Archive for February, 2013

Oakland: It’s a zoo

Posted: February 16, 2013 by Jollymore in Uncategorized
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It was twenty maybe twenty-five years ago that the Oakland Zoo refurbished its tiger exhibit. The zoo moved from a “viewer” friendly  to an “animal” friendly arrangement. It seemed like a big deal at the time and the philosophy was, if not cutting edge, at least modern and moving in a good direction. It is difficult for a small zoo like Oakland’s to keep up with better funded brethren like San Diego, for instance.

I saw the exhibit back then. It was hard to spot the tigers. The zoo hadn’t hidden them but had made it possible for them to shelter themselves from the sun and the hordes of humans if that is what they wanted to do.  Often times if was. So, you went to the zoo to see if you could see the tigers, not to see them.  In some way, it was more fun.  And it felt “humane” if that word can be rightly applied to human “treatment” of animals. (Heaven forbid we should really treat wild animals like we do humans, or that we should treat more humans as we do domesticated stock – something we do all too frequently). In any case, the changes back then at the Oakland zoo seemed to bode well.

I could hardly be call a big supporter of the Oakland zoo.  Going there every quarter century does not bring in enough revenue to grease a turnstile. Nevertheless, one need not be a supporter to be a critic.

On the positive side, the place is much more fun to visit than it ever was before. It abounds in chances for kids to play, adults to sit and rest and for all sorts of critters to do their thing in ever roomier quarters. Even the New Guinea Walking Stick had a roomy exhibit.  The philosophy that underpinned the tiger exhibit so long ago, influenced renovations in other spaces too, the African Veldt and the world Down Under with its Wallaroos, are just two examples. The lions had plenty of room, though one maney male seemed to prefer lying directly under the sky-ride to listen to the humans roar at him as they passed over. I can imagine what the lion was thinking. “Humans. Who could guess.”

I was immensely bothered by the “non-native” paraphernalia that I saw in many of the exhibits. One was the Chimpanzee area which had cardboard strewn around here and there, entertained the chimps with shredded paper balls to tear and toss about,  and hosted a variety of brightly colored plastic toys to what? Keep the chimps interested in living? The floating bone-toys and corrugated culvert material meant as toys were all any of us saw in the large river otter area. Not seeing the otters was okay, but spare me the plastic. If we are trying to provide a natural habitat for the animals, human toys, recycling and construction materials should be kept out and be replaced by that which would be found in nature.

Still, the zoo is representative of the citizenry it hosts, many faceted, a little funky and fighting hard to stay alive.




I have been thinking about Lars and Trond, the neighbors in Out Stealing Horses. Do we get to see enough of their relationship to think about what might happen later, after the book ends? Maybe.  Here is what I think is so:

The two have common history rooted in the same place.

They enjoy the physical work of life.

They have lost a huge part of that they once thought their lives included: a father for Trond, a farm for Lars.

Neither went back.

They are over sixty and live within sight of each other.

I think this is a recipe for friendship, at least I would like to think so. Lars seems, to me and to Trond, like a decent fellow, careful, deliberate, thoughtful.

Each could use the other’s companionship even though neither moved there to be near. So, each could use the other’s forbearance too. On that, I think, they could count. I can see them doing some fishing together, working projects that are too hard for one man, keeping an eye out for each other. Cooking for two might be something Trond is willing to do, maybe even twice a week and on special occasions.

Well, we don’t get to see much of that. So, I wonder, what is Lars doing in that story? He intensifies Trond’s loss of a father. Yes, it is a greater loss when your dad fathers another man’s son even if just for a while. It raises our curiosity about the father’s life after Trond returns to Oslo.  If Jon had returned to find Trond’s father still there (his mother was, we know), I don’t think it would make sense for him to demand the farm. Are we, then, to think that he had died? Left? Or was he just living up stream still? (In that case, would he have been a father to Lars? Lars calls him “my stepfather” during the account of the dog shooting). I am not sure which is most likely.  We don’t really have to know.

But Lars is doing something else here. If it were just Trond who was suffering a loss – even though he was the boy in the golden trousers and lived a full live, albeit not without tragedy – alone, the story would be about an individual. More about him, less about us.

But there Lars is. He lived a life parallel to Trond in loss and suffering. He was booted out, young. He did not return. He also lost a father and, like Trond, a sibling (twice).  This makes the book more a tale of two men whose lives intertwined briefly but significantly.

If this is so, would Trond be the Sydney Carton who loses a father that another man might have one? The allusion strengthens the argument that Lars’ presence adds a universal scope to the theme. We have to see life as loss. How much it hurts will be up to us.



I reread Out Stealing Horses for some tutelage, to discover more of what made it so good, why it moved me.  Mostly, during the second reading, it just blew me away again. Instead of taking it apart to inspect it, the story was invading me, yet again, and carrying me down its river to foreign parts. I suppose that is what wonderful writing does.

I said I wasn’t going to catalog the instances of irony in the book, but I just have to add one more:

Dad and Trond are out riding horses.  It is their last outing together (perhaps for the summer, perhaps forever). For Trond it is the chance to be with his father, to see him in the glow of the embers of their campfire. What the trip is for the father is a little more complicated.  He is tracking his lumber shipment which we know went down a low level river to the Swedish sawmill.  If the lumber makes it down river, father’s plan for his future will work.  If it doesn’t, well, he might complete his plan anyway, but it seems much less certain.  Why would he otherwise be so tense about it?

The man has scruples that demand or at least lead him to do the right thing if it can be done. (I am dancing around here surpressing “spoilers” but if you have finished the book – which means you have started it – you will likely recognize clearly what I mean.  If you haven’t finished the book – which means you don’t have a copy yet – you should get an inkling about this irony). In any case, they come upon a huge log jam.  If they are able to release the jam, father will begin a new life; if the jam holds, it is more likely that father will return to Oslo to his, and Trond’s, family life.

The irony? Trond leaps at the chance to break the jam. He plies the water and tangled tree trunks like a skilled lumberjack and works a solution – what, to the jam, to the father’s dilemma, to living life? – to the problem.  Will it work? If it does, he loses his father, though he does not know it. If it does not, he fails in front of dad and gains, perhaps, a forever unhappy parent. This ironic knot is tied tighter than the logs are jammed into the rocks in the middle of the river, and despite the fact that the book continues into Part III, this is really the climax of the story, the supreme irony.

After reading through twice, I still wonder how the reader, or Trond, can forgive what has to happen in this story.  How can a father even think of leaving a son he so clearly loves? How can a son continue on if he is abandoned by that father? And why?

I suppose the answers are found in the imprints of war, in the accidents of love, in the strength of filial affection. The antidote to the pain of any life is the resonance of father’s wisdom gained by careful thought and experience: “We decide for ourselves when it will hurt.”





Chasing the Moon I

Posted: February 7, 2013 by Jollymore in Uncategorized

Chasing the Moon

I’ve been running around for months testing out Paul Bowles maxims on life, specifically, how many times I am going to see the full moon rise in this world – perhaps before going to the moon itself, or another place, or none, as Bowles would probably have it.

This fit of moon chasing rose slowly in me since having viewed his The Sheltering Sky, years ago already, and having it engender another search – this for the book, used of course, of the same name – which seeking lasted, I think, two years and, then, having used in my classroom discussions the quotation which caps the final minute of Kit’s wondering, wandering film-life as she meets on screen the eyes of the then aged, now deceased author himself who utters – mystically, telepathically with no lip movement the now famous, to my mind, prophetic words of conclusion, “Since we do not know when we will die . . . life . . . seems so infinite,” all of which – the full journey of mind, not the utterance – spun round my life and thoughts like the moon sweeping round the earth (sixty-five times in this span) for over five years before I began checking the newspaper for phases and times, before I began planning to be places that would afford a good easterly view,  before I really began to peek over the horizon – a profound drop from my world to his, Bowles’ – of meaning and understanding.  Yes, the mania has lasted five years.  So far.

And without promising the moon now and delivering a cheesy pap by the end, just let me observe that for an itinerant scholar who has dabbled, emphasis all mine, less in the exotic than the esoteric, who would just as soon pick up a hammer and saw as pen and paper on a Sunday, for one who moves through musical instruments like a musician moves through score sheets – always playing the base line – for me who under scientific scrutiny or, just as effective, by a quick observation of a casual reader of popular magazines would instantly be pegged as dyslectic-hyperactive-attention-deficient, for the whirling dervish I am to stick to an idea for so long (the rest of the mania is easily explainable – see above diagnosis) compares well with the accomplishment kindergarten kids on recess make building, launching and recovering Apollo 9; next to impossible.

The continuity that has built – the staying power, maybe of the moon but probably of Bowles’ haunting melodic idea –  tells me I am on the track of something important.  Though Kit – the ill fated heroine of Bowles book, if one can be simultaneously existentialist and ill fated, – thought the same thing.

One. Of course, the earth does not know the turning of the centuries or the anguish of Y-2-K (is that what we called it?), but the hoopla of our supposed movement into the twenty-first century – along with the arguments over which January 1st was truly the beginning of the new millennium (and I cannot now with conviction tell which side won much less which side was right) – all this balderdash at that time moved me from my arm chair to a venue very close to that I write of now, a place dark, lined with redwoods and redwood shadows, hilly and exposing a magnificent vista of the huge wooded valleys – twenty miles broad and, to the eye, forty sleek north to south long – which separate the coastal range by the bay from Mount Diablo – the visual nexus of the lunar rise.

It was the last full moon of the thousand years which had witnessed the melding of Anglo-Saxon and Old French to the poor prose that you now read; the raising of the Aztecan temples, their bloody consecrations and their destruction under the hammer of Cortez y Isabella (por mas glorificciones del Dio); and the spawning of the thousands of names which to us define art, politics, philosophy and, in deference to the bellicose among us, war and mayhem.  Of course, those of the first and previous millennia are with us still  perhaps fewer but of broader penetration at the base of the collective human skull.  This moonrise was to be our last with Chaucer, Tammerlane, Rembrandt, and Napoleon.

Into the last fresh air of my era I sallied warmly dressed,  a flashlight secure in my fleece pocket and in good boots made my way carefully under sombrous Monterey pines stepping over their raised root systems to my chosen vantage point arriving not long before what was for that isolated spot a goodly crowd populated, as is always true on momentous occasions like the last full moon of the millennium, by children in tow of fathers who are convinced that this is something for which it is worth waiting.   And it was, it was worth the wait.  Through the frond-like fog strainers of coastal redwood limbs from thin crowns sweeping down in graceful arcs like gothic arches reversed, over the backdrop of the lone mountains’ mountain, Diablo, Luna rose golden, clear and solitary for the last time over Dante’s Hell and Paradise, too, an icon to the rise and fall of empires and ideas revealing our smallness in the enormity of the sky and in the bigness of our own imagination which, when healthy, is more a whole sphere than a dome.  Our little knot of fifteen, I alone alone, shared the eight minutes in a silence punctuated only by toddler questions answered by parental inanity, but mostly we shared a quiet profound enough to allow the sound of turning terra firma to echo from the slow-to-be-revealed moon and back again.

In some sense that was the real beginning of my moon chase.  I suppose the turning of the century would have been enough, or maybe a harvest or blue moon in less busy times, to get me out in time to see the rise, but it was the giant, licked finger of time, catching the page corner to start its lifting turn as if to throw me – clinging to the edge of that 2000th (or 1999th) page – onto the hillside at the close of what seemed to us all like a thousand years, to witness what Paul Bowles says we see but a dozen or so times.  I wasn’t out to prove him wrong; I  simply wanted to see.

In the two years since the turn of the century, I have really seen the full moon rise but twice.  If Luna were a softball, I would earn a batting average to put me in the minor, minor leagues as a moon chaser, two for twenty-six.   My immediate reaction to Bowles quotation which you see below in full now, was that I had seen the full moon already more than Bowles thought likely – I have always preferred walking at night as it is good for thinking and more solitary – but paying close attention to his words, I had to admit that seeing the full moon, or nearly full moon, did not count as seeing the full moon rise. To arrange one’s day – or evening – around the movement of the moon, it turns out, is much more difficult than might be imagined and, as you will see in what follows, those who run their lives by the clock and mostly live indoors even in the hospitable California climate, must plan ahead and move methodically to witness the lunar reveal as it happens.  This is no well-advertised eclipse.  In some sense it resembles a daily occurrence but, remember, only the moon at its full and coming first into view qualifies in Bowles simple phrasing.  Here are Paul Bowles’s words coming from, in the book, the existential mind and in-amorous mouth of Port, husband of Kit – played in film, you must know, by John Malkovich – but words in the film coming from the forehead of Paul Bowles himself watching Kit enter, survey the Omar bar for something to connect with and not truly wanting whatever that something might be, leaving again.  The words, spoken telepathically, in Bowles own voice:

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

Now this is not a literary exegesis or even a literary discussion, but the connection between the childhood memory and watching the full moon rise any number of times is a tight one, it must be admitted, though I resolved to deal first with the moon and later with that single afternoon.  Some how the moon seemed more accessible.

There is more to be had of this.  Please comment to make that “more” happen. tj

Chasing the moon

Posted: February 7, 2013 by Jollymore in Uncategorized

I have worked on this piece longer and more frequently than shows in any of the parts.  I will be posting it in those three parts and may add to it before the final part is posted.  We’ll see.  But no matter how much there is, because the full moon continues to rise, sometimes surprising me, sometimes eluding me, sometimes without my looking at all, there will  be more material  to go on.  How long that lasts? Only the moon can tell.

Please check into Chasing the Moon I. As soon as we build some momentum on that part, I can post Chasing the Moon II. I’m sure you get the picture, of the moon, that is.