About Shannon Huffman Polson

Shannon Huffman Polson is the author of North of Hope: A Daughter’s Arctic Journey. Her essays and articles have appeared in a number of literary and commercial magazines including High Country News, Huffington Post, Cirque Journal and Alaska and Seattle Magazines. She can be found writing or with her her family in Washington State or Alaska, and always at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Voices in the Methow Valley

Spring in the Methow Valley of Northeastern Washington comes quietly, a gradual warming, winter grass rustling with the breezes carrying promise of new life. I am here for my first spring, though I’ve been here often winters, occasional summers and falls. I’ve never seen the opening here, the uncovering of so much asleep, the pale yellow winter grass so thick it seems nothing green will come again, that all is lost.

I head out for a hike along Virginia Ridge toward Mt. Gardner. Amidst the dead grass and dry pine needles, the cones of the Ponderosa along the trail, flash improbable patches of color: tiny pink blossoms, other small yellow and blue flowers, and yellow daisy-shaped blooms. They come out of nowhere, these glimpses into spring and the life that is growing under the surface. I’m new to this valley in the spring; I do not know their names.

How important it is to know names—is it enough to simply notice, to take the time to pay attention? There are birds here I don’t yet know, though I looked up the mountain bluebird the other day. He is common in areas of forest opening to meadow, where we are staying. Hanging up a hummingbird feeder, we’ve had several visitors with backs shining orange and green. I know they are hummingbirds, but not which kind.

So much is happening around me. I am not equipped to understand. It is not enough to notice. I need to meet and learn this world, to know it, to be saturated in beauty.

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When the Matches Go Out

When Marie-Henri Beyle visited Florence, that city named for its place among waters, he thought the art he came across might kill him. Visiting the Basilica Santa Croce in 1817, he wrote that he “was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart…the wellspring of life was dried up within me. I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground.”

When I first heard of what is now called Stendhal’s syndrome (Beyle’s penname was Stendhal), I was overcome myself, with envy. I was studying English literature and art history in college, but I had never been so undone by my subjects.

The summer after learning about Stendhal’s syndrome, I bought a collegiate Eurail pass, starting my travels in Italy. I went to Rome and Florence. I saw the Sistine Chapel, and I thought it was beautiful, but other than slight nausea from the summer heat and dehydration, I had no physical reaction. I considered my failure to experience this ecstasy a deficiency; a true art lover, surely, could have brought herself to such a place with the appropriate knowledge and awe.

I left my art history on the sun-soaked campus in North Carolina when I joined the Army. The art I carried with me was music, from one choir to the next in North Carolina, Bosnia, Korea, Texas, and finally Seattle.

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Blaze: David Wilcox Opens the Heart, Part 2

This interview with singer-writer David Wilcox, whose new album blaze released this week, is continued from yesterday.

Shannon Huffman Polson: So many people are writing—and reading—dystopia right now, at least in the world of literature. “Oil Talkin’ To Ya” has a more positive vision of the world. How have you been able to transcend what seems to be in vogue of the hopelessness relating to the current challenges of the world?

David Wilcox: The idea I tried with “Oil” is from someone who lives off the grid and charges his car from solar panels—he feels different because he lives in possibility, the possibility that if we make a lot of really good decisions things could be different, we could get along with the energy economy we see in the natural world. Being around him I saw that he has access to a hope I don’t because he switches on a light pulling energy from a grid he is both giving to as well as taking from.

I do love a song that has done something with the information, that’s not just watched the news and reacted in fear, but has made some emotional alchemy with the material. Songs need to do the work and get to a place beyond a fear response. It’s still my job to consider how I’ll react to this. It’s entertaining or at least distracting to look at life as a series of terrible things, but I don’t like the experience of being in that space as much as the space where I’ve taken the time to think it through.

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Blaze: David Wilcox Opens the Heart, Part 1

David Wilcox describes himself as a “father, a husband, a citizen and a songwriter…a traveler—an adventurer at his core, always on his way somewhere.” The celebrated songwriter and creator of more than eighteen albums began his career with a bike ride through North Carolina when he was a teenager and has called Asheville home ever since.

Wilcox’s latest album blaze debuted Tuesday. I talked to him about narrative and responsibility, creative process, and how songwriting opens his heart and teaches him to engage with the world.

Shannon Huffman Polson: Your lyrics have a very real narrative element to them, sometimes even writing songs from the perspectives of different characters. Where did that idea come from and what does it do for you?

David Wilcox: I love the experience of being carried along by a story and having it open to another layer like a good parable does. This can surprise me with an emotional experience that’s a surprising compassion or reframing of a circumstance. A good story can do this—I love stories that walk beside you and gradually walk you to a place you might not have gone otherwise.

Those are the songs I love to have in my life. That’s what I aspire to. The songs I write I write because I want to learn from them, I want to see the world the way they see it.

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A Blaze of Holy Unease, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin saw creation as dynamic in matter and spirit, and understood the world and specifically human consciousness as continually evolving. He believed creation to be the process of divine incarnation, all of the world perpetually moving toward God. The process was not and could not yet be complete. As a result “nothing is profane here below for those who have eyes to see.” All is sacred.

In Chardin’s Mass of the World, written in the vast expanses of the Inner Mongolian Ordos Desert, he prays: “the offering you really want, the offering you mysteriously need every day to appease your hunger, to slake your thirst is nothing less than the growth of the world borne ever onwards in the stream of universal becoming.”

God is no passive player, as Chardin writes in The Divine Milieu:“God truly waits for us in all things, unless indeed he advances to meet us.”

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” goes the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit in the century before Chardin. I imagine the world is filled with more dimensions and ways to understand it than we could begin to hold in our mind at one time, or even one lifetime.

Chardin saw that grandeur shimmering in every layer of his excavations of Peking Man; each piece he discerned with a worldview which seems increasingly contemporary. He saw in all things a “luminosity and fragrance which suffuse the universe” all moving toward what he called the noosphere, or one ultimate intelligence in God. “Throughout my whole life,” he wrote, “the world has been gradually lighting up and blazing before my eyes until it has come to surround me, entirely lit up from within.”

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