Monday, January 23, 2017

Local Color Observations


Usually, the multicolored Asian lady beetles swarm my house in October. Full sun blasts my western-facing entrance (door and windows and wall), and the insects gather in huge numbers, often squeezing their way inside.

This year, they didn't. The drought, I suspected. I was relieved -- no taping around the door, no vacuuming the hordes up and flushing them (one of the very few bugs I intentionally kill).

But in the last week, we've had a bit of sun on two days (one lots, one only a little; this is the rainy season), and on each occasion I saw a couple of beetles -- here and there.

Like this one, on a University stone bench between my house and the bookstore, tiny and alone, taking in the sun as I was, on one of the only opportunities of late to do so. I know they "rest" otherwise, in crevices of bark or narrow spaces between windows and walls.

Their intermittent appearance is an odd reassurance that life goes one, even in the darkest days.


Abandoned bikes also appear mysteriously, and sometimes disappear. A still new Schwinn (rapidly aging) has been locked to the rack in front of the bookstore for months. I think I saw it even in summer. No one has ever claimed it. A perfectly good bike, in situ, since the owner left it there.

I can't help wondering about her, the owner (it is a woman's bike), and why she never returned. 


Unlike the beetles, campus bike owners often simply disappear, leaving the hardware behind.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Medical Heroism

NPR, PBS Newshour, and The New Yorker recently featured Atul Gawande discussing the importance of primary care physicians who offer what he calls "incremental care." He cites statistics that show while primary care physicians are among the most poorly remunerated and least well treated by insurers, their care has the most profound impact on improving the quality of and length of our lives.

I saw my PCP a few days before reading and viewing Gawande. In his comments I recognized my own doctor. I've lived in many places, and I've had many physicians, but none has been a better listener and adviser than he is. I am one of the lucky ones.

I only wish in this time of healthcare uncertainty that every other citizen could have the same access to this basic human right: quality, continuing care. We'd all be better for it.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Today Some Friends Were Asked "Why March?"

One responded, "Because I can."

I couldn't; I can't.

My feet.

But I do this to resist: I stroll every day. I look for something beautiful. I chat with strangers. Today, it was with students waiting for friends to emerge from their comps. Sometimes I hear something beautiful. Today, it was students cheering their friends when they emerged. It was also the All Saints' pipe organ; someone was practicing.

It's a small thing I do, but I do it because it clears my mind.

And because I can.

Friday, January 20, 2017

One person's old junk

is another's new pleasure.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Earlier this month, when the death of art critic and writer John Berger was announced, I remembered watching and then later reading his (for me) revolutionary Ways of Seeing.  Anyone who saw even the first 45 seconds of Episode 1 must have felt as shocked as I: this was something new on television, something worth watching because it challenged and rewarded the viewer. 

I felt a shift in me then (as I did when I saw Jacob Bronowski's Ascent of ManCarl Sagan's Cosmos, and James Burke's Connections). All opened my mind to ways of thinking -- about art and culture, science and the universe, technology and human inventiveness -- that formal education never adequately reached.

With the latest news suggesting that federal funding may be ended for the Public Broadcasting Service, The National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities; with the horrific images of terrorists destroying historic world treasures; with this country's accelerated focus on data-driven testing in education as opposed to deep learning, I long for public discourse that elevates and honors the beautiful, majestic, mysterious creativity and imagination of the species.

Doors and windows, opening and opening, one into another.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

You're Never Too Old to Learn Something New

In my twenties, I photographed the same things I do today -- natural environments, flora and fauna, weathered wood, chipped paint, abandoned buildings.

Only now that I have joined 500px, I have learned that what I've been especially obsessed lately is called "urbex." Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it:

"Urban exploration (often shorted as urbex or UE, and sometimes know as 'roof-and-tunnel hacking') is the exploration of man-made structures, usually abandoned ruins or not usually seen components of the man-made environment. Photography and historical interest/documentation are heavily featured in the hobby and, although it may sometimes involve trespassing onto private property, this is not always the case."

Currently, I have been stalking two blocks of Decherd, just down the mountain. At times in the distant past, the town boomed, thanks in part to the railroad. Boo tells me that in the old days ( she's in her nineties), folks from atop the mountain had to go down to Decherd to get a train. The tracks are still there, but the boom moved to four-lane highways. One runs from the interstate to the northeast through Decherd to points west; along this corridor, Nissan has built a huge manufacturing plant. The other runs across and down the mountain, into the valley, and through Decherd to Nashville; along it are big box stores -- Walmart, Home Dept, Chinese restaurants, the Co-op, among others.

I used to drive a Nissan and I often frequent some of these highway establishments, but none operate out of buildings as beautiful as what continues to crumble on the old main street.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


When I visit Boo, I sit quite near her, where she reclines on her couch. I show her pictures (she enjoys them), sometimes read her a blog post (she enjoys those too), and tell her what news I might have.

It's hard sometimes, though, to focus on her, not because I don't want to, but because the needlepoint tapestry hanging on the wall behind her distracts me, so striking is it in design, color, careful stitching.

I needle-pointed myself, a long time ago, and no matter how hard I tried, I always pulled my stitches too much in one direction (usually the right). Even blocking didn't always correct my errors. Only twice did I follow someone else's patterns (Christmas stockings). Otherwise, I made my own -- Winnie-the-Pooh characters for children's rooms, backgammon boards (including one designed in imitation of Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie), house portraits.

Boo has told me the story of this tapestry before -- several times, but I always confuse its origin with the figures parading below, spread out on a mirror, making them even more enchanting. They, I think, are Indian, but the tapestry may simply have been one of her nephew's "finds."

At any rate, I look at the tapestry and speak with my elderly friend, slowly and loudly so she can understand my words. And I try to answer the questions she asks, the same ones each visit, the same ones many times in each visit, and I remember that, like the tapestry, her words and memories once fitted together in tight patterns, stitched carefully in her mind, and I think on all the other old folks I've known like her in advanced age.

If only I had paid more attention earlier.