Wednesday, January 14, 2015


It's one thing to write about a cold place you're slated to visit and another to arrive and experience the icy breath of winter on The Mountain at Sewanee. Although we missed the three-degree temps Sewaneeans experienced the week preceding our return to The Mountain, we've been deprived of sunlight for at least three days. However, the worst aspect of the weather is heavy fog, fog that surpasses any mist hanging over the Louisiana swamps.

We went out to St. Mary's Convent at 7 a.m. yesterday to attend Eucharist, and the Subaru crawled down the road leading to the Convent in dense mists that I can only describe as "unsafe." However, after breakfast with the Sisters, I found a copy of May Sarton's Journal of A Solitude (order below), and settled in a rocker before the wood-stove in the Common Room. I actually began to feel safe and cozy. I had unconsciously selected a book that contained many chapters describing a winter in New Hampshire, where Sarton lived and wrote in her late years. At least we didn't have to cope with the fifteen inches of snow she described in a journal entry, "February 8," I thought, as I warmed my feet before the fire.

Although Sarton wanted her novels and poetry to be recognized and acclaimed as best sellers, her journals and memoirs gained the greater readership. I've almost finished this book of observations on the inner and outer worlds of the writer. Chapters about books, people, and Sarton's spiritual journey fascinate me, and I was ready to go out in the fog again after reading during the morning at the Convent and the afternoon at home when the woods were shrouded in heavy fog.

One journal entry that resonated with me: "Simone Weil says, 'Absolute attention is prayer.' The more I have thought about this over the years, the truer it is for me. I have used the sentence often in talking about poetry to students, to suggest that if one looks long enough at almost anything, looks with absolute attention at a flower, a stone, the bark of a tree, grass, snow, a cloud, something like revelation takes place. Something is 'given' and perhaps that something is always a reality outside the self."

After reading this, I surmised that even when a writer sits and stares at fog, something happens because a few moments after reading this, I added another poem to the book of poetry I'm writing entitled The Lonely Grandmother. A few hours later, I needed that inspiration when we again set out in the fog, bound for the Hamman's place, "Tick Farm," aka "The Bat Cave" as both ticks, and, lately, bats have been discovered in residence on their property. This time, we set out at night, and missed numerous turns off the highway, as well as the narrow lane leading into the Hamman quarters.

The drive through the fog was harrowing, but inside the Hammans' cottage, Kathy's gourmet cooking made up for the pall of the weather. The Rev. Francis Walter and his wife Faye arrived a half hour later and announced that they had lost their way several times before finally turning into the drive at Tick Farm. The Hammans have lived in London, Iran, India, and other exotic places, and good food and conversation helped us forget that we had to travel back through pea soup. Usually, when the six of us get together, we dive headlong into conversation about politics, religion, books not-so-conservative, and other unsafe topics and emerge invigorated by talk that other people often find taboo table talk.

When I arrived home, I found that I had dropped my cell phone somewhere along the way and panic overtook me—panic worse than that I had experienced going through the fog, I'm ashamed to admit. Fortunately, the Hammans found the phone in the yard, the only thing to be victimized by the fog, and they're bringing it to me today. Meanwhile, I welcome the silence and Journal of A Solitude (order below), glancing out the window now and then to check on the ubiquitous fog. It's still overhanging us, and we are, as Sewaneeans say, "socked in." However, we should be back in Teche country by Saturday afternoon!

Photographs by Victoria Sullivan

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