Archive for September, 2007

An Unrestrained Exuberance

September 28, 2007

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We really like the National Audubon Society Field Guide series.  These little books are compact, portable, and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.  Of course, their compact nature means that they are not particularly comprehensive, but we’ve been able to find in there most of the plants, animals, and minerals we’ve encountered in the natural world.

Above you can see the well-loved and well-used volumes we own.  The wonderful thing about the Audubon books is that, despite their small size, they are so much more than a dry listing of families, genera, species, and unpronounceable Latin names.  Their vivid, colorful descriptions really bring whatever you’re reading about alive.  (That is, unless you’re reading about rocks.  Then I guess you’d say the description really…um…solidifies your knowledge.  Or maybe you’d say “this book rocks!”  Or it is a…gem).
 
Anyway, the other day, I wanted to figure out the difference between a Monarch butterfly and a Viceroy.  They look an awful lot alike, at least to my untrained eye.  So I looked up Viceroys and found this very, very cool fact about their caterpillars.  I’ll quote it straight from the book, because I loved the wry humor inherent in this scientific fact:  “The irregular shape and color of the caterpillar produce a striking resemblance to bird droppings,  giving the insect considerable protection from predators.”

Ha, ha, ha, ha…I love that!  I also found, when I looked up Monarchs, that “The Canadians call this butterfly “King Billy” because its orange and black colors are those of King William of Orange.”  And, of course, that’s how the Monarch got its name.

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So here’s where I deviate from talking about Nature to talk about a different kind of nature—human nature.  My nature, to be specific. I just really need to know.  When you out there in Blogland hear some fascinating, wondrous fact like the above, do any of you get excited?  I mean, like, really, really excited?  Like I-Just-Won-A-Hundred-Bucks-in-the-Lottery excited? 

I do.   When I read or hear something like this, my pulse quickens, my face flushes, and I can’t wait to tell someone else.  In fact, I cringe to say this, but when I read the fact about Viceroy caterpillars resembling bird droppings, I laughed out loud and…clapped my hands in delight.  Yes, you read that right.  I clapped my hands in glee over hearing that a caterpillar resembles bird poop.
 
I am particularly prone to this when it comes to word derivations.  For example, I just found out that the word “nice” comes from a Middle English word meaning “foolish,” which comes from a Latin word meaning “to be ignorant.”  Wow.  Incredible.  Now I know why so many people say I’m “nice.”

So, what I want to know is this:  Do any of you out there get excited like this?  Okay, maybe not “clap-your-hands” excited.  I know that’s probably over the edge.  *Cringe*  But maybe you just feel really happy about some quirky little fact?   And please don’t think this is a shameless attempt to bump up my comment count.  I really am curious.  Am I really that strange or am I just really easy to please?  Or maybe both?

And no, you don’t have to comment.   But it sure would be…nice.

The Transformative Power of Light

September 25, 2007

I was sweeping my porch a couple of days ago when I was struck (as I so often am) by the way a particular slant of late afternoon light set our woods aglow.  I laid down the broom, sat on the steps in the golden sunbeam and thought (as I so often do) about how light can transform the most ordinary things into breathtaking loveliness.

Of course, I know that’s not exactly an original thought.  Neither is the idea of that pure ray of light being a metaphor for how the Light of God can transform us.  But sometimes, the simplest things are the most profound.

But, anyway, I came up with the idea of seeing how much of this light beauty I could capture in just fifteen minutes, in my own ordinary yard, taking shots of ordinary subjects, on an ordinary day, with my ordinary camera.  To show that you needn’t go further than your own yard to find grace and beauty and how that (and those!) we deem most common are often worthy of a second look.
 
Behold—the transformative power of light:

Illuminated Dogwood Leaves

Bull Thistle Down Aglow

Light Escapes Under Our Deck

Down Our Light Dappled Forest Path

More Illuminated Dogwood Leaves

Fritillary on Luminous White Snakeroot

Leaf Alight

Shining Monarch on White Snakeroot

Charms to Soothe a Savage Beast

September 22, 2007

Okay, I know it’s “soothe the savage breast,” but I like beast better.  When I feel rage and grief arise and feel…well…like a beast, music is such a balm to my angry, weary spirit.

Soon after Tom (the man who is now my husband) and I met, I made him a tape of music that I loved so he could get to know me better.  He did the same for me.  The music you like says a lot about you, I think.  And music is almost as essential as food and water to us.  One of the first things we discovered about each other was that we both were big fans of Doc and Merle Watson.  In fact, we saw it as a good sign when it turned out that his Doc Watson record collection filled the holes in mine, so that together we had a pretty complete set.

Anyway, I thought for fun I’d list the first ten random songs that come up on my Sansa (no, I don’t have an Ipod.  You got a problem with that?)  If nothing else, the selection will probably expose me for the eccentric oddball that I am.

So Are You To Me- Eastmountainsouth  Oh, I am so glad this one came up! It is a love song—the kind that might bring a tear to even the most jaded eye.  The melody is so pretty and their harmonies are gorgeous.  I’m sad that they only made one album before breaking up.
Banjo Boy-Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand   With a band name like that, you might have guessed that this would be a funny song.  You’d be right.  Damn funny.  And he lays down some funky grooves with that banjo.
Cattle Call-LeAnn Rimes and Eddy Arnold   I have always loved this yippy-yi-yay yodel from the first time I heard it. It just makes me happy.  My son Benjamin has always hated this song from the first time he heard it, so naturally his sister and I have to crank it up and sing it at the top of our lungs every time it comes on (Sorry, Benjamin!)  But, dang! That LeAnn Rimes can flat-out sing.
Take These Chains from My Heart-Hank Williams   What can I say?  One of the great songwriters of our time.  What a pity he was taken so early.  This is another one that we crank up when we play it in the car and sing along until people in other cars begin to point and laugh.
We’ll Meet Along the Way-Hem   What a beautiful song—an interweaving of voice and instruments that is lush, rich, and hypnotic.
World Spins Madly On-Weepies   Wonderful harmony and catchy songs with intelligent lyrics.  I also like the solo work of Deb Talan, one of the two Weepies.
Up to the Mountain (MLK song)-Patty Griffin    An amazing singer-songwriter.  She sings beautifully, with deep feeling and writes songs with complex melodies and intelligent lyrics.  To me, she manifests more soul and talent than all the Britneys, Mariahs, or Christines put together, so why isn’t she more recognized?  Ah, well.  This is a wonderful song inspired by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.  And she feels it.  Say AMEN!
You Are Here-The Whitstein Brothers    Sweet harmony inspired and influenced by the Louvin Brothers.  I love the simplicity and poetic nature of the lyrics of the love songs they wrote, including this one, sung in old-time country harmony style.  They even did a couple of Simon and Garfunkel tunes—in the same style.  It works for me.  My favorite of theirs is Rose of my Heart.
I Think of You-Mr. Rogers    Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood wasn’t around when I was a kid, but I watched it with my children.  He was so genuinely kind and gentle and somehow could almost make you feel he really was talking to you when he said, “I like you just the way you are.”  And don’t we all need to hear that?  I love this song and sing it often, thinking of my children away at college:  When the day turns into night/And you’re way beyond my sight/I think of you/I think of you/When the night turns into day/And you still are far away/I think of you/I think of you.
Time After Time-Eva Cassidy    OK, I cheated on this one.  This isn’t the song that came up, but no music list of mine is complete without Eva Cassidy.  She is the only singer I can think of whose covers I like better than the original artist’s work.  Cyndi Lauper had a fine hit with this one, but Eva, with her magnificent voice and sensitive guitar playing, has a bit of an edge, in my humble opinion.   Another incredible talent taken before her time.  If her version of the old Irish standard Danny Boy doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, well, God help you.  Your heart has surely turned to stone.

Telling On Myself/Learning To Practice What I Preach/Irony Hits Me Upside My Head

September 20, 2007

The one thing that is guaranteed to send me off into the deep end is a computer glitch.  The most frustrating aspect of this is the fact that I rarely have any idea at all how I got into the trouble.  In addition, even if the problem inexplicably resolves itself, I rarely have any idea at all how I got out of trouble.  So I live with the terrible knowledge that somewhere down the road, it’s probably going to happen again. 

So it was on Monday, when I tried to post my piece about sundogs and The Cloud Appreciation Society.   I’ve been blogging for a couple of weeks now, so I was feeling confident, almost smug. (Here’s where I should tell you that my very first photo post took me three hours to finish.  Three hours.)  But I was getting a handle on this blogging thing.  Yeah. This was going to be a piece of cake.

When I tried to load the photograph of the sundog, it was huge, covering my whole blog page, so that my sidebar completely disappeared.  I was flummoxed, as the photo was about the same pixel size as all the other photos I had uploaded.  So I went back, reduced its size further, and reloaded it.  Still enormous.  Still no sidebar.  So, over and over and over again, I reduced the size of the sundog picture until it was only 48KB.   Still gigantic.  In the course of doing this, I accidentally deleted the written part of my post, including my links to The Cloud Appreciation Society and my pictures of clouds.

By now, I had been working on this for two hours.  I was actually trembling with frustration, sweating profusely, and almost hyperventilating.  It was about this time that Tom, my husband, came in.  He was excited. 

“Beth, you’ve got to come out and see this cloud.  It’s settled right on top of the mountain like snow, and the little wisps of it are trailing down the sides, but the sky is pure blue above!  It’s amazing!”

I wiped my perspiring hands on my jeans. “Umm, not right now, honey.  I’m trying to make this post upload.  You know… the one about The Cloud Appreciation Society.”

Tom stared at me.  “Just come out for a second.  This cloud is really something.”

“Not right now!  I’ve got to finish this cloud post!”  I felt irritated.  Why doesn’t he leave me alone?  Damn this stupid post.  Stupid blog.  Stupid sundog.  Stupid cloud. 

Tom was still staring at me.  In a significant way.  But, of course, I was too distracted to care about why.  Dadgummit,  I was going to finish this post about the beauty of sundogs and clouds if it killed me.  

Tom didn’t say another word.  He grabbed his camera and went back out.

I retyped the piece and redid the links to The Cloud Appreciation Society.  And that’s when it happened.  Yep, it was like in the movies.  In the old movies, that is.  You know, where the lead character has a sudden epiphany.  Their eyes widen in amazement, their mouth falls open, and they hear, as though in a dream, the words that opened their eyes, that single revelatory phrase, over and over, echoing through their astonished mind.  The Cloud Appreciation Society…Cloud appreciation…cloud appreciation…cloud appreciation…

Yep.  Irony hit me upside my head with a sledgehammer.  And, just like in the movies, I shook my head and smiled a rueful smile, as I faced the folly of my ways.  Slipping on my shoes and grabbing my camera, I headed outside.  Outside to look up.  To look up at the wonder of the clouds.  To “marvel at their ephemeral beauty.”

Footnote:  Indeed, beauty is ephemeral.  So I was too late to capture the cloud enshrouding the mountaintop at its best.  But here’s what I did see once I came to my senses and went outside.

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Looking Up

September 18, 2007

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The faint iridescence you see in this cloud is called a sundog, which occurs when ice crystals shaped like hexagonal prisms refract sunlight.  These ice crystals are contained in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Sundogs happen mostly when the sun is low (at sunrise or sunset).  I took this photograph from my front yard a couple of hours before sunset.  As sundogs go, this one is pretty run-of-the-mill, but there’s something to be said for the happy serendipity of looking up to see something like this while you’re engaged in an ordinary task like watering the flowers.

And speaking of serendipity, while Googling “sundog,” I was clicking around when I found a website that made me laugh out loud with delight. (Sometimes, for me, looking up something on the Internet is like looking up a word in the dictionary. You know how it is: you go to find out if “folio” has the same derivation as “foliage,” and before you know it, you’re lost in the “F’s.”   Fogbow…Foehn….Foison…) 

Anyway, my vote for one of the Best Sites I Found While Looking For Something Else goes to the The Cloud Appreciation Society, who fight valiantly “the banality of ‘blue-sky thinking.’”  I’m generally not much of a joiner of clubs (mostly because I’m such an oddball, it’s hard to find a place where I fit in).  But I’d like to wear the badge of The Cloud Appreciation Society, if they’ll have me.  Check out their Manifesto and the Cloud Gallery.  I hope to capture a cloud soon that might be worthy of their Gallery.

Thank you, Cloud Appreciation Society.  I hereby pledge to “fight ‘blue-sky thinking.’”  And to look up at the clouds every day and “marvel at their ephemeral beauty.”

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Looking up from my front yard.

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Looking up from my back yard.

Mama

September 16, 2007

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Her name was Winabel.  It was a combination of two names—her Aunt Winnie and Aunt Belle.  Her mother’s aim, I think, was to honor both in one fell swoop.

 But she was Mama to me.

When my daddy was courting her, he wrote her a poem, “To My Winabel.”  I wish I could remember all of it, but the first part went like this:

I’d like to win a belle,
A belle so dear to me.
A belle who in my loving eyes
Tops all the belles I see.
 
A belle whose ideals so match mine
With her in conversation
I lose all sense of time and place
In my supreme elation.

This poem to me is beautiful because it is so earnest and sincere.  And I’m sure my mother found it to be the loveliest poem she ever heard.

Mama died 22 years ago today.  If she had lived three more days, she would have been 65 years old.  Everyone said it was a blessing she was taken.  And they were right—she had lived and suffered for six years with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) .  I helped take care of her in her later years, so I know what she endured.  But she endured with great strength, grace, and dignity. 
 
“She is a queenly woman.”  That’s what people often said about my mama.  She was tall, five-ten, and she was proud of every inch.  She had the confidence of someone who knew exactly who she was and what she believed in and where she was going.  In fact, if you questioned her about that, she would probably smile and say, “I am a child of God, I believe in His divine love and grace, and I’m going to heaven.”
 
But she was no fundamentalist.  She was a free spirit—in the days when women weren’t always encouraged to be so.  She and my daddy used to joke that they didn’t know why they bothered to vote since their votes just canceled each other out.  Daddy was a “Jesse Helms” Republican.  Mama…wasn’t. 

My children both remind me of my mama.  Ariel has her easy confidence, Benjamin has her gentleness, and they both have her boundless creativity.  But they never knew her, nor did my husband.  She died the year before I met Tom.  I can just picture them all watching animal shows together.  My mama loved animal shows—especially Wild Kingdom.  She used to joke about how Marlin Perkins always let his sidekick Jim do all the dangerous stuff.  She would have chortled to hear Tom imitating Marlin, with his Midwestern drawl, “We’ll wait here while Jim swims with the deadly piranhas—how’s the water, Jim?”

I’m laughing and crying as I write this twenty-two years later.  I think about her every single day and feel my heart ache for missing her at least every other day.  Because of the suffering she endured and the grace with which she endured it, people often called her a “saint.”  Well, no.  She was no saint and would have laughed to hear herself called that.  But she was a shining light for Jesus and reflected His love and grace in everything she did.  And she was a remarkable mother, who loved her children fiercely. 

I think maybe the people that called her “a queenly woman” had the right idea.  When she was in a crowd, you could always find her.  She looked like the Queen Mother moving amongst her subjects.  I’ll probably never have her confidence, her grace, or her dignity.  But I did, for twenty-seven years, have her love.  And I count myself most fortunate for that.  I miss you, Mama.

Technical Difficulties-Please Stand By

September 16, 2007

It is indeed a bitter irony that in my previous post, I spoke of my mastery of adding tags.  Apparently my confidence was premature, as today, inexplicably, the Tag Catagories in my sidebar and on my posts completely disappeared along with my custom header, my blogroll, and some of my comments.  I treasure all of my comments, so I am truly sorry.  A few minutes ago, my header reappeared, also inexplicably, so I have high hopes for the eventual return of my other missing sections.  So, to all my valued readers, I apologize.   This is particularly vexing for a new blogger like me.  But I hope it won’t keep you from coming back.

Update:  Well, my blogroll and my tag categories came back, but were completely scrambled, so that the wrong tags are on the wrong posts!  It is my understanding that there is a WordPress glitch sitewide that is causing this and not my usual computer gremlins or my own inept bumbling.  So my efforts at fixing it myself were futile, but at least it’s not just me.

Update to the Update:  Tags still scrambled, comments not posting properly, blood pressure skyrocketing.  And while I’m at it, I have no idea why the first part of the most recent post is in blue, as though it is a link, but I think I’d better just leave it be.  Apparently, wordpress still has a few bugs to work out.  But at least, I am not alone.

The Simple Life

September 14, 2007

I’m new to this blogging stuff, so I’m still fumbling in the dark when it comes to figuring out all the dandy doodads available through my excellent blogging host WordPress.  But I did manage to pick up on how to add tags to my posts.  (I am amazed at the resourcefulness people show in working as many as fifteen tags into their posts!)

When I wrote this post, “Being There,”  I decided to make one of my tags The Simple Life.  After I posted, I clicked on the tag The Simple Life listed with my post to read what others had written on the subject.  I expected musings on nature, perhaps spiritual observations, or maybe, like me, simple people writing about their simple lives.  Imagine my bewilderment when I started scrolling down the page:  Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Paris, Nicole, pregnant, DUI, eating disorder….

Say what?

It turns out there is a reality show called The Simple Life that stars Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie.  Now I have a feeling that this is pretty common knowledge.  But in case you’re saying, “Good grief, blueridgebluecollarwoman, have you been living in a cave?!!”  Well, no, but I do live in a mountain valley, which gives us terrible television reception.  There was a little satellite dish here when we came, but we never had it connected.  So we’re a little out of the loop when it comes to modern pop culture.  Before our teenagers went to college, they kept us just enough in the loop to be able to not look like total idiots at social gatherings.  But now that they’re gone, we’re slipping, I think, into some sort of time warp that renders us socially inept when conversations turn to TV and celebrities.

So I Googled The Simple Life.  It seems that the idea of the show is to put Paris and Nicole into situations far out of their comfort zone, which, it seems, would be almost any situation in the real world, since their world as rich, socialite party girls must be a bit small and limited.  It’s interesting to note that the description of the show on the Internet Movie Database included this line:

Plot Keywords:

Superficial / Superficiality / Stupidity 
 
I’m thinking that these keywords might be significant.  Now since I’ve never seen the show, I can’t comment on its quality.  But it seems unlikely that someone like me whose favorite TV show of all time is The Andy Griffith Show would be a fan.  I’m pretty sure I’d take Thelma Lou over Paris any day.  There is some portent, I suppose, in the fact that I tried to tag a post about nature and spirituality with The Simple Life, only to find the phrase hijacked by two bleached blonde playgirls.  But I don’t want to think about it right now.

I quickly changed my tag to Living Simply, and soon after, my post disappeared from the Simple Life page.  But I do enjoy imagining someone clicking on my post, hoping to see the latest pictures of Paris and Nicole, but being greeted instead with the terrible beauty of a flower spider, as she devours the unfortunate honeybee who wandered, unsuspecting, into her wretched grasp.

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A Shameless Plug

September 12, 2007

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 Ariel, age 4

Yeah, this is a shameless plug.  I think it’s called nepotism.  But my daughter Ariel has so eloquently expressed my thoughts and feelings about elitist eggheads in this rant on her most excellent blog LuckyPennies that I’m letting her speak for me today.  Except for the fact that she says it better than I ever could.  And she’s only nineteen years old! 

And yeah, I know some people think you should affect a false modesty about your children—to look down demurely when folks compliment them.  Not me, buddy.  I’m so proud of both my kids that I could bust. Unabashedly proud.

I had an inkling that Ariel might be a writer someday when shortly after her fourth birthday, she tugged on my shirt and said, “I wrote a poem.”  Except she couldn’t write.  So she asked me to write it down for her.  I ceremoniously took out pencil and paper and wrote, while she dictated, with a serious look on her face:

In wintertime
The snow will fall
Like bright soft jewels
On hard ground.

Ariel-Age 4
 
She told me that was all and ran off to play.  Several days later, I asked her if she had written any more poems.  She said, rather primly, “Not at the moment.” 
 
So, Ariel, (aka LuckyPennies) I’m so glad you’re writing poetry again.  Please—keep it up.   In the words of Daddy: “You go, girl!”

Being There

September 11, 2007

It is a small miracle for me to know every time I set foot outside my door, that the ground below me, the air around me, and the sky above me is teeming with life, whether I am witness to it or not.  And the real miracle is that this life goes on, despite our human insults and intrusions to it

Yesterday, as I sat on the deck steps, trying (again!) to get a picture of the goldfinches eating the bull thistle seeds, I saw movement on one of the coneflowers in the little flower bed beside the steps.  At first…I swear…it looked like a honeybee was flying upside down (well, this HAS been a very strange summer for us).  Looking closer, I saw that it was actually an unfortunate DEAD honeybee which was slowly being consumed by a spider.

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After snapping a few pictures, I ran inside to look up the spider in our Audubon guide. The guide is rather limited, listing only a handful of spiders (Yikes. Just typing “handful of spiders” gives me the willies.)  So I was delighted to find my lovely little arachnid there.  She is a “goldenrod spider,” also called the “flower spider” because they live on flowers, eating the visiting insects.  They usually live on daisies or goldenrods since they can camouflage themselves easily there. 
 
I’m sure she’ll soon weave a silken sac around her eggs, but probably won’t live to see her babies hatch.  Amazing, isn’t it, that on a single flower, there is so much happening—birth, death, and even sex, as you can see from this wonderful picture that my friend Wesley took for her blog.  When I checked this afternoon, there was no sign of the honeybee, but the flower spider was still there, looking plump, lying in wait for her next victim.

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Annie Dillard wrote in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”   Indeed.  Most of us lead busy lives, and it’s hard to find time to just watch and listen. But when I do, I feel a deep peace and a connection to God. And in this mad world, where so many have lost a sense of the sacred, that connection, for me, is vital.

So maybe you can find a few minutes in your day to watch and listen, to try to quiet the voices in your head.  To pay heed.  To bear witness to the beauty.  And to try to simply be there.


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