Sunday, October 30, 2016

Time Is Limited For All of Us

Full Bloom 13 October 23, 2016

For My Thursday Class Students Fall 2016

Two hundred years ago it was an acorn
like the thousands that fell on my roof this
year. 1816 or so. Jane Austen was alive
but not for much longer.  Here dwelt early
land grant men with their slaves.  My house
was built on the foundation of a slave-owner’s
house, and around it oaks.  They bring shelter,
shade, help with air pollution, beauty. I love
their sheer strength. To look long at a large
oak, tall and wide-spreading, is to take in
its power and peacefulness. When I moved
here, there were five: three in front, one
on each side. In eighteen years one in front
died and cast down all its limbs. Now
the largest, the Champion Black Oak is 
casting limbs, and the hurricane took
a large number.  They have hung over
my roof.  As neighbors we are close, 
so this oak belonged to Robert and Emma 
when it was named champion. Now it’s 
Chloe’s, but I’m the one who loved it. 
Robert promised not to cut it down. 
Then he died, and Chloe came.  I told her
yesterday that it had died and bigger limbs
might fall.  I was at risk more than she,
but it could hit the power line between
our homes and start a fire. I called our 
electric company. They sent a truck to
have a look. Shawn came to clear the
branches off the roof, found a hole where
a sharp limb had punctured the shingles, 
fixed it. I said he could wait, but he did
it the same afternoon.  Its grand beauty
is going fast. No green leaves this year.
A limb span still extending wide with roots
under both our homes. That full bloom has
ended, and we must expect its decay. Helen
started me worrying, but I didn’t want 
to act yet. Too many other urgencies.
Then came Hurricane Matthew.  Limbs
pounded down above my head. Time is
limited for us all.  I still teach, write,
publish, garden, care for hens, my dog,
other people, and fight coal ash dumping.
I do forget things, make more mistakes,
get lost more often in unfamiliar places.
I know my leaves will fall, then my limbs.
A deadline can be scary, even if you don’t
know when it is.  For now my colors are
lively.  Memories return. I check myself 
in case of errors, let other people help me,
and they do. Why I don’t know. Sometimes
I don’t even ask.  Let me leave behind a 
memory of wide-spreading branches,
shading leaves, home-anchoring roots,
and a vitality that stays in other peoples’
minds long after I’m gone.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Those Subtle Harmonies

My Phalaenopsis Orchid when she was young, May 1915

Can Flowers Change Your Life? XXIV.  June 5, 2016

The big orchid is shutting down,
its blooms losing one or two every day.
So frail, petals like onion skin, only
thinner, more fragile.  Our lives, too,
go so quickly.  It may take years 
to reach full bloom, and then that
passes, slowly, yes, but our bodies, too,
ultimately are frail.  We need our habit
of courage, our commitment to live
without complaint, do all that we can do,
remind ourselves we know how 
to work with human conflict and anger.
Discord is natural, but we all long for
those subtle harmonies which follow
when we lay down weapons and
dis-cover one another.  I can’t make
that happen, but I can love those
who let me, and welcome eager
questions and let others speak their
truth.  The mystery that follows 
has us all rejoicing, awed, committed,
and deeply reassured.  We know now
that we can win.  We’re at peace
and ready to fight evil wherever
it dares show its face.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Review of Nuclear Apples? by Mary MacDowell

Nuclear Apples? The Third Penny Weaver Mystery.  Judy Hogan.  Hoganvillaea Books, Moncure.  ISBN-13:978-1530404506.  $15, paperback; $2.99 e-book (Kindle), 223 pages. 

By Mary MacDowell

I just finished the last page of Nuclear Apples?  Shucks, I don’t want to stop reading about these folks.

I have intimate knowledge of Chatham, Wake and Orange counties and how their activist citizens (including Hogan) and county officials tried to intervene to stop the Harris nuclear power plant from importing highly irradiated fuel rods from other plants, the threat that activated the local characters at the center of this mystery.  The book accurately describes the risks of doubling the crowded pools radioactive contents and the safer option of dry cask storage and also how politics at the county, state and federal level often allows unsafe conditions at the plants to continue.

In the mystery the local professor of nuclear engineering at the state university who leads the activists explains the facts: to crowd the radioactive rods into pools where they would risk a loss of water would lead to overheating the rods’ shielding.  This, then would cause a catastrophic fire releasing radioactive steam that could render a large area including Chatham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh & Durham uninhabitable for hundreds of years.  I have been told by a nuclear engineer that all it would take is a very small plane the size of a Cessna crashing into the pool building to breach the pools and cause such a fire.  Other causal or contributing factors include malfunction in the reactor or the interconnected water cooling systems, a fire elsewhere in the plant, or radiation from a severe reactor accident that precludes the ongoing provision of cooling water to the pools because it becomes unsafe for personnel to be where the controls are.

This is a real danger that exists at most of the 99 nuclear plants in the US, so it is excellent that Hogan has used this as the central issue in her book. But the book is also a delightful story of real characters with absorbing relationships and growth. They range from love between her Welsh detective husband and Penny, negotiations with teens wanting to date, two & five-year-olds whose mom is in hospital from being beaten by county cops at the sit-in to get the plant to stop the pool plan, a lesbian couple, an elderly black couple caught in the middle, plant workers being given radioactive drinking fountains and worried about plant safety while the supervisors cut corners.  Through it all the people come together to cook and eat to strengthen themselves for planning and working together to challenge this powerful company and its political and legal supporters.  And that makes a fascinating tale of what it takes to really support each other in each crisis.


Mary MacDowell worked for Chatham County for 10 years as research coordinator for monitoring and providing expert witnesses to prevent an unsafe multi-state low-level radioactive waste disposal site next to the Harris Nuclear Plant from being licensed by North Carolina government. This effort, with tremendous help of local citizens and allied environmental groups, was successful. The subsequent efforts to make Carolina Power and Light (now Duke Energy) take the safer course of storing their plants’ nuclear fuel rods in dry casks has not been successful yet, but this mystery should help spread the word.


Beginning November 1 and through November 30 on I'm offering five free books in a drawing of Formaldehyde, Rooster, the fourth Penny Weaver Mystery, in which the community group fights against bad air pollution.  It's due out December 1.  Don't miss it!

Nuclear Apples? is available at The Joyful Jewel in Pittsboro, at Paperbacks Plus in Siler City, and at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Why me? Why now?

My fig trees, August 2011 after Hurricane Irene.  Today we have wind and rain from Hurricane Matthew.  While I still have electricity, I'm posting my blog a day early.  I sustained fig tree damage for several years.  They're not back to this fruitfulness yet.

Can Flowers Change Your Life? XXIII.  May 29, 2016

Rain again.  This late spring we have
our share and more.  Slow drizzle on
wet green leaves. Carrots, onions, leeks, 
beets, peas, and now tomato and pepper
plants have their thirst quenched. Days
of hot sun disappeared for more of this 
rain that makes roots stretch and turn,
and lifts up new leaves and pea vine
tentacles to wrap themselves around
the old sign holders and new strings.
The coal ash and my new books pull
me out of my solitary life.  I speak,
and they listen intently.  Then they
give me gifts, buy my books, offer
me berries, send birthday greetings.
Why me?  Why now? I do know the
answer–so simple.  I have become
fully myself, and I easily reveal who
I am, not boasting, not standing on
ceremony, simply being who I was
meant to be, which took a lifetime
to find and then I wasn’t aware of
where I stood, on the mountain,
taking in all those people whom I 
could see in the valley, all looking
up with hope in their eyes and hearts,
seeking from me the faith I have
and scarcely recognize.  Yet it
accompanies me every day and
reassures me every night.


Zinnias from 2011.  This year's went in late, struggle today with high wind and rain.  A few live with me here.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

An Awkward Journey

My phalenopsis orchid when new, spring 2015. In 2016 it had twenty-four blooms.

Can Flowers Change Your Life? XXI. May 15, 2016

How does joy come into it?
I count twenty-one orchid blooms
with three buds to go.  First,
I was too sleepy to write a poem.
Then Jane came.  She left her
glasses in the annex where we
listened to scientists translating
their coal ash research.  Jane’s turn
next week.  She couldn’t find 
the annex, drove right by it, 
finally stopped here to beg my help,
but I wasn’t to bother anyone.  She’s
happy I can be lazy once a week,
step back, and write a poem.  I
gave her one, adding the lines,
“Don’t worry.”  She loves my
poetry.  I told her I’d put her in 
today’s. It’s a calculated risk when 
you  knock on my door on Sunday
morning.  Wag gave a little bark
and went back to bed.  Yesterday,
as scientists explained their work,
and all the justice fighters listened,
I saw hope being born again.  
To hang onto the Spirit of Truth
can be an awkward journey, and
a lonely one.  Hope is harder than
despair, but once that candle is lit,
darkness disappears.


Our North Carolina Alliance of Carolinians Together Against Coal Ash, which met yesterday (October 1) here in Moncure at the Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church to learn more about coal ash.