Big Canoe Writers Words and Wit for the Ages
Browsing all posts in: Essay

Full Circle

February 29
by Jim Smith

There are few of us for whom a particular plant does not evoke special memories. My memory was so touched recently as I sorted through a box of old forgotten books. There in that treasure trove was the first acquisition in my early library of nature and wild plants books. It was a U.S. Department of Agriculture Bulletin published in 1930 – American Medicinal Plants of Commercial Importance.

Tucked insiindian turnip root for bcwgde was a 1939 price list from Elliot Richard, a wholesale botanical druggist of my youthful acquaintance. Among the prices of “…roots, barks, herbs in clean whole sacks delivered…” was listed Indian turnip root at $0.40 per pound. By any other name, this is Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum.)

At the end of the depression, earning 40 cents per pound for anything sounded like a windfall. For a kid who knew where the Indian turnip grew in some abundance, it seemed like nothing less than Read the rest of this entry »

When the River Ran Backwards

January 8
by Jim Smith

Abner had about 10,000 acres of the best timber land in the County and was obliged to sell some to pay his taxes. He was tighter than a bull’s ass in fly season. On this Indian Summer day I dreaded trying to deal with him but did give him enough to pay his taxes, all while he complained that I was taking unfair advantage of him. After we struck a deal and signed the timber lease, I stopped at the Last Chance Café in Springfield, Georgia for lunch. The menu never varied from a choice between two meats and a plateful of three vegetables and as much ice tea as you could drink – all topped off with the customary banana pudding.

Pete Clifton hailed me from across the dining room and invited me to join him. He had seen me with Abner and asked if I had been fishing in Abner’s pond. I said, “Hell no!” Pete was the affable County Agent for Effingham County. His motto was “Fish more, work less.” He fulfilled that ambition admirably. In fact, the coat rack in his office had a sign on it – “If my hat’s not here, I’ve gone fishing.” Read the rest of this entry »

On Being a Grandparent

December 12
by Anita Rosen

Never Trust a Grandchild

After having the pleasure of being a grandparent for a decade, it’s time to share some pertinent observations, which, I hope, may be of assistance to others who find themselves in this familial category.

While my childhood provided ample instruction in developing a parenting plan for my own children, who were, by and large, good children, little in life prepared me to be a grandparent.

Setting a dubious standard for behavior, my brother and I were known for the usual sibling rough-and-tumble fights augmented by special acts of mischief, like the time we took the goldfish out of the tank to see how they felt under our feet. Of this last, I admit, we did not confess until our father had died and our mother was too old to hit us. Read the rest of this entry »

I believe in music

November 18
by Anita Rosen

I believe music lends beauty and solemnity to otherwise mundane occasions. I believe music has the power to unify diverse populations: Observe the effect of the 1812 Overture every Fourth of July on the Boston Esplanade or the singing of our national anthem anywhere, anytime. One need experience only once the swell and passion of Handel’s Messiah to understand the power of music.

Music always has been here. Well before Guttenberg tinkered with his printing press, humans were telling their stories through cadenced chanting. Read the rest of this entry »

Clayton Fain’s Last Ride

March 5
by Travis H. McDaniel
Clayton Fain's grave marker

The author at Clayton Fain’s grave marker in the Hiwassee Cemetery, Ducktown, Tennessee.

My eyes strain to locate the marker as I pick my way through an overgrown thicket of briers, vines and saplings. An earthy odor fills my nostrils, and I begin to wonder if I have correctly followed directions. Finally, I make out what appears to be the object of my quest.

Scrambling on my hands and knees through the final 20 yards of tangled vegetation, I reach a gravestone well-camouflaged by vines and privet. A feeling of melancholy settles over me as I realize in all probability nobody has visited this gravesite since placement of the military marker here in 1974. Read the rest of this entry »

Carolina Wren

February 7
by Ken Reynolds

Some people have really interesting hobbies. Jim Tanner, a good friend and neighbor, shoots photos of the scenery and animal life in our North Georgia community. Jim says he has “been hearing and seeing this little Carolina Wren off and on for a few weeks.” Even now he is not satisfied. I think Jim’s assessment is modest. Read the rest of this entry »

The Old Cabin

January 29
by Bill Booth

Late afternoon. Walking home through dry broom grass and fresh, soft snow. Shotgun feels like a bar of lead. Everything as far as I can see looks like a black and white photograph, 95 percent white.  Bare, black trees stand like sentinels against a pale blue sky. Feet started hurting three hours ago. Now feel like blocks of wood. Will be painful when they thaw. Hope I don’t lose any toes. I am tired.

Old cabin’s dark outline is a welcome sight when it appears just before the sun reaches the western horizon. Home at last!
Read the rest of this entry »

Will Amazon Consume Everything?

December 19
by Ken Reynolds

Once upon a time independent merchants comprised the hubs of neighborhoods and the centers of small towns. Chains and big-box stores and the internet have all but eliminated those focal points of community commerce. Even the government post office, once “the center” of every community, has become little more than an outdated relic. The world of commerce has changed and we are not likely to return to the old days, but that change has altered our sense of loyalty to the community.

Local businesses have been replaced with franchises, and across America one town is very much like another. Something vital is passing, and like most Americans I am a contributor to the demise. Read the rest of this entry »

The Myth of the Self-Made Man

November 25
by Harris Green

We’ve all heard it said of somebody, “He’s a self-made man.” I beg to differ. Except for perhaps Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a wolf, there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman.

Yes, most high achievers are more brilliant and hard-working than the average person, but none of them is self-made. Their achievement is due much more to what was done FOR them than for what they did for themselves.
Read the rest of this entry »

Where we meet

October 31
by Ken Reynolds

photo by Jim Tanner

October is a beautiful month in Big Canoe. Topography, weather and colors combine to make this a wonderful place to live. The autumn beauty surrounding the Lodge where The Big Canoe Writers Group has gathered since 1999 is not an atypical scene.

photo by Randy Lewis

The seasons do change, and before too long the colors will fade and winter snows will drive us inside to the warmth. The Lodge and it setting remains an inviting and enchanting place for writers and artists and everyone who is not immune to the majesty and mystery of our surroundings.

Personal debt and remedial classes

August 8
by Ken Reynolds
We should rethink our national idea that everyone should go to college

What has happened to the solid old notion of avoiding debt? Repayment has been a nagging problem since the inception of the Student Loan program. But now the Education Department reports a dramatic rise in late payments of student loans and in the number of those loans referred for possible legal action. No doubt the current recession is contributing to the problem, but there is another less publicized cause. In my opinion, the false belief that everyone should go to college has led to unrealistic academic and career expectations.

Read more of this opinion on Ken Reynolds’ blog

Small Bookstores

April 14
by Ken Reynolds

I would prefer to buy my books in person from an independent businessman, but in reality it happens only when I travel to a town that still has such stores. Several of my essays are about some of those places and I lament their passing. Our culture is changing, and  we will be poorer for the loss.

In 2008 I wrote the following article for “Smoke Signals” in recognition that times have changed, it is included in my 2010 book, Turned Pages.   KR

Where Did The Small Bookstore Go?

Do you remember small bookstores? Fifteen years ago almost every town had at least one bookstore for new books and another selling used books. The stores with new books had limited inventory — the latest best sellers and some of the classics. The remainder of the stock was devoted to cooking, crafts, current fads and children’s books. A real advantage was they would order almost any book you wanted and have it to you within a few weeks. Now those stores are hard to find. They could not compete with twenty to forty percent discounts on best sellers. Read the rest of this entry »

A Step Back In Time

March 5
by Ken Reynolds

Atlanta Book Exchange

The exterior of the Atlanta Book Exchange belies the treasure waiting inside. From a cramped parking area barely visible steps lead to an enclosed porch that functions as storage and display of a few-less-than valuable books. But, passing into the main shop reveals something akin to paradise.
Read the rest of this entry »

Galt and Roark: Rereading Ayn Rand

January 2
by Ken Reynolds

Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged is more widely read and John Galt is better known, but it is Howard Roark, the architect in The Fountainhead, who set the standard of the individual’s struggle to be true to his principles. Read the rest of this entry »

Unpaid Taxes: A Quandry?

October 7
by Ken Reynolds

     The Internal Revenue Service reports that as of the end of 2009 Americans owed more than $100 billion in delinquent federal taxes. The Washington Post points out that 638 employees of the U S Senate and the House of Representatives owed more than nine million of those dollars, and that a member of the House is sponsoring legislation to fire federal workers who are not signed onto a tax payment plan. The Post does not indicate whether the amounts owed include penalties and interest.

     Why do we need a new law to collect over due taxes? Is this another attempt by a member of Congress to make his constituents believe he is working for them?
Read this opinion  as published in Smoke Signals, October 2010

Read about Ken Reynolds on the Writer’s Bio page

Take a Sentimental Journey

September 12
by Maria Boling

There is no such thing as a normal life. If you have ever daydreamed by an open window, skimmed a pebble across a still lake, or stood in the silent world of snow, then you have a story to tell.

Writing life story memories can be a lot of fun, especially if you try to remember the moments not the years. Even age, whether a teenager or an adult, does not matter when you are ready for this incredible journey. Today will be tomorrow’s remembrance and once these current events have past they will only be in your memory unless you write them down. Some of your seasoned thoughts and musings have long been stuffed back and stored in the crevices of your mind. They can be activated with five simple steps: Read the rest of this entry »

Mr. Deep Pockets on Vacation!

August 21
by Fred Shaw

What a vacation! Nancy and I are concluding three weeks in New Zealand and Australia with five days in Sydney. And damn the expense! Our hotel is the Regent Sydney and is advertised as one of the five best hotels in the world. All that tells you is someone thinks there are four better hotels somewhere else, but “Mr. Deep Pockets” (That’s me.) doesn’t care, he is overjoyed to spend $350 a night for a room that overlooks Sydney’s harbor and the Opera House, as long as Nancy is happy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Memorial Day Is Not A Vacation Day

May 9
by Ken Reynolds

This post is a part of a a special on-line edition of Smoke Signals Memorial Day Tribute to the men and women who have fallen in service to America. To read the special edition click here.

On May 31 some Americans will observe Memorial Day and consider the real sacrifices the day is designated to honor. Others will enjoy it without thinking about its meaning; to them it is just another holiday. Many others do not know that Memorial Day means more than just time away from their jobs. Even as the list containing the names of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan expands, our understanding of what that list means to our nation shrinks. Read the rest of this entry »

A Botanical Epiphany or A Journey Into Nomenclature

May 5
by Jim Smith

Plants don’t know their own names and it’s a good thing they don’t care as most of them have had their names changed. Even as a boy and later as a forester I dealt with the frustrations of plant nomenclature. Now retired, I am neither forester nor botanist, but living the words Thomas Jefferson wrote to Charles Peale: “Though an old man, I am but a young gardener.” I had thought by now plant classification would have been worked out in great detail, but as a gardener and plant lover, I continue to learn and enjoy the twists and turns of taxonomy. ….read this article

Read about Jim on the Writer’s Bios Page

Protecting Free Speech

April 6
by Ken Reynolds

What Happens to Free Speech If No One Listens

If we do not teach our children to disagree reasonably the next logical step is unreasonable disagreement. The step after that is violent disagreement. Read the rest of this entry »

What Is Wrong With Encouraging Manual Arts Education?

April 3
by Ken Reynolds

Between 1944 and today we somehow morphed into an “everyone should go to college” national mindset. I accept the risk of being labeled a curmudgeon, but not everyone should go to college. There is a major difference between advocating college for every student and encouraging individual students to prepare…..    read College Is Not For Everyone

A Step Up

April 2
by Vivian Sheperis

After that day I never played with dolls again. It happened on the seventh step, in the middle of my fantasy, halfway up the oak staircase. A baby doll lay on each of the steps, three through nine.
Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Repair The Broken Connections

March 10
by Ken Reynolds

Every generation likes to remember the good old days when things were different — meaning better. When I think seriously about what American life was like in my youth — not just my life, but life for Americans in general — I know we are healthier and more comfortable, but we have paid high prices. In my opinion the highest price has been a diminishing sense of connection — to one another, to our families and to our nation.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Favorite Jazz Concert

January 19
by Fred Shaw

I picked up the remote and powered the television. The channel already selected was CNN Headline News. It was my daily check to see if anything cataclysmic had occurred in the world. I try to do this at the beginning of the hour but I was a little early so some health report was underway; I changed the channel to CNN. Commercial! Reluctantly I tried the Fox Network. Commercial! Back to Headline News! The scroll across the bottom of the screen was moving out of sight but I did see, “Played with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins” and “He was 73.” The scroll disappeared as Headline News also switched to a commercial advertisement. (Do you realize for every hour of television you watch you ‘get’ twenty two minutes of advertising?)

Read the rest of this entry »