Mostly an archive of selected writings of previously published essays and stories. Occasionally, there will be new material.

Join me at my other blog, Haiku Crossings, for more recent work (short Japanese poetry in English, such as haiku, haiga and haibun).

Saturday, October 8, 2011


I recently ran across a reference to "guinea fowl," which brought to mind my rural southern upbringing on a small farm in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

My Grandfather Martin kept "Guineas" around. They had the run of the place, and I can remember his gathering their rather small eggs. Often, I would hear him calling them: He would simply call out "guinea. . .guinea . . . guinea"!

This is a slight memory, I guess, but I had neither thought about them nor seen any for thirty years or more.

By the way Erick Tolle says that anytime you start thinking or talking about "your life," you are already deluded, as there is only "now."

Then I start considering that we are all human, after all, and though memories may come. . .naturally to mind, we do not have to dwell on them. . .

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Down East" Peninsula: Cedar Island

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: July 15, 2002

During the first week of December in 1979, I decided to photograph Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I chose the dead of winter because I wanted to visit the Islands when there would likely be few tourists attempting to camp in the chill, 40-50 mile an hour gales that swept that part of the coast at that time of the year.

I decided to take the scenic route on this expedition and planned to catch the toll ferry to Ocracoke at Cedar Island in Carteret County (See map). I noted at the time that the route would take me through an area of which I knew little, a small cone of land jutting out into Pamlico Sound known as the "Down East" peninsula. Yet, visiting those piney woods and saltwater wetlands on the Peninsula near Cedar Island, which is across Pamlico Sound from the Ocracoke, I found a place where I crossed over into that twilit border between past and present, self and other, being and nonbeing.

The area is also famous for the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, a well-preserved tidewater ecosystem, encompassing thousands of acres of marshlands and pine hammocks, as well as hundreds of species of wildlife, especially birds. This land is a birding dream. Herons, egrets and ibis are abundant, though you will also see, willets, oystercatchers, black skimmers, plovers and sandpipers and many other species.

Awed with the area I spent some time there exploring and photographing the region before I caught the ferry to Ocracoke. Time seemed to have stopped; the old South seemed to peek out of the countryside like a quick glimpse of a grand lady's petticoats. The area abounded with Spanish moss, old colonial period homes, as well as thousands of acres of longleaf pines, from which North Carolina gets its nickname, the Tarheel State, as pitch and lumber from the trees were used for naval stores and ship construction in the early days of the colony.

Cedar Island, where only 350 or so people live, is a land isolated by its remoteness and ties to a past that goes back to settlements in the early 18th century. The older residents there still speak a variation of Elizabethan English known as the "High Tider" dialect.

As I explored and photographed that secluded land, the landscape seemed held in some dusky mystery, as if some little-known, ancient god had rubbed the earth with salt from humid air and swampy marshes; perhaps, seeking to preserve the teeming wetlands and obscure, crumbling manses out of time.

On that ageless island, time seemed to pass so slowly that stillness seemed the only conclusion to time itself. It was a place where to listen to the cry of a tern or haunting echo of a wintering loon, or to gaze on the dark needle grass in evening, was to experience the profundity of an unwavering world held fast in the sentience of sound and water and wind.

I wish I could pour that moody countryside and friendly people into your heart, but the atmosphere, being beyond words, I offer these few images...

There were many water lilies (Lotus) in fresh water ponds. The print you see to the left is a color slide printed on black and white paper.

As one approached the village of Cedar Islandfrom the South on NC Highway 12, I noticed this abandoned storefront. The print has been sepia toned.

"Jigs" was passing through also, staying at the same campground. He played a great guitar.

This railroad crossing is on the "Down East" peninsula before crossing over to Cedar Island intrigued me with its hint of magic and mystery. I kept waiting for a unicorn or other mythical animal to appear in the distant haze.

Eventually, I caught the ferry and rode for for almost three hours to Ocracoke Island where I pitched my tent that night on a small dune on the Atlantic Ocean in a near Arctic gale that seemed almost hurricane force in its intensity.

Somehow, the tent and I survived the night. The next day I straightened out the tent, and trying to keep my hands from freezing, began photographing in black and white the startling tones and shadings of the Outer Banks.

But that's another story. . .

Editor's Note: Not the least of the reasons that these barrier islands, known as the Outer Banks, are famous is that the Wright Brothers chose those high, windy dunes for the first flight of a self-propelled airplane. The Outer Banks are also famous for the Lost Colony, the first English settlement in the New World, as well as the lair and legendary burial place of the infamous eighteenth century pirate, Blackbeard.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An Offering of Seasons

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: February 1, 2001

One of my favorite books is "The October Country," by Science Fiction/Fantasy writer Ray Bradbury; One of my favorite poems is "To Autumn" by the English Romantic poet John Keats; and Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I suppose there is an inescapable logic here which means that my favorite season is Fall.
Actually, all the seasons are such a gift to us. There is nothing so pleasing as the delicate flowers of early Spring and the perennially exciting discovery that Nature has authored yet another shade of green. But then there is Summer: All that lush growth; so much beauty, so little time to appreciate it.

Of course, I cannot ignore Winter: I love those quiet shades of white and those wet blacks and subtle undertones of gray. How I cherish the breadth and quality of the sunlight as I view it through bare branches!

Yes, but Autumn! The magic of the leaves of summer turning into a myriad shades of red and gold. Walking with pale mists along the stream banks. Chill mornings and sudden frosts. The harvest has been gathered and is safely distributed or stored. Corn stalks gray in the lonely fields. Leftover apples turn to vinegar in the musty orchards of Fall. Pumpkins, squashes and gourds decorate the fallow earth. When the sky is blue and a little wind spins by, uplifting your spirits along with a swirl of leaves, I feel I meet the immortal part.

For Fall is a dance to the beat of mortality. Maybe that is why so many people like Autumn. With the plants of the earth dying and animals responding in their various ways to the temperatures and a lessening of the hours of light, perhaps, we catch a glimpse of our own immortality in all this transition. Maybe whatever powers may be are sending us a message that in the midst of the mortal throes of the earth, there is something powerful within us that is immortal and beautiful beyond beauty.

Only poets or other artists can really illuminate these metaphors that are perhaps inherent in the change of seasons, for while prose is a language that can at best offer reflections of the Eternal, the artist presses the raw perception of truth upon us as best he or she can. When I think of the essence of a season, I often remember these lines from To Autumn by the English Romantic poet, John Keats:

“. . .While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows, borne aloft Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies. . .”

Copyright 2001-2010, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Human of Crows

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: March 6, 2001

My neighbors consider the crows that hang out on our street in Beaverton, Oregon as pests and certainly must wonder at my sanity as I try to photograph them while they are foraging on the lawn.

However, I wonder and appreciate any wildlife that appears in our neighborhood. My spouse, Joyce, marvels that the first words that I sometimes speak to my elderly mother (who lives in the rural South where I was raised) is often about the wildlife that we have seen close to our house or on trips into the wilderness.

Many farmers also consider the Corvids (family name for crows, ravens, magpies, etc.) a pest because they feed on corn and other grains. Like the famous, cartoon magpies, Heckle and Jeckle, crows may eat the farmer's grain but they usually more than make up for what grain is taken by feeding on insects, worms and other crop pests. Crows are omnivorous and, in addition to previously mentioned critters, feed on seeds, nuts, and small rodents and amphibians as well as carrion.

As I head to work in the morning, I often see the crows roaming my side of the street with abandon. These are smart creatures, and have, in fact, been observed using automobiles to crush nuts. They drop the nuts on streets where cars pass and then pick up the meats after the cars have "cracked" the nuts.

Crows have also been observed using two distinctly different kinds of tools to forage for invertebrates such as insects, centipedes, and larvae. A biologist in the New Caledonian islands observed "both manufacture and use of a hooked tool made by plucking and stripping a barbed twig. He also observed the use, but not manufacture, of what he described as a "stepped cut tool" with serrated edges." (See the article at .

Quite often Corvids are considered magical creatures and at least one culture, the Tibetan, has developed a tradition of divination using crows. Telling the future by means of the appearances and behavior of birds,especially their calls, is called "auspicy." For a complete look at fortune telling by use of crows, see William L. Cassidy's excellent article at .

I suppose one cannot write an article about the Corvids without including at least one anecdote about their legendary attraction to shiny objects. A Lakota woman of my acquaintance related to me that she and her famiiy nursed an injured crow back to health a few years ago. The bird apparently "adopted" her family. The crow made a nest high in the eaves of a barn and so lived on the farm near the Native American family for years.

Finally, there came a time when the family had to move from the farm. All was packed and they were ready to go except they could not find the crow. Finally, a teenage son climbed up into the rafters of the barn and found the crow's nest. When the teenager looked in the nest, he found simply dozens of objects "lost" by the family through the years. He found entire sets of earrings, various coins, assorted silverware, various stockings, socks and other small articles of clothing. Among the objects were candy bar wrappers, dish cloths, aluminum foil of various shapes, and finally an expensive dress watch that she had been looking for ages. And, yes, the bird chose to move with them, and is as far as I know, still living.

I have read that crows sometimes flock in groups of as much as ten thousand birds though they separate into smaller groups of 10 to 50 birds when foraging. A flock is called a "murder," because in legend the birds held tribunals for wrongdoers and meted out punishment by sentencing the guilty crow to death; that is "murdering" the offender. I suppose the fact that they are black and are scavengers as well as predators contributes to this tale.

Somehow, I seriously doubt that crows play the justice game. This bit anthropomorphism is most likely human beings projecting their own ideas of blood and justice off on some guileless though intelligent birds. If we are going to indulge in a bit of anthropomorphic projection, let us be more appropriate. Since crows with their manufacture and use of tools and problem solving capacities exhibit traits of intelligence usually associated with humans, I propose that we dignify flocks of crows with the appellation, "a human of crows."

Moreover, since we humans are the real murderers among animals, killing not only animals, but plants and each other deliberately and carelessly, I propose that we denote a gathering of human beings by a true and terrifying, but oh so apt moniker, a "murder of humans."

Copyright Thomas James Martin, 2002-2010, all rights reserved.

A Morning of Crows

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: February 19, 2001

Though the chill is severe sometimes, I love clear winter mornings. Here in western Oregon, cold, clear mornings are rare during February, as often the rains begin in November and do not cease until April. But this morning I marvel at the small, red star rising in the cloudless dawn.
On this winter morning, I hear no bird song in the small orchard meadow that is our backyard, though I have seen a few robins and blue jays in the past month. All is quiet except for the staccato caws of ever-present crows that seem to feed in our area in the morning, especially in late fall and winter.

Crows and their larger Corvid family cousins, the ravens, are among the most complex beings in legend and mythology. The crow is often thought of as a trickster and "shapeshifter." In the lore of some Northwest Indians, a raven is depicted holding a disk of the sun in its beak, for the raven placed the stars, moon and sun in the sky.

On the other hand, ravens and crows are sometimes found around battlefields, execution sites, cemeteries, and other places of the dead where they scavenge human as well as animal flesh. This observation has fed the dark tales of the Corvid family. Even today, I understand, a gravestone in the British Isles is sometimes called a "ravenstone." I am sure that their black color and rather shrill cry has contributed to this identification.

Seeing numerous crows in suburbia is a fairly recent phenomenon. Ornithologists speculate that they are attracted by the lights to roost in urban areas because they offer protection against their main predator, the Great Horned Owl.

Watching the crows on a winter morning, I make a note to myself to ask a favorite uncle about the family legend of his pet crow. I remember hearing this tale in childhood, but in the throes of growing up never quite learned all the details. Now that I am in middle age, such things assume more urgent importance than before. Many friends and relatives have died the past few years: I find that with each passing I lose a connection in the living fabric of my life, as that person passes into what I now call My Personal Mythology.

t occurs to me that my mythologies--like more elaborate mythologies from ancient or modern cultures--are usually black and white, like bleached bones in an earthen grave. Rather like a historian or cultural anthropologist restoring an ancient city from a few remains of foundations, bones and pottery, I am only able to reconstruct what was living and breathing with a pitifully few remembered words and gestures.

Often I remember what they did for a living; whether they were kind or harsh; occasionally an interesting turn of phrase comes to mind. Sad as it may be, only concepts of how I viewed them in the past inhabit my memory rather than the actual living persons.

Watching the crows so prominent in myth and legend, and at this moment in my back yard, I do not doubt the intelligence and even extraordinary perception that has struck storytellers since the dawn of recorded history. I also remember that some native peoples believe that whatever animals appear in your consciousness are trying to teach you lessons important to your life and spiritual growth. They are viewed as messengers from God or whatever Great Spirit exists.

I am inclined toward this belief and muse on the messages the crows are trying to impart. I realize that they could be impressing on me the importance of adaptability, as they are among the most adaptable of creatures. Some other messages could be: Take care of my relations; Make at least a little effort not to take our world and its inhabitants for granted.

Perhaps, one day I shall truly recognize and translate the enigmatic soul urges imparted by observing crows or any other creatures into words. In the meantime, I am grateful just for the miracle of their life, and that some birds celebrated in fable and fact have helped me to understand some small truths about living.

Some excellent web sites referencing crows and ravens are: The American Society of Crows and Ravens and The Raven Archive.

Copyright 2001-2010, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sawdust Memories

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: July 15, 2003

Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by.
~Stardust by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish

It's evening at the Sawdust Theatre in Coquille, Oregon, and Darling Dearheart, a heroine dressed all in white, enters stage left; the audience Oohs and Ahs as she puts her hands together, starts to say her line, and then sneezes for what seems like the "twenty-third" time in the play. No one minds; everyone just laughs and smiles for the twenty-third time.

"Boo!" cries the audience as the dastardly villain appears dressed in black, sporting a V-shaped moustache and, screaming, "Curses, foiled again!" No one minds; they laugh and yell at Hadrian Heartless, once again for the twenty-third time.

The players who come from Coquille, Bandon, Coos Bay and other cities of the South Coast and refer to themselves as "Sawdusters," take the stage every year from May to September to act, sing and dance their hearts out. They continue a city tradition that goes back 37 years.

They are ordinary people from the South Coast area; a few have professional experience; a few more maybe acted in a high school play or appeared in other local theater. Mostly though, they are people from all walks of life: Title clerks and social workers, bus drivers and school superintendents; fathers and grandfathers, mothers and daughters.

They come in all shapes and sizes, just like ordinary people, from svelte to chubby, from blonde and brunette to gray and balding. Some are players who act in the comic melodramas; some are olios.

A bit slow on the uptake, I finally figure out that an olio is a performer who sings and dances or participates in sketches before the curtain during set changes. Later, I discover that the heyday of the olio was in Vaudeville. Examples of the olios (sketches and performers) are seen in the movies Hello Dolly and The Seven Little Foys.

A lady olio, in skimpy dress and fishnet stockings, lifts her long legs and braving male catcalls and other taunts, dances from stage left holding a sign that says These Cinderellas. When she reaches center stage, she flips the sign over and it reads, Sure Get The Fellas as she dances off stage right.

Sitting between my wife and her aunt, I try-- unsuccessfully I fear--to avoid staring at those shapely "be-stockinged" legs. Joyce good naturedly punches me in the side with her elbow, and I stare straight ahead for a while. Finally, I look at her smirking face and pretend to hang my head.

This season the melodrama that the "Sawdusters" are putting on is called Dire Doings At the Dusty Saw Theatre and Saloon or There Will Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight. The company puts on a different melodrama every season, and they are very entertaining. Be sure to check out the website of the Sawdust Theatre for some excellent pictures of the performance, the players and the olios.

Audience participation (Boo, Hiss, Ahhh, catcalls) is one of the elements that makes the theatre unique and contributes to making it one of the finest and oldest melodrama traditions in the western United States. Other attributes of their success are the sheer energy and skill with which they perform in offering their audience such viewing pleasure. The fact that the cast stands outside the theatre shaking hands and thanking members of the audience for attending their performance is still another element in the Sawdust's success and quite a pleasant touch also.

Besides, unbeknownst to Joyce I got to shake hands with the lady olio whose legs I admired.

You can tell they have rehearsed long and hard to produce such a fine evening. The sets are great, the music from the lone piano enthralling, but the costumes are simply wonderful and really evoke those days of gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages. You cannot help but admire and appreciate the effort of this community and the pride the all-volunteer cast and staff take in establishing successful theatre in their city.

Before the curtain goes up on Act Two in which the heroine will most likely sneeze several more times and be saved from the dastardly clutches of the evil villain by the young, dashing hero, an olio dances out cradling a sign that says These Insects Don't Bite. At mid-stage she turns it over where we see, They're Beauty in Flight.

Then, the other olios materialize in front of the curtain with the men dressed in Victorian casual clothes looking like butterfly collectors out of a Gary Larson cartoon (The Far Side) chasing fair damsels dressed as butterflies around the stage as the piano plays a bright, sparkling tune from olden days.

The original Roxy Theatre—home for the Sawdusters for 28 years—burned in 1994. The new Sawdust Theatre is the result of many hours of volunteer labor and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Locals say the ambience of the "Gay 90s" that was so much a part of the old Roxy is slowly coming alive in the new theatre as volunteers finish the interior.

The Sawdusters put on their shows from Memorial Day to Labor Day, every Friday and Saturday. The curtain rises at 8 PM, but the "Gay 90's" ambience starts before the curtain goes up with a sing-along featuring old favorites from the American songbook of the era, such as < Old Good the>and By the Light of the Silvery Moon. Prior to the play, the lady olios perform the French dance famous from 19th century music halls, the Can-Can, with lots of attractive, high-kicking legs and rustling petticoats.

Oh yes. . .I forgot to mention that the popcorn is free and plentiful. They also sell beverages and snacks in the "saloon."

Two separate casts alternate performances so each performance may be slightly different from any other. Many members of the audience come several times during the season and find the production fresh eveery time.

The Sawdust Theatre is located at the corner of 1st and Adams in Coquille, which is 15 miles from Coos Bay. The entire area is accessible from Interstate 5; take the exit for Highway 42 at Roseburg.

Reservations are taken only from Tuesday through Saturday from 10am until 6pm. Please contact:

River Bend Floral & Gifts
38 E. First Street
Coquille, OR 97423

Oh yes, a final word. . .please remember that "Gentlemen are asked to use receptacles for chewing tobacco juices. . ."

Editor's Notes: Melodrama--literally a blend of music (melody) and drama evolved from the early 1800's and survived through the 1920's. In accord with the artistic sensibilities of many in the Victorian Age, most melodramas involved simple, often sentimental plots, stock characters that appealed to the audience's emotions. Men were men, women were women, heroes were usually bright and brave while villains were usually dark and dastardly.

Melodrama developed hand in hand with a type of acting developed by Francois Delsarte, a Frenchman. Delsarte developed theatrical aesthetics that coordinated actors' expressions of their characters with a near scientific application of appropriate gestures to help define character and acting situations. Many famous actors and singers of the day studied with Delsarte, including Jenny Lind.

Modern melodrama--such as presented at the Sawdust Theatre--often pokes fun at many of the standard plots and characters of the Gilded Age. According to Dictionary.Com, modern usage of the term, melodrama, now usually refers to plays, movie and television dramas "characterized by exaggerated emotions, stereotypical characters, and interpersonal conflicts."

Copyright 2003-2010, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Peace Pilgrim

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: June 12, 2002

Living to give rather than to get. ~Peace Pilgrim

I should like to have met the Peace Pilgrim while she was alive. She was within 200 miles of me once, but what with the comings and goings, ups and downs of a young man’s life, I never quite made enough effort.

Rest assured that it was my loss.

Peace Pilgrim, otherwise known as Mildred Norman Ryder, died in 1981. She had spent the previous 28 years walking the highways and byways of the United States on a personal pilgrimage for peace.

This great soul journeyed from 1953 to 1981, vowing to "remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food." In all she walked more than 25,000 miles during her journey, touching the lives of thousands with her simple way to peace:

This is the way of peace.
Overcome evil with good,
Falsehood with truth,
And hatred with love.

Peace, who always emphasized "the message not the messenger," dressed in a navy blue shirt (monogrammed with "Peace Pilgrim") and slacks and a short tunic on her pilgrimages. In her pockets she carried her only worldly possessions: a comb, a folding toothbrush, a ballpoint pen, copies of her message and the latest correspondence.

This silver-haired lady, an inspiration to the thousands with whom she met or heard her speak, was born on a small farm in 1908 in New Jersey of parents of modest means. As with many of us she grew upand lived a life that revolved around making money and buying things.

However, she came to look upon her life as self-centered and meaningless, feeling that worldly goods were burdens rather than blessings. She took a long walk through some woods all of one night (around 1938) until I felt "a complete willingness, without any reservations, to give my life to God and service."

According to her writings, conversations and speeches collected by five of her friends in Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words , she gradually adopted a life of voluntary simplicity and began what was to become a fifteen-year period of preparation. While not knowing just what it was she was preparing for, she did volunteer work for peace groups and also worked with people who had physical, emotional and mental problems.

During this preparation period and in the midst of some spiritual turmoil, she found inner peace--and her calling. The inspiration for the pilgrimage came in 1952 after she had become the first woman to walk the entire 2,050-mile length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to northern Maine. She writes of that time:

< />I sat high upon a hill overlooking rural New England. The day before I had slipped out of harmony, and the evening before I had thought to God, It seems to me that if I could always remain in harmony I could be of greater usefulness--for every time I slip out of harmony it impairs my usefulness.
Shortly thereafter on the morning of January 1, 1953 she began her pilgrimage for peace. She walked alone and without money or any ties to charities, churches or other organizations. She walked "as a prayer" and as a chance to inspire others to pray and work for peace

She actually finished the first 25,000 miles in 1964. Though increased demands for speaking eventually led her to accept rides in order to make her schedule, she still continued to walk.

Peace said so many beautiful, poignant words as she walked into eternity, touching all with whom she came into contact with her gentle ways and simple, profound message. I like the following very much:

We who work for peace must not falter. We must continue to pray for peace and to act for peace in whatever way we can, we must continue to speak for peace and to live the way of peace; to inspire others, we must continue to think of peace and to know that peace is possible.

The Pilgrim believed deeply that the road to world peace lay in each human being finding inner peace. Perhaps her simple message bears repeating one more time:

This is the way of peace.
Overcome evil with good,
Falsehood with truth,
And hatred with love.

On November 19, 2000 a new statue of Peace Pilgrim by Costa Rican sculptor, Fernando Calvo, was dedicated at the United Nations University of Peace in Colon, Costa Rica. The life size statue joins busts of other world peace makers such as Gandhi and Tolstoy on the grounds of the University.

Searching for an ending to this story of an extraordinary and inspiring life, I find myself gently remembering that Peace Pilgrim would have kept it simple and emphasized the message not herself. I see, perhaps, that her own words say it best:

I never want people to remember me except in connection with peace. . .

Editor's Note: I wish to acknowledge the wonderful web site, Peace Pilgrim Website devoted to the works of Peace, and from which I learned much of her life and times. I urge you to visit this place of beauty and spirit on the Web to learn more about Peace, her pilgramage and above all her message. There, you may dowload freely her beautifully written and inspiring booklet, Steps Toward Inner Peace as well as the book compiled and written by her friends after death, Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words .

Copyright 2002-2010, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.