Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

work promotes confidence

Work Promotes Confidence, ca. 1936

Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong. - Peter T. McIntyre

Our ordinary mind always tries to persuade us that we are nothing but acorns and that our greatest happiness will be to become bigger, fatter, shinier acorns; but that is of interest only to pigs. Our faith gives us knowledge of something better: that we can become oak trees. ~E.F. Schumacher

Self-confidence grows on trees, in other people's orchards. - Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

Success comes in cans, not cant's. - Anonymous

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Language of Flowers

Do you understand the language of flowers?
- John Dos Passos

A flower's fragrance declares to all the world that it is fertile, available, and desirable, its sex organs oozing with nectar. Its smell reminds us in vestigial ways of fertility, vigor, life-force, all the optimism, expectancy, and passionate bloom of youth. We inhale its ardent aroma and, no matter what our ages, we feel young and nubile in a world aflame with desire.
- Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Considering that my favorite path is the one leading from the Garden to the Wilderness, it is no wonder that I am captivated by wildflowers. The surprising part is that I’ve never really made a concerted effort to observe them and learn them until this year. Everyone has heard about the botanical wealth of the Southern Appalachians, so I won’t bother to track down the figures used to quantify the diversity surrounding us.

The arrival of spring in these hills is one of the great natural spectacles on the planet, a fact too easily taken for granted. So I have resolved the savor the moments this year, and that has resulted in my spending hours in the woods, crawling around on my belly, squinting through the viewfinder of my Nikon to get a closer look at the reproductive organs of various wildflowers.

If plants could talk, they might accuse me of cranking out hard-core (botanical) pornography.

And I would have to ‘fess up.

Guilty as charged.

The camera is a mixed blessing. It can turn the photographer into a detached observer fixated on a rectangular frame of view. On the other hand, it can be a device for seeing things that might otherwise be overlooked. This year, it has provided unexpected discoveries, miracles at my feet.

Even at their most abstract, the shapes and colors of the wildflowers are a visual delight. Seen another way, with their towering structures of pistils and stamens, they resemble the landscape of some fantastic alien plant. Grains of pollen tumbled out on the glistening petals suggest fecundity, allure, desire and survival. Occasional appearances by ants, bees and butterflies remind me that the plants are not just isolated specimens, but part of an infinitely complex and interdependent community.

The surging life force that emerges from the soil and fallen leaves of the forest floor erupts into these brilliant, glowing, and ephemeral forms. I am thankful for the opportunity to see them as I have never seen them before. The pennywort and the trailing arbutus demand that I get down on their level. Muddy stains on the knees of my jeans are evidence of my obeisance.

The following article by Faye Flam verges on a certain sensationalism befitting the niche that she has carved out for herself as a writer, but it speaks to the processes underway as we witness another Appalachian spring.

The Sex Lives of Plants

To hear the botanists tell it, the plants on display at the Philadelphia Flower Show may lead weirder and more varied sex lives than people do.

You can't assume that plants lead a boring existence just because they're rooted in soil. Echoing the patterns of many animals, males often find ways to compete for a chance to inseminate females, and females find ways to screen the males. There's even one plant known to engage in floral prostitution.

The motif of female choice and male competition repeats itself in the plant and animal worlds. In both, the two sexes are defined the same way. Males make smaller and more abundant sex cells -- sperm -- and strive to spread them around. Females make the larger, more substantial egg or seed.

Most plants are bisexual, say botanists. By that, they mean the plants make flowers with both male and female sex organs.

Such flowers could potentially have sex with themselves, but many have evolved mechanisms to avoid it, since this represents an extreme form of inbreeding.

In some flowers, the female parts, which are collectively called the pistil, are placed so they don't get pollinated by their own male parts, the stamen. In others, the male sex parts and the female counterparts aren't active at the same time. Others, such as the cucumber plant, produce a mix of male and female flowers.

And still others undergo sex changes.

"Plants have a much greater diversity of mating systems than animals," says biologist Loren Rieseberg of the University of British Columbia.

In some species, including zucchini, some plants will produce fully equipped bisexual flowers, others flowers with just the female apparatus. In a handful of species, plants with strictly male flowers will appear among bisexuals.

Rieseberg helped discover the first example of such a plant in 1989, a California shrub called Datisca glomerata, or durango root. But how do the males find a purpose in life when the females can make their own pollen? It turns out, he says, the male flowers are the macho men of the plant world, producing and disseminating nearly four times the pollen of the bisexuals.

The plant, he says, looks like marijuana, so much so that he had several run-ins with local police when trying to grow it.

Real marijuana, by contrast, is a straight, heterosexual plant, along with holly and ginkgo trees. Only female holly produces the red berries and only female marijuana produce THC, which derives from a sticky resin that the plant probably uses to protect itself from being eaten, says biologist Frank Frey of Colgate University in New York.

But the males among these heterosexual plants have their own challenges: They must compete with each other. Botanist Richard Niesenbaum of Muhlenberg College has been studying the sex lives of a local shrub called a spicebush, which has aromatic leaves and blooms with tiny yellow flowers in April. As in other flowering plants, the pollen has to bore a tunnel through the flower's female style to reach the ovary.

If pollen from several males lands on the same flower, then it's a race to the ovary, he says.

Beyond that, the female exercises the plant equivalent of choice by investing oils and other resources in a seed only if it was fertilized by the winner of a big race, Niesenbaum says. That way, her offspring will inherit the genes from the plant version of an Olympic medalist rather than a mere high school track star.

In other plants, says Colgate's Frey, the females set up tests and barriers for their suitors, attacking with salts or with enzymes that blow apart all but the hardiest of pollen grains.

But flowers in general don't evolve to impress other plants, but to lure insects to help them with their sex lives.

Some entice with color, sweet smells, symmetrical forms or trickery. An orchid called Ophrys attracts male wasps by mimicking the backside of a female wasp.

The male mates with the plant, or at least attempts to, and in the process, pays it with pollination. Hence the nickname for the flower: prostitute orchid.

Faye Flam writes about evolution, genetics, cosmology, space exploration, physics, national security issues, and of course, sex. Her infamous column, Carnal Knowledge, ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer and other newspapers around the world.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tulip Fire

Tulip, 4/24/09

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

-from Tulips, by Sylvia Plath

Friday, April 24, 2009

false shame and fear may destroy your future

False Shame and Fear May Destroy Your Future

...from the good old days when federal bailout money went to artists and not just Wall Street high rollers...

Thursday, April 23, 2009


In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.
- Abram L. Urban

Hang-head Bluebell,
Bending like Moses' sister over Moses,
Full of a secret that thou dar'st not tell!
-George MacDonald, Wild Flowers

Virginia Bluebells
Mertensia virginica

I do not think I have ever seen anything more beautiful
than the bluebell I have been looking at.
I know the beauty of our Lord by it.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bikini Babes and Baba

If we suffer in the sufferings of others and feel happy in the happiness of others, we are loving God. If we understand and feel that the greatest act of devotion and worship to God is not to harm any of His beings, we are loving God. To love God in the most practical way is to love our fellow beings. If we feel for others in the same way as we feel for our own dear ones, we love God.
-Meher Baba

Thirty-five years ago, a high school buddy invited me for a trip to the beach.

“Sure, sounds like fun. Let’s go.”

We hit the road in his Corvette, bound for Myrtle Beach.


With a hot car like that, you’d figure that two young bucks would end up cruising Ocean Drive Boulevard to pick up some bikini babes.



I was a pallid little nerd…and “socially inept” puts it mildly. I had already endured enough humiliation from my charming classmates to last a lifetime, and I wasn’t about to do anything to invite additional ridicule and derision from anyone.

Adopting the swagger of a wild-and-crazy guy in an attempt to score on the Strand was about as appealing as skinny dipping in a pond full of hungry piranhas.

Needless to say, this would not be the prototypical beach bacchanal of my golden peers.

Not at all.

Somehow, I learned that the Meher Baba Spiritual Center was in North Myrtle Beach and that visitors were welcome. I had my friend drop me off and he agreed to return in a couple of hours.

Right away, I was favorably impressed by the contrast between the Meher Baba Spiritual Center and the tacky Myrtle Beachiness surrounding it. I’ve always admired the courage of those who step out of the wretched mainstream of American culture. On the other hand, I have misgivings about any community of believers. It’s a fine line, if a line at all, between spiritual devotion and codependent psychosis. When it comes to zealotry, I experience a bit of unease under the best of circumstances and prefer to get out of the way before full-blown Groupthink takes hold.

The folks at the Meher Baba Spiritual Center were nice enough, but I felt like a clueless outsider stumbling into the middle of a Star Trek convention.

As my host led me around the Spiritual Center, she pointed out a boxy old sedan sitting up on blocks.

“That,” she announced proudly, “is the car in which Meher Baba rode when he visited the center.”

“Well, isn’t that…special,”
I observed, silently.

I strolled the grounds and someone handed me a card bearing the smiling face of Meher Baba and those familiar words, “Don’t worry. Be happy.”

Pretty soon, my friend returned and we spent the afternoon eating seafood, playing Goofy Golf and ogling girls we would never meet.

It was a blast.

I had forgotten all about this episode until I came across a story the other day, mentioning that Meher Baba visited Jackson County in 1952. It is quite possible that he never actually set foot in Jackson County, as he was travelling on US 64 through Brevard, Cashiers and Franklin, en route to California. The trip was interrupted, though, by a terrible traffic mishap in Oklahoma that left him seriously injured.

I am certain this is accurate because I read it on a local website devoted to UFO sightings. Yes. UFOs flying right over our very homes...every night. But that's another story for another day.

Not long after my visit to the Meher Baba Spiritual Center, Pete Townsend and the Who came out with Baba O’Riley, written as a tribute to Meher Baba. And a few years later, Bobby McFerrin became a one-hit wonder scatting Don’t Worry Be Happy.

Meher Baba died before those were recorded but one popular song was a favorite of his. This might seem out of character from someone best known for a cheery admonition, but Meher Baba cherished the Jim Reeves record, There’s a Heartache Following Me. I'm not kidding.

Perhaps Meher Baba was listening to a sad country song on the AM radio when he crossed the continental divide here in Jackson County on that May day in 1952.

I don’t know.

But I hope he enjoyed his time here in the mountains just as much as I enjoyed my time at the Meher Baba Spiritual Center in North Myrtle Beach 35 years ago.

Man's inability to live God's words makes the Avatar's teaching a mockery. Instead of practising the compassion He taught, man has waged crusades in His name. Instead of living the humility, purity and truth of His words, man has given way to hatred, greed and violence. Because man has been deaf to the principles and precepts laid down by God in the past, in this present Avataric Form I observe Silence. You have asked for and been given enough words — it is now time to live them.
-Meher Baba

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

In the Garden

Tulip I, 4/09

Crocus, 3/09

Tulip II, 4/09

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wild Geranium


Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Alum-root, Cranesbill.
Geranium family.

From the Greek word geranos ("crane") because of the slender beaked fruit of the plant. Traditionally, the plant was used for the treatment of venereal disease and influenza.

Wild Geranium tolerates poor soils and, unlike many wildflowers, comes back quickly in disturbed areas.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Shortia Quest, Then and Now

I have managed to accomplish one thing I wanted to do in 2009 and it was right at the top of the list. I saw Oconee Bells in bloom. Few, if any, wildflowers in this region have a more unusual history. Seeing the flowers myself, I thought about an account from a 2007 field trip:

Shortia in bloom had eluded Michaux, who discovered the plant, Asa Gray who named it, and Charles W. Short, for whom it was named. We were able to enjoy hundreds of Shortia flowers in full bloom in the plant's native habitat, while not one of these legendary figures in the history of the plant had seen this spectacle.

Kelvin Taylor, at Welcome to Scenic North Carolina, summarized the ongoing quest to find the Shortia:

In December of 1788 the great French botanist André Michaux discovered this plant while exploring in the mountains of Carolinas. He recognized from the seed capsules that it was a new species and possibly a new genus. He collected a one to study upon his return home at a later date. The dried specimen lay ignored in a Paris herbarium for years until a visit by an American botanist Asa Gray in 1839.

Gray realized this plant was new to science. Upon returning home he organized an expedition to the Carolina mountains to search where Michaux’s notes indicated he had discovered the mysterious plant. After searching for two years Gray failed to find the elusive plant. Using the herbarium specimen collected by Michaux, Gray described and named it Shortia galacifolia after Dr. Charles W. Short, a botanist and physician of Louisville, Kentucky. The specific epithet refers to the leaves resembling those of Galax. Ironically Charles Short never actually saw the plant because he died 14 years before it was rediscovered.

The rediscovery of the "lost Shortia" became an obsession for many botanists. It would not be an educated plantsman who would find this rare botanical gem, but a teenager named George Hyams. In May of 1877 the young George found a patch growing along the Catawba River near Marion, North Carolina. Several specimens were collected the next spring when the plants were in bloom. After giving up all hope of ever seeing a living Shortia, Asa Gray finally saw the plant he had been searching for all these many years.A decade year later in 1886, and virtually 100 years after André Michaux’s visit to the same area, Dr. Charles Sargent came across Shortia while searching for a magnolia, in Oconee County, South Carolina. Asa Gray eventually did get to see Shortia in the wild, but he never visited the spot where Michaux had found the original plant.

I’m guessing that Asa Gray did not have the benefit of the journal that Michaux wrote in 1788. Michaux gave specific directions for finding the unnamed plant. (Margaret Mills Seaborn translated Michaux’s journal from the French.) In early December of 1788, the botanist left the Cherokee village of Seneca, near present-day Clemson University, and traveled upstream alongside the Keowee River, toward the Whitewater, Thompson and Horsepasture Rivers. Much of the territory he explored, and 60% of the Oconee Bell habitat in the Upstate, was flooded by Lakes Jocassee and Keowee in the 1970s. From Michaux:

On the eleventh of December there was a hard frost and the air turned clear and very crisp. I noticed a chain of high mountains stretching from west to east and where the frost showed little in places exposed to the sun. I gathered a ground juniper Juniperus repens) that I had not yet noticed in the middle parts of the United States. But it should be noted that on these mountains I saw several trees of the northern regions such as river birch (Betula nigra), alternate-leaved dogwood, white pine, hemlock spruce, etc. We crossed an area of about three miles through rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum). With my guides I returned to the head of the Kiwi (head of Kiwoe [Keowee]) and I collected a large amount of that plant with the saw-toothed leaves that I had found the day of my arrival (Shortia galicifolia). I did not encounter it on any other mountains. The Indians here say the leaves taste well when chewed and that their smell was good when they were crumpled, which I found to be true.

Directions for Finding this Plant.

The head of the Kiwi lies at the confluence of two large creeks which cascade down from high mountains. This junction occurs in a small plain where there used to be a town or rather a village of the Cherokees. Coming down from the junction of the two creeks with the river on the left and the northern faces of the hills to the right, one can find a path made by Indian hunters about 30 to 50 paces [toises] from this confluence. It leads to a brook where one can recognize the vestiges of an Indian village by the peach trees subsisting amidst the underbrush. Continuing on this path one soon reaches the hills and finds this plant covering the ground with the trailing arbutus.

December 12, 1788. Coming back I visited the southern faces of the hills. Our provisions were so low that there was a very meager breakfast. I gathered a lot of Magnolia cordata in better condition than the preceding days.

We kept close to the river and saw several flocks of wild turkeys. Our Indian guide fired at them, but the rifle failed several times since we had not been able to protect it from the rain in the preceding days. Thus our supper consisted of a few chestnuts that our Indian guide had gotten from another of his nation.

We made eighteen miles. The weather became very clear. This very evening one could feel the frost, and after having asked my Indian to tell me the names of several plants in his language, I wrote my journal at moonlight.

On December 13th I attempted to shoot a wild turkey at daybreak; there were plenty in this area but I was unsuccessful and we broke camp without breakfast. We were famished and changed our direction towards a camp of Indian hunters, and, although the hills became less steep, it was one o'clock in the afternoon before we arrived there after a journey of six hours estimated at only fifteen miles. They cooked bear meat for us, cut into small pieces and fried in bear grease. Although it was smothered in grease, we had an excellent dinner, and, although I ate a lot of the fattest part of the meat, I did not become indisposed. The bear grease is tasteless and resembles a good olive oil. It doesn't even have a smell. When some food is roasted with it, it does not congeal until it freezes. After dinner, we made sixteen miles and arrived at Seneca in the evening. ...

On December 20th it was very cold and I slept at the plantation of General Pickens 45 miles from Seneca.

The Michaux accounts are less familiar than those of William Bartram, who explored the mountains more than a dozen years earlier. Lacking Bartram’s extravagant writing style, Michaux provided detailed descriptions of travel, accommodations, plants and animals, as in these passages from 1787:

On June 9 we went to see a Frenchman named Mr. Martin who had settled in the area as a planter. We wanted to hire two Indians to guide me in the mountains which separate the state of Caroline [Carolina] from the Indian nations of the Cherokees, Creek, Chickasaw, etc. ...

It turned out to be very difficult to make the Indians agree to guide me, not only because of the exhorbitant price, but also because each of the two wanted a horse. It was even more difficult to get an interpreter and I decided to go only with one young man and the two Indians I wanted. I arranged to meet them the next day to conclude the agreements; and to persuade them to keep their word, I promised them half a gallon of rum. I passed through a place abandoned by the Indians andwhich had been the location of the town called Seneca. I noticed the honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) which they eat, plums, wild peaches. I collected a black oak which I had never seen anywhere in Caroline and Georgia.

Sunday the 10th. The Indians came with a chief and several others of the nation. After I had made them fully understand that I wanted to visit the headsprings of the Kiwi river and the Tugelo [Tugalo] river which together form the Savannah river; those which form the Tanase [Tennessee] river which runs into the Ohio; and that I wanted to go as far as Tanasee each of them demanded a blanket and a petticoat, the price of six dollars each for the twelve days the journey was to take. I promised them, but half the money had to be paid in advance, because they said many other Whites had deceived them. I further promised to fill their bellies with rum if I should return from my journey satisfied. They were quite happy and told me that they would be ready the following morning whenever I wanted to leave.

On June 11th several courteous residents of the area who were interested in my journey supplied me with provisions, one had me some bread baked and had some corn meal ground, another sent me some maize, lent me "un equipage de cheval etc." I left with a young man who had lived with the Indians for five months and went to the arranged meeting place, and at noon we set out with the Indians whom I had furnished with gunpowder and bullets. They guided me alternately through hills and torrents which are called creeks.

On the l2th the two Indians went hunting from dawn, but since they didn't kill anything we ate some of the corn meal boiled in water. At noon we took a short halt to rest the horses and to drink from a brook, where the water was the purest and best one could drink in America. Following the example of my two Indians I soaked the corn meal in this water and that was our dinner. The bad food and the bad paths didn't bother me as much as the displeasure of not having found any interesting plant since May 8th and I frequently pondered the annoyance of such a journey without results.
For all stories on Andre Michaux

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

We Killed Him

The Ruling Elite in this country - in their incessant drive to tax, regulate, enslave every free man - finally succeeded in pushing a decent man over the edge. At least he has cheated them out of their "justice"... While our Psychopaths-in-charge loot the country, they divert attention from their criminality by persecuting people like Sutton.
– Roger B. Shootin’

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, "Who is that man?"
You try so hard
But you don't understand
Just what you'll say
When you get home

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

- Ballad of a Thin Man, Bob Dylan

For anyone who might find the artistic rendering either offensive or disgusting, let me say that I share your sentiments.

But if a picture is worth a thousand words, then you’ve been saved the bother of reading remarks from Popcorn Sutton’s staunchest disciples. You've just been given the essence of it. Yesterday’s letter in the Citizen Times, from Aileen Fleming of Waynesville, was relatively tame:

Regarding "Popcorn" Sutton: You don't take a man, make a legend and local hero out of him, do feature stories about him, do documentaries that run on the History channel about him, put his name on a welcome sign in Maggie Valley, then send him to prison for what everybody knew he was doing for years and years.
…Life ain't fair. Popcorn was a good man.

Reasonable enough.

But the editors decided to fan the flames. They headlined Fleming’s letter:

We made ‘Popcorn’ what he was and then killed him for it

Or as another Popcorn devotee put it last week:

He couldn’t turn the water into wine, but he sure could turn it into likker.

The bottom line for this current of thought:

Popcorn Sutton was a saint and a martyr.

And a hero, of course.

Now, some doubters contest the latter point. So I looked it up in the dictionary:

he-ro n. (hir’o) Any man noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose …A person prominent in some event, field, period, or cause by reason of his special achievements or contributions: the heroes of medicine.

I guess you could say Popcorn made...



Alright. That settles it. With subjective definitions like that, the hero designation is wide open to interpretation. Nobility of purpose is in the eye of the beholder. If you believe Popcorn is a hero, then he is.

My suggestion? Find Neal Hutcheson’s film, The Last One. I always enjoy watching practitioners of ancient crafts and this documentary delivers with Popcorn Sutton making one "last" batch of moonshine.

You watch him and wonder. Is he the genuine article? A pure expression of mountain culture? Or is he a cagey guy playing the Snuffy Smith schtick to the max?

I wouldn’t presume to talk about Popcorn the Man. I didn’t know him. But the powerful appeal of Popcorn the Legend is almost beyond belief. It's like several years ago when I went out for lunch and the restaurant televisions were all tuned to live coverage of Dale Earnhardt’s funeral.

"Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?"

No, I don't.

But there’s no point in my being perplexed. Popcorn Sutton is whatever you want him to be.



Cultural treasure?

Sacrificial lamb?

Why not? Whatever floats your boat.

Like that newspaper editor said, "We made ‘Popcorn’ what he was and then killed him for it."

rest in peace popcorn..when you get to heaven and put up your steel, one that no cop can take away or cut down, remember us down here and make us up a batch of ur hevenly shine. only reason they didnt want u makin ur likker was b/c they couldnt tax ya, well those damb liberals can kiss my ass..they didnt get you did they lol, death before dishonor, ur a man true to ur word but we will miss you.. rest in peace

Furthermore, Hank Williams Jr. can kiss my ass.