projects and writings of Tracy Burkholder
The weak sun starts to set around 3 these days. By 4:30 it’s dark. Until the light comes back, I’ll follow up my afternoon naps with nine hours of sleep. I’ll avoid festive gatherings in exchange for a pile of blankets, a long movie, a good book, a lapful of cats. For me, this time of year is about comfort, not bold new adventure.
That means my new things this week are small, accumulating like the whisper of snow we got last night. I looked out the window this morning and all the familiar shapes were still there, they just looked a little different under a thin dusting of white.
First, I went to visit the Belmont Goats who have been living in a vacant lot in inner southeast Portland for several years. I’ve passed by hundreds of times, not realizing that for the last year the public has been allowed to go inside and hang with the goats. It had snowed the night before my visit and the grazing wasn’t so good for the little guys. The gate was locked and all but a few of the goats were huddled in their shelter. All I could do was follow one of the youngsters, and her fluffy chicken companion, as she poked her nose along the bottom of the fence looking for unfrozen snacks.
When I first moved to Portland, the lot was occupied by the Monte Carlo, an Italian restaurant/club where my friends and I would go dancing sometimes. The place was always a little sketchy as was the fire that burnt all the buildings on the block to the ground in 2002. For a while, whenever I passed by the field I’d think of the Talking Heads song “(Nothing but) Flowers.” This used to be real estate/ now it’s only fields and trees. Alas, the lot is finally scheduled for development and the goats are getting the boot. The owners of the herd are looking for a different urban plot for them. I wish them luck and will put visiting their new site on my list of things to do.
Listening to more audio books was also on my to do list. In theory, I love the idea of being read to, but in practice I’m rarely in the car for long enough and at home, even the smallest distraction pulls me out of the story. But this weekend, I had a 3-hour bus ride to Seattle to fill. The air was bitter cold, patches of snow stuck to the ground and the light was soft and tired. It seemed like a good time to revisit Joyce’s story, “The Dead.”
An hour and a half later I bent my head against the cool window of the bus. The world was drifting by in a line of twilight silhouettes and I was gutted. The way the story builds toward its final scene is so masterful. The language of those final paragraphs is so haunting. You can, and should, read them here.
I also sunk myself a little deeper in the story by watching John Huston’s movie adaptation. It’s not word for word with the original text, but the ending is still powerful. I can’t get this line, this lament, out of my head: How poor a part I’d played in your life.
Here’s the final scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6FGIaWaQxA
The next day my friend and I bundled up against the cold Seattle afternoon and headed out. The sun was already on its way down, hitting us smack in the eye, all orange and bright, but without offering a lick of heat. We drove to the Seattle Central Library, one of the places on my “To Visit” list ever since it opened almost ten years ago. A special trip just to see a library always seemed a bit ridiculous to me, but I should know myself better by now. I love being around books almost as much as I love reading them and the way Seattle lets you do this is spectacular.
I could have spent all day wandering up the book spiral, admiring the light and and the angles and the broad views across the interior space. I could have played longer in the red room or ridden the glowing escalators a few more times. I could have pulled one of the giant, delicate tomes from its modern glass shelf and indulged my eyes and fingers, my memory and imagination.
Instead, we headed back into the world to wander around Pike Place and watch Mt. Ranier glow and watch the ferris wheel glow. Thoroughly chilled, we hopped back in the car and drove off through streets lined with Christmas lights. A sweet substitute if there has to be one.