A Subtlety: by Kara Walker


What word does one use these days,                                     when something is truly awesome?


The old Domino Sugar factory of Brooklyn, burnt years ago, and before getting demolished, this is its last hurrah: a cathedral on the sacred sucre.


A sublime statement of history,


Made from the almighty cane, by Kara Walker,


And the strength of the poor who built the industry.


Standing there is much like being born again,                                       only with eyes wide open.

Two days left: Saturday and Sunday, July 5th and 6th.  Don’t miss it!

To Phillip


Phillip Seymour Hoffman: 46

Today is a sad one, a terrible tragedy for a family, a loss for the world of film and theater.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman is no longer in the land of the living.

The news of his untimely death made me ask  what it is that put him at the top of my list of favorite actors.  True, he had a wonderfully rich voice and could transform himself to almost any character with his extreme talent.  But the thing that touched my core was his willingness to be vulnerable, to be ugly, to play the pathetic, vile and cruel, yet with a huge and dignified humanity, to be seen as weak, to be the most tender.  It took great courage to expose that range and depth of feeling, to stand on the edge of an emotional cliff that most people avoid.

On his street late this afternoon, blocked off by police barricades, fans swarmed in tomb like silence.  I brought a bouquet of flesh-colored  tulips to leave at the front of his building, but forlornly carried them home and put them in a vase.  I often saw him in the neighborhood.  Once a big force, he’s left a gaping, palpable hole.  Oh, Phillip, here’s to your big-hearted talent.  May you rest in peace, may your family find comfort.

Fragments on the Bones









I’ve got bones on the brain, a cast on my arm, nothing to do but forensically comb through buried memories of the subject of bones.  Winter with broken bones seems apt.  Every stark landscape, the bare trees, frost on windows, they all remind me of bones, bones, bones…


Still in Missouri in the early eighties, I was visiting St. Louis with Martin Griffin.  He’d quickly pulled the car over in an impoverished neighborhood at a tire shop made of faded black tar paper draped like aging skin over a wooden frame.  The outside of the building was encrusted with chrome plated steel discs, made from an array of hub caps from decades of different cars.  “Folk art,” Martin said as he left the car with his Nikon around his neck.

When Martin wasn’t back in the few minutes I assumed it would take, I fished out a current copy of The New Yorker from my purse and read a short article before I realized how long I’d been waiting for his return.

When he plopped in the driver’s seat, he reported that the guy who owned the shop came outside.  An older African-American in oily overalls, he demanded that Martin get off his property.  Martin convinced him that he admired the creative spectacle of his garage and they engaged in a playfully antagonistic conversation that ended with the old man saying, “You know, when you die, your skin is going to turn as black as mine.”  And Martin answered, “Yeah, and when you die and there’s no skin left at all, your bones will be as white as mine.”


It wasn’t until I was an adult before I gave the bones much thought.  They have little symbolism here but great significance in other cultures.  I remember a character from Gabriel Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude, who carries the bones of deceased loved ones around in heavy suitcases.  It made such an impact, all these years later, it’s the only thing from the book I recall with any clarity.  Travels in Mexico introduced me to Day of the Dead, which is actually three days that begin at midnight on October 31st.  Miniature skeletons are on display, for sale all over that colorful country: skeletons cooking, wearing wedding gowns and top hats, dancing, children skeletons playing, sleeping, doing all the same activities of those still going through life in flesh and blood.  For The Day of the Dead, an altar is set up for the spirits to visit their loved ones.  It’s a festival of  communication and celebration of one’s ancestors.  In Mexico, the skeleton brings life and death together as one.  In the United States, it symbolizes death and is something to fear.


Rather than wait for my mother;s ashes to be delivered, my sister Melanie I drove directly to the crematorium to retrieve them before our flight back to New York. It was a crisp southern Missouri February day. The weight of her life on my lap in the front seat of the car was so real, I had to place her behind me. It didn’t seem right to leave her alone back there, but the dense gallon size cardboard box of ash and crushed bone was more than I could bear.  It screamed of a larger than life woman with huge impact on those who crossed her flaming path, and every ounce of the remaining box said ‘This is what’s left of your mother.’  It was considerable, yet dead.


As an avenue to entwining these fragments on the subject of bones, I read that the DNA in the bones is destroyed by cremation.  They represent so much more than calcium and marrow that stand and move as a living armature: they contain information, are formed by, and inform the life we lead.  Case in point: The Cheddar Man, a 9,000 year old skeleton discovered in a cave in 1903 in southern England, and it turns out his DNA was perfectly intact. Ninety years later, researchers analyzed a tooth from his head and found a maternal strain that matched a living school teacher in the area.  They weren’t exactly a tribe of nomads.

Blithely making it through a tomboy-tree-climbing-childhood without breaking any bones, I remember twinges of jealousy when a peer came to school in a cast.  It was a badge of honor.  And all the sympathy and signatures that came with the condition…  Fortunately, that was then and this is now and now demands consideration.

Turning to Revelations for a New Millennium by Andrew Ramer for enlightenment, there is a chapter on the symbol of the major bones of the body.  The arms represent expression of creativity and intention.  The ulna is the Creative Measure bone and the radial is the bone of Creative Expression.  As I type one handed, both those bones are in the miraculous process of mending while I dig deep to make sense out of a fall on the ice on an upstate country road.  I’m getting there, forming theories as I do all the things to encourage cellular growth: energy work, imaging straight, elegant, lovely bones that serve the rest of my precious life and times.


One Post, All Cliche’s


The past couple of weeks have been gnarly.


It’s been hard to see the forest for the trees.


I’ve been spinning my wheels,


A mere shadow, blown way out of proportion.

Thanksgiving came and went.  I kept reading other blogger’s posts about what they were thankful for and didn’t want to do the same thing.  Plus, I was having technical issues that my dear friend Jason Miers graciously supported me through (this piece will be another test) and I felt only capable of going through the motions of thankfulness.  But I was not really really feeling it.  And then I remembered (once again) that gratitude is what makes the difference between a happy and an unhappy life.   My list of blessings is long and full of sweet cliché’s.  However, I will name one gratitude way out loud:  I am really thankful for my readers as I muddle through these musings in Wild nature, trying to capture and connect through what it means to be a human being.  I sincerely thank you all.

October Blues

In the lap of luxury, or possibly the loneliest lull,


On a day of dual clouds and a single sundog,


I contemplate the meeting of heaven on earth,


The sheer beauty of it all.


                                                And I think to myself, ‘What a wonderful world.’

Lying Down With Strangers


Gazers at the Guggenheim exhibit of James Terrell’s “Aten Reign”


He plays with light and space, in this case, saturation in a transformed museum.


The Rotunda turns in planetary discs,


Dipping suns,


The gloaming.


Concave meditations on femininity one minute,


Convex shells the next.


Every color had a distinct effect, and this one made me vibrate.  Not my favorite, nor the most comfortable of them all, but it felt like therapeutic, green being the color associated with the heart.  Go experience which one gets you.  It’s well worth the lines and crowds. They are  part of  the beauty.  The feeling is one of  you, the others, and the universe as one.

All kidding Aside

“In the presence of eternity, the mountains are as transient as the clouds”

Robert Green Ingersoll


No kidding.  Last week one of my friends wrote to say she was sorry my father was gone from this world.  She said eight years later, she still wants to talk to her dad.  I wrote back that my dad wasn’t much of a talker with me, although we really tried the last ten years after he was forced to slow down.  And I told her how sad it will be that I can’t call him anymore.  Then I wrote,  “It’s like he was a mountain that was always there, and now there is a big hole in the landscape of our family.”


Only a shadow where a life was lived.


But one that’s so close, I only need to take a few illusive steps to find the path to wholeness.


Years ago, a friend went to visit her mother in India because there wasn’t much time left and they’d been on different continents for years.  The first night they stayed up and talked; they remembered; they brought their past to life through language and stories.  She said when she left her family home three weeks later for the last time, she backed out the door to fill her eyes with as much of her mother as she could.  And when she walked away, my friend told me, she knew she was that much closer to the mountain of mortality.

No kidding again.  Soon, dear readers, I promise to stop writing about mortality.  But right now, I wouldn’t be paying attention if I wasn’t.

Another Horizon


When my sister, Gretchen, died in a fire, the family immediately gathered in Springfield, Missouri.  Since I had just received a new certification as a reverend, I was the designated moderator of the memorial.

The night before the service, my dad came into my hotel room and said, “Steph, there’s something I want you to read.  You know I don’t ask for much but I’m asking for this.”  He pulled out his wallet and thumbed through decades of precious little pieces of soiled papers, unfolding, reading and folding them back up.  I never saw him as an old man until that moment, slow and broken because his youngest went before him.  Finally, he came to THE one.  “They read this at my friend’s funeral, Steph, and I want you to read it tomorrow.  And don’t argue with me”  He handed me the faded limp text, I took it from him, squinted at the type, and unbeknownst to either of us, it was the same poem I had brought with me to read.

Once again, it’s time to read it, this time for my dad, Sol Urdang:

June 21,1923 – July 19, 2013

Poem. The Ship, by Charles Henry Brent
What is dying?

I am standing on the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her
until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle
with each other.
Then someone at my side says: ‘There! She’s gone.’
Gone where? Gone from my sight that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she
was when she left my side,
and just as able to bear her load of living
freight to the place of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her;
and just at the moment when someone at my side says:
‘There! She’s gone,’
there are others watching her coming,
and voices ready to take up the glad shout
‘There she comes!’
And that is dying.



May Dad’s journey be met with loving arms.

I’d like to think the woman in the red dress that Dad saw on his ceiling Thursday night was Gretchen, waiting for him, as he began to sail to the other side.

Dad& KU portrait 2011 copy

in red copy

Approaching the Queen

Humbled again, still in love, the crown appears in the sky


Her Royal Highness granting wishes to her subjects


I wished for a sliver of silver and there it was on 40th street, hiding in the canyon.


Then I peeked into an enclave and discovered a glass abode in the midst of old bricks.  The colors reminded me of another place I love: Mexico, right in the middle of Manhattan.


This is my week of reconnecting to the city after a lull of brewing at home, failing to remember the beauty of New York.  What a wonderful town.

Enclaves of the Heart


 Last night was a struggle to sleep and when it finally happened, moments later I woke with a start from the sound of lovers on the roof next door.  Peering out through my closed wood blinds to see if it was true or imaginary, in the filtered moonlight, their standing silhouettes cantered in the dark with a distinct long white female arm that braced against the half wall separating us.  “On the roof?” I thought to myself.   “Really?”


Today I found myself standing at a locked iron gate on Charles and Greenwhich streets dreaming at the diminutive Colonial crackerbox with a lovely garden.  Both are dwarfed by a painted brick apartment building that looms over its backside.  Therein is crammed with centuries of memories and history, including over four decades of my own.

When first I caught site of this nestled structure, the wall shown here did not exist.  My ex-husband and I discovered it while riding bikes in the late sixties.  The windows were boarded up.  The lawn had only bare soil, no plants or trees, not even dead ones.  There was a For Sale sign stuck in the ground: $15,000.  We screeched to a halt and entered into a short fantasy while a hot wind blew the dust of the yard in the air.  At the time, even that amount was a stretch for a couple of hippies.  And the house, a room tinier than it is now, could not have accommodated two tall people and an art studio.  We rode on.


As I stood there today, I noticed the cherry tree full of fruit, hanging over the wall.  It took me back to a night in June, late eighties or early nineties, when an old lover was visiting and we walked by this little enclave.  He reached overhead and picked a handful of the sour fruit and we ate them in the dark.  Later, too restless to sleep, we carried a foam pad, pillows and sheets to the roof of my building, and spent the rest of the night under the stars.  When he heft town, he put a note under a bowl of cherries on my table.


It’s said that home is where the heart is.  My fortunate heart exists in many enclaves that gently pull its’ strings: sites, sounds, smells, smiles, colors, memories of  richness in people, places of the past, present, and future, and cherries.

May we all spread what we have in our hearts to those who have little, and our smiles feel like home to those alone.