Friday, July 31, 2015

Turning Things Up

When Rebel's Rest burned last year, the smell of smoke lingered and feelings burned. I suppose they're still burning among some who insist the building be built back as it was. As I learned today, "as it was" is entirely subjective.

Smartly, the College has invested great care in disassembling the building and now in working to understand the site and its history. The University Archaeologist, a religion professor, a forestry professor, the head of the Herbarium, and many others have undertaken a multi-disciplined approach to studying the remains of not one but two houses (the building "as it was" that folks want rebuilt was built on the very foundation of a previous house). As fascinating as the tour of the site was, the best part of my visit was hearing from students who have invested themselves in their learning and their part in uncovering the past.

One young man, David, explained the use of the surveying tool shown here so well that I actually understood -- for the first time -- what folks do when they stand on street corners and aim one thing at the other some distance away. David's confidence, knowledge, and speaking skills were impressive indeed. 

What Sarah Sherwood, the archaeologist, has done is remind us all that the real values of a college rest in people, not bricks and mortar, in knowledge as it becomes and not "as it was."

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Strange Encounters


Driving home from the shredding of my personal written history, I took Highway 41 up the mountain from Chattanooga, foregoing the interstate. At the TVA sign for Raccoon Mountain, I thought why not? and turned off. Haze filtered the view of Chattanooga and construction closed the visitors' center, so I pulled off where boaters park. Before I even get out of the car, I saw more than a dozen Halloween Pennants, topping each tall grass blade in the twenty feet or so between me and the river. Golden females and burnt red-orange males balanced, lifted, re-balanced, lifted, their wings opening and closing like flapping sails.

I can't go anywhere these days without finding odonates, familiar spirits of the insect world to which I am slowly gaining admission.

Atop the mountain, just past the entrance to Foster Falls, a front yard display included two large flags, one the American and the other the Confederate battle flag, one at half-mast and the other fully raised. I was tempted to stop and take a picture, but didn't, wondering what the homeowner's response might be. More strange this un-patriotic patriot's display of misguided loyalty, more foreign than the pennants' appearance.

Five miles from home, atop "The Mountain," as folks call it, one sign loomed large in front of the liquor store: WELCOME GODLY PLAY. If I didn't live on the campus of an Episcopal college, I'd probably have the same reaction of most tourists who must scratch their heads and think or say Huh? After all there's nothing godly or playful about capitalist advertising, liquor stores, or insensitivity, though the pennants may come close to both godly and play.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What's in a Name?

A rose is a rose is a rose.

But a rose with a Blue Dasher on it is something else entirely.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Swimmer

Because I was in no hurry
because I found a soft hump of moss
because I chose to sit
because I heard a small swish
because I looked up
because the water parted into a v-shaped wake
I saw my first beaver.
And that beaver was the best thing
I saw all day.

Monday, July 27, 2015

In the Heat of Day

It's easy to believe
the river breathes.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Begging Your Pardon, Mother Goose

Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow and horse* jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

This Too Is Awful

Just look at her
(imagine she's in focus and out of shadow if you wish)
probe the stem and place each egg:
so dedicated and beautiful is the Spreadwing
(whether Southern or Sweetflag).

I think Sweetflag because of the size of the large ovipositor and brown eyes.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Thirty-six hours. Four separate attempts. Five scratches, three on one leg, two on the other. Flea medication not applied.

BadAssCat 1, Robley 0.

Lake Dimmick stroll. Local friendly canine tags along. Jumps in, wades in, runs in every body of water. Pushes through vegetation. Disturbs odonates, including this Slender Spreadwing.

Canine 1, Robley 0.

Unknown Spreadwing. Perched a bit high on a hill. Only photography position shooting into light. Seventy-eight snaps. One almost decent.

Insect 1, Robley 0.

Are we having fun yet? She was.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Why turn on a lamp
when rising moon
illumines stained glass?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Trio of Annual Pleasures

Mr. King's heirloom tomatoes (among them Cherokee Purple, Chocolate, Pink, Brandywine [not ready yet], White). Today's haul? Chocolate, Pink, and Cherokee Purple.

My father grew tomatoes in my childhood, snapped them off the vine, brushed them against his jumpsuit, bit into flesh, wiping the juice with a red bandanna, always stored in a back pocket. 

Then, I did not like tomatoes: they were bitter like lemons and oranges. Now, I love heirlooms, mostly the locally ones I can buy for just a few weeks. These are worth the wait.

Cicadas leave their spent selves (shed skins called exuviae) hanging on trees, stems, gate and deck posts, after emerging into their adult selves, not unlike the odonates I stalk. This summer, I've seen their exuviae, and I've enjoyed cicada choruses. Today, I saw my season's first actual insect, clinging to my deck post, just as the storm blackened the forest beyond. Like emerald fire, his greenness burned.

The predicted storm rode in on a few isolated plops, then staccato patters, and finally drum snaps, accompanied by wind, but none of it threatening, the kind of afternoon storm that reminds me of childhood naps at home or camp and invites a comfy chair, cats, and a beautiful novel. I gave up a Tim O'Brien reading for Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, a book so beautiful that I have saved the last chapter, to savor later, maybe even tomorrow.

Tomatoes, rainstorms, literary enchantment converge in one perfect summer afternoon.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's All Good

The thing about walking every day, sometimes at the same spot over a period of days, is that I watch a folding of one event into other without interruption, the way life happens as opposed to an invented narrative. To wit:

Day One
I note several sizable piles of scat at various spots near the small Day Lake Road pond. Not dog poop, not cow patties, not horse droppings, not deer or rabbit pellets, not dog doo-doo, not dark like coyote feces. Plenty of seeds, undigested, size large and splattered in shape. Raccoon maybe? Raccoons? Whoever has left the splatter left it generously.

Day Two
Several Silver-spotted Skippers and one Red Admiral alight on the droppings, teeming with flies, though one skipper in particular seems especially greedy and lingers, spreading himself over as much of the pile as he can, exerting an authority that speaks this is mine! (On the other side of the pond, a Green Heron kaks in distress, bleeding where a leg should be, and I wonder who will eat the bird?)

Day Three
A horde -- five and then six -- of newly minted Eastern Tiger Swallowtails clump themselves on the dung, a hallelujah chorus of hungry Lepidoptera, shaking a St Vitus dance one moment, stilling in meditative prayer the next (stunned like newborns, milk drunk).

Here's the thing: nothing's wasted. The animal or animals who left the scat ate something that lived, digested what or they could,  left the rest, to use it for nourishment, leave their eggs on plants, those emerge in new forms, they feed on plants, . . . .

Anyway, the Lion King was right about that circle of life, and I like watching it.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Katydid on board.

Home again, home again, jiggedy jig!

Maybe I need one of these.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sometimes Its' the "Little" Things'

Label Seen at Tennessee Antiquarian Book Fair, Sewanee, TN

Question 1
Did these books belong to one kid? If so, who is that famous child whose ownership has made these valuable enough for purchase and collection? Might it not be more impressive to identify said "kid"?

Question 2
If these are not books of a single child but of children in general, then why would a book seller who, one would assume, is literate and treasures the writing in texts as well as their forms, state they are kid's books rather than kids' books?

Question 3
Did the seller purchase the shelf, books, and label all at one time from a used book store run by a punctuation-challenged owner going out of business?

Question 4 (inspired by a comment from JP on seeing said sign)
Has the writer quoted "kid's" to suggest irony or sarcasm as done with air quotes (you know, those double-digit-two-handed virtual marks made by speakers)? Are these books in fact not appropriate for a child or kid? What makes them inappropriate? Who made that judgment call?

Question 5
Does the sign make fun of a child or children or those who read like a kid, thus justifying the label "kid's"? Are the quotation marks a punctuation slap to the face? A commentary on the quality of the books themselves? If so, why has the store owner purchased them with an eye to re-sale?

Question 6
Does the label maker even know that the quotation marks and apostrophe here are nonsense? If these are "kid's" books, then they must be the (or a or some) "kid's" books. If not why aren't they "kids'" books? And if they are books suitable for kids, why aren't they just kids' books?

Lest you think I am eccentric or mad, see Apostrophe Abuse and The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.

Its' so comforting to "know" that Im "not" alone.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Night-time Visitor

In case my young neighbors needed me while their parents were out last night, I turned on my porch light. The girls didn't drop by, but lots of moths, beetles, and katydids did.

A large moth  (Anisota virginiensis or Southern Pink-lined Moth, I think, though no record [so far] has been reported for my county) stared straight at me when I decided to turn out the light. But then, how could I, without first making her acquaintance?

Who knows why she alit on my window. Even scientists are divided on the issue of moths' attraction to flame and artificial light. Some say artificial light "throw[s] off their internal navigation system"; others that the moon or a bright light "as a navigation beacon"; still others that light mimics the "frequencies . . . of sex pheromones." In truth, no one really knows why.

I prefer to think that this moth, this particular and particularly beautiful amber and lavender-rose female, merely wanted a congenial place to rest and found in me a kindred spirit.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Red Letter Day

I've never caught a red eye, but I've sure seen a lot of one lately -- on my own face. Week 4 of the mystery "infection" (?) and finally, despite the persistent itch, I am able to focus and look into my own eye without horror. The redness dims.

But the woods flame in odes balancing on twigs and plants and fungus emerging from heaped pine straw.

Halloween Pennant
Swift Setwing
Unknown Fungus (Tubifera ferruginosa or Red Raspberry Slime?

Each ode and the little raspberry lump join me in shouting Hallelujah! Maybe this is my graduation day from mystery ailment to rosy health!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Generous Spirit

I rolled down my window and called, "Is this your pond?"

"No ma'am," he answered. "But I've got permission. The owner said I come any time."

"Reckon I can, too?"

"Why not?" he said.

He fished, and I looked for odonates. He caught four beautiful dinner-sized bass -- 1, 2, 3, 4, almost that quick! -- while I saw only the same bugs I had just seen at the Day Lake Road pond.

I started toward the weeds between me and the water, but my companion turned and said, "Better not do that. There's snakes in there."

I confessed that I often just plow my way to water, only later realizing that's a stupid thing to do.

"Yeah, you're lucky."

"You're lucky, too! Just look at those fish! Will you eat them for supper?

"Oh no. I fish for my 75-year-old friend. I can catch 'em whenever I want, but he can't. So I clean 'em up, take 'em to his door, and know he'll smile and thank me."

Sometimes it's just not about the bugs.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


A friend enjoys making paintings for others, featuring their likes and dislikes. I don't paint, but I sure have some of each today.

  1. Muscular prose: "Flames scamper up walls. Parked automobiles catch fire, as do curtains and lampshades and sofas and mattresses and most of the twenty thousand volumes in the public library. The fires pool and strut; they flow up the sides of the ramparts like tides; they splash into alleys, over rooftops, through a carpark. Smoke chases dust; ash chases smoke. A newsstand floats, burning." (All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr)
  2. A dozen Blue-fronted Dancers right outside my car door.
  3. Nighttime insect music in the back yard.

  1. An angry eye without definite diagnosis or cure.
  2. Having to buy a new memory card because mine sits on my desk at home, 15 miles away.
  3. Inability to photograph the season's first Gliders (Wandering? Spot-winged?).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Art or Science?

The Angry Eye says both.

Beginning of Week 4.

Another doctor visit.

Another diagnosis (unknown cause; allergic reaction to antibiotic eye drops 2 and 3).

Another eye drop, this time a steriod.

Another scheduled visit.

Monday, July 13, 2015

That Sucks (Literally)

Bristled and bearded
the stout robber fly
stabs proboscis into victim
injects paralyzing enzymes
digests dragonfly guts
then sucks up the liquid.

What was Banded Pennant

becomes assassin fly

and so it goes.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

If design govern in a thing so small

Robert Frost's poem figures often in this blog, but not by design. (See here and here.)

Yesterday I photographed a mating pair of Orange Bluets. (Only the male, as you can see, is orange [bu confusingly, an immature male is pale blue], while the female is yellow-green. Lesson one in American Bluet-watching might be this: bluets are not all blue.)

I watched this pair for perhaps 15 minutes, during which time they flew from water plant to matting to plant in an oval area of only a few feet. When they landed here (see photo) below, I held my breath and tried again and again and again to get the perfect shot. I never fully succeeded in capturing the almost artistic beauty of their happy landing.

At first, I merely thought, Wow! What a happy accident!

Then I thought, Surely no accident. Otherwise, how would these tiny odonates know with whom to mate? A clue can be found in their different color. Recent research, of which a good bit is published online, suggests that damselflies (and dragonflies) see color. In fact, one fascinating PhD thesis states, "Numerous behavioural studies suggest that the diverse colour patterns function as a means for intersexual, intrasexual, interspecific, or intraspecific recognition and play a role in sexual selection, particularly in ischnuran damselflies that have sex-limited polymorphism."


Other researchers sequenced the genes of Ischnura elegans (Blue-tailed Damselfy, a species found in Europe) and "generated 428.744,100 paired-ends reads amounting to 110 Gb of sequence data." (Mind you, this damselfly averages about 31mm in length.) What did they find? Distinct color pathways supporting the fact "the odonate eye can detect colour from the ultraviolet (UV) (~300 nm) to the long wavelength (LW) (~700 nm) portion of the visible light spectrum and is capable of distinguishing polarized light" as well. (To put this in perspective, Wikipedia claims that humans that "a typical human eye will respond to wavelengths from about 390 to 700 nm."

So. Those Orange Bluets knew what they were doing when they hooked up. I can't help wondering if their final choice of ovipositing spot might also have been intentional. What fine camouflage the plant provides as she begins the long plunge underwater to deposit her fertilized eggs.

Long live the American Bluet!

(Whether or not design govern in a thing so small.)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Power of Words

A dedicated Hellenophile in college, I encountered Greek words in class and out.

Poiesis, for example, from the ancient Greek word ποίησις (derived from  ποιέω, a verb meaning "to make"). I look it up online and remember making poems, studying poems, performing poems onstage. An entry in Wikipedia especially intrigues me:

"Martin Heidegger refers to it as a 'bringing-forth' (phusis as emergence), using this term in its widest sense. He explained poiesis as the blooming of the blossom, the coming-out of a butterfly from a cocoon, the plummeting of a waterfall when the snow begins to melt. The last two analogies underline Heidegger's example of a threshold occasion: a moment of ecstasis when something moves away from its standing as one thing to become another. (These examples may also be understood as the unfolding of a thing out of itself, as being discloses or gathers from nothing [thus nothing is thought also as being]). Additional example: The night gathers at the close of day."

And ecstasis from the ancient Greek ἔκστασις meaning "to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere" from ek- "out," and stasis "a stand, or a standoff of forces." Twice, I have experienced standing outside myself onstage, once in a rehearsal and once in a performance, moments that -- like the only TM experience when meditation meant mental silence but not so healthy -- threatened my performance.

And catharsis from the ancient Greek κάθαρσις, meaning "cleansing" or "purgation," a theatrical term relating to the power of tragedy to move the audience through pity and fear, a kind of intellectual/emotional cleansing in the face of suffering and beauty.

Today, I encountered two works, one indirectly and one directly poetic, both evoking to ecstasy through language leading to catharsis.

An NPR article, "The Writing Assignment That Changes Lives," confirms what I know firsthand as a literature and composition teacher:

"Experiments going back to the 1980s have shown that 'therapeutic' or 'expressive' writing can reduce depression, increase productivity and even cut down on visits to the doctor.

" 'The act of writing is more powerful that people think,' Peterson says.

"Most people grapple at some time or another with free-floating anxiety that saps energy and increases stress. Through written reflection, you may realize that a certain unpleasant feeling ties back to, say, a difficult interaction with your mother. That type of insight, research has shown, can help locate, ground and ultimately resolve the emotion and the associated stress."

Simon Armitage's (newly elected professor of poetry at Oxford University) poem, "Out of the Blue," performed  by Rufus Sewell, makes universal the details of a single event, and horror becomes beautiful in the making.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Friday, July 10, 2015

I Saw Her Once

and over the last weeks of discussion about the Charleston murders and the battle flag, I have been thinking of her righteous indignation and artistry.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Another New Species Identified on the Domain!

Welcome, Dusky Dancer (Argia translata)!
Photographed at Lake Cheston on July 8, 2015. 

That makes 36 species of dragonfly and 25 of damselfly. 

And Still Another Emergence Tally as of July 8
Common Green Darner
Fragile Forktail
Common Baskettail
Springtime Darner
Blue Corporal
Carolina Saddlebags
Lancet Clubtail
Common Whitetail
Azure Bluet
Southern Spreadwing
Calico Pennant
Comet Darner
Violet Dancer
Painted Skimmer
Black Saddlebags
Spangled Skimmer
Double-striped Bluet
Skimming Bluet
Orange Bluet
Citrine Forktail
Doubled-ringed Pennant
Eastern Pondhawk
Spangled Skimmer
Ebony Jewelwing
Stream Cruiser
Blue Dasher
Swamp Spreadwing
Amber-winged Spreadwing
Lilypad Forktail
Golden-winged Skimmer
Banded Pennant
Stream Bluet
Powdered Bluet
Slaty Skimmer
Prince Baskettail
Gray Petaltail
Southern Sprite
Widow Skimmer
Sweetflag Spreadwing
Unicorn Clubtail
Eastern Amberwing
Great Blue Skimmer
Spotted Spreadwing
Autumn Meadowhawk
Swift Setwing
Halloween Pennant
Dusky Dancer

The Angry Eye

began on Wednesday, June 24, and continues: round three of antibiotic eye drops and now an oral antibiotic.

There are worse things, I remind myself, death and fatal disease, and I remember that my un-ease will be only temporary, no matter how long it lingers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Let Me Count the Ways

Dear Sue,

You're right: Cheston can be annoying in the same way a crowded state fair is -- loud, teeming with cursing and splashing children (in this case four boys who systematically caught and squeezed newts and then threw them like trash in the water), country music, pontificating adults carrying on the same irritating conversation we've both heard before, parents ignoring their children while sunning themselves well away from the water (periodically also cursing at said children), and a whole gaggle (30 at least) of young boys led by a Sewanee student who gathered them on the dam long enough for a picture and then clomped up to the picnic pavilion. Not only that, but I discovered that some bozo weed-ate clumps of the blackberry bushes along the run-off between dam and bridge. Why? And why so many loud, obnoxious, thoughtless people?

Your friend,

PS Lest I forget, I should name three good things: a chance encounter with painter and alum Claude Buckley (www.claudebuckley.com and former resident of JB's "cave" on South Carolina; deep purple blackberries bursting with juicy flavor and red ones ripening; and the first Halloween Pennant I've seen this summer.

PPS Parts of the lake are indeed silty, and it takes no scientist to know why: I watched four boys jump in, walk around, and generally roil up the lake bottom.

please note the color of the water

PPPS Remind me as I did you: go early or late.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Mistress of Revels (July 2-6)


After meeting Leah at the Jubilee! service and lunching at Early Girl, my niece asked, "Well, what did you think of her?"

"I think you're lucky," I said. "If I had met Leah in my own life, I would have wanted to make her my friend. What a wonderful mother-in-law she will make you."


At the wedding, Leah became, as my brother called her, "The Mistress of Revels."

The Mistress of Revels

As radiant as the bride and groom, she loved telling me a story about her oldest son. He had long told her he would never marry and he didn't want children. But when he came home from a weekend bluegrass festival and told his mother about meeting my niece, she said she knew he had found his partner.

And he had.

And they had children.

And she and they were happy.


Four years later, when my sister-in-law died suddenly, Leah, without even being asked, drove from North Carolina to my brother's in Alabama, where she organized the kitchen, supervised the children, answered the phone, packed portions of funeral-baked goods for the freezer, and quietly shepherded the family through a difficult time. She did what everyone needed: she brought calm control and love into the house. I have never forgotten her generosity.


The resident grandmother to my niece's and nephew's children, who called her Nana, Leah entertained them with her husband at home in Asheville or came often to their home in Brevard. She crafted, cooked, hiked, adventured, dog-sat, instructed, gardened, corrected, bathed -- in short, she loved those children wholly and fiercely.

She and they made me feel like one of theirs when I visited twice for Thanksgiving, the last time this past November.

Thanksgiving 2014


Then, only eight years after my sister-in-law's death, Leah too died suddenly and unexpectedly ten days ago, a shock to her husband and their two children, her oldest sons and their families, and her six brothers and sisters and their families.

new mothers-in-law dance with sons and a father dances with daughter

There is about such a death the belief that with more time comes more opportunity to prepare for the loss. I do not know, but I do know that prolonged suffering isn't any more natural than accident or aneurysm. The result is the same.


On July 4, Leah's family gathered in Brevard to mourn and celebrate a life well lived. The stories of her love and generosity and kindness abounded: her gift of a ride, her hat and scarf, and a few dollars so a Mexican laborer might be less cold as he waited to thumb a further ride home; her offer to clean a new co-worker's plant in his office, leading to her second, happy, long-term marriage; her courage as a young single mother with two rambunctious boys; her penchant for recycling thrift store finds and delighting others with them; her work to help find mortgages for those who might otherwise not get them; her righteous anger and deep love of her large extended family.



On my drive to North Carolina for the family gathering, rain spat and poured, clouding the vistas and driving water madly through the Ocoee, roiling like cafe au lait through the gorge. On my return three days later, the water had greened and pockets of sun broke through.

Grief shared had become mutual memory and joy.


At home again, I discovered that Ocoee derives from the Cherokee U-wa-go, meaning "apricot place," the apricot being Passiflora incarnata or wild passion flower vine, a favorite of mine along the lakes and ponds where I roam. The vine spreads generously wherever it can and produces beautiful, complicated, layered flowers -- like Leah, whose radiance shone in every circumstance of her life, and still shines in those she loved and knew.

Passiflora incarnata

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Photowalk Cancelled Due to

by Kazim Ali

With thick strokes of ink the sky fills with rain.
Pretending to run for cover but secretly praying for more rain.

Over the echo of the water, I hear a voice saying my name.
No one in the city moves under the quick sightless rain.

The pages of my notebook soak, then curl. I’ve written:
“Yogis opened their mouths for hours to drink the rain.”

The sky is a bowl of dark water, rinsing your face.
The window trembles; liquid glass could shatter into rain.

I am a dark bowl, waiting to be filled.
If I open my mouth now, I could drown in the rain.

I hurry home as though someone is there waiting for me.
The night collapses into your skin. I am the rain.