Sunday, February 18, 2018

I first met the man everyone called Buddy . . .

at breakfast, in the dining room of the Virginia Center for Creative Arts.  It was long ago, in a time far, far away. A time before cellphones. Thank god, or I’d have missed out on a chance to know a fine character and an even finer writer. And I mean fine in almost every sense if the word: smooth and polished, refined, sharp, skilled, well-honed, first rate.  A fine fellow indeed.

But I digress. This particular morning, somewhere in the very early 2000s, several of us had congregated at breakfast. A white-haired, spiffily dressed gentleman sat working alone at a table next to us. The pay phone in a little cubicle off the den began to ring and before anyone else could sleepily respond, the gentleman (for this is the only way I can ever think of him) at the next table hopped up with a deep southern  “Ah’ll gayuut it,” and left the room. He was gone long enough for us to assume it had been a wrong number. Probably he’d gone back to his room, forgetting he’d left his notebook and coffee. Poor old fellow.

A good ten minutes passed before the “poor fellow” limped back into the room. He came over to our table and tapped the man sitting next to me on the shoulder.
“It’s our wife, James,” he said.  Then, leaning back on his cane, he proceeded to inform James of everything “our” wife had been up to for the last several days. “She had a minor banking problem, but I believe I’ve solved it. And our lovely Sylvie advanced to the spelling finals. Isn’t that wonderful?”

James, who’d obviously not met the older man before, seemed rather taken aback by his new confidant.

“She said not to bother your breakfast. Just call her when you get a moment this evening.” He limped over to his table, collected his notebook and coffee cup, and left the room with a smile and a wave for the rest of us.

“What the hell?” James (and most of the rest of us) wanted to know.

“That’s our Buddy,” someone at the table said. “He just loves talking to strangers. Isn’t he wonderful?”

And indeed he was, as I found out in the next couple of weeks. Buddy always rose during meals to answer the phone, and almost everyone who wasn’t expecting a crucial call from an agent let him. Whoever was lucky enough to be at the same table as the intended recipient of the call was treated to an elaborate account of a day in the life of someone’s family. We learned about vet visits and report cards, swim meets and daycare. Buddy solved banking crises, advised on repairmen and potential play dates. He diagnosed minor ailments, recommended courses of study, and even college applications.

I had many a lovely breakfast with Buddy at VCCA, but, as with so many other people I was fortunate to meet there, my memory of him gradually receded into the past. I’m embarrassed to admit I told my Buddy stories many times over the years, and listened to many other people tell theirs, without ever bothering to find out who that quaint southern gentleman was.

A few years ago, after VCCA staff sent around yet another in a series of “Please use your cell phone courteously and softly” email requests to those of us in residence, I said something to the creative director about the good old days of the phone booth. “There was this great old southern guy,” I began—

“Oh, you mean Buddy,” she broke in, “Lewis Nordan. An amazing writer, don’t you think? He just passed away recently.”

I agreed that was who I meant, and as soon as we parted I pulled out my phone to find out what “Buddy” had written. The list was quite impressive. Three short story collections and a themed short story/novel, six “conventional” novels and a memoir. I may have missed something. Again, I am embarrassed to say that after shaking my head in awe, I left the Wikipedia page and Lewis Nordan behind.

Until a few weeks ago, when I discovered Sharpshooter Blues at a library book sale, and memories of Buddy came rushing back.

I finally read the stories Lewis Nordan committed to paper. I should have realized years ago that a storyteller who could hold a whole table rapt with the story of a cat’s hairball or a bounced check would be magical on paper. Nordan spun his web around me with his first few sentences, and transported me to a semi-fictional boyhood world he’d re-imagined as Arrow Catcher, Mississippi. A world of bayous and blues, odd characters and events that twist different ways with each character’s retelling.  Reviewers refer to Nordan as the “Singer of America’s soul.” I can’t argue with that.

Sharpshooter Blues melds the stories of Hydro, the comic-reading, peach-pie-eating, hydrocephalic son of the bayou’s bait store owner, with Hydro’s almost-only friend Lewis, the eight-year-old overweight, neglected son of the town banker and his alcoholic wife (who’s having an affair with a very small sharpshooter who is Hydro’s other friend). And that’s just to start. Nordan makes you not only believe in these characters but fall in love with them, and remember them fondly even when the book’s plot may be forgotten.
Kind of like many of the folks and adventures at VCCA, I guess.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Buying Stevie Nicks

Yes, I know the title doesn’t end with an ellipse . . .

Things are gonna shake up a bit around here. This blog has apparently been in mind-hiatus long enough to have gestated into an entirely different being. Metaphormorphosized, so to speak.

Unfortunately for you, the drawn out mixed metaphors and achingly awful puns have not changed. Neither, I am sure, will the digressions have disappeared entirely. (Look, there’s one now!)

What’s changing seems to be my focus, and indeed the reason I began this blog in the first place. Let’s face it, gentle readers, you’ve had the most glaring clue in front of you all along.

Summerhood Island journal? Surely that tells you this blog started out as a crass commercial attempt to interest you in the Summerhood Island book series. Which seems dead as a series and instead lives on only as the single stand-alone middle reader Coyote Summer. Which will teach me to read a contract more closely.  In any case, in following the advice of all the how to write a promotional blog gurus and not making every blog shameless self-promotion I discovered I actually liked writing about something besides my book(s).

That something usually had a relationship with the natural world as I found myself writing more and more frequently from our cabin in the mountains. And as I wrote more blogs in this vein more people began to read along. Coincidence?


That’s beside the point. Which I am sure you are wondering when I am going to get to it. I assure you, as soon as I figure out what it is you will be the second(s) to know.

For now . . .

After dear Bug’s final days back in June

we were left with one dog. And an old one at that.

chance being old
Old and set in his ways. Unfortunately said ways included being constitutionally unable to be alone. Ever. July and August were spent hauling said dog along everywhere. Which, this being summer in our hemisphere, meant doing errands early in the morning or late at night. We took a dog-friendly vacation. When my wife went to the west coast in August I discovered the pleasures of staying home all day, as going out meant coming home to a totally stressed out and neurotic animal.
I began “shopping” in earnest on the SGSR website
that I’d discovered in May after convincing my above-referenced wife to let me have one last shepherd mix. Small, I promised. Short-haired. Leash and house trained.

After scouring the descriptions for months of we’d increased the weight limit from `absolutely under 75 lbs.’ to `well it really depends on personality and training, doesn’t it?’

Then, while discussing and discarding the idea of another dog with his foster I discovered  (drumroll please!) a possibilityn

Short-haired. Well under 75 pounds. Runty, with terrible allergies and bad hindquarters. Luckily we have an amazing vet. We’ve had this baby just about 3 weeks now, almost all of which time Deborah was on a lecture/reading tour.
Old dog is used to her and has relaxed considerably.

Me, not so much. Seems when we cleaned up some skin infections, got her on thyroid meds and anti-inflammatories and a hypoallergenic diet, this low to medium energy dog turned into a virtual puppy.

But a very smart and well-trained and totally lovable one.

For the record, when I used the word buying I was referring to the SGSR adoption fee. (and the special food and the medicine and the toys and the beds and the baby gate to keep her from following us up the stairs which is bad for her hindquarters and . . .)

Gentle readers, please allow me to introduce to you the one and only Stevie Nicks.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

It’s seven a.m. and raining . . .

And gloriously cool. I’m actually wearing light pants and slippers here on the porch. At the cabin, of course. When was the last time I wrote a blog in town?
You can’t remember, can you?

Neither can I. (If I did, I’m sure it was some piece of shameless self-promotion, anyway.) When the cabin sells, I shall have to teach myself to write somewhere else, 
but for now . . .

For now, it is crazy green up here. My `new’ helper (new as in this spring) started a garden up here in the old plot. I am delighted to have the beds I spent so much time on cleaned out and put to use, even minimally. The rain has them flourishing with squash and beans and tomatoes. 
ok. it's a lousy picture. take it from me. flourishing.
A few weeks behind the town garden she’s been helping me with, but then this land has always been a few weeks behind town. In a growing season sense, that is.

In the sense of time and space, it is decades behind. In a good way. Hell, in the best way possible.

Yesterday I showed the little Turtle cabin to my new friend, the blueberry farmer. He’s got a pick your own blueberry patch just over the hill, so to speak. 
amazing blueberry farm on stillhouse lane

He’s thinking about putting a cabin on an old homeplace he has elsewhere in the county. The little cabin is the one we stay in now. The one you’ve heard so much about over the years. Here’s a refresher picture:
Turtle cabin with guard dog

Turtle  cabin with addition of wife.

And speaking of old homeplaces (clever segue, no? at least it would be if I had any Idea where this was going), my friend the blueberry farmer who I hope you will remember as he was just in the last paragraph (come on, people, keep up! It’s not that early), his grandmother actually lived on this property. In the old original log cabin. She and her husband were tenant farmers on this property. It was probably this woman who planted all the daffodil bulbs that still bloom every spring all around the old cabin site.

I knew this property must have been farmed. There were too many unusually flat places with huge piles of rocks near them. I shall have to go back to his place next week and find out more of this story. And pick blueberries, of course.

Chance went with us to pick berries. He’s been going everywhere with us since he became Only Dog . Not just because we love him, although of course we do, or spoil him, although of course we do, but because he has almost never in his life been alone. Never for more than a few minutes since he was found and fostered as a pup. He has just a tiny touch of anxiety and perhaps a few minor behavioral abnormalities. Just a few. Maybe a psychiatric problem or 12.

But he’s been doing amazingly well. Pulled on his big boy fur panties and dogged up, so to speak. See?

Ok, perhaps that wasn’t the best picture choice. He’s a tad depressed by the rain and delayed walk.
chance smells a rat on the walk. literally. a rat lives here.

I just came back from a couple of hours hunting the elusive coral chanterelle on the banks leading down to the creek. Which, by the way, had a lovely voice after yesterday’s rain.
I’ve been worried about `my’ chanterelles since the major Kerrs Creek flood this spring.

I hadn’t seen many chanterelles, and was afraid they’d all been washed into the creek, and some mushroom hunter in Buena Vista was going to be very excited next year.

They did slide pretty far down toward the creek. 

But a lot of them are still around for me to enjoy. 

Maybe I’ll tell whoever buys the place about them. Maybe they won’t care. But maybe 20 or 50 years from now somebody’s going to be walking along that creek bank and recognize these beauties for what they are, collect them, and happen to mention their find to someone in town. Who is going to say, “Oh, yeah, my grandmother used to talk about a crazy lady who ran restaurants and lived in Kerrs Creek and was always finding mushrooms.”

Not such a bad legacy.  I’ll take it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

So I’m up at the cabin

working on my new book. Which is not so new anymore, except in that it’s my latest effort at timeless prose of unquestioning brilliance.

Which means you get a blog post. Because, to paraphrase Anne Lamont, you never know until you sit down to write just how badly your eyebrows need plucking. Writing a blog when I’m supposed to be working on my book is my version of plucking my eyebrows.
It’s hot up here today, the sort of bright, clear hot that makes your eyes ache and your skin feel dry the moment you step outside. I don't like to think about how hot it must be in town, without the cool breeze and the green of the trees that shade me up here on this mountain.

I mention this because another version of plucking my eyebrows is going outside and wandering around. Which led me to discover this –

I should’ve checked earlier. Just after dawn I heard a hummingbird buzzing around the porch, and made a mental note to check the feeder I’d filled last weekend. And promptly filed that note away in the place from which no mental notes ever return.

Now the special care with which Chance marked the perimeter of the cabin when we arrived yesterday makes more sense. I’m used to him giving his urinary “screw you” to the coyotes each time we come up. This time he was extra thorough, ranging farther out around the cabin than usual.

Coyotes, you see, could care less about sweet things. Bears, on the other hand…

Ladybug likes sweet things too. We've been keeping her going with maple flavored breakfast sausages dipped in agave, chicken strips sautéed with honey and soy sauce. She's not going to be around much longer so she gets anything that will tempt her flagging appetite.

Chance is more like a coyote. He's a meat eater, a place marker, the master of his domain. At least as long as there's nobody else more alpha around.

It's a guy thing, I guess. (Pause for chuckles of disbelief and nasty comments from my guy friends.)

My blog posts (usually) may wind around a bit, but they eventually get back to the point. Even if I'm not sure what the point is when I first start writing.

But apparently not this time. Apparently my mind is quite content to wander, ranging far afield. My mind is not bothered by how hot it is outside. My mind just wants to shelter inside this blog, brilliantly avoiding working on my timeless masterpiece of great and unending significance.

Or perhaps I’m not meant to work constantly while I’m up here, even with the total lack of town and house distractions. Maybe I should pay more attention to one of my favorite things about this cabin.

No matter how often we straighten it, it always looks like this when we return. Maybe it’s this mountain’s way of teaching me to be more Zen. Maybe I should stop beating myself up and see if the writing flows more easily.

Or maybe I'll just go pluck my eyebrows.the sort of bright, clear

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Saw my first . . .

firefly of the summer last night. Ok, it’s not technically summer, it’s called poetic license and I’m allowed. I get to make up new words, too. (The picture on it is terrible though. License pictures always are.)

I’m up at the cabin again, one new road later, (ouch) after the great Kerrs Creek mini-flood of 2017.

If you didn’t know better, you’d never know anything had happened. Well, almost.

The season seems to have already changed up here, everything is green and leafed out from the spring rains. 

Nothing’s been burnt dry yet by summer’s heat, everything around me is still ripe and full of promise. The rhododendrons and mountain laurel are blooming and it looks like it’s going to be a great year for berries.

Of course, everything can change in an instant. A few dry weeks at the wrong time and the berries will shrivel, too much rain – well, you’ve seen what too much rain can do. Just the right amount, though, and the coral chanterelles will pop up on the banks and the vines will hang heavy with wineberries and blackberries.

It’s all a matter of balance, but then, isn’t everything? I’ve been feeling particularly unbalanced these last few months, as have most of my friends. And this last governmental action, this pulling out of the Paris climate change accord, hits home especially hard here at the cabin. 

I’ve gotten used to the idea that I have to give this place up. Days go by when I don’t think about being up here, although one warm evening in town with the windows open and the sounds of noisy neighbors, lawnmowers, weed whackers, and cars driving by with their stereos turned all the way up brings memories of quiet nights on the cabin porch with only the sound of whippoorwills rushing back.

If I can’t live here forever on this mountain, I want someone else to have the joy I’ve experienced here. I want them to love the hot days and cool nights of summer, the beauty of the intense colors of spring and fall, the whisper quiet of snow in winter. 

I want this patch of earth to be loved as all the earth should be loved; cherished and taken care of. Not just for what it can give, but simply for what it is, and what it does to help balance not only our spirits but the planet’s ecosystem.

We need to cherish everywhere, the whole earth, for what it is, not just for what it can give us. I know this log cabin was built to last, and 50 years from now it will still be standing. I hope the beauty around it will also be here, loved and appreciated.

Monday, May 1, 2017

I had intended to write

A long, fascinating, witty blog. And in fact, I did write just such a blog on Saturday. Then somehow lost the entire thing while trying to fight with pictures and captions. Mostly because the blog is all about the pictures. Except I had a couple of brilliant haiku’s in there which I cannot possibly re-create. Your loss.

Here’s my attempt to re-create at least part of it, just because it’s too damn beautiful not to share.

We will start our tour
at the gardens. Spring reveals
wild and cultivated columbines
herself in flowers.

the garden columbinia (my plural)
lilies of the valley

plus rose geranium and some soon to bloom siberian iris in the background

more rose geranium with wineberry stems and a peach tree. also much mint and garlic chive

baby peachlings

just a bit of green for you.

And now we head down
Into gardens planted by
Mom Nature herself.

black locust in bloom
Along the way, I’ll
endeavor to acquaint you

with stuff you can eat.
aside from being amazingly fragrant, the blooms are edible. their taste is kind of a cross between a violet and the way lilacs smell.

ease on down the road

Not ragweed, altho often mistaken. also not edible.  chrysopsis mariana to you.

but right purty they are

purslane in bloom. edible. better picture to follow, somewhere in this mess

just the creek after the rain. just because.

also. what she said above.
Don’t stop now, so much
More to see and learn about.

Surely not done yet?
wild garlic mustard. edible. lovely in salads or cooked with other greens. and don't call it shirley

say hello to my little friend

winter cress. edible , tho better young. a bit bitter. flowers taste like a cross between broccoli and mustard flowers.

a better look at purslane

water cress in the stream. winter cress's more popular sister

I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille
There’s nothing like it,
The sound of a creek, tumbling

Over polished stones.

pink clover, before flowering. all parts of this plant are edible. No thanks to Euell

plantain. the other kind. edible and lovely raw or stirfried. tastes like mushrooms.  I threw in the dandelion gratis cause  people consider them edible. not me.

wineberry vine. the leaves make lovely tea now. the berries are magnificent later

miami mist not edible

chickweed. my favorite spring green. i like it even more than violet leaves. very high in vitamins c and a

the white stuff is wild aster
my darling chickweed at its finest

wild strawberries, not in bloom.
you can eat the flowers. but why would you when you can wait and have berries?

i don't know their names. lets call them all alice.

wild aster again.

we call this heal-all. but i think it's not. feel free to correct me

violet leaves. remember what i said earlier? i'm nit going to repeat myself

the only wild azalea i've found on the propertty

another view of black locust

deerberry. berries look like green blueberrys but never change color. edible, but why would you unless starving.

wild blueberry or huckleberry. 

one of the rhododendrons getting ready to bud
This ends our program
for today. Time to head home.
New beauty awaits.