Thursday, January 31, 2013

Morning Nap

On my way in to the lake, each of Claire's horses stood, one back leg relaxed with hoof up, toe light on the ground. They made a line, next to the shrubs where summer's Gliders flew. A wind break for them, I think.

On my way out, two stood still, but the third lay on the ground, eyes closed, nose to earth, lower lip loose.  

Later, when I photographed one of her bowls, I saw her russet glaze as if for the first time -- the horses' coats outside, sky inside -- I could feel their contentment, cherished by a gentle hand.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kindle: Pro and Con

I thank the Kindle inventor and my family for their Christmas gift. In one month, I've regained my reading pace, completing seven books (The Round House, Epitaph for a Peach, Absurdistan, The Sense of an Ending, Salvage the BonesHome, and Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death. This afternoon, I started Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-distance Swimmer, and moments ago I downloaded A Visit from the Goon Squad, having learned it's wise to have a book loaded before finishing one. The best thing about my Kindle? Ease of reading: I can adjust the text size and brightness to compensate for my still-out-of-balance reading prescription.

I love reading this way, but . . . .

I miss the smell and feel of paper, the weight of a book, the beauty of the dust jacket and cloth cover, and illustrations large enough to see. I had to squint to see the line drawings of stink bugs and other creatures in Life Everlasting, an irritation that actually interfered with my reading pleasure. And I miss using my colored flags to mark pages and passages to return to when further along in the book. Only today did I figure out how to mark a whole passage and not just a word and then read all the marked passages. I can't, however, flip around the way I used to. And I'm a dedicated book flipper. For me, reading can be a physical activity.

Nevertheless, I've got my reading mojo working, and that makes me a happy woman.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Of Good Friends and Sugar

Each year, my generous New Orleans friends the Joneses, whose three daughters I once taught, send me two generous gifts: a smoked turkey at Christmas and a king cake at Mardi Gras. The sugar blast arrived today, and my first slice (second bite) offered up the biggest baby -- butt first -- I have ever seen. 

I commend the baker for staving off unintended choking and lawsuits, not just by the warning on the package, but by the size of this fat baby. No mistaking this one for a crunchy bit of cake.

I don't do Mardi Gras. (I didn't do it when I lived in New Orleans for more than 20 years, unless one counts completing taxes and trimming the hedge on Fat Tuesday as "doing Mardi Gras.") But I sure do king cake . . . and I celebrate good friends!

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Long View

I like living where I can see the long view every now and then, but I wouldn't want to live on the rim. Horizons have always made me nervous.

Recently, an elderly friend said, off-handedly, that she'd just as soon not be around next Christmas. I thought she meant she hoped to go out of town at the holiday. She explained that she meant she'd like to be dead. She hurts, she's sad a lot, she has lost her husband and many friends, and she spends a great deal of time reading or falling asleep in front of the television.

To her, the horizon -- an ending -- is beautiful. 

I will probably feel the same way one day, but for now I'd rather live blocks away from a view, on a gently downward-sloping hill, on a swerving road, surrounded by the woods.  

For me, the view is a surprise. May it always be.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Of White Sky, Blue Windows, Warm Stone, and Red Berries

In Look Homeward, Angel (a book I loved as a teenager and struggled to like as an adult), Thomas Wolfe wrote, " . . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the unfound faces."

Today, I might write, " . . . white sky, blue windows, warm stone. And of red berries."
This is how obsession begins, and ends when leaves return to the Possumhaw Hollies (Ilex decidua) in spring.  
May it be long till then, as long as the overwrought novel. (Please forgive me, Wolfe fans.)
Possumhaw Holly.

Say it.

See the red berries.

Hear the poetry.

Possumhaw Holly.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Day and Night of Light

Altars of Soul
by Pierre Joris

If the light is the soul 
then soul is what's 
all around me.

It is you, 
it is around you too, 
it is you.

The darkness is inside me, 
the opaqueness of organs folded 
upon organs-- 

to make light in the house of
the body-- 
     thus to bring the
outside in,
     the impossible job.

   And the only place to become
the skin
   the border, the inbetween, where
dark meets light, where I meets

   In the house of world the 
many darknesses are surrounded 
by light.

   To see the one, we need 
the other / it cuts both ways

   light on light is blind 
   dark on dark is blind

   light through dark is not

   dark through light is movement
   dark through light becomes,
is becoming,
     to move through
light is becoming,

   is all
     we can know.

Friday, January 25, 2013

On Bug Life and Death

Cleaning the shop windows today, I whisked some dozen or so dead bugs into the dustbin, along with wing bits, antennae, legs, and miscellaneous bug dust: Asian lady beetles, flies, spiders, Box Elder bugs.

Before tumping the leavings into the trash basket, I took a few photographs, thinking about their dying and death, inside, among trinkets.  They will end up in some landfill, I suppose, where it's unlikely they will feed another life directly.  But they will move into something somehow as food.

I hope.

Reading Bernd Heinrich's The Animal Way of Dying comforts me without repulsion, despite (or perhaps because of) its specificity.  Sexton beetles lying on their backs, walking on the dead animal they move and then bury; the astonishing lifespan of some larger birds of up to 50 years (just think about that if you can); the destruction or near destruction of entire species millions strong by the bipedal johnny-come-lately; the hordes of scavenging vultures arriving so shortly after death and from as much as one hundred miles; . . . so many fascinating observations and mysteries.

This past summer, when I shared a kinship of some kind with a dead raccoon at Lake Cheston, paying a visit to the carcass each day, photographing the botflies, larvae, maggots, sexton beetles, the single vulture, I did not anticipate discovering this book.  Through Heinrich's narrative and the memory of the beautiful coon and the few small pure white bones still lying there in matted grass, I celebrate the great ongoing process of which I am part.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Seeing Red

The berries popped.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Today's Fabulous Reality

An accidental self-portrait of a person who hates to have her picture taken but manages to take it all the time anyway and always in delightfully odd ways.

Miss me?  Look in the top left bubble.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Just when I was feeling angry

about the growing pile of Bluebird poop on my driver's door, this happened.

Early morning.  Plunking at the kitchen deck door.  Music music.

Once again, I thank myself for my own wisdom when I didn't do as the Domain Manager suggested.  Those flock-flying noisome gloriously-blue car-pooping Bluebirds love my berries.  The berry bush shall stay right where it is.

May the ripening continue.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Crocus on Inauguration Day

"What're you doing?" the dog-walker asked.

And because I was sitting on the ground, hunkered over the leaves off the walkway, and couldn't imagine answering Thinking about the inauguration poem and Diane's Op Ed piece in The New York Times and watching crocuses, waiting for them to open to the sun, hoping I'll see them open, I said, "Taking a picture of a crocus."

"Oh! Have fun!" she said and walked on.

When I came home, I looked up crocuses, those tiny fried-egg or Easter-basket-decorative blossoms that push up through leaf litter in winter.  I read about corms and anthers and styles; I learned that the new corm develops on the old one, year after year after year.  I read about the saffron crocuses on Crete and saw a picture of a fresco at Thera, which I studied so many years ago and so enthusiastically in college. I followed a link to the Liddell and Scott dictionary of ancient Greek (online!) which I used when I took the language, pouring through the many volumes in the Vanderbilt library.  I read about the many many varieties on the Crocus Pages, admiring their tidily ravishing beauty.  I searched for poems that mention crocuses on the Poetry Foundation and Academy of American Poets sites, stopping to read the interviews with the inaugural poet Richard Blanco.  I found two poems I like -- "For You Today" by Jessica Greenbaum and "Poem" by Jill Alexander Essbaum.

And then I finally looked at my pictures.  

And they were enough.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What I Wished for Today

The way
red-spotted newts
hang in water,
stilled, then undulant
with a wave,
to float again:
that elegance
that weightlessness
that ease
that suspension
in what holds

Saturday, January 19, 2013

In just spring


But we haven't even had winter yet!

All I can hear echoing in my mind is Bette Davis's line from All About Eve: "Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy night."

Make that winter.  

(Surely it's coming?)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Writing Well Matters

I've taught composition for a bit more than thirty years. Every day, I read and respond to student papers, and every day I wait for one to awaken me with a committed, original voice, reminding me why writing matters.

Today, I opened an envelope and found these thank-you notes from my 7-year-old great-nephew and his 5-year-old sister.

Lesson re-learned.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Blue at the Beginning and Blue at the Ending

Early this morning the bluebird thunked and thunked at the living room window, after hunting from my rearview mirror (which I know because of his "leavings" on the driver's door).  

Later, sleet fell -- several times.  Or was it hail?  Perhaps it was hail the first time, but then just freezing rain.

At 4, I walked out of the shop where I work and what I saw was miraculous: blue sky and sunshine.  The first of either since January 8.  In the car, on the way to a reading, I couldn't resist singing, "Blue skies, smiling at me."

Please, Mr. Bluebird, come again tomorrow and bring that sky back with you, OK?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Yesterday, I read a charming post in The Everywhereist about Koppa's Fulbeli Deli in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While the writer's take on the deli (and everything else she posts) is witty, it's the deli's signs that made me laugh aloud: "Diary" appears above the dairy section and "Frezon Food" above the fozen food area.

Today, stir-crazy from ten days of rain and fog, I decided to browse the textbook section of the college bookstore. The Easter semester has just started at the college, so I thought I'd see what books have been ordered for art, English, and history. After noting Dennis Covington's Salvation on Sand Mountain for one history course (striking me as an especially interesting choice), I turned around and saw this:

I stifled my laughter until I got in the car, and then I exploded. Whereas the signs and decor at Koppa's appear to be intentional, I'm not so sure about this error. At a college with a renowned tradition in literature and composition, such an oversight (I must admit) amuses me.

Or maybe the fog has just made me a bit . . . nah . . . I don't think so!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

One Year Ago Today

The sun shone.  

I walked to Cedar Hollow Lake, where  emerald and turquoise water rushed out of the lake and down the hill.  A beautiful day shadowed by worry about a friend (my former student and the daughter of a friend), fighting to recover from a horrific accident.  I remember hunkering there where I had photographed a female Fragile Forktail fighting to maintain balance, eating an inchworm, and I thought of my friend, wrestling in a hospital room, lying suspended, unconscious, so many working to help her heal body and brain, so many thinking of her.
January 15, 2012: a beautiful dark day.

Now one year later, I see her photograph on Facebook.  She's holding a child and smiling, the same beautiful face I've known for twenty-five years beaming with joy in her living and her life, and her image brings the sun to yet another foggy day in Sewanee.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sewanee Winter

requires patience.

Rain, fog, ice,
gunmetal sky.
Seesaw temperatures:
70 yesterday,
32 last night.
And the silence --
excepting birdsong,
patter and splatter
of precipitation,
a cat's mewling
and words heard
in the head.

I resist.

I am not yet
of winter mind.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hello, Old Friend

About three years ago, I slowly lost reading as one of my most pleasurable pastimes. Not for lack of trying, but for lack of vision. Now two surgeries later and Kindle-equipped, I have rediscovered what I have long missed.

Ten days ago I began with Louise Erdrich's deeply affecting The Round Housemoved on to Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones which a friend rightly called "raw"; slipped into a bit of frippery with Julia Stuart's The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoiseand then read the insightful and informative memoir Epitaph for a Peach by David Mas Masomoto. Waiting for me now on my re-charged reader is Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending.

Rain, a comfortable couch, shelves of art and books, my cat at my side, and literature: hello, old friend. How long you've been gone.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Life by Nature Made So Short

The fly died long before I saw it: its feet still sucking the window, its eyes facing natural light (or what there was of it).

I didn't kill it.  I didn't know it was there.  I never saw it enter or try to escape.

But still I feel guilty -- having opened a door through which it flew, perhaps, not knowing this room would be its tomb.

The fly, the paint-slathered frame, the paint-dotted glass, the gray sky.

A lonely portrait made beautiful by persistence.

Friday, January 11, 2013

With All Due Respect

11 January 2013

Cuties Clementine Cooperative

11444 West Olympic Boulevard, 10th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Dear Madam or Sir:

I am writing to lodge a complaint against the Cuties Clementine Cooperative for age discrimination.

Who says Cuties are for kids?  I am not a child.  I am an adult who loves Cuties.  I buy Cuties regularly, even though they're more expensive than other clementines.  I eat Cuties, though perhaps not as many in one day as my almost-6-year-old great-niece who asked a month ago, "Are 9 Cuties today too many?  May I have more?"  I advise others to buy and eat Cuties, and sometimes I even share a Cutie or two with a relative or close friend.

I am somewhat miffed that you seem to think Cuties are only for kids without even considering the rest of us.  I am not kid!  Please broaden your appeal and recognize that Cuties are for everyone.

Thank you for your consideration, and for the delicious dessert (pictured below) that I enjoyed after lunch today.

Yours truly,

An Adult Cutie Addict

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Most Beautiful Thing

I heard and saw today: a single male bird, roofed, full-throated, on the lookout for others of his kind. For five minutes, he chattered and called, puffed his chest feathers and clacked his bill, turned and pivoted, singing, singing, singing.

Before today, I've only ever really listened to raucous legions of European Starlings. How could I have known their stylish mimicry? The sophistication of their music? The lusty comedy of their prideful feather ruffling?

When five others flew in and all took off for the telephone wire and then a distant tree, I felt bereft. Even the family of House Sparrows zooming in and out of their little house at the garage brought me no pleasure.

That Starling was the most beautiful thing I heard and saw today, and for him and his songs I am grateful.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What's Wrong with This Picture?

A.  These are Snowdrops.

B.  Today is January 9.

C.  Snowdrops have bloomed and it's only January 9.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Edvard Munch at the Spider Bridge

Spiders set up shop all year long along the Lake Cheston trestle bridge.  

In summer, I save dragonflies, butterflies, and moths, pull them flapping and flailing from orb weaver webs.  

Today, the tightrope spider silk spanning one metal support held no prey.  Instead, the stanchion's rusted, chipped coating (paint and iron) captured me, holding me in thrall just as a version of Munch's Scream did many years ago.

You see it, too, don't you?  The artist's palette?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Soft Time

A time 
when earth 
and sky
wear muted 
hues like
loose tweed 
or cashmere, 
so soft 
even rock 
invites slumber, 
vistas flatten:
all becomes