Painting life upside down.

The woman had both hands drenched in paint. She pressed them onto the large canvas in front of her. Working with one hand and then the other, sometimes both together, she smoothed and swirled, stroked and shaped, covered and revealed the image into being. It became a face. more “Painting life upside down.”

The Little Blue Egg

I wondered if you could feel me – you little blue egg – feel my presence, my energy. I could feel yours, just as surely as if I’d been able to see the face and touch the wings within you. I held your warmth, your bit of weight, your smooth oval shape, tucked in the hollow of my hand. And, for some reason, I whispered in your presence, and I hoped you could hear my voice and feel my breath and sense my awe of you. more “The Little Blue Egg”

The Dogwood Tree.

Walter reached up and pulled a branch of the blooming dogwood tree closer; he used his pocketknife to cut off about 12 inches of it. Most men of his time carried such knives – certainly a young man who was working-class and a jack-of-all-trades, especially if he had just a bit of the “bad boy” about him, all of which Walter was and did. He handed the cutting down to the beautiful young woman seated at his feet beneath the tree on his outspread jacket; then he joined her on the ground, leaning next to her against the trunk of the tree. more “The Dogwood Tree.”

The Boots.

“But are my foot­steps silent?
Are they just holes with­in the sand?
Or does an­oth­er hear them, follow,
And find me where I am?”
L.S. Hartfield

I never saw the boots myself. But I can imagine them. Combat boots. Sturdy, durable, high-ankled, “rough-out” boots, standardized in color and style. Boots designed for mud and muck and desert sands and jungle wet. Boots made for war.

more “The Boots.”

Listening without bats.

“It’s hard to listen without bats,” he wrote.

In actuality, the statement written by current-day philosopher-poet Criss Jami said: “It’s hard to listen without bias.” But that’s when my dyslexia kicked in, or my leftover bits of cataracts, or whatever it is that often makes me see words differently than they were written. And so, what I read was, “It’s hard to listen without bats.” more “Listening without bats.”

Saratoga WarHorse Welcomes 600th Participant in Aiken

It seems like no small coincidence that the current average size of a combat battalion is 600 soldiers. And that the historic Charge of the Light Brigade involved 600 warriors, along with their horses, riding into the very “mouth of Hell,” according to Tennyson. And that now, 600 military veterans have come back from the gaping brink of another kind of hell – once again, with the unfailing loyalty of horses at their sides.

On February 9, 2017, the 600th military veteran participated in the Saratoga WarHorse program. It took place at the Aiken, SC, location. more “Saratoga WarHorse Welcomes 600th Participant in Aiken”

The Things Left Behind.

It was like opening a time capsule.

There were 12 plastic-encased audio cassette tapes, mostly by musicians who no longer perform, plus one recording of an old Lux Radio broadcast – a 1940s suspense play. There were road maps and atlases, one dating back to 1979. There was a safety kit in which all the supplies were so crusty with age or degraded by extreme temperatures that they were pitifully beyond any service at all. There was a rusted disposable cigarette lighter, a remnant of days when smoking was still socially acceptable (or in case of the odd rock concert). There were 47 coupons – all expired – for a wide variety of products. Two dog vaccination certificates for two different dogs, both of whom passed away more than five years ago; and one red plastic rain hat that hadn’t been worn since 2010 – probably because it doesn’t actually look good on anyone nor does it protect the wearer from the rain particularly well. One outdated phone book. One compass. One tape measure. One watercolor paint brush. Two pencils. Three pens (none working). One notebook. A Bible. A paper-wrapped plastic drinking straw. A 24-pack of bungee cords. Four pairs of earrings and a gold watch that looked vaguely familiar.

These were just some of the more unexpected finds. more “The Things Left Behind.”

The Tempest and the Tea Olive Tree.

“A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves.”                        – John Muir

I couldn’t be sure, standing below and looking up through the tangle of branches to the topmost reaches of the tree, but I thought it might be a dove perched there. The tree was a lovely, fragrant tea olive – a member of the general olive tree family – so the dove seemed most appropriate. A symbol of peace and protection, always and once again.

The tree looked a bit rumpled. But olive trees are meant to be that way. Even the youngest have an appearance of age and wisdom about them. And the most ancient seem to shape themselves with thriving energy.

The bird in question had stayed there on the single highest branch of the tea olive, quietly overlooking the grounds below, for a significant length of time. He seemed to be studying the view from his vantage point: the random pile of bricks, the leaning gate that was separated from its hinges but otherwise intact, the jagged wall that gaped like the smile of a pumpkin casually carved with irregular teeth, and, across the road, the torn and up-turned roots and broken stump of what had recently been an obviously very large, rather old oak.

The oak had succumbed to the tail of hurricane Matthew when it grazed through my home town in South Carolina a few weeks before. And, in that tempest, the large old tree had been tossed with abandon toward the quiet grey home with happy yellow shutters across the street from it. It crushed its way through the low brick wall in front of the house, but was caught in the arms of the tea olive tree, inches before it could damage the home itself. The symbolism and story to be told could not be missed. And the tea olive faithfully blossomed and bloomed even after its act of rough heroism.

I am particularly fond of tea olive trees. As are most Southerners, I would suspect. There is no fragrance quite like it. It’s the kind of scent that calls you to itself. You find yourself searching it out. And, just as you think it must be within inches of your nose, you still might not see it hiding on the far side of some old-world wall or tucked behind a thick, tall hedge.

I’ve heard it described as the signature scent of autumn in the South. And regional gardening expert, Bill Finch, has said: “December in Germany smells like fir. In New England, it smells like smoke. But here [in the South], December smells like tea olive.” I agree, too, that the scent is so full it can take on an almost physical appearance, especially after a rain.

But, in the end, I am caught most of all by the genuine poignancy of the tea olive tree itself – a symbol of peace that blooms at its peak during the very season of peace. Especially this particular tea olive tree. The one in front of the grey house with yellow shutters. The one with the dove resting high in her thoroughly mussed and ravaged hair. And I am heartened by the fact that she stood fast in the middle of a wild swirling storm and brought peace to the people who love her. I suspect those are the best kind of friends to have – ­the ones whose songs never cease, who throb with life, and who stand bravely between you and your dangers … even if it leaves them a bit rumpled in the wake.

This season, and always, blessed are the peacemakers. Especially the rumpled ones.

Being famous.

“Are you famous?” he asked. “Do you know the President?”

Marcus had patiently waited his turn with raised hand at the back of the room. All of the students that day were delightfully young and sincere. Brilliantly authentic. They had been exceptionally engaged during the readings I was doing for their school, the talks I was giving about authoring books and the magic of words.

more “Being famous.”

Reclaiming recess.

The playground swing has a canvas seat and is suspended by thick metal chains. It squeaks and sings in a familiar rhythm. The warmth of my hands holding myself in place releases a memory-filled scent of old iron, rain, and rust. It is a warm, quiet night. And a breeze puffs at my hair; it exhales across my face and arms and legs. My feet are bare. I hold my breath as I swing higher and higher. And for one moment, I am flying – free and far and forever.

I am completely in the present. And yet I am every age I have ever been. In my mind and heart, I swing back and forth in time and place. And I hear myself laughing – both then and now.

It is recess. more “Reclaiming recess.”