Moon and Hawk

6:50 a.m., Longleaf Preserve

Thirty seconds are a long time to be lucky enough to watch a hawk in the wild. I slipped out the front door, trying to close is as quietly as possible, and walked through the portion of the house addition still under construction, up to the second floor and around the corner to a third flight of exterior stairs leading to an open deck perched forty feet in the air on the west side of the house.

My knees almost buckled when I saw the full moon hanging over the Longleaf forest at a 120° angle in the approaching daylight. It was so unexpected. And then I saw the hawk. He was perched on an old, unused fence post.

First June at Longleaf

June 13, 2004 004

Buck and I built our cottage here just over three years ago. We have spent the last seven summers in North Carolina’s Rice Cove. This is our first June here at Longleaf. I grew up in Florida summers and know them well. Still, it’s a shock.

The temperature is nearly 90 degrees, and so humid my glasses steam up when I walk outside. It rained several inches yesterday and there have been flash flood warnings today.

We walked for an hour yesterday, wandering through a gauntlet of showy bead tongue colonies, which are much prettier than the name suggests. We marveled at the thick stalks bursting upward from last year’s planted pines, and the “me, too” effervescence of this year’s seedlings.

Beads of sweat running down my spine turned into a rivulet. Clearly, my medium long thick hair has got to go. Tomorrow. The air felt too thick and moist to breathe.

And yet — my eyes, which have been swollen and red due to allergies from the beautiful hayfields in North Carolina, are almost back to normal, no long itching and crusting.

And everywhere, flowers I have never seen before; flowers that only emerge in this wet, tropical season. They are surprising me with their paint box welcome.

It’s home, and I thrill to each new discovery. The southern fox grape, or scuppernong, vines have covered acres of woodland, tiny grapes have formed up, and are swelling with juice. I get so excited, I begin to babble about making scuppernong wine. Buck casts a sidelong glance in my direction, raising an eyebrow as if to check on whether my brain has begun to simmer in the heat.

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Some of the most beautiful wildflowers are Thumbelina-sized, like this Milk-Pea.

June 13, 2004 007

We walked and talked, Maggie’s tongue hanging out, but staying with us. When we reached the spring, she gratefully lowered herself until the cool water touched her belly. I want to plant fig trees and Buck wants a grape arbor, and as we talked, an idea emerged for a sort of fruit salad of trees and bushes near the (to be built) pool. I can only imagine how happy the raccoons and possums will be when they hear that news.



The coffee beans ground, Maggie and I slipped out to the woods early this morning, leaving Buck to work out whether to design in a fireplace on a glass wall or place it between two rooms as a see-through.

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Another gorgeous morning bloomer, some member of the Mallow family, I believe.

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Rounding a bend, I saw bright pops of purple yellow, like lollypops.

Walking yesterday afternoon with several of the grandchildren, five year old Julia asked me to tie her shoe. “My big sister told me how to do it,” she explained, seeming to feel this was a skill she should already have mastered, “but when she told me, she talked so fast, I just couldn’t focus.” Looking up into her earnest little face, I had to top tying the laces and hug that sweet child.

I feel as though I should be able to handle the details of moving, family matters, working with Buck on the house plan and gearing up for virtually living with construction crews for months, and still write with some semblance of coherence.

But, like little Julia, it seems to me my world is spinning a little too fast right now, and I just can’t focus.



And They All Lived Happily Ever After

Taking down a blog you love is like selling a stock you have held for a long time that you bought low, held through some rough times, and enjoyed high dividends from all along the ride. Booking profit. It’s strangely hard to do, even when you know it’s time to move on to a new investment.

I’ll be turning 54 in two weeks, and the gift I am giving myself is a bittersweet potion for growth. To receive the gift, I have to walk through the door of this comfortable garden, closing the gate behind.

This post (really and truly) is my last.

Why on earth?

Three primary reasons:

(1) I’ve gotten uncomfortable with the wide open public nature of blogging. It just isn’t in me to create multiple layers to protect my own identity or those of others and as a result, my writing here tells more than it perhaps should and so much less than it could if I were utilizing that same energy in a less transparent way.

(2) The blog has kindled within me a passion for storytelling, and some opportunities to actually publish them have arisen. This is a path I want to follow, and for me it necessarily means no more blogging.

(3) I want to keep you all in “breathless suspense” for Longleaf Preserve (the book), and the incendiary new reality tv show, Mary Beth’s Kitchen*.

My only regret here is that I have come to view many of you as friends, teachers, and highly valued fellow travelers. I am missing you already. You have my e-mail address, and I will welcome any exchanges of letters. I am only leaving the blog world, not the earth.

Switched At Birth has been great fun. Thank you all for the gift of your time and the enjoyment I have experienced reading your blogs.

Happy Trails,


*Don’t get out your TIVOs. I’m just kidding about the tv show.


06:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack (1)

It May Not Help But It Won’t Hurt

There was a whole chicken breast in the freezer, lying in state in a zippered bag. In a sudden burst of organizational energy, I removed it from the freezer, thinking it would be nice slow cooked with mushrooms, sherry, tarragon and a swirl of sour cream to finish it off, a comforting dish alongside fragrant Basmati rice. Or else browned with chopped onions, garlic and celery, then simmered in a spicy tomato bath, redolent with curry and cayene.

But busy life being what it is, I forgot about the thawing breast until just before the eleventh hour. In a daring rescue attempt, I opened the bag, sniffed carefully and, wonder of wonders, found no fowl odor. Being otherwise uninspired, however, I decided to simmer it simply with some onion, celery and carrot and see if it might through some mysterious alchemy turn into soup. In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess to adding a generous splash of dry vermouth, a cup of chicken stock, then ground almost too much black pepper into the roux and at the end folded in some wide noodles.


I think it tasted even sweeter for having almost not existed.

And like other paliatives for the slings and arrows of life, the outrages we all endure, the sorrows, the accidents, the lost love, the neverfound love, the love that died aborning, the ill child and the addict in our midst, the furtive meanness of the small soul. . . chicken soup might not help long term, but it gives comfort, and does no harm.

09:30 PM in Mary Beth's Kitchen | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Ode To Lazy (Creative) Wireless Joy

Lyle Lovett is singing "You Were Always There" in my left ear as I type. Oh, man, it's great to be untethered, disconnected, listening to music piped straight from Lyle's mouth to my ear, propped up in bed with a stack of pillows behind me, Buck running the day's market numbers from his laptop, and Maggie lying on her fluffy shearling bed down on the floor right at the bed's edge.

After Hurricane Ivan last year, we limped along with no landline phone for more than two months, tv service stuck together with string and sealing wax, and occasional dial-up internet service provided by an expensive cell phone connection.

Service was restored eventually and life as we had known it continued. But, somehow in the melee of rebuilding their sytstem, our cable television high speed internet signal  became anemic. It surged and ebbed, in unsatisfactory proportions.

I got a notice in the mail that Bell South in their wisdom had finally decided to extend internet service out to the back of beyond, where the busses don't even run, to our neck of the woods. Glory be.

We had just spent a frustrating week with Road Runner, their various nice fellas stringing line and new transformers, with much head scratching and mixed results. Bell South offered a rebate, discounts, and other blandishments that at the moment seemed purely irresistible.

Well, as the old saying goes, there ain't no free lunch. In my haste to install the latest greatest Bell South software, I screwed up the wireless connection to my own laptop, turned the old desk top into what might as well be a fishing reef, and worsened our position by at least 33%.

Hard headedness being what it is, I have lived with my errors for months, but the shoe finally pinched enough that tonight I dug around and found our ancient wireless router, hooked back up to the old cable system, didn't think about it, analyze it, or look at a manual. Low and behold, it worked smooth as silk and here I am listening to Lyle Lovett, untethered and unattached except for my undying love for the man by my side and the dog at my other side, writing to you.

Yes, writing to you. Here's the nub of this ramble. With my laptop hard wired, I was limited by time, energy and comfort level. The days are so frenetic right now with our building project that by 10 p.m. I am ready to hit the hay. Early in the morning is walking time, crucial to my physical, emotional and mental well-being. The time in between brings stock market trading and home building on-the-spot decisions.

So you guys have been getting on-the-fly pictures with Reader's Digest condensed versions of events, mostly sans reflective thought. I do the better, acutal writing stuff best about midnight-thirty, wirelessly typing, listening to music while Buck and Maggie recharge their batteries for the next day.

And worst of all, I haven't been reading your writing. That changes — tonight.

Missed you. Nice to be back.

09:27 PM in Day Book | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0

Should We Kill This Tree?

Wildlife biologists and foresters have told us the lovely mimosa tree is a non-native, invasive species and should be eradicated wherever we find it on the property.




I’ll read more about the alleged dangers of this tree and its ubiquitous seed pods. Maybe we’ll kill it next year.

Playing Chopin And Mozart Late At Night

Playing Chopin and Mozart late at night is more potent than two pots of espresso. It leaves me feeling Incredible Hulk-like, with hot hands and large veins running like tributaries down my arms and fingers, stopped suddenly by fingertip dams. Eyes bright, breathing fast, I kept Buck awake for another hour going on about Chopin and his penchant for double sharps, and configurations of notes that contort my hands beyond their ability to respond gracefully. Laughing out loud at Mozart's amazing variations on the melody I grew up knowing as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" — I begin to consciously regulate my breathing and dial back the energy so I'll be able to sleep.

Hundred proof joy.

06:36 AM in Day Book | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0

Floor Tile

Twelve weeks and counting. . . the framers are still here. They are building us a good house, but without a doubt, we will all be happy to wave bye-bye to each other.

Meanwhile, Buck and I are visiting plumbing supply houses, learning about structured wiring, deciding if and where we want cased openings and short walls, poring over trim catalogs, and lugging tile samples around.

We've going to use ceramic tile in the kitchen and bathrooms. It's kind of like going into a Baskin & Robbins ice cream shop. Just when you fall in love with comfortable Peaches and Cream, along comes exotic Jamoca Almond Fudge to steal your affection.

For the kitchen, number on in the top five for this week is Daltile's Calais Springs, in their Villa Valleta series. The tiles have a lot of color variation and are designed to mimic the look of slate. 

  Daltile Villa Valleta Calais Springs
The kitchen cabinets will be stained a sort of mahogany with a tiny bit of cherry. That same stain will be used throughout the house, on all cabinets and wood trim. Most of the counter tops will be a matte black laminate. We've used it several times before. It works well for us, and makes a great backdrop for food photographs! We saved so much money on the front doors that we're going to have one chunk of granite in the kitchen, on the island cook-top and bar.


The granite slab will have to have a chunk cut out of it for the gas cook-top. Buck had been trying to figure out whether to use wood or some other material for the two newel caps at the bottom of the stairs. He took a measuring stick to the cut-out chunk of granite. That's the answer. They will be cut in two, the edges beveled and cemented onto the newel posts. Clever, durable solution.


Tools in the Toolbox

I am seeing woodpeckers high up in the standing snags in one particular neighborhood of the woods. It is a circular cul de sac, formed by a convergence of fire line paths. To my naked eye, they look rather dull colored, except when they fly. Then, I see white patches on their wings.

I have taken a few pictures of them, but without a telephoto lens and more knowledge than I have, the birds remain dull colored and incognito in the morning light.

Buck reminds me that we have a fine pair of small Leica binoculars. He finds them for me, unzips the case, unwinds the cord, and drapes them over my neck. "There, now. Go out and identify your bird."

I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this.

The contrast between my naked eye's ability to see and the reality brought in close by those binoculars was staggering. The birds' color blocks were so sharp, they looked like paint by number birds.

We all have forgotten tools in our toolboxes. Scratch around. Never know what you'll find.