Sunday, December 21, 2014

Season's Greetings

Ah, winter has arrived!  Tis the season of parties, parties, and parties!  The winter solstice has arrived and whether that event is a reminder to get your garlic planted so that it matures in time to pair with next summer’s tomatoes, or is your time for a Feast of Juul in tribute to Thor (didn’t he just star in a movie?) and the return of the sun’s cycle of life, light and warmth; it is a time of anticipation, sharing, fellowship and celebration. 
Yes, we honor the shortest day/longest night of the year in many different traditions.  The Inuits have their Quviasukvik or winter feast where everyone brings some meat and drink, and all is shared by everyone simultaneously while contemplating their favored deity (Bless this food, Father), later exchanging gifts in quiet family gatherings (sounds like my house). 
Western Europeans burn a Yule log and scatter the ashes on their farm fields as fertilizer each day until the Twelfth Day (On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… Ashes).
Our Wiccan friends celebrate twelve days of the Lesser Sabbat known as Alban Arthan (12 days again?), or the rebirth of the sun god (Son of God). 
The Romans had their feast of Saturnalia, where all grudges and arguments were temporarily forgotten, warring armies issued a cease-fire (peace on Earth, goodwill toward men), slaves became the masters, and all businesses, schools and government offices were closed.  This eventually degenerated (as only the Romans could do) into an annual period of debauchery, gluttony and greed (hmm?  Kind of sounds like mall shopping). 
The Mayans came to celebrate the solstice with polo voladore (or Flying Pole Dance).  They climb a fifty foot pole while playing a drum or flute, then tie a rope around one ankle and jump off.  To land on one’s feet was considered a sign of good luck -- well, duh!  (I have no idea what that has to do with modern traditions, but it sounds like fun, doesn’t it?)  It’s no wonder why their calendar stops right before the solstice of 2012 -- it wasn’t predicting the end of the world, they were just tired of bungee jumping. 
I don’t mean to shortchange the celebrants of Hanukkah, Brumalia, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Jól, Chaomos, Gody, Kwanza, Festivist or the Norse Boar’s Head Feast (nothing to do with the lunchmeat), but there are only so many parties I can get to.
You can see how this all ties in.  It wasn’t until 354 AD that the Church fathers realized that the birth of the Christ Child was an important event to be remembered in worship and praise.  With little historic or Biblical guidance, they set December 25th as the date of the Nativity of the Savior.  It did, and I’m sure not by accident, coincide with the winter solstice and the myriad of long-held traditions that existed worldwide across so many cultures and allowed for an easy conversion and transition for those of us who came to believe.
This snidbit of anthropological history is not meant to debase any ancient or modern tradition or belief, but the next time you hear, “Tis the season,” whether you share my religious beliefs or not, I hope you’ll understand that it IS, and always HAS BEEN, the season; the coming of the Son and the coming of the sun. 

However you celebrate, may Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, or the Holy Spirit of God grant you and yours, a Very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Surprising View from on High

     I hear continual comments of envy over the spectacular views I enjoy from my perch high on this mountain.  The ever changing pastels of the sunrises and sunsets, the glittering vista of the valley below, the majestic crests of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the horizon, and the breath taking array of the flora and fauna of the forest canopy keep my interest and curiosity piqued.  It is, and always will be, my quiet respite from the computer screens and intellect deprived television programming.  The views are never the same, even from minute to minute.  I can’t count the number of times that I stepped outside and saw something so unique that I scrambled for a camera only to miss the lighting by mere seconds.  So it has become habit to carry my phone, if not my camera, each and every trip to the second floor deck that adorns my mountain abode.

     Several nights ago, having spent the last reserves of my ocular energy on a tedious trial transcript, feeling pretty low and rather lonely, I poured a glass of wine and stepped outside to enjoy my world as the sun set on the Tennessee side of the ridges and the valley lights began to mark the arrivals of the worker ants returning from their daily labors.  The December weather has been comfortably temperate (especially after the frigid and snowy November we endured), so I stood sweaterless as I looked out across the lowlands.
     My dogs had followed me out to keep me company, and although I love their companionship, I must confess that their conversational talents are far from entertaining.  I asked them, as I frequently do, what was going on in the world this beautiful night.  They responded with a curious and non-understanding stare, so I teased them with a, “I wonder if Angel is coming?”  That kept their attention for some minutes as they watched through the darkness for the nomadic dog that comes almost daily for a visit and play date.

     Turning my attention back to the darkened valley, I notice a plumb of smoke rising from a small knoll about three miles from my house.  As the night sky grew deep, I could see multiple glows from a circumference of fire and thought it was an odd time, much too dry, and a wee bit windy for someone to be burning brush outdoors.
     I stepped in and grabbed my always-at-the-ready binoculars to be sure there was a vigilant attendant, but there was no one in sight. I widened my scan looking for emergency lights, and found them equally absent.  Admittedly, there was some hesitation in me about calling the authorities knowing that there were so many houses on that hillside that someone either had noticed the fire, or it was a controlled burn with the human factor simply hidden from view in the darkness.
     I finally succumbed to that inner voice whispering, “But what if….?”  I dialed 911 with an apologetic, “I’m sure someone has already reported this,” and explained my distant vantage point and the approximate location of the fire.  911 stated there had been no report and even asked that should it be necessary, could the fire department come up to my house to help them spot the location.  I assured the dispatcher that the fire would be clearly visible from the road.
     My view from on high became a different experience that night.  In the far distance I can see the fire station on Carolina Boulevard, I watched as the volunteers arrived and launched the tanker.  I could hear the shrill sirens as they wound their way back along Thompson Cove Road and made the turn onto Hideaway Creek.  The fire continued to spread to the point where trees ignited and the flames cast an eerie orange glow in the forest below.  The brave firefighters arrived in the nick of time.  It did not take them long to extinguish the flames, but I am sure it felt like an eternity to the people who dwell on that hillside. 

      In the days since, I have looked, both through the binoculars from my deck, and from the roadside on the way to town, I cannot see the scars of the errant flames.  All is better now; as I finish these words, the sun is painting glorious colors in the west, my dogs are playfully wrestling, and the home lights are beginning to dot the landscape.  There are no mysterious plumbs rising from the forest floor, and that’s just the way I like it.  The only illuminations I care to see in the trees are Christmas lights. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fall has fallen

     It appears as though fall has fallen.  We were basking in the autumnal spectrum of color when an unwelcomed and extraordinarily rare snowstorm swept through the Smoky Mountains on Halloween night.  By Saturday night when the snow and high winds abated, my little corner of Paradise was blanketed in a frosty six inches of white.  The storm dropped anywhere from 4” as far south as Columbia, South Carolina, up to 22” in the tallest North Carolina mountains near the Tennessee border.  The freakish weather managed to strip the glorious array from almost all of the trees.  Fall didn’t last long enough, I hope that this is not a presage of a difficult winter.

      The snow came less than two weeks from when my oldest and dearest friend was supposed to arrive for a rare visit.  News of the weather kept her snug in her second home in New Jersey (her first home is in Kauai in Hawaii).  I am hoping for a makeup day sometime in the more temperate days of spring.

      In other news, after a hard week of storm prep and incessant expedited jobs, I found myself in a stupor of physical exhaustion.  Fighting a desperate need to sleep, I realized I had to go down the mountain for no other reason than to retrieve the mail and pick up some dog food.  I invited my two four-legged sons to ride with me (by inviting, I mean I picked up my keys).  Cory, the new addition and suspected caffeine addict, never does anything that isn’t at full speed.  He stands on his hind legs and does a happy dance at the slightest provocation, and never goes from one room to another at anything less than an all-out dash.  Between his leaping axels and excited wind-sprints, getting Cory on or off a leash is always a challenge.  After successfully completing our errands down in the village, I guided us back up the mountain looking forward to getting the boys fed, finishing a few pages I needed to get done for Kelly, and then crawling into a much needed bed. 
      By the time I got the dogs re-leashed, Cory was spinning to get out of the truck and pee.  He thinks you are supposed to pee getting into and out of a vehicle, without regard to how long the ride may have taken.  After his short respite, Cory bolted up the stairs to the front deck, pulling Sebastian and me behind him.  By the time I got the gate open and their leashes off, he was again doing pirouettes at the front door (I have no idea why, everything is so exciting to him).  I unlocked the door, got them inside and fed, and decided to go back out to view the sunset before returning to the computer.  Did I mention I was exhausted?  I had not latched the gate all the way; both dogs seized the opportunity and took off like Greyhounds chasing the mechanical rabbit at a racetrack.
     Sebastian has escaped enough times that I was not too worried (at first) that he would eventually come back, Cory, on the other hand, was new and does not know my mountain at all.  There was no way I had the energy to attempt a chase, so all I could do was watch from my perch high above the mountain roads below.  I watched as they ran down the driveway and disappeared into the forest.  After about ten minutes I caught a glimpse of both of them coming at full speed down Daly Drive (the road that services the crest of the mountain).  Cory turned onto Norman Road and into my driveway.  Without slowing he ran the 800 feet of my driveway, came straight up the steps and into the house.  I quickly shut the door with him inside and went to watch for his brother to join him.   
     Sebastian had better ideas, he hadn’t been to all the houses, explored the woods, or visited the other dogs on the mountain.  Three hours later, in the pitch black dark of night, he climbed the stairs to the deck.  All over, right?  Nope, if I asked him to come in the house, he’d turn and bolt down the steps and back into the ebony shadows of the forest.

      He did finally get tired and come back, but only after I was so spent that I couldn’t even scold him for his bad-boy behavior.  He knew he was in trouble, and knows how bad that was, but I guarantee you if I went and opened the gate tonight, he’d be gone again.

     I never got back to the computer which spurred Kelly to email her Royal Highness, the PITA of Denmark, Adrianna Joleigh, to check on my wellbeing.  I, of course, had no idea I was missed and being worried over until the veil of a comatose sleep lifted from my eyes the next morning.  I guess I owe a debt of thanks to my two friends for caring about my hapless disappearance.

     Speaking of Adrianna, please remember to wish her a happy birthday on Tuesday, November 11th and congratulate her on her newest commission for her art work.  Before too long, she will be too rich and famous to deal with us mere commoners.  You can see some of her paintings at  Be sure to scroll over the thumbnails for a preview of her masterful use of colors and click an image for details of the paintings. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Samhain, souling, guising and Shakespeare: A brief history of Halloween

The leaves are turning, the temperature is dropping, most of the summer crops have gone to seed and the days are growing shorter, that can only mean one thing: It is almost time for Samhain (pronounced "sah-win").  What?  You don’t celebrate Samhain?  But it is the end of the harvest season, and time to check your stores for the coming winter, and then on the 31st dress in scary masks and make a large bonfire to attract insects which lure in the bats all to appease the spirits rising from the dead so they don’t bring sickness and ruin next year’s crops.  Well, what do you call that?

Yes, that’s pretty much where it all started.  It was a Gaelic pagan tradition that evolved with the spread of Christianity into All Hallows’ Eve that has its roots in the practice of “souling.”  Indigent villagers would go house-to-house on Hallowmas (November 1) and in return for some form of confectionary, would pray for the family’s deceased members on All Soul’s Day (November 2nd).  The practice of souling or begging, started in medieval Ireland, but spread through Britain and as far eastward as Italy.  It infected Western Culture even to the point of a 1593 Shakespeare reference in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, when Speed accuses his master of "puling (whimpering) like a beggar at Hallowmas."

The tradition that would eventually become “Trick-or-Treating” immigrated to North America with the Irish influx during the great Potato Famine in the mid-19th Century.  But it would take generations before it would take the form we all have come to know.  The first “American” celebrations, dating to the turn of the 20th Century, were small parades of children dressed in costumes giving performances in the early evening.  This was known as guising, and quickly became the genesis of receiving treats from merchants and onlookers as a reward for their songs and dances.  The trick part came much later, with the first known print reference to the term “trick or treat” in 1930.  Soon the practice of costumed children receiving sweets grew (well, except during the sugar shortages of WWII) and spread from North America back across the ocean into its ancestral Europe.   
Adults, not wanting to be left out of the fun, started “costuming” on Halloween at their favorite bars and pubs.  Soon rewards for the “Best,” “Scariest,” and “Most Original” costumes eroded the practice of donning funny makeup and tattered clothes and grew into an American-sized industry of professionally created costumes that range from gruesome, to political lampoon, to the aesthetically sublime, to the raciest of vice and perversion.  And with the combination of intoxicants and the free-spirited absence of inhibitions from the anonymous disguises, Halloween has spawned a Mardi Gras-like atmosphere of debauchery in many of the most popular watering holes.
The Americanized Halloween (or Beggars’ Night as it is referred to in parts of Ohio, Iowa and Massachusetts) is looked on with suspicion by many European countries, and the expressed threat of “tricks” have spurred some police forces in the United Kingdom to threaten to prosecute parents who allow their children to carry out the "trick" element.  In other parts of Europe, the commerce-driven importation of Halloween is seen with even more skepticism, and in light of numerous destructive or illegal "tricks," suspicions about this trick-or-treat game and Halloween in general have been further raised.

It is sometimes fun to pull back the curtains of innocence and peek at the naked roots of our ever evolving culture.  A simple children’s holiday that rose from the superstitions of zombie-like mischief-makers, to medieval pay-for-prayer begging, to guising on parade, and finally the debaucheries of over-imbibed adults, our commercialized version of Halloween now dominates the month of October and marks the onset of the holiday season.

Happy Samhain, everyone! 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Everything changes and change is everything

     Wow, is it really October already?  Seems like this year has flown by.  The leaves are starting to turn,
people are picking out costumes for Halloween, turkeys are being sacrificed in the Pilgrim tradition, stores are displaying Christmas decorations, the days are way too short already, and I have had the heat on more than once.  Everything changes and change is everything.

      Yes, it is time for your invoice (please, pretty please confirm your receipt -- I had two people not get theirs last month :-(), and this is usually the time I plead with you to visit my blog, The Muse and Views of a Mountain Writer.  Unfortunately, although there is plenty there to read, I haven't posted anything new since the last invoice period.  (You can still peruse the old posts, share a laugh or marvel at my warped insights, leave me a facetious comment, and of course, click on one of the ads so that my advertisers continue to support my hard work.)

      In addition to business, which has been quite good lately, thank you all, my spare time has been spent on certain other of life's distractions.  As most of you know, almost a year ago my wife and I split up.  In the divorce, she took one of our dogs, Betsy, and I kept Sebastian
 with me.  The transition from married life to single life, from two people sharing household responsibilities to me flying solo, and the drastic change in the available budget expenditures kept me occupied for most of this past year.  As things began to stabilize and reach a livable stasis, I started noticing that the other occupant of my house was having issues, too.
      I spent most of this past month searching the local animal shelters for a playmate and companion for my dog Sebastian.  There were several that I thought were good prospects, but Bubba has particular tastes and rejected each one for a variety of reasons.  A little over a week ago I started getting heads-ups from the staff at Sarge's Animal Foundation that Cory, a Feist-mix was soon going to available.

    Sebastian and I met him last Tuesday morning as he was released from the vet who neutered him.  His size, temperament and personality made him a perfect match.  And after some time in a run together, Sebastian grudgingly agreed and Cory found a new home.  
     We didn't bring him home that day, his stitches were bothering him, and I didn't want the added issues of his "licking" to complicate his necessary training and getting him accustomed to his new house and family.  I waited until this past Saturday morning to bring him home.  
     I thought I was prepared for everything, even arranging for my friend Sandra to be here to help keep an eye on things.  Cory climbed the steps to the front deck, met Sebastian (canine style), checked out Sandra, and then surprised us all;  He is completely trained.  It took only one time to show him the door to the run and he understood his responsibilities, he gratefully bowed to Sebastian
 allowing his brother to retain his Alpha Dog status, and immediately let the bipedal humans know he was all about giving and getting love.

     I had to laugh today when I picked up a hat in preparation for the drive down the mountain to check the mail, Cory has already figured out that "hat" means "ride."  In the few short days he's been here, he has become so comfortable that none of us even think of him being a new guy.  Yes, everything changes, and change is everything.  Happy Autumn, everyone, and thanks for everything.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Without Change, We Would Have No Memories

A Cacophony of Change

Summer is coming to a close.  This is the last weekend of the solar season, and soon the deciduous leaves will begin to show their colors, the tourists will clog our mountain roads, and the last of the (local) warm-weather veggies will disappear from the farm stands.  But this change is a harbinger of far more than our planetary wobbly orbit; it seems everywhere I look, things are in flux, and that’s a good thing.

My four-legged shadow has recently become overly clingy.  Since my wife and I separated (and she took the other dog, Betsy), Sebastian has decided that he NEEDS to be with/next/touching me 24/7, and his obsession is manifesting itself in uncomfortable scenarios.  I find it exceedingly difficult to go anywhere without him, and I guess the crux of my new decision was the other day when I ran into Ingle’s (grocery store) to buy some wine.  I was gone from the truck for less than five minutes, but by the time I picked up a bottle of Merlot and headed towards the checkout, there was a Public Address announcement of a dog in apparent distress in the parking lot.  Now, the only distress that Sebastian was experiencing was his desire to be with me inside the store.  But that embarrassing episode led to my consideration of a situational solution.  After seeking the counsel of several friends, including Bubba’s groomer, I have decided that this weekend we are going to look for another four-legged
companion to occupy at least some of his attention.  It will, of course, mean taking on the added expense of both time and money, but an energetic and accommodating Playmate is something this household needs, but alas, I will have to settle for a new doggy.

This was the first summer that Sebastian and I were essentially alone.  Yes, we each have our own set of visitors who come regularly to play and keep us company, but since last fall we have been on our own.  I did receive an email the other day from my ex giving me the heads-up about a process server who would be visiting.  It seems she has decided we are going to formally and legally end our marriage; the actual cessation happened a long time ago.  I wish I could feel something other than complete ambivalence about the end of a long marriage, but I harbor no anger, no sadness, no celebratory joy, no anything actually; it is nothing more than a change in the season.

In the midst of this, I reached a pinnacle of frustration over my pseudo-smart phone’s reluctance to sync my email.  The anniversary of my contract allowed for the more than needed upgrade that would permit me to be away from my computer, yet still be reachable.  Since I do almost all of my shopping online, I logged on to the Verizon website to shop and compare.  As I made my selection, I realized that there was a minor complication.  Ten years ago when “we” established our North Carolina cellphone account, somehow the “account owner” was designated as my wife.  In spite of the fact that I pay the bills (and have agreed to that into the future), and all correspondence comes to me via email, Verizon wanted to ship my new phone to the registered Florida address where Shirle lives.  I attempted to resolve the situation with an online chat, but the CSR was completely ignorant of the problem insisting that I could buy the phone and then call to have a Customer Service Representative change the address.  “Hello, you are a customer service representative, why can’t you just change it now?”  My fuse was a tad shorter than usual, so I abruptly disconnected and drove the 10 miles to the local Verizon store where an intelligent representative not only understood, but was able to complete the transaction, even helping me find a phone that was more situated to my needs than the one I had picked out online.

An interesting aside:  As the Verizon salesperson and I were concluding the sale and transfer of my data and contacts to my new DROID MAXX, she laughed and said, “Look at that, you just bought the exact same phone, color and all, as your wife did last month.”  Sheesh!

Change is upon us, the days are growing shorter, the temperatures are moderating, the first of the stinkbugs have begun to appear (which means the Ladybugs are not far behind), and the forest orchestra has begun its percussive beat dropping a variety of acorns, walnuts, chestnuts and hickory nuts in nature’s syncopated rhythm.  The squirrels and chipmunks are busy gathering the energy rich treats to stow for the coming winter, while the crisp mountain air reverberates with the sound of chainsaws harvesting deadfall for its comforting warmth in the colder months.  I have replaced my summer wardrobe of hats with the more durable leather and wools, and my short-sleeved shirts have already begun their hibernation.  The inevitability of change is unstoppable.

If you suspect there is melancholy in my words, fear not; I came to these mountains because of the seasonal alterations.  I lived a quarter century in Florida where nothing changes to a noticeable extent.  I enjoy living where the nature that surrounds me, morphs in regulated intervals and continually surprises me with its ever-changing kaleidoscopic views of color and beauty.  Yes, change is in the air in many ways, and time does indeed march on.  What was once, is no longer; what is now, cannot be changed; and what will be, is the surprise of the future.  In spite of its requisite disappointments and unavoidable sadness, life is anything but boring if you take the time to wonder at, rejoice and exploit those changes.  Your mind will revel in gratitude, for without change, we would have no memories.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Outline my writing? Are you serious?

     After much contemplation, I have decided to address a topic that garners a significant amount of negative response and argument, mostly due to a complete misunderstanding of the facts.  Yes, I am going to explain the importance of outlining a work of fiction before you start writing.  Don’t hate me yet, let me explain.
     I am not talking about that dreaded academic style of:

     No, that form of outlining is reserved for academic theses wherein you were supposed to hypothesize a conclusion, present five to seven arguments backed by multiple scholarly citations, explain your assumptions and deduced postulates, and finally prove your initial hypothesis.  Ugh, remember those nights staring at the glow of a computer wondering what you did with that essential citation you wrote longhand at the library and now has disappeared into your stack of research?

     That is not an outline for creative writing.
     First, a story/novel outline does not necessarily need to be written, as long as you have a mind capable of capturing and ordering a multitude of important facts.  Mine are mostly mental, but I do tend to put little notes to myself, either at the end of the manuscript file, or in an orphaned side-file, and delete the notes as I employ the necessary events, anchors and elemental plot situations.
     Second, an outline does NOT include every scene or nuance of the story.  Most of that will unfold as your creative juices start flowing and you begin to write.  It is not unusual for a character to animate and change direction in your plot, nor is it rare that unthought-of nuances arise from the depths of your mind that add flavor and texture to the story.  Don’t fret, the secret to outlining is you know where you are heading, anything that happens along the way is incidental.

     The simplest way to understand outlining is to understand the essential structure of storytelling.  There is a hard and fast formula; you need a setting, primary characters, a final crux or crisis, a multitude of conflicts or situations that lead to that crisis, and a dénouement, which if well-constructed will tell, or better yet, hint at the lessons or moral to be learned from the actions in the story.  The secret is tying all of those components together in a comprehensive and coherent style that adheres to a formulated continuity.  Yes, there are all those other little gems like circular plot lines, foreshadowing, stories within stories, literary allusions, word coloration, and of course, character evolution, but none of those matter until you have a story.
     In what order these elements germinate in your imagination is not germane to the writing exercise.  As often as not, I will start with the main crisis and then create the characters to get me there.  Sometimes I will dream up a character, and in the process of developing their personality, background and idiom, they will lead me to their own crisis.  I have, on occasion, created the dénouement first and planned everything backwards, all the way to the beginning.  
     The important thing is that in every case, I have a plan.  I know my characters inside and out, I know what they are eventually going to be involved in, I know where it is going to happen and why, and I know what they did, right or wrong, that spurred the story into action and readability.
     Without disclosing the entire context of a novel not yet written, I want to use my latest blog post, Gabriella, to demonstrate the power of planning.  It might help if you did a split-screen or open a new browser window/tab and have both this and Gabriella open to follow along.

     The idea for this story was hatched as a betrayal of love and the ruination of a man of wealth.  Knowing that, I had to contrive a female character capable to drive the plot.  I realized that she needed to be fairly well-educated, exotically beautiful, alien to the setting, and isolated in a certain degree of secrecy.  As I extrapolated that, I realized that she needed to be South American, but raised in the U.S.; I settled on New Mexico with her heritage being Columbian.  The reason for this will become apparent later in the novel, but for now, you will be able to use that information to understand the reason that I outline.
     The male character had to be a Gatsby-esque man of social and financial wealth, but vulnerable to the wiles of the femme fatale.  Herm is sophisticated, cultured, very formal, and confident to the point of arrogance in his decisions.  To avoid the obvious comparisons to Fitzgerald’s life in the “Eggs,” I set the story in my adopted hometown of Waynesville, North Carolina.  This gave me an instrument of introduction, as Waynesville is the headquarters of the annual international folk dance festival known as Folkmoot
     The final crisis will be a manipulation through trust that results in an unlawful “act” that robs Herm of his wealth, stature and freedom, but not his love for his angel, Gabriella.
That is the basis of my outline.  Now, without boring you with my entire plotline, I do also have multiple scenes and conflicts mapped out, as well as the details of the final crisis.  Additionally, I have my denouement planned, but let’s keep the horse in front of the cart.

     To see the power, and in my opinion necessity, of employing an outline, I would like to address the first installment of Gabriella.  Hopefully you will see that the power of planning allows the writer to build complexity into a story without the need to retrace steps in order to bring the end back to the beginning or get the beginning to reach the end.  I will warn you that as is a usual technique of mine, I like to start with a “post-apocalyptic” introduction that foreshadows the events that will unfold.

     I begin the story with a compound sentence: “The storm rolled in from the southwest; I watched it with studied disinterest, numbed by the day’s events.”  The storm is an allusion to Gabriella who hails from the Southwest; “studied disinterest” is an indication of his attitude towards his angel after his downfall; and “numbed by the day’s events” is foreshadowing of a post-crisis event at the end of the book.  The final sentence of the first paragraph, “It would be another long night of hopeless pondering and aimless planning,” begins the development of the ruined man still obsessed with a fruitless and destructive love.
     The second paragraph begins with, “The once gentle roll of the thunder now became punctuated with infrequent snaps like angry cannon fire,” depicting in simile fashion, a once distant disturbance that has come near.  This is a further reference to “the day’s events” that will occur later.
The next paragraph is the emergence of the post-crisis man, so that we may know that his life and home, “in spite of its staging and décor, no longer contained the warmth of invitation and friendship,” that it once had.  We have now, a glimpse of what the man would become, “the town’s people feared my hermitage and the grizzled man and dog that resided there.”  
     But for the story to work we must know who he was first.  The last four sentences of that paragraph give us clues:  “The once flirtatious cashier at the grocer now turned her head when I shopped for provisions.  The jovial crowds at the cafes and taverns disavowed our former friendships, and I graciously left them to their dishonesty by eating at home and buying my whiskey from the package store.  They would argue that it was I who changed, but if I were ever so disposed to engage in such a polemic dispute, I could remind them of what once was, and how that affected everyone, not me alone.  What once was is no longer, and that is only a part of the story, but all of the truth.”

     Moving on to the introduction of Gabriella, she was “a member of a South American dance troupe,” set within Folkmoot.  The importance of her education and heritage will become apparent later in the story, but the references are well documented in the outline of my story.  “She appeared to be somewhat older and certainly less graceful than her troupe mates.”  This is a hint at the unlikely inclusion of her as a troupe member and foreshadows the influence she will yield and the true purpose of her trip to Waynesville.  Gabriella traveled with an entourage, her protection and isolation, who were “later introduced as brothers and cousins,” a purposeful ambiguity hinting that their relationship may be a ruse.
     With my female character revealed, I move on to building the caricature of the Herm of old.  Sitting in a public place, sipping whiskey with “the members of our Arts Council,” discussing community involvement including his “expected financial support”; this is not the grizzled man we just saw in his hermitage on the mountain.
      His self-assured arrogance betrays the illogic of an enchantress who “attracted the eyes of every patron in the eatery” singling him out of the crowd to raise “her glass to acknowledge” him.  He is mesmerized to the point of distraction, ignoring his purpose, his friends, and the obvious absurdity Gabriella’s approach (without her guards) and her detailed knowledge of him so soon after her arrival in town.
      The remainder of the piece, including his formal conversation style and his generosity are developmental to the character that I outlined.  The note at the end is the premise upon which their second meeting will be based.

      So in less than 1500 words, I have introduced the skeletal characters on which to build the requisite personalities that will drive the story to its ending crisis, I have given you a sketch of the post-crisis results, foreshadowed the dénouement, and set the stage for my ending “day’s events.”  None of these details would be possible without a plan for the story and an outline of who, what, where and why the story is being told.

      To have written the entire novel and then attempt to come back and insert this kind of detail would require so much rewriting that the story would inevitably end as an uncomplicated and quite average piece of fiction.  When I write, I want my work to be above-average, I want to engage my readers, and I want to be the best author I can be.  There is an old saying, “If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there.”  I like to have a map.  Sometimes I take days, weeks, even months to construct that map, but I would rather have a well-thought out route before I start my engine.  I outline.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A pictorial tour of two days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

            Ugh!  The summer doldrums have hit.  After a busy and prosperous couple of months, work has dwindled from a raging torrent to a pathetic dribble.  It has been nice to steal some hours here and there for personal relaxation and rest, but I fear when the revenue doesn’t roll in, I may be starving.  To put it in perspective, I had nine regular clients with empty invoices.  I hope for all our sakes, the work starts back now that the schools have reopened and summer vacation-time has officially ended.
            A couple of weeks ago, just as the first sign of the slowdown manifested, my friend Sandra and I took off one afternoon and drove through the Pigeon River Gap into Tennessee.  She wanted me to see Cades Cove in the park from the Gatlinburg side.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable day of leisured driving and wildlife watching. From the moment you approach the park, you know you are entering a special place, full of history and wondrous sites. 
            The wildlife was everywhere.  In a churchyard a doe and
fawn came out for a picture shoot.  Unfortunately someone stepped in front of me before I could get a clear picture of the fawn.  My dog, Sebastian,

who was as delighted as we were at the day-trip, spotted the deer, and almost ripped my arm from the shoulder in his insistence that he should be allowed to go play with these denizens of the forest.  Within a scant few minutes of leaving the historic church, we pulled up on a doe grazing on the roadside.  Now a deer was less than a foot from his nose, and Sebastian turned a
disinterested look in my direction wondering why we weren’t moving.
            We did catch a glimpse of several black bears,

mostly either running at full pace or too deep in the shadows of the woods for to get a good photograph, but one guy did come out just in front of our car, and allowed us to watch as he snacked on the wild berries of a low hanging tree.
            Yesterday, in return for Sandra’s treat of taking me in from the Tennessee side, we packed the
car with Subway sandwiches and plenty of cold water for both of us as well as Sebastian and started into the park from the Waynesville side towards the scenic and historic Cataloochee Valley.  I knew we were going too early to catch our now famous reestablished herd of Appalachian elk, the road through the pass into the valley is treacherous at best, and in the evenings there can be as many as five hundred cars negotiating the one lane road that is the only way in or out. 
            We drove out through the valley spotting very little other than the majestic landscapes and

historic remnants of the days of pioneers.  I did capture a long
distance photo of a small rafter of wild turkeys, but in all we were disappointed at the lack of visible animal life.  We had made the entire loop and were headed back up through the valley when I suggested we pull over near a hewed log foot-bridge and eat our lunches.
Sandra jokily remarked that perhaps sitting still and eating, maybe something would come out of the woods into the adjoining field.  Sure enough by the time I finished my sandwich, out from the
shadows of the dense forest stepped two elk does, one yearling fawn, and a velvety spiked buck.  What was truly remarkable was that although the elk were at least 100 yards away, Sebastian
immediately spotted them and sat mesmerized the entire time they grazed.
            I have mixed emotions about the nation’s most visited national park.  The confiscation of the land certainly preserved some of the most beautiful
scenery on the North American continent, but by creating the park, the government evicted and displaced scores of rugged pioneer families and many Cherokee Indians who discovered, settled, hunted, fished and farmed the region. 
            Tonight Sandra and I are going to the Strand Theater in Waynesville to watch a wonderful (I’ve seen it before) documentary on the families displaced from the Cataloochee Valley.  I think it would be a wonderful way to end our forays into the park with the insights and memories of those who were there before the rest of us. 
            Please click on this link for a brief trailer on Katherine Bartel’s Cataloochee.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Good news: the school buses are back, spring is on the way!

     It has been a month since we passed the Summer Solstice and this morning was the first time I cognitively noticed the shortened days.  I took a pill last night, and slept well and late.  In the darkness of the early morning, my phone chimed to signify a conversation window had been opened (probably that PITA of Denmark, +Adrianna Joleigh).  What surprised me was, that it was after 6 a.m. and the sun had not yet brightened the August sky.  Yes, the days have begun to shorten and that can only mean one thing: the school buses will be back.
     I seem to remember summer vacation from school lasting until September, but not anymore, today is the first day of school in the adjoining county of Buncombe (so named because in 1845 a politician offered a speech of such arcane "bunkum" that his district was forever designated in his honor).  I have no desire to research the start date for Haywood County (birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, really, look it up); it will happen soon enough.  Before you ask, no, I do not have any school-aged children, nor do I live near an academic institution of governmental acculturation, so you might wonder why I care. 
     As you know, I live high on a mountain and must drive down a sizable grade to retrieve my mail on a daily basis.  The ride has become the embodiment of pleasure in my dog’s life. The mail arrives at the box between 2:15 and 3:00 p.m. each afternoon.  Sebastian (my dog) has decided that 3:00 p.m. is the best time to fetch “Daddy” and herd him into the truck for “the ride.”  Now many days, if not most, there will be one or more checks in the mail that require our short downhill trip to extend up the four-lane and into town.  It isn’t all that far, but by the time we negotiate the varied streets and roads necessary to drop a deposit off at the credit union, and if need be, stop by a grocer for any needed provisions, the roundtrip journey takes roughly 30 - 45 minutes.  And as Shakespeare said, therein lies the rub.
     Somewhere around 3:30, a trio of age delineated school buses turns back the country road that leads to the rural lane that leads to the mountain trail and the only ingress to my secluded home.  Improperly timed, the offloading school buses can add as much as a half hour to my daily jaunt.  I don’t begrudge the riders or the drivers, and I always offer both a friendly smile and wave in my impatience to get back to the house where nothing of importance is awaiting.  Why is it that humans are always in a hurry to get nowhere and never in a hurry to leave?
     School buses portend a change in the season: soon we will be enjoying late summer vegetables, early fall apples and peaches, and those first brisk evenings spent in front of a roaring fire.  We are all anticipating the climatic shift with varied degrees of joy and sorrow.  For me, the summer has been quite cool here on the mountain, so unlike some who might be anxiously awaiting some respite from the heat and humidity, I’d much rather enjoy an extended summer of hummingbirds, fireflies, and the orchestral night sounds of insects.  But I shouldn't forget my friends in Australia and South Africa, who like flies on the ceiling are gripping the ground trying not to fall off the bottom of the globe, their seasons, like everything else on their side of the world, are upside down.  They are trending away from the cold and into the heat.  As my fall approaches, my topsy-turvy friends are anticipating their spring.  Good news +Nariman Parker, +Rea de Miranda, +Francine Hirst and all my other friends struggling to maintain their grip on the bottom, the school buses are back, spring is on the way!  Be careful, no happy dances, you might fall off.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lady Luck and a Walk in the Park

     Luck is a fickle lady; sometimes she kisses deep with heartfelt passion, and sometimes she turns the cold shoulder of indifference upon her would be courters.  For me, I would be wise to be vigilant for indications of her mood, but I'm not.
     Yesterday I caught hell for my Facebook and Google+ posts about being stood up by someone I was anticipating spending the weekend with.  The post was not about her, it was a jovial look at the fun-filled day I spent with my dog, and our curious adventures.  I lamented within those posts that I had neglected to take my camera to record the canine version of a Walk in the Park.
     This morning I ignored the moody signs of having but only two numbers on each of three lottery tickets with nary a chance to win back my investment, and then further ignored the sad news from one of my clients (the details of which are best left to those more closely affected) that canceled a large job I was expecting.  Lady Luck was dropping clues, but I wasn't paying attention.
     This afternoon, I abandoned the little work I had, packed the camera and a plastic bowl of "Bubba" water, and set off to replicate the great day we had at the Pepsi Dog Park in the Waynesville Recreation Center.

Oh, no! No doggies.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I was disheartened that the dog park was totally abandoned.  Undeterred, I put Sebastian's leash on and started to walk towards that Doggy Paradise of unrestrained running.
      Soon, I began to realize that no only was the dog park empty, but there were no baseball games being played, our championship Disc Golf course was unused,
no one was on the soccer fields, the tennis courts, running track and picnic areas were all unoccupied. There were a dozen or so baggy-panted long-haired skaters in the skate board arena, but they were eyeing me and my camera like I was

part of the local narcotics squad.  I decided that snapping some pictures of the only people in the rec center was not worth making them (or me) uncomfortable.   

      Later, we did catch a glimpse of some volleyball being played out near the entrance.
      We decided to make the best of the warm humid afternoon and took a stroll along Richland Creek that runs through the park before

heading back down the four-lane to our mountain abode.  
     I got the idea from a farm field across the creek, that some fried chicken and fresh corn might be a good supper to end our day.  With a salivating mouth, I gave thought to KFC, but then remembered that Bojangles was only a little further up the
road, and I love their Cajun fried-chicken.  Bypassing the Colonel's place, we headed out to Maggie Valley to Bo's only to learn that they were out of their Cajun variety and would have none cooked for at least a half hour.  I settled for their regular version and began my journey home by way of a produce stand that conveniently was similarly sold out of corn.  Oh, for the taste of some rare good luck for a change.
     Lady luck was certainly against us today, but I'm not giving up.  I figure she can't stay mad at me forever, after all, I never married her.  Can you imagine that alimony?