Friday, August 31, 2007
Ted Ownby, Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865-1920 (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1990). 286 pages (this includes an extensive bibliography and endnotes). Numerous photos and tables.
I’m trying to get this review in under the deadline for the Southern Reading Challenge. This is the fourth book review I’m posting for the SRC, but it’s one of the ones I had originally planned on reading so I wanted to get it posted (I’ve read two of the three I’d planned on reading). Over the past few years, I have engaged in a study of Southern social history, partly to get in touch with my roots and partly to expand on my regional work in history that has focused on the American West. Subduing Satan is an academic work; I don’t recommend it for a good read on the beach.
Ownby explores the tension and conflict between the evangelical social norms and the prevalent male vices of the South in the post-bellum era. In a way, as he points out at the conclusion, this tension can still be seen in the regional music such as when Willie Nelson begins a concert singing about Whiskey River and concludes it with a heartfelt rendition of Amazing Grace. Another example is Elvis, a “flamboyant sinner,” known also as a gospel singer.
Subduing Satan is a social history of white southerners in the years between the Civil War and the Great War. During this time, men in the rural South were kept home on the farm except for the occasional visit to the town where drinking and gambling and fighting were common vices. Ownby explores this culture, from hunters who tried to outdo one another in the slaughter of game, to cockfighting and knightly tournaments, to harvest festivals and sharing agricultural chores. During most of this time, Protestant preachers railed against “masculine vices,” but there was little push for probation. As long as the vices were segregated (from women), preachers were happy to condemn them. As industrialization and technology began to bring the vices into the home as well as allowing women to be more easily found in the public sphere (thanks to the automobile and movie theaters), the push for laws against such vices occurred.
Ownby does a wonderful job of showing what life was like at this time in history in various realms of society (the field, the farm and plantation, the home, the church, Main Street, etc). He discusses reasons why Southern men seemed to enjoy a good fight and some of the underlying tensions dealing with racial relations and the role of women. This book would be valuable to anyone wanting to know how the past was different or any author wanting to more accurately portray life in this era.
For those wanting a more complete look at the role of religion in the South, especially in relationship to the rise of Southern Protestantism and the role the defeat in the Civil War played, I recommend the following two books:
Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1997).
Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptize in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (Athens, GA: Univ of GA Press, 1980).
For more book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.
Curtains blow in the breeze
in front of an open window
embracing the goodness offered by nature:
cool fresh air on a warm night,
the sounds of nature’s opera
and the soft rays of the morning sun.
But if you’re not careful
that open window will also let in the riff-raff:
gnats and swarming mosquitoes,
blowing rain and cold,
and, of course, the boogey man.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
I realized as soon as I’d hung up the phone that I was stupid. I’d forgotten to look at the number on our condo when I left to go downstairs to the lobby to a payphone where I could use a phone card to call back to the States. I looked around. I knew we were on the second floor, but there were at least 200 rooms on that floor as wings went out in five different directions. Feeling obscure, I stepped outside hoping the fresh air would clear my mind. It was February and we were in the mountains, only a short distance south of the DMZ. Snow was piled high and it was bitterly cold. With no coat, I quickly retreated back inside the hotel. I thought about going to the front desk, but I was staying in a condo with friends and I wasn’t even sure whose name the rooms had been registered. I’d just meet up with these folks that morning and with the exception of Chang Ran, whom I’d knew back in the States when we were both doing graduate studies, I didn’t even know their first names. She’d introduced her husband to me as Kim, which was his last name. He’d told me his first name, but said that I could call him Kim. I couldn’t recall what he said, nor could I pronounce or spell it if I could recall it. The other guy with us had been introduced as Cho, which was again his last name. Not knowing what to do, I walked around the lobby a few minutes as my heart pounded. Then I felt led to one of the long corridors. About half way down, a door flew open and Chang Ran stepped out. We smiled and nodded at each other as she headed down to the lobby and I stepped inside the suite. No one knew that I’d been lost, but it felt good to be back inside and I quickly feel asleep on the mat in my room.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
This is what Kevin wrote about my blog:
Sage's Musings - I first started reading Sage because of our mutual interest in mining history. Over the last year I have come to appreciate his blog for a plethora of reasons. His reflections upon books, church, politics, family, God, the outdoors, movies, etc. are full of insight and always stretch me in new directions.
Thanks Kevin. Of course, receiving this award requires a response. Kevin, thanks also for increasing my workload at a very busy time of the year. In addition to the rules below, I decided to honor blogs that do not appear in the list of blogs in my sidebar. It takes me forever to get around to updating that sidebar, so I’ll honor some of the blogs I’ve been reading lately here. Oh yeah, there are some other rules for participating (not all of which I’ll obey):
Rules for participation:
1. Copy the rules for participation.
2. Replace my bloggers with your five bloggers, then reflect and write at least a paragraph about each one. (Don’t worry, you want get your wrist slapped with a ruler if you fail to complete this).
3. Make sure you link this post so others can read it and the rules.
4. Go leave your chosen bloggers a comment and let them know they’ve been given the award.
5. Put the award icon on your site. (I’m too humble and computer inept to do this)
My nominees in no particular order:
Diesel at the Mattress Police Anti-Social Commentary: This guy is funny. I don’t know how to put him all together. Diesel is a left-handed church treasurer who writes wonderful satire about life and politics and other nonsense. He’s running for President, but don’t get too excited. We don’t get to vote for him for another 13 years. Instead, he’s offering advice to the 2008 candidates as to who’d make an ideal running mate. You’ll have to look up his pairing of Ms. Clinton with Monica (the girl with the stained dress). I should also say that Diesel has gone into the publishing business. He has written a book (I need to get my order in) and is under investigation for using child labor in his distribution system.
Scarlett at “Another Day in Paradise:” If you want to know why Castro rules with such an iron fist and tries to keep people from leaving Cuba for the beaches of Miami, take a look at Scarlett. The old dictator is afraid he’ll lose another jewel like her, the red-headed Cuban who writes with humor and would have been a tourist attraction herself if she’d stayed on the island. Castro’s lost is our gain. Scarlett is embarking on a new paralegal career. She writes about her work, her travels, Miami’s nightlife, her church, and her family.
Herb Urban This guy is even funnier than his picture, a little crude sometimes, but you'll get a laugh! ‘nuff said, check out his bio.
Maggie at Maggie Reads: If you’ve read this blog for anytime, you’ll know Maggie. Why she isn’t in the list of blog friends is an example of my ineptitude. As a librarian in Mississippi, she sponsored the summer’s “Southern Reading Challenge.” She writes wonderful book reviews as well as making wonderful observations on life and pecans. She even gives away pecans so yes, this is an effort to kiss up in the hopes of getting a bag of the South's finest pecans (or is it pekans in Mississippi, I forget).
D.O. M. Dan… Dan is a family guy with a motorcycle, but DOM doesn’t stand for Dan on Motorcycles. It's an acronym for Dirty Old Man (I see little evidence of in his posts, if that’s what you’re looking for, go read Herb's blog). Dan's posts are thoughtful, often reflecting on what he and his family are doing. He loves his wife. His recent memory of his father’s death was most touching. He’s emotional; he makes the rest of us men look bad by expressing his feelings in such warm and tender ways--kind of like Barry Manilow. Thanks Dan, may we learn something from you.
I agree with Kevin in that I could list many more of you who deserving of the Reflective Blogger Award. Murf should have received it for the reflection off the top of Big A’s (her husband) head. Ed should have received one for the reflection off his polished stainless steel slide rule. Diane should have received one for the reflectors on her new bike. Jaded (Angie SC) should have received one for the glow she’s had since successfully completing her comps. And the Ms. Night Music is currently reflecting a warm glow from all the attention she received Saturday-from a fish. And finally, all of you reading this should receive the award for reflecting on why it is that you keep coming back here to read this nonsense.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
This weekend was our little hamlet’s big summer festival, which means that he community shuts down (or at least most of the streets are closed). There are two parades and every owner of a classic car (I think that means one 20 years old or older and still running) and every vendor within an 100 miles descends upon our town. In addition, every garage band in a fifty mile radius heads over to play at one of the three stages set up around town. It’s work, but it’s also fun. Lots of people who use to live here come back, the high school always has their reunions this weekend (but that doesn’t matter to me because I didn’t go to school here), and plenty of greasy foods are consumed.
The festival starts on Friday about noon. About 3 o’clock, as things were just getting going well, the storm hit. In a few minutes, the skies opened up in a manner not seen since Noah was christening his boat. The storm drains were overwhelmed and the streets flooded, sending vendor’s products floating down the street toward the river. Nobody wanted to be near the amps and stuff on the music stages, especially since they were all powered with a hodge-podge of extension cords that were lying in six inches of water. Music was cancelled for the evening. After the rain, I brought out my camera and got these shots (the water had already dropped a few inches by the time these photos were taken).
The Friday storm was just the latest in a series. On Thursday evening, storms that blew threw Chicago a few hours earlier hit. A cherry tree in the back yard had its top blown out. Several neighbors lost trees and some folks were without power for the rest of the weekend. The Friday storm also contained some nearby tornadoes. With all the rain we’ve received (after having one of the driest July’s on record), the ground is sloppy and on Saturday night in a rather stiff breeze, we lost another tree in the back yard, a box elder. This tree took out my daughter’s swing set and play tower. She was getting too big for it anyway, but the neighbor’s grandchildren enjoyed it when they visited. Another tree is leaning and will probably have to be removed as it is hanging over the power lines. If it isn’t removed soon, another storm will probably take it out and put several of us the neighborhood in the dark.
By Saturday noon, the rains had ceased and the skies cleared and the rest of the weekend was a blast. And it appears there’ll be more than enough firewood for the winter. Troubles in one area often lead to blessings in another…
Saturday, August 25, 2007
On our recent vacation, I quickly found out that I was in over my head when it came to Laura Ingalls information. My daughter knew the answers to all the questions asked by the various museum folks and was even able to correct them when they said something that wasn’t quite correct. The only person that seemed to be able to go head to head with her was a retired teacher who was also on the tour of the sites. The teacher had used the Little House books for over thirty-five years—meaning that she’d read them nearly thirty-five times. Yet, even she was impressed with my daughter’s knowledge. So, in an attempt to keep up with my daughter, I picked up this book in one of the museums to learn a bit more about Laura Ingalls world.. John Miller is a professor of history at South Dakota State University. From a quick thumb through the various chapters, it appears that he, like me, is interested in social and literary history, so I picked up the book and began reading and citing Laura Ingalls facts back to my daughter.
This book is a collection of essays about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her time in DeSmet, SD. Several of the chapters originally appeared in various academic journals and it appears that the author basically collected these essays and put them together in a hodge-podge manner. Through these essays, the author explores the intersection of history and literature, themes such as “place;” “freedom” and “love;” “facts and interpretations,” Ingall’s “narrative style” as well as social life in DeSmet and a census study of where people came from and where they went after leaving DeSmet. The final chapter looks at two artist of the prairie, who grew up near each other but never knew each other. Wilder lived in DeSmet and the painter Harvey Dunn grew up about fifteen miles a way. I may blog more about him later.
One of the more interesting parts of this book is where Miller, having examined Wilder’s original manuscripts, points out the way Wilder’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane sharpened her mother’s storytelling as well as occasionally inserting her own conservative/individualistic philosophy into the narrative. It was also interested in what Wilder left out of the books, notably any discussion of politics and especially populism that was sweeping the country at the time Ingalls novels were set. Miller points out a few cases where it seems Lane added her own philosophy, such as one Fourth of July speech that Laura couldn’t have possibility remembered in the detail recalled, but he also admits that the older Wilder would have shared a similar philosophy. Miller also suggests that because these books were children books, and especially because she was writing from the point of view of a child, political topics were avoided. Miller does remind his readers that the novelist’s goal is different from a historian (especially a children’s novelist). At best, Wilder wrote “stripped-down history.”
Although I enjoyed this book, much of my joy came from being in DeSmet when I read most of it and from my interest in social history. I would recommend it only for those of you who have a burning desire to know a lot more about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Otherwise, stick to Wilder’s books. Click here for my post on visiting Wilder’s home in Wisconsin. In the next week I’ll post more photographs and tells of our visit to DeSmet, SD and Walnut Grove, MN.
For more book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Photo by Sage taken along the Siever River in Utah, July 2007. Today, I'm combining yesterday's Three-Word-Wednesday writing exercise (corridor, subtle & linger) with my Poetry Thursday submission (and I'm not sticking to the "recommended" style today's poem).
At the beginning, the corridor seems endless.
Even if it was possible, there’d be no reason to linger
with a subtle breeze propelling all forward.
Then comes the day we can’t linger even if desired
for the wind is now a hurricane
as the corridor’s end approaches.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
I could tell you all about staying in a condo at the Great Wolf Lodge in the Wisconsin Dells and enjoying the water park there, but it’s just not the image of me that I like to portray! We spent most of our time in the water. It was a blast, after two days I was waterlogged and exhausted. I can’t believe how many times my daughter had me climb the tower to the Tornado (an exciting ride, one that she just barely met the height requirements). I’m sure also sure part of my reluctance at recalling additional memories of the Lodge is that, in time, they’ll come along with a credit card bill.
The Photos below were all taken by Sage. Here's what you're seeing: 1. Leopold's cabin, 2. Healthy Oaks in the Big Woods, 3. Sage's truck hood after the battle with the squirrels, 4. the Little House, 5. A Garage in Pepin, 6. A barge going through the locks, 7. A CN train at Alma, 8. & 9. Backwater of the Mississippi at Perrot State Park.
We actually stayed in the Dells twice, once on our way out and again on our way back home. On the second trip, I learned that Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac, had his cabin nearby on the Wisconsin River. Although it was not open, I got permission from the folks at the Leopold Nature Center to walk back to it and pay homage to the man who is considered by many to be the father of the conservation movement. Leopold died at this site in 1948, while fighting a grass fire.
But this trip wasn’t about paying homage to conservationists. Instead, we were out to see and pay homage to the childhood sites of Laura Ingalls Wilder. First stop was Pepin, Wisconsin, the location for her book, The Little House in the Big Woods. Leaving the condo at Great Wolf, we assumed a more modest abode, a tent pitched at Perrot State Park, overlooking the Mississippi River. Wisconsin campgrounds are wonderful, my main complaint about Perrot being the mosquitoes. But with that much backwater from the Mississippi, what did I expect?
My other complaint about the campground was the inhospitable squirrels. I woke up at 6 AM, thinking someone was throwing rocks at my truck. When I went out to investigate, an was assaulted with a walnut that barely missed my head. The squirrels were busy in the tree above, dropping walnuts on the hood of my truck. Even worse, they were also spitting something that looked like green tobacco juice on my truck. It appears there were eating the green shuck that surrounds the nuts. For your enjoyment, I’m attaching a photo of the hood of my truck. I moved the truck so that it was not under the tree, but occasionally I’d still hear a ping from where they hit the truck. I hope those tree rats threw their arms out.
The town of Pepin isn’t much. There is a museum that took about 30 minutes to go through. The Ingalls’ homestead is no longer in the big woods, it sits among a few trees nestled within a big cornfield. Pa said he had to leave Pepin because there were too many people moving in, but I wonder if that was the real reason for we didn’t see that many folks around.
Maybe it was the ancestor of the guy with the liberate Iraq sign on his garage who was the real reason the Ingalls’ fled Pepin. Now that we’ve “liberated Iraq,” there’s an ironic twist to the sign.
Driving north of Pepin, there is a place called Maiden Rocks, where a fair Indian maiden threw herself off a cliff because she couldn’t marry the man she loved. I’ve never given such stories much thought, but now as a father of a girl growing up too rapidly, there is something sinister about such stories. I quickly did my own exegesis of the story, adding in a part about her being mentally ill in an attempt to remove all romanticism from story along with any suggestion that such behavior is noble or acceptable.
We drove around Lake Pepin, which is really just a wide spot in the river formed by the Chippewa River silting up the Mississippi and creating the wide space with large sloughs of backwater. It's about 120 miles around the lake and it appears most people live on the Minnesota side of the river, where they make shoes (in Red Wing), water ski (Lake City is the founding location for the sport), or just hang out and ice fish and be grumpy (Wabasha is the home of the “Grumpy Old Men).
My favorite part around Lake Pepin is the town of Alma. Here is one of the 27 locks and dams that allows the Mississippi to be navigated from St Louis to Minnesota’s Twin Cities. It takes what seems to be forever (over an hour) to move a tug boat pushing fifteen barges through. They have to split the load and push one set of barges through then the next. Still, I watched it all enthralled. Next to the river is the mainline for Burlington Northern Santa Fe. We were told that approximately 52 trains a day pass by the town of Alma. Not only were there BNSF trains, but also Canadian Nationals that used the line. On the other side of the river was the old Milwaukee Road line, which is now own by Canadian Pacific, or so I was told.
Another fun activity was canoeing the backwaters of the Mississippi. Wildlife was plentiful. We even spotted an Eagle. But after a few days in the big woods of Wisconsin, it was time to move on. Next stop, DeSmet, South Dakota.
Monday, August 20, 2007
|You Are a Green Crayon|
Your world is colored in harmonious, peaceful, natural colors.
While some may associate green with money, you are one of the least materialistic people around.
Comfort is important to you. You like to feel as relaxed as possible - and you try to make others feel at ease.
You're very happy with who you are, and it certainly shows!
Your color wheel opposite is red. Every time you feel grounded, a red person does their best to shake you.
What color are you? Will all you reds please identify yourselves?
Speaking of disharmony, after a summer of drought (we got only .5 inches or rain in July), August is making up for it. It’s been raining regularly since Saturday and today is garbage day and when I went home for lunch, I noticed that every garbage lid on the street was flipped open. Why can’t they shut the lids when it rain? Of course, if that’s my only worry, I shouldn’t complain.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Ed Abbey (named after the western author who would have been 80 this year) is a 34 year old engineer in a small town in Iowa. If you think Iowa only has corn and baseball fields, you’re wrong. There’s at least one industrial plant that requires an engineer and the same town is adjacent to a small city filled with thousands of hippie/East Indian want-a-bees that Ed has dubbed Maharishiville. Ed, like his namesake, loves to do a lot of fun things like running rivers and backpacking and in his archives are journals from many trips. Politically, he’s a constitutionalist. It may sound like he’s a conservative but like many of us he’s had his fill of the shrub from Texas who isn’t very conservative, at least not fiscally. Ed is the proud father of Little Abbey, a cute girl that inherited her mother’s looks. Go over to Ed’s blog and wish him a happy birthday. I’m not sure what kind of gift to offer, but somewhere I have an old slide rule that I’ll stick a bow on. Another thoughtful gift would be a multi-colored pack of pocket protectors. Ed may not appreciate it, but his old nemesis Murf would be pleased that he could match his pocket protector with the color of his shirts.
Ed marches to his own beat, which has given rise “Ed’s DamnYankee Reading Challenge,” which came about in response to the Summer Southern Reading Challenge.
Sharing Ed’s birthday is the lovely Michele (or at least the lady with a lovely photo of a great pair of legs. Like Ed, her face has been veiled from our eyes). A Canadian, she’s quite a reader and likes to brag upon herself, but for good reason. As she says, “the lovely thing about being me is that I’m so damn good at it.” Michele brings much joy to the internet with little games that force people to meet one another and many of the folks who regularly read my dribble first did so through Michele’s weekend “meet-n-greet” game. Michele is celebrating an anniversary of her 39th birthday (next year, I’ll have my dozenth anniversary of my 39th birthday). As a birthday gift, Michele would like for you to offer her a musical suggestion to download on her ipod.
Our final birthday girl is “I’m No Angel.” She turns 40 tomorrow and, as she is now definitively middle-aged, she should never again be referred to as a “girl.” Unfortunately, the “Non-Angel” does not have a blog (I’m not sure why she’s not with the program for her husband has one). Or maybe she does have a blog and just hasn’t shared it with me. In any case, she does have a blogger account that allows her to occasionally pop ino my blog and harasses me (which is why she receives the honored pain in the butt award--all in good humor, or course). Once upon a time in a distant land that was far away (I know, that's redundant), Non-Angel was a member of my staff. I don’t think she has forgiven me for accepting another position just a month after she was hired, leaving her to work under a less than desirable supervisor. She’s a wonderful educator and knows a few things about the birds and bees—or at least I hope so as she teaches anatomy to college students, a subject I'm sure most college students think they know everything they need to know about. If you want to wish Non-Angel a happy birthday, you’ll have to do that here, since there is no there.
A birthday party wouldn’t be complete without some games. Anyone up for hitting the piñata?
It's raining outside so I'll watch from the safety of my screened porch.
CAKE: Since it’s late summer and if we don’t find someway to consume all the zucchini floating around, we’ll be stuck with it all winter, I’ll serve up a Zucchini Chocolate Cake recipe that I found in an old book.
Sift together and put aside:
2.5 cups flour
.25 cup dry cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp salt
In a large bowl, cream until light and fluffy:
.5 cup salad oil
.5 cup margarine
1.75 cup sugar
Add 1 tsp. vanilla and 2 beaten eggs.
Add dry ingredients alternatively with .5 cup buttermilk into the creamed mixture. Stir in 2 cups grated zucchini. Pour into greased 9” x 13” pan. Sprinkle with a 6 ounce package of chocolate chips and .75 cup chopped walnuts. Bake at 325 degrees for 55-60 minutes.
ICE CREAM: It’s feeling almost like fall here in Michigan (it was in the 40s yesterday!), which is perfect weather for some pumpkin ice cream. This recipe comes from the More-With-Less-Cookbook, one of my favorite.
Scald 2 cups of milk in a double boiler
Combine in a bowl:
2 beaten eggs
1 cup sugar
.13 tsp. salt
2 cups mashed/cooked sweet potatoes
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
.5 tsp. allspice
.25 tsp. ground ginger
.5 tsp. vanilla
Add hot milk to combined ingredients and cook for four minutes, then cool.
Add 1 cup of cream and 1 cup chopped pecans. Pour into ice cream freezer and follow freezer directions regarding ice and salt, mix till stiff. Ingredients can be doubled if you have a gallon-size ice cream freezer.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (New York: Picador, 2004), 247 pages. Sorry Murf, no pictures.
Gilead should be read slowly, taking time to savor the language and the scenes Robinson creates. I found myself reading a few pages, then pausing to think about what I’d read. The narrator of the book is dying and writing what appears to be his testimony to his child. That’s all you know from the first page. Slowly, bits and pieces of narrator become clear. John Ames is ill and in his late 70s; he didn’t marry till late in life, having met his wife when he was 67. She’s much younger and he cherishes her and the boy she’s given him. Yet, at the end of the book, it appears he’d been married earlier, and was a widower. It’s the 1950s. In these letters to his son, he tells him family stories, of his father and his grandfather. They were all Congregationalist preachers and the narrator is still the Congregational pastor in Gilead, Iowa. His grandfather (the boy’s great-grandfather), rode with John Brown in Kansas before the Civil War and must have killed at least one man. Then, in the Civil War, he loses and eye and afterwards becomes a one eyed eccentric preacher. As a child, he recalls traveling with his father to find his grandfather’s grave. The narrator’s father was turned off by the destruction of the Civil War and became a pacifist. For a time he refused to worship at his father’s church, going instead to sit with the Quakers, a decision that haunted him the rest of his life. Though telling stories, occasionally repeating them more than once, the narrator reveals his family’s history. The father tells the good and the bad, and in so doing instills hopes, faith and morals into a boy he’ll never see grown.
John Ames best friend is Boughton, the Presbyterian pastor in Gilead. As more is revealed about Boughton, the reader discovers that he too is old and probably dying. While he’s writing these memories for his son, Boughton’s son Jack comes back for the first time in years. It’s a grand homecoming for a prodigal son. Jack’s real name is John Ames Boughton, named for narrator, his father’s friend at a time it appeared that the narrator was not going to have any children of his own. In his memories, John recalls his encounters with Jack who proclaims to have no faith. It appears he thinks that Jack (who must be in his early 40s), might become a father to his boy and a husband to his wife when he’s gone, but then he learns that Jack is married (or at least married in the eyes of the Lord) to a black woman and has a mixed race child. Because of laws prohibiting such things in the 50s, they can’t legally be married. At the end of the book, Jack leaves to go back and to try to claim his wife (her father is also against the idea of the two being together).
In the telling of these stories, Marilynne Robinson weaves in discussion of philosophy and theology, a genuine appreciation for life and awe for creation. There are examples of the sacraments, such as the narrator’s father receiving a biscuit from his father, recalling it as a communion experience. In a way, for Robinson’s narrator, all life seems to be sacramental and therefore is to be savored. Gilead is a treat. I strongly recommend this book.
For more book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.
This review fulfills my commitment to read and review three books written by northern writers for “Ed’s DamnYankee Reading Challenge,” a reading challenge that came into being as a parody of Maggie’s Southern Reading Challenge. Although Robinson is from Idaho, the book is set in Iowa. (That's logical, everybody gets those two states confused anyway). Because one of the characters in the book fought for the Yankees, I think the book qualifies for northern lit. By the way, the author is a Calvinist, which is another good reason for reading the novel…
Friday, August 17, 2007
Has it really been thirty years since the King died? April 16, 1977. I still remember that day. I was on my first paid vacation, taking a week off from the bakery to run rivers in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. Three college students, my uncle L and my brother W and I, were camping on the banks of the Nantahala River. As the only one in the group working full time (while going to school), I was also the only one still getting paid during our week’s adventure. None the less, our budget was tight. We survived the week on peanut butter and jelly and baloney sandwiches. It was to wet to cook and we didn’t have enough funds to eat out often.
It had been raining off and on for two days. It didn’t matter that you were wet during the day. You were wet anyway, running the rivers and spending time playing in holes and shooting over ledges and falls. At night, our tent was dry, but it wasn’t large enough for us to hang out in. So in the hours between running the river and sleeping, we hung out in L’s purple Gremlin. Although practical, with it’s squared off hatch back enabling it to carry a lot of gear, its practicality didn’t make up for the fact it was one of the ugliest cars ever built. But inside the Gremlin was dry and we ate our sandwiches and read magazines while alternating between listening to the radio and talking about a river that had just opened up in East Tennessee, the Ocoee.
Jimmy Carter was president. We had a copy of Outside, which was a fairly new magazine then. The feature article talked about protecting rivers and had a photo of the President running a river, probably the Chattahoochee in North Georgia, if my memory is correct. We all laughed at Jimmy. In one hand, he held his paddle in the air while his other hand grasped one of the gunnels on the canoe as the boat dropped over a small ledge. The contorted look on his face didn’t exactly express the confidence you expected from the President. “Keep your paddle in the water,” we advised the photo, “it won’t do you any good in the air.”
And then, as we talked and read and ate our sandwiches inside a car with steamed windows, we heard the news. For a few minutes we were silent. None of us were big Elvis fans. Disco hadn’t yet become the craze of the land helping us appreciate the king, but we all had a sense that an era had passed. Something had changed.
The next day, we left the Nantahala for the Ocoee. Larry led the way in the purple Gremlin, with two kayaks strapped to the top and the back filled with gear. I followed with my Orange Opel, a small car that was almost as ugly as L’s, which was hidden under the canoe and kayak tied to the top. The sun returned, but with all the rain, the river was high. Until earlier that summer, much of the water for the river had been diverted through a flume that ran along the side of the mountain and then dropped down into a hydroelectric generator. But after nearly a century of use, the flume was being rebuilt, opening a section of river for daredevils in kayaks. Unlike the Nantahala, which by the mid-70s become a major tourist attraction, there was no one else around, no other paddlers to gleam information about the best approach to a rapid. With all the rain, the river was muddy with silt and foamed angrily. We ran it anyway, shooting down through deep holes and pushing through ten foot standing waves. At one point, after rolling my kayak twice, I just couldn’t get it back up and bailed out. I’d never felt so alone, bobbing through the rapid with my paddle in hand, the waves blocking my view of W and L. When I was spit out at the bottom of the rapid, there was L, holding my boat in an eddy. I’d survived. We ran the rest of the river without problems then went on to the Hiawassee and Doe Rivers, before heading back home for work and school.
The summer was over, and for a week that summer nothing much matter. But Elvis was dead and the world had changed.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Stars fade long before the darkness cease
pending the arrival of one greater
that arises behind a horizontal curtain
of red and purple pleats
and greeted by a winged chorus
hidden in the rustling grass.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
After nine days of travel and chasing the Ingalls family from Wisconsin to South Dakota, I come back to a bunch of work piled up on my desk and much I’d like to write about but just don’t have time. I’ll get around to it. This was a good trip, from riding the Tornado with my daughter at Great Wolf Lodge’s water park in the Wisconsin Dells, to seeing all the places Laura Ingalls Wilder lived, to watching trains along the Burlington Northern and the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern lines. By luck, I also got to see the cabin of a favorite author of mine—Aldo Leopold. I’ll write more about it all later. But for now, let me leave you with a couple of pictures.
-The above shot is a replica of the Little House in the Big Woods.
-The second shot is of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train racing southward along the Mississippi River (south of Pepin WI)
-The third shot is the depot in DeSmet SD, the location of four of Laura Ingalls Wilders books.
Monday, August 06, 2007
I’m heading out of here Monday morning and as this trip is completely vacation, there’ll be no laptop. After a few days of becoming waterlogged in the Wisconsin Dells, we’ll be on the Laura Ingalls trail, hitting Little House on the Prairie shrines (they’re called museums but I’m not so sure) across the Midwest. I almost hate to admit to this trip because one of my faithful stalkers (I mean readers) often calls me Pa Ingalls.
By the way, I never knew the Ingalls family was so mobile—those people lived all over the country and even after driving across five or so states, we’ll not get to them all. But there is a little girl very dear to my heart that I hope will have the time of her life. To make the trip a little more realistic, I may put a plank on her seat so she can feel what it was like to ride on a buckboard.
Unless I get board and find a computer in a public library, a coffee shop, or in the back of a high tech Conestoga Wagon, I’ll check back in around the 15th.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
A piece of helpful information: I worked professionally for the Boy Scout program from 1981 till the summer of 1986 when I left the scout in order to go to grad school. I spent the summers of 82-84 in scout camps. In 1988 and 1990, I also ran a co-ed camp in Idaho (it was not related to the scouting program). Then, in the summers of 1999 and 2000, I spent a week each summer with our local troop at camp.
By Nevada Jack
A lot has happened in the fifteen years since I was last in scout camp. Back then I was the Camp Director. After eight weeks in an all boys camp with very few females, I knew the summer was winding down when the camp cooks, who were older than my mother, started to look good. In other to see what improvements have been made to the scouting program, I signed this summer for a week at camp with our local troop. I knew a lot had changed, but wasn’t prepared for what I experienced, especially girl counselors.
Ralph and I and a dozen boys arrived safely at Camp Bangladesh on a Monday morning. It was supposed to be an aquatic camp, but it felt like an overpopulated refugee settlement on the eastern shore of Bear Lake in Northern Utah. Greeting us at the gate was Giligan, looking fresh and neat from his recent cruise on the S.S. Minnow. He wore Navy khaki, we assumed, because he didn’t meet the six foot height requirement for the Coast Guard (and would have been unable to walk ashore if his boat had sunk). Giligan directed us to our campsite and told me to report to the pavilion and check in. On the way, I stopped at the head (euphemism for latrine), where I quickly surmised that the U.N. and International Red Cross Refugee Commissions hadn’t yet inspected this site. At the pavilion, the powers that be lightened my wallet as Robyn gave the troop a tour of the camp. Robyn substituted for our camp friend Randy who was, we later surmised, in the bushes with a female staff member. We never saw Robyn again; some think he got lost in a clump of sage where, unable to see over it, he traveled in circles till he passed out. As for Randy, he and the Misses showed up hand-in-hand half way through the week. We learned then that Randy was quite a philosopher and explained all the world problems as “someone must be smoking something.” We all assumed he was the “someone.”
At the opening scoutmaster’s meeting on the first day, I qualified for the BSA’s “Safety Afloat” certification by listening to a lecture. Little did I realize the camp practiced another form of safety afloat—keeping most of their boats in dry dock. The boats that were fully functioning were generally reserved for staff use. The small sloop named the “Ark” was re-christened the “Love Boat” by our boys who had suspensions as to what the staff did on the boat that they kept safely off-shore and off-limits.
I will forever remember the galley experience at Camp Bangladesh. There were two shifts (called watches). If you’re unlucky enough to be on the second watch, as we were, it was similar to eating in an emergency canteen following a Kansas tornado. Another unique experience was dining in this open air pavilion during a thunderstorm. Paper plates and cuts flew with the wind, ridding the camp of rubbish by sending it all to Idaho. I’m sure it was from such an experience that the shifts became known as a watch, for we watched our food fly away. The day following, they had a knife sharpening contest and the cook took first place. That night we were treated to beef trimmings, and these trimmings were so fine that we didn’t even notice them. Even the camp’s sole vegetarian seemed satisfied. In all seriousness, the night with the gluey noodles made up for the undercooking of the previous night’s rice, things have a way of balancing out in the end. Quality aside, the real problem was with quantity and our neighboring unit leaders resorted to rattlesnake hunting to supplement their boy’s diet. Ralph and I, being more practical, took our boys for milk shakes at the ice cream store on the south end of the lake.
Of course, what goes in must come out, which brings me back to the subject of the rotten white buildings dotting the landscape and were a contributing factor for the outbreak of constipation that struck our campers. The smell of these buildings was so bad that I stopped using flashlights and followed the stench from one to another on the path back to our site. It’s also been noted that along the highway east of the camp a large number of dead skunks have been spotted and they’re all facing east, obviously running across the highway afraid another skunk has already claim the territory when they meet their demise under the tires of moving vehicles.
Our troops strawberry blonde commissioner was Ms. Pope. We could never remember her name so Ralph and I started calling her Hillary, in honor of the First Lady. In addition to serving as our commissioner, she was also the commandant of the dining hall and ruled with an iron fist. Hillary was an electronic engineering technician student at Weber State (Cambridge on the Salt Lake). We found her knowledgeable about most everything except for the difference between a foot and a yard. If she gets that confused between volts and watts, we’re afraid she may be in for a real shock. In addition to her commissioner duties and studying electricity, Hillary is looking for a good Mormon husband who will allow her to stay home and tend to a scout troop. If Robyn hadn’t gotten himself lost in the sage, they’d made a cute couple. Of course, I’m sure Hillary would have wanted Robyn to grow up a bit, but until then they’d be shoe-in winners for a Dennis the Menace and Margaret look-a-like contest. However, I secretly believe that Hillary isn’t interested in a husband, but really harbors ambition to be the first female Chief Scout Executive. I just hope she doesn’t get her sights on the Presidency of the U.S. of A, or our country will never be the same.
There were three classes of staff at Camp Bangladesh. The elite, like Hillary, wore Navy uniforms and look like they just walked out of a surplus store or off the set for a remake of McHale’s Navy. The second tier wear dark green sea scouts shirts and various colored pants. Our favorite in this class was Hot Legs—the blond lifeguard with a nice tanned body fitted into a red one piece swimsuit. When on duty, she looked more like a movie star posing than a lifeguard as she stretched herself out sunning on the pier. I never saw Hot Legs without large sunglasses. She wore them even when the sun wasn’t shinning. Our boys, seeing her without the glasses one day, reported that she had a serious case of raccoon eyes and better keep them on. The bottom rung of the staff hierarchy was the kitchen crew. They didn’t wear uniforms and were obviously selected for their lack of speed and foresight. Or maybe they were pressed into service, like the British did to our seamen before the War of 1812. If that’s the case, they’ve decided as a group that indifference is a subtle way of protest. Or, maybe they really didn’t think we wanted nor needed anything to drink with our uncooked rice until the meal was nearly over. Speaking of drinks, choosing the beverages of one’s choice was another interesting experience. Any other camp would have put labels on the coolers, but that would be too much work for the staff of Bangladesh. We learned that the way to tell what a cooler contained was to look underneath at the color of the puddle on the floor. Since we were the only non-Mormon troop in camp, the dining hall didn’t serve coffee. Suspecting such, I brought my own stove and percolator and fixed coffee every morning. I quickly became popular and found myself having to go into town to find more coffee midweek as all the neighboring Mormon leaders decided to forgo their prophet’s word of wisdom and have a several Cups of Joe a morning with Ralph and me.
Our patch for the week informed us we’ve been on an aquatic land cruise—I supposed it’s a land cruise because most that’s where most of the boats remained. But there were some good things about the experience. First of all, I wasn’t in charge and could blame everything on the camp director, Captain McHale himself. Instead, I passed the hours sitting in my camp chair or laying in my hammock, reading books. Furthermore, our boys averaged three merit badges and only one fight a piece and they all eventually got to sail on the one fully functioning sailboat available for campers. I even got to spend a wonderful afternoon on a Hobie-cat (that was reserved for scout leaders) and am now hoping to break my Valium addiction by the end of the year.
Sage’s note: Even though I tried to put a light spin all this, from my experience working with the Boy Scouting program in the Southeast United States, I was surprised this camp passed the Boy Scouts of America’s rather rigorous peer inspection program. Their waterfront controls were lacking and I spent less time in my hammock and more time playing lifeguard than I'd hoped. After this experience, I can't image why I decided to again sign up for another year. But the next summer, there was Ralph and I taking the troop to camp. This time we went to a camp in Northern Arizona and it was one of the best run camps I’ve seen.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Queen Anne’s Revenge
I spot ‘em everywhere,
in fields and along the highway,
white lace on lithe bodies.
clad only in lacy slips,
divert my eyes
and distract my thoughts
when they sway in the breeze.
I don't know why I'm doing all the writing exercises this week. But seeing the fields of Queen Anne's Lace got me thinking. I sat in a meeting most of today--and kept looking at the field outside with the swaying Queen Anne's Lace, that diverted my attention from what we were talking about. If my memory serves me right, Queen Anne's Revenge was the name of Blackbeard's ship, which has absolutely nothing to do with the poem...
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
The thought of it is more than I can now fathom. I saw him wandering around Beale Street in Memphis. He was immaculate. He wore a double-breasted pin strip suit with a fancy felt hat and with each step his shinny black shoes clicked against the sidewalk. Hanging by the neck, from his right hand, was an old six-string. Between his lips a stub of a cigarette hung. It’d burned brightly when he inhaled, then drop as he blew smoke out. Leaning against a porch post, I watch him stroll by and wondered what he was up to.
“He ain’t up to no good,” someone mumble in an alley. I couldn’t see the man, but he must have been watching me and anticipating my question.
“You know who that is,” I asked, squinting, trying to see to whom I was talking.
“Yeah, I do,” the man said. “Robert Johnson, he comes here every August, about the time of his death. Some say he sold his soul and now looks to steal another in the hopes to redeem his back.”
Keeping my distance, I follow the lone musician toward the river. He never stopped. At the tracks, he jumped into an empty Illinois Central box car and sat in the doorway, his feet hanging out. Strummin’ the guitar, he began to sing. “I’ve got to keep movin’, I’ve got to keep movin’, blues fallin’ down like hail.” About that time a whistle blewe and the car jerked and pulled forward, slowly gaining speed as it headed down toward the Delta. I watched till the train disappeared in the gray river fog. Then I headed back up toward town, drawn by the music pouring out of the clubs and the thought of a cold beer.