Sunday, December 13, 2015

All the leaves

are off the trees up here at the cabin. No more loud reports as acorns bounce off the tin roof. No more loud reports as gunshots echo across the mountains, everyone scrambling to get his or her meat for the season. My own freezer is full  courtesy of our neighbor who hunts our land.

It’s been weirdly warm, and there is far too much green under the brown carpet of leaves for mid-December. In  town our quince is flowering again. Everything seems confused and unsettled.

 Or perhaps that’s just me, trying to anthropomorphize my surroundings in attempt to understand them.

Now that the trees are bare I am  again reminded just how close the mountains are.
My views of Big and Little House Mountain differ from the familiar tabletop view most people know. But these mountains don’t feel looming so much as protecting and sheltering.

When I was graced to be able to live up here full-time, when I thought I would be here forever, I would rarely let more than a day or two pass without going into town. Deborah used to laugh at me for what she claimed was my inability to sit still long enough to enjoy, to appreciate. But I was searching for a sense of purpose  and the tasks up here seemed too big, too heavy, too complicated for this weakened and battered body to accomplish. I fled what I felt to be my limitations, my failings, my sense of overwhelmedness  for the easy productivity of a trip to town. A doctor’s appointment, a run to the grocery store and the post office and I could feel as if I had accomplished something for the day.

It has taken moving into town, (three summers and falls now, two winters and springs) to point out the obvious. It has taken this many weekends stolen from the noise and busyness of even a small town to point out what should’ve been obvious all along. But isn’t it a truth that it is most difficult to see what is right in front of us?

The need to feel productive is too ingrained in my being to change at this late date. But how did it take me this long to realize that productivity does not always equal motion? How often must I relearn what I have known all along, that spending the energy I have left trying to do leaves me no energy for trying to be. Being here, now, present for the little things.

If I am not here to notice, who will? If I’m not here to be a part of this natural world, will the natural world care? As prideful as it may seem, my answer to that is yes.

It is my responsibility, to myself, to others,  to the planet. Perhaps the more people who watch the more there will be left to see.

I can only do what I have the strength and energy left to do. And that is to watch the mountain through the fog,  through the bare limbs of trees. To watch, to listen, hopefully to learn, and to bear witness.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I know, but it's good . . .

this thing I'm writing.  I know it's been over a month since my last post. And I have no excuse for the first couple of weeks. 

But I've been over the Blue Ridge Mountains to Virginia Center for Creative Arts the last few weeks.

And I'm writing again. 


And I know it's not very modest of me, but it's good. I'm excited. I don't want to tell you too much about it because I don't want to jinx it. But it's the young adult novel I've been wanting to write for a long time.

So instead of telling you about the book, I'll just give you a quick look at VCCA.
my studio

inside the studio

in back of the barn housing the studios. mine's the corncrib on the right. i stole this picture from a fellow writer, cliff.
Instead of me spending time taking more pictures, just go to the above links. 
Oh, ok. One more.

 me reading to other writers, visual artists and composers

Now leave me alone. I'm working here.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I have traded the odor of skunk...

for the scent of stinkbug. One of our dogs was skunked last week, and although the smell has lessened somewhat, (in that your eyes don’t actually burn when you enter the house) the smell is still pervasive. Especially when the dog is wet, as she has been much of the past few days.

But I left all that behind on Friday and headed up to the cabin for a little communing with neighbors who aren’t quite as noisy as the ones in the alley behind my house. Even their language, when they do speak, seems more musical and less, shall we say, prone to expletive. At least it seems that way from where I’m sitting, although my deer is pretty rusty and my squirrel even worse. They may well be screaming profanity at each other. I prefer to think they are exchanging pleasantries.

“How’s the family, Smitty? Everybody okay in your neck of the woods?”

“Doing fine, doing fine. Little Streak is playing acornball now. He’s a wide tail receiver. First vine.”

But I digress.

I was talking about smells, and sounds. But really, it’s the whole realm of the senses that gets activated this time of year. The smell of stinkbugs might be strong inside the cabin, but the very cold snap that draws these insects inside also reddens the leaves on the maples and sycamores, burnishes the oaks and poplars. The sound of the rain on the tin roof is punctuated by the rat tat tat of the acorns it brings down, and that same rain draws out of the earth that indescribable smell of wet fall forest.

It’s all connected really, and that’s something I tend to forget when I’m in town. Not so much because the smells of town are different. They are, but it’s a small town. It’s not like I’m inhaling thick exhaust and the odor of thousands of humans packed tightly together.

No, it’s more that when I’m in town my focus is split so many different ways that it’s hard for me to comprehend the world around me as a whole. When the dog was skunked the only reason I focused on anything besides the smell was my fear that the skunk had somehow managed to trap itself under the deck. Once I’d created an escape for it my total focus returned to the smell, and getting rid of it as quickly as possible.

You may feel that makes sense for the smell of skunk, and I suppose it does. But there’s a ripe quince sitting on my desk.
I noticed it the other day as I was walking to the car, and it appears to be from my beautiful flaming quince. Until that moment the sight of those deep coral flowers in spring had never translated to the bright scent of that wrinkled yellow fruit in fall. I can’t help but think I’d have made the connection more quickly up here on the mountain.

Then again, perhaps not. Up here on the mountain is where I watched my almond tree fruit for two years, marveling at how similar in size and shape the fruit was to that of a peach, before my wife pointed out to me that the fruit that so resembled a peach also smelled and indeed tasted like one. It was shortly after that that I realized that my non-flowering and fruiting pear trees were probably actually poplars and wrote a nasty note to the catalog company I’d purchased them all from years before.

Another digression. Perhaps this blog is really about digression and I just haven’t realized it yet.But I think it’s really about how we react to, and act upon, our sensory input. I’ve noticed that I’m happening upon more new things lately. Some of them, like fall flowers and the yard signs advertising local and state elections, are a product of this particular season. Some of them, like the quince, the hunting paths full of bolete mushrooms, and my quasi-fruit and nut trees have been right in front of me, although for some reason out of the range of my senses until now.


I wrote the section above two weeks ago when I was last up at the cabin. I assumed I’d finish it up when I got home. I stopped there mostly because I wasn’t sure where I was going, as is often the case with these musings.

 Usually I can look at something the next day, or at most a few days later and make the connections that my mind refused to make until then.But lately it seems the only time my mind is interested in musing at all is up here at the cabin. As I write this the sky is graying from black and the tops of the mountains are just coming into view. The leaves have been falling in earnest these past few weeks and through the gaps in the trees the outlines of the mountains become clearer, more distinct. During the summer you know you are surrounded, but it’s more feeling than actual. As the trees grow bare the feeling of being enclosed inside a bowl of mountain strengthens.

The smell is different, too, from the last time I was here. Skunk replaced by stinkbug, and now stinkbug by the indescribable perfume of a blanket of leaves on the earth. Smell seems richer up here, more pure. Not more pure than skunk, perhaps, but the smell of leaves  up here isn’t interrupted by car exhaust, or the left over perfume of trash day, or cigarette smoke from the alley or any one of those hundreds of transitory little scents  making up the layered atmosphere of town.

In these two weeks the colors have morphed from yellow-tinged green
into a full fiery display. I’ve got a 270° view from this porch, the close up of an orange and lime green maple and the long-range of the yellows and reds of sycamore, poplar, oak and hickory.
There are beautiful trees in our neighborhood in town, one of them right in our yard. But you have to be standing in just the right place to see them. 

Maybe it’s just that discovery is easier up here in the mountains, at least for me. Perhaps I need purity and intensity in order to be able to see and hear and smell. It’s possible I have to separate myself from others, from town, to be able to notice what’s all around me.

And maybe, as usual, I’m overthinking this. I’m here now, surrounded by flaming colors and deep, rich smells. I can hear the stuttering motor sound of a ruffed grouse punctuated by the rifle shot of an acorn hitting the tin roof, feel the cool of an autumn morning on my skin.  Maybe, just maybe, that’s good enough. Or, as my friend Carolyn would say- it’s fine. It’s just fine.

And it is.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

I found an old Jolly Rancher . . .

 in a pocket yesterday. It’s a hard candy, for those of you who have been in a cave for the past 30 years. When I unwrapped that watermelon-flavored candy and popped it into my mouth I flashed back to a memory that, until that moment, I hadn’t realized I possessed.

Not the memory of my mother doling out Jolly Ranchers from her purse as she walked the endless aisles of the Boston gift show winter after winter between my sister and me. Not farther back to hard candy unwrapped surreptitiously (and hopefully quietly) during the sermon of a Friday night Temple service.

No. When the taste of this Jolly Rancher hits my tongue I am walking down the sidewalk of a tree-lined street with my sisters, heading toward Cameron’s drugstore with money for penny candy. Although I suppose, since I already had the candy I would’ve been heading back from Cameron’s drugstore, back to my maternal grandmother’s house in Rhode Island.

Was there candy within walking distance of my house in Morristown at that point? Had the Plaza shopping center been built yet? And if so, would I have been allowed at whatever age I remember I was to walk up our street, cross through a neighbor’s yard and an empty field to come out just across the street from that shopping center parking lot? At what age was I allowed to cross that street by myself money in hand or pocket and walked to Rose’s department store for Sweet Tarts or Pixie Stix?

I could be wrong but I believe that walk to Cameron’s was the first time I purchased candy on my own. I remember a sidewalk wide enough for the three of us girls to walk abreast, shaded with mature trees. I remember how much longer the walk was to the drugstore than the walk back, and how the sidewalk on the way back had a jungly side, with vines and what felt like a steep slope down into dark trees.

I could be wrong if you compare this memory to memories my sisters might have. I might well be wrong according to any picture taken of that particular section of road at that exact moment in the early 1960s. I could be wrong almost anywhere, except in my memory. In my memory I am never wrong and the taste of a watermelon Jolly Rancher is as bright and sharp today as it was then.

It’s an odd duck, memory. Crystal-clear and sharp edged one moment, a dark deep closet full of muddled shapes the next. 

In our family the closet is deep indeed. Almost no memory of mine matches up with anyone else’s. In fact, my family has very few communal memories that are not vague and ambiguous. Even snapshots are interpreted differently by those of us who are left.

This lack of clarity bothered me for many years as I struggled, usually in vain, to match my memories to those of my parents and my siblings. I’ve spent years trying to decipher these differences in memory, to figure out who was right and who was wrong. Years wondering which of the memories I had were mine and which had been twisted by someone else to fit their definition of the past.

There are very few definitions left in my family. My father has been gone five years. My mother, whose recollections were never that clear to begin with, has end-stage Alzheimer’s and no memories left at all, at least none that anyone but she can decipher. One of my two sisters has distanced herself from me. And with this narrowing of my frame of reference I eventually came to realize something remarkable, or at least remarkable to me. An understanding of the word “definition” that was as sharp as the memories brought forth by that taste of watermelon candy.

I don’t need other people’s interpretations of my past. Sharing memories with other people is lovely and can broaden a remembered experience. But- I have rich images and recollections that belong only to me. And that’s okay. 

Even pictures, though helpful, capture only a split second in time.
What happened before and after that freeze-frame moment tells the rest of the story. And everyone’s story will be different.

That taste of a watermelon Jolly Rancher is on my tongue.

Monday, September 14, 2015

I saw pawpaws

at the farmers market this morning. It’s not the sort of fruit you usually see for sale. Pawpaws bruise very easily, so they’ve never been a viable commercial crop.I imagine Mitch gathered rather than grew them.

 But we’ve got pawpaws lining the road to the cabin. Pawpaw is an understory tree, and like wet feet. They grow on the banks of the little creek that runs through the property down into Kerrs creek at the bottom of Muddy Lane.

It took me a long time to realize we had pawpaws on the property. They have an unassuming flower that resembles a brownish upside down tulip about as large around as your fingertip. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, they are easy to miss. And the fruit itself is even harder to see. Even after you’ve found a couple hiding among leaves the exact same color on a branch it’s hard to find more on the same tree. Or to spot them on another tree. And they don’t give any indication that they are ripe, except to fall off that branch and into the underbrush to be eaten by squirrels and deer.

Which doesn’t really do us humans who are hoping to harvest them any good. All you can really do is wait until the first weeks of September, and then begin to shake the trees. If the pawpaws fall off, they are probably ripe. Or at least getting close to ripe. And that’s how you harvest. You shake the tree, and try to spot where the fruit falls. It helps to have another person watching and fetching, or by the time you have finally located the fallen pawpaw, slid down the muddy bank, and retrieved it from the fallen leaves you have lost sight of the fruits you have spent so much time locating in the branches above.

Until you've shaken the tree, you don’t know if the fruit is ripe. It’s a crap shoot, because maybe the fruit was ripe and has already fallen. Or been eaten by squirrels. Or perhaps you’re shaking the wrong tree, and the fruit you remember seeing is on a different tree entirely. Because maybe only one out of seven or eight trees is mature enough to bear fruit. And some years it seems like there’s no fruit on any of the trees.

This year promises to be a most excellent year for pawpaws. I am not the greatest of pawpaw spotters. My beach glass and mushroom spotting eyes do not seem to be able to switch to pawpaw mode. Deborah is a much better spotter than I am, and together we make a pretty good team, as I am as good a retriever as any Labrador.

I went out on Saturday and shook a few trees. Some of them have grown so big that the only way to really shake them is to get a running start and hurl yourself at the tree with your arms outstretched, palms facing forward. While this is often effective, it can wreak havoc on your wrists and elbows. I leave these trees for a joint effort, one of us pushing while the other one pulls. The trees I shook are not much bigger around than my two wrists together, but they rise 20 feet or higher into the air.

The pawpaws were taunting me that day. I could see them, some of them on such low branches I could practically grab them. But they were not ready to fall and even the most dedicated shaking could only loosen three of them. Well, four, but only three I could find. The fourth, should any squirrels be reading this, is somewhere near the old culvert buried just past the state road maintenance sign. You’re welcome.

And of course the ones that fell are nowhere near ripe. They sit on the kitchen island now, mute reminder that some things simply cannot be rushed. They will eventually ripen there, but by the time they do we will have been out to the trees several more times and they will have been joined, hopefully, by numerous siblings and cousins, almost all of which will ripen within a week of one another. And this will leave us scrambling to scoop the pulp and freeze it, as neither of us find it possible to enjoy more than one or possibly two in a single day.
A pawpaw will ripen and rot within the space of 24 hours. You can’t rush it, and you can’t keep it. It’s there for that brief window of your enjoyment, and you may have as much as you are willing to work for, but you may not hoard it for it will not last. At least not in its fresh and most beautiful form.

I learn the truth of pawpaws every fall at this time, and every year I vow to remember, through the fall and into the winter this lesson from the earth about the fleeting nature of perfection. To take what is given freely when it is ready to be given and to enjoy but is in front of me for the time it is there. 

It is more difficult a lesson to remember that it seems it should be. But each year, if I am fortunate and pay attention I  have a chance to learn it once more.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

It's the end

of August, and the July rains are a distant memory. Lawns are drying up, and gardens aching for water. After a month of picking and gathering, blanching and freezing and canning, it is tempting to let the abundance of produce slowly wilt and dry up as well.

You've had several months of squash and cucumbers, beans and eggplant.It's been a great year for those vegetables here in southwest Virginia. And tomatoes. Everyone has tomatoes: slicers and cherries and Romas, hybrid and heirloom. It seems all things, even zombies, have risen  from the dirt easily this year.

Ok, I admit that was a trick to see if you were reading or just skimming.Tell you what, if you are really reading, leave a comment with that word in it and I will pick a couple of people at random and send you autographed books.  That should weed out my loyal readers.

But I digress. Crazy, huh? I was speaking of gardens, and abundance. Probably everyone you know either has a garden or a group of friends who leave bags of vegetables on porches or hanging from knobs. Friends who ring doorbells and run.

Ok, maybe that's only for zucchini and tomatoes. But you catch my drift.There's a lot of produce around.

Maybe in your world. Most places. But there's a huge segment of the population without  easy access to  fresh fruit and vegetables. Those people who are either hungry, or at the very least, food insecure.
Most places, that is. Not so much where I live, here in Rockbridge county, VA.

That's due to the confluence of several factors. First, a wonderful food pantry board and directors who are willing to think outside the box, and do everything in their not inconsiderable powers to try and get people what they need. Second, the volunteers who never say, "that's not my job," but gladly pick up the extra work of weighing and sorting and distributing.  Third, and mainly-

The producers. Those gardeners who took the "grow a row" program to heart and put in not just an extra row, but in some cases a whole extra garden to help supply the food pantry. And the farmers, who bring their extra produce to the pantry after the farmers market has closed rather than toting it home and composting it, or feeding it to their animals. It takes time, and it costs them money.And it is so very appreciated.

Yep, gettin' out the old soapbox here.

And one of the best things? It's not USDA, Not bought with government or food bank money. Not bought at all, in fact. So we can give it to anyone who needs it, regardless of whether they meet poverty guidelines.You don't have to show us anything. Except your need. Take what you can use. Enjoy the fruits of summer.

It wasn't always this way here. More than likely it is not this way in your town or city.

Next summer, why don't you grow an extra row? Mention it in your book club, your organization, your church. Organize a committee to convince your local pantry it can be done. Check us out-

To find out more about the "grow a row" concept, check out-

And thanks.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

It's been an odd . . .

middle of August this year.  I wake shivering in the mornings, digging jeans from the back of the closet to comfortably walk the dogs. The first part of the month was terribly hot and dry, so cool morning temperatures are a relief. It’s only fair, I suppose, as June felt like August, that we have a few days of June in August.

The heavens are not confused. This year’s Perseids meteor shower ended last night, although I’m afraid it began without me. I’m spoiled. I’ve spent too much of my life in places where the dark was untouched and near-complete to enjoy searching a street-and-window-lit sky for falling stars.

I’ve seen many fine meteor showers at the Kerrs Creek cabin and on Cuttyhunk Island. I saw my first, and to this day my favorite meteor shower lying on my back on top of a 20 foot tower built on the stage of an outdoor amphitheater in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Seemingly suspended in a bowl of black cradled by treetops, my friends and I watched through the night as an unending parade of stars flashed across the sky. It was a magical moment in a magical summer, the last summer of plays produced at  UT's Hunter Hills Theater.

I have learned to cherish those times when everything comes together in a glorious whole. I think I appreciate them more as I age. But it’s probably just as well that these magical moments happen when we’re young. If they occurred now my mind might be too full to wrap them properly and store them safely in a corner. The shelves I place memories on these days often break under the weight of too much trivia and the memories spill out and are lost.

That hot August night in the Smokies was a perfect venue for stargazing. But it was the people I was with; almost the whole theatrical summer stock company spread out on the platform and around the stage, the soft murmur of their conversation drifting up with the cigarette smoke toward those blazing stars.

Those people were the blanket that wrapped this memory safely enough that I can call it back almost 40 years later and picture them clear as day. Something unique happens to a group of kids who spend a summer living together and doing something they love. Building that huge wooden scaffolding in the blazing sun, hanging precariously off ancient light towers, sweeping popcorn and crumpled drink cups off the concrete risers, cooking together . . .

and then the magic of those nightly performances. We bonded into a community.

I kept in touch with only a few after I left the world of the theater. Through the magic of the Internet I've recently been reunited with many more. But there are huge erasures from the programs of those last precious years in that mountain community. Some through tragic accidents, most through the greater tragedy of AIDS. So many bright stars gone. 

I’m not big on memorabilia. I try to live as much as possible in the present while trying to be grown up enough to do a little planning for the future. But I came up to the mountains last night and lay out on my car hood in a clearing surrounded by trees. And for a moment I pretended it was a platform in a clearing a couple of hundred miles and 40 years away. I imagined the smell of cheap beer and cigarette smoke.

But mostly I tilted my head back, looked up at the night sky and let the memories of old friends tip to the front of my mind.

 program from that last summer, 1977
it's not a great picture but you can see the platform in the background
 ampitheater and stage
ampitheater from above

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

I’ve just come back

from Cuttyhunk Island. Yes, that island. The one in the memoir. And the one thinly disguised as Bayberry Island in the Summerhood Island series.

Well, they do say write what you know.

I spent some quality time with my sister Nina, who played gracious hostess to my little extended family  not once but several times.

And experienced the joy of helping my kid Megan re-create some of her favorite childhood experiences for her own daughter Malia.

The island I remember is no more. It has changed hugely, not just since the closing of the Allen House  but even in these few short years when I’ve returned to spend part of the summer here with my family.

Yet, there was still a Fourth of July golf cart parade for Malia to experience last summer. 

She can still walk down to the dock for ice cream, and now even have a choice between hand scooped and soft serve. 

If you came here as just a transient visitor you might not even notice the changes. Bruce still sells lobsters out of his shack on the fish dock, even if he doesn’t go lobstering himself anymore.There are still gangs of kids roaming the town, their number and makeup changing fluidly and almost seamlessly as renters come and go. The only change you'd notice from a picture taken 30 year ago is that bikers and skateboarders flying down the hill wear helmets now.

One of the first comments from an old friend who visited us was " I just walked up that big hill and there were children playing hide and seek."

Yes. Hide and seek. Alone in the dusk. Safely.

This year, like so many years before, I begged a ride from a friend and went clamming in Nashweena pond. This year, I took my family.

on our way thanks to captain Arnie

When Megan was eight or nine she joined the Cuttyhunk Yacht Club and learned to sail.
Malia went for a week this year. It hasn't changed much.
yacht club boats at low tide.

I set the Summerhood Island series on an island remarkably like Cuttyhunk Island because I wanted the childhood I gave my characters. And if I couldn't have that, I wanted to give others a chance to experience it vicariously.

Life changes. But in some places, it changes more slowly than in others. Children may not be able to climb to the top of the pilings to jump off the dock in the traditional Cuttyhunk farewell to friends,
after who knows how many years someone decided this was dangerous and capped the pilings
But they still manage to jump.

Megan told me one night at dinner that Cuttyhunk was the most stable point in her life.

I hope Malia can say the same one day. Or at least, read one of the Summerhood Island books and say- 

"I've been there. I did that."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

With great rain . . .

comes great humidity.

And great expense. Mostly in the form of roadwork, as water jumps the tops of silted ditches and overruns leaf-blocked culverts, cutting deep runnels in the gravel of the steep switchback driveway. Deep, expensive runnels. But it’s not as bad as it used to be, when any major rain had a 50/50 chance of washing out some part of the road down to bedrock. Or bedmud, if there is such a thing.

I don’t worry about the rain the way I used to, before the county finally grew tired of pouring gravel on their section of the lane 4 or 5 times a year and rebuilt the road with bigger, better culverts underneath.  Now the main worries are erosion on our sections, and downed trees across the road on theirs.

I actually look forward to those years that bring long wet periods in the summer. True, the mosquitos are worse, and there are sections of the yards both in town and on the mountain that resemble swampland, but the rain is great for the berries. This year the berries are magnificent. Wineberries, blackberries, wild blueberries, all plumper and more abundant than usual.
this season's wineberries
And then there are the mushrooms. Those little fungal delicacies that are just about the only thing that can keep me away from the river in summer. Instead of cooling off in the icy mountain waters of the upper Maury I can be found crawling around on my hands and knees in the woods, or scrambling up and down almost vertical banks lining our little branch of Kerrs Creek.
cinnebar chantrelles with some wild blueberries scattered in cause I did not have another container

chantrelles and chicken mushrooms

boletes. my new love
You see, I am a hunter/gatherer. If they’d had those reality TV survival programs 30 years ago when I was young and healthy I’d like to think I’d be walking away with half a million bucks. Because I love this stuff. Not animal hunting, although I can do what I need to in order to get by. But the thrill of hunting through leaf litter, widening my gaze and blurring my focus to take in more of the world than what is just in front of me, or just under my feet. It works for mushrooms, for hidden patches of tiny dark berries, for discarded turkey and hawk feathers.  I’ve used that same long range/close in gaze at the beach for sea glass and baby sand dollars.
yes. I know that's a scallop and not a sand dollar. I don't have a picture of a sand dollar.

We are headed back to Cuttyhunk this week, away from mountains and rain, back to wind and salt spray.
Not a whole lot that’s not native grows on Cuttyhunk, not without trucked (actually ferried) in soil and sheltering from wind that can blow salt right through a delicate stalk. But there are wild blueberry bushes, and ancient apple trees that still produce. There are beach plums and edible beach peas, and mussels at low tide.  You can catch crabs off the dock, and in winter when the harbor has cleaned itself out there are clams and oysters. 
again, this is not winter, and the clams are from Nashweena pond cause it is summer. don't be so literal.
Jessie learns a lot about wild island foraging in Summer of the Ghost/Thief, my as-yet-unsold Summerhood Island second book. I’m feeling a bit more confident that someday readers around the country can learn these things as well.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It’s almost unbearably . . .

green outside today. 
A brilliant, verdant green with more shades than you could possibly imagine even as it is dazzling your eyes.  From the dark, shadowy green of the young pear tree leaves to the shiny, almost neon green of the light coming through the poplar leaves outside my window.  And the greens themselves change their hues as the sun slips in and out of the clouds.

I’m at the cabin in the woods and it’s been raining for the last two days in thunderous pouring cloudbursts that last for hours.  It’s a jungleish tangle out there, vines seemingly reaching out to trip me as I walk.  I can smell the green.  There’s no other way to put it.

I spent an hour this morning trying to tame one tiny patch around and in the old asparagus bed.  At the rest, I can only shake my head.  It’s too far gone to be rescued by anything less than a professional company.  The grand experiment is no more.

I’m tempted to tear down what’s left the fencing and let the deer and the rabbits have at it, then raze what’s left to the ground and open the landscape back up.  The trees and bushes will survive the deer, or not.  Let it be out of my hands.

But I can’t quite go there yet.  I’ve put in so much time, so much energy.  The gardens need to be worked. This land needs to find its new right person.  There’s a fit out there somewhere, a perfect fit.  Someone who wants this place as much as it needs to be wanted.

So instead I wander the boundaries, picking wild blueberries and searching out the first of the ripe wild raspberries.  There’s going to be a good crop along the mile of driveway.  And all this rain has popped out the coral chanterelles on the muddy bank they favor.  They are barely more than pinhead sized this morning, but by the middle of the week when I come back for the first of the raspberries, they’ll be big enough to pick.

And my book, the one my publisher declined, well, that’s starting to get a bit of new life around the edges as well.  Maybe it’s the deluge of requests for Coyote Summer that you guys sent out to your local libraries.  Maybe it’s the slight but definite increase I’m seeing in sales on Amazon.  Maybe you haven’t done anything yet, but just the fact that you thought about it has caused a stirring in the space/time continuum.  Perhaps it’s all of the above.  But I’ve been clearing out some old negative energy, making some space.  I’m going through and taking those steps I hadn’t bothered with when I had a publisher: chapter outlines, a synopsis, a cover letter.  I’m going through those first three sample chapters with a fine tooth comb I would’ve left to my editor.

I’ve put too much work into this new manuscript.  It’s done.  It might need a little pruning around the edges and there might be a fair amount of general cleanup inside.  But I’m not ready to raze it to the ground.  Not yet.  Somewhere out there is someone who wants this book.  I just have to put it out to the universe.

under a tree
moss on a log
moss on creek stones
and then there's the creek itself
new growth ferns

Monday, June 15, 2015

It’s crazy . . .

crazy hot out today.
It’s even crazy hot up here at the cabin. Which is pretty crazy for the middle of June.
Are you sensing a theme here?

I am up at the cabin because, aside from the fact that it’s supposed to be cooler, (which it’s not) and quieter (which it definitely is) than town, it’s supposed to be relaxing. There aren’t any chores that need to be done up here. Cleaning this cabin takes approximately seven minutes. Don’t ask me how I know this. I have a garden plot the size of a very small flag behind the porch that is weeded and mulched to within an inch of its life.

There’s no TV to watch, no Internet to play around on. Nothing to wash or cook, no way to do any of the 10,000 things with which I normally fill my days.

I could be resting. Resting and reading, spending quality time with the dogs…

Except for that damn brick sitting in the middle of the room. The dogs don’t seem to notice it but I have to step over it every time I get up from my comfortable chair. I’ve tried pointedly ignoring it. The brick doesn’t budge. I sat down across from it and explained to it my resentment at its existence, especially on such a hot weekend. I told it about the pain in my hands. Brick was unmoved. Just sat there, a smug expression on its rough red face. Well, ok. What was actually on its face was a nasty bad word.

That’s right. I’ve got the dreaded SHOULD brick right in the middle of my weekend.

I’d managed to whittle it down a bit by reading half of Empire Falls and watching Birdman. Then I heard a college friend had just won a prestigious children’s book award and the damn brick gained 20 pounds and actually pushed one of the dogs off the rug.

It’s not that I begrudge my friend his award. He’s worked very hard and he’s published a lot more than I have. It just comes at a bad time. Because my latest book recently got turned down by my publisher. Not enough sales by the first one in the series to justify publishing the second one. In their opinion. Even though they told me in the same letter that middle reader sales take time to develop and Coyote Summer is barely a year old.

And while Coyote Summer is a good book, this new one is so much better. And I have already put in so much work on promotion. I’ve got the webpage, I’ve got this blog. I’ve got a writer’s Facebook page. I’ve even tried my hand at twitter. I’ve sent out thousands of requests for reviews, sent copies to other people’s blogs for giveaways.

Don’t worry, I’m not giving up.

After all, I sent Coyote Summer out to exactly one publisher. So I’ve got a lot of places left to send out the next book in the series. I should get to work compiling that list. And then I should start sending out query letters. Which I still have to write. As well as an outline, and a synopsis. I should be doing everything that I tell people to do when I give my writing talks.

But I have to admit I’m annoyed because I feel like I’m not the only one who should have a should brick in the middle of the living room. My publisher should have taken the second book and you, gentle readers should have at least a chip off the should brick hanging around your house. Or maybe it’s a little could rock. You could help me out here. You could make my publisher sorry they didn’t take this new book. How? Funny you should ask –

I’m not asking you to buy a copy of Coyote Summer, although if you have a ‘tween in your life I can highly recommend it. It appears to be very well written.
No, all I’m asking you to do is go to your local library branch and request it. Heck, you don’t even have to go in person. A simple phone call will do. If they tell you they don’t have it, which they probably will, ask them if they will order it for you.

Of course when they call you to tell you the book has arrived it would be a nice gesture if you actually went and picked it up. And since you are already going to that much trouble, you might as well read it. You could even leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

But all I’m really asking is that you make the call. I’d love to find a publisher for the second book after sales of the first one have gone up enough to show my old publisher they were wrong. You do your part, and I promise to whittle away at the should brick in the middle of the living room until it’s nothing more than a pile of brick dust.

No matter how hot it gets.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Memory . . .

It’s nine a.m. and still cool up here at the cabin. In town I’d have had to walk the dogs before seven to beat the heat. Here we just came back up the road.

It’s green up here too, a lush, almost tropical kind of green, different, more varied than the green of my yard in town. I can just see a slice of the side of Big House Mountain through the cut made 17 years ago by the power company stringing new line onto the land. A month ago almost the whole mountain was exposed, visible through the budding trees.

Living in town now, I miss the cool here. I miss the dried leaf and rich loam smell of the forest.  And I miss the quiet punctuated by birdsong and the hum of insects. In town we have a mockingbird that imitates 47 birds outside in the old apple tree, but it’s not quite the same. It’s been two full summers and I am still not used to the perpetual and constant sound of mowers, weed whackers and leaf blowers that punctuate every daylight hour from April to September.

This mountain land is far more overgrown now than my OCD self used to keep it. The forest is encroaching into the clearings and my hand-manicured gardens lie in disrepair. No longer able to handle the workload or the drive into town, I have retreated to the little writing cabin nestled at the edge of the woods. My partner and I come up as many weekends as we can manage. We are trying to make this space our refuge.

The larger cabin where I spent most of my first 17 years in Virginia – only a few hundred yards away - is occupied now by renter/caretakers whose busy lives spill out onto the porch and surrounding grounds. I know I am incredibly blessed to have 2 places to lay my head, when so many don’t have even one. This knowledge runs through me, as much a part of me as the pain and fatigue that forced me to abandon my 68 acre dream in the woods for a more realistic and manageable third of an acre in town.

I know.

The sun is out now, glinting off the wire enclosing the tiny stand of fruit trees, beginning of my now abandoned orchard. From my perch on a stool at the tiny drop down table I can the wild blackberry patch. The vines have dropped their petals since I was last here and are beginning to fruit out, as is the elderberry gifted to me years ago and the wineberry vines that have taken up residence in one of the gardens. In the creek the watercress still flourishes, as do the wild mushrooms that spring along paths and old roadbeds when rain is plentiful.

Perhaps it’s ok that so much of what I did here is reverting back into wild. I shall have to spend time, money and precious energy cleaning it up if or when I need to sell, but for now, instead of cultivated asparagus and blueberries, I will teach myself to be content with wild berries and mushrooms. I will learn to rejoice in the wildflowers that bloom in glorious profusion from seed strewn long ago onto naked red clay banks along the road instead of mourning choked out gardens of carefully tended perennials brought from a local nursery. I will transplant those I can to my gardens in town and let myself be surprised by bursts of color peeking through stands of green at odd intervals throughout the summer.

I will.  

And I will carry away with me each time I leave the memory of the taste of blueberries and asparagus, and the sight and scent of those gardens. The way I’ve kept the memories of my travels in these intervening years.  The memories are good.  And I can keep them safe from the encroaching forest of daily life, the leafy, twining march of forgetfulness that comes with time. This work I can still do.

Times change, people change, but the song remains the same.
That might not be strictly accurate, but it’s the way I remember that phrase.

And it’s the memory that’s important.