Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Almost-Finished Poem

I have this little paradise of almost-finished poems: a file called "Completed Poems - Almost."

When I have time I draft like crazy, writing big, big, long, sloppy, inclusive first drafts. I let it all hang out. I run the idea into the ground. These drafts are raw material. I mark each of them "Draft 1" and print them out. They go together in an envelope marked with the approximate date of composition (such as "Fall 2007").

When there's another spot of time (at least six months later) I delete and toss the hopeless drafts. Those that still stand are so long & sloppy I can refine them simply by cutting. If after that I still care, I print these drafts out, mark them "Draft 2," and then the intensive crafting work begins.

When a poem is almost finished -- when it's whole except for, say, one nagging word, or one line, or a closing line -- it is promoted to the file "Completed Poems - Almost."

I visit this file with pleasant anticipation, when I have time, usually every six months or so. Often I can immediately see what the poem needs, supply it, and promote it to "Completed Poems." Those I print out and put in a binder.

A really sticky "almost-poem" I'll read aloud. My sense of embarrassment, boredom, or distaste tells me exactly where to apply my crafting efforts -- or whether any further efforts will be in vain.

Some drafts do hard time in that "Almost" file. But I like that file even better than "Completed Poems" (whose drafts are disposed of). A completed poem is satisfying, but the adventure of making it, the romance, the wild guesses, the risks, the faith, the Nikola-Tesla-like moments of revelation, the experimentation -- is so OVER.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

World's Largest Icicle

Wind carved out this white sandstone cave in my woods. The ledge on top is perhaps dolomite -- harder than sandstone -- and I've seen trickling rainwater make a nice delicate waterfall in spring. The dropoff is about 12-15 feet. In the cave you can camp, sit nice and dry behind the waterfall, and build a fire (see my stock of kindling at picture's lower left). I'm not the first who's done it. A few years ago, my niece dug in the sand and unearthed an old-fashioned silver spoon.

Yesterday I went out hunting with the camera. Good thing I had it, because I have never before seen a monster icicle like this one; minimum 12 feet long. A wonder. Compare with the kindling pile, or the trees in the photo for scale. Some folks try to create giant icicles by pouring water off their roofs. This one is 100 percent Mother Nature's.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Neighbor Learns Me Some Manners

On Tuesdays, somebody throws two newspapers at the foot of our driveway. One's for me, the other is for the only neighbor I have on this unmarked, dead-end road. It's one of those junky suburban papers that's mostly advertising. Good to wrap garbage in. I used to pick up one paper and leave the other where it had been flung.

But my neighbor, Shelley, picks up both papers, takes one, and tucks my copy between our roadside mailboxes. The paper is therefore handy, doesn't get run over, and doesn't get wet.

Shelley, who's my age, has lived here six months. She aint so fancy as I. She dint go to college. Speaks with a twang. Owns a truck, and a totally hot white Honda motorcycle, and a Husky dog. Two boyfriends compete for her affections. The one who wears a canvas jacket with a name patch came by today, Sunday, and shoveled shin-high snow off 100 yards of driveway.

I picked my way through the snow to say to him, not, "Hello, good afternoon, how are you, can I make you a coffee," or anything like that. I said, "You don't need to do that; I E-mailed the landlord to send the snowplow man . . . ."

He said, "Hello. H'are you, Divine. Good to see you. I was just in the neighborhood, this is my fourth driveway today, it don't bother me. . ."

I have zero boyfriends competing for my affections.

Shelley will phone me once in a while -- just to be neighborly! I'd been puzzled when she called me with, like, a hello and nothing else crucial to say! When coming or going in her truck, if she sees me outside, she stops and says hello! It took me a while to understand that waving is a sorry substitute for stopping to chat with a fellow human being.

She treats me like I'm human!

I'd better start acting like I am.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In Love with the Analemma

The Analemma is the path the sun travels through our skies during one year. Its path, when photographed, reveals itself as a lovely, offset figure-8 shape -- set with diamonds. At the farthest ends of the Analemma are the solstices of Summer and Winter. Here is a sample photograph of the Analemma, from the wonderful site Astronomy Picture of the Day.

The Analemma such an exquisitely beautiful phenomenon, displaying the universe's absolutely perfect design, that a gardener friend of mine and I fell in love with the Analemma and in particular celebrate the Solstices -- the crucial turnabout days in our solar calendar. The Winter Solstice this year is on December 22 at 06:08 hours (GMT; for Missouri that's 12:08 a.m.). Fireworks are legal out here, so we explode the loud ones, and dance around the sparkling ones, howling and welcoming the trend toward brighter days and spring and summer. We can hardly wait!!

Friend and I have taken "Earth Names" in honor of the Analemma and the solstices. He, a gardener, is "Demetrius," which means "priest of Demeter," because a gardener is a priest of the Earth. My Earth Name is "June," for the month I most passionately love. You take an Earth Name, too! And dance!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

World of Warcraft, Country Style

Anyone who digs violent video games ought to try annihilating the mice in their house. This is not a game for sissies. This is rated Triple-X for real life and real death.

A foe made out of pixels is nothing compared to an enemy who scrabbles inside your walls all night, poops and pees on your stove and kitchen counter to taunt you, chews open triple-wrapped foil to eat your leftover pizza, and can squeeze through a dime-sized hole. Its speed and cunning make mincemeat of human weaponry and strategy.

I like 'em dead.

A cat is its only true match. Without one, I tried mousetraps. Meeses are, however, masters at eating up every atom of peanut butter without triggering the trap. When a trap gets 'em, its fun to see them dead -- their necks slammed flat beneath the wire, their beady eyes wide open, surprised. Crow about your victory, but there's lots more where that one came from, and each generation is bolder and sneakier. They'll peer at me over the sofa back, or run across my bed while I'm sleeping in it. They've stored corn in the bindings of my cookbooks, and in toes of my shoes. Little bastards.

My weapon of choice now is poison. They die. But they return to haunt me. Last year one died beneath the water heater, and the warm rotting corpse, inaccessible, stank ineffably for a full six weeks. The year before one died in the attic right above the bedroom. Little f----r.

One mouse actually crawled into a packing box and moved to a new house with me. For three weeks I worked almost full-time trying to kill it. Then one day, sick from poison it staggered out from beneath a cabinet. I got my broom. But before I put it out of its misery, and out of mine, I granted it its due. "You have been a most worthy opponent," I said, and I meant it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Full Moon in Gemini

Full Moon in Gemini means: letters are answered; communications come to fruition; good time for socializing; good time to plan trips or otherwise escape dull responsibilities; heightened ability to see the world from two different angles, or to make up your mind; excellent time to study languages and memorize poetry; and you can access double your normal amount of charm.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Why I Hide from Salvation Army Bell-Ringers

They're out in front of the grocery store, the Wal-Mart, the K-Mart; they're on the streetcorners downtown, uptown. . . And I will turn around and abjure the groceries or whatever I need, and go home, and return at an odd hour when the Salvation Army charity-bucket bell-ringers are sure not to be there. Or I won't return at all.

I'm not the only one that cringes upon hearing the unceasing dink-dink-dink-dink that starts in November and lasts into January. At a supermarket that had two entrances rather far apart I saw most customers avoid the entrance where the bell-ringer stood, and enter and exit the other. The bell-ringer picked up his red bucket and moved to that entrance, trying to nab the sneaky shoppers -- who again escaped him, through the other door.

I suppose many of us enjoy giving to charities, especially good and noble ones such as the Salvation Army. But I am tired of being begged for money, to give more and more of it, when I have less and less of it. In fact I am falling behind, being forced to pay $3/gallon for gasoline, $365 a year to park in my own employer's lot, $700 for a tank of propane, $500 deductible when a carefree trucker let debris fly off his trailer, smashing my car's front end; $25 for a haircut so that my students won't say, "Did you know your hair is a half-inch longer on one side than the other?" (I tend not to look that closely at myself, but students see everything, including cheap clothes and assembly-line haircuts.) Our employer even volunteers to deduct from our paychecks funds for those less fortunate, via The United Way, and plants a United Way rep right in our office to guilt us into giving.

I resist where I can. Rarely, I salve my conscience by dropping into the bucket a quarter or a buck. Or if I pass the bell-ringer as I enter, I might promise, "I'll give when I come back out." And then I'll sneak back out, if possible. Either way the ringer -- poor brave shivering fellow -- says "God bless you."

I'm blessed in countless ways, including the fact that I don't have to take charity myself. But I need to be blessed with more money so I'd feel glad to give -- instead of shamed because I can't.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Set a Spell and Eat Somethin

Road maps used to call them "waysides," but now they're marked with this sign, and have no name. "Rest stops" have "facilities". This sign indicates the facilities are a shade tree and a picnic table, so there's nothing to do but park, unpack your picnic basket, sit down, and enjoy.

That is my idea of what heaven will be like: just like this life, but with infinite choices and no sickness. I fancy myself and companions on the road from Shakespeare's new play to Cab Calloway's nightclub, settin' and refreshin' ourselves with lemonade and roasted-vegetable sandwiches, or Italian-flag sandwiches with tomato, mozzarella and basil, all drizzled with olive oil, don't forget the pepper and salt and peperoncini. . . . Divine picnic baskets never run out of food, and especially never run out of desserts. Cake and ice cream? Cherry pie and hot coffee? Frozen grapes? Ask and ye shall receive.

I keep this sign, a replica of the official ones (I see very few indeed!) tacked up my porch to remind me how simple and how near is heavenly bliss.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Backwoods Beachfront

You wouldn't know by looking, but this house was once a beachfront house, and it's sitting on a fortune.

Aeons ago a shallow lake covered the Midwest, and of course it had a beach. Its sand got weathered by wind, not water. The result was a vein of 99 percent pure white St. Peters silica sandstone, five miles wide, running from Minnesota down to to Missouri. My house perches right on it.

The cliff got detonated for road widening in 2002. Where it's been in the open air for some years, oxidation and water has turned the sandstone gray or red. Not far away there's a silica mine. In 50-lb. bags the old beachfront goes to make glass, chinaware, white paint, municipal water filters, and, coarse-ground, it's sold to make sand traps on golf courses. I like it just the way millions of years have left it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Betting on Rosemary

This past week my beloved basil plants froze and blackened. Because they had taught me always to seize the day, I had made basil paste the week before, so they live on in spirit. The rosemary plant is the only herb left. It's in the sunniest corner of the front garden plot, and I am betting on it to survive the winter. Chances here are two out of three.

My first rosemary plant survived two mild winters. Last year's rosemary plant I bought, memorably, from the Weird Sisters collective at the St. Louis Pagan Fest. My high hopes for it were dashed after the lengthy February deep-freeze. This year's plant came from a fancy garden shop with a snooty clerk who could barely trouble himself to ring up only a single $3 purchase. Nonetheless it has always been cheerful and bushy.

I like herbs because they teach me. If you have herbs, information about their powers and lore will somehow come to you, as will recipes. Until I grew basil I had never heard of pesto. With rosemary I make a lemon/butter sauce from an Italian recipe known as "chicken under a brick." Maybe free-association gave me the idea, but rather than dig up the rosemary plant and bring it indoors, this year I built a small brick wall around its base to hold heat and protect it from sharp winds.

Monday, October 29, 2007

An Apple a Year

The Caramel Apple is a tradition with me. On a beautiful October afternoon I seat myself outdoors under the warm blue sky, and relish every bite of this annual seasonal treat. Nuggety crushed peanuts and pecans, thick sticky caramel, tart hard juicy red apple all in one bite -- on a stick -- the concept alone is sheer genius. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you can get a hold of, and make time to enjoy, a caramel apple (also known in the U.S. as "taffy apple"; in the U.K. as a "toffee apple"). With all their wealth and fame Cleopatra and Genghis Khan never tasted anything like it. And the gods of summer can only look on, envious and hungry, at this gift from the gods of autumn -- to their mortals.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Working way too hard to dig six inches down so I could break up the dry soil and plant some bulbs, my face throbbed and I started to feel lightheaded. So I put the shovel down and stood right in the garden plot, thinking I might die of a heart attack right then and there.

That's exactly how my father died, at age 63. Digging in his garden on a fall morning he pitched face forward onto the earth, and a neighbor found him. That was 25 years ago. I'm not as old, and I don't smoke like he did, but I'm know that I'm not too young to get that phone call from God. When he calls, there's no choice but to go.

I waited for my heart to stop beating so hard. It didn't. I thought, "Well, it's better to die outside the house than inside; my neighbor will come home from work at 3:30 or so, so I won't by lying here too much more than six hours. And it's better to die fast than slow; they say it takes about 90 seconds; hope it doesn't hurt too much. . ."

False alarm. I took it very easy after that, planting my crocus bulbs and three small perennials called -- what? Campanula. Bellflowers. Blue. Now I know one thing for sure: They'll be here in the springtime whether I am here or not.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Stained-Glass Chapel of Autumn

I dread autumn -- before it gets here. Then, when it comes -- its blue sky, translucent vivid reds and yellows, warm browns, black branches -- I step outside and it's just like a chapel; practically drives me to my knees. Here's one view. I could choose any of a hundred, a million views, all of it rustling, the light shifting, furry and feathery creatures weaving through them like spirits.

The natural Ozark foothills forest is oak and hickory. Non-native, invasive cedars (tall evergreens, conical like Christmas trees) came west with the pioneers; we know that because the oldest cedars are 150 years old. (But who can hate a tree?) What a birthday: 150! If only I may live 100 more years and see 100 more autumns!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

On Cleaning a Country House

Every Saturday we kids worked with Mom until her place was hospital-clean. In fact I didn't see a truly dirty house until I was in my teens. But no way I can keep clean this half-log-cabin half-concrete-garage. It was built in 1930. The door and window sashes aren't true anymore. Nothing can be sealed. Fuss and scrambling occur in a certain closet, so I open it only to throw in a turquoise-colored cube that poisons mice. Mud, leaves, gravel, all get tracked in. Creatures get in: wasps, crickets, ants, wormy things with a thousand legs, sleek little skinks -- one who settled in the house finally needed a name, so I called him Harrison, and grew fond of him. I have a great stone fireplace but spiders live in the cracks and declivities, build webs from ceiling to lamps, have spider babies, and cast little papery silver capsules onto the mantel and floor. And dust/pollen, from the trees, that sifts in and covers every flat surface with its gauze.

Did I mention tar? Scuffmarks from boots? Motor oil? Faucets caked with hardened lime?

They say the way to clean is to prioritize. So, first, I try to evacuate the place. I warn my unwelcome guests with, "You have fifteen seconds to get out of my sight," and hope they listen. I sweep daily, vacuum up their webs and lairs about every fortnight, and mop the floors and clean the bathroom each month (unless company is coming), and in truly ambitious moments I will dust (although it's like the myth of Sisyphus), and pour baking soda and vinegar down the drains, and dribble corrosive on the calcifications around the faucets and then scrape them clean. But I have accepted there will never be even half a moment when this house will be Martha Stewart spotless and under control. There's too much of life here; no matter how I try I can't stamp it out. And I like it. That's why I live in a country house.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Meet Bugs and Amphibians Online!

Meet the friends that came by one morning during this warm dry week. Mister "Walking Stick" (Diaphomera femorata, related to the grasshopper) had applied himself to the screen on the eastern window, and stuck there a good long time. I've seen him, other years, in green and yellow, but this year he was armored in bronze. And, same morning, this baby turtle got caught up in a corner between walls and had to be picked up by her still-translucent three-inch shell, and set face forward. And then -- she (or he) ran! I do mean she high-tailed it! She fled! I barely got the photo!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Why Rabbits are Divine

1. They appear and vanish as if by magic.
2. They are everywhere and nowhere.
3. Their homes are unknown and unseen.
4. Their nation abides by a vow of silence.
5. They do no deliberate wrong.
6. They are watchful and wise.
7. In every culture they symbolize virtues and good fortune: fertility, wealth, luck, gentleness, rebirth, athleticism, generosity, cleverness.
8. Their softness and beauty disarms even the hardest heart, and warms the coldest, and rejuvenates the oldest.
9. They inspire delight and thus confer blessings on wherever they appear.
10. A rabbit’s presence makes us kind toward one another.
We make images of rabbits and give them to our children without knowing why. We create and tell countless stories about wonderful rabbits. I believe that these are acts of worship, because deep down we know that rabbits -- bunnies, coneys, bunbuns -- are divine.

Monday, September 24, 2007

What Yer Litter Says About Yew

I have about 3/4 of a mile of road shoulder to clean. This is what I find, in order of volume:

Beer cans; soda cans; beer bottles; empty cigarette packs; pint bottles of Seagram's 7 (once I found an empty gallon bottle of vodka); scores of those plastic "Big Drink" "car cups," plus their tops and straws; paper and styrofoam trash from Mickey D's, Hardee's, BK, DQ, KFC, Jack's, White Castle; styrofoam coffee cups; tins from chewin'-tobacco (I thought everybody was too smart nowadays to take up that habit!); chip bags; candy wrappers.

And that's the stuff they aren't too ashamed to throw out of their cars. That's America, seen from the angle of those who clean your road shoulders. I hope you'll all have just as much fun at the CAT-scan center!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

11 Reasons Why MO is Better than WI

I love Wisconsin, but in Missouri we have:
  1. Barbecue
  2. Tomatoes and okra in one can
  3. Very few ice storms
  4. Grits
  5. Fossils
  6. Hills
  7. Polite teenagers, most of 'em
  8. Banks that give out bags of fresh popcorn on Fridays, and celebrate their birthdays with public hot-dog cookouts in their parking lots
  9. Legal fireworks
  10. Armadillos
  11. Postal clerks who will weigh your biggest tomato (Last one I saw: an old man brought in a tomato tipping the scale at 2 lbs. 1 oz; everybody in the waiting-line cheered.)

Pride Goes Before a Fall

The hummingbirds arrived here April 12. They departed September 22. That's five months and one week. Nearly half the year. So I shouldn't complain when I saw only one "bed and breakfast" migrant this morning, and she may be the last. It's just. . .

. . . that summer made me feel so RICH. Up to my shoulders in grass; turnips early and tomatoes late; hills tufted with broccoli-green; five kinds of basil; dew; I saw and reveled in it all. Then today, the autumn equinox.

To cure my panic -- because the thought of winter makes me feel put-upon and poor -- I hiked a prairie and saw my first blue gentians. I found a teepee stitched together with twigs and went inside and lay down; the light sifting inside was gold, and the sky above the lodgepoles bright blue; it is always autumn inside a teepee.

Autumn lasts as long as summer. My 51st autumn, leading into my 51st winter. Dread it? What for? This is my royal road!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's Down a Ways, and That's God's Truth. . .

I'm not from here, so I say "crick" and "Rout 66," and if I'm giving someone directions I say, "It's down a ways," and I call a drinking fountain a "bubbler," and a haymow a "haymau," and if I was from a little farther north than I am I would call soda "pop," but I ain't such a hick as all that.

Here people say, "Better 'n' a sharp stick in the eye," and "His ain't the brightest porch light on the block," and "dumb as a bag of hammers," and an ugly woman can "sit on a tombstone and hatch haints," and a little west of here they say "It dudn't," when they mean "It doesn't," but I ain't such a hick as all that -- and they call a hick -- one who doesn't have any manners and doesn't care -- a "hoosier," which is a fightin' word, and nothing to do with Indiana.

And they finish a fervent statement with, "and that's God's truth." That last one I picked up and said, without thinking, in front of a bunch of people from out East who were visiting, and they cut their eyes at each other, like they was really gettin' local color.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

What Did I Run Over?

Doing 55 mph On Hwy 109 late on Thursday night, something shadowy entered my headlights. Definitely a quadruped, but not a deer; it looked like a cat, but a strangely large one -- was it a fox? A young fox? They're almost never run over. . . It panicked, and began to flee to the right, and I braked, but too late. Whatever it was went "whump" against the bumper on the passenger side.

Shocked, I realized that it was too late and dark, and the road too narrow, for me to back up and see what it was and if I had killed it, or if I could somehow save it, maybe getting it out of harm's way. The next day I checked the bumper for blood or damage. It was normal. I looked for bloodstains on 109 but couldn't remember the accident's exact location, and anyway did not see any -- and there was no road kill.

Maybe it lived.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hungry Hummingbirds

In droves -- glittering little bits of birds, but geared for battle -- hummingbirds are fueling up at the nectar feeders for their annual trip to Mexico.

They are tough little things but weigh less than a penny. They fight each other, and never get along! And they are all big drinkers! If they were people, they would be like the brawlers in the parking lot after last call.

Last year they left here on September 27. I know they will be back, but it's hard to feel consoled for the loss, for six months, of these buzzing little whirlwind beings, so very different from any others it makes me wonder what God had in mind -- or if they ARE little glittering pieces of some great intelligence.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Snake Suicide

This snake in the creek had its head plunged into the mud underwater. Oddest thing. It did not look dead -- it was still holding its curves, its musculature, and wasn't limp -- but I didn't poke it to make sure. Using the photograph I ID'd it as a Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon, a common Missouri snake, and harmless. Approximately 16 inches long, this one must have been young.

You can see that the water here was about an inch deep, and and because of the heat and drought, the water left in the creek had warmed and thickened. I suppose the snake was trying to keep cool -- it is cold-blooded, after all --but I also wondered if I was wrong and it was dead, and the long, long drought that kept closing in, drying the creek down to nothing -- had driven it to suicide.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Bushy Beefs - August

In July they grew twice the size; but for anyone interested in this particular hybrid, Bushy Beefs, these are beefsteak tomatoes bred specifically for growth in containers (even if your container, like mine, weighs 150 pounds). I like the heart shape, and they have lots of meat and very little juice and "gel." Good for tomato sandwiches (on homebaked white, with mayonnaise).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Naked Caterpillar

They say when the caterpillars have dense furry coats, look for a hard winter. But I just saw a naked fellow who had green skin and that was it. We may be in for the warmest winter on record, because this August had near-record heat and six days over 100 degrees.

The first signs of fall always make me think I am hallucinating. I can hardly believe what I see. Nonetheless, there are signs, and they now seem very real:
  • Monarch butterflies
  • Goldfinches at their most vibrant level of yellow
  • With less daylight, tomatoes ripen at half their July size
  • Falling hickory nuts dent the gutters and roof, and squirrel-emptied shells litter the earth
  • Scorpio low on the southern horizon
  • Thinking fondly of wintertime root vegetables
  • Seeing pumpkins in a field and wanting to buy one (I resisted. It is still August. Let's not rush things. There is a very particular annual joy in bringing home the right pumpkin at the right moment; it is almost as good as first-crocus joy).
The seasons are changing. These are days of surprise and awe.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Long time since I've kicked off shoes and walked barefooted on grass, but I did it today. What surprised me: how cool the grass felt in the shade; how thorny it felt when over-sunned -- differed like night and day. And I felt how hard the earth is, and how soft and thin our skins are so we can feel every contour beneath our bare footsoles. When you walk barefoot on soft grass it feels as wildly pleasurable as a foot massage.

And then I thought about the earth, the planet that is our mother and our home. "It has a hard heart," I thought. Then, "No -- that's not right. It has a molten heart. Its heart is liquid stone." A churn of lava at the earth's hot center...and here we are on surface of it, plants and animals, all enjoying a floating green crust about a mile or so deep. The earth's thinnest skin. The rest is rock.

All this I felt and thought because I walked barefoot. When I wear shoes I don't have such thoughts.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Thrift Can Be Delicious

A half-cup of soymilk, scraps of dried bread, a few chocolate chips, a cold cup of coffee -- makes a Mocha Bread Pudding in 8 minutes in the microwave. Great to eat chilled.

Shreds from a cabbage so old I don't recall what I bought it for, a small onion, some frozen carrots, a few garlic cloves, breadcrumbs, some nutritional yeast and some soy sauce, and a cup and a half of homemade seitan "hamburger crumbles," sauteed and mixed together and pressed into a glass loaf pan and baked for 30 minutes will be vegan meatloaf. Topped with ketchup, it's better than the beef version. The recipe is in La Dolce Vegan, p. 166. Don't miss it.

Took an overload of zucchini, sliced and blanched it, and then packed and froze it for the zucchini-less days of winter -- although it's 100 degrees outside today.

Cut basil from my garden, smashed some garlic cloves, put in olive oil, and one cherry tomato for sharpness, and made garden pesto for a soup I just made out of overripe tomatoes, more zucchini, a pattypan squash, some kalamata olives, vegan chicken-broth powder, and a few dry tortellinis I found in back of my pasta shelf.

There is more pattypan squash to dip in breadcrumbs and fry for dinner.

It's a good day to make cookie dough; tomorrow when the dough is chilled I can bake some, along with the meat loaf -- doubling up saves on propane. My bread machine has just finished a new white bread. I threw into it about an ounce of sunflower seeds and oatmeal and millet, the bottom of a bag of mixed grains.

Using up the odds and ends of food in the kitchen is a creative challenge, and fun. Not only do I love to -- I have to. Times are tight around here, and not just for me. It'll be another two or four weeks until I can set foot again in a grocery store. Luckily it's summer and the whole county is giving its vegetables away.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Observations During a Drought

In the current drought -- now about 3 weeks long -- my cherry-tomato plants are sick. Tree leaves are drooping. Grass turns brown and bristly. Soil is dust. Everything moves to its own margins and stays there, just trying to live. Thunderstorms threaten but do not arrive.

It's the dog days of summer here, 71 degrees at dawn, 99 degrees at noon, ozone is at the "orange" level. Took my daily walk this morning from 6:00 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., before even having my coffee; I didn't want to waste what coolness there was before retreating into the air-conditioned house for the day.

While I walked -- my usual path is up a steep hill and back down -- I noticed in the margins of the road some blue chicory blooming. I love blue chicory so much that I once sat and cradled a bloom and studied it, then wrote a poem about it, sometime around 1988. This morning while I was walking I smiled at the ragged-edged chicory flowers, like asterisks at the margin of the road, loving them, and I thought, "Only when I write a poem about something have I really loved it enough."

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Healing Spring

Down the road about a mile is a shrine to St. Mary built 50 years ago by a Polish monk. There's an open-air chapel at the top of the hill, but in the hollow is a 1/4-mile path into the woods that ends at a natural spring. It's at the bottom of a tall cliff of rock. A small platform has been built so pilgrims can kneel at the spring and pray and scoop out some water -- because this particular spring (plus prayers, I suppose) produces healing waters. Fortunately this is little-known, or the place would be mobbed, as the Lourdes spring, in Portugal, is.

Frogs live in this spring, and splash in and out of the water while you pray. They are cheerful. Especially if your heart is heavy with troubles, it is good to see their fat bellies and permanently smiling faces. They are always there in any season, any weather.

We are, of course, always praying for miracles to heal us from one trauma or another. But you have to smile at the frogs who have made their home in this holy place.

Of course the whole world is a holy place. All you need to find that out -- mighty quick -- is a clue that may mean that your time here is nearly up. One is healed of all other worries (about the credit cards; the bad haircut; the blown job interview; the President's decisions) right there. So it must be that death too is a kind of healing spring, hallowing everything.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What is a Sunset?

The windows and world outside, at 8:35 p.m., were just drenched in pink. Some evenings it's peach. Sometimes it's lemon yellow and rose. Why does the sun go down so beautifully? I never get tired of looking. I never get tired of thinking to myself, "This is the only time in the history of the universe that the sky will be this exactly this way." And loving it as long as it lasts.

And no one sees it in the same way, either. Therefore I think that the sunset might be a personal gift to each of us. Maybe God knows that each of us, in our own way, has had a hard day. He knows life is hard. He knows all about it. Maybe the sunset is his flag ("I'm over here! I'm here!") or his beckoning ("Over here! Look over here!"). Or it's his painting, and he's hung it for us, and wants us to enjoy it, because he's the artist.

Of course there's some kind of explanation involving dust, molecules, isobars, and so on, but nobody has ever explained to me why each one is different. I've decided to stop asking and just look.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Watch Where You Step at Night!

I went out in the dark to look at stars and planets. They were
wonderful; they
were wealth. Then, in the driveway,
something wet and coldish flapped over my
foot and ankle.
I thought it might be an oak branch that had fallen and somehow

got wet.

I moved away and turned my flashlight on it. It was a snake,
silvery, a foot long,
indignant and thrashing about. Probably
a young blacksnake; their young shine
like minnows. If it was
hurt it was not seriously, because after
it was done thrashing
it did the sidewinder thing across the asphalt and into

the tall grass. I cried, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean it!" and
hope it understood and forgave me.

It did not bite. I am truly very sorry. I didn't expect a snake
in middle of
driveway in the dark. But from now on, I will.
They say you learn something every day.
That's especially
true in the country.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Fathers of Baby Cardinals

The cardinal pairs have just had their second nestful of babies. You know they're being made when the male cardinal whistles. You know they're born when he's back and forth carrying sunflower seeds in his beak to his wife, who stays subtly on a tree branch in the shade. He cracks the seed casing for her and feeds her just the kernel. It's so romantic!

And now the juvenile cardinals. They look like females except with brown bills (females' are orange) and instead of crests have just just a feather or two, a proto-crest, like stubs on the head of a young buck. The reddest thing about them is their tail feathers. In fact I used binoculars to check that they weren't summer tanagers. But they are juveniles all right. Their father picked sunflower seeds out of the feeder and flew down to them, cracked the seed in his bill, and fed them the kernel, right into their beaks, just like he fed their mother.

What good spouses birds are! What good and trustworthy parents! I've seen a bluebird leading a bunch of his fledges to the birdbath where they leaped in and splashed joyously, like a troop of Cub Scouts at a swimming hole. There's no question in my mind that they did it purely for the fun.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tails Used as Umbrellas

Squirrels. You either love them or hate them. I hate them because they eat suet and seed that I set out for my birds. But it's like Abraham Lincoln said: "I don't like that man. I must get to know him better." So I tried to see something good in sneaky, thieving, relentless, plant-ripping rodents that run in packs.

-Their fur looks very soft.

-They are smart in a self-protective way, and hard to shoot. They learn fast what a gun is.

-Someone tells me that their meat is tough but it tastes good.

-When it rains they put their tails up over their heads like umbrellas, which I think is a very creative use of a long furry tail.

-They can be interesting in a sort of genetic way. In upstate New York the squirrels are black. In northern Arkansas the squirrels are white or white mixed with gray. In Missouri the squirrels are, of course, gray. Sometimes with brown tipping.

Excuse me, but I have to go get my rifle now. I just like to look at it, you see.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


5:30 a.m. is early to get up on a holiday, but I like to make the most of a day off. Fed and watered birds, watered the plants. I noticed that there was none of that nice cool icy early-morning edge in the air, courtesy of the rocks and cliffs and the trees now at their leafiest. The wind was coming from the east, from the city, and I felt the sting of ozone in my nose. That's how I knew it was going to be a humid day.

This area is famous for summer humidity, although it usually lasts six weeks at the most, July through part of August. It is now 9:00 a.m. It's damp and humid even in the shade.

To beat the humidity: No one can beat it. You sweat and soak your clothes, but that is okay; you are not alone. Men in the city may wear khakis to the office; women wear bare legs, capris, sleeveless tops, and sandals. It is okay. People become ingenious. A clever friend installed a ceiling fan on her porch so she can enjoy summer breezes on the porch when there aren't any natural ones. People serve iced tea or iced coffee or lemonade, and sit still if they can. Outdoor workers change their schedules; 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. becomes 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. When someone visits, we immediately sit them down and give them a cold drink and sometimes, if we can, even give them a dry t-shirt to replace the one they've soaked.

When it's humid outside, you are never alone. Humidity brings us together. Everyone talks about it. Strangers will talk to you about it while they mop their brows. And you listen. When it's humid, everyone seems to care a little more. And they also like:

The Secret Lemonade Recipe (makes one quart)
-half a cup of white sugar
-half a cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Stir these two things up a little. Add
-cold water to equal one quart, stir until absolutely clear.

Serve and relax!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Best Turnips Ever

Just plucked not 20 minutes ago from the divine garden!

Middle-Aged Pleasures

I have two kinds of tomato plants this year: deliberate and accidental.

Two Bushy Beef plants, bred for containers, I planted in an EarthBox that a brochure persuaded me to buy. I didn't plant any Tommy Toes, a cherry-sized Ozark heirloom vine tomato, but this spring their seeds, left in the compost pile, gave birth to six fine plants -- a surprise.

I watered every evening -- saw no fruits. I checked the plants every morning for deer damage -- no fruits. I went away overnight and suddenly -- after 4 inches of rain in 24 hours -- appeared those lovely green pearls that are tomato fruits in bud. I am especially thrilled, I guess, because this is my first tomato garden.

Gardening is such a middle-aged pleasure. It's like crafts, or collecting, or taking up watercolors, or birdwatching -- those things middle-aged people do. They are fun, but they're not really about fun, or teenagers would want to do them. Middle-aged pleasures are about appreciation. Everyday things, everyday tools, everyday sights, just plain dirt and water, can miraculously become portals to something much larger: nature, art, history, the universe. Welcoming my new tomatoes is more fun than I ever had when, way back in time, I was trying to unravel the great mysteries by means of cars, parties, and beer.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Lord Love a Duck

I was driving, pulling out of a parking lot in the city, when something ran across the asphalt in front of me. I hit the brakes. A mother duck and four (or five) very, very small fuzzy ducklings ran across the asphalt lane, heading east, toward a park. The mother was intent on leading her babies -- who were too young to follow in an orderly way. They bobbed up and down like fuzzy bubbles, ran after her, stopped, and bumped into each other, scattering like billiard balls.

I was delighted. At such moments I turn back into a little kid. "Duckies!! Hello, duckies," I thought -- or maybe I said.

It was only later that I began to think that they had half a mile to go to get to the park and its pond. The little ones were on duck feet they hardly knew how to use. They would have to cross a notoriously busy, accident-generating intersection. And I began to think: Crossing there is tricky even for people! How will the ducks make it? Will drivers even see them? Will somebody call a cop to stop the traffic and let them pass -- as in the kids' book Make Way for Ducklings? No, not likely. . . Maybe they'd just run the ducks over! Maybe just the babies! Maybe just the mom! And then what would the babies do?

I wonder what happened between my sense of delight and the formation of a useless worry? What habit of thought took over my mind -- and turned a sudden moment of delight into a fear?

I assumed that other drivers would not delight in the duck family, and not brake for them. What a judgment -- on people I've never even met! And in this scene I cast myself as one of the sensitive, appreciative people, the rare ones. Ech! What a swamp of ego and assumptions and snap judgments and self-deceptions! Sheesh!

If I wrote this as a scene in a story, in the third person, about a fictional character who thought she was one of the sensitive, perceptive ones, while most others were coarse-grained and brutish. . .

Next time, let me say "God bless you" to the ducks, wish them well, and leave it at that!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What the Online Swami Said

The online swami would answer one question for $10. I said what the heck -- I was on vacation from work, why not splurge? --and sent him this question: When will I be successful in my writing career?

I found this astrologer through a Hindu astrology site called and he is legitimate. I know he actually cast my birth chart because I know what my chart is (being interested in both Western and Hindu astrology myself), and he also cast a chart for the time I put the question. That's called "horary" astrology. Then he compared the two.

His answer came today. Turns out the message of the sky is mixed. I will have to work hard. Yet if I keep working, the present time is favorable, particularly August 07 to September 08, but he predicted that the best time will be the years 2011 to 2016.

Well, better to be on the upswing than the downswing! Better to have success late in life -- rather than too early! I believe him. He said 2006 was a successful writing year for me. He is correct.

To propitiate the planets and gain their favor, particularly Mercury, planet of communication, the astrologer directed me to wear an emerald set in gold. I should begin wearing it, he said, on a Wednesday during a waxing moon. So I will begin tomorrow and see what happens. A billion Hindus can't be wrong. An emerald is a billion years old and so it must know a thing or two. And the planets and stars come straight from the hand of God and they can't be wrong.

It's nice when someone knows, and tells you, exactly how to improve your lot!

Monday, June 18, 2007

What Worry Is

Yesterday I was determined to clean out the bluebird box. House wrens had come and dropped into it about a half a pound of sharp twigs, for reasons of their own, all the way up to the entry. It's a habit of theirs, and I watched them do it, worrying. The wrens are handsome birds, but have long sharp beaks, and -- who knows why -- if they find a box with a bluebird nest and babies, and feel mean or territorial, will stick their heads inside and kill each baby with a peck to the head.

This is nature and I can't do anything to stop it.

I knew that if I wanted bluebirds to use the box as their home again, I had to take the box off its post, open it, and clean out the twigs. I didn't want to. I was afraid -- I worried -- that beneath the twigs, in the bluebird's teacup-sized nest, always made of yellow grass, I would find dead and rotting baby bluebirds. This would fill me with grief and horror; I love bluebirds, would see a dead nestful of them as tragic, and I have a horror of creatures that are dead and rotting. I can't even take a dead mouse from a trap.

So I prepared the soap and bleach to clean out the box. Then I opened it, and pried the twigs out, trying not to look more deeply inside. Eventually the teacup nest came out. It was clean. There were no bodies. The bluebirds born in that nest had lived and fledged.
I was relieved and wondered, why did I worry? Think of the mental energy I wasted worrying! I filled and blocked my own mind with sharp twigs!

Still -- some worrying must surely be natural. Soon after removing the bluebird house from its post, I saw the male bluebird himself standing on the post, puzzled, looking around for his familiar house. He was worried! "I'm going to clean it," I said to him. "Once that is done, you can raise another bunch of babies in it. Trust me, your box will be back up today..."

Worry is nothing but a lack of trust. That's why it feels so awful to worry; it's a lack. Worry is powerful; if it were a drug it would be prescription only -- and habit-forming and dangerous.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Rain in My Heart:, Anagram in My Name

Where is the beautiful rabbit I saw in the yard every day for three weeks -- the one that let me get closer to her every day, until we could look each other in the eye? Haven't seen her for four days. I was happy earlier this week. There was beautiful weather and hope. There was the rabbit, and bluebirds nesting in the bluebird box. Then I saw house wrens take over the box, and wondered if the wrens killed the bluebirds or just ran them off. Now I've gotten some other writing ideas rejected and I think my life has been spoiled.

I get unnerved, thinking I must have done something wrong and God is withholding until I change my ways. But what did I do wrong? Why give me talents and not let me show them? Why give me ideas, and not let me realize them? Where are the rewards for my faithfulness, hard work, loyalty, my grit in withstanding torrents of abuse, hanging in there, being the last to give up -- those Girl Scout kind of virtues, the ones I'm so good at? I'm not a Christian -- to me that's a very serious commitment, not just a label or a bandwagon-- so I don't have, nor do I claim to have, the set of virtues Christians have, such as sweetness or patience, or knowing when to send somebody packing. Oh yes, and what is this chronic physical pain all about? (It IS, thanks to physical therapy, better than it was -- it almost ate me alive -- it's better enough so that now I am pestering God about other things.)

Well, one thing I know, feelings do change. (I'm waiting for the E-mail swami to answer my question. He uses Jyotish (Hindu) astrology.)

Oh yes: I ran my name through the The anagram of my name is: INNOVATE RARE CHICK.

Surely that means something! Everything does!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Coffee With the Birds

I bought a programmable coffeemaker so I could have coffee first thing in the morning without fumbling around with stiff hands, by the light of the refrigerator, spilling the water, and so on. But the question was, what time should I set it for? I get up at different times every day, whether I am working or not. -- Usually out in the sticks here, one of three things wakes me up:

-Sunrise. (5.45 a.m. in summer; in winter I can loll in bed until 8:30 a.m., no problem.)

-Cars on Highway F -- roaring by, driving too fast because the drivers are late to work.

-Woodpeckers pecking on the eaves of the house wanting me to get up and serve them their cake of suet. They know what room I sleep in. They peck on the part of the house that's right above my bed. They'll keep doing it until I get up! Downy and hairy woodpeckers mostly, although the redbellied woodpeckers can be very impatient, too.

I set my programmable coffeemaker to start up at 6:10 a.m. This turned out to be the perfect time.

If I get up before 6:10 a.m. I can get the morning chores out of the way: feed birds their seed and suet, change water in the birdbath, check garden, take daily meds, unlock doors, lay out my work clothes, start laundry. . .

If I get up after 6:10 the pot keeps the coffee warm for two hours so as long as I don't loll until after 8:10 a.m. I get nice hot coffee. ("LOL" around here, in the green and bunny-filled Ozark foothills, is just a misspelling of "loll".)

Try coffee with the birds at 6:15 a.m. sitting at the checkered picnic table on the porch. I enjoy this small ritual from late March until late November, by candlelight or kerosene lamp if necessary. I wear a bathrobe or even a parka on over the pajamas if I must. I sit and think and grow awed: I have been granted another day. A totally new day.

This is perfect happiness. Especially if the day to come can be devoted to writing.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

What is So Rare as a Day in June

June is my favorite month. Divinity is everywhere you look: sky, clouds, grass, daisies, elusive little skinks, rabbits up to their ears in uncut grass. God has it all heated, cooled, tooled, jeweled, furnished, decorated -- he's an artist. All he wants our appreciation. I appreciate your work, God.

I live where there is beauty. I want it said of me, "She loved beauty." I love this quotation that is originally from an English gravestone:

The wonder of the world,
the power and glory,
the shapes of things,
their colors, lights, and shades,
these I saw.
Look ye also while life lasts.

I'm a writer. Totally without irony, God gave me the gift and drive for poetry -- with one book in print, called Fierce Consent, published by WingSpan Press (and were they ever good to me!). However, I'm known in these here parts, the bunbun-filled Ozark foothills, for my essay writing, too.

Yesterday a sheaf of poems came back from The Georgia Review. This was the same sheaf that came back from Boulevard -- with a note saying they ALMOST wanted them. I was crushed. But now that I've self-published a book, and made an eBook of it on, and can post my poems on or on any of many, many Internet sites -- well, this is the first rejection I ever got that did not bother me one whit. In fact I was glad they sent it back sooner than they said they would (they'd said five months).

I'd still like them to appear in print. So I'll keep trying for that. But in the meantime -- for the first time of the thirty-five years I've been publishing poetry -- because of the internet, self-publishing, eBooks, and more, the POET is in CHARGE. The WRITER is in charge. Things are changing for the better.

Right now I'm collecting nonfiction for a book I hope to publish this year. Queried my first choice of publisher today. More about it, and my other books, later.

I sent a question about my future to an online swami. When I get it, I'll tell you what the answer is.