Tuesday, October 31, 2017

She's back...

Grandmother 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.

But 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?

Grandmother 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.”

Grandmother 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?

Nothing 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.”

Then, 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 take?”

I 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.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Down and dirty...

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.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Life meanders along; we get used to the flow
until, quite unexpectedly, we round a bend
and our Changing is upon us;
while we try to figure out
what is going on, what it is all about
it happens to us and carries us forward
into the Mystery where we were birthed;
then we know we have not arrived
at our end, but in the Beginning;
at last we come to understand-
all our desperate little words
are echoes and reverberations
of the Word ever spoken.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


Oh, 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.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Awhile away...

I need to go awhile away
upon a snowy mountain,
where silence fills the blessed day
like water from a fountain,

and there to stay a spell alone
among the spruce and heather,
as calm and patient as a stone
beneath the winter's weather

until my restless mind is still
and all my cares forsaken
and in the space they used to fill
I feel my soul awaken.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


East along the ridge tops
Where dawn is growing bright,
Pines and oaks and poplars
Pay homage to the Light,
Throwing down their shadows
Upon the valley floor,
Lifting up their arms to greet
Day coming through the door.
Calling down Sun’s blessing
To warm us through our day,
Calling up our dreams from sleep
To guide us on the way;
So praise to all our Sisters
Who whisper to the wind,
And praise our golden Brother
Who lights us to the end.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


He cannot walk and cannot fly,
Hung there between the earth and sky;
He never lived, so cannot die;
His whole existence is a lie;
He cannot laugh; he cannot cry;
He’s only that which meets the eye,
A hat, a shirt, a cast-off tie,
Something to frighten starlings by.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Certain as the seasons...

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.

Monday, October 23, 2017

I'd neverr been...

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.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


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.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

If that don't make you...

Photo by David Longley

My friend Wayseeker has been down on the Luftee again. He wouldn't let me go with him, but he sent me this picture. If that ain't enough to make you wish you were there, you don't deserve to be.

Friday, October 20, 2017

This place...

There is this place over between Clear Creek and Duck Branch where you can go and sit for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon and listen to somebody play a Lakota flute the way it was made for.

I'm glad there is such a place and happy I was there and grateful to Geri for telling us about it.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


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.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

...the dust on the path.

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."

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Monday, October 16, 2017

...for as much.

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.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


The 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...

Meanwhile, 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.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Writer's pitfall #1...

Mediocre praise kills good writing. Hearing how good you are doesn't teach you anything about your craft.

Friday, October 13, 2017

In this last chapter...

I give thanks for my good life,
though often I have fallen short
of good deeds and good intentions.
I have many times been wounded,
but never broken beyond mending,

My way, not always easy,
but never too hard to bear.
I have sometimes been sad,
but never crushed by sorrow.
I have often been surprised by joy.

In spite of me, my life has brought
me to this last good place
among good friends. I am happy in it.
I have not been deserving of it, ever,
but I am grateful for it, always.

We are not called to be perfect,
but simply to be human.
If you cannot be blameless, you can be kind.
If you cannot be cheerful, you can still comfort,
If you cannot be great, you can be true.

Look close, listen deep
pay attention to silence.
Be all you can be. It will be enough.
Pray always, not for justice,
but for mercy.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Decline in fall...

Photo by David Longley

According 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.

But 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.

We 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.”


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

...a bright blue-eyed day.

Photo by David Longley

On 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.

The 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.

Up 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.

Before we're ready, time and circumstance may teach us again all the lessons we forgot along the way from past to future.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Stoned again...

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.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

No, we can't...

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.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

At least one...

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.. 

Friday, October 6, 2017


The butternut squash seedlings I transplanted from our compost bin have vined and squashed in fine style. I see pies in our future.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Don't ask me...

Already, I've confessed that my priorities for writing fiction are place, character, and plot, in that order. So don't ask me about plot, if you want professional grade advice on plotting a novel, ask a writing professor. Sometimes I'm half-way through a novel before I get any sense of plot at all. As a result, I probably do more re-writing than your average fiction author. I tried to write the novel I'm working on now (more accurately, re-working now) by the book. I made an outline with a beginning, middle, end, one scene flowing into the next in intelligible order. When it became clear to me that most of the characters were unwilling to cooperate, I scrapped the whole thing and started over. I'm still re-writing. When time comes to kill my darlings, the plot is the first thing thrown overboard.

My first novel was written in proper order, from beginning to end, without any outline at all. The beginning was the last thing I wrote in my second novel. With my third novel, I had the first chapter and the last chapter at the start. It took me a year to figure out how to write my way from one to the other. This novel, well, it's off any map. I've had random conversations with the characters, whomever of them was in a mood to talk to me on a particular day, allowed them to do as they pleased and say what they wanted, then tried to piece together their stories and write it all down in an entertaining way. That has been a stretch at times, since a couple of them are dark and violent souls. I have loved and honored them all, even the wicked ones, perhaps more than an author is entitled.

Editor accuses me, justly, I admit, of meandering. Sometimes, though, a river tells you more about a country than a train-ride. Plot, in either case, is the sum of the journey. Plot is the course of all the actions flowing together into a common channel, like creeks merging one by one to become a river. The movement may initiate in a landscape or in a character's head. Either way, characters act and interact, there are results and repercussions, which compel and incite additional actions. They eventually culminate on a summit where you can look back down and view the trail in its entirety and decide what, if anything, the journey means for you as a reader. Whatever it means, if you didn't enjoy the walk, you probably won't read that author again. Next time, you'll take the train. If you loitered to take in the flowers or admire the stonework along the way, you'll make your own meaning.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


She's a real character. I hear that often around our little town, although perhaps more often referring to males than to women. What that says about the men in our neck of the woods, I'm not sure. For certain, though, my neighbors are for the most part strong individuals, who do not feel unduly compelled to adapt themselves to the generally accepted norms of the larger society. They are themselves, as much in public as in private, every one of them possessed of genuine character.

It isn't an accident that the people in my books often resemble the people I know in my outer world. You couldn't make up the sort of people this place has produced. Even those of us who have settled here from far and away, after a year or so, become infused with the local flavor. We are convinced, without apology, that we are special people formed by a special place.

If you want to write real characters, pay close attention to the real people populating your life. Talk to them. More important, listen to them. Catch the music of their speech. Note the passions that drive their conversations. Watch how they regard the light, and what small things snare their attention. The small things, more than their large concerns, will reveal the deep soul beneath the social veneer.

And whether they be brilliant or dull, good or evil, whether you like them or not, don't dare write them until you can love them. Remember when you write that there are no minor characters in a story, whether they get ten words or a hundred pages. Give every one of them the same care and thought you would want if somebody wrote you into a novel. Your editor may hate you for that, but your readers will love you for it. At least, those readers you want to keep.

Tomorrow: plot.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A place to start...

My post yesterday confessed my priorities for writing fiction: place, character, plot, In that order. I'm not saying you have to write that way. I have to write that way. It may not be the best priority set if your prime directive is to sell copies of your books

But for me, place comes first. I write mostly about people in mountains, because that is where I happen to live. I've also lived in cities, and have written about people who live in them. The point being that whether it is the creek at the bottom of the hill, or the cafe down on the corner, we are all informed and defined by the places we frequent.

We are shaped by our place. A particular kind of place will tend to produce it's own sort of people. Things that work for satisfactory life and community in one place may be wrong for another. The longer and deeper you live in the same landscape, the more probable you will suffer culture shock when you leave it for another

People who have lost connection with their place make bland and sterile characters in a novel. It is hard to write fiction about such people, and as much as I can, I try to avoid them. One of the things unique about North America is that so much of our landscape remains vital and robust enough to enforce it's will and nature upon the people who live there. 

Many in the U.S. are laboring day and night to change us into a society where humans routinely enforce their will upon the natural environment. Shopping malls and hotel/restaurant chains have inflicted incalculable damage upon our culture, creating a homogeneous landscape where every place looks, sounds and feels like every other place. Where everyone dresses alike, thinks alike, believes alike. Those are not people I want to live among or read about. I'm reluctant to write about them, even here.

So much for the primacy of place in fiction. Tomorrow, if anyone out there expresses an interest, or maybe if only I'm still interested. I'll muse and rant a bit about characters.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Oh, well...

October finds me beginning a re-write of Slick Rock Creek. The beta readers all loved it. The publisher likes it fine, except for the beginning, end, and about a hundred pages in the middle. Editor calls it "a meandering tale about mountain folk that would only sell to mountain folk." She says there is "a good story there that requires digging out of the mire," which is editorese  for extensive re-write.

That's going to take a while. If I can appease Editor without writing somebody else's story, the book might be out sometime next year. Failing that, I'll have to look for another publisher. That might be a long haul, indeed. At my age, my haul isn't nearly as long as it used to be, but I am good with that, too. There is a kind of liberty in knowing all your regrets will be short-lived. 

Editor and I generally share the same writing priorities, but we rank them differently. My priorities in writing a tale are place, character and plot, in that order. Editor's priorities, I have concluded after numerous skirmishes over four books and a couple dozen short stories, are plot, character and place, in that order. So far, it has proven a creative tension. We'll see how it goes from here.

One more thought before I slip away out of sight and lick my wounds. If only mountain folk read about mountain folk, would Ron Rash ever have written a best-seller?  I bet even Editor reads his stuff.

I'll ride this horse another mile tomorrow.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

New York Orphan

This author doesn't always like my stuff, but I've yet to read anything of hers I didn't think was a grand tale. I've read this one twice. If you get New York Orphan, I think you will, too.