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

Monday, May 30, 2005  

Madonna lilies carry too many associations to be my personal favorite, but all that emotional baggage is irrelevant when they’re as stunning as this clump of blooming lilies. They were given room in my garden at the urging of my mother, who often received pots of lilies as gifts from friends when she was living in the nursing home. Neither Mom nor I liked them (she said they made her think of funerals), but neither of us could bear to throw them on the compost, either. [And see below, Reading Notes.] So here they are, in their annual resurrection glory—even more gloriously resurrected than usual this year, with very full bloom stalks, unfazed by yesterday’s rain and wind. It was an all-day storm, one round after another. No hail (for which the lilies are no doubt grateful), but too much thunder for Lady’s taste. She spent a big part of the day in the closet, which we now call Lady’s Storm Shelter. Zach and Toro have no opinion about storms. Sensible dogs, they napped all day.

Book work. I’ve finished all the “extras” that go into the Beatrix books—glossary, bibliography, historical note, recipes. I’m using traditional recipes in this series, which means I don’t kitchen-test them, figuring that, over the last couple of centuries, cooks have had plenty of time to work out the bugs (so to speak)—and anyway, I don’t think Bill would be crazy about black pudding, a sausage made from pig’s blood. I have a facsimile edition of Mrs. Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management, and try to use at least one recipe from that in each book. I never try to modify these, although I’m sure some readers are puzzled by things like this, from her sponge cake recipe: “the weight of 5 eggs in flour, the weight of 8 in pounded loaf sugar.” These recipes were created long before the sizes of eggs were standardized (small, medium, large, X-large, jumbo, etc.). Cooks went into the kitchen with the eggs they had (to paraphrase a certain Pentagon high muckity-muck), and their recipes were written accordingly. I like using recipes, especially in this Lake District series, because I think (or maybe I hope) that they give the reader a sense of the special cuisine in that part of England, in that era.

Fiber stuff. I’m still (forever!) knitting that blue lace scarf. It’s a good thing to keep beside my favorite living room chair and pick up when I sit down to read or watch TV. But I now have another project to keep me busy: a wall quilt. My last quilt was a full-size embroidered beauty done for a relative who never put it on the bed because she was afraid it would get dirty. She finally gave it back to me; I gave it to my daughter Robin, who displays it on the bed in her guest room. I love quilting—but then, I love too many of the fiber arts. Anyway, there’s quite a bit of wall space in our New Mexico house, which is built of logs. I shopped online and found exactly the pattern I wanted. Then, of course, I had to get the fabric (as near to the photo as I could), and then some other stuff (a new rotary cutter, a cutting board, a new ruler, etc, which I also bought online), and then I had to relearn my sewing machine, since I haven’t used it for seven or eight years. And then I couldn’t find the extra bobbins, and oil the machine, and . . . . well, you know. I’m about a third of the way through the piecing—hope to get that part done this week. Photo when the piecing is finished.

Reading Notes. I’m rereading my 20-year-old copy of Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America. I was very much influenced, back then, by his ideas about bringing our work lives home. The following passage challenged me to think about how I might make a living in the place where I lived—and writing was the best answer. I remember reading this paragraph aloud to Bill and discussing it with him. It’s probably fair to say that it, as much as anything else we were reading at the time, shaped our future choices about what we would do with our lives, how we would work, and how we would live. It was stern stuff, but we took it to heart and have never been sorry.

It is impossible to divorce the question of what we do from the question of where we are—or rather, where we think we are. That no sane creature befouls its own nest is accepted as generally true. What we conceive to be our nest, and where we think it is, are therefore questions of the greatest importance. Do we, for instance, carry on our work in our nest or do we only reside and get our mail there? Is our nest a place of consumption only or is it also a place of production? Is it the source of necessary goods, energies, and “services,” or only their destination? . . . . If we do not live where we work, and when we work, we are wasting our lives, and our work too.

5/30/2005 08:08:00 AM

Monday, May 23, 2005  
Summer is icumen in . . .

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu,
Groweth sed, and bloweth med
And springth the wude nu
Sing cuccu!

From Middle English to modern English, more or less:

Summer is a-coming in,
Loud sings the cuckoo.
Seeds grow and the meadow blooms
And the woodland sprout now
Sing, cuckoo!

And so it does—the yellow-billed cuckoo, one of our most welcome summer visitors. It doesn’t sound much like the English cuckoo (which sounds just like a cuckoo clock), but gives out a long series of regular (and unmistakable) clucks. This is the bird that Midwesterners call the “rain crow,” and is said to sing just before a rain. Not true, worse luck. No rain for us, just plenty of Texas heat, as we move into near-100-degree days and our third week without rain. But Bill’s pecan grafts look pretty good, I’m managing to get the garden weeded (working mostly between 6 and 7 a.m., when it’s relatively cool), and the wildflowers are blooming gloriously. “Groweth sed, and bloweth med,” indeed!

My last book signings for BONES were on Saturday, and lots of fun, too. I spoke to a full house at the Boerne Library(Boerne is a small town northwest of San Antonio, with lots of Texas character), and then drove to Remember the Alibi, Patsy Asher’s mystery bookstore in San Antonio. I have another talk to give in early June, then a few weeks’ break until mid-July, when I’m making a week-long driving trip (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana) to launch HOLLY HOW. But before then, I have to finish CUCKOO BROW WOOD—just a couple of chapters to go, plus the end notes and bibliography. Haven’t quite figured out how to handle the fairies at the end, but I’m working on it.

Fiber report. Just in case you thought I’d given up knitting, here is the hooded sweater (a “hoodie,” the kids call it) I made for great-grandson Coby. (That’s perfectly okay, I don’t believe it either.) Coby is an outdoor guy, and while this variegated yarn turned out a bit too stripy for my taste, I’m sure he’ll like it. He lives in Anchorage AK, where a nice warm sweater can come in handy most days, especially one with both a hood and a kangaroo pocket.

Reading Notes. Found my 20-year-old copy of Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America today, and enjoyed re-reading a few marked-up passages. Berry was the beginning of my realization that public solutions to our ecological crises can only begin with private solutions, and that I had to make some significant changes in my own life and work. I'm celebrating the twentieth anniversary of that recognition this year, so for the next few blog entries, I'll share some of the thoughts that have meant so much to me.

A culture is not a collection of relics or ornaments but a practical necessity, and its corruption invokes calamity. A healthy culture is a communal order of memory, insight, value, work, conviviality, reverence, aspiration. It reveals the human necessities and the human limits. It clarifies our inescapable bonds to the earth and to each other. It assures that the necessary restraints are observed, that the necessary work is done, and that it is done well.

5/23/2005 07:24:00 PM

Tuesday, May 17, 2005  
Listening, hearing. A friend of mine wears her Walkman while she’s working in the garden, listening to music while she weeds. I can listen to music all day, although I don’t think I really hear it. (What I hear, instead, are the words in my head, which are coming out of my fingers.) When I’m working in the garden, I’d rather listen to what’s around me, to what I can’t see. This evening, I was listening to birds, and taking a great deal of pleasure in hearing them, and thinking about what they must look like—heads back, cheeks puffed, hearts bursting with song—even if I can’t see them.

The first bird I hear is one I almost always see from a distance, the variegated warbler, who spills song without melody, always from the highest twig. Then there’s the cardinal—no, two cardinals, one in the woodlot, the other in the meadow: cheer cheer cheer. Overhead, martins: I do look up, then, and see them, and smile at their happy, chirping song. (But why aren’t they doing their duty in the martin house, instead of swinging through the sky, singing? Six nests up and filled with inviting nest material, and not an egg to be seen yet.) A chickadee, somewhere in the west meadow. A yellow-billed cuckoo, who always makes me think of summers on the farm, and my mother, who called this bird a “rain crow.” And a dove, mournful and slow. It’s a lovely evening, cool enough, and I’m making progress in the flower beds. And I’m in good company, even if I can’t see my companions.

I can see this little beauty, though. This blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) lived in the meadow until I transplanted it to the garden, where it’s thriving. A very pretty border plant that manages to be utterly perfect with no attention from me. A creature that belongs exactly where it is.

Reading Notes. The work of belonging to a place is never finished. There will always be more to know than any mind or lifetime can hold. But that is no argument against learning all one can.—Scott Russell Sanders

5/17/2005 07:44:00 PM

Sunday, May 15, 2005  
The Wildflower Center booksigning yesterday was fun and interesting. Usually, I don’t like stand-up signings at stores, because they make me feel like a cook-ware salesperson, hawking my wares to people who couldn’t care less. (I much prefer events where I can give a talk and sign books afterward—it always feels to me as if I’ve given them something in return for the effort they made to come out.) But this signing was different. The Wildflower Center, established by Lady Bird Johnson,is a wonderful place, and well worth a day's visit. I met lots of friends of the work (as May Sarton called her readers), and sold lots of books, which always makes me feel good. That's not the purpose of the writing for me, but I have to admit to a certain satisfaction when I see the books fly off the table, and know that a lot of people are going to be staying up late, reading BONES.

Blooming now at Meadow Knoll. I’m a sucker for yellow roses, and have several different varieties. This is the prettiest, blooming on the kennel fence (we call it “the puppy palace”).

I spotted these lovely bloomers in the meadows, when the dogs and I were out walking this morning:

Gaillardia (Indian blanket), colorful yellow and red pinwheels
Mock bishop’s weed (Ptilimnium nuttallii), which looks like Queen Ann’s lace
Peppergrass, nice in spring salads
Engelmann daisy, enjoyed by our cows and hence now almost gone from their pasture, although plentiful elsewhere at Meadow Knoll.
Texas Squaw-weed, sunny and bright
Buffalo gourd, a member of the squash family, whose fruit was cooked and eaten by our local Indians, and the mashed root used to wash clothes
Snake-herb (Dyschoriste Linearis), a pretty little purple plant that thrives in hot, dry gravelly soil—no idea how it got its name, although I imagine it must have been used to treat snake bites--or maybe it was thought to attract snakes.

As I walk through this community of plants in their grassland habitat, I am amazed at its enormous variety, its complexity, its health, its persistence, its distinctiveness. Each plant grows here because it is suited to this place, to its topography, its rainfall, its temperatures. I’m more adaptable; I could live in many different places, and enjoy each one. But this is where I live now, and where I feel connected: to the earth, to this grassland community, to these plants. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Reading notes:

All things by immortal power
Near or far
To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling a star.
--Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

5/15/2005 08:53:00 AM

Friday, May 13, 2005  
Everywhere I look, something is blooming. This morning, out with the dogs, I had to stop and admire the neat globular flower forms of the antelope-horn milkweed (Asclepias asperula), which is blooming in open, gravelly areas across the meadows. The plant is a larval host plant for monarch and queen butterflies, and when the monarchs migrate northward from their winter residence in Mexico, they seek out this plant along the way and lay their eggs. When the larvae hatch, the caterpillars munch their way through as much milkweed as possible. They absorb the latex sap, which has a bitter taste and is poisonous to boot (full of cardiac glycosides), taking on a bitter taste, too, not a pleasant mouthful for predators. A nice arrangement, although sadly, I saw no sign of monarch eggs, and the two dozen plants I checked, all were very healthy. No signs of monarch caterpillar munching. Not many other sorts of bugs, either. It’s been dry the past two months. Maybe that’s the explanation. Or maybe we're losing the monarchs--a thought I don't like to think.

By the way, while this plant is considered toxic (all those cardiac glycosides), the genus is named for the Greek god of medicine, Asklepios. In Mexico, all of the various species of Asclepias are called “immortal plants,” because they grow again from the root and seem impossible to kill. Its other folk name, “pleurisy root,” refer to its use as a remedy for pleurisy and chest congestion. Native Americans had a great many uses for the plant: the root was chewed and applied to rashes and sores, powdered and blown into wounds that refused to heal, eaten to treat bronchitis, brewed into a tea and drunk to ease pneumonia, mashed and eaten as a laxative. Altogether, a handy plant to have around, even if you aren’t a monarch.

Book Report. Really, sometimes I shudder at the amount of stuff that has to come out of a book after I’ve put it in! CUCKOO BROW WOOD is nice and cold (I’ve been away from it since the end of March), and I’m finding all sorts of things wrong with it that I thought were perfectly right. Sometimes, a few weeks' lay-off is a very good thing. The problem: too many stories (plot lines) in this book. The solution: pruning, pruning, pruning. Not just sentences, but whole paragraphs, and in one case, one whole scene. Maybe, by the time I’m done, an entire plot line. What was I thinking? But it’s all part of the process. And in this case, a necessary part.

Reading notes. It takes courage. D.H. Lawrence, who wrote ten novels in his twenty-year career—and plays, short stories, poetry, essays—was working on a book called The Two Sisters. He rewrote it several times, then decided to throw out a thousand pages that he’d done and make them into two books. They became Women in Love and The Rainbow.—Sophy Burnham

5/13/2005 06:52:00 PM

Wednesday, May 11, 2005  
Granted, it doesn’t look like much. Nothing but a green stalk with clusters of tiny green flowers that will turn into tiny reddish-brown fruits as they age. This sturdy, healthy-looking plant is among the many unruly volunteers making themselves at home in my garden this spring.

But even though this plant isn’t terribly pretty (let’s face it: most people would call it a weed), I’ll still give it root-room. This yellow dock (Rumex crispus—it’s the crimpy margins of the leaves that give it the Latin name) has a long tradition of medicinal uses as a detox or purifying herb, a laxative (said to be gentler than rhubarb), and a treatment for various skin ailments. It’s the yellow root that was mostly used (hence the name “yellow dock.”) The root was mashed fresh for use as a poultice, or powdered and dusted on sores and wounds. The young leaves can be eaten, but with caution, for they’re rich in oxalic acid and hence not a good choice for people with rheumatism, arthritis, or gout.

Zach. Our 9-year-old black Lab, Zach, developed a tumor on his hind leg, and when it was removed and sent to the lab, we learned that it is a hemangiopericytoma: a low-grade malignant tumor that is locally invasive but doesn’t usually metastasize. Zach handled the surgery with his usual aplomb (“Pain? What pain?”) and even managed to wear his plastic lampshade collar with grace. We’re crossing our fingers that the tumor won’t recur.

Fiber stuff. I took some merino lace yarn with me on the book tour, and used the down time (sitting in my car, waiting for an event, or watching TV in a motel room) to knit a pretty lace scarf—my first. I’m working on another, but have managed to mess up the pattern and will have to take out a couple of inches before I go on. I’m waiting for a day when I’m feeling very brave. Meanwhile, I’m finishing a hooded sweater I started for my great-grandson Coby (the women in my family have all been child brides). I’m not very happy with the variegated blue (too streaky), but maybe Coby will like it. When that’s done, it’s either back to the messed-up lace scarf or on to a crocheted sweater for granddaughter Becky. I’m also thinking about taking up knitting with beads, maybe on a scarf. (Just didn’t want you to think that I was neglecting my fiber interests these days.)

Reading notes. A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.--Doug Larson

5/11/2005 07:18:00 AM

Sunday, May 08, 2005  
Mother’s Day started off with a bang here, about 4:30 a.m., when Lady (our black Lab) woke us up to tell us that a storm was coming and please please please, could she have a thunder pill and go in the closet. With Lady soothed and stowed, Bill and I went back to sleep, to be wakened at 5:15 by NOAA (our weather radio), with the news that we were under a thunderstorm watch—which we already knew, thanks to Lady. NOAA woke us up at 5:45 to tell us that the watch was now a warning, and at 6:15 the storm arrived, with the usual sturm und drang. So much for sleeping in on Mother’s Day. The fireworks went on for three or four hours, but the storm brought us an inch of welcome rain. I spent the rest of the morning on the phone: three Mother's Day phone calls, from Bob, Robin, and Michael. And I received this lovely e-photo, from son Bob, featuring a trio of his dandy dandelions and a blissful bee.

Back at work, indoors. I can’t believe how much STUFF piles up while I’m gone! I’ve been back nearly a week, and am just now getting it under control. I’m doing a mini-tour of bookstores and libraries in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana in mid-July, when THE TALE OF HOLLY HOW comes out, so those arrangements had to be made, along with planning for a short trip in September and another in November. I’ve printed out the manuscript of CUCKOO BROW WOOD and am working it over in pencil now—lots of changes, since the concept changed as I went along, and I didn’t get everything cleaned up. And I still haven’t decided what to do about the fairies in this book, although while I was on the trip, I listened to a reading of Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT, and no longer feel quite so nervous about fairies. If Tolkien can invent hobbits, I can surely fabricate a few fairies.

And outdoors. And of course, there are the gardens, where the stuff doesn’t just pile up, it grows up, knee-high. I gave the gardens a good once-over before I left, but all the beds are now crowded with various volunteers, most of them blooming happily. Dandelions, square-bud primrose, calylophus, love-in-a-mist, bluebonnets (still!), purple bindweed (Ipomoea cordatotriloba) and a yellow-blooming wild mustard that bears the unlovely name of bastard-cabbage (honest!). To these, add various varieties of volunteer grasses and weeds, and what we have is a general mess, otherwise known as Susan’s "cottage garden." I’m trying to spend an hour a day in each bed, pulling and plucking and clipping and fixing. The roses bloomed while I was gone (darn it) and now need dead-heading. But the Madonna lilies waited for me to come home. Hope to have a photo for you next week. Looks like they’ll be gorgeous.

Glad to be home. I saw some very pretty country, met some wonderful people, and enjoyed a month with no dishes to wash or beds to make. But I’m glad to re-place myself, to remember who I am and where I belong, to reinhabit this land, this house, these gardens. I don't even mind doing the dishes, because I can look out the window and see the hummingbirds visiting the red salvia blossoms.

Reading notes. All history is ultimately local and personal. To tell what we remember, and to keep on telling it, is to keep the past alive in the present. Should we not do so, we could not know, in the deepest sense, how to inhabit a place. To inhabit a place means literally to have made it a habit, to have made it the custom and ordinary practice of our lives, to have learned how to wear a place like a familiar garment, like the garments of sanctity that nuns once wore. The word habit, in its now-dim original form, meant ‘to own.’ We own places not because we possess the deeds to them, but because they have entered the continuum of our lives. What is strange to us—unfamiliar—can never be home. – Paul Gruchow, Grass Roots: The Universe of Home

5/08/2005 06:12:00 PM

Tuesday, May 03, 2005  
This very LONG post consists of notes I took during my April book tour. I’ve got the laundry done, but I'm still playing catch-up after nearly a month on the road, so regular blog posts are a few days away. Please note that these posts are arranged so that the earliest entries are at the top, the latest at the bottom.

Tuesday, April 5. One of the cool things about being an author is the chance to meet very cool people. I’m in New York today to have lunch with people from (Berkley) my publishing house and people from Barnes & Noble. There were about a dozen of us, at Grammercy Tavern. Fun, informative, interesting. And very good food. Tomorrow, I’ll catch a plane to Atlanta, where I’ll pick up a car and start the tour.

Sunday, April 9. After a rainy start and so-so turnouts at three libraries west of Atlanta, I’ve enjoyed three good sessions: the Chattahoochee Unit of the Herb Society of America turned out en masse at Calloway Gardens, where the azaleas were breathtaking. The next morning, a room-filling crowd showed up for my talk at the McCormick SC library. In the afternoon, I drove another hour east to Lexington, SC, where the Herb Bunch (an herb club organized through the county extension service) gave me a wonderful welcome at the Clinton Saese farm—a perfect setting for talking about plant mysteries. Great food, too! In fact, herbal treats have been available at all of the events. I’m going to have to watch it, or I’ll be a blimp by the time I get home. Today, I’m in Charlotte, NC, where I’m having lunch with Robin Edgar (a Story Circle friend), doing a bookstore signing this afternoon, and talking tonight, in Concord SC, for the Deana Irvin Writers’ Symposium. So far, so good!

And so far, so very beautiful. Pure white dogwood, like ghosts flitting through the dark trees; clouds of lavender wisteria; glints of Carolina jessamine, shining like sunshine deep in the woods. And the people have been wonderful! The women who organized each event, and who patiently helped me work out the many details. And China’s wonderful friends, some of whom have driven a distance—like Prentiss, from the Raleigh NC area, who planned to be gone while I was in North Carolina but who drove down to one of the South Carolina events, bringing a shopping bag of books for me to sign. Such a pleasure to meet so many book-lovers. "Friends of the work," May Sarton called them—a good phrase, I think.

Wednesday, April 13. Spent a wonderful afternoon yesterday with an enthusiastic group of 140+ "herbies" at the Williamsburg Regional Library, meeting several old friends and making a great many new ones. Sessions like this one are always energizing, and I had been looking forward to it. I wasn’t especially looking forward to the bookstore signing in Richmond last night, because it was raining and rain always keeps attendance down. (The "signing from hell," as Joan Hess loves to call it, is the one where two people show up and one of them has to be somewhere else in 10 minutes.) But I was delightfully surprised to see that all the chairs were filled and people were standing around, listening. And in Gordonsville this morning, it seemed that the whole town had turned out, including a very large group of Red Hatters, splendid in red and purple.

I heard an interesting segment on NPR on Sunday afternoon. A bookseller in Arizona organizes what she calls "First Fiction" readings. She gets four or five first-book authors together and takes them to bars, clubs, happy hours—places where people are already gathered. She buys a round of drinks and the authors read and sign books. Somebody at Publishers Weekly, asked to comment, said "It’s savvy to take books to where the readers are." I had to smile when I heard that. It’s exactly what I’m trying to do with this tour. Many of my readers prefer to get together with their friends for tea and cookies at the library, where a book purchase (from the Friends of the Library) benefits the library. And when the library is earning nearly forty percent on each book sold, their purchases add up. So it’s a win-win situation.

Today, two talks in Virginia (Gordonsville and Purcellville); tomorrow another (in Leesburg), then on to Mechanicsburg PA, for an evening event at the Repperts’ herb shop and tea room. I’m enjoying the drives, admiring the landscape, and listening to a very fine audiobook: John Dunning’s BOOKED TO DIE. It’s a good read but a better listen, because the reader is terrific. I’ve also listened to Anita Shreve’s LIGHT ON SNOW—good, but not as wonderful as WEIGHT OF WATER, which I think is a stunning book. I’m having fun, great fun.
Saturday April 16, Blairsville PA. A lovely, bright morning—since I left South Carolina, the weather has been remarkably cooperative, and there have been no major traffic delays. I’ve been fortunate in terms of the gatherings, as well: good attendance, lots of enthusiasm, a cheering uplift for me. Yesterday morning, in the small town of New Bloomfield PA, some sixty-five people came out to talk about herbs, enjoy a lunch (a wonderful lady made a huge pot of Ruby’s Better Bones Soup, from the recipe in DEAD MAN’S BONES), and get their books signed.

I’m getting pretty good at this traveling stuff. I organized ahead of time, making Google maps of every location, both the events and the motels where I’m staying. (Have you tried those Google maps yet? Truly wonderful.) Of course, I sometimes make a wrong turn, or miss my exit, but I’ve only been really lost once. That was at night, when I missed a left turn, drove five miles out of my way, and had no idea of where I was. I stopped at a gas station and the attendant set me straight. The other couple of times something like this happened, I wasn’t exactly lost, just misplaced. A few minutes with the map, and I knew where I was, more or less. People have expressed their surprise (with a "poor you" tone in their voices) at my traveling alone—but to tell the truth, I’ve been enjoying it. The rental car that I picked up in Atlanta (and will drop off in Nashville) is easy to drive. I’ve also brought a few books to read when there’s some downtime, but I’m knitting a complicated lace scarf, so I prefer listen to a book while I knit, rather than try to read. With the books, NPR newscasts, and the scenery, I am fully entertained. And with daily phone calls to Bill (the first order of business when I check into a motel), I manage to keep in touch with what’s going on at home. I could bring a laptop and log on and get my email—but if I start doing that, I’ll be spending hours answering email when I’m on the road. So Bill checks the email, tries to answer the urgent ones, and I do the rest when I get back.

Sunday April 17. The Trumbull County Herb Society staged a terrific luncheon at the Butler Museum of Art in Youngstown OH. Pat Fuller, the organizer, put in a great many hours of hard work, pulling it all together, and did a wonderful job. The Butler is impressive, and after lunch, I was taken on the grand tour of the museum.

Monday April 18. More sunny weather—surprising for April in Ohio. A lovely brunch with the Friends of the Maple Heights Library (a suburb of Cleveland) this morning; this evening, at the Orange County Library, in Pepper Pike. A little time off for reading this afternoon. Somebody asked me if I ever do any sightseeing while I’m on book tour: the answer is definitely not! I only want to get where I'm supposed to go, and when I have a little time, I'd much rather read or take a nap.

Thursday, April 21. I’ve been delighted by the size of the gatherings—60+ for an herbal luncheon today at Indiana University at South Bend, 40+ at the Delphi IN Library, 60+ at Carolee’s Herb Farm, a full house at the mystery bookstore in Carmel IN. And some very encouraging news from my editor: sales of BONES are up substantially over the sales of DILLY, for a comparable period. Since selling books is the chief reason for a book tour (the publishing house does not do this for fun), the folks in New York are happy, and so am I. Also today: I had the pleasure of taping a TV segment with Evelyn Kirkwood for her local PBS show. We talked about the flowering trees that have many herbal uses: dogwood, redbud, wild cherry, willow. Thunderstorms yesterday (I drove from Carmel to Kokomo IN in a driving rain, after dark—not fun). Rain is forecast for Chicago tomorrow, and that’s where I’m headed. Ugh.

Friday, April 22, Forest Park IL. A warm welcome at Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore tonight, in spite of a cold drizzle and nasty traffic on the Eisenhower Expressway. And for me, a great personal pleasure: I drove past the little garage house on Fourth Avenue in Maywood where my parents lived when I was born, and where I lived until we moved to the Dawson farm near State Line, Indiana, in 1944. I couldn’t believe that the house was still there, looking exactly as I remember it as a child. I remembered my mother, and thought that she must have been happy in that house with her two young babies, in spite of the uncertainties of the war. My father worked in a munitions plant—which one, I didn’t know until Augie told me that there was a torpedo plant in Forest Park. That must have been where Dad worked.

Sunday April 24, Lexington KY. So much for spring! There was snow yesterday in Danville IL, and wind and cold today here in Kentucky, in spite of bright sunshine. But yesterday was great fun: a real home-town celebration. A full house at the Blue Kangaroo Bookstore, a hundred people at a lunch sponsored by the Danville Garden Club and the local herb group; and a roomful of people at the library. I saw friends from Bismarck High School, where I graduated, and friends of my mother, as well as my Turnell cousins and one of my Webber cousins. So many people worked very hard to make the day a success, and I’m enormously grateful. And to top it off, I had supper with Bob Wittig (my first husband) and his partner, Kathy, and Bob’s cousin, Tom Baumet. I came away with a wonderful warm feeling, the warmth that can only come from family and home and friends.

Today, I drove down to Louisville for an afternoon signing at Barnes and Noble, but didn’t realize that this part of western Kentucky (but not all of western Kentucky) is on Eastern time. I was 45 minutes late, instead of 15 minutes early, as I planned. The people waited for me—bless them—and we had an interesting discussion. But I hate to be late. Why didn’t I think to check for a change in time?

Tuesday, April 26, Cincinnati OH. This morning, I'm taping a radio interview with Mark DeWitt for Cover to Cover, on WRRS-FM. I enjoy talking to Mark, who always reads the book under discussion (unlike some other interviewers). Yesterday, I was at libraries in Georgetown and Frankfort KY—the rooms were full, the welcome was heartening, and the booksellers sold lots of books, which made them happy (and me too, of course). This afternoon, I'll be at the library in Fort Thomas KY, and tonight, back in Cincinnati at the Joseph-Beth Bookstore. So far, I’ve seen over 1700 people, and there will be another 80 or so at Cheekwood Gardens in Nashville tomorrow.

Friday April 29, Arlington VA. I turned in the rental car in Nashville yesterday (I put some 3400 miles on it in less than a month!) and flew here to attend Malice Domestic, the big annual mystery conference. Bill is flying in this afternoon, in time for dinner with our editor and the other Berkley authors. Meanwhile, I’m getting together today with Linda Lear, Beatrix Potter’s biographer (Linda’s book will be out in 2006)—we’re treating ourselves to a girls’-day-out lunch at the fabulous Four Seasons hotel restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue. Tomorrow morning is my mystery panel (we’re talking about environmental, health, and medical issues in mysteries), followed by a book signing, followed by a meeting with our editor. Bill’s panel (on research methods) is scheduled for Sunday morning, then we catch a plane home.

I’ll be glad when it’s over, but I’m delighted with the way the tour went. I had mostly good weather (just missed that awful spring snow in northern Ohio!); wonderful turnouts at the garden/herb events; and lots of interesting and enjoyable conversations with loyal readers. But there’s another, more personal (egotistical?) reason for my satisfaction. Bill does most of the driving in our family, and isn’t shy about telling me what he thinks of my navigating skills. He wasn’t enthusiastic about my plan to drive this tour alone. But I did it. When I got lost, I found myself again. I made it to every event but one on time (I didn’t check the time zone for Louisville KY), and everything went without a hitch. Amazing. Of course, I couldn’t have managed the tour at all without the help of all the people who planned and set up events, and I couldn't begin to name everyone who contributed their time and energy. Many, many thanks to all!

5/03/2005 06:45:00 PM


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