Saturday, June 30, 2007

Robinson Jeffers' TOR HOUSE & HAWK TOWER, Carmel, CA.



I thoroughly enjoyed reading the fascinating autobiography of Ansel Adams, the famous photographer of the early twentieth century. Among his many eccentric friends was the poet Robinson Jeffers. Adams considered him a genius who “produced much of America’s greatest poetry.” It was fortuitous that they both lived out their final years in Carmel, California.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) and his beloved wife Una (1884-1950) fell in love with the unspoiled beauty of the Carmel,Big-Sur, coast south of California’s Monterey Peninsula and it was there that he built Tor House and Hawk Tower. It became the refuge of the couple and their twin boys and was where he wrote his most memorable poetry.

In January of 2001 I was visiting friends in San Carlos, Ca. and we made reservations to tour the Jefferson home. (They open two or three time a week for very small tour parties.)

We actually had a hard time finding the property. I knew that it had been built on a barren and windswept promontory, overlooking the ocean ...so it was a shock to find that the property has been practically over-run by multimillion dollar estates. But it was still very impressive, as you can see by my photographs.

Jeffers had the help of a contractor to build his cottage “Tor House” modeled after a Tudor barn in England; but, “Hawk Tower”, he built himself. On both of these he used sea-worn granite boulders that he pushed up from the beach. He also placed pieces of rock and stonework, collected by friends from around the world, into the foundation.

The house has been maintained exactly as it was and still contains the Steinway piano that Ansel Adams refers to in his book. Jeffers was a recluse and it was up to his wife Una to “screen” the visitors until she felt they passed muster. It wasn’t until Adams played some pieces by Bach that Jeffers thawed and a friendship ensued. They became fast friends and it was Ansel Adams who initiated the Robinson Jeffers Foundation, which oversees the property to this day.

The 40-foot tower was a delight. He built this as a hide-away...a study on the ground floor where he did most of his writing and a room above for Una to enjoy the view of the ocean. A “secret” staircase connects the two rooms. It is so narrow that I had to put my left shoulder ahead of me and “slink” up the steps. It was a tight fit but I made it. My friends preferred the staircase that curved around the outer walls ...but we all ended up at the same place. The view from the top of the tower was exquisite...and, as I sat on the stone ledge, I thought of the man who had built this tower as a gift for his wife.

“I built it with my hands. I hung stones in the sky.”

TRYING TO GET BACK TO EARTH....

Hi, everybody. Thanks for all the wonderful wishes sent my way to encourage me on my new venture. I need a few days to come back to earth before I will be able to put it all on paper. In the meantime I will fill in with a post I wrote many months ago.

Also, Pam at "Mind Trips" has tagged me, along with 8 other bloggers. I want to say "Thanks" Pam, and forgive me, but I respectfully decline.

Here goes for now:

Friday, June 22, 2007

HIATUS............OFF TO THE MOUNTAINS


Goodbye for a while. I am off to the Western hills of North Carolina to learn to play the dulcimer. I can't imagine how this will turn out but I'm going to give it a try.
I will miss you all and will catch up with you on the 30th!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

WHOSE HAND IS THIS ?


My left hand is resting quietly on the book that I’ve just finished reading. I find myself gazing at it as I would at a foreign object. I see the enlarged knuckles, the prominent veins and the sprinkle of brown spots and I wonder, “Whose hand is this? Surely not mine.”

How did this happen? I extend my arms and splay both hands in front of me. I remember my Mother’s arthritically crippled hands and I feel lucky that mine are merely wrinkled and unattractive...but not painful. Suddenly it all seems so trivial and I give a small chuckle.

Where is my sense of perspective? I’ve spent almost a year on this blog, recording the emotions and events of my 74 years on earth. Of course those years have taken a toll but what a wonderful journey it has been…and I almost forgot that. Blogging has brought it all back to me.

There’s something magical about blogging and I think it is the support and affirmation that is freely given by strangers from all over the world. I am continually getting comments like: “Your list of famous acquaintances grows.”, “ You have rubbed shoulders with many note-worthy folks in your life.” and “Wow, you have such rich stories to tell !”

Truth be told I had completely forgotten about my early years and it wasn’t until I re-created those events on my blog that I realized how exciting they actually had been. I did meet a fair amount of “big name” personalities but that was strictly due to the areas where I lived and they were mostly chance meetings. The only exception was Sylvia Plath, my schoolmate for four years.

And now I am in the quiet phase of my life and I realize how lucky I have been. I have had ups and downs in my long life but I have basically been blessed. I have a loving family and a multitude of friends.

Once again I look at my hands and I smile to think how many years it has taken to sculpt them as they are. These are my hands... I have earned them and I marvel that every wrinkle and swollen knuckle is the culmination of those years that I almost forgot.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In Memory of my High School Classmate...Sylvia Plath



The year was 1963. I was living in NY City with my husband and 3 children. It was a snowy February day and the morning mail had just arrived. As I opened a letter from my mother a newspaper clipping fell to the floor. Even at that distance I could make out a young woman with two small children but, it was when I held it closer that I recognized the shy warmth of the woman’s smile.

“Why, it’s Sylvia”, I thought and I wondered what new honors she had attained. Then the ugly words of the headline became clear to me...”the LATE Sylvia Plath Hughes”.

I stared out the window at the swirling snow and suddenly I remembered another winter’s day six years earlier. My husband and I were enjoying the Christmas sights at Boston’s famous Louisburg Square. Suddenly I heard a familiar laugh and turned to see Sylvia walking hand in hand with her new husband, British poet Ted Hughes. She had never looked lovelier. Her head was bare and the snow tangled in her long hair and formed a lacy halo which she broke apart with each toss of her head.

It had been almost 7 years since we had sat side by side in Mr. Crockett’s English class at Wellesley High School...but those years faded away as we introduced our husbands and got caught up on the news. It soon became too cold to stand still so we hugged goodbye and promised to keep in touch. Of course we never did

Now, as I sat with the clipping in my hand I forced myself to concentrate on what was written there. It was an excerpt from “The Observer Weekend Review of London” and was entitled “A Poet’s Epitaph” by the British critic A. Alvarez. In part he wrote:
“It was only recently that the peculiar intensity of her genius found it’s perfect
expression...she was systematically probing that narrow, violent area between the viable and the impossible, between experience which can be transmitted into
poetry and that which is overwhelming. It represents a totally new breakthrough in
modern verse, and establishes her, I think, as the most gifted poet of our time. The loss to literature is inestimable.”

As I read these words I couldn’t help but think of the Sylvia I had known. She had always been intense and, to the high-school standards of the time, I suppose a bit peculiar too. (A suicide attempt in the early 50’s just reinforced her differences.) She was a very pretty girl, fun-loving and flirty...which I’m sure was a cover-up for the deeper feelings that she wasn’t able to share with us, although she tried so very hard to be accepted.

44 years have passed since Sylvia died but I remember her fondly and rue the fact that we (her classmates and I) let her pass through our lives without getting to know her better.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

TO GET A FRIEND...YOU NEED TO BE A FRIEND


Have you ever been “too sophisticated” to have friends? I have and I didn’t even recognize it. I had plenty of acquaintances and I mistook this for friendship. The years of “getting ahead” had robbed me of the ability to know the difference and , before I knew it, I was in my 40’s and receding further into myself with every passing day.


In 1978 my husband and I moved to North Carolina from New York state. He had been in poor health for a long time and it was about all we could do to hang on. We literally didn’t have the energy or the will to form new alliances. I knew people at the hospital where I worked but these were superficial friends at best. We entertained very little and concentrated on making a living and meeting our financial and family needs.

By the time I joined AA in 1989 I was almost completely closed off from any close relationships. I was to find that this is not an unusual occurrence, especially for my age group, and that few people are adept in this field. Over the years I had built a wall around myself. It was my “safe zone” and I, literally, was afraid to knock it down.

Luckily I had a wonderful sponsor who came to my aid. She was the first person that I had trusted in a long time and we were able to share everything. She insisted that I hitch up with other women in the program and, when I resisted, she taught me to put my ego ( and fear) aside and to think of someone besides myself. This was a huge step for me. I had no idea that I had become so self-absorbed and as I slowly started to open myself to my fellow AA members I found that the rewards were amazing.

Working with others puts my own concerns into perspective. In one day last week I held a young girl with the new diagnosis of cancer. That same day I celebrated with a friend who had a new job and I shared phone conversations with 2 newly sober females.

My life today is full of ideas and opportunities that I didn’t even know existed when I was entombed within my self-made walls. My friends are many and varied and it all started when I “got out of myself” and realized that you have to be a friend in order to have one.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

1951 … dancing at the TOTEM POLE BALLROOM



I spent my high-school, and most of my college, years living in Wellesley Hill, Massachusetts. The town of Newton was very nearby and it was home to a wonderful recreation area called Norumbega Park. It featured canoeing, picnicking, an outdoor theater, a penny arcade, a zoo, a colorful carousel and a huge Ferris wheel.

All of these attractions were enticing but the “icing on the cake” was the amazing dancehall called the Totem Pole. Virtually every famous swing band in the country appeared at that venue. These included, among others, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Harry James & the Dorsey Brothers. Music from the ballroom was broadcast nationally over the NBC, ABC & CBS networks.

A night at the Totem Pole was pricey so most of us in the teenage bracket had only dreamed of going. However, shortly after I turned 18, I met a college man (sigh!) who actually had the means to buy tickets and we spent a memorable Saturday night there.

As I recall they didn’t have a name band the night that we were there, but that didn’t dim our enthusiasm. I was mesmerized the minute we walked in. We were on the upper level of a huge hall. A large staircase led down to the main dance floor and couches and small tables were interspersed on the way down.

There were actually three dance floors…the enormous one in front of the live orchestra and two smaller, intimate, ones on either side of the seating arrangements. It was all very posh and incredibly romantic. The lighting was soft and the music was dreamy and just right for slow dancing. I doubt if I was as much enthralled by my date as I was by the idea of it all; but, it was certainly a night to remember.

Of course it all came to an end,,,not just that night, but the Big Band Era itself...and in 1964 the Totem Pole closed it’s doors for good. Today the area is the site of a large Marriott Hotel.

But the city of Newton has preserved ten acres known as the Norumbega Park Conservation Land. It has access to the Charles river and is a popular jogging and dog-walking site during the day.

During the night? I can’t help but wonder if it is occupied by “Totem Pole ghosts” of the past ,,,romantic couples on an enormous dance floor, swaying to the hypnotic swing tunes that dominated the 50’s and 60’s.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

1907.……MY MOTHER AND HER PET ROOSTER


In January, 1907, this adorable picture of my mother and her pet rooster, Teddy, appeared in the “Boston Globe”, along with the following article:

“Roosters are not unknown as pets, but little Ruth P. of West Brattleboro, Vt., has an exceptional rooster, Teddy, in that he will allow her to do anything she may wish with him.

The way this little mistress manages her bird playfellow is extremely interesting. She never punishes him because he never needs a rebuke. She speaks to him in a quiet tone, but there is in her eyes a certain power of the will, a power which is rare in children, which forces him to submit to her kind, though sometimes odd, treatment.

In the morning he struts into the kitchen and with a jolly “crowing” he mounts the low table at Ruth’s command, steps into the washbowl and patiently submits to a sponging with soap and water. After shaking his feathers a bit he is dried off with a towel and then brushed until his coat shines bright and clean.

Then follows another of her favorite pastimes. She hitches Teddy to her small doll-cart and drives her noble steed by “gee” and “haw” out through the woodshed, down the front yard to the sidewalk for a jaunt... both child and bird with tiny white hoods crowning their heads.

Ruth has had this strange comrade for several years and has trained him entirely herself. Teddy shows a great fondness for his mistress and obeys her without the least hesitancy.”

********************
My mother lived to the grand age of 92 and, as one of her five daughters, I can attest to the fact that she “trained” us pretty much in the same way that she did Teddy!