Trans – lucent • 4 July 2011

Here’s one of the pictures I see when I look for the people I’ve been. A long line of tents, lean-tos, forts and tree-houses out to the west. There’s a creaky fortress made out of books (a teenage self), an ivory tower (a self I lived in the first two years of grad school), different houses of worship, several porta-potties.

Seeing this is not self-alienating. It’s beautiful. I love the richness of this line of experience. It decays so well, becoming translucent but oddly clear. The past is in its place. The Editor’s been talking about what he calls rejoicing in the free fall of life. This life we’re in: we get so much of it if we just relentlessly love the phase we’re in.

Anyway. Every summer feels like a big round tent. I inhabit it and simmer inside. Fourth of July is the central axis. My favorite holiday because it’s a nothing day. People don’t alter their lives to celebrate it: they celebrate it with and through whatever life they’ve got going. They satisfice. The ways we “make do” say everything about the real life we’re living.

So if all I remembered was the tent-poles of all the last Fourths of July, I could remember around them the lives they expressed. The whole tents. Ritual isn’t about getting out of who we are. It’s the most simple expression of who we are.

I was a kid in Montana. We lived on a Ranch, where we grew a hundred people’s worth of vegetables and fruits, and fifty head of cattle, and boys. Yes, what happened there was that boys grew up. Two hundred acres of fields, outbuildings, lodges and giant gathering spaces for a hundred orphans and delinquents: refugees from the Crow Reservation, victims of the horrible things that happen in farm families, and the tenderest, heart-breakingest gangsters, who a Cook County judge thought could be saved from the Chicago Crips-Bloods war. So much sadness, anger and abandonment, but multiply that by a hundred childhoods in Montana summer and what we had was a party.

On the 4th, my dad would climb the water tower, up its pitch-black inside tube, and hang the biggest flag ever from its water spout. Then we’d drive the fire truck at the head of a parade around the Ranch while my mom made Orange Crush ice cream for everyone. We had a bike race, a three-legged race, a jump-in-the-potato-sack race, and toy boat race down the irrigation ditch.

Then we’d turn the fire hoses on the big hill above the Canyon Creek, and have a slip-‘n’-slide on the grass for hours, careening down the hill, charging up to the top again covered in grass stains, diving to avoid the heavy spray of the hose, or pushing someone else in front of it. Then, sitting on square hay bales outside the dining hall, we’d down 25 watermelons from the garden, 100 ears of early platinum lady on the cob, and 99 hamburgers that used to be someone I knew.

Yesterday, Exxon Mobil dumped a black slick of crude into the Yellowstone River 8 miles from the Ranch. The town there is called Laurel. In the 1980s, it had the highest alcoholism rate per capita, a Burlington-Northern rail yard, and the Exxon refinery. The NYT photos of the spill wrench my insides like a tourniquet, the solar plexus half-collapsing to a black hole, sucking my heart inside.

Not heart-break, but rather heart-drain… that’s the feel of oil killing the river. And it only feels like this because the more I practice the ashtanga yoga, the less the body lies, the less it hides, the more translucent it becomes. Today the huge ganglia in my belly and chest are held together, and held apart, by what’s left of a six-year-old girl in braids. She’s drinking that river from a fire hose, stretching out her little body on the hill she loves and sliding/flying down it to the creek bank.

The creek keeps sliding, winding through friends’ cornfields and past the elementary school, meeting the Yellowstone a half mile below the Exxon spill. The girl, the river in the girl, me in them. I wish I could throw up; the oil spill is so draining.

Tonight Laurel will shine. It’s never better than on the Fourth. If you park at the edge of the cemetery above the hill over the high school (the cemetery was just improved with a Federal grant, because it houses dozens of new dead bodies from the Iraq War), you can still hear the chorus (and who needs to hear the lyrics, anyway) of Born in the USA when it plays for the finale of the fireworks show down at the high school.

The emcee will be drunk, and before every explosion, he will announce which local business or family donated each particular pyrotechnic. The night will be warm in a way that sinks deep into the skin without making you sweat. It’ll smell like black earth, grass, sex, silage, gasoline and gunpowder.

Everyone will be holding each other, pressed close, sexy and loving, grateful, so high on the emotion of freedom and the beauty of the falling lights, and (except for the dogs and six-year-olds) a little drunk. The drive back to the Ranch, on an untraveled back route, will be the beautiful. Headlights for ten miles out Laurel Airport Road, flowing, marking the base of the sandstone bluffs we call The Rims. The light-stream will pass the one little cairn that marks the Nez Perce’s flight through these fields in 1877. Other days, nobody drives this way.

Here, 2011's modal Summer Monday. Practice; three privates that fill me with inspiration the method channels away from words and into raw energy for even more teaching; and the only evening of the week I’m home with the Editor and the Meepers. And tonight, a fire pit around the corner on (yes) Hiscock street, a hot tub, winecoolers nobody will drink, S’mores and sparklers. Room for ten around the embers makes five ashtangis, four people from my grad program, seven professors, and nine residents of the Upper West Side. Of Ann Arbor. Hari OM. 


  • Posted 5 July 2011 at 1:29 am | #

    I’ve really missed reading here; didn’t realize that. “The body does not lie, cannot hide” or words to that effect. Yes. Thanks Owl, for being incarnate at the same time I am.

  • Posted 5 July 2011 at 3:07 am | #

    “inspiration the method channels away from words and into raw energy”


  • catygaze
    Posted 5 July 2011 at 9:25 am | #

    Far better than the usual crap.

  • Annie Simone
    Posted 5 July 2011 at 12:54 pm | #

    That ever vigilant observer in you is Free and it gives Freedom.

    Loved It.

  • Posted 5 July 2011 at 2:21 pm | #

    Beautiful,vivid heartbreaking movie went through my head as I read this. Thanks.

  • Posted 5 July 2011 at 2:51 pm | #

    Ohhh. Some people are still out there. It is nice to know this voice is still heard somewhere. Re-reading the post, I’m so tempted to edit it like crazy (my bad writing habits are really showing, and it’s painful to re-read). But so it is. Writing practice for one who’s out-of-practice.

    I really miss writing here. Thanks for coming around.

  • Posted 5 July 2011 at 3:07 pm | #

    Here is a little bit about the flight of the Nez Perce. It happened just over a hundred years ago. That’s it. Like a half-step away from our cosmic moment.

    I’ve been playing around with panopticons that Jeremy Bentham drew a hundred years before the Nez Perce tried to ride to Canada. The panopticons are so modern, but in time the Nez Perce stand to them as we stand to the Nez Perce. Strange.

    The panopticon mandala has turned in to a symbol of ashtanga practice around here. Companion to the rosebud Rebecca drew for us last year.

    Rosebud : Conch shell :: Panopticon : Mace … if ya know what I mean.

  • catygaze
    Posted 5 July 2011 at 10:08 pm | #

    Come on, we all know Rosebud: you.

    No editing, post-Pirsig prestidgitator. You’d ruin the plains fayre flavour with too much showy seasoning from the (Level 2) Authorized spice rack. And your comments re: your own writing stem from the same bi-opticoned body that stood unconncerned outside radical bookstores with decidedly un-utilitarian pamphlets.

    But, without syrup, I would like to thank you for the things you, yes you, have written in this place over the last 4 years.

    Second-guessing of Mr Rangaswamy’s motives and detailed accounts of the big toe’s pilgrimage to the earlobe can be found elsewhere.

  • Posted 8 July 2011 at 2:35 am | #

    I’m sorry about your river, O. I read this just after coming back, Sunday, from camping on a quiet lake upstate, immediately after coming down from my rooftop where I caught some fireworks over the Hudson River, celebrating with and through what I had going. As usual, your post fit my mood and the moment. Thank you.

  • Posted 8 July 2011 at 2:54 am | #

    + i stole a piece of this for my just now post.

  • Posted 11 July 2011 at 12:33 pm | #

    I’m so glad you wrote this on interdependence day, and your readership posse is clearly so glad to get the verbal side of you again. As for embarrassment, there is nothing to edit, just let the pieces lie in their places, like the fireworks when light contacts earth.

  • e&sj
    Posted 11 July 2011 at 8:32 pm | #

    “This life we’re in: we get so much of it if we just relentlessly love the phase we’re in.” Unrelentingly love that. Yes. Its too easy to love the phases lived and the phases yet to come more because, as we all know, the love is always greener on the other side of the phase (or fence).

  • Gumgha
    Posted 16 July 2011 at 5:02 am | #

    Kevin Spacey, shallow waters, and Iggy. Bout sums it up.

  • Posted 16 July 2011 at 11:20 am | #

    felt like language of the land in a prose style; liked it…my midwestern pioneer ancestry…cowboy moses uriah…thanks you, angela! and it also drew me to recall a better than usual 4th with my partner in a very different place, newport, r.i., where my iphone selected “born in the usa” to play. we’re off for an early walk on the wissahickon valley in philadelphia…i feel the language of your land! all one ganglion… did you bring home mysore carlos’ kitties?

  • Posted 21 July 2011 at 12:43 pm | #

    I travelled through the west about 10 years ago, San Francisco down route 1, through LA, Joshua Tree, and all the canyons beyond and north to Moab, heading for Pikes Peak and Wounded Knee. Pikes Peak was closed in May that year to snow, so we went up 15 instead to West Yellowstone and then south through the Ansel Adams North Country. So I didn’t get to Billings and the no-speed limit, but almost. I was almost there. But what I remember was coming into a great plain in Yellowstone, with snowflakes, and a massive herd of buffalo, knowing right there that this is how it was everywhere. breathtaking beauty. heartbreaking beauty.
    Hey, you should write more, yer pretty good! 🙂

  • Carl
    Posted 11 August 2011 at 6:36 pm | #

    Welcome to the Purdue Owl… Screeeeee!!!

  • Posted 12 August 2011 at 4:59 am | #

    Carl, this is your randomest comment ever. Which is saying a lot… your randomness threshold is somewhat high.

    I searched the OWL for YOGA and the first result is a document entitled Homemade Instructional Videotapes: Easy, Fun and Effective. Screeeeeeeee! Also, Boo, hiss, sulfuric acid, beating of wings, etc.

    Speaking of random, I’m at Gate A19 in Sky Harbor. Again. Hi Karen. I had to blog right now because I’ve blogged from this exact seat twice before in years past. It seems necessary to do it again, in part because the free wifi situation here is kind.

    The cognition situation, however, is not. The route from AYSB to AYA2 has been super-circuitous and sort of sleepless. Also, I have been replacing the inner sound of discursive thought with the white noise of ujjayi breaths for six or seven hours a day. I want to write a post about how teaching Mysore turns me into a nonverbal vegetable, but, being a vegetable, I haven’t figured out how to do that…

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