I am slow, behind. Your blog posts are going unread. My head reels with thoughts of sofas and chairs and what to do with the table in the kitchen? I am furnishing an entire beach house in my head (and on Pinterest). When these sortings graciously step aside for a moment, Jazzy and the Pirate rushes in, insisting on being finished. Finished—ha! I’m still organizing research and plot points and character traits, but I have—mirabile dictu!—written a synopsis BEFORE I’ve written the novel, never done that before. All of this is happening as my husband and I scurry all over the country; in one month we’ll have spent time in New Orleans, Memphis, North Carolina, Alabama, and Arkansas. Okay, we’re scurrying all over the South. But still.
And now it’s Advent.
Last year, I tracked Mary’s progress as she and Tall Jesus made their way toward the birthing. Some of you walked that journey with me. The plodding movement honored each day like a child slowly tapping a drum. That experiment was inspired by Sybil MacBeth’s book The Season of the Nativity, which I wrote about here. Sybil hasn’t written a new book for this Advent, so I’m on my own.
When I consider the upcoming season—Advent, Christmas—I feel myself pulling back. Retreating. Over the years I’ve occasionally moaned about the Christmas hustle and bustle—how am I supposed to do my normal things then layer Christmas on top of that?—but this is different. I want to go to a different place.
I want a place of bare limbs and fallen leaves and white clouded skies.
Where the earth waits for the footstep and one last leaf clings to a twig.
I want to wander through the draped cedars, tromping spiky yellow grass that crunches with frost.
I want to burrow underneath reality to get to where the bones lie, the beginning of ourselves as people, those who felt the shortening days and in their fear did not run from the night but created a celebration that set the darkness on center stage.
I’ve celebrated Christmas with old toys and with orange and red lights and with Amaryllis, and I’m well aware that every year I choose not to put out decorations is one less year of my life to enjoy what has said “Christmas” to me ever since I became an adult making my own choices (and yes, one of those choices is the Christmas Kermit the Frog a MacDonald’s handed out when I was driving by myself from Jackson to Charlotte, and I love that frog because in all its ridiculous commercialism, it says “Christmas” to me.)
Maybe it’s all the noise over red coffee cups and the shouting about being a Christian at Christmas. Maybe my head has been too full of decorated things this last few months. Whatever, I think I’m taking a break and, this year, I’ll be celebrating the world that has been and will be and into which the baby was born.
p.s. We’ve removed some plug-ins from the site and done other esoteric things so I’m hoping the timeout problem we’ve been having with comments is fixed; please let me know if it’s still a hassle! ?
Imagine yourself on a flat-bottomed boat gliding through the Louisiana swamps of Barataria when you bump a log. Feathering the paddle against the sides of the pirogue, you slow and steer yourself towards the gap in the moss-draped oaks. A rasping causes you to pause. Wrong move. A claw shoots from the murky water, grasping the gunnel. Before you can react, the claw yanks the pirogue, which rocks, swamps, and you’re thrown floundering into the hyacinth-tangled water. The vines circle your neck, you’re going down . . .
On the lone high spot created from piled oyster shells, you gather sticks for firewood. When you finish, smoke will rise like ghosts into the trees. You’re thinking about the swamp rabbit you tricked with the rope snare. Stringy but better than nothing, which is what you’ve had to eat for a while now. You reach for a thick mottled stick, and it moves, curling towards your reaching hand, fangs bared.
You were in a hurry, you couldn’t wait. You took off into the swamps by yourself. Didn’t help that you were being chased. In a panic you fled for the cover of the densely grouped trees. Quickly, you become lost, turned around. You know these bayous, but they’ve changed since you roamed their edges. Your days were before the oil companies cut access canals and the water level rose. You splash forward. So much water.
The artifacts you’ve found! The mast of a ship, probably a pirate vessel. And a rounded cannonball, plus a fully formed pirogue preserved in the mud. You’ve been feverishly digging, not sleeping, hardly stopping to eat. It’s as if time were tapping you on the shoulder, thrusting its watch in your face. So much to be discovered and hauled from the muck, tagged, shipped out. Your foot on the shovel, you pause. What was that? A bird? Birds don’t whistle, not that high-pitched piping sound. Time clears its throat, and you thrust the shovel into the soggy ground, shaking away your worries. All around you the ghosts gather, shuffling nearer, the leader clenching a silver fife between his teeth. Someone’s about to dance a jig, and it’s not him.
You slap at your hair. Damn spider webs everywhere. The leaves crackle. No big deal, just the swamp sighing. A varmint scurries past, clinching something in its teeth. Muskrats they call them, but they’re nothing but water rats. Piling on top of each other, slinking through the swamp. Better than the nutria, bellies swollen from gorging on bullfrogs. They’ll get theirs sooner or later—see the vulture watching them? Or . . . is it watching you?
We hope you’ve enjoyed your swamp tour today. Please exit left as you leave the boat. And watch your step. You never know what might be lurking in the shadows.
Images from Jean Lafitte Museum and walking trail in Jean Lafitte, Louisiana
We begin with sea oats collected from the sandy beach:
which we cut up and boil for a couple of hours
then let stand in the pot for several days, soaking. Next we add some dryer lint
then load the mix into the blender with some water
which made too-fat pulp
and so we scale it back a bit
shape it, drain it, and place it on a towel,
layering it in the towel on the window sill to dry for several days.
Once dry, we modge-podge it to assist in holding it together while also sealing it
The final product: two fat crosses and a thin one
Would I do it again? It’s nice for sentimentality—paper made from sea oats collected from the beach my family has loved since I was in the 11th grade. It’s also time intensive. Plus, it’s more sculpture than paper. I could have used a caustic substance to degrade the fibers more completely and ensure thinner paper, but I didn’t want to. Next time I may add baking soda at the boiling stage, baking soda being a caustic agent but a mild one.
So, yeah. It was fun, and I like the results of this, my first attempt to make paper from plants, something I’ve been wanting to do for ages.
Whew. My computer has been dead for almost two weeks!!! My fault. When we made a whirlwind trip to Memphis, I left my charger there. Then I did meticulous research on the charger I needed . . . and ordered the wrong one. After a quick trip to the Apple Store, I unpacked the charger sitting in the mall version of Cafe Du Monde, not trusting that the clerk had given me the right one. This is what happens to my psyche when things go wrong: I conclude I’m snake bit, and everything will keep going wrong for eternity.
It didn’t. It was the correct charger. I’m back in business. And I need your advice.
It’s time to do a website update. Some site features have grown creaky, and two photos have simply disappeared! My brilliant webmaster has asked for feedback: anything you want to see changed? Or improved? Or added, like animatronics, maybe a talking version of me in a pirate outfit? (Okay, she has her limitations.)
Please let me know what you think. Everything—something you wished worked more easily, for example—will be considered for action.
In the meantime, please enjoy this photo of the Jean Laffite swamp where between the ghostly cypress gators lurk, awaiting the rise of the Barataria pirates:
Oh, expect lots of posts to come spewing forth in the near future. I have pent-up writing needs. 🙂