Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Now Let Us Praise Famous Women

I have collected many photographs of people who live in Appalachia, and one day as I was looking through them, I was struck by how beautiful some of the older women were--the grandmothers. Here is a selection of photographs of such women. I would love to sit down on their porch and hear some of their stories. I know they have stories that tell of a world different from the one I grew up in and have lived in. As you can see, their bodies are lean from a lifetime of hard work without amenities and less than enough food.

I am interspersing the photographs with excerpts about an Appalachian grandmother from the novel River of Earth (1940) by Kentucky's poet laureate James Still (1906-2001), who lived most of his life in a log house on a creek in coal-producing Knott County, Kentucky. This is a beautiful novel that chronicles how coal mining lured men away from homesteading and into the mines. The story, as told by the son of a farmer turned miner, is remarkable for its detailing of all kinds of plants, planting, and seasons.

Mrs. Frank Henderson, taken by Doris Ulmann.
One morning Grandma said we could wait no longer for Uncle Luce. She took her grapevine walking stick and we went into the cornfield. We worked two days pulling corn from the small hoe-tended stalks. When all the runty ears were gathered, she measured them into pokes, pulling her bonnet down over her face to hide the rheumatic pain. There were sixteen bushels. 'We won't be needing the barn this time,' she said. 'We'll just sack the puny nubbins and put them in the shedroom.'
With the corn in, we waited a few days until Grandma's rheumatism had been doctored with herbs and bitter cherry-bark tea. Then there were the heavy-leaved cabbages, the cashews and sweet potatoes to be gathered. The potatoes had grown large that year. They were fat and big as squashes. Grandma crawled along the rows on her knees, digging in the baked earth with her hands. It was good to see such fine potatoes. 'When Jolly comes home he'll shore eat a bellyful,' she said. 

Mountain woman with grandchild, taken by Jeffrey Potter.
'Eighteen-sixty-eight it was,' Grandmas said, and her words were small against the spring winds bellowing in the chimney top. She spread her hands close to the oak-knot fire. They were blue-veined like a giant spider's web. 'That was the year the pigeons come to Upper Flat Creek, mighty nigh taking the country.... Them pigeon-birds were worse than a plague writ in the Book,' Grandmother said. "Hit was my first married year, and Boone and me had grubbed out a homeseat on Upper Flat, hoe-planting four acres o' corn. We'd got a garden patch put in, and four bee gums working before I turned puny, setting in wait for our first-born. I'd take a peck measure outside and set me down on it where I could see the garden crap growing, and the bees fotching sweetening. There was a powerful bloom that year, as I remember, and a sight of seasoning in the ground.'

 Ella Dunn, midwife and herbalist, who lived in the Ozarks and lived to be 104 years old. 

Emma Dupree, an herb doctor who received the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 1992 and lived to be 98 years old. 
Grandma wove her hands together on her knees. 'I been walking on these legs seventy-eight years,' she said. 'I'm figuring to walk a few more miles. I hain't going to set around and let rheumatiz tie 'em in a pinch knot. Hain't wear that breaks a door hinge, hit's rust.'

Two women on a porch, taken by Howard Greenberg.

'If I was stone-blind, I'd know a new season was coming,' Grandma said. ''This time o' year the rheumatiz strikes my hips. The pain sets deep and grinds. Five of my chaps was born in the spring and that might be the causing.' She took to bed for a spell, and Uncle Jolly cooked for us morning and evening.... It plagued her to lie abed, helpless. 'When spring opens,' Grandma said, 'I'll be up and doing. Three days' sun, and I'll be well enough to beat this feather tick and hang it to sweeten.'
One morning I saw a redbird sitting in a plum bush, its body as dark as a wound. 'Spring's a winding,' I told Grandma. 'Coming now for shore.'
'Even come spring,' Grandma said, 'we've got a passel of chills to endure: dogwood winter, redbud, service, foxgrape, blackberry.... There must be seven winters, by count. A chilly snap for every time of bloom.' 

You may also want to see:
Maude Callen (1898-1990)
The Trees by Conrad Richter
Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller
Housekeeping in The Fields

Saturday, January 27, 2018

"In their steady change and alteration..."

"Look at the heavens and the earth: in their steady change and alteration they proclaim that they were made, and their very existence is itself the voice with which they speak. It was you, O Lord, who created them."
                                                             Saint Augustine, Confessions


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Light the Fifth Dimension?

Light seems to transform everything in its wake and its reflections create completely different qualities of air and sense. When I go outside, my eye is looking for the light--the shine, the diamond in the rough. When I went outside today, I wanted to capture how shiny the holly tree was--the first tree of the two in the middle of the photo. It looked as if all the tips of the leaves had been dipped in bright silver, an effect the iphone camera buried although it caught the tree's symmetrical shadow.

I moved closer, hoping that might help, and here's what happened.

The sun and its reflection from the camera created a green arc in the camera's eye, although not actually on the ground or not that my eyes could see on the ground.

Here the sun transforms an interior scene. One can see from this photo--of objects on a table bathed in oblique sunlight coming in from an unseen window to the right with open blinds--why impressionists, who wanted to paint light, wound up breaking the surface of objects and hence the paint surface.  Striated sunlight makes objects a bit jumpy.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Yale First Building Project 2017

This building for the homeless was featured in a Wall Street Journal article on the best architecture of 2017. The building was created by the Yale School of Architecture Jim Vlock First Year Building Project. I was captivated by the second photo below and the beautiful differentiation of space. Even  1,000-square feet can seem like a palace. Here is the Journal writeup on the building:
This year’s Jim Vlock First Year Building Project, a house for the homeless
This year’s Jim Vlock First Year Building Project, a house for the homeless PHOTO: ZELIG FOK AND HAYLIE CHAN
Not every year delivers major architectural stunners, but sometimes there’s something even better—buildings that contribute to a more promising future. Since 1967, the Yale School of Architecture has required first-year students to set aside theoretical and academic course work to actually build something that benefits the community. Over the years (and depending on available funds), students in the Jim Vlock First Year Building Project have designed and built—hands-on—community centers, bandstands, park pavilions and, most recently, affordable housing. 
This year, the 50th project was completed: a 1,000-square-foot house for the homeless. Clad in cedar with a standing-seam metal roof and several window-seat-deep gables, the prefabricated structure contains one studio and a two-bedroom apartment with abundant built-in storage. Columbus House, a New Haven nonprofit organization, will identify and provide additional support for tenants.
Interior of this year’s Jim Vlock First Year Building Project
Interior of this year’s Jim Vlock First Year Building Project PHOTO: ZELIG FOK AND HAYLIE CHAN
The Building Project has always been highly commendable (and imitated at other schools), but this year’s house is particularly sophisticated and handsome—worthy of inspiring pride of place in whoever is lucky enough to dwell there.