Sunday, June 30, 2013


Saturday, June 29, 2013


The last thing we expected climbing the mountain and approaching the crest, the easy summit, was a man up there on a stool playing a button accordion!

In the past we have climbed to the summit and met face to face a falcon at rest.

Two young women with guitars and beautiful voices.

Nothing but snow and no tracks but our own.

Today it was a wedding and it was breaking up as we arrived. Maybe thirty people all dressed well, except for one happy slob in a large Hawaiian shirt, unshaved. There's one in every family.

The good looking squad with the bride & the groom in the center were being photographed over and over; many different stages of people, every one wishing to get into one of the photographs at one time or another.

And the accordion player played on. Lovely tunes, that swept over the rock crest and settled down into the valley somewhere. One moment he sounded single-handedly like the Buck Owens band, at another turn in his procession he was tooling out the theme song to Dr. Zhivago. 

We sat there and listened, far enough away from all of it, on a flat rock placed there before any of us were born.

Bob Arnold

Friday, June 28, 2013

(June 2013)


Audio Culture, Readings in Modern Music
edited by Christoph Cox, Daniel Warner
Continuum, 2004

Basho. Moon Woke Me Up Nine Times Selected Haiku of Basho Translated by David Young
Knopf, 2013

Joe Brainard. I Remember
Granary, 2001

Joseph Ceravolo. Collected Poems
Wesleyan, 2013

Forrest Gander. Core Samples From the World
 New Directions, 2011

Merrill Gilfillan. Selected Poems 1965-2000
Adventures in Poetry, 2005

Tom Hennan. Darkness Sticks to Everything
Copper Canyon, 2013

Hoa Nguyen. As Long As Trees Last
Wave, 2012

Gregory Orr. River Inside the River
Norton, 2013

Ethan Paquin. Accumulus 
 Salt, 2003

Cold Turkey Press (selected broadsides)
edited & design: Gerard Bellaart

Eileen Welsome. The General & The Jaquar
 Little Brown, 2006

Alexander Vvedensky. An Invitation for Me To Think. Selected and translated by Eugene Ostashevsky
New York Review of Books, 2013

Edited by Robert M. Zoschke. The Lowdown 2013
 Street Corner Press, 2013
( Ellison Bay, Wisconsin 54210 )

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Sean Parker,  founder of Napster, and bride, at their $9 million dollar Big Sur wedding that cost him $2.5 million in environmental damaging fines.
 That's milk money to this guy.

Welcome to the (Don’t Be) Evil Empire

    Google Eats the World


       By Rebecca Solnit

Finally, journalists have started criticizing in earnest the leviathans of Silicon Valley, notably Google, now the world’s third-largest company in market value. The new round of discussion began even before the revelations that the tech giants were routinely sharing our data with the National Security Agency, or maybe merging with it. Simultaneously another set of journalists, apparently unaware that the weather has changed, is still sneering at San Francisco, my hometown, for not lying down and loving Silicon Valley’s looming presence.

The criticism of Silicon Valley is long overdue and some of the critiques are both thoughtful and scathing. The New Yorker, for example, has explored how start-ups are undermining the purpose of education at Stanford University, addressed the Valley’s messianic delusions and political meddling, and considered Apple’s massive tax avoidance.

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece that startled me, especially when I checked the byline. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the fugitive in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, focused on The New Digital Age, a book by top Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen that to him exemplifies the melding of the technology corporation and the state.  It is, he claimed, a startlingly clear and provocative blueprint for technocratic imperialism, from two of our leading “witch doctors who construct a new idiom for United States global power in the twenty-first century.”  He added, “This idiom reflects the ever closer union between the State Department and Silicon Valley.”

What do the U.S. government and Silicon Valley already have in common? Above all, they want to remain opaque while making the rest of us entirely transparent through the capture of our data. What is arising is simply a new form of government, involving vast entities with the reach and power of government and little accountability to anyone.

Google, the company with the motto “Don’t be evil,” is rapidly becoming an empire. Not an empire of territory, as was Rome or the Soviet Union, but an empire controlling our access to data and our data itself. Antitrust lawsuits proliferating around the company demonstrate its quest for monopoly control over information in the information age. Its search engine has become indispensable for most of us, and as Google critic and media professor Siva Vaidhyanathan puts it in his 2012 book The Googlization of Everything, “[W]e now allow Google to determine what is important, relevant, and true on the Web and in the world. We trust and believe that Google acts in our best interest. But we have surrendered control over the values, methods, and processes that make sense of our information ecosystem.” And that’s just the search engine.

About three-quarters of a billion people use Gmail, which conveniently gives Google access to the content of their communications (scanned in such a way that they can target ads at you). Google tried and failed to claim proprietary control of digital versions of every book ever published; librarians and publishers fought back on that one. As the New York Times reported last fall, Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, summed the situation up this way: “Google continues to profit from its use of millions of copyright-protected books without regard to authors’ rights, and our class-action lawsuit on behalf of U.S. authors continues.”

The nonprofit Consumer Watchdog wrote to the attorney general on June 12th urging him “to block Google’s just announced $1 billion acquisition of Waze, developers of a mobile mapping application, on antitrust grounds... Google already dominates the online mapping business with Google Maps. The Internet giant was able to muscle its way to dominance by unfairly favoring its own service ahead of such competitors as Mapquest in its online search results. Now with the proposed Waze acquisition, the Internet giant would remove the most viable competitor to Google Maps in the mobile space. Moreover it will allow Google access to even more data about online activity in a way that will increase its dominant position on the Internet.”

The company seems to be cornering the online mapping business, seems in fact to be cornering so many things that eventually they may have us cornered.

In Europe, there’s an antitrust lawsuit over Google’s Android phone apps.  In many ways, you can map Google’s rise by the litter of antitrust lawsuits it crushed en route. By the way, Google bought Motorola. You know it owns YouTube, right? That makes Google possessor of the second and third most visited Websites on earth. (Facebook is first, and two more of the top six are also in Silicon Valley.)

Imagine that it’s 1913 and the post office, the phone company, the public library, printing houses, the U.S. Geological Survey mapping operations, movie houses, and all atlases are largely controlled by a secretive corporation unaccountable to the public. Jump a century and see that in the online world that’s more or less where we are. A New York venture capitalist wrote that Google is trying to take over “the entire fucking Internet” and asked the question of the day: “Who will stop Google?”

The Tipping Point

We ask that question all the time in San Francisco, because here Google isn’t just on our computers, it’s on our streets. I wrote earlier this year about “the Google bus” -- the armadas of private Wi-Fi-equipped luxury buses that run through our streets and use our public bus stops, often blocking city buses and public transit passengers while they load or unload the employees taking the long ride down the peninsula to their corporation of choice. Google, Apple, Facebook, and Genentech run some of the bigger fleets, and those mostly unmarked white buses have become a symbol of the transformation of the city.

Carl Nolte, the old native son who writes a column for the (dying) San Francisco Chronicle, said this month of the future inhabitants of 22,000 high-priced apartments under construction, “These new apartment dwellers will all be new San Franciscans, with different values. In a couple of years we'll think of the progressive politicians, circa 2012, as quaint antiques, like the old waterfront Commies your grandfather used to worry about. This is already a high-tech city, an expensive city, a city where middle-class families can't afford to live. It is a city where the African American population has dropped precipitously, where the Latino Mission District is gentrifying more every day. You think it's expensive here now? Just you wait. These are the good old days, but it won't last. We are at a tipping point.”

Mr. Nolte, you can tell, doesn’t particularly like this. A guy named Ilan Greenberg at the New Republic popped up to tell us that we must like it -- or face his ridicule. He writes, “Ironically, the anti-gentrifiers themselves undermine San Francisco’s liberal ethos. Opposed to newcomers? Wary of people whose values you don't understand? Critical of young people for not living up to an older generation’s ideals? It all sounds very reactionary and close-minded.” The problem is that we understand Silicon Valley’s values all too well, and a lot of us don’t like them.

Adding newcomers might not be so bad if it didn’t mean subtracting a lot of those of us who are already here. By us I mean everyone who doesn’t work for a gigantic technology corporation or one of the smaller companies hoping to become a global monolith. Greenberg (who is, incidentally, writing for a publication quietly bought up by a Facebook billionaire) sneers at us for defending middle-class people, but “middle class” is just a word for those of us who get paid decently for our work. People at various income levels in a diversity of fields here in San Francisco are being replaced by those who work in one field and get paid extremely well.  Small, alternative, and nonprofit institutions are also struggling and going down. It’s like watching a meadow being plowed under for, say, Monsanto genetically modified soybeans.

Speaking of meadows, one of Silicon Valley’s billionaires, Napster founder and Spotify billionaire Sean Parker, just threw himself a $10 million wedding on environmentally sensitive land in Big Sur. In the course of building a massive fantasy set for the event, “including grading, change in use from campground to private event, construction of multiple structures including a gateway and arch, an artificial pond, a stone bridge, multiple event platforms with elevated floors, rock walls, artificially created ruins of cottages and castle walls,” he reportedly did significant environmental damage and violated regulations.

Apparently paying $2.5 million in fines after the fact didn’t bother him. Napster and Spotify are, incidentally, online technologies that have reduced musicians’ profits from their recordings to almost nothing. There are tremendously wealthy musicians, of course, but a lot of them are at best, yes, middle class. Thanks to Parker, maybe a little less so.

Teachers, civil servants, bus drivers, librarians, firefighters -- consider them representatives of the middle class under siege, as well as the people who keep a city viable and diverse. Friends of mine -- a painter, a poet, a filmmaker, a photographer, all of whom have contributed to San Francisco’s culture -- have been evicted so that more affluent people may replace them. There’s a widespread tendency to think that defending culture means defending privileged white people, but that assumes that people of color and poor people aren’t artists. Here, they are.

Everyone here understands that if a musician -- hip-hop or symphony -- can’t afford a home, neither can a janitor and her family. And competition for those apartments is fierce, so fierce that these days no one I know can find a rental on the open market. I couldn’t when I moved in 2011; neither could a physician friend earlier this year. The tech kids come in and offer a year in cash up front or raise the asking price or both, and the housing supply continues to wither, while rents skyrocket. So while Greenberg might like you to think that we’re selfishly not offering a seat at the table, it’s more like old people and working families and people whose careers were shaped by idealism are objecting to being thrown under the, well, bus.

Like Gandhi, Only With Guns

Enough minions of Silicon Valley’s mighty corporations could arrive to create a monoculture.  In some parts of town, it already is the dominant culture. A guy who made a fortune in the dot-com boom and moved to the Mission District (the partly Latino, formerly blue-collar eye of the housing hurricane) got locals’ attention recently with a blog post titled “Douchebags Like You are Ruining San Francisco.” In it, he described the churlish and sometimes predatory behavior of the very young and very wealthy toward the elderly, the poor, and the nonwhite.

He wrote, “You’re on MUNI [the city bus system] and watch a 20-something guy reluctantly give up his seat to an elderly woman and then say loudly to his friends, ‘I don’t know why old people ride MUNI. If I were old I’d just take Uber.’” Yeah, I had to look it up, too:, a limousine taxi service you access via a smartphone app. A friend of mine overheard a young techie in line to buy coffee say to someone on his phone that he was working on an app that would be “like Food Not Bombs, to distribute food, only for profit.” Saying you're going to be like a group dedicated to free food, only for profit, is about as deranged as saying you're going to be like Gandhi, only with guns.

“An influx of techies will mean more patrons for the arts,” trilled an article at the Silicon Valley news site Pando, but as of yet those notable patrons have not made an appearance. As a local alternative weekly reported, “The tech world in general is notoriously uncharitable: According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, only four of 2011's 50 most generous U.S. donors worked in tech, despite the fact that 13 of Forbes 50 Richest Americans in 2012 had made some or all of their fortunes in tech.” Medici in their machinations, they are not Medici-style patrons. There is no noticeable trickle-down in the Bay Area, no significant benevolence toward the needy or good causes or culture from the new tech fortunes.

Instead, we get San Francisco newcomer, Facebook CEO, and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg pursuing his own interest with ruthless disregard for life on Earth. This year, Zuckerberg formed a politically active nonprofit,, that sought to influence the immigration debate to make it easier for Silicon Valley corporations to import tech workers. There has been no ideology involved, only expediency, in how pursued its ends. It decided to put its massive financial clout to work giving politicians whatever they wanted in hopes that this would lead to an advantageous quid pro quo arrangement. Toward that end, the group began running ads in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline (that will bring particularly carbon-dirty tar sands from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast) to support a Republican senator and other ads in favor of drilling in Alaska’s pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to support an Alaskan Democrat.

The takeaway message seemed to be that nothing is off limits in pursuing self-interest, and that the actual meaning and consequences of these climate-impacting projects was not of concern at least to that 29-year-old who's also the 25th richest person in the United States. (To give credit where it’s due: Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk, Paypal cofounder and electric car mogul, quit Zuckerberg and his Valley associates were pushing things they didn’t care about and demonstrating that they didn’t care about much except what makes their corporations run and their profits rise. Here, where the Sierra Club was founded in 1892 and many are environmentally minded, this didn’t go over well. Protests ensued at Facebook headquarters and on Facebook itself.

Rising hostility to the tech surge in San Francisco is met with fury and bewilderment by many Silicon Valley employees. They tend to sound like Bush-era strategists dumbfounded that the Iraqis didn’t welcome their invasion with flowers.

Here’s something else you should know about Silicon Valley: according to Mother Jones, 89% of the founding teams of these companies are all male; 82% are all white (the other 18% Asian/Pacific Islander); and women there make 49 cents to the male dollar. Silicon Valley female powerhouses like Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg get a lot of attention because they’re unusual, black swans in a lake full of white swans. As Catherine Bracy, on whose research Mother Jones based its charts, put it, “The current research I’ve seen shows that wealth creation from the tech industry is extremely unequally distributed, and current venture capital is going overwhelmingly to a small, homogeneous elite.” That’s what’s encroaching on San Francisco.

That Pando article chastises us this way: “San Francisco can become a world capital.  First it needs to get over itself.” But maybe we don’t want to be a world capital or more like New York and Tokyo. The logic of more-is-better seems unassailable to San Francisco’s detractors, but inside their more is a lot of less: less diversity, less affordability, less culture, less continuity, less community, less equitable distribution of wealth. What’s called wealth in these calculations is for the few; for the many, it’s impoverishment.

The Armada of the .0001%

If Google represents the global menace of Silicon Valley, and Zuckerberg represents its amorality, then Oracle CEO Larry Ellison might best represent its crassness. The fifth richest man in the world, he spent hundreds of millions of dollars to win the America's Cup yacht race a few years back. The winner gets to choose the next venue for the race and the type of boat to be used. So for this summer’s races, Ellison chose San Francisco Bay and a giant catamaran that appears to be exceptionally unstable. Last month, an Olympic-medal-winning sailor drowned when a boat he was training on capsized in San Francisco Bay, pinning him under its sail.

Part of Ellison’s strategy for winning again evidently involves making the boats so expensive that almost no one can compete. A race that once had seven to 15 competitors now has four, and one may drop out. Business Insider headlined a piece, “Larry Ellison Has Completely Screwed Up The America's Cup.” It went on to say, “Each team, with the exception of New Zealand's, is backed by an individual billionaire, and each has spent between $65 million and $100 million so far.” In typical Silicon Valley-fashion, Ellison also figured out how to stick San Francisco for a significant part of the tab and in the process even caused the eviction of a few dozen small businesses, though in the end the city did not give him a valuable stretch of waterfront he wanted.

Here’s what San Francisco is now: a front row seat on the most powerful corporations on Earth and the people who run them. So we know what you may not yet: they are not your friends and their vision is not your vision, but your data is their data, and your communications are in their hands, and they seem to be rising to become an arm of or a part-owner of the government or a law unto themselves, and no one has yet figured out what we can do about it.

Rebecca Solnit is just winding up several months as a research fellow at Stanford Libraries and Stanford's Bill Lane Center for the American West. Her work there will lead to a book about California history, but her new book, out this month, is The Faraway Nearby.

Copyright 2013 Rebecca Solnit
25 June 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Once upon a time I received in the US Mail puffy and somewhat wrinkled envelopes from Alfred Starr Hamilton. Inside the envelopes were wads of poems, and outside on the envelope was always the same way his typed address in the left hand corner from "Montclair, N.J." I had to look up where that was on the map. I'm sure I chose and published at least one of the poems in this gorgeous new book by ASH — and if there is any book of poems published in the past few years risen out of the ashes — this one has to be it. As I'm sure Hamilton sent the same poems, most likely, over & over to the same publishers, and maybe his records were a little spotty as to whom took what. Just a guess. By the way, is there any poet who looked and wrote from and deserved such a name?


Those are the blossoms under the branches

That have been picked, but would have been left there

Those are the broken stars at the back of the wonderbrush

Those are the stars that were kept to put on top of the daisy tops

Tomorrow and next day, and all summer long

Those are the hushabye places as long as ever remembered

Still those are the timelier visions remembered

I never said goodbye to the broken places under the branches

That was all we were ever meant to be ourselves, Tomorrow

A Crust of Bread

why, I often wondered

why I was a poet,

first of all

most of all, I wanted

to have been a bird

if I could have been a bird

but I wanted the starlings

to have been fed,

first of all

The Pool

I never played pool with all the rest

I was so oftentimes off by myself

I didn't know what it was

I didn't know where it was

It never left me alone

It spoke to me time and again

I stared at the pool

I stared at the beautiful face of mankind

And there it was at the bottom of the pool,

One of the clearest dreams I've ever witnessed

A little crawfish at the bottom of the pool,

A little crawfish on top of a sandy beach,

I could have that little thingamajig

I could hug that little thingamajig to myself all of the rest of my life long


yet I walked through the gay city of November

in search of the word for a snowflake

that stayed on a man's overcoat

for I searched the gray winds for none other answer

than I'll never know whyever

I lived at a crossroads of conclusions

for I concluded

that I lit an amber lamp alone in the parlorways

Moon and Stars

I thought of its hindsight

I thought of its foresight

I thought it was wearing its eyes on the back of its head

I thought its eyes were everywhere

I thought it was a star gazing

I thought it was staring upwards

I thought of such dizzying heights

I thought this was upside down

I thought it was observing the underworld

I thought it was observing the wilderness

I thought the stars were on fire

I thought it was observing the moon

I thought it was funny

I thought the moon was for some pumpkin

For a Firefly

if ever

an evening star

January Parlor

But a snowflake stayed on one's lips

I talked to a golden jar of white roses

That stayed in the January parlor


I would

If I could

I would like

To do anything for you

As light as the moon

I would like

To go over the green pastures

From then on to follow

This is for the green leaves

This for the yellow leaves

This is for a little green and yellow schoolhouse

By the forsythia hillside

To tell you the truth

If I only could

I would like to write the history of our lives over again

I would like to build you a little Indian schoolhouse

I would like to send you a box of daffodils too

Considering the lilies of the valley

And neither do they spin nor do they toil

And send them back to school

Dark Corner

I wonder if I lived

in a dark corner

all by myself

until the only sun I ever saw

came around in the morning

I wonder if the sunlight

worked its way

through a keyhole

and little by little I was taught

never to tell a lie

I wonder how the light of day

exerted itself

in my presence


Give us time

Give us crickets

Give us a clock

could you build this wonderful town house in the grass

and put a cricket in it by this evening?

Walkative, Talkative

When those are the walkative stars

That talked to the immediate prisoners themselves

When those are the talkative stars

That walked along the narrow sedge pathways

Yet those are lines to another star

That were to have been led for changelings

Around a dark dreambox of another kind

That houses our more talkative stars

Old Songs

Take me back to the days

of why I talked to the moon

Of the immoveable church

When we moved

But the church was immoveable

But the church was your neighbor

Take me back to the days

Of an old walnetto song

To a walnetto blonde

That pinned the white blossoms over the blossom,

and pulled at the heart's strings of the world

That said your best heart

Is your neighbor of old


Even the sheep's woolen

Clung in the June distance

And I wanted the needle

That passed through the sheep's woolen

To have caught onto a thread

To a cloud that stayed in the sky


Alfred Starr Hamilton

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Monday, June 24, 2013


Today, after three weeks of planning on both sides, we had a young couple arrive and take away our old letterpress.

We had met these people about two weeks ago when they drove up from Connecticut, and it was a long trip up from the seashore, to have a look, after their job all day, and investigate what this old Golding printing press was. First off, they saw it was or seemed to be 1000 pounds. Like two truck engines piggy-backed. They weren't sure, but they had arrived on the clear advice of a press man in Massachusetts who I took on as a lark he might know something, or someone, to buy the press when I saw his advertisement on the Internet. He turned out to be a lucky charm. I dropped him an email one Saturday night, and Sunday morning I had a very friendly email back that he had just held two workshops with two separate parties and he thought he knew just the couple for the press. He would be getting nothing out of this, and he asked for nothing. It was good old mutual respect.

So he contacted this young couple and they contacted us and we made a date for them to visit.

The visit was one evening and the couple liked everything they saw, including us and the homestead, and aura. They said so. Now we had to plan around all the rainy weather that lasted far too long — flooding the gardens, flooding the pond, even flooding above the cottage where the letterpress resided. Patience. 

The rain let up and the young couple, writing many emails worked their way around the anticipation, impatience, and got into a glide that it was all going to be okay. They left half a deposit on the press before they left. We also asked them to bring a deposit out of goodwill for any property that was damaged during the move. We didn't expect any, but if any occurred we'd have some cash at hand to repair flooring, trim, stairs, door frames, landscape. They got it. No problem.

Today they came, with two young strong fellow workers and for four hours they worked at getting the beast out of the cottage.

The three guys are all mountain climbers. The fellow that bought the press with his girlfriend teaches mountain climbing, and the two helpers are his sidekicks. The head mountain climber had a dog a bit like our son's dog, a dog we like. The girlfriend sat in the shade with the dog until the removal got to the point where all-hands-on- deck was needed and she jumped into the fray.

The letterpress came away. No damage anywhere. Done with immaculate care and respect. The two sidekick guys as they relaxed in a new place and meeting new people warmed up more & more. Everybody got along. The couple gave us the rest of the cash for the letterpress before any of the work was carried out, and we held the goodwill cash in our pockets to see what harm was done. None. Handed it back. All smiles. They now had a three hour drive down crazy I-91 on a Sunday afternoon with all the other bats leaving the Belfry (Vermont). They looked tired but happy. A very warm day.

They asked us where was the best place for pizza heading south, and we said one word, "Pinnochio's".

photo © bob arnold

Sunday, June 23, 2013


A most elegant book of poet-gossip, where the once chiefdom of poetry, Robert Lowell, is now seen (but not by Spivack) as less than what we thought he was, and the many poets: Spivack, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, bits of Denise Levertov, Gail Mazur, all Boston based at one time or another and were maybe too much under the spell of the Brahmin. Stanley Kunitz is kept to himself and nicely portrayed. Even a long forgotten and talented poet of age 19, Peter Kaplan, is remembered, after he jumps to his death off a Cape Cod bridge into the canal. Spivack has none of the once upon a time Adrienne Rich fierceness of demanding all men in any of her poetry reading audiences leave the premises before she reads. She writes a honorable memoir.


With Robert Lowell and his Circle
Kathleen Spivack
Northwestern University Press

Saturday, June 22, 2013


thanks, josh
& to jd heading out

Friday, June 21, 2013


Almost three weeks ago, Sweetheart walked upstairs in our farmhouse and I heard one of those screams Hollywood films love to have in the can. Nothing forced, nothing acted — a full-fledged, let-go, high & mighty scream. I could only wonder downstairs. I asked up the old New England stairwell and was told a snake was in the bedroom, stretched across the white wool rug, comfortable as can be, four-feet long. No one wants a snake in their bedroom. Kokomo our cat was in residence five feet away, perched, just studying. Sorry to say during our action to remove the snake, the snake got away. And we didn't know where.

We figured it must have gone back the way it came in. Back to the big woodshed where it belongs. Back into the stacks of oak, maple and especially yellow birch firewood where it likes to hang out all summer and shed its skin against the rough bark. I find the skins up there all the time. One week, two weeks, by that time we were convinced the snake was gone. We forgot about him.

Guess what? The snake was in the bedroom last night.

I came up at midnight, saw Kokomo on the end of our bed looking across to where he usually sleeps on the window bed (the one I built last year, he loves it). I had a dim night-light on in the room and came within one inch of putting my hand right down on the snake. It was on the bookcase with built in table-shelf I built for placing things. I was picking up a book, and did, to take to bed when I caught a shape in the corner of my eye and asked myself what is that? : a ribbon, a piece of Sweetheart's sewing fabric, a long bootlace? Then I came to the head and those two steady eyes. And whispered, "What da fuck...?!"

I looked at Kokomo, who looked at me, and we both said with no words, "Now what?" It's midnight. Sweetheart's fast asleep. We can't wake her up and make things worse. She'll never go back to sleep if the snake gets away.

The snake is curled like a master in-and-around-and-over-and-with all the stuff on the open shelf. It's a masterpiece of snake positioning.

I can't shoot it, don't want to shoot it, may shoot it. I have rat-shot in the corner and my .22 rifle.

I turn a flashlight onto the snake. It isn't bothered. Kokomo sees I'm heading into action so he jumps off the bed and onto the window bed and is a foot from the snake. The snake doesn't care. Kokomo comes around the open shutter window and gets inches from the snake. No movement. Kokomo does the pre-cat pounce by flexing his back legs and practicing a paw movement like Ray Allen does on the foul line with one of his arms playing for the Miami Heat. He throws 98% foul shots because of this flexing and positioning. Snake doesn't care. Kokomo then pounces with his paw, misses a clean strike, and the snake now snake-like veers back. It's suddenly half the size, coiling backwards. . .I watch it coil away and around all the shape and frame of the shelf and head to a glass lamp shade which I'd love and die for Sweetheart to see a snake at work slimming its way over a pretty glass lamp shade, and the lamp is on and warm and the snake takes its time moving over and around the lamp, coiling, down to a small fixed window it tries to climb up onto all four small panes to get away and there is no entry.

The snake doesn't like this. The snake wants to be away. Kokomo is transfixed and watching.

I can see the snake is moving toward the 150 big collection of poetry books, mainly hardcovers, I brought up over the spring after I built a new hefty bookshelf for all the volumes, to be in this special place: the snake is slowly thinking of lifting itself up onto the books, and they're placed by some prominence and also size.

These are the large size books it's heading to: The Book of the Blues, Olson, Frank O'Hara, Henri Michaux, a bunch of their full collections, and at the end is a very large John Cage. He hasn't started climbing yet. Kokomo is now on the ground and stretching up and wondering how he can get up there and get the snake. He's an exceptional mouser for a boy. Sweetheart is restless but not awake. Pretty in her white top and yellow pants, sandy hair all comfy.

I go downstairs and first get on my big rubber boots. I'm barefoot and don't want a milk snake falling onto my bare feet. I don't mind snakes but I want to feel them in my hands only if I have to feel them. While pulling on my boots downstairs I'm trusting Kokomo and the snake are keeping one another transfixed as to where the other is and the snake hasn't climbed onto the books yet. I'm in the kitchen. I remember tongs we use to pull canning jars out of  boiling water and think to get that tool for some service, like grabbing a snake.

I rush back upstairs. 12:20 AM.

Sweetheart is now awake because I've opened the door out to the porch before leaving. We're making ready for Lift Off. The snake is now onto Olson, winding and grinding, going slow, over O'Hara, about 12 books here, heading to the tall John Cage volume. When he gets to Ginsberg, Rimbaud and Frost it's over, he'll drop in behind those books and be lost to snake heaven. He'll be in the room again and again.

I grab the sucker near enough at the back of the head. He wraps himself immediately up around the tongs. Sweetheart has said with drama, "Oh, Jesus", hating snakes in her house. Yard okay, garden fine, woodpile of course. Near the bed and barefeet and snoozing, forget it charlie.

I laugh and show her the snake, the tongs, as I likewise move across the room onto the porch, rush river big sound darkness from all the rain this week and complete stillness otherwise and that lush dark as I throw tongs, snake and clear the room. For now.

Kokomo's not quite convinced.

He didn't see me grab, pull and take then leave with the snake. He knows something has happened but he isn't convinced the snake isn't there, and I trust his instincts enough to believe, well, maybe another snake is around. He keeps prowling, snooping, looking, stretching high on hind legs looking and I'm looking with my hunting companion and I guess we'll just have to wait.

"Olly Olly Am Free" is what we used to say at the top of our singing lungs as kids when we played the game kick-the-can. We'll watch and wait to see if snakes play this game.

next day photo by Susan Arnold

Thursday, June 20, 2013


New Evidence

You too


Once were



[ BA ]

photo : ken heyman

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Borrowing this title from our friend Matthew Fluharty and his blog* on all things backcountry, folklore and hand-to-hand connection. Matthew was there from the beginning with my Hurricane Irene postings on the Birdhouse, and the subsequent events and serious trials with some neighbors and individuals and even town officials in our community. Nowhere is it ever automatic harmony — harmony takes work, honing, consideration, communication, sincerity and sweat. Not always doing what you want to to do, but learning what is best to do.

For those following us along the ups & downs the past few years I trust most understand this isn't solely a personal grievance or hardship on our end. We've had definite trouble with the abuse from some people, but the exposure via the Birdhouse has been to showcase how a community can fail, where it needn't. Where individuals, who are otherwise abiding, can become difficult, cruel and a threat. Where town officials, who often know better, can be led down a gnarled pathway by peer pressure and prejudice. All of this leading to dire consequences. Many may give up, turn to anger, fester a grudge and heighten hostility, even gear up a witch hunt mentality, spread lies and inaccuracies, and it all contributes to a backcountry lush & greenery, clear springs & brooks, becoming no more than deadwood & mudholes.

Exposure is good in the long run. Exposure is sunlight. It's a rooster crowing. It's birdsong, grain of the wood, moonlight after too much darkness. It's nothing to be afraid of.

After Hurricane Irene we had three separate incidents with neighbors who all acted with abuse onto our land and to ourselves as landowners. It was entirely wrong on their part and in fact so wrong it startled us that people could be this wrong and not admit to their mistake. I have written enough about how some neighbors can admit to their mistake and own up, and they have; we have. So it's possible. But I'm convinced the backcountry is now in serious trouble by the lack of proper stewardship and decency on a personal level one to another. You can have all the cleanup jamborees and concentration on the environment and protecting plant life you want, but if people lose touch with the good manners one to another, which is the genesis of a healthy environment, it's all lost.

How you treat yourself, your neighbor, your possessions, your homestead, your animals, your attitude, your mind, all contributes to what will happen to our earth. Global warming to the environment is secondary and a direct contribution from the global warming between ourselves.

Grandma was right — "One bad egg can spoil the lot."

So you have a few ugly-minded neighbors wanting to spoil, they will spoil, and peer pressure and prejudice is just itching to get activated. In our case some bad neighbors, gummy already with grudges, got the ball rolling and unfortunately for the town spoke to an unqualified employee who passed along ugly mistruths, which only stormed the wrath of the ugly ones ten-fold. Qualified town officials should have jumped onto this repair immediately, but they didn't. In the meantime the fire spread within the community. The unqualified one was fired but so what. He was actually a likable fellow, our son's age and we knew him through years at the local school, but he shared damaging misinformation that he later admitted wasn't even about us but another couple, and by then the snowball hurdling downhill is bigger & bigger. No one is taking responsibility. We try individually, we try through lawmakers, we try through the town, we try with open letters, and we garner deep support from a world community, and cops that have to address broken laws, but nothing comes as it should and must from the heart of the countryside, right where we live, right where the problem is, right who the problem is with. And this is the problem. It isn't complicated. It's right before us. It is us.

Stay disciplined, work at it, don't lose faith, bypass anger, and results start to show. In the long run good people will show forth inch by inch, they do come. The law is a mighty paradox and not always lawful, not even close, but within it there are decent folk at work. Town officials always have a few deadbeats, it's a town after all, not a commonwealth and not a trained elective branch, it's a hodgepodge organic twist of fate made up of many who love their town and their homes and families and they're trying their best up against others who may be a mess and within a structure that wants to retain its pride. I'm sharing a letter below which shows some of that pride. After a few years of my wife and I tolerating some bad eggs in our neighborhood and the lies they spread, gained from a town official that our town finally had to admit existed. We're thankful the town came to their senses.

A year before that a Sheriff's department and court system leveled a judgment against another abusive neighboring family. Again, this isn't about loud music being played, or fussing with a border dispute; it's about abuse to private property and a way of life that wishes to abide quietly and together with a backwoods environment. It's about knowing a river system and woodlands and solace are there to be shared, one with another. None of the land is posted, and everyone is welcome, but welcomed in the spirit of respecting a serenity of what is naturally there, long before we got here. That should only take understanding, and wishing to communicate.

It isn't lost on us that every single thorny person hasn't communicated and refuses to; while every single person who has communicated has also helped moved things along.

Grandpa said, "A rolling stone gathers no moss."

Matthew Fluharty

Monday, June 17, 2013


Elinore Pruitt Stewart


January 23, 1913.

Dear Mrs. Coney,—

I am afraid all my friends think I am very forgetful and that you think I am ungrateful as well, but I am going to plead not guilty. Right after Christmas Mr. Stewart came down with la grippe and was so miserable that it kept me busy trying to relieve him. Out here where we can get no physician we have to dope ourselves, so that I had to be housekeeper, nurse, doctor, and general overseer. That explains my long silence.

And now I want to thank you for your kind thought in prolonging our Christmas. The magazines were much appreciated. They relieved some weary night-watches, and the box did Jerrine more good than the medicine I was having to give her for la grippe. She was content to stay in bed and enjoy the contents of her box.

When I read of the hard times among the Denver poor, I feel like urging them every one to get out and file on land. I am very enthusiastic about women homesteading. It really requires less strength and labor to raise plenty to satisfy a large family than it does to go out to wash, with the added satisfaction of knowing that their job will not be lost to them if they care to keep it. Even if improving the place does go slowly, it is that much done to stay done. Whatever is raised is the homesteader's own, and there is no house-rent to pay. This year Jerrine cut and dropped enough potatoes to raise a ton of fine potatoes. She wanted to try, so we let her, and you will remember that she is but six years old. We had a man to break the ground and cover the potatoes for her and the man irrigated them once. That was all that was done until digging time, when they were ploughed out and Jerrine picked them up. Any woman strong enough to go out by the day could have done every bit of the work and put in two or three times that much, and it would have been so much more pleasant than to work so hard in the city and then be on starvation rations in the winter.

To me, homesteading is the solution of all poverty's problems, but I realize that temperament has much to do with success in any undertaking, and persons afraid of coyotes and work and loneliness had better let ranching alone. At the same time, any woman who can stand her own company, can see the beauty of the sunset, loves growing things, and is willing to put in as much time at careful labor as she does over the washtub, will certainly succeed; will have independence, plenty to eat all the time, and a home of her own in the end.

Experimenting need cost the homesteader no more than the work, because by applying to the Department of Agriculture at Washington he can get enough of any seed and as many kinds as he wants to make a thorough trial, and it doesn't even cost postage. Also one can always get bulletins from there and from the Experiment Station of one's own State concerning any problem or as many problems as may come up. I would not, for anything, allow Mr. Stewart to do anything toward improving my place, for I want the fun and the experience myself. And I want to be able to speak from experience when I tell others what they can do. Theories are very beautiful, but facts are what must be had, and what I intend to give some time.

Here I am boring you to death with things that cannot interest you! You'd think I wanted you to homestead, wouldn't you? But I am only thinking of the troops of tired, worried women, sometimes even cold and hungry, scared to death of losing their places to work, who could have plenty to eat, who could have good fires by gathering the wood, and comfortable homes of their own, if they but had the courage and determination to get them.

I must stop right now before you get so tired you will not answer. With much love to you from Jerrine and myself, I am
Yours affectionately,
Elinore Rupert Stewart.

In 1909 a widowed "washlady" traveled from Denver, Colorado to Burnt Fork, Wyoming with her ten year old daughter "Jerrine" to take on work as a housekeeper for a Scotch-American cattleman. Elinore Rupert Stewart soon learned that Wyoming had three seasons: "winter, July and August." She wrote twenty-six letters to a friend back in Colorado that were collected and published in 1914 as Letters of a Woman Homesteader. Written between April 1909 and November 1913, the letters showcase her arrival in Wyoming, the purchase and homesteading of her own plot of land as she continued to work for the rancher, her marriage to the man in 1910, and their life together even as she continued to work her own land. Though not intended originally for later publication, Stewart's missives are frontier portrait masterpieces in themselves. Those knowing the motion picture "Heartland" may recognize the inspiration of Stewart's life and writing in that film.



Elinore Pruitt Stewart

front page image

The Riverside Press Cambridge

Sunday, June 16, 2013

( Gerry Loose )

A poem~letter and swan feathers just in today from Gerry Loose — "hello there, Gerry!"

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Ellidaey Island (Elliðaey), Iceland

The Far North of Experience

    In Praise of Darkness (and Light)


       By Rebecca Solnit

One summer some years ago, on a peninsula jutting off another peninsula off the west coast of Iceland, I lived among strangers and birds. The birds were mostly new species I got to know a little, the golden plovers plaintively dissembling in the grass to lead intruders away from their nests, the oystercatchers who flew overhead uttering unearthly oscillating cries, the coastal fulmars, skuas, and guillemots, and most particularly the arctic terns. The impeccable whiteness of their feathers, the sharpness of their scimitar wings, the fierceness of their cries, and the steepness of their dives were all enchanting.

Terns were once called sea swallows for their deeply forked tails and grace in the air, and in Latin, arctic terns were named sterna paradisaea by a pietist Danish cleric named Erik Pontoppidan, at the end of a turbulent career. It’s not clear why in 1763 he called the black-capped, white-feathered arctic terns sterna paradisaea: birds -- or terns -- of paradise. He could not have known about their extraordinary migration, back in the day when naturalists -- and Pontoppidan himself in his book on Norway -- thought swallows buried themselves in the mud in winter and hibernated, rather than imagining they and other birds flew far south to other climes.

Of all living things, arctic terns migrate farthest and live in the most light and least darkness. They fly tens of thousands of miles a year as they relocate from farthest north to farthest south. When they are not nesting, they rarely touch ground and live almost constantly in flight, like albatrosses, like their cousins the sooty terns who roam above the equatorial seas for years at a time without touching down. Theirs is a paradise of endless light and endless effort. The lives of angels must be like this.

The far north is an unearthly earth, where much of what those of us in temperate zones were told is universal is not true. Everyone walks on water, which is a solid. In winter, you can build palaces out of it, or houses out of snow. Ice is blue. Snow insulates. Water crystallizes into floating mountains that destroy whatever collides with them. Many other things turn hard as rock in the cold. Nothing decays, and so time stops for the dead, if not the living. Cold is stability and warmth can be treacherous.

Trees dwindle; shrubs cling to the ground; and further north nothing remains of the plant kingdom but low grasses, diminutive flowers, mosses, and lichens hidden beneath the snow part of the year; and nearly every species but the reindeer and some of the summer birds is carnivorous. In winter, light can seem to shine upward from the white ground more than from the dark sky where the sun doesn’t rise or rises for an hour or two a day. And at the poles themselves, there are not 365 days per year but one long night and one long stretch of light, and the sun rises once in the spring and sets once in the fall.

Their opposite is the equator, where every day and every night of the year is exactly twelve hours long. The further north or south you go, the longer summer days and winter nights get. In Iceland, each day of spring was several minutes longer than the one before, so that in May the days went from nearly 17 to 20 hours long, and by June there is no true darkness, no night. The sun dipped low around midnight or after and there were spectacular sunsets that melted into sunrises, because the sun never went entirely away.

That summer among the terns, I lived at latitude 65, about as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska, and one degree south of the Arctic Circle. If you go farther north, to, say, the town of Longyearbyen in the Norwegian Arctic at latitude 78, which I later visited, the sun rises in late April and stays above the horizon until nearly the end of August, when sunset finally comes -- a few minutes before sunrise. There, winter is a night as long as that summer day, running from the end of October until the middle of February. The twenty-four-hour cycle of day and night we think of as normal and daily comes as a rush of rapidly changing days and nights, flickering like a strobe, between the great day and the great night that each lasts 1,000 hours or more.

Long ago, I had read about the white nights of St. Petersburg in Russia, at only 59 degrees north, and I had once spent a couple of weeks in the Canadian wilderness at that latitude near midsummer, when night was just a blush of darkness that generally began and ended while I was asleep in my tent. I had always wanted to see the white nights farther north, but actually living through them was a little disorienting.

In Praise of Darkness

Sometimes during that summer when the sky was often gray but never black, I would think that a task had to be done before darkness and then realize that there would be no more darkness while I was there, and it didn’t matter so much when I rose, when I slept, when I traveled. For me day and night were time itself, and I missed the rhythm and structure they provide. I missed stars. Darkness no longer shut me in: I shut light out to sleep. It was as though I had entered a landscape that itself never slept, never dreamed, that never let up the rational alertness of daytime, the light of interrogation and analysis.

The sensuality of night had never been so clear to me, darkness descending like velvet to wrap around you and enclose you in its black cocoon, to take you to your other self and others. In darkness dreams awaken and dreamers merge, which might be how passion becomes love and how making love begets progeny of all natures and forms. Merging is dangerous, at least to the boundaries and definition of the self. Darkness is generative, and generation, biological and artistic both, requires this amorous engagement with the unknown, this entry into the realm where you do not quite know what you are doing and what will happen next.

Creation is always in the dark because you can only do the work of making by not quite knowing what you’re doing, by walking into darkness, not staying in the light. Ideas emerge from edges and shadows to arrive in the light, and though that’s where they may be seen by others, that’s not where they’re born. But darkness is a pejorative in English, and the term has often carried emotional, moral, and religious overtones as has its opposite: the children of light, snowy angels, fair maidens, and white knights. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” said the dark-skinned Martin Luther King Jr., but sometimes love is darkness; sometimes the glare is what needs to be extinguished. Turn off the lights and come to bed.

When you spend time in the desert, you come to love shadow, shade, and darkness, the respite they give to the menacing blaze of day that burns you out and dries you up. Heat is the desert as predator, just as cold is the Arctic’s biggest animal. Desert light is fierce, and at midday it flattens everything into a harsh solid, but early and late in the day, light is golden and every crevice and fold and protrusion of the landscape is thrown into the high relief of light and shadow. At those times day and night intertwine like dancers, like lovers, and shadows are as powerful a presence as the things that cast them, or more so, growing and growing until the sun disappears below the horizon and darkness spreads like water on the land.

Journey to the Center

There was only one dark place left in Iceland that summer, or so it seemed to me, and I went there again and again. Elín Hansdóttir, a young artist who had been instrumental in the chain of coincidences that brought me to Iceland, had made a labyrinth titled Path. In a big room in Iceland’s National Gallery, with the help of two meticulous carpenters, she built a zigzag route of Sheetrock that gave off that material’s dusty clean aroma. One person at a time entered Path, and a pair of watchers in the outer gallery monitored entries and exits and occasionally went in for a rescue, like lifeguards.

When you stepped in from the daylight and the door closed behind you, the space seemed to be absolutely dark and then your eyes adjusted to the faint, faint light. You could move forward when you were blind or wait until you could see, but placing a hand on one side of the walls helped you travel too. The path turned at sharp angles, so that you knew that you were being turned around and around, and you lost track of the distance that you were going.

The light that leaked through the intentional, careful cracks in the walls and ceiling was faintly lavender blue -- it came from fluorescent tubes -- and it streamed across the space in strange ways. It was easy to believe that what was dark was solid, what was light was spaciousness into which you could move, but reality as you bumped into it was often the other way around, with open blackness and hard pale surfaces.

Your expectations reversed, you moved deeper into the labyrinth, knowing now that you did not know what was solid, what was space you could occupy, but would have to test it, over and over. Path was a space in which you perfected the art of not knowing where you were, of finding out one literal step at a time. Did the path fork? Or was there only one route? How far did it go? Was the way out the same as the way in? All this would have to be found with the hands, eyes, and feet as you traveled.

At the end, the walls began to press together and it was as dark as it had been at that first moment you stepped in and closed the door behind yourself. And then you could go no farther. It seemed as though it ought to feel claustrophobic, but I found in it an embrace of darkness, a destination, a handmade night. There and back again took me 10 or 15 minutes by the clock, but the time inside had no such quantifiable measure. It was time apart, symbolic time, a slow journey to the heart of the unknown and the unknowable. I kept coming back all summer, seven times in all, once for so long the attendants grew concerned. I felt at home there, more myself than anywhere else in Iceland, somehow. Jules Verne’s novel about Iceland was called Journey to the Center of the Earth, and this felt like such a journey, or such a center.

A labyrinth is an ancient device that compresses a journey into a small space, winds up a path like thread on a spool. It contains beginning, confusion, perseverance, arrival, and return. There at last the metaphysical journey of your life and your actual movements are one and the same. You may wander, may learn that in order to get to your destination you must turn away from it, become lost, spin about, and then only after the way has become overwhelming and absorbing, arrive, having gone the great journey without having gone far on the ground.

In this it is the opposite of a maze, which has not one convoluted way but many ways and often no center, so that wandering has no cease or at least no definitive conclusion. A maze is a conversation; a labyrinth is an incantation or perhaps a prayer. In a labyrinth you’re lost in that you don’t know the twists and turns, but if you follow them you get there; and then you reverse your course.

The end of the journey through the labyrinth is not at the center, as is commonly supposed, but back at the threshold again: the beginning is also the real end. That is the home to which you return from the pilgrimage, the adventure. The unpraised edges and margins matter too, because it’s not ultimately a journey of immersion but emergence.

Paths, Empaths, Journeys Into and Toward, By Touch and By Ear

If Path was a book, it was about not knowing, about being lost, and about darkness, the darkness of the deep interior, a book you read with your feet. Anatomists long ago named the windings of the inner ear, whose channels provide both hearing and balance, the labyrinth. The name suggests that if the labyrinth is the passage through which sound enters the mind, then we ourselves bodily enter labyrinths as though we were sounds on the way to being heard by some great unknown presence. To walk this path is to be heard, and to be heard is a great desire of the majority of us, but to be heard by whom, by what? To be a sound traveling toward the mind -- is that another way to imagine this path, this journey, the unwinding of this thread?

Who hears you? We live inside each other’s thoughts and works. You build yourself out of the materials at hand and those you seek out and choose, you build your beliefs, your alliances, your affections, your home, though some of us have far more latitude than others in all those things. You digest an idea or an ethic as though it was bread, and like bread it becomes part of you. Out of all this comes your contribution to the making of the world, your sentences in the ongoing interchange. The tragedy of the imprisoned, the unemployed, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized is to be silenced in this great ongoing conversation, this symphony that is another way to describe the world.

To hear is to let the sound wander all the way through the labyrinth of your ear; to listen is to travel the other way to meet it. It’s not passive but active, this listening. It’s as though you retell each story, translate it into the language particular to you, fit it into your cosmology so you can understand and respond, and thereby it becomes part of you. The word empathy originally meant feeling into, and to empathize is to reach out to meet the data that comes through the labyrinths of the senses. To enter into, we say, as though another person’s life was also a place you could travel to.

Kindness, compassion, generosity, are often talked about as though they’re purely emotional virtues, but they are also and maybe first of all imaginative ones. You see someone get hurt -- maybe they get insulted or they’re just very tired -- and you feel for them. You take the information your senses deliver and interpret it, often in terms of your own experience, until it becomes vivid to you. Or you work harder and study them to imagine the events you don’t witness, the suffering that is not on the surface.

It’s easier to imagine the experience of people most like you and nearest you -- your best friend, the person who just slipped on the ice. Through imagination and representations -- films, printed stories, second-hand accounts -- you travel into the lives of people far away. This imaginative entering into is best at the particular, since you can imagine being the starving child but not the region of a million starving people. Sometimes, though, one person’s story becomes the point of entry to larger territories.

This identification is almost instinctual in many circumstances. Even some animals do it; babies cry in sympathy with each other, or in distress at the sound of distress. But to cry because someone cries or desire because someone desires is not quite to care about someone else. There are people whose response to the suffering of others is to become upset and demand consolation themselves.

Empathy means that you travel out of yourself a little or expand. Recognizing the reality of another's existence is the imaginative leap that is the birth of empathy, a word invented by a psychologist interested in visual art. The word is only slightly more than a century old, though the words sympathy, kindness, pity, compassion, fellow-feeling, and others covered the same general ground before Edward Titchener coined it in 1909. It was a translation of the German word Einfuhlung, or feeling into, as though the feeling itself reached out.

The root word is path, from the Greek word for passion or suffering, from which we also derive pathos and pathology and sympathy. It’s a coincidence that empathy is built from a homonym for the Old English path, as in a trail. Or a dark labyrinth named Path. Empathy is a journey you travel, if you pay attention, if you care, if you desire to do so. Up close you witness suffering directly, though even then you may need words to know that this person has terrible pains in her joints or that one recently lost his home. Suffering far away reaches you through art, through images, recordings, and narratives; the information travels toward you and you meet it halfway, if you meet it.

Few if any of us will travel like arctic terns in endless light, but in the dark we find ourselves and each other, if we reach out, if we keep going, if we listen, if we go deeper.

Rebecca Solnit has been writing for TomDispatch for a decade, mostly on non-electoral politics, uprisings, and insurrections, and she is the author of 14 books, including The Faraway Nearby (Viking), published today and from which this essay is adapted.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. from The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit.
Copyright Rebecca Solnit 2013

the island: