Two Hearts, Two Libraries

Releasing well-loved books into the wild


One of the best things my parents ever bought me was a $3 library card. I grew up in Mount Carmel, Tennessee and after I read all the books in the library there (it was a very, very small library) my Mom and Dad scraped together three precious dollars and let me get a card for the Kingsport, Tennessee library.

It was a magnificent place. A temple to reading. They would allow me to check out 12 books at a time. It was there I discovered that Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were not the best books Mark Twain wrote. Not even close. I read them all, including Letters from the Earth, the book his estate would not allow to be published until all of his friends and family died. After plowing through Twain, I would find an author I liked, start with his or her first book, and read them all.

I didn’t know that in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, there was a young woman doing the same thing.

Long before we met we engaged in the same passions. We are readers. Challenging books. Travel books. Art histories. I read contemporary American fiction. She reads books about the great world religions and art history. We both take pleasure in reading. The sacred ceremonial art of it. A cup of coffee or tea. A cocktail or a glass of wine or port. A comfortable chair. Good light. On many mornings, long before we found each other, we would wake in empty beds with only the book we were reading the night before splayed out on the covers. Ravaged.

We were both farm-raised. These books have been our constant companions. Before we actually traveled the world, we traveled the universe in our own minds with books in our hands. She moved her library to college, Los Angeles and back and then to the home we share in Nashville. I moved my library to college, then to Nashville and from home to home to home there and finally to reside with her books.

Three years ago, we got married and combined our libraries. We didn’t go through the books then but, because we are moving, we decided to give away most of the books.

We read electronic books now, access quotes and do research online, listen to audio books. We both hate clutter. We kept about 200 books. Books we love. Family Bibles. The best Quran we had out of the multiple ones we had collected separately. Some classics. Thoughtful gifts from friends and family. We found two copies of several books we had both read before we met. I kept hardbacks by Hemingway, Mailer, Hunter Thompson, Ayn Rand and a few more authors. She kept books by her favorite writers and books that were particularly important to her.

Today, I took 580 of them to a place that buys and sells used books.

It occurs to me that because we have each other now, perhaps we are not as reliant on these silent companions as we once were. Maybe that’s why we were able to let them go. We didn’t discard them. We set them free.

Perhaps they will be a comfort to others. Those books need to go live out their lives as we will, in the company of good people, good books, good conversation and with the occasional glass of wine. We hope those books are loved by their new owners as we loved them and as we now love each other.

Finding Fletcher Ridge


My people are from the rough and lovely mountains of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee. Up in those hollows, where you hail from matters. Who your people are is also of considerable import. Some of my ancestors were from a place called Fletcher Ridge.

One Sunday afternoon, my Dad and I decided to try to find Fletcher Ridge. In the days before Google mapped the world, finding a place was more difficult that hitting a button on your phone. There were few street signs and vast swaths of unmapped area.

Directions offered by store keeps and gas station attendants usually involved phrases like “that big oak” or “a big red barn set back from the road” or “Junior Johnson’s place” or “where that big Chestnut used to stand.” If you didn’t understand those directions then, truth is, you probably shouldn’t be up in the mountains to start with and you might want to go back home before somebody gets the idea you are from the federal government and decides to run you in a ditch, or worse.

We drove from Mount Carmel, through Kingsport and on through the known world. We passed through Gate City, then up the valley toward Nickelsville, then a quick right up Big Moccasin, then up, up, up into the mountains. Unmarked roads. Some paved. Some with shot gravel. Some plain dirt.

We went up and down ridges, into dark hollows and through vast stands of virgin timber. We did not find Fletcher Ridge. We were both disappointed. As I drove, I said to my Dad, “Well, it’s not like we are going to come around a corner and there’s going to be a big sign that says ‘Welcome to Fletcher Ridge.’

He agreed and we decided to head home and in that moment, in that exact instant, we came around a curve and there, up in a guy’s yard, was a homemade wooden sign.

Fletcher Ridge

I got on the brakes hard and pulled over. We were stunned to silence. Then we started laughing. Fletcher’s love to laugh. I got out and took some pictures. We admired the guy’s handiwork including the wooden dog he carved with its own sign – Bad Dog.

A photo of that sign and dog has been on the wall of my office for some 20 years. It doesn’t mean much these days, except to me and a handful of Fletchers, Owens, Blevins, Cortners, Herndons and Jesses.

Fletcher Ridge. Perhaps now it only exists in my imagination. A high place in the mountains. A place where the truth matters. A place where people keep their word. A place of honor and justice. A place where you are expected to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. A place where almost everybody can tell a good story, or play a guitar or sing a pretty good acapella version of Amazing Grace.

One day soon I’m going to go looking for Fletcher Ridge again. Maybe Google found it. Maybe my brother will go with me, or my Mom. Maybe we will take some ham biscuits with us and have lunch by a creek. Maybe we will find it. Maybe we won’t. It will make a good story either way.

A Rumination On Silence


Even the word is a rebuke to its meaning
Full of sibilance and a hard press of wind
between the teeth
That’s better.
Is it possible to speak about silence?
Isn’t the act itself a rebuke to the subject?
I once read the words of a great jazz musician
who said
Writing about music
Is like dancing about architecture.
And so
Isn’t speaking about silence
like painting about nothingness
or sculpting about nature?
One of the most
devastatingly effective prayers
I ever heard
was on the subject of silence.
The pastor
a bit of a rogue
prayed a bit and then said in the hushed tones of prayerfulness
we were to be silent
but rather than the ten or fifteen seconds of silence
considered acceptable in a Methodist gathering
one long minute passed
and then another
well, it was awkward.
By the time his voice was lifted
into the rafters of the old church
I was having to suppress laughter
while coughing and sneezing and squirming in the pews
reached a fever pitch.
They were not amused
but he was
and I was
and we are still friends.

Saving Steps


On the little farm in Mount Carmel we had a few chickens so that we would have fresh eggs.

Every morning one of the little chores that we would have to do before we went to school was gathering the eggs that had been laid by the chickens the night before.

We had a little chicken house about 100 feet down the hill from the back of the house. Every morning one of us would take a little straw basket down to the hen house and gather up the eggs. Usually there would be five or six eggs. Sometimes more. Sometimes less.

One morning I was getting ready to go to school and I was pretty excited because I had some brand new blue jeans.

New blue jeans were a bit of an event around our house. We didn’t always have enough money to buy new clothes and it really meant something when you got a new pair of blue jeans. I still remember those jeans. They were so dark and blue and had copper rivets at some of the stress points. I was real proud of those jeans and pretty excited to have them. I was so excited that I forgot to take the egg basket with me when I went to get the eggs.

When I got down to the hen house I had a real problem because there was a bumper crop of eggs that morning and I didn’t have the egg basket. I got all the eggs out and there were nine of them. I could get two eggs in each hand so I realized that meant two or three trips up and down the hill even if I got the basket.

Then I noticed the nice big pockets in my blue jeans. Ahhhhh. Problem solved.

I started stuffing the eggs in the pockets of my new jeans. Nine eggs? No problem.

I started walking up to the house pretty pleased with myself that I had solved my problem without having to make extra trips. What I didn’t count on was the steps leading up to the back porch. I went trotting up those back steps and I heard “pop pop pop” around my thighs. I immediately realized I had broken some of the eggs and big tears started coming to my eyes.

I walked into the kitchen and presented myself to my Mom who wasn’t upset at all about the eggs. She tried to make me feel better as she stripped those jeans off of me and started cleaning up the eggs. She said she would wash the jeans for me and I could wear them the next day. I was devastated. I went back to the room I shared with my brother, picked out some of my old britches and put them on and went off to school.

I wore my new jeans the next day but they weren’t quite as nice and new as they were the day before. I learned a valuable lesson that day about the consequences of trying to save a few steps.