Home. Central time. 5:30am.
Last night I slept like a kid pretending to sleep. This is what it looks like to sleep. Pillow, blanket, eyes shut. Sometimes it worked. I napped for a few minutes. Maybe an hour. Then woke up and looked out at the moon. I did not make tea or go to the porch. This is the problem with being tired and insomniac. You want to sleep. Really, you do. But that brain keeps going clickity, clack down the track. A fun fact about the new novel - it involves two sisters who have inherited the insomniac gene that assails all the women in the family. The men sleep like the dead.
At 5:30 this morning I gave up any thoughts of going back to sleep because of the birds.
It started a long time ago, many, many years ago in fact when Mama and Daddy were at the creek. They spent some years there in retirement if that's what one would call it. They just called it life. They were some of the happiest of their lives. Daddy fished. Mama walked and worked in the flowers. She got some sun and that beautiful pale, skin that doesn't look kin to me got a tan. They both fed 'our birds' as they called them by which they meant the whole swampy creek full of birds. They had multiple feeders with seed For birds who like seed and fruit feeders for birds who loved fruit. They had raccoons that would eat from the porch at night and stare right in the window at them. They had a tribe of wildcats that came up out of the woods and took up residence. We had always had a few dogs and a few cats 'at home' down on the corner of 11th St. but now they had all manner of furry beasts that answered to their call. Even the wild birds came when they called them. They were Tarzan and Jane of Holmes creek.
One day a hawk took up there realizing he'd hit pay dirt. All those birds feeding at feeders were like me passing a fruit stand. I'll have one of those, and a red one and a green one and an orange one and so on. Momma and Daddy became sorely vexed over the situation because they felt attached to the birds that they had watched through this whole circle of life. The mating rituals, the nest building ritual, the baby birds being fed ritual and the fledglings learning to fly ritual.
When I got home recently after days away Mama wanted to tell me she was worried about 'our birds'. Now, this has been an effort of mine to make Mama happy. To hang flower boxes for flowers I don't have time to water so she points out to me - those flowers need watered - but the fact is my efforts to make Mom happy, to paint shutters and plant flowers has resulted in things looking down right lived in around here. Much more like a home than a house where I pull in and go to the computer with blinders on - write, work, write, work.
Now, I've put out multiple feeders. Seed feeders for birds that like seed and fruit feeders for birds that love fruit. Mama tells me she'd seen a hawk out there on more than one occasion the past days gone by and the birds aren't coming to eat at all. She's right. There is seed still down in the feeders. So, when I heard the birds at 5:30 I thought - well, I haven't slept all night why try to sleep now. Just go check on the birds.
Coffee made, to the porch I go.
The rooster is crowing. But it's a different crow. Either it's a new rooster or an old rooster. One finding his crow or losing it. That noise just doesn't sound like the rooster I know. And right I am. Because 'my' rooster answers this crow. Seems that there are now two roosters down the hill now. Maybe they live next door to each other. Down the hill is a good distance for a rooster to be at 5:30 in the morning. It's that kind of poetic ambience you can listen to outside but not one that is crowing at 5:30 in your ear right outside your window.
The birds are singing but only a little. Like they are whisper singing. A mother redbird comes to the feeder but she doesn't relax. She keeps looking up and over her shoulder. The next bird, some kind of finch I'm too tired to get up and get the bird book to identify is so nervous he isn't even getting any seed. He just sits there. Crazy eyed, staring up into the trees.
Bout a hundred years ago, a lifetime away now someone shot that hawk at the creek. Might have been boys on a dare. Or someone that just didn't care. My daddy found him. Brought him to my mother and laid it at her feet on the porch. She looked at the feathers, the span of the beautiful wing and said, 'Oh, how majestic,' through her tears. She still tells me about this. The beauty of that bird. "'They have a right to eat, too," she says, "I just don't want them eating my birds."
I google bird eating hawks. What to do. Move feeders under shelter, it tells me. Good ole google. At 6am it knows just what to do. I go down the steps that need replaced, make a mental note - these steps sure need replaced before they just fall off the house - and gather up the feeders. The seed feeders and fruit feeders and special little suet feeder and bring them back up the rickety steps to the porch and hang them up where I know they will make one heck of a mighty mess. There will be seed everywhere. And other stuff to clean. But, Mama's birds give her some peace.
Eventually, google says, the hawk will grow bored with birds having shelter and move off down the creek somewhere. Go to better hunting grounds. Someone else's backyard feeder.
When Mama gets up she takes her coffee to the porch, says look, "This one hangs upside down. That's just the way he likes it. He's that kind of bird."
These are the brief moments in my life where I know I did good. Where I got it right. And the world hangs for a moment in incredible balance where all is well and all shall be well and all is well with my soul.
Happy Sunday. I pray your soul find peace and comfort today, a perfect balance, in the middle of your busy life. And that you realize more times than not - you did good. You got it right.
ALSO - You can now check out my new Patreon Page here for new ways you can be a part of this wild journey called my writing life. Links for the Undercover Reader Posse, Story Support, the Phonebooth Writer Series and more!
Morning has broken. The rooster down the hill, crowing. More fervently today. More frequently. Morning has broken indeed, he says. Awake! Arise! The great night of the storm has passed. We are still here. On this hill. All is well and all shall be well and all is well.
The storm last night was a doozy. Wind blow, gusts roar, rain deluge. Tornado watches and threats. Worry, toil, trouble. Rescue Kevin was antsy because I brought him inside as the winds picked up, screaming and roaring up the valley and into the ridge, rolling up over us. He bounced, he barked. He picked up an old Christmas tree ornament he found in a corner and ran with it, the hook dangling from his mouth as I chased him saying, Give me that! Give me that right now! Then I put him out again and followed him to the edge of the porch where he bounded down stairs, turned and looked back at with me with a smile, saying - Let's play! It is wild tonight and we are free beasts to roam and roar back at the wind.
I said, the rains are starting dog. I'm going to bed. An hour later when the deluge hit, I got up again, opened the door and called. Toweled him off and declared lay down. He still pranced nervous until I got a blanket and went downstairs tried to sleep on the couch, be in the lower level close to the closet beneath the stairs. To the bed, to the couch I went. Then finally, to my bed in the dark, my head nestled in covers thinking maybe they alone could protect me.
This morning. I open my window. The clean, clear air. The rooster. The all clear sound. My thankfulness. The house has stood yet another storm. The storms I've faced down in life in the natural and in the human would fill a multitude of books. Some, I've simply just survived. I'm sure you, too. We are simple and same like this. We face our storms. Or we hide our heads beneath our blankets and pray for them to pass. But always, the clear morning air, the all is well sound relieves our soul.
This week - The taxman I had to meet. Downtown in Nashville. Clearing up some old business that wasn't mine to do but looks like now it is. I check in and take a seat. The office full to overflowing. Men, tired at midday. Tried from work and strife and troubles stared at their boots. Women waited, coupled whispered consolations and assurances. A man came in to make an appointment. But you can only make appointments by stepping out the door and calling a different number. He took some brochures, said ok. Then he turned to go. He was built like Santa with a beard and suspenders. He glanced around the room before he left and said, "Good Luck, Everybody," with a booming voice. A heartfelt hope. There was no sarcasm there. No frustration. A ripple of laugher rolled across the room. Then an echo of thank you, thank you, thank you. From everyones lips including mine. There was something special about it, about him. About that sincere moment where he cared what happened to the people waiting. He saw us all. He took us in. And, stepping outside whatever trouble he might be in, he offered a peaceful benediction. The room felt lighter when he left. Less concerned.
I have the oil lamp lit on my desk. I had readied everything in the storm. Prepared for our lights out moments. I trimmed the wick. It's amazing how the lamp burns more evenly when you do this. How much more light it casts when you wash the globe. Our souls must be like this. Our lives. Needing pruning, care, a little time and consideration.
This week - The Undercover Reader Posse began. (A nod to my Daddy's birthday, also this week and a great personal anniversary for me. To my Daddy's love of westerns. To me and sister loving to watch them with him.) Early readers will be riding shotgun with me as I finish this new novel and bring it home. This alliance is something brand new and fills me with the excitement and expectation that new births are filled with. Not just the novel but this early connection with readers and story lovers. You can read more about it here. (Or find in navigation bar if page changes)
Yesterday. I read in Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal published after her death. The prayers are filled with angst and love and longing. Sometimes, too intimate to touch. Like this -
"I am one of the weak. I am so weak that God has give me everything, all the tools, instructions for their use, even a good brain to use them with, a creative brain to make them immediate for others. God is feeding me and what I'm praying for is an appetite."
I've been that way before I can relate. Praying for abundance when my mouth is full of blessings.
This week - We continued the amazing Mastermind Writer Series with Session Two. 100 percent of the class decided to enroll again. To stay with it. To keep working on their writing with me in this small conference class group with one-on-one conference calls. This week I'm kicking off a new Fiction Writing Workshop series. For any who are interested you can find out more here. And look for updated posts on the coming fiction series Monday.
That rooster. Boy, is he proud this morning. Relieved and happy. I suspect he might crow all day.
I had planned to work this am so early on the novel. But the novel is a page turner, a mystery. Better to write in the midst of the stormy night beneath the covers. So, I'll turn my eyes to peaceful words and worlds. Kevin went back out at four after the big storm passed. But still the rains were there. This morning he heard me making coffee at 6:30 looked up at the window from outside. His resting now on the couch, milk bones in his belly. The night has passed, the day at hand, the all clear sound. He knows finally his watch is through and he can sleep.
I pray your week holds victory, peace and sustenance in all the ways you need it most.
The sun is still lazing it's way through these Tennessee hills. Hasn't broken ground yet. The birds don't care. They are singing as if Spring has sprung. An old rooster crows from down in the little valley and it bounces right up to us. I thought I heard a donkey but that could be wishful thinking. They are good for something and good company. Donkeys stuffed and otherwise have been my friends.
Rescue Kevin says he doesn't need to come inside to shake off the midnight cold today. He is fine thank you in the drive waiting for the sunrise and I should join him. He takes a bone and digs a hole, hides, hides, hides, it with his nose shoveling dirt and leaves and rocks to nestle it. No other dogs can walk around the yard because he growls when they draw close to bones buried for a year. It's like an easter egg hunt but not.
Last night I dreamed of things that could have been. After all this time. But I was tired the night before, had cried a little at carrying on but carrying on we must. Realizing we get tired of our burdens but then we are only human and that a little rest, a little tea and all will be well. Or better. Or different. Or all of these things. I woke and looked out at the dark and went back to covers. Now the sun is promising to rise on a new day.
A sign went up down the road on a large piece of land. It will be sold at auction soon. The sign said in just one tract. It is the most beautiful little meadow that meanders along Little Marrowbone creek, a ridge rises up behind it and in the middle against the hill, a tiny, white house sits silent like a chapel. Although I can't see it from the hill this is my view, the air that rises up above it. Down in the valley is that meadow and that house. For years hay was baled and rolled and before that cattle roamed freely. Beautiful, majestic.
Once Big Dog Titan loped off and went missing. For a day and then a night and I was beside myself with worry bordering heartbreak panic. Then a phone call reached me at work where I'd been writing a million dollar grant for Nashville State and the phone rings. A woman asks -
Are you missing a dog?
I say, Yes, I am, I am.
And she says -
I think I have him. Is he real big, and white?
And I tell her, Yes, he is. And she says -
I'm sorry but he is so big I was afraid to reach under that big mouth to read his tag. We locked him up in the goat pen but this morning we saw he was friendly.
Friendly was an understatement.
She said we live in a little, white house. There's cows out front but just come through the gate and then on down the path they won't hurt you.
I told her I knew her place and passed it everyday and I'd be right there.
My Big Dog! Oh, happy, happy, joy, joy!
I stopped to open the gate and drove in and closed it behind me so the cows didn't get out. Then I drove across that field up to the little, tiny house nestled up against the ridge. A grandmother's house. A great-grandmothers house. From times gone by when people didn't need so much of everything.
The door was opened but the screen shut and there stood Big Dog, in the tiny house now. The woman met me at the door.
Well, I can see he's yours. (This after a Titan hug as only he could do) Then, come sit down. I am 74 and this is my mother she is 93 and it was just the two of us here so we didn't know what to do. That's when I locked him in the pen.
'But he ain't nothin' but a baby,' her Mama said. "And he likes chicken.'
When I figured out this morning he was friendly I brought him in.
'He likes collards, too,' her Mama said, "And Biscuits."
Big Dog took up half the little kitchen, was bigger than the Mama.
She smiled at him and said again, "He ain't nothin' but a baby."
After some time the cows were gone. The field was empty but every year it would be baled for hay. A truck would be parked and I wondered. About the woman, about the mother. Big Dog passed away last year and I think of him every time I drive pass that spot. (You can click to read his eulogy.) I need to stop and take a picture. Because things will change now. Someone will buy that tract and like everything else around here begin to dig up the ground, plow it under, pour concrete. It will be houses upon houses or multiple apartments. People will move into them. The noises down my hill that rise up from the valley will be different. And in due time that will be okay.
They will be good people with children who will play in their yards and whose voices I might hear until dark. Then they will go in at night and turn out their lights, maybe say a prayer or be thankful at least they have a roof, a place to lay their heads. They will grow up and grow old but they will never know they live on holy ground where once upon a time there had been cows and a little white house and an old, woman who'd fed a BIG White Dog biscuits from her table while they waited for his human to come carry him home.
I get up very early on my better days. Preferably about five am. I like to have the quiet of the morning to simply be in the presence of the Divine to the best of my busy brain ability, to at least appreciate the simple moments as the night becomes dawn becoming day. A precious time of the morning. I wake up at that speed and always get creative work accomplished that otherwise is eaten up with the business of to-do lists if I rise as late as eight. Or even seven. To that end I woke just at dawn this morning. I made coffee. Had lit candles in my office and was headed to watch the light outside my window. Then Mama's bedroom door opens and her dog runs out. Ok, fine. Let Duncan out with plans of hustling back to bed. But then Mama comes out dressed like all - Top of the Morning to you!
My mother is not an early riser. This is a well known fact of life. We grew up knowing not to wake her and not to talk to her until she had her coffee because she could be ill in the morning in a mean spirited kind of way. Which is fine with me and sister because we don't want to talk in the morning either. I told Miss Top of the Morning who informed me she had been awake most of the night so she just decided that she was going to get up for awhile and then maybe go back to sleep that I had to go say my prayers. What the translation of this is in everyday language is - Don't talk to me. Don't think about talking to me. Don't make any noise. And don't even THINK ABOUT turning on that television. Then I go up to my office with the candles lit to be all saintly and stuff. Then I sit down to be all thankful for things and realize one of the most thankful things I have to be thankful for is that my Mama is alive and I can sit on the porch with her and have coffee and see the birds. So I get up and go back down stairs and say hey, Mama do you want to sit on the porch and see the birds? And she says Ok. So I make her coffee and go out to the porch.
She says she sure wishes she had a rocking chair on the porch. I tell her we need to get her one of those for the porch. She likes the camp rocking chair that her niece bought her except you can't walk around it. I told her we will take it to the football game if she wants to go. She sits in the chair. The rescue dog Kevin must say good morning which tangles the other dog on the leash. We untangle and sit down dividing dogs among us and look at the birds.
In four.two seconds Mama tells me there is a vine growing that needs to be cut out of a tree. I tell her it would be nice if we could just look at the trees and not start working on my to-do list yet this morning. She says ok. We look at the trees. I tell her how nice and quiet it is. She says yes, I like the quiet. But I kinda get the feeling she is sick of it. It must get a little too quiet while I am at work. I know she misses her corner and her house of fifty years and her neighbors.
Well, the trees are turning and in a few weeks it will look like the Smokies up here. It will be so pretty. She asks me if that is a tree down my hill that just fell over. I tell her yes. She asked me if azaleas grow up here and I tell her I just don't know for sure but I thought I saw some once. She says they sure would be pretty down there if someone could set some out. Of course they would have to put a bunch of big rocks down there to hold the dirt up so it didn't go over the cliff. Yes, I tell her. Maybe someone could do that. She asks me then if Rye grass will grow in the yard if some is thrown out. If there is anything out there for it to hang onto. I tell her there is dirt out there for it to hang onto. That rye grass can find purchase. She said it sure would look better to see some green. That rye grass is really green and she likes green. We happen to be looking out over acres and miles of green as far as the eye can see. She says she likes the light green of rye grass. We sit for a minute looking at all the green that is not rye grass green.
Mama asks me if I got my birthday card from Cousin Deb. I tell her I did not and ask her if she sent it to the house or the po. She says the house. Then she says she does not trust that mailbox. That my birthday card should have come last week. I tell her I just do not know. Then she tells me she has not gotten her bill from Dillards and she should have and I need to call and make sure they have the new address. I tell her it is not seven o'clock and maybe we should just look at the birds and not start on my to-do list. She says ok.
Then the dogs get jealous and cause a problem and need to be petted. And we talk about old dogs and missing Titan and she talks about her little dog that loved her and got ran over and then she is very sad about that. This happened when we were teen-agers. I told her we should just be thankful we have had some really good dogs. She said yes, including my german shepherd that got hit by car when I was a kid and that was just tragic and begins to recount his last hour. I tell her she has now gone from my to-do list to dead dogs. She laughs a little bit and says she will just think of something nice to talk about. We try to go back to the birds.
A hummingbird shows up and that is a happy thing because we thought they were all gone and the feeders had run dry and I thought I had sent them to their doom by running out of sugar when they needed it most. But I found a little and put feeders out full and so at least the stragglers might survive. We identified a blue bird and a dove and heard a crow. It was peaceful for a minute and then Mama said she sure was worried about North Korea. I said, yes everyone is but if he is crazy and sends a missile we will blow up all of North Korea and it will be tragic so let's not talk about it for just a little bit. She said she just wanted to call someone and ask them if they remembered what MacArthur said.
It was quiet for just a minute. Then Mama said, I just want to say one thing about Hitler.
And just like that I decided it was time to go to work.
Wishing you peace this morning in your neck of the woods.
This is a story of how we ate the best donut of our lives.
I'm in North Carolina visiting the Adorables. That's my beautiful grandaughters now age 15 and 10. Readers have followed the adventures of me road tripping every summer with the girls for years. Now I'm in NC with them and we have two weeks to stare at rain and come up with ideas of things to do. But something tiny and amazing seems to always happen. This visit for the first time I brought a member of the Wolf Pack with me. The five year old, Damon. All boy. On full out tilt all the waking hours of his days.
The Adorables spent the first few days getting over the shock of it. Last night they stopped trying to be nice and maintain all their manners. Sure they had rocked him and gave him a bottle and watched him take first steps - but now? He runs, the talks, the asked questions, and he keeps trying to sit next to them because he likes them. They are exhausted.
Keeping the kids or them keeping me I am always surprised at what the magic of being Zaza means. The way that it affects me. As Damon as asked me, "Are we still on our adventure?" Oh, yes I tell him. We are still on our adventure. That's what being a grandparent does. It adds a something extraordinary to the experience. Things I'm certain I tried to do with my children and did in the midst of homework and school rules and report cards. But one of the most amazing things I've learned is the lesson that they have taught me. The magic really does exist in the moment.
Damon and I chased three rainbows on our journey here from Nashville. Each was a celebration and the enthusiasm never waned. We discussed the colors, chased the pot of gold, watched it fade and grow stronger.
Nothing was ordinary. The corn in the fields. The red cars on the road. The clouds in the sky. The flowers on the roadside. The tunnels. Or the traffic jams which were the longest in the world.
A storm hit us so hard after dark that I could barely see how to find the exit off the interstate. I almost felt my way rather than drove to the only hotel available. I had planned just two more exits down to hit a Hampton Inn - interior doorways and all that - but I couldn't see in front of me. It was Days Inn or the car.
Once we made it to get a room - ON THE GROUND FLOOR PLEASE with a dashing five year old and sixteen bags in the storm - Damon declared he just LOVED our new bedroom. The cable didn't work. No matter. Everything was wonderful. There was a hidden fridge (empty) and a microwave. Surely we had hit the jackpot. A free breakfast with the most amazing things like CEREAL and juice. BUT nothing prepared us for what would happen here.
This particular trip is on an extremely tight budget. Not like some where we have seen Rock City so I have to be creative with my magic. But the first day I woke up with them I realized I lay in bed a moment trying to figure out my life when it hit me - Wait! I'm ZAZA. They made me ZAZA fifteen years ago by Ella's baby babble. And God has anointed me with the supernatural powers of all grandparents - to Carpe the Diem and make memories.
"Get up," I announced. "We are going to the bakery!" Don't lecture me about sugar and healthy eating. That's not my job. Not today anyway.
"Thank God," one of them said. As if another day of routine would be the end of civilization.
And new life was breathed into our routine. We decided that the bakery we should try was over in Surf City. The one that cooks your donut to order when you walk in the door. Yes, the hot sign is always on because they don't make it until you arrive. You can get a maple bacon or a death by chocolate or a thousand other original you make it up order.
I turned off the car in front of the store and said, "WAIT!" before we got out. "Do you realize guys that this could be it? This could be the moment we eat the absolute best donuts of our lives? Right here?"
Everyone paused. Could it be true? Could this be the moment in our lives that is just before us and will never return?
I went with the traditional glaze, ordered a cinnamon sugar for the wolf cub and the girls ordered crazy, original orders.
Yes, it was true. They were the best DONUTS OF OUR LIVES!
(I've been a huge fan of Dan-D-Donuts all of my school years in Panama City and it will always have a special place in my heart and part of my 'going home' routine.)
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.