Bird Update

The robins were a little surprised this morning — as were we all — to wake to a steady snowfall. We watched them grubbing in the roadside gravel as I drove Carole to work to meet her colleague for a trip to the airport and thence to Washington DC, where they are preparing an exhibition of Inuit art for the Canadian Embassy in the fall. One of the robins nearly flew into the windshield, but got caught in the slipstream and whooshed to safety, to everyone’s relief. And though I didn’t see or hear it — I was sleeping — Carole said that at dawn, while we were still in bed, a dark shape of a bird flew by our bedroom window screeching. Probably a kingfisher, though possibly a pileated woodpecker, she only caught a glimpse. When we walk the dogs along the Morgan Road, back in the woods along the river, we see the huge holes the pileateds hammer into old trees, piles of rough wood chips on the ground. Then there are the crows, which we both love, strutting around in the road and pecking at squashed chipmunks, etc. — so intent you have to hit the horn to get them to rise from their breakfasts. Have you ever noticed that crows have shoulders? Watch one walk, shoulders flexing beneath glossy blue-black feathers.

Travel & Ambition

Carole left for ten days in Budapest today, driving through a snowstorm for three hours to get to the Montreal airport for her Swiss Air flight. We kept in touch by cell phone, with me acting as her navigator a couple of times by pulling up Google Maps & making sure she was on the right track. She’s doing a book-binding workshop with a colleague & scouting the scene for interesting art. One of the perks of her job as a gallery administrator is travel. She’s also been to Berlin this year, gets down to NYC regularly & has been to Nunavut — twice, I think. I used to travel a lot more, but haven’t been much of anywhere the last few years. I used to run off to conferences a couple of times a year, but got tired of the hassle around the beginning of this decade. I made several trips to Vietnam in the late 1990s, culminating in Fulbright year in 2000, have stuck close to hearth & home since then. I’m making plans to do a bit more travel in the coming year, a development that coincides with a bit of renewed ambition to promote myself & my work. In fact, during the last several years I have turned away from my earlier desire to go to conferences, give readings, & make influential friends in the service of my art. My only conference the last few years was in Portland, Maine! It turned out, I came to see, that I was driven by the wrong sort of ambition, which is something I think I learned in Vietnam. Vietnamese poets & scholars have often led public lives, served the government, advanced themselves socially, etc. But there is also a tradition of withdrawal in which the poet returns to his native village to write, meditate, perhaps teach the young folk a bit about literature, & grow a garden. That is what I have been doing the last few years. I even stopped — for the most part — trying to publish my poems. Over the last few months, though, I have begun assembling manuscripts, sending work to editors, reading literary journals & generally working to face outward again. Tonight, however, I’m home alone with the dogs. One of the odd things about my life with Carole (yesterday was our 20th wedding anniversary) is that we almost never travel together. When we were young we spent several months in Europe together, but that was before we had dogs & jobs with different schedules. Since then, we’ve only had a few brief trips together. Our friends marvel sometimes at the extent to which we lead our own separate lives, but it is something we have done consciously. We like being at home together & we like our separate travels. Carole is listening to the roar of jet engines right now & I am listening to dogs snore. So, I’m looking forward to some trips — perhaps back to Vietnam — during the next year, but tonight I am content.