Monday, October 27, 2008

fern hill

“Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.”

From “Fern Hill” by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who spent much of his childhood in Swansea, Wales. Young Dylan made regular trips in the summer to visit his aunt's dairy farm in Carmarthenshire. These rural remembrances provided inspiration for his poem.

Dylan Thomas was born on this date: October 27, 1914.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

let's migrate

“And over the grass at the roadside a land turtle crawled, turning aside for nothing, dragging its high-domed shell over the grass. His hard legs and yellow-nailed feet threshed slowly through the grass, not really walking, but boosting and dragging his shell along,” writes John Steinbeck in his 1939 novel "The Grapes of Wrath."

During October, the YWCA of Knoxville and Knox County Public Library are sponsoring “The Big Read.” Everyone is encouraged to read or reread “The Grapes of Wrath,” a work that won Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1940.

In the novel, the Joads, a poor family of sharecroppers, are driven from their home by drought, economic hardship and changes in agricultural practices. The Joads are forced to sell most of their possessions, load their truck with what’s left and drive 2,000 miles from Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl to California’s lush, green central valley. Becoming migrant workers, they hope to start a new life. But, like the turtle, their journey is not easy. In fact, it's damn hard.

On Sunday, October 26 at 1 p.m., I will lead a symbolic migration along the Will Skelton Greenway to the land of opportunity, i.e. Ijams Nature Center. Along the way we’ll discuss flora and fauna both in the Tennessee Valley and the book. To make the nature walk even more memorable, period attire is suggested.

For more info or to sign up call Ijams Nature Center: 577-4717, ext. 10.

Monday, October 20, 2008

such a day

“O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather.”

By Helen Hunt Jackson

And such a day it was.

Helen Hunt Jackson (1830 -1885) American writer and poet best known as the author of the very popular novel “Ramona” about the ill treatment of Native Americans in southern California. (Ramona was originally published in 1884 and has been reprinted over 300 times since.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

seed time

Four months ago, I blogged about the Southern magnolia with its enormous citronella-scented white flowers that are so associated with the Deep South and sultry, hot afternoons; it's the polished, aristocrat of Southern trees. (See June 9 posting)

Well, the hot summer afternoons are gone for another year, perhaps you miss them, perhaps you don’t. It’s mid-October and we find that the tree is now presenting its bright red seeds. They are as eye-catching as the grand flowers were.

The one I photographed is on the Homesite at Ijams Nature Center.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ijams history

I will be speaking tonight at 7:30 p.m. to the Harvey Broome Group, the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

My topic is “Ijams: Past, Present and Future,” an overview of the nature center’s long history that can be traced back almost 100 years. I'll also pay particular attention to the recent acquisition of—and future plans for—the Imerys/Georgia Marble property, the so-called “Dry Quarry” adjacent to Meads Quarry. When it’s opened to the public, the new property will grow the nature center and park to about 278 acres.

Everyone is welcome. The group meets at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian-Universalist Church, 2931 Kingston Pike.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.” - George Carlin (1937 - 2008)

Tonight the moon is waxing gibbous. My God, isn’t that poetic?

Our celestial dance partner will be more than 94 per cent full with waxing meaning “increasing in intensity” and gibbous meaning “more than half but less than fully illuminated; having a hump.”

If you are reading this tonight, stop what you are doing and go outside to look at it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

at auction

John James Audubon was this country’s seminal naturalist/artist/writer. Although more famous for his 435-print “Birds of America," the rugged buckskin-clad backwoodsman also wrote extensively about his outdoor observations. He would have loved a blog. When strapped for cash, which he often was, he sold oil paintings and hand-drawn copies of his originals.

It recently occurred to me that I could do the same. So at auction here is a hand-drawn pin-and-ink copy of my original illustration of a bald eagle that appears in my book, “Natural Histories.” This is not a Xerox copy or a laser print but a hand-drawn, tediously recreated copy. If you take it outside in the rain, the ink will flow like LeConte Creek in the Smokies.

Revisiting the composition, rediscovering its form, the weight of its line after three years was satisfying. It was like a reunion with an old friend, so much time has past, and so little. To my eye, the copy is actually better than the original, there’s more nuance, because as they say, “practice makes perfect.” The eagle’s intensity is rendered with more subtlety; an artist’s hand mellows with age.

The sheet size is 11X14, so it will fit nicely in a standard size mat and frame that you buy. You can bid here on my blog or, if you prefer a more private channel, e-mail me at The bidding starts at $40 and will close in one month: November 8.

Best wishes. Satisfaction—as much as such an illusive concept can be achieved—is guaranteed. Please forward any questions.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

book signing

Forgive me. I've been ill and away from my blog. Still shaky, but let's hope I'm back.

As part of this month's First Friday celebration, I'll be signing copies of my book, "Natural Histories: Stories from the Tennessee Valley" and the companion notecards at Woodward Books in the Old City on Friday, October 3, 5 p.m. to closing.

Woodward Books is located at 108 E. Jackson Avenue. They specialize in fine antiquarian and out of print books. If you love old books, this is the shop for you.

If you want to talk about collectible books, Tim and Jeannie will be happy to oblige!