POLITICS AND CORRUPTION IN ROME — IMPERIUM, ROBERT HARRIS

Cover of "Imperium"

Imperium, by Robert Harris

Random House

Sep 7, 2010

Fiction – 496 pages

It’s déjà vu all over again as we travel back with author Robert Harris to Republican Rome just before it became Imperial Rome. In America, in 2013, we complain about corruption. We wonder about conspiracies. We brood darkly on the failure of government to address issues of inequality. We deplore the bribery of officials. The world, we say, is going to Hell.

Except that government went to Hell a long time ago and you could easily argue that government — all government — was always hellish. Compared to Rome, our government is a clean machine, as clean as a fresh snowfall. It’s all a matter of perspective.

English: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rom...

Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Roma Italiano: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rome (Photo: Wikipedia)

Reading history puts the world in which I live into perspective. Whatever problems we face, we — the human family — have faced them before. We survived. It’s important to remember our ability to survive is greater (for the most part) than our ability to screw up.

Imperium, by Robert Harris, is about a guy named Cicero. You’ve undoubtedly heard of him. Famed as a lawyer, even more famed as an orator, Cicero rose to fame and power during a critical cusp in history as Rome was about to change from republican to imperial. Julius Caesar had just stepped onto the stage of history. It was the beginning of the greatest imperial power the earth had ever seen … and the end of the greatest republic the world would ever know. Perspective.

Marcus Cicero started his journey to power as an outsider from the provinces. His first significant legal case put him head-to-head with the dangerous, cruel and utterly corrupt Gaius Verres, governor of provincial Sicily. Using his stunning oratorical abilities and displaying a dogged determination and persistence in the face of impossible odds, Cicero beats Verres in court. He then goes on to triumph over many powerful opponents, making friends — but far more enemies — along the way.

Cicero seeks ultimate power — imperium. His allegiance is to the Republic. Cicero’s secretary and slave, Tiro, is the inventor of shorthand and has become the author of this biography of his master. Tiro was at Cicero’s right hand throughout his career, by his side, through triumph and catastrophe. Through his voice the world of ancient Rome is brought to life.

It’s a fascinating story. Pompey and Julius Caesar stride across the stage of this deeply corrupt, depraved, dangerous and strangely familiar society.

imperium audibleRobert Harris is a brilliant story-teller and author of historical fiction. He lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics simultaneously exotically different from and startlingly similar to our own. I read it on Kindle, then listened to the very fine version available from Audible.com. I recommend both most highly.

This is part one of a duology.  The second volume in the American printing is titled Conspirata. In Great Britain the same book is titled Lustrum.

Both books are available on Kindle from Amazon and as a paperback from other sellers.

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HOW DOES SILENCE SOUND?

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Sound of Silence

A while ago, I had the flu and my ears were blocked. One day, Garry took out his hearing aids and kept turning up the television until we could both hear it. “That,” he said, “Is my world. That’s how much I can hear.” I have never forgotten. Which is good because it’s all too easy to forget when it’s not your problem.

Many people don’t think of hearing loss as a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend and am usually in some kind of pain ranging from “barely noticeable” to “wow that hurts.” None of which are visible to a naked eye. I once had a woman in the post office lash into me because I had a handicapped pass and she didn’t think I looked handicapped. Years later, I’m still angry. How dare she set herself up to judge?

People make assumptions all the time about Garry. They assume if they call to him and he doesn’t answer, he’s a snob. Rude. Ignoring them. If I’m with him I take them aside, explain Garry cannot hear them. “You need to make sure he sees you and knows you are talking to him,” I tell them. I consider it part of my job as his wife. It’s rough out there in a hearing world. Parties are the worst. When so many people talking at once , it becomes impossible for him to hear a single voice.

The hush of a snowy woods is silence

The hush of a snowy woods is silence

Mostly I can hear. Most things. Not as well as I did when I was younger. Background noise is more intrusive and annoying than it was. But I hear well enough for most purposes. I depend on my hearing to catch nuances, to interpret underlying meanings of what people say.

Garry used to be able — with hearing aids — to do that too. It was important in courtrooms and while interviewing people and of course, in relationships. It’s not only what someone says, but how he or she says it. Body language, facial expressions … it’s all part of the communications package. But his hearing is worse now and much of this ability to catch the subtler part of speech is gone.

When the hearing part goes, other senses have to compensate — but nothing entirely fills the gap.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “it.” Sometimes “it” is me. He often behaves as if he heard me though he didn’t — but he thinks he did. Sometimes, he didn’t hear exactly what I said or notice I was speaking. It takes him a while to process sound, to put words in order and make them mean something. It isn’t instant, the way it is for someone with normal hearing. He has to pause and wait for his brain to catch up Sometimes, he puts the puzzle together wrong because he heard only pieces and what he missed was critical.

There’s also the “what?” factor. How many times can anyone say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before he/she feels like an idiot?

Human speech is not the whole story. There is music, soft and loud. The funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog locked in the closet. Birds singing or a cry for help from down the hall. Garry can’t hear any of that. Once upon a time, he could and he misses it. He doesn’t hear the beep of a truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes that means someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad or an alarm ringing. The hum of the refrigerator. All the little noises are lost to Garry.

What does silence sound like? When you hear only the very loudest noises, but none of the soft sweet sounds? The explosion, but never a murmur? To be in that silence — always — is a different world.

- – - – -

* Answer: Three.You can ask someone to repeat something 3 times. After that you are too embarrassed to try again. This is true for everyone, not just people with hearing problems. We all encounter accents we don’t get, mumblers and people who speak too fast or too softly.

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PRIVATE TREASURES

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure

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PERSONAL SPACES

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure

Personal Things Private Space

 

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CONSUMING A WORLD OF WORDS – ALICE IN WONDERLAND

alice cover christie

ALICE IN WONDERLAND, NANCY CHRISTIE

19 pages
Pixel Hall Press (November 25, 2013)

In a mere 19 pages, Nancy Christie paints an amazingly vivid portrait. A complete world.

A woman of indeterminate age, Alice is trapped in the walls of her mother’s house. She has surrendered her life. Nothing exists but tending her bedridden shrew of a mother. Bereft of a life outside, she escapes by reading and consuming books. Literally.

Alice has slipped emotionally beyond despair and lost touch with her own soul. Her life is empty and ugly. No joy, hope or companionship. So Alice dreams, fueling her dreams by reading of faraway places. Somewhere along the way, dreaming morphed into physically consuming the pages she reads, as if by eating the words, they will grow in strength and overpower misery and replace reality.

Nancy Christie is an author who creates unforgettable images. She writes tightly, nothing wasted. Rarely have I read anything as evocative. So much is conveyed in few words. Too soon over. I avoided short stories for years because they left me feeling unsatisfied, but Alice In Wonderland is a most satisfying morsel, a world in a few heartbeats.

The only thing that could have improved this story would have been another story.

About Nancy Christie:

I am a writer both by trade (magazine articles and corporate projects – see my site’s About Me section for more details) and by preference.

Although I enjoy “business writing,” my passion is for fiction. Long fiction, short fiction, bits and pieces of fiction (character sketches, dialogue)–any kind of “make believe” writing that takes me from my reality into my characters’ reality. I’ve been fortunate to have several pieces published in literary journals. With the release of Annabelle, my first e-book and now Alice in Wonderland (both published by Pixel Hall Press), I have moved further on my path to achieving recognition for my fiction.

As for what writers have inspired me, some of my favorites include Agatha Christie, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Mark Helprin, Carolyn See, Elizabeth George–a mixed bag, to be sure, and just a few of those with whom I “keep company.”

I write, I read, I write some more and so it goes …

A CURIOUS ACCOUNT OF NATIVE PEOPLES IN NORTH AMERICA

THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN – A Curious Account of Native People in North America

By Thomas King

University of Minnesota Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2013

272 Pages

Before starting it, I was a bit dubious about the book. The title seemed just a bit … I don’t know. Off-center? I wasn’t sure if I was about to read history, anecdotes, opinion, humor or what.

It turned out to be all of the above and more. This is an entertaining book — humorous, elegantly written and witty. It’s also serious, but the seriousness is somewhat cloaked by its style. Unlike so many books written by oppressed minorities that aim — almost exclusively — to make one feel guilty for not being one of the oppressed, this book helps you help see the world through the eyes of Native Americans. What we see is beauty, horror and hilarity … a mad world in which you can’t trust anyone and you have to make your own rules because that’s the only way to survive.

We have slaughtered our Native Americans. Hated them, admired, adulated, tortured, enslaved, jailed and utterly misunderstood them since our first encounters.

The single thing we non-Natives have never done is accept the Native American claim to this country as more legitimate than ours. At the core of the relationship between Native peoples and the white “settlers” was and will always be land. It was theirs. We wanted it. We took it. They objected. We killed them. And we kept the land and tried improve our position by slander and slaughter.

These days, feelings towards Native American runs the gamut from awe, to bigotry and loathing. Despite the passing of centuries, there is little understanding. That the Native community is less than eager to let outsiders into their world should surprise no one. Their experience with us has not been reassuring. To quote Calvera from The Magnificent Seven: “Generosity. That was our first mistake.”

For anyone interested in discovering the meaning of cognitive dissonance, growing up Native in today’s America is a good start. Natives are by no means the only minority to have to hold completely incompatible world views simultaneously, but Natives have a legitimate claim to first place for the most cock-eyed and complex relationship with the larger society in which they must live.

This isn’t exactly history. It isn’t exactly not. It’s stories, history, opinions and anecdotes presented in a non-linear, almost conversational style. It is easy to read, lively and not at all pretentious. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but probably will. Logic would dictate that our Native population regard us with at the very least, skepticism and possibly deep-rooted hostility.

This isn’t a deep analysis of the history of this relationship, though for some I suppose it would be revelatory. I would call it “Native American History Lite.” It is a good starting place for those who don’t know anything — or know a lot of things, all of which are wrong.

About the author:

Thomas King is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, scriptwriter, and photographer. His many books include the novels Medicine River; Green Grass, Running Water; Truth and Bright Water; two short story collections, One Good Story, That One (Minnesota, 2013) and A Short History of Indians in Canada (Minnesota, 2013); nonfiction, The Truth About Stories (Minnesota, 2005); and the children’s books A Coyote Columbus Story, Coyote Sings to the Moon, Coyote’s New Suit, and A Coyote Solstice Tale. King edited the literary anthology All My Relations and wrote and starred in the popular CBC radio series, The Dead Dog Café. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western American Literary Association (2004) and an Aboriginal Achievement Award (2003), and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2004. He has taught Native literature and history and creative writing at the University of Lethbridge, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Guelph and is now retired and lives in Guelph, Ontario.

The Inconvenient Indian is available in Kindle, Hardcover and Paperback and worthwhile in any format.

Weekly Photo Challenge: THE HUE OF ME IS SCARLET

Scarlet Tree So. Yarmouth

The color is scarlet, the feeling is excitement. The mood is up and the sky is full of hope. The hue of me is bright and bold.

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MAPLE TREE BEHIND THE HOUSE

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VACATION REPORT: DAY 2 – RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

When you can’t fix it, you soldier on. Today, overcoming the series of blows that knocked out yesterday, we go forth to shop and take pictures of Cape Cod. If the Red Sox can survive last night’s defeat by Detroit, we can survive a cruddy tourist trap on Old Cape Cod.

The weather is with us, or it’s supposed to be. Hard to tell. Yesterday it was bright and beautiful early, but got dreary and chilly by early afternoon. Regardless, we’re out and about today.Until we get tired.

Ogunquit, September 2009

Ogunquit, September 2009

We’ve never had a bad vacation. Garry and I travel well together. We’ve been to awful hotels and had horrible airplane experiences.

Once, coming back from New Orleans, American cancelled our connecting flight (without so much as an explanation) and left us stranded in Atlanta.

On a flight from Israel to New York via London, British Airways left me sitting on my luggage (with all the other Israeli in-transit passengers) in Heathrow for 40 hours. It was supposed to be a 3-hour layover, but the plane broke down. BA had to bring a replacement from Italy. They didn’t even offer us cookies and tea. Or a comfortable lounge because we were merely coach passengers. It didn’t ruin my trip home, but I have never willingly flown British Airways again. I’m not quite that forgiving.

I remember when Garry and I were coming back from Florida and Delta left us sitting on the runway so long (in Philadelphia) one of the passengers went into a diabetic coma. We had to make an emergency landing in Baltimore, which was going backwards since we were in transit to Boston from Orlando.

Williamsburg 2012

Williamsburg 2012

Then there was my memorable flight between JFK and Logan, during which two out of four engines got taken out by lightning. I wasn’t sure I was going to ever see Garry again. Not to mention the poisonous mussels in Galway that left me unable to look at a mussel for the next ten years — that was our honeymoon. One vacation, I came down with German Measles but we just kept going because there wasn’t anything to be done about it anyhow.

We are, as I said, good travelers. We let bad stuff roll off and enjoy the rest. It’s hard to find anything good about this “resort,” but it will give me plenty of material for blogging mill and in the midst of a kind of grisly horror have been moments of insane hilarity. It would be silly to let it ruin our single annual week of vacation. We’d be the only losers.

Rockport, July 2010

Rockport, July 2010

Today, laden with cameras and optimism, we will sally forth to hunt for (1) a really comfortable pair of shoes for me and some great beauty shots of beach and cute Cape villages.

We’ll be back. Later, with photographs.

Gettysburg, 2012

Gettysburg, 2012

HOLLY BERRIES IN OCTOBER

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Though it’s a symbol Christmas, the holly bush produces its berries in the fall. We have a gigantic holly bush that produces bushels of berries. Pity they don’t last until December, but they are lovely to look at. Though the prickles forever grab at my clothing and skin as I try to navigate my front walk.

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MAO AND A TURKEY

Long ago in a land far away, we had a Siamese cat. Mao — “cat” in Chinese. I don’t know if that’s Mandarin, Cantonese or some other dialect, but it was a good name.

English: A two-year-old seal point "tradi...

We got Mao as a tiny kitten. From day 1, he was a feisty, chatty cat.  Our first cat, which his name reflected. Mao Ee (Cat 1). There were, of course, many others over the decades in all the places and houses in I’ve called home, but there’s never been another cat anything like Mao.

When we traveled, friends took care of our house. I was a great grower of plants back then. Feeding the cats was one part of the job … but watering the 200 plus plants was — or should have been — the bigger task. Frank — best friend’s husband — was often tasked with house care in our absence. Mao was a thinking cat. A logical cat. He decided we were gone because Frank had driven us away. Thus if Mao could drive Frank away, we would come home.

Thus, when Frank came to the house to feed and water cats and plants, Mao attacked him. I don’t mean a little pounce, a playful swat. It was all out warfare. Mao crouched in shadows and attacked, all 20 claws outstretched, going for gore. Poor Frank loved cats and he and Mao had always gotten along fine. He had no idea why Mao was out to get him.

The moment we came back, Mao was back to normal, friend to the world. He had obviously been right because we were back … ergo, it must have been because he drove The Invader (Frank) away. Logical, yes? After that, Mao attacked everyone who took care of the house in our absence. He was the terror of Our Crowd. It got increasingly difficult to get someone to take care of things while we were gone.

The years moved on and Mao moved with us. There were children, jobs, bigger houses, dogs. Life. We held celebrations … big Thanksgiving dinners. One memorable occasion, we had a full house including a dozen and half people and featuring a huge turkey. When the turkey was roasted, I put it out on the counter to set while I moved food in the dining room and greeted arriving guests.

Thanksgiving006

I wasn’t gone 10 minutes. When I got back to the kitchen, Mao was on the counter, finishing off a drumstick. Its remains were still attached to the turkey — a ragged, conspicuously gnawed hole. Not the presentation I had in mind.

The husband and I consulted. We agreed and served the bird as it was.

“What happened to the turkey,” asked the friends and family.

“Mao got to it,” I said.

“Oh,” they said. “Pass the bird.”

It was a good Thanksgiving. Mao was some cat.

VACATION REPORT: DAY 1 – “WHAT A DUMP!”

It’s 76 miles as the road goes, but it took three hours. Which wasn’t bad considering it was a snail trail all the way. Friday night traffic is bad and the roads to the Cape are the most crowded. No matter. We were in a good mood. Patient. No screaming and cursing as we were cut off and tail-gated crawling to Cape Cod.

Baseball. The soothing cure all.

Baseball. The soothing cure-all.

Finally we got here. I got a bad feeling. You probably know what I mean. The asphalt in the parking lot is all broken. It feels dilapidated. You try to find the office and you can’t because there’s a backhoe parked in front of it. And in your heart, you know your room is directly behind the backhoe. Yup, I knew it. I asked for a different room. I just couldn’t do a week staring at the ass end of a backhoe.

“The last lady loved it. She had three little kids and said it would keep them interested.”

“We don’t have little kids. I prefer not to spend my week on the Cape up close and personal with a back hoe.” Humor? My head hurts.

The only other available unit is on the second floor. No elevator. No help with our stuff, of which there was, as usual, way too much. I had asked for a room with handicapped access. “Well,” she said, “You’d have to talk to your exchange group about that.” Right.

We needed a place to sleep. It was getting late. We were tired.

Garry had A Look. I know that look. He’s pissed, figures it’s not worth fighting over because it’s futile. He spent years on the road and he knows a dump when he sees one. And, as he points out later as he is hauling several tons of stuff up a steep flight of stairs … “We’ve stayed in worse.’

The old futon in the "living room." What a beauty!

The old futon in the “living room.” What a beauty!

Indeed we have. The place in Montreal with the hot and cold running cockroaches. That was very bad. This place IS a dump, but there are worse dumps. At least the WiFi works.

The mattress on the bed may have had some spring, a hint of softness … a long time ago. Long, long time ago. Now, it’s weary. Made bitter by hard use, it is lumpy and unforgiving. I sense 8 nights of torture awaiting us. Don’t stay at the Cape Wind in Hyannis. You’ll be sorry.

The bed is hard as a rock. The ancient futon in the living room is ugly and stained, but oddly comfortable. The TV works and the National League playoff series starts tonight. If there’s baseball, Garry is good to go. Until we hit that bed. That’s going to hurt. A lot. We brought our own pillows. Maybe I’ll sleep out here in the living room on the futon.

The bathroom. Garry looked. “It has,” he said, “A certain ‘je ne sais quoi.’ ” Yes, that certainly is true. I was laughing hysterically when I pulled out a camera and took a few shots of it. “Je ne sais quoi” like this is too good to not share.

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No baking dish. I use the broiler drip pan. I ask about getting one. Tomorrow. Hopefully. How about a bulb for the lamp in the living room? Tomorrow. Hangers for the closet? It’s a big closet, but not useful with no hangers. Tomorrow — if they have any (good luck). The dresser is tiny, just three small drawers — more like an oversized night table. I give two to Garry and decide to keep everything except my underwear in the duffel.

We moved to the futon in the living room. It took less than 15 minutes for Garry to cry “uncle.” I didn’t last that long. Now we are in the living room. If I think of this as an adventure, I might enjoy it for the sheer hilarity. You can’t make this stuff up.

It’s a dump. But, for the next week, it’s our dump.

ARE YOU SURE? REALLY? 100,000 HITS? ME? WOW … THANKS GUYS!

100,000 HITS

A few hours ago while we were stuck in traffic on Route 95, I hit two major milestones: 600 followers and 100,000 hits. On the same day — entirely coincidentally. I wrote this post a couple of days ago . I knew the 100,000 would happen this week. (The 600 followers was a total surprise.)

When I started blogging, I wasn’t sure why. A year and a half later, I still couldn’t tell you why. I still don’t know. The simplest explanation is the truest: I enjoy it. I love writing and having people read it. Having an audience is a huge gift. Writers really need readers. Anyone who says they write for themselves is lying … to themselves, if not everyone else. Fortunately, readers need writers. Together we have a wonderful synergy.

I mustn’t forget photography. I’ve been taking pictures almost as long as I’ve been writing. Posting my favorites — not to mention Garry’s photos and other members of the family — really beats out slide shows after dinner or emailing them to people who may or may not even open the attachment. Finally, I get feedback. Somebody out there likes me!

I’m not as good a photographer as many of you. Some of you who follow me — I can’t figure out why. I’m flattered, of course, but you are so much better than me. Despite all the years this has been my hobby, I’m still a babe in the woods with Photoshop. I never seem to get the beautiful “finish” the rest of you get. Part of it is equipment. Lenses to be more exact. I don’t have the great glass I would like. I wish I could throw money at it, but not now. I live in hope of miracles.

Where does hope live? Where is the place we live when life’s not treating us well? When things are going wrong and if you stop and think about it, your brain turns to jelly and you can’t form a coherent thought? When the magnitude of the problems in your life exceed your capacity to process?

Me? I read, write and make pictures. I read your posts, look at your pictures. Sometimes I comment, often I read, look, smile and leave a “like” behind, kind of a calling card to say “Hey, I was here!” I wish I could spend more time on your sites but I run out of time. This blogging thing … it really chews up the hours and days.

I started small. I posted something once in a while and then didn’t post anything for a while, then started putting a few things up now and then. Then … oh, I don’t know. I just got into it. There was no epiphany, no revelation. One day, I just felt I should write, post a picture. The next day, I felt that way again, so I did and then more than once a day.

It was the presidential election that sucked me into the maelström with a vengeance. Talk about lively. The Internet wasn’t merely buzzing. It was screaming. People who normally wouldn’t get involved were out there, giving their opinions on every public forum. The cyber world was wild and I got a share of the action. I doubt I’ll ever post numbers as high as I did in October and November 2012. Crazy numbers, crazy time.

It’s easy to blog when there’s huge controversy everywhere, gigantic hurricanes washing away the right coast of the U.S. It’s harder now. There is always a horrible political thing going on but I find myself writing about my smaller world. Sometimes, it’s about how my little world intersects with the great big world. That’s when politics become deeply personal.

The road, as J.R.R. Tolkien says, goes on and on … back to the point where it began.

And so it does. There’s no starting point, no inherent end. I write, I take pictures and will do that as long as I can. Eventually, after the New Year, I’ll have to stop. For a while. Hopefully not too long a while, but I know it will happen. I hope you folks will remember me and come back to visit now and then.

Meanwhile, it’s been a Hell of a ride. I remember when I got my first 5,000 hits and thought “Wow! 5,000! Never thought this would happen!” and the numbers kept marching upward. A couple of months ago, it became obvious I would cross over the 100,000 mark — a biggie. So … what next?

I never had a plan for my site. 100,000 hits was never a goal. I never told myself if I get “this many followers” or “that many hits,” I will know I’m successful. I consider myself successful because running this site gives me so much pleasure and I don’t want to stop. There are popular blogs that baffle me (why?) and wonderful blogs that fall by the wayside. You can take you best guess at figuring out (1) what constitutes success and (2) why it comes to some, but not others equally or more deserving. Some of is luck, stumbling onto a topic that catches peoples’ attention. And getting noticed by people who help promote you. And I suspect much of it is persistence — posting interesting material often so everyone knows they can always find new stuff on your site.

I never had a goal. I still don’t. I love writing and photography. I enjoy meeting people from all over the world. Learning how their lives are the same and different from mine. Chatting through comments. Getting new ideas. It is the stuff you guys say, in comments and on your own sites, that triggers what I write. You feed my imagination, inspire my muse. And challenge me to be better.

Thanks. Everyone. Really thank you. Truly you are the wind beneath my wings.

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Daily Prompt: Mid-Season Replacement – FOREVER FALL

Mumford downtown

I could happily live in perpetual autumn. Warm enough, cool enough. It’s an elegant season, bright with color. The sun is amber and warm … our most beautiful season. For that alone … and because I dread the long cold winter to follow … let me stay in forever fall.

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DRIFTING THROUGH AUTUMN

Drifting leaves

More from this season. You can see the falling leaves if you look. When the wind blows, there’s a little storm of leaves and the ground is entirely carpeted. And the real fall hasn’t even begun. It’s the downside of living in the woods.

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