Monday, April 29, 2013

I had an idle thought; and yet ~

By a strange coincidence, working in my computer files today, I came upon something I'd written in July of 2003, upon return to San Francisco only a month before we would leave the city, where we'd lived for 18 years. There had been years of measuring this impulse to return to the east. That May, we'd left everything behind and traveled to visit family and friends, and places we'd never been before. Now, I'd landed back in the familiar home I planned to abandon. Under my feet, instead of centuries-worn stones or mosaic paving, I was back where the bright California light bounced from concrete pavement, and asphalt that hadn't seen enough rain lately. 

Before California, I'd lived in rural Arkansas. When we decided to leave there in 1985, we'd had to borrow money from my father just to buy the gas to reach San Francisco, and make a deposit on the first and last month's rent. I had mixed feelings about the move (to put it mildly), and I remember my father's saying, by way of encouragement, "It doesn't really matter where you live." I never understood that and have puzzled about it ever since. It's possible that little matters more to me than where I am.

One morning early this month, an artist on Facebook posted this photo of the ground where he lives, in Georgia, wet with spring rain.

Tim Hunter  (Georgia)
That orange puddle gave me a thrill. One of the things I love about where I now live is the color of the soil: not that beautiful orange above, but a loamier red shale clay. This is how it looked early in those thawing days of spring:

I look down at the soil a lot, wherever I am. It's a way of orientation to the world, which I've wanted to incorporate into my work for some time now, the connection I feel to the ground under my feet. 
I asked my friends on Facebook to contribute their own photos to this blog post, so I could have images of the spring season as shown in the soil under my friends' feet. As I might have anticipated, only a few responded - many of my friends live in cities and are probably not looking at dirt every day! Of the ones who did send me a photo, I surmised they already had photos of the ground, because they might be preoccupied with where they are, they are connected to what being there means to them, and they might even have incorporated that into their own work.
Matthew Wong (Hong Kong)

Betty Tompkins (Pennsylvania)

Lynda Fay Braun (Florida)

Altoon Sultan (Vermont)
There is nothing in life that has ever mattered more to me than to wake up and know my intimate relationship with the natural world is intact; that's why I'm here and not in a denser cultural center, which I also love. It's going on ten years since I left behind life in San Francisco and many good friends, whom I miss, because I couldn't live without trees and rivers any longer. Some people live in cities and visit the countryside, and find that enough. I have to find the reverse enough. Some days it isn't, but most days it is.
Now, since these photos came into my email, weeks have elapsed, and the spring season has unfolded to create a green light on this drippy day. Farm fields have been plowed and planted.
The heaved winter soil is now revealing the tubers of iris that will blossom in summer.

Still, I am surrounded, for miles around, by trees downed by the winds of Hurricane Sandy, everywhere to be seen their upturned roots, from hilltops down to this one on the bank of the Delaware River, and the many others I posted photos of in autumn last year. I like to imagine frogs and salamanders having a fruitful summer in the depressions they've left; and in my studio, some new work that might bring soil into the picture, to somehow transform the depression of these past winter months, wrought by upheavals of so many kinds: too many deaths, lost habitats and homes, and destructive forces of nature, and human nature, both.


  1. This is a wonderful post; I love seeing the red color of your soil. Reading your text reminded me of a dream––actually close to a nightmare––that I had before moving to California for a job: the thing I most vividly remember is that there were gaping wounds running up and down the front of both my legs. When I recounted the dream to a friend, she told me that it was about severing my connection to the earth by moving.

  2. I love this post! It really touches me deeply since I am one of those living in the city and visiting the countryside (I in fact have a garden there and a little house) but I feel more and more that I would much prefer the opposite way. Here are some pictures of it in my blogpost, which is unfortunately in german.
    I feel that my writing gets much more vivid and closer to everything that matters, when I spend enough time in the country. I sometimes spend hours just lying on the ground, watching the clouds overhead and feeling the soil on my skin, listening to the bees humming in the air.
    Thanks again for this pst! Susanne

    1. Susanne, thank you for your comment, which has touched me in turn! -- I wish I could read German, so I could also see what you write there!


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