Equipoise

I just finished reading the last of the poetry books I bought in Port Townsend a couple of years ago.  Both of these books are by local poets, but that is about the only thing they seem to have in common, except for a word I had never encountered before: “equipoise.”  In fact, I’m pretty sure that is why I bought Kathleen Halme’s Equipoise — that and the exquisite cover and eloquent fonts.  The other book is Songs for a Summons by David Guterson, who is best known for his novels, particularly Snow Falling on Cedars. Strangely enough, two of my favorite poems of his use “equipoise.”

I’ll have to admit it didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t the intended audience for Halme’s poetry, though I might have been in college since she makes a number of references to Andrew Marvel’s poetry, and his “To My Coy Mistress” was one of my favorite poems in college.  At 79, I no longer see sexuality in everything around me, perhaps because at my age I’m searching for “equipoise.” That’s not to say, though, that I can’t still appreciate the cleverness of a poem like “Island Incarnation:”

Island Incarnation 
 

 I have seen a king snake whip and twist itself around 
 a longer rattlesnake, and when the other's 
 gorgeous hiss and length went limp, 
 as the moment spread itself out holy, 
 and the sea grass bristled a scraping lisp, 
 I have seen the king make straight 
 the long black wand of rattler and take her in headfirst: 
 a gradual assumption of saintly concentration, 
 until I have seen the very tip, the crenellated rattle 
 —black cowrie tossed back into the only ocean— 
 disappear inside the waves of snake.
 

Despite the fact that I have a phobia of snakes, or perhaps because I do, I was rather fascinated with this poem.  Having never witnessed such an event, I have no idea whether this is an accurate description of how a king snake kills a rattlesnake, but it definitely seems possible.  It’s also possible, but unlikely, that there are no sexual innuendoes in the poem but considering the sexual innuendoes found throughout the rest of the book that seems unlikely. If it were simply a factual recording of a king snake killing a rattler I wouldn’t have found it at interesting.  However, the poem reminds me of a number of blues songs I’ve liked in the past, like John Lee Hooker’s “Crawlin’ King Snake” or Johnny River’s “The Snake.” 

Though my phobia of snakes prevents me from personally seeing them as a phallic symbol, it’s certainly an ancient symbol, as suggested by the temptation in the Garden of Eden. I will have to admit that I’m a little put off by the literary/psychological tendency to see a phallic symbol in every object that looks vaguely like a penis, but the snake symbolism with its combination of attraction/fascination and attraction/repulsion is a powerful symbol. At 79 it’s easier to look back to see what effects sex/love and sex/desire have had on your life, both downright depressing  and uplifting. Someday I’ll tell you how I ended up in Vietnam by dating a very popular girl in college and how another girl saved me from depression and binge drinking after I returned.    

Songs for a Summons by David Guterson was my favorite of the two books. Though the collection as a whole didn’t seem compelling,  I identified with poems like 

T EA H O U S E
 
 In the dark field,
 the question is the same.
 Desiring to sit and not sit
 in one place.
 

 And write nothing about birds
 with diaphanous wings,
 how slow the elderly beneath spangled trees—
 how thoughtful their retreat.
 

 One bottomless pot.
 But I can’t keep Dogen from my thoughts,
 Tu Fu taking impressions of ferns,
 the birds again,
 

 hemlock tops, stockbrokers in a sunlit corner.
 The shadow of my pen
 meets the words, Authentic peace is possible.
 On the far hill, rain over view houses.
 

 

where Guterson seems to be grappling with Yin and Yang, doing and not doing because those are issues I have been struggling with recently.  After a lifetime of “doing,” of being as active as possible and trying to accomplish as much as I could in the limited time I had, it seems wrong to just sit, doing nothing even if I feel calmer and more relaxed when doing so. I’ve walked or hiked my whole life, but it in the past usually I was concerned with how far I could hike or whether I could reach the top of a mountain.  I walked and hiked to get, and stay, in shape. I still do partially for the same reason, but since I can no longer reach the top of the mountain I’ve learned to revel in the peace I sense just being there.  Birding has been both the result and the cause of becoming more aware of my surroundings.

Unfortunately,  believing authentic peace is possible does not ensure that you will find it and reside in it.

“Tension of Equipose:”  
 

 Dispassionate equality of sunrise and sunset,
 rose thorn and stigma,
 and from an unlit house, the visible dawn.
 

 Between I depend on habits,
 on the timely appearance of shadows
 and ghosts, and on poems.
 

 No past or future,
 but still l want to feed my dog
 to have done what must be done.
 

 Yesterday, l was drawn to land.
 Buffeted by sleep, that steep intervention,
 today I’m drawn to water.
 

 Up from the well now,
 in this second half of life.
 Today I’m pushed forward and drawn back.

Equipose is defined as “a counterbalance or balancing force.”  The Taoist Yin Yang symbol 

illustrates equipose and the tension that exists between those perfectly balanced forces. Ideally the yin and the yang are perfectly balanced.  If that’s possible, and I’m not sure it is, it is a dynamic balance that’s hard to attain and even harder to sustain.   Ideally, you live in the moment, but how do you live fully in the moment if you don’t fully understand your past and come to terms with it?  What would this moment be like if you had never planned for the future? Equipose is a worthy goal,  but life’s demands  (feeding the dog, washing the dishes, preparing the meal) constantly pull us in different directions.  

Everything Falls Away Eventually

Nothing makes you appreciate what you have than its imminent loss.  I’ll have to admit that, despite all the work we’ve put into it in the last few years, I seldom take advantage of the opportunity to admire our yard.  It wasn’t until the recent weather forecast for freezing temperatures that I took the time to go out and photograph some of the plants and flowers still growing strong.

And it wasn’t until I was looking through the lens of my camera that I appreciated the beauty of the leaves on this annual that Leslie planted.  Who needs flowers when you look this good all the time?

Anyone who visits regularly knows that my favorite spot in Pt. Defiance is the dahlia garden, so it probably comes as no surprise that I had to buy some of my own.  I bought a three-pack from Territorial Gardens in late winter.  I wasn’t sure when to plant them, so this variety struggled mightily at the beginning, looking like it was going to fall victim to the slugs while the other two steadily climbed skyward.  In the end, though, it was the healthiest of the three and had far more flowers than the other two.

My favorite flower of the three is this one, but such beauty must come at a heavy price because there was never more than one or two flowers on the plant at a time and they faded more quickly than the other two plants.

Southern California

When we started our Thanksgiving trip we planned to visit Jeff and Debbie, though we hadn’t planned our route to their house.  When Leslie sent Jeff pictures of the Painted Desert and told him how much we had enjoyed it, he insisted we should stop at Red Rock Canyon State Park, which was forty or fifty miles from our route, a mere pittance compared to the 4,000 miles we ended up covering on our trip.  
Despite the fact that it overcast and dark, the cliffs were quite spectacular,

though not as spectacular as some shots I saw online.  I’ll have to return on our next trip to see for myself if the rocks are really as red as some of those shots portray.

We spent two nights and a part of two days in Fresno. Surprisingly,  it was my first time birding in nearly three weeks.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my birding lens and camera with me, but the Sony RX10 IV managed to get some pretty good shots, like this one of a Bushtit, 

a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, 

and a Say’s Phoebe, which may even have been a first for me.

The highlight of the short visit, though, was getting a chance to see Jeff Hallock play his harmonica with Kornbred, one of several bands he plays with regularly.  

I purposely didn’t have a camera with me that night, but my iPhone 11 managed some pretty good shots.

Route 66 to Oatman

The biggest disappointment of our Thanksgiving trip was that it was so cloudy and threatening that we decided to skip Grand Canyon this trip.  On the other hand, because we had an extra half-day we decided to drive sections of Route 66 rather than staying on the much faster Interstate 40.

I’ll have to admit I was surprised that “Route 66” attracted so many tourists.  A lot of the small towns we drove through would probably disappear without the tourist trade. We began our morning with a stop at the Route 66 Bakery.  

Probably not surprisingly, I took a lot more landscape shots than I did shots of old buildings. The plants were quite different from the vegetation I remember in the Mojave Desert around Ft. Irwin,

and the vegetation changed dramatically as we climbed the mountain range.

As we climbed even higher, what little vegetation there was gave way to rock gardens.

Route 66 to Oatman was quite the challenge.  The road was narrow and the drop off so extreme that Leslie refused to look out the window until we stopped at a pullout at the summit.  Looking out from the top of the pass, it was hard to believe that anyone would ever have chosen this as the main route from Los Angeles to Chicago.  

Oatman seemed like a tourist trap, but the rocky cliffs provided a dramatic backdrop for the town.

I did stop at the edge of Oatman to take a shot of an original gas station that has been restored, though the pumps no longer pump gas,

but I refused to pay $2.00 to park so that we could feed the burros carrots or visit the shops selling Indian crafts to tourists. Still, it was pretty clear that lots of people were more than happy to do so.  I don’t know where all the people came from since we didn’t see a single car on the highway, but the town itself was bustling with tourists.

Our Thanksgiving trip covered nearly 4,000 miles.  When you cover that many miles you’re grateful to have anything that detracts you,  reading about and seeing landmarks from the original Route 66 certainly helped make the trip more interesting than it would have been if we had just remained on Interstate 40 the whole way.