Friday, November 30, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tree by Tree

Dear Jim,

As I confessed to you yesterday, I know almost nothing about what grows out of the ground.  With a wildflower book, I have developed some visual skills, but now I think it's time for trees.

For more than three years I have worked in the village, and all that time I have parked in the same area, taken the trash out to the same bin, entered and exited the shop through the same door, crossing into the shared space between shop and garage.  In all those years, I have seen big birds in three enormous trees on either side of the back apartment.  But only today -- because of the slant of sun and my renewed eyes and new glasses -- did I notice the plentiful fruit hanging from every branch and stem.

I asked Gay, "What are those trees?"

She said, "I don't know, but I know they're not mine."

I walked further back, toward the apartment, and started looking and stretching and snapping.  Then I heard them -- Harold and his brother and a customer -- chatting behind the car rack.  I asked them, and they knew: sycamore.

I came home, and now I have read about the tree.  I have seen that marbleized bark on walks at Lake Cheston!  I have seen those big hairy leaves!  I have even seen the fruit -- in Christmas arrangements!

I am writing to tell you that I shall try to learn one tree a week (or maybe a month).  Then we can compare notes.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Caravaggesque Water

A small patch of pond: water, leaves, algae, silt, bubbles, grass, sky reflection, something oily suspended and shining on the surface.

Seeing it, I could not look away, but sat in mud, transfixed, as I had once stood before Caravaggio's The Calling of St. Matthew one cold afternoon in Rome's Contarelli Chapel of the Church of San Luigi dei Francesci.  

The play of dark and light, the energy of light-colored strands like spider silk (but surely not, since submerged and weaving through the water; algae tendrils, perhaps?) reminding me of a painting's craquelure.

I love art, and I love museums, and I love the way the lake sometimes becomes both.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Holy Temple of Solitude

I learned today that a friend is going on retreat to her former Buddhist monastery (which she described as "that space of all quiet") and that a brother has just returned from an American Orthodox community where he enjoys retreat.

Today, thankfully, my walk at Lake Cheston provided true retreat and respite.  Unlike most days, no hikers or bike riders, no dog walkers or cell talkers, no echoing weed whackers, leaf blowers, or airplanes, no birds (even no birds) interrupted my spell of solitude in heavy fog.

Only on my way out did I spy other living creatures: three horses grazing in a friend's field.  None snorted or stamped, each content, too, -- or so it seemed -- to stand in a space of some quiet.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Right Place at the Right Time

I was photographing this

when this happened.

I don't even know what to say, except this:

I sure am lucky.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Like a Dream

The water,
tiny spider,
leaf litter:
a technicolor
more fantastical
than a dream.
what I see 
so surprises me
that I don't
even believe 
my own eyes.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

After the Table of Plenty

On my way to Bell Buckle Thanksgiving morning, Highway 82 was clear.  

On my way home, twenty-four hours later, I noticed the vultures -- a half dozen or so perched in a twisted tree.  On returning my gaze to the highway, I saw the rib cage lifted from the pavement like church vaulting, two vultures (vested priests?) still pulling at what flesh was left.  Deer, I knew, though there was little left that was recognizably "deer" other than size.

Today, on a brief walk along the Goat Track, I saw many skeletal Queen Anne's Lace heads and thought of the austere beauty of forms that lie beneath.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Let There Be Lights

My mother was a purist when it came to Christmas lights: only white, only small, only on the tree and a few on the bridge to light the way for Santa's visitors, and no movement or sound.

She pronounced colored lights and displays "tacky," although as a family we did drive down to the two circles with their C-7-bulbed trees and cutout nutcracker decorations.

I wonder what she would think of the Christmas decorating craze that has characterized American consumer and popular culture in the decades since her death.  What, for example, what she make of the woman who does this every year?

Would she still mutter "Tacky" under her breath?  Or would she have come to love the celebratory spirit of a person who celebrates a season and shares it with others.

Though I have no fondness for the plastic store-bought scenes, I have to admit that I have shed my puritanical bias against showy Christmas lights.  The more, the merrier for me.

I celebrate the celebrants!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

for good friends, Florence and Jere and their dog Prince, who opened their house and hearts to a family-less holiday friend and made her feel at home.

Master gardeners, they know how to make things and people grow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The View from Here

Giving thanks for sun, 
blue sky, 
and meadowhawks.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Today's Lake Cheston Flag

flapped at the beach behind the cattails,
the red limb, where summer's Blue Dashers perched, 
holding now this red-veined leaf:

a serrated heart
beating in blue sky.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Stand still
on the path
between lake
and woods
before trees
loose the last
of their leaves
and listen.  Hear
falling, floating,
and landing
on other leaves,
each a small
stage for insects
and old age.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lucky Number 13

(or maybe 14)

Meet the Familiar Bluet, sighted once before and finally photographed today.

Don't ask me how I managed to avoid sliding, bottom first, into the lake (the answer is barely).  Don't ask me how I managed to see this little fellow, clinging to grass some ten feet off the shore at the first (new eyes and new glasses are helpful).  Don't ask me why I had not seen him before the dregs of fall (Giff Beaton says the Bluet has been around since April).

But do ask me this: Are you pleased to shoot and identify the 13th (maybe 14th) damselfly on the Domain?  

Well, yes, well pleased.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hello and Goodbye

So many female Autumn Meadowhawks sunned themselves today: on dry grass, leaves, my hand.  Wherever I walked, they flitted, activated by the warm temperature and tease of changing seasons. Woods and water shimmered with their wings.

I am glad I walked today.  I am glad I visited the lake at mid-day, under high sun and heat.  I am glad I lingered.  And I am glad I did not learn one final fact until ten minutes ago: "Once they reach sexual maturity, individuals seek a mate, lay eggs and die soon afterward."  So many females, so much urgency to reproduce and tap their eggs into the sedges, then surrender.  

Hello and goodbye until next late spring when their offspring, or at least many of them, emerge and my watching begin again.

Friday, November 16, 2012


With a moon like this, anybody would go crazy.

And I would not blame her.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Fat Lady

has not sung yet.

Standing on the dam bridge, feeling bereft because of cold and wind and gray days, I felt the sun begin to warm me.  Then, on the other side of the rail,  something flickered toward me.  I backed away slowly, and sure enough an Autumn Meadowhawk had alit on my red jacket.

I can't show you that male warming himself on me warming in the sun for half a minute or so, as I could not move to aim the camera at him.  So instead of that single Meadowhawk, I leave you with lapping water and bird chatter.

These will have to do for today's interlude.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Burning on the Way Out

So much yellow and gold this fall that at times I felt as if I were drowning in honey or marmalade.  

But so little red, other than the berries.  I have missed the red -- the burning out of leaf life. 

Odd, then, that the only color I found in the woods today were red berries and a few leaves still clinging to twining branches and vines.

I am thankful for the red.

Though so little, and so late.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hopper Leitmotif

Powell Hardware (1910), Decherd, TN

The taxidermied bear
rearing up, teeth bared,
in the corner window
forced me to park
and dust off the windows.
Inside, a five-foot
carved and barbed catfish
floated above a primitive
chest with dovetail joinery.
The still-slotted key hung
from a 1950s Coke machine
glinted and two huge plastic
Mickey Mouse characters
extended their gloved hands
toward empty buildings
across the street.
Respite from Wal-Mart,
welcome Hopper leitmotif.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fog Outside and In

What's on my mind today?


Christmas looms.

And still no book idea.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Trio of American Crows

sat on a skeletal tree, at times nervously glancing in different directions, at others bobbing and rocking like a silent barbershop trio, until suddenly and for no reason I could determine, they cawed, as if at the cold wind scudding clouds across the sky.

I could not help thinking of a Gorey illustration or of a scherenschnitte silhouette or of a poem:

The Crow
by Kaelum Poulson

So beautiful
but often unseen
a maid of nature
the street cleaner that's everywhere
never thanked
never liked
always ignored
so elegant in a way no one sees
but without it we would
be in trash up to our knees
with the heart of a lion
the mind of a fox
the color of the night fox
a crow
the unpaid workman
that helps in every way
each and every day

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Uh Oh

And now a word from the Farmer's Almanac:

"Thanks to everyone who has shared observations about acorns and squirrels. With some exceptions, there appears to be an overwhelming number of locations with record acorn drops.  This is just one of many signs of a hard winter.  As we enter October, we will want to switch gear and start to find and observe woolly bear caterpillars.  These critters can be found in driveways, sidewalks and near buildings.  When you see a caterpillar note: If there is a narrow orange band in the middle of the Woolly Bear caterpillar, it warns of heavy snow.  If they are fat and fuzzy expect bitter cold."

I'll let you be the judge of the prediction made by this Woolly Bear, found atop the Lake Cheston dam today.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Don't Shoo, Flies!

Today's asters shook

under the weight
of so many-winged things:
bumblebees, large and small;
skippers; cucumber beetles;
one yellow-collared scape moth;
and a cloud of Steampunk
flower flies: spiked
shiny black abdomens,
vested in gold brocade.

This joint
was jumpin'!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

In the Moment

If I could, I would stay there forever.  In the moment, that is. 

Without memory, for memory is not always pleasant and healthy.

Without planning, for plans take up too much brain space.

Without conversation, for conversation inhibits observation.

Without body, for body hurts or limits in surprising ways.  (Maybe this is the cracked rib speaking.)

Today, I found a moment, twice -- morning and late afternoon --, when my neighbor's Japanese red maple sang.  And I do mean it sang from across her yard into mine, boldly, like Odetta or Nina Simone, but not sad, just strong. 

It sang, "I am red.  I am beautiful.  I make everything else around me sing."

And for a moment, I listened.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Nothing Sweet

but its lingering 
rosy color, 
just enough 
to warm a cold day 
under a titanium sky.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

Should You Ever See Me Pull Off the Highway at High Speed

please know that I probably saw something wonderful: like this hawk, perched high up in a bare tree overlooking a field filled with black angus and facing a half-dozen turkey vultures perched on two other bare trees at the other end of the field.

The hawk acknowledged me, then sailed off.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

And So It Begins: Christmas Book Panic!

The fish bit at and then ignored the little dog-paddler, flipping and flopping its way to a blade of grass.  I watched it climb up to the top, sun for a moment, then climb down again, before flying off.

Only when I got home did I realize it must have been one of those green bees I've seen before at the lake.  (Or maybe a green bee fly. At my distance and with my camera's resolution, it's hard to tell.)
What I could tell, though, was that those fish were fishing -- hunting for a tidbit to tide them over.

Every year at about this time, I start fishing, too.  Usually I sense a tug of an inchoate idea pretty quickly; usually I've felt it by now.  But not this year.  I am bare, or nearly so, like the trees beyond the small fish.
Panic is starting to settle in: Just what the heck will I write about this year?  Why in the world did I start a Christmas book tradition anyway?  Maybe this is the year to end that tradition!

Then reason speaks: No, I can't do that.  I just have to wait for the right bait to come my way.

Hmm . . . .

Previous Christmas book posts: The Manifesto of Done; Exhaustion; The First Christmas Book; The Christmas Book, Part II; Creative Energy; The Christmas Book

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Packing a Wallop

The Fragile Forktail is an inch long at most.  The species is difficult to see, not just because of size, but because it's wary. 

Today's close encounter took me along the shore line from stone to stone, first in one direction and then the other, in pursuit of a mature female.  I watched her curve her abdomen into small plant stems, as if ovispositing (but I've never seen one do this solo before), and I watched her see me and dart just as I sneaked within camera range.


A while later, I ran into friends on the beach, who asked, "Will the eggs they lay now wait all winter to emerge?"  I think they might.  I think . . . but I can't say for sure because I keep reading comments like this: "Depending on the species, some larvae may stay in the water for up to a year for emergence."

The limits of my knowledge and of my camera are sometimes frustrating.  Fortunately, You Tube offers tasty bits like this to tide me over all the long winter ahead.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Losing Time

Daylight Savings ends this weekend, and while I may be sleepy for a week in the face of early darkness, I will adjust.  Every year it strikes me odd that folks talk about "losing" and "gaining" time when we change our clocks.  So far as I know, we won't be adjusting the rotation of the Earth or the position of Earth with respect to the Sun.  Time will still be what it was: we have only changed our naming of it.

There are ways of "losing time," to be sure, that may make me unhappy: standing on line for a grocery clerk or sitting in an overbooked doctor's office; listening to a presenter read what is projected on a screen; working in a boring or detestable job; waiting for medical test results, anticipating bad news that might come.

But there's also at least one way of "losing time" that I love: what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi calls "flow," the sense of complete absorption and loss of self when engaged in an activity that fully occupies a person, in an activity one loves.  Over my lifetime, different activies have resulted in flow: play-pretend, geometry, tennis, music, writing, reading, acting.  Now, I need only take my camera outside and walk -- somewhere familiar or unfamiliar -- and shoot.  Today, for example, I spent half an hour with this female Autumn Meadowhawk.

While others may complain on the weekend about the time change, I won't because I love losing/gaining time by making it flow.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

UltraFast and UltraSlo

make for UltraFascinating.

Again, and again, and again I repositioned myself, the leaf, the camera and shot, and shot, and shot.  This morning, more than almost any other, I longed for a fancy camera, the kind with a fancy (i.e. expensive) macro lens.  I just could not get enough of the little thing.

I downloaded the photos, studied each one, deleted many, saved a few, poured over beetles in Bugguide, emailed J (my entomologist friend), and finally posted a photo to Bugguide.  Eight minutes later, I had my answer: pupa of a Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis).  As adults, these obnoxious bugs congregate in the hundreds wherever the sun shines or the heat radiates.  I hate them: I remove them: I curse them.

But then there's this: just watch one take flight.  I dare you to look away.