Elephant Garlic Honey and “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle”

We’ve been growing more herbs these last few years. The Salsa Garden is lost, as well as most of the activities that used to surround it. Yesterday, walking with a beer through the brick bordered herb garden (used bricks salvaged from lost projects, saved from taken down chimneys – we’ve one clinker brick), I noticed three honey bees working the flowers of two elephant garlic plants. The flowers are round, purple and white balls of blossoms, about the size of a swollen baseball, blossoming one each at the top of five foot stalks.

It’s difficult of course to identify the plant a honey comes from, and these bees are foraging freely in urban wild yards up and down the block. And the elephant garlic is on its own, hardly a crop. I don’t know where the bees call home. The rampant peppermint growing up along the south facing wall will bloom soon, and will bring more bees, and butterflies, and hummingbirds. If our yard were a poem, it would be free verse.

I pulled out a prize find foraging in the neighborhood book box down on the corner this week: “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…And Other Modern Verse.” This is the 1966 edition that was welcomed in schools for a few years. It’s a textbook, but unlike most intro tos we see nowadays. There’s little discussion, and just one or a few questions for each poem gathered in a rear appendix. The title comes from one of the poems, written by John Tobias: “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity.” The book includes black and white photos scattered throughout. All of the poems are cast in italics, but not their titles.

This copy is a discard from “School District No. 1: Cleveland High School.” The “issued to” slip pasted on the inside front cover shows 10/15/71 as the first date, issued to a Donald Scott. There is a name ahead of Scott’s, Gene Brown, but no date. There are other dates and student names: Shirley Moe (undated); Felicia Tracy (undated); 4/6/76 Marie Dee. There are eleven names, one crossed out with blue ink such that it’s unreadable. The last date reads 5-15-2000. And seemingly out of place, “Iris Little 6th per” appears at the top of the slip, no date. There is a note “To the student:” which mentions how the book comes into the student’s hands, and includes a schedule of “charges” should the book be found damaged in some way upon return, including: “4. Defacing by pencil…1.00; and “5. General mistreatment (water soiled, burned, dirty, ink, lipstick, paint)…1.50.” This copy is in good condition, the only “defacing” done by school ink stamps: “Property of….” And the slip, pasted to the inside cover, which has so fascinated me I’ve barely looked at the poems yet. 160 pages.

Immigrants from Earth

The astrophysicists are in the ascendancy again. That’s our takeaway from a 03.2019 National Geographic article. The key is light. The scientific industry is working to build something that will travel close to the speed of light. Laser beams, solar winds, and microscopic kites. Another key is funding. They’re working on a go fund me tsunami. Government dough is drying up, but there appears to be enough interest in the private sector to fuel ever more comic book fantasy.

Surprisingly, for all our technological advancements and discoveries, not much is known about the universe. Part of what’s driving the current science buzz is a new generation of telescopes that will provide pics of the light reflecting directly off of exoplanets. That light will contain information about what’s happening on the planet. Information like who lives there, their address, what they do for a living, and other census like questions.

Meantime, back on earth, in that same 03.2019 National Geographic issue, an article on El Salvador violence, titled “No Way Out,” helps explain the immigration crisis on the US southwest border. A map of El Salvador, titled “State of Fear,” using dots to show “Homicides by municipality, 2017,” could from a distance be confused with the Milky Way pic used on the cover of the issue.

One wonders what makes scientists think there might be intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe when evidence of intelligent life here on Earth seems close to non-existent. And why would other life forms, presumably far more technologically advanced or in other ways superior to ours, be interested in us? One scientist interviewed remarks the question is similar to asking why would humans be interested in reaching out to a colony of ants.

Ah, but there’s the rub. Maybe the ants are the aliens.

Coast Road Trip: Double Back

A reader of the Toads writes:

“Hi Joe,  I have been reading your travel posts . They seem familiar like maybe I’ve seen them before . The photos are recent , though , so I must be wrong about that.”

personal correspondence

That is precisely the problem with writing, with, indeed, life, the feeling we’ve been here before, Déjà vu, been there – done that. Yet we continue to imagine our future, awake and asleep, waiting for something new.

“I pity the poor immigrant
Who wishes he would’ve stayed home”

“I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” Bob Dylan, from John Wesley Harding, 1968.

“Make it new,” Ezra Pound said, over and over again. But if you make it too new, who will recognize it?

HAMM: Go and get the oilcan.
CLOV: What for?
HAMM: To oil the castors.
CLOV: I oiled them yesterday.
HAMM: Yesterday! What does that mean? Yesterday!
CLOV (violently): That means that bloody awful day, long ago, before this bloody awful day. I use the words you taught me. If they don’t mean anything any more, teach me others. Or let me be silent.
(Pause.)

“Endgame,” Samuel Beckett, 1957.

A Google search of “Yaquina Head Lighthouse” will bring up over 300,000 results (in .78 seconds, no less). Click on “images,” and you’ll see more than 500 pics of the lighthouse. Nevertheless, I now double back and offer readers of the Toads these entirely original never seen before pics of the lighthouse, freshly taken about a month ago:

Coast Road Trip: Sans Pics

A perspicacious reader asked why I haven’t posted any pics from the road trip. I’m working on moving toward a new kind of blog, more like the one I started, back in December of 2007, which contained no pics, just short bursts of writing pleasure. I had in mind the kind of posts the venerable E. B. White wrote in the early New Yorker.

“From 1925 to 1976 he crafted more than eighteen hundred pieces for the magazine and established, in the words of editor William Shawn, “a new literary form.” That form was the magazine’s Comment essay—a personal essay that was, in White’s hands, light in style yet often weighty in substance. As White noted in a 1969 Paris Review interview, > I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

“Eighty-Five from the Archive: E. B. White,” by Erin Overbey, The New Yorker, June 7, 2010.

Not that I ever achieved anything everyone might call, “not lousy.” In any case, I drifted away, or off, and into a kind of academic stream, where I imagined I might augment my adjunct work at the time. And I tried to bring some attention to the books I was working on, both reading and writing. Then I began to work-in more slant, though never totally “false,” and found the proverbial bottom of the barrel when I started putting up some poetry. And I recently considered retiring The Coming of the Toads, leaving it to sink to the bottom of the archive abyss of the Internet, where some future crab scuttling along might find a few morsels to criticize.

E. B. White’s idea of the short, personal essay (note the importance of that comma) has been replaced in many blogs by the personal pic essay, with and without words, the latter like Beckett’s short play, “Act Without Words.” And I suspect more reading is done on phones these days than when I started The Coming of the Toads on a desktop computer back in ’07, and the phone and other smaller size formats encourage changes in aspect ratios of screen, pics, and writing. And thinking about that, I decided to remove this blog’s header pic, begin writing with a minimum of pics altogether, returning to the short, personal note or comment type essay. I even thought of a new tagline for the title space: The Coming of the Toads: No links, No likes, No comments. I know that sounds a bit anti-social, but what I’m aiming for is clarity, simplicity – a clean, well-lighted blog.

Besides, I don’t get many comments or likes, and many that I do get appear to be from spam and bots, and I lost all the pics I took on our recent trip, mistakenly thinking I had backed up my phone photos to Google Photos when I had not, in the meantime deleting all the photos from my phone, then crashing my Instagram account trying to retrieve what I had at least saved there. Seems poetic justice for an anti-social attitude.

Having at this point already exceeded my target word limit, not to mention having probably lost my target audience, those interested in hearing more about the Road Trip, I give you this portfolio of road trip pics, all taken by my sister Barbara and Susan as I was trying on the lighthouse keeper’s uniform jacket at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, north of Newport, trying to strike poses I imagined a lighthouse keeper might have aimed at were he the subject of a live, on the job photo shoot:

Note: Comments On for this post. Have fun!

Coast Road Trip: Trinidad

Leaving Open Toe Beach, southbound, we climb again up into the redwoods, and come down near the water again at Orick. We’re on the Avenue of the Giants. That’s not a reference to the travelers or the locals. We slow down and check out Orick, where the highway becomes an alley passing through someone’s backyard. Shacks, old motels, a few cars and a few more pick up trucks parked this way and that, a snack place. A market, a school, an abandoned gas station on the way out of town.

“Uh-oh. Wasn’t there supposed to be some logger’s bar around here someplace? Everybody knew it was high times for the stiffs in the woods – though not for those in the mills, with the Japanese buying up unprocessed logs as fast as the forests could be clear-cut – but even so, the scene in here was peculiar. Dangerous men with coarsened attitudes, especially toward death, were perched around lightly on designer barstools, sipping kiwi mimosas.

from “Vineland,” by Thomas Pynchon, 1990

Highway 101 turns west, continues to follow Redwood Creek out to the ocean, where it turns south and crosses a series of lagoons (Freshwater Lagoon, Stone Lagoon, Big Lagoon). Not quite a bridge, not quite a road, it crosses over or passes near the marshy inlets in the longest series of tsunami inundation zones we’ve yet travelled through. The zones are introduced with new entrance and exit signs: “You are now entering a tsunami inundation zone…You are now leaving….” Basically, if the road is dropping, you’re entering. You know when you’re on the bottom. When climbing, you’re leaving. What you might do if a tsunami should occur while you’re in a zone is left up to your imagination. Turn the car east and try to surf your way back up into the redwoods. We pull off for a rest and to check out Trinidad.

We were not looking for kiwi mimosas, but coffee. The entrance to Trinidad, just west of the 101 entrance and exit, is deceiving. A gas station, a market, a surf and bait shop, and straight ahead, Trinidad Bay Trailer Court. But stay right on Main, passing by the Court, until you come to Stagecoach Road. Left there and on your left, across from the elementary school and next to the volunteer fire station, you’ll find Beachcomber Cafe. We got some coffee from the counter and took it out to the courtyard where we stretched and sat in the warm morning sun. We could hear the kids out playing at recess in the schoolyard across the street. An onshore breeze and a few gulls suggested we were close to a beach, but we’d not seen the water yet.

After coffee we walked down the street to the cliff overlooking Trinidad Harbor, a natural harbor formed by Little Head, which projects a short distance into the bay and is protected by the much larger Trinidad Head. On the cliff, the breeze became a wind, but the water below was still and smooth. A cluster of small boats, mostly fishing, were anchored off shore. There was a pier, but the view was mostly blocked by Little Head, but access to the boats in the harbor appeared limited to small, ship like dinghy crossings. The water down in the cove below the cliffs was translucent turquoise blue-green. The tide was out, and there was no surf, given the position of the beach which faced southeast and was protected from ocean swells by the big head to the west. We watched a fishing boat coming in. We climbed a trail a short way down the cliff to view a small memorial to folks lost at sea over the years. A landmark proclaimed Trinidad to be the oldest town on the Northern California coast.

No idea who might live now in the designer view homes up on the cliff overlooking the harbor or around the hill open to views of the ocean to the west. Not much of a neighborhood vibe apparent, but you can’t tell about a place unless you walk and talk and live and let live in it for a time. Some of the houses looked new, but a few appeared to be hanging on from the days of small beach cottages with yards still filled with wildflowers, seagrasses, surrounded by white picket fences and studded with beachcombing finds. There didn’t appear to be much industry in the small town. A commercial tour fishing boat was unloading at the end of the pier, a worker wearing a slick apron slicing the catch into fillets. Humboldt State University maintains a Marine Laboratory a few blocks up from the old Trinidad Lighthouse. But we didn’t stop in Trinidad to look for a place to live or even stay the night.

On our way out, we stopped at “Salty’s,” the bait and surf shop we’d seen on the way into town. I asked the young man holding a baby behind the counter what life was like in Trinidad, who lived there, and what did they do. He mentioned the changing demographic economic environment of the general area, focussing on the disruption to an established system prior to the legalization of marijuana. A lot of people now have to wear several hats, he said. And of course there’s the college, he said, referring to nearby Humboldt State, about 20 minutes farther south, just off the coast highway, in Arcata.

Back on 101 headed south, I started thinking again of Thomas Pynchon’s “Vineland.”

“The jukebox once famous for hundreds of freeway exits up and down the coast for its gigantic country-and-western collection, including half a dozen covers of “So Lonesome I Could Cry,” was reformatted to light classical and New Age music that gently peeped at the edges of audibility, slowing, lulling this roomful of choppers and choker setters who now all looked like models in Father’s Day ads. One of the larger of these, being among the first to notice Zoyd, had chosen to deal with the situation. He wore sunglasses with stylish frames, a Turnbull & Asser shirt in some pastel plaid, three-figure-price-tag jeans by Mm. Gris, and apres-logging shoes of a subdued, but incontestably blue, suede.”

from “Vineland,” by Thomas Pynchon, 1990

to be continued: this is part four in a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.

Coast Road Trip: Up Through Some Redwoods and Down to Open Toe Beach

Maps can’t find Open Toe Beach. No sign points the way. Likewise, one doesn’t feel any different having crossed the border from Oregon into California. Nature’s borders are difficult to see, to define, to mark:

“The immense sea, the ocean sea, which runs infinitely beyond all sight, the huge omnipotent sea – there is a point where it ends, and an instant – the immense sea, the tiniest place and a split second.”

from “Ocean Sea” by Alessandro Baricco

South from Crescent City, Highway 101 turns away from the ocean and climbs up into Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Parts of the road narrow through the giant trees and begin to switch back and forth like a steep trail through woods. The trees have grown so close on some curves that the trunks have been trimmed back with flat scraping saw cuts to allow for cars and the big trucks to pass. Traffic slows, or should slow, to no more than 20 miles per hour, and even that seems here and there too fast as the curves rise sharply and fall swerving like a ride in an amusement park. You are in a massive forest at the end of the continent, climbing above the ocean, now out of reach. The dappled light coming through the branches thins then goes dark and you need your headlights on to continue. You are an oily steely slug crawling along the floor bed of an emerald rust forest. Here the sea continues too, in the form of high and thick fogs that water the redwood trees from the top down.

But we fall quickly to an elevation of about 30 feet, where the road crosses a bridge on the approach to False Klamath and again touches the water at DeMartin Beach, which we renamed Open Toe Beach for the various abandoned sandals we came across as we parked and walked down to the water barefoot and open toed. Where were the people belonging to all these sandals? The tide was out, and we walked along the cove, the beach covered with small pieces of driftwood. The water was cold but not burning cold. The surf was not big but it was loud as the swells broke on the big scattered rocks out in the cove. It felt good to be back in the open and on the beach and out of the forest. There is a boundary between redwood forest and ocean beach that can be measured or felt in scent and smell. The forest is loamy, quiet, the scent pungent like a snorted mint, the floor softer than sand. The beach is breezy, salty, and your tinnitus becomes more than mere suggestion. It disappears as the surf does in the sand.

“…you see there, where the water arrives…runs up the beach, then stops…there, precisely that point, where it stops…it really lasts no more than an instant, look there, there, for example, there…you see that it lasts only an instant, then it disappears, but if one were to succeed in suspending that instant…when the water stops, precisely that point, that curve…this is what I am studying. Where the water stops.”

from “Ocean Sea” by Alessandro Baricco

to be continued: this is part three of a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.

Coast Road Trip: A Body on the Beach

From our motel room, looking south/southwest, I could see Crescent Beach. A few surfers were out, but the waves looked very small, 1 or 2 feet. The water was glassy. There was no fog, the sun was coming up, and I went down to the lobby where I filled a paper cup with coffee and water and headed out for an early morning walk on the beach. We were staying at the Anchor Beach Inn, located on the west side of 101, at the southeast edge of the harbor. Tommy and Barbara were in the room next to us. I knew Tom would be awake, and from the street I tried to yell up through his open window to come down and join me. I didn’t want to sound an alarm, though, and he didn’t hear me. I walked on alone and crossed the street where a path led through the deep sand out to the beach area. I had thought the beach empty, but at the far end of the path a young woman came walking toward me.

“Are you staying in the motel?” she asked, as we approached one another on the path.
“Yeah. Good morning.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t want to ruin your morning.”
“What’s the matter?” She was wearing beach combing clothes, barefoot, looked like she had just awoken. I thought maybe she was about to ask for a handout or some coffee.
“Well, I’m sorry, I don’t know if I should say anything, but, I don’t know, you know, but there is a body on the beach. I almost stepped on it. And I don’t know if its alive or do they need help. I don’t know, maybe we should just leave them be. I don’t want to ruin your day.”
“No, that’s fine, if they need help we should try to help. Where?”
“Over there,” she turned and pointed.

We were at the end of the beach, where the sand is deep and windblown into small dunes and strewn with driftwood and beached logs and trees of all twisted shapes and sizes washed ashore in storms, beach debris people like to comb through. Here and there smaller pieces of wood and log had been stacked or piled into fire pits. Long, thinner pieces were stood up into teepee shapes but with no covering. There were a few of these built along the outer beach edge. I didn’t know if they were meant to be works of art or something practical, shelter or bonfire starts.

“Where is it?” I asked.
“Right there,” she pointed.

I had thought we would find the body out on the open beach, washed in maybe, but there it was, against a big log, covered with a thin blanket, stretched out but elbows and knees and feet pointing this way and that as happens when people move about in their sleep. The head was covered. The feet stuck out. It was right there, maybe five feet away from where we had stopped short. There had been a sign at the entrance to the path. A city ordinance prohibited camping on the beach.

We were both watching the body for the same thing. We watched and stood staring for about a half minute.

“Oh,” she said, breaking our silent watch. “There.”
“Yeah. He’s breathing. Probably just someone spent the night on the beach.”
“You think he’s ok?”

The tide was very low, the edge of the water over a hundred yards out. A small creek flowed from out of the beachgrass and meandering stained the beach like a tiny river all the way out to the water’s edge. The beachgrass and sedge stuff held quickly and piled up and across a kind of no man’s land up to the highway, which took off at a southeast angle away from the beach. But there were few cars and trucks and you could hear the waves as small as they were and I walked on down to the water and the girl walked off back up to the road. I spent maybe half an hour walking at the water’s edge, rolling my pants up to my knees, walking out into the thin soup. The water was cold, but not so cold it stung like bees. The sand was smooth and worn fairly hard. There were no shells or agates or rocks or driftwood down at the water’s edge. The beach was all wet sand and low tide and shallow water for a long ways out.

I walked back up the beach and had another look at the body sleeping in among the driftwood piles before climbing the path back up to the road.

Later, before leaving Crescent City, we drove back up through town around the harbor and out to Battery Point, about a mile and a half diagonally across the harbor as the crow flies from where we had spent the night and in the morning I had encountered the body on the beach. At the point, the tide was still low enough that we were able to walk across the tide pools and out to visit the Battery Point Lighthouse, located on a small, rocky island at the end of the breakwater structure built up to protect the harbor from the open sea. We walked and climbed the trails up and down all around the lighthouse on the island, watching the water, the small swells breaking up on the rocks, listening to the sea birds, their open air market rife with the shrill economy of their language, calling out finds and deals and steals, calling off and calling to, calling, calling.

to be continued: this is part two of a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.


This bud was for you

Across the street from the Estate Sale,
there’s talk if it’s a teardown,
while a couple of bushtits build
a hanging nest in a paperbark maple,
coming and going through the perfect
hole at the top of the sack woven
with string, spider web, tiny twigs
and grassy strands yarned around.

“Go easy,” she yearned. “Go around.”
Then came the night she won’t spring back.
Some do not come back,
even as the buds rise in the rows
heatly lubricated by the bees;
not all the plants pull through
that inscrutable winter stare.

But to turn under? Finished now.
Not to worry, the sun is the poshest one.
His light goes shallow, into the soil,
as easily as through fish water,
a clean singing glow.
The days are gone
this bud was for you.

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Notes AWP Close: The 8th Day

Wandering post AWP19 Portland town yesterday with entrepreneurial intrepid impresario Berfrois editor at large Russell Bennetts and his Midwestern sidekick Simon Calder, I had occasion to consider Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” in a contemporary context, where all the characters have cell phones, except one, who has lost theirs. But I can’t decide which Hemingway character would be cellphoneless: Jake? Lady Brett Ashley? Certainly not Count Mippipopolous, whose Twitter feed at AWP19 would be going nonstop. Maybe we would have Jake’s friend Georgette find the lost cell phone, but she would keep it hidden for a time, posting miscreant tweets and pics with her bad teeth.

The idea behind Thornton Wilder’s “The Eighth Day” is that God, having created the world in 7 days, proceeds to take the 8th day off, during which what we now consider time takes place, such that we are all, since the beginning of time, living in the 8th day of creation.

After their holiday in Pamplona at the festival of the bulls and all the bullfighting, “The Sun Also Rises” characters go their separate ways, Robert Cohn disabused of his romanticism, Jake cemented in his existential crisis, Brett off with the once untouchable but now touched and wrecked bullfighter Romero. It’s going to be a long 8th day.

Now living in the 8th day of AWP19, at least one Berfrois character has decided to remain on in Portland town. Here they are, comfortably taking over the TV remote:

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This is the eighth and last in a series with notes on AWP19 and the concurrent publication of the Berfrois and QM’sT books.

Notes: The One They Call the Seventh Poet

They look like anyone, these poets and writers, intellectuals and artists, editors and publishers – filling and milling about the Oregon Convention Center for AWP19, sauntering though the book fair and scurrying off to panels and readings and private receptions. The fact of a book must say something about their ability to write, to argue and persuade, to think and entertain, to talk and listen. But which one is the one, the seventh poet of a seventh poet, the one who can “make your heart feel glad,” “heal the sick and even raise the dead,” “make your flesh quiver”? You know when you meet the one who thinks they’re the one, but how do you know the one who is the one, “in the whole round world, the only one”?

I met the poet Calliope Michail at the Berfrois table. She has a book out, “Along Mosaic Roads,” (2018, 87 Press, UK). She also appears in “Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book,” in the form of an interview conducted by the inimitable Vlad Savich. Calliope is refreshingly fresh, able to speak of poetry in clear and concise terms. She gracefully dances around Vlad’s often idiosyncratic questions:

“I think it’s a coy dance with writing. You choose it and it chooses you, but sometimes the feelings aren’t mutual” (126).

She describes with clarity the writing process:

“I tend to see each poem as a pattern. This pattern consists of layers and links, connections to things in various realms – the personal, the political, the aesthetic, the literary, the linguistic and so on. For me, it’s more of a process that may begin with a line, a concept, or some other preoccupation, that then gets built on” (127).

“Along Mosaic Roads” contains five sections, each beginning with a threaded poem, “Standing in the Sun,” Roman numerals I through V following. There are 17 poems in all. The titles of the poems sound like those of classical music tone poems. The book is a movement through time and place and person. Again we find the theme of wandering, “Going.” I’ll be spending more time in Calliope’s book in a later post, after AWP19 and Portland returns to its normal weirdness.

I also met at the Berfrois table veteran poet Dorothy Chan, a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Dorothy has a book just out, “Revenge of the Asian Woman” (Diode Editions, 2019). Dorothy is obviously a capable writer and speaker and advocate for poetry as a means toward understanding one’s place in popular culture and how to take control of a picture others may have of you (probably very different from the picture you have of yourself), as was evidenced in my brief conversation with her amid the distractions at the table, but also as evidenced in her essay written for “Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book, “Asian Princesses: Fetishisation, Sexiness, Anime Girls and Poetry” (95).

“The very thing that makes you fetishised, such as ‘Asian girl cuteness’ or kawaii fashion can be turned on its head and become a thing of power” (101).

I’ll also be spending more time with “Revenge of the Asian Woman,” in a future post. The essay is erudite, but the theory behind it is very clearly explained.

“I wonder a lot about the way we command ourselves through how we dress, and how these thoughts can be translated to poetry, since fashion is poetry” (98).

This is the seventh in a series with notes on AWP19 and the concurrent publication of the Berfrois and QM’sT books. I’m reading through the Berfrois anthologies this week and commenting on the writing and the conference as the week wears on.