With dear friend Cathy Bishop. No trip to Bowling Green is complete without seeing Cathy and Mike Bishop. (Thanks to Mike for snapping the photo.)
I spent last Saturday at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green. What a great day. I met and chatted with David Madden – one of my literary heroes – and sat next to Dana Chamblee Carpenter, whose new novel, Bohemian Gospel, is selling briskly and receiving strong reviews. Over the course of the day, Dana and I covered a lot of conversational ground, ranging from Southern literature to football (she wanted to play in high school) to the merits of introversion to the virtues of coffee.
This was one of the nicest, best organized literary events I’ve attended; big enough to draw a good crowd, but not so big as to be hectic and confusing. My thanks to event coordinator Sara Volpi and other staff members and volunteers. Of course I’m proud of the festival’s association with my beloved Western Kentucky University.
J. and I spent four of the happiest years of our lives in Bowling Green. We left, reluctantly, only because the careers we’d prepared for weren’t available there. It’s hard to convey the feeling of peace and gratitude I experience whenever I visit familiar places in my old home. Driving from Louisville, where I enjoyed a long lunch with my niece Courtney Chappell Boyer, I got off I-65 as soon as I could, and took backroads to Bowling Green. As I drove into Edmondson Country, Grayson County, and Warren County on once familiar roads I hadn’t traveled in 34 years, the dogwoods blooming in the greening woods and the familiar accent at stops for gas and coffee brought on something close to heartache.
So his April 25 email, accompanied by a photo of another Catahoula at work, with the question “Does this dog remind you of another dog,” made my day.
According to Randy, “He is a nephew of Leo. He is not the dog Leo was, but there is still hope. Happy!” Of course no dog is ever as good as the great one that died too young. But I know Randy, and he won’t put up with a sorry dog. I’m betting Leon will make a good one.
All of my writer friends have seen this, but It's a classic and worth posting again. I wish I had a dollar for every time some pleasant person has told me how much free exposure I'll get if I'll allow the use of an article or essay at no charge. Or, "Yes, we'd love for you to drive 300 miles to do a 45-minute talk to the Society of Semi-Literate People who Want to Write Books About Themselves. We can't pay you or even reimburse you for gas and lodging, but you'll get a good meal out of it, and you can bring books to sell to folks who don't read, let alone buy books."
Yes, it occurs to me that Ellison probably isn't getting anything for this YouTube clip. (Yes, but just think of all the free publicity ...)
Just back from the Southern Kentucky Book Festival, where I made new friends, enjoyed the company of old friends, signed plenty of books, and had an all-around fine time, I'm feeling like quoting a great writer from my beloved home state. James Still, Kentucky's first poet laureate, feels just right:
“The flat fruit of the locust fell, lying like curved blades in the grass. August ripened the sedge clumps. Father began to come home from the mines in middle afternoon, no longer trudging the creek road at the edge of dark, with the carbide lamp burning on his cap. He came now before the guineas settled to roost in the black birch. We watched the elder thicket at the hillturn and plunged down to meet him as he came in sight. The heifer ran after us. Euly was the swiftest, reaching him first and snatching the dinner bucket Father carried. She hid in the stickweeds to nibble at the crusts in the bucket, scattering crumbs for the field-larks seeding the grass stalks. Fletch waited halfway down the path and Father would swing him to his shoulder, packing him to the house like a poke of meal.“
We’ve kept it under wraps for the past three years. At last we can talk about it. My newest book, with the great Wyman Meinzer, Horses to Ride, Cattle to Cut: The San Antonio Viejo Ranch of Texas, will be out late this summer. This has been the most challenging and satisfying non-fiction project of my career, and our most ambitious collaboration yet. San Antonio Viejo, one of the world’s greatest ranches, has been closed to outsiders for generations. The East Foundation gave Wyman and me full access to the ranch and the family archive. What a privilege and blessing to introduce this great ranch to the world. Currently the book is in the design phase. I’ll post updates and short passages in the coming weeks. Of course I can’t wait to share the cover. For now, I’ll send you to Wyman’s site for more info. Just click on the photo. Thanks!
Two hailstorms and a late frost have been rough on the Chappell garden this spring.
The second hailstorm of the season hit last night. Golf ball-sized hail did a number on the family garden, never mind the roof, garage door, and my daughter and son-in-law's Honda.
The plants in the photo are my second planting. A late frost and the first hailstorm destroyed all twenty-six plants. Those in the foreground are Early Girls, an indeterminate variety that produces well here in North Texas, where the big beefsteak varieties won't set fruit. Even though several of the plants were effectively topped by the hail, I should be able to coax out suckers to replace the damaged main stems. In the other bed, I have an determinate variety - Bush Early Girls. Those tend to come in all at once and are tremendously productive. The plants then go into decline. Although they're just as tasty as the indeterminate version, we can most of them because you just can't keep up otherwise. Such damage as these plants suffered will probably translate into lost tomatoes.
Little black-eyed pea plants and pepper plants came through fine. Cantaloupes, cucumbers, and beans aren't up yet. I may have to cut back the damaged onion leaves.
To write about gundogs, especially your own, is to risk sentimentality - a risk worth taking. Tarrant pushed it everytime out, and sometimes went over the edge. But not here.
“They are the iced mace of wind thrown by bad-dad winter, off to the north, blowing the redleg mallards off their last haunts. Blowing them south, flying like buckshot. And you’re gripping Pup and whispering “No head up,” and you fit the duck call to your lips. It is cold and you know it will freeze to the skin. But you call. And the lead hen throws her body high, looking down and back, seeing the iced-in blocks pointing bill-up to the slate sky.
“And now they come, shingles rippled loose from some old barn and the wind is driving them crazily toward your decoys and you stand and the old gun barks and the dog launches. He’s breaking ice and standing high in the water, though his feet don’t touch bottom. And you wish you’d never shot. For nothing can live out there. Not even Pup in the prime of his life. Yet he clamps the big bright drake and spins about, throwing water with his whipping tail, and comes for you – the drake covering his face – so he must swim by instinct, for he cannot see.
You’re out of the blind now and running the bank, yelling out. And the retriever comes to shore, not stopping to shake, and heads straight for you. But the black dog turns instantly silver. The water has frozen that fast. And you take the duck and the dog shivers, his teeth chattering, and the pelvic-drive muscles convulse. Then he spins in the tall yellow grass; he runs and rubs the side of his jowls in the mud and stubble.”
Bill Tarrant, “Of Miracles and Memories,” Field & Steam, August 1983
Had a fine time working on this one - with great friends Wyman and Sylinda Meinzer, Eric O'Keefe, and our host and friend James Clement, down at Santa Gertrudis. We worked hard during the day and drank a lot of wine at night, sitting by the pool house, the Big House looming in the darkness. Now I can't think of King Ranch without remembering peacocks plucking peanuts from Wyman's hand.
But true. She'll be nine in June. Here's Little Cate-Cur at four months, after a swim on a hot October afternoon. There's a lot of white on that muzzle nowadays, but she's still pretty quick. A few days ago I saw a squirrel with only half a tail. I've eaten several that didn't die of gunshot. And a lot more that did after being treed by a little yellow mountain cur-dog.
"El Sordo was making his fight on a hilltop. He did not like this hill and when he saw it he thought it had the shape of a chancre..."
“Then there were the hammering explosions past his ears and the gun barrel hot against his shoulder. It was hammering now again and his ears were deafened by the muzzle blast. Ignacio was pulling down hard on the tripod and the barrel was burning his back. It was hammering now in the roar and he could not remember the act of contrition
“All he could remember was at the hour of our death. Amen. At the hour of our death. Amen. At the hour. At the hour. Amen. The others were all firing. Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
“Then, through the hammering of the gun, there was a whistle of the air splitting apart and then in the red black roar the earth rolled under his knees and then waved up to hit him in the face and then dirt and bits of rock were falling all over and Ignacio was lying on him and the gun was lying on him. But he was not dead because the whistle came again and the earth rolled under him with a roar. Then it came again and the earth lurched under his belly and one side of the hilltop rose into the air and then fell slowly over them where they lay.”