Saturday, November 30, 2013

Keeping Watch

Unused to long days alone, Prince waits to play, then plays, then waits, keeping watch for his humans' return.

This is loyalty and, perhaps, love.

Friday, November 29, 2013


when one is not enough.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Place in the Sun

sun behind me to my left
sun behind me to my right

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


6 AM.
23 degrees.
I opened the front door:
snow sugared the grass,
the bluebird pair trilled
and flew from my car
into the neighbor's tree.

11:32 AM.
25 degrees.
Wind tumbled waves,
big wind, the wind
that blew all night,
roaring in the woods
behind the house.
Not these woods,
but like these woods,
empty, trunks covered
in lichen, leaves snow-dusted.

4:37 PM.
25 degrees.
The two does
by the driveway
and the buck
at woods' edge,
all young, look up
once, then down
to tug whatever grows.

We are cold.
alone, at home
in the woods.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

On days like this

when shape-shifting fog 
halos the downhill streetlamp, 
which, like a peach sun, 
lights a puddle 
under a trash can
with a copper platter,
I remember why
I love fog.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Acts of Color

A Facebook friend in the film industry posted this today: "Does anybody have a neon ballast for sale?"

I love random posts like these that make stop and think to puzzle out the meaning. The granddaughter, daughter, sister, and aunt of paint manufacturers, I have long loved technical language.

I remember learning nomenclature as requisites for canoeing and archery, biology, plane geometry, scene design. Nomenclature: the naming of things in a discipline. Like ballast.

Or fan deck -- a hinged palette as beautiful as any Japanese fan.

Reaching for a light bulb on a high shelf late this afternoon, I re-discovered a relic -- an Indurall fan deck. The company has morphed since its start -- from Industrial Paint Manufacturing Company, to Indurall Paints, to Induron Protective Coatings. Once a maker of industrial paints for a booming manufacturing city (Birmingham, Alabama), it later opened retail stores where folks bought paint and wallpaper, and even later became a niche coatings manufacturer of specialty products made to order.

Sometimes I miss the old days when I could open the current Indurall fan deck, select a color, and have it made by members of my family and folks who worked with and for them. I'd spend hours rearranging the deck, perusing colors like Della Robbia, Tortoise Shell, Old Lace, Relish, Document. 

I once read an article about colorists, whose job it is to name paint colors. Imagine spending one's days writing nomenclature for something that brings joy or calm to others.

As a child, I loved going onto the floor of the paint factory, where great tubs held paint in process, the large paddles turning and turning pigments like a giant Kitchenmaid mixer. Joe Locaccio had the expert eye: give him a piece of fabric or an object, and he could match it perfectly. There was a time when I wanted to grow up and be him, paint-splattered shoes and pants and shirt and cap.

These mostly anonymous folks -- the chemists, the tinters, the namers -- practice random acts of color every day. What a lovely way to make a living.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Holds Things Up

During mass in St. Peter's Square today, the Pope held a reliquary, supposedly containing bone fragments of the original Peter. As reported by Bryony Jones for CNN, ". . . with no DNA evidence to conclusively prove their identity, whether they belong to St. Peter is likely to remain an enduring mystery. CNN's Vatican analyst John Allen says that like so much concerning religion, the belief that the bones are those of the disciple comes down to faith."

Also reported in the last couple of days is this science news. In 2008, "Utah's Cedar Mountain Formation" gave up the bones of the largest dinosaur yet found: Siats meekeroroum, a "new apex predator dinosaur that lived alongside and likely competed with early tyrannosaurs around 98 million years ago." For CNN, Greg Botelho reported, "Given its size and other characteristics, they believe this creature ruled its ecosystem in the middle of the Cretaceous, a period known as the last in the so-called 'Age of Dinosaurs.'"

Only after she died did I realize that my sister-in-law Brenda acted as the family pier, at least so far as I am concerned. From the moment my nephew was born, I was invited to every holiday event. Because my brother did the inviting, I always assumed the invitation was his idea. Not so, I learned, too late to thank her properly.

Receding water at the lake reveals more and more of the metal pilings supporting the bridge nearest the parking hill. Iron, I think, and round, painted a bit like weathered gray-white-and-orange barber poles, they match the leaf-litter on lake bottom, compiling a painterly vignette in lowering sun.

So many hidden things hold others up, and when they are uncovered, they may stun.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sliding Toward the Dark

On Facebook this month, some friends have been writing daily "giving thanks" updates.

If I wrote one today, it would read:

I am thankful for patterned light.

I don't make Facebook Thanksgiving posts: I write paeans of Thanksgiving every day of the year.

Here, in this blog.

My Daily Snap is My Daily Reminder of What Lasts.

And for that, too, I give thanks.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What Can Save a Day

In Sewanee
fog happens.


All year.

With rain
even 56
feels cold.

Random acts
of color
lift fog.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Teacher's Gift

On June 14, 2010, I wrote the following blog post:

Morning Stroll

This morning, in the hour between haircut and work, I decided to photograph the dragonflies and damselflies at Lake Cheston. When I parked, I noticed an elderly man with his dog. I recognized him at once: retired Sewanee biology professor Harry Yeatman, who with his wife writes the charming "Nature Notes" column for the Sewanee Mountain Messenger.

We strolled together across the lake, chatting about the flitting bugs, the weather, the paper, Joy dog, and photography. When we reached the metal bridge, Dr. Yeatman told me about his research into the identity of the yellow lilies about which he had written for the paper. We had a lovely time -- Joy curled into a comma mid-bridge; Dr. Yeatman enjoying the taunting and teasing of the dragonflies zooming between us; and me, listening and leaning out over the rails to photograph the flowers and the bugs. Soon, he and Joy dog continued their walk. He told me he didn't want to get home late, as his wife was making him lunch. "Salmon," he said and smiled. "Delicious!" With that, he headed into the woods.

Later, after work, I returned to spend more time trying to snap the little creatures, and although I got a number of decent photographs, I missed my morning companions. They were the precious moments of the day, and I didn't even take their pictures.


Dr. Yeatman died yesterday. He was 97, a "ripe old age" as my father would have said. (He too died at a ripe old age.) Like my father, Dr. Yeatman had enthusiasms and charms, the kind that pull you in and make you feel like an intimate, even upon first meeting.

I first met Dr. Yeatman at the Sewanee home of Birmingham friends, long known to my family and long sometime residents here. He and his wife attended a summer party, to which I too was invited. He especially was engaging and he wanted to know who I was.

I met him again off and on, but on that June day in 2010, something special happened: he sparked my curiosity about Odonates and he laughed at my then-weak camera and my frustration in trying to photograph fast-moving objects. Because of him, I have become a woman obsessed with the beautiful insects that he once collected and cataloged here in the same place I have come to love. 

I thanked him more than once for the teacher's gift of sparking curiosity and challenging my follow-through. One occasion I remember in particular: we walked into the post office at the same time, I holding the door for him. I reminded him of our stroll and he asked whether I was successful in my photographic pursuits.

I hope he would now say yes.

Once more, thank you, Dr. Yeatman for the rare gift of attention.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I Never Thought I'd Live Long Enough to See This!

According to Mythbusters, "In 1523, an English guy named Fitzherbert penned a treatise on animal husbandry in which he advised readers that 'the dogge must lerne when he is a whelpe, or els it wyl not be; for it is harde to make an old dogge to stoupe.'"

In other words, you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Here's the lie to that idiom: my brother, a lifelong confirmed canophile, a former co-owner of a kennel whose many dogs won many show ribbons and championships, who has not lived with a cat since he was a university student-sometime-occupant of our childhood home.

A resident of a major city and renter of a small apartment, he has brought into his home his first kitten!

"My new research assistant," he wrote. "And I don't have to pay her a thing. However, she likes only the numerical keys. She's not at all interested in letters."
"Watching work is more fun than doing it."
"But it can be very tiring."
"Very tiring indeed."
On her first day with him, he wrote, "She's a British Shorthair and they don't like to be held; but they do like to curl up next to you; or sit on you (their choice not yours!); and they are utterly self-reliant. I'm just delighted!"

How quickly you have learned what we ailurophiles who know: in the words of the French proverb, "The dog may be wonderful prose, but only the cat is poetry." 

Welcome, little feline niece! Nice to get to know you anew, brother B!

All photos borrowed from my brother, with permission.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year 2013

Uh huh.

I took one today at the lake.

You got it.


See me? I'm that large blob wearing my red wind jacket leaning over the teeny tag-along spider.

(That black thing is my car's back door handle.)

Monday, November 18, 2013


A fellow lake-walker asked me a simple question this morning.

"Why are you interested in dragonflies?" she asked.

"Photography," I answered quickly. Too quickly because I immediately answered, "They're beautiful, like works of art, especially when seen up close. And they're so hardy."

"Will you see any today?"

"If the wind dies down, I will," I said. "Last year, I saw the last one two days before Christmas."

"Really?" she asked.

"Yup. They're just amazing. Despite the freezes we've had over the last week and the heavy rain and the strong wind, I think I'll see some." And then I added, "They're among the oldest living things!"

"No wonder you enjoy looking." Then she and her dog Oscar crossed the bridge and headed down the trail.

On some of the dam rocks, I noticed markings I had seen before, but I didn't photograph them. 

At the trestle bridge, I saw more scribblings made by what seems to have been a marker of some kind. Why? I thought would anyone scribble on the iron rail of an old and beautiful trestle? Again, I took no photo.

But soon, I saw more and I couldn't ignore the defacement any longer. Stones and wooden bridge bore the writing of someone shouting I was here. 

I looked up and saw another defacement: the new dog park. A scar on the hill where rows of sumac stood sentinel over ground cover. Even in winter, I could barely see the road and the cars coming and going. Now, everything's revealed. 

I confess: I resent the destruction of that beautiful vignette.

My mood spoiled, I hastened across the bridge, around the hill, and onto the patch of rocks and dirt facing the beach. 

And then it happened: Autumn Meadowhawks appeared as if by magic -- that suddenly, alighting on leaf and stone, shimmering in flight above the water, ovipositing in it.

I felt myself lighten with their arrival. Just think, I thought: these Odonates descend from ancestors that lived some 325 million years ago! 

If they can survive, so can I.

Despite people who despoil the landscape by scrawling themselves into it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I Should Have Known Better

than to buy Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things so I could read it.

I was seduced by the false advertising of Barbara Kingsolver's good review of September 26 before I read the September 29 review that matches my judgment. Maslin I put off till today when I finally slogged through the last third of the novel.

Yes, Janet Maslin, I too grew weary of all those lists, the main character's visits to her "locked closet," the predictability and implausibility of an increasingly potboiler plot, and the final history-lesson scene. Where were you when I needed you, Janet? Alas, I was seduced by the earlier glowing article and then read no others, saving myself (I thought) for delight.

Like a good soldier I plowed on, hoping to find something to redeem my initial interest. Instead, I left the book hungry, so I made the Fannie Farmer Cookbook coffee cake of childhood and found it far more satisfying.

I should have know better than be snookered when I could be sugared instead!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Biscuits and Honey

My family loved biscuits -- the half-dollar size, thin, flaky bicuits made by a loving hand. That hand belonged to Lucille, the housekeeper who worked for my family from the time I was about 8 until I was in my 30s. Every biscuit I ate was practically a communion experience: I loved the hands that made it, the marble block where she rolled it, the little metal biscuit cutter with a red handle, the gift of her baking skill I enjoyed every night and sometimes in the morning.

Morning biscuits were toasted, slathered with butter. Sometimes a bit of bacon slid between two halves. Sometimes, I topped the biscuit with my father's honey, made by the bees hived in our backyard.

Tonight, after visiting my friend J in the Veterans Hospital, I stopped for supper, to gather myself. Popeye's seemed a good choice: spicy fried chicken (not quite as good as Lucille's, but delicious nonetheless). Dinners like this one with J and his wife F taught me a couple of important things: enjoy each bite; chew carefully and completely; slow down; take a little something home in a napkin. That's exactly what I did tonight.

I took home a biscuit, slathered it with the last of the honey my friend R brought from Texas this spring, and I thought about Lucille, my father, and J who loves his biscuits and honey. "A good source of protein and calories," he has said.

And a delicious reminder of love.

Friday, November 15, 2013


is as much a state of mind as an alignment of the planet and sun.

Nesting: complicated bourbon, a hot tub, soup, a good book.

Rain outside. 

Inside beckons.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Light Fastness

Cadmium orange:
  • Moleskine
  • navel orange, 
  • pumpkin, 
  • Turner sunset or Van Gogh's beard or a Monet haystack, 
  • bird in black walnut tree, 
  • edge of a blown glass lamp.
Late fall burns into winter.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This Itsy-Bitsy Spider

walked her silken tightrope from leaf to leaf to leaf, rustling each one, until she climbed up the grass blade.

She's a tiny dancer.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Long Shadows

I read for pleasure and for a living. A lot. Every day. Seven days a week, 365 days a year. 

Sometimes, I can't shake the words and the responses I have to them.

Today, I read a woman's discussion of ethics in which she stated two startling and, to me, contradictory facts of her morality: she is a Christian and she doesn't understand "animal ethics." When others present a point of view embracing ethical concern for animals, for example, she does not understand that view. She doesn't hold with that opinion, as it were.

And yet . . . if life is precious for one, I think, isn't it precious for all? Does she have pets? Does she care for them? What would she feel if she saw an animal suffering in her own yard? Would she do anything? Feel anything?

The small group of two adult and two young does that makes its winter home my yard has been here for several days now. What they find to eat is a mystery to me, but they pull up small somethings from the grass, and they nestle and sleep under old vines and against big stumps. Behind me, in the ravine on the college's land, bow hunters wait. I think the deer know this, as I do not see them head that way till dark. 

I do not wish the deer harm. They have needs just as I do for shelter, warmth, food, and even each other. I do not wish the hunters harm. Their work helps to reduce the large herd that threatens itself with population growth and that threatens the forest. I do not wish the forest harm. I do not wish the woman who doesn't believe in "animal ethics" harm.

But I do wonder if the harm caused by views like hers cast long shadows on all of us and not just me.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Last Hurrahs?

Low 60s today and full sun at the lake brought out the Asian lady beetles, cucumber beetles, tiny spiders, flies, one American Watersnake, many Autumn Meadowhawks, and a single Sleepy Orange butterfly (I think; my first). Tonight the temperature dips to 34 degrees (predicted) with a high of 39 tomorrow, followed by a plummet to 25 by night and a slim chance of snow.

Two years ago, I might have thought this change of weather would mean the end of my entomological adventures, but last year taught me differently: I last photographed an Autumn Meadowhawk two days before Christmas.

Fingers crossed that this isn't the last hurrah.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Neighbor's Japanese Maple Leaves Me Breathless

by Mary Oliver


Something came up
out of the dark.
It wasn't anything I had ever seen before.
It wasn't an animal
     or a flower,
unless it was both.

Something came up out of the water,
     a head the size of a cat
but muddy and without ears.
I don't know what God is,
I don't know what death is.

But I believe they have between them
     some fervent and necessary arrangement.


melancholy leaves me breathless.


Later I was in a field full of sunflowers.
I was feeling the heat of midsummer.
I was thinking of the sweet, electric
     drowse of creation,

when it began to break.

In the west, clouds gathered.
In an hour the sky was filled with them.

In an hour the sky was filled
     with the sweetness of rain and the blast of lightning.
Followed by the deep bells of thunder.

Water from the heavens! Electricity from the source!
Both of them mad to create something!

The lightning brighter than any flower.
The thunder without a drowsy bone in its body.


Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.


Two or three times in my life I discovered love.
Each time it seemed to solve everything.
Each time it solved a great many things
     but not everything.
Yet left me as grateful as if it had indeed, and
  thoroughly, solved everything.


God, rest in my heart
and fortify me,
take away my hunger for answers,
let the hours play upon my body
like the hands of my beloved.
Let the cathead appear again --
the smallest of your mysteries,
some wild cousin of my own blood probably --
some cousin of my own wild blood probably,
in the black dinner-bowl of the pond.


Death waits for me, I know it, around
     one corner or another
This doesn't amuse me.
Neither does it frighten me.

After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.
It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy.
I walked slowly, and listened

to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Of Self-indulgence

Some people buy expensive shoes, or eat at fancy restaurants, or travel to exotic ports. On occasion, I surrender to an expensive fancy, too, and when I do, it means a virtual trip to Upton Tea, purveyor of over 400 imported teas and creator of a charming and informative quarterly newsletter.

I begin the same way on each visit: I click the link to black tea, then blends (breakfast). Should this sound easy, note that there are 17 choices in this section alone. I look for key words: full bodied, best with milk, hearty, brisk. I find one, order, and wait.

The day my tea arrives in the personalized silver bag brings Christmas in a cup. I never know what surprises Santa Upton will deliver. This time, the Scottish Breakfast Blend fulfills the promise of its description: "a round, full flavor, malty notes, and brisk character."

The only problem is this: how to make it last.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Noon in the Village

Business closed. 

Building empty. 

One table; one chair.

Shadows the only occupants. 

Edward Hopper nostalgia.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


A moment on the road alone in late sun, the only sun on my skin today, except briefly to and from the car. Burnishing leaves and asphalt and trees and even the air, the sun a bronze sculptor. 
Three coeds, first-years perhaps, hardened with that I'm-cool-now-in-college bravado. Every other word a machine-gun expletive spat out between cigarette drags and cruel comments about roommates. "This is what we &*@$ing do in Sewanee. We watch the !#*%ing sunset at Morgan's Steep," they shout into a phone, filming and sending themselves virtually back to Alabama.  
I turn one last time at the car, meet another coed who smiles and almost whispers, "It's beautiful isn't it?" as if she's in church.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

King in the Mountain

Meet Hentzi mitrata (I think), king in his mountain of stump. 

He has spun his silk from fissure to fissure and defends his domain with bravado far greater than his diminutive size. He's a jumping spider, which he proved again and again. Every time I managed to get my camera's focus on him, he disappeared and then reappeared in another place entirely. 

At lunch today, someone said that those who paint or draw move in the world in a way that allows them to make art. If so, this little spider is an artist painting a kind of concentrated energy that says, Behold! Bow, you who see me. I am Lord of the Realm.

And bow I did.

Some day, I might have the kind of camera and lens
that will let me do him justice. View this and weep with me.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Visitor at My Door

A single yellow jacket died and nose-dived into a pucker of my deck doormat.

All summer long, hundreds (if not thousands) of yellow jackets nested in holes in the ground and wood planks and under rocks all along Lake Cheston's shore. At the dam, I knew every nesting site and simply avoided stepping into or stabbing my walking pole into one. The yellow jackets didn't bother me because I respected their space and they respected mine.

I confess to a peculiar summer pleasure: I enjoyed standing just above one or more of their nests in morning. When the air warmed and sun shone, they burst out like shooting stars, rat-a-tat, so fast and so many they made a yellow stream pouring out of darkness into light.

I found this fellow in mid-afternoon. By morning, it was gone, perhaps providing someone's meal or snack overnight. I missed him when I opened the door: he reminded me of so many happy days at the lake, and of the summer now -- like him -- gone.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Many-named Ladybird!

On my way into Guerry Hall, I stopped to admire the trunk of a maple, and there I was surprised to find Asian lady beetles scurrying into tight clumps wherever protection from cold is to be found. Of course, I thought, this is what happens in their natural habitat! (I much prefer them here than on the ceiling of my kitchen.)

Inside, I settled at a distance from others in the audience to ensure an uninterrupted view. Minton Sparks (Sewanee and Vanderbilt graduate, under her own name), a woman whose work I've long admired, performed one poem/song after another, each bringing to life a unique southern character -- the gossiping aunts pecking like chickens down by the barn, the mother who pumps gas, a woman who escapes violence, the boy who rides his dead other's guitar like a stick horse, the angry weed whacking woman who lost a son in war.

Each poem, each performance, a masterpiece of observation and compassion. Look at the oddity/otherness, she invited us, and then look again, for there in each person is our common and essential humanity. Minton Sparks invites our sympathy.

Perhaps if we huddle together to share our warmth like the lady beetles on that tree, we'd have less war, and inequality, and poverty, and judgment. Perhaps, there's something to learn from those bugs after all.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Note to a Herpetologist

Dear Margaret,

Unlike the fellow in Alabama who killed the huge rattlesnake on his property, I left this American Watersnake alone. Mind you, the bad news is that I almost stepped on the snake.

Look at it! Absolutely the same color as the stone on which it lay to warm itself, it fooled my eye like the best trompe l'oeil painting. I missed the Rambur's Forktail in the parrot grass, but at least I didn't have snake guts on my sneakers and guilt on my conscience.

When I looked hard, I noticed it seemed awfully skinny. Should it look so . . . well . . . hungry? And when it disappear into its underground or under-rock den for the winter? These are just some questions I had for you.

I also have a poem I'd like to share: "The Snake" by William Matthews. I hope you enjoy it.

A snake is the love of thumb
and forefinger.
Other times, an arm
that has swallowed a bicep.

The air behind this one
is like a knot
in a child's shoelace
come undone
while you were blinking.

It is bearing something away.
What? what time
does the next snake leave?

This one's tail is ravelling
into its buttow --

a rosary returned to a purse.
The snake is the last time your spine
could go anywhere alone.

May you and the snakes you love go peacefully into your winter burrows for safe and long rest.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Escape Hatch

Have car, will travel.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Seeing Double

An early morning phone call about a good friend in the hospital sent me outside, where I looked, and looked, and looked. Everywhere, trees flamed, grass glowed Irish-green, sky ranged from robin's-egg blue to azure, small flowers bloomed, mosses and lichens and fungi held on to downed limbs, stones and rocks, and trees.

Growth and decay all at once; life in its many forms, including dying.

Sometimes I shoot pictures because it's all I can do to pause the play button. This morning was one of those times.