Monday, July 25, 2016

The Fixed

In Chapter Four of Annie Dillard's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she recounts an experiment by the 19th century French entomologist J. Henri Fabre. Working with pine processionary caterpillars, who travel through forests in single file, led by a silken marker laid out by the leader, Fabre lured them onto the rim of a large vase, where they marched around in a circle. Fabre wanted to see if they would realize they were trapped in useless motion, and do something to change their path. But, to his amazement and horror, the caterpillars continued marching in the same circle for over a week, unable or unwilling to change their course despite lack of food, the heat of day and the cold of night.

Out on the gallery at Vaughan's Lounge one afternoon here in New Orleans, a tussock moth larvae was trapped in its own lonely circle of hell, going round and round the rim of an ashtray. My friends and I saw it, and then, repelled at its bizarre, almost dangerous tufted yellow appearance, turned away and sat at the other table. Yet when we passed the ashtray again a little later, it was still there, marching around and around.

Dillard contemplates this "blindered and blinkered enslavement to instinct." Fabre calls it the "abysmal stupidity of insects" who "lack the rudimentary glimmers of reason" that would lead them to abandon a futile effort.

This has been an odd summer for me; one of tremendous change and yet numbing stasis. I procrastinate and put off creative work. I fall into mindless routines to take up my time, and though my kitchen is sparkling clean, my inner life is neglected. I fixate on the same emotions that repeat like an endless loop in my head, reliving old arguments or seeking to undo old mistakes. Like Fabre's caterpillars, I sometimes try to stray from the path, seeking nourishment, adventure, or escape, but am so often pulled back to it.

The inability to change, to gain a higher understanding of our place in the world and our own agency to forge a path for ourselves is what Dillard calls "The Fixed." It is, she says

a world without fire - dead flint, dead tinder, and nowhere a spark. It is motion without direction, force without power, the aimless procession of caterpillars around the rim of a vase, and I hate it because at any moment I myself might step to that charmed and glistening thread.
At Vaughans, once she realized the caterpillar was trapped, my friend Becky decided to rescue it. Together with another friend, LJ, she lured it onto a piece of cardboard and then took it across the street to a young cypress tree and coaxed it onto the leaves.

I first read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek just after it came out, in 1975. It was my last year in college, my first painful experience with love, and a time when I learned to let go of some childhood myths. I still have the same tattered paperback copy I bought then. Its pages are fragile and stained now, but I remember how her exploration of nature, and the cosmos opened my eyes and helped me orient myself in whatever new world I would inhabit.

A photo of Becky - posted with her permission. I think this is the night she rescued the crawfish - which is another example of how much of a hero Becky is!

Wish me luck
That moment of re-orientation is what I'm dealing with now. And now it's about time to lift my eyes from the fixed path and view the world around me, experience its wonder.

Friday, July 22, 2016


I apologize for the long silence. I'm feeling a little shell-shocked by the hate on display in Cleveland at the Republican Convention. Thank goodness it's over.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I went down to the crossroads

The intersection of US Highway 61 and US Highway 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi is said to be the legendary crossroads featured in Delta Blues musician Robert Johnson's famous song.

Not a lot is known about Johnson, but it is known that he lived for a time here in Clarksdale, and that  he possessed an extraordinary talent for playing the guitar.

Folks said his talent for playing guitar was so good he must have sold his soul to the devil for it - a notion Johnson encouraged, it being good for his popularity as a musician. Such a bargain would have taken place at a crossroads such as this one.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Healing sights

Echinacea purpurea, the purple coneflower that is native to the American midwestern prairie states, is said to possess healing properties. Scientists and doctors have been unable to prove the claims, however.

But for me, just being here in Geneva, Illinois, walking through Island Park on the Fox River and seeing a bed of purple coneflowers in full bloom is healing enough.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Oldie but goodie

She was born in 1956, a good year. It's hard to know the life she led, but it's clear that she had a roof over her head. She has lived a sheltered life since, as rumors go in the neighborhood, the 1960s. But the other day, she was finally brought out of her garage, and taken away.

The house, a single shotgun on Dauphine Street, is being remodeled now. There are still signs of the 2005 Flood on the front by the door, and the place looks shabby and down at heel, but there are workers in there now, revitalizing the place.

But it's no longer her home. The garage in the back is crumbling apart. It's time for her to go. This 1956 Dodge Coronet is saying farewell to Dauphine Street, at last.

We'll miss her pretty face.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The kindness of strangers

My next door neighbor, a young man who moved here from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, just came over and weed-whacked my tiny little back yard, where the grass had grown up past ankle- high.

He and his girlfriend are staying in a rental where her grandmother used to stay. They have a connection here. And a new puppy, now - I hope Jack will be able to play with it in the park soon.

When he cleared my lawn, I had to remove the pink flamingos. They've been reinstalled in the street planter box, where they'll gain more visibility.

My little container garden is thriving, despite the heat.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A typical New Orleans holiday weekend

Sometimes I look back at the end of my day and marvel about the adventures I experienced in only one day.

Today was Sunday, and I took the unusual step of sleeping in until about 10:00 o'clock. I cooked myself a nice breakfast, and then drove across the bridge into the Lower Ninth Ward to go to the supermarket in Chalmette.

After a sandwich at home for lunch, I went to my local bar, Vaughan's Lounge, and had a glass of wine in the company of my friend, the bartender, and a couple of other regulars. I had decided to go to a poetry reading Uptown, and needed a little liquid courage to relax in a new social scene.

Well - the poetry reading was interesting. Really, it was kind of the Land of Misfit Toys.  When I got there, people were milling about. There were a handful of older men with straggly grey ponytails. There was a large Earth Mother in a paisley muumuu who seemed to be in charge of the line-up. There was a slender young woman with a dried-out bleached blonde hairdo, wearing a long black sheath with a rhinestone collar, slinging a leopard-print bag over her shoulder. There was a bewigged lady all in white festooned with dozens of bracelets and necklaces.

I had a wine spritzer, and politely listened to about five authors read. A long-haired young man shyly intoned into the microphone. An older man spoke forcefully, but held the mic so close to his lips that it distorted all his words. A woman in a lace playsuit read a kind of good poem. The bewigged lady came up to the mic and said, "I don't have a poem to read today," so she proceeded to sing "Rose's Turn" from the Broadway musical Gypsy. 

The blonde woman got up, and instead of reading some psycho-sexual rant (which is what I anticipated) read a poem in rhyme (!) that was a reminiscence about her teenage years in the Girl Scouts.

That was when I decided to take off and head back to the Bywater. At least the degenerates and weirdos there are more interesting. And more attractive!!

Patriotic Pool party!
Once at Vaughan's Lounge, I was invited to a pre-4th of July pool party at the home of Dusty and Matt. I found a place to park right outside, and hung out in there with some neighborhood friends, some good sangria, and some tasty gazpacho. The crowd was great - families, kids, everyone.

After I went home, I walked the dog around the block and got to see my old neighbor Who Dat, hanging out on his porch and listening to his music.

Tomorrow there's a big holiday party potluck at Vaughan's Lounge; I'm bringing something, hope to have a nice time.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Giving a fig

It's fruit ripening season, and the markets are full of fresh wonderful fruit.

But so are the streets and sidewalks, if you know where to look. In my neighborhood, there are several fig trees, and while some of them are carefully tended by their owners, who harvest the fruit, there are others that bear gifts that no one notices....unless you happen to look carefully.

The other day, I plucked a handful of ripe figs from a tree on my block. These beauties are just here for the taking.

If you can beat the birds for them!

Fresh figs drizzled with honey and served with granola and yogurt.Yum!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

This afternoon's thunderstorm

Rolling in.....

From the Marigny bus, at Jackson Square.

By the time I got home. Thunder's rolling right overhead, the wind off the river is picking up.