Wednesday, December 31, 2014

on this year's dying day

on this year's dying day
a yearling doe laid down in the woods
on three legs to die

I'm scanning the trail closely, uneven with frozen muddy tracks strewn with trip sticks. Easy to turn an ankle. Everywhere, an earthy palette of browns and grays. Suddenly, a patch of white. I squat to examine what looks like a mesh of white plastic fibers. But when I touch them, I realize it's deer fur.

Looking up I finally see, just an arm's length away, a dead deer, a small yearling doe. She's lying on her side, her neck curled around a small bush, three legs stretched out as if she's running. But she's missing her right hind leg, the bare hip bone protrudes from her fur.

          Fur everywhere. Some animal has been at work on the hind end of the corpse. Hard to know the cause of death. Perhaps she got hit by a car on the nearby highway and managed to hobble into the woods to die. Or maybe this small one got hamstrung and brought down by coyotes.
          The words of an old Shapenote song come to me: "And am I born to die, to lay my body down." Certainly birth is a death sentence. But life is a rare opportunity to experience this material world, in all its messiness and glory. Then when it's time, the body wants to go back to the earth from where it came, while the spirit, well, the spirit doesn't go anywhere. It's where it's always been and always will be, just no longer attached to the physical body.
          This little one didn't live long in the world, but she must have learned a lot, enough to move on. So I leave her flesh to be consumed by wild animals until only her bones are left to lie among the decaying leaves and fallen trees. Then I too move on down the trail.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

ICONic desserts

ICONic desserts
in the study, coats upstairs,
art in every room

I almost had to beg Bill Teeple, my art teacher and director of ICON gallery, to let me donate something for the annual art auction. He graciously explained that he doesn't like to ask his students, but I wanted to make a contribution to keep the gallery financially afloat. Since I'm not among the many professional artists in the show, we were both pleased that three of my four pieces sold, a small gouache painting and two Peruvian photographs. I guess that makes me, what, semi-professional?
          As a result, I've been invited for the first time to the traditional thank-you dinner for donors. My husband and I arrive at 7:20, a time I feel is reasonably on time and fashionably a little late. However, when we pull up to the house, lit up with a big ICON auction sign by the front walk, no cars are parked on the street. Inside, no one in sight, except a dour lady in a painting on the hall wall. 
          "Hello?" I call.
          A short lady wearing an apron and a page boy haircut bustles out from the back of the house and gestures toward the narrow black staircase. 
          "Randy's upstairs changing."
          "Are we early?" I ask, knowing the answer.
          "Well, it's supposed to start at 7:30," she replies, then hastens to add, "but everyone will be glad that you're here first."
          I'm staring at the neatly lettered signs with arrows directing guests: ICONic desserts (right), Food (left), Coats and Lavatory (up).
          A slender man with a long face topped by short grey hair bounds down the stairs and stops in surprise.
          After introducing ourselves, I explain that we thought the dinner started at 7:00.
          "No problem. Put your coats upstairs, then come have a drink in the kitchen." 

          At the top of the stairs, more signs point to two bedrooms for coats. Everything is so scrupulously neat, it looks like a Bed and Breakfast. In the bedroom to the right, John opens the closet. Empty. Not even any hangers. So we put our coats on the bed. I'm looking at the art work on every wall, each piece neatly labeled with the name of the art piece and the artist, all Iowa artists. 

          Our host is waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs when we come down.
          "Are you an artist?" I ask. 
          "No, I just collect art."
          We're still the only guests, so he escorts us to the kitchen along the hallway, lined with small pencil drawings in large black frames.
          "Ah, I see you collect Bill Teeple."
          "Yes, that's six of the nine."
          More artwork on all the walls of the kitchen, as well as the counters. On one counter, buckets of bottled drinks, each labeled, but Randy rattles off the contents: spring water, fizzy juice, beer, wine. On another counter, stainless steel urns for coffee, decaf coffee and hot water, labeled of course. There's also a can of cocoa with instructions for how to make hot chocolate. And two tiny exquisite paintings of a pear and a cluster of rose hips.
          I choose a bottle of pomegranate juice, pour it into a clear plastic cup and wander off to explore the rest of the house. In the dining room, two 18th century paintings of what I assume are family portraits stare across the dining table at one large abstract collage. A floor lamp in one corner wears a red scarf around its neck.

          I feel like I'm in an art gallery rather than a home. The walls in every room in the vintage clapboard are painted with rich colors, contrasting with the cream colored woodwork. An antique wooden desk in the study holds a large Chinese porcelain platter. In the corner of the living room, an antique Chinese screen. Even the front window looks like abstract art, the white lines of Venetian blinds hovering over the blurred lights in the darkness outside.

          Every table in every room holds either a plate of cookies and chocolates or cheese and crackers arranged like a still life: a large wedge of Camembert, a square of Blue cheese, a roll of cheddar studded with bits of pecan, thin crackers, a bunch of white grapes, a jar of fig jam with a paper cover and a silver knife and spoon. 
          Seeing me eye the cheese in the small parlor, Randy says, "Try this. Put a bit of Blue on a sesame cracker and top it with a dab of fig jam. Delicious!"
          Finally, other guests begin arriving, so I stop taking photographs. When Bill arrives I follow him into the kitchen, where he takes up a station in a chair in front of the kitchen sink. It's an odd place to sit, since the lady in the apron and a woman from the restaurant are busy setting up for the catered dinner. 
          "Randy is quite an art collector," I comment.
          "Yes, that's a piece by a well-known Washington artist in the dining room. His mother owned a horse farm in Virginia. When she passed on he sold the farm.
That's where the money comes from. Then he moved to Fairfield."

          "Thank goodness there are people like that who support local artists."
          Bill tells me that my photographs went to two local people, but my painting was purchased by a couple in Wisconsin, one of whom is an art collector. Bill took photos of all the artwork in the show with him when he went to visit them in November, and out of a couple of hundred pieces, they chose mine. I'm flattered. When it comes to art, you never know what's going to appeal to people. 
          After a while, it's clear that we're in the way of the food servers, who are trying to get silverware out of a drawer and use the sink. Dinner is ready, so we move into the dining room to serve ourselves from the warming trays: curried chicken, curried tofu, steamed vegetables, rice and beans. Then I look for a place to sit and eat. People are sitting and standing to eat everywhere. Finally I find a large chair in the living room.
          A tall girl with cafe au lait skin and long matted brown locks sits down next to me. She's wearing a low cut sleeveless top which reveals graceful spiral tattoos embracing her neck and a pink lotus floating between her breasts, the green stem disappearing down the cleft. I wonder where it ends up. Maybe it emerges from her navel, or perhaps the root chakra.
          But instead of voicing that question, I ask, "Are you an artist?"
          "No, I'm here as a guest of an artist."
          "Well, you're a walking piece of art," I reply. 
          "Yes, I like to wear my art."
          With or without clothes . . . .
          Her artist friend arrives, a short man with a round face dressed all in black. As he sits down next to the lotus girl, his eyes travel to that cleft and pause a moment before he turns his attention to his plate of food.
          The house is teeming with people now, chatting in little groups in every room and hallway. I hardly know anyone. I recognize my photography teacher and her husband, our neighbor across the road whose handmade book graces the mantle, and an artist who has her own little gallery. I'm not good at small talk, so I wander around people-watching, an art show in motion.
          In the kitchen a big man dressed like an old hippie in loose layers, lots of beads and one thin gray braid hanging over his shoulder is talking animatedly to a young girl in skin-tight purple jeans who sports a ring with a turquoise stone almost as long as her finger. She's wearing a long sleeve black bolero jacket over a green tank top. When she moves her arm to sip her drink, a small crescent of bare skin shows between the jacket and the tank top. The man flicks his eyes to the exposure and talks faster.
          In the parlor a man wearing a vest, a 19th century frock coat and a tweed driver's cap is talking with a woman in a hand-painted chiffon dress who owns another art gallery. She's getting ready to close up shop. So many artists but not enough buyers in this small town.
          In the study the apron lady brings out a silver tray piled high with chocolate eclairs and cream puffs, which she deposits on the desk like a tray of gold bars and coins. A large man sits behind the desk, like a broker presiding over the distribution of commodities. I take one of each and retire to the hallway.
          While I'm nibbling on my treats, a man breaks away from another group and comes directly up to me.
          "Do you remember me?" he asks. "We used to work together many years ago."
          "Yes, of course I remember." I also remember that he was a programmer and is married to one of the artists.
          "What was it you did at that company?" he asks
          "Whatever they asked me to do," I reply vaguely. "I worked at so many different jobs over the years . . . ."
          "Well, do you remember what you told me once about Contra dancing? We came a few times and I was having trouble with the dance patterns, so I made a computer program to show the moves. And you said, 'You're missing the point. You have to get out of your head and into your body.' I never forgot that and I've told that story many times over the years."
          "Oh dear, I'm embarrassed," I said. "It is important to understand the pattern, especially if you have a sharp intellect, and then learn the steps with your body."
          "Still, what you said back then made a big impression on me."
          "Why don't you and your wife give Contra dancing another try? We have a dance the first Saturday of every month, and we do English country dancing every Friday except the first Friday."
          I'm ready to leave, so I go looking for our host to say goodbye. Apron Lady is quick to notice that I need something. 
          "He's out there," she says, pointing through the kitchen window to the deck.
          Randy is standing with a small group of men. All of them are smoking.
          "Oh, I wouldn't want to bother him," I say.
          But she taps on the window. Randy looks around and comes to the back door. When he opens it, he puts his lighted cigarette in his pocket.
          It takes me a few seconds to realize that it must be an electric cigarette.
          "You're leaving? Thanks for helping out ICON. I've seen you around town, but didn't know who you were, so now I'm glad to know you."
          Though we've barely spoken, it's true that now we know each other's face. And wouldn't you know, the next evening when we go to the Chamber Singer's concert, Randy is sitting in the row behind us. When he sees that I see him, he waves.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

in the leaf bare woods

in the leaf bare woods
the only Christmas color --
green moss with red spores

No white Christmas this year. The day dawns clear and warmer than usual for late December. After a big Christmas dinner with family, I go for a walk in the woods. The only spots of color among the duff and gray trees are clusters of dark red rose hips in a big brier patch and plush clumps of fluorescent green moss sprouting red spore capsules on hair-thin stalks. 

Pilgrim Creek is half full and the trails are wet. I stop to look at a tree on the edge of the cliff, its roots sticking out in the air. It will be the next to fall, taking with it the moss pillow at its base. This is the way of the wandering creek, to cut into a bank on one side and deposit mud on the opposite side as the water makes its serpentine way toward its faraway home in the ocean.
          There on the far bank, I appear as a shadow cast by sunlight, more ephemeral than the old tree or the regenerating moss.

unasked for presents

unasked for presents --
two mice in a tin cat on
Christmas morning

Have you ever been given a present you didn't ask for and don't want? What to do with it? On the first day of Christmas, we awake to find, not a partridge in a pear tree, but two mice in a tin cat. I can't believe Santa Claus would leave them for us because they were definitely not requested. Though not unexpected. We've been trapping two, three, four mice a day in our three humane traps since the weather turned colder.

Usually, we relocate the mice much further away from our house, but it's Christmas Day and we're having a family dinner in half an hour, so I take these two out to the fallow corn field adjacent to our property to release them. When I open the lid, I only see one mouse, cowering back in the shadows.

It freezes in fear, but then leaps out and scurries away. So where's the other one? What's that hanging down from the entrance tunnel? Aha, a tail!

This little mouse feels safe inside its small cubbyhole. When I rattle the trap, it turns and buries its head in the corner. So I turn the trap upside down and shake it, and finally bright eyes jumps out and scampers off.
          Recently I read an article in Mother Earth News, "How to Keep Mice away This Winter without Hurting Them," by Kayla Matthews. She says that mice are as intelligent as dogs. Well, that I believe. I actually witnessed one in broad daylight, drawn by the smell of wet cat food in the kitchen, push the cover off the bowl with its head and crawl inside to eat, something a sneaky dog would do. 
          Matthews claims that mice are able to recognize their given names when called by humans. Now, I think she must be talking about pet white mice here, not field mice. We would certainly never encourage one by giving it a name let alone keep it as a pet. A friend told me that she caught two mice in a humane trap one winter. Not wanting to release them while it was cold, she put them in an empty aquarium with a lid and fed them for several months. She didn't clean out the cage, just kept adding more sawdust. When she finally released them, she counted at least 25 mice. This might have been only one litter, since a female can birth up to 24 pups in 3 weeks.
          Matthews also says that mice are able to empathize with one another, communicating vocally with squeaks that human ears can't hear and using facial expressions to convey moods. The two mice I released today certainly looked terrified, and maybe they were squeaking, but I couldn't tell.
          The author emphasizes that mice are extremely organized and tidy, designating areas within their homes for food, shelter and toileting purposes. The part about food I can attest to, having found stashes of dry cat kibble in the bottom of my camera case, in a drawer in the bathroom and under the mattress in the guest bedroom. 
          However, I've found tiny black turds all over the house, from kitchen counter tops to living room tables to closet shelves. But I do know of one incidence of a designated latrine. For years I kept smelling a bad odor in one corner of the bedroom, which got worse in the winter. Sometimes I could hear squeaks, a sound that even my human ears could detect. Finally, we pried the wood off that corner and discovered that mice had excavated a space in the clay/straw wall and were using it for toileting purposes. They may be tidy in that regard, but to me it was a huge, smelly mess to clean up. Now I frequently spray that area with peppermint oil in the hopes that it will deter them from returning. Ammonia soaked rags are also supposed to be a natural deterrent, but that would also deter me from sleeping in the bedroom.
          Like burglars, mice are notorious for being able to enter anywhere. They can fit their bodies through holes as small as a dime, balance on a wire and climb vertical walls, as long as the wall has some gripping texture, which they detect with their whiskers. No wonder we find evidence of them all over the house, from the top of the cupboard to the bottom of the clothes drier to inside kitchen drawers.
          Typically they stay with 9 to 24 feet (3 to 8 meters) of their nest, Matthews says, even when searching for food. I wonder about that, since our house is bigger than 24 feet. But I have noticed that when we keep the cat food in the refrigerator at night, we find evidence that the hungry mice have been gnawing on our soap and beeswax candles.
          This gnawing business is one of their most annoying characteristics. They gnaw to eat, of course, and to make nests, but they also must gnaw to wear down their teeth, which continue to grow their entire life. One year we discovered to our horror that mice had gotten into the hall closet and chewed holes in our good coats and leather shoes. This kind of destruction makes them most unwelcome guests.
          We do use humane traps, but Matthews maintains that the captured mice should be released within 100 yards (300 meters) of the trapping site. "Taking mice further away often results in their deaths," she says, "as they're unfamiliar with the area and are less likely to find food and water sources quickly." Since we live in the country, sources of food and water are abundant, and we don't want them finding their way back into the familiar area of our house, so we normally release them further away.
          However, this is Christmas, so those two mice got an unexpected, if unasked for, present today, freedom in a nearby corn field. I hope they don't come back!

Monday, December 22, 2014

nestled among bare thorns

nestled among bare thorns
an old bird nest spilling red 
fragments of rose hips

On the shortest day of the year, I go for a walk in the winter bleak woods, shiny wet from a slow misty rain. Bare gooseberry and multiflora rose bushes stretch their thorny branches out across the open space of the trail, catching my boiled wool jacket as I pass. At one huge multiflora bush sprawling along Pilgrim Creek, I stop to pick clusters of red rose hips to decorate my evergreen wreath. I don't have a knife, so it's tricky sticky business, reaching among the wicked briars to break off the bracts. 
          As I try to extricate myself from the impaling thorns, I notice an old bird nest, tucked safely away back from the trail. From the loose, twiggy construction, it looks like the work of a Robin. The nest is filled with the red remains of rose hips, the half-eaten fragments deposited perhaps by the same birds who hatched from that nest last spring. 
          Hanging vertically in its thorny cage, the nest looks like the red heart of winter.

holiday shopping

holiday shopping -- 
a girl in a red cap watches
a red toy train go 'round

Hurrying into Everybody's grocery store, I'm trying to remember my mental list for holiday meals. Each family member and friend has different tastes that run the gamut from carnivore to gluten-free to vegan. I rush through the entrance, decorated with artificial Christmas trees, Santa and Mrs. Claus, elves, lots of lights and glitter. 
           But as soon as I enter the store proper, I slow down to walk around the three-level electric toy train display. Every year it gets bigger and better. There must be at least a half a dozen trains in different colors zipping past miniature houses, stores, churches, trees. 
          I'm not the only one fascinated by the trains. A little girl with a cherubic face under a knit red cap gazes with rapt attention while her parents go shopping. I can hardly wait until my grandchildren arrive so I, too, can take them to Everybody's to see the wondrous electric trains.

Monday, December 8, 2014

red and gold dragon

red and gold dragon
with cape and fan magically
shape changes faces

The masked figure -- is it a man or a woman? -- prances around the stage, flourishing a large red fan and red cape embroidered with gold dragons. In the blink of an eye, the mask changes, now blue, now black, now red, now yellow -- a dozen times. Finally, the last mask comes off and we see that the illusionist is a woman. 

The National Acrobats of the People's Republic of China has been mesmerizing audiences worldwide with stunning displays of acrobatics, balance, juggling, contortions and illusions for over 60 years. Our little town of Fairfield, Iowa, was are fortunate to be part of their 2014 North American "Cirque Peking" tour for a sold-out performance at the Sondheim Center.

Vibrant costumes and music add to the spectacle.

Juggling a drum end over end is more difficult than spinning the drum on its side. Each act progresses from difficult to seemingly impossible.

Spinning five plates on long poles in each hand is quite a feat, but how about keeping them going while doing the splits on someone's shoulders?

To literally top it all, a woman keeps her plates spinning while doing a hand stand on another acrobat's head, while that acrobat stands on top of another acrobat's shoulders. It's simply unbelievable. The upside down acrobat's feet are at least 15 feet (3 meters) above the stage and the plates almost to the top of the curtains. Lots of spotters for this stunt.

Riding a tall unicycle is hard enough, but balancing a pile of bowls on top of your head at the same time is even more difficult. Then add to that, one lady catches bowls tossed from one foot by each of her companions, who manage to keep their unicycles in place with the other foot.

A whole group of men perform stunts on unicycles, but this one is the most amazing. The tall unicycle consists of two parts, a large "wheel"and a "fender" with attached seat and pedals balanced on top. At the end, the acrobat leans forward and jumps off, holding the top section.

Two men holding up three ladies, another man and a boy. The troupe has a training program with 50 teachers and 500 students, many of them quite young.

Amazing to see someone doing a complete back bend, let alone holding up someone doing a handstand.

A pair of men display tremendous strength and balance in a series of graceful poses.

Another couple show not only strength but incredible flexibility.

And then there is the woman who turns into a pretzel inside a giant green slinky. At one point she walks her legs all the way around her body. Must have a spine like a snake.

Twirling a lariat ain't easy, but this "cowgirl" is doing it upside down on one foot.

Two men tumbling through a lariat.

That's four ropes the woman in the middle is jumping. We used to jump rope in grade school, but the most I ever managed was two ropes at the same time.

Then there are the men who do somersaults while jumping rope.

Also somersaulting over a flag.

And jumping through higher and higher hoops.

Balancing on a flexible bamboo pole takes skill and focus.

But how about doing it on a mono-stilt, then execute a somersault and come down with that tiny foot on the narrow pole. A spotter keeps his eye on her the whole time.

This colorful clown demonstrates how fast he can switch hats.

I've tried juggling ordinary bean bags. Not easy. But juggling hats? At one point he has five high in the air.

Five little worms turn into one big caterpillar and amble across the stage.

A dazzling display of costumes and spinning yoyos lit by black light. The performers do fantastic tricks with the Chinese tzuh-ling, also known as empty bell, pulling bell or wind bell, using the sticks to toss the yoyos in the air and all around their bodies.

All too soon, the grand finale. One young man top right demonstrates that it's not as easy as it looks.

欢迎再来 Huānyíng zàiláiHuānyíng zàilái  ! Please come again!
Goodbye and come again!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

amber glass turkey

amber glass turkey
filled with lists of gratitude
for Thanksgiving Day

So many families spread out across the country. What to do on holidays? My younger sister celebrates Thanksgiving on the Sunday before the official holiday for her family and friends, who are then free to visit other relatives on Thursday. 
          We drove five hours west to Lawrence, Kansas, for the event. Three generations, 18 people, spread out down the long dining table, with an extra card table at one end and a little low table with stools for two of the youngest girls.
          My sister set the table with our mother's blue onion china. An amber glass turkey, another keepsake from Mother, was the centerpiece. My sister passed around a little notebook and pen and each of us wrote our list of what we are grateful for and placed it inside the turkey. Next year we will read our list from the previous year and add to it.
          My sister roasted the turkey with dressing and made mashed potatoes with gravy. Everyone else brought a side dish and dessert. We had all the traditional foods. In addition to roast turkey and mashed potatoes, we had apple cider, sweet potatoes, corn, cranberry relish, creamed onions, green beans, salad, rolls, pickled okra, olives, spiced pears, pumpkin pie, blueberry pie, maple syrup pie and spice cake. Of course, everyone was as stuffed as the turkey.
          I am grateful that we still have this tradition, even though Thanksgiving seems overshadowed by Black Friday shopping mania (which now begins before Thanksgiving) and early Christmas decorations and lights. On the other hand, I am grateful that we just have a chance to get together with family and friends, even if the food is not traditional. Today, Thanksgiving Thursday, our family in Fairfield will gather for a no fuss no muss pizza dinner followed by movies. And I'm sure we'll still get happily stuffed.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

a tattered flag flaps

a tattered flag flaps
over the broken tombstone
of a Civil War soldier

On a cold November Sunday morning, our Shape Note group gathers to perform a scene for Black Canaries, a film by director Jesse Kreitzer about a coal mining family in Iowa in 1903. 

The scene takes place in Mars Hill Church, seven miles southeast of Ottumwa, Iowa, the largest log building in Iowa and the oldest log church still in use in the United States. The coal mining families are gathered for Sunday morning service, during which we sing in four-part harmony from The Sacred Harp, a book of shape note songs. The notes for these early American songs are written with four shapes -- triangular, oval, square and diamond -- which correspond to four syllables -- fa, sol, la, mi. The shapes and syllables are related to pitch. This style was developed to aid in learning the music. Traditionally, the first time through the song, the singers sing the sounds associated with the shapes for their part, then they sing the verses.

The song we sing for this two-minute scene is The Last Words of Copernicus, a hymn based on Revelations 22:5: "They need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light." 

          Ye golden lamps of heav'n farewell
          With all your feeble light;
          Farewell, thou ever-changing moon,
          Pale empress of the night.
          And thou refulgent orb of day,
          In brighter flames array'd,
          My soul which springs beyond they sphere,
          No more demands thy aid.

Jesse chose this song because the words are about no longer needing the light of the sun and moon as the soul departs to a higher realm. The miners spend all day below ground, so they never see the sun except on Sunday morning at church. And being exposed to coal dust for years takes its toll. The grandfather in this film is dying of black lung disease.

In a labor of love, one of the singers makes paper covers for our modern Sacred Harp books, complete with individually applied soot to look authentic. However, as it turns out, Jesse wants us to sing from memory so we won't have our noses in our books. Easy to memorize one short rhymed verse, but shape notes? We end up faking them with random fa, so, la. But it sounds authentic.

Mars Hill Church was built between 1850 and 1856. In 1974 it was entered in the Iowa State Register of Historic Places. Nowadays, it's only open for services once a year in June. When we arrive in October for a rehearsal, the floor is covered with dead Asian beetles and a few lethargic wasps. No heat.

The church was originally built because of a death. In 1846 the Clark family came to Iowa by covered wagon with their eight children and bought land on a forested ridge high above the Des Moines River. Unfortunately, they lost their youngest child shortly after they arrived. But there was no cemetery, so Barbara Clark granted a piece of their property to the Baptists for a church and cemetery. 

In 1862, 35 members of the congregation formed the 7th Iowa Cavalry and left to serve in the Civil War. All of the graves of veterans from many wars, down to the present, are marked by small round metal plaques.

Iowa joined the Union as a free state in 1846, just 15 years before the Civil War, whereas Missouri, just across the border to the south, came in as a slave state in 1821. Like all the border states, there were both pro-Union and pro-Confederate people in Missouri. Because Mars Hill Church is located not far from the border, there is a local tradition that the church served as a station on the Underground Railway. Escaped slaves from Missouri hid out in the forest nearby during the day, then gathered in the church at night to be transported further north. Perhaps someone dressed like this helped to spirit the slaves away to freedom.

At one time vandals broke many of the oldest headstones in the cemetery, dating back to the 1850s. Some have been left where they fell, but some have been repaired.

In 2006 an arsonist set fire to the building. But church members raised funds to rebuild the church in 2008, using some of the remaining charred logs in the reconstruction. You can see some of the blackened logs at the top of the wall with new grey logs at the bottom.

Since Mars was the Roman god of war, you may wonder, as I did, why the church was named Mars Hill. The elderly man who opened the church for us for rehearsal explained that Mars Hill is another name for a site in Athens, the Areopagus (Hill of Ares, the Greek name for the god of war), where criminal trials were conducted and where the Apostle Paul gave a speech about "the Unkown God." So the tradition of giving speeches on Mars Hill continues, as Jesse speaks in front of the podium about John's role as the oldest miner.

On the morning of the filming, we arise at 6 and drive an hour from Fairfield, arriving at the church at 7:30 to get into costumes. We've cobbled together what we have or can find at used clothes stores and the costume lady from Iowa City has a trunk full of long skirts, shirtwaists, ragged shawls, pants, patched jackets and boots in various sizes. She also creates "the look" of rural early 20th century for the ladies with short hair.

Most of the main actors in the film are from one family, who operate their own coal mine. The octogenarian grandfather comes to church but is too sick to sing.

His son continues in the family tradition of mining.

As do his two sons, aged 10 and 6.

The mother takes care of her men as best she can.

Yates is the leader of a secret circle of miners.

The film director and the rest of the crew have a flat tire on the way down from Iowa City, but they finally arrive with the van full of equipment and props, including a cast iron stove, stove pipes and a coal scuttle with coal.

Lots of film equipment in cases, and a boy with a smartphone.

A sound wave analyzer.

 Multiple lenses for the 35 mm film camera, which does not use a zoom lens.

We move the organ and most of the benches outside to make room for the actors, props and equipment. The old organ still works, but it's missing some notes.

The biggest prop is the coal stove. It's cold, but unfortunately no real coal fire, only a red plastic insert, so between takes we bundle up.

Another crucial prop is black soot to give the look of coal dust on the miners.

Liberally applied to the face, hands and hair of the miners.

Between takes, lights are moved, the camera positioned and the film reel changed.

The film comes in 1,000 foot reels that cost $70 for 10 minutes of filming. In the digital age, not many people still know how to load film. But Jesse wants the look of the old 35 mm black and white film.

The camera man, who hails from Chicago, checks out the camera angle.

While the sound man, who hails from Fairfield, listens to the recording.

Some of the tools of the trade are low tech, like cords and duct tape.

Non-conducting wooden clothespins.

Reflectors to direct sunlight inside.

During breaks the actors take advantage of the split log benches for a bit of sun and snacks.

While others tour the cemetery, reading the inscriptions.

And some just can't stop singing.

For the whole-group shots, the camera moves in on a track laid on the floor.

Photographers everywhere, including a man from the Ottumwa Courier and several of the singers taking candid shots.

For the side shots of the two main actors, some of the singers stand on apple boxes to be in camera range.

Side shot of the husband, communicating wordlessly across the coal stove with Yates.

At 3 PM, we run out of film, so after 7 1/2 hours we have 2 minutes of good film for the scene. The sound man, still holding up his microphone like a banner, reflects the fatigue all of us are feeling. But we also feel that it's been a job well done.