Ink and Light: Chickadee Flamenco and thoughts on art and spring from Su Tung P’o

Chickadee Flamenco

What a wonderful talent – that can create an entire Spring
from a brush and a sheet of paper. If he would try poetry
I know he would be a master…
Su Tung P’o – On a Painting by Wang the Clerk of Yeng Ling, c. 1080

Also known as Su Shi, Su Tung P’o (1037-1101) was a Song Dynasty writer, calligrapher, painter, poet, statesman and noted gourmet. The dish “dungpo pork” is named for him.

Ink and Light: The Gobi Desert’s Singing Dunes and Inspiration from Herman Melville

Khongoryn Els: The Singing Dunes, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

A trace of slate in the sand grains at Khongoryn Els results in vibrations that are not only easily audible, but which reverberate through one’s body.

…I am tormented
with an everlasting itch
for things remote.
Herman Melville – Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, 1851

Herman Melville (1819-1891) served aboard a whaling ship before deserting in the Marquesas. Although he knew his subject (the book draws from Melville’s own experience, The Bible, Shakespeare’s work, research into whaling, the actual account of a hard-to-catch white whale nicknamed Mocha Dick and the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex by a whale, Moby Dick received mixed reviews and was a commercial flop. Dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorn “in token of my admiration for his genius,” the book sold just 3,200 copies in Melville’s lifetime and was out of print at his death. 

A year after Melville’s death, Moby Dick was reprinted by Harper and Brothers. Literati circles – mostly in New York – kept interest in the book (barely) alive over the next several years until it was rediscovered by larger audiences. Of the book, William Faulkner said that he wished he’d written it himself; D. H. Lawrence called it “the greatest book of the sea ever written,” and in time it found its place as an icon of American literature.

Ink and Light: Bohemian Waxwing and Lines from Robert Francis

Panache: Bohemian Waxwing, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The red, waxy tips on the Bohemian Waxwings’ wings are actually flattened feather shafts. 

…beneath a silk-blue sky…
To sun, to feast, and to converse
and all together – for this I have abandoned
All my other lives.
Robert Francis – Waxwings, 1960

– Robert Francis (1901-1987) lived for 40 years in a two-room house he built in Amherst, Massachusetts. Of Francis, Robert Frost noted, “…of all the great, neglected poets, (he is) the best.”

Ink and Light: Double Limits! 120 Razor Clams & lines from Steve Kowit

Double Limits!* 120 Razor Clams near Whisky Gulch, Alaska

Big, tender and tasty, Razor Clams are avidly sought along Pacific Northwest beaches. The year these were dug, the limit in Alaska was 60 clams per person.

…drop to your knees now & again…
& kiss the earth & be joyful & make much of your time…
For although you may not believe it will happen,
you too will one day be gone.
I whose Levis ripped at the crotch for no reason,
assure you this is the case. Pass it on.
     Steve Kowit – Notice, 2000

– In 1966, Steve Kowit (1938-2015) sent the U. S. Army a letter: Were he drafted to fight, the letter stated, he would fight for the other side. He then married the love of his life and spent the next few years in Mexico and Central America before returning to the U.S. to live in California.

Ink and Light: Silver on Ice and lines from John Masefield

Silver on Ice: Onboard Gillie, Gulf of Alaska outside Resurrection Bay

Also known as Silver Salmon, tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of Coho Salmon return to Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska each summer where they constitute the greatest Coho Salmon sport fishery in the world. 

I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
John Masefield – Sea Fever, 1912

John Masefield (1878-1967) went to sea at the age of 16. About a year later he deserted ship, initially thereafter living as a vagrant and taking odd jobs, but the awe he experienced on the open sea never left him. Masefield was England’s Poet Laureate from 1930-1967.

Ink and Light: Snow Birds and Basho

Snow Birds: House Sparrows, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Come!
Let’s go snow-viewing
till we’re buried!
Matsuo Basho, 1644 – 1694

House Sparrow males and females are dimorphic: a female is center in this photo, accompanied by three males. This species has adapted so well to life with people, they’ve become nearly ubiquitous in places of human habitation throughout the world – and nearly absent in more natural environments.

Basho suffered from severe bouts of depression, occasionally becoming recluse for long periods of time. A solitary nature took him on a number of journeys, alone, along routes that were often well off the beaten path. The Edo Five Routes which he followed on one of his earliest journeys were considered to be among Japan’s most dangerous roads; When he first embarked on this trek, he expected to be killed by thieves or to simply die along the way. Widely regarded as the world’s finest master of hokku (haiku), his poetic travel log Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Interior) is considered to be his finest work. 

dg nanouk okpik’s Corpse Whale – Sifting through Myth and Time in the Far North

corpse-whale-n

Reading these poems is reminiscent of carefully digging through an archeological site located in Arctic permafrost as fossils, bones, carvings, memories and spirits emerge.

While looking for a few words to accompany a photo of umiaks (seal skin whaling boats) framed in Northern Lights I’d made a few years ago, I came across these lines from dg nanouk okpik’s poem “Tulunigraq: Something Like a Raven:”

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Okpik arranges her images across the page in a manner that forces the reader to go slowly, to breathe slowly, to see, and to hear, and as Barbra and I read, we felt ourselves being taken back – to Alaska’s North Slope, to the village of Point Hope and to other places we’d been in the far north, and then further back, to places we’ve never been – to old Tikigaq, to villages and settings scattered across Alaska and Greenland and beyond, to a time, indeed, “before iron and oil.”

Okpik’s writing is sure and precise, at times reminiscent of carefully sifting through an archeological dig, creating anticipation for what might be found and reverence for what is found. The place she invites the reader into is one of myth-making, spirituality, subsistence hunting and gathering, veneration of elders and ancestors and an intimacy with sinew and bone and cold. The landscape is of ice and sea, of magma cooling and the vast sweep of the tundra. Threaded through this are spirits and caribou, whales and ground squirrels, edible plants and seal oil lamps, Eucharist wafers and hooligan jigs. Okpik has given us poems that take us to places and to times few of us have experienced or will experience. The journey is mesmerizing.