Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dancing Sweet Gum Leaves in Glow of Waning Sun

I saw these two Sweet Gum leaves as I walked from the grassy space on the Lake Brandt dike back into the woods via a spur off the Piedmont Trail. The leaf on the left is flipped backwards to reveal the underside; thus the leaves are face to face, like in a dance. It was late in the afternoon.

Twenty Five Great Female Vocalists (Alto, Contre Alto) with Links

I have always particularly liked female vocalists with alto or contra alto voices. I don't know why really. Maybe it is because of the more melancholy nature of the alto voice. Anyway, I've put together a list of 20 favorite of these female vocalists (pop-rock-country - not "classical")) and offered a link to a corresponding You Tube video - preferably live performances when possible. I couldn't find a live performance for Joan Armatrading's The Weakness in Me," so it's just vocals and lyrics there. No doubt studio versions of some of these songs are better and purer, but I can't post them legally.

If you know of a better video of the same song send it my way. I know I've left out some great ones too. I want to make it a "Great 25" so please make some suggestions.

Many of my favorite female vocalists aren't on this list because their voices are higher - remember that.

When I was a kid I had a major crush on Marilyn McCoo, so I had to include her. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

These are VERY roughly in order of preference. KD Lang will knock your socks off.

25. The Cranberries - Linger

24. Fiona Apple - Criminal

23. Mama Cass - Dream a Little Dream of Me

22. Brandi Carlile - The Story

21. Adele - Rolling in the Deep

20. Marilyn McCoo (5th Dimension) – One Last Bell to Answer

19. Karen Carpenter – We’ve Only Just Begun

18. Odetta – Careless Love

17. Mary Chapin Carpenter – Passionate Kisses -

16. Annie Lennox (Eurythmics) – Sweet Dreams

15. Natalie Mains (The Dixie Chicks) – Top of the World

14. Stevie Nicks – Beautiful Child

13. Connie Francis – Who’s Sorry Now

12. Florence + The Machine - Shake it Out

11. Judy Garland – Over the Rainbow

10. Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) – White Rabbit

9. Carole King – Natural Woman

8. Etta James - At Last

7. Linda Ronstadt – I Will Always Love You

6. Gladys Knight – Midnight Train to Georgia

5. Natalie Merchant – Wonder

4. Tracy Chapman – Baby Can I Hold You

3. Patsy Cline – Walkin’ After Midnight

2. Joan Armatrading – The Weakness in Me

1. KD Lang – Crying - or maybe even better, Hallelujah

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sycamore and Tulip Poplar

American Sycamore and Tulip Poplar, Piedmont Trail, Greensboro watershed trail system, Greensboro, NC. This particular tulip poplar is the not the biggest but may be the tallest I have personally seen in Guilford County. The first limbs appear to be maybe 80+ feet up. Sycamore and Tulip Poplar are the two tallest of our Eastern trees. These look like they are in a race. They are kind of. Check out a few more shots of these trees on my Flickr photostream.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Dearest Freshness - Deep Down Things

The Peninsula Trail in Greensboro is part of the Greensboro watershed trail system, and the Mountains to Sea Trail. It is perhaps the humblest of our watershed trails, exploring a a small peninsula of land surrounded by Lake Townsend east of Church Street and between the two Church Street bridges. I took a short walk their last Sunday. I wasn't feeling terribly inspired or artsy or at one with nature, the weather was so so, and light conditions were not great for photography, but I took a few shots anyway.

My point: even on the most humble little trail and on a very average day, treasures and joys abound when we slow down take notice - from tiny goings on down on the ground to large trees to all sorts of shades and textures and colors. No matter how badly we have messed things up, the glory of nature and nature's God is always there waiting for us. As Hopkins says, "And for all this, nature is never spent, There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;..." No matter how badly we have messed things up...

I think the same principle holds to life in general. Glory is often most deeply revealed in weakness...

More Penninsula Trail Pics HERE

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The (new) Perfect Tree - and the winner is...

...a Post Oak, again, this one on Highway 150 directly across from Northern Elementary.

It's about twice the size of my previous favorite tree - a Post Oak on North Elm Street.

Shimmering Autumn Reflections

So, I came home about 11:30 or so and walked into the kitchen. The kitchen has a north facing window, and the sun of course is a little east of south by 11:30Am, thus on the opposite side of the house from the kitchen window. Our kitchen is sort of L shaped (or better, upside down L shaped). I walked through the dark kitchen (the long part of the upside down L) toward the window and took the "L" to the right, I immediately noticed light shimmering on the cabinets to my right, AND also my shadow in that light. The light had that glowing quality it often has at sunset.

That's strange, I thought. So I looked out the window thinking maybe the sun was reflecting off my car in the driveway, but it wasn't that. The large yellow-orange maple across the cul de sac was afire in the glow of the sun, and the reflection was off the maple tree itself, off the leaves, and the shimmering was due to the breeze giving motion to the maple limbs. The reflection was so bright I could see the shadow of each of my fingers on the cabinet

I stood there in the moment realizing it was unusual and special, and then it was gone. The sun had moved just enough to change the angle of reflection, and the kitchen was dark again, and the shadow no more. It was a special moment. I am glad I wasn't too preoccupied not to notice.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pillars of Poplar

These three Tulip Poplar trunks are from the same tree - the main trunk splits into three just above the base. I crawled up into the middle of the trunk triangle to get this shot. The sky was bright hazy white so all I could get was a silhouette. This three-trunked-poplar is found on what is perhaps the "humblest" of our watershed trails, the short little Peninsula Trail, which begins and ends on Church Street between the two Lake Townsend bridges. We are so blessed to have these trails, kept up beautifully by Greensboro Parks and rec with the aid of many volunteers.

I took a short walk and a few shots, nothing profound, but little glimpses into Creation's wonder.

A Migraine Poem with a Long Intro

It's 12:29 PM. I just got up. No, I wasn't up late last night and no I am not depressed.

I felt a slight "tinge" yesterday while in the car going to the doctor for a TB shot to update my vaccination. There it was again around dinner time. Again before bed. I should have known better.

Not all the hints and feints are precursors of the real thing. You don't want to waste your medicine, which taken in time, can be quite effective.

I didn't take it in time.

I know people who suffer from claustrophobia, or anxiety with a claustrophobia component. They tend often to be thinking, "Now how do I get out of this place if I need to." Even the prospect of being stuck with no escape creates anxiety. It's a little bit like that with migraine. You're always thinking, 'What will I do if one hits? Is there a place to go? How far am I from a dark room and a bed , or a tent, or some private place to be horizontal?" Ah, a tinge of nausea, a small little throb behind the eye - "is it going to be a migraine? Should I take medicine?" This is the migraine life .

Mine woke me up around 5:30 this morning. I am not sure if it was the nausea or the pain. The race to wrest control my brain had gotten started in earnest while I slept, while I was not paying attention. The bad guys had won.

As I write I wonder: is this too private? Should I say anything? If it were you, would you? When such a thing so impacts your life and renders whole days useless and sends you alone into a world so dark and unbearable, would you talk about it? I blog about other things. Is this off limits? Is it too trivial compared to the truly terrible human suffering in the world?

I don't know the answer.

It is hard to describe acute severe migraine. I liken it to a cloud of darkness descending, and oh what a painful darkness! You want to cry, or cry out, but it doesn't help. You lie totally still. Or you writhe. You cover your eyes from light and your ears from sound and your nose from smells. You wrap yourself into a cocoon alone and try to remember that this darkness will in time pass. You pray. Inwardly you are screaming. You feel like "The Scream" looks, but the hell isn't the sorrow of the world it's the dark throbbing in your own head.

Dark and bleak and and horrific as it is inside the cocoon, it's better inside than outside. The few yards to the bathroom seem like a WWI no man's land. Bad things are out there, things you don't want to write about. You crawl, you run, you walk very very slowly - choose your method. You get there just in time.

Nausea is terrible in the best of circumstances. I hate it. I used to get sick every year at the state fair after rides that went in circles. I always thought "it won't happen THIS time," and it always did. No nausea is fun. I've never had morning sickness. I hear it is particularly terrible.

You make it to the bathroom. Sometimes as if to play a joke, the nausea abates. Just sometimes.

Usually it's all you can do to get the lid open. Once it starts you have no control. The muscles in the abdomen squeeze like a boa constrictor. Masses of air shoot through your vocal chords. You make noises to make anyone think you're dying or worse. You hope the windows are closed. The heaves roll one after another like waves. Two, five ten, twenty, you never know.

There are no satisfying chunks of anything because the stomach is empty. Just acid and slime and sometimes a little blood. You look in the bowl and thing, "Damn, all that work for nothing." Well, I look, and I think that anyway, even after thirty years of knowing better.

There are no words to describe what is happening inside your head during this time. You worry. Migraine sufferers are more likely to have stroke, and the pressure during a round of nausea is immense. It's kind of like when you keep you mouth closed and exert all the energy you can muster to blow air out, and your face gets all red and swollen looking. It's sort of like that, like an explosion in your head - with grapeshot added for good luck.

After it's over, the pain subsides, the breathing slows down, and you lie down on the bathroom floor. A short lived peace comes over you. It does not last long but you'll take it. Your throat feels like you swallowed a bottle of HCl, well, because you did, sort of. There will be more. Sometimes I go to the kitchen to drink milk to counter the acid, and to make the next round a little easier on the throat.

It creeps back swiftly. "Swiftly" and "creeps" don't seem to go together. I think of Gollum.

By this time drugs are useless. The triptan medicines are vastly more effective when the migraine is caught early. But I take a Maxalt melt anyway. I would take anything within reach, legal, illegal, good for me, bad for me. The typical migraine answer to "Can I bring you anything" is "Yes, a loaded gun." It's a joke. Kind of.

Back and forth - every 45 minutes to an hour - the same thing again and again. You never know if you've just been through the last round or not. At some point you're so exhausted you fall asleep, and the nausea does not return. You've still got the headache to deal with, but it starts to abate. With the sleep comes some relief. You wake up. The black mist has crawled out of your brain to come back another day.

Three five, eight, eleven hours of your life gone. But you're alive. And until the next one hits you feel perfectly normal. Well, I do. Some people have these things for days. I don't know how they do it.

Migraine brains are hyper sensitive. By that I don't mean in the way that a person is "sensitive" as in easily offended. Migraine brains are sensitive in that they do not respond well to biochemical changes. These changes may be brought about by changes in barometric pressure, certain smells, changes in sleep or eating pattern (too much or too little), bright lights, loud noises, hitting your head, too much exercise, or certain foods like chocolate or red wine. It could be one of a thousand things. Nobody knows why or how such a diverse array of "triggers" can cause the same symptoms of expanding (and contracting) blood vessels in the brain, which then bear upon nerves the way they do.

The reason I bother writing this is to help you love and understand the people in your life who suffer from this debilitating illness. Take it seriously. They're not faking, exaggerating, or lazy. And they don't have the words for how they feel. It's usually worse than they describe.

I started writing this today because I had a TB shot yesterday and when my six hours of hell ended I was curious about whether TB shots have migraine as side effects. They don't. But in the process of looking it up I stumbled across a web site devoted to the subject of migraine, and which had had a migraine poetry contest. Some of them are really quite good. Poetry has a superior way of speaking as compared to prosaic stuff like I write. Read a few of the poems. And if you have a loved one who suffers from migraine share it with them - ask them if that's what it's like. they will probably say yes.

I liked this one:

Mystery of Misery

by Betsy Blondin
after all these painful seconds, minutes, hours, days
of desperately searching to discover your secret
all these weeks, months, years
of steadfastly seeking the key to you
to open you wide for me to understand, for all to see
your hideousness, unbearable pain, sickness and grief
that drive me to darkness
all the minutes, hours, and days of my life
you have stolen, for nothing
while I tried to pierce your heart with needles
destroy your soul with potions and pills
follow the firing neurons, blood vessels, chemical stew
that create you
I stop struggling, experimenting, hating
and instead surrender, accept, live around you the best I can
do what I can when I can
until you attack again with fresh fury, leave a new clue
or I read of more brain science, studies, promising treatments
and wearily, grudgingly, resentfully reach for my sleuthing tools
to begin again my Sisyphean challenge
of solving you
my mystery of misery

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Greensborough Coffee

One of my pics to be displayed on the walls at the grand opening of Greensborough Coffee on State Street on Friday. Kind of cool for me. Hope the new coffee shop has a great run. This photo was taken in Amsterdam, early April, 1978. I loved Amsterdam!

Damned If You Do...

I got an e-mail today chastising me as a Minister (which I'm not really anymore) for remaining silent on the issue of health insurance abuses, particularly the abuse of "rescission."

The e-mail had the phrase "Deadly Silence" in the title.

Personally I think rescission is abhorrent. How best to stop it and how best to reform health care as a whole I am not sure.

But what strikes me is that when Ministers speak out about abortion they are told pretty much to sit down and shut up, to quit mixing politics and religion, and to beware of losing their non-profit status.

But it's OK to speak out about this issue. What is the difference? Both are justice issues. Both are political issues?


Uh, Mr. Hawk, There's a Fence There

A few minutes ago a bird flew into the window a few feet from where I am sitting. It made me jump! I did look over to make sure he was OK. The little guy shook himself sort of like a dog after getting wet, and then flew off. Which reminded me..

...It was one of the very worst days of my life, a trip to Texas for a funeral of a dearly beloved aunt, a huge traffic jam on I-85, a small accident in a McDonald's parking lot, and then a massive awful migraine which caused me to abort the trip.

But in the middle of that came a gift of one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

I think I was on I-20 at the time. I was cruising down the interstate, and, as I am inclined to do, not going as fast as the speed limit (I tend to be a slow driver). I saw well up ahead the figure of a bird, a big bird up and to my left. He (or she) was in a tuck position and diving, but in a very shallow dive, from my left to my right, perpendicular to my path, and due to cross over me up ahead as far as I could tell. I kept driving and he kept diving, lower and lower and lower. It was a hawk and it was beautiful, and really cool to watch. He crossed the highway just a a hundred feet or so ahead of me, maybe by this time ten feet above the ground.

This bird had been on a perfectly smooth incline the whole way, his brain doing the complex math for him. I watched him cross the road and was excitedly expectant to see what he was after.

Then bam! He ran right into a fence, a tall chicken wire fence, and he dropped like a brick. I was just about even with him when he stood up, obviously dazed, shaking his head and his wings.

What was so funny was that he looked around with that exact kind of look that says "I really hope nobody saw that"! OK, that's an anthropomorphism, but dogs and cats get embarrassed, why not birds?

As I passed he was just beating his wings and lifting off the ground.

Whatever was just on the other side of that fence had just had one lucky break.

Amidst my throbbing pain, I smiled, and thanked God for the joy of His world.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

We Were the Champions - Custom Cleaners Baseball

Yesterday an old friend from childhood found me on Facebook, and in his honor, and in honor of his dad who was our little league baseball coach for three years, I thought I would post the pictures of the teams those three years. We were "Custom Cleaners" and we played at the field at Satchel Ford Elementary School. The first picture above was taken when I was ten years old, in the spring of 1968. That's Coach Chavous back left with his son, my old friend, at his left. David Hollis, one of my very best buds from those years is to Larry's left.That's my dad back right, with me and my big ears and goofy smile to his right. We won it all that year.

Here is Custom Cleaners my second year when I was eleven years old in the spring of 1969. In front of Coach Chavous is his son Larry to his left, David Hollis and then me to his right. We struggled that year. I do have one great memory of that season, and that was my one and only ever no hitter. Check out the box score. They just could not hit my famous slow ball.

Here is Custom Cleaners my third year. Larry and I both had late birthdays so we got to play little league in 7th grade since we were still twelve during the season, spring 1970. That is Clint Freeman in the middle back - he was a stud and played catcher. To his left is Larry Chavous our best player and league MVP. Mr. Allday, our team sponsor and assistant coach is back left and Mr. Chavous back right. Debbie Carawan is the bat girl. Tom Lancaster, Greg Allday and Bob Dreher are also in the photo. Yep, we won it all that year too.

The greatest sports day of my life occurred on the last game this team ever played. I have written about it in a blog article My Grand Slam.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leaf and Stream

Leaf and Stream (right click and listen in new tab)

Wishbone Ash

from Argus

Find myself beside a stream of empty thought,
Like a leaf thats fallen to the ground,
And carried by the flow of water to my dreams
Woken only by your sound.

Alone Ive walked this path for many years,
Listened to the wind that calls my name.
The weeping trees of yesterday look so sad,
Await your breath of spring again.

Far beyond the hills,
Where earth and sky will meet again,
Are shadows like an opening hand.
Control the secrets
That Ive yet to find, and wonder at
The light in which they stand.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Beaver Pond, Mountains to Sea Trail, Guilford County

This picture was taken along the future path of the North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail in Guilford County NC. It is amazing how beavers can create whole ecosystems with their pond building!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Feeling Nostalgic, Snowfall In Amsterdam, 1978

View more black and whites from the 70's here.

Beaver Dam, Mountains to Sea Trail, Guilford County

On Saturday October 3 The Guilford County Open Space Committee (part of Parks and Recreation) sponsored a hike along what will eventually be a leg of the Mountains to Sea Trail in northern Guilford County. Recently the state of NC purchased a large tract of land and our Open Space Committee is in processing an adjacent large tract as well. Although people trails and public access are probably a year away at least, I can say that this leg of the M to s trail in our county will make us proud. It is a a beautiful and diverse woodland. Beavers are quite active along the many creeks and streams, opening up the woods, providing wetlands, as well as nesting sites for birds such as Great Blue Herons. See a few more pictures of the hike here.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Train Passing Behind the Depot, from My Fire Escape

I caught this train passing behind The Depot in Greensboro late on a summer afternoon. Trains are cool, such as the 9007.

Today's Lyric - U2 - Success Is to Give

"Don't believe in excess, Success is to give, Don't believe in riches, But you should see where I live"

from U2, God Part 2, Rattle and Hum

Today's Random Catechism Quote - The Desire for God

A random quote from one of many creeds and catechisms that I find helpful...

"The desire for God is written in the human heart, Because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part One, Section One, Chapter One, I, paragraph 27.

Have You Hugged Your Pastor Today?

October 11 is National Clergy Appreciation Day. I have no idea who designated it as such. As a formerly active member of that class called clergy I would like to name October as Clergy Appreciation Month.

Have you hugged your pastor today? Believe me, he or she could use a hug. Or a note card expressing your gratitude. Or a word of encouragement. Or a helping hand as your pastor or rabbi or priest heads into weekly gatherings this weekend.

Many if not most clergy face profound isolation and loneliness, self doubt, guilt over not doing more things well or better, weariness, and anxiety (I will explain why later).

You know, when you tell your pastor that you are grateful for what he does, also tell him that you're grateful for who he is as a person, not just a pastor.

I can assure you there is much more going on behind the scenes than you are aware, and your pastor carries many burdens, and, harder, faces the profound challenge of trying to keep a congregation together in unity and good will while also speaking the truth as best as he or she can. It ain't easy.

So, if you haven't already, hug your pastor today....whatever a hug looks like.

Season of Mists: John Keats - To Autumn

This is a great poem to memorize, especially the first stanza...

John Keats (1795-1821)


SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.