Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The way behind us

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Plateau

It’s cloudy in German, wolkig, as we step out onto the ribbon-trailed Santa Rosa Marmalade. We call it The Marmalade because some folk mistakenly call it a preserve and we’re all about being different. Posted signs warn us of mountain lions as this sanctuary serves to keep what is left of their domain.

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On the trail we see other signs in scoot as we scat around so as not to step in it. Engelmann oak bend their stippled heads in a splay of limbs and branches that rake the ground when the wind runs through. The thump and scrape of our walking sticks set an easy cadence that we follow to a dry
music of birdskitter through bunchgrass and the sudden flush of scattercrow.

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Redtails circle lazily in the space between clumps of floating greywater, the fickle sun setting them afire. A dark clump of brown meadowbrush sprouts ears and becomes a coyote. She is hunting rabbit or vole, something that pulls her listening toward secrets underground. She regards us with distance and a safe lack of wary, yet manages to mark us by pause and scout.

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We talk about bear, lion, and triggering the chase response as our steps subconsciously quicken. “Rattle a can of stones or coins,” you say. “Hold your ground and raise a largening stick,” I add. Three Japanese tourists approach and we add them to the three German we met earlier in the Visitor’s Center. We tell them, pointing, a coyote is out there hunting and they look, but a crack in the language keeps its quarry deep in the scrub. The Marmalade is kind to casual misbabeling and no one is foreign here for long. The morning’s meandering trail cuts pectin smiles from small confusions.

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Soon the light wind is again scumbling at our back following like a devoted retriever. We scan the hillforms and ridges where tree root merges with stone, ferret the shapes that read deer and animal. A doe lies on the ground beneath a leathery weld of broad oak. Her spaded ears pin us back until we stop to
hold her kindred regard. We watch each other for minutes, treading only what passes between species by instinct and happenstance. We move on.

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Cloven hoofprints, clawmarks of bobcat, something bigger mark mud at the edges where water collected from last night’s rain. More scoot confirms these trails are used when we’re not here. This is an acreage of air, a place where the sky might rest when no one’s looking. Here it is easy to climb back down the rungs of our becoming, engage that part of
ourselves that knew to be vigilant, cautious, to pass without turning to see where we had come, the way behind us much shorter then than now.

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Corvus corax wing like spears of black obsidian against the quickening sky, career and wheel in the fleet dynamics of their dark engineering. Raingather remembers to tell us it will soon be time to seek shelter. Another coyote capers lost in its prey, scuttles off as we pass too near.

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“When we bring the kids here on fieldtrips,” you tell me, “the animals avoid our clatter and we seldom see any.” Today the quiet serves an adequate education. As teachers, we know when to teach and when to be taught. Returning along a different path, we come to a chokepoint in the trail. Decisions fork before us and we let intuition steer our guide.

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Summer might find these tight crannied rocks hissing with tailbones, spitting coil and fang. But rattlers sleep this season and won’t rouse for another month. We make our way to the primary trail tamped down with wear and passage as bright mist becomes sunrain and we marvel at our timing, the dry acres of our luck. We say we must come again to The Marmalade, to walk the plateau as our ancestors did so long ago. Here we find the nature of what passes for an old truth, the unbroken chain, the slow erosion of bloodrock, the season of human fire.


Joseph Gallo
February 27, 2007

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

It all has to go somewhere

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A Life Of Water

In his recent book, A Man Without A Country, author and American iconoclast Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. writes that he was born a freshwater, continental, Great Lakes person. He says that whenever he swims in an ocean he feels as though he’s dogpaddling through chicken soup.

Vonnegut goes on to cite a few prominent fellow freshwaterians including poet Carl Sandburg and a man he knew named Powers Hapgood, who inherited a cannery only to allow that well-intentioned, idealist-socialist part of him give it over to his employees who proceeded to run it onto the unforgiving, rusted rocks of American capitalism.

Of course, this made me stop and echolocate my own self in the cosmic dice roll that one is not responsible for throwing, that becomes wherever you’re born. Turns out I’m a coastal saltwater person. While I understand Vonnegut’s feeling of swimming through chicken soupiness, I personally find there is something uniquely balancing and invigorating about buoyantly bobbing about in salt water.

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Fresh water, while remaining the successful and preferred alternative for drinking, lacks a global vitality found only in the energetic signature of salt water. Sure I enjoy swimming in streams, rivers, and lakes, nearly as much as simmering in a treated hot tub, but whenever I do I can't help but think I'm beavering around in animal waste and tributary urban sewer runoff, farm fertilizers and fecal matter, industrial chemicals and solvents, engine fuels and oils, the toxic sum totality of amalgamated flushmush flowing into it, all that is the wringing weep of filthy towns and cities upstream making their way to tenderly enshroud me in parasites and metropolitan poisons.

And just as surely as emerging from the salt-laden surf, I head straightaway for a nice rinsing shower or bath. That said, I much prefer to reverse-osmosally drink it than swim in it.

Yes, I’ll concede there is an easily demonstrated case for increasing oceanic pollution that can be made by any adept third-grader with an updated Golden Book Encyclopedia, but there is something in an ocean's immense replenishing ability that eases my mind enough to mercurially venture in, for better or worse, than the comparatively fragile ecosystem of a closed watershed, none of which can match the world’s oceans in size and toxin-depleting volume.

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Whenever I wade out into ocean waves, I wonder who else I might be connected to in that exact moment by an immeasurable but finite chain of salt water molecules stretching all the way to India, South America, Oceania, Africa, every place an ocean ventures into seas and inlets and bays that happily receive the perpetual flowdowns of the world’s numerous streams and rivers. That and whether or not I’m in far enough for sharks to get me.

You see, once fallen as snow or rain, all fresh water wants to do is head immediately on vacation for the ocean. Not all of it makes it, of course. Landlocked is called that for a reason. Yes, there are drillions of wonderful freshwater lakes and ponds that dot pristine places from mountains to deserts, high grassland valleys to the cavities of geologically upthrust niches, all filled by brooks, creeks, and streams that never leave the land.

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Some are nearly perpetually frozen; others thrive lush and fertile, while still others are fed from underground aquifers that all get their juice from somewhere else. But adventurous brooks nearly always find their way to streams, streams to rivers, small rivers to bigger rivers where in turn they find their way inexorably to the ocean.

Gravity decrees that fresh water run downhill.
Lunar gravity invites oceans to dance.

The gushy romantic in me looks on our oceans as vast repositories for the sorrows and joys of the world. All that salt came from somewhere, and all that sorrow and happiness has to go somewhere. Thus chicken soup is miraculously turned into happy sorrow soup.

There is a beguiling comfort in that for me. When I walk along the seashore, I feel as if I am being consoled while at the same time a willing and compassionate participant in the tendering of global consolation. This is, of course, wholly silly and arguably way too metaphysical for a hall pass. But it remains what I have always sensed about it even before I could ascribe words to it.

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When I was a boy, my incorrigibly capricious Uncle Bill and my bathing suit beautiful Auntie Joanie would take both of our collective overgrunioned families to one of the best saltwater and sand places in the world: Laguna Beach.

In spite of Uncle Bill convincing us kids that renegade Indians lay in wait to rain arrows and teetering boulders down upon our station wagon, it was thrilling to survive one of the then prettiest coastal canyons in California to emerge safely around that final stony twist to behold the blazing mystery of the western seaboard found along the semi-arid, sub-tropical, Mediterranean coastal desert region of the North American Pacific Ocean.

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I was genuinely awestruck to see the expanse of that wet cobalt wasteland stretching towards forever. The sheer size of it made me feel infinitesimal and leagueless, sub-atomic and spatial, a tiny but necessary part of nothing and everything all at once.

From 1938 through the war and post-war reconstructive 40’s, through the onset of the baby-boomered cold war 50’s and the rebellious psychosociodelic 60’s, and eventually into the drug-whacked Disco-diseased 70’s, Laguna Beach had what every sleepy, artsy tideside village should have: an immigrant welcome wagon of one to cheerfully receive travelers and visitors to its little footprint in the sand.

Blue-eyed with white flowing hair like the sash of a cresting breaker, The Greeter stood at the corner of Laguna Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway waving and shouting hardy hellos to strollers, cyclers, and the beachbound occupants of every automobile that passed him.


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Born in 1890 in saltwater Denmark and a WWI veteran, the avuncular Eiler Larsen would smile and greet you in any one of the six languages on his palate, point his index finger towards you with a wink as if he remembered you from the last time you were there. And as a kid I believed that he did, every single time we went, until his eventual passing in 1979.

Larsen had been Laguna Beach’s second Greeter having inherited the avocation from a Portuguese fisherman known as Old Joe Lucas whose only spoken English was proper profanity. Needless to say, though I never personally saw Laguna’s first Greeter, he surely greeted in his own native saltwater tongue.

I still sense Eiler Larsen there whenever I pass through that now traffic-congested, rent-prohibitive, yuppie-infested seaoplis that thankfully has not spoiled one single arc of tidal grace found in the blue-green waters that continue to lap up freely against its shores.

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Unlike nighttime star hopping, there is no guessing whether sentient beings on some other imagined shore might be gazing out across this same azure girdle of hydrogen and oxygen. There are. So whenever I stroll the shoreline of an ocean, I look out towards its horizoned plate of aquamarine and wonder who else might be looking back, imagine other greeters simultaneously wondering and waving in that exact same moment.

Though I had no hand whatsoever in the choosing, I’m pleased to be a saltwater person. I’m pleased because my reptilian brain stump somehow still subconsciously honors and recollects having crawled out of that solar bombarded, electrically stimulated, polypeptidal gruel of primeval amino acids and frothy bio-polynucleic proteins to collect and amass enough to stand up, turn around and say, “Well, I’m glad that part’s over.”

But mostly I’m pleased to be a saltwater person because, like the cosmos above me, it is my future retirement home. All this sorrow and happiness has to go somewhere.


Joseph Gallo
February 18, 2007


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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In my faltered house

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Valentine Melody Two

None of this will matter in a few days. The shape of curves corralled in a collar of seized love, the yoke of burdens better left to workers who show up well before the sun rises on their sorrowed break of fast. No one wants to be late for their own suffering, no matter what we call it: love, desire, token, the brittle things we learn to expect that come to mean something else. So who shall realign the wayward stars? You? Will you steer by the fat light left untended on the rocks to press your tender course against promises abandoned by an absent hand that once trimmed the lamp?

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In a few days, none of this will matter. The excellent service, the muted resentment of waitpersons who check on your table as a viper checks to see if the poison has taken, the prime rib breathing its last in a shuddered foot. With luck, your eyes might catch a spill of fire and be fondly remembered in another woman’s in Sevilla, perhaps, or Verona, and it will all come back on brief legs that slide silently down the inside of a wineglass to dissipate and be swallowed by whatever kiss has then come calling. I did not make this so and you may well accuse me of being romanceless. But I would inconcur for this is romance with all its tenuous encryptions for which there is no primer, which one may yet speak with such broken eloquence as to excuse such barbarisms in a heathen bed and still praise hayworn gods in the dark. Let us call this a kiss.

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Spit chocolate and sport blossomthorn for this is the only way we can ever say we lived it. Passing through it is not enough. We must allow love’s spider to strum its thin silk; find the trebled rivers of our deepest marrow and extract whatever wet light may yet remain. When I sleep, I want them all out; not a candle or a star left lit to arouse me. If you’ve practiced well, then you know this is the only way love may be summoned. A confection of silence sings sweetest on the willing tongue. This bitter poem then to prepare the way, for in my faltered house there are many sugars. None of this, in a few days, will matter. But today it does. Today, it does.

Joseph Gallo
February 14, 2007


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Thursday, February 08, 2007

The debris of time spent

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Institute Of The Beautiful Arts

She walks up to the gate, wrought as she is to undertake
this expression of her bending nature, and pushes through.
A sunfast morning straddles her shoulders and she feels it as
she senses the inconstellations slipping by above her in the
glare, knows each intimately by the stories she’s given them.

Passing lawns erupting with sculpture and statuary, she
measures her valence against what other hands have left
in their wakes, the debris of time spent coursing blue
pastures for greener seas. With every step, a decision, a
choice, a rule followed or broken, an unmarked pathway
that will not yield willingly to her slightest touch. So she
boulders through the marble, through stentorian halls fitted
with more glass than dunes have calved in a millennium of
windshear, through echo after echo of cleared throats and
hesitant leather, the decided pause of unsurety in the human sole.

Before her an open door, one of many she is destined to regard.
It leads out and into what she may become and, without a stride’s
break, she continues past opting instead for what she will be.
The rooms are empty, no formal thing insists, and she knows
she has arrived intact at the Institute of the Beautiful Arts.
Steadying herself, she sets the charges and makes for the next.

Joseph Gallo
February 8, 2007


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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Augury and unseen huntresses

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Signs Of Presence

You will not notice the scuffed leaf, that this or that stone
held her shadow for a moment before restreaming through
the waters of the sun. Absent, too, the subtle bearing of being
watched from the nethers of the canopy, the soft creak of
bamboo given to a wind from regions at the edge between
what you cross and what you consider. There is nothing to
belie, therefore nothing to betray. If caught, you can surrender
no secret thing ungiven you. You are a pin-up in a sniper’s
scope. Continue the plod, nevertheless. There are boundaries
to assess, vistas that have never known such timid gazes as
can be shielded by the terse brim of your hat. This is the way
all explorers felt. Every one wanted their mothers to tell them
everything was going to be alright. And every one didn’t.

We tell our children go boldly, step with purpose before the beast
that would flag you in its rage. We say things like, In my day, or
When I was your age, or You have it easy when nothing could be
further from the truth. Our day found us knock-kneed, shivering
before height and weight and gravity, all manner of science untested
to our age of becoming. Yet we assigned our rights to this passage,
to tales of found spoor on a trail that switched back on itself like
a coiled treason. Such are the ways we must each lose ourselves
to find it was never about the looking. Disregard prints that seem
to fit your shoes for both were loaned you by the impress of your soles.

Ignore omens in the air, eagles shot out from the sky by invisible
arrows nocked by augury and unseen huntresses. These are not
your sagas to tell. As the table is set for such guests to come, you
will pass by like a paper plague in Egypt. This is their kingdom
and your place is not where you supposed. Fortune favors not the
least among us, but strikes down even the beggar king. Leave
no
trace then, no evidence of your passage. There is richness in

forgetting as there is absolution in mystery. Remit no signs
of
presence and become as the child who one day understands
nothing is the very thing he must lend his children if they are
to know everything.

Joseph Gallo
January 19, 2007

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