Happy New Year 2016

If you always do

what you’ve always done,

you’ll always get

what you’ve always gotten.

~ Henry Ford (among others)

Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.

~ Rumi

After a recent holiday visit, walking through the strange and wonderful land that is the city of New Orleans, where life and death seem daily to coexist together in close proximity, and where one never knows when an ill wind might blow in from the Gulf…I have one intention for the coming year…to live more deliberately…and with an increased measure of passion.

Happy New Year from the Carolinas!


Audubon Park, New Orleans

Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church at Loyola University


It was a cool Sunday morning…following on the heels of a very sunny and warm Saturday. Not many more of these before the hot, humid air takes over. Last night, I was surprised. Sitting in the living room…in the dark…with the windows open wide…I noticed a brief flash of light outside down near the road. Too early, I thought…fireflies are my sure sign of Summer. But, this is April…surely they’re not yet out and about. As I stared into the blackness…I saw another…and yet another. Flickering on and then off…silently teleporting to a new location before repeating their cold, luminous signals to each other…gliding among the trees and shrubs. I can’t remember them appearing so early in the year…usually late May or early June. Lights peeping out of the darkness…maybe a sign of some sort?

This morning, I grabbed my walking stick and set out down the road for a walk. My destination was the creek that crosses the road about a half-mile from my house. It was still early, and the sun was slanting through the trees, highlighting dogwoods and red buds in full bloom. Birds were singing everywhere…all seemed to be right with the world on this beautiful Spring morning. My spirits were lifted.

When I arrived at the creek, the water was slowly meandering through its channel. I stopped for a while, peering into the woods along the creek, perhaps hoping to see some wildlife. I then crossed over to the other side of the road to look upstream. When I looked down, I saw something that momentarily took my breath away. Five or six feet below me… was a large white dog laying in the creek bed, its head partially submerged in the running water. There was a large blackish bruise on its hindquarters. Perhaps having been hit by a car on the highway, she had wandered off…dazed… into the woods? There was no collar with identification…nothing to link her to the outside world. I wondered what her life had been like…

When Belle, my Pomeranian, died several weeks ago, the animal hospital sent a little sympathy card that spoke of a Rainbow Bridge…a mythical place where deceased pets finally meet up with their loving owners, when they, too, pass on. It’s a nice thought…and it brings a smile to your face when you need it the most.

As I trudged the half-mile back to the house this morning…the wind suddenly taken out of me…I wondered, is there a Rainbow Bridge in store for this poor, nameless soul that ended up alone in the woods? I find myself these days in a borderland, half-way between civilization and the wild…just a mile of dirt-gravel road separating the two…a tiny remnant of what once covered this entire continent. And whether it’s pondering the one or two week life span of a firefly…or the lonely demise of a dog in the woods…or the strange nocturnal song of an owl…I’m grateful…just for being here in the first place…being a witness to something I don’t yet quite understand.

Coming to life

I awoke this morning to a gray…post-apocalyptic looking world. When I came home yesterday evening, the heavy rains had stopped, but I noticed the creek that crosses my road was roaring through its bed with full force…the highest I’ve ever seen it. The amount and intensity of flowing water took me quite aback, since the McAteer branch of Cane Creek, as it is named on the local topographic map,  is usually just a pokey little waterway a few inches deep. But the fact that it lies within a channel about five feet deep and ten feet wide, cutting to and fro through the woods, is evidence that it occasionally comes to life.

Closer to my house there is a nameless little creek that usually only trickles along…past the huge sentinel boulder. But after yesterday’s deluge, even this tiny rivulet was overflowing its banks and cascading through the woods over rocks…forming little white-water falls along its path.

It rained again most of today, but when the last line of grumpy thunderstorms had passed through, I grabbed my walking stick and took a walk. As I approached the tiny creek, I could hear the water shooting under the road through a culvert…coursing through its moss-covered banks…single-mindedly searching its way downhill towards Cane Creek…the Catawba…the sea.

Whenever I cross it from now on, I’ll never look at this mighty mite the same way …even after it returns to its diminutive, unassuming nature. It needed a name. Tinker Creek, I thought. Yes…that would be good. Named after a favorite book…and after a favorite little Pomeranian.


I was jolted awake…out of complacency… this mild morning as I set out to return my old car battery (which had died earlier in the week) to Walmart for recycling. Driving slowly down the road that I live on, I spied two Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) standing in the middle of the road up ahead. As I approached, they both reluctantly took flight and then perched above on nearby branches. I then spotted something to my left  in the ditch alongside the road…something that the vultures had been investigating. The warm and humid morning air was filled with the scent of death, and I found myself instinctively pinching my nose shut between thumb and forefinger. I stopped and looked out the open window at the somewhat bloated carcass of a rather large coyote (Canis latrans), on its back…its lips drawn back…revealing a set of fearsome-looking canine fangs that were, even in death, set in a ferocious snarl.

It’s uncertain how this particular coyote met its fate last night…perhaps, hit by a car travelling much too fast down this gravel-dirt road. I’ve often heard coyotes during the night…their baleful howling suddenly filling the still, night air. This dead coyote is the first one that I’ve seen, though, in almost four years of living in this tiny pocket of wildness that I call home. I often go walking down that same stretch of road, and it now gives me pause thinking there are still wild beasts of this nature roaming the woods that surround my house.

Small wonders

…at my feet. Alongside a ghostly remnant of last summer…tiny flowers lean in towards a star ninety-three million miles above.

tiny flowers

Walking through the woods yesterday…I spotted these half-buried rocks. They reminded me of the stone walls made by the Incas in Peru. The Waxhaw Indians, for whom this area of the Piedmont was named, were long gone before Europeans arrived on the scene in the 18th century. Perhaps, I’d stumbled upon some ancient remains of a lost civilization…within walking distance of my front door?


Careers in the field of alternative history have been built on less evidence. More likely, a natural occurrence of a rectilinear fractured rock. Although…I feel another walk coming on soon…perhaps with a shovel?

Ghost in the machine

On a recent walk through the old city of St. Augustine, I ventured into the Lightner Museum, which is in what once was the old Alcazar Hotel. My brief visit resulted in a different kind of a ghost story. The museum houses the very large Victoriana collection of Otto Lightner, a Chicago publisher who purchased the hotel in 1946. He later gave the museum to the city of St. Augustine.

The sheer number of objects from the ‘Gilded Age’ of the 19th century was overwhelming…clothing, furniture, glassware, buttons, embroidery, stained glass windows and lamps. As I slowly walked through the three floors of the museum…at one point, the effect was dizzying. I realized that each and every one of these objects, whether a brass button, a shaving mug, or a beaded purse, had some story behind it…of the person who made it…of the person who used it. It was as if the presence of the past was made palpable. I could almost sense the great cloud of spirits…or energy…that seemed still to be attached to these mere things.

On one wall, my gaze was held captive by embroidered samplers…where every single stitch was once held in someone’s mind. In this case…a twelve-year-old named Diana…intent on showing her skills as a young needlewoman. I wondered what she thought about the spacing of the X…the Y…and Z.


In most of the rooms in the museum, there were old photographs of how the same room looked when the Alcazar was a working luxury hotel. Alternately viewing the photos and the real room, from the same vantage point, reminded me of the scenes in the film Titannic, where the images shifted from the derelict ship on the sea bottom at present, back to the time in the past when real people roamed the decks…and the ship was still alive.

Looking down from the gallery above the former hotel’s ballroom…echoes of a waltz, perhaps? And ghostly images of dancers swirling in elegant circles to the music…and all the hopes and dreams contained within these walls while the Alcazar was still alive.

ballroom gallery at Alcazar Hotel

As I was about to leave, I was hearing music…real music. A museum guide was giving a demonstration of some of the mechanized musical instruments that are in the collection. The largest…the Orchestrion…was playing a song. It was all a bit eerie…sounds from another age…guided by a roll of paper that some real person had created over a hundred years ago. At one point, the demonstrator had to stop the machine at a certain spot. She explained that the punched paper roll was getting extremely fragile in places…from repeated playing over the years. The memories of the music were getting thinner…the ghost in the machine was slowly fading away. It was an unexpectedly sad thought. I’m glad I had the chance to hear some of the music before it vanishes into thin air.