Right then

The iodized salt psychic has a framed certificate from the board of health mounted behind his rickety office desk. Why, I wonder, is my imagination cluttered with such useless things? Why do I remember that dead leaf on the driveway, turning over like the page of a well-thumbed volume perused by the wind? What does it mean – if anything – that a black cat not merely crosses my path day and night, but is raising three kittens in the barn, all as feral as she? Are all of them black? Yes, as black as the jack of diamonds – aside from the parts that are white, of course. Have you been missing any songbirds? How many should we have? How many do you hear? All of them, I think. But sometimes I sleep with my windows shut.

This morning it was chilly but beautiful. I woke late and sat out on the porch watching, well, everything there was to watch. It’s not as easy as it sounds, because my attention kept wandering back to an erotic dream I’d had. You know. It had me whispering sweet nothings in the morning’s ear: “All my life has been nothing but a preparation for this moment.” Which one? The sun works its way down the side of my house, but I keep my eyes on the woods. Dew drips from the eaves. Yesterday I went to an auction of old farm tools and was thrilled and mesmerized by the auctioneer’s cadence, but I’m not thinking about that right now. I’ve gone 180 degrees, in fact: I’m busy jotting down some haiku in my little reporter’s notebook, which all day long at the auction never left my pocket.

Cool morning.
Crystal-clear air carries
a whiff of sewage.

Indigo bunting,
yellow warbler trade songs –
same syllable count.

Chilly morning.
A chipmunk stops to scold
in a patch of sunlight.

One drums, the other yammers:
the pileateds agree
to disagree.

When the sun clears the top
of the tall maple
I’ll go get breakfast.

And I do. Inside, it’s just another morning. Are there really still these same four walls? How strange! But I have work to do. I need to stop thinking about what I’ve been thinking about and think about something else, I think, and at the very moment I’m thinking this, something goes bump in the crawl space under the floor. Bump, it goes. Gee, thanks, Doc! I’m glad you agree.

Cibola 104

This entry is part 103 of 119 in the series Cibola


Reader (17)

Is there a significant difference between Marcos, who saw a city where there was a group of Zuni villages, and a modern ethnographer such as [Ruth] Benedict, who . . . lost sight of Zuni history and the complexity of Zuni culture, subsuming it into an Apollonian stereotype?
“Anthropological Analysis of Exploration Texts: Cultural Discourse and the Ethnological Import of Fray Marcos de Niza’s Journey to Cibola”

Nunqua trobé en sieglo logar tan deleitoso,
Nin sombra tan temprada, ni olor tan sabroso . . .
(Never had I found on earth a spot so delightful,
Nor shadows so cooling, nor odors so delicious . . . )
Milagros de Nuestro Señora

Thy purpose–still one shore beyond desire!
The sea’s green crying towers a-sway, Beyond
And kingdoms
           naked in the
                       trembling heart–
The Bridge

The long memory

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I wasn’t planning on posting anything this Memorial Day – or Decoration Day, as some people still call it – but then I saw that the discussion in the comment string to Friday’s post continues, and thought it might be appropriate to call attention to it here. My mention of burning some old journals when I was 12 or 13, and my determination never to make a similar mistake since, prompted other people to recall similar incidents. We seem to divide up into burners versus shredders.

What does it say about us, that we feel these impulses to do away with painful or embarrassing records? I would certainly not go so far as to claim that this is a peculiarly American trait – far from it. But I am reminded of our failure as a nation to admit to so many shameful chapters in our collective past. How many people are willing to acknowledge that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a terrible mistake, and that the official explanations make little sense? How many textbooks dwell on the massacre at Sand Creek, or the Bonus Army march on Washington? About the latter event, Howard Zinn writes in a People’s History of the United States:

Four troops of cavalry, four companies of infantry, a machine gun squadron, and six tanks assembled near the White House. General Douglas MacArthur was in charge of the operation, Major Dwight Eisenhower his aide. George S. Patton was one of the officers. MacArthur led his troops down Pennsylvania Avenue, used tear gas to clear veterans out of the old buildings, and set the buildings on fire. Then the army moved across the bridge to Anacostia. Thousands of veterans, wives, children, began to run as the tear gas spread. The soldiers set fire to some of the huts, and soon the whole encampment was ablaze. When it was all over, two veterans had been shot to death, an eleven-week-old baby had died, an eight-year-old boy was partially blinded by gas, two police had fractured skulls, and a thousand veterans were injured by gas.

In 1996, folksinger Utah Phillips recorded an album with Rosalie Sorrels called The Long Memory. In the liner notes, he wrote:

The long memory is the most radical idea in the country. It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we’re going but where we want to go.

The same year, he collaborated with Ani DiFranco (another one of my heroes) to produce The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere. In interviews with Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, both singers had plenty to say about the role of artists and public performers. I think a great deal of it probably applies to bloggers, as well.

“I don’t think with either one of us it’s either/or,” says Phillips of the contrast between outward-looking and inward-looking music. “It flows back and forth as a pulse, as a sensibility. Woody Guthrie wrote, ‘When I was walking that endless highway’–there’s a lot of I in Woody. Even when he was writing about someone else, he would still transpose it into the first person, as he took these journeys into himself. I can’t fault that and say that’s primarily ego-driven. What I think you’re talking about is music which is ego-driven, what you would call journal-entry songwriting. That’s not what Ani does, the way that I hear it. I know that’s not what I do, [which is to] let people know that I’m alive and present, and this is how I’m authentically perceiving and thinking, but to expand it to the point where it can take in a lot of what other people are experiencing.”

“That whole introspective singer-songwriter thing has been kind of foisted on me,” DiFranco adds. “Some people perceive what I do in that way because I write songs through my own experience. But whenever people say, ‘Well, your work is very confessional,’ I say, ‘It’s not confessional. I’m not confessing anything. I haven’t sinned. These are not my secrets. This is just my life; this is the stuff I’ve seen, the stuff I did, and what I thought about.’ There are different ways of speaking your political perceptions, and it may be [talking about] an event that occurred in your life or an event that occurred in your town . . . but each is a valid path to a certain realization. I think that what we both do is very much about our small, little epiphanies along the way, moments of connection between things.”

This is really a more interesting question than the one I started out asking, I think: In our writing, where do we draw the line between sharing and self-indulgence? After all, what could be more self-indulgent than editing out the darkest, most uncomfortable chapters? But on the other hand, what could be more empowering that letting go of possibly unhealthy attachments to the dead hand of the past? This whole analogy between public and private histories might not be as sound as it first appears. I’ve always hated the leftist cliché that the personal is political, because I resent the implication that any one point-of-view can best describe all circumstances. And besides, life is not all about power. But we ignore at our peril the power element in all relationships – even (or especially) in our relationship with that largely unknown person we call the self.

Since the root meaning of the word “radical” is, uh, “root,” I suppose we could say that Memorial Day, with its emphasis on our rootedness in family and history, is our most radical of holidays. But roots do many more things than simply reach into the soil and hold the plant upright. The roots of most species of plants enter into symbiotic relationships with root-like fungal structures called mycelia, which encase every root hair. Not only water and nutrients, but even chemical messages pass between them, and from one plant to another through the fungal network. This network is thought to be responsible for the well-documented ability of trees to produce unpalatable tannins, for example, when neighboring trees are attacked by insects. And in an old-growth forest, tree roots become physically engrafted to each other, forming multi-species, nutrient-sharing communities whose properties and purposes remain largely unknown. In time, they may well reach a stage where cooperation becomes as significant as competition. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure.

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I dream a ghost-body, heavy on top of mine. At first I am aroused, then frightened. It sits on my chest the way my big brother used to sometimes when we were kids, though it doesn’t taunt, doesn’t speak a word. I snort loudly to wake myself, find only my own arm sprawled across my ribs. I drift back to sleep and into a new dream, in which a psychopath smiles ingratiatingly and explains that he really couldn’t help murdering over 200 members of a small, isolated community in the mountains. I try to talk the others into locking him up, but we’re not able to reach consensus. The only suitable jail is the old springhouse, damp and cold, where I once imprisoned my little brother for several hours. I find myself joining the others to plead for his human rights. When the cops come, it is not to apprehend him but to interrogate us. “Have you seen a suit like this?” one of them asks each of us in turn, displaying a child’s plastic model of a gangster, furred in what someone informs me is meant to represent a zoot suit. I realize there is no right way to answer. I look at the handcuffs that I found in the basement and decide they really belong around my own wrists. “If they take me to jail, I’ll be safe from the murderer,” I think.


It’s only at the end of their all-day hike, as they begin to pitch camp beside the wilderness trout stream, that they realize they forgot to pack the bag that contained half their fishing gear. Time to improvise, says the engineer, while his friend the poet rummages around for the dime-bag of pot. A half an hour later they’re good and stoned. The engineer begins shaving willow wands for the basket trap he sees as clearly as a lure flashing in a sunlit pool. The poet rolls up his pants and wades out into the stream. He feels the hair rustling all over his body, follicles suddenly standing at attention.


I finally succumb to curiosity and install a free site meter from statcounter.com. I realize that it won’t be terribly accurate, since many regular readers use an aggregator such as Bloglines. I’m primarily interested in the search strings people use to get here, but the visit length data is fascinating, too. In two days, 83% of all visitors alighted here for less than five seconds. On the other hand, four people spent more than an hour with their browser open to Via Negativa. What sort of masochists are these? Here’s someone who’s been back five times already, and visited thirteen separate pages! And good grief, he lives in the same town and uses the same server as I do. Same browser, same operating system, everything. Unbelievable.


But what were they looking for, those less-than-five-second visitors? Two searched for the via negativa, poor souls. All the other Google searches were unique, and included the following (Via Negativa’s order in each search result is given in parentheses):

“bird calls” birdy birdy (5)
“origin of words” “spelunker” (3)
tribesman “man essence” (1 [!])
william stafford methow valley poems (4)
“The Recorded Sayings of Ch’an Master Lin-chi Hui-chao of Chen Prefecture” (4)
coon dong (2)
raccoons sex (4)
bestseller “baghdad burning” (3 [?!])
The word Hammock originates from a Haitian word (7)
THEODORE ROETHKE,DOLOR,analysis or explanation (2 – a Yahoo search)
lion fucked (2 [!])
Zuni vulture (5)


“But how many people actually remember seeing Barney Google in a comic strip?” asks Toonopedia. Indeed. While the search engine that bears his name seems omnipresent, he of the goo-goo-googly eyes and his once-famous steed Sparky have been mysteriously absent for half a century. There was no celluloid finish, no riding off into a sunset. One pictures instead some repudiation or return to sanity, as with Don Quixote. Except that Sancho – or Snuffy Smith – doesn’t buy it. It’s all too real to him, this epic snipe hunt, this been-down-so-long-it-looks-like-up-to-me. “What’s so funny?” he wants to know. He’s still out there in his lonesome hollow, hunched over a keypad, typing outlandish search strings in the gathering dusk.


Late afternoon isn’t always the best time to read poetry, I find. The book is Katha Pollitt’s Antarctic Traveller, her first. After a while, I decide to jot down some of my accidental misreadings:

…sphincters [splinters] of glass and pottery…

…the world [word] that widens
until it becomes the word [world].

…the orchid,
which signifies the virtues of the noble man:
reticence, calm, clarity of wind [mind].

…now you’ve travelled half the world and seen
the ergo [ego] glinting at the heart of things…

Pollitt’s poems are wonderfully luminous; this is one of the best first books I’ve ever read. Its language is strange the way all truthful language should be. If my slips seem even stranger, perhaps that’s simply a measure of the mind’s difficulty in assimilating unfamiliar truths. We hear what we want to hear, reverse-engineer the worlds that come out of our mouths and call the results logic: the ergo glinting at the heart of things, just so much wind from a glass sphincter.


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The stalke of this Comfrey is cornered, thicke, and hollow like that of Sow-thistle: it groweth two cubits or a yard high: the leaves that spring from the root, and those that grow upon the stalkes are long, broad, rough, and pricking withall, something hairie, and being handled make the hands itch; very like in colour and roughnes to those of Borage, but longer, and sharpe pointed, as be the leaves of Elecampane: from out the wings of the stalkes appeare the floures orderly placed, long, hollow within, of a light red colour: after them groweth the seed, which is blacke. The root is long and thick, blacke without, white within, having in it a clammy juice, in which root consisteth the vertue.

Comfrey joyeth in watery ditches, in fat and fruitful medowes; they grow all in my garden.

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The rootes of Comfrey stamped, and the juice drunke with wine, helpeth those that spit bloud, and healeth all inward wounds and burstings.

The same bruised and laid to in manner of a plaister, doth heale all fresh and greene woundes, and are so glutenative, that it will sodder or glew together meate that is chopt in peeces seething in a pot, and make it in one lump.

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The slimie substance of the root made in a posset of ale, and given to drink against the paine in the back, gotten by any violent motion, as wrastling, or overmuch use of women, doth in foure or five daies perfectly cure the same: although the involuntary flowing of the seed in men be gotten thereby.

The rootes of Comfrey in number foure, Knotgrasse and the leaves of Clarie of each an handfull, being stamped all together, and strained, and a quart of Muscadell put thereto, the yolkes of three egges, and the powder of three Nutmegs, drunke first and last, is a most excellent medicine against a Gonorrhaea or running of the reines, and all paines and consumptions of the backe.

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Moreover, it staieth the overmuch flowing of the monethly sickenesse, taken every day for certaine daies together.

It is highly commended for woundes or hurts of all the rest also of the intrailes and inward parts, and for burstings or ruptures.

The root stamped and applied unto them, taketh away the inflammation of the fundament, and overmuch flowing of the hemorrhoides.

JOHN GERARD, The Herbal or General History of Plants: The Complete 1633 Edition as Revised and Enlarged by Thomas Johnson (Dover Publications, 1975)

(For a more recent description of comfrey and its medical benefits, see Maude Grieve.)

I blogged about Gerard’s Herbal here and here.

Reading under the influence

Friday catbird blogging

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“The printed text is supposed to represent the words of an author in definitive or ‘final’ form. For print is comfortable only with finality. Once a letterpress forme is closed, locked up, or a photolithographic plate is made, and the sheet printed, the text does not accommodate changes (erasures, insertions) so readily as do written texts. By contrast, manuscripts, with their glosses or marginal comments (which often got worked into the text in subsequent copies) were in dialogue with the world outside their own borders. They remained closer to the give-and-take of oral expression. The readers of manuscripts are less closed off from the author, less absent, than are the readers of those writing for print….

“Manuscript culture had taken intertextuality for granted. Still tied to the commonplace tradition of the old oral world, it deliberately created texts out of other texts, borrowing, adapting, sharing the common, originally oral, formulas and themes, even though it worked them up into fresh literary forms impossible without writing. Print culture of itself has a different mindset. It tends to feel a work as ‘closed’, set off from other works, a unit in itself. Print culture gave birth to the romantic notions of ‘originality’ and ‘creativity’, which set apart an individual work from other works even more, seeing its origins and meaning as independent of outside influence, at least ideally. When in the past few decades doctrines of intertextuality arose to counteract the isolationist aesthetics of a romantic pint culture, they came as a kind of shock. They were all the more disquieting because modern writers, agonizingly aware of literary history and of the de facto intertextuality of their own works, are concerned that they may be producing nothing really new or fresh at all, that they may be totally under the ‘influence’ of others’ texts. Harold Bloom’s work The Anxiety of Influence (1973) treats this modern writer’s anguish. Manuscript cultures had few if any anxieties about influence to plague them, and oral cultures had virtually none.”

– Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: Technologizing the Word (Routledge, 1982)

Before the modern era, originality and creativity were no less honored, however. They just weren’t tied to a cult of the autonomous individual “closed off,” in Ong’s terminology, from the rest of society. Originality was available to any poet or author who sought inspiration at its divine source; thus, authors of new Buddhist sutras or new Biblical works could in good conscience pass them off as previously existing texts only now brought to light. Ancient origins were more prestigious because they were closer to the ultimate origin of the world. Periodic re-enactments of sacred drama and the ritual recitation of divinely inspired works – let alone the creation of new such works – enabled the experience of originary, sacred time in the present moment. As with any mind-altering substance, set and setting are absolutely crucial to the experience of a text. Without the Sabbath, for example, the Bible becomes a text like any other, a collection of hymns and stories capable of momentarily distracting the mind from its present concerns.

Can we see the common science fiction trope of time travel as a nostalgic re-invention of an ancient yearning? Sacred dramas, and the holy manuscripts that augment them, are nothing if not time machines. To a religious Jew, a Torah scroll has a metonymic relationship with the history of the Jewish people, imbuing it with potent manas. To study the Mishnah’s descriptions of temple ritual is tantamount to performing a sacrifice anew. Dialogues among scholars of these holy texts span time and space.

Originally, the text is read the way the world is read. Many if not all writing systems seem to have evolved as a way to record the results of divination, and some people still consult texts such as the Bible, the Koran or the I-Ching for divinatory purposes. Oral cultures offer plenty of parallels: the Yoruba Ifa corpus, for example, demonstrates that the use of more-or-less finished “texts” for imaginative travel into the future need not depend upon textuality per se. The important thing, as I’ve said, is the mindset one brings to the encounter with a text. If one approaches it as a knowing actor in a self-transcending drama of performance or recitation, then words can regain their power to charm, to enchant, to transport. Even in a modern, secular context, the retelling of a story in the charged, eternal present of a poem can lure a reader into empathetic participation, awakening her mind to manifold possibilities beyond those suggested by her immediate circumstances.

But stories can also serve the interests of the omnivorous distraction machine that is modern capitalism. In addition to varied embodiments of text, we must contend with the world of images, moving or stationary. Consider the difference between listening to a drama on the radio versus watching it on television: immediacy and visceral impact are purchased at the cost of imaginative re-creation. But beyond this rather commonplace observation, consider also what the Internet, and especially the blogosphere, do to the act of solitary reading. Here, too, we seem to have traded a certain degree of absorptive power for a sensation of greater immediacy, but in addition, we recover an older sense of text-as-shared-manuscript. This textual revolution will probably not survive the imminent crash of petroleum-based civilization, but something of its spirit may live on in a newly talmudic – i.e. engaged and argumentative – approach to received truths, or perhaps in a much more self-consciously intertextual and communal poetry culture in English, similar to the traditional literary cultures of Arabic or Chinese speakers.

I must confess, though: I love printed text, in part because of the very illusion of self-sufficiency and perfection that, as Ong says, it so easily projects. The book presents itself as an object to be treasured and even fetishized. But I have grown also to love the malleability and even the ephemerality of texts on the Internet. Instead of despairing at the appearance of one of my poems in print because it retains features that I may already have eliminated, it is a simple matter for me to go online and replace or augment an older version with a newer one. I can watch other poets, writers and image-makers do likewise, participating vicariously in their creative processes – though the possibility of erasure or revision of the past constitutes also one of the Internet’s greatest threats. Time machine, or machine for distraction? The Internet can be both by turns.

Blogging builds on millennia-long traditions of journal keeping and letter writing. A blog mirrors the river of time in a manner much more reminiscent of a scroll than a bound book. I have this fantasy of Via Negativa someday being copied out on a long, continuous roll of parchment or birch bark, from deer or trees that I would kill and skin with my own hands. But then, how would the links work? Maybe instead I should strive for this blog’s reproduction on some kind of metal bar or strip, which would periodically intersect with other blog/strips, the whole of it forming a vast jungle gym.

We could build a literal Internet, a scaled-down reproduction of the World-Wide Web suitable for installation in some public park or stadium. Readers would be given harnesses and climbing gear and let loose. Pigeons would strew the installation with comment spam. Hawks diving in after the pigeons would became helplessly entangled, dislocating wings, breaking their talons. Finally, someone would fall to their death, and the resulting hue and outcry would compel its removal and destruction. We’d argue for a decent burial at sea, plotting its next incarnation: sunk in shallow waters off the coast of Florida, it would become in time a new metropolis, a coral reef.

Thus, at any rate, the scenario that arises from my reading of the grounds at the bottom of my coffee mug, just now. While I was typing, a catbird landed on the stone wall outside my window and gaped at me. He was, uncharacteristically, at a loss for words.

Out-of-the-blog experiences

After rain, a dry high blows in, bringing such clarity that one can see the tiniest gnats dancing in the sun. It was days like this that used to make me feel the most anguished, back in the days before my heart shrank to the approximate size and durability of a black walnut. You can live in the most beautiful place in the world and still wish to be someplace else – or at least to be somebody else. Those yearnings haven’t entirely gone away, merely subsided a bit as I coasted into my long middle ages. And I have learned that I am far from alone in feeling that way. I can sit on a figurative pew in the figurative cathedral here in the back forty and watch the light streaming through the figurative stained glass with a kind of vague contentment verging on joy. I can contemplate a lady’s slipper orchid, listen to a cacophony of coyote pups or watch a black bear nosing around the lawn at dusk and feel – for lack of a better term – blessed. It’s still escape that the mind is after, though, I know that.

I’m going out again in a few minutes, but if you’re stuck inside for the day, here are a few other places worth visiting in this Neverneverland called the blogosphere.

On Tuesday, Susan of a line cast, a hope followed described a moment of near-panic in a Rite-Aid store:

My son walks over to the shelf of cars and picks up an army tank, saying something like “I don’t have this” and quickly putting it down as if he recognizes why he wouldn’t have one, and then says “I like all the Hotwheel cars” waving expansively at hundreds of tiny cars, which does not surprise me but I am feeling like I will faint if he asks me to buy him something, as the excess of the stuff in our house has loomed up in my mind to meet the cacophony of colors of baby bowling pins and Frisbees and neon pool toys and women’s Ked’s style shoes in fuschia and cobalt. Why is this bothering me now? Why doesn’t it bother anyone else? All I can see at this moment is a meaningless excess of cheap soul-stealing stuff. At home many things are broken – the fluorescent kitchen light, the garage door and siding on the south side of the house need replacing, the pond leaks, a car is dead in the driveway and requiring towing. I’ve spent the last hour talking to the repair guy about all the different ways to replace the fluorescent light with no clear answer.

In Acerbia, Abdul-Walid briefly inhabits the hell-realm known as CNN:

My mind was disturbed by the multiple layers: lies, vapid lighting, torpid commentary, mob mentality, more lies, stage-managed debate (on stem-cell research), “news”, trivial pursuits (a report about a housecat stuck in a tree in Oregon, followed by footage of fighting in Iraq), canned laughter, death dealing as entertainment, car commercials, perfect blonde hair, gleaming teeth, and even more lies.

I thought I would lose my fucking mind. A baby being held near me started crying. I must have had a crazed look on my face.

I sought refuge. I started to think of the Zen Center in Cambridge, I thought of an Arboretum in the midwest that I love, I thought of Mount Athos, I tried to still my mind with the words of Krishnamurti. I knew that, given the choice between constant exposure to the obvious insanity that is capitalism, and the mental effort it would take to pretend I actually believed in the dogma of a religious orthodoxy, I would gladly worship the Theotokos or Kuanyin.

On a more cheerful note, earlier in the week Chris at Creek Running North treated his readers to an engaging description of a canyon hike. That’s “Canyon” as in “Grand.” The ending of his five-day sojourn was, predictably, bittersweet:

On the trail in the inner canyon, especially away from Phantom, each person you meet is a welcome spark of humanity in a huge inhuman landscape. You stop, you ask if the person is comfortable and they ask you, you trade life stories and plans for the next hours of hiking, you feel a bond of sincere appreciation. Over a few days, I met a dozen folks I thought of as friends. I never learned their names.

Walk toward the rim and that diminishes. The closer you get to the ice cream trucks and gas stations, the less important it seems to cultivate those ties. Your every need is granted, assuming you have the cash. The closer you get to the rim, the more distant the strangers’ eyes become, the more your wave of greeting is seen as a startling intrusion. Mommy, what does that dirty, hairy man with the backpack want? It took me a few hours, after Cindy and I stepped triumphantly and with some wistfulness onto the Rim, to stop striking up conversations with total strangers.

The Middlewesterner continues to report on Tom and Mary’s recent drive around Iceland.

For lunch we stopped in view of another g-damn waterfall. Yeah, it has come to that. To the tourist in Iceland, the waterfall becomes as ocean is to the fish. Soon enough you just don’t notice the waterfalls. Your spirit may need them but you cannot think too much about them. You cannot process the reality of them after a while. At least that might be the case if you had grown up in the great middle flatness of the USA where even one of these throw-away falls in Iceland would be a source of great wonderment; yet eventually the sky-full of waterfalls becomes too much to comprehend.

A few days ago, Natalie of Blaugustine blogged about her visit to a maxilofacial unit’s waiting room:

A Rabbi in full mufti enters the room and sits down beside me. He immediately pulls a handsomely bound volume from a briefcase and opens it. Out of the corner of my eye I notice the large, beautifully wrought Hebrew lettering. Strangely, at that moment I am reading a chapter about the Nazis who went into hiding in Paraguay after the war. I don’t dare ask the Rabbi what is written on the page of the holy book he is absorbed in. The Rabbi and I are the only people reading in the waiting room, everyone else is staring into space.

Over at alembic, Maria describes her narrow escape from an MRI machine:

Does magnetic resonance shake up your brain? Is it like a mild version of electroshock therapy? When we came out in the sunlight on Post Street, and later, as we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin, I could have sworn everything was aglow with color. Maybe it was just that the timid poking fingers of the first summery fog withdrew into some other pocket over the Pacific….

Meanwhile, in Keene, New Hampshire, Lorianne makes some startling discoveries about her fellow inhabitants: some are

transgender hermaphrodites, starting life as male and turning female upon maturity.

And Fred First travels to Vancouver, where the locals also have some surprising customs.

Rain or shine, Vancouver BC is a city of walkers. We would look out our hotel window and see folks sitting on park benches along English Bay, no hat, no umbrella–in a heavy drizzle. Water is like a second skin for these people and to be outdoors, they think nothing of being wet. In an hour it can stop and start raining a dozen times, so you can’t really wait for ‘good’ weather to leave the house….

On one of our umbrella-walks on Sunday–our second night at the Sylvia on the west side of downtown–as we approached Stanley Park, I heard what I assumed was a chorus of frogs. The raucous calls were coming from the trees. It had to be tree frogs. I’d never heard such a dense cluster of any other invisible creature calling back and forth in great numbers; and the wet weather seemed perfect for amphibians, didn’t it? But wait. What were those manhole-cover-sized clumps of sticks in the branches–ten in this tree, half again as many in that one there? And I could see movement, but in the dismal light against the somber sky, it could have been anything. Anything but frogs….

Finally, in the cassandra pages, Beth – like Susan in the essay quoted above – writes about Allergic Reactions.

The past few days I’ve felt crummy: I’ve had a bad headache from, I think, my usual spring time allergies: the dark side of all those blossoms. But it’s also from too much stress, too much breathing-in of the suffering that goes on around me and the impossibility of finding solutions. I wish I could just hate it and push it away; dismiss without compassion the woman barking at her child. But what made her that way? As much as I despise a world in which beautiful dark-eyed girls end up begging on city streets and small boys, bribed with fast food, learn early to cherish the fat-drenched moment when the unhappiness around them seems to abate, I’m unable to find release either in judgmentalism or escapism. As Merton said, we’re meant to hold both the dark and the light. I wish it were easier.

Now I really need a walk.