November 4th, 2010
A good fire is stunning. I’ve been known to burn leaves just to see flames lick the sky. In my opinion, there’s nothing finer than sitting around a campfire on a crisp evening, hearing conversations and laughter of family and friends. Or inside, when windows are iced, fireplace roaring, wood snapping and crackling. It warms bones and hearts chilled by a sometimes cold world.
Words to me are like fire. Pick the right ones, and our stories flame and mesmerize. They can illuminate a black night, or crack out the sun on an overcast day. We don’t need fancy selections. Put too many snooty words in, and all we’ve got is one stuck-up story. But I still believe a story told with added flare warms us.
We could say, “ As I was driving, leaves blew from the trees.” Or we could say, “As I was driving, wind high, every tree seemed to shiver, their raggedy foliage blowing away, leaving them naked in fields.” Can you picture that? It was my visual today.
Not every sentence in a story needs to be that descriptive, but throw one in occasionally and it’s like tossing a handful of dry pine needles into a dead fire.
If we extend our vocabulary, choosing words that breathe, we can make a story live. And still grasp our hearts when, we, the reader, are long finished.
Once, I walked past a campsite at dusk and spotted a man, stretched back in his recliner. I loved the visual so much I used it in Jack Rabbit Moon. Here’s what I came up with. “Under a shady oak tree, a man sat in a green recliner. I thought he was the epitome of intelligence, bringing his chair like that. Without moving, he could have the moon for dinner and stars for dessert.”
That chair, and a man I didn’t know from Adam, will long live in my memory. In my opinion, he was one smart dude.
Words are everywhere. To write well, we only need to pick them up, over and over, and spin them into flame. Besides reading many fine books, by some outstanding authors, I sometimes study the Dictionary and Thesaurus. I’m not lame or boring, just a woman who has a thing for words. And a hot fire.
October 25th, 2010
When winter laughs at her icy secrets,
and blows her ragged skirt,
Rose, once adorned in red velvet,
whispers, “I was a queen.”
Winter howls and her branches droop.
But blackbird arrives, festive as ever,
his shiny black cloak,
smoldering up her cold limbs.
He sings of spring; aromatic orchards bursting into bloom,
and bees murmuring while sipping nectar.
He plays his flute like a gentleman.
“I know you, Rose,” he trills.
“You are lovely and delicate.
Ignore crackly old winter.”
Rose weeps at blackbirds melody,
there through sunlight and shadow,
in velvet and rags,
he adoring them equally.
As he plays for her, snow tiptoes down,
coloring him white.
October 15th, 2010
I’ve never met a garden I didn’t like, although some I’ve taken to more than others. Growing up, we always had a huge vegetable patch, which we had to toil in, so on hot, sweaty days I didn’t favor that kind.
There is another variety, though, I’ve never minded working; the flowery, delicate garden. Even better are those brazen sweeps of color erupting in lonely fields, nothing but Mother Nature cradling and kissing them. They are wild and raw and turn your head affairs. If your car windows are down, you can sometimes detect the smell of cherry licorice or cloves, the air thick with scent. They shock and awe us. Rattle us awake. Like a little kid they shout, “Look at me! I made this just for you.” And we are left gaping.
I’m never more alive when I discover a field bursting with Indian paintbrush, like millions of ragged orange tubes of lipstick smearing the landscape. Or purple Popsicle bluebonnets, tinged with vanilla on top. And a dirt floor of Queen Anne’s lace, winter white fancy skirts on long, scrawny legs, dancing real slow as far as the eye can see.
Recently, in Vermont, I happened upon these amazing trees, decorating old cemeteries, limbs screaming with creamy white and pink buds. They look like lilacs, but not quite. Maybe someone will recognize this lovely thing by the picture I took.
Today I discovered a wild patch of black-eyed Susan’s, mingled with cedar, along a busy roadside, putting on a lavish butter yellow show. Tall and regal, they exploded in the sun. These tickets were all free. Joy comes in all kinds of packages, but I prefer my gifts from a Garden in the Wild.
September 29th, 2010
Ruts in the writing life happen. We grasp our way through a story, do the research, and realize it’s not the one we’re supposed to tell. At least not yet. We bump along in that rut for awhile until a new path appears, scattered with red and orange leaves, shining glass-like in the sunshine. If we’re really lucky, we figure this out before page ten, which was the case with my recent novel. The only problem was, I didn’t have another start from scratch story.
Or so I thought.
It does a writer good to peer through a new window. Visit places we’ve never been. Meet people we’ve never met. If we can’t do that, we can always explore areas in our own neck of the woods that we’ve neglected. Anything to show us the mysterious, quirky and fresh side of life.
On a recent trip to Vermont, a place I’d never visited, a shiny new story snuck in. I was sitting on the steps of our cabin at sunset, wind bristling in trees, leaves like candy wrappers, colliding with each other, swirling, twirling, and dancing, air fragrant with roots and conifers. Straight ahead an abandoned dirt road, a rusted model T Ford off to one side. To my right a red barn, skirted next to an 1800’s colonial farmhouse. Just as I looked, a woman’s black silhouette appeared and paused in the window. I could feel something beginning. It slid through the wind and landed, smiling on my lap.
Sometimes a clear moment is all it takes: a sunny day flecked with the unusual, or dusk in Vermont. The writer in us is always drawn to what’s behind the mountain and down the lonely dirt road. We excavate stones from these places and arrange them in a circle. These stones represent life: the sensual, brutal, wonder, abandonment, love, honor, awe, failure, and death of our existence. We arrange stones we collect along the way into stories that help us make sense of our world. Sometimes we, as much as our readers, just need to be entertained. And there’s the rub-a good novel can and does do both.
I fancy this ancient Chinese proverb: A bird does not sing because it has an answer-it sings because it has a song.
Look through a new window dear writer and your song will find you.
August 27th, 2010
Stars like jewels seed the sky
Blooming flowers drenching the black bed of night,
Shining above creeks and rivers and dreamers
Resurrected until the sun turns them transparent.
But you can drink them while they’re fresh
On a blanket tossed on the ground,
They pour into your mouth and eyes
Universal juice to the soul.
Night after night after night…
June 23rd, 2010
Trains have always fascinated many. Runaway cabooses, passenger cars filled with drowsy diners, or boxcars brimming with wild hobos, transporting all far off to fragrant destinations. Yes, there’s something mysterious about a good train ride.
A few years ago, we took the famous Colorado Narrow Gauge Railroad excursion from Durango to Silverton-fifty-two miles of the San Juan scenic byway. The choices varied on how classed up you wanted to ride, but being the hillbillies we are, we chose the cheapest way, standard class, open air gondola seating. We didn’t want to miss an ounce of scenery and certainly weren’t disappointed with that choice. I can’t say I’ve ever seen such excitement in the eyes of my children. It seems everyone relishes a good train ride.
We hung our faces out open air windows and drank in wind and wild. The train whistle would bellow, black smoke blow, and the tracks twist and turn around yet another mountain, where aspen trees shimmered and rusty colored beavers flapped and swam under leafy forests without footprints of modern life. That day we walked away with soot on our faces but pure nature tattooed on our hearts.
To remember this trip,I bought a splendid watercolor of Durango Station, Engine 473, painted in watercolor by Russell Steel. Appropriate name, don’t you think? I had it framed and it now sits on the mantel, a memory of us, once upon a time, on a Colorado train. If you’re ever in that area, please don’t miss this exquisite experience.
Recently, I saw a program discussing The Chocolate Train. Please get me on that train! My mouth perked at the mention of chocolate, so I had to watch. Would you like a little chocolate with your train?
Switzerland is well loved for its scenery and chocolate. Throw in a train and you’ve got a first class experience called the Swiss Chocolate Train, which operates from June to October out of Montreux.
Running on the Montreux-Oberland-Bernois Railway, this train takes you on breathtaking views of the Swiss countryside, rolling through the medieval town of Gruyeres, also known for their fabulous cheese making.
In Gruyeres, the train stops for an excursion by bus to a local castle. Sound good so far? You’ll also get to experience a cheese factory. On board the train once again, you’ll head to Broc. The Nestle Chocolate factory is there. You can watch the production of chocolate and sample the goodies. Then buy all you want.
Nine hours later you arrive in Montreux, a sleepy resort town on Lac Leman and home to the Castle of Chillon.
Now how’s that for a train ride, eh? Let’s go, shall we? All aboard!
March 22nd, 2010
Testing, testing, can you guys hear me? I couldn’t think of a snappier way to present sound than a recent trip to southern Louisiana.
In New Orleans the decibel levels flew off charts, right along with history, dog ugly and gorgeous as any I’ve ever heard. Even so, I relished the whole Who Dat and Zydeco music and the waitress named Nicole but pronounced Ne-cole. Her inflection piped out like a shot of New York swirled with Louisiana Creole. I kept asking her questions, well, because I’m irritating that way, and because I adored her voice.
“Why y’all don’t vee zeet more?” she finally said, grinning.
Ne-cole, Ne-cole, Ne-cole. A charming sport if I ever met one.
The sounds of New Orleans were spicy crazy indeed. In the streets were drummers, harmonica players and clacky washboard renditions. People were chattering like squirrels, their shoes popping on sidewalks.
In Café Du Monde, we finally plopped down, legs worn and feet aching from traipsing every inch of the French Quarter and miles beyond. I figured I’d earned myself a beignet, snowed under with powdered sugar and washed down with a café-au lait. Spoons were clinking against glass coffee cups while sugar buzzy conversations exploded, and underneath that, the sigh of our pooped waitress, trying to keep up. A fat tip was in order, which made her smile.
So, two days later, I listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival in the car as we headed to St. Francisville, because it would have been a sin not to hear Born on a Bayou if one is going to hang out with gators and Cajuns. And because I’m a Creedence groupie.
Visiting here is like stepping on ancient, exotic soil. Did you know even history has sound? It wails and screams and laughs here in the wind, the birds and bayous.
Three times now I’ve come to this place, trying to grasp a tragic and mysterious chunk of history. Bits and pieces the land has absorbed and yet shouts through the live oak trees. But none makes sense, nor do I condone it. Meanwhile I fancy the people and appreciate the beauty of place. And I remember those without voices and try to honor them with my presence. My heartfelt interest.
The following poem is based on a cemetery we visited while staying on plantation grounds. It was only one visible record, but there are still many loud secrets. Listen for sound in silence.
They have gone silent and cold
yet I heard a woman’s voice
in a crows cackle
But that can’t be
sixteen souls long hushed
resting like whispers in black dirt beds
on loud property
they didn’t have time to praise
Days booming with tears and laughter have passed
no more spring afternoons, summer days
snappy fall breezes
blazed with red
They lie silent atop a hill now
ringed by a stone wall
gray and chipped
shaggy cedar to ward off sun
and pine silt carpet for decoration
I traced their names with fingertips
when the sun was blooming
and remembered those I never knew
Marguret, Thomas, Mary, Edward, Sarah, Percival
and the others
Then when night turned to coffee
we walked through crispy grass
sky flushed with hot stars
now fallen icy atop the hill.
Bonjour Mes Amis- Good day, my friends. Listen well.
February 1st, 2010
Something thrilling will happen soon and it has to do with nature intoxicating us once again with her charms. Right now old man winter has his white woolly blanket thrown over landscape’s bed but hang on tight and a fresh morning will soon arrive.
Covers will be flung back, the bed sun-warmed. And then, popping through a steamy mattress of soil will be vibrant pink and yellow ruffled tulips and perfumed roses and multi-colored fields shrieking with evening primrose and baby blue-eyes. Our gardens will yawn first, and then shout with bullet shaped blue bonnets and crimson clover, like bright red tubes of lipstick. The days will lengthen; night caught short, the pungent smell of roots, new leaves and lavender exploding in air.
Prepare to feast your eyes on purple fhlox and red frilly poppies and lavender colored larkspur tightly packed around stems. And those mischievous robins will be back, too, excavating backyard worms in the midst of Indian paintbrush and rain lilies which open slowly at dusk to appear in full flower the next morning. Oh, and butter yellow corn flowers, we can’t forget those loud ones, butterflies swooping around them like in air ballerinas’.
We will emerge,too, from dark winter houses, blinking and rubbing our eyes in sheer wonder at the rich, staggering beauty, scent and color surrounding us.
Here in Texas we also have many trees which riot with color and scent. Mountain Laurel, whose grape fragrance could rejuvenate a zombie and creamy tulip magnolia’s, which remind me of generous scoops of vanilla ice cream. Lest we forget ornamental pear, exotic in lace, their lusty scent driving bees and butterflies wild.
Yes, spring will arrive. Sooner in south Texas, but even in colder climates it will come. Release your grip on the white quilt and keep an eye out. You can’t miss the lacy bows and hot pink tights.
Speaking of hot pink tights, my colorful blogger friend, Ronda at rondaswonderland mentioned the 5th Annual Cyberspace Poetry Slam on her latest blog entry. She has a hothouse of ideas over there, so please pop in and say hello if you have a chance. I hope some poetry finds you as well. Here’s a wee one of mine to share.
There is a garden I know
Where opulent flowers grow
And birds rally there, lizards, too,
Perch on hems of daisy’s, that’s what they do.
They laud flowers modeling exquisite dresses,
Roses in hot pink, passion flowers red tresses,
But when it’s time to choose a winner,
Birds fly home for dinner.
The lizards with bubblegum pouches,
Linger on verbena couches,
Puzzled at what to do,
Knowing they must say who.
Flower girls hold heads tall,
Daisy, Rose and Poppy, all dolls,
In closing throw a celebration ball,
For a flower pageant has no stiff laws.
July 31st, 2009
Outside my living room window something is distracting me. Miss Myrtle, who only comes round in summer, is dancing in flouncy papery skirts to a windy rendition of natural, smoky tunes.
Miss Myrtle in hot pink ruffles and green leggings seems to shout, Peek-a-boo! Yoo hoo, over here. I’m blooming now, popped like fuchsia colored popcorn. Am I not gorgeous? The least you can do is notice.
I always notice.
There are two Miss Myrtle’s in our backyard, one fuchsia, the other a tender pink. With blossoms top heavy yet papery I think of gigantic lollypops on a stick. Or ice cream. Maybe cotton candy. No matter how you look at them, the eyes get drenched. With pale thin limbs which peel and shed, they are frumpy looking most of the year. But in summer, when those pellet sized buds explode, it’s as though a million tiny butterflies have gathered for a lace profusion convention.
The given name of this tree is crepe Myrtle, which is sometimes spelled crape, which to me sounds like crap. So I’ll continue to call them plain ole Miss Myrtle’s although they are none too plain at all.
July 27th, 2009
A little flower. Some river water. Add a few shivering leaves. Lacy ferns. Herbs are nice if you see them. Small mushrooms add zest, if not shriveled by sun. There should be no trouble finding fresh ingredients. And no cooking experience necessary. Leave your chef at home.
Oh, and it’s best not to include heat. No baking, please. High humidity causes this recipe to flop. If it’s done right, the sweetness factor pops a body awake. Clears the head. Makes words and dreams and memories rise.
Now put on sneakers. Stretch those crusty limbs. Dance first if you must.
One can eat this treat to high heaven without gaining an ounce. As a matter of fact, it’s possible to get quite fit with this luscious recipe. It will also take you places. Allow your mind to wander. Refresh your soul.
It’s called a walk.