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Tuesday, May 26, 2009


moon over whitehead

My friend from 35+ years ago, in my Charleston years, Wendy Salinger, has lived in NYC since her Charleston years. We left at about the same time. I went rural, believing I would write in the mountains, and she went mega-urban, believing she would write in the city. We were out of touch for many a year and got back in touch when I came upon her name on She had a book, a memoir called Listen.

Naturally I ordered it and read it. Wendy writes with an inner passion that could set forest fires. Perhaps I enjoyed most in Wendy's writing that someone I actually know is such a good writer. I mean good like writing as beautiful as writing gets without drawing attention to itself.

Wendy's passion from childhood on has been writing. She's too much of a purist to write for bestseller charts and the big bucks. In Wendy's kind of writing you don't make any money. A publisher consents to publish your book and that's as good as it gets. Yale published her book of poems, Folly River, and Bloomsbury published Listen.

After reading Listen, I found an email address for her and we've been back in touch ever since. Wendy is the kind of friend who is loyal for life. She still has the same friends she had back then. I do too, which is why I wanted to get back in touch with her. Of people I've known since I knew Wendy, attorney Donna Shumate is the only one with a passion for the true to equal Wendy's. A committed passion that's uncompromising. The two are close in my mind. What I appreciate about one may be said of the other. Yet they're very different people.

Some months ago, Wendy was giving a workshop on memoir writing. There was a guy in the class named Bill Birns, who writes a column called Catskill Catalog at this website.
Wendy suggested we get in touch as I've written a column and he wrote a column. Bill and I write back and forth emails now. He sends me his columns when they're new and he sees what I'm doing in this blog. In fact, he may have inspired the blog unwittingly.

Bill lives in south central New York state in an area much like here, about the distance from here to Jefferson from where friends of mine lived, but moved away from ten or so years ago. Bill researches historical moments and people of his region of the mountains, the Catskills, the same chain of mountains as ours, but on the Yankee side of the line.

I was curious about Northern mountain people and he was curious about Southern mountain people, so we spent quite a bit of correspondence on the customs in our different, yet similar in most ways, cultures. He sent me a picture of a 90 yr old fiddler in his area and a boy in high school playing fiddle together at a music show. I sent him a tape of one of my radio shows of the Round Peak musicians.

Bill tells accounts of incidents in the past in such a way you have an understanding of what was happening. He appreciates mountain people and mountain customs. He writes about them with respect and appreciation. In the column that is featured now at the website for nonsubscribers like us to see, Bill goes to a man's tombstone and tells what he's learned about him in research on the way.

He's actually a historian of his region of the mountains, and quite a good one at that, one who appreciates that it's indiviuals who make history. He teaches history at a rural school. He has a family and I wonder how he gets done all that he does. He probably does too. Like somebody who worked at a factory, had a family and plays incredible fiddle, Benton Flippen.

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