Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Garden Girls

I’ll be the guest on "The Garden Girls" radio show this Saturday, November 29 at 2 PM. On your radio dial, it's WNOX FM-100.3

“The Garden Girls” is hosted by Andrew Pulte and features UT's Dr. Sue Hamilton and garden expert Beth Babbit. It’s a lively call-in talk show filled with lots of useful tips and information about gardens and nature in Tennessee.

This Saturday, we’ll be talking about turkeys, winter birds and, of course, my book. It’s great fun!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

fallen giant

Today, we remember the life of William Bliss Baker who died 122 years ago this month. Born in New York City in 1859, Baker was a landscape painter in the growing Realism movement that was sweeping the country post-Civil War, a movement that began in France in the 1850s as a counter to the Romanticism so prevalent in the arts at the time. Truth and accuracy were the goals of the Realists. Photography had just came into being, but it wasn't there yet, it was only black and white, certainly it couldn't capture what the painter with a full palette could.

Yet, Bliss Baker wouldn’t live long enough to reach his full potential; he died at age 27 from a spinal injury he received while ice skating several months earlier at his father’s house at Hoosick Falls, New York.

Baker’s painting “Fallen Monarch” is considered perhaps his most important work and it’s also so evocative of the season. When I walk into the woods near my house along Spring Creek, this is something like what I see.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

lose yourself

"Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music—the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself."

–- Henry Miller (1891-1980) American writer and painter. Miller marched to his own drummer, breaking with existing literary forms and developing a different kind of novel, a blend that mixed forms, part autobiographical, philosophical and surrealist free association, ultimately it was part real, part fiction.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

fountain of youth?


Say the word in a whisper. It flows like a gentle breeze off the tongue.

It's a great moniker and a curious plant, one with a unique claim to fame.

The early English colonists in North America along the Atlantic coastline were eager to find gold and silver as the Spanish had done in South America. They found neither. They did find lots and lots of trees. Looking for something of value, the Elizabethans learned that the Native Americans drank sassafras tea as something of a “cure all.” (In the age before wonder drugs, everyone was desperate to find one.)

Hoping to make a little money, Sir Walter Raleigh took sassafras back to England from Virginia. The miracle elixir made from its roots became all the rage, spawning the “Great Sassafras Hunts.” Ships were dispatched from England in the early 1600s to collect the medicinal roots and bark that were brewed into the tonic. Billed as a proverbial Fountain of Youth, the golden brown tea smelled like root beer and supposedly kept its drinkers ageless and full of health. Sassafras teahouses became as fashionable in England as Starbucks are in Manhattan today.

The craze ended when drinkers realized they were indeed still aging, and perhaps not the picture of health they had hoped to be. As TV journalist Linda Ellerbee was prone to say, “And so it goes.”

This past week, on a neighborhood walk, I encountered a sassafras tree beginning to molt into its fall color. I left its roots intact and took only a photo, which in itself, will never age.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

peakish color?

Determining when the fall colors peak every year is a subjective, wishy-washy sort of enterprise. Peak suggests that there is an optimum moment, a summit, a climax, a crossing of a finish line with the popping of flash bulbs. It all depends on whom you talk to and where they are at the time. Last week, the Top of Ole Smoky had wintery weather, i.e. snow, while here in the valley, the season blessedly hangs on.

Early November seems a bit late to use the word peak but yesterday on a walk after work from Ijams west to Island Home Park along the Will Skelton Greenway, the colors certainly seemed peakish. The warm weather added to sense that all was golden (and tangerine and orange and crimson and maroon and lemony yellow) with the world.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

walkin' the rails

Election Day! And it was a beautiful late fall afternoon with the sun beginning to slip below the ridge line. So perfect, I decided to walk the two miles to my neighborhood precinct, a community center surrounded by trees exploding with autumnal color.

There’s a little used railroad track paralleling the road that links my home to the ballot box. So in the spirit of Woody Guthrie, I walked the rails to cast my vote, humming “This Land is Your Land” along the way.

Monday, November 3, 2008


“It takes a certain slowness to see. Scurrying about, thinking of this and that, obscures the view. For only as the mind quiets can its view, both inner and out, deepen.”

-Stephen Altschuler “Sacred Paths and Muddy Places.” 1993.