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Friday, April 30, 2010


spring buds

A cousin in Kansas City sent an email with her email address on it so we could write back and forth. It was long, having to do with horses and feathers. To respond to her about it, I hesitated to use the word Indian, because only Indians use it. White people now say Native American, which the Indians think ridiculous. I don't like to use the term, because it's so PC, politically correct. It's an American school phenomenon of conformity cranked up the next notch to class mind control. What it amounts to really is white middle-class think. I think of people who live in a subdivision so huge it is a maze; all the multi-plexes are exactly alike and painted the same color. Like Malvina Reynolds' song about little boxes on a hillside, they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

I chose not to use that term, and chose not to use Indian, because my cousin is white, a nurse, works in a hospital, a conscientious woman who wants to be respectful of everyone. She doesn't live in a ticky tacky subdivision. I don't know what she makes of the word Indian, like it's colonialist to use that word. When PC is the rule, middle-class, I know without having to decide. But cousin Barbara is a working class woman with a fairly middle-class way of thinking. I couldn't predict with her. I chose not to use either. I said her email address seemed pow wowish. That seemed neutral to me. Pow wows are about the only way Indians are known now by white people in person. She wrote back asking why I don't like her email address. She said she didn't quite know how to take it, so she took it I didn't like it. I had to write her back and explain I didn't mean it disrespectfully.

It's like unsweet. I'd have done better to say, Native American. Indian would have been ok too. I had to complicate it until the meaning was lost. I learned years ago, years ago, thousands of experiences ago, never in the South do you order tea without sugar. It's unsweet. Unsweet is all the waitresses know it by. Every time I say tea without sugar, which is automatic for me with a mind that pays attention to words, the waitress says, "Unsweet?" I finally caught on a year or 2 ago, but still I slip and say tea without sugar, and invariably get the answer, "Unsweet?" They're training me. I'm trained, but sometimes lapse when I'm not thinking. I remind myself every time I want tea without sugar it's unsweet. Like 7up is the uncola. What? You mean it had cola in it and they took it out? The tea had sugar and you have to take it out to make it unsweet? Seems like it would be an expensive process to take the sugar out of Southern iced tea, and it would cost more, but it costs the same. Ought to cost less.

I came to the mountains all those years ago to get away from urban thinking, which I found largely superficial. I checked out the urban first looking for something real to live by. Our civilization had become so incredibly superficial that I wanted out on the edge of it, not in the thick of it. The real landscape in a city is the human mind. It's a forest of human minds. They're all whirring all the time, day and night, money, money, more money. I thought it would be better for my mind, for living with my mind, to live surrounded by the world of flora and fauna, the "natural" world, what's left of it, where the vibration is harmonious with the spirit of life. When I'm in a city, the energy I feel is drive, stop, wait, start, drive, stop, wait, start, get out of everybody's way. They're all in a hurry and I'm not. They want more money than I do. They want position I don't want. They want big things I don't want. They want status I don't want. They want big tombstones and I don't want any. I tend to like a plain rock for a tombstone. It's what I've given all my pets I've buried. I like Jr's daddy's tombstone, polished black marble and no words, no ID.

I've thought about old man Wiley's life after Christmas 1945 when his son, who was up in his 50s with his 2 kids in their 30s, killed his second wife, seriously maimed his in-laws, then killed himself, leaving their baby an orphan at 4 months old. I can't help but suspect the block of black marble represented to him his heart. A man of constant sorrow. He didn't even get a chance to know the grandbaby, which he'd surely seen a time or two. He's buried next to his boy who did all that, and he knew in advance where his grave would be. It was such a trauma in the family that Jr, age 23, left here, divorced, ended up in Decatur, Alabama, operating heavy equipment in construction. Had a good woman there, intended to never return. Not only did Welter kill his wife and himself, he killed the Maxwell name. He told me some time ago Maxwell is a bad name in the county. All on account of a brother who was "too quick to use a gun." Old man Wiley was 80 when it happened and lived 13 more years. I'd say they were years of relentless sorrow. Today, they'd have him so jacked up on mood enhancers he couldn't do anything but sit in front of a television and feel good.

The blow to Jr's mother, who was not Welter's mother, was devastating. It was devastating to Jr's wife, Maggie. Welter played fiddle, Jr played banjo, Maggie played guitar and sang. They made a lot of music together and were close. Jr's heart never recovered from that time. I talked with Maggie in Maryland after Jr died, and she was still reeling from it, had all her life. She lost Jr, her man she deeply loved and continues to. At 87 years old, she said, "I just don't know what happened." Meaning, I take it, that so much changed that night so drastically, she still can't digest what happened. I find it interesting Jr chose to be buried with his mother and wife Lois in another cemetery, his mother's family cemetery, the Joines cemetery in Whitehead. I never asked Jr questions about what it did to his dad and mother. It was such a painful subject, and had to do with private lives, family, the part most private, he didn't like going there. I wonder if it wrecked the relationships between all Maxwells, there weren't very many. He tended toward his Joines relatives because they were so many and neighbors. A lot of his first cousins and uncles were musicians. Every Whitehead/Pine Swamp Joines I've known has been good people, the kind you want for relatives.

What does this have to do with political correctness? You're not going to find much of it in Whitehead and Pine Swamp except for transplants. I can't help but think the people caught up in PC are people who really wasted their college years, shouldn't have gone in the first place, except that parents demanded it. I went into college with the most unrealistic of expectations, that it would be about learning. In my first year, a man who'd gone to the U of Chicago told me college is not about education, it's about socialization, learning to socialize. I had a hard time accepting it, because I was investing in learning, but the only way I could miss that what he said is evident everywhere would be denial. And there you get American school conformity. Too much school, too much conformity in adult life. Too much conformity and you get all the girls in high school looking as much like Barbie dolls as can be done. It's shocking for somebody who came up in the 50s when Barbies were new to see that Barbie is now the model young women follow. It's really a corporate tv reality of a look that sells. Britney Spears--corporate living Barbie, nervous breakdowns, losing her kids and all. The American Girl grown up. The worst thing that can be said of somebody, she's / he's different.

Thursday, April 29, 2010



In the past I've scooped up a handful of dirt under a small cluster of bluets and put it in a teacup. A teacup is the right pot for bluets. I'll probably get one in a day or two. Nice little indoor bouquet of the bluets of spring that stay in flower for a long time. They don't require any more care than occasional watering, and not much of that. They have a fresh air about them. They delight the eye with their tiny magnificence. When the flowers are done, I can put them back in the ground and they'll return next year. They're hardy little things. They make me think of Asheville poet, Jonathan Williams, who had a book of poems titled, Roots and Bluets. I think 'roots and bluets' every time I see bluets.

Everywhere I look, trees are in full bud, some popping open, some yet to. This early warm spell we had didn't seem to hurry the trees about buds opening. The buds have their own ghostly beauty. A tree in full bud amounts to a haze of the colors orange, pink, yellow, red, and the colors in haze behind it can be seen through it until there are 2, 3 and 4 layered tree-shaped hazes of these brilliant spring colors. It has been several weeks the trees are waiting for the time to be right for the leaves to open.

Two calves, white with reddish brown spots, each decorated in its own way, are lying down in the green meadow where the grass is to their ankles, an abundance of what Tom Pruitt called, fresh green shoots. They're comfortable. They've been together all their lives and probably will go to slaughter together. They have a good life; plenty of grass to graze, a salt block, periodic grain delivered, a friend for life to pass the days with, a fence around their territory to keep everything else out. The meadow is their safe place. It's all theirs. Not a bad life, considering their purpose is to become Whoppers and Big Macs. Burgers on the hoof. Out there chewing their cuds. Light coming in at a sharp angle in the evening glows on their backs, a nice warm feeling when its 61 degrees, the last kiss of sunlight before morning.

There's nothing like losing a good friend to make me raise the value of my living friends. Now that I'm out of Sparta, I like to get up with people I've not seen much, spend some time together, talk over whatever comes up, people whose company I enjoy, ones I didn't get to see much in the past for looking after Jr and running a store and everyday life busyness, the quiet people I don't run into because, like me, they don't go anyplace much. People I've come to know through Jr I want to see periodically to keep in touch. I suppose they feel the same about me as I feel about them, memories of Jr. I'm happy every time I talk with somebody I knew through Jr, because we talk about him, and I like to talk about him, hear tales about him, tell tales about him. He can trust me in death as in life to always be on his side, to confirm his good name. I'm glad for Jr's sake that he had someone he could trust to come through for him in his helpless time, look to his interest when his mind was gone as much as when he had his mind, behind his back as to his face.

I saw a film this afternoon that was so real it was like it was happening instead of scripted, acted and filmed. Seraphine. French film, subtitles, the true story of an artist in a small French town who was a cleaning lady. She amused herself making pictures. She was the bottom of all pecking orders until an art dealer from Paris found her by chance. It was the time between WWs 1 and 2. The actress who played Seraphine was like she wasn't ever acting. Her resemblence to Jean in her life as the one everybody talked down to really took ahold of me. Jean liked to make drawings too. I didn't encourage her to paint more, unlike the man in the movie who encouraged Seraphine. She had a period of time with good income and a big studio, due to his encouragement and sales. But that was before the hammer fell. She became obsessive painting all night long, working late in the day, ran herself down, the Depression put an end to sales, put her standard of living back to what it was before, which was OK, but a few screws fell out and and her mind went a little wacky.

If people around her could have just allowed her to act out her harmless fantasies, she'd have been fine. Hers was a life of other people helping her out until she ended up tied down and straightjackedted in an institutional bed in a cell with a window. It felt to me like a story of the disasters interfering in other people's lives can create when the intent is so to the good. It works like that so often. Like people coming into Sparta with a business idea that's what Sparta needs, like me. Turns out Sparta didn't need it. A lot of other people have learned Sparta didn't need whatever it was they thought Sparta needed. I was cautious about trying to do something that would be to Jr's good, because it seldom works out as imagined, imposing my will on somebody else's karma, their own flow, their own track. It's what happens when you get knocked off your own track onto somebody else's and it's not going where you need to be going. I liked to respond to Jr's will as it arose, instead of imposing onto him what I thought best. I knew him well enough to know he knew himself better than I or anyone else knew him. When it came to who made his decisions or determined his directions, he did, up to the last breath. That's what I felt like I was doing there, helping him to live by his own decisions all the way along.

Seraphine was a beautiful soul, who loved God and had a good life cleaning for other people, no family near or far, painting pictures for the fun of it. She was on her own cloud and had a good life there, albeit lonely and poor. The actress, Yolanda Moreau, was the character on first sight. While it looked like she was not acting at all, it was an acting tour de force, because it didn't look like acting. An unforgettable character. I, in my own life, have come to see my art as something I don't want attention for, will not pursue the fame and money game for. I've come to wanting my own art to be like music to the mountain musician. It's what you do because you love doing it, you've worked at it a long time improving as time goes by, you live the rest of your life too, what little you make from it is supplement, like new tires, a dentist visit, like that. A sale makes it possible to catch up a little bit. I don't need for a sale to buy me a house on a beach in Florida. I want my art to be an at home thing, no ambition for New York, no ambition outside the world of the people I live among. The ambition here is to honor the individuals I paint with a portrait in the world to be remembered by a long time after they're gone. Not that I believe that is especially important, because a fire could burn them all up. But I believe honoring them is important. Just the act of doing it. Like a musician's delight is in making music. These are the thoughts I gathered from witnessing Seraphine Louis's story of reaching too far for something that wasn't there. The art market world both energizes and destroys. It depends, like Hollywood, on which wave you catch, the one with the great white shark in it or the one without. I'm not a surfer, so it doesn't mean a bowl of Mexican jumping beans to me. That's how I like it. Let everybody else fight it out.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


jean's african violet

Years and years ago I made an attempt to grow an African violet and it didn't work, right away. Overwatering rotted the roots and that was it. I was apprehensive of the one above when Jean left it with Jr not long before she died, something for him to remember her by. He kept it on the kitchen table and I looked to the watering. It baked in the sun, which I didn't know worked against it. I thought it had to acclimatize. I've been told it was a desert plant, so I figured sun was good for it. It is, but not that good. After watering it looked good. The day of Jr's funeral I asked his niece to take it home with her. She'd professed to have several. She's good with African violets. Like everything she says, I neither believe it nor disbelieve it. I wait and see. A few weeks later when I went to the house to get some water when my pipes were frozen, I saw she'd left the violet, meaning, I suspected, she didn't know the first thing about violets and was not the violet gifted one she professed for herself. I brought it home. It lived good here in quite a lot less direct sun. I didn't quite trust myself with an African violet, but I'd kept this one living for 2 years. I must have the rhythm of watering it about right. I decided to repot it and maybe improve its health. I believe Jr would have wanted me to take it. It's my memory of Jr too.

Hope wiggled its hind end in my face this morning. Nextdoor neighbor, Allan, stopped by this morning on his way in one direction or another. He said he had come in the back road last night at 11:30. Approaching Tom Pruitt's empty house, he saw cat eyes on the porch. He pulled his car into Tom's parking place shining the headlights onto the porch. It was a black cat, a black skinny cat, that ran under the porch out of sight. I walked up to Tom's house at 9 this morning, walked around the house calling TarBaby. Perhaps, goes my new thinking, TarBaby got away from Jolene and went as far as Tom's house to go hang out, stay away from the dogs. It sounded like TarBaby, esp the skinny part. He does know how to keep himself in fresh meat.

Cats do have a way of going away for several weeks and turning up. I've given up hope so much I don't know how I'd handle it when he walks in the door. Yes I do. I'll pick him up, if he'll let me--he might be in his wild mind that could take a little time, a few hours to settle back into domestic mind. He might have been under the house, at least in hearing distance of my calls to him. I've seen many times in the past that when a cat is in wild mind, it doesn't recognize its name, not even the voice or the sight of the most familiar human. If that's what TarBaby is doing, I'll have to leave him to it. He might have gone to hide wounded too, to heal himself before he came home. I can't know. One thing I learned from living with cats is I do not understand cat mind. Don't understand dog mind either. Don't understand human mind. I'll just say I don't understand mind.

There are a few things I can recognize a cat's thinking when it's close to mine. We're not very far apart, except we have the forebrain, they don't. The forebrain is what got us put out of the Garden. We tend to think about ourselves all the time. Cats and dogs seldom or never think about themselves. I know they're aware of themselves by name, by wanting, by reflection in a mirror. I put a mirror on the floor, leaning against the wall, for them to become aware of what they look like. It' isn't long before they figure out it's themselves. They take an interest in it as themselves once, then never again. They see it, recognize it's self, but don't look. Yet, they're aware it's them. They don't have to look again because they've seen it. I've held one of the cats up to see self in the bathroom mirror I use for shaving. Each one gave their own eyes a split-second glance and never looked at self again. I felt like it made them a little nervous not wanting to see self.

They are tremendously unlike us in this way. When they see something once, they've seen it. Don't need to keep on looking at it. Once they see it, they know it's there, and that's all. If it's something to eat, they'll take a little time to deal with that, but when it's done, it's done. They don't fix their attention for long periods of time like we do, and they don't dwell on the past or the future, their own status, their self-esteem, or worry. They don't have the forebrain to focus their attention on themselves first and all else through that filtering lens, which distorts such that what we call reality is, indeed, the same as a dream. Each individual's reality is her/his own dream. It wasn't very long ago that Western mind believed the earth was flat like a table and the heavens revolved around it, which time lapse photography of the night sky illustrates. All the stars, planets, moon, sun, go around us. It kept shipping lanes close to the coastline. Now, anyone who believes the earth is flat is considered completely out of touch, dismissed. It will be like that with evolution in another hundred years or more. Before Newton named it gravity that kept everything on the ground doesn't mean gravity started that day. Planet Earth went round the sun when people believed it didn't. I'm amused by the present day Christian response to evolution, like it's something you can vote on. Vote NO on the evolution amendment. Unacceptable. Therefore, we don't have to believe it. It's not like gun laws you can say, "my cold, dead hand," about. In the 1920s, an artist in Paris, a Surrealist, exhibited a framed mirror in a show, across the bottom of the frame written, MONKEY.

My first weeks in the mountains, I was in conversation with 2 NC forestry men, about Christmas trees on the Stern land. One of them was a mountain boy and the other a city boy. While we walked from one place to another, they were talking about hunting. The mountain boy said the Bible said God gave us dominion over the animals, meaning we can kill them. My head swum a little bit over that one. I took dominion to mean responsibility to take care of, like a king's dominion over his people. They're his responsibility to look to their good. It didn't always work out that way. Some kings were benevolent and some were tyrants. There it is, dominion means one thing in theory and another in practice. Why not just call it tradition? It's tradition we kill deer and everything else. It's human tradition. This was some of my very first encounters with country people, and I found it a bit inexplicable he had the need to justify killing deer to eat by the Bible. We justified genocide on the Indians by the Bible. It was used to justify slavery.

After 2000+ years, I wonder when we will start living by the New Testament. Back then, He said the Old Testament time was over, done, accomplished, fulfilled, finished. The new time is here. It's about loving the people around us, taking care of the people who can't help themselves, basically just getting along with others as the secret to a good life. Over 2000 years ago. It didn't take that long for the humans to catch on to the earth being a ball spinning around a ball of fire. From the way things are in Christendom in this time, it's like the message of Love never took. It looks to me like it translated down through time as tell-other-people-what-to-do. I don't know what that says about humans unless it's a slow process to transcend our animal nature after so much time in animal form killing to eat, and all the territorial mind that dogs make good examples of. Evolution is a slow process. It has all the time in the world. It's ongoing. I think of it as the equivalent of the growing process, like they're linked as one. And it also doesn't matter what I think about it, like it doesn't matter what I think about gravity, or anything, really. When a big wind comes through that blows down a large number of trees, it doesn't matter that I understand the wind. It only matters that I know how to use a chainsaw. But if I'm going to fly a plane, or work on a sailing ship, I'll need to understand the wind. I guess it's whatever my reality requires at the time.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


a good year for apple blossoms

It's a beautiful spring every way you look at it. Some of the trees are still in bud and some are opening. Birds are trickling back in. My cats won't be the danger to birds they once were. Tapo and Caterpillar are too slow now for catching birds, though Caterpillar brought me a mouse one day last week. It's open season on mice year round. The rain has been at night and the ground wet during the day, sky somewhat overcast (partly sunny), keeping the colors vibrant and the small leaves coming up out of the ground too. It's a happy spring for the green world.

I used that word green. So tired of it. It's like the word natural was used to death in advertising 35 years ago, such that now it's meaningless, but it looks good and continues to sell products. Now they're doing the same with green. It's green! Voila! Green is not a color any more. We have green lightbulbs that give white light, and now we have green footprints. Maybe a tarheel is a carbon footprint. That's getting weird, calculating carbon footprints. So much is weird now, I've been calling up News Of The Weird from my new MSN homepage. It's a lot more interesting than corporate news. Somebody mailed somebody else a big boa constrictor in a box. What do you do when your pet boa outgrows the house? Mail it to somebody. Of course. The news of the really weird is young guys getting themselves maimed for life, physically, mentally and emotionally, willingly, for a fake war that's been known as such since before it started. Keep the working class in poverty and there's an endless line of young guys looking for a job.

I'm thinking of Jean lately. Always do, but more recently. More than likely it's because I've bought some African violet potting soil and fertilizer to repot the pair of African violets she gave to Jr a few weeks before she died. I kept them going for him, as he was partial to them as they represented Jean, his friend of 15 years, who appreciated him in ways he didn't understand, for who he was, for Jr himself. When he'd pat her on the ass, she'd turn around like Tapo when Caterpillar touched her, and hiss at Jr, "I love you Jr, but not like that!!!" He'd smile to himself, got himself a cheap feel. It irritated the hell out of her until she quit coming around. I tried to talk to Jean, like a man, "So what if he touches your ass. What's the big damn deal?" That only told Jean I'm just like all the other men. I don't get it. He wanted her to marry him and take care of him in his old age. He had enough assets to make it worth her while. She was mortified. He was scrawny and old and physically repellent. I was thinking she'd had nothing but seriously abusive redneck husbands, why not a gentle old man who thinks she's hot? Out of the question. I thought of a young woman I'd worked with not long before. A guy working at one of the banks had a thing for her. He was clearly infatuated. He ask her out, she declined. I asked her what was up, the guy drives a dually. She said he'd be too nice to her. She doesn't like guys that are nice to her. Ok, whatever trips your trigger. I think Jean was the same way. Could be it's a daddy thang. Familiar. Home. The guy mom divorced because she couldn't live with him and his baby doll missed him so bad.

When I see the violet I speak to Jean in my heart, telling her how I've managed to keep it going in her memory, how the new potting soil and fertilizer perked it up instantly. The years of sitting at the table with Jr and Jean bonded the 3 of us into what we didn't know at the time was a triumvirate of friends way deeper than any of us knew, so much deeper it's incomprehensible to all of us. That was my main purpose in asking Jean to let it ride when Jr felt frisky, to keep the 3 of us together. It was like there was something going on I couldn't comprehend and neither could Jean or Jr. It was so deep, it wasn't usual, therefore none of us had any experience with what we had for a relationship. It had soul importance for all of us. Maybe if I had some scrawny old woman in her late 80s pawing me, I'd feel like I had my own rights in the matter when enough can be enough. Yeah, that gives it another meaning. I wanted to say something to Jr about his hands on Jean, but it was his buisness. It was between them, totally had to do with their relationship, not mine to even think about. As it turned out, Jean had to face her mortality head on, and evidently needed her own space to handle what she had left. Of course, we imagined Jr would go first, me next, Jean last, according to age. Jean went first and it dumbfounded Jr and me.

Jean was such a value to my life, it was incomprehensible, like Jr's value, which I don't even feel compelled to sound to find its depth. I'm satisfied our three-way bond was for whatever its purpose, Jr's table the place where only kindness went around. This gathering went on for a few years, and though no one ever stopped by and listened to us talk around the table, all kinds of people knew exactly what was going on and told it about, every kind of thing that could be thought of by people that think like that. We paid it no mind. We knew what was going on and the people that weren't there were welcome to stop by and see for themselves, but never did. It was good for all of us, in my way of looking back at it. We all benefited. Jr was in the despair of loneliness he couldn't handle. I thought when I had the first few drinks with him that loneliness was his only real issue. I can't do anything to help somebody else psychologically, but I felt like I could stop by and see Jr regularly and relieve loneliness a little bit, give him somebody to talk with, have a drink with, listen to bluegrass with, somebody who respected him plenty to start with, and the respect over time grew into something bigger than respect. It was the same with Jean. Respect for different reasons, but respect all the same.

Jean had a life of major blows like Jr had, several, and much of her adult life incarcerated in mental institutions, where she would go to get away from the world of her relatives and husbands. She was never able to make a decision of her own for her own life to such a degree she withdrew to institutions where they kept her comfortably numb and she spent her time helping the staff with the patients. She loved them. She helped take care of people way out there, understood them and comforted them when no one else could get in there to them. We came to wondering if this might have been her purpose in this life, to give a little humanity to people whose minds don't work right and they can't help it. She'd been through so many sessions of psychotherapy, individually and in group, it was how she thought. She understood a great deal more than the average woman in her late 50s. The difficulty of her life that overwhelmed her had her at the bottom, walking by the side of Hwy 18 in Whitehead, "The Crazy Woman of Whitehead," between her house and Jr's. The righteous looked the other way when she walked by. She told me first time we met she was bipolar. Later she told me she'd learned to tell everybody she met up front, because when she became friends with somebody, then told them, they rejected her and it hurt. So she started telling first encounter with anyone. When a stranger never sees you again, it doesn't hurt like when a so-called friend abandons you over something they know nothing about.

I never go to what we call parties, because I learned long ago I'm more one for one to one or half dozen or less. When it comes to standing around with a throng of people holding drinks, wine now, used to be liquor until drunk driving laws made cocktail parties sober events, is not my idea of a good time. I'd rather ride a roller coaster 20 times in a row. At least it would be fun. I did that scene before moving to the mountains to get away from that mind. I gave myself permission when I moved here never to go to another cocktail party if I don't want to. I've never wanted to, but I've gone to a few, and none of them was worth the gas to get there and back. I took Jean to a few, because I wanted my friends to meet Jean, to see this is an extraordinary individual. My friends took to her like someone they hadn't seen in years and wanted to see more of.

Every once in awhile I'd see someone turn the nose up at Jean and walk away. Every time, it was someone I think of as false, somebody whose life is a fake, a fraud of a human being. I recall a man I watched snub Jean at a Christmas gathering, causing me to stay away from him. A couple years later I met him somewhere else and he said, "I think we've met." I said, "No, we haven't met, but we spent some time in the same place once." And I knew not to take anything seriously about this man. Just stay away. I took Jean to a wedding party for some friends of mine. 5 women snubbed Jean, all of them women who surprised me. If I'd thought about it, I could have anticipated it, but it never entered my mind to think about it. They hugged up on me, glad to see ya, turned to Jean, the nose went straight up, they turned literally on a heel and walked away. After the 5th one, I said to Jean, "Are you ready to go?" She said, "Yes," and out the door we went. I saw that I was in the wrong place, with or without Jean, and I could not subject her to another snubbing. We drove to Floyd, Virginia, and heard the Jugbusters play at the Floyd Country Store. Much more fun than snooty people.

Monday, April 26, 2010


the peak, whitehead

The white roof in the picture is Liberty Baptist. The view is from the Joines cemetery by the Whitehead Union Baptist Church up the hill from Pine Swamp Road in Whitehead. I went up there to see Jr's grave the first time. Driving home from town, I passed Liberty, saw old man Wiley's black marble tombstone in the cemetery, remembered I'd not yet been to Jr's grave, not that visiting a grave is terrifically important to me, but it is. I don't make an issue of it. I just visit. When Jr visited a grave, he'd see it, turn around and leave. Just to see it. And that's why I turned around at Cleary Road and went back to the cemetery to see Jr's grave, to see it. I wasn't there but a minute or two, until I started thinking about the corpse in the box in the vault in the ground, fingernails growing, beard growing, hair growing. And I left. Enough of that kind of thinking. I like to think I'm not squeamish, but I can't watch an autopsy. I looked around at the landscape, the cemetery put on a good hill with a view to the sunrise in the east for when the last trumpet sounds. For some reason some people believe the view from a cemetery is good for the corpse. If a corpse could see, all it would see would be absolute black like way back in a cave. Blackness itself. Not a particle of light. But if Jr could see, this picture is in the view. He's seen it before visiting his mother and wife. A great many of his mother's people are in there.

The world has turned green. Green everywhere. Leaves are beginning to open out of the buds, the grass in the meadows vibrant, clear green. The colors at this time of year look like they have light inside them, like in Gauguin paintings in Tahiti. Gauguin was a creep, but he made some beautiful paintings. On the ship back to France, which must have taken months, the crew came to despise him. There was a time they were on the verge of throwing him overboard. That's where I quit reading the biography, because by then I couldn't stand him, found him a loathe some individual in several ways, wished they had thrown him overboard and I put the book away. I didn't want him in my mind any more. But I have to give it to him. At the National Gallery in DC, I was on my way to the Manet room drawn by the dead matador when I passed the doorway to the Gauguin room. The paintings in there glowed with a light inside them. I made a turn and went to look at some spectacularly gorgeous paintings. The light in the colors doesn't come across in photographs and printing in books, the only chance I have to see them which I take for better than not at all.

The day Conway Twitty died I had a conversation with an aunt over the telephone. She asked if I liked him. I said I don't particularly like him, but I appreciate him. She let me have it, making it clear I cannot appreciate somebody I don't like. I continue to think I can. She didn't convince me. I don't particularly like Lawrence Welk, but I appreciate that in his world he is quite different from in my world. He was a good musician or he wouldn't have had the tv show for so many years. So was Liberace. He was good. It's not the kind of music I like, but he was good at what he did, bit like Elvis by the Las Vegas bug of shamelessness.

I stopped by Lucas Pasley's house after the radio show Saturday. Everybody was outside, Lucas and Ibi working on projects, keeping the kids in view as the kids play. Lucas and I talked awhile about his program 2 nights before at the library on musicians of the county, one thing and another. I'd brought some paper along, because I wanted to ask Lenka to draw a picture for me. I was hoping she hadn't discovered stick figures yet. I loved her scribbled portraits, pre stick figures. When everything was a bit settled after the kids' excitement with a visitor, I asked Lenka if she would draw a picture for me. Yes, she would. I asked if she could draw a picture of her daddy playing the banjo. Yes, she could. I handed her the tablet of paper I'd brought and she set about drawing. It was like Ralph Stanley starting a song. He just starts it. Right off I saw she'd learned about stick figures. I was a little bit too late for what I thought I wanted. But what I got is perhaps better than what I wanted.

I wanted an image for a coffee cup I aim to have made by Image Specialists in Sparta a dozen
coffee mugs for the radio show, Backwoods Beat Music Hour, WCOK 1060 AM Sparta, on one side and Lenka's drawing of a stick figure banjo picker sitting in a chair, a smile so big it's a half circle, hair sticking out from his circle head like sun rays emerging from a happy sun. I've been wanting to do these mugs for several years, but couldn't settle on an image for the other side from the text. I didn't want to use anything I drew. I wanted something as fresh and spontaneous as a child's drawing of her daddy when she'd just turned 4. I'll let Lenka's drawing be the show's logo. I was 5 years getting a theme song for the show, which it turned out I had all the way along. Now I have a logo to. I want to credit the drawing to Lenka on the cup. Her figure is about 10" tall. It will be reduced to 2.5 inches. I want to put her name and age with it. One of the cups will be for her, one for me and the rest I'll give away one a week to people listening to the radio show, ten of them in all. It's been years I've been wanting to do this. I want some of my listeners to have a coffee mug from the radio show, maybe a mug they'll like. The image is refreshingly childlike. It has a feeling I could not have given it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


fiddlin art wooten

This morning, lying awake just after waking, facing the wall, I heard from behind me, like right up close to my back where TarBaby would often be in the morning, I heard a cat purring. I lay quietly listening. He could not have come into the house, because windows and door were closed. It was TarBaby's particular purr. Caterpillar has been sleeping about 5 feet away, so I reasoned it was Caterpillar. I turned over to look, no cat in sight. The purring stopped as soon as I turned. If I hear it again, I'll stay still and listen. Another case of hearing him at the door and finding nothing there. That one I can dismiss as a surprise wheeze in my breathing that sounded like a cat saying, Mao. As far as I can tell, this is the first time TarBaby has contacted me. This was unmistakable. A couple mornings when I was sleeping on the floor at Jr's I felt TarBaby beside my back. He was living in the body then, so it doesn't necessarily mean he's dead, though after 2 weeks I can't help but think he is. By dead I mean spirit left the body, spirit still living, only body dead.

The rest of the day I put programs in the laptop for the printer, scanner, etc. Only came upon one thing to make me raise my voice and Tapo look over to see what set the giant off. For Microsoft Word, for some reason they wanted the 25 figure "product key," which, of course, was on the bottom of the computer. I turned it up on a corner, wrote down the letters and numbers painstakingly attentive to double, triple checking with a magnifying glass. I entered them. Not it. I turn the computer up again and every letter as I have it entered is correct. I tried again. Incorrect. What made Tapo look up was when I said, It IS correct!!! I checked and re-checked countless times and it never would receive what I gave it, which was correct. I wrote to a help line a direct declarative statement of the issue. The answer I received was I gave too many questions to answer. Wanted me to narrow it down to one question. The computer answer genie doesn't appear to have much better sense than a committee. The thing about it is, I know it's me. Something about it I'm not doing right. I typed all the letters and numbers with caps lock on because it was all cap letters, and numbers are numbers with caps lock too. Tomorrow's exploration will be to see if it will receive what I type in if I don't use caps lock for the numbers, do the numbers in lower case, as it were. I'm not trying it any more today because I've dawdled in tech mechanics enough for one day.
The painting above of Art Wooten was the first in my series of mountain musicians, the first ones on wood. Jr's response to seeing his friend Art when I handed it to him was astonishment. He had no idea I could get a likeness that was like seeing Art himself. Up to that moment Jr had felt sorry for me because I couldn't weld, couldn't fix tractors, couldn't work a sawmill, couldn't drive a truck, didn't hunt, couldn't cut up a deer hanging by it's back feet, couldn't do nothing that was practical. He never said anything, but for quite a while he took me for plain pitiful. Then he saw I could paint a likeness of someone he knows so he recognized him. He didn't feel sorry for me after that. Next I showed him one I painted of him picking banjo. That one caused him to get quiet for a moment, look at the floor and say, 'Thank you.' Every time I finished one of the paintings, I took it to show him.
Sometimes we'd talk about them. He said, "I don't see how you do it. How did you learn how to do that?" I told him I figured it out the same way he figured out a banjo and learned to work on tractors and weld. He understood that. It took the mystery out of it, made it something he could comprehend. I told him it's one of them things, like he got the gift for banjo pickin and I got the gift for painting. We all get our own talent. A lot of people think painting is something you either have or don't have. They tried it once and it was terrible. So was everybody's first attempt. But if that's when you give up, it's a pretty good sign it's of no interest as something to spend any time doing. Right now, I don't know what's up with my painting. Haven't touched it in 2-3 weeks. I look at it every day, but seldom approach it. In this grieving period over Jr, I don't feel like painting or anything, and then TarBaby in there too, I don't have what it takes to want to paint. I don't want to do anything. I like to see people and I like to be here alone. Now, it's best to stay at home because I feel so down and out. No need to pass it around like the flu any more than I have to.
It could be a good time to keep an abstraction going, to add something to it every once in awhile, build it over a period of time until it's finished. No. It's a good time to take it easy, let this sorrow play its course and pass. I've an idea if I talked with a particular psychotherapist I'd be told I'm depressed and pills would help. But I want Jr to have a full grieving cycle. I miss him. I miss his spirit. Jr's spirit was wide awake and alive at all times. I'm not afraid of sorrow. I find when I'm in what I'll call a depression, I'm working in my head on something that's an issue that's come up, something I need to deal with that's more than just trimming toenails. I'm of the mind I'd rather deal with my own issues than be going about happy all the time like it's the Ozzie and Harriet Show. That's ok too, but I feel better about it when it's my own temperament I'm living with. It's not harmful to others. It's harmful to myself, but in such a slow way it's hard to notice. I don't want to get old and helpless anyway. I'm every day glad I was able to keep Jr out of the nursing home, except for the physical therapy rounds, made it possible for him to fade away at home, the only place he wanted to be. It gives me a big inner glow to do such a thing for a Blue Ridge Mountain hillbilly banjo pickin sawmiller and tractor mechanic who trusted me so well he told me the contents of his will the day he signed it, trusting absolutely I'd never tell anyone. And I still won't. Such trust is for all time. It's the kind of trust that doesn't come lightly or quickly. It's earned. That's the part that makes me feel good about it, that in my time with Jr Maxwell I earned his trust. That's important to me. Way up there high important. It was never a purpose, because I never would have believed it possible. Very different in hindsight from in foresight.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


little river boys c1960

The new computer is up and going. It really was easy to get going, just that I didn't know what I was doing, so when I did the last thing, hook up the modem, it was on. Big surprise. I thought I had wire hell before. I was going for the simplicity of one small computer to replace a big 3-part computer that takes up a lot of space and has a lot of wires. Now I have all those wires plus these new ones. It's time to do something about my wiring situation. It's kind of 3rd world. However, I use very little at a time, only one of many plug-in possibilities. It's not as dangerous as it looks, but it still needs some help. The newness of the computer makes it much a mystery. Just about everything that can be done with it I don't know how to do. It might be a thousand room hotel, but I only have keys to about 2 of the rooms. The maximum I'll ever get may be a dozen. Now that it's together and I've an idea how to work it, I forget what it was like when I could only see it a dark swimming pool. Possibly the black rectangle of the closed laptop suggested the dark swimming pool image.

Lucas Pasley's talk Thursday night inspired me to play Alleghany music this morning on the radio. This time I was not playing straight through as I did all 4 volumes 4 times in a row. It took a great portion of last year, a couple shows per volume. 32 weeks in a row. That's a little over half a year. Everything else was on hold. I felt it was historically significant and even moreso for the present. It was finally a chance for the people of Alleghany to hear a good number of the musicians that have lived in this county. This is only the ones who have recorded in one way or another, sometimes cassettes, sometimes reel-to-reel, even a few cds. Played 17 songs in the 55 minutes. Started the show and ended it with Jr playing Billy In The Lowground. I broke down mentioning his name and somehow managed to get it said. It was a difficult moment. I spoke with myself before doing it about getting through it, pretend it's the first you've heard of the name. Nobody you've ever heard of. I thought I had myself convinced, then set out to do it, and I didn't hear a thing. I can't say his name without getting choked up. I reckon that's all right. It has to be. I played all the people Lucas talked about and several more. Started with Dave Sturgill picking Sourwood Mountain solo on old-time banjo. It was beautiful. It had a flow to it like water. I mixed up the banjos and the fiddles looking for a balance of the two, plus some singing.
Cliff Evans's There'll Come A Time Some Day sounded awfully good. Evans did his part. He recorded about every musician in the county who was alive in his time. Lucas Pasley has now put all of Cliff Evans's tapes on cds and catalogued them good with all the different musicians represented. Lucas called the collection of tapes not just a North Carolina treasure, but a national treasure. He said they belong in the Smithsonian. I'm with him all the way.

I'm listening to the rain. The door is open, 54 degrees, rainwater falling on rocks. Peepers peeping along Spring Lizard Creek that runs by the house. Caterpillar sits inside the screen door looking out into the darkness at the sounds of the rain. It must be soothing for her. She's been there almost an hour. The relationship between Tapo and Caterpillar is changing a little bit every day. They used to try to be out of sight of each other as much as possible. Now they are in sight of each other nearly all the time. Often, they're close to within touching distance. They don't look at each other the way they used to. It's a friendly look they give each other. I'm thinking they feel drawn to each other with TarBaby missing. They've witnessed all my histrionics of grief. It wasn't a good time for me to have another major loss. It's 2 weeks TarBaby has been gone and I'm still a mess.

I'm in a place where I'm dwelling perhaps too much on my loss. At the same time, it will pass. This is the time when 2 major habit patterns ceased. Both those habit patterns involved with extraordinary friends. Friends not just extraordinary for now, but for my whole life. It tells me I have grown into a place where my friends are treasures to me. And there aren't too many. On the other hand, there is a quite a large number. The number would change per definition of friend. I feel like somebody the bottom has dropped out for. I'm just taking it easy, not pressing myself for anything, giving myself all the time I need to recover. The hard part at this time of the life is to recover to what? I'm understanding the dilemma of old people. The world we had to get used to when we were young to jump into and figure out how to get going changed out from under us when we got it figured out. Not only does what we used to think we know turn out to be nonsense or at least dated, forgotten, not the case anymore, but it's gone forever too. This old body, tired, marked with pains, vulnerable to diseases, stands alone in a busy world, recognizes fewer faces every year, is less involved in what other people are doing every year, outside the circle of urgency where you're behind in whatever you're doing.

This computer is not yet set up to get photos directly from the camera, so I brought one over from facebook to put up here for today. Maybe tomorrow I'll be back in business getting pictures going. The above was painted 3 or 4 years ago. It was my favorite of all I'd done. I doubt I'll ever do another I like so much and put so much into. I wanted it to stay in the county, but didn't dare hope for too much. As it turns out, it lives in Whitehead on the same road Jr's old homeplace was on, just a few miles on. I painted it on a 5'x3' sheet of plywood I got from Milly Richardson, who had brought it from the barn to her place in town to use for a temporary table for a spread of papers to do with commissioner information. I took a great liking to it when she brought it in. By the time she was done with it, I was ready. Evidently 4 stacks of boards had stood on it long enough to stain the plywood into 4 vertical quarters. I saw a 4 piece band, each member in one of the quarters, like standing in a doorway. A kind of plebian Japanese screen. I thought of doing the Carter Family on it. 3 of the panels for them and the 4th for a poster telling of the Carter Family playing someplace, Sparta. But that didn't take hold of me. It didn't have what I wanted it to have. I can't give it a name, but I know it when I see it.

I found a picture of Jr with Cleve Andrews, Estal Bedsaul and Paul Joines taken after they'd been on stage at a show in Johnson City, Tennessee. Jr had no recollection of year or proximity. Going by the narrow ties, the haircuts, the lapels, considering those styles came to the country later than the city, and the streaks of toner on a b&w polaroid, one of those first polaroids, the kind with the bellows, I estimated it to be around 1960. Probably no sooner than 1959 and no later than 1961. Jr thought it was about that time they went to Johnson City. He didn't remember why they were there. I'm guessing it might have had something to do with the University's Appalachian studies program or something like that. I've never been a good guesser, so that's not it. Just a guess. It's a band I can just about hear by looking at them, knowing what I know about them. I know Jr's sound. Jr has pointed out fiddlers to me who sounded somewhat like Cleve Andrews on WBRF. I've heard Paul Joines's rhythm guitar playing. I'll have to assume Estal Bedsaul played a guitar that sounded like a guitar. A 4piece bluegrass band in that time and this place, you can be sure they were layin it to it. I expect they were well received by the audience.

It was in the time when universities were becoming aware of folk music, or the music of the working class, which has no place in society. The guys in the band would not have known that mountain music was of a little bit of interest to some universities and the interest was spreading. It was the time of the Kingston Trio, early Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, about the time Doc Watson was setting out on his tour of universities around the country with 3 musicians from Mountain City, Tennessee, Clarence Ashley, Fred Price and Clint Howard. A couple of guys from my high school in Wichita made an LP in that time of fratfolk, the cool guys in button down collars and trim haircuts, clean and good looking that sing well together. They were a big deal at the school, but beyond the school I don't think too many people heard of them. I have a feeling one of their parents had the means.

That was the time of the picture above, when that first little bit of mountain music was creeping out into the pop music world that got tired of frat pretty boys and wanted something closer to the real deal. It was a time when a whole lot was changing. It was in that time the folklorists were taking an interest, some field recordings made, the mountains becoming more interesting to people outside the mountains who had never thought of the mountains before they heard of the music. People like Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger, John Cohen, Blanton Owen, and a lot of others were discovering mountain music in the mountains. It seemed kind of funny, city people interpreting mountain people more or less superficially, but made a good many recordings of the mountain people to carry back to the world of commerce. Jr and his musician friends were never of interest to the hippie folklorists of the 70s, because they played bluegrass. Most of the mountain musicians were apprehensive of long haired pot smokers flippant about God, draft dodgers in a place where military service is held the highest, and the women too free with their sex lives in a culture where those kinds of women were called whores. But they were responsible for getting an awful lot of mountain musicians recorded, people whose music we'd have never heard otherwise, like Sidna Shelton, Dan Tate, Bertie Dickens, Hus Caudill, Wood Blevins, to name only a very few.

Friday, April 23, 2010


n road work on 18 south

UPS just now dropped off my new computer replacement, an HP laptop. Latest in this and that. Can watch movies on it. Not that I will, but it will do that. As usual, when I opened the box, took out all the stuffings, got the laptop out and the accessories that go with it, put the stuffings back in, there wasn't room in the box for all the stuffings, let alone the computer. It was very well packed. Ordered it from amazon just a few days ago. I don't dare attempt to put it together before I write you. It looks really simple. They have everything concise as possible, good instructions. But the reason I am not a mechanic is there is always something that's going to be a hangup. It looks deceptively simple. I want to get what needs doing out of the way before I jump into something that can potentially take hours or days. It could all be done in an hour, which probably will be the case. But I don't count on it.

I was settling in to write to you when UPS stopped in front. I knew what it was, and sure enough, it was. It feels odd to guess something right anymore. My experience with shit-happens moments recently is not very conducive to optimism about approaching a mechanical, albeit tech, device with a mind to putting it together to make it work. Ultimately, I can see it as a possibility, but scheduling it is another matter. It figures in the Unknown category. There, it's a crap shoot. This computer I'm on is a dinosaur so old its eggs are petrified. It works all right, but it takes between a half hour and an hour to get it up and running. When it's going, it's a matter of click and wait for water to boil, click an wait. It's an interesting exercise in patience. Or should I say a challenge to patience. If computers weren't so sensitive I'd be inclined to cuss it, but I do anyway. I don't like to, because it is my friend. It was very expensive back 15 or so years ago and I got way more than I needed. It's become so SLOW. I'm so bored with slow, esp while paying for DSL. I'm looking forward to click-and-there-it-is. Another temporarily satisfied spoiled American. That's my cog on the wheel. Keeping the bloodstream of the economy flowing.

Maybe tomorrow I can write you on the new instrument. It looks kind of scary. I opened it. Liked the size of the screen. The keyboard and that little rectangle for finger mouse, something to get used to. I'll miss my old friend. There's that thing about 3s again. Jr, TarBaby and computer. 3 big vacancies. The computer has a replacement, but the other 2 can never be replaced. It's all mortality in action. The rolling wheel of time.

I found a note I made yesterday morning. I pushed the button when I got up to start the radio. The news was on. First sentence I heard was, "He should have challenged the pervading culture of secrecy." I laughed out loud and went about getting coffee going. That meaningless word should again. He should, like applied in hindsight is even more meaningless. When I hear should, I automatically think, not necessarily. How does this guy know? He's a young guy in some kind of radio journalism. Talking through his ass is really what he was doing. I didn't listen for who it was who should have, because I knew immediately it was about Catholic priests and bishops and the Church and prison and secrecy. When you're in a culture of secrecy, you don't challenge it. Like when you're in the world of making white liquor, you don't rat. Maybe some years later some commentator might see your story, 2 years in prison for making liquor. He should have.... But he didn't. And he'd do the 2 years again before he would do what this guy in a totally different context believes he should have done. Because it doesn't even apply.

In any "pervading culture of secrecy," you rat, you die, or an equivalent that's worse. This middle class journalist might live in a subdivision where all the houses are new and all just alike as far as you can see, a maze like an enormous trailer park. The bishop in the pervading culture of secrecy was in a world of men wearing silk and satin gowns festooned with expensive lace, draping themselves in gold jewelry, big gems for rings, golden slippers. When the underbelly of the Vatican gets exposed, it's going to make Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts and the rest of them look like the small time they really are. At least they wear men's clothes. Now that the expose has begun, it's going to get worse and continue to get worse. The way the media jumps into feeding frenzies in this time, bringing down the powerful, most recently Tiger Woods for turning out to be ordinary, it can get bad for the Church. In this Age of breaking down traditions, every one to the last one in the darkest corner, the Church is yet to break. When it does, it's going to be ugly. Real ugly.

It's getting time to conclude this and see what can be done with the new computer. I'm not undoing the old one first. For me, this tech stuff is like jumping into a swimming pool with no lights on a moonless night. It's too wierd to think about. All I can do is settle into it, get out the instructions. Will put on a cd of the Carolina Chocolate Drops to entertain my right brain while my atrophied left brain takes an IQ test. It looks like they have it down to where you merely have to be sentient to be able to figure it out. I'm grateful for that. I like that there is only one cord. Or so it appears now. Again, it's a dark swimming pool. What if it has inflatable dolls floating all over it and I can't see them? I don't dare anticipate.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


mr pasley--fiddle made by floyd reeves

The Library puts on a variety of programs just about every week. Tonight's program was from the Hometown & Heritage Series, Traditional Music of Alleghany County, NC,' a presentation by Lucas Pasley. I feel like Time Magazine writing half a paragraph of credentials to the name mentioned in an article to focus on expertise. Wouldn't want to leave out they went to Harvard. Not that Lucas did. No, he's not a Harvard graduate, nor was meant to be. He parcels out his life in coffee spoons, roasts beans, grinds them, makes exotic coffees available to his friends and neighbors and the internet, picks old-time banjo, guitar, bass and fiddle. He's an old-time mountain musician with a strong musical heritage on his Brooks side. Lucas teaches English at the high school, is known as Mr Pasley, wears a sport coat, is well liked by the kids because he liked them first. He's a teacher who respects each of the kids as a unique individual and they respect him in turn. Times I've mentioned to someone in high school or recently out that I know Mr Pasley, they always light up. I feel good for Lucas, because it tells me he has become what he wants to be, a teacher who makes a difference.

The library's space for the event this evening was packed with audience. I'm not one to guesitmate crowd sizes. The place was full. I found it curious the number of people there fit the size of the place perfectly. Like there's always a parking spot at the Post Office. Quilts were hanging all around the wall. The quilters were showing this month. Perfect for spirit to go with the subject of Lucas's presentation and acoustics. Made a good sound box. Lucas's music and the music he talked about worked well with the spirit in the quilts around the walls, like the quilts illustrated the music and the music illustrated the quilts. The traditional music of these mountains, specific to Alleghany County, the musicians of the county Lucas did not hesitate to give their due as exceptional musicians not to be dismissed for any reason, but to be listened to and appreciated.

Lucas said of the musical heritage of this county that it is not less than any of the counties around us. It's that the musicians of this county were not interested in recording. I see the musicians of this county purists in their art form. It's about having a good time making music together, playing for a dance, making music. It was all about the music. It was not about being a star, having a big name, making money. It was only about the music. There wasn't any money in old-time music. Nobody had any money to pay the musicians. Old-time music was taken very seriously musically in its time and is now.

To illustrate Lucas's talk about the music, he used the fiddle and the banjo to illustrate the styles of the different musicians. He has studied the styles of the various fiddlers, like Hus Caudill, Joe Caudill, Howard Joines, Guy Brooks, Lawn Brooks and T-Model Mack Brooks. Lucas can play the banjo as well as he plays fiddle. He played Bertie Dickens style Cindy. Lucas talked about these people individually as people who lived among us, some as relatives to many present. He talked much about the tradition of the music as it expressed here in individual styles particular to our county. He made a small leaflet for the show that got a great deal of information on a limited space and pictures of the musicians he talked about and played music like.

Lucas amazes me all the time with his talent not just playing old-time music, but he's doing what he believes needs doing and nobody else is doing it, making it his place to step forward and get it done. I was thinking Lucas's presentation would be as well received at every community center in the county as in the library in Sparta. And maybe not. Those things cannot be known in advance in Alleghany County. This county is so interesting in its own particular ways that a lot of people don't get, because anything that draws attention to itself falls flat here. It seems a shame we don't have at least a few LPs of Howard Joines and his band, Fred Roupe's Swampgrass, and Jr Maxwell's Green Mountain Boys. And these are just Pine Swamp / Whitehead bands.

The tradition in Alleghany County is that you don't hold yourself higher up than the next man, and you don't be calling attention to yourself. This is a strict code and not necessarily reprehensible. I'd guess it's a fair chance it came from the time when all the men carried guns. Diplomacy. Treat everyone you meet with respect, because if you don't the consequences will likely be serious. This code of not calling attention to yourself applies on stage for musicians, too. In the old way, the musicians stood still. They were vessels the music flowed through. It wasn't something to be paid for. It was a gift, a talent. Like in the old-time preaching, the preachers weren't paid, because what is freely received must be freely passed on. That old-time preaching and church singing are hand-in-hand with old-time music, though the fiddle music at square dances was considered by the church people as the devil's music. I think I heard something like that in the late 50s about rock & roll.

In an existing video of Jr's band, The Green Mountain Boys, the mandolin player, Bill Caudill, is bobbing about while he's playing the mandolin like he's been watching television, and Jr barked at him, "Stand still, boy." Bill straightened right up and it was awhile before he started moving again. Bill was from Wilkesboro, but lived away someplace when he was young. He came to mountain music with the urge that came in among white people with the 50s to flow with the music, and for musicians to bob up and down or move about to the music they're making. Standing still was new to him.

Lucas is giving another talk, Thursday, May 27 at the library, part 2 of his talk today, more musicians. It's quite a feat of him to teach himself to play a song in the style of these given musicians. I felt the whole time that this was an historic moment in Alleghany County. It belongs on calendars in the future of great moments in the county's history.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


light rectangle

I don't feel able to pursue our process this evening. I think I'll leave you with something from an interview I found with one of our great Southern writers,

So I decided early on that I better become a really good songwriter, then I could be like Bob Dylan and nobody would care if I could sing that well because my songs would be really good.

--Lucinda Williams

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


caterpillar glamorpuss after her role as ms hissy
in the short run off-off-off broadway satirical
cover of cats renamed humans

The rain has begun. It started a tiny drop now and again, a few more, more, steady light sprinkle, the kind that doesn't get you wet. Now it's visible in the air, showering at a steady and gradually quickening pace. The door is open. Caterpillar was frustrated today that I wouldn't let her spend as much time outside as she wanted. I explained to her I don't want her out there when the pack of dogs come over the hill looking for a cat. I'm like a mother letting her kid play outside, living on a busy street with no fences. Every time I let her out I remind her, When the dogs come, run to the door or a tree, whichever is closest. The dogs will bark, I'll come out and run them off. I keep the screen door open enough for Caterpillar to get through easily, but that's always the case.

The association of the Jewish name Katz with cats came from my early teens when supermarkets were new and everybody had to go to them. The end of the corner grocery store. While everybody else was shopping I'd hang at the magazine rack in the grocery store and look at pictures of Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, James Dean's car crash. A new big drugstore turned up near the supermarket, not the soda fountain kind, but Walmart in the Age of Ozzie & Harriet. I started hanging over there when it was family night at the supermarket. It's where I bought my 45s of Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, Gene Vincent's Be Bop a Lula, Little Richard's Long Tall Sally, Lucille, Chuck Berry's Maybelene, Roll Over Beethoven, Bill Haley's Shake Rattle & Roll and Rock Around The Clock, Ray Charles's Lonely Avenue, Big Joe Turner's Corrina, Corrina, Jerry Lee Lewis's, Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On, Duane Eddy's Forty Miles of Bad Road. Nearly all my records were forbidden to be played in the house when anybody was home.

Katz means to me the source for early rock & roll. I bought my very first 45 there before I had a record player, The Shifting Whispering Sands. One of those long talk story songs with violins in the background, a metaphor for the impermanence of "life." A Walter Brennan kind of thing. I forget who made it. I really liked Death Valley Days. They played the thing on the radio every fifteen minutes, and I still couldn't get enough of it. Evidently it spoke to me, and somebody else. I remember finding it and playing it several years ago with big disappointment. I liked that? You were a child. The same child that Heartbreak Hotel changed into somebody who found feeling in music. And that so soon after Johnny Ray's Cry, I could so easily have been carried away by, but my daddy was. That was enough. Same with Enzio Pinza's, or whoever it was sang In The Garden, that beautiful song my daddy killed for me when he had to get up and sing it in front of everybody at church. Heartbreak Hotel was mine. Elvis will never last. Rock and roll will never last. Half a century later, whoever heard of Johnny Ray? Kin to Link Wray? Faye Wray?

Caterpillar is somewhat subdued in TarBaby's absence. Tapo is too. They lay about. They like to go outside the door enough to lie in the sun for a bit, crawl under the house for privacy. Throw in my own quiet, and it kind of seems like all of us are in mourning. I don't know if they are because I am or if they feel the loss of their own. The relationship between Caterpillar and Tapo has changed remarkably. They both had hissy fits if the other approached too quickly, or passed by too close, or, worst of all, touched. Now they rub by each other in passing, even walk over each other. The one rubbed lets out a half-hearted hiss, for the record. I don't know if it's my own projection, which I'm willing to give it to, but it seems they have a new sisterhood about them, like, it's just us. They are now house cats. Outside the door is the death zone. Less fleas that way, only what I carry in.

Caterpillar and Tapo have become so close to me now I can only let them outside when I can be out there to guard them in case of dog attack. They look to me now like little moving targets walking around. I'm more concerned about dogs than coyotes. I tend to pay more attention to Tapo and Caterpillar than usual, hold them closer, talk to them more, remind them every day to stay away from dogs. In the door or up a tree. Dogs are not your friends. The 3 of us are developing new relationships with everything changed. It's understood Caterpillar rules, but Caterpillar isn't demanding. She'd rather lie in a sunbeam. When it's movie time, they both pile on. It's no longer a question of which of the 3 was first on my lap. Now, it's which of the 2. The other curls up on the pillow at my feet to wait her turn.

Volcanic ash shutting down European airways on the news. A few days ago I heard a pilot tell of flying along at night and the engines quit. He was way up there, 23,000 ft (don't quote me), couldn't speak on the intercom because the turning engines kept the radio circuits going. He glided a great big passenger jet through the volcanic ash in the dark to 12,000 ft where they left the ash cloud and the engines started. He told it in great pilot manner, like there was nothing to it. Probably just one of his many tight moments he's had to figure out in a hurry. That's why only people with fast minds get to fly those planes. On the ship in the Navy was a guy whose name might have been Soto, who would do things like say, Think Fast, and throw you a typewriter. That kind of fast thinking.

It's frustrating to Caterpillar that I don't let her outside but in short spells. At night, I turn the lights on when she wants to go out and I listen. Everything has changed. We don't have birds anymore. I'm wondering what is happening in Central America where they winter, United Fruit Companies and other corporate enterprises taking advantage of cheap labor, poisoning the fields outside the bounds of American standards, which kills birds anyway. Central America is loaded with corporate agriculture and pesticides that poison the bugs the birds eat. They come here, they eat bugs poisoned by pesticides. They don't have a chance. Like honey bees and cell phones. Good-bye bees. Lots of drastic changes going on now, near and far. Once we had birds, but television was too good for anybody to notice. Then we had no birds, and television was still too good for anybody to notice. Cats get a lot of the birds too. They're not telling about it on television; it's not good for birdseed sales. Lots of things don't get on tv.

Monday, April 19, 2010


out the window

Sitting here at the computer with this view out the window to my right, the Christmas tree patch around the house I'm kind of the hole in the donut in the middle of. They go 2/3 of the way around the house. The forest across the road is like a 1/3 chunk bit out of the donut, though it was there before the donut, like the hole. It's a 60 degree day. Good day to keep all windows and doors closed. The sprayer is out on a fairly windy day. It's odorless; therefore, probably deadly. The spray for thousands of trees to the west has already passed through the house earlier, though the western side of the house is pretty well sealed. On the eastern side, the excess taken by the air goes into the woods.

Throughout my adult life I've been pulling for the earth, looking to the day collective humanity will develop a new attitude, one toward people and earth living together. It's like now that our government is owned and operated by corporations and corporate hierarchical mind, it has turned on we the people, the consumers. When we're no longer able to consume because the corporate collaboration called our government has bled us into impotent poverty, we won't be able to support them any more. Maybe this is why the CEOs have been upping their take over the last 30 years, seeing it all comes to an end when the working people have given all their blood and there's nothing left. Then they bale out to the Cayman Islands, Thailand, this place and that place where they have their sweatshops, taking it with them.

There was a time Jr was thinking about selling 18 acres around the house to have some money for old age expenses. One of his friends wanted to buy it, but could only pay to a certain point. Christmas tree growers offered him half again as much. Jr thought about it for 2 years. He chose to sell it to his friend for raising cattle. His reasoning for not selling it to growers at a much higher price was, "I couldn't do that to my neighbors."

I've resigned to it. Not many people think like that, which is why I find someone of Jr's character so rare, and particular to these mountains. That's not to say there's nobody like this outside these mountains. When it comes down to what's Christian, there it is, consideration for neighbors. One day in my store, a man and woman came in and we talked for quite awhile. They asked if I'm a Christian. I told them Christian has become a political party and I'm not a member. Of course, that isn't what they meant. They meant saved. I knew it, just had to say that to let it be known I don't like the subject for conversation. I walk my own path. It is one person wide. There are so many people shouting about being Christians that make me double-take, I'm shy about being around them, like I'm shy about being around people who hang at bars. I don't understand them is all I mean. It's foreign territory.

I'm not one to identify with groups. Every group has its own doctrine and I don't care about doctrines. This is the reason I can't join a church any more. I can't sign myself over to a doctrine, whatever it is. I believe the core of what everyone in the church believes, but not all of what I'm supposed to believe to belong. A lot of it I don't know about, and can't ally myself to that which I don't understand. I will continue to drink liquor, because I like it and can't join a club that won't allow it, the same as I couldn't join a club that required it. I don't abuse it, but if I want to, I will.

Everybody who works someplace now has to go outside to smoke. It's common to see office workers standing outside having a smoke. It's bad fer ya. It's bad. Living in the middle of a Christmas tree patch getting sprayed by everything they spray is good fer ya. It's good. Even the county government thinks it's good fer ya. Lotsa tax dollars they have to get from some place. They're not getting enough from me to pump the water from the river to the subdivision atop Twin Oaks Mountain. They're not getting enough from me to buy the county a new lawnmower. Another hierarchy in which I turn up at the bottom. Home sweet home.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


composition in gray #22

I've found myself looking at my time at the College of Charleston when it started a year with 500 students and ended the year with 400. The faculty to student ratio was 1/14. Nothing was depersonalized about the place. I'd attempted some classes at Wichita U with enormous class sizes that overwhelmed me. It also had professors I couldn't understand. A lot of kids I went to high school with went on and did well, but for me it was like a dog chasing a rabbit into a brier patch. Wasn't long before the dog couldn't handle it. The dog couldn't read with comprehension and had self esteem from the bottom of a pecking order, a mind jumbled up with the tensions of home, a host of contradictory expectations for what I'm to do after high school. I didn't want to do any of them. I wanted to learn how to become a sensible human being. Sensible is all I ask.

Ted Stern asked me several years ago why I was motivated to go on to college coming from a family and cultural experience that did not include education. I don't think I'd ever thought of it in that light. I looked within and found that when I was a kid, the teachers at school were the foundation of my life, and my mountain grandmother. Home was mental mayhem in denial. No access to the rational anywhere but the teachers at school. What made them different is they went to college and learned to think more or less rationally and have sensible lives. I wanted to have a more or less rational sense about my life, be able to understand what I read and have some understanding of the world I live in. I liked education and never quit learning.

At the College of Charleston we had an honor code that was enforced absolutely. Anyone caught cheating on a test is out. If you see this person cheating and fail to turn him or her in, you're out. If you see someone cheating, you will report it or you're out. In my last year there was a guy caught cheating on an exam at the end of his senior year. Out. We didn't cheat at College of Charleston. It's a great learning throughout one's education that cheating is not a consideration. It's a good code for life at work, at home, with oneself. Simply honor. Like the day the BROC group received me and asked me to say how I felt. I looked inside a moment and came back with, "I feel honored," and that was enough. It was my meaning. That's something from the old way of thinking, honor. Doesn't have much meaning in this time, but it does with old people in old time religion churches. I'm glad I never had to turn anyone in. It almost never happened. Maybe once every 3rd or 4th year.

The whole time in the mountains I've lived in the AirBellows School House continuing my education. The drive toward literacy became a purpose in itself. I continue to expand my own literacy. I guess it's made me an odd-ball conversationally, but I don't care. Learning has been the passion of my life, and anybody doesn't think that's good enough is welcome not to. I don't care. It's for me only. Anybody that doesn't like it might try minding their own business. Brings to mind Jr telling me one Saturday night on his 4th drink, a little loose in the tongue, "I'm full of shit and anybody that doesn't believe it can eat it." I thought, spoken like a true Buddhist monk.

I never used school with ambition to make more money. Money has never been my ambition, which is what kept Jr and some of his circle uncertain about me, because I showed no inclination to be there for any reason but Jr's good. I realize it is kind of incomprehensible in this day and time. It wasn't many years ago it wasn't incomprehensible at all. It's something we need more of in our world. When I believe something like that, I take it as my role to act on it, not to tell somebody else to act on it or make a law saying everybody must or else.

I don't believe I could have done it well, or even done it, with a lapse in integrity. I saw how the "help" from the "service" agencies ripped him off, and Jean, what they did to her. In my mind I was there to protect him from these lapses in integrity in people with little to none, and myself suspected for being one. I understood that. I also understand that in the mountains time answers questions. I always knew that by Jr's last literal days he would understand by my example that I was there for nothing but his own good. I never once had a temptation to overrule my own sense of integrity. Never once. That I accomplish this task God has given me being trustworthy as Jr himself was my guide.

There wasn't anything in the house I wanted except that Jr be able to stay at home and not have to die of despair in a nursing home dungeon. Jr Maxwell was the kind of man who did not belong in there. He had always treated me right with absolute integrity and deserved same in turn. There were no lapses in my own integrity because I didn't want anything but Jr's well-being. The women of Hospice found this remarkable, but I could only find it the way I want it to be in my world. And I'm the one with control over how it is in my world. It's not that I'm something unusual. It's simply the old-time way and I'm in a world here of people who have lived their lives the same way. Jr's world was a world of people who live by their own codes of integrity, the people of Whitehead. Mine was no different from theirs. It's that you just don't know about people you don't know. I'm a transplant, not many people knew me. The day Jr's soul left the body Elvira Crouse told me, "Now the people of Whitehead know you." I was grateful and gave thanks. Yet I tended to see that it was for no more than the code they, themselves, lived by. Their code is my code. I guess she was saying that what I hold important Whitehead holds important too. I take it to mean our codes of integrity are in tune and Whitehead is the place I belong.


crystal & justin - 17april10
It's the people we know that make us feel blessed or not blessed. Pictured here are 2 people I'm blessed to know. Justin I've known since he was 3. Crystal I've known since she married Justin. Crystal is developing her artist eye in this time in her new career as wedding etc photographer. We were talking this evening about how fast her artist eye is opening. She started making pictures with only the subject and in the middle with blank color or staged background. Just months later she is framing her pictures all the way to the corners. The whole rectangular image is what she works with, the subject in relation to surroundings. She's having a good time. Her images get more and more interesting to look at. Google Flash Back Studio Sparta and that should help get there. She's on facebook too.
The radio show this morning was good fun. Played from all 4 Alternate Roots albums, songs sung by Katy, Willard and Scott, good bluegrass with master musicianship and lively spirit. I talked more than usual today. Felt like saying a few things about the band. Sue left me alone the whole hour. One of the times the phone rang a man asked if I my show as on the air. I said, As far as I know it is. I then scanned the board to see if I had everything in order to have the music playing on air. I asked if he had the radio on. No. Didn't have it on. Ok. Yes. It's on today. That was an interesting exchange. A voice I didn't recognize, someone I don't know, who evidently is partial to the show. It always surprises me when somebody tells me they listen, especially somebody wanting to know about it in particular. I do it all for the black microphone. That's my audience, the only audience I know about for certain. Beyond it, I have no idea but for a few who have told me they listen every week. I have no way of making a guess I could have any confidence in when it comes to how many or who listens. I believe it's mountain people for the most part. Much of the music I play is accessible only to the mountain ear.
I don't expect anybody to listen to it, so I'm not disappointed when somebody doesn't listen. I don't want anybody listening to it who doesn't enjoy mountain music. I want no one to listen out of a sense of duty. It's the people listening I connect with every week. I like to be in the studio by myself without distraction to allow myself to flow with every song and choose the the next according to feeling from the last one and where I want to go from there with the next one. Like after several square dance tunes, a waltz or 2 or 3 carries the rhythm at a more relaxed pace. I've been told more people listen to it than I can imagine, but to me that means 7, one more than half a dozen, which is what I imagine.
It's late and I'm fading.

Friday, April 16, 2010


tarbaby memorial

This morning I took down the large b&w photo of Tommy Jarrell playing fiddle from above the home entertainment unit and replaced it with a painting I made of TarBaby when he was about a year old sitting on a fence post. Only about 5" of the top of the post visible, the post a pedestal for the cat, like a block of wood or stone a sculpture stands on. Somehow it happened that it's not just a painting of a black cat, it's TarBaby in particular, almost in person. Somehow the eyes just happened as TarBaby's eyes. I look at it now and it's almost like his spirit is in the painting. Like the feeling I had after painting Tom Pruitt, that his spirit was in it. It's still in it. I'll never sell either and both are accounted for upon my demise. Tom will stay in his family and TarBaby is for Meredith. I know if Meredith had known TarBaby she would love him as I have.

It still doesn't feel right. No matter how I try to accept it, it's not right. Nothing is right about it. I have to disclaim that I am in full acceptance of it as the right time, and will be happy to find that acceptance, but haven't yet. I can't help but conjecture that when I took him to the vet at 7 on a Sunday morning, when he was within a few hours of dying, that might have been his time. He came back to give me some more time. Our friendship grew in those 4 months as closely as my friendship with Jr grew in his last 4 months to such, that like Jr said, we are like brothers. Maybe TarBaby chose a quick way out when he'd finished what he stayed with me to do, to weave our souls inseparable. I open my arms and say to him, Please come live inside me, live in my heart, if that's what you want. I want it too. This evening after I walked in the house from seeing friends I sat down and spoke to TarBaby. I found myself singing to him his song I started singing to him when he was a kitten a few weeks old. Each one has their own song. I sang TarBaby's song to him a long time, calling his spirit, tears dripping off my chin, questioning my good sense, throwing that out the door like a banana peel. I was singing to my friend in my heart, where he's been all along anyway. It did my heart good. And I'll do it again and again.

Acceptance is on the slow boat. I'm like John Lee Hooker sitting by the waterfront waiting for his baby. There's fog in the harbor, waiting for the ship that's carrying his baby to him. It's a quiet, talking kind of song with his guitar making notes around his voice, waiting in the fog. The song is The Waterfront. It's done as only John Lee Hooker can do it. It's his song and nobody else's, like Crawlin King Snake and Boogie Chillun. I'm sitting waiting in the fog for the ship that's bringing my baby, my acceptance, sitting on my bench by the waterfront. In the fog.

I stopped by to see Melia and Joe Edwards and Judy Carmichael at their Gallery in Pine Swamp. Spent a good bit of time talking with them, my new friends by Jr, Melia and Judy Jr's second cousins, their daddy, his first cousin, Claude Edwards. They were super supportive in my sorrow upon losing Jr. It was their sorrow too. They've loved Jr since they were babies. Their daddy and Jr were close friends as well as cousins. Jr has always been important in their lives. Though the natures of our loss were different, all felt the void in the heart. When we're together, we bring Jr back for each other. We talk about him in our memories. And we like each other too. Throw Melia and Judy's mother in too, and they are 4 supreme human beings I am grateful to God for bringing into my life.

One of my friends suggested I make a memorial to TarBaby since I can't bury him. I liked the idea of it. But it's not me to do memorial kind of things like spontaneous ceremonies, lighting a candle and saying a prayer, for example only. It's not me. I don't believe a "ceremony" unless it comes from my own heart spontaneously. So I thought I'd wait for that, if it's to be. When the image of TarBaby took its new place, it came to life. Putting down the Jarrel photograph, I saw a foot high figurine of a black cat sitting like TarBaby in the painting. Gloss black stylized, leaning toward Deco, kind of 50s, with the three spots of eyes and nose in gold. It's a beautiful cat I found at Karen Bledsoe's shop by the river. It was so TarBaby I had to bring it home. I kept it in a box to protect it most of the time. I didn't want to stand it up anywhere, because I didn't want to chance breaking it. There was a feeling about it that after I lose TarBaby it could be my beautiful reminder to see every day. Now it is. I've found my memorial. A sculptural and a painted representation of my friend I mothered into life and never weaned. It makes me think of a mother losing her teenage daughter in a phone call telling her the girl died in a car wreck. The bottom drops out. Thats it, cat shit. Accept this.

At lunch with Jim Winfield at the Pines, we talked with a dairy farmer friend of his, who sang us some serious blues of what's become of dairy farming as a way to make a living. He's at a place where he's ready to let it all go. I talked with a friend yesterday who was telling me about his ability to walk away from a good paying job and start a little something of his own he knows will work for him from the start. When they 1984 him into a corner he might come out swinging a two-handed samurai sword. Not really. It was just an image that came to me from seeing so many Asian films with sword fighters going at it and red fluid that never looks like blood squirting even on the camera lens. Just meant it as a metaphor. He's not really going postal with a blade. Just talking about having his bases covered and the freedom he has from worry. We both like Asian sword fight movies.

Talking with Winfield at the table, I told him a little bit about the fountain of love flowing from my heart and filling my whole being with love almost beyond containment, like a cup runneth over kind of love energy going on. It's like there is a big fountain, water rushing from it in all directions. The least little thing, an old man entering the restaurant stayed outside the door as an old woman with a cane was being assisted out the door by her daughter. He helped her down the steps, stayed with her until she was steady on her feet, came in and joined his wife waiting for him. That little moment happening out the window by where we were sitting brought a welling up of tears of compassion. I said to Jim, I'm getting tender hearted in my old age. He said, I think we all do. Maybe so. I'm happy with it. It's like the fountain of compassion is a gift from God to help me in the time I sit in the fog waiting for acceptance.