With commencement this weekend, families are arriving, parties are starting, and visitors are wandering the campus. I can only hope that none of them visits any of the campus lakes. Should they do so, the reality may be a shock. Unlike the shiny brochures, webpages, and videos, the Domain is at times more like a dump than a beloved preserve.
Irony abounds within feet of a dorm and at the edge of a pond.
I'd rather be skulking around the edges of a pond, teeming with odes and fish, joined by two undergrads who fish and release and a Canada Goose pair with two little ones and several golf team members, than almost anywhere else I can name.
Especially since this is the cleanest body of water on the campus. No surprise since it's part of a fancy "boutique inn."
A glimpse of someone's study spot: a reminder of what I do (the challenge of learning with guidance from a demanding teacher) and don't (exams -- taking them, writing them, giving them, grading them) miss.
This morning, when coming up and out from Guerry Garth Gracie and turning into the covered walkway along the Quad, I saw a slug making its way toward grass and shrub. I paused, let Gracie slip out toward the student guide leaving her tour group and heading toward us. I cautioned her about the slug while she chatted and watched her step over the creature before continuing on ahead of us.
as if they could take in enough to
get them through.
Turn them over, they’re the soles of
pale and unmarked as babies. They
the soil itself learning how to move
almost staying still, their silver
the only evidence of where they’d
And they die quiet, or at least
out of the human ear’s range, between
under heels, shriveling in salt or
piss, at the tips
of sharp sticks. Fight back, I hear
do something. Don’t just take it. But they die
as they had lived, exuding slime,
the smaller boys, who’d just
stand there, miserable in short
school socks down to their ankles,
school tie unknotted and askew, and
from noses slow cauls of snot that
from time to time they’d lick or
sniff back up
part way, until it flowed again,
the upper lip, falling into the
with tears before anything had been
the fear itself enough, so even if we
we couldn’t let them off. Sometimes
the knee “where you daren’t show your
other times the kick in the shins,
the stick over
the head, the punch in the mouth,
just stood there, or double up,
for breath, and we did it again.
Suddenly, I remembered that as a child I learned to pour salt on slugs. I watched them, delighted to see them shrivel, dying before me, without ever, even once, considering what I was doing. I want to think I fel pleasure because I was a child and because I believed that whatever a parent taught me to do was the right thing.
Since walking and looking and noticing, I am not so sure that I didn't enjoy the killing and dying for their own sake.
And I feel ashamed for years of mindless squashing.
According to the University of the South: Sewanee's Guide for Living in Community: Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, "Ecce Quam Bonum (EQB) is the University motto and describes our highest aspiration for community, lived out in expectations for our students. 'Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live in unity!' -- Psalm 133:1.' " Note the operative words community and aspiration. There's a reason why campus tours do not venture out to the on-campus lakes: garbage (i.e., liquor bottles, beer and soda cans, abandoned bicycles, take-out cartons, books and paper, used condoms and wrappers, underwear, . . .). Dragonflies don't care, even if I do.
A quiet day: dog walk, brunch, work, social media, reading, making an image, blogging.
I suspect I have always been able to spend hours by myself, a habit more children might well develop. Silence is sometimes golden, but silence isn't always silent when the mind and imagination are at play.
I discovered this
So what if it's still foggy and rainy? I've got sunshine aplenty inside.
Yesterday on our walk, Gracie and I ran into a student we'd met before in Abbo's Alley -- Gil Horner. Both he and I said, "Haven't we met before?"
Previously, he'd been sitting on a bench in Trink's Terrace, where he was reading and enjoying the sunshine. We chatted then about his time here (he loves it), where he's from (south of Nashville), and the beauty of the campus.
Yesterday, a gray day, we met him on the sidewalk near the bookstore, and he walked with us all the way to the library, where he peeled off to study (but not before extending his hand and formally introducing himself). Along the way, I learned this: he is one of the first Hippocrates Fellows at Sewanee and that he will be here this summer for two courses, one of which is Medical Humanities. He wants to help people and already does through a number of service opportunities.
Here's what our ten-minute chat really tells me: he is a young man worth knowing, and his professors are lucky.
Heritage Flowers -- that's what I call my neighbor's peonies, descendents of her grandmother's flowers, dug and replanted and nurtured. Peonies like it here, and I like having them next door. They announce spring in a burst of color and passion, and love over generations.
Passion equal to this surprising performance by DkhaBrakha, a Ukrainian quartet.
but plenty to hear in Abbo's Alley. When bird song lifts from the woods behind my house or from the woods along daily walks, I feel as if I were Gracie -- cheerful to be out and about and in the moment. Even she was content to stop so I could listen and make this recording before we wandered on. This is one of my favorite songs (a wood thrush, I think).
Today, my One-Hour-A-Day-Dog decided she would like to become an organist.
However, after my description of the stops, keyboards, and footboard -- familiarity I learned from playing the pipe organ at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Gracie turned in disappointment to mark yet another patch of grass, and I felt compelled to join her.
my One-Hour-A-Day-Dog -- is chatting with folks on campus. Students often ask, "May I pet your dog?" or smile and nod (briefly looking up from their screens), or offer a passing hello, or even want to talk.
One young woman curled into an Adirondack chair, reading and enjoying the sunlight, hopped up and asked to pet Gracie. "Of course," I said. And then she told me about her dog.
"I remember how hard it was to leave my cat at home when I went to college. What year are you?
"It got a bit easier this semester, don't you think?"
"Yes," she said.
Gracie, meanwhile, was basking in the student's affection.
She told me she would major in psychology with a second emphasis in political science. "I love it here," she added. "I just love learning new things."
With that, we parted.
A bit later, I stopped to photograph this stencil on the sign. A student turned the corner, looked where I was looking, and said, "What's that?"
"I was hoping you might know!" I answered.
"No clue. But it looks like an insect, doesn't it?"
"Yep. I just love random things like this."
"Me, too," she said. "See ya!"
Conversations with strangers each morning, another reason why I enjoy walking with Gracie.
I saw a Lancet Clubtail emerge I nearly fell in the water. I was that excited. Truly.
Today, after walking Gracie, I decided to stop by Lake Cheston, where I watched about a dozen Lancets emerge -- all in different stages of development. And this time I was extra lucky: while watching two on one rock, I noticed a larva crawl up out the water on the rock just on the right. Then, throwing caution to the wind (the dam having just been given the Easter weekend close-cut, which usually lets loose the chiggers and ticks), I hunkered for a long while, snapping shot after shot after shot.
I left happy (even if still coming up short with the macro lens).
Seeing below and above and what lies between, like that odd space between sleeping and waking, not quite dreaming and not quite thinking, when a sliver of light parts the curtains, blown just a bit by a breeze, or the cat's shadow as she leans in to my face and for a moment I think she's something else, just a shadow.
understand me as well and tolerate me as patiently as does Florence, my former neighbor. Within ten minutes of walking into her kitchen for an overnight visit, I asked, "Would you mind if I take a few pictures of your garden before lunch?"
"Of course not!"
And so I did.
I do love tulips, but I love Florence so much more.
A friend sent me a review of Patrick Barkham's Coastlines: The Story of Our Shore. The reviewer wrote, "Bleak and windswept, the place [Scolt Head Island] was no idyll, and after an episode in which Barkham's father spotted two men stealing rare eggs but failed to persuade the island warden to confront them, the family stopped going there. Revisiting it 35 years on, Barkham surmounts the discomfort he felts as a child to achieve a dreamlike peace or hypnagogia -- no easy matter when you're swimming in the North Sea."
I am not British, nor have I a shore. I don't remember a non-idyllic place which my family visited, nor have I swum in the North Sea.
I experience it every time I take pictures outside or in, when I see something beautiful and want to experience it both outside the frame and in it. At those moments, I suspend thinking and simply look and do.
Today, though, I paused long enough for the wind to die and realized that even when I take lots of not-so-great photos, I could keep doing it and keep failing all day. Happily.
Fortunately, after struggling to photograph a Shooting Star, I found something that doesn't move.
On my way to the Lake Cheston upper parking lot, I cruised by the farm, noticing a whole lot of birds in the big double-tree (one of them's a flowering tree of some kind) across from the baseball field. In another ten yards, I screeched to a halt, backed up, drove into Old Farm road to turn around, raced back by the tree, stopped the car, looked again, then drove into Cobb Lane like a madwoman, pulled into the grass, and leapt out, leaving the car running.
Cedar Waxwings! Lots of them!
Craning my neck, I looked upwards and started snapping. Soon, I noticed a retired professor (who was walking the dogs) stop on the sidewalk across the street. "Cedar Waxwings!" I shouted. "I saw them when I was passing and turned right around." "You knew what they were from you car?" "Not at first, but when I got to the road up to the hoophouses, I realized what they were." "There sure are a lot of them," he said and walked on.
I stopped counting at 42. Some flew off, many stayed, others returned. Too high for a really sharp photo, but not too high to miss and never too high to enjoy.
In one lovely visit to my two favorite ponds, these friends flew: Blue Corporals, Carolina Saddlebags, Common Green Darners, Fragile Forktails, Citrine Forktails, and Southern Spreadwings. The sky, and the grasses, and the bare limbs, and the just visible beginnings of leaves, and . . . so much to love. I could spend the day there and come home happy, even if the ode photos are all terrible.
fire and passion, too, in student, family, and colleague memorial service testimonies attesting to the powerful influence of a beloved Sewanee professor, a man I met a few times and left each time charmed and intrigued and touched by his quiet humor and intelligence
I noticed the pair when they arrived with serious fishing gear and got
to work. She caught something immediately, and then my attention strayed: Blue
Corporals, at least six, emerging or having emerged (including one fatally
injured with permanently crimped wings, never to fly, just hanging on).
Eventually, I noticed the man had moved across the lake and the young
woman had wandered back to the grassy area near the beach where I stood. I asked her, “Catch and
release or eat?”
“Catch and release!”
In a few minutes, she came over to ask what I was photographing. Once I
showed her the emerging Blue Corporals, she was as hooked as I.
Of different generations and backgrounds, we
found our common ground: love of nature. Like me, she watches something
terrible in a nature video and wonders, “Why don’t you guys do something
instead of just taking the video?” Like me, she rescues things in need. Someone
said to her once, “It’s just nature.” Her answer is mine: “Yes, but I’m there;
I can do something, so why wouldn’t I!”
“Yes,” I said. “If I have a wreck on
the highway, I hope some living thing that sees me will rescue me.”
From there we launched into stories of her life – what she had wanted to be
(a mechanic, but her father had asked how will you lift heavy things? to which she said to me Uh . . . ask? with a half-smile and shrug), what
she hated doing (hanging dry wall with her father), what she'd done that made
her proud and taught her the big things in life (serve in the Air Force), what
she has done for her sister (pay for everything for the sister and sister's baby for two years), and what she won’t do again (surrender herself so fully
financially to someone else who could look at herself or himself). She also talked about sometimes wishing she were
back in service for one reason: no big decisions. "Everything is decided
for you and that's kind of comfortable."
She’s lucky. She has her health,
and smarts, and experience, and family. She said, “I keep asking if
I can pay rent or buy the groceries or help out with the bills, but they always
“Good,” I said. “They know you need the time now to decide what comes
“Yes,” she said. “And that’s the scary part.”
After I told her about Lake Dimmick and showed her the map, we
parted, but not before we introduced ourselves.
“I really enjoyed talking to you, A_______.”
“Same here, Robley.” she said. “I’m really glad I walked over