Friday, July 21, 2017
Friday, July 7, 2017
Thursday, July 6, 2017
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Saturday, June 10, 2017
Friday, June 2, 2017
-->I wish someone reliable (like Jane Friedman) would post a full list of literary genres. The best I could do today was the list at Wikipedia. In lieu of more reliable information, I'm going to make a leap of faith and carry on here with something that's on my mind. Bear with me, please.
So... what's your favorite literary genre? Do you like fiction or nonfiction? (All novels are fiction.) Do you like cozy stories, something that flies high and wild into the realms of imagination, or maybe prefer a how-to or historical volume? Humor/comedy, horror, fantasy... what tantalizes you? All fiction applies to the emotional impact of the story, whereas nonfiction, unless it's narrative, deals with flat facts or at least basically verifiable information (truth, we'll call it, though it all is open to translation).
I've dabbled in both, to some degree. And I read over a broad spectrum. Fiction, nonfiction. My personal interests lean to narrative nonfiction and those forms of fiction that tend to endure, such as literary fiction, and extending into those works that are open to translation.
Many people think of science fiction and fantasy as being too "out there" to be worthy of reading, a suggestion with which I do not agree. There's a list on Goodreads, Time Magazine's All-Time 100 Novels, which includes a good number of the books I'm talking about, books proven to be classics. Other lists include more. There are as many lists as opinions. (Mine included, I grant you.)
I'm constantly on the hunt for books with a powerful lyric voice. Throw in an unpredictable ending that's still plausible, and I'm ready to pounce.
Romances and "cozy" stories are too easy to predict, I find. The patterns of certain genres are standard weave. Mysteries and detective stories fall into this category. I can no longer enjoy these books as much as others, even though for many years I read almost anything I could get my hands on, even the labels of cans or boxes, if nothing else was at hand. I don't go in for shock value, be it sex or gore. Those are simply much over-used gadgets, not to be confused with literary devices. Where they burgeon into full-blown volumes, I find a napping place. Either it's a good story, or it's dressed up to be a good story, in a manner of speaking. I prefer a good story.
Yes, I sometimes write. But first of all, I'm a reader. There are many divisions and re-divisions of genre, and many books cross genres. (One current example of a cross-genre novel, a highly unpredictable form that stays high on my list of priorities in the search for new material, is Diana Gabaldon. She crossed romance, historical, and science fiction into a highly saleable and hugely entertaining series that's now on the small screen via Starz.) Preference is as diverse as fingerprints or handwriting. I simply enjoy books (and movies) that break the mold. They're rare. That makes me sad.
Books and movies are written largely to engage. They should make one laugh, cry, shiver, or question our ways of thinking. To engage large numbers of readers (or viewers) is a validation of the creative art of storytelling. A great storyteller should be able to share with those who love their favorite genre. It's a way of crashing barriers and finding new vision.
Take away the books I love, and I'm anguished within a single day. If you love an author's work, please tell them. Write reviews of their work. Speak to others like yourself.
One of my greatest pleasures is discovering a new and gifted storyteller who works hard at the craft while weaving a web I can't ignore.
Thursday, June 1, 2017
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
The truth, though, is that "one size" does not and will not fit all. Not in terms of clothing, medicine, housing, reading material, religion, politics, or a pair of shoes. All of us are different. We're large, small, medium, and light, dark, or even pied. We're short, tall, thin, fat, or a little of each, sometimes. Most of all, we're different inside.
For myself, I've had enough of death and suffering to do me for the rest of any reasonable lifetime. I need to stay away from strong infusions of these things for a while. I don't fear death as some do, however, seeing it more as a resting interlude between realities.
I'm primarily sick of the living who perch atop their imaginary fence posts and play buzzard over the belongings of the dead. Of course, it all needs cleaning up. Of course, it can't be ignored. Yet a little civility would be appreciated... and a sure measure of compassion and grace for those who don't see death as an opportunity to prosper or gain possession and power from inheritance. It's just plain not worth it to throw away one's humanity in the name of pure greed. Which, I might add, happens in most cases.
Not everyone is cut out to be an elder-care giver, or a parent, for that matter. I spent decades of my life shunting away suggestions that we "needed" to have children. I generally explained, "You have that backward. Children need parents." (Wasted breath, yes, I know.)
I was in a parking lot the other day and heard some woman screeching at her children inside a battered and worn old mini van. "If you don't sit your dumb ass down, I'll fucking beat it off!" She wasn't actually making any attempt to injure the child, and the child didn't look very much afraid, so I sat tight and kept my mouth shut. It was a case of incomplete information on my part. Still... the language and pitch and tone grated on my nerves, and felt like needless abuse.
In past months, I've had people ask questions of me that I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing about. In each case, the inquiry was well-meant.
Going back a few years, I could name a case in which a certain relative blasted me over some things I was alleged to have stolen... from children. If you know me, you know that isn't a likelihood. The fact was that I didn't even know those things existed. After I shut down the deluded fool, the person called my elderly mother in her hospital room (where Mom had landed after an ER visit) and again began to blast me for a thief and a liar to Mom. It was an ugly time, and an uglier-minded person.
The reason I mention these things? Well, if one is no longer young and trying to restart a life that has gone badly awry in the midst of a great deal of pseudo-"help", these sorts of occasions must be counted into the equation. When the time has come to move on to newer days, there's no room left for well-meant and horribly wrong suggestions. There is, in truth, no room for evil-minded accusations without solid grounding.
Springtime is almost past and already summer's coming into its prime in Appalachia. The gardens are growing, young animals are stretching their legs under bright sunlight or in soupy, splashy mud. The blessings of a year's cycle of life are coming into being.
In the years I've lived, I've tried a lot of lives on. And shoes or riding boots. In each case, the ones that fit me best were the ones I kept. This life of mine is comfortable, and it's tough. It's well-worn and scarred with the living. Best of all, it's mine.
A dance of perseverance, the tune titled Stubborn unto Death and Back, or Bred in the Bone. I'm up for it. It's no waltz for weaklings. Join me?
Monday, May 29, 2017
Memorial Day Weekend, 2017.
Mother's Day is just past, and with it, my mother's funeral. Father's Day is not here yet, but Memorial Day is. Dad was a veteran of World War II, and a believer in letting go of what one can't change. Today, I honor him by sharing that belief, and by not allowing those without a shred of common sense to push me into doing something I cannot do without causing more harm. I don't forget my ancestors. I do remember that each and every one of them had hard choices, once upon a time. The need to make decisions is on me, even now. Some will turn out well, and others, due to variables beyond my control and a certain inevitable measure of misinformation, will not. That, my dears, is life.
It's said that planting a garden is an act of positive thought: one plans to harvest said garden. We have, against all indicators for luck, planted a garden. Again. I say, planting a garden is an occupation for the stubborn.
I am stubborn.
I am also a functional pacifist... of the sort who has limits. Every day is a gift, and every day is a struggle for peace. I watch my neighbors, in this political atmosphere the U.S. of A. exists in, taking sides and taking up arms. One group wants the others to do the impossible. Those already struggling under the weight of the impossible look at the judgemental lot and finger sharp objects with an eye to application. My disgust and rage are fanned to white hot. I must remind myself of my pacifism, I must tend to the mother I have left, a scrap of fertile, willing earth filled with tender life, life I must accept the guilt for consuming, in time. Perspective always changes views.
A garden is a gift, being a microcosm of life itself. It's not the I Ching or Tarot, yet every living thing has something to teach, if we have but the wits to learn from them. Sometimes those lessons are pure wisdom.
From my Facebook account, posted yesterday:
A day of introspection: I've been thinking of all the sacrifices made in the name of good and joi de vivre.
Today I walked outside with my simple, homemade poplar walking cane, traded it for my trusty hoe, and planted a few vegetables and fruits in our very compact garden. Back to tending the first mother, the earth that feeds us all. I came inside, sat down, and from the corner of my eye saw motion. Something dark against my light gray t-shirt. Fearing a tick, I examined the visitor.
It was a tiny inchworm, "measuring off a new shirt" for me. ;) The creature was safely released outside, to live its natural life as earth intended.
Each day is a gift. In the end, the earth takes us back into its cradle, where we might return in the guise of any living thing.
I find that thought comforting. No life, loved or unloved, is ever wasted.
Sometimes the tiniest things are those we need most. Not everything is written on stone.
Remember: Life is precious. To give or take a life is a momentous, monstrous decision. Those who guard us are precious lives. Remember. Never forget. The soldier is not the war.
Plant your gardens. Whisper the names you love most, and give them into the care of the living.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
My mother died on Saturday, after a long illness with a predictable pattern. She had spent long years on a trach-and-vent in a distant respiratory care facility -- the best of two that exist in our state -- continually hoping to be able to leave, or at least to see visitors.
Imogene K. McIntosh was almost 89 years old, a lonely woman who had a lot of pain due to severe scoliosis and other related conditions. The only thing that troubled her more than the pain was her fear of death.
Mom's mother and her mother, in turn, my matrilineal ancestors, lived to beyond 100 years old. Mamaw Bowen, as we called her, was born in 1881, though her headstone has her "official" birthdate as 1882... when I was a small child, I sat in this woman's lap and listened to stories that I didn't understand until decades later. Mamaw Pearl was a feisty, petite blonde, round as a small barrel, and tough as a dozen old goats; her primary art and function in life was to produce food and see to it that no one in her range of influence ever went hungry. I was raised by people who knew hard times, not the least of whom was my father, a man raised as one of 12 born to yet another powerful female soul.
The people who brought me into being were often confused by my ways of thinking, yet recognized that stubborn was bred into the package. In their wisdom of hard experience, they accepted me, for the most part, while others simply tried to pretend they hadn't really noticed. There's a good, wry sense of dry humor built in, too, thanks to Dad's lineage.
Farmers, gardeners, cooks, horse people, and adaptable to a fault, to say this region isn't capable by genetic cause is to declare open war, for we all know better. Younger generations, alas, are not quite as willing to throw their everything into the fray, blood, sweat, and tears... even bits of flesh... keeping the spirit in bodily housing.
Mom was tired. I watched her fading slowly, each time we went to visit and check on her. One major medical error turned the tide. I wasn't surprised when the hospital called and laid out the facts: she had been found "unresponsive", they would do all they could. Between the lines lay the silent warning of mortality on all grounds. I was asked to make a decision, and I made it. No heroic measures. Comfort and aid, but no extreme and possibly dangerous measures.
Elderly bodies are fragile, and I didn't need a reminder after seeing three generations of geriatric family pass on. It wasn't my first call, either. All souls deserve peace at some point.
Ronnie and I spent as much time sitting with her as we could, and arranged for visitors as best we could. Great-grandchildren dropped in a mere three hours before Mom passed on. Meanwhile, we talked to the nurses and to Mom, to each other, and tried to stay out of the way of the physically capable caregivers who stood in for us for so long. I read bits of my work, news articles off the cell phone, literary bits including poetry.
I was writing a new lyric prose fragment to read to her when the swarm of nurses descended on their fragile patient. Her heart had stopped. They verified the death as we sat watching, one of them using my pocket flashlight to see if her pupils were dilating. Still, the respirator pushed air in and out of her severely pneumonia-tortured lungs. The ER doctor came across the road to her unit about an hour later to unplug the machines and call time of death... more than an hour after the truth of it.
This is what I was writing as she passed on into a realm of peace:
"We are born in blood and tears, washed in the waters of nature's own creations, often entering the world with a crown of caul. The journey of ages begun generations ago merely leaps into a new pattern, new fuel cast into the great fire.
"Endless universes sprawl and dance through a darkness so intense it burns, feeding on and producing more and more of a kind of miracle beyond comprehension. Worlds rise and fall, stars come into being and fade, and the concept of time changes. "And yet, for an infant gasping its first of life, wet and cold, the immediate is centric. Constellations of living begin, community spiraling around the one, illusive truth just beyond grasp. Waiting just ahead, the first pangs of being other than the center of being, and the seeking of connections that expand as the roots of a great tree entangled with more of its own kind.
"The great all, the great fire, calls us all home. Veils of streaming reality alter and twist, and for a while, the darkness is less. Perspective is the seed of enlightenment, the pivot on which all truth turns.
" ... When death comes on its soft, merciful, dark wings, we leave this reality alone. If we're lucky, someone is there to escort us to the portal, someone who forgives our frailties and imperfections, and merely offers quiet companionship to the very end.
Our thanks goes to the devoted nurses of Rockcastle Regional Hospital's Respiratory Care wing, in Mt. Vernon, Ky., and to Dr. Saylor. We all tried to make the ending a peaceful one.
Funeral arrangements can be found on the Hearne Funeral Home web page. Cards and letters may be sent to the family in care of our post office box, as shown below.
R. Lee Tipton
P.O. Box 1225
Stanton, Ky. 40380-1225
(Posted by way of cell phone. Apologies for errors or typos. ~ R.)
Thursday, May 11, 2017
The voices of the region echo in my mind even during sleeping hours. I awakened one morning to a precious voice, a voice I suspect was brought into my voracious imagination by an old song. I wonder sometimes if I'll be called to finish its story, or not. The road is there, though it's shrouded in the mists of time, as yet. I saved it off to a blog page, just in case. That turned out to be wise, because when we lost our home to foreclosure + disability issues, my laptop died soon after. I was unable to recover many of the backed up files. (They're saved as Windows 7 backups, and I now have a used Mac.) Much of what I had worked hard on was lost in a blink. One day the laptop simply wouldn't start. There was no way to fix it, short of a new hard drive. Windows 10 rendered it obsolete. And my work was for nothing, in the same breath.
That's life. Time to move on. No regrets (too late for those, right?).
The Kentucky I used to love so much was one where neighbors checked on each other, where people who had enough shared with those who didn't. It was a place where people had educations that didn't evolve in some classroom, but rather grew on trees and in fields, and in every part of the world around them. They had valuable knowledge. They plowed fields, worked worn-out old mules no harder than they themselves worked, and they stored away food and other necessities against days when bare survival became hard. Kentucky was a place full of capable people, who, if closed-minded to outsiders, at least fed them with good will and a measure of skill in the job.
This has changed in the last few decades, sneaking up a little at a time, a weasel charming the complacent chickens. The seeds of greed have sprouted in "The Dark and Bloody Ground." The Scots-Irish, the German, the Welsh, the English, and the Cherokee and Choctaw, clans that they were, have fallen to the bottom of the melting pot. Not my America. Not at all. #NotMyAmerica, for sure. Not my Kentucky, in the same breath. Not that I don't love them. I just don't recognize them as family, same as a few highly destructive individuals I could name. I'm human. I have the strength, just the same, to turn away from what I cannot change, and look for what I can make something of, then work on whatever it is.
I still know the things I learned as a child, taught by parents old enough to be my grandparents, by grandparents who knew the Great Depression, and on the knee of a great-granny who was born in the late 1800s. The same thing goes for my husband, who had a similar family history. We grow a garden, can and preserve foods, and know how to hunt or farm to provide ourselves (and anyone who is hungry and shows up at our door) with what we need. Maybe, somewhere in what's left of my life, I'll find those who want to learn and to go on, using the best of both the past and the future, as I do right here.
Until then, practice is good. It's just another story that hasn't ended.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
A tale of remembrance, taken from the past.
|This image is from a photo I took of a yearling colt I groomed for sale on a Paris, Ky. horse farm. |
Copyright 1985, by R. Lee Tipton
To every story another side. To everything, an ending, regardless of the manner of it. The story yet untold puts a narrow twist in the ending, a thing perhaps unforeseen. Looking back at such a passage, one questions the path leading up to it, perplexed and lost as to whether the ending is a true one. For that, we can only look back to the beginning and wonder.
A day as a groom on a working horse farm is a long day and a hard one, full of dealing with small problems, one after the other. Farriers, veterinarians come to work on the horses, carpenters and plumbers come to work on the farm itself. The whole of the population of the grooms remains busy the entire day just to assist and reorganize everything in the order it came up. The main chores of feeding and caring for the horses all still have to be done. That old cliche about one foot in front of the other comes to be almost a religion on days of that sort.
At the end of one whirlwind day, I prepared to head home. The next day was our day off, and all I could think of was getting some gone. That's why I was standing in the wide open door of the foaling barn when the annoying little red-headed farm manager walked up the hill with his two blue heeler dogs; I was watching for Ronnie to pick me up to go home. The thoughts of a cool shower (not that we had any other kind, with well-water and a tiny twenty gallon water heater) to get the crud off, then a trip back home to the hills for the evening, ran through my head. The last thing I wanted to do was try to be civil to someone who always managed to be almost but not quite slyly rude.
He wanted me to trim his fat bitch's toenails, since he knew I kept nippers designed for a dog that size and could use them without hurting the already nervous dog. Without wasting too many words, I told him I'd do it on Sunday, when we came back to work. I didn't have the tool with me right then. It was a cool day, but inside the edge of the barn it wasn't bad, so the man showed me the dog's crooked toenail, the main problem, as we stood there. We were bent over the restless canine in the shelter of the doorway when an awful racket suddenly began in the large paddock just past the string of tiny newborn foal nursery paddocks beside the big barn.
It wasn't unusual to see or hear horses running in a paddock of some size, so we had paid little attention to the pounding of hooves so close to us. Another farm employee drove up in a rush as the manager and I charged out of the barn, dog forgotten entirely. We threaded our way through the little pens and across the wide, white gravel driveway.
In the nearest corner of the field lay the twitching form of a large horse. Nearby stood three other mares looking on and blowing, their eyes white-rimmed with fright at the strong smell of blood. The body of the downed animal was partially hidden behind a semi-conical cement water tank that thrust up from the ground to about waist high. The wide top of the structure obscured her head and neck from our view. We couldn't tell if she was alive or dead, or what had happened.
The other farm worker almost fell, trying to get out of his truck in a hurry. He told us he'd seen it all. The man's voice was high and tight-wound with shock and amazement. The picture of four mares racing around the field was so beautiful, he said, that he'd stopped to watch them. They were running for the pure joy, just running wide open and all together in a line, as if from a race-track starting gate. The horses had swept the turn of the field, then headed toward the foaling barn corner. He saw the water trough, and thought the mares would part to go around it.
At the last minute one mare went off to one side, two went off to the other side, and The Freight Train didn't. She did what she was almost legendary for, just plowed on, straight into the heavy cement structure. It was empty, which didn't help; the impact threw her over into it and back out, from which she thrashed (trying instinctively to get up, no doubt) to the other side, a full quarter-turn back where she'd come from. She was clearly a mess; there was a leg that didn't look right, blood on her face, neck, chest, and ribs, and a large dent in the side of her barrel, with smeared bloody marks on her rib cage. She looked like she had been hit by a freight train instead of being nicknamed for one, the poor old girl.
The manager smiled, rubbing his neck with a kind of grim satisfaction. F.T. had dumped him on his neck not a week before, when he "quicked" her with a horseshoe nail too close to the living tissue of her foot. She was afraid of farriers, and he had insisted on doing the job because it paid extra money, big money by comparison to the average horseman's wage. He hated the mare with an abiding passion.
A small crowd gathered; Ronnie had showed up, and since the way off the farm was beside the scene of the wreck, so to speak, the foaling barn parking lot filled up fast. Someone called the farm secretary, who called the farm owner (she was out of the country), and someone called the veterinarian. The whole time grooms took turns sitting at F. T.'s head, preventing her from thrashing with a firm, gentle hold and by soothing her with kind words and soft voice. The old mare was clumsy, but she wasn't mean or hard to handle in general. She was a friendly old soul; everyone on the farm knew her.
When the vet got there, he sucked in his breath as soon as he saw her lying there. Most of us already knew that she wasn't going to get out of this one alive, but his was the voice the insurance company and the farm owner would hear above all others. We just hoped he could go on and help her get some peace.
She lay there on the cold, damp autumn soil, covered in layers of straw and old blankets for the rest of the night, until she died on her own in the early morning. The farm manager kept telling the farm's owner one thing, the veterinary told her another. The insurance company would, as a result, believe none of them, having also heard it all. In the end, F.T. saved them the trouble of being humane or decent and took a last, long breath riddled with foamy red bubbles. The bubbles sparkled ruby-bright and slow in the morning's frost, though her eyes were as dull as the muddy ground around her when I went to tell her goodbye. It was the end of the tracks for the old Freight Train.
She had one last race, on her own turf, in her own way. The old mare was ahead of the others when they split off and left her. It was the last race she ever ran, her dignity stolen at the end, but her pride still intact: no sound louder than a soft groan did she make in suffering, the whole time.
Thursday, May 4, 2017
Appalachian weather lore quietly abides despite climate changes which seem to be escalating. Each switch from cold season to spring is flagged by plant or tree growth across the entire region, the gradual resurrection of field and forest appearing as a dance of veils swirling to a dervish of summer's heat in flickering layers of green.
The last cold snap coincides with the blooming of wild blackberry canes. Savvy gardeners watch for the predictable chill, prepared to plant the last of cold-tolerant vegetables, and to cover and protect the early, more vulnerable plantings. Cabbage family plants will thrive throughout, yet much-beloved tomato plants need tender, loving care.
Within mere weeks, the care pays off in lettuce, onions, beet leaves, and other early greens. A month or so sees corn, beans, and ripening tomatoes, while "Irish" potatoes (Kennebec, Pontiac, etc.) and sweet potatoes settle in for a slow sort of production culminating in autumn's last hurrah.
"Putting up" food is a tradition we practice regularly, including herbs we use as seasonings and as foods. Blackberry winter is here in eastern Kentucky, Serviceberry ("sarvis"), dogwood, redbud, and the like have passed. The crisp nip in the air promises hot days and humid nights close at hand.
It's time to count the canning jars, stock up on supplies, and settle into the job. History requires remembrance and perseverance. Tomorrow will thank us for today.
For the local folks in particular, or anyone interested in buying some of my books, and in answer to certain queries:
This is my current/available inventory.
NOVELS by R. Lee Tipton...
The Glimmering of Scotch Whiskey (1)
The Glimmering of Mountain Mists (0)
The Glimmering of Foxfire (13)
NONFICTION by R. L. Mackintosh...
The Tooth, Claw, and Hoof Stories
#1... dogs & cats - (14)
#2... farm (15)
#3... horses (7)
#4... wildlife/off-grid life (19)
#5... Best of, plus new (0)
It's doubtful I'll have any more on hand for some time, due to personal considerations (health, housing, basic needs vs. advertising/marketing costs). I apologize for any inconveniences. All of these books are available through Amazon.
For those who have asked, yes, I do have one unpublished novel complete, and several others in various stages of completion. I am not doing nonfiction at present. No new publications are planned at present.
Thank you. <3
Monday, May 1, 2017
It's an early late spring day in eastern Kentucky, well above normal temperatures sweating the stolid populace. Yet the blackberries haven't bloomed, the last cold snap, or "blackberry winter", as this round has been called for generations, hasn't happened. In a neighbor's yard blooms a fancy sort of iris, one appearing black to the casual eye. Up close, the flower is a deep, deep purple, rich in pigment, with a center of arterial red. Bloody at its heart, the bloom nods in the breeze, listless and tired even in its militant upright stance.
I wonder how many this summer will kill. From here, the heat will escalate. People and animals of all kinds will slowly creep to a halt. The Red River already carries itself in sluggish roils, the forest zones near it taking on an unmistakeable jungle atmosphere.
On the first day of May, high summer has cast out warning flags. Blackberry winter is upon us. In a tiny, ramshackle cabin tucked into a ridgetop cove of regrowth red cedar and juniper, there sits an old military field desk, a comfortable if ancient chair waiting. The book of memories exists as a stack of fluttering notes to the side of a hand-me-down, loyal Mac laptop.
Time is a paradoxical phenomenon. All that matters is where you are going, though the truth of that is rooted unavoidably in the past.
It's time, and then some, to travel on. Let the Circle turn.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
A writer and visual artist, R. L. Tipton is descended from Scots-Irish, German, English, and Cherokee ancestors who first came into Powell County, Kentucky, as early as the early 1880s -- four generations ago. The Tiptons live in a remote, unfinished cabin on Furnace Mountain with numerous animal friends both large and small.
This time of year, responsible people worry about the roads, and often must wonder if they can scrape up enough cash to pay the heating bill before the pipes freeze up. It's cold, and while Kentucky is at risk for more ice storms than blizzards, it can be uncomfortable. It's hard to see the beauty in something that makes your bones ache and your wallet suffer. That's understandable.
When we were kids, all we saw was a day off from school on occasion. It seemed a fine time to go make some snow cream or slide down a nearby hill on sled of some sort. When you're young and the cocoa's being made by someone who loves you while you deliberately turn into a human Popsicle, getting cold is a lark.
I was the same. It's been many years since I was young and sassy, yet I have my memories of fun. I've slipped and slid using greased cardboard, real metal-runner equipped sleds, inner tubes from a big truck or tractor, or even a sheet of heavy plastic. But my most favorite activity in the winter was to ride a horse on the coldest of days, to take a wild, chilling trip around the lake and into the woods where there was no human to share that priceless experience.
I remember one day in particular, from those years past.
The day dawned bitterly cold; the air seemed to freeze around a breath, like the words or a sigh might fall tinkling to the ground in an instant. The snow was, for once, several inches deep and powder dry. Under it all was a thin skim of ice atop the long-frozen ground. Everything seemed white and ice blue, cold to look at, even, and bright enough to be painful to the eye. I'd been stuck in the house for what seemed like ages, but had only been overnight. And I had my mind made up: today, I would ride.
The crackling cold was only a minor irritation compared to the need to be in the woods, old Bess carrying me along like a feather on the wind, the sharp smells of pine and frozen lake water wrapping chilly fingers around us. The woods were calling. I would have bet every dime my teenage hands could gather that old Bess was just as restless as I; kindred souls speak the same language.
When I left the house, I had on so many layers of clothing that I waddled. The snow was slippery beneath my feet, and hiking boots took care of that nicely. In deference to the bitter cold and the wind chill of traveling horseback, I intended to skip the saddle and use Bess's warmth to aid in preventing frostbite. In the edge of the barn, I stopped to wipe my eyes. The wind was sharp, though the sunlight had turned everything in its path to cold fire. My barely-exposed cheeks were numb, my nose the same.
I began to doubt the wisdom of my decision to ride, and had almost made up my mind to go back home when a golden head thrust over the stall wall, huffing and whickering eager welcome. Cold as I was, I melted. Who could say no to a face like that?
The bridle was on in a trice, and I scrambled, clumsy in my many layers, onto her back. She jigged in place, trying to take the bit and go. I stayed with her, wrapping my legs in the saddle blanket I'd tossed up across her neck. The ends of it fluttered slightly in the stiff breeze at the edge of the clearing, and she reared onto her hinders for long seconds, dancing in the icy slickness with borium-enforced steel shoes. A handful of dark red mane held me up; her winter coat was sleek and full, slippery against my jeans.
We stepped out onto the blacktop road and made our way to the far end of my parent's loop driveway. It was a steep hill, but missed the greater length of icy blacktop base to walk on. I could circle Bess around and go straight to the creek-rocked road to the lake and hill trails. The question, at that point, was not if my sassy old mare would act up, but rather when.
Near the top of the hill, almost to the house, it happened. She began her ritual telegraph of action. Right ear flickers. Left ear. Head turns to the right, then the left. I was breathless... and she wrung her tail just as I grabbed a fierce handful of thick mane.
One more stride....
At the top of the road there, on a level with the house, she thrust her compact, meaty rump skyward, trying to get her head down and buck. Then she quickly recovered and attempted to bolt. I compensated, laughed wildly, and stayed put. She stretched into a lope around the back of the house with both short ears perked up and forward. To the hills with us, she seemed to cry; I feel wonderful and we need to run! If I had come off on the frozen ground, it would have probably meant more than a slight injury. The ground, so uneven, was filled with saplings and stumps all around, and rough stones beneath us. I was young enough not to care, reckless enough to glory in it. The old mare was never old in heart. A fine pair we were, it was often said -- wild eyed and moving like a centaur into battle.
The wind off the lake was razored and so cold it burned. We made it to the tree line and the hills broke the back of the killer wind for us, though the ridge-line trails were blown almost clear of snow. Here and there, tracks of deer or dog showed briefly, the wind keeping secrets in its transparent path.
Bess took the bit in her teeth and I let her.
Blood-dark tail a-flag, she blew hot steam from her nostrils as she pounded the ground with hard hooves. The swing of her gallop up a slight rise reached fever pitch, those short, perfect ears flattened back angrily, furious at not being able to take full flight.
At the top of the ridge, she slowed up, snorting steam and dancing sideways from a cardinal that blew past us. Ears up again, she collected herself into a prancing running-walk, smooth as silk and a joy to sit. I glimpsed a fox in the distance; it went out of sight with something feathered still fluttering in its mouth. A crash of brushy stuff over the hill told tales of a whitetail doe and her fawn startled by Bess's charge up the hillside. A murder of crows cursed us from the treetops, unafraid of the horse where a person on foot would have made all things silent within a few footfalls.
We traveled the whole trail, coming down the backside where a slide had long ago broken the original logging trail, a path set there before the region was ripped of all the primordial forest that once grew on it. The original path makers were the woodland bison, a creature extinct for over a hundred years, perhaps more. The slide was a place best walked on a good day with a stout staff of hickory or sassafras; a horse had to travel it sitting on hind feet and haunches, and it was not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced to attempt while on horseback.
At the bottom, we cut back up into the gap of the Chaney Orchard, long abandoned and grown up. At the ridge again, we caught up with the original trail, headed east and a bit north, back toward the house. About 300 yards shy of the turn to go to the house via the kennels, I turned Bess down a small path, passing the comical "two-seater" outhouse in the woods that Dad built. We slid down the hard-clay path, a coating of white making it all but impassable by dry lubrication.
Back on the road around the lake, we walked sedately, listening to the riot of life alive in the woods when a storm has well and truly passed us by. Woodpeckers pounded, crows cawed, Dad's Beagles tried to raise the roof because an opinionated squirrel hung over them on a dangling branch, scolding the foolish creatures for merely existing. Bess's feet echoed my heartbeat on the snow. A one and a two and a one and a two... as if we were made to think and move as one. The bit jingled and occasionally a steely shoe hit on an exposed stone. I was no longer cold. Neither of us had broken a sweat, but we were warm and happy and calm at soul and in the flesh.
Perfect. It was a beautiful day in Kentucky. A day I will not forget. A day like none the children of today are likely to experience in their lifetimes. A priceless memory to me, a curiosity to someone else. When I think back, I remember a fine old mare who was also my friend.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
When I'm writing, I'm immersed in the project to the point that it's hard for me to focus on the physical world. Everything rolls back, away, like waves prior to a tsunami. That's as it should be, whether it's nonfiction, a playful sort of fantasy, or science fiction. Any genre requires focus, and I do my best to put in the right ingredients, hoping for just the right recipe.
"Writer's block" is imaginary, in my opinion. If it's not working, it's not working. Your subconscious will rebel. This is why I generally keep several projects going at one time, just as I do with visual art. Varying the projects allows for fresh perspective and new awareness, not to mention leaving room for massive amounts of reading (mandatory... it's what got me here, after all).
Song of the Rain Crow, which this blog was named for, is based on numerous family stories and tales retold around the region where I grew up. Eastern Kentucky. Appalachia. I've been so involved in these stories for most of my life that it has shown up in my visual art as well. In the graphic below is a picture I painted, acrylic on canvas, of my maternal line great-great-great grandmother. Done from a tiny, ancient, faded photo that required quite a bit of digital manipulation to make visible, the painting was a shock to my mother, who immediately recognized Cynthie Baker. This ancestor appears in the story in several capacities; I used composite characters, of course, as it is a novel, a work of fiction. Yet this woman is the main inspiration for the story.
Yes, it's true:
“There has always been a song in the hearts of my people, and of my peoples' ancestors. From sea to shining sea and beyond those great salt waters, the song has changed and grown. The soul of flute and bagpipe twine in the strings of an old fiddle, pain and joy are like birth and death: inseparable, each of them whole only when conjoined. I would have it no other way.”
And so, though hard times haunt us, I will persevere. To do otherwise is not permitted by the past bred into heart, soul, and weary bones.“I hear my grandmother's voice in my ear, sometimes, like a whisper of leaves, a light, soft pattering of foxes' feet. I smell memories of her ways when cornbread rises golden in the pan, or a pot of strong coffee steams ready. I can feel her work-toughened hands on mine, knowing and calloused, when I walk among the trees and see their varied bark in the flicker of morning storm-light. Here, I too have come for solace. I cleanse my soul in these waters the mountains give freely, I come where I know home will always be as I touch the hard soil that gave me roots, that which still keeps the corn, the squash, and the beans growing for the next generation.”
Please follow with me as I begin a new sort of life, presumably no longer young enough to be foolish. Let the words take us where they might lead.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Ego is a steel-jawed trap almost any human being will leap into with a silly smile on their face. Over and over, pride does indeed go[eth] before a fall.
Watching this country during these times, it is plain that society is endlessly inhumane, that caste systems exist in every culture (even where deemed illegal), and that immigration is not merely history, but also the future. The nature of the beast is the direct cause.
Yes, we are beasts. Verbal conversation, opposing thumbs, high falutin' philosophical or business ideas not withstanding, we humans have both similar physiology and similar needs as any other species of mammal on the planet. We're newborns as the earth mother's get are figured, the evolutionary tree gnarled in root and branch, yet spitting out prideful seed to grasp "dominion" with hands that are capable of so much more and better.
We're an interesting species. Like wolves, we're capable of socialistic behavior, like working together to find food. Unlike wolves, beasts we often revile as such, we use "spiritual" and/or "practical" excuses not to feed or care for the young, old, disabled, or sickly, and using similar logic, we try to prolong life once the body has utterly failed.
Our thinking has become so convoluted that something as basic as healing those who are ill has become the basis for greed. Willow bark tea (merely a random example) eases pain? Let's find a synthetic version, build factories, and put people to work making it, then sell it at prices beyond the means of those who hurt too badly to work there. Can't use willow bark? Oh, yes, we sell a version inspired by pineapples.
It goes on and on, ad nauseum. Population growth is a problem. Let's start a war, then stop women (even if they're ill, have been raped, or are victims of incest) from getting abortions or other forms of birth control. Let the storms roll in, the sky cry fat, sweet tears. We'll set out a pan of water, and ignore the drought neighbors suffer under.
Meanwhile, we choose up teams. Not just baseball, football, soccer, but also this church or that, this political party or that, and even the genetic accident of color of one's skin. If it's not our team, it's the wrong team. We even try to make other species conform. They're the wiser, in the end. A cat knows it isn't a cow, a bear doesn't consume what nourishes a carrot.
The truth is, we're not a species which is self-contained. We're all parts of a gloriously intricate planetary multi-entity, a god-like "his eye is on the sparrow" awareness beyond our limited capabilities as a single species. There may be billions of similar entities throughout the many universes we cannot imagine. And we are not gods.
We're frail, ignorant, flawed miracles... humans. Creatures of the whole, with our own limits to overcome.
Dream a little. It's not terrifying, once you realize this is... you.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
|My mother's old home-place on Spaus Creek, near the Red River Gorge of eastern Kentucky. |
It was burned down by firebug vandals several years ago.
Copyright 1995 by R. Lee Tipton, author/artist.
Behind where we're camping, there's an old house site. Not a board remains of the original structure, just a few stones used for the foundations. The main signs of a once-beloved human habitation are the wide green blades of someone's spring flower patch. Iris, daffodil, and other blooming beauties have held the faith, though the hands that planted them have long gone to dust beneath cold stone markers.
It's not unusual to find things like these in Kentucky's woodlands. Sometimes it's a pink Seven Sisters climbing rose gone wild among low-growing redbud or similar trees, other times, a rainstorm will wash the soil away from the base stones of a chimney, revealing the carefully laid hearth. I've found them while out riding horses along rough hillside trails, and never fail to step out of the saddle and offer a moment of quiet reverence for memories I don't share with the founders. I will wander and visit the surviving flower patches, seek out the spring or well, treading carefully so as not to fall into a hole no longer guarded by a wooden box.
These sites are the ultimate museums. Anthropologists hum and sparkle over a bit of rusty knife blade or a hand-axe made of stone by native hands. There are no treasures of gold and silver, and one is extremely lucky if some bright bead can be located; those who lived on these hills either moved on or passed on, and the result is the same.
Empty dooryards, a scattering of bright flowers, and time make for a quilt of patches on a patch of earth that has endured glacial formation, the changing of immigrant life since long before European influence.
I stand leaning on my walking stick, the good sense to keep watch for wakening serpents in a remote portion of my mind, and wonder at all the stories time has filed away for the earth to store. Children. Born, raised, married, and the cycle re-beginning, some simply moving away in the name of change. The urge for bright things after a long winter sending someone to grub in the soil, planting, like as not, some flower with a history all its own. All of it for the forest to re-enfold, transform, and give peace to in the way of nature's own patience.
Yesterdays are still tomorrows. We should all learn to plant flowers. The beauty of today is the ability to dream. The ability to look forward through hardship and sorrow sends us into worlds we alone can and do create.
Every old house-site makes me want to take off the cap I wear to shade my eyes, lift up a handful of living forest soil, sniff it carefully, and run it through my fingers as if it were some holy relic to count prayers on. These hills are green cathedrals, every leaf of its living guardian green recording truth and endurance.