Friday, January 31, 2014

Poetry Man

I was bent over a bench shooting lichen when I heard a harmonica. Not a bluesy-get-down-and-dirty blow, but a happy rolicking set of runs.
I couldn't resist. I moved further down the path toward the music, which had morphed into whistling. By the time I reached the fish pond (which had angered me earlier because of the rocks and beer cans stranded on the ice), a strumming banjo accompanied the whistling. 

I imagined whom I might see, and I wasn't disappointed. "Hi!" 
"Hello, ma'am. Beautiful afternoon, isn't it?"

I agreed. "Your dog is so focused. Perfectly calm and obedient."

"He's a good dog," the young man answered. He nodded toward the good dog, and the little pom-poms on his knitted cap bobbed.

"You've sure found the perfect spot," I said and snapped his picture.

"Oh yes, ma'am. You have a great weekend!" 

"I shall," I said, and wandered on, nodding to the whistling and strumming in the background.

It has already started with a bit of Sewanee magic, I thought.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

On Dappling

Gerard Manley Hopkins praised "dappled things" in his famous poem "Pied Beauty."

Glory be to God for dappled things --
   For skies of couple-color as brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
   Landscape plotted and pierced -- fold, fallow, and plough;
      And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle; dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                         Praise him.

About Him, I am not so sure.

About "pied beauty," I am certain: dappled light turns creek water and stone, algae and leaf, even ice into objects of strange beauty.

Oh dappling: You, I praise.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

There's Cold and Then There's *Cold*

Halfway around the lake, a woman and her Doberman caught up to me.

"Hi!" I called, unfolding myself from the icy moss where I had been lying (my favorite photographing position).

"Hi!" When she caught up to me, she said, "Do you live here? I mean, right at the lake?"

"Near enough."

"I've never been here in the snow before. I'm from Nebraska," she said.

Before we could pursue Nebraska or why she's here, we discovered two large coffee containers, still topped, sitting upright in the sand.

"Is there a garbage can nearby?"

"Yep. Look right over there on the other side of the beach," I said.

"If my child did this, I'd lecture her. Do people litter here often?"

"Oh yes, all the time. You wouldn't believe what I pull out of the lake."

After dumping the cups, we discussed the weather, of course. (Everyone has been discussing the weather. My Birmingham family and friends had challenges yesterday, and we've hit single digits more time this month than I remember in ten years here.)

"I heard the students complaining about the cold," she said. "They should come to Nebraska where the wind blows 30 miles an hour, and then they'll know cold!"

I asked if she had seen the footprints on the lake ice -- large ones, clearly a male's, with a love note by one of the footbridges and small ones -- child size -- across from the beach.

"We teach children in Nebraska that you don't walk on a lake or pond until the water has frozen all the way down to the bottom," she said.

"That sounds wise."

And with that, she and the Doberman continued on, into the woods.

There's cold and then there's cold. For her, it's wind in Nebraska's winter snow. For me, it was 20-something with 100% humidity in New Orleans.

But for Lake Cheston, cold is cold, and continued cold has meant myriad patterns of ice -- flowers, bubbles, sheets, striations, chains, beads. I'll take this cold anytime because it's so beautiful.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

By Way of Explanation

Dear Jane,

I regret to inform you that I have decided not to venture on a daily walk. At this moment, the temperature is 16, the light failing, and the wet snow still falling. These are not happy events for my camera.

That said, I don't wish to disappoint, so here are three snaps taken from inside my house. 

May you enjoy them!

Your friend,

Monday, January 27, 2014

Yesterday There Were Geese

Today there were none at the lake. 

But the water came alive, ran like a tide under brittle and cracking ice, lighting the margins between water and earth in waves of blue and white, and then receding, leaving leaves burning brown and red.

I came home burning with cold, the wind so strong I had struggled to balance, and I read ice poems until I found one I love.

Here it is, a gift of the season:

Year's End
by Richard Wilbur

Now winter downs the dying of the year, 
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show 
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere, 
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin 
And still allows some stirring down within.

I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell  
And held in ice as dancers in a spell  
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;  
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,  
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns   
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone  
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown  
Composedly have made their long sojourns,  
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise  
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze  
The random hands, the loose unready eyes  
Of men expecting yet another sun

To do the shapely thing they had not done.
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.   

We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause  
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ringing the Liberty Bell

1982 or 3, I think. A friend took me to the Sandman's house, a shack with dirt floor on a small hill overlooking the Birmingham airport. Junk everywhere, only it wasn't really junk: it was junk art. And there is a difference, though many folks didn't think so in those days.

I remember feeling the same way I did at 6 on a Ferris wheel: dizzy and delirious.

I had to talk Lonnie into selling me the first painting, his third. Completed in 1984, "In the Beginning God Created" reads from bottom to top: in the beginning, there was a woman with three wombs, Lonnie told me, and this is the blood from which we all come; the Old Kingdom was a beautiful, peaceful place; next are the profiles of all the peoples on the earth; above them, a vision of heaven; and finally, at the top, is the blood to which we all return.

I saw the painting (a slice of wall paneling, in fact) hanging in his house. I asked if it was for sale. He hesitated. We looked at other things. Then I asked again, as we stood at his door. I begged, I think. He finally said yes, and I came home with one of my favorite paintings. It greets me at the bottom of the steps every morning.
One Christmas, I took my niece and nephew with me to visit Lonnie. It was bitter cold and wet, so we welcomed his invitation to come inside. We gathered in a small room with one couch, space heater, keyboard, and one chair set in dirt. No one Lonnie's height could stand entirely erect, but none of us minded.

He showed us painting after painting after painting, telling us in colorful details the story of its making and meaning. I wanted them all. I bought three (over time, which he suggested) and he gave me a fourth. I bought the house where I live today because I could hang three large paintings on the dining room wall and see them every time I open the front door.
Another time, I took an older friend to visit Lonnie. I watched him and I watched Lonnie surprising and delighting and puzzling him with his manic creative energy. Before we left, he made Al a small fish.

In the car, as we drove out the gate, Al said, "Good thing he found art. Otherwise, he might have killed himself or someone else." Al kept that fish on a reading table in his apartment until he died a decade later.

For his 25-year retrospective in 2004, Lonnie asked to borrow two of my works: "In the Beginning God Created" and a little chicken he had spontaneously made for me on one of my visits. I missed those works for the year and a half they were gone, but I was pleased that he had asked for them. "Do We Think Too Much? I Don't Think We Can Ever Stop: Lonnie Holley, A Twenty-five Year Survey" showed at the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England.

In 2006, I last saw Lonnie at an art walk in Birmingham. My nephew, oldest great-niece, and I wandered into the children's area, and there he was at the welcome table. We hugged, we chatted, he bragged about me to my nephew, we laughed, and he inspired the children gathering under the Sandman's direction.
Today, I did as I always do on Sunday: opened the New York Times website to the magazine section, and there he was: "Lonnie Holley, the Insider's Outsider." This writer has done a fine job of capturing Lonnie's essence as artist or, as the writer calls him, performance artist. Everything Lonnie does is inspirited with energy and "truth." He makes everything beautiful. Including the lives of those he meets.

All Rendered Truth (Lonnie Holley/George King) from George King on Vimeo.

In my lifetime I have been fortunate to know many fascinating and brilliant people, but I have known only one genius: the ringer of the liberty bell.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Letter F

hangs from a wire across 41-A. I have driven under it hundreds of times, and I hope I will drive under it hundreds more. But I have absolutely no idea what it means.

Today, on my way to the Monteagle Piggly-Wiggly, I decided I would stop on my way home and photograph the mysterious F. 

I hadn't counted on the buzzard.

It appeared and I snapped. I call it "Bird Off a Wire."

Here are birds on a different kind of wire.

May they all sing many more days.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Making a Garden Grow

The word palette, according to, derives from Old French, the diminutive form of pale or shovel, resulting in small potter's shovel. A spade with which the painter mixes pigments, grows new colors, and plants them on a prepared ground.

Today, the palette at my feet invited me to do otherwise: hold it against the beautiful blue ground of sky. Imagine, then, a flower barrage bursting and floating above our heads in brocades and confetti streams and bouquets of intense color.

A garden of the imagination fit for another bitterly cold day.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Window Museum

Marc Chagall stopped by this afternoon.

He left an ephemeral calling card. 

I was lucky to come home in time to see it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In the Spotlight

Caught at the door by late afternoon winter sun, I cast a perfect Dick-Tracy-silhouette on the door.

And then for no reason I can identify, I remembered Saturday evenings with my family watching The Hit Parade.

Looking now at one show from 1956, I recoil from the sexism and cigarette ads, but rejoice in the timely humor, Broadway production style, live performances, and general good fun. A far cry from today's "star-making singing shows," perhaps, but honestly, I don't miss the snark.

And now, so long for a while.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

His Highness, Prince-Still-Abed

The best thing about waking in a cold house where a pet lives?

Very possibly this.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Large Personalities

My friend J confessed that the worst part of rehab is the forced cheerfulness of the staff.

He and I agree: gossipy-southerny-chatty-condescendingly-cute women can make us want to eat nails or walk on glass or escape by any means necessary. 

These are large personalities without whom we can do.

Unfortunately, he must endure them, for now.

Driving to his home in Bell Buckle, his wife F and I, in our separate vehicles, encountered a fat orange moon rising over the village, like a beacon of hope and healing.

I wish he could have stood with me in his tree house, looking out at the distance.

This is a big personality in whose company we could both happily thrive.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Window Gazing

Students walked uphill and across the street behind me, left of the Chapel, which shimmered in the "Private Office" door glass.

Private, indeed, this moment of window gazing.

At home, I spent hours at the computer, scanning photo after photo of available female kittens on It's time to adopt new companions, but which ones? 

They, too, shimmer. 

Oh, what a day of window shopping!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Let There Be Bling!

Christmas has come and gone. Twelfth Night has come and gone. Even my neighbor has taken down her lovely lights, somewhat reluctantly.

("Not everyone approves of them," she told me, but I cheered, as I have every year, sometimes standing in my yard, alone, looking downhill, feeling warm and toasty inside).

And so I am pleased that a tree and some lights remain downtown thanks to . . . whatever . . . inertia, forgetfulness, or perhaps a kindred spirit's rebellion. 

Just look how they sparkle and shine! They bring heat to a cold winter's day!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Blue Sky

Even only 50 minutes of blue sky lightens the load of a heavy day.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


The shopper wanted a folded notecard for a friend.

She asked, "Do you know people who went to the School of Theology?"

"Yes," I answered, "a few."

"I want to send Joe a card."

"Oh my!  I know him too!"

We agreed that one of my cards with a photo of the Chapel of Apostles interior might be appropriate.

She then wanted to chat. An employee of the University's dining hall, McClurg, she talked fondly about our friend and his love of breakfast. "On Saturday, we serve breakfast right up till afternoon. If he came in at 12 or 1, he'd just be smiling and talking about how much he loves breakfast!" And then she added, "Some people are happy and make others happy, but Joe is just something special. He just fills me up."

Yes, I thought, he's bigger than life, a super-saturated lover of life.

McClurg was opened in 2000, before I moved to Sewanee. I never heard the original gossipy reaction to the thrusting towers, but I have heard reports of complaints about the design.

I love the building. Unlike the hall where I usually ate at Vanderbilt, McClurg offers sweeping interior space divided into congenial and even private spots for eating. Its windows open onto a green vista punctuated by stone buildings. 

It would not be a bad place to spend the day, especially if others like Joe make the employees feel they count as much as the professors.

A morning stroll took me to the corner of the building where students park their bikes. Steam, blue sky, Chapel reflections, interior lights, bold shadows -- a saturation of senses began my super-charged day.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Making the Familiar Strange

A stroll in Abbo's Alley, a few hours after a dusting of snow, made me think of a quotation I used to post on classroom walls (or hang from dropped light fixtures): “The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects 'unfamiliar', to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important." (Viktor Shklovsky)

A third of the pictures published so far in 365.2014 are attempts at portraying my "process of perception." 

I opened my front door, looked into the snow, saw the streetlight, and snapped a photo, but when I looked at it, the picture did not match what perceived. So I manipulated it to look like a woodblock from a child's picture book.

The next day, I noticed a blue bicycle chained to tree near the Chapel. The colors -- blue, golden orange, forest green, brown, white -- made me stop the car and get out. I snapped a photo, but when I looked at it, the picture just wasn't right. So I emphasized the blue and softeedn the stone to create something like a watercolor image from an Advent calendar.

A week later, walking uphill at Lake Cheston, I noticed the back of the port-o-let, graffitied. I snapped many photos, settled on one, but when I looked at it, the picture didn't shock me as the painting did. So I brought out the bold blue and red and spray drippings.

The very next day, I stopped for a caramel shake at a Sonic, and while waiting, I took several shots of the neighboring menu sign. When I looked at the photo, though, it didn't match what I felt I had seen. So I made it shine and sparkle like a happy slap-in-the-face from the 1960s.

And today, in Abbo's Alley -- the ground, stones, and trees still cold and dripping ice water and shards -- I stopped at Trink's Terrace, struck as if for the first time by the beautiful greens and blues of the ivied wall, old paint peeling and vines naked, green leaves above, bruised leaves glowing below. I took several photos, but once again none matched what I perceived. So again I manipulated one to bring out the linear and fragmented qualities of the old wall, topped and bottomed with circus-like jumbles of new and old growth.

Now, looking at my 2014 published photos, I realize that I have been playing more freely, improvising, and making the familiar strange. Seeing is more than believing: it's imagining, too. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Doing the Hustle from Shelbyville!

A kandy-kolored tangerine-flake streamline baby visit with friends (you go, F and TJ)! Bodacious new sweaters! Maraschino-topped-caramel milkshake! Corrugations of plowed fields boogying down a dance line to the horizon! Busybody starlings jerking on the grass! One hawk swooping!turning!keeling!riding the air! Dang, y'all, it's been a funkadelic day! Can you dig it?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Odd Ducks

Yesterday, a single duck paddled slowly across and around the same area of the lake, only occasionally dipping and almost always looking. For what, I wondered. For predators? For others of its kind?

I have previously seen ducks, alone, at the lake, so this appearance is not altogether uncommon, but it was nevertheless odd.

This particular duck even looked odd -- at least from the distance s/he calmly kept between us. Dark back, light belly, white bill (perhaps). One photo showed stripes along the side of the head. (Light was not my friend, nor was my camera, hampered as it is by a weak telephoto.)

An acquaintance came by, walking her dogs, and told me what someone else had said about the duck: "A harlequin duck." When I looked it up, though, I discovered it's a coastal bird and colored quite differently from the Cheston solo swimmer. (An expert birder friend thinks female Bufflehead is more likely.)

I recently read a study that suggests parents really do have favorites, something we all suspected as children. Witness writer Theresa Williams, who, in her moving essay "The Origin of the Goat Child," makes this realization: "My mother loved me, but she didn't like me."

Years later, she decided to write a story based on her favorite childhood toy, and thus The Goat Child came into being. She writes, "The Goat Child stands for everything I feel exceptionally tender about." Later in the essay, she adds, "My little toy goat kept me company when I was lonely and helped me work out my unhappiness."

What she is making is odd, and oddly beautiful. View it here.

This afternoon, I posted a link for my artist friend Julie on Facebook, and within minutes she responded, "Where did you find this lovely lunatic?" I knew she would find his work as magical as I.

Mr. Finch, as he is known, is the "lovely lunatic": a self-taught fiber artist obsessed with old fabrics and natural forms. Blessed with a wicked sense of humor (think Edward Lear or Edward Gore, but gentler), Mr. Finch makes odd bunnies and caterpillars and insects and fungi and . . . .

On a day of rain when my camera and I could not wander afield, I wandered through Mr. Finch's extensive portfolio. Odd that I should find him and Williams today, lonely as I was and needing something extraordinary to mark the day.

What odd ducks we all are -- wanderers in the natural and virtual worlds and always in search of others like ourselves.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Algae + Fungi = Lichen

One specific kind of algae + One specific kind of fungi = One specific kind of lichen

Think of algae and fungi as teammates with the new team called "Lichen."

Sandy Nelson does a fine job of describing this symbiotic relationship here.

Now add Robley: lying flat-out in the muddy spongy beds on the shore of Lake Cheston. Sun and a temperature in the 50s. A camera in hand. Now this is symbiosis.

Specific algae + Specific fungi + Robley = British Soldier Lichen Joy

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Open Your Mind

"The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it." -- Terry Pratchett

And sometimes those things are the same kind of stuff that goes in here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Universe, Big and Small

A few years ago, on a trip to New York, I walked the Cosmic Pathway at the Natural History Museum's Rose Center for Earth and Space. A person's stride is measured in a million years, and I stepped through time from 13.7 billion years ago when space "appeared everywhere in the universe" to "the human era . . . depicted at the end of the pathway as the thickness of a human hair."

Yesterday, I read "The Origin, History, Evolution & Future of the Universe" on and re-learned that the universe is "ancient and vast, and expanding out farther and faster every day." Ancient and vast. And ever expanding. The Infographic Gallery, like the Cosmic Pathway, provides humbling evidence of our insignificance in the history of the cosmos. 

This afternoon, cleaning a shelf, I found several Asian lady beetles, those few of the thousands who moved inside during our fall swarm. Their little bodies, some feet down and others feet up, lay rigid on the white sweep of wood I would wash. When they invaded, I fought them off, killed hundreds, taped my front door against the invaders. These corpses now fill me with . . . what? . . . empathy, perhaps.

All day, I have been thinking of beetles. They far outnumber us -- in kind and numbers: 350,000 species in fact, or "22%" of all "described species." The "oldest beetle fossils" are from about "265 million years ago." Beetles are ancient compared to people, yet compared to the ancient and expanding cosmos in which we spend our lives, we are all young and insignificant.

Compared to the ancient and expanding cosmos in which we spend our lives, beetles and people are all young and insignificant. 

Big and small, for all a little tenderness.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sending Up Sporophytes

I started the day as I usually do: checked email; read the New York Times; reviewed my Feedly list of blog posts.

One of those posts ran up a flag, and I did something I have rarely done before. I commented.

Julie Zickefoose pondered "spirit lights," a term suggested by a reader. Unlike most of the other commenters, and perhaps Zickefoose herself, I don't believe in paranormal "anythings," but I do believe in spirit.

Abbo's Alley's snow-melt opened little pockets of green: an inch-worth of daffodil here, a twisted vining shoot there, and everywhere mosses and lichen preening in first sun. 
One stump hosted a party of soft green things, dotted here and there with red caps and yellow tendrils and auburn sporophytes. 

"What day is it?" asked Pooh.

"It's today," squeaked Piglet.

"My favorite day," said Pooh.

This is why I walk every day: to let go of my anxieties, aches, memories, -- all the clutter that clogs the spirit of thought.

This is why I blog every day: to put down some small, distilled inklings and send up little flags.

Maybe someone listens.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What Ice Conceals

Fall's leaves
bronzed blue
snapped twigs
fatter limbs
flat stones
smooth pebbles
green water-plants
soft silt

Odonate nymphs --

like me

for spring.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Polar Vortex at Lake Cheston

Yesterday's exhalations bloomed today's garden.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Snow Day

How Is It that the Snow
by Robert Haight

How is it that the snow
amplifies the silence,
slathers the black bark on limbs,
heaps along the brush rows?

Some deer have stood on their hind legs
to pull the berries down.
Now they are ghosts along the path,
snow flecked with red wine stains.

This silence in the timbers.
A woodpecker on one of the trees
traps out its story,
stopping now and then in the lapse
of one white moment into another.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

What's New in the New Year


Thanks to my niece-in-law J who gave a bowl to my nephew D before his performance in The Nutcracker. 

"What's that?" I asked.

"Thai Chicken Vegetable Soup," she answered.

"Did you make that?"

She told me the secret: Swanson's Thai Ginger Flavor Infused Broth.

Tonight, with the threat of severe cold and the promise of snow, I followed the directions and enjoyed my first bowl.

In this new year, I declare it a good thing. 

Now to try all the other recipes.

Thank heavens there are many many many days left in 2014!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Window Reflections

"Good writing is like a windowpane." (from "Why I Write" by George Orwell)
    There is something to be said for directness and clarity: look through the clean window of words and see the meaning.

"Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance." (Carl Sandburg)
   Instead of looking through the pane, focus on the reflection:
there you'll find a poem.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014


A perfect day in Asheville with a lifelong friend -- lunch at The Laughing Seed, a stroll through Kress Emporium, a quick trip to Mast General Store followed by shortbread at French Broad Chocolate Lounge, and shopping at Two on Crescent, Trader Joe's, and EarthFare -- culminated with a nerve-wracking surprise: snow.

Don't get me wrong: I love a beautiful snow, and this was a beautiful snow. But a beautiful snow swirling and vortexing and blowing fiercely one way and then the opposite on the night before departure, requiring a drive through mountains, . . . well that's not a snow I can embrace.

But I can embrace the eerie snaps from inside my friend's warm home.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Girls and the Boys

The Girls hiked DuPont State Forest, under a flat gray-white sky, and sat by one of the roaring waterfalls to listen and eat salami.

The Boys hiked Devil's Courthouse, spiked with icicles and greened with moss, and looked out into the sky and mountains rolling beyond.

One of the Girls couldn't take a single great picture, and one of the Boys took many. I'll leave it to you to figure out who envied whose camera.