Friday, June 23, 2017

This morning I will try to figure out what to pack for the Frost Place (impossible) and this afternoon I will drive there. Google-Ann insists that Portland is only 2-1/2 hours from Franconia, which is hard to believe. The drive from Harmony took 4 hours, and I have that length of time stuck in my geographical consciousness.

So today's life will be a new drive, new scenery, a new associate director, but the same old bear bumbling among the lupines. As usual, I may or may not have time to write to you this week; and even if I do, you won't be hearing from me in the mornings. Those are the times of insanity . . . trying to deal with coffee-urn mishaps, trying to find the spare rolls of toilet paper, trying to chase the bird out of the barn. . . . Mid-afternoon is the siesta time, when all toilet-paper problems are handled by the museum docent and I can lie in my stuffy little Frost-child bedroom peacefully listening to tourists clump up and down the stairs.

I almost forgot to update you on last night's adventure, my first-ever writers' group, which was a rousing success. We did have a good time together, and the place we met was comic--a sort of pseudo-Algonquin hotel bar, populated by bald men in polo shirts, and a furtive waitress who, after showing us the specials' menu, whispered, "I wouldn't order the soup. It tastes strange."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

I woke up this morning to a flurry of Frost Place emails--all good, all good--and the forecast is filled with mist and rain, per usual, and my friend Ruth tells me there's rumored to be a 300-pound bear roaming the homestead, and my friend Andrea sends her best wishes and hopes that no mice fall on any participants this year, and I am frantically gathering poems and paperwork and trying to figure out how to drive from Portland to Franconia, which I have never done before, and in the meantime, the beautiful week awaits.

So today is haircut day, and also finishing my syllabus for July's environmental writing seminar, and checking my violin strings, and answering more Frost Place emails and phone calls, and reading some prose manuscripts in preparation for my first-ever venture into a writing group this evening. I am nervous about this writing group, for no good reason, given that it's composed of only two other people, both of whom I like and respect. And I would like to have less of a head cold. But the Fates say no.

However, you will probably be pleased to learn that I overheard someone on the street ask a friend, "How do you get the smell of patchouli out of an apartment?"

Some mysteries cannot be solved.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rain and thunderstorms are forecast for today, and already I feel the portents of a heavy wet heat. The arugula seeds I planted three days ago are sprouting. Our local male cardinal is whisking among the locust trees, and sodden joggers amble down the sidewalk.

We looked at more houses yesterday, and I am feeling pessimistic about ever finding anything that suits us . . . or, more properly, suits Tom because he is way fussier than I am. Maybe he will find something while I am at the Frost Place, and I will come home to discover that the shopping ordeal is over. That would be the best-case scenario for me. But I doubt it will happen.

Monday, June 19, 2017

My parents drove home yesterday, and I instantly came down with a sore throat and had to take two naps. On the bright side, I did get a call from my younger son, who was bubbling over with joy: the administrators of the camp where he works have assigned him to a trip to Hudson Bay. So he'll spend 6 weeks canoeing up the Winisk River into Polar Bear Provincial Park. I am trying not to worry too much about those polar bears. But what a trip! . . . into the tundra, among the tiny Cree settlements. "And I even get paid!" he crowed.

Here's how the Ontario Park Service describes the park:
Remote, and accessible only by air, Ontario’s largest and most northerly park features unspoiled low-lying tundra. Sub-arctic conditions prevail in the park, which is the domain of woodland caribou, moose, marten, fox, beaver, goose, black bear, and polar bear. Seals, walruses, beluga and white whales frequent coastal and esturial areas. As many as 200 polar bears lumber through coastal areas at certain times. The peak period is early November. In late spring, hundreds of species of bird descend upon the region. White geese can be seen rising gracefully above the sear barren. Until roughly 4000 years ago, the mid-Silurian limestone bedrock (450 million years old) here was submerged beneath the Tyrrell Sea, a massive body of water that has retreated into the present Hudson and James Bays. Postglacial gravels and sands are overlain by a layer of sedimentary clay. The land is basically flat with a few inland ridges that indicate the location of former shorelines. It tends to flood when the ice breaks up in late spring. No longer oppressed by the weight of mega-glaciers, the land is slowly rising at a rate estimated at 1.2 m per century. Caribou lichen, reindeer and sphagnum moss grow along the tundra. This is considered the most temperately located mainland tundra in the world. The simple plant cover decomposes into the uppermost layers of the peat soils, bogs, and muskeg that carpet the terrain, much of which is given to permafrost. The treeline encircles the bays like a necklace. North of this invisible limit, no trees grow. South of the line, stunted willow, spruce and tamarack masquerade as scrub, gradually rising in height, with distance travelled south. Lapland rhododendron, crowberry, and mountain cranberry also flourish here. In early summer, the tundra becomes an exquisite heath of plants in delirious bloom. Adding to the spectacle, the many ponds that dot the landscape turn rust, yellow, green, turquoise, black, ivory, brown, and other colours, depending on the plant micro-organisms and minerals in the water. Archeologists have determined that Algonquian people lived here perhaps 1000 years ago. Their descendents are the present-day Cree who reside in the coastal settlement of Winisk. 
Park Facilities and Activities: There are no visitors’ facilities. Landing permits must be obtained in advance for each of the park’s four airstrips. The only evidence of human habitation in the park is an abandoned radar station, part of a former military defence line. It consists of squat metal buildings, oil tanks, radio towers, and a few radar dishes and a landing airstrip. Visitors to Polar Bear should be prepared for any eventuality. They should bring at least one week’s extra supplies in case their departure is delayed due to bad weather. Tents should not rise any higher than necessary, due to the possibility of strong winds. 
Location: On the western shore of Hudson Bay, above James Bay, in the far northern area of the province.
"Visitors to Polar Bear should be prepared for any eventuality." Those are not words to calm a mother's nerves. Nonetheless, I kind of wish I could go too. I'm quite taken with the idea that, "in early summer, the tundra becomes an exquisite heath of plants in delirious bloom. Adding to the spectacle, the many ponds that dot the landscape turn rust, yellow, green, turquoise, black, ivory, brown, and other colours, depending on the plant micro-organisms and minerals in the water." I can't even imagine that water.

The Cree settlement Peawanuck, at the edge of the park. That's a Catholic church in the teepee,
and those are the Northern Lights behind it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Yesterday Tom and I took my parents on a 3-hour mailboat ride among the Casco Bay islands. And then in the evening they all came to my reading in Westbrook. I think it went well; I hope it went well. One never knows what will happen with a voice.

And now I enter the downward rush to the Frost Place. This will be a week of frantic editing, and frantic paperwork, and frantic buying of toothpaste and face cream, and frantic making sure I'm leaving Tom with enough catfood/toilet paper/bread/clean underwear, which is stupid because the man is perfectly capable of shopping and doing his laundry. But stupid is one of my character traits.

At the Frost Place I know for sure we will have 21 participants, 3 guest faculty members, 2 staff faculty members, 2 office staff members, 1 teaching fellow, and 1 groundhog. The remaining visitors are unknown, though I suspect that several will be ticks and one will be the lawnmower guy who every year drowns out a presentation and has to be chased off the premises. One year we had a phone call from a man who claimed to be the uncle of the next Yeats. But the next Yeats never showed up, though we kept an eye out for him.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Yesterday my parents and I spent the day at Winslow Homer's studio at Prout's Neck, then wandered through the Portland Museum's American art collection, and eventually met up with Tom for dinner. Today, if the fog lifts, the four of us will go on a ferry ride among the Casco Bay islands, and afterward we'll make fish chowder and drive out to my poetry reading in Westbrook (Lowry's Lodge Poetry Series, at the Continuum for Creativity, 863 Main Street).

Thus, at this moment, I am drinking black coffee and preparing to sort through poems. I'll be reading a mix of pieces from my two manuscripts, Chestnut Ridge and Songs about Women and Men, and I suspect that my co-reader, Adrian Blevins, will be also be sharing some of her Appalachian-based work. It will be a mountain evening.

Friday, June 16, 2017

From Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Look, he says: once you have exhausted the process of negotiation and compromise, once you have fixed on the destruction of an enemy, that destruction must be swift and it must be perfect. Before you even glance in his direction, you should have his name on a warrant, the ports blocked, his wife and friends bought, his heir under your protection, his money in your strong room and his dog running to your whistle. Before he wakes in the morning, you should have the axe in your hand.

* * *

From "Iraq," by a high school senior and recent immigrant

Always when I think about my country I imagine war
or the destroyed places.
Not only the picture, the feeling too.
When I think about war and what happened it makes
strange feelings inside me--
fear, weakness, and it hurts
at the same time.
Because I was born with war and the destroyed places,
and with different religions fighting about nothing important.
It's really hard to have this feeling.