That Turtle Dove

Turtle doves are in the neighborhood for the fourth year in a row.  One is huge and slow, the other dainty and somewhat quicker.  Sometimes they’re side by side on the power line and sometimes stepping around on the parking area next door, almost invisible against the gravel. I keep my camera handy for a closer shot, one not blurred by a wire fence. Often the big one, which I assume is the male, sits on the high wire above our rear gate, and the smaller female finds seeds inside our yard. Sparrows hop around and she ignores them, but some movement or sound will startle her up to her mate. Always I’m hoping to see the two of them, because I know they mate for life and I don’t want that life to be short.

I’ve heard that their call can be loud and harsh, but that’s not borne out by my experience.  It’s a sweet sound, distant and yet intimate, soft and hollow. It can be sad.  One line about the “mourning” dove is so common that its call must have touched the hearts of many people.  This line, for example, appears in myriad folksongs: “Yonder sits that pretty turtle dove, it flies from pine to pine, mourning for its own true love, as I once did for mine.”  Today, trying to find the original source of that line, I found Ralph Vaughan Williams’ lyrics for “The Turtle Dove,” his arrangement of “Fare Thee Well,” a much older ballad.  Here’s the pertinent verse:

O yonder doth sit that little turtle dove

He doth sit on yonder high tree

A making a moan for the loss of his love

As I will do for thee

“A making a moan.”  Now that sounds mournful.  But when I hear doves in my neighborhood, especially in my own yard, I don’t hear moans, just a gentle greeting. I feel a good nostalgia and a fondness–for the doves and their traits and what they symbolize.


Source for lyrics by Ralph Vaughan Williams:,p01145936


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A Kind View in Ryan’sThe Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

At first, I didn’t quite believe Jennifer Ryan’s The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir (set in 1940 England), mostly because of the epistolary form It seemed unlikely that people could or would quote lengthy dialog exchanges verbatim. Also, the father was too villainous, the mid-wife’s crime too easily effected, and the happy ending unrealistically inclusive.

And yet, I like happy endings and I applaud authors who love humans and credit them with good reasons for their actions (or forgive them) and grant women the power they actually wield, even in some horrendous circumstances. Romance, mystery, history, danger, high values (loyalty, sacrifice, bravery, tolerance, kindness) made it overall a pleasant and upbeat read. So did music. The ladies sing beautifully and gain some recognition.

One passage is particularly worth noting, because the sentiment it reveals underlies the whole book.  Mrs. Tillman observes privately  that though one partner in a then illegal intimate relation had died, “fragile kindness in their love survived this poisonous war.”  It’s a wonderful line, positing that kindness is a part of love, is itself fragile. That a trait of love is a real fact, perceivable by an outsider, present at least in one person, and perhaps in tone and atmosphere for the rest of the world, or those willing to see it.

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Possible Spoiler: A Ghost Story

Last night I watched A Ghost Story and experienced extreme shifts in anticipation and mood. At different times and to varying degrees, I felt romantic, dismayed, perplexed, hopeful, fearful, and then, joyous. That’s the feeling that lasted. I’m not certain I interpreted the movie right, but it was right for me, and so I’ll not read any reviews or responses until I’ve put down my thoughts.

On the surface, in one speech especially, the movie posits that what we do, even great works of art, are ultimately futile and puny, having no lasting effect in a world that will someday die. Death is the ultimate event. But the whole, the bits of the movie, suggests otherwise—that every small effort, act, feeling has an effect with bounds unknown and possibly unlimited. The movie is a beautiful affirmation of the human spirit, and the gift of one life to others. Scenes have to be reexamined, and that’s a pleasure. (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara; Director, David Lowery)

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Warning: A Sappy Dog Story

Our dog Lily gives me a lot of grief. She’s an assertive dog, always vying with me, I assume, for the alpha female role in our household. She’s very wily and has a packet of one-up-manship moves. She delays obeying or doesn’t obey, or obeys in a slant way. She loves to fetch the paper but will drop it at my feet or toss it to the side. When she’s wanting more snacks, she blocks my path repeatedly, but assumes a sitting position, head down, eyes up, what I call a hang-dog look. This is not behavior I’ve encouraged but it’s apparently inborn. I thought that giving her extra attention would soften her behavior. I pet her more often. If she doesn’t do one of her tricks well (she likes doing tricks), I give her the reward anyhow. Sometimes I get in the floor with her, so we’re on a par. I put my forehead on hers and hum. So far, nothing has come from that, as far as I can tell.
Last week I checked a book from Trails Regional Library titled The Dog Who Loves Too Much, by Dr. Nicholas Dodman. He addresses many problems with canine companions—separation anxiety, fear of thunderstorms, aggression, dominance. I learned that my gut instinct of how to deal with a problem dog was wrong. Over-petting is absolutely a mistake. Petting is a reward, a prime response for a well behaved animal. That hurt to hear. I dislike withholding affection. It seems cruel. Too, getting on the same level as an animal can actually trigger aggression. Pets want and need to know their place in the hierarchy. They can handle easily being the omega, but if they have to be the alpha, then they’ll rise to the occasion. Someone has to do it. If I waver in my role, Lily will assume it. I’m still uncertain that this is correct, but I was planning to test it gradually.
This afternoon, something happened that makes me wonder again. I was going to take a nap upstairs. Lily came along, but she becamet agitated. She paced a little, and looked as if a ghost might be around. I assured her everyting was all right, and went in the bedroom. She came in and sat by the bed, her back to me, facing the doorway. I said, “It’s okay, Lily. Okay. Go to bed.” She didn’t obey me. I listened and didn’t hear anything or smell anything. But in a few minutes I arose and went in the hallway. In a few seconds I heard the sharp beep of a smoke alarm with a battery going out. I was tickled with Lily and praised her. She wasn’t soothed. I removed the batteries and went back to bed. She repeated her safeguarding, rigid by my bed, with her back to me, facing the door. So, I arose again and soon discovered another battery beeping. I took those batteries out and returned to bed. I told her what a good girl she was. She wasn’t impressed. She sat by my bed for a while, looking toward the hall. Gradually she relaxed and after a while trotted out and to her bed. I fell asleep very easily then, though no alarms but Lily were working.
I don’t know if Lily was being alpha or omega, but she was being so good. The sound was strange and she wasn’t leaving her post. Her post was by me. How wonderful. She and I have had our troubles and will continue to, I’m sure. She’s so smart and wily and willful. But! When we first got her, I told Baird (my husband) that I couldn’t handle her and I thought we couldn’t keep her. He said “I love her.” I remember exactly how he sounded. It moved me very much. I feel that way, too.

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Praise for The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water is a lovely film. Seeing it is like dreamweaving eras, catching the fifties and sixties in characters, and clothing, and colors, and posters, and movies, music, and dance. There’s violence, and it’s horrific, but it’s predictable and avoidable—closing one’s eyes and plugging one’s ears a few seconds will do. There’s nothing sudden about the violence and it doesn’t linger. Many ordinary people are heroes just doing what they can, and even the villain gets a moment of understanding—he chose his arena and the values he embraced are the ones he faces. I recalled how I felt when I saw The Creature from the Black Lagoon  and was grateful to visit him again in a different time. It’s a good film to watch with two views—what we as a society thought then and what we think now. Some things are not surprisingly, but unfortunately, the same. Some are changing quickly, thank goodness.

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Impromptu Piano Christmas Duet

I attempted to post this short video on Facebook but it wouldn’t take.  It’s John Check and Ken (last name coming soon).  They hadn’t met before this evening and this is the first tune they played together.  Hope you can see it this way.  Merry Christmas.  Christmas Duet

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Last Week of Summer at UCM

Last week, which was the last week to this year’s summer, I visited Phong Nguyen’s Writing for Publication class. The students were generous in asking questions about The Universe Playing Strings and then we just discussed writing—whether or not to seek an agent, how to do it, about valuing one’s own voice, goals, and choices, about revising and revising, about researching and honing skills when goals are elusive.  I realized how much I miss interaction with young writers and miss teaching (I’m afraid to claim that’s what I did and do, since my learning from the students and their learning from each other was the largest transaction in class).

When I came to campus, there was a small church where Black Box theater occurred, a huge fountain on the east side of the Student Union, somehow sad and sluggish, and many trees that lined the walkway north of Martin.  At least I recall those trees. I think they were taken down because of an act of violence on campus.  That may not be true. Sometimes my fiction gets in the way of my best memories.

This year, campus seemed particularly beautiful, and I took many photos of the campus.  I was looking for a stranger to take the shot for me, but since I’ve caught on to the selfie method (giving up some vanity for the speed of the process), I just took it myself. I can remember the campus in many phases, both public and private, and together they seem like a separate life–no ivory tower, but overall, a good life, round and full.




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