Friday, May 3, 2019

le sacre du printemps




“I am reminded of spring by the quality of the air...
It is a natural resurrection, an experience of immortality.”


~ Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 24 February 1852.

Perhaps we have yet something else in common: a sensitivity for the signs in our midst. In this context, such signs are far less subtle than the posted arrows and titles we see along roads. Though we could also think of these as directional, the sorts of signs we can only sense are untitled- at least initially. At this time of the year, the seasonal transition is tangible in the elements. The span of daylight lengthens, temperatures increase their margins above freezing, and there are noticeable changes in the landscape. Such signs tell us to look ahead.




Above: A melting stream, near Portland, Maine
Below: Beacon Street, Boston






Beacon Hill, Boston




In this part of the world, the early stages of Spring have been unusually protracted. Northern New England, now in May, still has frost at night. With natural signs so slow to take shape, it’s certainly easier to savour the transition. My corner of Maine is damp and chilled. But I happen to enjoy this very much. Rather than bothered by cold, this January-born Portland Mainer wilts when the temps exceed 70° (roughly 21° C), and I find it easier defending myself against snowflakes than against bugs. Indeed, I’ve surely learned to appreciate the big picture’s many facets, and to see the differences in the ways seasons manifest. For the observing writer and photographer, there is much to notice- both the subtle and the grand.



Above: Spring in the West End, Portland
Below: Meanwhile 120 miles away in Back Bay, Boston




Thoreau, living along Walden Pond, about 110 miles southwest of Portland, wrote beautifully about the reminders of spring air. 40° in early May is quite distinct from a 40° oddity in December. There is an inviting quality to the Spring rendition of that air. One obvious difference is how the temps abruptly drop as the sun sets in winter; warmer evenings are evidence of Spring’s arrival. The air also has the aromas of awakened strata. To better appreciate these low-forties, I’ve already put coats and jackets away. My experience of Spring air is an immersion, reminding me of freshwater swimming. I remember a sweltering summer day, during which I’d been driving through Grafton Notch, in western Maine. Stopping to hike to a swimming hole I’d heard about, I found the location- at the base of a waterfall. It was a very hot day, and that mountain water was very cold- but I jumped into something as startling as it was invigorating. After a short time of surmounting the shock, I got used to the water and thoroughly enjoyed it. A good saunter through cold Spring air is a similar kind of soak to be savoured.



Above: Portland, Maine catching up
Below: Spring wonderment in the Boston Public Garden




Associating the wafts of Spring with resurrection, as Thoreau observed, is especially meaningful after the dark winter months. A community that is very close to the elements of New England wilderness is that of the Benedictine monks of Weston Priory, Vermont. Among their lyrics is the refrain, “new life, new creation; alive our sense of wonder.” It is easy for me to call these words to mind, given a chance to leave the beaten track of commuting, and to simply observe the melting streams, the changing tides, and even to slow my paces along downtown Boston streets. I can fairly well predict that with this extended liminal neither-nor season, the forties will immediately become seventies- as it happens in these climes. All the more reason to hold some written thoughts.








Above: Seeing through the trees in Portland
Below: Seeing through the trees in Boston










Appropriate to our theme, aperch atop the Printemps department store, Paris.




Sunday, March 31, 2019

familiar places




“In the clefts of the rock
I delight to be.
In the covert of the precipice
You would find me.”


~ Song of Solomon, 2:14




Spring returns in much the same way as it happens when visiting with a former colleague after a long absence. There is as much to recognize and recount, as there is the air of the strange and somewhat out of touch. When chatting with an old friend for the first time in a year, care must be taken not to imply too much mutual understanding so as to sound rude. The oddly unfamiliar will re-familiarize, and the past impressions and inside jokes will return. We adapt and find ways to take the remarkable for granted. As winter becomes spring, temperatures in the forties, iceless sidewalks, and light clothing are suspiciously novel. In a short time today, I drove from sleet into coastal fog, rolling the windows down and savouring the swirl of spring air, I stopped along the road at a coffeehouse I like to frequent.



Journal-writing became something permanent and quite natural for me, just as I began my graduate studies. There were fits and starts through earlier schooling, stiffly answering compulsory assignments. Journaling reached a continuous trail for me, as writing developed into an unprovoked stream of thought processes. Accompanying writing and advanced studies, the effects of environment upon creativity were at once obvious to me. There are times for solitude, and there are times for the buzzing of a bustling café. Writing, as with athletics, is kept buoyant with momentum. Scraps of paper are at the ready, when a running start’s worth of thoughts come to me.



As for the cafés, when there is time, I have favorite places for writing and reading. For many years (until they were gentrified out), I referred to a café in the Old Port district of Portland as The Familiar Perch. Numerous journal entries include “F.P.” to indicate where I was writing. With changes in my home town, as well as travels- and similar currents in the various places of my frequency- there are multiple familiar perches of mine. I also have many favorite outdoor perches, too- especially spots that allow me to look up from my books to ocean views. Kettle Cove, in Cape Elizabeth, is one such familiar perch, beloved to me for at least thirty years. The large and angular crags provide for plenty of seating furniture. Where exactly to perch in places like this depends very much upon tidal movement. If the tide is ascending while I’m writing, I have to pay attention! Inevitably, being aperch in the wafts of words is to be nestled in safe clefts in the weatherbeaten ledges of this world. Indeed, a familiar perch can be anywhere, as long as it is a cherished and consoling place. For a cherished place to be familiar to you, a helpful ingredient is to build a positive history with the place- wherever and whatever it is, be it a destination point or a way-station. Among my familiar perches are favorite parks, hiking trails, libraries, restaurants, and even monasteries. I’ll occasionally visit my homework bench, near the University of Southern Maine; it still suits me just fine. A familiar perch can be a recollection point, somehow holding and rekindling memories for us.






A familiar perch as a consoling place serves as a cleft in the rock, a shelter; a place of pause. At the prospect of uncertain exodus, Moses pleaded with God to be certain of the Divine presence that would protect him and the people under his responsibility. As any person- even the strongest among us- he needed to be solidly convinced; he wanted assurance. God actually replied to Moses, and said, “When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.” The sight would have been overwhelming and devastating for a human, like staring straight into the sun at close proximity. As it is understandably human to doubt, it is equally human to want to be convinced of imminent consolation. It would be good to know that desolations are short-lived, even by human standards. The cleft in the rock reminds us of concealing refuge.



Admittedly far humbler than the grandeur of the ancient Exodus, notebooks can be tiny clefts among shifting mountains and barricading boulders. Journals are my portable hiding places, little tents I can set up, write in, and re-fold as time and duty force me to continue moving. These written words are at once fixtures and fluid, yet safe and ready places for thoughts. While the ubiquitous electronically-lit screens are deterrents to musing, handwriting in small notebooks has an immediate physical sense of context. By this, I mean being clearly aware of place and time while writing, with an inherent patience to await the formulation of thoughts. Journal writing as a cleft in the rock is a cherished and consoling circumstance; it becomes its own consistently familiar perch. If writing is a “place,” then it is a communing encampment that moves with the individual writer. And like the biblical sheltering crevice, the written refuge is both the hiding-place and the conduit of discovery.



Above: Kettle Cove, Maine.
Below: Weston Priory, Vermont.





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"graphite today: this place of writing is a portable hideout. it has no address and it moves around. it can be folded and hidden, as needed."




Sunday, March 3, 2019

bucket kick




“I have broken the yoke.”

~ Jeremiah, 28:2

Enfin! It took over four months for me to retro-convert twelve years of La Vie Graphite, consolidated to this site, and it is thankfully now complete. After a number of server crashes of the photo repository I’d been using, trusting, and paying for, I decided to interrupt my essay-writing and put the time and energy into salvaging all my hard work. This meant systematically editing through more than three hundred essays, removing the “photo bucket” links, repairing tags and all coding errors, followed by uploading each and every photograph directly onto the blog’s server. I did the work in reverse chronological order, since blog sites are presented in that configuration, and in the event of more “bucket” crashes, readers would not be looking at imageless essays with broken links. All of this work was done while this blog continued to be “live,” careful not to lose any existing work- or your much-cherished readership. Behind the scenes, I also had to create a comprehensive photo archive to match each essay. Getting that done meant reviewing thousands of jpg files, organizing and consolidating them, re-editing them as necessary. Even for this full-time archivist, it was a complex and major operation.



The author's interface.
Above: Before- the morass of coding, images, and tags.
Below: After- Clarity.




Below: The Public view.




Like any worthwhile project, this was a learning experience, too. While refining my HTML skills, I saw how the markup tags have evolved through the years. I also saw how the “bucket,” now properly kicked, embedded advertisements for itself within each individual image tag. All such links are water under the bridge, now. Having had the chance to read back through more than twelve years of essays, I learned a few more things- much more useful than the tedium of editing and repair. I was reminded of books I’d read which had left my proximate thoughts. I saw adventures and ideals well worth continuation. I was also reminded about how much I love to write and create photographs. Well, the prow of this ship is pointed forward, good and early for an upcoming season that happens to be my favorite, "winter-into-spring".




Returning to the swing of essay writing is taking some time, even though I’m a daily journal-writer. When I had more time (and a lot less stress), I enjoyed years of what I called my “ten-day writing week.” From sketching a concept into a cohesive theme, accompanying my text with photo illustrations, refining the composite, and publishing tended to happen in ten-day cycles. I even had time to contribute essays to other sites. Getting through some major crises, I considered myself productive to complete one essay per month. I hope to land somewhere in the middle, but it has to begin somewhere. The important thing, as I like to tell my writing students, is to write- and write authentically. Teaching and Doing have always gone together for me. During the latter ten years of my fourteen years in commercial photography, I taught photo in an art college. For nearly three years, I’ve been teaching journaling, and teaching philosophy for nearly four. The latter has helped provide an additional connection with Oxford for me. All the while, studying and writing have continued; simply reading back through chapbooks and daily journals, there are numerous themes for me to cultivate. And photographs.




My new year begins about two months late. Better March than never. Emerging from the “maintenance hiatus” feels a bit like a restart, albeit upon a foundation. There’s still plenty of snow and cold, here in northern New England, but daylight spans are lengthening by the day. That is, simply in itself, a subtle sign of hope. Just as writing across a page is a succession of words, so are paragraphs and essays successions of ideas. Thank you to all of you that read and have been so thoughtful to be in contact. Just as before, there is presently a great need for creative and conscientious artists to continue creating. Even the humblest positive step is still a motion in a constructive direction. I like to think of something I learned from Brother Roger, in the Taizé monastery: “The wellsprings of jubilation will never run dry, when a heart that trusts goes from one beginning to another.”