The Fox at Dawn


April 4, 2022: Leap of Faith

Over and over yesterday afternoon, eagles sailed in commanding circles over our heads, high and low, sometimes to warn off a Coopers Hawk, a Red Tail or a Black Vulture who shat midair at the close encounter. Mostly the eagles just wheeled and pivoted in the glory of the afternoon sun, taking turns on the nest to sit a spell longer.

I don’t live near mountains or out in the country. I live in Louisville, Kentucky a good-sized city on the Ohio River that grows larger every day. It’s the day after Tornado Day, a day you never forget to mark if you lived through it, April 3rd, 1974. 148 confirmed tornadoes ripped across 900 square miles in 24 hours, 30 of them were category F4/F5. My city was torn apart that day, but unless you know where to look, you wouldn’t guess it had ever happened. I’m sitting where I most like to be before dawn, at the picnic table in the Little Wood behind my house. Some of these trees made it through that long ago tornado that destroyed houses not a half block away. These trees are survivors.

I am on spring break, a teacher’s salvation. It feels so good not to be trundling off to school in the dark, instead I’m sitting here quietly until I drive my daughter to work at eight. I had a miserable night’s sleep, wrestling all night with anxieties and wretched dreams, but this morning I am listening to the White-Throated Sparrow sing its sweet song in the rising light of day. All around me wildflowers are blooming. Almost a hundred years ago, a woman who lived two doors down from me made it a habit to dig up flowers whenever she visited her family in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky and then plant them here in this little wood, this small sanctuary tucked away from the rest of the neighborhood. God bless her for it. They are still here, thriving- trillium, lady slipper, bloodroot, dwarf larkspur and cowslips are blooming now. I cannot help but feel hopeful, leaving the night’s fears behind.

After I finished my job at the church yesterday, I went to my friend Melissa’s house to see the eagle nest. She and her husband have been renting this house that sits high on a bluff looking over the Ohio. It’s part of the family compound owned by the little sister of my best friend in middle school, the friend who broke my heart in the 8th grade when she turned her back on me in favor of the cool girls. Lordie, how life folds back on itself when you grow old in your hometown. In the front yard of Melissa’s house there is a commanding pine tree chosen by an eagle pair for their nesting site. They started building in February. The nest is mostly obscured by the branches that hold it, it’s unknown if the eggs have hatched yet though they probably have. But it seems clear that the parents are taking turns sitting on the nest.

Standing below with my binoculars, I thought I could make out a white head deep in the nest, and then whoosh! Out the eagle swooped, making circles over the tree. It sang as it flew, a song I’d never heard before. My heart just thrilled to it. I can’t help remembering my longing to see Bald Eagles as a child, when they were terribly endangered. They had completely disappeared from Kentucky by the time I was born. All the pictures I saw of them came from Alaska or Canada. It seemed impossible that they should ever live in Kentucky again. I lived in Seattle, newly married, when I saw my first eagle in 1987. It was reported in the newspaper that a pair were nesting in Discovery Park, that enormous, wild, wonderful park that looks over Puget Sound on Magnolia Bluff. It was big news. The article didn’t say where in the park the nest was, but I wanted to find it so badly. One night I dreamt of the tree and the path that led to it. So, we went in search of it and I felt myself being led right to it, as if I knew where it was all along. There! The eagle nest! There! The eagle! We returned many times to look for them, to watch them hunt in the sound. I’ve seen Bald Eagles many times since then and it always stops my heart. To see them in my hometown makes me cry sometimes. They’re back! We didn’t kill them all! My daughter doesn’t understand, she rolls her eyes at my enthusiasm. To her, the fact of them is just a fact. Eagles on the Ohio River, big deal. Yes! Yes it is!

As a child of the 1970’s I had a stark awareness of the environmental apocalypse that was upon us. I have vivid memories of the rage I felt at seeing how casually people threw garbage out of the car windows as they drove down the street. Yes, that was a thing. Drink cans, bottles, bags of McDonald’s trash, cigarettes. God, the mounds of cigarette butts you’d find in parking lots and along the curb from people emptying their car ashtrays, the smell of car and bus exhaust- it turns my stomach to remember them. The wave of public service announcements about pollution at the start of the environmental movement worked well on the children of that decade- the “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” campaign, the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign with its “Crying Indian” (who was, in fact, Italian-American, but never mind). While the PSAs may have done little to change corporate behavior, they did succeed in influencing individual and family behavior.  Children made their families clean up, I know we did. Trash was everywhere- the streets, the parks. The Beargrass Creek watershed was choked with garbage and the waters were poisoned, truly dangerous to wade in. Very little was able to live in those waters. I remember how we had to wear our Keds into lakes and rivers so we wouldn’t get cut by all the broken glass and the million pull tabs that lay like mines on Normandy beaches. I remember the orange haze of the air, a stinging veil that hung before your eyes. I remember the headaches and asthma attacks during field hockey practice in August. I remember the urgent air pollution warnings telling us to stay indoors, which don’t do much good when you have no air conditioning. I remember so much carelessness. The grown-ups just didn’t seem to care.

The Trump years were deeply painful for oh so many reasons. One of the worst for me was the rollback of so many environmental protections and the gutting of the EPA. The return of that utter disregard for the planet that reigned when I was a child. Things are so much better than they were, it anguished me to see the US slipping back towards that time. And things really are better- locally it is demonstrable that the air quality has improved since the Clean Air Act. That haze is very rare now. The waters are cleaner- there are beavers living on the Ohio River and along Beargrass Creek again. Yes, there is still trash, but it is much much better. And people who casually litter are outliers, not the norm.

It is easy to forget the progress that’s been made when so much darkness keeps piling on-  mass shootings, continuing climate collapse, racism, dysfunctional government, the ongoing pandemic, the rollback of reproductive rights, the censorship of books, people and ideas, the attempts to push LGBTQ+ folx back into the dark closets of society, the reprehensible war in Ukraine. There is much to be unhappy about, too much to carry. It’s disheartening. But yesterday I watched Bald Eagles fly above the front yard of a friend. I know the fish they pull from the Mighty Ohio will not be laced with DDT. The eggs they lay will not collapse before hatching. Soon we will be watching eaglets spread their wings and take that leap of faith from the nest. The child in me jumps up and cheers, the old woman I am becoming cheers with her.



12/24/21 Christmas Eve in the Little Wood

            It’s the day most longed for in childhood, better even than Christmas. It’s that delicious sense of being just around the corner from wonder and miracle, just about to see the true beneficence of the Universe. It’s a Holy Day of Expectation, perhaps better than the day itself- the unwrapped gift might be anything, the child coming into the world might shine a great light.

            Once I knew the secret- that the miracle lived under my own roof- I was allowed to sneak back downstairs after my younger brother was tucked into bed (my sister was not yet born) so that I could become part of that miracle too. Back then, when we were small and the world was large, we put up our tree and left it undecorated when we went to bed on Christmas Eve. Coming downstairs on Christmas morning to see the tree ablaze with glory was the first magic I ever knew. And if the daylight revealed a rare and fresh snowfall- my goodness, what wonder there was in the world! What a glorious place to be! So much of the hard parts of life melted away. Of that I will not write, I will not conjure back into being. 

Once I figured out from whence this wonder came, I was invited to be part of it. The thrill of being a co-conspirator, a fellow magician, a Christmas angel! I got to help decorate the tree, I got to set out the cookies and milk and beer for Santa, for by the time Santa got to our house he needed a beer. When it came time to set out the gifts, I was sent upstairs to bed. But how on earth could I sleep when I knew what was happening below? Listening closely, I heard their voices, the tone, not the words. I heard rustling, an occasional clank. I lay there calculating- could it actually be —- that I hinted at last week? Would my brother be getting the — he wants so badly?

In the morning, we sat at the top step above the turning at the landing where we could not see below and waited for the all clear to come from below. We rushed down the steps, only I’d hold back a step or two. My eyes were not on the tree and the generosity that spread out beneath it, my eyes were on my brother’s face. I watched for that moment when the glory sprung full upon him, as it would never fall on me again. But getting to see his joy made my own even sweeter. And so it has been. It became my practice to sit at the top step sometime around midnight every Christmas Eve to simply contemplate the unopened joy that lay waiting below. Whatever house I am in. However old I am. Being one of the Wondermakers of the world is a great privilege and Christmas Eve I breathe in the blessing of it. 

It’s before dawn out here in the little wood. The unseasonably warm weather has called me out here. I feel much better having written a bit. The prosaic demands of the holiday obscure the poetry of it, obscure the soul of it, which I crave. Kept too long in the saucepan of checklists, I bubble up into irritation, my gratitude sailing off like steam. Our family plans have changed fifteen times since Sunday, as fully vaxxed and boostered members of the family test positive for the insidious Omicron variant. Time here in the dark, under the trees helps me recover my footing. 

A photo has fallen out of my journal- an old black and white one that Mom gave me some months ago of Great-Aunt Virginia Cook and her infant daughter Carole. They are in front of their long ago Christmas Tree, hung with silver bells and tinsel. Aunt Gigi (not my real aunt, I only found out as a teenager) is smiling so beautifully, so much happiness radiates. A young widow, her horrible husband gone. She raised her daughter alone, working at a bookstore to do it. In the photo, there’s a stack of identical books on a table, with empty boxes set on top. Perhaps she is about to wrap them for gifts. I never noticed that about the photo before now. Many years after this photo, I would be one of the recipients of well-chosen books from her that would be touchstones for me throughout my life. Pickle Chiffon Pie by Jolly Roger Bradfield, The Tapestry Room by Mrs. Molesworth, Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt. Aunt Gigi scraped by, as I do, but she was one of the Wondermakers of the world. As am I.

The sky is lavender now- the light is coming back into the world and the birds are beginning to call to each other- did you make it through the night? I did! Did you? I did! We all did- Halleluiah! Merry Christmas, all you Wondermakers out there. Have at it.



Dusk and Dawn 10.9.21

Men and their leaf blowers have no love for the unwinding of the day as the sun slips down between late afternoon and evening. I shake my fists at them and walk by with my middle fingers in my ears. I know I am invisible to them, all they can see is their task. My neighbors in the big white farmhouse have set up a long, long table in the middle of their yard with white linen and enormous candelabras. I expect the Mad Hatter and the March Hare will arrive soon followed by a sleepy Dormouse and then a befuddled Alice.  It is a delightful sight. It’s a Friday night and once again I am home alone, breathing a sigh of relief. My week is always so very full, so many students, colleagues, all in motion, a buzzing hive of exploration and things that must be done.

Home again from school and from retrieving my dear old cat Piper Rose from the vet I set some things right in the house and step out again with my binoculars and field bag holding my eyeglasses and journal, intending to find magic, intending to take my time walking and looking at the world as if it were new. Remembering the owl’s song this morning, calling from the languishing black cherry in the back of my yard, I do not go far. I can hear the cars rushing along Brownsboro Road, folks hurrying home to their weekend, blind to everything thing else- I don’t wish to be swept into their current. I walk slowly around the little wood behind my garage, then slowly around the block, letting the tiresome leaf blowers complete their tasks. I sneak up the wooded lot next to the new neighbor who has never actually moved in, though she bought the house back in May. I stop every few steps to look, to see, to take a breath. A pair of young squirrels run off a tree in a game of chase, one of them nearly runs up my legs as if I were another tree but swerves at the last moment, unconcerned that I am human. It makes me smile, I feel honored. Now, here I am at the picnic table in the little wood where no one ever sits except me, once in a blue moon. 

The trees are so patient. I sit and wait with them. Still holding their summer leaves for a little while longer, except for the tall black cherries who are starting to let those tired old things go. The green is giving way to gold and yellow, other colors creeping in. The sun is setting soon. I look for the owl and hope to hear its call before I head into the house. I wait, the trees wait, the traffic roars in the distance, the crickets sing, the breeze disappears, voices from Alice’s party grow merrier and louder as the guests arrive. Owls do not care for parties. There’ll be no calls this evening, but I’ll be back before dawn. 

Saturday morning, I am here and so is the owl. Alice’s party has been long dispersed, the tea has grown cold. I woke at six, fed the clamoring cats, put on clothes to protect me from tick and chigger and mosquito, picked up my binoculars, journal and a little lantern and stepped quietly out the art room door to the call of the owl, sitting high in the black cherry, my old friend Orion shining in the sky behind it. Good morning, my blessing.

            I’m at the table writing by the light of the lantern, the night insects sing. The owl moved from the cherry into a tree here in the little wood where it sang a while longer and then grew silent. Perhaps it has moved on. Perhaps it will come back. I hear the distant hum and thrum of the roads, even early on this weekend morning people have places to be that aren’t where they are. I dream of living where I cannot hear them, cannot hear their busyness. I dream of living where the song of God quiets the noise in my head.

            I do love it though, my house on the hillside, my willful yard, this hidden little wood and lane behind it, right in the heart of Crescent Hill. I love that owls live here, that foxes and deer have made their way here from time to time. Raccoons, possums and rabbit are longtime residents. I love that I can walk to the library, bookstore and bakery, to Oscar’s hardware and Tammy’s consignment shop. I can stand in the road and talk with my neighbors, be part of block parties and celebrations. It is good, so good. The stars peek through the trees, the sun won’t be up for another forty-five minutes or so, the night sings on.

I’ve been reading The Tapestry Room, the book I am writing, here by the lantern light. Little insects make their way across the page, I note their progress. I look up to see the morning light creeping in. Suddenly a bird sings, she has seen the dawn too. More birds are joining in. I can see the ground more clearly, can hear the traffic grow louder, more insistent on its importance. The stars have disappeared. Night’s song is over- not quite, not quite- the owl is back, calling ‘who cooks for you? who cooks for you?’ I do, my friend, I do. I turn back to my reading, live inside the world that is as real to me as any. Each time I look up from it, the outside world has changed. Color is creeping into it as the earth turns toward the sun. 

(Drawn with plants from the neighborhood.)

My neighbor Bob just walked past on the little lane, off for his morning walk and coffee. I don’t think he even saw me sitting here. I turn off the lantern, useless now, and go into the house.



Hindman/Home

“You gotta make the work sacred,

because it happens to be sacred.”

-Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani was the keynote speaker for the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop at Hindman Settlement School this year. On Zoom she was powerful, intimate, dynamic, funny, full of respect and truth. I’d want her in my corner when I’m on the ropes. She’d find a way to get me up and fighting again.

            Here’s the struggle- for one almost whole week I had the great gift of being at the writer’s workshop there at Hindman where all my needs were met- really delicious food (dessert with every meal!), a lovely room, inspiring and generous teachers, trails to explore, quiet places to sit and think, a beautiful campus rich with history, and a community of old and new friends all working to shine some light in this world. All week we were surrounded by beauty and art and heritage. We were in a place that has a long history of lifting people up. It is sacred ground, truly. And now I’m home.

The foot bridge over Troublesome Creek at Hindman Settlement School in Knott County Kentucky. That’s Uncle Sol’s cabin in the distance. It was his desire to educate his children that was the catalyst for the school.

            Last year I attended the workshop online along with everyone else. Hindman did a great job with it, but we all felt the loss. At home, I tried hard to make the time sacred and for moments I could fool myself that I was there, lose myself in the readings, the discussions, the sharing. Just hearing everyone’s voice was enough to keep me afloat. But there was always the moment of hollowness when the Zoom screen disappeared and there I was sitting alone at home about 30 seconds away from having to take care of something or someone. I remember sitting there feeling like all the water just drained out of the tub. It was heavy work hauling myself out and putting myself into motion again. I do not think I was alone in feeling this. I know I wasn’t. And I know that those who attended online again this year felt it again, even more so. It just hurts.

Former Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon, a most remarkable writer and teacher. She looks kind of mean in this photo but it simply isn’t so. This is what the set-up looked like from our classroom on campus this year.

            Lucky, so lucky to be there this year. It was an oasis I badly needed, an oasis I hated to leave. The degree to which I am mourning it shocks me- do I really dislike my life so much? The one I made all by myself over all these years? Of course not. But there are so many things I dread and even despise about what everyone agrees is the necessary business of life. Not so long ago I wrote in my journal that as I lay dying (someday far far from now) that I will toss bouquets to heaven, rejoicing that I will no longer have to fill out financial aid forms, file taxes, pay bills, navigate mortgage refinancing, fight property valuation increases, rob Peter to pay Paul. ‘Hallelujah!’ I will shout- or gasp, or whisper or maybe just think- ‘I can just be me again!’

I always see turtles when I hike up on the trail behind the school. They always tell me the same thing: You already have everything you need.

            That’s what it felt like this last week. I was just me. Not responsible for anyone else. I am amazed at how little I thought of my family, those I’ve lost, even my daughter who is everything to me.  I forgot all week that I was a mother, a daughter, a teacher, an employee, a homeowner, all of it. I allowed myself to simply be. I didn’t have to justify the time I spent reading, writing, listening, making art, exploring or simply looking out into the distance for long periods of time. I mean justify it to myself because it’s mostly me looking over my own shoulder saying ‘don’t forget you have to… remember to… it’s been a long time since you… you really ought to- clean, cook, shop, weed whack, visit, call, pay, plan, work your two jobs since that is what pays you.’

Circle time with new and old friends in the evenings was a great joy after the last 18 months.

            I am not alone or unique. It is what many experienced at the workshop. This glorious week and then we go home floating high with what we have learned, experienced, created. And there are our lives waiting for us to pick up the reins again. How do artists, writers, dreamers keep it all going? Those dear mothers of small children have an especially hard time because finding time to write feels like stealing time from your babies. Say what you want, that’s what it feels like and how can anything beautiful come from what is stolen? I remember well that precious, tender, terrible time.  We talked about this in our last class with the remarkable George Ella Lyon who is a wonder and a gift. She walks us through our own mansions with an enormous keyring at her waist unlocking door after door for us, saying ‘here, did you know you have this room in your house? Now you can come in anytime.’ But on our last day, many of us were despondent- how on earth can I even find that room again once I get home?

Every morning, spiders webs magically appear on the bridge over Troublesome.

            I have some thoughts on thresholds and doors you can close. When everything shut down in March 2020, we all went home. It was exciting at first, an adventure, something new. I require solitude, crave quiet. The busy-ness of traveling here and there, being split between my two jobs can be very wearing, so being at home really appealed to me. In some ways life was more peaceful, in other ways it was maddeningly loud inside my head. Suddenly there were no boundaries between work and home, between my two jobs, between my family and my writing life. No thresholds to cross, no journeys to help reset and refocus for the next task at hand. There were no doors to close to keep the outside from coming in and I felt I had to be reachable at all times. Tethered to the computer screen, I worked to figure out how to teach theater online, how to have Sunday school, how to keep children from feeling the way I did- unconnected, unreal, unimportant. Truly maddening. 

Statue of boys sledding high on the hill in front of Preece House.

            My office at home isn’t a room exactly, more like an odd-shaped hall at the top of the stairs leading to other rooms, a feng shui nightmare as energy hemorrhages from that space. It’s okay for business type stuff but not for the deep dive needed for writing. I fiddled with spaces all last year- found the best settings for my various zoom classes, rearranged furniture, created a writing space in my bedroom where I actually have a door to close. I designated different desks in the house for different endeavors. I have a ridiculous number of desks, perfect for someone who habitually takes on too much. 

So here’s the current line-up: 

The Business Desk: At the top of the stairs. It is an office type desk with filing cabinets that I bought at Big Lots ten years ago. It’s for businessy type things, including my work for school or the church. 

The Letter Desk: Not six feet away is my childhood dresser desk, a Victorian affair with drawers and a desktop you lower to reveal cubbyholes. For letter writing and my international postcard obsession, for correspondence of any kind that involves paper and pen and the stamps that I love so much.

The Poetry Desk:  A small cherry school type desk with a sloped top that I got in a neighborhood second-hand shop. It sits in a window dormer to the right of the Business Desk. It has been largely ignored these last couple of years but it is reasserting its importance.

Lap Desks: I have these two very old pressed cardboard lap desks that I got when I helped my cousin clean out an old relative’s house decades ago now. They have held up remarkably well. They travel out on the patio if it’s nice or beside the fireplace if it’s cold or in the armchair upstairs that looks out into the yard if I want to keep an eye out for the birds and the postman. This is where I do most of my journal and blog writing and my reading.

The Magic Desk: In my bedroom/meditation room with a door I can close, a gift from a family friend long ago. It’s an antique secretary desk with a drop front and cubbyholes, like the letter desk. This is where I work on The Tapestry Room, a historical fantasy novel for young readers. It’s a solid push week or two away from completion. Here is the one place in the house I can close the door. If I mindfully cross the threshold into this room, say ‘I am a writer entering a sacred space’, the chatter in my head quiets down. I close the door, take the three steps down in to the room, play the music that is my touchstone and almost immediately the peacocks swish their tails and I can enter the world of the book. 

The Magic Desk

By moving from desk to desk, I can change gears and officially set aside the thoughts that do not belong to that desk. It’s how I trick myself into focusing and mostly it works, helps keep my work separate and clear. It helps to make a little room for the private work of my soul. I write, not because I especially like writing, but because I love having written. It’s a lightening of the heart, the spirit, a secret bright joy. But then that feeling wears off and you have to write again. Patsy Kinser, one of the remarkable poets in my class, said that writing is her exhalation. She breathes in life, loss, love and exhales poetry. I love this. Inspiration, exhalation. Yes.

The Chapel up the hill by the burial places of writer James Still and teacher Elizabeth Watts.

In her keynote, Adriani (I feel we are on a first name basis now) told us to set our alarms two hours earlier to write, fresh from sleep, before the world starts making demands. She said to create a sacred space for writing, even if it’s just a corner of the kitchen table. A woman after my own heart, she advocates getting dedicated notebooks for projects- no writing the grocery list or the household chore to-do list in the novel notebook. She said ‘Love everybody, take care of everybody, but put yourself on that list too’. Over and over her message was: Don’t waste time, don’t kick that can down the road, you’re feeling pretty good right now- get it down. Don’t. Waste. Time.

On the last night, it’s a longtime tradition to read The Brier Sermon by Jim Wayne Miller, one of the founders of the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop. It’s about being born again to the birthright of Appalachian heritage. Everyone in the circle reads a part of it and joins in on the refrain “You Must be Born Again”. We ended this year by singing Will the Circle Be Unbroken, hoping that next year everyone will be together on campus.

            Making time to write is very difficult, then actually writing is harder still. The world leans in hard telling us that what’s in our hearts and heads can wait, isn’t important, will never lead anywhere. That’s the voice of Death. It will come soon enough, no need to listen to it right now. Write. Glory.



Blueberries on the First Day of Summer
June 21, 2021, 4:46 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,
The rows of the blueberry farm 
are dotted with women, 
some alone and some in pairs, 
tending each other’s children. 
Their voices are so kind 
as they intone the blueberry mantras-

  Remember, only pick the blue and purply ones. 
If they are white or green or reddish, 
let them alone to ripen a bit more for someone else.

  You may eat one, 
but see how many you can put in your basket.

  Oh that’s a beautiful big juicy blue one! 
Perfect to bring home to Daddy.

They talk to each other in low voices, 
sharing ideas for the cooking, 
baking, eating and drinking 
of blueberries. 
They talk of their grown children 
or their little ones. 
The summer plans, how different this one is 
from the last dreary year. 
How often they call their parents, 
How often their children call them. 
How peaceful it is 
How they wish they could pick all day, 
the gratifying sound of berries 
being dropped into their buckets. 

My mother has worked her way well down the row. 
She can’t get low to pick the ones underneath anymore,
she reaches only what she can and that is enough. 

I look down the row from time to time to make sure she hasn’t fallen. 
It is getting hot and our buckets are getting heavy. 
We agree it’s time to stop, though I ache to pick more-
Blueberries make you greedy. 

We head slowly back to the entrance where we will pay. 
Her back to the sun, her hair is soaking wet.
I carry her bucket now, so I’m balanced I say.  
We take our time. It won’t be long years before
My daughter will carry my bucket
On our slow walk back.

“I’ll pay for everyone’s blueberries. That’s what I’m here for,” 
she says and I think of Great Aunt Mimi 
standing at the kitchen sink decades ago, 
doing the dishes after a big family meal.  
‘This is my contribution’ she would laugh, 
‘I never learned to cook, but I can wash dishes.’

This is what women do-
They do what they can.
 


2.25.2021 Snowdrops

They have done exactly what we asked them to do, the children. Last March, almost a whole year now, we asked them to retreat down into the safety of their screens as we closed the schools down. Of course it had to be done. Down down down they went into their respective burrows. Their lives became very small, smaller still through the winter that has kept us mostly indoors. Being with anyone other than family is a rarity. Going to the grocery is an occasion.

            The school where I teach has offered in person classes since the middle of fall. Not everyone chose to come back, but the ones who did, came back to a wildly different school. It’s a pod-based world where they sit in one room safely (it is hoped) distanced from the desk next to them. All day they sit there, unless the weather allows for breaks outside. The teachers of the various subjects come to them, lunch is brought to them.  They sit. A lot of us teachers try to get them moving as much as possible, but it is getting harder and harder to get them to do it. At least the middle school classes I am teaching. I go into their pods to teach them, but I am also simultaneously teaching the other pods down the hall and the kids at home who have chosen to simulcast their classes. So I am teaching the kids in the pod face to face, only I am tethered to the tiny computer camera through which I try to reach all the other students. It’s schizoid. I teach theater. Normally this is an on-your-feet class full of games, team building, improvisations and rehearsals all working toward an end of semester production. All of this has been shot to hell this last year, though my high schoolers and I have created original plays written for and about Zoom that I am very proud of.  Zoom plays don’t work in the hybrid middle school world though.

            The year has dragged on and on. Often I feel myself floating above my life feeling that I have dreamt it. I have to remind myself at times that I am actually a teacher, that I have a job at a school that is real and that I am teaching real classes. And if I feel that way, I know the kids do too. School may not feel real at all to them, the assignments, the online lectures, the tests. There is so little you can actually touch. The body is not involved at all. It’s all blah blah blah, a tiny head in a box. 

            The winter has been hard on us all. I’ve become invisible to kids I have known for years, kids I’ve directed, laughed with, applauded for. The first day back from winter break, I walked into a classroom and said ‘hello, I’m so happy to see you’ and no one raised their head. They are sunk down into their chromebooks, some have earphones on. They don’t see me, they don’t hear me. I am not real to them. Their bubbly banter is gone. If they are communicating with each other, it is through subterranean tunnels connecting their burrows that we cannot see. Last March we asked them to live inside their screens and they complied. They are down there now, in their cozy tunnels or their snide dens (if they are seventh graders). I stand at the entrance and call down to them- Can you hear me? Is anybody home? Ollie Ollie in come free!

            The sun is returning, there are warmer days ahead. I’ll do my best to lure them out again, create a safe place for us all to play.  I pray that they are like the snowdrops now blooming all over my hillside. Once the weight of winter has melted away and the danger has lifted even a little, I pray that there they all are- blooming, undamaged, undiscouraged.

Spring. All is resurrected, you might as well be too.



2.16.21 Mr. Darcy is Gone
February 16, 2021, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , ,
With his friend Dill earlier this month.

Mr. Darcy, a great friend to everyone, is gone. He died at home, where he always longed to be, after a sudden and catastrophic decline. He did not suffer long and that is a great comfort. He was the sweetest and the most loyal lieutenant, a good boy to the end. He was an exquisite artist in his younger days, pure poetry in motion as he played frisbee. He could spot a rabbit in the dark at 50 yards, alert us quickly to anything unusual happening without making too big a fuss, and was a patient mother to a number of kittens over the years.  A friend to all cats, mail carriers, neighbors, visitors, small fluffy dogs and his best pal Johnny, Didi will be sorely missed. He loved his family most of all, and never left my side, even if I wanted him to. Separation was his greatest trial. It is a blessing that his passing took place at home, in my room, where he has slept for the last ten years. May his great spirit be Home at last.

I wrote the following poem yesterday as part of a class on epistolary poetry I am taking. It helped, a little.

Dear Cindy, 

friend poet,

.

You write of the peace 

of butterflies

And for a moment 

I am filled with breath

Like the opening of soft wings

And it is a balm.

.

I never knew

How soon the tongue blackens,

How quickly the limbs stiffen,

When life has left.

I never knew,

As my body knows now,

What it means to move

dead weight.

.

Our sweetest boy, 

Died in the night

By the foot of the bed

At his post to the end.

.

Frozen rain hits the window,

The hearth fire crackles,

All I see is where he ought to be but isn’t.

.

You write of wild horses 

And warm empty beaches,

Of bioluminescence and butterflies,

.

I take a breath,

Feel the soft wings flutter.



2.11.21 Good morning poet friend
February 11, 2021, 12:58 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Writing | Tags: , ,

Were the world arranged solely for my pleasure

most winter mornings would begin like this one

with a slow dawn on a fine snow blanket

covering the ice that fell

all night long

leaving the roads

blessedly empty of their daily business

because the stakes are just too high.

.

I am thankful for the quiet

for the gathering of cardinals

so grand against the winter white

for the way I must plan each step outside

turning the morning walk with dogs

into a small pilgrimage

as the mind is bent on exactly now-

snow crunch silhouette of trees

twinkling ice made prisms of the dawn.

.

I am thankful that I can lay a silver branch before you

from the land where all night long

twelve princesses danced through their shoes.

.

Good morning my poet friend.



1.30.21 The First Bloom

I have loved Cave Hill Cemetery all my life. I grew up a few blocks away and have been exploring it now for decades. It’s close to downtown Louisville, but is hundreds of acres over rolling hills, sinkholes, an extensive cave system, a rock quarry and a few lakes fed by springs. It is an arboretum along with being an historic cemetery and the final resting place of over a hundred thousand souls. Some are known names like Muhammad Ali, George Rogers Clark, Colonel Sanders, while others are names long forgotten like hundreds of women and children cast away by society, and thousands of men thrown into the teeth of the Civil War. There are endless stories at Cave Hill. A few days ago I took a long ramble there, thinking my thoughts and feeling the presence of a friend long gone.  I  chanced upon a tree by the lake that was actually blooming- so early! So unexpected!

That evening I took part in a workshop on Zoom called “Writing with Scissors” facilitated by the delightful writer Dianne Aprile. In it we explored a few forms in which we could combine collage with writing. Creating collages is deeply comforting, something about the action of cutting and pasting is healing. Unexpected relationships emerge, the sum always greater than the parts. I wrote a Haiku about the morning’s walk at Cave Hill and created a small collage triptych in the form of a little book.

This is the front:

It opens to this:

Then fully opens to this:

The back of the above page looks like this:

The day was a balm. It’s been a year of walls closing in, anything that opens them up is a great blessing.

The quarry at Cave Hill Cemetery.



1.3.21 The Heron Returns
January 3, 2021, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day | Tags: , ,

Sitting at the dining room table, listening to the Sunday sermon, playing Solitaire, Mr. Darcy’s low growl draws my attention to the window. There he was- a Great Blue Heron standing on the edge of the little fish pond with at least one of my largest goldfish in its deadly beak, bright orange, the only color in the winter gray morning. I make sure I’m muted, race to the door and fling it open shouting and waving my arms. The heron doesn’t drop the fish- oh lord, are there two of them in his beak? Little troubled, the bird opens his massive wings and lazily takes to the sky.  He leaves his calling card- the floating white film of his excrement on the surface of the pond. The other fish are in clear sight at the bottom of the pond, unmoving and undisturbed by the sudden attack. The winter makes them stupid and slow. There they wait to be plucked out of the water and there is little I can do about it. I have tried many things. The herons keep coming and I keep shouting and waving my arms and sometimes I cry. Why do I care so much?

The heron will always eat fish. And I will always hate it.

When I finish teaching my Sunday school classes, I try again. I always do, even knowing what I know. I try again. I haul out the pinwheels, the sparkling string, the tomato cages. The cages- four of them- are turned upside down and placed in various spots around the pond, their leg prongs pointed to the sky. The pinwheels are pushed into the ground around the perimeter and the string is stretched taut from one to the other, crisscrossing the pond. Perhaps when there is wind, the whirling pinwheels will be enough to discourage the Vikings from landing. Perhaps the fish will seek refuge in the tomato cages, the heron unable to penetrate the geometry of wire angles. Perhaps the strings will entangle the intrepid pillagers unconcerned by the other defenses.

It looks ridiculous, of course. A sad little circus trying to look brave and hearty. It’s all I can do, so I do it.  The fish come under my protection, being here in my pond. I am the caretaker here and those winter fuddled fish, orange as traffic cones, are not fair game. There are creeks and a mighty river not a half mile away. There, it is natural that herons should hunt and feed, here, it is pure theft. Tiny murders are still murders after all.

Does anybody ask the fish? This just now occurs to me. I assume that they don’t wish to be skewered and swallowed.  Perhaps it is all for nothing and they care far less than I do. And just how many have I taken under my protection, looked after with care and tenderness, that didn’t want to be there? Never asked to be there? I know at least one. Perhaps you’re reading this now. Yes, you nod your head, there was at least one.