Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pictured: October 9?, 2007, Bath County, Va.


You know how Seasonal Decor -- tiny banners to stake into the ground by your suburban mailbox, tchotkes to put on the sideboard, the things grade-school teachers put up to cue in students on the month -- assigns yellow and orange leaves to September? Why in the world is that? Admiring the green trees all around me as I drift about town this month, I vaguely imagined it was more of the Northeast's hegemony over the US's view of itself: orange leaves to kick walking to school on the first day back, snow at Christmas, new spring flowers in May, etc. But I have located shocking new evidence that suggests that only the remotest bits of New England (and the far West) hit peak color as early as September! (That's a weather.com map; the one I read was different, but the gist, of course, was the same. I'll just be darned if I can find the other.) Nearly all of us see green leaves all September long!

Of course, I exaggerate a touch. After a dry summer, certain Virginia trees, like tulip poplars, will turn yellow in August; and decorative sugar maples started to show colors a few days ago. But -- most of the first half of September, you could have gone swimming, too. As a Virginian, the idea of equating September with sweaters, scuffling through leaves, and chilly nights misses the mark.

You know what doesn't miss the mark? Mountain Day at Mount Holyoke College! Just seeing the words in my in box (well, on Facebook, this year) raises my spirits, even though I still have to report to work. To celebrate, my walking buddy and I headed to Maymont. Walking up the hill by the bison is sort of like climbing Mount Holyoke, right?

And speaking of The Mountain (as we said at school), I have been thinking about how nineteenth century tourists knew it and the Mountain House well -- as well as Niagara Falls, says a speaker in this Convocation video. Yet now it's an unknown and a quaint bit of history.

And speaking of Niagara Falls, more than once, I have heard voices in "The National Parks" assert that various founding figures wanted to avoid the over-commercialization of the newly protected places -- to be sure that "what happened to Niagara Falls doesn't happen here." Mt. Holyoke, once as well known as Niagara, is now a mild-mannered state park (except today, when it's swarming with students!); Niagara, considered in the nineteenth century too tacky, remains, ah, busy and developed in the, um, best capitalist way. Maybe the lesson is that setting aside land works; certainly my advice for the day is get outside and enjoy autumn, whatever color the leaves are where you live!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banned Books Week Greetings (from Capital City Library)!

For the second time in a year, I just began reading Something About Eve by James Branch Cabell. Last time, I gave up on it for the more pressing project of planning our June camping trip. This time, I may put it down in favor of Jurgen, the truly challenged title of his. I had to use my suburban library card account to get at a good online literary reference work (hmm, Cabell being 100 years past, there's probably a perfectly good print reference around here that would have answered it) to check the facts. According to an entry by Joseph Flora in Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature (http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=18749062&site=lrc-live) :

Before Jurgen, C.'s reputation was modest. But on January 14, 1920, John Sumner, executive secretary for the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, assured C. of national attention by pressing charges against Guy Holt of McBride's for publishing an obscene book. In October 1922 the work was exonerated in a famous trial important to freedom of expression in America. Meanwhile, a host of defenders were discovering C. One of his most vocal defenders was H. L. MENCKEN. With Mencken, C. became one of the chief symbols for rebellion against the genteel tradition and for new directions in life and art.

Interestingly, despite the praise Flora and others heap on Cabell in the various entries collected in the Literary Reference Center's database, he doesn't make the cut on the American Library Association's list of challenged classics. And if I am going to link to a list like that, I guess I ought to ask: how many of those have you read?

In other news, Downtown CCL got timers for the public PCs. This kind leaves a little box on my screen, showing me the minutes ticking down. Useful, yet stress-inducing. In non-news: they still haven't weeded non-fiction.

Capital City weather: cool and cloudy

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I've always rolled my eyes when people use the term "bittersweet" as in "retiring from this place feels bittersweet." Yet as we gear up to buy a bigger house, I do feel this crazy mix of excited and sad.

How great will it be to never have to clean teen gunk out of the sink before brushing my teeth because she will have her own bathroom? To have enough space to revive my hobby of buying mid-century chairs and lamps?! To have a home that's Ours, not Mine? Maybe the yard will get enough sun for tomatoes and zinnias.

And then again, I get pangs every time I merely walk to Ellwood Thompson, or Avalon, or Mongrel, or For the Love of Chocolate, or Coppola's. Have I mentioned that I have been shopping at Bygones since I was about 16 years old? Damn: how spoiled is it to have all these wonders -- and more -- moments from my front door? Ukrop's, our regional grocery, may get sucked up by a bigger chain -- or it may be rumor. Either way, the Carytown one is nice and small. I feel overwhelmed when I shop in the massive suburban ones, any one of which may be closest to our new place. And I actually love the only quasi-functional baggers at C'town, and the bizarre mix of unfortunates and Windsor Farms housewives who shop the early morning discount bins with me. Surely no Northside store will provide such comforting weirdness.

Even as I dread these losses, the irritants resurface. Step-teen complains about the homeless people she has to walk by on the way home from the bus. Drunks (aged, poor ones; foolish college boys) shout in the back alley at 3 a.m. The kids the lady two doors down babysits ride their bigwheels endlessly up and down the block, shouting; or they beat up the ivy by by my front steps. No, with all that crap, it's not worth putting an addition on the house.

And so here I am, waiting for a junk removal company to take away the long-dead washer and dryer, and for the Realtor's photographer to come in and be shocked by how messy it still is. Is it his/her job to hide all this junk, or should I? Have you really thought about those pictures: no trashcans, dish drainers, cat food bowls, toothbrushes, boxes of tissues in sight.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


A week or so ago, an acquaintance and I talked about Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, and how it had chilled him. As the father of a six-year-old, he found a story about children fighting to the death -- and one death scene in particular -- unbearably grim. I routinely shun stories I find too sad, grim, and disturbing, especially ones on TV like CSI. I put myself in the shoes of the devostated survivors, families, and can't bear it. Yet, I really enjoyed Hunger Games. As I spoke -- sheepishly -- to the fellow last week, I couldn't defend it. He asserted he really couldn't see it being "for" anyone younger than 16. We nearly underwent a challenge of another book on pretty much the same grounds recently, so his turn of phrase bothered me all week.

Yesterday, I began the sequel, Catching Fire, and now I can find some words for defese. (Not that his comment was meant as a real attack.) It is good, suspenseful storytelling. There are Robin Hood elements -- the oppressed trying to rise up, that sort of thing. It's got survival elements like tracking and hunting. Even with ugly deeds to be done, we know who the heroes are. And even in this dark world, Collins proves a laugh line or two [of course, I didn't mark one to quote]. I am engrossed in the story, and yet I don't absorb ugly images. Possibly, I have never been great at tranforming words into pictures. Unless it's a book I reread often, I don't think I picture the town or the character so well that "the movie spoils it." Maybe that's what's protecting me from the kind of story I wouldn't normally like, but now can't put down.

I suggest these two books -- read Hunger Games first -- to fans of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies, of The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Carrie Ryan), or post-apocolyptic stories in general.