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Friday, June 24, 2011


Dear Reader,

I am slowly being dragged into the 21st century and I celebrate every little milestone. Actually, the North Florida Center for Documentary Studies, Inc. website genius, Victoria Van Arnam, is dragging me and, so, today's milestone is really hers.

My prizewinning essay, "Waking Up in the Floodplain" is available for downloading at; IT COSTS 99 CENTS. The essay chronicles hours spent in and around my stilt-legged house in the floodplain of Florida's famous river during the flooding, winds, alligators, canebrake rattlers, and several other surprises that arrived with the hurricane, Jeanne, a few years ago. It was a phenomenal experience for me, a moment-to-moment survival exercise; it was also difficult and very beautiful. Enjoy!

24 June 2011

Monday, June 6, 2011



I'm looking forward to meeting friends of the work, THE SALVATION OF MAGGIE RIDER: Stories from Nokofta

and SOUTHERN COMFORTS: Rooted in a Florida Place at:

2 P. M. Hawthorne Branch Library, Hawthorne, FL - Saturday, 11 June 2011

The HAWTHORNE BRANCH LIBRARY has partnered with the

HAWTHORNE HISTORICAL SOCIETY which will host a RECEPTION immediately following the reading.

I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones. This is my last scheduled event for the calendar year 2011.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Nice breeze below on the deck. Dark comes on. It was a pretty day and here's Robert Baxter's memorial photo:

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Stood under a tree in the dark tonight, a tree in front of the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts, there near the fountain that babbles out of a brick wall, although tonight it wasn't dribbling. The place was heavy with wisteria scent, however; it hangs over the entrance, makes entering unforgettable.

I was studying the tree which was almost imperceptibly leafing out, its hairlike (or threadlike) growth only a weak stubble along its limbs. Took me a few minutes to notice the tree's trunk: Chinese Elm, know it anywhere.

[Grumble, grumble here bcs I can't download a photo but YOU MUST SEE THIS, so go to WIKI and dbl click on a photo of the elm's bark. Go to Shutterstock + Chinese Elm photo + "bark" and see this for yourself or at Wikipedia ask for Ulmus parvifolia]

I didn't read from the book Maggie Rider there tonight, but the tree was gorgeous against tonight's moonlit sky; wanted to pass that on. As for the reading, thanks to Mr. Eric Mathis at South Georgia Regional Library, I'll be reading at his institution on the 2nd of April, a Saturday not far off.

Come to Georgia, dear Reader. We'll have a good time!

late wednesday night

Friday, March 11, 2011


(dbl click on photos, please)

I picked up this book, PERSONAL SCULPTURE, by Geoge H. Meyer (1992) at our branch library in WHite Springs this afternoon; the library was my final stop of several, including the front door of Spring Street Antiques (shown above). I'd been around back, photographing what I assumed was the worst of the damage from Tuesday's fire; after all, the water oak had demolished the back half of the roof and set the fire, scattering blackened furniture and silverware all around. Howard Tower who, with his wife, Patti, owns the property, was poking through the trash beyond the "GET BACK" rope between us.

Howard said this was "an act of God"; but in White Springs we have lost our beautiful shop--this lovely museum where light fell through yellow glassware, shone on cases of old silver, lit jewelry queens must have worn--an especially hard happening since, already, in the past few months The River Diner with 4 seasons of Suwannee Valley painted on its walls went out of business; the family grocery run by the Stormants closed and, earlier, Janet Moses had shut up her artsy and curious shop. Even the consignment store I'd thought would do well in these hard times folded. That left the fire station, the post office, and SPRING STREET ANTIQUES, always a welcoming place, whether I bought or not, the prettiest establishment on the main drag, and in a house that had survived the 1911 fire that took out dozens of houses and hotels.

There are still concrete yard sculptures on the grounds, undamaged, but Howard says they will sell the lot, the house is ruined. I got quite a shock when I walked around front; at a distance it had appeared intact but, up close, everything beyond its purple door was black. Fire might be said to sculpt, though I don't think the charring of wood here was as deliberate as the creation of what we usually call sculpture. Here, the timbers are shiny and ringed as though bitten by the teeth of the fire. That's a leap, but look at the proof:

On the day of the latest tsunami and one day after the news that, at the state capital, putting golf courses into state parks like Payne's Prairie and San Felasco Hammock is being considered, the sad fact of this burning house which held so many beautiful things--this black shell--doesn't put me in the mood to credit a god. But maybe I'm just discouraged by all the other damage collecting on the planet. Seems to me humankind creates a lot of misery, all on its own, though often we give credit to God. This is not in any way to disagree publicly with Howard who meant, I believe, that he accepted the event completely. Would that all our disasters were so patiently embraced.

In this book I picked up are many beautiful sculptures--handmade walking canes: one twisted like a handbraided bread, another with glass eyes embedded, eight small snakes climbing the big snake of the cane itself, the handcarved neck of a guitar, a topless mermaid as the handle on a cane. Canes of willow, maple, beech, polychromed and not, some with names, though rarely. All these designs were made deliberately, over centuries, their shapes and sheens various, imaginative, surprising. I photographed the upturned bottom of the water oak that slammed Spring Street Antiques and took it down. Didn't see a single deliberate mark on it, anywhere, and the photo isn't interesting enough to put here.

There's so much I don't understand, just grateful for eyes to see what's going on, to take in the beauty along with the pain and be glad of the seeing. Speaking of which, here's 2011's first red tulip, opening downstairs this morning:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


(dbl click on photos, pls)

Too tired yesterday, coming from Live Oak, to capture these sights for you, so just before dark tonight I struck out, north on CR 25A. Drove past the small houses, the large houses, the horses, this field of wild yellow mustard

and rows of dried cornstalks in a darkening field. Was I documenting the coming of spring or the end of winter? It all goes so fast.

And I probably drove too fast. Checked my tires when I got back and will check them early tomorrow because I parked on the shoulders of the road; in my experience, that's not a good practice. But how else to get the red samara,

the sun dropping like a fiery pendant into the Florida horizon?

Such an enlivening occupation, photographing sights we drive by and often don't notice. Glad I took the time; it made my day.

*CORRECTION: Even though it is commonly called mustard (probably because it looks like mustard greens gone to seed), this plant is actually WILD RADISH,Raphanus raphanistrum L. (Thank you, Allen Tyree.) See

Friday, March 4, 2011



. . . maybe they'll go left. What a strange week this has been! A huge paperwork deadline I nearly killed myself for, then got up the next day and looked at the calendar and realized I'd met the deadline a day early!

Still, piles of paper everywhere. Sometimes, I just stack them at right angles and pretend I know what's there.

THE RISE OF THE NEW RULNG CLASS in Atlantic Mag quotes one of the jet set's richest who suggests that for every American who falls out of the middle class, 2 or 3 people in other countries get to move up. This challenges me quite a bit, my thinking, I mean. Especially since the jet setter's situation only gets richer.

I'll back off that subject and just stop for the photo of a "volunteer." When locals call a plant this, they are indicating they don't know its name and they don't know how it got here. This sweet item grows in clumps at the entrance to my house.

Now, March. That means 1/6 of 2011 is gone.

Monday, February 28, 2011


I don’t think you want to hear about the frustrating interruptions, those writer’s complaint become cliche’. Maybe, though, a brief report on the hundred gray limbs of bare trees scribbling at the sky beyond my desk window, or a glimpse of the first unfurling green fern—a bracken

—and the tentative opening on the Opal Miller Worthy Memorial Pear Tree,

pink pistils visible only with the zoom lens, the brief shouts of green from all around the yard

and, wonder of wonders, the Yellow Jessamine in yellow puffs against the lightening of the sky; maybe you would like to see these.

Signs of spring are here but, in contrast, the cypresses on the opposite bank of the Suwannee--even though they have today's last sunlight--stand in dark opposition to a change of season.

The wisteria, too, holds tight its buds, its brown ropes of vine, not giving, not yet.

And, here, in front of me, oblivious to the changing of winter into spring is His Royal Highness, King of Lot 22, Thomas Branford Caramel Cauthen:

Sunday, February 27, 2011



Jan and Feb are a blur; please, let March not be a blur. Let it be discrete hours within discrete days, each opening like the first magnolia blossoms on Fraternity Row at Ole Miss, those plate-sized white blossoms I stole for a grand occasion.

TODAY, I saw this little fellow in the roadside grass:

Within each day of this hallowed March, let me write something worth the time and trouble and insistence and frustration incurred in clearing the March calendar to make possible that writing.


I have everything here that I need: eyes, brain, hands, keyboard, IMAGINATION. I have characters walking around this house, talking to themselves. They are saying things about having been neglected far too long. I am afraid of mutiny, certain they consider abandoning me for some more faithful writer, one who got her books all written and published when she was younger, never letting anything get in the way.

[Photo of white blossoms by Robert Baxter of Suwannee Bend in north Florida]

Friday, February 25, 2011


SPRING, 2011




Wednesday, February 16, 2011

J Rifkin on Human Possibility

"If human nature is materialist to the core--self-serving, utilitarian, and pleasure-seeking--then there is little hope of resolving the empathy/entropy paradox. But if human nature is, rather, at a more basic level, predisposed to affection, companionship, sociability, and empathic extension, then there is the possibility, at least, that we might yet escape the empathy/entropy dilemma and find an accommodation that will allow us to restore a sustainable balance with the biosphere.

A radical new view of human nature has been slowly emerging and gaining momentum, with revolutionary implications for the way we understand and organize our economic social and environmental relations in the centuries to come. We have discovered Homo empathicus."


THE RACE TO GLOBAL CONSCIOUSNESS---as our resources are running out.

Don't miss this:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


The world, this Florida-on-the-Suwannee, late-afternoon world, I mean; all movement and color, gnarled oaks' limbs dipping in the wind. The wind, invisible presence that it is, amazes me. At end of day, from under an electric blanket, I survey the blue and saffron ribbons criss-crossed by the dark lines of the trees' arms against the sky. On my queenly couch 12 ft off the ground, I lie back and watch the day wind down; it has been a day of egg-yolk yellow pansy faces, a raking of pinestraw adn hanging of laundry, stripes of sunlight on the boards of the deck, one small wren pecking at the window after I came in.

Far in the west, the sun lowers itself, inch by inch, toward the forest of the Florida interior that is my horizon. At 6:00 P.M., it illuminates the greens and golds of the stained glass window Mama got from the Alachua Baptists' old yellow brick church when it was torn down in the 70s. Mama's 1918 baptism was the first inside those yellow walls.

Although I grew up in the countryside, my love of the natural world must have been reinforced at First Baptist where I sang songs like "This is my Father's world/I rest me in the thought/Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought."

Indeed, this evening I couldn't help wondering just how often observers must attribute the invisible stirrings of the wind to God. Years back, a neighbor here on the Suwannee confided that she had prayed Katrina away from us; mmm, I thought, probably shouldn't tell that. What should one tell? How much?

Tonight I'm paying homage to my beginnings, thanking the Baptists for that song I sang so demurely, never picturing hurricanes, alligators, or canebrake rattlers, never realizing I would come to love the power of storms as well or better than placid days of sunshine. But, I do; I love the surprise, the danger, the reminder that I am small, just a part of the whole wide world, a speck in the cosmos. Or is it cosmi? Cosmoses?

My childhood sureness is long gone, but my wonder, my delight in mystery, my curiosity are far more thrilling than I ever could have dreamed, standing next to a window inside the yellow church with gold and green shadows falling over me.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


EVENT: 20 FEB 2 pm. ALACHUA LIBRARY. We are FIRM for the book event. Lloyd Baldwin will be there with his Old Time Tunes. Refreshments.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Listening to the long, fat drops . . no, plops, more like the thickness of pancake batter than rainwater, falling softly, steadily, in lines of clear, fat elliptical circles from the edge of the porch roof, each drop mirroring this world of deck, river, trees, the cat, Thomas, on my chest, the cardinal's bath; but this is a fake picture because it doesn't show the squirrels, my personal tribe of two million that for the moment are out of sight.

The cat adjusts his position, obscuring the paper on which I am scrawling these words and I push him down. Looking over his back, I continue writing from beneath an electric blanket on my cozy porch couch. Thomas settles; clearly, he thinks I am his.

The sky has melted and is falling, soaking the roof, the ground, sending tinny sounds from the birdfeeder. Holly, pine, oak, blackgum, birch, and sweetgum, a few yellow faces of pansies in their pots; this is a gloriously glum day on the Suwannee.

In this cold I am wearing not a feathery boa but, in addition to the blanket, a hat and this live furry drape. Otherwise, the raindrops large as hands and their wet chill would go all through me. Thus protected, I can experience weather I'd otherwise shudder at and turn away from.

. . . . It's stopped and I've come to the computer. Out the window in front of me crystals hang from bare limbs. I hope you can see them in this photo, looking north from my front door. I took it just for you. Double-click and you'll be here.

7 Feb 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011


They say it's the visual music of spring--these red, winged seeds (R. Baxter's photo) on the maples, high against the sky. Heard a preacher say this morning that mockingbirds and pecan trees are also signs of spring; not only the legendary groundhog. And as gray and cold as these sunless days are lately, one could almost wish for spring to be here tomorrow. Except for one thing: as the poet A. E. Housman put it in this poem below, every spring that comes is one less left for me to experience.

The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers
Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away,
The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers.
Pass me the can, lad; there's an end of May.

There's one spoilt spring to scant our mortal lot,
One season ruined of your little store.
May will be fine next year as like as not:
But ay, but then we shall be twenty-four.

We for a certainty are not the first
Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled
Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed
Whatever brute and blackguard made the world.

It is in truth iniquity on high
To cheat our sentenced souls of aught they crave,
And mar the merriment as you and I
Fare on our long fool's-errand to the grave.

Iniquity it is; but pass the can.
My lad, no pair of kings our mothers bore;
Our only portion is the estate of man:
We want the moon, but we shall get no more.

If here to-day the cloud of thunder lours
To-morrow it will hie on far behests;
The flesh will grieve on other bones than ours
Soon, and the soul will mourn in other breasts.

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.

A.E. Housman

For my part, I'd rather it come on a little more slowly. I'd rather spend a few more weeks contemplating the severe black lines against the sky that are bare limbs, those "tangled bine-stems" of Thomas Hardy's poem, "The Darkling Thrush."

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

For green, today I settled for the loblolly pine,a line of Christmas tree shapes near the end of the driveway. I snatched a handful of needles, crushed them, and held them to my nose; yessir, just as I thought, the scent hauled me back to the holidays when I was small, when my sister and I crawled on our hands and knees into the glorious scent of that magical time. Pinus taeda--

Saturday, February 5, 2011


North Florida Center for Documentary Studies, Inc.


Alachua native and author of Florida Book Award Winner SOUTHERN COMFORTS Sudye Cauthen
Music --Refreshments
Readings from Maggie Rider, Southern Comforts, and her
next book, Voices from the Place of Our Remembrance
North Florida Center for Documentary Studies, Inc. – - 386-397-1284 –
Visit us on Facebook and at


Tips, Tricks, and Techniques for the Writing Life

This is a workshop about incorporating writing into our busy lives: how to keep the words coming, whether poetry, fiction, or nonfiction; exercises to sharpen skills of observation; openings and closings. The creation of memoir and its rewards, syntax, tone, flashbacks, and the centrality of yearning. The value of timelines, recognizing soft underbellies, and feeding the muse. We will come away excited about language.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


I was gone 3 days, 2 days on the road, 450 RT miles of road construction, devastated countryside, highways, interstate traffic, road repair, subdivisions, McMansions crowded like peas in a pod.

Florida was a beautiful state once and I suppose it still is, in places, for those who fly in and stay on a beach but I, and thousands of others, who live in the interior, have to fight one another’s cars for access to our waters and legendary sunsets, for the sight of Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis)

the Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanu)

and Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

. The roads I traveled were thick with cars driven by some who live here, some who merely visit, and those, like me, who realize what we are seeing as we rush up and down the state isn’t what we came for. It’s not the Florida that’s advertised and it’s not the Florida that used to be, most assuredly not the one where my grandparents wintered on Marco Island in a little fishing cabin lit by oil lamps.

Driving U. S. 1 toward the "Space Coast," I passed through many small communities decorating each end of their city limits with imported palms: Are they importing the Everglades and Florida Silver Palms, the Florida Royal, the Washington Palm, bringing the "Florida look" of advertising north? Every time I observe this replacement of natural landscape with palms, I wonder who has connections at the road department. Palms have, I suppose, become synonymous with “Florida,” but, honestly, we do have other trees.

Mostly, I saw cars, traffic lanes, food franchises, and gas stations, but I did twice pass over the vast blue of the St. Johns River; and, oh! how I'd like to travel its length with Bill Belleville, author of RIVER of LAKES: A Journey on Florida's St. Johns River. I also drove twice through the

potato fields of Bunnell where, on either side, rows of green plants alternate with rows of black soil, one site on this route that’s stayed the same over my lifetime. Someday, I’ll drive Hwy 100 and see condos in those potato fields; maybe actors decked out as Timucuans, paddling their dugout canoes in the St. Johns, posing for tourist photos.

I made this trip—averaging 30 mph on the way down to Brevard County—to see a convalescing friend, my father-in-law, Lee Covell, who came with Northrop to FL from California for the Snark Program of the 1950s at (what was then known as) Cape Canaveral. When Covell helped build John Glynn’s capsule for the first manned flight, he and his coworkers made history. I briefly worked in the space program myself, long ago during its early, glorious first days. I watched Neil Armstrong blast off on his trip to the moon and in 1967 I stood, transfixed, in my infant son’s room, hearing on the radio that astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee had just died in a fire on the launching pad.

It happened that during this recent visit I was in Brevard on the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, that day in 1986 when, on the TV screen, a space capsule in a smoky sky broke in half. This week, in between news reports of street demonstrations in Tunisia and Cairo, commentators repeated the names of those who died in the Challenger; again and again, I heard Ronald Reagan say of the astronauts that they had “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

Covell is still verbally quick and humorous, but he’s fighting for what’s left of his health and independence; shuttled to appointments on weekdays, he falls asleep with his head on the dining table, suddenly, in the middle of a sentence. For his country, he fought in the Pacific during World War II, and considers himself lucky to have been hit by a grenade, awakened on a hill some distance away, and sent home, alive. I wonder what he would make of world events now--the riots in Cairo today, the tank that swung into view on the TV screen as I ate my restaurant breakfast.

I am overwhelmed by the sense that history's tides routinely sweep me onto a beach, pull away, then lift and drop me again. Lee Covell’s memories of Titusville, Cocoa Beach, and Melbourne in the early 1950s are even older than mine. He was there when beachfront went for $35 an acre, before the Indian and Banana River bridges were cluttered with traffic and motels mounted fake satellites on their roofs, when the Apollo 12 astronauts drove Corvettes, and Covell’s grandson was allowed to order speared hummingbirds at Bernard’s Surf.

I was young once and so was my father-in-law; in fact, I realize now that he was still young when I thought him old, when we first met in 1961. The old could tell the young how beautifully the land once lay before us, the rattle of palms in the wind and the plop of large fish off starboard. Though I saw no ocean and very little natural landscape, as I drove I did look up as much as I could into the swath of blue above the road and on both sides saw the silver tops of bare trees interspersed with red samara, the winged seedpod of the Red Maple.

Those scarlet flags were everywhere I went, silver, red, and blue, above and on either side of me, up I-95 and inland on 100, all the way home. Over all those cell phones, the torturous traffic, airplanes, construction equipment, and moldy roadside motels, I am firmly imposing the memory of those maples flashing their red tops against a pure blue sky.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


It’s brrrr cold outside, but I decided to walk, anyway. No time to look for my gloves. I just wound the mauve cashmere scarf my friend Eva sent around my neck and stuck the red hat on. Down to the mailbox and back with a load of mostly worthless mail; a birthday card from Frank Martin, showing an old lady leaning on a stick with a donkey trailing along behind her; the card read, “Just because you’re old, doesn’t mean you can’t have a fine ass.” That’s debatable, but it’s true tomorrow is my birthday. I figure this is as good a time as any to resume blogging.

After the mail, I gathered the laundry from the line by the river which, below me, was all black and white—and cold. I’m certain it’s cold down there. When I glanced toward my squirrel proof (new, 8’ pvc slathered with petroleum jelly holding up a pizza pan) bird feeder, I noticed at its foot a rock that seemed to be moving. Or a shape within the rock was moving. No, flexing his wings, a pigeon precisely the color of fieldstone stepped out of that rock and began to peck up bits of corn at the foot of the feeder.

Down what I call old river road (meaning it was here a hundred years ago, well before paved CR 25A), I found what I’m always looking for, the tracks of deer. In this case, the deer wasn’t crossing from left to right or right to left as I usually see but, instead, its tracks proceeded straight down the middle of the dirt road, headed toward the dead end, right where people often enter the Florida Trail. I wondered if she had been racing away from something, perhaps a vehicle or even another animal. I got pretty cold, following along and, finally, when her tracks veered off into the woods between the old road and the new, I started back.

There were winds in the trees, the old road completely shadowed and as cold as I cared it to get. For some reason, I looked to the left where the tracks had entered the woods and saw there, in the shadows, the shape of the head of a deer. That head lifted, then stared. For a moment, the beloved was watching me.