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 Taos Mountain In Summer, July 2007, Taos, New Mexico, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Taos Mountain In Summer, July 2007, behind Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.





Taos Mountain summer
wraps hard rain around soft bows
I’m drenched to the bone



black clouds in blue sky
slatted swing over the ditch
creaks slowly, I write



rain crawls through roof cracks
gusts blow open my notebook
words scatter to wind



cottonwood splashes
through the lens, afternoon rain
breaks open the sky



end of a long day
in the middle of summer
I start to wake up



green sky through laced glass
and a mourning dove’s red eye
swallows the noon sun



walking the back path
Mabel smiles from the window
I wink and then nod



black spider shimmers
cottonwood squeezes soft wind
through a glistening web



sweat drips from my arm
I don’t sit like the mountain
the sun sits on me



Lawrence and Brett stroke
painted windows in the light
camel hair bristles



the Pink House once held
summer rain, live wires that dodge
breakfast at Mabel’s



fancy dancers run
lightning drips through the pow wow
under Taos Mountain



Monday, July 16th, 2007

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Savannah River Near Augusta, June 8th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 

-Savannah River from the Bridge, Augusta, Georgia, June 8th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


“It seems I have always lived near rivers and trains.”


The day we went to Eve Street, I remembered I hadn’t taken any photographs of the Savannah. I had zipped off a couple of shots of the 5th Street Bridge, a landmark in disrepair. My grandfather helped build that bridge. It was strange to go back to a place where my family had so much history. I’m used to living in towns and cities where I have no immediate blood kin.

It stands to follow that in those places, I have to forge my own bits of history. But spending time in a city where family members are woven through architecture, church, field, and stream, made me feel connected. Close. The water there plays a big part in my childhood.

The Savannah River is about 350 miles long and its source is in eastern Georgia at a confluence of the Seneca and Tugaloo Rivers. The headwaters originate in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia near Ellicott Rock, the point where the borders of those three states meet. The river flows from a cool, clear stream in the Blue Ridge Mountains and empties through tidal plains into the Atlantic.

Savannah and Augusta are the largest cities on the Savannah River and most of their history evolved from commerce and trade on her waters. Savannah is on the Atlantic, Augusta on the fall line.

Lake Hartwell is a 56,000 acre manmade lake built in 1963 by the Army Corp of Engineers on the headwaters of the Savannah. The 71,535 acre Clarks Hill Reservoir was built by the Corp in 1954 and is 22 miles north of Augusta. Clarks Hill is where my mother wants her ashes to be scattered. She says she spent some of the happiest times of her life waterskiing and swimming in Clarks Hill.

The Savannah River’s history goes back some 12,000 years to the Ice Age. That makes my 400-year-old family history look paltry. Human history along her banks includes Hernando de Soto, James Edward Oglethorpe, the Westo Indians, and a wandering tribe called the Savannah Indians, armed by a group of Carolinians, who drove out the Westos in the Westo War of 1680 and gave their name to the river.

Part of my ancestry can be traced back to Oglethorpe. But the memories I have are of Grandmama Elise picking me up from Belvedere Circle in her black, 40′s Pontiac and singing The Good Ship Lollipop to me as we crossed the 5th Street Bridge. (My great grandfather told them they would run into quicksand when they built it, but they didn’t listen.) When we drove across the river border between South Carolina and Georgia, the wind from the rolled down passenger window roared through my hair; the smell of the paper mill on the river is something a child never forgets.

The memories I have are of rolling over the river to Reynolds Street and my Granddaddy’s shop where my step-dad worked part-time as a mechanic (in addition to his full-time job). I remember the girly calendar on the wall, the smell of grease and Gojo, and pulling an ice cold Coke out of a shiny, red vending machine that gripped the blue-glass bottles like a vice. Then we’d drop salted peanuts from a bag of Planter’s into the lip and alternate swigs of Coke with the soggy crunch of peanuts between our teeth.

My memories are from four years ago, scooting along the Riverwalk in Augusta with my sister and her family when we drove down to visit relatives. We were fresh and tan after body surfing in the Atlantic at Ocean City, Maryland, and spent the day ambling around the Riverwalk museum where we stuffed ourselves into a photo booth for a couple of crazy, animated snapshots. 

My memories are from a week ago, driving back and forth across the Savannah River, photographing landmarks, recording conversations, creating new memories with my step-dad and mother, laughing and conjuring up times long past. My memories are of breaking and mending, of leaving and of coming home.

Here they are, details on the page, the beginning of something much bigger, a creative force spawned from the bowels of rivers and oceans and mountains and trees. Bones. Here are the memories of last week’s water wings, and the flowing, dry humidity of the Savannah.

But I sit on a gray deck near the banks of the wide and rambling Mississippi whose mouth bubbles out not far from the Canadian border in a lake called Itasca.


Sunday, June 17th, 2007

-from Topic post, Water Wings

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Sweet William, June 10th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Sweet William, Sunday, June 10, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


We completed the 11 hour drive from Georgia to Pennsylvania at midnight last night. We took our time driving, soaking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, whizzing under the green sign for Virginia Tech, stopping at the Waffle House and Cracker Barrel for slow, relaxing meals.

My mother and I were both exhausted this morning. We slept late and I woke up to a pot of French Roast. “Let’s sit on the breezeway and drink our coffee,” Mom said. “I’m exhausted.” I knew exactly how she felt. It was something I had not bargained for.

I wonder what color exhaustion is?

It is something to consider when planning to research a memoir. Note to self – next time plan in down days, days of silence, writing, and processing. If you go, go, go you are bound to hit a wall. I’ve been away from the routines of home for 15 days. I’m longing for time to myself. To process. Write. To sit with everything.

For now, I’m heading over the river to see my brother’s new place. This time the Susquehanna. The color of exhaustion is not the Sweet William from my mother’s backyard. But their vibrancy gives me hope that I will feel electric and rested again.

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

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It’s the day before I leave on a two week trip to Georgia and Pennsylvania to do some research for my book. A memoir. I talked to my mother this morning, a short check in before I fly out tomorrow. I told her I am keeping my heart and mind open and looking forward to the time I will get to spend with her. Since we live in different towns, different states, the visits become important. Every minute counts.

I’ll be excavating information, excavating lives and people and roots and history. Untangling loose ends. I don’t remember so many things that my mother remembers about the South. And I have my own memories that I now get to ask her questions about. I just thought of that Baldwin quote from that 1973 interview with Nikki Giovanni:

“Because the responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him. The act of writing is the intention of it; the root of its liberation.”

Liz is down in the garden, pulling a few last minute weeds. I’m having French Roast on the deck. The clouds have lifted and the sun is peering through the oaks and ash that surround the house. It’s quiet. All the garden and yard work we did yesterday made my back sore. I’m no spring chicken anymore. In fact, wasn’t it just this morning I was noticing the spaciness of hormonal shifts and laughing about them with my mother? She confirms the craziness of aging because she walked it before me. More history. More bones.

I’m thinking of ybonesy near Taos with her father on their annual pilgrimage. Soon my mother and I will visit the graves of close loved ones and distant relatives in Georgia and South Carolina. We always go to my Aunt Cassie’s and my Grandmother Elise’s gravesites. I visit with them quietly there, spread out on the grass, and ask Mom the questions I might not have asked before. For me, this is memoir – excavating memories. Questing for truth. I want to hear her stories. And skirt the edges of the places I’ve come from.

There may be Myrtle Beach and Savannah. I’ve never been to Savannah. What writers are from Savannah? Flannery O’Connor for one. Maybe we’ll walk past the Cathedral of St. John, the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Georgia, and then one block south is where Flannery grew up. Maybe some of my relatives know of her. Maybe not.

I’m sad to be leaving Liz for so long. And our gardens and home. And Mr. Stripeypants, Kiev, and Chaco. I am fortunate to have a partner that understands. She is loving and supportive of me and my writing. She gets what it takes. I’m lucky that way.

I am lucky for a lot of reasons. I feel a great abundance in my life this morning that is hard to describe. This practice doesn’t do it justice. And there are next to no details. It’s mostly about feelings. And anticipation. And gratitude. For everything that has led me here.

Mom said my step-dad had read a piece on the blog and said, “I didn’t know she felt that way. I didn’t know she had positive memories of that time.” It’s true. Some of my memories used to make me sad. But I’ve done tons of work. It’s in the past. The river keeps flowing. And on the first day of summer, it feels like these steely memories make me who I am. Some writer from the Northwest and Southeast and Northeast who now lives in the Midwest. And once in a while, travels back for a visit.

Monday, May 28th, 2007

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By Teri Blair
 
I thought this directive, this encouragement, this heed applied only when things were going badly. You know, just keep going even though the chips are down on all fronts – when you have nothing to write in your notebook but garbage, when you just keep getting rejection letters from publishers, when you feel like the biggest fraud in the world trying to be a writer.
 
Now, I see it applies to the flip-side – continue under all circumstances even when things are going well. Because I see (in a string of days that are going well), that I am just as apt to toss myself away when abundance is coming into my writing life as when the horizon is bleak. It’s like the discovery a few years ago that I feel the same if I have 50 cents or 500 dollars in my wallet. I have the same sensation either way…always broke, never enough money. It has nothing to do with any dollar reality. Just the pounding voices in my head.
 
I’m in Holcomb, Kansas. I’ve returned for the 2nd time in six months to the setting of Truman Capote’s 1965 masterpiece, In Cold Blood. The first time I came out of curiosity, the 2nd from a series of serendipitous events that led me to discover forgotten and lost and distant cousins. Cousins who were raised here. Ones who knew the Clutter Family whose murder brought Truman Capote and Harper Lee back here to Kansas again and again to research their book.
 
And this time, instead of looking at the town with the eyes of an observer passing through, I am being introduced to people, one after another, who lived through the tragedy of ’59. Any one of them is a story. But there are too many. And it makes me want to hide under blankets or run away and definitely not continue under all circumstances.
 
But I will. Only because I was taught how. I will feel the bottom of my feet when I walk to feel grounded. I will sit still and not talk whenever I can. I will listen. Listen deeply. And I’ll try hard to remember that I don’t have to know anything. Be dumb. Just show up without the answers to any of my questions and listen.
 
To Janice, who sat next to Nancy Clutter in band. And her telling me about Nancy’s new clarinet that played like a dream, and how she was a little jealous that Nancy was going to get to go to college with that new clarinet.
 
To Sandy, who worked in the court room during the murder trial. And because she was so photogenic, she was asked to play Harper Lee in the first In Cold Blood movie.
 
To Marlene, who said she doesn’t want to keep reliving the tragedy over and over again.
 
To Eddie, who described to me Truman Capote’s pecking order of friends here, and what it did to the people when some were invited to the Black-and-White ball in New York City and others weren’t.
 
To Wanda, who looks very old and tired, who kept telling me she was far too young to remember any of the Clutters, but kept producing one yearbook after another from the library shelves for me to look at from Holcomb High School.
 
Continue today. That’s all. Just keep arriving in the next minute.
 
 

Continue Under All Circumstances is a writing practice written from the road while researching a story in Holcomb, Kansas.

About writing, Teri says:  I began writing in a Quonset hut on a farm in Minnesota, dragging hay bales around a blue window to create a little haven where no one could find me…alone with paper and pencil. I was often bundled up in several layers in desperately cold weather. I guess on some level I was really serious, even back then. I wrote in journals and diaries faithfully, always finding refuge in the written word. Instead of sitting up and taking notice of these tendencies, I spent years investing time in things I didn’t care about, like taking piano lessons and jogging. It finally became too tiring to fight what I really want to do. So on most days, I’ve stopped saying writing is for someone else, and I let myself do what I love.
 
Upcoming pieces this spring will appear in
Nursing Spectrum, Teachers of Vision, Liguorian, Senior Perspective, and Mushing.
 

 

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