Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Pink dogwood
During Morning Prayer at St. Mary's Convent, Sewanee, Tennessee this morning, I looked out the window and saw snow falling on the valiant, blooming redbuds and dogwoods which had just come into their own. It's Holy Week, and a "dogwood winter" has descended on The Mountain, with below freezing temperatures predicted for tonight. Carol, who cooks for the Convent, assured us that the snow is just passing through, and by the end of the Eucharist, the sky had cleared of snow... and now an icy rain is falling.

I love the way the snow looks on the trunks of the myriad dogwoods scattered throughout Sewanee, but we had no warning that a dogwood winter would assail us. Sunday afternoon we went down to Chattanooga, which seethed with 82-degree weather (well, that's hot here in middle Tennessee!) and spent the afternoon strolling around the Bluff View Art District, known not only for its visionary arts, but for its culinary art as well. The District sits atop a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River and is our favorite area in Chattanooga.

After lunching at Tony's Italian Restaurant, we meandered through the River Gallery and the Huntington Museum where regional and national artists are featured, but we were drawn outdoors to take photographs of the pink dogwoods and of other foliage in the little alleyways that wind behind the River Gallery. We paused before a dogwood near the Rembrandt Restaurant where we sometimes eat European style pastries and drink Expresso coffee outdoors under bright umbrellas. I've written a few poems about the birds that flock to the outdoor tables while we're eating, and I always notice people scribbling on pads as they sit in the sun enjoying the European ambiance of the place. I imagine them as fellow poets who're writing about the "light that exists in spring/not present on the year" (in the words of Miss Emily Dickinson) and have scratched similar lines on napkins while sitting at a Rembrandt table. 'S hard to resist doing something artistic in this setting!
Gelsemium vine

We found it difficult to leave the city on such a sunlit day, so we prolonged our visit by going down to the Whole Foods Market where we discovered organic and local produce, grass-fed meat, and an opening sale of spring flowers. The large display of orchids in this wonderful marketplace prompted us to buy a tall, deep purple one to deliver as an Easter gift for a shut-in friend at Sewanee.

The Sunday afternoons of my childhood were always times that I labeled "inertia," as they were devoted to adult naptimes or, in the case of visits to my hardshell Baptist grandmother, they were periods when we observed the Sabbath by avoiding any kind of happy activity that might be regarded as disrespectful of the day — solemnity, quietude and utter boredom prevailed! Now, when sunny spring weather beckons, I'm likely to indulge the "play impulse" and my ubiquitous wanderlust on Sunday afternoons, and Chattanooga always satisfies both tendencies.

However, snow is falling again, and on a more serious note, here's a poem I wrote about a dogwood winter occurrence. It's from my book, The Holy Present and Farda:


God does not wear a heavy cloak
concealing his illuminations,

he is in the world, a shaft of light
cutting through our fatal talk

of dark and cumbersome sin.
He brings the faint violet to radiance,

an almost forgotten smallness
growing in the graveyard,

starlings scattering in the trees,
people walking among gray tombstones,

chatting briefly of one history or another,
talking about each infidelity,

about how God is with the dead now
in the other world, behind the curtain...

But he has never worn a long cloak
hiding his illuminations,

daffodil, vines overcome quiet graves
knowing he is here, gracious light

watching his own silent handiwork...
snow falling on the mountain,

now, here, now.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

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