Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bugged by Bugs!

Two days ago, I sealed up my front door with four-and-a-half inch wide painter's tape.

Don't believe me?

Then look:
I haven't used this door since Tuesday just after the Invasion began.

The sun brought out the Asian lady beetles in such huge numbers that even the University made a public announcement about them on the community email system. At The Lemon Fair, they swarmed in such numbers, squeezing through every nook and cranny in the 1900 wooden building, that an exterminator sprayed just this morning. It took me three and a half hours to vacuum up the thousands of tiny beetles clumped around windows and doors.

I like bugs. But I don't like massed bugs that swarm, stink, and move in for the winter. They fly into the food, the toaster, the fridge, my ears, . . . well . . . you get the picture.

Lest you think they're alone, think again: we are also enjoying a banner year for assassin bugs and stink bugs. Take this little nymph -- a fourth instar of the Chinavia hilaris -- attached to the screen door on my deck. Beautiful, isn't he?

Don't be fooled: he's a stink bug!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Norwegian Sun

I sat in the sun
by Jane Hirschfield

I moved my chair into sun
I sat in the sun
the way hunger is moved when called fasting.

Citizens in Rjukan, Norway, enjoy long sun every summer, but every winter, for five or six long months, their steep mountainsides cast their town into darkness.

Until today.

Today, three giant mirrors cast sunlight directly into the town square, and the winter fast ended. Some sat atop parents' shoulders, others stood. All smiled, many laughed, and others cheered.

A century-old scheme + an artist's ingenuity = eternal joy.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Power of the Sun

One photo op in the first hour at the lake. One. Under a white sky, everything washed out. Everything.

But Chris, out hunting red efts, brought me a gift: a katydid he discovered hiding under leaf litter. That one bug and I made long acquaintance after Chris sat him on a limb.

My day redeemed, I thought, and then the unbelievable happened. 

The sun appeared, the sky blued, fall burst along the shore, leaves yellowed while I watched them, and so many Autumn Meadowhawks burst out from the undergrowth and mated that my friend Julie remarked, "Like last call at a singles bar!"

Yes, and last call for my mood, too.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Heritage Trend

The purging begins with one closet: five garbage bags of clothing filled for Sewanee's Hospitality Shop and three handmade classics -- two created by and one worn by my mother.

A child of the Depression, Mother sewed because she was thrifty. But she was also creative, inventive, and endlessly energetic. She sewed because it provided a much-needed outlet, the same way gardening and puppeteering and volunteering and writing and directing Junior League folly productions fulfilled that urge.
A lover of the outdoors and of outdoors activities, Mother built a rock garden, planned, planted, and maintained it. She fed the birds and learned their names and habits. She killed snakes when she needed to and helped my cat birth her kittens. She enjoyed working with her hands outdoors in all kinds of weather, including wintry cold and snow. 
Soon after she died, at my father's request, I cleaned out her clothes and sewing closets, from which I kept only a few items, all of which I still have fifty years later: her handmade sewing bag; a fruitcake tin filled with buttons and clasps and frogs; needle-pointed chair seat covers; and her red wool lumberman's jacket.

Her "style transcends age." 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

An Open Letter to Canon

Dear Canon,

I loved my G12 the moment I took it out of the box. Over the first eleven months, I learned to use it on my daily walks. I got to know the twin pleasures of photography and wandering with a camera, something I enjoyed in my twenties years ago.

Then the camera died

I sent it in under warranty for repair, and it came back more broken than it had been when I mailed it to you. I returned it, and when it came back, it worked  -- until it died. Permanently. By this time, of course, it was long out of warranty.

A friend and former student gifted me with her G12 in exchange for some of my photographs. Hers was truly "like new," still in its crisp box. I have loved this camera since May, taken it for daily walks, captured photographs of Odonates, and even discovered some new tricks.

Until this camera died too.

A quick Internet search just now turned up other G12 owners with exactly the same problems I have experienced for the last several days, none of which appear to have been solved either by themselves or by hocus-pocus or by you.

It's such a shame that you made a camera with the potential for greatness and that fell so far short. I don't think I'll be shopping your brand in the future.

Disappointed (again) in Sewanee.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

When Only Chocolate Will Do

I go to Julia's, buy one Mexican chocolate tart (with cinnamon-spiced pecans), come home, make tea, and try to make it last over three sittings.

Today I managed two.

Just barely.

Friday, October 25, 2013

That Time of Year

Six years ago yesterday, my sister-in-law of 43 years died. She loved so many things I love: her children and family; the woods and all beings that grow and live in the woods; walks alone; mountains; good wine; the view, especially in fall. It was brilliant fall when she died, and she took in the view with pleasure. Of that, I am certain.

When my favorite tree flames carmine and the sky blues, as they do now, I think of her, and of my niece and nephew, and of their children, all of whom love so much of what she loved.

I am sorry she never knew this tree. She would have loved it as I do.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Road Trip!

After working in early morning, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and take a road trip.

1. Road repair outside of Stevenson provided an opportunity to take in the scenery.
2. Unclaimed Baggage success! Not only did the young woman in cameras insist that my store-credit from April be converted to money back, but I also came away with a $25 long wool coat.
3. The closed Scottsboro Depot Museum sported red: bricks, bench, railway cart, shimmering reflections. 
4. A sweet old lady at the Scottsboro-Jackson Heritage Center talked and talked and talked . . . and would have kept talking, but I had to leave. With no time to break away from her, I took few pictures. On the way home, I wondered about the absence of black faces in the photos and the lack of references to the Scottsboro Boys. Look what I found in an 1853 ledger. Too bad I didn't photograph the whole page.
levied on said neg(ro)
5. Crow Creek pumpkins!
6. Sherwood cotton.

Five hours later, home in late light. Refreshed and re-energized.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Big Picture

This morning, I turned my head toward the space heater, looking for Lucy. 

I forgot, for just a moment, that Lucy died last week.

Later, I came in from an errand, looked upstairs, and called out, Luce!

I forgot, for just a moment, that Lucy died last week.

At the grocery, the clerk said, "Since my husband is out in his truck, my dog and I just stay in the bedroom with the space heater on."

"That's what my cat and I do, only in the study," I said.

I forgot, for just a moment, that Lucy died last week.

After the bank and the dump, I decided to take in the big picture: I drove out to Green's View. For a moment, the sun broke out, but the clouds tell a different story. It'll be cold again tonight.

And I'll wish Lucy could keep me warm.

Monday, October 21, 2013

I Stopped Counting

at a dozen. 

At Lake Dimmick, 
Question Marks 
flew, sunned, folded and unfolded wings, 
flitted like leaves 
scattered and scattering 
on gravel, sand, and grass. 
Perhaps many just emerged. 
A number looked fresh, bright, whole, 
but others' wings were already bitten and torn.
The Internet says to call
a group of butterflies 
a swarm, 
a colony,
a rabble, 
a flight, 
a kaleidoscope, 
a cloud.
Polygonia interrogationis:
I have no question,
only this exclamation:
O frabjous day!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Little Humor

Tommy, who runs the Sewanee Convenience Center (i.e., the Dump), rescued this from someone's garbage.

The first time I saw it, I laughed. The second time I saw it, I laughed. The third time . . . well . . . honestly every time I see it, I laugh.

Tommy treats us and the garbage with the respect that is due. I thank him for his consideration -- and his sense of humor.

Friday, October 18, 2013


Running across this blog's banner is a quotation from one of my favorite writer/teachers, Ken Macrorie: "People who daily expect to encounter fabulous realities run smack into them again and again. They keep their minds open for their eyes."

Yesterday, after my vet visit, still teary from watching life drain from Lucy's eyes, I turned the gentle curve out of Cowan onto the Winchester Highway. Before me, one long diagonal dash of yellow sunlight raced upwards like a runaway spotlight, from valley floor to mountain top. Even though I pulled off the highway as soon as I could and pulled out my camera as fast I could, I managed to snap only one tiny last bit of yellow-green light atop the ridge (just above the telephone pole's cross-arm) before it disappeared into the gray-blue lowering clouds.

Earlier in the day, I read an article titled "How to Wire Your Brain for Happiness" about a book by Rick Hanson titled Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence. I'm not sure why I decided to read it since I'm not a fan of self-help texts, but what I read smacked me as suddenly like that later light: "The way to hardwire happiness into the brain . . . is to take in the good -- being present in life's tiny, joyful moments."

Even earlier, on Wednesday, I read this in 66 Square Feet: "The relentless Now of an animal's life can make living with a distressed creature almost unbearable. There is no comforting them. There is no tomorrow, no explanation, only the tyranny of the present." 

For Lucy the tyranny of the present was brief; otherwise, she lived in the freedom of the present: attentively and joyfully. For me, on my way home without her, the tyranny of the present lifted in that racing light, smacking me yet again with a colliding set of fabulous realities.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


My neighbor Diane made my cat Lucy a little comforter years ago, and she loved it. For proof, see here, and here, and here, and here. Even last night, as the temperature dropped, Lucy collected her little self, curled into a ball on the kitty quilt, and slept before the space heater.

So this afternoon, when I took her to Midtown Veterinary Services & Hospital to be euthanized, she traveled on that quilt and lay on that quilt when she saw her last humans: the assistant who has been to my house many times, the best vet I've ever known, and mine.

We did her a kindness today. I am glad she went out easily and that she had one last good afternoon in the sun.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Before going into Convocation Hall this afternoon, I stopped to snap the windows I love. A gentleman came out, stopped, and asked, "Are you getting the shot you want?"

"Not without a ladder," I said. "I'll never quite get what I want -- the image of outside and inside." 
After he asked my name -- twice (it is unusual after all), he introduced himself: "I'm Jerry Smith."

I am glad to put a face to the name of the gentleman whose work I know: a religion professor and Marshall of the College, he also writes about the university, even occasionally in a blog which I have been happy to read ( His book Sewanee Places offers fascinating insight, especially for an outsider like me.

"I need to get my gown," Professor Smith said and opened his trunk. I thanked him for the chat and entered the hall. There, an overflow crowd listened to a presentation about Sacred Harp singing and then sang together under the direction of Pastor Ricky Harcrow. He was surprised by the enthusiasm and skill shown by the crowd of freshmen in the FYP program, their professors, and local residents. I wasn't. Many are accustomed to singing in Episcopal services; others are accustomed to singing outside of church. 

During our Shape Note singing, insiders (professors, students, and trustees) and outsiders (the Sand Mountain guest and me) raised their voices as one, and I thought It's good to be on the inside, even if for only an hour.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013

Welcome Companion

No lake today, woods instead, and leaf-filtered light. Along the trail, one companion: a Red-banded Hairstreak

The color of dust, smaller than a pebble, wearing little red-orange stripes like wing suspenders.

The bounce of a season.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wind on Water on Leaves

Henry David Thoreau wrote, "On land only the grass and trees wave, but the water itself is rippled by the wind."
To which I would add this: wind-waved water ripples the wind-waved leaves.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


My friend Lynne spins, dyes, and creates knitting patterns that delight many. This summer, she experimented with leaves, making beautiful skeins on display and for sale today at the fall craft fair on campus.

When the fifteen-foot limb pierced my car's windshield a couple of months ago, I called to see if she and her husband had  a chainsaw. "Sure," she said. "Why?" When I told her, she said James would come later and take care of the limb, but she wanted to have a look first. She pulled off as many leaves as she could carry and made something beautiful from them.

At home after dropping by the fair, I decided to break one of my own safety rules. On Thursday, I confirmed what I had suspected: my elderly cat is in the beginning stages of kidney disease. Why not let her do what she has longed to do? I thought. Now she has nothing to lose. I set up the zero-gravity chair on the deck, so she and I could spend the second half of the afternoon under a perfect fall sky. 

When deer raced through the trees to our left, she jumped, eyes dilated, and when a leaf flew through the rail supports opposite us, she leapt off the chair and batted it as a kitten would (as she did once, in fact). She sniffed spider silk and mold on the table legs, she investigated the concrete gnome, she attempted to descend the steps but always reconsidered at my stern warning, and she slept in my lap while I read and stroked her fur.

An elderly friend told me last night I should go to North Carolina, where I had planned to drive today to visit my niece and her family for the first time in over a year. "I couldn't do that to a cat sitter," I said. "What if there were a crisis? I should be here." She said, "You could put her down then. You should go!" 

That comment shattered me like the limb did the windshield. Yes, I miss my niece, her husband, their children. Yes, I think of them every day. Yes, I wish I were there.

But I know they know I'm just making the best of a bad situation.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Even on mornings like this

when I can't take a single respectable photo, causing me to PhotoShop one with my favorite Poster Edges option, the colors and shapes that light reveals lift my spirit,

and I open myself to another day.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


The former dairy building/sculpture studio now serves the renewed University farm, but the wood has not been renewed, a choice I welcome. Boards wear well what's left of their blue paint, peeling and revealing faded cornsilk yellow. Chips, striated and buckled, lift and flake like the tree bark stripped at a saw mill so long ago.

The pigs just across the lane fatten in the pen, the goats across the street stand on hind legs to strip leaves from vines along the fence, Claire's horses in their neighboring pasture pull at grass and stamp and steam on now-cool mornings -- and time moves and time stands still in paint's slow peel.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Princess Party!

Children's laughter makes me ridiculously happy, especially when it floats across the lawn from a neighboring house. A princess birthday party means a princess cake and a princess bouncy castle for the little princess with a halo of golden curls and ice-blue eyes. I hope she's having as much fun as I did when I saw the light pouring through her princess windows this afternoon.

Surely, these are the most joy-filled sight and joyous sounds of a long work day.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Up Close (Grasshopper) and Far Away (Coed Reading on the Hill)

(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   


Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   


Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.
Source: Poetry (January 2001).

Monday, October 7, 2013


The earliest image of me that I recognize as me (as opposed to the actual earliest image) is a tile painted my mother painted. Here I am, standing on the bridge we crossed every day, going home or leaving it.
I remember playing Poohsticks, posing for a Christmas card, helping children onto the bridge to talk to Santa, my brother riding his motorcycle over the bridge (and landing in jail because he was too young for a license), the metal Robin Hood hanging from the lit lamp, glowing soft yellow-orange.

This bridge led me home.

Lake Cheston has a series of four bridges along the water's edge. My favorite used to feel more private, before the dog park, now clearly visible on the way to, on, and from the bridge. It's still my favorite lake bridge anyway, largely because of the tree that blushes and then flushes every fall, throwing deep shade and dropping flaming leaves on weathered wood.
This bridge makes me feel at home.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Lake Cheston Portrait Gallery

Gilded, bronzed, umbered,
leaves crinkle,
crack, snap, crumble
into brittle bits;
or float,
soak and limber,
sink to silt;
or catch a slit
in metal or wood,
anchor like
a letter from
a former season.

art unfolds, 
craquelure showing.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Note of Thanks

Someone wrote a note.

Someone received it.

Someone walked the lake with the note.

Someone lost it.

Someone found it.

Someone thoughtfully stuck it into a crack of weathered wood on the dam bridge.

I saw it.

And I gave thanks to all those someones.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Season of Oatmeal

Someone asked yesterday what's my favorite thing about fall. I surprised her.

"Oatmeal," I said.


"It's delicious and it sticks to my ribs, just like Mama said," I answered. "I eat it and think of her."

Who's your imaginary companion at breakfast?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

When I walked into The Blue Chair, the server asked, "Cinnamon cone?"

"Of course!" I responded.

Then we chatted about ice cream flavors (pumpkin and bubblegum), laughed a bit, swapped pleasantries.

She's a local girl, born and bred, and although I've lived here only about eleven years, I'm beginning to get the lay of the land. This is a place where a walk means saying hi or waving to folks I know and chatting with those I don't.

I grew up in a similar place, where everybody knew my name, a suburban village with all the necessary amenities to sustain a family -- elementary school, dry cleaner, five and dime, deli, drug stores (both locally owned), and grocery.

That village still has a down-home feel. If a child falls off her bike or off his skateboard, everyone will come running to see if they can help. But that down-home feel sustained by essential services is taking a blow with the closing of the only grocery -- also locally owned. For thirty years, the store has been "like the bar in Cheers," as my niece said. It will close soon because the landlord and store owner couldn't agree on a new lease.

For months, folks have protested, sponsored a Facebook page, and done whatever they could to Save the Crestline Pig and the folks who work there, people who -- though they may live elsewhere -- know everyone's name and care about their customers. Employees and customers are all part of one big family.

Caring about customers: that's something I've missed in the big box stores and malls and in the big cities where I've lived. The last time I went to the Crestline Pig with my great-nieces, Miss Arelia (shown below crying over a painting) fawned over the girls the same way Miss Irene at Utopia Cleaners did me. There's something special about being raised where community adults love you and look after you, where even though they aren't your parents, they are your extended family.

Just look at this picture, and you can feel the love.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Red-headed Bush Cricket

explored the coffee shop table, nervously pacing the length, then zagging to the edge, all the while working his palps, scooping and sweeping nervously.

At night, this tiny fellow, settled in low foliage, merits his nickname -- Handsome Trig -- and sings and sings and sings a stuttering lullaby of love.

I never knew his name before today, but I am certainly glad to make his acquaintance.