31 January 2011

Farther south on I-75

Goodbyes and hellos today.  Goodbye to our sweet Wesley Chapel family as the work and school week began.  Hello to my mother's brother and his wife in Punta Gorda.  For Tal and me another goodbye there was followed by wonderful reconnection with our hello to a dear friend in Lakewood Ranch, wintering there from Philadelphia.

Florida's spring is significantly ahead of South Carolina's.  The maples seem to be in full bloom, showing a deep red.  It's the more local flora, however, that has claimed my attention, in particular, the palms and palmettos.

Next to Lyn's driveway her neighbor has an amazing tree, which Lyn calls a fan palm.  In additional to their dramatic shape the fronds are a nice blue green.  It's just one example of intriguing growing things I cannot identify in this part of the world.

Our afternoon included walking with Lyn, becoming acclimated to the neighborhood and its place in the larger development.  We also enjoyed the cool breezes on the lanai, each of us with a book.  

When evening began to fall so did the temperature.  I hated to have to move inside.  But, Lyn's tilapia supper dish made it all worthwhile!  Oh my, how delicious.

30 January 2011

Plan B

"Welcome to Moe's!"  That was Plan B.

Plan A had been taking in the Kumquat Festival in Dade City.  (Yes, there IS such an event; check out the link for details.)  After a breakfast of sausage and pancakes we were off in two cars -- knowing, in general terms, where we were going.

Well, turns out the Kumquat Festival is a one-day, Saturday-only event, a detail not quite made clear in the newspaper article that got us interested in the first place.  We toured the center of Dade City, noting carefully stacked street barricades, row upon row of porta-johns and almost empty streets.  We weren't alone in our confusion; others like us cruising through town stopped pedestrians who shook their heads and gave us the bad news.  No kumquat smoothies for us this year. 

Instead, we had an energetic lunch at Moe's.

It was a good afternoon for photography both outside and in. 

Tal and I walked back to Alex's school where the palmetto trees have been carefully dressed.  This image is pretty in color, but I like the way the black and white treatment allows the spiral of the outgrown fronds to show.

During the late afternoon the sun cast shadows, thanks to the vertical blinds, almost the length of the living room.

And, before the start of the Pro Bowl, Mom and Lizzie tended to Lizzie's music homework.  Given a 4/4 time signature, they worked out note and rest values and even wrote properly conposed measures.  In fact, they were supposed to tap their feet and sing some of what they wrote, but both drew the line at that bit of instruction.  I don't want to sound melodramatic, but I think Dad would have taken sublime pleasure at this particular sight.

29 January 2011

Saturday and soccer

This time of year in Lucia and Andy's household Saturday equals soccer!  Not only do Lizzie and Alex play, but Andy is serving as assistant coach for Alex's team.  Our number one intention on rising this morning was getting to the Wesley Chapel District Park on time and with everything everyone might need -- from soccer gear to chairs for us spectators.  Success!

I hope these photos illustrate the intensity of the games we watched as well as what I takes to make it all happen in my sister's household.

Hard to see, I realize ... Andy is the big guy in an orange jersey standing at the left end of the goal.
Alex, in a really long white shirt, is goalie.


Lizzie in the forefront

Mom looks a little weary during Lizzie's game.

The afternoon included long walks, reading, naps.  Our supper of pizza wasn't the end, though.  A couple rousing hands of Go Fish (which I lost miserably) and a buzzing, jangled-nerve session of Operation pretty well finished off the day.

28 January 2011

Day off dreams

We all laughed.  It's Friday.  Both children were in school.  Since we were visiting, Lucia had taken the day off, her first in six months or so.  The weekend was to be child oriented, so Lucia thought it would be fun for the five of us to go somewhere for lunch, to enjoy quiet, adult conversation. 

Shortly after were were seated at the very attractive Grille Smith in the mall near Lucia and Andy's home, we noticed a child, a quiet child, seated with a group at a table near the windows.  We smiled -- gratefully.  As the dining room began to fill, however, a table just across the aisle from us became occupied by two women and a child who, let's say, made his presence known.  So much for that ... As I already said, we all laughed and had our adult conversation anyway, not to mention a delicious meal.

Lucia, Alex and Mom at Alex's school
A quiet lunch wasn't the only thing Lucia wanted out of her day off.  She wanted to make the half-mile-each-way walk to meet Alex as his school day ended, a walk that includes greeting friends and being obedient to a very clear crossing guard.  It's something Lucia's normal work day doesn't allow her to do.  That wish came true, which she shared with Mom, Tal and me.  The best part, though, and her real reward had to have been Alex's unguarded joy at spotting her in the crowd waiting outside the gate.

The day ended with at least one other notable event.  Lucia was starting supper when Alex wanted to play Wii bowling.  Guess who volunteered?  Our mother bowling in the living room with her grandson was a point of deep delight for me.  I suspect Lucia quietly gathered that sight into her memory, a treasure she can savor sweetly for a very long time.

Yes, the six-year-old "won,", but I think my mother was the real winner.
What a good sport!
And, how's this for an action shot -- with the bowler blured?

It has been a day I enjoyed.  I hope it was a good day off for Lucia.

27 January 2011


And, I thought yesterday was long! 

Our travel today from Mom's to Lucia and Andy's  was some 500 miles (US17 to US17A to I-95 to I-295 to I-10 to US301 to I-75).  We were on the road in Mom's Buick long before daylight.  The upside to that beyond the mere satisfaction of being underway -- something of a Tarbox tradition -- is that with minimal but adequate stops we arrived before 3:30.  In fact, Lizzie was the only one home, and in the driveway, when we pulled through the gate.  After that three more arrivals -- Andy bringing Alex in from school and Lucia home from work -- filled out the house's population for the weekend.

It is good to be here.  But, I'm so tired and the house is quiet.  Since Lizzie's given up her room and bed, I'm going to receive her offering with gratitude.  Closing the book, capping the pen, turning out the light.

26 January 2011

One of those days

We had coffee and breakfast, packed, closed the house, dropped Whitby and Belle at All God's Creatures and headed to Pawleys Island this morning.  Our destination, along with my mother, is to points in Florida -- Wesley Chapel, Lakewood Ranch and Punta Gorda, to visit family and friends. 

This morning's routine and our travel route Tal and I (and even the car) know by heart.  So many of the minutes of the day were taken up with immediate chores that there's little in particular to offer as this evening winds to a close.  The getting ready and the getting here required a lot.  The cameras stayed stowed, as did the journal and the book I'm reading.

But, what a sight we did see.  It was an overcast day and very windy.  We approached North SC and were surprised to see a lone C-17 (Globemaster III) airborne.  Touch and go in a cross wind being the lesson of the day, I suppose.  We lost sight of it for a time.  Beyond the airfield Tal slowed to make a left turn and there it was huge and hanging over Bull Swamp in a low, slow turn, landing gear down.

My closing thought as sleep beckons is of Whitby and Belle.  They approached being dropped off with grace.  In fact, I handed Belle's leash to Tara and Belle headed up the steps and into the building.  Cassie took Whitby and he set out on an exploratory walk.  Neither of our dogs looked back.  Well adjusted and secure, I suppose.  But, I sigh a little sadly anyway.  I wonder if they'll miss us.

25 January 2011


Today's activity was out of the ordinary for me.  Since having retired nearly three years ago, no longer does my schedule include seminars.

This one was worth my time. 
  • Title:  On Reclaiming Our Creative Selves
  • Speaker:  Robert C Dykstra, Professor of Pastoral Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Location:  St Mark's United Methodist Church, Greenwood SC
  • Sponsor:  Self Regional Healthcare Clergy Staff
  • #1 take away:  A quote on boredom from Jennifer Schussler, author of "Our Boredom, Ourselves"
But boredom itself may be a highly useful human capacity, at least according to some psychologists and neuroscientists, who have begun examining it not just as an accomplice to depression and addiction but as an important source of creativity, well-being and our very sense of self.
A child announces boredom to a parent.  The mother says, "Go rake the yard."  Meaning: be busy, cover it up, deny it.  Or, the father sets out to entertain or by means of purchasing something to distract the child from the distress of being bored.  Perhaps the most instructive thing for the child, within limits of course, would be to hear a "gee, I'm sorry" and to live with the boredom and into some self-discovery.

An adult is bored.  Rather than self-medicating with pills or alcohol or drugs, perhaps the best thing for that person would be to live in and with that bored state.  There may well be essential truth on the far side of that troublesome boredom that will instruct that life. 

I am comforted, as one who offers pastoral care still, by the idea that it is not my job in such a setting or relationship to take away a person's boredom and to know that the boredom can lead to discovery and to direction if we are patient and welcoming.

Closed doors

Tal and I had a plan.  After canoeing the Allegash in September and touring Utah's national parks in October, we had decided we would take only one trip during 2011.  That trip was going to be a long-talked-about train trip across Canada from Quebec City to Vancouver.

Yesterday afternoon I settled in front of the computer to sign up for the trip.  I was met with a single word:  WAITLIST.  Wrongly, we had thought four months to be enough lead time.  I cannot begin to describe the disappointment.  We had been so pleased with the prospect of that trip.  And, disappointment isn't even an adequate description of how I felt as a sat there, the news sinking in.  It was a state of bewildered inaction.  Plus, I was going to have to tell Tal.  Further, now what?

At some point during the remainder of the day, from the recesses of memory, the Erie Canal came to mind.  A short online search ensued accompanied by rising hope.  It turns out we are going to have a pretty terrific adventure after all. 

Seems to me that more frequently than not disappointment doesn't have to mark the end.  An end, perhaps, but not the end.  It was the mother superior in The Sound of Music who advised a disappointed postulant Maria that God wouldn't close a door without opening a window.  In that story and in her real life story Maria ended up with a family and a life she could never have imagined.  A convent it wasn't.  Her life's calling it was.

Likewise my photographic efforts.  Generally, I set out to photograph something specific.  If I am not concerned about time or personal safety and if I let myself get involved in the process, it often happens that eventually I see something else entirely or that I see the original subject or some aspect of it in a new way.  When that happens the results of my time with the camera bear little resemblance to my initial intention, more pleasing almost without fail.

24 January 2011

In and out of chaos

I have been thinking, writing and saying the word chaos frequently of late, frequently enough that I've noticed.  Out of curiosity I've begun to monitor the word's appearance in my mind, off the end of my pen, coming out of my mouth. 

I shouldn't be terribly surprised, I suppose.  The news us full of if, of chaos -- the Tuscon incident, multiple successful attacks on police, the civilian political protests in Tunesia, the first three coming to mind, all of them occurring since the first of the year.

Those examples, however, are "out there."  And, the chaos that concerns me is closer to home.  As an individual I more or less commit myself to order.  And, it works, more or less.  Some days are better than others.  The bed is not always made each morning; the kitchen sink isn't always empty at bedtime.  But, oftentimes the making and the emptying happen. 

My ideal of having everything clean -- house, laundry, vehicles, dogs (not to mention grass cut, walks edged, leaves raked) -- on a single day, however, isn't going to happen.  And, even if by some miracle it did, I know full well the floor by the garage door would be tracked up before the vacuum cleaner cooled off.

I am comforted by two things, both of them observations springing out of the biblical stories of creation.  First, it is clear that it is built into us to want to create order out of the chaos we encounter.  We are like the creator in that way.  Political systems.  Parks.  Airline schedules.  Religious orthodoxies.  Traffic laws.  File guides.  Maybe even "someone should do something about ..." is evocative of that organizing, taming part of human nature.  I come by my tendency honestly at least.

The second comfort I enjoy is this.  On one hand God did get the satisfaction of bringing the project of creation to a conclusion.  God even had the pleasure of declaring it good, of getting to gaze on the results of those labors.  I envy that. 

But, that stellar moment of perfection didn't last long before the put-in-order stuff began to resist.  Has turned out to be a pretty constant battle ...

I seem to be in pretty good company.

23 January 2011

Waiting patiently

Toward the end of this Sunday I was given a view that seemed like a present with a bright, carefully tied bow.  Tal and I were out for a walk, one of our favorite afternoon activities.  As promised by the weather forecasters, the sun had disappeared, and it was very chilly.  Walking hard hadn't made me warm, especially that vulnerable spot between the shoulder blades.  Even though I like winter, the browns and greys and skeletal trees of this time of year, nothing my eyes fell on today pleased me particularly.  Could just be that I'm tired of being cold.

As we passed on our left the now defunct Pine Ridge Plantation realty office (a long, sad story), at the far end of the building there stood a most remarkable holly tree -- tall, beautifully shaped.  I've seen it before, but never like I did today.  Green and red against all that grey and brown.  Gorgeous.  

It gets better.  I have something else to watch for.  There's a dogwood tree standing immediately to the right of the holly.  It's one of those skeletal trees at the moment, but it's a dogwood with buds.  Those white flowers against the green holly leaves will be worth waiting for and worth a good long loving look once they open.   

 Maybe it'll be warm then.

22 January 2011

Bridges with histories

The weather was just perfect -- low 40s-brisk and sunny.  Tal and I set out at mid-day for a hike along Turkey Creek in the Sumter National Forest.  The focal point of our outing was to be the Key Bridge, named for Henry Key, recipient of land grants in the historic Edgefield District during the late 18th century.

The water was low on Turkey Creek.  That we were not planning to canoe made the low water a non-issue.  Our walk took us along a hardwood bluff where we could observe the flood plain forest and marshy areas along the creek.  Given the time of day we saw no wildlife to mention with the exception of a huge flock of what Tal called rice birds in a large open field referred to as Price's Bottom.

But, what a pleasure to discover not one but two bridges, each one highlighting the other.  One carries vehicular traffic on Key Road (S-19-68) and the other provides pedestrian access to the hiking/biking trail. 

Both are on their second lives.  The pedestrian bridge was built in 1912 to serve travellers between Augusta and Liberty Hill.  The vehicular bridge was built in 1925 on US17 in Georgetown County.  It was moved to its present location in 1961. 

Seen from the older bridge
this the 150-foot steel two-lane Parker through-truss bridge
built by the Roanoke Iron and Bridge Works.

Built in 1912 and rebuilt in 2007
the original bridge is a 122-foot steel one-lane pin-connected Pratt through-truss.
Note the wonderful cypress knees in the bottom right corner of the photograph.

Both bridges seen from the canoe launch at creek level.

What beauties they are. Converting the images to black-and-white seemed appropriate.  To see an additional photograph of the bridge we crossed in the car, go to my Image a Day on Flickr.

21 January 2011

Mare's tails and contrails

I spent the entire day inside.  On Wednesday when Tal played golf, I played, too, roaming around our yard, the camera in hand. 

Today, though, while Tal was at the golf course, I worked.  Happily (and unusually), though, cleaning house was a tranquil, meditative process.  Handling, one by one, the things we keep around us brought to mind how we came to have some of them, remembering places, events, people. 

The vacuum cleaner did its trick on my back.  A normal occurrence.  Something about the twisting and pulling motion.  Concentrating on standing tall and turning carefully helped.  Whitby and Belle dislike the vacuum cleaner more than I do -- steering clear and "asking" to be let out with woeful eyes and then seeming puzzled that the noise had not stopped when they came back inside.

By the time Tal returned home and we had settled at the counter for a late lunch the house was very presentable.  I sported a quiet and pleasurable satisfaction at my accomplishment.

Just as the sun was nearing the tree line across the pond the four of us set out on our daily walk on the promenade.  A goodbye to the day.  The sky was a deep blue with a profusion of wispy clouds and lines of spreading, fading contrails. 

Part of me wants that scene to have been a reward for good work.  But, the beauty of a late afternoon sky isn't dependent on my not giving in to the temptation to procrastinate.  That sky would have been there a clean house next to Country Club Pond or not.

A wiser part of me is simply grateful to have gone on that walk and to have looked up. 

20 January 2011

And the winner is ...

Blue jeans.  Mine are in a sad state.  One pair of light blue, high waisted Cabelas.  Really unattractive.  Three wonderful pairs of Eddie Bauer given me years and years ago by a friend who could no longer wear them.  (I don't remember if they'd become too small or too large.  No matter.)  One of the three is now without a right knee.  Two are threadbare and nearly white along the tops of both thighs.  The back pockets of each pair are parting company with their respective seats.  All the hems of every leg are ragged.  None of my jeans are even grocery store worthy.

So, jeans.  The reinvented Lee Riders Stacy London has been promoting look good in print and on television.  One of Oprah's favorite things happens to be a brand of jeans with the intriguing name of Not Your Daughter's Jeans.  We found both today.

It didn't help that the Lee jeans were in precarious stacks and in no apparent order by style or size.  But, it was the bunched,twisted seaming in the pair we examined that made me decide to dig no longer for a pair to try on. 

On the other hand.  There was a clerk with the Not Your Daughter's Jean display.  Her interest in what I was hoping to find lead to good advice on which style to try.  Then, there was Tal's response when I emerged from the dressing room.

Two different stores.  Two different products.  Sorry Stace. 

One four times the price of the other.  Sorry Tal. 

My pocket detail could also have been studs or sequins. 

19 January 2011

At play

While Tal played a round of golf today, I played, too.  I went wandering in our woods with the camera.  Wandering with a purpose.  I was looking for vines.  Specific vines.  The kind that twine tightly around slender trees.  I found plenty. 

As it happens sometimes, what I was looking for ended up not being nearly as interesting as other things I spotted. 

Like vines not twining tightly around slender trees, but around each other. 

Like a chameleon doing a credible vine impression.

Like a view under our screened porch.

Because of a tenacious cold today was the first time he's been on the golf course since the first of December.  He is better, but his game is rusty.  His play today wasn't much fun.

Mine, on the other hand, was the best. 

18 January 2011


Mostly I put off running errands.  After enough procrastination I employ the "just get out there and do it" strategy, especially if life here at home is going to come pretty much to a halt without the fruits of those errands.

These days Tal and I try to organize all the things we need to do and the places we need to go into one trip.  Today, as we neared the conclusion of the home-Edgefield-Batesburg-Monetta-Johnston-home circuit, it occurred to me that something significant was in the process of happening to us.  Everywhere we had been -- breakfast to credit union to attorney's office to printer to farrier to jewlery store -- we had encountered wonderful, kind, interesting people. 

Tonight, as I replay our stops, I realize that I would count everyone with whom we interacted while running those errands as a friend.  Every stop involved more than the business we went there to conduct.  In each location there was conversation, warmth, relationship.

For well over 20 years now Frederick Buechner -- a Presbyterian clergyman, probably in his middle 80s --  has been among my favorite authors.  He delights in using words well and oftentimes offers a unique way of looking at things.  When I was writing sermons on a weekly basis, he was my go-to guy if I found myself struggling with an idea or stuck as to how to express a concept.

When we got home this afternoon I took Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized off the shelf to see what Mr Buechner had to say about friends.  Here's a bit of it.
Friends are people you make part of your life just because you feel like it ... The usual distinctions of older-younger, richer-poorer, smarter-dumber, male-female even, cease to matter.  You meet with a clean slate every time, and you meet on equal terms.  Anything may come of it or nothing may.  That doesn't matter either.  Only the meeting matters. (49-50)
Not every string of stops on a circuit of errands results in what happened today.  But, perhaps I'll look more optomistically on the errand list from now on.

17 January 2011

The best part of the day

This day got off to such a good start. Thanks to Tal.

He went out mid-morning to check the duck boxes on our pond. Both of them had been used last season and needed to be cleaned out and the cedar shavings replenished.

He appeared back at the door, urging me hurry and find my shoes, a coat and the camera. He had something he knew I would want to see and photograph. A screech owl asleep in one of the boxes.

Getting the picture inside the box required standing on the top of a step stool. Yes, I did wonder briefly what I would do -- how bad the fall would be, if it woke suddenly and flew out at me.  It was very asleep. 

When I finished, Tal went up, reached in and stepped back on the ground holding the sleeping creature. It woke up in Tal's hands, slowly, completely calm, looking at one of us and then at the other.  Observing.  So, so beautiful. 

After I'd made several photos at my leisure, Tal opened his hands.  It lifted up with such grace and flew away toward the head of the pond on silent wings.

For a full-face view go go http://www.flickr.com/photos/tarboxje/
As beautiful as the bird was, seeing it isn't even the best part of this story.  It's a long haul from the duck boxes to the house.  Tal could have moved the bird and gotten on with his task.  He didn't have to come find me.  That's the sweet, best part.   

16 January 2011

Where the ponderings lead

The world we looked out on and moved through today is almost back to normal.  The only ice and snow still visible is in the most protected places, at the base of trees, along the shady side of the dam.  Rain and a high temperature in the 50s is forecast for tomorrow.  That should finish off the melt.

The novelty of being housebound by both the snow and ice as well as the cold -- being sort of hunkered down -- gave me unusual periods of unclaimed time.  Beyond reading, taking care of the house and providing meals, crunching around outside with the camera, I've pondered more than a bit.

I have considered the waxing of the moon, its light illuminating with progressive brightness night by night the white scene outside the windows.  Methodical, sure, mysterious, beautiful.  How many full moons have cast pale light across this nighttime landscape over the eons?  Month by month, year by year, decade by decade, century by century?  As the continents drifted?  As the poles aligned and realigned?

The moon sort of set me off, I guess.  I have ended up blown away by memory.  For example:
  • My grandfather Johnson in his extroverted fashion took credit for the existence of our family.  After all, had he not caught sight of the new teacher walking down the street in Milford, that new teacher wearing that fetching red winter coat, and made her acquaintance ...
  • My parents were at the same boring dance one evening in the early 1950s, both miserable.  Mother was leaving, going back to the dorm.  But not before a handsome young man intercepted her and asked her to dance ... They were married within a year and I came onto the scene some 11 months after that.
If Grandma hadn't bought a red coat, if Mom had escaped that interminable dance five minutes earlier, I wouldn't be curled up in Tal's big blue chair tonight.

I wonder.  How many discrete events had to have occurred to get me here and to this moment?  All it might have taken for me not to be here at all is one single encounter not to have happened, one decision made by some anonymous person somewhere along the line to have been different.  Could it actually be that the life I am living got its start at the moment human life emerged on this little planet?  Are we that connected to the march of time and events and to one another?

One hundred thousand years in the making for an 80 year plus or minus lifespan.  Oh my ... 

I suspect it's probably a good thing we're not housebound any longer.

15 January 2011

Still alive

Elizabeth H Fitch at the
Kanuga Photography Retreat
during her illness
(image by KB Johnson)

The funeral of my friend, Elizabeth H Fitch was to have been at St Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Atlanta this past Tuesday.  Given the weather and all the resulting travel problems and given the number of mourners from places other than Atlanta who wanted to attend and needed the airport, the service was postponed until today. 

I had Elizabeth on my mind this morning while Tal and I drank coffee, read the newspaper, ate breakfast, those wonderful early morning rituals of which both of us are protective.  Later in the day it seemed uncommonly right to come across these words from Mignon McLaugheon
The death of someone we know always reminds us that we are still alive -- perhaps for some purpose which we ought to reexamine.
Still alive, I am.  And taking pictures. 

The day was bright and almost warm in the sun.  Tal and I bundled up and took advantage of this marvelous turn of events with a long, rambling walk.  We both managed to get dirty.  He slid down an incline on his rear end and into a ditch trying to reach an abandoned golf ball.  Successful and unhurt, by the way.  Getting this shot of a sweet gum ball I had to stretch out flat, resting my chin on the still very damp ground. 

Soggy knees and elbows. Fair photograph.  Unaccountably happy. Still alive.

Rest in peace, Elizabeth.  And, thank you for blessing my life with your presence.

14 January 2011

My own "X"

A friend and I are reading a book together, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor.  She's an Episcopal priest who now teaches at Piedmont College in rural northeast Georgia.

It's going to be one of those books that ends up heavily highlighted.  That started two pages into the introduction.  There Ms Taylor managed to identify and illuminate the very thing I've been mulling over for months now:  the longing for something, the longing for something that seems just out of sight or out of reach, the longing for the something more that I, and I suspect lots of people, would like to understand  -- or understand at least a little.
No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it.  The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company.  All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need.  The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are. (xvi-xvii)
Looking toward the 14th fairway
at Pine Ridge Country Club
The yellow tree demanded to be noticed.
There's way too much to say in response to that paragraph in a single day's posting, especially late as it is.  Perhaps these images made since the first of the year shed light on my own "X."

Belle's feet front feet during a nap

Ice patterns on our front sidewalk two
days after the January 2010 snow

Looks like I'm standing in a pretty good place, huh?  I just have to keep looking around.

13 January 2011

The workaround

I have to admit that I'd not heard this term until the middle of last autumn when I was having computer problems.  During a much-needed consultation with the man who works on this computer I described the problems I'd been having and how I had been coping prior to giving up and calling him.  Before remoting into my laptop to begin his work he congratulated me on the creative workarounds I'd devised.

This week I came up against a web page that I needed to visit, but which wouldn't stay open, Internet Explorer repeatedly trying to reopen the tab and then giving up.  My call to the financial institution and conversation with a customer representative lead to being handed off to technical assistance (a pleasant-sounding fellow working from home in Chattanooga because of the snow, who murmured to his cat while he worked remotely on the computer). 

After several interesting and time consuming efforts to get the website to open and stay open he clicked on a different search engine, saying, "Let's try this workaround."  Success.  So, at the very least, I have a problem with Internet Explorer.

The workaround.  It is a computer term I have since learned.  It even has a Wikipedia article.  Workarounds tend to stress the system and generally won't work for long.  But, they do get keep us computing for a while.

Seems to me that's pretty much the story of my life.  And, everyone I know for that matter.  We learn from childhood not to be undone by obstacles.  We find a variety of ways to do the things we need to do.  We experience a sense of accomplishment when, after all manner of detours, we manage to achieve whatever the goal.

Aren't there times, however, that we encounter one too many difficulties?  Times when we conclude, rightly or wrongly, that the pursuit simply isn't worth it?  It's hard to tease out whether and when we are to continue to be tenacious, whether or when we are being belligerently stubborn.  There is a difference.

Our computer workarounds are not intended to be permanent.  And, if we let them go, it's likely the computer will crash.  Our own personal  workarounds -- the ones that are costing us more than they're worth -- may well do the same to us.  Probably not worth it.  And, the only way to know which it is, an honorable but difficult pursuit or an effort which ultimately will do more harm and good, is to pay attention -- to motives, to fears, to defenses.

Computer workarounds have to be put to right sooner or later.  Sooner than later, actually.  So do our some of our personal workarounds.

12 January 2011

With a twinkle and a drip


Yesterday was so cold and misty it was almost possible to watch the ice form on the bare tree branches in view of the house.  From pine trees in the woods to the nandinas on either side of the front door, most plants and trees are bent under the ice's weight.  But, when I went to bed last night, the moon was a dark orange, glowing smile hovering just above the trees on the far side of the pond, casting long, deep shadows across the landscape, leading right up to the bedroom windows.  Eerie and spellbinding.  I had stepped out onto the front steps earlier during the evening to whistle up Whitby and was greeted not only by four little wet feet in need of a towel, but by a canopy of bright, twinkling stars behind scattered, fast-moving clouds.  I knew today would be bright.

Today's major activity was traversing our newly passable driveway.  The Bi-Lo on a Wednesday (aka old person day) was simply irresistible.  Although I'm not one who minds being couped up, it was rather nice to be out and about and sociable -- even if it is the grocery store -- after several days at home and inside mostly.

By late in the day the view was still primarily white.  But, I had the sensation that the world had begun melting and dripping away.  We explored the yard, the four of us -- Tal and I entertained by Whitby and Belle's experience at skating on the back yard's slick icy-snow slope toward the pond.  Eight little feet scrambling for traction.  360s followed by a silly, bewildered, dizzied expression at the end.  I shouldn't laugh.  Could have happened to us with not-so-amusing results.

A quiet and wonderful, twinkly, drippy day.

More and more I and the camera are attracted to patterns.  These are shadows across our front yard in the early afternoon.  Sadly, the angle of the sun and the lasting-power of the ice-encrusted snow didn't come together ideally.  Tiny points of brown grass were beginning to show through already.

11 January 2011

Tracks in the snow

The day began early, and sweetly. I was up early with a hankering for a piece of music I couldn't quite place. But, I found it among the Christmas CDs: Loreena McKennitt's To Drive the Cold Winter Away. I dozed in a chair as the day's light rose, watching some of sung words actually happen. Just outside the windows across the back of the house, indeed, "The naked trees loom spectrally/Into the dim white sky."

I'm going to keep this post short. Today was a better than yesterday, whatever that means. Not as heavy-hearted. More philosophical about the brittle drear brought on by the wintry weather.

Tal and I ventured out into the crunchy snow during the middle of the afternoon to explore a bit, to shovel the ice off the sidewalk outside the garage door, to see if the mail and/or the newspaper had been delivered (yes, the to paper, no, to the mail).

Before going back in the house to warm up I had a wonderful, even reassuring, encounter that soothed my spirits, finishing what Loreena McKennitt's voice had started hours before. My joy at that sight shifted my perspective in a most welcome way.

My favorite bird has passed this way:
great blue heron tracks in the snow alongside the pond.

10 January 2011

Snow day

It wasn't the greatest of snow days.  The two snows of 2010 -- Valentine's Day and the day after Christmas, just two weeks ago, were infinitely better.  Although we woke to about four inches with even the concrete sidewalks and driveway completely covered, the actual snowfall didn't last the morning.  It was followed by hours of a dreary freezing mist interspersed with considerably harder sleet and some freezing rain.  It wasn't a snow day that invited play outside. 

On the plus side I prepared a hot breakfast for Tal -- biscuits, grits (made with chicken stock), left over ham on the griddle, scrambled eggs and strawberry preserves.  The dear man was shocked and obviously delighted.  I took his compliment that it was better than Huddle House in the spirit in which he meant it.  But, the Huddle House ... I can walk away from the table with a cheery thank you. Some other lucky person gets to deal with the dishes and the grits pot.

My assessment of the day has not too very much to do with the weather.  I had spent some time over the weekend thinking about the shooting in Tucson on Saturday, realizing that we are teetering not too far from a real free for all.  It didn't help that Tal and I watched "El Dorado" (the 1966 film starring John Wayne and Robert Mitchum among other notables) one cold afternoon recently.  The wild west seems more and more a reality around the globe.  Will some sort of a demilitarized zone for the conduct of respectful public discourse become a necessity?

A thin covering of ice on
the dogwood at the driveway
More personally, as I clicked through Facebook last night I began seeing photos of and messages about a  friend from the Kanuga Photography Retreat I've attended several times in the past few years.  Elizabeth, only 36 years old, had been in a battle -- a winning battle we all thought -- with cancer.  She died last Thursday, on the feast of the Epiphany.  In one of her last postings on Facebook she'd been arranging for rides since her treatments were taking a lot out of her.  Her brother, letting her Facebook friends know she'd died, announced that she'd no longer need rides, she'd caught the Glory Train.  I lost completely any sense of time, sitting stock still in Tal's big  blue chair, surprised, stunned and sorrowful. 

So, in a whole variety of ways, today was grey.  Neither of the events on my mind were the least bit necessary; neither of them is explicable.  And, no one can change what happened in either case.  I hate to say it, now that I've given this snow day an unfavorable rating, but I'm kind of glad for today's lack of pizazz.  Sometimes I need to dwell with and in confusion, sadness, misery before I can know what to do next.

Do I know?  The what next? 

I can mind my mouth and my attitude, taking more care that I contribute to the hopeful, that in everything I say -- and do -- I build up rather than tear down.  There's discord enough without my adding to the broadcast of sarcasm and suspicion. 

And, I can treasure the relationships I have, knowing they are, all of them, unique and temporary.

For now, that's enough.

09 January 2011

Textured time

Shadows cast by our star tea light holders on the blond wood grain of the kitchen table
With the beginning of this new calendar year my "retirement" nears the three year mark.  Living far distant from any Episcopal churches and being -- still -- prohibited from attending the mission church I used to serve, I am out of touch with Episcopal diocese in which I am canonically resident, as well as with the larger church.  I don't miss at all the daily crush of responsibility and the endless list of tasks needing attention.  The church is not a moment-by-moment part of my life any more.  Interestingly, though, I find myself still thinking in liturgical terms, especially where the calendar is concerned.

The liturgical calendar is no different than any other way of marking time.  It moves season-to-season, as in Advent to Christmas to Epiphany.  Other ways of marking time also involve seasons -- sports seasons, bathing suit season, fashion seasons, and, of course, those astronomical, spring, winter, summer, autumn. 

The most obvious time dividers, or course, are the month-to-month and the occasion-to-occasion, personal and public.  Where the occasion-to-occasion category is concerned, I think of my niece's nearly ecstatic anticipation -- involving a Facebook countdown --  as her most recent birthday approached. 

What all these concepts have in common is that each of them, more or less, are human constructs.  While the movement of the earth in its orbit and on its axis is involved in our globe's days and nights, months and years, as well as the seasons, humankind handed out the names, thereby assigning meaning. 

However it is that a person watches the movement of time -- the last day of a month, leading to the first day of the next; living for the nod from DNR to take to a favorite deer stand, taking on or giving up something for Lent -- those ways help give time texture and depth and energy.

That explains the star-shaped tea light holders on our kitchen table, casting curlicue shadows around our supper.  Early January to mid-to-late February is enriched with focus on stars and on the idea of light being cast on our existence. 

08 January 2011

A day of the unexpected

I was to have dusted and run the vacuum today.  But, life -- plain life -- stepped into my path, and I spent a large portion of the day in a big, comfortable chair by the fireplace.  What did I accomplish?  Here's a partial list:
  • Finished both the crossword puzzle and the sudoku in the newspaper.  In their entirety, I might add. 
  • Read a book on macro photography.  Oh, how long it's been on the shelf by my desk.  True it has some interesting copy editing problems, but I learned some pretty good stuff -- evidence to follow. 
  • Took a walk with Tal, Whitby and Belle, our daily stroll on the promenade.  Crisp and breezy and clear.
  • Disproved (at least for today) that pesky get-all-your-work-done-before-you-play rule.  Or, to say it another way, managed not to enforce on myself that particular well-learned rule (at least for today).  Does it bother me that the dust is waiting oh so patiently for me?  Only a little.
The year is a week old, today a satisfying end -- and beginning.  The day, and the week, came to a beautiful conclusion.  I was a moment late in catching sight of the sunset and the pond from our bedroom window.  The photograph is a dark and "noisy," but it does convey some of the scene's drama and allure and may help me remember what a nice day it's been.

07 January 2011

Along the tow path

Today was a landmark day in our household.  Whitby and Belle went to visit the groomer!  Take it from me.  It didn't happen a day too soon, both dogs way beyond disheveled.  With the beauty treatments underway, Tal and I went to the Augusta Canal for a walk.

Although the day was cold, damp and overcast, the light was wonderfully even and the bird life in the lowlands and thickets along the canal varied and lively.  It wasn't too much of a stretch as we strolled along to imagine people, beasts and boats plying that path and canal. 

We started out at Savannah Rapids Park, which features the head gates (see below) and the diversion dam for the canal.  While the tow path is 8 miles long, ending in downtown Augusta, we made it about 2.5 miles, beyond the point that I-20 crosses the Savannah River, before we turned back.  Five miles was just about the right distance for our fitness levels.

The head gates and, 80-feet above on the bluff, the Savannah Rapids Pavilion
Our reunion with two very proper-looking dogs came after a leisurely and companionable Huddle House lunch.  BLTs with sweet potato fries and coffee.  A perfect winter Friday.

06 January 2011

Too big a bite

I'm not sure what I was thinking this morning.  Getting the tree and other Christmas decorations down, packed and put away sounded so good and responsible.  So did changing the bed linen, doing the laundry and cleaning house.  Needless to say, it's not all done, and midnight approaches.

Admittedly, I didn't work the entire day.  When it became apparent that the rain was going to stop, I took a break for a walk with Tal.  He discovered one day last week that someone had taken a bush hog and chain saw thorough the acreage beyond the house.  We're now the proud owners of ATV paths through our woods.  Exciting, huh?  Plus, the stakes marking the corners of the property have been removed.  We decided as we poked around to invite the surveyor to come out and help us reestablish the boundaries.  Perhaps a "posted" sign or two are also in order as well. 

The walk, despite evidence of the intrusion and thoughts of how much a new survey will cost (sigh), was a pleasure.  I had the chance to try photographing water drops clinging to nandina berries by the front door and enjoyed the entrancing sight of fast-moving clouds across clearing skies. 

It was a good interlude.  Sleep in a few minutes will be too.  I'll finish today's chores tomorrow.

05 January 2011

Trestle to bridge

We tried for a walk today before the rains came.  It's pretty obvious from the photograph that our choice of location didn't work out very well.  That's Tal in a blue vest standing at a high chain link gate barring our way.

The Governor's Rail Trail, a one-mile round trip from downtown Edgefield to Slade Lake and back, is one of our favorite routes -- not strenuous, nicely conducive to conversation, birdwatching, photography.  The path takes walkers along an abandoned rail bed and over an old trestle crossing US25.  Unfortunately, the clearance from the roadway to the underside of the trestle is a mere 13-feet. 

The low clearance is well marked from both directions.  Truck traffic is required to use a bypass around town or an alternate route into town.  In the past year, however, there have been several calamitous, metal-peeling, life threatening encounters.  The trestle never budged.  The trailers were ruined.  The guard rails on either side of the road demolished.  Sadly, those injured were not in the offending trucks.

The walk way is closed this winter while the trestle is altered to provide more clearance.  I suppose technically it won't actually be a trestle any longer, trestles generally on grade.  When the rail trail reopens we will walk a gentle, but distinct arch over the highway.

I hope to be able to try out Edgefield's new pedestrian bridge soon.

04 January 2011

Recollection of odors

What a blissful day.  By 11:00AM I was being transported back to a red brick bungalow on Prince Street in Georgetown SC -- up the steps, through the screened door with the geese silhouette on the lower half, into the darkened interior smelling of my grandfather's cigarette smoke, treading on the deep burgundy carpet in the living room and the hall-like dining room, into the kitchen, a small, bright, amazing space.

One of my favorite LeGrand relatives (she's married to Tal's brother) is facing a daunting physical challenge.  To offer a little ease into the daily life of that unsettled and somewhat fearful household, I offered to provide dinner for tonight. What to have?  What is the most comforting food I know (not to mention easy to transport from Edgefield to Aiken and able to stand up to reheating)?

Granny Tarbox's meatloaf!  No doubt about it.  Bite-size shredded wheat, chicken broth, eggs, catsup, salt and pepper, hot sausage, lean ground beef.  At the mixing stage it's a bit messy, "gooshy" even.  But, while it bakes ... oh, the most wonderful smell, a transporting odor.  I was in that house, at my grandparents' table, with family all around.

I hope Betty improves rapidly during this first month of a new year.   Maybe Granny's meatloaf will be as powerful an agent of healing for her as it is an agent of memory for me.

03 January 2011

A harangue

Today I attended with Tal a funeral for a colleague from his days as a state trooper.  In fact, Tal and the deceased went way back, having been in the same patrol class in the early 1950s.  It was a hard way to begin the year.

The funeral was some 40 miles away in a large, modern Baptist church.  Here I'm going to give away what I thought about the proceedings when I made one suggestion:  In this case the word "Baptist" would rightly be pronounced bab'-dist.  Sigh.

Within the the first two sentences of the pastor's talk I wanted out in the worst way.  It was a harangue -- a ranting speech -- intended to extol the one who had died and to inspire those gathered to say goodbye.  And, maybe it did that for some or even for most. 

But, from his chosen passage of scripture -- the 13th chapter of I Corinthians, the agape love passage, the pastor found a way to preach on and decry the state of manhood in the world.  As he made that transition, I went from incredulous to horrified, horrified at what I saw as the misuse of scripture, horrified at how strongly I reject the intimated view that the Christian male (probably white, as well) has an exclusive claim to leadership and power, horrified to realize that many, many people, probably most people I know, hold that view with fervor and passion.

I don't quite know what to do with all that, with today's sort of unwieldy experience.  I am glad we went to pay our respects and I am sad for Tal having lost yet another aspect of his personal history.  I am clear that I cannot possibly buy what I heard today, that I cannot be part of that way of looking at life. 

Destined to be in a minority, I suppose.  I'm certainly not going to be overrun with friends.

02 January 2011

What I'm talking about

The clock is ticking. 

I don't know what it is about our tree and the dining room this year, but my heart actually hurts when I think about retrieving all the Christmas boxes from the closet and returning the house to ordinary time.  And, ordinary time, liturgically speaking, begins again at the end of this week.

Good news.  I have five more mornings to sit in the living room and enjoy the tree while watching the morning come.  Plus, we're going to use the dining room for our 12th night dinner on Wednesday evening. 

It's not over yet.

01 January 2011

Image a day

It has been a very long time since I last posted to Meanderings. We raked up leaves the final Monday in November and enjoyed the company of a good friend at dinner the first Saturday night in December. Great bookends on a wonderful week.

The very next day after that dinner Tal buckled under the force of a cold like none he's ever experienced. Nothing we thought we had planned after that worked out anywhere near how we'd envisioned! Tal watched Christmas come to our home, providing moral support and sweet encouragement.

Tal's better now, though not back to his normal self. The season of Christmas is seven days old. Our Christmas tree continues to be an amazing source of delight and comfort to me. I sit with it mornings and evenings. Epiphany will come too soon and I'll have to pack it all away until next year.

Today in ways large and small we begin again. I don't have any resolutions this year. They don't get taken seriously in the long term, anyway. Seemed pointless to go through that exercise again for 2011.

The one thing, however, that I enjoy and send, continually (or is it continuously?), to the end of the list is the camera. I say I enjoy making images, trying to get onto the sensor the emotion I feel when I see something that touches me -- the angle of light striking an object, the expression on a face, the magnificence of a long-range view. But, I treat photography like leisure or fun, having learned way too well the lesson at some point in my life that one doesn't play until all the work is finished.

So, an image a day is my sort-of resolution. I'm not making it work, mind you, simply making it an intentional part of my every day. Check out those images on Flickr at 2011 Image A Day.  Double-clicking on the image will let you see it large and in more detail. 

Enjoy and happy 2011.