Notes about writing, landscape, and life in the Texas Hill Country


"We keep each other alive with our stories. We need to share them, as much as we need to share food. We also require for our health the presence of good companions. One of the most extraordinary things about the land is that it knows this—and it compels language from some of us so that as a community we may converse about this or that place, and speak of the need."
Barry Lopez

"As much as we live in a place, we live in place; we inhabit a condition of the soul. We live where we have made definitions, and in the process of making definitions, we create a place in which to live."
Sallie Tisdale

"The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction."
Rachel Carson

"I can see myself beginning to fashion what I need: new pathways to solitude, new ways of looking at time and at time alone, new ways of conceiving a notion of place, and other ways, if not new ones, to create places apart."
Jacqueline Jones Royster

"There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story."
Linda Hogan


Susan's Hill Country Journal
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Susan Wittig Albert
Ph.D. UC Berkley

author of
China Bayles Herbal Mysteries
Robin Paige Victorian Mysteries
(as Robin Paige)
Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter
Writing From Life
Work of Her Own

Contributing editor:
Country Living Gardener Magazine
writing teacher
garden columnist
Founder: Story Circle Network

Bulletin Board
A Map of MeadowKnoll
All text/photos
©2003-2005 Susan Wittig Albert

The Edwards Plateau, Central Texas
The Edwards Plateau, Central Texas

Familiar Plants of the Edwards Plateau
History and Change on the Plateau
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
(10 miles south of MeadowKnoll)
habitat description, wildlife lists
The Edwards Aquifer
The Trinity Aquifer
Our Weather

Story Circle Network
The experience of Katrina is an experience of place, located at the intersections of the natural and human-made worlds. If you have a Katrina story to tell, the Story Circle Network invites you to record it here, and to read others' stories:

Killer Plants

Ecotone: Writing About Place

Thursday, February 26, 2004  
One of those crazy days today, doing things that keep a writing business going, even when the writing isn't. Went out to breakfast in Marble Falls and met another mystery writer who showed me a nifty little computer keyboard that folded up into something about the size of an envelope. Amazing--although I really like my AlphaSmart and probably won't make a change.

Then to Home Depot, where Bill bought a carbon monoxide tester (not sure why), and to the grocery store, where we did the weekly shopping. Home to put the groceries away, and write, right?

Wrong. The artist who is doing the bookmark for the Beatrix Potter series emailed me the final color drawing to approve, and it took a while to handle all the fax and email stuff that dispatched the final product to Modern Postcards, which is doing the printing.

Just got settled back down to writing, when we had an email conversation with the publicist we were thinking of hiring for the series, and ended up by totally reversing the direction and deciding not to go with this particular publicist after all. Which meant that I had to start over again with that project, which meant that I didn't get back to the writing, period. The work isn't stalled, though, just temporarily side-lined.

Re: the wild life of Jack London. To understand this, you'll have to go back an entry or two and pick up the "review" thread. Got an email today from a reader who says that Jack was a good friend of her great-grandfather, who owned a speakeasy during Prohibition that was Jack's favorite haunt. She adds: "Jack's drinking and womanizing are well-known family lore, so if you ever need a reviewer to testify to the accuracy of your depiction of Jack London, I've got your back!" Bill and I got a chuckle out of that one. Things your English teacher didn't tell you.

Eggstraordinary. In the 2/25 entry, I mentioned the three eggs I picked up from Mama Superior's nest. Here's a photo of them (washed, bleached, blown) along with a couple of the Ukranian Easter eggs I made some years ago, when I had time to do things like that. Not enough time these days, and I've moved on to knitting and spinning. But I'll save the eggs, and maybe, just maybe...

Somebody wrote to ask if I have ever eaten a goose egg. The answer is yes; they make super omelets. You can also use them in baking. I've got a couple of dozen nice brown eggs in the fridge, though (my neighbor's chickens are laying again), so I scrambled these for the dogs. They'll get some with each meal until they're gone.

Reading notes. The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes.--Agatha Christie

2/26/2004 06:51:00 PM

Wednesday, February 25, 2004  
No snow today, but almost cold enough. So here is a snow picture from the most recent snowfall, just to confirm that it can happen here.

But also today, I found Mama Superior's nest, and three large white goose eggs. I've brought them home (feeling like the worst sort of nest-raider) and will blow them--use the shells for a craft project, and scramble the eggs for the dogs. The eggs in the nest are a prime attraction for our neighborhood bullsnakes, and once Mama starts to set on the nest, she'll attract all the local coyotes and dogs. She'll lay an egg every other day for the next month or so, and then her maternal instincts will subside--but only as long as there aren't any eggs in that nest. So the object of this exercise is to take the eggs, as they are laid, to keep the snakes from getting them and the larger predators from getting her. I've been through this drill often enough (and lost enough setting geese) to know that this is the best way to do it. Ah, life in the country.

Reviews. Bad reviews have a tendency to beget copy-cats, and that's what's happened with the PW review of Hyde Park posted on the B&N site. A second reviewer has parroted the PW complaints, with no sign of having read the book with any care. Jack London "feels off-kilter," she says. Sure thing, hon. He feels "off-kilter" because we dug into his real life story and discovered a man you didn't know behind the idealized picture you got from your high school English teacher. Off-kilter? You bet.

One of the things we've tried to do with the Victorian series is to give readers a glimpse into the real person's real life--which often means that we upset cherished myths. We understand that this revisionist work is risky, surprising, and sometimes unpopular (as it was in the case of Conan Doyle). But we would like to think that reviewers--who owe a book and its author something more than a cursory glance and a quick read of other reviews--will look past existing myths and attempt to judge our work on the substance of our research. We always document our sources for readers who care to check out our interpretation. In London's case, the documented facts of the man's life support our depiction of him as a drinker and womanizer. Too bad those on-line bookstores don't give the author equal time/space to confront reviewers who don't get their facts straight.

Reading notes. You write a book and it's like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean. You don't know if it will ever reach any shores. And there, you see, sometimes it falls in the hands of the right person.--Isabelle Allende [and sometimes it doesn't]

2/25/2004 07:42:00 PM

Saturday, February 21, 2004  
Reviews. It's not a good idea to read reviews, especially on a day when I intend to do some serious writing. This morning, I made the mistake of looking at both the Dilly and the Hyde Park pages on On the Dilly page, there's one of those maliciously nuisance "reader reviews," the chief intention of which is to lower the rating of the book. Why Amazon doesn't screen these things is beyond me. The good thing is that it's so blatantly ridiculous that it will probably come down soon.

The Publishers Weekly review of Hyde Park is just as annoying but a great deal more damaging, since it will stay posted for the life of the book. The reviewer (all the PW reviewers are nameless, of course) can't find a "mystery" in a novel that's full of them; mistakes the wireless telegraph for a cell phone--DUH!; and is obviously ignorant of the real life of Jack London and the real chaos he created in the lives of more than a few women. London was indeed talented, but he was an alcoholic and a woman-chaser, and even a cursory look at the more recent biographies (not the whitewash job that was written by his second wife) reveals a man who destroyed both himself (he died before the age of 40) and those who were foolish enough to love him.

There's always plenty to criticize in a novel. Unfortunately, what the "critics" sometimes reveal is their own lack of knowledge and their own inadequacy as readers. And to make it worse, those PW reviews are all anonymous. Guess the reviewers don't feel confident enough of their opinions to put their names on their work, and their magazine feels the need to protect them. Real writers, of course, don't have that luxury.

Do I feel better for having written this rant? A little, maybe. Will it change anything? Absolutely not. Of course, everything I have said here is totally unprofessional. The writer is supposed to ignore bad, silly, or stupid "reviews." Strong sense of discouragement here.

Not enough discouragement to keep me from writing, though. I got into a scene that wrote itself, and by the time it was finished with me, there were 2000 new words in the file. Yay!

More about the landlord business. Here's a photo of the new purple martin house, being hoisted up by Bill. We saw a couple of adult males this morning, so I'm glad to get it put up. Those plastic gourds aren't very pretty or "natural," but they're sun-proof, easy to clean, and have nifty access "lids" that I can open to peek in on Mama Martin and her babies. We filled them with cedar shreds, so the nests are ready for occupancy. Come on, guys and gals--the apartment is open for inspection. (We haven't put up all the gourds yet, though--there's another half-dozen to come. And we still have to install the predator trap that's supposed to discourage snakes from climbing the pole. Next week.)

Also today: Bill and I cleaned out the goldfish pond, scrubbed the liner, and put in clean water. The trio of last fall is down to a pair, but they're fat and sassy and eager for warmer weather. Don't know what happened to that third goldfish. He just disappeared. A coon, maybe?

Reading Notes. I have discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, 'To hell with you.'--Saul Bellow. Yeah.

2/21/2004 06:15:00 PM

Friday, February 20, 2004  
From winter to spring in the blink of an eye. Snow on Saturday, in the 60s early in the week, and the mid-70s today, Friday. I've been pruning rosebushes this week, during my lunch-hour break, and have manged to get all the shrub roses done and a good start on the climbers. I have decided that I have Too Many Rosebushes, although I have no idea what action should be based on that conclusion. You can't just cut them down. That would be like cutting down the children.

However, I did manage to get rid of an extremely top-heavy Carolina jessamine yesterday. I've been puzzling over what to do with that vine for a year or more. The bottom eight feet was totally bare of foliage and the top ten feet was a magnificent wad of stems and leaves, all crammed under the eaves. Not a structural problem, but very untidy and odd-looking, like a green giant having a bad hair day.

Yesterday, though, the wind (gusts up to 45 mph, which is pretty gusty) disposed of this vine, by blowing it right off the house, trellis and all. It was a pretty sturdy trellis, too. Having had the matter decided for me, I cut the vine off about 12" high. Now we'll see what kind of character this plant has. Will it come back from the root and grow decent green leaves all the way up its length? Or will it turn sulky and refuse to play? Stay tuned.

Landlord business. For Christmas, I got a large purple martin birdhouse. It's about 20 feet tall and has 12 white plastic gourds hanging from it. The best purple martin housing available. Yep. But first it has to go up, right? Which means digging a 3-foot hole in VERY rocky soil, installing a concrete pad around the metal pole (which looks something like the mast on the sailboat I used to have), and putting up the pole. Bill did all the heavy work (bless him), while I fiddled with screws and bolts and small stuff and offered verbal encouragement. This thing has a really nifty pulley arrangement that works so easily that I can manage it myself--easier than pulling up the main sail, actually. We'll probably put the gourds up tomorrow, because the birds are already as far north as Dallas, according to the Purple Martin Scout Arrival Study. Not sure how I'm going to use the two old houses, but I need to clean them out. I was thinking of using one of them as a sparrow decoy. Ugh.

Fiber stuff. I've been meaning to post this photo of some fiber that my friend Jane Ross brought back from New Zealand for me. (Thank you, Jane!) It's alpaca blended with silk and wool--the alpaca that grew the fleece was named "Flint." I took the fiber with me on book tour and spun it all on my drop spindle. I'll ply it with itself when I get a little time. It wants to be a scarf, I think. (Thanks to Flint, as well, you beautiful alpaca, you.)

Writing. Lots of interruptions. I've been working with an artist to create some graphic materials for the Beatrix books: a map of Sawrey, bookmarks, bookplates, that kind of thing. Amazing how much time it takes (and I'm not even doing the drawing)! And yesterday, Bill and I had an interview with a writer for Texas Coop Power Magazine, which was interesting and fun. Also had to do some grocery shopping so we wouldn't starve. But I've managed to put in four decent writing days this week, and think I have finally gotten over a big hump. Sometimes I get stuck in a scene and just keep writing and rewriting it. Finally managed to elbow my way out of that scene today and begin moving forward. Slowly, but moving. Wonder if sliding the deadline into April has anything to do with this, or whether I'm letting myself be interrupted, or whether it was the January lay-off that did me in.

Reading Notes. The biggest aid to regular (Trollopian?) production is working in a serene atmosphere. It's difficult for even the most naturally productive writer to work in an environment where alarms and excursions are the rule rather than the exception.--Stephen King, On Writing.

2/20/2004 07:28:00 PM

Tuesday, February 17, 2004  
Photo-op. The snowfall was lovely, and although it lasted only a couple of hours, that was long enough for a good photo-op. We got out with our cameras early, before the sun got up to see what had been going on all night. Here's a photo that Bill took from our back porch, by the dawn's very early light.

The dogs absolutely loved the snow, running in circles, rolling in it--pure doggie pleasure. Then they got to stay in the house all day while we drove to Menard to participate with a gang of other writers (no kidding--there were about a dozen of us) in a fund-raising program for the Menard library. We expected the roads to be a challenge, but the worst part was the 15 miles between here and Burnet. Once we got to Llano, it was smooth sailing. That country out there is truly beautiful, very rural, completely agriculture-dependent, in a time when farmers are facing the worst.

Heavy lifting. Sunday was pretty much a loss, as far as the writing went, but yesterday and today have been very good, in terms of moving the story forward, rounding out the characters, and sharpening the setting. I'm still suffering from basic doubts about the concept--it's these darn animals. However, I got an email yesterday from the publicist who is going to help promote the series. She was encouraging. "Delightful," she says. "Movie potential." Yeah, sure. But that's a publicist's job, isn't it? Putting a positive spin on things? Oh, well.

Not just lifting but cutting. As in pruning. Pruning rosebushes. Valentine's Day is the traditional "right time" to prune roses in our part of Texas, so I've been working on it for an hour or so every day. My garden helper did this chore for me for the past few years, but never quite to my satisfaction. So it's put-up-or-shut-up time for me, and I'm out there with my shears, making drastic cuts. The shrub roses survived the drought remarkably well. I haven't gotten to the climbers yet--they're next. Maybe tomorrow I'll get out there with the camera and take some "before" pictures--after the pruning but before the bloom, that is. There's something enormously satisfying in stripping the plant to its basic structure and giving it a stronger shape and more room to grow and bloom. A metaphor for mid-life, perhaps?

Reading notes. The one thing a writer has to have is a pencil and some paper. That's enough, so long as she knows that she and she alone is in charge of that pencil, and responsible, she and she alone, for what it writes on that paper.--Ursula Le Guin. (Does this include talking animals?)

2/17/2004 06:50:00 PM

Friday, February 13, 2004  
Susan's got her groove back. That's what it feels like, anyway. A 1500-word dance today. Yay.

Some changes in the calendar. We've been making some fairly radical decisions around here in the past few days. When I was successful in getting the China Bayles pub date changed from January 05 to April 05 (I definitely don't like touring in the winter!), that opened the possibility of changing the writing schedule, and not starting the next China mystery (Bleeding Heart) until much later this year or even early next year. Bill has been lobbying to move the writing of the Robin Paige books to summer, when it's too hot to work outdoors. So instead of China, we'll do the Robin Paige book next. Marconi, we think, although some other possibilities have emerged. Mrs. Keppel, for instance. But I don't have to think about that for a few months. Gotta finish the Beatrix project first.

Snow! Hard to believe, but true. This morning, sleet, followed by snow flurries, big, fluffy flakes drifting like white feathers out of a steel-gray sky. More forecast for tonight and tomorrow morning. The temperature is hovering right at freezing, so the roads are likely to be an icy mess--and we're supposed to drive to Menard (about 115 miles west of here) for a library event tomorrow. We've called the organizers to let them know that it's questionable, and we're waiting to see what it looks like early in the morning. I know--you folks who live up north are snickering in your sleeves at the idea of our being foiled by a few flurries. But we rarely drive on ice down here, and nobody (including us) knows how to do it.

Thinking of ice reminds me of a peacock story. For five years or so, we raised peafowl here at MeadowKnoll, among them a splendid peacock whom we named Picasso. Picasso was very proud of his tail, and took every opportunity to show it off to his harem of peahens.

One February weekend, Bill went to Houston to visit his folks. On Saturday night, it rained and froze and rained and froze and when I got up on Sunday morning, there was a two-inch layer of ice on the roof. And Picasso, who always roosted on the porch roof at night, had managed to get his tail feathers frozen into the ice. Frozen solid. The poor bird couldn't move.

So I struggled up a ladder with a garden hose (the water from our 420-foot well is about 72 degrees), and aimed it on the roof, and after 20 minutes or so, managed to melt enough of the ice so that Picasso could pull himself loose, except that the tail itself was still encased in a heavy chunk of ice, totally useless as a rudder. He slid off the porch roof and belly-landed in the yard--a very confused bird. It was nearly four that afternoon before the ice melted and Picasso was once again in control of his tail. It was another couple of days before he got up the nerve to fly up to the porch roof to roost. (There's another story about how Picasso lost half the feathers in his tail to a night-stalking raccoon, but we'll save it for later.)

I never look up at that porch, even on the hottest day, that I don't think of Picasso, frozen into the ice. I can almost see him sitting there, looking desperate and foolish at the same time, and me with my garden hose, clinging to an icy ladder, trying to free him--also looking (no doubt) desperate and foolish. I think memorable events like this one must somehow imprint themselves both on the mind AND on the places where they occurred. And I think our places are dear to us because they are the repository of memories. Maybe that's mostly what home is, after all: a place where we've played our part in memorable events, a place of memories.

Reading Notes. Loyalty to place arises . . . from our need to be at home on the earth. We marry ourselves to the creation by knowing and cherishing a particular place, just as we join ourselves to the human family by marrying a particular man or woman. . . . The work of belonging to a place is never finished. There will always be more to know than any mind or lifetime can hold.--Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put: Making a Home in a restless World.

2/13/2004 07:09:00 PM

Wednesday, February 11, 2004  
The newly re-colored cover is here. I don't know. Maybe I've made matters worse by asking them to change the background color. Oh, well. What's done is done.

Back at work. Finished going over the first five chapters today. I could have done a bit more, but decided to leave the remaining five pages for tomorrow, so I can use them to coast into the new stuff. I enjoyed reworking the original material, but somehow I haven't yet confronted the fact that I am actually going to have to write something new and original tomorrow. Can I? Will I? Doesn't quite seem possible, but maybe by tomorrow I will have psyched myself to the point of believing that I can still do this. I will NEVER again take such a huge hunk of time out of a current project. Getting back into the work is simply brutal--and especially into a project like this one, where I'm doing something I've never done before. Oh, those talking animals, embedded into an otherwise realistic narrative. I must be crazy. But crazy or not, I'm committed, so will soldier on.

Lichens. Those of you who took a really close look at yesterday's photo of ball moss might have seen the lichen that has encrusted this particular oak tree. We have several varieties of lichen, particularly on the oaks. (I read somewhere that oaks have a lower PH than, say, hackberry or elm, and hence are more likely to host lichens.) Here's a photo of a typical growth, crusting several branches that I picked up off the ground.

A quick google around the web produced one very fine article on Texas lichens, from the Texas Co-op Power Magazine (which coincidentally is sending a writer on Friday to interview Bill and me for a feature). It's called "Lichens: Living a Double Life." All you ever wanted to know about lichens--except that the writer doesn't mention something that fascinates me. In the late 1890s, Beatrix Potter formulated her own rather avant garde theory of lichens, based on the work of a German named Schwendener: that they are a dual organism, a compound plant that consists of both algae and fungi. Beatrix was interested in how these two plants managed to get together, how they reproduced, and whether their relationship was mutually beneficial or parasitical. She took her findings and questions to Kew Gardens, and came away both amused and put out by her reception. The experts were not impressed by this impertinent amateur, who was not at all impressed by their expertise. There. All you ever wanted to know about Beatrix Potter and lichens.

Reading Notes, from Beatrix Potter's journal, 13 June, 1896. "I went to Kew again to see Mr. Massee. I was not a little amused again--I hope not disrespectfully. He seems a kind, pleasant gentleman. I believe it is rather the fashion to make fun of him, but I can only remark that it is much more interesting to talk to a person with ideas, even if they are not founded on very sufficient evidence... I was further edified by the slowness of the officials. They do not seem anything but very kind, but they do not seem to be half sharp. Mr. Kirby, however, stutters a little. Mr. so like a frog we had once, it puts me out. I should like to know what is Sir W. Flower's subject besides ladies' bonnets."

2/11/2004 07:14:00 PM

Tuesday, February 10, 2004  
Bookcovers and pub dates aren't the most exciting blog topics in the world, but bear with me. The new Beatrix cover, which arrived in early January, did not seem to me to be a winner. The art work was fine (the artist is experienced and accomplished); it was the concept I had problems with. Of course, it's too late to do much with this cover, but I learned today that they've agreed (at my request) to lighten that purple background so it's not quite so sinister, and that the cover of the second book will have a different "look," more along the lines I suggested. Small smile of pleasure here.

Another modest achievement: resetting Beatrix's pub date. It was originally calendered for July, but rescheduled for October. Then Bill and I were invited to Tulsa, to the Oklahoma Festival of Books, which is the first weekend in October. In order to have books for sale at the event, we needed to move up the pub date to late September--which was done today. Big grin here.

And one more once about pub dates: we've also rescheduled the 2005 China mystery, Dead Man's Bones. (You remember the book I blogged about all last spring?) It's been moved to April, at my request. Which means no more touring in an Ohio sleet storm. Which also means talking about garden mysteries at a time when people are beginning to think about their own gardens. Huge cheer here. We didn't win 'em all today, but the little victories do add up.

It would be nice to report that I made forward progress on the book, but that's not true. However, I did work through the first 20 pages, with only a bit of a rewrite here and there. Tomorrow, the rest of what I wrote in early January--and THEN I can starting moving forward.

Yes, that's really rain out there. A little more than half an inch, with more coming tonight. The whole world is black and white and gray. And empty. Not a hotel in sight. So glad to be home.

Black and white, like the photo below. (It was taken in color, but you'd never know it.) Back in December, when I wrote about the parasitic plant mistletoe, I mentioned that we have another similar plant here at MeadowKnoll: ball moss, which is really an epiphyte. (That is, it derives moisture from the rain and nutrients from the air; it grows on the host plant but derives no nutrients from it.) Some people think ball moss is dangerous to healthy trees, but the jury is still out on this one. However, the copper sulphate that is usually employed to kill it IS dangerous. If you have ball moss and you'd like to make it go away, try spraying with 1/2 cup bicarbonate of soda in a gallon of water. Or just leave it alone. Ball moss may kill a very weak tree, but it's not likely to damage a healthy one. And if your oak tree is covered with ball moss, it's probably already a goner, and it would be better to cut it down and start over. (My opinion--there are other views on this one.)

Reading notes. "I myself have come to believe that the one absolutely irreplaceable and indispensable service that so-called empty places provide is keeping us sane."--Paul Gruchow, The Necessity of Empty Places

2/10/2004 07:50:00 PM

Monday, February 09, 2004  
Whew. I loved the conference (one of those glorious girl-bonding things, which went wonderfully well), but gosh! am I glad to be home. Bill and I have to go to Menard for a Friends of the Library event on Saturday, but at least we get to go together, for a change. I spent today shoveling paper in my office. The pile is definitely smaller--two sweatshirts to be mailed to the grandkids, a bunch of pretty wrapping paper to fold and stash, odd papers to be filed and books to be shelved, that sort of thing. But the desk is clear, which means TA-DA! that I can go back to the book tomorrow.

Book? Book? What book? I've never been away from a writing project for such a long time. I know there were 10,000 words in the file when I left it, but I'll have to start all over again, since I can't remember a single one of them. Can barely remember the main plot, if there was one. Aargh. This is why a writer writes every day: simply to keep the work in her head and not let it get away; to keep it from escaping (fickle, inconstant thing that it is) and taking on a life of its own out there in the world.

The whole business of starting over again is complicated by the fact that Bill and I are thinking of bringing a publicist into the Beatrix project. We used one some years ago, when Chile Death came out (1998, I think). Hiring her turned out to be a good idea, because one of her press kits landed on a magazine editor's desk, and the next thing I knew, I had become one of the magazine's contributing editors, with a full-page column six times a year--and how much would THAT have cost, converted into advertising dollars? So now we're thinking of hiring the same publicist again, which means that we have to put a lot of thought into the kind of PR package we want. More distractions, and maybe another day lost. But maybe I'll assign that thinking to the hours of 7-9 at night, and save the writing time for corraling that 10,000 words.

Chilly and rainy here today, and for the rest of the week. But you won't hear any complaints, from me or from the bluebonnets, which are finally feeling healthy again. There's a plume of Pacific moisture sweeping up from the Pacific, and a cold front coming down from the north, which is always a recipe for rain. Yippee! The lake is so low that the geese have to walk a half mile just to get to their swimming hole; we can really use the rain. I'm afraid that the daffodils are a lost cause, though. Over the 17 years we've been here, I've planted a couple of hundred daffs every fall. By last year there was a wonderful belt of bright gold--like a wide swath of sunlight--girdling the woods. This year, there are a few shrunken blossoms and spindly leaves. Most, I think, are gone forever. What a disappointment.

But spring is definitely on the way. The blue-eyed grass is pushing up green leaves among the frost-killed grasses, and the tiny blue blossoms won't be far behind. It's nearly time to start pruning the roses (February 14 is the traditional date in this neck of the woods), and it's probably past time to dig that climber I cut back last fall when the trellis blew down. It's also time to get my martin house set up--the scouts will be here before I know it.

I'm sorry for the loss of the daffodils, but anxious for the blue-eyed grass and the bluebonnets and the martins. And the house seems to smile around me as I come and go in it, touching things I love to touch and had somehow forgotten about while I was doing all those other things, which now do not seem very important at all.

Reading notes. To us, our house was not an unsentient matter--it had a heart, and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals, and solicitudes, and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence, and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up and speak out its eloquent welcome--and we could not enter it unmoved.--Mark Twain, from a letter, 1897

2/09/2004 07:03:00 PM

Tuesday, February 03, 2004  
Today was the last of the speaking engagements (the Austin Herb Society), and there's only the Story Circle conference to go. Tomorrow, I need to get the program wrapped up--the print program, that is, which will be put into everyone's registration packets. It makes sense for me to do it, because I'm in touch with the last-minute changes--like the presenter who had to cancel this afternoon. Or maybe I'm just a control freak who likes to have her hands on the last bit of important business. The registration numbers are very solid: 187 total registrations. I'll be leaving here on Thursday and won't be back until Sunday, so don't expect me to be blogging regularly again until next week.

Dye stuff. At the AHS this morning, I talked about dyeing with native plants, among other things. I took a few dyed skeins with me to show them. Here's what I took:

The middle skein, the orange one, was dyed with coreopsis. I intended to take a batch of dried plant material, to show them what it looks like, but couldn't find it. (Really, you should SEE my craft studio. Looks like a cyclone hit it. The coreopsis is in there somewhere, I'm sure.) So I told a couple of people who asked that I'd post a photo, so here it is, taken last June, when MeadowMarsh was full of bright golden blooms. Here, I've stripped the flower heads, and am preparing to dry them in my dehydrator.

So there you have it, AHS gals. The straight scoop on dyeing with natives. Thanks for asking. That photo of trays full of sunny golden blossoms brings summer back with a rush, on a cold and blustery winter evening. But the fire is bright, and I'm headed for my chair and a pleasant book (one of Agatha Christie's oldies), and an evening of primary returns. I feel cheered at the thought of a viable presidential candidate. Yep, primaries are definitely good for weeding out the strongest and best.

Reading notes. "The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly; light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding."--Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces.

2/03/2004 07:10:00 PM

Sunday, February 01, 2004  
Winding down, but not through yet. On Tuesday, I'll be speaking at the Austin Herb Society, and Thursday through Sunday, it's the Story Circle national conference. I'm really looking forward to the conference, but maybe I can be forgiven for thinking that it's been a long time away from the book. Another week, and I'll be able to stop all this running around and get back to work.

To celebrate being home together (at least for a couple of days), Bill and I took off and went to a movie. Yes, actually, a movie! We drove in to Austin to see Master and Commander, with Russell Crowe--definitely worth it. We usually wait until the films show up on pay-per-view, but we figured that since this film had so many ocean action scenes, we'd like to see all that wind and weather on the big screen. It was a good choice, a way to flush the last of the tour stuff out of my system, and an opportunity to just sit back and enjoy a great creative effort. Do check out the website--it's another imaginative, creative effort (even if you have a really sloooow download

Which makes two fine movies we've seen inside a week. Before I left, I ordered Seabiscuit on DVD, and we watched it last Monday and Tuesday nights: one night for the movie, the second night for all the extras.

More later, as I begin to dig out from under all the stuff that's accumulated while I was gone.

2/01/2004 07:29:00 PM


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