This is from Wandering Time: Western Notebooks by Luis Alberto Urrea:
Dennis Martinez, brilliant Pima ecologist, startled me the other day by vanishing as we walked through town. I turned back and found him with his arms around an ancient cottonwood. He was holding it as tenderly as a lover, murmuring something into its bark. Boy, the rednecks would love this: a real tree-hugger! Something very clean and precious came clear to me in that moment, though. You couldn't be tougher, or stronger, or more fierce than Dennis. And you'd have to be that strong in yourself to go out into the world and embrace what you love.
I bought it last week after I googled this Charles Bukowski quote, which I had copied down in a notebook years ago from somewhere. Urrea wrote Wandering Time in 1999; it’s a series of seasonal journal entries from a trek he took through the West after his divorce, mostly notes on what he finds on long drives or hikes or camping trips. At various points in the book he lives in Arizona and Colorado; according to the jacket flap copy he was the writer in residence at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette when it was published.
My birding companion had horn-rimmed glasses and short gray-peppered hair.
"There's a female ringneck," he said, smiling. The whole pond was a high school reunion ball for him. "Of course," he demurred, "there is no visible ring."
His voice was sonorous, singing a basso aria of waterfowl. We presided over a confabulation: geese, mallards, cranes, grebes, plovers, pelicans, gulls. "Of course," he reminded me," there's no such thing as a sea gull." We chuckled knowingly.
I found myself sinking into his reverie, It grew silent out there under the clouds. We imagined their immense journeys. If given a chance at that moment, I believe we both would have sprouted wings and flown.
He’s quite famous, actually, a poet, novelist, and essayist, the winner of multiple awards and a Pulitzer Prize nominee, which I did not know because I am not nearly as well read as I ought to be. But I googled Luis Alberto Urrea after I finished the book and I read this and then this and then this, where I found out that he lives in the exact same city in which I at this exact same moment in time also happen to live. Think about the odds of that for a minute! Think about that! A small miracle of chance.
Did I ever tell you that—in '88—sitting in utter devastation in Indian Gardens, halfway down the Grand Canyon, I espied a small group of blond men speaking Spanish? The elder—the dad—wore a cowboy hat and Mexican boots, of all things, and I said, "Excuse me, Sir, but are you Mexicans?" Yes—yes, he said, and you? And I said, "Just my luck—I hike down into the Grand Canyon and find another bunch of blond Mexicans!" We all laughed and began the usual investigation—where are you from? They were from Sinaloa. I said we were from Sinaloa. You're not an Urrea, are you? they asked. Why, yes. The father said, "Are you the son of Beto Urrea?" I...I...I am! I cried.
My God, the world is exactly four blocks long—there is only one stop light, and it blinks all night.
I wanted to visit this house not because I care that much about modern architecture (I do not), but because they’re making a movie about the building of this house starring Ralph Fiennes, and I do care about him.
At first Apple Maps tried directing me to Plano, TX, but I didn’t have that kind of time. On the other hand it took approximately 30 seconds to remember why I seldom enjoy house tours, which is because fully grown adults are pathologically incapable of not touching things they are explicitly and repeatedly told not to touch. Honestly, how do people think we can solve the climate crisis when we can’t go 15 minutes without leaning on the furniture.
It was something, though, a tiny jewel box tucked into the trees just south of I-88 with the Fox River running high and wild beside it. You can feel it back in the day, before they changed the road and lifted the bridge, what it must have been like out there alone. Open to the land on all sides, nothing but mosquitoes and weather. At the end a lady asked the tour guide if he thought Mies van der Rohe was a bad architect because he had failed to build Edith Farnsworth the house she wanted (i.e., occupationally friendly). I didn’t hear his answer but I figure if you ask a minimalist design visionary to build you a weekend house made of glass you should probably assume it won’t be cozy.
If you’re looking for something to do tonight, just stare at this good, decent, beautiful man for an hour and consider the fact that the company he co-founded in 1982 has donated over $500,000,000 to charities around the world.
It may not surprise you that one of my all-time favorite high school classes was Vocab Development, nor that I was a star pupil and an annoying teacher’s pet! Bit of a dubious honor, but still, I award it to myself. Without words you’d just be utjlkjernxilkfwo, dummies.
Here are some recently saved faves according to my trusty Merriam-Webster app, which is almost certainly the only app worth paying for even though they keep shoving extraneous crap into it under the putrid guise of “engagement”:
callow. adjective :: lacking adult sophistication; immature [NOTE: I looked this one up because I thought it meant the same thing as cad; fyi it does not]
cad. noun :: 1 : a bus conductor [NOTE: !??] ; 2 : a man who acts with deliberate disregard for another’s feelings or rights
macrophage. noun :: a phagocytic tissue cell of the immune system that may be fixed or freely motile, is derived from a monocyte, functions in the destruction of foreign antigens (such as bacteria and viruses), and serves as an antigen-presenting cell [NOTE: this definition raised more questions than it answered]
emesis. noun :: an act or instance of vomiting
littoral. adjective :: of, relating to, or situated or growing on or near a shore especially of the sea
Brobdingnagian. adjective :: marked by tremendous size
glabrous. adjective :: smooth; especially : having a surface without hairs or projections
cannula. noun :: a small tube for insertion into a body cavity or into a duct or vessel
furbelow. noun :: a pleated or gathered piece of material; especially : a flounce on women’s clothing
Paints quite a picture of my elective reading lately, doesn’t it?
I love this album cover so much!
Did you ever see the movie “All Is Lost” starring Robert Redford and a boat? That movie hurt everything inside me, and I dreamed about it for a long time afterward. It was a gut wrencher with approximately two words of dialogue (and I’m rounding up). Thoroughly terrifying and highly recommended if you never plan to go out on open water again.
This movie, though, is easy. I like movies where people sit on porches in the afternoon sunshine and talk to each other about nothing special, where they just enjoy each other’s company for a while. Movies where the stakes are low and nobody’s in a hurry. There’s a scene about a third of a way through where Robert Redford, playing a charming ol’ bank robber, drops Sissy Spacek at the door of her farmhouse after the two have enjoyed a series of platonic dates, and she walks inside the dark house and closes the door behind her and then turns like she’s going to lock it but she opens it back up instead, and Robert Redford is already on her porch, walking towards her, and he removes his hat (the old man & the hat) at exactly the right time—at that Robert Redford tempo, with that Robert Redford rhythm—and he kisses her quickly and gives her a smile and then he just turns around and leaves. And that’s it! Neither of them says a word. And it’s perfect. And it made me smile, these two beautiful faces, these two crafty pros, the gentleness and the grace and the bright, simple joy of it.
That’s the kind of movie this is.