Frog Whoopie

The garden right at the beginning of a rainstorm. The frogs are singing, and I sing them a silly little song.

These are mostly cricket frogs – I think they’re Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, but it’s tricky to tell one little jumping warty critter from another. We also have Rio Grande Chirping Frogs and Gulf Coast Toads, but I don’t hear their songs in this video.

Paper… would taste better.

This is Paper Mulberry, Broussonetia payprifera. They are a weedy species here in north Texas. They rarely get the right conditions for fruiting, so you see these huge groves of them with lots of leaves, but no fruits.

This is the second time I’ve seen fruit, in the decades I’ve been looking at the trees. The other thing is, they go from green fuzz balls, to falling off the tree, very quickly. So I’ve never had one in my mouth before.

The orange tips are almost worth eating. They are mildly sweet. The pips have a slight crunch. They do not remind me of any other fruit except for blue crown passion flower, which is well known for its insipidity. If you can imagine a raspberry, with zero raspberry flavor whatsoever… like, hold your nose and eat a raspberry – it’s very slightly sweet, with almost no acid tang, and no “fruit taste.”

The yellow parts are.. technically edible. Slightly tastier than corn cobs. The whole thing looks like something that belongs in a science fiction movie.

I dance.

I dance.

I have danced to country-western music since I was a kid. I learned first when my mom and dad took lessons; I remember them coming home from classes when I was probably seven, Dad in a pearl-snap shirt and Mom with her hair bouffed up pretty and her Mary Kay makeup on. Mom taught me what they learned, twirling around the living room carpet. Yeah, big surprise: I’m gay.

I learned all over again, when I was in high school – before the first real boy-girl dance, when we would be allowed to dance touching friends and strangers (but only boys touching girls, of course, this was a very conservative suburb north of Houston, Texas… and, pretty much only white-boys-touching-white-girls, brown-boys-touching-brown-girls. There weren’t many people with any kind of melanin in our school, and they were very strongly separated. Weird-like-me kids ended up most of the time in the bucket with the miscellaneous.) I couldn’t, like, JAM dance like the cool kids… I couldn’t just let go and flow with music and shake my groove thing… but I learned that I could do a pretty decent job with practiced, rhythmic, “real” dancing. Two-step. Waltz. Jitterbug. Even the weird ones like Schottische and Cotton Eyed Joe – both of which we DID at our school dances. I had a little cadre of friends who went to a class, and we learned to do things like jitterbug flips. It was awesome. Death drops. Flip kicks. We were FANCY. I mean… people have bought me drinks. I get on other people’s cell phone videos. I’m not trying to say I think I’m the best on the floor – I’m probably in the top ten these days, but some songs, I’m putting on the main show at the RoundUp, for at least some of the audience.

And I love the fact that… the RoundUp is the BEST bar in the world for the dancing that I do. There is no universe in which I’m among the best country-Western dancing dudes. I’ve seen them. I respect both their artistry and their athleticism. They come to the RoundUp sometimes; I know some of them. BUT. The thing is… some of the time, like for the couple who was there from Minnesota tonight, and thought this was the most awesome thing they’ve ever seen, and OMG, their friends won’t believe it when they see their Facebook post… I was the hot cowboy dancer who did all those spins, and then talked to them. I was the best dancer on the stage, for them, for that night. I was playing the role of Platonic Cowboy. My joy in my dancing, and the beauty of my partner as he whipped around through pivot-spins like his feet had ball bearings, was so contagious, the one guy kept putting his hand over his open mouth. And I would pull up in front of them and show shit off, because it’s just fun to do tricks for an appreciative audience. And, I need to remember that I need to nourish the Dancer, as well as the Weaver, the Writer, the Teacher, and all the rest of the crew in my head. There is a combination of two, actually… there’s the Dancer, who feels the rhythm in his body and moves to the music, and there’s the Showman, who lives in the moment of displaying art and creation for others, who eats adulation and revels in applause. And very often, when I dance, I also teach.

Then, when I got to college, I started doing Renaissance and Medieval dance, then Folk dance, then some classes in Ballroom… I never went hard-core into any of them in particular, but I was part of a small ensemble that danced for events in Renaissance costume, and I had a regular partner, and dance was a big part of my life. I started going out to the gay bars as soon as it was legal; even before I could go inside, I would stroll down the Houston gayborhood streets after going to Renaissance dance practice, my doublet and hose and hat with its tall feather and my partner in her long swishing skirts, looking like refugees from a Shakespeare play. The guys coming in and out of the gay bars would gawk at us, and I would gawk back – their costumes of leather harnesses, cowboy hats, boots, tight jeans, silk shirts… whatever costume fitted each bar we walked by, fascinated and terrified me. We promenaded like we were in the Ren Faire parade; “Any lady on the left; isn’t a lady” – my right hand held up, palm downward, so that her left lay perched atop it like a resting butterfly, nodding and making courtesies to the crowd as we walked. Then, once I turned 21, she and I would go out and dance the nights away at the Brazos River Bottom, whirling and whipping and twisting and stomping until we were both lathered in sweat. She could Death Drop; she could Flip Kick. She could paddle-spin until her circle skirts, which she sewed herself just for dancing, flew out like a saw-blade, clearing a swath through the dance floor as I ruffled the whirling edge with my hands. I learned to pack a spare shirt, so that I could change halfway through; they were both crusty with salt stains by morning. I danced a LOT. Usually three nights a week.

There’s a difference in the way guys flirt and cruise in these places; it is both more frankly physical, and more mannered and polite, than a more cruisy bar like the Eagle. You can dance, and have an intensely sexy dance, with a partner – and the song ends, you break, go your own way, adjusting your hardon in your jeans sometimes, and you’re not expected to follow through. You asked for a dance; you got a dance. Now, of course, you could certainly negotiate more… but there is this delicious respect for enjoying a hot sexy dance for its own sake, that I love. There’s also an entire culture of the guys who dance; the way you watch a dancer to see not only how he dances, but whether he leads, follows, or does both; whether he dances with multiple guys; whether he does different speeds of dance. There is a crowd of the Guys Who Dance, and they keep up with one another. Just like a guy will give the “gay glance,” when he sees a hot stranger, scanning up and down to see if his intended target is cute and well hung and fit… I’m usually looking for brains and boots. Does he have rhythm, and enough smarts to count to four? Is he properly equipped to dance? These days, a lot of the dance regulars forego the boots, which makes it a bit more confusing, but still, you can tell who’s here to dance and who’s here to fuck around. I’m looking at the way a guy stands. The way he balances. Whether he moves parts of his body with the music. If he nods his head or mouths the lyrics to the music. If his feet tap, or his hips twitch. In short, I’m watching to see if he’s dancing while he’s standing still. Most dancers do.

Thank you Jason, for taking this bit of me dancing with Yoshi!

DFW Fiber Fest

Howdy to my YARN friends!

I’m going to be teaching at DFW Fiber Fest in September. One class on Basics of Tablet Weaving, one class on three decorative techniques (Diagonals, Double Face, Brocade) and then a three-hour intensive on working with and designing Double-Face.


Sorry, folks, this rambles a lot… but it’s interesting stuff.

In order to make silk by hand, I’ve had to learn how to devise some of the tools that I need that can’t be easily procured in America. These are textile eyes; I order them from a company that makes them out of technical ceramic so that they are durable and will neither chemically interact with the silk, nor snag or catch anything. They’re called “trap eyes” because the tiny little curl in the center means that you can literally push the thread toward the eye, and it pops in and stays in. They are expensive and fragile, but they’re the right tool (or tool tip – these go into a fitting on big factory machines, they’re more of a part than a tool) for the job, and they make a lot of processes much nicer, and they improve the quality of the silk. I’ve also had excellent success using a single hole of a bone button, or the guide eye from an old fly-fishing setup. I have had to make WEIRD tools, and so I’ve had to get inventive. You can’t ever use most kinds of metal. Wood is rough on the silk. Glass is actually a historical favorite, or agate. I have some of both. The inestimable and sorely missed Bill Wyatt, when he was working through the prototypes for the silk reel I still use for my primary work, one idea he had was two little stainless steel rods set at angles to make a narrowing V as a silk guide, and that literally skinned the silk fiber, and it wasn’t helpful at all. Next version was an update sent to me in the mail to attach instead, and it was cut from a piece of sheet teflon with a notch almost like a gun sight, narrowing down to a V with a rounded base. And I set it up and reeled silk, and I watched as the silk slowly sawed through the teflon, cutting itself a meandering new path. Then I researched and figured out about textile eyes, and we got that worked into the design. The ones he used in the final draft of the reel were carbide ceramic fishing-line guides.

In order to get the trap eyes to interact with my copper croissure assembly for reeling filament, I have to secure them to copper pipe caps. I use epoxy putty. There is likely some much more elegant method, but this is cheap and quick, and I know that it’s not going to interact with the silk because it’s made safe for drinking pipe fixes. And I kind of like that they have my fingerprints in them.

I did a video for the American Museum of Natural History.

I broke their link, because I’m kind of annoyed… I put a lot of work into the video, and they USE A CELL FROM IT for a button to click for more info about silk… and they don’t use the video.

You think they decided it was somehow inappropriate? I mean, they flew a producer from Manhattan down, hired a local videographer and a sound guy, and they used an amazing camera that really get right in there and catch everything in Super HD without having to over-light it. I’m really proud of the video. But the thing that I think when I see this… I’m definitely too white to be the person standing in for the “China” part of this Traveling the Silk Road exhibit. I really struggle with this some times. The Asian Festival used to put me under a banner that says CHINA, and then most of the other booths with names like that, were run by people from those countries. I’m not 100% sure that I was the only white dude running one of the named country booths… but I felt like I was. I get invited to do paid gigs for groups like Families with Children from China, and it’s all these families with beautiful little Chinese girls, and the mommies and daddies are pretty much all Caucasian. But regardless, I’m glad that I was able to show them how caterpillars aren’t gross at all, and see, you can see the caterpillar spinning, and do you want to hold the moth? And see, this is how I get the silk to unwind from the cocoons. This one kid, showed up for two different years. I think he held that caterpillar for probably ten minutes, just kind of communing with it. His mom said he always came looking for the bug one. He went home with a live cocoon the second year, because I know when somebody really needs one and will be cool and careful and reverent. Oops, that kind of went sideways. My point is, I wonder if they didn’t link to it, because there was some issue of cultural appropriation of having a white dude teaching one of the most Asian things you can find. I know Bryan Whitehead has dealt with this in Japan. Being a white guy telling Asian people about Asian traditional arts.

Chris and I went to the opening of the exhibit at the big American Museum of Natural History in NYC. All the people that I knew – that is, TWO of them, the video producer and the live animal care specialist that I’d helped get live silkworms into the exhibit, were not at the party, and I thought they would be, and we spent half an hour trying to sort out where they were… if I had been better mentally prepared for being there without the people I knew, to be able to get them to introduce me to the kinds of people I should have been meeting there – the people who fund things, the people who might need me to come and talk live at one of their exhibits – I have to have a good run-up to switch into my socially aggressive howdy-and-handshake self, and chasing around trying to find the one familiar face put me in a frame of minds (see also: James Fadiman, “Your Symphony of Selves”) where I felt lost, stood up, awkward. I kind of stood next to the big screen where my face was a time and a half life size, hoping somebody would want to talk about silk, or at least say hi, but they were all museum development people and rich fancy-dressed VIP patrons who were cocktailing their way through the exhibit at the elegant grand opening, before they opened it up to the hoi polloi. A couple of people said, “Oh, that’s you!” and thanked me for coming. Don’t you hate it when you go to a Natural History museum and nobody wants to talk about bugs or the marvel of silk? I mean, I had COCOONS WITH ME. In the pocket of my nice wool suit. It’s like when nobody wants to know your favorite dinosaur. (For me, I love lots of them, but the four-winged bird one, the Microraptoria, really have my heart. FOUR WINGS, dude. They have FOUR WINGS.

Now, I think my reaction would be very different. Psychedelic-assisted therapy has given me what Chris and I call The New Brain, and it’s a LOT different. I just connect very differently. I have very little sense of modesty or discomfort with telling people how I feel, and I get a lot less of the physical symptoms of anxiety which used to accompany any kind of potentially challenging engagement – I used to get shaky hands, sweaty, felt like my chest was too tight… and it’s pretty much gone. I keep doing the work. And for whatever reason, it seems like it works on the connections themselves, too – people seem to engage with me much more comfortably than used to be the case.

But anyway. Long story really long… here you can see the croissure working:

We had just moved into this house, the one that Chris and I bought together, and it was like a month later that the American Museum of Natural History had the appointment to come shoot the video. We were moving in boxes a few at a time – we would unpack stuff for an hour or two, then do something different… but the garage was still full of boxes. Then we were moving boxes, and found a brown recluse. My grandmother had a bite from one on her forehead when I was a kid, and had necrosis and eventually plastic surgery, and it was a thing. I know, rationally, that they wouldn’t come up under the covers, and there’s growing evidence that most “spider bites” are actually MRSA lesions… but my skin was crawling when I’d try to sleep. Then we moved a bunch of boxes one day, and we found another recluse. And then another. We found twenty that day in the garage. So in my mind, the entire house was CRAWLING with them in all the nooks and crannies. And I had the AMNH producer and the videographer coming in like a week, but the lack of sleep plus the creepy-crawlies in my mind were putting me in a pretty mentally-unwell state. So we called the exterminators, and told them that we’re pretty organic, but OMG, and what could they do. And about the moths and caterpillars. “I want for this one room upstairs with the caterpillars, to have nothing die. I want all the spiders to die. Other than the intense “DEMON WETTABLE POWDER” (OMG, y’all we had DEMON POWDER in the attic, it sounds like a Gothic horror story.) And then I packed up three cats and three dogs and a Noah’s Ark representative sample of all the life cycle parts into my car, and went and hung out at my office while they worked. I left many caterpillars at the house – partly just because I could only carry so many, but mostly because I wanted them to be coal mine canaries for me, and make sure that the studio room didn’t get too toxified. It’s important if you’re raising silkworms; they have been so thoroughly over-bred for the silk, they don’t have much resistance to toxins. And we set up all these different areas with silkworm life cycle, and still life of yarn, and things for them to shoot with the camera.

And the last picture is just for funny. A yarn friend, Julie Hwang, was at a film festival in Taipei, and she saw this. One of the difficult conversations with the video producer, was about what to title me. They usually have people with PhD’s on these videos, and they have to have a title under my name to justify my opinions. “Sericulturist” is what they wanted, and technically, it’s right… but now, in most of the silk-producing countries, that’s a degreed title, like being a lawyer, or a CPA. IF you are a silkworm farmer (which I’m really not; I just have some in shoeboxes) then a Sericulturist is the smart guy who comes a few times a year to inspect your facilities and confirm that your stock is healthy, and make recommendations for improving quality, etc.

But she wouldn’t accept any modifiers like “amateur” or “hobby” – so I got a title that was only OK because it doesn’t have that specific meaning here in the US. I’m a sericulturist in the sense that I raise and work with silk; I’m not a Sericulturist with the big S. And there, underneath my name, I’m pretty sure we’re looking at, “Michael Cook, Sericulturist.” I can pick out the ideogram for silk, but I’m not sure what the others mean.

Anyway. Croissure. It’s the trick nobody told me about. And I figured out how to do it and teach it, with parts from Home Depot. Plus these tiny high-tech bits.

Ribbon ties

I’m preparing to teach a weaving class. It’s the first time I’ve done one in a few years – the last big effort was 2017, when I did a class for the DFW Fiber Fest board members, trying to get my brain back into teaching mode. It didn’t really take. Don’t get me wrong – class went well, everybody had a good time, and we got excellent results – but I didn’t feel inspired to keep going and teach. Since then, I’ve done a lot of psychedelic-assisted therapy work, and have fixed a decade of treatment-resistant depression – and I’m ready to teach again. I’m not going to talk about the therapy part here… but if you want to know more, get in touch: and I’ll share more in private.

These are the ribbons that tie the bundles of tablets together so that they can be handled as a separate warp, carried conveniently, and attached to any support. We use looms in class, but it can just as easily be a pair of posts, or your belt and a doorknob. It’s a very low-tech, portable form of weaving.

These are the packets of tablets, ready for class. This photo is from 2017 – I just today received the tablets from Lacis, ready to get started making the ones for this year’s classes.

I encourage each student to keep the sampler they make in class, to replace the commercial rainbow one that the tablets come wrapped with.

I include an “experienced” tablet of mine, one that I’ve worked with for other projects, in each student warp. I sign them with my mark. I feel like they know what they’re doing. They teach the others. With this group of classes, I have so many students, it makes me cry to think of. All those spider webs, all those silken strand connections, yarn across the world.

And when we’re done with the class, they have this physical record of a day spent figuring things out, making mistakes, going backward, fixing. Most of the time, each student’s work will have a few stitches of my own work mixed in with them. This pleases me. It feels right. My hands guiding their hands. Today in therapy, I cried thinking about it – how people across the country, and a few around the world, have little samplers of their work, with bits of the work of my own hands worked in.

This is an example of the sampler with a lot of elaborations at the end – these are all patterns we cover in class, but this is kind of “variations on a theme.” I love a sampler like this – because you can put your fingers over all but a little window, and hold it up to a garment, and say, “Should we use this pattern with the diamonds for the trim? Or this one with the little bird’s-eyes? Or maybe checkers, like this?” It makes it easy to visualize a whole yard of each pattern, and you can also count and remind yourself how each one is made. It’s more durable and portable than a paper with descriptions and pictures.

So this sampler band, with all its imperfections, I encourage my students to keep to tie their tablets up with, because it reminds us of how we didn’t know, and how we figured out. I learned from Abby about how it’s OK to suck at things, and that if you can get to the frame of mind of understanding that you’re GOING to suck, and then you’re going to suck incrementally less over time, you figure it out. And in the course of usually two feet and some of awkward fabric, we get through it.

The little red and white band at the bottom of the page is MY learning-to-weave sampler. I have to say, I did it the hard way. I couldn’t find anyone to explain, and I was literally going from seeing Sindra Sigmundottir’s display, a partially woven band with a couple of drafts, and some other woven pieces sitting next to the warped loom. She was doing double-face tablet weaving, which is not a beginner technique – but it had the LETTERS and the DESIGNS that I needed, that made my dreams dance. My first inkle-weaving project had letters; my first tablet-weaving one I think did too. It’s been so long. I just remember, it had to be graphs. If memory serves, I took her class like a week after this happened, and I got in trouble for being a smartypants. Sindra, your design sense with color in weave has always humbled me, and I still have the belt you gave me.

I had already been weaving ribbons on inkle for some time, so I knew all about warp, and weft, and how to beat in the shots with the shuttle… and I could see the punched cards, and how they held the warp threads, two dark and two light, and where the weft thread would go. I saw one draft, which was labeled 4F, 4B. Another sheet had a pattern that was something fancy, like 4F, 2B, 2F, 4B. So I knew those were forward and backward, but… this was literally like Crimescene Kitchen. A weaving has been committed. You have to figure out what all these clues mean. So I punched holes in playing cards, and set them up so that they looked like hers, and flipped them this way and that, on varying axes, making a variety of messy non-fabrics until I finally started to see fabric that looked like hers…. at one point, I was literally revolving each tablet on its cord like one of those little bird-in-cage illusion spinners, four times, and then throwing the shuttle once. I finally got to the right ground fabric, and figured out the bizarre-looking picture unit that I could use to graph with, and then I called it done and warped up with more yarn and tried for an actual pattern.

And THIS is that sad, weird little piece of fabric, from 1989? maybe? This is the physical record of when I wrestled tablet weaving to the ground by the ears. I literally left my warp untied in the other room to come take a picture and explain this, but I’ll go put it back because it’s like having the lid off a jar of jam; having my tablets untied feels unsettled, like something will happen to them. When I lost track of my weaving in 2013 after a couple of really bad mental shocks… THIS is what I should have been looking for. I KNOW MY SHIT. Yeah, I went on to get many books, and read up, and took classes, and had awesome exchanges with all these smart tablet-weaving people… but I hammered it out on an inkle loom with playing cards, and built up from there.


One of our neighbors has this SPECTACULAR patch of Coprinoid fungus. I think it’s Coprinopsis variegata, but I’m not expert enough to be certain. It’s a massive colony that is digesting a long-dead felled tree; you can see the outline of part of the stump.

And Dan Brewer’s post about magnolias and how they evolved such robust flowers to be pollinated by beetles BECAUSE BEES HADN’T EVOLVED YET, reminded me –

White-rot fungi, which is basically all of the saprophytic fungus types – some of which make weird tiny fruiting bodies that are hard to even recognize AS fruiting bodies, and create webs of filmy white stuff (mycelium) in your compost heap, or dry-rot the boards in your garage… but also comprise ALL of the stem-and-cap classic mushrooms we know – evolved after hundreds of millions of years of life had already passed. The ENTIRE REASON we have coal, oil, and gas, is that the Carboniferous period, 359.2 MYA to about 299 MYA had NO MUSHROOMS. Nothing fungal rotted those plants; they piled up where they fell. And that’s coal. I heard a scientist on NPR talking about how coal mining companies won’t let them investigate for fossils in most coal mines, because you can often see how it’s just PILED UP DEAD PLANTS with animals stuck in – and it makes it way too clear how limited and special those deposits are. When a shallow inland sea covered up an area and tons of gravity squeezed the juicy bits out of all the dead material, that’s oil. Volatile fractions separate from the squeezed hydrocarbon juices, and float to the top, and that’s natural gas. And it can NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN, because now when a tree falls, there are hundreds of kinds of airborne spores that fall on it and break it down into tiny bits of organic matter which are then taken up by insects, plants, mites, other fungi, etc. I got the deets on this from “Entangled Life” by Merlin Sheldrake.

And every time I see someone being stressed out or concerned about having “fungus in their soil” – it happens a lot on gardening forums when people are new and don’t know – it makes me so sad, and I have to tell them this kind of stuff. Because fungus makes EVERYTHING happen in the soil, and without their fungal partners, plants are crippled and can’t thrive. Plants and fungus literally hold hands on a cellular level, and in many cases they require one another to survive.

So be careful with mushrooms, yeah – don’t eat what you aren’t really sure about – but also look and realize how awesome they are. And another thing: there is not a mushroom with a poison you can be harmed by from touching the mushroom. You can pick up any mushroom, put it down, wash your hands, and you’re fine. You can actually TAKE A BITE, chew, and spit – and you won’t have any damage. You have to ingest and digest the toxins to be harmed. Many of the really dangerous ones, in the hardcore books, still have TASTING NOTES to help identify them. It’s crazy to see something with a skull and crossbones, and things like “Slightly peppery, with a fruity undertone similar to apricot.” And I learned this from Alan Rockefeller, who is a god among mushroom men, and I’ve been privileged to walk in the woods with him.

Babbling Heart

I have been working on my brain. Years of therapy, meditation, lucid dreaming, vision work; I’ve been an explorer for most of my life… but recently, I’ve taken a deep dive into a different kind of therapy that I’m going to call non-plant-based-medicine, because the organisms aren’t plants, and the folks who know, will know, and if you don’t know but you’re really curious, please talk to me privately after class. It’s an adventure in non-ordinary consciousness, and the results have been PHENOMENAL. The changes are seismic, and they have radically altered the way I’m interacting with the world. If you see me, and you think, “What got into HIM?” feel free to ask. Later on, I’ll probably be a little more frank about it, but for the moment, I’ve got to be just a bit circumspect.

This morning, I had a surprising realization. These little satoris, these moments of sudden awareness, have been rising to the surface and bursting like bubbles in fizzy water; they keep catching me by surprise, and I am living in a constant state of wonder and delight.

I have had a slight psychological stammer for the past couple of decades. It hasn’t been terribly noticeable; it shows up when I’m nervous mostly, but it’s been a constant companion. Things like strings of complicated words are difficult for me to get out, and particularly difficult to get out QUICKLY. My mouth would fight with my brain, and I would often end up either making some nonsense sound, or just shutting up. I made myself smaller, I backed away, I hushed myself. I know where it came from, and I’ve talked with my therapists about it, and I’ve worked on it… but it’s been a Thing. It has diminished my shine.

This morning, driving to work, I was singing along with Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble.” I love the rhythms, but the fast parts I’ve always just kind of skimmed over, making a tatta-ta-tatta, tapping the steering wheel along with the beat, or kind of murmured, hitting the highlights. Boy… bubb… baby… This time, I was singing, full-voice, and when I found myself rollicking right over “Think of the boy in the bubble and the baby with the babbling heart” – I realized that it was GONE. Just GONE. Totally not there. It had dissolved. My tongue and teeth spat out every single consonant, clear and crisp and clean. I literally burst out with peals of surprised laughter, and then I cried. Emotional lability has been a part of this process, and I’ll be kind of glad when it settles down JUST a little bit, but I’ll miss it, too – it’s wonderful to be so taken by surprise by joy that you well up in sudden happy tears.

I have realized, over the past month or so, that my speech patterns have shifted. More so even in the past two weeks. Friends and colleagues have remarked on it. I’ve always had a good, polished, careful speaking voice; now, it has a swiftness and a power that is very different, and I find myself having to rein it in, to watch how loudly I’m speaking, because otherwise I’m projecting to the balconies despite being in a little room. It’s a beautiful thing. My tongue has been speaking a constant river of wonderment, trying to explain the marvel of the natural world that confronts me on a moment-to-moment basis. My husband will tell you that it’s more than a little exhausting; one afternoon recently, he literally dialed my phone and put it in my hand so that I could talk to someone else, because his ears were TIRED. I’ve always been a handful; now, you’ll need to bring a basket. Bring a cart.

Show me on the Doll Where The Song Hurt You

And while I’m in the racked-with-sobs mode… another thing I have to call back to every once in a while, is this Dar Williams song.

The first time I heard it, on NPR, in Houston, driving in my car, I had to pull over and cry. Like, big racking sobs, sitting in my car, on the side of some street. I don’t even remember where I was in town. I just remember being cut open and touched in a place that was pure and beautiful and painful.

Because I’m the guy in that song. That’s me. And I’m happy that I’m still able to pick flowers everywhere that I walk, and I’m getting back to a place, with therapy and a lot of meditation and some medication, where I can cry. I should talk to my mom more. But the world doesn’t want to let us be that guy, and it hurts.

I went to see her, live, on tour in Dallas, playing an acoustic gig for a few dozen people in a tiny coffee house in a church basement. I walked up, all alone among strangers, and I thanked her, but there’s no way to really explain what she’d meant to me, the light she had been in my dark times, without breaking down in a big ugly cry, and I’m sure she gets that from time to time, but it’s not really helpful. Thank you, Dar.

The Witch House

There’s a house in the cul-de-sac that I call the Witch House. It’s been essentially abandoned since we moved in here 14 years ago this May (gosh, time flies) – and I’m deeply sorry that I never got to meet the woman that I still think of as the witch. She may or may not have been some kind of actual earth-religion person, but the whole place has that earth-mother organic-garden feel – the house is shingled on the facings, overgrown with ivy, crowded in on all sides by trees; massive vines of small-flowered climbing roses clamber up the side of the garage, smelling faintly of cinnamon and cloves, there are Gulf Coast Penstemons scattered haphazardly through the yard, and a blend of old fashioned favorites like real hyacinths and muscari and irises harmoniously commingle with natives like side-oats gramma and woodland Passiflora lutea under the spreading bronze plums with their so-sour fruit. So far as I know, she’s still alive, but had to leave here and move for health reasons. A landscape crew comes usually twice a year, whacks things back and cleans up the bamboo.

But every spring, this tree peony blooms. You can see it beside the door there; you have to know what it is to even realize it’s blooming. It literally makes me weep; I’m sitting here wracked with tears, trying to explain this. It’s so beautiful, and so far removed from normal “Dallas” landscape plantings… it’s the only one I’ve ever seen in a yard in this whole CITY, in bloom. And every year, I go, and I walk barefoot in her garden, and I fucking BEAR WITNESS, and I take pictures. Because whatever variety this is, it’s an eloquent tone poem in shades of pink and rose and coral, and the beauty of it cuts me like a knife. Maybe one of these days I’ll work up the nerve to render it in silks; they’re a favorite subject for embroidery because of the subtle shades.

And some years there are two flowers or three, but often only one, and sometimes if the weather was bad, I miss its full bloom. But I want you all to see it, and I want to pay respect to this beautiful garden despite its lying in ruin. I’m pretty sure raccoons have inhabited the attic; this will be a house that will be difficult for someone to refresh, it will likely be torn down when and if it sells.

I’ve never had the nerve to take so much as a cutting from this garden, because that’s how you end up in a fairy tale. I’ve tasted a few of the ornamental plums, despite, or perhaps because of, the possibility of being carried off by the elves. They were sour, and gave me no nightmares. But if this house goes on the market and I see a SOLD sign on it, I will go in the night, and I will rescue this princess with a shovel, because if they tear the house down, she will never survive.

And wherever you may be, lady who built this garden with love and care and unusual and rare plants mixed with native and wild things – I see you, and I honor you, and thank you for the beauty and the tears.