Messages in a Bottle

Flannery O’Connor with editor Robbie Macauley in 1947 (Wikimedia)

Even among the literati, mothers can be difficult to impress. In a letter written to author Cecil Dawkins in 1959, Flannery O’Connor congratulated Cecil for being paid $1,000 for a story — a figure that more than doubled Flannery’s current top payment of $475. Somewhat wryly, Flannery added:

Your sale to the Post ought to impress your mother greatly.  It sure has impressed my mother, who brought the post card home. 
The other day she asked me why I didn’t try to write something that people liked, instead of the kind of thing I do write.  Do you think, she said, that you are really using the talent God gave you when you don’t write something that a lot, a LOT of people like? 
This always leaves me shaking and speechless, raises my blood pressure 140 degrees, etc.  All I can ever say is, if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

I still laugh when I read that passage. Shortly after my first computer arrived, my mother began nosing around it like a wary dog circling a snake, asking questions of her own. “What are you going to do with it?”  I didn’t know, and said so. “Well, how much did it cost?”  I did know that. Despite reservations born of experience, I told her. The disapproving silence thickened. “You spent all that money for something, and don’t even know how you’re going to use it?” 

Clearly, she regarded my computer as nothing more than the newest version of the hula-hoop or Mr. Potato Head, and I was her idiot child, consumed with a child’s breathless longing to possess the same toys as my friends.

As the months passed and my mysterious toy began demanding ever more time, her perplexity increased. She’d come to understand the practicality of email and the profitability of eBay, but the hours spent on my new blog confounded her. “Why are you still on that machine?” she’d say, peering over the top of her knitting. “Who reads those things, anyway?  Why not do something productive?” 

Since she refused even to sit at the computer, I began printing out occasional blog posts for her to read. She’d murmur some nice, motherly compliment, but usually ended by asking the question that would have made Flannery O’Connor’s mother proud: “When is somebody going to pay you for all this?”

Equating dollars with quality is natural enough. The first and only local writing group I joined once published this food for thought in its newsletter:

“Never give your writing away. If you don’t receive payment, your writing is worthless.”

Everyone in the group believed that, and for months I fussed over the issue, unable to refute either the logic or the assumptions of members who kept asking, “When are you going to start doing some real writing?” The question of worth was everywhere, and many of us in an online writing group recognized the dilemma expressed by Becca Rowan as our own:

 I find it all too easy to sink into pessimism about my own writing. “What’s the point?” I sometimes find myself thinking. “Who cares what I have to say? Why bother struggling to find just the right word, to come up with the perfect idea, to create an evocative image?  What difference can it possibly make to the world?”

Reading Becca’s words, I sensed her effort was justified, as was mine.  I remained convinced  my writing was worth the hours stolen from sleep; the decisions to forego evenings out; the end of television and social media. I simply didn’t know why.

Eventually, I found the beginning of an answer in an off-handed remark made by a woman with decades of experience in the classroom. “Teaching is like throwing out words in a bottle,” she said. “Sometimes you’re lucky, and the bottle reaches shore.”

Her metaphor seemed apt: as much for blogging as for teaching. Like a message in a bottle, each post is tossed into the currents of the great cyber-sea to bob, tumble, and drift about until safely reaching shore, or being broken and destroyed on the rocks. 

For blog-bottle throwers, of course, letting go is everything. Whatever the content of the bottle’s note, its words and images will have no opportunity to touch people, to clear their vision, to bring comfort, to elicit a wry smile or a sigh of satisfaction until the bottle is set free to travel.

It does take time for bottles to bob their way to the beaches of the world.  It takes even more time for someone to find them, and sometimes it requires pure luck for the message to be plucked out and read. Today, I can’t help being amazed by how many of my own metaphorical bottles have been pulled from the surf and preserved in one way or another.

A woman in Salisbury who’d put her own writing on hold felt an implicit challenge in one essay, and began writing again.  A St. Louis executive found a lesson for the workplace in Godette’s choice of inspiration over competition.  Roger Stolle, owner of Cat Head in Clarksdale, Mississippi reprinted some reflections on their Juke Joint festival in one of his newsletters. The Moon Lake Improvement Association included my story of a visit to Uncle Henry’s roadhouse in the history section of their site. An astronomer added The Comet Watchers to his links.


Each of these connections pleased me, but nothing represents the satisfactions of blog-bottle tossing as well as my experience with “Search Pattern,” a poem written in response to the death of Roger Stone.

Safety Officer aboard the sailing vessel Cynthia Woods during the 2008 Regata de Amigos offshore race from Galveston to Veracruz, Roger lost his life while saving five crewmates from death after their sailboat capsized.

He was well known in the local sailing community, and while I’d never met him, I was deeply affected by his death.  While the Coast Guard conducted their search and rescue mission, and during its sad aftermath, there was little else I could do, so I wrote a poem titled “Search Pattern.”

Due north from south
then south again
the heart flies,
anxious in its unexpected space,
winging over absence
with an osprey’s climbing curl,
unfettered but forlorn.
From east to west
frail rising hope streams light
across conviction’s shattered hull;
love’s fruitless oars, adrift
beyond this longing reach
float half-submerged,
splintered as the fragments of a dream.
What life remains,
preserved through night’s long tumult
to wash, exhausted, onto shore?
The osprey climbs.
The oars drift on.
The heart resumes its wheeling flight
due north from south,
then south again,
across a bowl of tears.

After writing and posting the poem, I moved on. Then, nine months later, I found this comment appended to the poem on its blog page:

I am Roger Stone’s widow. I ran across this poem just now, and I want to thank you so much for it.  The introduction was so touching, too.  If I would have seen this before his service, I would have loved for you to have read it. 
I miss Roger every day, and seeing this at this time touched my soul. Thank you again.
Linda Stone

That she had found the poem at all, that she had been kind enough to comment, and that the one person I wished could read the poem had, in fact, done so seemed extraordinary. In the brief correspondence that followed, I gave Linda permission to use the poem as she saw fit.  At the time, she intended to enlarge and frame it, and then to hang it in Roger’s office in their new home – the office he never got to use.

Somewhat later, on the Mitchell Campus of Texas A&M University at Galveston, Linda Stone once again described events of that tragic day as she accepted the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal on behalf of her husband. The medal, established by Congress in 1874, is awarded by the Coast Guard Commandant to any person who rescues, or endeavors to rescue another person from drowning, shipwreck, or other peril of the sea.

Roger and his medal ~ U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy Petty Officer Patrick Kelley

Watching Linda receive the award on behalf of Roger, envisioning my poem gracing the wall of the office he never used, and still astonished by her improbable discovery of my blog months after the loss of the Cynthia Woods, all I could think was, “Some worth can’t be calculated.”  

I still believe that. Not every cause has an immediate effect, and not every hour invested brings immediate return. Only a willingness to take the longer, less calculating view of things allows any artist to keep tossing bottles into the sea ~ bottles filled with treasure that one day, some day, will wash onto a receptive shore.


Comments always are welcome.

A Bowl Full of Happiness

Blue Bell Creamery Sculpture ~ Veryl Goodnight

Long before I developed a childhood infatuation with Davy Crockett — Tennessee’s semi-mythical, raccoon-cap wearing, bear-killing mountaineer — a more civilized and accomplished David Crockett was being encouraged to enter the 1836 Presidential race.

In the end, Martin Van Buren won that election, defeating a coalition of William Henry Harrison, Hugh White, and Daniel Webster to replace President Andrew Jackson, but Crockett never became a contender. His hopes for a Presidential run ended after he lost his 1835 Congressional race to an attorney named Adam Huntsman: a man supported by President Jackson and Governor Carroll of Tennessee.

Disillusioned with politics and eager for a fresh start, Crockett set off for Texas on November 1, 1835, accompanied by William Patton, Abner Burgin, and Lindsey K. Tinkle. The men spent their first evening in Memphis, where they gathered with friends in the bar of the Union Hotel for drinks and celebration.

Never one to mince words, and perhaps encouraged by drink, Crockett reflected on recent events and referred again to Huntsman, who happened to have a wooden leg. “Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me,” he said, “you may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”

Today, few remember Adam Huntsman, but the second half of Crockett’s bold statement of intent lives on. There are slight variations, to be sure. But, for the most part, the original words are quoted: on bumper stickers, wall plaques, throw pillows, and t-shirts. Together with other favorite sayings (“I Wasn’t Born in Texas, But I Got Here as Fast As I Could,” and, “Texan by Choice”), the words are good-natured, just a little sassy, and filled with love for a state that counts David Crockett as one of its heroes.

Of course, not everyone is so kindly disposed toward Texas. When circumstances dictated my mother’s move to the Lone Star State, she made clear her belief that Texas is hell, and that she, through no fault of her own, had been unfairly condemned to an eternity of torment.

Once the move was made, her opinion didn’t change. She hated the traffic, the climate, the insects, the twang. Above all, she hated what she considered Texans’ over-estimation of their state. “What?” she said. “Do they think no one else in the world has a reason to live?”

Eventually, an introduction to the Texas trinity of chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes and cream gravy, and green beans with onion and bacon helped to ease the transition, but things still were iffy.

When I talked with a friend about the situation, she said, “There’s only one answer. We have to go full Hill Country.” “What’s that?” I asked. Grinning like a woman made privy to the secrets of the universe, she said, “Bluebonnets, barbeque, and Blue Bell.”

I knew it couldn’t hurt, and I hoped it might help. A few weeks later, we were on the road.

Winding our way west in order to go east, we stopped first for barbeque at Kreuz Market in Lockhart. As brisket, sausage, and potato salad disappeared from her plate, my mother smiled. “Goodness,” she said. “That might have been better than what I’m used to.” Then, she smiled again.

With no timetable and no itinerary, we left Lockhart on two-lane farm-to-market roads, admiring the lush bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush that stretched off to the horizon. In one particularly beautiful field, red and blue flowers had combined to create an impression of purple. Suddenly, I heard, “Stop!” Pulling to the side of the road, I stopped, and turned to look at my mother. “What?” “This is beautiful,” she said. “Let’s take some photos.” 

After making our way through Rosanky, Plum, Dime Box, and Giddings, we finally reached Brenham. “This is where they make Blue Bell ice cream,” I said. “Why don’t we stop and get some?” Ever cautious, my mother turned to my friend. “Is it any good? Is it worth stopping for?” “I think so,” she said. “Besides, it’s ice cream. Even if it’s not the best, it’s good.”

In Brenham, it’s not hard to find Blue Bell. With two scoops in her dish — one homemade vanilla and one butter pecan — Mom got down to business. About halfway through, she looked up. “You know,” she said. “This tastes just like the vanilla that my mother used to make. We’d carry the milk and cream from Grandpa’s in pails, and that’s what she’d use. We didn’t have it very often, but I’ve never tasted any that managed to taste like hers, and this does. Can we buy it in Houston?”

Buy it, we did. It was fine ice cream, but, more importantly, it provided a true taste of home: a connection to the past that made my mother happy. Sometimes we shared a bowl in the evening. Sometimes she’d have some by herself, long after I’d gone home. She never tired of it.

Over the past months, as Blue Bell struggled to cope with their company-wide recall and their ice cream disappeared from the shelves, I thought how happy I was that these difficulties didn’t occur while my mother still was alive, depriving her of a favorite treat.

I’m even more happy that, in the coming week, our area will once again have Blue Bell. I’ll buy some homemade vanilla, of course. I’ll have a bowlful for my mother, and another for my grandmother, and then I’ll ponder the truth of my little ice cream etheree as I scoop out a bowlful of happiness for myself.

  is needed.
A dish. A spoon.
  Even the carton
  will do in a pinch if
  no one is watching, no one
  complaining, no one advising
sweet moderation when offered the
chance to keep scooping and scooping away.


Comments are welcome, always

The Lady and La Salle

La Salle (1643-1687) ~ Raoul Josset

Larger than life, envied in success and plagued by failure, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle may have landed on Texas shores by mistake, but he certainly left his mark. 

Born in France a century after Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked west of Galveston Island, and two centuries before the first shiploads of German immigrants made their way inland from Indianola, La Salle followed his brother to New France (now Canada) in order to enter the fur trade.

Once in New France, he discovered a preference for travel over trapping. Launching a first expedition to the Ohio River in 1669, he spent several years combining business with the pleasures of exploration. In 1682, he traveled the length of the Mississippi River, laying claim to the entirety of the immense drainage basin for France, and naming the territory Louisiana, after King Louis XIV.

Only a year later, La Salle sought and obtained support for a significant new venture. His intent was to sail to the mouth of the Mississippi via the Gulf of Mexico: there to establish a French colony capable of making inroads into Mexico, harassing Spanish shipping, and blocking English-American expansion toward the west.

Unfortunately, La Salle’s fleet of four ships, together with 280 colonists and crew, faced problems from the start. The Saint-François was lost to Spanish raiders on approach to Saint-Domingue. L’Aimable ran aground while attempting to navigate a narrow channel, then broke apart and lost most of the colony’s supplies. Untrustworthy maps resulted in a landfall almost 400 miles west of the explorers’ intended destination; instead of the Mississippi, they found Matagorda Bay.

Circumstances began to breed serious discontent, leading the third ship, Le Joly, to return to France. Then, late in the winter of 1686, the remaining ship, Belle, was driven aground by a squall and foundered on a sandbar off Matagorda Island. Only later would the Spanish expedition of Rivas and Iriarte find the wreck of Belle in Matagorda Bay as they searched for evidence of French intrusion:**

Exploring around Matagorda Bay, which they named San Bernardo, they found the wreckage of La Salle’s bark Belle on Matagorda Peninsula and, in the entrance channel, the rudder post of his storeship L’Aimable, which had run aground while trying to enter the bay.
They nevertheless concluded, because of the shallowness of the bay, that any attempt to establish a settlement here could only have met disaster and therefore no longer posed a threat.
A circa 1689 Spanish map depicting the shipwrecked Belle (“Navío quebrado” or “broken ship”) in San Bernardo (Matagorda) Bay.  Click to enlarge the map, provided courtesy of the Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin

On March 19, 1687, while attempting yet another overland expedition to find the Mississippi and resume his original mission, La Salle and seven others were killed by Pierre Duhaut and an accomplice during an uprising among his own men The few colonists still remaining at Matagorda Bay fared no better. All but a few children were massacred by Karankawa Indians in December, 1688.

Success is no prerequisite for a statue, of course, particularly since dramatic struggle or failure often capture our imaginations more readily than easy success. Still, rising up against the horizon, halfway between Indian Point and Indianola, La Salle seems to gaze across the bay toward the site of his sunken Belle with an air of bemusement: as though wondering how he came to be so honored.

LaSalle Watching Over WWII Troops

This much is certain. The decision to memorialize La Salle’s journeys through Texas by engaging the services of French-born sculptor Raoul Josset was inspired.

Prior to moving to the United States in 1933, Josset received training at the Paris School of Fine Arts and the Lycee of Lyons and Paris. He studied under Antoine Bourdelle, and received the Rome Prize in 1923. His first Texas commission, a striking tribute to the state’s hundred-year history titled Spirit of the Centennial, was placed in Dallas’s Fair Park in 1936. It quickly led to more commissions, including the statue of La Salle.

Many of Josset’s works are dedicated to individuals whose struggles helped to shape the State of Texas: the bronze and granite tribute to Captain Amon King, hero of the Battle of Refugio; an eight-foot bronze of George Childress, author of the Texas Declaration of Independence; a bronze angel guarding the crypt at Monument Hill, where remains of Texans killed in the Mier-Sommerville expedition are interred. Perhaps best-known is his memorial to the men under Fannin’s command who died at Goliad.

The Fannin Memorial

On the other hand, while Josset’s 1939 statue of La Salle may be the state’s most impressive, it wasn’t the first. Navasota dedicated their monument to the French explorer in 1930, and an even earlier statue was unveiled on Labor Day, 1928, at an Indianola development known as Bayside Beach.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Bayside Beach was a scam. After a group of investors “discovered the beautiful beach at Indianola, they subdivided the barren site and made a house-to-house canvass of the larger cities of the state, selling their findings, and receiving from $15 to as high as $1,500 for a single lot.”

Unfortunately, few if any of the lots fronted the beach. Some lay on the mainland. Some were submerged in Powderhorn Lake. Still others were hidden beneath the bay, along with the old Calhoun County courthouse, Fort Esperanza, and La Salle’s unfortunate Belle.

Nevertheless, when Maury Maverick and state representative Pat Jefferson asked Nora Sweetland to create a La Salle statue for the new development, she agreed. A Depression-era budget forced her to use concrete laden with shell, a mixture that made constructing a sword impossible.  But Representative Jefferson provided an old family sword and, in the end, it was a fine statue.

Nora Sweetland & Friends Pose With La Salle

Unfortunately, her statue lasted only a few years.  After a 1930s storm left it in pieces, the statue was decapitated under mysterious circumstances. La Salle’s head disappeared, along with the sword. Today, only the base and boots remain: a puzzle for visitors to the nearby cemetery where the statue finally came to rest.

It’s hard to imagine Nora shedding many tears over her cut-off-at-the-knees statue. She was a woman ahead of her time, and she had things to do.

Her engagement with life started early. Writing for the Waco, Texas History Project, Terri Jo Ryan says:

When she was 15, Nora [neé Currie] went to Waco with other suffragettes to march around the courthouse and hand out literature.
“There in the window of a general store on the square was a big sign that said, ‘Decent women do not want to vote,” Currie said. “I picked up a rock the size of a golf ball from the walk and threw it across the street and smashed that window. Then the other girls did the same thing.”
A sympathetic judge told the store owner that if he pressed charges, the suffragettes should sue him for libel for implying that they weren’t decent. He didn’t file charges.

Whether Homer Marlar knew of Nora’s feistiness is hard to say, but they married in 1917, when both were twenty-three. They had three children –Evelyn, Nolan, and Macie — and then divorced.

Before long, Nora remarried: this time into a notable Texas family. Her new husband, Henry W. Gammel, was the son of H.P.N. Gammel, a famous Austin bookseller and compiler of Gammel’s Laws of Texas.

After emigrating from Denmark, H.P.N. Gammel arrived first in Chicago, then in Galveston. After walking from Galveston to Austin, Gammel “built a shelf between two chinaberry trees, at Eighth Street and Congress Avenue, where he bought books for five cents and sold them for ten cents, reading and learning from them in the meantime.”

Eventually, that boyhood passion led to the establishment of one of the first book stores west of the Mississippi: a store known for specializing in literature, law, and Texana.

Click for a full-page view, and a sense of Hans Gammel’s humor

Walking from Galveston to Austin was quite an accomplishment, but it was another early experience which cemented Gammel’s place in Texas history. In the words of Dorothy Gammel Bohlender:

He was still a newcomer to Texas when, in 1881, the old Capitol in Austin burned. From the debris scattered on the Capitol grounds, young Gammel gathered wet papers and charred documents, loaded them in a wagon, and took them to his home. He and his wife gradually dried the pages on clotheslines and stored them with their belongings.
Years later he sorted and edited the crinkled papers, then published them, beginning in 1898, as the famous first ten volumes of Gammel’s Laws of Texas, 1822–1897 [now available online].
The work won immediate acclaim, and with the addition of other volumes in later years, the set came to be a basic item in law libraries across the state.

Nora’s new husband had followed his father into the book business. Henry moved to El Paso in 1907, to manage the Gammel store there. By 1909, he was serving as a Deputy Sheriff. On January 18, 1909, the El Paso Herald noted Deputy Gammel’s return from Big Springs, where he had gone to claim one Mrs. Frank Johnson and return her to her husband. According to the report:

Mrs. Johnson is the woman who ran away from her husband last Thursday, according to the husband’s charge, in the company of L. K. Powell…
Friday, a message was received from Big Springs announcing that the couple had been caught and were being held. Johnson refused to provide the money to bring Powell back to this city, but he paid for Mrs. Johnson’s transportation, and deputy Gammel went after her Friday night.

Perhaps Henry tired of such dramatic rescues. Whatever the reason, he returned to Austin, then moved on to Ft. Worth, where he managed another store. At some point in his travels, he met Nora. They married, had two children together, and then divorced. The divorce was less than amiable, and their story far from over.

On October 21, 1931, Nora married for a third and final time. It’s possible she met sculptor Leroy William Sweetland while studying and working at the Houston Art Stone Company, where she contributed to such projects as Houston’s Rialto Theater. Their marriage seems to have been companionable enough, and the fact that they remained married while Nora tied up some loose ends from her former life certainly speaks well of Leroy.

A brief story in the January 22, 1932 Abilene Reporter-News highlighted Nora’s attempt to deal with one issue:

FORT WORTH. Jan 21 — Mrs. Nora Currie Sweetland, 33, poet and sculptress, formerly of Oklahoma City, went to a book store here today with a hatchet, hacked out windows, and explained to police that she “wanted to let them know how serious I was about getting my children back.”
The place is owned by her divorced husband, Henry W. Gammel, who now has their two daughters, and who has this week obtained an injunction against the woman.

By January 29, the Mexia Weekly Herald reported that the stakes had been raised in the court battle:

FT. WORTH (UP) — Mrs. Nora Currie Sweetland, 33, poet and sculptress, who was acquitted of a lunacy charge only to be charged with malicious mischief, Thursday was taken to Groesbeck to face an additional complaint of swindling.
Henry W. Gammel, former husband, filed the lunacy charge against the woman after all windows in his bookstore had been smashed, and a number of books destroyed with a hatchet. Because all witnesses testified the woman was of sound mind, prosecuting attorneys moved for an instructed verdict of Not Guilty.
Gammel then signed a malicious mischief complaint, and Mrs. Sweetland was remanded to the country jail. There, a Limestone County Deputy Sheriff served her with a warrant charging swindling. She is alleged to have given a worthless check to R.M. Gralle, a Groesbeck hotel operator. She denied the charge.

Clearly, Nora had her supporters. By February 23, the Sarasota Herald Tribune was running another AP story out of Fort Worth with the title, “Woman Sculptor Arrested, Uses Cell as Studio.”

Stone walls do not a prison make. Sometimes, they make a studio.
Nora Currie Sweetland, arrested on charges of smashing windows at her former husband’s book store in a dispute over custody of her two children, didn’t let that interrupt her sculpturing.
Fitting up her cell as best she could, she chiseled out two figures while awaiting an insanity hearing growing out of her actions. Freed on this count, she returned to put the finishing touch on the models.
At first, she had only a butcher knife and spoon, furnished by a friendly turnkey, with which to shape the clay. Then, when she started working in plaster, the jailer found her a hammer and chisel. A wash rag from the jail bathroom, wrapped around the hammer head, served to muffle the sound of her blows and prevent disturbing other prisoners.
One of the figures she has shaped while in jail is that of her younger child as a baby; the other is her “Madonna of the Trenches,” symbolizing the Red Cross. Mrs. Sweetland has executed several pieces of statuary for public places in the Southwest.

Once freed from jail, Sweetland’s personal life stabilized and her reputation as the “Madonna sculptor” increased, Her Madonna of the Cotton Fields already graced the Robert B. Green Memorial Hospital in San Antonio, and her original Madonna of the Trenches, a tribute to the Red Cross, had been presented to the Fort Sam Houston base hospital in 1929.

Nora Sweetland with the clay model of her “Pioneer Madonna”

Over time, age and illness brought changes to Sweetland’s life. Though confined to a hospital bed for most of 1964 and 1965,  she resolved to keep working. In August, 1965, she re-created her 1933 Madonna of the Trenches, and another piece, Pioneer Madonna, was unveiled at the Comfort, Texas Historical Museum in 1966.

She also began to write. A small book titled Scraps of My Life included poetry, selections from her column for an unknown newspaper (“Nora’s Views on the News”), and reviews of her sculpture.

Another book published in 1966, And So Flows the Brazos, contains a collection of reflective stories: the memories of a woman looking back over a life filled with the challenges and griefs common to us all.

When I found and ordered a copy of the book for myself, it brought with it a number of unexpected gifts: the faint scent of age; a crumbling, edge-worn jacket; yellowing paper soft as powder. On the title page, in an old-fashioned but still strong hand, the words First Edition had been written and underlined. Inside the front cover, a dedication had been added.


Could Leonard Schwartz have been a descendent of Johann Schwartz, the first man to settle and build at Indianola? I’d like to think so. It’s satisfying to imagine an enduring connection between Sweetland and Indianola: the site of one of her most well-known and least-permanent works.

Whatever the truth about her connection to Indianola, what can’t be denied is Sweetland’s connection to her river. And So Flows the Brazos is a love song meant for her Brazos de Dios:

…my green river, my blue river, my crystal clear river with its sand bars gleaming…my roaring, rampaging river with its uprooted trees…and its white foam lashing angrily at the river’s banks.

Sitting on the bank of her river, gazing out over the decades of her life with an air of bemused serenity La Salle might have envied, she makes no complaint, expresses no regret, issues not a word of blame or accusation.  She only commends her life, and the lives of those she loves, into the hands of God, saying:

Now I will arise and go about my work, for there are so many things that I want to do, and so little time left in which to do them.

**For an excellent account of the loss of the Belle, her rediscovery, recovery and restoration, please click here.
Comments are welcome, always.

The Way of All Words

The sky lowers, and the horizon disappears. A turning wind blankets the moon with sea-born fog, shrouding the contours of its face. Impassive, harshly brilliant above the fog, it rises ever higher behind fast-scudding clouds, lighting the transition between old and new: between one year and the next.

As midnight approaches, a lingering few stand silent, shrouded in a fog of thought, tangled in life’s web, caught between the land of No-Longer and the land of Yet-to-Be. Perhaps a moonlit shard of truth reveals itself to revelers in the street: this is the way of life.  What has been passes away into forgetfulness, while that which is yet-to-be stirs toward vitality.

Armies rise. Nations fall. Children squall into existence, even as their grandparents sigh away toward death. Beyond the farthest reaches of the galaxies, unnamed stars explode with pulsating light while on our own shy, spinning globe, rotting leaves and the stench of mud evoke a season’s final turn. Continue reading

Goldilocks Meets T.S. Eliot

Goldilocks' Three Bowls

I try to pay attention. Truly, I do. Still, I’m constantly searching for my car keys. It slips my mind that I should stop at the grocery for milk, or swing by the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions. Occasionally, I neglect to feed the cat until she nudges at my foot, murmuring her complaint. Computer passwords dissolve into the ether, along with the names of former school chums, padlock combinations and the phone number of my favorite aunt. 

People who understand such things tell me this everyday-forgetting is unremarkable.  A little more age here, a few more-interesting things to ponder there, and the mind wanders off, unconcerned with milk, kitties or keys.

Over time, I’d even forgotten my promise to some blogging friends that I would tell them the story of the beginnings of The Task at Hand – specifically, how it received its title and tagline. Being a Janus-faced month, a time for pondering the past as well as looking toward the future, January seems as good a time as any to recount the story of those first, halting steps onto the path called “writing”. Continue reading