Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sleeping House / Writing House

It's a breathtaking mile through bedroom of deer, playground of chickadee—past bored trunk of woodpecker, occasional glimpse of marsh—under sky of hawk, silhouette of palm—beneath hang of Spanish moss, canopy of pine and oak—to deck of "cool-dude" bluejay.
Bedroom of white-tailed deer

Playground of Carolina chickadee
Trunk of downy woodpecker

Glimpse of marsh
Sky of red-tailed hawk

Silhouette of Palm
Hang of Spanish moss
Here a moss, there a moss, everywhere a moss moss

Oak canopy
Deck of bluejay


 It's my daily walk on Fripp Island from the sleeping house to the writing house, and it reminds me how lucky I am to have such good and generous friends. Sheila and Barbara and I are sharing a house on the island for the month of January—Sheila to work on photography, watercolor, and the spiritual art of being, maybe even a bit of poetry (SHE should be a blogger—you should see her stuff—but she'll not be talked into it)—I to coax the 9th draft out of the 8th—and Barbara to read and cook, yes, cook.  I'm not talking the kind of cooking I do.  I'm talking the ART of cooking—the spiritual pleasure of food and wine.
One foggy morning
Morning path
Chef Extraordinaire Barbara
The Spirit of Sheila

As if that's not enough, I am the daytime guest in the vacation home of my good walking yaya, Peggy, whom you've met before. Peggy and her husband Bill are salt of the earth kind of people, the kind who make the world a better place to be. Peggy and I have walked together since before our babies were born. It's the sort of friendship that enriches life in ways you don't see coming until you discover you have a history of 30-plus years of sharing each other's good and bad times. Then. Then you know.

And when the sun goes down beyond the marsh, I walk again that deep-breathing mile, through the dusk and deer who have come out to feed, away from the blaze of sunset, back to the reading and eating and sleeping house, there to discover what fine food and wine we will share at the table. Last night it was poached flounder, arugula and radish salad, and this wine.

I may have said it before. Those Kiwis know how to ferment a grape. dkm

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Unjustly Maligned Bluejay

A small oak tree grows beside the deck of the villa where I'm writing and hangs over the marsh. It spits tiny acorns on the deck and attracts bluejays, who have a fondness for acorns. So it is that the bluejays and I have become friends this month, however one-way the affection.

Despite being much maligned for their unpleasant cawing and their reputation for nest-robbing, bluejays offer a striking kind of beauty to the world, with their distinctive combination of blue, black, and white feathers, and I've long wondered at their ability to mimic a hawk's whistle. I've often heard them give a pretty kind of hoot at home, not raspy or ugly at all.

Now, watching the Fripp bluejays at close range across these winter weeks has given me a new appreciation for their behavior, as well. They come in a group of three or four, perhaps a family, to perch on the banister in search of acorns. They hold the acorns in their feet to strip the cap and crack open the meat with their beaks.  They take turns hopping to the chair on the deck that holds rainwater in its seat.  They take long draws of water through their bills, like straws, then lift their heads to swallow.  Their neck feathers bounce as their throats open and close, allowing the water to trickle into their bodies.

No raspy calls here, only contented sorts of coos as they enjoy their meals together.  Their crests are as often down as up, and they are civil to each other, taking fair turns at the puddle in the chair.  This morning one flew to the banister out of the marsh with a tiny crab flailing in its beak, then off to enjoy it somewhere else.

On the Cornell Laboratory site,,  I was thrilled to learn their reputation for stealing eggs is grossly exaggerated.  And their raspy caws are not just bad manners, but warnings to their own and other species of pending danger. Not only that, they are credited with the regular distribution of oak trees across the eastern half of the U.S.

I'm sorry I misjudged them, in a past blogpost called Arrogance and Beauty.  What I called "bad manners" were more likely deeds of social justice. I was, of course, the danger they warned against. So they were wrong too. I would never harm them. But once again, the more I learn the more I discover how errant my guesses can be. It's lovely to discover I can spend the last third of my life respecting the handsome bluejays in my backyard. dkm

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pelicans on a Rainy Day

The beauty of the brown pelican is the color of its underwing.  Black.  Unremarkably tan of back and upperwing, noticeably white of head, when brown pelicans flap between soars, their underwings flash eerie hints of mystery.  When they disappear on a long slow glide into the marsh grass, they send me right back to the page to ferret out more.

Another thing about them is the absolute stillness of their heads and bodies in flight, even as their wings alternate between easy pumping and long soaring.  Their heads are hunched back as if fused to their shoulders, holding their eyes steady, the better to see a fish with.   There's a lesson for a writer in their calm.  In their patient focus.

And another thing.  Their activity over the marsh does not stop in the rain.  Few other birds are visible out there in this weather,  but the pelicans carry on.  I guess if one dives into water for a living, what matter a few raindrops?  The brown pelicans of Fripp Island, S.C. are practically revising today's chapter for me.  dkm

Monday, January 9, 2012

Mozart and the Marsh

Except for shorebirds that disappear into it and trees that grow on the far side of it, Fripp Island marsh in January has the look of a Kansas wheat field in July, like a musical variation on a theme.  But I think the marsh harbors more secrets than a wheat field, due to its never getting run over by a combine.

Fripp Island marsh cropped to wheat field

Fuller view from Peggy Yaya's deck

Whenever I return to the arrogant landscape of my birth, the big sky and flat terrain bellow without shame, "You know, don't you, that Kansas represents the standard topography from which all other landforms are mere variations?"  Mere.  Simple, ordinary, minor. 

Mozart composed fourteen piano variations on the simple French tune known to English-singing children as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  Like landforms, not one of them is mere.  Musically speaking, each is magnificent as a geological terrain.  A prairie, a marsh, a foothill, a mountain, a canyon, a cliff, a forest, a dessert, a swamp, a mesa, a beach, a reef, a rock, or a dune, to name fourteen of them. To listen to Mozart's variations is to experience fourteen musical moments of pleasure.  Almost enough for a lifetime.   If any of my family ever reads this, Mozart's Variations on Twinkle would be suitable funeral music for me.  And don't forget Chopin's Opus 39, Number 2, played only by Arthur Rubenstein, no one else.  Just saying.

Three pelicans flying low over the marsh started this reminiscence, wings pumping in unison, bodies remaining level.  They vanished into the grass without a trace, later to emerge like a new idea.  The secrets of the marsh are beginning to reveal themselves.  Chapter one of forty-four down.  dkm

Doesn't actually go with this post, but cool shadows on the marsh, not?  JR will like this:-)

Friday, January 6, 2012

For the Time Being

Day four of thirty into this writing retreat, and I have yet to dig into the chapters I came to revise.  Procrastinating, yes, but I'm seeing procrastination differently than I once did.  Having now been on a number of similar retreats, I've learned that it takes a few days to shed the stuff of real life in Decatur---to come to the sense of quietude required to burrow into a fictitious life of story.  I know from past experience, I will eventually find the story, and while I still wrestle with these days, I'm beginning to reduce the angst they cause by viewing the battle as a necessary part of the process.  Maybe these few days are actually pretty effective writing tools---important as pencils and erasers---days I must wander through to get to the place, time, and mode of writing---a place, time, and mode that cannot be achieved without a few days' time. 

The beauty of this insight, I hope, is that time will make the days go by whether or not I'm fighting them.  If I spend them reading, sitting, staring at the marsh, thinking, meditating, walking, breathing, and being, perhaps I will arrive at the page on the other side of them less used up, more fortified for the story.

Sounds good in theory, does it not?  I'll report back in "a few days."  In the meantime, many thanks to Sheila & Barbara for the sleeping house, and to Peggy & Bill for the writing house.   I'll write more about my gracious hosts tomorrow.   Today, there is the marsh to observe, the path to walk, and the breath of the universe to take in and out of my lungs.  dkm 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rue Not This Day

If not birders, they are at least respecters of the natural world, the older couple that stopped in their tracks today when they saw two great egrets light a good distance ahead of them on the boardwalk. They were crossing the marsh on Fripp Island, where I am visiting for another writing retreat.  From my writing house, I happened to be watching the egrets through the binoculars when the couple came into view.  They are people I'm sure I would like.

Everything about their standing still there was a measure of love.  Their stooped posture, their slow progress halted, and the way they supported each other in the act of not disturbing the egrets, did for me what Robert Frost's dust of snow must have done for him when he wrote:

"The way a crow shook down on me,
The dust of snow from a hemlock tree,
Has given my heart a change of mood,
And saved some part of a day I had rued."

The couple did not continue on the path until a third egret flew over, and the two on the banister joined it in flight. I had rued this day for not getting any of the work I came to do done.  The couple and the egrets changed everything.  dkm