Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Fog shrouded The Mountain yesterday just after daybreak, and in the midst of heavy mist, a brilliant cardinal appeared in the herb garden by our back door. We have placed a bird bath in the yard, but our visitor sought food rather than a morning bath (not that he needed one). Hunched over one of our plants, his posture appeared to be that of an old man, but his familiar "chip" sounded youthful and threatening.

I knew that if he were mating, another cardinal intruder might become a victim of some dive bombing and combat activity. If this cardinal had engaged in combat and chased an intruder away, his victory song would have been unmistakably joyful. I've read that if a cardinal is placed in front of a mirror, he perceives his reflection as an intruder and may spend hours trying to get rid of his image. During my winters in New Iberia, Louisiana, I enjoyed a cardinal visitor who, seeing his reflection in my window, sat on the sill outside my study for weeks. Little did I know that he was in defense mode, protecting his territory against another male cardinal that might be seeking a mate. I thought he was befriending me!

I think that my yard cardinals live in a thicket near our drive and consort with their neighbors, a thrasher family. They probably share meals of unwanted insects and seeds from weeds. The thrashers graze brazenly in my front yard, especially after heavy rains like the ones we've been experiencing.

Although most people regard cardinals as bearers of good fortune, humans are forbidden, by law, to keep a cardinal as a pet. I've read that the male cardinal shows his affection for the female by feeding her, beak to beak, to express his love, but I've never been a witness to this courting activity.

Cardinals are among the most difficult birds to photograph, particularly in a dense morning fog, but I'm sorry I didn't try to snap one of the bird that landed in our herb garden yesterday morning. If I hadn't been due to attend Morning Prayer and Eucharist at St. Mary's at 7 a.m., I would've  staged a stake-out. Later, in the afternoon, I did do a one-hour stake-out, and one flew over the front porch daring us to catch him in flight as he disappeared into the woods.

I'm among those who believe that cardinals bring messages of blessing. They also symbolize power and wealth. My daughter Stephanie and I believe that they represent a deceased loved one who has returned for a visit. In our case, it's my mother Dorothy (who loved red) who's telling us she'll always be with us, assuring us that we can handle any difficult problem and that we'll have everlasting vitality. At 82, that's a message I want to hear her "chip."

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


A few years ago, I reviewed a book of poetry entitled Floating Heart by Stuart Friebert, a writer whose work has been published in numerous literary journals, including Pinyon Review, an independent press in Montrose, Colorado. Friebert responded to the review by sending me copies of several books featuring his translations of books by the German poet Karl Krolow, and we corresponded sporadically about the books that are included in a series entitled the Field Translation Series, founded by Friebert at Oberlin College in Ohio. This week, Friebert made another appearance on the publisher's list of Pinyon Review with First and Last Words: Memoir and Stories, a stellar collection of literature about German-Jewish characters and Friebert's sojourn in Germany as one of the first exchange students following WWII, as well as memorable short stories from Friebert's wry pen.

In the Prologue to this volume, Friebert at once captures the reader's interest with a commentary about how Nazi-German infected German classical language, citing Victor Klemperer's Language of the Third Reich, in which Klemperer notes the word "Umbruch," a beautiful poetic word before the Nazis perverted it, which had to do with "turning the earth over to plant anew but was diabolically redeployed to mean a glorification of being rooted in the soil of the Fatherland..." Although Friebert claims he never became a linguist, he fell under the spell of German poets, particularly Rilke, and was inspired to study German abroad by Professor Doberheim who was a refugee from Darmstadt where Friebert was sent as an exchange student. Friebert later studied with Martin Joos who advised him that the only salvation for Germany was if Jews returned (Friebert's heritage) ... "to the language, the literature, to the land as well. That in and of itself would be a miracle...whatever you do, read German, teach it if you can, and above all live it."

When Friebert crosses the ocean on the Queen Mary, he experiences a "rogue wave" that injures a priest who has become a companion to him and Ellie Klarner, a fellow student in the exchange program. The ship lands in Rotterdam to seek medical help, a place described by bitter crew members as a city where citizens had been shown no mercy by invading Germans. Friebert becomes more aware of Third Reich corruptions after he meets victims of WWII when he reaches his destination at the Technische Hochschule or the "TH" where he has been sent to study. After leaving Germany, he faces a career decision, pondering whether to help ferret out former Nazis, or to stabilize the new democratic Germany, or to apply for a Foreign Service job. Instead, he returns to his studies, completes his B.A. at Wisconsin State University, takes an M.A. and a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in German Language and Literature, and later teaches at Mt. Holyoke College and Harvard, settling at Oberlin College where he taught German, founded and directed Oberlin's Creative Writing Program, The Field Translation Series and Oberlin College Press — all unfolding as a unified career path, which he had pondered following his year abroad.

When Friebert sent me volumes of Karl Krolow's poetry, he offered his opinion about writing the kind of poetry that impassions readers — the notion that learning another language and translating the poetry of that language results in successful poetry in a writer's native language and voice. His fifteen volumes of poems and thirteen volumes of translations bear out this advice. First and Last Words is a living legacy that recounts the past without surrendering to an easy sentimentality, and is one of those timeless volumes that showcases a master of language and lends credence to an international audience.

Readers will enjoy three fulsome sections, including miscellaneous short stories and memoir stories, my favorites being a fish tale entitled "Some Lunkers," and "July 14-15/1998," a story about Friebert's father's death following rehab from a broken hip. In the story, Friebert discovers that his father had scrawled poems written by the poet Miroslav Holub in a prescription notebook. Friebert had sent his father translations of Miroslav's poems, and the poem that moved his father the most was "Autumn," regarding the end of life. "But next year/The larches will try/to make the land full of larches again/and larches will try/to make the land full of larks/And thrushes will try/to make all the trees sing,/and goldfinches will try/to make all grass golden/and burying beetles/with their creaky love will try/to make all the corpses/rise from the dead."

Friebert has created a tour de force volume, writing from a well of memories and nostalgic thought that will perturb some and delight others in a range of subjects and characters with sharp bits of philosophy couched between the lines: "The best science is often the simplest way through the maze of possibilities. The key, of course, as it often is in most of life's exigencies, is being able to formulate the decisive question at the outset of your investigations..."

Order from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403. Also on

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Sewanee Yarn Bombers

One of the unique groups here at Sewanee meets at Mooney's to knit yarn art. This month, the knitters added their art to an installation for the Mountain Goat Trail that was created by school and neighborhood groups — a colorful exhibit on a three-mile stretch of the Trail that featured decorated walking sticks, God's eyes, google-eyed frogs, pom-pom trees, birds, granny squares, a tree sweater, hanging shoes...totems of art for viewing by the Sewanee community that opened on April 1. The project was planned by Patrick Dean of the Mountain Goat Trail Alliance and Christi Teasley, Grundy Area Arts Council.

My friend Victoria Sullivan, fascinated with the whimsical art of the knitters and crocheters, snapped photos as she made her daily walk on the Trail and shared it with me as I seldom get out walking in the early morning. 
As a believer in the adage, "One Picture is Worth A Thousand Words," this blog will give readers a view of the craftsmanship that exists here on The Mountain, and actually, in most counties of Tennessee. Unfortunately, thieves took away more than half of the installation on April 9, and local police are still looking for the robbers.