed sheep that ranged free on farmland.

All that played into his decision to turn his lens on the lupine. During the course of his research, Mr. Houge met a woman who studied wolves, and she invited him to a nature preserve. But before he could embark on his project, he had to take a safety course.

“Things can happen if you don’t understand their language,” he said. “Things can go very wrong.”

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Christian Houge

He had to learn to let go.

“You have to face your fear,” he said. “They are in your face, and they have their tongue in your mouth, if they choose to come and greet you. This is how they get food from their parents when they are young. It is a sense of security, but it is their way of showing they’re in charge.”

In his various shoots, Mr. Houge has found the animals to have distinct personalities: from bullying and aggressive to loving and curious. They have tested him, too, pushed him down to the ground or huddled up close.

“The preconception of being a human in nature really shifts after an experience like that,” he said.

And that’s his goal: to get viewers to recognize in themselves what the wolves show openly, whether how they set boundaries or use nature.

“Humans can learn a lot from wolves,” Mr. Houge said. “The debate in Norway about if we should get rid of this animal is astounding. It says something larger about how brutal we are with nature. It’s mostly about how to make money.”

The idea of the lone wolf — the iconoclast who follows his own rules — may be admired in some cultures, but it’s a hard job in nature. Mr. Houge has seen how wolves that did not learn their place in the pack’s hierarchy trail behind the pack for months seeking to be let back in.

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Christian Houge

“I feel one of man’s deepest wishes is to be part of something larger,” he said. “Hierarchies are strong in humans, even if we don’t talk about it. In humans we have social, cultural, fashion hierarchies. I hope some of this series inspires people to feel some of this, how they are part of whatever pack.”

Even one of the more often-cited traits admired in some circles loses its luster after a conversation with Mr. Houge. Corporate titans — or photographers — want to see themselves as the alpha male, a concept Mr. Houge dismisses.

“The wolf pack that has longevity is a family,” he said. “It is a pair, not one male, but a male and a female. If they are secure enough in themselves, they let the weak individual lead the pack. If one has a fantastic nose, even if it is weaker, they’ll let it run first to lead the pack to the kill. These weaker individuals feel part of something larger — it’s ‘We need you for the pack to be stronger.’ That’s a perfect example of how business should be led. Including people, not excluding. Without me, this would not be as strong.”

More images at:

New York Times article: http://nyti.ms/1sD9AUr

Christian Houge website: http://www.christianhouge.no/Shadow-Within

I Love Lucy in the Springtime

 

Mr. Baby contemplates what the heck all that white stuff is
Mr. Baby contemplates what the heck all that white stuff is and where it came from. December 2013.

Still snowed in? We missed this one. It hit Cedar and St George but we just got rain—go figure! We deserved to be missed after the December 2013 snow. I drove home in that blizzard–in the dark pulling a trailer full of horse feed (both ways)–and then had to shovel my way into the barn! Gawd! I got stuck (at the barn) with the god-damned trailer full of feed still hooked up, AND the god-damned dog locked the keys in the truck when she (who would not get out in the never-before seen 18″-deep snow) stepped on the all-door lock with the lights on and engine running. Oh fergodsake. I was about to leave her and the whole shebang there and walk the mile home through the knee-deep snow (both ways) when I envisioned her hitting the accelerator, tearing down a fence or two, and leading the horses on a chase through town and down the highway in the dark following her wake of spilled bran and hay pellets. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. My friend Lynne Cobb says that hearing about my day is like watching an I Love Lucy episode. And I don’t even make this stuff up!

I'm sure I don't know what Lynne is talking about.
I don’t know what Lynne is talking about.

Of course, five days later that snow storm turned truly deadly when it brought down the rock across the street that killed our friends Maureen and Jeff. Now, in the wake of every hard rain or heavy snow, I thank the gods for the moisture to grow grass, and spend alotta time away from the house.

 

A woman addresses her body

by Moyra Donaldson

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Grace by Eoghan Bridge

For all my talk of soul, it was you
always, sweet little beast, amoral
animal, who showed me the ways
of Love, its passions and crucifixions.

The artist, the anatomist, the poet
and the surgeon, they have seen
the glory in you; you beatified them
in the moments where they believed.

You are my way, my truth, my life;
I am what you have made of me
and still I do not know the limits of you,
or where you will take me next.

from Selected Poems. © Liberties Press, 2012.

Becoming Writer and Written About

images2QTBWIIZFrom The Writer’s Almanac (Garrison Kellior) August 21, 2014: “It’s the birthday of novelist Robert Stone born in Brooklyn (1937). He was raised by his mother, who was schizophrenic, and when she was institutionalized, he spent several years in a Catholic orphanage. Sometimes he and his mother would drive across the country and end up in a Salvation Army somewhere, or a random hotel. He said: ‘My early life was very strange. I was a solitary; radio fashioned my imagination. Radio narrative always has to embody a full account of both action and scene. I began to do that myself. When I was seven or eight, I’d walk through Central Park like Sam Spade, describing aloud what I was doing, becoming both the actor and the writer setting him into the scene. That was where I developed an inner ear.”

Stone dropped out of high school to join the Navy, then moved back to New York City. He worked as a copy boy at the Daily News, and during his brief stint at NYU, he met Janice Burr, the woman he eventually married. They moved to New Orleans, and Stone found work as a census-taker. He walked every neighborhood of New Orleans, asking questions. He wrote: “The closer to street level you live, the more you have lessons thrust upon you.”

His time in New Orleans inspired his first novel, A Hall of Mirrors (1967). It begins: “The day before, Rheinhardt had bought a pint of whiskey in Opelika and saved it all afternoon while the bus coursed down through red clay and pine hills to the Gulf. Then, after sundown, he had opened the bottle and shared it with the boy who sold bibles, the blond gangling country boy in the next seat. Most of the night, as the black cypress shot by outside, Rheinhardt had listened to the boy talk about money — commissions and good territories and profits — the boy had gone on for hours with an awed and innocent greed. Rheinhardt had sat silently, passing the bottle and listening.”

Stone served as a correspondent in Vietnam for a British magazine, which quickly folded, but he got enough material to return home and write the novel Dog Soldiers (1974). Dog Soldiers is the story of a burnt-out playwright named John Converse who leaves the fading counterculture of California to work as a correspondent in Vietnam and ends up smuggling heroin out of the country. Dog Soldiers won the National Book Award.

Stone’s other books include Children of Light (1986); Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties (2007), a memoir; and Fun With Problems (2010), a book of short stories.

He said: ‘Writing is lonely. […] But most of the time you are in a room by yourself, you know. Writers spend more time in rooms, staying awake in quiet rooms, than they do hunting lions in Africa. So, it’s a bad life for a person because it’s so lonely and because it consists of such highs and lows, and there’s not always anywhere to take these emotional states. […] It’s a life that’s tough to sustain without falling prey to some kind of beguiling diversion that’s not good for you.’”

Don’t I know that? Don’t we all know that?

Though I don’t know Robert Stone’s work, I do know his life, and his mother: I am also a solitary; but instead of schizophrenia it was manic depression, and instead of radio it was books. When I was five my parents took me to visit my paternal grandfather and his wife in Florida. I recall so clearly, in my boredom, walking around the yard, the house, standing in the exotic palm-lined winter driveway. Squatting beside the 1950s car and seeing my reflection in the shiny hubcap, I remember telling myself a story, complete with, “and then he said…and then she said…” “describing aloud what I was doing, becoming both the…writer” and the written about “…setting myself in the scene.” I also remember doing this until I was 10 or so, walking around talking aloud, telling myself my story, until a neighborhood boy passed me on his bike and, turning circles around me, derided me, chiding, “WHO are you talking to?!” I was silenced.

Been writing, but not much here. Mostly because I hate struggling with blog technology and adhering to appointed rounds. And wherefore the time? But I intend to change that, again.

Want to finish my Rockfall Series, but getting to that is stopping me from posting anything else, so things will get posted, but in a random, sort of, rockfall pattern! Much to tell.

Solstice Tribute to Maureen and Jeff Killed in the 2013 Rockville Utah Rockfall

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The night of the rockfall, those of us within a mile of the ruined house were asked to evacuate, not so much for fear of more fall but because, in the home’s shattered remains, emergency crews could not find the gas shutoff. I changed from mud-smeared barn clothes to appear-in-public clothes, and loaded the dog, three laptops, and my well-honed overnight needs into the truck. After—what is this—my fifth evacuation? I have it down to a science. And at that point, if my house blew up, I couldn’t have cared less. A beautiful day had just gone horrifically bad. The sky had indeed fallen.

I had just driven my workman Brice home to Springdale and returned ten minutes later to find the road beyond my house obliterated by a strange yellow-brown. . . smoke? haze? The morning radio had predicted desert fog, a scoff-worthy anomaly, and yet, what was that? and why had it come up so suddenly and in such a limited space? Fire? I wondered, and drove into the dimness. Inside, the darkness turned red and particulate, eerie and sunless. It was neither an inversion-choked chimney nor smoldering grass, not winter’s condensed breath nor the mark of a dust devil’s passing. It was something I’d seen only once or twice and never from within—pulverized redrock suspended mid-fall—buoyed only by still air’s impassive resistance, afloat on its own surprise.

Confused, I searched for some clue, scanning left and right until I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Ground Zero. I did not stop, did not linger, did not slow. My head snapped forward, eyes wide, and we drove on: my body kicking into mechanical while my brain caught up— “Danger. No chance of survival. Rescuers at risk.” Farther along the road, I parked askew, flipped on my hazards, and flashed my brights at highway-speed cars entering Rockville and the rescuer-obscuring cloud.

Behind me others were stopping at what was once the two-story home of Maureen Morris and Jeff Elsey. In my rearview I watched neighbors jump from home-bound trucks, dash across the highway and up slope toward the crushed home; I admired their bravery—no one could know if more rock would fall, but more I admired their hope—I could not conceive anyone surviving that blow. As 911 phones rang across the county, I dialed Jack Burns, the survivor of our first traumatizing home rockfall, “Sweetie. I need to tell you. There’s been a horrific rockfall. And, if anyone was home…”

As the sheriff’s tan SUV roared past, I reluctantly joined the growing roadside vigil. The home’s second-story lay on the gravel drive like a casually discarded hat; above, the kitchen’s burst-belly revealed a mission-style dining room table still standing, and a comfortable green armchair kicked aside and dust-covered; the home’s foundation still held, anchored as it was in the boulder field of a former rockfall. Between the redesigned, implacable boulderscape and the log home’s swinging timbers echoed the fresh bomb blast, the impossible silence of still-warm disaster.

Those willing combed the debris,peering into cavities, reaching into possibilities, then stood, arrayed around the house on fallen boulders, and stared at us, as silent as the rocks and as unmoving, hollow-eyed and shellshocked. This would not be a rescue.

I disentangled myself from a supporting friendship-knot and, as darkness fell, headed back to my car and home, only two houses distant. I noticed for the first time the view Maureen and Jeff had from their floor-to-ceiling windows—out across unobstructed pastures to the cottonwood-lined Virgin River, up across sage-coated redrock mesas to the towering Canaan Mountain Wilderness and the blue-skied beyond. I also noticed, in Mr. Herschi’s deep grass pasture near the road, the rare, knee-deep virginal snow and its new sprinkled-sugar coating of powdered redrock.

I had been in my barn clothes as dusk and rocks fell and rescuers asked me to leave because that day, December 12, was my first ride since the big snow. Five days before, we’d gotten a rare 18 inches, and I, not owning a snow shovel, had dug my way to the horses with a hay fork. This was the snow that would provide me such a beautiful, memorable afternoon, and set loose the rock that would later kill Maureen and Jeff.

The horses, and especially I, get antsy when pent, and after a week of buried fields but gradually clearing roads, we dared a short ride in brilliant sun. We began with due care on snow-packed ice, but when Mr. Baby saw the untracked orchard field, he broke acanter and I let him. Never had I felt that particular exhilaration! In snow’s deep silence, one can neither hear nor see hooves hit ground so horse and rider simply fly. Had the field gone on forever or had I fallen to earth and cracked my head wide open, I would have been happy ever after.

I drove, that evacuation night, to the local Mormon Church’s annual Christmas Party, a usually lively but very subdued affair. My 30-year-friend Marion asked, “Are you still living in Rockville?” “Yes,” I replied, “I’m still living in Rockville”… unlike others, I thought sadly. Rockville, settled in 1860 when pioneers abandoned the flooded town of Adventure across the Virgin River, probably got its name from difficult plowing, but has unfortunately taken on new meaning. This is not an easy landscape—just as our lives and decisions are not easy. At the candlelight memorial held a few nights later amid fallen rocks and departed souls, friends spoke of how Maureen decided, with great intention and without fear, to live in Rockville, in that very house, because she loved it. She was aware of the risk, calculated the odds, and made her decision. And I honor her choice. More power to you, Maureen!

From now on I’m also choosing to live with intention. Having developed a few less-than-desirable habits, devastatingly effective procrastinations, and functionally slippery ways to side-step things that need to be said, I’m now choosing to be more present.

And I hope the next time I end up with yet another pony-induced black eye, more stitches, a dysfunctional body part, or even kill myself falling from cliff or saddle it’s because I chose to get on the horse again. Stitches are temporary, but a life lived without intention is forever.

Last week, escaping the desert’s firm grip on my soul, I traded loose-hipped canters for a kayak’s unfamiliar hug. Far from shore on an ocean’s winter night, one tip away from a hypothermic death, I found myself immersed in mysterious cronks and snorks—the dreams of herons on their island roost. A paddle length behind me, a curious seal surfaced, revealed in her inky wateriness only by the abrupt snap of opened sinuses followed by a deep, voluminous inhalation. As she and the silence descended again, I paddled on and reveled as phosphorescent bioluminescence swirled from my everybladed stroke, particulate radiance whipped up—then gone—like glowing dust devils—like the infinite galaxies whirling overhead.

Rockfallville

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A newly released state geologist report defining Rockville’s rockfall hazards puts half my house in the High Danger Zone and half in the No Danger Zone, meaning, I suppose, I can spend half the night sleeping in peace and half lying awake contemplating my home’s current market value. Or, since the line puts the kitchen and office in the Danger Zone, perhaps it means I can sleep soundly, but cooking or working is out of the question, which, come to think of it, seems small price to pay for my personal safety.

my house
Note location of my house marked by pink rectangle on right bottom edge of the Danger Zone! (click to enlarge)

While the 2001 rockfall nearly killed our friend Jack, the 2002 boulder landed on the highway, and the 2007 fall destroyed a newly built fence–in southern Utah, hardly worth sniffing at–the 2010 rockfall got our attention–anomaly it seemed at the time. That rockfall hit the house across the street from mine, destroyed four outbuildings, an SUV, a full-size pickup, and somehow managed to miss the barn in which my horses stood, though the barn was directly below the fall. The horses spent the next three weeks with their butts pressed against the highway fence staring at the cliff. To this day, Mr. Baby will not willingly pass a sandstone boulder no matter how many times I reassure him it will not jump up and get him. He has never forgotten. Neither have the two woman living in the house at the time. Below are images of the 2010 Rockfall I took when I walked across the street that morning to feed the horses. Click on the image to enlarge and read caption.

What follows is the Geologist’s Report in it’s entirety, including a photo taken by a passing motorist of the redrock fog I described in my 2013 Solstice Letter and tribute to Maureen and Jeff (to be posted on this blog soon) which I did not have the presence of mind to take myself.

redrock fog
Inside, the darkness turned red and particulate, eerie and sunless. It was neither an inversion-choked chimney nor smoldering grass, not winter’s condensed breath nor the mark of a dust devil’s passing. It was something I’d seen only once or twice and never from within—pulverized redrock suspended mid-fall—buoyed only by still air’s impassive resistance, afloat on its own surprise.
Dust cloud from the December 12, 2013 Rockfall. The motorist, Jack Seegmiller, who photographed the event, estimated the rockfall’s duration as 10 seconds or less. Photo from the report below.

 

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Click to view report

Next Posts

  • Winter Solstice 2013
    A tribute to our friends Maureen Morris and Jeff Elsey killed in the Rockville rockfall
  • “Yes, Ma’am, the Trails are Safe, but I Can’t Guarantee the Geology”
    As Trail Crew Foreman Dan Blackwell once said to a Grand Canyon hiker who stopped to inquire. What does Rockville’s new Rockfall Hazard Report mean to those living In The Zone? And, after Rockville’s fatal rockfall and Washington’s fatal mudslide, one has to wonder what’s going on. The New York Times’ Timothy Egan wonders too.