Stormy weather


We drive slowly through the narrow lanes, past Newport’s piers and shops, and once again admire the old Rhode Island town’s historic sea captain’s houses and millionaire’s mansions, then head out onto the scenic road that skirts Narragansett Bay.

The bay is hardly visible, as fog has swallowed up familiar scenes. One of our young companions looks out and observes, “It’s like the Newport Bridge never even existed!”

And so I am preoccupied with thoughts of bridges lost and drifting in the fog, of sailing ships and whaling ships, of those who must go down to the sea, of bodies and souls both tempest-tossed, of swirling surf and wild waves, of cabbages and kings.

Just then a snowy egret takes wing before my very eyes, bright pure holy white against the churning dark sea.

This day near the ocean is harsh and howling, its energy chaotic and its strength overwhelming and its roaring message sounding like a warning…It is a lovely day.


A rose is a rose is a rose

Channeling my inner Georgia O’Keefe:


Plus, it’s a good excuse to post a familiar love song in an unfamiliar version — sung by the late, great Conway Twitty:

Garden of life

A song Pete Seeger sings about gardening starts with these words: “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make my garden grow, gonna mulch it deep and low, gonna make it fertile ground…” Pete has learned that much of life is about sowing, planting, cultivation, and reaping what ye sow.

I once had a big garden, a good-sized fenced-in plot, and there I grew tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, onions, basil, oregano, bush beans, snow peas, eggplant, carrots, spinach and lettuce. Mixed in with the vegetable beds were patches of wildflowers.

I kept at it for quite a few years, but my digging and weeding and harvesting crew dwindled until it was reduced to one person — me, and I couldn’t handle all of that weeding and maintenance on my own, so gradually the garden plot got smaller and smaller.

Then came a time of great turmoil and great change, and I was uprooted, and I found myself sometimes like a dandelion seed caught up in a gust, like a maple tree’s seed pod helicoptering to who-knows-where and God-knows-what, and the house and its two acres were sold, and for all I know the people who bought the house may now have a horseshoe pit on that rectangular plot where my garden once grew, or maybe they’e simply let it go to weeds and thistles and grasses and brambles.

Recently I have found myself again planting things, albeit on a much smaller scale: two tomato plants, four pepper plants, a couple of basil seedlings. I’ve also dug up a couple of beds for flowers, and I’ve pulled some weeds, and I’ve trimmed and fertilized two old rose bushes, and I’ve planted a few perennials – including an old-fashioned flower called bee balm, which attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and bees.

bee balm and snapdragons
Bee balm and snap dragons await the arrival of hummingbirds and butterflies and bees

It’s been good and familiar, to once more be breathing in the strong aroma of dirt and humus and garden manure, to again be reaching in to mix and blend and break up the soils. Pricking my hands on rosebush thorns. Getting my hands dirty. Looking at the plants every few days and being pleased to see that they’re still alive and have maybe even grown.

Inch by inch. Row by row. Gonna make this garden grow, this garden of delight. It has to do with cultivation — of hope, life and love. It has to do with nurturing and being nurtured. It’s about beauty, and the miracle of things that blossom, and deep gratitude for the things in life that bud and then burst into bloom.

A Blue Ridge Mountains morning

What with this powerful storm galloping toward the East Coast like the Four Horsemen unleashed, I decided this morning to do something I’ve meant to do ever since my first stay at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, which is located in the Shenandoah Valley in Amherst, Va. — to check out that hazy blue vision hovering in the western sky, the remarkable Blue Ridge Mountains.
Heading toward the Blue Ridge Mountains along westbound Highway 60.
So I drove westward along Highway 60 — through desolated abandoned hamlets at lonely crossroads, over whispering streams and flowing rivers, past green cow pastures and through deep autumn woods, up roads that kept swerving and curving higher and higher on a seemingly endless climb, as I glanced nervously at steep roadside ravines and gazed up in wonder at the soaring forested mountainsides.

I never made it to my destinations — the towns of Buena Vista and Lexington –because, by accident, I stumbled upon a most beautiful spot that is at the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway and crosses paths with the famed Appalachian trail. I pulled over and got out of my car, and this is what I saw from my mountain aerie perched just beneath the clouds:

It was so beautiful up there that something magical apparently happened and my soul has been possessed by the ghost of John Denver, which is compelling me to include one of his most famous songs…OK, I know, I know, but he does mention the Blue Ridge Mountains, and fondly and quite sweetly, even though he apparently didn’t know that tthey’re in Virginia, not West Virginia.

Walkin’ After Midnight (a Virginia Serenade)

And so the crickets chirp, but slowly, on this cool October night, and the soft autumn moon lingers over kudzu-draped trees. On cue, a freight train rolls along the tracks down over the ridge, barreling toward Lynchburg.

And Elizabeth Cotten sings:

And then, on cue, starts the coyote serenade, and I wonder if hoboes on that train tonight  hear that lonesome howl.

And I’m thinking that a song by Virginia’s own Miss Patsy Cline would be the perfect soundtrack tonight as I sit writing in my studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

And this evening has been as refreshing as a sip of sweet tea and as sweet as a magnolia’s first bloom.



Lucky stars, coyote howls and fellow travelers

1. My fellow traveler calls me from Indiana to report on her visit there.

She tells me she discovered — looked in the window but didn’t have the courage to actually go in — a 7-Eleven with an attached diner, with tables and chairs and waitresses and a menu.

She suspects this is a relatively new phenomenon. We agree it’s an ominous sign of the times. She tells me to be on the lookout for 7-Eleven diners when I hit the road in a few days on my way southward for an eight-day stay at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

2. Later that night she calls to tell me that she’s sitting in her motel room watching “Frankenstein” on cable TV.

3. She returns from Indiana the day before I’m off to Virginia. At dinner, I do my impression of Frankenstein’s monster  when he encounters the kindly blind man in his rustic cottage. You’ll recall that the lonely old man, who doesn’t realize that his surprise guest is a monster, gives his new friend a bowl of soup. a drink and a smoke. The monster, not used to human kindness, responds with happy grunts and heartfelt exclamations.

I do a damned good imitation of the monster’s “Smoke! Good!” and “Friend!” — right down to thumping my foot just like the monster does when the blind man plays a merry tune on his fiddle.

But I am humbled by the response, blown out of the water by a perfect imitation of the look on the Bride of Frankenstein’s face when she gets her first look at her green-complexioned beau.

4) Next night, I’m in Virginia, sitting on the front porch of my writing studio in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. No 7-Eleven diners in sight. It’s dark. It’s quiet, except for a distant highway’s hum.

I hear a high, lonesome howl and high-pitched yipping bark. A coyote.

Another coyote answers — and another, and another, and another. I’m starting to wonder where these coyotes might be. I hear a rustle in the hedgerow. I decide it’s getting a little chilly out. I go inside, lock the door, and Google “coyotes” and “Virginia.”

5. I find a National Geographic article which reports that coyotes have become prevalent and pervasive throughout the United States.

AND…Some coyotes discovered in VIRGINIA have been determined to be hybrids of coyotes and WOLVES. That pack howling over the ridge  may be half-wolf, half-coyote  — and bigger and more aggressive than ordinary coyotes.

6. I, of course, get my phone, bravely step outside my doorway, and call New Jersey so she can hear the coyotes too. But the howling stops, so we say goodnight.

7. I linger in the doorway. I think of another Universal Pictures classic: “The Wolf Man,” starring Lon Chaney. As that movie begins, we read from an ancient book which describes the curse of the wolf man: Even a man who is pure in heart/and says his prayers by night/may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms/and the autumn moon is bright.

I look up. The moon is just a half-moon. Thank God!

I look at the sparkling stars, my lucky stars, which we can see, coyotes and me, as we crane our necks and gaze up into the dark but star-specked Virginia sky.

Where late the sweet birds sang

There’s haughty glory in October days. The regal deep blue skies, the cool crisp breeze which commands and demands our attention, the grand gestures, the rich royal colors…nature’s crowning glory. It’s my favorite time of each year.

But melancholy, too, has its time in the turning year. Leaves go from green to gold to brown. Hibernation beckons.  Fire gives way to ice. Soon enough we’ll crave the heat. No sweet showers pierce down to the root. The deep freeze awaits us — and (we are reminded each autumn) we can run but cannot hide.

Shakespeare knew this:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

The passing of seasons, love lost and love found, birth and life and death, and one last leaf which clings to the limb but then at last ungrips, gone with the gust, gone with the wind.