The Queen of Westminster Canterbury

Sat with legs crossed, clasping her white

gloved hands. My namesake—ninety-four

years of Virginian grace. She was gentle

affections of mild mannered poise, she

was the slight tap underneath my elbow

when stationed on the table top, and

the small nod of head when both hands

were in my lap. An Old Fashioned she

would take, with ice, giving her red rings

around her eyes—blue as the old Virginian

sky. Full of spirit, as the month of May, she

was a meadow flower in bloom, unfolding

in halcyon days. On gravel roads dust would

rise from our brakes as she would tap the

glass pane to motion a stop. Burgeoning

wild asparagus would to pluck—“It’s

delicious,” she would say. By our request

she would give the gritty ballad “Wreck of the

Old 97,” the bloody chart topper singing of

the mail train crash in 1903. She was a

window flower, radiant and patient,

exclaiming often “How beautiful!” Sun

streaming through her gratitude, she painted

colors to the earth. Her trees were favorite

painted bare, for with a dearth of leaves it’s

the only time all the branches are there.

Palettes of oak and maple, hills, cabins,

mountains were strewn about her home.

She lies beneath that old Virginian sky.

Morning bounty

Above the molten
meadow larks fly low,
without sound,
sitting in the
on tree branches,
on dead limbs,
on barn roofs,
on power lines,
dusted in
I try not to make
a sound,
and silence my engine.
From this bridge, I leave
a trail of visible breath.
Mountain slopes cradle me:
a tender to
the winter garden,
and silken silence.
On my winter, morning walk,
upon hushed, settled fields
I had withdrawn
for this song.
I will let it overwhelm me.
As a stark meadow,
filled with stark beauty
To mutable souls.
I spin in circles, smear
the palette. Once transfixed
in a blue stillness.
I am more interested
in the earth. Graceful,
in the morning
light, are murmurings
of hollow valleys.
Through the frozen fields,
on a blue day,
two strangers drove by
asking if i needed
help. I was taking it all in,
I said. I pause to invest.
I extract meaning.
This moment will
be food for future years;
paint me in golden light.

Chasing chickens

Driving with one hand seems to say “I am in no hurry,” and if one has no passenger to utter this to, it is in a subconscious manner, to remind yourself of a lack of urgency. Jon crossed lanes of traffic, and into the Quickstop parking lot smoothly, and stationed the Subaru by a pump. Through the open windshield he handed me six dollars, and said “go get us something utterly unhealthy.” I grinned and then looked perplexed, “What should I get?” I said, as if I had a gleaming stack of cash- enough to be sickeningly careless with. My mind was swamped with hypocritical notions. He was frequently adamant about resisting our lazy urges to eat out, or buy food- insisted it was a waste of resources we didn’t have. I came back with M&M’s, pretzel and peanut butter, and two gatorades. These are the M&M’s he rewards himself with on occasion, I knew this now.

I had my feet on the dashboard, because having them on the floor is to me uncomfortable and formal- if I know someone well, my feet are on their dashboard; as if by gaining my friendship they also earn a dirty car and optimal view of feet. I don’t know why I seem to do this- perhaps it is the additional rhythm and beat my stomping gives to any song played. We listened to The Weeks, and I was actually quiet, because I had never heard this band before. Our connection to Spotify cut off as we entered Poplar, and we followed the curving roads down the mountain to Michelle’s farm: Poplar Creek Farm. As we reached the driveway we were greeted by trenches, about four feet deep. I had two comical thoughts: either there is a large rodent species inhabiting the farm as of recent, or a war had broken out, and trenching deemed a useful tactic.

Mark came out of the house, at the sound of our care engine, I suppose, with Mikey on his hip (who looked sleepy). He told us of job applications, chicken-pox outbreaks, car troubles, and finally explained the trenches being added- they were adding well water to the “big house.” He asked us how we were, and I described the tramatic experience I had just had about an hour prior. Jon and I decided to take duckies down the lower part of the Nolichucky. I thought the lower was completely tame, until I was swallowed by “radio waves” (a class three rapid), chewed, flipped and ejected from my boat, and sent tumbling down stream. I showed Mark the already-forming bruises and series of small scrapes. Jon rolled his eyes and said “she handled it terribly.” “I was terrified!” I said emphatically. He insisted that flailing my body, crying and screaming “I don’t like this!” didn’t quite suffice as safe response procedures. I shrugged, wishing to move on.

Mark went inside and emerged with two homemade strawberry-hops beers in recycled, glass bottles. I was drinking the batch I had helped make a few weeks back, and that slight notion of partial ownership made the beer taste even more spectacular. Mark took us around the garden with pails for us both to pick the wild black berries. Michelle joined us then, too, in her “homemade bee keeping” suit. It was “way cheaper,” she insisted. Jon and I fed each other berries, while picking, and soon my fingertips were stained, sweetly. About leaving the patch stark, we set off down the driveway and towards the woods. As we walked down the gravel road, we saw Grandpa Chuck in the distance, with his walking stick in hand, surrounded by his four hound dogs. He wore suspenders, a flannel shirt with a notebook in the pocket, long khaki pants, tennis shoes, and a grey cabbie hat- an attire that looked entirely too warm for early August in Tennessee. He told us the story behind his walking stick: where it was found, how long he had had it, and what hikes he had taken it on. We walked on down the road until we met the trail leading up the hillside, where he parted ways with us, back to his neighboring cottage.

On the trail grasshoppers took irregular flights, seeming to fly almost in a sideways, tilted manner. They looked like they had been thrown at us, because of the strange angles they moved in. Grasshoppers’ faces remind me of the facades of sixteen wheeled trucks one sees barreling down the highway, I thought. Chloe, the plump beagle, followed us through the trail, stopping in shallow, muddy water to eat insects. We each toted cut out milk cartons, with a fourth cut away to drop berries into. It reminded me of an Easter egg hunt, as Jon and I periodically compared our hoards of berries. Occasionally we had to duck, or step over, briars, brambles, or nettles. About an hour up the trail we came to a private, family graveyard with four grave stones all with the same last name. The family, we were told, has an estate with land, nearby Poplar Creek Farm. Mark pointed out the lack of weeds or debris around the grave-sites, as if ghosts were keeping their graves clean.

As we returned to the farm, Mark suddenly took off in a sprint and shouted “those freaking chicken!”. Eleven out of the sixteen hen were out, and the rooster had escaped as well. Their fencing was still intact, with no proof of holes or escape routes, so Mark inferred they had flown over the fence. We conversed about how to recapture the chicken, and came to the general consensus that charging was necessary. We would go after one at a time, and if that was to fail, we would run our chicken into the direction of the coop. The first tactic failed, and predator-like, I burst into a row of corn. The hen eyed me quickly, then took off into an uneven, side-to-side run. I felt unusually gangly and cumbersome in my human body, watching the chicken run between the stalks I would never fit through. Cumbersome in my hiking boots, I was a human too slow for a hen, and stood at the edge of rising corn. With a heaving chest, I began a deep, muscle-wrenching laugh. I began to laugh at the hilarity of my chasing a egg-laying bird.

my years of musical flowers

I recall that my daily attempt to sit upright and diligently attentive by the piano was an arduous task. Often it was more difficult when the front door was cracked during the warmer months of spring and summer. During those periods, I only wanted to be outside it seemed. I do not remember how I became involved in playing piano. Perhaps it was the frequent, daily pauses in post-school play time, when my best friend and neighbor in Elementary school was reminded by her mother to play the piano. Retrospectively I think that my tendencies to let imagination wander kept me from creating a lasting affection for the piano. However, if there was one facet that could completely capture my imagination it was the natural world.

One of my earliest memories occurred during a state of consciousness when I was not able to establish age. I do remember the detailed imagery of the moment though, for I was being held in my dad’s arms. My visual perception was greatly altered by this perch, and it was a wonderful feeling. I remember distinctly he held a pine cone about a foot from my face. Humans of well established age can attest that there is an amazement in the focused gaze of these young children that our entire lives we attempt to regain. My dad would often carry me in his arms, instead of a baby carriage, and show me the details in the leaves of trees. There were seeds we often played with in the fall, which we called “helicopters,” for when you dropped them from a high enough distance they would spin cyclically downwards.

It is a scientific fact that our earliest exposures affect the way we conduct ourselves, and I strongly believe that these frequent encounters with nature impacted me. In my reflections of my personal happiness, it is astonishing just how many of my most fond memories were alongside nature. Twenty years of harboring natural love, moments of subliminal and cognizant appreciation, has created reserves deep in my heart. Reality was less substantial to me than what worlds I could create outside with my imagination. In the backyard of my neighbor’s house, was a pile of boulders ranging in size. There were paths just small enough to walk through that weaved between some of the rocks.

In these crevices my friend and I would create mystical worlds, where we lived in between these piles. I vividly recall having to “play the harp,” as we would call it, before entering the rock house. This meant sliding a finger through the dangling line of pink heart-shaped flowers. I would carefully observe these plants daily, and they amazed me. Yet, I had no idea what the factual name was for this plant; I now know they are actually called Bleeding Hearts. As a child these facts were arbitrary to me, for I simply was connecting with nature in an unforced, genuine, and raw sense.

Although most of my early relationships with nature were mostly in a creative manner, there were often natural lessons with my dad of factual weight. In our rambles outside we would often walk through the garden and observe the small life forms within it. I remember being captured by the majestic nature of the praying mantis, as it slowly ambled up stalks of plants. It had such camouflage  amongst the reeds of tall garden grass. Dad would often turn over leaves and show me the congregations of aphids that had assembled near the meeting of stem and leaf. He told me that the ladybugs were essential to ridding the garden of aphids; the elimination of which was needed to keep the leaves healthy.

I often too would keep fuzzy caterpillars encapsulated in jars or plastic food containers. I would attempt to cover these synthetic homes with sheaths of hole-poked Saran Wrap. I would keep these creatures for my curiosity, until my parents insisted upon the prisoners’ release. Elementary friends and I would compete to find the most caterpillars in an afternoon. One would assume a garden would be best to find these creatures, yet they crawled on anything imaginable. Although I grew up in a highly populated city (Richmond, Virginia), I was drawn by my own curiosity to the woods behind our house and the creek down the street, where I would attempt to catch crawfish and minnows with friends.

There was a beaten pathway that lead from our house to my Elementary school, and I recall feeling so mature being allowed in the fifth grade to walk up the path alone to school. In springtime the path was lined with honeysuckle bushes, which were hidden under a shroud of bumble bees. I would stand just before the wall of bees, take a few deep breaths, and sprint past the symphony of humming. Heart pounding and shoes wet with morning dew, I would enter the school with a sense of accomplishment and adventure. At recess, my dad, who owned a small business from home, would stand at the mouth of the path waving his long arms at me. It was a real comfort to know how close home, and my beloved woods, were from school and its confinement.

Certain outdoor nooks were my sanctuaries, specifically a shaded area under a tree in one corner of the backyard. Here my sister, friends, and I would make ground-level tree forts, where we would spend hours until dark unfolded above us. I remember it was a real misfortune to be the one given the task of retrieving food and drinks from inside. Often we would accidentally leave books and belongings overnight, only to be found soggy and home to small insects in the morning. It is no surprise that I quickly became the school nurse’s primary annoyance, for I was constantly coming in for band aids to cover my itching, raw bug bitten legs. These were the scars received from boundless exploration; sleep came easy to me in these years of wonder.

From creating fairy houses out of bark and sticks, to taking mud baths with neighborhood kids, there was a multitude of creativity happening around and inside me. Enveloped by nature’s aura of mysticism, I never could imagine then spending time inside to be fed artificial entertainment as many children do today. As a youth I was able to create self-satisfaction, a skill I believe I utilize even today. Were we the last generation of children to create these natural bonds? I cannot shake from my memory seeing a young boy this past summer, perhaps around age 8 to 10, staring intently into his portable game device; he was sitting on a deck overlooking the Grand Teton mountain range. The fact that he didn’t realize what kind of experience he was missing is one of the most grave of travesties.

A thick sadness overcame me in that instance; I was tempted to pluck the digital game from his hands and throw it far over the edge. However, it is not anger that I feel towards these children, but sorrow. I am afraid that our species is losing sight of ethereal beauty, and an unlearned appreciation for the simplistic beauty of our environment. We were not made to take from this world what we wish. We were made to discover our unique heartbeat mirrored in the jagged range of mountains, undulations of valley hills, layers of clouds, and the glittering bodies of sunlit water. If sought after, nature will unravel eternal beauty.

icy dirt will eat

A dusty jewelry box we are resting in, with 

chains of ivy wrapped around smooth stone 

and rusty posts taken from our ears– 

to be left, as treacherous false flatteries. 

Without a wince or wink under such a 

translucent, glassy kind of gaze. 

So now, when the kids are far removed 

from days on aluminum rusted bars 

forests will swallow physical memories.

Twisted, icy vines feast above the dirt.  

winter, the author

To me, the new year was not of much important substance. Time passage is constantly occurring. With each pressing of a key, another instant is lost. Years are holders of innumerable moments, and constructed tools, which enable us to recall things in an organized manner. Time is another form of constriction to our lives. The more energy one exerts in the consciousness of the present, the longer life will feel. To me the days seem simultaneously long and short. Each commitment during the day keeps me focused, and  my mind usually doesn’t stray from what I am involved in. The longer one stays mentally attached to what they during in the literal moment of doing it, and less in the foreseeable future, one can extend the feeling of expenditure (essentially making time feel longer). Each moment feels longer, yet the days fly by. It is seemingly contradictory, yet it is the way I believe to have shifted my perception of experiences in “time” constructions.

So, this new year I avowed myself of something on a mountain overlook. Often I feel pressured to constantly be moving, for I think that to be still is unproductive, unusual. As I looked down upon the shrouded hillsides I found it hard to concentrate my thoughts, as my eyes distracted my brain. There was much to look at, yet all seemed to belong to the same three or four patterns of color scheme. Winter had full authority of our design. The surface she had altered. I mainly began to drift away from thinking, as my eyes made images into unspoken thoughts. Glimpses of perfection arose in their place. Homes were sprinkled on the valley floor; ropes of smoke curling from their chimneys. Exhaust from the panting car prompted me to depart, but I had yet to make a new years declaration of intent.

There is an unchanging facade that the valley holds, and she is stagnant through the seasons. Soil refreshes its nutrients in a cyclical manner, much the same as the leaves more publicly show off their rhythm. I wish to change more rapidly than the seasons. I want to acknowledge that it is natural to be simple, still, and patient. This is what I will strive for- slowing down my life, focusing on the importance of details and others. I will attempt to recognize that to be productive and busy are not synonymous. We confuse scratching things off a list as productive, yet it is the weight that each one of those tasks holds that is significant. To go on a ramble through the country can be as rewarding as working for 10 hours pay, if positivity is gained.

If one channels an eye for detail, new significance can be found. An object is only an object, until it is given intricate, personal meaning by the human mind. Any time you ponder, compare, see you transform an object. As I look upon these objects, I transform too; I forget things I read in books and phone numbers I have memorized. Recently I was washed away. I pulled over and parked on the side of a small country road to watch the sunset. Fragmented strips of fleeting color pulled away the daylight sky. Layers of birds flew before me: meadow larks flying low above the molten snow, swallows sitting on ice, dead limbs, power lines, and barn tops. A hawk sits stoic and still on a fence post. One soars. Buzzards circle high over something dead, and a machine- heavy, full, and cumbersome- flies overhead. The clouds move slowly, and turn around in circles. I seem to be at the center.

In all directions I am surrounded by mountain ridges. As if delegated a position, a peak is posted wherever I look, like numbers on a clock. I am the center of the massive clock- mountain time, it reads. Time is repeated in these valleys. I am standing on a bridge, and a red barn is the only structure of man made inhabitance in sight. Below me, on the highway, cars rush by in both directions. Those on the go- they are in constant motion. I hear questioning voices, and a couple careening out of a large truck ask if I need help. I said, “I am just taking it all in.” The smile I produced when they said, ” we did just the same a few minutes ago,” hung with me all afternoon.