A week ago this morning, we woke up to a few inches of fresh snow. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but for us, down here in Tennessee, snow is a too-rare treat. Even when we do get a nice snowfall, it usually vanishes within a day or so. Not this time. It fell wet and fluffy, and then dropping temperatures solidified it. We had snow on the trees for days. It was glorious — a welcome distraction from less savory goings-on in Washington.
These photos are from that first beautiful morning. The water shot is of a small shed on the property of a neighbor. I’ve actually always thought the structure was a bit of an eyesore, but on this day, in the snow and mist, it added a nice touch to my photo.
The two trail photos are from the rails-to-trails path where I take my morning walks. You’ll notice that there are two sets of footprints in the photos, one on the right side, heading away from me, and one on the left, harder to see, coming toward me. Those are Nancy’s. She had gone running on the trail about an hour before I took my walk. We were the only people to brave the trail that morning.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend filled with beauty and peace.
At long last, 2020 is in the world’s rearview mirror, and good riddance. We have a couple of weeks of craziness to get through, and a pandemic to beat back. But I enter this new year optimistic, for our planet, for our nation, for my friends and colleagues, for my family and me. Maybe that makes me naïve. So be it. I spent too much of 2020 anticipating the worst, and making myself miserable in the process. I choose not to do that again.
And so I share with you this image, captured last week during a lovely photo walk I took with a dear friend. I came back with several good pictures, but this one spoke to me. We are, I believe, crossing to a new normal that will be different from what we have known, but tempered and — dare I hope — better for what we have learned.
I wish you a wonderful New Year. May you find light in unexpected places, clarity in reflection, and joy in the simple beauty of the world around us.
It appeared early in the fall, on one of our first frosty mornings. There it lay on the rails-to-trails path: a lone glove. It looked new then, a recent purchase perhaps. Surely someone would be missing it. This is a small town, and as one who walks the trail pretty much daily, I can tell you that I pass the same people regularly. I had no doubt that the glove would be reclaimed within a day or two. The weather was clear and would be for several days to come. I thought nothing of leaving the glove where it lay. Others seemed to take the same approach.
After a week, it was still there.
We had a couple of days of rain, and the glove got soaked. But no one claimed it, and my fellow walkers and I continued to pass it by.
Then, finally, one of us took pity on the poor thing. Clearly it belonged to someone, so this charitable soul didn’t take it away or dispose of it. But rather than leave it on the path, wet, half covered with fallen leaves and pine needles, this person slipped it onto the branch of a sapling.
At that point, though, the fingers of the glove looked…well, normal. Only over time, with storms and cold and wind and, no doubt, a bit of human manipulation, have they taken on their current Vulcan look. At this point, I expect, the glove is a permanent fixture along the trail. It is part of the landscape, offering wishes for long life and prosperity to all who pass.
Live long and prosper, friends. And have a great weekend.
It first appeared sometime this past summer. It hadn’t been there, and then, suddenly, it was.
Initially, I have to admit, I resented it. I like our views of the little pond near our house. I like to get photos that have no manmade objects in them, and this bench sat right in the middle of the south shoreline of the pond.
But as the summer progressed and turned to fall, I warmed to the bench. For one thing, it’s simple, tasteful. It meshes nicely with the scenery. More important, it was placed in what is, unarguably, a lovely place to sit and ponder and enjoy the beauty of our neighborhood. As my emotions became ever more roiled during the course of the fall, I took to sitting on the bench more and more. It became a refuge of a sort.
I don’t know who put it there. I have an idea, but I’m not certain, and I haven’t had the opportunity it ask. It is there now. Really, nothing else matters.
Except this: Its placement, in a location that makes it available to all, was far from the intrusion I first thought it might be. It was, and continues to be, a gift, anonymous and generous. It was an act of kindness in the midst of a year during which we have needed such things desperately. So, to whoever put it there, thank you.
Wishing you all a wonderful weekend. Stay safe, be kind to one another.
We live atop the Cumberland Plateau, about 1000 feet up from what we call the valley, but what is actually just…NOT the plateau. During the summer, that elevation change, though not huge, helps to keep temperatures in our little college town on the cool side. If the valley is at ninety-five degrees, we might only reach high eighties. Believe me, it makes a difference.
The same dynamic that keeps us comfortable in warmer months, brings us colder temperatures, a bit more snow, and a good deal of fog when fall and winter roll around. Quite often, after a front moves through, our little town will be socked in for days at a time. Fog is a thing here. You can buy “Fog Happens” t-shirts at the college bookstore. People here tell stories of driving through the fog with their car doors open, so that they can look down and keep track of the lines on the road. I’ve never done that, but I have driven past our street because I couldn’t see the intersection. When I reach the highway near our house, I sometimes have to turn off the radio and lower the windows so that I can listen for oncoming traffic. Checking only by sight just won’t cut it.
I’ve shared with you other photos from the rails-to-trails path I walk most mornings. This one I took at the end of last week on a cold, foggy morning — no doubt the first many in the coming months.
Wishing you a wonderful, safe weekend. Be kind to one another.
Fall foliage is well past peak color here on the Cumberland Plateau, as it is in most parts of the country. But there are still vivid splashes of red and yellow clinging to branches. This Red Maple, a species also known around here as Swamp Maple, is close to our home. It caught Nancy’s eye last weekend on one of our walks, and I went back out the next day to snap a photo or twelve. It was breezy, so several of the images were blurred, but the setting sun was angling through the forest, gilding the leaves’ edges.
It has been a fraught week. Too many people are getting sick. Too many people are dying. And Washington is consumed with a dispute over an election that was won more than a week ago. It’s tragic and depressing and utterly infuriating. But there is still beauty in the world. It’s a little harder to spot right now, but it remains. I promise.
Now, as much as ever, I beg you to be safe, to take care of yourselves and your loved ones, to be kind to one another. We’ll get through this. A better day is coming.
Earlier this year, in the midst of spring bird migration, I wrote about my lifelong love of birding. I shared with you what birding has meant to me over the course of my life, and at the end I made a half-hearted attempt to encourage those interested to start birdwatching.
The truth is, though, that’s a pretty heavy lift. I love birding and I’ve
been doing it long enough that I’m pretty good at it. But for most people, finding the time in their lives for a new hobby, one with a fairly steep learning curve, can seem a bit intimidating. Fortunately, this time of year there’s an easy way into the hobby, one that helps the birds AND offers hours of entertainment.
To quote from Mary Poppins, “Feed the birds!” (“Feed the birds and what have you got?! Fat birds!”)
With the arrival of fall, usually around mid-October here on the Cumberland Plateau, I put out our various bird feeders and fill them with sunflower seeds and suet blocks. I have several feeders mounted on poles in the back yard, and often within a few hours of putting out seed for the first time, my feeders become an all-they-can-eat buffet for titmice, chickadees, cardinals, woodpeckers, wrens, finches, sparrows, and others. From October until mid-spring, our yard is filled with birds darting to the feeders, taking a seed and flitting to a branch to break it open and have at the morsel inside.
You can find simple feeders in the garden sections of most home and hardware stores (Lowes has a decent selection) and even in the pet sections of most grocery stores. You can also find them online. Duncraft, Wild Birds Unlimited, Backyard Chirper, and BestNest.com all sell a wide variety. Some can be pretty pricey, but the truth is, the cheap ones often don’t last long. To my mind, the best feeders for those looking for something durable and low-maintenance are the No/No Steel Wire Mesh collapsible feeders. They hold black oil sunflower seed, which is popular with a wide variety of bird species, they’re tough (I have a couple and one is at least ten years old at this point) and won’t be chewed up and ruined by squirrels, and the larger ones hold a good amount of seed, so I only have to fill mine once a week or so.
I also have a small plastic satellite feeder (it is shaped like Saturn, with a small opening), which is nice because only small, acrobatic birds can access it. Due to its size, it runs out of food too quickly, but it attracts titmice, chickadees, finches, and nuthatches. Larger birds can’t perch on it.
And I have a hopper feeder which basically looks like a small house. It’s made of wood and has one big compartment that I fill weekly. The feeder is mounted on a pole, and I have modified it slightly since buying it. I removed the cheap plastic sides that held the seed in place, and in their place attached metal mesh — also known as hardware cloth. I used a staple gun to set the mesh in place. The result is a more durable feeder that holds slightly more than it would have otherwise.
This feeder attracts everything from the smallest species — chickadees, wrens, titmice, finches, and wrens — to larger birds like woodpeckers, Cardinals, and Blue Jays. In the spring I often get flocks of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks on the hopper feeder.
All my mounting poles are equipped with squirrel baffles, which do a decent, if not perfect, job of keeping the critters off the feeders. Don’t worry: the squirrels don’t starve. The dirty little secret of feeding our feathered friends is that birds are slobs. For every seed they get from a feeder, they often knock two or three to the ground. Squirrels get plenty of food just from the spillage, as do ground feeding birds like sparrows, juncos, and doves.
Finally, I also have a suet cage on one of my feeder poles. A suet cage is essentially a rectangular wire box that holds those suet cakes you can buy at grocery stores, hardware stores, and garden centers. The cakes are not perfect, but they’re cheap, they’re easy to load into the feeders, and the birds seem to like them. My brother, who lives far north of me, uses actual suet from the meat department of his grocery store. We can’t do that here in the Southeast. Even in winter, we have too many warmish days. The fat would turn rancid. The cakes are a good compromise. They attract a variety of woodpecker species (Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, even the large, crested Pileated Woodpeckers — think Woody Woodpecker) as well as nuthatches, wrens, and others.
I should also mention that starting in April and continuing throughout the spring and summer, Nancy puts out hummingbird feeders in her garden. This is a more work intensive endeavor than seed feeding. She blends water and refined sugar at a ratio of about 3 1/2 to 1, boils it to make it safe and to fully dissolve the sugar, and then lets it cool before filling the feeders. She has to do this three or four times a week, sometimes more. We go through a lot of sugar (we buy two kinds of sugar during the warm months — sugar for baking and such, and cheap, store-brand “bird sugar” for the feeders), but we usually have at least two pairs of hummingbirds breeding in the yard. At times, we’ll have as many as ten or fifteen birds fighting for access to the feeders.
For more information on feeding birds, please visit All About Birds, the website of Cornell University’s marvelous ornithology lab. They are a great resource and do wonderful work protecting birds.
I wrote about this today, because our feeders have been up for about two weeks and already I have derived so much pleasure from all the birds hanging around in our backyard. Putting out feeders is great way to start learning about birds — keep a pair of binoculars and a simple field guide handy, and you’ll soon be identifying all of your hungry visitors. And, of course, you’ll also be helping the birds endure the cold months.
Yesterday, I hiked out to a pair of lakes near our house — ones I have photographed several times before this year. I was hoping to find calm waters, interesting clouds, and a bit of fall color. I wasn’t disappointed.
Fall in the South is… different from what I’m used to. On the one hand, compared to the foliage I saw in my youth, living in New York and then in New England, the colors here are somewhat muted. We just don’t see the fiery reds and oranges that my brother boasts of in Upstate New York. On the other hand (there is ALWAYS an other hand), I also recall autumn in the north being fleeting, a moment of brisk air and clear skies and stunning leaves, which all too quickly gave way to the drear of winter.
Most years, that’s how spring is down here. It’s winter, then we get a couple of lovely warmish days and everything blooms, and then, too soon, it’s 85 degrees and humid. But fall in the south seems to last forever. It may not be as colorful, but we have week after week of cool nights, pleasant days, and brilliant blue skies. Certainly that has been the case this year. The lingering fall has offered some solace and pleasure in an otherwise difficult year.
In any case, I took a bunch of photos and these were, if not the absolute best, certainly representative of the most successful images. I hope you enjoy them.
Have a wonderful weekend. Stay safe. Be kind to one another.
I’ve written about politics and social issues a lot in recent weeks, and I want desperately to avoid doing so again this week. It’s not that I don’t have more to say. I do. But I feel as though I’d be going over familiar ground, raising the same objections to this Administration, calling attention to new outrages and failings that are simply echoes of the older ones I’ve already criticized. I am weary of outrage, sick to death of this campaign, ready to reclaim the emotional energy and brain space I’ve ceded to it for so many months.
There is more to life than this. I know there is, and recently, as I have pulled back from political websites and social media, I have been taking pleasure in the small things that I enjoy most. Here’s how I’m coping:
Music: Making music and listening to it. The former has been particularly rewarding because for a time earlier this year, a shoulder issue — terribly painful, basically untreatable except for physical therapy, but not truly serious — kept me from being able to play my guitars. I am happy to report that my shoulder, while not 100%, is much better. I’m playing again, learning new songs, building up strength in my arm and hand. Again, I’m not all the way there, but I’m playing again, and that gives me such pleasure.
I’m also listening a lot, mostly to old rock, even when I’m working. In the past, some of you know, I have strictly limited my work-time listening to instrumental music — jazz and bluegrass mostly. But somehow, right now, with all that’s going on in my head, I am able to work and listen to rock at the same time. I honestly don’t know why, but I’m not complaining.
Work: I’m getting work done on several projects, which is gratifying. I have been working on a pair of trunk novels, one that needed editing, and its sequel, which needed editing and an ending. I’m making good progress on those, but I am not pushing myself too hard, and that seems to be a good thing. I’m the first to admit that I am not at my best right now. So rather than beat myself up for not being efficient, I am accepting the limitations imposed by my current emotional state. I work when I can, and when the work doesn’t flow, I take care of other things, be they work-related or house-related or whatever.
I also have a novel that my agent and I are trying to sell and a set of Thieftaker novellas that are in production. And I have other projects at various stages of completion and readiness. On the one hand, I’m impatient for forward motion on all of them. At the same time, I understand that I can only do so much, and that the publishing world is moving even more slowly than usual. I am doing my best to be patient, something that doesn’t come naturally to me.
Getting outside: Fall has been brilliant this year here on the Cumberland Plateau. Shimmering, clear days, cool nights, stunning mornings. I have been birdwatching, savoring my morning walks, taking extra hikes later in the day, taking photos, and generally forcing myself to get away from my computer. Idle moments at my desk lead me to bad habits — social media, political sites, etc. In short, all the stuff I’m trying to avoid. To the extent possible, when the siren call of the web grows too strong, I escape it by going outside and doing something else.
Comfort food for the brain: Throughout the pandemic, I have found it hard to read. Except for political journalism, which, of course, I want no part of right now. The exception is old favorite novels by authors I love. So I’ve been re-reading the works of Guy Gavriel Kay, and have it in mind to read some other old works after that. They are comforting and comfortable, which I really need right now.
Along the same lines, I have been enjoying the television shows of Aaron Sorkin. Most of you probably know about The West Wing and The Newsroom, and I’ve been watching plenty of West Wing, happily retreating to a world in which Jed Bartlet is President. I have also been watching Sports Night, a short-lived half-hour comedy/drama that aired for two years before being cancelled. It was a terrific show about a sports show along the lines of ESPN’s Sportscenter. It was funny and poignant and smart, like all of Sorkin’s work. The network never knew what to do with the show. They tried a laugh track with it for a while, but that didn’t work. And by the time they figured out that they just needed to leave it alone, the show had been mired in a ratings slump for too long to be saved. If you can find the disks, I recommend it highly, particularly season 1.
Nancy: The one constant for me during this pandemic is that Nancy and I have enjoyed our time together. We have been cooking a lot, taking walks together, sipping whisky on the front porch as the sun goes down, and generally counting ourselves so very fortunate to have each other. There’s really not much more to say about this, but as I struggle to maintain my emotional health, I have to acknowledged that I would have broken a long time ago if not for her.
I know how lucky I am — lucky to play guitar, to have music at my disposal, to have a job I love, to have books to read and old DVDs to watch, to live in a place that is beautiful and that offers easy access to wilderness, to have a happy marriage. Please believe that I take none of this for granted. That wasn’t always the case, but this year has shown me the folly of doing so. I won’t fall prey to that particular mistake again.
I wish you health — emotional and physical — and I hope you have a wonderful week. See you Wednesday.
Earlier this week, after working for much of the day, I went for a short hike with a dear friend of mine, a fellow photographer. It was late afternoon on a cool, crisp, exquisite day, and we went down off the bluff to a stream and small waterfall we’ve visited together several times before. The trees were starting to show some color, as were the downed leaves in the stream bed. We masked, of course, and we maintained proper social distance.
But after so long without seeing other people, it was a special treat to get out with my camera AND to do so with a close friend.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been struggling lately. I needed this day. I needed to remind myself that there is more to life than polls and Twitter rants, Covid fears and isolation. We all cope in different ways, and the truth is I am fortunate beyond reckoning. I have children I adore, a life partner who loves me and whom I love, a comfortable home, a job I enjoy, and friends near and far. I have little cause for complaint really. That doesn’t mean my struggles aren’t real, but it does mean that they will not defeat me.
Others are dealing with far greater problems. Maybe some of you. Please know that I wish you all the best, that there is still beauty and joy in the world, that we will emerge from this.
For now, I wish you a wonderful weekend. Stay safe, do something nice for yourself and your loved ones, be kind to one another. I’ll see you next week.