The Monk

Click here to read this story.

Exposed to the elements, stoic monks teach us ways to live and die.

Circa 1968, my philosophical college associates and I quipped, satirically shedding trappings of our suburban upbringing, that when we died, we would like for our carcasses to be thrown in an outside trash can for disposal. Looking back, there may be hidden irony in our joke: half-educated white boys resigning themselves, even seeking, to be dispatched by Memphis garbage collectors.

Nothing clears the head like big outdoors. I should have recognized that earlier from my childhood, when I spent most of my free time in wide-open spaces.

Every single day, my brain is cleansed and my thoughts refreshed by dreamy sleep and exposure to a pastoral setting under huge skies where fields, trees, and hills stretch to the horizon. The out of doors purifies and restores: it is a more effective eraser than drugs and drink; it is a better muse and memory supplement, too.

I suppose the impact of taking to the streets of downtown Memphis in the mid-1970s offered a similar benefit. Like a modern-day monk of Tennessee, one could unburden one’s soul in the big outdoors of a struggling city by a river, while afloat, alone, alongside an occasional familiar and the drift of harmless strangers.

Click here to read this story.

Tractors Are Us

Low Idles

I am the proud owner of a copy of Medieval Technology and Social Change by Lynn White, Jr. (Oxford University Press, 1962, 1967). In this old hardcover book, the author documents the dramatic alterations specific technological innovations wrought on Western culture. Not all of the advances originated in the West, but the adoption, adaptations, and application by the West more than made up for an absence of authorship. It is a very good thing for the West that there were no prevailing patent laws back in the early Middle Ages. Wholesale theft of other people’s innovations was a practiced Western art form. For example, the humble stirrup and lowly heavy plough revolutionized warfare and agriculture. This slight book, obtained decades ago, forced me to look at gadgets and machinery in different ways. Afterward, I saw more than a touch of art in the most rust- and grease-bound objects found in junk yards and the dark corners of old barns. Though I dearly love working with wood and the look of wood finishes, the difficulty of fabricating metal pieces casts an artful aura over the disintegrating remains of once-powerful machines. Delicacy alone means less amid a craving for things brutal upon which one can firmly stand and jump. But delicacy joined with practical effectiveness yields stronger substance still.

The new story in TennesseeSoul has little to do with this preface. Or does it?

Read it here.

Hay Hauling

I don’t remember the exact context, but when Jackson was four or five he used to pretend to host a TV program on Children’s Channel Five. He had to pretend TV because we had little of it at home. We made some suggestion to him regarding his show and he declared with all seriousness, “It isn’t going to help this show.”

Well, no extra turning of phrases and word cropping is going to help this show either. So, out it goes into the ether. The saga continues and it is all about work, work, work. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. But work is only the surface that seemed so paramount at the time and seems so unimportant a character today.

It took repeating and repeating over and over again. But I think at some point, I finally saw beneath the surface. The activity was about more than just getting the job done.

Read it here.

Gathered at the Pond

About ten days ago, the day before my birthday, I had a kernel of an idea that revolved around a single word: pond. The notion became a life. This story is sort of a birthday present to myself. It has been a lovely experience based on a lovely word.

But it’s high time to birth this tar baby. So I invite you to take a moment to escape to a new beginning.

Read it here.