Friday, April 23, 1993

LEARNING TO READ


FOR KEYNOTE ADDRESS—MONTE RIO READING COUNCIL  

When I was 30 I discovered I had dyslexia.
When I was a child, my mind was like the forest:
silent, impenetrable.
I remember Third Grade—
how I loved The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.
I was the lamp post in the forest
only I couldn’t  read.
The moment I learned to read was magical.
Whole kingdoms unlocked—
I learned about bats,
sonar, dolphins, the stars,
the animals of the Galapagos,
the glaciers of Canada,
the Russian steppes,
the Incas in the Andes,
the pyramids of Mexico,
They fed my imagination.
I later went to all those far-off places,
and because there was a story to tell
I discovered the power of words and  became a writer.
When I think back to that day I learned to read
little did I know I’d be standing here today
congratulating all of you readers—pioneers of the future.

4/93

I COME FROM THE LAND OF GREEN


I COME FROM THE LAND OF GREEN


I come from the land of green
they say my ancestors were the thoughts of trees
swaying and painting the sky
they say I come from four green fields
where the potato imploded in on itself
leaving thousands dead, while the English ate our food.
They say I come from a country of hedgerow schools
where children learned to write in their native tongues
scribbling in the dirt by the side of the road.
My tongue has the gift of gab
in a language not my own
I come from a land of tall stones
where Christians tried to banish the snake
only there were no snakes
we worshipped the secret heart of stones
because time was convoluted
not asleep on its side.
I come from the stones
that hold secrets only they know
Daughter of the rebel Corkonians
I know I come from a crazy family
my mother is really crazy, no kidding,
but that’s another story.
My father lost his heart
before he was born, my inheritance.
I know I would like to ask my great-grandfather
what he whispered into the ears of the wild red mare
to tame her. Why she bit my great-grandmother
so as to make my grandmother afraid of horses
I wish I could see them driving the cattle
between the summer bonfires
to make them fertile
our ancestral farm named after the golden strength of oaks,
Coomanore.

4/93



Thursday, April 22, 1993

PHRASES OF THE MOON


PHRASES OF THE MOON

I keep thinking about the side never seen by man,
not even Armstrong and Aldrin.
I am always keeping my face toward you
in synchronous rotation,
one side always in the arms of night,
no matter how I twist and turn toward the day
except for those times when the earth intervenes.
My dreams are the hard reality of stellar dust
I would like to be a dancer, slender as a thought
at the parties of the gods. Where is Apollo’s logic?
In the sky at night, dreams of colors unimagined
the side never seen by the sun
or passion in synchronous rotation.
No flags to blemish my face
waxing, waning, crescent & gibbous
no footprints left in lunar dust
my faith, or happiness.

23 Apr. 93
Napa State Hospital



PHRASES OF THE MOON

I keep thinking about the side 
of the moon never seen by man,
not even Armstrong and Aldrin.
I am always keeping my face 
toward you in synchronous rotation,
one side always in the arms of night,
no matter how I twist and turn 
toward the day
except for those times 
when the earth intervenes.
My dreams are the hard 
reality of stellar dust
I would like to be a dancer, 
slender as a thought
at the parties of the gods. 
Where is Apollo’s logic?
In the sky at night, 
dreams of colors unimagined
the side never seen by the sun
or passion in synchronous rotation.
No flags to blemish my face
waxing, waning, crescent & gibbous
no footprints left in lunar dust
my faith, or happiness.

23 Apr. 93
Napa State Hospital

Monday, April 19, 1993

Too Bright to See

Poet Linda Gregg grew up down the hill from me, on the next ridge over, Tamal Road, which was on top of a hill above my great-aunt Ellen Budjick's cottage in Forest Knolls.

We used to sneak through the Gregg’s Forest Farm Summer Camp on our donkeys because that was the only shortcut to get to Tamal Road from the Barbano's Summer Camp. We'd ride a wide loop back up into the hills where Forest Farm Camp winter-pastured their horses and then we'd traverse the final ridges homeward in darkness.

Forest Farms Camp is the same place where Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead died. But by that point, the summer camp had transformed into a rehab place with a different name: Serenity Knolls Chemical Dependency Center.

Jerry Garcia was personally responsible for record sales of Ben & Jerry's ice cream at the Forest Knolls store. But heroin didn't kill Jerry. Despite his daily walk down the hill to the store, his heart just gave out. I'm sure the ice cream didn't help the diabetes any either. The Godfather of acid rock was dead at 53.

Seems Forest Farms Camp was always a troubled place. Janis Joplin lived on Arroyo Road at Barbano's Summer Camp with Big Brother and the Holding Company—but that's another story to tell....

In the 40s and 50s and into the early 60s (before the economic crash happened), Forest Farm Summer Camp was a pretty radical co-ed summer camp for inner city kids who were pretty much like Martians to us.

We thought it was a weird, if interesting concept for kids to go to Forest Farm Summer Camp. So did the FBI. (In those days, most summer camps were not co-ed, nor were they such a strange admixture of kids from all walks of life—sort of a mini-United Nations).

Anyway, varying shades of McCarthyism colored a rosy hue over our little valley so the FBI was interested in several families.

We locals were definitely not welcome at Forest Farm Camp at any time which upped the ante during the summer months when we'd sneak through camp on our slow dreaming donkeys and have staredowns with the camp kids from New York—it was as if we were in a bad spaghetti western with a thin plot. They were big, bad and ugly.

But Brenda who leased her Icelandic pony, Helgar from the Greggs after summer camp was over, liked to sneak in a visit to see Helgar who hated the city slickers on his back. He was a one girl pony. Whenever he saw her, he'd buck off his rider and come over to wicker a hello.

We had a strange notion that we were invisible on our long-eared mounts, lost in the resulting meleé, because everybody else was on horseback too. The Gregg girls never finked on us or told us to leave. Only Old Man Gregg would chase us off like vermin.

I remember Old Man Gregg, the most dour man alive. He'd just as soon bite your head off rather than give you the time of day.

Ironic in that they'd taken refuge in Forest Knolls, far from the claws of McCarthyism, like many Valley folk. Then they too shunned everyone.

Mrs. Gregg was kinder, she was a local, who grew up in Petaluma, but the Anglo Saxon Presbyterians kept themselves separate from us Catholics. The Troubles of Northern Ireland were so deeply ingrained, the distance lent itself to generations. You were marked at the church door.

When Jack and Claire Felson took over Forest Farms Camp from 1966-1976, it became a kinder, gentler, more inclusive place that invited participation from Valley folks. But by that time I was long gone, chasing the wind over some distant horizon.

* * * *

The only other solid memory I have of Linda (or was it her sister, Louise?)—was at Lagunitas School. In sunlight, the Gregg girls were blinding with their golden beauty, they were privileged freckled goddesses—blonde ponytails jouncing—who had scant time for us little kids.

What I remember was when the baseball soared into the pure sky, it was too bright to see, and she stole home (the same outfield where I found a diamondback rattler—he'd moved in from the pasture searching for water).

Lagunitas was so small that most of the school had to participate in order to make up two softball teams. We little kids were often recruited as deep grass outfield ball flushers.

The star player, Billy Joe Bianchi, hit a home run. A resounding crack cut through our daydreaming. The baseball soared like a white bird against flawless blue. The sun blinded the players. She ran like the wind towards home. But it curved back on westward wings, or the wind blew it off course, and it was declared a foul ball and everybody had to retrace their steps. Everybody in the bleachers saying, that's Linda on third.

We were playing against Nicasio which didn't even have a full team and they were mostly the Farleys. It was a big deal to play softball after school. To see the game meant missing the bus, and it was a long walk home, more than two miles in the dark. Those who had cars never thought to give us a ride home. I never went to another baseball game again.

* * * *

Years later, Sharon Dubiago and I were sitting outside my cabin in Forestville, talking about William Stafford's deer poem and how the creation of a poem was just as important—if not more important—as the finished piece.

I’ve a vague recollection of Sharon receiving a phone call about William Stafford’s death, her blonde hair obscuring her face.…

We were sitting beneath the oak tree drinking coffee watching summer shadows practice their lengthening stretch towards the fall and I was telling her a story about going to school with the Gregg sisters, but I can’t remember who else was there, (maybe it was Michael Daley), or even who called Sharon. Just the angle of light...the repose of books and papers like tree bark or weathered shale.

Sharon and I were talking of how Linda & Jack Gilbert met, and the story of how she stole home to introduce Jack to her family one Christmas, but it didn't go well—with Jack being a Beat poet some 17 years her senior and how Old Man Gregg shamed Jack into climbing a tall Douglas fir to top it off to show that he was a real macho man and that's how Jack fell from grace. Limb by limb from broken limb.

And Jack's wings were clipped, he was a fallen warrior, I remember him years later, strapped into a chariot of wheeled chrome. They say that when all his bones healed, he fled into exile with his protégée, she was the golden light following behind. The horizons of the world beckoned—the Greek Isles, Santorini. Thalatta, thalatta, the sea, the sea.

* * * *

NB: I heard rumor that she never looked back, she never stole home again—not until after her father died. The rundown camp was sold and became a commune.

I met Linda years later, circa 1981, at the Napa Valley Poetry Conference. Too Bright to See had just come out from Greywolf Press. Forest Knolls was but a distant memory. When I said Forest Knolls, the air paled, she looked through me as if I wasn't there. Another life lived, lost in the ghostly distance of time.

© 1993 & 2007 Maureen Hurley



For more blog posts on Forest Farms Camp:

Helgar the Horrible

Summer Camp

RIP Jack Gilbert

Monday, April 12, 1993

Letter to David Fisher

Tonight, largest full moon of the century, a blue moon. High spring tides earthquakes predicted, California slipping off. You wrote, I am the crab's utensils raised in the sea. . .

I bought blueberries from Oregon & tiger prawns from Southeast Asia— their nacreous color more than skin-deep: stripes of blue and yellow with markings of gold.

I remember one full moon night in a stranger's house, my throat swelled, wind whistling from the north, Ioanna Veronika sitting up with me, talking of Poland, her father’s tattoos. Ausweicz. Waiting for the vigil of pills to work, my memory flickered across the cornea at the speed of light.

Maybe it was poison spray on the blueberries, or Agent Orange. My adrenaline needle locked safely in the Volkswagen (Delft blue like the clams lining the streets of Holland).

Your young child who drowned in the pond; did his short life brush past in such extravagant detail, the artists were jealous? Relative age has to do with selective memory; crib notes replace specific details only the young are capable of noticing—their senses not yet jaded.

Groggy on benedryl, I sat in the hospital bed typing—furious words burned across the page, the poem wasn't finished with me. But the platen stuck; thick carbon banded the bottom of the page, I was no more enlightened than before.

As I defrocked the tiger prawns, the Mekong Delta came to mind: a place I've never been. Once I was too young, & I thought the explosions in the coastal hills at night were bombs dropping in Vietnam, (not poachers).

This age of innocence, the spawning ground for poetry took decades to manifest through the transcendence of mute speech (call it philosophy).

Blame it on destiny, or dyslexia.

I was a painter: everything in terms of shape and color—poetry is a conscious act. I think of you running through the indigo streets of America, naked as a jaybird, screaming, Stop the war! Any war, it didn’t matter.

There are worse nightmares: military commanders who don’t dream.

Tiger prawns in the river deltas of Southeast Asia feed upon the dead; what generation passed before my lips, roseated dawn baptized in garlic and oil. The fire purified them into the acceptable pink reserved for shrimp. Crimson dawn flushed in the pan.

I was sorry to see that lovely blue disappear into the void, as if the speechless sky swallowed its own tongue. I wanted to paint those prawn tails so like wings of blue dragonflies weaving and stitching the basket lakes of the Sierras.

Today, I took your poems, Teachings, into my poetry classes. My students, the bruised survivors of the domestic battlefields: the suicidal girl who jumped in the river in front of her classmates; the one who passed out under the bridge; the boys who touched her; the others watching.

The structure of the poem was a raft to carry us across the River Styx. It tended us like the good doctor's chickens beside the red wheelbarrow.

You said, Write me a sonnet to the color blue; I cannot find my way to the borderlines of a sentence; these thin boundaries by which we live.

Asleep at the stern, the remains of honeyed oatcakes on his lips,
Charon was well paid for his time.



© Maureen Hurley 3/4 - 3/8/93 & 2/26/94




Saturday, April 10, 1993

Ascending the Muse of Mt. Tam 4/10/93

ARTISTS UNDER THE INFLUENCE

by Maureen Hurley

Basements are either the penultimate scrounger’s paradise—or the déjà vu epicenter of nightmares—things juxtaposed in every corner. In the lower depths of the Sonoma County Museum one rainy afternoon, the source of my muse (and, my beginning) was waiting for light.

We skirted the gold velvet casting couch guarded by an army of ghostly headless mannequins—one sprouting hairy vaquero’s chaps and another sporting my purple jacket; we waded through narrow labyrinths to reach the object of our desire: the preview of an upcoming art exhibit of Mt. Tamalpais. After viewing racks of paintings, I was struck by the sheer volume of art the legendary peak has inspired in artists and writers over the years.

Mount Tamalpais: An Artistic Interpretation , Sonoma County Museum’s second major Landmark exhibition, opens April 16 and runs through August 8. The mono-thematic exhibit primarily focuses upon the Hudson River style ofnature painting popular in the 1850’s. This premier show is the result of over a year’s worth of negotiation with public and private collectors across the US, and it’s a first for so many paintings of Mt. Tam, to be been displayed under one roof.

Almost every major California artist has painted the mountain. According to curator J. Eric Nelson, “this is an important exhibit of historically significant paintings and literary interpretations.” He views historical art as an integral part of history—necessary to interpret the past.

Marine painter William A. Coulter’s “Mount Tamalpais from the Mouth of the Petaluma River” and “The Genivieve,” a sailboat under full sail, accurately depict turn-of-the-century life of a bygone era on the water-roads, as does Charles Marple’s “Mount Tamalpais from the Napa Slough.”

Though the most recent canvas in the exhibition of oils, watercolors and pastels from 1850 to 1930, is over 60 years old, within this 80-odd year period, most of the major modern schools of painting evolved—from the French Barbizon School to the flat planes of fauvism and sculptural social realism so prevalent in WPA murals of the ’30s. Add Impressionism sandwiched between the American Lumenist- and the Hudson River schools for an aesthetically intriguing collection of paintings.

Several of the represented artists studied in Europe, and were influenced by the plein air outdoor painters of the Barbizon School (which evolved in reaction to studio-painted classical themes favored by the Academy). There are paintings in the style of Papa Corot, replete with cows, to keep the traditional realist happy down on the farm.

Based upon an awareness of structure, and solid forms, Hudson River style paintings depicted majestic nature themes as an expression of the sublime mystery; distilled movements of the elements—light and water—as a metaphor for the religious experience—studies of theosophy and light.

Mt. Tam grows taller, becomes more rugged. . . It’s said that landscape painters enter a sacred inner realm—a place no one else sees. But not all that meets the eye is pastoral. Ironically, while the painter was recording these timeless primordial visions, the exploitation and collapse of the natural world—mining, logging, siltation, overgrazing and the extinction of native species—was in full swing.

Theodore Wores turn-of-the-century painting, “Mount Tamalpais from Corte Madera Creek” is a pleasing blend of styles—reminiscent of the sculptural and flat planes of the Munich School—with impressionistic energy and sensibilities, as is S. C. Gile’s “Mount Tam from Belvedere Lagoon.” An early California painter, Gile was a member of the “Society of 6” along with Percy Gray.

As we unwrapped these paintings, I kept thinking of WPA projects—especially the Coit Tower frescoes. I am drawn to the solid pieces—Fauvism? perhaps best exemplified by Xavier Martinez’s canvas with its blue shard of sky poking the horizon. Sidney T. Daken (“Mount Tamalpais, Early Evening”) was a fresco painter in San Francisco. After the 1906 quake, he moved to Santa Rosa and opened an art school, and Edwin C. Siegfried (“Mount Tamalpais and Sausalito”) was a WPA artist.

Another important aspect of the exhibit is the emphasis on the rich literary tradition that arose a century-and-a-half ago, that continues to flourish. San Francisco’s Golden Age in the ’30s owes much to the influence of the Muse.

The exhibit includes a collection of early books and poetry as well as memorabilia from various hiking clubs. Avid hikers and readers, my grandparents were on intimate terms with the mountain and her lore.

V.S. Naipaul states “No city or landscape is truly rich unless it has been given the quality of myth by the writer, painter or association with great events.” Mt. Tam, The Sleeping Lady, the Indian Princess, a.k.a. The Magic Mountain, the North Bay and Marin County’s most visible landmark, is associated with great events (from the oldest west coast cross-country race from hell, the Dipsea Race, to myriad groundbreaking rock concerts—with debuts by the Doors, Steppenwolf, Maria Muldour), and has served as resident muse for countless artists of all disciplines.

Thomas Mann’s novel, The Magic Mountain, may have been responsible for Mount Tam’s tune-in, turn-on & drop-out nickname popular in the 1960s. The Spanish couldn’t agree upon a single name, and gave it several: La Sierra de Nuestra Padre de San Francisco (The Mountain Range of our Father, St. Francis); Pico y Cerro de Reyes (Peak and Hill of Kings); Picacho Prieto (Sharp Dark Peak).

British explorers monikered it the “Table Hill of Beechey,” the French christened it “Mont de La Table,” one homesick Mexican alcalde called it “Palma,” and the Italians dubbed it “Palermo Mountain.”

General Vallejo used the Miwok tribal name, and their name for the mountain: Temal-pa. In the days of yore, spelling was at best, a creative act; the Spanish corruption of Temal-pa resulted in a dozen different spellings and theories—i.e., the name came from the Mexican state of Tamalipas.

Searching for Indo-European linguistic roots, my grandmother transliterated it as the land of the Tamals (of India), grumbled, “Maybe they got Columbus all wrong.” Most likely the name Tamalpais is of Coast Miwok origin: tamal for bay/bay-country or west and pa-is for hill or mountain (depending upon which linguist you read).

Contrary to how she may look, Mt. Tam is not a volcano; the crown jewel rising from the world’s most beautiful bay is metamorphic. At 2,560 ft., Mt. Tam (the West Peak was 2,604 ft. until the military shaved it), Marin’s tallest, is one of three prominent Bay Area peaks (4,344 ft. Mt. St. Helena and 3,849 ft. Mt. Diablo are taller). She has been compared to Japan’s sacred volcano—bestowed with the honorific title of the Mt. Fuji of the West by the Japanese.

And she has real treasures: East Peak’s rare metamorphic dark quartz-tourmaline (normally found in igneous rock), is a geologic enigma not listed in field guides. We used to find other treasure—tiny opals and garnets at the pale green serpentine and blueschist outcroppings where ancient stands of pygmy Sargent cypress, with trunks the size of broomhandles, compressed time. And there are even rarer endemic plants. . .

Like Mt. Fuji, Mt. Tam has spurred generations toward great passion since the idea of speech was first whispered into the ear of the air. The Coast Miwoks of Southern Sonoma and Marin Counties called her the mythic turtle the island of the earth rests upon—Turtle Island—and when she moves, the earth trembles.

There’s another creation story of two struggling giants (Mts. Tam and Diablo)—their fighting divided the earth—the bay came to be, and their severed limbs formed the long coastal ridges.

The romantic stories of Temelpa, the beautiful Indian maiden for whom many a brave warrior had fallen, is Anglo—with roots in the tales of Brothers Grimm. Some say Temelpa was troubled by all the fighting, and died of sorrow, or, to stop the warring, sacrificed herself/or was martyred to save the village. Her lover carried her to the top of the mountain and died next to her. The gods took pity and turned her into a mountain; the foothill by her side (Mill Valley) is the Fallen Warrior.

Others say she is merely sleeping, waiting for the bridegroom sky to wake her with a kiss.

Seeking the source of the Muse, California’s first official Poet Laureate (1915), Ina Coolbrith was said to have written The Ivory Tower one summer atop Mt. Tam’s East peak. Also under the influence were Ambrose Bierce, Kathleen Norris, Juaquin Miller, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who said of Tam’s charms, “I never had a more glorious experience,” (elementary, my dear Watson!).

Donn Totheroh’s pageant of the Indian princess, Tamalpa, staged at the Mountain Theater in 1921, became the official Mountain play. (In 1966, we too were under the influence—stoned and listening to rock & roll music in the Greek-style Mountain Amphitheater. . .)

In the ’30s and ’40s, poet/journalist Kenneth Rexroth, and later, The Beats readily succumbed to the Muse and got immortalized in the process: the character Japhy Ryder (poet Gary Snyder) in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, said that Tam is as beautiful a mountain as anywhere in the world.

Poet/Zen master Philip Whalen wrote extensively of (and on) Mt. Tam as did Lew Welch (Huey Lewis’s step-father): Praise is Tamalpais/perfect in wisdom and beauty/she of the wheeling birds. And in Lew’s much-anthologized “The Song Mt. Tamalpais Sings,” he wrote:

Centuries and hordes of us,
from every quarter of the earth,
now piling up,
and each wave going back
to get some more.

This is the last place.
There is nowhere else left to go.

For we have walked the jeweled beaches
at the foot of the final cliffs
of all Man’s wanderings.

This is the last place.
There is nowhere else we need to go.

The mountain served as a place where all manner of rites of passage, from conception to death, took place. Rexroth wrote of his dead wife Andree: “These are the forest trails we walked together,/. . . your ashes scattered on this mountain/ moving seaward on this stream.”

I have a particular attachment to the mountain. My grandparents spent weekends courting, and hiking on the slopes of Mt. Tam. And, according to my mother, I was conceived on the mountain as well. I speculate: if my mother hadn’t been so deeply moved by the sunset at summer solstice, would I even exist?

In “Journey to Mt. Tamalpais” Sausalito poet and friend, Etel Adnan writes: “When you realize you are mortal, you also realize the tremendous sense of the future. You fall in love with a time you never perceive.”



The Western Sonoma County Paper April, 10, 1993

Thursday, April 1, 1993

KEYNOTE ADDRESS—MONTE RIO READING COUNCIL


KEYNOTE ADDRESS—MONTE RIO READING COUNCIL  

When I was 30 I discovered I had dyslexia.
When I was a child, my mind was like the forest :
silent, impenetrable.
I remember third grade—
how I loved The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.
I was the lamp post in the forest
only I couldn’t  read.
The moment I learned to read was magical.
Whole kingdoms unlocked—
I learned about bats,
sonar, dolphins, the stars,
the animals of the Galapagos,
the glaciers of Canada,
the Russian steppes,
the Incas in the Andes,
the pyramids of Mexico,
They fed my imagination.
I later went to all those far-off places,
and because there was a story to tell
I discovered the power of words and  became a writer.
When I think back to that day I learned to read
little did I know I’d be standing here today
congratulating all of you readers—pioneers of the future

4/93