Monday, August 31, 2009

New Highlighters

make me feel more organized that I probably am. With three classes, four sections, three platforms,100+ students, tutoring, and part-time shop clerking, I need some organizing.
Besides, I just love their primary-school cheeriness.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Blond Hair, Blue Eyes, Fair Skin

In the last several days, in two different conversations, two different people asked, shocked, "You used to be blond?" Their disbelief was so strong that even I was surprised by my answer.

Inside my head, I am still blond.

Outside my head, I'm not (though what color of my hair is I couldn't tell you).

I do know this: genes are funny things. They connect us directly to our parents and theirs and to our siblings even more so and through them to their children and through us to our own, on and on and on.

One of the things I come by (I cannot use the past tense) naturally, along with my blond hair, is my fair skin. Once, in 9th grade gym class, Mrs. Rivers, my teacher, blew her whistle after no more than ten minutes of basketball and called, "Oh my gosh! Are you all right, Robley?" It wasn't the first time in my life that someone worried I was about to pass out. I explained, again, that I was just fine.

Today, my red face means I have exercised or become overheated by coming into a warm temperature after having been in a cool one. Today, I know why: I have chronic skin condition that used to give my Irish ancestors the bad reputation of drunkeness -- I have rosacea. I'm used to it now, and I'm used to the discomfort (imagine a bad sunburn) that usually wanes within an hour.

But every now and then, as just now after mowing the lawn on a cool, overcast day, I catch my reflection in the mirror and am surprised: in my red checks and nose I see my niece's and my nephew's and my father's faces all smiling back at me.
Then, the redness doesn't sting quite so much.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another Kind of Family

A cardinal couple and their two teens have come to my feeder twice -- morning and evening -- a day each day for almost a week. While the parent birds watch protectively, the young birds balance a bit unevenly on the pole, testing their wings and hopping about. When one decides to try flying down to the perch, the flight is ungainly and often unsuccessful. A parent follows to the ground and urges the baby back up.Today, one of them perched atop the feeder pole and fluttered and fluttered and fluttered. Yesterday, when the father flew up to him, it was to feed the baby. Today, however, he merely checked on the bird and tried to encourage him to spread his wings. I photographed the birds just before sunset through a closed window.

I took a few photos and a movie, but nothing as crisp as what I found on the Internet. No matter how weak my photographs, however, my eyes feast on the young birds and their stuttering.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ghosts Among Us

. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone? O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again. --Thomas Wolfe

I first read these words at 17. Grief-stricken, lost, impressionable, I read Look Homeward, Angel at the urging of a friend, now long-dead. We worshipped at the temple of his too-muchness of language and sensory detail and emotion. We visited his mother's boarding house many times, longed to touch the typewriter he used, to sit on the porch, to hear the boarding chatter and feel the restoring air of the healthy air of an Asheville long lost. We made our pilgrimage to the cemetery angel his father made, picnicked there, wondered at the inspiration of family strife.

I did not then have any inkling what Wolfe meant. Today, I do, and wish I didn't. But I still love the sound of his words: a stone, a leaf, an unfound door and the memories of friendship ended by too-early death.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Crape Myrtle

Finally, the reminder of New Orleans, my crape myrtle -- with its winter-time weeping bark, silvery and peeling like old skin, and its summer-time profusion of loose blossoms littering the ground like confetti -- blooms, and I'm not the only one rejoicing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Liquid Light

There is this
about blown glass:
it captures and transforms
light, making me
see the unseen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Galileo's Finger

Today's Google doodle celebrates one of my heroes and his most famous inventions -- Galileo and his telescope. Hooray for Galileo whose sight and foresight introduced a speeding line of seers and inventors resulting in our ability today to see the most intimate details of the universe "out there."

Some years ago, I visited The Institute and Museum of the History Science in Florence, Italy. Unlike more popular tourist sites, the museum had no entrance line or crowd, so I could take my time and enjoy the fascinating collections.

Room IV features some of Galileo's original instruments and other miscellany. Along one wall, a glass contains a startling object: Galileo's middle finger, preserved in a beautifully balanced glass egg-shaped jar atop a marble base.

I am not entirely why I was so taken with this macabre artifact when I saw it and why it still looms so large in my memory and imagination.
Perhaps this finger, which once participated in the creation of so much of our notion of the heavens, perhaps because it was one part of the body of a man who was a martyr for science, perhaps because it was so recognizably human, perhaps because it was in a science museum rather than a church as a saint's reliquary (though it and he deserve adoration as much as saints and their parts) -- I cannot identify the reason.

I do know that I stared and stared and that my wonder at the stars and the greatness of what lies out there is as powerful today as it was in my childhood when I tried to sign my way home.

Note: I have blogged before about Florence and my fascination with astronomy, so if some of this sounds familiar, I apologize.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Acorn Soup!

E and V's mother J posted this video on YouTube. (Turn your sound up!)

At 4, V expertly rides her bicycle (even up and down gutters), all the while enthusiastically singing about acorn soup.

Her mother giggles.

I laugh.

Gotta love that girl!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rite of Passage

The evening before her first day of school, E told me she was excited and anxious.

The next morning, over breakfast, she looked excited and anxious. When her mother picked her up after school, E begged, "Can't I please stay for aftercare?"

A scholar is born!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

More Christmas

Christmas colors again, this time at the Farmer's Market. The gentleman next to me brought 9 varieties of heirloom tomatoes this morning. (Not all appear here, unfortunately.)
I came home with five, only three of whose musical names I remember: Moon Glow, Cherokee Purple, and Pear.

The fiesta continues, unabated.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Christmas in August

Sometimes, August looks like Christmas.
Or a fiesta.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Not So Common

Imagine my surprise when I encountered this fellow on the way to work this morning. Half a block from my house, at the corner of Mikell and Tennessee, this fellow rested in the street.At first, I honestly didn't know what I was seeing. When I did, I flipped on the emergency flashers and leapt out of the car, camera in hand. However, the closer I walked, the more he intimidated me. As a result, I fear my photos aren't especially well focused.

Never have I seen a snapping turtle in the wild, and wild he is. Look at his claws! His tail! His jaw! His eyes!

Another driver stopped and said, "Try to pick him up and he'll take a finger!"

Even the police said, when I called, "We take the advice of Animal Control; we leave 'em alone."

I sure hope that the college undergraduates, arriving in town now, left him alone as he lumbered across the street, toward a chapel, the Seminary, and two dorms.No poetry today, just awe as ancient as this species, the common snapping turtle.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

And the View from Here (Installment No. 7)

The view from the register at the shop where I work part-time is lovely, especially when the sun shines fully into the front windows.
In both bump-out windows, variously sized, multi-colored blown glass balls hang. I can't help but be cheered by their infinite variety of colors and patterns. Imagine waking under a ceiling-full of these, as the grandchildren of a devoted customer do.A fairyland of delicate shimmering light.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Make Way for . . .

Canada Geese!

Who says ducklings have more fun?

This fit pair lingered at the curb in waning sun before crossing the road,
slowly, as if processing in a wedding or coronation march.
Where I live, plenty of geese migrate overhead, touching down for water and a layover, honking loudly. Some, however, stay. Who wouldn't want to? A temperate climate, plenty of water in lakes and ponds, and edibles everywhere. They may be pests to those with houses on that water, but for me the geese are a visual delight for their sheer size, elegance, and dignity.

Oh, and why did they cross the road? To join the three other couples in the next median, where they made a giggling gaggle.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gifts of Friendship and Writing

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both. -- Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

The same might be said of Jill, who introduced me to this beautiful little orb weaver, one of Charlotte's cousins.

Mabel Orchard Spider

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Scone Lady of Sewanee

That's what some folks call me because I sell them each Saturday at the Farmer's Market.

Now the squirrels might now think of me the same way.

I tossed some scone crumbs for them today and delighted upon watching them chase each other around for the big bits.
They have good taste. Now if only I could teach them to drink tea with pinkies uplifted.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Favorite Color

Over lunch at Shenanigans, my new friend Evan, a four-year-old Texan, asked, "What's your favorite color?"

I answered, "Purple."

Her mother, she, and I wore purple. A safe choice, I thought.

Her mother laughed, "K&B purple!"

But here's my real answer, Evan: the glorious colors of the world.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Favorite Clematis

When I opened my car door, a sweet odor -- so fragrant, so powerful, so rich -- pulled me up and out and down my walk to the front door. With a little rain, a little sun, the clematis overrunning my porch finally blooms. Welcome Virgin's Bower, with your sweet white flowers and loosely twining vines. Oh, how I have missed you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What Runs in the Family

Nature or nurture: one of those endless and ultimately pointless either/or arguments. Either nurture accounts for personality and traits, or nature does, people used to say.

But it's not so simple. Contemporary studies show us that we're largely wired to be who we become. Our genetic inheritance is far more powerful than anyone might have guessed. Twins separated at birth meet one another decades (even lifetimes) later and discover they have the same tastes, or quirks, or habits, or . . . . Even when they're raised in different parts of the country by different kinds of folks, they find deep similarities in each other. So do the experts who study them.

Case in point: I met a lovely family today (mother, daughter, her husband and their small daughter) who demonstrate the force of nature and nurture. The young woman was adopted at four days old by loving parents, raised and educated by them, bonded to them for life. She has, however, also met her birth mother, whom I know. They are now friends, or something even closer. The young woman's adoptive mother told me an illustrative story: "When we went to Colorado, I walked behind my daughter and her birth mother. Their legs, their voices, their gaits so alike. They were in deep conversation. I realized then that I have two daughters."

Upon meeting the young woman, I was immediately struck by how much she sounds like her birth mother, by how much she looks like her and uses her eyebrows expressively like her. Most powerfully and persuasively, though, she loves books as do all members of her birth family. Her adoptive mother told me that from the time she was a toddler, she has always loved books.
I couldn't help thinking today as I watched my new young friend and her daughter reading together how strong the pull of nature is and how glorious the nurture.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

1950s Favorites

My childhood spanned the decade of the 1950s, a period of post-war exuberance expressed in two products I loved: the Esterbrook J fountain pen and the TV dinner.

I began first grade in 1953 with an Esterbrook fountain pen. Its interchangeable nibs spanned a variety of widths and flexibilities, making different kinds of strokes possible. Bottled inks included many colors beyond blue or black (green, brown, and turquoise were among my favorites). Pen barrels could be solid colored or marbleized. My neighborhood drug store, Airial's, sold the pens and their nibs at the prescription counter in back. I often wandered there to admire tha beautiful instruments in the wood-framed glass case set atop the counter. I purchased numerous pens and 25-cent nibs with my saved weekly allowance.The Esterbrook J required pumping for filling, but by the end of the decade a cartridge pen appeared. Although more convenient, I never took to them and still prefer a fountain pen for correspondence and writing that matters. Convenience never trumps grace.

Swanson invented the TV dinner in 1953, at roughly the same time my family purchased its first (of only two through my college years) TV, a boxy black-and-white. Served ideally on TV trays also invented for the same double phenomenon of meal and television, the TV dinner consisted of a meat and vegetables separated into their own little pockets in an aluminum container. We did not often eat TV dinners because my parents insisted, happily, that we eat dinner together at the table in the breakfast room. On special occasions, however, mostly when our parents were not going to be home for dinner, we got to have TV dinners. I loved them and begged for them -- frequently.There was a time, not long ago, when I ate frozen dinners because I had a long commute. Now, though, I rarely eat them since I have the time and energy to cook again.

Why have I been thinking about these childhood loves? Late this afternoon, my friend Boo gave me some frozen dinners and vegetables. Somehow,driving between her house and mine, I found my mind wandering to the time when pre-packaged meals were treats and fountain pens were the norm. Now I avoid them except when gifted. Convenience is pleasurable, occasionally, as it was for my mother. But good things take patience and encourage beauty.Tonight, I thank Boo for her generosity and Mother for teaching me the difference beween novelty and true value.

Monday, August 10, 2009


"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something." -- Richard Feynman

Substitute "butterfly" for "bird": Eastern Tiger Swallowtail; Great Spangled Fritillary; Silver Spotted Skipper; Clouded or Common Sulphur; Eastern Black Swallowtail. From their names, what do you know?


Nothing of their beauty, their lightness of flight and landing, the way their feet balance on flower, their hairy bodies and short snouts, wing shapes, thin profiles and broad stretches. Nothing of their probing proboscis arcing gently into flower faces, of their patterned colors, of their varied sizes. Nothing of their persistence, flitting from flower to flower, riding blossoms in breeze and spreading wings to cool.

Their names are beautiful but not nearly so beautiful as their beings. Here's proof.

Six hours later: I just read a wonderful article in The New York Times that concludes: "Just find an organism, any organism, small, large, gaudy, subtle — anywhere, and they are everywhere — and get a sense of it, its shape, color, size, feel, smell, sound. Give a nod to Professor Franclemont and meditate, luxuriate in its beetle-ness, its daffodility. Then find a name for it. Learn science’s name, one of countless folk names, or make up your own. To do so is to change everything, including yourself. Because once you start noticing organisms, once you have a name for particular beasts, birds and flowers, you can’t help seeing life and the order in it, just where it has always been, all around you." Read it!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Summer on The Goat Track

Along The Goat Track, ignore the cars and trucks zooming by on the highway. The walker who looks down will find quiet company.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Day Full of Nothing

A Saturday, like most, mostly full of nothing special.

The Farmer's Market: scones, goat cheese, tomatoes, friendly neighbor vendors (free tomatoes that won't "have to go to the chickens"), old friends and new ones, a little gossip, much laughter, a cup of deep black New Orleans coffee in exchange for two scones, neighborly dehumidifier bucket-emptying, surfing the Web, newspaper reading, emailing, job applying, salad making (cucumbers, onion, and sour cream and tomato, olive oil, fresh basil), chatting with a Bell Buckle friend and enjoying the afternoon, walking, photographing, mating bugs on cherry tomatoes, supporting and advising, sunning, bird feeding, dinner making (turkey burger, salad -- lettuce and Cindy's Kitchen, quick stir-fry potatoes), reading and grading, downloading and adjusting and choosing and blogging. A day full of nothing -- but loved things and people and flowers and leaves.

Always flowers.