Monday, February 26, 2007

Mary Tussell

Mary Tussel

It all started with Lloyd, a hiking companion, whose wife was never seen by me and who died suddenly of mysterious causes. I felt a compassion for him, and remembered the whole incident in detail, especially since he never exhibited any emotion or showed any noticeable human reaction to his wife’s passing. He continued to hike with my group, and seemed to have forgotten the woman entirely. It was rumored that she brought about her own demise, and this feature made it more indelible on my psyche.

Lloyd disappeared, and it seems that he took a cruise to Greece to open a new chapter in his life- having been a teacher with some curiosity about other cultures. But on the sojourn he met another spouse-less person and they developed a liaison, attending other Elderhostel programs and becoming more involved with each other. The next I knew they were married and chose to start a new life in a new house some three miles from mine.

She now was an artist, hoping to start a new relationship with Lloyd and with the artist community in Clarkdale. She had an interest in everything lively and quickly arranged to visit us in our home. I took an immediate interest in Mary, when she came to hike with us, since she was slender and pert, lively, and with a keen intellect. She didn’t seem like an artist that was in my frame of classification, but she exhibited a talent in wood-cuts and sculptery. Further, she was a dominant person and quickly, but subtly, exerted control over Jack (as he now re-named himself), and instilled in him the desire to play the guitar, hike regularly and additionally on Sundays, and to become somewhat of a romantic. Mary enjoyed especially having Sundays for just the four of us, and Helen took to her since she was such an inventive person. Mary confided in me early on that her surviving children objected to her getting re-married, which she attributed to a financial interest in the estate rather than to a rejection of Jack’s personality. Nevertheless they wed, with an arrangement for one of the sons to administer the business that was passed on to the heirs.

Mary had been housebound by her diabetic husband for the last several years, and she had sincerely helped to make his last years worthwhile. But in the process, she had foregone all desires to continue her artistic endeavors, having to daily attend to all of his physical needs. She was pent up, with the compulsion to develop a complete artist’s life, and she immediately launched into it with the new marriage. They purchased a small bachelor’s cabin and started enlarging it, adding skylights, a gallery, and an extra room. She owned a small Cadillac, and it was violated by the local ground squirrels and pack rats, which were able to enter the carport at will, so she immediately bought a new vehicle and constructed a larger garage with full walls and work area. To augment the new space I gave her a coffee table, which I had made of local flagstone. She appreciated anything artistically crafted, and felt obligated to return the gesture. Shortly after she presented me with some of her own product- a 2x2.5 foot woodcut of a solitary ebony raven sitting on a rail fence, somewhat similar to a fence I had placed around my house lot.

I still possess the woodcut, and have a strange feeling in my psyche when I look at it hanging on my wall, since the raven exhibits a diabolical look on his face. He is sitting there on the rail making a call- I would imagine a rasping sound- and is putting his beak forward as if to make a strident point. He is sleek, with all feathers unruffled, and appears to utter a single sound. This was one of her many creations, most of which had some feminine aspect with a raven’s head placed on a woman’s body.

I took an immediate interest in the impetus causing Mary to devote her entire artistic expression in Ravens, and I was able to find a book on Corvus- the family comprised of the crows, jays, magpies, nutcrackers, and ravens. Upon presenting it to her at a suitable celebration, I hoped to have some insight into her selection of this bird for her life’s motif. But fate was not with me and she divulged nothing; consequently, I never forgot the association, taking every opportunity to probe her thinking, and I filed it under the mysteries which must be made clear with the passage of time.

Mary quickly arranged everything to her liking; she became associated with Staid in Clarkdale- a local artist group which had an annual showing in the small bedroom community (I attended the displays several times, and Mary would be dressed in black, with interesting head covering). She developed an entourage, by starting a class for sub-teenagers in her own studio, where as many as six students in a semester class would learn some aspect of Art and who would create novel projects of their own. She found that some local pupils had latent talent and some of them went on to have contributions of their own. She was in the Fast Lane, making a position in the artistic community, presenting woodcuts, and expanding into wood carving. She never abandoned her other pursuits, and regularly hiked with Helen and myself into mysterious canyons and places of unusual beauty around Sedona- our chosen place for Sunday outings. This, in spite of her age of near eighty years, and her driving ambition to accomplish. We would socialize with her weekly, at least with hiking, but also at her home where she exhibited a culinary skill. She was very careful about how you entered her domain, and corrected you when you showed disrespect for her manner of entering. Once she and Jack visited us in our summer home in Eagle Nest, New Mexico, where she was enamored by the locally carved Santos, and by the Red Rocks of the Santa Fe area. I pointed out that the raven was an omnipresent bird in our area (similarly to that in central Arizona), and that I had learned to make some of the cries the Raven duplicates. Among these are the Merriam’s turkey and ‘poor will sounds (obble-gobble and naymore).

However, it gradually become clear that she was a feminist (carefully, and almost concealed), but she was not too subtle about who would determine her daily agenda. Once, after taking her in my auto on the weekly hike, I inquired about a neighbor who was building a new dwelling a block from her cabin and started to drive there to inspect the progress, and she stated with finality “Let me out- I am walking home!” I tried to indulge her after that, making it clear to all that she now had control over me as well as her husband. I took it all as an association with the previous dominance of her diabetic previous husband, who was very demanding and who never encouraged her in her artistic interests. She stated to me once “that he just made me more determined to have my own pursuits and goals”

Mary was willful and a completely logical thinking person- never the one to be influenced by prevalent attitudes. She developed her own philosophy, and lived by it consistently. She had a habit of drinking a shot of Jack Daniels (as her grandfather had done- she explained) every day at the close of work with Jack, where they could discuss the details of the day and relax in conversation. However, in our fifth year of association she began to develop some abdominal discomfort, and she began to take an unusual interest in her drinking water. She imported exotic waters from foreign places, and was very careful of what she ingested locally. It seems she would consent to anything exotic and foreign, with little investigation- exhibiting a sort of counterculture similar to some people with neuroses. We indulged her in this, thinking that she would moderate her ideas with time. Meanwhile, her artistic output increased, and she exhibited at the annual Art Fair in Sedona, which I attended (I enjoyed her Raven renditions more than the other offerings).

During the fifth year, she became interested in moving near Sacramento, California- where one of her daughters resided. She tried to convince all that it was because of Jack’s exhibition of Multiple Sclerosis, where he was slowing because of a minor lack of muscular control. I did not believe this explanation, but realized that her increasing age was causing her to lose some of her self-reliance. They found another dwelling near Sacramento, but that year decided against making the move. When they were temporarily absent from their artist’s cabin, I would look into it, watering the vegetation in this desert location, and ensuring that there was no obvious difficulty.

They hiked with us that year, but on the sixth they moved to California when we were in our Whidbey Island house for the summer. I missed their association with us, but realized that we had been lucky to have them, where she was ten years my senior and always in a stimulating circumstance. I yearned to visit them in their new location and phoned them occasionally, and one day I offered to drive there on our next travel to the island. On further conversation, she remarked that she missed the Arizona experience, and that she wished that she had not re-located; I merely remarked “Well you have burned your bridges, Mary” and she immediately reacted- she threw the phone over to Jack, raced to the kitchen and began to bang the pots and pans. I was flabbergasted, since I have often used this phrase flippantly, and gave it no forethought. But it irritated me so much, with her obvious attempt to neutralize me, that I lost all interest in driving out of the way to see them. We never saw them again and shortly after we learned from others that she had terminal colon cancer. She died that year, after fortunately having been phoned by Helen in December, where she passed it off lightly by saying that “I am just now on the border, of getting everything in order- but it’s hard and getting harder- and soon I have to finish Sartre-”. In the short period of eight years, she had lived a second life, with a new husband, a new artist’s dwelling, new friends, and students to carry on her art- which at least lives on in my living room. I established no continuing contact with Jack after that, but I think of her every time I glance at the Raven wall hanging (see above photo):

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The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe
Once upon a
midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of someone rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“Tis some visitor” I muttered, “rapping at my chamber door-

Only this and nothing more”

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I had sought the morrow, vainly I had hoped to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-

Nameless here forevermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each velvet curtain

Thrilled me, filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

“Tis some visitor entreating, entreating entrance to my chamber door-

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-

This it is and nothing more”.

Presently my soul grew stronger: hesitating then no longer,

“Sir” said I “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and you so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping on my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you” Here I opened wide the door-

Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken, was the whispered word “Lenore!”

This I whispered and an echo murmured back the word “Lenore!”

Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

“Surely” said I “surely that is something at my window lattice,

Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-

Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore-

Tis the wind and nothing more.”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.

Not the least obeisance made he, not a moment stopped or stayed he,

But with mien of lord or lady perched above my chamber door-

Perched upon a bust of Pallas, just above my chamber door-

Perched and sat, and nothing more.

Then, this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou” said I “are sure no craven,

Ghastly, grim, and ancient Raven, wandering from the nightly shore;

Tell me what thy lordly name is, on the night’s Plutonian shore!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore”

Much I marveled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning, little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing, that no living human being

Ever yet was blessed with seeing birded bust above his chamber door-

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust, just above his chamber door-

With such name as “Nevermore”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

Nothing further then he uttered, not a feather then he fluttered;

Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before;

On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before”

Then the bird said, “Nevermore”

Startled by the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless” said I “what it utters is its only stock and store,

Caught from some unhappy master, whom unmerciful disaster

Followed fast and followed faster, till his songs one burden bore,

Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore

Of “Never-nevermore”.

Since the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;

Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore,

What this grim ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird just lastly swore

In croaking “Nevermore”

Thus I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl, whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom core,

This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease inclining

On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,

But whose velvet violet lining which the lamplight gloated o’er,

She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought, the air grew denser perfumed from an unknown senser

Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

Wretch”, I cried “Thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he hath sent thee

Respite- respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore”.

“Prophet!” said I, “Thing of evil! Prophet still if bird or devil!

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet still undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-

On this home by Horror haunted- tell me truly I implore:

Is there- is there balm in Gilead? - tell me- tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Prophet!” said I, “Thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or devil!”

By that Heaven that bends above us, by that God we both adore,

Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden, whom the angels name Lenore:

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked upstarting;

Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul has spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken! Quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore!”

And the Raven never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted- Nevermore.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49)

Was Mary acting out the part of The Lost Lenore, as a last gesture?

No Apology For Mycology

I think it incredible that some people find edible
Those mycelium that grow on dead wood.
Why would reasonable chaps take a chance on death caps
When the bad so resemble the good.

It's really quite tacky to serve someone shitake
Who's not aware of the chances he's taking.
Shaggy manes and wild truffles served with wine and pork ruffles
May result in acute belly-aching.

So don't try to treat us with your collected Boletus.
I'll pass on your prize Chanterelles.
There's no one amon-gus who'll sample your fungus.
You might as well toss your Morels.

Those toadstools you get are gastronomic roulette,
For the gourmet who seeks a moment of bliss.
So heed my stern caveat, serve them first to the cat,
Or a relative that no one would miss..

Willie Wordsworth


The Virgin (Place Photo Virgin after posting the following)

(To the melody of Spanish Folk Song- from my guitar debut days)

High in the Strawberry Drainage, it flows,

Telling us of all those December snows-

How it caresses the dunes, as they yield to its tunes,

Translating Man’s story of Life, as it goes.

South goes the East Fork, as it wends on its way,

Gushing and Flushing debris of the day-

Bits of life, songs of strife, how it cuts like a knife

Through the fossilized beds- which once showed winds’ bouquet.

Sheer are the cliffs of that part of the rhyme,

Which displays ancient hills from a desert-like clime;

How they came from the north, o’er a sinking air hearth*,

To be saved through the Era of geologic time.

Into Man’s realm it emerges- that Lion-

Fresh from its arduous travels through Zion;

Artificiality, Domesticity, not a shred of consistency,

It exposes them now as it yields man a try-on.

Its Spirit untamed, it nears the Great Scarp,

Toting the baggage of flood, mud, and warp-

Tackling the cracks of limestone it soon hacks,

To finds the Earth’s strains, which it plucks like a harp.

Jeering, yes sneering, it ignores the small towns

It encounters enroute, as it makes its new rounds;

It can easily engage them, multi-year can enrage them,

When El Nino rampages, its force knows no bounds.

Then through the gorge it makes its swift way,

Carrying the scarps and plateaus in its sway;

Bit by bit, it erodes them, not a whit it abodes them,

Down to the Great River, that has ultimate say.

The debris of the whole West, it soon adds to its bag,

Debasing the continent from basin to crag;

In a single-year quirk, it offsets million-year work

Of the Earth which has, with Life, had a billion-year lag.

Will Man, at the Peak, subvert Universal Will?

Or can he subside before witnessing the Nill

Of the symbolic Wisdom, the harmonious Rhythm

Of the concord of Earth-Life that humans can still.

Harold L. Overton

*At 20-30 degrees N/S Latitude, air sinks, heating & drying toward the Landscape (hearth)