Monday, July 24, 2017


In 2014, Border Press published Between Plants and People, a book of my poetry about plant life accompanied by eighteen color photographs by Dr. Victoria I. Sullivan, a noteworthy botanist. It contained metaphors describing the impact of plants on humans — food plants, medicinal plants, and decorative plants, and is an innovative account of “humanistic botany” in poetry.

The second volume of plant poems I wrote this summer, with accompanying photographs by Dr. Sullivan, is now in press. Spring’s Kiss, a book of poetry praising the qualities of wildflowers that inhabit and create beauty in the plant kingdoms of the world, is a nod to Susan Albert’s: “One person’s weed is another person’s wildflower,” and many of those weeds are included in this volume. Medicinal, as well as aesthetic qualities of the plants, are touted in some of the poems, and the beautiful blooms of these weeds reinforce Albert’s observation about plants.

The cover of this volume is a photograph of Karen Bourque’s glass rendition of the Pickerel Weed as inspired by Susan Elizabeth Entsminger’s illustration of the aquatic weed in Why Water Plants Don’t Drown by Victoria I. Sullivan, and the photograph was used in the cover design by Martin Romero, a landscape architect who renders the final designs for my book covers.

Spring’s Kiss can be pre-ordered from Border Press, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375 for $20 including shipping and will also be available from Amazon by Aug. 15.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Tims Ford Reservoir
When temps soar to 90 degrees on The Mountain here in Sewanee, Tennessee, I long to see a body of water — a lake, a river, a bayou (?) nearby. In Louisiana, my residence during winter months, I live near the Bayou Teche, and the sight of its brown waters often gives me mental respite from summer heat.

Yesterday, during the hottest part of the day we decided to satisfy this longing for the sight of water by going over to Tims Ford State Park, which is on the Tims Ford Reservoir, by riding around parts of the 10,000-acre Tims Ford Lake. The Dam there was constructed at the headwaters of the Elk River, one of the first major dams built by the TVA. The State Park, established in 1969 was created with 1000 acres of land on the largest scenic part of the lake when it became a recreational resource. When I viewed the lake, I felt my body relax and a surge of energy within despite the heat.

We took refuge in the Tims Ford Park Visitor Center where a ranger talked with us about the history of the Park. If we had been outdoor sportswomen, we could have stayed in one of the Park’s air conditioned cabins and enjoyed boating, fishing, even golf, as Jack Nicholas designed a signature 18-hole golf course within the Park for golf enthusiasts. However, we were more interested in some of the historical structures left from the flooding of the lake, particularly the Marble Plains Baptist Church, originally organized as Marble Plains Methodist Church in 1857.

We began our search in the Park for the Marble Plains Baptist Church at the direction of an associate of St. Mary’s Convent, Sewanee, as he knows about my interest in the history of old churches, especially rural ones. The Marble Plains church was once part of the Methodist Conference but in 1993 was deeded to the Marble Plains Church and Masonic Lodge for $1 and became the Marble Plains Baptist Church. It’s now supported by the Duck River Baptist Association, the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention. It was named for a marble bed on Elk River about five miles below Winchester, Tennessee that extends down the river ten miles on either side, and the Church actually owns some of the Elk riverbed marble.

Marble Plains Church and Masonic Lodge
Photographs show the pristine church that was built in 1913 after a fire destroyed the old structure constructed in 1857. I admire the zeal of the church goers in this 104-year old church because they raise money from 237 members to pay completely for additions and equipment when maintenance is required. Obviously, church members tithe! 

According to a history of this country church written by Verna Mae Weaver Ernst, church historian, baptisms no longer take place in Tims Ford Lake, and the 1913 bell still works (but requires a hefty, well-muscled person to ring it). Mrs. Ernst, a woman now in her late 80’s, is presently helping raise money for a large, well-kept cemetery next to the church. Brother Jack Hice has been the minister at the church for 27 years, and on Sundays, according to the church historian, “the crowds, the fellowship, the sermons, and lively music make the old hilltop come alive.”*

Mrs. Ernst relates a humorous story about a former minister (from the Methodist Conference) in her historical account of the Marble Plains Church. Rev. Samuel Jack Shasteen, “a large strong man” who preached at the Church fourteen years, arrived early for services one Sunday and found a man waiting for him. The man vowed he was going to whip the preacher [for reasons unknown] and the preacher agreed to the fight but said he wanted to stage this “whipping” in the woods. When the pair came to a log, the Rev. Jack asked that they take off their coats, lay them on a log, roll up their sleeves, then kneel by the log and pray. They joined hands, and the Rev. Jack launched into prayer: “Dear Lord forgive me for what I am about to do, this is being forced upon me and please, Lord, have mercy on any ignorant man who would challenge one of your servants who could crush him like an ant, if he wanted to. Lord, I remember at one of your churches, Will Jones challenged me; he only lived a few days. I really felt sorry for his good wife and those children. Then, at another of your churches, Jim Brown challenged me; he was never able to work again. So, Lord, please have mercy on this poor wreck.” The minister felt the man’s hand slip from his grip and heard the clatter of fast-moving feet. The man had run away leaving his coat on the log.

I looked around in the old church and spied a bulletin board typical of Baptist denominations that recorded the number of members who had attended last Sunday’s services, marveling at the number of congregants who gather there every Sunday and make “the hilltop come alive.”

Members of this country church feel that the structure, as well as the increase in attendance, constitute a “miracle” that occurred when the old church almost died with only ten members, ages ranging from 60’s - 80’s in attendance-- these sturdy believers kept the doors open while the Tims Ford State Park and Dam were being built.

*Historical information provided by writings of Verna Mae Weaver Ernst

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


In the third verse of “From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee, the poet writes: “…to hold the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into/the round jubilance of peach,” a verse that The Writer’s Almanac advises readers to enjoy “with a juicy, delectable, gold glowing farmer’s market peach in hand…”

Such delectables are often difficult to find in local markets, but for three years we have followed the tip of our good friend Kathy Hamman and traveled across the border into Alabama to get our supply of this fruit each summer. Crow Mountain Orchards in Fackler, Alabama is only an hour’s drive from our base here at Sewanee, Tennessee and is a closer destination than orchards in Georgia, South Carolina and Hill Country, Texas that produce some of the most delicious peaches in the nation (although I’ve heard that the orchards in the middle of California gold country are close rivals). 

Crow Mountain Orchards are owned by Bob and Carol Deutscher who cultivated the orchards of peaches, nectarines, apples, pears, berries, and cherries on 150 acres at a 1700 ft. elevation during the 70’s. They advertise that although most orchards in the southeastern U.S. had shortages of peaches this year, Crow Mountain peaches have produced a gracious plenty. 

We traveled to the distribution offices of the peach orchard following a description that appeared on their web site, making “16 turns before reaching AL Rt. 79 from Winchester,” that took us from the Winchester valley to Bear Hollow Mt. Wildlife Area. Along the way, we passed the Wall of Jericho, four Holiness churches, dense forests, and roadsides with abundant Queen’s Lace that had escaped the mowers. The turn-off onto Rt. 39 from Rt. 33 does boast a Crow Mountain sign, which only appears at that point, and we were prepared for the route into the “boonies” where the orchards are located.

Dark clouds hung over us as we entered a market filled with customers from states surrounding the Alabama site. Although the owners’ daughter was busy ringing up sales, I began to question her.

“What’s the name of the variety of peaches I’m buying?” Signs advertised numbers only.

“I really don’t know,” she confessed. My 88-year old father still works seven days a week in the orchards, and he’s planted so many varieties, we’ve lost track of the names.”

I picked up a carton of what I know to be “juicy, delectable, gold glowing farmer’s market peaches,” passing over the pears that appeared to be fruit that would make good preserves. The memory of my grandmother standing over a stove making pear preserves during Louisiana summers without air conditioning is engraved in my memory! When she died, we discovered pantry shelves filled with pear and fig preserves without dates marked on the rusting lids. All that hot work for uneaten fruit! Actually, I think that “putting up preserves,” as 20th-century cooks called the process, meant that you were a thrifty homemaker and a good cook, a reputation that women of that era coveted.

As we left the Crow Mountain market, dark clouds opened up, and we went home through a heavy rainfall that cleared when we reached the valley. Because of the rainfall we were unable to get photos of the peach orchards, which are picked daily, according to Deutscher’s daughter, but did manage a shot of this beautiful fruit before we began to devour it. No doubt about it —Crow Mountain peaches rank right up there with the over 130 million Georgia peaches produced last year. However, in my opinion, the ones that surpass all others are produced somewhere in South Carolina and marketed near the border of the Outer Banks of North Carolina where an entourage of the Sullivan family and I spent a week in a vacation home, making peach cobbler several nights in a row.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


A few evenings ago, Brenda Lowry and Joshua (Bubba) Murrell from New Iberia, Louisiana, stopped by en route to the 2017 Summer NAMM in Nashville, Tennessee, an event featuring all aspects of music. The two talented musicians and songwriters brought us a bag of fresh vegetables, rather than the guitars they usually transport on their travels.

“Those vegetables are from Bubba’s garden,” Brenda explained. “Gardening has been his project this summer.”

Bubba, a Grammy award winner, has a gracious plenty of interests — music, electronics, skills as a computer technician and game creator, writing, guitar making…The fact that he is now a successful gardener is not surprising. I noticed him stopping at our back door to inspect the overgrown herb garden we had planted near the entry to the kitchen. Before coming into the house, he showcased his knowledge of taxonomy.

“What kinds of mint did you plant?” he asked.

I looked around for my resident botanist, Dr. Sullivan. “I know we planted chocolate mint,” she answered, and Bubba then named another variety. He identified every herb we had planted, except for the weeds we had allowed to grow. I was impressed.

Bubba is probably up to date on the news about Americans suffering from Nature Deficiency Syndrome and the evidence that we spend 80-99 percent of our lives indoors, which has resulted in a lifestyle that affects our psychological and physical health. According to one of the many articles published about therapy for treating this syndrome, gardening is among the cures — an activity that helps humans recharge and elevate their bad moods. In fact, Craig Chaiquistone, a psychologist at the California Institute of Integral Studies, reports that we have all the antidepressants we need “in the ground.” Therapies for nature deficiency disorders range from green therapy to earth-centered therapy and can result in decreased anxiety and depression, as well as improved self-esteem.

As I live in a small wooded area on campus here at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, I surmised that I could probably benefit from the Japanese method of “forest bathing” that is part of their national health program. So after Brenda and Bubba left, the following afternoon I went out on the porch to be with nature. When I stepped outside and sat down to be with the wildness of my overgrown garden, I felt at home with ideas I had read about this therapeutic discovery regarding the nature deficiency syndrome.

For thirty minutes I enjoyed the scents of rosemary, dill, mint, and other herbs and watched skipper butterflies and bees dipping into the blooms of Dianthus, breathing in the fresh air that is reputed to cure our nature deficiencies. While I didn’t scoop dirt from the garden and hold it in my hands for twenty minutes (part of a process called “earthing”), I did “clean my mental windshield” as touted by David Strayer, another cognitive psychologist. And the sounds of insects thrumming their mantras helped me switch off after a morning of research and writing.

My garden still needs weeding, but I felt in step with Henry David Thoreau’s sage words: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” I suggest that you turn off your smart phones and need for instant gratification and step outside to get in touch with the pulse of nature. An article I read about nature deficiency suggests that observing nature can lead to an increased tolerance for slower paces or the development of patience. For more skeptical readers, scientists now report that they have been able to see biomarkers of the changes in people affected by immersion in nature. For more verification, read the works of Transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Photography by Victoria I. Sullivan

Monday, July 10, 2017


Monks, nuns, and sisters in Orders that practice the Benedictine way of life are noted for hospitality when newcomers knock on their monastery or convent doors. The Anglican sisters in the Community of St. Mary, a Benedictine Order, carry on this tradition here at Sewanee, Tennessee. As an associate of CSM, I’ve met a diverse group of pilgrims who come here on individual and group retreats, as well as regulars who attend services at the convent and share breakfast with the sisters after weekday and Sunday Eucharists.

Last week Deb Gerace, an overnight guest from Kennesaw, Georgia, sat next to me at breakfast in the refectory, and I learned that she was only here for an 'overnight' —“just to step back for a little while,” she said. I asked her if she was a priest on retreat.

“No, a chaplain and therapy dog handler.” She laughed, assuming that I’d think this a strange vocation.

“At a church?”

“Everywhere. My husband Mike and I, and our two former rescue dogs who have become therapy dogs — Sammy and Babycakes — minister to homebound at our own church in Kennesaw, Georgia, to people in nursing homes, rehab centers, and schools…wherever we’re needed.”

Gerace has told the story of training two dogs (who have their own disabilities) for this ministry in Paw Prints on my Soul, describing the dogs as having good dispositions, energy, loyalty, and a willingness to please. Two initial “gigs” for which the dogs trained were at Christ Episcopal Church Gerace attends, the church’s pre-school and in a visit with a cancer patient. On another occasion, they dressed in costumes while Gerace, also a singer/guitarist, gave a music performance and Sammy entertained with a learned wolf howl at a special Halloween show.

Lap sitting, bed sitting, performing to music, the dogs became the inspiration and therapy for the sick and dying, “often triggering a stream of consciousness from somewhere deep inside the jumbled memories of bed-ridden people,” Gerace writes. She and her husband Mike later joined a Chaplain Crises Training group so that they could visit post-disaster areas and share Sammy and Babycakes with traumatized survivors.

St. Mary’s Convent already has its special healing dog, Penny, an adopted part pit bull, part Labrador retriever who has never had any training in healing or crises intervention, but she’s the Convent’s hospitality hostess and has her own “pew” in the chapel — a basket lined with blankets right behind Prioress Madeleine Mary’s chair. This gentle, calm canine attends all the Chapel services and knows when to settle in for the prayers and when to get up at the dismissal. Sister Elizabeth says that Penny has tended several sisters when they were ill, not by invitation but by intuiting that she’s needed, sleeping in their rooms until they recover. I’m allergic to animal dander, particularly cat dander, but I can now be near Penny without suffering allergic reactions. I’ve never heard Penny bark! Sister Madeleine Mary relates that she’s known Penny to growl at strangers they encounter on walks near the Convent because she knows they aren’t sisters or associates, but she isn’t the kind of dog to greet people with aggressive behavior; in contrast, she runs up to greet Convent visitors, gently brushes up against them, receives a few pats on her head, then goes her way. All of us associated with St. Mary’s Convent know that Penny joins the healer dogs, Sammy and Babycakes, in being a creature that leaves paw prints on others’ souls.

While doing research recently, I read a book entitled Mystical Dogs by Jean Houston that described the mystical qualities of dogs and the comfort they provide during dark nights a human may experience. She tells the story of a prison pet partnership program in which inmates train dogs to serve the physically disabled, the elderly, and the blind. “…Our present day canine friends inspire and support us through that stage of the mystic path known in some traditions as ‘the dark night of the soul…over and over again throughout my lifetime, with its share of personal dark nights, my dogs have known not only what my soul has needed, but also that I would survive, even when I felt that I would have a hard time doing so…they have known how to supply the faith, the warmth, the rapt attention, and the bodily presence that human friends and helpers cannot always provide…”

Houston believes that animals aren’t afraid of the darker aspects of life and are happy with us even when we feel broken, explaining that they like nothing better than searching for lost things, whether it’s a buried bone or a missing part of a human soul.

Saturday, July 8, 2017


This morning I moved a stack of books, and a little black notebook filled with the memorial postcards my mother collected on my family’s “moving west” adventure, circa 1946, fell out on the floor of my study. Every time I see the postcards of a roadside park near Burnet, Texas I wonder why my parents didn’t settle in Hill Country near Buchanan Dam. By the 40’s, Buchanan Dam had become known as the largest multi-arch dam in the world, and the area had begun to bustle.

At this time, we were on the famous Diddy Wah Diddy adventure to California — and, no, my father hadn’t quit his job to set out to pan gold — in fact, none of the family ever knew what his goal was, beyond following an inclination to “drop out.” We spent a month roughing it at a park I’ve never been able to relocate, even after two searches in the Buchanan Dam area during the 90’s. I surmise that we camped out near the Dam, probably on Lake Buchanan or Inks Lake — both major retirement and recreation places today.

Seven decades ago, this Hill Country paradise offered primitive lodging and places to eat, but my mother, a seasoned Golden Eaglet Girl Scout in her youth, and my father, always good for an outdoor adventure, thought it was a fishing, boating, and camping haven — and they were right. But why didn’t they settle there? At the time my father had sold everything we owned and replaced our worldly goods with camping equipment. We were virtually homeless!

The memories that well up in me are of a hot Army tent large enough to hold six Army cots and an old black trunk Mother used at Mississippi State College for Women with minimal clothing in it; of a charcoal grill on which my mother cooked everything from oatmeal to grilled chicken; the dubious “reading lamp” of a Coleman lantern; and the daily job of hauling water from somewhere in a park that also held a couple of public toilets. We bathed in one of the lakes and on a side trip to Austin, skinny dipped in the Brazos River along with TeeNap, our cocker spaniel that accompanied us everywhere. I was dubbed the “luxury-loving girl” because I didn’t have the proper respect for camping, but I only feared the experience would become permanent, and I loved school, a facility that didn’t seem to be open to us, in my father’s opinion. “Gypsies go to school in life,” he said.

Despite this experience, I feel inexplicable nostalgia every time I visit hill country. It was a place of cedar, oak, and mesquite, and in the nearby towns of Burnet, Llano, and Marble Falls, residences were built of beautiful native rock, a material that inspired my mother to use some kind of rock to embed in our memories… forever. When we returned to Franklinton, Louisiana and she became pregnant with #5, she hauled rock from a creek near the stucco house, in which we finally settled, during her sixth month of pregnancy and supervised the building of an outdoor table and benches made completely of rock similar to ones she had seen in Texas roadside parks.

I will never know why my parents didn’t settle in the Lake Buchanan area as it has mushroomed into an ideal place to live. I suppose that the area offered no employment for my father who was a certified civil engineer, and the Dam had already been built. He returned to Louisiana to sell Ford automobiles with my Grandfather Paul a couple of years before going back to the drafting board.

The great Diddy Wah Diddy trip that was the Great Buchanan Dam Camp-Out was recounted at every family gathering until my parents and four siblings passed into the campground on the other side.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Rain falls on the 4th of July, threatening the flag raising, Arts and Crafts Fair, the cake contest, Cornhole Contest, the parade, and the Air Show, not to mention the fireworks blowout at Sewanee, Tennessee where I live part of the year. However, for Valley farmers near Cowan and Winchester, Tennessee, I give thanks for the recent heavy showers.

I’m glad I went down to Lapp’s in the Valley to garner my week’s supply of corn yesterday. This small market of plants and produce has been selling yields of the sweetest, most tender corn I’ve tasted in many a year, and the fields, amply watered by rain this year, are still a robust shade of green. In fact, the entire valley is a verdant carpet right now, and not all the ironweed and milkweed along roadsides have been sprayed or mowed down. However, recently we did have to search for Chicory plants to photograph for a book of poetry I’m writing.

Tennessee harvested 830,000 acres of corn last year, and if the Valley is any indicator of production, growth should exceed that harvest in 2017. I missed National Corn Cob Day June 11, but I appreciate the hoorah given this succulent vegetable. Coupled with barbecue ribs, corn on the cob is the quintessential food for 4th picnics, and I have six ears on the kitchen counter waiting for consumption.

The corn sold at Lapp’s is homegrown in fields behind his flower and produce market, and he should know how to cultivate this plant because he formerly lived in Amish country near Lawrenceburg, Tennessee where farming is part of the Amish lifestyle. Some of Lapp’s produce includes giant tomatoes that exceed the size of the usual store-bought mushy-fleshed tomatoes, and when cooked make delicious homemade tomato sauce for pasta.

Lately, I’ve enjoyed riding down The Mountain from Sewanee to The Valley — Cowan, Winchester, and Tullahoma — a drive that reminds me of coming out of the desert onto the curving road leading to Big Sur, California in the spring/summer. Sometimes I envision living in the Valley where I can look up at The Mountain, rather than living on the Cumberland Plateau and searching for places where I can peer over the bluff at the Valley below; however, I have no desire to live on the bluffs near Sewanee because I’ve heard that winds and storms in these areas are fierce.

Rumors are that property in the Valley is $100,000 cheaper than on The Mountain, but, alas, temps in the summer are often as much as eight degrees hotter. Yet, when I round the curve near Winchester and see the green fields (unfortunately, some of which are brown from herbicide enthusiasts) stretching out in the foothills of the Cumberlands, and the red barns gleaming on the landscape, I have a yen to drop down into a more pastoral setting … where I can buy fresh, sweet corn every day when it’s in season.

Happy 4th! Hope your picnic lunch includes a sweet ear of corn!

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

Monday, June 26, 2017


A few nights ago as I watched television, I glanced through the open blinds on the French doors and saw pinpoints of lights glowing near the back porch. Aliens landing? A reflection from the television screen? No, the tiny flashes were fireflies! Memories of summer nights in my childhood flooded my mind. I hadn’t seen “lightning bugs” in years, and I had the impulse to fetch a jar from the kitchen and begin collecting them as I had done when I was a child.

I’m not wrong in supposing that fireflies, like many insects, birds, and plants, have been disappearing from forests, fields, and marshes throughout the world, particularly in humid, warm locales near water. Research shows that fireflies once populated these areas in such numbers that people profited from sponsoring firefly tours. However, pollution, pesticides, logging, and development of waterways have contributed to the demise of these magical beetles that once lit up summer nights. Even light that streams from our homes and streets have taken over the night and disturb the fireflies’ flashing patterns.

I’ll miss the light show of these winged beetles that still takes place in the Great Smokies National Park of Appalachia in late June. We visited there only a few weeks ago but the show wasn’t scheduled during our stay. According to The Week magazine, this particular species of lightning bugs that frequent a hardwood forest in the Smokies are synchronous and blink in unison during their mating ritual… but the ritual ends with their death. Sightseers visit the area in hordes to see the luminescent show. In southeast Asia, tropical fireflies also precisely synchronize their flashing. A few unlighted lightning bugs use only pheromones to signal their mates, but most species use bioluminescence to do their courting.

Those who have poignant memories of lightning bugs flashing in the summer nights of their youth can contribute to their “lastingness” by avoiding the use of pesticides in the yard, by leaving old logs near their homes intact, by not mowing often as the bugs love long grass, and instead of leaving the blinds on doors open at night, close them so the fireflies aren’t confused by human lighting devices and fail to attract mates.

Robert Frost was evidently fascinated with fireflies and wrote a wry verse about “Fireflies in the Garden:”*

“Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And were they ever really stars at heart?)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.”

P.S. If you see fireflies in the night and have an impulse to get a jar and start collecting, don’t forget to let them out the following day.

  • quote from The Poetry Foundation

Monday, June 19, 2017


There's nothing like a Monday morning after a night of insomnia. If I had a “regular” job, I’d be disturbed knowing I would experience a non-productive day. However, even in my retirement jobs, lack of restorative sleep during “night shifts,” gives me pause. I don’t feel comforted knowing that half of us humans have insomnia at some time during a given year. And the fact that 40% of women in the U.S. experience nocturnal awakenings doesn’t lessen my dismay over lack of sleep.

There’s a lot of information about overcoming insomnia circulating in the world of information today, including threats of health problems if the condition persists.  Counting sheep isn’t one of the cures for sleeplessness, but treatment includes use of drugs, ingesting plant potions such as lavender and chamomile, abstaining from alcohol and caffeine but no permanent “fix” has proven useful for insomniacs.

People are often reluctant to talk about their insomnia because a stock answer from good sleepers is: “You must have a bad conscience.” In the soliloquy by Hamlet in Shakespeare’s drama, Hamlet, Prince Hamlet, who laments his mental and moral anguish in the phrase, “To sleep, perchance to dream,” expresses his longing for dreamless sleep but questions whether he’ll find peace even after death. And sometimes when insomniacs long for a night of peaceful sleep, they wonder if they’ll ever achieve that state where dreams and nightmares won’t interrupt tranquil snoozing.

In 2014 I published a volume of poems entitled Night Offices in which I explored the uses and cures for insomnia, famous characters who have suffered from this malady such as W.C. Fields, Groucho Marx, and Thomas Edison, and wrote that “four vigils of the night you wake/with desolation for a pillow,/phantom crucifixions hover:/monsters that pull your soul from sleep/peer over the edge of a ceiling fan…” and commented that no matter where I closed my eyes, “shadows still played on the ceiling, /memories walked in on crutches/long past their curfew,/ a lightship lowered its anchor in the room…”

Well, that bit of serious deliberation about lack of sleep should awaken insomniacs! Actually, at a book sale showcasing all of my poetry books, I ran out of Night Offices because so many insomniac readers appeared. Anyway, the sun is out, predicted rain hasn’t fallen, and here’s hoping you got a good night’s sleep and didn't get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning!

PS: I know the character above appeared in this blog earlier, but she did change the color of her outfit overnight and her suffering posture doesn't indicate that she consumed chocolate this time.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


A few months ago, fires ravaged Gatlinburg, TN and parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but the little town of Townsend in what natives call the “peaceful side of the park” was spared the destruction. Although we set out for a brief excursion to Maryville, TN, we found more activity in this small town of 500, and the high point was a visit to the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center just at the edge of the Park.

Although many of the exhibits in the Heritage Center focused on the history and culture of the Cherokees in this area of the southern Appalachian foothills, I spent a lot of time viewing the displays that depicted the life of mountain folk in the 19th century, particularly those that showed the hardscrabble life of women during that time.

An exhibit featuring the image of a female mountaineer held a card depicting the woman’s typical day, beginning with bringing in wood, building a fire, milking a cow, feeding chickens, then preparing breakfast before the family got up. The display caused me to question an image of myself as an industrious morning person. The word “mountaineer” denoted a strong man or woman individualist descended from Scots/Irish stock whose roots ran deep in the southern Appalachian soil. According to Mountain Home by Wilma Dykeman and Jim Stokely, the word mountaineer morphed into a catchword for a picturesque, inadequate character who divided his time between the homemade dulcimer and the home run distillery…then changed into the word “hillbilly,” that described a cartoon character quick to become involved in a feud, slow to work, and indifferent to progress. Readers can imagine the tension that resulted between the mountaineer and encroaching curious visitors to the region.

A small display devoted to folk medicine toward the end of the Heritage Center’s exhibits showed a picture of a character who typified the medical practices of the late 1800s and early 1900s: the “granny woman.” Since I’ve published several young adult books about a Cajun folk healer, the information about these women interested me. Granny women were active practitioners in poor rural areas of southern Appalachia and gained important status as midwives. They also practiced herbal medicine probably passed on by the Cherokees who had roamed the area.

A granny woman gained most of her authority as a healer because of her expertise in midwifery. Some of her methods for inducing labor seemed to be a bit extreme to me; e.g., she advocated using drinking water with a spoonful of gunpowder (thar she blows!) and making the expectant mother drink tansy tea. Just before labor commenced, she’d put a knife or ax under the birthing bed to cut the pain of the expectant woman’s childbirth.

Although the granny woman was a superstitious character, she possessed abundant common sense and a gentle touch, and experience had given her valuable survival techniques.  She was also industrious and did not charge for her healing services, often using the term “resting” to indicate those times when she sat down to patch clothes or to shake a jar of raw milk until butter formed. Like the Cajun healers (traiteurs) about whom I’ve written, granny women inherited their healing abilities from their parents and were keen observers and shrewd judges of character.

We did spend time photographing wildflowers along the highway toward Cade’s Cove in the Park but turned back when we saw traffic backed up for miles ahead. We were excited to read in The Appalachian Voice about the launching of a reclamation initiative to restore native plants in the Appalachian Headwaters area that have been destroyed by mining. Workers will be employed to collect seeds and grow native plants, as well as beekeepers who will return pollinators to the area. Although this initiative is concentrated in Virginia and West Virginia, any attempt to restore native plants in the Appalachians is an environmental step forward.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

Purple-flowered Raspberry
Wild Hydrangea

Saturday, June 3, 2017


For years, every Sunday afternoon at 2, o’clock, Gary Entsminger, editor and publisher of Pinyon Publishing, spent several hours on the telephone mentoring his Aunt Jean Zipp in creative writing; later publishing her memoir, Windows: Letters to Ayla, and her poetry in several issues of the Pinyon Review. When Entsminger learned that his Aunt Jean was dying, he continued to encourage her poetry writing, even through the last few weeks of her life, and this month he dedicated Pinyon Review #11 to her, featuring Zipp’s last three poems. This issue of the Review, a journal that celebrates the Arts and Sciences, is a salute to Entsminger’s 94-year old aunt who died in Tucson, Arizona. Jean Zipp had led a multifaceted life as the wife of a serviceman, creating a tactile art gallery for the blind, owning a toy store, working in interior design, and, finally, writing a fascinating memoir. Pinyon Review #11 is a tour de force — by far, the finest issue published by Entsminger and Susan Elliott, artist and co-editor of the Review.

I do not usually tout my own poems that have appeared in the Pinyon Review from time to time,  but I’m especially proud that four of my poems were featured in this handsome issue celebrating Jean Zipp’s life — three lead poems and the end poem written about Zipp’s demise. For the memorial issue, Susan Elliott created a sketch entitled I would like you to keep calling every Sunday at 2, an ink and colored pencil sketch on paper in Zipp’s honor, and Entsminger dedicated a poem entitled "Listening to Liszt and Chopin" to his Aunt Jean, a companion piece for Elliott's sketch.

Pinyon Review #11 showcases a variety of poets and artists, beginning with the cover painting, “By Invitation,” an elegant work of art that gives the reader the impression that he’s looking through a window at a brilliant sunrise or sunset. It was executed by Les Taylor of northern California, a music coach who has found her passion in visual art.

Nine Great Blue Heron images of digital art by Steve Friebert (brother of poet and translator Stuart Friebert ) are scattered throughout this celebratory issue. The first photo of a heron facing a page of poetry looks as if he’s announcing a signal event; in later frames, the great bird (so prevalent in my native Louisiana), is shown fishing and making spectacular liftoffs, then soaring into the beyond.

Friebert’s photographs seem to be a metaphor for Zipp’s take-off into the other world, later emphasized in her poem, “Fine Tuning”:  “If I were to live each day/As if it be my last/I’d have to forfeit custom/Rescind the on and on/Cantata/A petition to Infinity/I sing./ Contingency strikes mocking chords/There is dichotomy/Although they prove me hapless now/I’ll tune them/Presently.”

Robert Lake continues the metaphor in his poem, “Spirit Wings,” then notes that when he finished typing his poem about “A bird/Flying ever so high/Disappears/Within a silver lined cloud,” he observed two doves landing in the persimmon tree outside and thought that Aunt Jean’s spirit was poised to leave the earth. A naturalist, Lake works with glass plate photographic images of Yosemite National Park from the early 20th century.

Many of the poems and photographs focus on the natural world and the ecosystem; e.g. “Solar House Living” by Carla Schwartz “with each new day,/with each new visitor, wonder,/questions,” the voices and images taking readers into sacred places and beyond.

Michael Miller, a poet in western Massachusetts, gives us a brief metaphor of love derived from the natural world in “River:” “Our love is the river/That flows on,/Through darkness, through light,/Over rocks and between them,/Unable to stop.”  Miller has published three volumes of poetry with Pinyon and focuses on brevity of style and understatement in his lyrical phrasings.

Readers are also treated to one of Stuart Friebert’s translations of Elisabeth Schmeidel’s “Mein Clown” (“My Clown”). The translation speaks of the clown as an “escort of my soul…[which] grows quiet too, whenever/love wanders over the graves/pale as a shadow…” Although the poem wasn't intended as a requiem poem for Jean Zipp, it, like many of the poems in Pinyon Review #11, emerges as an expression of the departure of the soul into another realm.

A short story, “Casino Man,” by Neil Harrison, a plethora of notable poets, digital paintings by Jay Friedenberg…this memorial issue for Jean Zipp celebrates her passing with art and song, “singing surrender to a larger life.”

This is a banner issue of Pinyon Review, a tribute to an aging poet who continued to contribute until her passing last month. Pinyon Review #11 is available from Pinyon Publishing 23847 V 66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Border Press has published four new books during the last five months and today announces its latest title, Above the Prairie, by Diane Marquart Moore. The collection of poems is a study of the broad Cajun Prairie in Louisiana and its early inhabitants, from Attakapas and Opelousas tribes to Cajun immigrants. The book includes a section entitled “An Everyday Journal,” ironic, lyrical observations about ordinary life that may resonate with readers who have had similar experiences. The cover of this volume is a photograph of a stunning piece of glasswork rendered by artist Karen Bourque, Church Point, Louisiana, and designed by Martin Romero of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Above the Prairie inspired the author when she viewed a small sign advertising “Prairie des Femme” in NuNu’s Art Collective, Arnaudville, Louisiana.

In October, Moore, who lives part of the year in New Iberia, Louisiana and part of the year in Sewanee, Tennessee, will be reading for a Louisiana Literature class at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette taught by Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, English professor at ULL. Moore will be featured in a session about how landscape influences writers; and her book, A Slow Moving Stream, is required reading for this class.

Additional titles in this year’s publishing list from Border Press:

Into the Silence, released last month, was dubbed a “medical novel” by its author, Dr. John Gibson of Jackson, Mississippi and involves issues of life and death, possession and loss, and the protagonist’s entry into the realm known by the ancients as “The Silence.” A metaphysical novel, rather than a medical one, Into the Silence introduces another of Mississippi’s gifted writers who will be signing books June 16 at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi.

In February, Border Press released Blood of the Believers, a police procedural written by Anne Simon, retired District Judge in New Iberia, Louisiana. This third title in the “Blood Series” is based on two homicide investigations in the Acadiana area of Louisiana and is a suspense-filled yarn featuring a cast of characters straight out of the bayou country. The novel has been recognized as equal to Simon’s success in the field of law and showcases her talents as a competent writer of crime novels. Simon's new book is also for sale at Books Along the Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana.

This year, poet Diane Moore also published Sifting Red Dirt, poems about “personal and cultural identity — family and place …that move the reader through layers of grace and wit… as the poet chronicles her maternal ancestors’ joys, triumphs, and failures...”  (Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, professor of English, at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette).

Two additional titles are planned for the publisher's list this year. Order these recent titles from the Amazon links below or from Border Press, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


I finally located my copies of Seek the Holy Dark by Clare Martin after shuffling household goods following my move to Sewanee, Tennessee where I spend six months of every year. I had read through the book once before leaving New Iberia, Louisiana and knew that the poems in this volume were deep explorations of themes of loss and darkness and would require more attention than a cursory reading.  

I was standing in the pulpit at St. Mary’s Convent on The Mountain at Sewanee Sunday delivering a homily and had just commented on an article by The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor that appeared inTime magazine several years ago: “The Rev. Taylor speaks of finding God in darkness and delivered lectures on this theme for the Dubose Lectures here on The Mountain,” I said. “She says that she prays these days to the Holy Spirit which she sees as both the universally divine and the hardest to understand and says her job is to trust its movement…” Although I was focused on the delivery of the homily, what suddenly came to mind was the title of Martin’s latest book Seek the Holy Dark. On Monday, Martin's book turned up. Synchronicity?/!

Seek the Holy Dark is reminiscent of another female poet, Anne Sexton, whose last book was entitled The Awful Rowing Toward God; one in which Sexton confronts the idea of God and is defeated in her quest to adhere to a belief in the Omnipotent. Like Sexton, Martin explores the darkness that accompanies depression, telling her story as an attempt to experience catharsis. She joins the roster of female poets who have sought to legitimize depression by allowing themselves to participate in life, including depressive episodes, to honor those dark nights of the soul and to write mercilessly about the “holy dark.” 

In “Mourning,” Martin writes that “it is simple to relinquish the will to do anything to be a stone within a stone within a stone…over and over, though no cycle rules her, she rebirths herself. Empties her lungs, rises.”  It seems that the poet is letting herself into the darkness and allowing her soul to become intact, “stone within a stone within a stone” so she can move on and experience rebirth… no easy answer to the darkness. 

I don’t think that Martin intended her poetry to be a means of legitimizing depression but to form a link among creativity, spirituality, and her emotional struggles in darkness, seeking transformation and restoration. Her experiences are not neat, self-help examples of welcoming darkness and emerging with superficial answers. In “Dream of Sudden Water,” she speaks of “a harrowing thought/deep on my petrified bones — wash me savior/ we drop through this world/into dark awakening/we, the strong hearted.”

In poem after poem, Martin explores her captivity in depression, and at the end of Seek the Holy Dark, she speaks to the human condition with a vision that duplicates the ideas of John Moriarty in Nostos: “If nature can handle the destruction and reconstruction of a caterpillar into a butterfly, why shouldn’t I surrender and trust that it can handle what is happening to me?” Martin's version: “Beloved dead and living/voices surround me/a word/a handwritten note/subatomic change/of being/even spittle spurs/butterfly/to typhoon/to newborn star.”

Seek the Holy Dark is an Intense confessional of a gifted woman who sometimes crosses into the surreal, drawing poems from the depths of herself and seeking transformation while embracing the holy dark. A courageous contribution to the canon of feminist poetry.

Clare L. Martin, a native of south Louisiana, is author of Eating the Heart First, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Dzan Books’ Best of the Web, Best New Poets, and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net.. She is founding publisher and editor of MockingHeart Review. Seek the Holy Dark is available on and through Yellow Flag Press, 2275 Bascom Ave. #702, Campbell CA 95008.


Saturday, May 20, 2017


This past week, I celebrated my 82nd birthday and received a gracious plenty of gifts, calls, well wishes, and cards, among which was a box of forbidden food — a box of chocolate caramel candy — forbidden because it’s on a long list of foods to which I am allergic. I ate four of the pieces and promptly became ill. When my youngest daughter Elizabeth called from California, I told her the truth about her gift.

“However,” I added, “the box said, ‘made with sea salt,’ and that sounded healthy enough to me.”

“You got it past the chocolate police?” she asked. She was referring to my friend Vickie who knows about my reactions to this “food of the gods” and tries to monitor my consumption of it. “But I know how you can talk yourself into something being healthy,” Elizabeth said. “I can just walk into Trader Joe’s and see all the fresh food and feel like I’m healthy.”

When I visited my chiropractor the day after I suffered the chocolate reaction, Amy shared with me that she would buy a sack of Heath bars to distribute at Halloween and by the time “trick or treaters” showed up, the sack would be empty. A highly disciplined and healthy person, she surprised me with her chocoholic confession.

Chocolate has some positive qualities for people who aren’t allergic to it, but naysayers downplay reports that cocoa can help reduce the risk of heart disease and provide calcium, magnesium and antioxidant phenols for those who consume this food. I remember that chocolate bars were widely distributed to soldiers during WWII, but back home in the U.S., it was a rationed item, and we were lucky to get a bag of Hershey “kisses” once a year. At that time, when I got sick from eating a few “kisses,” I was accused of overeating. I was fifty years old before I learned that humans could be allergic to this sweet.  

The ancient Aztecs believed that cacao seeds had aphrodisiac qualities and were a gift of the god Quetzalcoatl; they also believed that other gods had condemned this god for sharing chocolate with humans. The only chocolate for which I have no appetite is one served in Mexico called “mole.” During a three-week visit to Oaxaca City, Mexico one summer, I sampled mole (chocolate served in chili-based sauces) at the south end of Oaxaca’s Mercado 20 de November. Ugh! No danger of my agreeing with Jose de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who lived in Mexico in the 16th century and wrote that mole was “good for the stomach.” 

Of course, Ogden Nash wrote that “Candy is dandy/but liquor is quicker,” but that verse needs a bit of modifying because no alcoholic beverage can equal the warm rush that comes when you take a bite of something like an expensive milk chocolate truffle. I might add that the cacao beans actually were fermented and regarded as an alcoholic beverage in 1400 BC, so I guess Nash wasn’t that far off course after all…

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


This week I've been reading D. H. Lawrence's Mornings in Mexico for the umpteenth time, and I woke up thinking of the desert. I've written many desert poems but I keep thinking of making a trip to California this year (for another umpteenth time) to visit my youngest daughter who lives in Palmdale, California where desert blooms have surpassed themselves due to the much-needed rain recently. Poppies bloomed profusely, and I longed to visit the poppy center near Lancaster, California where I've seen only one show of the beautiful plant. Back in the 70's when I lived in the desert of southern Khuzestan, Iran, I saw a glorious show of poppies — yellow and red blooms that made up for the otherwise monotonous tan landscape.

This morning, I looked through a small black notebook that holds my mother's postcards from a trip West in 1946 and a book with a wood cover I rescued from "Discards" at the Iberia Parish Library in New Iberia, Louisiana entitled Plants of Sun and Sand.  Here I am on The Mountain, supposedly counting my blessings for being in a cool spot at an enviable elevation, and I'm pining for the desert! "Go figure," as the young say.

One of the cards my mother bought along the route to California — through Arizona and New Mexico — is particularly appealing to me. It's entitled "A Smoke Tree on the Desert" and is a painting executed by an anonymous person who lived near Tucson, Arizona. The card is made of linen and has space for a one-cent stamp (!), possesses some "antique" worth, and I once used it as inspiration for poems in Postcards From Diddy-Wah-Diddy. Today, I look at these cards to remind me that although I was dubbed "the luxury-loving girl" by my father when we made the long trip across Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California, living like gypsies, it remains one of my strongest memories of landscape and travel. When I need inspiration for writing, I retrieve the little black notebook containing the card travelogue, and my senses are assailed by the smell of mesquite, creosote, and sage...

On a trip to the Davis Mountains near Alpine, Texas, I became enchanted with the sight of various desert plants, especially the ocotillo with its long branching whips, a plant reputed to make the best honey in Arizona. According to Plants of Sun and Sand by Stanford Stevens, published by the Print Room, Governor's Corner, Tucson, Arizona (the book I rescued from "Discards"), the cowboys used to pluck the scarlet blossoms at tips of the ocotillo branches in the spring and taste them as they rode by the plant. At one time the stalks were used in the building of walls and ceilings and can still be found in older homes in the Southwest. The plant was also used to build fences.

My favorite southwestern plant is the cottonwood tree that grows along riverbeds. It's related to Aspen and Poplar trees and, like them, showers the ground beneath with cottony seeds in the spring.

"Passing smoke trees in a desert wash,
downy bushes near a railroad track
going there and everywhere
past balanced cocks, stone houses,
dry gulches, windmills churning to match
the rhythm of our wheels...

by day, the sky an implacable blue,
scudding clouds overlooking eucalyptus
and not a breath of rain,
only the fiery silence of drought..."

I wrote this excerpt from an impassioned poem about the runaway trip of my parents "to least inhabited regions hidden in the desert broom on the shadow side of a mountain..."

Saturday, May 13, 2017


This morning, the fog on The Mountain blanketed trees, homes, and roads with an impenetrable curtain that could have caused feelings of morning gloom at Sewanee, Tennessee. However, when I went into the dining room for breakfast, I looked up at the windows facing our backyard and saw the latest glasswork of Karen Bourque that I brought back with me last week. A piece of purple colored glass with a hawk winging its way in the background cut through the somber world outside, and I decided to unveil this piece before it appears on the cover of my latest book, Above the Prairie, forthcoming through Border Press in June. There's no other word for Karen's new work — it's stunning!

Karen and I've been working together on covers for my books of poetry during the last decade, and have the kind of synchronicity that births an almost instant process: Border Press publisher, Vickie Sullivan, and I meet for lunch with Karen and her husband, Darrell Bourque, former Louisiana poet laureate, and before we fill our plates, I perceive an idea for a book of poetry, along with the title — presto. I tell Karen about the idea, sometimes sending her a photograph or the first poem, and before I can produce a dozen poems, she has begun work on one of her beautiful pieces. In today's slang about synchronicity, she "gets it."

In another life, Karen was a lab technologist, a working mother, and wife, but when she retired, she began to dedicate her talents to glasswork, and her pieces have appeared in churches, spiritual centers, the Ernest Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, at the Louisiana Book Festival, and other cultural institutions and homes throughout Acadiana. She never advertises her work because the word is out about her brilliant talent. As soon as she completes a commission, and even before she completes a glass piece, someone else is at the door to her studio, seeking her artwork.

I know that my book isn't published yet, but this morning when I looked up at the soaring hawk above the Louisiana prairie in prisms of glass, my spirit lifted, and I was compelled to share this stunning glass piece with readers. I'm always as excited about my book covers as I am about the poetry within and hope you'll look for what's coming next...

P.S. At the risk of sounding like a Grandmother braggart: After Karen produces a photo of the glass piece, it is sent to Martin Romero, my grandson in Louisiana, who makes a handsome design around the glass piece for the cover.

Friday, May 12, 2017


Border Press has produced many "first novels," and its latest, Into the Silence by John Gibson, is among the press's growing list of excellent fiction writers who base their work in southern locales. Gibson, a physician who spent over thirty years on the faculty of an academic medical center in Mississippi, sometimes speaks of his novel as a "medical novel," but I think that Into the Silence could be called a "metaphysical novel" and reveals that Gibson, an Episcopalian, has spent a lifetime of study about esoteric religions, including his own Anglican church roots.

Gibson gives the reader a substantive view of a state that has produced some of the finest writers in the U.S. One of his characters, a farmer, provides readers with well-crafted passages about "connecting with something that's bigger than the soil, bigger than the ground you're working on...Some people say it's people who make history. But I think it's the land — it's the land and the rivers that make all the difference...take the Mississippi Delta, for instance: just by being there the Delta enticed man to dig in its soil, to cut and shape the land to suit man's just choosing to live in the Delta instead of the hills, man was shaping himself, his culture, his politics, his ability to earn and spend money..."

Gibson knows his region, as well as the politics of hospital administration and swiftly propels the reader into a story set in the emergency room of a bustling hospital where readers meet Dr. Todd Sutherland and his patient, Anna Chadwick, who suffers from Ebstein's Anomaly, a ventricular dysfunction. It's Christmas Eve and Sutherland is standing in for another physician; the woman is beautiful and charming, and the scene seems primed for an unlikely romance. However, beneath the surface of Sutherland's obvious attraction to Chadwick, lie questions related to life and death that take the reader into issues far deeper than the introduction of a romance. Sutherland becomes a frequent visitor at the bedside of Chadwick, and ultimately she undergoes a surgery. When she enters into a coma, Sutherland begins sitting with her, and during the vigil at her bedside, he undergoes a dark night of the soul, pondering where her soul must be as it relates to the difference between life and death. As the story progresses, he is accused of shutting off her respirator and endures an ethics trial.

Sutherland, in a state of grief, wrecks his car in New Orleans and ends up in Ochsner's Hospital where he experiences a state of consciousness near death and begins to probe the condition of his soul: "I moved through the walls and out in the open air and even more quickly rushed through a kind of tunnel and out an opening at the other end. While I came out of the tunnel, I could see a bright light. When I moved toward the light, a figure came into view..." The man is identified as Parmenides, an ancient healer who heals by prophecy and informs Sutherland that since he is a healer, he needs to learn to go "into the silence." Sutherland begins a study of Parmenides with a New Orleans professor who suggests that the physician put himself in a trance called Orphic Shamanism to contact the Divine for the purpose of healing.

Gibson's knowledge of Greek literature, Christianity, shamanism, meditation practices, philosophy, and metaphysics is extensive, and he interweaves these subjects into a suspenseful storyline without becoming didactic. Characters emerge from his medical background showing his adeptness at creating authentic personalities, and his extensive knowledge of healing — ancient and contemporary forms — strongly suggest the quality of care this compassionate, well-intentioned professional practiced during his career as a physician and teacher.

Gibson also rendered the pen and ink cover image of Into the Silence that is one of many works of art he has created and exhibited in Jackson, Mississippi as part of his lifework. Several years ago, he provided the pen and ink pointillism drawings in Illuminate, a book of poetry by his daughter Margaret Simon that communicates the beauty and mystery of the manifestation of God in the world. He also received an award in the 2012 Annual Cedars Juried Art Exhibition.

A Renaissance man actively working in retirement, Gibson is another author who joins Mississippi's impressive gallery of writers and artists.

Order from Border Press, P. O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375 or

Monday, May 8, 2017


At entrance crediting Drs. Charles Allen and
Malcolm Vidrine with establishment

Although I'm a native Louisianian, I had never visited Eunice, Louisiana until last week when I descended from The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee, where I reside in the spring and summer months, to Cajun country for a week. My mission was to further explore prairie Louisiana and gather inspiration for a book of poetry I'm writing entitled Above the Prairie. This forthcoming book contains a section about the Cajun Prairie, an area once called "the Garden of Louisiana."

In Eunice, we toured the Cajun Music Hall of Fame Museum and the Eunice Depot Museum, the latter of which held the full cowboy uniform of "Boo" Ledoux on the lower level, a tonsillectomy chair (!) and an ancient department store cash register from Wright's Department Store in the lobby area, but our mission concerned environment rather than artifacts, and we were directed to a prairie restoration project on a ten-acre plot within the city of Eunice.

Member of the mint family
In 1988, ecologists collected seeds from prairie remnants along railroad rights of way and stored them dry until they were planted within the plot of the restoration project. Sod was also rescued from remnants in danger of being destroyed by hand digging and were propagated in containers from both cuttings and seeds. The seeds were distributed by hand by individual collectors, and this resulted in the production of a heterogeneous matrix of prairie plants. Harrowing worked the seeds into the soil, and plants in containers and sods were transplanted. The process has been described in depth by Malcolm F. Vidrine, author of The Cajun Prairie: A Natural History and a prime mover in the project who also established a Prairie Garden Project in the yard of his home — another model for restoration efforts in southwest Louisiana.

Baptisia, wild indigo

We visited the small Eunice site where a diversity of perennial prairie plants have been established, astonished that a swatch of prairie vegetation had been restored within the limits of a city. Vidrine declares that by 2010, the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project had become successful; it was carried out by members of the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society who removed the non-native tallow trees that threatened the site, transplanted prairie plants, paved a trail, and now maintain a parking lot and a covered metal shelter at the site. The restoration site has become a classroom for ecologists and has also become a model for other projects pertaining to the restoration of prairies with native plants in natural settings.

Tripsacum, a grass ancestor of corn
As I included several poems about the flowers and grasses of the Cajun Prairie in Above the Prairie, the discovery of this project involving the tallgrass prairie in southwest Louisiana was a bit of serendipity for me. Less than 100 acres of a 2.5 million acre wilderness remain in narrow strips that are identified as critically imperiled by the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program, and I was excited to see this work by restoration ecologists.

As I've often said, one photograph is worth a thousand words, and I'm including a few photographs that my botanist friend Vickie Sullivan snapped while we were walking the short concrete trail amidst this place of natural beauty.