Sunday, December 31, 2017

Final draft...

2017 has brought us to our third winter in Tsaludiyi. One might think we'd be used to it by now, but it still seems a grand adventure, every day a discovery. If you must live in troubled times, amid a decaying culture, Saluda is just the place to weather the storm. The people here hold their shape through rain and snow and dark of night.

As another year ends, hopes continually arise for new beginnings. This fall, I finally finished the novel (Slick Rock Creek) I'd been chasing for the past two years, and I'm working now on a new novel, about an old man named Wendl, who is at home in two worlds. In one, he is a fool, in the other, a sage. In both worlds, he is himself.

The Main Muse (aka Jane Ella Mathews) has begun her second year at her Feldenkrais studio on Nostalgia Court. Several of her students still travel up from South Carolina for regular lessons, joining a growing gathering here on the mountains.

Come spring, if we're still above ground, we plan to have our little house painted.

Lifting up prayers, we are, begging traveling mercies for all youns as together, we traverse the unplowed year ahead.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

First time second time...

Last winter's poinsettia colored up again this year as Advent began. It is the first time we've been able to persuade a Christmas poinsettia to bloom a second season.

She received no special treatment, although she did spend spring and summer outside.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Sometimes, it's cool...

Sometimes, it's cool to chuck the screens and write like the Dickens, except he didn't wield a felt-tip. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

What the world needs now, and what we don't.

We don't need more religion. Religion is at the root of most of the world's violence and division. What might save humankind, and allow our continued participation in the life of this planet, is spiritual awareness.

It is imperative for our salvation as a species, and our healing and peace as individual souls, that we recover and restore our connection with Spirit who bodies forth in all things, imbuing each and all together with reality and life. That Word is before all, sustaining the becoming of all, the Isness manifesting the universe.

God has a billion names. They all translate as Love.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


A dear friend who hunts gave us some quail from their freezer, and we ate it on Christmas Day. We had no guests to share the feast, other than the Guest who was here before us, our eternal Host.

I'm not a habitual carnivore, but I ate my quail with deep enjoyment. To do any less would be to dishonor the wee creature sacrificed for our sustenance. As always, when I'm devouring a wild life, I prayed my meal for forgiveness. To take into yourself a life that has not been shaped by a cage, but formed by lights and nights and weathers and seasons, a life ended on the wing, in upward flight, is as much a sacrament as any symbolic Eucharist one might receive in church. One is left humble, and nourished, and grateful beyond measure.

It is true. In God, and in God's nature, the life of one is the life of all.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Mercy and justice...

The Empire has tried to tame our religion, and yoke the church to it's campaign of exploitation and domination, and seems to have largely succeeded in converting evangelicals into bearers of the bad news of division, exclusion and acquisition.

They will never tame our Christ, though. What the poor and oppressed welcome as mercy and grace, the rich and powerful will experience as justice and retribution.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

It only takes one...

It only takes one
Life, love-lifted
and Spirit-sown,
to mend the broken
past and bring
the future home
to now.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Newest new...

During Advent this year, I've been reading David Bentley Hart's new translation of the New Testament, published by Yale University Press. The Orthodox scholar has attempted a literal translation that sheds the doctrinal and theological overlays subsequent translators have imposed on the early manuscripts. Since I can't read Greek, I have to take David's word for a lot, but what I'm reading strikes me as immediate and fresh, as if written this morning. The individual voices of the different writers come through clear and sharp. Reading this translation is more like reading the newspaper than reading a prayerbook. There is a radical and revolutionary urgency about the gospels and epistles in Hart's rendering that would unsettle anyone who is comfortable with a pew-based religion.

The first question that comes to this reader's mind is, "Can we really live like this?" The second is, "Are we really Christian if we don't?"

Friday, December 22, 2017


To accept the church as our basis for belonging in the world doesn't really alter our lives in any deep and abiding way, but to accept the Incarnation reverses our perspective on everything. The life of Jesus, if we take him seriously, shows us that the two aspects of human experience we took to be most constant, death and ego, are the flimsiest of illusions.

Every death becomes the doorway into a deeper life. Every welcome, offered or accepted, manifests a turning loose. Ego turns out to be nothing more than the curtain we hang in our mind's window to shield us from our True Self's gaze, which we fear more than anything, though we long for it all our lives.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Stephen tried...

Well, the pigs is in the parlor now, and we know who invited 'em. Stephen tried to show us what Flagg was like, but we elected him, anyway.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Teetering on the verge of day,
there comes that transcendent 
instant, the sun's first kiss
on the ridges above our town,
when our darkness is mended
in the breaking morning.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

When less is more...

My grandfather, John Hampton Mitchell, was a Baptist preacher. He liked to say that the less religious baggage one could carry on his faith journey, the easier it would be to walk it.

Grandfather held that believing Christ was born in Bethlehem is a matter of historical opinion. Believing that He is here with us now is faith and experience.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Gone December...

Recalling now that gone December
when we roamed high and wandered wild.
Yes, my brother, I remember
when we were each the Mountain's child,
companions on the road less taken,
friends of forests, Raven's kin,
all the easy ways forsaken,
bound higher up and deeper in.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

So, maybe...

Six years ago, after fifty years as a visual artist, I set it all aside to write fiction. Knowing this chapter of my life would be the short one, I made out my writer’s bucket list:
          1. Write a novel.
          2. Write a trilogy.
          3. Write a mystery.
    4. Write a book of poems.

The mystery hasn’t been published yet, but it has been written, rewritten, re-rewritten. It is as written as it will ever be. So, maybe it is time now for the poetry book. Writing a good poem is harder than writing a novel, even harder than writing a good short story. Writing enough good poems to hold together as a book raises the bar higher yet.

Yes, I admit I've been putting it off. It is easier to keep on doing what I know is within my reach, than to risk winding up a failure after all, but a few souls who perhaps know me better than I know myself, keep telling me, "Write the damned poetry book while you still have a brain." So, maybe it is time now. If anything comes after this, I can add it to my list.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

...not for themselves.

My good friend and mountain guide, Wayseeker (aka David Longley) sent me this image. I don't know where he got it, but he says it shows Horace Kephart, Kelly Bennett and George Masa on Andrews Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains ca 1929. Three years later, both Kephart and Masa would be dead. Only Bennett would live to see their dream of a National Park in the Smokies come to fruition.

If you have been on Andrews Bald lately, you know they are still up there. All three have peaks named for them now. At the time, many of their neighbors thought they were crazy dreamers. They didn't labor for themselves. They did it for us, of course, but perhaps most of all, they did it for the mountains.

Friday, December 15, 2017


A squirrelish maurader got onto our porch and knocked over a lidded jar my potter friend Jeff Greene made for us. The resultant broken lid gave me a chance to try my hand at kintsugi, the venerable Japanese art of mending pottery with lacquer and powdered gold. 

While I'll never be a master at it, I don't think I did too badly for a gross amateur. Instead of lacquer and gold, I used acrylic resin and micaceous oxide.

The ideal behind kintsugi is that while brokenness cannot be undone, it can be brought to render a vessel more beautiful than its initial wholeness.

Perhaps nothing in this world is more beautiful than a broken life, restored and held complete by love.

Thursday, December 14, 2017 hope

As if I needed a reminder that we live in hope, the Sow True Seed catalog has arrived, and I've ordered my Mary Washington asparagus crowns to set out in late winter, and some asian greens seed and Bradford okra seed for spring. All this in hope that this is not my last winter. 

Especially looking forward to the Bradford okra. This gourmet heirloom seed hasn't been on the market for the past seventy years. My last taste of it was at my grandfather's table when I was a pre-schooler. This variety of okra was developed by the Bradford family in Sumter County, South Carolina, where my grandmother, Vermelle Wells grew up. Chef Sean Brock pressed the pearl-like seed from a large pod and declared them "okra caviar."

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Looking for Oren...

The Main Muse and I had breakfast at Wardlow's Lunch in Drovers Gap the other day. We looked for Oren, but didn't see him, although we met several folks we knew from Saluda.

It is a fortunate writer who can live in his stories.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017 the wanderer.

Welcome to the wanderer,
the stranger at our door,
It matters not your origin,
if you be rich or poor,
We only ask your right good will
to share our humble feast,
We'll drink health to the mightiest
and drink joy to the least,
For none is lesser than the rest
and none the more than all
Who gather at our table here
as our good Lord does call.

Monday, December 11, 2017

December dawn...

December dawn breaks soft and slow,
We lie abed until we know
That last night's wind has ceased to blow,
We let our morning hunger grow
Until we join the breakfast show,
Then step outside to greet the snow.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

How on earth?

For the past month, I've been practicing regular centering prayer with several brothers in our congregation, and re-reading Cynthia Bourgeault's marvelous book on the discipline, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. While I bridle at her propensity to methodize just about any spiritual practice she addresses, reading her work always leaves me with some deeper insight into my own soul life.

As far as I can experience, deep prayer is not something I do, beyond having a will and intention for it, but something that happens to me, beyond any will and intention of mine. If you ask me to explain that, I can't, but I can offer you a little parable.

About the same time we brothers began to gather one morning every week to get centered in prayer, I went to Pardee Hospital to have my plumbing inspected. My doctor found a couple of relatively innocuous cysts on one of my kidneys, that fortunately don't require further treatment, but the experience, though painless, was exceedingly interesting apart from the self-knowledge gained through it.

Clearly I recall being wheeled into the operating room, and sliding off the gurney onto the operating table, and chatting with Jason, the anesthetist about hiking in the Shining Rock Wilderness before I was looking out a window over the rooftops of Hendersonville and Karen, my nurse was telling me, "You're in recovery. How are you feeling?" and I answered, "Hungry."

Somewhere between the beginning and the end of that sentence, Glover Little and his team got their probes and equipment inside me deep enough to see that my problem really wasn't the problem I feared it might be. I didn't have anything to do with that process other than willingly putting myself in their way. Only when it was over and done, did I begin to understand the significance of all that went on during those thirty-five minutes in my inner darkness.

So when I read C. S. Lewis saying that our prayers are not ours at all, that prayer is God talking to God through us, I have a little inkling of what he's trying to tell us. We begin with a will and intention, and when we finally give up and let go all will and intention, all thought and dream and aspiration, we get prayed through. Later, we might wonder how it happened, how we survived it.

Saturday, December 9, 2017


Our first snow of the season commenced at dawnserly light yesterday morning and continued through the night. So, whatever the calendar, our brains are re-set to winter now. The world suddenly doesn't seem quite so crowded. The days are quieter, more spacious. The wind doesn't need to talk so loudly for us to hear her, and we walk more slowly now. We have time to understand what she is telling us.

Friday, December 8, 2017

...on holy ground.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
that echoes on this holy ground,
a deeper joy than I have found
in selfish enterprising.

Astounding Peace, that healing rest
sustaining us through trial and test,
until we see that Love is best,
and feel our Hope arising.

Behold, Lord Christ is beckoning,
Sing praises to our coming King,
Shed every false and hurtful thing
wrought by our own devising.

For His kingdom now draws near,
preserving all that’s right and dear,
resolving every doubt and fear,
our true Life realizing.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

...Loading Brush

For the past several years, I haven't bought paper books if I could find the title in e-book format. I'm an old man, trying to reduce my clutter. But I made an exception in this case. You can buy The Art of Loading Brush in Kindle, if you prefer, but in deference to St. Wendell's admonition to "avoid addiction to screens," I bought this one properly hard-bound. A warning, though- it won't help your addiction to pages at all.

But this book will expose you to some deep wisdom, fine writing, including some good stories. It also confirmed my belief, which has been nourished and informed over the years by Wendell Berry's words, that our estrangement from our natural places parallels our culture's deep estrangement from God.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017 a rose.

Two Decembers past now,
The rose bloomed by our door;
It wasn’t quite our house then,
But some crazy artist and a teacher,
Had put good money down
On the house we prisonered in,
So we came up the mountain,
To lay our promise money out
For this house and some sick hemlocks,
And the rose bloomed greeting
By the door; the next winter
The dry cold killed back the vines,
No Christmas roses for us then
In our first whole winter home,
But this December, from the root
Hid down in earthy dark,
A green shoot sprung. and lo,
How a rose hath bloomed.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


what can happen in church
when there's nobody else there
but God,
like on a December morning
when you wait
by dawnserly light for One
to arrive
who has been right there

Monday, December 4, 2017

Rather be a doorkeeper...

The Main Muse volunteered us to be doorkeepers for our congregation in November, so every day for the month, we were assigned to walk up the hill to Church of the Transfiguration by dawnserly light and unlock the door to the church, then trek back up in the duskerly evening to close up for the night.. In exchange for our journey (all of five minutes), we got to have the little sanctuary all to God and ourselves and sit for twenty minutes twice a day in Quakerly silence and prayer. Not a bad deal for Episcopalians. We didn't even have to be confirmed for that.

It didn't take many days for me to decide I liked the morning round best. It sent me out into my day with the sort of open expectation that almost guaranteed that I would come back in the evening heartfull of praise and gratitude.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December morn...

December morning, cold and bright;
The low sun stares us face to face.
We cannot bear such icy grace;
We hide our eyes from winter light;

We’d rather there be cloud and snow
To shield our sight from Heaven’s stare;
She proves our leafless world all bare;
We’d like our truths with softer glow,

Some cover for our naked need,
To hide from view all that is gone;
We’d rather stand bereft, alone
Than suffer strangers see us bleed.

Saturday, December 2, 2017


Deep in this winter of despair
Where half the world lies buried
In shadowed seas of loss,
One holy Light yet startles us
Awake from troubled sleep;
Once more, we stoke our hope,
And turn at last to see
The solitary Life
That fires the star.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Winter light...

We see more clearly by winter light,
The homeless Child who sleeps among the beasts
Out back, because his folks were poor,
And couldn't pay for proper bed.
We hear more clearly in winter night,
His crying at the hunger and the cold;
We up the thermostat, pretend,
His wail was only whining
Of the winter wind.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The memory of trees...

Even the blind will miss the trees
when they cannot drink the water
or breathe the air,
even the hardest hearts will mourn
the forests when children's bones
lie naked on the ground.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

We are ever...

We are ever enthralled
with the intimate Otherness
bodying forth from every strange
familiar thing we can touch and behold
in this wide and wondrous world.
Frightened to meet so much Mystery
in our deepest downest darkest hearts,
yet we go on longing toward our night,
lusting after the Fire devouring
all our boundaries and containments,
aching for that mighty Wind
sweeping away the cold ashes
of our lonely lonely

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Travel light...

When needless pricey trinkets crowd my sight
and boughten lies weigh heavy on my ear
and I need to be reminded wrong and right
and what things are really worth my fear
and what won’t hinder and what just might,
I chuck my worrisome and useless gear,
what hangs too loose or clings too tight,
leave that behind and pack what’s dear,
then close the door behind and travel light.

Monday, November 27, 2017


I feel a season on the air,
a ranging, changing, rearranging
time for turning over,
turning color and turning loose
of all ill-considered
promises and every
uninvited expectation;
I feel a journey in my feet
away from greedy faces
and walled-in places;
heading now for spaces
unroofed, unmapped,
untrammeled and unpriced,
where love grows wild,
sinks root in stones
and flowers even
in the snow,
where tame is
the onliest
endangered species.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Such a little...

Such a little time
to say the love
before we learn
the language
only angels know.
Such a thin space
to touch the face
that smiles
and speaks the name
that answers all
our aching need
before the heart
is still
and spirit flies.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

One more time...

In the morning, I’ll get up
and take a shower and go
to church with my wife;
I don’t much believe in church
anymore, but my wife
believes in some people
there, and I believe
in my wife;
I don’t believe in God
the way I once did,
But every day, in a thousand
half-hidden, irrefutable ways,
God says to me that She
still believes in me
and in all the people
I thought past love;
I’m going to take
Her word for all of this
and just go let it happen
one more time
for all time’s sake.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Scatter the ashes...

Any place there’s water will do,
any small crack in the world
to snare a scrap of sky,
hold heaven’s light down there
against the cold dark ground,
open a window for a soul
just loosed, learning to fly.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Near enough...

I believe
in the One
Who is All,
Small enough
To be one of us,
Great enough
To hold all of us,
Far and beyond
All understanding,
But near enough
for Love.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Kingdom come...

There’s a storm on the wing.
Every false and flimsy thing,
the west wind will bring
em down to ground, fling
the pieces far. Let’s now sing
our Freedom song, let ring
our welcome to the King,
Lord of our becoming.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

If I'm careful...

If I’m careful today
When I go out,
Tread softly enough
The leaves don’t talk,
Sit still enough
To hear the grass,
Look closely enough
Into eyes that see me,
Let the wind blow through,
The sun scatter my shadow,
Let the strong Earth hold me,
Rock me on her mountain,
Plant me deep enough
Between her musky breasts
To hear her million heartbeats,
Then, if I’m patient and don’t ask,
A story might come
And I might live to tell you,
But if not me, someone,
If you'll listen, will.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Grace is wild...

Oh, Grace is wild enough, I reckon;
She lays no blame and gives no credit;
She sends sunshine on the wicked
and cold rain on the good;
She insists God doesn’t keep score,
loves the unlovely with holy
ardor as much as loving saints.
Grace is plain about that,
neither graceful nor subtle
in her argument that God
doesn’t give a rip
about how right you are,
or what bad some say of you;
God just means you well,
wants to make some good
out of your messy life,
without even asking
to see your insurance card.
That’s what Grace says.
She has a sister, Hope,
who put down all her money
that Grace is right.