Thursday, October 30, 2008

Long Goodbyes

(Photo taken August 16, 2006. Kayla is in the back, Bill, Elgin and sister-in-law Linda on the sofa, hubby Bob and brother-in-law Mort sitting in front. Yours Truly is never in the photos 'cause I'm always takin' 'em.)

Late summer 2006 my husband and his sister moved their parents here from Arizona so that my husband and I could take over their care. The past two years have been an incredible journey.

Bill and Elgin were born in 1917 and 1918 respectively. Bill was a lawyer and Elgin taught school. They met in college, had a three year long-distance relationship which involved ACTUAL LETTERS WITH STAMPS. They married and raised their family in Indianapolis. Upon retiring they moved to Sun City, Arizona. They were married 64 years.

Those are the details but the best part is who they were as people. I could not have hand-picked better in-laws. Bill was kind, gentle and funny as all get out. He was always smiling and laughing. He loved playing golf more than anything in this world, except Elgin. When he went to the grocery store to pick up donuts, his other passion, he always picked up flowers for her as well. He would take Kayla for rides around Sun City in his golf cart and would take her swimming in their pool. He would pick grapefruit and oranges every morning from their yard and make us fresh juices. He always made waffles Saturday mornings during our visits. Kayla could do no wrong and was always content when with Bill. He was her hero and she loved him fiercely. He was not judgemental at all and accepted everyone at face value.

Elgin was an amazing artist. She would make Bill pull over during trips so that she could pick wildflowers with which to make hand-made greeting cards. She was an accomplished watercolor painter and showed her work in galleries. Kayla loved to go to Elgin's studio, which was in actuality their garage, and see her paints, brushes and papers. Elgin was a member of an art guild and had many friends. She was collector of the family history and photographs, and could recite names and faces and the family genealogy. She was Danish. I loved talking with her because she was vastly interesting, having traveled the world with Bill and their family. Before dementia slowly took her memory, she could recite verbatim each trip, who went, what they saw, and tell all manner of fun stories about their journeys. She loved to take out family photo albums - she had a LOT of photo albums - and describe each person and place in each photo. She was incredibly proud of her family and loved every person tremendously. She was generous and kind and incredible.

Bill passed away 17 months ago, and Elgin passed away two days ago. Part of this incredible journey was watching the sheer love and devotion that my husband lavished upon them during their time here. He was remarkable. Bob gave Bill and Elgin his complete attention. He visited them almost daily. He went to battle with hospitals and Emergency Rooms and doctors offices and insurance companies. He transferred them from assisted living to nursing homes to rehab to memory care facilities to nursing homes back to hospitals to our house and back to the memory care facility. They died in the same room, in almost the same spot, although many months apart. The last word that Elgin said was "Bill."

Was it hard? Yes. But neither Bob nor I would exchange these last years, months, days and hours with them for anything in the world. They gave us so much love, so much laughter, so much of themselves. They were extraordinarily gentile people who were well loved. There's a tremendous hole in our lives now that cannot be filled. Cherish your families - patch up any misunderstandings quickly - see relatives often - always, always, always, always, always say I Love You.

Holding hands

Sunday, October 26, 2008

36 degrees for my morning walk. Mists rising off the lake are being blown southward over the surface by a slight northern breeze, lifting over the opposite shoreline like a cloud. The bay is still and calm. I love these mornings watching the earth wake up, and still smile at that magical moment when the birds all begin to sing in unison. Embrace this day and make it a good one.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


"Don't part with your illusions.
When they are gone you may still exist,
but you have ceased to live."
Mark Twain

Friday, October 24, 2008

October 22, 2008

Voyager II leaves the harbor

My mom and I ran away Wednesday. We left our homes and pets, grabbed our cameras and sketchpads and money for lunch, and drove to the State Park.

The Loopers are here.

This week America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association are having an autumnal rendezvous at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville, Alabama. From my deck we watch these gorgeous boats float by all the time but they also have flotilla seasons where they rendezvous at various points. Autumn and Spring are favorite times, but I've seen them all year long. Yachts, cruisers, trawlers, catamarans, houseboats, and all manner of recreational boats undertake this extraordinary excursion and post their remarkable tales via blogs and websites.

View of the marina from Joe Wheeler State Park restaurant (We had Reubens! Yum!)

What IS the Great Loop? From their website, "The Great Loop is the continuous waterway that encompasses the eastern portion of North America – including the Atlantic and Gulf Intracoastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, the Canadian Heritage Canals, and the inland rivers of America’s heartland. It is also known as the Great Circle Route and is considered one of the safest long distance cruising routes in the world. To travel all, a portion, or any of the magnificent side trips of the Great Loop is an adventure of a lifetime."

Here's the map taken from the Great Loop website, enlarged with a red star added so that you can see where we are. We know many boaters who take fall color cruises up the Tennessee River to Knoxville and back. They say it's mouthwateringly gorgeous. I've been reading the blogs and websites of some of the boats we observed on Wednesday and have been enchanted by their photos and descriptions.

The catamaran Sandpiper enters the marina

I could do this. I could sell all my earthly possessions and live aboard a trawler - my boat of choice - forever. Follow the white pelicans and snow geese and sandhill cranes, photograph sunrises and sunsets from lighthouses, smell the salt water and feel the spray on my face. This would be an idyllic lifestyle. Captain Bob at the helm, our First Mate Baylee barking at ducks, just cell phones that we could turn on when we wanted to check in on family. Of course, we would have to have laptops for the WiFi marina stops so as to update blogs.

Lots of teak, and even a teak duck, decorates this beautiful trawler

These days the Loopers are fewer, undoubtedly because of fuel prices. Some of the folks I met live on their boats, and some just do a part of the Great Loop as their yearly vacation. Each have their stories and reasons and I find myself drawn to this lifestyle. A local magazine cites that vehicles on the waterways is up, but I find it to be commercial traffic such as barges that are the most common sighting. And sailboats, kayaks and canoes. Fewer powerboats and jetskis, and the cruisers save their fuel for events such as the Great Loop Rendezvous, or rendezvous's of their own.

For some REAL tales of the Great Loop check out the Bella Luna's blogspot:

Scroll down to Saturday, October 11, 2008 for some wonderfully warm writing about my neck of the woods and how much they enjoyed it. Thanks, Diane & Lewis Wade...who I've not met but photographed their boat 'cause it's so pretty! I hope you all enjoyed this little journey with me today. Go here for a list of Looper's websites and blogs:

Monday, October 20, 2008

October 15, 2008

This past week was exceptional in regards to sunrises and sunsets. Wednesday morning was the first where I was able to rise before dawn, ready for the show. This peach sunrise was soft and sweet and chilly, which set the stage for a lovely walk with Baylee after coffee. The Giraffe Head Tree seemed to be enjoying the view as much as me. This inspired me to once again rise before dawn for walking, despite the odd ambling armadillos and sneaky feral cats that make Baylee try to remove my right arm from its socket as she bolts for a chase.

So, Friday morning I woke unbidden at 5am and knew it was the day for a pre-dawn walk. Saddling up Baylee, clean-up bags in hand, I donned a jacket and stole out the front door heading for the marina. My idea was to stay on the main road, which is level and well lighted, and keep my hand on the leash loose in case Baylee darts after some hapless creature.

The eastern sky was just beginning to change to rose when we crossed into the next phase of the neighborhood. Suddenly, up ahead about 50 yards I see something standing in the roadway watching our approach. I stop, Baylee stops, the world stops. The night is perfectly quiet as we all wonder what to do. The creature makes the first move. Oh great, I think, it's a cat as the small, furry creature begins scurrying toward the common area. No, not a cat but perhaps a small dog. No, not a dog...a coyote? No, too small. It's a fox. A red fox. Small, so it must be a female or a young fox. As she continues her rapid pace down the roadway Baylee and I continue to simply watch her. She ducks out of sight behind some garages and though we cannot see her we can discern her progress by the sound of barking dogs.

When we first moved to the lake a pair of red foxes were frequent visitors. One foggy morning I was standing on our deck and watched as the male padded down to our lower deck. Red foxes are so beautiful, and these were a well-behaved couple. As the neighborhood grew the foxes retreated more into the forest so I was amazed to see one visiting last week. Obviously, they haven't gone away at all but simply choose their visits at an earlier hour. My friend Carroll was alarmed by the sighting. "What if that fox had rabies?!!!??" I was touched by her concern for my safety. But still...

Yes, foxes can carry rabies but so can the ubiquitous raccoons. The bumbling armadillos carry leprosy, and the squirrels have fleas. So what. We chose to live among nature here, and every sighting is cause for celebration. The neighborhood here has its problems, but every negative is countered by the vast amount of wildlife we are privileged to observe, every breathtaking sunrise and sunset upon the lake, the very wildness of this place that makes us feel awe.

That takes me to my rant - I'm amused by developers who name their monstrous, sterile housing projects after nature. "Fox's Run," "Walden's Wood," "Hawk's Bluff," "The Preserve at Eagle Canyon," etc., when the very creatures after whom they name these developments have long since been run off by the bulldozers and noise, discouraged by the felled trees, and killed by the herbicides and pesticides that turn the ground into lush green lawns devoid of interest, beneficial insects and butterflies. ( offense intended to anyone with a neatly manicured lawn...I think you know the kind I'm talking about.)

Nature is messy and random - it doesn't have curbs and gutters or a clubhouse. I know that I am atypical when it comes to this subject but somehow seeing that fox and feeling the riot of joy and glee that erupted deep within me made me feel very blessed and whole. Give me foxes any day of the week - you can keep the clubhouse.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


This is my favorite Sweetgum shot and shows more the variety of colors that can be observed. Draping elegantly over the Elk River, this particular tree fringes a mossy limestone bank pitted with small caves. We love to take sunset cruises along these banks and watch the wildlife come to the water. Raccoons especially come to wash their hands and get a drink before dinner. Sometimes, during summer months, we'll be cruising late enough to see the mayflies erupt from the lake's surface. While that process is ethereally beautiful in its own right, there's nothing fun about running through mayflies. Happy Autumn!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pale Yellow

Sweet Gum Tree
Sybil Johnson

This tree's sap smells like heaven to me
Of course there are other names for this wonderful tree
But it grows so inconspicuously
And admid all of the other trees
This memory if first for me
The smell of the sap from the sweet gum tree.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Not Sting's Boat House

Old boat house on Elk River

Just wanted to give you a little break from the sweetgums. Same afternoon hour in time but of a hickory tree blazing above an old boat house. There are boat houses all along our river, its many tributaries and the lake. Some are nice and new while the rest hold a charm all their own. This one clearly has seen better days, but its rustic character compliments the riverbank and leaves, like a nubby weave in a tapestry.

Why "Not Sting's Boat House?" Hm. It's no secret that I'm a huge Sting fan. Well, Sting's palatial estate in Wiltshire, England has a little lake upon which sits a boat house fitted with a little wood burning stove, some throw rugs to keep his feet warm, and a simple wooden table and chair nestled beside a window overlooking the lake. It is in this retreat that Sting wrote some of my favorite songs, such as "I Was Brought to my Senses." Naturally, Sting's boat house is larger and more comfy and not quite as rustic at the one above as he can well afford to keep his boat house in good repair. The one pictured above is NOT Sting's boat house, obviously.

However, observing the local, old boat houses that day I thought of Sting and just how nice it must be to have a retreat like that. Perched atop the water, listening to waves lapping the pilings, various water birds making their calls, geese calling overhead, winds gently rustling your paper, I could get used to having a little boat house of my own within which to create, or simply to meditate and journal. When I saw this little boat house I thought of Sting sitting in his and was then hoping he would soon be brought to HIS senses and start writing some new tunes.



Monday, October 13, 2008

Sweetgums Red

Autumn Fires
Robert Louis Stevenson
In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!
Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

October 31, 2006

Merlot Sweetgum Leaves

Time for a change of scenery. October 2006, autumn. Specifically, a crisp autumnal Halloween afternoon. My father-in-law wasn't doing well and had been staying with me, us, for quite some time. When I had a moment I would look outside and watch the leaves turn, wishing I were outside among the parade of leaves instead of inside with heartache and sadness.
Flash back - A years-ago conversation with my mother-in-law was running around and around in my head. She and my father-in-law were visiting and I'd decided to take her shopping. Waiting for traffic to allow access onto the 4-lane highway into town I was focused on driving and the task at hand. My mother-in-law was so quiet and still during the wait even as I gripped the wheel in anxiety. As I fussed inwardly about the heavy traffic she spoke up and said "what a remarkable tree that is across the road. Every color in the palette is there - blue, red, purple, yellow, orange and green - it's amazingly beautiful." I look across the street and there blazed the lowly Sweetgum tree in the fall light. Sweetgums are those trees with the spiny balls that drop in autumn and make walking barefoot hazardous to any Southern gal. Finally able to merge into the traffic we make our way into town, shop and return. I say nothing about the tree.
Back to October, 2006. Miracle of miracles, my kind and sweet mother comes a'knocking on the door with a gift. Her gift - "go out and play with your camera and I'll stay with Bill for a while."
Tears glazing my eyes and a quick hug for my mom I do just that, hungry for the riot of autumn, music loud in my car, feeling freedom and light for just a little while. And what do I do? I go out in search of the lowly Sweetgum in hopes I can find the palette that captivated my mother-in-law years ago.
I find it across the street, in a nearby park, and on a local river tributary. I load my flash card with images and drink in the light, the smells, the sounds of leaves falling and crunching beneath my feet, the sound of the river, and the Fall Light and cobalt skies. I'm only out an hour or so, but it was enough to refresh me and give my soul a boost of energy.
My mother, my touchstone, gave me such a gift that day. The gift of time and travel, of breathing and feeling, of smelling and touching and tasting life. One cannot put a price on that. My father-in-law died 6 months after my day in the autumn light. My mother-in-law is still with us but no longer paints and doesn't recognize the sweetgums. Every autumn I think of them both, of that day and light and the sounds of autumn. Those experiences changed me on a molecular level. Many of you know that feeling of permanent change.
I want you to see the photos I took that one day, that one hour, where I changed so much. This is the first, these merlot-purple leaves of the lowly sweetgum tree.

Friday, October 10, 2008

February 4, 2004

It's been a long time since we've had a really pretty sunrise. Since the drought, really. Clouds are necessary for interesting colors and statement-making appearances or disappearances of our revolving sun, and with drought there are simply fewer clouds. It's been hot and hazy and dry day after day for several years. Thankfully, this year we are beginning to catch up on rainfall, but I've yet to be dazzled into an early awakening by a blaze of orange or riot of red.
Or even the softness of pink and blue, as above.
I wish for each of you a lovely weekend filled with happiness and laughter and joy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

November 10, 2004

The heart of the beast.

I've posted an earlier long shot of this same sunrise. I don't recall when - you'll have to look it up. This particular November morning was clear, windy and frigid. Winds whipped my clothing, reddened my nose and fingers, and made my eyes water. Thank God for automatic focus as I couldn't see when taking the last few (tens of) photos. This is the heart of the sunrise. Looking back at the morning, with the cobalt blue and royal purples high in the sky, and tornadoes of winds and peach and fiery clouds lifting into the heavens, the heart....this deep red beating heart...of the sunrise was a warming force in the gale winds and one I deem favorite in the hundreds of shots of various and sundry sunrises and sunsets.

One day, when I get my head back on straight, I'll go back out and take photos and write pretty prose but tonight is a difficult one. Recently, I purchased John Mayer's "Where the Light Is" CD and have become fixated on his version of Free Falling, penned by another favorite singer and songwriter, Tom Petty. I LOVE John's version. John Mayer brings his own soul into this song and I cannot stop listening to it, and it makes me cry each and every time. Maybe I just need to do that.

How do you rally during the hard times? How do you put the daily crap, or Crap of the Year/Decade, into perspective and go forth and create? For me, today, my heart looks like this red, swirling dervish of nature.

We each have our devils who enter uninvited and unwelcome yet remain for dessert and one feels obligated to serve their best.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Golden Tree Hour

The change of light that comes with autumn and early winter turns our naked trees into spires of gold. Beginning around 4pm we all gather at our windows, on our decks or on the lake to watch the spectacle. As the sun sinks lower on the horizon the trees start to glow like luminaries and remain this rich hue until the sun sets below the treeline. We have come to celebrate the hour by popping a cork. "Come on over for the Golden Tree Hour!" "Is it the Golden Tree Hour yet?" You get the idea. Yet one more thing to love about this place. Toasting the tree's beauty and the stillness of late autumn is, as Diane at Alberta Photography calls it, "Life's Sweet Ordinary."


Saturday, October 4, 2008


This morning dawned chilly and still, with temperatures in the low 40's. A ghostly mist is rising from the warm lake, shrouding everything in mystery. The barge's thrumming engines reached our ears long before its silhouette emerged from the fog. Autumn is a magical time. Pumpkin orange mornings match the orange mums appearing in cheery pots on front porches, matching the orange tips on the leaves, matching the orange Jack O'Lanterns appearing all around from local pumpkin patches. I love October.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Baylee looking for squirrels

Baylee's paw has thankfully healed completely and the Thera-Paw bootie is retired. As good as she has been about wearing the thing, I cannot tell you just how old the routine was getting to be.

Can we go for a walk NOW?
We're back to our early morning long walks to the marina and back. However, I avoid gravel roads now and make sure she's on grass or the sidewalk and watch ahead for icky stuff in the road.

Baylee and my mom
She's so happy these days! Well, she's always happy. Fall is in the air and our morning walks have been blissfully cool and breezy. After she accomplishes her "big business" she'll leap in the air and run around in little circles, her tail high in the air - she is so funny! The road to the marina is lined with the lake front houses on the right and a large forest across the street to the left. One pre-dawn morning walk earlier this week Baylee and I heard a symphony of Great Horned Owls in the forest. The bass section would do their hoot...hoot-hoot-hoots..., which was answered by the soprano section of higher hoot...hoot-hoot-hoots. It sounded like several, or many, Great Horned Owls talking back and forth. GHO romancing, I'm thinking. Baylee stopped, sat down and looked into the forest for several minutes quietly listening, as did I. I'd never heard an owl symphony before, and was amazed by the simple beauty of the soft sounds. As dawn grew brighter the birds got quieter. When their song ended we resumed our walk. I love living here, and I love my dog.


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