Press Release

8 Jan frontcover

NEWS RELEASE
January 8, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Frances Figart
ffigart@gmail.com

francesfigart.com
859.351.9939

Editor of The Laurel of Asheville Publishes  Collection of Autobiographical Essays

ASHEVILLE, NC (January 8, 2016) —Frances Figart, editor of The Laurel of Asheville, has published a collection of essays that is now available through Amazon and select booksellers. The 92-page illustrated paperback, titled Seasons of Letting Go: Most of what I know about truly living I learned by helping someone die, chronicles a powerful time of crisis, transition and resilience.

In 2010, Figart (pronounced Fié-gert) was running kayak ecotours in Costa Rica and Canada’s Bay of Fundy, swept up in an international travel adventure. Back in the States, her mother was becoming weakened by the combination of a leaky heart valve and a chest wall damaged years before by a mastectomy and cobalt radiation.

“I made the decision to return and care for my mom in my old hometown of Winchester, Kentucky,” says Figart. “So I wouldn’t lose touch with my writing, I started a blog about my experience as a caregiver.”

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Beginning just before her mother died and stretching over the last four years, the essays follow Figart’s transition to Asheville and share wisdom gained through caregiving and embracing grief in a healthy way. “Last year, I realized I had written my best essays during this time. It hit me: Why not publish them as a book to honor my mother’s life and help others dealing with loss?”

With inspirational quotes, song lyrics and literary references sprinkled throughout, the book is not only a personal account of loss and grief, but also a universal meditation on hope, spirituality and self-actualization. The essays are accompanied by stunning nature photography, colorful illustrations and graphic design elements that take the reader on an introspective journey of healing.

“If you or someone you know has experienced a loss or change, this book will touch your heart,” says reviewer Leslie Donovan on Amazon. “The beautiful photography and illustrations add to the story of adventure, loss, change and renewal. As a Hospice nurse, I will recommend this book to my patients and families.”

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UPCOMING BOOK SIGNINGS

Friday, January 27, at Metro Wines, Asheville, NC, 5–6:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 25, at Gingko Tree Gallery, Black Mountain, NC, 3:30–5:30 p.m.

Part of the proceeds from sales at these events will be donated to a Gatlinburg family who lost their home and pets in the November fires.

Thursday, May 25, at Bentley and Murray, Winchester, KY, 5–7 p.m.

Seasons of Letting Go: Most of what I know about truly living I learned by helping someone die, autobiographical essays, 2016, softcover, $19.95, amazon.com, by Frances Figart. Learn more at francesfigart.com.

 

A book of comfort and joy

11 Dec frontcover

editor-column-ff2My father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly upon his retirement when I was in my mid twenties. Among the condolence letters my mother received was one that read, “I’m so glad you have your daughter with you. I’m sure she is some comfort.”

The year following my father’s death I reverted to a teenage attitude and was more a source of turmoil than comfort, storming around wallowing in my own grief with little thought to my mother’s own suffering. But, because our relationship was one ultimately based in unconditional forgiveness, even during the storm, we understood one another.

The phrase “some comfort” joined a cadre of ongoing “inside” references laden with meaning in that secret world where our respective senses of humor intersected—a world of allusion and sly glances that no one but us fully understood.

Some of you bore witness to this world. You were part of a group of close friends and family I kept updated during the last year of my mother’s life. Now, with you in mind as a central audience, I have compiled a group of 12 essays I wrote beginning just before my mother died and flowing through my last four years, chronicling how the wisdom gained through being there for my mom’s death has given me a new lease on life.

Seasons of Letting Go is a book of comfort and a book of joy. It is my gift to you. I hope you will all enjoy it this holiday season and on through Epiphany, which was my mother’s birthday, and the day I wrote the last chapter, a year ago. Click this link to order.

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The Book is Available Now!

10 Dec frontcover

I am excited to announce that you can now order Seasons of Letting Go on Amazon.com!

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From the time I began the blog that spawned this book, I had all of my large network of friends in mind as my audience. If you know me at all, whether through the travel industry, as a Facebook connection or as a friend, there is something for you in these 12 essays and 92 illustrated pages.

If you have experienced a loss, this book is especially for you. Yet, although it came to be through the event of a death, this book is about life and living it to the fullest. Happy Holidays!

I’ve written a book!

26 Nov frontcover

“When are you going to write a book?” has been an oft-asked question throughout my life. An English major who always focused on language, won awards for papers in college and worked consistently in communications, ironically I never really gave the question much thought. My flip answers ranged from “probably never” to “when the time is right.” But privately I considered the prospect highly unlikely. I believed I would only author a book if it somehow occurred “organically” due to some (as yet unforeseen) passion for a topic that would naturally and effortlessly lead to composing an entire epistle.

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

A little over a year ago, I was visiting a friend who lost her brother not long after I lost my mom. We were reflecting on the various ways one brings creativity to bear on processing grief. Sarah showed me a series of photographs she had taken over the course of an entire year, exploring the ups and downs of journeying through life while learning to accept loss. I shared that when I returned to Kentucky in 2010 to live with my mother, I started a blog so that I would not lose touch with my writing. What began as simply being around to lend a hand morphed into the role of caregiver—and the blog became an outlet for stress and, eventually, a way to come to terms with the death of a loved one.

While speaking with my friend and seeing her wonderful work, a realization rose up majestically from my subconscious like a giant sea turtle I once encountered while kayaking that had been lying invisible, yet grand, just below the ocean’s surface. I knew I had written my best essays as blog entries during the year of my mother’s death. Why not publish them as a book to honor her life and help others dealing with loss?

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S.K. Schuetz, 2014

I asked Sarah if she would read the four essays I had in mind and, over the next several weeks, we communicated about the ideas. Sarah noticed that the dates I wrote the essays created a seasonal pattern: June 2, 2012; August 9, 2012; October 4, 2012; January 9, 2013—Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter! This pattern provided me with my title: Seasons of Letting Go. Like Sarah’s yearlong photography project (some images shown here), I had a year of essays.

Upon further reflection, I found on my blog site eight other essays that would fit in well following the first four about caregiving and grief. So the concept became a collection of 12 essays, presented in three parts, each containing four chapters. I had already written a book without even knowing it!

That is when the fun began. I set the goal of “doing” the book during the entire year of 2016. Though my 12 essays were already written, I had to edit them—but that was really no big deal. The intention now was to make this a creative experience by involving friends and colleagues who would bring their artistic abilities to the project during an entire year—and I would project manage. I told everyone involved: “There are no hard-and-fast deadlines or production schedules: Just have fun!”

And, you know what? We pulled it off! The book is now at the printer and, when it is available, you will be the first to know. I’ll write another blog about the creative souls who worked on the project. So please, stay tuned, and if you don’t already follow this blog, please sign up in the upper right hand corner so you will get updates about Seasons of Letting Go: Everything I know about truly living I learned by helping someone die.

Post Script added Dec. 10: The book is now available on Amazon.com.

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Graphic design and layout by Trish Griffin Noe | Cover image by Joye Ardyn Durham

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

Sarah and me.

Sarah and me.

StarGrief: What it means to lose our rock heroes*

15 Jan Unknown

In the early morning of January 10, along with millions, I began texting the close friends I knew would be affected by the sad news of David Bowie’s demise. One fan was sobbing: “Don’t you feel like he was your friend?” I was struck by that question and have spent my commuting hours this week pondering it and the role that rock icons play in our lives.

Just as the death of a pet affects us in a way that is more difficult to explain than the death of a person, so the powerful effect of the death of someone whose work we intensely admired—and whose persona became larger than life through the media—is intangible and near impossible to articulate. I remember breaking down at the breakfast table on April 8, 1997, when I heard the NPR announcement that Laura Nyro had died of ovarian cancer at the age of 49. I had loved her music from a young age, read her biographies and felt so close to her through my admiration that I was wracked with grief. I know I will be an emotional wreck once more when the time comes for others of my most revered singer/songwriters: Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn, Neil Young, Todd Rundgren, Jeff Tweedy, Pete Townshend… the list goes on.

2014DavidBowie_Getty101818565_210314.article_x4Yet fame, as Bowie wrote, “puts you there where things are hollow.” It is a barrier, on one side of which are the devoted fans who appreciate and identify with the artist’s work so much that they can mistake the emotion for a love of the artist himself, though they only know a version of him from the persona he’s created, amplified by the media. On the other side of the fame barrier is the artist who, while enjoying many pleasures most people only dream about, is also isolated by his status, never sure whom to trust, and could not possibly have enough energy in one lifetime to truly connect with the millions who imagine a connection with him that is powerful and real.

While I most certainly have shed a tear in the past several days—listening to favorite songs, watching YouTube footage, playing Wes Anderson’s iconic Bowie tribute in the form of The Life Aquatic with its other worldly covers rendered by Sue George—the bottom line is that David Bowie was not my friend. How could he have been? What was he then to me and to so many others, and what are all our special musical stars, to elicit such a powerful reaction?

Starting in the 60s, music became an acute expression of the political alignments and social mores of our era. It did that so well that the music itself began to take on epic proportions. Thus the period of music in which we live has created a powerful and unique historical culture of its own. It has come to play a central role in many of our lives, acting for some almost as a spiritual conduit.

In Roman times, there were household deities that looked after people and their homes. One of these household gods, the “genius” was the individual incarnation of the divine in every person, place or thing. Not unlike our concept of the “guardian angel,” the genius would follow each person from birth until death. I see our rock icons as an incarnation of the genius or deity that we have created and chosen to accompany us on our life’s journey. We each have our own personal cultural genius, the rock-n-roll paragons who define us and inspire us, dead or alive.

So, since we didn’t really know Jerry Garcia or Freddie Mercury or Lou Reed or David Bowie, and we still have their canon of music after they are gone (which is all we really ever had), why are we all so profoundly affected when they die? Where does this type of grieving really originate?

I think their passing represents the very special connection we share with our contemporaries, made even more poignant during a crisis like the death of a musician we loved together. I first experienced this collective consciousness of sorrow back in August of 1977 when, at age 12, I mourned the loss of Elvis with my slumber party girlfriends. I felt it again in 1980 when, as a high school sophomore, I watched in horror as the TV news reported John Lennon’s assassination. Sans Facebook, cell phones and texting, we all reached out to each other then, just as we do now.

article-1027216-012A9ED500000578-778_468x480_popupThe end of a rock idol also represents our own passage into a time when we are not as connected to each other as we were in those earlier days when music held a more central place in our daily lives—when we danced ecstatically to Young Americans, sang along to Fame and Heroes in our cars or first shared Ziggy Stardust with a friend. Our strong identification with those who championed our culture was central to our home and hearth. We basked in the glow of the artists who represented the creativity, diversity and brave new inclusiveness of our epoch. Back then, we each shared the music of our icons in an intimate way with our friends, probably some of the very same ones we texted on Sunday morning.

Did I feel like David Bowie was my friend? Well, no, not really. But I can understand the sentiment—and I think he would have appreciated it too. As our genius figures pass, we are reminded how truly fortunate we are that the music and musical heroes of our era express our unique and inimitable culture, perhaps more accurately and passionately than at any other time in history.

 

*This piece was first published under the title “David Bowie was not my friend,” which seemed to be misunderstood to the extent of turning away potential readers. So, here it is again with what is, hopefully, a more palatable headline. 

 

Epiphany of a normal day: Keep being you

5 Jan 2756326263_3756c4ca63_b

On this Twelfth Night, eve of Epiphany, when my mother would have turned 85, I reflect on the fact that many of the people I am closest to today—both geographically and emotionally—I did not even know in January of 2011.

At that time, I was in Kentucky, and suffering terribly because of a breakup a few months before that had left me feeling completely ungrounded. I had temporarily lost my identity in another, one with whom I finally had to sever ties in order to regain my self. I remember sobbing in my friend Candace’s bedroom, “I’ve had to break up with Bruce, and I’ve realized I have no idea who I am!”

During my time of healing, I sought counseling and found, through a trusted friend’s recommendation, a wonderful therapist who I will call Ryman. I saw him only five or six times, and I shared my story and brought him texts that I wanted to use to help me weather the storm until I found dry land again. They were passages from Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and Melody Beatty’s The Language of Letting Go. Ryman and I made recordings of his voice and my own that I would play in solitude, reminding myself how to get back to center, where I needed to be.

Ryman was a huge help in keeping me on course, though he constantly told me that I was the one steering the boat—I was doing all the work, and he was just there to watch and listen. Months passed. I reached the shore and regained myself… just in time to be of some comfort to my mom in her final months.

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by Warren Lynn

Now, living in North Carolina, I have a whole new social pathway, but I keep in touch with many friends and acquaintances in Kentucky and the world over. I reach out to Ryman about once a year, and he always sends a message back to tell me a bit about his life. During the Twelve Days of Christmas this year, I wrote a note to him, and his response left me reeling. Unbeknownst to me, during January last year he lost his wife, his soul mate, to a sudden illness.

“It has been a year filled with sadness, joy, thanksgiving, longing, some despair, etc., all fine and part of the process,” he wrote. “Your experience after your Mom passed was part of a continuing reminder for me that she is alive and well in my heart and in every part of my existence and everything around me.”

I responded: “I can tell between the lines that you are allowing yourself the privilege to be fully immersed in ‘the luxury of grief,’ which is a very individual experience, as unique as your relationship was. I can say nothing that will help, but only to allow all this to flow over you and into you like a river, without trying to map its course. I feel that at the 3.5-year point since I lost my mother, I am actually done with grieving because I have always allowed the grief to overtake me fully and take me wherever it wanted me to go.”

I thought about what it really was that helped me get through the first year after my mom’s death. I remembered that I felt the most lost and bewildered on the first Mother’s Day (which was almost a year after she passed) and that I wished to be able to be counseled by Ryman, but I was far away and alone.

“I read a lot of things but really, what’s helped me most was just listening to my own heart and staying tuned in to my mother through common friends and through my writing about my grief,” I wrote him. “Something that helps me that I’ve never really tried to write down is the notion of how we experience time as linear, when truly it isn’t. Because of that, it seems that one person has to ‘go’ before another, but actually, we are all already everywhere together at once. During this horrible time of separation, you are forced to remain in this linear time illusion, while she is actually free of it. So as much as you can join her in that knowing that you are truly still together, the more free you become.”

Ryman responded the next day: “I just read your email and thanks so much. I copied it onto Word and made a copy to keep in front of me as a reminder about getting centered with this experience. Today, I have been sad and had moments of feeling sorry for myself. It’s of course all okay, but I want ‘to allow it to flow over me and into me like a river’ and be open to creating something new and different. I love your ‘linear time illusion,’ which nails the reality, leading me to say, ‘Oh, I forgot about that!’ Thank you for reminding me!! So much of what you said was a reminder of what I sometimes forget. One wise person said, ‘We teach those things we most need to remember ourselves.’ That has always been true for me.”

I’m overjoyed that I could be of some help to this person who helped me remember who I was at a crucial time of self-doubt.

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by Warren Lynn

Even though now I am so much happier and centered than I was five years ago, I still have days of frustration and need reassurance. On one of these, recently, I received a wonderful message from my new colleague, Tina—one of those people I didn’t even know five years ago, but who is now a treasured friend—who texted me:

“Just keep being you: dedicated, visionary, warm, professional, deeply caring, funny, experienced, creative, kind, with a smile and laugh and deep heart that naturally just draws you in… what struck me when I first met you, then played out deeper as we started to work together is that you do all these things with poise and class. Keep being you…”

One of the coolest things about that message was that while I read it, I felt somehow disoriented and seemed to travel back in time. For an instant, I thought I was reading a description written long ago about my mom—but then I realized, this was about me.

When I start to take any aspect of life for granted, I want to always remember Ryman and how he helped me get back in my boat and get back to shore in late 2010 and early 2011. I want to remember how sudden was his loss and how effervescent his ongoing resilience. I also want always to remember being with my mother in her last days and hearing her say, “I would give anything if I could just get out of bed and come to greet you when you get home from the grocery.”

A message came to me today from someone I don’t even know, as part of a chain of uplifting quotes:

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you, before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so.
One day I shall dig my fingers into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or raise my hands to the sky, and want, more than all the world, your return.”

~Mary Jean Irion

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Intention, practice and writing your own future

25 Dec IMG_3046

I once heard Kurt Vonnegut deliver an absolutely riveting talk. At its climactic crescendo he exclaimed, “You want to know the future? Just wait around for about five seconds. It’s happening right now. You are creating it through your every thought and intention. You want to change the world? Change your thoughts!”

STL14KURT_336623kI remember including this and several other kernels of Vonnegut-inspired wisdom in a presentation I gave to various writers’ groups in Kentucky. One was: “Not sure you’re a writer? Check and see if you’re writing.” In other words, aptitude alone doesn’t make you a writer; you need to make writing a daily practice.

About five years ago, a fork in my life’s path could have easily swayed me from that practice. But I chose instead to use the circumstance to deepen it… and to add a new element to my writing: intention.

In October of 2010, I had just stepped away from an adventurous career in Costa Rica to spend time with my mom in Kentucky. I knew that I would be staying with her for the rest of her life. As the marketing and communications director for a kayak ecotour operation, I had been immersed in writing every day—handling all company communications and maintaining the web site and social media program I had created.

Rather than set aside the practice of writing each day, I started this blog.

Any body of work starts with a consideration of its audience. Even if we don’t realize it, the person or group for whom an article, essay, poem or book is written is with us on a subconscious level. Sometimes we know the audience, and sometimes we write to attract an audience not yet within our sphere.

I started this blog with two audiences in mind: one general, and one very specific.

First, I wanted to keep my broad network of travel industry contacts abreast of what I was doing and to express myself personally and professionally to that global audience, which included members of The International Ecotourism Society, Sustainable Travel International and the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

Another, as yet invisible, audience was more specific: I was writing to an unseen publisher who would someday discover my work through taking the time to read this collection of reflective essays (as well as the parts of my blog that are a virtual résumé) and deem me worthy of investing in as a writer, editor and leader. This person would not just think that I was good, but would completely “get” me and fully recognize and utilize my potential to take a product or company to the next level.

I was setting an intention with the blog site. While I was putting my career on hold in order to care for my mother, I was at the same time creating a way to continually demonstrate my abilities by writing about my current role as a caregiver.

It’s good to have intentions. What is sometimes hard is waiting for the time to be right.

IMG_0679Many lessons were learned and incredible growth took place in the fertile ground of my commitment—though I felt hopelessly unqualified—to help my mother die and then manage her estate. I didn’t do it perfectly, nor did she. It was hard, we were awkward, but we muddled through. While I could never master patience while she was here, once she was gone, miraculously, I had somehow become a much more patient person. All along the way, I wrote about the experience. Four of my best essays came to be penned throughout four difficult seasons: the spring of my mother’s last days; the summer of her passing; the fall consumed by the luxury of grief; and the winter when I finally understood… she wasn’t really gone at all!

That last essay, Changes are shifting outside the world, tells what it was like for me to be with my mother during her transition. It concludes thus: “The way we experience time in this realm of form brings a horrible finality to this type of separation from someone we love. But, we need not lose interest in the plot as we might do when watching a movie where no transformation seems to be occurring. Change can still be going on—and who are we to say that it couldn’t be? For all I know, Mom is now on some level of the hero’s journey that is beyond my comprehension. My continued closeness to her essence gives me the impression that changes are indeed shifting outside this world and that she is still learning, growing and changing as she has always done.”

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A year later, I had relocated to Asheville, North Carolina, and was trying to find a job in which I could use my writing. On the morning of February 1, 2014, I got the following response to the essay Changes are shifting outside the world.

“Beautifully stated! Your heart was opening to a wonderful knowing, love transcends all that is…. Peace of mind only comes thru the heart and is felt sometimes long before it is known. I am happy for your knowing so thoughtfully expressed.”

As I read that comment on my blog, I knew that my intention was now actualized. I had found my publisher.

P2P filler copyAnd so, largely because of the events that have transpired through the act of visioning and creating my own future, I now have the great privilege to work as a magazine editor once again. It is my J.O.B. (joy of being) to direct the work of some 50 contributing writers, photographers, illustrators and members of an advisory council for a fledgling print publication that celebrates the farm-to-table culture and community in the foothills of South Carolina, western North Carolina and east Tennessee.

Because of the magnitude of energy required in this new role, I have not posted an essay on this blog for an entire year—since my marriage January 1, 2015. It is my new intention to return to this practice of blogging, even as I devote myself wholeheartedly to my role as editor of Plough to Pantry.

12143356_1031905556839960_1656737984944827605_nMy audience for this blog has multiplied since my move to the Asheville area. So I write this to all my new friends, as well as all my long-time friends everywhere. I also write this essay for and dedicate it in utter thankfulness and humble appreciation to my very specific audience: To Jerry, who took the time to read, to see, and to believe.

“You want to know the future? Just wait around for about five seconds. It’s happening right now. You are creating it through your every thought and intention. You want to change the world? Change your thoughts!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

View the digital Winter edition of Plough to Pantry here:

http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk//launch.aspx?pbid=241bbb12-ba78-484a-9b9c-d9e37ccf4782

 

 

 

Frances and John are wed

2 Jan IMG_6384

When I chose to move to Asheville, NC, I decided to buy a house in town. I would have preferred a rural setting, as is my custom, but I knew that I needed to live in the city for a while to meet other people. I also knew intuitively that I was going to meet someone who was already set up in the country, and that I would join him there when the time was right.

IMG_2093When I was working at The Compleat Naturalist, I opened the store one Saturday morning in July and proceeded to vacuum the floors for the first ten minutes or so, as there didn’t seem to be anyone around. Absorbed in my task, I glanced up and was startled to see my first customer had slipped into the store unnoticed. He was cute and he was smiling at me in such a way that I thought either he must find me very attractive… or he’s a goof.

After talking to him, I found that he was quite intelligent. He was a four-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who was semi-retired from the PGA Golf Tour, where he had been the calligrapher for 17 years. He started telling me about the turkeys that frequented his Tennessee property – along with deer, bear and snakes – and I told him I loved a movie called, “My Life as a Turkey.” He said, “That film is based on the book, Illumination in the Flatwoods by Joe Hutto.” I was irrevocably impressed.

Then he proceeded to take out a pair of sexy reading glasses, sit on our store bench, and become engrossed in a book about orchids while I assisted other customers. It was all I could do not to stare at him. He was wearing some suspiciously camouflaged apparel – hat and shirt to be exact – and so I interviewed him as much as possible inside about 20 minutes to establish that he was not a hunter. Whew! Smart, attractive, sensitive, nature lover, a great conversationalist, sweet… all check marks. When he left, he said emphatically, “I’m going to come back and see you again!”

It took about three months, but John Philip Beaudet did come back. We started dating in November and by January a year ago, we knew we were destined to spend the rest of our lives together.

Our engagement photo taken at the Appalachian Trail Museum Banquet.

Our engagement photo taken at the Appalachian Trail Museum Banquet.

By Spring, John had started building an addition onto his cabin that would be for us to inhabit together. Originally we had planned to marry there after the house was completed, but in the past few months, we decided we would rather marry sooner, and not have the pressure of timing the house completion around a wedding.

We had made friends with a neighbor of mine here in Asheville who is a magistrate, and so it was determined that Perry would officiate. And we decided on the auspicious date of January 1, to start off the new year with a bang!  We wanted to make our commitment public and legal in the little store where we first met a year and half ago, on the spot where our mutual love of nature drew us together. The owners, Laura and Hal, were pleased to host our small ceremony.

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On January 1, 2015, at 3 p.m.
at The Compleat Naturalist
in Asheville, North Carolina,
John Philip Beaudet and Frances Ruthe Figart
were joined in matrimony.

We're thankful to Hal and Laura Mahan, not only for letting us marry at the store, but for being our first supporters in our new relationship.

We’re thankful to Hal and Laura Mahan, not only for letting us marry at the store, but for being our first supporters in our new relationship.

The big surprise of the day was that John's brother Art, and his wife Erica, drove from Greensboro to be with us!

The big surprise of the day was that John’s brother Art, and his wife Erica, drove from Greensboro to be with us!

So John's brother Art was one witnesses, and Nina, my first friend here, who took these photos, was the other.

So John’s brother Art was one witness, and Nina, my first friend here, was the other.

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“For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.”

~from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Marie Rilke

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“A good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust… Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

~from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Marie Rilke

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You and I are old.
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

~from Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Magistrate Perry Dror, who officiated at the ceremony.

Magistrate Perry Dror, who officiated at the ceremony.

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“Beyond the idea of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field.  I will meet you there.”

~Rumi

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The house John is building us is an addition onto his existing cabin, which will more than double its size and space; even so, our house will still be quite small. We will use the original structure as our utility wing and guest quarters. There is also a smaller cabin on the property, built by John as well. We hope to have a party in the spring or summer to celebrate our union with all our friends and family. You can follow our home’s progress on the web site I manage for John, aka Bodacious.

Much encouraged re-creation of the vacuum scene.

Much encouraged re-creation of the vacuum scene.

Wedding photos by Nina Ellis Snoddy.

Engagement photo by Dan Innamorato.

Frances’ outfit by Ruthe Ballard Figart Sphar, the one and only. 

Asheville Red Barn House for Sale

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I am excited to announce that my house is now for sale; interested parties can contact me about the price. It’s close to Biltmore Village, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, Oakley (Fairview Rd.), Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Whole Foods and Tunnel Road Mall shopping, and is not far from downtown, the River Arts District and West Asheville. I-40, I-240 and I-26 are very accessible.

photo 2-3On 0.6 acres and just under 1,000 square feet, there are two bedrooms upstairs, a full bath upstairs and half bath downstairs with a freestanding shower in the laundry room. There is electric heat, central heat and air conditioning, ceiling fans in bedrooms and double pane windows throughout the house. The kitchen comes with refrigerator, dishwasher, and electric oven. There is a fenced-in back yard and two convenient outbuildings: a shed for storage and cabana with bunk bed for extra guests. There is ample private off-street parking.IMG_0909

The house was renovated in fall of 2013 with completely new kitchen, non-toxic paint in every room, new hardwood floor upstairs, and sustainable marmoleum flooring in kitchen, baths and laundry. There is an eco-sound barrier between the first and second floors.

I am happy to show the house at any time. Please feel free to get in touch with me at ffigart@gmail.com.

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Grendel’s story

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This is the tale of a cat who was lost for six years, and then found again. His name is Grendel, and he lives with me and three other animals in a red barn house in Asheville, North Carolina.

IMG_1943I was one of those English Lit students who actually liked Beowulf. I loved the alliteration, but I was also strangely sympathetic to the monster, Grendel, and tried to look at the situation from his perspective. He was a primal predator and he needed to eat. What better to lunch on than a bunch of drunken he-men acting like primordial heroes!

Later, when my mom went to college in her mid 60s and studied the Anglo-Saxon epic, she, too, liked Grendel. In fact, her best buddy in the class was a young football player who came in one day having just finished the reading assignment, and voiced the sad, sincere complaint, “They killed Grendel’s mom!” She and I always laughed about that phrasing, the thought that Grendel had not just a mother, but a mom.

We were equally delighted by John Gardner’s novel, Grendel, in which the monster tells his side of the story, one of isolation and, ultimately, nihilism. From Gardner’s perspective, Grendel wanted to be heroic like the men he preyed upon, but because he had been exiled from society, his values were, of necessity, not human.

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In the year 2000, I adopted two littermate kittens that were found in an abandoned barn. The fluffy calico I dubbed Chickadee, and the beautiful classic black cat was named Grendel. He was shy, but loving, the kind of creature who accepts affection somewhat apologetically and often slinks away from too much human attention.

As a kitten, Grendel had a normal mewing voice. During his “teenage stage,” he once stayed out in the woods on Mountain Springs Road for several days, perhaps undergoing some feline rite of passage. Upon his return, the guttural cry that emanated from his vocal chords seemed to herald some mysterious transformation into a semblance of his literary monster namesake. He now sounded like a combination of a Siamese with a sore throat and what mountain people call a “painther cat.”

DSC03546Grendel lived with Chickadee, Belial and Jimmy, in a timber framed shed on the property of my Kentucky cabin in the wilderness on Furnace Mountain, near the Red River Gorge. Belial and Jimmy were truly feral cats, and barely touchable, while Grendel and Chickadee were somewhat tame, but still held a distance from most people. They could all come and go as they pleased, and returned to the shed when their automatic feeder dispensed their food three times a day. Theirs was an idyllic life. I recall long walks along the forest service road near my house, trailed by two or three of the shed cats, meandering through the woods at their own leisurely pace. I loved them all, but felt the strongest connection to Grendel. He seemed a bit smarter and more refined than the others.

Changes came to Furnace Mountain in the form of unsustainable logging on adjacent properties. I sold the cabin in 2006 to live for a few years in a city – and the shed cats were not city material. So they went to live in the country with a friend, who eventually ended up taking them to Boones Creek Camp, where I had grown up in the tiny community of Trapp, near Winchester. Jimmy, who was the most skittish, vanished shortly after leaving the mountain. The other three settled into a mostly feral life, holing up like refugees in some abandoned buildings across the road from the camp, but visiting the parsonage and office for regular feedings on the porch of the house I had grown up in.

IMG_2447From early 2008 until the fall of 2010, I lived in Costa Rica and Canada working with a kayak tour operator. I thought of the cats many times, but was not in touch with anyone who knew how they were. Then I returned to Winchester, Kentucky to live with my mom, whose health was beginning to fail. With the stress of adjusting to being a caregiver, it honestly did not occur to me until February of 2012 that some of the shed cats might still be at the camp. I drove the 15 minutes out there one Sunday afternoon, and what I found amazed me. Grendel, Belial and Chickadee were all still alive and well, feasting regularly on the porch of the camp residence/office, and living across the road in the dilapidated remains of an old homestead. They looked great, and they knew me!

The next few months were hectic because by now, my mom was very ill and I was with her round-the-clock. But I would manage to bring a bag of food out to the camp once a month for Angel, the woman who now fed them. Angel had evidently been left instructions from the previous camp director, Jim Smith, in no uncertain terms: something to the effect of, “Whatever you do, do not ever abandon the responsibility of feeding these cats!”

A few months later, mid June, I got a call from Angel. She said coyotes had been seen in the area, and she suspected they had gotten two of the cats, as she now only saw one of them. “Who is left?” I inquired. It was Grendel.

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I went to see him soon as I could get away for an hour, and he walked me all around the premises of his dwelling, making his raucous bellow all the while, as if in mourning for his lost mates. He was all alone now, like the beast in Beowulf. He would not let me touch him, but he seemed to enjoy my companionship.

Since Angel was now his feeder, I instructed her to catch him when possible, and bring him to me in Winchester, where I lived with my mom. I would take him to the vet, and if he checked out fine, I’d bring him into our home to be a companion for our kitten, Oki.

Oki was incensed that another cat even existed, much less was in her home. But inside of two weeks, the two were cuddling and grooming one another. We had a monitor in my mom’s room so we could hear her calling out when she needed something, and I recall hearing Grendel, over the roar of the oxygen machine, emitting his guttural roar as my dying mother tried to sleep. She asked me once, politely, “How long will Grendel be staying with us?”

Sadly for Mother, Grendel would be staying much longer than she could; she died in late July, only a month and a half after he arrived.

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Nine months after Mom died, Grendel moved with Oki and me to North Carolina. The move was rough for him, and included an embarrassing stop at the Tennessee border to clean him up along the way. My friends Mary and Joe helped out, and when Grendel was ready to travel again, Joe said, in what has become an infamous metaphor, “Let’s get this rock star to the show.”

Now our family has gained three more beings: John, Dukkha Dog and Puppy Ivy. Grendel takes it all in stride. He loves his cushy indoor life, with Havarti cheese cut into 14 tiny cubes at least once a day, a dollop of vanilla ice cream late in the evenings, and a sunny window seat with comfy cushions for his throne. He still slinks away from affection, but always purrs when being carried or sleeping on my feet at night. He and Oki spend hours every day in their outside cabana, and go for walks in my big fenced-in back yard. Occasionally Grendel will jump the fence and stay out on his own for several hours, but he always comes home.

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Six years he was a shed cat on Mountain Springs Road, and six years he was feral and survived, thanks to Jim Smith and the camp Angels, and his own cat smarts. Now he is almost 15, and is in great shape.

Sometimes in the wee hours before dawn, he lifts up his raucous voice to the heavens and bellows out a sound that I’m sure would make even Beowulf wonder: Is he giving thanks? Does he miss his mates from the old days? Does he want to prey on a mouse? Or does he just want more of his dry catfood, NOW!

Belial (back) and Jimmy (in front) on the porch of the Mountain Springs Road cabin circa 2004.

Belial (back) and Jimmy (in front) on the porch of the Mountain Springs Road cabin circa 2004.

Belial having just moved from the mountain in December of 2006.

Belial having just moved from the mountain in December of 2006.

Chickadee when I first saw the shed cats again at the camp in Feb. 2012.

Chickadee when I first saw the shed cats again at the camp in Feb. 2012.

Mary and me, bringing food to the cats at the camp, Feb. 2012

Mary and me, bringing food to the cats at the camp, Feb. 2012

When I first brought Grendel home, Oki was incensed.

When I first brought Grendel home, Oki was incensed.

Grendel on his first day back in a home, dealing with Oki's growling.

Grendel on his first day back in a home, dealing with Oki’s growling.

Within two weeks, Oki and Grendel were close friends.

Within two weeks, Oki and Grendel were close friends.

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Oki says, so long for meow.

Oki says, so long for meow.