Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spotted Leaf Day

Wearing age spots
cheerily, a Christmas
gift splotched, glistening
burning with age,
the leaf clings to the branch,
awaiting unwrapping
when it flaps to the ground.
But now it glows,
tempting like Santa's
wrapped packages
under other trees,
hung too
in red and green and gold.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Leafy Paths

I have trod leafy paths when the sun shone over the last few days.

I have loved the crunch and thickness of strewn leaves; their slickness after rain and snap after sun; their motley, mottled spots of brown, black, orange, scarlet, maroon, olive, lime, lemon, ochre; their saw-tooth edges, rounded palm patterns, spiky fingers; their tiny spirits and oversized souls. Their sounds and musky odors take me back to childhood fall when my father raked them on Saturdays, making large, loose piles humped and lumped over the large and wooded yard and in the driveway. For hours, I played in those piles with my marmalade cat, one of us hiding, the other pawing in or out, bits of leaf stuck like dead moths to skin and hair, fur and foot. Walking Sewanee's winding paths, I explore the paths of color and shape, years and travel, wandering past and present, wondering about direction, the turns and shadows of dying and breaking sunny sky, the pleasures of burning life flickering before sleep and spring.

I love paths and the crunching of leaves.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trix Leaf Day

My friend Susan once wrote for a camp alum publication that leaves turning and burning across North Carolina mountains reminded her of spilled Trix cereal. The same could be said today of the view at and from The Cross.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Day of Remembrance

Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how wel,l they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Locking Eyes

Annie Dillard famously locked eyes with a weasel and for an instant felt herself weasel! The thrilling essay that resulted from her transformative experience urges each of us to become like the weasel, to find our necessary focus, grasp it and never let go, to "Live like Weasels."This afternoon, a morning-suit-clad grasshopper calmly lay in the middle of my door sill, as if waiting for me instead of leaving a calling card and hopping off. I hunkered to the floor, camera in hand, and made eye contact with him. I felt no transfer of energy or being, only fascination with his stillness and calm while I, a giant, stared and stared.Only when I downloaded and looked at his photos did I realize I had capture what looked like a meal. Click the picture and look closely: something sticks out of his the area that might be a "mouth" and something lies squashed under him. A friend has explained that his mouthparts are composed of a number of hard structures. How does one turn plants into sustenance, I wonder, with parts like these, shaped so like spider's legs.

I know almost nothing about grasshoppers, but this about this one: he was complicated and calm, only one of which I was today.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


A family conversation about what might have been, a collegial conversation about the meaning of the word, memories of loved ones who died when leaves blazed -- October, the cruelest month, shimmers with sun and storm.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Light in October

Thick like marmalade but fleeting, fugitive, October light transforms sky, flower, bee, butterfly into prisms of translucency. See them and see through them into light.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jill's House and Garden

are cabinets of wonders -- cats, dogs, people, caterpillars, flowers, quilts that shimmer as if with breath.This little froggie sat so still by the pond, chilled, that Jill simply picked him up and brought him to me for a photo op. As

I turned from the enigmatic caterpillar to snap away, she said, "His little heart is beating rapidly," and I saw his little mouth open and close, open and close, as if he were chilled still, or afraid. But she said, "No, he's just cold."

There was time when a frog in the hand or a caterpillar on the wall would have made me turn in the other direction. Not now. They're beautiful, fascinating creatures, one a shimmering jewel, slithery and marbled, the other a mystery of feet that will be consumed into butterfly body, emerging like a lozenge from a miniature coconut, so hairy and spiny.

Jill's cabinet of wonders is a wonder to me.

Monday, October 19, 2009


My mother used to call women who wore too much makeup and smoked on the street "common." She meant "lacking refinement" as in "low class."

"Common" nouns are ordinary ones, not worthy of capitalization, which are called "proper."

The "common" good includes everyone in the community.

"Common" knowledge refers to the stuff everyone knows.

What a weird word common is, ranging widely through ordinary, plain, familiar, popular, and even vulgar implications.

Not one of these meanings describes the uncommon beauty of a brown butterfly, tiny striped fly, and flying caterpillar I stalked for more than an hour under coolly intense sun in the community garden. The Common Buckeye, a True Brushfoot, sports long hair, orange epaulet bars, spotted eyes, orange and buttery stripes, and spots like eyes that glow turquoise on and under the wings.
Nearby, a tiny fly luxuriated in a hot blossom, and a butterfly-in-the-making sunned on flower and leaf, flitting about from light to shade. Despite an extensive Web search, I'm not sure what fly I saw or which "common" butterfly will emerge, but I think I'll go back tomorrow to see what can be see.
Bugs are, after all, "common" in the garden.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

And Blue

And finally the sky, not gray but blue, brilliant and blue.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thank You, WCW

So much dependsupon the red

Fall On Me Today Between Car and Mailbox

by Edward Hirsch

Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences‐ a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer's Sprawling past and winter's hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork; the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets,
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

Friday, October 16, 2009


In "The Pond in Winter" (Walden),
Henry David Thoreau wrote,
"Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
The heaven of fall lies there now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall Is Drowning

into the ground
colors fade
before blooming

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Before the Rain

Fall waited
in sky intensely
blue, pulling
color up from the roots.
Now what color
there is drains
down into sodden
earth, waiting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Small World Department

Hallie came to visit yesterday. A bright, lively young woman, she was my student some years ago, but she could have been family.About six weeks into the fall term of her tenth-grade English class, Hallie's mother appeared in my classroom one day after school.From a manila folder, she pulled and unfolded a yellowing newspaper article from the early 1950s. Together, we read a feature story about my parents' new house (my childhood house), a story in which my mother figured importantly.

Hallie's mother had figured, rightly, that her husband's mother (in whose things she had found the folder) and my mother must have known each other. Mind you, Hallie's grandparents lived in Nashville and mine lived in Birmingham. "Is that possible?" she asked. "Not only possible, but true!" I exclaimed and then explained that Wes and Peggy were my godparents. She and my mother were great friends, though why they ever met and how they sustained their friendship I will never know.

I went straight home and dug out photographs that proved our family connection. For Hallie, I made an 8 by 10 black and white of her grandmother. When she saw it, she squealed because the pearls around her grandmother's neck are now hers. A few years later, I joined them one Thanksgiving. We made new photographs of the whole group and of Hallie's father, aunt, and me together middle-aged rather than young. I sent copies to my brothers who also marveled at the coincidence.

The lagniappe of distance connections is delightful, but not nearly so much as Hallie, a charming young woman I am proud to claim as my almost-God-niece.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Water Droplets

The problem with metaphors is this: some are so good they cannot be improved upon. A necklace. Diamonds. Crystal beads. Fairy tears. How does one find words for something so common, so beautiful, so startling?