Friday, August 31, 2012

The Weight of a Small Thing

It's a small thing I do every day -- walk and look with my camera.  It's a small thing to write a blog post that would go unread were it not for a former student who religiously reads each post.  (Yes, you know who you are, W.)  It's a small thing to snap photos, throw most away, tinker with a few others, and upload one each day to a gallery. 

But there's nothing small about the effects. I see the world as if new every day.  I feel more fully myself in those moments when I walk and snap. I am more grateful than I have ever been for the small things -- legs that walk, eyes that see, ears that hear.  I have learned to love Sewanee for its smallness and the beings that live in it. 

I wear a kind of light weight now, like the bee burying its head in a zinnia: for a moment, it is mine -- all of it -- and then I fly away.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Traffic Jam

Where water pours into Lake Cheston from the woods, I stood on the small wooden bridge.  The Common Green Darner jetted up and down and around the shore, weaving in and out of the cattails, now speeding faster than I could watch, then stopping in mid-air like a basketball pro on the court.  The little red Calico Pennant balanced on the tip of a grass spear, idle.  The Banded Pennants snapped to and mated; the Eastern Amberwings hovered over the water, patrolling their tiny kingdoms with calm aplomb.  Slaty Skimmers flew one above the other, turning and turning till one sped off and the other followed.  Widow Skimmers spun into the sky like runaway pinwheels.  Clinging to the lower stems and grasses, a single Bluet hung out and paired Swamp Spreadwings and Violet Dancers completed their couplings.  Finally, into the mix came the yoked Black Saddlebags flying clumsily as if tipsy, he dipping and she refusing to deposit her eggs, others in hot pursuit.

At noon, here, imagine this: rush-hour traffic in a big city, to the sound of fish-slapping water, flicking wings, and birdsong.  Always, let there be birdsong.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Is Anthing Ever Absolutely Still?

"If you mean 'absolutely' in the sense of 'completely', then no. The celebrated uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics shows that the more precisely we try to pin down the exact location of anything to tell if it's stationary, the more it jitters about. On the other hand, if you mean 'absolutely still' in the sense of stationary with respect to the whole Universe, then yes - at least, subject to the above caveat. The Universe is filled with radiation left over from the Big Bang, and this provides a reference frame by which we can tell how fast we're moving in absolute terms, and in what direction. In 1996, a team of NASA scientists showed that we on planet Earth are moving at around 1,340,000km/h relative to the Universe as a whole." -- Christopher Watts

Nothing at Lake Cheston is ever still.

Thank heavens.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Blue Skies Are Smilin' at Me!

and you, too, Lydia!  Since you couldn't go to the garden today, here's a bit of it just for you!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Fever

Today, butterflies flapped everywhere I looked: a Gulf Fritillary flung herself, flopping and flapping, at vines and leaves along one eight-foot stretch of a Lake Cheston path, beginning near the Passion Flowers where she may have emerged; on the beach a half-dozen American Snouts circled my hat like a landing strip and sucked sweat from my hand, while below me a single female Monarch butterfly puddled, seeking moisture from warm sand; two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails spun round J's zinnias, while this single Pipevine Swallowtail supped and sucked at the Cardinal Flowers overhanging J's pond.  

A fever ran through them all.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fall Light

A friend wrote
the light has changed
but she lives north
of me, so I thought
No it hasn't
till today, when 
coming out of woods
onto the bridge
at the dam, I saw
unmistakable amber
light like jarred honey
and thought
Yes it has and
at that moment
I felt fall
starting to fall.

Friday, August 24, 2012

On the Grasshopper and Cricket by John Keats
The Poetry of earth is never dead:    
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,    
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run    
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;    
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead      
  In summer luxury,—he has never done    
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun    
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.    
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:    
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost     
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills    
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,    
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,    
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Garden Thief

I confess: I steal from others' gardens.

I don't take vegetables and fruit, though I am tempted.  I don't cut flowers, though I would like to.  I don't even snip a few herbs, though I imagine a tasty dinner.

I steal silence, insects, petal, leaf, light.  I take the buzz of color and a few snaps on a memory card.

Today, I robbed J's garden, letting myself in the side gate.  (Oh, I tried to open her door first and call, but found it locked.  Since she has no doorbell, I sneaked round back.)  Frogs plopped into her pond before I saw them and led me to the Cardinal Flower fallen across the water, wearing afternoon like a Liberty of London floral print.

All was lost.

Temptation reared its head, and I confess I surrendered.

Forgive me, please.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On Time

Time: divider of days and years, beat of music and poetry, long slog of history and light from distant stars, anxiety of anticipation and drudgery of boredom, interval of action and inaction, stream Thoreau went a-fishing in, something to work against and get ahead of and waste and make the most of, arbiter of patience and impatience, friend and foe, concept and energy, movement of molecules.

All the time today, I wore time wrong-side-up and never knew it till I took time off and put it back where it belongs: away.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Mind for Small Things

I find these days I think in increments of thought -- a word, a gesture, a shade of color, a crumb.  I think I may always have thought this way. 

In graduate school, I remember studying John Philip Kemble's notations for Shakespeare plays, comparing the images he created on stage to those David and Poussin created in neoclassical painting.  I didn't know why -- and still don't know why -- I was so interested in the minutiae on textual notations.  I'm not sure I ever even posited why it mattered.  Can it?  Matter, that is?  Beyond the scholarly pursuit of writing that shows a scholarly bent?

Today, I returned to the Stevenson Town Park and found myself unable to take a single decent picture of the panoramic view of lily pads, water, and distant mountain.  Even with a tripod for HDR photos, I failed at capturing the big picture.  Only later, when I cropped a photo to the foreground, flattening it like a turn-of-the-century print, or photographed the center of a passion flower did I make myself happy. 

Narrow the field: my modus operandi.  Make the image and let it be itself, without interpretation or meaning or significance.  Mine is a mind for small things.

Monday, August 20, 2012

In Good Company

Confession: I'd rather spend ten minutes with a Halloween Pennant under a wide blue sky than ten minutes with most people I know.

At least, that's what I'd say today.

And, please: pass no judgments.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Note of Thanks

Dear Lydia,

I imagine that your recovery means a few days away from your garden, so I thought I'd bring you up-to-date.

This afternoon, your passion flowers, heaped high, bloomed mightily.  Bees buzzed and one napped like an odalisque in a fantastical painting by Dali.  Birds chirped and flitted into and out of your sunflowers.  A sulphur butterfly hung for a moment from the lip of a coneflower before winging on.  Skippers piled on Mary's zinnias, and Gulf Fritillaries swung from bloom to bloom to bloom.  So many, I had only to turn a bit here or there and snap snap snap their magnificent orange upper-wings.

I thought of last year's caterpillar, curled like a comma in a leaf, and smiled.  You grow things well, Lydia.  And I hope you know your green thumb makes me happy.

Be well,


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Weird Words


I read the etymology: small sword from gladius, Latin for sword.  So named for the shape of the leaves. 

But oh, Pliny, only a man could ascribe this name to such a flower, less weapon than petticoat.

Much better the Old English: gladdon

This bloom certainly put the glad on my day.

Friday, August 17, 2012


I saw their reflection before I saw them, strolling downhill toward the beach, baskets in hand.  The "Foragers of Morgan Steep" had walked Abbo's Alley, visited their plot at the Community Gardens, and now headed toward home via Lake Cheston, where they'd look for more of the same: edible mushrooms.

I envy their certainty and knowledge.  Funghi in the wild I leave in the wild, as I don't know good from bad.

But do know beautiful. 

Marilyn tipped her basket for my lens, and suddenly the whole  collection -- tomato, mushroom, spider, tiny snail -- shone. 

No fool's gold this!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Fullness

Not quite summer, not quite fall. 
An overlay of seasons
in shocks of color. 
A fullness --
cobalt sky,
Golden Gate-orange cosmos,
carmine leaves sweeping the lake --
fills my heart like pollen
stuffed into a bee's basket.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Light Primaries and One Question


But what does she, the Autumn Meadowhawk see when I lean in to her face, taking picture after picure after picture?  No me I would recognize, but something else entirely -- infrared and shimmering, perhaps; something large; a blur, an inedible, unthreatening blob.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chasing the Light

After rain,
morning sun
wavered -- now
gauze, then glass,
only fitful,
only brief. 

An odd time
for picture-taking,
making insect,
flower, fur,
water, sky
flattened blurs.

Even the sole
shivered; my
hands shook.

But the forest
floor flamed,
so I chased
fungal light.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Here's My Answer

The University entomologist and I finally met.

I said, "You're the fellow I've been emailing!"

He said, "I heard you worked here."

I said, "I am indeed the obsessed woman."

He asked, "Why do you walk Lake Cheston every day?  Do you have a dog?"

"Not I," I responded.  "I walk because I don't want to miss anything."

Had I not walked today, for instance, I would have missed the evidence of someone else's meal: the shell of an abdomen, from which the interior had been mined, and the wings, separated, caught in the grass, dampened by the dew.  No head.  The part eaten first.

The remains of a Widow Skimmer, the chaff of a beautiful flyer grounded and unwinged.  I would not have wanted to miss this memento mori.

Remember me.

How could I forget?  And why would I?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Full Day

A Lake Cheston stroll and the most compliant (battered and torn) Blue Dasher I've met yet, followed by a beautiful drive to Crow Mountain Orchards and the purchase of Laura Delicious and Asian pears, a hairpin-turning stomach-churning mountain descent into farming countryside, a picnic at a stop along the North Alabama Bird Trail, and conversation with a friend.

A full day and a delightful one.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


A close friend of my neighbor -- a Mississippian by birth, New Yorker by longest residence, now Tennesseean -- lives only a block from the New Orleans school where I taught for almost two decades and has just published an article about the garden of a country house oustide Nashville.  The wife of the house-owning couple went to summer camp with me.

My neighbor's husband -- a Tennessean by birth, New Yorker by longest residence, and now Tennesseean -- is a book editor, who has been in conversation with a famous photographer about her plans for a memoir about, among other things, her family.  She is my cousin.

Live in the south long enough as my family has -- one side beginning in the mid 17th-century and the other in the early 19th century -- and chances are connections like these are waiting to be seen, like chard veins glowing in morning sun.

Almost magic, like photosynthesis.

Friday, August 10, 2012

About Rain

On Facebook, old friends waxed nostalgic today about memories of our shared summer rains: steady drops popping on the Green River and creek, the smell of damp earth and musty growing things so thick and deep, sitting tucked into a poncho on the ground, the laurels twisted into an embrace above and around.

But the rain here, yesterday and today, brings only pinching melancholy, influenced perhaps by the absence of sharp angles of light to invite my camera. 

Only these, the wild peas sprouting along the Goat Track please me with their teary pink and white satin petals.  Beautiful, yes, but wet and wearing like longing for something of home.  My brother called his daughter, my niece, whom I miss and long to see, "Sweetpea," when she was a child, and it is she I see in these petals: they are beautiful.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

If like a crab

I could walk backwards, would I?  I'm not sure.

The way might be studded with thistle spikes, and I fear I would not be as gracefully athletic as the tiny spider lying in wait of dinner.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Are You There, Heloise?

Hello Heloise,

It's me, Lucy.

My human said your human let us use your Furminator.  I am writing to say thank you.  (I am a polite cat.)  My human used it four times in three days.  She combed out a lot of hair.  I didn't swallow as much as I usually do.  I did not throw up either.  My human thanks you, too.  She does not like cleaning up my spit and kibble and hairballs. 

Do you like it when your human combs you?  I love it when mine does.  I push my cheek and then my backbone right up against that Furminator.  It makes me purr.  A lot.  And I want her to keep combing.  I even try to rub against the teeth when she is pulling out my hair.  I like seeing my hair in the waste basket.  That means there's less on me and in me!

Thank you, Heloise, for letting us borrow your Furminator.  We won't need it any more since my human got smart and bought our own.  Now I have one that smells like me and just me.  (I hope that didn't hurt your feelings.  Yours smelled very nice.)  If you ever need to borrow one, tell your human to ask mine.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Different Conversation

Over a delightful lunch yesterday with a friend, she decried not having had a conversation with another person for four days.

It isn't the human voice that comforts me these days, so much as the insects and birds and plants and and animals and water and wind.  Such comfort in the chorus.

Monday, August 6, 2012

An Old Car in a New Home

My Birmingham great-nieces have grown up in one car -- their mother's Suburu, which is now my Suburu.  When I drove away in the car last week, they were a bit teary, surprisingly sad to see it go.

What they don't know is why I love the car: it smells like them and their mother.  I'm not sure how long the scent will linger, but for now I am reminded that not all the angels live in Sewanee. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mind Wandering on a Rainy Afternoon

On a rainy day, I wish . . .

I had been a children's book writer/illustrator 

like Brian Selznick whose Invention of Hugo Cabret thrills me each time I read it

or Eric Carle whose tissue-paper paintings arc like rainbows on paper

or Chris Raschka whose books bebop

or William Joyce whose imagination flies

or Shaun Tan whose books celebrate our basic humanity

or NO! David Shannon

or anyone else with the talent to make beautiful words and images for small hearts.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Good Luck

Red mushroom: 
lacquered flame
licks a pine
needle rick,
pops open
a paper parasol,
glows golden.
Chinese lantern
of the forest floor.
Scarlet Cap

Friday, August 3, 2012


do you puff
on opening,
a kernel-pop
exhalation of joy?

Or do you
sigh a sibilant
whiffling the air
where small
insects stir?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

For Mary, With a Nod to WCW

This is just to say

I didn't kill
the nymph
that lounged on
your leaf

and which
you would certainly
have squashed
at once

Forgive me
it was beautiful
so small
so nattily attired

Squash bug nymph, unsqushed, on squash leaf

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

These Eggs Will Have to Do

Sometimes the most beautiful things can't be snapped:
a niece's generosity;
an eight-year-old's riddle;
her sister's "Do it to me again!"
for a riddle encore.
So these eggs
will have to do.
Admire their beauty
and think of family.