Saturday, June 30, 2007

Ikiru: A Movie Review

I watched this movie from my laptop, while waiting in the Cleveland Airport for a flight west on Wednesday. My blogging will be erratic for the next week. I'll try to get up some pictures of the Utah mountains.
Ikiru, directed by Akira Kurosawa, Japan 1952 (B&W, Japanese with English subtitles)

Watanabe is the public affair’s section chief for the Tokyo bureaucracy. He's dying of stomach cancer. Knowing death is imminent, he strives to find what life is all about. Much of the movie is dark, as we see the inefficiency of a bureaucracy that exists only for itself. Watanabe’s days are spent stamping papers and referring request to other departments within the government. Early in the film, a group of women come to the Watanabe, asking for help in cleaning up a cesspool. Watanabe says they have to go elsewhere, and every department gives them the run around. Nothing gets done.

Feeling sorry for himself, and thinking that his son is only interested in his money, Watanabe goes out for a night on the town. When I rented this film from Netflix, I mistakenly thought it might be a Japanese version of “Leaving Las Vegas.” Someone who is dying (although Nicholas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas” didn’t have a terminal illness) goes out on a binge. I was wrong. Yes, Watanabe does go out for a night on the town, but he finds there’s much to live for. He meets a author who, upon learning about his cancer, shows him the nightlife of Tokyo. They go to a cabaret and a strip club. The next day he meets Toyo, a young woman who works in his section. She’s decided to quit working for the government. They spend several days together, not as lovers as his son thinks, but with Toyo helping Watanabe get in touch with his desire to live. Watanabe has an epiphany. Having come to the conclusion that he’s wasted his life doing nothing, he goes back to the office and pulls out the petition from the women who had complained about the cesspool in their neighborhood. He sets out to clean it up and to create a new park in a poor section of the city, a task that forces him to go against customs and to challenge his superiors.

The movie then shifts to Watanabe’s funeral. His son and wife, along with his co-workers and even the deputy mayor gathered in front of a shrine set up for Watanabe. As they drink sake, people come to pay their respect. Slowly, Watanabe’s role in creating the new park comes out. You learn from a policeman visiting the shrine that Watanabe had died in the park, on a swing where he’d been singing an old love song (Life is Short) during a snowstorm. As the sake takes over, Watanabe’s co-workers pledge themselves to reform the government. The movie then ends with two short scenes, Watanabe’s co-workers going back to old habits and with children playing in the park.

This movie is a Japanese adaptation of Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich. It’s pace is at times slow, but Karosawa tells a compelling story: the hopelessness of many people caught within the bureaucracy as well as the difference Watanabe made once he had a vision. Ikiru means “to live,” and the film is about finding meaning for life. After this movie, Karosawa went on to direct one of the most famous Japanese films, the “Seven Samurai.”
For more of Sage's book and movie reviews, click here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Blood Done Sign My Name: A "Southern Challenge" Book Review

Timothy B. Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name (New York: Crown Publishing, 2004), 355 pages.

Our nation experienced much turmoil in the years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. This was especially true in the South where there court order desegregation rulings often invoked violent backlashes. This book is the story of such an incident, the 1970 racially motivated killing of Henry Marrow in Oxford, North Carolina. Henry, known as Dickie, was a twenty-three year old black veteran. He supposedly made a suggestive comment to the Robert Teel’s daughter-in-law and when words were said, drew a knife. After being shot, he was beaten and shot again, by three members of the Teel family. This was all done in the center of the street with eye witnesses. Outraged, young African-Americans poured into the streets, burning and looting white-owned businesses. Soon, veterans from Vietnam took over the struggle, striking blow after blow to the economic interest of the town, burning a warehouse filled with tobacco and a local lumber yard. Oxford became a war zone. After the Teel’s were found not guilty by an all white jury, the protest continued including a march to the state capital in Raleigh. Hundreds of African-Americans followed a mule drawn cart upon which Dickie’s pregnant widow rode.

One of the young leaders of the African American movement in Oxford and a friend of Dickie was Ben Chavis. A descendant of John Chavis, a free black man who fought on the American side during the Revolution and a leading educator in the early 19th Century, Ben made a name for himself in Oxford. He became well know as a leader in the Black Power movement and later, after being charged with arson and inciting riots, became known world-wide as a one of the defendants known as the Wilmington Ten. After prison, he became executive director of the NAACP, until he was forced to resign due to a scandal

Timothy Tyson was the ten years old son of the town’s Methodist minister. He was a friend of Gerald, Robert’s son, who had bragged that his father and cohorts had “shot ‘em a nigger.” The words seared into Tyson’s memory, drawing him back time and time again to learn and tell the story of what happened at Oxford. During his first semester in college, he wrote a paper on the topic. He later wrote a Master’s thesis on Dickie’s death and the trial that follows. This book, in which he tells his own story, grew out of his Master’s thesis. Tyson went on to receive a PhD at Duke and a professorship at the University of Wisconsin. He's now back teaching at Duke.

In race relations, Tyson’s father was a liberal. Tyson explores some of the issues surrounding white liberals in the civil rights movement especially after the movement turned violent. His father’s views on race got his father run out of the church in Oxford. The Bishop reassigned the elder Tyson to a church in Wilmington, NC, a city that was also experiencing it’s share of racial turmoil.

When Tyson tells his own story, he recalls some of the events in Wilmington, especially his 9th grade year as one of the first whites to be bused cross town to Williston, the formerly black high school (Click here to read about three boys—two white and one African-American—creating a “white Christmas" on Williston’s front lawn in December 1970). Although Tyson is two years younger than me (he must have skipped a grade in school) it appears he was at Williston the year after me (I was in the first class of whites bused to Williston in the 71-72 year). Although I don’t think I knew him, we would have both been at Roland Grice Jr. High School the previous year (70-71). I was in the 8th grade and he would, like my brother, would have been in the 7th. It was interesting reading about people I knew and part of the story Tyson explores, I have also wanted to tell. I’ll have to get back to writing my Williston stories.

Tyson is an engaging author and this book reads almost like a detective novel. I strongly recommend it for anyone who is interested in learning more about the civil rights struggle in the south and how it was seen through the eyes of a child. I'll have to confess that this book wasn't on my original list for the Southern Summer Reading Challenge, but I reserve the right to change my mind.

Click here for more of Sage's book reviews.

Catching Up

I took this photograph the other morning as I was walking to the office. It’s a pleasant 7/10th of a mile walk as long as it’s not too hot. I like to walk, especially if I have a lot of thinking or writing to do, as the morning walk clears my mind. And yards like this make walking even more of a treat. As for the photo, I wonder why I didn't place the flag a bit right of center instead of left of center. Was I was making a political statement?

I haven’t had much time for blogging lately. I’m getting ready to fly west for a conference. I leave late this afternoon. While out there, I’ll take a few days off for hiking with my son and hopefully have a couple days without distraction for planning.

I’ve recently read an incredible book which I’ll review as one of my “Southern Summer Reading Challenge.” Blood Done Sign My Name, by Timothy Tyson, took my back to my junior and senior high years as a student in North Carolina during a racially tense era. Look for that review soon, along with some memoirs dealing with that era that have been brought to the forefront while reading Tyson’s book. I’ve also been listening to Dracula on my ipod. Not being much of one for the horror genre, I’m finding myself enjoying it.

Catching Up Some More...

Ok, it's 11 PM at night and I'm still stuck in Michigan. After waiting and then having flights cancelled, I decided to wait till the morning. If all had gone right, they could have gotten me to Vegas at midnight, but since I was planning on driving up to Southern Utah, I didn't want to do that, so hopefully I'll fly out at 7 AM. Wish me luck. At least, while waiting, I've finished a book review which I'll post tomorrow.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

July, July: A "Northern" book review

Tim O’Brien, July, July (New York: Penguin, 2002). 306 pages

Do you have a burning desire to attend class reunions? If yes, read this book! Do you still believe that those in the 60s had it all together? If yes, read this book! It’s July 2001 and the 1969 graduation class of Darton Hall College have come together for their 30th reunion. Do the math. Yeah, it’s been 31 years since they graduated. Someone screwed up. Actually, they’re all screwed up. During the two days of the reunion, in which way too much alcohol is consumed, we learn all about their past and what brought them to the present. Surprisingly, most all of them are financially well off. They’d be considered a success in the world’s eyes, despite their divorces and heartbreaks and screwed up lives. The reunion consists of receptions, banquets, dances and even a chapel service for those members of their class who lived “abridged lives.” (love that term).
The book primarily focuses on a group of students who once hung out but had lost contact over the years. There’s David, the guy who in July 1969 led a platoon in Vietnam. His unit is wiped out and he’s shot in both feet. He survives but loses a leg. When he gets back, Marla, his college girlfriend marries him. But he can’t get the war out of his head. They divorce, but meet back up at the reunion.

Then there’s Billy. He fled to Canada to avoid the war. Dorothy, his college girlfriend, was supposed to come with him, but she chickened out. She was a Catholic Nixon chic, who just couldn't do it. She goes on to marry a rich guy. The Canadian guy marries, but his wife is killed (sounds like she may have committed suicide by stepping in front of a bus). It was a sad marriage; she found she couldn’t compete with his love for his former girlfriend.

Then there’s Paulette, a Presbyterian minister who is screwed up and got booted from her pulpit because of an inappropriate affair (and it didn’t involve sex). O’Brien, in his discussing Paulette’s failures, shows that he doesn’t understand Presbyterian Church government, but that's okay. Paulette makes an interesting character in the book and she is one of the few who leaves the reunion healthier than when she came. She’s a fitness nut and has the best body of the women present. Paulette’s friend, Ellie, tells about her affair with Harmon, one of their classmates who had an "abridged life." Ellie and Harmon met at a lake in Northern Minnesota. He has heart problems; he goes swimming and dies. She decides to tell her husband at the reunion which results in his early departure.

Spooky is still a crazy and attractive 30 years later. She’s married to two men (by their consent) at the same time. Yet, there’s this old thing for Marv. The two of them have always flirted, but had never become a pair. Marv is a successful broom tycoon with a size 52 waist and is married to a woman who has blackmailed him (after he lied to her). You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens to Marv and Spooky. There are a few other characters like the state Lt. Governor, who had spurred the love of his life because she wanted to be a Lutheran missionary. She became a missionary and he went into politics and they’re both receiving distinguished alumni awards.

This is my fourth O’Brien book. Reading it I was reminded why I didn't like reunions even though my class ain't nearly as screwed up as this one. O'Brien is an engaging writing and creates convincing characters, yet this book is the least favorite of the ones I’ve read of him. If you haven’t read O’Brien’s Vietnam short stories, The Things They Carried, I highly recommend it.

Right now Sage’s summer reading scorecard is tied, one to one. One Southern book (I reviewed it last week) and now one Yankee book. I got the feeling the Southern reading list will take the lead next week.

For more of Sage’s book review’s click here.

For Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books, click here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Overloading Friday with Memes

Meme #1 Five Things I Dig About Jesus

I was tagged by Kevin. The instructions are:
1. Those Tagged will share 5 things they dig about Jesus.
2. Those tagged will tag 5 other bloggers.
3. Those tagged will provide a link in the comments section here of their meme so that others can read them.So here it goes:
1. Jesus roasted fish for his disciples on the beach at sunrise. I have good memories of having roast bluefish for breakfast on the beach growing up (I wrote about this in a previous post).
2. Jesus enjoyed good food and drink and conversation. He was the life of the party at weddings and banquets.
3. Jesus made time for children. I never trust anyone who doesn’t have time for children.
4. Jesus loves sinners. This gives me hope.
5. Jesus gave his life for the life of the world. I love that phrase, “for the life of the world,” which comes out of the Russian Orthodox liturgy.
I’m supposed to tag 5 others. I hate tagging others, just like I’ve never forwarded a chain letter, so I am going to be a non-conformist here. But I’d love to see how others might answer this meme, especially Murf as well as those of you from other traditions and religions. So if you're up for it, go for it.

MEME #2: Christ, another meme!

This meme comes from Poefrika, a wonderful poet from Africa. He did it with his two children, a son that’s nine and a daughter that’s seven. If you can, please take part and report your findings on your blog, or in the comments section here:

1. Tell a child who's not older than twelve that you're going to show them two pictures, and that their job is to tell you which one of them is Jesus Christ.
2. First show this image: IMAGE 1, then this one: IMAGE 2, and each time ask, "Is this Jesus Christ?"
3. What did they say? Report your findings on your blog or here.
4. Write a short note about whether it's the result you expected, and if not, what should we do as parents to make sure we get the result we expect?
5. This is a sensitive issue, don't tag anyone. Hope for volunteers, instead.

When I showed my daughter the first picture and asked if it was Jesus Christ, she said no. My heart dropped a bit thinking that she couldn’t imagine a Jesus of another race. Then I showed her the second one and she also said that wasn’t Jesus. When I asked her why, she said that we don’t know what Jesus looks like and then quoted from the sermon she heard on Sunday (the pastor was preaching on the second commandment—no graven images) and said we don’t know what Jesus looked like.

Another Summer Reading Challenge

Just what the world needs now, another reading challenge.

Here’s what ya’ll gotta do:

1. Commit to read three books by Yankees that take place north of the Mason/Dixon Line during the summer (Summer is defined by the sun in the northern hemisphere: June 21-September 21).
2. Inform Ed of your commitment to join his challenge to Maggie’s Southern Reading Challenge
3. You don’t need to announce your books in advance for we all know Yankees can’t always be trusted to finish what they start
4. Write a book review for each book read, but there is no reason to let anyone know ‘cause most of us don’t care.
Sage will publish his first book review tomorrow (Tim O’Brien’s July, July)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tuesday night fishing and strange sightings in the sky

It was after 8 when I got to Long Lake and unloaded the canoe from the truck. The sun was dropping in the western sky and a steady breeze was blowing of the southwest. The rains that morning had cooled the air and the temperature was in the mid-70s. I took a fly rod, in the hopes that after sunset the winds would die down. I also took a lightweight spinning rod to use until such time and stowed everything in the boat, including the dog. Trisket settled in the bottom, under the thwarts as I paddled away from the boat launch area. When I got to where the bottom dropped off deep, I lowered my anchor. I use the head from an old 8 pound splitting maul. I broke the handle a couple years ago and wasn’t able to find a new handle that fit, so I had to buy a new splitting maul and decided that the 8 pounds of steel makes a good anchor. Other fishermen have asked if I’m trying to guillotine the fish when I drop anchor, but that’s okay, it didn’t cost me anything. I caught a few fish on a small Panther Martin spinner—a couple of small bass and a few pumpkin seeds (a highbred blue gill). The sun disappeared and, as expected, the wind died. I changed to the fly rod and began casting out a little spider to the edge of the lily pads. I quickly picked up a half dozen bluegills. Once darkness descended, I put away the rods and paddled on the glassy lake. The fading light was enchanting. Everyone else had gone in; there was no longer the drone of motors. It was peacefully until some fool at a cottage on the other side of the lake shot off firecrackers. Trisket, who is deathly afraid of thunder, jumped. With visions of swimming in the middle of the lake at night, I dropped to my knees and grabbed his collar and calmed him down. Luckily, the fool soon ran out of firecrackers and we were again able to enjoy the serenity of the evening. A few stars popped out. A slither of the moon, just a day or so after its renewal, hung low in the western sky. It was time to head in.

I pulled into the driveway at 10:30. As I was taking the canoe off the truck, I caught a glimpse of two lights in the sky overhead. They were brighter than a satellite, even brighter than Jupiter, and one light seemed to follow the other. I watched them until they disappeared behind the trees to the southeast and later learned that they were the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Atlantis. I wish I had had my binoculars at hand.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Eccentric Encounter on the Trail: a late Sunday Scribbling

Benjamin studying a map and trail guide.

One of the suggestions for this week’s Sunday’s Scribblings was to write about someone who was eccentric. Two characters I met on the Appalachian Trail between Springer Mountain, Georgia and Fontana Dam, North Carolina immediately came to mind. I ended up writing about just one of them in this story. Maybe I’ll do another story about Cornbread, another “eccentric” guy along the trail. And I’m sure others could be writing about me. In addition to writing about “Peter,” I tried to show how life is lived along the trail.

We made Blood Mountain Shelter on our third day out, having started Amicalola Falls. I was busy fiddling with the stove and getting ready to fix dinner when another hiker stumbled into camp. He introduced himself as Peter and we chatted briefly as Benjamin set about fixing our evening appetizers (cheese and crackers) and drinks (scotch, straight up, for there were no rocks of the right variety in the Georgia mountains in July). Peter watched us carry out our tasks. Soon I had water boiling and added macaroni for the evening meal. Then I joined Benjamin, picking up my Sierra cup filled with the golden colored nectar.

“That’s a good idea,” Peter said, “I never thought about carrying apple juice on the trail.”

“We’re real health nuts,” Benjamin mumbled sarcastically as he lifted his cup in a toast.

We drank our drinks and ate a couple of cheese and crackers. Then, taking the empty cups, we added a soup package to each. When the pasta finished cooking, I drained the hot water from the pasta into each cup for soup. After draining the excess water onto the ground, I added the cheese package, a bit of butter and some powder milk to the pan and stirred it well before sitting it aside to eat the soup. After the soup course, we split the mac and cheese into our two bowls, devouring it quickly. As we ate, I turned the stove back on and placed a smaller pot of water on it for tea and cleaning. Then Benjamin headed down to the spring. There, shortly after we arrived, he’d prepared pudding. In a gallon sized freezer bag, he’d had placed the contents of a bag of instant pistachio pudding and the right amount of powder milk. He added cold spring water to the mix, squeezed it up to get the lumps out, and sat it the cool water. When he got it after the meal, the pudding had firmed up and we split the bag between us. We ate the pudding and drank a cup of hot tea for desert. Afterwards, using the remaining water and the tea bags as scrubbies, we cleaned out pots, bowls and cups. We stored it all in our packs and hung our food for the evening.

Throughout dinner, Peter watched with amazement as he fixed his own dinner. He boiled a pot of water, placing a foil bag of food in it to warm. His dinner was probably tastier than ours, it was some kind of lasagna, but was also a lot heavier to pack. Peter saved the water he’d boiled, figuring it’d been sterilized, by pouring it into his water bottle. "That’s what I’ll drink tomorrow," he informed us. We later learned it was all the water he planned to use since his filter was broken and he didn’t trust the springs nor did he have purifying tablets with him.

While Peter ate, we had our after dinner drink. Peter again remarked about our apple juice. I was about ready to give him a sip, when Benjamin spilled the beans. “This ain’t apple juice.” From the look on Peter’s face, you’d thought we were escaped convicts. He proceeded to give us a temperance lecture on the evils of liquor. I took it with amusement; Benjamin didn’t and told him to keep his opinions to himself. Somehow then conversation shifted to church. He was a Free Methodist. Benjamin, having been fortified with two drinks, told Peter he’d grown up in a Methodist Church and had yet to see one that was free.

The next morning when we set out, Peter asked where we were going to camp for the night. For us, it was going to be an easy day, even though there wasn’t anything easy about the trail in Georgia. Even though the hills aren't very tall, there was little level ground, you seemed to be either climbing or descending. Our destination was Low Gap, about 13 miles north. We said goodbye and thought that’d be the last we saw of him, but were surprised that night when he hobbled into camp.

Looking back on it all, it was amazing Peter stuck with us as long as he did. When we first met, he’d taken five or six days to cover what we’d done in two and a half. On this day, he had covered as much ground as he had in the previous three days. He was a novice at hiking, toting a pack weighing some seventy pounds, about twenty pounds heavier than ours. It was no wonder that his knees were bothering him. Somewhere along the way, someone suggested he get a walking stick. With the hatchet and folding saw he was toting on his back, he cut two sticks and began using them both to help him walk, providing relief for his knees.

That evening in Low Gap, Peter began to ask us questions about our methods and we learned more about him and his plan to hike. He wasn’t drinking enough water, especially since he was eating only one meal a day and feasting on dry trail mix the rest of the time. We gave him water purifying tablets so he could get more liquid into his system. We also gave him advice on food and then went through his pack and helped him shed about fifteen pounds. There was no need to be totting a hatchet, we assured him, for it was against the law to collect scalps. Two days later, when my girlfriend met us at the trailhead on US 76 with our supplies for our second week of hiking, we sent Peter’s extras with her to be mailed back to his home.

Peter grew on us. He stayed up with us, hiking an average of 15 miles a day. It was a stretch for him, but he seemed desperate for company so he’d always come into camp late in the afternoon, sore from a day of trying to keep up. One of the items he refused to part with, which we considered a luxury, was a portable radio. Having this, he kept us updated on the news. Coca-Cola revamping their formula was the biggest story that year, the summer of ‘85. The “New Coke” wasn’t a hit and by the time we got off the trail, everyone was drinking Classic Coke. In addition to news, Peter would stay awake in the evenings to catch Cardinal baseball games on the radio and then, whether or not we were interested (we generally weren’t), give us a play by play rundown the next morning.

You get to know people pretty well when you hike and camp with them day after day and pretty soon we knew about all Peter. He was a high school teacher from out west. He had done limited hiking prior to biting off the Appalachian Trail. His goal was to hike as much as he could that summer and then come back and finish it the next year. Peter also learned a lot about us and must have gotten a little too comfortable in our presence. On his last night camping with us, Peter told his darkest secret. He’d had an affair with a high school student some years earlier. She had just turned eighteen. For a while he’d left his wife and moved in with her, but he was forever grateful that after he came to his senses, his wife had allowed him to come back home. I felt a little strange hearing this old guy’s confession, especially since he was obviously ashamed of what he’d done. I also didn’t know what to say. Benjamin, on the other hand, was still steaming from the temperance lecture we’d received six or seven evenings earlier. He flew off at the handle, telling Peter that he should have been fired, he should have been locked up, that his wife was a fool to take him back, and then asking who gave him to right to lecture us about having a drink when he’d done something so despicable. I encouraged Benjamin to give him a break, but there was no mercy. Benjamin was out for blood. A few minutes later, Peter headed to bed and was still sleeping when we headed out the next morning. We never saw him again. A couple days later, we arrived at Fontana Dam where Benjamin’s wife met us and gave us a ride back to civilization.

I received a post card from Peter later that summer. He’d hiked a couple hundred miles on the trail before giving it up for good. He expressed his gratitude for what he’d learned from us about backpacking.


The names in this story have been changed to protect the guilty. Since both character’s have Biblical names, I chose their Biblical companions as pseudonyms.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Tribute to My Dad

The photo is a picture I took of my dad on Masonboro Island last February. I have been working on a post about one of the many eccentric types I met along the Appalachian Trail for today’s Sunday Scribblings ,but I don’t think I’ll finish it on time due to Father’s Day Activities. So instead, I decided to rework a piece I wrote last year, but didn’t get it posted in time for Father’s Day.
Some people might think I am crazy about fishing. That’s not the case. I enjoy fishing, but I mostly enjoy being outdoors. My father, however, is crazy about fishing. Most of what he taught me about life came through the lens of this sport.

We moved near the coast when I was nine years old. My parents had always wanted to live near the ocean and when my father got an opportunity to transfer to the area, he jumped at it. We kids weren't so sure, leaving friends behind and all, but it turned a pretty good place to grow up.

My father quickly learned the art of fishing for flounder and taught my brother and me. We spent hours on rising tide, fishing for flounder at Masonboro Inlet. Although such fishing isn’t as graceful as using a fly rod, it requires at least as much skill. Dad showed us how to tie our own rigging, using an 18 inch piece of light wire with a triple hook on one end and a one ounce torpedo sinker on the other. The rigging was attached to the line of a lightweight spinning rod. A live minnow, which we generally caught with throw nets (another acquired skill I never quite mastered), was hooked through the lips. Walking in knee deep water armed with a spinning rod we’d cast the line out into the depths, searching for holes where a flounder might hide. The line was slowly retrieved, the weight keeping the minnow near the bottom where flounders lay. We careful felt for tell-tell bumps on your line, indicating a flounder taking the bait. When that happened, we’d loosen the drag and give the flounder about a minute to take the minnow into its mouth, before yanking the line in order to set the hook. If we prematurely yanked the line, we’d pull the minnow out of the mouth of the flounder. From such fishing, we learned patience. Hurrying only caused you to miss fish.

A year after we moved to the area, Dad brought a 14 foot Jon- boat with a six horsepower Evinrude outboard motor. For years, that was the only boat he had and was perfect for navigating the creeks running behind Masonboro Island, a nine mile long barren strip of beach that stretched from Masonboro Inlet to Carolina Beach Inlet. Soon we were fishing the barren beaches for founder on rising tide and for Bluefish during the fall run. The island became a second home. Since the creeks only have water in them on high tide, a fishing trip more than an hour or two long committed you for most of the day. Often, we’d make a two day trip, camping overnight. In the fall, at low tide, we’d collected oysters and in the evening roast them over coals. Breakfast often consisted of roasted bluefish.

On one of our overnight fishing expeditions, my dad hooked a huge fish on a heavy surf rod. For nearly an hour he fought the fish. He’d get the fish almost up into the surf only to have it run back out into the ocean. During this time he moved up and down the surf, till he finally wore the fish out enough to safely beach him. It was the largest Red Drum I’ve seen. The tide had already dropped and there was no way we could get the fish back to the mainland till the next morning. My dad knew the fish might be close to a record, but since he could get it to a weight station, and since our cooler wasn’t large enough to hold it, he gutted the fish, stuff ice in its hollowed cavity, and buried it in the sand. The next morning, we dug the fish up and headed to a marina where they had a weight station. Even after being gutted and drying out overnight, the fish still weighted 47 pounds, just a couple pounds shy of the season’s record. My father stoically accepted fate. If he had been able to get the fish to the marina the day before, he’d probably set the record. However, if it bothered him, he never let on to it. Another lesson taught by action, you don’t complain about things you have no control over. This, by the way, included mosquitoes and sand gnats and the weather. There was no need to complain about the obvious.

My father seldom spoke of the beauty of it all, but the times I spent with him on the beach instilled in me an awe of creation. I’ve seen more sunrises and moonrises on the ocean that I can count. I've watched many sunsets behind the marsh grass of Myrtle Grove Sound. I taught myself the names of the stars, especially the autumn sky, since fishing was best in the fall. There’s nothing more majestic than watching Orion’s belt rise above the ocean on a moonless night. Enjoying the outdoors was something we gained through osmosis.

For years my father continued to use that old Jon-boat, keeping the motor in tip-top shape. The motor still runs; my nephew uses it today on a boat he built in his high school shop class. He waited till he could afford a larger boat, a very utilitarian fishing boat. Then, a few years ago, as he was getting ready to retire, he purchased an even larger boat that allows him to run out to the edge of the Gulf Stream, in his search for bigger fish. His patience has paid off and now he can spend his kid’s inheritance on gas, for his new boat cost as almost as much to fill up as that first Jon-boat cost. However, Dad never allows us to pay. Being on his boat is his gift.

Patience and don’t sweat the stuff you can’t change were two lessons Dad instilled in me while out on or by the water. When I think back I'm amazed at how young my parents were. They’d gotten married three days after my mother turned 18, just a month after they’d graduated from high school. I was born a year and a half later. I’m amazed they pulled it off for the year after my birth, my brother dropped in, and the year after that came my sister. They waited a longer time before having my youngest brother. For such young parents, they both did a great job. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Year the Lights Came On (A Book Review)

Here is my first review for the Southern Summer Reading Challenge!

Terry Kay, The Year the Lights Came On (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1976). 300 pages

It’s 1947. The war is over; across rural America, the Rural Electric Administration (REA) is stringing electrical lines, uniting the nation together with strands of copper that bring light and time saving appliances to all America. Colin Wynn is a ten year old. He’s excited about the coming of the electricity. The Year the Lights Came On is his story of coming of age.

In the town of Emery, Colin is one of the “have nots.” In the late 40s, the haves and have nots are divided by electricity. Colin and his family live in the country and unlike the city folk and those who live on the highway, they don’t have electricity. This means that their homes are not used for church social gatherings or Cub Scout meetings. In school, the town kids and the rural kids form into two gangs. They’re constantly at each other’s throats. The rural boys all take the “Big Gully Oath,” which seals them against the kids who live along the highway and in town. When it is discovered that Colin and Megan (who lives along the highway and has electricity in her home) have a thing for each other, Colin is booted from the club for a week. Kay does a great job expressing the horror of a ten year old boy being exposed as having a girlfriend.

There are two strong characters in the book. Colin’s brother Wesley is a few years older and often has the wisdom of Solomon. Wesley, who later becomes a Methodist minister, provides the moral conscience in the book. The other character is a poor kid named Freeman. Much of the book centers on Freeman’s escape from the Sheriff after he’s been framed for stealing twenty dollars from his employer. Freeman (his name gives us insight to his character) spends days hiding in the swamp. The plot of the book centers on the futile attempts by the sheriff and his deputies to apprehend him. One funny story is how Freeman’s friends, including Wesley and Colin, take Freeman’s clothes down into the swamp and make circles with them, confusing the bloodhounds who just about run themselves to death as they pick up the boy’s scent everywhere. In the end, Freeman is not captured, but comes out of the swamp seeking medical attention for a knife cut. It later turns out that he hadn’t stolen the money.

Freeman's run from the law allows Kay and opportunity to explore the racial relations within the community. Freeman finds help from several black families who live near the swamp. When Wesley and Colin discover this, Wesley makes Coin swear an oath that they'll tell no one out of a fear that if it is discovered that these families helped Freeman, it could mean trouble for them. In one encounter, Baptist (a local black man) sits Wesley and Colin down and teaches them about the "meanness" in people, upsetting Colin's youthful trust in the "goodness" of folks.

Kay is a wonderful storyteller and in several chapters, which seem to divert from the main focus of the book, the reader is treated to wonderful down home tales. Two chapters are pure classic, the one that tells about the Dare-Devil’s flying show and the one about Preacher Bytheway’s “Speaking in Tongues Traveling Tent Tabernacle. Bytheway, a former fertilizer salesman, buys a tent from a defunct circus. Folks flock to his revival: some are drawn by religion and others like Freeman come for the show. Under the hot canvas, the crowd tries to keep cool with fans provided by a local funeral home with the imprint, “Give you life to Jesus, trust your remains to us.” Preacher Bytheway “started on a fox hunt of scripture until he treed the passage about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and that became his topic.” (I’ll forgive Mr. Kay for mixing his metaphors here. Although I never hunted foxes, I can’t imagine treeing one. Raccoons, or coons as they're called down South, are treed.) As the good preacher continues with his sermon, “it was like he’d been jolted with a charge from an Atlas car battery.” During the week of revival, Bytheway convicts Loran, a man known for his limited intelligence. Bytheway baptizes, and then ordains him. Loran later comes to believe that he’s sent by God to save animals and sets out to baptize the entire animal kingdom, creating numerous humorous situations.

I really enjoyed this book and several times found myself laughing so hard that I had to put the book down and catch my breath. However, as a whole, the book seems to have too many threads and subplots that you almost forget about the coming of the REA till at the end, when all of a sudden the wires are connected to Colin’s house and his mother’s prediction comes true. With the electric lights, things are different. The family no longer gathers around a few kerosene lamps at night. With the coming of the lights, there are things they’ll give up. Family closeness is one of them.

This is Terry Kay’s first novel, published over thirty years ago. A couple months ago, I reviewed his recent novel, The Valley of Light and decided to read another of his works for the Southern Summer Reading Challenge. For more of Sage’s book and movie reviews, click here.

Also check out Semi-colon's Saturday Review of Books

Thursday, June 14, 2007

3-Word Wednesday and other stuff

Clouds reflecting in water...

It’s a crazy week. It always is when I come back from being away (and since I’m again heading out in two weeks, I will barely catch up). I am too beat to write, but I tried to force myself to write using Bone’s 3-Word Wednesday exercise, which is a “little pregnant” this week. The four words are magic, repeatedly, forty and admit. Reading the list, a stupid song from the Fall of ’75 reestablished itself in my head. Here’s my piece:

Oh, ho, ho, it’s magic, you know.
Never believe it’s not so…

The words from the song repeatedly played on the radio my freshman year in college and, although I’m ashamed to admit, it wasn’t till I was on the back side of forty that I could clear them from my head. But now, thanks to Bone’s pregnant 3-Word Wednesday, which has four words this week, including “magic”, the song is again spinning in my head.
As for what’s going on in the expansive blog universe, you should check out Murf’s version of the American Girl Dolls. Murf, if you remember, was recently honored here with a birthday party.

Next, take a stop at Diane’s to read her book review of a book I suggested, Guy Owen’s The Flim-Flam Man. Diane has a great review of a very funny book.

Finally, it’s going to be an interesting summer reading book reviews of Southern authors as a number of you are participating in Maggie’s Southern Summer Reading Challenge. So far, the following have listed their books: Diane, Kevin, Kontan and Deana. Murf is also participating, but to date is keeping her books under cover. Actually, I should all be reading the books of Martin Clark, Deana’s husband’s. He’s a judge and it might be a good thing to read his book so I’d at least know what’s coming my way the next time the judge threatens to throw the book at me.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Checking In #2

I'm back home in Michigan, but I have a pretty full day of appointments and meetings. At times, "No rest for the weary" seems like a lifestyle more than a cliche. I got home last night (make that this morning) at 2 AM. I should have been home by 8 PM, but thunderstorms in Asheville then Atlanta allowed me plenty of time to sit around and read. Hopefully I'll begin to catch up with everyone tonight or tomorrow. Since I was talking a break from writing, I thought I'd share a few photos.I took these photos of water lilies (also known as water nymphs or nymphaea odorado) on Sunday in a lake near where I was staying. I borrowed a canoe and was able to get close to get the good shots. It's rare to see the pink lilies, they're normally white.

" Nature might have made Sphinxes in her spare time.
Or Mona Lisas with her left hand,
-Jerry & Renny Russell, On the Loose

"Nature is the art of God" -Latin Proverb
"Yet I feel as if I'm entering something pure/ some place not wholly exterior. I knew it once, I think, but so long ago it has ceased to be..." from "The Lilies of Landsford Canal" by Susan Ludvigson, published in Sweet Conflluence: new and selected poems.
" O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth." from Psalm 8, NRSV

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Checking In

I’ve been enjoying my time away from the computer. Thanks to Nevada Jack for watching over the party and for all who wished Murf a happy birthday. I won’t really be back in the saddle, so to speak, till next Wednesday. After then, I’ll try to get around and catch up on what’s happening in your life. Till then, know that I’m enjoying a beautiful place without cell phone coverage. It can’t get much pretty than that! Here are a few shots which remind me of how water can have a calming and healing affect upon us. As for my location, I’m not far from “Cold Mountain,” which you may remember is also the setting for a novel and a movie, in a truly beautiful part of North Carolina.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Week Long Virtual Birthday Party for Murf!

Sage has already been a part of one American Girl Spa Birthday party this year. Since he’s out of town for a week, I decided I throw another one—for Murf who turns 30-something this Friday. The only difference between Murf’s party and the one that Sage’s daughter enjoyed is that Murf’s party is virtual, like the one he threw for Kevin and Diane. Well, there’s one other difference, at Murf’s party, the host is also absent. Instead of staying around an catering to everyone needs, Sage is off doing something like taking a nap by a mountain brook while I, Nevada Jack, get to watch over things and serve as bouncer…

Our guest of honor for today is the one getting married in black at a ceremony officiated by a dead rock star at America's Adult Disney World--Las Vegas (I hear Sage might be out there early next month… wonder why he always leaves me behind?) Out of consideration for her increased age, I decided to use a larger than normal font... This Friday, June 8th is the official day.

I hope you brought your doll. If you forgot yours, borrow one from Sage’s daughter’s collection. Don’t worry, she won’t miss them, this is only about a 1/3 of her collection.

With doll in hand, come on in and enjoy the party. First we’ll have a skin treatment. We’ll lather up your face with yogurt and oatmeal, putting sliced cucumbers on your eyes to keep the yogurt out. Lean your head back and bask in the experience.

When you’re finished, we’ll let the dog will lick off the yogurt and ask you to please wipe off the cukes so we can serve them later in the relish tray.
At your second stop we’ll let your feet soak in salty water while your nails are painted. Since Sage is not present, I’ll even let you use those tacky decals girls like to put on their nails these days. Sage thinks they’re tacky on little girls and down right gaudy on women, but hey, he ain’t here and as a bear, I don’t care.

Next stop in our virtual party is at the hair salon. Here, you can have your hair and your dolls hair all fixed up. Well, you could have all that done, but since Murf, the guest of honor, recently went in for the butch look, we sent the stylist home early. So instead, those from the state of Michigan (Murf and Karen and anyone else who happens along) take the towel you used to dry your feet and head over to the mourning corner and cry your eyes out for your beloved Pistons who threw a rod the other evening.

Now that you’ve received your spa treatment, I’m sure you’re hungry. While Tim and I get out the cake and ice cream, help yourself to some healthy vegetable slices. I’m sure the cucumbers will be a big hit. Now here comes Tim (Happy Belated Birthday Tim!) with the cake he baked.

Nevada Jack is now serving some of Sage’s ice cream. Eat up!

Recipe for Sage’s Old Fashioned “Salmonella Enhanced” Ice Cream

Mix together: 1 can sweetened condensed milk
-4 eggs
-2 ½ cups of sugar
-2 ½ tablespoons of vanilla
-Dash of salt

Put into ice cream freezer and add whole milk to the fill line.

Pack freezer with ice mixed with plenty of salt and crank till you can’t crank anymore

This use to be Sage’s main ice cream recipe, but he stopped using it after all the warnings about eating raw eggs came out. But since he’s not really at this party, Sage encourages you to “eat up”! And just in case, he wants me to remind you that there’s a bathroom down the hall and to the right.

Y’all have fun and don’t trash the place and pick up after yourselves, okay. Happy birthday Murf!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Fort Hell

The photograph of the left is of Fort Hell during wartime (1864-65). I lifted it off a history teacher resource site. By the time we lived nearby, the woods had returned. Today’s Sunday Scribbling prompt is “town and country” and I recall the three years of my youth in Petersburg, Virginia.
Walnut Hills was in town, but was still partly country when we moved there. I was in the first grade and Kennedy was just about to be shot that fall when my parents purchased the house on Bishop Street. Petersburg’s suburbs were expanding outward and it was then considered a nice neighborhood, not as rich as those who lived in the big homes along Sycamore Street, but a good place to be a kid. Behind our house was an alley; across it was another row of houses and the last street. Behind those houses were woods that stretched all the way back to Carter Road. On Saturdays, my friends and I would play Johnny Reb in these woods, covering the same terrain our ancestors fought over a hundred years earlier during that final bloody year of the Civil War. At the Crater Road turn off into our subdivision was a genuine civil war fort operated as a private museum. Folks who attended our church owned it but I don’t remember their name. However, I’ll never forget the name of the fort. Fort Hell it was called; although its real name was Fort Sedgwick. When my uncle Frank came to visit, he asked me why they called it Fort Hell and I said “‘cause they really gave the Yankees hell.” I only vaguely remember saying that, and maybe I don’t really remember saying it, instead just remember Frank reminding me of it as he did for the umpteenth time last summer at a family reunion. I later learned that it wasn’t a Southern fort after all, but a part of the Union siege line and at the time was the largest inland artillery battery in the country. In the summer of ’66, after three years of roaming those woods, we moved back to North Carolina. It was just the nick of time for they were cutting down trees and laying out roads through the woods and the people who owned Fort Hell had sold it earlier that spring to developers who immediately bulldozed the bombproof shelters that had been dug by hand a hundred years earlier. They built a strip mall. By the time we left, there was no more country in Walnut Hills.

Other Stuff: How did that 60s song go? “I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know what I’ll come back too…” We’ll maybe that’s not the exact lyrics, but I am leaving and ain’t exactly sure what I might come back to find. I’m heading down south to recharge my accent and am going to leave Nevada Jack in charge of a special birthday party that will start tomorrow morning and run all week. Do drop in!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Our Endangered Values: A Book Review

Jimmy Carter, Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005).

A friend lent me this book and I’m grateful. Over the years my views of Jimmy Carter have softened. When he was President, he seemed to me to be totally overwhelmed and clueless. I now know that wasn’t always the case, but Carter is famous for his micromanagement techniques that just don’t work when you’re the man in charge of an entire nation. I didn’t vote for him in either ‘76 or ‘80 (in ‘80, on the ride with John Anderson,I left the Republican party for good). But this ain’t about me. After Carter lost the Presidency in 1980, he’s gone on to become the best ex-president the nation has known and has gained my admiration.

In Our Endangered Values, Jimmy Carter attempts to link his Christian faith with his political beliefs. From my reading, he sees a two prong attack on traditional American beliefs: the rise of religious fundamentalism and the damage being done by our current President and his polices. In defending these values, he writes with passion.

Carter’s first concern is that our values are being attacked theologically. He rightfully points out that fundamentalism is a problem in many religions other than Christianity (you have Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and even Mormon fundamentalism). Although he doesn’t cite the source for his knowledge on fundamentalism, but the work of Martin Marty at the University of Chicago came to mind. However, Carter is interested in Christian fundamentalism and especially the role conservatives have played in the take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention. Pointing out how they have destroyed historic Baptist traditions, such as the role of the laity, he quotes one of the Southern Baptist’s most known conservative leaders, W. A. Criswell, who said: ‘Lay leadership of the church is unbiblical when it weakens the pastor’s authority as ruler of the church.” (page 42) As an outsider, I agree with Carter that there seems to be a dramatic shift going on in Baptist doctrine with the power moving into the hands of the clergy; however, I wonder if Criswell’s quote was taken out of context.

Although Carter doesn’t like what’s going on in his denomination, he also concerned with how conservative Christianity gets played out in the political arena. Here he seems to be a bit fuzzy as he lumps together Christian fundamentalism with those of a premillennium, pretribulation rapture, dispensationalist world view. This view of Scripture came into the mainstream in America with the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible and made more popular with the 70s bestseller The Late Great Planet Earth and more recently with the fictional Left Behind Series. I agree with Carter that such a view of scripture is heresy and that basing our foreign policy on such a view can have disastrous results. But not all Biblical conservatives are in support of such a view of Scripture and, from my limited perspective; it’s been Biblical conservatives such as R. C. Sproul and the late John Gerstner who have been vocal and convincing about the danger of applying such a world view to scripture.

The second threat to our values addressed by Carter comes from the Republican Party and specifically from the Bush administration. Although this book was published two years ago, reading it I was reminded of Carter’s recent statement about Bush being America’s most disastrous President. This comment created a firestorm in the press. Carter attacks the Administration on it’s foreign policy, it’s handling of the war on terrorism and nuclear proliferation, it’s advocacy of preemptive war, it’s environmental policy and finally failing to address the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor. As a way to reach out beyond his followers, Carter continually draws upon Bush’s fellow Republicans to support his thesis that Bush’s policies are making the world increasingly unsafe while doing damage to the environment and not easing the suffering of the poorest of the poor.

It’s somewhat disappointing that Carter didn’t write more about how he tried to deal with his Christian beliefs as the leader of the free world. He admitted a few compromises he made, such as with the issues of abortion and the death penalty. Although he said he personally had problems with both, he found himself in the position of having to carry out the law of the land. When Carter did discuss how his role as President related to this faith, I felt he was trying to rationalize his decisions. Such discussions about the conflict of one’s public position and one’s faith need a greater discussion as we head into another election cycle.

Toward the end of this book, Carter cites statistics that show Americans thinking of themselves much more generous than we really are and points out how much of our foreign aid goes out with strings attached that often keeps it from helping those who need it most. His book is a call for America to both resist the threat of fundamentalism while playing a generous role in the world.

This is the type of a book that I’d recommend all presidential candidates write before running for office.

I could have used Jimmy's book for my Southern Reading Challenge, but didn't. I'm glad to see that several folks who read here are participating. I encourage all you who are taking the challenge to go over to Maggie's site and sign up and read about all the rules. (Murf is such a legalist as she has pointed out that I didn't post all the rules.) There's even a rumor there will be prizes!
For a list of Sage's book and movie reviews, click here.
Also check out Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. (I really need to put this link in my sidebar!)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Last Day on the River (A 3-WW/Poetry Thursday Poem)

Bone’s 3-WW had me thinking about canoeing trips (his three words this week are: summer, leave and stroke. I can’t think about “stroke” without thinking of paddling). Then, when reading Gautami’s blog, I discovered that the Poetry Thursday prompt for the week is “River.” So putting the two together, and being in a melancholy mood and feeling the need to get away, as I’m overworked at this point, I got to thinking about the last day of a wilderness trip in northern Canada. The photo is from such a trip. The picture wasn’t taken on the last morning when the weather was yucky and we paddled through two feet high waves.

The last day on the river

The weather matches our melancholy
as we approach the trestle
on this last morning.
Shivering cold from a mist of rain
we fight the wind and waves,
digging the paddles deeper into the water.
With each stroke we come closer
to the landing underneath the rails
where we leave the carefree days of summer behind
and head home.