Saturday, January 14, 2012

Berries Going

In the gray light, I see that the bright red berries of the Nandina bushes are almost all eaten up.  A mourning dove coos.

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Classes, New Books, Need One Like Mine?

Hi friends of reading and writing,

I just got a packet of books from the SDSU bookstore for the classes I'm about to take.  And I've been re-reading the three for the two classes I'm teaching at Pomona this semester.  New books smell so good, look so good, and feel so good.  If anyone out there is teaching something where you could use an inexpensive book to show women can have both family and career in science, take a look at my memoir, Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling (  It's priced to be a feasible course supplement for people who want to discuss issues for women in science.  I am willing to send you a text sample free if you email me about your course or library or whatever venue at  It was just reviewed in BioScience (BIOS) by Emily Schmitt.  My main goal is to open doors and windows for young women who aren't sure they can balance both family and a science career.   Keep reading, keep enjoying books, 2012 is off to a good start, book-wise!

cheers, Laura

Small Stone 13--Mint Awakening

Beneath the network of bare branches on the plum tree, sprigs of mint leap into life with lime-green shoots. I crush one leaf and inhale its sharp sweetness.

This is my 13th small stone.  Scroll down to find out more about the January River of Stones or Google "Writing Our Way Home."

PS Friday the 13th is lucky for me; hope it's lucky for you too.   

Thursday, January 12, 2012

12th Small Stone: Bare Trunks

Bare trunks of three sycamores in the median echo V, V and more V as the branches rise and divide.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Moss-Grass Armistice Line, 11th small stone

Chartreuse moss versus green grass, the armistice line runs from the Ceanothus to the fence.  The swelling buds on the California lilac match the moss.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Hampshire Election Realities

I wanted to see the Vietnam War ended and the draft ended in the late 1960s.  As a twenty-something student, I went to New Hampshire many weekends in late 1967, working for Eugene McCarthy in the Democratic primary to be held in January, 1968.  I wore holes in my woolen gloves shuffling voter cards as I went door-to-door with informational brochures and follow-up answers to voters’ questions about McCarthy’s positions on local issues.  I was colder than I’d ever been in my life, visiting one more house, and then just one more before returning to the storefront headquarters to warm up with strong coffee.  I slept on the floors of churches, Dartmouth professors’ homes, storefront offices.  I learned a lesson that appears to be as true today as it was then.

To me, the opposition to the Vietnam War was the big issue that separated my candidate from Lyndon Johnson.  But the New Hampshire voters wanted to know details of each candidate’s thinking on many issues.  It was the first time I encountered voters seeking so much information as the basis for voting.  I’m sure my parents in North Carolina read the papers and made thoughtful decisions, but we never discussed it so I was unaware of their ways of getting ready to vote.  Presenting a candidate in New Hampshire, to voter after voter who was well informed, interested, and actively seeking to make the best possible decision, I found something special: the basic wish of American voters to do the right thing. 

In 2012, I was curious to see, in these digital days, whether this dynamic had changed.  In my view, it has not.  Candidates who spent a lot of time and used a lot of volunteers working door-to-door in New Hampshire, convinced voters.  It was not so much the big PAC money for TV ads as it was caring enough to organize on the ground, to find the answers to the voters’ real questions, that counted.  I am cheered that New Hampshire voters have continued this tradition.  They are bedrock Americans.  More power to them.

10th Small Stone: Sycamore and Sparrows

The sycamore tree has a few leaves, brown star-shapes against the blue sky.  Many sparrows perch on its branches, having a morning gossip.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ninth Small Stone--Sycamore Leaves

Six sycamore leaves, saucer to dinner plate sizes, fly by flipping madly in the wind, disappear into Aileen’s yard.  A hummingbird pips and circles, then perches on a bare branch where the leaves used to live.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bonus 8th #smallstone: Sunset Palms

Hi river of stones readers/writers,
I could not resist capturing one more small stone as my husband and I drove through the sunset tonight.
cheers, Laura

Clear yellow sky with a band of mauve clouds, then a band of dark purple ones.  Compact tops of three tall palms reach up to touch the mauve layer, black silhouettes of fans against the bright sky.

Interruption of the Rivulet of Small Stones for Long Sentences

Hello friends of reading and writing,

I'll be back with more small stones tomorrow.  Steve Silberman wrote on Twitter about an interview with author, Pico Iyer,  in praise of long sentences.  
Here is a bit of his thinking, "What we crave is something that will free us from the overcrowded moment and allow us to see it in a larger light. No writer can compete, for speed and urgency, with texts or CNN news flashes or RSS feeds, but any writer can try to give us the depth, the nuances — the "gaps," as Annie Dillard calls them — that don't show up on many screens. Not everyone wants to be reduced to a sound bite or a bumper sticker. "
I think he speaks for a lot of writers, who hope their words resonate in long term memory, instead of passing through on a one-second flight to nowhere.  He goes on to quote some favorite long sentences, none from my own favorite exponent of the art, W.G. Sebald, but one from Annie Dillard that I plan to quote at the end of this posting.

Why not use long sentences?  People do claim they are left breathless, but they should just breathe at the commas!  I do.  Or they say the sentence is unclear.  As Iyer points out, Proust can take us through space and through character changes, all within the same sentence.  There is no rule that a sentence must be self-consistent, thank goodness.  I like to use a long sentence sometimes when my characters are going somewhere in a car, or walking down the hall.  They aren't busy, so I can let the sentence pile up tiny insights they've accumulated and prepare for a change of heart or an outburst of feeling.

It's important to make the sentences clear, though.  If you tend to lose the verb tense or mix up the modifiers, then use adjectival phrases to accumulate thoughts, or you'll make us think you believe that time travels both ways and that trees can think, or some such mishmash.  But consider having fun with long sentences that take us deeper into meaning or confusion, wherever you need us to go.

Here is the promised quotation from Dillard, about a winged maple seed.

"I threw it into the wind and it flew off again, bristling with animate purpose, not like a thing dropped or windblown, pushed by the witless winds of convection currents hauling round the world's rondure where they must, but like a creature muscled and vigorous, or a creature spread thin to that other wind, the wind of the spirit which bloweth where it listeth, lighting, and raising up, and easing down."

Doesn't that sentence take you to a place vis-a-vis maple seeds that you've never been before?  Try long sentences in your own writing!

Eighth small stone: Pyrocantha Surprise

The pyrocantha shines with color, gold and green leaves, red berries.  I step up close and seven brown wrens explode from the bush, chittering.  Surprise!  More than meets the eye.