Tag Archives: NSU Folklife Festival

Still Writing…Sometimes and Getting the Machinery Ready for Heavy Lifting

The shoulder is still recovering, I can get about two or three good hours of typing each day before it just hurts too badly to continue. I’m 1/3 to 1/2 the way through three books and just getting started on one of the most exciting writing projects I’ve ever done (more about that at another time).

I had to miss the Natchitoches – NSU Folklife Festival in July because it was still in pretty bad shape. I couldn’t autograph books at that point and, even more importantly, I couldn’t carry the boxes of them into the facility. 

In the meantime, Karren has dragged me all over the US in August to see the total eclipse. Apparently to a science geek it is worth the 14+ hours of driving and the heat so you could get an extra 30 seconds of a total eclipse.

Without question it was cool, and it was a “check off” of her bucket list, so it was worth it.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be posting about some trips we’ve taken, things I remember from the kids growing up, and anything else I can think of to help loosen the writing muscles up again. I was afraid the concussion might have been worse than I originally thought because I lost most of about two or three weeks there and have little gaps still, but I’m back into being able to recover minute trivia quickly and I’m sure I’ll be okay.

So, please bear with me as I get rolling again. I’ll try not to bore you and if you have anything you would like to har about, just let me know!

New Books Coming Soon!

I’ve gotten a few communications on my annual appearance at the Natchitoches/NSU Folklife Festival and whether I will have any new books there and I thought I’d do a short post.

We have an anthology we have put together of some older (pre-1920s) pieces concerning Louisiana as well as the poems from the collection I’m still working on. Also included in the anthology will be the full version of The Bottle Tree, which will also be available as a standalone book. 

In addition, we are working to get a couple of other books together using pre-1920s works which we thought were interesting. Karren is coming across these while helping me do research for my novel, Louisiana, which is still a ways off.

Hopefully, I’ll also have the second book in the Junebug series completed. The title is Junebug and the Monkey. I’m about 25,000+ words into it (100 pages or so) but that’s only about a third finished. For some reason this books is fighting me as hard as I’m fighting it. As many of you know, I’ve always felt that the characters in my book come to visit and sit with me to tell their story but in this case they just won’t come to visit. Still, with any luck it’ll be ready for the festival which is July 15-16, 2016.

I hope to see all of you there!

Big Thanks to the Folks at Kisatchie National Forest and the US Forest Service

Kisatchie National Forest-2As anyone who reads my books, my website, or knows me personally, my family has been "inextricably intertwined" (a legal term that applies in other situations) with Natchitoches Parish and the Kisatchie National Forest area in Louisiana since settlers began appearing in the area. I kicked around an idea for a book for years before choosing to set The Bottle Tree in a turpentine camp that actually existed in Kisatchie in the early 1900s.

Every time I visit Natchitoches I can feel the woods/forest calling and I love hitting the back trails and roads in there, walking occasionally and riding the rest, and visiting place I've been going to since I was old enough to walk for a while and then be carried by my grandfather or uncle the rest of the way.

On my last visit, my Uncle Mike and I were driving the back roads and a turkey suddenly darted out of the woods and then slowed to amble across the dirt road in front of us. He stopped the car and I shot a short video of the hen while waiting for others to appear since she acted like she might have been a part of a larger flock following her. We didn't see any more but did get to watch her for several minutes (video coming soon!).

I had heard the wild turkeys were making a comeback in the forest and then I spoke to my uncle again last week and he said he had seen a Bobwhite Quail not far from there just a few days before. I remember when I was a kid, many, many years ago, and we'd go out there with a relative of ours, Bud Gandy, who loved quail hunting and he'd always find plenty. It wasn't unusual for us to bust a covey during our walks through the woods (and when you're always expecting rattlesnakes, a covey of quail busting out from under your feet is a truly exhilarating experience) but over the years the Bobwhite and the turkeys had virtually disappeared. 

During one of our exploring trips last year we'd walked up on a section of the forest where there were a number of pine trees with large white painted sections on them, metal strips nailed around the tree (to prevent climbing animals) and holes drilled a ways up the tree with sap running down. Not far from those we found what we originally thought might have been a small trap on the ground with fencing running in four directions leading into it. We thought it might have been a quail trap so someone could take a count of the numbers.

What we found out was that the trap was actually one designed not for quail but for "America's Rarest Snake", Louisiana's Pine Snake, a number of which were released back into its natural range there in Kisatchie by the Forest Service (for more info on this see this article).

Red-cockaded Woodpecker NCM11002

The holes in the trees were part of an effort to improve habitat for the Red Cockaded Woodpeckers in the area (see article here). Interestingly, the Red Cockaded Woodpecker has significantly less red on their head than the other species in the area but to anyone who sees one flying, they still fly in the distinctive up and down woodpecker flight motion.

Those are just a few of the huge number of animals the good folks at the forest service are doing such a great job of protecting.

As I stop by various lookout points and springs, many of which most people don't know anything about, I was struck by the fact that I could have been standing on an area that my grandfather worked on when he was living at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp located near where the Kisatchie visitor's center is now located since many of the roads, trails, and other feature were created by those men trying to work their way out of the Great Depression.

I'll be back in Natchitoches for the NSU Folklife Festival on July 17-18 (if you're in the area stop by the festival and say hello), but I suspect that I'll either get there a day early or stay a day or two afterwards to hit the woods again. I'm a lot older, a lot fatter, my back hurts, and my knees ache from all the motorcycle wrecks I had back in my youth (many of them in Kisatchie) but I always feel a little better no matter how tired I am, how out of shape, or how hot it gets when I get back to my roots.

I want to thank the US Forest Service and particularly those people who work out in the Kisatchie National Forest area for what they are doing there. I know that when I have grand-children I'll be able to take them to the same trails, eat huckleberries off of the same huckleberry bushes, and fish in the same fishing holes as my family has been doing for two hundred or more years. The turkeys I see, the Bobwhite Quail I hear whistling, and the rattlesnakes I watch out for, will likely be the descendants of the same ones that roamed the woods and my ancestors saw. 

Without people choosing to be the stewards for the rest of us, working hard, not making enough money, but caring about the area and the environment all of those things might not be here now or might not be here in the future.

Thanks.

Johnny Robinson and The Bottle Tree

Many of those who are reading this post have read The Bottle Tree and may already know the story of Johnny Robinson but I'm going to repeat it here anyway and then discuss what the post is really about.

Johnny was a young man I went to school with at Provencal School in Louisiana. I went there from Kindergarten through Second Grade and then went back to visit anytime I was in Louisiana and school was in session. 

Johnny was my first African American friend and I'm pretty sure that the friendship with him when I was young made race much less of an issue with me than it was with many of my peers.

I hadn't seen him in years but when I started writing The Bottle Tree I named one of the main characters after Johnny. Last year when the book was published I started looking for him so I could let him know what I'd done and just to reconnect.

Unfortunately, another childhood friend of mine let me know that Johnny had passed away from cancer the year before.

This trip in for the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival, I came in early so I'd have a chance to go by and take a copy of the book to his mother. Doris Robinson.

Ms. Doris still lives in the same house where Johnny was raised and I made the trip today to visit with her for a little while. She told me all about Johnny's life since he'd graduated and about his last days. I also learned it was her birthday today. I was happy to present her a copy of The Bottle Tree and will make it a point to go back and see her when I come back "home" to Natchitoches.

Below is a picture of Ms. Doris Robinson and me, sitting on her front porch and she has her copy of The Bottle Tree in her hand. The other picture is the memorial handout from Johnny's funeral.

This comes the week after the verdict in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case and I can't help but think maybe things would have been different if Mr. Zimmerman and/or Mr. Martin would have had the chance to get to know each other in a situation like Johnny and I did.

 

Doris Robinson and Robert D. Bennett johnny robinson

Appearance Date – July 20 & 21 Louisiana Folklife Festival in Natchitoches, La.

For anyone that's interested in attending I will be at the Louisiana Folklife Festival at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La. (my alma mater in my home town) on July 20 &21 2012. 

I should have printed copies of all three of my books available, autographs on the books at no extra charge of course, as well as a table with information on the lore surrounding bottle trees as well as on the history of turpentine and logging camps.

I have attended the Folklife Festival on a number of occasions as a visitor and was always impressed with the native artists there as well as the music and, perhaps even better, the food.

You can find more about the Folklife Festival at their website http://louisianafolklife.nsula.edu/ and I urge you all to come visit even if it's not to see me. The festival is always great!