Saturday, December 29, 2012


“Prowling his own quiet backyard or asleep by the fire, he is still only a whisker
away from the wilds.” – Jean Burden -

This world is a jungle where the ginger tabby roams free. He crosses my patio and pauses before St. Francis: an icon of celibacy in stone. Tabby looks into the expressionless face, searching for clues about keeping himself from roving around all night, spraying car tires, eating poisoned food, getting chased by wild dogs…he may as well be a black cat without any future. I see questions forming in his sly eyes: What is the secret in the stone heart that keeps St. Francis home at night, at peace with desire? Why do his arms embrace birds rather than chase them? A sparrow lights on the tonsured head, questions rising in the muggy air. Enough. The tabby lunges, toppling St. Francis, scattering the shards of piety.

Yellow tomcat and St. Francis
He isn’t nonplussed by his encounter with St. Francis. I’m seated in the chair by the living room window and see him strutting down the drive as if he has conquered his last objection to living the life of a bon vivant. He seems to belong to no one except the neighborhood at large. A block away, my daughter says he visits often, scratching at her back door because she has eight cats swinging from the rafters, draped on table tops, and sitting in the chairs I can’t sit on because I’m allergic to animal dander.

Tabby's a stately creature that I seldom see crouched in attack position or running after others. He just walks sedately past my window, always in command of the territory under my carport, which he has marked several times. I envy him his composure and lack of fear. Vets report that he's exposed to AIDS the same as careless humans are, and because of his dalliances, he could become a victim. Perhaps that’s why he seemed to be imploring St. Francis to tell him about celibacy. But, then, he did shatter the stony saint.

Three miniature dogs down the street yip at Tabby when he passes, but his disdain of the canines matches that of his composure. At night, he jumps on my rooftop and centers his body above my bedroom, thudding heavily to let me know that he regards my habitat as his territory. I’m startled into consciousness and run to the window to see if a branch has fallen or someone has thrown a shoe at him. I hear nothing but the hum of the refrigerator and see only the dark street. It’s 2 a.m., and he’s dancing on my rooftop. What’s up there? He dares me to come out and search for him, but I go back to bed, wishing he’d find a Mehitabel and create a family of his own, but he’d probably desert her just as the reincarnated cat poet, Francois Villon, did, and she’d drop her kittens in a rain barrel…

I receive an e-mail from Sewanee, Tennessee where I reside in the Spring and Summer: “Residents tell me tonight that they have confirmed there are three yellow cats in the area. Two have homes. The third is an unaltered male with claws intact. Very friendly, appears healthy and clearly wants his home. Will enter houses and doesn’t seem very afraid of dogs…” Could Tabby have gone East looking for my second home?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Nothing arouses an appetite so much as the smell of cornbread “dressing,” as we southerners call it, baking on Christmas Eve. On the day that the kitchen becomes the central room in the house, memories of my childhood Christmases spent in the old Victorian home of my grandmother Nell rise to my consciousness. I know it is Christmas, not by the scent of candles and evergreens, but by the mixed aroma of turkey fat and cornbread cooking!

Myriad recipes for dressing aka stuffing fill cookbooks: bread and oyster stuffing, bread with mushrooms stuffing, giblet stuffing, wild rice stuffing, sausage stuffing, chestnut stuffing…but no recipe can surpass the one for a good southern cornbread dressing, for which I have no written recipe. The ingredients and approximate measurements for dressing passed from my Grandmother Nell to my Mother Dorothy and then to me, and I think that most southern cooks probably don’t “go by” a recipe, they just put together a dollop of this, a dash of that, crumbling and pouring, mixing and baking to produce this quintessential dish that complements a baked turkey.

My good friend Janet, who was born and bred in southeast Alabama (the heart of red dirt country), talks about that cornbread dressing, as well as other southern delicacies in her charming book entitled Road Home, which emerged a few years ago from folders she had labeled, “Things to Think About.” The last chapter in the book is entitled “The Road Home,” and is a delightful chapter about holiday food, including a few sentences about having dinner with friends at Chapel Hill one Thanksgiving and being forced to partake of Mushrooms Berkeley as the main dish, a food swimming in what she calls a “dark, brooding sauce…”

In the chapter entitled “The Road Home” Janet tells about her grandmother’s famous cornbread dressing, which she explains had to be made in two different pans – one for cornbread dressing with onions and one without onions for the children and her adult uncle. “Food from this part of the country tends not to be highly seasoned; onions were the exotic seasoning in our kitchens, and you had to admit, even if you didn’t like the taste of onions, the smell was fabulous…” All of the food from the Christmas dinner was stored on the kitchen counter, covered with the oldest tablecloth on hand, and was left unrefrigerated until supper time, but Janet relates that no one ever became sick after a holiday or a Sunday meal. And, of course, everyone always took some of the remnants home with them.

The best part of the cornbread stuffing vignette in Road Home has to do with storage of leftover food. Janet writes: “My sister, who as an adult is a fastidious housekeeper, wins the prize for the most creative ‘to go’ storage container. One holiday when she was eight years old, unbeknownst to the rest of the family, Jennie left Granny’s house with cornbread dressing, sans the onions [thank goodness], wrapped in aluminum foil and tucked way down into the toe of a knee-high sock. Unmindful of her cargo, we returned home, and my sister took the sock directly to her room with her other belongings. Weeks later, when a peculiar odor caused my mother to track down the sock, which had found its way to a resting place under Jennie’s bed, she was the only one who could unequivocally identify the sock stuffing as cornbread dressing…”

I hope you “passed a good Christmas,” as the Cajuns say, and perhaps enjoyed a scoop of cornbread dressing aka stuffing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


It’s 70 degrees this afternoon in south Louisiana, and I just shed a leather jacket that I had been prompted to wear because the early morning temps were in the 50’s. What a wimp some of my friends in the mountains think I am! As I write this, winter storms are brewing in the West and Midwest, and this morning’s email from Gary Entsminger, publisher of Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado, carried a wintry message. “At last,” Gary writes, “we awoke to a winter storm. Five inches of snow have fallen so far, and it is snowing steadily. The atmosphere is calm…nice. Susan (Susan Elliott, Gary’s partner and artist at Pinyon) and Garcia (a beautiful black Lab) shoveled our first paths and stocked the feeders, so we have about 100 little birds dancing and pecking in the snow and on the pinyon branches. The mountains have been getting good snow for a few days, but our storms had been just dusting until this morning. Hooray! It’s a classic winter wonderland outside…”

Gary and Susan have many indoor pursuits that keep them busy while the snow falls and have been working steadily on publishing books, selling second-hand editions, practicing guitar mandolin, and piano music, singing and dancing, cooking and canning. Their latest indoor pursuit is a beautiful project that they finished just in time for Christmas. Susan created Art Cards from two of Pinyon’s book publication list, Open the Gates: Poems for Young Readers by Dabney Stuart, which contains 43 illustrations drawn and painted by Susan; and Why Water Plants Don’t Drown: Survival Strategies of Aquatic and Wetland Plants by Victoria Sullivan, which contains 62 illustrations rendered by Susan.

Almost all of the artwork in Open the Gates is of animals because the creatures are what the poems are about. Susan chose eight animals that displayed the different vibrant watercolor styles she used in the book: bat, rhino, fiddler crab, newt, bumble bee (one of her favorites because it’s a Bombus appositus bumble bee on a Delphinium barbeyi larkspur, subjects in Susan’s dissertation study – she has a Ph.D. in Botany), impala, water ouzel, and wolf.

We ordered several of the packets of the Art Cards featuring Susan’s illustrations in Why Water Plants Don’t Drown and plan to order more. Although Why Water Plants Don’t Drown includes technical illustrations to accompany the section in which Vickie describes the primary needs of plants: light, gases, structural support, and reproduction, no Art Cards were created from this section. Other sections include aquatic plants (sub-categories of Divers, Floaters, and Floating-Leaf Plants in Why Water Plants Don’t Drown) and wetland plants (sub-category “Waders”). For the Water Plants cards, Susan chose four aquatic examples (lotus, sea grasses, spatterdock, and water hyacinth) and four Wetland examples (water tupelo, cranberry, venus fly trap and swamp milkweed).

We’ve given several packets of the Art Cards as Christmas gifts that our friends opened immediately, and the response to Susan’s artwork has been tremendous. For those readers who haven’t purchased either of these books, you’re in for a treat. Susan says she chose images that were striking and elegant on their own (without accompanying text or poems), and the images bear out her descriptions of both animals and plants.

Use the Art Cards link to contact the publisher online or at mailing address: Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.


Last night I watched a taped episode of “Downton Abbey” that sent me to bed musing about the advantages / disadvantages (?) of being an independent woman, one who had several careers, (and still has) did her own housework (and still does), maintained (and still does) her own finances, and hardly ever pleads a case of “the vapors” that assailed women of the late 19th and early 20th century. This morning, I got up and opened two file cases of articles published in The Daily Iberian, searching for one of my old columns, “Cherchez la femme,” in which I had a lot to say about the liberation of women.

My column in The Daily Iberian
 The column I sought and found had to do with my remarks to a man who had teased me about being a liberated woman, quipping that he had heard the Shah (this was 1975) had posted “Wanted” posters and offered a reward for me after I left Iran that year because of my incendiary writing in “In A Persian Market” and “Cherchez la femme” concerning the rights and appropriate place of women in society. After he had finished his tirade about contemporary women, I asked him if he had rather be married to the kind of woman who “wimped about” in 1875. Then I went home and wrote a column describing this frail creature, deriving material from a book entitled Counsels to Women, written in 1878. I am including some of the material below.

Seems that the fair maiden of 1875 gained her name as “fair” for several reasons. Poor woman was encased in a special housespun cocoon. She wasn’t allowed to warm up at the fireside because sitting over the fire spoiled her complexion, “causing it to become muddy, speckled and sallow.” And a breath of wind wasn’t allowed to touch her cheeks because strong air gusts caused her to become “wan as clay and bloodless,” or if the gales induced color, that color was termed the “hectic flush,” which foretold “speedy decay.”

I don’t know how this fair maiden stabilized her temperature in winter – she couldn’t walk in the wind and she couldn’t hang over a fire. If she sat too close to the fire, she not only ruined her complexion, she became nervous and dispirited.  She couldn’t turn her back to the fire as this brought on sickness and faintness, “injured the spine, weakened the spine marrow and debilitated the whole frame.”

Presuming our 19th century belle lived through the rigors of winter, she could tipple a little sherry.  According to Henry Chavasse who wrote "Advice to a Wife and Mother," published in England in 1878, a lady couldn’t eat her dinner unless she had a glass of sherry before or during dinner and one glass after dinner, but she was never to exceed two glasses of wine daily. If wine didn’t agree with her, she was to drink home-brewed ale or Burton bitter ale or good sound porter instead of water. However, if she drank beer, she had to exercise or otherwise she’d become bilious.

As if this fair female didn’t have enough trouble staying the right color, she had to carry along a valise of varmint repellants when she travelled or slept in a strange bed. She had to have four things in her trunk; namely, a box of matches so that at any moment in the night, she could strike a light as bugs never bit when there was a light in the room; a box of night lights; a packet of La Poudre Insecticide manufactured in France; and a four ounce bottle of oil of turpentine, a little of which was to be sprinkled between the sheets and on the pillow as the oil of turpentine kept the bugs at a respectful distance. The bug-besieged damsel had to be careful not to place the turpentine too close to the candle, or she might catch her hair on fire.

If she still had hair after her bout with the bugs, milady kept her mane tidy with an "application" for it. According to Chavasse, scented castor oil or coconut oil applied with an old toothbrush did the trick. And if her hair “fell off,” as he phrased it, she could use that same castor oil or coconut oil, rubbing it literally into the roots. As I write this, I can’t help wondering if the male who teased me about liberated women would have enjoyed climbing into bed with this turpentine smelling, well-oiled female who had gone to bed after tippling two glasses of strong sherry or stout ale!

Woebetide the female who showed precocity of intellect in the late 1870’s. Chavasse claimed that if she exhibited premature talents, greater arterial blood was sent to the brain, and this blood fed and excited inflammation, causing convulsions, water on the brain, insanity, or idiocy. “Precocity is an indication of disease,” summed up Chavasse.

Seems to me that this Englishman was one of the first male chauvinists who thought that women’s charms lay in intellectual inferiority, and he advvised young women to take up housewifery to keep healthy and happy. He polished off his counsels for the happy and healthy wife with Swift’s adage: “The reason why so few marriages are happy is because young ladies spend their time in making nets, rather than making cages [the home].”

Monday, December 17, 2012


“May you have a blessed Christmas” is the phrase of the season, a kind of benediction that is pronounced on those whom we want to touch and embrace, perhaps even to heal, by wishing them well. Christmas is the time to bless one another, to change the atmosphere of doom and gloom that surround us on every side in this postmodern world.

A few Christmases ago, a friend gave me a copy of a book of blessings, To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donahue, a writer who lived in Ireland and who frequently traveled to the U.S. to give lectures and trainings. O’Donohue used Celtic spiritual traditions to construct his poetic blessings, explaining that the word “blessing” evokes in us a sense of warmth and protection, that in a blessing the “human heart pleads with the Divine heart.” He believed that regardless of our differences in religion, politics, and language, there is no heart without this divine reference.

When I was a child, my mother gave me the blessings of good books, objects that comforted and transfigured my life, inspired me to become a writer. In the preface to my book about Louisiana women, Their Adventurous Will, I speak of her gift of books to me:

“…My mother loved words and books. When I was three years old, she would seat me, cross-legged in the middle of a small kitchen and open for me giant editions of Mother Goose, A Child’s Garden of Verse, and Marigold Garden, laughing at friends who often dropped in to proclaim that I was backward because I did not talk and only sat quietly, absorbing the book characters she knew I would remember for a lifetime. She read aloud the entire series of Uncle Wiggly in the Cabbage Patch, The Little Colonel, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Greek Legends, Black Beauty and Grimm’s Fairy Tales, even after all of the children in our family had learned to read.

“Every month for years, my mother would take one of the three children in our family to Claitor’s Bookstore in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to choose two books for our nightly reading session. She was the first family member to open the books, touching the pictures with credulous delight. My mother began to fly in the heavens long before Mary Poppins opened her umbrella to make her wonderful flights…”

I remembered those wonderful children’s books as I re-read John O’Donohue’s book this morning, thinking how meet his words are that describe blessing as a “direct address, driven by immediacy and care” – the qualities that drove my mother to share books she knew would always be my good friends. When I opened To Bless the Space Between Us, I blessed my mother as I pondered how we can dissuade negativity by simple blessings, by acknowledging that we have been blessed with inestimable gifts – children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends, warmth and shelter, good food, love, discoveries, small accomplishments, the ability to animate our ideas, and, of course, books that remind us how words can illuminate and transform our lives.

May you have a blessed Christmas!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


My “writer’s window” faces a small patio bordered by a tall live oak tree and a few plants that have survived our lackadaisical care. It isn’t a patio of great beauty and is peopled by a St. Francis of Assisi statue, a small rust brown chimenea, a struggling Norfolk pine in a black pot, and a green table holding a dying house plant. Occasionally, we place two chairs on the floor of this almost-barren patio in hopes that the mosquitoes will disappear long enough for us to enjoy the outdoors and a blazing fire in the chimenea. St. Francis looks stoic and unmoved by the scene, but, then, when he was alive, “God’s jester,” only went indoors to his Portiuncula (the little chapel) to pray. Most days he frolicked with his band of Subasio monks in the outdoors, talking to the birds, absolutely detached from material things and the “real world.”

I interact with the life of the patio from behind the smeared glass of my writer’s window and enjoy the view, but many times while I’m viewing the outdoor scene, unlike St. Francis, I’m being a Martha, looking at the acorns, pine needles, oak leaves and dust strewn across it and reminding myself that I need to take up the broom instead of becoming immersed in the outdoor world. Such is the distraction of domesticity, as C. S. Lewis called it – the burdensome sense of duty that keeps many of us from “enjoying the view.”

Lewis wrote about this distraction in The Four Loves, proclaiming that the practical and prudential cares of this world, and even the smallest and most prosaic of those cares, are the greatest distractions. He writes: “The gnat like cloud of petty anxieties and decisions about the conduct of the next hour have interfered with my prayers more often than any passion or appetite…” He goes on to say that the reason St. Paul tried to dissuade his converts from marriage and domestic life is because the domestic life often presents distractions from more important work or keeps us from progressing on our spiritual journeys.

Who would prefer wielding a broom to watching the wind move in the branches of the oak overhanging my patio or listening to the crows argue about their place on a precarious branch? The question is rhetorical for me, and I answer it with the words, “compulsive-obsessive cleaners!” Two of my close friends who know about my obsession with the dirty patio keep reminding me that the floor of this patio lies in the outdoors and that a crackling bed of acorns and brown leaves provides a better welcome mat than the cold tiles in some of the rooms of my house. It’s only pride that pushes me to consider the possible distaste good friends might show when they enter through my back door and stop to look at the messy patio floor, which they would have missed had they come in the front door… like strangers. And what about the water puddle in a low spot of the patio floor that fills after a hard rain? And the coiled green hose covered with mud and mold hanging on a rack on one wall of the patio?

So…so when I return from Sewanee to Louisiana each fall, the first item I write on my grocery list is a large bottle of Clorox – and the siege of broom and pail begins on a concrete pad painted brick red that has weathered a humid Louisiana summer. It’s not for nothing, as the kids say, that I earned this title of “Tidy Idy” in my family. What a drudge! And I’d much rather be remembered as a Sister Clare, St.Francis’s first woman follower who established the monastic Order of the Poor Clares based on Equality. However, I hasten to add that although Clare was the respected head of this female band, she never gave up her household duties. Had patios been constructed during her lifetime, she probably would have been a precursor of my cleaning sieges.  And so much for the domestic life deterring spiritual progress!

Monday, December 10, 2012


Before I left Sewanee, Tennessee to winter in New Iberia, Louisiana, Sister Elizabeth, a sister at St. Mary’s Convent, gave me the name and email address of a friend who is a Presbyterian minister and professor of pastoral theology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. The friend has written several books on spiritual growth and was interested in obtaining a review about her book, Joy Together, Spiritual Practices For Your Congregation, on my blog. As I’m retired and am no longer assigned to a congregation, I thought perhaps the book might have no relevance for me but I was curious to read what this author had to say about spiritual practices. At my bedtime reading, I read half the book in one sitting and was engaged enough to complete my reading the following morning!

One reviewer wrote about Joy Together, “this spiritual journey isn’t about hiking solo,” but I found it to be a good guide to a deeper spiritual life on an individual level, and a cogent text for strengthening Christian congregations. The sections on prayer, hospitality, Sabbath, fasting, etc. could serve as suggestions for an individual to practice a Benedictine-like Rule of Life to deepen his/her faith, as well as provide a guide to building community within dwindling congregations.

Joy Together describes six specific spiritual disciplines in detail to indicate how these practices can be experienced communally: thankfulness; fasting; contemplative prayer; contemplative approaches to Scripture; hospitality; and Sabbath keeping. Baab says that these disciplines, particularly when practiced communally, assist us in resisting the attraction of acquiring an increasing number of possessions and accelerating our materialistic lives… so that we can rest in the love, grace, and peace which derive from God.

I was drawn to the opening chapter about thankfulness in which the author talks about experiencing boredom and repetitiveness in her prayer life twenty years earlier. We all know the drill – making a list of needs and describing those needs at prayer time. Baab writes that she decided to do a thankfulness-in-prayer experiment and was amazed at the many things for which she wanted to thank God: friends, extended family, a neighborhood garden, colorful leaves in the fall…and the “specifics of daily life became more visible to us as manifestations of God’s care. We had always been thankful for food on the table each day, but now many more aspects of our life seemed to flow from the hands of a gracious and generous God…we became more aware of what we had been missing in all those years of prayer times that were packed with our needs and wants. We simply hadn’t noticed God’s good gifts to us…”

From those realizations about how blessed she and her family were, Baab proceeded to introduce thankfulness praying in church groups, a support group of women clergy, and other small groups. In Joy Together, she emphasizes that prayers of thankfulness enable us to see what God has been doing and where God has been working…such prayers make us stop and look. “I wonder if the lack of vitality in so many congregations comes in part from the paucity of our thankfulness,” she writes…”if gratitude is a central way to express dependence on God and our desire to be together with God, then we may be missing a primary route to divine intimacy…”

Another cogent chapter in Joy Together deals with hospitality, the ancient practice that describes some of Jesus’ most memorable encounters with individuals, the most significant example being that of the last meal with His disciples. Baab advocates congregational hospitality in homes and in hosting the wider community. She emphasizes the latter in a Celtic saying, “Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise,” citing service to the homeless and disenfranchised as examples of Christ’s hospitality. She sums up: “Hospitality requires a skill in thinking that affirms the significance of trading hospitality back and forth, the way my parents did so well and so generously, while also affirming the joys of engaging with strangers, the marginalized and unexpected guests.”

Each chapter in Joy Together ends with questions for reflection, discussion, or journaling, and recommendations for further reading. This is a distinctive book about the use of practices that deepen faith in individuals and in entire congregations so that transformation can occur in both cases. It’s enlivened by the author’s own experiences and those of individuals she meets in her work as a minister and professor of pastoral theology.

A memorable quote from Henri Nouwen is featured in the text: “The word discipline means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act.’ Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up.” In the midst of our days being filled up with Christmas hecktivity and consumerism, Joy Together is a “must read.” Create some space in which God can act.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Ginger in coulee
“Coulee” is a French word derived from “couler” which means “to flow,” and is used to describe a channel created by water erosion, but here in south Louisiana, the word is used loosely to define a drainage ditch, a deep ravine in which thick vegetation overtakes its bank. However, a coulee can be a canal in the swamp that is smaller than a typical Louisiana bayou.

A long and slowly-widening coulee runs behind our backyard, and a few years ago we built a bulwark along its edge to prevent further erosion. Throughout the years we've found another use for our now-luxuriantly-edged coulee.  Into it we have heaved pot plants that have dried up, plant cuttings, and plants that have invaded the fence and been dug up. And in this rich Louisiana soil, if we have a particularly rainy year, we've watched many plant resurrections that, in time, form a beautiful garden along the ditch.

Some plants that have resurrected include elephant ears, cicad plants, and, lately, a beautiful ginger plant. This Spring, ginger plants that had overtaken the fence were dug up and thrown into the ditch, and when we returned in October, five-feet tall ginger plants greeted us! They have been our most successful “throwaways,” and we’re considering harvesting the roots.

Ginger plants thrive in subtropical conditions, so we weren’t surprised when we saw what our “disposal” had resurrected. The root of the ginger plant provides a wonderful spice used in cooking, and the Chinese use it as a medicine for healing colic and flatulence; but we’re content just to look at the plant and hope that next year it will flower at its predicted two-year mark for flowering.

A biologist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette once said that gardeners in south Louisiana should never fertilize plants but should just put them in the ground and step back! In our case, it’s a matter of just digging something up or taking a leaf cutting or a dead plant and throwing it into the coulee. Hay la bas, we then witness a miraculous south Louisiana garden!

In the introduction to my young adult book, Flood on the Rio Teche, I wriote about this luxuriant culture: “The air, fungi-laden and humid, presses down on us all the time... The place seems somnolent and enclosing... I can never leave its banks for long. It has a voice, a liquid voice, husky because of the mist above the brown water... and the decay, dark banks loamy with decay…animals lurking... [in our case possums, coons, and armadillos forage in the coulee], the mosquitoes and the stifling curtain of heat, behind which they [the Cajuns] sang and told stories. Its voice is a very old voice..."

Photograph by Victoria I. Sullivan

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


It’s fast approaching – the date that marks the end of the Great Mayan Cycle, according to Gary Entsminger, publisher and editor of Pinyon Publishing. “To some this suggests the end of something, to others a beginning, perhaps, of a New World Age,” he says in the introduction to the latest issue of Pinyon Review.

For Gary and Susan Elliott, artist and designer at Pinyon Publishing, it seems to be the end of a successful year in independent publishing and the beginning of a New Age in literary publications as they launch Issue #2 of the Pinyon Review, a literary and arts journal they established this year. Gary is already busy collecting work from artists and writers for the third issue, and he says the Review has attracted a growing number of happy readers.

In addition to poetry and short stories, the November issue of Pinyon Review features a plethora of art and photography, including the outstanding work of Stan Honda, who spent over a week at Grand Canyon and two weeks at the Petrified Forest National Park as a National Park Service Artist-in-Residence. During that time, Honda worked on night sky settings, photographing the Chaco Canyon: “The East Sky at Pueblo del Arroyo,” “Moon and Venus,Casa Rinconada,” and “The East Sky, Casa Rinconada,” my favorite being “The East Sky at Pueblo del Arroyo,” which features the stars making odd-shaped trails across the night sky. The photographs are accompanied by an essay about the Chaco Sky photography written by Honda that showcases his facility with the written word, as well as with the camera. Honda’s arresting photograph of the eclipse, when the sun, moon, and earth align, appears on the cover of Pinyon Review #2. He’s a photographer with Agence France-Presse based in New York City and does astronomy-related photography in his spare time.

"The East Sky at Pueblo del Arroyo"
by Stan Honda

Publisher Gary Entsminger ‘s own photograph of “The Colorado River From Dead Horse Point” follows Honda’s essay, and his love of mesas and rock formations is reflected in a photograph that captures the mesa and the river in vivid color and features the sharp detail of a fine painting.

Pinyon Review #2 is rich in poetry by regular and new contributors, including two of my own, “The Final Sleep” and “Life Support.” Robert Shaw, author of Aromatics, a collection of poetry published by Pinyon, provides the opening three poems, the most cogent one entitled “Her Mother’s Seashells”: “Sometimes I feel flung up by the tide/or Sometimes I feel empty inside?...Too late now, though, to experiment./The shell was gone, shattered by someone’s/slapdash dusting. It would have listened/in calm, mother-of-pearl inertia/yielding back its never-lapsing sigh.”

Readers who have seen issues of the Pinyon Review and Pinyon’s recent books, have been extravagant in their praise, and after a look at the cover and interior, usually respond: “What a beautiful presentation.” My reaction is always “Read further.”

May this year be the beginning of a New World Age for a small press that celebrates the arts and sciences and spotlights the work of a diverse group of artists and writers. Again, Brava, Gary and Susan!

Copies can be ordered from Pinyon Publishing, 2384 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Strange, how poetry wells up out of small towns perched on the bayous of Louisiana, and fine poets seem to emerge from the mists, reading poems that reflect the watery landscape. Their works are almost organic, coming out of the soil and water of Acadiana, appearing at celebrations of the rural arts such as the Fire and Water Celebration I attended Saturday in Arnaudville, Louisiana. Arnaudville, population 1500, is a town near the muddy Bayou Teche, that body of water which has birthed a culture rich in the arts. The last time I visited Arnaudville in the 90’s, the town was just beginning to develop an artistic energy that has burgeoned and begun to attract new residents from throughout the U.S. Today it draws artists and musicians from around the world.

Darrell Bourque, former
Louisiana Poet Laureate
 I went to hear my friends, Darrell Bourque and Margaret Simon, read from their latest works and to reconnect with Clare Martin, a woman with whom I once worked on the executive staff of Bayou Girl Scout Council in Lafayette, Louisiana. During the 90’s, Clare worked as Public Relations Officer of the Council, and one day at coffee break, she showed me a few of her unpublished poems. After I had read the few poems that she handed to me, I could tell she had “voice,” and although the poems were dark, they were mysterious and filled with longing for a fulfilling work and life that touched me deeply. After both of us left the Council, I saw Clare a few times on one occasion I wrote a letter of reference for her to work on her Master’s at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; on another, I heard her read at a poetry celebration here in New Iberia. I lost touch with Clare but discovered Saturday that for the past eight years, she has found new life through her poetry, writing for the Avatar Review, Louisiana Literature, Poets and Artists, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and publishing in numerous literary journals and poetry anthologies. She has also been nominated for several awards that include Best New Poet, Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web (2011), and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net (2008 and 2011).

Clare Martin, Author of
Eating the Heart First
 In Arnaudville, Clare read from her debut book of poetry, Eating the Heart First, published by Press 53 in Winston Salem, North Carolina, and I was stunned by the power of the poems she shared with us. They ranged from memories about her first child, Adam, who was born weighing only two pounds and maimed with cerebral palsy, to her bouts with mental darkness, and I kept thinking of two famous female poets, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, who gave us revelations of their darkest moments in stark and powerful language similar to that expressed in Eating the Heart First. I bought a copy of Clare’s book and spent Sat. evening reading the work of someone I had once divined would become a fine poet. Before I left the “Little Big Cup Restaurant,” site of the reading, Clare told me that she was going to send her book to Oprah, and I think she possesses just enough tenacity and talent to enlist Oprah’s endorsement of Eating the Heart First.

Authors: Diane Moore (L)
and Margaret Simon (R)
 Margaret Simon, author of Blessen, sat next to us at a front table, and was moved to tears by Clare’s reading, and Darrell Bourque, former poet laureate of Louisiana, whispered to me, “She is a good poet. Darrell endorsed the back cover of Eating the Heart First, praising Clare’s work as “an oneiric treatise guided by the powers she believes in: the power of memory, the power of water, the power of moons, the powers of longing, and the power of love.”

One of the shorter, lighter poems akin to Haiku that I favored in Eating the Heart First, is entitled “Tattoo:”

“She has a tattoo
on her hip of a painted
Chinese horse—the brushstroke
animal grazes at her waist.

Black ink struggles
as if locked in wind.
In muscular unison the horse
strides to her belly:
         a field of moons.

Copies of this impressive book of poetry can be purchased from Press 53, P.O. Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130. Cover design of Eating the Heart First by Kevin Morgan Watson, and cover art, “He Cometh Out of the Swamp,” by Pamela Womax. Author photo by Jo Depew.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Darrell Bourque
 Each week Darrell Bourque, former poet laureate of Louisiana, hosts a poetry show called “From the Poet’s Bookshelf” that is broadcast on KRVS Public Radio, 88.7 FM, Lafayette and Lake Charles, Louisiana. He reads from the works of Louisiana poets and from the works of poets inspired by Louisiana. Shortly after I returned to Louisiana in October, Darrell sent me a schedule showing that on December 6, he’d read one of my poems, “Carson City Nevada,” featured in the Pinyon Review published by Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado.

Later, after reading my newest book of poetry, Everything Is Blue, Darrell selected “In Memory of Mint” and “Drought” to read on his radio show this coming year. I’m honored to join Darrell’s cast of poets and to celebrate the efforts of this outstanding Louisiana poet whose authentic voice has inspired so many fellow poets.

Darrell once wrote “I think the poet has at least as one of his jobs to remind us that there is something miraculous in the everyday.” He might have added that he does something daily to remind us that poetry is necessary for the human spirit – through poetry workshops, public readings and a radio show, as a sponsor for poetry programs in libraries and community centers, and most recently, Darrell read to help celebrate “100 Thousand for Poets for Change,” a program of poetry, music and art focusing on Freedom of Speech, peace, environmental issues, and social concerns. This event touts poets as the “unacknowledged legislators of the world who often spread the real news.” In 2011, 650 Poets for Change events were held in 95 countries, and in Mexico City, poets read in an attempt to "encourage reflection and creative responses against systemic violence."

Darrell was not only a former poet laureate of Louisiana, he’s Professor Emeritus in English at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette and has broadcast on “Poets for Living Waters,” served as president of the National Association for Humanities Education and as editor-in-chief of this association’s journal. He has been instrumental in supporting the work of the “Festival of Words” in Grand Coteau, Louisiana and was director for the project, “Significant Voices” which featured young African American writers from Louisiana. An annual award, the Darrell Bourque Award, has been established by the Louisiana Conference on Literature, Language and Culture. Darrell’s latest chapbook, Holding the Notes, was published by Chicory Bloom Press, and he has just completed a collection of poems about the coming of the Acadians to south Louisiana that will be published by the ULL Press in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Here’s my poem, “Drought,” published in Everything Is Blue, which Darrell singled out as “one of the five best poems you’ve written” and which he’ll read on “From the Poet’s Bookshelf” in 2013:


Grasshoppers hiding in the forest
sing Requiem for a dried frog
splayed on the mossy back steps;
thrashers dart in the understory
of trees whose yellow/bronze leaves
have fallen before the Fall.
The doe appears,
her scorched eyes beseeching,
and stands unmoving for moments,
a stance posing the question
of her starving distress:
What do you know of hunger and loss?
This life offers no safety.

Wind ruffles the leaves
of the defiant persimmon tree
making shadows on its own bark,
but the doe remains standing,
licking the underside of her fawn,
a brazen figure in dry straw,
unsettling boundaries of forest and yard.

She watches for the orange sun to set,
listening for a spring to erupt
from the bony soil of mountain,
searches for a victor in the dust,
the earth bubbling up,
making leaves fresh and sweet,
a miracle to satisfy her trembling desire.

Photograph of Darrell Bourque by Vickie Sullivan. Cover of Everything Is Blue from a painting by my brother, Paul Marquart.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


I doubt that most readers observed Thanksgiving by visiting a cemetery, but it seemed a meet time for me to visit Ellis Cemetery in Franklinton, Louisiana, where most of my relatives are buried. I wondered if the cemetery had been named after my Grandfather Paul Greenlaw’s middle name, Ellis. Some local citizens believed that his initials, P.E.G., indicated that he’d be prosperous (which he became) because the bearer of a name having initials that spell another word will inevitably become wealthy. Such are the superstitious countrynisms of a small town in southeast Louisiana where so many of my recent ancestors lived and died.

The day was sunny, one of those halcyon days typical of autumn in Louisiana. I’d only been in the cemetery five times or so, but I knew the exact location of the “old” section of grave sites and recognized the plot immediately. When we turned onto the side road leading to the Greenlaw family plot, I glimpsed a profusion of pink camellias in a tall tree beside the gravestones. My first thought was that my relatives’ remains had greatly enriched the soil near the tree, causing it to bear such beautiful blossoms at this time of year. There they were – the headstones of my grandfather, grandmother, mother, father, and one of my younger brothers – and across the road the stones of my great-grandfather, great-grandmother, and one of my great-uncles. The stones represented a gallery of professions that included a poet, a physician, a lumber baron, a Ford dealer, a draftsman, and domestics like my mother whose stone bore the legend: “She was a real wife and mother.”

Cemeteries can be sad places, but as I stood in the bright November sunlight, I began to feel connectedness and peace, and a line from one of my funeral homilies came to me: “They go to the father, and they remain with us.” Even the great-grandparents, whom I never knew but whose stories I had heard many times, were with me, “in still small accents whispering from the ground…a grateful earnest of eternal peace…” (Gray’s “Elegy Written In A Country Graveyard”).

I enjoyed one of those peak moments when communication comes from a source beyond and was strengthened by their spiritual presence. For perhaps thirty minutes, I walked among my antecedents, noting that their headstones needed cleaning or that I should preserve the inscriptions in rubbings. This is a process where butcher paper is taped to the headstones with masking tape and charcoal or crayon is rubbed over the stone to make the etched lines appear without the engravings being touched by the charcoal or crayon. When the paper is removed, all the words appear just as they were initially etched into the stone.

I also noted that the women in the family, except for my mother who died at the age of 69, lived 84 – 88 years. This fact heightened my good mood for that kind of longevity could mean six – ten more years of fruitful living for me on this earth. When I returned to New Iberia, I re-read the poem I’d written about Great-Grandmother Greenlaw (who also wrote poetry) after seeing her gravestone for the first time. This is an excerpt from that poem, “Resurrection of the Word,” taken from my first published book of poetry, Afternoons in Oaxaca:

“...Now in the remembered scent of jasmine,
bees buzz around her headstone,
I look up at the winter trees,
great filigrees of ruin
hovering over her grave,
and I think:
words do not end,
words spill out,
making a poem in her soil,
thoughts emerge from another world,
the door to the tomb
falls open with a grating sound,
and the Spring of the year, curiously,
fancies itself reborn.
I did not urge her resurrection,
it was an old rebellion,
roots gnaw deep,
above, the stone is cracked,
and insects linger between deeply-etched lines
about the One Whom None Can Hinder.
Beneath, her hollow eyes do not see me,
but her heart burns, a firebox of words,
grave poet of the missionary senses,
Great-grandmother Dora Runnels,
mapping her slow advances in poetry
  in me."

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Jady Regard, CNO
 Thirty-four years ago, I wrote an article about three enterprising young brothers who started a home-based pecan cracking business called “The Nutcrackers,” operated by the Regard boys of New Iberia, Louisiana. You can imagine how delighted I was a few days ago when I walked into the offices of the Cane River Pecan Company here in New Iberia and shook hands with Jady Henry Regard, CNO (Chief Nut Officer) of the original “Nutcrackers” business.

However, the ultimate surprise hung on the walls of the office – a framed copy of a thirty-four year old article entitled “Pecan Businessmen Beginning Young,” with my by-line, the ink on the paper as sharp and dark as the day the feature article first rolled off the presses of The Daily Iberian. Jady called in some of his staff to meet me, and I stood in the lobby of the office, sampling some of the finest gourmet quality pecans I’ve ever tasted. I had ordered a tin of the delicious pecans last winter when I arrived for my winter sojourn in New Iberia and later discovered that the company had an office and warehouse on Easy Street in New Iberia.

In the article about the “Nutcrackers” that appeared in the Sunday Iberian, I reported that the boys’ father, Dan Regard (now deceased), owned a pecan grove on the plantation “Alcock Place” in Natchitoches, Louisiana and had employed his sons to spend their after school hours and holidays cracking approximately 400 pounds of pecans a week, using a huge nutrcracking machine he ordered from San Antonio, Texas. The boys sold pecans from a shop adjoining the Regard home on Darby Lane. “We needed spending money and our dad believed in teaching us to work,” Jady said. The brothers put signs in store windows and advertised in The Daily Iberian during the start-up years of their enterprise.

Cane River painting by Mike Reagan
 Today, The Cane River Pecan Company grosses approximately $2 million in sales and sells pecans as far afield as Singapore, employing thirty people to prepare the handsome Cane River Company tins that contain a variety of products: roasted and salted pecans, chocolate covered and praline pecans, fresh-baked pecan chocolate chunk cookies, pecan pralines, and pecan praline popcorn.

“We don’t run ads; we’re headfirst into corporate business where we often sell 500 gift tins at a time,” Jady told me. “The real engine behind this company was my mother Margie. One year, when pecan prices plummeted, my dad sat down at the kitchen table with her and told her he was pretty depressed about the drop in prices, and she suggested trying to sell to retail companies around New Iberia. The business took off from there.”

Jady once worked as manager of corporate sales for the Chicago Bears and for the LSU Basketball team before he began marketing full-time for Cane River Pecan Company. He often distributes a Cane River map by artist Mike Reagan that showcases sketches of the great plantations in Cane River country. “I just give copies away to nice people," he said, flashing a smile at me, and I could see why the Cane River Pecan Company business burgeoned. A long road leads from the home-based “Nutrackers” enterprise to the Cane River Pecan Company on Easy Street – but then a long road leads from this feature writer’s career at The Daily Iberian to present-day book writing.

If you’re interested in seeing the wares of this company, you can log on to Corporations can order custom gift tins that feature their own logo and message on the lid of the tins. The company also features a tin with a reproduction of “Pecan Threshing” by Clementine Hunter, the famous Louisiana painter who lived and worked on Melrose Plantation near Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


St. John's mill during sugarcane grinding seasons
 The smell of smoke and boiling sugar lingers in the air. In Iberia and other parishes of Louisiana, it’s sugar cane grinding season, a season that begins in late September and ends in January. When I was associate editor of Acadiana Lifestyle, our sugar cane issue was published in January, and I learned a lot about sugar cane farming during the five years I wrote articles about this industry.

Recently, Acadiana Lifestyle celebrated its 25th anniversary, and I was asked to write a synopsis of my years with this journal. In one of the paragraphs I talked about the year I was sent to cover a story about a new sugar cane harvester. The assignment proved to be a challenge because on an overcast fall morning, I showed up in open-toed sandals with small heels and felt deep dismay when I was asked to follow the owner of the new machinery into a field near Jeanerette that had seen hard rain for several days. I sank into the ooze up to my ankles and stood for a half hour interviewing the owner and taking notes. When I returned to the Lifestyle office, I threw the ruined shoes in the door and told Art Suberbielle, the publisher, that he owed me a pair of shoes. But he only asked, “Did you get the story?”

Carts loaded with sugarcane
The new machine that I wrote about was called the Louisiana Two-row Green Cane Combine and originated with Walter Landry, then president of Agronomics, International, Inc. Lately, each time I pass a cane field in the parish, I wonder if the machine is currently being used to harvest cane. On that misty morning during grinding season in 1994, the large red harvester moved slowly through a field of cane, and the combine cut stalks of cane into 13-inch billets before extracting leaf from the cane, which was sucked through the extractor to be deposited back on top of the soil. At that time, the machine could cut 75 tons of sugar cane per hour and was put through its paces on the kind of day sugar cane farmers detest. Light rain fell on us as we watched the machine at work, and black mud oozed onto the roads between the sugar cane fields.

The scene was a far cry from the day of cane cutting by hand when slaves cut cane with special knives that resembled a machete with a hook on the end. The slaves had to lop off the top of the stalk, then cut the cane from the roots at the level of the ground. Other workers loaded the stalks on two-wheeled carts to move them to the sugar house or mill. During wet fall seasons, those heavily-loaded carts created a muddy mess on the farm roads.

Acres of cane near New Iberia, LA
The demonstration of the new harvester fascinated me. By extracting the leaf and putting it back into the soil, the machine assured that cane would no longer need to be burned, and organic matter would be returned to enrich the soil. A directional loading device on top of the machine placed cane into a container, which enabled cane to be loaded at any point in the field.

As I watched the huge machine, two other demonstrations began – one of a transport system and fork lift, the brainchild of J. Randolph Roane – and another piece of transport equipment that originated with Agronomics International, Inc. The transport systems were developed to transport billeted and full stalk cane to nearby sugar mills. These harvesting systems were touted to be a boon to the sugar industry as they had been designed for Louisiana conditions and would increase sugar recovery by reducing the need for field burning of cane and improving cane transport (at the time huge carts behind tractors were the major means of transporting sugar cane to the mill).

Crop for next year
Since I have no occasion to trek into the sugar cane fields, I’m curious to know if the harvesters are used today. If burning of cane residue has been reduced, brava! I think I missed the pre-harvest burn, if it occurred, but post-harvest burns are also part of the process yet to come! Right now, there’s still enough dust and smoke in the air to inspire a good case of sneezes, which I’m presently undergoing.
However, far be it from me to complain about an industry that moves about 14 million tons of sugar cane on some of our corduroy roads to Louisiana mills. According to reports from the American Sugar Cane League, the sugar cane industry has an annual impact of $1.1 billion in Louisiana. The industry has moved a long way from the early 1800’s when farmers turned to sugar production following Etienne Bore’s development of a process for making sugar, and Teche country became a major player in the burgeoning industry.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Saturday evening, while other literary enthusiasts enjoyed the highly-successful Flannery O’Connor Symposium organized by Dr. Mary Ann Wilson at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette this week-end, some of us attended sessions of the Festival of Words that culminated in readings by Louisiana poet laureate, Julie Kane, and award-winning author, Randall Kenan in the St. Charles Chapel (formerly Christ the King Church), Grand Coteau, Louisiana. Grand Coteau is a small town located on a ridge where ancient oaks create alleys and groves, and French, Acadian, Victorian, and Creole architecture is represented in the town’s residences and stores. It’s a lovely venue for literary and art festivals.

I recently wrote about the Festival of Words, a program taught by acclaimed authors in Creative Writing workshops to promote creativity and literacy. The program has a special focus on young people who frequently do readings at drive-by businesses, in schools, and at Casa Azul in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. The Saturday night readings attracted an adult crowd and must have had the saints reeling with laughter in that sacred space of the Chapel. Randall Kenan led off with a short story, “New York City,” followed by Julie Kane’s whimsical rhyming poetry from several of her books. Kane ‘s rendition of poems using some of Emily Dickinson’s first lines, which she finished in her own version of “I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died,” “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” etc. brought down the house.

Julie Kane, a native of Boston, has been a resident of Louisiana for many years and teaches at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She has been garnering awards that include a stint as Writer-in-Residence at Tulane University and Fulbright Scholar at Vilnius Pedagogical University, as well as a 2007 SIBA book Award Finalist, and her poems have appeared in the Antioch Review, Prairie Schooner, London Magazine, Feminist Studies and others. Kane’s repertoire includes Body and Soul and Rhythm and Booze,and she’s noted for her volume of poetry about post Katrina entitled Jazz Funeral.

An excerpt from Jazz Funeral entitled “The Terror of the Place:”

“Like Juliet reviving in the tomb,

you blink and blink and still your eyes behold

the walls of what was once a music room

grown over with great roses of black mold,

the grand piano caving in on shat-

tered legs as if a camel knelt to let

a tourist with a camera on its back…”

Randall Kenan grew up in Chinquapin, North Carolina and has been a finalist for the National Book critics Circle Award (1993), has been awarded the Mary Francis Hobson Medal for Arts and Letters, a Whiting Writer’s Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters ‘Prix de Rome, and many other recognitions for his writing about African Americans. He has taught at Sarah Lawrence, Columbia University, Duke University, the University of Mississippi, the University of Memphis, and is now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. One of his non-fiction books, Walking on Water, is an interesting study of what it means to be black in America today. The book features Kenan’s travels throughout the U.S. during a six year period in which he interviewed 200 black Americans to provide material for “Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century.”

I’m a latecomer to the Festival of Words, but Saturday evening’s program convinced me that literature in south Louisiana is still alive and well, and programs like Festival of Words at Grand Coteau and the Flannery O’Connor Symposium at ULL continue to feature gifted writers and artists from within the borders of Cajun country and farther afield. My next field trip is slated for Arnaudville, Louisiana, a small town near Lafayette, where the same kind of cultural activity has been going on for several years. It’s good to be back in Acadiana and to be part of the joie de vivre characteristic of this part of the world.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Today, I read a definition of family that resonated with me, and I was happy to discover that there weren’t any phony, sentimental aspects to the definition. “Family means no one gets left behind,” the short phrase read. I am sitting here looking out at a statue of St. Francis standing on the patio, tending his family of birds and squirrels, and I say, “Yes, family means no one gets left behind,” even God’s creatures that play around the base of the oak in my backyard, and especially under such guardians as St. Francis of Assisi.

I’m waiting for a good friend to return from a visit with her "blood" family that owns a company together – a visit in which she attended a meeting and was humiliated, shunned, and lied about – in short, got “left behind” and became the victim of a takeover of her position in a vengeful series of acts that I’ve heretofore read about only in novels. As the sitcoms say, “a whole lot of lying was going on.” Perhaps I can use the material in a future book for it has all the components of the kind of dysfunction in contemporary novels, but  I prefer writing contemplative poetry! The accounts of that meeting included enough primitive emotion to convince me of several things, the most tantamount being that this is the way wars start – from the ground up, from the family out, and most especially when they’re involved in what is termed a “family takeover.”

My friend is a very intelligent person with good critical abilities, is a writer and scientist, financial officer, and has the respect of her friends and colleagues wherever she has lived because she is passionate about the work she undertakes. She is noted for getting to the truth of messy situations and acting as an ombudsman for organizations in trouble. She also gets along well with those with whom she works in a volunteer capacity, and I’m shaking my head this morning at the audacity of this group of people who “dissed” her and who call themselves family. Perhaps family is the place you go when no one else will take you in, to paraphrase Robert Frost, but in my friend’s case, everyone else takes her in except these relatives. To further expand on this group of clannish hypocrites, they’re among those who advocate family values in the political arena. However, the word "love" is never mentioned in their conversations, and I've been privy to those conversations for almost 35 years now.

“Family means no one gets left behind” – but in the case of my friend, she was left behind, booted out of a position that she had held for over a decade simply because someone else wanted her job. She is, at the moment, trying to get an early flight out of the toxic family atmosphere. As Scott Peck advocates in his People of the Lie, there are occasions when a person who meets up with evil in her family feels immediate repulsion and should run like heck in the other direction. It seems that because my friend stood up and spoke the truth about family operations, because she wanted to perform the job she had been elected to do, she was nailed. She has gradually been edged out of a position in a behind-the-scenes coup, by control seeking, power and money advocates who call themselves Christians and some of whom belong to the Christian right.

One of the criticisms leveled at my friend was that she thought she was smarter than they were, which, to me, denotes one of the seven deadly sins: Envy. Then there’s Pride, Greed, Sloth… to name a few more that were committed by this scheming group. If these people are religious and believe in the so-called final Judgment and personal accountability, it appears otherwise --their Bible thumping seems just a way to make a loud noise. And if all this sounds appalling, sadly it is a true story about a post-modern family.

I’ve preached many times about the love of power and money corrupting otherwise good people who decide to take a wrong turn. I think my friend’s so-called family should read Matthew 23: 13-28, where Christ denounces the Pharisees and scribes who “clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed …so on the outside you look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness…”

Christ had no problem expressing his anger about greed and hypocrisy. He was passionate about truth and could be quite contradictory in that he preached truth, peace… and, oh yes, justice, in the same breath. Not to mention that he never left one honest person behind, regardless...

I look out at St. Francis and await my friend’s arrival. According to a clipping on my fridge, St. Francis would tell her, “Be at peace. Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life; rather look to them with full hope as they arise. God, whose very own you are, will deliver you from out of them. He has kept you hitherto, and He will lead you safely through all things…” He might have added that evildoers gradually unravel and destroy themselves.

Monday, October 29, 2012


My good friend, Victoria Sullivan, has written a book, Why Water Plants Don’t Drown, about aquatic and wetland plants, beautifully illustrated by Susan Elliott, artist, ecologist, and writer with Pinyon Publishing, a quality press located in the U.S. Rockies in Montrose, Colorado. Pinyon published the book on October 15, and we arrived in New Iberia Friday to find boxes of it safely stored with our friend, Janet Faulk-Gonzales.

Vickie, a writer and botanist, has a Ph.D. in biology from Florida State University and is a former professor with the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. She has published numerous botanical papers, fiction, and non-fiction, including the speculative novel, Adoption, also published by Pinyon. Vickie was recently honored by a new flower species Eupatorium sullivaniae being named after her, crediting her extensive scientific research on the Eupatorium genus.

Susan Elizabeth Elliott studied botany and French at Humboldt State University and has a Ph.D. in biology from Dartmouth College. She has published fiction and nonfiction, and her paintings are showcased in Open the Gates: Poems for Young Readers by Dabney Stuart, as well as in Why Water Plants Don’t Drown. Her drawings and paintings in Why Water Plants Don’t Drown greatly enhance and clarify the scientific text.

The following is an interview with Vickie in which she talked about this basic biological and ecological text:

Moore: I know that you wrote one version of Why Water Plants Don’t Drown in the 90’s and didn’t write this later version until last year. What prompted you to “begin again?”

Sullivan: I wrote a children's version of Why Water Plants Don’t Drown, which was bought by Franklin Watts, a division of Grolier that was then bought by Scholastic. My manuscript got sidelined in the buy out, and my editor there didn’t continue with Scholastic. I asked to be released from the contract with Scholastic and began looking for a new publisher. Pinyon Publishing became interested, but wanted the book pitched to nature enthusiasts of any age and to contain more science. I rewrote the manuscript, keeping the title and general categories of water plants. Gary Entsminger, the publisher, and Susan Elliott, the illustrator and botanist, provided excellent comments and suggestions for additions (and subtractions) from my draft manuscript.

Moore: What do you mean by Survival Strategies of Aquatic and Wetland Plants?

Sullivan: Plants that normally live on dry land cannot live in water or wet places for very long. Aquatic and wetland plants can only do so because they have adaptations that allow them to thrive in such habitats. Regardless of where they live, all plants have basic needs that must be met. They must have adequate light and concentrations of needed gases, the body must be supported, and they must be able to reproduce.

Moore: Why is light a problem for water plants?

Sullivan: Plants make food using sunlight or artificial light in the case of aquaria, but when light passes through water some wavelengths they need are filtered out. Plants living submerged in water must compensate by being more efficient in absorbing the light waves that they need.

Light and need for gases are linked in water plants. All plants need two gases, carbon dioxide and oxygen, and these are not as concentrated in water as they are in the air above the water. Water plants trap gases in air spaces in their bodies for later use. The same plant tissue that traps gases also allows them to float in water, in other words, to be supported by the water. If you examine a water hyacinth plant, a common floating plant in parts of the US, especially the southeast, you'll see that much of the plant is made of air spaces. Being supported by water is important because if water plants sink too deeply below the surface, they’ll be below the level of adequate light penetration for photosynthesis.

Being stiffly supported by hard stems and tough leaves, as in land plants, is a disadvantage in water. Water currents flowing across such stiff plants would tear them apart. Water plants that grow submerged tend to be soft and flimsy providing little resistance to the currents.

Moore: How do plants reproduce in water? On land, plants have flowers that make seeds. Do water plants have underwater flowers?

Sullivan: Reproduction by seeds varies in water plants and may occur after pollination underwater in some species or above water in flowers that attract pollinators. Underwater flowers are very nondescript and even hard to recognize as flowers. A common feature of water plants is to reproduce by cloning without seeds that is by breaking apart with parts growing into new plants. Hydrilla, the invasive scourge, and other water plants are able to spread as carry pieces of plants are carried from place to place on boats, wading birds, etc. In addition, hydrilla and others like it produce underground buds in great abundance that lie dormant for periods of time.

Flooded soils are low or lacking in oxygen, which is a problem that rooted aquatic and wetlands plants must overcome. Roots need oxygen and land soils have oxygen in air pockets among the soil particles. The aquatic and wetland plants I call snorkelers, pump oxygen to the roots in various ways from the surface. Water lilies, for example, take in gases through stomates in their floating leaves. As the sun heats the leaves, the gases expand and get pushed down through column in the leaf stalks, all the way to roots. Excess gases are pushed out into the underwater soils providing oxygen to other organisms. Methane, or marsh gases, and carbon dioxide from the roots move up the columns within these plants and are leaked into the atmosphere through stomates of older leaves.

Moore: in talking with Lorraine Kingston, owner of the New Iberia Books along the Teche bookstore, she suggested that the book should attract Louisianans because of the interest in environmental concerns – salt water intrusion and the demise of vegetation along the coast. Do you think your book will provide insights into Louisiana environmental problems? What about wetland plant loss?

Sullivan: Lack of sedimentation is a major problem for wetland habitats, and finding a means of replenishing flow of sediments is needed and being worked on. Over 40% of wetland habitats in the U.S. occur in Louisiana, and between 1932 and 2010, Louisiana lost 25% of its wetlands. Levees channelized natural waterways preventing overflow, robbing wetlands along the watercourse and coastal marshlands downstream of a flow of nourishing sedimentation. Without a sediments supply, marshlands erode and plants die leaving behind open water.

Intensive oil and gas industry development in Louisiana has damaged coastal wetlands. Spoil from canals dug to access well sites is piled along canal banks, smothering plants and impeding the flow of water and sediments. Also, the extraction of oil and gas from underground causes the marshes to sink and be replaced by open water.

Assessment of the impact of the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil spill is in its early stages. Marsh plants growing 15-30 feet from the shoreline were killed, and as this happened, roots could no longer hold sediments, and erosion from wave action along the marsh edges more than doubled.

Moore: How does sea level rise affect coastal wetlands?

Sullivan: Sea level rise affects coastal wetlands worldwide. Over time, elevations of marshes rise naturally through sedimentation and vegetation decay. However, if sea levels rise too rapidly, natural sedimentation can be outpaced, and coastal wetlands retreat inland, if possible or disappear. The EPA has predicted that during the next century, sea levels will rise 6 to 13 inches, which would inundate coastal wetlands. Over time sea levels rise during interglacial period, like this one, but the current pace of rise is higher than previous interglacial periods.

Moore: Tell me a little about each category of water plants you wrote about:

Sullivan: There are four categories of water plants and each one has a particular set of strategies or adaptations for surviving in water and wetlands. Diver is the playful name I give to plants that grow submerged in water. They float in the water at levels where there is sufficient light for photosynthesis, and are enabled by special air filled tissue to do so. A few are water pollinated, but some like Bladderwort produce lovely yellow or purple flowers above the water. Bladderworts are carnivorous plants that trap small aquatic animals in bladder traps. The cover illustration of Why Water Plants Don't Drown is of a bladderwort in flower and shows the underwater traps. Some of the most noxious aquatic plants such as hydrilla and water milfoils are divers. Many species of divers in marine habitats provide important nursery grounds for shrimp and fish.

Floaters include a disparate variety of species such as water hyacinths, duckweeds, mosquito fern and others. As the playful designation implies they float on the water surface, un-rooted in the soil. The leaves of water hyacinth act as sails and colonies like great rafts move on lakes and waterways. Water hyacinths invaded from South America and spread throughout the southeastern U.S. from plants given away at the International Cotton Exposition held in New Orleans in 1884. The exotic, purple flowers, with yellow encircled bull's eye nectar guides, attract pollinators.

The water lily and lotus are floating-leaf plants familiar to everyone. The circular or heart shaped leaf blades attached to long leaf stalks and float on the water surface. The leaf stalks attach deep underwater to horizontal buried stems. Inside the leaf stalks are hollow passageways for movement of gases from leaf blades downward to roots and back upward to leaf blades. I have dubbed this process snorkeling, which is common among the fourth category of wetland plants.

Waders are in the category of plants that grow in wet area with the upper part above water. The depth of water in which they grow varies. Many waders have proven to be snorkelers that are beneficial in oxygenating soils and ridding soils of methane. A few examples include cattails, the several species Spartina, bull tongue, mangroves, bald cypress, and cardinal flower. Leaves receive full sunlight unfiltered by water, have stiff supportive above water plants, and reproduce by seeds. Many in this category are wind pollinated grasses and sedges, which typically have reduced flower parts. Others such as the cardinal flower, with its spectacular red flowers, attract pollinators, in this case insects and hummingbirds.

Moore: Artist Susan Elliott is an ecologist as well as an artist, and her illustrations are beautiful. How did you and Susan coordinate the writing and illustrations for the book?

Sullivan: I feel very lucky to have found Susan to work with me on this book. Not only is she a wonderful artist, but she has a PhD in botany. We have never met although I feel like I know her. We worked entirely online, and our work began with my preparing a list of what I thought a reader would find helpful to have illustrated. She honed a method by trial and error aided by her knowledge of technique and software. A method evolved in which she emailed a "pencil" sketch attachment of each illustration, on which I commented as necessary, and she would adjust. She then colored using some computerized method, which is still mysterious to me.

Moore: Did the two of you have an audience in mind when you began work on the book?

Sullivan: I guess you could say we were passionate about making a book that would interest and entertain readers as much as we were interested in the topic. Aquatic and wetland plants are like desert plants in the sense that are found only in certain places. That enhances their specialness for me and digging into the natural history of water plants reveals layers of mystery.

Moore: Why is flooding a serious problem for plants if water plants don’t drown?

Sullivan: The title is a tongue in cheek because of course, drowning is a phenomenon that happens when lungs fill with water depriving us and any other land animal of oxygen. Plants don't have lungs, but their cells do need oxygen. When soils are flooded, water fills the air pockets between the soil particles and microorganisms use up the rest of the oxygen dissolved in water. Root cells become deprived of oxygen, which they need desperately. Water plants have ways of getting oxygen to the root cells that other plants don't have, and this is why they don't "drown."

Moore: Do you and Susan plan to work on another book together?

Sullivan: I’m open to the possibility, but we haven’t discussed it.