Friday, June 28, 2013


Even when she was well into her eighties, my Grandma Williams remained a beautiful woman. Long, thick hair, once the color of spun gold, had turned a silken ivory. Her blue eyes were still the cornflower hue of an Appalachian summer sky. And in spite of more than half a lifetime working a hardscrabble farm, her fair-complected skin was only lightly wrinkled; even when she took me on her lap to tell me another story of the old days in the eastern-Kentucky mountains—of John Swift and his lost silver mine, or Jenny Wiley's capture by the Indians and her subsequent escape—you could see barely a faint tracery of fine lines.

I loved my Grandma. It's also true I saw her through a child's adoring eyes. But she didn't pass away until I was in my teens, so my memories aren't merely fondly colored. And I expect she's the reason I've never judged beauty by the criteria of youth and perfection. Neither in people nor objects. A thing doesn't have to be brand new and flawless to be lovely or valuable.

I thought of Grandma while photographing a few of the flowers in the yard yesterday. The pair of blooms above, and the single lily below are both flowers past their prime—aging, a little wilted along their edges…but still comely and elegant. Time has not sapped their grace, but simply added character. Can any of us ask for more?


Thursday, June 27, 2013


A male blue dasher perches on a twig.

There's a noisy thundershower moving through. One of those on-off-on storms which creeps in from the west, low and ominously dark, muttering and growling dire threats as it approached. The front was a brief wall of rushing wind. And the initial roaring downpour, as usual, tried to make you think it just might wash the place away—only to quickly stop, then restart, stop again, start, and so on, a dozen times, gradually taking longer pauses and delivering subsequently lighter rains.

I've been mostly working at the desk, with a couple of forays earlier to coax Moon-the-Dog out to do her business. My old pooch pulled a shoulder muscle the other morning getting up from her bed and has been having real problems moving around since. I'm giving her pain pills, plus she's been taking joint supplements for years. Still, she's also 15 years old and…well, I'm worried.

One of the things I've been doing is editing through some of the images I made the same day and place as the wild rose shot which accompanied the previous post. The small, cattail-fringed pond is tucked away out of sight from the road in the back of an old field. It's one of my favorite haunts for stalking dragonflies. I'll try to not overdo using the bug images I collect, but they're just so colorful—

Hey, I will try.

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(And please do let me know about this revised layout. Still too big a font? Too small? Too whatever? I'm looking for input.)  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


A rose I found recently growing wild beside a long-forgotten pond. 

“A rose is a rose is a rose,” wrote Gertrude Stein in her 1913 poem Sacred Emily

Following World War I, Stein’s apartment home on the Left Bank of Paris was the central meeting-place for an astonishing assembly of writers and artists, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Thornton Wilder, Sherwood Anderson, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Paul Bowles, and Henri Matisse. The imperious Stein, a self-described “genius,” considered herself both mentor and critic to this talented flock—many of whom are now considered part of the early-Twentieth Century’s so-called “Lost Generation.”  

However, while so many of her gifted “protégés” went on to make their lasting artistic marks, Stein’s own work did not. Her “rhythmical essays” and ventures into stream-of-consciousness experimental writings are—for me, anyway, and I daresay most modern readers—onerous, exasperating, oft nonsensical, and largely unreadable. 

The rose quote is probably the only line from her literary output now remembered. And it is, quite obviously, a reworking of Shakespeare’s dialogue from Romeo and Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Nevertheless, the thought is perfectly correct—named or nameless, when all is said and done, things are what they are, nothing more or less. Whether we call it a redbird or cardinal, that jaunty feathered dandy in the bright scarlet cloak is still a delightful and pretty bird. And a rose—whether of aristocratic pedigree and blooming in a manor’s formal gardens, or found growing wild beside a meadow pond where cattails fringe and dragonflies dart in the sunlight—is still a rose…deliciously scented and more lovely than words can tell.

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NOTE: This is a sort of field test posting of an updated design for Riverdaze. You'll find a similar but different header photo, new page colors and font, and pretty much the same layout. But, I hope, far larger and more readable text! Some of the old elements are still missing to be redone in the next day or two; others won't return. Previous posts and pix now don't fit correctly and may, or may not, prove impossible to fix. We'll see. However, I really do want to know your opinion, particularly whether or not there are problems. Please tell me what you think.    

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


My red bee balm bloomed over the weekend. You may know it as bergamot, horsemint, Oswego tea, or Monarda—the latter being the genus name given to honor Nicolás Monardes, who wrote about the plant in 1574, in a book describing recent botanical collections from the New World. Monardas are members of the mint family. There are about 16 species, all found in North America. Monardas come in white, various reds, pinks, magentas, lavendars, and darker hues just this side of genuine purple.

When brushed or bruised, all Monardas exude a distinctive and highly fragrant scent from their leaves and stems—spicy, aromatic. This scent comes from oils within the leaves. I've heard some describe this heady fragrance as a mix of spearmint, peppermint, and oregano. Personally I'd say the scent is far more unique and complex. It's certainly one of my all-time favorite plant perfumes.

As you might expect, bee balm has a long and varied history of herbal and medicinal use—first by Native Americans, and later by European settlers. The plant has been employed in everything from tea making to flavoring meat during cooking, as an antiseptic, in tisanes, liniments, poultices, etc. It still furnishes the primary antiseptic and flavoring ingredient, Thymol, used in most mouthwashes.

I should also mention that you'll sometimes read how oil from bee balm is used to give Earl Grey tea its characteristic fragrance and flavor. Not true. What is true is that we got one our common names from the bergamot orange, Citrus bergamia. Apparently the  scent of our native Monardas is somewhat similar to that of bergamot oranges, which are grown chiefly in Italy, France, and Turkey, and whose oil is extracted from the fruit's rinds and used to flavor Earl Grey tea.

I have various species of bee balms planted around—reds, whites, pinks, and one that's a sort of gray-blue-lavender. I take great delight in brushing my hand through their leaves and receiving a cloud of delicious fragrance in return. But even if I didn't adore the scent and sight of the bright red flowers of the M. didyam (above), I'd put it out for the hummingbirds. Though I don't think there's all that much nectar to be sipped from the blooms, they always seem to adore the stuff. Maybe they just like to sniff, too.

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[Hey, let me know if you like this new typeface and size—too big, still too small, try a different face, whatever. I'm still trying to work some things out and would appreciate any feedback…negative or positive. Thanks!]  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Well, I learned a new word today…derecho. For a writer and lifelong reader, that's kind of a big deal. Not on the magnitude of digging a hole in the back yard to plant a rose bush and inadvertently striking oil, or even spotting a breeze-blown five dollar bill in the grocery store parking lot. But at least as exciting as rooting around in the back of the refrigerator for breakfasting inspiration and discovering a forgotten slice of chocolate cake your daughter made for your birthday last month.

A kind of big deal from an admittedly modest perspective. And maybe a big deal given its omen value.

Derecho, as I encountered the word, is a meteorological term used describe an extensive windstorm—long-lived and fast-moving—which covers vast distances and produces severe straight-line winds. These winds are sustained and, unlike winds found with most thunderstorms, actually increase behind the passing front—typically exceeding hurricane force; as you might imagine, often damaging winds, indeed. Plus derechos carry the additional possibility of large hail and dangerous lightening, along with the wind and rain.

We all understand the Spanish-derived tornado means "twisted"…spinning or twisting winds; derecho also comes from the Spanish for "straight." Straight winds, marching like a battalion in a massive frontline long enough to stretch from north of Milwaukee south to Louisville, Kentucky. Tomorrow's east-bound derecho is predicted to begin in Iowa around midday, pass through Chicago in early afternoon, arrive hereabouts sometime later in the afternoon and—providing the front makes it intact across the Appalachians—visit Washington before evening…a town that could desperately use a good airing out.

Or things could just break up before they start, and the whole event turn into nothing more than a typical spate of late-spring thunderstorms. Nothing more than an overhasty muttering of doom-and-gloom. Bad for the weather folks and folketts, who take such dithering delight in pandering to our fears while doing their rough-and-ready standups amid the blow and drizzle.

But good for those of us always looking to add to our vocabulary.             

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Kind of a cloudy day here along the river. Which is okay because it's also cooler…plus the light is good for photography, soft and shadowless.

My daughter and son-in-law are in Texas. The town of College Station, located northwest of Huston, and home to Texas A&M and legions of rabid Aggies. Apparently, the campus is right across the road from their hotel.

He's out there teaching a software program, used by auto dealers, which he helped design, to a bunch of company execs and sales reps.

My blue-eyed blond offspring is playing hooky from her psychology practice to loll by the pool for a week, go shopping, and sample the local cuisine. She informed me a few minutes ago she was thinking of buying herself a pair of hand-tooled Western boots. Rock & Roll Bling meets Cowgirl Fancy. Actually, the Rock & Roll is stretching it…more Suburban Chic. She listens mostly to Pop, tends toward relaxed elegance rather than loud glitter and flash, and the only thing she knows about longhorn cows is that they're sometimes served up medium-rare on a dinner plate and it's the name of a popular steakhouse chain—neither of which does she know firsthand, since she rarely eats red meat.

What can I say? As a caring parent, you do your best to give the young'ns a good, healthy dose of redneck corruption…but sometimes it just doesn't take.

Anyway, we are their acting dog-sitters—much to Moon's disgust. A tail-wagging thundering herd outdoors and in the hallway, providing one geriatric 60-pound terrier and two fluffy lapdog malti-poos (more like multi-poos) can be considered as such.

In a few minutes, I'll hit the freeways and set off for their townhouse on the opposite side of the city and county. There, my dual-objective mission will be to redo the thermostat's setting and give one of their three cats its Prozac.

Sheesh! I can't believe my life has reached the point where I'm going to help a cat get high….