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January 2010 Archives

In the Subnivian Zone!

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Strong currents of whirling wind continue to blow here in Nebraska.  But right now, while the wind furiously bats at my windows and plays with our garbage cans (lost one today--who knows where the wind threw it) I remain inside, inundated not with snow but with work!  My wonderful and brilliant colleague, Joy Castro (read her blog!) calls it being "in the weeds."  It's a good image: prickly, engulfing weeds.  

I did learn another good word this week that connects with the image of being surrounded or buried in weeds:  the subnivian zone (also spelled subnivean).  This past weekend, for just a bit, the temps rose (wow--the 50s!) and the mountain of snow disintegrated quickly, revealing patches of green grass and green plants.  How could that be?  Crusty, freezing snow would have surely burned the green tufts to a stubbly brown.  Enter the subnivian zone!  


This illustration reveals how deep in the bottom layers of snow, pockets and trails lead to very warm (up to 50 degrees warmer) comfortable living areas for vegetation and small mammals.  Voles, grouse, mice, bunnies--all remain comfortably warm in the midst of snowstorms and blizzards.  

And so, with this image in mind--I say that I am hidden, working hard, in the subnivian zone these days.  With campus visitors, teaching, papers, administrative documents to write, faculty meetings to organize--I am, as the illustration reveals--in the depth hoar, below the hoarfrost.  What great words!  So it's back to work I go and I wish for you a warm night!

What Does It Have To Do With You?

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These are three Haitian individuals in the aftermath of the earthquake--more than one generation of Haiti looking at the camera. They may look fine and safe but we cannot know the loved ones they have lost, the pain they are experiencing.  In my last blog regarding Haiti, the early estimates of fatalities were at 50,000.  Now estimates are anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000.  And how will Haitians ever know what happened to their loved ones?  No one is recording numbers, taking names.  The dead are being carted off in bulldozers.  Cemeteries cannot hold all the dead. Many are being cremated. It is difficult for me to imagine my partner, mother and father, mother-in-law, my sister, daughter, nephew, my friends carted off in bulldozers.  But I try.  I feel I must try to imagine this kind of deep anguish in order to have just a faint semblance of understanding--what these individuals are suffering, enduring.  People are dying from broken arms, from simple cuts that can be healed quickly with antibiotics.  But antibiotics aren't getting there fast enough.  

Last night George Clooney organized a telethon which was broadcast from London, New York City, and Los Angeles.  Actors read testimonies, singers sang.  Sting sang, "How can you say that you're not responsible?  What does it have to do with me?"  ("Driven to Tears"). In my classroom, I often hear "What does it have to do with me?" regarding issues in history or current events.  I try to bring my students into a globally-linked framework of thinking.  It's so difficult when we are so far away both geographically and mentally. I am hoping that now with texting, Facebook, blogging, skyping, etc.--people will feel more linked, closer, neighborly, connected.  

Partners in Health and many other medical organizations are awaiting your help:


I post Partners in Health because of their longstanding connection and presence in Haiti.  Below is a picture of one of their medical doctors inside their makeshift medic tent.  Just $5, $10, $25 will contribute in the effort to help them construct many more medical areas and will also help these medical personnel have access to medicines and supplies their patients sorely need.  

In his song, "Driven to Tears," Sting sings:  "My comfortable existence is reduced to a shallow meaningless party/ Seems that when some innocent die/ All we can offer them is a page in some magazine/ Too many cameras and not enough food . . . What's to become of our world/ who knows what to do."  I think many people have thankfully responded and for those of us who cannot get out to Haiti, supporting Partners in Health and other organizations is the answer.  


Mountains Beyond Mountains

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Tracy Kidder's 2003 book (Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Could Cure the World) is in focus right now given the horrific tragedy in Haiti.  The paperback just came out this past August.  The New England Journal of Medicine published an enthusiastic review of the book and praise for Farmer:  "There remains something miraculous about Paul Farmer.  Not only is it an enjoyable book, but it is also very likely that a part of the $25.95 (hardcover cost) spent in purchasing it will find its way back to Haiti."  Dr. Paul Farmer along with Ophelia Dahl, and three other doctors/health care workers founded "Partner's in Health."  Their mission statement:  offering a health care organization providing a "preferential option for the poor."  And now, more than ever, "Partner's in Health" is vital to the people of Haiti. This is one non-profit that is legit.  You give them money, it WILL be spent on those who need it.  

I've been in 6.0 and above earthquakes.  I was raised on jittery Los Angeles ground, tenuous southern California slabs called  crustal plates.  In the early morning hours of February 9, 1971, I woke up to find my bed had traveled across the room.  I got up and ran/danced to my mother.  We clung to each other under the doorframe of my bedroom.  I felt the earth beneath me, heard the sound of clattering and smashing dishes, creaking door frames, furniture falling and everything in it or on it, crashing to the ground. As I held on to my mother, with every crashing sound, my whole being wished it over, wished the ground to stop. Realizing that ground is not static is a kind of existential crisis.  However, I was in a place where one can survive 6.0 and 7.0 magnitudes of movement because most structures have been built to withstand seismic waves. Fifty eight people died that morning in a city of three million.  Haiti, not so fortunate.  The latest estimate stands at 50,000 fatalities.  Even before this latest disaster, the geographic area has been devastated by deforestation, soil erosion, poverty.  

Mountains Beyond Mountains.  Here's your chance to help.  Click on this link to "Partner's in Health" and give Dr. Farmer and his health care providers the finances they need to save as many people as possible right now. 

Teaching Latino Film---

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Enough of the weather for now--let's get back indoors to watch films!  This semester I am lucky to be teaching "Latinos in Film."  We'll be looking at films from the 1930 Talkies to contemporary Latino film and Latinas/Latinos in film. There are so many interesting films, it was difficult to decide which to use and which to put aside for future classes.  

Dracula (Spanish) [VHS]

One early film we'll be discussing is the Spanish language version of "Dracula." Hollywood Director, George Melford filmed two versions:  an English language version during the day and a Spanish language version at night (graveyard shift--no pun intended).  Lupita Tovar, Mexican American actress of the 1930s whose starring role in "Santa" made her famous on both sides of the border, played the Mina character in the Spanish version. In this film, her name is Eva and unlike the Mina from the English-language version, Eva is much more expressive and dominant and this is interesting considering the era.  Don't be misled by the picture above.  The character of Eva negotiates power in this film differently from the English version.  


The shots are also slower and deepen the tension. In an interview, Lupita Tovar discusses how at 7p.m., they would begin shooting and leave at 7a.m. the next day.  Bela Lugosi would arrive on the set much after Lupita had gone home.  She never was able to meet him.  Many critics have noted that this Spanish language version is a much better film than the one with Lugosi playing Dracula.  

"Santa," "Dracula," "Salt of the Earth" and on to films like "Real Women Have Curves"--we're just going to have lots of fun including the chance to learn to write a screenplay.  More on this soon--as we escape the cold to enter the world of film!

On the Plains, January 2010

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A close-up (below) of snow:  glittering jewels of crystals. I never played in this stuff during my childhood.  The closest comparison I have is the ocean sand that stuck to my ankles, that found itself in elbow creases and between toes.  Snow was not in my experience until adulthood and this winter, especially, I am having a good share of it.  Here in the Great Plains sand does exist but right now it is under translucent jeweled layers of cold.  


A good part of the rose bush (the one I photographed in a previous entry) in our front yard is buried.  The faded but hardy petaled bloom is nowhere to be found.  We've had over a foot of snow since my last entry and the temperatures continue to remain below freezing.  

rose bush.jpg

This geographic area feels still, like being inside a snow globe:  the earth and those in it forever contained.  When I am outside removing the snow from the walkways, the drive, the sound of my shovel against the pavement feels insolent--shattering the rules of winter silence. No loud dancing, festive sounds here but more of a monasterial contemplative air.  So I take intermittent breaks, take pictures, observe the plants in-between my rude snow shoveling. I imagine what it must be like in other parts of the world right now where it is summer and the people are barefoot, their bodies dancing in steamy fecund gardens, while I photograph the Milkweed (below).  Its pods once softly full with cotton-like filaments that attracted red and orange-winged Monarchs, now hang literally frozen from dead stems. The plant and crown are alive, but what you see here is dead.  

milkweed in winter.jpg

The sideoats grama (below) is also caught in a kind of time warp or embalmed state.  I am amazed when I see pictures of this same spot just a few months ago--knowing that by March, April, definitely May--all of this white and cold will transform into buds, green, blooms, dark earth opening.  Perhaps I once again write about this because I continue to marvel at the way this area of the world behaves, negotiates the seasons, even welcomes and seems so comfortable with these excessive changes in temperature. There is a beauty to this funereal viewing.  

sideoats gramma prairie grass.jpg

Below are two pictures of the same plant this past October and now:

spring show.jpg

winter show.jpg

Some of these plants will not return.  They are dead or will eventually die, their seeds taking up the places they have left behind.  I keep returning to the poet H.D., this time to her poem, 

"Wash of Cold River"  

Wash of cold river
in a glacial land,
Ionian water,
chill, snow-ribbed sand,
drift of rare flowers,
clear, with delicate shell-
like leaf enclosing
frozen lily-leaf, camellia texture,
colder than a rose;

that keeps the breath
of the north-wind--
these and none other;

intimate thoughts and kind
reach out to share 
the treasure of my mind,
intimate hands and dear
drawn garden-ward and sea-ward
all the sheer rapture
that I would take 
to mould a clear
and frigid statue;

rare, of pure texture,
beautiful space and line,
marble to grace
your inaccessible shrine.