Category Archives: Out and About

Fairy day at Tower Hill

Tower Hill Botanic Garden is only 45 minutes from here out by Worcester, but somehow today was my first visit. It was so worth it! There happened to be a fairy hut-making workshop this morning which meant we were enchanted by charming little structures everywhere we looked.


We encountered a few fairies as well.

The woods had a yellow cast to them that was also somewhat magical. The wonder of it reminded me that the Japanese have a word for this:

Shinrinyoku” (“forest bathing”) is to go deep into the woods where everything is silent and peaceful for a relaxation.

While looking that word up, I discovered this one — “Komorebi”. It means sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees.


There was also a wonderful outdoor art installation: THE WILD RUMPUS, A Stickwork Sculpture by Patrick Dougherty (better pix at garden’s website, linked above).

Finn had a good time once he settled down. Fortunately, we only saw one other dog.


I chatted up two women winding red lights on the branches of one of the trees near the visitor center (how like me — er, not!) and learned that Tower Hill does it up for Christmas. I plan to go back before another 25 years pass — maybe even in 2017!

Once back at the manse, perhaps inspired by the thought of that Garden done up for the holiday, I finished a Santa hat for one of my little critters. I’ll show you her tomorrow. She’s really quite special.

PS before the light faded too much I made my own fairy hut with whatever materials I could grab from nearby.

Historic fiction before the internet 

I have a fair number books on South Carolina and slavery for the period I’m interested in, but what a boon the internet is!  I’ve found: the wills of some of my characters; botanical treatises compiled in the exact decade of interest; recipes for syllabub, jumbles, and terrapin soup; slave inventories, descriptions of what Oglethorpe was up to in 1735, and all kinds of historic maps of Charleston. It’s an amazing resource.

Yesterday, I needed help imagining how to butcher and skin an alligator and instantly found a YouTube video showing exactly that. I enjoyed fourteen minutes of some guy in Florida doing the job with a humorous and precise narration. “Here’s the best meat, the tenderloin, or ‘jelly role’. … “here’s the second best, under the jaw… ” “you can’t rip alligator skin off like deer skin — you have to cut every inch away.”

Learn something new every day: the erect flanges running down the reptile’s body are called “scoots” and are designed to maximize heat absorption. They’re also the hardest part of an alligator’s body.

Also, this: never, ever cut open an alligator’s stomach. Hmm, why? In my attempt to find out, I came across gruesome stories about the bones of children and large deer being discovered in various alligator guts. Maybe it has to do with potent acids?

In a subsequent google wander, I came across a great book about the fishing practices of bondmen in coastal communities [“The Waterman’s Song: Slavery & Freedom in Maritime North Carolina” by David S. Cecelski]. I couldn’t access all of the text, of course, but I could read a fair amount. Again: what an amazing resource!

There was a description of “gigging flounder and sturgeon by moonlight”. Don’t you love that? I’ll admit to not even really needing to know precisely what it means. I just want to keep saying it: “gigging flounder and sturgeon by moonlight.” [Cecelski].

Several things to note in brief: fish was very plentiful in the Lowlands in the mid-eighteenth century. Oysters, for example, could be gathered by the basketful without much trouble or a boat. Slave owners were ambivalent about the resourcefulness of their bondmen and women. On the one hand, such industry in supplementing meager rations saved planters a lot of money. On the other hand, it afforded the enslaved both tools and autonomy that made white people nervous, especially after the Stono Uprising in 1739. The slave code enacted subsequent to the rebellion was draconian (as all slave codes enacted subsequent to uprisings are), placing prohibitions on literacy, gardening (gardening!), hunting, and more understandably, perhaps, the possession of weapons. Because the economic advantages of the enslaved providing some of their own food held, however, many plantation owners turned a blind eye to the continued practices.

And then there’s the racial animus that has poisoned our country from its inception. Cecelski relates a story about an overseer who found a hidden fish trap and in his outrage destroyed the trap, stole the capture for himself, and pronounced fish “too good for niggers.”

According to Cecelski, slaves fashioned floats out of gourds, hooks out of fish bones, and nets out of hemp. Illicit traps and trot lines were camouflaged along the marsh edges and some slaves built cypress log rafts and hid those, too. So they could “gig flounder and sturgeon by moonlight” perhaps.

A large alligator would produce about 65 pounds of meat. Smoking and salting were the only methods of preservation back then and so it was customary among white elites to share cuts with neighbors.

I was doing this research because I want my mustee character to capture a notorious alligator and cut it up (‘mustee” = half Native American / half African). This character’s named Indian Peter and comes from the Lucas family inventory, but I’ve based him in large measure on another real person — a legendary hunter named Prince Alston. Mr. Alston worked up on the Santee River at Hampton Plantation for Archibald Rutledge many generations later. Rutledge wrote a beautiful memoir — “Home by the River” — in which he describes the man (emphasis mine):

Prince expressed a “kinship with nature as unfeigned as it was intimate” and although “untouched by any human school of philosophy, was deeply read in the oracles of God.” He could handle a cart with four vicious mules and once plowed a field with a bull so terrifying that other field workers routinely walked a mile out of their way so as not to go near him.

(Eliza Lucas Pinckney would spend her last years at Hampton Plantation with her daughter, Harriott).

What would a bondman have done with 65 pounds of meat if he killed the reptile on the sly? On the other hand, if the kill was done openly, say on a Sunday, would the meat have been apportioned between the enslaved and their owners?

After the rebellion of ’39, would Indian Pete still have been in possession of knives? It was controversial then to ‘allow’ such a state of affairs, even if the knives had been previously employed solely for the provision of food.

In other news, a novel about Eliza Lucas Pinckney was published last week. It’s called “Indigo Girl” and covers five of the six years that I cover. The author read Eliza’s letters, etc. If anyone wants to read it and report to me — go for it. I’ll even buy it for you — but I can’t look at it until I’m finished. The author, Natasha Boyd, is a romance writer from Denmark. I’m hoping that her book does very well and that it’s strikingly different from mine. 

As far as keepin’ on keepin’ on, my writing instructor quipped, “Do people ever think we have too many books about Lincoln — or Jefferson?” Good point.

 

All photos from Feb ’17 trip to South Carolina and taken by me. They include shots from the Caw Caw Conservation property, the Ashley River near Drayton Hall, Wappoo Creek, and the water near Boone Hall Plantation, Mt. Pleasant.

Wait and Attend!


A lot of waiting going on here. My sister went into the hospital the day K and I flew to Boulder last week. There I was walking along the foothills of the Rockies trying this hospital, then that, trying to find out where the ambulance took her. I sat on a rock in the morning sun. Cows lowed nearby, steam rising off their bulk. The nurse had called earlier to say the apartment was locked and appeared to be empty. I got good at leaving hospital web pages up in Safari and hitting the call button. She was in Beverly, turns out.

She’s home again but perhaps shouldn’t be. She cannot eat. Cannot keep meds down. Can barely scooch herself off of the (new) hospital bed onto the potty-chair. I am talking with everyone — the VNA personnel, the North Shore Elder staff, the PT who couldn’t get a hold of her, her psychic friend in Vancouver.

I’m googling all manner of depressing physical symptoms.


I spent the night with her before we flew to Boulder, sleeping on the floor. Her psychic friend had called that morning to say, “If I could SEE her, I’d know.” It’s hard to gauge these things. I honestly thought she might die while we were away, knowing how some people need that — the absence of their loved ones rather than their attendance.

[The nurse just called from my sister’s. They’re readmitting her. This is very good news. I asked a direct question and got even better news, “No, the end is not near,” she ventured. “She’s got a lot of life left in her.”]

Meanwhile, Finn ran away from his dog walker yesterday, running the mile and a half home along busy, well-traveled roads. There I was standing in the line at Marshall’s buying chocolate when I should have been at CVS buying a temporary mouth guard (more on that below). “He’s probably running home. Call your neighbor.” And so I did. I called the one that Finn tried to bite once. She let him in ten minutes later to my enormous relief, but it didn’t spare me the drive home during which I couldn’t help but scan the sides of the roads for an immobile, black heap.

And about that mouth guard. I left a messenger bag in the cab coming from the airport on Monday. This is me, off of ADD meds. I’ve been waiting (with diminishing hope) for a call from the Boston Airport Taxi Lost and Found (it’s not just me, as it turns out). The police officer James took down the hack number, time of pick up and drop off, the cab company and told me not to give up hope. But that was yesterday morning. Now, I’ve pretty much given up hope.

Are you ready for what was in the bag?

  • Laptop.
  • Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
  • New blue tooth ear buds (a total splurge).
  • A quilt I’d put umpteen hours into.
  • My $600 mouth guard.
  • My brand new, barely begun Michael Twitty book, “The Cooking Gene.”
  • A three page list of passwords.

Because I’d backed up my manuscript an hour before we left, I almost don’t care. About any of it. Seriously. It’s just money. It’s not four feet of water in my house. It’s not the prospect of no power for weeks. It’s not a town leveled by wind. It’s not a dead dog on the side of the road. And it’s not sleep interrupted to make watery squirts into a plastic bucket.

No, what bothers me about the loss is what this lapse of attention represents.

Because of an aberrant EKG two weeks ago (you may have read about it before I made the post private), as well as my first EVER high blood pressure reading, I’m off the stimulant meds. I WANT to be off for good. I’m committed. But to be this rattled?


“Where’s my phone?” I can be heard saying at any given hour of the day. “Where’s my phone?” (K says with kind realism: “You never can find your phone, you know, even on meds.”)

Okay. Okay.

But, I nearly left the same messenger bag in the Denver Airport four days earlier. And I DID leave my Daily Pages in a shop on Pearl Street in Boulder the day of our departure. We’re talking about a full-sized spiral bound notebook!

And so, I had to wonder — do I want to leave this writing project behind so badly I’d inconvenience myself to this astonishing a degree?

My brother says things will settle — in about a month. Meanwhile, I wonder what else I can possibly lose in the interim.

A silver lining must be mentioned before I trundle off to hunt down my Replacement Daily Pages (yes, I lose them in the house, too, and yes, it was that way before). I’ve missed my laptop. It’s almost like having lost a companion and so its loss is not quite purely pecuniary. But, here’s the silver lining — how great it’s been to want to work, to notice the longing to flip the computer open and GO. I cannot remember when I last felt this way. Have I EVER? There’s been a lot of bruising resistance, overpowering doubt, and the suffocating sense of obligation. Productive hours, too, but still.

So that’s good, right? Now I access the files on the PC and I’m reminded how much faster I type on an honest-to-goodness keyboard. So maybe that’s a good thing, too.

Needless to say, I will replace those expensive, noise-cancelling head phones (we are enduring the seventeenth week of jack hammering as I type. In addition, Aftercare has distributed recorders to the kids across the fence and a handful of them are tooting the same note over and over again). I’ve scheduled a dentist appointment for a new mouth guard (probably costs way more than $600 now). Plus, earlier today, I ordered replacement ear buds. Murphy’s Law says that if the bag is to show up, now would be the time.By the way, the folks at the Pearl Street shop who found my Daily Pages (“Oh yes! The notebook with a photo of a very pregnant Serena Williams in the front sleeve? It was in the restroom”) offered to ship it to me gratis. How incredibly nice! I have two parallel fantasies about this. One: they read enough to feel utterly sorry for me. Or, two: they read the rare powerhouse page and thought — this is some writer! We don’t want to get in her way.

It’s probably neither, but it’s fun to imagine.

you seem restless


Sometimes being a disorganized word-scribbler has its benefits — like when I’m cleaning up and find some random scrap of paper or flip through a long forgotten half filled notebook and land on treasure. Here are a few: the record of toddler C saying he ‘had to pee like ABCD’ (because he may have heard his mother saying she ‘had to pee like you read about’); the quote of him yelling out to the goats at Drumlin Farm: “Hey you gumdrops!” and toddler D’s announcement as his father walked in the door: “Mom got dead fish today!” (trout was on the menu). Whether these scrawled messages point to a place and time I’d forgotten about or inform anew, there’s usually a sense of delight and discovery, and sometimes, synchronicity.

Last week I found this movie quote: “You seem restless but in a permanent kind of way.” I had to google the movie title (“Take This Waltz“) because I’d forgotten it, but I remembered the characters well enough.

“You seem restless but in a permanent kind of way” keeps echoing. I hear it even as I am relaxing on the shores of Rock Pond in New Hampshire. A pretty spot. Quiet. Lots of reading. Some sun. Tasty food, including the first delectably fresh corn of the summer.

But there’s no getting away from any of it. There just isn’t.

In spite of long walks in the woods with “my guys” and swimming two or three times a day, I feel restless and I wonder: is it in a permanent kind of way?


The other quote came from Representative John Lewis and it was simply: “Pray with your feet.”

Newsweek photo of Boston

In that regard, I am so proud of the friends, peers, and other progressives who showed up at Boston Common to counter-protest a “free speech” rally today. They prayed with their feet. This could have gone another way and not just because a huge percentage of Republicans in Massachusetts voted for Trump, but because hate dwells everywhere and has been energized by the monsters at the helm. More than 40,000 counter protesters of all ages and colors showed up.

I’m also proud of the amazing work that the ACLU does.

Off to make dinner. I’ll be back after the eclipse. I hope you all have proper eye protection!

PS. Finished this novel yesterday. Wow did it turn out to be relevant! About a white nationalist and an African American nurse. He has a baby. Baby dies. Nurse is charged with murder. Nurse’s white lawyer comes to grips with her own racism. It goes from there.

A little get away goes a long way

img_3729One hour south & a lifetime away! A seventh annual gathering. I knew this’d be a tribal exercise — all of us women of a certain age, many lawyers, all engaged & smart sharing an exuberant relationship to food. I didn’t expect to find more profound tribal bonds in the realm of heart ache. Without getting into the details, let me just say: what a lot of familial misery between the nine of us!

I went to the first gathering and missed the intervening six. It was useful to acknowledge what prevented attendance in those years, but listening to others describe challenges and interventions for sons, siblings, & parents, I couldn’t help but wonder what I might’ve learned or employed to good effect had I managed to show up.

Put that wonderment in the category of ‘parental hand-wringing.’ Reflexive regret doesn’t get a free pass around here, just so you know. I’m working on it.

I should have handled it differently. Is that true? Not sure. Not definitively. When I think, “I should have handled it differently” I feel bad and there’s no good reason to hang onto the thought. If I turn it around here’s what I get: I handled it just right.


I don’t beat myself up for being an introvert anymore, but I live so privately these days that I have the luxury of forgetting how my style of communicating comes across. It’s not that I forget how interruptive, easily excited, and opinionated I am. It’s that I forget that for some, this is off-putting.

(“I’d rather need modulating than feel compelled to shush people,” is something I would never say.) 

Anyway, it was no big deal. And one guest informed me in her quiet way in the kitchen yesterday that she appreciates ‘direct people’. . . likes ‘knowing where she stands’. It was nice to hear, but also just weird to even be thinking about: ‘I’m this. I’m that.’

I’m glad to be home, that’s for sure, nice as it was, even though it is cold and rainy again. I have the heat on. Just a little. No apology. 


The doctor’s office called. The test was negative for shingles but probably is shingles given the presentation. My brother seems pretty sure that the reason it doesn’t hurt is because of the recent vaccination. Maybe that foiled the test, too.

Whatever else this diagnosis says about my stress-level, chocolate consumption, or immune system, it feels appropriate that my cheek is weeping. Weep, weep, weep. I keep wishing I could go somewhere and cry but I can’t or won’t, so maybe this’ll have to do.

If it weren’t for a phone call with my sister, I would say that today is a very good day and even with a phone call from my sister, the day rounds into new territory. Less hostile, that is. Calmer. Rain or no rain: mine. Blame and vitriol or none: mine. Weeping blisters or none: coming ’round the bend.

I always think I’ll be back sooner than I am, so in case I’m not — will you watch the Comey hearing on Thursday? I will and in real time, with friends.

Imagine peace 

Imagine peace. Such a refrain! A sewn pin from Liz in Texas renders the reminder tactile and lovely.

With the pin, came a stitched date: June 17, 2015. This, as you know, was the day of the tragic shooting at the Charleston Emanuel AME Church and Liz was one of the contributors to the “Hearts for Charleston” quilt (see side bar). The pin and date-cloth seem very at home in a sweet grass basket made in Charleston, don’t you think? There they are on a pile of shells gathered south of the city along with a wasp’s nest (also found somewhere in SC).

Look at Liz’s capable hand! Seeing her tiny, regular stitches reminded me of the pleasure of collaborating on our quilt for grieving Charlestonians last year. Making hope tactile while affirming friendships all over the globe is a powerful thing. Thank you, Liz, thank you and thank you – both for the gift itself and for setting a moving example.

My mad play with pix of villains, on the other hand, is likely pointless. But, look at that face — even if the stakes were low, would YOU trust him? With an image like that, you don’t need to evaluate his lame, contradictory explanations of recent blundering and partisan actions to conclude that the House Intel Committee’s work is done. Toast.  I went to the Mother Emanuel Church while in Charleston recently. It was drenched in sun and very still, in spite of a fair amount of traffic out front. I felt a sense of sadness being there and also care — I did not want to intrude. Sometimes even taking pictures can feel transgressive. Fortunately, no one came or went while I took the photos below.






I found all the shells on Folly Beach as the sun came up. K and I thought we’d have the place to ourselves, but lots of people were there — a military jogger and his handsome German shepherd posing for pictures; a rashy-faced photo enthusiast talking up his Facebook page; other tourists; a guy with a metal detector who reminded us of those funny nerds on “The Detectorists”. The pier’s criss-crossing supports looked like a row of herringbone stitch connecting the ocean to the sky.



Naturally Finn joined me as I took a selfie on the sunny staircase yesterday — he always knows where the action is! He kept looking up as if peace was just there, slightly beyond my reach or capacity to see.

Prose and soup

“Read at the level at which you want to write.” Jennifer Egan (brainpickings.org)

I couldn’t read Roth until I was older and now he is one of my favorite writers. I hope he never dies! I may have read this Zuckerman novel before (or maybe it just seems familiar because it takes place in the Berkshires where I was born and lived a good many years?) No matter, it’s worth a re-read.

Here’s a sentence: “My guess was that it would take even the fiercest Hun the better part of a winter to cross the glacial waterfalls and wind-blasted woods of those mountain wilds before he was able to reach the open edge of Lonoff’s hayfields, rush the rear storm door of the house, crash through the study, and, with spiked bludgeon wheeling high in the air above the little Olivetti, cry out in a roaring voice to the writer tapping out his twenty-seventh draft, ‘You must change your life!'”

Swoon.


Beef with barley soup for lunch after another frigid walk with the dog. And since K won’t be here for dinner, I’m not even cooking: a bowl of fruit, yogurt and sunflower seeds topped with honey from Charleston.


*thank you Mo for link on FB to the article.