How do I love thee? Enough.

birds at feeder 9The snow has begun in earnest now.  I posted earlier on the Lottabusha Chronicles about the beginnings of the winter storm.  I went out early this morning to fill bird feeders, and it has gone from this:

red birds yellow birdsto this:

birds at feeder 11I am such a sucker for birds at the feeder, from the little nondescript brown and gray ones to the gorgeous cardinals, both female and male.  It was enough to make me don my boots, put on a hoodie, wrap a scarf around my face, pull on leather gloves, and venture forth through about 6 inches of piled up snow to refill the feeders.  Unfortunately, the one in the above photo and I had a bit of a mishap whilst rehanging it, and after falling on my head, it landed in a pile of snow and half of the seeds spilled out.  Because I had replenished all of the other 4 feeders out there, I opted not to unscrew that very difficult apparatus yet a third time.  It’s their favorite though, because the overhanging roof is better protection against the snow in the seeds, not to mention it has an easier perch.

Enjoy, my little feathered friends!  This is how much I love thee.

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Finding solace in a whirlwind

dead flowersYep, this is pretty much how I feel right now—like last spring’s flowers, droopy, ice-covered, in a fading pot.faucet in treeI have those intermittent moments where it seems like there is a spotlight showcasing something of importance…like photography and blogging.  You know, those things that help me keep my sanity in this world “spinning hopelessly out of control” (Willie Nelson, “Hands on the Wheel,” 1975).feeder with fake moonNot too long ago, a fellow blogger said taking a picture–even on a phone camera–was like looking through a spyglass.  Focus.  It is all about the focus.

I suppose that is the good thing about finding solace in a whirlwind–focus.  When you train your eye on the one thing, you stop focusing on the giant whirlwind encompassing you–obscuring the view in the maelstrom.

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Give a warm welcome to Son House!

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Libby invited Son House to come in and play.  He said he would think about it.

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Elbert School Revisited

Elbert schoolThis building was still standing, albeit barely, and in very poor shape, when I was there in December 2011.  The original post can be seen at the link to the Elbert School.  This is the school my mother attended in Texas from 3rd grade until she went to high school.  It was closed in 1956 when Elbert consolidated with Throckmorton schools.  Prior to that, she walked across the pasture, with her father accompanying her and picking her up on horseback if it was bad weather, to a small rock school for the rural students–the term rural being relative, since the town of Elbert a few miles away was still rural–very rural.  Is there a word for more rural than rural?  In Alaska, they call it the bush, or remote.

Elbert School MemorialMy assumption is the piles of dirt and equipment surrounding the building in 2011 meant it was about to be demolished.  In August, 2014, this is what remains–a “memorial” of sorts.  There was a brief effort by some of the alumni of the school, or at least those who still lived in the area and had connections with the building, to address its rapidly deteriorating status about the time I took the photographs in 2011, but clearly, that was not a successful outcome.  In a community with 51 residents, I suppose they asked pragmatically what they would do with the building if it was saved, and where would the money come from for renovation and upkeep.

One of these days, when I get a “round tuit” I will go through all my abandoned school building photographs and scan them into digital files and create a series of my favorites from Texas.  Back in my younger days, I would boldly go into the buildings for photographs, but these days, I am considerably more restrained.  Those old stages, some with velvet stage curtains still hanging, should be memorialized at least in some way, as I am sure they are now long gone.  I always wanted to jump up on them and tap dance, or sing, or recite a few lines from one of my favorite plays…and sometimes, I did.

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How Suzassippi became a horse…a tale from Lottabusha County

ShuttersBack in 2011, I was asked to do a week of guest posts for Preservation in Mississippi, which was a WordPress blog. I had been blogging on Blogger, and the two platforms are quite different so I started this blog as a way to practice using WordPress before I was up for publication.  A year later, I was asked to start doing regular contributions, so I needed a gravatar.  On Blogger, I had used my actual photograph, as did most of the blogs I followed, but on Preservation in Mississippi, I noted the norm was non-human images, so not wanting to seem all egotistical and out of step, I tried to find something to represent me without being me.  I had taken the above photo in Natchez, and liked it, and from that, pulled the name Suzassippi: red shutters to distinguish from Suzassippi’s Lottabusha County Chronicles.  I rather liked my red shutters, but it seemed as if every time I turned around, I got a message suggesting I needed a better image on my gravatar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACan ya’ll tell I like red?  I have always loved this photograph of wine barrels, taken on my first visit to South Africa in 2001, so I played around with using them.  Cropped to fit the gravatar space, it just did not work.  I left the shutters alone for a while, and then decided to try something a little more colorful and defined.  Enter the crossroads.

CrossroadsThat’s all about Mississippi, right?  On Blogger, I updated my profile photo fairly regularly, because, well, people change.  I am a cat person, so I tried a cat.Cinco de 2014Now, Cinco, adorable as she is, is not that well “defined” or colorful.  In a gravatar size, she looked kind of like she does in real life: a mottled mess.  A couple of days of that, and I knew it wasn’t going to work for me either.

I definitely prefer the WordPress format, and it will do so many things Blogger cannot.  I have contemplated changing over, but the reality is that the two blogs are different in focus and I kind of like to keep it that way.  It does not, however, solve the problem of finding a gravatar that I like and that resonates with me.  I hit on Rio a few days ago.

RioRio is my 89 year old father’s horse, and I have gotten extremely attached to him in the past two years of regular trips to Texas to help with caregiving.  When I am home, I feed, fork hay, clean out Rio’s barn, clean his water trough, and spend a lot of time out in the pasture with him since Dad can no longer do it.  At Thanksgiving, Dad’s little jenny died, and Rio has missed her, so I am excited to head to Texas tomorrow for a week and see my boy again.

And that is how Suzassippi became a horse.

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2013 through 2014: 275 submissions to the Living New Deal

My first submission to Living New Deal was January 2013, and I logged 62 that first year, all of which involved road trips to 5 states to take photographs.

“Post near Houston, Natchez Trace, 1803″ used with permission from the United States Postal Service.

“Post near Houston, Natchez Trace, 1803″ used with permission from the United States Postal Service.

Although not the first of the mural photographs I took, the mural from the Houston, Mississippi post office was the first one I submitted to the Living New Deal.  I spent hours trying to understand this mural, what it symbolized, and looking at it piece at a time.  It took a great deal of research to finally understand it, and by then, my passion for this new research had a firm grip on me.

Stone bridge across Brazos River, Palo Pinto County, Texas

Stone bridge across Brazos River, Palo Pinto County, Texas

Later that month, I discovered the bridge at Possum Kingdom, where I grew up, had been a WPA project, and dug out my photographs taken in 1980 with my Minolta 35 mm.  The bridge was described as the longest and most substantial masonry arch bridge in Texas; engineers chose the design to withstand flood waters released from the dam a mile above the bridge.

Detail of stone arch

Detail of stone arch

Politically speaking, the best of all landscapes, the best of all roads, are those which foster movement toward a desirable social goal. (John Brinkerhoff Jackson, in Discovering the Vernacular Landscape)

While the New Deal Administration, and its goals, had its critics then and now, many of us thought then and think now that the “movement toward a desirable social goal” was well represented in the efforts of the programs: to employ people who were unemployed through no fault of their own, and to build and restore the infrastructure of the United States.  That bridge built in 1942 has seen many flood waters rush under its eighteen spans that were constructed from the abundant local stone in the area, quarried by the unemployed former coal miners who had learned to cut stone underground.  The project employed 250 unskilled workers and 74 skilled workers (many of whom were stonemasons).

former Crossett, Arkansas post office

former Crossett, Arkansas post office

One of my favorite post offices–architecturally speaking–is the Crossett, Arkansas building.  Crossett was a company town, founded by a lumber company, who donated the land for the new post office and wanted it to “reflect new progressive ideas” (Arkansas Historic Preservation Program).

post office side elevationWhen construction was completed in 1940, Crossett reveled in the addition of the ‘pleasing green’ stucco building that was designed using a combination of Art Deco, Greek Revival, and International architectural styles. (Arkansas Historic Preservation Program)

Some of the research was easy and fast, and for others, I spent hours, months, and in four cases, two years to ferret out the details to prove, or rule out, that it was a New Deal construction.  While in three cases, I could substantiate and celebrate, there was after all, something satisfying last night to finally have the indisputable evidence that the Weatherford Power and Light was not a New Deal construction.  Although they tried, with both PWA and WPA applications as early as 1933 and through 1939, they finally gave it up in 1940, and passed the revenue bonds to construct it themselves.

Most of the time, my photography of the New Deal buildings elicits little or no interest, but it has had its moments: the woman who emerged from the police department in Philadelphia, Mississippi to ask me what I was doing and ended up elatedly telling me about the work of my colleague in the community, the postmaster in DeWitt, Arkansas who came out to ask me about my research and ended up taking me on a tour of the building, and perhaps, my favorite, the couple in Oak Grove, Arkansas who came out to talk and told me a lot about the gymnasium built during segregation.

Travels would take me to the middle of a street and the middle of nowhere, as I wandered down unfamiliar paths less traveled by the common tourist, trying to figure out where I was and where I needed to go, fueled by my pronoia, rapt interest in communities, and the desire to document this part of our history.  While many communities value their historic buildings and infrastructure and work to preserve, others see them only as “eyesores” to be demolished without second thoughts.

In late November and December, I would answer the call to help Living New Deal push a few state submissions over the 100 mark.  I logged 21 submissions (with all the required research) for Louisiana over a 5 day period, 44 submissions and research for Tennessee over a 9 day period, and tacked on 3 for Arkansas, 1 for Texas, and 12 for Mississippi in the last 7 days of the year.

Ruston High School, Louisiana

Ruston High School, Louisiana

Many of my “discoveries” were the good fortune to spot a building detail–in this case, the center of the fabulous Art Deco/Moderne school in Ruston, Louisiana that I glimpsed while refueling after one of my many marathon trips to Texas in the past year.  All in all, it has been a fulfilling year, and during the summer, I will be organizing it into a coherent series of research articles.  Meanwhile, I have already moved forward in the new year with six sites for Alaska–one of our states that had relatively few submissions with only 13 at the end of 2014, and plotting out my travels for the summer to add Alaska to the road trip–ambitious, yet totally possible in my pronoid world.

Now, if it would only stop raining in Mississippi (going on over a week of it now), I could get back on the road and get busy with the photographs to enhance all the research.  Happy New Year, ya’ll, and if you find yourself with some spare time on your hands, lend some help to documenting the New Deal work in your neck of the woods…or city.  Head on over to Living New Deal for rules of submission, and check out the map to see what has already been documented for your state or city.

Posted in New Deal Administration, Public Works Administration, Works Progress Administration | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Bridges from Ireland to the World: Social Bridge

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

On Christmas Eve, I started a series of virtual gifts for the women whose blogs I have come to enjoy in the past year.  Visitors to Social Bridge know that Jean loves the Garrarus Beach, and Tramore, and because she shares it with us often, many of us have come to look forward to the ever changing waters and sands and rocks where we humans lift our feet off the edges of the world and immerse ourselves the closest we shall ever come to floating in time and space.  I’ve not been to Ireland, let alone Garrarus or Tramore, but it is on my list of things to do, and I’ve a few years left in which to make it.  Meanwhile, I share a gift of some of my favorite beaches and their waters.

Boulder Beach, South Africa

Boulder Beach, South Africa

I was introduced to the most stunning beaches and waters of the Western Cape of South Africa, and thus, they are among those places I feel with affection somewhat akin to that Jean feels for Garrarus and Tramore.  Alas, I do not have the joy and privilege to be able to see them every day as she does her beloveds.

Penguin Island, South Africa

Penguin Island, South Africa

Brazos River, Young County, Texas

Brazos River, Young County, Texas

I grew up in West Texas, where water is as scarce as hen’s teeth.  Our family outings took us to the Brazos River and floating, as the water was never deep enough for swimming.  Still, it formed my early ideas of what was beautiful and serene, and what we lacked for in water, we made up in the abundance of the sand.

Whiskey Creek, Young County, Texas

Whiskey Creek, Young County, Texas

My dad learned to swim in this creek that flowed behind the family home, albeit at a time when the swimming hole had more water.  I imagine he and his brothers felt a similar joy to jumping in the muddy brown waters after a spring rain as Jean does when she runs into the waves at Garrarus.  Experiences are like bridges, and they connect us to one another even though we may never actually be in the same physical plane at the same moment.

Stream in dad’s pasture

I was an adolescent before I ever even saw the Gulf of Mexico, and a young adult by the time I saw the Pacific Ocean.  Most of my water experience was like the stream in dad’s pasture, and my mother spoke of growing up drinking water out of a cow track. (Yep, that’s what she said.  Remember that bit about water being as scarce as hen’s teeth?).

Jean is a sociologist, and I am a social worker.  Though those are two different professions, with different purposes, social work was built on knowledge from sociology, and other disciplines and professions.  I think that is another of the reasons I feel a connection–a social bridge–to women like Jean.  We are all connected–it is after all, a systemic world in which we live.  For some, those connections seem a bit stronger or more tightly woven.  In this case, it’s not just the love of the waters and the poetic words, the love of a dog (hugs, Puppy Stan!), but also the love of one’s parents, and the privilege and opportunity to care for them in their elder years.

For the longest time, I could not bring myself to read her stories of her parents and caring for them.  I am just starting this path with my own parents, and though at 89 and 87, I know I have had mine far longer than many do, it’s still daily uncharted territory.  Those bridges are getting a little easier to cross now.  Thank you, Jean, for all the gifts you have shared.

Posted in South Africa, Young County | 21 Comments