Sunday, December 26, 2010

And still, we will be here.

Journal Entry: Wilderness, Virginia; May 9, 1864
We were never nomads; our land was patented to Thomas Jones in 1719, and here we are still, and here we will be in 100 years, unless the forces that pull and push this land intercede and leave this farm fallow; this soil unseeded.

The latest and largest battle at the Wilderness has ended; we were miles away, but now witness the aftermath. Wagons and walkers pass each day, all on their way to somewhere away from the Wilderness. Our once thick forests of pine have been burned again, leaving charred stumps and hordes of burning, shrieking skulls.


But soon, they will be quiet, and soon, sprouts will lean against them for support, like seedlings in white ceramic pots, and once again, after this war to end all wars is over, the pines will grow and the skulls shall house the field mouse and the codling moth; and still, we will be here in 100 years; other young Jones boys running through the pines of the Wilderness. We were never nomads.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Breath

Journal Entry: Wilderness, Virginia; Sunday, April 24, 1864


I am dead.

No, you are breathing; this is not a place to die and this is not the time.


That is all of the conversation that I remember as my brothers brought me home last month. Small bits and visions move through my memory, but the ride home was mostly wiped away. A minie ball is made of soft lead and can inflect massive damage inside the body; to be hit by two and not die is seemingly impossible. I should be dead, but no bones or vitals were hit, so my brother sewed me up with horse hair and hope. The scars are ragged, but they are healing. Last week, Doctor McGuire took a look at me and said I will have limited movement due to the more worrisome wound, the larger gash behind my left shoulder, where I was thrown into that unyielding oak.


My father’s thoroughbred, Shortcake, is once again rested and ready. The 9th Virginia Cavalry is near the Orange Courthouse, so I must make myself ready to join my brothers in arms, my brothers of blood, and my brothers across the field of fire as we work out the final act in this drama. America could not have expected its founders to create a perfect union; we are still working out the design of this republic.


The pain of each wound pounds with the rhythm of my heartbeat, but that is merely an annoyance. The pain at the center of my heart, the hurt that takes my breath away is the sorrow of leaving Marianna once again. Poe’s raven watcher preferred that ancient Greek elixir, Nepenthe, the drug of forgetfulness, but Marianna is not Lenore; I shall never choose to forget.


Uncle James and Aunt Martha took Marianna to church this morning, leaving me to my own sanctuary, the mulberry tree. Here, beneath the refuge of her benevolent branches, I find myself simply sitting, breathing; watching the wonder of that quiet act, that profound power to breathe or feel another’s warm breath on your cheek. One should not have to visit death to become acquainted with life.


The world beyond the Wilderness is in various stages of chaos and calm, but right here I am in the center of the world. I can feel the whirlwind circling, but am not a part of it now. Tomorrow, I will tuck my scarf into my jacket, pull my slouch hat down to shield my eyes, and ride back into the gale.


The mighty armies could not kill me; the mighty oak could not kill me. Eventually, little by little, or all at once, this body will die, and that is just as it should be, but it will not kill me. I am the breath.


The house pictured above is the Wilderness Corner, Virginia homeplace of the Jones Family. In Federal Civil War era maps it is listed as the residence of the widow Jones, though she was not a widow; her husband, a blacksmith for the Confederate Army, was concealed behind a secret wall panel.

"Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore." from The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe 1845

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back to the Soil

Journal Entry: Wilderness, Virginia; March 12, 1864
Spring freshet is always a time of revival near the rivers, when winter snow begins to melt. The early morning mockingbirds and rushing waters distract from the task at hand; not wise when war, from its winter rest, begins to wake. On the first day of March, the 9th Virginia Cavalry was near Mattaponi River, chasing raiders once again, and I was riding with messages between units as we searched for the elusive Colonel Dahlgren. The high waters had separated the raiders, so stragglers and skirmishers were all up and down the river. Riding along the tree line, I watched the water flow with its flickering reflections of the rising seedtime sun, mentally planning the plantings that would resume once war ends.


I felt the jolt of white-hot pain in my side before I ever heard the crack of the rifles from across the river. My horse, thinking I had kicked her hard, reared up and right, taking off in a gallop. With my saccade, she turned so completely on her haunches in confusion that I was thrown into the trees. Minutes, hours, days; unconscious or awake, I did not know as I lay face down in fallen leaves. On my left arm, a cut through my shell jacket, blood beneath, but no pain, only perfect peace. Pain became a sensation, like heat; I was now unmoved by sensation. I was not numb, simply unmoved. I attended more important thoughts; so this is how it feels to die. Perhaps I could move, but did not care to try. No pain, no cold, no wet March ground; no grim feelings at all, only the sound of the rushing water, or the sound of blood rushing through me. That low whirring sound deepened the desire to sink deep into the soft soil and leave this war. No light, no fear; only the whispers of Fredericksburg, the obsculta of Gettysburg; all unmoving, all merging with my body and sinking deeper back into the rich dark dirt.


After a time with this calm quiet, I slowly lifted my hand to my face, touching my forehead just between my eyes, to locate my center of thought; I was still alive, but completely comfortable with returning into the earth. I did not long for life; all desire and regret were over. At peace, even if no one ever found me; I was the last deep snow melting into a warming soil ready to receive new seed.


Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; seedtime and harvest shall not cease.


A hand reached down into the soil that I was becoming and pulled me into the sunlight. Silhouetted by the noon sun, I was sure the figure standing above me was Me; the alive Me; the Me that would not let Me leave. It was my brother pulling me back from a place that I could not leave on my own.


My brothers had arrived with a battery wagon to carry me home. They had searched, knowing that, despite my distractions and reclusive nature, I would not take hours to ride between camps. There would be no surgeon’s saw or prison camp for me that day; they tied me inside the wagon and immediately rode for home; neither army was large enough to stop them. My brothers have since returned the wagon to the front, but I am recovering here at home with my Marianna. I shall not tell her how close I was to sinking back into the soil.


While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. Genesis 8:22 ~ Webster’s 1833 Bible translation

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fresh Harvest

Journal Entry: Williamsport, Maryland; July 13, 1863
The swollen Potomac River has subsided; our wounded and worn army has started to cross to safety. The 9th stays behind as the rearguard. We will surely be attacked as our numbers become smaller. Like my brothers, I have an aversion to sabers, so I have added two more revolvers to my belt; fine unfired .44 Army Colts, picked up from the field at Gettysburg; fresh harvest from that orchard of death. Slippery with blood, they stained my hands, like mulberries from my favorite childhood tree.

My childhood; where is my sweet mother to wash these stains away? Could she have imagined her sons’ futures? What must she be feeling this day? She knows the fields, the fruits, the times to sow by sun and moon; she knows nothing of the field of battle with its fallen fruit. The seeds we sow are far different; the harvest in my hand is heavy and will never satiate my hunger for home. I will write home to my mother that I am once again spared, but cannot help but think of the other mothers; the mothers of the 50,000 casualties at Gettysburg, the 30,000 at Chancellorsville, the 26,000 at Sharpsburg; there were so many other battles that I did not see. The newspapers estimate over 300,000 casualties of this war and I fear the worst is waiting beyond the horizon; waiting as the mothers wait.
Death has started to surround them, suddenly, like summer storms; how could the weather change so quickly, after such a tranquil morning.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Logic is My Lantern

Journal Entry: Williamsport, Maryland; July 12, 1863
A young soldier’s decapitated head, floating down the rain swollen Potomac River, screaming for water to quench his thirst; I am unsure; no, I am sure it was another hallucination. New moon, no light, not possible; keep saying that; logic is my lantern. No sleep in days; I have no faith in my eyes or ears; I have seen flashes of fire from rifles that are not there, rabbits with riders running into my path; they are not there; chimera, illusions. We have been in the saddle night and day for a week; maybe a few minutes down, but then, back riding again. We eat in the saddle; we try to sleep in the saddle; I am writing in the saddle. We are worn to ruin and have not been dry since leaving Gettysburg a week ago. We are pinned against the Potomac, unable to cross; bridges burned and the rains have made the fords more dangerous than the Federal Army that has us surrounded. Our cavalry must keep riding to warn of attacks. Why the Federals do not push us into the Potomac, I do not know.


We ride, we wait, we watch the darkness around us. New moon nights can whisper like a lover, or scream like a banshee. All depends on the state of mind, and a mind deprived of sleep sees banshees on every tree branch. I stay logical, but my grandmother’s Welsh legends loom large in my learning and rise without rest.


High water floods the fords preventing the pathway home. I have listened to the whispers of nature since Fredericksburg; perhaps the river is now telling me I cannot go home; ever. I cannot think; my eyes are bleary, my horse sways from exhaustion. Illusion; whispers; which is truth; which is tricks. My throat is dry; I cannot quench this thirst, but I will not go down to the river tonight.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Struggling



In addition to the 2011 Sesquicentennial Journal Exhibit, which from now forward will be called The 150 Project for obvious reasons, I am still working on two other collage series; The Scent of Pear and The Beekeeper’s Boy. I took some time away from blogging the last two weeks to produce new work and open online shops that sell my originals and reproductions, because funding for the 150 Project fell through due to the struggling economy. The exhibit is still scheduled for September, 2011.

Struggling; the media always makes life seem like a struggle, a fight, survival. If I turn on the television at 5AM to check the weather, the news is always about the struggle and the fighting. It is not a promising way to start the day. This morning, I didn’t turn it on at all and it made quite a difference in my attitude. I will learn the important news soon enough, but no longer will it be my wake-up call.

Before I rise, I have found it helpful to remember these words by Chinese Zen master Ta-Hui:

“In the mornings before they've opened their eyes and gotten out of bed, when they're still only half awake, their minds are already flying about in confusion flowing along with random thoughts. Although good and bad deeds have not yet appeared, heaven and hell are already formed in their hearts before they even get out of bed. By the time they go into action, the seeds of heaven and hell are already implanted in their minds.”

I don’t have to say the entire quote; I can simply think, “Today, shall I create heaven or hell?”, and then try not to forget my answer when I look in the mirror.

The above image is "The Morning Air. 2/5", from the collection of Jennifer Valentine.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Obsculta

Journal Entry, East of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. July 3, 1863
This battlefield is an unnatural arena; a sweeping sylvan vista transformed into a barren burial ground. The birds and deer are always the first to sense the shift from living to dying. At Chancellorsville, a covey of quail were the first warning that Confederate forces were at the Federal flank. Small animals are quick to leave with the first roar of artillery and many a man might follow if common sense prevailed over duty, which it seldom does. If there were common sense in this world, we would be in a more peaceful place.


After the battle, the first to return are the vultures, high in the dead trees waiting. Waiting is what they do; spreading their wings wide to warm in the morning sun, and then rising high at midday to circle. Since childhood, I would watch them circle as I ran to the spot below them to insure the prey was not a foal or calf; some poor pup injured and watching them circle above, waiting. Still, it is what they do; they remove what life has released.


This week at Gettysburg, there will be much waiting. The bodies of men are removed from the field within a day, though sometimes two or three days pass due to horrendous numbers. The horses cut down on the field of battle will remain until the vultures for the carrion come.

Listen; are those falling leaves or tiny wings.
Obsculta; it is the first word in The Rule of Saint Benedict. Obsculta; careful listening from deep within the heart; listening for the sound beyond silence; listening to know you are not alone. It is a gift given, or an acquired calling. I have had the gift, the calling, the curse, since Fredericksburg; I hear the birds before flight, the bees before buzz; the movement in the air, the whisper, if you will.


Obsculta at the Rummel Barn east of Gettysburg; the heat of July sun, the heat of cannon fire, the heat of hell itself, east of Gettysburg, July third. With General Lee wounded and captured, I am no longer his courier, and I ride into the fray with my fellow troopers, pistoled, sabered, and fortunately, a better horseman than any Federal trooper I encountered. Fortunate too, to have a Quarter horse, taken two weeks ago from a fresh young Federal recruit who preferred running to riding as he retreated. This horse and I went full gallop across that field, firing to the front and no man could stop us. When we reached the Rummel Barn, we wheeled and, with empty Colt, I started to reach for my saber, when all of hell’s heat cooled, the devil’s din rescinded; my mount threw her head back, and I did as well. And there, above, a sight I had not seen; birds above the battlefield; too high to identify, too small for vultures; circling; circling the insanity. Flying in ever smaller circles, eventually reaching a center, where they appeared to float above unmoving, unmoved. Obsculta. I could hear them in my heart and I followed, centered, unmoving, unmoved. I could see as they saw, as birds above the battlefield, above time and beyond it.


An exploding canister behind me brought my attention back to the field of battle, which had moved to the west. I dismounted and slowly walked from the barn across to the ridge, where I sat on the remnants of a split rail fence cut clean down by carbines. There is so little to say about what I have seen, the saying of it seems so small and scarcely touches it at all, as if I write with disappearing ink; the real scene disappears, replaced by inadequate words. Writing, talking are each inadequate; listening is all that is real.

Obsculta.



The images that appear with these journal posts are not final art pieces. They are simply a montage of elements I have chosen that may become parts of the final exhibit art. This is a work in progress.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shades and Whispers

Journal Entry: Brandy Station, Virginia; June 10, 1863

For months, The 9th Virginia Cavalry had become like phantoms, in all places at once. The rumor that we were riding was as real as if we were. If the opposing commanders believed we were in the area, they turned and retreated as if we were at their flank. A well placed lie whispered by the women of the town was as good as the truth. We loom large as legends, whether we rode with Rooney Lee or JEB Stuart himself.


This week, the whole of the Confederate Cavalry paraded before General Robert E. Lee at Brandy Station. Never had I seen so many horsemen; there were near 9,000 men charging in mock battles as the colors waved, the ladies swooned, and there at the front of it all was the beau sabreur, General J.E.B. Stuart. We paraded as the invincibles, superior to all, Stuart’s Star, the bright light of Lee’s Legions. Alas, parades are pretend, a play upon a stage; once we dismounted, the men and their mounts were exhausted. We are daring, but depleted. The whole of Virginia is depleted. There is little food and no rest for horseman or horse, but to reach the third act, the second act must be played out, no matter how terrifying, no matter how reluctant the players. Thus, continues the second act…


The dark before next dawn brought, charging across the river, a Federal cavalry force, even larger than our own; perhaps 11,000 Federal troopers in what became an unimaginable grotesque lasting from 4am until nightfall. A hornets’ nest of sabers and pistols; the buzz and whistle of savage stings all around our heads; arms flailing wildly with reins in one hand, a sword in the other; wild-eyed horses colliding in confused canter. Many boys were half dressed riding bareback, because they were just waking, running into battle. A more sanguinary scene I have never seen. Dante and Virgil witnessed a lesser hell than this.


In the aftermath tonight, I look around this camp, hear the whispers, and see that we are what Dante and Homer called the Shades, the shadows of the dead. No longer the invincibles, we are torn, bloodied, defeated even in victory. Truly, we are the shades, or in Latin “umbra”, but actually, we are “penumbra”, almost shadow; the dead that do not know yet they are dead. We appear to be everywhere when we are nowhere. If we are to join the shades and whispers, may it not be in the shadows; I must bring these boys back into the light.



Friday, October 15, 2010

FreeFriday: free hi-res graphics; Queen Alice

Today’s image is from the 1903 Jones Fourth Reader, a wonderful old reading textbook for fourth and fifth graders. It contains many beautifully detailed wood engravings, including this one from a short selection taken from Through the Looking Glass. The smaller size shown above does not compare to the full resolution image gained by clicking once, and then clicking again to the largest image.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cap of Courage

Journal Entry: Orange County, Virginia; May 5, 1863 after the Battle of Chancellorsville.
With Fredericksburg secured by our artillery on the heights, the entire Federal Army determined to move west and cross the Rapidan River at Ely’s Ford on their mission to reach Richmond. This route runs right through my farm; the entire area from the Wilderness Tavern east up the Plank Road to the church and Chancellorsville has, this week, seen nearly two hundred thousand troops battling where just a few families make their homes, leaving not one chicken, not one cow, not one growing grain. The Wilderness Tavern, at my property edge, was once the scene of lively parties; now a hospital, a scene of death. It will be remembered now as the site where General Jackson had his arm amputated; he has been removed to the south and should recover. Were this not my father’s fathers’ home, I would follow Betty west where there is true wilderness, for my Wilderness shall never seem the same; though the earth and soil are remarkably resilient, I fear I am not. The whispers I once heard have turned to screams and I cover my ears.


We have ridden 80 miles in just the last 24 hours chasing Stoneman’s Cavalry back across the Rapidan. I am within a mile of my home and have not seen it; my house and the blacksmith shop may not even be standing. I am told that the fine family home of our friend, Ves Chancellor, burned to the ground under shot and shell. My house is not so fine, but it is where my mother gave birth to me and where I have always expected to see my own children born.


With tens of thousands more casualties over the last few days, we rest a day, before we ride again. Even outnumbered ten to one, we know this landscape; we are this land. We know the roads and routes that make up this region and how to move undetected through the tangle of trees. They should have known where this would lead; we would not run from our homes. So now, the Federal Army has at last retreated back north across the river, but they will return to this route, renewed and resolved to take Richmond. They have seemingly unlimited resources and, through depletion, will whittle my world down to its last little bit of split wood, leaving only a splinter.


Five yards off to my left, a flash of red, white, and black dresses a downy woodpecker hanging upside down, inspecting every inch of a split rail fence, before leaving unrequited. I watch now in rapture. He knows his task, moving up and down along each rail seeking sustenance; he does not feel sorry for himself at the lack left behind by the thousands of invaders; he moves along the rail, doing what he must. The Virginia Pamunkey Indians say that the red crest of the downy woodpecker is its cap of courage. Surely, the whispers have sent him to me this day that I might find courage as well.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Brief Respite

Journal Entry: Gordonsville, Virginia; May 2, 1863
Tonight, we are having our first food in 36 hours. Minutes after my last journal entry, we took to horse and have barely dismounted in those five days while opposing Stoneman’s Cavalry. Being a courier for W.H.F. Lee affords me a better mount than most; I am on my third fresh horse this week, which is worrisome, as this latest is a stallion captured from the Federal Cavalry. An undisciplined mount is likely to take the wrong path when pushed. Just today, Lieutenant Boulware of Company B was taken prisoner when, unaccustomed to battle, his new horse bolted, taking him beyond the charge and straight into the hands of the Federal Army. He was not seen again; hopefully he will be paroled and not sent off to the prison camps; death is more desirable than the disease and despair along the dead line at the Fort Delaware Death Pen.

Though there is much to say, I am too tired to hold my pencil and I see the General in deep conversation with Colonel Beale. Soon enough we will remount to meet the raiders again.


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Friday, October 8, 2010

FreeFriday: 1882 map of Wilmington

For Free Friday this week, I offer for your enjoyment, an 1882 wood engraved map showing the 1864 approaches and obstructions to Wilmington, North Carolina. This image is from an 1882 Pictorial History of the United States by Alexander Stephens. I was leafing through this old volume, relishing the textures of the letterpress and the fine detail of the engravings, when I came upon this map, which reminded me of our daughter who is living in Wilmington, completing her Master’s Degree, which lead me to wonder when she, or we, would visit. I would like her to return to Maryland, even though I love Wilmington, a wonderful city that combines colonial and contemporary so well, reminding me so much of my other favorite cities, Frederick in Maryland, and Fredericksburg in Virginia, where I grew up. So many feelings arise from one simple engraving. It is curious how the mind and memory work; one second you are simply admiring the textures of an old book, and then an image fills the mind with emotions; joy, worry, hope, pride, sorrow; all rushing out before calm replaces complexity and returns to the simple act of admiring the textures of an old book. How often we get lost in that rush of emotions and lose hours wandering, wondering and worrying. So many approaches and obstructions, we could certainly use a map.

Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

There Comes a Voice

Journal Entry: Orange County, Virginia; April 27, 1863


I had heard that the war has forced Cousin Betty to stay out at Greenwood, past the Orange County Court House, about fifteen miles west of the Wilderness. My curiosity about the nurse named Whitman and my longing for an excuse to travel alone spurred me down those familiar plank roads to find her. By desire or design, I found her there, packing to move further west to Lexington with her family. She was surprised and happy to see me; so many friends and relatives shall not be seen again. She took me aside and told me about the books she had hidden at Ellwood. After a short visit, I said goodbyes, as I was eager to return to Ellwood; in this lunacy that we have substituted for society, we never know when some cold soldiers will use fine old books for fire starter.


I was elated to find three books on her library shelf secreted behind thick volumes of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Betty told me that these books would not be considered proper reading for a lady. Betty always appeared proper, but I knew well her sly little smile when she had a mischievous thought, and she had many, mostly when the men in the parlor smoked cigars and pontificated about grand ideas; thoroughly pompous elder statesmen they were, and thoroughly unread.


I gave the caretaker at Ellwood a note from Betty to borrow the books and have used every free minute this last two months to read them. The first book was quite new, only a couple years old; Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. There are passages on evolution in this large scientific exploration that are so beautiful, I feel I am reading poetry, not botany or biology. I can see why this volume was kept hidden; there would be no peace in the parlor with a debate raging about where we originated.


The second book, with a penciled inscription on the front page, was bought in Boston at the Old Corner Bookstore in 1855. This small volume of poems would be even more shocking and risqué to the elders; Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, the very same man that was nursing soldiers at Fredericksburg. Whitman's name does not even appear on the book, except on the copyright and in one of the untitled poems; I assume because he feels he is one of the many; the many voices of America.  Marianna said he had accompanied the hospital train back to Washington in January. These poems are rough and flamboyant, but it is a book that puts into poetry my thoughts and whispers of this last year; if I could actually write from my deepest heart, these would be my words. That such a being walked in the halls, just across the river, where I have walked is beyond my comprehension. From the other side of the river, there comes this voice so powerful that I shall never be the same. Had Marianna not met this man and forwarded his presence to me, I might have traveled this land a lifetime and never known that there is a voice for us all; a voice for America and the world. Both of these books leave me with the belief that originally we all grew out of one, and remain one with all.


The third book, Hermetic Mystery, a book on Alchemy, was published anonymously in 1850. It contains much arcane language, so it has been very hard to read, but one alchemical dictum reached me and put sense into the nonsense of this war. In Latin: Solve et Coagula — "dissolve and coagulate". Separate, and Join Together. This seems so right; our loose union of states necessarily had to be broken down completely in order to rise again in a new form, a pure and whole union.


In just three books, each recently written by a poet, a scientist, and a mystic, there is hope in a hopeless world, a promise of a new age of enlightenment. At last, I can see beyond my madness and the hysteria of this world. All of my questions have not been answered; I do not ask that they should, but this short verse from the Whitman book has given me a guideline to pull upon:


Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that where-soe’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.


These words are not my own, I pass them along as they were passed to me. One need only open books and read; all words, all worlds will open to them and be known.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Free Friday: How Plants Grow

As October arrives today with its cooler weather and winter’s promise approaching, we tend to think that nature is starting its yearly hibernation; bare branches and brittle, barren stalks will soon abound; everything will appear lifeless, or simply asleep. Both may look the same in their stillness; that is why we lean in close as our babies sleep, listening to their breath, the breathing in and breathing out, reassuring us that all is as it should be.

Winter is when our Mother Earth breathes in, so it is difficult to tell exactly what is happening inside her, until she breathes out again in springtime, revealing once again an effluence of loveliness. All the botanical science in the world does not take away the magic and majesty of that breath. I am glad to live in a region where we see the seasons so distinctly.

For Free Friday this week, I offer for your free use in projects, a favorite image of mine, a wood engraving from the 1858 book, How Plants Grow from the Botany for Young People series by Harvard Professor, Asa Gray, M.D. The text for Figure 41 reads, “The acorn with the seedling Oak growing from it; the seed-leaves remaining in the shell, but feeding the strong root which grows downwards and the stem which shoots so vigorously upwards.”

Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file. We are all sowing seeds of one sort or another.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Breathing In, Breathing Out

Journal Entry: Winter quarters on the banks of the Rappahannock River, Virginia; February 23, 1863
 
Cold and dreary February; ice and cold wind blow.

I remember, years ago, writing that line to start a poem. Those first words are the only part that I remember now; it was in another lifetime as an innocent farm boy waiting for the warming of spring. Now with war, winter is a quiet time, while armies restock, regroup, and wait for more pleasant weather to kill each other. February is still cold along the banks of the Rappahannock, but no longer dreary for me; others gripe and grumble, but I am no longer that lost soul that was once laid low. I am consoled by the sight of my breath in the frozen air; breathing in, breathing out; the same air as the breeze through the bare branches. I am buoyed by the winter whispers around me; the cheerful chatter of the winter wren comforting the mourning dove’s crying call; the river rush singing beneath the shoreline ice; all these voices even more muffled by snow on the hills. Through these voices, I know that this earth, our ancient mother, is not asleep; she has not abandoned her sons and daughters because of our folly. In terms of her time, this weary war is but a blink and will soon be what we call history, and she calls this one moment.


During this past year, I have met more men and women than I even saw in my entire life before this war. I have learned much about America that was not in the books of my cousin’s fine library. Americans are robust stock, mixed from around the world, the strongest men and women that were able to complete the journey from the old worlds. We all make up America; we are not separate; we fight now, but will be a union once more I am sure.


I am still a Confederate courier, but am becoming a messenger with a new message, one that I cannot yet openly share with others. As much as the other troopers despise this war, most are still loyal to THE CAUSE, even if they are not sure what that is. I am equally loyal to Virginia, but there is a loyalty to a greater union; much greater than states or status. This is what I have heard in those whispers; we are all in union; there is no separation.


I am the breath,
the whisper,
of all that came before.
I am the breath,
the promise,
of all those still to come.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Free Friday: Postal Stamps, Full Sheet

  There is something so romantic about letters and envelopes, especially now, when almost all correspondence is electronic. There is mystery in a bundle of letters; an almost adolescent anticipation just as we open the mailbox, where any day holds hope; where a dream might come true within the letter bundle. On his appointed rounds, the postman, that romantic carrier, shuffles the bundle small to large, and then ties it with a string. A gift wrapped with ribbon could not promise so completely.
  Today, I offer for your copyright-free use in projects, a full page of designs for postal rubber stamps. With each new project, I make up a sheet of these to use in my collage. These are all vintage images that I have altered or made from scratch. You can cut/paste with Photoshop to layer onto projects, or print it of high resolution paper, and have a sheet of rubber stamps made. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Warmer into Winter

Journal Entry: Port Royal, Virginia; January 4, 1863

It seems our regiment will make our winter quarters around Port Royal, which is wonderful, as I should be able to spend much more time with Marianna. After the trials and revelations of the past year, her face is a welcoming world of  warm whispers. Each time I see her, I say very little at first, because I cannot catch my breath; my voice would seem as though I had just run miles through the farm fields to greet her. In my heart that is how it seems, even if I catch a glimpse of her from across the room. Fortunately, Marianna has much to say, so my hying heart can calm a bit before I say a word or two; a full sentence takes much longer. I am her gallant trooper, so I try not to sound like a breathless schoolboy, though that is how I feel around her.


In the days since the Fredericksburg battle, Marianna has been helping across the river at Chatham, my Cousin Betty’s home. The Federals have turned the large house and grounds into a field hospital and it is a gruesome scene. There are also wounded Confederate prisoners bedridden there, so Marianna went to make sure they were treated well, which they were. She says she has met the most remarkable man working there as a nurse and companion to each and all. His name is Walt Whitman and he brings small gifts of food and writing papers, sitting with the wounded for hours at a time. Marianna says he is a journalist who has traveled here from New York, but I am sure I have heard his name before.

My cousin, Betty, spends her summers at Ellwood, across the Plank Road from our home. There she has a grand library; it is where I have enjoyed many hours reading her collection of books. Betty, a tiny, beautiful woman ten years my senior, inspired my love of reading as a boy. I'm not even really sure if she is actually a cousin, but she's a Jones, I'm a Jones, and our families have lived right here for well over a hundred years, so I call her cousin. I remember that, just after I enlisted, she showed me a slim volume of poetry, from a Boston bookstore, which she adored. I told her I would read it in a few weeks when I returned, but that was twenty months ago, a lifetime ago. That slim volume was called Leaves of Grass, which sounded like poems I might like, and the frontispiece pictured a jaunty gentleman, as I might like to become as I aged. I believe the author was Walt Whitman. I am sure that is coincidence, but this will be a warmer winter with the memory of happier days spent with friends, family, and books in a fine library next to a blazing fire. It certainly brightens my evening, sitting here in my wet, cold shebang, with an inadequate campfire, writing my own slim volume by lantern light.


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NOTES:  Walt Whitman traveled to Horace and Betty Lacy’s mansion, Chatham, in Fredericksburg, Virginia to volunteer as a nurse in the army hospitals after the Battle of Fredericksburg. His graphic recollection of this time can be found in his book, Memoranda During the War.


Pictured above is the frontispiece to the 1855 publication, Leaves of Grass. It is a steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer from a lost daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison.

Ellwood Manor, is a circa 1790 home located on the Wilderness Battlefield in the Virginia counties of Spotsylvania and Orange. Much of the Battle of the Wilderness was fought on the plantation itself. William Jones’s daughter, Betty, inherited the 5,000-acre plantation in 1847. Betty married J. Horace Lacy in the house on October 19, 1848. With the exception of the Civil War years, the Lacys resided at Ellwood until 1896, when they retired to a smaller home on Washington Avenue in Fredericksburg.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Free Friday: Natural Characters

This is the last week of summer and, as seasons end and begin, I usually spend some time thinking about what I’ve done, where I am going. I was thinking this morning of renewing one of my rituals, beginning the day with a form of meditative drawing, using color pencils. These small color pencil drawings on a stark white background were a way to get the art flowing before going to the studio to work on my larger pieces. They were very much a form of meditation, taking the simplest objects and contemplating their significance in this world. The drawing of similar objects again and again became a sort of mantra repeated until the outcome was no longer as important as the process. This form of meditation suited me more than sitting Zazen.

For Free Friday this week, I offer for your free use in projects, a sampling of the natural characters that I drew time and time again. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file. Try a drawing meditation; you can do it anywhere. What simple tools we choose to use to get inside this mystery.

An ornithological note: My egg drawings are generally not specific types, as each egg represents the mystery of birth and life’s potential.




Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Whispers in the Whirlwind

Journal Entry: Fredericksburg, Virginia; December 13, 1862


A two day ride brought our regiment into Fredericksburg this dawn, moving across the Massaponax Creek, until the morning fog lifted, revealing what seemed to be the entire Federal Army artillery just yards away. We quickly splashed back across the creek as Major Pelham wheeled two cannon into our front as though they weighed nothing; spinning them around to open a whirlwind of fire against the whole of the Federal army. With two guns, then one, he held off their advance and saved our lives. The fog was rapidly replaced by the drifting, acrid brume from Federal batteries on both sides of the Rappahannock. Our regiment spent the day supporting Major Pelham’s guns. As I carried messages back and forth between Hamilton’s Crossing and General Lee’s command post on Telegraph Hill, I could see the results of yesterday’s unimaginable and almost total destruction of our beloved Fredericksburg. Further beyond my imagination was the dutiful march of row upon row of boys in blue reduced to red heaps as thousands fell at Marye’s Heights. Finally, as evening approached, I could watch it no more and gave Shortcake a leg, turned on her haunches to the right and rode west to the heights above the city.


I could not shake this scene from my senses; we ride and march about this country en masse with chests puffed out, behind shiny shoulder straps boasting of battles with grand artillery and all of the mayhem that industrial progress can muster, but tonight, when we look into the winter sky, we should feel ashamed at what we have wrought. What must the small children and weary women of Fredericksburg be thinking as they huddle, hidden in their once happy homes upon this killing ground, surrounded by the moans and screams of those boys clawing at their doors or left on the field below the heights; their last breath visible in the cold winter air.


We first ask them to send off every boy and man, leaving only the very youngest and very oldest, and then the boys return, bringing the battle to their doorstep, as though we were not content to let our mothers use their imagination; we want them to experience hell here at home.


I tied Shortcake to a naïve sapling and sat for a while as the pop and roar of arms died down. I took out my Colt and thought, for just a moment, that I could end this hell, at least for me. I could extinguish my lantern, be among the missing; deeper in the trees, no one would find me; the sapling would grow and over the years consume me, so that one day I might provide a little shade for some survivor of this absurdity. I laid the pistol beside me and reached for my pencil instead. For solace, I took to my journal, to lose myself in my writing, “Come children; join our parade; bring your mothers that all may see our folly. Come children …”


And then, quiet. A quick quiet transforms the landscape. I look back to the winter sky and an event rarely seen this far south fills the dark horizon; the northern lights, aurora borealis, a miraculous sight at any time, but truly awe inspiring at this moment. With the coming of the lights, the moans and screams have disappeared. At first, I think perhaps the roar of Pelham’s cannon has deafened me permanently, but this is different. I hold my pocket watch to my ear; I can hear it ticking; seven o’clock. Something celestial has indeed descended and all seems at peace, as though the vast vault of heaven was pleading for no more murder, no more mayhem; perhaps a final sign to those mortally wounded and still on the field, seeing with dying eyes, faintly hearing the ethereal angels’ calming call within those lights, “This too shall pass. Be still; be at peace; dissolve back into union with your ancient mother.”


The complete quiet is replaced by the softest whir of wind, or is it a whisper; no, not one whisper, a dozen whispers, then a thousand. It must be in my head; there is no one within a hundred yards. I continue to write, soothed by the scratching of pencil on paper, but the whispers remain, as though I could hear everyone upon the earth and beyond it as well; the whispering angels, the mothers, the children, the dead, and the nearly dead; they speak as one, yet I cannot understand their words. I look back to the sky; the northern lights still a shimmering green glow; not a mirage; I see many men below the hill pointing to the sky; do they hear the whir of whispers. I recheck my watch; still ticking; still seven o’clock, still this moment, though I was sure many minutes had moved past me. I have been stilled by this distant flame; touched by this light; we have all been touched this night.


What am I to make of these whispers? They could be calling all, or me alone. Am I to join them; am I already dead and do not know? Slowly, the lights soften to black, the whisper blends with the winter wind; I wrap my wool around and wait to wake tomorrow. Or not.


Journal Entry: Fredericksburg, Virginia; December 14, 1862

   I am awake; awake, yes, I am sure of it; I feel the cold air as I breathe in. I breathe out; yes, awake and alive; I breathe in the smell of morning campfires from below the heights.


   Those whispers are no longer constant in my ears, yet they will be constantly in my heart and part of my voice. The whispers are softer now, coming when I listen, between breaths, in the purl and trickle of the creek, in the trill of the unseen junco, even in the slightest zephyr moving through the white pine. I will live for those whispering, live for them, as they have died for me.

   Today there will be much moving about, removing the dead from the fields, removing the armies to regroup. I will lose myself in the commotion and try, once again, to find Marianna. My wish is that I could be like the Dickens’ ghost of Christmas future and take Marianna forward in time where surely there will be no more wars.


A Christmas Carol, a novella by English author Charles Dickens first published by Chapman and Hall and first released on 19 December 1843.

My thanks to Kelly Letky for her inspirational comment that led me to add this next morning entry.



Friday, September 10, 2010

Free Friday: All of Us


I remember September 11, 2001 as vividly as the Kennedy assassination, and the first man on the moon. Yes, I am ancient, which is my point. You and I are ancient; each and all, we have been here forever. We were born of our mothers and fathers, yet we were always a part of them, and every generation before them. There is not a break in the lineage, when any of us appeared out of nowhere and became separate. We were always here. We are all children of the same ancient mother. All of us.

I recently found a copy of my family tree dating back into the 1300’s, and looking over it, the entire idea of it seemed superficial, like viewing a giant sequoia tree from an inch away. My family tree is, as yours, a single tree of infinite branches and roots extending through the universes. If in my anger, I cut off a branch, I hurt you and me, and everyone that came before or after.

As we remember 9/11, let us too remember that, even when we disagree with our sisters and brothers, they are still our family; they are doing the best that they know at this moment, as are we.  They may have moved far away and taken on a few peculiar habits, but mom still loves them, so we should try to love them as well. I have often been called naïve and overly optimistic, and I agree that I am all that and more; after all, I am ancient.

For Free Friday this week, I offer a favorite image of mine, “All of Us”, the frontispiece from an 1886 book entitled All Sorts of Children by Alice Rollins. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Players in a Play


Journal Entry: Fredericksburg, Virginia; November 19, 1862

Arriving in town early this morning, I could not find Marianna. I spoke at length with our friend, Charles Chewning at the Army Supply Depot, south of Fredericksburg near the hospital. He rode with us in the 9th Virginia until his left leg was badly cut by a Federal saber at Manassas in August. Charles is the finest fellow you could meet and one of the best horsemen I have ever met in Spotsylvania County. Many a time we would race and, likely as not, I would have his dust kicked up in my eyes, but never would he boast about it. It grieves me to know that, lame for life, he will probably never ride again. He is like almost everyone working at the Supply Depot; each on canes or crutches.


He spoke with Marianna a few days ago. She was moving between hospitals on both sides of the Rappahannock River. In the hospital beds, there is no blue or grey, no north or south; there are only boys in pain, patiently waiting for assistance, waiting for healing, or waiting for angels to quietly close their eyes. There are Virginia boys, as well as Vermont boys, so Marianna does as she can to help. We each have our role to play in this awful drama. We do as duty calls, even when we wish to extinguish the footlights and return to anonymity; no longer actors in someone else’s theatre.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Free Friday: British Butterflies


The long, lacy white trim on the butterfly bush is fading; its crazy quilt of Monarchs and Painted Ladies has started to unravel. The hummingbird hurries between the persistent petals, like some frantic seamstress trying to sew it back together; I might miss her most. September moves us into a new season, and here in Maryland we have truly changing seasons; between beautiful springs and autumns, there are sweltering summers and snowbound winters. That is the way I like it, for each season opens with fresh hope and promise that all will be once again wonderful. Growth, rest, and renewal; that is a natural cycle seen, not on a screen, but outside under foot and over head. A walk in the woods is a completely different experience in each season; it renews the spirit of the walker, who then may work to renew the spirit of the world. Take a walk this weekend; it helps the world.


For Free Friday this week, I offer for your free use in projects, another assortment of butterfly cards. These butterfly cigarette cards are part of a 50 card “British Butterflies” series published in 1927 by Wills’s Cigarettes of Great Britain. The originals each measure 1 3/8” x 2 5/8”. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Here and There, Then and Now



    When Catherine Moreland at the Delaplaine asked me to start this art/journal project commemorating the Civil War Sesquicentennial, I had no idea that it would become an autobiographical memory. My intent was to show the incredible change in America during the second half of the nineteenth century leading to the Gilded Age, but in relating what may have happened on a personal journey of a particular cavalry trooper; his story became my story. Perhaps, Fellini was correct that, “All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography.”


    As I research the rather sketchy history of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, I try to fill in the blanks based on my own history and emotional connection to the land where that trooper and I spent our childhood. Because I had at least ten ancestors that rode with the 9th Cavalry, I could be cut from that same cloth and I find that, after reading a couple brief sentences from the regimental history, I am effortlessly transported to the time, the scene, and the emotion. Having been in the military during the Vietnam War, I empathize with the trooper’s pain of uncertainty and the loneliness of life far from home.

    If I leave the comforts of my modern home, sitting or walking outside for a time, I move back and forth between 2010 and 1862, from here to there, then to now, as if there were no difference, and possibly, there is none. Perhaps, as philosophers and physicists have said, there is no past or future; there is only now, this very moment. I have tried, for years, to see the logic in that theory, but only with this project, have I felt it in my being; a deep connection to each and all across time.

    My projects always take on a life of their own; it could be my life; I just didn’t know before.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Keep Together

Back in the days before the internet; yes, there was such a time; we prehensile pilgrims would go to the public library to find information. To find anything, we searched through library catalog cards; not quite as quick as Google, but fast and efficient for its time. Thumbing through the cards left a golden patina on their edges; the fingerprints of past seekers; searchers on a historic quest for knowledge. We knew by the cards that there were others like us, on a spiritual path, an intellectual path similar to ours, even if we were only seeking books about ponies; we were not alone in our pursuit.


Now there is a magical website where you can make up your own library catalog card. The website: http://www.blyberg.net/card-generator/
is offered up by self proclaimed library geek, John Blyberg. I only found this site yesterday, so I have not ventured beyond the card generator, but that alone brings back wonderful memories of my youthful intellectual quest. At the top of today’s post is a card I made, so go; make a statement of your own in the way that once was Holy Grail, the catalog card of knowledge.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Free Friday: Lesson Learned


Here we are at the last three days before school starts. I will be happy to return to routines and rituals, although those will be adjusted since little girls grow and routines that worked yesterday are outdated today. Life and the lessons we teach become more complex. As much as I miss the simple days of dolls, I am ready to share the drama of middle school. Yesterday, JJ even admitted to me, with her nervous smile that she likes a boy, and so it begins. I am sure she will become more guarded in her secrets shared, so the first lesson for me is “Learn to listen.” Listen to the shouts and whispers; not to the words as much as what is behind the words. I will resist giving my immediate “Father Knows Best” solution, but will be available when she asks for it. I have three days to study this lesson, before the true test begins.


Today, I offer for your free use in projects, another page from Osgood’s American Primer of 1870. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file; lesson learned.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Secret Panels


Journal Entry: November 18, 1862

   This week, we rode through Brandy Station and back into the Wilderness; everyone at home was thankful to see me and I am thankful to be seen, thankful to be alive. Our recent rations have been slim, but retreating Rhode Island troopers supplied us with new saddles, pistols, and sabers, so we appear prosperous. We spent this evening at the Wilderness Tavern and were treated like returning heroes from the northern battles. I asked many questions about kith and kin, in order not to speak about myself, or my madness. Even with candle light and lanterns, the tavern is dark and, thankfully, keeps me in shadow, so my soldier’s heart does not show in the haunted eyes hidden by my hat.
 
   Most of my uncles and brothers ride with me in the 9th Cavalry, but Uncle James makes flour for the army; he does not join us in battle, though his life is equally dangerous. He has built a secret panel beneath the staircase and behind it in a small space, he stays when the enemy, or the Home Guard, is near. He and Uncle Isaac also built a secret room in the blacksmith shop to hide his horses. Isaac told me that he tied cloth around the horse’s hooves and when the Federals came, looking to loot, they heard the muffled sound of the horse hooves, thought it was Confederate cannons in the distance and quickly fled. How is it that he still has his sense of humor? Federal soldiers have carried off every chicken we owned and turned over the smoke house for spite, yet my uncle still has his humor.


   My Marianna has gone to Fredericksburg to help as she can at the hospitals near the Army Supply Depot south of town. I hope to find her when we move into Fredericksburg tomorrow to make winter camp, but the great Federal Army is moving in that direction as well. If it happens that there is a battle there in the city I love, near the girl I adore, my madness will be complete.


   I know complete madness for I have seen it. My grandmother, Polly, lost her twins when they were just nine years old. My grandfather stored rat poison out in the barn and the twins ate it. This tragedy drove my grandmother mad; for the remainder of her life, she would wear white every day and thought she was a waiting bride. She died as she sat, waiting, beneath that huge old oak tree in 1856.


   I am but 21, and have already seen too much horror and too little humor to suit me. I long to disappear behind a secret panel beneath the sky, just me and my Marianna. My love may be my last saving grace, and she is fifteen miles east. At dawn’s first light, I will ride ahead of the regiment on the Plank Road east into town; let no picket attempt to stop me, for they shall know the wrath of the weary where no quarter will be given.


James Jones (1828-1902) ran a mill from 1857 to 1869 and produced flour for the Confederate Army. He was the great-great-grandfather of Michael Douglas Jones.
Polly Johnson Jones was the great-great-great-grandmother of Michael Douglas Jones. These stories of Polly, James, and Isaac are true.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hope for Us



Journal Entry: Friday, September 26, 1862

 
It is now nearly a week since we crossed that meandering river, away from the malodorous mayhem of Sharpsburg, and still, most of the memory stays with me; I am sure I will never shake it. Where the Potomac meets the Opequon creek, we camp. We came here to rest, and wait; what will the shoulder straps shake up for us next?

We went into Maryland to take the war north, away from our homes; we returned leaving tens of thousands on the field; men and mounts dead, or dying, on the soil from whence they came; waiting for relief; an hour, a day, another day; perhaps never. Am I the blessed one, or are they? I have always believed that the hanged man is more fortunate than the man imprisoned forever, for the hanged man has been released.


Early this morning, the camp scrambled from their tents as an orb lifted above the river, like an oracle in the northern sky. Sunlight reached it before dawn shone on us below; a Federal reconnaissance hot air balloon lifting into the air, like hope for a lighter tomorrow. Hardly anyone had actually seen one before and it caused quite a stir. One of our sharpshooters bet he could bring it down, but just the sight of it brought us such joy that he was quickly talked out of his wager. Joy; did I just write that word. Joy; I thought it might never return; perhaps there is still hope for us in this hell.


Joy, sorrow, joy, sorrow; how quickly I return to sorrow. Is madness meant to feel this way; one extreme to the other? Here at the Opequon, the Potomac River turns to the north, and then quickly to the south, then back again north, then south again, as though she was unsure which way was right. This river is so much like me; I do not know which way is right. I have completely lost my direction. Were I up in that balloon, high above the mayhem, it would be easier to see that, though the river seems to have lost direction, she, in the end, finds her way and joins the Chesapeake Bay, joins the Atlantic Ocean, and joins her ancient mother.


This river, these states, this boy, eventually, shall all find their footing; find their direction to rejoin some larger truth. There is no future in separation; we were meant to walk together, as we did to form this nation, all peoples in a union. Let the firebrands try to separate us with their talk of difference and division; surely, we are all from the same mother. That must be so. We must make it so. We must.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Free Friday: 1949 French Table Setting


The girls are leaving tonight for one last trip over to the ocean before summer ends. I will miss my girls madly, but I will not be lonely. Once I finish my lengthy to-do list, I will devote every available hour to my arts. Solitude, I love your quiet company. Simple pleasures, simple meals; simply creative time.
Today, I offer for your free use in projects, a full page from a 1949 French book on the family kitchen. Among the illustrations is a table setting for a simple meal without a server. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file; bon appétit.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Free Friday: White House Invitation


Living close to Washington, D.C. means that much of our TV news coverage centers around politics and the White House, because it is local news. There is a story here about White House party crashers that won’t go away. Their fifteen minutes of fame is into overtime. Today, I offer for your free use in projects, a 1947 invitation envelope from the Truman White House. I have the invitation as well, but I am always more interested in stamps and envelopes. I have removed the original recipient’s address and given you two versions. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file; print it on high resolution paper, and then fold and glue the edges back. Fill in an address to create a trompe l’oeil conversation piece.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Laid Low by Buck and Ball


Journal Entry: September 20, 1862

Today, we were back on the Potomac River at Shepherdstown, where the river turns like a slithering snake. Keeping the Federals from following us home, we drove them back across that snake. On the bluffs above the ford, we saw many Federal boys, young and new to battle, carrying new Enfield rifles that wouldn’t fire. Panicked, they tried to climb down the cliffs, but failed in a hellish falling dance. We have seen too many dances of death in too few days. We have, each and all, seen too much.


I have left Maryland, having been laid low, having seen more of hell than any fiery brimstone preacher could have posited. Blanketing those hills and sunken roads of Sharpsburg is a blackening red field of carrion, both men and mounts.

Tonight, I had to leave camp to be alone, out by the river, away from that hell, if only for an hour. Here, with the crackle of my fire burning and the steady rhythm of the river nearby, I am usually unafraid; still, fear rises in me now. I have skills beyond most men to take care of myself; I know the wilderness; I have faith in my Colt, my shotgun, my saber, my senses. My faith in practically everything else has been shaken; our world, our ancient mother seems to be without hope of rescue, as though a mighty musket fired buck and ball at close range square into her bosom. This earth beyond rescue; my soul seems beyond repair.

In the clear midnight sky, the stars are the stars of home and they comfort me somewhat. The big dipper is bright above me; its cup pointing to the North Star. I have been told that it leads slaves north to freedom, or to a lesser form of slavery. If any one among us can find freedom in this tortured world, I wish them Godspeed. Perhaps a clear sky will lead me back to Marianna and my Wilderness home. Perhaps.

After a moment of pondering, I look back to the northern sky, but the stars are now covered by clouds; so quickly the sky changes; so quickly the world changes, so quickly.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Free Friday: Back to School


Just 24 days left of Summer2010 and then, back to school, but not just school; middle school. Who thinks it’s a good idea for sixth grade to be middle school anyway? Today, we start the back to school shopping ritual; supplies and clothes… but, wait, what’s this… a full page of middle school dress codes; “hems of shorts and skirts must fall below the tip of the middle finger when arms are held straight down to the sides with shoulders in relaxed position … sleeveless tops must have straps at least the width of the index and middle finger combined”. What the what? I am suddenly nostalgic for ABCs and crayons; the simple days of elementary school, so today I offer for your free use in projects, a page from Osgood’s American Primer of 1870. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file; easy as ABC.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Soldier’s Heart

Letter Home: September 19, 1862
Dearest Marianna,

Worry not, for I am well. By the time this letter reaches you, I am sure you will have heard about the battle at Sharpsburg, or if you see a northern newspaper, the battle of Antietam. We cannot even agree on what names to give the battles; they name for the nearest river, we name by the nearest town.

We crossed the Potomac River into Maryland on September 5th, and travelled through Poolesville to Barnesville, then New Market. High atop Sugar Loaf Mountain, we could see so far that I looked south to imagine your face looking north as you awoke. Riding through Frederick City, which seems so similar to Fredericksburg, I was immediately homesick. At dawn on the 14th, the regiment crossed South Mountain and rode through the day and night toward Boonsboro near Sharpsburg. During the main battle we were detached behind the lines to gather stragglers; the Federal artillery rounds passing over our heads like dark, iron thunderclouds; loud, but not raining down on us.

Your friend, Charles, did not fare as well and was badly wounded; the infantry always takes the brunt of the battle. His unit, the 30th Virginia Infantry, lost three-quarters of their men in a period of perhaps fifteen minutes near the Dunkard Church. This morning, I was riding south towards the Potomac River, when I saw Charles in an ambulance wagon heading, hopefully, back to Fredericksburg to recover. For him, this weary war is over. Despite his wounds, he was in good spirits, or pretended to be so. When he saw me, he started to sing, “If you want to have a good time, jine the cavalry!”, although his voice, like his body, was weak.

I want this letter to go along with the wagon train back to Fredericksburg; I know not where I am bound, though I am bound to you always.



Journal Entry: September 19, 1862
At dawn on September 15th, we entered Boonsboro, and even though there were large blue masses of troops off in the distance, I did not think we would be the ones to open the ball at this bloody battle. As we moved into town, there was a large building on the main street, a hotel, I believe, that was being used as a hospital for soldiers from both sides and we meant to secure it. The streets were narrow, so our unit was spread thin and could not hear the orders from front to back. Suddenly, we were attacked from everywhere at once. I was at Colonel Lee’s side when his horse went down under carbine fire and Private Lewis offered his mount to assure the Colonel’s escape in order to rally the rest. Fire flew from the front and sides; we were even fired down upon from the upper bedroom windows by Boonsboro citizens. We were the forlorn hope with hornets heavy around our heads, stinging from every direction. Whitewashed fences were shattered from shell and shot, young boys shattered as well; their faces washed white with shock. We fought our way out of town wildly with sabers and sheer luck, except for the thirty boys whose luck left them that morning. These are truths that I will not share with Marianna, for she has worry aplenty without my minor complaints, especially minor when compared to the two days after, which have wrought a red field of devastation that no man has seen in our history and shall likely not see again. That night of the 17th, it was difficult to cast a sleeping blanket on the ground for every inch seemed covered with those forever sleeping. And we could not sleep, and may never sleep again without that scene searing our eyes.

Two weeks ago, when we crossed into Maryland, we entered the dangerous unknown, a completely different world that looks identical to my world, but here, there are new rules, new risks. The families look identical to my family; yet here, I am not king of the castle, I am the knave, the rogue; it is an impossible trial that I may not endure. I feel as if I am in a travelling grotesque gypsy show, a player upon a strange stage, where all actors switch roles with each new scene. Those that were once allies are now enemies. The props and scenery change, act to act, from idyllic green gambol to flaming red horror. I feel that I have gone mad; we have all gone mad, for there is mayhem and madness all about me; good men killing good men, all for the glory of our state, our country, our homeland that once we all shared.

Do the other actors in this folly feel the same, would they listen, or think me the fool. To the other actors I plead; I have passed through your streets unnoticed and, at other times, paraded through those same streets as the hero. I have been hailed, I have been hanged. I have played every part in this once glorious play. Now I know not who I am at all. Am I hero; am I villain? Am I complicit in this crime, this horror? Of course not; of course. How will I ever return to my Wilderness home, to my Marianna; will she even recognize me in this character I now play. Could I change my role even if I wished, or am I doomed to play this madman forever?

The older veterans speak of the “soldier’s heart”, a sickness born of combat; the hurt of a hollow heart, the haunt of a hollow stare; an ancient disease brought on by the horrors of war. I must have that hollow heart; the part I play; the Knave of Hearts.



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Charles Grimsley was a corporal in the 30th Virginia Infantry, Co. I., wounded at Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862. He was the great-great-grandfather of Michael Douglas Jones.

23,000 total Americans, Northern and Southern, killed, wounded, or missing during this one day of fighting on September 17, 1862 at the Battle of Sharpsburg; the single bloodiest day ever in the history of America.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Keep Together

Today is a bittersweet day. I am working on setting up a studio for JJ, our 11-year-old. She has decided that, since she is going into middle school this fall, it is time to give up her baby toys and convert her “cottage” into an art studio. We donated huge bags and boxes full of stuffed animals, Polly Pockets, and tiny toys to local charities and had a yard sale to sell her larger pieces, so she could earn a little spending money. There were a few toys that she wanted to keep, because they had special memories, like the tiny Snow White figure, whose hand she loved to chew, but I was surprised that a girl who hates change was able to part with so many possessions. I am putting together a long art table for her today, and this week, we will go out to find her first true easel; she has grown too tall for her old one. I remember her peeking through the legs of my easel when she was starting to walk. She is the reason I switched from oil painting to collage; I certainly could not use lead white around a toddler.

And that’s where the bittersweet begins. JJ has been with us since she was five months old, but it seems sudden that so soon starts this separation dance that we do with each of our children. I am excited about working next to her, in her studio or mine, but gone are the days of princesses and puppets. Gone too are the nights, during thunderstorms, when she always whispered, “Keep together”, and we would cuddle under covers, until it passed. This is her choice, not mine; I wish to forever keep together. I want her to grow in every way, yet I want her to remain the same. I am sure that I confuse her with these very different signals I send. I want her to know that I am always beside her, in the studio, in her growth, in her life with all its pains and promise. I can no longer direct her by simply lifting her up and placing her where I will. I can show her how to lightly hold a brush, if she will let me. I can show her how to politely hold a conversation, if she will let me. If she will let me, I will take her hand and start this separation dance, and we will circle for as long as I’m allowed.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Free Friday: Vintage Luggage Labels

I am always happy to return home after spending time away in hotels, as I am a bit reclusive, or perhaps even agoraphobic, so to celebrate being back home, here are a couple vintage hotel luggage labels to use in your art projects, or stick them on your luggage for that globetrotter look, even if you don’t leave the house. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saving Grace


After all these battles,
all these victories and losses,
there is a saving grace, a love;
a canteen offered to a friend or a foe;
a sharing of the cool water of compassion,
a caring at the open door;
opening beyond words,
beyond our own world,
where we are the open door;
where we are the cool water;
where we are the saving grace.
Where we are.
You and I.
We are that.

Saving Grace, an original oil painting by Michael Douglas Jones

Monday, July 26, 2010

Beautiful Dreamers

Journal Entry: September 7, 1862.

Two days ago in the afternoon, we forded the Potomac River and rode into Poolesville, Maryland, where we found the citizens cheerfully accepting our currency of the Confederacy. With new boots and books, we are camping tonight near New Market, a fine old town, though not nearly as friendly. As I said, the wind here in Maryland blows sometimes south, sometimes north. No matter; I am content to sit with my books in the quiet of this evening.

I treasure books, the texture of books, the print pressed into the page; even as a child visiting my cousins in Fredericksburg; they would be outside playing hoops and sticks, and I would be inside, in a corner chair, while the adults conversed, or danced to “Oh! Susanna”. There in my corner complete, reading, running my fingers over the pages, alone, but never lonely. At home, I kept a small wooden cigar box full of bits of paper and printed pictures which seemed almost magical. I might spend hours arranging the papers in patterns, as if it were a whole world made of paper, and it was my puzzle to put in place. My father worried about me, I know, but my mother encouraged me, and besides, I could run and ride as well as anyone in the county and there was no better marksman for miles.

My friend, Simeon Paytes, a fellow trooper of Company E, told me that I will perhaps return in a future life as an artist. Simeon is a Spotsylvania gentleman, well educated and worldly, but not uppity, impeccably dressed, but no nob, nor gal-boy. He is a private, as I am, but when he is going down the line, I bet the fancy girls mistake him for ole J.E.B. Stuart himself.

So, Simeon said that he had read, and it might happen that we would all return to this world in another form, a reincarnation, one life after another until we reach some higher place. I listened, but I supposed that it wasn’t logical for one person to be born again as a new person. It seemed to me that one person becomes all peoples, just as the pear tree leaf in autumn falls onto the earth, and blends with the soil that blends with water and sun to become the trees growing pears that are eaten by people, so that the pears become part of people; all in all; each in all, and all in each. We are all of everything and everywhere at once.

Simeon pulled at his beard a bit as he pondered, “So,” he said, “the blood of all the boys dying on these fields will blend together, and in a hundred, fifty years or so, we won’t be able to tell the Federals from the Secesh, so we won’t wage war, because we would be killing ourselves?”

“Sounds logical.” I said.

Simeon smiled a curious smile, gathered up his traps and walked away whistling “Hard Times Come Again No More”, and I went back to blend with my books.






PAYTES, SIMEON C.: Enlisted. 4/10/62 in 9th Virginia Cavalry, Co. E. He was hospitalized with gonorrhea, Aug.-Sept. 1864, but then present on most rolls thru 10/1/64 final roll. Paroled at Lynchburg, 4/15/65. Drew a pension in Spotsylvania Co. in 1920. Simeon's sister married into the Jones family in 1859.

Americans were first exposed to Buddhism around 1850 from Chinese immigrants.

"Hard Times Come Again No More" was written by Stephen Foster in 1855, and he wrote "Beautiful Dreamer" shortly before his death in 1864 at age 37.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blood & Thunder

Journal Entry: Edwards Ferry on the Potomac River, September 4, 1862

Tomorrow, we move into Maryland to take a taste of devastation to the north. Northern newspapers are full of horrific headlines, as if the popular “blood & thunder” novels were now being played out on fields of fire in a faraway land, but those fields are our home lands, and those fires are our homes. The readers are blood thirsty; the editors feed that thirst. The happy news of weddings and births has been crowded out of the pages, replaced by scenes of southern suffering. This war has become a shocking stage for a bloodlust that has been quickly growing, like the population, for years. The young, buoyant nation of our forefathers, that worked together to elevate the citizenry, has taken a turn towards destruction and sensationalism. Where we once came together in a crisis or disaster, our interest now seems to be simply self-interest. I hate to spread this mayhem to another state, but perhaps war must be seen first hand, if we are ever to see peace.

So, it is into Maryland, we shall go. Maryland is a state in a contrary state of mind, for as many citizens lean south as lean towards the north, somewhat akin to a pine sapling depending on the day’s breeze for its direction. Entering a Maryland town, we will never know how we shall be received; if the wind will be blowing north or south. Even President Lincoln was so unsure of her leanings that, last year, he jailed 31 Maryland legislators suspected of favoring secession, as it would have been devastating to have Washington City surrounded by secession states.

Were we not weary of war, this would be a fine adventure. A year ago, almost to a man, we had never left Spotsylvania County, Virginia, and now, here we are at Edwards Ferry, about to cross the Potomac River into the mountains of Maryland. From a distance, it is a beautiful, idyllic scene, but what waits; I fear it shall be blood and thunder.