Monthly Archives: December 2011

Postmodern Manger

On the brink of 2012, all things are possible–even a log-cabin creche in which one finds a melding of poultry and hoofed beast.  Manger in French is to eat.  In English a manger is a trough housed in a stable and used to hold feed or fodder for livestock.  In this scene the duck lies down with the lamb.  It reminds us all things are possible.  All resolutions can be made and kept.  We can resolve to stop global warming.  We can have world peace.


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Chainsaw totem from Highway 128
In September, I had the great pleasure to serve as Writer in Residence for The Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska.
“The Island Institute cultivates uncommon conversations about the nature of vital communities — the web of human relationships and responsibilities, and our connections to the greater natural world.”
Before I departed California for Alaska, I wrote a version of the following musing, emailed it to friends in a newsletter, and pasted it to my website:

Who knows how change comes about?  Sometimes we change in great surges that seem obvious; sometimes we find ourselves altered in increments so tiny we don’t recognize them any more clearly than we can see the forest for the trees.
What a surprise to discover that I’m one of the trees.  Why has it taken me so long to see that?  The forest is changing—taking on more people, warming, losing numbers of species, acquiring great new voices.  Jordan’s work is taking her further into classes she shares with fiction writers of all inclination.  My own change is taking me north to learn about community—how art is used to create dialogue in one small town in Alaska.  Because I’m so close to the California community I’ve inhabited for the last twenty years, I’m going away to view my home from afar—and let those at home see me in a new light, too.
I’m going north to write about water: in fiction, in our lives, in our future.  I’ll spend the month of September on Thimbleberry Bay on Baranof Island, witness to the migrations of great ocean creatures that pass in channels off the Pacific.  I plan to use the time to write deeply, as I’ve always taught in my own workshops and practiced when I can.  From the residency time I intend to bring home an honest work about water as I see it.
I’ve experienced water from the river’s waves, under its surface, above streambeds gone dry, from boats riding on ninety thousand cubic feet per second, and from boats dragging through cobbles on 1/1000 of that flow.  Now I’ll see water in a northern world, helped by dialogue with those who live there year round.


While traveling Route 128 between Cloverdale and Mendocino with my daughter last summer, I found this chainsaw totem by the side of the road.  It is to the art of tree carving as the remaining redwood forests are to the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska–pale in comparison.  But, reluctantly, I admit I love this rough-hewn face–and, reluctantly, I admit I still love California. 


Now I’m home and writing about the Sacramento River, California.  Many know that California is an island too.  In fact it is said to be named for Queen Calafia, who ruled a colony of women on the Island of California before explorers found it was indeed connected to the mainland.  And it is.  Sort of.  As Baranof Island is sort of connected to Alaska.

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