8.08.2007

Catching a Breath, Catching Up

"He was having his third cup of coffee as he wrote this..." - Editor


A year has passed. Another 365-day long comedy with this homo sapien (who has the initials A.H.) installed in his bit part in which he dances awkwardly around God. During the dance I shout my conceptions, misapprehensions, praises and doubts, love and annoyance, and many other thoughts and emotions inspired by Him.

It’s not a one-way street.

Over the course of my circuit there has been the usual raining down of insights, changes, curveballs, slip-ups, rescues (some of them softly and without my knowing it, others coming with a thunderclap).

Another year has passed. And I am trying to sift through the accumulated theological detritus, which is dizzying enough on daily basis without trying to look back upon the whole of it and ask, “Now what just happened?”

A year has passed. Something amazing occurred. But that’s been the story line from the beginning. Something amazing always happens. All of us have made another journey around the sun. By definition this seems to be a cosmic adventure...


Canine or Divine? Lessons from "Ugly Dog"

Just consider. We got this dog in March, at Joyce’s insistence, not mine. He’s the only pet we’ve ever owned except for an ill-fated alpha fish that Cole named Azul who one night committed suicide by leaping out of his bowl and becoming dry as toast and thin as paper on the tile floor.

Our dog had been at Rescue the Animals his whole life when we paid his ransom and took him out of his cage. Into our lives. One look at him and you knew why no one had ever adopted Bullwinkle. He was total mutt, always will be. There is no beauty in his outward appearance. The above photo hints at a coyote mixed with water rat with a touch of terrier just for laughs. Really he is road kill on four feet. But who is Bullwinkle? A kind, smart, gentle creature who never barks, seldom whines, communicating mostly with his soulful eyes and avid tail. He is the one who will patiently wait for you all day and wants only to be petted and petted and petted.

I’m not a sentimentalist or an animal person, I never even harbored a hamster as a kid, but I feel this ugly dog could be an angel in disguise. Bullwinkle teaches me something. Stop judging by appearances. Look for what lies deeper. Then laugh at the incongruity. How great beauty can be housed in such poor packaging. From now on I must make it a habit to throw away (mentally) the packaging. Find the diamond in the wuff… (couldn’t resist).


Behold a Bird

Another moment of cosmic amazement was at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers poetry workshop which I attended last month up by Lake Tahoe. The moment didn’t come in writing my required daily poem or workshopping said poem in the presence of an esteemed staff poet like Sharon Olds or Robert Hass while hoping he/she would love the poem and lean forward confidentially at the table and anoint me as the Next Great Thing in Poetry (it didn’t happen).

The moment occurred on one of the daily nature walks in early morning when naturalist David Lukas took us only a hundred yards behind the lodge and into the forest. A bird flew over, straight line, fast, sure of itself, and David looked up and said, “Oh, that was a Clark’s Nutcracker.” An impromptu lecture followed...

How the bird was identified by William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. How it collects upwards of 33,000 pine seeds during a brief window of time in the High Sierra summer. How it stores the seeds in caches of 5-10. How the Nutcracker can find all these seeds six months later as winter comes. How it tunnels to reach a cache beneath three feet of snow. How in some fashion— that no one can understand— it “remembers” where the seeds are and can “do the spatial math” to tunnel at the necessary angle (tunneling straight down would cause tunnel collapse) to intersect with the hidden seeds. How the seeds stolen by squirrels from the Nutcracker or never claimed by it often sprout into new Jeffrey pines, allowing the forest to flourish and extend its domain. How it is a perfect dance between the small bird and gigantic trees. How you can read about this in Made for Each Other: A Symbiosis of Birds and Pines by Ronald Lanner.

And I’m standing with my son beside me and a bunch of cotton and nylon garbed poets bumped up along the narrow trail and the light is filtering through the pine-needled branches above and the sky is blue the way all of California used to be, all of America used to be, from sea to sea, and the air smells clean enough that one notes that too, and I’m thinking all this for a bird and for a tree? Then what about me? What kind of miracle must I be? And I know then that all of us are involved in something far more profound than realized previously, and this is worth many poems indeed.


Quickly, Three Highlights...

In April I found myself graciously invited as the visiting writer at Dallas Baptist University where I gave a lecture on the state of Christian writing. My visual aids began with that photo of us standing outside of the Calvin library in July '06. Revealed to the world: “The secret summit”! Then I told of developments we’d discerned in genres and of some of the specific books we read together and our reactions to them. As I spoke, I hoped that our time together lived on for the benefit of others (and maybe somebody out there in the audience would read some of those great books Debra picked out for us…).

Also in the spring semester I was able to teach a new course, Christians and Creativity. (Funny how an odd book entitled Post-Rapture Radio ended up on the syllabus.) I required the students to exercise what a jazz musician friend of mine would call their creative “chops.” They had to respond to works of art in the local art museum, not with an analytical paper, but with something creative of their own. Called “A Night at the Grace” the project is described on-line with a posting of the films, stories, songs, paintings, sculptures, poems, etc. the students created. See:
http://www.thegracemuseum.org/childrens/night_acu_2007.html Perhaps “Christian” and “creativity” is not an oxymoron after all?

Right now I’m working on setting up the on-campus visit of journalist/writer Paul Hendrickson for this October. He will be in Abilene to talk about an exhibit of photos from the Library of Congress. The significance of these pictures taken for the Farmers Security Administration from 1939-43 (the same project that funded Walker Evans’ famous work) is that they are in color. Indeed, they are the first color photos ever taken of America and they were lost for many years. There’s a coffee table book, Bound for Glory, of the work, with an introduction by Paul Hendrickson, and I recommend it highly. I’ve found that a sort of epiphany takes place when the history one has always thought of as iconic black-and-white is viewed for the first time in full color. Suddenly, I realize these were people just like me and the people I know today. The women wear red dresses. The men’s jeans are blue. Their children have canvas shoes with brown mud stains…



to be continued...

1 comment:

joonna said...

Your words....ah! A found poem with your permission.

What Makes a Poem

I’m standing--
my son beside me.
Cotton and nylon garbed poets bumped up along the narrow trail.
Light filters through pine-needled
branches
Bluest sky like it used to be
from sea to sea.

I’m thinking,
all this for a bird and a tree? Then what about me?
What kind of miracle must I be?
All are involved in
something profound.
This realization
is worth many poems indeed.

Thanks for the poem, Al. I really miss talking to you.