Over the River with Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Writers’ Trigger:

Stanley Kunitz is one of my favorite poets who, at 95 years of age, was named U.S. poet laureate in 2000. (For those of you who are feeling that fame has passed you by, take heart: you have years and years to make your mark.)

Kunitz’s last collection, The Wild Braid: a Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, was published on his one hundredth birthday. Kunitz died the following spring. In his late 70s (when Kunitz was a mere pup), he wrote my favorite poem, “The Layers.” In this poem he reflects on his life and life’s lessons. You might want to read the poem in its entirety. But for now, just a few lines:

When I look behind, / as I am compelled to look / before I can gather strength / to proceed on my journey, / I see the milestones dwindling / toward the horizon / and the slow fires trailing / from the abandoned camp-sites / over which scavenger angels / wheel on heavy wings.

I love his image of the scavenger angels and the heavy wings. I see the wide wings beating down gravity as the big birds try to get up off the ground. Or, given that five vultures are nesting in a pine tree a block from my house and I observe them daily, perhaps the scavenger angels circle so slowly that they appear hang in mid-flight as they look for the dead and dying.

  • Comment on your life lessons. Or…
  • Reflect on the title of Kunitz’s last collection, “The Wild Braid.” The braid is the connection between his love of poetry and his love of gardening. Do you have a braid? What braid would that be?
  • Read three poems written by Kunitz. What do the three poems have in common?


The sunflowers are in full flower up Greeley/Ft. Collins way, and taking this picture triggered a memory that took me back some ten years. We had rented a flat on the second floor of a Victorian house in North London. The fireplace surround consisted of ceramic tiles graced with lilies. Homesick for Colorado, I bought sunflowers at the market. I put them in a vase and placed the vase on the hearth. Looking at the juxtaposition of the lilies and the sunflowers, I began to cry. The cultural divide was too wide and I was never going to bridge it.

Looking back… through the layers, I did bridge the divide, but the memory is still fresh.

I have just returned from northeastern Colorado, a landscape of large farms and feedlots. Fields of corn straddle irrigation ditches and run from your eye to the horizon. The color is Kelly green. The smell is fresh manure. If you are native, the smell doesn’t bother you. You don’t necessarily think of cow-pies; more likely, you think of fecundity. As our neighbor used to say… “Smells like money to me!”

I just mentioned juxtaposition, and that leads me to Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “Over the River” project. For readers who are not familiar with Christo’s most recent proposal, a few words. Chirsto and Jeanne-Claude (his late wife, partner, and inspiration) have been trying to convince local stake-holders to allow them to hang translucent panels over eight sections of the Arkansas River. The eight sections would span 42 miles west of the Royal Gorge and east of Salida. The installation would be temporary and hang for two weeks.

The panels would be transparent. Looking from below, you could see the sky and clouds. The panels would also be translucent in that they would reflect the river water and rapids. The wind, sunlight and shadow would play a part as would the walls of the red rock canyon. It would be a groaning table for the eyes.

As with all of Christo’s prior installations, opposition is fierce. The Arkansas River site offers numerous problems. First and foremost is the narrow twisting road that is a challenge to drive during the best of times. Heaven forbid that you take your eyes off the road! To do so is to risk driving into the river. Environmentalists also have a number of concerns.

For those of us who support the Over the River project, the good news is that the Bureau of Land Management has released their Final Environmental Impact Statement. Quoting from the BLM’s 28 July press release: “The FINAL EIS shows improvements in impacts to traffic flow, bighorn sheep and other issues.”

To view the Final EIS go to the BLM’s website: www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/rgfo/planning/otr.html.  Comments are welcome through 29 August at co_otr_comments @blm.gov. The BLM will issue their conditions and mitigation measures in the fall of 2011.

Why do I support the project prior to reading the conditions and mitigation measures? I would love to have a world-class artist and his work in our very own backyard. But also, I’m in awe of Christo. I have attended most of his Salida Steam Plant presentations, and I have always come away with a glow in my heart. I love this guy and his vision, audacity, and drive. And I loved his relationship with Jeanne-Claude. They were working partners in the largest sense possible. With her electrified orange hair and force of personality, she would step on his lines and finish his sentences. Her enthusiasm for life was infectious. Watching them in action gave you hope – marriage as an institution was not dead. At one level, I just want to know that Jeanne-Claude will live on through the installation.

As for the juxtaposition part, think about it. The scales only fall from our eyes when we see the old and familiar in contrast with the new. The River Road portion of Route 50 will not necessarily be better (how could it possibly be better?), but we will see the river in an entirely new light and that new light will lift us up.

The most striking example I can think of is the juxtaposition of The Tower of London and London City Hall. Imagine the public’s distress when the city of London decided to build a modern building on the south side of the river directly opposite The Tower, a building begun by William the Conqueror in 1080. How the fur must have flown.

London City Hall

But I love it. Adjacent to City Hall is The Scoop, a sunken amphitheater that offers free music, theatre and movies during the summer. Sitting in The Scoop at dusk and watching the lights come on over London Bridge, I look at The Tower to the left. My eyes cross the bridge, and I look at City Hall across the Thames. It is the juxtaposition that makes each a jewel of a different color. One isn’t better than the other. But the contrast between them makes me look harder and appreciate both of them more.

Read the newest BLM Environmental Impact Statement and think about power of juxtaposition.

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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2 Responses to Over the River with Christo and Jeanne-Claude

  1. Doris, your sunflower photo is beautiful. I am sorry that you had such a difficult time in London. With introducing Kunitz you gave me some hope; I am only 69 years old. It’s a shame that you have fallen back into patronizing teaching and preaching. But I still love you. Helga

    • timeout2 says:

      Dear Helga, Glad you liked the sunflower. As for the patronizing, teaching and preaching… I think we have had this conversation before. Your notion of patronizing and my notion of partonizing are miles apart. It is true that sometimes I editorialize; however, I most always give the source of an alternative view.. In this case, I gave the Bureau of Land Management site. I am not telling anyone what to think. Rather, I am telling readers what I think. And then, I give them a source, additional information, where they can “read all about it,” and make up their own mind.

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