Monday, December 28, 2009


Travels with Charley:
as well as Jack, Allen, Edwin, Charles, Peter, and nearly everyone else.

America is a nation of ramblers. From the literary approach of Travels with Charley, (John Steinbeck) to the scientific exactitude of Autumn Across America, (Edwin Way Teale) to the endless meanderings and parties of On the Road and Dharma Bums (Jack Kerouac), the people of our nation love to travel.
Our wander lust has spawned a market for popular magazines such as Endless Vacation, at least one television journalism series, On the Road with Charles Kuralt, and the pop film Easy Rider, known as the story of a search for an America that was never found. Travel Writing is an important category of journalism, but I believe it is also a largely unrecognized and unexplored aspect of literary writing.
Early in the book, Travels with Charley: in search of America, Steinbeck whimsically names his camper truck after the sturdy mount of Don Quixote, Rocinante. The truck is the star of the earliest part of the narrative, with several admirers indicating that they would love to go. In some cases, they don’t even know where Steinbeck is going, and have no idea where they want to go. A visit to his son at Deerfield Academy results in several teen aged boys attempting to stow away in the camper. The going seems to be the point, not the destination.
By contrast, Edwin Way Teale set out with very specific objectives when he embarked on the travels that resulted in the four book series, The American Seasons, and a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. He began with a quick trip south and then drove North, observing the seasonal changes, the migrations of wildlife and the work of naturalists and environmental scientists he met along the way. He then traveled widely and recorded his further observations in Journey into Summer, Autumn Across America, and Wandering Through Winter. The series is an introduction to the natural marvels of our great nation.
This approach is less exactly followed by Peter Matthiessen in his conservation epic, The Snow Leopard. Matthiessen traveled with the taciturn George Shaller, referred to as G.S. in the book, in search of the blue Dahl Sheep and the Snow Leopard of the Tibetan plain. As a Zen Buddhist, Matthiessen was much more interested in the Buddhist shrines, the Lamas, and the porters. He left the science to G.S., appropriately known as an iron man of field biology.
Matthiessen and Shaller completed their journey with substantial observations of the Dahl Sheep but no sighting of the Snow Leopard. Matthiessen gave an appropriately Zen conclusion to his narrative. He celebrated the journey.
The Zen influence also appeared in Dharma Bums, in the enigmatic Jaffy Rider, an avatar of the prize winning poet Gary Snyder. Although the beat generation is primarily identified with the book’s author, Jack Kerouac and with Allen Ginsberg, the model for its other main character, Snyder also performed in the famous reading at Gallery Six that brought them to the world’s attention. He became a translator of oriental languages, traveled to Japan to study Zen, and is still actively writing, publishing and giving public readings today. While Kerouac’s works celebrated travels here in America, Snyder’s destination was in Asia.
Some authorities consider Ken Kesey and the “Merry Pranksters” of the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test the descendents of the beat generation. This is amplified by the presence of Kerouac’s friend and fellow traveler from On the Road, Neal Cassidy as driver of the bus that took the Merry Pranksters across the country. Their travels included a psychedelic dimension.
As the beat generation waned, traveling did not. Peter Jenkins took his own approach in A Walk Across America and its sequel. He walked from Connecticut to New Orleans stayed a while, got married, and continued the walk to the west coast. His new wife accompanied him on the second half of the journey and several friends traveled out to walk the last mile with them.
As Jenkins walked, William Least Heat-Moon drove the back roads in Blue Highways and later crossed the nation by boat in The River Horse. Much like Steinbeck, he sought to discover the land and the people.
Steinbeck certainly did not originate the narrative of restlessness recorded in these books. That honor might possibly be given to Henry David Thoreau for the records of his own travels in Cape Cod and A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and even older records of exploration and discovery that are part of our nation’s early history. Perhaps these narratives grew out of our own history of westward movement and settling.
Whatever source we attribute for this genre of writing it exemplifies our history as a nation of ramblers. We want to go somewhere, out there, and discover the land and the people.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Great Blue Heron

Aggressive Sentries

I often see the herons along the shore of the Tennessee River, near Chickamauga Dam. They stand in ranks, sentry like, along the shoreline. When a hapless fish or frog passes nearby, they unleash their long beak, sharp as a javelin and fast as a striking snake. They cross the land or water with slow deliberate strokes of their powerful wings.
One year in February I witnessed aggressive competition among the herons. One flew with powerful strokes from under the railroad bridge near the dam. Another was close behind in hot pursuit, but broke off the chase as the lead heron flew past me. From the lead Heron's beak dangled the object of their dispute, a young striped bass.
I had heard of Bald Eagles pursuing Osprey until they dropped a fish. I had not thought it a common method of hunting among other predatory birds.
When the Heron landed high on the rocky shore, preparing to eat its dinner, another lifted off from sentry duty along the river and gave chase. The heron with the fish flew off toward the small marsh nearby, and dropped its fish just before it crossed above the access road. The pursuer quickly snatched the fish. It turned the tasty meal in its beak and swallowed it, headfirst and whole.
The heron that had caught and lost the fish uttered neither squawk nor hoarse croak against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It merely continued on its flight toward the marsh.
On the previous day I had walked the Brainerd Levee, near the Chattanooga Airport, where I saw several herons sanding stately in the water, waiting for a fat fish or frog to pass by. When a heron flew in from the east and landed on the marsh, another left the shore near the levee and flew directly at the new arrival.
The new arrival lifted off and flew an overhead loop with the other in close pursuit. One of the birds made that hoarse croaking noise characteristic of their species, though I was never sure which one called. Soon the interloper was gone, back in the direction from which it came.
I looked at the colony of stick nests above South Chickamauga Creek and noticed that no herons stood on the nests or nearby branches. I knew this would soon change. Herons are early nesters. That evening I read that Herons defend feeding territories when they are not nesting.
The day I saw the heron with the fish, I noticed that the nests in the small marsh near the dam were occupied. Herons stood, singly or in pairs, on the nests and nearby branches that seemed barely able to support their weight. Nevertheless, the Herons would nest there. There they would hatch their eggs and feed their hungry young until the next generation was ready to stand sentry-like along the shores of rivers, lakes and marshes.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Household Hazardous Waste

Household Hazardous Waste
The City of Chattanooga provides a Household Hazardous Waste Facility which appropriately disposes of these materials. The Household Hazardous Waste Facility is operated on the second Saturday of each month from 8:00 AM to Noon, Eastern Standard Time. It is located at the Wood Recycling Center at 3925 North Hawthorn Street (just two blocks east of Amnicola Highway). For directions call the city information switchboard at 311. There are some materials that the facility will not accept, such as radioactive materials, commercial hazardous waste, and medical waste. For information on how to dispose of these materials look at the city government web page.

See also

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday greeting

Whatever holiday you may celebrate, I wish you joy at this time of year. Here is my Christmas greeting. - Ray

Christmas Papers

I was older when I noticed
the same color and pattern
on the Christmas paper
year after year,
though each year
a pattern graced
a smaller package.

I remember opening
the packages with scissors,
carefully cutting the tape
so as not to rip the paper.

I was older when I noticed
my mother’s hands,
ironing on Christmas night.
She ironed the same towel
again and again.

Under the towel
the Christmas papers
lost their creases.
regained smooth surfaces.

She lovingly rolled them up,
put them away,
to await
the next year’s gifts.

If you see a writer on fire, fan the flames.

Monday, December 21, 2009


The lyric nature of Rachels Carson’s writing is illustrated by this passage, which appears near the end of The Edge of the Sea:
“Now I hear the sea sounds about me, the night high tide is rising, swirling with a confused rush of waters against the rocks below my study window. Fog has come into the bay from the open sea, and it lies over water and over the land’s edge, seeping into the spruces and stealing softly among the juniper and the bayberry. The restive waters, the cold wet breath of the fog, are of a world in which man is an uneasy trespasser; he punctuates the night with the complaining groan and grunt of a foghorn, sensing the power and menace of the sea.
Hearing the rising tide, I think how it is pressing also against other shores I know – rising on a southern beach where there is no fog, but a moon edging all the waves with silver and touching the wet sands with lambent sheen, and on a still more distant shore sending its streaming currents against the moonlit pinnacles and the dark caves of the coral rock.”

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hellbender Press

Hellbender Press has resumed publication after an 18 month hiatus. Ray Zimmerman's poems "Reincarnation," "Cranes," and "Glen Falls Trail" appear in the winter issue now available free at locations in Knoxville, Chattanooga and the Tri-Ciites.

I have put them out at the following Chattanooga locations:

Grumpy's Music and Books near Northgate

North Chattanooga:
Stone Cup
All Things Grovey
Winder Binder

The Grapevine
Pasha Coffeehouse

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Age Old Question

Great Literary Figures Answer the Age Old Question:

John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath) –
There was nothing left for them back in Oklahoma. The chicken crossed the road to get the family to California.

Earnest Hemmingway (To Have and Have Not) –
A chicken alone in this world hasn’t got a chance.

Charles Bukowski (AKA the poet laureate of skid row) –
Show me that chicken. I’ll kick the chicken’s ass across the road.

Anais Nin (Delta of Venus) –
She saw the rooster strutting on the pavement, his thighs gleaming in the bright mid day sun, and she was compelled – she must cross.

Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire) –
Yes, cross she must, though she knew his bite would send her to ecstasy, and then plunge her into eternal darkness.

William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying) -
My mother is a chicken.

Allen Ginsberg (Howl and Other Poems) –
I saw the chicken in the supermarket and couldn’t buy it with my good looks.

William Shakespeare (Hamlet) –
To cross or not to cross, that is the question. The chicken crossed the road to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness) –
I saw the tread marks on the chicken’s back, leaned close, and heard her cluck, “The horror! The horror!”

Robinson Jeffers (Rock and Hawk) –
A proud column stands there, where once the chicken bravely crossed the road.

Mark Twain (Public Speaking Engagement) –
The recent talk of the chicken’s demise is greatly exaggerated.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

New Voices

Jim Pfitzer has agreed to emcee the December 19 edition of New Voices.
So far we have the following readers at the December New Voices reading:

Ray Zimmerman
Nancy L. Diwan
E. Smith Gilbert
Bruce Majors
Ginny Sams
Ninian Williams

New Voices
Saturday, December 19
7:00 to 8:30 PM
Pasha Coffee House
3914 St. Elmo Avenue
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Call (423) 315-0721 for full information

New Voices includes readings of poetry and short prose works, as well as musical interludes by Jim Woodford (keyboards), Bob Voigt (saxophone) and friends. Ray Zimmerman, former president of the Chattanooga Writers Guild hosts the event although it sometimes features a guest emcee.

This will be the last New Voices reading for a while. I expect to resume in March.