Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Costumes

Students dress up on Halloween, and today some of my students dressed up: three looked like authentic Hippies; one belonged in the musical Grease with her pink skirt and pink and black sweater set; one was a Japanese warrior, complete with sword; one sat in the class throughout the period with a silly stretchy cartoon character head pulled over his own. My favorites, however, were a faculty couple, she a French teacher and he a history teacher. The girls looked so like the grownups that everyone laughed and laughed hard, including the couple's daughter, standing here between her friends.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Late Light

A photograph can't sound, but if it could it would sound like fluttering prayers, turquoise sky and steady wind lowering in temperature by the minute. It would sound orange and yellow leaving in veins of green, or the triumph of Dylan Thomas's voice in the face of winter. It would sound like October.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Frost

First frost
of bridal lace
sheer pall
grass breathes
horses' breath

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween House

Every year, a fellow who lives just off the highway here in Sewanee, decorates his house -- enthusiastically -- for Halloween and Christmas. I couldn't resist stopping there on my way home today.

Pumpkins, ghoulies, flags and all, his yard, a nuisance to some (from the gossip I've heard), brings me pleasure. Yard art at least. A folk art installation or assemblage at best. In either case, it makes me smile -- this community gift.

Monday, October 27, 2008

One Pink Sprinkle

During Breast Cancer Month (October), women and men all over the country undertook various activities to raise money for a good cause. One of those women is my former student Laurie, a patent attorney in Minneapolis. Like others of her friends, I donated money for her walk of 60+ miles over three days with a team of women who called themselves The Pink Sprinkles. To thank me, she sent this photograph and a lovely note.

Laurie's smile is beautiful. In it, I see her mother and father and her growth from the time when I first taught her in 1995, as she was beginning eighth grade. That year, she wrote about her family's Christmas celebration, complete with tree and other greenery and gifts. The celebration bothered her because her family is Jewish. In tenth grade, she returned to the topic, creating a strong essay in the form of an argument which convinced her family to drop the tradition. In twelfth grade, she returned to the topic one more time and crafted a beautiful college admissions essay. (She went to George Washington University in DC, where she earned an engineering degree.) Laurie proved over those years that composition is important for the very reason my mentoring teacher gave me in 1972: teenagers need to write to compose themselves.

Seeing Laurie also reminds me of her father and his great gift to me at the end of my McGehee career. Each morning, after dropping off his girls, he started out on a vigorous walk through the neighborhood. That last morning, as always, he dropped them off and left the school grounds. He came back, however, for one reason: to find me. When he did, his words and actions stunned me. He thanked me for loving his daughters and for contributing to the people they were coming. Some years earlier, he wasn't altogether convinced I was on the right track. Why? Because Laurie earned C's in eighth grade. By tenth, her work earned B's, and by twelfth it earned A's.

But this is what I most remember: that last morning, he cried and I cried as we hugged each other. I respect and love him and his family, still.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Quiet Visit

In January 2000, at the tail end of a visit to Italy with my family, my oldest brother and I paid an early morning pilgrimage to Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. Because I was so uncertain of my Italian and had struggled to find my bearings in our Rome neighborhood, he agreed to accompany me, and we took a cab from the Portoghesi at about 7:30 am.

From the outside, the church did not look special, even with its impressive stone facade. Accompanied by speeding traffic, I noticed no hint of the wonder inside. We entered into semi-darkness, alone, with only one praying nun and glorious art -- the reason for our journey -- as company. An art historian who has lived off and on in Italy, my brother had seen the church many times, so he took a seat right of the center aisle, prayed, and then allowed me to bask in the outrageous theatricality of one of my favorite installations, Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Cornaro Chapel.
the photograph is published on a blog named Panoramic Images of the World (

Like a play, the scene unfolds in a theatre. Leaning out from stage left and right are patrons in their opera boxes. They gaze in wonder toward center stage where St. Teresa of Avila rises in ecstasy toward an angel. Above and behind her, golden arrow shafts descend in controlled frenzy from heaven, lit with brilliant light. (There is an ocular opening in the chapel wall to allow rising sunlight to flood the scene.) Around them all, fantastically colored marbles undulate with nearly sexual energy, mirroring the orgiastic spell under which Teresa is cast.

For half an hour, I stood in wonder. On quiet days, like today, when I have not even dressed, something reminds me unexpectedly of this morning visit. Today, it was a link to the Getty Museum's special Bernini portrait exhibit. Sometimes, it's a poem that lifts me, or a shaft of light breaking through a cloud, or marbleized paper. In every case, my mind floods with the unrestrained joy of Bernini's outrageous and masterful vision and carving.

I love Bernini and his Baroque imagination.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pumpkin, Again

Mountain Breeze in "downtown" Sewanee sells Clumpies ice cream, just about the best ice cream I think I've ever eaten. Each year, for a brief time, my favorite flavor is featured: pumpkin. After cleaning the Shenanigans gallery about an hour ago, I walked over to Mountain Breeze to see if pumpkin was on the list yet. It does! I ate a lovely, large single scoop on an old fashioned cake cone and then came home with a half-pint. Texture (smooth like gelato) and flavor (like cold pumpkin pie, meaty and spicy) combine into joy.

Oh my.

Friday, October 24, 2008


My friend Jere calls Bell Buckle "the enchanted village." Sometimes, I think it should be called "the eccentric village," instead. Residents include farmers, teachers, lawyers, editors and news writers, doctors, car salesmen, retired folks of all kinds, and the poet laureate (for life) of the state of Tennessee -- Margaret Britton Vaughn.
Recently, Maggi sold her former house (complete with her poets' garden) and bought a house on Webb Highway, next to the Baptist Church. In her front yard are two most unusual sculptures -- one made of old radiators and another combining all manner of ordinary metal tools. Their cheerful colors provide just the sort of whimsy that brightens a stormy day.

Like her sculptures, Maggi's poems speak directly in folksy language and rhythms. A one-time songwriter for Ernest Tubb, Conway Twitty, and Charlie Louvin among others, Maggi is as popular in town as she is on the road, where she performs a one-woman stand-up poetry reading.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Early Morning Shadows

When I descend the stairs each morning at about 5:25, I rarely focus on anything except the next step. This morning, I saw something the light on the stair wall threw against the corner of my living room: an eerie shadow blossomed like some flower from Wonderland.

Until I took an art history course, I had never understood that shadows are composed of colors. I had always thought they came in shades of gray. This morning's shadow in shades of umber printed a spinning exclamation point, as if to say Welcome to the day not yet dawning.

I'm looking at shadows more closely from now on.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

That One

This has been a humorless campaign season, with snide sniping and mud-slinging. Except for gaffes and the denasal twang of one candidate, a maverick, you betcha, I'd be depressed.

That is until some person understood the mercantile possibilities in John McCain's reference to Barack Obama as "that one" in the second debate. I laughed at the button and then I was horrified when I remember McCain's words that sounded like a racist comment, whether intended or no, and then I laughed again.

When I saw this tiny button on Cafe Press, I had to have my own. I am now proudly announcing myself a voter for "that one" and hope folks are amused.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


As I rounded the last turn of Highway 82 to head up the hill to Bell Buckle at about 7:10 this morning, a great blue heron glided above my car from the left. After years of living in Louisiana where such birds were a common sight, I am still taken aback by the cranes and herons living here. Indeed, my first month in Bell Buckle, I saw one perched on the fencing above a tennis court.
The above image is from the Graham Owen Gallery online.

A couple of years ago, in November, I was lucky enough to see seventeen young whooping cranes on their migration behind an ultra-light to Florida. As I topped a hill on I-24 at about mile marker 122 going north, I saw enormous birds flying fairly low over the interstate. As I registered their size, I also noticed the ultra-light. I immediately sped up, way above the speed limit, trying to get them, but as I drew closer, they disappeared over a line of trees and hillocks. Later that day, after much research, I discovered I had seen Operation Migration, the migration of the whoopers. Soon after their landing in Florida, all but one (who had stopped out along the way) died in a tornado.

I admire the people who devote themselves to helping these birds survive despite odds against them and I am in awe of the birds themselves for their stamina and intelligence. Great birds are great.

Monday, October 20, 2008


As a child of the suburbs, I grew up completely ignorant of crops and fields and crop rotations and farming machinery. I'm still mostly unschooled, but at least I can now recognize some plants, even before they bloom.

Cotton grows in two fields below the mountain, alternating with corn in off-years. In the late fall, the cotton opens out, like slow-popping corn. Just in the last week, the cotton has whitened and fattened.Once cotton meant misery for those forced to pull the bolls loose, and it meant disease for those working in gins who breathed cotton-dust and lint-filled air.

Now, for me, it means an especially beautiful reminder of the family whose name I bear: Munger. (My step-great-grandfather, Robert Sylvester Munger, invented revolutionary ginning equipment, second only to Eli Whitney's original gin.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Paper Nativity

Sometimes, as happened this afternoon, when I walk downstairs, the paper Nativity a friend sent me for Christmas years ago stops me. I'm not sure whether it's the glint of the star in sunlight, the rich blue in the main arch, the simplicity of the design, or what, but the scene calls my attention.
I have always loved cut and folded paper designs: paper dolls (with which I played many hours in my childhood), paper theatres, Asian paper marionettes and shadow puppets, my marbelized Origami-folded Florentine creche, my mother's silhouette, the wonderful pup-up books designed by Robert Sabuda, the controversial silhouettes of Kara Walker.

I'm not sure what the attraction is, but I do know this: I admire the minds and hands of those who can simplify and snip the line of beauty out of the chaos of living.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Paper Tearing and Printing

Paper tearing and printing are oddly satisfying activities on a chilly Saturday with spaghetti on the stove, laundry whirling, and the cat on my computer chair.

There are days, like this one, when I wish I worked only with my hands, allowing my mind to settle and rest, on nothing in particular. When I do have such a day, my mind often replays negative memories, but today it swirls with news of a former NOLA student who has figured out how to make a good living from the Internet and whose understanding of our relationship as student/teacher so many years ago is much incisive than my own.

I am glad of Loni's friendship.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Grateful Mother

At Parents' Day, a student's mother introduced herself to me. I don't teach her daughter, and I haven't taught her daughter. I will probably never teach her daughter. But the woman gave me a gift as great as the one her daughter gave her.

Last year, her daughter created an illustrated book, one of several writing projects in ninth-grade English, of which I was in charge. My friend Ron,
who taught her daughter's section, shepherded the student as she composed a beautiful book about her grandmother's dementia. The mother wanted me to show her the book. She couldn't ask Ron because he isn't teaching this year.I showed her the book, and she cried. We then had a long conversation about why writing matters, during which she said, "Sometimes, I don't think you English teachers know just how important you can be." And then she thanked me. I accepted on Ron's behalf.

I do know writing matters, but being reminded, again, especially on Parents' Day, is a welcome gift.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Flowers from a Friend

When I least expect it, a friend lifts my day from doldrums with a feigned telephone voice (delivery from Driftwood Flowers) and a gift of fall: flowers and a lovely card. Thank you, Boo. I needed both.

The Moon

The moon is octobering now -- huge when it rises and when it sets, a witching-bewitching heavenly orb that makes my early rising and commuting a singularly astral experience.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

We Shall Overcome

Tonight, the Justice and Peace group here in Sewanee showed a film called "We Shall Overcome." As I watched it, I remember the first time I sang the song with others.

In May 1962 a friend, my brother, and several others joined one of my ministers, Lou Mitchell, on a trip I shall never forget: to Miles College, where we heard Joan Baez sing a concert. I had never before sat in a fully integrated audience, and I had never before heard Baez live. As a folkie myself and as a young person who saw injustice in the segregation system in my home city and throughout the state, I was positively electrically alive in that airless chapel late one Sunday afternoon.
When Baez invited all of us to stand, join hands -- right over left -- with the person next to us, and sing "We Shall Overcome," I remember feeling elevated in spirit and voice. Our singing was recorded that afternoon (as was her entire concert) and included on the album Joan Baez in Concert, Vol 1. If you listen hard, my brother is coughing and coughing at the beginning of the music. I remember shushing him with something like, "Billy, hush!"

On our way back home, we ran into a demonstration, which, as it turns out, was one of the most historic in the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham ("Miracle Sunday"). What I most remember feeling, however, was utter joy as I held the glass from which my idol drank that afternoon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Black Walnuts

slam my roof and newly painted porch like missiles. I have already picked up seven buckets-full and at least that many more await my hands, which they stain a sticky lime-green.

I may hate they fact they pelt my car, but I love walnut gelato -- the woody taste, so subtle, and the smooth texture reminding me of Italy and of Angelo Brocato's on Carrollton Avenue in New Orleans.

Now if I could just figure out how to find the time to make my own . . . .

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Bug on My Car Window

held on, shifting position many times as I drove. Had I seen it before leaving, I would have coaxed it off.

When I sped up to 55 mph, it climbed onto my roof.

Then, I didn't see it again.

I want to think it let go and flew or floated off somewhere.

I don't even know what kind of bug it is or was.

But I do know this: it had what we all want -- stick-to-it-ive-ness and grit.

(My friend Jill sent me this:

"It's some kind of hemipteran. It looks like an assassin or ambush bug, Order Hemiptera, Family Reduviidae. Hemipterans have outer wings that are half solid and half transparent, and they have soda-straw-like sucking mouthparts.

They suck various things. Leaf-footed bugs are sucking on Ronn's tomatoes. Some ambush other insects. Medical historians believe that when Charles Darwin was in South America, he was bitten by Triatoma, a bloodsucking "kissing bug" that infected him with the parasite that causes Chagas disease."

She should know: she's a zoologist.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Jupe the Giraffe

My father was Jupe the Giraffe, the 1950s Birmingham Children's Theatre mascot who welcomed squirming audience members and instructed them in theatre etiquette. My mother made his costume: a long papier-mache head with ears and eye holes, a brown turtleneck and brown slacks dotted with paint the color of the old caramel-colored M&Ms, and brown socks and wingtips similarly treated. He always wore white gloves, so we children could see his hands clearly when he taught us to clap.

This banana's coloring reminded me of Jupe and of the BCT, which Mother co-founded through the Junior League, and of Daddy and his histrionic antics, and of Dot Schwartz, another co-founder, who many years later befriended me and gave me the letter opener I use every day, and of the old Clark Theatre.

Did I inherit Mother's love of design and word and Daddy's gift of the gab and love of the stage? I'm not sure. But I know that I loved watching him play Jupe when all those around me didn't know who hid inside the costume.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Senior Prank

The McGehee Class of 1996 reduced me to uncontrollable laughter with their clever senior prank. When I opened my classroom door one May morning, I found this vignette.
Ophelia never looked so good, especially drowned in a polluted Thoreauvian pond.

I thanked those girls then and I thank those women now.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I often look down when I walk. Some folks think I'm stand-offish because I don't look at them or speak. What they don't know is that my balance is poor, my ankles unsteady, and my eyes focused on the small things on the ground. I walked one stride beyond this leaf after lunch today, turned around, went back, and picked it up.The leaf, like me, is fiery and translucent and intense and paradoxical. An unfaceted jewel or heart in close-up, fringed, veined, it is disconnected but not static.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Roark's Cove Color

Fall color arrived today after hard rain. Roark's Cove after a long commute takes me meandering atop a palette slathered with fall's bounty. I slow down, my eyes fill, and tension lightens. Enough said.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Today, in extra-help after school, one of my ninth-grade students said, "That's what I love about this class, Dr. Hood: you're so organized."

I wasn't always. When I first had to teach under a rotating schedule, I was as confused as everyone else. Happily, a former student -- Ashley -- came to my rescue on a visit to the campus. She suggested I ascribe a different color to each class, print a color-coded schedule, and coordinate the colors with the white board markers. She saved me and my students an enormous amount of time.

Now at the beginning of each (and sometimes at the end) of a day, I list the agenda for my classes on the board. Doing so reminds me and the students of what we're doing, saving time and psychic energy for the hard work of learning.

Organization is the key.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The End of Summer

Summer ends officially on a calendar date, but it ends for me on the Saturday I sell my last scones and buy my last bouquet at the Saturday farmers' market. That Saturday was a week ago, and today I had to throw out my wasted blooms. Although I will continue to make scones for friends and students throughout the year, the wonderful Tracy City couple who grow these fabulous blossoms will not bring them to market again until next summer. Even on those Saturdays when I did not buy a bunch, I always enjoyed lingering over the display. Nothing else I know so lightens the market. I shall look forward to seeing them -- flowers and folks -- again next year.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Cooperative Gallery at Shenanigans

Behind the restaurant at Shenanigans is a cooperative gallery featuring work by about twenty artists and craftspeople, of whom I am one. Those represented bear the responsibility for setting up shows and cleaning, repairing, and repainting the space. It's fairly popular among folks who eat in Shenanigans, especially on a weekend like this one (Family Weekend). I just did my duty and swept and straightened the shelves. Several visitors asked me some questions about the work and made complimentary comments about the work.

I still feel self-conscious about showing my handmade books in the gallery. Some of them are clever -- Sewanee Serenade and Sunday Fat Cats, for instance, which sell well. On the whole, however, I don't think my work is of the same high quality as that of several other artists (Jeanie Stephenson, Christi Teasley, Sanford McGee, Merissa Tobler, Larry Carden, and Claire Reishman). Happily, however, I sell enough to support my hobby, and that has been my goal all along.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sunday Night Supper

Every Sunday night throughout my childhood, youth, and even young adulthood (long after my mother had died), the Hoods and the Chenoweths ate Sunday night supper together, one week at the Hoods' and the next at the Chenoweths'. The grownups were best friends, and the children came to think of each other as extended family.

In October 2007, my sister-in-law Brenda died accidentally, bringing the second-generation Hoods and Chenoweths together for the first time in many years. Despite my brother David's protestations that he saw no reason for a photograph, I insisted.

We lined up in birth order: my brothers Billy and David, then Chip (Chenoweth) and his sister Emily, then me, and then the baby, Babbie Chenoweth. Despite the difficulty of the occasion just two days after Brenda's death, we laughed as we always have, at dinner and on the steps of David and Brenda's last house.

Billy and Chip repeated the often told story of their flight in Chip's Jeep as they rounded the turn of the bottom of the driveway and shot over the hedges toward the Hendrixes' house. Emily, Babbie, and I argued about whose mother made the three-bean salad that none of us would eat. David and Emily laughed about their wrestling, which ended when David realized Emily was was becoming an adolescent. We all teased Babbie about Miss White's party, which she announced at bedtime (in those days, sheets were only white).

The closeness we took for normal in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s is unusual today, and although three of our parents have died, the evidence of our extended family still lives in us and in the chandelier my father made in December 1963 (just weeks after my mother's death): each of the arms bears the inscribed name of a family member and the death date of one (my mother). Babbie and her husband still have the one-of-a-kind object in their vacation home, where it has hung for 45 years.

We all have the memories and each other.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bazzania Girls' Band

Tonight, my friend Boo and I went to Lorena's, a small coffee shop in Monteagle, for dinner and music by Bazzania, an all woman band (they call themselves girls). Named for liverwort that grows in Fiery Gizzard, Bazzania has six musicians who play old-fashioned music like cowboy songs and folk songs and gospels. All the women play several instruments and some sing. I know four of the women; Boo knows five. Other than two husbands there was an audience of nine -- three at one table, the owner and an employee, Pat and Myrtle (who own the wonderful Tea on the Mountain in Tracy City), and Boo and me. It was a lovely Friday evening's entertainment to cap off a short but demanding work week.
Early on, Boo said, "I didn't know they could play so well." Even if they didn't, the joy they take in making music together would be reward enough for attending a performance.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Sewanee Mountain Messenger

I used to read paper newspapers -- the kind that are thick with advertisements on Sundays and ink that rubs off on the fingers and that someone throws toward the front door every morning.

Now I read The New York Times, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, and The Nashville Tennessean every morning online. I choose the sections and the articles and wonder what it would be like to hold the newspapers while I spoon my oatmeal and sip my tea. It's just not the same.

Every Thursday, however, I look forward to picking up my real copy of The Sewanee Mountain Messenger, usually at the post office, where I park, leave my bags in my unlocked car, and wander in to the table near the mailboxes. The Messenger is a strange and strangely seductive read: financed in part by the university, advertising, and The Sewanee Community Chest, the paper is produced by a stalwart staff, including current and former professors. It's a public relations tool for the college, sure, but it also features pets of the week up for adoption, a charming "Nature Notes" column by the Yeatmans, and another equally entertaining poetry column called "From Bard to Verse" by Scott and Phoebe Bates (he taught my brother French here in the late 1950s and he was an active supporter of The Highlander Folk School).

My favorite page features letters to the editor. Several years ago, there were vigorous arguments about Gene Robinson (a college graduate) who spoke here after being elected Bishop in New Hampshire.
Of late , there has also been a running argument about whether Obama is Christian. Today's paper featured a follow-up letter by some folks I know about the recent chemical spraying of wildflowers lining a road down into the valley below.

Now that I've been here for a while, I recognize most of the people and places mentioned every week, and that makes me feel good. Why? I am finally beginning to feel like I belong.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Another Way to Consume Pumpkin

I thought I loved pumpkin every way it comes, until I tried my microwave baby pumpkin the other night. In World Market on Monday, I made my own six-pack and selected a Buffalo Bill's pumpkin ale. I sampled it last night and loved it.

My nephew has tried to teach me the subtleties of describing ale, but I'm still an amateur who can't tell hops from schmops. Here goes. Though it's not especially thick on the tongue, the ale has
weight. Its flavor reminds me of England and damp wool sweaters steaming by a pub fire. The finish, however, is just like an American Halloween and Thanksgiving's pumpkin pie, only light (or should I write, as packagers do, "lite"?). It's surprisingly delicious.

Two additional pleasures are these: the beautiful label and the unbelievably rich color. Who couldn't love it?