There are other places I could be today, but I'd have to leave this place to get there. Right here is where I mean to cling for the duration. Maybe I'll die here, but for sure, this is where I'm going to live.
Reuben is alive and well at Georgiana's Java Joint down the hill at 18 Church Street. The German-style potato salad is the real thing, too. You'd never find any edible so decadently delicious in Bavaria.
The java ain't bad either. Georgiana's double espresso will fuel you through at least three chapters, including a couple of re-writes.
If you follow this blog, you may have noticed that lately I've been posting a lot of poetical scraps and remnants I've accumulated over the years. My plan has been to retire and become a poet when I'm 80 years old. That doesn't give me much to finish with fiction. I may have to revisit my timeline.
In any case, the Main Muse has been telling me for a while now that I ought to try to get my poems published. I take her advice seriously. She told me for years that I ought to write novels. I should have listened sooner. But for now, I have a novel manuscript that I'm pushing to get in shape to submit (again). That done, we'll see.
Until then, novels remain what I write for strangers, for pay. Poems, I write for my friends, for love.
November was upon us before we finally got an overnight freeze. We harvested the last of the garden greens before that happened, and afterward, it was time to dig sweet potatoes. The porch plants are spending the chilly nights with us indoors now. We'll miss all our summer neighbors, but winter neighbors, yes, we do tend to love them best.
So it may just look like bread to you. But I see (and smell) sourdough with dill and rosemary. Jane Ella cut the rosemary by the back gate while I was kneading the dough. Three loaves came out of the oven, but one didn't make it to the cooling rack. It got sliced along the way Making bread is essentially a meditative practice. Kneading is an act that engages the body and stills the mind. It is like rowing a boat on a gentle swell. Like being rocked in the womb, if you can remember that far back. Thought would just get in the way. Baking may be one of the most subversive spiritual acts we humans are capable of. Every time we bake a loaf, we can eat our prayer.
came to visit last night. I haven't seen much of her since we moved
up the mountain last year. Maybe she figures I'm living close enough
to the Real now that I don't need her constant reminders. Maybe she
just knows I'm under the care of a true priest.
when Simon and I were sitting out on our porch in the chill dark last
Sunday evening, listening to somebody singing a song down in the
town, I looked up and there she was. When Grandmother had my
attention, she whispered at me. Her voice sounds just like a night
wind in pine trees. That doctor didn't tell you much, did he?
is like that. She never tells me anything I don't know. Mostly she
just asks questions. “Wilder doesn't know much, Grandmother,” I
told her. “He wants to poke around my innards a little bit next
week and see what he can find out.”
didn't move. She didn't bat an eye. But I could hear her speaking to
me. How much does he need to know, boy? How about you?
short of an honest answer will do for Grandmother, so I tried to give
her one. “I probably know as much as I need to know already,
Grandmother. I'm in the right place. I'm having a good life. I feel
right in the world. I have to tell you I'm curious, though. I'd like
to have an idea where this is all headed.”
I thought I heard Grandmother laugh, that way she has of laughing,
like tiny feet scurrying across dry poplar leaves. Boy, haven't
you seen enough already to know where we're all headed? If now is not
enough to satisfy you, how many tomorrows do you think it might
wanted to tell her then that now is more than enough, more than I
ever deserved, but her chair was empty. The breeze rocked it a
little, as if someone had just gotten up from it and flown away.
Last night was our first hard freeze of the season. So yesterday afternoon, we dug our sweet potatoes, even though the ground was still a bit wet for it. Here's a few of them. They'll look a lot better by the time we eat them.
I am going out the door Away into the night And sleep upon the
forest floor And wake to leafy light I might pretend that I am
lost And make a fire that's bright And hot enough to ward the
frost And melt my heart aright.
Some things are as certain as the seasons, like the arrival of seed garlic and shallots from Sow True Seed every October. They arrived at just the right time this year, landing in a string of crisp sunny days, enough time to get them in the ground before the next rain. Come next spring, we'll be glad we took the hours to do it.
I'd never been to a healing service in any tradition until last Wednesday, when I walked up the hill to Church of the Transfiguration. I may go back this Wednesday, too, if I'm able.
What brought on this change of habit? My friend and urologist, Wilder Little, ordered a CT scan for me because he thought I might have bladder or kidney stones. The good news is that he couldn't see any stones. The other news is that he found a spot on one of my kidneys. Abnormality is the euphemism he chose to not scare me with. It didn't entirely succeed.
He's going to have to go in for a closer look, he says. I told him to continue being Little when he does. In fact, he may have already done it by the time you read this. Mary was out of the office on the day I received all this exciting news, and will schedule my hospital adventure when she returns.
So I went to a healing service and my friend and priest Jim anointed me with oil and prayed for my wholeness with God. I really don't imagine anything Jim does or says will change God's mind about me, although if anybody could, it would be Jim. I do believe in my heart I will be in the peopled world just as long as I should be. I have trusted God for that much when I've been healthy and when I've thought death was an immediate possibility, and nothing has happened yet in my experience to cause me to reconsider.
So I'm not quite sure exactly why I thought I needed to go to church last Wednesday, if not to beg that my sorry kidney not be allowed to kill me. I think it was mainly because, knowing Christ has offered his brokenness for me, I didn't want to miss this chance to offer my little brokenness back to God, while it was still fresh.
There were eight generations of Baptists in our clan until I jumped ship for the Quakers. My grandfather was a Baptist preacher. So was one of his sons and one of his grandsons. The rest of us escaped the family curse. I figure I'm safe by now, old as I am, hidden among the Episcopalians.
Grandfather was a fine preacher, theologically ahead of his time, and he suffered for it. Baptists were about as open to original insight then as they are now. He confessed that he sometimes picked a sermon green, and had to put it back on the shelf and let it ripen for awhile before he let anybody hear it.
Editor accused me of picking my latest novel green, but I haven't put it on the shelf. After an extensive re-write, I'm going through Slick Rock Creek one more time, chapter by chapter and line by line, tuning and tweaking and polishing as required. It's going to be a long process. There are twenty-seven chapters. I'm on chapter four. I might be done by Christmas.
It is a better story now, though not quite the story Editor or the author anticipated. If it turns out to be my last novel, it will be my best.
Over the past week or so, I’ve been re-reading a book on
centering prayer, in preparation for committing to this practice in company
with several brothers in faith. I have to say at this point, the book has
proven one more time both a blessing and a stumbling block for me.
It is a blessing because it clarifies my thought on the
nature of prayer, and because it reminds me of the necessity not to think about
prayer, especially while I pray. It is a stumbling block because it systemizes
and methodizes and processes what arises most purely out of Mystery beyond
analysis and prioritizing and naming.
Clive said prayer is God talking to God through us. That
leaves us with nothing useful to do in God’s sight but to be open to the flow
of Spirit. In that sense, prayer is the ultimate self-forgetfulness. As long as
I can see anything of me, I see that much less of Christ. That is how it is. I
can’t begin to know how that works, whatever words I might spin out to you now
about it. All I can tell you from experience is that I cannot enter prayer
without letting go of myself. Prayer is nothing we can do; I’m convinced of that.
Prayer is what Spirit does in us and through us, and the most we can do is try
to make room in our souls for Her working.
Willa Cather said, "A way that is right for one is never right for two." There is an old Quaker proverb that goes, "When you go with God, you go alone." That may just be two different ways of viewing the same place.
Often we do feel we walk our path alone, that no one else discerns our way, or shares our passion for following it. But as long as there is a path to follow, we are never alone. We may think we are solitary, but other souls, perhaps braver and wiser than us, made the path before us, and have already discovered what awaits us over the next ridge.
Long after we have walked the way and come to our end, others who maybe never hear our name will trek behind us, adding their footprints where we have added ours. All of us are fellow-pilgrims, sharing the journey home. If we feel alone in our walking, it may be we take too narrow a view of time. If you are merciful, you might leave a friendly sign of your passing along the way, to cheer some lonesome traveler yet to come by.
We come and we go, but the journey is eternal. As Rumi said, "We are the dust on the path."
We thought the butternut squash had done their do, but after Nate's rain and a few days of summerish temperatures, the vines are all abloom again. Maybe too late for any squash before frost, but the flowers are lovely. We'll enjoy and be grateful for as much as we're given.
big re-write of Slick Rock Creek is complete now, and I can
still recognize my novel. Yes, it is a better story now, and no, I
still don't think it will please Editor. It hasn't gone at all the way
she wanted or I anticipated. At any rate, I'm in no hurry to send it
out again. I'll live with it until winter, and if it still looks good
to me after Christmas, maybe...
I might read a little snippet to the young'ns down at Polk County
High School if I get invited back. I'm curious to see how real
readers might cotton on to Wilma Longshadow and Martin Youngblood.
to the Washington Post, the
U. S. restaurant industry is in decline. That is hard to believe,
when you look around our town of a few more than 700 residents and
see a half-dozen restaurants, that seem to be full of customers
whenever I walk past one. Perhaps we can thank the tourists and
summerfolk for that.
at our house, we do dine out much less than we did a couple of years
ago. It is not just a matter of economics, but I'm married to a
skillful and adventuresome cook. It doesn't make sense to pay
somebody else to cook for us when we can make better-tasting, more
imaginative meals at home. And as our little vegetable garden, now in
its second year, comes into its own, we have more from our own dirt
to work with as time goes by.
still eat out on special occasions, or when the cook-for-the-day
needs a break from the kitchen. Yes, I do cook occasionally, when
Jane Ella will let me. I can do pretty well for field grub. My
brother-in-law Bruce, who could qualify as a five-star chef, says I'm
a fair “rustic cook.”
a bright, blue-eyed October day last week, I read a short excerpt
from my first novel, The Summer Boy, to an advanced placement
economics class at Polk County High School. The instructor had invited
me to read to the students, although I know nothing at all about
making money. No doubt the invitation came to me because I was there and I talk for free.
story I read from was set among a society pretty much without money,
where folks met their needs by trading goods and
services directly. That is an impossible world, according to our twenty-first
century mindset, but it is not a world that has never existed. The
details of my novel were derived from tales I heard from my
grandparents and my first father-in-law, Bruce Robert Holt, who grew
up in what is now Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Shaconage,
as those mountains were called in the Old Tongue.
until after the Great Depression of the nineteen-thirties, that
lingered in the Southern Appalachians right up to the second world
war, many ordinary
highlanders had little or no access to cash. They made do and got by with what they could craft or
grow for themselves, and traded with neighbors who lacked what they
had and had what they lacked. Nobody would want to go back to such
times. We probably no longer possess the skills or fortitude to
endure and survive them. But those who could and did, laid the
foundations for all the blessings we squander today.
we're ready, time and circumstance may teach us again all the lessons
we forgot along the way from past to future.
It's no big deal. I've been stoned before, on more than a few occasions but this time my urologist seems mildly excited about it. He's more excited than I am, certainly. At any rate, there's a CT scan scheduled for me at Pardee Hospital Monday morning to find out what kind of rocks may be lurking in my plumbing. Meanwhile, the world turns, the leaves fall, and the stream runs freely on, and I press forward with the current novel re-write, praying to get it done without interruptions, medical or otherwise. I hope your days flow along unimpeded, as well.
No, we can't hide from the world. Everyday we hear of the massacre of innocents, incomprehensible devastation, greed and corruption unbridled and uncontained. If we are incredibly fortunate, most of what we hear transpires at a distance. Still, the evil loose on the earth touches us, troubles us. If we have any sense at all, it makes us afraid for our world.
Yet, something so insignificant, so unassuming and unwilled as the changing colors of a sassafras branch on an autumn day can remind us of the constant cycle of creation, that all things bright and beautiful, though slain and broken, will rise again in their season, that nothing, and none of us, are ever lost to God, who loves great and small the same, and calls us each and every one by name.
After enduring over the last few days, all my rants and peeves regarding the hassles of dealing with publishers and editors, some would ask (some have asked already), "Why not self-publish" A lot of writers do, of course, and some of them make a lot of money at it. I'm not one of them. That doesn't mean I'm a better writer, but it might make me a better writer.
To be honest, self-publishing seems to me a lot like playing tennis against the side of the barn, or like having sex all by yourself. Where's the game in that?
Besides, I don't write well enough to be accountable only to myself. My instincts are good most of the time, but never infallible. I think readers deserve to know, before they pick up the book, that somebody other than the author considered the tale worth the trouble of getting it out there..