Archive for June, 2015

mary’zine #73: June 2015

June 10, 2015

I haven’t been here (before your eyes) in a long time, but I’ve been here (in the ether) all along, my mind swirling—or, not as fluid as that, more like straining, stumbling, stuttering—with so many things I could write about if I were coherent but not feeling coherent in the least.

e x … c a v a t e  good times, come on!

(think Kool and the Gang)

The metaphor I was straining at involved a thing in the real world—the Kola Superdeep Borehole, the deepest hole in the earth, drilled by Soviet scientists off and on from 1970 to 1994, that goes 7.5 miles down into the earth’s crust. In contrast, the center of the earth is estimated to be nearly 4,000 miles down, so… nice try, boys; close but no cigar. At 7.5 miles they were forced to quit drilling because of unexpectedly high temperatures (356°F) and a nougat-like center (I’m imagining), where the porous and permeable rock behaved “more like a plastic than a solid.” The hole, only 9 inches in diameter, is under this rusted metal cap on the Kola Peninsula of Russia (Fig. 1).

hole

 Fig. 1. Beginning of really deep hole.

So, the strained metaphor was my felt need to excavate the depths of my own crusty shell, hoping to find the deep inner mantle where the past and present coexist, if not collide. (My newspaper horoscope has always used phrases like “fantasy collides with destiny.”) And if past and present are down there, then future must be down there, too—in the sense of a seed, which by definition embodies its destiny: The acorn can only grow into its future self, an oak tree.

yeats-another-world-300x199

I don’t know about destiny, but I’ve fantasized plenty in my life. I liked some science fiction as a child, but I wasn’t that interested in aliens or distant planets. But Journey to the Center of the Earth resonated with me for some reason. For someone who wasn’t that interested in outer space, I was blown away by the idea that the Verne adventurers encountered sky down there. If only I had known the phrase “blew my mind” back then, I would have had many occasions to use it. I was only 10 years old, but still. Sometimes I think I thought more about infinity and death and other unknowns between the ages of 6 and 10 than I have since. Childhood is deep, which most adults forget. It looks so simple, even primitive. Cry, sleep, shit, eat, you’re like a tiny predictable entity—a clean slate—that hasn’t yet been filled with the detritus from interaction with the outside world. But the inside! The inside is full of feeling and thought, regardless of whether anyone takes you seriously or not. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who had big things on her mind, or maybe it was the extreme encounters I had with death and illness that made me a little philosopher, maybe a wannabe nihilist. Life didn’t look that good to me when my brother was buried under the ground and my father was ensconced in a VA hospital with MS, only to return home so changed that I didn’t recognize him. For the longest time I thought, “What’s next?” Who will die or leave me next? How will I make my way in the world? In high school I was convinced there would be no end to the misery. Every day, every week brought a challenge, sometimes new, sometimes a dreaded repetition. If it wasn’t a single event—an oral book report, a debate, a dentist appointment, a babysitting job, a piano lesson, an unasked-for and oft-rebelled-against hair perm—it was the daily curse of car sickness, pimples, awkward social encounters, acute self-consciousness, fear of being diagnosed with mental illness, and a mortifying awareness of how poor we were. I couldn’t escape any of it. Without a sane adult to explain to you that everyone goes through this kind of thing, it’s only in hindsight that you realize you were not the only one. I remember having a meeting with my high school guidance counselor, Mr. Schmidtke, and not knowing if I was supposed to be talking about the surface—grades, college, etc.—or my fears and anxieties, which were at least 7.5 mental miles down in my psyche. In one of my favorite movies, Ordinary People, I was envious of the kid who had Judd Hirsch to talk to and get a real response from. I didn’t see a real therapist until I was 46, and by that time I had come a long way on my own, through contemplation, observation, and a strong desire to understand.

So, my life has turned out pretty great, and I have the comforting thought that I probably won’t live long enough to see the world get blown up or a neo-Hitler arise from the Far Right. (How far do you think Hitler would have gotten if his party was named the Tee-Party instead of Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei? I still regret that our American Partiers did not keep the name “Teabaggers” after they found out what it meant. That would have been so delicious.)

But—where was I?—the past (like the center of our planet) still exists, no matter how deeply it has been buried or “forgotten.” I’m not sure I understand what the subconscious really is and how it works—it’s like being controlled by an invisible government (and the visible one is bad enough). I already “understand” my past in words and pictures, but I expect somehow to be able to embody the whole time-driven story that is me, the equivalent of 7.5 miles down, where it’s really, really hot and more mush than solid. I don’t think I need to go the whole 4,000 mental miles to the center—where, surely, I understand now, there would have to be “sky,” wouldn’t there? because there is so much we can’t see, haven’t examined, haven’t even imagined—right beneath our feet / brain / what-have-you.

For lots of reasons, we prefer to look to our sky—the one that’s above us, readily visible, no drilling required—for the pie or the salvation, the “something bigger than ourselves” whether we call it god or our higher self. Wouldn’t it be great to have an eternal substitute mother or father, someone / something so big and powerful that it would never die, and therefore we would never die? It would be the answer to everything, wouldn’t it? And that’s what we want, the answer to everything. Because who can live on this razor’s edge of life-and-death with nothing to hold on to but a sharp, painful knowledge that it will all end one day. As Woody Allen said, “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to be whole—not a hole filled with a mystery too far down to reach. I want to experience my full potential, not limp along on the fire road just because it’s wide and smooth. But that means going down, down into the deep forest or a series of dark caves or a me-shaped hole in the ground, looking to find the mythical sky or the plastic hot mess, whatever it turns out to be.

So I’ve told you the metaphor, and you can find out more about the Kola Superdeep Borehole if you’re interested. By the way, they found water down there (H2 and O molecules) and “microfossils” from bacteria billions of years old. So the drilling wasn’t a failure, just full of surprises. Like our own personal depths, I suppose.

You are not dead yet, it’s not too late / to open your depths by plunging into them / and drink in the life / that reveals itself quietly there.—Rainier Marie Rilke

Climbing Mt. Etna (a guest contribution)

June 7, 2015

Ed. note: A good friend of mine, who wants to be known only as “friend from California,” is a historian, editor, and enthusiastic traveler. She writes concise and eloquent “travelogues,” complete with many photos, after each of the trips she takes with her husband or her son. Here is her story about climbing Mt. Etna when she and son Jack traveled to Sicily.

I also want to note that she is not responsible for the poor layout. I am not adept at wrestling WordPress formatting into submission.

***

The day my son Jack and I planned to go to Mt. Etna dawned spectacularly. It seemed auspicious.

DSCN9969

We drove south from Taormina toward Catania, then veered off to the road that encircles the mountain. The soil around Etna has been enriched over the centuries by decomposing lava, and the land is a prime agricultural area. For example, the famous Sicilian blood oranges, incredibly juicy and flavorful, are grown here.

There are two routes to get up on the mountain, one on the south side and one on the north side. We were heading for Rifugio Sapienza, a ski resort on the south side. In the summer it’s a gateway to guided hikes. From Rifugio you take a cable car up the mountain.

Rifugio

Rifugio Sapienza (photo from the Internet)  

on the cable car (1 of 1)

View from cable car back toward Rifugio

lone climber (1 of 1)

One hiker shunned the cable car and hiked up the mountain on foot. He looked up at us—wistfully? It’s a long, tough slog he’s undertaken.

The cable car ends at a little rest area, with a café and facilities. Then you pile into minivans to take you farther up the mountain. The road is compacted lava graded by small tractors.

curving track (1 of 1)

Curving track going up the mountain  

   the line up (1 of 1)

Eventually we came to a leveled area where the minivans parked. We all piled out and assembled in a big cluster near the guide. Then we set off in a long file at what was, for me, a pretty brisk pace.

Did I mention that it was cold up there?

It seemed that most of the hikers were sturdy Germans who probably did a lot of hiking in their home country. It also seemed that most of them were younger than me. Or maybe I was just rationalizing why I, age 71, had such a hard time keeping up.

small caldera (1 of 1)

Soon we passed a small caldera, and many people stopped to take pictures, or even explore the thing closer up. I was not among them. I was concentrating on not falling down.

Etna climbers (1 of 1)-2

Closer view of the fumarole with smoke or gas issuing from the vents

strung out (1 of 1)

Pretty soon we were all strung out in a long line. Jack hung back a little because he was busy taking photos. I hung back because I was having difficulty struggling uphill and breathing.

The track we were walking on was pretty narrow, to my way of thinking. I was afraid of slipping off on either side. At one point I slipped on some loose gravel and sat down hard. People came to my aid (“Are you all right?), but luckily I was able to clamber to my feet. I didn’t fall down again the whole rest of the hike.

Bergman (1 of 1)

At one point I looked up and saw a whole line of hikers on a high ridge, silhouetted against the sky.

(Does anyone remember the final image in Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”?)

“Oh no!” I thought, “I’m going to have to go all the way up there too!” In the worst way I wanted to turn around and make my way back to the parked minivans. But pride wouldn’t let me do it. So I slogged on ahead, far behind the pack, until eventually I caught up. And then—praise be!—the whole line was turning and we were circling back to the parking lot. When we got there, I was ecstatic, euphoric! I’d met the mountain, and I had triumphed!    

life on the lava (1 of 1)

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etna summit (1 of 1)


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