Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who are these guys?

Phyllis just brought me a photo album, covered in turquoise velvet, decorated with a gilt dragonfly, moon & roses, with an inscription: "presented to Sallie Dutton by her husband, xmas 1896." Inside it are the most extraordinary photographs. Unfortunately I have no idea who the majority of them are - very few are labeled. So I've been shuffling them around, trying to find resemblances between faces, comparing the configuration of ears or eyebrows, any clue that might help me match the images to the names that I know could belong to them.

I think that these men are my grandfather Daniel Hoskins Dutton's brothers. They are definitely related to each other. All of these photos were taken in the same studio here in Somerset. So far I've been unable to locate any information about the photographer, so all I know is that they likely date from the late 1800s. Seeing them together I am so struck by their beauty.

The first image is my grandfather ~

This last photo, made at a different time than the others, could possible be my grandfather when he was younger. The hairline is identical. Or it could be Bush Logan Albertus, who "died at an early age"? I'm much taken with his strong hands.

The man in the third photo seems extraordinarily handsome - the Elfin gene lends him an unearthly presence. Perhaps he is Marion, who died on 1/13/31 at age 33. (These numbers have a peculiar and mysterious significance to me.)

Brent and Aleck both died at 4 months age. The other possible brother names are Joseph E., William, and John.

It seems unlikely that I'll discover who is who.


William requested a post on Barack Obama and as a result I woke up early this morning, pondering what could be written that hasn't already been said. Obama speaks eloquently of the direction he hopes to provide to the United States, and his style of leadership, thoughtful and careful, will be a welcome change ~ if enough voters make the effort to help him achieve it, not only at the polls, but during the course of his administration.

Obama's approach to the interdependent tasks of economic stability and security are, to my way of thinking, the best we've been presented with. These are the pressing issues of our time, and there's nothing that I could write here that would add to the conversation. Instead I thought I'd mention a few observations of Barack Obama's positions on art and social justice that are personally meaningful.

Barack Obama is the first candidate for president (as far as I know!) who has mentioned art in a primary speech. In his description of improvements needed in our education system he included art as one of the necessary subjects. This coincides with my belief that until we value the development of the imagination our lives will be the worse for it. Art, relegated by our current culture to a trivial pursuit, is one of the few things that distinguishes humanity from machinery. One only has to perform the little exercise of imagining life stripped of every aspect of art, remove the pleasures of color, texture, form, harmony, flavor, and movement, to name a few, and you'll get the picture. Since art is my first priority after survival, Obama gets my vote.

Obama is also the frst candidate to actually call for inclusion of "gay and straight" in the rolecall of respected citizens, wisely trumping an issue used by the past administration as a scare tactic to secure the votes of the insecure. There is much conditioning in our current society to view sexual behavior as primary identity, and divide the choices into a narrow either/or ultimatum. I reject this imposed and artificial categorization as the ultimate assault on personal freedom, but at least Barack Obama has included one more possibilty for respect than I've been offered in the past, so for his defense of my personal freedom to choose who I love, again, he gets my vote.

But these two important stances aside, he would get my vote anyway for doing something very well that I'm sure many voters would consider absolutely irrelevant - he can dance while the world watches. The context of his public demonstration of dance was a fascinating one, and his performance, though very and appropriately exact in its brievity, amazed me. Challenged to dance on the Ellen show, Obama gamely showed his "I'm just an average good-natured guy but I have some moves" gambit. What really impressed me was how he accomplished the necessary ending by hamming what I can only describe as a "flash of the spirit"- he freezes for an instant with a funny look on his face, looking directly back at the eye of the camera, then just as instantly makes the funny look dissappear. This move is so complex, and was executed under such intense pressure that the theater/dance director in me remains in complete awe. Consider the frame; being a black man compelled to demonstrate his ability to dance, on the dancefloor of inclusive sexuality, before an international audience, with a time limit of 15 or 20 seconds, no more, no less. More would have sunk him just as certainly as less would have. In our time, a president, and certainly a president to be, could hardly have a more critical public demonstration than to dance.

Maybe what this tiny dance pointed out to me is the incredible adeptness and confidence in Barack Obama's nature. He certainly has nerves of steel, but he also has enough strength to demonstrate his humanity, even his vulnerabilty. That's what I'm looking for in a leader, and I'm not willing to settle for anything less. (I'd rather lead myself otherwise.) And that's the main reason I'm going to vote for Barack Obama.

(I couldn't find a youtube clip for the dance on Ellen's show that I saw, but here's the dance-commander-in-chief on another episode.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In Old Oaks:

"Ue - It looks ghostly, doesn't it?" Was Cebah's comment about this photo, of the white oak that is growing just a few feet east of our kitchen window. It is the oldest and biggest tree on the farm now - I'm a little surprised at how much I take it for granted.

As I work on "You'll Always Come Back" - delving into the not quite vanished material of the past, I'm becoming more aware of how a question can reveal the hidden obvious. Yesterday I asked Cebah if my dad picked the site of this house because this white oak corresponded to "the old oak tree" near his homeplace. "Sure he did." was her reply, and she went on to recount how she made a picnic (fried chicken) for the outing when my dad brought her (and my siblings) to see the spot he'd picked out.
They played while he "laid out" how their new home would be situated beside the new oak tree.

The only thing that surprises me about this revelation is that I didn't make the connection sooner. It leads me to wonder if Daniel 1, as I'm calling my great grandfather now, picked the site of the Old House because of an earlier oak tree, either in Virginia, or, perhaps, even further back in time, in Germany.

(Young Dave up in The Old Oak Tree)

Germanic people have deep connections with oak trees, and there is an ancient "national" tree, over 1200 years old, still called the "Raven Oak" by old people. It is called the Raven Oak because it was, or is, like all oaks, sacred to Wodan, whose two ravens, Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Memory), flew out over the world each day, returning to bring news of what is, was, and will be.
There's a saying that Wodan feared that Thought might not return, but feared even more that Memory would not. I'm starting to understand that fear.

Students of mythology, such as myself, come early to the term "archetype", and thereby eventually to the work of Carl Jung.
Jung claimed to have predicted WWI and the rise of Hitler by the increasing appearance of the Wodan archetype of "The Wild Hunt" in his patient's dreams. Even the most cursory pscyho-google-analysis of the current cyber-psyche will connect the fractal branches of oak/father/Wodan with not only revivalist teutonic and Nordic cults like Asatru, but also the deeply disturbing rants of white supremicists and neo-nazis. You find quite a bit of appreciation for Hitler's poetry. Who knew?

"I often go on bitter nights
To Wotan's oak in the quiet glade
With dark powers to weave a union -
The runic letter the moon makes with its magic spell
And all who are full of impudence during the day
Are made small by the magic formula!"

( Written in 1915
while Hitler was serving in the German Army
on the Western Front.)

On the other side of the acorn, in the same search, I happened on the site of a Catholic extremist railing about how the worldwide spread of the pagan cult disguised as Christianity and called Protestantism must be stopped. He called it "the poisonous spores of oak worship". Who knew?

The event at the center of this storm (the Wild Hunt is a metatrope for the storm and war) is the felling of Wodan's sacred oak by St. Boniface in Hesse in 723. This is the point where research explodes exponentially into countless twigs, each tipped with an expanding acorn of information. Out of the felled pagan oak arose a fir, destined, as stories whould have it, to become our Christmas tree. Wodan, arrayed in the shamanic fly agaric mushroom red and white, becomes St. Nick, accompanied by the Kraken, "Black Peter" ~ whose name meant a black whale - leviathan diver into deep water, and his eight-legged steed becomes eight tiny reindeer.

(The Rumskalla Oak in Sweden, 14.4 meters in circumference. In 1949 the Swedish poet Artur Lindqvist wrote of it: "Male tree, brooder, fighter, prepared to become old and solitary, God tree and gallow tree, loved by raven, with leaves midsummer late.")

Is it a "male tree" because its wood is strong? Or does a certain visual similarity, already noted by the Proto-Indo-Europeans, also play a part? (Latin and Indic "glans" means acorn, with the secondary connotation of "head of the penis".)

The Norse Sagas called the ancestral oak "Branstock":

"The tale tells that great fires were made endlong the hall, and the great tree aforesaid stood midmost thereof, withal folk say that, whenas men sat by the fires in the evening, a certain man came into the hall unknown of aspect to all men; and suchlike array he had, that over him was a spotted cloak, and he was bare- foot, and had linen-breeches knit tight even unto the bone, and he had a sword in his hand as he went up to the Branstock, and a slouched hat upon his head: huge he was, and seeming-ancient, and one-eyed. (2) So he drew his sword and smote it into the tree- trunk so that it sank in up to the hilts; and all held back from greeting the man. Then he took up the word, and said --

"Whoso draweth this sword from this stock, shall have the same as a gift from me, and shall find in good sooth that never bare he better sword in hand than is this."
Therewith out went the old man from the hall, and none knew who he was or whither he went."

(Familiar eh? Switch Merlin for Wodan and you have it.)

Further north, Wodan/Odin becomes himself, hung on his own spear on Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Here's what he said about that in the ancient text of the Havamal:

"I know I hung on the wind-swept tree nine full nights
wounded by a spear and dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which none knows from where the roots come.
They did not comfort me with the loaf nor with the drinking horn:
I looked down below me and groaning took the runes up
and fell back down thereafter."

To bring this back round to family history, my dad often quoted a bit of advice originating from that same document:

"If you stay silent, people will think you're fool; if you open your mouth, you'll remove all doubt."

Of the few existing photos of my grandfather, Daniel Hoskins, there is this one, labeled on the back "Pa and The Old Oak Tree 1925". This would have been after his time in the mental hospital. There's something about his look that reminds me of the photos of Vaslav Nijinsky, as he sank into schizoprenia. Daniel Hoskins has an open book in his hands. How I'd like to know what the book is! Is he delivering a sermon on the roots of the old oak?

There's another old saying, a prescription really:

"Turn your cloak
for fairy folk
are in old oaks."

And of course this is explained by rationalizing folklorists, neither fish-nor-fowlists as they are, as a malingering fear of the old gods in sacred groves, sites of who-knows-what goings ons, but under the circumstances, human sacrifices come to mind. The presciption, intended to break the binding spell of the fairy otherworld, is a fight fire with fire recommendation; turning your coat inside out corresponds to and counters the inherently contrary nature of Elfland (It is Summer there when it's Winter here; we grow old, they grow young, etc.) ~ thus by doing something irrational within irrationality, one may flip the coin and come out back in the comfortably predictable and thus, safe, world of the mundane.

When my niece was little, I had her wear one of my elfshirts as a dress (same thing) and took her photo inside the hollow of The Old Oak tree. In her hair she has a wild white and a tame red rose called The Seven Sisters. The leaves beside, total coincidence, are Dionysic wild grape.

Also coincidence, surely as far as a historian is concerned, are all the conjunctions of oak lore, wild father Wodan, germanic roots, eugenics, and names such as Black Peter~ even my Aunt Gladys' suspicious etymology of Dutton being Norse for Black Hill. But I think I am fairly safe in saying that even today on Dutton Hill, same as it ever was, something strange is going on.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Alf (a.k.a. Little Boy or Mr. Wiggles)

Originally uploaded by Alan Evil
Here's a link to a set of photos of Banjo and Alf playing last week.

Halloween Heroine:

Last nite Jason sent me some youtube clips of my musical hero(ine), the gorgeous and fabulous NINA HAGEN, true heir to the German caberet tradition of Bertoldt Brecht and Kurt Weill. After just a moment of watching I found myself, as always, smiling and homeopathically healed. Nina took Brecht's theater concept of the alienation effect to a whole nother level ~ she is exactly what she is and entirely mythical at the same time - the universe isn't insane; it's beautiful and funny, like Nina. This performance, fronting the all cello band Apocalyptica feat, is from a 2003 Halloween event.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Frost in the Bottoms:

We call the low fields down along Dry Branch the Bottoms. This morning, when Alf & I walked down the hill to get the newspaper, I could see the first fairly heavy frost in the hay fields. The top of the hill can be 10 degrees warmer than the Bottoms.

This year the leaves have taken a subtle turn. The very dry Fall, I think, has made for generally subdued colors, with a few exceptions, all the more vivid viewed against the overall tapestry of browns.

When I woke up, it seemed that I'd spent an entire night deep in the past, brought on by yesterday's concentration on "You'll Always Come Back". So I've identified one of the cautions I need to keep in mind as I work on it ~ be sure not to neglect the beauties of the present, lest you, as Cebah says, "Overlook an orchid whilst searching for a rose."

Here are some of the present beauties in the Bottoms and on the Hill:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dan on a Tin Roof

Originally uploaded by Alan Evil
Here's a set of pictures of Dan and Dave working on the old studio, converting it to the new playhouse.

Two Trees:

Aunt Gertrude's drawing of The Old House shows a big cedar tree in the front yard, still there when I was growing up, and further on in her album, she mentions "the old oak tree" ~ subject of an earlier post.

The old oak tree, cut and bulldozed under by the subdividers of The Hill when the Duttons lost it, was a white oak, estimated to be well over 400 years old. Since I'm feeling in the dark here anyway, and following Cebah's "no one can dispute you" concept, I'm going to site the sprouting of that acorn in the year 1550. It's not impossible. In this imagining of that event, I'll try to balance between artifact and conjecture.

Curiously, that date in Kentucky would fall within the period archaeologists now term as "Mississippian" (A.D. 900 to 1700) - an echo of the so-called Mississippian Era of geologic time, many millions of years earlier when the limestone of The Hill originated. On the staircase in The Old House were two ancient axeheads, presumably picked up on the farm, and arrowheads still turn up whenever ground is plowed here in dandyland. So it is a fairly safe guess that someone walked on The Hill when the old oak tree was a sprout.

(The axe head that Axe Head Leaver left, and sprouting white oak acorns.)

Just a few miles north of The Hill, an unusual artifact was found in a mound. That object was a pierced and engraved shell gorget with a rare design (one of only two found so far) believed to depict a jaguar.

(A typical shell gorget with a pierced and engraved design of a falcon man.)

(Artist Herb Roe's concept of what a Mississippian era man, like the falcon man on the gorget, might have looked like.)

Shell gorgets in this neighborhood indicate a number of interesting things about the people who lived or visited The Hill in those days - one being that their trade routes extended all the way to the ocean, where the conch shells used to make the gorgets were found. The gorgets are believed by some to mark the boundaries of a cult, or to put it another way, an affiliated group who recognized and valued their incised symbols. Many feature somewhat abstracted (and often winged) rattlesnake designs, falcon men, spiders, and a cross-in-circle motif. This "Southern Cult" extended from and beyond the largest of the mound sites, Cahokia, near St. Louis,
all the way to Florida.

Some things can be guessed about how the person who left the axe on The Hill imagined the world. I think it is safe to say, given the careful orientation of the mounds, and the gigantic "woodhenge" whose traces remain at Cahokia, and similar structures in Ohio, all carefully designed to coincide with the celestial phenomena of the solstices and equinox, moonrise and moonset, that the Axe Leaver had a keen concern with the cardinal directions and the cyclic patterns of the sun and moon.
Certainly the remainders of the Mississippian people did and continue to, the so called "historical tribes", present in the area when European settlers arrived, the Cherokee, for instance. I discovered this for myself when I took singing lessons from Walker Calhoun, a Cherokee elder. The directions have associated colors in Cherokee: East is Red, South is White, West is Black, and North is Blue. There's a great deal of meaning, and many stories associated with this complex of colors and spatial orientation, but that will have to wait.

(The "Woodhenge" at Cahokia)

It's possible as well to imagine what sort of "Old House" the Axe Leaver would have left on the Spring morning when the Old Oak Tree sprouted. It was probably like a turned over basket thatched with grass, perhaps wattled and daubed inside with clay, most likely with floor mats woven of cattails. Cebah believes that she had Cherokee ancestors, and that's not a stretch either, just unproven. However it is suggestive to me that she taught me how to make these sort of shelters when I was a child, first by bundling sedge grass, later, when I was strong enough to handle the task, by bending and weaving together supple small trees to make what I called wigwams. And it is interesting to me too that by doing this, weaving a shelter, I learned to make baskets. But it makes sense that the house comes first.

It's also possible to imagine what the Axe Leaver heard on that Spring day so long ago, plenty of the sounds are still being made. One in particular may connect yet another thread from then to now, the tiny frogs that we call spring peepers, whose singing rises up from every damp bottomland like countless tiny bells, instantly evokes a host of associated things to anyone who has farmed in this part of the country. Their singing commences at the time to begin gardening. Perhaps it is this connection which lead the Cherokee to make a dance chant, now called "Knee Deep" , for their Spring social festivities.(The spring peeper frog, Hylax, is called "dusdu" in Cherokee. Around here the phrase "knee deep" is supposed to be the call of the bullfrog, "kanuna" in Cherokee.) Mr. Calhoun taught me this song, and I incorporated it, along with a field recording of the peepers themselves, into "Peepers", one of the pieces of dance music made for The Faun.

(Pipestone in the shape of a frog holding a dance rattle.)

Frogs, of course, are aquatic creatures, living in the body of Yunwi Gunahi'ta (Person who is long), or, Water personified.
Axe Leaver, of course, knew about the spring that would be called, 450 some years later, Pete's Spring, and undoubtably he or she took a drink from it, so they keep coming back. If that person knew the forerunners of the myths that the Cherokees still tell today, the spring would have been a special place, and not just because the water tasted good, but also because it was an opening into The Underworld, a place beneath both earth and water, itself a home to some powerful and dangerous creatures, the Uktena, a giant serpent similar to rattlesnakes, and the Water Panther. Mr. Calhoun wondered if the Uktena might have been a dinosaur. It is probable that southern Kentucky, a karst region famous for caves, was something of a center for Underworld interface in those days.

A greater danger than the Uktena was lurking about in those days though. Hernando de Sota, in his 1539 - 43 expeditions in the south, had introduced European diseases to a population with no resistance. By the time that European settlers would arrive, millions of the "Mississippian" people had died, and the mound building and ceremonies had ceased, the trade in salt, copper, lead, pipestone and shell ended, and the "Southern Cult" lived on only in a much-changed form, in the myths and stories of the Cherokee and other "historical tribes", remnants of a culture that had transformed the land from beyond the Ohio River to Florida into their homeland, only to see their newly re-established towns destroyed by invaders, and many thousands of their children and elders die of exposure and starvation on the horrible "Trail of Tears" as they were marched trough a brutal winter by Andrew Jackson's order toward the Darkening Land, home of the dead.

The Cherokee have an interesting story concerning the cedar tree, one of the seven sacred woods that is used to feed and keep the original fire, brought in the Water Spider's tiny basket from the burning hollow of a lightning-struck sycamore tree on the first island to emerge form the primordial waters - but that's another story... ahem ~ The story tells of how the conjurers of the ancient times became so powerful, and abused that power so much, that the people rose up in rebellion and killed them. They hung the head of the head sorcerer atop the cedar tree. His blood, itself pure power, dripped down the trunk of the tree and colored the wood red, and filled it with power, as it remains today. Lightning-struck cedar wood is one of the most potent of Cherokee substances. Getting power is one thing, knowing how to use it wisely is another.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Old House Has A Voice:

My dad was the seventh son of a seventh son, a genealogical fact with mystical associations. He had a leg-puller's delight in this curiousity, bringing it up occasionally to demonstrate that he was of course too humble to claim a supernatural ability to cure "the King's itch" and certain aliments of horses, but there it was. Seventh sons of seventh sons are also alledged to have "the second sight", a type of extra perception, a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it, that penetrates the very necessary boundary between the mundane world of our constantly projected desires and the other world of elemental realities. The situation does call for some humility.

Truth being stranger than fiction begs the point, both being exceedingly strange, but I have noticed that my personal delight in the curlicues of advanced fantasy can obscure potent facts. I was aware, during work on The Changeling & the Bear, for instance, that The Old House, as we called my father's homeplace, had a voice, but I assumed that voice was entirely a child's fantasy ~ one of many magical things I remembered about my odd childhood. That conceit blinded me to part of what The Old House had to say. (Given the territory we're in, you'll have to overlook my mixed metaphor. It is more mixed than it appears.)

(The Old House scene from KET's video of The Changeling & the Bear)

My usual method for research on a project is to begin following a thread through bibliographies. One of threads that I'm following leads through recent books by archaeologists concerning artifacts found deliberately buried beneath the dwelling places of slaves. These buried accumulations appear to conform, in procedure and content, with the practices of West African religions or philosophies, depending on your semantics, potential proof that these practices endured the cultural crucible of the diaspora. Some understanding of whether and how the cosmologies of Africa traveled to Dutton Hill is required before I can imagine what Pete may have thought about the spring bearing his name, and if the saying "You'll always come back." originated with him, what the resonance of that statement might imply. That's what lead to me an intriguing book, Crossroads and Cosmologies by Christopher Fennel.

Here's a bit from the introduction by Robert Farris Thompson, author of Flash of the Spirit, another essential book in this thread:

"This is the first text on Afro-American archaeology in which we are rewarded with discussion of those all-important Kongo spirits call bisimbi or basimbi. They live in the forest (nfinda), and they live in the water (maza). Bisimba form the highest class of the dead. They led such powerful lives that when they died, they came back, died, and came back once again. Fennel elaborates: "[simbi] originated as the souls of living persons, which evolved through multiple cycles of death and rebirth as living person, then soul, then ancestor, then simbi." Honoring their power, God transforms them into the immortal pools or waterfalls or mountains. Citing Laman, Fennel continues, "As the basimbi (from simba, to hold, keep, preserve) safeguard the country, man could not exist anywhere without them."

And this...

"A later chapter involves the careful glossing of a single German-American log cabin in Virginia and its visual trove. Under this house Fennel found a small figure of a skull with a cross and initials. A credulous researcher might announce, "Aha: this obviously connects with skull figures of the late Son Thomas of black Mississipi, and certain face jugs of black South Carolina." But the cabin was the residence of frugal German-Americans. Patiently excavating and sifting all kinds of evidence, Fennell devotes an entire chapter to proving the skull and its sings derived from German-American traditions, not Kongo or any other."

My cousin Barbara brought her trove of family history over last Sunday, so that we could share it. Her mother, Gertrude, was one of my dad's older sisters. I never knew her, and thus had no idea she was such a dry wit. Hilarious actually. She also had an interest in her ancestry and dropped an interesting quote in a letter, "Mom says that the Duttons were all low down dutch." - with low down dutch underlined to accentuate the humor. Dutch in this case is an Anglo-American corruption of the word Deutsch, ie German. My aunt Gladys, longing for membership in the DAR, faked geneaology to avoid the then negative wartime association with anything German. But my great great grandfather David Dutting, (the spelling changed on the 1810 deed for the first part of the farm that he purchased) was likely to have been much more Germanic than she would have preferred.

"Many of the German immigrants who eventually moved into the upper Potomac and northern Shenandoa area came from the broad region of the Palatine districts of southwestern Germany. The Palatine states, located along the Rhine Valley and the area of modern-day Switzerland, suffered extensive disruptions and instability during numerous wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries." ... "Between 1702 and 1727, approximately 40,000 to 50,000 German immigrants arrived in Pennsylania.."

(This view of a forest in the Palatine region looks much like eastern Pulaski County.)

"...German families settled in seperate farmsteads, rather than concentrated villages, a change from their settlement patterns in southwest Germany. Yet they tended to settle these farms near one another, and they maintained local social networks in which they provided one another with labor, equipment, products, and loans of currency. ... German families in this region (the Shenandoah Valley and north Loudoun Country Virginia) also tended to pass on family wealth through a system of "partable inheritance," similar to that employed in southweat Germany, to provide as much to all their children as they could. Under this approach, the male head of the household typically bequeathed a portion of the family wealth to each child, while arranging for the family farm to pass largely intact to one son for continued operation."

"... the family farmers of both the German and Quaker communities in north Loudoun County shared several characteristics, including lifestyles of frugality and industriousness. They tended to be more successful farmers than others in the county, including the larger-scale Anglo-American farm operators. Members of the German and Quaker communities practiced crop rotations and used manure to fertilize their farms in a way that boosted the productivity of their farms above that of others in the region during the late 1700s"

In Fennel's discussion of Germanic magic traditions, he quotes this description: "The universe was peopled by a hierarchy of spirits, and thought to manifest all kinds of occult influences and sympathies. The cosmos was an organic unity in which every part bore a sympathetic relationship to the rest. Even colours, letters and numbers were endowed with magical properties."

There is plenty for me to ponder in all this, but the part of Fennel's book that really struck my eye was his lengthy investigation into determining how the architecture of the cabin he excavated was linked to building traditions in Palatine Germany. Much of what he described also pertained to the floor plan and construction of The Old House, the larger part of which was built in 1875, by my great grandfather, when my grandfather was 14. And it so happened, that because of Barbara's visit, the significance of the design of The Old House was already haunting my brain.

This because my Aunt Gertrude, when she was a teen, had made an album, "My Home and Family", as teens sometimes do, an accumulation in book form of objects and writing that she felt defined her identity. She, or perhaps my dad, whom she described as "the baby, quiet, the drawer", had drawn a picture of The Old House, and this was presented as practically the first aspect of her identity.

How teasing it is that she ALMOST describes why one window is larger than the others! This is just one of the many mysteries concerning The Old House; alas, all that I have time for this morning. Much was lost when The Old House burned, but it seems likely to me now that more remains than I will have time to comprehend. That's the thing about the two worlds - the mundane world is what our limited perceptions can percieve; the real world is so much bigger.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Wanted to add these designs by Dan~~~~~There's more where these came from.......

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pete & Charles:

Since I managed to get the skeleton painting done, I decided to see if I could make something connected to "You'll Always Come Back", the family history project in progress, for the Dias de los Muertos celebration at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft. This photo is of the raw materials for an altar dedicated to Pete and Charles.

In Mexico the altars are called ofrenda, or offering. The English word altar has a latin root meaning a place where something, a sacrifice or incense, presumably, is burnt. On the Mexican ofrendas, that incense would be copal, the wonderful scented resin of a sacred tree, used at least since the time of the ancient Mayans. Luckily my friend Lucy B. brought me some on her last visit from Mexico.

"On 30 or 31 October, according to local custom, if not begun before, the ofrenda will be constructed. The whole family will probably play some part in this. A table is set up, or... a platform suspended from the roof beams of the house, covered with a white or embroidered cloth or perhaps decorative plastic sheeting. It is usually set up close to the permanent household altar for the saints.
Above the table, framing the front of the offering, an arch is constructed using supple canes which is then decorated with palm or other green leaves and sometimes sugar canes. This is then embellished with an arrangement of flowers, fruits and other ornaments. A cloth may be draped above the arch to make a 'sky' (cielo) over the offering. There may be tissue paper tied into decorative forms adorning the arch and table, or papeles picados (sheets of multi-colored tissue paper with punched or cut-out designs.
On the table are placed pictures or figures of particular saints, a Virgin or a Christ, of importance to the family. Candles of various types and candlesticks are placed both on and before the offering; the candles are sometimes set into a section of a banana plant set up on wooden trestles. Before the table will be a new petate, a rush or palm-leaf mat upon which the incense burners are placed ready for use.
If the family have portraits or photographs of the deceased, these will be given a central position on the offering, although this is not common in Indian households. More vases of flowers will complete the decorations, leaving only space for the food offerings which will follow.
The most widely held belief is that the souls of children return first, and food and gifts appropriate to their age and tastes will be set out for them. ...the adult dead return on November 1st and are, in their turn, given the most splendid offering of foods and drinks the family can afford. In addition to the breads there may be biscuits of various kinds, sugar figures, fresh and candied fruits, especially candied pumpkin... Cooked dishes might include chicken or turkey in mole, and certainly various forms of tamales, enchiladas, and chalupas are made ready in abundance... "

(The Skeleton at the Feast; The Day of the Dead in Mexico / Elizabeth Carmichael & Chloe Sayer)

I made the border of my ofrenda with photos of flowers in my garden - the traditional Mexican "flower of the dead", the cempasuichil, an ancient variety of marigold, associated with festivals for the dead since pre-Hispanic times, and the cockscomb, or mano de leon (lion's paw).

I don't have a photograph of Pete or Charles, and it seems unlikely I'll find one. So far my research has found no pre-1900 photographs of African Americans in this county at all. The image I've chosen is from the Library of Congress archives, of two boys whose names and location are unknown. They look as though they might be close to the ages that Pete and Charles were in 1845 when they arrived at Dutton Hill, 6 and 8. I included a photo of Pete's tombstone in the Dutton Cemetery, and the engraved image of the run-away slave from the wanted ad for Charles Dutton sent to me by historian Kate Larson. I doubt that it's the same Charles, but the family story concerning Charles is only two words; "He left."

If and when more information emerges about Pete and Charles, I'm sure that other and more complex images will present themselves in my imagination, but for now, this will do.

The first time that I was truly impressed by the power of the internet was when it allowed me to engage in an email conversation with the great Nigerian writer, poet and dramatist, Wole Soyinka. Two of his plays, Death and the King's Horsemen, and The Road, had a profound effect on how I think about, and work with images. Here's a sample of his work:

"Yoruba metaphysics holds the view of there being three major areas of existence. What you might call the traditional Yoruba sensibility is constantly in touch with and aware of these three. It's the world of the unborn, the world of the dead, and the world of the living. There is a mutual correspondence between these three areas. But I believe there is also a fourth which is not often articulated but which I recognize as implicit. It is not made obviously concrete by the rituals, by the philosophy that is articulated by the Ifa priests. This is the fourth area -- the area of transition. It is the chthonic realm, the area of the really dark forces, the really dark spirits, and it also is the area of stress of the human will."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rock n Roll Will Never Die:

Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Out of the Blue

Halloween, and Dias de los Muertos, both popular with skeletons, are coming up, and those of us with the expansive capacity, (or luxury) to see the humorous edge of mortality, enjoy a little spooking.

We're planning a big celebration of Dias de los Muertos here at our public library, hoping to encourage everyone in our community to learn some Spanish or English, and enjoy the enriching presence of our Spanish-speaking residents and visitors. In a moment of insanity, I also agreed to make something for the Dias de los Muertos celebration at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville. As soon as I hung up the phone from that rash move, I began wondering what on earth I could do in such a short time. It was tempting to work on something from "You'll Always Come Back", the family history project. After all, a big part of Dias de los Muertos is remembering and honoring the ancestors, often with gorgeous altars decorated with marigolds and cockscomb. (Both originated in the famous flower gardens of the Aztecs - it is believed that the roots of the modern Dias de los Muertos begin in the ancient days of pre-Hispanic Mexico, and its likely the use of these flowers for that purpose dates to those times.)

But since I've been playing some Rock n Roll-influenced music these days, with Secretsea, my day of the dead musings fixed on a novel phenomena anyone who has lately seen the Rolling Stones may have noticed ~ Rock n Roll, the quintessential music of youth, has gotten way old.

But in the Skeleton World, it retains the same gungho frenzy for eternity. That is the subject of this new painting, which I've titled after a line in another great Rock n Roll old-timer's song - "Rock and Roll Will Never Die" (Neil Young ~ Katherine's fav. When Cathy and I were at Apifera, she mentioned worrying about Neil kicking the bucket. Neil could lead a skeleton band like The Bones easily - his guitar playing has always had a bit of the funereal crunch about it, ("Vampire Blues") or tragic melodicism when it's pretty - ("I've seen the needle and the damage done").

So here' s few images of the painting:

Skeletophiles may also enjoy "Letters From Death" - a webart piece that William & I made of papercut images and (mostly wry) poems about death.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Some years ago I was served something, a dessert presumably, announced with some fanfare as persimmon pudding. It is important at this point to attest that I do not remember by who, or where it was, or when. This persimmon pudding was said to be the result of an old family recipe, and simply the best thing you ever tasted. Such statements are often received with trepidation, and in this case warranted, because what I was served resembled and tasted like nothing so much as a congealed square of old-fashioned wallpaper paste ~ recipe: boil flour and water, apply. I really doubted that it could have had any persimmon pulp in it. The hose and high heels of the lovely lady who served it appeared to be fairly permanently attached. It was hard to imagine her making her way to a persimmon tree and back in that condition.

I suspected that what she'd used in her old family recipe were unripe specimens of the much larger Japanese persimmon, or Kaki, only recently and rarely available in grocery stores here in Kentucky. In the yard of Mr. Ohashi's beautiful new but traditional home in Japan I was delighted and amazed to see a familiar-looking tree silhouette, and a trunk with nearly identical bark to the neat aligator-scale-like pattern of the persimmon trees here on the hill. It was a Kaki. Sometimes the delicious date-like fruits, dried on open air racks, are served as a sweet for an Autumn tea ceremony.

Cebah's persimmon pudding is easily my favorite fall dessert, and lucky for us, this year the persimmon trees are bearing an extraordinary crop. Bud, one of the two farmers tending the farm here, noted yesterday that this year is a boom for all sorts of mast; black walnuts, beechnuts, acorns, and persimmons, and that he thought it might be a sign of a bad winter to come; "The Lord takes care of wild creatures just like he does us." I've never seen the ground littered with persimmons before, so if that is a true indicator, then the ice age is coming back.

Not wanting to be beaten by possums to the tree, Cebah and I headed off in October's bright blue weather yesterday to gather what we could. It's a little early to go after them - usually we wait until after the first frost, typically a bit later in the month here. But this year is different in that regard too, I tested the persimmons on a walk the other day, and some are already ripe.
Without the frost, taste-testing is the only way to be sure that a persimmon is truly ripe, softness alone is not a sure indication. This curiousity allows certain country comedians, like Cebah and my late dad, to profer a novel fruit to the uninitiated visitor, usually from a naive or urban area, whose pursed face when they realize that the initial sweetness is followed by an alum-like mouth pucker, provides a dependable hilarity. Living in the country can be a lot of fun.

Cebah certainly enjoyed our expedition, picking up the prettiest of the fallen leaves and exclaiming at the beauty of the deep blue sky. She made a remark, plain for her, poignant to me, that there was a time, meaning last winter when her health took a blow, when she didn't think she'd ever get out and walk like this again. Winter is still hard on age. But on this day, we gathered up our windfall in relative bliss and headed back to the kitchen.

The recipe calls for a cup of persimmon pulp. To that end I got out our ancient and treasured Foley food mill to seperate out the plentiful seeds from the pale orange pulp, combined the few ingredients in this easy recipe and popped it in the oven to bake,

Cebah's Persimmon Pudding:

Combine 1 cup of persimmon pulp with 1/2 cup of brown sugar and beat in 3 eggs. Sift together a cup of flour with one teaspoon of baking powder and a half teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg. Blend this dry mixture by into the first, alternating by thirds with a cup of milk.

Pour the batter into a buttered 9 inch square baking pan and bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Remove the pudding from the oven, pierce it here and there with a fork, and pour over 1/8 lb (a half stick) of melted butter. Serve warm or cold with a drizzle of heavy cream.