cast a wide lighted net
A wave of clouds
Lifts your gaze
Turn your ear
towards its shine
cast a wide lighted net
A wave of clouds
Lifts your gaze
Turn your ear
towards its shine
1. Petal pusher
2. Beach bums
3. Rock on
4. Four eyes
Photos: 1. A bee's nose in a New England beach rose. 2. In New England butts are called bums. 3. It was a good day for building sand castles and playing in the sand yesterday on Nantasket Beach. 4. You've heard of putting cucumbers on your eyes? These are clam shells. One of the beach bums (my nieces) snapped this photo.
When my brothers, Jim and Dan, died in 2001, I was shattered awake to the reality of death. As I struggled to penetrate its mystery, I allowed myself to grieve long and deeply. One of the ways I immersed myself in actively mourning Jim and Dan was to write a book about their lives and deaths, growing up together in an Irish Catholic family of eleven, and the first six months of the grief process.
When my father died four years later, although I grieved, I protected myself against the full weight of the loss. Although losing him ushered in a period of self-analysis and therapy, when it came to feeling the reality of my father being literally gone, I hardened myself. It felt good to be somewhat in control of my feelings. I had grieved Jim and Dan intensely and the outcome remained the same. They were gone. I didn’t have the heart to do it again that way.
I don’t remember much about Father’s Day last year, the first one without my father. But this year, I kept finding myself in front of racks of Father’s Day in shops, grocery stores, and gas stations. I guess my denial had caught up with me because the realization that I didn’t have a father anymore seemed strange and shocking to me.
I wrote in The Jim and Dan Stories that after my brothers died a part of them lived on in me and that I looked at the world differently, through the eyes that they no longer had. Jim's interest in weather, sky watching, and photography was transferred to me and other family members. Dan’s generosity inspired me to be more generous in his name. His love of music made me appreciate it even more than I already did. I knew soon after my brothers died the ways their lives expressed themselves through me. It took me longer to recognize how my father lives on in me.
I’ve always loved birds, but my interest in them this past year has heightened. It’s the first year that I’ve kept our birdfeeder consistently filled and have made a real effort to identify them by color and song.
The last time my mother and father visited me in Virginia was the spring of 2005. An early riser and all day napper, my dad would wake up at the crack of dawn, make coffee, and take it on the porch where he sat and watched the birds. At his home in the South Shore of Boston, Massachusetts, he had a favorite chair on his porch where he watched them from as they perched on the electrical wires in front of his three story house. He claimed to have seen some exotic ones, but it was hard to tell with my dad. He was as a big a kidder as he was a napper.
When I bird watch, I do it for my dad, the way I listen to music for my brother Dan, the way I watch the sky and snap pictures for Jim. As I mentally check off the new ones I’m able to identify, it’s like being in conversation with my dad. I had imagined he would sit on my porch and do some more bird watching with me. If my mother died first, maybe he could come and live with me, I once thought.
But there’s another way my dad lives in me. I used to make fun of at his rumpled appearance as he went about the house doing house projects. Mostly he’d spend time in his video room where he had several TV’s, VCR's, and a table that looked like an artist’s station. He liked to copy videos to give to his kids and grandkids and design his own covers for them. Sticky with tape and printer ink, it wasn’t unusual for his pants to have marks where he wiped his hands. If it wasn’t for my mother periodically collecting his clothes for the washer, they would have been worse.
I laughed at my dad’s lived-in appearance, the way I used to laugh at my brother Jimmy’s weather photos. Besides taking ones of storms, ocean waves, and clouds in the sky, he loved to capture the oddities of life, scenes that hardly ever had people in them. “I don’t like pictures without people in them," I told him. But now I have developed an eye for the unusual and out-of-place. More than half the pictures I take have no people in them.
Watching the birds in my lived-in house clothes, garden dirt stained on fingers that are holding a mug of tea, I feel my dad living in me. When I start getting older and doze off like he used to, it might be hard to tell who was who.
Post notes: The above photo is of a tribute collage my son Josh did. To read more about my father’s and my connection with birds, read The Black Feather, HERE.. It's about a transpersonal experience I had related to his death, written and posted last year at this same time. Right now I’m on my way to my hometown in Massachusetts. It will be my first extended time home without my father there. Posting here should continue but will likely be erratic. If I miss Thirteen Thursday you can go HERE. Scroll down and read one from the past.
“I was born in 1927; how old does that make me?” she asked.
“Wait, I need a pencil. I can’t do it in my head.”
“Neither can I,” she said with a laugh.
“You’re going to be 80!” I announced after abandoning the pencil and counting on my fingers. We both acted shocked.
The next time I visited my friend Ruth, I made sure to bring a cold Newcastle beer, knowing how much she likes beer and that I would be out of town for her birthday.
“This is my first birthday present,” she said, putting it in the fridge.
Although she lives on a farm with others nearby, she doesn’t get out much these days. And since her dear friend and roommate passed away last year, she really appreciates visits.
She’s been losing her short term memory, so we play Scrabble.
“I love a game that makes you think,” she says.
On the same day I brought her the beer and after we had settled down to playing, a goat the size of a small pony charged into the kitchen. I could see it coming from the window and all about jumped up on my chair. While I was acting helpless, Ruth shot into action, doing what I later called her “horse trick.”
With her 4 foot and some odd inches frame, she pushed the critter out of the house. Then she tied him to a fence post in the yard, scolding him as she wound the knot. In her younger days she ran a horse camp for kids. Some of the photographs on her walls are of students she taught to ride who still keep in touch.
Sharing a chicken pesto sandwich as we played, the game lasted over an hour. After sitting so long and straining our minds to find words, we were ready to let go and move. Dancing for Ruth is a meditation. From the first time I met her in 1987, I have wanted to be her dance disciple. Sometimes at community gatherings I would land myself next to her on the dance floor. But now it was just me and Ruth, bare feet slipping and sliding on the wood floor, transcendent music filling up the bright little farm house.
Her movements were calm, sweeping and focused, while I, on the other hand, worked up a sweat. After a half and hour of straight dancing we both felt lighter and like our minds had been swept clean. Scrabble and dancing are two of my favorite activities. Doing them with Ruth is an added bonus.
With a big hug goodbye I headed for my car. “I’ll be out of town for a couple of weeks. See you when I get back,” I shouted as she stood in her doorway and waved.
“Have a good trip!” she shouted back.
1. The bride and groom were a vision in their wedding robes of gold, as they read their vows by the Little River in the presence of family and friends.
2. The impressive chocolate raspberry wedding cake was delivered from the back of an SUV. Heads turned as it was being set up, like a work of sacred art sitting center stage on an altar.
3. It took eight hours to bake and another eight to decorate the proud master baker creator told me.
4. Oh, it was so hard to wait and to keep from touching it.
5. Soon it began to draw a crowd.
6. Then the cake paparazzi descended, snapping pictures. The bride and groom were cheered on as they ceremoniously cut into it and began putting slices on plates to pass around.
7. It tasted as good as it looked, and there was more than enough to go around. Some people (me) took home a dessert doggie bag.
Post note: Congratulations to Luke and Laurel!
By the time the rhododendrons bloom pink along the Parkway, by the time the orange daylilies line the dirt road to town; it feels more like midsummer than summer’s first day. The fireflies are already here. The tomatoes are not far from red. I’m already in flip flops and my sundress with palm trees floating on magenta islands in Caribbean blue rayon.
By the time I’m picking yellow crookneck squash and squishing squash bug eggs from the underside of their leaves, by the time I’m wading through rows of corn almost as tall as I am, and admiring the blossoms of zinnia planted from seed; it feels more like midsummer than the summer’s first day. I’ve already eaten my first handful of blueberries, rinsed pool water out of my bathing suit, painted my toenails burgundy wine, and booked my flight to Massachusetts in time for my brother Joey’s 4th of July cookout.
Post note: “I have a secret” is the theme of this weekend’s Sunday Scribblings. Can you guess what secret I revealed in the above? Meanwhile, THIS is a fun clip from the old TV show called "I've Got a Secret."
AKA: A higher love
1. The adventurous type
2. The grounded one
3. The invitation
4. The answer is yes
Post note: This is Joe's and my favorite tree. We've been climbing it on and off for twenty years now. It's five miles from our house on the Blue Ridge Parkway and is named "The Family Tree." We named it that after two of my sisters and my niece and nephew who were visiting from Massachusetts all climbed it with us, spreading out on different limbs, for a family photo shoot.
1. It occurred to me recently that blogging is a desk job. When I told my husband, who is a counselor, that I had a desk job, he said, “I do too. We both have desk jobs.”
2. “But mine is more of a desk job,” I said, referring to the amount of time I spend on the computer. “But mine is more of a job,” he answered, referring to the fact that he gets paid.
3. At the spoken word event at the Blackwater Loft this past Saturday night, I sat next to Greg, a regular reader who was dealing with a bad back. “Yeah, we’ve had these bodies for so long now that we’ve lost all the paperwork on them,” I said when he told me about his back problems. “And the warrantees have run out,” he added.
4. I read a short poem at our writer’s workshop last week that Mara suggested was a haiku. “I don’t count syllables when I’m writing poetry like I don’t measure ingredients when I cook,” I told her. “I counted for you,” she said.
5. It’s funny how when we edit writing we cut out words that repeat too often, but when you write a villanelle you’re supposed to repeat them.
6. I eat like a bird and sleep like a cat, which means that I eat small frequent meals and am prone (pun intended) to lay around in between activities and to take at least one nap a day.
7. Can bloggers post summer re-runs? Do we get a hiatus? Should we try out a new test pilot plot?
8. Sometimes you just have to get out from behind the desk. A few weeks ago my husband and I went for a short hike on the Parkway. Before heading home, we stopped to visit blogger Leslie from At the Top of Squirrel Spur. When we arrived at her house (about 10 miles from where we live) her hands were stained from dying wool and one of her bunnies was about to have a baby and was in a bad mood. After she cleaned up, she took us over to her store, The Greenberry House, where she sells wool and books and more. As we were talking, we discovered that that she and I had babysat for the same two children back in the 80’s.
9. I also met blogger bluemountainmama for the first time. She was visiting Floyd, and we met at the Friday Night Jamboree, where she surprised me by greeting me as “Colly Wolly Wolf.” That’s the nickname that my father gave me, which is unknown to everyone but family members and close friends and blog readers who are paying really good attention.
10. Even stranger than being called by my childhood nickname was that was that it felt normal.
11. My friend Juniper might be my only Floyd friend who knows about the nickname. Whenever she calls me and leaves a message on my answering machine she howls and barks in tribute to it.
12. Another friend, Suzi Gablik, who is an author and blogger, recently referred to the Iraq war as “a chronic and soul-sapping illness in the body of our country.” She’s posted a commentary that was initially accepted for publication in the Roanoke Times but then didn’t get printed when the editorial staff changed. In it, she looks at the war from an angle that not many are seeing it from. Have a look HERE..
13. THIS is what my town of Floyd is famous for.
The moon in June will bloom blue and times two, but the poets will be out when it’s NEW ... So began the Floyd Press ad and the Museletter announcement for The Floyd Writers Circle’s June Spoken Word Open Mic. My fellow circle member and poet, Mara Robbins clipped the line for the poster she hung on the Café Del Sol door, where the monthly open mic usually takes place. But she changed the ending of the verse. Instead of the word NEW referring to a stage of the moon, she used it to refer to the open mic stage at a new venue, and to re-route attendees. Because the Café Del Sol crew was busy tending a private party, the café was not available on the previously announced date. The owners of the Blackwater Loft, just a few doors up and across the street, graciously agreed to host the event.
But the NEW in venue could have also referred to new readers because there were several of them. A grandmother of seven from Willis read an entertaining light verse written by one of her favorite poets. Although she was a newcomer to the spoken word stage, she read as if she had a background in theater.
Another woman shared what she described as flash fiction. Structured as a dialogue between the author and an unsuspecting acquaintance, it was a wildly hilarious piece about ferrets. I later learned that the reader really does have pet ferrets, but I don’t think she dresses them in sweaters or bounces them on the bed like the woman in her story did.
A young new reader named Allie read from her journal. When someone in the crowd reported that she wasn’t able to hear the reading, the air conditioning was turned off and the young woman read the piece again.
With the late evening sun streaming in, there was a break for refreshments and socializing before regular reader, Greg, took to the stage. The crowd laughed when he started his recently penned poem, What will I write for Saturday night? I don’t have a clue what to say …
Mara read a villanelle for picking lettuce and one for summer squash. As soon as you see them, pick them quickly – long zucchini, yellow crookneck, quick and prickly … A villanelle is a style of form poetry in which some lines repeat. It may have its roots in Italian harvest songs, Mara explained.
It was the eve of Father’s Day. Rosemary and I, both Floyd Writer’s Circle members, read poems about our late fathers. They were loving tributes that that mixed humor with more serious issues. Other readers included Floyd’s Dr. Sue Osborne and her son Mars, and a poet from Radford named Bekah.
A petite young woman in a flowing cotton skirt who was working at the Loft closed the evening with an impromptu song. Accompanied by a friend on guitar, she did a rendition of George Harrison’s Blackbird. “She should try out for American Idol,” I whispered to my neighbor as she sang.
After the event wound down, I headed out of town to a dinner party at my friend Katherine’s house that was already in progress. When I arrived about ten people, including my husband, were gathered around a large round table on her porch. “How did it go?” Katherine and my other friend Jayn asked at the same time. Both Writer’s Circle members who usually participate in the open mic, they were particularly interested to hear my report.
“I was great!” I boomed with obvious excitement.
For the past two years local writers in our community have been promoting monthly spoken word nights with the purpose of creating a forum where people of all ages and backgrounds can come together and share their stories. I’m always excited when these evenings draw new readers and listeners because it means that are goals are being fulfilled. To see a first time reader give voice to their creative expression is what it’s all about. I can’t think of a more fun way to spend an evening.
Post Notes: The couple that run the Blackwater Loft graduated from Floyd high school with my son Josh. Look what I found in the cafe: one of Josh's Building Community Bricks. More about that HERE. Scroll down HERE to read about more spoken word nights.
I’ve been known to chase butterflies around my yard with my camera in hand. I’ve staked-out a corner of my porch waiting for indigo buntings to show up at the bird feeder so that I could capture an image of their beauty.
As unlikely as it sounds, today I chased down a woman who was pulling two children in an oversized plastic red wagon. As I pulled into town in my black CRV, I could see her from a distance crossing the street with wagon in tow. It was Flag Day and an American flag was hanging above her. On the same day that I spotted this perfect image of small town summer life, a photo I took of the Mabry Mill framed in rhododendrons was featured on the front page of The Floyd Press. I knew what I was seeing in front of me was as worthy of print, but moving targets can’t be posed, and I missed the shot.
Driving slowly, I followed the woman with the wagon around the block. She’d have to cross the street again, I thought. The idea of traffic yielding to a woman pulling children in a wagon seemed irresistible to me. At one point I got out of my car and tried to look casual as I waited for her to appear from around the bend. I had just come from the Hotel Floyd construction site where I and another writer met with the artist who is designing the Floyd Writer’s Room, one of the hotel guest rooms that will be featured. It was drizzling rain and I had a bright purple calf length raincoat on, so it was hard not to stand out. In fact, the designer from my earlier meeting rode by and called out from her Subaru, “Hey, nice raincoat, Colleen!”
But where was the woman with the wagon? Her walk was not as predictable a block as I anticipated. When I spotted here again, I was back in my car and passed closely by her. The children in wagon were laughing and red and yellow colors on the wagon seemed to animate an otherwise typical day. I considered stopping to ask her if I could take a picture, but not only was I too shy, I knew that if I did the result would not live up to the composition I initially witnessed. Worried that she might think I was stalking her, I headed to the Post Office to check The Museletter box.
I had forgotten about the whole affair by the time I was once again approaching the traffic light after my Post Office errand. From a distance, I saw her! She was crossing the street under another flag. The four way traffic stood at standstill as though she was parting the red sea. I was too far away. Teased once again, I missed the shot. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. ~ 6/14/07
Post Note: This is the caption the Floyd Press posted under the above photo titled "Parkway Attraction" -- A popular, historic mill gives another photo opportunity with flowers and ducks out on the pond. Mabry Mill, a top tourist stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, is still a working mill providing demonstrations of Appalachian life in days gone by.
AKA: Think Pink
“What part of France are the lions from?” my husband, Joe, asked.
We were sitting in our wrought iron lawn chairs having breakfast in the yard. Our neighbor’s lawnmower droned as I explained The Shameless Lions Writing Circle to him, how forty-eight lions were being adopted by writers from the group. Visual artists had already created each lion’s individual looks, now writers were adding their two cents – or forty-eight words in this case.
By the time I made my way over to see the Shameless Lions at the invitation of Bonnie and her adopted lion Roary (who has his own blog) there was only one lion still up for adoption. It was pink. I was there to look, wasn’t planning to adopt. But not long after I saw the last pink lion, a lion poem began to take shape. I named the lion Elliot and dubbed him a poet, after my late poet friend, Elliot, who liked to wear a purple beret and a daisy behind his ear. “What would Elliot say if he had a street corner in Paris to shout poetry from,” I wondered as I wrote my forty-eight word writing circle entry fee.
“But Elliot the pink lion was claimed by someone else before I had chance to,” I told Joe.
“Don’t you have a sidebar category for all things pink?” he asked, knowing that pink was my new mid-life crisis color.
“No, but maybe I should start one,” I answered in between sips of tea.
But the last lion that I named Elliot (whose real owner gave him the name Johnny Cash) wasn’t the last. Less than twenty-four hours after my lion adoption fell through, I heard from Seamus the Shameless Lion Circle’s main tamer. A lion had been relinquished. One of the writers who felt the timing wasn’t right to take on an adoption wanted Seamus to offer her lion to me. Could it be Elliot?
A few minutes later, another message from Seamus came announcing that the available lion was PINK!
“I’ll be right over to sign the paperwork,” I emailed him. It seemed that Elliot was determined to have a voice.
Meanwhile, back in the yard the birds were chirping and the pot of tea had gone cold. I finished telling Joe the story and he said, “Well, If you find out where in France the lions are exhibited, maybe we can visit yours someday,”
“Yes, and I’ll put a purple beret on his head, like the one that my friend Elliot used to wear,” I answered.
Post Notes: More about Elliot the pink lion, including the poem, below and HERE. Visit the gallery of lions and the writings they inspired HERE.
Pink-haired street poet
last lion on the block to be picked
to prove that his rhyme is as big as his roar
that his appetite for words is not to be feared
as he shouts from his corner, “People,
your war is more uncivilized than the jungle!”
The following was written from the Sunday Scribblings prompt, “eccentric." ~ I’m so eccentric that I just spent an hour writing a forty-eight word poem about a pink lion when I wanted to be cleaning my kitchen or doing my Sunday Scribble. My pink lion is a poet named Elliot who was up for adoption HERE. I named him “Elliot” after a one time member of my writer’s workshop, also a poet, who died a couple of years ago.
Elliot, the man, was a bit of a curmudgeon who walked hunched over with a cane and lived on a monthly disability check. Some people thought of him as eccentric. He wore a purple beret and liked to stick a flower behind his ear. The floor of his car was covered with pistachio nut shells. He collected things – t-shirts, ink pens, plastic bags, magazines – to the point of hoarding. His poetry was raw, sometimes disturbing, and worthy of publication. He hated what was happening in Iraq.
Occasionally Elliot posed for The Floyd Figures Art Group to earn a little pocket money. One of the last times he sat for them, the artists decked him out in kingly attire; a royal robe, a crown on top of his long mane of hair, his cane took on the look of a staff, his long beard gave him a renaissance air.
After he died, our Writer’s Circle held a memorial spoken word night at the Café Del Sol for him. Sketches and paintings of him, done by the Figures Group, were scattered throughout the café. One lion-like image of Elliot, titled “Poet King,” sat prominently on an easel by the poet’s mic.
At the Shameless Lions Writing Circle where adoptions were taking place, I was hoping to find a lion with a purple beret like the one that Elliot wore, but there was only one lion left out of forty-eight of them, and it was pink. At first, I wasn't impressed, but I felt sympathetic to the fact that he was the last lion waiting to be picked, and soon I was feeling a bond.
But I had to write a forty-eight word tribute in order to be eligible for my lion. While I was composing the above poem for the last lion waiting on adoption somebody claimed him. His new owner named him Johnny Cash.
It's raining so loud
I can't hear myself dream
My mind is making quicksand
I'm lost in
With a water-logged dream
still in my ear
from deep down in sleep
I come up for air
float to the top
like bubbles go
Now it’s morning
Post note: The poem is a snippet from 1988. The photo was taken today after two days of continuous rain.
1. If my blog was a seven day menu, photographs would be appetizers, short posts would be salads, long posts would be the main entries, and poetry would be dessert.
2. Sometimes I wish the word “blog” didn’t sound so much like “blob” and remind me of the 1958 movie (The Blob) staring Steve McQueen where something falls from outer space and gets stuck on his arm and then grows and grows until it covers his body. It’s good for blogs to grow – more readers and posts everyday – right? It’s not going to take over my life – right? ~ Written in an April 05 post, just a few weeks into blogging.
3. Fred First, the “first Floyd blogger” from “Fragments from Floyd” is working on what I’m calling a laminated blog menu for the Floyd Writer’s Room at the Hotel Floyd that will provide write-ups and links to Floyd bloggers for hotel guests.
4. I’m collecting photos and local writer’s quotes for a collage that my fellow Floyd Writer’s Circle member Rosemary is making for the room. Fred sent this one: Whether he comes back with something edible in his creel or not, a man who sets out with a fishing pole and a can of worms calls himself a fisherman. And it's not all that different with calling oneself a writer. Writing and fishing are both mostly about the sitting there--hopefully, alert and ready--not so much about your catch.
5. I was complaining to him about my recent computer break down and a dip in reader traffic during my recent trip to Asheville. He told me not to worry about it because our blogging lives are like the rise and fall of the stock market.
6. Then he typed something with the word "Yak@" in it. I emailed him back to ask what it meant and got this reply: “Yak@ is a hastily typed attempt at an expletive that one offers when bee-ing bee-deviled near the bumm by a bee!”
7. I wonder how many of my emails went out with misspelled words before I noticed that when my computer came back from the shop the email spell check wasn’t turned on.
8. My essay “Country Boy,” which is about my Asheville potter son Josh and was originally posted in a past Loose Leaf entry HERE, is being aired on WVTF radio tomorrow morning. Click HERE to hear me reading it or listen from the WVTF site HERE.
9. I got an email from blogger bluemountainmama who was in a pub in Asheville recently and recognized Josh, who was also there, from my blog. She said it was his hat that clued her in.
10. Do blog readers keep restaurant hours? On a good day in the blogsphere, it seems that you get your early-riser breakfast crowd, hopefully followed by a few readers who trickle in around lunch time. Then there’s the after-dinner rush when your chance to tempt readers is at its highest. There’s always the possibility of the occasional late night blog hopper dropping by. If the atmosphere at your site is good and the reading is appealing, your visitors might leave you a comment. Getting a comment is like getting a good tip. ~ From The After Dinner Rush, April 05.
11. The Hotel Floyd, due to open in September, is being built with eco-sustainable products and will feature 14 rooms that showcase what Floyd has to offer. You can read more about the hotel HERE.
12. I think Rosemary is going to use this quote of mine in the Floyd writers collage: I can write without the muse, but it’s like watering the garden with a hose when it really needs a soaking rain.
13. Blogging as Reefer Madness HERE. Or is it the blog blob?
I took some time off from my blogging schedule to have lunch with a friend who has a new blog so that we could talk about blogging. Listening to the radio on the drive to the appointed restaurant, I caught the The Diane Rehm Show, which was all about blogging. Her guest was Scott Gant, a media scholar, lawyer, and author of “We’re all Journalists Now.” Blogging was likened to the early printing press and the pamphlet distributing days of Thomas Paine and others.
A third friend joined us at the India Garden lunch table. We briefly tried to talk her into a blog. Stat counters, url addresses, The Bold and the Beautiful soap opera, and the war in Iraq were all discussed. I forgot to pull out my camera to snap a blog relevant scene, and I resisted the urge to complain too loudly that dahl was not included in the buffet.
Meanwhile, upon my return home, I faced the computer screen again and got back to work on my two-hundred word blog bio for the writer's room write-up on the Hotel Floyd webpage and three-hundred spam comments were waiting to be sent to the junk folder.
2. Early sightings
3. Anything absurd
4. or overstated
Post note: The following photos were all taken last week during a ride down Bent Mountain and into Roanoke to record THIS essay at WVTF radio station.
We’re not so different than moths and June bugs drawn to a flame in darkness. Maybe because for eons our ancestors sat in front of nighttime fires, it seems to be in our DNA to be pulled in by a bright light. Is that why our eyes go right for a TV set when one is turned on?
I was at the DomeFest – a new Floyd music festival – in the Copper Hill section of the county dancing with friends when the bonfire was lit across the field from us. I watched it go up in flames as Laura Reed, a Rastafarian version of Janis Joplin was singing her heart out with her band, Deep Pocket.
Just an hour before, the back-to-the-garden scene was an idyllic one, with barefoot children playing, happy campers swimming in the pond, and families spread out on picnic blankets on the rolling hillside. In the glow of the setting sun, I enjoyed a pizza baked in a wood-fired brick oven and a cold beer. Joe made the rounds socializing, using a golf club as a cane to support a recent ankle injury.
But now a dewy dampness had descended with the darkness and dramatic silhouettes in front of the fire’s red roar stood out. Struck with the rush of exploding sparks and the magnitude of blaze, I danced as if in a trance, like a winged creature flitting about. The pitch and intensity of the music rose with the flames. A wild warmness spread and there was just enough light coming from the stage to detect the smiles on the faces of the friends I was dancing next to. When my eyes weren’t closed or I wasn't smiling back at friends, I was gazing at the bonfire scene.
Torch lights circled the pond. Flashlights, stars, and fireflies looked as if they had escaped from the fire. Like a page in a storybook, the night sparkled with the timelessness of a long ago fairy tale that I was just beginning to remember.
Photos: 1. The bonfire 2. The Trainwrecks, the Asheville NC band that followed Deep Pocket included my son Josh’s girlfriend, fiddle player, Anna Bowman-Smith (center). Anna’s father (left of her) and his black dog named Lilly who were visiting from Minnesota joined the band on stage. Laura Reed (on the right) from Deep Pocket (also from Asheville) joined in this number and is pictured on the right. You can hear Laura sing HERE and a few songs by The Trainwrecks HERE.
The following was written from the Sunday Scribblings prompt “spicy.”
What do you do on the hottest day of the year?
You could go to your local health food store and stock up on hot cayenne pepper because you gave your supply to your son for his construction site first aid kit. You know that cayenne can stop bleeding better than anything else, that its sting is never abrasive. You like to put a few drops of its tincture into an eye cup full of water to treat dry eyes, and you know that it can prevent heart attack as well or better than an aspirin, so you don’t want to be without it.
You’re committed to getting some cayenne, even knowing that you have to drive the seven miles to town in the truck camper because your husband took your car to work. But it’s okay, you figure, because you can use the camper fridge to store the vanilla ice cream also on your list. You wear your bathing suit under your clothes because it’s hot and the country club pool is open.
The air conditioning in the store is running full blast, so you take the time to linger at the bulk herb counter. Whole, root, seed, powder, you notice a couple of herbs you’ve never heard of before, like schinsandra and cubeb. You think of the little girl you know whose middle name is Lavender and imagine what other poetic sounding herbs would make nice names for children, as you bag up your cayenne and resist the urge to sneeze.
“Marco Polo! Marco Polo!” the kids splashing around in the pool call out, causing you to think of the explorer who traveled the world in search of discoveries and exotic spices.
By now the day has heated-up to sizzling. Stretched out on a lounge chair, you sip a cold drink and prepare to immerse yourself in the cool blue pool water. The first dunk of the year on the hottest day so far gives an otherwise routine day a refreshing tropical twist.
I’m not much good at a construction site. I don’t have the inclination or stamina for it. So, like my grandfather’s brother, Carol Wentzell, who cooked for a lumber camp in Nova Scotia, I signed up to feed the workers helping my son Josh raise the roof over his kiln this past weekend.
Mostly I used an oversized cast iron skillet that took up more than one burner space on our Palomino camper stove. I scrambled eggs, cooked chili, and sautéed onions and green peppers using it. I refer to this skillet as a cannon because whenever I pull it out from the camp drawer, I feel like I’m pulling out the big guns, as opposed to the small Teflon omelet pan (also in the camper drawer), which is like a pop gun in comparison.
I cooked three meals a day for anywhere from three to seven people for the nearly four days that my husband Joe and I were there. Josh, like a Hobbit, loves a second breakfast when he’s working hard, and sometimes snacks in between meals were in order, especially if it was a box of Cheez-its, his favorite.
When the food was ready, I drove it up to the kiln site in Josh’s old Subaru. One afternoon, the workers showed up at the back door of my camper. Wild lamb’s quarters soaked in olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic was served with venison and brown rice that day.
Before I left home in Virginia, I harvested lettuce, kale, arugula, basil, and cilantro from my garden and brought it with me, which added a gourmet touch to the camp fare. I sliced up naval oranges from Ingles grocery store, four miles from Josh’s property, and filled water jugs from the spring on a wooded hill. I discovered that it takes five full minutes to collect enough spring water to fill a gallon jug, which was okay because it was cool up there on the hill and I had a good view of the construction progress.
Sometimes in the heat of the day, I would retreat into Josh’s Land Yacht Airstream (I’m sure the workers would have liked to do that) tucked into the woods by a creek. There, I’d charge up my lap top, write some notes, or download the photos and videos I was taking; for that was my other self-proclaimed responsibility: documenting the roof raising progress.
I didn’t just cook and take pictures. Beer is sometimes a friend to construction workers and many empty bottles had collected from before we arrived. I put them in a garbage bag but never did find a recycling center or even a green box in town where I could dump them. I staked up Josh’s tomatoes using tobacco stakes lying around that Josh pointed out to me when he saw I was breaking up tree branches for stakes. I mulched the tomatoes using grass clippings from when the garden plot was plowed, but I forgot to get someone to hammer them in with the sledge hammer. I wonder if they’re still standing.
My muscles are still sore from hauling three loads of Josh’s laundry to the laundry mat, which, besides cooking, was my most successful activity and one I was happy to do. A potter’s clothes can get purty dirty and so many had piled up since the constant work of kiln building began. Add a building site and a few afternoon sprinkles that turn dirt into mud to a potter’s already dirty clothes and you’ll need one of those jumbo washers (which I happen to know takes 16 quarters) to get them clean.
Always the collector, I learned some new words hanging out at the building site. I wrote down “hurricane clips,” “collar ties” and “purlins” in my notebook. Nobrigama is the Japanese name for the type of climbing chamber kiln Josh is building. At one point Joe referred to a saw cut as a bird’s mouth cut. I wrote that down too.
In the few days I was there a couple of Josh’s art collectors, a couple of people from the neighboring farm community, and a woman doing a pottery tour stopped by to witness the kiln’s beginnings. One of the three nights we took showers up a Rob’s. Rob, a member of the community that borders Josh’s place and the man Josh bought his property from, is also a ceramics artist. He was cutting clay slab pieces in his workshop as Leonard Cohen played on the stereo when we arrived. Not only did we get hot showers, but Rob fed us hot soup, and so the camp cook got the night off.
The morning of our first day back home, I called Josh on the phone. He answered from the building site and I could hear him and Sean putting up the salvaged tin from the house they tore down. I knew by the end of the day the kiln shed that was framed over the weekend would likely be covered. So now the rain that’s been badly needed but only threatened to come down all weekend could hopefully let loose, I thought. And maybe the cosmos seeds I planted in Josh’s garden will be standing tall in bloom by the time the kiln is finished.
Post Notes: Photo #2 (left to right) is my husband Joe, fellow potters Matt and Sean, Josh, and his girlfriend Anna. Photo #4 is of Josh and I just before Joe and I headed back to Virginia. You can read more about Josh on the Asheville Potter Son category on my sidebar HERE. Scroll down for older posts. A collection of video clips from the long work weekend can be seen HERE.
1. While working a long weekend helping my son Josh raise a roof over his kiln site, my husband nearly forgot the foot injury he got at a recent martial arts event. The first morning back at home, he started thinking about it again and it started to hurt. “Why is it that when things slow down our thoughts like water tend to flow to the lowest level?” I asked.
2. Also heard on the same first morning home after camping along the creek on Josh’s two acre property: “I have to go uncamp the packer now.”
3. After four days at Josh’s place, when we first got home I was feeling out of whack, or should I use my construction education and say, “out of plumb.”
4. I have to rethink the question I recently heard myself ask someone: “What’s the matter?" Technically, I’m not sure how the term came about but it's a question that seems to expect the worst. 'What’s new?’ ‘What gives?’ or ‘What’s happening?’ are all improvements, but in the spirit of keeping it positive (not to mention hip) I think I’ll go with ‘What’s up?’
5. You’ve heard of an omnivore, or a vegetarian? My son is an “opportunatarian.” That’s when “you take an opportunity that comes your way and make it meal plan,” says Josh.
6. In the rural outskirts of Asheville, where Josh lives, his closest neighbor is a snake handling Holiness Pentecostal church congregation. I don’t know if they still handle snakes, but from what I cold hear, their Saturday night church services are pretty rousing.
7. The best part of the arugula, cilantro, kale, and basil that I harvested from the garden for my camp cooking was not how good it tasted when we ate it but that by the time we got home it had all grown back and was ready to be picked again.
8. Besides runs to Ingles supermarket for water, chips, oranges, and sandwich fixings for the workers, I made a few runs to the library to get on the internet. “I’m going to the library. Do you need anything?” I shouted out to Josh who was up in the roof rafters on our last afternoon there. “Yes,” he shouted back. Check and see if the Red Sox won last night.” When I got back he took one look at me and asked, “What’s the matter?” The Yankees had won.
9. My younger son Dylan is a construction worker by trade, along with plumbing and electrical wiring. When he was four, I asked him what he was going to learn to do when he grew up. His answer was: Learn to ride a bike; Learn to ride a motorcycle; Maybe I could jump from the clouds on a parachute; I’ll learn how to swing from vines; And open an orange by myself; I’m going to learn how to work on cars with a screw; And open sodas by myself and put one in my lunchbox and go to work.
10. My father used to call me the Duchess because I didn’t like hard work … So why me? I ask the muse …My calluses are ink stained … I labor over words … put them together like a mathematical equation … dream them like Einstein dreamt theories … I write like I’ve got a problem to solve …and if I don’t I feel hypoglycemic … ~ Colleen, from the Zen of Winter Poetry.
11. Although my natural inclination for writing may have come from my father’s Irish heritage, I suspect that my mother’s heritage had an influence on me too. Her lineage is largely one of self-sufficient Lutheran carpenters of German descent, and carpentry and writing have a lot in common. Once you learn the basic skills of construction, whether you’re writing an article or building a home, the rest is about problem solving and working in changes as seamlessly as possible. A good eye for detail also helps. ~ From my Silver and Gold Website bio.
12. Since the summer trees in my yard have filled in, it seems that my favorite birds are having a hard time finding my birdfeeder. About the same time I noticed this I also went out of town and visits to my blog went down. I wonder if it’s related.
The following are construction site outtakes from the kiln shed roof raising that my husband Joe (on the roof) and I took part in at my Asheville potter son Josh’s place this past weekend.
1. The powder room
2. Hood ornament
3. Bucket seats
4. Knight on shiny tractor
5. The end of civilization as we knew it
6. Who do you trust?
7. Few walk on water. Others (like my son Josh) do this.
Post note: You can view the Youtube movie clips HERE.
“Always we are eating and drinking earth’s body, making her dishes.” ~ Potter and poet, M.C. Richards.
Between the bullfrogs and the snake handling church service being held just above Josh’s pottery kiln site, Saturday night in the Walnut part of Marshall, North Carolina, was pretty lively. The sound of hammers banging, electric saws singing, and the big bass hum of the generator filled in the mix as the kiln shed roof was being framed. Gabe, who was perched high on a beam rafter, occasionally broke out in building commands, or a song.
Josh’s girlfriend Anna arrived from a gig where her band was paid in beer, so there was beer for supper that night. I’ve heard that her fiddle playing is impressive. So is her skill with an electric saw. I held the flashlight for her when it got dark to see without it. In between the whine of her saw someone who sounded like Bob Dylan sang from a nearby IPOD.
Looking more like an ancient Mayan compound at night, with a spotlight emanating from the center, the construction site took on an eerie glow that felt primal and monumental. From the first shovel of clay dug from Neil Woody’s tobacco field, to the Windgate Fellowship award Josh won for his work with wild clay, followed by the Wild Clay Exhibit and his Building Community BFA Thesis show, each were steps that lead to this roof raising night. I thought about the future wood firings that would take place here and the area potters they would bring together. What would the clay vessels created here hold? Where would they end up, I wondered?
What’s the name of the kiln going to be?” I asked Josh as the night and the frame of the roof grew pitch.
“The Community Temple,” he answered.
Soon there will be two kinds of services going on in the neighborhood.
"Potters like sun and stars perform their art--- Endowed with myth, they make the meal holy." ~ M.C. Richards
AKA: See the T-shirt in photo number 4.
“What’s the first thing I should do? Enjoy the scenery? Okay, I’ll check that off my list,” I joked to Joe just few miles out of our driveway, heading south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We were on our way to Asheville to visit Josh for the weekend, to help put a roof over the pottery kiln he’s building. I was having a hard time shifting gears from the flurry of last minute travel preparations to beginning the actual three-hour drive to North Carolina. Mabry Mill, just ten miles up the road from our house and the most photographed scenic site in Southwest Virginia, got my attention. There were two white ducks looking perfectly placed, gliding across the pond in front of the old grain mill when we rode by.
I tried to deny that I wanted to stop and get a better look when Joe asked if we should pull over, thinking we shouldn’t waylay our trip. But Joe knew better and I was glad he did. After a fellow traveler in leather biker pants (a confessed workaholic who had strict orders from his doctor to stop and smell the rhododendrons) offered to snap our picture in front of the picturesque scene, I took a deep breath, let go of the life details we were leaving behind, and felt like we were on vacation.
When we arrived at Josh’s two acre property in the town of Marshall, he was on his hands and knees working at the kiln site. Using white sand to level out the bricks he was laying in a measured section of flooring, he explained that he was doing what he knew how to do best.
Raising the roof was something he would be learning as it went up, with the help of Joe, a one time timber framer, his master carpenter friends from his Warren Wilson College days, Jody and Gabe, and fellow potters, Sean and Matt.
I couldn’t believe how much the three-level kiln site looked like a Mayan ruin or an archeological dig. Josh had dug out the site, including a dirt stairway, from the side of a hill with a tractor. It was loosely framed with salvaged boards from the “Tearing Down the House Party,” held up by locust posts that were harvested off the land. A tarp spread across the top where a roof would hopefully soon be.
The Zuma Café in downtown Marshall, five minutes from Josh’s property, featured turkey wrap sandwiches, a wireless internet connection, and one of Josh’s Community Bricks displayed on a shelf behind the counter. Josh and Joe ate while I checked my emails and blog comments and sipped on some Earl Grey tea. I couldn’t see buying lunch when we had a camper fridge full of food, venison sausage, lettuce and other greens from the garden.
Our waitress let me go behind the counter to snap a photo of the brick. I later learned, from looking at Josh’s latest collage journal, some more places where his Community Bricks are building community, brick by brick: Besides locations up and down the east coast, there are bricks in California, Arizona, Hawaii, and Alaska; as well as England, Ireland, and Japan. The bricks have traveled on planes and been sent by mail. I didn’t expect to see one at the Zuma Café. I’m going to have to start paying more attention because I’m sure there are more than a few that have found homes in the Asheville area.
Post Note: Read more about Josh's Community Bricks HERE.
During this past fall while working on my BFA thesis exhibition, I became interested in exploring methods of using wood-fired ceramics to visually explain the strength of community. I wanted to create an installation that would communicate ideas about the universal importance of co-operative spirit in our world today, while also specifically expressing my gratitude towards the people who have supported me as an artist. The solution that I finally arrived at was using bricks as a form to give structure to my ideas. ~ Josh Copus
Two of my son Josh’s Community Bricks were displayed at Notebooks, Floyd’s independent bookstore. The owners got the bricks at the “Building Community” slide show presentation Josh did when he was in town last Christmas. Although they weren’t for sale, a woman who was shopping in the bookstore was keen to have one, and so the bookstore owner sold her one, although she felt awkward because she didn’t know what to charge.
The brick was chosen as the vehicle for my concept because of its connection to ceramics, as well as for its connection to shelter and the historical significance of bricks in creating permanent civilizations. In this case, the brick acts as a metaphor for the human condition; individually each brick is relatively useless and displays very little of the power, strength, and stability associated with bricks once they are bonded together to build a structure. The solitary brick seems insignificant, like a solitary person, and only once it is joined in mass with others of its kind does it gain the capacity to garner attention. ~ Josh
Another Community Brick sits on the window sill at the entrance of Jacksonville Center for the Arts, where Josh gave the slide show (shown in the first photo) and where my Writer’s Circle meets twice a month.
The Building Community installation is compromised of 1600 handmade bricks, extruded from local clay excavated out of a nearby tobacco field, open-chequer stacked and wood-fired in the anagama at UNC. The kiln was purposefully fired unevenly to create a color spectrum ranging from the hot, dark purple bricks in front, to the cooler, light orange bricks in the back. I used the common practice of branding firebricks with a company’s name or other defining characteristics, as a method of literally communicating my idea about an individual’s role in their community. Half of the bricks were stamped with the word “individual” and installed in the gallery as a wall, while the other half were stamped with the word “community’ an arranged in a solid cube on a pallet. ~ Josh
At our April ceremony honoring elder women in our community, one of the women was addressing the crowd of about seventy about the importance of community. At one point, she looked directly at me and said, “I have one of Josh’s bricks. I use it as a doorstop!”
My intention was to make the wall large enough so that its physical size would command the attention of the viewer, and its presence in the space would successfully communicate the power of organized individuals to create a unified whole. The ‘community’ bricks were given away during the exhibition, both as a symbolic gesture of giving back to the community that supports me and also as an attempt to raise the level of consciousness in each person as they entered into a relationship with me, by taking a brick with them and participating in the experience.” ~ Josh Copus
Josh’s bricks are building community. They’re getting around. There’s one in Ireland, another in Japan, and a number of them have found their way to different parts of this country. My blogger friend Naomi received one recently. She was surprised to discover that it was delivered without packaging and with her name and address written directly on its surface. “My post woman asked me why I was receiving a brick in the mail...LOL...” Naomi later emailed me to say.
Post notes: The italicized text is excerpted from an article Josh wrote for “The Log Book,” an International Wood-fired Ceramics Publication. For more information on Josh and his work, go HERE and scroll down. Check out Ronni Bennett’s Elder Story Telling HERE. The guest post features a recent Loose Leaf Post, “From First Holy Communion to Community Croning.”