Nimrod Hall: Something for Everyone

I go to Nimrod for the the summer arts program for writers. Hence, much of my appreciation is based on the writing time, the individual consultation, the group critique, the opportunity to read my work and hear others. Writers working with both Cathryn Hankla and Charlotte Morgan (this year’s writers in residence) gave rave reviews to everything related to the writing support and advice.

 

This year, there were two opportunities for writers to read plays (or parts thereof) by two fellow writers. Fun experiences, though I doubt they really did justice to the work being read.

 

nimrod hall

But no matter how many hours are spent butt-in-chair, there is always time to experience the place. I took lots of pix of bits and pieces around the buildings and grounds that I find charming—many of which I’ve posted on Facebook during the past week, but not all by any means. E.g., these heads I call family.

 

And then some of my other indoor favorites:

 

Outside, I tend to focus on blooms—most of these pictures snapped along the roadside and mowed walkways.
 
There are fine o-l-d trees dotted around and about. They have a beauty all their own.

 

And then there is the allure of water. Here I’m sharing not only my pictures but also some taken by other writers. (I’m not the only person drawn to water. Note the picture of writers tubing down the Cowpasture River!)

 

Some people especially appreciate the big picture of our location, and atmosphere.
And then there is the fauna. Most years I see rabbits, but I didn’t get a picture this year. Think any size! (A few of these were taken on day trips near Nimrod)

 

And speaking of places near Nimrod:  often people go off in  twos, threes, or fours to enjoy a break with others who are free at the same time and of the same mind.This year, those off-site trips included kayaking at nearby state/national parks and my visit to a National Champion sycamore tree.

 

BOTTOM LINE: The writing program at Nimrod is incredible. It’s an opportunity to focus on writing in the midst of supportive writers and mentors. It allows for breaks to enjoy the surroundings and reset for refocusing. Incredible people. Incredible bonding. Incredible creativity. And some bonds will last beyond the time there.

 

nimrod hall

Adding Nature to Your Writing

virginia wildlife squirrel

I’ve written before about the use of pets in writing. But what I am writing about now is not domesticated animals or houseplants. Of course, there are lots of versions of nature writing, from guides to insects, shells, birds, etc., to books like Hawk, which gets into all sorts of emotional and philosophical issues—but I’m not writing about that, either—no, not writing in which nature is the focus.

 

Nature to illuminate character. Does your character respond equally to flora and fauna? Why or why not? Does your character respond very selectively to nature? Maybe only attracted to or aware of rabbits?

 

bunny virginia
Or maybe your character is a gardener in his/her leisure time. How does that play out? Flower arrangements for a dinner or wedding? Flower shows? Garden club commitments that conflict with plot demands, creating tension?

 

Is your character an indoor person rather than an outdoor person—generally keep the natural world at arm’s length?Why? Allergies? Fears? Sun sensitivity? Physical handicap?

 

What sort of nature draws your character? The great outdoors? The eastern woods? Again, why?

 

All of these sorts of things can be inserted as grace notes, dropped in strategically, not highlighted but effective.
 
Nature to set the mood or tone.
 
Thunderstorms give us one tone—threat, foreboding, physical danger.

 

virginia landscape
Sunny landscapes and/or skies create the opposite—good cheer, good luck, a generally upbeat tone.

 

So, including nature notes can illuminate character and set mood or tone. How else do you use bits of nature?

Unwritten History of a Thriver

womens history month
[Source: Affinity]
No doubt the media are rife with information on women in science, literature, politics, business—you name it. But today I want to focus on my personal history, and the crucial role played by my paternal grandmother. Granny was a thriver—which is to say, she did a whole lot more than just survive hard times, grief, and heartache.

 

unwritten history thriver
Margaret Louisa Butcher, the ninth of twelve children, was born on Yost Branch in Johnson County, Kentucky. She quickly became “Lucy” because that’s what her siblings made of her name.
unwritten history thriver
By the time I came along, she was long married and officially Lucy Butcher Parker. She’d married Allie Howard Parker and they lived at the head of Old House Creek in Rowan County, Kentucky. This is a picture taken there of Granny Parker, my father, Great-granny Butcher, and me.
unwritten history thriver
The Old Home Place (as everyone in the family called it) was four rooms and two porches. The front porch was for rocking, swinging, and whatever household work could be taken outside. The back porch was for churning butter and washing clothes. Eventually there was a wringer washer, but before that it was a washboard and two tubs. The house had electricity by the time I knew it, but no running water or indoor plumbing of any sort. The well was in the backyard and the outhouse sat over a little tributary to Old House Creek. Granny cooked on a cast iron, wood-burning stove and two of the other rooms were heated with potbellied wood/coal burning stoves, similar to those pictured below. Cornbread and biscuits were staples.

 

I used to play on the stacked wood behind the kitchen stove. On the wall above me were strings of dried apple rings and leather britches beans (dried green beans).

 

unwritten history thriver
One time I sneaked a snack of dried apple and it tasted so good I ate the whole string. Then, being really thirsty, I drank dipper after dipper of well water. As the apples rehydrated in my stomach, I thought I was going to burst and hurt something awful. Granny didn’t punish me for the apples. She said the apples would punish me for her. Once the stomach ache passed, I had diarrhea so bad I had to run to the outhouse again and again.

 

Granny had a vegetable garden, chickens, and milk cows. She churned her own butter and sold some of it to the general store out on the highway. I sometimes helped churn, though I didn’t have the stamina to do the whole job. The churning rhyme was to help keep the rhythm smooth, moving the dasher up and down word by word.

 

unwritten history thriver
Churn, butter, churn.
Churn, butter, churn.
Johnny stands at the gate
Waiting for a butter cake.
Churn, butter, churn.

 

According to my Aunt Mary, my father’s younger sister, the VA Hospital sent Grandpa Parker home in early 1933 to die because they couldn’t cure his illness. (I assume this was a lung problem. He was a coal miner in his earlier years, before being gassed in WWI). He didn’t die, but while he recovered, Granny and the children struggled to get by. Mary and my dad set traps for fur-bearing animals as a way to make money in the late 30s and early 40s. They also raised, dried, shelled, and shipped popcorn to try to make a few dollars, as well as picked blackberries for five cents a gallon. They shelled corn for a neighbor to take to the gristmill. They saved the inner husks from dried corn to use for filling like feathers for a feather bed.
unwritten history thriver
Granny had a hard life—perhaps not by Appalachian standards of the time, but certainly by my standards. All of her children were born at home, sitting on Grandpa’s lap, his knees spread to make a birthing chair. Her widowed mother, Granny Butcher, spent nearly all of her last seventeen years living with Grandpa and Granny. I’m told Granny Butcher was a kind, gentle woman, but by the time I knew her, she was old and nearly blind.

 

unwritten history thriver
Still, she did what she could to help—snapping beans, shelling peas, churning, and the like. Granny Parker nursed her through her last decline, and did the same for Grandpa.

 

What I most remember about Granny Parker—besides her never-ending work—was her laugh. She loved a good joke or humorous stories. I don’t ever remember Granny complaining. She read the Bible every day and Reader’s Digest as often as it came. She encouraged me to do all I could, as well as I could. I grew up wanting to be like her: strong, capable, self-sufficient.

 

Granny always made quilts. I have several of her quilts, and have passed some along to my children.
As a widow, she continued to make and sell quilts. I thought that her life was pretty much as it always had been until she sent me this newspaper clipping.
By then Granny had a phone and I called her. “Do you mean you never had a high school diploma? Didn’t you teach school before you got married?”

 

She said, “No, I never had a diploma. Don’t you remember me telling you that I was licensed to teach by examination? I was in the first group that had to go to Frankfort to be tested.”

 

And the next thing I knew, she had enrolled in college! Granny never learned to drive, so she had to plan her classes around the bus schedule and when she could get a ride.

 

unwritten history thriver
I saw Granny shortly before she died at age 83. I asked her whether, if she had it to do over again, she would change anything about her life. I expected her to say something about how her life might have been made easier. What she did say was, “The only thing I regret is that I’m a junior and won’t live long enough to get my college diploma.”

 

Recently I’ve been revisiting the Foxfire Books. They reflect much of my Appalachian childhood. Right now I’m reading Aunt Arie: A Foxfire Portrait. She reminds me of Granny Parker.
aunt arie
During this Women’s History Month, do consider the important women in your history. And let me know about them!

UCI Road World Championships

The cyclists are coming! The cyclists are coming!

Not that I am a cycling enthusiast, but any event this big piques my interest. Some weeks ago, when I first became aware of the upcoming races, I started noticing bicycles—and they are everywhere! Did you ever count how many clutches of bicycles are fastened to motor vehicles?

bike rack on car

bike rack on car

Although the Virginia DOT says that all vehicular laws apply to bicycles, clearly this isn’t the case with parking.

bike chained to sign reading, "reserved parking handicapped only"

bike chained to sign

bike chained to sign

bike-parked-in-hall

bikes parked in store

Also, DUI statutes don’t apply to bicycles in Virginia. Although one can be charged with DUI/DWI for drunk bicycling in 22 states, Virginia isn’t among them. Still, in my opinion, one would be stupid to do it. The person most likely to be injured is the cyclist, but think of the trauma to family, and to the motorist who might have killed someone. It’s like riding without a helmet: just because you can doesn’t mean you should!

But I digress. I was talking about bicycles being everywhere, and used for all sorts of purposes. When I was a Nimrod this summer, I intentionally saved this picture for now.

bike used as planter at Nimrod Hall

And perhaps the sweetest picture of all—

bike painted pink for Ashland bike art

Check out the UCI Road World Championship website to learn more. 

Former UCI Road World Champions

Greg LeMond 1989 Tour de Trump
Greg LeMond, American cyclist (retired) and two-time World Champion
By https://www.flickr.com/people/small_realm/ [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

La Course by Le Tour de France 2015 (19936269888)
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, 2014 Road Race World Champion, at 2015 La Course by Le Tour de France.

By youkeys (La Course by Le Tour de France 2015) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons