Fear Not

My annual getaway to the Grand Hotel in Point Clear just ended and I am here to report to all of the people that harbored trepidations about the resort’s recent overhaul that I think it will be okay for them to go back; they’ll be fine with the changes.

A Grand Hotel has been located on the “point” of Point Clear on Mobile Bay’s eastern shore since 1847. When I visited in December 2017, much of the facility was a construction site and I was told that “every inch” of the facility was being touched by a massive renovation. I was eager to see what the final results looked like and am happy to report that they are finished and the place looks great.

Driving through the gate, one is not aware of all of the work that has been done. The grounds are immaculate as always, the live oaks are decked out for the holidays, and what blooms this time of year is blooming in profusion. My recently planted camellia bush did not have a single bloom this year so I was a tad jealous of the profusion of camellias all around the lagoon.

Most of the renovation work is interior and the result is a fresher, lighter, and more open effect with calm shades of blues and greys predominant.

The most visible change in the main building’s lobby area is a new casual food option, Local Market, in the space once occupied by the gift shop. A gift shop boutique, Oak and Azalea, is now located off the Grand Hall. Bayside Grill and Southern Roots are new dining options flanking the Grand Hall, as is the new 1847 Bar. The Grand Hall itself is now the setting for an afternoon High Tea in addition to breakfast and Sunday brunch. On one afternoon as I passed through, groups of hat-wearing ladies were enjoying the High Tea service. Gone is the 4:00 p.m. community tea that was a beloved tradition in years past, but the warm aromas of a wood fire from the fireplaces still waft through the main building on a crisp December evening. 

Old traditions remain. The Sunset Bell still rings thirty minutes before sunset, summoning guests to gather for the usually spectacular Mobile Bay sunset. The historical salute to the Grand’s military history is still an afternoon tradition, culminating in the firing of the Civil War-era cannon on the edge of the Bay.

One of the first things I checked was if Bucky’s Lounge was still there. Bucky’s, a gathering spot overlooking the Bay, is named to honor Bucky Miller, a mainstay who worked at the resort in many capacities over sixty years from the 1940s to his death in 2002. A life-size statue of Bucky, right hand outstretched to greet a guest, has stood outside the lounge for years. A subtle new touch is Bucky’s image smiling on the guests from one of the lounge walls.  More patio firepits have expanded Bucky’s out and closer to the Bay.

I do have to register one gripe about the changes: One of the stalwarts of the Grand’s appetizer offerings has always been an order of crab claws. For some reason, crab claws are missing from the current menus. I asked one of the wait staff for confirmation that the popular appetizer is, indeed, gone from all menus. It seems like a slight omission, but it is also something that is so simple and popular that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to get rid of it. If I have a complaint to register about the updates, it’s simply that I want crab claws back on the menu. 

Throughout the various buildings of the resort, the fresher theme persists. In my favorite room with a spectacular view in the Spa building, the footprint is the same but the furnishings are somehow more functional and comfortable. In my room, I spent a lot of time lounging on a corner chaise that was a perfect spot for reading, writing, and napping.

The Grand is still a great spot to relax, both indoors and out. Any worries about the changes should be calmed by how well those changes were handled. I hope to be going there for holiday retreats for years to come. 

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“The Mad Potter of Biloxi”

George E. Ohr ceramic

I first saw photos of architect Frank Gehry’s Santa Monica house in the 1970s and filed him away as an architect I wanted to keep tracking. Gehry and his wife bought a two-story pink Dutch Colonial bungalow on a conventional neighborhood street and the rule-bending architect began his process of revision and deconstruction. Parts of the interior were stripped down to the studs and exterior additions incorporated materials such as plywood, corrugated steel, glass cubes, aluminum siding, and chain-link fencing. To be honest, I didn’t think the end product was very appealing to look at but I was drawn to the audacity of it and how Gehry thumbed his nose at convention – and the neighbors – and created a functioning house that still remains a home for the Gehry family forty years later.

Keeping track of Gehry was a smart move as his architecture flourished internationally with hallmark commissions like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

“The Pods”: Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art; Biloxi, Mississippi

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art on Beach Boulevard in Biloxi, Mississippi, is a Gehry design that was years in the making (www.georgeohr.org). Showcasing the work of potter George E. Ohr (1857-1918), the self-proclaimed “mad potter of Biloxi,” the museum campus was well-underway when I stopped to photograph the construction site in August 2005. The “O’Keefe” of the museum’s title refers to a prominent Biloxi family that was key to the project being built. Two weeks after I photographed the construction, Hurricane Katrina dumped a casino barge on the site and construction of the museum facility was delayed until 2008.  The “pods,” a grouping of metallic structures primarily housing Ohr’s work, finally opened in 2014.

I drove over to Biloxi in 2010 when the first three buildings of the campus were newly opened. Gehry’s design plotted the five structures to leave intact the live oaks already established on the site. A brick courtyard centers the facility. The east side of the campus includes three structures – a welcome center with gift shop and two intimate galleries. The gift shop features a generous selection of pottery and ceramics by artists from within the region. The Beau Rivage Casino Gallery of African American Art includes changing shows focused on African American artists. The IP Casino Resort and Spa Exhibitions Gallery houses temporary shows.

View of “Transcendent Coincidences for Existence” by Ron Bechet; Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art

On a recent visit in December 2018, the Beau Rivage Gallery featured the show, “Transcendent Coincidences for Existence.” by New Orleans artist Ron Bechet. Bechet’s large charcoal works explore interconnected roots, trunks, and botanical decay – knotted and matted and decomposing.

A small cove of the Beau Rivage Gallery houses a permanent exhibit exploring the Ohr legacy, “I Am the Potter Who Was.” Ohr spent much of his life courting scandal and controversy and his ceramics did not sell very well in his lifetime. His ceramics’ queer twisted shapes with random pinches and extreme glazes did not find a significant market while he was alive but he is now considered a modernist pioneer in ceramics.

George E. Ohr ceramics at Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art

The IP Casino Gallery was showing a juried exhibit, “Echoes of Ohr,” a survey of contemporary ceramic arts with nods to the Ohr legacy.

The west side of the campus features the most audacious architecture – three metallic pods which house some of the Ohr collection and a multi-story City of Biloxi Center for Ceramics with working artist studios and kilns. The Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center anchors the north end of the museum campus. The Pleasant Reed house was a preserved 19th century Biloxi house that had served as the home of Pleasant Reed and his family in the African American community of Biloxi. The house and its furnishings were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and a replica of the house was built to replace it. Currently, the Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center features an exhibit, “City Within a City: African American Culture in Biloxi,” documenting Biloxi’s vibrant and self-sufficient African American community after World War II.

As much as I appreciate George Ohr and the offerings within the museum, the main draw of the Ohr-O’Keefe for me is still the distinctive Frank Gehry architecture along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I keep returning to see how these quirky buildings continue to dance with the landscape of live oaks looking out to the Gulf and the pine forests of the barrier islands. It’s a pleasure to come across the humble museum campus amid the high-rise casinos that dominate the Beach Boulevard drive. I continue to be surprised at how much of the property along the stretch of highway remains vacant since the hurricane. I recall the grand residences that once lined this scenic drive.

Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art; Biloxi, Mississippi

The Ohr-O’Keefe is a gem on many levels and ought to be a destination for lovers of art and architecture. It seems that the facility has been under-supported and under-appreciated in its community. George Ohr famously said, “When I am gone, my work will be praised, honored, and cherished. It will come.” Let’s hope that his namesake museum will not have to wait so long to come into its own well-deserved prominence.

Peace and Justice

The Sunday morning church bells were pealing as I walked away from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, but the words that were ringing in my ears were those of artist and 2018 MacArthur Fellow Titus Kaphar:

We’re having a national conversation right now about public monuments. And in this discussion … we have this sort of binary conversation about keeping these sculptures up or taking them down. And I actually think that that binary conversation is problematic. I think there is another possibility, and I think that possibility has to do with bringing in new work that speaks in conversation with this old work. It’s about a willingness to confront a very difficult past…

Kaphar made that statement as part of a radio interview on NPR and I thought it was perhaps the most coherent and rational statement I’ve yet heard about our ongoing conversation about controversial history and what to do with the monuments that commemorate it.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, better known – unfortunately – as “the lynching memorial,” is an important project of Equal Justice Initiative (www.museumandmemorial.eji.org), founded by Montgomery-based attorney Bryan Stevenson. It is an outdoor memorial to over 4000 known African American lynching victims between the years 1877 and 1950. The names (or lynching date, if the name is unknown) are engraved on over 800 slabs representing each U.S. county in which a lynching is documented during those years.

The Memorial sits on a six-acre site overlooking Montgomery. The main structure is entered after taking a winding path up a hill with informational narratives at regular intervals. Upon entering the main structure, the first slabs sit at eye level. There are clearly visible names of counties and states and the victims and lynching date for each. Gradually, the floor begins a gradual rake and the slabs hang over the visitors’ heads, suggesting the hanging bodies of the victims. It’s not hard to recall Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, in which the wall starts slowly at your feet and gradually towers over the viewer as one walks deeper into the war.

At one end of the Memorial for Peace and Justice is a water wall with words of comfort and dedication. This, too, reminds one of the Civil Rights Memorial, a few blocks away at the Southern Poverty Law Center, also by Maya Lin, with its water rushing over the framing wall and the black granite table marking the deaths of Civil Rights martyrs (www.splcenter.org.what-we-do/civil-rights-memorial/history).  

In the middle of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a peaceful grassy hill. Stopping there, one sees the skyline of modern Montgomery through the slabs – even catching a glimpse of the Capitol dome at times. Standing there, one is surrounded by the silence of the victims memorialized in the stark slabs hanging from every side.

As one leaves the memorial, there are rows of identical slabs for each county represented in the Memorial, waiting to be claimed by the designated county when it has documented its movement to rectify the issues that lead to the lynchings within its borders.

In my home city of Birmingham, a monument to Confederate veterans has stood for 113 years in the city’s Linn Park downtown. For the past several years, its base was blocked by a black plywood barrier erected by a previous city administration. The fate of that monument has been tied up in legal battles for years. Here’s my modest proposal: Take down the plywood box, keep the Confederate monument where it’s been for over a century, and hang Jefferson County’s slab of lynching victims beside it. Let them interact and let the observers begin to interpret and heal.

In downtown Montgomery, in the entertainment district now called “The Alley,” one may find the EJI’s “Legacy Museum,” which places our national lynching history in more context and documentation. Both the Memorial and the Legacy Museum are touching and transformative memorials to a history that is too often overlooked.

Too often, I find that our national history is narrowed down to the victimized and the guilty. The EJI’s well-documented and striking efforts seem to go beyond that — to spotlight uncomfortable history without placing blame on the descendants whose hands were not involved.

I hope for a day when we might remember our history without being forced to wallow in it.

Montgomery is a city full of history, museums, and memorials – to the Confederacy, to Civil Rights, … to Hank Williams. These latest powerful Montgomery memorials document a history that we must never forget. But neither should we wallow in the shame and guilt of it. We should – together – work toward a future in which the sins of the past may never be forgotten, but neither should they be exploited to expedite and fuel the sins of the future.

Artist Titus Kaphar has a powerful piece called “Doubt” in the Legacy Museum. He should have the last word:

I think one of our challenges is that we sort of consistently try to make public sculpture in a way that it’s a sentence with a period at the end. And inevitably it’s not — it’s a comma, and there should be a clause after that. 

“Peace, Be Still”

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Birmingham

The overly attributed quip, “If you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t really there,” does not apply to me.

I remember the ‘60s very well but I was too young, at the time, to be “really there.” I remember the decade as energetic and often frightening with assassinations, bombings, riots, Vietnam, constant protests, and the birth and maturation of an array of social movements. It was also a time of great music and free-wheeling fashion. It was scary at times, but it was also hopeful with optimism, a desire for change, and a constant moving forward toward an idealistic place that seemed inevitable and just around the bend.

Now, we’re again in challenging times with mercurial instability and megalomania occupying the White House. I cringe with shame and embarrassment for my country at incessant narcissistic White House tweets from a cowardly bully that are mistaken for policy statements. We are in the midst of crises with an ongoing stream of mass shootings, a commander-in-chief who demeans women, environmental disaster, an embattled education system, the complicity of our congress with corrupt insurance companies threatening our health care, a growing racial divide, and a protective executive relationship with  a corrupt, repressive, and murderous Saudi regime. Authoritarian dictators are given respect and deference by a White House that insults our nation’s trusted democratic allies. The NRA has abandoned any lofty Constitutional goals it claimed to espouse and become, instead, an enabler of domestic terrorism.

These days, we seem lacking in the optimism and hope that characterized the ‘60s. Mass protests, which had an impact during the ‘60s and early ‘70s, now seem naïve and pointless in the current environment saturated with meaningless social media. I’m embarrassed when I hear the same tired chants and cheers – even when I agree with the sentiments that inspire them.

In Lanford Wilson’s great play, Fifth of July, June Talley – a former ‘60s activist – tells her daughter, “You’ve no idea the country we almost made for you. The fact that I think it’s all a crock now does not take away from what we almost achieved.”

Later in the play, one of June’s fellow sojourners from the activist days says to that same daughter, “How straight do you have to be to see that nothing is going to come from it? But don’t knock your mother, ’cause she really believed that ‘Power to the People’ song, and that hurts.”

As much as I try to be engaged in progressive change, I grow weary of the constant divide and the shouting from every side. The message with every issue seems to be Either you’re totally with us or you’re against us. There seems to be no acceptable middle zone anymore. Civility, compromise, and diplomacy are forgotten relics in contemporary social discourse. It’s trickling down from the top in our country.


As regular readers of this journal know, I put a good bit of thought into my annual holiday card – trying to find the best reflection of where my life and thoughts are each year when the holidays roll around. I have written in the past about the “brief meditation” of signing and addressing each card and remembering the recipient. My Christmas card this year bears a simple message: “Peace, Be Still.” It’s a quote from the Bible, from the Gospel of Mark’s version of Jesus calming the stormy sea.

I wanted to change up my Christmas card a bit this year. Instead of the exterior scenes I usually use (most often of small country churches), I used an interior from the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham. The cathedral was empty on the Christmas Eve morning when I photographed it last year – a peaceful place to relax and retreat. As I moved around the space, taking photographs, a couple of women arrived to prepare for Christmas Eve mass.

In these times of stress, I seek quiet times and calm – a time to reflect. I try not to add to the raucous din that surrounds me.

At this holiday season, it seems more than ever that everybody needs to take a moment to regroup, to be still – to focus on the positive things in our lives and try to tune out the negativity that bombards us. In doing so, we may be better able to address the adversity and strife that surround us with clear heads and rational responses in the year ahead – a year for which I am reserving a great deal of optimism.

Current challenges may be resolved while new challenges inevitably emerge but we all need to step back and re-energize on occasion. The holidays seem the ideal time to pause and reflect.

May our holidays be happy and peaceful ones. May our new year be a time of hope and progress.

Peace on Earth. “Peace, be still.”

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Birmingham

Memories of Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving afternoon and I am sitting at my parents’ house. It’s quiet for the moment on a beautiful warm-ish sunny day and my mother is resting after coming home from the hospital yesterday.

Mother did not feel up to having the Thanksgiving meal at the home of my brother and his family today as planned so we quickly came up with an alternative. I cooked what Mother and I planned to bring from her house and my brother will bring food from their house and pick up our part of the meal.

Mother had planned to cook her cornbread dressing so I used her recipe to make that happen. I was asked to make “kushmagudi,” my grandmother’s coinage for her savory mixture of crumbled cornbread and the potlikker from a pot full of turnip greens. I also am contributing an ambrosia, a fruit salad that is always as individual as the person who prepares it.

My own ambrosia is in a state of constant flux, based on memories of my Grandmother Journey’s version, adaptations of chef Scott Peacock’s elegant recipe, and various others I have tasted. My own version today includes mandarin orange slices, pineapple chunks, shredded coconut, pecan pieces, and – in lieu of the miniature marshmallows so often used in a Southern ambrosia – I mixed in a bit of fluffy marshmallow crème. One final touch is a few cherry halves sprinkled in for color as much as anything. The cherries are not necessary but I seem to recall them from ambrosias past.

Every Thanksgiving, no matter the individual circumstances that particular year, reminds me of my Grandmother Harbison. She would start cooking early and load a table with all kinds of food for the special day. Somewhere, at my parents’ house, there is a photo I took of Grandmother’s table just because I could not believe the bounty.

The memory is abundant. The lacy tablecloth would be on the dining room table and there would be potatoes – sweet and Irish, beans, peas, turnip greens (our family was always partial to turnip greens over collards), a big bowl of kushmagudi, casseroles, cranberry sauce, breads, and cornbread dressing (my Grandmother Journey would make oyster dressing if we were at their house).

At Grandmother Harbison’s table, there was always a turkey and a ham; chicken and roast beef were often on-hand. She cooked beautiful cakes and pies and there’d usually be a break between the meal and the dessert. Her dining room table wasn’t a huge one, but somehow, she’d manage to get everything on the table, including our place settings.

Grandmother Harbison fed people her entire life. Her philosophy was to have plenty of choices so that everybody would find something they liked.

I was a skinny kid in those days but, on the holidays at Grandmother Harbison’s table, I liked it all.

My most vivid memory of these meals, however, is what Grandmother would do while the rest of us were eating. She’d pull her own chair away from the table and sit in the corner or by the door to the kitchen. She’d take a small plate – sometimes a small bowl – and serve herself a small portion of everything on the table, tasting it carefully as she watched us eat and listened for our reactions. When she’d be asked why she didn’t pull her chair up to the table, she would respond “I’m fine here” and keep tasting, enjoying the reactions of her family to the products of her labors.

As the years pass, I think of such moments. I try to remember the exact year and circumstances of the very last Thanksgiving meal we shared at Grandmother Harbison’s table. But the details escape me. As it was happening, I’m sure we didn’t realize it was for the last time; we were savoring the meal, but we didn’t know we needed to fully and mindfully savor the moment.

Happy Holidays. 

 

Cedric Burnside: Blues in the Shoals Night

The brilliant October sunset was ever-changing heading west on another trip to Florence and the Shoals for the final 2018 Friends of the Café event at the Alabama Chanin design factory (www.alabamachanin.com). This was the fifth season of dinners featuring guest chefs and benefiting Southern Foodways Alliance – a positive force for the study, understanding, and exaltation of southern food history and development (www.southernfoodways.org).

In her introductions, Anne Ryan Cavin, Alabama Chanin events coordinator, mentioned that the evening’s chefs – Kelly English and Camron Razavi – are the 21st and 22nd chefs of the series. That opportunity to sample the food offerings of so many chefs in one place a short drive away was initially the major draw of these dinners for me. After five years, however, an equally strong draw is the ambience of the place, the opportunity to reconnect with people who have become friends, and the new friends who have been made over the years at this inspiring venue.

Chefs English and Razavi presented a meal influenced by Mediterranean palates, heavy on spices and condiments originating in Italy, the Middle East, north Africa, and Turkey —  moving beyond the Mediterranean into Korea and east Asia. This diverse medley of tastes competed mightily for attention. English’s restaurant, Restaurant Iris, recently reopened in Memphis after a complete renovation which included an overhaul of the building and a radical rethinking of the menu under the leadership of executive chef Razavi (www.restaurantiris.com). Most appealing of the four courses were an Italian influenced andouille ‘nduja passed hors d’oeuvre on toast and a St. Louis lemon butter cake dessert – the alpha and omega of the meal.


Natalie Chanin, the regular host of these events, was out of town, so hosting duties fell to Reed Watson, the label manager for Florence-based Single Lock Records, and Will Trapp, one of Single Lock’s founders. Single Lock has developed an impressive roster of artists – many based in the Shoals – during its half decade of existence (www.singlelock.com).

For the Friends of the Café event, Trapp and Watson presented Cedric Burnside, a Single Lock artist who plays “Hill Country Blues,” a blues category – distinct from Mississippi Delta blues – that emerged from the hills and lumberyards of northern-most Mississippi (www.cedricburnside.net). Hill Country blues has a strong percussion influence, focused on the persistent drive of the “groove.”

Cedric Burnside, an award-winning drummer and guitarist, played four songs at the Factory. He sat with his guitar and sang and stomped the plaintive sounds of his distinctive brand of blues. Cedric is the grandson of R.L. Burnside (1926-2005), a preeminent artist of Hill Country blues. I was fortunate to see an intimate performance by R.L. Burnside in Jackson, Mississippi, around April 1999. It is thrilling to watch the continuation of that rich legacy with Burnside’s grandson.

Cedric Burnside’s short set was memorable and left one wanting more. Fortunately, his newest Single Lock release, Benton County Relic, was available at the event and became my driving music over the weekend. It’s a compelling compilation with one foot firmly planted in its Hill Country roots (just listen to the opening of “Death Bell Blues”) and the other sliding the genre confidently into its future.

Cedric Burnside’s music taps into the gritty, sexy belly of the blues, punctuating his lyrics with yelps and low groans in songs like “Typical Day” and “Give It to You.” “Life can be so easy / And life can be so hard” is the opening sentiment of the wonderful “Hard to Stay Cool.” It’s a simple statement, given new life and complexity in Cedric Burnside’s heart-felt delivery.

Other tracks, like “There Is So Much” and “Call on Me,” keep the down and dirty blues feeling intact while taking an almost flirty attitude. The final two tracks, “I’m Hurtin” and “Ain’t Gonna Take No Mess,” are defiant, relentless anthems which caused me to step on the gas and pound the steering wheel on my weekend travels.

Cedric Burnside has already established himself. Keep watching him. If he’s new to you, find him.

As another Friends of the Café season ends, I cherish those evenings and look forward to new opportunities to spend an evening in the former tee-shirt factory in the Shoals – touching base, renewing inspiration, discovering bright new talent.

Figs. Finality. Fall.

Summer 2018 went out on a hot note, with September temperatures lingering in the ‘90s and not a lot of rain recently in my parts of the South – despite the hurricane devastation in the Carolinas. The heat does not bother me; the last days of summer are the sweetest because it’s almost gone. I always lament the things I didn’t do to take advantage of the longer summer days.

This year, I didn’t sit in my back yard much and that’s a loss.

I measure the progress of the warmest months by the fruit that comes and goes. Strawberries appear in April and are disappearing by the time the first Chilton County peaches arrive around Mother’s Day. Blueberries and blackberries come soon after, with local watermelons and cantaloupes appearing near Independence Day.

Figs come around a little later. The fig tree yield has been iffy in recent years. Even though I heard a grocery clerk bragging to a neighbor about the bounty on his family’s fig tree, I didn’t see a lot of fig action at the various farmers’ markets. 


I have often written about the community that comes together at the special dinners at the Alabama Chanin Factory in Florence. It has enabled me to meet people I might have never known.

In the years that I have been attending the benefit dinners in Florence, two gentlemen were among the most regular attendees. We did not actually meet them until we were seated at a table together earlier this year. They are Milton and David, a father and son from Corinth, Mississippi, who regularly make the trip to Alabama Chanin’s factory for the singular dinner series that happens in that place.

On that first meeting, Milton, the father, entertained us with stories of the historical research he and his late wife, Stephanie, have done in and around Corinth, his hometown. He also mentioned, in passing, the fig trees on their property – collected over the years of their marriage and annually producing a nice harvest. My friend, Anne, was particularly interested in acquiring a fig tree for her house and Milton shared a recommended source, www.ediblelandscaping.com.

At the end of the most recent Florence dinner in August, Milton handed me a small jar labeled “Stephanie Sandy’s Figs.” Inside were “Milton’s North Carolina Style Whole Fig Honey-Lemon Amaretto Preserves.” I saved the jar for the last days of summer and ate the delectable fig preserves with some of my favorite local Humble Heart goat cheese and a piece of Mrs. London’s bread, another favorite from local farmers’ markets. The combination was delicious; it tasted exactly like the last days of summer should.


In the last week of summer, when I got home from work on a late afternoon, a deer was calmly grazing across the railroad tracks behind my house. I got out of the car and watched him. It’s rare to see a deer out in the open in the hottest part of a hot day. I normally only spot them behind my house at night. This daytime deer stopped grazing and looked back at me for a moment. Then, he slowly disappeared into the cool of the trees. It has been so dry here for the past few weeks, I suspect he had gotten bold in search of food and water.

On the morning of the last full day of summer, I woke before sunrise to the sound of rain against the windowpanes. By the time I got up and looked out the window, it had stopped. As I packed my car, I noticed single drops of water hanging on each of the berries of a backyard shrub. They seemed to be a token of a summer passing away and a promise of new seasons to come.

That evening, on the last full day of summer in Birmingham, it was hot and dry with clouds worthy of a biblical Renaissance landscape floating overhead. The neighborhood ice cream shop in Bluff Park atop Shades Mountain was packed to overflowing with people gathered in the parking lot and on benches outside the little shop. Suddenly, from one of the overlooks along Shades Crest Road, the sky turned pink and gold and the setting sun shone bright orange across Oxmoor Valley. I had left my camera at the house, but stopped to savor the display.

The next day, just after the Alabama game, I drove back up the mountain with camera in tow to see if I might catch a repeat of the previous day’s stunner. But fall had arrived; the sky was grey and overcast and the setting sun was a dingy circle partly visible through ominous clouds. On the other side of the mountain, an almost full moon peeked through more clouds in a still and colorless dusk.