Wednesday, October 31, 2012


     The Tower of Flints...patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadows.

                                                      ~ Titus Groan by Mervyn Peak ~ 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Autumn's Comma


     Fall often comes as a comma in this neck of the woods; some years you hardly draw breath before it moves on. I feel almost resentful when summer burns late into October, or an early freeze strips the last of the leaves from the trees and shudders snow onto naked pumpkins lying hopeful in the fields. At the same time, it is the very brevity of the season that makes my pleasure in it so exquisite. I feel its colors. I think in its superlatives.

     Summer’s heavy warmth withdraws, and nighttime frost-falls kindle the fires of burning bush to a crackling scarlet. Flamboyant maples and sumac flout the monochromatic schemes of evergreens and shout their calliope colors into the wind. A few ragged, yellow coins still flutter from the branch tips of the birch at the front of the house, a cushion of gold collects on my garden bench, a carpet of gold covers the lawn, and I feel as rich as a king in the Midas-touch of autumn.

     I walk out for a jacket and scarf stroll at sunset, the light-fingered winds twitching at anything that isn’t tied down or buttoned up. A pale half-moon creeps across the sky with one, wide eye peeking out at me from behind earth’s shadow. Down the street a young boy throws handfuls of leaves over his head, again and again, watching them drift to the ground like ash. There is joy in his face. Long ago, I used to do the same, so did my girls; it’s a legacy of childhood like making snow angels in winter and sucking nectar from clover in summer. Just as I round the bend on the last stretch toward home, the embered sun dips below the world’s rim, a glow the color of autumn still smoldering in the sky. I hear a flock of geese crossing low on the horizon, trumpeting their lament to the dying light.

     These are hot chocolate days punctuated by nutmeg and cinnamon moments. In the chill, early morning, I stand in a stream of amber sunlight slanting through the kitchen window and feel it pour over me like maple syrup. Soon, warmth will become a crop to harvest, something to bake into stews, pies and bread, or tend in the grate, or pull up to my chin at night.

     I soak it all in—the color, spice and warmth—garner its gifts, wrap it close like a cloak, drink up its dregs to the very last drop—and then step into winter… 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Up Too Early

     I was up at 3 am to see my daughter off to work and my husband off for another trip to the orient. Ours seemed to be the only lights showing through wakeful windows. Too early for industry, I sat in the kitchen sipping tea, eating buttered toast and reading poetry. Mostly Emily Dickinson. You’ll like this one, I think:

Ribbons of the Year—
Multitude Brocade—
Worn to Nature’s Party once

Then, as flung aside
As a faded Bead
Or a Wrinkled Pearl
Who shall charge the Vanity
Of the Maker’s Girl?

The house was so quiet I could hear dawn break. Then I went back to bed and slept like a slattern until 9 am.

When I awoke there were rag-ends of poetry fluttering around in my head, so I pieced some of them together to make a little patchworked poem for you:

Autumn Leaves by Mark Karrass

Wet winds flap their weighted wings,  
And flocks of colored quills             
Leap into the sky                              
A bright-pinioned swirl,                     
Brief twirl, and leaves fall like         
Feathers across the crowded lawn.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hydroponic Biscuits

     My husband and I were visiting family in Southern California last week. We drove out to the Santa Rosa Valley one morning to see Uncle Pete who lives on a small ranch at the brow of a hill overlooking a park of eucalyptus trees and avocado groves. It had been brutal all week in the valleys with temperatures over 100º but the ocean breathed gently across the hilltops and lifted the burden of heat for the day.

     My husband’s uncle raises quarter horses in Oklahoma and keeps several palominos and bays on his California property. Most ranchers are dependant on hay for fodder to feed their livestock, but hay has recently gone from $150 to $300 per ton because of widespread drought conditions in the United States. It makes it difficult for even the backyard horseman to keep many animals.

     Uncle Pete hasn’t got pasture on his ranch so he bought an Australian-made hydroponics unit from a farmer in Bakersfield who couldn’t figure out how to keep the sprouts he was growing from molding. We drove golf carts down the hill from the house to the horse corrals and stood beneath the cool, breezy shade of eucalyptus trees, listening to the 81 year-old great-grandfather describe with a lingering trace of Oklahoma drawl his trials and errors as he tinkered with the unit over the past six months. Then he demonstrated how he grows the luscious green barley mats he calls "biscuits" that account for two-thirds of his horses’ diet. He couldn’t produce enough feed to sustain them with the single unit, so he built another one himself for a fraction of the cost. The new unit isn’t climatized and hasn’t been tested through the winter, but I am still impressed.

     The whole process is rather too labor-intensive for a man of Pete’s age, so his next challenge, he says, is to make it easier. He’s not an armchair man, and he’s still got the curiosity, ingenuity and drive of a self-made man, so I think he’ll do it. Maybe someday in the future school children will be reading about Eli Whitney's cotton gin and Hydroponic Pete on their iPad textbooks.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Blah Blah Blogging - I Swear I'm Not Swearing

     It has been explained to me but I still don’t like it. Sometimes when I post a comment on another blog, Nib’s End shows up as Nib's End. My husband says it is because my computer does not speak the same language as your computer. But it looks too aggressive, too vulgar. It says: “I’m Nib freakin’ End! Now deal with it!” I hope you know by now that I am not that harsh, and I am definitely not in the habit of cursing either friends or strangers.

Le Pouce - Paris
     When we were in São Paulo last Fall, my husband and I went to dinner at the home of one of his colleagues. Our host made us pizza. He made everything from scratch and baked the pizzas over eucalyptus wood in his brick oven. When he asked me how I liked my meal, I gave him the “O.K.” signal. I don’t know much Portuguese, but I do know how to say muito bom—very good. If my mouth hadn’t been full, I would have told him that it was the best pie I had ever tasted and that, going forward, it would be the standard to which all subsequent pizzas must be measured. Too late. In Brazil that particular hand gesture is obscene. It does not mean okay, very good or anything even remotely positive. I should have given him a thumbs up. Thankfully, he saw the horror in my face as I realized my indiscretion and he smiled indulgently.

     It isn’t the first time I have been dependant on the indulgence and grace of others as I negotiate the gaps between cultures.

     The blogoshpere has been around a long while now, but I am still a novice, a visitor to what sometimes feels like a foreign country. I am still learning the culture and the language. People from all over the world are interacting with one another on a daily basis. In the process, I suspect that toes sometimes get stepped on. I beg your indulgence if I ever step on yours.

     In many ways social media seems like a free for all—all the more reason to subscribe to some form of etiquette—but most of the web logs I have visited are being written by kind and decent people who wish to be courteous to one another. Irish Mise over at Pretty Far West defines Blogtopia as “a place where everything is lovely, even if it isn’t, and everyone is charming and supportive and has written a little poem.” Mise seems like the kind of woman who would smile indulgently at me if I inadvertently flipped her the bird. And if it looks like I am swearing at her when I leave a comment on one of her posts, she has been too gracious to mention it.

     So then, despite the impression that Nib's End might give, I too will subscribe to an etiquette of grace.

photo credit Robert Harding

Monday, October 1, 2012

Blue Day

Blue skies smilin' at me
Nothin' but blue skies do I see...
Blue days, all of them gone
Nothin' but blue skies from now on

~ Willie Nelson ~

  We spent the day in the city on fruitless passport business, but despite the bureaucratic effort, the day wasn't wasted. Not even the trip to the federal building was wasted. I quite enjoyed eavesdropping on the other petitioners: the recent college graduate who needed a new passport because his had been ruined in the wash; the two little girls holding dolls who had been promised a visit to the American Girl store; the woman who had returned, this time with her wedding certificate; people traveling to London, Greece, Norway...

     Afterward, my husband and I strolled hand-in-hand along the river. From time to time we stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, letting the foot-traffic flow around us, to admire the towering architecture or the Picasso in the plaza even though we have seen them many times. We went for lunch at a favorite restaurant and ate chicken picatta and beignets with raspberry sauce. It was a lovely fall day with a sky that looked like it was trying to hang on to the heels of summer.    

     "What color would you use to describe today?" I asked my husband as we walked up the Avenue in the shade of skyscrapers. I held my persimmon-colored wool jacket over my arm because the afternoon had turned warm.

     "Bright blue," he said after a moment.

     I smiled because he is so willing to play these games with me. "Me too," I agreed, "only I was thinking sky-blue."

     It could have turned out otherwise. The day could have shaped itself into another shade of blue entirely no matter what color the sky. After all, we had arrived at the passport office late and out of breath only to find out that we had been misinformed about the required paperwork. Then, after walking a long, long way, the restaurant we had wanted to try for the first time was closed. And our feet hurt. But the late September sky had infused us with its essence and despite the setbacks, it was impossible to feel anything but a blithe, bright blue.