Sunday, June 6, 2010

Workingman’s Blues: Don’t lag behind

While I am grateful for my new job – and the leisure pursuits that jobs help us enjoy -- I find myself singing a version of the workingman blues.

There is never enough time for have-to’s and the need-to’s, much less the want-to’s. Between learning the ropes as a development director for a land trust and mandatory-for-sanity trips to the Wild Kingdom camphouse and Alabama River, I have not written on this blog in weeks and I have written only once on my novel-in-the-making, Mojo Jones and the Black Cat Bone, since beginning gainful employment on March 29.

I’m not complainin’. I’m just sayin’.

So, on this Sunday afternoon, on a weekend when I didn’t go to the Wild Kingdom healing ground, I find time to blog about life resumed as a working person, about fishing and the Masters of catfish tournaments and about some milestones.

A lot of things get in the way when you try to do what’s right

During the 16 months between being downsized and getting a new job, I started this blog and a novel, that one that all writers say they are going to write. At 83,000+ words and 286 typed, double-spaced pages completed, I am almost through with the first draft of this story of good and evil, the natural and supernatural set in the Alabama Black Belt.

During my unemployed, job and soul searching time off, I tried to write at least 1,000 words each weekday on the book, but sometimes things like life got in the way. And, these days, life really gets in the way. I know real novelists don’t let distractions stop them. I know many writers have day jobs and still produce that truth inside the story they are trying to tell. But I am still just a novelist in training and trying, but a determined one.

So, I am continuing to try to find a way and the time to “Shut the door, and write….one word at a time,” like it says on the post-it note that still clings to my computer, and to do so within the confines of a full-time job, a full-time family and full-time life. People ask me, and I ask myself. No, it’s not finished, and yes, it will be done.

Then, there is this blog, begun in part as one aspect of my job-searching network and now grown into a task and a pleasure together. I’ve been pleased and touched by friends, old and new, who read the postings, like them, and tell me so. It makes me feel good that folks say they miss my postings, the pictures, the songs. I miss them, too.

There. That is enough time spent writing and whining about not having enough time. I found a slice of time today – amidst overdue home tasks – for jackierwalburnwrites revisited. Next up, more regularly shut doors and words on paper (screen) to bring Mojo back from the brink.

For now, let’s talk about fishing and some milestones.

Crappie derby shutout

One of the things I love best about having our little shack on Pine Barren Creek, off the Alabama River, is the pier and the two-seater bench from which I love to fish for crappie. Each year, the Wilcox County Chamber of Commerce sponsors a big crappie tournament and a four-week Crappie Derby, where more than 200 tagged crappie (or perch as some anglers call them) are released into the our section of the Alabama River. Tagged crappie caught by a ticket-holding, legally-licensed fisherperson can bring $100 to $10,000 or a pick-up truck.

Minnows bubbling and poles baited, I fished most weekends of the Crappie Derby, which started in mid-April and ended in mid-May. It was not for the lack of trying that I didn’t catch a tagged crappie. In fact, I didn’t catch a keeper crappie during this time frame. Instead, I caught a dozen squealers (little catfish), a few big catfish, a gar that bit my line off and some bream. And, I fed countless minnows to turtle(s) who take the bait and float down quickly and cleanly help themselves to their sushi and start all over again.

No worries, though. I still saw some stunning sunrises as I watched the water vapor march across the surface of the creek. In the evenings, even as no desired fish took my bait, I got to see the sun as it sank amid purples and orange clouds, and I lingered to see Sirius the dog star show itself in the southern sky. Great consolation prizes.

Naturally, the weekend before the crappie derby began, I caught two of the prettiest crappie ever, and that’s the picture here.
Tagged crappie caught or not, I still consider this time spent watching the river flow by as well-spent.

Big catfish, tall tales and a one-of-a-kind event

I don’t like catching catfish, mainly because of those side-fins that cut like a knife. But, I love to eat catfish fried crisp and brown and enjoyed many well-prepared filets Memorial Day weekend at the annual Pine Barren Creek Invitational Catfish Tournament.

Think of it as the Masters of catfish tournaments.

Begun in 2010 by Billy Johnson and family, our neighbors at Pine Barren Creek, the Invitational Catfish Tournament -- like the Masters -- features fierce competition, talented and renown experts (just ask them) and an enthusiastic crowd. The Masters has its green blazer; the Pine Barren Invitational has its beer-can-encrusted, duct-tape-decorated championship belts.

But, unlike the Masters, the Pine Barren Invitational Catfish Tournament has required team flags and clever team names and one-of-a-kind lie-detector vetting for the top teams enforced by Billy himself. And for the fans, the invitational offers steaming paper plates of the crispy, tasty results (plus the best hushpuppies) cooked by Camden barber Van Waren and friends, live music and spontaneous dancing and sing-alongs in the aftermath.

Husband Frank and son Will competed as the “Cat Tails”, a.k.a. the Walburnators, and did not come in last. They didn’t catch nearly the 377-pound two-day total of the winning team or come close to the 31.6 pound big catfish award winner. But, they did set a personal record of some sort when checking on one trot line (which they dubbed the Zoo line) revealed one alligator gar, one several-feet-long spoonbill catfish (not kept; these are a protected species) and the most startling catch (also cut free), a giant snapping turtle estimated at four-plus feet across and capable of earning quick respect.

Here is a picture of some of the catfish beauties caught at the Pine Barren Invitational Catfish Tournament, seeming to smile for the camera.

Check out more pictures and details about the Masters of catfish tournaments at:


Bob Dylan, my songwriting hero, turned 69 on May 24th. My son Will, also a hero of mine, turned 28 on May 27th (after graduating with a technical degree in automated manufacturing earlier in the month).

And, last week, my Daddy, Charles Henry Romine of Pleasant Grove, another hero, retired U.S. Steel employee and fisherman extraordinaire, turned 83. On Saturday, we gathered at his house for a small celebration put together by my niece, Elizabeth Dawn Romine McCrory, who baked her Paw-Paw a great fish-themed birthday cake. Those TV cake show cakes have nothing on her creation. Here is Daddy with his cake.

My contribution for the day was to set up a Facebook profile for Daddy, using pictures I had on my computer. His profile picture is a 20-year-old Charles Henry, handsome and smiling.

Daddy, who is computer savvy and checks the news and his investments on his big screen computer, caught on quickly. When I left him Saturday, he was clicking through the finding friends option, about to seek friends among classmates at Fairfield High School and the California high school where he graduated in 1945 before joining the Navy a couple of days later. He was going to look for classmates from Birmingham Southern where he graduated in 1951 and probably searched through other Facebookers retired from U.S. Steel’s Fairfield works.

So, that’s a modern birthday and a milestone, when my 83-year-old Daddy, who doesn’t get out much anymore, can now reach out and stay in touch -- via this social media of his great-grandchildren’s world. Next thing you know, he’ll be challenging grandson Will in Mafia Wars.

Picture of the day: Sunset, from Pine Barren Creek. See what I mean.

Song of the day:
From the 2006 Modern Times album, I think this is a tribute song to Merle Haggard’s Workingman Blues. Merle toured with Dylan a few years ago. (I was there, with family, on 5th row, at the Birmingham show. Excellent!)

Workingman Blues #2, Bob Dylan

“Meet me at the bottom, don't lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman's blues”

Friday, April 9, 2010

Gotta job, so gotta run; Lucille the Lab-57

After 20 months of job searching and 120 job applications -- 16 months after leaving my job of 15 years -- and just before my emergency unemployment benefits ran out, I have a job!

Let's take time out here for the happy dance. All together now!

I began work two weeks ago as development director for the Alabama and Georgia Land Trusts, a non-profit that helps landowners preserve land through conservation easements. I like everything about working again – great boss, a good cause, reasons to learn new things and meet new people every day, plus a paycheck and benefits – except for the loss of time to write this blog and that 80,000-word-almost-finished novel.

No complaints here, however. I will blog and get Mojo Jones and the Black Cat Bone finished and ready to shop it around when I have a chance -- early and late and weekends. I’ll write more about the Land Trusts later (and posting on that group’s blog is part of my paid work now), but for now I wanted to officially post that I am gainfully employed. Thank you very much.

Lucille, the Lab-57

Lucille, our mostly Lab who joined the Walburn family back in late January, is growing, chewing, jumping and being a most-of-the-time smart, precious, only-sometimes-disobidient puppy. However, she’s looking less and less like a mostly Labrador and more like what I like to call a Lab-57.

Sure, she’s got two big webbed front paws and an otter-like tail like a Labrador. But, kind of like Johnny Cash’s song about the car built from years of auto parts, One Piece at a Time, (and It Didn’t Cost Me a Dime), Lucille is a lab-terrier-chow-spaniel-spitz-fluffy-smooth-black-blonde-white mix like no other.

Her head is shaped like a terrier, maybe, with curly spaniel ears. Lucille runs like a greyhound and fetches like a retriever. She smells out all aromas – cat litter, chipmunks, food, squirrels, a buried bone – like a bloodhound.

She has long fluffy hair in the front, and short smooth hair in the back, with blonde patches akin to artist brushes of light. Plus, she has white-tipped back paws, like a permanent French pedicure, and a white chin spot. She has a black spot right in the middle of her tongue – I call it a tongue tattoo – like I don’t know what mix of dog.

Lucille must be double-or-triple jointed (like whatever mix has that), because she can lie down with paws going out in every direction, or the front two one way and the back the other.

So, Lucille, who replaced a pure Lab, our special Suzie, is what I’d call exotic. She’s a dozen different dogs in one.

Like our other pet, Tiger the cat, found in a graveyard as a kitten by Mary Claire’s friend Ginny Leigh, Lucille is no purebred.

Our Lucille is like no other – quite the multi-faceted character -- which is appropriate for a pet in our household of non-cookie-cutter people. She fits right in, which is what pets are all about anyway.

Song of the week:

One Piece at a Time
 written by Wayne Kemp, recorded by Johnny Cash, 1976

I got it one piece at a time
And it didn't cost me a dime
You'll know it's me when I come through your town
I'm gonna ride around in style
I'm gonna drive everybody wild
'Cause I'll have the only one there is around.

Picture(s) of the Week:

First, our growing Lucille, the Lab-57, in picture 1, about March 10, and again, today, April 9, tongue tat visible.

I found this picture of Johnny Cash (and band?) in the One Piece at a Time car on Wikipedia when researching the lyrics and had to share it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Learning from writers every day; Live forever Billy Joe Shaver

One of the many good things about being a writer, talking about writing and, well, writing, is learning something new from other writers. If you think about it, we all learn new things from writers every day, in one form or another.

One new exciting thing I’ve learned is about the Alabama Writers’ Conclave, which is the oldest writers’ organization in continuous existence in the U.S. Who would have known?

I paid the reasonable $25 per year membership fee and joined Alabama Writer’s Conclave after I heard about the long-lasting writers’ group from T. K. Thorne, a writer and published author from Birmingham. I met Ms. Thorne at a The Women’s Network event where was the guest of friend and attorney Frances Quick.

T.K. Thorne, who lives in Birmingham, told me about the writer’s conclave as we were discussing my writing a first novel. T.K. Thorne’s book, Noah’s Wife, an historical novel I’ve seen compared with Jean Auel (Clan of the Cave bear), is published and now available at, in a Kindle edition, no less. Ms. Thorne told me to keep writing, encouraged me even, but brought reality with the encouragement. Noah’s Wife was her sixth novel, I believe she said, and the first to find a publisher.

The Writer’s Conclave probably helps writers learn about publishing realities and more. The group of writers sponsors a writing competition annually and then makes the winning stories and poems available on line and elsewhere. The 2009 winners is available at their website,

I’ve considered entering something, maybe a blog posting everyone liked (category: nonfiction or humor? Is a blog posting unpublished?). I also thought about submitting my almost-finished-with-first-draft novel’s first chapter. We’ll see.

The April 20 deadline is coming up, and I thought I’d share the rules here in case other aspiring writers want to submit something.



Deadline: April 20, 2010 (postmark). Prizes: 1st: $100; 2nd: $75; 3rd: $50; 4th: $25 and up to 4 Honorable Mentions.

WINNERS WILL BE ANNOUNCED at the AWC Conference Banquet at the Hilton Birmingham Perimeter Park Hotel, Birmingham, Alabama on JULY 17, 2010.

Contest Rules: Entries must be original, unpublished, and may not have won a money prize in any contest. (Sitting AWC voting Board Members are not eligible.) Multiple entries are accepted, but only one prize is awarded for each category.

Send one copy of each entry on standard white paper in standard manuscript format (double-spaced, one-inch margins, 12pt. Courier or Times Roman font). (Note: manuscripts are not returned, so applicants should retain a copy).

• On first page include: Title, Category and Word Count (DO NOT show author name on the manuscript).
• Please number the pages.
• Enclose a separate cover sheet for each piece submitted showing: Contest category; manuscript title; your name, mailing address, e-mail address and phone number; and whether you are an AWC Member or non-member.
• Please be sure to provide a separate cover sheet for each piece submitted.

Entry Fees
For all categories (EXCEPT Poem and First Chapter Novel): $5.00 per entry if AWC member, $8.00 per entry if non-member.

For First Chapter Novel: $10.00 if member, $12.00 if non-member.

For Poem: $3.00 per poem if member, $5.00 if non-member.

Make checks to: Alabama Writers' Conclave. (Note: Membership and conference fees must be submitted separately to the AWC Treasurer)

Send contest entry manuscripts and checks to: Marian Lewis, AWC Contest Chair, 250 Hartside Rd., Owens Cross Roads, AL 35763.

NOTE: Please include a #10 SASE if you would like to receive a Winners' List after the AWC conference in July. If you would like confirmation that your entry has been received, also include a self-addressed stamped postcard (SASP)

Writing Competition Categories

Fiction - maximum 2500 words.

Short Fiction - maximum 1000 words.

Juvenile Fiction (stories for ages 4-12) - maximum 2500 words. MUST LIST GENRE AND TARGETED AGE GROUP (i.e. picture book, 3 & up).
Nonfiction - maximum 2500 words (PLEASE SPECIFY IF WRITTEN FOR ADULT OR CHILDREN).
Humor (fiction, nonfiction, or poetry) - maximum 2000 words or 50 lines (for poems).
Traditional Poem (any "form" poem, i.e. villanelle, sonnet, sestina) - maximum 40 lines.

Free Verse Poem - maximum 60 lines.

First Chapter of Novel - up to 10 double-spaced pages, first chapter ONLY.

Song of the week:

Speaking of writers, there is not a better songwriter, writer, period than Billy Joe Shaver. Even my main man Bob Dylan name-checked Billy Joe on a recent song. (“I'm listening to Billy Joe Shaver and I'm reading James Joyce, Some people they tell me I got the blood of the land in my voice.” – From I Feel a Change Comin’ On, Together Through Life CD, 2009

Anyway, I picked this Billy Joe Shaver song at random. Plus, it has most of the required parts for a perfect country song. Count ‘em up, and see what you think.

I’m going crazy in ¾ time – Billy Joe Shaver

“The hill I've been climbing just turned to a mountain

I'm caught in the backwash of cheap talk and wine

To tell you the truth, I don't think i can make it

'Cause I'm going crazy in 3/4 time

I said to myself on the day that you left me

If I see what I sound like would I be so blind

But it's all in the search of a perfect companion

And I thought I had found one till you said goodbye
Yes, I'm going crazy in 3/4 time

Picture of the week:
Yes, that’s me and my hero Billy Joe Shaver, the original honky tonk hero, when he was in Birmingham a couple years ago. I’ve been waiting for a reason to have this be the picture of the week, and writing about writers is a perfect occasion. Live forever, Billy Joe Shaver.

Monday, March 22, 2010

All things equal, Spring can't help itself

On the first official day of Spring -- when the sun is directly over the equator and all things are equal – I went down to the river. And, Spring, it couldn’t help itself.

Spring made itself known along the river bank, where trees budded, turkeys talked romance and all critters great and small, flora and fauna, sighed and celebrated.

For me, on the pier, watching boats glide by – all of us apparently seeking the illusive crappie, the pretty perch, in an Alabama River and Pine Barren Creek muddied from rains and floods -- it didn’t matter that I could only catch a catfish, a little squealer that croaked at me as I freed it from the hook and kicked the whiskered creature back into the Big Muddy. Like the birds that flitted by and the occasional jumping fish – getting in practice for summer – it was enough for me just to be there with the sun shining equally on us all.

The Vernal Equinox, which happened officially about 12:32 CDT Saturday, March 20, means equal days and nights. Actually, Equinox means equal nights. The Vernal means Spring, and our brothers in the southern hemisphere had an Autumnal Equinox last Saturday.

Later in the day – that matching 12 hour day to a 12-hour night – I listened as bats rattled in drying grasses at riverside and then flitted out and gobbled mosquitoes (out and celebrating, too) with the practiced abandon of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Frogs croaked and birds twittered (sans iphones) and sang, all sounding so joyous that they seemed trying to outshout each other. Across the water, barn owls called to each other hoohoohoohoooooo.

Mankind has always celebrated Spring, as proof that winter ends, that food supplies will be restored and that days will be longer even without the extra cheating spring-forward hour modern man added. Spring is also significant in Christianity because Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. (This year it's on April 4). Also, the early Egyptians built the Great Sphinx so that it points directly toward the rising Sun on the day of the Vernal Equinox.

It all makes sense in a way that, to me, defies the idea that all this just happens, that our organized and balanced world is a happy cosmic accident. While faith is central to our celebration of Easter, Spring is evidence of the intelligent, interconnected, well-planned pattern that is our life of earth and skies.

I can only watch it in wonder and celebration. I hope you do, too.

Song of the day:

Beautiful Day, U2

“See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out
It was a beautiful day
A beautiful day
Don't let it get away

Touch me, take me to that other place
Reach me, I know I’m not a hopeless case

What you don't have you don't need it now
What you don't know you can feel it somehow
What you don't have you don't need it now
You don't need it now, you don't need it now
Beautiful day”

Picture of the day:

This Japanese Magnolia bloomed in front of the Delp Home on Selma's Historic Pilgrimage last weekend. Photo by Janet Gresham, a.k.a. Rambling Round, whose blog is called Selma, Ala. Daily Photo

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring break! whoo hooo! Remembering spring frolics past

March heralds student spring break frolics, the Associated Press article said.

The article went on to say that Alabama’s Gulf coast is hoping to beat last year’s $237 million in taxable lodging rentals, the best since Hurricane Ivan, in 2010.

“Spring break frolics” is a great description, and an apt one, as I remember spring breaks past.

Spring break has always been a fun time, even back when we called it AEA and before I knew that kids went to the beach or other exotic places during AEA. Spring break is this week, officially, in most of Alabama, but aside from watching and waiting, spring break is not on my radar anymore.

I am in that in-between stage, too old to accompany my grown children to any kind of spring break, even though I’d love to, and too young to have grandchildren (if we someday have some) to visit for spring break.

Gone are the days of being the “adult” on a spring break trip with a bunch of 12 to 18 year olds, and if I look back through the glass clearly, I ought to be screaming good riddance! But, hindsight is like that.

Instead, I find myself looking longingly back at spring breaks past, the good memories floating to the top like a bright pink boogie board in a perfect clear green-blue wave washing up on clean white sands.

Nevermind: finding beer funnels in the shower or past-curfew beach searching, or that heart-in-the-throat anxiety that something might have happened to yours or one of the precious ones in your charge (but nothing ever did, thank you Lord.)

For the record, usually the same kids were responsible for all of the above and never my angels…..

But no, instead, I recall the best of spring break fun.

To trace spring breaks past, I’ll group them into 1. my spring breaks. 2. my children’s pre-teen spring breaks 3. the teen spring breaks, aka, it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time-to-bring-all-these-kids-down-here-what-was-I-thinking spring breaks.

My spring breaks:

In the Grove: For the skinny grade-school me, and I recall sometimes my brother (whether we lived in Birmingham or Huntsville), our spring breaks were spent at Daddy and Emily’s in Pleasant Grove, which was then the COUNTRY, to help Nana and Grandpa with planting the garden. We’d plant the garden, have Coke floats for treats in the evening and at least one day, we’d go downtown Birmingham to shop (I told you it was a long time ago) or maybe to Five Points West and get a new outfit or pair of shoes. Whoo-hoo.

London on $300: Into my teen years, the ultimate spring break trip came in my junior year in high school when a group from Fairfield High School booked a trip to London for spring break. Chaperoned by Mr. Byrd, the school superintendent, and his wife (who may have had that good-idea-at-the-time thought before we returned), it was a trip of a lifetime for us blue collar kids. I still recall the cost, not cheap by 1973 standards, but still, it was $300 for the trip, plus spending money. A first airplane ride for many of us and most certainly the first transcontinental one, we saw London, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Stonehenge and a bunch of other cultural stuff that I was too young to fully appreciate, and we had a great time.

Children’s pre-teen spring breaks:

Chattanooga choo-choo: We packed up and went to Chattanooga, to see mountains and the aquarium there, one year when Mary Claire was maybe 5 and Will 10 or 11, Frank driving us through the mountains in an early supposed-to-be-extended-cab pick up truck, me and MC in the tiny back seat. We loved the aquarium. At the amusement park, Mary Claire ran amok in a go-cart and rear-ended another tourist before we tipped on out of there.

The Romine motor home express: Then, there was the year the kids and I piled into Daddy and Emily’s motor home and motored north with them to Guntersville for what I recall was the coldest spring break in recent history. Will and his Pawpaw cemented their mutual love for fishing, and all of us played Bingo (the real kind with paper cards and yelling BINGO!) at the “resort” lodge at night. Aside from the heating going out and using the stove eyes for warmth, it was a great, cold spring break we’ll never forget.

The teen years:

It was not until Will approached teenhood that I realized that some kids routinely go to the beach on spring break, with and without parents, and they frolic. Will went with others couple times, and I began what would be a sometimes tradition of taking Mary Claire and a friend or friends for a day or two. These trips all blur together with brief flashing scenes of:

• My pre-teen daughter and friend dressed too-old-for-your-age and looking to meet boys, and of Will and friends, not dressed too old but looking for girls who look like they are.

• Pleading young girls wanting to get 1 piercing, 2 piercings, 3 piercings, 4. No!

• Fire alarms pulled repeatedly throughout the early morning by some bored spring breakers in high-rise condos to the point where I think the security folks just turned them off. Luckily, nothing burned.

• A very drunk chaperone (not with our group) requiring multi-beach-police people to escort her (finally with someone carrying her arms and someone her feet) from the beach to the waiting police car. She had been dancing and talking to herself while walking on the beach WAY too early in the day when she attracted the attention of the law. My adult spring break partner of that year, Jane Lee, and I watched it all, as we sipped our cocktails, our charges resting (or planning) in the condo. We smugly thought we’re pretty good chaperones after all.

For the spring breakers already out there and those heading out for spring frolics, have fun and be careful. I found this advice from the Alabama State Troopers as I researched Spring break 2010. I’ll repeat this for anyone, teen, college kid, mom, dad or grandparent, thinking about hitting the road during spring break.

• Buckle up on each and every trip, whether it’s a trip to the beach, a friend’s house or a neighborhood store;
• Obey speed limits and all other traffic laws;
• Avoid drinking and driving at all costs; at best the consequences can be costly, and at worst, deadly;
• Keep focused on the roadway, other motorists, and your surroundings; don’t be distracted from the driving task. Hang up the phone and drive. (I added that one).

As Mary Claire heads out for a spring break respite with her still-in-college friends, I just help prepare, wish well and think about spring breaks past.

I no longer have to worry about or have control over outfits or funneling or piercing or curfew or any of it. For that, I am grateful. It is someone else’s turn.

To all spring breakers, obey the rules, have some sense and have a great, safe frolic.

Pictures of the week: Fairfield High School students posed in a boat at one of our stops on the Spring Break, March 1973, trip to London, England. Pictured are, from left, Colleen McArdle, Cathy Randall, Terry Palmore, Clyde Adams, and other two I know but cannot call right now. FHS alumni help please.

This second one is me at Stonehenge. Forgive me for the cool hat. It was the seventies.
Song of the week: Love Train

Written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and a number 1 hit for the O'Jays in the Spring of 1973, we sang this one, in our bell bottoms, on our Spring break trip, with a verse of “the next stop that we make will be England…”

Love Train, the O'Jays

"People all over the world (everybody)
Join hands (join)
Start a love train, love train
People all over the world (all the world, now)
Join hands (love ride)
Start a love train (love ride), love train
The next stop that we make will be soon
Tell all the folks in Russia, and China, too
Don't you know that it's time to get on board
And let this train keep on riding, riding on through...."

Monday, March 8, 2010

A-Changin': Lessons learned covering civil rights march, 30 years later

It’s been thirty years.

That’s what I realized as we drove around the by-pass through Selma, Ala. Sunday, on our way back from Alabama River camphouse to Birmingham. We took the by-pass to avoid the crowds on Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they were gathering for the Selma-to-Montgomery Bridge Crossing Jubilee, this year marking the 45th anniversary of the civil rights movement’s Bloody Sunday.

I counted up and realized it’s been thirty years since I covered my first civil right march commemoration. I remember the day well and still retain the life lessons learned then as a 23-year-old cub reporter and photographer.

It was March of 1980, and the staff of the Selma Times-Journal was all on duty that weekend, covering the big 15th anniversary celebration of Bloody Sunday, the halted civil rights march for voting rights – the event that resulted in the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Just over a year out of Auburn University and J-school and about six months into what would be a decade of work covering the news wellspring that was Selma, Alabama, that Bloody Sunday anniversary was my first experience in civil rights rally and march coverage.

It was also my first in-person hearing of We Shall Overcome and my first exposure to the who’s who of the civil rights movement who call Selma home or are called home to Selma every year to remember what happened.

That day, we covered a rally at Brown Chapel AME Church, a beautiful, red brick church where one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sons spoke. Then, some of us followed the marchers and some of us went back to the newsroom to start writing and developing film.

That film developing was central to one of the lessons I learned that day. We’d all shot pictures at the rally and the beginnings of the march reenactment. Nikki Maute, Janet Gresham, Jean Martin and I all had our 35-mm cameras and Tri-X (400 speed) black and white film. We got some great shots, we thought.

But, for the first and last time in my dark room experience, I somehow switched the developer and the fixer as I poured these into a rarely-used 10-roll film developing canister. I realized quickly what I’d done: no images, no pictures. I’d ruined a frighteningly large batch of 15th anniversary negatives.

I still remember the dread of marching myself into the newsroom and editor Nikki’s desk to tell her. Speechless for what seemed like several minutes, Nikki said, it’s done, now let’s fix it.

Within the next hour, I located some others who had shot pictures at the events, including Frank Sikora, reporter then for The Birmingham News and author of “Selma, Lord, Selma.” He let me develop his film. And Frank’s pictures, along with some others we gathered, told our photographic story that day. We didn’t have the variety of likely award-winning shots we were sure were on those 10 rolls I had fixed into nothingness, but we got the special edition done, and Jackie learned the first of many lessons that life’s mistakes bring.

Learned lesson No. 1: When you make a mistake, admit it, own it and try hard to fix it.

That lesson served me well through life. Since the only way to never make a mistake is to never do, try and achieve, then we all need to know how to admit, handle and learn from our mistakes. Don’t make excuses; just try to make it better.

I learned other lessons from my first professional coverage of the civil rights movement that still defines the Alabama Black Belt.

These lessons are less direct and defined but stand on the strong premise that history has a lot to teach us, if we’ll listen and learn from it. And, people who sacrifice to make things better deserve to be remembered, listened to and learned from.

This is true if those sacrificing are civil rights pioneers (Selma’s F.D. Reese, Marie Foster and J.L. Chestnut come to mind) or if they are lesser-known heroes, our parents, our grandparents, our mentors, editors and others who came before us and tried to do the right thing. We must learn from them.

Even though I knew the history book stories well, it was difficult for me, then, to imagine having to march and face state troopers on horseback, in order to register to vote in the United States of America. But that’s how it was, then. This is not a small accomplishment being remembered year after year.

The civil rights movement had to force change, in many ways, because of fears and prejudices and the driving need to preserve power and -- we still see it today on all sides of the political spectrum -- the power of power.

But things change and continue to change.

That’s the big lesson I see as I look back at that enthusiastic, na├»ve young white girl covering her first civil rights rally. Selma is not the same; neither is Alabama or our nation. Certainly that young reporter is not the same either.

Change is the one constant. And we’d better get good at changing with it.

Song of the day:

The Times They Are A-Changin’, Bob Dylan

“The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.”

Picture of the day: Selma Times-Journal newsroom, circa early 1980s. Some combination of this crew covered the 15th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march 30 years ago this week. From left, Jean Martin, Nikki Maute, Maxine McDonald, Janet Gresham, Jackie Walburn and Jeannette Berryman. In this picture, which I re-discovered while looking for some early writing samples, we were waving goodbye to one of the rotating sports editors.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Superbad the cold, a try at Dylan and reading what…

Week two of Superbad, the cold: I’m still coughing, but getting better after finding a doctor recommended by a friend. Armed with a diagnosis of bronchitis and four more medicines, I have my fingers crossed and feeling more like tackling that always-important to-do list. At the top today (after spending much of Monday at doctor’s office) is blog posting.

So, I’m feeling saucy enough to tackle last week’s challenge of creating clever imitation take on Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues where I use his rhyme scheme to rap poetic about aspirin, tissues, coughs and snifflies. I talked myself out of it last week, but I’ll try a few lines this week.

Tempo: upbeat, early folk rap and video of Dylan with hand-printed signs of lyrics (is this coming back to those of you old enough to remember?) Are you sick of Dylan references, already?

Sorry, it’s my blog, and I can Dylan if I want to.

Subbronchial homesick blues

Doctor’s in the exam room
Thinking about the medicine
I’m in my bedroom
Thinking ‘bout writing zoom
Book in office looms
Tissues out, laid off
Say she’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s nothing you did
Lord knows when
You’ll feel human again
You better duck down the freeway
Looking for a well friend
Man in the panther-proof cap
And the Bic pen
Wants 100 dollar bills
You only got 10.

That may be enough of weakly ripping off Dylan. But, I couldn’t resist. I also couldn’t handle four verses.

However, I love Dylan’s last line to this 1965 song so much I’ll write it here. (Stephen King opened a book with the quote; I can’t remember which one.) But the message is universal and the rhyme superb. Think about it.

“The pump don’t work
’Cause the vandals took the handles”

Also, thanks to followers and Facebookers for well wishes.

Reading what?

With time on my hands, and still much reading/writing research to do, these are the Southern books I read in the last week, finishing the last one now. These were all from the Southern Writers Shelf at the Hoover, Ala. Public library.

Wolf Whistle, by Lewis Nordan. This Mississippi-born novelist looks at civil rights era violence and one particular event from imagined (yet ringing true) characters and viewpoints.

Wonderdog, Inman Majors. Well-written, funny and smart story of a Tuscaloosa-based not-doing-well, just divorced, screwing-up-bigtime lawyer and former child star of cheesy dog and boy TV show. Oh, and he’s the governor’s son, too.

The Watermelon King, Daniel Wallace. Written by the Birmingham-born author of Big Fish, which they made into a movie in Alabama I believe, The Watermelon King uses imagination and keen characters to tell the story of Ashland, Ala.’s watermelon festival and how it impacted the life of one man and the mother he never knew. I’m still reading this one, which is set in the same fictional town as Big Fish.

Picture of the week: Lucille catching snowflakes. Is hasn't snowed here at the house yet today, although I hear it has downtown. But, I offer this cute one of Lucille frolicking in the snow-before-last. Our Lucille is growing, chewing and learning.

And, because everybody's got to sing the blues sometime, here is the song of the day:

Downhearted Blues, Eddie James "Son" House, Jr.

"Mmmm, mmmmm
Got up this mornin', feelin' sick and bad,
I's thinkin' bout the good time, that I once have had
I said, I got up this mornin', and I said I's feelin' so sick and bad,
Yeah, I's just thinkin' bout the good times, chil'ren, that I, I once have had."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Singing the home sick blues

If you don’t have a real job, and you’re too sick to work, are you still home sick? Or just sick?

That’s just one of questions I’ve pondered during what I’ll call the week of the Superbad Cold.

On day six and still feeling like a run-over dog, but with prescriptions and assurances that it’s not fatal, just a lingering, into-the-chest cold, today I took this picture of my bedside table.

I figured it could be the picture of the day for this week’s blog posting which would be a clever look at being home sick.

Then I realized being sick rarely lends itself to being clever.

So, I will just state the obvious that being home sick for me has meant that:

• Blank pages remain so.

• No Facebook friends are friended, updated, poked, tagged or status-checked.

• No job alerts are researched, and no jobs applied for.

• Little or no household engineer work accomplished.

• Three movies watched. Only one book read (I keep falling asleep)

• Family members just pat me on the back and say, you (sound and/or look) awful. You ought to take some medicine, go lie down and get some rest.

Desperate for a new blog post mid-week and still feeling unwell, I even considered writing a clever imitation take on Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues where I use his rhyme scheme to rap poetic about aspirin, tissues, coughs and snifflies. Since I’m home sick and definitely have the blues, I could write something to follow the line, “Get sick, get well, hang around the inkwell…ring bell, hard to tell, if anything is goin’ to sell….”

But, don’t worry, I am not clear-headed enough to even try that. Or maybe I am clear-headed enough to know NOT to try it.

So, instead, I will quote a Dylan understatement from the song of the day, sign off, take some medicine, go lie down and get some rest.

Song of the day:

Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan

“You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows”

Monday, February 15, 2010

112 job applications and counting

It’s tough out here for job seekers. Trust me.

As part of the 15 million estimated unemployed in the U.S. -- which converts into an 11 percent official unemployment figure in Alabama – I can testify.

Most people now know multiple folks who have lost a job. In some cases, there is power in numbers. In the unemployment, job-searching case, numbers just mean more competition for the jobs that are out there. And, I can testify that the job market is crazy competitive, and I have the numbers to prove it.

During the 547-plus days of the continuing job search begun when I learned in mid-2008 that my job was one of 1,500 being eliminated by my former employer, I’ve applied for more than 110 positions.

Actually, as of today, when I applied for a media assistant position, the official tally of jobs applied for is at 112. That doesn’t count cold calls or cold e-mail pitches to companies around Birmingham that have corporate communications or public affairs departments. That doesn’t count completed, multiple tests to get on the state jobs register. That doesn’t count the job fairs or the registrations and job alerts set up on countless employer and job search websites ( is a good one). That doesn’t count attending how-to-get-hired seminars or the endless networking or pursuing contacts with friends or friends of friends or friends of my husband or friends of my aunt….friends of whoever offers a lead. Bless their hearts.

The 112 tally -- counted up on my trusty job matrix document (now 18 pages long) begun when I started this process -- counts just those jobs that I officially applied for. Sure, I made it to the interview stage for some of these and was a finalist for others. Some applications, I never heard from again (and that’s a subject of another posting). For some, I received automated regret e-mails. Some rejections came the old-fashioned way – written letters.

Regardless, there are many more mes out there, many people who look and look and look. I know and correspond with two other writers/former reporters/public relations professionals, friends, who were laid off and now looking for work in Birmingham, too. Often, we apply for the same, few jobs and wish each other luck.

Proof of the fierce competition for jobs in this tough economy comes not just in statistics but is backed by evidence. I’ve talked to human resources folks who say they receive so many applications for an advertised position that sometimes they have to cut them off before the deadline. In one case, the HR person in charge just took the best of the first 100 and went from there. The other two hundred applicants either got the automated “we regret” e-mail or no word at all.

In my previous position, I had a “big job” as a multi-state public affairs manager. And, now, as I apply for anything from entry level to “experienced manager” positions, I suspect I am sometimes painted with the overqualified brush, just based on my resume, accomplishments and years of experience. There are worse things, I suppose.

And, I won’t even talk about the challenge of an “experienced” and ”seasoned” professional like me (see older…) competing with eager, early-in-career writers and public relations graduates (see younger…). It’s a fact, Jack.

But, I also know that out there, somewhere, are employers who want the experience, knowledge and skills that come with “seasoned.”

I’m not whining here. Well, maybe I am a little bit. But, it is a whine of solidarity with my unemployed brothers and sisters. And, for me, it is a whine tempered with several “at leasts.”

At least, I have unemployment benefits still, but unless I qualify for some targeted, emergency benefits I’ve researched and will try, that small stipend (earned during my 30 years in the work force, thank you) will end soon. Congress: Want to help the unemployed? Extend benefits again, please.

At least, I am a writer and have this blog where I can do what I do and sometimes get props for it. This is thanks to my family, friends and associates (and I hope some others who have found this blog and just enjoy it). The self-imposed obligation to post something new each week helps motivate and keeps those creative writing synapses popping.

At least, being downsized (which hurts more than that euphemism implies) prompted me, as a writer, to write that novel all we writers say we want to write one day. I know writing it doesn’t mean publishing it, but the work, research and hard digging that have gone into the 75,000-words and counting that will become my first novel provide a purpose and determination invaluable to anyone struggling to deal with the changes and uncertainties that accompany losing a job.

At least, (and not least) I have a husband with a job whose patience, love and guidance have been essential and two adult children home and fighting their own job-and-economic battles while helping me in more ways than any of us can fully appreciate or articulate.

So, as I mark off job application number 112, I also have to mark off some positives about living as an unemployment statistic. I write, therefore I am….still viable and creating. I apply for jobs, therefore I am…going to keep applying and adding to my job matrix until I find a job and leave the crowded ranks of the determined and time-tested job seekers.

Song of the day:
Working on a Dream, Bruce Springsteen

“The cards I've drawn's a rough hand darlin'
I straighten my back and I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
Though sometimes it feels so far away
I'm working on a dream
And how it will be mine someday.”

Picture of the day:
Two male cardinals pose in the bare trees during last Friday's snow. Photo by me, taken off our back porch in Birmingham.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Two Camden characters depart

Hollis Curl: Newsman, Era editor helped bring ferry back

The last time I read a column by Hollis Curl -- Camden, Ala.’s Wilcox Progressive Era editor and publisher who died last week -- I remember thinking, I ought to call or write Hollis to say “excellent column” and see how he’s doing. He’d been sick for a while.

But, I didn’t make the call or send the note. And, I learned, again, the lesson of doing that thing you think of doing when you think of it. That’s because now it’s too late.

Hollis, who I’ve known almost as long as I’ve been a reporter/writer, always wrote excellent columns. He named his “For What It’s Worth” and won many awards for his musings.

A straight-to-the-point newspaperman, Hollis Curl published The Wilcox Progressive Era for more than 40 years. His column and the newspaper’s editorials written by him ran side by side with the small-town news staples like club news, school honor listings, pictures of giant vegetables and, always in Wilcox County, sportsmen posing with big deer or youngsters with first-time game.

But it was through his column and the newspaper’s editorials that Hollis had his greatest impact on Wilcox County and beyond.

I had to smile when I read the story about Hollis by Tom Gordon of The Birmingham News. Quoting from an earlier interview, the story stated the editor/publisher never worried about complaints or disgruntled readers (and there were a few over the years). Rather, Hollis said it was a “mistake to confuse me with someone who gives a damn, because I really don’t.”

Classic Hollis. You could count on Hollis to say or write something controversial, sometimes because he felt so strongly about it, and sometimes just because he could. And often, what he said and wrote came with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

The years I worked in corporate communications for Wilcox County’s largest employer, I’d be at the restaurant in Camden with some visiting business person from the West Coast and introduce them to Hollis, our local newspaper editor. He’d smile at us and get that gleam in his eye, then he’d let fly some seemingly-innocent-but-definitely-not-PC-by-West-Coast-standards comment. Then he’d chuckle and say, “Nice to meet ‘ya." Classic Hollis.

But M. Hollis Curl – who probably could care less if most people agreed with what he wrote or not or if he ticked somebody off -- did give a damn about the things he gave a damn about.

These things include his family, wife Glenda, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And, he cared a lot, too, about Wilcox County’s J. Paul Jones Hospital, one of the few rural lifelines still serving Alabama’s Blackbelt. He promoted the hospital in every way possible in his weekly newspaper and as a well-cared-for patient when he got sick.

And Hollis was passionate about the restoration of the Gee’s Bend Ferry, which he wrote and politicked about until it finally happened in 2006. The newly-built terminal for the ferry, which continues to get attention because of its link to the getting-more-famous Quilts of Gee’s Bend, is named for M. Hollis Curl. His family held visitation there before services last week at the historic Canton Bend United Methodist Church.

There was just one M. Hollis Curl, as news-folks across Alabama know. His words, his attitude and his presence will be missed.

Miss Cleo: Years of hospitality and three tough sons

The Monday before Hollis died, folks in Camden gathered to remember another local legend, Cleo Holley Gaston.

Miss Cleo and her late husband Cecil ran the famed Bassmaster Inn and restaurant in Camden for years. Their sons, David, Charlie and Larry, continue the hospitality tradition. They own restaurants in multiple counties and can cook most any kind of delicious food for as many people as needed. And the burley threesome of brothers – and their children and extended families – loved Miss Cleo with a devotion to make any mother proud.

Their mother taught her sons about hospitality and giving in the best way possible, by example. If someone needs help, if there’s something these Gastons can do for those in need, it’s done. And that’s just one of the many reasons Camden cherished Cleo Gaston.

Picture of the day:
Twilight on the pier:
My family fishes from our pier on Pine Barron Creek in this picture from 2005. With all the rain, the pier last weekend was covered almost to the top of the solar light atop the pole at center of the picture And, the light's still shining!
Here's hoping for an early non-flooding Spring.

Song of the day: Ain't Talkin, Bob Dylan

"All my loyal and much loved companions
They approve of me and share my code
I practice a faith that's been long abandoned
Ain't no altars on this long and lonesome road

Ain't talkin', just walkin'
My mule is sick, my horse is blind
Heart burnin', still yearnin'
Thinkin' ‘bout that gal I left behind

It's bright in the heavens and the wheels are flying
Fame and honor never seem to fade
The fire's gone out but the light is never dying
Who says I can't get heavenly aid?"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Organize TOO MUCH STUFF one cabinet at a time

It took about an hour of sorting and throwing away – armed with my iPod on song shuffle for company – for me to “de-clutter” one set of basement cabinets last weekend. The completed task was a first tiny step on one of those hefty to-do items – CLEAN OUT GARAGE, which is part of greater goals of DE-CLUTTER and SIMPLIFY.

Now, in these cabinets where I keep my most-often-used garage-based items, we can find things because the STUFF is where it’s supposed to be. The tools sit by tools, and the light bulbs await use beside their fragile friends. The batteries are lined up, ready to bring some gadget to life. And, electrical and other assorted cords are tamed and wrapped around themselves, sealed with rubber bands. The masking, duct and shipping tapes are aligned, next to the glues and other bottles and cans, including my favorite fix-all, a can of WD-40.

One tiny section down, the rest of the mess to go.

The idea of simplifying and de-cluttering appeals to many of us, at least to those who are not naturally drawn to keeping all STUFF, like the folks on Hoarders, the television show that makes the rest of us think we don’t have that much STUFF at all, after all.

Being a stay-at-home, unemployed, job-seeking, blog-writing, in-progress author, I see my “simplified” job as household engineer is to make sure things run as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, so that we can save money and time. Hence, the all-caps DE-CLUTTER AND SIMPLIFY and the current CLEAN OUT GARAGE task.

Most of us have clutter in need of organizing, no matter if it’s a garage jammed with need-it-someday furniture and boxes supplementing the normal STUFF like Christmas boxes, outdoors and hunting STUFF, boxes of books seeking shelves and not-used-enough exercise equipment.  Also, if you know where specific STUFF is, you don’t have to go out and buy more because you couldn’t find the STUFF you already had when you need it.

The need to simplify, de-clutter and organize spawned an industry in itself. These include self-help books for the hopelessly cluttered and stores where you can buy all kinds of organizing STUFF.

No de-cluttering expert, I do know that organizing and simplifying and the de-cluttering that goes with it happens in the same way all things worthwhile do: one step at a time.

I preach the writing mantra to myself: One word at a time (and have it written on a post-it on my computer).

For the exerciser, it’s one foot in front of the other.

And for the person seeking to clean out and organize, it is one drawer, one cabinet at a time.

Take a few minutes, and start on that junk drawer in the kitchen, one cabinet in the basement or that corner, where daily STUFF piles up.

You’ll feel better (I know I did), and it beats the heck out of watching Hoarders on TV.

Update on Lucille, the new puppy:

Phrases most often said to Lucille during her second week in the household:

1. “NO! Chew on this….(chew toy, towel, stick) not (-fill-in-the blank-) my hands, my feet, my hair, the bedspread, my shoes, the furniture.

2. “Don’t go too close to the cat. She’ll show you the paw, again.”

3. “You’re such a good puppy!”

Song of the day:

Too Much Stuff, Delbert McClinton

“Too much stuff. Woo!
Too much stuff.
It'll mess you up,
Foolin' with too much stuff.”

Picture of the day: On Groundhog Day, Birmingham Bill, the official Groundhog in these parts, came out and did see his shadow. That points to six more weeks of winter, a disappointment as I hoped to be fishin' off the pier sooner rather than later.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lucille: She’s right where she belongs

She’s so fluffy that she looks like a fuzzy football. She has blue eyes, a winning gaze and maximum hug-ability. She’s so smart that she’s housebroken herself, and she already knows how to wrap all of us around her tiny webbed paws.

She’s Lucille, the latest black Labrador to join the Walburn family.

Lucille came to us almost two months after losing beloved Suzie, the black Lab who died Nov. 28 after a left side paralysis forced us make the toughest decision pet owners ever make. Suzie’s in pet heaven, as I described here weeks ago, and I bet Suzie approves of the new girl in town. Our resident cat Tiger is not so sure.

Lucille is the name we decided on (Will made the final decision, as Suzie was technically his) from a list we started a couple of weeks ago. Suzie Q was named for the rock ‘n’ roll song by Creedence. Our name choices didn’t all come from music although the list included Queenie (Little Queenie, Chuck Berry), Lola (The Kinks) and Maybelline (Chuck Berry, again). But Lucille (Little Richard) won out, as Will and I picked up precious from Walt and David, who work with Will at Lowe’s. Lucille is “mostly” Lab, not registered, so Lucille was a gift, (no $200+purchase price that come with AKC registration). That’s fine with us, and Lucille, she’s a gift in many ways.

A sweet, chewing fuzz-ball who only occasionally whines, Lucille is lovingly and gradually filling that void left by Suzie in a household that’s always had a dog and always black Labs.

Our first Lab was Remus, a Labrador/Weimaraner mix who we got before we got married. Remus, who followed Bonzo, the Alpha dog of our Auburn mobile home community (aka the Ghetto), into the mischief and eventually onto Wire Road, got hit by a car during our first year of marriage. The Auburn vet school fixed him up, and our broke selves paid on that bill for a long, long time.

Before we had children, Remus went everywhere with us. One Christmas, while we were visiting my parents in Pleasant Grove, Remus disappeared. She had followed Fannie (stepmother’s mostly beagle) off on an adventure. Fannie came back and Remus didn’t.

We spent the rest of that short holiday (I worked at a newspaper then, so you got off for Christmas eve or Christmas, never both), and had to return to Selma without him. My written plea, Oh, where, Oh where did Remus go? was on the front page of the Selma Times-Journal that day after Christmas. (Slow news day, and we had a picture….) I heard from sympathetic dog-lovers throughout Selma and central Alabama, but in the end, Remus made his way back on his own. Remus was walking in front of the house when Emily saw him and called his name. Em said Remus sat down, like, “finally.” We rushed back and picked him up; I wrote a follow-up column, and Al Benn, then my editor, took a picture of us reunited.

Young Remus, at the beach

We have lots of pictures of Remus, and for years, other reminders: the couch he chewed the arm off of, the teeth-marked, mangled broom sticks, the shredded shoes. This is the dog that used to climb on top of my car – first my seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time beige Gremlin, then my at-least-it’s-paid-for Ford Maverick. Remus would stretch himself out on the roof of the car – like Snoopy on the dog house. I think he wanted to know when I was leaving, in case he could go, too.

Remus, gentle with children yet protective of us always, stayed with us through the birth of son Will and then daughter Mary Claire, until he was gray and scarred (from the fights that un-fixed male dogs get in). Then one time, Remus did not come back from his wanderings. We think he went off to die the way some pets do if they can, I believe, to try to spare their humans from grief.

Henry was our next black Labrador. He was still a puppy when we moved from Selma to Camden and lived for a while in the “guest” mobile home provided by MacMillan Bloedel, where Frank worked then. One day that early fall, when the air conditioning stopped working at our temporary home, we called the HR person who took care of the these things.

Whoops. It turns out Henry had sliced and diced the air ducts under the trailer. “That’s okay,” said HR person said, “we’ll fix it.” I later joined MB as a freelancer, then as public relations manager, and that HR person, Janet Carlisle, became a friend. She never forgot Henry, either.

     Henry, when he was old and gray

Then, Henry made his mark, again, when we bought a house in Camden. The first week, our neighbor, the late, wonderful Helen Strother, came over holding a mangled set of wires that used to be the pump that kept her winterized swimming pool clean. We paid that off, too, and Helen loved Henry always. Henry, loved by all who knew him, grew gray and scarred and eventually went the way of Remus, disappearing and not coming back.

The next black Lab was Suzie, and her story is written in these postings.

So, welcome to our family, sweet Lucille. Who knows what you’ll chew up (I need to check on her right now; she’s being mighty quiet).

And, who knows how much love you’ll give us in return.

Picture of the day: Lucille

(Photo by Mary Claire Walburn)

Song of the day:
Lucille, by Little Richard

"Lucille, please come back where you belong
Oh, Lucille, please come back where you belong
I've been good to you baby
Please don't leave me alone."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Reading to write: Help in creating portable magic

As a writer, I read.

Or, maybe it should be: as a reader, I write. But, I think it’s the first.

Or maybe it’s that pesky chicken-and-the-egg thing.

Either way, since I hit double digits and discovered my mother’s collection of Agatha Christie books and her stash of classics including Twain and Hemingway (many of which I still own), I’ve been reading. I always have a book in progress.

I’ve rarely tested the premise that I cannot go with sleep without reading at least a few pages, my book held open by my hand and cradled in my arm. I am ready to go wherever that book is going, for at least a while. Reading, preferably fiction, is the surest way I know to control a “thinking problem,” that worrisome can-get-it-off-your-mind situation or problem that keeps us up at night.

As a reader, I often begin conversations with my other reader friends (we know who each other are) with, “what are you reading?” We exchange book titles and authors. We make quick reviews to each other; sometimes we lend or borrow books before the visit is over – if my latest are not from the Hoover Library, which they often are.

I cannot imagine myself any other way than as a reader.

But, it is only since I actively began my own first effort at fiction writing, that I totally understand the connection between reading and writing.

Before starting the first draft of Mojo Jones and the Black Cat Bone, my first fiction effort and currently 68,855 words in a fiction story set in the Alabama Black Belt, I read for the second and third time, On Writing by Stephen King. King is one of my favorite authors and the only one I know of who took the time to write about the craft of writing, about language and the serious, hard mining work of writing fiction.

“If you want to be writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut,” King begins in the first chapter of the second half of On Writing, where he gives the would-be writers among his Constant Readers (that’s what he calls us, his loyal readers) advice about how to write fiction if they are prepared to take it seriously.

For writers, he says, “the real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page,” King writes. “The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.”

That’s what I’m talking about.

Since I’ve been in active fiction-writing mode, I look at my book choices differently. I want to read Southern fiction, always a favorite but doubly so now that I am trying to create my own. I want to read books with supernatural and magical underpinnings because I have to convince my potential constant readers of the possibility of seeing things beyond this world. I want to read character-driven books because I hope mine is such a book that makes readers care about and recognize themselves and others in the characters.

So, I will now answer my own question: What are you reading?

Right now, my bookmark is in River of Hidden Dreams by Connie May Fowler, which I found on the Southern Voices shelf at the Hoover Library. Set in Florida and following the lives of three women, River of Hidden Dreams finds me adding notes to my by-the-bed notepad and re-reading sentences because they are so well-written and say so much.

Before that, I finished King’s latest, Under the Dome, a requested Christmas gift from my husband. A 1,072-page delight that I did not want to end, Under the Dome is another of King’s character-filled tomes well built on the premise of putting ordinary people in extraordinary situations (an unexplained and unpenetrable dome seals a town in Maine) and letting the characters drive the story and figure a way out.

In no particular order, here are other books recently completed as part of my keeping Stephen King’s commandment to read a lot, write a lot:

South of Broad, the newest by Pat Conroy, a dean of Southern, character-central authors.

The Devil’s Punchbowl, the newest by Greg Iles, the Natchez, Miss. author who writes fast-paced thrillers, again about ordinary folks who get in legal and moral dilemmas.

• The newest by Larry McMurtry, another favorite author. Like King, I read most everything McMurtry writes. This was Rhino Ranch, the fifth in the series about Duane Moore set in Thalia, Texas. The series began with The Last Picture Show.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, the bestseller set in a 1960s Jackson, Miss. which follows black maids and the white women they work for. Southern, with great characters, The Help’s dialogue and dialect appealed to the author-in-training in me.

• All the books I can find by William Cobb, a retired Montevallo professor who writes beautifully of the Alabama Black Belt, its history and mysteries.

• Any and all by Larry Brown, the late north Mississippi firefrighter-turned-author who wrote with uncensored grit about how folks really are.

I still read for pleasure, without a doubt, but reading with writing in mind, as King taught me in On Writing, adds to the immediacy, purpose and joy. Plus, I have an excuse now to curl up with a book. It’s research!

“Books are uniquely portable magic,” King writes, as he begins his simple set of directions to would-be fiction writers which starts with read a lot and write a lot. He also tells us to have a toolbox full of vocabulary and grammar, some talent and an abundance of want-to. But mostly, my mentor tells me to make writing a priority and to close the door and write. And, he says, never come lightly to the blank page.

King writes at least 2,000 words a day every day of the year. (He said he told a reporter that he writes every day but Christmas, but he was fibbing to have something to say.) He usually dates his books. Under the Dome, all 1,000-plus pages of it, was written between Nov. 22, 2007 and March 14, 2009 based on an idea he originally had back in 1976. Dang!

I may never reach that level of dedication. However, I’ve had multiple weeks when I met my writing goals every weekday. And, I believe I have not and will not come lightly to the blank page.

Life interrupts; so does the job search, the weekly blog posting, all things cyber and non-cyber and, well, more life.

But -- no worries -- I am thrilled and well-read as I sit here, at my writing place, about the close the door and continue to tell the truth inside made-up stories, and hopefully, create some portable magic.

Picture of the day:

My brother Charlie and I,
sometime in the early 1960s,
pose with our books and bookcase.

Song of the Day:
When I Paint My Masterpiece, Bob Dylan

"Train wheels runnin' through the back of my memory,

When I ran on the hilltop following a pack of wild geese.
Someday, everything is gonna be smooth like a rhapsody
When I paint my masterpiece."

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Year’s longleaf seedling planting: For posterity and more

Here’s how it’s done:

Firmly place the dibble into the sandy soil; rock it back and forth, making a hole deep enough for the seedling root.

Place the seedling so that the bud from which the bushy long needles grow is above the soil line.

Place the dibble about two inches in front of the seedling hole. Pull back on the dibble, and then forward, closing the soil around the root.

Repeat about two inches in front of that, again closing the soil around the seedling root.

You have successfully planted a longleaf seedling!

In a fitting New Year’s family activity, the Walburns planted about 100 longleaf seedlings along the sandy fields and in forest openings on our land in Dallas County. Much of this land adjacent to the Alabama River and Pine Barren Creek is ideal for longleaf pine, a.k.a. Pinus Palustris.

The sun came out that afternoon, as we planted the longleaf seedlings. Everybody took a turn with the two dibbles (a small hand implement used to plant trees and other plants, see above photo), at least at first.

My first time with a dibble, and daughter Mary Claire’s, too, we caught on quickly to the specific directions (above) from Frankie the forester. But, once Mary Claire and I took turns planting a dozen or so ourselves, the experienced tree planters (Frank who’s planted thousands and Will who’s planted hundreds) took over, and completed the New Year’s Eve planting (and another on New Year’s Day).

I learned how to plant a seedling and refreshed my knowledge about this native southern pine tree, the longleaf pine, which once covering two-thirds of the South. Longleaf pine greeted early explorers, who “saw a vast forest of the most stately pine trees that can be imagined, planted by nature at a moderate distance. . . enameled with a variety of flowering shrubs."

That’s according to the Longleaf Alliance, a non-profit originating at Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. The LLA has a mission of the conservation and restoration of significant functioning longleaf pine ecosystems across the southeastern United States forest landscape. The longleaf pine ecosystem once occupied an estimated 90 million acres in the region. By the early 1990s, only about 2.8 million acres of this forest remained. Due in large part to the efforts of The Longleaf Alliance and its many partners over the past 14 years, the acreage in longleaf forest has increased to approximately 3.2 million acres, the first such increase since the time of settlement. Find out more at

For us and our small privately-owned forestland, the longleaf seedlings planted at the New Year represented more than just planting back a species which likely covered the landscape when Native Americans canoes traveled up and down the Alabama River instead of bass boats and jet skis.

As with any tree planting, our longleaf planting was for prosperity and a lot more.

You plant trees not so much for yourself, but for your children and your children’s children. In the case of longleaf, which is the longest living tree among southern species, the lifetime can be up to 250 years. Longleaf reach maturity at about 30 years, when trees begin to produce those big cones filled with fertile seeds. The trunk of the mature tree fills out into a straight, relatively branch-free tree that resembles a living telephone pole (in fact, many longleaf pines are sold for telephone poles). On more fertile soils, the tree may continue to grow in height up to 110 feet.

So, in addition to reinstating a pine species native to the area and the expectation of some pole-length trees beginning in 30 years (when our children might be grandparents), our longleaf seedling planting activity brings other benefits.

These include:

Promoting wildlife and native species: Longleaf pine forests provide quality habitat for desirable plants and animal species. These include bobwhite quail, fox squirrels, wild turkeys and whitetail deer.

Reduced risk of loss to natural causes: Longleaf pine is highly resistant to pine beetles and fusiform rust, tolerant of wildfire and ice and generally wind-firm. Plus, one common agent of destruction in many southern forests – fire – is an essential tool in longleaf management. That’s also a plus for my forester husband, who enjoys no forest management tool more than a controlled burn.

Biodiversity: A longleaf pine stand maintained by fire is among the most biologically diverse ecotypes in North America.

Carbon Sink: Because longleaf pine lives longer than other southern pines and has the ability to sustain growth at older ages (150 year-plus), the longleaf has the ability to tie up stored carbon for long periods.

Cultural: Longleaf was literally the tree that built the South. Aside from lumber to build homes, businesses and ships, longleaf pine forests provided fare for the dinner table, medicine, a place to graze cattle and extract resin to refine turpentine. In addition to its park-like beauty, a longleaf forest provided a place to go and listen to the “whispering of the pines.”

Dollars and cents: Longleaf pine produces straight, dense, rot resistant wood. Longleaf gives landowners market flexibility, yields a variety of products (including longleaf pine straw) and continues to grow throughout their lives, responding to thinning even at greatly advanced ages. In addition, longleaf guards against natural catastrophic loss better than other southern pines.

Biodiversity or market stability aside, it may be the beauty of the longleaf pine, its aesthetics and coolness-factor, which was most appealing as we stuck those bushy, container-grown seedlings into the sandy dirt.

Wise, look-to-the-future thinking, a good start, time and Mother Nature are the requirements for tree growing, especially the longleaf. We gave them a good start. Now, it’s up to time and Mother Nature.

Pictures of the day:

Getting ready
for the New Year's
Longleaf seedling
planting: Will, Frankie
the Forester, and Mary
Will and Mary Claire
plant longleaf seedlings.


Song of the day:
In the Pines, a traditional American folk song
-- Dating back to at least the 1870s.
-- Recorded by the Carter Family, Lead Belly, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, the Louvin Brothers and Nirvana.

In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines
I shivered where the cold winds blow
In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines
I shivered where the cold winds blow