Conga Drum, Octopus Hunting and a Walk to the Gate

One dream was of a large oak Brazilian timba conga drum. Two almond-shaped eyes were painted on it. It spoke to me in soulful bass tones. “Por favor traga-me uma xícara de café quente.”  I swear, the beautiful eyes did a slow blink.

In another dream, three pick-up trucks drove very fast into the clearing outside my study window. Rough men in camouflage spilled out, popped the tailgate and tugged on something large, a gray-lavender huge squirmy octopus. It had cartoon-round eyes and went galumphing off into the woods. I was on my feet in a flash, ran out the door. “Hey! What the hell is going on here?”  I got right up in their porcine faces.

They looked at me as though I was the strange duck. “Huntin’ ma’am. Don’t you know it’s octopus season?”

What do you think? Am I drinking too much coffee or not enough? Reading too much? Writing when I should be sleeping and sleeping when I should be talking to the Dragon or packing for Maine? Listening to weird music, like “Big in Japan” by Tom Waits? Turn that one up real loud when you’re into the head of a depressive with an attitude in his manic phase. (Hey, I’m talking about my bad guy character I love to hate, Rory Mathis. He must be a Scorpio.)

But in the midst of it all, there are still the sane-making woods walks. We changed weather channels a few days ago, and went from this:

to cooler, much dryer air and clear skies. Our monsoon season has ended. Three nights ago if we had tried to eat supper outside on the patio, we would have been ingesting disgusting black “love bugs” along with the meal. Tonight? Different story. Luscious cool breeze, slow melt sunset in peach sherbet colors, and love bugs gone, baby gone.

Here, then, a few photos from summer’s end at Longleaf.

Surely these wildflowers, so common in the woods, have a name. The naming of things is important. I’ve searched Walter Kingsley Taylor’s book, Florida Wildflowers, from Pine Flatwoods to Ruderal Sites, and cannot find its name.

The shocking purple American Beautyberry (also known as French Mulberry) is a sure harbinger of Fall. This bush is probably spindly because it’s standing in wet ground near the spring.

With abundant acorns, berries, a natural spring, and few people crashing about, the wildlife population thrives. Thousands of green acorns were blown down by Tropical Storm Isaac’s gusts. They make crackle crunchy sounds underfoot.

We’ve had so much rain this summer, I grew afraid of standing still for fear something would begin growing on me.

Looks like this fellow has his morning’s work all planned out.

Some mushrooms are pretty, in a homely sort of way.

And the underside of some are so strange I begin to hum “Also Sprach Zarathustra” while kneeling on the damp ground to get an up-close look. It looks ancient. Petrified.

Lay me down forever in a bed of ferns, my love.

I just remembered I got married once on a September 10 long ago in a land far, far away to a person like “The Stranger” in that Billy Joel song, who became a person “that I did not recognize.” The year I divorced him,  I sang Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” for months before I finally  filed the motion for dissolution.


Vivid dreaming took me to a rooftop Japanese restaurant called Happiness last night. A petite, radiant woman of indeterminate age wearing a brocade kimono emerged from white and gold doors to greet us. A carved, painted hair pin held her black tresses in a wavy twist.

“I am so sorry, but there will a short wait before I may seat you.” she said. Her voice was  low-pitched, calm.

I noticed several tables off to the side, overlooking a jewel-like cityscape.

“May we sit there while we wait?”

She smiled. “Of course.”

Buck and I, and the two young children with us, settled ourselves into comfortable chairs. We couldn’t hear a sound from the full restaurant nearby. It felt like we were the only four people in the universe, the sparkling city below and bright sky above an endless buffet set before us. Even now, I feel the soft breeze.

Soon — I suppose soon, although I had no sense of time passing at Happiness — silent servers with secret smiles brought an array of small plates with delicious food. I never knew what I was eating, only that it seemed to me like miniature works of edible art.

Other guests arrived. They, too, sat outside. I never saw any guest go into or emerge from the tall white and gold doors.

Conversations intermingled, and sometimes new people would join our table to talk for a while. The talk was a rounded murmur, easy on the ears.

Two servers glided by like dancers with a shiny #8 washtub filled with a simulated ocean scene and three whole poached salmon arranged en gelée as though they were undulating through water.  I couldn’t help myself, but instead laughed out loud and clapped my hands like a child.

That’s all I remember. I woke up serene, refreshed, and with that sharp-brained feeling that I had been given yet another clue.

Just when I typed the word happiness to begin this post, I remembered a post I had written on my intermittent microblog, False Dawn, about a dream I had in November of 2010 called No Talking on Happiness. Wow. This is my brain. This is my brain on happiness.

Night Visitations, Butterflies on Goldenrod, and French Vegetable Soup

Six years ago tomorrow, my stepson, Darryl, died at age 46 from a massive heart attack. The medical examiner said Darryl had the arteries of a 90 year old man.  There is a small room in my brain that runs a continuous slide show of that awful day, what was, what might have been.

I have never been one to believe accounts of the visitations of angels or messages from loved ones who have passed on. But two nights ago, something unusual happened to me between midnight and dawn. I had the sensation of being all at right angles, of being lightly pinned as if by a spider web. I did not struggle to move, only struggled to pay keen attention. There it was. A voice in my ear. Darryl’s. He said, “Hey Beth, thanks for loving my Dad.”

That was it. The voice was gone. I was released from that twilight state and fully awake. I lay there, alert, wondering what had just happened.

And then last night, something else unusual. Again, in that time several hours before dawn. I think I was in a light sleep when I began to hear singing. It was a chorus, men and women, singing a very pleasant, repetitive melody. It gradually got louder until I could make out the words. “And you’ll go on and on.” That’s it. For a few moments, I felt enveloped in the cloud of sound. It was fantastic. Then the sound gradually moved beyond me, and grew fainter until I could no longer hear it.

This morning, my analytical brain feels teased.

Yesterday was a grand day for walking in the October woods here at Longleaf Preserve. This butterfly obliged me by posing on a spray of goldenrod long enough that I could snap a picture.

And the cool air lends itself to the making of soup. This one, another Mustards Grill cookbook recipe, is French Vegetable Soup with Pistou, a savory concoction of thyme-infused broth, carrots, leeks, onion, cabbage, and lean ham. The pistou topping is made from basil, garlic, parmesan and olive oil. Tastes heavenly. Warning: may stimulate dreams and visions.

What do you do when your house is on fire?

I have read that people instinctively go for:  (1) any other person or pet in the house; (2) treasured photos or albums. And then they run like hell.

But if my dream last night is any indication, I won’t take anything at all. In fact, I won’t even leave. Nope. I will stay there, explore the fire, see what it is going to do, laconically remove a few items while Buck, Maggie and a host of eccentric houseguests wander up and down several flights of stairs. One of the guests, wearing old-fashioned pajamas, has a big mug of cafe au lait every time I see her. She grates on my nerves a bit, to tell you the truth.

The fire starts in the attic and shoots down through the elevator shaft, travels under the house and then pops up in organized, energetic flames  through three of the five eyes on the gas cooktop. Spectacular, really. No firetrucks. When twilight gives way to full dark, it seems the fire has simply gone out. And then, all of a sudden there are small, cartoonish flames hovering everywhere. No one acts concerned, but I get agitated and run up and down the stairs trying to whip up some sense of urgency, exhorting the wandering guests to pick up a chair or a mixing bowl and take it outside. They seem more interested in looking into all the cabinets and bookshelves and sitting down with a cup of tea. Finally, after hours and hours of the house being on fire, I find a cell phone on the floor and call 911. The woman who answers is not friendly, concerned or even kind. “You people take the cake!” she said. “You think you can take all the time in the world when your house is on fire and wait until you’re good and ready to call me? I am not sending any of our long trucks to that address! You can forget that. Just enjoy your little fire and don’t call me again!”

I never get a word in, edgewise or any other way. I hold the phone out from my ear, stare at it, then toss it over the stair rail.  Interesting thing about this fire. It is bright, but it is never hot. Nothing gets burned. Nothing is melted. There is no crying, weeping, wailing or gnashing of teeth. It is more entertaining than the fair in October.

Dreams are great, aren’t they?  I wish I could have this dream again tonight. The unhappiest ending that could occur is waking up with a crick in the neck. In the real world, I can imagine nothing worse in the pantheon of horrors that sometimes befalls people and other creatures than a full-out house fire. Buck had an aunt whose beloved husband was burnt up, along with their candy apple red Cadillac, in the ball of flame that had been their new home in Little Sabine on Pensacola Beach.  I have a friend whose goodwill ambassador of a seeing eye dog was asphixiated in a house fire. Fire is fast, deadly and unpredictable.

Except in a dream. In a dream, fire can frighten, but it can also  illuminate, cleanse, even amuse. There are many theories about why we dream what we dream, from Carl Gustav Jung to junk-internet to the “what did you eat before you went to sleep” school.  (I ate an excellent chunk of sesame-seed encrusted seared rare tuna and a side of steamed veggies at the Crab Trap on Pensacola’s downtown waterfront yesterday for lunch, and a simple baked potato and sliced tomato for supper.)

The Crab Trap’s comfortable dining room was filled with fellow refugees from the cool air, sea fog and rain. We watched a flotilla of seabirds swim synchronized infinity symbols on the gray bay. In addition to my tuna, there were plates of crab cakes with sides of smoky collard greens and decadent cheese grits on the table. There was a pleasing low hum of conversation in the room, not raucous like it sometimes gets when big trays of tropical drinks make the rounds at summertime tables, and our server, Olivia, was efficient, good-natured and bright as a penny.

I don’t think what I ate yesterday produced last night’s fantastical dream, nor do I think junk-internet holds the answer. Carl Jung? Now, we’re talkin’.

Tour Puzzles, Mazes and Labyrinths

Another night of steady dreaming; the best kind of night, a purgative for the brain. I was at some sort of gathering of clever, idea-filled, gently humorous folk.  There was music (of the strolling minstrel variety). The gathering was rather small, but attracted the attention of an itinerant band of rum-sellers. They set themselves up on the spot with bright-colored outfits and cheerful banter. They had some sort of bubbling cauldron attached to something that looked an awful lot like a set of bagpipes, at the end of which was a spigot for delivering various crazy flavors of rum. By crazy, I really mean crazy (and even disgusting) like sausage-flavored rum. In real life, I haven’t drunk any sort of rum for almost ever — I think the last rum I was around was poured into batter to make a Bacardi rum cake, and the odd rum and coke with lime that passed my lips was more than thirty years ago. Why rum sellers? Why now?

There was a bonfire, too, and a felicitous combination of indoor and outdoor settings in this dream. People spontaneously delivered themselves of poems-in-process, spoke about ideas (real ideas, no politics), and danced, together or alone. I myself climbed the wall of a three-story building set to the side that was cut neatly open, neat as a cross-section in a lab. It looked like a large doll house. Once I precariously arrived and flopped over into the room I was seeking on the third floor, there was applause and “here-here’s” all around as though I had performed a particularly clever trick. It was like a game, where extra points were given for subtlety of language, sweetness of longing unfulfilled,  tender sighs, and the exercise of a gentility hitherto forgotten. The evening ended and we all melted with no goodbyes into the dawn.

Two words startled me awake this morning: redundancy and iteration. They connected in my antediluvian brain with musings about computer searches, and the still half-formed thought came to me that we deceive ourselves if we think we find accurate definitions or truth merely because we find so many iterations, so much redundancy; that we should beware the original-idea-killing fog of that maze. The iterations are designed to lead us, yes, but not in some intellectual way toward truth (and certainly not beauty), but more likely, away from it.

I swear to God, I did not pick mushrooms in the woods. I did not eat them. Actually, Buck and I ate a lovely supper of roast chicken (with a paste of slow-roasted garlic rubbed under its skin, placed on a bed of  fresh thyme, the fragrance was amazing) and a hash made from zucchini, yellow squash, and onion. And it rained last night. We sat in bed reading, with a little fire going, until past 11. Very, very nice.

The Fine Print

At an international conclave of anarchists and insurance adjusters, I was working under the radar as a medical researcher.

I needed to be wearing a “dress for success” corporate suit, but discovered I was wandering around in a huge airport shopping mall wearing sweatpants and no top, with only a crumpled towel clutched to my bare breasts.

When I realized I had lost my purse, I ran back the way I came to look for it. I saw the flash of a picture of Buck and me under a folding chair. When I dove for it, a hand tugged from the other side.

“Let go! Those are my pictures!” I said.

A tall, scrawny man in a black suit on the other side of the chair was crouched down, picking up the scattered pictures that had fallen from my purse. I snatched them away and repeated, “Those are mine. That’s ME in those pictures!”

He looked at me with cold yellow eyes. “Well, technically, they’re mine. Read the fine print of that futures contract you signed.”

“What? Oh, good grief. If you want some trinket of mine, I’ll give you trinkets, but I want those pictures back.” He smiled thinly and opened his hand.

“What’s my future, anyway? Why are you so interested?”

He stood up and shot his cuffs. “I don’t know the specifics when I buy a futures contract. Only that if you become famous someday, these lost bits and discards might make me some money.”

He smiled, again, showing an unpleasant row of small, sharp teeth. “Now, what trinket are you going to give me in exchange for those pictures?”

Piece of a Story from a Fragment of a Dream

Story fragment from a dream I had December two years ago. . .

I’ll never forget the day I met the now famous Episcopal rector and surgeon, John Robert Stanforth. I was traveling,  and had stopped into this marvelous old waterfront church to rest for a few minutes in the cool dark interior. Who knows? Perhaps even to pray.

Dr. Stanforth was distraught  that day, a mop of unruly bright yellow hair betrayed  his English roots, and a sharply tailored suit closely followed every move of his trim, kinetic body.

“So it’s begun, has it?” A challenge was in his sarcasm-tinged voice as he walked toward me. “Aren’t you  the early bird.”

In my dream, John Robert Stanforth is a gifted surgeon and a wealthy man, about 58 years old. Some 15 years earlier, he helped fund a waterfront rescue mission to help homeless men, women and families. Because of his guidance and help, training and education programs were developed, including an apprenticeship concept that became a national model. Stanforth left medicine, attended seminary and became an Episcopalian priest.

An unlikely coalition of wealthy old families and formerly homeless working poor prevailed upon him to become rector of a church they would build on the site of the original mission. A new mission, dormitory, family housing, and training facility had been completed in town, close to sources of work, and the owners of the original land were willing to donate the site for a new church.

But now, due to schism in the whole church, it was to be closed and the contents auctioned. The day I wandered in off the streets was the day Dr. Stanforth and the vestry was to meet with the auction company representative.

When I walked through the narthex of the church into the vestibule, I felt as though I had entered another, more ethereal world. The ceiling was a cerulean blue dome, painted with stars so lifelike it seemed like a planetarium. A lovely mural depicting people of all ages and all walks of life holding their arms up as if to embrace the source of light was painted on the back wall. Each of the 14 stained glass windows, seven on each side, was beautifully crafted. Each told a story.

Stanforth must have seen me studying the stained glass windows and the remarkably intricate carved wood writing desk in an alcove, and assumed I was the auction company representative.

There was another church in my dream, or maybe it was a second dream in the same night. It was really strange. It seemed to represent the “new face” of the Episcopal Church (at least one branch of the tree anyway). It was charismatic, voluble — parishioners were talking out loud, discussion, arguing and adding commentary during the service.

A huge grand piano was in the front, center area at ground level; almost like a theater in the round. The choir was located in a brightly lighted alcove space, over on the left side. They were on nearly vertical risers and were dressed in bright white robes with shiny gold accents woven into the neckline and cuffs. They sang abstract sounding non-theist hymns to the universe, to my ears like geometric shards of sound, a chaotic, atonal assault.

Buck and I had come to the service on a last minute impulse to see what was going on with the lot there. We weren’t dressed for church. I had on my usual “at home on a cold day” sweat pants and black t-shirt.

Heavenly Days Spa

Still groggy from my dream of the Heavenly Days Spa. Everyone there wore petal pink choir robes, even the wise-eyed, wrinkled-face proprietress, who spoke to me in a voice that suggested some previous life full of cigarettes and whiskey. That voice sounded like driftwood, aged and impossibly smooth.

I listened as she looked at and through me and agreed that a full day at the Spa sounded like just the medicine for the rejuvenation of this soul.

Suddenly, I remembered I was supposed to be at home to go with Buck to a physical therapy appointment this morning for a partially torn supraspinatus muscle in his right rotator cuff. I checked my phone. Sure enough. He had left a message for me. I pushed the speed dial for home, and woke up.

Good thing, too. He really does have that physical therapy appointment this morning, and it's almost time to hit the shower.


A disembodied array of small yellow lights five across and six down, mounted on a metal framework follow me through a dense fog. Sometimes they are in front of me, sometimes behind. Always too close; always threatening. It was a recurrent nightmare when I a young child. I can't explain how menacing those lights were, only that I woke up drenched in sweat, terrified.

the present moment

Listening Notes:

Carrerras, Domingo and Pavarotti

Abby Newton (Crossing to Scotland)


Books in the Queue:

A Life Worth Living: A Doctor's Reflections on Illness in a High-Tech Era by Robert Martensen (recommended by a writing mentor and friend)

From Where You Dream: the process of writing fiction by Robert Olen Butler

Writing Fiction: a guide to narrative craft by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

The Methodist Hymnal (from our summers in Rice Cove in the Beaverdam Community, Canton, North Carolina)




Walks the great labyrinthine night by the light of a three-quarter moon, accompanied by owls; lays a path of antique carved wood dominoes end to end. Their purloined, forbidden ivory dots flash a holographic image; a map. Words were the way in. Words are the way out.


The August Dream

I just awoke from a longer than usual night of sleep.

I dreamed so hard I woke up with my left ear folded over and painful.

I lay on a sofa on the second floor of the New York Public Library wrapped in fur skins, turning the pages of a large book until all the lights were turned out around me. Ancient women gently pushed me out the door and I was suddenly in the dark, violent streets.

I drove through the unknowable avenues like a tiny ball in a huge pinball machine, swerving through noise and neon.

I lost the car somewhere and wandered through fog-filled halls with other lost children. They clung to my ankles, mistakenly thinking I knew the way home.

Then there was the ocean. I saw marble statues, half drowned in the green surf, unblinking eyes wide, terrifying, irresistible.

The old man spoke, then. He broke from the network of vines criss-crossing his chest to walk with me. He stumbled. Sometimes he crawled. But his message for me rumbled, creaked and roared out of that voice that had become strange through disuse.

I looked at my right arm this morning to see if it bore a mark from his grip.

Upon awaking, I passed an old mirror on my way to the computer keyboard. There! The old man again. In one of my eyes.


I'm compelled by dreams to take a sabatical from blogging for a few weeks, and won't be writing or reading in this space. I will be available via e-mail, however, and would love to hear from you.

See you in September!