Touchstone

I am drawn to certain empty things like urns and skies.
I abhor other barrenness, like empty promises or hearts.

I rail against the empty life. Fill it with books, philosophies, a deep well of love.
I protect certain empty hours. Create a space for dreams and meditation, staring into spring.

EdenMy backyard before I moved

When I am on the abandoned beach, I miss you.
When I am deserted, I miss my beach.

Patterns emerge against emptiness.
Sound breaks silence.
Silence relieves talk.

Knit one. Pearl two. Add one. Drop a stitch.

My grandmother used to mutter directions for a sweater or scarf she was knitting.  If the pattern were disrupted she’d have to rip the stitches out.

You can unravel yarn but it always shows the kinks of where it’s been.
If you don’t know how to knit, what do you imagine?

DSCN2735

Backyard Sisters’ mom and dad

A pattern emerges against the emptiness.
Knit two. Pearl: One.
Now isn’t that a fine direction?

~Catherine

p.s. Maybe you like to read. I do. Maybe you like to knit. I don’t. Either way, a rather interesting book crossed my path. Literary Knits: 30 Patterns Inspired by Favorite Books,by  Nikol Lohr, is a book about as self-explanatory as its title.

9781118216064_cover.inddLohr has created knitting patterns for clothes items for women, like the Daisy cloche inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; for men, like the Gregor sweater inspired by Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis; and for young girls, like the Anne Shirley dress inspired by Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud. If knitting is your thing, or if you want to see one yarn artist’s rendering of a word artist’s description, check it out.

Admirable use of the concept of patterns in literature I would say.

Give me a break

Sometimes I have an urge to use big words I don’t yet know the meaning of, or better yet to make up new words to describe certain perfections, like this dawn when the sun rose into a fog-shrouded sky at the exact moment the mist receded. For one instant the dark flared – gilded with stars – then gave way to morning.  The camera was no match, nor really is this description.

I’ll remember the moment, keep working to get it right. And then I’ll drub it up against something rugged to set the beauty in relief. “No threat, no poem” is a truism we poets abide and practice and teach. As Dave Smith writes in his essay “St. Cyril’s Dragon” The Threat of Poetry:

Great art intends threat…The good poem destabilizes, unbalances, stirs up, digs down, demands feeling in exact circumstances…No poem succeeds without threat, implied or explicit. Threat manifests what is important to know. Threat engineers the struggle of self to come into being.

That’s all well and good, but the constant struggle takes energy and it’s necessary for me, for you, to take time to revive.  Whenever I forget to build rest into my schedule, the universe has a gentle way of reminding me. The cast of characters hanging around La Jolla Cove this weekend taught infinitely wise lessons with their presence.

Seal with ballJPG

Play whenever you can.baby sealTake care of your own.

full beach

It’s great to hang out with friends.

two sleeping

But having someone special is the best gift of all.

Now before you think there’s no threat here, consider. The La Jolla Cove seals are no stranger to peril. Tourists and restaurateurs complain about the stench of too many seals too close to town.  Conservationists and environmentalists clash with businesses to protect the seals. You can read a roundup of the controversy, or crisis as some call it, at the Seal Sitters link here.

Or you cannot. Sometimes it’s alright to take a break from crisis or controversy and simply enjoy the beauty right in front of you.

And that, good readers, is the last word on the March of contrasts.

Sealed with a kiss
~Catherine

p.s. When you are revived and ready to seriously consider how addressing the threat can create a fine poem, do revisit Dave Smith’s essay, “St. Cyril’s Dragon” The Threat of Poetry.”  In fact, you might even sign up for Poetry Daily. From the “About Poetry Daily” page:

Poetry Daily is an anthology of contemporary poetry. Each day, we bring you a new poem from new books, magazines, and journals.

Poems are chosen from the work of a wide variety of poets published or translated in the English language. Our most eminent poets are represented in the selections, but also poets who are less well known. The daily poem is selected for its literary quality and to provide you with a window on a very broad range of poetry offered annually by publishers large and small.

Cacti and clouds

trail

I’ve run away from home again in the name of love. Book love.

Sometimes this writer needs to stop using her wife voice, mother voice, daughter voice, sister voice, auntie voice, professor voice, neighbor voice to recall the voice that sounds most like her inner soul. Her writing voice.

There was a red suitcase involved, a bag of books heavier than a week’s worth of groceries, my cappuccino maker, and a short to-do list.

  • Write the last poem of THE BOOK.
  • Finalize order of poems in THE BOOK. (Yes, this contradicts Item #1.)
  • Edit all poems in THE BOOK.

On Monday, the list felt an awful lot like this:

Western Prickly Pear

The weird thing is, I chose this week, right in the middle of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference, the single largest gathering of writers in North America.  More than ten thousand writers and editors traveled to Boston. I stayed in California.  I haven’t missed a conference in five years. And yet I desperately needed to be alone and write more than I needed to schmooze and buy books and be inspired by what other writers were doing.  I couldn’t afford both a writer’s retreat and to put myself up in Boston, so I chose me.  Alone.

As the week winds down, THE BOOK has been tamed back down to all lower case letters.  Needles have been plucked, rough edges smoothed.

The new perspective comes by paying attention to the Backyard Sisters theme for March: contrast.

low tide rocks

Home. Not home.
Clay. Sand.
Dust. Water.
Omnipresent trail. Tidal path.
Warm toes. Cold bed.

Narrative moves forward, I tell my students, when that which is bumps up against that which is not. The best poetry happens, says poet Amy Newlove Schroeder, when there’s “a yoking together of the concrete and the abstract,” like “blending the perfect martini.”  Last year I had the pleasure of hearing Amy give a poetry talk titled “Concrete Abstraction” at Chapman University.  She urged poets to consider how all language is representational and the most “successful” poetry is that which can translate an experience, an idea, an aloneness, “from the tangible to the real.”  It’s how we don’t die of loneliness, Schroeder suggests.

If you’d like your own university classroom experience, you can view her talk here.  And if you’re anywhere near Orange County, you can catch her at Literary Orange, Sat. April 6, 2013, at the Irvine Marriott, a hotel. Not home.

Leaving. Returning.
Watching the sky. Waiting for tomorrow.
Missing you. Knowing I will miss this.
clouds and oceanWith a skip in her step,
~Catherine

 

The Lines in the Sand

With leading lines on my mind, I recently headed down to the beach. Standing at the top of the ramp looking down, I found my first photo. The lines of the ramp were beckoning me to follow them down to the many possibilities waiting below; surfing, swimming, bike riding, walking, running or beach-combing – not this morning, it’s photography I chose this morning.

DSC_0315beach lines

Stopping to take note and looking around I see the lines are everywhere; from the tire tracks left by lifeguard trucks,

DSC_0311beach linesto the footprints left by people and birds,

DSC_0237beach lines

to   the line created by the foam of the waves rolling up to the shore,

DSC_0241beaach linesto the waves combined with footprints.

DSC_0244beach linesEverywhere I look I see lines. The jetty jutting out from the shore as if daring me to incorporate it into a photo and I must comply.

DSC_0264beach linesI got lucky because there was a pod of dolphins playing right off the jetty this morning. I had to thank it for taunting me and capturing my attention, I may have missed those dolphins if I hadn’t.

DSC_0297beach linesIt’s always thrilling to me to see the dolphins so close to shore frolicking in the surf but I can’t forget the people out and about as well.

DSC_0309beach linesThis line of cut telephone poles caught my eye too, there was no stopping me.

DSC_0262beach linesIn the mornings, these stairs are a well-used exercise spot usually filled with climbers taking on the “stairs to fitness” but this evening they are much quieter – but still as high. I especially like the shadows of the rails at this time of day and how they multiply the leading line effect.

DSC_0253beach linesLooking for leading lines has become a game and a bit of an obsession to me now. This coming week you can find me still looking for the lines but in a different location.

Until next week. . .

~Susan

Catch a Setting Sun

It occurs every day and can be taken for granted because of this, but some days I am compelled to find a spot to settle in and capture it with my camera. It is the setting sun. There are times when the sky is clear and you can watch it slowly sinking into the horizon until all that is left is a glowing spot where the sun used to be.

sunset at beach
It was this sort of day recently that sparked my photographic enthusiasm.

sunset landscape at beach

Capturing the colors and beauty of a sunset with a camera can be difficult but there are a few adjustments one can make to help. The sun is very bright and bright things have a tendency to be overexposed. When this happens, the colors are washed out and not as vibrant as they appear to the eye. I start with setting my light meter to spot meter and aim slightly to the left or right of the sun. A smaller aperture opening – which is achieved by using the larger values – keeps the sun’s light from overexposing the scene. I used an f-stop of 22 in these photos. Using a small aperture creates the need to gather light somewhere else; this can be accomplished by either slowing down the shutter speed, raising the ISO or using a combination of both. The higher the ISO number the more sensitive to light the camera becomes.  A slower shutter speed increases the risk of blurry pictures due to camera shake, which increases the need for a tripod or a very steady hand. I used an ISO of 800 for these and the shutter speed varied to adjust to the changing light  as the sun set.

sunset at beach Digital cameras have a white balance setting to help the camera portray white in changing light conditions. Auto white balance works for most situations but some light sources have different hues which changes the color cast of a scene. There are options to set the white balance for different lighting conditions such as  incandescent or fluorescent  lighting. If you want to boost the orange and warm tones of the sunset you can set your camera to the shade setting of white balance. The light in the shade has a bluish tint so the camera adds warm tones to balance out the blues and create an even tone in that circumstance, but you can use that property differently also. It can be fun to play around and see what you get.

sunset at beach

The cloudy setting also adds warm tones.

sunset at beachFor a different effect try the fluorescent setting.

sunset at beach

sunset at beach

So, though the sun sets every day, each day’s sunset is unique and offers an opportunity to seize a moment to reflect and appreciate the rhythms of the earth . Better yet, grab your camera, turn to the west and capture a moment; maybe you will be lucky enough to catch the elusive green flash.

Westward Ho!

~ Sue

Time to dream

Dear One,

I see you standing there. I read your back and see the softened slump about your shoulders.

I hear your sigh that carries just above the shush of the Pacific, not quite a keen, but not a thing like laughter.  What is it you look for? Have you been waiting for so very long?

May I tell you something? Once I saw two boys barehanded fishing for tilapia in Kauai’s Hule’ia River. Frozen still in the shadows of the mangrove, they cupped their hands and waited.  Shhhh, they warned and I froze too, midstep on the hiking path.  All at once, like athletes on a pedestal, they raised their arms victoriously overhead and one wriggling fish flung droplets into the sky.

“Dinner!” they shrieked.

That night I dreamt I stood in the shallows of Hule’ia, hands submerged into murky water. I could not see clearly, unsure exactly what I was trying to catch.  I dreamt a cold plump softness nudging my open palms. One, two – too many sleek and slippery things to count – I grasped and missed, until at dawn I awoke empty-handed, staring blankly at the wall.

Is it like that now for you?

My friend wonders about her mounting “…sense of exhaustion and ambivalence…”

My students say, “This week is awful. It’s limp broccoli.”

It seems everyone around me is feeling…

when we would all so much rather be —

Here’s my Rx.  If you can, take a visit to your girlhood dreaming spot, or one that reminds you copiously of it. Gaze into the lantern of your inner fire. Catch the glow. Reflect the blaze.

Remember who you once were and what you said you would become.  It’s not too late. But hurry. You are waiting.  And so am I.
With vibrancy and gold,
~Catherine

p.s. If your spirits need a boost these days, stumble upon Dearest Creature by poet Amy Gerstler.  (You can read David Kirby’s New York Times review of it here.)

This is not a new book; it was published in 2009. But it’s a new discovery for me and I highly recommend any book that contains poems with titles like, “At the Back of a Closet, Two Dresses Converse” and “Chant of the Hallucinogenic Plants,” especially as an antidote if you’re in your blues period.  There’s no expiration date on golden poetry.

A Rearranging of the Resources

What to do when a beach is losing its sand? Move sand from one area in the ocean to another of course! After many years of shrinking, the beach between the Topaz jetty and Ruby St. in Redondo Beach, CA  is growing. This is no easy feat. There has been a barge and much activity just offshore for the past month. A sign on the shore explains that this is part of a beach replenishment project.

sand dredgingIt is an intriguing sight that has initiated much speculation and musings from onlookers. Also, it piqued my curiosity. When that happens, I will often turn to Google and this time I learned the sand is being moved from the harbor entrance of Marina del Rey where it had settled thus making the entrance too shallow at times of low tide. Seeing the barge for the past few weeks and desiring a closer look, I grabbed my camera with my most powerful zoom lens attached and went to the shore.

sand dredging equipmentIt was early morning a little past the golden hour, the hour immediately following sunrise or preceding sunset, but the light was still soft with a warm hue. The early morning and late evening hours provide diffused softer lighting due to the sun’s position in the sky and are often favored by photographer’s because of this.

sand dredging equipment

The interaction of the boats with the barge kept my attention for quite awhile.

sand dredging equpment

sand dreddging equipmentI was glad to be able to zoom to 300mm making it possible to make out the names of the boats and the barge.

sand dredging equipmentAlso, allowing for a peek at the activity I couldn’t have gotten with another lens or my naked eye.

sand dredging equipment

Part of the enjoyment I get from photography is the ability to get closer to things and activities and then being able to capture them. It helps to have a lens, such as a 300mm, with the capability of bringing a subject closer when it isn’t  physically possible to get closer. Some may, OK do, call it my inner paparazzi.

May you unleash your inner paparazzi.

~Sue

A New Perspective

With the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from Kindergarten Cop urging, “get down!” in my head, I ventured out this week, my mission: to concentrate on photographing from a different angle. The Redondo Beach pier as my muse I began and caught this couple as I approached. I crouched down and click. . .

Redondo Beach Pierlet the fun begin. Simple things can take on a new perspective when addressed from a different angle. Items look larger and have more presence when photographed from down low.

coin operated binocularsLooking up,

Zeppy's pizzeria sign

and making a point to step to the side as opposed to approaching from straight on Old Tony's sign, Redondo Beach

can add interest to a photo.

I slowly became aware of many pelicans out and about.

CA brown pelican

Ca brown pelican

Suddenly, there is a commotion of flapping wings and pelicans running to one area.

pelicanspelicansA fisherman’s catch is fair game to the pelicans.

pelicanspelican with fishThere were pelicans trying to steal the fish from each other as well as getting tangled and caught up in the fishing line and lures. All the while, I was sitting on my heels clicking away.

PelicansAfter suffering a couple of bites trying to retrieve his catch and even though disappointed at his loss, the fisherman worried about the pelicans welfare and freed the snagged birds. After the commotion died down, it became apparent there were two more stuck together by a hook.

pelicans hooked together with fish hookLuckily, with the help of a bystander, they were freed.

pelicans being freedWhen one looks at something from a different angle it can change one’s perception and add interest.

I urge you to use Arnold’s “get down” line as your mantra this week, and you can experience a new perspective yourself.

Have fun with it.

~ Sue

Ebb and Flow

There is a rhythm to the shore. This rhythm is the result of the constant ebb and flow of the tide as well as the waves. This morning I took a stroll paying particular attention to the tempo of the waves and how it effects the people, birds and items at the point where the water meets the sand.
I wandered over to explore the tide pools, a wave came in. . .

tidepools, wave

And the wave went out leaving seaweed draped over many of the rocks.

tidepools

I decided to zoom and bring the seaweed closer; then another wave came in.

beach photo, seaweed

And went out. . .

Beach, tidepools, seaweed

Turning to the shoreline, a wave was retreating leaving relative calm.

beach, shorelineThen zooming once again as another wave rolls in. Leaving the bird seemingly unfazed but the fisherman in hip deep water suddenly.

beach shoreline
Some seaweed and shells were left on the sand from a ride on a wave.

Seaweed

I zoomed again.

seaweedThe evidence of another stroller. . .

footprints in sand

is quickly erased.

footprints getting washed awaySurfers and swimmers will often pause at the shore waiting for the waves to recede to make their entrance into the water.

shoreline surfersBirds also take advantage of the ebb of the waves to hunt for sand crabs.

shoreline surfers and birdsThe rhythm of the sea is predictable in its occurrence but the effects on the surroundings can vary from day to day. Sometimes an abundance of seaweed comes ashore and sometimes a large number of seashells. There is always  something to discover at the shore.

Many happy discoveries to you.

~Sue

The Dog Days are Upon Us

With summer winding down but heating up here in California, one’s thoughts may turn to cooling off. Around here, the place to beat the heat is at the shore.  Manhattan Beach was the destination this day, for me and a few others.

summer day Manhattan BeachMy wide angle lens will often create a vignette effect when at its widest and sometimes I choose to just go with it. I like the feeling of being the observer through a telescope it imparts.

summer day Manhattan Beach pierAt the end of the Manhattan Beach pier is a small aquarium and cafe, which are worth the trip out; if the prospect of the view isn’t enough to entice you on its own. This day, there was an interview being filmed alongside  the usual sunbathers and swimmers.

summer day Manhattan Beach

The view looking back at the beach from the pier.

Manhattan Beach, CA

The evening at the beach is a lovely time to enjoy the cool breezes and sunsets.

Hermosa Beach pierThe Hermosa Beach pier is often frequented by fishermen.

Hermosa Beach pier sunset

Piers are intriguing subjects in my opinion. The symmetry of the pilings and the silhouettes of the figures capture my imagination. Whether viewed from close up or further away I am drawn to these structures suspended over water.

Hermoa Beach pier sunset

The perfect ending to a summer day. . .

sunset Hermosa Beach, CAEnjoy these last few days of summer and try to keep cool out there.

~ Sue