Thursday, June 14, 2018

TRAINS, BLUEWAY TRAILS, AND “THE LITTLE PEOPLE”

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

I’m writing a book of poetry about trains, and a few days ago, my botanist friend Vickie Sullivan and I traveled to western North Carolina and bought a ticket on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad that departs from Bryson City, North Carolina and returns the same day. The drive from Sewanee along the scenic trail through Nantahala River country is a winding one, and on a Sunday afternoon, it’s a slow drive due to rafters and kayakers making their way to the Ocoee River. Despite the congestion, I always feel uplifted when we enter western North Carolina and I see the looming Great Smokies.

During the trip, we followed the Blueway Trail at the edge of the Smoky Mountain National Park — Little Tennessee, Nantahala, Oconaluftee, and Tuckasegee Rivers that flow into Fontana Lake, and I kept wishing for my old fly rod to do some backcasting. However, I’m sure that my limbs are no longer able to maneuver a float trip. 

We took the only train excursion offered the day after we arrived — the Nantahala Gorge Excursion — and saw much of the territory we’d been through five or six times during visits to western North Carolina. However, we got a closer look at Fontana Lake and traveled on the sky-high Fontana Trestle Bridge. The excursion that sounded like a well-traveled one was the “Shine and Dine Moonshine Experience” and was listed as the priciest experience on the schedule. True to its name, moonshine is the beverage featured during the train ride.

Our train ride was a unique adventure, but I’d been hoping to make the excursion that featured Dillsboro and the Cowee Tunnel filmed in the movie, The Fugitive. As this excursion wasn’t offered, we drove to Dillsboro and further to Silva the day following our train ride. Silva, a small town in the Plott Balsam Mountains, has become famous as a site filmed in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and for scenes from the movie Deliverance. Of course, we wandered into the City Lights Bookstore where I discovered further information about the Cherokee Little People after I’d found a book entitled The Cherokee Little People Were Real by Mary A. Joyce in a Bryson City Bookstore. 


I haven’t been able to determine whether these Little People were real but the Cherokee Indians say that when they arrived in the southeastern U.S., a group of people they called the Little People lived underground and came out only at night, tended gardens and returned underground after harvesting their produce. The sun rays were too harsh for them so they constructed cities underground and came out of their caves to work by moonlight. For that reason, the Cherokee also called them “The Moon People." They had red whiskers, squinty eyes, and were hardly four feet tall. According to old-timers and farmers, the flood of 1940 exposed an artifact with a leprechaun-like face known as “Lead Head” that features one of the Little People. The Little People’s tunnels are said to have been found in Cullowhee on the site of Western Carolina University but several historians report that these tunnels and artifacts were covered up and university buildings were constructed over them.

We skirted the Western Carolina University campus but didn’t make any archaeological digs while there, although I would have liked a glimpse of the mysterious coin with a strange face on each side called “Lead Head” — a face that has Dr. Spock ears and a large nose resembling an Irish leprechaun.

The Little People are no longer alive, according to most researchers but the Cherokee remember stories about them and report that they influenced the way Cherokees learned to live in the mountains. They were so missed that the Cherokee came up with the idea of the Little People Spirit People. These spirits can be helpful but they are also mischievous. Cherokees say that the Little People brought the news of Jesus to them, telling them about his life and his crucifixion. They say that when the Little People heard about Jesus’ death, they wept and wherever their tears fell to the ground, they transformed into fairy crosses which are the unique cross-shaped gems found in the southern Appalachians.


In one of the books, I discovered entitled Living Stories of the Cherokee by Barbara R. Duncan, the author relates that the Little People don’t die. “They’re like spirits,/and they (the Cherokees) could implore them to come,/and there are some who have seen them./Now you can’t see them /unless they want you to see them./And if you see them,/there’s something going to happen/whether good or bad,/either way…and you can hear them, you know,/in different ways, walking and, you know,/they are not mischievous/they are protectors.”

Train photograph by Victoria Sullivan





Friday, June 1, 2018

SACRAMENTAL, ORGANIC INTENTIONAL LIVING

The above program title is often abbreviated as SOIL lest its length deter young people from aspiring to become interns who share the rhythm and routine of praying and worshipping daily, working in the garden and grounds of the Convent of the Community of St. Mary at Sewanee, Tennessee, and cultivating a life that typifies the balance of the Benedictine Order. 

Visitors often see the interns weeding the Convent garden, planting lavender, and performing as acolytes and readers on the altar at the Convent of St. Mary. The intern program has been in motion for several years, and recently welcomed Eva Bogino from Maryland, a summer intern who will be living at St. Dorothy’s, a small cottage on the grounds of St. Mary, and following the Benedictine model of prayer, work, study, and rest. I understand she has deactivated all social media for the summer! And she’s plucky to come here during our monsoon season at Sewanee.

Long-term interns are usually college graduates who wish to expand their spiritual life and to discern how to use their gifts, interests, and experiences in service to others while living alongside the Sisters. Their tenure lasts from August 15th to mid-May. Summer interns live on the grounds of the Convent of St. Mary for a shorter period — mid-May to early, August — and may be undergraduates or young people who are at least 19 years of age. 

The two young people pictured above, Nathan Bourne and Eileen Schaeffer, were the convent’s first interns and are well remembered for informal hospitality dinners they cooked and served for members of the larger community of Sewanee during their internship. These two young people were outstanding models of the internship program, actively engaging in planting and harvesting lavender at the Convent of St. Mary for Thistle Farms in Nashville (a program that uses lavender in products made by survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction who are healed and empowered during a residency at the farm). 

Although Nathan and Eileen, like succeeding interns, engaged in agricultural pursuits, they also participated in study beyond the Convent and explored ways in which their faith connected with human communities and the natural world. Past newsletters from the Convent of St. Mary describe their work and their devotion to the Intern program. Copies of these newsletters are housed at the Convent of St. Mary. 

Short term interns in the SOIL program (also called The Organic Prayer Internship Program — TOPIP) have been provided with housing and some meals, and long-term interns are offered the same arrangement, as well as a modest weekly stipend. The "long-termers" sometimes work outside the St. Mary Community to make extra money.

Those of us who are associates and other members of the congregation who worship at the Convent of St. Mary love the engagement with these interns who are following their “Rule of Life” or mission: “Spiritual and personal growth and development and vocational discernment guided by the Benedictine model of prayer, work, study, and rest that is rooted in intentional communal living in harmony with the natural world, the Community of St. Mary, and the greater Sewanee Community.”

Prioress Madeleine Mary says she’s looking for new interns, and we who attend services in the Chapel at St. Mary and function as Associates look forward to welcoming these young people. Readers of this blog who know qualifying applicants, please guide them to the application form at the Community of St. Mary website: www.stmaryconventsewanee.org, or write to Prioress Madeleine Mary at the Community of St. Mary, Southern Province, 1100 St. Mary’s Lane, Sewanee, TN 37375. 


Photograph by Prioress Madeleine Mary



Saturday, May 26, 2018

WHERE THE WATERS TAKE YOU

When I returned from a trip out of state, tired and my mind devoid of any kind of poetic thought and found a new book of poetry from Pinyon Publishing in my mailbox, I felt an infusion of energy. Where the Waters Take You by Neil Harrison is that kind of infusion. He speaks to my condition with a voice of lucid tones, writing about the natural world and what his clear eyes see in that world.

However, he is at his best when he writes about childhood, drawing readers in from the beginning of Where the Waters Take You in “The Lost Child,” a simple but complex poem about “an entity of perpetual change,” the child who is eventually lost to the world, “still forming and forever adapting/[to]this eternally unfinished home.” In these lines, the reader gets his first glimpse of an underlying wisdom permeating three sections of absorbing verse.

After reading these powerful and unflinchingly honest poems, I surmised that Harrison is a solitaire and a “poet of place” settled in Nebraska. He acknowledges this sense of place in an amusing poem entitled “Already There.” We enter into this idea of regional verse through the lines “I think we all knew he was going somewhere,/the way he’d take off on his tricycle,/though it’s clear now he was already there./On that big red-and-white trike he’d tear/down the sidewalk as fast as he could pedal/and we knew one day he was going somewhere…on his roundabout way to New Orleans, where/he lived for a time, then faced death so well/we all still believed he was going somewhere./Though it’s clear now he was already there.” The poem reminds me of a friend from Alabama who was always riding her tricycle westward to California to “find herself” and ended up in the South writing nostalgically about The Road Home to Alabama. I also thought of Thomas Wolfe who began writing about his native North Carolina while he lived in Europe.

Harrison’s impassioned elegy about death, “Spring Burial in the Sandhills,” reveals how deeply he plunges, then emerges, bringing us a poignant message that deserves numerous readings: “A carnival helix of the great wild birds/spirals upward far to the west,/winged escort singing you/up from the season of planting and birth,/out of the cyclic skein of time, where/what we here consign to the earth/has already flowered.” 

Another favorite of mine is entitled “Addiction,” in which Harrison uses a bird as metaphor — it could stand as a statement for the current obsession with opioids: “Nothing quite so human as this/quest to get higher than ordinary/on whatever wings come to hand —/food, drink, sex, drugs, some/elusive degree of wealth or fame./Gambling on those hollow feathers/fastened with that ancient glue, the dream,/another hero almost touching the sun/begins to awaken, already engaged/in the all too common fall.” Again, we hear the poet’s voice simple, yet complex, profound, yet funny, speaking of human willfulness and the tragic consequences of addiction.

We watch with Harrison as the outdoorsman performs his evening watch in his native Nebraska in the end poem, “The Evening Watch,” where “down through the ages bison died…as the day winds down, in the fading light/the view of that broken ridge brings to mind/a painting of a man at prayer, long ago,/ three friends fast asleep nearby…and from the river bluffs to the horizon and on/the stacked bones watch with me.”  The poet is alone in a wild place at dusk, and he paints a picture as vivid as scenes depicted in Wilderness Essays by the naturalist John Muir, his “sudden plash into pure wildness — baptism in Nature’s warm heart…” Harrison’s poem speaks of his mystic communion with nature, enticing readers to view the loveliness and the mysteries of the natural world.

Neil Harrison has written several books about the natural world: In A River of Wind; Into the River Canyon at Dusk, and Back in the Animal Kingdom. He is a former instructor of English and Creative Writing at Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska, and at Northeast Community college in Norfolk Nebraska where he also coordinated the Visiting Writers Series. He now resides in Norfolk, and according to Pinyon Publishing, “makes diamond-willow walking sticks, wine from various wild fruits, and excursions to the local fields and streams with his third Deutsche Drahthaar, the Happy Dog.”


More kudos to Pinyon for publishing another banner poet. Available at Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

LOOKING BACK ON MOTHER’S DAY

Dorothy Greenlaw Marquart and son Paul

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I plan to include a few excerpts about my mother from the introduction to Their Adventurous Will, Profiles of Memorable Louisiana Women, a book I wrote in 1984, in a sermon I’ll preach. Since the introduction is on my screen this morning, I felt that a redo of it would be appropriate to include in “A Words Worth” to celebrate this auspicious occasion:

“A few years ago, in the silence of too much winter, my mother passed away. Her death shocked and grieved me, and in attempting to transcend the offense of her death, I wrote a tribute to her in my column, “Cherchez la femme,” which was featured in the Daily Iberian, New Iberia, Louisiana. In writing about Mother, some of the qualities which marked her as an outstanding woman became more apparent to me and that recognition of her uniqueness moved me toward writing this book. She isn’t among the women highlighted in the following essays, but I feel that a small cameo of her life belongs in the introductory notes to this volume.

A friend and I were once discussing our mothers, and I asked her if she remembered the scene in Peter Pan in which Tinker Bell is dying and Peter asks for those in the world who believe in fairies to clap their hands.

“Well,” I told my friend, “my mother would have been the first to clap her hands.”

She was fantasy itself; she saw sprites dancing in open fires, drew pictures of gnomes painting the woodlands and created pastels of quaint cliff dwellings where other-world spirits lived.

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 didn’t talk and only sat quietly, absorbing the book characters she knew I’d 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, 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 first umbrella to make her wonderful flights! For her, I wrote my first story at age six. I remember only that the tale concerned a small child who opened a door in a tree and found herself in a fantasy world similar to Alice’s Wonderland.

My mother was one of the first Golden Eaglet Girl Scouts in the United States, an honor bestowed on her in the early 1920’s when Girl Scouting was in its infancy. She loved woodlands, flowers, and even garter snakes, one of which became her favorite pet when she camped-out, primitive style, in the Dismals of Alabama after winning a trip to Juliette Low Girl Scout Camp.

One of her greatest legacies to me was a love of the Episcopal Church to which she was deeply devoted after her conversion as a teenager. She single-handedly attempted to establish a mission in my hometown of Franklinton, Louisiana, with its predominantly Baptist and small Roman Catholic population. 

The church was never built, although a sign advertising the mission church still stands on a vacant lot which she had coerced an old-family Franklintonite to donate. She didn’t convert enough Baptists or Roman Catholics to build the church and congregation but she did accomplish some “consciousness-raising” about Anglicanism. While she was working on the project, the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana introduced her to someone as “that woman with the red-hot poker who gets people moving.”

When Mother was a teenager, she exemplified the phrase which accompanied my graduation picture in my high school annual: “Large, divine and comfortable words.” She loved the syllables and accents of words and would roll them out at inappropriate times as she did following a Baptist Church service when she filed out the door and shook the minister’s hand.

“Dr. Gayer, that was really an excruciating sermon,” she remarked, thinking she had expressed a highly complimentary description of his delivery.

“Well, yes, Miss Greenlaw,” he answered, “come to think of it, it probably was.”

My mother was the only Protestant Jewish mother I knew. When one of her five children became ill, she prepared chicken soup, grape juice ice (grape juice poured into an ice tray and frozen, then sliced), milk toast and caramel pie. In the manner of a traditional Jewish mother (which she wasn’t), taking care of the family was probably her singular life goal. Even after my brothers had grown up and married, they came home to her when they were ill and upset. She died while still looking after two of them.

She was one of the most sensitive persons I’ve ever known; yet she was tough in the tenacious, weather-beaten way of those trees she loved so well.

When I went home for her funeral, some of her friends and family members said to me: “She was too good.” She probably wouldn’t have liked that remark; she didn’t think of her life as role-playing or as some kind of martyr’s legend — she simply believed in St. John the Divine’s words: “Absolute self-giving is the only path from the human to the divine.”
Friends and family also told me: “She was proud of you.” I know she was. I’m proud of her. She gave me the ability to perceive “tongues in trees,” the sight to see “books in the running brooks, sermons in stone and good in everything.” She also gave me a love of nature, music, humor, and imagination.

Mother was buried in a dress with bright red buttons because she not only loved red, she lived red. Vivacious, garrulous, she was a woman who talked back to life situations which would have felled me years ago.


Back in the mid-1960’s, I wrote a poem about my father which was published in American Weave, a literary journal, and my mother showed the tiniest bit of jealousy that I hadn’t published something about and for her. I told her then that I would write a poem about her. I never did. But Their Adventurous Will is for her. Somehow, I think she’ll be able to read it, even without her glasses.”

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Cradle of the Tennessee Walking Horse

The Walking Horse Hotel
Last week, we rambled again in another small town in Tennessee — Wartrace, an old Native American trail and, in the 1850’s, a stop on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad Line. Wartrace is also the site of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. We had lunch at the Bellbuckle Cafe in Bellbuckle, Tennessee and afterward decided to drive a few miles further to Wartrace, a village of 650 people that bordered on ghost town status.

The most famous showpiece in Wartrace, an old hotel named the Walking Horse Hotel, which is among downtown buildings now on the National Register of Historic Places, is ghost territory. Several years ago, my son-in-law Brad and I were visiting Wartrace as this small town gem is the site of Gallagher’s Homemade Guitars, and Brad collects beautiful guitars. We decided to explore the Walking Horse Hotel, which was still in business at that time. We were shown several bedrooms off a wide hall upstairs that provoked weird feelings in us as we walked through rooms furnished in style reminiscent of the Old West. We were glad to come out into the light of a summer day after our exploration. My daughter Stephanie had refused to enter the premises as she had sensed “ghosts.” And she was spot-on.

‘Turns out that former guests had seen apparitions in the hallway upstairs in the hotel. But one of the former owners, George Knight, claims that a single ghost, a friendly one he calls Casper, is the apparition of Floyd Carothers, a famous walking horse trainer who once owned the hotel with his wife, Olive. Floyd died in the 1940’s but is still hanging around the premises. 

Joe Peters, the owner of the now-closed hotel, often tells stories he has heard from former guests — stories about hearing the sounds of horse hoofbeats, upstairs and downstairs. However, he, like George Knight, claims the ghosts are friendly ones.

The first National Grand Champion Walking Horse named Strolling Jim who won this championship in 1939 is said to be buried behind the Walking Horse Hotel, but we searched everywhere for a gravesite and couldn’t locate it. I sensed that he was probably the ghost galloping through the old hotel at night.

Wartrace had a reputation as a health resort in the 1800’s. Passengers who traveled on special trains visited the village and enjoyed special bottled water from sulfur springs nearby. During the 20th century, the town had five banks, flour mills, and six hotels for travelers. It serviced 13 trains a day and, even today is connected to Shelbyville by the Walking Horse and Eastern Railroad, still operating part-time.

Although I’m not an aficionado of haunted places, on our return trip to Sewanee, I thought about writing a Stephen King bit of fiction. The trouble is, I don’t really like “ghoulies and ghosts and long-legged beasties — and things that go bump in the night…”

P.S. Joe Peters, the present owner of the Walking Horse Hotel now operates a business next to the hotel called “Spooky’s Pizza.”

  

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

HARVEY’S GARDEN

When a person goes for an annual check-up, and a physician tells her that her blood pressure is near “stroke city,” health measures are called for. Although the condition could be attributable to diet, lack of exercise, stress and all those lack-of-upkeep body factors, I’m inclined to believe that altitude could be a part of this equation. I mean, as I was brought up to be a flatlander and have been living at 25 feet above sea level for six months, then suddenly transfer to a residence 2000 feet above sea level, I’m convinced that this change alone could cause skyrocketing blood pressure. But, as readers know, physicians like to distribute pills, and that was the suggestion for lowering my soaring blood pressure. 

However, I chose to continue losing weight, an accidental consequence of illness, and to walk daily — not on The Mountain where I live temporarily, but down in the Valley where I can look up toward the hills as I walk rather than looking down my nose at those who prefer treading more stable ground below. I wasn’t excited about walking the Sewanee campus or the Goat Mountain Trail but wanted a new place to “saunter” (in contrast to “sprinter”) until I’d built up enough strength to gain the status of a “walker.”


Pink dogwood, redbud, walking trail

I discovered a 13-acre garden on the outskirts of Winchester, Tennessee, only a few minutes from Sewanee, that offered a meditative trail of slightly rolling landscape edged by large river stones and covered by flowering plants, trees, and large boulders. Also, the garden was empty certain hours of the morning when I liked to walk — preferably not on a full stomach. 

The garden is called Harvey’s Garden and is the handiwork of Handley and Becky Templeton, son and daughter-in-law of Harvey Templeton. Handley and his wife carried out the vision of his father for a contemplative garden. The third time I sauntered in the garden, I met a man walking along, picking up items of trash scattered about the trail. 

“What’s your job?” I asked, and he appeared to hide a smile.

“I’m in Finance,” he said, “and my wife and I created this garden. My name is Handley.”

“Are you the son of John Templeton?”

“No, I’m his nephew,” he replied.

I felt foolish because I’d wrongly assumed he was the yard man. I knew, of course, that when drivers ascend the highway leading from the Valley up to The Mountain at Sewanee what comes directly into their view is the temple at the peak of The Mountain where the Templeton Library and a statue of John Templeton, the famous fund manager, banker, and philanthropist, stands. 

We chatted a few minutes, and Templeton told me about a second garden that the Templetons had established near the Winchester Country Club. I visited that garden the following day, but it lacked the shade and the abundant foliage of the first garden. I “sauntered” that trail also, but today I returned to the first one, and Dr. Sullivan took photographs of some of the more colorful plants. I especially like the red leafed redbud with its heart-shaped leaves, and the lavender rhododendron, along with ginkgo, crepe myrtle, hydrangea and a beautiful horse chestnut tree. Crows in nearby trees followed me on the trail and kept complaining about my invasion of their territory; at one point, diving toward me.


Granite boulder, coral red honeysuckle,
horse chestnut, rhododendron
Although the site is perhaps a fifteen-minute drive down The Mountain, and gasoline prices climb lately, the Valley has become my favorite place to walk. My blood pressure has dropped to within normal range for an 83-year old, thanks to the beautiful site of Harvey’s Garden and a sudden burst of sunny weather. 


Friday, April 13, 2018

SCANT HOURS


Stuart Friebert, a master translator, has brought another elegant poet out of obscurity with his recent translation of the work of Elisabeth Schmeidel, a deceased Austrian artist, writer, and activist. Friebert, co-founder of the Field Translation Series at Oberlin College in Ohio, is the author friend who tells me that learning to translate another language into English helps “one-language” poets to improve their writing. Scant Hours, a collection of Schmeidel’s poetry, contains selections Friebert and Pia Grubbauer, Schmeidel’s daughter, made to produce the poems that never appeared in a book during Schmeidel’s lifetime. 

Born in 1945, Schmeidel wrote during the burgeoning of the poetry of a post-war generation; and she witnessed the flowering of Austrian poetry, especially Ingeborg Bachmann’s work. Her voices and moods are translated with laudable sensitivity and precision by Friebert who is himself an eloquent poet.

In the Introduction to Scant Hours by Thomas Wild, Wild writes that each poem in this collection faces anew “the task of finding its own form” and that readers perceive there are no certainties to support Schmeidel in her post-war generation writing where “even flower children decorate themselves with military jackets…in times of cold, undeclared wars…” The inference is that Schmeidel can rely on nothing but herself and language…words. 

Themes of darkness and existential fear, gender roles, conventions, and relationships are addressed in three sections of Scant Hours: Early, Later, and Later Still. In the poem “Searching,” there is an inchoate reaching out for that task of the poem to “find its own form,” beginning with the words: “Searching for words, for language,/for something and resting inside…I want to stop glowing, cool down/in the middle of the earth:/morning cools your face.”  

The above verse is followed by “Night Swallows” in which Schmeidel probes an inner darkness where “the ever stony guest knows/my season, my home/he enters and we are silent.” These poems are defined as ones in which the poet looks outwards towards an interlocutor while she contradicts herself with the need to explore the inward theme of existential fear; e.g. in the closing lines of “Speak To Me:” “Speak to me/when the coffin of time opens/and I’m unable to die.” Readers will discover that many of the poems in this volume may not change any person or event for the better, but the verses do not reflect sentimentality or mawkish themes as she deals with reality.

Like the German poet Karl Krolow, Schmiedel’s poetry sometimes enters the brief and condensed realm; e.g., the brief, ironic poem entitled “Where”: “Are you pouring time out to, when/the hourglass plugs up and/forests lie rooted out in the riverbed?/ Whom are you giving the handful of dust?/How many chickens do you consume daily?/That’s what the bird of passage dies of.” My favorite among the brief poems is entitled “Frequencies,” as it offers to me more hope than any of the verses translated in Scant Hours: “Being able to begin/there/where your voice/lingers—/frequencies/hidden like animals/in woods, which become/alive/at night/with shadows of fallen/angels, with strange commands./Being able to keep going/in your voice.”

As usual, Stuart Friebert has gifted readers with the translation of a visionary poet who was not afraid to write of days when "nothing is going on" or to pass on the urgent message that we must pay attention to the destruction of nature, political tyrannies, fears and hopes for humanity, and she suggests the “way in” can be through the language of the poet.

Available from the premier independent press: Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403. 


Thursday, April 12, 2018

TRAIN TREK

Cowan Railroad Museum, photograph by Victoria Sullivan

Trains have always fascinated me, and one of the activities on my bucket list is a ride on the Orient Express. Many of my poems have featured trains and train depots, subjects about which I thought of writing and photographing until I discovered a book already published about train rides, dinner trains, museums, and depots entitled Tourist Trains Guidebook that I found in Bryson, North Carolina, site of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. This railroad was created from a portion of Southern Railway’s Branch and hugs the Tuckaseegee and Nantahala Rivers, ascends a mountain at Red Marble Gap, and zooms out over a 700-foot trestle at Fontana Lake.


Closer to home is the Cowan Railroad Museum in Cowan, Tennessee that I tried to visit today, a place that houses photographs, relics, and memorabilia from the steam age in a century-old depot. Vickie photographed the exterior of the historic depot for this blog, but I've never been inside and won’t be able to visit until May when it re-opens. I’ve learned that there are displays of figures in period costumes, model trains, and 1,000 interesting items for first-time visitors. I’ll have to schedule a May tour, but meanwhile, today, I could hear the trains “whooing” as we lunched in the Fiesta Mexican Restaurant beside the rails, across the way from the Cowan Museum. I was grateful for the scant sunlight and a diversion from illness.

This afternoon, as I write, I look at the end poem in Just Passing Through, a volume that contains some of my train poems, and I feel even more strongly about the lines in the end "snippet" entitled “End Times” that I wrote in 2007. The single verse actually describes a dismayed reaction to tribal quarrels I’ve observed that still persist in certain “corners” today.



      END TIMES
Not burned to death
or frozen to death
but warred to death,
the planet excelling in hate,
a desperation to own too many corners,
saying too little about love,
Lewis’s explication of agape
falling on truculent ears
that listen to a different drummer —
the rumble of cannon.


On several trips to the West, I became enchanted with a historic train that runs through the desert from Santa Fe, New Mexico along the spur to the city of Lamy. The train I saw was a working freight train, and I wrote about it in ”The Santa Fe Is,” in Just Passing Through, the chapbook mentioned above:

    THE SANTA FE IS
No covert traveler,
the train boils through High Desert,
red, blue, and yellow freight cars,
imperatives on the landscape
traveling everywhere.
In the pinpoint of my eye,
miniature boxes of color
fret empty plains,
make me aware of destinations,
distant mountains.
We pass small stations
snoring at track side
while the bright colored cars sway
on miles and miles of track
like ants relocating,
good times left behind,
mirages passed,
a lonely figure waving
from the engine window,
face turned toward
an indifferent there going on forever…





Friday, April 6, 2018

THE SEASON OF LITTLEST FLOWERS

Rain fell on The Mountain last night and showered the redbud, forsythia, dogwood, and other large blooming flowers in our yard. More noticeable on this overcast day are what I call the “littlest flowers” in various hues of lavender, yellow, and deep purple. They will soon take their leave, and I asked resident botanist, Vickie Sullivan, to photograph them so I can enjoy looking at them during days of summer drought. As I am an amateur plant lover and regard botany as Goethe described it — as an “amiable science” — my observations of the plant world in our yard are usually surface descriptions of leaves, flowers, and fruits that often inspire poetry —the language of flowers fascinates me.


The rich flora here reveal delicate blooms of a variety of wildflowers, especially during April and May, and the mosaic below shows a few species, which possibly could be classified as weeds that have adapted to the site our home occupies. Vibrant tones of color and delicate designs attracted me as I walked around in the yard, stumbling on mole holes and branches that had fallen during the winter. We live on a property that fronts a small wood, and a deer observed me as I walked through the front yard. I might add that deer are regarded as nuisances in these parts and are culled annually. I don’t know if they lunch on the littlest flowers, but I doubt that they have an appetite for these blooms as the flowers seem undisturbed by animal life.

Here are photographs of a few of the littlest flowers that attract me each year when I return to Sewanee: bugleweeds, bluets, spring beauties, mock strawberries, and violets. Also included are the large blooms of the narcissus that proliferate on The Mountain and greet us as we view the woods for the first time each spring:



Photographs were taken by Victoria Sullivan.




Wednesday, April 4, 2018

LET THE TREES ANSWER



Back on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee for the spring and summer seasons, I shiver in temperatures dipping to the 30’s and 40’s and winds blustering out of the North today. I’m warmed by the sight of the cover of my new book of poetry, Let the Trees Answer, designed by my grandson Martin Romero from a photograph of the Gebert oak taken by Victoria I. Sullivan. Dr. Sullivan, a botanist and writer, photographed the trees included in this salute.

The book of poetry is my contribution to National Poetry Month and is slated to be published by Border Press within this month. A description of the poems and an acknowledgment by Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, Professor of English at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, are featured on the back cover of Let the Trees Answer.

This volume, a poetic tribute to trees, includes poems conveying the idea that “trees can talk,” a form of humanistic botany within the frame of verse. Let the Trees Answer is the third book in the series Between Plants and Humans, ranging from pines in Louisiana to jacarandas in Florida, and along the way, crabapple, Chinese Tallow, catalpa, and other trees scattered throughout the woods of the United States. This is a must-read for tree huggers.

“This loving tribute to trees, beautifully illustrated and full of plant lore, celebrates and remembers childhood, first love, betrayal, loss—all the time markers of our lives. Its lyrics turn us back to Nature, to the “consolation of spirit” trees offer whether they deflect family sorrow or embody erotic longing. Jacaranda, Joshua, Cedar, Paradise Apple—even the lowly Chicken Tree—emerge newly clothed with memory and desire. Let the Trees Answer gives us a writer at the top of her form, fully alive to the wisdom and mystery at the heart of our life on this earth. Kudos to Diane Moore for inspiring us to stop and look and remember.”
—Mary Ann Wilson, Professor of English, University of Louisiana, Lafayette —


Happy National Poetry Month to all of you poetry writers and lovers, as well as tree huggers everywhere!


Monday, March 12, 2018

LIVING WATER; SONGS AND STORIES FROM WOMEN AT THE WELL

Brenda Lowry can belt out a blues song as strong as any voice I’ve heard singing the blues, but she also has a clear, sweet voice when she’s singing in the “Heavenly Choir” at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany here in New Iberia, Louisiana. And then there’s “Women at the Well, “ a program in which she sings spiritual songs she created and recorded with Joshua Murrell at the keyboard who supplied some of the music. It’s about women who figured prominently in Jesus’ life and ministry but whose stories were left out of the Gospels and who inspired Brenda and Bubba to produce “Women at the Well.”

In a book Brenda just created, she relates the stories of these women after going on a retreat in the “Holy Day Inn at Camp Hardtner (the Diocese of Western Louisiana’s camp). “I began writing and playing,” she writes in Living Water. “Words poured out. I was playing chords that I didn’t know, just finding things on the guitar…” Several of the songs from that time at Camp Hardtner became, along with an earlier one she’d written entitled “Rock My Baby Jesus,” the actual seeds of the program for “Women at the Well” that she and Joshua now perform at churches, schools, restaurants, mission houses, informal parties, and in living rooms throughout the U.S.


The first presentation of “Women at the Well” was performed at the Solomon House, an outreach mission in New Iberia, Louisiana for which I was director many years. It followed my ordination to the Diaconate, and Brenda refers to me as the “midwife” of the collection of songs and an encourager of her “creative recovery.” I’m honored by her acknowledgments and by a poem of mine, “Ground of Your Beseeching,” that she and Joshua now open with when they perform “Women at the Well.” In Living Water, she describes it as a call to ministry for all — women, men, and youth.

The stories of women in the New Testament that inspired Brenda range from the adulterous woman whose life was saved and turned upside down following her encounter with Jesus to a favorite of most audiences, “Martha’s Blues,” a blues song that she sang in a concert to raise money for the Order of St. Mary at Sewanee, Tennessee where I reside part of the year.

Brenda also tells the story of losing her hearing in one ear and how this sensorineural hearing loss has not kept her from singing and recording, “processing some signals differently,” she explains. It’s a moving story that shows Brenda’s tenacity and her call to ministry. 

One of my favorite songs in Living Water is “This Is My Bread” that Brenda wrote after watching the consecration of the host at Eucharist one Sunday. “Who Made the Bread?” she asked herself. “No, not the church supplier but the bread at the Last Supper. Who baked it? I know what bread baking is like, leavened and unleavened. It takes time, effort and care. As Passover was approaching, the bread no doubt would have already been made, and much of the meal already prepared as well. It was a woman’s job, and there had to have been a woman behind that meal…”

The complete words to songs in Living Water are contained in this book of stories about the women in Jesus’ life. Brenda writes that “there is a Jewish tradition called Midrash, a Jewish term that refers to the exploration and exegesis of a biblical text. A modern news commentator might call it ‘unpacking.’ I simply call it the what ifs.’ What if this were the backstory? What if? And then what if…these were women whose lives were forever changed because of their meeting Jesus.”

In the next edition of Living Water, Brenda hopes to include the actual music from songs included in “Women at the Well,” this musical program she regards as “a call to discipleship.” You can order the book and the CD track from samaritan woman@bellsouth.net.


Note: Cover photo of Living Water by Engin Akyurt on Pixabay.com with modification by The Swampgoddess.