Thursday, April 30, 2009

The View from Here

I'm lucky.

Beauty surrounds me here atop the plateau and
in fields down below.

Today I witnessed beauty.

And I also witnessed cruelty.

A puppy, left alone outside, chained, nearly hanged himself by wrapping the chain so many times between a tree and his dog house and the run line that he was left nose up, straining not to strangle.

I happened upon him, trusted that he wouldn't bite, held him, released the snap, unwound the chain, and re-snapped him to the line.

It was hard to leave, but when I did, he wouldn't leave me -- I smelled him and his muck smeared my hands and his yapping and struggling echoed in my mind. They still do.

I can't know whether his human gives him affection or comfort. I can't know whether he will choke on another day. All I can know is that today I was there and today I did the little thing I could.

And then I drove back into the green.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Lucky Penny

In An American Childhood, Annie Dillard recalled leaving pennies for others to discover.
I didn't leave this one, exactly. I stepped over it, thinking, There's probably someone who needs more luck than I.

Then I thought Who's the lucky one? and drove out of the lot.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Pollen swirled on University this morning as a university employee worked his way down the hill, wielding his leaf blower like a war machine, tornadoing dust and leaf mold and pollen.

At the garage, Harold said, "Bad day for pollen."


Maybe not.

Up close, pollen sparkles like blown glass. I can prove it. Just look: picture 1 -- clematis pollen; picture 2 -- blown glass ball (a gift from Pringle).

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Day Disappeared

to computer difficulties, long-distance delivery, gallery installation, and this:

A real post to come.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Green Bug

stared ahead
from his perch
atop the metal bird tree,
his antennae poised
like little flags.
Taking in the sun
awaiting some signal
to leap and fly.
Three times, I snapped.
Before the fourth
he disappeared,
a sherbet dream.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Over tea late this afternoon, a thoughtful new friend and I talked about accumulating and deposing of things. She told an amusing story about a New York therapist who specializes in helping people get rid of family inheritances. The therapist leads the person to imagine her space enlarged without an object and encourages her to move it a bit each day toward the door.

My new friend once lived for three years without any material possessions when she was a Buddhist nun. I, on the other hand, have never been truly without, yet I have sometimes considered myself poor in comparison to others I know.

What are possessions, the things we accumulate? If I think even a moment about this subject, I remember the objects I've left behind on moving -- the books and typewriters and musical instruments, the furniture and dishes and hand-thrown mugs, the pens and dressers and clothing. It's exhausting thinking of the thinginess of my own daily living.

This busy fellow wallowed today in one thing only: pollen. He slathered himself in it, drunkenly rolling and rubbing in the extravagance of azalea. He and the flower enjoyed a short, mutually intense relationship, one in which they shared the pollen or the thing without either clinging to it. The thing itself will perhaps become another thing.

As our conversation drifted, my friend mentioned watching Vietnamese children who had never owned anything swim for the first time. They discovered one floatie toy, which they circled and shared without complaint or jealousy or argument, the feelings that arise from possession and dispossession.

Maybe liberality and extravagance and unthinginess are a secret natural order most of us have lost. Maybe I should wallow in conversation and tea and insect pollinators and azalea without pondering thinginess. Maybe these are the only things of importance this late afternoon.

(Even these things have now transformed into something else in this post.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Day for Black Pets

They know how to soak up April sun and shade, and they know how to charm.

This mama dog and her two puppies waited patiently atop the steps until I gave the high sign. Then they wiggled down, licked my hand, pawed me, and let me pet them, one at a time. They had been lazing on a warm
afternoon.This little cat, on the deck of his mama's coffee house, lay in the direct sun, soaking in the heat, before he moved to the shade near me and slept like a spiraling sinew.
Oh, to be a black dog or cat, a loved pet, on a beautiful day filled with sun and shadow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Busy as a Bee

When I was a little girl, I loved wearing my white sailor's cap with its red monogrammed illustration and adage: The early bird catches the worm. (You can imagine the illustration without my description.) I remember, too, without remembering exactly what article it was, something that said "Life is a bowl of cherries."

A Facebook friend and former colleague has been messaging me about her son's fascination with such metaphorical sayings. We have both been researching meanings and origins of such proverbs as "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water." It's an amusing pursuit -- both the
research and sharing her delight in her son's fascination with language.

Today, while admiring my old-fashioned spirea
with its limber white-blossomed branches, I witnessed the origin of another saying: "Busy as a bee." This little fellow was working so hard that he never noticed my hand and camera within inches of his little body. I had a heck of a time trying to focus and wish I had been able to capture his pollen-smeared head. Alas, the picture is as fuzzy as he was.

Funny how an insect can remind me of my mother and her fondness for well-worn adages. I love the bee and the viburnum and the memories of my mother and the love of language they evoke.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


If Ruffles have ridges, then cherry blossoms have ruffles.

Aren't they delicious?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


If you ask me my least favorite color, I'm likely to say green, but that can't be true: my favorite flower in bloom asserts green -- blush green like pistachio ice cream or lime sorbet with cream or the shadows in a baby's fat thigh folds.

Throughout town, snowball or torn-and-ruffled-paper-globe flowers dangle from hydrangea (water vessel, literally, from Greek) limbs like so many holiday ornaments shouting "Spring!"

So many, so liberal, so cheerful, so green -- even the deer seem to be leaving them alone, happily for me and my ravenous visual appetite.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Wander into a boxwood alley on a chilly day and the skin warms.

For me, the mind warms, too, in memory.

When we visited my maternal grandparents in Virginia, I escaped under the giant boxwood near the side porch where the adults gathered to talk. I sat cross-legged under the low branches, inhaling the lemony scent of small leaves woven together like a screen. I imagined Borrowers-like creatures lived among the limbs and roots, and I wanted to become one of them. Outside the shade, my mother's and her parents' rounded Virginia vowels rode toward me in a low vibration like a joyful wave.

I could have stayed there happily, hidden under the boxwood, just as I wish I had been able to stay today under this canopy today.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Good Use of a Bad Habit

Displayed in the SAS Green Art show is this wonderful ukulele that Mae crafted from a solid cherry cigar box, dish drains, dowel, and uke neck. Visually delightful, the uke sounds just as folksily enchanting as it looks.

Mae created her uke without example or instruction, although others had similar ideas. (For other examples, click here.) I admire Mae's inventiveness and whimsy.

The uke reminds me of Tramp Art creations of the Great Depression. In those days, because of their lack of financial resources, folks turned cigar boxes into all kinds of utilitarian items. The integrity and beauty of those items have made collectors' items of those objects today.

The inventiveness of the active mind is worthy of celebration every day, in fat times and thin.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hidden Mural

On a walk today, I happened to see Trudy working in the yard. She invited me in, gave me a grand tour of the house she and her husband have been remodeling, and showed me the hidden treasure about which I had read in the local paper: an original mural painted by Joan Balfour Payne Dicks. For years, the mural had been hidden behind burlap on a stair wall. I can only imagine the surprise and delight that awaited Trudy and the workmen who painstakingly removed the layers and discovered the charming painting.

Joan Balfour Payne, a Sewanee resident, was a renowned children's book illustrator, whose work garnered national attention and praise in the 1950s. A Googler will discover more than 1900 links for her, and a look at some of her books will charm and delight, especially in light of her interest in what we today call multicultural literature, of which she was a pioneer.

What moved me today was not just seeing the mural, which was lovely, but witnessing Trudy's enthusiasm. She has collected a library of Payne's books. When I asked her how can found so many, she smiled and said, "The Internet!" She has shelved them facing outwards like a display and hopes to invite the local third graders to visit for a talk and a reading. She even imagines re-publication of several of the books. Of course, these plans will be realized at some future time when she and her husband are settled in the new house. Meantime, she plans and enjoys the planning, she collects and she enjoys the collection, and she shares her discovery.

What unexpected treats grow from a little exercise.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Recycled Face

On the campus of the local boarding school, this clever sculpture of recycled materials (or found objects) welcomes those who wander to the back of the campus. From every angle it's a delight. Look carefully and you will find something that makes you smile with recognition -- a tractor seat, sign letters, an old Tonka truck, garden art love birds, a wine bottle.
What makes detritus beautiful is the eye of the artist who can transform it into something new. The viewer sees the transformation first -- here a face, first in profile as I approached it from the sidewalk and then frontally and then from the other profile. Coming down another sidewalk, I would see the back of the head first. No matter the approach: the whole head is what any viewer first sees.

Then the viewer stops, if, like mine, her eye is enchanted. The "seen whole" then transforms to the "seen objects," and the delight the component objects bring: memories of the nephew who loved trucks and banging them about; of the basement where a father loved to tinker; of a country sales lot filled with concrete statues; of bottle trees; of the work of other artists with transforming eyes.

My friend Lonnie Holley, an artist known for his assemblages, once inscribed a painting for me: "To Robley: To see art is to see." I saw this sculpture, and I saw art. My eyes smiled.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

To the Woods -- Its People and a Bird

On this day, the woods people and the woodpecker became powerful teachers.

The people -- an elderly bed-ridden woman, her middle-aged daughter, her thirty-something daughter, and her three children (one of whom is a miracle four-year-old who was not expected to survive birth) -- reside literally in the woods, down a rocky private drive littered with rusted cars and discarded detritus best suited to junk yards. At the end are three inventive self-created homes with imaginative use of found materials and
almost entirely self-sufficient (generators for electricity and car reflectors in the sun for the nights the generators fail, wood-burning stoves for heat, a spring water collector, an old school bus for storage. Their creativity and determination are large, but not as large as their love of family, determination, and cheer. In the larger world, others might see them as impverished; in my eyes they're rich.

As rich and as determined and hard-working as the woodpecker I stalked in my yard late this afternoon, camera in hand. His bold trill, determined pecking and boring into each stump, and brilliant red head and the woodswomen's natural beauty lifted my spirit.
Who's the luckiest person on the edge of the woods? That's easy: me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Good Day

Any day with an artichoke is a good day.

Any day with two is spectacular.

I leave it to you to judge the quality of my day.

All praise to the generous friend who supplied these babies. Aren't they beautiful?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

People Who Don't Like Cats

puzzle me. Why wouldn't anyone (unless allergic, and even then . . . ) like cats? I can only assume that they feel inferior to the feline who generally keeps things close to the vest and rarely demands attention (as do dogs).

To wit:

Today I encountered three different cats unknown to me but who immediately made me feel like one of the family. At one location, while parked and studying a map in my lap, I heard a soft plonk!, looked up, and smiled at the black-cat-with-white-chest-spot smiling at me. She then tried to crawl around and into my window, but finally satisfied herself with splaying her furry belly against the warm hood.

At another location, two cats -- one black-and-white and the other a beautiful tortie -- ran out to me as if I were their human. They then enthusiastically chased me wherever I walked, even trotting along, winding their way along and through my legs. Most enthusiastic and welcoming they were.

Surely, people would not object to these cats? What's not to like? Independence? Visual beauty? Size (perfect for a lap or bicycle basket)? Variety of coat? Friendliness? Purring? Grace? Playfulness? Agility?

I could go on, but why bother? Perhaps it's enough that
34% of American households live with a pet cat.

And I certainly know this:
I live with a cat, I have always lived with one (or two), and I like cats.

Monday, April 13, 2009

H2O for Trails and Trilliums

Today, I deliver a handmade book for the Green Art on the Mountain exhibit to be held in conjunction with the annual Trails and Trilliums event at SAS. Because this year's theme is water, my book is titled H2O and features photographs I have taken on the Domain.

Because I have time to use wisely now, I experimented with Adobe Photoshop, altering each photograph slightly to make it look a bit more like a painting. Although I still can't print archivally or professionally because I have a color deskjet printer, I am nevertheless pleased with the results.

What a sense of personal fulfillment and accomplishment: this is the first time I've had an opportunity to complete and submit a work for this exhibit. I am already looking forward to attending Sunday's reception.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Celebration

CBS Sunday Morning presented a segment featuring Jonathan Singer, a podiatrist and master botanical photographer. ( Each enormous photograph is a concise poem celebrating the minute beauty of flowers. Look for yourself (be sure to "View the Folio" linked at the bottom of the home page).

But before you do, read Mary Oliver's poem:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean --
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down --
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I would spend it as Jonathan Singer has, making every day an Easter by paying attention.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Another Bookbinder

After the storm raced through yesterday, an art faculty member came by for tea. We chatted about folk art, books (she too loves Annie Dillard), and bookbinding. At one point, we were both on the floor studying papers in my makeshift studio.She brought me a lovely little book wrapped with flocked paper and tied with silk ribbon. It inspires me to try a new approach to Coptic binding. Her first and last rows use kettle stitching, instead of repeating the chain pattern of the Coptic stitch. These simple stitches make a fine complement to the interior rows.
We also chatted about book design. Simplicity can be beauty, she agreed, when I commented that I prefer the most geometric and architectural details in my books.

How lovely after the howling Lear-ish winds to meet and make a gentle new friend.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tornado Warnings

The tornado siren blasted, and for once I heard it. I closed all the curtains, turned off the computer and the power strip and then unplugged it, and left the TV on so I could see (or hear) where the storm was tracking.

Then I waited.

At one point, after taking this video, I took shelter in the closet under the stairs while my cat hunkered flat under the futon.

What I saw frightened me, but it excited me, too -- not in the way daredevils are excited by imminent danger, but because of the awesome power and primitive beauty of hail and trees twisting in wind and lateral rain.

It's no wonder earlier peoples invented deities for thunder and lightning, for natural phenomena beyond their understanding and our control. I paid homage to the majesty of that same force.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jill and Ron's Garden

is filled with wildflowers, dogs (two who seem legion), cats, and bugs. Jill loves them, as does her husband Ronn. She and he have also encouraged me to photograph the flora and fauna.

Jill especially loves bugs.

For her, here's a multicolored Asian lady beetle. I should add that the bug too is one of legion. Her kind invade our houses in Tennessee, lie dormant during the winter, wake on sunny days, and move our walls (or seem to when they bunch and crawl).

They sleep, they swarm, they stink, and they surprise me in close-up.

The little bug in macro is a hairy beast!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sky Fish

Creating a book for the Trails and Trillium H2O show, I have been re-reading parts of Walden, searching for quotations that complement the pictures I have selected for the book.

Thoreau wrote "Sky water, It needs no fence," and the early spring sun and pond and fish and trees listened.

How can I mind a gray day when I see what he did: "the bare face of the pond full of glee and youth, as if it spoke the joy of the fishes within it"?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Yesterday, I had to select my "favorite color" to sign on to a computer. Trouble was, I didn't have one.

But tonight, I do: white.

I woke to a field of white, and I have thought of white all day long.

White flowers.

White animals.

White clothing.

White paper.

White sand and water and sun and moon.

All white. All day long.

Monday, April 6, 2009

April Snow

The weather forecasters said it would, and it did -- off and on all day long.

Snow in April makes an unwelcome visitor. The azaleas budded fully, crabapple and kwanzan cherry blooming, and the redbud glorious -- all of them covered by snow, still wet, but accumulating, with the temperature falling before zero.

Oh my.

I shall miss the warmth and perfumed splendor of spring.

May it return soon.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


A friend treated me to supper tonight at a local Italian(ish) restaurant. Throughout our meal, which was delightfully and sinfully cheesy, my eyes sparkled with the scene over her shoulder.

Christmas lights strung around posts sparkled like cheap diamonds against patrons' silhouettes. At the far end, a five-foot-long fish tank with an electric blue back glowed eerily. Orange fish the color of highway workers' vests swam and wiggled, swirling the water.Blue light, orange fish, warm mini-bulbs, descending darkness, pesto pizza, and good conversation create a heady atmosphere.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Chance Encounters

Abbo's Alley offered three chance encounters.

A cross-country runner from Berry College came to a full stop by the stream, whipped out her camera, and snapped away. I laughed and complimented her double duty. "I can't resist," she said, then snapped again and ran off down the dirt path.

Halfway up the hill, a young man called out, "Hey!" He sat atop a small stone bridge, shoeless, in shorts, with a novel open. "Beautiful day, isn't it?" I smiled, agreed, and walked on.

On my way back out, Trink, her daughter, and Maxwell headed in, Trink's fancy new chair gliding along over gravel, dirt, and root. I showed her some of the 164 pictures I had taken; she and Max posed for two more; and then they powered on, enjoying the bluebells, cherries, daffodils, spring beauties, laurel, shadows, and sunshine.
I never imagined that Trink would roam the Alley again. I suspect she even fed the fish, and I suspect they were as pleased to see her as I was.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Poets and Others

At a conference in Chattanooga today, I had the privilege of listening to many southern writers, among them a panel of four discussing the special challenges of writing from "the other's" point of view. Alan Gurganus, Elizabeth Spencer, Rita Dove, and Natasha Tretheway all stated that no race or class or gender has the right to insist that only members of that group can write from the point of view of that group. Instead of questioning a right to write "the other," they said the issue is art.

Rita Dove, Alan Gurganus, Natasha Tretheway

The talk was fascinating, but so also was the very fact of being in the room with two particular poets I greatly respect -- Dove and Tretheway. Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah is a series of persona poems (poems written in the voices of two people) that tells the tale of a long marriage. Intricate and moving, the book is one I have read several times. Tretheway recently won the Pulitzer Prize for a book of poems about a black regiment that served in The Civil War (Native Guard). Her poems are direct and beautiful.

Here's one on a different subject:

By Natasha Tretheway

All day I've listened to the industry
of a single woodpecker, worrying the catalpa tree
just outside my window. Hard at his task,

his body is a hinge, a door knocker
to the cluttered house of memory in which
I can almost see my mother's face.

She is there, again, beyond the tree,
its slender pods and heart-shaped leaves,
hanging wet sheets on the line -- each one

a thin white screen between us. So insistent
is this woodpecker, I'm sure
he must be looking for something else -- not simply

the beetles and grubs inside, but some other gift
the tree might hold. All day he's been at work,
tireless, making the green hearts flutter.

Oddly, one thing Natasha Trethway talked about was really familiar. She told a tale of her step-mother's work on a poem that included a section in the voice of Frederick Douglass' mother. Her stepmother, she said, is white. Then she said her step-mother is an accomplished poet. Before she named the woman, something stirred in me. I thought, I think I know who she is. And indeed I do: Katherine (Bonnie) Soniat, a fine poet and a former McGehee student, who, on visiting New Orleans, once spent much of a day with my students.

The world is small and growing smaller, and it nurtures many fine writers.