Top of Piedmont: To Watch, Listen and Ponder — Then Write!

March 2013Monthly Archives


The snow is quietly slipping away.  It is kind of like a guest who has overstayed.  We enjoyed the novelty of the first captivating conversations covering the unraked leaves, but as the season progressed, the humor of the frosty visitor started to wear thin.  The same jokes over and over were not so funny anymore.  The snowy discourses were in fact boring, punctuated by hard labor, trying to get rid of the stuff.  Finally, in the midst of a vicious cold snap, we began to feel a hostile edge to the conversations.  Sometimes our guest was funny, but he just would not give us any space.

Now he is leaving and I can begin.  It is not that he would not have been welcome to join us.  It is just that when he was around, it was hard to — barbecue!

Our ancient Weber Kettle sits outside under the rain gutter on the south side of the porch.  It is parked there because a long time ago I gave up on igniting charcoal with starting fluid and went to a starter that looks like a refugee from an electric oven. Most times this is an ideal location, except when you try to get a good blaze going in a rainstorm. By eliminating the fluid soaked charcoal, I also avoid the petroleum taste in hamburgers and shish kabobs.

The Weber has become a family heirloom.  It has moved with us several times.  We got it from Harley Urbatsch in a little hardware store in Forest City, Iowa. You remember the kind, with wooden floors, scuffed by thousands of feet shuffling in and out.  Stuff was hanging everywhere, usually half way up the wall and from a single display counter that ran down the center of the narrow store. The coffee was always on behind the cash register, and it was high octane.

I had tried a series of hibachis and cheap little three legged barbecues that inevitably disintegrated. So with a lightened wallet, we invested sixty bucks in the shiny black kettle.  For that, it was delivered one stormy spring night by Harley junior at 9:30 after the Hardware Hank freight had come. You will not find Wal-Mart doing that!

I never clean it. Sometimes it has even caught fire. Other times I have had to stand on the little metal rack on the bottom in order to pull off the grease-laden lid.

Some folks prefer the quick convenience and easy cleaning of a gas grill.  The fake charcoal leaves a bland taste. I am also afraid I will blow myself up trying to start it.

When the fire in the kettle really gets going, you can cook anything.  Tending it however, is a little like watching a fire in a wood burning fireplace. It is an intuitive process, opening and closing the vents on the top and bottom of the cooker. There are failures and successes, incinerated hamburgers indistinguishable from charcoal or succulent thick cut pork chops that melt in your mouth.

Smoke generated by the cooking process has a way of finding its way to places you do not intend, like the neighbors sheets on the line outside or through the back door into the house, which usually sets off the smoke alarm. Fortunately, it is not direct wired to the fire station!

Winter is beginning to fade. I can see the top of the picnic table and the driveway does not seem to be five feet in the air. It is time to move the charcoal from the garage to the back porch.


We wake in the early hours, unsure of where we are or where we have been. Something wild has just happened or maybe it was reassuring or revelatory. We reach over to the alarm clock, turn its face for a better view, and realize that we still have a couple hours of sleep ahead. Our head falls back on the pillow and for a few seconds we marvel. We have been dreaming.

Order in our days is laid aside when we dream. The juxtapositioning of events, desires and fears is commonplace in these sleeping journeys. Faces and feelings, incidents and accidents are intermingled. The emotion of one experience is linked to a person who has never been associated with that time or place. Rarely are dreams linear. The events are absurd.

Anxiety about upcoming events shows up in unique ways. A person getting married or preparing for an important job interview walks naked up the aisle, or stumbles into a conference or meeting in pajamas. Playing out anxiety at night relieves the worry that  the sit-down wedding banquet will have enough dinner rolls, or the overheads and handouts for the meeting will be ready.

Running off with a co-worker or acquaintance in the middle of the night becomes laughable in the light of day. The impulses of our personality, controlled in daily living are given free rein in dreams. The connections made in reverie are random; feeling, person and experience are intermingled.

Sometimes dreams have rhymes and reasons. Psychologists see them as a way of opening the door to unresolved conflicts during waking hours. The contents of these nocturnal journeys are discussed and interpreted to shed light on adjustments clients need to make in their every day existence.

Dreams also draw from racial reservoirs. Many themes while seeming unique to the dreamer, are really messages spoken again in this life, at this time. Recurring motifs present us with a sense of continuity in our humanity. Light, darkness, fire and water, as well as primitive fear, viewed or experienced in a dream are not novel subjects. They are universal truths.

Dreams for the shaman or religious visionary point to another reality, grounded in life at the edge of awareness. For them time is when we stand between two worlds, one foot planted in the living and breathing universe of daily demand, the other testing the surface of another place. Coming to some accommodation with these through ritual, helps people make sense out of chaotic landscapes.

Mining the content of nocturnal reveries also provides fuel for creative thought, igniting the writer, painter or artisan to produce expressions unique but the same. Themes that emerge in the light cast by creative outbursts have been there for eons, but beg for a new voice. In giving speech to these visions, old dreams are reaffirmed and new ones awaken the potential in all of us.


There are different kinds of churches. I have had the good fortune to travel a little in Europe and have seen a few; Winchester Cathedral in England, St. Peters in Rome and Iceland’s National Cathedral in its stark beauty. I will see more. These places give us pause. They point toward the transcendent.

We need sacred space. Some religious traditions have chosen vast expanses, enclosed buildings that soar and inspire. Native Traditions on the other hand, are immersed in the natural world. From both come wonder and reverence. All traditions reflect the surrounding environment and available resources. Temples, mosques, tabernacles and synagogues that rise above us engender respect and wonder as does the ebb and flow of wind, sun and water. A reflective person will be awestruck, for there lies God.

We chose our sanctuary. A stand of trees in a northern forest in the middle of  winter at sunrise, with wisps of steam rising from a rushing creek, serves quite well as a holy place. Here listening begins, and inspiration comes to fruition.

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