Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What makes a teacher?

Those of you who know me know that I was never much of an academic. For most of my time in the hallowed halls I viewed my work as something to be endured and pushed through in order to keep one or more people in my life off my back. Most of my teachers and ultimately professors simply had me regurgitate information and those that asked for original thought really only wanted to see if I had discovered what they wanted me to see, not what I actually thought or found. This all changed one fall at the University of St. Thomas when my roommate charged through the door and exclaimed - "you have to to take Graham Thatcher's class, you'll love him." This turned out to be an understatement. The rhetoric class was already full, or at least theoretically it was with 30 people or so. Graham ultimately let about 50 of us in. He asked us to stand on the shoulders of all the great philosophers and orators that had come before and handed us a copy of William Safire's "Lend Me Your Ears".  He then proceeded to set our minds on fire with all the possibilities that came with powerful persuasiveness. Looking back, the experience could have been a classroom scene from "The Dead Poets' Society" with one or more students Yawping from a desktop; throwing conventional approaches to classical teaching theories on speech and rhetoric out the window of a speeding bus. I was never better as a student. My work was mine for the first time. Unfortunately, like Robin Williams' character in Dead Poets' Society, Graham faced the ugly side of academia and had to resign as head of the Communications department. I resigned shortly after. Graham has since gone on to build a successful business portraying everyone from Clarence Darrow to Justice William O. Douglas in a series of one-man two-act plays recounting these great legal minds and their amazing use of rhetoric to help shape our nation and it's laws. He is so good at his portrayals, that his audiences are usually comprised of mostly lawyers who get CLE credit for attending!

I had the privilege of attending his first performance at St. Thomas, reenacting the "Monkey Scopes Trial" as Clarence Darrow in 1993. I mention this because just last night I got to see him again in Charlotte, NC performing "The Impeachment of Justice Douglas". Over 17 years had passed since I had seen my old professor, but sitting in that front row last night, I was once again a student, only this time the homework, not assigned by him, was to go and find my speech.

Thanks for being a real teacher Dr. Thatcher - God knows there aren't enough of you.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


It has hardly felt like October lately, but I did catch a good whiff of it this last Sunday out at the farm. I suspect that this weekend will have some time dedicated to preparing for Halloween and some final yard work. Trying to choose between loving the fall over the spring here in NC is like trying to decide between the mountains and the beach or coming to a final decision on the finest sunset I have ever seen. It can't been done, at least not conclusively. I can say this much; that being outdoors some place like the farm, or up in the mountains or the outer banks during a change of season is a humbling and beautiful thing. Its good to be in awe of the seasons, it reminds us of how small we really are and that for all the power, intelligence, creativity we may posses, we cannot recreate these changes at will. Its good for us to be reminded of who is really in charge. Click here for more October photographs - Music by U2.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold,
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.


Monday, October 18, 2010

The Buzzard

This rather graceful menace was circling above me yesterday as I roamed the farm. There were two actually. I was walking, I wonder if to them I looked as if I was about to drop dead in my tracks and they would have an answer to the question of dinner. Nonetheless, watching them glide and arch was something.

(Can't find any poetry about a buzzard, so this will have to do...)

Vulture by Robinson Jeffers
I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling
high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit
I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Bear downward staring. I said, "My dear bird, we are wasting time
These old bones will still work; they are not for you." But how
he looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the
over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak
become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes--
What a sublime end of one's body, what and enskyment; what a life
after death.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The sea answers all questions......

      The sound of the sea is the most time-effacing sound there is. The centuries reroll in a cloud and the earth becomes young again when you listen, with eyes shut, to the sea - a young green time when the water and the land were just getting acquainted and had known each other for few billion years and the mollusks were just beginning to dip and creep in the shallows; and now man the invertebrate, under his ribbed umbrella, anoints himself with oil and pulls on his Polaroid glasses to stop the glare and stretches out his long brown body at ease upon a towel on the warm sand and listens.

    The sea answers all questions, and always in the same way; for when you read in the papers the interminable discussions and the bickering and the prognostications and the turmoil, the disagreements and the fateful decisions and agreements and plans and the programs and the threats and counter threats, and then you close your eyes and the sea dispatches one more big roller in the unbroken line since the beginning of the world and it combs and breaks and returns foaming and saying "So soon?"

E.B. White, February 1941

Friday, October 8, 2010

Under The Harvest Moon

Most of you know that I love Carl Sandburg, summer, Brookberry Farm and my time behind the lens. So when we had our first Harvest Moon since 1993, I ran out to the farm and parked myself out on top of a hill and waited - and I was not let down.

UNDER the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

     Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

Carl Sandburg