Archive for June, 2014

Simple Sunday.


We tried to discourage this nest. Three times we knocked it down, four times the phoebes built it back.

Little unfledged chick twitching on the cement Saturday evening; not good, but not dead, so we pushed her back into the nest. Sunday, evolution reiterated the case. Weakest of the four, end of the road for one phoebe; phoebe-hood for the other three still on track. Species go!

Saved for a day.

Rescue butt.

90% sleep, 10% eat. Soon they will fledge and trade sleep for twitch: the phoebe cry and the jerky tail. And they will in turn make nests, in inappropriate places.

Just asleep.

Between meals.

Two inches of headroom, apparently, is enough.

Head room.

Good choice.

We used to run a halogen par-38 in this fixture. Way too hot to touch: hard-boiled bird. Compact fluorescent, barely warm, like a substitute mother. Good, because mom has to fly off for a while every time we go in or out the door.

Site specifics

CFL bulb. Imagine the hard boil of a halogen.

Someday one of the series: knitted shawls taken from moth wings. We’re building a portfolio.


Shawl template.

When good outhouses develop attitude. Past using now, but you can’t knock it over. Suffering from a structurally enfeebled right edge on the ground, that’s the problem digging with a back hoe. Shovel and bucket, you can get hospital corners. Probably a tea party thing, didn’t want to be seen supporting something that got half its stability from the left. A shame: sealed joints, screened crescent, heat lamp, reading light, vent, front porch, full roof overhang. Fine work.

Lit, heated, vented.

Right leaning.

The white birches in the middle were six-inch seedlings when we planted them thirty-six years ago. The house grew for a few years, too. But the birches kept on.

Loom center/center.

The house stopped, the trees kept on growing.

Appalachia has briar patches, too. But the signature entanglement is the laurel thicket. It’s just 10 yards from the road. But it’s half a mile deep. Deep woods woven shade. Easy to get in.

Mountain laurel.

Innocent edge of a laurel thicket.

The committe assembles on the 600-volt feeder. Good place for watching the blueberries (we’ll be finished soon) and safe from the return line or the ground. But can they feel the pulse between their toes?


Taking a meeting.

In a bucket on the porch, all stages, up the curve and down, are beautiful. Power flowers.

Staged beauties.

Consider the lilies. Or the marigolds.

That was a good break: fifteen storey climb and back. But I’ve got the final 148 pages of edits to process. Ghost Walk isn’t going to finish itself. But there is an end in sight. Press self firmly into chair, lift your hands, and wrap it up.


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Narrative alive.

There is, to begin with, possibility.

Then I spot him, traveling towards the tractor at one foot per minute, a turtle snug inside a richly embellished box. The turtle I have been looking for all week.

Turtle by the barn.

Seeking shelter from the storm?

He sees me, but he doesn’t take me very seriously. He keeps the nose extended by which he beat Achilles across the line, so many races ago. Been here longer than you, he says, and I know things you are not equipped to know.

Looking at me.

Looking at you.

I record the hieroglyphics, of course, for reading later. I’m on to him, the little hardshell walking billboard.


Ready to take the weight.

He holds me with his glittering eye. I could put you on your back, I say, and make a soup tureen of your shell. You may now go, he says,  commit less harm today than yesterday. I’m expecting the world will be on my back soon enough. Was that not, I ask, exactly what I proposed a moment ago? Gravity is established law. You’re annoying me, he says, go on, I’ve prepared your way; but do not imagine I will forget about the soup tureen.

Your turn.

Red eye.

The turtle is right, I see that now. The path ahead beckons to me. We’d better both get moving, each at his native pace.

Stone crop.

The way in.

Follow the stone crop along the stones, past the creeping thyme, then right to the Peace Rose, unseen.

White as snow.

Wot, mai I not stonden here?

But first I’ll have to decide about the mushroom. I could cut it up for dinner, which would not at all hurt the underlying life-form, but might prove fatal for me. It is a great white, so it is pure, the poison unalloyed, toxin simple. Unless it is wholesome despite it’s shade. Dilemma, dilemma.

Quite white.

With divots from fairie golf.

Ah! She will know, the tiny red toad. And she will speak to me, unlike the mute ‘shroom.

And she does speak, says that a toadstool is wherever a toad sits, not separately extant; that I must not malign the turtles under the earth or the pillar of toads that holds up the dome of heaven; and that she suggests I should not eat the fungus. After I offer, and she accepts, a tiny thimble of a somewhat hoppy local ale, she tells me everything I must do tomorrow.

Resting at high alert.

Thumb toad at ready.

But that’s a story for another day.


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The Zombie Army of Iraq.

Our handiwork.

Our handiwork.

America rules.

For we created the army that is now slouching towards Baghdad.
We killed Saddam’s army once when we invaded, with shock and awe.
We killed it again when we disbanded the army, de-Baathification (Paul Bremer, almost offhandedly: cue the looters).
We killed it a third time with our “surge” to destroy the subsequent insurgency.

But each time we killed the Sunni Baathist Army of Iraq, it resurrected, mightier and meaner than before,
for it is of that place as we are not.

This time, the zombies may win it all back.
Only one thing can stop them: the lack of any remaining brains, either here or there, worth eating.
Flesh alone may not be enough to sustain them — marching as Napoleon said all armies do on their stomaches.

Shall we test if the flesh of chicken-hawks might prove toxic?

Behold what we have wrought, America.


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Just toads, all the way up.

The orange one returned yesterday. The cup without a seedling was not what he had in mind, but neither was the seedling. They shared for a while; afterwards, fluffed and straightened up a bit, the seedling was unhurt.

First time in a cup.

Orange is the old toad.

Today a smaller gray visitor occupied the same toad-tested cup most of the morning. Why did he come? Why that cup? Why did he go? Will he return? To that cup?

The vitreous is deep and quiet.

We see you, too, but it’s not the same.

The slot eyes are fathomless, solid black, ten million years deep. Not a hostile stare, but fixed and judging. I am glad we have not disturbed the pristine watershed that extends 1200 feet (vertically, 1800 along the ground) up from the house to the Little Bald, glad that our gardening is (almost perfectly) organic. That will be in your report, won’t it?

Unblunk eye.

Sharing with the toad.

The bushman laughed, asked what was underneath the turtle that carried the earth on its back. It’s just turtles, he said, turtles all the way down.

I think, all the way up, it’s toads. The eye of heaven is the omniscient unblinking eye of the highest and holiest toad in the stack.

Are our visitors one of the varieties that excretes psychedelic sweat? We shall not try that question; it would be presumption of a most unwholesome and disturbing sort. We are better for not knowing.

To be visited, that is enough; allowed to host.


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Petals and pistils, pedals and pistols: stories from the wild.

time of year has come: riotous abundance, whichever way you look.

Bottom of the lawn.

Native flame azalea.

The astonishing strategies evolved to propagate as each generation pays forward for the next.

Potted plant.

Gerbera daisy.

There’s manipulation, of course — to enlarge flowers or fruits or flavors — bending the wild beginnings. And there’s cultivation — to optimize conditions for growth.

The low bush.

Calycantha (plural?)

When you build a book, the wild world is everything you’ve ever seen, your inventory of images and persons and events. Of course you can make up stuff, if it’s true. The work of writing is to manipulate and cultivate the wild ingredients until you’ve folded them in and teased your new story into being. Your story is from the wild world, but not of it.

Low bush.


When you think you’re done, release your story back into the wild to test if it still is true. Probably it needs work. Probably a lot.  Rinse, repeat, rejoice.


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Surreality reigns: Asheville Ballet costume funds raised.

Eye in the sky.

Events sometimes transcend expectations. Disparate strands intersect and loop through to build transitory structures, luminous and teasing and beautiful. Unforeseen, implausible, but joyful crystallizations.

For three years now the Asheville Ballet has benefited from a fund-raiser, specifically targeting the costume department. Reasonable enough. A golf tournament is the vehicle: foursomes compete (shotgun start, captain’s choice, single chance mulligan immunity and single red tee allowance available for a small fee). Comfortable terms and a relaxed atmosphere almost mask the ferocious desire to take the trophy home. Friendly ferocious.

We serve doughnuts and coffee for breakfast before the contest. Dancers from the school and company run golf carts laden with snacks and soft drinks out for mid-course refreshment. And there’s a barbecue lunch afterwards. Prize drawings insure nobody loses. And when the receipts and expenses settle, a bump for the costume fund. Sport, charity, and art converge to good purpose. And there’s barbecue.

That’s the underlying structure. Ballet and golf are not often coupled, this is true. Ballet is usually an inside and cooperative business. And golf is played to win, outside in the sunshine on wide swathes of grass. Still. Why not? It’s worked three times now, a little bit implausible and quite successful.

Cue the drone: a new strand engages with the braid.

Remote control.

Quadra copter.

On the grass, revving up, then she rises with a scratchy buzz.

The watchers.

Down the valley.

Eventually the little vessel sails hundreds of feet overhead and far down the valley.

With the buzz of a hundred hornets.

Drone rising.

Cue the provocateur (incidentally, most of the second-place team’s best scores were his). To provide an enlarged context? To embellish the instant? To open the gates?

Heritage, not hatred.

HK and his banner.

And bringing the little ship home. Whether it will land upon the same planet it left just minutes before, is one of the questions. When the magic of a Fool stirs fresh spices in the dish, your barbecue modulates. Also all the rest, as everything shifts to bind in the new information.

Black Mountain Golf Course, and more.

Return to earth.

With luck, one outcome for all this may be a new pink tutu for the dewdrop fairy, or new skirts for the snow corps. Can anyone diagram the process we have engaged here, first to last, leaving nothing out, giving to each element its due weight? Well, bless you for trying.

For all, a lovely morning. And for this year, a wrap.


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Yes, there’s an orange toad.

He’s not our only visitor this spring. There’s been the doe with the twin fawns, the big buck, the pair of tom turkeys, the trio of hens. Fearless rabbits, squirrels gray and brown and white (the ones that fly at night), groundhogs, raccoons en familie, possums, and Noregian wharf rats. The usual populace, plus one orange toad.

Pumpkin amphibian.

Eye of toad.

No bears yet, possible bear signs; no bobcats seen, nor foxes. Signs of boars, coyote sounds. The raven’s croak, owl hoots. Some several salamanders.

From above.

The dotted line

Every expected avian: hummers, catbirds, cowbirds, jays, crows, cardinals, buntings, gross beaks, robins, gold finches, doves, thrashers, nuthatches, Carolina wrens, the pileated impact hammer, phoebes inappropriately siting nests. Turkey vulture on the lawn, red-tails parked in treetops. And, to prove spring has transitioned to summer (the calendar always lags), a galaxy of lightening bugs and another daddy long-legs every time you turn your head.

The profusion stuns, the density of biota at every stratum, here in the temperate rain forest of the Southern Appalachians. Overload of sound and scent and scene. Riches beyond tally.