this is the title

This is the process of describing a thrice-daily perambulation along a specific grid-like configuration of streets and alleyways. It’s the beginning and the end all at once with the middle excised for brevity’s sake. Words are fit together to form a compelling narrative designed to exaggerate the significance of this chain of events. Through the use of a complex algorithm, details from thousands of similar perambulations have been extracted and connected to form a generic description suitable to represent the ongoing series.

Turning a corner there appears a panoramic view of downtown. One day there will be two more buildings on this block instead of a field, obscuring the view and evicting the red-winged blackbirds whose raucous calls now punctuate this observation. No more will the barn swallows arc with precision above the grass, soaring overhead and below knees. The city is a gaping mouth fitted with concrete teeth and asphalt tongue. All open space is in flux, available for negotiation by any wealthy interested parties.

Navigate another leftward right angle turn to complete the rectangular route. Arrive at the correct set of concrete steps leading up. Note the foul mess at the nest box opening left by the fledged house wren brood. Ants move in to investigate. In the garden coneflower blooms open. On the arched trellis coral honeysuckle buds battle to stay ahead of the aphids. Manual removal of the latter seems to be aiding the fight. Along the second level railing the gold dust plant exhibits the lush results of another vigorous growth spurt. Looking around, all appears to be in the usual foliar disarray. Now climb the steps, open the door, shut and lock it.

This is the conclusion of what was begun in the first paragraph. It serves to tie up any loose ends and bring the narrative to a satisfactory close. No new information is introduced so as to avoid confusing the reader, thus preventing any lingering uncertainty as to the nature of what has been heretofore presented. Thus, to be accurate, the true ending occurred with the period following the phrase ‘lock it,’ meaning one could actually stop reading there and not suffer any ill effects.

field report: woodpecker redux

Recent intelligence gathering indicated the presence of a group of likely overwintering red-headed woodpeckers, including two adults, at another park in the area so I went to investigate. Again I found them immediately, as they were actively foraging and calling frequently. Their ‘rattle’ call is quite distinctive and often precedes a visual ID. Lighting was more favorable today, so here are a few photos accompanying a report on my findings.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker strikes the classic woodpecker pose at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

An immature Red-headed Woodpecker glares at the photographer, North Point State Park.

After spending way too much time attempting to photograph the woodpeckers I continued on from the Black Marsh Wildlands into the rest of the park. First I took the Powerhouse Trail.

Powerhouse Trail at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse Trail at North Point State Park.

Rising up out of the woods before me came the trail’s namesake…

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse at North Point State Park.

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse at North Point State Park.

The property that is now North Point State Park was formerly a local attraction known as the Bay Shore Amusement Park during the first half of the 20th Century, and there was streetcar service extending to the park from the city (extremely hard to imagine today in this rabidly car-centric region). This concrete monolith provided power to the streetcars. Now it serves as an informal art gallery for graffiti artists:

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Inside the powerhouse at North Point State Park: ‘Find the roots of everything.’

After leaving the powerhouse I took a spur trail to gaze upon the Chesapeake Bay.

Chesapeake Bay from North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Chesapeake Bay from overlook at North Point State Park.

Friendly people had left sand art on the beach.

Sand art at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Friendly people were here…

After scanning the Bay for waterfowl and only finding a few bufflehead and a single double-crested cormorant, I left the park and drove farther down the peninsula to where it dead ends at Fort Howard, the former coastal artillery headquarters for Baltimore. Fort Howard has a rich military history, which I will not go into here but you can certainly read about it to your heart’s content elsewhere on the internet. The park is rather bedraggled and largely unused, likely due to its remote location. But there are some nice spots. Of course I only photographed the horrible ones because that’s just how I am.

Brandon Shores Generating Station, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

The Brandon Shores Generating Station, viewed from Fort Howard. A 2011 NRDC report based on EPA data described it as releasing the second highest amount of toxic air pollutants annually in the U.S.

Despite the glaring lack of visitors, there are more picnic tables and trash cans at Fort Howard than I’ve seen at any other park. I was curious about the trailer in the photo below but simultaneously afraid so I chose not to get any closer. I thought if I called the number someone might be willing to divulge the contents but then this person would have my phone number. So I didn’t call. I find that life is an ongoing process of weighing the pros and cons of situations like this.

Fort Howard Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Scenic picnic area where I chose not to consume my lunch. (Note: if you call the number please leave a comment below.)

After passing the scenic picnic area I came upon this:

Fort Howard Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Menacing…

Again, I wasn’t sure what to do here. Were they keeping women locked inside or barring them from entry. I couldn’t tell, but I didn’t hear any cries for help and without bolt cutters there was not much I could have done. So I left. No doubt this decision will haunt me for quite some time…

field report 1

Each morning the elevator guys gather in a circle on the sidewalk in front of the building, sort of like a team huddle in organized sports except they don’t all put their hands in the middle and shout “Break!” (unfortunately). They are upgrading the elevators one at a time, a project which is slated to continue into 2015. The “new” elevators talk to the passengers in an electronic woman’s voice, announcing each floor as it is reached. They look sleek and modern, and the exterior light is red instead of the previous green. (At the library the other day, it was observed that the elevator inspection certificate had expired over a year ago. As a precautionary measure, the stairs were taken on the return trip to the first floor.)

The humidity is ridiculous. How can weather be such an affliction. Days of high humidity oppress, while days of low humidity, perhaps with a slight breeze, uplift and rejuvenate. The city has acquired its summer bouquetreminiscent of a rancid, bloated dead thing dragging its entrails down the center of these hot asphalt strips known as streets and roads. Holding one’s breath in certain areas is advisable. Downtown recalls arrival day at an abattoir, as sweating, panicky beings stumble down the sidewalks, pursued by an unseen assailant (presumably the Humidity God), in desperate search of calm, air-conditioned respite. But such respite offers a false sense of relief, lulling one into a settled state that is immediately shattered upon re-entry into the outside world.

Anthropological studies remain on hold, thus leaving a dearth of source material. One sighting was recorded of the now-elusive cigar-smoking man, though the GISS (a common birding term short for General Impression, Size and Shape [also spelled as ‘jizz’, particularly among Brits) was not quite right. Could there be another cigar-smoking man? Unlikely. He was unaccompanied and bicycle-less. His fleeting appearance triggers a meditation on change, the constant flux of life, and the acute twinge of feeling left behind. It is not so much resistance to forward motion as it is a relentless cycle of stepping forward only to be overcome by a sensation best described in visual terms as Homer receding into the bushes.

Nothing is so elusive as place. In the bushes, the branches are closed in around the body, waxy leaves brushing the arms, feet rooted in the loamy soil. The eyes might be able to glimpse out, a partially obscured view akin to tunnel vision. Maybe no one can see in. Regardless, the body does not know if it can be seen. It may assume as such or not, but either way it won’t ever know what, if any of it, is actually seen. And where is the bush situated. Does that matter, and if so, how much? When the body leaves the home place (and/or the bush?), never to return again, what effect does this have. Does this severance yield a wound that cannot be healed, no matter how many salves are applied, no matter how many times a fresh bandage is wrapped around it. Is this the reason the other bodies around the body always appear distant, blurred, out of reach and alien. Is this why even familiar landscapes do not ever fully conform to the feet.

As usual, more questions than answers…

seaside

At times I can go back to St Ives more completely than I can this morning. I can reach a state where I seem to be watching things happen as if I were there.

Now if this is so, is it not possible—I often wonder—that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence?

—Virginia Woolf, “A Sketch of the Past”

I stood in the grass, breathing in stories of stunted pitch pines. The house, grey clapboard weathered in sea air, loomed behind me. I remember walking on zigzagged boardwalks over brackish marsh. Jigsaw puzzles in yellow afternoon light, pouring across the floor like liquid pollen of no real substance. I still hold this yellow light. The stretch and scrape of the screen door spring as it opens, the loud slam as it shuts. Riding bikes down sand-strewn streets. Comic books and chewing gum. Beach grass swaying in salty breezes. The rising dunes in purple evening light.

hangman with cold fire

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

 © 2012 S. D. Stewart

the town

The highest point of the town held a water tower and once I rode down that hill on my scooter using my new shoe as a brake and when I reached the bottom I found the scooter’s tire had burned a big gash into the heel of my shoe.

The lowest point of the town held a lake and once I stubbed my toe in its silty bottom resulting in a trip to the doctor who poked holes in my toenail to relieve the pressure.

The town took away and it gave and it took away and it gave, sometimes it left parts of itself in me, parts that had to be removed, other times the parts remained encysted and grew into hard black stones that never went away.

The town visits me now, frequently, in my dreams. It is the setting for all types of absurd scenarios, completely unrelated to actual events, only tapping memory for details of setting, and even then playing sly with the facts, bending and shaping, but always leaving things just recognizable enough.

I find this unsettling as the town means nothing to me in my present life and I have not been there in many years. There is nothing there for me now. And yet it is the skeleton of my early life. The streets are the bones. There is a house somewhere that serves as the skull, with windows like eyeholes, looking out onto a world I was seeing for the first time.

I feel a pull toward the town and I don’t know why. I think it is the aching for a home, a place I know so well it is a part of me, inseparable from who I am and what I do. A known setting for my life, however I choose to live it, with scenery grown like vines through my blood and bones. The place where it all starts and ends. Home.

mystery of the annes

Question. Do all the Annes mean something? For many years now, I’ve been adding Annes to my favored author list. It all started with Annie Proulx (AP) and her novel The Shipping News. I moved on from that novel to reading most of her other fiction, both short and long. AP is primarily a Western writer, and her characters are often fringe types, loners, roamers, outsiders. I read her novel That Old Ace in the Hole when I lived only a few hours from the Texas Panhandle region where it was set. I read a lot of her fiction when I lived out there in North Texas and it helped me a little bit to understand my own place as a loner in what I saw at the time as an unforgiving open land.

When I moved here to Baltimore, I started reading Anne Tyler (AT) novels on a sporadic basis. I’ve probably read about 10 of them by now. I wanted to read AT because her books are usually set in Baltimore. I’d never lived anywhere before that also happened to be the specific setting for a writer’s books. It added a special extra thrill to the reading. AT’s characters, much like AP’s, are often loners and oddballs. Often in her books these loner oddballs find other loner oddballs to be with, although not without encountering much difficulty along the way. Reading her books always puts me in a strange headspace, yet one that also seems familiar because of all the Baltimore references. I enjoy this.

The third literary Anne to enter my life was Annie Dillard (AD). I fell in love with her writing immediately. I began a mass consumption project. I’ve read most of her books by now, although I’m saving a few for the future, mostly because AD has alluded to the probability that she won’t write another book (too much reading to do, says she). The ones I’m saving are her memoir and her two books of poetry. I started the memoir once but it didn’t click. The same thing happened with her first novel, The Living. I tried hard to get through it but eventually realized I was bored and didn’t care what happened to the characters. That’s always a sign for me that the book isn’t working and it’s time to put it down. I thought maybe AD’s fiction just wasn’t for me, but then The Maytrees came out and proved me wrong. Still, it is her nonfiction that captivates me most. I know I will be rereading much of it, despite my general tendency not to reread books.

Now along comes Anne Sexton (AS) and Anne Carson (AC). I’ve read more of AC than AS at this point, and I can say that I’m already enthralled with the former while still plumbing the depths of the latter. What I like most about AC is her mixing of genres. A book of hers can contain poems, essays, opera librettos, screenplays, and various bits of unclassified text. I get the sense that she does not force herself into formats that her thoughts don’t want to go. As the writing flows, it begins to take form. None of this, I’m going to sit down and write a poem now. Despite the intimidation I feel at her stunning intellectual prowess, her writing still feels liberating and accessible to me. It feels like reading an academic treatise but without the formal constraints that usually come with such writing. She pulls from so many disparate sources and ties it all together so it makes perfect sense, although often only if I read it closely.

So what is it about the Annes?

Other inputs: My sister was born an Anne and now goes by Annie. She reads a lot. When I first moved to this city my best friend was dating an Anne. I had never seen him so happy. I thought they might make it. But sadly they did not.

Anne is the French form of Anna, which is a form of Channah (or Hannah), a name used in the Latin and Greek Old Testament. In Hebrew the name Channah means ‘favor’ or ‘grace,’ or more specifically, ‘He (God) favors me’. The Book of Luke, in the New Testament, mentions a prophetess Hannah who recognized the child Jesus as the Messiah. Anna became a popular Western Christian name during the Middle Ages because of Saint Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary. Anne is still a popular name in France. In England it is also commonly spelled Ann. Various forms of the name appear in most Western and Eastern European nations, as well as Russia.

My aunt’s name is spelled Ann, and she is the daughter of Irish immigrants.

I’m sure we all recognize patterns in our lives. I try not to ignore them. Sometimes they are ones yawning behind me I want to avoid in the future so I try to learn from them. Sometimes they are merely part of life’s effluence. And sometimes they appear to be mystical messages encrypted and in need of decoding. I feel like I am in constant search of a decoder ring.

escape to hot springs

Some friends purchased a cabin and 15 wooded acres in the North Carolina mountains so a visit was in order. On Saturday we hiked up Max Patch Mountain, a bald mountain in Pisgah National Forest that was cleared for pasture in the 1800s. The Appalachian Trail crosses the top, where lucky hikers are afforded dreamy views of the Great Smoky Mountains to the southwest. Off to the distant west rise the dark ridges of the Black Mountains.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

The trail to paradise.

And then there is the reward…

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Hot Springs, North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains seen from the top of Max Patch Mountain in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina.

Such beauty is all the more poignant when shared with old friends.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, a/t on the a/t

A/T on the A.T.

Farley was beside himself with joy for the entire trip.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Farley in his element, bounding through the tall grass on top of Max Patch Mountain.

There were also non-mammals enjoying the outdoors.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Hot Springs, North Carolina

A Common Buckeye butterfly alights on one of the plentiful blackberry bushes growing along Max Patch Trail, Pisgah National Forest, Hot Springs, NC.

Back at the cabin, we cooled off in the creek.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Creek at Dave & Betty's cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

I walked up the middle of the creek and found damselflies consorting with each other.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Creek at the cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

My walking stick used for navigating the creek.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Scene from creek at Dave & Betty's cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

For some reason this little sun-dappled tableau struck me. I don’t think it comes across in the photo, but it was the sort of scene into which you wish you could miniaturize yourself for the purpose of better enjoying it.

And here is where we retired for eating, sleeping (although some of us camped outside), and reading during the heat of the day.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Dave & Betty's cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

Farley exhibits signs of extreme boredom outside the cabin.

no outlaws, no frontiers: distilled dreams of ruddy ducks and stolen laptops

Outlets outlawed now left to hold the plug. Outlaws stripped of outlets now seeking power strips. Strip the sheathing, splice the wires: false positives abound, red lights across the board. Unplug, recede, fade to weathered wood. Where to get it when it’s gone, the juice, the power draw, to make every day a tinderbox. The ones who screamed and strummed to counter black water in their boots, rising to their necklines: they are now gone by their own hands. Even plugged in they couldn’t hack the mainframe for a pure and steady flow. Outside these walls, beyond the concrete circuit, maybe it’s there and maybe not: a circuit board of our own making. But what we know is here brings false power, interrupted flow: devices to distract, minds splayed across these screens, ground into lettered, numbered squares. I’m between out there and in here, taking ragged breaths, one foot in shadow soup, one hand tracing rote designs. I stare across the pond, power-stripped and faded, wondering about that duck.

from a room with slanted ceilings

In another place, for once.  These walls blue instead of yellow, yet the likeness remains.  A window from which to gaze, at treetops, at sky and clouds.  What we endure like some concrete mix plastered to our outsides, layering on another wall between what we feel and what we show to the others.  The talking we do, so careful, so orchestrated, a hackneyed script whittled down to nothing.  But today is not a mere trailing on of yesterday.  No, today is a rope tossed back to us, its intricate knotted fibers there for fingers to grasp and pull us forward to lighter times, when we are who we are and we do what we are here to do.

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