Doug Bruns

Archive for 2013|Yearly archive page

Sunday Repost: …the american dog tick…

In Books, Dogs, Nature, Reading, Travel on March 10, 2013 at 5:00 am
Yuck. The American Deer Tick

Yuck. The Tick

According to the University of Maine web site, there are three types of ticks found in Maine: the deer tick, the american dog tick and the brown dog tick. I looked it up. I was curious, having just pulled five ticks off of my body. Those are the ones I found before the shower, discovered under my clothes. I found at least as many on my clothes before leaving the trail. I pulled I don’t know how many off Maggie. It was a lot.

Neighbors Mike and Wendy invited me on a hike this morning. Carole is out of town and I think they felt sorry for me. I’ll take a little pity for company every so often, so I opted in. They brought their dogs and off we went. It wasn’t a difficult hike, flat along a tributary of the Fore River, through the woods. We passed a small white pine grove and I stopped to inhale deeply. I told Mike and Wendy that one of my favorite things in all the world is the smell of pine in Maine. That is not an exaggeration.

There are about 50 miles of trails in Portland, developed and maintained by the non-profit Portland Trails organization. That is an admirable endeavor. I use the trails frequently and as I write this I realize that I have not supported the organization. I will rectify that immediately. I won’t even hold them responsible for the tick infestation of this morning.

* * *

I got Lyme Disease a few years ago. Tick bite. Carole and I were in Spain, had rented a car and planned on a few weeks of

Gilbraulter

Gibraltar

exploring the country. We’d made our way down to Gibraltar–yes, I know, not properly part of Spain–and I wasn’t feeling particularly well. But I wasn’t so sick as to miss my morning run, however, and headed off toward the southern point of the peninsula. Looking across the Strait of Gibraltar, I could not but think of the history that had passed through that narrow stretch of water. I thought of Nelson getting shot at the Battle of Trafalgar, his body stuffed into a brandy cask, and returned to Britain. “Hardy,” Nelson said, kneeling, then falling onto the deck, “I do believe they have done it at last… my backbone is shot through.” I thought of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, the Greeks and the Minoans, all sailing this straight, toying with the unknown vastness on the other side. The sun was coming up across the water, orange light rising on the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. I had to walk back to our hotel. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d come abroad incubating a case of Lyme Disease.

We canceled our adventure and drove to Benalmádena, on the coast. We found a cheap room on the beach, a place with a cabana. The only book I had with me was the Library of America edition of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, including Last of the Mohicans. I don’t remember how long we stayed. I recall sleeping a great deal under the thatched cabana roof, the warm breeze, and the breaking waves. I recall, waking and reading Cooper, then nodding off again–repeat. I read all the Leatherstocking Tales on that beach in Spain. I also experienced my only migraine, though I don’t think there is any correlation.

Lyme disease can best be detected by a tick bite that manifests a rash, usually as a ring around the bite, though I don’t remember any such rash. They say a tick can go a year without a blood meal. I think that is especially interesting, though the words blood meal make me uneasy.

Photo Saturday: Faces

In Photography, Travel on March 9, 2013 at 6:00 am

I started a project a few years ago of photographing the faces of working folks around the world. The project never came to anything, and, in a manner of speaking, remains open-ended. That is, I’ve not finished it, stated it complete–nor I have I pursued it. Perhaps I will, perhaps I’ll get back on the road, camera in hand. Stay tuned.

One portrait is digital, the others film. I mentioned which is which at the bottom.

Farmer, Tuti, Peru

Farmer, Tuti, Peru

School Girl, Guatamala

School Girl, Guatemala

Merchant, India

Merchant, India

Monk, Bangkok

Monk, Bangkok

Barber, India

Barber, India

The girl from Guatemala is a digital photograph, shot with a Nikon D100. Everything else is film., shot with a medium format camera, the Mamiya R7.

The Loon Remains

In Life, Writing on March 8, 2013 at 6:00 am

The red-wing black birds are back. They were a’squawking in a naked ash this morning as Lucy and I went on our walk. It is a sign that spring is on schedule, though I am aware that its arrival is still a cruel ways off. As I write this, ten hours later, the temperature has dropped and the sky holds a shade of metallic somewhere between nickel silver and battleship gray. We are due for more snow shortly and that is fine. Still, I remain hopeful, that Persephone is packing her bag.

Santayana said that, “To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.” I’m not sure what that means, except perhaps one must embrace change, as nothing is permanent. I like change; though releasing the sense of permanence is more difficult to cultivate, though release it I must–as I, most of everything, am subject to this law, disturbingly impermanent as I am.

It has, on the main, been a good winter. A good cozy, book-filled winter, with little ambition about it. That is a good thing, though, understandably, some might not see it that way. A hard-working and successful friend just yesterday shared that I’d been the topic of a brief family conversation. “What does Doug do with his day?” he’d pondered. I’ve come to understand that the day takes care of itself. I don’t have to do anything with it. That is all and it is enough.

imgres

The common loon

The loon remains in the slip of water below my kitchen window. I’ve told the stories of the man who needs to see mountains on the horizon every night, and the hiker who must study the milky way at least once a year. Likewise, I’ve come to depend on the summer call of the loon from my sleeping bag and if there is anything anxious about this desperate time of year, it is tempered by the anticipation of that song. That too will take care of itself soon enough. (Thoreau: “I make my own time. I make my own terms.”)

Everything, it appears, takes care of itself, not in spite of, but because of a cosmic indifference to our personal ambitions. It’s been that sort of winter for this pilgrim (in case you haven’t figured that out just yet).

It’s been a good week and such an assessment is not to be taken for granted. Thanks for visiting me at “…the house…” Have a good weekend.

D

Montaigne

In Books, Philosophy, Writers on March 7, 2013 at 6:00 am
Montaigne

My drinking buddy, Michel de Montaigne

Let me begin by recommending a book: How to Live, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Bakewell. Before I go too far afield allow me to delineate Bakewell’s subtitle. The one question is: How to Live? And the twenty attempted answers:

  • Don’t worry about death
  • Pay attention
  • Be born
  • Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted
  • Survive love and loss
  • Use little tricks
  • Question everything
  • Keep a private room behind the shop
  • Be convivial; live with others
  • Wake from the sleep of habit
  • Live temperately
  • Guard your humanity
  • Do something no one has done before
  • See the world
  • Do a good job, but not too good a job
  • Philosophize only by accident
  • Reflect on everything; regret nothing
  • Give up control
  • Be ordinary and imperfect
  • Let life be its own answer
How to Live, Sarah Bakewell

How to Live, Sarah Bakewell

In a review of Bakewell’s book (2010) I wrote the following by way of introduction:

I was first introduced to Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592) about thirty years ago. I was in graduate school. I don’t remember the class, nor the other required readings. But I remember Montaigne. I eventually dropped out of graduate school, but Montaigne stayed with me. It was, perhaps, and I honestly mean this, the most important contribution to my intellectual development from that period. If not the most important, certainly the most long-standing. In fact, when this book came to my attention, How to Live, and I received the reader’s advance copy, I happened to be reading Montaigne yet again, as I have done off and on since we were introduced.

I say, “since we were introduced” purposely, for that is what it felt like at the time. I read him in that class and recall thinking, Who is this, this kindred spirit, this wise new friend? And the magic of that moment continues to this day. I read him still. I read him this morning. Over and over again, I turn to my old French friend.

______________________

We reject the impersonal and the arbitrary here at “…the house…“; so rather than paste a bunch of internet-farmed imgres-3Montaigne quotes on the page, I thought I would share with you some of the passages outlined in my personal copy of The Essays. Here goes:

“If we have not known how to live, it is wrong to teach us how to die, and make the end inconsistent with the whole. If we have known how to live steadfastly and tranquilly, we shall know how to die in the same way….Among the many other duties comprised in this general and principal chapter on knowing how to live is this article on knowing how to die; and it is one of the lightest, if our fear did not give it weight.”

“Those who know me…know whether they have ever seen a man less demanding of others. If I surpass all modern examples in this respect, it is no great wonder, for so many parts of my character contribute to it: a little natural pride, inability to endure refusal, limitation of my desires and designs, incapacity for any kind of business, and my favorite qualities, idleness and freedom.”

“The only thing I aspire to acquire is the reputation of having acquired nothing.”

“The discomforts of old age, which need some support and refreshment, might reasonable make me wish to be a better drinker; for drinking is almost the last pleasure that the years steal from us.”

“If we sometimes spent a little consideration on ourselves, and employed in probing ourselves the time we put into checking up on others and learning about things that are outside us, we would easily sense how much this fabric of ours is built up of feeble and failing pieces.”

“Our appetite is irresolute and uncertain: it does not know how to keep anything or enjoy anything in the right way. Man, thinking that it is the fault of these things, fills and feeds himself on other things that he does not know and does not understand, to which he applies his desires and his hopes….”

“Things are not that painful or difficult of themselves; it is our weakness and cowardice that make them so. To judge of great and lofty things we need a soul of the same caliber; otherwise we attribute to them the vice that is our own. A straight oar looks bent in the water. What matters is not merely that we see the thing, but how we see it.”

It is my hope that, if you’re not familiar with Montaigne, you might be compelled to rectify that. If you already count the man among your literary friends, then you are already fortunate. I’ll leave you with a last quote: “If others examined themselves attentively, as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of inanity and nonsense. Get rid of it I cannot without getting rid of myself.”

Thanks for reading!

D

So What?

In Creativity, The Examined Life, Writers on March 6, 2013 at 6:00 am
Russo's new memoir

Russo’s new memoir

I heard Richard Russo comment last night that the writer of a memoir must ask himself “So what?” Russo, a Mainer, and holder of a Pulitzer for his novel Empire Falls, has a new book out, a memoir, Elsewhere. (I own the book, but haven’t picked it up just yet.) He continued by saying that simply because the writer grew up in a rural environment, escaped to elsewhere, and wrote a book about it does not make, necessarily, for an interesting book. Hence the challenge: So what? I am reminded of Fran Lebowitz‘s comment that, “Having been unpopular in high school is not just cause for book publication.”

I walked home from Russo asking myself, So what?

Here I am, the next day, sitting at my desk, wondering still, So what? So what does it matter that I sit here day and after day and compose my thoughts and frame my questions? The question, So what? puts the kill to any good writer’s buzz, trust me. This is an honest question–and not just for the thinker in his loft on a snowy Maine afternoon. It is a question the pilgrim of any journey must ask.

Here’s what I think. I think that the very question carries its answer. By asking So what? one has engaged a degree of attention that makes the difference. It’s when we don’t ask that a soul-sucking vacuum is created. Intention verses mindlessness. I have my mother to thank for the question, What are your motivations? There is deep intention in that question and just in asking it one cannot escape the consequences. What are your motivations holds a response to So what?

The publishing writer, Russo, must ask the question So what? He is engaged in an act of commerce, as well as art. That must weigh in his motivation. Certainly, if he doesn’t ask the question his publisher or his editor will. So what?, in this instance, must be answered in a manner that includes dollars and cents. But to the self-publishing writer-blogger, to the diarist, to the lone photographer, to the home musician, to the elderly watercolorist, the laborer, the thinker, the question So what? carries a profound nuance.

Camus: "A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world."

Camus: “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.”

Without the weight of commerce associated with it, the question So what? is fraught and imposing. I cannot answer the question of So what? for you. But I can suggest that in the very question you will find a kernel of an answer; that the question alone poses a threat to the mindless action, the thoughtless gesture, the perfunctory exercise of existence. To paraphrase Camus, without asking So what? a person is just a wild beast loosed upon the world.

Pinsky, Hegel, Nietzsche, Chatwin, & Faulkner

In Death, Life, Philosophy, The Examined Life, Writers on March 5, 2013 at 6:00 am

The poet Robert Pinsky made a comment I noted in my journal: “Will your children’s grandchildren remember your name?” What a plague is this question! It burrows to the core of the most tender insecurity I harbor, being forgotten. It is not death, nor dying, that troubles me so much as this. I am at my most alert to cosmic inconsequence when dealing with darkest concerns. In some twisted logic, this state brings a satisfaction.

* * *

The great philosopher Friedrich Hegel‘s (1770-1831) last words are reported to be: “Only one man has ever understood me, and he didn’t understand me.” It has been debated who Hegel had in mind, but most scholars think he was referring to Karl Marx. It is recorded that Marx contended that he was, indeed, the one person who understood Hegel, claiming that the philosopher did not even understand himself.

* * *

Nietzsche‘s thought experiment of eternal recurrence compels one to ask: If my life is to be lived over and over am I troubled or delighted? If I am troubled then it follows that life has been something other than what I wish it’d been. According to Nietzsche, consequently, I have yet to be that which I should become. This has been instilled deep and uprooting the thought of “becoming” is a challenge. Yet, I am learning to release this notion (of becoming), and settling with the subtle comfort of being. It is, at this stage of life, a big deal.

* * *

Bruce Chatwin, in his essay Anatomy of Restlessness, paraphrases Montaigne: “I know well what I am fleeing from, but not what I am looking for.” I used to flee. But no longer. I am, however, still looking.

* * *

Faulkner, Library of America Edition

Faulkner, Library of America Edition

What’s on the nightstand: Faulkner.

Backstory: I was visiting with my friend, the poet, Megan Grumbling, recently. We were discussing our literary preferences and confessed, each, that we’d never read Faulkner, at least read no more than The Bear, his famous short story. One of us observed that a reader is either a Hemingway reader or a Faulkner reader, like a person is either a cat person or a dog person. (I say “one of us observed” because I don’t recall who said it. We both like bourbon and were sitting at a well-stocked bar…’nough said.) I came away from that conversation with the need to rectify my literary shortcoming, hence the Faulkner. Such is life for those hell-bent on self-improvement.