At some point I fell in love with the fog that rises up on this hill. Then I fell in love with it again and yet again. The fog rises from the water along the bay where I am from so that many mornings you couldn't see a car a foot from you. Everything shrouded, moving as if we were each of us a ship sailing though open waters.
This house up on this hill, the same. It's the odd thing that has hooked and attached me to Tennessee. The Gulf Coast salt water girl in me realizing, ahhh, the fog, the wind. Like sisters of familiarity that wrap me close and help me to remember who I am. Not so far from things I've known.
Along the Gulf the wind is a constant on most days. Some light, some heavier but a constant that is not realized until it stops in the dead of summer. In dog days with heat lightning and a stillness that will weight down the steps of the youngest, strongest man. Otherwise it's constant. It has taken me awhile to understand my happiest days are when the wind hits the house on this hill with such force we take sail. It whistles and moans and the house breathes and we move along at the breakneck speed of nothing. But something in it sounds like the familiarity of home and it settles my soul in its whining.
This year in a desperate attempt to save Mom's Florida plants - great palms and rose bushes and gardenias and all manner of things I have no name for that were not planted in the ground (she the green thumb, mine the black) I had a friend nail up thick visquine around the porch. So thick it blocks the view. My favorite thing - gone. So now when we look out the living room windows we see a haze of plastic instead of trees etched against the sky, rolling off into the air, the ridge beyond. My mother finds it comforting I think. A flatlander at heart. It's a simply lovely grey and is more grounding. She has the most beautiful views from her bedroom windows. She keeps the curtains closed. This is a life-long battle of mine that I should soon forget, give up, it's over. Let's keep it cozy, she would say while I scream for light. Air. Freedom.
I would do good to live at sea.
The plastic. It had to be reinforced around the little porch top to bottom and to the side. It's where I'd made rescue Kevin's bed, blankets upon blankets by the chairs. A heating pad for freezing nights. His food bowls. Out of the cold and wind. He eyes the plastic suspiciously. I sat with him on the porch floor, my back against the wall as the great wind rolled up the hill and slammed into that visquine and filled it like a mighty sail, released it and then slammed and filled it up again. He rolled his eyes at me. It's ok boy, I said. We're just like a ship at sea. His doubt etched deep into his eyes. When I'm not there he sneaks down the stairs to the leaves on the side of the house, hunkered down into the certainty of the ground of Tennessee. No boats life for he.
The last two nights the coyotes have came calling. Down the hill in the direction of the old farm. It started up low and then quickly grew and then it seemed a hundred of them howling and calling. I rose from my Nyquil slumber having been hit with this dystopian wildfire flu that assails the country and hung my head out the window. I'm not much a party to screens for this reason. I fight those blasted bugs just because I long to lean, to see the moon, the branches etched against the ground in that strange light of night that remains a wonder - after all these years. Me still child like hanging out beneath the stars. And there they sang and then Kevin joined in but his song is a deeper one - a low lament because it sings, I am alone and I am alone, because that's the only song he knew before I brought him home.
He has other words, bear growls and grumbles that he uses when I pet him, stroke his fur. But these are different, these are at once, thank you and don't leave me and what took you so long to find me and you don't know the trouble I've seen and I've been so alone.
Because unlike Big Dog Titan who would wake and bark from inside the house when the coyotes started it up, he never had a human to wrap an arm around his big shoulder, pat his head and say, There, there boy, it'll be alright. It's just coyotes singing and soon the morning light. Now, let's go back to bed.
Tomorrow the meadow goes to auction, all one hundred seventeen acres of it. And I think the coyotes know. I think they sing a song of mourning, of moving on. Of change to come. Surely they feel it in their bones. They'll be searching for higher ground. Somewhere safe to live in shadow.
Like most of us. That song. That lament. Searching for home. For someone to say - there, there, it will be alright. Soon, so, very soon - morning light.
The sun is still lazing it's way through these Tennessee hills. Hasn't broken ground yet. The birds don't care. They are singing as if Spring has sprung. An old rooster crows from down in the little valley and it bounces right up to us. I thought I heard a donkey but that could be wishful thinking. They are good for something and good company. Donkeys stuffed and otherwise have been my friends.
Rescue Kevin says he doesn't need to come inside to shake off the midnight cold today. He is fine thank you in the drive waiting for the sunrise and I should join him. He takes a bone and digs a hole, hides, hides, hides, it with his nose shoveling dirt and leaves and rocks to nestle it. No other dogs can walk around the yard because he growls when they draw close to bones buried for a year. It's like an easter egg hunt but not.
Last night I dreamed of things that could have been. After all this time. But I was tired the night before, had cried a little at carrying on but carrying on we must. Realizing we get tired of our burdens but then we are only human and that a little rest, a little tea and all will be well. Or better. Or different. Or all of these things. I woke and looked out at the dark and went back to covers. Now the sun is promising to rise on a new day.
A sign went up down the road on a large piece of land. It will be sold at auction soon. The sign said in just one tract. It is the most beautiful little meadow that meanders along Little Marrowbone creek, a ridge rises up behind it and in the middle against the hill, a tiny, white house sits silent like a chapel. Although I can't see it from the hill this is my view, the air that rises up above it. Down in the valley is that meadow and that house. For years hay was baled and rolled and before that cattle roamed freely. Beautiful, majestic.
Once Big Dog Titan loped off and went missing. For a day and then a night and I was beside myself with worry bordering heartbreak panic. Then a phone call reached me at work where I'd been writing a million dollar grant for Nashville State and the phone rings. A woman asks -
Are you missing a dog?
I say, Yes, I am, I am.
And she says -
I think I have him. Is he real big, and white?
And I tell her, Yes, he is. And she says -
I'm sorry but he is so big I was afraid to reach under that big mouth to read his tag. We locked him up in the goat pen but this morning we saw he was friendly.
Friendly was an understatement.
She said we live in a little, white house. There's cows out front but just come through the gate and then on down the path they won't hurt you.
I told her I knew her place and passed it everyday and I'd be right there.
My Big Dog! Oh, happy, happy, joy, joy!
I stopped to open the gate and drove in and closed it behind me so the cows didn't get out. Then I drove across that field up to the little, tiny house nestled up against the ridge. A grandmother's house. A great-grandmothers house. From times gone by when people didn't need so much of everything.
The door was opened but the screen shut and there stood Big Dog, in the tiny house now. The woman met me at the door.
Well, I can see he's yours. (This after a Titan hug as only he could do) Then, come sit down. I am 74 and this is my mother she is 93 and it was just the two of us here so we didn't know what to do. That's when I locked him in the pen.
'But he ain't nothin' but a baby,' her Mama said. "And he likes chicken.'
When I figured out this morning he was friendly I brought him in.
'He likes collards, too,' her Mama said, "And Biscuits."
Big Dog took up half the little kitchen, was bigger than the Mama.
She smiled at him and said again, "He ain't nothin' but a baby."
After some time the cows were gone. The field was empty but every year it would be baled for hay. A truck would be parked and I wondered. About the woman, about the mother. Big Dog passed away last year and I think of him every time I drive pass that spot. (You can click to read his eulogy.) I need to stop and take a picture. Because things will change now. Someone will buy that tract and like everything else around here begin to dig up the ground, plow it under, pour concrete. It will be houses upon houses or multiple apartments. People will move into them. The noises down my hill that rise up from the valley will be different. And in due time that will be okay.
They will be good people with children who will play in their yards and whose voices I might hear until dark. Then they will go in at night and turn out their lights, maybe say a prayer or be thankful at least they have a roof, a place to lay their heads. They will grow up and grow old but they will never know they live on holy ground where once upon a time there had been cows and a little white house and an old, woman who'd fed a BIG White Dog biscuits from her table while they waited for his human to come carry him home.
It's wicked cold in north Tennessee. Fellow writer and Facebook friend Mandy Haynes has been enjoying it to the fullest. She posts the funniest little videos on Facebook walking with her dogs in the snow. So someone is enjoying this. I am not enjoying it. If it were snow at a normal temperature - Maybe. With fat flakes falling. And the lamp lights glowing. For a minute. The kind of large, flake, dry snow that found me curled up with a coffee and writing away at the outdoor covered cafe of Bent Street Deli in Taos, New Mexico. But this is Tennessee cold and it's the kind of freezing temperatures that make your arms fall off.
I posted a photo of Rescue Kevin on Facebook yesterday lying in the snow because he is Part PYR and has a double coat which amounts to TWO fur coats at all times. He does not prefer Summer. He does appreciate that he has a blanket with not one, but TWO HEATING PADS PLUGGED in for him to keep toasty when his toes begin to feel chilly. He likes being outside to guard the - no sheep here. Guess he likes guarding his heating pad. So unlike BIG Dog Titan who slept in whatever room I was in at the time, Kevin prefers to be outside. His greatest wish is that I would be happy sleeping on the porch with him. This is not going to happen. At least not in the Winter.
I am from the tribe of blue jeans on the beach, walking in the sand to the sound of the waves rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico, playing catch me if you can with the water as you walk along the shoreline. This results in the hem of jeans being wet unless you roll them to your knees. Back when we were in high school everyone wore bell-bottom. This was not an option. Bell-bottoms do not roll to the knees and stay there.
I have gotten a kick out of Mandy's post because she is downright giggly. I am downright grumpy. I grump from the woodpile to the fireplace. Yesterday when my sister drove to work it was 6 degrees. This is not fit for friend or foe, beast or man. Who lives this way? I just stare out the window and shiver. It is beautiful - I grant you that. But for me and my constitution meaning my blood and skin and so forth I need sunshine. I operate best at 75 and above. 75 and a breeze and I need a blue jean jacket. I am a Gulf Coast girl. An island girl. I am stuck on this hill in the snow. I haven't left home since I came back from Texas. The driveway (hahahaha) more appropriately, the road that leads to the house is steep. What passes for a driveway goes off the side of a hill. Kid you not. I might need to hire someone to place some really big rocks there or build a wall to catch the car. When it rains and snows and turns to ice it is a bit precarious. Then when you get past that there is THE REAL HILL that goes down, down, down around the curve and down.
Snowed in. This means I must write. Writing what you are thinking about is better than thinking about what you should be writing. This is the kind of thing that makes you crazy. I have been as surprised writing this top secret novel as I have any of them. I write a line and then something AMAZING happens - I write ANOTHER ONE. And another one. I made myself sign off facebook this morning, put myself into time out and wrote. I started to get up out of the chair after an hour. Or to peek at facebook. But then I saw that I had promised I was out writing till 12. This made me go back to writing. At 11 I tried to quit again. Nope. Made myself continue. I think the Facebook Timeout Writing program may be the best writing diet I could be on. I can't check on you or see your faces until I meet my word count. This is a great carrot for me. I may not appear to be the most facebook savvy or that I have commented on everyones everything but I am reading and keeping up.
On the Writing Front -
I am wrapping up the Mastermind Path writing group class this month and will miss it terribly. So I'm offering a continuation of the class beginning in February. Both via conference call which has proven an excellent choice for all. Please stay tuned if your interested.
I am an old Star Trek junkie. Some of my best good times were growing up and the fact that of all things my mother became a Star Trek watcher. We never missed an episode. The dawn of Star Trek The Next Generation brought a whole new world of watching. And, guess what? Guess who was watching it with me? My boys. Who grew up to be Star Trek guys. (And Yes, Star Wars too!) So EVERY Star Trek movie was a hit but in the midst of the busy life I did not watch the continuing saga of Star Trek or Deep Space Nine and so forth. HOWEVER- with the advent of Star Trek Discovery I was itching for a new Star Trek to beam me away. (Yes, I did sign up for that silly CBS streaming service just because of Star Trek) All I asked was for an hour of space talk beyond our Milky Way. In my book Discovery delivered. It took a few episodes to lay the ground work and introduce the characters and set up the storyline but then it did it. It's not your Mother's Trek. Or for that matter your Grandmothers. But they have in many ways boldly gone where no Trek has gone before. It's a whole new world. Snow day. That's how I spent one of them. Catching up on Star Trek.
Mama and Me
We are surviving. Up on this hill. In the snow. Carry in wood, prep the oil lamps, wait for the lights to go out because they always go out up here. We will have power outages for no reason at all. Much less snow storm or ice out. This time it went zap, zap, zap right in the middle of me streaming Star Trek on the big screen. So I went downstairs and lit candles and stoked the fire, helped Mom find pajamas and get into bed. Then I pitter-pattered back upstairs and opened my laptop and watched the rest of the episode curled under sixteen blankets. Deep space indeed. Downstairs in Mama world we watch Golden Girls on that TV and Grantchester (which is on break perhaps forever because the star has become all kinds of popular and may be the next James Bond) and Antique Roadshow. When someone says Oh, I bought this record for a quarter at a yardsale and then Elvis's birth certificate just fell out of it when I got it home and it is worth a quarter million dollars and I look at Mama and ask her, 'What are the chances that we would ever?" She tells me in negative numbers. We are not those lucky people and we will never buy anything that is worth a secret fortune. Then I found her with a table turned upside down on her bed trying to see if it had a 'mark' or a signature. It did not. We both got a good laugh. We still have not hit it rich from Antique Roadshow but we've had a few great conversations about junk we could drag in for assessment.
I have dreams of inviting the Property Brothers to my house for that whole magical remodel thing that they do. Then I have visions of them going hahahahaha. This is one where we see taking it down to the bones. And by bones we mean the ones in the ground.
We are here and out of the cold for the most part. The house does 'breathe' a lot but still we can get cozy. LAYERS as the crazy Winter people say. LAYERS and they skip around while they say it. I feel like that bloated tire man creature that cannot walk with all these layers. BUT - I have Greek style chicken and potatoes in the oven. There's a fire in the fireplace and surely, there's a new episode of Golden Girls recorded. That beautiful white view out the window is melting and the temps will rise to something that allows me to move around outside without crying. Spring is just around the corner. And so is the day I will reach THE END on the new novel.
Peace to you and all your world.
I drove off under blue skies, tired body, weary mind, full soul. There's a lot to be said about communion and communing with others. To being with your tribe. Too many to write about. Some of the photos grabbed off facebook will suffice.
Every year that attend PWQGGW I think - wheretofordoIgoethforsofarforwhateth
Then I get there I remember. Everything. Every time.
It is for the opportunity to laugh and break bread with writers I have now known for years upon years. Our relationships being built layer upon layer, hard times and good. When the book contracts roll like honey off the tongue and when there is a drought. Meeting new writers and discovering their books, exchanging numbers, connecting. And the readers. God bless and keep the readers. The ones that make writing the stories all worth the while. To be able to not only hang out and conversant with them but to party just a little bit. To get silly and serve them dinner dressed in costume. To dance in a wild, wonderful night full of bohemian delights.
I have many highlights in my heart and things I want to write about this journey. But they will have to filter, little by little, over time and find their way into this small space in my world that slides out into the univerise.
II headed north to Little Rock and then turned East, the sun setting in my rearview, the skies so gorgeous I struggled to keep looking forward. That's what Pulpwood Queens is like. The drive to, the journey down, like the brilliant bright of a noon day, hot to touch, unrelenting and demanding. But the drive away, me forever casting my eyes backward at that full horizon, that indigo sky opening up the clouds with rays that lifted me onward as if lit by those hundreds of hearts I'd left behind.
The flat fields along the road were growing dark but white patches held the light, maintained it. Being a southern girl only one word came to mind - Cotton. My tired mind struggled to comprehend cotton in January. Then I realized it was snow. Snow had fallen. Freeze had come. I was driving toward Tennessee, to Memphis and the cold had kept the white close to the earth.
One of my reasons for making it to Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend this Year was that I had contributed to a little anthology titled 2nd Blooming with a forward by Anne Lamont. As usual I had agreed to contribute easily enough but when the time came for the deadline I grumbled and mumbled and got downright flumoxed about it. The lovely editor, Susan Cushman gently reminded me over and over again that I HAD TO SEND HER WORDS. So I said fine! Words it will be! And I sat down and wrote an essay titled Root inspired by the strength of my grandmother and mother which realizes ultimately - this is the stuff I am made of. It is a strange piece in that it is free and original - a break away from other work I've created.
Susan was gentle in the editing. Said she was afraid to touch it because it was - unusual. A hard thing to edit indeed. A friend of mine (or I) said it might be a New Dystopian Shakespeare . Not technically sound but it seems strangely right. All thanks to Rachel Craddock for her early reads of the essay and being just as frustrated as Susan in trying to edit something that defies transition. Thank you, Susan for allowing me to in a fit of angered deadline crack open a space in me that dared to paint words so freely. I'm honored to be a part of this collection with some fine writers and exceptional women.
That same editor understanding that I'd had an eleven drive down to Texas where I walked in the room as my panel was being introduced (timing is everything) took mercy on me and opened her warm doors to her home in Memphis for the evening. I pulled into her neighborhood nestled in snow. A large tree still covered in Christmas lights adored the road. A glass of wine and a bowl of gumbo awaited at their neighborhood pub. Then I settled down into a cozy, soft bed with the glow of those colored lights softly beaming just outside the window.
Now, I'm nestled with coffee in a corner of the bedroom floor, blankets and pillows about me where I can peek out the shuttered window to the snow lined streets. More snow to come tonight they say so I have to head on up the road Nashville way. It's time to get back to Mama and Rescue dog Keven before flakes start to fall. The hill is not a place to traverse after dark and ice.
So off to coffee, muffins, conversation. And to appreciate Susan's eclectic collection of fine art that graces her walls. She's a Pete the Cat connoisseur.
There are more stories coming out of Texas later but for now, thank you ladies for allowing me once again to be part of your tribe and in so doing feel like I am standing fully in my world.
*(more photos to add when I am off the road)
Not the movie. My suitcase. Little Miss Sunshine is the name I dubbed my carry-on that has seen about as many miles as I have. She is scratched up, peeled off, dented, beat up and broken. After my last trip I had parked her in my closet but not tossed her out of sentimental reasons. She has been on three book tours with me. Traveled coast to coast to coast. Been on the road for one tour over two months non-stop. She's carried my goods, operated as a sound equipment carry all when I recording Clearstory Radio programs on site at The Southern Festival of the Book and elsewhere. She has been - my friend.
When I first purchased her eons ago it was with an advance check from a book contract. If you are a writer and you are going to purchase something that has full mobility spinner wheels with a ten year warranty and so forth I recommend doing so at a real luggage place when you have said advance. The time will never be better and otherwise you will talk yourself out of this purchase. Don't do it. All those miles are entitled to being able to move stuff from point a to point b.
For years upon years I've worn black on black, carried black with a side of black. This was long before the goth movement or maybe before all New Yorkers wore black as a silent symbol that they were true New Yorkers. I just did. It was my favorite non-color. So when I bought this wild, artist creation of a suitcase it went totally against type. But there she was up on the high ledge. It was kinda a love at first site moment. I saw her and my eyes got all swirly like The Fantastic Mr. Fox movie and I asked them to take her down. I bought her. I took her home. People commented for years that she was certainly - something. And, I said, yes, she is. She was created by an artist. And, they replied like yeah maybe a five year old. And I told them they just didn't appreciate real art.
We had so many miles ahead of us that I had thought I'd make a little video of her traveling in all the cities, airports, backroads. I shot one short video that my Mama loved and I don't have clue where that might be. I thought I'd take a slew of photos like the gnome commercials. Like Kaya McLaren did with her PWQ Barbie trophy. Nope. Didn't do it.
The people who did appreciate her were The Adorables who were young enough back then to think everything I did was cool and me showing up was like a movie star whizzing in. Little Miss Sunshine was the icing on the cake. They like to roll her for me because she had such magnificent wheels. The stewards and pilots and security people in the airport smiled when they saw her coming. A bright cheery little thing in the midst of that boring waving of black black black suitcases all day. I felt like I was doing my little bit of warm, sunshiney part in the world to carry her along. When I arrived in a new hotel room she beamed like a good friend, a steady companion.
Still, the day came when people said, you know - you really need to get a new suitcase. When the airline people kept saying, We have to make a note that she has a broken handle. BUT HER WHEELS! I wanted to protest, they're still really spinn-ey.
Finally, sadly, I realized it was time. Then black Friday rolled around with a group-on special for a set of luggage with spinney wheels. Matching. One, two, three. All black or all white and I chose all-white figuring I'd cover it with bumper stickers or something. It would suffice. It was gloriously inexpensive and not a smidgen of the quality. Still, Little Miss Sunshine had entered cloudy days. I packed her away. Didn't trash her because I just couldn't. After all, coast to coast to coast makes for a lot of memories. I had parked the new, empty luggage behind a piece of furniture that I had my son move into a closet. (Don't ask because it is a long story). I tried to get it out. I could not. I asked my sister to come help. We could not. She said, This is not happening, in her very, practical sister voice. I tugged at the furniture, I tugged at the suitcase handle which I could reach. I stood on my head and tried to force it sideways. Let me repeat, she said, this is not happening. Then she reached for Little Miss Sunshine and said - here. Take this. And throw the rest of your stuff in the backseat. Just throw your clothes in there and go!
Little Miss Sunshine rides again. To Texas. For surely, certainly, most likely the very last time. It's hard to say good bye to people we love but also the things. These lovely inanimate objects that are said not to have a life but the little toaster would argue with this. And the scientist. Those great minds of physics that discuss things like atoms and molecules and all matter and manner of things being made up of the squares that make us but energy. Swirling masses of light and stardust. Every changing, decaying, evolving.
I couldn't think of a better place for LMS to hang up her boots than officially at a Pulpwood Queen Event called Girlfriend getaway weekend. After all, like these women, she has been a good friend of mine.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.