Tag Archives: stories of life

Tellers of Stories

I was working my way through the morning email backlog this morning. It had me wondering why I subject myself through all of the miscellaneous newsletters I have subscribed to. That’s when I was reminded what attracted me in the first place. It was a little jewel hidden in Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion Newsletter

I’m not a storyteller, Stella, but I impersonate one and that is almost as good. Storytelling is an intimate art, practiced between people who know each other well, and I’ve known some great ones, a sculptor named Joe O’Connell and my great-uncle Lew Powell and the late Chet Atkins. Chet was a true storyteller. He blanched at the thought of doing it onstage, but when he drove you around in his pickup truck, he’d tell a whole string of stories, some of them ribald, about Nashville stars and he’d imitated their voices beautifully and he embroidered the stories beautifully and, listening to him, I just sat and laughed and wished we’d drive forever. I don’t have that gift. What I do have is chutzpah, to stand up in front of an audience and take them into my confidence and try to tell a story, which often as not turns into an essay instead. But sometimes it hits on all two cylinders. I started out, as you did, writing lofty things and then, out of curiosity, got started as a performer, and that, as you know, is a whole other game. The difference between high lit and performance is that high-lit writers can imagine that their readers are as fascinated as they are. In performance, you can see the audience and that is a sobering sight. There is nothing so scary as seeing an audience look off toward the wings, hoping that someone else comes out soon and does something interesting.

Reading Garrison’s answer crystallized in my mind the commonality of the newsletters I subscribe to, the blogs I read, even a lot of the books I add to my library…It’s the stories woven by the working wordsmiths, both pro amd amateur. Just this week I’ve seen stories from Andy Giffin of Marquita Farm, Burr Morse out of Vermont, Christopher Kimball from America’s Test Kitchen, as well as the Garrison piece above. All of these newsletters caught my attention when I stumbled on stories by the authors. Hell, I subscribed to COOK’S ILLUSTRATED just to read the Editor’s page each issue. Though admittedly, I’ve become a better cook in the process.

It was the storytelling that got me interested in blogs to begin with. It was when I was searhing the internet back in 2004 for more info and pictures from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina that I discovered Marie Freeman’s Blue Ridge blog. I will admit I started visiting regularly for the images of the mountains I had started to love. Along the way I fell in love with the stories that accompanied the images…It’s been almost six years now and I still can’t get enough of both.

My evolution as a lover of the personal stories told in blog and email led from that beginning search. And the connections from one blog and new friend (for if Garrison is right, you have to befriend in order to practice the intimate art) to another. Marie led to Fred, Fred led to Colleen, Colleen led to Patry, Patry led to Elizabeth…Along the way I added many others to my daily list…But each and every one is, in one way or another, a storyteller.

Once in a great while I get lucky and manage to string together the right words in the right order to tell a story of my own…I don’t imagine its worth trying to winnow the chaff from the few gems in my backstory. But I’ll keep trying to hit my head on that hammer of inspiration. Hopefully, life won’t hold the hammer too high above my head…

Here’s hoping for a long run of new stories…and new storytellers.

Dog Days Of Summer…In May

Saturday was another 90° day here in SE Texas…The past week has seen upper 80’s every day. The weather prognosticators are trying to tease with hints of a “strong” cool front coming our way. I have even heard whispers of highs in the upper 70’s…Personally, I think they are smoking that silly weedy stuff.

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Friday I attended the funeral of my oldest aunts. She had had her 99th birthday this past January. We were all sure she was going to make her 100th next year…It will not be happening now and I for one will miss her at our upcoming family reunion. I hope I can maintain as much independence and love of life when I start approaching my ninth decade…Bye Aunt Gertrude, you were an inspiration to us all.

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I received my copy of Fred First’s new book “What We Hold In Our Hands, a slow road reader” this week. I’ve been walking along the slow road Fred writes about, one essay at a time. Contemplating the muse that led to each of the individual pieces…Enjoying the visions of nature as seen through his eyes. Listening to his take on the troubles of the world…Sharing visions seen from the front porch swing, or the window by his computer, there on that country lane along Goose Creek. The world looks different when seen from that small valley, along that particular creek, in those ancient mountains of the Blue Ridge plateau of Floyd County in southwestern Virginia.

Fred’s pictures make a wonderful addition to this collection. Some of the stories will be familiar to regular readers of Fragments From Floyd, Fred’s blog. All are worth a re-read. Right up front, even before the preface, Fred begins with this…

The fragments of daily life that we may record in words…show, for better or worse, some small truth about our unique place and purpose in this world. Taken together the trivial threads–a memory, an insight, a hope realized or lost— weave the fabric of our stories. This is what we hold in our hands; we know it well and can speak of it from the heart.

What better way to describe this group of essays. Every essay a vista of a place in time and space. Each is a short trip along a worn path led by the the well chosen words of your guide. His vision finds new vistas at every turn…Vistas that I would probably miss if left to my own muse.

Reading of his first exploration of the high elevations of that piece of Eden Fred calls home, I was almost out of breath as if I had climbed that path myself. Waiting with Fred, watching the building storm over the valley of that nameless creek, viewing “Here’s Home” for that first time from the heights, waiting for the insight…The vision, to come.

Some of the essays are the of the type of monologue you would hear if you were to sit a while on the steps of the front porch of Fred’s house. Visiting as they do in the valleys and the hollows of these old mountains. One side of the conversation you be having were you but there with Fred. Some politics, some world encompassing troubles of the day, some natural history…But all interesting.

Back when Fred’s first book was published I bought a copy even before they were printed. Here is what I had to say then about that book…

Today for lunch I joined a friend I’ve never met. We walked along a creek with no name under hemlocks in a valley I’ve never seen. We passed a barn I’ve only envisioned in painted light upon my screen. The sun I couldn’t see glistened on grasses in the field to dry the dew I did not feel. I wasn’t there, and yet I was, visiting with Fred on Goose Creek in the mountains of Floyd County.

via Join Me For A Visit… | North Carolina Mountain Dreams.

In the time since I wrote those words I have walked with Fred along that creek, under those trees. I stopped at the barn after crossing the plank bridge. I have met the friend I made just those few years ago…Go ahead, take a walk with Fred…Tell him Gary sent you.

These Old Bones…They Ain’t What They Once Were.

Leave to a youngish mind in a middleaged, out of shape body to discover the hard way (always the hard way) that he cannot still do everything he once did. Yesterday I decided, at long last, to finish the distruction of our dog pen that Ike had started. Bearing in mind that this dog pen wasn’t your normal dog run but a fenced yard about 30′ x 50′ made of 4′ chainlink fencing.

The work went pretty well. The weather was nice for this type of work, partly cloudy and breezy. The temperature barely topped the 80° mark all afternoon. Unbolting, cutting wire ties, pulling posts out of the ground…It all went pretty well, if a little slower than what I would have accomplished in earlier days. There was a stffness in my knees that had me moving a bit slow, but all in all I made good progress.

I started on the side that was mostly gone to begin with. The side the large oak completely destroyed…

From IKE

That mainly entailed disconnecting the fence from the last post and then pulling it all up…Then dragging the fence to the road to be picked up. Next I decided to remove the opposite side. The one side undamaged. It took about an hour and a half with a little help from the John Deere to pull the fence out of the overgrown weeds and vines that had grown up through it. Ran the mower over the leavings to make it look nice and clear.

Last but not least was the long side. It took quite a beating under the onslaught of the crown of the oaks as it fell. That made the upper rails harder to remove as they were pretty bent up and didn’t want to disassemble like the ones on the other side. But slow and methodically, I worked my way down the fence. I decide to take it apart in pieces and not try to do it in one piece like the other side as I had a couple of trees I needed to work around…A couple of hours and it was all down. I began to clean up the mess….Stacking the posts and rails for salvage, picking up the tools and putting everything away. I was feeling pretty good about myself and decide to go ahead and roll up the one long piece I had left out to let the vines and weeds dry on first…I should have stuck with my original plan of letting it lay for a couple of days.

When I bent over and started to pull on the wire…pop…sharp pain in the side of my left knee…almost too much to walk on. But I managed to finish picking up, not that last piece of fence though…It’s still there, head into the house. I hit the shower and washed off all the dirt and grime before hitting the recliner and elevating the leg while waiting for my nurse to come home and kiss it to make it better.

Heat and ice and a nights rest, and while I won’t be dancing anytime soon I can walk and actually put weight on that leg…I guess I won’t be needing my son’s old pair of crutches after all, though for a time last night, they were all that allowed me to get around the house…

Now for my next trick…I still need to get some garden beds made (and it would be nice if I could learn to type a little faster while holding our newly crawling grandson on my lap with one hand).

End of the Month, End of the Week Muse

One of  the email missives I look forward to comes in on it’s own schedule each month. It is from Andy Griffin of Mariquita Farm called “The Ladybug Letter”. Andy tells tales of his life in agriculture on the west coast…Funny stories, ironic stories…Stories of life…Great stories…

The Ladybug Letter
As a modern farmer I’m hardly alone in delegating farm tasks to employees, and it’s not my problem if the way I run my business runs counter to the image of agriculture that the New York Times wishes to project.

Or maybe it is my problem! The fact that farm workers are almost invisible to the people looking down from high atop the food chain is a political problem that affects us all. This country is a democracy, but our politicians can hardly be expected to craft intelligent agricultural policies if the public views farming through a warped rear view mirror. It’s a good sign that the New York Times wants to do stories about farmers, but it would be a public service if they didn’t compose and frame the scenes they photograph from inside their cubicles. Sophisticated New Yorker image makers have a lot to learn about what actually happens down on the ground in “flyover” America . One of the reasons I put my stories out for free on the internet is that it’s the best way I can think of to connect with the people in the jet planes overhead and start a conversation about where we’re all heading in the United States with our agriculture.

If you like stories of place take a few minutes and go to Mariquita Farm for a visit. Tell Andy and Julia that I sent you…They won’t know who I am but you’ll be glad you stopped by. Maybe sometime down the road I’ll be able to swing in myself and say hi…