Monday, November 8, 2010

Interview With "Grizz" of Riverdaze

Allow me to introduce you to "the Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself!" (a self-assigned moniker), author of the blog Riverdaze.  When my blog roll signals there is a new post from Riverdaze, I know I am in for a treat.  Grizz, as his readers fondly call him, offers up stunning photographs of the natural world around him, and unrivaled accompanying descriptions of his personal experience in the face of such wonders.  You only have to visit Riverdaze once to become an avid reader.  Grizz graciously and respectfully acknowledges every comment left on a post with a thoughtful response that is almost as interesting to read as the post itself. 

 A link to Riverdaze is provided at the end of this feature.  Now let's get to the interview so that you can learn a bit about the fine, talented man behind the camera and the silken words.

Grizz, could you give us a brief overview are who you are, where you live, current interests or preoccupations, and how you occupy your days?

Let me preface by saying I'm truly honored to have been asked to do this. It has been a real pleasure to have participated.

Well, I'm a father, son, husband, and cohort of Moon the Dog—a fellow reluctantly approaching entry-level geezerhood and daily reminded of this status by my aching body, which I blithely beat up and abused thoroughly over several decades. I love reading, writing, music (I play piano, among other instruments), cooking, fly fishing, and rambling country roads. Myladylove, pooch, and I live in a modest stone cottage on the banks of a small southwestern-Ohio river near Dayton.

 "Riverdaze" ... can you tell us what your river means, represents and/or gives to you?

 I don't think there's a better metaphor for life than a river. Moreover, a river is truly a living thing. They begin small, are often "born" from a spring. In their early stage are both vulnerable and tentative natured. As they flow along they gain size and strength, becoming more lively, filled with bright energy. Gradually, they mature, broadening, until they're a force to be reckoned with—to the point when they finally turn sedate, somber, almost oblivious, slowing as they reach the end of their journey. At the end they merge with something bigger than themselves.

Rivers have moods and "looks" reflecting everything from weather to season, the sky overhead and the variegated colors of vegetation along the banks. Rivers have both constant personalities that are always present, and situational personalities caused by outside factors, making them friendly or ominous, cheery, melodious, soothing, scary, treacherous, comforting.

The "daze" part is not only the obvious trite homonym of "days," but a too-often accurate assessment of my state of mind as I stumble and grope my way along life's complex and puzzling pathway. Still, this old river, which I've known all my life, gives me a much-needed daily dose of peace and sanity.

Your reverence for Nature and her gifts is palpable in your writings. Would you share a word or two about the delight you derive from being attuned to the natural world around you?

Aldo Leopold said: "There are those who can live without wild things, and those who cannot." I'm quite happily of the latter persuasion—though I would also make note any definition must also include sunsets, the wind on my cheek, ripe pawpaws, the purl of creeks, birdsong and wildflowers, bees, bullfrogs harrumphing on a moonlit night, autumn leaves, falling snow, owls, the fragrance of pines, and rising trout. I never think of nature as "Nature." To me it is simply the world in which I have always lived, the real world. I'm at home outdoors. I find great wonder there, mystery, beauty, solace, as well as entertainment and even the odd moment of enlightenment. I count myself participant rather than mere observer, and the creatures around me as fellow citizens.

Grizz, I have been touched by a couple of your posts reminiscing about childhood outings with your Father. Would you be willing to share a bit about your Father and some of the childhood learnings you most treasure?

Dad was born and raised on a farm in the rugged hills of eastern Kentucky. He grew up loving woods and waters, and came to know and understand such places at a profound level of intimacy. He was a fine field botanist, and had the keenest eyesight of anyone I've ever met. Soon after he and Mom were married, Dad received a Masters Degree in education and began teaching—starting out in one-room schools. For nearly two decades, he became a sort of itinerant schoolteacher—mostly, I think, because both he and my mother were adventurers by nature. The peripatetic life suited them. So they moved from Kentucky to South Carolina, to North Carolina, to Indiana, to Washington state. Along the way, and in the off-season from teaching, they roamed mountains and deserts, fished, picked apples, hunted mountain lions, explored caves and Indian ruins in the Southwest, lived on a peanut plantation in Georgia, etc. When WWII broke out, they moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan and went to work at Ford's old Willow Run Bomber Plant, where Dad taught aeronautics and Mom painted the star insignias on B-24s.

After the war, my parents moved to Dayton. Dad, who'd always been a woodworker, built the house where I was born and where he and Mom lived all the rest of their lives. Dad also switched from teaching to finish carpentry. He soon became known as a master woodworker for his skills, and usually worked on custom, high-ticket homes. Dad could—and often did—make anything from wood, from bowls to benches, beds, chests, piano cases and lids, sleds, wagons, and toys of all sorts. When I wanted a fly tying bench, Dad built me one. I grew up amid the smell of sawdust, and love it to this day… and even a whiff reminds me of my father.

Dad and Mom were both musical. Before I was born, Dad built two amazing acoustic guitars—one for each of them. Mom and Dad sang and played in church and on various radio programs, including several from WLW in Cincinnati. On several occasions, the great Merle Travis played Dad's guitars on his show. Later, I earned to play on these same instruments.

What did my father teach me? Everything of any real importance. First off, he taught me I was loved. He never failed to tell me so, never failed to show me through patience, attention, helping, advising, or doing. Dad and I had disagreements, but I never for a single moment doubted his love for me. He taught me to think for myself. To be independent, and not be swayed by peer pressure or some desire to fit in, or by mere money, or by fear of failure. He taught me to listen, to consider, to reason. I'm more artistic than my father, but he was more logical. I have to make myself think logically sometimes. Dad taught me to be myself. He never dictated my future, but simply helped guide and encouraged, and said whatever I did, to be the best at it I could possibly become.

Most of all, Dad, through example, taught me honesty, compassion, courage, humility. He taught me to follow my moral compass and to find joy in the smallest task.

How blessed you were to have such fine, loving parents.  Now, would you name a couple of your strengths for us?

1.) An abiding and overriding sense of humor.

2.) Independence in thinking and acting. I care little about what others think so long as I believe I'm doing the right thing. I've never needed group acceptance, or heeded peer pressure. I'm comfortable in my own company and following my own direction, not lonely when I'm alone—and believe if you're not forging upstream, you're just being tumbled along with the flow. If challenged, I might quote that line from Proverbs: "Trust your own judgement, for it is your most reliable counselor."

3.) Self honesty. For example, I know how pompous and ridiculous the above answer comes across, can even laugh at the absurdity…but still say it's one of my greatest strengths.

4.) As paradoxically as it sounds, I try my best to live each day with sensitivity and a servant's heart, to follow the Golden Rule.

And, what about one weakness, just for the record?    :-) 

You know, given my surfeit, let's do two:   Used book stores…and dark chocolate.

With regard to your achievements, name one you consider to be among the greatest?

That I've never strayed so far off the path that I remained lost and couldn't find my way home.

What quality do you value most in your friends?   Truth.

If you could change one thing about yourself Grizz, what would it be?

I wish I'd have taken better care of myself over the years.

What do you consider the most over-rated virtue?   Fiscal success, social status, materialism.

Which living person do you most admire?

I admire anyone who is living their life exactly where they want to be—who's found their place, is content, happy, and filled with joy. Usually they're dirt poor, rural, and beloved by neighbors, friends, family. Always they have the biggest hearts on the planet. I admire such folks greatly.

Is there a historical figure, or a figure from literature, with whom you identify?

 In my growing up, I might have said Tarzan or Huckleberry Finn. Now, I might say Father Tim from the Mitford books by Jan Karon. And, BTW, I do admire this author.

You are a stellar wordsmith, Grizz. You hint about writing for a living and while I will not ask you to reveal details about that (unless you want to), I would love to hear about your love of writing and a bit about your process - how you go about it.

I've been a full-time writer most of my adult life. In that time I've published something over 3,000 feature magazine articles, at least that many columns in both magazines and newspapers, some fiction and poetry. All were illustrated with my own photos, BTW. Most of my work centers around the outdoors—nature, travel, adventure, folklore, history—plus the occasional piece on everything from books to cooking to music. I've also edited several magazines, owned one, owned a small book-publishing firm. I'm currently working on two books—one on the southeastern-Ohio hill country, the other a mystery novel. There’s even a possibility I may finish them one of these days.

But please—don't be impressed by the above. It's just the output of a working writer writing about the things he knows—a lifelong means, often desperate, of avoiding what friends tend to think of as a "real job."

Because of early health issues, I've always been a voracious reader, often to the tune of a book or two per day, though I've slowed that down some. I learned early to appreciate the well-turned sentence. I believe a good writer can make any subject interesting, though being a good storyteller is more along the lines of a gift.

A lot of would-be writers like to have written, but don't like to actually write. I do like to write. I can easily spend 10-12 hours puttering away at a piece, scarcely breaking for lunch. I always try and write well, in my own voice, with both clarity and sensory details. The idea is to open that door so someone actually "experiences" what I'm writing about. Occasionally, just occasionally, I think I succeed.

The process itself, if you want to do it really well, is dangerously simple: you sit in front of a blank computer screen (or blank sheet of paper), reach into your soul, and tear out living parts. Nothing to it. Then you mop up the blood and do it again.

Right ... 'nothing to it'!  You are also an excellent photographer. Is a coffee table book of your some of your images and words a possibility?

Possibility? Yes.  Probability? Maybe…

What secret or tip about photography could you share with fledgling photographers?

Re. outdoor photography: Learn to photograph light. Be aware of light and what it does to subjects. Know that a well-lit subject almost always produces a boring image. Be fearless in shooting—shoot from every angle, under all conditions; find the viewpoint that "moves" you. And look at lots and lots of good photos to constantly train your eye. Finally, understand your subjects—and I'm not referring only to living creatures. A photographer who knows a mountain or stream can take a better photo than one who doesn't; there's something intrinsic, almost mystical, in foreknowledge. So get acquainted with your subjects—it's as true when taking candid shots of a woods or tidal pool as when taking candids of friends and family.

Tell us a bit about your love affair with light.

Obviously, the entire visual experience centers around light. Not just for photography's sake, but for simply seeing, enjoying, understanding. Light reveals shape, texture, color. It also sets mood. Outdoors, lights tells time, season, and sometimes, weather. A big portion of my joy and knowledge in nature comes from a constant awareness of light.

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? Could you give us a couple of recommendations in both categories?

I read a lot of both—fiction for entertainment, to "escape" into another world or life, but also sometimes purely to observe technique, seeing how a certain writer handles dialog, flashbacks, openings, etc. Not to copy, but to absorb and remake. I read non-fiction for information, background, understanding or to add depth…but again, I also read often simply for pleasure.

As to recommendations…in fiction I read quite a few mysteries, and lately many of them are translations. Translations can be a bit challenging—the plot may survive, while the prose comes out a bit uneven. Too, I like character-driven rather than plot-driven stories. James Lee Burke is good, along with Michael Connelly, and Henning Mankell. Non-mysteries, I love Hemingway, not for his famous staccato sentences, but for those long ones with just a perfect detail tucked somewhere within—and also for his transitions, which often open his stories and books. Non-fiction? For nature, Merrill Gilfillan (this is the son, his father, Merrill C. Gilfillan, also wrote), Hal Borland; Calvin Trillin on food. Henry Mitchell on gardening. Over the past day or so I reread Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf and liked it even better than the first time around.

What global issues most concern you of late?

Suburban sprawl, cross-contamination of species from place to place, the attitude that no matter what we do to the environment that it can always be fixed with enough money, and overall a careless, uncaring outlook for land, water, and the creatures therein. You only fight and take care of the things you know and love—and I'm not convinced that many people nowadays truly know and thus care about nature. Indifference is a deadly disease.

How do you make room for play in your life?

Most people who know me would say I play all the time. And in a sense, that's true…I hardly ever do things I don't want to do or don't enjoy doing. I like what I do, I like how I spend my days. Even if I'm lugging around slabs of limestone to build a wall, or digging out a new flower bed, or even washing dishes, I find pleasure in the hard work or the small tasks. The meetings I attend are for things I want to be part of, things I believe in and back up with my time and energy. If I'm stuck in traffic, I always have books on tape along and at least a bottle or two of water and a few breakfast bars behind the seat—so I can sit in the middle of the freeway for an hour an enjoy myself.

That said, my days are usually so full that if I didn't like and get a kick out of most of what I do, I'd be miserable.

 How do you attend to your spiritual needs?

Prayer, reading the Bible, attending church. Nothing else fulfills me spiritually; nothing else suffices for my relationship with God.

 Do you believe in an afterlife?   Absolutely.

Is there one thing you wish you had learned or discovered earlier in your life?

To keep my life as simple and grounded as possible. To put faith at the forefront. To immerse myself in the land.

What do you still want to learn?   The list is endless—I love learning.

 How do you make your life feel meaningful?  By living every single day as best I can. By sharing all I can.

What is your greatest fear?

That I'll waste my moments, my gifts, my opportunities to be what I want to be. That I won't stand up sufficiently for my beliefs. That I'll fail to see needs I could alleviate and do nothing. That when it's over, I'll not have left something worthwhile behind.…

What sustains you through difficult times?

Faith, belief, prayer, peace, love…and time's perspective. And, of course, the out-of-doors, nature, wild places and their solitude.

Out alone in a meadow or in the woods what tune would we be most likely to hear you whistle or hum?

None. Though I'm whistler and hummer, I was taught to be quite in the fields and woods or a'stream if wanted to see things. I listen to birds and wind, bees, water, leaves rattling…and for the sound of whatever might be stalking me out there in the underbrush. :-)

What brought you to blogging?

Exactly what my original post said—the inability to keep a journal for any length of time, and the desire to share something, as best I could, of this riverbank life.

 What keeps you blogging?   Readers.

What have you learned from the experience of blogging?

Because of my columns, I guess most of this is not exactly new—only the format. But that readers appreciate honesty. That they enjoy reading about all sorts of things. That what and how you write and the photos you make matters. That you can say almost anything, write about almost anything, in the form of a nature piece. And more than anything, that the world is filled with wonderful people, kind, generous, caring, and if you open your heart, they respond by opening theirs.

What is one thing about you that would surprise the readers of your blog?

A compelling and inordinate penchant for garage sales.

What is your favorite word?   Crepuscular, or maybe soughing.

What is your least favorite word?   Can't.

What sound or noise do you love?   Laughter.

What sound or noise do you hate?   Traffic.

What question have I neglected to ask that would have given readers more insight into who you are?

Does heritage tie into or inform your daily life in some way?

What is the answer to that question?

Yes, indeed!  Being of Irish descent, we still venerate such things as old family mottos. The one for my particular clan reads: "Go under God…with courage, with honor, with compassion."  For me, that pretty much sums it up—and anything it misses can always be rectified by going fishing.

I've sensed a bit of ambivalence about this whole interview feature thing.  Would you like to address that?

My ambivalence is that I read what I've written and think it sounds like I'm a sort of Mother Teresa of the Riverbank. God knows I'm not. I don't want to come off as some holier-than-thou goody-goody. In truth, I'm quirky, incorrigible in many ways, old-fashioned in others, and capable of being a chronic pain in anybody's butt should I take the notion.

I'm pretty much a loner, slow to make friends, not prone to socializing, yet I'm also a "people person," quite comfortable in crowds. When I was playing music, I would go before several thousand people and blaze as bright as a road flare with in-your-face personality. I’m a laughing, joking, quip-a-minute poke-fun-at-anything cut-up who's seldom more than three millimeters away from dark brooding or at least pensive introspection, and take life far more seriously than anyone imagines. I can lead and take charge of people or projects without hesitation, all the while exuding self-confidence…but I can't follow worth a dime, am definitely not a team player, and I’m a hesitant joiner of organizations. I can be the most positive person you ever met, yet I'm often riddled with self-doubt and fear of failure.

I rodeoed for a year, rode broncs and bulls (in small-time venues), and as a writer have led an active outdoor life of he-man adventure—but would rate myself about as tough as your average marshmallow. I'm an inveterate motormouth, yet often spend my days in silence. Almost everyone I meet thinks I'm a most likable fellow, yet I regularly have bouts of personal loathing. I'm uncomfortable talking about myself, though lead an open and straightforward life and am quick and genuine in welcoming others into my life and home.

Always, always, I try my best to be humble, considerate, grateful…because I detest arrogance, rudeness, and unappreciativeness .

I guess what bothers me is the dichotomy—what I know is the weakness behind the strengths, the negatives behind the positives. When I'm being really honest, there are times when even I don't know fully the real me. In the end, I hope with all my heart that it will be said of me that I was a good and decent man—a good and decent father, son, and husband, who appreciated life and gave back as much love as he got.

Again, thank you for asking me to be part of this blog series.

Thank YOU for agreeing to be interviewed.  You have been so open, honest and giving - just as you are on your blog.  To visit Grizz at Riverdaze, click here.

NOTE:  The bolding throughout this interview was inserted by me, Bonnie - not by Grizz, which would not be his wont (to highlight his own words). 


  1. Fabulous interview, Bonnie! I read the Riverdaze blog from the beginning, and it gives me such pleasure. It's written absolutely from the heart. (But no need to worry, Grizz. There's not the slightest danger you're Mother Teresa reincarnated.)

  2. nice. what an enjoyable interview...used book stores...yeah i got that the touch with nature as well and the intimacy kindled there...some of my best memories with my dad are there as well...

  3. Wow......what an interview!!! Great job.

  4. What a great interview, Bonnie and Grizz! I am a devoted follower of Riverdaze, and I always look forward to reading the new postings.

    Grizz is a man of so many superlatives that it is hard to know where to begin. He is a great photographer, a great naturalist (though he denies it), and a great writer. Beyond these skills, however, is something far more important: He is a keen and loving observer of nature. I never read a piece on Riverdaze without learning something new and interesting, and I never leave his site without feeling enlarged and more optimistic about the future of the world.

    You have become a good friend, Grizz, and I greatly appreciate the ideas and images that you share with us weekly. When the world gets to be too much with me — which is occurring with increasing frequency — I always return to Riverdaze, knowing that what I find there will be honest, real, and reassuring.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed reading more about our friend on the banks of the river. You are just as I had thought Grizz. :c)

  6. Bonnie…I expect my Grandaddy would have said—only half jokingly—that you've managed to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. But you've truly done a great job with what you were given. I'm so pleased I may have to go out and buy a larger hat!

    Doing this has been a privilege, pleasure, and honor. Thank you.

  7. Great interview. He and I have much in common. Reading through this interview I kept saying in my head...yup, yup. I shall go visit.

    this is a most wonderful interview. I love reading these Bonnie. And Grizz- you are a gentle soul - and a loving heart - and I so loved reading more of your essence and life and wonders.
    Love Gail

  9. Hi Everyone! I'm so tickled to be able to feature Grizz in this interview - and over the moon that you are all enjoying it.

    Grizz: The pleasure was all mine - but the real credit must go to the person who supplied all the answers and beautiful photographs!

  10. Another great interview, Bonnie. The best part is that I was not at all familiar with Grizz or his blog, so I have a lot to look forward to now.

  11. What a fine interview and his photos are intriguing. I'm heading over and will likely follow this blog in my reader. Thanks, Bonnnie!

  12. Thanks for such an insightful interview and introduction to a VIP (as in Very Interesting Person) - loved the photographs too. I have had a glance at his blog and intend to keep up with his life too. Every Blessing

  13. You had me at "light" ...

    Wonderful, Grizz and Bonnie. I've seen Grizz around the comment-sphere, and I look forward to finding out more in person at his blog.

  14. Informative and enjoyable.....great interview of a wonderful/kind man....thank you Bonnie....:-) Hugs

  15. Bonnie, thank you for introducing me to Grizz and Riverdaze. Particularly impressive for me is Grizz's final response to the question about ambivalence.

    Bonnie, you're doing a real service here in highlighting superb blogs for us to read and enjoy. Thank you again.

  16. This is the first time to your blog, coming from Riverdaze. I really enjoyed this interview and will need to add your blog to my blog list as it looks most interesting! ... I'm not a good commenter though.

  17. Bonnie, I haven't been able to keep up with all of your interviews, but had the time today to come to this one. A very interesting guy, and I appreciated many of the questions you put to him. These interviews read like conversations, and I'm curious to know if you spoke to any of your subjects, or put your questions to them only by email.

  18. Another great interview Bonnie.. Thanks bringing all these wonderful people into my life..

  19. Excellent interview. What I liked the most was his description of the river. It was a work of art in and of itself. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  20. Thank you again to all who have left comments.

    Deborah: Thanks for the question. The Q&A was all done by e-mail. Once I get the answers I do make a few tweaks to enhance the flow e.g. by acknowledging something in a previous answer before moving on to the next question. So glad you enjoyed this interview with Grizz.

  21. Riverdaze is one of my all time favourite blogs, Bonnie and I have so enjoyed Grizz's answers and also his wonderful photographs. That first one of his river in the snow is a real winner. Thank you for conducting such an excellent interview with him. I feel I know him a little better now.

  22. To one and all who've commented here—not to mention those who've visited Riverdaze and left a comment there—I do appreciate your kind words very much. They truly mean a lot, and I'm especially encouraged by the fact so many of you seem to enjoy the words and photos of my riverbank life. Know that you're always welcome.

    And thank you again, Bonnie. I'm still seeing new visitors, still getting comments…and having a great time reading and answering. You have a stellar bunch of readers here.

  23. The photographs take your breath away. What a wonderful, enlightening interview.

  24. Hello Bonnie and thank you! I've so enjoyed reading this interview - it's been wonderful to get to know Grizz even more, Riverdaze is one of my very favourite blogs.

  25. Great interview - and the photos are phenomenal!

  26. its all been said, but i really enjoyed this interview - found myself nodding through much of it (not napping! but agreeing :) ) and those photos are just awesome. I am off to Riverdaze now. Thanks Bonnie and Grizz

  27. another wow.
    Bonnie I am so grateful.
    I am very thrilled to meet Grizz and can't wait to lose myself in his blog.

    I need a few more hours in the day to follow all of these new wonderfully talented and caring people, yourself included.

    I think I'm caught up here today. You are so talented. And intuitive. And interesting, Bonnie.


Comments are always read and appreciated.

(I am grateful for all awards received. However, I ask that this be an "award-free zone" and meme-free zone. Thanks for understanding!)