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

 

 
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Susan Wittig Albert
bio
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

Website:
www.mysterypartners.com
Bulletin Board
A Map of MeadowKnoll
Email:
salbert@tstar.net
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: storycircle.org/katrina

Killer Plants

Ecotone: Writing About Place


Lifescapes
 
Monday, August 30, 2004  

This is Turk's cap, or turban flower, or lady's teardrop, or wild fuschia, or Scotchman's purse (maybe because it never opens). It's a member of the malva family (Malvaviscus arboreus) and grows in the dry shade under the cedar trees at the back of the yard. It always reminds me of the red frosting roses on birthday cakes. The hummingbirds adore it. It's rare to walk past the large patch of blooming flowers and not see a hummingbird darting from one blossom to another. The grasshoppers seem to enjoy the leaves, too--as you can tell, from the large chunk that's been chewed out of the leaf on the left. The plant comes from Mexico, I'm told. It would prefer more water than it usually gets (I'm terrible about watering the garden), but this summer has been unusually wet, so it's quite happy. It strikes readily from cuttings, and self-sows like crazy.

Knitting news. I finished a scarf for my daughter-in-law, and have started on mittens for the Afghan kids. Mittens for kids are fun, because they use up all my yarn scraps. And after a while they get to be automatic, so I can read while I knit. Which is good, this week, since we won't be watching the convention. Political feeling at this house runs pretty high. It's a good thing that Bill and I share the same views; otherwise, we'd be in deep, serious trouble.

Book stuff. I spent most of today getting oriented on the Book of Days project. It's a little different, because each page of the book is a separate, stand-alone entry, which means that I have to fill just that page, leaving room for art and decoration. Which in turn means that I need to know something I don't yet know: the size and format of the book. But I made a sample layout today and created six entries, which I'm hoping to email to the appropriate editor (when I can find out who s/he is), to make sure I've got it right. I don't want to go any further than these six entries until I can find out about the format--which may take a while. Tomorrow, I'll go back to Bleeding Hearts, which I've been thinking of pretty steadily. And by the end of the week--Friday, I think--I need to finish putting together the Story Circle nature anthology, and get it off to the other editors, for their approval.

And then, a week from Thursday, I'm going to Lebh Shomea on retreat for a blessed week.

Reading notes. As long as it took for me to see that a writer's voice had to grow out of his own knowledge and desire, that it could not rise legitimately out of the privilege of race or gender or social rank, so did it take time to grasp the depth of cruelty inflicted upon all of us the moment voices are silenced, when for prejudicial reasons people are told their stories are not valuable, not useful.--Barry Lopez


8/30/2004 06:11:00 PM

Sunday, August 29, 2004  
A green thought in a green shade.



This is a hedgeapple, or osage orange, or a fruit of the bois d'arc tree--or bo'dark, as it is locally known. They are falling now, not ripe yet but too heavy for the slender twig on which they grow, so down they come. The raccoons have been feasting on them, and maybe the skunks, too--they leave little piles of the green fruit on the ground. Wonder how they feel after a hedgeapple or two. Wonder if it gives them the green apple two-step, as my mother used to call it. This tree is contributed enormously to native American and pioneer life in the Midwest and East Texas and I'm very glad that this one decided to grow on the margin of our woodlot. I first spotted it some ten years ago, when it was about head-high. It's thirty feet high now, and still growing.

About stories. I got a note from my blog-buddy Robert the other day, in response to Alison Deming's quotation about stories. Here's what he wrote:
At a party after an Art show, I was telling a story about my daughter to
some friends. Jennifer happened to walk up about that time, and said
"that's not the way it happened." I replied, "it is now, that's the
way I tell the story and it's true." I have come to believe that story is
not obligated to fact, and that fact is only a very small part of reality
and truth.

I agree with Robert--although I think there are some stories (listen up, Swift Boat Vets) that require strict attention to fact, and that if we cannot accept or recognize the facts then we'd better not tell those particular stories. But for the most part, we tell and retell the stories of our lives so often, to so many different people and in so many different contexts, that they come to have the quality of myth: our myths, the myths of our lives. The important thing is the story that's in us, the story that is us, which is also our reality and our truth. Thank you, Robert, as always, for sharing.

I've been catching up on stuff the past few days: mailing off bookmarks, working with Peggy on the next email newsletters, finishing up details on the UT Press anthology that I'm helping to edit for Story Circle, and looking ahead at Bleeding Hearts. I also opened up the files again on the Book of Days project--hope it will be as easy as I think it will, but it probably won't. Anyway, it looks like fun, and I'll try to do something on that book every few days. We finally got the contract for it, so it's now official, with a due date of May 31. I always feel an interesting, interested excitement when I start on a new writing project, and here I have two of them. Double the excitement, double the interest, for right now, anyway. I hope to be able to finish both before the creative energy bubbles away.

Reading notes. It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.--Virginia Woolf



8/29/2004 06:13:00 PM

Thursday, August 26, 2004  
Another pretty wildflower: this blue ruellia--otherwise known as a wild petunia, or Mexican petunia--growing up through the planking of our deck. Some people complain that it's invasive--indeed it is, but I don't complain. As far as I'm concerned, this pretty little plant can set up housekeeping in any part of my garden, and invite her pink and lavender cousins as houseguests. In August, my garden is mostly green and gray, with swatches of rusty brown and a few bright mounds of lantana, and the ruellia's hardy blue blossoms are always welcome.



Bleeding Heart, or maybe Bleeding Hearts, with an "s." That's to be the name of the 2006 China Bayles mystery. (The 2005 book, Dead Man's Bones, is already written and due out in April.) I spent yesterday going through my notes--in a valiant effort to create a paperless office, I keep them in Word documents, on the computer--and reminding myself of the herbs I want to include in the book. Cardiac and circulatory herbs, mostly. But this is to be a Valentine's Day book (of course: bleeding heart), with a basic theme and several variations of love gone wrong.

I was in the process of exploring one promising idea--remember the teacher recently released from jail for seducing her 12-year-old student?--when I happened on a series of articles in the Houston Chronicle on the enormous problem, here in Texas, of sexual misconduct on the part of coaches and band directors. I was amazed at the extent of the problem, but it wasn't a new concept, and brought back vividly unhappy memories. In my rural school in the 50s, our principal, whose first name was Ivan, was widely known among the girls as Ivan the Horrible because of his "roman hands and russian fingers." We weren't very sophisticated, and back then, there was no support for girls who "told"--but all the girls knew, and knew enough to stay as far away from him as possible. I've often wondered since just how many generations of girls he terrorized. So I've changed my story plan, and am excited about the challenge of it. I felt this way when I encountered the Sandow Mine, and saw it as the setting and the thematic background for Indigo Dying--lots of possibilities, and I'm eager to explore them.

Fire report. The neighbor's largest burn pile is still smoldering (this is Day 6), and so are we. (I just wish the wind would blow in the direction of their house.) Last night, I finally located the Texas Natural Resources Commission website, and downloaded the regulations on outdoor burning. The burn (see the entry for 8/21) violated at least three provisions of the code. Whether the TNRC has the ability to enforce the regs, of course, is quite another matter. Guess we'll start making phone calls.

Reading Notes. In forty thousand years of human history, it has only been in the last few hundred years or so that a people could afford to ignore their local geographies as competely as we do and still survive. . . In the wake of this loss of personal and local knowledge, the knowledge from which a real goegraphy is derived, the knowledge on which a country must ultimately stand, has come something hard to define but I think sinister and unsettling--the packaging of land as a form of entertainment.--Barry Lopez



8/26/2004 07:29:00 AM

Tuesday, August 24, 2004  

Looks something like a poinsettia, doesn't it, with those green-and-white bracts? This is snow-on-the-prairie (Euphorbia bicolor), one of my favorite wildflowers. Here in the Hill Country, it blooms from late August until frost. A member of the spurge family, the broken stems exude a sticky latex sap. No medicinal uses that I've been able to track down, but it certainly is pretty. A large swath of it brightens the meadow along the old stone wall, under the elm trees. The deer bed down there at night, and when I walk along the trail in the morning, I can see the shapes of their bedrooms, hollowed out in the brush. The dogs always have to go and investigate--wonder what ghosts they think they're sniffing out. Two great white herons fishing at the lake this morning, and three green herons wading along the near shore, with a sky full of swallows over the lake. A clear, quiet morning, the best sort for fishing and catching flying bugs.

Yes, to those who asked: the fires in the meadow south of us are still burning. The neighbor had the grass mowed today, which cuts down the fire danger somewhat, but it's still a nervous situation. One day of dry, hot wind, a few sparks, and the fire will be off and running again--especially since nobody's watching it. Nobody but us, that is.

Polishing off a bit more of the Marconi, finishing up the manuscript of the Southwest anthology, and signing bookmarks to send off to people who have asked for them. Did a little work on the April tour, cleaned up some neglected emails, and organized my office--all nice work to do on a hot August day when the temperature topped 95, with a heat index of 105.

One of the emails was from a woman who just finished Indigo Dying and wrote to say that she owned a piece of property near the Sandow Mine and wanted to find out if her property was threatened--interesting that she had to learn about her local situation from a murder mystery! I sent her the Neighbors For Neighbors website and heard back from her later that she felt less threatened and more informed. Love the Internet, love the trading of information it inspires.

Reading Notes.This earth is my sister; I love her daily grace, her silent daring, and how loved I am how we admire this strength in each other, all that we have lost, all that we have suffered, all that we know: we are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget: what she is to me, what I am to her.--Susan Griffin


8/24/2004 05:58:00 PM

Saturday, August 21, 2004  
What was he thinking? Remember the neighbors who hired the man who cut down the 20-year-old grapevine on our fence? They're at it again.

Their hired man, named Fidel (he doesn't speak much English so we didn't bother asking to see his green card) was told to cut the dead stuff out of the woodlot. Fidel has been cutting and hauling and piling (with a tractor and a front-end loader) for several weeks now, and produced 8 widely scattered piles of dead stuff, 10 feet high, 12-15 feet in diameter. Yesterday morning, he doused 6 of the piles with something flammable and put a match to them. We weren't too concerned at first, because of the rain the night before, and because the wind was still. But about 1 o'clock, the wind came up, blowing in our direction, and we began to get smoke in the house.

And then the inevitable happened. Fidel couldn't manage all 6 burning piles, especially since he had no tools (well, actually, he had a forked stick he was using as a rake) and no water. He called his boss (at work in Austin) and told him that a couple of the fires were out of control. The boss called the fire department, and also called us--but Bill, seeing the blaze, was on his way already. The volunteer FD brought 3 trucks (a couple are tankers) and got the fire under control. But last night, about 9:30, the fires regenerated--and if the rising wind hadn't been accompanied by rain, the VFD would have been out here again.

The reason these people are burning? They seem to be "landscaping" their 50 acres. Last year, they dammed up the creek (wonder how the landowners downstream have reacted to that) to make a little lake. Now, they're cleaning out their woodlot to make a park. We could have suggested a safer way of burning (we regularly clean out dead stuff in order to reduce the danger of wildfires). But these are city people, and they didn't think (and don't like to accept advice)--and they didn't supervise their hired help. Fidel (it isn't his land, after all--why should he care?) didn't mow before he stacked the debris, and the grass growing against the piles was knee high. Sure, it was damp to start with. But after a couple of hours of furnace-like heat, the grass dried out for twenty feet or more all around the pile, and of course the fire spread into it--and would have burned into the woods along the creek, without the VFD. And even though the wind was quiet in the morning, it always comes up in the afternoon, so you need to burn small piles, and fast, so the fire is down to coals by the time the dew has dried and the wind comes up. But the main thing is to burn small piles, and mow all around, and have a rake handy, and ideally, water. And 6 huge piles is too much for one man, especially a man without tools. (Not to mention the fact that this kind of burning is against the Texas Natural Resources Commission regulations.)

Sadly, we speak from experience here. This is the sixth fire Bill and I have worked on in this neighborhood. And every single one of them was caused by human care/lessness and a lack of basic knowledge about the way things burn--and most of all by a failure to be at home on the land.

And for me, this where writing, the kind of writing I do in this web journal, comes in. As writers, we can't stand a full-time watch against ignorance and care/lessness, but we can try to describe what happens when people fail to pay attention to natural processes, when they deliberately abuse the land or refuse, through their ignorance, to use it wisely. Perhaps, over time, writers can raise enough questions so that we will all become aware of our responsibilities to our own home ground, wherever it is.

Reading notes. The effort to know and care for and speak from your home ground is a choice about living as well as writing. In that effort you are collaborating with everyone else who keeps track, everyone who works for the good of the community and the land . . . We might help form the conscience of a place, and that seems to me ambition enough for a lifetime's labor.--Scott Russell Sanders, Writing From the Center




8/21/2004 08:03:00 AM

Friday, August 20, 2004  
Walking the lake trail with the dogs this morning, after a bang-up thunderstorm last night--pleasant and green and beautifully cool. The storm was a two-hour spectacle that sent poor Lady (our female black Lab) into hysterics. We turned off the lights and sat in the dark, amazed by the lightning that lit up the southern sky. It was all produced (according to the local meteorologist) by an outflow boundary created by the thunderstorms in Dallas/Fort Worth yesterday, 200+ miles to the north, and on the on-line radar, I could actually see the boundary slowly working its way south. The storms produced nearly 2" of rain in our rain gauge, which is remarkable for August, and very welcome. Looks like we might even have a repeat performance this afternoon.


This aromatic lavender beauty is one of my favorite native plants, a shrubby herb (Poliomintha longiflora) that is sometimes called "Mexican oregano." This particular plant is about five feet high, five feet in diameter. I love it because it's pretty, but also because I remember its history so vividly. For years, we had chickens. Our favorite rooster, Chaunticleer, loved to nip this plant, which was then only a tiny sprig. I had to put chicken wire around it to keep the rooster away. Chaunticleer is long gone, but the plant thrives. Just now, it is loaded with tubular purple flowers, which the hummingbirds love just as much as the rooster did. South of the border, it's used in vinegars (with garlic and chiles), as a marinade, and in beef stews and frijoles. High in antioxidants, too--in fact, it scored higher than any other herb in a recent scientific study. To most Yankees, though, it's an acquired taste, like epazote and cumin.

Book report. Getting there. Yesterday, we put the more-or-less final touches to the next-to-last chapter of the Marconi book. Today, we'll work on the authors' notes that always appear at the end of these books, and update the bibliography. Then we plan to put it away for a while and spend a week on it later this fall. I'm going to take a few days to sort out the manuscript of the Story Circle anthology (Women Write About the Southwest), which I hope will go off to the University of Texas Press in September. I also hope to spend some time on the Book of Days (although the contract hasn't arrived yet, my editor and I have made a verbal deal), and start thinking about the next China. I think it will be called Bleeding Heart.

Reading Notes. When a feather falls at your feet, it means you are to travel on wings of curiosity. Don't be afraid of strange lands or a language you don't understand. The feather means freedom. Why else do you think the bird gave it to you?--Nancy Wood, poet.

8/20/2004 08:30:00 AM

Monday, August 16, 2004  
One of our prettiest prairie wildflowers is also one of the most valuable--or at least, it used to be. This is purple boneset (Eupatorium purpureum), or Joe-Pye weed. It grows in all our marshy places: Meadow Marsh, the Cattail Marsh, along Cypress Branch, and under the elm trees along the old stone fence. As I walked along the branch after lunch today, the queens and monarchs were hanging thick on the blossoms, so delighted to be where they were that they barely stirred as I walked past. (Another name is Queen-of-the-Meadow--the butterflies will tell you why.)

The Eupatorium family had a reputation for service. The white-bloomers (called "boneset") were used in treating dengue or "bone-break fever," and also as a malaria treatment. There are some other interesting names, too: gravelroot, kidneywort, kidneyroot, and purple thoroughwort. Yep. It was used to treat kidney stones and bladder problems. Oh, yes. The Ojibway Indians used it as an aphrodisiac and the Potawatomi used it as a talisman to give luck when gambling. A very handy plant to have around, back in the old days--and still very pretty to look at.

Oh. Why is it called Joe-Pye weed? Joe Pye was an Algonquin herbalist (some say--others say he was a white man exploiting native American herbal knowledge), who recommended this plant as a cure for typhus.



Hollyhocks. My note about hollyhocks (July 26) brought responses from several people. Jodi Wilson writes this:

The hollyhocks in our Ohio garden, having broken out of their intended
spot, now grace the tomato patch, obscure the sundial and attack innocent
travelers along the garden path. My mother in law, Eloise, delights in
reminiscing about the hollyhock dolls she and her sister Carol used to make for
hollyhock weddings. You pick the blossom, turn it inside out, and there
you have a perfect little full-skirted figure. White for the bride, pink and red
for the wedding party, and purple for the sinister Duchess who enjoys
complicating things. I don't think any other flower in the garden is so
nostalgia-inducing, nor as breathtaking when in full glory.

And Vera Bujac remembers:

We had hollyhocks inthe yard inTularosa, NM, growing up--all shades of
pink, red, & white. I used to make hollyhock dolls out of the blossom
and a bud--the float them down the irragation ditch that ran through the
yard.
I wonder--do kids today still play the imaginative outdoor games that we played? Or are they so busy with homework, or television, or video games, or email that they don't have time? I know that we were less sophisticated then. And that, to me, was all to the good. There's something to be said for putting off some sorts of knowings until you have the emotional maturity to cope with it. Hollyhock dolls, anyone?

Updates of various kinds.
Robin Paige: We're sliding down the home stretch of our Marconi book this week, with time to spare. So we'll let the book sit for a while before we go back and do some clean-up. We still have the authors' notes to do; someone wrote to say that he (or she?) enjoys the headnotes and the authors' notes--a nice boost there, thank you very much. Sometimes we think nobody notices.

Women Write about the Southwest: I'm delighted by the way this book is coming together. We've selected almost all the unpublished work (nearly 50 writers, about 45,000 words), and are working on the published work now (another 50 writers, another 45,000 words). It's a big job but enormously rewarding. I've had the privilege of reading some very wonderful work. If you're puzzled by this, you can get your questions answered on the book's website. The manuscript will go off to the University of Texas Press sometime next month.

Knitting. I finished a couple of scarves last week, Christmas presents for Bill's nieces. When I finish writing this, I'm going to dig through my yarn stash and see what sort of mitten and hat yarn I can come up with. It's time to get back to my Afghan knitting.

Reading Notes. Stories are the way we tell each other who we are, the way we cross the borders that separate us. They are so much a part of our ordinary discourse that we hardly notice them. We make a new acquaintance and ask, Where are you from? How did you come to live here? We run into a friend and ask, What have you been up to? We come home at night to loved ones and ask, How was your day? And if one takes the time to really answer the question, a story unfolds.--Alison Hawthorne Deming, Writing the Sacred into the Real.





8/16/2004 05:55:00 PM

Friday, August 13, 2004  
I've spent the day divided between writing and watching Hurricane Charley, which has a special significance for me because my brother John and his wife Jean live northeast of Orlando. Just now, I'm watching the radar and reading a weblog on the Orlando Sentinel site--John called about two hours ago to say that he'd managed to get all the windows but one boarded up before he was driven indoors by the storm. The weblog is interesting, a kind of blow-by-blow (so to speak) of hurricane-related news. I'm no less concerned, but at least I feel informed. They're estimating losses above $15 billion. Mmm...I don't think the country can afford this. We haven't finished paying for Iraq yet.

And feel informed but not comforted by the news that there are now two tropical depressions (#4 and #5, not yet storms) heading up Hurricane Alley. Today is Friday. It'll be Tuesday before #5 gets into the Gulf, so there's plenty of time to watch it. I don't live on the coast, so I'm not afraid of these storms, but rather fascinated by their dynamics, and by the amazing technologies that allow me--in my writing studio here in Central Texas--to watch them at a safe distance. When we first moved to the country some eighteen years ago, I worried that I would feel isolated: an hour's drive from town, 90 minutes' drive to a decent library, no daily newspaper, only the major TV networks and no PBS--the signal was too weak. Yes, the first few years were a little bare, culturally speaking, although I did have plenty of time to catch up on my reading. But my goodness, how things have changed! I feel connected to the whole world. (Although at the moment, watching the path of TD #5, I'm not so sure this is entirely a good idea.)

We're moving down the steep slope toward the book's last chapter, and for those of you who are keeping score, we passed 76,000 words today (Death on the Lizard is the title--one of our Robin Paige mysteries). When we get to this point in a book, the writing moves much faster, partly because there are so many loose ends to tie up, partly because the infinity of choices has narrowed down to just a few final, inevitable (or at least we hope they seem so) moves. We're going to let this one rest for a while, maybe a couple of weeks, before we start the final polish. Meanwhile, I'm already starting to think about Bleeding Heart, which is the next China Bayles mystery.

Reading Beatrix Potter. Here's something fun--was for me, anyway. The Hill Country Bookstore, in Georgetown, which handles all our books, invited me to read at their weekly children's story hour. I read "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," from the BIG Peter Rabbit book the Beatrix Potter Society gave me. Here's a photo of some of the audience. I think we all enjoyed ourselves. I know I did! Thanks to the moms (and grandmas) who brought the children out. This was so much fun that I'll be doing it again.



Reading notes. Believe there is a great power silently working all things for good, behave yourself, and never mind the rest.--Beatrix Potter

8/13/2004 06:02:00 PM

Monday, August 09, 2004  
No, I'm not sick, just working! but thanks for asking. It's nice to be missed--really! As you know (if you're a regular reader of this page), I've been working on a book for Story Circle this summer: Deserts, Plains, Mountains, Prairies: Women Write About the Southwest. We (I have three co-editors) invited submissions and received nearly 300 entries. We've read all of those and settled on the ones we want to include in the book. The emails to those writers went out a couple of weeks ago, and today Peggy and I sent out the rejection emails. That's always a heart-breaker, because I've been on the receiving end, and I know how it hurts.

Now, we're selecting pieces from the work of published writers. There were nearly 40 of those on the list, and we've worked through a huge stack of material. The co-editors sent their selections to me (photocopied) and I scanned them and set them up in Word. Next week, we'll select from that group. Then comes the job of assembling all these selections--about 100,000 words, perhaps 100 different pieces--into one coherent whole, producing the manuscript, and getting it off to the University of Texas Press, which will (we hope!) publish it. Eventually. It will probably be six months after submission before we know for sure.

So that's how I've been spending my evenings recently: scanning, editing, and organizing stuff. Lots of stuff. So if I don't show up at this page for a few days, just reread some of the old entries (there's an archive full, to the left there, on your screen) and hang around. I'll be back.

A painted surprise. I was washing dishes yesterday (yep, the old-fashioned way, in a dishpan in the sink, since I preferred the cabinet space over the dishwasher in our small kitchen), when I looked out to see a male painted bunting eating seeds in a patch of unmown grass in a corner of the yard. I've seen these gorgeous birds--they're so beautiful, they look as if they should be on the cover of a slick magazine!--in the trees, but never feeding on the ground. I worried about him for a little while, thinking perhaps he was sick. But no, he was just enjoying a great crop of Dallis grass seed. He fed there for twenty minutes or so, as I watched, keeping an eye out for Shadow, our black cat (who also loves birds, but for quite a different reason). When he was stuffed to the beak, he flew off. I dislike Dallis grass and try to keep it out of the yard, but perhaps this delightful encounter will change my mind. If the painted bunting likes Dallis grass, who am I to dispute him?

Marconi marches on. The other project in my computer these days is another Robin Paige mystery (I think this is the 12th), this one featuring Marconi. I see in my log book that I've logged 48 days of work on it, and have 71,000 words--about 1500 words a day, plus or minus. I'm guessing that another 12,000 words (maybe 8-9 days) will see it more or less finished. We're at the point in the book where the hardest job is tying up all the various plot strands, and making sure that nothing is left dangling when we finish. And I'm at the point where I look back over all those chapters and words and shake my head in disbelief and mutter, "Where did it all come from?" This book was hard because it's technology-heavy and deeply situated in its place and time. Some people are bound to complain--they always do--that there's too much history and too many technical details in the book. (Makes me wonder why in the world these complainers bother to read historical mysteries. Maybe it's a good rootin'-tootin' bodice-ripper they're after?)
Buffalo gourd. Yes, I know this looks like a melon or a squash or a pumpkin, but it's a buffalo gourd, growing wild in one of the pastures. Isn't she gorgeous?




Where's that famous Texas heat? I don't have much to complain about this summer, because it's been unusually cool. We've had only a couple of 100-degree days, when we usually have a whole string of them by this time. We've actually had a couple of cold fronts dip down from the north into the Hill Country, bringing some rain--enough to keep everything green and growing. The tropics are beginning to get interesting. Looks like a tropical storm in the Gulf (Bonnie) and another (Charlie?) heading up the alley into the Caribbean and the Gulf. It would have to come ashore near Corpus Christi to bring us any rain, but of course that's always possible. Watching the weather maps reminds me of how connected we are to everywhere else on the globe--a sobering thought these difficult days, when there is (literally) nowhere to hide. Isolated as we are, we are within 250 miles of two nuclear plants, downwind of both, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Reading note. Taking part in the small-scale rediscovery of your home region does not prevent you from also taking part in the large-scale reimagining of our common home and common fate on earth, an awakening that Rene Dubos has called the planteization of consciousness. Every thread you discover in the local web of life leads beyond your place to life elsewhere.--Scott Russell Sanders, Writing From the Center.




8/09/2004 06:22:00 PM

Sunday, August 01, 2004  
Blue Moon. That's what last night's full moon was, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. A blue moon. The second full moon in a calendar month, something that happens about once every two and a half years. I've read a dozen explanations for the term "blue"--the most sensible one (which doesn't mean that it's right, of course) is that "blue" refers to the also-rare occurrence caused by smoke or volcanic dust in the atmosphere. July's full moon is also called "thunder moon"--and that's a rare occurrence here in the Hill Country: thunder in July, that is. Normally, Julys are high and dry here. However, we've had thunder all week, and it's rumbling again just now, to the north of us. Which is sending Lady into hysterics, and we're out of thunder pills. Also, we had planned to cook out tonight. Ah, well. The best-laid plans....

Aloe, anybody? Did you read that interesting article about the use of aloe vera as a substitute for blood plasma in crisis situations? For centuries, aloe has been used as a wound treatment because the gel has excellent healing properties and can be used to seal off the wound's surface. But blood substitute? Sounds pretty miraculous to me. Let's hear it for plant medicines.

Moving right along with the Marconi book. 57,000 words, which means that we're about 2/3 finished. Time to start tying up the loose ends, of which there are quite a few. We're having trouble remembering which character knows what plot details at any given moment--makes for an interesting writing challenge.

Today, I worked on a sailing scene, set in two small sailboats in the Channel just off Lizard Point. I learned to sail when I was a graduate student at Berkeley in the late '60s--yes, back in the wild days of the Haight Ashbury and Peace Park. I sailed with the U. Cal sailing club, and also on a couple of boats out of the San Francisco Yacht Club, over in Sausalito. When I moved to Texas, I bought an M-20 and sailed it in competition. Great fun! I thought of those times today, when I was writing the scene. Almost wrote myself right back into the boat. Writing about those days, I caught a remembered sense of who I was, then: a different woman than I am now, with a great many lessons to learn. I could handle a boat, but life was another matter. I wonder if I would know that woman if I met her on the street, would recognize her as myself. Perhaps not. We are very different, even though we share the same past.

Reading Notes. My roots are in my memory and my writing. That's why memory is so important. Who are you but what you can remember?--Isabel Allende







8/01/2004 05:16:00 PM

 

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