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road journal



Essays, poems, and collected ruminations are being collated and compiled in a parallel journal at Dragoncave. I never know what I'm going to write about next, so if you desire to keep up with what I'm writing and thinking about, you really need to read both journals. Some overlap may occur without prior warning; sorry about that.


685. 2 October 2007, Beloit WI

I have been back here for several days, but it’s been a push to get anything done. I’m feeling overwhelmed again, while at the same time getting little things knocked off the list, one by one. I am battling some kind of lethargy or depression, and it’s hard to get any momentum, or interest in doing things.

Ahead of all storms

Gusts stir restlessly in trees, blowing leaves over lawns, silhouetted birds fly across a low cloud shaped like a fish skeleton, that gradually morphs into a starship, gun-metal grey on a light slate background, and swims or flies off east.

Minutes later, sudden calm. The sky, now blue-grey, changes color to an ominous peach-pink, glowing from inner light. And then the front arrives, and it’s a dash for shelter. Clouds hunker down, glower at the greening. Thunder comes too soon after the strobe.

skies bruised with torrents
push the flood hard uphill,
past sheltering wasps

The storm, in the mythology of bees, is the wet disrupter, long waster of flight time, obliterator of scent trails. To the birds, it’s falling sky shaking the perch, knocking heads and berries down. To groundhogs, who give up munching grass to scurry for burrows, it's the bland interrupter; it cannot reach into home, warm damp dark home, crossroads of earthworms. The deer speak nothing, as usual.

the first squall passes,
steadying down to grey sheets—
nearby, unseen songs

I was sorting through photos on the computer tonight, deleting ones I don’t need in the project folders for the next DVDs I intend to work on, the fall colors and winter scenes films. I went through a lot of photos with Dad and Mom in them, and I got choked up. The photos of our trip to Michigan last May, when he was feeling good; the photos of his last birthday, in the hospital; the photos from home, of his body, after he had passed over. I’m glad I took all those photos, but they’re hard to look at right now. Maybe someday I can look at them, but not now.

Now that Dad is gone, and some time has passed after all the things that had to be done; now that I’m living alone in this house; now that some household repair crises have been passed through—I have time now to let some of the feelings come back again. Not that I had been repressing them, but I had been too busy, and needed a clear head, or as much of one as I could manage, to deal with everything. So, some feelings got set aside for later, simply because I didn’t have time for them back then; and later is now.

I am feeling a lot of emotions around Mom, now that Dad is gone. I had not had the capacity to deal with both of them; and since Mom was being well cared for in the Alzheimer’s home, I didn’t worry about her, or even think about her that much; I was completely focused on taking care of Dad, and I’ll be honest: I only had the strength to deal with one parent’s set of problems at a time. Now, though, I am feeling grief from Mom, too. Her body is still here, but my mother is gone: her personality, the person she was, is fading away, is already mostly gone. So, really, I’m grieving at this time for both of my parents, not just one of them. Between that and coping with managing a big, empty house, and clearing it out and sorting through all my parents’ belongings, and also trying to do my own work, it’s become a heavy burden. I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time; and I have to back off and only deal with a few things a day. I’m also dealing with grief, anger, and depression, on top of everything else. This is probably normal; but it’s a lot to deal with. Some days I don’t feel like I do very well, or get very far.

684. 25 September 2007, Beloit, WI

In the morning, as I break camp, it seems like a dozen people walk by, exercising their dogs on leashes. People who live in RVs and travel a lot take their pets with them, I guess.

The tent is still wet from the rain last evening, even though it was clear the rest of the night. I take my time breaking camp, contemplating what route to take home. It’s going to be a long drive today, no matter which way I go. I dry out the tent and the tarps in the morning sunlight, and wander over to the beachline to take some photos. There are some maple trees that are radiant in their red and gold splendor. Eventually I fold the tent into the back of the truck, spreading it out to let it finish drying. I go use the bathroom, then pack up and go. I am reluctant to leave; I had a good night here, and I like it here I the morning, too.

I decide to avoid the major highways, for now, and the big cities in northeastern Wisconsin. I decide to cut west into the back roads from Menominee. I fill up with gas then drive over to the region where I started this trip almost a week ago, Langlade County.

I drove through Nicolet National Forest, stopping in a county park in a little town in the midst of the forest, and took lots of good photos in the wilder parts of the egion. The sky is clear blue, and the fall leaves are bright against it.

I pass through Antigo, heading towards Wausau, and the last long drive home. But then I see a road sign for Dells of the Eau Claire State Natural Area, and pull in. I end up spending a lot of time there in the afternoon, as the trees are glorious, and the Eau Claire River trips over huge boulders in little rivulets, creating a beautiful pocket-park in the middle of the fields.

I wander back into the pine area, which looks and feels just like Devil’s Lake State Park, or Interstate Park: the same kind of land features, the same plants and terrain, the same lighting, the same quiet under the woods.

On the way back to the parking area, I pick up several bright red maple leaves from where they’ve fallen on the path. I take them home, intending to put them on the scanner and make art with them.

This has been a very satisfying day. I’m glad to be back home. Even though I spent a lot more time taking photos up in northern Wisconsin than I had planned, it was well worth it. I got some great images, and the Dells of the Eau Claire park was a truly genuine, wonderful find. As beautiful in its own miniature way as any of my favorite parks in Wisconsin and Michigan.

683. 24 September 2007, J. W. Wells State Park, near Cedar River, MI

A cold, windy, somewhat rainy day. The early morning bleak and grey and chill and damp. I get a fairly early start, driving up to Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

At the park, the leaves just beginning to turn, not yet at peak. The park mostly empty, especially compared to when I was here in July. I shoot video as well as stills, of the water plummeting over the Upper Falls, tea-colored at the lip of the falls, foaming like root beer below. Both effects of the tannin in the water, from decaying vegetable matter upstream in the flowage. This water is often pure enough to drink, because the high tannic acid levels sterilize it.

I realize today that I am sick of people. I need solitude, solitary time. I got very overstimulated at the Ren Fest, and it’s continued since then, with the people I’ve been meeting these past few days. I was trying to do too much. I’ve been more tired than I realized, and pushing myself too hard. I could conceivably drive all the way home to Beloit today, but I don’t want to push myself that hard; I think I will try to find a place to camp tonight.

I decide to drive along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, on Hwy. 2. There are several places here to stop and take photos. I stop to get gas at Manistique, and discover a lakeside park with a beautiful overlook of the dramatic clouds over the water. Gulls and crows loft in the high, cold winds. There is rain across the water, and a veil of mist surrounds the lighthouse tower at the end of the harbor pier.

I was told there were no places to stop and camp between Escanaba and Menominee, but that was wrong: there are several parks and commercial campgrounds all along here. I drive along, feeling ready to stop, and look at a couple of county and state parks. I have food in the cooler, but it’s been a long wet day and I don’t want to build a cookfire. I don’t want to have to work had camping tonight, I just want to rest quietly. I’m tired of hiking, and driving, and I’m mostly tired of people.

I discover a wonderful state park, J.W. Wells State Park, right along Hwy. 35. There are over a hundred campsites here, but the park is mostly empty, this late in the season. There are about a dozen RVs parked in the lot, mostly evenly spaced. I pick a large campsite right over the water. I set up the tent, then walk over to take a shower. It begins to rain as I am in the shower, taking a long hot soak to soothe my back and nerves. When I come out, the ground is wet, and so is the tent. I throw another tarp over it. Then I climb into the back of the truck, and sit under the canopy, having a delightful picnic of sausage, cheese, bread, and sparkling apple juice. A cold meal and a small one, but I enjoy it to the fullest. I feel celebratory, clean, and happy to be alive.

I have decided to take tonight off. No more traveling. No more writing. Nothing. I bought a book or two in Minneapolis before driving up to Duluth, and I get it out and read for hours tonight. I go sit in the shower rooms, which have locking doors; then I move over to the bathroom, and read more. I read for hours, before crawling in the tent and going to bed. I feel warm and content as I pull the blankets over me.

In the night, it is warm in my blankets. The moonlight striking the tent wakes me. The moon is almost full, and stands high between the pines surrounding my campsite. I can hear the waves lapping at the shore nearby, and the calls of migrating geese.

682. 23 September 2007, near Brevort, MI

The morning spent at Presque Isle and Porcupine Mountain State Parks. Then a long, hard drive across state to stay here for the night. It’s a house on the shore of Lake Michigan, and the rain has come, cooling the air, and chilling me all night long, as I sleep in blankets on the floor.

The day dawned hot and sunny. It was even hotter today than yesterday, in the 90s and windy in the afternoon. Truly, no one up here knows how to handle this heat; they’re more used to the cold. In the hotel, at breakfast, I chatted with a Canadian couple taking a long road trip; they are driving around Superior, then will head down into the States, and out West, to eventually loop through Arizona before driving up to Vancouver, and back to Manitoba, where they live. A pleasant morning chat, discussing various places we’ve visited, or would like to visit.

The drive up to Presque Isle (up Hwy. 518 from Wakefield), where there are a string of waterfalls I want to see, takes a long time, because I keep stopping on this tree-shaded two-lane road to take photos. Marvelous stands of trees, already turning bright colors. One or two times I stop, get out of the truck, then stand listening to the silence of these empty places. This time of year, this time of day, not much wildlife, not even many insects.

When I get to Presque Isle, I drive into the park, then hike down to the falls, It’s very hot this morning, and even though it’s late September, plenty of people are wearing minimal clothing as they hike these trails. I get to the falls, and the island. The water level is very low, as there has been a drought up here this year, but the gorge is pine-laced and beautiful nonetheless. I cross the wooden suspension bridge, which bounces up and down with each step, and go into the cathedral pines on the island itself. I am drawn to the shores of Lake Superior, itself, and take my shirt off to make land art sculptures, and gather rocks. I find one dreamstone here, and one rock with an unfinished hole in it. The black flies are very bad near the water, and constantly biting; the wind keeps them off, but I must keep moving to avoid the worst of them. While I am beachcombing, another man comes out to the shore, takes his shirt off and walks up the beach to the promontory to the east. I start to go back to the falls, but then I realize I’ve dropped my shirt back there, and have to backtrack to pick it up. I am covered with sweat, but the sunlight feels good on my naked skin.

I walk along the trails that follow the river, up to the lower two sets of falls. It’s quiet and peaceful in the shaded woods right by the river. The water is very low; you can see the usually channel is much higher than the water level today. These trails are on wooden boardwalks, raised above the forest floor. There are a hundred or so steps up and down from the parking area to the river level. I take my time, because it’s so hot. B the time I get back to the truck, I am thirsty and hungry, and take time for a quick meal, and a lot of cold water. It’s later in the day than I had planned, but it’s been worth it. This is a beautiful, magical place.

Then I drive over to Lake of the Clouds, high in the Porcupine Mountains. I drive through the park, stopping for a few photos, then when I reach the high lake, which is suspended in a high mountain valley, between ridges parallel to the Lake Superior shoreline, the trees are all golden, and the wind is high on the cliff-top overview. The forest below is speckled many colors, a quilt of green, red, orange, yellow, and brown. The lake surface far bellow is choppy with waves, and the winds up here are fierce, but I linger a long time, enjoying the view. The peak of Copper Mountain is visible to the far west, through the haze. The clouds constantly change the lighting on the land, spotlights here and there opening up then closing as the clouds gap and congeal.

After that, I drive a long time across the UP to get here, for the night. I’m tired, and not very sociable, and as I bed down, I am swept with a sudden wave of emotion. I really miss my Dad, and wish he had been with me to see all this. It’s a restless night.

I get here after dark, but just at sunset, I find a little rest stop along Hwy. 2, about twenty miles west of here. There’s a walkway that goes down to the water, which is just behind a stand of trees. The stars are out for a moment, and the wind is high and strong. I’m all alone for a moment, so I take all my clothes off—I’m sweaty from all the hiking in the hot air today—and bathe in the fresh wind off Lake Michigan. It is a moment of pure peace, a personal silent ritual of thanks for a good day.

681. 22 September 2007, Ironwood, MI

Minneapolis to Duluth. Toying with the idea of going up the North Shore, before turning towards Michigan. But the trees along Superior have barely begun to turn. So I drive east on Highway 2, going to the Upper Peninsula. I linger around Duluth a bit, and take a few photos. I make a wrong turn, and head down into the inland areas, then back onto Hwy. 2, heading east. I get to Ironwood around sunset. It’s a long slow evening. The air is still warm. I’m not too hungry, but I get a hotel room, and make a meal of meat and cheese and bread, and sparkling apple juice. When I register at the hotel, a man and his two suns are in the pool area, their bodies freshly wet from swimming in the pool; they play pool, and arcade games. One of the boys comes out for change to the hotel desk, and squirms impatiently while waiting for the desk clerk to get off the phone and give him change. Today was mostly driving, and not a lot of photography.

680. 21 September 2007, Minneapolis, MN

I bought another dehumidifier for the basement, and I left that and the air conditioning running in the house while I’m away. It’s already better than it was. Also, some other repairs have been accomplished, or at least started on. It’s not that any of this is impossible to do, it’s that it gets so overwhelming at times, when it’s just me alone there, having to do it all. Things get overlooked. It brings out my latent perfectionism, which isn’t a good thing, because I beat myself up for not doing better, when the truth is, I’m doing the best I can, and I’m objectively doing better than many others can do.

I keep discovering new layers of the grieving process, and some of it looks like overwhelm, and some of it looks like depression. I’m told this will take a long time, and that brings out my impatience, which is a vice I am aware of but can’t always resist.

I slept well last night. It’s very dark and quiet at the cabin, at night, and very private. The thunder and rain woke me once, and I got went outside to pee, and the air was still warm and comfortable on my bare skin. Today when I awoke it was already hot and sticky, the humidity very high. The storm system on the way makes the air thick. There was also a lot of wind. I drove around taking more photos of the area, and up to Elcho and Summit Lake. I saw a lot of beautiful land. I have to say, the way the land in more inhabited parts is cleared out looks wrong after even a day or two in these thick woods, which are preserved and protected. The woods look right and true; the cleared land looks like a scar.

I eventually got on Hwy. 29 at Wausau, and headed west. There were strong headwinds the whole way. I went through several patches of heavy but not long-lasting rain before Chippewa Falls, then the sky cleared, although the winds stayed strong. These heavy winds knock your gas mileage down, because you’re always straining upwind against them. I arrived in Minneapolis around sunset, which was golden in a clear sky, then we had Indian curry for dinner. I am going to be here for a night or two, then continue on up to Duluth, and over into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

679. 20 September 2007, Indian Lake, Langlade County, WI

I drove up to this remote cabin in the northwoods owned by Beloit friends today, in hot and cloudy weather. There’s a storm coming, the weather map says. The cabin is on a strip of land between Snag Lake and Indian Lake. It’s very quiet and private here; there are neighbors, but you don’t really see or hear them much.

The leaves in this part of the state are already starting to turn. Many flaming red and yellow trees, vivid in the cloudy bright light. I stopped along two-lane highway County J several times to take photos of trees and walls of color. There’s a website that tracks the fall color changes, using spotters who report in; I’ve been checking it regularly while planning this photo trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I plan on driving for a few days, taking lots of photos of the fall colors coming into the leaves. The solitude and time away from the house will be a balm.

I may not write about this trip as much as I usually write about my road trips, because I’m finding myself in a non-verbal place, and becoming more of an open eye for seeing the world, and not feeling the need to talk about what I see.

Here, just above the cabin’s porch, there are several maple trees that have four colors on them: green, yellow, pink, red. The colors gradually move inward from the ends of the branches. Sometimes you get one scarlet branch against a green background. This is early in the color sequence; peak times are when the whole forest has changed colors. But I like this time as much or more, because of the range of variegated colors, and the bright splash of a single branch starkly bright against a dark background. It’s vivid and lovely.

I drove four hours today, and will drive four hours to get to the Twin Cities tomorrow, again stopping to take photos. Then on Saturday I plan to go to the Renaissance Festival with friends. On Sunday, then I will drive up to the Duluth area, and head over towards Ironwood, taking photos as I go. Eventually I want to get to Tahquamenon Falls again, before driving back home to Wisconsin.

678. 15 September 2007, Chicago, IL

We got another piece done yesterday afternoon, then polished up, finished, and mastered both new pieces last night after dinner. I feel like this was a productive trip. It was also fun for me in that I did a lot of synth playing, and tracked things via keyboard into the mix. It’s a kind of playing I seem to be good at, maybe from all those piano lessons in my youth, but that I haven’t done very often, for years. I have been feeling derailed by circumstances (caregiving, post-funeral details, house drama) away from the things I most love to do, and which I don’t get enough time to spend doing—namely, making music on all kinds of instruments; making art; etc.—and the past couple of days here, devoted more or less exclusively to creativity, have been a tonic. I’m lingering here in the sunlit morning again, reluctant to start the day and go back to Wisconsin; maybe I’ll stop along the way, again, and do a little sightseeing or shopping. No reason to hurry back, after all; not like when Dad was needing me to get back right away, on previous trips, before dinner or whatever. No agenda today but to spend some time with myself, thinking about things, listening to music, writing, resting, enjoying the post-studio creative glow. Let it linger. Don’t be so hasty to rush back into things.

lessons in austerity
from beetles making desert tracks—
red Navajo rug

677. 14 September 2007, Chicago, IL

I drove down here to the studio yesterday afternoon, an almost effortless drive with virtually no traffic snarls, under a sunny and warming sky. I’m in the studio for two nights, to take a break from household repairs that have cost me a week and more of time away from my creative projects, and endless frustration. Last night, we laid tracks down for a new piece, and pretty much finished it. It needs a little editing, to open up some holes and let some air in; right now, it’s almost done, but still a little dense. Today, we go back in to edit some piano improvisations I recorded here just over a year ago, and turn them into finished pieces, as well.

I’m sitting in the morning sunlight, which is a balm on my skin and tired and achy bones. The wind makes the tree shadows dance across the floor and window slats. I’ll get up in a few minutes to take a photo or two. The fish in the aquarium tank hover against the current, watching the world outside their transparent walls. Somewhere in there is a metaphor for life: do you spend all your time watching the other fish inside the tank, or do you look outside at the larger world? It strikes me, lately, that far too many people just watch their fellow fish; the rhetorical vitriol spewed everywhere in political writing and literary criticism is one symptom of that mutual narcissism. It’s wise to limit what one exposes oneself to, some mornings, lest one allow the dyspepsia of others to dominate one’s own day.

Today I’d rather focus on being creative, on making music and art, than on toxic vitriol and recycled, pointless hatreds.

676. 10 September 2007, Beloit, WI

Within a couple of days after the garage sale, a mold problem has developed in the basement, in the studio/library, effectively preventing me from getting any work done and also making the last week of trying to deal with everything a living hell. This is a big house, and a big yard, and it’s more than I can deal with, by myself; I reached out for help, and nothing came back, at least in a timely manner. Every delay means this house becomes harder for me to live in. I’m here on my own, now, and it’s too much responsibility given to me, with not enough authority to actually do anything. That’s a recipe guaranteed to make me crazy. It’s been a bad week.

This morning, since dawn, after a week or relative heat and warmth, it’s cold and rainy again. It’s rained almost an inch since early morning, and the house is cold. I’ve been making phone calls to get a mold specialist and a chimney sweep in here, with mixed responses. It’s been so damp, with all the heavy rains and flooding, that a mold problem developing in the house is just the last straw; maybe inevitable, but really taxing.

I’ve just been really frustrated. This task of taking care of a big house and big yard is just overwhelming. It’s a huge job, on top of which I’m supposed to somehow keep sorting through things here, doing more organizing, and also get back to my own life. Well, when you have a mold problem, all that goes out the window. There’s nothing left, when just basic survival and physical health is the issue you’re facing on a daily basis. I’ve been coughing a lot, and feeling really not well; and that’s a clue right there.

Needless to say, I’m just tired of all of this crap. I was already feeling burned out before Dad died, and everything since then has only made things worse. I’m more tired and mentally fried than ever.

I just turned the heater on in the house, even if it spreads the mold. I’ve been airing it out, and the temperature in here now is quite chilly and damp.

Update, a few days later:

A house inspector came, and the mold problem is caused by the massive rains and flooding in our region, so the air is really humid, couple with the fact that moving boxes around in the basement knocks spores and dust into the air. I’ve bought a new dehumidifier and am running it constantly, and the situation is already improved.

The other repairs and maintenance to the house are also happening, if not all on the same timetables. Eventually, it will all get worked out. But I had to raise a ruckus to get everyone’s attention, which I regret, but not too much. The truth is that I do need lots of help to take care of what I’m supposed to do here, and it remains overwhelming a lot of the time. I will not apologize for being the squeaky wheel that needed to get greased; I might eventually apologize for creating drama, even unnecessary drama, but I really needed to get everyone’s attention. I was feeling very alone and abandoned. I could maybe have asked for help better; on the other hand, what happened is what happened, and I’m not going to dwell on it forever.

675. 4 September 2007, Beloit, WI

My dreams last night were violent as well as vivid, and I woke up shaken. I still feel unsettled. I’ve been having some insomnia, because I’m a little afraid to go to sleep with these dreams continuing to be this powerful; so I stay up until I can’t anymore. Thus, I’ve been going to bed later, and getting up later. The worst dreams are before dawn; after that, I sleep peacefully.

I’ve had a couple of days off, now, since the garage sale, to do nothing. I was physically wiped out by all of that hard work. I had thought about driving up to Devil’s Lake yesterday, but I realized I was too sore and tired for a long hike. Instead I went up to Janesville, and walked around the Rotary Gardens, then did a little shopping. I found another lava lamp at Goodwill, but it doesn’t seem to be working properly. I also picked up another music documentary, from a series I’ve enjoyed watching about the making of classic rock and pop albums, this one about U2’s The Joshua Tree.

A haiku I wrote yesterday, after spending time in the Rotary Gardens; hundreds of white butterflies were everywhere, but they were in constant motion so hard to photograph.

summer snow covers
the formal garden flowers:
white butterfly swarm

674. 2 September 2007, Beloit, WI

This is the third day in a row that I’ve been up with the sunrise, or shortly after. The first two were because of the garage sale, needing to get it going in the morning; and morning was when most of the sales happened. But my sleep schedule is really off, now, and I was so tired last night, after coming home after eating out, that I napped for two hours, then was up till my usual bedtime, and now I’ve woken with the sun. The day is another clear-sky day, just like the last three or four; you couldn’t ask for better garage sale weather.

The garage sale went very well. I got rid of a lot of stuff, and earned a little spending money in the process; more actually than I expected. I enjoyed myself, too. I enjoyed chatting with people, and the occasional bargain. At the end of two days of being “on” all the time, though, I was ready last night for some silence and solitude.

Today I need to do some after-sale organizing and clean-up, but I really am feeling like taking a day off, after being so focused on it for the last week and more. I could use a nature break. I’ve been thinking about going up to Devil’s Lake, and even camping for a night. It’s Labor Day weekend, though, so I might go camping tomorrow night, as I’m sure the park is full all weekend.


I was able to get back to sleep, and slept deeply for several more hours. The day has gone slowly, and I got moving slowly, being so tired from working so hard. I cleaned up what was left of the sale items in the garage, put a lot of them in bags, and took them to Goodwill. Now that’s all gone from here, and it feels lighter here. Then I watched a movie and made a light dinner. I ate out three times yesterday, and I ate well, so I didn’t have much appetite today. I needed a mostly quiet, restful day.

I’ve been doing some light creative work: some writing, a little audio file editing for the podcast. Nothing major, and nothing too involving. Just bits and pieces. I just feel like doing something.

There was a major fireworks show over at the baseball stadium a mile and a half away: no doubt because of this being Labor Day weekend, and a minor-league baseball game. The booms echoed for a long time, off the trees, and hills, and surrounding lands. I could see sparks behind the wall of trees to the west of the house: just sparks of fireworks, and the glare of blasts lightening the sky above the trees. The Big Dipper was half-hidden by the upper branches.

673. 28 August 2007, Beloit, WI

The rain ended yesterday at noon, and it’s been sunny and hot ever since. I turned the house AC on this afternoon, to get rid of humidity. The high today is in the 90s. The flood plain across the river has been un-drowned for a couple of days now, but today is the first day the river seems normal; it’s still brown and moving fast, but it’s within its banks now. I laid out on the deck for awhile this morning, naked, and baked myself in the heat; I’ve been coughing again lately, as though that lung congestion never really went away, but came back in the humidity and rain. It felt good to soak in the heat and light, and I do feel better physically today than I have in several days.

672. 27 August 2007, Beloit, WI

I feel better today, and I slept deep and long, so I feel more rested than I have lately. I think writing that all out late last night was good for me. I took a couple of paragraphs out of it an re-edited into a prose-poem. My favorite “form” to write in lately. Some sort of catharsis came from writing it out, after letting it stew inside me for two days.

This morning it’s very cold for summer, and raining hard. All night and all day hickory nuts and acorns are bouncing on the roof, and rolling off, falling from the trees overhead. It’s been like living under a constant, sporadic hailstorm. You keep jumping a little, even when you know what it is. There’s just enough of a gap between hits to surprise you over and over again. A storm blew through this morning, and it’s rained a little, but not like last week. I’m feeling restless and cooped up. Maybe I’ll go up to the Japanese garden again, and do some photography after the rain; with the stones all wet and darkened by rain, it will look beautiful, I’m sure.

There was big flooding in the studio in Chicago; the basement storage area was under 5 inches of water for 24 hours. Data, instruments, computers, all wet. The website server’s been down for days, too. A lot there to retrieve, but Andy also says it’ll look great when it’s cleaned out and re-organized; he’s always able to be positive.

671. 26 August 2007, Beloit, WI

I feel bruised: emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, existentially. I am going through a crisis of meaninglessness and pointlessness. I mean, why bother. I am going through the dark night again, and I can’t get out, and I’m alone in it, as always. This is also habitual negative self-talk, I know. I am guilty of the sin of pride and arrogance, too. As well as the vice of impatience: I don’t want to go through this again, because I’ve already done so. I want it to be over already, having already passed through it. I don’t want to go through it again, because I have no patience for repeating lessons that I imagine I’ve already learned.

Friday I tried to drive to Ann Arbor for my 30th high school reunion. I never made it, though. I got as far as Chicago, by driving down Hwy. 39 to Hwy. 80, to bypass the usual Chicago traffic. but once I got to Chicago, the traffic came to a total standstill. It took an hour to go 10 miles. Then I saw a sign saying there was construction ahead for the next 15 miles, which would take another three hours of standstill highway driving. So I got off as 394 and began an odyssey of driving around the rural areas south of Chicago, backtracking, and trying to get to Indiana. Me and all the trucks and other cars. Have you never been in a rush-hour traffic jam in the rural middle of nowhere? That’s what it was like. At one point I had backtracked to go further south to try again, and I got stuck at an intersection where two different cops from two different jurisdictions were directing traffic; they let every other direction go several times before they let us go through, a display of arbitrary pig power that earned them many honked horns and curses from many different drivers. They were arrogant in their power, no question of it. Eventually, somewhere in a small town, I gave up and started the drive home here to Beloit, giving up everything I had planned for the weekend in Michigan. I guess I wasn’t meant to go there; certainly I was blocked at every turn, for hours and hours of excruciating driving. I found out later, too, that many tornadoes and storms had continued in Michigan, right where I was thinking of camping, just outside Ann Arbor. Camping would have been a disaster. Well, the reunion is no loss; it was mostly an excuse to go back to Ann Arbor, tool around town, do some walking and shopping; I regret missing that more than anything else about the trip.

I spent all day driving, a total of ten hours, and used up a full tank of gas, and I got absolutely nowhere. I was really upset. I cursed the Powers That Be, and God, and I meant it. I was so sick of it all; all these things I try to do, and it felt again that at every turn whenever I just tried to do something to relax and take the stress off myself, that I was denied. I was so furious, so venting on the phone to P., so into the victim and blaming and shaming and self-talk and anger. We spent two hours on the phone. By the end of it, I had come to realize that I have lost a lot of emotional ground in the past two or three years—which I already knew, really. I have lost a lot of ground, and now I need to work to gain it back. It will be hard work, difficult work, and I do not look forward to it. I feel bruised in my soul, ever since I got back, even now, two nights later. I have done almost nothing this weekend. I’ve watched a lot of TV, and felt sorry for myself, and eaten a little bit of food, none of which really pleased me. I’ve also lain out naked in the sunlight on the deck, to feel the sun’s heat soak into my deepest tissues and begin to heal me.

I did go to Rotary Gardens in Janesville yesterday for some quiet meditation time in the Japanese Garden; pleasingly enough, I had the garden all to myself for long stretches of time. It was sunny and warm in the late afternoon. I sat silently three or four times. I listened to the cicadas and the water flowing over the falls, and I took photos with the new camera (itself having survived a disaster earlier this week that meant I had to drive to Madison to get it repaired; it has been a not very good week). Some of the images I captured yesterday I feel might be the best I’ve ever done in such settings. I also made some ambient recordings. As I was leaving, I got into photographing a whole row of red flower plantings; I was remembering that red was Dad’s favorite color, and thinking of how to make a DVD movie that was a color-wheel in his memory, featuring all things red. I just might do that, later.

At the end of that dark day, near sunset, I pulled into a rest stop to stretch my legs. There was a group of monks and nuns in pale gray robes; an order I don’t know. And flying in ecstatic circles all around, on the lawn, on the concrete, a thousand gigantic dragonflies, each one at least four inches long and a half inch in diameter, feeding or mating, or being the manifestation of beauty at the end of a very dark day. When I first pulled in, the monks were all speaking French; and I felt the old language take life in me, as I contemplated chatting with them. When I came out of the bathroom, though, they were all speaking English. The dragonflies were still dancing around. I went and stood in their midst, and felt encircled and surrounded by flying bolts of light. I felt like there was a summoning going on. The monks and nuns, it was easy to believe, were not human, but symbolic, some sort of message or sign. They ignored me even as I stood with my hands out to touch the flying insects, feeling the power throbbing my palms, feeling the threshold between worlds to be very near, maybe just in the shadow of that dark tree near the edge of the woods. The sense of dark danger from a tent caterpillar nest in a tree overhanging the sidewalk. The monks and nuns got into two cars and drove away, leaving me with the wheeling dragonflies. It felt like a meeting of overlapping worlds; a brief encounter of strangers at the crossroads.

One of that day’s lessons was that I need to get rid of this negative self-talk; even if my higher self knows what I mean, I have been using harsh words, which is all basic self can hear. Another lesson was that I need to find the humor, even in these sorts of situations; and I found I could laugh about the irony of driving all day to go absolutely nowhere. A good 375 miles of it. I have been being very hard on myself, and taking my pain way too seriously. It’s okay to find the irony, and laugh about it: that’s not dark humor, not abyssal black humor, but a genuine response to the existential crisis. A sacred thing, it is, not an evil one.

I’m in a fey mood tonight, now that’s it late and I’m getting tired. My laptop has been acting badly since I got home, causing yet more angst and anger and fear; I rely on it so much, and I can’t afford to replace it. I’m still feeling bruised; but I’m also feeling determined to get past this, this new dark night, even if it’s the same dark night, nothing new or different.

I came to an insight yesterday, too, about the nature of God: the whole theology of the Trinity is wrong. It’s actually a four-in-one, not a three-in-one; and four is a much more sacred number. It’s Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and Godhead, which can also be called Mystery: that deep silent Unknowing behind the imago dei; that still small voice that one can never put into image or word; that ineffable, always unknowable, Mystery. The day’s lessons were also about not knowing, not having answers, not having reasons for my suffering; but having to be in harmony with Mystery, with the Unknown. With the Void, and Abyss. I knew all this once, too, and lost it. Now I must re-learn it. It’s like starting over, all over again. Like all the maps are useless again, and the territory is again uncharted. Like every structure I’ve accrued in the past few years has been stripped away again, because it needed to be in order for the voice of Mystery to re-enter my life, and rebuild it, yet once again. I am so tired. Too tired to resist this process, to fight against it too hard. I feel like I’m dying all over again, and just want the powers that be to take me now, and get it over with. Of course, they never do exactly what you want them to. I am ready and willing to die, once again, to the old life, and make room for whatever new that is supposed to come in, now, into the void that I am. That emptiness that is what used to be myself and my shadow; that hole in the air that used to be shaped like a body.

And then I need to start over again, all over again, again, and rebuild. Until the next time it is all torn down again. So mote it be.

670. 24 August 2007, Beloit, WI

The new music theatre must contain video, and better yet, multi-window video. Not multi-stream with multiple screens, as in the origin of video art pieces in the 1970s, but movable frames within the main screen: insets, counterpoints, slides, frames, all of that.

I think of what whenever I watch Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book, and when I watched for the first time the DVD of Three Tales: Hindenburg, Bikini, Dolly, by video artist Beryl Korot and composer Steve Reich. I listened to the CD first—the CD and DVD come packaged together for this work—while taking a long drive across Illinois. The music was driving and relentless. I thought by far the best section was Dolly; it is essentially a meditation on the questions of where technology begins and humanity ends, a critical discussion for our new millennium. It’s also the more inward of the three sections, asking question about who we are, rather than responding to the outward impact of technological change on society; then again, cloning, cybernetics, the man-machine interface, the logical-positivist (anti-spiritual) views of some biologists such as evolutionary biologist and fundamentalist atheist Richard Dawkins—these are all questions about defining who we are now.

I would note that, in the end, the authors of this piece of music theatre are as critical of scientific zealotry, as presented by people like Dawkins, as some have become of Dawkins’ own recent published anti-religious screeds. Reich and Korot both point out, in the transcribed interview accompanying the work, that the “argument between religions” mentioned in the piece itself is in fact calling into question the attempt to turn science itself into a kind of unquestioned religious dogma. This is precisely what Dawkins and his ilk have been trying to do—quite blindly and unconsciously, one might add, since they seem to see no irony whatsoever in their actions.

669. 23 August 2007, Beloit, WI

Another night of 3am storms, as every other night this week. The river this morning is at its peak floodstage, running even faster and higher. Today is supposedly the peak, although it’s supposed to rain two more nights. The floodplain across the way is even deeper underwater, and the river is moving by even faster. It has not strayed onto our lawn, though, or come over the near bank; I hope it never does.

Yesterday I saw a total of four hummingbirds during the day, and not all the same one, because there were at least two different species. Just this moment, as I sit and write, another hummingbird just hovered for several moments in front of the window, as though summoned by my writing about it. I’ve never seen so many hummingbirds here before.

For that matter, except for the absence of deer, who must be trapped across the river, in another part of the woods, I have seen much more wildlife than usual these past few days of the flood. The insects are very active, and the groundhogs and squirrels are everywhere. I saw the great blue heron flying upstream yesterday; I wonder where it’s been fishing, because all this water has been too deep and muddy and fast-moving for its usual method of slowly stalking and spearing fish in the shallow, clear waters.

668. 22 August 2007, Beloit, WI

On the bee guilt front, I’ve determined that the offending hive is probably ground wasps, not bees. I generally like bees; wasps and hornets, on the other hand, are fair game.

I was awoken at 3am again by another storm last night; another half inch of rain in the gauge this morning. I couldn’t sleep, so I moved my bedding upstairs and slept in the living room, till I was awoken by the sun, and by some utility work down the road.

A hummingbird is working over each pink and purple blossom on the fuschia. I’ve seen hummingbirds four times today.

Yesterday was a hard, difficult day, and I might need all day to recover from it. I dropped my new camera in the parking lot, and the protective filter shattered; the lens is also damaged, but still usable. It meant I had to drive up to Madison, fearing the worst, lost in serious drama about money, repairs, all that. But the camera store I went to there was very sweet about helping me out, and didn’t charge me for it. That was a good experience. I was shaking by day’s end.

667. 21 August 2007, Beloit, WI

I discovered by observation yesterday that the reason I got stung by those bees is that there is a hive being built in the ground in that part of the garden. Bees fly in and out of it constantly. I happened to pull at the weeds that surround the nest, which is why they got aggressive and stung me. The stings still itch like mad at times, an there are big red patches on my skin, but the welling isn’t too bad. I’m reluctant to try to attack and remove this hive. I may have to wait till winter to rip it out. Are there insecticides for bees? I’m reluctant, also, because I generally like bees. Their lore, their history, their collaborations with humanity for the millennia that humans have called themselves civilized.

P.L. Travers wrote one of my favorite long essays for Parabola some years ago, which also became the title of her book of collected essays on myth and meaning, What the Bee Knows. Travers was one of my favorite essayists; I sometimes hear echoes of her voice an manner of tying ideas together in my own better essays. Her method she called “thinking is linking,” which I find an accurate description of how I think in essays, too: making connections that may not seem obvious, but which are rooted together at deep levels. Moving quickly across associations, the same way I do in poetry, to show how more things are connected than we usually realize.

The river outside is still humping by with fury and brown majesty. I see lots of driftwood, tree branches, and logs in the current today. The floodplains are still inundated. It hasn’t rained in a day now, but we ended up with close to five inches of rain in three days, a lot of it coming in very short bursts. There may be more rain later this week. Is the flood over, will it recede? Or will these waters continue to rise from the unconscious, demanding attention, drowning the usual fields of play? An orange and white river buoy floats by, torn loose from its mooring upstream.

666. 20 August 2007, Beloit, WI

Woken several times during the night by itching: the bee sting on my wrist. It’s not that swollen this morning, but it does itch.

We had another inch and a quarter of rain since last night, and it’s still coming down steadily this morning. The river is going by so fast that it’s scary. It’s brown and swollen, and has spread out onto the flood plain on the opposite bank; several of the overhanging tree branches are deep in the water. I’ve never seen our little river this wild and dangerous. Thousands of gallons per second.

monsoon rain under
black skies, swollen brown river—
bees shelter under weeds


It stopped raining in the early afternoon. I went and saw the movie Stardust, based on the Neil Gaiman story, and enjoyed it a lot. I had the whole theatre to myself, too. When I came out, there was no one around; a slow day, I guess.

I went out to take photos and video of the swollen river. The floodplain across the way is completely covered with a couple feet of water, and the river is going by very fast. I was shooting video of the other bank when a couple of boys on bikes, looking sweaty and dirty, their shirts off as they rode their bikes along with their bulldog, came up and told me the swimming hole with the rope swing downstream was flooded out, and there are houses down on the floodplain down by White Ave. that were also flooded in. This is the highest and fastest I’ve ever seen the river; truly an awesome sight. Makes you remember that nature is more powerful than anything we dare build, and that taming it is not really possible.

665. 19 August 2007, Beloit, WI

The first night alone in the house, after everyone has left, after everything that has happened, and there is a huge thunderstorm in the middle of the night, so loud that it woke me at 3:30 in the morning, even down in my basement room, which is usually insulated enough that storms don’t bother me. This morning the rain gauge says we had over two inches last night; the creek is brown and swollen and moving fast, looking like nothing so much as a South-east Asian river during the monsoon. It’s still raining, gently, though, and I can hear the drops on the roof. I had to turn the heat on yesterday, in August of all months, because it was only 66 inside the house; the temperature outside has been below 60 since early yesterday, as though this were a March or October storm, and not an August one.

I had more vivid, intense, very involving dreams. One dream was about sound recording, and playing back an ambient recording of the northwoods that I had made, playing it back in a special room that evoked all the nostalgia of being there. I don’t know how long these kinds of dreams will go on; maybe forever. I know that since Dad died, I’ve been very close to the Veil, which makes these kinds of things happen. I still feel close to that. I am more rested, now, if not always more relaxed. It still doesn’t take much to push me over the emotional edge into some kind of emotional abyss. I still feel very vulnerable, and a little wary, because I don’t know that all situations are safe for me to be emotional in; so I can be wary till I know it’s okay. It’s not that I care what people think of me, I don’t think; it’s more that I don’t feel like explaining, and taking all that effort that it takes to explain.


I went out into the garden at noon to pull some weeds, because the rain had stopped, even though the ground was still sodden. I grabbed some goldenrod to pull it, and got stung twice by bees. My own stupid fault. They must have been sheltering in the fronds against the rain. Of course I wasn’t wearing much at the time. I got stung on my left thigh, and the inside of my left wrist. I’m not allergic: not racing heartbeat, no difficulty breathing. But it hurt like a sonofabitch. I held my wrist under cold water, and dug the stinger out, but the sting there was much more painful than the other one. I put hydrocortisone on it, then sat own and did Reiki on it. I also did some transmutation on it, turning the venom into a golden healing chemical; the sort of things shaman do. I’ve read somewhere that bee venom has been used for folk remedies for arthritis and other conditions, in tribal cultures; I sought to tap into that, and turn the venom molecules into something beneficial and healing, for me. Six hours later you could barely tell that I’d been stung. Later tonight now it hurts again, but an ache not a fierce pain. Throughout the day I’ve had some phantom pains in old injury sites; I wonder if that’s the cure at work.

We’ve had over four inches of rain now in 48 hours. The creek out back looks like the Mekong River during monsoon season, from those old National Geographic photos: brown and moving fast. Late at night, now, it’s still raining: calm spells, then sudden increases in volume of rain on the roof. At least the thunderstorms that work me last night haven’t recurred; the rain is okay, as long as the lightning isn’t lingering nearby.

I drove up to Madison to attend a rehearsal of the Madison gay men’s chorus, Perfect Harmony Chorus. It was a good rehearsal, and I felt welcomed, although I only knew two men going in; I felt a little wariness, but not as much. This is a small group, compared to the SF chorus, so you can’t help but get noticed more, just by numerical factors alone. This would be my third chorus, so it’s not like it’s anything new. But the music was good, and I’m a good sight-reader for vocals, and already knew at least two of the pieces on the roster. Then I drove home through more torrential rain; but this time in traffic on the highway, after dark. A little stressful.

I’m feeling a little insomniac tonight, so I’ve put some music on the stereo as I write. It helps me mood, but the rain is a constant backdrop to everything tonight. My mood is dark tonight, affected by the weather, but also by taking down-time. Just letting go of some of the things we’ve had to deal with lately, brings the emotions to the surface: rather, gives them the chance to get noticed, because there’s time for them now, after a week or so of being too busy to be able to deal with them. I scanned some photos earlier, and some of my haiga from the journal I kept at Kawashaway last week; I’ll post some of those, eventually. I realize I’m just not used to sleeping alone in this house. My senses go sharp, and keep me awake, listening for the faintest sounds; it does keep me awake. I’m going to try to go to sleep soon, though. And the rains continue.

664. 12 August 2007, Kawashaway, MN

Last evening I was ready to load my truck up and just disappear and never return. But I had made promises to travel back to the Cities with some others, so I stayed; just removing myself from social contact. I’m glad I stayed the night, now, after all.

Getting out of the tent in the middle of the night, the winds were high and strong. I stood on the land in front of my tent, and dervished, spinning in circles, summoning more wind. The stars were fields of light between the gaps in the black trees.

A few nights ago, I was standing in the kitchen, and a vision came over me: the dark outline of my own body, filled with a blue sky with puffy white clouds. I had the familiar feeling of being on the threshold, of being two places at once, about to step between worlds.

I let it be.

This morning it’s still windy and cool; I feel like dancing in the wind. I feel joy with the forces of nature around me, and far less often with humans (even though humans are of course part of nature). I feel, after a long hard week, connected with the land here at last.

I have to pack up and walk my gear out to the truck this morning. I walked a lot of it out yesterday afternoon. (Using some of that seething rage as fuel.) All that’s left, really, is the bedding and the tent.

Yet now I find myself in no hurry to leave.

The land, at least (at last!), is speaking to me, as a friend, as a partner. Without any necessity of human interaction, the land speaks directly, and says, we love you. Just listen to us. We embrace you.

I feel the land and sky’s embrace, this morning, and want only to return it.

I will go down to the lake one last time, before leaving, to say hello and goodbye to all the spirits here. Then I will begin the long drive back to snivellization.

663. 11 August 2007, Kawashaway, MN

Yesterday I went up to Grand Marais again for the day. I went with two Madison friends, and we stopped at Cascade Falls, visited a couple of galleries in town walked out on Artist’s Point to the lighthouse, bought some more fudge, then ended the day with dinner at the Angry Trout. Good company and good conversation. It was approaching sunset, and the light was warm on my body as I sat on the pier by the water to eat dinner, the geese circling below us, waiting for handouts.

Afterwards, we drove up the Gunflint Trail to visit the gardens of the sister of a friend of a friend. Very beautiful gardens, rich with color, laid out in unusual and beautiful shapes, a lovely setting with a cabin and sauna in the woods. Outdoor rooms of a flowering wonderland in a hidden pocket of the northwoods.

When we got back here, it was dark and people were gathered in the cookhouse for the annual fundraising auction. I did well: I got a quilt that had been made from old bluejeans, and a Mexican woven wool half-blanket. I was very pleased with both.

More dreams, of course. But not lingering on waking.

Drowsing on the lawn in the afternoon.

Then taking things out to the truck; we’re leaving tomorrow to go back to the Cities, and there are things I can take out now, since I won’t need them this last night.

Then sitting on the lawn in silence with others.

Some have already left, and it has gotten quieter. This hot afternoon makes for quieter reflections, or naps. I have been reading, writing, sitting silently. The breeze cools the hot day, and keeps the flies off, mostly. Sitting in silent circle: companionable silences.

in dry stream
sand dancing

Catalogue of Birds II

Three hawks, in sky, flying along river of air between trees above road, perched on high stump of leafless birch.
Hummingbird flitting among daisies and coneflowers.
Raven carcass in the road gravel: a spray of oily black feathers, bare outlines of talons, a clutch of beak opened in a last stilled cry.
Raven flies up from road to treebranch in front of truck making dust-trails in the road.
Great blue heron flies upstream along the Cross River at twilight.
Robin pauses in a branch outside the tent, brief sentinel.
Seagulls crying over the end of the lake.
Waves make sunlit ripples on the stones of the bay, light tracks under clear water, black webs of Canada geese feet stirring new trails.


A sudden judgmental rage overtakes me, later in the day. I feel violently angry. I know the intensity of what I am feeling is out of proportion to the stimulus, but I can’t stop it; many things are rising to the surface, now, some of them old, some new. After a week of dodging situations I don’t want to feed into at Faerie Gathering, I have had enough. I’m tired of the lack of integrity, of people not walking their talk, of refusing to be accountable, as individuals or as a community. Where’s the loyalty, the fierceness? I don’t belong here anymore.

Even though it’s sunny here and now, there’s rolling thunder in the distance.

I went down to the dock to watch an incoming storm roll in. I left and went in just as the rain began to fall.

The edges of the oncoming clouds, limned with white fire. Streams of light-rays coming off the edges. Dark underneath. Layers of clouds, moving fast. Bright white clouds in front of dark cedar silhouettes.

Later, writing at Hare Lake, dusk, in the failing light:

The rain was hard but brief. A little rain, but not enough to relieve this drought.

I sat trying to play shakuhachi for awhile, with some other musicians, but the energy in the cookhouse was too scattered, too diffuse. I couldn’t play anymore after awhile.

I went back out to the dock to watch the sun go down.

I was able to get grounded and centered, there, away from any other humans, and played shakuhachi beautifully for several minutes. This particular flute will only play for me when I am centered; it’s a good barometer. I guess that I’m not strong enough yet to be centered in the midst of the marketplace; my hara hasn’t become strong enough again.

I tried to participate in dinner, but I just had to flee. It looked completely unappetizing, although I’m sure it was fine. I couldn’t stand being around those people. I was hungry, yes, but too upset to have an appetite. All this Faerie social stuff feels like so much lies.

I drove out to the Trestle for a burger, but then I came here to Hare Lake instead. I needed to be alone, but didn’t want to drive too far in the gathering dusk. Watching the fading light over the water, here, I just burst into tears.

The only entity that has never let me down is the Dragon. Nothing else can be believed in. It’s all lies.

Later, night:

I drove back to the Trestle and got some dinner, after dark. I talked to my friend there for awhile, then other people came in, and I went off into a corner and just waited to calm down. Then I came back to camp, and eventually got some back massage, which felt good. I still have am in one of my patented Zero Tolerance for Bullshit moods, though.

I got judgmental earlier, and I’m still working on why. Mostly it’s because people don’t walk their talk. I guess I need to forgive them more, if I can.

I have been silent and taciturn and darkly moody all evening. (I’m sure some folks noticed.) There’s nothing to say, really that will fit into words.

It’s my silence, the shaman’s silence, that often puts people off. They can sense the power rising, but the fact that I can’t say anything about why, frightens them. And so I take myself away from the village; the villagers irritate me in ways that the land and the creatures never do. If only they could see their own blindnesses. Some of my anger is parental, I suppose: why don’t you all stop hurting yourselves?

Well, for tonight at least, go heal yourselves and don’t bother me anymore.

662. 10 August 2007, Kawashaway, MN

Last night’s dreams were intense and vivid again, but not as disturbing. The thing is, these dreams are so vivid and involving, that waking up is disorienting: the abrupt transition, and not knowing where I am at first. I’m waking in the tent here in the northwoods, not at home. While I love camping, and being outdoors, it can be a further dislocation with regard to waking from these dreams.

It’s a hot day already today. I need to go up to Grand Marais today, I’ll also stop again at Cascade Falls, most likely.

Yesterday, I drove north up Hwy. 7 to hwy. 172 and over to Isabella, the next town up. Isabella is a dot on the map, a way-station on the way to Ely, which in turn is the jumping-off point for canoe and camping trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Isabella’s a café, a bait shop, a few houses, and not much more.

I found some spots along the many lakes up there to stop and take photos. Divide Lake, which is right along the Laurentian Divide, has some national forest campgrounds that intrigued me, for a future visit. Hogback Lake had water so still and clear in the late afternoon light that you could see three worlds in its reflections. Still calm waters on a windless afternoon after a day of rain.

Endless waves of rain and sun.

A loon family I startled, swimming away from the shore.

661. 9 August 2007, Kawashaway, MN

Dreams of the Bardo. As intense and vivid as they’ve been, lately. One long seuqnce of some kind of living diorama of the history of oncology: rooms you walk between that are set up as historical settings, or to teach a lesson. It ends with a resource library, where they press inspirational and educational books upon you. Some other dreams, too; but that’s the one that had the tone of the Bardo. Dad’s passage, probably, not mine.

Upset emotions this morning; unsettled by these dreams.

It begins to rain, gently, after I’ve had a heavy breakfast of eggs an spam and tea, and gone back to the tent. I nap briefly. In the far distance, basso rolling thunder. Squirrels chitter, always anxious, complaining about something.

I’m thinking of walking out to the truck and driving someplace I’ve never been. Rain or not, it’s not a day for socializing.

Your fears are not my fault.

Oracles appear everywhere,
if you pay attention.

There is soil here, of course: accumulated detritus of fallen leaves, thin crusts of ground gravel and sand. Wind and glacial deposits. Lakes sitting surrounded by peat bogs, as they bogs gradually fill in the lakes. Clearings that used to be lakes, the soil still too acidic from the peat to grow much except grass. But very close to the surface, boulders strewn in heavy fields. Behind the tent, a sinkhole where a tree fell over, the rootball pulling right out, exposing the rocks formerly bound into its root system.

660. 8 August 2007, Kawashaway, MN

My dreams last night full of violent emotion. I slept deeply but jerked awake with my heart racing. In the first sequence I am furious with Mom and Dad; our home has three levels with some modern unusual shapes; I go into part of the house and lock all the doors to the rest, so they can’t get in; later on, some sort of truce with friends, we meet on neutral turf; I am trying to get them accept and understand something about me (don’t be glib about interpreting that, either); I have books and photos and am trying to show them something they refuse to or cannot understand. In the second sequence, P. and I drive into mainland China to pick up some kind of shipment at an airport, but it’s not there; when we depart, we make a wrong turn to get back to our truck, and become increasingly lost in the winding, twisting, busy streets, with no easy intersections; we get further and further form where we’re supposed to be, and it becomes increasingly more dangerous.

I had some difficult hours last night: feeling alone, naked, disregarded, snubbed; that old baggage.

We did a little ceremony of blessing for a young gay couple, Some small celebrations, then things quieted down. It became a quiet evening at the fire circle, after that.

I went out to the clearing later with the tripod and the new camera, and took long-exposure photos of the night sky: time exposures of the stars above the treeline. Some came out very well, despite a little blur from the tripod not being sufficiently weighted down and sturdy; it’s nice to know that this camera is capable of such time exposures, as it means I can get back into long-time-frame night photography. I’ve missed being able to do that, since I went digital.

Later, the moon rose, and I went to bed.

The blessing I gave at the ceremony, which I had been asked to do, was:

Earth shelter you
Fire be inside you
Water cool you
Air gentle you always.

By starlight, sunlight,
moonlight, candlelight and firelight,
May you always walk in Beauty.

late night conversation
green tea under starlight

Perhaps I’ll give up poetic forms and return to lines. Yet it remains haiku, haibun, the classic Chinese four-line poem, tanka or waka, or some form I’ve made up or envisioned. The tone and subject stay consistent, even as they grow and evolve. Inspiration comes from those same things that renew me, refresh me, keep me alive and alert: mountains, oceans, forests, lakes, rivers, the creatures on and in them, my cousins by blood marriage, all emerged from One Ocean under One Sun, the stars churning over the eons to new patterns and positions over it all, just motes in a thick roiling fluid, lit by shafts of light from the galaxy’s core.

Never so silent as when writing poems, or recording some lush birdsong in the trees: simply listening to what’s there, emerging from its own silence to merge with mine.

Birds in the trees all around me (I record them); squirrel making racket as it passes by, little feet thudding the ground; distant voices from up by the cabin echoing through the woods. Subject-subject consciousness needs to include the non-human, the creatures, the bioregion, to be complete. If it stops short at just human interaction, and doesn’t include the rest of Creation, it’s incomplete and will become undone.

Catalogue of Birds I

Two great blue herons, one at a still lily pond along the Baptism River, another flying up Cross River away from the road and the bridge. Hawk in a tree above the road; another floating along the canyon of unpaved road between thick trees in the Superior national Forest, miles from any human habitation. Ravens and turkey vultures together on the road and in the aspen branches at roadside, sharing space, and holding converse.

Later, night:

In bed early because a burn ban in the National Forest prevents u from having a fire circle tonight, plus I’m tired from a long day’s walking and taking photos, mostly in the Temperance River area. A brief nap: a dream of a field of green and white flowers.

I wake to chill air. It’s extra-dark outside, with no candles and no fires.

I go for a cup of tea and a piece of fresh bread and have a long conversation with Madison friends, reconnecting.

I have been wearing a compass as a necklace all week. The one day I didn’t, I felt lost and lonely. So, a symbol, a talisman, an image, a reminder, a signpost and guide, and more. Many layers to the image; perhaps I’ll list them all later, in a poem.

659. 7 August 2007, Kawashaway, MN

My tent on a level spot on a gradual slope in these rocky woods. There’s virtually no topsoil here, just tumbled rocks and a little sand. The trees take root down into it, nonetheless.

Standing outside the tent this morning, I interrupt a red squirrel’s peregrinations. Apparently I’m standing right on his squirrel highway. He tries to go by, and complains. I decide I’m not awake enough yet to want to move, and flick my sarong at him. He jumps back and tries again. Then eventually he takes the high road, going up a tree trunk, leaping across the gap from branch to branch, and down another trunk past me. And on.

We’re the interlopers here. The squirrels and other wildlife are the real residents on this land. We just visit for a time.

—Children, one earthy Thing,
truly experienced, even once, is enough for a lifetime.
—Rilke, the Seventh Duino Elegy

Cascade Falls, MN

raven at fall’s edge
looks over the vista trail—
the wind-tossed cedars

Stream over a cliff’s edge, and fall. Begin here. White water to churning brown to clear and resonant lens over deep rocky channel. Then to stumble in the shallows. A thousand kneeling altars. A shamble of murmurs and rapid complaints. Widening out here, a mouth changed from an astonished circle to a lipless smile. And then, at last, the broad-horizoned blue of an inland sea, in which to merge and disappear. Nothing left but the memory of ice or rain, a thousand years of parting.

stone lip of the precipice remembers the water’s plummet
the rocks at waterfalls’ foot remember hard endless rains

half-moon bowl of water
falls far between the cedars:
Cascade River

The past remains hidden in clouds of memory. Still it returned us to memories from a thousand years before. Such a moment is the reason for a pilgrimage: infirmities forgotten, the ancients remembered, joyous tears trembled in my eyes.
—Basho, Oku no hosomichi, at Tsubo-no-ishibumi

As long as the road is, even if it ends in dust, the gods come with us, keeping a watchful eye.
—Basho, at Myojin Shrine in Shiogama

floating high above
the fire’s circle of light:
river of heaven

Sparks rise from the bonfire, rising vertically through the column of red light, the reddened cedars flickering and glowing. Cylinder of air. Ignited core of cylinder. Sparks rise up.

658. 6 August 2007, Kawashaway, MN, late night

Drove to Grand Marais today, to spend the day by myself. Stopped at Cascade State Park, with the wonderful stepped waterfalls, in their lush settings reminiscent of a Japanese garden. I hiked up and down the trails, and took lots of photos, and some video, of the water rushing over the precipice.

Then I drove up to Grand Marais, and found a cyber-café, the Neptune, which was really cool. It was great to be able to log on and check my email. Got a cup of tea and a cinnamon roll, and sat and did email in the café; just as I used to back in Taos, back when I first traveled west. It was a flashback of sorts, and put me in a good mood. My cellphone also works now in Grand Marais; in previous years I could never call out from the North Shore, now I can, in Grand Marais at least.

I hiked out onto Artists’ Point and the lighthouse breakwater, and took lots of photos of the Lake and the exposed, weathered basalt of the shore. I mostly used my new camera, and also got some good candid photos of people making piles of stones, and hiking around the shore.

At one point, I stopped and wandered off the main trail, down to where the slabs of rusted rock merge with the incoming waves, and make shelves and slabs. I made a landscape art piece: a circle with a single long thing rock in the center, like a compass needle. I even got out my compass and aligned the rock with magnetic north.

Direction: North

The compass has been so very symbolic to me these past few weeks. A symbol of finding my path, keeping to the path, a talisman preventing getting lost; and so much more. Yes, it is an inner, alchemical compass, too; and an ethical compass.

My feet were getting sore from all the hiking, so I came back to Kawashaway. But I stopped first at the Trestle for a burger and a shower.

Tonight there was some good drumming at the fire circle. For the first time during this gathering, I joined in, and even led a few pieces. I like it when people dance around the fire: in inspires the drumming, and everything synergizes.

657. 5 August 2007, Kawashaway, MN, late night

Sat around the fire circle tonight, a quiet night overall. Lots of good conversation, joking, and laughter. I alternately watched the fire and the sky. I saw a shooting star streak across the skybowl, from east to west.

Just after moonrise, the wind stirring the trees, I went down to the dock at the lake, and watched the sky over the lake, the half-moon rising over the island to the east, the constellations clear and silver. The wind stirred up the surface of the water, spreading a rippling river of light under the moonrise. The marshgrass at the shore whipped in and out of the light as the wind moved though its long fingers, its restless hair.

Now, in the tent, writing by soft lamplight, I hear the trees sigh all around, moving in circles and spirals of soft hushing whispers.

I am content.

I talked out a lot of my issues and concerns, with one or two people who I do feel I can trust, and I feel better have done so. Still, tomorrow I think I get out of here and go to the Lake Superior shore, and spend some time doing photography, and wandering alone. It will be a good day for it.

I will lie here, listening to the wind,
till sleep takes me.

How do you re-learn how to trust?
By continuing to trust those people and forces and things you already trust: the land; your closest friends, who have seen al the darknesses in you, as you have seen theirs, and still you are friends; the remembrance that this is a demanding yet still trustworthy universe, in its divine essence and manifestation.

And you trust the processes:

Of rebirth out of yourself, and renewal.
Of art-making.
Of sometimes painful to endure yet always-rewarding evolution.
Of that which arises out of the Void, the Silence, the Mystery. For there is never just Nothing there, but that it gives birth to the All.

656. 5 August 2007, Hare Lake, MN

The silent lake.

Coming here to be by myself in sacred space. (There are two lazily trawling fishermen in a bass boat, out across the lake, slowly circling.)

Meister Eckhart said God is novissimus: the youngest thing there is. Continually being created, and creating, and being renewed.

I come here to this little rocky, tree-shrouded shore of the lake and remove my clothes and bathe in the deep cold waters, rinsing all my cares from my body and my self. Continual washing, continual cleansing, continual renewal. Then I dry myself with my sarong and sit on a log, wearing only the sarong, and let the wind and sun dry me and warm me.

I’ve heard loons calling in the late night, both of the past two nights: spirits from other realms, passing through.

I find forgiveness mostly by letting go. And by being renewed by the lake, the sun, the wind; the four elements and all of creation, returning me to vision and union. Then, all things return to their proper alignment and perspective (the needle of the inner compass steadies) and there is nothing to forgive, because nothing has been done, that needs forgiving.

I don’t feel called to participate in Heart Circle at the moment, or worship, or anything done in groups. I feel the need for renewal with the land; to commune in solitude or small groups. And speaking from the heart is something I want to practice all the time, not just in specific settings; which is the goal, I think. take it outside that frame and do it all the time.

655. 4 August 2007, Kawashaway, MN

Writing in the tent every morning, my morning meditation practice here before I begin each day:

I sleep in late, as late as I can. The night air was cool and damp. In the early predawn, awoken by birdsongs. Clouds covered the sun till midmorning, finally warming the tent and waking me. The woods quiet now except for bird and squirrel and insect sounds, and an occasional breeze in the trees.

I want, at last, to do nothing today.
I want to breeze the windward way, planless, light.
I touch the earth to bear witness.

It’s been three years since I was here, to the month. The earth and I barely know each other. Yesterday, driving again, by day’s end I was back in that same trance state, and making good time. I was a floating point of consciousness, aware of everything, aware of how hard I could push the road, one with my truck, the lightest touch on the wheel ultimately responsive. Detached and directive, not numb; dream-traveling, not escapism; knowing the road intuitively, not being superior to it.

I may spend as much time alone today as possible.
It’s time to take a day for me.
To lose track of time.
To just let it all go.

I read Basho’s Oku no hosomichi this morning, a few chapters, and what I get from it today is the ease with which Basho as a character in the book is able to express emotion. Even if it is a literary trope, emphasized on rewrite, it’s a model for behavior. That fluidity, that freedom to feel what you’re feeling in the moment, an to respond in the moment, that lightness of non-attachment to social proprieties. It is true.

white aspen poles
poke above green canopies—
the lone osprey

he wears a compass
on a chain around his throat—
the direction home

I am wearing a compass along with my other necklaces. It is becoming deeply symbolic to me, right now: marking a tie to direction, the direction north in particular, but also as a reminder that if I lose my way, I have but to consult the needle to get back on course. It is an inner compass, a moral compass as someone here has jokingly described it, and a spiritual compass. It symbolizes finding my way again, after having been lost in the woods for a long time.

More vivid dreams: I’m told that’s normal, after the death of a loved one: you’re drawn much closer to that Veil which separates the living and the dead.

I’m having a hard time here. last night I opened my heart up to someone who an hour or so later stuck a knife into it with harsh words. I immediately shut down and left. How can I return to be trusting and unwary again when this happens? How can I possibly feel safe here again?

I don’t need to be in a Heart Circle to be able to speak from the heart. (Although I guess some do.) A Heart Circle is good training to both speak from the heart, and to listen and hold space; but it’s a skill you can take with you out into life, having practiced it in circle. I think I pretty much speak from the heart all the time. (Especially since the Sacred Heart manifested.) But there are obviously boundaries and limitations around when and how and with whom you can speak from the heart. It’s not always safe.

I’m grateful to that person who lashed out at me, after we had earlier opened up to each other: I’m grateful for those moments of speaking from the heart, because I felt I was participating in an opening ritual. Now I’ll let the rest go, and not expect anything else from that person, ever again.

But don’t poke me—or be prepare to face the Dragon for real. At which point be prepare to discover: you’re really quite out of your league.

654. 3 August 2007, Minneapolis, MN

Sleeping on the floor, after going to bed late:

vivid dreams all night,
tossing on a strange bedroll—
in alien lands

Later, Kawashaway:

After a long drive to get here. Radios in the cars keeping us linked for intentional stops for food, gas, bathroom breaks. Lunch at Perkins in Duluth, overlooking the Lake.

When we get to the land, and set up tents, I go over to Artlip Lake for my traditional greeting to the local spirits of water and land. Thin wispy clouds are white streaks high up in the blue, reflected in the calm waters of the shallow lake. The ware level is even lower this year than I remember it before; this is a beaver-dam lake, after all, and there hasn’t been much rain up here, north of Lake Superior and about 15 or 20 miles inland. This is inside Superior National Forest, and the roads are dry and dusty.

cloud wisps
reflected in water—
loon calling

653. 2 August 2007, Minneapolis, MN

Drove here today, to go on to Kawashaway tomorrow.

Spent the day driving as if in a trance. Listening to Caroline Myss’ Your Power to Create, which I got really into; as usual, she kicks my ass, and provides many insights. Time passed quickly. It was one of the easiest times I’ve ever made this drive; no sense of duration at all. Maybe I was a light trance; maybe it’s just that I’m used to much longer drives out West now, and it’s not nearly as bad a drive by comparison.

I felt in my own universe, detached and invulnerable, even driving through some of the city’s less good neighborhoods. (Got off the highway at Cretin Ave. and cut over on Franklin. A day or two ago, a major disaster happened here: the 35W highway bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed, sending cars and people into the 64-foot chasm. Not all the bodies have been found as yet.) Nothing could touch me. At one point on Franklin, the beautiful late afternoon sunlight making everything dazzling and bejeweled, I tried to pass on the right around a car signaling to turn left; then he zoomed forward to cut me off, not turning after all; not one block later, he zoomed out to the right to pass the long line of cars waiting at the light, and collided at speed into the side of a big oncoming SUV that had been turning left. Obviously he didn’t see it, although I saw everything clearly from my vantage: I knew exactly what was going to happen. I was just shaking my head in disbelief, wondering if I should call the cops, or get out and see if they were al right, when a cop car pulled up right behind the accident, on my right; the cop had probably seen the whole thing, too; as I pulled forward with the rest of the traffic, I saw the cop get out of his cruiser, looking less than charmed by the guy who had caused the accident. The same guy who had cut me off after giving a wrong signal, then zooming out was clearly in the wrong; you could tell he knew it, too; he jumped out of his car and was as hyper as he’d been while driving; his body language was that familiar blend you see when someone terrified is trying to bluff out that everything’s okay.

All this the day after the 35W bridge fell in downtown Minneapolis. (A structural failure, no doubt. A disaster, but not terrorism. Wait till the blaming starts, though, after the accident investigation concludes.) The mood of the town is somewhat subdued today, and rightly so. But I feel impervious to it all, detached, almost in trance. It’s been a long day, after a late night of packing for this trip, and without a lot of sleep, but I feel completely unaffected by any of it. As though it were all happening at a distance.


Loading more gear into the truck here after dark. It’s a warm, calm night. For awhile overhead, a helicopter hovered, very high above, gradually moving along the river: probably doing an overview of the disaster scene for some government agency. It looked more like a military chopper than your typical small chopper most of the TV news stations use.

652. 30 July 2007, Beloit, WI

I’m so vulnerable now, so fragile, that last night old patterns and damages came to the surface, and I can only say, it wasn’t pretty. I’m afraid of reverting to some of my old patterns, the more toxic and dark ones. I need rejuvenation, and recuperation, and I only hope I can get it in the north woods next. Because if I can’t, I feel real close to the edge, to the end of the rope. One more meltdown under the belt, regardless. One more piece of the process.

651. 29 July 2007, Beloit, WI

We went to a play last night, The Foreigner, by Lewis Shue, and laughed a lot. It’s a witty play about otherness, about deceit and deviousness, and good people who don’t know how to communicate. One of the best lines from the play was when one of the characters meant to say ESP, but it came out “extra circular communication,” which is not a bad summation of the play, actually. We had a really good time, and the laughter was therapeutic.

I have a list of things to do before going camping this year; it seems like a list of ever-increasingly length, so I’m actually getting some packing done now. I found that I already had a very good camera bag, never used, that I got at Goodwill a few years ago; so the new camera is safe and secure, complete with accessories, etc.

650. 27 July 2007, Beloit, WI

Almost two inches of rain since last noon. The air is thick and steamy this early morning. I couldn’t sleep much last night. It’s almost foggy outside, the air is so drenched with dew and rain. I set out a porch-full of old cardboard to recycle last night; it got soaked in the rains, no doubt, but they picked it up anyway, for which I’m grateful. Not a speck of wind yet today; it might still storm some more. Even the birds are quieter this morning. But we needed the rain badly, the lawn was starting to brown. Lilies and roses make white and yellow and bright pink highlights against the dark surrounding greens of the lawn and garden.

morning mists,
in woods quiet after rain—
heron flies upstream

After awhile, it begins to gently shower again.

I like living alone here in some respects. The chief of them is that I don’t have to put on clothes till I feel like it. I can get up in the morning, have breakfast, do some chores, take a shower, and only before I go out need I get dressed. I always sleep nude, so I can just stay nude till I have to get dressed and go out. It’s a luxury and freedom I haven’t felt since I last had my own apartment, some few years ago. In summer at least, this is a very comfortable place to be.

Today I have several chores to do, and some shopping, before Pam and David fly back from Michigan, where they’ve been these past few weeks. This has in some ways been a very hard week: a day of emotional storms, followed by yesterday, which was one of those classic dental days wherein, after a long appointment with much oral surgery, I was so wiped out I was pretty out of it for the remainder of the day. But I can say it’s also been a productive one: I got a lot of chores done. A few notches into the infinite moebius belt of massive amounts of Things To Do. I can only work on household chores a few hours a day; then I need to do my work, my creative work, and relax. I am still so tired, after the last year, that I refuse to push myself any harder than absolutely necessary.


More thoughts on poetry: I realize, in reading through a lot of poetry and talking about poetry lately, that I mostly an unmoved by it all. I realize, even further, that I see a huge amount of striving behind the poetry I see online, and in much printed matter. Striving to impress. Striving to excel. Striving to exceed, in some cases. A lot of people dedicate a lot of their energy to employing a medium of expression that ultimately never fit it all in, and betrays genuine experience by being too small to encapsulate it. They work really hard at being writers. They write a poem a day. They write in new forms they’ve discovered or invented. They spend huge amounts of energy defending what they do. And nobody pays attention, or cares.

The grand futility of it all is both alarming and soothing. After all, if no one really cares, you can do what you want to do, and work to better yourself via poetry as a vehicle of self-expression, and if you never produce a great poem, it doesn’t matter. At the same time, the sheer volume of mediocre poetry being produced these days is staggering. There’s never been more available, in print and online, and most of it still sucks, relatively speaking. I find myself indifferent to most of it simply because the quantity vs. quality ratio is so very high. I’m not claiming to be a great poet; yet I do feel confident enough about the avenues I’ve been exploring in my own poetry, and I do think I’ve done some good things. It’s my corner of the world.

I realize too how very seriously so many of these poets take what they’re doing, all without realizing that most of what they’re putting out there in unfinished work: etudes, sketches, studies, not final polished work. Sometimes that seems to dominate. Despite Paul Valery’s famous comment that a poem is never finished, only abandoned—a comment which does contain real insight—far too many poets seem to me to be lazy about pursuing quality and excellence, while at the same time far too zealous about pursuing technique and craft for its own sake, and also far too zealous about writing practice itself. The poetic world is tilted out of balance. It feels like all these poets are putting their energy into the wrong aspects of writing poetry, and neglecting the more essential, core aspects of the practice. Most poets over-produce, never realizing, again, that most of what they’re producing is not final polished work, but largely throwaway. I don’t claim to be innocent of this error, myself. But it seems like misplaced striving, rather than genuinely productive striving.

My opinions on these matters certainly seem unpopular amongst the poetic mainstream. Sometimes you feel like a prophet, speaking truths no-one wants to hear, which is guaranteed to reduce one’s popularity in many quarters. No-one likes to be told they’re naked emperors.

The bottom line is that there is so much effort being put into all this, that you’d expect the end results to be much better than they are, based on effort alone. Unfortunately, creative work never functions that way: there is no direct and predictable correlation between effort and quality. If there were, all polished and technically perfect poems would be great, and all poems achieved by riding the lightning of random inspiration would be crap; yet the truth is demonstrably the opposite.


P. and D. are back here now. We had a quiet evening, ordered a couple of pizzas, and chilled out. An I spent time with my new photography toy.

This afternoon, I bought a gift for myself, that was on my list of things to do for myself, eventually, if not now then later this year. I purchased a digital SLR camera, not the first I’ve used but the first I’ve owned. A Canon EOS Rebel XTI, 10.1 megapixels in resolution, interchangeable lenses, all the advantages of an SLR but digital. I guess I’ve become pretty loyal to Canon cameras, now, since that’s what I’ve mostly used since I went digital six years ago. I’m keeping the Canon PowerShot A630, of course, because it’s still a damn good camera. They complement each other; they have different strengths.

I decided to get this before going camping this year, so I would have it with me up in the northwoods. Photo ops galore. Some landscape work, some waterfalls, some nudes in nature, and definitely some night photography. And firelight photography. So, better to get the new camera now, rather than later. The timing is good, and the cash was there at the moment.

So, I’ve spent some time learning the camera tonight. Tomorrow, some flower photography in the yard and woods here.

You have to give yourself gifts. You have to remember that there’s a point to living. You need to remember to gift yourself some things now, rather than postpone all good things indefinitely. Sure, sometimes it’s wise to space them out. But if you never indulge, you never get to enjoy, and then you’re dead, and you never did, and that seems like a waste.

649. 26 July 2007, Beloit, WI

the guest is welcome if he comes,
though no more expected than the sun

A quiet morning with gentle rain. As I sit at my desk, a black-green hummingbird pauses in the shrubs and flowers outside the window for a few tastes of leaves and flowers, then streaks off. I can’t get last night’s heron encounter out of my mind: to be sitting on the deck, motionless, while the heron lands in a tree just across the yard and river from me and preens, settling in for the night. It was a sacred moment.

648. 25 July 2007, Beloit, WI

Sitting on the deck at twilight: the fireflies rising from the grass, flying ever higher into the night, to become stars garlanding the trees; bats flitting across the open yard, silent, eating their way through the insect-filled air; across the river, the great blue heron lands on a high branch of the tree and preens itself before the settling down for the night; all around, cicadas make their high-summer noises, their croaks and whines, cricket rubbings of brass against flint and ivory. Through the trees, pale gold through black, the almost-full moon sails.

Yesterday I lost completely to a total meltdown. Did nothing, except yell a lot, and cry. Cried myself to sleep at last, and finally felt at peace. Today I felt tired but better, having gotten that all out of my system. It’s a hot, loud night out there now, full of sounds and smells: a high summer night. I’m alone here tonight, but that’s not bad, this night. A chance to lounge around naked and content.

bats circle as
fireflies rise to the moon—
eye of the heron

647. 24 July 2007, Beloit, WI

My dreams continue to be intense, colorful, and vivid; turbulent emotions; high drama and action; enthralling and absorbing. I again feel today like I’m slow to wake up, the dreams are so all-encompassing, more vivid than waking life.

At dinner with friends last night, I found myself saying things like, I know that I’ve changed a lot in the past few years, and especially in this last one, taking care of Dad, but I didn’t know how much, or exactly in what ways. I knew some of that, but more of it is becoming clear, now. For example, at the Renaissance Faire over the weekend, I found myself laughing at the witty performances, as before; and enjoying talking to the vendors, as before; but it was pure enjoyment. Sometimes there has been an edge of competitiveness to all that, an inner smirk of superiority; I felt none of that this time. I also had no interest in some of my usual shopping interests, such as sword-smithing; I didn’t even wear my own short-sword this time. I noticed that I felt competent to defend myself even without it; but I also felt no need to display it; at peace with myself, perhaps. So, I’ve changed, or matured, or moved on. It was fun as always, because I’ve done such events so often that I feel at home with them; most of the delighted surprise comes from the wittiness of the performers there, onstage and off.

646. 23 July 2007, Beloit, WI

The past few days have been very busy and productive. Today I’m feeling a lot of emotions welling up, and doing my best to not let them become misdirected anger. Misdirected anger has become a real problem, something I have to watch out for. Any tiny little mishap sends me over the edge into shouting. My appetite’s all over the map; sometimes I feel like I’m overeating to stuff my feelings, and other times I have to force myself to eat anything at all. I know that this is all probably a normal cycle of grieving, and that I’m probably doing okay; at least I’m self-aware enough to be able to self-monitor, but even so I often feel like I don’t know what’s going on; until I remember what’s going on, later. So, I suppose, it’s all normal enough. But I hate that word “normal.” It’s another word that gets used as a bludgeon, knocking people over the head with expectations rather than gently coaxing them along their individual paths. It’s a Tribal word, and it can be used to enforce conformity, even as it is used to map it. Maybe my annoyance with normality is just another case of misdirected anger; or maybe it’s something I’ve always felt, and I just don’t have the strength anymore to pretend otherwise, or care what anyone thinks about my opinion.


I worked on household stuff for awhile today, and that helps me feel better. Like I’m actually getting something done, not spinning my wheels. Even on a day off, like today, it’s good for me to do one thing, or two small things, just to continue to feel like I’m making some kind of progress. The opposite of progress is a stagnant quagmire of emotion that I can all too easily fall into.

I read the last Harry Potter book today, speed-reading to get to the last few chapters, which I read at my normal pace; which is still, apparently, faster than most people read. But my pace is, for me, an unhurried one; I mean, my perception is that it’s unhurried. And it was moving and good and powerful, I thought. Well done. A fitting conclusion to the series. Very satisfying.

I’m watching a DVD documentary about Elliott Carter and his music. The history of Carter’s life is in some ways the history of Modernist music, as he’s been active throughout the entire 20th Century. But unlike many other composers he retained a classically lyrical sense of music, possibly from his early years of study learning strict counterpoint. I never find his music emotionless, the way many other composers of his style and era can sound to me. There is always feeling there, no matter how abstract the materials themselves become. So, this is an interesting documentary, and I’m learning to appreciate him at a deeper level, too.

As usual, a return to music, to art, to good books: a return to ground and center for me.

645. 18 July 2007, Beloit, WI

I feel less and less like posting any of my poems anywhere, for critique or criticism. There are a bunch of reasons for that. One of them is that I feel more confident as a writer about the direction my creative writing is going in; I feel less need to explain it or justify it to anyone, and more to just practice it. I do get tired of having to explain myself artistically to anyone, all the damn time. This is not something I care about; it’s just something you run into, if you are an artist who posts your art in public, where any idiot can pipe up with their opinion or comment about it. (That’s why the Road Journal is a journal, not a weblog; it doesn’t particularly solicit opinions, or feedback, or comments. It just is.) Another reason I am not posting as much is that I’m not writing as much, and much of what I’m writing has no home in the critical poetry board sphere. I’m doing more and more haiku, haibun, and prose-poems, and those forms are still generally not understood by most American poets; neither in terms of history nor of practice. A third reason is that I’m focusing more on compiling essays, and haven’t felt a lot like focusing on poetry lately. I remain somewhat astounded by the ways peoples play at creativity, rather than viewing them as a way of life. Poetry comes and goes for me, I’ve said that often enough; this is a period where I mostly find words totally inadequate to express what I’m going through, especially in poetry. After Dad’s death, it might take me a long time to write about it in any way but factual; which is strong enough writing. And so I return to the issue of self-esteem and self-confidence in my writing, wherein I don’t feel the need to seek approval, or even feedback, lately. I know what I’m doing write now is good, important work: I’m exploring some things that are new to me, and I am immersed in those writings in ways that don’t require critical feedback. Which has its uses, but also has severe limitations. One of the worst of those being that you often don’t get readers who understand you, when you’re pursuing those new roads. Very few get it. Even fewer can follow it. Still fewer want to go along with you, down that new road; those are the ones you keep close at hand, but you don’t necessarily need them to offer you critiques on your writings, so much as you need them to hang around just to know you’re not alone. But writing about Dad’s death in some kind of false and artificial sentimental “poetic” fashion is anathema, sickening to contemplate, and not likely to ever emerge from my pen. I’d rather keep silent than commit that kind of writerly sin. If I never write about it—if I never write anything worth publishing again—at the moment, I don’t care. It’s not where I’m at, and it’s not what writing is all about. Too many poets focus on the public aspects of poetry, which amount to little more than popularity contests; far too few poets continue to quietly go about their work, even if no one notices, pursuing the roads they feel have opened before them, that they must travel down, privately rather than publicly. Maybe something will emerge later that the public will hear about; but that’s not why the journey is taken. It has nothing to do with applause, approval, or even conviviality. It has everything to do with following the personal vision, and following one’s bliss. If anyone catches up later, and likes what they see, that’s gravy; but it’s not why I do this, and never has been. It edges into that territory where other artforms than poetry—non-verbal, non-linguistic artforms—have the edge over poetry, which after all remains tied to the word. So I have been turning back to music, and to sound design. I spent a few hours today editing audio files on the studio computer. It becomes far more emotionally satisfying for me to work in art-forms that are non-verbal, at this time, because words can’t contain what I want to put out, and words lie and cheapen the depths of it all. They are inadequate containers. Maybe someday that will change, and I’ll write again, as I said; but I don’t mind waiting a long time for that day to come, and I don’t mind at this time if it never came. It always has before; it has always come back. But it goes in cycles, and right now the cycle moves me away from the inadequate vessel of the word, and towards the more expansive vessels of music and photography.

644. 17 July 2007, Beloit, WI

After a long hard day, getting a lot of chores done, some hard moments, some hard times, some good ones, it’s a steamy night full of cicada sounds from all the trees. Standing on the lawn, looking up at the stars, fireflies make green streaks and temporary stars against the black of the trees, against the lights of the night sky, moving across the stars. The night sounds go on, in the steamy heat, the misty light.

gazing up from the lawn
fireflies make star-trails
against velvet darkness

Attempting to impress, the young punk poet throws out ideas and opinions like swarms of bees. It’s like a clutch of growling puppies, tails all a-wag. Not knowing his audience is both better-read than him, and far more radical than he thinks they are.

People think they’re so shocking, so brilliant, so burning-bright. But they’re lame. They’ve seen nothing. They’re like the walking eagle: too full of shit to fly. They think they soar, but all they do is dog-paddle. Do you people actually think you’re onto something no-one has ever thought of before? Do you actually believe your fresh take on life is so smooth, so crisp, so new, that you get a free pass from your elders and your betters?

Those of us with nothing to live for, who have seen more than you can ever imagine, those of us with hollows in our eyes, who keep on going anyway, even if it’s pointless, just to keep on going—with those who marched before you, you try to show off your grace and guile, but they see you for the frightened child you are, inside. You don’t impress. You only remind us of what we’ve lost.

And the stars rise up and rise and rise, and the fireflies move amongst them, rising into the sky above the trees, filling the air with streaks of light. And moving between mist-raveled trees, the stars rise up to meet the stars.


I feel completely abandoned and alone tonight. No one responds when I call, or they tell me they’re not going to visit, or kiss off, or whatever. Or it’s too late to call them anyway, their phones are all turned off and they’re in be, asleep. Back to the usual late-night question of where the hell’s the support I need when I need it. No one around when I need them. It always happens this way: late at night, cut off from support, crying out for help and not even an echo comes back. Why the fuck do I even bother? What’s the point? This is all just self-pity, again and again, and I don’t even care myself, or want to hear it anymore.

But what’s different is this: I’m exhausted; I’m an emotional wreck; my Dad died a few weeks ago, and I’m completely overwhelmed by everything; and I fucking need help, and not one of you is around. So, this time, it’s for real: it’s not just drama, it’s for fucking real, because I really do need help, these days, because it’s really hard right now. I’m not making it up, and it’s not just all in my mind. It’s real. And you fuckers as usual just can’t be bothered to be there, can you?

Well, fine. That’s the end of that. That’s the end of asking. That’s the end of trying to depend on any of you for anything. Go play. Unfuck you.

I’ve been through a lot of crazy bad shit lately. If you call, I probably won’t answer. I might call out, but I probably will ignore all incoming calls for a few days. I need the silence and solitude I haven’t been getting. I need to return to my own center, and I’m going to stop letting all your needs pull me off my center. And if you can’t through to me, and can’t depend on me to take care of you for awhile, the sun will still rise every morning, and life will go on.

I miss my Dad more than I can say right now, and I don’t need your problems on top of my own. So take a powder. Take a breather. Take a break, and piss off.

643. 17 July 2007, Beloit, WI

It’s hard getting to sleep, late at night, now that I’m alone in this big house. It’s hard to fall asleep, unless I really tire myself out, by staying up late, or having been physically active all day. I’ve done my best not to collapse into an illness, after everything, because that often happens; but yesterday I had an eye infection, which seems better today but is still present. P. got a major cold instead, and so did D.; at least I avoided that.

In my reams earlier this week, I had vivid dreams of Dad dying in my arms; not the way it actually happened, but fantasy, alternative-world scenarios, one after another. I woke up not exactly upset, but wrung out. Such emotional force behind a dream leaves you feeling not upset, but not rested, either. That night I also had dreams about being part of a resistance against a repressive system; we could sneak in and out of the confined arcology that was the system, and we were building towards a revolution; in retrospect, a very Matrix-like dream.

This morning I woke earlier than usual, but felt done with sleeping. I can always nap later. My infected eye feels better, but I have a dental appointment later today, and those almost always wipe me out for the rest of the day. Flowers continue to bloom in Dad’s garden, as I look over the yard this morning; the pink rose in the back yard leaps out in contrast against the greens of the lawn and garden. I hear birds in the trees, even with the windows closed. The air feels cool, but thick; perhaps it will rain or storm later today.

It’s been a whirlwind, again. I drove through Michigan, drove hard to get back here, spent two nights in Chicago, which were good and productive, and then had some of my friends down from the Twin Cities over the weekend. I’ve packed a lot in to a short period of time, again. Now there’s time to sit quietly and integrate. I have things I need to do, but they’re not so urgent that I can’t take a day and just Do Nothing. It does feel strange to be all alone, after so long, though; or rather, all alone at home, rather than while driving. It’s not a burden, never that, it’s just a change that I’m not used to yet. I like my solitude. But it’s been so busy lately that I haven’t had much time to stop and sit and listen to my inner selves and what they have to say. Dreams have been turbulent, vivid, and not very restful for many weeks now. I could use some astral downtime, if there is such a thing. I resist the inertia of filling the day with Things To Do just because you’re used to it, and don’t know how to deal with silence. That’s more of a habit, and nothing more than a habit, than most people realize, I think.

I just had a few more poems published, one of them a haibun, and I feel like celebrating that, but I also feel detached from it. It’s nothing new, even though it’s new each time it happens. That delicate literary balance between the jaded cynicism of been there, done that, and the freshness and pleasure of beginner’s mind.

642. 11 July 2007, Beloit, WI

I should have just stopped and called home to tell them I would be an extra day on the road, but instead I pushed on through. I got to Marquette at 3pm, already too tired to care about more sightseeing. I filled up with gas, in a blazing sunny sky filled with dramatic clouds, the storm now east of us and moving on. I drove down to the lakeside briefly, then started the long drive home. It was an eight hour drive, on the tails of a day already eight hours long. I made it, though, exhausted and depleted and unable to unload the car.

641. 10 July 2007, Beloit, WI

Impressions from the Road, continued

awoken by birds at dawn
walked over to the Tahquamenon Lower Falls with camera and tripod
had the area mostly to myself for long enough
to take several good video and photo sequences

a deer eating calmly by the trail
pauses to watch me, white tail vanishing at last

a forest of ferns

walking the trail back to the campground
through deep ravine and dark woods
pausing to take photos, dancing to avoid biting insects

hiking in with a hundred other tourists to the Upper Falls
a brief conversation about photo gear with a man
three black women on vacation oohing and aahing over the beauty
and chiming in with agreement

the high winds in the river valley making the waves of falling water
sway and dance
spray coming to us on the cliffs overlooking the falls themselves

driving out of the central Upper Peninsula forests
to drive along the southern shore of Lake Superior
stopping to take photos of the dune areas
and small town buildings

a sudden downpour
the rain coming down so hard you can’t see more than twenty feet ahead
driving on through the gray hard sheets of rain
till at last the sun comes out, sudden and warm
pulling into a gas station, the sun out now, the ground still deeply puddle
filling up, a couple of young men changing their shirts at the pump
they must have gotten soaked on the way

coming into Marquette
a lakeside park where you could see the tall clouds moving east
across the Lake
which I had so recently driven through

driving south, then, from Marquette, towards Wisconsin and home

to end the day with a Punishingly Long Drive
another eight hours drive home from Marquette
I should have called home and said I’d be another day on the road
and found a hotel, but instead I drove on through
arriving late and exhausted
having stopped once or twice for food, fuel, and to stretch my legs

640. 9 July 2007, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, MI

Impressions from the Road

driving in morning rain and mist
across green fields, past orchards and farms
on two-lane highways
to reach Sleeping Bear Dune National Monument

the graveyards in the cold grey light
settler’s graves, and ancestors, and locals
right next to the park, the national forest, the dunes

taking photos from the wayside as cars drive by
just inside the park scenic loop, stations of the wayside
counting up to circle back
birds I’ve not heard sing in years above me in the trees
drops of rain falling from branch to ground all around
although it stopped raining some time ago

this silent grove, a sacred place
no one stops to look at or offer prayers
expect me and my tripod
in mutual appreciation

mist-shrouded views over lakes and bays
all grey, all kinds of grey and green and slate-blue
a place for Chinese painters and poets to observe
the rolling fog covering and revealing the views

under the cottonwoods
across the dune-grassed slope:
orange prairie bouquets

twisted witch-tree roots
bind the sand into glassed soil—
till the wind moves on

clouds and mists at the shore of Lake Michigan
riding a high dune overlooking the empty sky
clouds and mists erasing the horizon

sandy trails and climbers
up and down the 450 foot dune face
gravel and sand and wind-sheared trees
emerging and disappearing into the fog
long trail into nothing

rain-dew on wildflowers
foggy canyons of road between trees

stopping at the shore rescue station
history of longboats and wrecks on these shores
archaic timelost wooden hulls and skulls

stopping for fudge
the sky begins to clear
at Petoskey an hour in a coffeeshop doing email
and lunch bought at a Japanese restaurant
gyu-don, beef and vegetables over rice
not eating then and there, but driving on

across the Mackinac Bridge over the straits
connecting Lower and Upper Peninsulas
the two halves of Michigan
my homeland, my home place, divided by water
into lived-in land and land that’s still mostly wild
dramatic clouds out over the water
as we soar on steel plating above the deep abyss

stopping to eat a late lunch at a roadside café
filling up with gas again an driving on
but first a quick stop to the Bridge scenic overlook
right there on the shore
and a few minutes at Pére Marquette National Monument
to see the monument, in its octagonal Prairie-style building

a long ay of driving, finally we see the shores of Lake Superior
then cut inland to Tahquamenon Falls
camping in my tent at the tentsites near the Lower Falls
a campground full of kids and families
young boys playing football, girls riding bikes
my tentsite in an empty stretch not directly next to anyone else
I shower off the road-dust and eat a cold dinner
more gyu-don and rice, a cold soda, and chopsticks

I light a campfire tonight, my only fire this trip
and take photos of the stars and fire
the tent glowing from within
the stars and a lone planet moving in the tree branches
the fire alive with waving tendrils of light
gold and orange and yellow and alive
I watch for an hour before going to bed
to sleep the most restful, deep sleep I’ve had in months

639. 9 July 2007, Traverse City, MI

Timeslips: I woke several times during the night, feeling as though I’d slept for hours, and had a lot of dreams, and very little time had passed. Subjectively, I felt as if a lot had passed. I feel pretty refreshed. I guess there was a lot to work out, in my dreams, so I packed a lot in.

In the dark grey light of early morning—this motel room has windows on front an back of the room, only the back ones are high clerestory windows overlooking trees, so I left the curtains open on that side—I wake again, to the sounds of rain on the roof, rolling thunder, and traffic on the wet pavement of Hey. 31 outside. I’m warm under the blankets, and glad that I didn’t try to camp last night. I was so tired, by day’s end, that it would have been a chore rather than a pleasure. This morning would have made it worse, taking down a wet tent, a wet camp, in the cold and damp; so I did the right thing.

Which leads me to think about something that bothers me, from time to time, which I hesitate to even talk about, for fear of sending it awry: Every so often, it feels like I get lost, astray, led astray either by my bad decisions, or some power that laughs at me in a cruel way. Yesterday I felt that way, when taking the paths at Saugatuck, during that unintentionally long hike when I set out not knowing what was there, or where to go. And yesterday, deciding I was too tired to camp, and so spent time finding a motel, rather than either driving on, or going to the shore. It felt like it was going to be one of those days astray, when nothing works right, and you waste all say undoing bad directions, bad choices, wrong intuitions. Instead, and this is so new it’s hard to trust, but I want to trust it: instead, every choice was exactly the right one, whether I knew it or not, and every apparently wrong decision was in fact the efficient, correct intuition. I made every right choice, and every intuition was correct, and led me to exactly where I needed to go. Rather than spending the day wandering and lost, in fact, I wandered not at all, and took every right path to get here.

I resist collapsing into believing I can do that all the time, now, because I don’t want to set up hubris, or yet other ways of going astray mentally and spiritually. I want to trust that those powers that I sometimes feel are fucking me over, are no longer going to come around. I’d like to believe that; it feels like a raw, newly-healing wound, a scab that itches and you have to fight not to pick at it. It feels like an old wound that’s newly closed. It might require time to learn to trust it completely. It is true? Can I really trust this direction-intuition now? I don’t know. I don’t really want to push it, or second-guess it, or even spend too much time contemplating it. I’ll let it be, for now, and just go about my day. Every day, at least, is a new day: a fresh start. Hit the reset button and play again.

through the window
oak leaves drip with rain—
lakeside morning

638. 8 July 2007, Traverse City, MI

I spent so much time hiking today, I chafe. It wasn’t intentional, but with the heat in the upper 90s, the strong winds all day, and the evening turning stormy, I’m exhausted and spent. I’ve had enough for one day. So I decided not to camp out tonight, as it’s going to rain, and I’m treating myself to a hotel room for the night, with a shower and an ice machine. I’m in the Sierra Motel, a nice little place on the main drag in Traverse City. I have a room on the end, where I only share one wall with other guests; it’s very quiet, just what I needed. I love these small, non-chain motels; there are three or four ones along the strip that feel like old resort hotels, leftovers of past tourist eras. No condos in them, no special modern amenities, just clean rooms and interesting facades. I was going to drive out to catch the sunset over the Lake from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Monument, but clouds rolled in, and it turned dark hours before sunset. There was lightning out over Grand Traverse Bay, and thick storm clouds turning the sky black except for bands of pink and orange. The National Cherry Festival is also going on this weekend, by the lakeside park, so the downtown is crowded with people and cars.

The high heat today has made for a sweaty, hot day. The first thing I did after checking in was shower, then rinse out my sweat-soaked shorts and tank-top in the shower. Then I drove around for awhile, found some food, took a few photos, then came back and caught up with my email, which I’ve neglected for several days. The wind is picking up in fits and starts. It’s definitely going to storm, with fury and vigor, before long. So, I’ll go out to the National Park in the morning, then drive on up towards the Upper Peninsula.

chatting with the girl
who takes money at the store—
driving northward ho

I drove through Holland and Muskegon today, including a stop in North Muskegon to take pictures of the opposite shore of Muskegon Lake from a shoreline park they have there, right across from the City Hall and the Library.

I stopped at Duck Lake again—I have been making several pilgrimage stops, repeating stops that Dad and I took when we drove through in May; a way of memorializing, and remembering Dad, here and now—and I have never seen the shore and lake so crowded. Hundreds of families baking in the hot sun and hot sand, kids running everywhere, parents dozing in the sun, kids playing in the water. A truly festive feeling, and a really huge crowd. I shot a few photos of the crowd, and kids playing in the water, then drove on.

After awhile driving, I realized I didn’t want to make any more stops. My feet hurt. I was all tired out from my excursions already of the day, not to mention last night’s late night activities. I realized too today that yesterday was another day with new people, new friends, crowded and busy, and too many people. Now at last I can be on my own, quiet, taking my time, not talking to anyone if I don’t feel like it. Just driving. But I was too tired to do anymore, so I stopped at this motel, and I’m taking the night off. It fells good.

I pulled a chair outside my room, and sat an did my email. Lots of shirtless men going by, still. Even after dark now, the air is still hot. The wind is also still warm, even hot. The temperature peaked in the upper 90s today, and it’s still in the mid-80s now. A sultry, stormy night. No doubt the tent would have been drenched, if and when and where the rains finally came. Lightning is flickering outside now, but the air is still hot and thick.


Midnight, and no storms. The air is still warm, but cooling with the night. I’ve been reading and writing for awhile, then I watched some brainless TV. (I know that’s redundant.) I’m running out of steam, but I like this hotel, and I feel good about wanting to do a room tonight, instead of camping, even if doesn’t storm after all. It hardly matters. It’s just as important to pamper myself, these days, as to avoid storms. Positive approaches to life, rather than negative ones. Enough, for now.

637. 8 July 2007, Fruitport, MI

This morning, after a night of making love, social chat with other campers at nearby tentsites, and then more making love, all nude all the time, I woke up and got out of the tent a couple of hours after dawn. I sat down at the picnic table, and watched the sun streaming in rays through the eastern woods behind the tent. It was a moment of sacred beauty. I sat for a long time, still nude, and was at peace. All was silent and still, as hardly anyone was awake yet. After awhile, I got back in the tent, roused my companion, and we made love again, the wind stirring the trees all around us, the sunlight streaming through, warming our bodies.

rays of gold light
stream through pale green boughs—
cathedral of the woods

Sleeping had been fitful at times, because of so many people around, talking into the night. Campfires and tiki lights all around us, making smoke and fog between the trees. My companion quietly snoring. All night long, as all day before, the wind was strong and continuous, making the trees dance and sing. Loud winds in the trees, peaking and rising and falling like waves of air.

morning light
touching my tent,
birds everywhere

After packing out the camping gear, showering, taking some portrait photos, and leaving the campground, I drove over to Saugatuck Dunes State Park. I took one of the trails out to the beach, a long hike over dunes bound with trees and grass. When I got to the beach, it was glorious, hot and windy. I walked for a mile down the beach, then took another trail back. I thought I had gotten myself lost, and as I was getting dehydrated and overheated, I was worried. But somehow my feet knew the proper trails to take, and I made it back to the parking lot, although hot and tired and worn out. I didn’t plan on over an hour’s strenuous hiking in the high heat, humidity, and wind this morning; but that’s how it turned out.

Now I’m stopped at a restaurant for lunch, near Grand Haven, needing sustenance before driving on. I don’t think I can handle much more strenuous hiking today, and I might camp tonight but not make a cookfire; that might be too much work. I want to drive through Muskegon, and go to Duck Lake, before moving on up the coast towards Sleeping Bear Dunes, and the Grand Traverse Bay area. I might do a hotel, too. I’ve been overeating so much this past month, or not eating good food, and not cooking for myself enough. I’ll eat this meal till I’m full, then ask for a box, and take the rest with me. It’s time to go back to listening to the body, and what it needs. When it’s full, I’m full; and it’s not necessary to overdo it, and push myself any further than I want to.

636. 7 July 2007, Campit resort and campground, near Fennville, MI

I’m in a LGBT-owned and operated campground resort, with pool and trailers and RVs and whatnot, all far more developed and organized than I like. I have my tent set up in the most primitive camping area, the least developed, which suits me just fine, as it’s in a grove of beautiful trees that are all moving in the wind this afternoon. These few, more secluded tentsites are the resort’s only designated clothing-optional camp area, which is why I decided to try out this resort to being with, so I’m sitting here writing at a picnic table that’s seen better days, having set up the tent earlier, nude. Sitting on a bamboo mat laid over the bench, if you must know. Other men wander around here wearing shorts, or sarongs, or nude. We are surrounded here by thick woods. A steady breeze makes the trees sigh, and keep the bugs off. Dappled light dances over the page, and my skin, as I write.

green sentinels lift
arms and hair into the blue—
light sparkling ferns

I feel like being quiet for awhile, after the long drive to get here, and get set up. Maybe later I’ll take a walk, talk to people, maybe swim in the pool. Rinse off the road-dust and the sweat.

635. 6 July 2007, Northville, MI

watching golfers slash
across the fountain pond:
slices of life

Why I Hate Air-Conditioning:

Last night, sleeping in the basement, I got so cold, I felt like I had taken a chill and was coming down with a cold. This morning the first thing I did was go outside and stand in the sun, absorbing the heat and light, and letting it fill me up. My hands began to fill with so much power from the sun, so much solar prana, the lines of fire went up my wrists as far as my elbows, glowing yellow-orange. Which was good, as it burned out the cold. People spend so much time living in the cool of air-conditioning that they can no longer stand the genuine heat of summer; they run from shelter to shelter, and never adapt. Then they come down with summer colds because they’ve gotten chilled in the cold interiors, form not wearing enough clothing. Or they come inside from being outside for long enough in the heat that they are covered with sweat, and their shirts are wet, and then they sit down and take a chill in the frigid indoor air. Everyone complaining about the heat, but coming down with summer chills, and no one seems to get the irony of it. You can’t win for losing.

Something I’ve noticed about condo architecture of the last ten years, other than the fact that it all looks alike: the fashion is for tall-roofed, many-gabled, steep-sloped rooflines with uneven rooftops. I guess there is an idea that it looks more like a village roofline, in that it’s irregular and steep, like Old World architecture. I suppose it does give variety to what would otherwise be an endless row of boring sameness, tract-houses all cut from the same mold. Outside on the summer lawn, just past the pond with a lovely water fountain playing in the air, golfers tee up and send their little missiles downrange; they’re close enough that you fear a bad shot will take out a window, or knock you out if you go out to sit on the back porch. Golfers always the same kind of preppy-looking clothes; there is indeed a sense of golfing fashion; at least plaid pants are no longer part of the fashion. A teenage boy caddies for his chain-smoking, overweight parents, wearing lime green and white; he at least seems fit and strong, and able to stand the heat.

Nearby here there is a strip of woods that is public land between condo developments. A man who lives in one of these condos, which I stipulate are lovely, spacious, and well-made, has taken over part of the public lands and built a huge stroll garden, full of flowers and unusual trees, a creek lined with stone and timber to make a channeled long-pond that turns and houses minnows and birds.

There are sculptures hidden pockets of ferns and flowers: cranes peeking out of a lily patch; a burnished sundial; a moss-covered English garden circlet with a stone bowl held aloft by a girl-goddess on a pedestal, spilling over with purple flowers. It’s a rich, full, lovely place, full of light and shadow, and cool away from the day’s heat under the tall trees. It’s not a public park, no one paid for it, he just does it out of love. It’s maintained with no public money, just private joy. The locals here call it their secret garden; although I gather it’s been photographed for a national gardening magazine before.

He continues to expand it, and lay down new plants. many are perennials, all will continue to return and return. It’s a quiet, meditative, restful place, full of surprises of bursting colors around every turn. I walked through it with family under the noon sun, and I plan to go back in the mid-afternoon, when the light is less harsh and brilliantly white, and more tender to leaf and vine. In one or two spots, swarms of small red and black bugs, crawling all over each other, huddling together for comfort: clumps of box-elder bugs, newly hatched, not yet ready to spread wing and take to the air.


I went back to the secret garden in the afternoon. A few small puffy clouds passed over the sun, giving me even more perfect lighting for taking photos of the flowers and garden paths. I had the garden to myself, and shot several areas I hadn’t seen before, in this better lighting. It was very peaceful. Birds sang in the trees overhead. Red beebalm waved in the breeze, with orange and yellow day lilies, purple and blue petunias. As I walked around, I felt more quiet and peace than I had in a few days of visiting family here; they’re wonderful, and they’re also loud, opinionated, and occasionally overbearing. I needed the silence and stillness.

In the evening we drove over to another in-law’s home, with a goldfish pond in the backyard. We sat eating barbequed chicken on the deck, watching the birds at the birdfeeders. Purple finches, a cardinal father with two juveniles in tow, a pileated woodpecker, a pair of doves, the usual little brown sparrows, and much more. Pleasant conversation into the evening, and a ride home after dark, with Venus hanging low in the sky. I’m tired enough now that none of my plans matter; it will all be what it is tomorrow, when I go back to being solo, and having silence, and solitude, and can hear myself think again. It was good to wander off by myself a couple of times today.

634. 5 July 2007, Northville, MI

We spent all day yesterday in Beloit preparing for our trip to here in Michigan, except for some downtime once or twice. It was a hot and sultry day, with a sudden downpour in the early evening. We went down to the Rock River for the annual fireworks, which was one of the best shows ever. They launch them over the river, and the fireworks reflect in the water, along with the lights from all the boats that moor themselves in the wide part of the river near the park, to watch. I went out onto the bridge to the north of the park, and shot photos and video of the fireworks, and also recorded some ambient audio tracks. It was a lovely night. There were also fireflies everywhere; the fireflies have been very beautiful the past few days in Beloit, inn the lush warm growth of high summer. Down by the water, after the show, the air was thick and smoky with cordite. But back in our part of town, where it must have rained heavier than it did down by the river, the pools of water were evaporating from the road as thick mists, and a heavy fog had developed. The sounds of fireworks launched from all the local street corners and driveways followed us home.

This morning we got up early, finished loading the car, and headed out. It was a long drive, but an easy one. I took Pam to see the Norwegian settlers monument in Norway, IL, as we drove down around Chicago via Hwy.s 39 and 80, bypassing most of the metro. Pam drove on the highway once we got to Michigan for a couple of hours, giving me a respite break, and for her own practice; the first highway driving she’s done in years, and she drove well, if a little nervously at first. Then I finished the drive, taking the wheel again as traffic thickened near Jackson, past Ann Arbor, and to here.

All around us today, it was hot and sultry every time we got out of the car to rest, and we passed through bands of building clouds between stretches of open blue sky.

So, a day of mostly driving. I took some photos of the general store at Norway, which is itself 150 years old, and its collection of imported goods, some of which are quite funny. And I took photos of clouds, as we traveled. And that’s about it.

Tomorrow I think will be a day of more family-related visiting. Maybe we’ll go to Ann Arbor, maybe we’ll eat out; I don’t know. I’m relaxed about it. I admit, though, at the moment, it’s all the same, because I’m so incredibly tired I can barely see.

Then on Saturday, I’m going to drive over to Saugatuck and camp there at a resort for a night, before beginning my drive up the Lake Michigan shore. My goal is to drive around Lake Michigan, for a brief respite trip, by myself, to give myself some private time, after all the intensity of the past month or more. I haven’t been up to northern Michigan for many years, and this time, as my nomadic photographer’s motto should be, Have Camera, Will Travel. More on that as I proceed. I’m looking forward to camping, traveling, and sightseeing. This should be a good relaxation trip.

633. 2 July 2007, Beloit, WI

In my dreams last night, I am sitting in a coffeeshop writing in my journal with one of my Japanese brush pens; Dad is sitting behind me, we’ve just had a meal or something; after a little while, he pats me on the knee in an I’ll-see-you-later gesture, gets up, and leaves; it’s only then that I remember that he’s dead. In the dream, I suddenly missed him more than I can say, a wave of emotion I still feel this morning. In the dream, I wrote about it in my journal, just as I am doing right now. The sense of his presence was strong, and calm; nothing amiss; although his face was unseen, covered by shadows.

632. 1 July 2007, Rotary Gardens, Janesville, WI

unknown days
hailing cedar songbird—
green rivulets flow

nothing I feel able yet to say.
no adequate words.
better to be silent.

sounds of doves
above my shoulder
sun latticed by teahouse window
breeze and murmur of stream
finding a little stillness

hollow in my chest
like shiver of heart strained under too much emotion
feeling weak to say what
tree rustle birdsong waterfall
all equipped to say better
the only adequate sounds

631. 28 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Woke up with a migraine today, after sleeping in later than usual. I have not been sleeping well, between the unsettled dreams, and some insomnia. I know it’s grief, but grief displaced onto other things. I’m still so tired; I must have needed to sleep in. Still, we’ve gotten a lot of chores done today, then had a light dinner, and did some more. I’m feeling better, now, headache’s faded, and I feel better for having done more necessary tasks. We sorted through Dad’s coin collection somewhat, just a preliminary gathering together to see what’s there. I took photos of Mom’s jewelry, most of which will go to my sister. The coins are part of the estate, though, and need to be sold as a complete collection; not now, though, but eventually. There’s no hurry.

My Dad wanted me to have his wedding ring, and my grandfather’s rings and silver things; when I heard that—he told my sister in the hospital—I just broke down and cried. It still makes me cry, to think of it.

Still, I feel better today. Maybe because I rested more, maybe because I got more done, it doesn’t matter. I lost most of yesterday to exhaustion and bad humour. It was a bad day. Today’s a little better. Isn’t that profound, how much a day can change things?

630. 27 June 2007, Beloit, WI

My dreams turbulent and unsettling again; I wake with an empty mind, but churning emotions. I read books on Zen, simplicity, and the Tao, seeking some solace there: reminders of what’s real, what’s true, what matters and what doesn’t. I feel heavy, weighed down. While caring for Dad was a major stress for me these past months, it wasn’t the only stress; some of those are now coming to the surface to be given their due diligence. My patience remains low for stupidity, whether it comes from man or machine. Yesterday was a dental day, which always means I’m wiped out for the rest of the day; but it’s today that I’m feeling short-tempered.

I find myself tired of conflict, and wanting to retreat from it. I’m tired of always having to fight for what I want and need; tired to the point of letting it go, sometimes, rather than have to stand up for myself anymore. The constant battling wears you down. Not that you give up and give in, at core, because if I were backed into a corner and asked what I really thought, it would explode out of me like a cannon firing at the enemy. But rather, tired of always having to be at war with the world, when the world itself is not a place for war, or strife, but a place of rest and beauty. This distinction is obviously a human one, and an illusion of artifice created by human attitudes and assumptions. The raptor and the prey don’t have a conflict between personalities, or an argument about life; they simply engage in fight or flight. The reasoning of the lower instincts, the reptile brain, which is something that lives in the sub-basement of every human being, no matter how we try to paper it over with intellect, religion, belief-system, or superior longing, is something that must be acknowledged and embraced and incorporated into our wholeness. It’s an aspect of ourselves we must include in our larger, provisionally higher selves, in order to be whole. We must invite it in, and make a room for it to live in; or we will give it our power, secretly, all unknowing, to direct us as if we were possessed by it.

Outside my window yesterday there wandered twin fawns, their pelts still spotted, and their doe-mother. They were their usual wary selves when I stood at the window, watching, their heads coming up to stare at my least movement. Deer are instinctually wary, and have good instincts for survival, which is one reason we have a deer overpopulation problem in Wisconsin—the other being that we’ve killed off all our competing predators, so that deer have no natural predators left but man, here—but deer are dumb as a post when it comes to anything other than survival. If you don’t move, if you don’t trigger their reptile-brain flight response, they’ll come right up to you, and feed from your hand. You achieve this by eliminating all threat, all danger, all fear, from your own self, then you can go out and wait for the deer; they’ll come right up to you, ears flicking, heads low, to taste the salt-licked stone that you have become.

That lower self’s wisdom, the body’s wisdom, the reptile wisdom, is something we have to bring into daylight. We need it. An intellectualized, non-physical embodiment, the holy grail of ascetic body-denying saints the world over, is an incomplete embodiment, and it is an error. It will be disrupted whenever the reptile-brain’s fight or flight instinct erupts into consciousness, leaving the ascetic scattered, shocked, and denatured. Watching my father’s body cling to life for days after he had decided he wanted to go, I learned that the body will always cling to life: the body’s job, and its desire, is to life. Its job is to stay alive, and it will do it however it can, no matter what the will and heart and mind and soul want it to do. My father’s last dispute with his corpus was thankfully not drawn-out and horrific, but it was nevertheless an endurance test both for him, and for us, the watchers. He didn’t last too long, after deciding to go; it could have been weeks of hard fighting; instead, it was days.

(We just heard from P. and D.’s neighbors in Holland that, on the day that Dad died, there was a tremendous amount of noise in their empty house. When they went over to look and see what was going on, but the house was empty and undisturbed. They wondered if Dad had come looking for us there, on the way out. Well, he certainly wasn’t here, so I guess it’s possible. It’s interesting, nonetheless.)

And as for sexuality, the ideal of a refined, higher sexual attraction that is intellectual and idealized is just another kind of body-hating gnostic asceticism cloaked in moral virtue. There are revelations of joy and deep satisfaction that even casual sex with strangers can uncover in you, because they are embodied, physical, messy, sweaty, and touched. These are revelations that no aesthetic of denial can comprehend, if the practicing ascetic has not first experienced them in their own embodied selves. This is why a celibate, non-sexual priestly class is a tragic error in any organized religion, because anyone who dares to condemn others for sins they themselves have never committed is a hypocritical child shouting at his playmates in a sandbox filled with lies. How can you repent, if you never did anything worth repenting for? But sex itself is never itself a sin; it is how we think about sex, how we think about ourselves during and after sex, that the sin comes in. The reptile-brain, bound up with survival-level emotions as it is, relishes sexual activity, and makes no moral distinction between rough, even violent, sex and sex that is oceanic, gentle, transcendent, evanescent, immersive. Moral distinctions are a mammalian function, and while they may be evolutionary and ethical on a species level, they are not inherent to the body, nor should they be condemnatory of the body. The categorical divisions between mind and body, conventional to culture and religion as they may be, are a dead end. They do not encompass the full range, and the full measure of force, of the human experience. And therefore they cannot transcend, because you cannot transcend what you have not wallowed in.

And, ultimately, there may not be anything wrong with it, and it doesn’t need to be transcended. I can’t accept any theology that begins with a curse, that feels embodiment is a curse, that believes the best thing to do with a body is to leave it behind. That’s a theology born of a neurotic pathology, not of creation’s love. If we were only meant to go, why come here at all? I mean, really. Why bother?

629. 24 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Violent dreams, full of conflict, anger, crowds following you around to harass you, argument, mutilation, anger. I slept almost ten hours last night, after finally getting to sleep, waking up at noon, which is late even for me. Everyone has left, now, leaving just Pam and I here in the house. I don’t know what to do today, except maybe go out and do some retail therapy, as Pam calls it. Shopping with no intention, just to get out of the house. I could go up to Madison today, but at the moment I don’t feel like doing anything too strenuous. I’ve had a sore throat for days, although I’m not sick; it must just be stress and exhaustion. I feel better this morning, but I also feel like being alone, not going out to be more social all over again. The dreams last night were vivid and disturbing, but the details don’t matter, so I’m not going to write them down; just a standard processing dream, full of details from life, not a shamanic dream, or a lucid dream.

628. 21 June 2007, Beloit, WI

I waited till dark, then set up a little studio lighting and black backdrops and took photos of the all the flower arrangements we had for the visitation and funeral, and the other flower arrangements people sent us. I did a lot of photos, and then I had to stop. At some point, I really felt: I miss you, Dad. And I just broke down and cried.

The visitation went better than I expected. It went quickly, in fact, as long as there were people arriving to give their condolences. We heard a lot of stories about Dad from a lot of people who knew him, and many of them were funny and witty. The evening only dragged towards the end, when there were no more new visitors. After that, too drained emotionally to want to do anything, we went and got a pizza, and went to bed.

The funeral also went well. Many more people came than I expected, maybe more than a hundred. Many of my best friends came, including some I had not expected to arrive. It caught me, and I got emotional. What really got me was the music, which was all well-done. Nothing gets under my skin like music. Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, and Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring were the two pieces that Dad had requested be done at his funeral, and they were done well.

Today was really the first day that I really had nothing to do. Taking photos was all I could think of to do. So it all caught up to me, and I really missed Dad.


lilies rise and bloom
as though untouched by summer
storm rains

spill of white gladiola chrysanthemum daisy lily turning towards light white spray of white flowers white the color of death with two roses in the midst of white cascade one red rose for him one yellow rose for her together twinned falling beside the resting place under wood under hot sky under eyeburning sky bright enough to darken then two stands of flowers beside feet yellow fall of lilies with one red rose beside head red fall of many strands with one yellow rose pressed together pressed inward up to sun to memory to recitation of the catalysts of joy what’s left is gold silver red yellow spilling cascade frozen water ice the color of dying frozen hands in calm caress repose prayer silence

hands to eyes marked with tight-lipped fire red
hands to sleep in sun combust to ashes gray yellow white

627. 21 June 2007, Beloit, WI

I’m tired. I’m exhausted. The visitation and funeral went very well indeed: everything was great, and Dad would have liked it all. (Did like it all. Does like it all?)

I went to kill some time on the poetry boards tonight. I read some comments on a couple of my poems. I’m sure they’re good and valid comments, but the only thing I could think of to reply, which I didn’t actually post, was, I just buried my father, I really don’t care if you think the poem sucked. Just a totally different perspective on things at the moment. o I even care if anyone thinks I’m a poet, or a good poet, or a writer? At the moment, nothing could be further from my mind. It just doesn’t matter.

Note that I’m laughing as I say this, not crying. Note that I find it amusing, not frustrating. I’ve had a good day and night, even though I feel wrung out like a wet washrag. I just don’t care. Maybe it’s time to stop even bothering. I’ll write what I write. If no one likes it, that doesn’t mean it sucks. It may not mean anything at all.

626. 20 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Two long dream sequences last night; the first one lingers most strongly with me, because of its resonant animal power. The first one was shamanic: we are under attack by spiritual forces; along the roadside are sculptures made of trees; somebody calls them dragons; my Asian companions summon them; they are metal frames with shaped trees growing inside them, in the shape of huge buffalo; each one has a white bone mask where the face would be; carved from ivory or white wood; we are in a central small rectangular building, like an above ground bunker; we set up there, and I take up space at the back; everyone knows my job comes later; my friends do their summoning; and the tree-buffalo-dragons begin to move; the move in single file, shuffling their roots through the ground; they disrupt traffic by ignoring it, as they form a large circle around the bunker where we are; then in the dreams there’s a lot of the usual moving around, random talk and actions, all under the sense of preparation for an eventual attack; we are careful to stay in side the circle made by the slowly-circling, slowly shuffling tree-beasts; I feel awe more than once; finally when the time comes, it’s my job to get back to that bunker, that center-point of they circle, and when I do, white light explodes out of me; none of my doing, just an explosion triggered by the right time, and simply passing through me; everything whites out.

The second long dream sequence was more about travel, about moving between homes out West, and the people there; talking about my experiences with them; musical gear negotiations; various little things like that; some beautiful scenery in and around a mountain-bound city; riding bicycles or driving, passing through, not staying.

I was up late last night, finishing up media projects for Dad’s visitation at the funeral home later today. I gave up on some projects, due to burnout and lack of time. But I spent all day yesterday in a place where I was in Getting Things Done mode, and not wallowing in my emotions. Now, starting today, when people start arriving, that’s all going to change. My projects are done. People will start wanting to grieve with me; and that’s right and proper. I remind myself that this is all about their grief, not mine. If I feel something well up, I’ll just let it. And I keep coming back to Dad’s joy that I sensed, and my own sense of relief, these past few days. Also, the stoic side of my personality, the side I get from my Mom, thinks it’s unseemly to mourn so publicly, to come to pieces in front of others, or anything like that; I’m doing my best to let my Irish side be dominant today, though, which is far more expressive. There are of course more tears to shed; yet I am still not in the same place of grief as many others will be. I really feel more like celebrating my Dad’s life than weeping about my own loss; that’s genuinely how I’ve been feeling the past couple of days. And that’s all okay. Be humble and keep it in perspective: it’s not about me, or for me alone. If I’ve learned anything in the past year living here with Dad, it’s to let things be as they are, and just be with them in the present moment. So mote it be.

Dad's favorite recent photo of himself and Mom, that I took when we were all sitting out on the deck in April 2004; he printed it out and framed it on the kitchen wall.

625. 19 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Anticipatory grief: it’s what you feel before the expected happens, even when you don’t know when it will happen. I’ve been having this for months about Dad. I realized some time ago that I would most likely be the one who found his body, or at least be present at the time. And that came true, in a way. All of us have also been feeling anticipatory grief about Mom, because with her Alzheimer’s disease we’ve in some ways already lost her, even though she lives on in body. But the person we knew isn’t there anymore, and hasn’t been for at least three years now. It can be excruciating at times.

But because we’ve all been grieving already, and because Dad’s leaving felt so joyous, today I feel neutral. I feel fragile, still, to be sure. But I’m not feeling a whirlwind of emotions so far today, upon awakening. More of a gentle wave-swell which rises and recedes with the ride. The waters are calm at the moment. Which is just as well, since I still have a lot of tasks to complete before the visitation and funeral. People will also begin arriving tomorrow, which means that our privacy and solitude will disappear for several days. So, I’m stocking up in preparation, so that I can get through it all.

The truth is: Dad laughed a lot in life. He was a positive person, except when he was sick or hurt. And he wasn’t sick often. He made everybody laugh all the time. So it’s appropriate that we’ve planned a few jokes, and that we remember him with laughter at least as much as we remember him with tears. The tears are for ourselves, not for him. He’s now free, and doesn’t need or want tears. If I cry, it’s for my own loss, an ultimately egocentric loss, not for him. This is the nature of much grieving: it is for the living, not the dead, who don’t care anymore, who are free, who don’t need it. We grieve for ourselves, not for those who have passed.

624. 18 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Yesterday really sucked. Technology was misbehaving, and other stuff. A Bad Technology day. All I wanted was to get a few things done, and it felt like enormous obstacles kept getting set in the way. Eventually it all worked out, but not before I had an attack of uncontrollable fury and rage. I went into the basement and yelled and punched things, at one point. I’m feeling fragile, even brittle; it doesn’t take much of a push to send me over the edge. I have no reserves, and even a good long sleep isn’t enough to keep it all at bay.

People mean well, but they want to come over and be sad with us, and right now we simply don’t have time for that. There are lots of funeral preparations to be made, most of which are now done; but you can’t take lots of time away from all of the tasks at hand, or they won’t get done. And honestly, I don’t want to sit around and feel sad with people; I do enough of that on my own. When I’m with people, I want to laugh with remembrance, not mourn. It’s the Sufi way of the remembrance of God, the zikr: joyous, celebratory, ecstatic; the opposite of morose.

The past few nights the fireflies have been out. It’s early, but it’s beautiful to see their lights in the late evening and early night, rising from the lawn, ascending to the other stars.

This afternoon we went and bought some funeral clothes for ourselves to wear, and arranged for flowers, and other numerous planning details. I’m really tired. I want to take a day off before things heat up again, but I don’t know if that’s really possible. Maybe an afternoon.

Yesterday was also Father’s Day. We went next door for late lunch, and spent most of the afternoon in conversation. Two fathers in the room, my missing Dad present in spirit and in many of the stories we were telling. Characteristic laughters.

Scattered thunderstorms. Now, at sunset, a few fireflies under the eaves, but the rain is coming down like the monsoon, it’s dark under these evening clouds, and it’s too dark to see my hands while I’m writing. I feel tired, I needed a nap, I took a short one, now the drama of the storm comes at eventide dark, and the skies weep for me, an endless weeping that I don’t have the strength in my own body to undertake. So the world weeps for me, instead. It’s a thing of beauty and harmony and balance.


The storm lines came through, and the heavy vertical rains came down, two inches in as many hours. There are flash flood warnings for the region, so much has come down so quickly.

We sat and ate dinner with the door to the deck open, the sound alternately soothing and shouting. Then lightning flashed very close by, and we closed the windows up. Now everyone’s gone to bed, and I will soon. I would like to do some more work tonight, but I’m so tired I probably won’t. It can wait till tomorrow. Or it can just not get done. That’s an okay solution, for now. Only so much we can do. Then we have to let go of the rest.

Paul Durkee, aged 6 or 7; Paul Durkee with his father, Floraden Durkee, aged 12 or so; both photos taken at the house on Cedar St., East Lansing, MI

623. 17 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Turbulent dreams, probably working through some of the turbulent emotions of the past few days. Dreams of traveling, of passing by and through hospital settings, quick glimpses of people doing medical activities, a glimpse through a high window of a rehab exercise group; tension in the air, and lots of judgmentalism; watching but not participating in arguments and similar conflicts, I feel tense but also objectively removed.

How many layers of my self are engaged in all this I don’t know. I do know that my feelings have been good a lot of the time: I’ve been doing my grieving in anticipation of Dad’s actual death for months now, and now that it’s happened what I am feeling a lot of the time is relief and joy, and the feelings I got from him as he departed were all so positive and happy that that has colored my own feelings the past few days. I break down into spontaneous tears at unpredictable times, though, and I just let that happen, don’t try to stop it. I observe my own responses, and reactions, and spontaneous changes, without trying to prevent or undo.

Yesterday we spent most of the day on funeral preparations, meetings with the pastor, an so forth. I wrote an obituary for Dad last night, following the model provided. I think it came out very well. If I can allow myself a brief moment of back-patting amidst all this, I felt good about the outcome, and I’ve become a pretty good writer. Minus the details of time and place, I’ll copy below what I wrote for the obituary.

A lot of what we’re all feeling is impossible to put into words, no matter what the poetic zealots might say; those zealots who claim poetry to be the highest artform are just wrong, because there is so much of human experience that fits not at all (comfortably, easily, or accurately) into verbal language. Poetry is certainly the highest verbal, linguistic artform, I might concede, but music is ultimately more encompassing, because it is somatic and visceral as well as cerebral and verbal, in ways poetry can almost never achieve. Most poet-zealots, I’ve noted over time, have no feel for any artform except their own; so one must take their claims with a salt shaker at hand, always on guard for parochialism and provincial declamations.

Dr. Paul F. Durkee, M.D., M.P.H.
30 May 1926—15 June 2007

Dr. Paul F. Durkee, 81, of Beloit, WI, died Friday, June 15, 2007, in his home.

Paul was born May 30, 1926, in Detroit, MI, the eldest child of Floraden and Ruth Dixon Durkee. Paul was a graduate of South Lake High School in St. Clair Shores, MI. He received his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Michigan State University, the degree of Medical Doctor from Marquette University, and his Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan. He married Margaret Ramberg on July 7, 1951, in Muskegon, MI.

Dedicated to public health and population issues his entire career, Paul worked as a doctor for the Lutheran mission in India for ten years. Upon his return to the United States, he worked as a doctor for the Student Health Center at the University of Michigan for twelve years, and concluded his medical career after another twelve years as the Doctor at the General Motors plant in Janesville, WI. Paul was a member of the Rotary Club, the American Medical Association, and the Beloit Alzheimer’s Support Group. He was an avid gardener, a coin collector, and sang in church choirs throughout his life.

Survivors include Paul’s wife of 56 years, Margaret Durkee; his children, daughter Pamela (David) Barick of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and son Arthur Durkee; his brother, David (Patty) Durkee of Michigan; and his sisters, June (Alf) Brudvik of Arizona, Mary Anne (Bob) Beckman of Alabama, and Gail Durkee of Washington; plus nieces and nephews. Paul was predeceased by his parents.

622. 16 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Long dreams of Ann Arbor; of wandering via car through the old neighborhood; of getting lost on new streets; ending up on the south side of downtown; getting out and walking through business districts and parks that are both old and new, recognized and unfamiliar at the same time; the mood overall of slightly overcast skies, slightly gray, a little annoyed at times; I want to get home, but getting home means fighting and arguing with my family, in that familiar yet distorted house, now overgrown and older; it means returning to old patterns I chose long ago not to return to, recycling old patterns and disputes I chose to set limits around and don’t want to rehash anymore; willing to fight to keep the changes I’ve made. I go through stores that are very California and progressive, bookstores and organic grocery stores; Ann Arbor always was more progressive than the other Midwestern towns that claimed to be; more so, without advertising making claims, just being. A brief stop in at Zingerman’s Deli to get a great sandwich and some other goodies; wondrous foods, as always.

I went to bed early last night, much more tired than usual. I woke at dawn today, still tired; I want to get a few hours more sleep now, but I wanted to write down these dreams, first. I want to go to the Farmer’s Market downtown in a few hours, too; I want more asparagus, and a few other things.

I did things yesterday I didn’t imagine I would do, like sitting with Dad after he’d passed, feeling things openly. Like taking some photos of him in his deathbed. The last good photos of him are from his birthday last week, which we celebrated in his hospital room; it was a good party anyway, and he seemed to enjoy himself.

I’ve been feeling collapse into feelings of relief and completion, like my long labor is over, like the hard job I’ve held onto for the past year is now complete. I feel some vertigo about, what next. I also feel freed to be able to do whatever’s next. I feel, not finished exactly, but ready to move forward. Dad’s joy at being free, his almost gleeful giddiness at realizing is was much better than he thought it would be: I feel unburdened by having felt that in the middle of the night, when I did, just before he left for real. I don’t feel sad or lost or perplexed, although I do feel grief; I don’t feel remorse or a lot of regret, what little regret I feel is for the plans Dad and I had been making for trips and recordings just before this happened. This morning. I feel more rested, although still very tired. I also am feeling freed, myself. After all the focus on the present moment, this long living day to day, that I’ve learned to do, contemplating the future for the first time in months: it feels good. It feels freed, maybe even joyous and a little giddy. And not a little strange.

621. 15 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Dr. Paul F. Durkee, M.D., M.P.H.
30 May 1926—15 June 2007

I felt him go.

It was 2:43am, and I felt something happening. I was too tired to know what it was, but I had only just laid myself to bed when my sister came down the stairs and told me she thought he was gone. I went upstairs, and checked for pulse and breath, and he was still. His body had been fighting for the past few days. His last lucid day was Monday, and since then he’d been mostly unresponsive, not able to talk or respond to visitors or family. Tonight his breathing was hard, then it suddenly got quiet. That was the time.

About 12:30am I was walking in the basement, and he got in my face; he was gleeful and happy an joyous; he said he was free! now; I saw him as a younger man, surrounded by blue sky and green fields; he was so happy, and he wasn’t worried anymore, and he wanted to let me know right away. His body was still breathing, though, so I said, yeah, yeah, I hear you, you’re not gone quite yet, that silver cord’s still attached, you know, so mellow out; he just laughed at me, and got in my face some more; yeah, yeah, old man, young man, you’re free, good on you.

I listened to his labored breathing on the baby monitor for some time that evening, between those things; it was hard to listen to. I didn’t want him to go on for days, his body lingering on, his spirit already gone. Probably he wasn’t in distress by then, but I was. Watching his body with no one home was one of the hardest things, for me. I broke down earlier in the evening, and talked to Pam, in his presence, about how I didn’t want him to linger on for days and days in that condition. His vital signs today were actually better than yesterday, but there was obviously no one home. I could tell the silver cord was still attached, but thinning.

So, this phase is now done. The nest phase of death and life begins. Probably not now, this instant, as I’m watching the sky lighten towards dawn, and the dawn birds singing; but soon.

What happens next is both sure and unsure. A great many things will have to happen now, and many things will have to changed and put into new places. And then maybe I’ll be free to resume my own life, after this long period of caregiving. Perhaps. I’m too tired, this early morning to care at the moment, and will pick it up later.

620. 13 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Presences surround. The room thick with them. Cats’ shadows moving in the corners of the eye. Everyone’s here to see you. Letting go. Go in peace. We love you. It’s all going to be okay. We’re okay. Don’t worry about us. See what’s there, and go. Don’t be afraid.

By sunlight and moonlight,
by starlight and firelight:
Who created us all in the beginning,
receive us all in the end.

619. 12 June 2007, Beloit, WI

I got in the truck and drove up to Madison, did a little Goodwill shopping, then went over to the coffeeshop I like in Middleton. My friend P. met me there and then took me to a store where I got some stones and minerals to help balance out my energy fields, which have been totally whacked by recent events. After that we drove out to the farmland she inherited when her own father died last year, out past Cross Plains. We also stopped at her father’s gravesite there in Cross Plains; I’ve been visiting so many cemeteries lately, during the recent Michigan trip, it was a familiar feeling to be looking at markers and tombstones again.

Out at the farm, I went and sat under the hickory trees, in their cool shade, listening to the birds singing and the insects humming. I tried to meditate, but was unable to get settled enough. It felt good to be sitting and lying on Mother Earth, wrapped in her sheltering arms. I took some photos, and recorded some ambient sounds, and mostly sat there and looked out over the land and the sky. It was a clear blue day, almost no clouds anywhere, and the temperature got up into the warm zone, with only a little humidity.

It felt good just to listen to the silence of the outdoors, and not have to talk or think or be social. I find all the extra people around the house now, with Hospice coming in to assess and assist Dad daily now, to be overstimulating and exhausting. I needed this afternoon of peace an silence, and nothing to do but just be, and be still. I felt very recharged and refreshed, afterwards, even though I still felt very tired. But it’s physical tiredness, not emotional anymore, and not so overwhelming. I think I’ll sleep like one of my new pocket rocks tonight: the sleep of stones, or the turning earth, the tides, the long slow breathing of the world.

The whole purpose of my life here, living here with Dad, my giving up my life to move back here, compresses to these needs and necessities, now, in ways I could have predicted, and did, before this all began. We’re in an endgame now. He’s going to go soon, although you can never tell exactly when or how. But I can tell he wants to go; he’s just waiting to be sure it’s okay, so we’ve been reassuring him constantly, telling him we love him, and that it’s okay to let go.

Here’s the body of an email letter I wrote today, to try to make some kind of narrative summation out of these past few weeks, and to inform more of my friends and family of what’s going on. I admit I’m tired to telling this story over and over and over again, to everyone who calls, who wants to visit, who asks me what’s going on in an email. People will just have to understand: I’m spent; I have nothing left. So, I wrote this out once, so that it’s down, and I don’t have to tell the whole story fourteen times a day. Here it is:

Please forgive me for posting a mass email, rather than individual emails. There has been a lot that's happened here in Beloit in the past month or so, and I am unable to type this out more than once. We are all completely overwhelmed at the moment, and coping is about all I have energy for, from day to day. I hope everyone will also understand if I am unable at the present time to respond to each and every individual email or phone call that we've been receiving. We're all doing the best we can, and eventually we'll catch up again, and get back to everyone.

In late April and early may, my Dad and I took an 8-day trip to Michigan, to look at family gravesites, talk about genealogy, take photos, visit family and friends. I also recorded a lot of genealogy talks and family reminiscing. It was an intense and wonderful trip. On the way back, we took the Cross-Lake ferry from Muskegon to Milwaukee, which was a real treat, and something I recommend everybody should do once.

A week or so after we got back, Dad and I spent the day touring Taliesin, in Spring Green, the Frank Lloyd Wright home and architecture school. It's a beautiful place, an I found the day to be incredibly inspirational, stimulating, and creative. Dad had to walk a little too far that day and was tired out by the end of it, but he really enjoyed himself, too.

My father, who was diagnosed with colon cancer about a year ago, and went through surgery and chemotherapy over the past year, was doing really well. I moved back into his home with him here in Beloit, almost a year ago now, to take care of him, help out around the house, do errands, and whatever else he needed. I'm glad I did it, even though it's been hard at times. Anyway, Dad has been doing really well: feeling good, despite the chemo, driving himself to church and Rotary and to see Mom in the Alzheimer's care facility where we had to place her in April 2006. He enjoyed the Michigan trip, and showed me all the graves where my ancestors are, including my grandparents, and also where he and Mom are going to be interred after being cremated after they pass.

Then suddenly, on May 20th, Dad came from church and was incredibly tired and exhausted, slept all day, and had no appetite. I got him to eat a little, and put him to bed. We both thought he was just exhausted from having been doing too much lately; because he'd been feeling good, he'd overextended himself, we thought at first. But the next day he was no better, he still was sleeping all day, and had no appetite. On Tuesday, with the help of some nurse friends, I got him to the Emergency Room at Beloit Memorial Hospital, where they admitted him for the night. His blood sugar was way too high, even though he hadn't been eating anything. So, he was in the hospital, and they began a series of tests to figure out what was going on. It took awhile, an several consultations with various specialists.

Eventually, a CAT scan and x-rays showed that there was a lot of fluid around his heart. His cardiologist did a procedure called cardiocentesis, where they withdrew almost a liter of fluid from the sack around his heart. I have permission for the procedure, because we thought it would relieve suffering, and at that point he was very near to death. The diagnosis at this point was congestive heart failure, although we didn't know where the fluid had been coming from. The procedure seemed to really help him feel better, though, and he seemed to be recovering for a few days. But he wasn't recovering his strength, and was still sleeping and tired and had no real appetite. These continuing concerns prompted me to call my sister and her husband where they live in Holland; within a couple of days, they were able to get here, and help with decisions, etc.

Then the hosptial lab tested the fluid they had withdrawn from around his heart, and it tested positive for containing cancer proteins. This means that the two spots on the heart that the cardioloist had seen on the ultrasound when she was doing the cardiocentesis are probably cancer spots, and that means that the fluid will probably re-accumulate around his heart, eventually.

So, after almost three weeks in the hospital, wherein Dad was basically in a holding pattern, not getting any better, not getting much worse, his doctors, led by his oncologist, recommended we take him home and call in Hospice. He's too weak to withstand any more chemotherapy, so there's nothing else they can really do to treat him, or cure him. He chose to come home in the care of Hospice, and his family. Our job now is to make him as comfortable as we can, while we wait. He still ahs days when he is lucid, even humorous, in between days when he doesn't seem to be present at all. think he has made the choice to go, but the body always fights that. He has said that is sick and tired or feeling tired and sick, and he isn't sad. He does worry about us, though. Anyway, the hospital discharged him last Saturday, we brought him home, and Hospice is helping us take care of him now. He is in a hospital bed in the living room, where he can see his flowers on the deck out back, and the back yard and Turtle Creek. It's really beautiful out there, this time of year.

So, he's at home now, and we're all taking turns watching him, giving him what he wants, and doing our best to make him comfortable. he's still very weak, and only every other day is he lucid enough to converse with people who come to visit. He's too weak to talk long, even then. So, we've been turning away some visitors because he doesn't want to be called back; we're just letting his pastor in, and his very best friends, and family. This is what he's asked for.

618. 12 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Another night of disturbing, emotional dreams. Two nights ago I dreamed a location in a dream that has come up two or three times lately: a region of potholes carved into rough river rock; the river at some altitude, in a high valley, or up in the mountains; the potholes clustered tightly in one place, close together, like broken and scattered giant eggshells, so that you have to clamber over them carefully to get past them.

Last Saturday, we brought Dad home to a hospital bed here, which we set up in the living room. Hospice is helping us take care of him, providing what we need, and expert advice and support; although it’s always up to the patient and family what they want to do. It’s been a whirlwind of change, the past few days, major disruptions; we’ve cleaned out parts of the house that haven’t been tackled in awhile; we’ve organized food and caregiving needs for Dad; we’ve learned new nursing skills.

After holding it all together pretty well these past few months, I hit my limit and found an edge. There are some things I can’t do anymore, or at least don’t want to. I’m not a trained nurse, and I fin I can’t wipe my Dad’s ass like he was a baby. I just can’t do it. The other thing that paralyzes me is when he has a hard time with food or pills, and chokes, or throws up. I can’t take it. The good thing is that there are other people around now. Aunt Gail, Dad’s youngest sister, flew in from Washington last night, and will be here a week, so we can all split up duties more. I based the “I can’t cope” point a long time ago; I’m on the other side of that mountain, going down.

This morning my dreams were intense and physical: lots of walking and hiking. Some meetings and traveling with people I don’t trust. Some trips up into the hills for dubious purposes.

I need to be alone today. I need some solitude. There are too many people around, even extra people because of the Hospice nurses and CNAs who stop in to help us and assess Dad every midday. I need to go off and be by myself for awhile. The presence of people is grating on my nerves this morning. Maybe find a coffeeshop and catch up on emails and phone calls. Maybe just a drive in the countryside. Silence and solitude are as necessary to me as breathing. I just to have steal moments where I can, for now.

617. 7 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Thick heavy hot air all day, moved by hot winds from the west: a long line of storms. The worst of it missed us, here. Chicago had damaging winds all over the north side. Up north in Wisconsin there were tornadoes and hail larger than 4 inches in diameter.

We’ve worked it out with the hospital and hospice: Dad will coming home in a couple of days, but he’ll be watched by hospice, and in a hospital bed in the living room. The doctors have tested the liter of fluid they drained from around his heart, which is probably what caused his collapse two weeks ago, and the fluid contained cancer proteins, which means that the spots they saw around his heart on the ultrasound are cancer. Which means the fluids will probably eventually re-accumulate. He’s too weak to withstand further chemotherapy treatment. There’s nothing they can do. So, we’re bringing him home, and making him as comfortable as we can, for whatever time he has left. A few days ago, he was in rapid decline; the past two days, he’s been awake more, and very lucid when awake. We’ve talked about many important things, including his wishes for the end of his life. He’s sick and tired of being tired and sick, and we just want him to not suffer anymore. So, he’s coming home. Even if it’s only for a short time, it will be as good a time as we can make it be.

I feel better today. One of those things that really paralyzes me is when Dad isn’t of sound mind: when he’s out of it, loopy, mumbling, non compos mentis. I can cope with almost anything else, but I can’t seem to cope with that. I’m still sorting out my feelings around all this, and noticing what I can cope with and what stops me in my tracks. I feel better because Dad has been clear-eyed and even enjoying our joking byplay today; he has always laughed, and had a good time, and I do my best to try to make him laugh. I’ll even act silly or stupid to get a laugh out of him. I love to see the people I care about most laughing.

Tonight the storm came through, and at its peak the low hills south of town were struck several times by lightning, very close by and loud. One sequence I saw several intense pulses of light: the lightning going back and forth along the channel carved through the air by the plasma of the bolt. That’s how lightning works, of course, but I haven’t seen the multiple strikes so clearly all that often. The clap of thunder was quick in coming, and very loud; it shook the house and the windows.

616. 7 June 2007, Beloit, WI

You don’t remember your dreams, their details, this morning, just a vague recollection of Edward Hopper landscapes, that kind of light and stillness; and a long sequence of driving through obstacles on a highway somewhere. But when you wake, you want to return to the dreams, because as turbulent and difficult as they were, waking reality is much worse right now. You want to escape from it back into dreams.

615. 5 June 2007, Beloit, WI

This morning, I was feeling cut off, and out of the loop, and disconnected from my father’s process, and my family, and all the decisions being made. I wanted to get back the feelings of closeness I’ve had with him lately. Under the category of “Be Careful What You Ask For, You’ll Probably Get it,” later in the afternoon, in a lucid moment, he asked me to spend the night here in the hospital room with him. So, I’m going to do that. I don’t anticipate getting much sleep, even in the comfy armchair in this suite; the roll-out hide-a-bed looks particularly uncomfortable. So, I’ve brought DVDs to watch, books to read, things I want to write about, and a couple books of poems. So, it’s approaching nightfall, it’s glorious weather outside, turning sunny and clear towards sunset, and now I’m in here for the duration. Oh well. Be careful what you ask for, indeed.

his falling

from choir's party
to this long sleep, this weeping—
red rose turned to white

one day whole, the next he falls into slack lethargy. no desire to eat, to move, to get out of bed. we give him a bath, and after his long nap, he's so weak, he soils the bed. last week he walked with me a mile through architectural wonders and long green lawns. tonight I drive him to the ER and leave him hours later as they take him to the room he'll probably die in. a liter of fluid drained through a catheter from the flexing sack around his heart. now his lungs fill with mermaid tears: salt waters of sleep. no resurfacing, no matter how they scan or attack his failing. it's all coming apart; I am too. I clench myself against fears that erode resolve into ambiguity. what can I do but hold his hands, large surgeon's hands, now bony and spotted, and wait. it's day to day, now. everything's microscoped into each moment's crisis, need, resolution. so few days ago, we made plans for another long road trip, a cross-country voyage, dad telling stories, son driving, recording it all. he had been so interested in living; so healthy; so ready to believe in redemption, in the will to overcome.

my father's long leaving, suddenly confronted
after his twilight had been so recently brightened

614. 5 June 2007, Beloit, WI

In my dreams, my father and I are driving across various kinds of landscapes; swooping hills, open plains, tall hills that spiral down into subterranean canyons; I am sometimes driving, sometimes I’m along for the ride; we’re not talking much, except about the landscapes that we see, and the skies.

My Dad’s health is declining, after seeming to improve last week. He’s so weak all the time, too weak, again, to feed himself. The past few days he’s been restless, anxious, afraid, worried; tossing and turning in restless sleep. He drifts off for awhile, then wakes and is restless, then off again. He has no appetite again.

I’m losing him.

After months of getting closer, of better communications, of learning to talk to each other, I feel increasingly distanced from him. Some of that is his retreat into self, into the long shadow of that valley. Some of it, though—and these are feelings I am ashamed of, but can’t help feeling—feels like a reversion to old family dynamics, when he was closer to my sister than to me. Now that my sister and her husband are here to share the work, and the burdens, I paradoxically feel relieved but also shut out of the loop. These feelings are not worthy of me, but confessing them helps me get rid of them, and forgive myself. I feel sometimes an agony of indecision, not knowing what to do, how to act. When it was all in my hands, while I had no-one to share the burden with, I also had no-one to share the decisions with, so they were quick and easy to make; now, we all consult, which is the right thing to do, but I still feel like I’m a seaside dock, watching the boat recede into the distance.


He’s resting more comfortably now. He needs a lot of reassuring that we’re okay, and that he doesn’t need to worry about us, or about anything. The doctors don’t think there’s anything going on at the moment that’s new or threatening, so his labored breathing and restlessness is probably, mostly anxiety.

The paradox of prayer is that They do listen, but sometimes the answer is No. I pray for a greater connection to my Dad, and it comes within hours or minutes. Those feelings of separation are covered over in the fact that I’m sitting alone with him this afternoon, and he’s asked me to spend the night here in his hospital room, to be nearby if he needs me.

Extra emotion of mine, and there’s a lot of it bubbling up these past few days, spills over as anger, rage, frustration, all of which is intertwined with fear. It’s hard to separate them, sometimes.

You want to flee, at times, this long receding, this slow undocking and separation of companion vessels. The night waters between us. I want to be on the shore already.

feet in small waves,
eyes on misted horizon—
lake of departure

613. 2 June 2007, Beloit, WI

Dark storm clouds, a half an inch of rain yesterday evening, making the sky as dark as young night. The clouds roll across folds of the sky today, many shades of grey. Occasional patches of sunlight. We’re in a cycle of storms right now, brought on by warm air and high humidity. It feels like monsoon season on the prairie.

We talked to the hospice people about what to do to care for Dad after he is discharged and can come home. There are lots of possibilities. People think that hospice is about making people comfortable when they die, but it’s so much more than that. They offer lots of different kinds of services to the family, too. But Dad is too weak to do any more chemotherapy, and even if he recovers enough strength it will probably be too late, because the cancer will continue to spread while he’s recovering from this near-death approach. I can guess how it’s likely to progress, but no one can guess the timing. He could have weeks or months left at this point. Or just days. It’s strange how the focus narrows down to the essentials, at these times: all you care about is what’s right in front of you. We all want Dad to recover enough to be able to come home, and be at peace at home. I don’t want him to suffer, and he says he’s so tired he doesn’t want to suffer or be uncomfortable anymore. He doesn’t want to spend the rest of his days in the hospital, weak as he is.

People who think it’s all about dying miss the point. It’s about quality of life, and acceptance (rather than some kind of bullshit denial) of what we can do, and what we can’t. It makes me angry when people try to dictate the terms of your existence because of their own needs, not yours. They demand, they cajole, but it’s all about them, not about you.

The past few days I’ve been in shock, grief, exhaustion, a whole turbulent whirl of complex feelings. Nothing settles into the foreground to be an identifiable feeling you can put a clear label to: everything is mixed.

612. 30 May 2007, Beloit, WI

In the light of dusk, I look out the window where I'm sitting writing. Bats flit across the yard, circling and gyring above the open lawn between the trees. Bats eat lots of bugs, so I like bats. Go, bats, go!

Today is Dad’s 81st birthday. Perhaps later I’ll write up a detailed narrative of the past week, during which time he’s been very ill, in the hospital, and come very close to death. He’s still very weak, and sleeps most of the time, and cannot stand up on his own yet; but he’s better. Last week they did a CAT scan and discovered fluid around his heart, more in his lungs, and some more in his abdomen. They put in a catheter and removed almost a liter of fluid from around his heart; they’re still analyzing it, to find out if it was caused by his cancer. It might have been caused by the chemotherapy drugs, or old age, or the fact that he’s been overdoing it lately, because he’s been feeling so good, so healthy; or perhaps all of the above.

The past month, though, no matter what happens now, was a good month for him. We went to Michigan, and had a great trip. We went to Taliesin, and even though it was too much walking for him, by day’s end, it was a fantastic day, an incredibly inspirational day.

Now my sister and her husband are both here, and will be here for a few weeks. Some of the burden of dealing with everything, including taking care of everything at home and still going to the hospital twice a day, is off my shoulders, and can be shared. I might just do other things tomorrow, to try to catch up. There are many people I should call, to let them know what’s happened; I can’t remember them all, the list it too long.

Dad’s better today, but he’s not out of the woods. He is still very weak, and sick. This episode with his heart could have killed him; it was incipient congestive heart failure. bow the pressure’s off, and his liver and other organs are coming back to normal, not to mention his blood sugar. But if the spots the cardiologist saw on his heart are indeed cancer, and the analysis of the fluid they removed confirms it, then there’s no way to treat that. Dad’s at a decision point, about whether he wants to receive more chemo treatments, or go for quality of life. It may take him so long to recover, even if he can recover, that he may not enjoy life much the next few weeks. I’m glad the rest of my family is here, as we need to talk it all over, and make plans. Just in case. I am living day to day, and not making plans for the future, much. I can only focus on Right Now. Tomorrow it’s always something new, some new bit of news or information, and it’s enough to just get through the day. These things really narrow your focus down to the moment, and you forget about everything else. No doubt I’ll have catching up to do, in every other arena of my life; but that will come later. Right now, I’m for bed.

611. 24 May 2007, Beloit, WI

Dad’s been in the hospital now for more than two days. I brought him in to the Emergency Room Tuesday night. Last week he was doing well: energetic, alert, making plans for more trips to visit family and friends around the country. He went to church on Sunday, driving himself as he has for months now, but when he got home he was so tired he slept all day, and was very weak when he went to bed. On Monday, he was the same, only I couldn’t get him to eat or drink anything. I took him in to get tested, and they found nothing. We thought it might be simple exhaustion because he has been doing too much, because he’s been feeling good, despite the chemo pills.

You realize there’s only a thin layer between sentience and animal instinct. Take away your mind, and there’s nothing left. We are out memories; identity is composed of memory, history, wound, healing, biography. It’s different for animals that live in the perpetual Now, with little thought of past or future. The object of meditation is to get us to that point ourselves, because suffering also comes from those same things that make up identity, plus desire and attachment. But it’s very hard for me to look at my Dad like this, when he can’t make sense of things; he’s obviously suffering and uncomfortable, and seems to track sometimes, but he isn’t making language. My terror is his loss of mind, making the responsible adult, making me have to make the decisions. A terrible end would be some kind of vegetative state. None of us want that for him, and he has made it clear he doesn’t want heroic measures taken to prolong his life if there’s no quality to it. Just last week he was making plans for the future; no, today, he has no language, or strength to even sit up in bed. He is restless and talks in his sleep.

I’ve already had a few meltdowns. The timing, as ever, sucks. Most of our friends who I can count on are away for the Memorial Day weekend. I feel left high and dry, alone and unsupported: a very familiar feeling of abandonment. When I most need help, it’s never there. That’s a pattern that has been true my entire life. I’ve always had to go through these dark nights alone. I can be there for Dad, now, but I’m not sure he’s there. They can’t seem to find out what’s wrong with him, and he is still the same, or getting worse. It’s not looking good. This could be the last slope down, and I don’t know.

I’m so out of steam, myself, that I spin my wheels in a panic-stricken state, but don’t know what to do, how to act. He might still come out of it. He has been further down than this, before, and returned. But if he does, he’ll be months recovering his strength. He’s so weak, he can’t even sit up in bed, or lift his arms to eat. It’s all too much for him. I know he doesn’t want to go on, if there’s no joy in life. I know he’s afraid to leave the rest of us on our own: his life-long sense of over-responsibility for taking care of others. (I know where I got that from, at least.)

I feel stunned, unable to think. I can barely write any of this. I’m too incoherent to make any sense of it, myself. I don’t know how to process any of it, at the moment. Plans are made, yes, but they must defer to the immediate needs of the moment. Everything is subject to revision. All I can do is sit with him, and try to understand what he’s trying to say. He seems urgent, but I can’t track his meaning.

At least the last time he went to visit Mom in the Alzheimer’s care facility, he brought her flowers, and she was in a good place mentally. At least he enjoyed their most recent visit together. Today, I don’t know if there will be another.

Yesterday and today, it’s been sunny and clear, but with very high winds. The trees, now fully leafed out, whip around in the high winds. More branches have fallen on the roof and yard. There’s oak pollen thickly coating the lawn and deck and walkways, bunched together like clumps of wool. The wind and the air are both warm, even hot. The trees whip past my window’s view like dancers with long hair.


In evening light, clouds have finally arrived: low, dark, and moving fast. The air has cooled, and the wind is a little softer. It feels like it might storm tonight. That suits my mood.

There is fluid in the air. There is fluid around the heart of my father. His heart is being constricted, making him short of breath, and weak and tired, because the sack around the heart is distended and full of blood. They are going to give him some blood plasma and clotting agents overnight, then they insert a needle into the sac, without touching the heart, and drain off the fluid, hopefully relieving the pressure, and allowing him to recover.

Grey light in the sky, darkening the woods. A touch of pale pink, a soft line across a horizontal cloud, standing out from the surrounding greys, at the moment of sunset, lasting a minute, then fading away.

Now the clouds, still moving quickly across the field of view between the tall oaks, have spots of white between the bands of grey. The wind has died down, but the clouds are still moving as though being chased by night terrors. I am tired enough to want to sleep, but if I sleep I might not wake again. I need time, before time runs out.


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