Thursday, September 27, 2012


Tomatillos and tomatoes
for salsa

This is Part II of an interview with Gary Entsminger, editor and publisher of Pinyon Publishing and the Pinyon Review, about Growing Your Own Produce. Gary and Susan Elliott, who does the artwork for Pinyon, have a home garden that supplies a significant part of their vegetarian diet, and they take time from book publishing duties to cultivate and maintain this garden on the Uncompahgre Plateau in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Moore: When we exchange e-mails weekly, you’ve often just finished a batch of sauce or salsa verde for preserving. Is preserving food an expensive process?
Entsminger: It depends on how you count costs. From garden to canner takes time and work. If we were paying ourselves by the hour it would be cheaper to buy from the supermarket. But we do this for pleasure as well as the rewards, and as I said earlier, this is about tradeoffs. We know exactly what goes into our gardens and our canned goods.
Moore: Do you use special cookware for preparing food for preserving? And do you use special seasonings when you’re cooking up a sauce or other food?
Gary tending the sauce
Cooking in iron pots
Entsminger: We prepare much of our food, for canning and daily cooking, in cast iron skillets and Dutch Ovens. We make a variety of tasty sauces and salsas simply by varying the ingredients (e.g., more chilies make a better bean enchilada sauce; fewer chilies might be better for rice, fewer yet for pasta). We’re vegetarians and eat some variation of beans, potatoes, rice, or pasta almost every day. Any of our canned sauces can be turned into a sauce for Indian, Italian, Mexican, or American food easily. We don’t season any of our sauces and salsa except with the fresh produce (onions, garlic, chilies) that we use when canning. So, later if we want to create an Indian dish, we can add Indian spices. Ditto for others (Mexican, Italian). But we always add a pinch of salt, olive oil, vinegar, and lime juice to all our sauces and salsas. This increases the basic flavor and also increases the acidity for safer preservation.
Moore: I know you make a lot of salsa verde because you've written me enough times after you've prepared a batch of it to make me hint for a jar of my own. What else do you and Susan can?
Entsminger: We also can roasted chilies, peaches, peach jam, applesauce, and dill pickles. This summer, like most years, we preserved 90-100 quarts of the vegetables and fruits I mentioned, and I’m pleased to say that none of our produce traveled more than 20 miles. So we’re helping to bring down that 1000 mile average of tomato travel in the US.
Moore: You've also mentioned to me that you have a greens garden, with kale, chard, spinach, and others. How much of the year can you maintain a greens garden?
Entsminger: As long into winter as weather allows. Winter comes early in the Rockies, and we have to be creative with covering the greens on cold nights and growing greens on the most protected side of our cabin. Ideally, we’d have a “real” greenhouse, so maybe one day...
Susan holding the bounty
Moore: Do you have caveats to add about home gardening and preserving the “bounty” you harvest?
Entsminger: Yes. Our approach probably wouldn't work for most modern Americans who commute an hour or more each day to work. But that’s also another trade-off. We work out of our cabin, and thus we have that commuting time to garden and preserve. Ours is an old fashioned approach, but it still remains the best one for us.

Photographs by Gary Entsminger and Susan Elliott


Gary Entsminger and
home-grown produce
Many times when I receive an email from Gary Entsminger, editor and publisher of Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado, he’s up to his neck in salsa verde or canning peaches, jams, applesauce, or other home-grown or local fruits or vegetables. His produce is usually fresh from a garden planted and tended by him and his partner, Susan Elliott, a painter and botanist, or comes from farmers in the valley below them. Both Gary and Susan are vegetarians, so when they moved into their cabin, a garden seemed an inevitable ingredient for their lifestyle.
Invariably, Gary’s e-mails arrive near supper time, and I find myself salivating over his descriptions of the salsa or sauces he and Susan are brewing in their kitchen. Since Susan is also an herbalist and knows her seasonings, the spices that are part of their recipes remind me of those in Indian and Iranian food.
I asked Gary to follow up the garden articles for which Susan supplied the texts on two of my blogs by giving me an interview about producing and canning food at home, and he supplied enough material for two blogs, which I’ll pass on to anyone who’s interested in the hot topic of sustainability.
Gary and Susan live in a rustic cabin on the Uncompahgre plateau near Montrose, Colorado year-round and balance their work of publishing books and periodicals/selling rare and second-hand books with hiking, playing musical instruments, growing and canning food. Gary dubbed this piece a “wee spiel,” but he supplies enough information to titillate anyone interested in learning to live “off the land” year-round.
Here’s the interview:
Moore: What prompted you to begin growing your own food?
Entsminger: That’s a long story. So perhaps I should just describe a problem that American consumers have when it comes to food – 1) grow and preserve food themselves, or 2) buy from someone else. Often, the buying means from a supermarket (or a restaurant). It’s probable that any food bought in a supermarket has traveled a long distance. Some estimate that the average tomato travels 1000 miles to get to a consumer. Since most food in supermarkets comes from California, Florida, Mexico, or further (e.g., many apples come from New Zealand) and especially in winter, the 1000 miles sounds accurate enough, and transporting food is expensive. Also foods harvested for transportation are usually picked earlier and are sometimes genetically manipulated for longer shelf-life. & there’s the pesticide issue.
Moore: What about pesticides and supermarket fruits and vegetables?
Entsminger: Well, you’ve heard of the Dirty Dozen?
Moore: You mean the movie?
Entsminger:  Yes, and the produce. Researchers have determined that some fruits and vegetables contain more pesticide residues than others. Those are the Dirty Dozen. Here’s a list I saw recently: apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, and potatoes.
Moore: Ouch. Those are some of my favorites!
Gary digging in garden
Entsminger:  Mine too. But there are alternatives. You can buy organically produced fruits and vegetables or grow your own.
Moore: So you and Susan decided to avoid supermarket fruits and vegetables by starting a garden?
Entsminger. Not exactly. Like everyone else, our diet would be quite restricted without supermarkets. But we’re trying to work around the inefficient mess of conventional farming and consumer dependence on whatever the conventional farmer and supermarket provides. An alternative is to grow the food yourself or buy locally. In most parts of the U.S., it’s still possible to grow a garden during the warmer months, and if you grow a garden, the logical follow-up is to preserve the food from your garden for winter. This was how my parents’ and grandparents’ generations went about it. There was no question of buying your winter fruits and vegetables in a supermarket since in my part of rural Virginia there were no supermarkets nearby until at least the 1950s.
Moore: My godfather used to say that the U.S. ended in the 1950s, but perhaps it was earlier for people who wanted fresh foods! However, there is a growing trend toward sustainability and people making home gardens.
Entsminger: Yes, but as with everything, there are trade-offs. For example, how to preserve the nutrition in fruits and vegetables when you store, can, freeze, etc. food for winter. There’s no question that nutrition in any fruit or vegetable begins to degrade as soon as it’s picked. Thus, a tomato that travels by truck from California to Colorado has been losing some of its nutrition along the way, and when most fruits and vegetables are heated they lose some of their nutrition. Unless you’re picking the fruit from your garden and eating it raw soon after, you’ve already begun to lose some nutrition. So, which trade-offs are preferable? The best scenario Susan and I have found is similar to the one our ancestors used:
1.                Grow what you can.
2.                Buy locally when you can.
3.                Preserve what you can from your garden or local sources.
4.                Eat what’s in season.
5.                Buy in supermarkets as a last resort.
6.                Avoid growers using pesticides.

Moore: How do you preserve food?
Susan Elliott and onlookers
Entsminger: We preserve by canning or sun-drying, and we store root vegetables (potatoes, beets, onions, garlic) in cool areas. Root cellars are ideal. Apples can also be stored all winter if kept in a cool place. My parents had a cellar where we kept a winter’s supply of apples, potatoes, and onions. We grew the potatoes and onions, and we bought the apples from a local orchard. Susan and I are also experimenting with other methods as well, but we rarely freeze produce because of the energy it requires to maintain a freezer. This too is a trade-off because frozen foods can retain a bit more of their nutrition.
Part II of the interview with Gary Entsminger about Producing Your Own Food will be featured in a subsequent blog.

Photographs by Susan Elliott and Gary Entsminger

Monday, September 24, 2012


Fred Begun

A few blogs ago, during August, I wrote about visiting friends in Georgetown, D.C. and mentioned how I appreciated the contributions those friends had made in the music realm, the literary world, and the social service realm. I talked about Freddie Begun’s fame as a timpanist and composer with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. and Jane Bonin’s contributions as a playwright, professor, writer, and Peace Corps director in Africa. We enjoyed a delightful get-together, and I came away feeling that I had been in the company of two wonderful, enlightened people I was fortunate to have as friends.
A few weeks later, I received word that my friends had been in a horrific wreck and were in intensive care with multiple fractures. Jane was eventually discharged from the hospital, but Freddie worsened daily, and yesterday, he died. Although my friendship with Jane is a long term relationship of forty years, my acquaintance with Freddie was short-lived, a friendship of three years.
Freddie and Jane had been inseparable for seven years, and they came to The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee for a week visit with Jane’s daughter and husband over two years ago. While they were here, we enjoyed many lunches and dinners together, and although I admired Freddie’s musical talents, the most distinctive quality he possessed that impressed me deeply was the way he showed gratitude to his hosts and hostesses. Like people in Cajun country, Freddie regarded meals as celebrations, and whoever put on a dinner or took him to lunch received the equivalent of a standing ovation for having taken care of him. Following a meal, he’d stand up and ask for quiet, then deliver a long toast, an “after blessing” that acknowledged the efforts of those who had served him, those who had prepared for him, and those whose company he shared at the table.  He was not a toast master; his thank yous were bountiful and genuine.
In an age and society where I think gratitude is not so openly acknowledged anymore, Freddie was a rare person. He was a Jew, and I think that he exemplified the conscientious Jew who had been taught the theology and practice of gratitude from childhood. It was obvious that one of the overriding ideas in Jewish thought is that of acknowledging the blessings which are a part of your life -- a good Jew takes time to recognize and celebrate the life he has been given. Taken to the extreme, one of the most moving stories I’ve read about Jews showing gratitude to God for their lives is that of Holocaust victims reciting the Shema on their way to being exterminated by the Nazis.
I have copies of the Talmud and Torah among my books, and this morning I found a note about gratitude, referenced as Berachot 58a, which highlights expressing gratitude:
“What does a good guest say? How much trouble my host has taken for me! How much meat he set before me! How much wine he set before me! How many cakes he has set before me! And all the trouble he has taken was only for my sake!” I could hear Freddie echoing those words and inviting applause for his host or hostess afterward. That reading from the Talmud must have been engraved on Freddie’s heart because he expressed simple gratitude for those celebrations each time we were together.
I’m sure many accolades and tributes will be delivered in Freddie’s honor during the next few days, but I never got a chance to tell him how much I appreciated seeing him stand up and unabashedly confess the gratitude he felt for his blessings. I think that Freddie lived a fulfilled life and might have written one of the aphorisms from the Pirke Abot: “Who is rich? Those who rejoice in their own portion!”
I rejoice in having known someone who felt so grateful for the blessings of his life, which included the many friends whose lives he touched with kindness and a grateful heart. Mazel tov, Freddie! 

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Mooney's Market & Emporium

For five years, I passed a dingy stucco building on the highway between Monteagle and Sewanee, Tennessee and remarked how forlorn the building looked. It appeared to have housed an enterprise of some kind or a small family. “I wish someone would buy that place and renovate or restore it,” I’d say when we passed, but, then, I dislike abandoned buildings of any kind – home, business, motel, schoolhouse – and I suspected that the little structure would be torn down in a few years.
This year, when I returned from Louisiana where we winter and neared Sewanee feeling my usual reluctance to change homes for the season, I smiled widely when I saw that the little stucco building had been restored and bore the name “Mooney’s Market and Emporium” on its freshly-painted exterior. Since that time I’ve frequented the place weekly and enjoy talking with Joan Thomas, the proprietor. Joan, a witty woman with long blonde hair, has the kind of hospitable manner that makes a specialty grocery successful, and she also has a background in bookkeeping that keeps the store operating in the black.
Mooney’s occupies a building that was once a grocery called “Sanders,” owned by a family named Sanders who sold groceries in the big front room on one side of the structure and used the rest of the house as living quarters for the family. The road in front of the grocery was called Dixie Highway and was a graded and graveled road until it became Hwy. 41A.
“My husband and I bought the property to save what we considered to be an authentic landmark,” Joan said. “It took us a year to get clear title, and by the time we did get it, we were a telephone call away from having it demolished – the roof leaked, and the building appeared to be on the point of collapsing. However, I became sick and spent four days in bed, and while abed I had an epiphany. The epiphany was that we should save the building. We looked at the property again, and all the while, people in the Sewanee area were saying that the building wasn’t so bad. Then, my husband looked at it again and said, ‘it’s not so bad.’ Paul Cahoon, a friend who thinks outside the box, looked at the place, and after examining the structure, he said, ‘it’s not so bad.’ So we began restoration on the strength of everyone thinking that the building wasn’t in such bad shape.”
“While I was in bed those four days, I envisioned what we would do with the building after it was restored. I asked myself, ‘What is the work you have always wanted to do?’ and the answer was to have a yarn shop as I’m a weaver. In my vision, I made the front room on one side a weaving place that would hold my loom because the light in that room was perfect for a loom. Then, since I had always been in charge of a food coop – even ran one at St. Andrews Episcopal School before it burned down – I felt the need to create something like a food coop. That’s how the grocery was born.”
Joan Thomas
Joan recently added to the three acres that Mooney’s occupies by purchasing 1/3 acre that is the old railroad bed for trains which crossed within a few feet of the front corner of the house. “The train stopped running in the 60’s,” Joan said, “and in the 80’s the tracks were removed. The old railroad bed will become part of a Tennessee nature trail called the Mountain Goat Trail.”
Mooney’s inventory includes 90% natural foods, “and some gourmet fluff,” Joan says. A vegan since she was 15, she says she really learned about the value of food when she quit eating meat. A garden in the rear of the grocery attests to her interest in vegetables. In the small space, she grows tomatoes, kale, okra, herbs, and other vegetables according to season, a bounty that she sells along with foods from the Sewanee area, including local cheeses.
The store also houses a weaving/spinning room where Joan weaves and Claire Cage spins. The back rooms contain antiques on consignment from Anne Sherrill, a dorm matron for dormitories on the campus of the University of the South, and assorted furniture and books from others.
When I interviewed Joan, we sat at an old ice cream parlor table on the back porch and chatted about her background, which is as interesting as Mooney’s. A native of Cleveland, Tennessee, Joan has lived mostly in Tennessee, with a hiatus in Seattle, Washington where she tried her wings as a bookkeeper for television and the theatre and did food styling for commercials. “I also did some cooking for a cooking show – you know, dump and pour,” she said, laughing.
Joan moved to Sewanee in 1985 to house sit “Brinkwood” on the Natural Bridge Road near Sewanee, a home that was in the family of the famed author Walker Percy and which she house sat for seven years. She married her first husband, and when Brinkwood was sold, she helped establish Link Farm on 1,200 acres in the Jump Off Community Land Trust near Sewanee. There, she and her husband initiated a gardeners’ market, a food coop, and began making a community like one that they envisioned a “community should be.” Joan related that for awhile, she lived in a teepee, then “built a home and divorced, in that order.” We agreed that couples who build a home together from foundation upward often divorce during the planning and building process.
When Joan moved to "The Farm" in Summertown, 120 miles west of Sewanee, she joined an intentional community that had formerly been a famous commune where each member of the community signed a vow of poverty and pooled whatever possessions he or she had. In this community Joan met her second husband, Michael Lee. The Farm is now privatized, but it remains an intentional, gated community.
Joan and her husband later established a contracting business in the area. “Then I broke my leg,” she said, “which must have been a way to get out of the business because I foolishly climbed up on a 20 ft. ladder and fell off.” Her contracting background proved valuable when she and her husband restored Mooney’s. They maintained the authenticity of the old structure, repairing rotten boards, reframing and refinishing floors in other rooms, reusing all the old materials to restore the home. Joan took on the job of painting, applying three or four coats to the exterior and interior of Mooney’s. However, she had learned her lesson regarding ladders and didn’t volunteer to paint the ceilings. The outcome of the appraisals “it’s not so bad” is a structure that would qualify for a National Historic property, a neat small-town marketplace boasting a colorful awning and sign with a smiling moon that attracts customers from mid-Tennessee and from throughout the U.S. and other countries.
Joan plans to expand Mooney’s to include a restaurant, a travel trailer in the side yard that will be used as a kitchen to prepare wraps and sandwiches for patrons who can pick up lunch from a window ledge on one side of the trailer. She employs one assistant, Rebecca Newton, who works part time at Mooney’s and never seems to be done with packing grains and loading shelves. Rebecca shares Joan’s love of the market/emporium but has a second job as an editor.
Inside Mooney's
“We’re constantly busy, and I don’t have time to spare,” Joan says. “The grocery takes up my whole life. I do meditate every day for thirty minutes, using my own mantra. My spiritual life can be summed up in one sentence: I believe that we are all One – everything that is, is God, and we are part of it.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Zip Greenlaw
I don’t own a dog. At the age of 50, just when I thought I was getting over the hump called mid-life, I developed an allergy to animal dander. Now, in my family ancestry, dogs are considered one of the staples of a happy life; and if not dogs, cats. So, in a sense I’m a black sheep among a clan of dog and cat lovers; namely, my Scots ancestors, the Greenlaws,  from whence my mother came. Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we always had dogs around, tunneling holes in the backyard, sitting on the back porch barking all night, and, finally, one cocker spaniel named “Tee-Nap” that accompanied the family in a crowded Ford coupe all the way to Diddy Wah Diddy, my father’s name for California.
Great Uncle Ed Greenlaw was the consummate dogologist and ‘though he wasn’t a misanthrope, he was fond of quoting the maxim, “The more I know of man, the more I love my dog.” He immortalized his fox terrier in a pamphlet published on his own printing press entitled Zip Greenlaw, Autobiography of a Fox Terrier, that is now in the archives at Louisiana State University. Zip was a regular terror of a dog who often fought with the cat next door named Kitty Gamard and was taught to squeeze a water pistol loaded with water at grand nieces (mostly me) when Great Uncle Ed didn’t want to be disturbed. Great Uncle Ed also suffered from a disease called “children intolerance,” sorta’ like W. C. Fields. The water pistol incident is the only live memory I have of  Uncle Ed and his dog, which I immortalized (?) in a poem that I published in Grandma’sGood War: A Verse Retrospective of the Forties.
I try to avoid dog licks, pounces, and other shows of affection because such expressions usually cause me to sneeze, get teary-eyed, and itch all over. However, in cases of emergency I’ve been known to get within barking distance of short-haired hounds, namely dachshunds. These hounds exhibit a certain intelligence that Great Uncle Ed would appreciate and write about if he were still alive.
For example, the other day I visited a friend in my official capacity as a deacon in the Episcopal Church (an office which Great Uncle Ed wouldn’t have respected because he was an agnostic and spent an hour every Sunday parked in his Cadillac, waiting for his daughters to emerge from an Episcopal Church in New Orleans, Louisiana... or on some Sundays, he simply watched the trains go by until decent folk emerged from their Sunday pews, when he’d say “They’ll be all right on Monday”). Anyway, one Thursday, I put my Communion kit under my arm and took Communion to a close friend who has been confined indoors for a spell. Her constant companion is a miniature dachshund named “Gus” (oddly enough, the name of Great Uncle Ed’s cook!). Most of the time when we visit, Gus climbs into a basket in front of the hassock where my friend stretches out her legs and after playing “Man’s Best Friend Is His Dog” on his squeak toys (shades of the old water pistol), he goes to sleep for the duration of our visit.
On this particular Thursday, while I'm  preparing my miniscule altar and placing the vessels on it, Gus pulls the blanket over his head, I suppose, so that he doesn’t have to listen to the prayers – or maybe, smart dog that he is, he’s going into his closet and praying like Jesus enjoined us to do. I finally reach the part where I lift the paten with wafers on it and announce, “The gifts of God for the people of God.” When I moved to put the Communion wafer in my friend’s hands, Gus burst from his hideaway under the blanket and came over to the hassock, panting for his turn to commune. The most irreverent laugher ended our home Communion service. My friend explained to me that Gus appears at the card table on cue when the ladies put down their cards and bring out the dessert tray because they always include treats they’ve prepared for him. I had committed the sin of dog omission!
I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out of the Eucharistic Feast, even dogs to which I am allergic, so this morning after Eucharist at St. Mary’s, I asked for an increased supply of Communion wafers. Dogologists that the Sisters are, they approved an extra wafer for my next visit with Gus. I could hear Great Uncle Ed laughing up yonder.
Here’s a portion of the bit of doggerel from Grandma’sGood War:
It began with Great Uncle Ed who called himself a dogologist,
a man who perhaps needed the help of a skilled psychologist,
Great Uncle Ed whose favorite quotation
was the maxim of long duration,
“The more I know of men, the more I love my dog,”
a sentiment reinforced by the writing of a daily log
that became autobiography of a dog named Zip Greenlaw,
a fox terrier that would hold a water pistol in his paw
and douse children if they came near Great Uncle Ed,
more evidence that Uncle meant what he said
about not liking humans as much as those canine,
claiming Greenlaws could speak Dog, a language more divine
than, for instance, his son-in-law who spoke with vigor
about work toward a Ph.D., short for “post hole digger.”
“If one made a hole to let something out,”
Zip wrote, “then without a shred of canine doubt,
one has also made a way to let something in,”
citing his backyard hang-out as evidence of this spin.
Zip claimed that a Ph.D. impeded rather than protected,
that man could live a life more inner directed
without advanced degree, a hole in the yard being a feature
he could wiggle into but also be forced out by larger creature…”

That’s only a portion of the piece of doggerel, but you can imagine the rest of the dialogue. The above essay about dogs is what happens to poets on a rainy day on The Mountain, but doggone, it’s the closest I can get to a creature that the One Whom None Can Hinder keeps from my “spoliation” by endowing me with an allergy to our canine friends.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


For seven days, we’ve been wood shedding at Crossville, Tennessee, a hilly town northeast of Sewanee in the Cumberland Mountains. Although the purpose of the trip was to hibernate and work on a new young adult novel, I always manage to get in a sightseeing trip – particularly if I’m near one of the many parks that the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) built when these wonderful organizations were set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt following the Great Depression.
My father was among the numerous men who would have starved had he not been employed in the  programs that constructed bridges, state park structures, roads, and walls along highways throughout the U.S. Videos about the work of the CCC’s can be viewed at the Roosevelt State Park where Roosevelt established his retreat in the “Little White House” near Pine Mountain Ridge, Georgia. Buildings constructed of stone and other materials indigenous to the area, as well as a stone swimming pool and lodge, were also constructed by the CCC’s in that location.
Tennessee has a grand share of state parks that feature the work of the WPA and CCC’s, and Cumberland Mountain State Park near Crossville boasts of the Crab Orchard stone dam/bridge that is a magnificent landmark (shown above). It’s reputed to be the largest masonry structure constructed by the CCC. Many of the buildings in the park were built of a local rock called Crab Orchard sandstone which residents around Crossville have used to build their homes.
The Cumberland Mountain State Park contains 1720 acres on a sandstone tableland of the Cumberland Plateau. As we drove through the forest, we looked for deer, rabbit, and fox that park officials touted as local wildlife in the area.This land south of Crossville was first acquired in 1934 as a project of the Farm Security Administration to create a recreation area for 250 families selected, under The Homestead Act, to homestead in Cumberland County. They were to build a self-sustaining community and colonize this sparsely populated section of Tennessee. The town of Crossville was economically depressed for many years, but a bustling economy and many cottage industries located within the city and on its outskirts attest to the Homestead Act’s vision of future success for the area.
The famous Cumberland County Playhouse in Crossville has gained popularity as “one of the top ten theatres in rural areas of the U.S.”. Established in 1965, it serves 145,000 patrons annually, offering a venue of works based on Tennessee and southeastern history and culture and featuring Appalachian themes.  We bypassed a musical based on Ginger Rogers' career as a dancer to attend the movie, "Hope Springs," but picked up a schedule for upcoming productions at the Playhouse. 
Inside the Cumberland Mountain State Park, cabins and a large Mill House Lodge are available for people seeking refuge in the outdoors, and reservations have to be made early – some as long as two years in advance! For golfers, a Jack Nicklaus 18-hole course makes the best of hills and flowing streams, and the course has a signature 7th hole that showcases layered flagstone native to the area. Visitors who work up an appetite can sample the fare at the Cumberland Mountain State Park Restaurant, open six days a week, that features a special Rib Night and Catfish Day.
From the puff I’m giving the area, you can surmise that we’re going back soon, particularly since I discovered that Byrd Lake in the park is stocked with bass, catfish, crappie, and rainbow trout. A long time has passed since I last cast a fly rod, and I’m going to retrieve mine from Louisiana when I return to Cajun country.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


This morning, I have been re-reading one of my favorite poets, Robert Francis, a New Englander and contemporary of Robert Frost. Francis always inspires me because he was an example of a poet who persisted in being authentic in his life and work, living in virtual poverty after he built a house called Fort Juniper in the woods and fields near Amherst, Massachusetts. Francis built his poet’s retreat with an inheritance of $1,000 from his father’s life insurance. He survived on a few hundred dollars a year for at least sixteen years while he wrote poems, gave music lessons, and owned, as I once wrote about him, “freedom and leisure.” A vegan, he subsisted largely on produce from his home garden and, for many years, walked to town for needed supplies.
In a journal that Francis kept for the years 1930-1950, he records that he received 641 rejections for his poetry before he was finally published, and, then, he was never as well-known as his friend, Robert Frost. He noted that two of the portraits in the Jones Library at Amherst, Massachusetts, were of poets, and he was one of the two. Francis writes: “It [his portrait, which was labeled “poet”] gives me something of a start and also a satisfaction to be summed up in one word. I submit to the label. I am enough of a poet to be called a poet. Some day I may be more poet still…” And later in life, he did become more of a poet but utilized less and less words.
Francis’s words resonated with me today when I finally sent to press Everything Is Blue, my 14th book of poetry and 32nd book. Friends once chided me because I wouldn’t claim the title “writer,” even while I churned out articles, poems, and, finally a book in 1980. And until less than ten years ago, I didn’t claim to live so rich a life as that of a poet. This morning as I re-read Francis, I identified with his final submission to the idea of being a poet.
Everything Is Blue was inspired by one of my brother Paul’s paintings–a seascape rendered entirely in shades of blue, with the slight contrast of a silver sea gull winging through the blue sky, and his painting provided the cover for my 32nd book of poetry. My grandson Martin, who designs all of my book covers, designed the cover using Paul’s painting.
Everything Is Blue contains a title poem inspired by the painting, poems about travels to southern locales–including deceased writers’ homes–meditations about the sea, a wry poem about robots’ place in the post-modern world, the value of growing mint, and others concerning the spiritual life, with an end poem about the place of memories in a contented life.
Here’s one of the shorter poems I wrote for Everything Is Blue:
a pileated woodpecker hammers
the impenitent bark of an oak,
dogwood petals scatter
under the crooked tree,
dark angels are blinded and banished,
God has corrected all his mistakes.

We have come to this coolness,
precious Spring in the branches
of the crooked tree,
the cry in the night, a useless sound.

Now the thick silence
makes no announcements,
only the woodpecker protesting
the end of steady suffering,
white petals falling softly
as millions of bodies are reborn,

their lips forming notes of risible music
rising in the unseeing air,
the sound of light
traveling through my shadow.

Everything Is Blue can be ordered online by clicking the title, or by snail mail from Border Press, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375 after September 20, 2012.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Jesse Ball duPont Library
on rainy Labor Day

A few days ago, I walked over to the university library here on the campus of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee and was amazed at the quietness inside the place. Of course, libraries once boasted large “Shhh,” signs, and silence was strongly enforced. Actually, centuries ago in England, libraries were dark, museum-type buildings with books chained to the tables. Now, they’re well-lighted multimedia centers that offer patrons expansive check-out privileges.
When I walked into the stillness of the university library, memories of the city library in New Iberia, Louisiana, where I once worked as a Public Relations Director, drifted through my mind. I almost laughed aloud at the memory of the day a shy newcomer joined our staff and was surprised to find that quietness didn’t always prevail in a small city library.
The most-remembered noisy incident took place on the day of the newcomer’s arrival when Louise Fisher, assistant librarian, had to administer “Second Aid.” Louise was constantly on call to doctor street victims and technicians who often cut their fingers servicing the copy machine. She was dubbed a “Second Aider” because she moved with slow and perfect calmness and usually arrived with a band-aid or ammonia after the accident victim had reached point of hemorrhage or expiration.
The day the shy staff member discovered that the New Iberia Library wasn’t a quiet haven, we were drinking coffee in a back room overlooking the Bayou Teche and suddenly saw a woman running toward the bayou at the pace of a hysterical gallop. We also heard a high-pitched wail that sounded as if she was about to attempt a high dive or was screaming for last rites.
Second Aider Louise went into action and actually raced out the back door, tackling the woman before she could fling herself into the rusty Teche that runs behind the library. For perhaps an hour, our second aider sat in the cab of the woman’s truck and counseled her, finally relinquishing her most seriously-impaired victim to a relative who had been summoned.  That day she gained a promotion to "First Aider."
“Does this happen very often?” our shy newcomer asked. “Oh no,” we assured her. However, I recall that the same week of the near-suicide, a drunk wandered in and wobbled into the back rooms of the library,  looking for -- you guessed it -- Louise.  This incident was followed by Louise's encounter with a voyeur who hid in the poetry stacks and tried to frighten one of our spinster librarians. No, quietness didn’t always prevail in this city library!
All of the members of the New Iberia library staff  practiced second aid when one of the crew came to work in a blue funk. A rich vein of humor ran from the front desk, down the back hall, and into the coffee lounge. One day when I went to work with a case of vapors, several staff members helped to evaporate my bad humor. At break time that day, the library secretary, who later retired to await the delivery of twins, decided to alter my mood with a story about pregnancy.
“My dog had to get in on the act,” she said. “One afternoon I came home and found him in a corner, his stomach badly swollen, looking like a good imitation of me. Now, mind you, this is a male dog. He lay there awhile and finally emitted this low-throated ‘aarp’ that convinced me he wasn’t feeling well. We discovered that, in envy of my balloon-like state, he had decided to mimic my habit of eating everything in sight. When he finished off his bowl of food, which we had increased daily, he chewed up and swallowed the sponge wax mop I had left lying about. The combination wax and sponge quickly blew him up to desired pregnancy size. We had to rush him to the vet for an x-ray. He was worse off than a woman with morning sickness for awhile.” Needless to say, I had difficulty nursing a bad mood after hearing the story.
That afternoon, another anecdote came into the coffee room via a staff member who had observed this interaction between Louise and a young patron who had begun to annoy our second aider by continuously turning a huge world globe until it seemed perilously close to spinning out of orbit. “Miss Louise,” he yelled across the library. Louise, busy reading the stacks, kept shushing him. Finally, in desperation, the boy called to her: “Miss Louise, if you don’t come here...” and gave the globe a vicious twirl. Outdone, Louise quickened her usual slow pace and reached the boy prepared to administer second aid by taping his mouth. “Show me,” the boy demanded, “show me on this thing where God lives.” The only answer he got from Louise was that God is in heaven and all is right with the world, and our second aider decided to work in the back room of the library the remainder of the day, providing second aid to people with physical and emotional needs, rather than theological ones.
When Louise died, I preached the homily for her funeral and talked about the writings she had done for the "Reflections" group, a women’s creative writing group that I taught at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia. She penned her own epitaph in the book I edited for this group entitled Meditations of My Heart. In one of the sessions with the group, I had read aloud a passage from the poem entitled “A Passage From Religious Leanings” by e. e. cummings, the last few lines which read: “Winter by Spring, I lift my diminutive spire to/Merciful Him whose only now is forever…”
In response to these lines, Louise wrote: “It is hard to accept the thought of death, either your own or a loved one’s. When death faces you, so many thoughts run through your mind, but the main one is about what will happen to the loved ones you leave behind. The talk of death reminds me of my bouts with cancer,” she said. “The first time I was told I had cancer, I thought: ‘this is pretty bad.’ The second time they told me I had another cancer, I thought, ‘Goodness, I’ll take out a nursing home policy.’ The third time I thought, ‘oops, maybe I had better make funeral arrangements.’ Yet, I haven’t taken any of these actions in the face of my resurrections! As Cummings said, ‘I lift my diminutive spirit to merciful Him whose only now is forever’…”
Louise lived through many sufferings, enduring four bouts with several kinds of cancer and working at the New Iberia Library during most of those bouts, Since her death, no one has applied for, or been hired for, her noteworthy position as “Second Aider.”  She probably took her Second Aid kit with her.

Photograph by Victoria I. Sullivan (in the rain)