Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wince and grunt

These last few days I've looked more like my grandpa than I care to admit. It's been years since I've had issues with my lower back.

A regular yoga practice and exercise seems to have kept the malady at bay, but I began to notice a slight twinge a few weeks ago.

Not to worry, I upped the exercise and hydrated, but that didn't help. Then 12 hours in our vehicle this past weekend tossed me over the edge.

I'd never realized it before, but my Ford Ranger rides like a truck. Who knew?

A call to the local chiropractor, landed me an appointment about 30 minutes later. When I stepped out of the truck I hunched over and grunted like a bear with a stone bruise as my spine inched upward. My grand dad used to do that.

"I bet you're having back trouble," the receptionist said. Had she said it cheerfully, I think I would have whacked her with my keychain.

As it turns out, it was said with compassion, so I let her live.

About 30 minutes later, I almost felt like skipping out of the office. There was still a pain so I refrained. I'll see him again on Thursday for a followup.

Like everyone my age, things are beginning to show wear and tear. We can either give in to it and sit on the couch, or like my grandpa you can wince, grunt, and keep moving.

So what if I do look like and old fart.

Monday, September 29, 2014

I miss my dad ~ my column from Sunday's paper

My office was a mess, with months of magazines and stacks of unread books. There were knick-knacks and souvenirs hanging on the wall that had been there for years.

Setting my jaw, I decided it was time to do some reorganization. However, my efforts ended abruptly when I moved some old festival badges and came across a pair of welding goggles hanging from a hook on the side of my bookshelf.

I sat down and studied the goggles for a long time, wiping the glass with my thumb. They’d belonged to my dad, who worked as a welder. Placing the elastic bands around my ears, I turned day into night with lenses as black as anthracite.

I remembered that his birthday is in a few weeks and he would have been 91 years old, but he died too young in May 1986 at the age of 63 ... the age I am now.

Those last few months, cancer had eaten away most of his health and vitality, leaving bone and a veil of skin that looked almost translucent in the light. Today, looking at the pictures we took of him then, was painful.

His mind was still good until the end, so I can only imagine what he was thinking during those waning hours as he sat in his recliner looking out the living-room window. I’d be willing to bet he thought about fishing.

When he was healthy, he loved to spend time near the water. I remembered a story he told me about when he and his cousin Leroy Robbins went fly-fishing at the Backwater, which is a slough off the Warrior below Dora.

Leroy didn’t have a fly rod, but he was content to paddle dad around in the old handmade wooden boat.

Dad had tried every lure in his tackle box, but the fish weren’t biting. However, catching fish wasn’t as important to him as being on the water with his friend. Smelling the earthy river, watching turtles sunbathing on a log, and feeling the gentle lap of waves against the boat was why he loved the river.

As the sun fell behind the trees, Leroy aimed the boat toward the launch as dad dressed his line and stored his lures in the tackle box.

They were a few hundred feet from the landing when Leroy bumped the side of the boat with a paddle.

A perch jumped out of the water, over the gunnel, and into the pocket of Leroy’s denim jacket.

I can still hear dad exclaim as he told the story, “That was a hell of a note. Leroy didn’t wet a worm, and caught more fish than me.”

My dad grew up during the depression and started work young. He only made it to the fifth grade, and I think that bothered him for years. But he learned to read and write which helped him get a good job, working for a company that made industrial fans and dust collectors.

Later, he went back to school at night and got his GED diploma, which made him happy.

He was a quiet man, quick to smile and slow to anger. He didn’t dish out much advice, but when he did, I listened.

“Go to school and get as much education as you can so that you can get a good job and take care of your family.”

All five kids heeded his advice and finished high school. None of us were afraid of work, and this made him proud. I know, because he told us so.

I miss my dad. His old fly rod and reel are behind the seat of my truck. I think it would please him if I went fishing on his birthday.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The road

The festival where we played was in the northeast corner of Tennessee. It took seven hours going up there but we stopped several times on the way.

This morning we ate cereal using blueberry yogurt as milk along with a cup of coffee, and we were leaving memories by 6:15 eastern time.

My back hasn't bothered me in years, but it chose this weekend to make an appearance.

We didn't dally during the return trip. Stopping to refuel and hit the bathrooms we made good time. Just south of Knoxville on I 75 I saw something you don't see every day. A woman in a Toyota was driving up the wrong side of the Interstate.

Fortunately I was in the center lane so we missed her, but I had a chance to flash the lights several times. She was either drunk, pilled up or somehow thought that a few hundred cars coming toward her were insane and driving down the wrong side of the road.

I grabbed the phone and dialed 911 to report the incident. What I found interesting was the person taking the call seemed to casually ask me what kind and color car it was, if it was a man or woman driving, and exactly where we were located. What was driving me crazy was that instead of dispatching the call she continued to ask me questions.

I finally gave her my name and phone number and about four minutes later she said thank you and hung up.

I'm thinking she's faced a thousand cars while we chatted.

Maybe it protocol. Maybe she thought it was a prank call, but I found it disquieting because we had friends that played the festival that were behind us.

We heard from our friends a short time later and they were stuck in traffic. I'm not sure if the woman caused a wreck, or police shut down the Interstate until they got the woman off the road.

The one thing this incident brought to light is just how fragile life is and how quickly it could change.

Have a great week.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Autumn festival

We played a festival today. I'm not sure you could have scripted a better day. Driving in under a blue sky with huge lazy clouds made it look almost as if we were out west. The shadows lay on the hillsides like carpets.

It was a small festival by some standards, but still a great deal of fun. Festivals are our favorite places to play.

After our set, we threw a blanked on the ground and watched other performers on the Meadow Stage.
As the sun fell behind the clouds, ducks from a nearby pond came through, silhouettes agains the evening sky.

It was a fun day, but I'm so tired tonight I can barely hit the keys.

I hope y'all have a great Sunday.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Photo op

We made a side trip last week while in Memphis. It was a place call Hollywood and it was full of memorabilia.

They had the Pillsbury Doughboy from Ghostbusters, the little  sports car in the Elvis drove in the movie Spinout, a replica of the Batmobile, and the Flintstone car used in making the movie (not the cartoon).

I shot several photos but it was low-light and none of them looked too good, except the Doughboy. So I took the opportunity for a photo op.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cornbread can hurt your knees

My knees started bothering me a few months ago. I probably could have gotten pain meds, but there were other options that were more appealing.

A summer of eating everything and cornbread started to show on my waistline. I didn't have to step on the scales. Thumbing through summer pictures was painful because in those of me, I looked as if I were expecting. Ouch.

I'd read that every pound you gain in gut, takes a toll on your knees, bringing new meaning to the old phrase No pain, no gain. However I would punctuate it like this: No Pain? No Gain!!! (I know it's a stretch.)

So, I pushed away from the table after one serving, stopped eating most bread and chips (almost as painful as bone on bone) and upped my exercise routine.

That was six weeks ago and when I stepped on the scales this morning, I'd lost 10 pounds. I was shooting for 25, but that didn't happen. I think it's OK to dream.

Losing those pounds has been remarkable for my knees. They still hurt some, but nothing like before.

I've started getting injections that mimics the cushioning fluid lost due to age, and cornbread.

Jilda's off for the next few days so we plan to have some fun. I hope you all have a fun weekend too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Focus on flow

The last several months, I've been thinking about flow.... mostly the flow of words. Getting the flow right is not as easy as it sounds.

I've been more guilty than most of writing sentences and paragraphs that were clunky. Whenever I tried to get clever and twist words to add interest, it often backfired.

When readers have to chug along, it's distracting. On the other hand, when the flow is right, sentences read as if they've been sprayed with WD40.

Jilda is my first reader and points out places where she gets bogged down. She often strikes eight or 10 words from every column I write.

One trick I've used which helped tremendously is the feature on my Mac that allows me to highlight text and have the computer read it back to me.

My computer uses the voice of an Australian female that reads my work. If a word is repeated too many times in paragraph, it sticks out like a red leisure suit.

In that way, improving a piece of writing is much like the art of whittling.

I've received a number of emails and Facebook messages over the past month from readers who point out that my columns seem to flow better now.

I think the focus on flow is paying dividends.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Autumn is here

We got a new couch recently and while at the furniture store, I spied some teakwood lounge chairs on the walk.

Almost dozing in my cozy new
lounge chair :)
Most of the deck chairs we've owned in the past were the cheap webbed ones that left plaid marks on your back when using them. They usually began to deteriorate in the parking lot of the store after purchase, and after a season or two, we'd sell the aluminum frames at a recycling place.

But the chairs we saw this time were not the cheap ones. They once made ships from teakwood so I knew these were sturdy.

At the store we haggled a bit on the price, but I walked out happy with two new loungers for the backyard.

I took one of them outside with a book and a frosty glass of sweet tea. After a few moments, I heard something squawking aloft. Shielding my eyes against the sun, I saw a V of geese heading south.

Today September 23,  which is the Autumnal Equinox so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by the geese, but still, it's another sign that autumn is here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thinking place ~ my column from Sunday's paper

I've spent a great deal of time near water these last few days. There’s something about waning light at summer’s end, or maybe it’s something deeper that I don't yet understand, but I'm drawn there. Driving by without pulling in for a few moments is not an option for me.

Like today, Jilda had worked hard on projects that had lingered on her to-do list for months. She'd planned to cook, but I offered to handle dinner.

She eyed me suspiciously. Her concern was valid because I only cook two things, chili and cornbread. We rarely eat chili when the weather outside is hotter than Lucifer’s boots. Actually, I do make a mean waffle on the spiffy waffle iron she bought me for Christmas, but we normally eat those as the sun’s coming up, not going down.

She agreed to let me rustle something up, so I headed out the door with keys jangling in my hand in search of chicken.

The trip took less time than I’d allotted, so on the way home I swung by the river. The water at sunset is amazing. It looks somewhere between the alpha and omega — a gap in time where things move at a slower pace.

Watching the mist lay on the water as the sun casts long shadows is how I imagine time, before it began, or maybe after it ends.

This evening when I pulled in, there was a pickup parked in the lot. Normally when you see a vehicle, you see people at waters’ edge fishing, wishing or skipping flat rocks across the emerald water. A good rock thrown side armed will skim across the surface like a water bug. But today, I saw no one.

When I flipped off the switch and stepped out, I saw a man sitting in the cab of his pickup with the windows rolled down.

Greeting him casually, I said “I love the river this time of day.” He nodded slowly and said, “I come here to think.”

I nodded knowingly and stepped down to the grassy bank. It’s easy to understand why he comes here to think. For people living in the area, it’s one of the few places within driving distance where time moves at the pace of the lazy river.

This place changes daily from season to season. Soon autumn will be here and the colors will change. It’s a living slideshow with a soundtrack of waterfowl, feeding bass and otters frolicking on the surface of the cool water.

As I stood there this evening, it struck me that this place is like the portrait taken of people during different seasons of their lives. In the spring, it thrives with life and energy. In summer, you see lush foliage and could see things grow if you stood there long enough. In autumn, it ties up loose ends, and winter it rests.

I thought to myself, everyone needs a place like this. It’s a beautiful thing to see, to experience and to acknowledge.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Photo op

The garden is dry as tinder now. The rain we had last week was welcome, but it didn't go far with the thirsty earth. Even the pepper is wilting. 

This time of year when there's no rain, I'm not sure I could water it enough for it to survive, much less thrive.  

This evening I stepped down to the back fence to surveyed the sad site. As the sun descended, the rays highlighted the tips of these weeds growing at the edge of the garden. Obviously I had to snap a photo.

Mother Nature is a funny gal. Even with the garden dry enough to roll up and smoke, she consoles me with a photo op of weeds.

I hope you all have a remarkable week.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Wimping out

I haven't done a great deal today, but I'm still whupped, so I'll leave you with a golden rod.
Happy Saturday.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Purple flower

I picked up my great nephew from school this afternoon and while he has pulled into the parking lot at the Sipsey Fork of the Warrior River, he'd never had a chance to get out and walking around the banks and explore.

Today he got a chance to see it up close. Just as we walked up to water's edge, a shad jumped out of the water chasing a bug.

I'd hoped the otters would make an appearance, but it was probably too early for them. We did see this amazing purple flower. I'm not sure about the name, but it was a striking contrast to the sky, and mist on the water.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Road Trip

We went to Memphis. We spent the night last night in Tunica, Mississippi and we spent the day in Memphis.

Memphis is one of those iconic places rich in history on so many levels. Arguments can be made that the birth of the genre of Rock & Roll was in Memphis in 1951. Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats recorded a song written by Ike Turner at Sam Phillips' Studio which later became Sun Studio.

Memphis is also considered the home of the blues, but most of the musicians were from Mississippi and Alabama.

The city was also a volatile place. The Reverend Martin Luther King died on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in April of 1968. The world changed on that evening.

And then there is Elvis. Although he was born in a small house in Tupelo, Mississippi, he considered Memphis his home.

Graceland is the destination of people from around the world. Even though "The King" died in August of 1977, his music and memory survived.

We drove by Graceland today and the place was abuzz.

Also, it's hard to talk about Memphis, Tennessee and not mention BBQ. I know there are places all across America that advertise BBQ, but you can't really make an informed decision about BBQ until you've sampled BBQ in Memphis.

Being explorers, Jilda and I along with her sister and niece, stopped at Corky's BBQ today. We rarely eat pork or BBQ, but we were on a road trip today and it seemed fitting.

It was incredible and they don't gouge tourists. Eating there today was delightful.

I'm glad to be home, but I think it's important to do a road trip now and again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Walking hazards

I'm not sure what it is about this time of year that impels spiders to  build thready traps across our walking path, but it does.

You walk the same path daily without issue, then one day without warning, you're gingerly walking with your mind in Massachusetts, and the next thing you know your face is full of webs with spiders as big as chihuahuas and you're speaking in tongues.

That happened today.  So from now until winter, I'll be walking with my spider stick that I use to clear the path as I walk.

It's one of the hazards of walking.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Seeing forever

There's a field not far from where we live that's situated on a ridge. At times when driving by it looks as if you can see forever.

I had errands today and I was running a little late. It would have been easy to blow by the field without looking, but I didn't.

Slowing down, and making sure no one was behind me, I pulled to the edge of the road. Pulling the iPhone from my pocket, I snapped a few photographs and then stood there admiring the view. It looked almost as if the clouds were resting in the distant trees.

There were two options: I could stand and get the lake in the distance, or stoop and get the barbwire fence. I opted for the fence.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Letter in the mail ~ my column from Sunday's paper

I got a letter in the mail from the Mountain Eagle today. Normally, they send my check each month in a regular envelope, but this one was larger. It looked a little suspicious to me.

My eyebrows furrowed. Scrunching up my bottom lip involuntarily, I flipped the envelope front to back. Cautiously I shook it a little, and then held it up to the light to see if I could see anything pink in there.

I’m paranoid that the bossman will one day realize I’m a hack who has problems spelling his
own name correctly. I can almost hear him rail, “We’ve wasted enough ink on this hillbilly.” Sometimes my imagination spanks me like a naughty child.

To my relief a check was there when I tore open the envelop, and luckily there was no pink slip. I shook it twice to make sure. The envelope did contain a letter to the editor, from a nursing home in Florence.

I frequently get emails from readers or Facebook messages, but it’s not often that people take the time to write a note by hand and send it through the mail.

I was flattered by the kind words, but it was the signature that put a lump in my throat. It was from Mrs. Dorothy Ellison, my senior homeroom teacher in 1968. I haven’t seen her in years.

She lives in a senior living home in north Alabama and has the newspaper mailed to her there. It seems she reads my column each week, and that I often make her smile. Reading her words made me smile too.

Closing my eyes, I could picture her standing posture perfect in front of the class writing instructions on the blackboard, the chalk softly squawking. She had a lilting voice, and I never heard her raise it.

Mrs. Ellison was the kind and caring teacher that everyone who’s ever attended high school wished for. Those lucky enough to have one like her, will never forget them.

She was a brilliant teacher who had a knack for making the material understandable. One former student said she made science fun. She intuitively knew that fun was an essential ingredient in the learning equation.

Another student said, “She was a teacher that made a difference in my life.” That says a great deal in my book.

I can honestly say I’ve had some great teachers in my life.

In looking back, my path to becoming a writer has been a long a squirrelly one. Like everyone else trying to find their way, I’ve been discouraged at times. But it seems whenever I’m feeling down, a teacher will appear and steer me in the right direction.

I’ve invested a lot of time these last few months studying the craft of writing. The authors, some long dead, are teaching me a great deal.

Most say never use big words when small ones will do the job. That’s fortunate for me, because I don’t know a lot of big words. But they also say using short sentences, and short paragraphs is better than long ones. My style is evolving.

I would not be where I am today without teachers.

So thank you, Mrs. Ellison, and all the other teachers who have helped me along the way.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rainbow egg

The sky was remarkable today. I knew before sunrise that it would be. A few feathery clouds to the south were drifting casually as if they had no where in particular to go on this Sunday morning.

A jet smaller than a mosquito raced off toward the west leaving a thread of vapor across the sky.

Flipping out my mat and punching the play button on my player, I started breathing slowly. Intentionally.  

As I flexed and stretched, the morning came alive around me. 

After finishing, I punched the brew button on the coffeemaker, and sat on the couch reading. I heard Jilda stir. The aroma of the coffee had brought her to life.

This afternoon I had a meeting with our songwriter group to discuss out gig next Sunday. 

Heading for home I saw an oval in the sky. The sun played on the moisture in a cloud making an egg-shaped rainbow.

Pulling to the side of the road, I snapped a photo out the window of my truck. The picture doesn't do the scene justice, but it will remind me that I saw something remarkable.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


I mentioned last week to our friend Asa Faith that I had been reading books about writing. "I think I have one you might enjoy," she said.

Later she sent a text saying she had some books for me. Jilda felt well enough today so we went down to fetch them.

One of the books in the pile was F. Scott Fitzgerald on writing. Flipping through the first few pages put a smile on my face. It looks like another good one.

Jilda also shared an interview by Oprah with  Paulo Coelho who wrote The Alchemist. I've read that little parable more times that I can count. Jilda has read it more than me. It always gives me hope.

Pulling the dog eared book from our shelves, I put it on the pile to read again.

Jilda has read all her life, but I wasn't a reader at first. I high school, I only read required reading. I wasn't much better the first few years of college, but somewhere along the way something changed.

These days my desk has a stack of "currently reading" books, and I've listened to 480 books on Audible. I couldn't tell you how many others I borrowed from the library.

Reading a good book has a way of lifting my spirits when I'm feeling down.

So, are you reading any good books? Care to venture a guess of how many books you've read in your life?

A host of hot habaneros

Friday, September 12, 2014


When I was a kid I heard that if the sun shines when it's raining that the devil is beating his wife. 

Yesterday I heard the rain coming before I saw it. Looking outside, the sun was as bright as a flash on our garden not 30 yards away, but buckets of rain was pouring off the tin roof.

I thought about the old saying and smiled.

Had I found a clearing that let me look off to the east, I would have seen a rainbow, but lightning crashed too close and going outside would have been unwise.
After a few minutes, the clouds raced off to the east leaving the sun to do its work.

I hope you all have a remarkable weekend.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A silence you can hear

I know within a few feet of where I was standing at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001. I'd just poured a cup of coffee and was getting ready to go into a training class.

I remember a classmate saying, "A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center." I stood there trying to wrap my mind around that fact. 

Was it a small plane?
Had the pilot had a heart attack?
When we found a television and the pictures began pouring in, I was shocked.
We continued with the class but our minds were elsewhere as each story more tragic and horrible than the last.

All I could think was, "The world will never be the same." And it hasn't been.

The thing I remember most about the following days was the silence. I live in rural Alabama, but even here, there is rarely a time when you look up that you don't see a plane overhead. They are so common, that we've suppressed the sounds and pay no more attention to them than cicadas or treefrogs.  

But when that sound disappears, you can hear the silence.

Today was a beautiful day. We had rain in the afternoon, but on the way to a meeting this morning, I snapped a picture out the window of my truck.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Things we give

There are things we give that will outlive us. This train of thought pulled into my mental terminal this afternoon while sitting on the back deck watching our great nephew Jordan play in our back yard.

His mom had to work late and his nana had a doctor's appointment, so I picked him up at school.  

I asked him if he'd eaten. "I had a little fudge bar, but I'm pretty sure that's not really food," he reported. I snickered at this observation from a six-year-old kid from rural Alabama. So we headed out in search of some chicken.

Back at our house, he headed outside after he'd eaten. He loves for me to give him challenge runs and time his efforts. 

OK, you have to run down and touch the gate, circle the hemlock tree three times, rattle the chicken pen fence, touch the rotting stump and then back to the steps before I count to ten.

Then he's off like a shot. I adjust the speed of my counting so that he is always barely successful.  He will do this until his legs are rubbery. 

When the self competition was over, we sat on wrought-iron chairs, and drank cool water. The shadows were getting longer with dappled sunlight falling on plants at the end of the deck.

A hummingbird buzzed in to drink nectar from the bleeding heart that is still blooming. Without saying a word, we both stood statue still, watching the tiny bird feed.

When it zipped off, Jordan stepped over and leaned in to smell the tiny white flowers with red tongues. 

I told him Jilda's grandmother Mammie gave her that plant long before his mommy was born. He had to turn that over in his mind a while and I could tell it was hard for him to reconcile how old the plant was.

I know that Mammie is somewhere smiling down on the gift that keeps giving long after she was gone. 


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

At the end of the day

I wrote on the screen porch this evening. Clouds had moved in from the south blocking out the baking sun, so the porch with its ever-whirling ceiling fan kept things real.

The 30-minute Tibetan bell donged letting me know it was time to stand and stretch my legs.

A cup of ginger tea seemed like the right thing to do so I stepped into the kitchen and punched the hot-water button on the coffeemaker and drew a cup hot enough to scald the hair off a pig.

While standing there, a doe peered back at me from under the apple tree. She seemed to be saying - "Hello! It's suppertime." 

Putting on my flip flops, I walked down and fetched a few cups of corn and headed down to the feeding spot.

She huff her displeasured and ran to the end of the field and stopped to watch me.  I dumped out the corn, and headed back to the gate.

On the way back, the sun was having fun with our Zinnias which are surrounded by weeds now.

I snapped this picture with the Hipstamatic app on my phone and walked back inside so the deer could eat supper in peace.

 So, that's pretty much how my day ended. Hope you all had a good one.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Rain ~ My column from Sunday's paper

We've had long stretches without rain here. The days are hotter than a dragon’s tongue, and the nights aren't much cooler. These past few weeks, clouds to the west and east had drenched swaths of Alabama, but it was almost as if Empire was under an umbrella.

This past weekend when I checked the radar, it looked as if the day would be no different, but Jilda woke up with aching shoulders and wrists. As I wiped sleep from my eyes with the back of my fists, she rolled over and said, “It’s gonna rain today.” But as added insurance, I washed my truck.

We didn't have a lot planned for the day, but Jilda noticed that my shoes were beginning to look a little gnarly. The instant she held the right slipper up and peered at me through the hole, I knew we'd be shopping before the day was out. I'd actually rather have an ingrown toenail than shop for shoes, but I knew resistance would be futile.

Jilda is a professional shopper and had I objected, she would have reeled off reasons why the health of my feet, my gait, and indeed my happiness hinged on whether or not I made the right decision.

So, we loaded up and headed to town to shop for footwear.

Jilda’s sister Pat went with us. While the clerk fitted me for shoes, Jilda and Pat looked at women’s dresses, makeup, shoes, handbags, and window treatments. Thank God, it took long enough to get the right pair of shoes, that I didn't have to shop for curtains and pillow shams.

After buying a new pair of spiffy new shoes, my mood brightened, and I treated the girls to lunch at the new Cracker Barrel that opened out on the freeway.

We took a seat by the window and as we waited for food, we could see rain in the distance. It looked like fog, but you rarely see fog at noon in late August. The temps were in the 90s but off to the east, you could see cloud to cloud lightning.

It rained for a moment at the restaurant, but only long enough to turn the parking lot into a sauna. I wondered if the rain had passed us again.

When we got home, it was overcast and I could hear thunder off to the west. Soon I heard the rain coming. It started out like static on an AM radio with the dial slightly off station. When it came closer, we opened the door to the screen porch. The wind drove wisps of mist through the screen and onto my face. It was cool and refreshing.

A gentle rain after a drought makes the world seem like a kinder place.

At first, the rain puddled on the hard clay of the yard, but soon the drops began to soak into the roots of the water oak, and you could almost hear it sigh.

We had more showers that night. The temperature dropped enough to make it comfortable sleeping with the windows up.

We fell asleep to the sound of rain on a tin roof, with thunder in the distance. There is no better sleep aid.
Weeds at the edge of my garden

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Enjoying the ride

I don't read as much as I should, but today was a perfect day for it. We didn't have much planned, so I pulled books by Thoreau, and Tom Wolfe from the shelf. A quick Internet search yielded several New Yorker essays written by E. B. White earlier in the last century.

Glancing at the E. B. White essays, I was drawn to flow of his words. He painted a word picture one sentence at a time. Each line packed with nouns and action verbs. White had a sense of humor that appealed to me. I'll buy a few of his books to study his style more closely.

I'm also reading a book by William Zinsser entitled "On Writing Well." It's a beautifully written book that details practical tips on how to make you work stronger, no matter what it is you write.

When I look at the work of White, Wolfe, and Thoreau, I realize the road is long, but I'm enjoying the ride.

Saturday, September 06, 2014


Jilda had worked hard today on projects she'd had on her list for months. She'd planned to cook, but I offered to handle dinner. 

She eyed me a little suspiciously. I cook two things. Chili, and cornbread. Actually I do a mean waffle, but we normally eat those as the sun's coming up.

It was easy to see she was tired, so I jumped in the truck and headed to the nearest town to fetch some chicken.

We normally eat dinner around six and it was a little early, so on the way home I swung by the river. The forks at sunset is a cross between the alpha and omega. Watching the mist lay on the water as the sun casts long shadows is how I picture time, before it began, or maybe after it ends. 

This evening when I pulled into the lot, there was a parked pickup. Normally when you see a vehicle, there are people at waters' edge fishing, wishing, or skimming flat rocks across the green surface of the water. But today, I saw no one.

When I flipped the key off and stepped out, I saw a man sitting in his pickup with the windows rolled down.

I greeted him casually and said, "I love the river this time of day." He nodded slowly in understanding and said, "I come here to think."

I nodded and stepped down to the water.  I know why he comes here to think.  It's the one place I know within driving distance, where time slows to the pace of a lazy river.

This places changes from day to day, season to season. Soon autumn will be here and the color, and the angle of light will be different.  

It's like the portrait taken of people at different seasons in their lives.  In the spring it thrives with life and energy. In summer you can see things grow if you stand there long enough. In autumn, it ties up loose ends, and winter it rests.

It's a beautiful thing to see, to experience, and to acknowledge.


Friday, September 05, 2014

High School Football

High School football started a few weeks ago but the first week it was away. Last week, I'd had an upper GI on Friday and I was still goofy at gametime from the anesthesia earlier that morning.

But tonight the team was at home and I went to shoot pictures for the high school alumni website that I do.

Carver is a high school from Birmingham and they usually have a good team. This year about halfway through the first quarter, they led the home team 20 to nothing. It looked as if it would be a long night for the Bulldogs, but then things changed. We scored 35 unanswered points.

I was wilting from the heat, so I left at halftime, so I hope the winning trend continued.

The team plays at the new school. It's funny that I call it the new school because the first class to graduate from the "new school" was the Class of 1970.

I went to the old school. Recently when driving by, I stopped to snap a photo of the gate to the old football field. Memory made that gate a lot bigger.

Parking next to the field, I walked inside and sat for a moment on the old stone bleachers laid into the embankment on the homeside of the field.

Each year, for as long as I can remember, I've watched our team. Some years we were awesome, and some years we sucked. But that's the way high school football goes.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Day on the water

I had a lot to do today, but I blew it off. You can do that when you're a freelancer. Fishing sounded better to me.

I've been stressing about things lately and Jilda looked at me and had that eye to eye, "We've got to talk" look. "You know I love you, but you're driving me crazy. GO FISHING."  So I went fishing today.

I knew within a few minutes on the water when the cool morning mist hit my face. I dipped the thermometer in the water for a few minutes, and when I held it up to the light to read the impossibly tiny numbers, it was 52 degrees.

Standing waist-deep my knees rejoiced as the cold soaked in bone deep. Soon I fell into a gentle rhythm casting a fly that weighed not much more than a whisper into the morning air.

I didn't catch anything. In fact, I didn't see a fish. I can thank intense media coverage over the past few weeks. The stretch of water below the dam is stocked with rainbow trout each month, and for some reason the papers decided that THIS was the month it should be covered. With the long holiday weekend, the regulars there said they needed a traffic cop. Oh well.

As I've said before, any day on the water beats a day practically anywhere else. One upside is that I
ran into my old buddy Howard. He was there with is daughter Heather who was visiting from Australia. I snapped a photo of them sitting on the bank talking and tending their gear.

They also shot a photo of me.

Another positive that came from the day was a killer idea for a column that I'll write this week entitled, Four Stages Of Trout Fishing. It should be a scream. Look for it in a few weeks.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Letter from the teacher

I got a letter in the mail from the newspaper today. Normally, when they send my check each month, it's in a regular envelope, but this one was larger.

My eyebrows furrowed and I scrunched up my bottom lip involuntarily and I flipped the envelope to look at the back. I'm not sure why, but I also shook it a little.

Mrs. Ellison 1968
Anyhow when I tore open the letter, it did in fact have my check, but the publisher had also included two letters to the editor sent to his attention.

I frequently get emails from readers, but it's not often that people take the time to write a handwritten
note, and send it through the postal service.

I was flattered by the kind words of both letters, but it was the signature of the second letter that brought a smile to my face. It was from my senior homeroom teacher Mrs. Dorothy Ellison.

She now lives in a senior assisted living home in north Alabama. She has the paper mailed to her. She told me in the letter that she reads my column each week and that I often make her smile.

Reading those words meant a great deal to me because she was a positive influence on me, and hundreds of other students that went to our little high school in rural Alabama.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

River picture

I had meetings and errands today, but on the way home I stopped by the river. It seems each time the Good Lord paints another stunning picture. 

Earlier, when I drove by the blinking bank sign, it flashed 99 degrees at 2:45 p.m. Normally when it's as hot as a fresh-baked biscuit, the red clay here begins to looks like coral lava. Also, the sky usually has a haze that dampens the color, and hides the clouds. Maybe they're not hidden, but it's just too hot to bother looking up. 

But today was different. The sky was as clear as a cat-eye marble and the clouds were a stunning contrast to a color of blue, I couldn't name.

When I stopped by the river there wasn't a soul there, which is rare. Usually someone is there if only to enjoy the vibe of the place.

Off in the distance I heard a cooing dove. Do they sound louder in late summer?  I'm not sure, but I don't always hear them. Maybe it was because of the stillness.

When I got home, Jilda had already left for work, so I moved to the screen porch to write. It was still warm, but the overhead fan kept the air stirring which made it tolerable. 

I'm still working on the piece for the New York Times. Maybe I'm obsessing over it, but I want it to be as good as I can make it before submitting.

An unexpected rain moved through from the south. The cool breeze was a welcome respite.

I hope you don't tire of my river pictures.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Things that resonate ~ My column from Sunday's paper

I envy people like the late Steve Jobs, who was one of the creators of Apple. It was not his wealth, or health that is enviable, but his ability to understand with certainty what would resonate with people. Having this gift would be handy. It’s what made him wealthy.

Jobs realized from the beginning that not everyone is a computer nerd, some folks just want their computers to help them be more creative and productive. They don’t really care about bits and bytes, RAM, silicone, or transistors. They just want to sit down at their computers and work. That idea resonated with a lot of people.

Later when Apple developed the first smartphone, no one even knew they wanted, or needed one. But Jobs knew a device that could play music, take pictures, send texts, check addresses, record messages, and do a thousand other functions would resonate with the public. As it turns out, he was right. 

Steve wasn’t a writer, but I have a feeling if he had been he would have intui-tively known what people wanted to read. 

These thoughts wandered through my mind this past week, because I’ve been in a rut. Everything I’ve written seems as thin as a bony finger. 

While beating myself up, I Googled - where writers go when they're fresh out of ideas. It was good to learn that most writers struggle at times with creative droughts, but it seemed my drought made the Sahara Desert look like a rain-forest. But simply knowing that the condition was only temporary made me feel a little better. It didn’t put any words on the page, but it kept me from jabbing a pencil into my eye.

Last Sunday’s column, generated a ton of feedback on my blog, on Facebook, emails from people across the southeast, and a grunt from my sister. It reso-nated and I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it has something to do with shared experience. When I write about doing something goofy, some readers will smile and say, “I can name that tune in one note,” because they’ve been there. I actually hear that a lot from readers. “You’re writing about me.” Who knew?

The dictionary defines resonate like this -- to have particular meaning or im-portance for someone: to affect or appeal to someone in a personal or emo-tional way.

That makes sense, but it’s much easier said than done. It would be invaluable to know in advance what things will resonate, and what will sit there on the page like a fly on a biscuit.

I talked to one writer at a conference last year. He worked for a large publica-tion and he said that sometimes he struggled with fresh ideas, but when that happened, he just wrote something down.

That was an option for him, but I feel that I’ve built a relationship with the people who take the time to read my column. Simply writing something down just to be done would be like cheating a friend.

Every column might not be an iPhone, but it won’t be because I didn’t try to write something that resonates.

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