Category Archives: Music

August 2022: Both Sides Now

Clouds at Point Imperial, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, September 2018

Like some others, I have been thinking about Joni Mitchell this past week. Mitchell* performed at the Newport Folk Festival on July 24, 2022 after not performing an entire set for many years. Unlike some of my friends, I haven’t listened to her much this last week. Not sure why that is, but I think it might be because Joni Mitchell is already in my blood like holy wine.

Some of you have heard this story before (and some of you lived it with me), but I want to write about it again. I am writing this article sitting in my chair. No music now, but there are clouds off to the right through the balcony window.

my chair below the Joni Mitchell drawing**
our balcony with clouds and plants

I think I first listened to Joni Mitchell’s music in the fall of 1968 when I was not quite 19 years old. It is possible that I heard Judy Collin’s version of “Both Sides Now” before I heard Mitchell’s own version. I liked both versions–then and now. Soon after, I heard Mitchell’s albums, probably on one of my college roommate’s record player. Then and now, when I hear those words and that voice–or just think of them as I am doing now–I am transported to another place. There is pain in that place, but the words and the voice I hear sing a strong and healing magic.

For several years when I was young, I would sing Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Joan Baez songs. This was quite a feat because I can’t–and never could–sing well, so I sang when I was alone. I sang Mitchell’s “Michael from Mountains,” “Tin Angel,” and “Blue” thinking of Tom. Sometimes I would sing as I walked at Lone Rock beach at Lake Powell near where I taught or while I drove the back roads of the Intermountain West, where I often didn’t have radio reception.

In 1973, I received a teaching fellowship for a Master’s degree in English at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. That was great (except for the stipend, of course, which was a meager $2,000 per year). Many of my Grand Canyon friends were in Salt Lake at the time and I met another lifelong friend there, my fellow teacher, Laura. I was still bewitched by the songs of Joni Mitchell and, because I wanted to study the English words that meant a great deal to me, I decided to write a thesis on the lyrics in Mitchell’s songs.

Many things happened: I taught freshman composition classes including reviewing hundreds of essays, I got married and shortly Tom and I were expecting a child. My plan on the thesis was to finish it before our first child was to be born in May of 1975. With one thing and another, I finally finished the thesis not long before our second child was born in May of 1977. Our friends from back in the day may remember me listening, writing, rewriting, stalling, obsessing, and worrying about the paper. I had elements of the thesis in various states of readiness for months, but the final version came together when I was able to spend a week working alone at our friend Sally’s apartment. My thesis was accepted and I remember the kind words of Professor Phil Sullivan–an aging hippie among the more standard issue faculty I had at Utah. Phil agreed with me that music lyrics could indeed be poetry. Rest in peace, Phil.

Note: You can tell how long ago all of this was because my thesis only covers Mitchell through Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975). It was also so long ago that I needed to hire a typist to type/format my paper into a form that the university would accept. That cost some money. What I remember most, though is how much it cost to copy the thesis. I wanted to make a copy of the thesis to send to Joni Mitchell. Each page back then would cost about one dollar to make a good copy. At a little over 100 pages, I didn’t feel I could afford to copy the thesis to send. I didn’t really know where I might send it anyhow. A Grecian Isle, a red dirt road in Spain, or California? Years passed. Mitchell kept writing, composing, and painting. I kept parenting, gardening, working (mostly in education), and listening to music.

title page

Mitchell sang “Both Sides Now” at the Newport Folk Festival on July 24. I did listen to it and I loved the rendition. Both Joni Mitchell and I are old now, so we have had ample opportunity to look at both sides of our lives with all those illusions and that winning and losing. I don’t really know life at all, but I am okay with that. I remember and still believe what Mitchell said in “Woodstock”: “I don’t know who I am but life is for learning.”

With all the years of  loving, winning, losing, and learning in my life, I was happy this morning to see that I still agree with the final sentence of my thesis: “Joni Mitchell, for her part, writes song poetry the way Dylan Thomas would have it, as ‘the rhythmic, inevitably narrative movement from overclothed blindness to a naked vision.'”

*When I started writing this piece, I automatically started writing “Joni” instead of “Joni Mitchell” or “Mitchell.” I don’t write “Will” for William Butler Yeats and I realize I want to equally acknowledge Mitchell’s gravitas, so I have written about her here formally.

**Artist and friend Howard Brough drew this portrait as a wedding gift for Tom and me in 1974. Howard also drew illustrations for Mitchell songs and two more portraits, which were included in the thesis. Thank you, Howard.

August 2020: Music

double rainbow, July 28, 2020

July finally ended. Some days I felt light headed and a bit dizzy. I mostly thought it was  just my head and heart going wonky from the pandemic/Trump in the Black Hills and all the rest.  Or maybe it was the virus, but the doctor doesn’t think so.  She thinks I am having a little vertigo from an ear issue.  We did see the double rainbow in the sky from our condo when John Lewis was lying in state at the Capitol. The black-eyed Susans we planted at Hillside Park have been blooming up a storm, and the Potomac River rolls on by, so beauty is still around us.

black-eyed Susan

Even though I claim to be an agnostic,  I am always alert to signs from some other plane.  Here is the sign for today: I heard “Let it Be” twice  on the radio this morning and it comforted me. I hope it will do the same for you.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

Potomac River and Theodore Roosevelt Island

Theodore Roosevelt Island and Potomac River


Note: I began this post the last week of May 2020.  I had an idea to write about things that comfort me in, as they say in those T.V. ads, “these uncertain times.”  I have been thinking about these uncertain times.   I thought about the plagues of Europe I had read about. I thought about the Navajo Nation. I miss being with my children, but I know I am lucky; I just can’t hug them right now.

Then, things fell apart (even further than they ever have since January 2017). How can a pandemic with over 100,000 dead not be first on my list of sorrows this morning?  I feel like I am back in the uncertain times of my youth, circa 1967-1968, but worse.

I need comfort even more today and I hope I can offer some respite for a few minutes.

About seven or eight years ago I asked my sister-in-law Judy if she would teach me to knit and she said sure.  I have always admired my relatives and friends who could knit, crochet, and do other crafts.  I thought I would enjoy knitting while I talked or watched T.V.  Lord knows I could use the comfort and calm that such activities are supposed to provide.  I bought enough soft brown (mostly) alpaca yarn to knit Tom a scarf.  You will see below how far I got on the scarf.  I wanted to concentrate on my knit/ purl tasks, but sitting with my family on reunion weekend, I just couldn’t. The words were more important to me than the task, I guess.  Back home, I asked my friend Robin to help me back on track a couple of times, but I did not understand. I did not persevere.

my knitting

A couple of years later when my friend Donna heard this story, she offered to teach me to crochet instead. I tried. Donna was very patient. She told me there were YouTube videos I could watch to help me when I forgot–again–what I was supposed to do. You can see how far I got on whatever I was making below.

my crocheting

While I have not yet learned to do calming and lovely crafts–no March sister here knitting socks for the Union Army while waiting for Marmee to come home–I can do some things that comfort me some in these times.



For example:

I love nature and I love writing lists. Related to that, I have–sort of–wanted to be a naturalist for about 50 years. So, I love writing lists that include plants, animals, and specific tidbits about nature.  I recently started a list describing the flora and fauna of Hillside Park, a nearby little public park where Tom and I volunteer.  Just setting up the table and starting to list the trees helped me feel more relaxed than I had in days.  Here is a sample from the list:

Name Scientific Name Native? Notes
arrowwood viburnum Viburnum dentatum yes
beech Fagus grandifolia yes
black cherry Prunus serotina yes
fragrant sumac Rhus aromatica yes
black locust Robinia pseudoacacia) yes
catalpa Catalpa speciosa yes blooming now; end of May
hackberry Celtis occidentalis yes
kousa dogwood Cornus kousa no
mulberry, prob white Morus alba no if this turns out to be red mulberry, it is a welcome native, but not likely, I think

oaks, Hillside Park, Arlington Virginia

Books about trees comfort me. Last week, Among the Ancients: Adventures in the Eastern Old-Growth Forests by Joan Maloof reminded me of old forests I have walked in. Just writing this now, this morning, calms my anxious heart a little.

Like so many others, I have been doing quite a bit of baking these last months.  Actually, I have needed to curtail this urge somewhat because a) while we do exercise and take walks, there has been a great deal of sitting while reading, watching T.V. and, for me, compulsive solitaire playing b) we don’t have the metabolisms we had back in the day when I would bake a treat every day.

butter tarts with Michigan cherries and walnuts

Even more than my baking, watching Tom cook old favorites–remembering happy times with family and friends–comforts me.  Both my appetite and my heart have been satisfied with Tom’s meals: Lasagna, albondigas soup, chile verde, meatballs and tomato sauce!

I don’t think listening to music calms me down; more like it excites me, makes me cry, and, sometimes gives me the shivers–but those reactions provide their own comfort. Mostly, we listen to classical music, but lately we have also been listening to folk and rock, too.  Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Doc Watson, the Beatles, even the Beach Boys (Good Vibrations), have caused that sharp intake of breath.

I have been thinking about Leonard Cohen these last several days. The song I am particularly  thinking about is Democracy. I hope Leonard is right and that someday (soon) , “Democracy is coming to the USA.”  This idea comforts me and I still (mostly) believe it. Please be well. Please be safe. Peace.

Love,  Lynda



Our current road trip will end tomorrow as Tom and I head back to Charlottesville. Spring awaits with its cleaning, taxes, and, best of all, the garden.



What a strange (but not too long) a trip it’s been: squealing differential in Florida, airborne tent in Texas, hankering to be one with the earth everywhere, while still craving that internet political fix.

Today, I am taking a detour to New Orleans. Tom didn’t quite take me to the Mardi Gras (it’s on February 28 this year), but close enough for a woman who doesn’t smoke, mostly doesn’t drink, and who surely can’t dance (except maybe to Motown).

almost Mardi Gras

almost Mardi Gras

I love New Orleans. Maybe it started with my mom’s New Orleans pralines.  Or, maybe it was Paul Simon’s, “Take Me to the Mardi Gras“:

Come on, take me to the Mardi Gras
Where the people sing and play
Where the dancing is elite
And there’s music in the street
Both night and day

Hurry, take me to the Mardi Gras
In the city of my dreams
You can legalize your lows
You can wear your summer clothes
In the New Orleans

And I will lay my burden down
Rest my head upon that shore
And when I wear that starry crown
I won’t be wanting anymore

Take your burdens to the Mardi Gras
Let the music wash your soul
You can mingle in the street
You can jingle to the beat
Of Jelly Roll

© 1973 Words and Music by Paul Simon

I loved the food. People were singing and playing. There was music in the street.

Cafe Du Monde

Cafe Du Monde

shrimp po boy, Cafe Fleur De Lis, French Quarter

shrimp po boy, Cafe Fleur De Lis, French Quarter

music, Jackson Square

music, Jackson Square

music in the street

music in the street

I let the music wash my soul and I mingled in the street. I worked on laying some of my burden down.

I remembered what I thought the first time I went–alone–to New Orleans about 14 years ago. As I wandered through the French Quarter, I thought: I know who I am throwing in my lot with. I am with the people who sing, dance, eat real food, and maybe smoke and drink and whatever, but just trying to get by with a little grace, style, and humor. I do not stand with those who think there is only one way and who denigrate those who choose a different path. That sounds like fascism to me.  I can’t explain myself well on this topic, but, lucky for me, Robin and Linda Williams have some words that work for me in Going, Going Gone:

When I pass a church house door I breathe a prayer one time more
I don’t know that I belong, but I still sing love’s
sweet old songs
If I’m not among the blessed, then I’ll be like all the rest
Getting by day to day moving down the lost highway
Going, Going, Going Gone
                                   by Robin and Linda Williams, Jerome Clark 2008

live oak (Quercus virginia)

live oak (Quercus virginia)

September 1999

Tom's rose, Awakening


In September 1999, a former adult ESL student of mine was found dead in the trunk of a car a few blocks from our school.

Today, thanks to the efforts of many, including the Arlington County (VA) Police Department’s Cold Case Unit, a suspect has been extradited from Guatemala to Arlington, Virginia.  I don’t want to to write my former student’s name here (and certainly not his), but you can find them somewhere if you want.

I just want to tell you a little bit about her.  She was young. She was sweet and funny.  When our class walked over to the park for a picnic and games, she could really belt the softball (it might have been a hardball).

It might have been for Valentine’s Day, but, anyhow, she gave me a little redbird music box that chirped Beethoven’s  “Ode to Joy.”

I took the bird off my bookshelf a few minutes ago.  I had thought the little bird stopped chirping years ago, but she chirped a few bars for me.

O friends, no more of these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
More songs full of joy!
Joy! (taken from a translation of Schiller’s lyrics at

Joy to you somewhere, my dear.

Ode to Joy redbird

Ode to Joy redbird


Words for a Friend


Moonrise, Ft. Davis State Park

Moonrise, Ft. Davis State Park

Usually, I have plenty of words. Occasionally, some people have suggested that I might use more than enough words.

That’s is not the case today. I don’t have the words I want to say to a friend who has recently suffered a loss.  So, I am using some other writers’ words and am hoping they help.

From “Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot (1930)

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Golden Slumbers, lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (1969)

Once there was a way to get back homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Golden Slumbers fill your eyes
Smiles awake you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Once there was a way to get back homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time
Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time

I never give you my pillow
I only send you my invitations
And in the middle of the celebrations
I break down

Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time
Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time

Oh yeah, all right
Are you gonna be in my dreams

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make

Tom and I love you and wish you well.

Phoenix feathers for you

Phoenix feathers for you

Report from June 20, 2016

awakening,Tom's rose

awakening, Tom’s rose

This morning I have been whistling snippets of Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This pleased me because I love that music and because I was happy to note that I was whistling again.  I haven’t whistled much these last years. I think maybe one has to be more lighthearted than I am or have a younger mouth than I do. In any case, this morning’s whistling sounded pretty good to me.

I started whistling when I was very young.  I remember wandering around the backyard in Detroit just whistling. I don’t know how I learned to whistle, but I was proud of my skill. I did love to whistle Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah long before I understood the baggage that went with the song. My dad was a whistler, too.  Sometimes, when we were stuck waiting in the car, Dad would whistle to amuse us children.  He would whistle Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance and other war horses.

When I was in college, I used to whistle as I walked home alone at night from class or the library, but it wasn’t because I was scared.  It was because it was dark, maybe a little damp, and because the music I made sounded beautiful to me. I whistled the love theme from Zeffirelli’s movie Romeo and Juliet, various bits from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suites, “I am a Maid of Constant Sorrow,” and, of course, the Sabre Dance.

For many years, I whistled a bit of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, ditties from medieval Christmas music, and whatever else my ear and mouth could pick up.

Late this morning, it finally dawned on me why I was whistling the Mendelssohn. It was Midsummer yet again, 42 years after Tom and I were married in Salt Lake City. That was long before life became so–I don’t know, less a romantic ideal and more visceral and earnest. We were lucky then with our dear family and friends with us to celebrate and we are lucky now to have each other still, even if the whistling is halting and off-key.

I don’t know if I ever whistled this song, but I surely sang it through all these years:

What I’ll give you since you asked
Is all my time together;
Take the rugged sunny days,
The warm and rocky weather,
Take the roads that I have walked along,
Looking for tomorrow’s time,
Peace of mind.

As my life spills into yours,
Changing with the hours
Filling up the world with time,
Turning time to flowers,
I can show you all the songs
That I never sang to one man before.

We have seen a million stones lying by the water,
You have climbed the hills with me
To the mountain shelter.
Taken off the days, one by one,
Setting them to breathe in the sun.

Take the lilies and the lace
From the days of childhood,
All the willow winding paths
Leading up and outward.
This is what I give
This is what I ask you for;
Nothing more

Judy Collins, “Since You’ve Asked,”  Wildflowers, 1967

In the High Sierras

In the High Sierras

I Wonder As I Wander

Going-to-the-Sun Mountain

Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, Glacier National Park, Montana

I was (still am) the youngest of five children. One of the benefits of this set-up was that I  listened to rock and roll from a tender age. I remember Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” from Cooke School in Detroit. I remember Van Morrison from 6th grade in Milford, mostly because I had a friend named G-L-O-R-I-A. One of my older brothers and his friends used to sing rock a cappela on the school bus.  Another brother annoyed me because he always demanded that I answer the question, “Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp? Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?…Who was that man? I’d like to shake his hand… (Barry Mann, 1961).” I don’t know that man’s name, but this morning I am happy to report a breakthrough on a similar venerable rock and roll question:

I Wonder, wonder who, who ooh ooh who
Who wrote the book of love?
The Monotones, 1958

The answer, I now believe, is Stevie Wonder. Last night, my husband, Tom, our next door neighbors Mark and Ward, and another (roughly) 10,000 people at the John Paul Jones Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia jammed to Stevie’s skill, power, grace, and love until after the midnight hour. I can’t sing, I can’t dance—my hiking boots stuck to the floor in best WASP-of-a-certain-age-style—but still, I danced and sang with Stevie until I was hoarse and tears were in my eyes. I could go on and on, but, well, maybe I will just a little bit: the geniality, the humor, the call and response, the steel guitar, the harmonica, intertwining The Star Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice and Sing in the funkiest and best version of either I’ve ever heard, and on and on.

I do go on, but here’s the take away: Stevie called on us all to love more and hate less. Yes, he referred to the Paris massacre and the gun violence ongoing in this country. I am going to try to accept his challenge. Note: When I say “called on,” I don’t mean that lovey-dovey ideas were just floating in the ether.  I mean Stevie explicitly gave us our marching orders: He told us that we need to start going forward, not backward.

What I didn’t write: Since September 25, I’ve wanted to write about finally getting on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. I’ve wanted to go there ever since I read the  poet, Vachel Lindsay, sometime in the mid-1960s. Lindsay, more noted for such works as “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” and “General William Booth Enters into Heaven,” also wrote a poem called “Going-to-the-Sun” in a volume of the same name.  I’ve searched for the snippet of poetry that had inflamed my imagination all those years ago. I haven’t been able to unearth it yet, but more on that in another post.

Then I came back to Charlottesville and started sifting through books and memorabilia like I have for the last five years. Do I keep this or that piece of paper or shred of cloth? What do I do with the remaining mountains of teaching materials?

A piece of paper

A piece of paper

Then, last night with Stevie, I had to think, yet again, of the innocents and their blood–in this country and around the world–and of the refugees.

Likely I will write some more about poets and rock and roll, my travels, and my memories. Not today, though. Stevie brought it all home for me last night. I know now which sun I am really traveling to:

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” James Weldon Johnson (poem to music, 1900)

I’m Starting Now: I love you.


September Song

September 11, 2001 As often as I think about that day, I also think about the several days before it. If you were in Washington D.C. then, I wonder if you remember the weather? In the days before that Tuesday, the sky was a perfect blue and the temperature was (for Washington) unseasonably pleasant for early September. The organization for which I worked, the National Center for ESL Literacy Education (NCLE), and the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), U.S. Department of Education convened a symposium, The National Symposium on Adult ESL Research and Practice. This conference was held September 4-7 at the S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian Institution. As I remember it, planning and conducting the symposium was hectic, but exciting. My colleagues and I were proud to offer the attendees—adult English as a second language teachers and administrators from the fifty states and the territories—a nonpareil venue and we had the weather to match. One of the random memories that still remains in my mind is that—because the U.S. Department of Education had no authority or budget to provide afternoon snacks—my colleagues and I baked cookies for the symposium attendees. That was crazy; we were already working day and night as educators, but when we finally got home we had to swap our school clothes for aprons. It was crazy, but everyone enjoyed the cookies, so it turned out okay.

The symposium concluded on Friday and several of the participants were planning on getting some sightseeing in on the weekend before they headed home. In addition to the usual Washington offerings, a brand-new event would be going on that weekend. On Saturday, September 8, the Library of Congress and First Lady Laura Bush were hosting the first National Book Festival on the East Lawn of the Capitol. NCLE was hosting a booth offering information and materials related to teaching English to adult immigrants. I can see it now, my friend MaryAnn and I in the early morning, revived overnight from the stresses of the symposium, trundling our signs, flyers, boxes, and bags up to the Capitol lawn, waved through pro forma security. This was not a day for Republicans or Democrats. It was a festival—in all the meaning that happy word suggests—for book lovers. The sun shown, people heard authors talk and give readings, and there was food. Unlike carnivals with Tilt-a-Whirls, this was my kind of event.

After I was released from booth duty, I met my husband and we wandered around listening to several authors. We listened to a presentation by some of the Navajo code talkers. They explained in some detail the code they developed and which successfully confounded Japanese efforts to crack it during World War II. One of the code talkers commented on how he didn’t think most Americans had heard of their service to the country. After the talk, I asked one of the code talkers if he would autograph my program. I assured him I knew about the work of the code talkers. He thanked me for remembering, signed my program, and shook my hand. I have not discarded that program. There’s a website now, so you could find out more about the Navajo code talkers.

Blue, calm weather continued through Tuesday until we heard the news. Actually, I think the good weather continued after Tuesday, but we were all crying so much that the whole world seemed filled with smoke and death.

In the evening when it was finally, finally time for sleep, our son Billy—just starting 9th grade—hauled an old mattress into our bedroom and plopped down to sleep near us. Such a good idea; let’s all stay close together and hug.

Maybe you had to be in Arlington to hear it and maybe you never read about this. Very early in the morning of September 12 we heard huge, ugly airplane noises and we thought we were being attacked. It turns out that it was U.S. military planes at National Airport, a little over eight miles away from our house. We were already on tenterhooks, but I think this noise helped solidify the case of trauma I was developing.

The next night, Tom and I dropped off Billy with friends and headed into Washington. We were going to a memorial concert to be held on the west side of the Capitol. This was our small attempt to stand in respect and solidarity with those who had died in New York, Pennsylvania, and our home of Arlington. No one knew what was happening yet. We felt there was a slight chance that it was dangerous to hang out near the Capitol, but we wanted to stand up (a little shaky) to our enemies. Only four days since the book festival, the world had changed. We sat on the Capitol steps and looked across the river back towards Arlington to where the Pentagon was still burning.

Thousands of people surrounded the Capitol Reflecting Pool. We lit memorial candles. I think I still have my candle stub. There didn’t seem to be a formal program. Someone would start a song and it would travel around the pool in a wave until we were all singing together. I remember that we were standing by several people who sang beautifully—a well-worn modifier, but true here, nonetheless.   We sang patriotic songs and I liked that fine because I have always loved those songs and I loved the United States. I was satisfied though, when someone was starting with “God Bless America” and someone else said something like God bless the world or God bless us all. A latter day Tiny Tim had come to save us from our own parochial—albeit understandably traumatized— selves.

We sang many other songs, but the only one I remember for certain is Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” It’s like she wrote it for this special occasion years before we had any idea this world would come to us:

If the sky above you
Grows dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind begins to blow
Keep your head together
And call my name out loud
Soon you’ll hear me knocking at your door
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there

After that night, we never had easy access to the government buildings or grounds or festivals ever again. I understand this, I think, but I haven’t liked it.

My workplace in Northwest Washington was about four and half miles from my home in Arlington. My friend and officemate Carol, who lived near me in Arlington, and I used to plot how we could make our way back home across the Potomac River if terrorists bombed the bridges. I thought that maybe I would be able to swim across the river at Chain Bridge. I stocked up on Ricola cough drops and had enough to be able to share with Carol. I am not sure what that was about, but I still have more than enough decaying cough drops scattered about my remaining possessions. In the face of the millions of people worldwide who faced and do face calamities every day, particularly the immigrants and refugees I had met, I am not particularly proud of being so upset about my own circumstances after 9/11. I do not like terrorists, I want people to act right, and I want to be brave, but generous. There, maybe those are my final words for now about September 11.

Adapted from Losing It: Deconstructing a Life. Unpublished work © 2012 Lynda Terrill. All rights reserved.

Report: Flora, Fauna, Music

Although, unlike the kids in my neighborhood, I am not going back to school tomorrow, I felt the need to write a report on how I spent my summer. Here it is.


We had enough rain (more than enough for the grapes and the Italian basil) and the weather was mostly moderate. After all these years of  living in Virginia, “moderate” is my word for not so damn hot and humid for so long that I can’t stand it. Notable elements of the garden include:

  • the best crop of green beans since the early 1980s—bush and pole,
  • the best crop of green chilies in at least seven years—New Mexico style, not Anaheim,
  • crazy, prolific summer squash, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s “tromboncino”—the plants took over most of the garden until I finally hacked the vines back and offered the fruits to passersby,
  • tomatoes only pretty good—they suffered from being overrun by the rampaging tromboncinos,
  • Tom’s rose, “Awakening”—I had nothing to do with it, but I got to see and smell it (his moonflowers are just beginning to bloom in the night and they bring the sphinx moths, more on fauna, below)

    green ciles

    green chiles


Sometimes I have trouble separating the fauna from the flora. I like to think that is because I am an integrative person. Maybe that’s why I always grow my herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables together. Whatever the reason, my jumbled gardens have worked for me and for the fauna.

  • we had first the bumblebees, and then, slow to show up, the honey bees did come,
  • cabbage butterflies, skippers, red admirals, and, now, one monarch (I’ve had a jubilant crop of native milkweed—more than in years) I’m hoping more monarchs will arise from the jumble, and
  • cardinals nested by the porch, then disappeared, later the catbirds came, some wrens and gold finches, always the sparrows, and the crows still keep watch

monarch butterfly on zinnia

monarch butterfly on zinnia

Special Sighting: Last week Tom and I camped at Loft Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. We took a short hike along the Appalachian Trail. On the trail, a long, lovely, lean timber rattlesnake crossed our path. He didn’t hurry and he didn’t rattle.

timber rattlesnake, Shenandoah National Park

timber rattlesnake, Shenandoah National Park


Because I am an integrative person (so I think), I have trouble separating the fauna and the  flora from the music. This summer we had a very successful music harvest.

  • In June, we heard and saw Paul McCartney. I was amazed, no maybe about it. I kept thinking this old guy is going to need a break, but all he ever did was pause briefly to switch between guitars and the keyboard and the voice. Richer than Croesus or even Richie Rich, older even than I am, still, McCartney sang every song (some were old, some were new, some were even from video games) as if he meant them. He sang a cappella about a blackbird sitting on the edge of night. He told us that “we can work it out” and we believed him.
  • In early August, we walked to the downtown mall to hear and watch Garrison Keillor. This performance was part of his valedictory tour, “America the Beautiful.” I liked many parts of the show and, of course being an English major type myself, I am a fan. I have loved the way Garrison—may I call you Garrison? As a fellow mid-westerner I feel so close—walks slowly up and down the aisles singing songs with us. When we sang, “I’ve been working on the Railroad,” I was transported back to the car rides of my childhood and to singing with my friends in school or in lilac trees. Garrison sang, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Yes, here 70 miles north of Richmond and he sang, I do believe, all the verses. I want to mention that I knew at least parts of all of the verses. I think that comes from my latter-day abolitionist, overly righteous younger self and to my reading of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and To Kill a Mockingbird  (many times)  during my formative years. I will remember singing with you, Garrison. Thank you.
  • Last Saturday, Tom and I went up to Wintergreen Resort for the Blue Ridge Mountain Music Fest. When we are in Charlottesville, we attend every August. Each year we fall under the spell of the flowers and the butterflies, the blue hills, and the music that seems integral to the place. All the groups we heard sang and played with that wonderful precision that we’ve come to associate with old-time music and bluegrass. This year, though, it was the group, Balsam Range, that blue us away. I took a dozen photos hoping to catch the passion, the skill, the humor, and the love (sentimental, plaintive, but heartfelt) in their songs. The photos didn’t work out, so now I need to figure out what to say. In their own genre and in their own ways, the artists of Balsam Range seemed as world-class as McCartney. Like Garrison, the group sang a song about the Civil War. This time, though, the sensibility was from the Confederate side. It was a song about  a young man about to die a few miles outside of Birmingham. He pleads with the listener to tell his mother that he had been a brave soldier and that he would miss that life he would never have with his sweetheart back home. As I learned time and time again from my refugee and immigrant students, it’s the people close to the ground (on either side of the conflict) that die in war–the farmers, the storekeepers, the women, and the children.

We are part of the flora and the fauna, the music, and the blue and rocky hills.  We are integrative types, you and I, and, perhaps we are lucky to be here. We were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Mary's Rock Shenandoah National Park

Mary’s Rock Shenandoah National Park