Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Tietam Cane

Lance Levens, Tietam Cane (Tucson, AZ: Fireshippress, 2014), 265 pages

At first, I disliked Tietam Cane.  The precocious twelve year old, while obviously bright, was a racist and bigoted.  He even had plans to kill the one Yankee he knew in school.  And, as a reader, you had the sense that Tietam would have carried out the deed if he had the opportunity.  Thankfully he didn’t.  However, as I read further and learned more about his upbringing, I couldn’t help but to feel sorry for him and even began to like him.  The burdens of the past laid heavily on Tietam, who nickname derived from the most vicious battle of the Civil War, Antietam.  The boy grew up without parents (who had run away to New York to be “Beatniks”), raised by his grandparents.  His grandfather was so into the Civil War that he still heard the voices of dying Confederate soldiers.  It was a heavy burden for a man to carry through life.  His father had, as a young teenager, attempted to shoot the Yankee commander of one of Sherman’s raiding parties after they had stolen the family’s food and valuable.  The Yankee commander had everyone in the family brought in at gunpoint and forced them to witness the cutting off of the boys right hand so he could no longer shoot.  The severed hand became a reminder of Yankee cruelty.  The father passed on his hate to his son and his son was not attempting to pass it on to his grandson.  Now, in 1963, Tietam is still living in the Civil War.  There are surprising twists in the last chapters of the book which allows the reader to experience an epiphany as we, like Tietam, learn that things are not as they appear.

                I was drawn to this book because I am a Southerner and although Tietam, the character, was six years older than me, some of what he experienced was my experiences.  Although there were no severed hands stashed away in family basements (as far as I know), I had a teacher in the late 60s tell about her grandfather trying hide their valuables and food from Sherman’s Calvary and being hanged for it.  His neck wasn’t broken and the as the soldiers rode away, his mother cut him down with a butcher knife and the man went through life with a terrible scar on his neck.  I don’t remember if it was the same class, but there was also a picture in a North Carolina history book that showed a late 19th Century Ku Klux Klan lynching in Moore County.  Having been born there, I looked at the photo with horror, wondering if I was related to any of those who had done such a despicable deed.   As one German philosopher taught, “The past weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”

                At the end of the book, the reader realizes that Tietam is going to be okay.  The weight of the past has been lifted.  I enjoyed this book.  It is a quick read and Levens is a gifted storyteller.   I learned about this book when Levens spoke to a writer’s group in Savannah.   

Monday, August 31, 2015

A few things...

Jekyll before the storm
Last weekend I took a trip down to Jekyll Island and enjoyed the beach until the rain came (see the photo taken from the north end of the island).  Lately, it is not a question of if it will rain but when.   Sailing was cancelled on Saturday Every day it rains and the humidity stays up high on both sides of the storms.  For a week, we watched the storm Erika with concern that it might become a major hurricane, but thankfully it fell apart.  It would a disaster if it, or another storm, hits.  The ground is so saturated that I’m afraid many trees wouldn’t stand.

The storm coming in at the north inlet
Norfolk Southern Rail Yard at the Savannah Ports
Recently I had an opportunity for a tour of the container yard at the Georgia State Port at Savannah.  The Savannah Port is the fourth largest in the country and contains the largest single container yard.  Other parts of the port deals in bulk products, automobiles and heavy equipment.  One of the advantages of the port is having two Class 1 railroads (Norfolk Southern and CSX) with yards within the port. Unlike ports in the northeast, many whose rail lines have height restrictions and can double stack boxes, all the trains leaving the ports (40 plus a week to Atlanta alone) are double-stacked.  The place runs like a clock with everything computer controlled that runs jockeying trucks, cranes and lifts around with precision. The port can handle up to nine ships at a time and handles 4 million container units (A container unit is a 20 foot box so a 40 or 45 foot box is counted as two containers).  

In other news, what about the Pirates.  Yes, they lost yesterday, but they have been playing incredible ball this year and have picked up a few games on the Cardinals who are first place in the National League Central Division.  They should, at least, receive a wildcard bid into the play-offs.  Amazingly, the top three teams in the Central Division (Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs) would be in first place if they were in any other division in the league.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mark Twain and Orion Clemens

I taught a six week class this summer on Mark Twains Western Years using Roughing It as my primary guide.  In addition to rereading Roughing It, I read this interesting study about the Clemens brothers.

Philip Ashley Fanning, Mark Twain and Orion Clemens: Brothers, Partners, Strangers (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 2003), 268 pages, no photos or maps

In much of Mark Twain's writings, his older brother Orion comes across as a bumbling idiot. Was he?  AOrion had led and supported the Clemens family from an early age when their father died.  He also held a responsible position in the Nevada Territory, the territorial secretary, a political appointment he earned for his support of the Republican Party in the 1860 election.  Like his younger brother, who became Mark Twain, Orion desired wealth, but he was known to be a man of principle and stuck to his principles even when they led to financial shortcomings and failures.   Philip Ashely Fanning examines the relationship between these two brothers, who were similar in some ways, yet very different.
            Orion was ten years older than Samuel Clemens, so when their father died, he became the patriarch of the family.  He worked in various positions along the towns of the Mississippi, as a newspaper man, a printer and occasionally as an attorney.  At a young age when Sam quit school, he went to work for his brother.  This arrangement didn't work well.  One of the stories told is that Orion decided there were too many stray cats hanging around the print shop and had Sam collect them in a sack and drown them, something that bothered the younger brother who always had a soft spot for cats.  In 1852, Sam quits and heads out on a trip though New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC, funded by working in various print shops and newspapers along the way.  He occasionally wrote articles that appeared in his brothers newspaper. During this time, Orion broke with the family and became convinced that slavery was evil.  This lead to him becoming a Republican and working for the party in the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln.

            Coming back from his trip east, Samuel Clemens continues to work in print shops and for newspapers, until he concocts a plan to go to South America.  On his way down the Mississippi, to New Orleans, he changes direction and accepts an offer to "learn the river."  In 1858, Sam became a riverboat pilot, an occupation that paid more than the Vice President of the United States.  At this stage, the younger Clemens usurps his other brothers position as the family patriarch.  After the Republican victory in 1860 and the beginning of the Civil War, their role reverses with Orion being offered a political position in Nevada as Sam finds him out of work.  The two of them head west, with Sam bankrolling the trip from his savings.  Later, when Sam (now known as Mark Twain) begins to write an account of his western adventures, he depends heavily on his brother's journals to reconstruct (in a humorous manner) the stage trip across the country.  This account was published in his second book, Roughing It.  In Nevada, the brothers parted ways for a period.  Twain's practical jokes and attempts at humor created problems for his brother and sister-in-law.  Sam headed to California and then to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) while Orion headed back to the Midwest. 

            Over the next couple of decades, Orion found himself having to depend on his younger brother's generosity both for money and positions.  Orion, who was always honest, finds himself excommunicated from his church after having expressed his beliefs.  At Sam's encouragement, he beings to write an autobiography.  Sam begins to insist on rewrites as a way to protect his own self-constructed myth.  Orion seems to have compiled, even though much of the autobiography has been lost (and may have been burned by Twain or lost by his biographer).

            Fanning presents some interesting ideas concerning how Twain related to his older brother.  He offers some interesting possibilities concerning the brothers father's death, suggests that after Twain had thoughts about killing his brother, and that Orion's time in Nevada was much more successful than Twain would later acknowledge (he was often the acting governor and as such helped settle a border dispute with California).  He also demonstrates how the younger brother encouraged his older brother to go into the ministry, even though later in life Orion would find himself excommunicated because of his unorthodox beliefs

            Although Fannings book raises a lot of questions concerning the two brother's relationship, he also helps redeem Orion for the "bumbling idiot" characterization in which he's often been portrayed.  Unfortunately, due to loss of material (especially that which was written by Orion) and the inability to know what's happening inside the mind of another, we will never be able to really know for sure if some of Fanning's ideas are correct, but it is safe to assume that Orion needs to be assessed in a different light.  This, Fanning does, while also showing how Twain, a wonderful author, had a mean streak and was not above throwing his brother under the bus in order to make himself look better.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paddling and dolphins

Pigeon Island
It rained all day on Sunday.  The sailing regatta scheduled for 1 PM was cancelled.  I went home and took a nap and when I woke, the clouds had begun to break apart, so I decided it might be a time for an evening kayak event.  Launching at Butterbean beach, we paddled down toward Pigeon Island.  The rains had cooled the air but the humidity was still high.  We had enough time to circle around the island (a five mile paddle), but there were so many dolphins playing around that we ended up just floating around and watching them feed and play in the water as the sun set behind clouds.  They are such graceful animals as they come up and roll down, sometimes even coming nearly out of the water when feeding.  There were many pairs of dolphins along with some mothers and their young.  It seems that they play with us as they'd be in front of us and as we'd approach, they dive deep and then appear behind us, splashing as if to draw our attention.  As the lights drained from the sky, we watched in awe.  Then, before all the light was gone, we paddled back to the landing, arriving just before the end of nautical twilight, at which time we'd need to have lights on hand to show our position to any approaching boat. 

I wish I had brought my DSLR with me.  My point and shot waterproof camera takes nice photos but it isn't very fast and the light was dropping and I wasn't able to capture any of the great shots such as when the dolphins were nearly completely after the water or of their tails.   The shot below was taken last week.  As I was coming back onto the island, across the causeway, I saw the barge pushing up the Intracoastal Waterway and pulled off at the boat ramp and waited till I could take this shot (taken with an iphone).  When I was a child and lived near the waterway in North Carolina, there were lots of freight (mostly logs) hauled via barges.  This is the first barge I've seen on the waterway since I moved here--today it seems that most of the traffic along the waterway are pleasure boats.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Wednesday evening sail was blessed with a rainbow (and a preceding storm)

A driving rain
We took a chance Wednesday afternoon and sailed over to the Savannah Yacht Club for their evening race that involves all categories of boats.  The forecast had called for 6-8 knot winds which would have given our boat a bit of an advantage.  With the tide running with us, we made the five mile trek in 45 minutes and was there in time for the start of the race.  The only other time I did this, we arrived well after our start time and although we did the course, we were never in the race.  This time, it was only slightly better as we were confused with the course and almost missed a pin…  It was a learning experience.  Tacking in a downpour adds another danger as the foot of the sail held a lot of water and when we heaved over to the new tack much of that water poured down my back as I adjusted the jib. 
Right after I received a shower

Photo by Chris

Joe, at the helm during the rain

But what a time we had!  It took is nearly 1 ½ to run the course.  We had everything from pleasant but slow sailing (what we thought we’d have), squalls that almost knocked the boat down, downpours that totally soaked us, and dead calm in which we watched a mark get further away as the tide swept us upstream from our mark.  Add in a few dozen (or a hundred) porpoises playing in the water, sailing within feet of a boat named “Lightning Rod” during a thunderstorm, an incredible rainbow that followed the storm, and lightning that thankfully stayed mostly a good distance away.  On the downwind leg home, we had a great spinnaker run until we were about a half a mile from the finish and the wind died...  

The rainbow
After a “happy hour” at the club, another boat from Skidaway towed us back home in the dark.  We kept looking through the cloudy skies for meteors, but were not blessed to see any.  I got home at 10 pm, took a shower and put on dry clothes!  
Waiting for wind (It did return with a vengeance
only to die as we approached the finish line)