R. S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Friday Photo: 1/20/17

“Anvil-Head Storm Cloud”
LaGrange, Georgia – 14 August 2016

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Wednesday Photo: 1/18/17

“Fuel Door, Age 38”
Heard County, Georgia – 26 November 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Some Quick Writing Advice

Recently, a friend asked me for some writing advice. In the midst of three different projects, though, I didn’t have many extra words to spare. But I did have these quick tips to offer. They often help me. I hope they’ll help you, too.

  1. Read a lot. Read the same things multiple times, and at different points in your life.
  2. Write down little pieces and snippets of ideas whenever you have them, and however you can write them down. Text them to yourself. Type them in your phone’s “notes” feature. Scrawl them on the back of your hand, or in the margin of your class notes. Get them down, any way you can.
  3. Save all those weird snippets. They will come in handy.
  4. Notice everything around you—especially the things that the rest of the world refuses to acknowledge.
  5. Let all this touch your soul.
  6. Write about it.

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Hillside Monday: 1/16/17

“Crape Myrtle and Winter Sky”
LaGrange, Georgia – 3 January 2015

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Friday Photo: 1/13/17

“Willow (Barred Owl), in Flight”
| Pine Mountain, Georgia – 27 December 2016

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Wednesday Photo: 1/11/17

“Under Construction, No. 1”
Heard County, Georgia – 29 December 2014

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Hillside Monday: 1/9/17

“Dancing Kid, Jefferson Street”
LaGrange, Georgia – 15 November 2016

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Friday Photo: 1/6/17

“Red Brocade, 4:30 PM”
Heard County, Georgia – 30 December 2016

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Wednesday Photo: 1/4/17

“Winter Carrots”
Heard County, Georgia – 30 December 2016

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Hillside Monday: 1/2/17

“Winter Windows”
| LaGrange, Georgia – 17 December 2014

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Friday Photo: 12/30/16

TurquoiseLeap_COPY02_2014-08-10 20.20.38

“Turquoise Leap”
Denver, Colorado – 10 August 2014

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Wednesday Photo: 12/28/16


“Stars All Along the Way”
| Callaway Gardens Fantasy in Lights
Pine Mountain, Georgia – 7 December 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Hillside Monday: 12/26/16


“Pink Piedmont Azalea, with Rain”

LaGrange, Georgia – 10 April 2015


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Friday Photo: 12/23/16

2014-12-17 14.41.14

“A Lesser-Known Christmas Vigil”
Waffle House #646
LaGrange, Georgia – 13 December 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Cedars at Christmas


As I drive around the countryside in late December, I look forward to those fuzzy green oblong clouds along the winter-brown roadside. They float at the edge of the right-of-way, where the natural world waits to retake the built and the mechanized. Often, their knowing gray smirks pucker around twisted steel—Stupid barbed wire. We can’t grow here, huh? That’ll teach you. 

When I was a child in rural east Alabama and west Georgia, these dark green blobs of badass were our Christmas trees.

Eastern red cedar, or Juniperus virginiana, grows all the way from southeastern Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. A pioneer invader, it prefers pitiful, ragged-out, freshly-cleared land. However, unlike other potentially invasive species, it can live for centuries if left alone. My grandfather’s farm included several cedars with trunks nearly three feet thick. For the most part, though, the ones I notice are between four and seven feet tall, just the right size for the average living room.

I remember only one tree-cutting walk, far behind our house outside Rock Mills, Alabama. We were likely on someone else’s land. My father had to have known this. But, seeing how eastern red cedars alkalize pasture soil and steal nitrogen from forage crops, maybe the landowners would not have cared. Daddy cut it down with a hatchet and a hacksaw, then dragged the tree behind him for the half-hour walk back to the house, my sister and me following as quickly as our little legs could manage.

In this old photo, the short, squat little cedar looks as lush now as it did then to my three-year-old eyes. It sits atop the blanket chest—also red cedar—that my great-grandfather made around the end of the First World War. That same blanket chest now guards my guest room.

Christmas tree farms make me uneasy. Their offerings, while pretty, are not of this land. Their trees’ native soils lie hundreds of miles north and west of here. While I am glad they bring joy while exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen, they are just not for me.

Those plush needles stay too neatly combed. Too-tidy firs and spruces demand unreasonable cheerfulness and forced smiles. They heap manufactured happiness on top of organic, deeply rooted sorrow. And they act surprised when the needle-fine roots of that sorrow break back up through the soil.

Thanks, but I’ll skip the farmed Dick and Jane Reader perfection. I like a little asymmetry, a little imperfection, with my major holidays.

Instead, give me an eastern red cedar, thriving at pasture’s edge. Give me slowly shredding grayish-tan bark. Give me perfumed red heartwood that swallows barbed wire and NO HUNTING signs along Georgia Highway 219. Give me needles growing in all directions like an overcaffeinated moth-repellent pompom. Wherever I go, for the rest of my days, the trees I have known and loved stay with me.

Photo: “Detail, Red Cedar Christmas: Rock Mills, Alabama, 1976”

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Wednesday Photo: 12/21/16


“Bright Lights against the Pines”
| Heard County, Georgia – 6 December 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


One Small Voice against the Storm

The other night, I dreamed I was at a friend’s house during a terrible thunderstorm, the kind of storm that makes people think Armageddon really has arrived. The winds shook the spring-green, baby-leafed trees like eighty-foot-tall pompoms. Parts of people’s houses flew by: downspouts, shingles, screen doors. I could see even darker, nearly-black clouds rolling in from the west.

The green of the trees lit up neon-like against the angry dark gray clouds. Those clouds billowed slow and steady across the fields opposite my friend’s house—embryonic tornadoes, rolling close to the ground. They moved so slowly that at first I thought I could outrun them on foot. But they moved in such a stop-motion, unpredictable way that I knew I’d better not even try. In the vacant lot across the road, half a dozen newborn funnel clouds stood up and lumbered toward us.

The sensible thing to do would have been to run back indoors and hide in the bathtub, or in the crawl space. But for whatever reason, we decided to drive my car into town and take shelter on the university campus. In the basement of one of the huge concrete classroom buildings, we figured, we’d be safe.

As we drove down the narrow country road, the storm grew even stronger. Entire roofs and porches now flew over the car, like dollhouse parts at the mercy of a giant commercial vacuum. We saw people cling to telephone poles and mailbox posts, then lose their grip and disappear into the dark, hungry tornado mouth. The trees whipped in every direction. In the all-powerful wind and rain, proud hickories and towering oaks became as pliable as flimsy ornamental grasses.

When an ancient tulip poplar crashed across both lanes of the road, I stopped the car. We were about to get out and head for the ditch—another last-resort place to hide from a tornado—when we felt the car’s rear end lift, fall, and lift again.

Then the tornado was upon us.

It yawned wide, and again picked up the car by the rear axle. We were now suspended in the air, far above the ground. For a moment, I thought my hands had grown into the steering wheel. I couldn’t even scream. But then the car began to shudder. Through my terror, my words returned.

“This is it?” I shouted. “This is how it’s supposed to end?” I grabbed my friend and held her against me, shielding her face from the chaos swirling just beyond the windshield.

The tornado shrieked louder, and bobbled the car a little. It was trying to scare me, trying to shut me up. I held my friend even tighter, and kept shouting.

“I can’t believe this—after everything she’s been through.” The winds rocked the car again, dipping the front end and then the back. “Her grandmother, two uncles, an aunt, and her husband have all died over the last year.” Tears rolled down my cheeks. “And now you bring her this?”

The car began spinning counter-clockwise, with an occasional, ungainly dip back toward the earth. Now the tornado was just toying with us—just a bully, picking on two much smaller kids in the far corner of the playground.

My anger rose. One way or another, life or death, that storm would know forever that I had its stupid little game all figured out.

“So this is the best you could do, huh? A tornado?” The car’s rear end dipped again. This time, the roller-coaster feeling in my solar plexus did not unnerve me. “Talk about corny! You’ll have to come up with something better.”

The tornado’s mouth opened wide. It meant to swallow us whole. Soon, we would be scattered all over the west Georgia countryside. Images came to me of search parties finding our various unidentifiable body parts flung hither and yon, mixed with bits of vegetation and scraps of Honda.

Nope. This would not do.
I poured out my rage at the gigantic gray funnel. “No! NO! You cannot have her! NO!”

The towering column lurched away from us. Its monstrous roar turned to a sputter, and then a frightened half-cough. The car leaned suddenly to one side, and then gently floated back to the ground. I peered up into the swirling vortex, only to watch it turn a lighter gray, then white, and then disappear. I turned to my friend. “Are you okay?” She nodded yes.

I awoke in awe at the power of one small voice against the storm.


Photo: “Metal Roof and Storm” (LaGrange, Georgia – 23 November 2014)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Hillside Monday: 12/19/16


“Last of the Old Guard”

LaGrange, Georgia – 24 October 2014


© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Friday Photo: 12/16/16


“Small Creek in Severe Drought”
Heard County, Georgia – 30 October 2016

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Wednesday Photo: 12/14/16

Primitive Citrus #3 (Heard County, Georgia - 31 March 2013)

“Primitive Citrus #3”
Heard County, Georgia – 31 March 2013

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


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