The San Diego Desert

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I was in San Diego, California, in October, but other things intervened and I’ve only now uploaded my photos into the computer.  These photos are from a walk in the Scripps Preserve, a small sample of what the landscape of the San Diego area once was. P1000287It still seems amazing to me that this area was desert, right up to the water’s edge, before people started altering the landscape.  Dry bushes on the cliff give way to green in the arroyos, which probably benefit from the runoff from houses, roads, etc.P1000291There are small yellow flowers, similar to the ones I see in “my” desert far inland.  I guess that this is some variety of Bahia. a family with many varieties. P1000289Many of the bushes had recently gone to seed – as one would expect in October. P1000293And the overall look of the area made it quite clear that California is in drought conditions. P1000292Deserts are deserts whether near sea level or at 4,000 feet, where I live.  And this is in spite of the greater humidity coming off the water.  My skin appreciated that difference.



Going Out and Getting Back

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I’ve been off at a writers’ conference, without my laptop, and so not blogging.  My “re-entry” has been slow this week; I seem to be way off schedule.

Yesterday I baked bread and also spent time reviewing my recent poems to see what is ready to send out, what might go with what, what needs more work.  Only afterward was I reminded that it was Lammas Day, the cross-quarter day between the summer solstice and the fall equinox.  Lammas celebrates the first harvest; baking bread acknowledges the harvest.  A cross-quarter day is a time for checking on the progress of one’s goals and intentions.

Without being conscious of what I was doing, I was getting back on track with the calendar.

Stevenson Trail

I’ve been at the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.  I stayed in Calistoga.  On one break I went for a hike in the Robert L. Stevenson State Park.  The drive up twisty Route 29 reminded me of trips along the California coast in my childhood.

Looking Down the Canyon

Looking Down the Canyon

I found a nice trail up to a monument, which marks the spot where Stevenson and his wife stayed in 1880.  There’s nothing left of the structure or any evidence of their having been there except a monument which was set up in 1911.

 Stevenson Memorial

Stevenson Memorial

There’s plenty of attention to Stevenson in the local museums as well, a curious situation considering that he only stayed in the area for a few weeks.  His writings must have been good publicity for the mineral springs of Calistoga.

Southern New Mexico State Fair

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Southern New Mexico State Fair?  There is no State of Southern New Mexico, so how can this be a State Fair? The title is meant to convey that this event at the Dona Ana County Fairgrounds is a multi-county event.  The population of most of the southern counties, however, is such that this “state fair” is rather less than the Santa Clara County Fair in California which I visited as a child.  It is smaller in acreage: the county fair had a truck-pulled train to take people from the entrance to the animal barns at the back of the property.  In between there was room for an airplane or army vehicle display.  The county fair had four exhibit buildings.  The SNMSF has only one.

In spite of its smallness I do visit the local fair every other year or so, as much for nostalgia as anything.  I loved the rabbits and poultry when I was a child.  We have those here as well.rooster


There is of course a midway.  I suppose I thought as a child that those rides sat on that ground through the year.  It is evident that at the local fair, they don’t.  There’s an Arizona flag at one end and a New Mexico flag at the other, suggesting the territory this ride concession serves.midway flags closeup

All fairs, I think, have shiny new farm machines.100_0990

Something that I don’t think existed when I was a child was the climbing tower.  Notice the flags on this one.  They worship the almighty dollar?100_0997

And there is always food.  The quesadilla booth wasn’t open yet when I was there, so I decided on a funnel cake.  Funnel cakes, like “Philly” cheese steaks, were foods I knew nothing of until I moved to Pennsylvania.  They’ve crossed the country, but the funnel cake I had was not up to the standard of the one which I considered the special treat of the annual flower show in Philadelphia.  (The flower show was aptly timed for March, a convention center full of flowers and shrubs when it was still winter outside.  The funnel cake was just a side benefit.)100_0982

I did not see any cotton candy, which was the treat I liked at the fair as a child.  There were many souvenirs, but no kewpie dolls, the little plastic dolls on wooden sticks.  My parents did not approve of them, so they remained at the stand.  Nowadays, I don’t need souvenirs.  I have memories of fairs I’ve been to, and expectation of visiting again in years to come.

Public Art in La Jolla, CA

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La Jolla from Torrey Pines Beach

La Jolla from Torrey Pines

On a trip last week to southern California we found out about the mural project in La Jolla and went to investigate.  We came south from Torrey Pines and worked our way into and around the village.

There are a total of eleven murals by ten artists.  They weren’t easy to find, especially from a car, and some of us are poor walkers, but we did find several.  Here are some I liked:

53 Women by Ryan McGinness

53 Women by Ryan McGinness

Applied, by Richard Allen Morris

Applied, by Richard Allen Morris

Tail Whip, by Gajin Fujita

Tail Whip, by Gajin Fujita

Favorite Color, by Roy McMakin

Favorite Color, by Roy McMakin

It was fun to hunt for these.  I can’t pick a favorite among the art works, but I particularly like the title “Favorite Color.”  You can learn about the rest of the eleven murals at www.muralsoflajolla.com

A February Recollection


A small almond tree grew in the front yard of my childhood home in California. It was grown not for its nuts but for the white flowers of February, for its elegance in the center of the lawn.  I learned to climb on that tree, but it did not satisfy me for long.

Our house was built on property that was originally part of my grandfather’s lot. His walnut orchard extended behind our house.  He produced a good crop.  The sturdiest trees had a horizontal limb so high off the ground it required jungle gym strength to pull oneself up.  I don’t know if I was really too weak or just too timid; I left those trees to my brothers.

One tree in the middle of the orchard was just my size.  I could climb up and look out, through branches that had not yet leafed out, at the brown plowed ground and the brown bark of the larger trees.  I was a climber, I was a traveler, a champion, as I sat there, safe in the crotch of the runt of the orchard.


The Map of Longing: Poem and Chapbook


How shall I properly introduce my chapbook The Map of Longing now that it has snuck into my blog entries through a poem called to mind be recent experience?  It is my second chapbook with Finishing Line Press, published in 2009.  It is a collection of poems about loss and longing within the ordinary phases of life.  I had the fun of working with a friend who is a photographer to choose the cover picture, which shows a road leading to some unknown place through overhanging trees.  The fact that it is a scene from my home state, California, was an incidental plus.


My mother, Emily, in her prime

Many of the poems in this collection relate to my mother, including some about the last months of her lifeand clearing outher house.  Others refer to my own move from Pennsylvania to New Mexico, which happened the same year as my mother’s death.  Is it any wonder the two themes are intertwined?

There are several poems, however, which attempt to capture the feeling of being lost, disoriented, out of touch, as a general human condition, not connected to any specific circumstances.  One of these is the title poem, which expresses the mood of distraction and disorientation by the very number of its metaphoric images.

The Map of Longing

The express train
knows where it’s headed.

I zigzag,
a squirrel before cool weather
signals gathering,

no pattern tidy
as trimming for a skirt,

no purpose,
like switchbacks
up a mountain.

My turns random as leafing
through a dictionary,

I skid like a getaway car
within a movie frame,
constricted by the tracks of time,

direction inescapable
as A to Z.

The Map of Longing is available through Amazon.  You can get a signed copy from me via ERYBooks.

Archimedes, Aristotle and Earthquakes


I’ve been thinking about the Greeks and their science, as I try to pull together a chapbook of poems on themes related to Archimedes and his lever.  Archimedes is not the only Greek scientist who intrigues me.  Aristotle is one whom I like first for his ideas on rhetoric, still the basis of many classifications on that subject, but also for the ideas described in the middle stanza of the following poem.

The Search for Order

The ancient model,
in polished brass, expressed
proportions undisturbed
by motion.  Harmonic
spheres keep turning.
Had the world such music
there would be no static
on the FM radio.

Aristotle understood:
the world beneath
the moon is set apart
from celestial, perfectly
governed spheres.
We are the spoiled core
of an ideal cosmos,
its worm-eaten pit.

Aristotle stood at
the center.  My universe
runs away at light speed,
while beneath me tectonic
plates shift, collide.
I long for balance: spheres
encircling the stillness
of mere decay.

The idea that the ground beneath our feet is unstable is not new.  I grew up in California, where earthquakes are a fact of life.  I used that as an image in an earlier poem:

Fire At The Center

My mother came home
from a course on personality
with a slip of paper:
“Your dominant emotion
is rage.”  She went on being good
and dull as plowed dirt.
Where is sure footing
when ground shifts?
The San Andreas fault
did not run under the house,
but whether it lay east
or west I could not say.
Which way would the earth tilt?

When she muttered
“Death and transfiguration!”
I heard a danger
no “Damn!” could hold.
The fluid at her core
lay ready, like crayon
melting under an iron,
to stain us both.  Her fire
never broke the surface.

And I?  The astrologer
finds Mars at the nadir,
“fire in the depth of your being.”
Eighteen years we spent
adjacent, distanced
by unacknowledged fire.
It is safer not to ask
where the fault lies.

In this poem, the shifting ground is largely metaphoric.  Although I knew about earthquakes, it was more an idea than experience: I only recall one small quake from my childhood.  I missed the big ones that later toppled the Oakland freeway and broke the walls of my cousins’ home in the mountains.  My awareness of shifting ground was not in the body.

By the time I wrote “The Search for Order” I was in a more unsteady place psychologically, a more mature understanding of grounding and groundlessness.

I decided this was a theme worth exploring further.

“The Search for Order” was published in Bibliophilos, which has published several of my poems on Greek themes.
“Fire at the Center,” first appeared in Metis, August, 1995, and is included in my chapbook, Accidents, described on the Books page.

Write What You Know?

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If you are an orchardist whose money crop is prunes, what should you write about?  Here is a poem by Joseph Bohnett, written back in an era (before radio) when people wrote their own poems just as they played their own music.


 Oh! Ye monarchs of all Europe

And our beloved Roosevelt,

Drink your wines, and eat your gruels.

Let us eat our prunes for health.


Oh!  Ye rich of all this world,

Harrimans, Goulds, and Vanderbilts,

Ye dyspeptic railroad lords,

why will you not eat prunes for health?


Oh! Ye poor of all this world,

With no money in the bank,

Yet on wines and beer with gorge

Instead of eating purnes for health.


Oh! Ye Sisters of this Grange

Who near this town of Campbell dwell,

In baking prune cake for this Grange,

I want to say that you did well.


How many” rules” of poetry does this poem violate?  Does it matter?

 I grew up in the same area where Joseph Bohnett lived, but I never had a prune cake.  Joseph makes me think I’ve missed something.

 There’s much more to be said on “rules” and poetry – for another day.