Saturday, September 26, 2009

bright spot in the rain

It's been very humid for days. Not particularly hot, but muggy. Everything feels damp and sticky: the salt refuses to pour, I never really feel dry after a shower, and my t-shirt sticks wetly to me after just one lap around the neighborhood with Rosie, even though it's only 9 AM. Now I expect that kind of humidity in July and August, but at the end of September it's a bit unusual.

When the humidity became rain -- lots of rain -- it wasn't a great surprise. However, folks in Letcher County do wish that the timing had been a little different. This week and especially this weekend are our annual Mountain Heritage Festival, with booths, crafts, food, carnival rides, and a parade. It all still happened, even the parade, rain notwithstanding.

The college always gets a booth in the center of the festival, and faculty volunteer time to sit in it, to give out information on the college, greet old students returning for a visit home, and welcome potential new students. My stint was from 11 AM to 2 PM today. I always volunteer to work during the parade; unlike many of my colleagues I have no children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews to watch for in the parade.

The rain never really let up the whole time. A small river of water was streaming from the bank above the booths, and ran right through ours, emptying into a huge mud puddle right in front of our table. But people gamely ploughed right on through.

My friend Madeline shared the shift with me. When we weren't conversing with the folks passing by, we had plenty of time to chat. There's not much time for conversation at school. We're either preparing for class, rushing to class, in class, or working with students from our classes. So even though my office is right next to Madeline's, we rarely have the opportunity to just talk about ourselves and life. Today, we discovered that we were in graduate school, at the University of Kentucky, in education, with offices and classes in the same building at in the same years (1975-1976). Comparing notes, we learned that there were a half dozen people that we knew in common, so surely we must have encountered each other. Yet we don't remember each other. I'm glad our paths recrossed to give us another chance.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Southeast Whitesburg Mural--41 The Big Reveal

Today was the day, the big 20th anniversary celebration and the unveiling of the plaques, the naming of the buildings, the thanking of the donors, and the honoring of the honorees.

Although it was not in the program, the college's president Dr. W. Bruce Ayers asked me to come up and speak. I've known the man for 13 years, and know he likes to do things like that so I'd given at least a few minutes this morning to think about what I might like to say to people, but mostly I spoke what came to me in the moment. I don't entirely remember what I said, but it evidently hit just the right tone, because people kept commenting on it.

There were lots of great moments as people spoke with great emotion about their passion for the college. Our campus exists because a group of dedicated and visionary local people managed to raise a million dollars in donations and pledges in less than one week. Penny Ritter Combs one of stalwarts of this visionary group described clambering up on strip-jobs to get donations from coal companies during that week. The plaque below is a special tribute Penny and her parents Judge James M and Atha Caudill who not only dreamed of a college, but who have continued to work for twenty years to make that dream an on-going reality.

My favorite moment in the ceremony came when a former student of mine, Melanie Watts sang the song "Anyway." Melanie has an extraordinary voice, pure and rich, but she clearly felt this song deeply which made her performance deeply moving. I'd never heard it before, but I can tell you before this day is out I'm going to have a copy of Martina McBride's performance of "Anyway" on my iPod! [The link is to YOUTube video of the McBride performing the song]. The key refrain and guiding idea of the song comes from a poem often attributed to Mother Teresa (because it was inscribed on a wall of Mother Teresa's children's home in Calcutta), but is actually credited to Kent M. Keith and called The Paradoxical Commandments.

So here is the whole thing, finished, with the plaque in place:

The top photo, while taken with my camera was shot by my colleague Ron Brunty, so I could be in the shot. The other photos are by me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

One Single Impression -- Fog

Walking the dog

stepping out
into private space,
a deep well
of damp white;
morning fog
blankets the world
in stillness,
letting through small sounds:
dripping moisture
on phantom leaves,
the soft thud
of a cat landing
out of sight,
the rustling of birds
grounded by fog,
soft canine panting,
and the beating
of my heart.

Saturday September 19, 2009

To read other poems on the prompt "fog" check out One Single Impression between Sunday 9/20/09 and Saturday 9/26/09.

Photo was taken this morning (9/19/09) on my way to Rosh Hashanah services, just off US 23 just south of the Virginia/Kentucky border.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rosh Hashanah

"HAYOM HARAT OLAM: Today is the birthday of the world." So it declares during the shofar (rams horn trumpet) service on Rosh Hashanah.

There are many themes twining through Rosh Hashanah. One important theme, as one might expect for the "birthday of the world" is creation. But the High Holidays Makhzor* reminds us:
"Creation, we are taught is not an act that happened once upon a time, once and for ever. The act of bringing the world into existence is a continuous process. God called the world into being, and that call goes on. There is this present moment because God is present. Every instant is an act of creation. A moment is not a terminal but a flash, a signal of Beginning. Time is a perpetual innovation, a synonym for continuous creation. Time is God's gift to the world of space."(page 329)
The Makhzor also tells us:
"Moreover, our Sages taught, the human being is "God's partner in the work of Creation." He and we create together. There is still much work to be done: disease to be conquered, injustice and poverty to be overcome, hatred and war to be eliminated. There is truth to be discovered, beauty to be fashioned, freedom to be achieved, peace and righteousness to be established. There is a great need to dedicate all the creative power which a creating God has given us, so that we may join Him in 'the continuing work or Creation.'" (page 149)
So Rosh Hashanah is a day to rededicate ourselves to being co-creators of the Universe, partners with G-d.

*Makhzor is a transliteration into English of the Hebrew word used for the book which contains the order of service, all the prayers, songs, poems (psalms), and teachings for Jewish services. The Makhzor used by my congregation, B'nai Sholom, is Makhzor Khadash/The New Makhzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, complied and edited by Rabbi Sidney Greenberg and Rabbi Jonathan D. Levine, The Prayer Book Press of Media Judaica, Inc. 1978.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

One Single Impression -- Thirst

thirst for knowledge
reaching out in myriad
ways, questioning all.

Thursday September 17, 2009

For other (much better) poems on the prompt "thirst" see One Single Impression.

touch-me-not update

Several people asked about the name of this flower (which is also called jewel weed). As best as I can tell it is simply because the ripe seed pods are under considerable pressure, and will pop open at the slightest touch spraying the seeds all over any one standing nearby. In reality this is a useful evolutionary device -- getting passing humans and animals to carry one's seeds far and wide at the slightest touch. So from the plants point of view their name ought to be "touch me please!"

You can see some of the (not yet ripe) seed pods near these flowers.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


One of the welcome sights of September are the little yellow and orange jewels called "touch-me-not." Great masses of them cover shaded hillsides in eastern Kentucky.

summer companions

Here's a little grasshopper who liked my patio furniture, and stayed long enough for a good photo. Click on the photo to see the full-sized version and look at the amazing details of his legs!
Wish I knew what variety of grasshopper this little guy was. Love the red eyes.

Update Monday 9/14/09: My friend Betti put me on the right track. This little critter is a katydid, and its a "she." A wonderful blog Nature Inquiries also provides us with the answer to Maggie's question about the "stinger" at the tail: "the female is recognized by the curved, bladelike ovipositor protruding from the back of her abdomen. A structure of this sort is present in all female crickets and katydids."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

One Single Impression -- Romance

Better late than never! Thanks for the concern, Jim.

I know love
that warmth
suffusing every moment,
care and support through
darkest night
and coldest dawn;
sweet companionship
of lives entwined,
commitment to a common path.

I know passion,
pure fire clean through,
lightening strike,
sizzling senses,
snatching breath,
pulsing in the veins,
hot and slippery,

What is romance
to these?
Curling cards, yellowing notes,
discarded baubles,
faded petals,
a wisp of candle smoke,
lost in the wind.

Saturday September 12, 2009

Sunday is usually my day for poetry and One Single Impression, and this past Sunday was absorbed with varnishing the mural. But, I also had great difficulty with this prompt. I have conflicted feelings about "romance." My parents both set great store by the forms of romance, the flowers and candy, presents and cards. Growing up around them, that's what I confused the forms with the feeling. This created great conflicts for me over the years, because the two things often did not come at the same time, from the same person.

My husband John, God bless him, is both loving and passionate, but hasn't a clue about the forms of romance. Every once in a while (about one year in five) some lightening bolt will strike him and he'll suddenly turn up with flowers and cards for some event (anniversary, birthday or Valentine's) but mostly, he forgets them entirely. But when I need someone to talk to, to share my joys and my sorrows, when I need a helping hand, a help-mate, then his always there. It took me a few years of marriage before I got over being disappointed at the missing forms of romance, and while its still fun in the odd year when the thought strikes him, I'll take love and passion any day over romance.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Can't Afford to Wait...

My best friend Betti after nearly 40 years of working, but not old enough for Medicare, who struggles to pay increasingly higher and higher premiums and deductables in the thousands of dollars and wait for the day that she'll be denied coverage because of the chronic diseases that come with aging...The father of one of my students who has a mass on his skull that he can't afford to have x-rayed or catscanned or biopsied because he has no insurance...and so many others whose stories are heartrending...they need a public option NOW!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Southeast Whitesburg Mural--40 signed, sealed...

and delivered.

Armed with four box fans, three extension cords, two containers of spray varnish (Lascaux UV Protection semi-matte at $25 a can!), and one respirator with new filters, I sealed the mural.

The actual work of spraying the varnish probably took less than one hour. But I stopped several times to let the fans do their work of clearing the room, and to take a break from the respirator which blocked all the odor and toxins! Afterwards I let all the fans run with the building doors wide open for more than two hours.

After the varnish dried, I uncovered the plaque to make sure everything looked right -- and discovered that I needed to do some tiny touch ups with green paint around the plaque. That completed I took final photographs of the whole thing with the plaque, but I won't release those until after the official dedication on September 23. Instead here's a final photo taken after I covered the plaque back up with some nice black poster board I picked up at Walmart on the way into campus today. Since the plaque is black, this gives you a pretty good sense of what the final effect will be.