Friday, December 31, 2010

I hope you bloom in the new year.

I was leaving the South
To fling myself into the unknown...
I was taking a part of the South
To transplant in alien soil,
To see if it could grow differently,
If it could drink of new and cool rain,
Bend in strange winds,
Respond to the warmth of other suns.
And, perhaps, to bloom.

-Richard Wright

Thursday, December 30, 2010

As we end one year and start the next...

And because I love this life
I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries out when
From the right breast the mother
Takes it away, in the very next moment
To find in the left one
Its consolation.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Paring down, living quietly.

My second year in Germany has morphed into more of a solitary artistic existence. Meaning I have a lot of quiet time at home alone. Some might consider me antisocial. But I don't feel lonely. And I don't feel hermit-like. It feels like an in-between world. With the navy sky seeping through my windows, the fuzzy glow of incandescents dropping light across the floor and onto my pages.

I've restructured my home, moving a table into the living room for painting, and a chair to the kitchen to watch life and snow float by on lazy weekend mornings.

I want to restructure more. This quiet life feels good. There is no race to the end. With improper lighting, I create little sketches of photos I've taken. Some are hideous, others are not. But what it's really about is the scratch of the charcoal across the pages simultaneously dragging darkness and creating shadows.

Life is movement in and out of the shadows.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Questioning time and technology

"If I look at the small device strapped to my wrist, the numbers, even the sweeping second hand, seem meaningless, almost ridiculous."

"There's another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets, it tends to separate a man from the world around him."

"We are preoccupied with time. If we could learn to love space as deeply as we are not obsessed with time, we might discover a new meaning in the phrase to live like men."

From Edward Abbey's 1968 book "Desert Solitaire"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Zug nach Bamberg and other winter fun.

Me watching tourists in Nuremberg, watching the clock.

My balcony. Nearly every day, another 4-6 inches, for a while, at least.

The drive to work. So happy I'm from North Dakota.

For a while we kept having power outages. It was a conundrum how to get my coffee beans ground. (And the car out of the garage.)
What else do you do in the dark but mess around with your camera?
Now, to Bamberg. Which was pretty much like every other German Bavarian town, but still cute.
It was almost too cold to take a picture. Not jealous of the kayakers!

Suppe! The best food in winter. (And no-fail for cooking purposes...)

Merry Christmas Santa Wieners! If I ate meat, I would have one of these!

From the other side...

Crepes at the Weinachtsmarkt even with cinnamon and sugar did not seem especially "German," but maybe that is a good thing.

Waiting for my ride home, watching people...

Young lovers look the same everywhere...

I'm serious.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter. Christmas. Homeless people.

I haven't thought much about the homeless in a long time. I see none where I live in Germany. Not that Germany has no homeless people. But they aren't in the countryside.
In Portland, I used to see them all the time. For a while, I volunteered in a transitional housing center, cooking dinners for men who were on their way from a shelter to an apartment of their own. In the process of working there, one of the case workers and I got to talking, and he pointed how how the men really needed eye exams also- that not being able to see was something that was holding them back from employment. I wouldn't have known that, and it was my profession. Among our separate contacts, we were able to set up an evening eye clinic in downtown Portland, staffed by volunteer optometrists. I wouldn't have guessed that we'd get it done. It just shows that it takes brainstorming, effort and action to make real changes that can help others who are stumbling in their lives.
Today, I ran into, "A Plan to Make Homelessness History" in the NYT. I thought it would be another silly hopeful article but I was wrong. The article and organizations profiled were steeped in reality. They made a point about the public health portion of homelessness and the profile of a homeless person. They have a plan to reduce homelessness, and it is working. People across the USA are volunteering for these groups, and they're changing things, and feeling good about it.
What I didn't know:
"They [Common Ground] have now surveyed almost 14,000 chronically homeless people and found that roughly 20 percent are veterans, 10 percent are over the age of 60, 4 percent have H.I.V. or AIDS, 47 percent have a mental illness and 5 percent remain homeless because they can't find housing with their pets."
Their method (Common Ground):
"Hit the streets and get to know the most vulnerable people, keep talking with them until they agree to enter housing (without pre-conditions), and then blanket them with supports to keep them there."
Inspiring: (almost brings tears to my eyes)
"You might imagine that it would be hard to get people to show up in the pre-dawn hours, venture into alleyways, and ask strangers personal questions about their health. Just the opposite. In Phoenix, 175 people turned out; in San Diego, 250; in Omaha, 75; and in Chicago over 150, including Mayor Daley. In Phoenix, after the surveys were complete, organizers asked volunteers if they would like to contribute money — at $1,000 a shot — to assist homeless people with furniture and move-in expenses. In 10 minutes, they raised $50,000. "This wasn't a room of philanthropists," Kanis added. "It was just volunteers. But you had people saying, 'I'll take the guy in the wheelchair.' 'We'll take the two veterans.' There was probably a five minute standing ovation."
If you want to read the full article:
Or give your time or money this year:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cold to the bone, but happy

There is no joking about Winter this year. It's reminiscent of my childhood in Minnesota, mostly. Flakes daily, fluffy and puffy. So much white. I wonder how to see anything with so little contrast. How would I paint it? Trees stand out amidst the white sky and fields as I follow trails groomed through the golf course. Where am I going on my cross country skis? In circles, on an 8km track. Little Germans pass by, compact muscular legs, serious in their skiing, not stopping to ponder the lack of color in the world, or the build up of flakes in their hair, making it appear red and fuzzy at the same time. They are fastidious in their exercise, winter or summer. It's interesting, and different, and I am not sure if I will miss it or not next year when I leave.

What I do know is that I've found pleasure in the whiteness, the watching, the peace of winter. Whether it's sitting in front of my window watching the cold precipitation flurry around outside, or driving on the snow shaded roads, or sliding through the snow on my red skis which I noticed today form hearts at the tips where the snow sticks and builds up. I have found my my heart again this winter and I have found winter in my heart.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

From "The Art of Pilgrimage"

"The pilgrim is a poetic traveler, one who believes that there is poetry on the road, at the heart of everything. Soulful travel is the art of finding beauty even in ruins, even in inclement weather, even in foul moods. Like poetry, pilgrimage is beyond time and space. It happens now or it doesn't happen at all."
"To hear the pounding on the door, we have to remember to pay attention to what we have lost and what is calling for us. Not a day goes by when the world doesn't cry out for us, signal us with signs and sounds, calling us home. Listening closely is nearly a lost art, but a retrievable one. The soul thrives on it.
Words heard by chance have been known to change lives."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Winter's sticking around. Flurries outside, daily. Our parking lot slowly taken over by snowpiles which gradually metamorphose to ice piles. I'm comforted by worse temperatures in North Dakota in two ways: 1. That it could be worse here and, 2. Memories of my time in the bitter cold. I'm getting hardier, and this year I actually felt happy when the temperature dropped again with the thought of my cross country skies in the garage, waiting for another woosh-wooshhh in the snow.
And yet, last night I spent the evening flipping through all my old Runner's Worlds, wanting to train for another marathon. I told myself no. Only a half, or a 10k. I pondered races, locations and timing, since I'm drawing to a end here in nine months. There's something about running- it's never going to disappear from my life. This time there was a 1-2 month hiatus. I always go back to it. For fifteen years now.
I wonder where I'll be next year at this time. It's an unknown, but something that pops into my head often as I look at the Christmas lights, and the snow. Christmas abroad again doesn't bring sadness or loneliness, but maybe I've trained myself too good in the art of independence.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Little Bird: A Sad Story

Oh no. I open my window shade and there's something I don't recognise on the windowill. A little dead bird. Yellowish markings. How did it get there? What happened? I can't look at the little thing. All his friends are up in the tree, flying among the falling snow. And he's dead. How am I going to get him off my windowsill? Maybe I'll ask Ernst. No that's really pathetic. Maybe if I take a picture of him, it will be okay and then I'll be able to move him. I can't look at him. I leave and make coffee in the kitchen. Grinding beans. Boiling water. Sitting in my chair, looking out the window. I concoct various schemes for the dead bird removal.

The next day, I sneak up early in the morning and take photos and plan how to move the bird. It still bothers me. But I am going to do it.

After four days of bird removal contemplation, I get the bird off my windowsill into a paperbag and move him to the trash. Even though that seems mean. I only screamed twice. When he was stuck under the windowshade and one other time. My mom told me I could not fling him off the patio, in case he exploded and created more of a mess. That would be mean too. I guess. Anyway, he is gone now, to bird heaven.

Birds and ducks in Amsterdam:
They were skidding into landings, slipping around on the ice-- and flying about. I watched a long time, their beauty.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What happens in winter in Germany

Fun Story:
You head for the Amsterdam airport at about 4pm to catch your 7pm flight, even though it's a bit early. Oh well. Once at the airport, you wait. The plane leaves late for München, where you have the connecting flight to Nürnberg. You wonder if you'll make the connection but tell yourself worrying does no good. You booked your flight to Nürnberg because it's approx 40 minute drive to your house, or one hour, depending.

You're know you're going to be quite late, and you may have missed your connection, but the pilot announces that finally you've been cleared for landing in München. The planes starts its descent. You see lights. You are happy.

The lights disappear. You wonder what is happening. A while later, the pilot announces, "München has closed its two runways. They're too slippery. The air traffic controllers have found another airport to land in, one that is nearby and at least it is in Germany." Scheiß, you think. You know it's bad when the pilot thinks it's great that they managed to land the plane in the correct country. Only in Europe...

Three and a half hours after the flight left, you land in Stuttgart. The flight was supposed to be 70 minutes. The pilot announces, "No one wanted this and we are very sorry, but we have safely landed in Stuttgart."

Photo Documentation of the Fun Experience:
The line at the airport to reschedule. Approx 30 minutes per person and TWO Lufthansa employees assisting everyone. Fortunately you were at the front of the line and already knew a train was your best option.

Stuttgart. From the Movenpick hotel. Isn't it beautiful?

Your look of wonderment at your unplanned visit to Stuttgart Airport.

The happy welcome ducky. It makes you happy.

The Stuttgart Train station.

You got up at 4:45AM after going to bed at 1AM, but you are still happy. No one will stop this smile.

Finally you arrive at your car. You are so happy.

You fall before you even get to your car. Here is your look of shock. You are not smiling anymore. You think this winter shit which showed up while you were on holiday might not be as fun as it looks.

Damn snow.

Driving home. It takes 2 hours. You just focus on keeping your 4 pound car on the road. Telling yourself that you know how to drive in this white shit. And you will get to work. Safely.

Just outside of post, right where you live. Where the roads are smaller.

You finally get to work at 10AM. 18 hours after you left for the airport in Amsterdam. Two hours after you arrive at work, they close the post and you go home. What a journey. You think it is going to be a long winter. And it's only just begun.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On opinions and myths

"For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie-- deliberate, contrived and dishonest-- but the myth-- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought" – John F. Kennedy

Monday, December 6, 2010

Last day wandering Amsterdam on foot.

Amsterdam is super easy to navigate and feels quite small and neighborly.

Gangsta Sara.

A TV I think I would like.


The place we stayed- Cake Under My Pillow. Excellent.

Dangerous! But no one fell.

The neighborhood where our hotel was.
My kind of store. But it was closed.

Perhaps they were...