24 June 2012

Out Walking #2

Out walking, I'm struck by the quickness of that teenage season between prom and grad parties, the girls I'd seen piling in or out of towncars a few weeks ago, all mandarin nails and strapless fuchsia, even now prying open those slim cards crisp with cash or check. I try to remember myself those long afternoons but am distracted by the plastic pink of certain flowering iceplants in sidewalk gardens.

I match music to my first task of the day--purchasing a present for my cousin's high school graduation fête--Ciara explains with her peculiar, one hit emphasis, "but I'm not just a young girl." I choose to stop by the more ridiculous of my bookstore options, a Virginia Woolf-themed garden and Literature store. I'm always careful not to start any conversations there, afraid someone will start rhapsodizing about Meryl Streep in The Hours.

I'm predisposed to purchase a copy of Salinger's Nine Lives. I think my sweet cousin will find it less boring than my other pick, W.G. Sebald's Rings of Saturn. Sure the collection includes "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" but perhaps she'll move past the suicide and just see it as perfect object, as I do. We've shared several cruises and for that reason she might enjoy "Teddy." And there's a little Esmé (with love and squalor) in her as well. I feel all right about the purchase and in any case it's lightweight.

I smile remembering my mother's recent remark that our young graduate has an aunt on her father's side who looks just like Rawhide in Redford's adaptation of A River Runs Through It. It's the sort of observation that once given is unshakeable. To feel less consumerist and more Montanan I'm seeking a scenic lookout in Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve. 

Claremont Avenue turns rustic as soon as you pass the employee parking lot at Claremont Resort and Spa. I'm tightroping the fogline as Porsches swerve around Audis, no doubt driven by dueling surgeons rushing towards a heart transplant patient in the hills. It's unclear to me on which side of the road I ought to be walking. I picture my gravestone when I'm killed crossing the street: "It Was His Indecisiveness That Did Him In."

With no sidewalk or shoulder, it seems I should walk on the left side, so I see the closet traffic coming around the bend. But one never really wishes to see it coming.

I've had this discussion once before. Some Umbro-shorted, mid-90's summer dusk, in one of the classier suburbs of Grand Rapids, Michigan, I took a walk with my then stepmother. She said we should walk beside the ditch against traffic, the cars returning from afternoons at Grand Haven, people not quite admitting they needed their lights.

This stepmother's face widens and recedes from my memory, leaving the impression of blood pink lipstick on the edge of a Waterford rocks glass filled with neverending box Chablis. I wonder what combination of boredom and terror conspired for me to intentionally spend time alone with her. After perhaps a half mile stroll (quite a distance without cigarettes or liquor), we turned back and didn't move to the other side of the quiet street. I asked, in perhaps the tone that people describe with alarming frequency as "condescending," if we shouldn't cross back over, to follow the logic of the trip out. I do not remember her replying.

I quickstep to the other side of Claremont because that's what my second of four stepmothers would have wanted. Also: it's shadier.

On the one hand, it's better to have worn pants so I'm not exposing the world to my pasty chicken legs and because the denim is absorbing a lot of detritus from roadside stickerbushes. On the other, it's warmish climbing straight uphill and the sweat that normally beads on my forehead is now sheeting down my face.

The issue is finding a trail, any trail, preferably one with "vista" right in the name. As a navigator I'm 100% dependent on iPhone directions and without reception, I look vainly at park signage that gives no information beyond the exhortation: NO DUMPING.

After a half hour of failure my GPS finally connects my blue dot to a map. I'm three quarters of a mile past my intended trailhead. I allow myself one quick, "son of a WHORE!" and press on. Up, north, ahead, wherever. I find something called the Willow Trail which feels appropriately weepy.

I'm at least as much of a naturalist as Norman Maclean's hated brother-in-law-to-be Neal (Rawhide's paramour and, in the film, a dead ringer for current Euro 2012 star Mario Gomez), who stepped off a train in Missoula, "trying to remember what a Davis Cup tennis player looked like." If I had a white cable sweater tied over my shoulders this is where I'd fussily adjust it. Instead of a trout basket, I wrestle my man bag, its strap making a red bend sinister across my chest.

Steps from the road I feel a telltale tingling up my legs. My fear of snakebites is perhaps out of proportion to the likelihood of meeting a rattler but, nevertheless, existent. I change the playlist to Steve Earle for courage, his two pack habit and motel tan, gettin' tough. I'll listen to early Earle only, not post-rehab Steve, with enough regrets to send me into the scrub looking for venom.

A medium brown lizard squiggles across the trail. I don't have enough air in my lungs to shriek but I flex into what I know, thanks to John Jeremiah Sullivan's Michael Jackson piece, is an en pointe.

While I pause a moment for adrenaline dissipation, I run through the questions all rugged outdoorsmen must answer when confronted with a serpent: Do I make myself big and scream, or is that only if I encounter a puma? Will a diamondback only attack if I'm near her snake pups? Or does she strike out of pure snaky meanness?

As I look for landmarks should I become lost (let's not forget Gerry), I notice a profusion of orange ribbons tied to branches. If I had Google I'd check to see if orange is the color used to commemorate dead snakebite victims. 

Bent at the waist, nowhere near a vista and trying not to inhale the gnats clouding a stagnant puddle of what might sometimes be a creek, I have a breakthrough: I prefer to hike with other people so they can be decoys for predators and, if necessary, carry me sobbing down a mountain.

Trying to channel Sam Shakusky, I take inventory of my comestibles: half a bottle of water, five Pepto Bismol tablets (chewable), a full bottle of ibuprofen, Nordic Mint Altoids, Fresh Mint breathstrips and UP2U gum (berry watermelon AND fresh mint flavors IN THE SAME PACK). So I'll die with fresh breath and a settled stomach, which is nice.

One recalls a similar predicament in Adalbert Stifter's Rock Crystal. Those impeccable children weren't sweaty at all because they were stuck in a mountain pass on Christmas Eve trying not to freeze to death (they stay animated all night with coffee extract). Their evening under the luminescent stars is as close as I've ever come to seeing god (God?) on the page. Plus the novella is so suspenseful that I want to have kids just to terrify them with it every Christmas.

Passing through a portal between crossed trees and their shadows I return to Brad Pitt's Paul Maclean, impossibly handsome by the Blackfoot River, and say to no one, "Oh I'll never leave Claremont Canyon, brother."

But I do.

06 June 2012


Here's what you do. Hold on to this link for Anne Carson's "The Glass Essay" (the whole dang thing is on the Poetry Foundation site--good work Poetry Foundation site!). Wait until a few hours before Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights opens in your town. Read the poem then go see the film.

Both address the textures that make Emily Bronte's novel linger on the WTT brain much longer than others from the period. They're punishing, inescapable dreams of thwarted love and bitter chill. With disconcerting pileups of hanged puppies (it's one thing to read that puppies are hanged on the page but even a coldhearted cinephile might get a little squirmy watching it onscreen). 

On the whole, however, humans prove less violent than nature. Carson writes "spring opens like a blade" and Arnold's nature is daggers of wind, cutting through any shelter. Even the mud of the moors seems to breathe, sucking down and threatening to swallow young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave, a boy essentially without language) and Catherine (a spot-on Shannon Beer).

Arnold snaps a tremendous cut from luggage being dropped off a wagon to a coffin thunking in the ground. The funeral features some of the only sunlight seen in the picture and when I reread "The Glass Essay" it resonated with the description "wooden sky carved with knives of light."

The director works in a square frame with enough rack-focused blurring that she could be using Instagram functions to dictate the look of the film. She's probably not though. It's probably more her representation of the enclosed wooziness of the Earnshaw house, groaning like a ship at sea.  And she doesn't eschew with her now trademark slow motion shots. Heathcliff trails Catherine, petting her horse, her curled behind like gorse.

Youth ends and Heathcliff (now a somewhat less affecting James Howson) comes back home. The results are as disastrous as we might expect if Mia had returned to Mardyke Estates in Fish Tank. Heathcliff moves from the "bluish dusk like a sea slid back" to Thrushcross Grange, dappled in pink and white light. He ignores Catherine's husband (whatever his name is--it's especially irrelevant in this adaptation) and returns to crushing on Catherine (now a significantly less affecting Kaya Scodelario).

Heathcliff waits for her to reappear in the unfamiliar shadows of bird cage and crystal. Arnold inserts enough flashbacks that we know his position is hopeless, that the girl with whom he wrestled in the mud is not walking through those ornate doors.

I saw the film a month ago at SFIFF and I've grown more convinced that this story is the worst kind of horror. Heathcliff comes in to Wuthering Heights for the light and the fire and the humanity and is worse for it. Better to have been merely stripped to his bones in the cold. As he sees it, life is bitter but bitterer without Catherine. So he waits out his prison sentence of grey mornings and still the hope that a pair of lapwings will rise over the moor.