Tuesday, June 30, 2015

on land and sea

Reading a children's book on penguins got me to thinking about animals that inhabit both land and sea during their lives. Penguins can dive over 1000 feet in frigid waters. They eat fish and krill under water, yet mate, incubate, and feed their young on land.

Penguins are birds. A reptile that lives in both land and ocean is the sea turtle. Frogs - which are amphibians - have life stages where they breathe under water (as tadpoles in ponds and streams) and later in life, breathe on land as full-fledged adults. Mammals that thrive on land and sea include seals and sea lions. There are some crabs - crustaceans - that fit into this category. It's not that these creatures are flexible or adaptable, but that their life cycles require both worlds.

Monday, June 29, 2015


The children in Ms. Mecca's class wandered in and about the desks in the classroom. They were pretending to be snakes. Ssssss. Sometimes fierce, ferocious snakes. Some were giggling snakes.

Carrie had come in from recess frightened. They had seen a snake in the grass, and she was scared. 'What did the snake look like?' the teacher asked, and several voices piped up at once. 'It was BIG!' 'It wasn't very big!' 'Green! Bright green!' 'Yup!' 'It moved away very fast and we couldn't find it any more.'

Carrie's face was swollen from tears and Ms. Mecca said, 'Everybody gets scared by something.'

'Do you think we should go find it and kill it?' a kid called Tiger asked.

The teacher looked up to see and hear what they thought.

'We always kill snakes in our yard.'

'That was a green snake! They don't hurt anybody.'

'I used to keep a snake in an aquarium, and then I let it out because we were leaving town and couldn't take it with us.'

'Sssss!' said Carrie's best friend, and Carrie shoved her lightly. She was feeling better.

'What else are you afraid of?' Ms. Mecca asked the class.

'Big dogs!' said Mitch, the littlest kid in the class. 

'Grrr,' said Carrie. 'Let's be big dogs!'

'Woof! Woof' 'Owwwww! Owoooo!' And the kids growled and shoved and showed their teeth. wandering among their desks.

The rest of the hour, which was to have been spent on times tables, was spent being scary. Snakes, big dogs, alligators, spiders, butterflies, rain and sharks ... the neighbor kid down the street. The kids made friends with every fear, and those that wouldn't be friends, they left them alone, or gave them a salute. They counted their fears and multiplied them and divided them and the bell rang. The children disappeared like minnows in a stream.

Ms. Mecca washed and left an apple from her lunch pail for the principal who growled at her and made her stammer, who hardly would ever say hello. She set it on the little table near the closed door with the sign that read 'PRINCIPAL'. She walked home with a light heart.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

rose bushes

The rose bushes in many public gardens are regularly maintained. They are watered, and fed nutrients. They are pruned to be symmetrical, and so the branches do not break or bend low. After a rose bloom is past its prime, the flower is clipped from the branch at the stem's base so that the drooping, fading bloom is removed, and no broken nor chopped stem remains. The flowers that remain are in the loveliest height of bloom.

In other gardens, the bushes may be left to their own devices. The branches reach out where they may, and the buds and blooms proliferate without pruning. The buds bloom, then fade and droop with time. They are no longer showy and unblemished, but perhaps a little curious and humorous with stamen and pistil standing disrobed, the petals dangling in disarray at their feet.

When rose bushes remain untouched by gardening shears, one gets to see a stage in the rose's cycle that does not occur and thus is not witnessed when the plants are intensively groomed. As the petals droop, turn brown, shrivel, and fall, a spherical pod forms. These are called rose hips. Within the pods are seeds that hold promise of the future of the species, of an abundance of roses in the centuries to come. The seeds also can be food for birds, insects and small mammals in the little ecosystem of the shrub.

Friday, June 26, 2015

early morning
cars and trucks
whiz and rumble
on the four
and five-lane street
the rhythm and the volume
calypso and roar
and sometimes decrescendo
to a solitary jingle

there's a pause in the traffic
and what is that I hear
as i am walking through?

brush and whisper
brush and whisper

I look up.
branches of old trees
bearing thousands of leaves
arch and reach
like a forest cathedral
the conversation of leaves
rustling dryly, passionately
green leaves of summer
healthy and bright
dancing in sunlight

make quiet waves
of percussive symphony

i cup my ear to listen
it's a sound i have forgotten
i am so thirsty -
the trucks and the cars
are again in high volume
the humble hobnobbing of leaves
is no longer audible
i am walking on

Thursday, June 25, 2015

'The conquest of love, honour, men's confidence - the pride of it, the power of it, are fit materials for a heroic tale; only our minds are struck by the externals of such a success, and to Jim's successes there were no externals. Thirty miles of forest shut it off from the sight of an indifferent world, and the noise of the white surf along the coast overpowered the voice of fame. The stream of civilisation, as if divided on a headland a hundred miles north of Patusan, branches east and south-east, leaving its plains and valleys, its old trees and its old mankind, neglected and isolated, such as an insignificant and crumbling islet between the two  branches of a mighty, devouring stream... '

excerpt from Lord Jim
by Joseph Conrad
first published 1900

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

poles and equator

At the icy North and South poles of earth, there is nearly no daylight at winter's peak. There are days when the sun does not quite ever make it over the horizon, and darkness reigns, peppered with stars and showy auroras. In summer, the sun is visible most of the day and night. At summer solstice, the sun never sets at all, but rides low, circling around the horizon.

The experience at the planet's equator is so very different. There is little change in the warm temperatures from one season to the next - you might say there are no seasons. All days are the same length throughout the year, as are the nights - and the days and nights are of equal duration. The sun rises and sets at the same location every day of the year, and it rides high across the sky.

If you live at a latitude exactly between one of the poles and the equator, you experience four seasons, and the lengths of the days and nights shift gradually from day to day. Days and nights of equal duration occur on the equinox. The longest day occurs at the summer solstice, the shortest at the winter solstice. The position of the sunrise and sunset shifts each day, reaching the farthest points at the solstices before gradually moving back to due east and west at the equinoxes.

The ancients of China, and the Americas, and Greece studied these events with great thoroughness through observation. Calendars came into existence using these observations to pinpoint the passing of a year and each season. The phases of the moon marked the months.

Monday, June 22, 2015

new school books

No one ever told us that a book is a precious thing. Every year (this would be the 1960s) as fall rolled around, each child at school was given a stack of textbooks that contained some of the material to be learned or at least wrestled with during the school year. Math book, geography, science, reading, et cetera.
There was a label inside the cover with seven or eight lines on it. If it was a new book, you wrote your name on the top line, the first student to have the good fortune to be partnered with this object for a school year. If the school had owned the book already for, say, three or four years, your signature might go on the fourth line. You could see which kids had carried the book in the previous years - maybe there would be the name of someone you knew, now graduated into a higher grade. Or maybe it would be a stranger's name, but somehow, that name of that older kid was your companion for the year whenever you opened your book.

We were supposed to take care of our books and not mark in them or crease the pages, knowing they were to be shared across several years.

What was fun the first week of school was that there would be stacks of brown paper to be used as book covers. Each one was printed with directions, and with the name of the company who provided them for us. I remember there was the label of a local brand of bread emblazoned on some of ours.

We weren't supposed to write IN the book, but we could doodle and ornament the cover with twirls and cartoons and decorative printing as we liked. 'Go, Tigers!' or psychedelic peace signs. A best friend might add a word or two of humor on your book cover during an idle moment in class.

The process of covering the book was very challenging. In your early years, you brought the covers and the books home so your parents or older siblings could help. Later years, you could cover them yourself in the classroom. It took practice and skill, folding the cover just right so it wouldn't slide off. Many times I had to start over, the cover folded so tight I couldn't close the book. I never did quite figure that out.

One teacher, handing out new textbooks, taught us how to open a brand new book in a way that would not damage the spine. You hold the book in a closed position with its spine against the desk or table. You take just the front cover and a few pages, and smooth it against the table, still holding the rest of the book upright. Then you do the same with the back cover. More pages from the front, then more from the back until you reach the middle pages.

New books smelled so lovely - the paper, the glue. The pages were so crisp and clean, they were almost sharp along the edges. Old books had a complex aroma, composed of the myriad activities in the life of a child. Sweaty palms after basketball in the gym, dust from handstands at recess, dog or cat at home snoozing on top of the book. The pages softened and dulled over the years, evidence of the history of its existence.

After these routines for a few years, you came to realize, without the teacher having to spell it out, the book is something to be appreciated and cared for. With most but not all of the textbooks, the contents were such a pleasure and treasure of interesting information, we came to know this truth, how precious is a book, for ourselves.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

In January of 2009, I traveled by car from Austin, Texas to San Francisco, California. My trips before that time had been uneventful as far as problems, but this time, distracted by the views or perhaps daydreaming as I drove, I entered the wrong East-West interstate highway.

I had driven quite a long distance before I realized my mistake. Ach! Miles and miles off track. I took an exit in Arizona, and stopped in a quiet fast food Mexican restaurant parking lot to ponder my maps for options, and call to consult with family. The isolated corner of industrial buildings was very still in the sunlight, and I calmed. There was lots of concrete, not much in the way trees or plants.

All travel errors have some riches to offer. Here, near my car was a small unpaved space with one very tall and old saguaro. (You know saguaros, the kind of gentlemanly cactus that shows up in western paintings and cartoons, its arms upraised.)

Arizona is famous for its saguaros, and here with little effort, I could look at one up close. I wasn't prepared for its weighty stillness, the majesty of its size and its shadows when I looked up from beneath. What a cool and solemn silhouette poised against a very hot, blue sky. It was like finding a cave or a mountain hiding in a little patch of parking lot. I stood beneath the saquaro for a long time in a state of wonder.

Friday, June 19, 2015

radiated mind

my radiated mind
dazzled by the light
leaps from disconnected
neuron to neuron
Quanah to tin
nickel emeralds and wine
Carl Rogers and Ringo
Oak Park, Lubbuck, and mines
i break into a sweat
and wander toward shore
hoping not for brilliance
but an anchor, nothing more.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

the weight of zero

the emptiness of a pause
between two notes -
tangible and poignant
as the sounds.

within four lines of a sketch
shimmers blankness.

see the strings -
now see the hollows
of a cat's cradle.

and architecture
of strings
and pauses -
mind expansion.

the weight of zero.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

elephant likes red

i set my pen to paper.
i'd draw a smooth dark branch
with pale leaves of spring green
in pleasant contrast.

but no -
the first line went in a different direction.
an elephant came to be.

i gave the elephant
a long paintbrush
and a bowl of red paint
like in a story i read long ago.
the elephant's trunk curled around the brush.
the elephant was painting in red.

after the elephant came to be
i drew the dark branch
with the pale leaves.

at the library
i grabbed a book
and there the elephant
showed up again
this time with an umbrella
clasped in her trunk
a red red umbrella
keeping out the rain
that's raining
right now.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Walking down a city alley a little over a year ago, I came upon a small field, a large patch, of sunflowers in full bloom, perhaps facing the sun through the course of the day. The weather was still quite dry last year, and food for wildlife was hard to come by. The sunflower blooms, with their great centers filled with dark seeds, were a gift for starlings that day. It's possible the seeds may have made a squirrel or possum happy too. Heck, I like sunflower seeds - toasted and sprinkled on salads! The sunflower blooms, with their rich yellow petals, were beautiful, swaying tall in the sunlight.

I have a little formula for human life that in part was birthed in the 1970s, during the era of the space race with the Soviet Union, when a Psychology Today magazine featured a test for readers where you prioritized what humans might need to survive on the moon. I no longer recall the details, but over time, I've tried to similarly itemize our priorities on earth. On the one hand, love seems to sum it up. With love for each other and for the world we share, all falls into place rather naturally. However, many find that a little vague or uncomfortable to focus on, so I have a more tangible list: Number 1 priority is air, without which we could not naturally live more than a few minutes. Number 2 is water, without which we could not survive more than a day or two. Number 3 is food, which is also necessary for survival. Some might survive a couple weeks, others a few months. Number 4 is shelter, and number 5 is reproduction. Without these, our species could not naturally procreate, survive into the future.

It was brought to my attention today, a missing priority that might should be tucked in there somewhere. The sun! Most species of flora and fauna on earth require sunlight to grow, to thrive, and perhaps to survive. We don't think of it much because we spend so much time indoors now. Without sunlight, though, food that manages to grow is missing vital nutrients. People and animals then suffer from ailments like rickets, which affects bone development. The milk of mammals is lacking, and babies fail to thrive.

I remember life in Pullman, Washington in the 1970s. Winters were typically very cold and clouded, well below freezing much of the time, dark for many months that far north, and many weeks buried in snow. Winters lasted well into spring some years. What comes to mind is that first day where the sun finally peeped out, and it warmed up to the 50s Fahrenheit. People unzipped their parkas as though it were 70 degrees. Students could be found on dormitory roofs, bathing in sunlight, taking in as much as they could drink. There was a kind of giddy joy with the return of the sun.

Sometimes it seems to me our priorities are confused. We prioritize money as first in life, or weapons before food, or rockets before air. We need expensive cars more than we prioritize raising our kids. We forget our relationship to the sun, and to the dark of night. Or maybe it's the love part we forget.

The sunflowers bowing in the sunlight brought all this to mind.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Jamaican Bobsledders

Somewhere in the 1990s, we went to see a movie called 'Cool Runnings'. It was about these young men who grew up in Jamaica, on the warm tropical island. Like most young men, they felt the itch to leave home a bit, to find adventure, to do something great. The details elude me, but, after watching some of the winter Olympics on a neighborhood television, these fellows on an island decide they will somehow learn a winter Olympic sport and qualify for the event in time for the next winter olympics four years away.  They are determined.

They consult with a guy who happens to have been an Olympic medal winner many years ago. After some 'no way' reaction, he decides to give the fellows some guidance in their efforts. They decide to learn bobsledding.

Their journey is creative, amazing, sometimes harsh and sometimes funny.  The clashes with the different cultures they came upon along the way. As with most journeys, all are changed by their experience. The movie, very well made, is based on a true story, and I won't give away the outcome except to say Jamaica was so very proud of their sons.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

blackberry shortcake

June and July in the south mark blackberry season. Our mother had a blackberry recipe that was easy - and brought all of us happiness.

Blackberry Shortcake

Bisquick Biscuit Mix
Ripe blackberries picked from a sun-warmed field earlier in the day
Half and Half, or Whipped Topping(optional)

Sprinkle sugar on a couple of cups of plump rinsed berries. Stir until they are coated, and let sit until juicy.

Prepare 'Drop Biscuits' according to the recipe on the Bisquick box using the mix and milk. (You may want to make the shortcakes a little larger than regular biscuits. Some people add a little sugar to the dough.) When removed from the oven, still hot, use a mitt to protect your hands and slice each biscuit in half. Tuck in between the halves a pat or two of butter to melt. Place a buttered biscuit in each bowl. Put a generous spoonful or two of berries between the halves, and on top of each biscuit. Pour some Half and Half in a cream pitcher, and serve with the shortcake.

Conversation vanishes while folks are dining on this simple dish of heaven.

This recipe is also very wonderful with ripe strawberries.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Do memories plague their ears like flies?
They shake their heads. Dusk brims the shadows.
Summer by summer all stole away,
The starting gates, the crowds and cries -
All but the unmolesting meadows,
Almanacked, their names live; they

Have slipped their names, and stand at ease,
Or gallop for what must be joy,
And not a fieldglass sees them home,
Or curious stop-watch prophesies:
Only the groom, and the groom's boy,
With bridles in the evening come.

- Philip Larkin, 'At Grass'

Thursday, June 11, 2015

folk music

Some twenty years ago, I remember reading in the Austin American Statesman of people who went from town to town in areas such as the Appalachians, meeting up with elders, asking them to sing them any tunes they remembered. The people responded as though they felt humbly honored. For a while, the old American music - folk, bluegrass, blues - was being noted. Some of it was archived - preserved via the Smithsonian Institute which respects and carefully preserves all sorts of relics of the American culture and history.

One of my favorite folk songs is the Bells of Rhymney, which is European in origin, a song about injustice to miners. Many folk songs have to do with socio-political issues such as war or racism or unfairness to workers with few rights and at the bottom end the pay scale. There are also folk songs that are about love, drinking, animal tales, local news of the times. There is quite a catalog of songs for children, and that children have liked to sing. Another favorite folk song of mine is a lullaby - All the Pretty Little Horses.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

the wars were nearly ended -
how thankful
to return
to the thunder of clouds
& rain
& not the thunder of weapons

how thankful to return
to the fields
for melons and corn
& not for battle

how thankful for the children
the running of the streams
the return of the gardens
the birds
the beasts
and the peaceful seas

Memorial Day Poem
L. C. Foss
posted 6-10-15

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

nurses' caps

Not so much now, but nurses used to wear curious caps, usually of starched cotton fabric, folded and sewn into varied shapes. I was told each nursing school had its own cap design and insignia. One could tell where a nurse received her schooling by the winged or crown-like or pleated object perched and pinned onto her hair.  (I say 'her' - I never saw a man wearing one of these caps although many men now are nurses.)

Monday, June 8, 2015


There was a period during the late 1970s, early 80s, when unicorns showed up. A unicorn song could be heard on the radio in the mornings when driving to work. There were plush toy unicorns and little plastic toy unicorns. Artists seem to enjoy them as subjects - surrounded by skies of rich dark lavenders and greens, misty mountains. Some unicorns had wings; some wore long colorful ribbons entwined in their manes. A moon was glowing in the background, making the air around the unicorn sparkle. Novels and fantasy books included unicorns in their stories. The cover of such a book might have a castle in the background, set on a lush hill. All that was missing in that idyllic world was the unicorn itself. Was there ever a unicorn?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

it's the odd things
that bring you to mind

cranky angel.
your voice comes through
in a children's book -
and 'Watch Out!!!'

when i need to carry a big stick
now and again
i pretend
and raise it tall
just like you do...
just in case.

you sing and ramble on
about this and that
(could u please help me
edit this poem? i ask.)
you say 'No!'
and live life
(a glass of imaginary wine perhaps?)

Friday, June 5, 2015

turtle's journey

I don't know where the turtle came from. A young woman rushed up carrying the turtle and placed it on someone's dry trim lawn near the sidewalk where I was walking. She ran back to her car which was humming on the far side of the street, traffic whizzing by. Looked like a rescue. The turtle was there not far from my feet, his head and limbs tucked into his shell.

From my view of things, there was the weight of the turtle, his shell not quite a foot in diameter. There was the fact the turtle might not find his way home that didn't involve crossing a street. I didn't know where the closest creek bed wild spot was. I'm a little afraid of big turtles.

From the turtle, there was this weighty patience and trust. He didn't budge until I'd walked maybe half a mile, and he started swinging his head out and scratching with his legs: 'You're going the wrong way.' By then, I was on the edge of a golf course. A low lying central Texas creek perhaps was nestled below. I sat the struggling turtle down on the dryish green, and he looked this way and that. His head was large, his neck powerful, like that of a snapping turtle, but he wore a splash of red, somewhat like the mark on a red strider's face.  His dusty green shell was neither flat nor helmet-like, but somewhere in between.  His eyes were very small and coated or scarred or perhaps membraned. He rotated one way, then the other, paused as though in thought, then set out toward where we had come, hastening back toward the hot afternoon streets. I lifted him up and hurried instead toward the creek, away from the streets, hoping he wouldn't scratch, hoping a golf ball wouldn't land on my head or his shell.

Part of the creek looked more like a ditch, but then I noted a flat, lovely bed of limestone, a thin ribbon of water running, the shade and protection offered by trees. A grackle, shiny and black, walked in and out of the shallow fan of water. I set the turtle down on the stone bed; when his legs reached out, he'd feel water without being submerged. Soon after I stepped aside, his webbed hands, feet and head came out of the shell again. Again he paused.  He hastened to the water, half swimming, half walking. The grackle seemed to be keeping an eye on him, drawing closer as though to watch his progress. They hobnobbed as he passed. The direction the creek was going curved toward the area we'd just left behind, running under the street, hopefully safely toward where the turtle was trying to return.

As the turtle left me and the noisy street and cars behind, heading down the shaded strand of wild creekbed, I felt a rush of release and relief and wonder as the unexpected sharing of paths with a turtle came to a close.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

solitary supper

for supper around 4:30 PM yesterday, i fixed a bowl of strawberries, canteloupe, and avocado. The avocado was slightly past ideal, mushy and slippery, and i ate it first. So then there were lovely strawberries and canteloupe. I got the ice cream from the freezer - peanut butter cup ice cream - and put it on top of the fruit and ate. Then I had some pimento cheese spread and crackers, and finished a diet cola. The life of a solitary nomad. 

I didn't choose this life, but it does have occasional perks. 

For some reason, a greater percentage of the adult and teen-aged population in the United States lives alone now than during past centuries. This is 2015, but I read this trend was evident in the last census. There are a lot of us hermit crabs around, in odd solitary confinement.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

I've been reading a book of essays and poetry called Transcend. It's a collaboration of the works of some residents and staff of a public housing apartment complex. The apartments have been set aside for those who need some care, those fragile from age, injury, illness, or circumstance. I have not finished the book yet but an image comes to mind: a shoe. There are at least a couple of writerly contributions about favorite shoes. The simplest, without emotion or much elaboration, is a very short poem about a pair of pink and red shoes.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The happiest tribe of deer I ever saw were in Central Texas around the year 2000, near the compost pile tossing their heads, eating chilled cantaloupe rinds on a hot summer afternoon.

Come November, they also ate with great gusto the remains of pumpkin jack-o-lanterns.

Monday, June 1, 2015

painting and light

Light in painting is created by using white paints, and/or colors paled with white paint. The paint can be applied near or on or beneath the apple or the child's face or the violin or the open book. An artist reproduces with intention sunlight, or moonlight, or candlelight, or electric light and such.

In the experience of painting I've noticed that occasionally, light picks its own home; light gathers somewhat cheerfully in blank spots of background.  There is contrast between the paint and paper that is predictable. And sometimes in the breaks of a brush stroke, or in the patch of emptiness between two painted areas, a powdery paleness will glimmer, and take on a spirited life.