Thursday, December 31, 2015


I saw an armadillo running blindly at the edge of the coulee a few hours ago. He appeared to be scurrying away from something, and I wondered if he had a family waiting for a breakfast of ants, mosquitoes or, God forbid, termites he’d found in some neighborhood structure. He was probably disturbed by the commotion the neighborhood has experienced this week – a new roof went up a few doors down, my neighbor on one side had tree-height hedges trimmed, and three mountains of mulch from the grinding of pine stumps in our yard were whittled down to lawn level. I had already renamed our property “Mount Mulch” and after digging into the mix, our lawn maintenance man gave the mounds a lesser name when he discovered numerous ant piles beneath the ground-up pine stumps. This morning, those crows I had lamented about not seeing were drawn to the noise and came out to talk while I was sweeping the patio. They may have been the villains that chased the armadillo into the coulee.

The armadillo is not exactly my idea of a pet, but I’m fascinated by them. When I lived in Graham, Texas, I remember visiting an oilfield site with my petroleum engineer husband and my daughter, then three, and glimpsing one for the first time. My oldest daughter, Stephanie, had seen all the Beatrix Potter books, but her favorite was the story of Appley Dapply, the mouse with “little sharp eyes.” That day, an armadillo rushed past our car, and she exclaimed “Look at the big mouse!” Stephanie wasn’t far off track with her labeling because armadillos can be as destructive as a pack of rats. They burrow under houses and disrupt utilities, and in bayou country and Texas they’ve been known to spread leprosy if a human touches them or eats their flesh (and some people do consume armadillo meat!). At one time, a center here in New Iberia housed armadillos for the study of leprosy carried out by Dr. Polly Burchfield, an eminent scientist who now resides in Florida and continues to pursue research on this armor-plated animal.

My father didn’t die of leprosy, but he once shot an armadillo and removed the shell to make a basket for my mother, then had her cook the meat. As far as I know, the dish of armadillo had no effect on his digestion. Although my parents lived in the small town of Franklinton, Louisiana, and not in a rural area, my father had this image of himself as a great hunter and shot or trapped animals on the two lots bordering our home – rabbits, squirrels, armadillo, and hawks – and cleaned them for my mother to cook in a black iron pot over an open fire in the living room fireplace. The hawk, by the way, became a hawk pie similar to chicken pot pie. This fare wasn’t served during the time I was growing up, but after I married, I was once treated to my mother’s version of rabbit stew. As far as I know, my father had no difficulty with his digestion and didn’t contract leprosy, but I have no desire to do a taste test on armadillo meat or any of the animals he killed or trapped while playing the great hunter in his backyard (which bordered the Roman Catholic Church and whose members never complained about his pursuit of this outdoor sport, even while Mass was in progress). My father also had beehives and harvested large quantities of honey, at times even allowing himself to be stung on the arm by his colony of bees because he claimed bee stings cured bursitis. In retrospect, I think he must have been caught up in a wilderness time warp.

I’ve written poems about armadillos that appeared in the backyard, but I think I’d have felt more frightened than poetic if I had seen the endangered pink fairy armadillo pass by my window. Talk about an ugly critter! This morning when I glimpsed what may have been a nine-band one running at the edge of the coulee, I didn’t feel very poetic – I only thought about further property destruction, having spent the greater part of our winter visit in New Iberia repairing house and yard.

In a few months I’ll be returning to The Mountain at Sewanee to prepare for the appearance of more wildlife – moles that have created a vast tunnel system in the backyard and have made it a wavering path to traverse, a family of skunks that loves to tear up insulation for nests and bed up under our cottage, and I’ve heard rumors about a black bear wandering around the campus this year. However, during the eight years we’ve lived on The Mountain, no armadillos.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Six years ago, Ben Blanchard, a young man I’ve known since he was ten, illustrated a book-length poem I’d written entitled The Beast Beelzebufo, the story of a devil frog that was the largest frog ever to live on earth. At the time of the book’s publication, Ben was visiting his mother here in New Iberia but living in Sedona, Arizona and practicing as a raw foodist. He had graduated from the Raw Food Preparation and Organic Gardening School sponsored by the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center and was working on art projects in his spare time, one of which was The Beast.

A few years later, Ben, now working in Austin, Texas, wrote and illustrated his own book-length poem, Willameena Moonbeam, a story about children wishing for the sun to stay out all day so they could play outdoors, and when their wish comes true are dismayed that the world has become unbalanced.

In Austin, Ben became affiliated with the School of Acting and began working in film, a field he had aspired to enter after graduating from high school. Yesterday evening, in a private showing, we were treated to Ben’s first short film, Bunny and Non-Bunnyness, a dark comedy that showcases his considerable artistic talents. Ben wrote and directed the film with Luftfield Studios in Austin, probing an existential ("egg-istential") crisis the Easter bunny undergoes when he realizes that no one believes in him anymore. He says “If no one believes in me anymore, what’s the point of making art?”

One of the many themes Ben presents concerns the Easter bunny’s egg painting, which symbolizes the controversy about whether pop art is really art. In the background of the setting, viewers see stacks of eggs waiting for the artistic bunny to recover from his angst and paint. There are deep levels in the short movie that reveal Ben’s knowledge of Buddhism and reincarnation and a concept pointed out by one of the Bunny’s fellow artists: before an artist can be reborn, he must die to the idea that he has to be recognized by others in order to succeed.  

Ben photo-shopped what he thought the film would look like before creating the video and spent a year working with producer Alexis Gabriel Ramirez of El Paso, Texas on production, then helped raise money to finance its completion.

A self-taught artist, Ben thinks that the best way for a person to learn an art form is to practice it and to surround himself with people who are dedicated to their art. He recognizes fellow artists like Meredith Johns, the woman who created the make up for the film and who has a formidable record in her field, having worked on movies such as True Grit. Ben's ambition is to enter Bunny and Non-Bunnyness in film festival competitions and to adapt the shorter film to a full-length narrative film.

“The way to succeed in Art is to marry and get the best experience from something that combines many forms of disciplines at one time,” Ben says. “Film combines music, costume, creative writing, architecture, and artistic set-making in one experience.” He might also say that a bit of philosophy, knowledge of world religions, and psychological perception enhance the mix.

A fifteen-minute performance brought forth “bravos” from this talented young man’s private audience, and we were home by 9:30, driving under a three-quarter moon (one of Ben’s favorite art subjects) from Broussard, Louisiana where Ben is enjoying a brief visit with his mother. We wish him the best in his “art making” and hope Bunny and Non-Bunnyness garners a 1st place in film competitions this coming year.


Saturday, December 26, 2015


Wet patio, swept clean
The day after Christmas I go outdoors at 7:30 to sweep up wet leaves on the patio. I’m sweeping with an old broom, which should symbolize something, but, for me, the age of this bundle of straw only indicates a certain reluctance on my part to spend money on a new outdoor broom, even if the New Year is approaching. My oldest daughter Stephanie says I have obsessive-compulsive disorder because I go out every morning and make sure the patio is cleared of leaves that have fallen from an overarching oak during the previous day and night.

Stephanie doesn’t understand that sweeping is a cleansing exercise designed to clear my mind and heart of anxieties, concerns, fears – all that past and anticipated trash that we humans carry around every day or dream about in the night. Since Louisiana has a good track record for creating conditions that birth wet leaves, I’m passing on to readers the suggestion that sweeping wet leaves is a more effective exercise than sweeping dry leaves and requires a stronger, swooping sweep to get rid of past or anticipated problems.

Squirrels watch me from the safety of a high branch and sometimes pelt me with acorns, which is their attempt at creating problems to replace the ones I’ve swept away, and I shake the broom at them or whack the trunk of the oak so that they scurry across the yard and into the coulee. Since I’m of the age and disposition not to care what the neighbors think about an old woman in her pajamas shaking a broom at squirrels, I carry on until I have a tall pile of wet debris that gives me pleasure to lay at the feet of the oak. This morning I disturbed a frog taking a puddle bath near the edge of the patio, and he leapt away indignant that I’d think he should be sent to join those leaves of negative thought. You can tell from the photo of the oak and leaves on the ground how many worries I carried around in my head and heart last year.

Last year, I published several books of poetry, one of which included a poem about the art of sweeping. In A Lonely Grandmother, I wrote about dust that is stirred up, but I think the poem is appropriate for this blog, even if the subject is about soggy debris that is swept away:

“The Art of Sweeping:”

There was something about the comfort
of provincial stillness I felt
while sweeping Grandmother’s front gallery,
but I was nine, a quiescent stage
behavioral scientists say,
the calm of the known settling
into the slow hours of summer,
a sawmill up the street
humming a monotonous aria.

It was before the many steps ahead
and the arrival of by-and-by.

When I went outdoors to do the task,
bright as a morning butterfly
sweeping away the grains of dust
beneath the scaling swing
and from around the overflowing fern,
I learned a way I would remember
to rid the remains of future suffering,
the broom moving across
a splintered floor,
each whisk clouding the humid air,
and under the yellow needles –
the quiet of old dust.

Happy Sweeping, Happy New Year!

*A line from The Rubáyát of Omar Khayyám. The complete quatrain: “Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,/Whether the cup with sweet or bitter run,/The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,/The leaves of life keep falling one by one.”