Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Surprise Redux

Inside the package, I found two old hand-painted panels and this note from a first-cousin:

"Your mother painted these wooden panels a way long time ago as part of a pretty little settee Grandmother had. When it was time to dismantle Grandmother's house, Mother found the settee to be falling apart (it had pretty little green vines w/ red flowers climbing all over it), but she salvaged the back panels. I enjoyed using them for a long time! But they should be yours if you can use them, and I hope you will. I love your Mama's neat work, and it reminds me of those Delft tiles she painted for Memory Lane. I love to do things like that myself, although I don't suppose I'll ever be as good as she was, and I regret that I never got the chance to learn from her -- that would have been a happy privilege."

This is a surprise of a whole other universe.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Twists of Fate

At the shoreline, I startled a newly emerged Autumn Meadowhawk, who flew into the crew-cut grass below the dam. As I turned to look at it, thinking I might take its picture, I heard a killer buzz and watched a robber fly snatch the dragonfly and fly up onto the top of the dam. I couldn't help myself. I screamed, "Stop it!" and scrambled up the hill. The robber sped its prey into the sky and away.

What does one call insectslaughter? I didn't do it myself, but my actions surely led to dragonfly demise.

This time of year, it's impossible to walk Cheston's path without hearing frenzied bees, gathering as they do every year, greedily collecting pollen and pocketing it. Big bees, little bees, bumblebees, honeybees, flower flies -- they're all there. I was photographing them, wearing their pollen baskets like little Dutch girls, when I saw the huge (and I mean huge) killer wasp snag a honeybee and take off into a high limb. The wasp consumed the bee, tearing it apart willy-nilly and dropping bits on the ground at my feet.

I am thankful for the complicated twisting of smooth alder, breaking open into candy-colored twists like Dale Chihuly's glass, providing some relief from morning horror.

Monday, July 29, 2013


I've never much liked surprises, perhaps because I seem to collect the kind no one wants.

Like hearing the total paid for a root canal by the woman in front of me: $25. Not the co-pay, mind you: her entire cost. Or, to be even more precise, $1,480 less than I paid. For the same procedure. Surprise!

Like learning that a major surgery I had almost twenty-five years might now be failing, filling my cheeks and gums and teeth with infection that might only be cured by another invasive surgery to insert new hardware. Surprise!

But today, I happened upon one surprise on which I'd rather think -- the Surprise Lilies (or the Naked Ladies of Sewanee) blooming in Abbo's Alley.

A tiny nymph with a heart-shaped head adornment,

a speeding flower fly,

and a crab spider all paid their respects

with me, shadowed by woods and worry.

No wood drake, no still water, but still "I feel above me the day-blind stars / waiting with their light. For a time / I rest in the grace of the world, and am free" (Wendell Berry's "The Peace of Wild Things").

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hidden Treasure

Who knew?

Not I, for sure.

The Silver-spotted Skipper, summer's common brownish bouncer, hides a carmine treasure.

A ruby, ruby-colored, making me reconsider what I thought I had previously seen.

One chance for a photograph. One dot of red.

One beautiful color.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

There's red

and then there's Red.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Summer Evenings

Hermetically sealed inside my house, cooling and dehydrating, I easily forget the sheer pleasure of this: the symphony of summer evenings.

I took it for granted all those years growing up without air conditioning, and I want to take full advantage of it now that cooler temperatures visit. What fine bedtime music.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Inside the Swarm

When I saw them, I so hoped I was stepping into an Odonate swarm.

No such luck.

Cicada killers. Lots of them. And I mean LOTS of them. A quick Internet search teaches me that mating swarms of cicada killers are not so unusual.

OK, but this was a first for me. Good thing I had already learned they're harmless to people.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fractured Vision

Cut glass 
fractured light,
split colors 
inside my eyelids 
this afternoon, 
napping, before napping,
after, dancing images 
aswirl, "seeing stars,"
floating, thanks to toothache
& accompanying pain pill, 
awash as if inside 
a prism.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Question of Identity

A silent flicker of light. A whiz. A flutter and glint of copper. The (brand) new dragonfly alights in filtered forest light on a slingshot-shaped branch.

Study begins.

Puzzled at first, I soon realize I'm looking at a male Slaty Skimmer, newly emerged, still wearing the same colors as the female. Look to the terminal appendages, then, for certain ID. Penis pocket, check Claspers, check. Male.

And so it goes, round the lake, when, on the beach, I see folks gathered, listen to the calling of a parent to a young child, "Come closer to the shore!" But as usual, I pay them no mind and walk purposefully on, looking for Odonates.

A gentleman seated on the metal bridge rail asks, "What are you looking at?" I give him the long answer, which he interrupts with interest. We chat. Finally, before leaving, I introduce myself, asking, "Are you Insert Name?" He says yes, and adds, "I know who you are. You're Robley Hood and you work for Gay!" That's true. 

But I hope the next time he sees me, he also thinks, That's Robley. She's the dragonfly photographer.

He will have learned to see me in a bit more detail.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Opa! 100% Greek!

For years I was a closet Hellenophile who lingered among the kouros and koure statues in the MMA and marveled at the Parthenon marbles in The British Museum (while wishing I could see them and others in Athens); listened to Melina Mercouri (whom I once later met in a Congressman's office one night of Vietnam Way protests); bought and used a Greek cookbook (folks loved my time-consuming moussaka); took classical literature, history, and art courses in college; kept a small phial of water from Delphi on my chest of drawers; studied Classical Greek as an adult; and dreamed of becoming an archaeologist.

Now I am lucky if I can find a single Greek cookie or a nearby Greek festival.

But today, I had a delightful near-Greek experience.

Between doctors' appointments, I browsed along Chattanooga's Frazier Avenue, where something I had not noticed before attracted my eye: a quaint little building with rotting cupola topped by a metal cutout of a 1920s open touring car. 

I couldn't resist, so I walked downhill to look at the facade.

Between snapshots, I heard "Hello!" A shirtless fellow in white painter's pants and large cross necklace smiled and said, "It's going to be a restaurant!" He took me inside and gave me the tour of what will be his new Greek take-out business. He has done all the work himself, and it shows -- not in lack of skill, but in pure charming white-washed-and-blue Mediterranean style. "Seven years I've been here," Mike said, "and I decided to put my money in my food instead of someone else's."

He then told me about Greek salads and American ignorance, about getting his Green card and lawyers, about the lack of help from the Greek embassy and the support of the Turkish embassy ("our enemy," he said, with his hands making ghost quotes), about Greek Orthodox Churches in which no one speaks Greek, and about his plans for courtyard grilling and dining in the future.

"It used to be a garage, 1934," he said. "But it is going to be 100% Greek soon! Come back!"

And that I shall. 


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer's Smile:

slurped it
right up
earlier today.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What's Just One More Book?

It's not as if I don't have a gracious plenty already.


One called out to me from a seller's shelf at the Tennessee Antiquarian Book Fair today. A fellow from Kansas (yes, Kansas) sold it to me.

"Is this a famous children's book and I just haven't ever heard of it?" I asked.

He answered, "It's the only one I've seen. I thought it was funny."

"Me, too," I said, having audibly laughed and snorted several times behind his back.

At home, I looked up the author and book (of course). Robert Williams Wood (1868-1955)  was a physicist. Albeit, a physicist with a sense of humor. G. H. Dieke (1993), in his "biographical memoir," writes that Martin "made important contributions to the increasing knowledge of the structure of the atom, chiefly through his experimental research in in physical optics" (p. 442). Further, he states that Wood "went wherever his insatiable curiosity led him," including into "art" (p. 442).

And here we land upon my little jewel: How to Tell the Birds from the Flowers, 1917. Pay attention to that date. Almost one century ago. And then read this, one of my favorite pages.

The Bee. The Beet. The Beetle.

Good Mr. Darwin once contended
That Beetles were from Bees descended,
And as my pictures show I think
The Beet must be the missing link.
The sugar-beet and honey-bee
Supply the Beetle's pedigree:
The family is now complete, --
The Bee, the Beetle and the Beet.

Who knew? His is the comedic tone I most love in writers like Jon Sciezka and Maira Kalman, coupled with charming pen-and-ink drawings. (Lucky for you, a book fair doesn't have to come to your neighborhood, as you can read this little wonder here.)

Oh, what a happy find!

Friday, July 19, 2013


It's not always what's up front and center that's most interesting.

This female Autumn Meadowhawk, for example, warming and waiting in early morning, content to let me approach as close as I wished -- I thought she was alluring.

Till I got home.

Then, the background exploded into a mesmerizing scintillation of leaf and limb and sky and shadow.

Distracted by appointments, household chores, today's errands, the aches and pains of everyday living, I want to remember this: look again, look beyond, where something beautiful just might unfold.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

An Empty Space

This is the empty space where a post should appear, if only my teeth allowed space for words.

For the first time since I started blogging, I cannot find words past pain.

Perhaps tomorrow, I shall.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What We Have in Common

Odonates and I have these things in common:
  1. We are carnivorous.
  2. We begin life in watery realms and emerge into air, which then we breathe.
  3. We have teeth.
Their teeth give Odonates their name. Beaton (2007) states that "a Greek word that refers to teeth on the mandibles" (p. 2): from odontos, the order name Odonata.

It's about this last shared characteristic that I have been thinking all day and, indeed, for many days.

Once again, my teeth betray me -- as they have throughout my life. This time, following work on a new bridge (for the place where the adult tooth that should have been never appeared), three other teeth hurt. And I mean hurt. Root canals, perhaps, and worse -- nerve damage possibly. Just more major expenses along the long continuum of my poor dental health.

One of my brothers sympathized by telling me this is what comes of outliving evolution. Maybe. But even as a five-year-old, I was already under the care of an orthodontist.

Briefly today, but only briefly, I forgot my own teeth and watched a female Blue-fronted Dancer flit, catch her her lunch courses, land, and consume other smaller bugs. Her teeth I could not see, but her evolutionary skill I could.

I hope she doesn't outlive the usefulness of her teeth, too.

Beaton, G. (2007). Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast. Athens: University of Georgia.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

By Design

For several years, I have photographed a tiny bloom found everywhere on campus, but especially at Lake Cheston. Until yesterday, I didn't know its name although it figures prominently in one my favorite poems -- Robert Frost's "Design."

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth --
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth --
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall? --
If design govern in a thing so small.

Thanks to a friend's blog, I now know it's a Heal-all. Today's "design" was far less ominous: a tiny skipper found a point of light in woodsy darkness.

Thanks to the Sewanee Herbarium for giving new life to an old poem!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Pleasures of Home

Since work moved home, I have moved inside. Yes, I spend hours outside, but elsewhere. 

Until today.

An afternoon on the deck overlooking the woods, settled in my zero-gravity chair with a good book (Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin) and iced coffee, I rediscovered the pleasures of home among friends -- beautiful words, mabel orchard spider, tiny bright red fly, hummingbird, Swallowtails aloft, trilling birdsong, blue sky, trailing clouds.

I should do this more often.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Charms of Young Children

Blue Dasher
A newly emerged damsefly (probably a Violet Dancer) flew across the path and up, and up, and up into a tree. Standing there, watching it lift, I realized I wasn't alone.

A boy, aged 5, I think, since his mother later mentioned he'll start kindergarten this fall, asked, "What is she looking at?"

His father answered, "A bird, maybe?"

"Dragonflies and damselflies," I answered as they moved past.

The boy asked, "Who are those red ones?" After I answered, he asked, "Why are they smashed together?" 

I said, "They're mating!" and his mother smiled.

Then he brightened my day. With a gesture of two fingers to his eyes and then mine, he said, "Eye to eye, man!"

Indeed. Eye to eye.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Several years ago, I asked the College master gardener how I could control the moles and voles tunneling through my yard. He laughed and said, "Move." I have made my peace with the underground creatures: they have as much right to live here as I do, probably more.

So today when walking the path at Lake Cheston, I was shocked and, frankly, saddened to see this specimen, newly dead. At home, I looked for something that would express my sympathy and admiration for the little fellow. I found this, a poem by Wyatt Prunty, also my neighbor.

How lovely.

by Wyatt Prunty

For weeks he’s tunneled his intricate need
Through the root-rich, fibrous, humoral dark,
Buckling up in zagged illegibles

The cuneiforms and cursives of a blind scribe.

Sleeved by soft earth, a slow reach knuckling,
Small tributaries open from his nudge— 

Mild immigrant, bland isolationist,
Berm builder edging the runneling world.

But now the snow, and he’s gone quietly deep,

Nuzzling through a muzzy neighborhood
Of dead-end-street, abandoned cul-de-sac,
And boltrun from a dead-leaf, roundhouse burrow.

May he emerge four months from this as before,
Myopic master of the possible,
Wise one who understands prudential ground,

Revisionist of all things green;

So when he surfaces, lumplike, bashful,
Quizzical as the flashbulb blind who wait
For color to return, he’ll nose our green-
rich air with the imperative poise of now.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What is it

about a shadow 
that demands 
till it slides 
down the wall 
and disappears? 
Sunny waves
on yellow wall.
Nothing else matters
for a long moment. 
And I think nothing.

Maybe it's the nothing 
that is the what is it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hanging On

I know practically nothing about baseball, but I know a little something about dragonflies. Thus, when I saw this video, I watched and listened.

The guys calling the game know baseball, but they sure don't know Odonates. Among their cringe-worthy comments were these:
  1. "That dragonfly is still on the hat. Gotta hold onto something, right? It's unbelievable!" Well, no, there's nothing unbelievable in the strength of a dragonfly, who can hold on to something in fierce wind and rain. I know that because I've seen it. These creatures are among the oldest on the Earth. Let's give them some credit.
  2. "Here's the real question. Could it actually be caught in his hat and he can't get free?" Seriously? Give me a break! His hooked legs are firmly hooked and the dragonfly is totally relaxed. Just look at his wings! NO struggle there, fellas!
  3. "Now we may have to worry about the safety of this dragonfly." Why? Because he's taking a rest on a pitcher's cap? Tough situation. Yeah, right.
  4. "I think it's stuck, the way the wings are flapping. It can't go anywhere. There's no way it could be that strong that it could hang on." Say w-h-a-t? The pitcher is barely moving. What extreme force does the announcer think that dragonfly is combating?
  5. "I know you do yoga. There's no way that dragonfly's core is that good with the balance." OK, now you've totally lost it. What the heck are you talking about? The dragonfly is the king of the insect. Let's see: they've been around for 250+ million years and he thinks this little Halloween Pennant doesn't have a strong core. Yeah, right.
Balance? Strength? These videos are far more impressive as well as accurate. Enjoy!

David Attenborough on the dragonfly.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Another Author in the Family

There's a budding author in the family: an eight-year-old who devotes part of a summer day to writing. In one morning she produced a story and a plan book.

Virginia's Awesome Plan Book for Girls!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Have fun in the sun!
  • Rule the world with love!
  • Do your chores with a heartbeat of love!
  • When you go to camp have some appreciation for your counselor!
  • When you wake up in the morning start the day with a happy smile!
  • Be careful when you do things you are not sure you know how to do!
  • Always try new things!
  • Always try to do your best!
  • If someone walks up to you and says hey your stupid just say I am proud of that!
  • Don't taddle if someone takes your ball or your toy just say may I please have the toy I was playing with back!
  • Only tell if someone or a dog or a cat or animal gets hurt and a grown up will come help you!
  • If you see a car coming and you are with a parent or babysitter go with them don't go your own way!
  • Have good respect for people that help you and take care of you!
  • If a parent or someone older than you tells you not to do something than don't do it!
  • And please always try to have fun especially in the sun!
  • And please try to remember these rules! Well kind of rules!
  • One more if you have a older sister or brother do not mess with them!

I have taught writing for thirty years now, but even I have much to learn from Virginia, as do my students. Here are some guidelines suggested by her work:

  1. Write because you want to.
  2. Write for a real audience.
  3. Write to affect that audience in an identified way.
  4. Write based on your experience, and use your imagination, too.
  5. Write clearly; word-processing is good.
  6. Use your best language.
  7. Use a specific genre for each piece.
  8. Learn the conventions of that genre and practice them.
  9. Share your work with others.
  10. Have fun with your writing!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Five Years and Counting

Five years.

1,748 published posts.

1,503 page views last month.

36,205 all time history page views.

These are a few of my blog's stats.

Some writers care about their stats, but I don't. Why? Because they say nothing important about my blog and my reasons for blogging.

What matters is this: I enjoy anticipating writing a post, spending the day attending to what happens; selecting a focus; exploring that topic; preparing the "snap," whether my own image or something I've borrowed (like a book cover); and then drafting, revising, editing, and publishing my work.

This blog is about what preoccupies me, not what might interest you, Dear Reader (if you are reading, then you are automatically "dear" to me).

Today, that interest is blue. Glorious blue. Blue sky, which we haven't seen in Sewanee in a long, long time. Blue Dasher, the abdomen a dusty hyacinth like the Crane stationery I once used for formal notes. The green-blue of the male Pondhawk, taking on his adult hue. The Slaty Skimmer's deep blue of a star-lit night, and the electric turquoise of a skink slung out on warm concrete.

Oh blue, how I have missed you.

Oh blog, how I have enjoyed you.

Here's to more of both for years to come.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Sketchbook Project

A mobile library of sketchbooks in front of the Hunter Museum of Art = a beautiful marriage.

Ever since it started, I have followed the Sketchbook Project with curiosity bordering, at times, on fandom. Today, I got to see one of the founders checking out books, acquire and use a library card, peruse interesting pages, roam an Etsy shop and Facebook page for one of the artists, and even purchase a sketchbook of my own for future submission.

An impressive worldwide collection of 27,000+ sketchbooks recording hopes and dreams, aspirations and inspirations, scribblings and musings by people in more than 11,000 cities, the Sketchbook Library can be seen in person and on the computer. Think about that. And it's all free to read!

The Sketchbook Mobile Library may be headed your way, and if so, go! You will not regret it!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Still Thinking about the Needy Dog in Mexico

Dog Years hasn't left me yet. I have been thinking of the stray dog that Doty saw in Mexico. She put her head in his hand in such a way that they had an understanding, a passing realization that each was all right. He fed her, and he tried to sit with her through the night, but the doorman at the hotel kept shooing her away. He left the next day, and did not see the dog again.

Doty wrote that the dog gave him a great gift -- the opening of his heart, still smarting from the loss of a loved pet and a beloved partner. She made him realize he could open himself again.

Today, I saw a Banded Pennant lying flat on a stone beyond my reach in the water. I couldn't tell if it was dead or still alive, but it was surely grounded. I looked, and looked, and looked. I turned to leave, but turned back and saw it make a tiny movement with its front legs. Like Doty, I couldn't just leave without doing something.

I stood on the shore and one loose stone in the water, leaned out, and offered the pointed end of my walking stick. Slowly, I was able to coax the dragonfly onto a grassy stem, but it was so wet that the leaf couldn't support the ode's weight. I refused to walk away.

I leaned out even further and slid the stick up the stem, bringing the ode with it. Finally, the pennant grasped my walking stick, and I brought it to land, gingerly, and  from there to my thumb and then to a broad leaf. It climbed and started to clean its eyes. Its wings, though, soaked, still clung together.

I did what I could.

I left, thinking about Mark Doty and the human need to do what one can for the living thing there, right there, sharing the same space and oxygen. Tonight, I am thinking of the Mexican dog and the Banded Pennant.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Dangers of Literature on a Gray Day

Another rainy day in a long sequence of rainy days with no foreseeable respite. Living here can be challenging, even when one has a mind for fog and dampness. Especially when, upon reading, I feel the great weight of loss as if the sun has disappeared from sky forever, masked and shaded by an omnipresent fog of decay.

Dog Years
Upon finishing Mark Doty's memoir Dog Years, I cried, feeling his losses as if they were my own, as if they are my own.

I do not live with a dog, but my cat grows old and older each day, keeps to my bed making it hers, and mostly does not come downstairs. She, like Doty's beloved Beau, is disappearing into something other than this.

As he writes, "Everything dies, because the world's only a constantly mutating mask for the deep, wild life of energy, veiling itself over and over as matter, taking shaping in order to express the dynamic nature of its character, plunging into matter and sailing up -- as if inside the belly of a vulture -- into energetic life again."

But it is hard to think of "dynamic nature" and "energetic life" when the weather outside closes me inside, day after day.

Please, sun, return soon. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!

(with apologies to Elizabeth Bishop)

In light rain,
an Autumn Meadowhawk's wings
wear light
like an oil sheen.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Birthday Fireworks

for the United States!

for the Autumn Meadowhawk, determined to emerge despite rain!

for my awesome grand-niece V who lights any room she enters, who loves reading and swimming, who plays word games and makes craft things, who looks like her father with her maternal grandmother's dimples, who bravely faced stitches (the second time!), who organizes and plans like her mother, and who loves her sister and cousins -- all of them. 

May they all have a grand day and many more to come!