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

Tuesday, September 28, 2004  
The book’s out! I know this because people are writing to tell me that they've enjoyed THE TALE OF HILL TOP FARM—although where they got it, I don’t know. just started shipping today, and Barnes & Noble starts next week. and it’s not supposed to be on the bookstore shelves until next Monday. But that’s the book business for you. The PW review (on B&N) is slightly snide, but I never expect much from them where cozy is concerned, and certainly not for an ultra-cozy like this one. I did have to smile at this sentence, though: "…this promises to be a series with legs-and-tails." Well, I hope so. Harriet Klausner wrote a nice review on the B&N site (although I could wish for fewer garbled sentences). "As good as it gets," she writes. Modest smile here.

You can click on these links to purchase your copy:
Hill Country Bookstore in Georgetown TX (autographed/personalized):

Barnes & Noble

Max gold. If this isn’t sunny, I don’t know what is. The low, marshy spots in our meadows are full of these wonderful Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani), which are four to eight feet high and bear their bright golden blossoms in cascades all along the stems. They brighten up the landscape even on a gray morning.

This native prairie flower was named for Prince Maximilian Alexander Philip von Wied-Neuwied, (1782-1867), a German botanist who traveled through the prairies and first identified the flower. The Sioux ate the thick, fleshy tubers (raw or cooked) and the dried seeds, of course. The deer feast on the dried seed heads, gobbling them down as fast as they can, and the chickadees and titmice cling to them and pull out the seeds one at a time, and the rabbits eat what falls to the ground.

But all that feasting is another two months away, when the northers push down from the high plains and the leaves are all toss from the trees. Just now, in these last golden days of September, the sunflowers belong to the generous earth in which they are rooted, and the autumn sky arching blue and clear, and the sun to which they turn their bright faces—and to me. I feast on the sight of them as greedily as do the deer and the birds, and am nourished just as they are.

Reading Notes.

I Meant to Do My Work Today

I meant to do my work today—
But a brown bird sang in th appletree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand—
So what could I do but laugh and go?

The Lonely Dancer
Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947)

9/28/2004 02:40:00 PM

Sunday, September 26, 2004  
We were watching for Ivan this weekend—the storm made a huge loop across the Northeast and dropped back south and across Florida and into the Gulf, and bulldozed its way into Texas. East Texas got some rain, and a Pacific storm brought rain up through Mexico and into West Texas, but here in the middle, we’re dry. Cool, too. A cold front is draped across our county, giving us gray skies and welcome cool temps.

My brother is having a different experience this weekend. He drove 17 hours straight through from Ohio to beat Jeanne to his house near Orlando, and made it by a couple of hours. He hadn’t taken down the plywood after Ivan, though, so he didn’t have much to do. Imagine living with your windows boarded up for weeks on end! And the endless clean-up all across the state. An enormous disaster, dwarfed only by the catastrophe in Haiti. We may like to think we’ve mastered nature, but that’s only foolish human hubris.

Gayfeather. Our early autumn meadows are rich with the purple of gayfeathers, growing among the fall grasses. The gayfeather (Liatris sp.) is having an especially good year, with all the rain we had in the spring. It’s a native prairie perennial that has recently made it into the nursery trade as "Blazing Star." It blooms from the top down--the photo shows a spike that has completely bloomed. You can grow it from seed (available on the Internet), but you’ll need to be patient. The seed sprouts one spring, the corm forms the second year, and the plant flowers in the second or third year. It does NOT like to have wet feet, and will mildew if the leaves stay damp, so plant it in the driest part of your garden.

The gayfeather tuber is an interesting shape that appears to have a bite taken out of it—which earned it the folk name "Devil's Bite" and seemed to suggest that it had supernatural, underworld powers--useful in ritual. Various species are also called "Button Snakeroot and "Rattlesnake Master," pointing to its use by Native American to treat poisonous snakebites.

Another name, "Colic Root," refers to other medicinal properties. It has been used for treating dropsy, ulcers, or diarrhea. Research has not yet supported these uses, the root's bitter chemical component coumarin may well have some benefits beyond its conclusive value as a diuretic: the phyto-chemical coumarin has found medicinal uses in blood-thinning and as an anti-coagulant. The coumarin makes it toxic—don’t experiment medicinally with this plant!

Book Work. We’ve (my three co-editors and I) have finally finished the manuscript of the Story Circle nature anthology, now called A Land Full of Stories: Women Write About the Southwest. I’ve printed out two copies of the manuscript and tomorrow will deliver it to (and have lunch with) the editor of the University of Texas Press. Good news on this front: Texas State University in San Marcos would like to acquire the book’s archives, and is also interesting in hosting a conference to celebrate its publication, perhaps in 2006. It’s a very good collection, unique, fascinating. I can’t say how proud I am of it.

Reading Notes. Nature—wild Nature—dwells in gardens just as she dwells in the tangled woods, in the deeps of the sea, and on the heights of the mountains; and the wilder the garden, the more you will see of her there.—Herbert Sass, Adventures in Green Places.

9/26/2004 09:23:00 AM

Monday, September 20, 2004  
These are entries from the week I spent on retreat at Lebh Shomea. There's a lot here for you to read, but I wanted to post it all at once and get it out of the way. Please come back later if there's too much for one sitting.

9.04 Thursday.
The drive was lovely. South Texas has obviously had an abundance of rain—the September grass and trees are as green as May, and the sky was blessedly cloudy. I arrive at 2 (it’s a 5-hour drive) and go to the dining room in the basement of the Big House, where Sister Maria has posted a note with a welcome and my cottage assignment on the bulletin board. I’m in Ezekiel again, where I’ve stayed several times, and love it. As I leave the Big House, a doe and two spotted fawns are drinking from the small fountain beside the path. A wild turkey hen stands under a palm tree. Feels like home.

I unpack the car—it’s only 85, according to the thermometer on the screened porch, but humid. By the time I’ve unloaded the car, I’m drenched with sweat, ready to turn on the fan and take a break. A breeze stirs the mesquites and the creamy plumes of pampas grass outside the window, the afternoon is a dazzle of bright sunlight, but Ezekiel is shaded by trees and dim inside. I’m going to read this afternoon, and just soak in the silence.

Ezekiel is a small, cinder-block cottage with white-painted walls and a white tile floor that feels cool and looks clean. In the largest room, there’s a bed, narrow but comfortable, and a table-top desk topped by three bookshelves. There’s a small meditation room, a bathroom and walk-in closet, and a screened porch. It’s heated in winter by a wall heater; in summer, it’s cooled by a fan, the Gulf breezes. and the lacy shade of the mesquite trees that surround it. There's a photo at the bottom below (it was meant to go here, but Blogger won't let me move it.)

Lebh Shomea is part of the former Sarita Kenedy East estate. The whole comprises about 1100 acres of wilderness and another ten acres of coastal beach. The community lives in individual dwellings, like Ezekiel, on the forty acres that immediately surround the Big House, a large Spanish hacienda-style building that was once the main ranch house of the La Parra Ranch--"la parra" is Spanish for "grapevine" of which there is a great abundance. You'll see a photo of the Big House at the link just above. There’s also a community center, two chapels, and several maintenance buildings, as well as nature trails that meander through about a thousand acres of coastal wilderness. The community can be as large as 30, although I’ve never been here when all the dwellings are filled. But no matter how many people are here, there is a pervasive sense of aloneness, of quiet. And since September is still summer, when fewer people come here, I am pleased to see that there are only five names on the residents' board. More will be coming over the weekend, but it will be a small community during my stay.

6:45 p.m. The meals are simple here—supper is a do-it-yourself sandwich, raw veggies, cottage cheese, chips, iced tea—and silent, of course. (There’s no talking anywhere at Lebh Shomea, except for dinner on Sundays) There are five of us tonight. We eat at a large round table with a wooden in the middle, with condiments, so nobody has to ask for the salt or sugar. Of course, everybody knows what it’s like to eat in silence: you go into a restaurant alone, and eat a silent meal while the conversations ebb and flow around you. But this is different. Everyone is silent—but not gloomily or sullenly silent, just . . . well, silent. Companionably silent. For me, there is no discomfort, no uneasiness: I find that I taste my food more fully, pay a more complete and undivided attention to the act of eating—which reminds me of how fragmented my attention is, most of the time. Here, I can experience something of wholeness, can be completely here, and completely now, and it is enormously satisfying, much more profoundly fulfilling than any gourmet meal I can remember
And the deer and fawns I saw earlier? They are outside my window, now, in the twilight: Mom grazing on the green grass, the twins, tired of the day’s busyness, lying under the oleander bush, heads up, eyes bright, ears and noses twitching. As I settle in for an evening’s reading, I feel as if I’m wrapped in a great, green peace

Friday 9.10. 1 p.m.
A storm has threatened all morning, thunderheads towering to the east, over the Gulf. And now it’s raining, one of those heavy tropical downpours that happens along the coast in the summer. Welcome, cooling, and very pleasant, to be indoors on a rainy afternoon.

Retreats. Somebody wrote to ask me what a person does on a "retreat." I don’t know what other people do, but I always set myself a schedule, a "Rule," as it’s called in the liturgy. It goes like this: The morning bell (an old riverboat bell, hung in front of the Big House) is rung at 6:30. Mass is at 7 (I’m not Catholic, but all retreatants are encouraged to attend this community celebration. Breakfast at 8. I’ve brought my laptop, and usually work on the current book until lunch, the main, hot meal of the day, at 12. A walk after lunch (curtailed today, because of the rain), then reading, reflecting, and other writing (not the book) through the afternoon. I knock off at 5, go to the library (more about that later), and call Bill. Supper is at 6. Another walk, then knitting and more reading. Very uneventful, and not at all the kind of week you would like to spend if excitement, novelty, and action is what you crave. However, these regular, quiet days are what I need in my life, and I feel blessed and enormously privileged to find them here, surrounded by the silence, the all-pervading silence that seems to saturate the grass and trees, the buildings, and the people.

Reading Notes. It has been one of the most beautiful days I have ever known in my life, and yet I am not attached to that part of it either. Any pleasure or the contentment I may have got out of silence and solitude and freedom from all care does not matter. But I know that is the way I ought to be living: with my mind and senses silent, contact with the world of business and war and community troubles severed—not solicitous for anything high or low or far or near. Not pushing myself around with my own fancies or desires or projects—and not letting myself get hurried off my feet by excessive current of natural activity that flows through the universe with full force.—Thomas Merton, The True Solitude (Merton was a Trappist monk).

Saturday 9.11.
I looked out my window this morning, my glance caught by a flurry of leaves under the oleander beside Jeremiah, the neighboring cottage. There was a large rusty brown bird kicking and tossing and pitching the fallen leaves in all directions. Sudden it stopped, eyed the ground with a bright yellow eye, and snapped up a beetle. It flew to my doorstep, smashed the beetle against the concrete, and gulped it down. A thrasher, which some people think is named for the way it noisily thrashes the leaves in search of its food.

Birds. I enjoy the birds here, many of which are different from the birds at home. I saw a vermilion flycatcher this morning, glowing like a candle—"brasita de fuego", or "little coal of fire," it’s called in Spanish. A pair of great kiskadees—large, noisy, and aggressive flycatchers—roost in a nearby palm and feed on insects in the grass outside my porch. And then there are the exotic tropical-looking green jay, which is found nowhere else in the United States. Green-bodied, with a blue head and black bib and mask, it is a striking bird: the first one I look for when I come. And the Altamira oriole, a large orange-and-black bird, also unique to this area, and southward into Mexico. Someone has collected abandoned nests and hung them on the library door: hanging stockings of grasses, plant fibers, and Spanish moss, some two feet long.

Rituals. One of the things I notice, here in the silence, are the daily rituals of life in community. I have rituals at home—I’m sure I do—I just don’t think of them that way. But here, they are very clear, and very comforting. The ritual of the bell, at 6:30 and noon and 6 in the evening, always rung in the same way, the same number of strokes, the same sure rhythm. The ritual of Mass, celebrated in the same words, with the same prayers and gestures—sacred ritual that expresses the faith of those who attend, even if (like me) they fumble the responses. The rituals of meals: breakfast, dinner, supper, always laid out in exactly the same way, with a simplicity that is more quietly elegant than silver, crystal, and fine china. My own private rituals while I am here: working, reading, thinking, being quiet, going to the library, reading yesterday’s newspaper, walking twice around the compound after supper, taking off my shoes at the door so I don’t track sand onto the cottage floor, taking a shower after walking, knitting mittens as the light fails. I’ve come here intermittently for over fifteen years—a week now, two weeks in the spring, a few days in the winter—and what I remember most about this place is the sweet, quiet regularity of life here, like an oasis in a whirlwind. My life has changed dramatically in fifteen years, but this life has remained almost exactly the same, and I find that enormously comforting.

Reading Notes, from Thomas Merton, The True Solitude. Rituals. Washing out the coffee pot in the rain bucket. Approaching the outhouse with circumspection on account of the king snake who likes to curl up on one of the beams inside. Addressing the possible king snake in the outhouse and informing him that he should not be there. Asking the formal ritual question that is asked at this time every morning: "Are you in there?"

Sunday 9.12
The Big House. Most monasteries are deliberately plain, even ugly, with the thought perhaps that beauty is a distraction from the life of the soul. But Lebh Shomea is not truly a monastery—it is a House of Prayer, and its philosophy is not an ascetic one, but rather embraces the beauties of the land on which it is built. And anyway, the Missionary Oblates inherited the house and a portion of the ranch as it was, and there was certainly no point in trying to make it less beautiful, even if they could.

When the Kenedys lived here, they called the house la Casa Grande, the Big House, and that name has stayed. The house, which was built just after the First World War, is a Spanish-style hacienda, with rooms on three floors. In the basement, we use the old servants’ dining hall as our dining room, adjacent to the large kitchen. The main floor, what used to be elaborately paneled rooms are now used as a large library and chapel. There are six guest rooms on the second floor, and two on the third floor. And if you are energetic and not afraid of heights, you can climb up to the gun turret (really!) in the cupola at the very top of the building. I’ve stayed in one of the second floor rooms—nice, because there’s a wide private veranda across the whole front of the building, and because the rooms face the Gulf, and are cooled by an almost constant breeze. I’ve been in the cupola, too—I took a volume of Gerard Manley Hopkins up there once, and read his poetry aloud to myself (yes, aloud, but in a low voice) as the sun sank into a bank of golden clouds—an experience I’ve never forgotten but have never (mostly because the ladder is steep) been inclined to repeat.

There’s a certain elegance about the Big House, but it’s a kind of down-at-the-heels elegance. Upkeep is a challenge in this tropical climate. There’s a certain insouciance about it, too—sort of like a grand old lady, still sassy, but having come down in the world. Or come up, if you look at it a different way. After all, it is no longer just a ranch house—it is a house of God, and while it was built as a symbol of dominance and dominion over this wild land—a way of saying look how much money I have, how much power I wield, how many people I command—it is now a symbol of a very different way of life: a life of ministry to others, in humility toward the land, and in love and compassion. I think of this not-so-subtle irony as I go down to the dining room for a silent meal, or climb the stairs to the library, or look up at it in the first pink light of morning. The Big House is a better place than it was, when it was new and ostentatiously beautiful, La Casa Grande of Kenedy County. It’s a house that’s just about the right size for God. (But no matter what name we give to God, or what sort of God we choose to believe in, that can be said about any house, can't it?)

Monday 9.13

Time. Most of us don’t think about time until we have to be somewhere at a certain hour, or get something done by a deadline, or are sitting in the shadow of some pending event that either terrifies us or fills us with longing and anticipation. Time is something that we’re short of, or out of, or up against. Time slips through our fingers, the clock runs out, the buzzer sounds.

But here, in the quiet, I find that my perspective on time changes. Here, time is a gift, and I have the ability to put it to a use that I find valuable and meaningful. I can make a time in each day for meditation, for work, for study, for recreation. I can focus on the process of what I’m doing, the way I’m spending the time, rather than the product. There’s a greater freedom, somehow, to be myself in this time, because this place is disconnected from the world’s time, and my self here is connected only tangentially (when I talk to Bill on the phone, for instance) with the self I am in the world. There’s a sense of completeness about this, of the perfection of the moment, somehow. I don’t have to get anything "done"—I just need to do it for this moment, and the next. Strangely, though, this "don’t-have-to" has made me more focussed, which at the end of the day translates into a satisfying productivity. I’m going to go home with the next China Bayles book about 20% done.

Tuesday 9.14
Stories. Every place has its story, but there’s an especially interesting, and ironic, story about this place. It was a gift to the Misionary Oblates from Sarita Kenedy East, the last of three generations of Kenedys to own vast tracts of land here on the southern Gulf coast. But the will was complicated, and disputed, and for a time it wasn’t clear who would inherit la Casa Grande and the 10,000 acres that immediately surround the house. There was great dispute over the mineral rights, too. In what the judge called "the most important civil case ever tried in this state." And arguments are still going on. The State Supreme Court of Texas has agreed to hear, in October, the case of a man (the medical examiner of Nueces County) who believes that he is the grandson of Sarita’s father. He’d like the court to order Joseph G. Kenedy’s body exhumed and DNA testing to take place. I stood outside the graveyard’s fence last night and gazed at the grave itself, which is covered by a mound of green asparagus ferns. The grave is guarded by large stone grotto and a chain-link fence. There’s an unmistakable irony here.

This land is the calm center of a large (the entire estate would be worth, over time, hundreds of millions of dollars) and persistent storm (Sarita Kenedy East died in 1961, over 40 years ago, and it’s still going on). And yet every day here is just like every other day: the community lives and does its work in quiet simplicity. It’s poetic justice, perhaps. The land itself—the old hacienda, the cottages clustered around it, the buildings and trails and animals—has no regard at all for all of the Machiavellian manipulations in the courts.

Wednesday 9.15
Wild Turkeys. I was entertained this morning by wild turkeys—about 30 of them—dancing around my cottage. These are large birds: the toms must be 3-4 feet long, from beak to tail tip, and they come complete with red wattles, bare blue heads, and (both male and female) beards on their chests. The entertainment began when one of the larger toms put up his tail and strutted around with his chest out and his wings dragging and rattling—looked just like our peacock Picasso when he flashed his hens, Petunia and Peoria. This tom created quite a bit of excitement, but not among the hens: the hen to which he was displaying his sexual prowess seemed remarkably unimpressed, even nonchalant, in the face of all this potent turkeyhood. However, three other toms were greatly excited by this display, so they put their tails up, threw out their chests, and strutted around, each one trying to out-tom the other. In the commotion, the female wandered away, and after a little while, all four of the toms, looking a little abashed, dropped their tails and became ordinary turkeys.

We have a few wild turkeys at home, but nothing like the flock that has grown up here at Lebh Shomea, which has a large enough acreage to protect them. A mated female will lay from 8-15 eggs, and if the snakes don’t get the eggs and the skunks and raccoons don’t get the chicks, she might manage to raise several. Looks like this flock has a strong population, which means that the chicks (with all those protective turkey-moms hanging around to chase off the predators) have a better chance of survival. When I see them (even in their serio-comic displays) I am glad that Lebh Shomea is a wildlife sanctuary, and that so many animals are protected here.

The noon meal on Sunday is the only time that conversation is permitted here, and sometimes I wish it weren’t. Case in point: last Sunday, a large, well-built man in a sleeveless undershirt, who looked a little out of place at our modestly-dressed table, asked Father Kelly if venison ever appeared on the table—dressed for dinner, as it were. Kelly looked at the man with something like horror on his face, and said, "Oh, no, the deer are our friends," and added that this is a wildlife sanctuary. The man, undaunted, pursued the subject, and it took the combined efforts of two others to get the conversation back on a more comfortable track. Silence is golden.

Thursday 9.16
Coyotes and javalinas
. The coyotes sang last night, around 1 a.m., so loud that I knew they had to be nearby. I got up and went outside to listen, their wild yipping yodels raising goosebumps on my arms. The sky was lit only by stars and there are no outdoor lights here to wash out the sky. In the pure, clean darkness the yodeling seemed to go on forever, wild and free and unafraid. They owned the night, and listening to them was like redemption. After a while, I went back to bed and went to sleep, to be awakened again, just before the dawn bell, by whufflings, whimperings, and chatterings outside my window. Ten minutes later, dressed and leaving for chapel, I understood what made the noises: a herd of a dozen or so javalinas, wild boar. I could barely see them in the dark, and was glad that none of them happened to be on the sidewalk, for they’ll attack if they think they’re threatened. Later, returning from breakfast, I saw something even more interesting: a sow with two brown-striped piglets, about the size of young rabbits. I got a photo, but not a very good one (see below). She was nervous--who wouldn’t be, with two undisciplined piglets to look after?--and I didn’t want to go close. Coyotes and javalina babies, both in the space of eight hours: what a privilege, what a wonderful privilege.

Reading Notes. Life has unfathomable secrets. Human knowledge will be erased from the archives of the world before we possess the last word that the Gnat has to say to us.—J. Henri Fabre, The Life of the Spider.

9/20/2004 11:46:00 AM

Tuesday, September 07, 2004  
"Counting the berries?" Bill asks, seeing me gazing up at the clusters of red berries on the sumac tree we’ve found on our walk. "Or admiring the color?"

"Just thinking," I say, pragmatically, "about the animals that will live off these berries this winter."
There’s no doubt about it, ripening sumac berries are beautiful, like garnets clustered on a stem—and against a blue, blue Hill Country sky, they are simply stunning. For me, they’re one of the lovely signs that fall is coming, and cooler weather, when there will be a different landscape all around me. But for the birds—cardinals, jays, the ubiquitous black crows, the red-wing blackbirds that cluster at the bird feeder and for the raccoons and squirrels and deer, the sumac berries are a full meal deal, a fabulous feast, and the difference between life and death.

There’s a lot of that around here. Things that are simply beautiful or perhaps just interesting to me—grasses, sunflowers, buffalo gourds, mustang grapes, juniper berries, mesquite beans, cattails, china berries, milkweed—are the stuff of survival to our wild creatures. It’s all in your point of view, in what you need to survive. Living here, being at home here, I’ve learned that everything that grows here has its uses. It is shelter to some, food to others, and food for me, too: soul food, full of beauty and joy and love of this place. Looking up at the ripening sumac, feeling the cool northern breeze on my face, I am reminded again that we all share the same home, the same air, the same food, the same earth. There is just one home.

Reading Notes. Some days I think this one place isn’t enough. That’s when nothing is enough, when I want to live multiple lives and have the know-how and the guts to love without limits. Thse days, like today, I walk with a purpose but no destination. Only then do I see, at least momentarily, that everything is here.—Gretel Ehrlish, Islands, the Universe, Home.

9/07/2004 10:29:00 AM

Friday, September 03, 2004  
Feels like an early fall, with lovely cool mornings, bright skies, and daytime temperatures in the 80s. Unusual weather for early September here in the Hill Country, where we can get weeks of triple-digit days all the way into October. Of course, summer isn't over yet, but the elm trees are turning, the eryngo is already purple, and the goldenrods will be blooming in another week. Yep, an early fall.

If you thought that this eryngo was a thistle, you were deceived, but not without case. It's sometimes called "sea holly," because it likes sandy soils (presumably near the sea) and it has a holly-like leaf, complete with sharp prickles. In fact, that blossom you can see in the photo is covered with stiff bristles, much more bristly than a thistle. It is not a comfortable handful. This candelabra-like plant is native to Africa, and has been used as a medicinal plant at least since the first century AD, when the Dioscorides recommended it as a cure for gas. Some people think that the herb's Latin name comes from the Greek word "eruggarein," meaning to belch. Whatever, researchers say that the leaves have a mildly diuretic effect, flushing excess water from the body. The root (I'm told) has the ability to loosen phlegm and calm spasms. I've viewed this plant with a great deal more respect since I learned these things. Also, I noticed it in the supermarket last week, priced at $4 a stem. Calculating the plants I saw on my walk this morning, I'd say that there's probably, oh, $80 worth growing in our meadow. It's safe there, though--at least until the next gasoline price hike.

Cross your fingers. Frances is bearing down this evening on Orlando, where my brother lives. He's got the windows boarded up, the debris from Charley collected and disposed of, and now he and his wife are deciding whether or when to go to the nearby shelter. It's not going to be pretty. And after Frances, there's Ivan . . . .

My Book of Days project isn't due for eight or nine months (some significance there?) but I decided to start working on it, just to get a sense of what's involved. I got sucked into it, sort of, and wound up working for a couple of days on the month of January--all the way through January 20. It's easier than I thought at first, but I'm a little concerned about the amount of art work that may be involved. Text first, however--the rest is not up to me.

The Story Circle anthology (Women Write About the Southwest) is getting close to being finished--the first stage, at least. I assembled all the bits and pieces into eight files, saved them all on CDs, and sent them off to the other three editors. In a couple of weeks, they'll send me their suggestions for changes in the order (and probably a few exclusions/inclusions). Once we've settled all those details, I'll put it together in a full manuscript, print it out, and ship it off to the University of Texas Press. Whew. A big job, but definitely worthwhile.

Bleeding Hearts. Today, though, I decided I'd just plunge right into the next China Bayles book, and see if I can get a couple of chapters done before I go off on retreat next week. I'm planning to go to Lebh Shomea for a week of quiet reading and writing and thinking and walking through the mesquite forests that surround the monastery there. It will be warm there, and humid--it's right on the Gulf, and very tropical--but the days are so peaceful that I've never minded the heat. I would mind a hurricane, though, so if Ivan bullies his way into the Gulf, I may head for home early. Bill will be holding down the fort here at Meadow Knoll.

Reading Notes. The only sure antidote to oblivion is the creation. So I loop my sentences around the trunks of maples, hook them into the parched soil, anchor them to rock, to moon and stars, wrap them tenderly around the ankles of those I love. From down in the pit I give a tug, to make sure my rope of words is firmly hooked into the world, and then up I climb.--Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put: Making A Home in a Restless World.

9/03/2004 06:06:00 PM


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