The land of the "rain crow"

The land of the "rain crow"
The old road home. (c) 2014 by RLMT

About the author:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rhonda L. M. Tipton, writer and visual artist, is a lifelong resident of eastern Kentucky.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Glimpsing Autobiographies and Authors

I read a lot of genres. Books aren't just nonfiction or nonfiction; there are books out there, often good ones, that refuse to fit one narrow category. Mainstream, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, drama, romance? Books that cross genre limits are rarely boring. Give me unpredictable, give me something creative, and give me plenty of it.

Oh, yes. I confess to being a book, I mean "collector." Never mind that I constantly fall short of having shelf space.

It doesn't matter: the collection exists in crates at present, yet their comforting presence is known. They don't leave me lurking alone in the shadows of a dervish inspired brain.

That is correct. I didn't mumble. I cannot bear to be alone in my own head. It's like sitting on a single crate in the middle of a huge, abandoned warehouse somewhere you've never been and where you know no one. The echoes, the faint scrabbling of tiny claws, the _whisht_ of wings... on what?! Then the footsteps that don't quite seem to come from any one direction.


That's me. Afraid of the Great Emptiness. And so I tend to go inside, building tales that tame the weirdings and gaps in reality in a way duct tape simply cannot. Though I do believe in duct tape. (WD-40 does not apply here.)

I often read author autobiographies, generally contemporary voices. Mostly those of people no upper class college would hold up as classics, granted. They suit me well enough, leaving the door open to the accepted literary glitter too. Ursula K. LeGuin, Louis L'Amour, Stephen King... many I can't conjure up the names of at the moment.

Plausibility is a small, insistent point bouncing around: all the writers want, like everyone else, to be different. "I always wanted to be a writer." A listing of personal quirks to follow. Of course.

There's no need, I think, for me to worry on these counts. First, it's unlikely that I'll be required or asked or needed (?) to write an autobiography. Second, I did not "always wish to become a writer." (Tragically, I must confess that I wanted to become a veterinarian. Physical limitations and an inability to manage higher maths killed that idea off years ago.) Third, since the market is flooded with wannabe artists, photographers, and writers, anything most folks, myself included, do in that area ends up being a mere hobby.

Since I read as a hobby (the I.R.S. says a hobby is that which you do without regularly realizing a profit from the pursuit of, more or less), it follows to order that I also write for a hobby. The whole writing as job concept has been met, examined, and subsequently discarded as unrealistic. It takes money to make money, and there's a barrier hard to bounce merrily past.

I do have some books available on Amazon; if you want to help perpetuate my hobby habit, go to (copy and paste, please, as I am blogging here via cell phone) for information on how to buy them. I'd appreciate the nod, but won't hold anyone's feet to the fire in that regard.

I learned to read at an early age, not because I was inspired by supportive adults (it mostly confused my family that I enjoyed reading so much), but because I was unable to see much beyond my own nose. I didn't get eyeglasses until the third grade, but I did get yelled at for always having my nose stuck in a book and for always trying to sit in the front row at school (still too far from the blackboard to see anything on it), and for disappearing silently into my room for hours upon hours on end. And later, for having answers to certain questions most people certainly don't have the nerve to ask a child. (So...yes, I developed a dry sense of humor. More yelling.)

By the time computers came along, I was officially "over the hump" and, being weird as usual, took to them like a happy duck on a big swimming pool. (More yelling.) After all, now I can go on Facebook and take part in conversations with Anne Rice, Charles deLint, Amy Tan, Stephen King, and several other well-known authors.

If you can't join 'em, go on learning from them, I say. The joy in living vicariously applies even so.

I met a young lady today, her age a ripe old elementary school number, who told me she wants to grow up and be an author. Smiling, I gave her a set of my nonfiction books, signed them, and accepted a lovely handmade bookmark in return. The dream is real. I'd love to attend one of her book signings someday.

Monday, August 8, 2016

August Recollections

The mist is on yonder hills these mornings of late, the scent of fecund, late-term summer turning fey and mysterious. Some places, that mist swirls up thick, ghostly in its grace. Those who live and breathe among the hills and mountains know it's not the frogs a-makin' coffee as the "childern" are told, but the good mother earth sending up notice of a spring trickling among rocks blanketed in emerald mosses and ferns.

The secrets of mountains are a bittersweet joy, from the birthing places of creeks among the broken cliff's stones, to the bits of grave marker which lie in solemn silence over memories long since buried and decorated with reminders of more of the same. Among these hills, generations of ancestors have laid down memories. Some were washed in spring or creek or river water, others in tears or blood, as the case may have called for at the time.

They were people of every description, light or dark, short or tall, thin or fat. Yet each of them was tied to the land by something more powerful than mere chains. The power of love made them fight, for no nation of people lives forever in one place, and fight they did. The need to protect that love gave them callouses on their hands, scars on their bodies, and called upon many, even newborns, to pay the ultimate price before the final resting of a tired body. It was love that made them take pride in gardens, or in the stark, vivid beauty of quilts made into art by careful hands, from nothing more than the frugally saved fragments of hard-earned and never wasted bits of bright cloth. In a land with no easy riches, love wrought wonders, not the least of which was given voice in a unique form of music.

Blue-green shadows stretch long, smoky lines denoting waterways, brassy golden sunlight filtering in fool's gold shimmers through shifting tree branches. As evening settles into place, an eerie warble heralds the arrival of a tiny hunter, the screech owl, sending mice scurrying in mad haste for the safety of cedar and blackberry thickets. Haunted by intrinsic elements of natural self, the high places take on a spirit to be meddled with only with great care. Not by accident do the stones, the veritable bones of these hills, harbor serpents, symbols of wisdom, and plant life which can both heal and harm.

Down the long, dark hollows, that high, sweet sound of an old fiddle echoes, meandering and traipsing on its way to a creek, a river, and eventually to the sea. A message it carries, solemn and regal, that what was once sea will again return to the sea, that love given is also taken, that what is may exact a toll, and be changed, and in its changling dream, be carried forward, immortal, beloved, an august recollection waiting only for spring's caress to live again.

Friday, August 5, 2016

26 Letters, or Music in the Eye of the Beholder

It all started when a friend sent me a copy of an autobiography. Lee Smith's, to be exact. An Appalachian author whose roots run deep among the bigger mountains to our east. I wasn't familiar with Smith's work, nor her background. I'm a voracious reader, given half a chance, but things, and authors, do escape my attention at times. (Existing as I do outside the academic realms, I learn and read among different flows of life.)

My husband loves for me to read aloud to him. Once I had seen the Lee Smith book's foreword, I told him I had to share it with him, and so commenced a-readin'. That foreword is laced up and down with music. Words, yes, but also word of growing up among certain great music artists. She mentioned the _a capella_ rendition of O Death, by the late Dr. Ralph Stanley, and we were both hooked in. Music, and words, which sing the fine, sensitive neck hairs aloft, punching up lumps in throats and setting loose oceans of tears from a part of the mountain folk psyche that dates back to the stone age soul.

It's impressive what someone with skill can do with just 26 letters. It goes beyond mere words, above the pedantic, everyday of communication. Some of the greatest writers, past and present, have roots in the storyteller culture in these beleaguered hills. It's as if life sent them here to hone the experience those stories, bringing inevitable sharp clarity and razor keen insight to the human factor.

Some of these hollers don't see daylight until noon, each day, and sunset follows just as abruptly. Growing a garden is as much art as necessity... or it used to be.

Ronnie's comment, when I had stopped reading for the night sparked off a lively discussion. "I know you don't like Bluegrass music, but I just love it." Mistake. I quickly, and softly began to set him straight on his opinion. We've been together for 35 years, and sometimes I forget he wasn't this close to me when I was growing up. He would, I now remind myself, have loved it. I'm sorry he missed seeing it as I did, in fact.

My Daddy played a grand old Gibson guitar he acquired during the World War II era, indeed even playing it on stage during his own stint in the U.S. Army. He played with folks who had radio fame during that time, and I was privileged to know some of them. Little Clifford. The Coldirons. That wasn't all. My mother grew up knowing the Coon Creek Girls, jitterbugging and trying to make sense of a war she couldn't imagine the reality of in her wildest dreams. I was born late to my parents, preceded by a brother and a sister. The 1960s and 1970s rocked and rolled for my siblings, and I lay in a heap of old pillows and quilts beside a smokey cookout fire on weekends, near the lake Dad built, listening to country, folk, bluegrass, and some pop music of the time.The background noise was from the drag strip a few miles away, bull frogs, and crickets and cicadas. Kids and dogs, trail horses (with a hint of manure), laughter, the clinking of suspiciously aromatic bottles, the flop of bass sounding under a brilliant moon, often the _ban sidhe_ squall of a bobcat, and I knew I was home. I went to sleep countless nights while listening to some one tell an involved story, while not far away, someone tuned their instruments quietly, loosing that peculiar silken, metalic hiss of calloused fingers on metal strings.

Ballads were stories I could take with me by day, ragged canvas sneakers reeking of fish and squished earthworms spilled out and stepped on in the dark hours. I ate homegrown foods, toasted marshmallows to the tune of You Are My Sunshine. I even tried to sing along. (Bad, bad idea. Trust me on that one.)

I don't hate Bluegrass music. I hate fake Bluegrass music. There's a vast difference. I also know bullshit from horseshit, after only a whiff. Growing up real, you learn.

Plastic can't compare to the real thing, made by an artisan instead of some impersonal, soulless, money oriented machine. Money can't buy truth. Truth, illustrated by shapes made of 26 letters, music written on tough, gossamer souls, that's how the tune goes among my people.

A few still know how the song goes. The rest wish they did. The price is more than they'll want to pay; it's constant sorrow, history written on millstones and gravestones with equal eloquence. It's the cost of life, a life that no one expected to be easy, and few have been disappointed by.

Oh, the memories. Psalms limned on the shed bark of sycamore and bear hide. Old times, near forgotten.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Adversity vs. Success: Concepts.

Life is never "fair". I don't and won't expect it to be. Life is what it is, and a good long look at what seems to be a tranquil forest puts the lie to an otherwise naive fantasy. Life is, my dears, a vicious fight for domination, all of it pitched to favor anyone and anything but the meek. Every tree pulls all possible resources into exceeding the growth of its neighbors.

The price of life is, quite simply, death. Don't believe me? Look at your food at your next meal. Only the minerals (salt, primarily) and water were never alive in any recognized sense.

I know this. I've known it for over 50 years. This planet is our sole refuge, and we humans pretend we control it at our whim. The truth is that even people are only small parts of a complex, multi-aware entity with a system of checks and balances set into it that no puny human brain can fully encompass or (how egotistical the word is...) rule. Earth is home, mother to all species in an abstract, extended sense. Late born humanity are her problem children. Brats, at that, greedy and spoiled rotten brats. We not only wantonly kill everything around us, we kill each other the same way.

As a line in an old movie had it, "Success is when you crush your enemies and listen to the lamentations of their women." Paraphrased from memory (apologies to Mr. Arnold S.). Only... maybe not.

The human world is bent and twisted. Good people working for the good of all, morally obtuse fools scraping after everything their neighbors (and former so-called "friends") have and need, in order to accumulate more. Thus is created a culture of broken whiners, too tired to care if their choices are right, or even if they live another day. (These are the "meek.") Ironically, the broken often end up angry and destructive because, well, you know they created their whole mess by "bad choices."

Responsibility has become outmoded; the average person is amazingly helpless compared to their ancestors. Even looking back a mere 100 years is enlightening. The answer contemporary society has for those who are capable? Weird.

I, personally, am tired. I'm tired of greed, society, fashion, conventional, entitlement, and a host of other warped and misused concepts. I'm tired of struggling to merely breathe while others change the rules so they can succeed. Give me a tree over human blithering and foolishness. I'll show you what a peaceful day looks like.

Success? That's a concept. Like beauty or perfection. It's all in the eye of the beholder. That would be me, in this case. Where success is trying to live a decent, reasonable life while making every possible effort not to crush anyone who is also struggling.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

On Writing... and Summer.

Summer is on fire. Her stalks of tall corn curl their long leaves into wilted, holy spirals, prayer flags of sunlit living tissue. Rains, when they do come, are brutal in their intensity, viscous viscious, pouring tears of mammalian grief atop uncaring flood waters.

The shadows call, forests holding secrets. Tiny springs and hidden caves, glacier-delivered boulders covered in cool, rich, dripping moss and ferns. Alas, hunters large and small know the value of clean water as bait for prey. From omnivorous bears to infinitesimally small ticks, they have only to wait. The meek, the suffering, shall come calling in their own time.

Time, spiraling without a visible ending, cycles upon cycles, births and deaths a vortex of amazing power. The greatest machinations of predators - not merely humans - will be ultra dwarfed by the power of a single, small star going nova. Neither tree frogs or elephants will care, going merely about their solitary businesses of living; life is not fair, as some see it. Yet the balance always swings true.

The call of cool pools where sleek minnows nibble bubbles from the legs of giggling intruders, a sirene song of innocence. The touch of calloused hands on rich soil, cupping gently around the roots placed just so, a little pond water added. An old dog wading patiently near a child with a chocolate-smeared and happy face. These are the songs of hope.

I turn the pages of a book. It is a story I created and wrote for myself, a small escape from the ugly, insistent narrowness of human inter-destructive behavior. Reading aloud so someone else might escape with me for just an hour or perhaps two, I find myself wanting to shed a fond tear when I have to let my characters (children born of my mind instead of my body) go back to invisible silence on the pages where they hold a semblance of life. They're good people, even those who chose wrongly, just as living people do: they teach how not to behave, even as the others provide examples of positivity. I miss them, when they're silent, and wish them well.

What tomorrow may bring is a bittersweet question. Life, perhaps, and what in it? I do not know, and no longer dare, quite, to wonder. One goes on. One provides a positive, hopefully, example, even if it's from the mirror's edge view, where reflections can become eerie and macabre. One feeds the hungry. And if one is fortunate, one finds the correct words to string together. Words on paper or stone, words to live by.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Onions with lettuce and bacon grease?

*** Truth or fiction? ***

Today the first refugees of Kentucky fled to the comparatively rich state of Virginia. "We don't know where we'll end up," they said, "Half of the United States of America is suffering the effects of political profiteering and selfish, greed-motivated people masquerading as simple business LLCs." More refugees will no doubt follow.

They've lost everything, these people. Homes, health, hope. Their eyes hold hollow depths swimming with worry. Where will they go? What will they do? How will they keep food, shelter, clean water? Mining operations, money-oriented health insurance and related businesses, monoculture poison-laced farms, waterways and air filled with profitable contaminants, all of these contributed, the refugees claim.

Unable to get decent health care or even find jobs the media claims exist, unable to get even short term disability aid, these refugees suffer depression and anxiety in the wake of insurmountable odds. Lacking alternatives, and in many cases, everything they once held of value, they finally ran for the border in the wake of rumors of immigrant walls, barriers to a last gasp of hope.

Give us your tired, your homeless, Lady Liberty once promised, her torch held high. For the people struggling to maintain working class dignity and the ability to support their families, it seems almost laughable that such an America once existed.

Stay tuned to Onion Express for further updates. We're here, tears and tissues to share.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tripping over my own feet?

My apologies to those who read this blog: I have not maintained it well of late. Furthermore, the next hiatus may be longer still, as I am at present - and once again - without a computer. Limited as I am by electronics failures, I'm grateful to at least have a cell phone to help keep in touch with friends and a scant number of relatives.

Be that as it may, I'll be back around someday. As soon as I can arrange a a machine that helps me transfer "the voices" from my head to print, haha!

Be well, friends.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Little apples.

Summer is heating up fast, a gap in rainfall giving way to a desperate burst of gardening by the stubborn. Rows of tomatoes, corn, beans, and zucchini poke their brave green tops higher and higher, relishing warm days and bearing up under stints of more rain.

What isn't obvious to city dwellers is that from the first crocus to bloom through the snow, it's all battle preparation for a winter not far away on the scales of season balance. The woods and fields hum and buzz with life forms bent solely on procreation. The sum and total of today is labor put forward to make it through tomorrow. And, with luck, a few tomorrows after that. It takes skill; never curse a a farmer with your mouth full.

Beautiful blooms on an apple tree are not the important thing in getting reliable fruit for the labors. More than mere seeds are required: often grafting is the secret to survival.

In the lessons of a poor farmer, solid roots, the precious skill calloused hands know well. All things are related. Little apples come from beloved, healthy trees.

Plant seeds, yes. Also learn to graft. Respect hard work more than pricey window dressings. Do these things with devotion, and the battle is won.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Happy Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day weekend started on Thursday night for man and beast.

A lovely scattered burst of wicked thunderstorms, yet more rain on soaked soil, even the mountaintop puddling. The road to the old "Boar's Den" and the county line bootleggers were happy to do a booming business. At the same time the traffic started, two cats got in a tanglement right under the camper's door, squalling, hissing, and the fur flying.

One may presume the birth of kittens in about 62 days. There may or may not be two-legged babies around the end of February, the variety that grow up, go to work in dying factories, get drunk at every excuse, and then repeat the steps to slow demise of the species on their way to a pain-pill hazed burial plan (sometimes).

About 3:00 a.m., someone shot a large caliber long gun at some critter lurking in the dark. Four times. Boom, boom, boom, boom.

Top that off with crappy, varied, loud music, and a neighbor who mows the lawn at 6:00 a.m., and a fine time was had by all.

Those cold, gray stones sleep in orderly rows, secrets forever reserved, only bones, memories, and the crawlers of the night privy to their hollow echoes. Fake flowers drooping in the rain, fiery sparkles of light decorating cedar, juniper, and spruce as sunrise blasts a brief gold on those forgotten altars.