Saturday, January 23, 2016


Fallen white pine, Sewanee
This will probably be the shortest blog I’ve done during seven years of blogging. The picture on the left indicates my whereabouts during an unusual winter visit to our second home at Sewanee. What you’re viewing is an accidentally-felled pine tree (!) at the end of our drive that will join the graveyard of trees we purposely felled in our front yard in New Iberia, Louisiana last month.

Foot prints in snow
As you can see, at least three inches of snow and the felled tree impede our progress out of here. It also impedes the mobility of six students whose cars are under the trunk of the felled pine. Why are we here? We came up from Louisiana to a meeting at St. Mary’s Convent and found our home had been
entered, keys and the remote to our electronic door stolen, a smoking parlor set up in my study, and the culprits were brazen enough to return to our property (supposedly protected against public invasions) the night we arrived and sat out on our porch, smoking and chatting it up. We rattled a door knob and they scattered, but we’ve been forced to install security in a cottage set between two dormitories and one fraternity house on the campus of the University of the South. We live in a community that touted having zero crime when we thought about moving to the university campus at Sewanee eight years ago. I hope this brief entry sets the record straight about that much-advertised propaganda.

Tree smashed six cars
Not to worry – we have two eggs, a half loaf of gluten-free bread, blueberries, rice and salsa, grits, ghee, and coffee, and we are hoping to get out of here within the next day or so for a trip to Florida. We have cell service, heat, water, and Sister Elizabeth says “a sense of humor.” But as Ma Kettle once commented, “some days it don’t pay to put on your clothes” (except that she must have lived in a warmer clime because I have on two layers)…
65 Fairbanks after snow storm

Mind you, I’m not grousing or boodaying or saying that I won’t return to this community one day (if I ever leave), but I’m having second thoughts about the wisdom of owning a place at “Weathering Heights.” Meanwhile, here are some pictures of the “disaster area” (minus a snap of the desk in my study that held a quilt borrowed from one bedroom and spread with tobacco leavings – I might add this campus is advertised as a “no smoking campus” – more propaganda)! Mischief is afoot in the world.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


While packing up papers in anticipation of returning to Tennessee for a short visit to my home on The Mountain, I came across an old book entitled Of Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis. It includes an essay concerning his speculations about the famous Narnia stories for children, as well as those about his science fiction trilogy. The short essay that interested me, “It All Began With A Picture,” focused on how Lewis came to write The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, in which he explains that all of his seven Narnia books and three science fiction books began with seeing pictures in his head; e.g., the Lion began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.

I experienced a sudden “aha” in my own head when I read this line, remembering how Kajun Kween, a young adult book I wrote several years ago, originated with a picture in my head of a six-foot, two-inches tall, 13-year old girl with feet that required size 12 shoes. The entire story, in comic book form, unfolded in my head. It featured this giraffe-like girl who interviewed for an actual comic strip publisher and beat out more ordinary jolie catins in a contest for a character who would become the heroine of this comic strip. Her job was to provide true adventures about her native Cajun French Louisiana; e.g., an encounter with a mama ‘gator protecting her egg nest; a stand-off with a giant snapping turtle; and an experience with a loup-garou late at night in a cypress swamp. The pictures in my head were described for and beautiful executed by Paul Schexnayder, New Iberia artist, for Kajun Kween.
Sketch by Paul
Schexnayder for Kajun

The picture that came into my mind as I planned the trip back to Tennessee was one of Petite Marie Melancon fulfilling the last line of Kajun Kweenshe would be exploring new kingdoms. Thus, she might consider The Mountain at Sewanee in Tennessee. Pictures of adventures flashed in my head: ghosts appearing to Petite at Rugby, Tennessee where a Brit once tried to establish a Utopian colony; Petite attempting to hike to Fiery Gizzard;  a “See Rock City” trip to Chattanooga where she plunges off a cliff; an experience in which she becomes Queen of the Moon Pie Festival at Bell Buckle, Tennessee…

Since I’ve just completed a book of poetry, Street Sketches, which should appear in a few weeks, the pictures that appeared in my head about Petite Marie seem like they want to tell a story in 2016. Like Lewis, “I don’t know where the pictures came from, and I don’t believe anyone knows exactly how he/she makes thing up. Making up is a mysterious thing…” All I know is that the pictures will persist until the story is told. In Petite Marie’s case, four or five years passed before she was birthed. We’ll see how she responds when I return to the winter cold on The Mountain next week; that is, before we move on to Florida for a few days. Pictures of her exploring Florida may become cut lines for a comic strip based there -- elusive crocodiles in the Everglades, Disney World experiences, glass-bottomed boat rides, explorations of coral reefs… Petite has begun to travel a lot.

As Lewis notes, “the right sort [of stories] work from the common, universally human ground the stories share with the children, and indeed with countless adults.” Meanwhile, I’ll just enjoy the pictures forming in my head.

Monday, January 11, 2016


Sketch by Billie Perkins
An artist gave the above sketch to me to accompany a little feature I was writing for The Daily Iberian back in the 70’s. It’s a rendering of the platform and partial front of the train station here in New Iberia, Louisiana, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The platform and tracks are owned by BNSF and have also been used by the Louisiana and Delta Railroad since 1987.

According to Leo Marx, author of The Machine in the Garden,  the railroad’s development didn’t have any particular meaning for the southern states during pre-Civil War times because the South was enamored of a pre-industrial pastoral ideal which Marx claimed southerners used as a weapon against industrialism. However, the Civil War provided unexpected liberation for southerners to get on the road to modernity, and Georgia led the way in the performance of southern railroads. Railroads were soon established in the post-antebellum South, and by 1890, historian Edward Ayers observed that nine out of every ten southerners lived in a railroad county, “surrounded by an aura of glamour throughout the New South era.”

In Louisiana, depots became the sites of frenetic activity where one northerner related his privileged treatment at a Louisiana depot: “Here we are at the depot and oh, what a collection of porters, cabmen and Car men, Irish, Americans, and Blacks.”* Actually, New Iberia’s first passenger train from New Orleans didn’t arrive until 1879, and a few years later a spur was laid to Avery Island and Abbeville. The railroad became vital to the lumber business and was used to transport cypress from the swamp to landowners who built many of the handsome homes along the Bayou Teche.

In the early 1900’s, my Great-Uncle Ed Greenlaw laid a private railroad track leading from his property in Ramsey, Louisiana to my Grandfather Paul’s lumber mill in Franklinton, Louisiana, transporting long leaf pine logs approximately 28 miles. When he sold the property after he had denuded the forests around Covington, Louisiana, he had the audacity to pick up the rails and take them with him, according to the present owner of the property that is now a bed and breakfast destination.

I have no idea how many trains passed on those first laid rails to New Iberia, but today I look up numerous times during the day when I hear them whooing on the tracks. I also hear them rumbling through at any time I wake during the night. Their long whistles used to sound like lonesome wails to me, but when I wake in the darkness now and hear them, I think of mobility – of going places and having new adventures, of still being able to travel.

In A Lonely Grandmother, one of the books of poetry I published last year, the lead poem is about a train:

The Aging Express

The sound of so many journeys
passes in the whistle of a train
and little wonder
this master of navigation wails,
pushing through sleeplessness
and darkness without news.

Shut-in passengers urge it on
thinking it a boundary-less machine
traveling on an open frontier
carrying them past houses
with open windows
crying ‘welcome aboard'
and rumbling through the night
making connections
in desolate places…
but not stopping for long.

*Most of the information about the history of railroads in this blog was derived from Railroads in the Old South by Aaron W. Marrs, a book I used while doing research for my book, Redeemed by Blood.