America’s Ecosystem– The Wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will. Theodore Roosevelt

Excerpts from an essay to appear in Canary, an online environmental journal:

Here we are on a partly sunny January afternoon at Santa Ana Federal Animal Refuge in South Texas near the Rio Grande along with those one expects to show up to save a great natural and national resource. . .Representatives from a dozen states are here as well as documented and undocumented friends from south of the border.  The rest of us, hundreds in number, want to do our part in saving a fragile ecosystem.

Santa Ana provides a corridor for migrating birds and mammals, and it gives access to young and old to observe native and migrating animals in their habitat.  Life in the refuge offers an ongoing education for all who enter here.  Languages color the landscape:  Spanish, English and bird.  The mix of languages pleases me.. . .

We Protest the Wall:  The government plan is to build a wall right down the middle of the preserve, interrupting the migratory paths of endangered plants, birds and mammals.  As climate change accelerates, wildlife will have to travel further afield for food, water and a place to breed.  The wall separating refuges on either side of the Rio Grande may be all it takes to destroy fragile species.  A border wall will affect residents of Santa Ana, all of South Texas and, in time, will impact all citizens of the United States and Mexico.

. . . .We walk to a bird blind set up at the visitor center.  Birds come and go, taking a few seeds, then flying to a nearby bush or tree for protection from predators.  I watch them with sadness and yearning, as I might grown children getting ready to leave home to engage in foreign combat, little knowing when or if they will return.

A bulldozer is like a bomb that wipes out all life in its path.

The full essay will appear in Canary, not sure of the date.

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More Blessed to Give than to Receive

Daddy sat pale faced in the worn and faded easy chair.  He started to speak but coughed, finally rasped, “Carol Dawn, I’ve got to have some medicine.”

Outside the ground and roads were covered with four inches of new snow.  “Take the car,” he said, “go to Dr. Foley’s office.  Tell him I’m too sick to come myself.”  Questions came to mind:  What do I say if the police stop me and see that I’m eleven years old?  How am I supposed to get through the snow?  How in the world does anybody think I can drive all the way to Loyall and back?  I asked none of them, but  pulled corduroy pants on over my flannel pajamas as well as a shirt, sweater and coat.  I found the broom and some cardboard in the kitchen to clear the snow off the car.  After placing the last two logs on the fire, I opened the front door.  Snow blew all around.  Boughs of trees were hanging low enough to touch.

First, I swept lose  snow off the top of the car and then removed the settled snow with the cardboard.  The blue metal began to show and the windows and windshield yielded to my efforts.  My fingers ached with the cold but my palms were sweating.  My stomach knotted.

I dragged another log into the house, got the keys and said, ‘I’ll hurry.”

Daddy looked up with alarm.  “No, honey, don’t hurry.  Be careful.”  I kissed him on his forehead.  It was hot.

I high-stepped back  onto the snow covered porch and made my way to the car.  The door stuck.  “Oh, shoot.”  I pulled and pulled again and the door creaked open.  I struggled to adjust the seat forward, reach the pedals and insert the key into the ignition all the while my hands were shaking and my knees were knocking.  I turned the car around without running into the house and, more or less,  got onto the drive to the road.  As I eased onto U.S. Highway 119, the back of the car went side to side.  My heart was bout to beat it’s way out of my chest, but I managed to steer the car slowly and continued on as straight as possible considering all the curves.  At every bend in the road, the back end slid out again, but a little less with each one.

The sky was bleak with clouds hanging close, but the snow was white and beautiful. A fairy land.  Alone out here in the vastness, I felt lost, excited and afraid.  When forever had come and gone, I made the left turn across the culvert into Loyall and parked at the doctor’s office.  “Christmas Eve,” read the sign on the door, “Closed until December 26th.” I choked back a cry and knocked anyway.  Silence.  Hoping against hope, I knocked again, harder–louder.  Dr. Foley opened the door.  “Daddy’s sick,” I cried.  “He sent me for medicine.”  Dr. Foley asked me why Daddy hadn’t driven himself and a bunch of other questions.  I told him Daddy looked bad, that he just sat in the chair and shivered and coughed.  The doctor rubbed his face and looked thoughtful.  He knew we had no phone, no money and he knew the condition of the roads.  I could see him struggle to decide what to do.  Finally, he looked at me and asked if I’d mind leaving Daddy’s car next to his office.  “No,” I said slowly, wondering if I might have to walk home.

“I need to see your dad,” he said, “so no need for two cars. You can ride home back with me and when your dad is better, he can pick up the car.”  I let out my breath.

“Thank-you, Dr. Foley.”

Dr. Foley drove me home sliding around the curves and muttering under his breath.  We didn’t talk.  He examined Daddy, declared he had pneumonia and gave him a penicillin shot.  He also handed me a brown envelope of pills and told me how often Daddy should take them.  Daddy thanked him and asked if Carol Dawn could get him something to eat or drink.  He said, “Maybe a glass of water would taste good.”  As I was going to get the water, I heard Dr. Foley say, “Nath, You have a resourceful young daughter.  Not many her age could do what she did this morning.  Take good care of her.”  Then he told Daddy about the car left next to his office.

As I came back into the living room, Daddy was saying, I’m a lucky man too have her.”  He thanked Dr. Foley again and asked, “How much do we owe you, Doc?”

Dr. Foley smiled and reached over to shake my hand and said, “No charge today, Merry Christmas.

“Merry Christmas to you too, Dr. Foley. Thanks for helping Daddy.

Postscript: Desperate times call for desperate measures. You may question how a father could send his much loved daughter on such an errand, but without help, he might have died or developed a chronic condition.  I hope there’s a lot of love in your Christmas and I add mine to it.

 

Is this story credible?  Is the narrator reliable?  Are the characters likable and relateable?

Scratching

From where I stand writing, I lift my eyes from the page to watch the chickens in the backyard–that is if my husband has allowed them to escape.  They pick and poke and chuckle.  They are peaceful and so I go back to my work refreshed, relaxed eyes rested.

It’s a Tuesday morning.  I’ve already been swimming and maybe eaten my breakfast.  Lennie arrives at 8:45 while Harland is feeding the young Isa Brown’s and the Silky Bantam couple.  We fill our cups with fresh made coffee before we go to the light-filled room from which we admire the red salvia near the chicken house as Harland begins his chores.  Led by the bantys, the chickens tumble and fly from their enclosures to enjoy a frolic through tomatoes, greens and barley.  They scratch in dirt mounded around green bean tee pees as they pull worms from the ground.  I tell Lennie that there’s no such thing as a vegan chicken.

She asks, “Are you ready? Do you have something for me?” As she does every time we meet, Lennie reads a lovingly crafted poem though it may be only a rough draft.  I comment or make suggestions for increasing the power of her work.  In the next few minutes, I read a revision of a story I want  to perfect or a poem I’ve just begun to shape.  Lennie listens with intention and often sees or hears something in my language or structure that I do not.  She is known to say, “What if you. . .?”

One of us will say, “What are you working on today?”

We bring our pens to the page and focus on developing a story or a poem.  In forty minutes we have a work in progress to read to the other and Harland is enjoying his mid morning coffee as he watches and listens to his contented flock.

 

The Evolution of a Writer

A writer writes.  From my teen years onward, I occasionally have a story or poem that burns a hole in my mind until I release it onto the page.  The piece flows like a mountain spring or a blowing snowstorm that touches the trees in my backyard.  It is perfect, complete and magic.  For many years, I wrote only when compelled by an inner force.  One does not produce much of a body of work relying on overwhelming inspiration.

There are well known authors who, committed to their work (job), write intensely several hours a day.  I could learn by their example.  However, a good writing day for me is spent writing, running, reading and revising.  An ideal example is to get down the first rough draft or pre-write of a piece in the first scheduled sixty to ninety minutes. Stop, leave the piece and go for a run that allows my brain to work on its own while it receives vital oxygen rich blood to support the process.  Meantime, I enjoy the songs of birds, the shape of clouds in the sky and the cooler breeze along the creek.  Back at home, I prepare a cup of tea and read poems or critical commentary if my project is poetry.  The reading is important food that helps me to improve my writing skills. The revision process includes the crafting that brings poetry or prose to life.

If I achieve an ideal day two or three days a week, that’s a good week.  If not, I forgive myself and start again tomorrow.

Current work includes a short story in the drafting stage and the revising of a one act play.

Where I’m From

I am of the hills where moonshine is made.  I am of my mama’s womb and have the curl of her hair if not the color.  The fiddle and the banjo keep time in my heart as do the burbles and ripples of Bob Blanton Creek on its way to the Cumberland River.

I stood by my mama’s knee as she read  The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner to me until I learned to discern the letters and the words.

Daddy and I climbed mountain ridges in an old growth forest, spotted wildfires and walked to the laurel grove where he made moonshine whiskey.

I am of the earth and sky of those eastern Kentucky mountains.  At times when I’m soaked with rain I hear a refrain of, Shall we gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river where it flows by the throne of God . . .” When I’m sad or lonely, I head for a wooded path where I hear Hank Williams sing. . .The moon just went behind a cloud, I’m so lonesome I could cry. . .”

Say, “Hillbilly,” and I reflect on my bare running feet, my good teeth and how far I’ve come from the hills and how I’ve not really left at all.

 

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