‘Slow Reading’

Slow reading is the intentional reduction in the speed of reading, carried out to increase comprehension or pleasure. The concept appears to have originated in the study of philosophy and literature as a technique to more fully comprehend and appreciate a complex text. More recently, there has been increased interest in slow reading as a result of the slow movement and its focus on decelerating the pace of modern life.

 

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Nicki at The Bliss of Solitude, wrote a wonderful piece on her year-long reading of Thoreau’s Walden and how the effect of reading two pages per day changed her as she walked familiar paths and trails. She says, “it was the slow seeping in of Thoreau, his tireless and minute observations of Walden Pond, Walden Woods, and his awareness and sensitivity to the sights and sounds within that redirected my attention to observation and contemplation.”

Something resonated for me on this practice of slow reading, although Nicki’s profound experience rather intimidated me!  Nevertheless, I decided to choose my own year-long project.

When I participated in The Emerald City Book Review’s WitchWeek last November, it was with scanty knowledge of King Arthur and the stories connected with him. I chose to write a piece on one small aspect of the legends, The Round Table, which was not only enjoyable to research, but piqued my interest to read more. But where to start?

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I chose Sir Thomas Malory’s, Le Morte D’Arthur, because it has been a foundational work on King Arthur and the various people and legends of Camelot and the Holy Grail for writers and artists throughout the centuries and its size lends itself to a purpose such as this. Reading 3 pages a day from my Modern Library Classics edition means I should finish shortly before the end of the year.

My pattern has been to walk after reading the 3 pages contemplating a theme or two and then making a few notes in a journal. I find I am retaining what I learn day to day. So far so good!

 

Have you heard of the Slow Movement in general or the Slow Read in particular? Have you tried it?

And if you are curious, it’s still January and still time to choose your own book!

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John Muir and Henry David Thoreau: Nature’s Champions

Today, April 21st, is ‘John Muir Day’ (1838-1914). This Scotland born/US immigrant, who came here as a child and fell inmuir love with Nature has had a big impact on the protection and conservation of this land.

His legacy is especially important now as the current administration in Washington moves to gut and cut laws and regulations protecting and managing the environment Muir lived for. It is alarming that after so many decades of educational as well as theological discourse on the connectedness of all living things we are willing to relax and abolish standards that would protect Nature, this sacred Creation, now and for the future.

thoreau2017 is also the bicentennial of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), who, as well, impacted and personalized our knowledge and relationship with Nature. There are conferences and symposia going on all year in celebration of his life and work.

I want to mark this time in my own way by challenging myself to read and ponder some of Thoreau’s books, essays and poems. As the Boston Globe stated in an article from early January of this year, “Why Thoreau Still Matters,” I hope to assess this for myself. Like John Muir, Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, Aldo Leopold and so many others for whom Nature is the touchstone of life, does Thoreau still matter for us in the 21st century when that touchstone is slowly obliterated with each passing day? Or will works that ponder, plead, and describe the environment and our bond come to exist only in books because the reality has become meaningless literally going the way of the dodo bird?

This is, for me, a call to arm myself with the foundation of a past that still matters. And maybe for you, too. Can these words move us to what the writers felt that will not only get us outside experiencing our own connections, but to act as they did as protectors and defenders of our beautiful land, rivers and mountains?

And as a crow just flew past my window (really!), I believe the answer is, “Yes!”

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#ILoveCrows!

The Last and the First

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The Lone Crow

This is one of my favorite times of the year. I really get into the ‘letting go of the old and making plans for the new.’ And there is so much to let go of this year personally, professionally and from what I take in from the larger world.

I won’t beat around the bush on that last one. The election of Donald Trump has driven me into a frenzy of panic and lashing out at times. I have used Twitter to bash and malign, using turns of phrase I didn’t know I had in me. I have mimicked and mocked liked the best of them. Then I got up from my laptop feeling sick, icky and like I needed a really hot germ-banishing shower. Just because I CAN say those things, doesn’t mean I have to. While I am not stepping out of the Trumpian fray altogether, I am not going to use Twitter like that anymore.

I don’t make specific resolutions. Each year I look at what worked and what didn’t, what needs to be let go of or maybe just needs a tweak. In these last few months I have been creating a business that has had its ups and downs, so I am working hard on those tweaks. I have found myself rather isolated because of that, which has put my ‘work to socializing’ indicator out of whack, so I want to balance that out.

I also need to hike and trail walk more and get out on my bike regularly. I will continue to buy my bread from my favorite bakery (so I take that back, I did make this resolution in 2014 and I am still doing it!) and take more day trips.

 

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Have more adventures in 2017!

 

In regards to Relevant Obscurity, I am so happy with the connections I have made with other bloggers, the conversations we’ve had and the posts that taught me something new. I enjoyed the challenges I participated in that expanded my knowledge of authors and their work, which in turn has helped to shape what I want to read next year. I plan to expand my posts a bit to include some of the nonfiction history, biography and religion I read. I’ve entered several new challenges, which will all necessitate a more regular posting schedule…thinking positive about that!

 

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I will read more books at the beach in 2017!

I am sitting here as the rain falls in San Diego, one of my favorite places to visit. I am surrounded by my dog and her doggie cousin, two cats, some fish and Daisy the Russian tortoise is upstairs. I am about to get a bagel from the best bagel shop anywhere and will spend the day cozied up with books, and a movie or two. Tomorrow, even if it rains, will find me on a trail somewhere in Mission Trails on my annual New Year’s Day walk. It’s my birthday and there is no better way to spend that day and the first day of any year than out in Nature.

 

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Rain or shine I am here tomorrow!

I wish all my book blogging friends a Happy, Prosperous, Life-Loving 2017!

Rock People

I am back in San Diego, house sitting,  through next week. It is a regular menagerie around here with two dogs, three cats, a turtle, a spider and fish. Paging Dr. Doolittle!

One of my favorite hiking spots here is in Mission Trails Regional Park. Inside the visitor center is a sculpture called, Heritage. The first time I saw it I had come from walking the long road that divides the park. I’d noticed how the rocks and boulders faced each other across the peaks, with South Fortuna, the most prominent on this side of the park with its wide promontory of tall boulders, greeting visitors as they entered.

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South Fortuna

In the sculpture, the faces and bodies of aged Native Americans are carved out of boulders. They are at once, FROM the boulders and ARE the boulders. And that is why the boulder outcropping of South Fortuna draws me: they aren’t just rocks, they are Rock People, the Ancestors of the Kumeyaay, the indigenous people of this land.

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It is easy to imagine in the tall, flat rocks and boulders the Old Ones of this region, looking out across their land to what was, looking for their people, missing the acknowledgement and reverence they were once given, their presence remembered and acknowledge as the inhabitants moved through their day.

What do they watch for now, these sentries, guarding their ancestral home? I hope, from their tall perch, they see other people enjoying and benefiting from this beautiful open space, and happy their sacred land is appreciated.

 

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Climbing the Ancestors

Hawks and crows use their ‘heads’ as perches, smaller birds and animals use their nooks and crannies as living spaces. Some humans climb them or walk on them. Do the ancestors mind? Is it desecration to use a boulder like that? If one only stands and looks is that better than one who walks on it? Or is just the fact that whatever we do on this land without destroying it, enough?

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Grinding rock

Even if there is no conscious appreciation by most of the people who daily walk and bike the trails or the weekend climbers or the campers or noon-time picnickers, they are choosing to do their activities in the shadow of Fortuna, of Fortune and Luck. I would think the climbers, especially, would be appreciative!

This morning I stood for a long while watching this mountain from the road. Besides the birds, I could hear ruffling in the bushes close to me, see streaks of reptile zip across sfortuna2.jpegthe small rocks and I saw how plants grow out of tiny cracks on a boulder’s surface. But I also found myself breathing deeply the scents of the outdoors, of bushes and flowers and leaves reminding me where I was at that moment.

A woman asked me what I was looking at. She had come up the road with her dog dragging her from side to side as he picked up scents. I pointed to the hawks and crows flying above and perching on top of the boulders. She seemed surprised at that, but not enough to stop and gaze for herself. No matter. She was enjoying her trail workout and happy to share it with her dog. A legitimate way to use and appreciate the place.

Aware or not, the Rock People watch. May we honor the memory of their people and their land.

 

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Rock People have families

That Famous Tree Poem is not What I Thought

On my walk this morning, I noticed that all the trees in my neighborhood are full of leaves now. I don’t know the names of all of them, but my crepe myrtle’s spindly branches are now fully covered.

 

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I don’t know if it is my imagination, but if trees really do help with oxygenating the air, then I got a good dose this morning. Maybe it is the drenching we’ve received from the El Niño rains, because from the thickness of leaves on branches, summer is near. Breathe deep their gift of clean air, O Southern California!

In thinking about all the trees I pass by and walk under in my neighborhood, I remembered the first line of this well-known poem:“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree…” But I could not go on, so I looked it up. I was very surprised by the rest of it, part prayer/part tree as source of life. And I don’t think I realized it was so old. It is very touching.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Alfred Joyce Kilmer. 1886–1918

Surprised by Leif Erikson

One of the things I love about living in Southern California, is our racial, national and religious diversity. I have the choice of food and culture from possibly every country in the world. I can listen to conversations about the news of global hometowns, and I can share in celebrations of holidays and events from countries I will probably never get the chance to visit.

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On Fairfax Blvd. It’s even Vegan!

Scattered over the vast miles of the LA Basin and surrounding counties are statues and plaques celebrating people and events that were or are important to the variety of immigrant populations, who now make this area their home.

Like this: a bust, located on the warm, sunny grounds of Griffith Park commemorating the discovery of America by the Viking Icelander, Leif Erikson!

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I stumbled upon it last Saturday, while taking a walk at the bottom of Griffith Park. I am a huge Viking fan—the People, not the football team—and quite an Icelandophile. I was happily surprised to see this larger than life-sized bust of the famed explorer overlooking Los Feliz Blvd., but I was also intrigued and puzzled. He would be appropriate, it seemed to me, in the Midwest or the East where large communities of Scandinavians settled earlier in the last century.

So, I was very surprised to learn of the large Scandinavian community here—80,000 people by 1936 when the bust was dedicated, according to an LA Times article on October 4th of that year. And apropos of this gift presented by the Nordic Civic League, the California governor proclaimed October 9, 1936, Leif Erikson Day.

Events at this inaugural* celebration included a Norwegian quartet singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ and a group of ancient Icelandic songs. Congratulatory messages were sent by the governments of Denmark and Norway, and included this one sent by radiogram and cable from the Icelandic government to the mayor of Los Angeles which read:

“On the occasion of your celebration of Leif Erikson Day by unveiling a statue in his honor, we extend to you and your city our heartiest congratulations and felicitations upon your recognition of our famous countryman, the discoverer of America.”

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Boston’s Leif

 

Do you have any statues or celebrations of Leif Erikson where you live?

* Apparently we still celebrate!

 

‘Purposeless Walking’ is my Saving Grace

If there is only ONE thing you will ever know about me (but I hope there is more!), know this: I ‘just walk’ every day. Sometimes more than once . No phone, no dog, nothing but me and my thoughts.

I have my routes, but I often veer off of them. I always walk in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, and always for a bit at night. Walking clears my head, I get inspiration, I observe. Just as my legs meander, so do my thoughts. Sometimes these wandering thoughts shut off and I find myself noticing little details of my surroundings letting this dictate my course.  At some point, all that jumble of ideas, confusion, pain or even excitement lines up into manageable paths.

Walking is the best form of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health you will ever have, if you can mange it.

I hope this article inspires you or confirms what you already know about yourself.

Happy Saturday and happy walking!

 

The slow death of purposeless walking

Detail from Caspar David Friedrich's "Wanderer above a sea of fog"

 

How the Morning Pages Work for Me

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I have been doing the Morning Pages from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for many years. I am not a regular, but I go through spurts where I write every morning for many weeks. Recently, as the year was ending and a new one beginning, all that desire to let go of stagnation and the optimism of what to bring in found me at it again.

The style of writing for the Morning Pages is stream of consciousness and thoughts in the moment, as the object is words on the page, not a published-ready piece. The idea being what you put down on paper first thing in the morning will not haunt your thoughts for the rest of the day. And often, in an unconscious way, you will write your way out of whatever is bugging you. Since this often happens to me, I think it must be magic. I will actually move from Point A where I am absolutely stuck to Point B where I have the answer.

And every once in a while, I feel like I am getting guidance when I write; that the words being put down on paper are not my thoughts. This is especially obvious when I find the pronouns change from I/me to you. It is as if someone (me?) is trying to tell me something. It is an odd sensation to feel like the pen is moving at someone else’s prompt. But the words are always kind and encouraging pointing out what I’d forgotten about myself or giving me an idea I had not previously considered.

During these last few weeks I have been burning through the suggested three pages a day

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Mission San Juan Capistrano

into four or five and am on my second pen! But each day I shed something: sometimes it’s minor, like rearranging my bookshelves to make better sense or something kind of scary as in reevaluating a relationship. And I am also reminding myself to do more of the things I love: exploring historical sites and writing about them, getting back to baking, trail walking and my Reik practice, for example.

 

I think the Morning Pages work for me because I have been journaling for a very long time and I know when to turn off the logic/researcher part of my brain and allow the dreamer/fantasy side to take over. I need to remember the importance of this balance as I go through the year.

Hey, it is almost the middle of January, I’d better get crackin’!

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Not just a pile of sticks. I discovered a rat midden! Mission Trails, San Diego.

 

 

 

“Only a night from old to new!”

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South Fortuna, San Diego. Place of peaceful contemplation

 

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is one of my favorite weeks of the year. I have always felt in my bones the ending of the old year and the expectation of the new. I suppose that my birthday is on January first has something to do with it, because birthdays, too, feel like fresh starts. Though I don’t make resolutions, I do try to look at my life as I ponder what worked this year, what didn’t, what I want less of and what I want more of in the new year.

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My neighbor, Ms. Hawk is always inspiring, though somewhat intimidating.

So I will spend this week in thoughtful dialog with myself, finding inspiration and journaling a lot. The week will also include old movies, a bike ride or two and some pie. Mmmm, pie 🙂

I have only been blogging on Relevant Obscurity for a few months, but I have treasured the interactions I have experienced with other bloggers, whose own work I hope carries on throughout the new year.

Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885) is known in California for her novel Ramona, but she was also a prolific writer and advocate for Native American rights. As a poet, she sums up well for me the feelings of this time of the year. Published posthumously in a collection of her poems I hope “A New Year’s Morning” (1892), inspires you as well.

 

Only a night from old to new!
Only a night, and so much wrought!
The Old Year’s heart all weary grew,
But said: “The New Year rest has brought.”
The Old Year’s hopes its heart laid down,
As in a grave; but trusting, said:
“The blossoms of the New Year’s crown
Bloom from the ashes of the dead.”
The Old Year’s heart was full of greed;
With selfishness it longed and ached,
And cried: “I have not half I need.
My thirst is bitter and unslaked.
But to the New Year’s generous hand
All gifts in plenty shall return;
True love it shall understand;
By all my failures it shall learn.
I have been reckless; it shall be
Quiet and calm and pure of life.
I was a slave; it shall go free,
And find sweet peace where I leave strife.”

Only a night from old to new!
Never a night such changes brought.
The Old Year had its work to do;
No New Year miracles are wrought.
Always a night from old to new!
Night and the healing balm of sleep!
Each morn is New Year’s morn come true,
Morn of a festival to keep.
All nights are sacred nights to make
Confession and resolve and prayer;
All days are sacred days to wake
New gladness in the sunny air.
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.

 

Helen Hunt Jackson's grave in Colorado Springs, CO
Helen Hunt Jackson’s grave in Colorado Springs, CO