Dance with Me

Ogon’ki Dancers at the Street Dance

Each summer the mountains here resound with music and dancing. In case this sounds familiar, I’ve written about this before. Folkmoot dancers from around the world come to our little town in the Smokies to share their dance traditions with each other and with us. And there is music—the Swannanoa Chamber Music concerts, a summer festival choir, bluegrass and country, and the close harmonies of the Lake Junaluska Singers. It is grand and even mystical. These days I even think of the Sound of Music.

Folkmoot brought dancers from eight countries as well as our own Eastern Band of the Cherokee and the regional cloggers American Racket. People from The Netherlands, Russia, Taiwan, Israel, India, Argentina (the tango!), and Slovenia, as well as a Welsh group from Manitoba talked, danced, sang, and mingled around western North Carolina for ten days. But for me the most charming event of all is our summer street dances by the Court House lawn.

Hon. Joe Sam Queen and his “helpers” lay down the cornmeal.

This year the Russian dance ensemble Ogon’ki joined us before we lay down the cornmeal for the cloggers and our neighbors in the county. Now, about the Russians. They can dance, they can leap, they can spin. They have precision in their movements, and their costumes always burn the eyes with bright colors to ward off the winter and excite the soul. When the balalaikas and drums go on to that evening’s stage performance, our local bluegrass band warms up, caller Joe Sam Queen, heir of a long line of mountain dancers, comes to the microphone and invites young and old, lithe and creaky, to the street to dance. “Let’s all take hands and join in one big circle.” He even had his colleagues in the State Senate doing that when he served us there. May the circle flourish and be unbroken.

This year left a special memory. I had a special dance partner, Darlene. Here’s how it reverberates in my mind.

“Dance with me”

     said the outstretched arms,

    the smile on her face expectant

    that an old man

    at the street dance

            would of course accompany

    a girl of ten

    to promenade

    to allemand

    to swing your corner

    swing your sugarpie,

    dive for the oyster,

    circle star


    shout and scream

    as circled hands ran in together

    strangers laughing

    in the cornmeal clouds,

    the bluegrass band

    snapping out the rhythms,

    straining at the deep blue sunset sky.

We stopped.

Shook hands.

She ran off in the crowd giggling with her friends.

My wife was pleased.

Her man was still desirable.

Young and old shuffle free-style to a Bluegrass piece.


Posted in Arts, Personal Events, Poetry and Songs, Public Life | Tagged | 3 Comments

What about the Stuff?

Except for the extreme ascetics among us we all have STUFF. I have a friend who capitalizes the word, just to remind us that STUFF occupies a liminal space between “Really Need” and “Why Is This Still Here?” For the deskworms among us, a credenza of some sort is the fashionable answer.credenza-webBut I have a lot of STUFF and some of it is odd in shape or use. So I built my own credenza. It has a lot of drawers. Nobody can see my STUFF except what I put on the top. That is only temporary use, say, for less than two years. Otherwise, there’s a place for maps I never look at, a slide viewer I rarely use, letterhead paper and envelopes waiting desperately to enter the mails, and those thing-a-ma-jigs for those things you…well, you know. There are two file drawers for files I thought I would need to get to easily from my desk chair. We’ll see. And there’s room for my granddaughter’s latest picture on the top. I made it out of cherry, with ash legs. The design matches the hefty printer stand I made earlier. It can be broken into three sections when we finally down-size. But, of course, I’ll still need all of it.

Posted in Woodworking | 1 Comment

A New Processional Cross

I was recently asked to make a new cross for the Sanctuary at our church. I was told it should be able to stand as a focal point in worship as well as be carried in procession on special occasions. The church interior is clad at the front with cherry veneers and furniture. The cross should stand out in that setting and yet be compatible with this color scheme.cross-at-altar-closeup-72

It was first used at a memorial service for our friend and neighbor, Joe Boone, who died after a long illness. It was then received in procession at our regular worship the next day.

In making it, I returned to the design I had used ten years ago in the processional cross at Andover Newton Theological School. I extended the rays of the cross to a span of 22 inches. I then added vertical and horizontal laminates side-view_ed_72of holly to each “ray” emanating from the disc at the center. This highlighted the arms of the cross, but it also presented a small cross to every line of sight.

The Andover Newton cross utilizes a maple sapling from our woods that had been shaped into a serpentine form by an encircling vine. This gave a more primitive angularity to the cross, reminding worshippers of the serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness to heal the people (Numbers 21:8-9). This image was then used to interpret Jesus’s crucifixion in John 3:14. In this instance, in order to make the cross more compatible with the church’s décor (and to sidestep the difficult search for a natural sapling shaped into a serpentine form!), I simply cut a walnut piece into an octagonal staff.

With this design I wanted to honor the historic themes of self-sacrifice and atonement while at the same time lifting up the imagery of a dawning new sun of light and healing. This imagery understands atonement as a moment in healing, reconciliation and new creativity. I hope that it will enable worshippers to open up new lines of understanding in their own lives.

Here is what I wrote in presenting it recently to the church:

In making the standing/processional cross I thought of the maple disc at its center as a sunburst of energy, a circle of light. In its center is a circle of purpleheart reminding us of the self-giving sacrifice at the heart of God’s love. The walnut arms radiating out from this core bear a light of healing in the holly laminate that forms a cross reaching out to the world in all directions. The walnut and maple came from the forests around us. The holly is from Georgia and the purpleheart from Latin America.

Posted in Arts, Woodworking, Worship and Spirituality | 4 Comments

My Cyprus Memoir is Available

cover-flyer-72I am happy to announce the publication of Mining Memories on Cyprus 1923-1925: Photographs, Correspondence, and Reflections in a Kindle e-book format.

Regular readers will know, through my earlier reports on our travels to Cyprus in 2012 and 2015, that this has been five years in the making. By using an e-book format I was able to include 116 of my photographs from my grandparents’ collection. Moreover, readers can zoom in on the pictures to identify people and places that might be significant to them. It also makes it easily available to anyone with internet access in Cyprus, the US, the UK, South Africa, or anywhere else that people have been affected by this historic mine. And all this for only $3.99.

As a memoir, the book not only introduces readers to the people (especially my maternal grandfather, Charles F. Jackson, and his family), but also to the geography, machinery, and events shaping the early days of re-opening the world’s oldest copper mine. In this little memoir you are stepping into a long history indeed. As you can read in Homer’s Iliad, Book 11: “Atreus’s son…put on his armor of gleaming bronze…that Kinyras gave to him from Cyprus…”

Moreover, I take some time in these pages (do we still speak of pages?), to reflect on what it is to recover pieces of our past, rub off some of the tarnish of forgetfulness, and try to reconstruct a history that binds us to people and places far from our usual paths. As I say in the book, our patrilineal culture tends to subvert or erase the knowledge that accompanies one half of our genetic makeup. The experiences that yielded up this book have enabled me to re-balance my own identity and discover more clearly the traits as well as even the bodily form that constitute what I am.

I also see the book as an invitation to others, not only to recover forgotten or repressed parts of their memory, but also as a reconstruction of their identity. I am keenly aware, all through writing the book, of how Cyprus’s division between Turkish-speaking and Greek-speaking populations has made it very difficult for Cypriots to claim their joint history, appreciate the ecological unity of the island, and find a way toward a workable federalism grounded in a new social covenant among diverse peoples.

In a completely unexpected way, the book and the experiences that gave rise to it form a sequel or counterpoint to the story I told through the voice of Earth in Red Clay, Blood River. There it was a story of Earth’s struggle for unity and integrity in the face of human struggles of division, domination, and exploitation. Here, it is how we humans struggle with healing not only the earth we have dug into to enhance our lives but also the people who have been divided by our ceaseless will for domination.

Whether for healing, for knowledge, or simply for the enjoyment of living for a moment into the lives of people you may never have imagined, I hope that readers will find this book something that expands not only their horizons but also their hearts.

If you want a copy, just CLICK HERE.

Posted in Cyprus, Ecology, On Writing, Personal Events, Travel Journal | Tagged , , | 2 Comments