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Tuesday, October 28, 2008


All photos in this blog come from Robert Baxter, resident genius of Suwannee Bend.

Two nights ago a friend and I ate beans and rice on the deck by the river while dark dropped down around us and stars lit up the Suwannee River’s punched-tin sky. There were so many stars! I once had a rule that I didn’t go inside until at least ten stars appeared; I should implement that rule again.

Now it’s cold, rumored to get near freezing tonight and that’s nothing short of stunning for Floridians just coming out of a long, hot summer, six months of broiling heat that makes you forget what cold ever felt like. As I studied the river Sunday evening, an unidentifiable bird with some white on him flew upriver, whistling. In less than a minute he came back by, headed downriver; same sound. I have never seen that happen before. Maybe he was looking for something; maybe he was calling to it.

On 25A in the dark last night, a whitetail deer skittered across the highway in front of me. Seeing deer and the hope of seeing deer on that 25A drive north have sharply reduced the speed at which I drive. There’s some worrisome logging going on along that county road, woods thinned out like hair on the heads of customers Daddy barbered with his thinning shears. The thinning shears had uneven teeth; they cut some hair, but not all, and that’s what happening now down the road.

25A is a less quieting country drive than it was when I started driving it to Live Oak a year ago. There are new houses and several stands of pine gone. Not an actual subdivision yet, not as far as I can see. The family garden with tall sunflowers is bare and the roadside sales of fruits and vegetables have disappeared. People are still selling, though; that same unforgettable sign hanging from a mailbox reads “Moving Sale – Furniture.” The sign’s placed as though hurriedly, in between packing the boxes of a family that must get out quickly. I wonder what that’s about but do not stop. Further along, on the other side of the road there’s an auction of farm equipment. I can’t name most of the red, yellow, and orange behemoths parked there; I find myself wondering if these two sales are a response to our economics at the moment.

Last Saturday I took part in the Healing Day at Stephen Foster State Folklife Center where chiropractic, massage, yoga, and tai chi were offered along with a lecture on nutrition, Jamaican plate lunches,haunting guitar music from a park ranger, all under the orchestration of Walter McKenzie who lives in White Springs. I was there to speak about “The Idea of Sacred Space at White Springs.”

“The Idea . . . ." isn’t finished, lacks focus, needed organizing, but still I was fascinated with my subject and figured throwing out the paper’s material sans conclusion or anything else one expects with such a topic might be useful. Kind people said it was thought-provoking; I’ll work on it some more. There are many definitions of “sacred space” and I was leaning toward the notion that it’s all sacred, whether or not we recognize the holy right beside us or beneath our feet. After all, isn’t Mother Earth holy, every inch of her, and by extension, her people and our kinfolks, the stars?

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Here's photographer Robert Baxter's Sunday photo of fall colors along the Suwannee.

John Muir wrote that Florida has only two seasons, summer and hot summer, but I'm unwilling to leave the word "autumn" up north. Having suffered through our long, "hot" summer, many of us greet cooler, breezier days with enormous pleasure. The seasons mark change and this year the season is about more than a change of weather.

Coming home from Live Oak in the dark Friday night, I was startled to see two lit jack o'lanterns the size of Volkswagen Beetles. There are quite a few country yards decked out in orange and black, witches, cats, and scarecrows. There's something else I'm seeing more and more often this season. I am surprised by the things I see people selling as I pass by their trucks, tents, and signs like one Friday evening at a mailbox that read: "Moving Sale - Furniture." I'm certain there are more roadside sales than ever before and I'm pretty sure I know why.


As happy counterpart to these sober roadside thoughts, my friend Wendy Garrison's CD was playing as I drove. Wendy and two other women in Oxford, MS, call their new band "Maybelle's Lovers"and the music on this CD testifies to their love of movement and sound; I sure do like that slide guitar.

Here's a poem from my first fall season (2002) in this stilt-legged house on the floodplain of Florida's Suwannee River:


The voice of an unknown bird,
a grate severing night from sunrise,
scratches at the sky and I leave my bed,
lean southeast over the porch railing
just as he rasps again. No movement
along the limbs of the oak, the cypress, the pine.
River so low, I can’t see it. Again his voice lifts
morning’s soft face.

A mile away on the Florida Trail,
translucent stems of Indian Pipe
force their way out of the ground, white
flowers left by a ghost. Mushrooms litter
the sides of the trail, white as the muscle
in God’s own eye. The orange flames
in the fallen needles of the pine, muted now;
the ferns will soon lie down, flattened and brown.

But this is no reason to mourn summer,
not when trillions of jewels will flash
in the upturned purple bowl of night, come dusk.
In the bird’s call I hear all of this and the generosity
of the day spreads out before me. Like doors
opening on leather hinges in some ancient cloister
this new voice heralds
the glad strangeness of large hours.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Four and Twenty Blackbirds/Baked in a Pie"

Seriously, a squad is circling the house. Yesterday’s cutting of the dead tree has triggered a convention of birds: 3 kinds of woodpeckers came at once, including the small black-and-white striped, downy woodpecker. There were two of those and woodpeckers with red on their heads in two versions, also cardinals and brown birds of all kinds. This morning, black birds zooming past the windows. Maybe they are migrating. These are not starlings. I’m going downstairs and take a look.


Downstairs I see that the tree was rotten at top and bottom. In fact, its rotted bottom sticks out of the ground like a scraggly tooth, broken off, uneven. I kept this tree as long as I could because it attracted woodpeckers but the rain of Hurricane Fay so saturated it that it fell and was caught in a net of grape vines. Nobody could walk there until it came down.

BEING CARIBOU: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd (by Karsten Heuer)

I just turned the last pages of this astounding book that, in the way the best books always do, hurt me with its beauty.I have never left any fictional character more reluctantly than I leave the caribou that have filled my mind for two days. As I read, I became caribou, too, a knot in my throat at the thought of leaving this herd for civilization, not wanting any break in the oneness of my travel with Karsten and Leanne who went with the caribou through wind, rain, snow, rivers, ice, bear, wolves, past fleabane, and through mountain passes.

When Heuer speaks of the necessity for closing down in order to navigate civilization’s roads and lights and sirens and phones, all of that, he speaks of going back to civilization as moving “toward hurry and disconnection,” which is how I feel in front of a tv or a computer. We have fallen out of Eden and into pizza and television and our lives as consumers, something never dreamed of by our ancient ancestors who in a time and place now nearly unimaginable must once have run with the caribou in a fluid oneness that left nothing out, not the trees or the sun or the clouds or the bugs or the cold and heat. I know we had that oneness once; otherwise it would not have been possible for me to be caribou myself for these two days. Karsten Heuer has captured not only the wildness of the Alaskan caribou herds; he has documented the wildness within us, too, that dimension of oneness we all long for.