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once I was in the Lake District

8/23/14 – 11:05pm Greenwich Mean Time

I like my bed at this Keswick YHA because it’s a single twin by the window with a tiny shelf and a bed light. There is a set of bunk beds in here as well, but their occupants are elsewhere. And there’s a sink in the room! And the window overlooks a river! So it’s quite cozy.

The Lake District is incredible. Of course it is.  The bus ride from Penrith rail station was flooring. The mountains remind me of the Scottish highlands, but since this is further south everything is more developed. The slopes are embroidered with hedges and knotted with sheep. So it doesn’t have the same raw vastness of Scotland, but oh, is it spectacular. The sun lavishes some serious affection on these hills. On the way here, I had to just put down my camera, lean my head back against the seat, and stare. There’s too much to take in! In places like this, it’s best to lie like a stone in a river, letting the beauty flow over you. And, like a stone, let the moss of a place grow into your pores so that wherever you go, you will always wear the stains of that life.

8/24/14 – 8:17am Greenwich Mean Time

If Scotland was glory, this place is glory covered in a quilt and made comfortable.

lake district

tree trimming

I’m always the one who puts the lights on the tree.  The task used to fall to my mom, but once I got old enough to have an eye for that sort of thing, I took over.  I wanted it to be me hanging the light.

I play Christmas music and I start with garden shears.  Giving myself a hand cramp, I squeeze the shears and bite off the branches that are going limp or yellow.  Then I sit back on my heels and size up the crowded mess of fir, deciding where to make holes.

Needles fall thick.  Sections of the trunk appear.  It seems wrong to trim perfectly good branches but the tree is so stuffed with green that there’s no room for light.  I can’t hang the lights until there’s enough emptiness for them to fill.

The tree looks hurt when I finish.  The holes I’ve made stare at me accusingly.  I start unwinding the strand of yellow lights and twisting them around branches.  I cluster light in the holes I made, all the way up the tree.  My hands get splotchy with sap.  When I’m finished, I step back.

The once-bare places shine.

“and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?” -Herman Melville

Light cannot enter us until there’s enough emptiness for it to fill; until we are scraped empty and trimmed bare.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9

bokeh christmas

once I was in Scotland

8/21/14 – 5pm Greenwich Mean Time

Having just walked over a mile from a cafe near the Glencoe bus stop to our hostel, I can definitely say I’m glad we packed light! The bus ride from Inverness was incredibly scenic; especially once we neared Fort William. The mountains are stunning. Oh, Scotland. This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.

9:28pm-

I have felt the slow creeping of fern-like things budding in my mechanical heart.
and the streams I see tunnelling under Scottish roads; they flip over themselves in haste for the sea…
I have felt the slipping streams tunnelling through me.

glencoe

once I was on a train to Hadrian’s Wall

8/16/14 – 12pm Greenwich Mean Time

We’re on the train to Hexham, bound for Hadrian’s Wall. I’ve had this line from W.H. Auden rolling about in my mind since I saw it in York: “And down by the brimming river, I heard a lover sing; under an arch of the railway: Love has no ending.” I guess the trains keep it fresh in my memory. If I have any money left when I get home (doubtful), I want to buy Auden’s ‘Age of Anxiety’ with intro and annotations by Alan Jacobs.

The landscape is fantastic. And varied. Right now there are hugely tall pine trees looming over the fields, and horses with oversized feet grazing the hillside. And now there are ancient oaks and slender aspens with ferns going crazy below. There are hills green with grass and fields yellow with wheat. Several kinds of purple flowers- some with long rush-like fronds and some with small round petals and white centres- follow the track. And when we pass a village there are always brick houses (with the inevitable white window frames) and a church spire looking extremely historic, but the details of which I’ll never know. Incredible, the surplus of history that is packed into this island. And the surplus of blackberries is also ridiculous. =D

Hadrian's Wall

once I was in Oxford

8/11/14 – 9:43pm Greenwich Mean Time

With extreme skill at research and bus-schedule-memory, Dad saw to it that the bus which took us to Blenheim Palace today also made it possible to visit Tolkien’s house and grave. We did a lot of hopping on and off buses today. =) I sang ‘Into the West’ at Tolkien’s grave, which simply felt like the right thing to do.

Blenheim P was huge. Not just the palace, but the grounds! We didn’t even see everything. It was very impressive. The room where Churchill was born was less ostentatious than the State Rooms, but its significance made up for the lack of grandeur. “Here’s where the 20th Century was saved,” said Dad.

Back in Oxford, we spent some more time in Blackwell’s, ate dinner (steak, ale, and mushroom pie) at The King’s Arms pub, and did some more wandering around Oxford. I’m growing more and more fond of this city. Its streets form a labyrinth of treasures waiting for me to stumble upon them.

the high

once I was in London

8/2/14 – 6:25pm Greenwich Mean Time

I am living the London experience to the hilt right now. We took the Tube from Covent Garden Market (so crowded!!) to Tower Bridge, and I’m sitting on a ledge right on the Thames with the bridge on my right, to the East, and the Tower of London across the river. (Okay, but a security guard with an Indian accent just told me to get down, so now I am standing once again on aching feet.)

It was supposed to rain today, but it never did. It’s been mostly overcast, but now the sky is open, with grandiose flat-bottomed clouds meandering slowly. It’s lovely out here over the water. I much prefer this to the constricted city streets. I guess I’ve been living in the country for so long that it’s hard to acclimate to city life.

Tower Bridge is so beautiful in this early evening sun! It was funny; as we were walking here, we were discussing whether we were going the right way. This British man walking by heard us say Tower Bridge and said, “That way! Definitely that way!” as he rushed past us. The people here are fun.

tower bridge

worshipper

I am deeply full of simple things;
of anticipations and doubts and light brushes with the universe.
Like the painted buntings ruffling the goat weed-
now poised above it, now diving beneath it-
I do not wish you to attend to me.

Soon I will walk in two-thousand-year-old cities
and I will be like a single cobblestone, or a half of one.
Two-thousand years of feet will flow over me,
and I will not be crumbled by time’s trampling,
but I will hold out my hand for the marks.

I will walk in great shadows and not shake,
for it is good that they be large and I be small.
On mountains that will outlive me, I will be a single fern;
curling and unfurling once, twice, and then no more.
I will only be a worshipper.

dwarfed

final frontier

if it was eternal night
and small humming noises were suspended around us like
comatose breathers,
and if, in the flaring light, you striped the hallways with your pacing,

breathe in, remember,
breathe out, forget,

there in the sterile corridors I would touch you gently;
if we were warping wanderers, I would try to ease the fading.

enterprise corridors

 

anchor

Secure me in the harrowed stateliness of cliffs
slung in the path of shouting seas.
Lash my rope to the indignities of love
won slowly, carved from void and vice.
Compass me around with golden leaves
falling at sunset, sunset falling.
Harbour me in earth-deep beauty-
four seasons for four loves.
Reassure me with patterns of life;
and in the comforts and vistas of flourishing,
watch the river of existence erode me.

I am a fire-forged ship and my sides crack
like bones against the force of alteration.
My decks shake until they turn to salt.
It cannot hold me, the glowing world.
Dip my anchor into the earth’s throbbing core,
fling it to the edges of the widened universe-
there is no depth or width can fasten me.

The tide and the years fray my rope, untie my Gordian securities.

But cast my anchor up, out of sight,
and my pitching sides go still, my shaking decks
straighten like balanced scales; I fasten myself to the only constant:
Only the anchor caught in heaven can hold me.

//”For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” Malachi 3:6

anchor flip

alan

A volcano lives inside you,
constantly burbling and hissing,
and sometimes it erupts-
a noisy announcement
of shouts goes spraying,
ignoring the walls like air.

Did you trap a bird inside you?
A tropical bird like a squawking
church hat; I hear it rustling
around and screaming for
fruit or insects or whatever
it eats. It clicks its beak.

There’s a bulldozer inside you,
scraping your tongue smooth
as you crawl on your knees
in a white tile work zone.
Tire treads comb you from
the inside; I hear them grind.

Half the world’s inside you,
and another half of who knows
what; they fill the house and
subdue it with tidal volume.
And what I want to know is:
will they drown you?

Someday past 6 you will
sit in a quiet place feeling
inside of you, sorting soul drawers.
You will find the volcano,
the bird, the bulldozer and
decide. Until then, boy, amplify.

alan + caleb

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