Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sewanee Auto

The Thomases, who live in Lynchburg, own and operate Sewanee Auto, the best garage I have ever used. (And I mean ever.)

Harold is so honest, in fact, that a former boss fired him when he refused to do unnecessary work to a customer's car, even when that boss had demanded he do so.

Several years ago, my car developed a slow power steering fluid leak. Harold took the whole steering system apart and found a tiny crack. By the time the part arrived, my brother and a friend had convinced me to drive around with steering fluid to save money. When I went in to tell Harold what I had decided, he laughed and said he'd do the same thing. He sent the part back and never charged anything -- for his labor or his trouble.

This morning, I took my car in for an oil change and tire rotation and balance. When I picked it up after only an hour, Harold chided me, laughing, "Robley, you've driven that car 13,000 miles since your last oil change!" He remembers the 100,000 mile tune-up, my only tune-up since buying the car in 2000. At that time, he said, "I put the special 100,000-mile spark plugs in for you!"

I love the Thomases. They supply free candy, a weekly drawing for $20 worth of gas, reasonable prices, quality mechanics, good humor, and friendship. They are one reason why living in a small town is so good.

Monday, September 29, 2008


The Piggly Wiggly and the last Saturday market of the season both offered small pumpkins for pies and dinner. I thought, Why not? I love pumpkin.

I cut my pumpkin into pieces as instructed and microwaved it for dinner. I imagined the richness of flavor, matching its outrageous color. I imagined the weight of fall on my tongue, the early dark and the chill in the air. I imagined the pleasure of the velvety texture on my tongue.

What a disappointment. More tasteless than any squash I've ever eaten. No wonder people put brown sugar in these babies.

According to Yahoo, there are 3,216,000 sites for "choosing a pumpkin for cooking." Next time, I'll give a couple a try before I let me eyes do the shopping.

Still, it was an object of visual beauty.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

One Rudolph

After two and a half hours, my hired helper Nathan (otherwise known as Sloth) and I had managed to hang only one of three reindeer, the newest, my Christmas gift from my nephew. It now takes the honored spot of threshhold art.
This Rudolph is modeled on another that my father used at the head of a three-reindeer team every Christmas throughout my childhood and youth. Perched on a large rock overlooking the creek and bridge into our driveway in Crestline, for three nights before Christmas each year, my father sat in a hand-crafted sleigh pulled by three plywood reindeer lifting toward the sky. He made the reindeer, and my mother painted them.

Families drove by or, more often, parked and walked up to the bridge, where Mother pulled the child into the light. She said something like, "Rebecca, come onto the bridge so you can see Santa." After a moment's pause, Daddy would call out, "Ho-ho-ho! Merry Christmas, Rebecca!" The children's surprise was palpably magic. Every child in Birmingham believed the department store Santas were helpers, but the one on Memory Lane was real.

Some years ago, my father sold my childhood house. Years later, my niece met the owners at a party, and when they said there were two reindeer in the basement, she told me. They're now mine. I want to put them up, but I haven't yet been able to figure out where. The problem with loving art is limited wall space, alas. I am still thinking on it.
Meanwhile I shall think of my nephew every time I walk down my steps and leave the house. I love him for his thoughtful gift and his respect for family tradition.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Visit with Grace

Grace, a former McGehee student, joined me for lunch at Shenanigans, purchased several of my books from the gallery, and then spent most of the afternoon with me on my deck, enjoying tea and French coconut pie and honest conversation about then and now.

I remember her with pleasure, sitting at a table in my old room, 2SW. She remembers me for my boldness and said, "I always thought you liked me." I did, and I still do.

One gift is that Grace is a reader, especially of memoir. She said, "You may be surprised to learn that something stuck. You showed me the love of reading, beginning with An American Childhood." I was surprised because she was not a committed student -- then. We compared favorite books (we both love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), and she eagerly wrote down titles of books I pulled off my shelves. I even invited her to join Shelfari.

By the time Grace's mother arrived to drive her back to Murfreesboro where her mother now lives, we had enjoyed such a lovely afternoon that I longed for more good conversation.

We're both works-in-progress with triumphant arcs in our life stories, and
Grace was the grace I have been needing lately. I thank her for her visit and friendship.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Pleasures of Home

It's easy to forget just how lovely home is when you spend most of the day working and getting to work. Sometimes, just being in your home without meaning to do much else is the best thing you can do. In Oz, Dorothy knew what she was doing when she clicked those ruby-red slippers.

My freshmen and I freely wrote odes yesterday in imitation of Neruda's odes to common things. In about sixteen minutes, I penned

Ode to My Deck

Like a prow
my deck
above grass,
black walnut
trees lapping
shore of forest.
On a wave
of leaf
I captain
even raccoon
from a wheel
with zinnia
and basil,
my zero-
by change
across a sea
of campus.
O, deck,
on your humble
pine planks,
and picked
by titmouse
from shell,
let me
the wing
of goldfinches.
the hearts
of humming
and the red
of woodpecker
the grounded
O, deck,
on you
I sail
like the flag
of deer tail
into darkness.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Sometimes, when you're doing one thing, another thing comes your way. This happened to me recently. When I arrived to see an aquaintance, she presented me with two full, heavy shopping bags.

"Here," she said. "I've lost weight recently, and these don't fit my anymore. I thought you might want to see if there's anything you'd like."

I took the bags home and waited till I had time to savor the contents. Finally, Sunday morning, I pulled out each piece of clothing, shook it out, tried it on, and decided. I'd keep one jacket, three blouses, and one pair of pants -- most of these pieces by my favorite clothing company, FLAX.

Today, I returned the un-selected clothing and thanked her for my lagniappe. Stay on the lookout for the little something extra!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Red, Orange, Yellow: Bronze

Over my long career as an English teacher, I have grown tired of reading student poems about fall colors. How can anyone describe the brilliance of the dying leaf? The elegance of the limp leaf? The balletic limbs? The play of light on age-spotted plants? I can't do it. I can only use my camera to capture the colors blooming in my Virginia sweetspire and deer-damaged oakleaf hydrangea.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Here's something beautiful -- an inexpensive, fully-paid-for, 2001, trustworthy car with over 167,000 miles on it, after having had only one major tune-up, three sets of tires, regular oil changes and tire rotations and balancing, and a new catalytic converter. Say it: Nissan Sentra, homely but dependable.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Field, Breathing

My blog has taken on an unintentional theme of late: sights seen along my daily commute. I suppose that topic isn't surprising since I spend almost two hours each day in the car. Sometimes I spend that time well, listening to classical music or NPR, thinking, noticing the changing landscape. This last is my favorite part of the commute.

The light now is changing with the seasons, as a result of which I see sunrise and moonset almost every day. Today, the fields were filled with morning mist, like the breath of earth lifting to meet the rising sun.For some reason, as I passed this field along Highway 64, I thought of a poem by Ted Hughes.

Ted Hughes, The Horses

I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.

Evil air, a frost-making stillness,

Not a leaf, not a bird --
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood

Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.

But the valleys were draining the darkness

Till the moorline -- blackening dregs of the brightening grey --
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:

Huge in the dense grey -- ten together --
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,

with draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.

I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments

Of a grey silent world.

I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlew's tear turned its edge on the silence.

Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange, red, red erupted

Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,

Shook the gulf open, showed blue,

And the big planets hanging --
I turned

Stumbling in the fever of a dream, down towards
The dark woods, from the kindling tops,

And came to the horses.
There, still they stood,

But now steaming and glistening under the flow of light,

Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
Stirring under a thaw while all around them

The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
Not one snorted or stamped,

Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys in the red leveling rays --

In din of crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place

Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing the curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.

This morning, far away from the "din of crowded streets," I felt as if I "hear[d] the horizons endure" in the breathing of silent fields.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pigs and Cows

This morning, on my way home from school and yesterday's dorm duty, a headachy eight hours with four of them devoted to Al Brooks' pointless Robin Hood: Men in Tights and the equally inane Guitar Hero, both of which I was forced to observe, I needed to clear my head. I avoided the freeway on my first 15 or so miles, drove south along the Murfreesboro Highway/Highway 41, and then took a small detour by a sign I have long loved, announcing Stepp Road.The apparently homemade metal sign is beautiful: a balanced, even cheerful indication of what lies ahead. If one forgets that the cheerfully rendered pigs are raised for slaughter and do not, like Wilbur in Charlotte's Web, escape it through friendship and ability, the sign is charming. Despite the pig's intelligence, reputed to be high, we like its flavor. Indeed, this morning on the mountain I purchased bacon and pork chops. How crazy am I? If I can divorce myself from the fact of the meat's origin, I too can enjoy porcine flavor and advertisement on a back road.

That back road winds through a series of postcards -- cows standing peacefully in
water, wild black-eyed susans billowing in the breeze, stark white farmhouses set back among trees, rolling hills and balds, narrow bridges over rocky creeks -- featuring the landscape, bucolic and murderous, of Middle Tennessee. I love it, blindly.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Trail of Tears Motorcyclists

As I finished showering this morning, I heard their roar, toweled quickly, and rushed downtown so I wouldn't miss them. I was not disappointed. Thousands of motorcyclists roared by on their Trail of Tears fundraiser from Chattanooga to Florence, Alabama. A few hearty Sewanee citizens gathered on the grass near Taylor's, Shenanigans, and Mountain Breeze and waved as the men, children, and children rolled by. One picture just doesn't tell the story.

Teacher and Student

For a long time (almost 19 years), I taught at a girls' prep school in New Orleans. Just outside my classroom in the old science wing (my classroom had earlier been the "new" library) was a breezeway winding down past a history/English classroom and the music room. Along that breezeway were old wooden benches on which my students and I sat when conferring about their writing.

Among the treasured things I took with me when I left that school was this photograph, which my friend Cathy, a former development director, gave me. It has been sitting in my office at my new school and reminds me of the girls, all now young women, I taught at McGehee's over three different decades.One of those young women, Meredith (listening intently in the photograph above), and I have recently been chatting through Facebook. She now teaches at her alma mater and also coaches volleyball. When I taught her in 8th and 10th grades, she lacked confidence in her reading, writing, and voice. During her senior English class with me, however, poetry gave her a voice. Indeed, she wrote such a beautiful personal essay that she used it as a college essay. Later, her peers chose it for publication in the school's literary magazine. In one of our last FB wall-to-walls, she wrote that she was the highest achieving student in her freshman composition course.

I always loved Meredith, and I know she knows it, too.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The New Yorker

When I was 15 and bored, a Brooke Hill librarian saved my reading life: she introduced me to Scientific American, Time, and The New Yorker.

I well thumbed every new issue of all three magazines through the rest of high school. I'm not sure how much I understood of the first, though I had aspirations of studying molecular biology. I do know I read the second thoroughly. As for the third, I loved it in 1962 and I still love it today, though in some ways it is not the same magazine.

One thing hasn't changed: the way I read The New Yorker for the clever cartoons, and the beautiful (and sometimes controversial) painted covers.

I turn every page, noting the events and table of contents, studying each cartoon, enjoying the filler-drawings (and I love the continuing narratives implied by them in today's magazine), glancing at marginal advertisements (I usually skip the whole-page ones), reading the poems, and, today, laughing at the cartoon caption contest on the last page (I even sometimes go online and vote). Then, I go back and read the reviews (books, TV, film, and plays), selected long articles, and skim "The Talk of the Town." (Before these pieces were signed -- was that during Tina Brown's tenure? -- , I read them all for the famous "New Yorker style." I liked those talk-pieces better than most today.) I rarely read the short fiction, with the exception of works by writers in whom I'm interested. I do remember a fairly recent, terrific and strange story by Tony Earley and Annie Proulx' "Brokeback Mountain." I miss some columnists whose work was regular. (I especially enjoyed Jamaica Kincaid's gardening columns, of all things. I'm not a gardener myself.)

My favorite part of the magazine is the cover. I miss the brown-wrapper mailing days because then the cover was always pristine. I frequently saved the covers to decorate my dorm rooms in college, and then I saved them for decoupaging my guitar case, and then I saved them to post in my classroom. Now, I can't get the dadgum label off without stripping off some part of the cover design. Each is a left-framed work of original art worth saving.

(As I write this, I remember the fabulous pool house owned by friends of my parents. The "powder room" was wallpapered with New Yorker covers, not the originals but some fancy wallpaper popular in the early '60s.)

I thank all librarians for saving restless teens like me and the New Yorker publishing corporation for maintaining the magazine since its inaugural issue in 1925, especially since so many other magazines have died.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Service Day with the Seedy Seas

Service Day with five Webb School students and a classroom of CDC (special education) students at Grundy County High School means a celebration of human warmth and dignity -- for everyone. Judging by the smiles and engagement of all students with their tasks -- working on classroom scrapbooks and painting a new mural --, I'd say the day was a success.
One challenge these special students do not face is the quality of their teacher. Miss Betty, as they call her, is something of a miracle worker. For me, the most beautiful moment of the day took place at the opening when she encouraged her students to develop their language skills in a joyful recitation of the day of the week, the date, the month, the year, the weather, and yesterday's news. These students can wring chicken necks and clean them, straighten out their closets, watch movies with joy, spell and count (one is taking algebra and has the highest average in class), and sing in front of 7,000 people at a VSA (Very Special Arts) convention at the Opryland Hotel. They have even performed at Nashville's famed Bluebird Cafe. All thanks to Miss Betty.

What a joyous and life-affirming day.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Blue Everywhere

This afternoon, sky startled me. I had to stop to photograph it, not once, but four times. Turquoise shivered toward the horizon, deepening in value and hue to a rich jewel-toned blue. The clouds, too, startled me, ranging from stark white to blue-white to gray-white to gray.

I felt as I did today only once before, years ago, when I sat alone, inside St. John's-at-Hampstead Church on a rainy, cold day in January 1989. The ceiling and white trim made me feel as if I were sitting inside a Wedgwood bowl.

Today, I admired a living Tiepolo painting.

A picture may not always be worth a thousand words, but sometimes no words can capture the majesty of what we take for granted: the sky.

Monday, September 15, 2008

End-of-Summer Blooms

This afternoon, I visited my friend Florence, who with her husband grows magical flowers. When I pulled onto the gravel driveway, I was struck by the clematis weighing down the arched gateway into a nearly forgotten garden where zinnias bloom nearly shoulder-high, a small rabbit snoozed, grape tomatoes ripen, and a dog and cat lie buried next to a sundial. It's one of several vignettes, as Jere describes the different gardens composing their yard. It's a place of life, and of death that renews life.

When my cat Grady (a nickname for her official name, Gray Drawers)
dragged herself into my den and yowled one evening six years ago, I called my vet who agreed to meet me and then my friends who agreed to take me. Grady died in the car, mid-yowl. I had never before witnessed a dying animal's suffering , although I had been part of putting down another cat, Poor Pitiful Pearl. She, however, had purred as the vet administered her final dose.

Most upsetting was that I couldn't bury Grady the next day because I had to go to Chattanooga, two hours away, for the entire next day where I was to present two sessions at a teachers' conference. In my place, Florence and Jere conducted a private service, complete with a few words, singing, and flowers. They buried Grady near their beloved dog Buddy.

Their small kindness and their beautiful blooms serve as fitting memorials to our pets.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cookie Cutters

My mother was not what some would call a great cook. She fixed things like "Joe Mazotti," a meat/potatoes/onion casserole, and "veal birds" from recipes in the Fannie Farmer cookbook. On occasion, she also made delicious sweets -- homemade lemon meringue pie and coconut cake (from real coconuts), chess pie and heavenly chocolate icebox pie (my request for my birthday), warm gingerbread and lemon curd, even cream puffs.

My favorite sweet, though, was the simplest: sugar cookies. Some years after her death when I was a teenager, I salvaged many of her cookie cutters from my father's kitchen. There are about fifteen or twenty metal cutters, some clearly older than others, and another twenty of so red plastic cutters.

I love them, not because I make cookies, which I seldom do, but because Mother's hands and mine touched them when I was a child, and because I used them with my niece and nephew when they were children, and because I am going to use them with my three grandnieces and one grandnephew.

I love them because they're beautiful in the way only mundane, inherited objects can be loved.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

NOLA Window

This afternoon, I walked into my living room after spending hours at my computer, reading and commenting on student work. I was struck by the light pouring through New Orleans, hanging in my front windows.

Although the stained glass panel is always there, in late afternoon, when the sun lowers across my front yard, light throws itself into the space of my furniture and books. It makes a kind of exploding silence that fills my house with New Orleans -- humidity, joy, red pepper, the smells of mildew and musk and sweet olive and beer and crab boil, wrought iron, good friends, former students, PJs coffee, Maple Street books, the streetcar clang , and the cool sweetness of Camellia Grill's coconut cream pie.

The window itself is a kind of lagniappe. Taking the Magazine Street art walk one weekend, I entered Diva, the gallery owned by a student's mother, a stained glass artist whose work I had never before been able to afford her work. But that afternoon, she advised me to put in a bid for the window. She said I had a good chance of winning since no else had entered the drawing. Later that day, she called to tell me the good news.

The window reminds me of Sally and of her daughter Morgan and of all those women I taught and all those friends I made (and lost) in The City That Care Forgot. The stained glass always throws me something.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Need I Say More?

Baby seedless watermelon: wet, sweet smile, as delicious as a child's kiss.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Commuting through the Countryside

I have a long commute (about 51 miles), but happily it's a beautiful one.

I begin atop a mountain and, on a good day like today, wind down Roark's Cove Road (also called the Alto Road), with switchbacks and dropoffs all the way down. Then I drive past a beautiful year-round garden into tiny Alto, where I turn right by the seedman and pass the peach-colored old house, circa 1900, with its five-grave front-yard cemetery. Then it's onto Highway 64 to the interstate at a Stuckey's where I've stopped for candy and, once, for lunch. After thirty miles on the freeway (by the Arnold Air Force and Arnold Engineering and then through Manchester), I turn off onto another Highway 64 (The Walking Horse Highway) and then Highway 82 (Sawney Webb Memorial Highway.

It's 82 that I enjoy most for its views of rolling farmland dotted with cows and goats and hummocks of green as far as my eye can see. This morning, I pulled off in the middle of the bent S-curve to take this photo, but it doesn't really capture the charm. Like rural England, rural Middle Tennessee is a verdant place indeed that lifts the spirit even before 7 AM.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Paper, a Source of Pleasure

Some catalogs are pointless. Others are altogether delightful. Paper Source is in the "other" category, not because I buy from it but because I love the papers pictured in it.

The catalog itself is printed on heavier-than-usual stock, ribbed, so I can still feel the natural fibers that make up the pulp. The back cover says, "This catalog is printed on Green Seal certified paper with 30% post-consumer waste. Please save, reuse or recycle this catalog in a creative way -- make pretty envelopes, gift wrap, origami . . . or pass it along to inspire a friend!" These last comments are bit crafty-cutesy for my taste, but the idea is admirable.

Inside, the receiver will find equally cutesy items I'd never buy or make -- dye-cut Halloween figures, for instance, or miscellaneous "autumn creations." The discerning reader/peruser, however, will also find these delights: embossing tools; stationery; letterpress cards; and Cavallini desk supplies.

In my own bookbinding, I love using Cavallini papers. Although machine pressed, they cover book board smoothly and hold up under wear. More importantly, their designs are whimsical and vintage -- bright red birds and cages on a turquoise field, or Parisian postcards and stamps, deco-inspired graphics of European cities, or maps, and gaily colored koi.

Cavallini makes me smile any day. Today, it did when I discovered the catalog in my mail box.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Own Curtain of Green

Eudora Welty, the great Mississippi writer, published her first book of stories under the title A Curtain of Green. With no slight to her artistry, I celebrate today my own curtain of green: the view through my classroom windows if I look slightly upwards

at the trees and their generous canopies.

Like many classroom buildings, mine is strictly utilitarian. Despite a
spruce-up somewhere around the false millennium and despite the addition of an oversized facade, complete with oversized clock, a year or so ago, the building is a brick tunnel with insufficient and inefficient bathrooms, gray walls, dropped fluorescent lighting, and false ceilings.

My room, like the others, is, if I'm being generous, unattractive.

But my view is beautiful.

The leaves put on a show three seasons of the year, and the trunks and branches provide another in winter. Should I feel the need for a glimpse of something natural and flourishing and living, I simply raise my eyes.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Subtle Joy of Tea

Ten years ago, I spent a month in Oxford, England, attending a summer program on a scholarship from the English-Speaking Union. At Exeter College on The Turl, I learned many things, not the least of which is the pleasure of tea. Humble, everyday, nothing-fancy PG Tips. I drank it for breakfast with white toast, which I despised at first but grew to love. I drank it after lunch in The Junior Common Room. I drank it in the late afternoon in The Undercroft. I drank it after supper, again in the JCR.

Since then, I have been a tea fanatic.

Although I have tried fancy blends from the Boston-based Upton Tea Company, which friends here in Sewanee recommended, and although I love African Dew blend from New York's Alice's Teacup, and although I have tried other popular British brands including Typhoo, I'm partial to PG Tips and the signature pyramid-style bag.

First thing in the morning and last thing at night, I drink my black tea lightened with milk. Sometimes I have it with a snack, like this blueberry turnover made by the Cumberland Street Bakery in Cowan. Mostly, though, I just drink the tea, savoring the taste of soil and leaf, holding it on my tongue. It is a welcome tonic.

(A word about the objects in this photo, which I also love. I made the cup in 1973 or 1974 in one of two summer-long courses I took in wheel-throwing at Newcomb in New Orleans. The plate was made by Brown's Pottery of Arden, NC, a family-owned business famous for its practical line of dinnerware and its whimsical face jogs. All contributed to the happiness I felt before and after I took this picture.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dewy Spider Silk

Standing on the deck to make a cellphone call, I glimpsed magic in a flower pot: dewy spider silk glinting in early morning sun. I didn't see the spider, but what the spider made and what the moisture and changing temperature last night made together created a work of art as lovely as any glass work I've ever seen. (Look carefully at the lower right of the picture below, and you can even see a bit of silk without dew.)

I was already thinking of my great-niece's fifth birthday (on September 11), which is being celebrated today at The Children's Dance Foundation. She and her friends are having a dress-up party this afternoon. The card invites party-goers to "see the wizard, follow the yellow brick road, and celebrate with us!" Unhappily, my homework and distance make it impossible for me to celebrate with her, but I feel as if I have already.

I've celebrated the joy of the spider and her silk. What could be more magical?

Happy birthday party, E! I love you!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Another Foggy Day in Sewanee

When I was fifteen, my parents got special permission to take me out of school for two weeks (which destroyed my grasp of Latin because I missed the teaching of the ut clause) so that I could join them and my oldest brother on a cross-country road- trip to California. There, my father was installed as President of the then National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association.

The trip was terrific: we slept in a tepee motel; drove Route 66; counted cows and read Burma Shave signs; saw the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert; rode mules down into the Grand Canyon; visited Carlsbad Caverns from which thousands of bats flew at sunset; spent the night in Amarillo, Texas where I bought cowgirl pants; saw plenty of real Native Americans in Gallup, NM; ate Mexican food for the first time (at least my first time) in old town, Albuquerque, New Mexico; almost ran out of gas in the desert, where tumbleweeds and coyotes skipped about; ate bird's nest soup in San Francisco at a restaurant in Chinatown; and spent the day in Yosemite and the night in the old wooden lodge.

On that trip, I also saw fog for the first time I remember -- in Carmel, California, where Joan Baez, one of my heroines, lived. The fog rolled in, just as writers always described it, from over the Pacific and snaked through strangely shaped evergreen trees.

Now I live in a land of fog. A local coffee shop used to sell T-shirts that said, "Another foggy day in Sewanee." Despite weather reports that this weekend would be clear and beautiful (so my painters could work on my porch and deck), I awoke to one of our typically gray days. Actually, the fog today is light -- just wisps of cloud, through which almost everything is visible, at least the important stuff. As the trees top out, the fog grows heavier.

Once, I saw an almost black fog here, so thick I literally couldn't hold an arm out straight and see my hand at the end of it. Another time, the white fog was so thick that when I left on my commute, it took almost half an hour to get to the interstate instead of the usual ten minutes. Still another time, when I drove up the mountain, I came into a freezing fog: from about five feet up, the fog was instantly freezing everything, while below all was clear and unfrozen.

We have fog in the middle of the summer and in the dead of winter and at every time in between.

I love the fog: it dampens noise and provides a kind of earache without the ache or a bad cold without the discomfort, enclosing everyone and everything in a wrapping of dampening moisture that leads to reading and napping and staring. It's the perfect excuse for an indoor day of doing nothing.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sunrise Commute

I often leave as the sun is rising, and in the winter I return when it is setting or after it has set. There have been many days when I've seen the moon rise and set with the sunrise and sunset. Today, as I turned the sweeping corner along the road by the airport, I was stunned by the field of sky before me.

I parked briefly in the hangar driveway to take two
pictures, one on a normal auto setting and the other on the special scene setting for foliage. You'd have thought I had witnessed the coming and going of the life star at the exactly the same moment.

In truth, I witnessed only the rising today. It was, like a morning glory, a loud silent shout of purple and pink, unfolding in petal.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Beans and Peppers and Tomatoes

My friend Francis loves gardening -- souls and vegetables. When I visited him and his wife this weekend, he sent me packing, as he does every summer guest. I came away with bags of basil, tomatillos, cayenne peppers, tomatoes, and green beans. It's the green beans I most love.

A sturdy vegetable, a green bean snaps in the fingers and, depending on how long it simmers on the stove, it snaps or slides on the way down. One evening, F's homegrown green beans snapped in a pepper and chicken stir-fry, but last night they slid, almost melting on my tongue with the taste of loamy earth, sweet and slightly acrid. In their company, I ate one of his just-ripe tomatoes and a small pork chop, all dreamy for their southernness. The green bean packs a punch and so does the liquid in which it simmers. From the pot, I licked the last drop, scooping up each of the little dots of seed on my happy tongue.

Only two fresh vegetables -- limas and beans -- remind me of childhood with instant recognition. I probably did it more than once, but I remember only one time for each delicacy when I sat with our housekeeper Lucille (whom I knew from the age of 8 on until she died when I was in my 30s) on the back steps and snapped and shelled.

There's something humble and bone-satisfying in the bean, just as there was in her generous heart and large hands.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Color of a Cherry

When I planted a Kwanzan cherry tree in my front yard in 2002, I never knew that it would thrill me twice a year. Every spring I enjoy the cotton-candy pink fluffy flowers. They're crimped and floppy like unstarched petticoats nodding from heavy waists as if wilting. In late summer, I get a second show (that is, when the birds don't get to the tree first): the beautiful little clumps of cherries clinging to their fragile stems and each other for sun and ripening.
What I love most about the tree and its fruit is the show of colors -- in spring from pale pink to powder-pink to girlie-pink to poodle-skirt pink to full-on fuchsia mixed with apple green and painfully blue sky and in late summer from insect-eaten emerald green to forest green to chartreuse and splotchy red like a kiss deepening from a blush to bloody passion.

It's a good tree, I think. It's a beautiful companion, I know.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fairy Ring

I had never heard of fairy rings (pixie rings is the term I prefer) before coming to Bell Buckle, but I had seen them before. Today, when I drove to school, I saw three of them on Turtle Circle, where some faculty houses are. The rings I saw were actually arcs, but the toadstools were beautiful -- plump cream-colored lumps with soft blotches and spots and blushes of sable. I had to take two pictures to celebrate their beauty.

Years ago, I was obsessed with photography. I used my Pentax SLR to take black and whites, which I printed with my father's old enlarger (until it was stolen, but that's another story entirely), and color slides. I still have tray upon tray of slides of toadstools and moss and flowers and acorns and other assorted tidbits of nature. Sometimes, I pull out my projector and just look at those slides by myself.

I love closeups of nature's small wonders in saturated, rich color. Indeed, I love making those photographs, and with digital photography I love looking at them on my computer. They serve no purpose -- except joy in the looking, taking, and looking.

Addendum: My friend Jill says the toadstools look like meringues. She's right. I wish I'd thought of that!