September 2005


Today’s Photo Friday theme is Divine. I posted this pencam shot of a stained glass window panel from Boston’s Gargoyles Grotesques & Chimeras (aka “the Gargoyle Shop”) on my birthday back in January. No, I’m not egomaniacal enough to compare myself with Christ on my birthday; it just happens that I was born on the Christian feast of the epiphany, which I considered good enough reason to post a picture I particularly liked.

As much as I like to admire religious iconography (and yes, I find myself wandering churches whenever I travel even though I don’t frequent one at home), I seldom take photos inside of churches. Back when I was a graduate student at Boston College and used to spend an occasional moment meditating in the chapel in Saint Mary’s Hall, I remember a particularly obnoxious pair of tourists once coming in, talking loudly, and taking lots of photos of the place even though I was obviously sitting there “using” it. Ever since, I’ve been particularly hesitant to disturb the interior quiet of a church even if there aren’t worshippers around; somehow, simply imbibing the spiritual essence of an intentionally sacred place is enough, and taking photos seems excessive. Whether or not this self-imposed photo abstinence in churches makes sense, I had no qualms shooting a stained glass window inside an art and architectural shop.

I’ll be leaving later this morning to make a weekend trip to Ohio, so I’ll be out of the blog loop until Monday night. Until then, I hope your weekend is simply divine.

Intellectual inquiry begins with a burning question: some curiosity about the how and why of our world. At least that’s what I tell my writing and literature students. When you read, you should ask burning questions of the text, or A good research project starts with genuine curiosity–a burning question–about a particular topic.

With this intellectual philosophy in mind, I have this morning one burning question. Who or what damaged the fence surrounding the Keene State College tennis courts, and why was he, she, or it trying to get either in or out?

Had I known there were Bottle Gentians (Gentiana clausa) blooming on the banks of the Ashuelot River, I would have gone walking there sooner. As it was, the sight of new-to-me flowers in a riparian habitat I thought I knew was a delightful surprise: beauty out of the blue.

I don’t know what it is about having been alive on earth for 36 years that makes me think I know anything about the place. Bottle gentian is a surprise not only because I don’t remember seeing it along the Ashuelot last year or any other. Bottle gentian is a surprise because its pale blue flowers seem entirely inappropriate in a woods wending inevitably toward autumn: a springly flower in an undeniably summer season. The usual botanic succession features spring flowers in woods where trees haven’t begun to leaf and summer flowers in fields where sun is plenty. To see fresh blue flowers blooming over spring-green leaves in a woods where all other leaves are spent, insect-eaten, and relishing every last moment of deep green chlorophyll before losing it all is a surprise however you reckon it.

Although these pictures shout “spring,” the contradictory fact remains: Reggie and I were walking the Ashuelot because yesterday afternoon was too hot to walk a furry dog on downtown sidewalks. Two nights ago, I considered switching to flannel sheets, an autumnal nip bringing nighttime temperatures in the 40s. Last night, a thin cotton sheet was too much as I lay in bed wilting like a unwatered flower.

What will today, tomorrow bring? I’ve lived enough to know I don’t know, with certainty.

    If you’ve been following my Expository Writing students’ blogs, this week’s most popular posts are listed here. If you in the mood to surf, check out the linked student blogs on my teaching blog sidebar: yesterday I asked my students to post tentative proposals for the research projects they’ll be doing this semester, so out-of-the-blue feedback–especially along the lines of “here’s what I’d like to know about this topic”–is always appreciated.

2005-09-13a

Take it from one amazed onlooker: it takes a lot of stones, each roughly hand-sized, to make a labyrinth where once stood a lawn of grass.

2005-09-13b

Last November I blogged about the portable cloth labyrinth that visited Keene State College. After the tranquil experience of treading that winding path, I read with interest this past weekend about the new stone labyrinth that had been installed (and then dedicated on September 11th) behind the First Baptist Church here in Keene. First Baptist already has a Peace Park on its quiet grounds, so laying stones for a winding walkway to heaven seems to make sense, the practice of stopping to walk a labyrinth being an intrinsically calming, peace-inducing activity.

Naturally, walking an outdoor labyrinth is quite different from pacing the polished floors of a college Student Center. The sun was setting last night when I took my quick trip to Jerusalem and back, and the crickets were calling, having already taken up residence in the sheltering stones that mark the labyrinth’s twisting walkway.

2005-09-13c

I’ve written before about the difference between labyrinths and mazes: whereas you can get lost in a maze, there’s only one (albeit wending) way to the center of a labyrinth. The message of a labyrinth is to persevere–take the next step–keep going even if the way seems long or confusing. You will get there, and back, safely, a labyrinth seems to reassure. Take care with this next step, and peace will follow all the rest.

It seemed very natural to walk a labyrinth marked with stones of varying shapes, sizes, and colors. Just as it takes all types of people to make the Kingdom of God, it takes all types of stones to mark the way there and back. Here in the Granite State, we have plenty of rocks…and hikers here are used to following cairns–piles of stone–to find their way over mountaintops.

In the grass behind the First Baptist Church here in Keene, it’s as if one of those cairns has come undone, unraveling its myriad stones like a clew unwound. Following a line of stone, you find at the end that peace is indeed in every step, underfoot.

2005-09-13d

Like a wild grape vine laden with ripening fruit, this weekend I spent a lot of time just hanging out.

After spending most of the summer hanging out, I was a bit anxious heading into this school year. In addition to the usual back-to-school jitters, I was afraid I’d fall back into my usual schoolyear pattern of working too much and too hard, procrastinating deadlines in a disorganized fluster and then staying up late to get things done.

Usually the beginning of the school year hits like a brick wall: one week, you’re lazing in summer mode; the next, you’re up to your eyeballs in grading, stressed. So far this year, though, things have been pretty calm. I made a conscious effort this year to set a meticulous schedule for myself, with time charted for grading, class prep, etc. And so far (fingers crossed…) the schedule is working.

I realize it’s a massive act of hubris to declare three weeks into a new semester, “My schedule is working,” because as soon as you say that, something’s likely to come crashing down. But this weekend while I actually spent some time doing nothing rather than hurrying about with papers and grading, it occurred to me that this is the first fall semester in a long time that I’ve had a relatively normal life.

When I first started teaching at Keene State in the fall of 2001, I was juggling an odd assortment of part-time jobs that had me driving literally from one side of the state to another. That next year I continued working a patchwork of adjunct teaching jobs, at one point teaching nine classes at four different colleges while still trying to make progress with my dissertation. My third year at Keene State, my then-husband and I had downsized by selling our house and moving into an apartment, which meant I cut back my teaching load and nearly eliminated my commute…but then my PhD advisor dropped the gauntlet of an actual drop-dead deadline for my dissertation, so my energy was madly devoted to that.

Last fall was my first semester at Keene State where I had a relatively normal schedule: no wild commutes over the southern half of the state, no frantic push toward the dissertation finish line. But, last fall was also when I was newly separated and wending my way toward divorce, a process which was (in retrospect) a big emotional distraction. Last fall was my first full semester as a newly minted doctor, and as I transitioned from being Doctor Schaub to Doctor DiSabato, I was devoting a lot of energy toward simply holding things together, making sure I could (and did) “make it” on my own.

This fall, it’s kind of fun being “Doctor D,” a nickname that seems as natural to my students as it does to me. After setting up that meticulous schedule where I have designated times during the week to do grading and other teaching-related work, this weekend I found myself facing the most delightful of prospects: a weekend off, with time to walk the dog, read magazines, and simply hang out without any real deadlines or distractions hanging over my head. (As for Reg, he took advantage of this weekend’s downtime to get himself thoroughly muddied on one of our walks, his legs covered in black mucky stockings. This meant we went for a second walk immediately after: a quick trip to the Ashuelot River where Mom made sure Mr. Mudpup took a wade in clear water. Click on the image for an enlarged “before” picture.)

Never having much of a normal life before, now that I’m getting a taste of it, I like what I see. Juggling jobs and pushing toward a deadline are fine and good for a while, but they don’t make for a longterm lifestyle. A quiet weekend hanging out might not sound exciting, but to my ears it sounds just right.

Early this morning, feeling uninspired in the blog department, I took a autumn-brisk walk through downtown Keene–no dog, just me and my camera–to see what I could see. Feel free to add your own caption to this ragtag assortment of odd images.

They might not look like much, but the Beechdrops are blooming on Beech Hill here in Keene.

Back in July when I blogged about Indian Pipe, I noted how difficult it is to photograph a waxy white, chlorophyll-lacking plant that grows in the shade of trees and stone walls. Although they aren’t waxy white, Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) lack chlorophyll and are difficult to photograph. Straw-brown in color, the stems of Beechdrops look like upright, dried twigs. When you try to photograph a straw-brown twig sprouting from dead-brown leaf litter, you end up with lots of blurry shots of brown on brown.

Any normal person looking at these photos would ask the obvious question, “Why are you taking pictures of dried twigs?” My standard response of “I like to take photos of flowers” doesn’t sound entirely convincing since Beechdrop flowers are tiny and nondescript. You pretty much have to get on hands and knees (or crouch with a magnifying glass) to notice Beechdrops’ whitish, four-lobed blossoms with brownish-purple streaks.

Since Beechdrops (like Indian Pipe) lack chlorophyll, Beechdrops (like Indian Pipe) have to take a creative approach to finding nourishment. Whereas green leafy plants use chlorophyll to convert sunlight into food, both Beechdrops and Indian Pipes are freeloaders, sucking nourishment from the underground root systems of other plants. Whereas Indian Pipe has a rather complex living arrangement, sucking nutrients from the mycelial network of fungi that themselves suck nutrients from decaying plant matter, Beechdrops go straight to the source, tapping into the nutrient-rich root systems of beech trees. Beechdrops’ exclusive reliance upon beeches is apparent in both their common and scientific names, the genus name Epifagus literally translating as “upon Fagus (Beech) trees.”

The fact that Beechdrops are blooming on Beech Hill is proof that, yes, the hill is aptly named. Although the various clusters of knee- to thigh-high Beechdrops I saw yesterday were surrounded by oak saplings, a closer look revealed at least one mature beech tree growing nearby with opportunistic Beechdrops tapping into its peripheral root network. Someday when those oaks mature and the beeches die off, Beechdrops will similarly disappear. But for the time being, there are straw-brown twigs sprouting unlikely flowers in the most logical of places: Beech Hill, where both beech and beechdrops grow.

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Massive, which gives me an excellent excuse to post these pictures of the old coal tower here in Keene.

Although I’ve always had a particular fondness for Keene’s coal tower, I have very few photos of the structure. The tower looms at the heart of town, near the bikepath which was once a railroad track, but I’ve featured its old wooden visage here on Hoarded Ordinaries only once, at the bottom of this entry. The reason I haven’t taken more photos of the old coal tower isn’t because I don’t find it aesthetically interesting; instead, it’s almost too massive, looming too hugely to fit inside a single camera frame. (To give you a sense of scale, compare in the photo above the height of the tower with that the house to its right, or compare the tower’s breadth to that of the trash dumpster stationed at its base.)

I took these photos of the backside of Keene’s coal tower earlier this week because construction crews were clearing the empty lot in front of it, another in a seemingly endless series of area construction projections. I don’t know what exactly they’re building in front of the coal tower, but as the dog and I stood watching, one bulldozer toppled a medium-size tree near the sidewalk skirting the property: a massize earthmover in motion. Although the coal tower is owned and maintained by Chabott Coal and Oil here in Keene, I have a feeling its days are numbered, an anachronistic hulk in the middle of prime real estate.

One of these days I’ll snap a picture of the coal tower’s front, which boasts a Chabott sign and a painted pumpkin smiley face on one of its boarded-up windows. In the meantime, you can contemplate the tower’s massive backside as it looms over a clear southern New Hampshire day.

Although it’s too early to start carving jack-o-lanterns for October’s Pumpkin Festival, it’s never too early to enjoy a shop-window display of pumpkin-painted gourds. The pumpkins are ripening, and it’s only a matter of time before the frost comes: are you ready?

Still left over from this weekend’s Music Festival are the chalk markings leading folks to the Keene Middle School, which is down the street from the Festival’s downtown venues. In our fast-paced, high-tech world, it’s comforting to know that something as simple as a stick of sidewalk chalk–the stuff hopscotch is made of–can be enough to guide us on our wandering way.

Given the power of a piece of chalk and the captive audience that a crowd of milling Festival-goers represents, who can blame this anonymous chalker for taking full command of her paved podium, stepping up (or crouching down) to impart a bit of sidewalk wisdom to the masses. Word on the street indeed.

    For those of you who are following the progress of my Expository Writing students’ brand-new blogs, click here to find links to the posts my class voted “Best of Blog” for this past week. Enjoy!

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