Wednesday, November 29, 2006
In the comment section of the previous post, I jokingly asked if it would be helpful to have a map to illustration my confusion which ended up with me at a sorority party. Bone confirmed it to be a good idea. As I don't have any fancy drafting software, I created this map on powerpoint and I purposely left off street names so that no stalkers will try to crash any future parties at the party house (of course, those sorority sisters would now be close to 30).
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
“Let me see if I got this right, if I stand in your front yard, it’s the two story house catty-cornered, right?”
“Yes, that’s it,” she said, “drop by anytime Saturday afternoon, between three and five You got to meet him.” Norma sounded more like a teenager in love than a retired teacher.
“I’ll be there,” I promised, and hung up the phone.
That Saturday afternoon I drove over to Norma’s house that sat on the corner. Sure enough, across the street was a two story house and there were a lot of cars around it so I parked, walked up and rang the doorbell.
“The door’s open, come on in,” a young woman yelled. I walked into foyer and on into the kitchen. A young woman, must be the daughter of the lady hosting the party I assumed, invited me to fix a drink. Strange, I thought to myself, I'd figured they were like most of our neighbors, Mormon, who if they drink, wouldn't be doing it publicly. But when in Rome, do as the Romans, so I poured myself a drink.
“Where’s Norma?” I asked, stirring the ice in the whiskey.
“Maybe she’s out back, at the grills,” she said, “we’re getting to put on the hamburgers.”
“Odd,” I thought to myself, “I didn’t realize we're having dinner.” I walked out onto the patio.
A couple of guys and their girls introduced themselves to me. I gave them my name and asked, “Where’s Norma and her fiancé.”
“Who,” they asked jointly as if a convention of owls.
“Norma and what’s his name,” I responded. “I was invited over to this party to meet this guy.”
“There’s no Norma here," one of the blondes stated. I was getting a weird feeling as she continued, "this is a sorority party. A couple of us girl live here, off campus, so we have our parties here.”
“You got to be kidding,” I said, choking on my drink and wondering how many of these kids were under age and here I was drinking with them.
“Anybody know this couple at who’s home is having this party I’m suppose to be at?” I asked.
One did. It was catty-cornered in the other direction from Norma’s house. I chatted with them for a few minutes while I finished my drink, then borrowed some mints and headed down to Norma’s party. Sure enough, no alcohol was served there, just pink punch and some chips and sausage balls. I met what’s his name (to this day, I don’t remember his name) and told the story of me, a forty year old, being welcomed at a sorority party.
Wonder what they were saying about me after I left the sorority party?
Sunday, November 26, 2006
01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink (It was a small bar)
02. Swam with wild dolphins (this might be stretching it, but I’ve been in the water with porpoises within 20 feet or so away)
03. Climbed a mountain (many)
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid (Not unless you count that monstrosity in Vegas)
06. Held a tarantula (the things people encourage you to do)
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone (no comment)
08. Said “I love you” and meant it
09. Hugged a tree
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea (I have even been on the sea in an electrical storm)
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise (I’ve even done this sober)
14. Seen the Northern Lights (but I still want to see one of those spectacular shows)
15. Gone to a huge sports game (but still waiting to see the Pirates play in the World Series)
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg (I saw the Titanic, does that count?)
19. Slept under the stars
20. Changed a baby’s diaper
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower
23. Gotten drunk on champagne (I think I’d die of gas before I got drunk, champagne is overrated!)
24. Given more than you can afford to charity
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
27. Had a food fight (wasn’t that required to get out of Junior High)
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger (again, don’t ask, but it’s been a couple of decades)
30. Had a snowball fight (an annual ritual, it occurred around October 10 this year with our early snow)
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can (I once modeled for an artist with my mouth in a contorted scream… oh no, that was before my time)
32. Held a lamb (and eaten one too)
33. Seen a total eclipse (and a couple of near misses, also seen a totalled Eclipse)
34. Ridden a roller coaster (have roller coaster, will travel)
35. Hit a home run (occasionally I’ve been lucky with the wind in the right direction)
36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking (I’ve danced like a fool, but was always self-conscious about it)
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day (does southern count?)
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment (let’s see, that was 196… Actually more often than that)
39. Had two hard drives for your computer
40. Visited all 50 states (I’m at 47)
41. Taken care of someone who was drunk (let’s not go there)
42. Had amazing friends (Hopefully I still have some)
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
44. Watched wild whales
45. Stolen a sign (and caught hell from my parents)
46. Backpacked in Europe
47. Taken a road-trip (have gas will travel)
48. Gone rock climbing (have rope, will travel)
49. Midnight walk on the beach (have beach and moon, will walk)
50. Gone sky diving (I still think I would like to do this)
51. Visited Ireland
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love (no comment)
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them (ever eaten in a Basque restaurant?)
54. Visited Japan`(have chopsticks, will travel)
55. Milked a cow (I’ve even squirted my cousin with milk while upsetting Betsy)
56. Alphabetized your CDs (people do that?)
57. Pretended to be a superhero (Does Santa count, when I was 18, I convinced the kids next door that I was Santa)
58. Sung karaoke (It was almost two decades ago, and it was my last date with a music teacher)
59. Lounged around in bed all day (but I was sick)
60. Played touch football (I was lucky to touch the guy with the ball even during experience on the tackle gridiron)
61. Gone scuba diving
62. Kissed in the rain (The rain washes away cooties, does it?)
63. Played in the mud
64. Played in the rain (to wash off the mud)
65. Gone to a drive-in theater (there was still a drive in open in my hometown when I was in high school)
66. Visited the Great Wall of China
67. Started a business
68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken (at least not yet, but my dog can’t live forever)
69. Toured ancient sites
70. Taken a martial arts class
71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight (why would anyone want to play dominoes while listening to disco for 6 hours straight?)
72. Gotten married
73. Been in a movie (I’m assuming my dad’s old Super 8’s don’t count)
74. Crashed a party (this might make a good blog post—about crashing a sorority party)
75. Gotten divorced (again, don’t ask, but we do crazy things when young)
76. Gone without food for 5 days
77. Made cookies from scratch
78. Won first prize in a costume contest
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
80. Gotten a tattoo (I can’t imagine ever being so intoxicated that I’d let someone inject ink in me)
81. Rafted the Snake River (but I’ve hiked by it!)
82. Been on television news programs as an “expert” (the expert part is questionable)83. Got flowers for no reason (there are some people who like me)
84. Performed on stage (I even blogged about it)
85. Been to Las Vegas (many times as I use to live nearby)
86. Recorded music (wouldn’t that be a best seller)
87. Eaten shark (That was before I knew how much mercury those puppies pack, but shark steaks are good)
88. Kissed on the first date (no comment)
89. Gone to Thailand
90. Bought a house
91. Been in a combat zone (Maybe I should ask for an explanation as I think I’ve been through a few wars)
92. Buried one/both of your parents
93. Been on a cruise ship
94. Spoken more than one language fluently (I've studied three languages other than English, but never got to the fluent category and some wonder if I’m there with English)
95. Performed in Rocky Horror (I could never stay awake to go to those midnight showings)
96. Raised children (Or maybe it’s been children raising me)
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
100. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over (Unfortunately, my troubles always seem to find my forwarding address…)
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge (hold on to your hat)
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking
103. Had plastic surgery
104. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
105. Wrote articles for a large publication (okay, I’m defining large as a cirrculation of over 75k)
106. Lost over 100 pounds (thankfully I haven’t needed to lose that much yet)
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback
108. Piloted an airplane
109. Touched a stingray (I grew up on the coast)
110. Broken someone’s heart (I’m not giving names)
111. Helped an animal give birth (I seen many give birth, but none have yet required my assistance, thank God)
112. Won money on a T.V. game show (they couldn’t pay me enough to be on there)
113. Broken a bone (so far, knock on wood, only a hairline fracture)
114. Gone on an African photo safari
115. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears (I have this thing about holes in my skin)
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol (all three)
117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild (Morrels!)
118. Ridden a horse (and have even been bucked off one)
119. Had major surgery
120. Had a snake as a pet (it didn’t stay around long after my mother discovered it)
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (a great place to hike)
122. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states (that’d be like 48 countries)
124. Visited all 7 continents
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days (how about 10 days)
126. Eaten kangaroo meat
127. Eaten sushi (but I drew the line at kangaroo sushi)
128. Had your picture in the newspaper (but haven’t yet made the most wanted section) 129. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about (I’ve occasionally won an argument)
130. Gone back to school (twice, and got degrees both times!)
132. Touched a cockroach (Couldn't help it, I grew up down south)
133. Eaten fried green tomatoes (although I’m Southern born and bred, this was a recent accomplishment)
134. Read The Iliad - and the Odyssey (they were required in the 9th grade and again in college)
135. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read (You have more time to read after graduation)
136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating (if you kill it, you eat it, my dad’s philosophy which cured us of wanting to shoot songbirds)
137. Skipped all your school reunions (I wish, but I’ve attended one out of three)
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
139. Been elected to public office
140. Written your own computer language
141. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream (I still think I’ll wake up and find myself back in Petersburg starting the fourth grade with LBJ still in the White House)
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
143. Built your own PC from parts
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
145. Had a booth at a street fair
146. Dyed your hair (I wish I had enough to make this worthwhile)
147. Been a DJ (I’ve never cared for Dumb Jocks)
148. Shaved your head (why bother, let nature take it’s course)
149. Caused a car accident (I don’t think their brake lights were working until I bumped into them, the impact must of reconnected the short in their electrical wiring)
150. Saved someone’s life (But it wasn’t anything too dramatic)
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Sage’s Sweet Potato Casserole (This came from my mom, and I forget now just who it was that she stole this here recipe from, but I sure it originated with the mother of Robert E Lee.)
3 cups sweet potato (canned or cooked, if canned be sure to drain)
1 stick butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Place in a casserole dish
Mix together and place on the top
1 cup cropped pecans
½ stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
Place on top of sweet potato mix and bake at 350 F for 30-40 minutes.
Chef's note: If you add enough butter and brown sugar and you can take the nutritious sweet potato and make it as bad as much of rest of our holiday flair. I do the same thing with cream spinach, boiling away all the nutrients and then cooking the wilted leaves in heavy cream.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Since I don't have any Thanksgiving photos laying around, how about a sunset shot along Lake Superior.
Thanksgiving was fun, especially the joining with friends for the big meal. This way we don’t have left-over turkey which I really miss. But instead of baking a turkey, I got to make sweet potato casserole (which is always a big hit) and creamed spinach (which enough folks liked to go through two pounds of spinach), and a few other odds and ends. The day was beautiful. Last year it was a blizzard and there were white-outs. This year, I sported a short-sleeve shirt (after all, it’s warm enough with 15 people crowded into a small space). And we ate our fill. I still miss not having a turkey, but I’m probably the only one. I’m Scots enough not to throw any of it away. I slice up the meat so that there is turkey to eat, and then turkey sandwiches made with sliced turkey and turkey sandwiches made with turkey salad followed by casseroles with turkey in it. And if that’s not enough, I take the bones and boil it for a couple hours making great broth. Adding onions and carrots and maybe celery, I turn the broth into turkey soup with rice or turkey and noodles. Nothing is wasted and I can get well into December without having to buy meat. As I said, I’m the only one not upset about not having a turkey. Tonight we had pizza.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Beautiful and hopeful, depressing and disturbing, this movie by Indian director Deepa Mehta will please your senses and prick your conscience. The movie opens with a quotation from The Laws of Manu, a Hindu holy book.
A widow should be long suffering until death, self-restrained and chaste.Water is set in the holy city of Varanasi, on the Ganges, in 1938. It’s a time of change, but the old ways die hard. There are still child marriages in India. Chuyia (played by Sarala), is an eight year old widow. Upon the death of her husband, she is sent to live in a convent-like compound with other widows who live ascetic lives. As is the custom, her head is shaved. She is given only one meal a day and is forced to wear only white. There, she is watched over by Madhumati, an evil headmistress, and becomes friends with the beautiful Kalyani, another child-bride-widow (played by Lisa Ray), and Shakuntala, a woman of great faith.
A virtuous wife who remains chaste when her husband has died goes to heaven.
A woman who is unfaithful to her husband is reborn in the womb of a jackal.
It becomes obvious that although the women are supposed to be chaste, Madhumati is having Kalyani pimped out to rich men living across the river. She later meets Narayana (played by John Abraham), who falls in love with her and against his mother’s wishes, asks to marry her. Kalyani agrees (which causes her to be punished by Madhumati), but when she realizes that she’s been a prostitute to Narayana’s father, she drowns herself. Upon her death, Madhumati then has Chuyia, who thinks she’s going to her mother’s home, to be used as a prostitute. When Shakuntala learns this, she rescues Chuyia and takes her to Gandhi who has just been released from prison and is stopping on a train to greet people at the station. There, she runs into Narayana and asks him to make sure Gandhi takes care of the child. The movie ends with Chuyia on the train, leaving the station.
Although the subject is depressing, there is hope. The train pulling out of the station, taking Chuyia away from her horrible existence is hopeful. Throughout the movie, there is talk of Gandhi. In the movie as in the era, Gandhi represents hope. Narayana, who is a follower of Gandhi, is also seen as a moral and liberating figure.
This movie shows how religion and traditions can be used to control and manipulate people, especially women. When Kalyani learns that there are laws which now allow widows to remarry, she asks a priest about it and is told, “We ignore laws that don’t benefit us.” The ancient laws got the wife of the deceased out of the way so the husband’s family could claim and divide his wealth. Another example of the way women are marginalized is shown in a conversation between Narayana and his father. The son is told that Brahmas can sleep with any women they want to and those woman will be blessed. At another point, the priest, who seems to know some of the women are being used as prostitutes, quips about the gentry’s unnatural concern for widows. Although Kalyani is being used as a prostitute, she remains pure. She quotes from an ancient poem: “Learn to live as a lotus, untouched by the dirty water you live in.” Shakuntala, the faithful one, maintains that there must be a reason for the widows to be sent to this place, to which Narayana replies, that it’s because of money, but the real reason is being disguised by religion. Toward the end of the movie, it is said that Gandhi is the only man that listens to his conscience, to which it is asked, “what happens when our conscience conflicts with our faith,” a question raised throughout the film.
In addition to the movie, the commentary by the director that’s on the DVD is worth watching. For someone like me, with just a little knowledge on Hinduism and Indian culture, the director points out various customs portrayed throughout the movie. She maintains that the movie isn’t an attack on Hinduism but on the misinterpretation of the religion. This distinction didn’t stop Hindu Fundamentalists from holding up the production of the move for four years. Eventually the filming of the movie was moved to Sri Lanka where it was safe to film.
This is a beautiful movie. The filming was often done early in the morning or late in the evening, providing soft light. The river scenes shot at night depend upon torches and funeral pyres for lighting, often with flames reflecting on the water. The director uses minimal dialogue, augmented with light, shadows and expressive eyes to create emotions.
I highly recommend this movie. It will make you think, not just about Hindu Fundamentalism, but also about how religions and customs can be misused for the benefit of a few and how at times we can be hopeless in face of such traditions.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
This morning on NPR Radio, the Michigan edition, I learned that the city of Saginaw is applying for a federal grant to tear down eighty houses in an attempt to deter arsonists. Something just doesn’t seem right about using tax dollars in this manner. Of course, the houses are abandoned and dilapidated and probably need to be removed. I can think of a variety of valid reasons to remove them: to make the neighborhood safer for kids who play in them, to cut down on rodents who live in them, to create park space, or to prepare for redevelopment. All of those reasons seem valid, but to tear down a building as a way of fighting arson sounds a lot like eliminating banks to deter bank robbers, removing speed limit signs to end traffic violations, or making women wear tents as a way to keep men from being tempted by their curves and softer features. There is no way we can remove every temptation and sometimes we need to be responsible for our own actions. Now, in Saginaw, if someone is looking for a house to torch, they’ll have 80 less houses to choose from and may do something ever more terrible like burning down an occupied house or dropping a match on the fur of a hibernating bear.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Photo of a friend on a canoe trip in early October.
I really didn't read much this week. It’s been hectic seven days. I've had meetings most evenings. My co-worker from India left for his homeland and I spent a day getting him off from the Detroit airport. It was wonderful having him here and exchanging ideas and hopefully things will go well for me to spent time with him in Jabalpur M.P. late next year or early in 2008.
One of the more interesting things I read was in the travel sections of today’s paper. It seems that Fairfield, Iowa is quite the place for New Agers to travel. I would not have normally read this except that one of my regular readers is from Fairfield and I wanted to see if he was quoted in the article (I thought there was a good chance since there's not that many people in Fairfield, but his “om” must have been drowned out by all the rest of the folks there). On the same page was another article about Mormons visiting historical sites in Nauvoo, IL. I was left wondering if this week’s travel section had been sponsored by a travel agency specializing in cults and sects with roots in the Midwest. Now that I’ve made disparaging comments about the descendents of Joe Smith and the practitioners of TM, I better get to my quotes before I make anyone else mad. Besides, I got to make some potato and ham soup for dinner.
Everyone is willing to garland my photos and statues. But nobody wants to follow my advice.
-Gandhi, as quoted by Collins and Lapierre, Freedom at Midnight
Right is something you do without looking over your shoulder to see if anyone else is doing it.”
-Calvin Miller, Fred ‘n’ Erma
Ah, God! what trances of torments does that man endure who is consumed with one unachieved revengeful desire. He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Mom had devised a torture with which she tormented only me but her other pupils as well. Each day after the noon recess, she would read aloud to us for exactly fifteen minutes. Somehow she managed to end each reaching right at a climactic moment. We would beg her to continue, but she would only chuckle evilly and order us back to work.
-Patrick McManus, The Deer on a Bicycle (he's telling why it was necessary for him to learn to read so early in life)
I just had to trust the Lord and a fast outfield
-Robert Traver, On Fishing
Southerners, like cats, are born with an exaggerated sense of place.
Nan Graham, Turn South a the Next Magnolia
After much conversation and negotiation, it was concluded that since this young man was also a Democrat and a Presbyterian, those qualities offset the unfortunate aspects of being a forester and a Yankee.
Nan Graham, Turn South at the Next Magnolia (on telling of her father’s acceptance into her mother’s family)
Keillor: "All you are going to do is make promise that you can’t keep."
Rusty, "Well, that’s what love is all about."
-from Lives of the Cowboys, A Prairie Home Companion on NPR
Friday, November 17, 2006
Every time I saw Roscoe, he greeted me with a smile that revealed his front teeth, one chipped and the other capped in gold. He even greeted me with a broad smile the night he’d come back to claim his troop of scouts who had to be evacuated from a raging forest fire. Trouble, like water off a duck, slid off Roscoe’s back. It was hard to give him a real chastising when he grinned at you. But the night of the fire, I didn’t have much time for him. He and a friend loaded up their boys and drove them safely home as I went back to the camp to join the fire lines. Another time I’ll have to tell the story of the fire, but now let me introduce you to Roscoe. I’m sure that somewhere I have some photos of him, but they’d be packed away in boxes of slides that I took while working as a District Scout Executive. For the three years, nearly a quarter of a century ago, I was the Waccamaw and Bladen Lakes District Scout Executive and Roscoe was the scouting advocate for his tiny community which will remain nameless in case any revenuers are reading this blog.
Roscoe started as a Cubmaster when his boy joined the Cub Scouts. Not long after I started there, he boy turned eleven and he promoted himself to Scoutmaster. The troop was defunct, but Roscoe got it back up and running. He never had a lot of boys, maybe eight or ten. The community was a rather remote and economically depressed. There were not a lot of opportunities for work. Most of Roscoe’s boys were from families headed by mothers; their father’s having left years earlier in search of work in cities and up north. I suspect Roscoe enjoyed being in a community with so many women and so few men.
Roscoe was a longshoreman. He worked at the port in Wilmington, some 25 miles away. In the early 80s, it was taking fewer hands to unload the ships as almost all of the products hauled in and out of the port were in containers handled by large cranes. He never worked a lot and toward the end of my tenure in these districts, Roscoe received his pink slip. I worried he might have to move and give up scouting. But Roscoe was an entrepreneur and didn’t really want to leave the community where he’d always lived. He never seemed very concerned about things; I think I worried more about his lack of a job than he did.
The last time I saw Roscoe was a few weeks before I transferred to another council. I was coming back from our office in Wilmington and had some materials to give Roscoe. He gave me the directions to his “establishment,” a jut-joint located a good eight miles off the main highway. Driving down these back roads, I passed a little settlement where he and his family lived. It was another three or four miles down a one-way road that I came to an old concrete block building. It may have originally been a garage for working on logging equipment. Roscoe had cleaned it out and fixed the place up. He had a few pool tables, some pinball machines, a jukebox, and a counter in front of a grill over which hung a chalkboard advertising soft-drinks and sandwiches for sale. I couldn’t believe such a place would pay for itself, but Roscoe was proud of what he’d created. This part of the county was dry, meaning one couldn’t legally sell booze (unless you were the VFW). Normally booze was the profit maker for a jut-joint. Once I noticed Roscoe’s old white caddy backed up to the door by the counter, I realized what he was up to. His trunk was open and inside was a cooler and boxes of liquor. He offered to fix me a drink. I declined, thinking it wouldn’t look very good if the scout guy got busted. When I asked about the legality of it all, he said not to worry. His mom was at home and if the cops or any strange cars headed down this way, she’d call. He just had to close his trunk and drive off with all the evidence of his “speak-easy” going with him.
By this point, I was well away of the corruption at this end of the county. There were still plenty of bootleggers and I’d been in the only “legal” drinking establishment in the community, a VFW post that had found a loophole around the laws and served liquor as well as having a backroom with slot machines. It was out on the highway and, although there were no signs, it was pretty evident that they only served white veterans and their affiliate members (all who were white). I’d been offered such a membership one of the times I’d dropped by their meetings to update them about scouting and to pick up a check to support the organization. At such meetings, the post commander would always give folks five minutes to finish their drinks before calling the meeting to order with the pledge of allegiance. They didn’t think it was right to pledge the flag with your right hand over your heart and your left hand holding a drink. Having seen that slice of the community, Roscoe’s establishment didn’t seem that strange; it just added a new twist into life of the community.
I don’t know whatever happened to Roscoe. I never saw him again. A month or two later I moved to the other end of the state. A few years later I read about the leaders of the VFW post being busted. They had done something like pay brides to politicians so they could continue selling booze. I don’t know if Roscoe’s place was caught up in the same sting. Although I couldn’t condone what he was doing, I had to admire his entrepreneurial spirit and his willingness to befriend a bunch of boys who needed a male role model. Roscoe may not have been the ideal scoutmaster, but in a community where there were few men, he was the only game in town. None of us are perfect, yet we’re all to try to make this world a bit better. Despite great shortcomings, Roscoe did his part. And he did it with a smile.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
John McPhee, The Founding Fish (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2002)
I left the bakery, a place I’ve written much about, to try my hand with the Boy Scouts. For half the money, I got about double the trouble, yet my five year sojourner into the world of professional scouting has served me well.
In the spring of 1982, we had a council camporee at the newly opened “Camp Bowers” near Elizabethtown, North Carolina. Scouts and leaders from all over Southeastern North Carolina assembled on Friday and on Saturday morning things were going along well with patrols competing against one another. At noon we broke for lunch. It was about this time the winds picked up and we started getting a whiff of smoke coming from south. At first we didn’t think much about it, but as we began the competition resumed in the afternoon, smoke filled the air. After checking with the state forest service, we learned that the burning of a slash pile several miles away had gotten out of hand and there was a major forest fire heading in our direction. We quickly called off the games and the scouts packed up their gear and moved out. In thirty minutes, the site was almost all cleared of kids. There was one troop left, Roscoe’s troop. Although there were clear instructions that there were suppose to be two adults with each troop at all times, Roscoe and his assistant had left their Senior Patrol Leader in charge in order to attend a shad bake. The shad were running up the Cape Fear to their spawning grounds. Roscoe and friends spent the afternoon at Lock #1, catchin’, cookin’ and eatin’ shad (while consuming grains in a liquid form). I was left to figure out how to get this troop out of the fire’s path. We loaded them and their gear up on the camp truck and drove them into the community of White Oak where we stayed until Roscoe returned later that evening.
In the best of my knowledge, the above is the only story about shad not included in John McPhee’s natural history of the fish. This is a book that tells you everything you can possibility want to know about shad, a fish that begins its life in American rivers, travels out to sea for three to seven years, then returns to spawn and (in most cases) die. McPhee is a shad fisherman. And from the way he claims the title, you’d think that shad fishermen are the king of all fishermen and that the shad is every bit as magnificent as Ahab’s white whale or Job’s leviathan. He tells about catching shad from Maine to Florida. He tells about the big ones that got away. He tells about how the roe shad fight harder than the bucks. He tells about how shad strive to give their young the best chance of survival by getting as far as they can up the river. He tells about the trouble dams’ create for shad. He tells about how shad got into the rivers of the American west. He tells about the mythical role assigned to shad in the Revolutionary War (it was probably a myth that shad kept Washington’s troops from starving at Valley Forge). He tells about how shad helped end another war (The Southern General Pickett and his staff was at a Shad Bake the day the Union Army attacked his troops south of Petersburg. Leaderless, his army was routed, which lead to the fall of Petersburg and Richmond and set in motion the end of the Civil War.) This book is also partly a scientific text as McPhee consults experts across the country as he tries to understand this fish. The book ends with a discussion of PETA’s criticism of fishing. McPhee absolves himself of guilt since he eats the fish he catches (or at least most of them).
Surprisingly, this is a very interesting book. It’s well written and holds your attention, at least till the end when he starts talking about cooking shad roe and using shad milt (sperm). I should say that it appears to be well written as I listened to an unabridged audio version of the book (the audio book is a bit over 14 hours long). If you like fishing, or reading about fishing, you’ll enjoy this book.
Sorry to leave you hanging about the forest fire at camp. I promise to write more about it and about Roscoe’s misadventures later.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The photo was taking on a hiking trip in September. The socks were drying and attracted flies (there were actually about a dozen flies on the socks, but when I got close for a picture, most of them flew away). In light of the rest of my post, I thought smelly socks and flies were appropriate.
“I’m so far behind, I’ll never die,” or so says Calvin (the comic guy, not the theologian). I often resemble that remark. Lately, the resemblance has been too frequent and I’ve not had any time to finish any of the stories I’m been working on or to write any satires or complete any book reviews So I’ll just dig out an old column that I wrote long ago for a newspaper. And since Trent Lott is dropping all kinds of big hints that he’d like to be redeemed and step back into the spotlight, I think it’s time we remember what got him relegated to slumping down in his senate seat. This column ran in December 2002. About noon, on the morning the newspaper was published, Trent Lott resigned as Senate Majority Leader. I’m not really vain enough to think I had a hand in his resignation, but who knows. Maybe someone called his office and told him there is another newspaper columnist out in Podunk land blasting his sincerity. And maybe Mr. Lott decided just then to throw in the towel. Maybe, but I doubt it. Enjoy, and hopefully in a few days I’ll have washed those socks and be back writing fresh stuff.
Lott’s Faux Pas
I hope Trent Lott scrubbed his feet before attending Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. Regularly washing one’s feet is a habit all politicians should develop since they seem to have a tendency to stick ‘em in their mouth. Before the evening was over, Lott’s toes were tickling his throat. Standing before the centurion, the soon-to-be leader of the Senate bragged that his home state, Mississippi, voted for Thurmond for president in 1948. That’s true, but Lott stretched it to suggest that all Mississippians are proud of it. After all, a large percentage of the state population is African-American and, if most of them had been allowed to vote in 1948, it is unlikely Thurmond would have carried the state.
By the time this column runs, Lott’s political future may be over. Granted, Lott has repeated his time-delayed apology over and over. But over the past few days, similar remarks he’s made in the past have been revealed. It’s also been discovered that Lott, as a college student, crusaded to keep his fraternity racially segregated. Some have rallied around Lott and have reprimanded his critics, including the editorial board of this newspaper. But with new revelations coming to light, more are questioning his leadership. The President verbally chastised Lott and some politicians and columnists, including some notable conservatives, have called for his resignation.
Like Lott, I too am a son of the South. During my life I’ve struggled with what it means to be proud of a heritage while acknowledging that it comes with baggage. A nineteenth century German philosopher, who was never popular in the South, once quipped that the past “weighs like a nightmare upon the brain of the living.” And there are few places where the past is more haunting than the South. Historian C. Vann Woodward even titled one of his books, The Burden of Southern History. A past that includes slavery and Jim Crow is burdensome and cannot be all glorified.
Strom Thurmond represents the past. In 1948, he was a segregationist. In his later years, he either tempered his views or learned to hold his tongue. Unlike fellow segregationist George Wallace, who devoted his final years to seeking forgiveness for his racial prejudices, Thurmond, and until recently Lott, have primarily discounted prior racist actions as events of another era. Sure, it was another era, but that shouldn’t mean one should ignore such behavior. Both Senators should acknowledge their role of promoting injustices in the past. This means swallowing pride, being humble, and admitting that instead of standing up for what was right, they went along with a popular, but immoral, philosophy. Both are guilty of being politically correct, in the worst sense.
If Lott wants to keep his job, he shouldn’t just say that times have changed. Instead, we need to hear of an epiphany. Tell us how, Mr. Lott, you’ve personally come to realize the past was wrong. Just saying it, at a time when your political hide is on the line, doesn’t cut it. Show us, to use the language often associated with southern revivalism, that you’ve been born again.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
This photo taken in San Jeromino, Honduras in 2004. I'm standing next to the bells at the Catholic Church in the center of the town. To read about my 2005 trip to Honduras, click here.
This tiring week has finally come to an end. Here are a few quotes from my readings over the past couple weeks… Enjoy and why don't you let me know what you are reading. What interesting books have you discovered? I'd to know.
The grizzly instilled enforced humility…
- Doug Peacock, Walking It Off
There is always the temptation to see your own survival as a clear reflection of the favor of the gods. Fortunate and favored, the survivor stands in the midst of countless fallen comrades. For the buck sergeant, outlasting your buddies may produce guilt; but for the modern masters of war, I think, for the generals, it is the unblocking of power. The greater the number of dead, the bigger the heap of bodies, the more clearly the favor of the gods confirms their invulnerability. After Hitler survived the bomb designed to take his life, that killed almost everyone in the room except him, he concluded: “Providence had kept me alive to complete my great work.” The butcherous trails left by the compulsive campaigns of kings, dictators, and generals confirm this murderous pride.
-Doug Peacock, Walking It Off
I dream of great walks…
-Edward Abbey, from his journals, as quoted by Doug Peacock, Walking It Off
I am haunted by landscapes…
-Doug Peacock, Walking It Off
I, too, dream of great walks and am haunted by landscapes... -Sage writing to his blog
I guess he's got what some folks ashore call a conscience; it's a kind of Tic-Dolly-row they say - worse nor a toothache. Well, well; I don't know what it is, but the Lord keep me from catching it.
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Don't whale it too much a' Lord's days, men; but don't miss a fair chance either, that's rejecting Heaven's good gifts.
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Standing orders on whaling ships: "Keep your weather eye open, and sing out every time."
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick
The Mahatma had, indeed, been a difficult person for the British to deal with. Truth, to Gandhi, was the ultimate reality. Gandhi’s truth, however, had two facets, the absolute and the relative. Man, as long as he was in the flesh, had only fleeting intimations of Absolute Truth. He had to deal with relative truth in his daily existence… One of Gandhi’s disciples: “How can you say one thing last week, and something quite different this week?” “Ah,” Gandhi replied, “because I have learned something since last week.”
Collins and Lapierre, Freedom at Midnight
On the Indian Congress Party’s attempts to protect Gandhi: “you will never know how much it has cost the Congress Party to keep that old man in poverty.”
Collins and Lapierre, Freedom at Midnight
Friday, November 10, 2006
Doug Peacock, Walking It Off: A Veteran’ Chronicle of War and Wilderness (Eastern Washington University Press, 2005)
Doug Peacock lost his in innocence in Vietnam. As a Green Beret medic, he held a dead baby and cursed God. Haunted by death, he comes back from the war and hangs out in the American West, developing a contentious friendship with author Edward Abbey. Walking It Off is Peacock’s attempt to understand life in light of the death of Abbey, the breakup of his marriage, and his experiences in Vietnam. In the book, Peacock tells us about a number of his hikes right before and following Abbey’s death and what each hike taught him. One hike in particular, through Nepal, serves as the unifying thread throughout the book. Peacock tells about a near death experience he has in Nepal, where he has this great desire to live and see his children again. When he makes it out alive, he feels he has a new lease on life. After that hike, he returns to an area in Montana where he had studied Grizzly Bears to again confront these giant bears. Then he takes a solo desert hike along the Arizonia/Mexico border through a off-limits bombing range and the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, where he reads Abbey’s last book (Hayduke Lives) as well as Abbey’s notes on his own hike through this same country. Abbey based his Hayduke character on Peacock (Hayduke first appears in The Monkey Wrench Gang). There are similarities, but as is evident from Peacock’s writings, Hayduke is a fictional character. Noting the difference between Hayduke and Peacock, one friend commented about Abbey’s creation of Hayduke, “Friends don’t do that to one another.”
Peacock is part philosopher, part naturalist, part psychologist. Throughout the book, he expresses his difficulties dealing with post-traumatic stress from his Vietnam years. The talk of new wars in the Gulf bring conjure up memories and old dreams. Peacock finds his true home in the wilderness, which he calls the “remnant of the homeland we never entirely abandoned.
There was a lot I could relate to in this book. My Appalachian Trail hike essentially helped me over a depressed time in my life. When I turned 40, I hiked the John Muir Trail. When I don’t know what to do, I often take a hike, even if it’s just a stroll through town or out in a nature preserve or in the nearby state forest. I was reading the last chapters in this book last Friday night when I got the call that a friend and mentor had killed himself, which brought Peacock’s dealing with death into a personal sphere.
I recommend this book to those who have read Abbey’s writings as well as those interested in wilderness or in the struggles combat veterans have reintegrating into society.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Sunday, November 05, 2006
I shot this photo of carvings on an aspen tree in a grove overlooking the entrance to Ashdown Gorge. Notice the date! Click here to read about my hike in this area.
“You have no idea how tiring it is to be a goddess.”
-Indira Gandhi, as quoted by Bruce Chatwin in What Am I Doing Here
“There is no point at visiting a great writer because he is incarnate in his works
-Tolstoy, as quoted in Bruce Chatwin in What Am I Doing Here
It was an act of spiritual gratitude to save what could be saved… A junior officer remarked how strange it was that the looting soldiers destroyed musical instruments first: ‘It showed me in a symbolic fashion how Mars s contrary to the Muses…
-Ernst Junger (a former German officer in Paris) as told by Bruce Chatwin in What Am I Doing Here
The landscape suddenly grew wilder… the land became what it always had been. It bristled with vitality, with the potency to heal. This was the sign I’d been stalking.
-Doug Peacock, Walking It Off
There remains the unavoidable price to be paid for discovering that all things are indeed permitted. Beyond this door lie dread as well as knowledge, partially compensated by the closing of other pathways, which could have led to the kind of existence you might, when younger, have imagined lay in store for you. That part of life is hacked off alike a finger or an ear. You mourn the loss but never really try to get it back.
-Doug Peacock, Walking It Off
I’m only one voice in all of this. There are many others. What I have written I have written to start a conversation. I don’t have the final word.
Wendell Berry quoted by Ragan Sutterfield. “Imaging a different way to live” Christianity Today, November 2006
There is nothing like a rod or reel or stream to make a liar out of anybody, or a hypocrite.
-John McPhee, The Founding Fish
If he (Cotton Mather) wasn’t the first American to tell exergvant and mendacious fish stories, he missed the honor by narrow margin. In 1712, Mather wrote “The Fisherman Calling” a brief essay to serve the great interest of religion among our fishermen and to set before them the call of their Savior where they should be sensible at their fisheries. He told of 30 ocean fisherman who after being frustrated by foul weather, went fishing on a day that had previously reserved for the exercise of religion and caught five others fisherman did not join them but tarried to worship Jesus Christ. The 30 who went away with all their craft could catch but four fish, the five who tarried caught 500.
-John McPhee, The Founding Fish. McPhee goes on to say that after falling out of a canoe while fishing, Mather began to preach against the sport.
For sinful as he is, Jonah does not weep and wail for direct deliverance. He feels that his dreadful punishment is just. He leaves all his deliverance to God, contenting himself with this, that spite of all his pains and pangs, he will still look towards His holy temple. And here, shipmates, is true and faithful repentance; not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment.
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick
I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth - pagans and all included - can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship? - to do the will of God - that is worship. And what is the will of God? - to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me - that is the will of God.
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Sage's note: I listened to The Founding Fish on my Ipod and now am listening to Moby Dick. I was relieved to find a searchable online version of Moby Dick from where I can get my quotes rather than trying to write them down from audio--which is hard when you're working out at the gym or raking leaves.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Looking back over the five other posts I wrote about my experiences in the bakery, it seems that there were a lot of bad things that happen. That’s not really true, but the challenging days do stick in my memory more than the regular "good" days.
Sometimes bad things even happened at daytime during the week as was the case one hot afternoon. I was over at the oven talking to John Z, when things started going crazy. All a sudden, the oven, proof box and cooler stopped. But the conveyors kept running. The de-panner was also running, but there was no vacuum and the bread wasn’t being pulled out of the pan. As John started pulling pans off the conveyor, I hit the horn and a mechanic came running. Both of us agreed it appeared we had lost air and we headed down to the compressor room. Sure enough, none of the compressors were running. By this time, there were calls coming over the intercom throughout the bakery with other people having problems. Not finding the problem, we ran back up into the plant and were shocked to find several conveyor motors on fire. I started shutting down everything (as soon as the power to the conveyors were killed, the motors stopped burning) as the mechanic went to find the maintenance engineer. Coming out of the shop, he realized immediately that we no longer had three phase electricity and pulled the main circuit breaker coming into the building. Everything went dark and a call was put into Carolina Power and Light. It took ‘em about thirty minutes to have the problem fixed and we had a mess to clean up as well as a lot of conveyor motors to replace. But our mess wasn’t nearly as big as the oen in the front office which also drew power off the same circuit. This was around 1980, and they had one large computer that lost power and data and it took them several days to get everything back running right again.
Not long after this, the company forked over some bucks to the power company and got them to feed the plant from two directions so if we lost power from one substation, another station would take over. This ended the problems with blimps in power which created havoc with the ovens as I wrote about before. Not being an electrician, I’m not sure if it also protected us from “single phasing,” but we never had that problem again. The reason the compressors and the ovens and equipment with big motors had stopped is that there were protection on all large motors that shut them down if there was a problem with the electrical power. But there were too many small motors and since they were a lot cheaper and easier to replace, they didn’t have such protection.
Another problem we had to deal with at the bakery was bad yeast. One summer, we changed from Fleischmann’s to a new brand, Dixie yeast. Supposedly the family owning the bakery had a stake in Dixie Yeast, so we were expected to use this product. At first, things went along smoothly, but after a few weeks, we started having problems primarily with bread made by the automatic dough-maker. And the problems got worse in the afternoons, when the temperatures soared inside the plant. The bread wouldn’t brown nicely and would have large holes in it, appearing as if it had been over-mixed. Most of us suspected the yeast, but the owners were reluctant to agree. They brought in a number of experts who were unable to pinpoint the problem. Finally, someone convinced management there was a problem with the yeast and upon checking, some of the processing at the yeast plant had been done in fiberglass which wasn’t able to be cleaned like stainless steel and had, over time, built up some kind of bacteria that affected the yeast. For a while, we went back to the yeast we had been using while Dixie Yeast worked out these kinks.
But life at the bakery wasn’t always one problem after another. There were also good times. Although we came from a lot of different backgrounds, we were a family. I enjoyed listening to the old timers tell stories about their career at the bakery or their lives growing up. At break, we’d crowd into the lounge for soft-drinks and the air would get stale from the cigarette smoke. I was one of the few there who didn’t smoke, but that was okay for everyone knew I was different. I was the “college boy.” Sometimes our friendship extended outside the plant. There were at least half a dozen parties during the years I worked at the bakery (like Linda’s, which I wrote about earlier). Looking back on these, it’s interesting that the parties (at least the ones I attended) had only white folks. But racial lines were crossed at the annual company picnic and some of us did get together to play basketball. While working at the plant, I hunted deer, rabbits and squirrels with Bobbie, an African-American who ran the bread slicing and wrapping area. Often we’d have to work on holidays and at Thanksgiving and Christmas; we’d roast turkeys in the back of the roll oven and everyone would pig out on their lunch breaks. One of my favorite treats of working night shift was having freshly baked bread with hot butter (used with the butter-top breads) and honey or molasses. Of course, when you worked hard and in such heat, you didn’t have to worry about the extra calories.
Other bakery stories:
The Perils of working on the Christian Sabbath
Bad things can happen at night
Frank and Roosevelt
Linda and the summer of '76
Harvey and Ernest
Thursday, November 02, 2006
All this mumbling about Kerry once again running for President is crazy. He can’t even tell a joke. If he could have told a few jokes back in 2004, he’d now be President. I don’t know if he’ would have been a better President, but it is hard to imagine him being any worse. He didn’t run a good campaign in 2004 and isn’t doing too good of a job this campaign season and he ain’t even running. His blotched joke has given Bush and all his henchmen something to talk about which takes the focus off the mess they’ve made.
Yesterday, Bush indicated he’s planning on keeping Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld around. I don’t understand why he’s keeping Rumsfeld, unless his idea for victory in Iraq is more of the same old failed ideas. And the President says the Democrats don’t have a plan for winning. He’s probably right, but neither does he have such a plan! Of course, I know why he keeps Cheney as VP. You can’t get a better insurance policy than having someone as sinister as Dead-eye Dick next in line for the presidency.
President Bush is now running around like a chicken with it’s head chopped off, trying to get as much support as he can muster for Republican candidates. Georgie Boy is worried. He knows the next two years might be a little uncomfortable if his party loses control of Congress and that wise system of checks and balances created by the Founding Fathers once again begins to work. Heck, if the Democrats take over, they might even dock his pay for those extended vacations he takes to his ranch in Texas.
Here is my advice to the political parties. The Democrats should continue to talk about Iraq and terrorism and how the two have no connection. And they should also hit the Republicans on the deficit and the economy. Can someone tell me when conservatism and economic irresponsibility started going hand in hand? I wish they could talk about morality and ethics, but both parties seem a little short supplied in that field. The Republicans, many of whom think they're divinely appointed, should look to the Good Book and take the advice of Proverbs 31:6-7. They should throw one heck of a beer bash on Monday night so that those who are perishing, those who are in distress or in poverty might “drink and remember their misery no more.” And as they recover from a hangover on Tuesday, they just might forget to vote, giving the status quo/stay the course party a chance to continue their failed polices.
Of course, I’m only a bear and can’t vote. But if Sage doesn’t vote, I’m going to gnaw his leg off. Enough ranting…
Addendum: I know, I really should stop ranting and start hiberating, but I need to say something about the Michigan gubernatorial race. Dick DeVos, the silver spooned heir to the Amway fortune, has put about $35 million (that's a lot of soap) of his own money into the race, with about $34.999 million going out for negative ads telling us how Granholm’s polices have failed, how she keeps making the same mistakes, how she blames everyone but herself, and so on. This is an interesting strategy for a Republican, for if you changed Graholm’s name to Bush, the commercials would be just as viable. And the scandal today is that DeVos lied about his high school football career (at least that's what his old coach says). However, we shouldn’t hold that against him, that’s just a macho thing. I’m sure there are a lot more former starting quarterbacks than there have been games played.