7.16.08 the octopus I don't know why but I've been obsessed with a strange creature lately. The octopus. Before this, I knew little about the fascinating being-- only that it had 8 legs, suckers, and shot ink. But on PBS the other night, I caught a little glimpse into one's life and behavior in particular, and ever since I've been obsessing about it and telling everyone who'll listen to me how utterly amazing and, believe it or not, cute, they--or at least this one-- is. This octopus, in captivity in a glass storage tank, came to play a kind of hide and seek with the scientist who was testing its abilities to be cognitive and reactive. The octopus would sit behind a partition that obscured its view of the scientist on the other side of the glass. The scientist would then play a cat and mouse kind of game, raising his head above the partition, then lowering it, and the octopus would follow suit by then raising its head in search of that strange being on the other side. What followed blew me away even more, resulting in my obsessive behavior of telling everyone about this creature. On the bottom of the ocean floor, a scientist filmed an octopus hauling along a dirty, broken brown bottle under one of its tentacles. It lives in this bottle and carries it with it everywhere.
What's in all of this for me, I wondered? Is it the curiosity? The alien-ness of this odd looking being that I like? Iits complete disregard for how it looks to others? Or is it that big rectangular eye that seeks our gaze, and perhaps some kind of communication with us? Is it the hobo-ness of this thing that I love so much? I'm not sure, but Ii feel like a whole new world opened up in my consciousness. Sometimes, it IS the little things. post note, 2023: Sy Montgomery's book The Soul of an Octopus is a soulful journey into her experiences with cephalopods; anything with 8 arms surely must grab one's attention....
7.1.08 Eunice Waymon (Nina Simone) I was waiting for a cup of coffee the other day in a cafe, and there on the counter, among the magazines and assorted fliers, was a brochure for a benefit for Sudan, featuring a performer by the name of Sam Waymon. Sam Waymon, I thought...I know that name..... and then it came to me.... Brother to Eunice Waymon. Better known to the physical world as Nina Simone.
I first heard Nina Simone, I mean really heard her, in the late 70's. I was living in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania at the time, and a friend (thank you forever, Lisa) had two of her vinyl albums, Baltimore and Emergency Ward. I was addicted at first listen. She had the kind of sneer and strength and soul and softness, all combined in One, any portions thereof revealed at any time, and was a brilliant interpreter of songs, both originals and classics. In her hands and with her voice, she could reinvent "Here Comes the Sun" by George Harrison and "To Love Somebody" by the Bee Gees; invoke classically influenced piano playing on the intro to "Little Girl Blue" by Rodgers and Hart; spit out her visceral cynicism in "Funkier Than a Mosquito's Tweeter" (which is how and where I first heard her brother, Sam). Folks like Nina and her brother Sam play with a depth and passion i don't hear much of these days, certainly not on the radio---wrapping beautiful songs with messages and poetry in soulful arrangements, sometimes hitting funky notes or rhythms, but real, just real playing. I don't have every album she ever recorded--there are tons of bootlegs and imports and reissues as well as her classic albums--two of my favorites are Little Girl Blue ("jazz as played in an exclusive side street club"), for its cocktail jazz trio ensemble in a small room kind of feel, and It Is Finished, a sinewy and soulful feast of socially and spiritually charged songs.
Nina Simone passed away in 2003. She lived a life of extraordinary talent and activism, the writer of songs like "Young, Gifted and Black" and "Mississippi Goddamn". Long live Nina. Long live passionate music.
If I were a Tree, My roots Curious to find a Home in the Bosom of the Earth
Meandering while remaining tethered to my Source My Center, My Seed
Craving nutrition Source of Life
I would turn left Turn right Push downward And in every direction Connecting to nutrients Sucking in the sweetness Of life itself Sending it back up through my Self Into my Core, My Source, My leaves would push outward Unfurl Uncurl Unwrap from their tight repose And open to light Fed by my gathering of nutrients
I would grow Upward Strong Centered Till one day my wondrous leaves And strong branches Would provide canopy And protection For others
I would dance to the sun’s light Languish in the droplets of rain Strengthen with the push and pull Of winds and snows And beating sleet Making me stronger while Releasing my weaker branches And leaves To fall safely to the Core, my Source My Earth Beloved
And Some day When I had fulfilled my journey I would fall or be felled And provide warmth Through my dance with Fire And I would have lived A good and beautiful And worthy life.
for Nora the Norway Maple, Muncy PA, 10/31/13 and Grandmother Box Elder, 1311, 7/19/2015
7.7.12 Upstate New York winters can be cold. The kind of cold that numbs your teeth, but when it’s colder than words can convey, there is also a “snap” cold….where the snap of a limb is heard, sometimes a pine limb succumbing to the weight of a few inches of snow perhaps; sometimes it's a virtual snap, because the air is just so cold it has to make voice of it. Last winter, 2011-12, there was no snapping. It was a long, drawn-out one season. The temperatures were so within a narrow range that even some pansies that had taken root in some stones just below our windowbox continued to fade, and rebloom; fade and rebloom. There was no sudden death of vegetation and then the long recovery from the harshness of the cold and elements. Just one, long “in between” season. Spring came early, about three weeks early. The snowdrops barely made their appearance, as if last minute guests to the banquet of spring bouquets. Summer arrived with 90 degree heat when Spring had just announced its beginning.
On July 7, 2012, we heard the herald of late summer’s unmistakable grinding. The cidada has arrived, albeit maybe only one lone cicada; but undoubtedly a crowd will soon follow.
Just back from an inspiring journey through northern California. Slept under the redwoods at an old dear friend’s home; were the “keepers” of a lighthouse ("keepers" as in the name of the unpretentious lodging only of course, on the grounds of an actual lighthouse overlooking the Pacific); dreamed on the coast in farthest northern California in a tsunami evacuation zone; and reconnected with an old cowgirl acquaintance in sagebrush high desert country in the shadow of Mt. Shasta….one lone lava goddess in north central California, along with her little sister, Shastina.
I have returned to the energy of the northeast---the quick pace and hurry it up—wanting to relish these memories, and render their visions somehow within my music and within my life. Over and over again, the lesson seems to be, be in the moment. See the beauty. Ah, the beauty. Taking a moment to realize where I am, and where the wheel turns, nobody knows. What are you grateful for, and where do you find Hope?
Post Script to the above...10 years pass by, Climate Change is more than a suggestion that scientists and environmentalists have long warned of. California has suffered intense floods and wildfires - one in 2020 took that home under the redwoods that Betsy and I stayed at. If you feel disheartened, Jane Goodall is a wonderful place to find Hope (she believes fervently in it). And let us remember that Earth Day is EVERY DAY. And see the page "OntheWingPhotography" for Mia McPherson's beautifully documented photos of the Natural world.
MAVIS STAPLES...."Bubbles". Listen, Listen, Listen to her music.
Move, Feel, Know.... You Are Not Alone.
Riley B. ("Blues Boy") King...
Willie Mae ("Big Mama") Thornton...Janis Lyn Joplin... (Gertrude) Ma Rainey... Bessie Smith...Billie Holiday(Eleanora Fagan)... James Brown... Howlin' Wolf(Chester Arthur Burnett)... Roebuck "Pops" Staples... B.B. King... Aretha Franklin... Memphis Minnie(Lizzie "Kid" Dougas)... Nina Simone(Eunice Waymon)...
note: the above images are from postcards collected over the years.