Civil War Art

The Brush Harrow 1865

Boys without fathers … some heroic men come home broken or not at all. Some battlefields are revisited from one year to the next. Veterans tease new recruits on spring campaigns with the bones of men left to winter over in thick forests.

About 625,000 men died in the Civil War. That’s more Americans than died in both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam combined. This amounted to 2 percent of the population at the time, which would be the equivalent to about 6 million Americans dying today. Battles weren’t as deadly as disease, however..

An estimated 40% of the dead were never identified.”[1]

A Visit from the Old Mistress 1876

Slavery is a human condition we have not come even close to eradicating. Sex trafficking in children is alive and well.  Where are the abolitionists now? There are some brave souls but mostly we are just as ignorant of human suffering as we ever were. Willfully so.

Civil War Art

The picture above is so ambiguous. Are the former slaves happy to see their former mistress? Are they ashamed that with freedom not much seems to have changed for them?  Were any of them house slaves who saw themselves as superior to field hands?

And what of the mistress? Is she visiting old friends? Is she discussing payment for field work? Did they once pray together? Are they all victims of a world system they did not create? I’ve often heard that impoverished people enjoy life more. I think people are people. We live in a spiritually impoverished world.

Cotton Pickers 1864

There is a war somewhere out there. There is a war in our hearts right here. Freedom is a wonderful but scary thing. Is this beautiful woman brooding about her present? Is she anxious about her future? Is she bitter? Will she forgive life’s unfairness? Choices we all must make.

prisoners from the front winslow homer
Prisoners from the Front 1866

Surrender. Surrender is not about giving up. At war are powers greater than humans can usually perceive. We are all slaves to a master. We choose the master no matter our place in this material world. Sometimes we are victims, but if we are honest with ourselves, we realize we are so often making war with others for our own selfish desires and out of a place of fear.

“There is no fear where love exists. Rather, perfect love banishes fear, for fear involves punishment, and the person who lives in fear has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4:18








ART: The Song Of The Lark

The Song of the Lark by Winslow Homer

“Quartering the topmost branches of one of the tall trees, an invisible bird was striving to make the day seem shorter, exploring with a long-drawn note the solitude that pressed it on every side, but it received at once so unanimous an answer, so powerful a repercussion of silence and of immobility, that one felt it had arrested for all eternity the moment which it had been trying to make pass more quickly.”  Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way


Who Owns Time? The Writer Does.

One moment then gone.
One moment then gone.

Writers own time–temporarily. People own time temporarily and if you don’t believe in an after life then it makes perfect sense to speed on the highway and flip out after getting behind an old lady at the grocery store who only fishes for her checkbook at the very last minute.

My parents made lists to segment their time. My mother wrote in her perfect, artful script fantastically long and detailed lists. My father sat at the kitchen table talking his lists out, “First I have to finish breakfast, then I’ll read the paper, and then I have to go do the lawn and then a nap and maybe I’ll go to Dunkin’ Donuts to bring Kenny some coffee later (his brother who worked nights cleaning the school).

Song of the Lark as fleeting as the clouds.
Song of the Lark as fleeting as the clouds.

We were ALWAYS given new watches for Christmas–I even got a silver finger watch with a blue face one year but it got in the way of my quest for my mother’s perfect penmanship while making my own lists. No matter how many clocks went off each hour in our house–the Birds of North America clock, the cuckoo clock from my father’s stay in Germany during the Cold War, the mantle clock with the sad chime that reminded my mother of her grandfather and the annoying clock radio set between stations  all going off at about but not exactly the same moment– time slipped by anyway –the very time we were accounting for.

The thousands of old photographs framed on the dining room wall were mourning triggers. The clocks and watches were constant reminders that these happy times at the table vying for who might get the last piece of fried chicken would be over one day and even today would be gone in only a few hours. My father watched the clock for the last ten years of his life waiting for the game to be over–the game of knowing the hours, but not  knowing the time when there would be no more time.

Just alone--with time.
Just alone–with time.

And so it is with my writing. Graham Crenshaw gives watches to his children–in place of spending time with them. He gives Buck the special watch that belonged to his brother who died of dysentery during the war–the saintly brother who nursed the other men until there was no one left to nurse him in a crappy field hospital run by a disreputable doctor. Graham stays busy with projects and studies and doctoring–hoping to stop time. Stop the onslaught of death. To be a doctor and to hate death, to give timepieces that always come back to haunt him–this is Graham’s quiet torture. To take part in his children’s life means he’d have to mourn their passing from childhood into messy adulthood and maybe death, certainly death at some point.

As a writer I control death. I control time, that is, until my time comes.

A moment savored, but will it be remembered?
A moment savored, but will it be remembered?

For more about The Tenafly Road series:


Manhood: He Did Not Need to Advertise It

Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer

Sam Evans was that sort of great man noticed in his small circles and forgotten by history.  While others in his regiment fell out with sore feet and heads Sam marched on. His peers knew him as the man who took new recruits under his wing. Sam spent his spare time putting his blacksmith skills to work, fixing guns for his friends and such. He had integrity and heart and he seriously loved his parents who shaped him into who he was. We get to know him because he and his family were so good at keeping the letters coming and going.

Sam, dutiful eldest son, did not “advertise” his decision to run off and join the army. After watching one brother leave for medical school, another marry and move to Indiana and a third join the Union army, Sam (aged 27) went against his father’s wishes. Sam was a good kid. Without much schooling he’d taken to academics well enough to be given a school to teach. To please his father he learned everything there was to learn about the blacksmith trade like his father, but when his younger brother John Evans came home in  Union blues something in Sam stirred.

As he jostled in his family’s wagon, driving young John back to his regiment, Sam felt no great love for the “darkies.” He was for the Union because his father was for the Union, but something made him send the wagon home with a friend and join the army on the spot.

His mother nearly swooned, his girl looked “the most completely beaten” and his father, well, his father was spitting mad (as Sam suspected he would be). Now the home duties would fall squarely on the shoulders of Amos just coming of age! When before Sam had even seen a bullet he came down with the measles his father sent a pissy letter insinuating Sam was more a burden to the war effort than a help. Sam stood firm and while being nursed to health by a kindly old “darkie” in what was once a bawdy house, he must have smiled as he read the next more contrite letter from home about the entire Evans family suffering under the measles.

The Shirker, Winslow Homer
The Shirker, Winslow Homer

Sam was no shirk.  His first chance at bat, he coolly killed a rebel sneaking around camp before the Battle of Shiloh. When his comrades pulled back at the real fighting a few days later he didn’t notice and kept shooting. He wrote home saying he’d been scratched in the battle only later admitting to being shot. “A little wound does not amount to a hill of beans.”

As word of Sam’s great bravery and upbeat attitude made it home to Father, the older man’s hurt attitude toward his son softened into pride. Father quipped to son that much disease and affliction seemed to attack men in the community aged 18-45 preventing them from joining the brave boys at the front. Sam surely smiled at his father’s subtle compliment.

The higher-ups noticed Sam, too. They plucked him out for an assignment that would test his relationship to Father: How would Sam like to be promoted to lieutenant in a newly formed black regiment? First the hard swallow. Sam took note that his time in the military had changed his once ambivalent feelings toward black people (he’d once called a Republican friend a ‘Negroamus’). His views, like the views of many other white Americans had ‘evolved.’ There was no freedom for anyone if there was no freedom for the slave.

amerikaanse-burgeroorlog-winslow-homer-7Sam assumed at first that the men in his regiment would be inferior soldiers. He assured his father by saying it would be better to sacrifice black soldiers than white. This did not assure his father who acidly wrote that his son had sunk to a new low and hinted he’d be ashamed to tell friends and neighbors. “I’d rather clean out s–t houses . . . than take your position with pay.”

Stung, Sam wrote back, “So willing to accept a degraded position! The fact is you have never marched so far with a heavy load and sore feet as I, and have never noticed so plainly the privileges of a commissioned officer’s . . . Although you have rated me very low I think you are mistaken.” Sam continued even after this to write home.

Father soon wrote back chastened. He feared an officer leading a black regiment would be targeted. Neighbors didn’t shun the family for Sam’s actions. As the mood of the country changed, Sam’s bravery (and the bravery of the black soldiers) was celebrated. Even Father got active.

Once Sam sent a very tanned photo of himself home and quipped he was much suited for the regiment he was in. His men impressed him and did well. His father may have feared for his son’s life, but this is what Sam said: “If a man is a true Christian he can be but a brave man. We should meet danger in the full consciousness of its presence {fear of God} –calmly, steadily unfalteringly . . .one must be really honorable . . .A man with the assurance in his own breast that God has forgiven him is not afraid to die.”

By war’s end Father proudly worked and voted for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution and what of Sam? In 1867 he married a Margaret Shelton and had 8 children. He lived out his days in Ohio, never getting rich or being poor. His father adored him even more and he adored his father.

*****I am indebted to Joseph T. Glatthaar for writing the essay Duty, Country, Race and Party: the Evans family of Ohio published in the book: THE WAR WAS YOU AND ME. This post is a summary of his wonderful work.


Soil in the Garden of Eden

Jan Breughel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens - The garden of Eden
Jan Breughel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens – The garden of Eden

In the beginning was the Garden of Eden and then we blew it. God said, “Yep, I gave you guys free choice, so have at it in the real world. But, you know, because of your pride it’s gonna be kind of a pain to grow things the way I did for you–and you’re welcome, Adam. Women’s bodies are pretty great. Beauty is my thing.”

So Adam looked around. He waited for someone to tell him how to grow those awesome eggplants God used for his baba ganoush, but the elephants blew water in his face and Eve just moaned about morning sickness.

Adam wiped the sweat from his brow. “Okay, no need to panic. God gave me these heirloom seeds–don’t know what that means, but it’s all I got.”

A goat stood nearby.

“Hey, goat, any words of wisdom?” Adam asked. “I didn’t think so.”


As Adam sowed the seed, “some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.  And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.  And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.”

Adam and Eve had some children and Adam, still kinda thinking he might one day master the Master’s techniques, staked out all the fertile land on earth. He kept wondering why if the whales he and his children killed for blubber and light were so damned smart why didn’t they speak up? Yeah, some of his friends heard recordings of whale songs and stuff, but none of them wrote novels or anything. His friends began to clamor on the internet–humans suck! They need to be done away with for wrecking the soil, but Adam remembered how horrible he felt when one of his own was murdered by another.

cain abelAdam turned off his coffee maker, considering the electricity it used. He felt guilty about whale oil . He remembered how excited and happy people were when the first manufactured gas plants were built as a clean and efficient way of lighting the dreary streets (for God’s light still had not been fully understood and harnessed). He read Wikipedia:

“The manufacturing process for “synthetic fuel gases” (also known as “manufactured fuel gas”, “manufactured gas” or simply “gas”) typically consisted of the gasification of combustible materials, almost always coal, but also wood and oil. The coal was gasified by heating the coal in enclosed ovens with an oxygen-poor atmosphere. The fuel gases generated were mixtures of many chemical substances, including hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and ethylene, and could be burnt for heating and lighting purposes. Coal gas, for example, also contains significant quantities of unwanted sulfur and ammonia compounds, as well as heavy hydrocarbons, and so the manufactured fuel gases needed to be purified before they could be used.”

London, Pall Mall and Saint James Street by John Atkinson Grimshaw
London, Pall Mall and Saint James Street by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Adam hung his head in shame. Why had he not known that the clay soil he thought would protect the earth from the unwanted hydrocarbons was not sufficient and that Superfund clean-up crews would be needed  years after the last gaslights were extinguished? Maybe it was humans who needed to be purified before being used, he thought, but his pride had never been conquered and once again he set out to grow things on his own terms.

He’d find a way. He’d invent pesticides and fertilizers. He’d organize mass movements against pollution even as he used the technology that created the pollution. Things were getting out of hand, so he popped a few more pills to quell his growing anxiety at the state of the soil before heading to the beach.

Adam cried out on the edge of the dying sea near Fukishima. “Whales! Whales! Come close and tell me the secret of the soils and the fishes! If I worship you will nature come back?”

A Swell of the Ocean by Winslow Homer
A Swell of the Ocean by Winslow Homer

A whale surfaced. Its big, soulful eye expressed the groaning of all creation. Adam sat in the sand and wept. A small still voice came then. This voice was familiar though nearly forgotten. “I love every sparrow, every lily, every whale. Adam, you search and search for fertile soil. You deplete everything you touch. You’re not in Eden anymore and no amount of clicking your heals together is going to change that.”

“But why? Why didn’t the gas manufacturing work?” Adam asked. “Or the organic certification? Why won’t designer babies work? Anyone has to be better than Cain was. Why can’t I just grow those damn eggplants without bugs and bad weather? I added plenty of manure and compost!”

The voice said, “PRIDE.”


“In the Garden–remember? You wanted to be gods.”

“Yes,” Adam said ruefully.

“The opposite of pride is ENOUGH,” the voice said. “The opposite of pride is gratitude and generosity and love and with love there’s God.”

Adam jumped to his feet. “I waited for the trees to speak to me, but it’s you, isn’t it? God?”

“Yes. And with God all things are possible. Love the soil I made for you and love even the people who despise the soil. Gently plant seeds in them. It’s not too late to save the soil.”


Lori Fontanes at What The Ducks invited me to meditate on how we can save the stuff our food grows in. Any ideas or thoughts?

Blogger Action Day: Save the Soils

Another informative post about dirt!





Quarterbacks and Chickens

The Sick Chicken by Winslow Homer
The Sick Chicken by Winslow Homer

The holidays have come and gone with hours spent on the couch “marathoning” Friday Night Lights with my teenaged kids (we’re obsessed). My husband hasn’t quite been sucked in. He says: “I don’t have to watch a show about football; I’ve lived it.”

It’s funny how in fiction a paralyzed high school quarterback looks glamorous–even the marital problems on the show are adorable. I LOVE IT.

In real life  a girl doesn’t have a great hair day after almost being raped and high school boys aren’t 30-year-old ex models, but I just don’t care. I hate the word gritty when it comes to art and movies (at least in January I do). The Wire was a realistic show, but I couldn’t watch it. I’m not saying I like to read or watch fluff all the time, but I do like a sheen of unrealistic beauty cast over characters. Isn’t real life ugly enough?

Yesterday I finally went food shopping after  weeks of eating cookies. I bought tons of lettuce. In the fictionalized version of my life I  would  have some lettuce growing in a raised bed. In the fiction world I wouldn’t have come home from Walmart (which is depressing in itself) to find an eerie quiet cast over our farm. Heading down to the barn I wouldn’t have noticed Gluck-Gluck (my favorite chicken) wandering around by herself.

Chicken guarding courtesy of Pinterest
Chicken guarding courtesy of Pinterest

In real life I picked her up and brought her to the coop. Only two chickens inside. Off in the distance I spotted the orange body of another chicken and then another and another. I found a scared and badly injured hen face-first in a rotting pile of hay trying to hide as bitter cold wind lashed her feathers. I carried her home, made her comfortable in an old coat and tucked her in a barrel. Thirteen chickens were carried off or left dead.

They say that once  chickens panic it drives  hungry foxes into a killing frenzy. In the snow there were signs of flapping wings in struggle, chicken prints and the prints of a fox following right along side.

Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer

This sort of thing happens often enough in life and it’s hard to find any beauty or shine in it all. People get crippled. Foxes go on feeding frenzies. Yet . . . in fiction (the kind I like) there’s hope. The wheelchair-bound athlete becomes a coach and sports agent. Gluck-Gluck the chicken manages an escape against all odds and maybe, just maybe the chicken sleeping next to the fire dies in peace instead of terror.

Evil always wins through the strength of its stupid dupes; and there has in all ages been a disastrous alliance between abnormal innocence and abnormal sin. GK Chesterton

The Milk Maid, Winslow Homer
The Milk Maid, Winslow Homer

Sometimes it’s hard to read history. We look back wringing our hands. If only! If only!

I want to write about love and hope. I want to find people from the past to admire, but that is for another day. Today I sit at my computer having just milked my goats and fed my chickens. The sparrows chirp outside the window and the trees are ablaze with color, but I can’t stop thinking about damned eugenics.

Culling the unfit. Good farmers are supposed to ruthlessly do this. I suck as a farmer.

I wish when I read about the homeless, illiterate people hired to wear placards in the 1920’s that read:

I am a burden to myself and the state.

Should I be allowed to propagate?

I have no opportunity to educate or feed my children.

They may become criminals.

Would the prisons and asylums be filled if my kind

had no children?

I cannot read this sign.

By what right have I children?

that this was a sorry little story from our past.

What if we loved them instead?
What if we loved them instead?

But it’s not over. I hate bad news. I hate controversy. I don’t even want to post this, but if it’s true . . .

Before the Nazis, British and American women were hunted down to be sterilized. Babies were left to die because they seemed unfit. My stomach turns because so many of the reasons for sterilization,  birth control and mass murder came from the hearts and minds of people who used science to work out their loathing of the human race.

After talking to my mother this week I’m not sure how I even came to be. My grandmother was sexually promiscuous (reason enough for some state authorities to sterilize her). My great grand mother on the other side was signed in to a mental institution by her daughter and when my great grandfather couldn’t get her released he killed himself. For a while my mother lived in a hovel and was considered dirty white trash as she read the classics by candlelight. Quite possibly I’m very unfit.

Forced sterilization continues. I don’t want to believe any of it is true. I ask myself as I read UN documents if I’ve missed something. I want evil stories to be debunked. If we’re just random living things then I guess it doesn’t really matter–but it matters to me.

Can people really be okay with this?

“War and famine would not do. Instead, disease offered the most efficient and fastest way to kill the billions that must soon die if the population crisis is to be solved. AIDS is not an efficient killer because it is too slow. My favorite candidate for eliminating 90 percent of the world’s population is airborne Ebola (Ebola Reston), because it is both highly lethal and it kills in days, instead of years. “We’ve got airborne diseases with 90 percent mortality in humans. Killing humans. Think about that. “You know, the bird flu’s good, too. For everyone who survives, he will have to bury nine”.
Dr. Eric Pianka University of Texas evolutionary ecologist and lizard expert, showed solutions for reducing the world’s population to an audience on population control

“Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind”.
Theodore Roosevelt

“It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind….Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

“Malthus has been vindicated; reality is finally catching up with Malthus. The Third World is overpopulated, it’s an economic mess, and there’s no way they could get out of it with this fast-growing population. Our philosophy is: back to the village”.
Dr. Arne Schiotz, World Wildlife Fund Director of Conservation, stated such, ironically, in 1984.

A total world population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal”.
Ted Turner, in an interview with Audubon magazine

“There is a single theme behind all our work–we must reduce population levels. Either governments do it our way, through nice clean methods, or they will get the kinds of mess that we have in El Salvador, or in Iran or in Beirut. Population is a political problem. Once population is out of control, it requires authoritarian government, even fascism, to reduce it….” “Our program in El Salvador didn’t work. The infrastructure was not there to support it. There were just too goddamned many people…. To really reduce population, quickly, you have to pull all the males into the fighting and you have to kill significant numbers of fertile age females….” The quickest way to reduce population is through famine, like in Africa, or through disease like the Black Death….”
Thomas Ferguson, State Department Office of Population Affairs

“In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill…. But in designating them as the enemy, we fall into the trap of mistaking symptoms for causes. All these dangers are caused by human intervention and it is only through changed attitudes and behavior that they can be overcome. The real enemy, then, is humanity itself”.
Alexander King, Bertrand Schneider – Founder and Secretary, respectively, The Club of Rome, The First Global Revolution, pgs 104-105, 1991

“A cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells; the population explosion is an uncontrolled multiplication of people…. We must shift our efforts from the treatment of the symptoms to the cutting out of the cancer. The operation will demand many apparently brutal and heartless decisions”.
Stanford Professor, Paul Ehrlich in The Population Bomb

“In order to stabilize world population, we must eliminate 350,000 people per day. It is a horrible thing to say, but it is just as bad not to say it”.
J. Cousteau, 1991 explorer and UNESCO courier

“I believe that human overpopulation is the fundamental problem on Earth Today” and, “We humans have become a disease, the Humanpox”.
Dave Foreman, Sierra Club and co founder of Earth First!

We must speak more clearly about sexuality, contraception, about abortion, about values that control population, because the ecological crisis, in short, is the population crisis. Cut the population by 90% and there aren’t enough people left to do a great deal of ecological damage.”
Mikhail Gorbachev

Is it wrong for me to wonder why population control advocates don’t just kill themselves first? Are they too valuable?

Here is the real history of the world: Good and evil exist. If we really knew how to love, population would not be an issue. Mass slaughter (whether it’s done slowly or in spectacular fashion) has never improved anything!

I read the past in Dennis Sewell’s disturbing book The Political Gene and see the future all too clearly!This guy isn’t some fringe nut job. He has credentials and his book is backed by tons of documents. I wish he were a nut job.

We’ve not escaped the evil of eugenics. I want to go back to the Gilded Age when culling and breeding and unfit humanity were just  germs of an idea in the Darwin family tree, before George Bernard Shaw,  HG Wells,  Oliver Wendell Holmes,  Margaret Sanger and Bill Gates embraced their own arrogant superiority. Before they all complained that dumb-ass Americans who still believed in the fairytale of humans created in the image of God and  endowed with unalienable rights (LIFE being one of them) kept them from their scientific agenda.

There is no such thing as progress. Every generation must choose between good and evil.

Who will be the new GK Chesterton? Maybe it needs to be you and me.

Please read this book.
Please read this book.

Quotes from

Here’s a democrat woman who sees the future–what do you think?