Friday, August 28, 2009


Yesterday afternoon, I discussed with a friend the importance of smell in evoking the urge to write and lamented that I missed the scent of the musky, fungi-laden air in New Iberia, Louisiana, my home for part of the year. It is a place I have lived for over 45 years. Smell often helps me connect with past pleasant memories that are grist for poems, novels, articles, even blogs (shades of Marcel Proust!). As soon as I talked about the scent of the Bayou Teche, memories of New Iberia began to fill my thoughts, and I suppose this blog was inspired by both a person and the memory of the town’s distinctly humid, loamy air.

When I see that word “connection” appear on my computer, telling me that I am about to enter the territory of e-mail, I usually feel a lot of anticipation, hoping that I’ll hear from some of my friends in New Iberia when I open the mailbox. Last night before I went to bed, I opened my e-mail in a rather desultory way, not really anticipating mail at that hour. Voila! There was a long message from a woman named Nancy Armentor Lees, a New Iberia native now living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, telling me she had found and purchased my book, FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE, during a visit to New Iberia. She told me that she realized I had read Jose Manuel Molina’s book on the founding of New Iberia when I was researching the history of New Iberia and had woven some of his information about the Spanish settlement of this city into the story about the Romeros, the principal characters in FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE.

Nancy writes: “For several years my cousin Norman Carnahan and I corresponded with Jose Manuel Molina about the Spanish origins of Nueva Iberia and the link to Alhaurin de la Torre, Spain. He consequently wrote a book about the history of Alhaurin de la Torre, including a chapter in English about the founding of New Iberia. I think of Jose Manuel as the Glenn Conrad (a New Iberia historian who was the director of the Center for Louisiana Studies, ULL, for many years) of Alhaurin de la Torre. Norman helped Jose Manuel with the translation, and I was mainly the 'third pair of eyes' reading the draft.”

Nancy says that she dreamed of making a cultural connection between New Iberia and Alhaurin de la Torre for years and in April of this year, Jose Manuel and three city officials from Alhaurin de la Torre visited New Iberia for the initial part of a twinning ceremony between the two towns. She added that in the Spring of 2010, a group of New Iberians will visit Alhaurin de la Torre.

Nancy bought Jose Manuel a copy of FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE this past April at Books Along the Teche, New Iberia’s major book supplier. Manuel Lopez, a member of the Dept. of Culture in Alhaurin de la Torre, bought a copy also, along with Maurine Bergerie’s THEY TASTED BAYOU WATER, a history of New Iberia that encompasses all nationalities who settled in this colorful town on the banks of the Bayou Teche. Nancy attached copies of photographs showing the delegation from Alhaurin de la Torre discussing the trip to New Iberia with their city officials, and FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE is one of two books lying on their conference table!

And the piece de resistance at the conclusion of the e-mail: “I thought you might be happy to learn that the library in Alhaurin de la Torre, Spain has a copy of FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE!”

Note: The photograph shows the delegation from Alhaurin de la Torre discussing their trip to New Iberia with their city officials.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Twenty-five years ago I wrote a book about Louisiana women, and it was published under the imprint of Acadian Press in Lafayette, Louisiana. Now out of print, it was entitled THEIR ADVENTUROUS WILL: Profiles of Memorable Louisiana Women and was an anecdotal, journalistic collection of bios about 16 Louisiana women, living and deceased. Except for interviews with six of the sixteen women, material came from secondary sources and through library collections of letters, articles, etc. My intent was to create an account of Louisiana women who “took great leaps of faith and in all cases made something so that had been envisioned as impossible, moving their ideas from conception to being with extraordinary fervor.” (From the introduction of THEIR ADVENTUROUS WILL). I’m not a historian or a scholar and didn’t lay claim to having created scholarly, definitive biographies of the women included. At the time I just felt compelled to create personal bios – some of them regarded as “quirky” by a few readers-- that showed how Louisiana women had contributed to the culture of my home state.

A few days ago, I was thrilled to receive a copy of a brand-new book about Louisiana women edited by Janet Allured and Judith F. Gentry and written by eminent scholars at universities throughout the United States. The essays are definitive profiles of southern women who were influenced by their education …“the culture of the surrounding community, intellectual and organizational networks, the natural environment, and other women”… (introduction to LOUISIANA WOMEN: THEIR LIVES AND TIMES written by Janet Allured). Four of the essays in LOUISIANA WOMEN focus on women I mentioned in THEIR ADVENTUROUS WILL, and they receive more comprehensive treatment by eminent scholars, one of those scholars being a personal friend, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, who wrote the essay on Grace King, “New Orleans Literary Historian.”

In the profile of Grace King, Mary Ann describes King as a woman who emerges “as a representative voice of white New Orleans and Louisiana. She was a Protestant American championing an aristocratic Creole world in decline by uncritically heroicizing its patriarchal past in her histories…she captured its complex racial and political dynamic in her fiction…” Mary Ann’s essay is meticulously researched, and she explores all of the literature appropriate to a definitive narrative about this southern author. She reflects on King’s appreciation for a world “that protofeminists like Julia Ward Howe opened up to her but lamented the sacrifice of feminine modesty and propriety often accompanying such vision...” As Mary Ann explains, King “…was caught up in a transitional period that would spawn the New Woman and usher in an era of unprecedented and rapid change in the new century…” She points to King as a woman who asked questions about the roles of black and white women’s roles “that echoed larger questions of national unity and identity plaguing a country still reeling from a divisive civil war but on the cusp of a larger global destiny…”

Oddly, I inherited from my godparents a share in Grace King’s Le Petit Salon, a women’s group that met to hear lectures given by various literary and artistic figures of the early 20th century. The certified share, loosely enclosed in a blue envelope, sat on a shelf in my bedroom for years until I heard that Mary Ann was writing the definitive article about Grace King, and I passed it on to her, a worthy recipient.

An interesting section at the conclusion of LOUISIANA WOMEN focuses on “Louisiana Women and Hurricane Katrina: Some Reflections on Women’s Responses to the Catastrophe” by Pamela Tyler. I love the comment she made in the preface to her essay: “Mopping up is, and always has been, women’s work.” Tyler explains the background of Hurricane Katrina and cites an example of massive clean-up efforts, post Katrina, carried out by New Orleans women and highlighted in the passages about New Orleanian Becky Zaheri. Zaheri organized fifteen women to pick up litter in the city streets and initiated a project that burgeoned into two clean-ups a week with 200 people participating. The women then enlisted the help of the entire U.S., clearing block after block of New Orleans streets. Zaheri is only one of several women activists profiled as leaders in nonprofit initiatives in the concluding section of LOUISIANA WOMEN.

Acknowledgements are called for and recognition accorded to this outstanding contribution to an area of Mary Ann’s own expertise – women’s studies -- and I deeply appreciate and applaud the essays written about the commitment and endurance of Louisiana women.

My friend Mary Ann is a professor of English and women’s studies at ULL in Lafayette, Louisiana and does research about 19th and 20th century American women writers and southern literature. She is author of numerous articles on women writers: Kaye Gibbons, Rebecca Wells, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Walker, and Grace King and has written a book about Jean Stafford entitled JEAN STAFFORD, A STUDY OF THE SHORT FICTION. Mary Ann was also awarded the ULL Foundation Distinguished Professor Award in 200l and was recently named a Friend of the Humanities/BORSF Endowed Professor of the Humanities.

Brava Mary Ann, brava the distinguished editors and authors who celebrated the accomplishments of Louisiana women in this new volume! LOUISIANA WOMEN: THEIR LIVES AND TIMES is published by the University of Georgia Press.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


A few days ago, I looked out the kitchen window and spied a new visitor to the bird bath under the hemlock tree. No, it wasn’t another deer, and far be it from the birds to claim their private watering station! It was a squirrel taking a bath. Yes, a squirrel, bushy tail raised to me. A cardinal on the fence watched it splash about in the basin, and this sight prompted me to write the following bit of prose that I call:


Two close friends brought me the dirt-colored stone bird bath as a housewarming gift. It sits under the shelter of a tall hemlock surrounded by daylilies and peonies. Birds stop by, but they’re second visitors, deferring to deer and their fawns. Cardinals perch on the wooden fence and wait, sometimes until midmorning, before they dive down and sip at the murky water.

When my mother died, I know she reincarnated into her favorite bird –the cardinal. She’s one of the drinkers at the well in my yard. How else could she visit except as a transformed male cardinal, wearing the scarlet plumage she loved while she was in human form? There was nothing to cheer about in her life, but hues of red excited her, stimulated her garrulousness. When she opened her mouth, the flow was red – the blood of wounds and sickness, murder, war, and death. It was frightening. Death was just around the block. Cars crashed in the street. Tramps, as she called them, appeared with large croker sacks slung over their shoulders – bags that held kidnapped children who would later be carved up. Knives on the kitchen counter gleamed with the insinuation of stabbing. Knocks at the door announced assassins. Soldiers dressed in WWII uniforms fell on bloody bayonets. Barking dogs, teeth bared, stood ready to rip human flesh. Red flags announced family battles, the blood of kin beginning to spill, her Scots blood stirring, her blood pressure always rising. Flashing red lights of police cars cruised the streets outside our home. Sin lurked in the red sky of the early morning, the blood of saints and martyrs spilling into the day.

Red omen that my mother was, I now envision her as a cardinal, the one sitting on our fence watching me and the visitors to the bath, waiting for IT to happen. Meanwhile, she drinks from my fountain, envying me this life. Yesterday, I went out on the porch and told her to leave. The color red blazes in the pattern of every rug in my house – that’s enough of her hue.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Friday, we arrived in Ellijay, Georgia where former President Jimmy Carter is said to own a summer retreat home. I can’t verify this information about his second home because he’s rarely seen in the area. “His favorite eating place is the Pink Pig near Cherry Log where you can find premiere barbecue,” the owner of an antique co-op told us. “I’ve sat at a table for hours, hoping to get a glimpse of him, but he never shows up.” The shopkeeper also told us that hunters wander on President Carter’s property near Turnip Town Rd. but are chased away by government men dressed in business suits who emerge out of the wooded area near President Carter’s home when anyone steps onto the property.

On our way to Blue Ridge, we passed the turn-in to the road leading to the Pink Pig, and I looked long and hard down the road, hoping, but knowing, I wouldn’t see him. What would I have said to him if I had seen him? Would I have just walked up to him and said, “President Jimmy, I’m glad you got out of the Southern Baptist Convention because you don’t believe in the subordination of women to men.” Probably not, but it’s a sentiment I’d like to express to him.

It was 82 degrees in Ellijay, a temp that wasn’t nearly as steamy as southern Georgia can be during the summer. Was it Carson McCullers who wrote that summers in southern Georgia, a place of slash pine flatwoods, are long, hot, and lonely? From my stays there, I know a summer afternoon can last a century. However, Ellijay is actually the same elevation as Sewanee, and temps at Sewanee are equal to northern Georgia, so we’re on what one friend calls “a busman’s holiday.”

Downtown Ellijay, like most southern hamlets, has a small square; this one was lined with antique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. As I’m a “gallery gazer,” I explore art exhibits and pottery shops on most of my odysseys. I wandered into a gallery featuring “apple country artists” and met a transplanted Floridian who was minding the store for the owner of the gallery. Floridians, whose ancestors once migrated to Florida from Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, have made a reverse migration, seeking the cool mountains in their ancestors’ territories and a return to rural life. This summer, while travelling in these three states, I’ve encountered many who have escaped Tampa, Orlando, and Miami; most of them were artists, designers, shopkeepers, and chefs.

At the gallery featuring apple country artists, former Floridian Diane Knowles gave me her card showing a copy of a mural she had painted in the garden room of a home in Ocala, Florida. The mural depicts an Italian scene, probably in Tuscany, and I asked her to e-mail me a copy of the beautiful rendering. This morning, she forwarded the mural shown above, along with her thanks for my interest. Diane and her husband Joe love nature and tout that it inspires much of the work they render in murals, 3-D art, and custom woodworking. They also create faux finishes in office buildings, recreation centers, clubhouses, and homes. You can Google them at and view their wonderful work.

As we traveled along the Appalachian Foothills Parkway, we decided to turn off toward Amicalola (a Cherokee name meaning tumbling waters) Falls State Park. We never pass up state parks because they usually include a center that provides the geography and history of regions, as well as maps for good hiking trails. We passed apple orchards and sheds with apple and peach displays on every hill and forests of kudzu so tall that they’d shame the same growths that plague Alabama and Mississippi. Once we reached the Amicalola Falls Lodge, which houses 67 visitors and has a huge dining facility, we decided to book a room that had a breathtaking view of the Appalachians. The temps were in the 60’s, so we hiked the West Ridge Falls access trail to the base of the falls, a 729 ft. cascade. The surface of the trail wasn’t quite like any trail I’ve trekked – it was made of recycled tires obtained from a grant given by the Scrap Tire Management Program. The tires had been collected from purchase of replacement tires in Georgia and had been shredded to construct a smooth path not common to most mountain trails.

The southernmost part of the Appalachian Trail begins at nearby Springer Mountain and covers more than 2100 miles to Mt. Katadin in Maine, a site near the place I lived in Maine during the early 50’s. The Trail meanders across 14 states, and 75 miles of it is in Georgia. Only seventeen percent of the hikers who attempt the 2100 mile trek end up in Maine. If you hiked the entire trail, you might be gone from home six months!

While I was on the trail to the Falls, my friend Vickie noticed that I had become highly exhilarated as I do when I’m in a high energy area; e.g., when I was on vacation in Sedona, Arizona, where formations of quartz lie beneath those stunning red rock mountains. Scientists and geologists claim these quartz deposits are responsible for the high energy levels of visitors to Sedona. When I returned to the room at the Amicalola Lodge, I found a book about the area lying on the bedside table. A section on the park’s history described how the stream (the falls) had attempted to erode backward toward its source and encountered a rock unit resistant to erosion. The rock unit is metagray-wacke, a rock containing a high percentage of quartz! The energy I was feeling resembled that same “quartz energy” I had experienced while vacationing in Sedona.

Many people reveal that they experience a spiritual awakening in high energy areas similar to those I mentioned above. At Amicalola, the clouds were white suds touching the mountain tops; clouds and mountains were indivisible. In such a place, people claim they connect with a Higher Power because the line between humans and Deity is so thin.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I am looking up at the long red braids and colorful stole and thinking how wonderful that The Rev. Dr. Susanna is back from Exeter. Of course, she has a blue and yellow bruise on one side of her face where a cow pushed her out of a milking stall when she wanted to exit the barn, but such are the problems of a priest writing a dissertation on small churches in the English countryside and really getting into the spirit of country life! Susanna doesn’t fit into any mold of Anglican priests, thanks be to God. When she isn’t celebrating, she ambles up the aisle at St. Mary’s to partake of Communion in her bare feet, and I always refrain from clapping for her humility and down-homeness. A professor at the School of Theology, Susanna is a former nun with a string of degrees and is working on another doctorate, but she’s a farm girl at heart – even though she didn’t have the perspicacity to get out of a cow’s way when the animal was ready to leave the barn. I don’t know whether she was preaching to, or milking, the bovine creature that pushed her out of a barn stall, but she says that a puddle of manure cushioned her fall forward and saved her from more serious injury to her face.

Susanna’s sermons are always challenging. She asks questions that give you great “take home” thoughts, and I look forward to Tuesday mornings when she steps up to the pulpit, opens the Bible, and begins her musings aloud. For her re-entry sermon, she chose to talk about William Dubose (a former theologian at Sewanee) and his passion for the Incarnation story, informing us that the people in small churches and scattered throughout the English countryside have forgotten that story. It’s the central belief of the Christian tradition, but Susanna says we’ve strayed so far from the basics in Anglican theology, we don’t remember our Christocentric roots, the belief that God is Christ. Her homily reminded me of passages in Louis Evely’s THAT MAN IS YOU in which Evely tells us that the incarnation is really the recommencing of the human life that Christ loved and “one in which he healed and cured, instructed, elevated and purified souls effectively…he wants additional human natures: people who’ll let Him start all over again. And He needs us to do that.”

On a lighter note, Susanna said that the people in the English countryside have also forgotten some of the basics about sacred altar work. In one small church where she celebrated the Eucharist, the corporal, which is supposed to be made of fine linen hemmed with the tiniest of stitches, was a paper napkin, and the purificator was a Kleenex. Humble as many small Anglican churches may be, altar linens were once held sacrosanct, particularly since they are symbols of the grave cloths wrapped around Jesus when he was placed in the tomb following the Crucifixion. Jesus wrapped in a paper napkin and Kleenex? As embracing as Susanna can be, she was taken aback by the linen substitutes. Saint Clare, companion of St. Francis of Assisi, must be turning over in her grave. She and her Poor Clare sisters, who lived in poverty, painstakingly spun flax to make fine altar linens and distributed them to churches in Italy during the 13th century.

Those who used the offensive paper napkins and Kleenex could have been more innovative; e.g., Wallis Warfield who improvised a makeshift altar and spread over it a coffee-colored tablecloth she once purchased in Budapest in preparation for her marriage to the Duke of Windsor. The famous cloth was later auctioned off at Sotheby’s in New York with a list price of $8,000.

I know, I know, from the sublime to the ridiculous! However, Susanna inspires that kind of thinking. After all, she’s one whose soul goes barefoot, and she doesn’t let any of us get too puffed up about our spiritual life either.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Tuesday morning is always reserved for Morning Prayer/Eucharist at St. Mary’s Convent where we worship twice a week. This week, these Anglican Sisters are observing a silent retreat and at the conclusion of this retreat, they’ll do some “strategic planning” (for lack of a better phrase) for the coming year. During this time, we’re allowed to worship with them, but we can’t speak, and we aren’t allowed to share breakfast with them as we do after morning worship on most days. We biscuit eaters are in serious distress without the fluffy bread that the kitchen crew prepares for those of us who attend early morning services. Ah, austerity!

Tuesday was the Feast Day of St. Clare, the Italian beauty who left her home at 18 and became inured to St. Francis of Assisi’s way of life after she escaped from her father’s home. Clare established a Benedictine Convent at St. Damiano in Italy and became its abbess, modeling the name for which her order became known: “The Poor Clares.” In the convent at St. Damiano, Clare served the sick and poor, went barefoot, ate no meat, and was said to observe silence most of the time. During the last 27 years of her life, she was very ill but was able to consult with Popes, bishops, and cardinals who came to her for counsel and appreciated her dedication to the gospel of poverty.

A noteworthy movie that features both St. Francis of Assisi and Clare is “The Little Flower,” written, or rather, adapted from a 14th century story, by Federico Fellini. “The Little Flower” is a neo-realistic movie in which Fellini and Director Roberto Rossilini avoid the spectacularism of Hollywood versions of religious subjects. The film shows the meeting of St. Francis with Clare at St. Mary of the Angels and is a magical treatment of the encounter between these two inspiring religious figures. The first time I watched it, I was taken aback by the simplicity of the characters and scenes – it’s in stark black and white – and wondered about some of the whimsical wanderings of St. Francis and his small band, but during a second viewing, I realized that Fellini was deliberately avoiding any sensational treatment of the lives of the Religious featured. The Vatican now recognizes the movie as one of the outstanding movies about spiritual figures, and critics who first panned “The Little Flower” have been overshadowed by those who appreciate the beauty and simplicity of this classic.

A snippet I wrote on this feast day:


The bagpipe of illness keens a mean tune
in the recitations of Prayers for the People

who are absent at the altar
but remembered by earnest petitions

we fling to an unencumbered sky,
a clean sheet seen through the chapel window.

Mountains watch, through the glass,
women singing psalms of praise

on this feast day of St. Clare;
St. Clare, who cast aside the gown of her wealth,

allowing St. Francis to cut off her hair
and donning a woolen tunic,

became a free woman
who would one day build for St. Francis

a wattle hut in an olive grove
where the bagpipe of illness keened

its last tune, the shrill sound dying
as St. Francis composed and lifted up…

his Canticle to the Sun.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Lately, we’ve had an influx of friends from New Iberia, Louisiana where I reside part of the year when I’m not here on The Mountain at Sewanee. This morning we visited with Linda Dautreuil who had come up for a Sewanee wedding and who once worked with me as coordinator of a youth group at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia when I briefly served as Ministry Coordinator. Linda, who has been a Fund Development Director with several schools in Acadiana, is now a Donors Director with Community Foundation of Lafayette, Louisiana. She survived a major hurricane in New Iberia a few years ago, and The Big Wind flooded her Acadian style house near Avery Island. Linda spent several years doing a lot of the repair work herself, renovating and transforming her Acadian cottage into a plantation style home that she calls “A Little Shadows on the Teche.” The Shadows, a National Trust property built in 1834 by David Weeks, a sugarcane planter, is a manor house boasting Tuscan columns that support handsome galleries on the front and is New Iberia’s biggest showpiece. It’s situated on Bayou Teche and attracts tourists from throughout the U.S. and abroad, particularly in the lush Spring season in Louisiana.

Linda says that prior to the hurricane, her home was a tin roof cottage, reflecting Cajun style architecture, but now the home is much grander and has become the “Big House.” As she talked, I began to have strong visions of her Acadian cottage and the hurricane that damaged it. After she left, I went to the bookshelves in my bedroom to search for MARTIN FINDS HIS TOTEM, one of my Young Adult books published last year, which features an account of a hurricane that raged against an Acadian cabin mentioned in the story. Here’s an excerpt of that passage:

“…I was still determined to stay in my bedroom under the eaves of the old cabin built by my great-great grandfather in 1893. Two Cajun carpenters helped my great-great grandfather cut the six-by-six foot cypress beams for the roof and fasten them with heavy oak pegs. I felt secure knowing the old cabin was sturdy.

A church bell chimed in the distance, the lonely peal telling everyone t hat the Big Wind was hovering over the cabin, over all of the homes nestled along the Bayou Teche. I looked out the small window of my bedroom facing the bayou. The gnarled branches of live oaks lining the yard dipped to the ground, almost bent double. Rain slashed at the windows, and the gray outdoors looked like bad photography. It was a hazy film of trees and brush blurring at the edges. The gusts will surely blow us away, I thought. We’re going to go up in a whirlwind, and if that doesn’t get us, a surge of water will surely flood the cabin.

In the yard, a pine tree snapped and hit ground beside the cabin. I shivered as a gust of wind exploded against the window. The hard gust battered the cabin’s walls and seemed to lift them, sucking at windows as if it was going to pull out the house’s insides.

…Make the wind stop, I prayed. Make it stop so that one of us can rescue Grandmother Eulalie. I knew my mom and dad were in the kitchen of the cabin, probably drinking steaming mugs of black coffee. The smell of the French dark roast brew had drifted upstairs during the early morning hours. My mom and dad were probably sitting at the cypress table, my mom’s brown hair falling softly around her face and her green eyes looking quizzically at my dad. Dad, with his large hooked nose and dark eyes, was probably telling her that the winds would soon die down…”

From this safe place on The Mountain, I can recall several hurricanes that I’ve weathered, but I hasten to add that I’m not experiencing any nostalgia for Big Winds. Even now, I’m beginning to feel anxious as hurricane season approaches, knowing that homes in Teche country, Acadian house and plantation home alike, are always vulnerable to winds blowing in from the nearby Gulf of Mexico from August until December each year.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Anglican nuns at St. Mary’s Convent here at Sewanee practice the Benedictine Rule in their daily life at the convent on the bluff. I have a lot of respect for The Rule, and in the past my family in Franklinton often went on picnics to a place where this Rule is practiced --the Benedictine Abbey near Ramsey, Louisiana. My mother befriended many of the priests there and provided breakfast for those who came out to Franklinton to celebrate Mass for the small group of Catholics in this predominantly Baptist community. Several of the priests were highly educated, and one of them, an Irishman, had been trained in Rome. All of them observed The Rule, which is: “Cross, Book and Plow,” translated: “Pray, Study, and Work (physical).”

Several evenings ago, I attended a class about The Way of St. Benedict, led by a close friend, Cookie Sampson, who just received her Masters in Theology from Sewanee. The class combined reflections about The Rule and Lectio Divina, a method of reading a Scriptural passage and meditating on it, then sharing thoughts about the meditation within the small group.

Although most people associate The Rule with monasticism, lay people often adopt this discipline characterized by reasonableness, balance, and moderation, with an emphasis on humility and service. Writings about the life of St. Benedict, who founded The Rule, are scant, and the only authoritative, ancient account was written by Pope Gregory who claimed that his source was from a handful of Benedict’s disciples.

Benedict was the son of a Roman noble of Nursia and could have been a Roman noble himself but abandoned his studies and left home at about the age of 20. He took an old nurse with him, and they settled about forty miles from Rome, several miles from Subiaco. At Subiaco, he met a monk, Romanus of Subiaco who was the abbot at a monastery on a mountain with a cliff overlooking a cave. Benedict chose to live as a hermit in the cave for three years. During those years he matured spiritually and after Romanus died, he was invited to be the abbot of the monastery. However, the monks became jealous of him and tried to poison his drink. It is said that Benedict prayed a blessing over the cup, and the cup shattered. Then the monks attempted to poison him with poisoned bread, so he blessed the bread and a raven swept in and confiscated the loaf. Benedict then built 12 monasteries and placed a superior in each of them. He died at Monte Cassino, Italy in 547 and became patron protector of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

During the session about St. Benedict, I selected a few rules from Chapter 4 to ponder: 22. “Do not act under the impulse of anger,” and 23. “Do not reserve it for later.” I particularly focused on “Do not reserve it for later,” which to me meant not to explode in anger to a person who has wronged you, but don’t harbor it indefinitely either. I suppose this is why spiritual directors came into being; that is, to listen to outbursts of anger and then to guide the energy into some constructive action.

To become an Associate of St. Mary’s Convent, I had to develop a Rule of Life and while my rule is not as stringent as St. Benedict’s, I find that the major one implicitly includes the thesis of St. Benedict’s Rule: concentrate on a Christocentric life on earth. As the Rev. Timothy Fry says, “if there is strictness (within the Rule), the purpose is to amend faults and safeguard love.”

Sunday, August 2, 2009


This afternoon, as we walked on the campus of the University of the South, we noticed an overwhelming silence in the streets. Students who attended summer school have departed, and as we trekked toward the post office (a trek that is billed as the highlight of the day for Sewaneeans, according to a legend on the back of a Sewanee t-shirt), I entertained myself by evaluating the vegetation along the way. Suddenly, my botanist friend Vickie spied a miniature pink flower with tiny white specks on the bloom that appeared to be its nectar guides. We later discovered that the flower is a diminutive member of the “pinks” family, a migrant plant from the Old World called Dianthus, which means “divine flower.” My father liked the name of this plant and claimed that my own name, Diane, was derived from the divine flower. He always planted a row of “pinks” along the front walk to please me, even after I had married and moved away, but none so small as this tiny flower.

After reading about cultivation of the small flower, I feel that I’m not likely to find a potted one with blooms as small as the one we plucked. It was in the front yard of an old house with a slatternly gallery and was almost hidden among greenery. Many times during our walks to the post office, we see a small bed of flowers beside the sidewalk of this old home, but we hardly ever see the gardener. Flower gardens along our route are scant, and this year I’ve been hearing complaints that the latest invaders of plots planted by persistent gardeners are skunks, one of which expels her pungent odor right outside my study window at Fairbanks Drive. I spied her one night as we walked back from a lecture at the Writers Conference, and my friend Vickie warned me to get inside before the skunk became disturbed –this animal is very neurotic about people who cross her path. And I’ve become neurotic about protecting my small flower bed! I can tolerate deer, moles, snails, and foxes who ravage our garden, but skunks are off limits!

When my oldest daughter was three months old, two skunks began to fight every night right under the floor furnace that warmed our “shotgun” frame house in Electra, Texas. One night, these rowdies had a violent brawl, and both sprayed at the same time. The fumes coming through the floor grates were so pungent they seemed to coat our lungs, and we could hardly breathe. I was afraid Stephanie’s tiny lungs wouldn’t survive the overpowering scent. “Get up,” I told my former husband, “and do something.” His reply was: “Take the baby and go next door. The neighbors will help you. I’m going to the office.” An engineer with Texaco, he seldom showed such enthusiasm about going to the office early, but he left me on the doorstep of the neighbor where I rang their doorbell at 5 a.m. The Wilsons took the baby to their warm bed and advised me to remove our clothing from the house and hang the articles on the clothesline in the backyard, then to burn sage in every room of the house all day. This remedy worked, and when my former husband came home later than usual, the smell and the chaos had subsided. He and the neighbor waited until dark and, shotguns poised, began a nocturnal vigil. Fortunately, the skunks showed up early, and by 10 p.m. they had departed this earth, never to roam the streets of Electra again. This act redeemed my former husband’s desertion of us after the early morning skunk spraying, but I often wonder what would have happened if my neighbor hadn’t been so accommodating.

Well, that was a stretch -- from Dianthus to skunks -- and I only have a photo of the flower that Vickie snapped– you can forget about me taking a picture of the skunk because if the aroma floats through my study window, I’m not regarding this as a photo op – she’ll just have to pose for one of the naturalists who live here on the mountain. For me, one time sprayed is all-time wise!

Photograph of the "pink" by Victoria Sullivan