Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Is confessing to an crime you're not guilty of still good for the soul?

Okay, Blogger surrendered and let me upload a picture of me and my grandma.
I've just gotten home from visiting my parents and my grandmother and enjoying the warmer North Carolina weather. It may take me a few days to catch up with things as I will be busy catching up around here.

While I was at my grandmothers, I thought about this incident and wrote the following. I still didn't tell her the truth. Enjoy...

“Did you cut one, Sage?”

“What?” I shout back while thinking “Did my grandmother ask what I thought she asked?”

“Did you cut one?”

She never spoke so crudely before; she’s sounding like a seventh grade boy. Why was she asking if I’d farted? And how could she even tell, she’s on the other side of the tree?

“Yes, a little one,” I say, my face red with shame.

“Don’t be doing that,” she said. “Put your knife up. These aren’t our peaches; they don’t belong to us until we pay for them.”

“That’s why she’s talking about,” I think to myself. “How do I get out of this situation?”

Grandma’s a literalist. She thought I had cut a peach with my knife and I was thinking like a Junior High boy. I’m thirteen years old and spending a week with my grandparents. Most evenings I’d been out fishing with my granddad, but this evening the three of us are over to J. B. Coles’ orchard over near West End picking peaches. Cole has the big “redskin” peaches. They’re so juicy that when you bit into one, peach juice runs down your chin. I am careful when putting them into the baskets, making sure they’re not bruised. After picking several bushels, we pay the man at the shed out by the road and drive home. That night before bed we have fresh peaches over angel food cake, topped with whipped cream. The next morning we have peaches in our cereal. A few peaches are saved for a container of home made ice cream to be fixed on Sunday afternoon, but most of them my grandmother cans in quart Mason Jars, saving them for cobblers she’ll make on wintry afternoons.

It’s said that confession is good for the soul. I’m not sure that includes confessing for transgressions not committed, but since I’m sure there are a few misdemeanors I’ve overlooked, confessing for this one transgression didn’t do me any harm. I never told my grandma that I confused cutting a peach with passing gas and there is no reason to bring it up now, decades later.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My Old Stomping Grounds

I haven’t done any blog writing while here, but thought I’d share some of my photos of walking along Wrightsville Beach and Masonboro Inlet at sunset yesterday. Didn’t I tell you all I was in God’s country? Didn’t get out today at sunset as we were having a thunderstorm. Enjoy.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane

I was going to post a picture here, but since I'm on dial-up and it was taking forever, I reconsidered. Maybe I'll find a WiFi site.

13B, I couldn’t believe that I had booked that seat. I didn’t even think these regional jets had that many rows, but there I was with my boarding pass for 13B. It had to be a mistake, but there was the 13th row, the last row, with just two seats. There was not an empty seat left on the plane. A nice looking middle age woman was sitting in seat A. Now that I am 50, I’m realizing that middle aged women can be attractive. I stowed my stuff and took notice of my surroundings. “Hum,” I think to myself. “The exit row was halfway up the plane, I hope this thing doesn’t crash, that’s a lot of people to crawl over.” More importantly, across the aisle from me, a mere 15 inches away, was the door to the bathroom. “Having the john that handy can’t be good,” I ponder.

As soon as we got to a comfortable cruising altitude, the pilot turned off the fasten seat belt sign and a line immediately formed. I tried to sleep, but was constantly awaken by someone navigating the space between my seat and the bathroom. This generally meant that they intruded into my airspace. In this ninety minute flight, I was up close and personal to more butts than a gynecologist on a good day. After about thirty minutes, I gave up sleeping and decided to engage my seatmate with conversation.

“I think you and I are the only two people on this plane that hasn’t gone into that bathroom,” I said, assuming that she wouldn’t take it as a pick up line.

She chuckled and said something about people not going to the potty before getting on the plane.
I then noticed that she was reading a horse magazine. There, in a full color half page advertisement was an offer that for just $2995 you can get a tank to go behind a lawn tractor that would vacuum up horse shit. This contraption is just what the small farmer needed to have a clean pasture, according to the text.

“Is that thing for real?” I ask.

“I was just wondering that myself,” she said.

“Whatever happened to natural fertilization?”

“I’d never buy one,” she assured me.

“If this line doesn’t let up soon, we’re going to need one for this plane,” I suggested.

Luckily, before the plane’s holding tank overflowed, we landed in Atlanta and I trotted off thee concourses over where I my next flight was waiting, making sure to go to the bathroom before boarding. Soon, I was heading in northwest toward the Old North State (North Carolina).

By the way, what all the above means is that I won't be real active blogging for the next week. I'll try to catch up and make up later.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Andy Catlett: Early Travels: A Book Review

Wendell Berry, Andy Catlett: Early Travels (Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006)

I think Wendell Berry is one of the most talented authors writing today. In his nearly fifty year career, he has published over forty books in three genres (fiction, poetry and essays). Most of these were written while tending a small farm in Kentucky. Andy Catlett is his latest work set in his beloved community of Port Williams, Kentucky, a community that has come alive through Berry’s fiction.

It’s the end of 1943, right after Christmas. Nine year old Andy Cartlett is excited. He’s put on a bus bound for Port Williams, his ancestral home. There, for the next five or so days, he spends time with his grandparents. The Cartlett’s are still living much like their parents and grandparents, depending on oil lamps and wood heat and draft animals. His grandfather along with Dick, meets him at the bus stop in a buckboard, pulled by mules. The Cartletts have never owned a car. While there, the young Andy plays in the fields and woodlots, and sits in a pack house listening to men tell stories as they strip tobacco, preparing it for market. Although Andy doesn’t sense it at the time, the narrator who looks back on the events from the future realizes that the world is changing.

After a couple days at the Cartlett’s, Andy’s Grandfather Feltner picks him up in his car and takes them to their home on the edge of Port Williams. While there, Andy roams the streets of the tiny hamlet, joining the men in the back room of an old store, where they play cards and spin yarns. As with much of Berry’s writing, it’s slow yet very descriptive. It’s a treat to slow down enough to take it all in.

Berry’s favorite themes are here, the passing of one way of life for another. You have no doubt that Berry questions the validity and the wisdom of the newer way of life. He prefers the old ways of home economies. Both grandparents, even though they seem to be different, value hard work and thrift, values that Berry strives to instill into his readers. Another theme is explored through these pages, the theme of race. You can see Berry, through Andy’s eyes, strive to understand the complex relationship between the races in rural southern society.

Is this novel an autobiographical memoir? He doesn’t say, but Berry, who was born in 1934, would have also been in 9 in 1943!

Berry always tells a good story and Andy Cartlett is no difference. However, if you’re looking for an introduction to Berry’s fiction, I’d suggest first reading either Nathan Coulter or Jayber Crow or perhaps The Memory of Old Jack.

Check out my review of Hannah Coulter (another of Berry’s books). For more infomration on Berry, check out the Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky site.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Photo of Masonboro Sound.

I’m getting better (I think). The doc gave me some good pills to fight this sinus infection. I'll be very busy for the next few days so I probably won’t post again until sometime next week. Then next Thursday I’m heading south to visit my parents and check up on my mom and my grandma. Nothing really adventuresome, but who knows, there’s always something down there to write about such as pelicans or hot dog stands.

The slide duplicator came yesterday. I’ve done a few test shots with it. The picture attached picture (which is down the road from my parents) is an example. Looks like I need to clean the slide, but it’ll have to wait as I don’t have time to redo this right now. If you can, suspend disbelief and assume the black specks in the sky are distant birds. Once I learn how to get good duplications, I should have plenty of pictures to share and to illustrate my posts. This slide was taken over 25 years ago.

While I’m gone, check out what’s going on in the blogs on my side bar. Here are some highlights: Tim has some really big news. Congratulations! Diane is taking time away from her knitting to go to Yellowstone and test out her wool sweaters. I’m jealous. Deana just got back from St. Martin’s (and I’m visiting family!). Again, I’m jealous. Murf’s biggest problem in life is a screwed up toolbar on her computer. Again, I’m jealous. Bone is trying to get soap opera ads to focus on men. For once, I think I’m satisfied with life.

I’m off overnight on an overnight mini-vacation, so I’m not really that envious. I just hope I don’t try to overdo it (with those long pointed things under my feet) and get sicker. I'll have to spend more time in the hot tub.

And one more site to check out, it’s not on my blog list, on Saturdays Semicolon has links to all kind of book reviews. Check it out tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Michelle: Memories from a former life

I borrowed the image of the Harper's Creek Falls from this website. Somewhere in my boxes of slides I have photograhs of the falls. Warning, this memory isn't exactly a sappy Valentine story.
I stirred the fire, and then rechecked our packs and the food bag hanging from a limb. Everything looked in order. I fluffed out my bag on the ground cloth. Sitting on the bag, I pulled off my boots and placed them near the top of my bag, putting my flashlight inside, in case I needed it in the middle of the night. Anticipating the warmth, I crawled inside my bag and finish undressing, leaving my pants and socks at the bottom where they’ll be warm in the morning. For a while I listened to the water in the canyon below while tracking the stars across the sky and watching the waning moon rise. Although past full, it was still plenty bright. I rolled over and looked at Michelle, fast asleep in her bag. She looked angelic. Her smooth face rested on arm crooked under her head. Her hair glistened in the moonlight. But I found myself pondering if I was on a date with a junkie.

Michelle and I had met that spring. She was the breakfast and lunch waitress at a resort where I was staying. It was our annual Council Staff's planning retreat. Bubbly and cute, we flirted for the first two mornings. It would have probably not gone any further had not David, my boss and the council scout executive, made a comment her being unsuitable for me. "She's too young and obviously doesn't have a college degree," Based on his comments, I decided to ask her out that evening. There was something about my boss making such comments that got me riled up. I don’t remember much about the evening except that we drove over to Boone, a college town where she lived, and hung out. I was a young looking twenty-seven year old; she was nineteen; we fit into the town's scene. As I was living about 50 miles away, I didn’t see her again for several months. It was shortly after that planning retreat that I met Terri. That fall, after Terri and I had parted company, I gave Michelle a call. One weekend we went on a day hike, in which she impressed me by preparing a wonderful picnic. Another, we went to the movies and had dinner. This was the third weekend in a row we were together.

I no longer remember if she expressed an interest in backpacking, or if I had encouraged her to join me. It doesn’t matter. Unlike our day hike, there was little joy in this backpacking trip, and it killed any relationship that we might had established. Although she appeared physically to be in good shape, I found myself struggling to carry both of our packs. She kept getting sick, and it became evident that she was hung over from the night before. I had not seen this side of her and it didn’t make me very happy. We hiked into the Harper Creek section of Pisgah National Forest. I’d been there once before and had wanted to camp on the ridge overlooking the falls and to photograph them in the morning light. It was getting late when we got the camping spot. The beauty seemed to be lost on Michelle, whose first order of business was to light a joint. She offered me a hit. I shock my head, expressing displeasure. We had things to do to get ready for the evening. I strung a line and hung the tarp, got out my stove and headed down to the creek to get water. Soon, water was boiling. I fixed us both a cup of tea and then added noodles to the remaining water. It was getting dark quickly and I asked if she could find the butter, which was in a plastic bottle. She dug through my pack and came over and squirted soap into the pan.

“You idiot,” I shouted, as I watched the bubbles grow.

She didn’t say anything and I realized that in the near dark it was nearly impossible to tell the difference between the container of soap and butter.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled. Although I didn’t admit it, my outburst had more to do with my frustration of the day than with the ruined noodles. Normally, I’d laughed it off. I opened a can of tuna that was going to be added to the noodles and handed her a fork. We sat on a log, both eating out of the can. I pull out some crackers and a couple candy bars. It wasn’t filling, but was enough to get us through the night. I buried the noodles away from the campsite and pack the food into a bag and hung it, with our packs, in a nearby tree. Without saying a word, Michele walked off a distance; I suppose to use the lady’s room and also to finish smoking her joint. Then she crawled into her bag and, without saying a word, fell asleep.

I woke up early the next morning. It was cool, as it was early October, and some of the trees were beginning to show their colors. Taking my camera and a tripod, I hiked down into the canyon and photographed the falls in the early light. She was still asleep when I got back, so I fixed us both a cup of tea and prepared oatmeal. Michelle's mood had improved. After breaking camp, we stored our packs and spent much of the morning exploring the canyon before hiking out in the early afternoon.

Nothing was really said, but we both knew the hike had exposed parts of us that the other couldn’t handle in a long term relationship. I didn’t see Michelle for another two years. It was right before I moved to Pittsburgh for grad school. I was in Boone with some friends and we had gone out for dinner. I didn’t recognize her at first, even though she was sitting at an adjacent table. “Sage,” she shouted as I sat down. She came over and we talked for a few minutes. She looked as if she was doing well and mentioned she was in school taking some business courses. We talked for a few more minutes. Although I never saw her again, I was glad to have met up with her a final time. I'd have hated for my last image of her being that hung-over girl unable to carry her own pack.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Forced conversions and younger men

Looking out the kitchen window...
I’ve been converted! Yesterday afternoon, Blogger jihadists finally got a hold of me, forcing my conversion. I was hoping to be the last one standing with the Old Blogger (that award might go to Diane). What can I saw, I was once lost, but now I am found. I haven’t yet seen much difference in the two systems and it appears everything transferred over easily.

On a totally unrelated note, I need to go on the record and say that I have one big problem with Barack Obama. Last night, listening to NPR, I learned that he was born in 1961. He’s just a kid; I’m not ready for a President that’s younger than me. This could be even more traumatic than the first Pittsburgh Pirate game I attended back in the mid-80s. Before the game, as I was brushing up on the stats, I realized that only one ballplayer was older than me. I was 29! I figured then that any chance I ever had of playing major league ball had died.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Catching Up and More Skiing

A grain drill (thanks Ed) waiting for a Spring that will never come.

It was a hectic weekend, my second in a row. I can’t wait to get out of here for a week later this month—heading down south to check on my mother and to relax. Right now I’m fighting a head cold while trying to get everything done so that I can take off.

The snow picked up later in the afternoon.

I did get to spend a couple hours out cross country skiing on Friday. I didn’t get out until late in the day because my daughter was home ill. I went by myself, the temperatures had moderated (it was about 20 degrees F), but the wind was blowing and in many places I had to break trail. I saw the remains of a squirrel done in by either a coyote or a bobcat, not much left, just some blood stains on the snow, a few bones, and pieces of fur strung along the trail. I decided not to take a picture; it seemed sacrilegious to have done so. Yet it reminded me, as I skied alone, that life can be challenging.

I did reread a short book on Friday. I won’t write a full review, but I highly recommend Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son. Woltertorff, a professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale Divinity School, lost his 25 year old son to a climbing accident in Europe. It’s a touching, yet honest and somewhat anguish book expressing his grief.

The sun's reflection, as it drops lower behind gray steely clouds, as seen on an open body of water.

I’ll write more later; I’m working on some other stories from my past that I hope to post soon. I’ve also order a slide copier for my digital camera and can’t wait for it to come so that I can transfer some of my better slides (I’ve got 20+ years of them) and share the photos here in my blog as well as using them in presentations.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mom always taught us to put the interest of others ahead of our own

Photo taken a two weeks ago at sunset. It has nothing to do with the story below, which took place when I was probably 12 or 13, although I don't remember the exact year.

“Was it you?” Mom asked as I walked through the door.

“Was what me?

“Did you sign your brother up for old age insurance?”

“Uh,” I hummed thinking.

“Oh yeah, I did.” Smirking, I asked, “Did he get a letter?”

“No, a man came by today. You should be ashamed of yourself. He wanted to talk to W. I couldn’t understand what was going on until he said that he’d received a referral that your brother was interested in insurance. He thought your brother was an old man, not a fifth grader.”

I snickered.

“It’s not funny,” my mother raised her voice a bit. “This guy had a thread-bare coat and drove a rusted out car that smoked and barely ran.”

I tried to wipe the grin off my face as I braced myself for a guilt trip. She continued, telling me how he’d wasted part of his day and his gas in an attempt to sell my brother insurance. She told me how he was just trying to take care of his family and even mentioned his crumpled hat that he held in his hand as he waited at the door. Why did she have to tell me about the hat? I started to feel bad. But not too bad. It takes a while for guilt to set in. It was a good thing I didn’t know anything about insurance as a sixth grader or I’d liable to have told her I was looking out for W best interest as he could get a better rate on old age insurance as an eleven year old.

For just pennies a day, you could get this insurance, the ad promised. I could imagine my brother opening up the package of information, telling about insurance for someone 65 or older. It seemed like such a good idea when I saw the flyer in the Sunday paper. Now I wasn’t so sure. I was expecting some form of punishment but none was forthcoming. Punishment wasn't necessary as guilt washed over me and I suddenly felt responsible for burdening this insurance salesman. Heck, I probably even caused his family to go without dinner that evening. Although I’d never seen any such kids, I’d heard stories from the depression from my grandparents and was sure his kids went to school without shoes. I retreated to my room, did my homework, then headed out to play ball with the guys, hoping to forgot about the man. But occasionally, he continues to haunt me. I never saw him, however I still see him as a lean man in a worn overcoat, standing at our porch. As he waits for the door to open, his hands nervously wring that crumpled hat.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What a difference a day makes

Here I go breaking my rule on writing about family, but this was too cute not to share. The photo was taken on a from behind the wheel going down a secondary county road this weekend.

Yesterday morning I was driving my daughter to school. School had been closed on Monday as we were still getting snow and the low that morning was -15 F (-26 C). By comparison, Tuesday was a balmy 0 F (-18 C), according to the thermometer on my truck mirror. Tuesday morning my daughter was happy and she made up a little song which she sang over and over that went when something like this:

Zippity Do-dah, Zippity Day, it’s only zero out today.

This morning the temperature had dropped back down to -6 F. It was cold; she was running late. I turned up NPR on the radio and as they covered the state news, they listed a number of school districts that were still closed due to weather. This didn’t make my daughter happy and she yelled:

It’s not fair. We only got one day off of school and they’re going to be off all week. That’s not fair!
What a difference a makes. Or maybe it’s the temperature.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Crossing to Safety: A Book Review

Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety (1987, reprint New York: Modern Library, 2002).

The late Wallace Stegner is one of the great voices of the American West. Not only was he a man of letters, as a teacher he influenced both Edward Abbey and Wendell Berry. Stegner died in 1993, at the age of 83. Crossing to Safety was his last novel. It is the story of two couples, Sally and Larry Morgan and Charity and Sidney Lang. In the heart of the depression, they meet at the University of Wisconsin where Larry and Sidney begin their careers teaching in the English Department. Larry narrates the story which is seen through his eyes.

Crossing to Safety begins in the present. The Morgans have been reunited with the Langs in Vermont, to be by Charity’s bed as she is in the final stages of cancer. In the day they spend together, Larry thinks back over the years they’d known each other, of the joys and sorrows, the hopes and struggles of their lives and friendship. Although sad, it is a very hopeful book. The two were such good friends. Although they accomplish lots in their life (Larry is a novelist), none of them find all their dreams coming true. Yet, they find solace from their faithfulness to one another. They live a good life, despite their problems. Sally developed polio and after the iron lung, never fully regains her ability to get around. Larry is released after only one year of teaching at Wisconsin, a disappointment that leads him into publishing. Sid doesn’t obtain tenure, another disappointment to a young man who inherited a fortune, but was trying to prove himself. He really wants to be a poet, but his wife Charity keeps pushing him further, saying that poetry ought to be a by-product of living, and that “it’s immoral (to only write poetry) and not to get in and work and get your hands dirty.” Charity demands on being in control, a desire she can’t let go of even as she’s dying.

Toward the end of the book, Larry philosophically ponders the end of life as being experienced by Charity and also as have been faced by his wife decades earlier. Having survived polio, she lives like most polio victims, with a capacity to endure. Yet, she also lives knowing that there will come a time that all polio survivors face, when the whole body seems to collapse at once. She learns to live by turning away from such prospects and living life fully. Certainly, the Langs and Morgans lived a full life, creating a very hopeful novel despite the centering event of the book being Charity’s impending death.

A strong point of this book is Stegner’s ability to create a sense of place. You experience not only the people, but the places in which they live. In her introduction to the Modern Library edition, Terry Tempest Williams places this “elegant novel” within Stegner’s “geography of hope.” I agree. By the way, I also highly recommend Terry Tempest Williams memoir Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place.

Check out this novel. It’s good. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading it. The book is full of hope as the author paints a wonderful picture of two couples living
ordinary but not mundane, fulfilling but not overly fruitful, but always faithful lives.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

More Cross Country Sking

It’s been a cold day. This morning before the wind got to be too strong, I went out with a neighbor skiing behind our houses. If you ski across a field, you can get back into an area where there are the high school cross-country trails and even some old roads. However, there are many down trees, more so than the last time I skiied here.

My dog also went with us. He doesn't like having his picture taken (he's afraid a flash will pop), but I got a backside shot of him. He loves the snow, but after a couple miles was ready to be done as the snow gets into his paws. He had to keep stopping and gnawing out the snow that had become packed into his paws. It was about 5 degrees F, with a wind chill well below zero. It was cold enough that when the wind blew the space between my glasses and hat would sting and give me brain freeze. I’m sure some of you think my brain stays that way. By noon, the wind had picked up extensively, clouds moved back in, and snow was blowing. It was bitterly cold; it was good that I had plenty of work to do inside.

It's amazing that there are still pockets of water that doesn't freeze. There is a spring here that feeds this small pond.

As the ten day forecast has us staying below freezing, I'm hoping there will be more days of skiing.

Friday, February 02, 2007

An afternoon of cross-country skiing

Winter has finally arrived. It’s been cold; we’re in the coldest streak this part of Michigan has seen in a decade (after some of the warmest weather ever). It’s time to make the best of things and get out and ski. These photos are taken around Cedar Creek, south of town at a nature preserve.

Herringboning up a hill.

Look closely for the swans in the middle of the picture to the left.

The skiing was great, except for on the top of some of the hills where blowing wind was bone chilling.