Thin ribbon of light under heavy damask drapes covering a door that slides open to the back patio. I cannot unsee what I have seen.

A new day begins.


AN AROMA LIKE PRISTINE OYSTERS, like fresh mushrooms, like longing, rises from the forest floor when the segmented shovel of Harvey’s track hoe bites into the soil. Fifty feet away, Mrs. Harvey sits, her bland, powdery pale face nearly invisible from the passenger side of Harvey’s white truck, hands out of sight but no doubt resting on the bible in her lap, King James version all the way.

Mrs. Harvey has a name of her own, something like Enid, but to Buck and me she has always been Mrs. Harvey, an ivory-haired presence from another century. Pleasant, slightly mysterious, calls everyone “dear.” I have heard she pastors a backwoods holy ghost fire church.

Mrs. Harvey never gets out of the truck. Sometimes I approach to pass the time of day, and feel her stir, the slow movement of her head toward me peculiarly intense. I feel half-naked when she looks at me. Is it because she wears long dresses with high necks, sleeves to the wrist, and hemlines to the ankle while I run around in track shorts and black t-shirts with an occasional nod to cold temps wearing one of Buck’s old Cabela’s olive-green zip-up sweat shirts? Or do I sense she wants to biopsy my soul with a snake-handler’s boldness that belies her cornflower blue print cotton dress and soft, plump hands?


Listening to Books: Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander

I AM LISTENING to an audio version of Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel, Outlander,  massive first novel of a series. It has been described as “genre-bending,” conflating elements of historical fiction, romance, fantasy and science-fiction. Gabaldon notes on her website that if you can read any three pages and then put it down she will give you a dollar.


“What I used to say to people who saw me sitting outside a store with a pile of books and asked (reasonably enough), “What sort of book is this?”, was, “I tell you what. Pick it up, open it anywhere, and read three pages.  If you can put it down again, I’ll pay you a dollar.” 

I’ve never lost any money on that bet.” (Diana Gabaldon)



I almost won that bet from her. Roughly two years ago, I downloaded the audio version of Outlander to which I am currently listening, tried several times to get through it,  and finally stopped trying. Despite Davina Porter’s fabulous voice, I quickly grew distracted with all the characters, the oddball story line of a 1946 setting devolving to 1743 after a nurse, Claire Randall, slips through an open door in time via a standing stone in the Scottish highlands, and there you are, smack dab in the middle of clans and castles. Not my usual cuppa.

Since then, I’ve learned that if I am to enjoy an audio novel, I have to give it the same serious attention — especially at the beginning — that I would a work I am reading. That is, yes, I may wash and slice strawberries while I listen ,however I cannot check out articles at the New York Times online or answer email. This may seem self-evident, but (sigh) I had to learn it for myself. Conversely, of course, the plain fact is that I cannot slice strawberries while reading without risking yet another trip to the emergency room after risky behavior with kitchen knives.

And so, armed with this newly found understanding, I decided to give Outlander another try. This time, it’s not only understandable, but fun. Frankly, I still can’t imagine reading the print version, but with the remarkable narrating prowess of Davina Porter, the story is a delight.

If you’d like to learn more about how the narration process works, here’s an enjoyable 2009 Ageless TV interview with Davina Porter and her husband, Gus. There are only some nods and no more than a word or two from Gus, but he makes a rather adorable sidekick with his good looks and mobile face.

One more note. Most writers have favorite words that creep into their manuscripts multiple times. Now that I have copy-edited a full novel manuscript (Buck’s), my ears prickle at these repeats, especially when they are somewhat unusual words. In Gabaldon’s Outlander, I have heard “declivity” and “exegesis” several times and, while I am only twelve hours into the thirty-three hour and eight minute listen, I expect to find these mellifluous words again. I don’t consider that a flaw, merely a sort of writer’s tell. I’m sure that some decade when I complete my own novel, I will have found a way to work the word ineluctable in there more than once.




From the Window in Early Morning

Persistent little bird looking for an insect breakfast on the back and face of a whitetail doe in our backyard. I think it’s an Eastern Phoebe. The deer is a frequent visitor. She’s browsing for acorns on this thirty degree Florida panhandle morning.

I hoped the deer and bird would move to the right, away from the fence, so I could get a better shot. By the time the doe was in the clear, the bird was in a nearby oak tree.


I took these photos inside the house, from the laundry room window. The fluttery fan-like object on the side of the deer’s face is the little bird.




Sometimes you can only tell a story backwards. I’ve been twisted up tighter than a morning glory in the sun.

Pitcher Plant Show 5-15-04 002
Man-of-the-earth vine (morning-glory family) at Longleaf near Pensacola, Florida, May 2004.

But like this flower, I have a buzzing bee at my center that agitates until I reengage.