For BJ

What follows is a eulogy written for my college roommate, BJ Brantley Cooper, who left us far too soon, in late November, a victim of early-onset Alzheimers.  We were acquaintances, first, at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, and later roommates at Carolina.  BJ met and married one of my best friends at Carolina, and 43 years later he asked me to write her eulogy.  At first I thought I couldn’t put her into words, but the more I thought about it the more I had to say.   She was always, as we had been at 18, dutiful, appropriate, and attendant to …

Time out of time, Portugal

I wasn’t happy to leave France and my friends and venture off into Portugal alone. I knew very little about Portugal, and all travel alone is initially scary. I had read that Portugal has the highest incidence of mortality on its highways of any country in Europe, for one thing. But Portugal has always intrigued me, so I was determined to plunge into it and see what transpired. When I read descriptions of the cities I would visit— Lisbon and Porto, it was hard to feel enthusiastic. Cities are not the place where I am most comfortable. But they are …

Miss Janie’s Green Tomato Pickles

  I found the yellowed half envelope in Mama’s green cloth-covered recipe book . Mama hated to cook, so I presumed the book was nothing of importance to her. When she died, I took the book home with me— it had outlived both my parents and was one of the few things that remained unchanged from childhood. For four years it sat on the bookshelf in my house with the other cookbooks. Then, one day I took it down to study. I discovered that it was, in fact, both a treasure and a time capsule. They say men marry women …

Back to the woods

Dusk and a half moon. Firefly lights smeared across pasture air. Frogs blanket the higher reaches with a thousand sounds. Steam rises off the land from the long awaited rainfall. It’s as beautiful here as the nights before when we camped alongside a remote creek. Hiking for hours— climbing past root and stone, finding the occasional gemstone— brown mushrooms the color of a tiny animal, nascent Indian pipes, dragonflies carved from turquoise with black velvet spider webs for wings. We locate four waterfalls and there follows looking at the world from behind sheets of water and speechless stone sitting. One …

The Gift From Our Fathers

    It was all black mirror water, jade green duckweed and pearl gray leafless trees. A soft gray day. We arrived at the millpond in northeastern North Carolina, with our food, water and canoes last week and set out paddling to our campsite on a hillside covered in beeches and poplars. There were thousands of saplings among the larger trees— so many that the woods were the color of a dove.   Our first night was chilly and we built a fire. Because we hauled our gear in a canoe instead of on our backs, we were able to …

Layers

Last evening I walked down into the village to shop for groceries.  Coming back I took a different route and found myself climbing a set of stairs so steep they terrified me.  On the right was only ocean.  They were, I realized, the steps of the ancient fortress that used to guard the town.  They ascended past dozens of little homes, tucked seamlessly into the fortress walls.   I wasn’t sure if the dwellings were as old as the fortress, or just another layer of history tacked on top of the original. Reading later I discovered that the site was originally …

Negative space

Today my new eight year old existential friend paid me a studio visit.  She carried on a lively conversation, told  a few jokes, and then, very seriously asked   “so, how is your life?”  It gave me a moment’s pause.  I answered her with the seriousness the question deserved.  I told her “my life is joyous”.  End of discussion. The day before she had told me that being in her new third grade classroom felt like “being in another world”.  I guess, when you grow up with the Aegean as your background you think in those terms.  As an artist I’m …

Grier

  Sixty years ago today my oldest friend was born.  Hurd Grier Bradford, III.  I was little and don’t remember much beyond slipping into my parents’ bedroom to sneak a peak at the baby and being scolded for waking him.  We were both curly tow-heads and at first we were each other’s only playmates.  I remember when we had matching seersucker shorts, and we both stood in the middle of the bench seat of the Chevy, side by side and I claimed we were twins.  I really wanted us to be twins. Even as a baby Grier was independent, self-determined …

Inheritance

I am writing this on an empty beach at 7:30 in the morning the week before Thanksgiving,while camping on a barrier island that’s a 45 minute ferry ride off the coast of Georgia.  This is the most undisturbed spit of coastal land I’ve had the privilege to experience in the United States of America.  I can’t remember ever being in a place where there were thousands of acres of  200-500 year old live oaks, miles of palms and long leaf pines, no pavement, hardly any infrastructure and so little humanity. On foot this island seems vast.  Even with the aid …

North Carolina Summer

This has been my North Carolina summer.  Too busy to plan anything more complicated I have gone back and forth between the mountains and the coast soaking up my favorite part of the year. I could live in perpetual summer, and look askance at all those people who tell me they can’t wait for fall.  It’s the light, I think.  I like the bald bright warmth of it that illuminates all corners, but also makes for overwhelming experiences of  shadow.  I like the light when I’m floating on my back in the pool and looking up at the untroubled sky.  …