Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Heart-to-Heart with the Jolly Old Elf

Ho Ho Ho! Well hello, little boy. What can Santa Claus do for you this Christmas?

I’m not so sure that you have what I need in that bag of yours, sir.

Now, now, son. You’d be surprised by what Saint Nick has in his sack. Have you been good this year?

Good is a bit of a sliding scale, don’t you think? Do you mean Mother Teresa good, or Mae West good?

An excellent point, young man. How about I just check my list. Let’s see. Naughty or nice... naughty or nice... Ah, here you are. Oh. Ummm. Will you promise to be just a little bit nicer next year?

Yes sir. Absolutely. Done. You have my word.

Well, okay. We'll let you go with nice, this time. What is it that you’d like Santa to bring?

Santa, what I really want is my writing Mojo back.

Your writing Mojo? Mojo’s a very big item, you know. How about a nice camera instead?

Sorry, sir, but I just bought one.

A shiny new fly rod then?

Got a closet full, but thanks for the thought.

Some waders?

I’m good.

Let’s see. How about World Peace?

Asked for that last year. Remember?

Yeah. Sorry about that, kid. Father Christmas had a tough year.

Tell me about it.

So. You want your writing Mojo, you say?

Yes, sir. It’s all gone to shit lately. (Oops. Sorry, sir.) I haven’t been proud of anything I’ve written for months and I’m disappointed that so little has found its way to the page. My blog has been terribly neglected and I’m really struggling to keep it interesting. I need my Mojo.

I hate to tell you this, son, but Mojo doesn't work that way. It’s not a thing someone can give you. It’s something that you already have and simply needs to be tapped into. That’s easy to say, I’m afraid, but not always easy to do. It’s a lot like flying reindeer. Most of the time they just hang around the barn, eating hay and playing games. But every now and then, when the moment’s right, for no discernable reason, inspiration strikes and they float into the rafters. That’s Mojo. It’s a gift, there’s no doubt, but not a gift that can be easily given. I’m sorry.

I understand. I knew it was a tall order. I just hoped, you know, for my readers…

I know. I wish it were possible. How about something else? Anything. Just name it.

Well, how about a leadership that will acknowledge that man-made climate change is real and start to do something about it, that can quantify the value of our public lands and wilderness areas in something other than dollars and cents, and whose members will start to think like individuals rather than mindless party shills. One that will do something for the people of this nation, all of them, and not just for its anthropomorphized corporations. A leadership that actually works.

So, young man, do you want to write poetry or prose?

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Photo Bin - November 2014

I'm still as bloated as a Macy's parade blimp (with nearly as much gas), the Lions avoided another Thanksgiving turkey, and the Cowboys got the giblets kicked out of them. All is right with the world.

As my brain is now muddled by tryptophan overload (the free-flowing aperitifs and after-dinner cordials, of course, have nothing to do with the haziness), the best I can do for the moment is to show a few pictures and call it a post. Yes, today I'm thankful for the Photo Bin.

Above, a picture of home. It's as warm and inviting as the image suggests. And inside it still smells of roasted turkey, fresh bread, and pumpkin pie. It don't get no better.

I add a couple more shots from my final Fall stroll. The woods were in full color when we left for a quick trip to the northlands and when we returned they were nothing but brown. As I'm still in a "painterly" mode, these abstracts speak to me of the season as much as any. Humor me.

And I appreciate the autumn images even more, having gotten my re-introduction to winter on our brief sojourn north. A quick iPhone shot, here, taken somewhere in Ohio during our return. Where exactly, I don't recall, but it's Ohio, for God's sake. Does it matter?

I'll catch Buckeye hell for that, I suppose.

But it feels good to be back home. And with that, I'll crawl back onto the couch to digest a bit more and leave the world outside to Black Friday themselves into a consumptive frenzy.

Good evening, my friends. I hope that your holiday was as delightful as mine.

What is a Photo Bin?

Friday, November 21, 2014

North and South

We rumble north, encased in our glass and our plastic and our steel
They travel south, clad only in feather and down

We crawl our concrete, gouged crudely into the earth to suit our desires
They ride the winds, following the invisible compass of generations

We tote our possessions as we have an insatiable need to acquire
They carry nothing; they need nothing, but each other

We motor, metered by mile and schedule and manifest
They soar, for the sun said the second was right

We go north, we are Lords of the planet, and we can
They go south, they are Impulse, and they must

North, we have conquered the season
South, they know only to embrace it

Oh, how we need to turn back

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fall Art

Interesting, isn't it, that when people want to compliment a photographer, they describe the work as 'painterly' (at least I do), and when people want to compliment a painter, they often say that, "it looks just like a photograph." - Bob White
The best part of this whole blogging thing is that, with a little good fortune, you find yourself getting acquainted with some incredibly talented and engaging individuals. Writers, photographers, artists. And part of the engagement is often discussions of the process; the creative mechanisms that drive folks to do what they do and their thoughts on what tumbles out.

Bob's observation, shared in a Facebook conversation, struck a chord with me and the fall shots included here, taken early yesterday morning on my river down the hill, have been "tweaked" with the thought of bridging that photo/painting gap. A little saturation, a reduction in clarity, an attempt to breath brushstrokes into them. A little Monet, if you will.

Better yet, a little Bob White.

Thanks, Bob, for your inspiration and your friendship. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes off the easel this year.

Monday, November 10, 2014


I am worn thin by loss, translucent

I gleen no great lessons from death
Stand impotent in the face of it
For I am a simple man

I have no profound input
No wisdom learned from the years
No prescribed belief system from which to draw well-honed homilies
No symbols
Nothing that speaks to what comes next

All I know is that we return to the earth
And while that’s comfort enough for me
Most wish for more

I have, then, but one thing to offer
A simple thing
That your memory lives on within me
And moves forward, as it is the only direction I know

So before I, too, return to the earth
I promise
To be a vessel within which your memory rests serenely

A vessel, translucent
So that others might see you in me

To all those we have loved and have lost. But today, to Jan, friend and neighbor, kindred spirit, the usualest of Suspects, weaver of things, reed and friends intertwined, who fought the hard fight 'til the die was cast, then accepted, returned to the woods, and lived the remainder of her days on her own terms.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Photo Bin - October 2014

This month's photo bin is a perfect example of why I do these things. It gives me an excuse to display some images that didn't quite fit into the theme of a piece but seemed worthy of a look on their own. These almost made posts, but...

For example, I suppose that this first pair of shots fit my South Holston rant - being forced onto the water before daybreak to take advantage of the tiny window we had before the TVA flooded the place - but the misty river images that I used seemed to deserve a space of their own. So instead, I get to share these here in the bin.

Pre-dawn jetboil coffee on the hatchback back bumper and shadowy figures from the trailhead. Lots of bumping around in the dark. It seems that I'm developing a weakness for low light images. Perhaps it's because I can't use a flash worth a damn.

Yes, that's definitely it.

This next image also came from that SoHo outing, a shot of the oxygenating weir that sits a half-mile or so below the dam. The photo fits absolutely nothing. But recursive things appeal to this old mathematician. Few understand.

The next few shots came out of our Indiana visit with Mary's sister. Her home sits in the midst of, you guessed it, a corn field and I must say that it's a bit creepy at times. I had planned on posting a bunch of images from the field, but the prose in the post I ended up writing took a direction of its own (as my prose, quite often, has a tendency to do) and the single, dark image I used seemed appropriate there.

There's a boatload of these shots to share, but pushing more than three here seems, well, kind of corny.

Finally, we've been living in this wooded community for several years now and I've been eyeing this old chimney, tucked back from the road, since we arrived. Seemed a perfect photo op, but I've never gotten around to trying anything until now. Here's a start, and one I'm not entirely satisfied with. Seems there's so much more to be done with it.

So, be forewarned, you might see more of this ruin in bins further on down the road.

What is a Photo Bin?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

South Holston Blues

The TVA did us a favor, sons of bitches, and released Holston Lake waters from first light to the witching hour each day. Had they not, we might have fished the tailrace all weekend. Instead, the gates were thrown open and, as happens too often, the brass floated high on their Clackas and Hydes while we fly fishing foot soldiers scrambled for shore.

So while the well-heeled slept in, awaiting their ten-o’clock launches, building their reserves so they might survive the long day sitting on their asses, high and dry, while staring at the fat Day-glo indicators drifting alongside their watercraft, we drove miles downstream under the cover of darkness and squeezed in a handful of hours searching for risers before the front edge of the too early flood tumbled upon us.

But the drifters didn't see the sun leak over the horizon; slanted rays arriving in luminous waves, breaching the east’s distant dam and washing silently into our hardscrabble riverbed through riffles of muted Fall colors. They didn’t feel the thick fog dampen their cheeks with moist, sloppy dog kisses or hear the quiet whispers of welcome from gentle runs hidden somewhere in the mists; didn’t rub sleep from their eyes with fleece-sheathed sleeves or shake the lingering effects of last night’s Kentucky with cool, deep breaths of this morning's Tennessee. They missed it all while they waited for their boats.

So thank you, TVA, for the impetus to be out there at that magical time. Thank you for putting us on the river before daybreak so we could appreciate those few golden hours that you left us. Thank you for the beauty, enhanced by the brevity. Thank you for the crumbs. They were delicious.

Sons of bitches.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Incredible Shrinking Room

Our living area is shrinking.

As Fall advances and winter approaches, the sun rides closer to the horizon and reaches deeper into our southern exposure. Each day it extends a just a smidge, give or take, and each day we inch the couch and lounging chairs closer to the center of the room, exposing more and more of our polished concrete floor. That four inches of dense heat sink soaks up the warm radiation and later, as darkness falls and the evening progresses, it gradually re-releases the gentle solar comfort back into the space.

The balance is immaculate. As the days grow more frigid, the sun reaches deeper into the room and heats more of the floor. The yin and yang of passive solar consumption. Come winter solstice, half the room will be given over to this process (as well as to the plants that come in from the cold) and our sitting area will be compressed into a cozy little jumble. There, we'll be conveniently squeezed closer to the other heat sources that we've come to appreciate here in this place...

...the firebox and one another.

Monday, October 13, 2014

On Reflection

I will forever be grateful to my wife, Mary, for teaching me (among many things) to not only look up, but to also look down; to appreciate the smaller wonders found at my feet. It’s especially true in the water where the most elegant of abstractions might await.

Fall’s colors are just beginning to arrive here in the South, but a hint of the riot to come can be seen in the reflections. Here, then, are a handful of shots, taken of nothing but water, captured yesterday by simply looking down.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Field

Withered stalks, golden and brittle
Rattle restlessly in the autumn breeze
Like skittering beetles or mice in the walls
Soft spectral voices on incessant breaths
Whisper to the recesses of my conceit
We’re here

What hides from the light in the deepest of rows?
What watches at night from the edge?
What waits for me, waits for me, to come see for myself?
To come be a part of the field

I’ll know soon enough for the harvest approaches
The ears hang low in their submission to time
And what waits in the rows doesn’t vex me as much
As it did when the sun rode high

So I’ll listen to the rattles, the beetles and mice
Pay heed to the voices on whispering winds
And fear not the edge where the darkness invites me
To come be a part of the field

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Photo Bin - September 2014

I turned sixty this month. Celebrated it quietly with a mid-afternoon movie matinee and a nice dinner out with my Mary. It was low-key, in part, because that's how we do such things and had nothing to do with the fact that we'd blown it out a couple of nights earlier at my friend Paul's sixty-fifth birthday bash. No small affair, that. Seventy of his closest friends, surrounding an outdoor shed/stage full of local musicians.

Rock-and-roll isn't dead. It's just got a touch of gray.

And you couldn't have dropped the party in a better place; Paul and Alicia's back yard. Country livin' at it's best with good friends, good food, and kickin' music into the wee hours.

I can't let this shot go by without mentioning the house. Built for passive solar utilization, note the large, windowed southern exposure that opens onto space floored with four inches of decorative concrete; a solid thermal mass that helps heat the place throughout the winter months. Our home is very similar - and it should be. Paul and Alicia built it too.

Speaking of country living, there's no shortage of this kind of scene around here. There's no real significance to this shot or this place except as a reminder that I need to carry the camera out more as I wander about the county. There's peace and tranquility in such rural remnants. Something we'd all do well to remember.

And there's no better time than the Fall to get out and find these quiet places. It's still green here, but the dogwoods are getting ruddy and the maples are beginning to drop the occasional leaf. It's, without doubt, my favorite time of the year.

Some peppers from Robin's garden, for no particularly good reason beyond that I'm fascinated by their colors. Wouldn't eat one of these though, wuss that I am about hot stuff. But they're darn sure pretty.

And finally, this. Our dearest friend and closest neighbor is about to embark on a fearful journey; a journey with ramifications that have her digging down deep for strength and looking with renewed earnest, and urgency, at her long bucket list. As of Monday, there's one less item on it.

We watched her take flight and had no idea where she'd land for she was firmly in the hands of the winds. But her pilot was capable and, while their old cow pasture landing was bumpy, he brought her safely to earth. May her doctors be as steadfast, and the winds just as kind, in the uncertain weeks to come.

What is a Photo Bin?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Mighty Mo

After a week of imprudent and uninhibited British Columbian cutthroats, Mark's advice hit me like a punch in the gut. Technical and Presentation. Four letter words, however they're spelled.

Montana's Missouri River rainbows and browns have seen it all. And with the tricos coming off so thick that you kept your lips pinched tight lest you breakfast on bugs, there was no lack of natural fare. Hell, the floating mats of expired spinners could carpet my house. Anything the slightest bit off was ignored.

I throw a lot of off.

So when the frustration of refusal-upon-refusal by actively feeding fish got to be too much, it was good to fall back on the scenery. One of the meccas of our sport, and deservedly so. The Mighty Mo.

Enjoy the view.

Monday, September 8, 2014

We Went Awalkin'... Again

Prelude: I turned sixty last week and, quite honestly, I've spent the past several days trying to come to terms with it. I've started a handful of posts - some humorous, some more introspective - but I simply have not yet wrapped my head around this milestone. My mind keeps returning to something I'd written nearly three years ago, so, with apologies to you who have been around that long, I think that I'll fall back on it now. It's as true today as it was when I wrote it, and just a little bit closer to real.

We went awalkin’, Sammy and I, up the ridge, along the narrow gravel road that passes our woods, over the ridgeline, and through the tunnel of redbuds, so robust and full in the spring yet now so gaunt and so naked in winter's approach. We went awalkin', Sammy and I.

His vet would be pissed.

We’d taken Sammy to the local country doctor, fearing that age, arthritis, and the effects of a life-long liver condition had finally begun to squeeze the joy from the feisty little terrier. She made the expected pharmacological recommendations to ease his aching joints and suggested that, with limited activity, he should be comfortable for the foreseeable future. But she knew.

We know.

He sleeps a lot. And we carry him down the steps to the back yard so that he might sniff the 'coon tracks, stare into the woods, and unsteadily mark his now meager boundaries. It’s still his turf, after all, though he squats like a girlie dog, his leg-lifting balance gone the way of eyesight and stamina. And, at the end of each constitutional, he stands and looks up the drive, towards the road, up the ridge, to the redbuds, where we’ve walked together a thousand times - but walk no more.

Today, instead of just looking, he began to climb the hill, like before.

I called to him, to steer him back to comfort and ease, but he did not hear. Maybe he can't. More likely, he pretended not to. I called again, more urgently, and he stopped, but did not turn. Instead, he paused, then looked back over his shoulder as if to say, “Are you coming?

I sighed. And I came.

For a half-mile he was Wilderness Dog Sammy again - scourge of squirrels, chaser of deer, defiler of tall weeds. There was spring in his step and sparkle in his eyes, his ears and tail pointed to the brilliant blue sky. He led and I followed, noticing that his haunches, once as sturdy and full as the redbuds in spring, were as thin and bony as the stark, bare canopy above. But, for a half-mile, he was the alpha dog once more. For a wonderful half-mile...

… until he slowed. I called his name, like before, and he stopped, waited, and allowed me to pick him up – a concession unimaginable in times gone by. His walk was complete, miles short of his good days, but he accepted my bearing without shame. His ears remained perked, his nose thrust forward as if to lead us along the path, his spirit taking us where his legs could no longer. We walked our old haunts together, one more time. Even in my arms, he was still the Wilderness Dog.

And, on occasion, he looked up and licked my face, his eyes still sparkling despite clouding lenses, and he seemed to say “Isn’t this glorious?

It was.

This evening I expect that Sammy will pay for the excursion, the drugs unable to blunt the ache as it does most nights. He’ll lie in his bed, at out feet, and hurt a little more than usual, but I’m certain that the discomfort will be more than compensated by his restored canine dignity, by the walk through his old woods. I regret his pain, but I’m glad that we went for we both were able to remember the Wilderness Dog, if but just for a little while.

And, if you please, do the same for me. When my vitality wanes, when my life is diminished by whatever prostration chips it away, I hope that on that day when the woods call to me once again, you allow me to answer. Allow me to follow that ridgeline as far as I am able - wisdom and doctor be damned. I will accept assistance, if offered, on return, but first let me go. I will accept the inevitable pain, the price, but first let me go. Let me relive the fullness of my spring, the redbuds in bloom, for just that little while, and then I will again accept my limitations, accept the arrival of my winter. But first, let me go.

We went awalkin’, Sammy and I, up the ridge, through the tunnel of redbuds.