30 January 2009

More sun!

I have a piece of garden art in my study given to me by Tal's daughter several years ago at Christmas. This morning between 8:30 and 9:00 it cast a sharp shadow on the wall as the sun cleared the trees at the front of the house.

It turned out to be a great day for a seven stop list of errands, which I handled, and an 18-hole round on the golf course for Tal. I didn't want the day to end ...

29 January 2009

Blue sky

Oh, the sun came out today. Taking a good, long, dry walk was first on our list. With the camera in hand, I couldn't help but let it turn skyward at will. The budding trees against the blue, cloud-streaked sky was uplifting beyond measure.

28 January 2009

Pure sweetness

While I was preparing lunch today, Tal came into the kitchen, quietly got my attention, senting me for the camera. After a busy morning in the outside dampness, Whitby and Belle had come in with Tal and had promptly taken to the sofa, falling asleep, looking serene, sweet and exceptionally comfortable. After taking the picture, lunch postponed, Tal and I stood for a long moment simply to enjoy looking at them.

I cannot express or begin to understand for that matter how much we love these two dogs and, indeed, how fortunate we think we are to be their caretakers.

27 January 2009


My day was hijacked! Hijacked by Whitby who went outside with Tal as he worked on our new bottle tree and ended up, unsupervised, deep in the mud, a total, grimy, disheveled wreck of a dog. He was having such a good time and how his tail did wag! My plan had been to clean house, a plan hijacked by the need to give a dog a bath. We make plans in order to have something to adjust, I suppose.

I couldn't be mad and we ended up having a damp and wonderful time, the hot water in the utility sink running brown for quite a long time, three soapings and rinsings worth. There's something about Whitby when he's drenched, looking thin, his eyebrows and beard slicked down, his eyes big, something so very dear.

The combing and blow drying included a fair amount of snarling and snapping (Whitby, not me!) and more than a few applications of the scissors to particularly tenacious knots. But in the end Whitby was clean and fluffy - and exhausted. After changing into a dry set of clothes, I got to the house, not making good on all my thorough good intentions, but giving it a step above a lick and a promise.

It'll do for this week.

26 January 2009

Potential travel

It's the last Monday in January. I am tired of being cold and, while I really like damp, grey weather, I have to admit that I am growing weary of it -- even while acknowledging with profound gratitude that we're not living in the northeast any longer. The luxury of silk longjohns in my wardrobe not withstanding, I'm having a hard time keeping my spirits up.

Something that helps us both are conversations about travel possibilities. We have received a letter from the propritators of Shining Falls Lodge in Manitoba about our "penciled in" dates for June and we're researching a train trip across Canada and a Road Scholar jaunt into Alaska. Admittedly, although we need to choose one of the three, it's strengthening just to have the options.

I found, tucked into my journal, a napkin I picked up at a recent party at the Hilton near in the convention center in Columbia. On it are three inspiring sentences.

Travel is more than just A to B.

Travel should celebrate good times.

Travel should take you places.

At this point, for us, the mere prospect of travel is helping us keep January's gloom in perspective.

25 January 2009


In early December I wrote a post about the birth of my brother 51 years ago (see 5 December 2008). And, I remembered a photograph taken for our Christmas card that year. It was printed by my father on "from our house to yours" card stock and I do believe I have an original around here somewhere, but it's still hidden, awaiting a day of rediscovery. But, last night during a late night movie, I met up with a happy, exhilerating moment. Success!

At some point in the last six months I did something in the Elements 6 program I use (part of Adobe's Photoshop) which loused up my catalog terribly. I've not had the heart to get into it, frankly. The prospect of straightening it all out seemed nearly impossible, having swelled the number of images in the catalog from roughly 9000 to nearly 16000. How would I ever straighten it all out?

Then came these cold, foggy, wet grey January days. Grimly and determinedly, I set out to fix it, giving the project three to four hours a day and using my occasional sleeplessness to advance my progress. I'm still not clear what actually happened, but it seems I ended up duplicating a vast majority of the images in the catalog. The rememdy was, beginning with the oldest first (my choice), working my way through the collection, image-by-image, eliminating the duplicates and updating the catalog as I went.

There are benefits to beginning again. But, it takes not obsessing over the mistake that necessitated the new start; it takes letting oneself enjoy the process, allowing for discoveries and enjoying the treasured images. What else are they for, after all?

This is what I was hoping to find in early December: a photograph of my family just days after Paul and Mother had come home from the hospital, our Christmas card picture for 1957. Now, this is not the photograph my father took, I don't think. This image is in a square format, was extremely crooked and included, along the edges, information about the photograph in my Grandmother Tarbox's handwriting, making me think my grandmother Tarbox took it (Family Photographs D, image #50). Now, I don't remember my grandparents being present that day, but I was just five years old and remember with extreme clarity my wonder at all five of us sitting on the piano bench and the beautiful dresses my sister, Joyce, and I were wearing.

All I did to the image is beef up the contrast, straighten and resize it. And, while I'm still hoping to find the actual Christmas card one day, it's my pure pleasure to be able to post this one.

24 January 2009

A chilling read

I brought home a novel -- a door prize -- from the library-sponsored spa day the week between Christmas and New Years (see 30 December 2008). Having a list of tasks that I really wanted to accomplish this month, I'd not picked up the book. But, Thursday afternoon, another grey day in this long string of grey days, wearying of being productive, I curled up on the sofa (which I had to share with the dogs, who were warm, by the way) with the gas logs adding cheer to the room and opened the front cover. Whoa ...

Entitled The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold (who also wrote The Lovely Bones), it's a story about a daughter and her mother. It's also a wild and overwhelming read, the time frame a terrible, catastrophic 24-hour period. Not able to sleep last night I got up to read for a little while and ended up not going back to bed until I'd finished the book, whose story didn't end as the back cover closed.

I am in awe of Sebold's skill. The story is one thing, but the writing, the daughter's layered, strange interior landscape, is so mesmerizing that somehow I found myself experiencing a disconcerting unbalance, the daughter's disconcerting unbalance. I shudder thinking about it now.

I'm glad I read it; I'm more glad it's over. Sleeplessness, it seems to me, needs reading material easier on the nerves -- like articles about the economy, or Wall Street, or the legislative and executive branches of government to name a few.

23 January 2009

Skip rope rhyme

It's been a long time since I skipped rope. Sadly, the most recent -- aborted, fitness related -- effort (it's been since we moved into this house in May of 2004) resulted in an uncomfortable and long-lasting back pain. I won't do that again.

But, on Wednesday just passed I thought about learning to skip rope at the elementary school I attended in the early 1960s at Murrells Inlet and the required rhymes and chants that went along with that activity. I'd just received the joyful and anticipated call about a baby's birth, and there it was singsonging in the back of my mind: first comes love, second comes marriage, then comes (fill in the blank) with a baby carriage.

It was not quite two years ago that I officiated a sublime evening wedding at Grace Church in Ridge Spring. That wonderful couple has welcomed into their lives a son and I couldn't be more pleased, feeling slightly, peripherally responsible. They will be terrific parents. I think the world of both sets of grandparents; the great grandparents on the bride's side are favorites of both Tal and me; enthusiastic, loving aunts, uncles and cousins abound.

This is one lucky little boy. (The birth day shot here is thanks to some one's cell phone and the Internet.)

22 January 2009

Change of plans

I was to have spent the day today with the senior warden of the Church of the Ridge. She had a few things she wanted to work on as the anniversary of my retirement approached and in advance of the congregation (and the bishop) calling a new vicar. When the alarm went off, I muttered to Tal that I would give almost anything not to have to go. I proceded to talk myself out of calling her to say I couldn't come. Not that I didn't want to be with Sarah, but I really wanted to stay home.

Well, within 20 minutes (no, I wasn't up yet) the telephone rang and Sarah was having to cancel. Her reason -- being a first-time grandmother as of yesterday -- was so much better than mine.

Some days things just work out.

21 January 2009

Board membership

At diocesan convention last October I was elected to serve a term on the board of York Place Episcopal Church Home for Children, a residential treatment center jointly owned by the two Episopcal dioceses in South Carolina and located in York SC. Board membership at York Place is a responsbility I welcome, the institution's work challenging and meaningful and its presence a positive one in our state.

Today the president of York Place, John Shiflet, made a trip to Edgefield for a visit, meeting where they live something he does with all new board members. Over a meal at the Old Edgefield Grill he introduced me (and Tal) to board duties, and talked about the challenges the institution faces given today's economic reality and how York Place is planning to weather this difficult time. Mr Shiflet is philosphical about these cycles, having lived through several of them. But, pain is part of the deal -- and he sounds ready to carry on once again.

The board will meet for the first time in this calendar year at the end of February, at which time I will attend an orientation and learn about my committee assignment. I'm ready -- and slightly scared.

20 January 2009

A dusting

Snow! We awoke this morning to a lovely dusting of snow and watched the flakes fall well into the afternoon. Why is it that everything seems so quiet when the precipiation turns soft and fluffy, not falling so much as drifting? And, could I possibly express how happy I am that we didn't have to leave the house all day? Extremely happy. I padded about a bit with the camera, but that was the extent of the day's travel.

In my time outside, however, the snow enabled me to see the result of some activity that took place during our absence over the weekend. It looks like our across-the-pond neighbor bushhogged the woods next to his house. I might not have noticed had the understory not been white. I'm afraid, but won't know until later in the year, if his work eliminated the native azaleas we've so enjoyed seeing bloom during the springs we've lived here. Such is progress,I suppose -- and, I admittedly understand, our neighbor's need to do something, anything, with his time, his construction business having all but come to a halt this past year.

As in many other areas more important (on some level) than a handful of native azaleas, we'll simply have to wait and see ...

19 January 2009

Missing a sign

This holiday Monday found us back in the car. Again, at an early hour. Our Florida family obliged our desire to get on the road and everyone was up for a too-early breakfast and the waving.

The day dawned to dense fog, making the driving for the first two+ hours tense and dangerous. In the viscinity of Lake City FL our momentum was reduced to a crawl for a dozen or so miles with a horrible-looking, multiple car/truck wreck in the southbound lanes. Grateful on many levels (not to be in a wreck ourselves, that we were beyond the slowdown, seeing the fog begin to be overcome by pale sunlight) and ready for a rest, we stopped for fuel -- and another breakfast just as we entered Georgia.

As we neared Macon for the second time in four days, we began watching for instruction on an I-75-to-US129 transition. What we didn't know was that the map Tal was using was rather outdated, the interstate having undergone a major overhaul in recent years. Going south had been so easy with plenteous signage from US129 to I-75. Anyway, after navigating two sides of a triangle -- I-75 around the eastern side of Macon and having spied nary a sign, Tal directed me to SR83 and we "discovered" another route to I-20. I wouldn't want to travel it everyday, as it's narrow and full of curves, an invitation to eventual calamity. But, we remarked -- exclaimed, actually -- again and again on the beauty of the terrain, the Oconee National Forest on both sides of the road for many of the miles we covered.

Home did look good when we arrived at the gate. The dogs burst from the garage as the door lifted, a welcome party like none other, and one which coming home to is one of our greatest joys.

18 January 2009

Something for everyone

Today's outing, a trip to Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, required two cars. The sexes split up with the boys in the lead car and the girls, making haste, bringing up the rear. Drawing on the new Floridians' experience with the zoo and Sundays, we went early and pretty much had the place to ourselves almost until lunchtime.

The zoo is a nice combination of animal sanctuary and amusement park, with the animals in attractive enclosures reminiscent of their natural habitat -- Asia to Africa to Florida and views below sea level and above the treetops -- and fun things for children to do and ride, the rides including those mechanical and otherwise, like this camel.

Given my artistic endeavors of this past week, I was drawn to some of the decoration, in particular, at the Ituri Forest area. Ituri, I learned, is located in the eastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, bordering Uganda and Sudan. It's on the high plateau, which features both savannah and tropical rainforest.

With the photographs I took, I'll be ready for the next time someone wants bowls decorated.

17 January 2009

Soccer for four-year-olds

This visit with my sister and her family is just that, a visit. No agenda, no list. In fact, the only firm items on the family's agenda for the day were for the the four-year-old: a soccar game in the early afternoon followed by a birthday party. So, my sister introduced Tal and me to Moe's at lunchtime, a lively eating establishment at their local mall specializing in southwest fare, followed by the sporting event.

It was wonderful! There were hundreds of children playing on dozens of fields and, I would guess, thousands of adults on the sidelines. There is nothing like watching little children play soccar, all in a knot, all legs and feet, moving, generally in the right direction, in pursuit of the ball. The coaches, who at this younger level of play, double as referees, are earning jewels in their crowns, teaching the children much more than the rules of the game -- responsibility, fairness, giving an activity undivided attention -- with varying levels of success.

The athlete, still in this soccer attire, went on to the birthday party with his dad and the rest of us went home, the visiting almost uninterrupted -- along with games and movies -- until sleep caught up.

Now, it's my turn.

16 January 2009

Road trip

A party on Wednesday evening and a day at home. Then ... a journey south. The reason? A visit with my sister and her family recently relocated from New York state to Florida. A retired state trooper, Tal takes delight in the thought of a road trip. And, he likes to get an early start.

That said, and adding that I packed a lunch we could eat in the car without having to stop, it is a very long day. There is no direct route between Edgefield and the environs of Tampa. We travelled I-20 which enters Georgia within 35 miles of here at Exit 177, going only as far as Exit 130, where we picked up GA22 and US129 to Macon and I-75.

The interlude of secondary road was interesting and pleasant, lots of rural landscape, an ambitious new development centering on Lake Oconee, lovely little towns, some sad and some thriving. In fact, I have designs on returning to the small town of Gray where I spied a used bookstore/local art gallery/coffee shop.

After Macon were hundreds of miles on I-75 to Valdosta, with hundreds more to Tampa. But, much of I-75 along that route is three lanes in either direction and the road passes through some beguiling landscape, horse farms and cattle ranches, pine forests giving way to live oaks and cypress.

This world is simply astounding. It struck me suddenly that people live everywhere and mostly love where they live -- as much as I enjoy South Carolina. Our tendency is to forget that, to assume our place to be the only, or at least, the best place. So, as the miles rolled by I daydreamed, appreciating the variety speeding by and wondering about everyday life along the way.

15 January 2009

All dressed up

Tal and I went to a party last night. For many that would not be particularly noteworthy, but for us ... Well, I'll simply say it turned out to be an event requiring determined coordination worthy of a space launch. That it was cold and raining and that the party was in Columbia -- about 150 miles round trip -- after dark didn't help matters.

All this was planned by a friend whose sister was visiting. She has vacationed in South Carolina for more than two decades and so knows many people, people who want -- and expect -- to see her when she's here. To keep the two of them from being wined, dined, entertained and out every night during her visit, my friend gathered every one in a central location -- namely, the new Hilton Columbia Center next to the Columbia Convention Center, a lovely and most accommodating site.

It was truly a wonderful couple of hours, a mingling of people who knew each other in most cases or who had at the very least heard about the others there from my friend and his sister. A room full of reunion. When the hotel staff unobtrusively, but surely, began clearing the buffet table at the time the party was to end, many of us left reluctantly, lingering in the lobby before dispersing into the wet shiny night.

As Tal and I pulled away from the curb, I realized how happy I was that we had made the effort to come to town, acutely aware of how much I hadn't wanted to leave home. Most of the determined coordination required to get out the door wasn't about timing the trip or getting the dogs fed before we left or deciding what to wear or the January weather. I am increasingly reclusive and I know it, and Tal could never be catagorized as a party animal.

We both tend to want to be reasonably certain that going out is going to be worth the effort -- not the effort of getting ready or of getting there, but the effort of the interaction required once we get there.

In many cases it isn't. Last night it was.

14 January 2009

An artistic endeavor

As of the first of the year I am a member of the Art Association of Ridge Spring. I know. A garden club and now this! An artist I'm not, but they let admirers into the group. And, a few even consider photography something of an art.

The AARS (no commenting on the acronym, please) was approached by Relay for Life in Batesburg to assist in a spring fundraiser. Simple wooden bowls, purchased at Wal-Mart, were provided and we (the real artists, specifically) were invited to decorate them. At the Relay for Life event the bowls will be auctioned.

I ended up with three to paint. Armed with art supplies from Wal-Mart (guess who's making the money in this enterprise), I spent Tuesday at the kitchen counter being creative and having unanticipated fun, graduating from muttering "damn bowls" to being pleased with myself. The AARS president (one of the bonified artists) had told us that we didn't actually need a plan or a design before we started. "Simply paint something," she said. "Then add something else. Sit back a bit and see what it needs next and so on." I expected, on following that advice, to end up with a hopeless mess -- times three. As it turned out I turned in three rather smart looking bowls.

Tal, watching this process, did suggest, though, that if I had a day job, I should keep it. Oh well ...

13 January 2009

New friends

For months now Tal and I have been talking walking (almost) daily. Pine Ridge Country Club is just across Country Club Road from our house, so we have the luxury of routing ourselves in a variety of ways through the residential streets and along the golf cart paths, keeping things interesting. Tal has an impressive cold, so I set out alone yesterday in an exploring mood. Rather than walking the perimeter of the course, I took a left, enjoying a dirt road and meeting new friends.

This is a view at the road's beginning, looking away from the country club. It runs for about a mile bisecting fields used for cattle grazing, after which it runs into the woods.

I'm not quite comfortable walking in the woods by myself, so here is where I turned around.

My new friends? Even though the photograph is small, you're looking at them ... the black cows on the left. Inquisitive, they come to the fence when I walk by; those on the right are more wary, even skittish, moving away at my approach.

When I sat quietly at the side of the road, this one came very close. I was astonished at the very wet nose. A split second after taking this photograph, not moving back quickly enough, I found out just how wet that nose was.

12 January 2009

A new favorite quote

Carolyn Hax, a columnist for The Washington Post, offered this sage comment in an advice column in yesterday's edition of The State newspaper:

From the minute we leave the womb, life is about making the best of an unwelcome change in circumstances.

Ah, kicking and screaming through life we go ...

Maybe this is the essence of what I was wondering about in my post day before yesterday.

11 January 2009

Pine cones

No, I can't explain it. For this Advent/Christmas season just passed I began collecting pinecones, along the golf course at the Pine Ridge Country Club, in my parents' yard at Pawleys Island, and anywhere else I found myself. There's an unexpected fascination I've not experienced before. I enjoyed having them in the house, specifically in the dining room table arrangement, on the mantle with pine boughs, in a lovely Edgefield pottery bowl (an Ed Redman piece) and felt a twinge of sadness as Tal and I put them away along with the rest of the Christmas decorations.

This cone caught my eye yesterday afternoon as I walked along the edge of the sixth hole. From a white pine, I believe. And, I happened to have the camera with me.

I won't describe the getting back up after taking the shot ...

10 January 2009

To blame -- or not

Yesterday's newspaper (Friday, 9Jan) featured a photograph of furloughed state employees using their time off to benefit the less fortunate, specifically sorting food at the Harvest Hope Food Bank. There was no story to speak of, just a long caption under the photograph. Undoubtedly, being on furlough because of South Carolina's financial crisis was inconvenient for this group of people and they may well have whined and complained when the order was issued. But, they made a remarkable choice. They chose not to feel sorry for themselves; they chose to acknowledge that there are people in Columbia worst off than they are; they chose to put themselves out. I was touched.

This morning I saw a short short piece about the demise of several pirates in the Gulf of Aden. They were part of the group of Somalis who had some two months ago hijacked the Sirius Star which carried a cargo of crude oil. It seems the ransom of $3 million had been paid -- the bundle of cash dropped on the deck of the ship via parachute. The pirates as they made away with their share of the money -- fearful of being attacked by military ships patrolling the busy shipping lane and travelling at high speed, capsized their boat and drowned (and the money was lost). Relatives of the pirates blame the naval surveillance for the accident, but say nothing about the deceased line of work.

I am not commenting in any way on Caucasian vs Arab, western vs eastern, Christian vs Islam, America vs Somalia. Rather, I am observing and wondering about where hope comes from -- and the same for blame. Why do some people, in the face of adversity, move beyond whatever their initial reaction and choose sorting stock in a food bank. They could have sulked through their two-day furlough and the associated weekend, parking themselves in front of the television or have comforted themselves by shopping and eating out, spending money they didn't have. And, why do others find something along the lives of piracy (insider trading, bilking investors, running a company into the ground) to be their best option and then blame someone else when they get caught?

No answers. Only questions. And the hope that I'd find it in myself to be happy sorting food.

09 January 2009

George Bailey's view

Last week's issue of The New Yorker (5Jan09) took me aback. The lead article in "The Talk of the Town" focused on the emotional nature of economics. And, to demonstrate his point the author, Adam Gopnik, drew on one of my favorite Christmas movies: "It's a Wonderful Life."

Mr Gopnik likened George Bailey to the peddlers of subprime loans and suggests that Mr Potter, miserable old coot, was the better of the two characters when it came to money management. Oh, the sacrilige. The author pulled it out in the end and did make his point, differientating between what he calls the "rational-economic" and the "social-emotional." He even admitted before he finished that it would likely have been Mr Potter, ultimately, who carved up mortgages and sold them off around the world.

"An economy is not a rational model; it's an emotional muddle." Mr Gopnik concludes. Sometime how people are feeling matters and it's that very energy and passion which Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey communicates so well. Panic engenders panic and its panic the author wants us all to resist. It is, indeed, a wonderful life no matter what the financial sitation.

08 January 2009

Garden club

Can you believe it? Shortly before Christmas I was invited to join one of Edgefield's garden clubs. Tal and I have lived here for almost five years -- and have been associated with Edgefield since early 2001. Books clubs, lunch clubs, gardens clubs abound. The Village Gardeners are taking a chance on this chronic outsider.

It's a group of 22 or so, ranging widely in age. We met at the Heritage Corridor Freshwater Coast Discovery Center (the freshwater coast being the Savannah River) where the staff was involved in taking down the Christmas decorations. How sweetly satisfied (translated: smug) I felt knowing Tal and I didn't have that yet to face. Our speaker was from Ada Michigan (near Grand Rapids, I think), an avid gardener who lives in Edgefield October through mid-May, her husband flying them back and forth, the Edgefield house sparing them the Michigan winters and providing a hurricane evacuation destination for her son, a firefighter at Hilton Head, and his family.

She spoke about the two gardens she manages, the transformation of the one here in Edgefield pretty miraculous for those of us who travel her street. Her photographs, of the property in Michigan in particular, were delightful. To me, anyway. I don't know if hearing that she was from Michigan set me up, but, when I saw the first photo -- an aerial view of the ten acre plot with wind rows, regularly spaced fields for the vegetable gardens and beds for the flowers, the house, barn and hanger, I experienced a sudden moment of gladness, transported back to childhood, to family vacations, to other similar scenes, to other photographs.

Garden club today, it almost goes without saying, where outsider met outsider, was an above average experience and one which I shall enjoy recalling for a long time.

07 January 2009


I have a list. More than one, actually, but the one on my mind keeps in one place all the things I'd like to accomplish here at home, from organizing the CDs and DVDs to rearranging the living room and gallery. Those are the big things. Now, the little things ... putting meals on the table, sweeping up dog hair (it's black, by the way), keeping the bills paid and the dishwasher loaded and unloaded ... are on a list, too, but they're more every day, cyclical, never-ending.

When I was working full-time, we had a kind and patient lady who came a couple times a month to clean. "Delores days" were my favorite days. How I loved coming home -- to shiny floors, carpet with vacuum tracks in it, swept porches. What I am learning now that I have taken that kind and patient lady's place is that I like vacuuming upholstery, dusting the fronts of the books, wiping down baseboards, not to mention drying glassware and polishing silver. That's a good thing since it has to be done and none of it's once-and-for-all.

There's that black, long-haired dog, after all.

06 January 2009

At rest

Yesterday was the the 12th day of Christmas and it was not all sorrow. I had Tal, Whitby and Belle to come home to. And, we had plans: a bottle of wine from King Estate Vineyard near Eugene OR (which we visited on our trip last September) and a long-planned steak dinner -- all in the dining room,complete with candles.

Here's Tal, always a good sport, pausing for a photo-op before sitting down to his meal.

And, Whitby and Belle were at the ready as the meal ended -- very attentive, knowing they wouldn't be forgotten, that there are always scraps when we eat steak.

Taking down the tree and the rest of the Christmas decorations was the focus of our day today, the feast of the Epiphany. Tal made everything about the process fun -- from getting the boxes out of the attic to winding up the lights, from suggesting an occasional break to pushing to finish. I am so grateful not to have had to face this activity by myself.

It's always a somber activity for me. I clearly remember a post-Christmas day during my childhood and my mother commenting that taking down the decorations made her a little sad. I adopted that response making it my own. With the twinge of sadness, of course, is the sweet thought of getting it all out again one day.

The house is back to normal, orderly, ready, calm. Some years ago Tal and I went to the Hudson River Valley on a close-to-home vacation while we were living near Philadelphia. One of the sites we visited was Boscobel, a house of the Federal Period, saved from demolition in the 1950s, moved to its present location and restored. The day we toured the house the docent who greeted us issued a soft warning, telling us that the house was not set up for anything -- the tables were not set, the desks were not open, there were no flowers. The summer season was ending, the house had been cleaned and in the next few weeks it would be decorated for fall. She said that when the house was in that in-between time they referred to it as being at rest.

Well, this is no Boscobel, but it does have a name: Willowbank. And, for the moment it, too, is at rest.

05 January 2009


Days like this one don't come along with any regularity. And, for that I am grateful. Not that I wouldn't do it all again. Officiating funerals is something I am trained to do and one of the things I do well. But, this funeral ranks among the hardest and most sad in my memory. The two young women closest to the deceased, his daughters, were vividly strong one minute and bereft the next. Staying somewhat detached and professional in the presence of emotion that intense was nearly impossible.

I always find it odd, from my perspective as a priest and a liturgist, that I can do one thing and think about another -- at the same time. That's not precisely right. I can be in the process of carrying out some duty, quite focused, in fact, and all the while another train of thought is developing, coming to life. I can even observe myself in action, another self, it seems, another aspect of myself, watching carefully, even providing commentary.

Today the older of the two young women spoke during the time in the liturgy set aside for the homily. Strong, clear-voiced, controlled, then wavering, then regaining control, she related memories of her father and thanked the assembled congregation for their presence and their support. At one point the younger daughter, unable to remain composed, simply put her head on her knees and wept.

There is nothing to say to make it better. Absolutely no one understands their father's decision. But, I read all the words anyway. I spoke of that I know for sure. I cried, too.

Through it all, through the entire half hour, though, I was trying to work out fragments of a poem, phrases I had heard somewhere. Ceaselessly. There I was offering confort and in the back of my mind I kept countering "consolation" with "desolation."

Once home the only word I can think of to describe myself is saggy. But, as I sagged, it came to me. The countering word wasn't actually "desolation." And, what I'd been working to remember were words written by Thomas Moore, the words of an old hymn. "Oh, yes," I sighed. Then, I laughed when I looked it up and saw the name of the hymn tune, written by Samual Webb: Consolator.

These are the word of the first stanza, the one I'd heard somewhere before and was working to remember.

Come, ye disconsolate, where'er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts; here tell your anguish;
Earth has so sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

While I didn't have those words to offer the grieving this afternoon, I don't think that's what I was supposed to do with them anyway. The working of my mind while I officiated that funeral was offering me something, not them. And, I wasn't to make me strong, either. Whatever it is that has me officiating liturgy and thinking about something seemingly unrelated at the same time may well serve to help me become more deeply involved, not serve as a distraction. Today I guided a room full of people through an official observance of a life lived and a life ended. But, a part of me was suffering, precisely what I was supposed to be doing.

04 January 2009

Rain or shine

These two photographs pretty much tell the story of this Sunday. Through all our activities it rained. The precipitation didn't stop us from doing what we needed to do, but we waited it out to see if we could manage a walk without rain gear. When we set out at 3:15, the skies were still heavy. But, as we came back up the driveway at 4:30, the sun shown, light streaming across the backyard, spotlighting the bench between the house and the pond.

Almost before we got inside and had supper preparations underway, though, things had darkened again, a heavy fog settling on the water, in the trees, casting a luminous glow over our little part of the world.

I hope I never tire of the wonder of it all.

03 January 2009

A gray day

The days of late have been wet and cold. And, today dawned foggy. With errands to do -- like the grocery story and the pharmacy -- requiring moving a vehicle, we included a walk on the Governor's Rail Trail (a two-mile round trip) in Edgefield part of our outing. While we set out across the dam at Slade Lake in dense fog, that fog eventually formed drops and we ended up wet. And, everything we saw dripped.

This sort of damp darkness doesn't necessarily have a negative effect on me. In fact, I rather like overcast days. (I've been known to say that they match my personality.) This one, though, took a turn toward a heavy sadness.

The county coronor called during the afternoon to ask a favor. He had with him at the funeral home two twenty-something women, daughters of a man who had died. They were the next-of-kin, one living in Charleston and the other in Chicago, planning a funeral and coming to terms not only with his death but with his suicide. Would I help? Would I officiate? No time to fill the silence after the question mark with explanations of canon law. Planning a funeral to be held on Monday is next.

But, before that. The late afternoon, still and grey, was perfect for another attempt at a panorama of a favorite spot on our usual walking route -- recently trimmed pampas grass at the 13th green on the Pine Ridge Country Club golf course. This one is better than previous efforts, but not the one just yet. But, I think it sets the tone for the end of this day. Somber and sedate.

02 January 2009

The second day

Today has been such a nice one, this second day of this new year. Christmas music. Good fodd. A long walk in the afternoon. Time to savor the Christmas season, the ninth day of Christmas.

Along the way I spent some time working on photographs taken during the holiday.

These three are from our time with my parents the week of Christmas.

This is my dad watering a newly planted shrub along the golf cart path, a yaupon, if memory serves.

He and Mom have a rich and interesting yard, this camellia, so beautifully formed, was in bloom two days before Christmas, having not suffered the cold the nigt before our arrival. The house is graced with some of the nicest flower arrangements through the year, complements of the camellia bushes and a variety of others.

Components of the centerpiece on the table for Christmas dinner -- the cloth basket and complementary runner -- were made by Sara Tarbox, my aunt, Mom and Dad's sister-in-law. Such lovely treasures, the detail intricate and exacting.

I am aware of being drawn to small details. Those are the things I seem to photograph more and more. And, the world's simply jammed with detail, little things to notice and to admire.

01 January 2009

Beginning again

We design -- and live by -- arbitrary lines of demarcation. Once a year I'm one year older. At least that marker actually marks something, my date of birth. So do anniversary celebrations and remembrances of historical events. Rarely, however, do those three boundaries (and countless others) get anywhere near the attention the year change does.

Thousands gather in New York's Times Square to watch the ball drop and respond with euphoric, frenzied glee when it does. Millions stay up in living rooms and bars around the world until midnight's arrival to stand as witness to the old year's exit and the new year's entrance. Countless people let this transition dictate their behaviour -- I'll start the diet, I'll take exercise seriously at the first of the year, probably the most prevelently made "deal." (So, after Thanksgiving and until then I won't move and I'll eat everything I can get my hands on is the other part of the deal, by the way.)

Why do we do it, resolve -- oftentimes with overly optomistic intentions? What is different about January 1st? Why is it a more desirable beginning date than, say, May 13th? And, how many people actually awaken on January 1st feeling different (hangovers aside) or better or more ready? We need permission, it seems, to change ourselves and our behaviours and we need time to think about it, to get ready, anticipating that cultural event out there in the future. And, then we begin, but to large extent don't follow through for more than a few weeks, one speed bump knocking us off our pace, bringing our change to an end.

We we really believe this is the only or the best time to make choices about how we are going to live our lives? Do we really believe that if we make a mistake there's nothing we can do about it, except wait until next year to try again? Do we really want to change anything at all about ourselves or is the New Year resolution hype just that, something we're supposed to do the week after Christmas?

I was going to make the bed first thing everyday this year. Does it count as failure when toda of all days the chore isn't finished until after lunch rather than first thing or should I admit defeat and reschedule the resolution for 2010?

I think I'll just enjoy the "lately" made bed today and start over tomorrow. I realize that the cycle of night-to-day is another sort of arbitrary line of demarcation we all observe, but at least if I choose this one the bedroom will be presentable early more often than not. Maybe.