Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Last Cougar

Last spring I went on a trip to eastern Oregon with my hiking group WWW, the Wild Women of the Woods. We stayed at the Lodge at Service Creek, better known as Tilly's Boardinghouse. Tilly's has been catering to travelers since the 1920's. Our group occupied the entire house—17 of us bunking up together in rooms with names like the Painted Hills room, the Rimrock room, the Fish room, the Cool room. Nancy and I shared the Cowboy room. I immediately took down the painting of a scarred and depressed looking cowboy that hung over the bed, a harbinger of bad dreams. I also ran the faucet until the sulphur odor diminished. The bed was comfortable, however, and the windows offered spectacular views of basalt cliffs. Nancy and I were relaxing while the others were downstairs having hors d'oeuvres and wine before dinner. Gazing out the window, I had this unexpected visitation.

The Last Cougar

                  A local told me that ranchers had shot 
                        thirty cougars for killing their livestock.

There I stood by the window in the Cowboy Room
of Tilly’s Boarding House at Service Creek, turned
toward the hunger of the moment, longing for
the scent of lilacs on this cold day of desert spring.

Sunset lit the basalt cliffs.
Below, the John Day River was foaming,
recovering its ice-freeze voice.

I did not need to climb those volcanic cliffs to see
its tawny shape—dog, bobcat—no, a mountain lion
on the switchback between petroglyph and peril.
I waited, breathless, then threw open the window
and wailed the sorrow
          in my throat—the mating call
of cougars, pumas, lions—as that magnificent head
turned toward me with gold in his eyes.

©Margaret Chula, Published in Windfall, Autumn 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Faces From Campo Verano

Photograph by Torben Eskerod

Last Saturday afternoon, John and I visited several galleries in downtown Portland. One of the most intriguing exhibitions was at the Blue Sky Gallery, a gallery devoted exclusively to showing works by new and established photographers. One entire room was filled with large-format 'portraits' taken by Danish photographer Torben Eskerod. The series, called Campo Verano after the largest cemetery in Rome, shows his photographs of the portraits affixed to grave markers at Campo Verano. Eskerod has enlarged the faces of the deceased behind the glass casings, some barely visible due to the scratched and broken glass. And yet their personalities and expressions come through with stark reality. By removing these faces from their original context, they become even more haunting—emerging like ghosts from behind the weathered, discolored, and broken glass. The purpose of these portraits behind glass is to keep alive the memory of the decreased for the living. And yet, the poignancy is that even these nonmortal structures disappear with the ravages of time.
I was completely taken by the photograph to the left. The woman's eyes stared back at me, beautiful and refined. I felt the gentle presence of one of my Polish ancestors behind those brutal cracks.

Campo Verano Exhibition by Torben Eskerod