Sunday, May 24, 2015

How quickly our attentiobn wanders

The world's attention moves on.  I've been working on both a quilt about the destruction in Nepal and writing about my memories which are vivid and, I think, not the usual "travel magazine" stuff.  (This photo is of just a few of the row of prayer wheels that surround Boudhanath Stupa. I suspect this stupa sustained lesser damage than most else because it seems to be an almost solid structure (picture below)   Those are people walking it's layers, as I have done quite a few times.  It is the major Buddhist stucture in Kathmandu.  An older shrine, Swayambu (probably misspelled) is likely to have suffered more damage

And I'm thinking, too, of the monastery to which I trekked for a fall festival called Mani Rimdu. It was only 17 miles from Everest base camp, made of wood, mostly, and had been destroyed by fire and rebuilt twice. It was nearer the epicenter of both the first big shock and the severe after shock. I imagine it has been badly damaged if not destroyed.  My sadness for Nepal and it's people is similar to grief when a loved on dies. A senseless loss, without a culprit to blame-- we know the earth moves plain and simple, and, as always it is the very poor who suffer the most.

Some thousands of years ago all of the beautiful, rich, fertile valley in which Kathmandu, Patan and Bakhtapur sit was a gigantic mountain lake.  An earthquake broke down the obstructions in a defile that dammed the lake and the water poured (probably in a terribly devastating flood) down to the Gangetic plain known as the Terrai (the southern  band of the country of Nepal).That great lake had accumulated hundreds of years of silt and loam so that when the water was gone, the valley dried and became the fertile place that has since grown the majority of Nepal's food. They got three crops a year because of the fertility and the climate (same latitude as central Florida). Thus the Earth itself gives and takes with no regard to the life that lives upon its surface.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Suffering in Nepal

This is a tiny village in Nepal, Tenge, in the Mustang area where I trekked.  It is a couple hundred miles from the epicenter of the huge earthquake of Saturday. It looks idyllic, with those incredible mountains in the background (I'm not sure of the direction from which the photo was taken, but I think they are the Annapurnas) I was in many small villages like this which could only be reached on foot (or horseback). I have been in many, even smaller villages on the tourist trek-track toward Mt. Everest. They were nestled in the forested more southerly mountains. I have no idea if Tenge was badly damaged, I suspect it was. I am certain the villages on the track to Everest were destroyed as that was the epicenter of the quake and its almost as terrible after shocks. 

When I trekked there I greatly admired the young men who were "our" sherpas and the sidar (head Sherpa), Potasi. Totally professional, personable, very hard working. One of our small group, a woman of about 65 who probably weighted 165, had a mild stroke the morning we were to return from Thengboche Monastery to Namche Bazaar (a sizable tourist town  also probably now destroyed). Her condition was deemed not serious enough to need immediate med evac, so two young Sherpas (each probably no more than 110 pounds) carried her piggy-back (taking turns) all day to Namche from which she was helicoptered to Kathmandu (there was an Army encampment at Namche).  I can't even conceive the strength to carry such a load, let alone up and down rough mountain tracks.

I met so many people, and in the Mustang area, especially was deeply pained by their isolation and poverty.  In Lo Monthang, the capital, a walled city with a king whose lineage went back to 1230 -- a kingdom that had not been "at war" in nine centuries (can any Westerner imagine that?) three ancient temples were decorated inside with Newari painted mural from about 1300. They were being slowly restored as they were crumbling. But bigger problems: one of the three had a wide crack in its outer (plaster/adobe) wall from roof to ground and another had a roof about to cave in shored up with a maze of scaffolding. It is hard to imagine those ancient buildings withstanding the earthquake. 

In the Kathmandu Valley, I visited a third century shrine in Patan, dark, smoky, still in use; and in Bakhatapur saw several centuries old pagodas shaped shrines which I understand are now collapsed and that the ancient wood is being thrown willy-nilly into rubble piles. They will never be reconstructed. Such things are easy to grasp in the imagination.  The thousands and thousands of people who have died, the many more thousands who have lost families and homes and all forms of livelihood, who are sleeping in streets (it's cold that high up at night!) who have nothing to eat, where there is no electricity, where safe water is disappearing ... this is so heartbreaking one recoils from trying to imagine the suffering. 

I wrote on a social network site that this is filling my thoughts because I see faces and building and mountains in my memory.  I know that people who have not been there read it and file it in their  bits of current knowledge the way I have done with earthquakes in other parts of the world, Turkey, China, Peru, countries I have visited but not "on the ground" in the way one visits Nepal. The world is too big, there are too many people suffering in too many part of it for anyone other than a saint to begin to grasp, to have the stamina to care.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Happy Birthday, Will

It is the day scholars have agreed is Shakespeare's birthday.  Scholars agree on litte about him.  For the most part they are too stunned by the brilliance of his writings to admit a man with only a simple education, with a father who was a common tradesman, and who mostly made his money as an actor and theatre  producer could have written so gracefully and, what's more, so insightfully, about so many aspects of the human condition.  He covered everything from mythological kings to very real historical kings, from grand people to a fool so stupid he tells everyone to call him an ass.  

His poetry is magnificent and many phrases are a common part of our vocabulary. There's nothing I can write that is new or insightful that hasn't been said better by others.  I can only say, I'm always  astonished that one person could have been so brilliant.  I celebrate his birthday as I do Beethoven's, that of the birth of an individual who stands unsurpassed as a representative of what one man can accomplish.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring, according to the birds

This time of year you have to be totally self-involved not to notice the birds. I was walking to the lot where I parked my car the other day when I glanced up at a nearby roof that had two chimneys and saw an osprey on top of each.  Were they two who were going to build separate nests or a pair deciding which chimney would be the best for their nest? Of course, I don't know. I see and feel an imperative among the birds this time of year, they have important work to do and they are not slackers.  I wrote this little poem a couple of days ago.

At 3:30 – believe it! –
birds were raucous.
Not a hint of dawn
for a full hour, yet
they were full throat
into their mating calls.
I pushed myself up
onto an elbow to look
carefully at the red LED number.
So long and hard has the winter
been they must be desperate
to recoup and  preserve
their species.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

April is ...

What can I say about April on this drizzly, chilly day without seeing a flower or an expanse of green grass. I think of T.S. Eliot -- I don't know where he was when he wrote his famous opening  lines of The Wasteland and refers to lilacs.  I don't expect lilacs for another four or five weeks.  But I have been thinking of that bulls eye of a first line:

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain. 
Winter kept us warm, covering         5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding 
A little life with dried tubers.               

Piles of dirty snow long turned to ice, still hunker at the edges of parking lots. The wind and the rain are chilly, the sky sometimes turns sunny but mostly is gray.  It's a month to endure this year.  In the past it has been a month of promise and early flowers.  April is poety month and I have read some very fine poetry.  A ver nice thing indeed. I am not reading the remainder of TheWasteland, I need a warm and sunny day to counter the tone of it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Our poetry pact

 Rachel and I are attempting to write a poem a day in April -- that means, probably, many not so hot poems, mostly on domestic topics, I think.  Here is mine for yesterday.

Aerial Invasion

Dark bodies in the air
--only two today,
sometimes six or eight –
wide spread wing gliding
they signal plans to land
honk! honk! honk! honk!
no stealth approach, they
drop fast, heads back
chests out braking
wide webbed feet
their landing gear, breaking
their fall, touch down
lightly, running a few steps
on the lawn’s runway,
their breakfast buffet.
they are simply hungry,
barely notice me
I might as well be a tree.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Spring moning poem

April morning

Wet gray pre-dawn
I step out past the slider
the air is like tepid, too cool
to be comfortable bath water
my cupped left hand holds
the diced heel of stale dry rye
bread, I toss it on the grass
for the geese that will come
or other birds if they come first
the trees across the street
are loudly alive with songs
and calls of many unseen birds.

(the photo is an autumn scene, I will have to go out with my camera, maybe I'll replace it)