In his acknowledgements section at the front of the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of A River Runs Through It and Oother stories, Norman Maclean writes of his difficulties getting published. “To add further to their literary handicaps, these stories turned out to be Western stories – as one publisher said in returning them, ‘These stories have trees in them.'” Some of us, of course, appreciate trees.
I found this great article from Garden & Gun: “Ten Storied Southern Trees.” I was hopeful that I might have visited one or two, and indeed I have; another is on my list for the next week or so, and a few more I’ve added. (Note the tag on this post: “important trees.)
The Angel Oak is coming right up (thanks Pops for putting that one on my list); I’ve been to the Big Tree on Texas’s Gulf Coast and the Tree That Owns Itself in Athens. I’ve also visited Austin’s Treaty Oak, but before Foxy and before this blog, and I have no pictures (sad face). I was a little offended that that one didn’t make this list! They do list another Treaty Oak in Florida, whose story is apparently apocryphal. Think I’ll skip that one; but I added Virginia’s Emancipation Oak to the itinerary. Thanks, G&G! I love trees.
And then, before I could even get this post published (because this is how the world works), I saw this post from a Facebook page I follow called Traces of Texas. I hope you can follow those links okay! I won’t copy the text here, nor the picture, because I don’t wish to offend. But it’s about another tree in Texas I’ll have to find one of these years…
And now time for the big news! I got word recently that I am the recipient of one of two Irene McKinney Fellowships for the 2019-2020 school year. I will begin teaching writing composition classes this fall (with the possible addition of a literature section in the spring) as part of a nine-month teaching appointment at my MFA alma mater, West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Because I was already slated to serve as residency advisor there in July (within the low-residency MFA program I’ve recently graduated from), my van travels will be pausing in July to get moved in and ready for this next adventure. I say pausing, because the fellowship lasts just nine months, and I imagine I’ll be restarting again in May of 2020 when my West Virginia sojourn adjourns. Things could always change.
I am already, in April, mourning the end of the traveling life; but teaching will be a great challenge and adventure that I am looking forward to. And I guess it gives me some peace to know the shape of things. I can now see my next few months forming: I know there are a few places I need to see before July, so my itinerary starts to round out in my head. And I’m already thinking about what I may have to offer my students in August. It’s an exciting world.
For now, nothing much changes in the day-to-day, except that I have textbook selection to do! I’ll still be posting pictures of breweries, trails and vistas, reading books and visiting friends. For now: onward down the road.
We stayed a whole week here, which is unusual, and a sign of how well we liked it.
some mornings, some of us have a hard time getting out of bed…
Hops waiting for the next chapter
I cooked myself breakfast on my new stove (just like the old stove. but cleaner!) and headed out for a final day on the fine trails of the Asheville/Brevard/Hendersonville area. This is a beautiful region, and rich and deep in very fine trails; it is a shame to leave, but also has run its course for me, at least in the short-term. Another beautiful ride, and another beautiful sunny afternoon at a brewery; a final night at my campground, and it was time for the next thing.
Leaving town, we headed first up to Bearwallow Mountain, to hike to the top. I felt I’d been sent up this mountain by a book, which has happened to me before. In 2012, my then-husband Chris and I backpacked up a peak in the Gila National Forest to meet an author who was perched at the top, in his fire tower, watching over the trees.
on that earlier mountain
It was a magical experience, and part of a friendship I treasure now, even though we don’t talk much. Now, I climbed most of Bearwallow in Foxy, and hiked only the last mile or so (although it was steep-ish). I was lucky to meet the author of Bearwallow more than a year ago. I was thinking of his book, of what I learned of his place, as I drove and then walked uphill.
hiking in hoarfrost
I love its crystalline structure
There were lovely views from the top –
but also this –
which I thought about not showing you at all, but this is not an instagram-perfect version of vanlife.
There was a fire tower – this one is for Phil, author of the unequaled Fire Season.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Like large dark
butterflies they sweep over
the glades looking
to eat it,
to make it vanish,
to make of it the miracle:
the blaze of our own bodies
we watch them
wheeling and drifting, we
honor them and we
however wise the doctrine,
however magnificent the cycles,
however ultimately sweet
the huddle of death to fuel
those powerful wings.
It was a magnificent treat to intersect with my dear girl the other day, as planned, at my home brewery. Here’s what Delaney posted.
Today was an excellent day of responsible adult hydration, new wonderful friends, and the celebration of a sister friend. Julia, this poem is from a woman who would always drive states for you.
One woman drives across five states just to see her. The woman being driven to has no idea anyone’s headed her way. The driving woman crosses three bridges & seven lakes just to get to her door. She stops along the highway, wades into the soggy ground, cuts down coral-eyed cattails, carries them to her car as if they might be sherbet orange, long-stemmed, Confederate roses, sheared for Sherman himself. For two days she drives toward the woman in Kentucky, sleeping in rest areas with her seat lowered all the way back, doors locked. When she reaches the state line it’s misting. The tired pedal-to-the-metal woman finally calls ahead. I’m here, she says. Who’s this? The woman being driven to, who has never checked her oil, asks. The driving woman reminds her of the recent writing workshop where they shared love for all things out-of-doors and lyrical. Come, have lunch with me, the driving woman invites. They eat spinach salads with different kinds of dressing. They talk about driving, the third thing they both love and how fast clouds can change from state line to state line. The didn’t-know-she-was-coming woman stares at she who has just arrived. She tries to read the mighty spinach leaves in her bowl, privately marveling at the driving woman’s muscled spontaneity. She can hardly believe this almost stranger has made it across five states just to have lunch with her. She wonders where this mad driving woman will sleep tonight. She is of two driving minds. One convertible. One hardtop. The driving woman shows her pictures of her children. Beautiful, the other does not say. Before long words run out of petrol. The woman who is home, but without pictures of her own, announces she must go. The driving woman frets & flames, May I walk you to your car? They walk. The driver changes two lanes in third gear, fast. The trunk opens. The Mario Andretti look-alike fills the other woman’s arms with sable-sheared cattails. Five feet high & badly in need of sunlight & proudly stolen from across five states. The woman with no children of her own pulls their twenty pounds in close, resting them over her Peter-Panning heart. Her lungs empty out, then fill, then fill again with the surge of birth & surprise. For two years, until their velvet bodies begin (and end) to fall to pieces, every time the driven-to woman passes the bouquet of them, there, in the vase by the front door, she is reminded of what falling in love, without permission, smells like. Each time she reaches for her keys, she recalls what you must be willing to turn into for love: spiny oyster mushroom, damson, salt marsh, cedar, creosote, new bud of pomegranate, Aegean sage blue sea, fig, blueberry, marigold, leaf fall, fogs eye, dusty miller, thief-of-the-night.
–“Cattails” by Nikky Finney
…Nikky Finney, who was the first speaker I saw at West Virginia Wesleyan College when I traveled there to visit and investigate whether I wanted to work toward my MFA there, two and a half years ago. I graduated last week, and it is through this program that I know Delaney. So this is all just so perfect.
D, I adore you. Thanks for the intersection and inspiration. I’ll see you soon in your new home. Lots of love.
Don’t worry, I’ll be back with the details of my own travels tomorrow!
After the teacher asked if anyone
had a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank
in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing
things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,
their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person
who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need
to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.