Friday, February 24, 2006


Mind and land, like an old married couple, finish each other's sentences. I shelter, dark and stiff and over-carapaced, under a bent, bleached-out cattail blade. There has been a reduction, an abstraction, a simplification. A great weariness arrives and settles in, a complicated fin d'hiver melancholy, like the thick mat on the meadow floor: dry and tangled on top, wet and rotten underneath.

I am photojournalist of an ice-encrusted, ruined world. The deposed queen resides in air, in exile with her crones in waiting. Sharp shoulders bear the dead king, thin as a pall, toward a blurred horizon.

Here there is no hunger and no food. Just a few threadbare categories remain; under scrutiny, they fall away to dust. Even love. Even God. Poudraillant says the musical notation in the score of Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time.

Light shining through dust. Through ash. Through a fast.

But a heart, like a story, lies beating under the mud. Even through thick bootsoles I can feel it shouldering upward, toward the big, blunt, low winter sun. Between heart and sun, my breath and the wind conspire. Help me, I pray, I am losing count.

One ? Three ? None ?

Something's hatching in the corner of my eye. I squat, knee and ear to ground. White and green rise through me, a spring gushing from toes to fingertips to the top of my head and beyond.

The lens: my narrow, last and least boudoir.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Fright & Flight

Back from the botanical garden Friday afternoon, I flipped open my father's laptop and connected to the internet. I'd been vaguely concerned about the possible snowstorm that the weathermen and weatherwomen had been bruiting about all week. I was due to fly home early Sunday morning. Surely the unpleasantless would be over by then. Right ?

I typed NOAA into the yahoo search box, and clicked on "go." There was the usual US map, with its color-keyed overlay. Hmmm. Eastern Massachusetts was slathered with a brilliant orange-red I'd never seen before. I consulted the key.

Blizzard Warning


Yes, blizzard. A blizzard that, in addition, had booked the same itinerary as my return flight. Sunday morning.


As the late sun glinted off the calm waters of the gulf of Mexico up through the balcony doors, I flew into high panic mode. Now what ?

The next half hour is a psychotic blur of unresponsive websites, tenuous cellular connections, byzantine phone menus, maddeningly calm voice-recognition BOTs sadly telling me they did not understand me, and singularly obtuse customer service representatives emerging from their addled haze only to dispense incorrect information; my Dad, feeling my panic, sat across from me at the table mechanically spooning raisin bran and soymilk into his mouth as he watched me freak: clink, slurp, clink, slurp, clink, slurp. Across the kitchen the little green nautical motif clock -- the one I'd had to disable the night before in order to sleep -- went TICK TICK TICK TICK. Can clocks crescendo ? This one did, I swear. My palms were sweating. All of Southwestern Florida was probably vying for the one remaining ticket back to Boston ! And, if I did get that ticket, it would probably cost thousands of dollars ! And what were the penalties for changing one's itinerary, anyway ?

Cue Bernard Hermann Hitchcock string motif. Screech ! Screech ! Screech !

Doesn't Camus' L'Etranger begin with the sun glinting off a knife blade ?

I eventually reached a pleasant Delta Airlines representative on my Dad's landline. Within moments she'd booked me a direct flight from Florida to Boston for Saturday morning, well before the storm's expected arrival. I would leave Florida an hour and a half later than my originally scheduled flight, and arrive in Boston more than an hour earlier. What, no long overlay in Atlanta ? I took down the flight number, unable to believe my good fortune.

May I help you with anything else ? she asked.

Uh, the price ? I ventured.

No additional cost. And, because of the storm, we've waived the penalties.


So here I am, and here's the snow.

And my forty hour Florida vacation -- did I and my camera dream it ?


Friday my Father, as promised, drove us to a botanical garden. En route I noticed "Panther Crossing" signs by the highway, and placards protruding from the water of the roadside bay warning boaters of a "manatee zone."

It was clear that I was not in Massachusetts anymore. My Dad, gleefully zipping along in his Saab, announced that one's age determines one's personal speed limit. He'd just turned eighty. I white-knuckled it in the back seat. I'd just turned fifty four miles per hour. Didn't Saab start out making jet engines ? Had they installed one by accident in my Dad's car ?

After the obligatory tourist picture of my parents as wild game hunters, we set out through the park. My eyes, calibrated by New England end-of-winter earth tones, were dazzled. Every parameter -- white balance, saturation, contrast -- would have to be reset. Photographers use an 18% "gray card" to calibrate exposure. That wouldn't do at all. I'd clearly have to find something else.

This parrot would suffice.

I hadn't seen purple like ths since the vetch disappeared last fall,

or bees for months and months,

or a botanical apparatus as brilliant and complex as this bird of paradise's, ever,

Could this be a pastel cousin of the somber hawthorns by the Charles River ?

Have I ever seen such a duskily gorgeous anther and filament ?

This is, I think, a banana flower. There's nothing like it in the woods back home.

But this stalk of little lipped blossoms reminded me of helleborine or gill-over-the ground.

And succulents. Are there succulents In New England ? Does skunk cabbage count ?

One thing's for certain: this is a southern cousin of milkweed. It has to be. Amazing to see the subtle pink and white peg-like flowers rendered in blazing orange and yellow !

But nothing in the woods I know is as beautifully thatched as this breastplate-like palm.

And, as if the pink were not enough, this elaborate flower has little purple tongues....

Some kind of reed ? I ventured, thinking of phragmites.

Papyrus, my Mother said, reading from a low placard.

Coconuts ! crowed my Dad, pointing up a palm.

We, all three of us, were enraptured by the exotic plants.

I made sure to learn the name of this one: Mexican cardboard plant.

Finally, I'd reset my eyes. All four of them.

How would I ever face the end-of-winter, trash strewn riverbanks of Massachusetts ?