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BACCA Writers

H. Spurgeon Moss: Educator, Farmer, Inspiration

Spin a blindfolded child and ask her to pin the tail in the middle of a map of Virginia and she could do a lot worse than Louisa County.  East of Charlottesville and north of Richmond, Louisa County is about five hundred square miles of small towns, old family farms, and a tangled crisscross of streams and rivers. 

In 1926, fourteen year old H. Spurgeon Moss faced a choice.  Moss was a tall, bespectacled lad who loved to read but seventh grade was the end of the line for black children in the segregated schools of Louisa County, Virginia. The Virginia Constitution of 1869 had mandated the creation of free public education for all, provided that “white and colored persons shall not be taught in the same school but in separate schools under the same general regulations as to management, usefulness, and efficiency.” (Louisa Historical Society) 

Sadly, the education of African-American children in the Jim Crow south seldom lived up to this mandate.  The few schools that existed for black children were usually poorly equipped log cabins, church buildings, or rooms in private homes, funded by African-American churches and northern philanthropists.  (Louisa County Historical Society)

Moss’s family valued hard work and education.  Grandfather Boykin (his mother’s father) had purchased five hundred acres beside the North Anna River in the northeast corner of Louisa County in 1877. How did Grandfather Boykin save enough to buy such a large plot of land? Mining gold? Or did he have a skilled trade? Either way, the land he purchased may still have had remnants from one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.  The Battle of the North Anna took place along the banks of the North Anna River the first week of May 1864. Sixty-seven thousand Union forces against fifty-three thousand Confederates with a casualty count of forty-two hundred men. 

Economic conditions in Louisa County were extremely difficult after the Civil War. Combined tax revenues in 1870 were one-fourth of what they had been in 1863, when property tax on slaves alone earned the county $58,389.  (Louisa Historical Society)   Grandfather Boykin purchased the land bordering the North Anna River, registered the deed for his land at the county courthouse, and hired an attorney to draw up a will so that when he died, the land would go to his daughter.  Some neighbors thought it foolish to pay good money to a lawyer just to prove the land he was raising hogs on was actually his, but Grandfather Boykin had lived in Louisa County long enough to know that everything had to be written down, certified, and in the court house or some sheriff would come knocking on his door to take it all away.  Sections were sold off over the years, a few acres here, a few acres there, some to pay for education, some to cover hospital bills, eventually whittling down the farm to 116 acres in 1926. (Daily Progress, July 26, 1970, A New Dam Brings an End to Old Ways.)

Fourteen year old H. Spurgeon Moss had grown up fishing on the banks of the North Anna River. He’d grown up raising hogs, chickens, and cattle.  His precious few spare moments were spent reading under the large oak in his front yard.  Moss wanted to further his education so he could help his people, but that meant leaving Louisa County.  It meant leaving the farm his grandfather had built and moving one hundred miles north to Washington D.C.  He packed his clothes, kissed his parents goodbye, and road in the back of a segregated Greyhound bus up to Washington DC for high school. Relatives met him at the bus station.  He made the honor roll at Dunbar High School, (The Washington Post, February 24, 1929) and worked his way through school as a dishwasher then as a waiter, graduating from Minor Teachers College with a bachelor of science in education in 1934. (Miner Teachers College was the principal school to train black teachers in Washington DC for more than 70 years.) Mr. Moss would eventually take graduate level classes at Virginia State College, Virginia Union University, and Boston University, and earn a Master’s Degree in Guidance Counseling at the University of Virginia.

His first teaching job was at segregated Mount Garland Elementary School. He taught fifth and sixth grade.  The arrival of this tall, handsome educator must have caused quite a stir.  Mr. Moss was quickly promoted to principal. A couple of years later, in 1940, Louisa County consolidated white schools and converted some of the surplus white school buildings to black schools. Mr. Moss decided to go back to teaching at Plum Tree Elementary School. He transferred to the Louisa Training School, Louisa County’s only black high school (built in 1929, too late for Moss to attend.) He taught biology and chemistry, and served as assistant principal. In 1953, Louisa County closed the Training School and opened the A.G. Richardson High School with an enrollment of 293 students and eleven teachers. Mr. Moss was the social studies teacher and assistant principal. As the social studies teacher, he’d take busloads of students on field trips to the state capitol to see how state government functioned and to shake hands with their representatives.  “Hitch your wagon to a star,” he’d tell them.  Mr. Moss’s concern for his students was legendary.  (Interview with Rev. Larry Lewis, November 26, 2018)

Teaching full time didn’t cover the costs of raising a family and maintaining a one-hundred acre farm.  Even with the added responsibilities as an assistant principal, Mr. Moss needed to supplement his income.  For year he traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey to wait tables during summer break. “I made more money there in the summer than I made teaching the rest of the year,” he said (Daily Progress, July 26, 1970, A New Dam Brings an End to Old Ways.) Former students remembered Mr. Moss with affection.  “He was a very down to earth person, personable. He was so encouraging to students.  In the summers, he always went to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to work, and he would bring a group of high school students with him. He secured jobs for these young people at the various hotels there along the Boardwalk.   He gave them work experience and he was their chaperone during the time they were away from home, and he took very good care of them.  He made sure they went and did what they were supposed to do while they were there in New Jersey.” ( Interview with Rev. Larry Lewis, November 26, 2018 via telephone) 

In May, 1954, the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case came before the Supreme Court. In a rare unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court effectively overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of “separate but equal” and declared racial segregation of public schools unconstitutional.  Virginia Senator Harry S. Byrd was outraged. He proposed “Massive Resistance” to the court’s ruling and in 1956 the Virginia state government adopted a policy to block the desegregation of public schools.  Schools shut down in Prince Edward County, parts of Warren County, Charlottesville, and Norfolk. Unlike these places, schools in Louisa County never closed.  Segregation remained deeply entrenched in the cities, but in the farmlands and outlying areas segregation was less pronounced.  In areas that had only one grocery or hardware store, a kind of natural integration occurred, even friendships.

Mr. Moss came together with other educators to develop a plan to integrate the public schools. This was locally referred to as the “Freedom of Choice” plan and was sent to parents and announced in the local newspaper, The Central Virginian, on March 30, 1966. The intention was the elimination of segregation based on race, color or national origin.  Students and parents had thirty days to choose the school the student would attend the next school year. (Louisa County Historical Society) Mr. Moss encouraged several of his students to choose white schools.  The plan did not achieve total desegregation but it began the process. In doing so, Louisa County didn’t experience the anger, turmoil, or closing of public schools that many other Virginia counties and cities experience.  Peace and civility were maintained largely due to the foresight of Mr. Moss along with other visionary educators such as Mr. Harry Nuckols. (https://www.culturaltourismdc.org/portal/miner-teachers-college-building-african-american-heritage-trail)

By 1968, Mr. Moss had taught school in Louisa County for thirty-six years. His wife, Ruth Moss, had taught for thirty-eight years. They’d put all three of their children through college.  His oldest daughter taught English in Fairfax, his son taught industrial arts in Fairfax, and his youngest daughter, the wife of a former Army officer, was secretary to the Dean of the College of Dental Science at Howard University.  He’d stopped going to Atlantic City every summer to wait tables and looked forward to retirement.  He raised brood sows and would sell about forty young pigs each fall.  He had eight cows as well as turkeys and chickens. His favorite animals were his six saddle horses. Farming was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He still sat under the large oak tree in the front yard to read.  This was where he wanted to grow old. This was what his grandchildren called “Grandfather’s Zoo.” 

In late February 1968, when the forsythias were starting to bud, two white men drove up the newly paved road to his farmhouse in a truck with the county seal on it. Chickens scattered when the white men drove up.   “Mr. Moss,” one of the men called out, “the county sent us to survey this section of land.  I just wanted to let you know we’ll be working on your property.”

“What’s the survey for?”

“I don’t rightly know, Mr. Moss,” one of the men answered.  “The county says jump and we jump.” Mr. Moss smiled good-naturedly and waved the men on.  

The white men were still on his property when he came home from work that evening.  He saw their truck drive away just after sundown.  They came the next day, waving to Mr. Moss as they drove by.   After the second day of strangers on his property, Mr. Moss decided it was time for him to take a look at what they were doing. He saddled his favorite mare and rode the well-worn trail down to the river. Springtime was still a few weeks away and no place on earth was prettier in the springtime than his farm.  He felt a deep pride in all his family had accomplished.  Neither slavery nor Jim Crow could stop his grandfather from building the farm. In time, he would pass the land to his children and grandchildren. 

He rode past the stretch of pines where the deer herds liked to settle down for the night.  They left their imprint on the soft beds of pine straw. He was coming up on his cattle pasture when he saw the orange survey markers.  Rows and rows of them, all the way down to the North Anna River.  What was the county doing?  Putting in a new road? Building a new bridge across the North Anna River?  Either way, he didn’t much appreciate the county not sending him a notice that the surveyors would be on his land or what they were doing.  He’d lived in Louisa County almost all his life, just stepping away to go up to Washington DC for his education.  He’d paid his taxes and contributed his time and talents. The very least the county owed him was to tell him the truth.

By April, Mr. Moss was making real progress bringing black and white students together. He was guidance counselor for the newly integrated Louisa County High School.  A.G. Richardson High School, where he used to teach social studies, had been converted to an elementary school and renamed Thomas Jefferson Elementary school, much to the disappointment of the African-American community. As Reverend Lewis would recall, “The only thing was that when they were renaming schools, we weren’t abreast of that so much that the names of our schools were maintained. That got away from us and that’s how Thomas Jefferson Elementary and Trevilians Elementary were renamed. Those schools were originally named for a black person because they were black schools during segregation. So we lost the names of those schools.”  (Interview with Rev. Larry Lewis, November 26, 2018)

Four days into the month of April, 1968, the news of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination swept across the nation.   Students came into Mr. Moss’s office with tears in their eyes.  He’d listen to their fears, share his wisdom, and remind them that they were not alone. On the day of Dr. King’s funeral, four hundred Louisa County citizens, mostly African American, gathered at the First Baptist Church.  A few clouds marred the morning sky. Daffodils beckoned and azaleas barely hinted at their true colors.  The mourners clutched handkerchiefs and held hands as they waited for the pastor to call for their pilgrimage to begin.  He gave the signal and they walked in silence the three blocks from the church to the Louisa County Courthouse.  If they spoke, it was in reverential whispers.  No music. No singing.  No band played on this spring day, not at this memorial. They walked past the old confederate war memorial, erected in front of the courthouse before most of them were born. The single confederate soldier cast in bronze, holding his rifle at his side and nestled within a granite block, indifferent to the grief-stricken mourners.

The pastor of the Trinity Parish walked up the courthouse steps and addressed the crowd. He stood in front of white marble pillars and offered up a heartfelt prayer for peace, love and brotherhood.  The pastor of the Church of Christ of Charlottesville spoke next.  He acknowledged the fear that had gripped all who gathered.   “We won’t be afraid anymore,” he said barely above a whisper.

Those in attendance answered, “Amen.”

“Our quest for equal rights will not be denied.”

“Amen.”

The world was off-balance, as if the solid land under their feet had shifted.  After the speakers, after the final prayers, they all left in silence. They returned to their homes and their jobs, and if Mr. and Mrs. Moss were among the mourners they returned to their farm.  (Richmond Times Dispatch, April 10, 1968, Several Hundred Attended Memorial Service for Dr. King at Louisa Courthouse)

Spring was a busy time for farmers.  Mr. Moss took a few minutes extra with his favorite mare that morning, brushing her mane. She rubbed against him, as if she knew what troubled him.  Mr. Moss had kept saddle horses all his life and still marveled at their strength and gentleness. He stopped and pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket.  He’d felt so tense since he’d learned of Dr. King’s assassination. He was worried about his children and grandchildren. Worried about his students. Worried about the county’s tentative steps toward equality. Sometimes life was nothing but a truckload of worries. Only his farm gave him peace.

“Spurgeon,” he heard his wife call from the farmhouse.  “Spurgeon, you have a phone call.” Their neighbor from a nearby farm was on the phone.  “He says it’s important.”

“Tell him to hold on.” Mr. Moss put away the brush and headed to the house. Ruth handed him the receiver.  “Hello,” he said. 

“Spurgeon, did you see the news? We’re about to be boiled out.”

Mr. Moss didn’t understand.   He’d seen images on the television of buildings on fire, of the police with dogs and guns, of people running and screaming.  “What? What are you talking about?”

“Front page news,” the neighbor said. Moss grabbed his hat and car keys and was halfway out the door when he stopped. These were uncertain times and he didn’t like the idea of leaving his wife all alone.  He kissed her on the cheek and told her to keep the doors locked.

Mr. Moss handed the drugstore clerk a dime and picked up the April 10, 1968 Richmond Times-Dispatch.  The main headline was about Dr. King’s funeral. Thousands Attend King Rites.  “My, my, my,” he murmured under his breath. Below the headline was the haunting image of black-clad mourners walking beside a mule-drawn wagon bearing the shrouded coffin. Jackie Kennedy was in attendance, the newspaper said, as was Bobby Kennedy. But it was the other, much smaller headline that mentioned Louisa County: Vepco Plans Louisa County Nuclear Plant. 

VEPCO, short for the Virginia Electric and Power Company, planned to turn part of the North Anna River into an 11,000 acre lake and to build on its shore a half-billion dollar nuclear generating plant. The power company said the plant would have a total output of four million kilowatts, which equal the present generating capacity of the entire Vepco system. The plant would be built in three or four units.  The first would have a capacity of 800,000 kilowatts and would be completed in 1974, Vepco said.

The newspaper reported on a meeting between Vepco’s senior vice presidents, T. Justin Moore Jr., Vepco President John M. McGurn, and Virginia Governor Mills E. Godwin Jr..  Other Vepco officials sat down to a two-hour private meeting in Louisa with the county’s business and political leaders and told them of the plant and the lake. No one bothered to tell the affected landowners.

Mr. Moss walked out of the drug store without even realizing it. He was standing on the sidewalk reading the newspaper.  Shoppers walked by but he didn’t see them.  He felt the burning sting of betrayal.   As Mr. Moss would later tell a reporter, “Then I read in the paper that county officials had given Vepco right-of-way, and assured them that the citizens of the county would cooperate 100 per cent.  Surveyors had been on my land months before and when I asked them what they were surveying, they said they didn’t know.  I wonder why the supervisors didn’t tell us.  We didn’t know one thing about it until we read it in the papers or heard it on the television.  It was a terrible bombshell.” (A New Dam Brings and End to Old Ways, Daily Progress, page C4, July 26, 1970, by Jerry Simpson)

Mr. Moss looked down Main Street. There was the police department. There was the hardware store. There was the County Courthouse with the statue of the confederate soldier in front. Did everyone know except him?   He kept reading:

Besides the boating and the recreation business the lake was expected to bring into the predominately-agricultural county, the plant itself was expected to add more than $900,000 to Louisa’s annual tax revenues.  It would employ between 75 and 100 persons and add a payroll of $750,000 each year to the county’s economy.  “It’s the biggest thing and has more potential than anything that has ever hit Louisa.  It is terrific,” said one of the business leaders who attended the Louisa meeting.

“The supervisors have assured Vepco that Louisa people will cooperate with them in every possible way,” said another leader, the Rev. Joe T. Carson, who heads the Louisa County Industrial Development Corp.

From neighboring Orange County, R. Lindsay Gordon III, chairman of the county’s board of supervisors, call the lake “manna from heaven”.  Most of the profits will come to Louisa and Spotsylvania, Gordon said, but Orange will benefit also. “Anytime that much money is being spent, some of it is going to rub off on surrounding areas,” Gordon said.

Vepco planned to form the lake by building a 75-to-100 foot high dam across the North Anna River near Smith’s Mill Bridge, just west of the Hanover County line. The dam would form a 17-square mile lake, with 100 miles of shoreline. Most of the lake site is wooded.  A Vepco spokesman said no more than 75 homes would have to be evacuated to make way for the lake.

“No more than seventy-five homes!” Smith’s Mill Bridge was only two miles from Mr. Moss’s farmhouse, as the crow flies. His property touched the bank of the North Anna River.  Was his farm going to be flooded?  What would happen to his pigs, his cattle, and his beloved saddle horses?  What would happen to all the wildlife on his property?  The deer and rabbits and wild turkeys?  Today of all days, first Dr. King’s funeral and now this, it was a punch in the gut like he’d never felt before.

The generating plant itself would go up about five miles up the lake from the dam, on the Louisa shore. The plant would use an entirely new type of water cooling system. The plant would take in water from the lake, use it power the generating units, and then release it into cooling lagoons, a series of large ponds that would be diked off from the lake. As the water passed through the lagoons it would cool to normal lake temperature. Then it would be fed back into the lake.

“Company officials gave no date for the completion of the second unit, and they said they had no idea when the final units would be added.  However, it is believed the second unit is being planned for 1975 and 1976. Ragone estimated that the total cost of the dam, the lake site, and all the units together would probably come to more than $500 million.” (April 10, 1968 Richmond Times Dispatch, Vepco plans Louisa County Nuclear Plant)

The article concluded with a map of Louisa County showing the proposed dam and power plant sites.  The proposed lake was right on top of Mr. Moss’s farm.  How would he break the news to his wife?  How would he break the news to his children? The land was their legacy. He folded the newspaper and returned to his car. He returned to his beloved farm and quietly handed the newspaper to Ruth.  She read it with the same shocked disbelief he had felt.

His heart could barely take it, one piece of bad news after another.  He walked down to the small creek on his property and sat on a fallen log.  Small frogs jumped in the creek at his arrival.  April was a beautiful month in central Virginia.  Warm enough to enjoy the sunshine but cool enough to keep the mosquitoes away.   Now he knew what his neighbor had meant when he said they were about to be “boiled out.” The surveyors had left orange markers all over his property, now it all made sense.  They must be for the proposed dam, lake, and nuclear power plant.  

The history of Mr. Moss is part of a larger work by author Carolyn O’Neal exploring the impact of the North Anna Nuclear Power Station on the citizens of Louisa County.  She is also exploring the impact of Lake Anna, which was built to provide fresh water to the nuclear power station to keep the reactors cool.  Many farms were condemned and much private land was confiscated to build the lake and power plant. 

If you or your family were impacted when Virginia Electric and Power Company dammed the North Anna River and built the North Anna Nuclear Power Station, please share your story.  Leave a reply below.

Notes:

Three schools in Virginia were named for Dr. Archie Gibbs Richardson: elementary schools in Culpeper and Blackstone, and A.G. Richardson High School in Louisa. Richardson was a prominent African-American educator and a prolific speaker and writer. His papers can be found at Johnston Memorial Library, Virginia State University. The Lexington native graduated from Virginia State University in 1927.  He held a Master’s Degree from Butler University in Indianapolis, a Doctorate of Education from Columbia University and an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree awarded in 1957 from Virginia State University. Richardson served eight years as principal of the Mecklenburg Training School in South Hill. He worked for a year as director of academics at Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville.  (Saint Paul’s College was established by former slave Russell Solomon James, a contemporary of Booker T. Washington, in1888.)  In 1936 he was appointed Assistant State Supervisor of Negro Education with the Virginia Department of Education. When that post became obsolete with school integration, he was appointed Associate Supervisor of Elementary and Secondary Education. Then, in 1966 he was named Associate Director of Education, a position he held until his retirement in 1966. Dr. Richardson was the first African American to be named to the staff of the Virginia Department of Education.

(Richmond Times Dispatch, October 19, 1979, A.G. Richardson, Educator, Dies http://louisaheritage.org/schools/agrichardson.htm A.G. Richardson history from the Louisa County History Society)

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BACCA Writers

When Things Must Change

I’ve been making a series of short videos geared to my creativity coaching work. One of them was to be around the topic, “when projects shift, morph, and change.”

It’s gotten very meta around here.

While drafting the script for this video, my writing started to, uh, shift, morph, and change.

I came up with scenarios that face creative people. But these scenarios were all set in the Before Times. After writing several of these, I had a d’oh moment. I noticed that everybody is now faced with exactly this challenge. Why? One word. Pandemic.

From February of 2020 on, it sank in gradually how massive the changes were going to be, and for how indefinitely long they were going to last.

I, for one, was not happy.
Image by Irina Kukuts from Pixabay

I, for one, was not happy about moving my office home to my apartment on 12 March. I liked my office. I loved the meetings I’d had there for years, all the a-ha moments shared with clients, all the fruitful collaborations with colleagues and friends. 

Seven months in, however, I had given up my office lease. New tenants arrived, satisfying my landlord, and letting me off the hook. 

Adapting to these changes is taking the time required. We’re all at various stages of denial, frustration, resignation, bargaining, and so on. (Watch out, Kübler-Ross.) 

Watch out, Kübler-Ross.
Image by (Joenomias) Menno de Jong from Pixabay

Everyone I know has become a marvel of resilience, sometimes in multiple ways. In the past eleven months since the mid-March 2020 stoppages, who among us has not changed their life drastically? Whose work has not been altered or eliminated and re-shaped? Whose family life operates in the same way? Whose typical week looks the same?

Whose typical week looks the same?
Image by JoeBreuer from PIxabay

For writers, the forced isolation has sometimes been welcome. (See introvert stereotype, etc.) However, even for people who are comfortable spending most of their time alone, the reduced social contact of the past eleven months has also challenged people’s confidence, which can lead to a loss of creative momentum.

Forced isolation.
Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay

For those directly harmed by the pandemic, through loss of employment, compromised health, and even loss of life, the idea of having projects shift, morph, and change does not bear considering. More vital questions demand full attention.

For the rest of us who are able to continue to tolerate the danger and uncertainty, hoping that things will get better eventually, we draw on inner resources and sustain ourselves. In my circle, those tactics include cultivating old friendships, and availing ourselves of distanced culture, video calls, home cooking, nature walks, favorite books, contact-free library pick-ups and drop-offs, puzzles, knitting, closet reorganization projects, gardening, time with companion animals, and, of course, bread baking.

Bread baking
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

So, as everything remains in flux, and as the US examines itself – or insists on not looking – and as the world struggles with this massive public health crisis, we continue to muddle through.

What changes that you’re making will remain permanent in your life when we’re free to go about again and travel, meet, etc.? Do you feel you’re making progress in new directions, or are you just responding to the external pressures and changing as needed? What will the pandemic have taught you, when you look back on this time? What will have changed for you?

What will have changed for you?
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and full-service editing to authors and other creative people. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. A new workbook, The Becoming Unstuck Journal is forthcoming.

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BACCA Writers

Priori Incantatem

Priori Incantatem, also known as the Reverse Spell, is a magical spell in the Harry Potter universe that reveals the most recent activity of a wizard’s wand. In the duel between Harry Potter and evil Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, the Reverse Spell forces out of Lord Voldemort’s wand the ghostly images of the last half-dozen or so people he’d murdered, starting with the last person first and going in reverse order.

Cedric Diggory

In the first printing of J. K. Rowling’s massive 734 novel (published in 2000), the last person murdered is the young and handsome Cedric Diggory, the champion of Hufflepuff House. The ghost of Cedric squeezes out of Lord Voldemort’s wand like smoke from an exhaust pipe (my description, not Rowling’s). “Hold on, Harry,” the ghost of Cedric says.

The next to the last person murdered is an elderly caretaker. His ghost, just like Cedric’s before him, encourages Harry to not give up. “You fight him, boy…” Then comes the ghost of Bertha Jorkins. “Don’t let go, now!” she cries. “Don’t let him get you, Harry…” Bertha, Cedric and the caretaker pace around Harry keeping the evil Death Eaters at bay. Next comes the heart stopping scene of watching Harry’s parents – the parents Harry never knew – appear as ghosts.

The smoky shadow of a tall man with untidy hair fell to the ground…looked at him… and Harry, his arms shaking madly now, looked back into the ghostly face of his father.

“Your mother’s coming…” he said quietly. “She wants to see you… it will be all right…hold on…”

And she came… first her head, then her body… a young woman with long hair, the smoky, shadowy form of Lily Potter…

The problem, as every Harry Potter reader knows, is that the order was wrong. Lily Potter (Harry’s mother) should have come out of the wand before James Potter (Harry’s father). JK Rowling messed up and messed up in a very large, very public way.

Rowling attributed the error to “late night writer’s fatigue” and it was fixed in later editions.

So this brings me to the question, how should authors handle mistakes AFTER publication. One of my writer friends says she never reads her work after it is published. It drives her crazy that she can no longer edit her work. She can no longer make any changes. She can no longer fix any errors. Any “fixing” is up to her publisher.

Which is one of the advantages of self-publishing. Self-publishing with Amazon, for instance, allows authors to edit their work as soon as they see an error. This won’t fix errors in the copies already sold but does allow the author to make changes to future copies. And maybe allows authors to rest a bit easier.

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Review | Self-Publishing Review

I’d like to hear from other authors. How do you deal with errors in published work? In the meantime, enjoy the movie magic of the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Priori Incantatem scene.

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BACCA Writers

Truth Tellers and Doorways: Joy Harjo

© Karen Kuehn. Courtesy of Blue Flower Arts.

In June, 2019, a side door in the House of Change opened a crack. Joy Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke (Muscogee Creek) Nation, was named the 23rd poet laureate of the United States. She is the first indigenous poet and the seventh woman to hold that post. Chosen by the Library of Congress, the poet laureate’s role is to raise consciousness and enhance appreciation for poetry. In her first and second terms, Joy Harjo has chosen to represent not only marginalized female and Mvskoke voices, but to make space for a wide range of indigenous writers—through the production of an anthology, When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through (2020), which she describes as “a doorway,” and her special project, Living Nations, Living Words, a digital story map introducing the country to Native poets, past and present.

I’ve been celebrating the good news by revisiting her work. I first immersed myself in Harjo’s poetry in college, where I fell in love with the collections She Had Some Horses (1983) and In Mad Love and War (1990). I felt drawn to the rhythm and power of these poems, the mix of dark and light, and I relished their keen revelation of female experience. Harjo visited my college twice during that time. In tongue-tied awe, I sat a few seats away from her when she attended my poetry writing workshop. Listening to her, I experienced for the first time the vast difference between poems on a page and poems read out loud by the poet that made them.

In light of the many challenges that 2020 has delivered, Harjo’s appointment might seem like a trivial thing to emphasize. Poetry itself might seem trivial, even irrelevant. An inert remnant of the past. A form dismantled in the last century, its shards left scattered around the waste land. Nevertheless, poetry isn’t dead. Poets persist. They continue their alchemical work, boiling language down, transforming mundane experience, offering up insight and epiphany.

Joy Harjo suggests that poets do even more. In 1994, she wrote “I believe that the word poet is synonymous with the word truth teller.” Throughout her work, Harjo reveals the truth of her experience—the harsh and the exhilarating. Published in 1979, the poem “I am A Dangerous Woman,” is so real and relevant it could have been written five minutes ago. Harjo reads it here.

Harjo’s poems are built not just to say something, but to do something. As an active extension of an ancient oral tradition, they are meant to serve as rituals and ceremonies—for change, for remembrance, for celebration—as the creeds and invocations and prayers of church are meant to do. Harjo’s poems are constructed to open doors. Because Harjo insists that words have power, her poems are made to alter and to move us and to possibly change the world. Here, a poem to release fear.

The second time I heard Joy Harjo read, she brought her saxophone and a band with her. The audience experienced, firsthand, the power of the oral tradition, witnessing the creation of live, unrepeatable versions of her poems with music in a space and time. Not fixed on a page, but fully vital. When I left that event and went back to my dorm room, I felt restless and wrong indoors, somehow. I remember wandering back outside, stirred up. I only felt right under the night sky. Her words had worked on me, opened something up.

In the current socio-political era, the truth we encounter is something to be questioned and inspected and is often found to be as insubstantial and unreliable as wet cotton candy. In such a time, we might start to believe that we can’t make a difference. All around us, words are used to obscure rather than illuminate, so it seems even more significant that someone committed to telling the truth has been given a prominent space to speak and be heard. I think we’ve received the teacher that we needed—someone to remind us that words have meaning and power, someone to remind us that “All acts of kindness are lights in the war for justice.” (The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, 1994)

Last month (November, 2020), the Library of Congress announced that Joy Harjo has been reappointed and will serve a third term as poet laureate—a rare occurrence. (She is only the second poet in seventy-seven years to do so). We might have more to learn; I know she has more to teach us.

Noelle Beverly writes poetry and prose, promotes local writers in the surrounding community, and is a member of the BACCA Literary group

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BACCA Writers

Silent Companion

 “[T]he habit of writing … for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. … What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind.
—Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

How I Started

One winter night when I was young, I sat looking out my bedroom window at the dark street in front of my parents’ house. My parents and I were on a long-distance phone call – they in the kitchen, I on the long-lobbied-for extension recently installed in my room – catching up with a family friend. The friend had called cross-country to give us the good news that a recently married couple we all knew and loved were expecting a child in May, and wasn’t it great?

As I listened, my parents’ unseen reactions seemed tinged with something. Hmmm. I’d gone to the November wedding. I counted on my fingers: one for December, two for January, three for February, and so on. When I got to six for May, I started over again, to find my error.

I knew about a mostly unspoken rule that said babies are supposed to be born more than nine months after the wedding. I also concluded this couple had broken the rule. I had questions. Lots of questions. It would not be smart, however, for me to ask my parents. While Bohemian in many ways, they each had a strong Puritanical streak that manifested from time to time, and this had all the earmarks of such an occasion. I didn’t want to be in the room when they hashed it out between them.

I didn’t have any friends to talk to about something like this. I grabbed a green spiral-bound notebook from my schoolbag and wrote out the months, to be extra sure. Wow. The mother-to-be must have been pregnant already when I helped her get dressed on her wedding day. I had no idea.

I turned to my green notebook. I needed to sort out my feelings about this good news that turned sideways when it revealed a transgression. I found a steadfast companion that night.

green spiral notebook
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash; edited by AMC

After that night, I kept pulling out the green notebook before I slept. It soon became a habit. I appreciated the safety of having a place to try out my thoughts before I spoke them or acted on them. I had a place where I could confide in complete privacy. As a thirteen-year-old girl I had many questions and puzzlements and uncertainties. The best place to express them, it often turned out, was in my green spiral notebook.

Many years have passed. I still maintain a blank notebook. After the green wirebound notebook filled up, I experimented with form. For a few years I made entries in a miniature bound journal my choirmaster gave all the choristers every December. This may have been to foil my eyeglass-wearing parents in the event they got nosy. I can now barely decipher my tiny handwriting – full of abbreviations and codes – in those volumes. Once I was out of my parents’ house I settled on the sewn and taped binding of a “composition book” with a marble-pattern cardboard cover. The main thing didn’t change: now as then, my journal is a welcoming open creative space. I seek a coherent narrative for this life, and the pages of my journal are where I conduct that search.

Why I Treasure My Silent Companion

Following are one big and three small gifts I have received from cultivating a journaling practice.

Three Timeframes

Unprescribed, unsupervised, unlimited, the regular putting of pen to page gives back so much. And it doesn’t just happen while you’re writing. I find that an ongoing journaling practice takes place in three timeframes – during, after, and before.

1. During

While I’m writing in my journal, I’m in the moment, and can let the words pour out, often unexamined. The passage of time is unimportant. I remain uncritical, open to what the pen in my hand puts onto the page. This process becomes a deeply ingrained habit. It helps keep me going, sustains me when I’m feeling under pressure, rewards me with insights revealed through the act of writing them, and gives me the place to puzzle out answers so I can gain understanding and take action on incomplete pieces of my life.  

2. After

From time to time, I flip back and review pages already covered with my handwriting. Here, I can examine everything. Retrospectives of prior years’ entries can be useful and enlightening. Some patterns permit detection only in hindsight. From a longer view, I can appreciate genuine progress, and also note ongoing themes that recur in cycles of a year, or a decade, or longer – like the rings in a tree trunk or geologic strata. As Virginia Woolf discovered when she returned to old volumes of her diary, “I found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time.”

3. Before

Once the journaling habit became embedded, I began to notice, as they cropped up during the day, ideas and observations that felt like they belonged in my journal, even when it wasn’t at hand. One approach is to just carry the book around with you wherever you go so it’s always at hand. When I did that, I asked myself the clever question, If I’m carrying a bag big enough to hold my journal, why not toss in a few more things? Some unpleasant neck and shoulder issues ensued. Instead, I now can opt to carry small, lightweight methods for making temporary jots that I can add to the journal later. Smartphones make this easier (although sometimes, I find, things really want to be written, not typed). These ‘before’ contributions to an ongoing journaling practice are worthwhile contributions to the contents, and are also reassuring and self-reinforcing evidence of the centrality of this relationship between my journal and me.

Silent companion central

Good Enough

Journals are wonderful antidotes to perfectionism. Uncritical and impossible to shock, patient and unfazed, my journal can handle whatever I introduce. Its quality just does not matter.

Other Voices

When you allow yourself free rein in your journal, you “invite your quieter, more thoughtful voices to come forward and be acknowledged.” A M Carley, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers. Accept the possibility that there are sources of wisdom within you that are not accustomed to being heard. Make them welcome.

Positivity Rebalance

My journal is a time-tested method of correcting for negativity bias, our human hardwired focus on what’s wrong at the expense of appreciating what’s working well.

Beyond Study Hall

I use my journal for much more than I did all those years ago in my bedroom at my parents’ house. No longer an adolescent, I am less interested in parsing out who said what in study hall. Crucially, I now have a sturdy community of friends and loved ones with whom to share life’s questions. The value of my journal has only increased over the years. It remains my silent companion. Open to whatever I write, annotate, or doodle, it welcomes me every time. Virginia Woolf’s ideal, a framework “so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind,” is attainable.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and full-service editing to authors and other creative people. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. A new FLOAT Workbook • The Becoming Unstuck Journal is forthcoming.

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BACCA Writers

Vote for Kindness

Ken Follett’s epic novel Pillars of the Earth is set in England in the years historians refer to as The Anarchy (1135 – 1153), a nineteen-year period of anarchic civil war which resulted in chaos and widespread breakdown in even the most basic civility.

This chaos is most clearly embodied in the novel’s primary antagonist, William Hamleigh, the son of a minor but highly ambitious lord. William is a spoiled pampered bully. He beats and belittles and takes advantage. His goal is to become Earl of Shiring.

Pixabay

Standing in William’s way is Prior Philip, a devout and deeply curious man who treats everyone he meets with kindness. Prior Philip wants to build a great cathedral. It is Prior Philip’s everyday generosity that brings him together with visionary craftsman, Tom the Builder, the man who will build his cathedral.

The Anarchy in England was “a succession crisis precipitated by the accidental death by drowning of William Adelin, the only legitimate son of Henry I.” (Wikipedia)

Historians looking back on 2020 may refer to this as America’s Anarchy. Pandemic, unemployment, injustice, crime.

This November, America is facing its own succession crisis. We face a choice between a man who has everything yet still bullies his way into getting more. And another who has served his country for 40 years despite tremendous personal loss, yet still finds a way to help another.

Who do you want as your next President?

I intend to vote for kindness.

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BACCA Writers

Inspiration – Two Ways

Is inspiration something that comes to you, or is it something you can go after?

For a nonfiction book I’m writing, I’ve been asking that question. My new book offers practices to supercharge your creative flow, ways to harness the creativity tools you already use, and ideas for applying your big-picture vision to everyday tasks. So you can imagine that inspiration is pretty central to the entire book.

I’ve come to see that, for me, there’s more than one kind of inspiration.

tree canopy with sky above
Mother Nature comes through with inspiration. Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Receiving the Cosmic Download

This is the kind we’ve all seen portrayed in movies, fiction, and other popular culture. It comes from outside ourselves. In this scenario, we’re powerless to resist. The upside? Van Gogh’s sunflowers and starry night skies. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Or so we’re led to believe. However, being ravished by inspiration, while certainly dramatic, may not be what I need on a Tuesday afternoon.

For one thing, this kind of inspiration visits now and then – if we’re lucky. It may never visit at all, and, if it drops by, may never return. What then? Are we destined to languish as passive vessels, waiting for another dose? That seems a bit boring. Also ineffective. And immensely frustrating.

Also, this external kind of inspiration is likely to show up more often if we make it welcome. A great way to do that is to seek little bits of inspiration on the regular.

Seeking Inspiration

Can we intentionally go after inspiration? Why not? True, the big kind – when a whoosh of ideas, energy, direction, emotion, and inspiration manifests in your awareness unbidden – is powerful, and wonderful to experience. In fact, everything I’m doing with my new book will make the “whoosh” kind of inspiration want to visit. We’re putting out the welcome mat for it.

There’s a powerful argument, though, for a more active version. The kind that, when you make up your mind to seek it out, is often less big, and also can be much more frequent. I believe in cultivating this kind, the kind that doesn’t need to come from outside yourself. We can invite it in by focusing on something in our environment.

If I’m feeling a little lacking in creative get-up-and-go on that Tuesday afternoon, I can take steps – manageable steps – to go after some inspiration. Two perennially powerful go-tos are taking time with nature, and practicing focused breathing. After all, the root of the word ‘inspiration’ is the word for breath. I propose three other small tools here, adaptable even to urban living.

lightbulb held in the air
Odd juxtapositions can be inspiring. Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

  • Notice Five Things

I can go for a walk around the block and commit to noticing five things I’ve never noticed before. The way a roofline meets a downspout. The contrast of a child’s yellow toy with the bark of a tree. The sounds of traffic combined with the squeak of a loose road sign in the wind. The cloud formation that looks like layers in a parfait. The smell of burgers and coffee from the diner. Just focusing my senses on my direct experience can act as a palate-cleanser and send me back to work with new ideas and a clear head.

  • Describe to an Alien

Or I can stay home and change my position, from desk to couch, for instance, and sit there. After a quiet moment, I can choose something to look at closely. Then I can find words, the most accurate words possible – crossouts are permitted – to describe my selected object to an alien, without naming the object or its function, as though my visitor has no frame of reference for this thing. By changing my language, I’m playing 52 pick-up with my assumptions and opening up my imagination. A stapler, a coffee table, or a frying pan will look different to you after you do this. Your work is likely to look different, as well.

  • Tour the Vault

A third way I can get inspired is to take a look at things I have stashed away in Evernote. (Needless to say, it doesn’t have to be Evernote specifically – that just happens to be the place I habitually tuck bits of information, examples of cool ideas, research, inventions, creative expressions, images, sounds, etc. For you it might be notebooks, scrapbooks, vision boards, a Pinterest page, a closet shelf, etc.) I am always pleasantly surprised at something that’s waiting in there. Makes sense, because I use it as a parking lot for things I don’t want to make room for in my awareness. And it does its job! When I visit, it’s like opening a treasure vault. I recently found great links to pertinent articles on topics of interest for a writing project.

Welcome them Both

underwater hand holding a sparkler
Surprise yourself. Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

I believe that both forms of inspiration are important, and that it’s helpful to welcome them both into your creative life. They seem to get along well.

In fact, the best part, I feel, is that the more I seek it out, the more inspiration seems to be willing to come by for the big ‘whoosh’ moments. Somehow, it’s gotten the message that there’s a place for it here.

A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and full-service editing to authors and other creative people. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon

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BACCA Writers

Innovation Inside the Lines

A minor confession: I love form. I thought I’d only write free verse. I thought I’d be one of the bull-in-a-china-shop rule breakers of fiction. I thought I’d start each project with a slate clear of the traditions that came before. But the more I read and the more I write, the more I know that form is beautiful and useful – and it’s my secret tool for innovation.

madegrid.

For a long time, literary forms and their limitations were an imposition. I rebelled against rhyme. I shirked the sonnet, vilified the villanelle. I objected to outlines, too. (Who cares if they made life easier? They reminded me of schedules and routines – those despised limiters of my childhood, interrupting the long, open days of summer.) If I followed the rules, if I used traditional form, I was sure I’d be stuck, locked in some stuffy, dust-bunnied room, with outdated decor. I wanted to be a writer, unrestricted, unbound. Free to go anywhere, like the wind.

After more study and practice, I developed a grudging respect for the forms I’d mocked. I recognized that good forms have a purpose, and a tendency. The sonnet, music box-like with its rhythms and revelations, conjures an intimate experience. The villanelle lulls; lines repeat, pull, seduce. After all, even the wind wants something to blow against: leaves, channels of rock, cattails, and blades of grass. How else can it sing?

Form elevates, too, inviting precision and tautness. When making poems or stories, using form can be like stretching words to fit a frame, pulling ideas across lines until they are strong and resonant, like the skin on a drum. Form pushed my writing further. The unnecessary fell away. Muscly words that did twice and three times the work emerged. Eventually, I found my way to more subtle, yielding forms – syllabics underpinning a line of poetry, a fragment of myth whispering up from the molten core of story – hidden, intricate architectures that could help hold the work up, not hold it back.

Forms restrict, but they also invite us to play. The astonishing gift of form is surprise, our unexpected rise to the occasion as we work within the confines imposed. Inside the lines, we improvise and innovate, fiddling until something fresh arrives. Form, then, becomes a doorway to the new. A welcome paradox.

wildgrid. In the last few months, most of us have traded one set of limitations for another. Under stay at home orders, the days, stripped of appointments and engagements, yawned open, while the scenery stayed the same. We’ve seen (or experienced) suffering and loss, but something beautiful has happened, too. Unforgettable demonstrations of creativity have emerged from the limitations – all the sweet, wacky, clever ways that people have dreamed up to stay connected, to encourage and check on each other from a distance. Invented games. Birthday parades. Unexpected reunions. Teleconferencing-propelled collaborations, between unlikely collaborators, that resulted in brilliant performances and artistry. Stripped of airbrushing, pomp and circumstance, many of these productions have looked a little less shiny than we’re used to, but a little more comfortingly real. Maybe it reminds me of childhood: the silly, wild games, the true play of abandon and recombination built from the tools and materials at hand.

As quarantine restrictions lift, routines of normal life will return, but I hope the spirit of innovation and improvisation will persist. When the power goes out, we remember how much we love candlelit dinners, storytelling, and card games. It’s too easy to forget these simple pleasures when the lights come back on.

Here’s a favorite example of quarantine creativity: The Roots, with Jimmy Fallon and Brendon Urie, performing Queen’s Under Pressure (featuring David Bowie). It’s a great cover of a great song and a bafflingly good use of the video conferencing platform. Note, particularly, the genius use of “found-at-home” instruments by The Roots: a reminder that if we want to make music, we will find a way. Most of all, I love the joyfulness of their performance. Here’s proof that in times of stress, we still want to create things together, to delight and encourage one another. It gives me hope.

Noelle Beverly writes poetry and prose, promotes local writers in the surrounding community, and is a member of the BACCA Literary group. Photos by the author.

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BACCA Writers

Maya for Writers

Several ancient schools of thought, originating thousands of years ago in India and in China, tell us that when you give something a name, you cut it off from the great swirling unknowable unknown that we call the universe, the mystery, darkness within darkness, or the nature of reality. Of course, those are all names, so it becomes impossible to write about the underlying nothing, since the moment we use words, we confine the thing that is too big for words.

Austin Guevara bokeh lights pexels-photo-237898
Pulling focus to create uncertainty. Photo credit Austin Guevara pexels-photo-237898

How do creative artists, including writers, manage that paradox? On the one hand, the writer’s tools are words. On the other, in order to touch the universal, we must abandon words, abandon thinking altogether, in fact.

Leaving Thought Behind

This is why, for example, forms of meditation recommend that we ‘just be,’ focusing on breath, and briefly acknowledging and then dismissing thoughts as soon as they appear. In this context, thoughts are sometimes compared to clouds in the sky, waves on the surface of a deep ocean, or cars passing by on the road. They come and go, and have no meaning.

A teacher recently posed the problem, “Describe to me last week – without using words.” He concluded that the task was impossible, because there is no ‘last week’ without words and symbols. Ideas, relative positions in time, in fact the notion of time itself, are all constructs. All Maya.

Image of smoke rising in a vortex
The illusion of smoke. Photo credit Rafael Guajardo pexels-photo-604672

Maya, a Sanskrit word sometimes translated as illusion, has multiple, nuanced meanings. In Western popular-culture shorthand, maya has come to mean the shared trance that we unknowingly, collectively agree to, so that we can function in the modern world. Buying into the trance of maya, we pay our bills, go to our jobs, drive in traffic, give birthday gifts, vote for politicians, accept the names of things, and in countless other ways entertain the culturally accepted method of viewing the world. Underneath maya, though, is that limitless unknowable everything. Is being free from maya the goal of those seeking enlightenment?

 

My first response to the teacher’s question about communicating ‘last week’ without words, was to imagine a kind of interpretive dance, or a quickly drawn image that somehow elicited in the viewer an intuitive grasp – somehow – of the notion of ‘last week.’

Maya for Writers

Assuming for the moment that a dancer or artist might be able to do that, what does the writer do, faced with this challenge? Even the most artful, obscure poem uses words, does it not? And words, unavoidably, conjure up in each one of us our previous uses, memories, knowledge, and responses to them. In fact, words have richness and power because of all our associations with them. This is true for the writer and for the reader.

fountain pexels-photo-3822110
The magic of a child and an illuminated fountain. Photo credit Darren Lawrence pexels-photo-3822110

If writers cannot possibly escape maya in our work, can we use our shared unreality for good? Do we use language – our creative tools – in ways that can shift that shared maya, for a moment, into a slightly new light? Do we apply metaphors and similes? Do we arrange words in unexpected sequences to permit the reader a brief glimpse of something beyond the words, into the unknowable?

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and full-service editing to authors and other creative people. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon

 

 

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BACCA Writers

Grin and Bear It

“For bears, winter is one night.” – Unknown

More than once I’ve shared my writing philosophy with friends who have hit a hard bump in the road. Whether an illness, a job loss, or relationship troubles, for a writer, there’s no such thing as a bad experience. All experiences are material, the good ones and the bad ones. Especially the bad ones. The first few months of 2020 have tested this saying almost to the breaking point. This has been a year for the history books. Before I heard a word about coronavirus or quarantine or government shutdowns, I had health issues and bee hive failures.

“Two bears in one cave will not end well.” – Mongolian

Three of my four hives failed in January and February. One hive died. The second hive absconded (the bees flew away and never returned). The third hive abandoned their home for some reason and joined up with the stronger fourth hive.  Losing three hives was very disheartening. I had anticipated a heavy honey season so this seemed like a personal failure. I left the empty hives where they were for the time being. It was cold, there weren’t any pests flying around to bother them, and I had bigger issues to deal with.

“Kings and Bears often worry their Keepers.” – Scot

In early March I spent a night at the hospital to repair a brain aneurysm. I was a nervous going in but the surgery was quick and I was up and walking the halls of the ICU by that evening. I took it slow and easy, more afraid of tripping over the thick socks they gave me than anything else. I walked past a couple of rooms with signs on the door saying masks were required to enter because of “respiratory particles.”

No more than a week after getting home, my apiary had an unwelcome visitor. A bear had found my three abandoned hives and decided to check them out.

 

Bears enter our vernacular in many ways.

Bear market

Bear witness

Freedom to bear arms

Grin and bear it

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

I cleaned up my apiary, removing all the damaged hives. I strapped down my strong hive and surrounded it with cinder blocks and tin cans dangling from string to scare away the marauding bear. My beehive had at least 50,000 bees in it. You’d think that many bees would keep any creature at bay, even a bear. You can see for yourself, my efforts were a waste of time.

 

What should I do? My last hive was destroyed. Should I quit beekeeping? Should I shrug off all the time and money I had put into it? Should I say this just isn’t for me and abandon my few remaining bees to their fate? So many signs told me to quit. I was healing from surgery. I was dealing with the growing threat of this coronavirus. The government shut down businesses all over my city. My beekeeping classes were cancelled. The state beekeeping convention was cancelled. My local beekeeping club meetings were cancelled.

Writers know what it feels like to get knocked down. No matter how much time you’ve spent on a story. No matter how much money you’ve spent on writing classes and seminars. Agents don’t want to represent you, publishers don’t print your story, readers write a scathing review of your work for the world to see. Writers face relentless rejection. Signs everywhere tell them to quit. Life gets in the way of writing routines, inserting personal tragedies and national pandemics into everyday life.

“The bear is in the forest, but the pelt is sold.” – Unknown

I decided try again. I saved as many of my bees as I could and placed them and what I could salvage from their hive in a shed. I locked the shed at night to protect them from the bear. It was a temporary solution, at best. Moreover, there was a good chance the queen was dead and the bees would abandon the hive. By this time, it was late March and needed to be vigilant about the coronavirus. Washing hands. Social distancing. Wearing a face mask. My husband worked at the local hospital so I had daily updates when he came home. I talked via email and phone to beekeeping mentors and asked for advice. Before I set up a new apiary, they said, I needed to make sure it was safe from bears. That meant an electric fence with a solar panel charger. Of course, I couldn’t shop around for fence and solar panel charger materials. Everything had to be researched and purchased online.

The equipment finally arrived and my husband put up the electric fence all by himself.  Talk about social distancing. With his help, we moved the beehive from the shed to their new home. I  repaired and repainted the hives damaged by the bear. I purchase two new packages of bees. My new apiary was all set just in time for the April blossoms. It was a tremendous about of work and might not yield any honey but all I can do is keep trying. Unlike writing, in beekeeping there IS such a thing as a bad experience. But I learned a lot and hope I’m a better beekeeper for this experience.  And maybe a better writer too.

New apiary with electric fence.

“Work is not a bear, it won’t go into the forest.” – Unknown