Saturday, January 31, 2009

Relative Time

Chronos, a 1985 film by Ron Fricke (, travels through time in a way I never can: time-lapse images sail through grand sites like the Grand Canyon and southwestern Native American land, Stonehenge and the Seine at night, through the Vatican and Pompeii, into the streets of New York City and the concourse of Grand Central Station, all accompanied by Vangelis music. About an hour in length, at times the film lingers on the seductive play of balletic light; at others, it roller-coasters, speeding up to match the rhythms of city.

The Netflix description says, "Prepare to be awestruck by this unique film that's unlike anything you've ever seen before." I was awestruck, as much by the beauty of nature and art and the light embracing both as I was by the inventiveness of the filmmaking. In fact, I'm going to watch it again and wonder.

Friday, January 30, 2009


for Maira Kalman who inspires me: her children's books delight; her Elements of Style bursts with the joy that the book's instructions lack; her Principles of Uncertainty bursts with the certainty of her genius; and her occasional columns in The New York Times entertain and move.

Today's NYTimes column gives another reason to celebrate her generous gifts. Don't you agree?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Some days call for the adult equivalent of thumbsucking.

But just what would that be?

What could possibly be as satisfying as that primal activity, especially when coupled with loved ones and favorite blankies or "tags."

Maybe I should just settle for the photographic equivalent, in this case, three thumbsuckers I love: a niece and two great-nieces.

Now those are some beautiful thumbsuckers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Forum Reflection

I attended the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy recruiting forum Saturday, a stimulating event hosted by three energetic women committed to realizing a dream: a charter school promising public college prep education equal to that offered by independent schools.

I have never been as impressed with educators as I was Saturday morning.

At the end of the session, the dean of faculty gave us an assignment: create a forum response in any form and email it by February 2. I have been thinking of little else since then. This morning, I spent more than five hours brainstorming and drafting and revising and deleting and
brainstorming and . . . .

I finally noticed my own hands as I wrote. I grabbed my digital camera and went to work.

Here's what I emailed.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jerry Garcia Visits Sewanee

Well, ok, so I'm stretching the truth, but . . . one of his ties made it to the Hospitality Shop, the local nearly new shop that supports the hospital. I snapped it up for my nephew, who almost never has to wear a tie, but who loves ties, is a maturing Deadhead and owns other Garcia ties.

What I wonder is this: how did a man known for brilliant musical improvisation and drug experimentation get into the tie business in the first place? And what does it mean for grown men to collect his ties -- one of the West's symbols of male power -- and then wear them to business meetings?

For whatever reason, I find them rather attractive, especially when my nephew wears them. Thanks to Jerry, he can spiff up in something redolent of power and the '60s, all in one stylish knot.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Creative Energy of Work

Since learning Friday that I am to teach an online course beginning Wednesday, I have been preparing with fervor. Curiously, I am not tired (though I admit to moments of panic). Glued to my computer chair, I have been accessing, reading, downloading, composing, revising, instant messaging, editing, uploading -- virtually nonstop. Instead of feeling tired, I am invigorated. Some months ago, a gentleman asked, "Why do you work?" I answered, "To make money to live." He told me I was wrong. "No," he said, "you work because it feeds the mind."

At this moment, my mind gorges on meaningful work in a state of such creative excitement and energy that it swirls with pleasure, bursting with images and ideas like colored bits of glass sliding momentarily into kaleidoscopic view and then shattering, only to re-emerge in ever-changing designs of thought.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Nourishment of Friendship

I've been blessed with the nourishing force of friendship over the last several days .

I am now an honorary member of McGehee's Class of 1977, thanks to my continuing relationships with a set of girls I once taught and still love. Their humor and strength as they face a significant age marker have lifted my spirits.
A more recent (though no less valued) friend re-gifted me with a whole, spiral-cut ham, providing thirteen freezer bags of delicious protein when my larder is low. A slice sure made a great middle for my eggs and toast at lunch.
Several months ago, a truly local friend told me about a new Chattanooga charter school (Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy), which sponsored a recruiting session this morning. There, three dynamic women spoke powerfully about the betterment of young women's futures through education. Their passion, vision, and commitment sparked the spirits of every educator in the room.

Taking part in the venture of living: friendship.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Snow Diamonds

The child in me emerges every now and then as it did this morning. Turning from steeping tea, I saw the rising sun catch the snow on my deck. Snow grains sparkled like stars on a white field. I remember a huge childhood snow when my across-the-street neighbor and friend Camille and I sledded down the Hendons' front yard all day long and another in New Orleans, weeks after my mother's death, when my friend Nancy's mother woke us on New Year's with snowballs in our faces and when we went to the Sugar Bowl in the Tulane stadium and sat with our feet on small humps of snow.I have no sled now and no desire to play in or pile snow into forts or mannequins, but when the sun catches snow while night's shadows linger, I feel the same thrill of snow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Historic Inauguration

I have watched television all day long, including now as I write this post. I am seeing something I thought I'd never witness, the inauguration of an African American President. This is a day worth celebrating because it represents the renewed promise of the principles underlying our democracy and of our motley population.
For those who worked in the Civil Rights movement and for those who witnessed, as I did, the horrors of legal apartheid in this country, today is one we'll never forget. Raised in Birmingham in the 1950s and '60s, I went to segregated transportation stations and sat on the "Whites Only" side; I enjoyed Kiddieland and the Alabama State Fair, which black children didn't; I remember the march on Selma and the bombings and demeaning slurs; after sitting in my first integrated audience at Miles College to hear Joan Baez, our group found ourselves stalled on the way home by the Miracle Sunday march toward downtown; I had lengthy conversations with the woman who cooked and cleaned for us about race and about her trip to D.C. for the March on the Washington; and I lost my faith when at church the couple in front of me walked out when black teens walked in, the man muttering "Nigger." I was a child of white privilege living safely in a suburb, but I hated the system and the government that upheld it.

I am proud to say that in this Presidential election I voted for the first serious female candidate in the primary and for the new President in November. I am even prouder to be a witness to the outpouring of joy in our election of a man who, as one bystander said on TV today, carries the blood of all the continents.

He is the American story in one person.

What a day.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Today, I decided to attend the convocation opening the Easter term at the college. Each semester, honorary degrees are awarded and a short speech is delivered by a notable honoree. In the spring, students elected to the Order of Gownsmen are also inducted.

Today, four individuals received honors (including Father Fritz Lafontant who, with Paul Farmer, started the medical mission in Haiti made famous in Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains). Historian and writer Godfrey Hodgson delivered a short address that focused, appropriately, on Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. I'd like to say his talk was inspiring, but it wasn't.

What was impressive was what I always find impressive: the beauty of All Saints' Chapel. Sitting inside, I never fail to feel a sence of calm when I look upwards -- at the valuting and stained glass and organ pipes and rose window. The chapel is especially beautiful on a fall late afternoon when the sun throws flaring bursts of colorful light against stone like silent fireworks. I love sitting alone, then, in near darkness.

I celebrate the astronomical show.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Sometimes, for no reason, in my proverbial mind's eye, I see again a loved image, a snapshot that develops suddenly. That happened late this afternoon. Apropos of nothing, while at a friend's house, engaged in a conversation about an entirely different subject, I saw this scene from December 31, 1999.
With my brother and sister-in-law (now deceased), nephew and new wife, niece and then-boyfriend, I climbed the public viewing tower of Siena's cathedral and looked out over the medieval town and the vista beyond.

I love Siena (and have blogged about it before) -- its friendliness and beauty, architecture and panforte, great art and cathedral cats, and the pleasure of my family's company. At lunch, I ate delicious pumpkin stuffed ravioli; wandering the narrow streets off the main square, I chewed dried apricots pulled from a paper bag; in the sun at a Piazza del Campo cafe, I drank a delicious coffee with steamed milk; and I took my favorite photographs of one brother, from behind and then the front, as he leaned against a post, jacket and scarf pulled up to the bottom of his nose against bitter cold, a heavy bag of panforte hanging from a gloved hand.

I never know when I'll have a fleeting picture surface in memory, and I'll never know why. I'm glad I've been to Siena, if only once in my life, and even more glad I shared the journey with loved ones.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


A day that begins and ends in community offers welcome protection from numbing cold.

The morning meant clearing, painting, dusting, sweeping, and swabbing the cooperative gallery at Shenanigans. Seven of us -- two sculptors, two potters, two
fiber artists, and I -- spent the morning preparing the gallery for a new year. When we return Monday with new work and complete the refurbishment, perhaps folks will find a bit of peaceful contemplation in a year that promises sober economic and war news and welcome political change.

The evening meant potluck at the community center with friends and neighbors. Supper was an edible surprise ball: instead of unwrapping crepe paper to reveal trinkets, I moved along tables laden with homemade dishes (unlabeled as the couple ahead of me lamented since they're vegetarians), taking a smidgen of this and a smidgen of that. The surprising tastes were as delightful as the animal murals and Christmas lights and happy chatter.

Good books have promising beginnings lingering endings. This day made good reading.

Friday, January 16, 2009


A friend in Maine sent a photograph this morning:In answer, I took this one:While we shiver some 1,200 miles from each other, we both embrace winter, its furies and beauties. The deer crossing my yard several times a day struggle to find the food they need; the raccoon on a friend's deck last evening scrounged in her bird feeder for a little something; the people I know are bundling up, staying inside, drinking hot tea and coffee while they work or read or clean or compute. Everyone is talking about the temperature. Me, too.

I like the seasons, even this one, that turns year to year, on a sharp edge, an acidic cleansing that pierces and promises spring.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Sense of Humor

This afternoon, I moved the wicker chair into position by Trink's bed so she could easily see me while I read aloud chapter 14 of Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father.

Then I made tea, returned to her bedroom, placed her tea and ginger snaps on her bed tray, and looked for a place to put down my tea and shortbread. I noticed three little nesting tables that Trink's daughter had brought down from her Kentucky home. When I picked them up, one leg fell off.

Without the slightest pause, Trink said, "Those tables are 85 years old. That's no surprise. I'm 87 and I've lost one leg, too!"

I laughed and laughed, and she smiled.

Trink proves that even a debilitating stroke, which leaves a person partially paralyzed (in her case, the left side), need not be a death knell for a sense of humor. I envy her her strong disposition and her courage.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Internet Instruction

My friend Diane, a fiber artist (blog) who sometimes lives next door, is in town briefly, during which she asked that I help her with her nemesis: the computer.

We spent a couple of hours this afternoon on Blogger, and despite my having to remind her to stay focused on one task at a time, I think she feels much more comfortable with the program. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding . . . or perhaps I should say the electrical impulses of connectivity. Let's check her blog every now and then and see how she's doing.

Note: still to go are other computing lessons on her agenda.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lucy's Place of Worship

On a cold night like this one, Lucy worships at the Shrine of the Oil-Filled Heater, from in front of which she turns, momentarily, as if to say "What are you looking at?" Then later, she will curl under a quilt all night, dreaming of tropical sun.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Stones, like fleeting thoughts, tumble, resisting the urge to stand, sporting lichen like tarnished jewelry, green patina chased with silver. Surely something there is that doesn't like walls, as Robert Frost's poem maintains, but just as surely there's beauty in stones.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Tedious Luxury of Doing Laundry

One of the chores of living is laundry -- its collection, cleaning, ironing, hanging, collection, cleaning, ad infinitum. It's not a chore I enjoy, though I do enjoy wearing clean things. Lest I complain, however, I would do well to remember how countless millions live.

Monday night I watched the first two installments of the new PBS series The Story of India. Time after time, the camera showed people and animals bathing and drinking and washing in a river. After wetting garments, women and men beat them and beat them against rocks or steps, agitating dirt from fabric.

From now on, I should try to see my chore as the tedious luxury it is.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Centenary Year

Yesterday, a friend showed off some old photographs she had recently received of ancestors. Looking at them, I recognized 19th-century clothing, architecture, and toys similar to those in photos of my own "greats" long gone. I also thought, sadly, about the small black leather photo album of my father as a young man in the 1920s and '30s now missing, along with much of the physical evidence of his life. Too late, we often realize how precious the stuff of our lives can be, offering silent testimony to those who loved us that we lived and that we mattered.

At Christmas, my friend Betsy's father gave me two photographs and an obituary published by his men's club. (Daddy had been a member for 62 years when he died.) The photographs show my father and his best friend Arthur at Daddy's 90th birthday celebration. (This year marks the centennial year of his birth. He died in 2005.) One measure of a man might be his devotion to friends and theirs to him. If that is a true measure, then my
father died rich, as his friends held him dear.When both Uncle Arthur and Daddy were showing the effects of old-age dementia, they still drove (long after they should have) to The Redstone Club luncheon every Friday. Sometimes, they would get lost and arrive late; sometimes they got so lost that they never arrived. Not long after both had died, my father's only sister also died, and at her funeral the priest said something like, "Bertha is surely in heaven now, in Billy's and Arthur's backseat, giving them driving directions."Even in death, perhaps, Daddy's friends provide good company.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dogs Again

Jill's puppies have grown and are growing. Today, with a small group of chatting women gathered around the table, Rocky and Liza played and bared teeth and growled and chewed an old clog and slept.
I could be a dog person and here's another reason why.

"Golden Retrievals"

Fetch? Balls and sticks capture my attention
seconds at a time. Catch? I don't think so.
Bunny, tumbling leaf, a squirrel who's -- oh
joy -- actually scared. Sniff the wind, then

I'm off again: muck, pond, ditch, residue
of any thrillingly dead thing. And you?
Either you're sunk in the past, half our walk,
thinking of what you can never bring back,

or else you're off in some fog concerning
-- tomorrow, is that what you call it? My work:
to unsnare time's warp (and woof!), retrieving,
my haze-headed friend, you. This shining bark,

a Zen master's bronzy gong, calls you here,
entirely, now: bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow.

by Mark Doty

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Winter Nap

If you look closely, you can count six deer from photo edge to photo edge.

The deer that visited my yard today, all six of them, chewed their cuds and rested and slept for almost three hours in the morning. One at each end of the group roused or the largest of them roused now and then and licked the smaller ones. These sentries looked and smelled in all directions for human predators. Using the large limb of a long-gone tree as a wind-break between my house and my neighbor's, they blended more perfectly than man-made camouflage with winter's decaying leaves. Only the occasional flash of a white tail and the upright stance of the adult doe checking on the younger ones gave them away. They provided silent company on the first sunny day in more than a week.

A sixth deer sleeps behind a tangle of vines beyond the right edge.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


It's almost a week into January and I have finally replaced my 2008 kitchen calendar with a 2009 one. I didn't really want to (even though I like my new calendar), for one simple reason: 2008 featured breathtaking photographs of Tuscany, the location of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever witnessed with my own from Tuscany 2008 Calendar, published by Graphique de France
Twice in the false millennium year, I traveled to Florence, where my oldest brother lived and wrote while a visiting professor at Harvard's Villa i Tatti. With others in my family on the first trip and by myself on the second, I reveled in the unfolding vignettes of farm, ancient buildings and stone piazzas, olive groves and undulating hills, golden villas and purpling horizons.

At times, I find myself -- without reason -- revisiting Siena's glorious cathedral where cats lay on marble floors and where a fabulous grocery featured huge wheels of varieities of panforte in the front window. Other times, I am walking aimlessly through narrow streets spiraling around Florence's Duomo; chancing upon a small bookbindery and a pietra dure artist's studio and gallery; sitting on the terrace at the Villa Papiniana, drinking hot tea, eating McVitie's Digestive Biscuits with Nutella and clementines, and staring at Florence below with villas dotting the hillsides between.

I may, perhaps, never be able to return to Tuscany, but I will always hold it in my mind's eye and in the calendars I have kept.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Crackle of a Fire

My friend Trink has a beautiful fireplace of the kind found in many Sewanee homes: native stone with a large slab as mantle. Before her stroke, she used to lay a perfect fire; now, happily, one of the women who cares for her does just as well.

After reading to her (Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father) this afternoon, I made each of us a small drink and lit the fire, placing a pine cone on top of the stack to ensure it would catch. We enjoyed the Scotch and the warmth of the logs and the hand-cut stone and the crackle of flame licking wood.

A little literature, a soothing drink, a friend, and a good fire can take the chill off a dreary and lonely day.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Small Things: A Book of Days

Once my life swirled with activity. One thing that gave me daily pleasure was my annual South of France: A Book of Days by Sara Midda. All eight well-used datebooks sit on a bookshelf, offering records of long-gone obligations, friends, doctors, appointments, work, even pets. What stays, however, and what I continue to admire is the work of Sara Midda. Based on her delightful little book South of France: A Sketchbook, the datebook captures miniature moments of a place I've never been but well imagine and enjoy nevertheless.

If only I could capture something of Midda's painterly remembrances of the small moments that bring delight.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Clever Gifts for a Foggy Day

Gifts, especially at Christmas, can be boring and predictable or boring and impersonal. Some people, however, have a gift for gifts -- for choosing just the right thing for just the right person. I received two of those this holiday, from my nieces.

The first, a present my niece-in-law, is a beautiful hand-woven scarf, something I wear virtually every day in the winter. I work on one warming principle: if my neck is warm, my body is warm. What's lovely about this scarf is four-fold: it's hand-crafted; the maker lives in Pisgah Forest, NC, near Brevard; its colors are among my favorites; and it's generously long for wrapping and wearing.The second, a present from my blood-niece, is itself handmade, or at least hand assembled: a clever canning jar of layered hot cocoa ingredients. I am sipping my first cup right now, and my tongue is sparking with chocolate and peppermint.Lovely treats that remind me of lovely women on a foggy afternoon.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Holiday Surprises

Between mile markers 206 and 207 on the northeast-bound lanes of I-59 toward Chattanooga (just beyond the last Fort Payne exit and before the Valley Head, Mentone, and Hammondville exit), a holiday surprise awaits travelers: a decorated Christmas tree at the edge of the woods past a stone outcropping. Because I passed the tree at 70 mph, I have no photograph to document what I saw. I drove by just as the sky settled into a long twilight and saw the tree early enough to enjoy it, but too fast to register it fully till moments later. Then, I exclaimed "Wow!" aloud to myself in the car and enjoyed the sight in my mind's eye: a real Christmas tree, a large and tall, perfectly-shaped one, strung with balls and garlands, along the side of a busy freeway -- all for the fleeting pleasure of strangers erected and decorated by another stranger. And for what? For the knowledge that such generous gifts, whether large or small, signify a true holiday season.

A second gift awaited me in Stevenson, Alabama, small town aglow with light, first in the Stevenson Town Park where birders and Civil War buffs gather, and then on the main street, where the old railroad station, a beautiful brick edifice reminding
citizens and visitors alike of the slower form of travel predating and coinciding with automobiles and trucks -- both glittering and shimmering with happy illumination, the last significant light before my car nosed its way through rolling terrain and then up to the plateau.These free gifts are welcome indeed for a traveler like me, filled with nostalgia for family long gone or far away. Thank you to generous strangers for such light.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year

With most of my family, I celebrated the New Year today with another Christmas exchange. Several years ago my nephew-in-law (married to my niece) instigated one of my best ever Christmas presents by organizing all the family to pool their resources and buy me a guitar. Then he wrote out a series of clues for a charming scavenger hunt, having gotten that idea from my family's long-ago tradition.

Because he's the only currently dedicated instrumental musician in the family (he plays bass, guitar and drums and DJs), I decided to give him one of my most special gifts: an Appalachian dulcimer that my father made for me for a Christmas in the mid-1960s. Daddy got the directions from Popular Mechanics (one of two magazines he faithfully read; the other was Popular Science). Although I can't remember the exact year he made it for me, I know that it was soon after my mother died. I suspect that he made the dulcimer as much as a healing project as for my pleasure. (At the time I was a dedicated folkie who played the piano, baritone uke, harmonica, banjo, recorder, and guitar).

I haven't played the dulcimer in years. Instead, I have displayed the instrument as a work of art. This year seemed the appropriate time to share with Owen two things we both love: family and music. I think it was my best Christmas present in years.