Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All Over but the Shoutin' (A book review)

Rick Bragg, All Over but the Shoutin’ (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), 329 pages.

This is the first volume of Rick Bragg’s trilogy about his family. Of course, in my usual way of doing things, it’s the last of the three that I read. All Over but the Shoutin’ is the story of Bragg’s family, the mother he loves, the father who abandoned them and their three (or should it be four) children. But mostly, it’s the Rick Bragg’s story of growing up in poverty and, without a college education, continued on to win a year-long Nieman fellowship for journalistic study at Harvard and then to become a Pulitzer prize winning journalist for the New York Times. But with all the accolades, Bragg never forgot from where he came or the mother who saw him through the hard times.

Bragg’s family life was tragic. His father was an alcoholic who probably suffered Post Traumatic Stress from his time in Korea. At times, he’d stop drinking and would work and things would look up, but that never lasted for more than a month or two. Soon, the demons would return and he’d begin drinking again and would run-off, stranding his mother with the boys. The story of his mother pouring his father’s booze down the drain and then, when he came home, her taking off her glasses and asking him to be careful with her teeth, while her two small sons stood by helpless, looking on from the bedroom door, is heartbreaking. Thankfully, that time he didn't hit her. She protected her sons from his rage. A preschooler, hearing his father blame all his problems on his mother and her kids (of which he's one), is a cruel experience. When Rick was six, his mother became pregnant again, but she lost her fourth boy at birth. With his father running off and abandoning the family, there wasn’t enough money for food or medical care. As an adult, Rick learns that his mother had never forgotten the unnamed boy, noting the date he'd turned thirty. He thinks about getting him a tombstone engraved with the name his mother had picked out for him, but realizes he can't undo the past.

Bragg sees himself as lucky. His life could have ended up in another way. His older brother works hard in the mills; his younger brother has followed his father's path. He confesses that he's afraid of drinking alone, afraid that he'll go down the same road as his father. He was in high school when his father died. When he last saw him, a few months from his death, his father was just the shell of the man he'd been. Nothing his condition, he told his son, "it's all over but the shoutin'. It was in high school that Rick found his niche while working for the school newspaper. Afterwards, with one college journalism class under his belt, he began writing for small weeklies in Alabama. At first, he was a sport’s reporter. Football, he claims, is what Southerners do today in place of dueling. He worked his way up to the Birmingham paper, the largest in the state. From there, he went to St. Petersburg, Florida. In the late 80s, because none of their foreign correspondents wanted to go, he headed to Haiti, a place he’d visit on a number of occasions over the next decade. Then he had his fellowship at Harvard, a short stint with the Los Angeles Times before realizing that it wasn’t a good match. Then he calls the New York Times and asks if they still were interested (he’d turned them down). At the end of the book, he’s working for the Times in Atlanta, a city he thinks is about as Southern as a snowmobile (I agree). Along the way, he’s covered the riots in Miami, the Oklahoma City bombing, crime in New Orleans, a terrible tornado in his hometown, and the Susan Smith murders (the South Carolina woman who killed her children then claimed to have been car jacked by an African-American man). Although Bragg originally believed Smith (like other journalists and even the police), he had an interesting inside into her psyche, having grown up like her, poor in a mill town.

Bragg is a master at metaphors, which gives his writing a fresh down-home feel. He claims that he didn’t become a journalist to change the world; he became one to tell stories. And telling stories is what he does so well, that when you finish reading one you feel as if you were there watching the drama unfold.
For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.
For Gautami's "reconstructed" reading room, click here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thoughts while walking in the rain

We’ve been having some rain. It all started this weekend with a series of popping thunderstorms on Saturday. Saturday night I had a bunch of people over, just after a major thunderstorm, and everyone was commenting on how tranquil my dog was. “Well folks,” I told them, “there’s a reason they call those little pills tranquilizers.” My dog was stoned, but at least he didn’t tear the house up trying to find somewhere safe to hide.

It has kept on raining and the grass is now bright green. I’d plan to spend this morning with a few experts in the woods, looking at wildflowers… They all cancelled out. Since I had to work to keep my schedule clear, I decided not to let a little water ruin my chance to be out of the office. I put on a rain jacket and headed out into the wilds. Enjoy the photos. Because the ground was so wet, and I draw the line at wallowing in muck and didn’t take a lot of close up shots. I did get one of a May Apple. If the first sign of spring is Skunk Cabbage (see my earlier posts of them breaking up through the snow), when the May Apples begin to unfurl their parasols, it’s a good indication that spring is here to stay (It better be, my snow shovels are stowed away).

Yesterday, GM announced a restructuring plan. Will it work? Who knows. But what I’d like to know is this: Who are the idiots that brought GM stock yesterday, driving the price up nearly 20% (even with that gain, it was only trading barely over 2 bucks a share, and today it’s back down well under the $2 ceiling). According to the plan, if it works, the government will own half of GM common stock, the union's pension fund will own another large chunk, and then their bondholders will get a block of GM stock, leaving the current GM stockholders with approximately 1% of the company! Now granted, 1% is better than 0%, which is the other option, but that still leaves the question, why would anyone want to buy GM stock and become a current stockholder? The silver lining in all this is there’ll never be another Smokey and Bear sequel. By killing off the Pontiac line, Burt Reynolds will have to find another car in which to run from the cops while seducing Sally Fields.

Listening to all this talk about swine flue, it sounds as if Porky the Pig is getting his revenge or the horses of the Apocalypse are in the starting gate. But then, how long was it after I got back from Mexico that I started hacking? I still haven’t kicked the sinus/bronchial infection. Don’t worry; I’m pretty sure I don’t have swine flu. Just in case, I’ll try not to cough on the keyboard. I’d hate to infect my readers.
Breaking News: Realizing that the name “Swine Flu” was destroying what little self-esteem pigs have, our government is now encouraging us to call the illness H1N1. R2D2, president of the URA (United Robotics of America), called the latest government action an insult to hard working robots everywhere.

Was hiking in the rain while trying to beat an infection the brightest thing I've done? Probably not, but I needed the time to get away and think.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Late Train to West Palm

I've often written about trains and even wrote a piece about my return home on this trip. This was my first long distance train experience and also my only experience in a train wreck. Even though it would have driven many people nuts, I enjoyed spending the down time reading and making new friends. This trip was in December 1986. I mentioned the Homestead Steel Mills in the piece. The picture is of me in 1989, standing in front of the mill which, at the time, was slowly being scrapped.
Everything suddenly slid forward and the brakes squealed. I grabbed the overhead luggage rack and held on as a clicking sound ran down the side of the train. In front of me was the conductor, holding on to a seat and trying not to fall. His face let me know that were in trouble. We were about 30 or 40 minutes out of West Palm Beach, riding though orange groves south of Sebring. Moments before, I’d left my new found friends in the lounge car and headed back to my seat in order to gather my stuff and be ready to debark. The excitement was over in just a few seconds. Then silence. The conductor ran toward the front of the train. The rest of us looked the window. We were surrounded by orange groves. On the embankments on both sides of the tracks were shingles, pieces of insulation and lumber. We waited, wondering what had happened. A few minutes later, the conductor came over the intercom to tell us that we had been indefinitely delayed. We had hit a house! I made my way to the back of the train. Sure enough, as I looked out from the window at the back of the train, sitting on both sides of the track a couple hundred feet behind us were the two halves of a house. Abe Lincoln had nothing on me. I'd now seen a “house divided.”
A friend had dropped me off at the train station in the predawn hours the day before. In contrast to warm and sunny Florida, it was a dreary December day. But there was nothing unusual about that, almost all winter days in Pittsburgh are dreary. The train, the Capitol Limited which runs from Chicago to Washington, was late. I sat on my luggage reading and napping as my stomach gnawed. I had planned to eat breakfast on the train and there was no place in station to get anything to eat. The train finally arrived just as it was getting light. After finding a seat and having my ticket punched, I headed to the dining car for breakfast. We ran along the Monongahela River, past the old J&L and Homestead Steel Mills. A few mills were still running and from the window you could see the glow of the furnaces. At McKeesport, the tracks began to follow the Youghiogheny, a fine river that I'd known about from my kayaking days. The rain and fog made everything seem sad. Along the way, the train kept having to stop. Late that morning, talking to the conductor in the lounge, I learned that one of the baggage cars had a hot wheel that kept overheating. Every time we stopped, we lost another half hour or so and I was worried that I wouldn't make my connection south. We were several hours late arriving in Cumberland, Maryland, where the tracks began to follow the Potomac River toward D.C. In Harper's Ferry, they uncoupled the train and sat the trouble car off on a siding, but by then I realized we'd arrive in Washington after my train to Florida was scheduled to depart.
There are two trains daily that make the run from New York to Miami. The first, the Silver Star, was my train. Luckily, there was room on the second train, the Silver Meteor. It runs a couple hours behind the first train. I called my sister and let her know that I'd be on the later train. She wasn't home, but I left a message. I ate dinner in the crowded station (the Washington station was in the process of being rebuilt) as I passed a few hours reading as I waited on my new train. It was night by the time we boarded and after a beer in the lounge car, I headed off to sleep, enjoying the rocking of the southbound train. The long day of waiting on top of a long semester in school had taken it's toll. I was tired.
I woke up to the sun rising in a clear sky. We were riding through forests of pines and wire grass. The land was flat and strangely familiar. It was also warmer. I changed from my jeans to shorts and a tee-shirt and found my flip flops and then headed to the lounge car for coffee. We got into Savannah around mid-morning. I got off the train and stretch my legs as it made a 15 minute stop. I'd learned that during the night, we'd lost several hours of time. I again tried again to call my sister, and left her another message, telling her to be sure to call Amtrak before driving to West Palm to pick me up. I spent much of my second day on the train in the lounge car, drinking beer and talking to several other graduate students who were studying at the University of West Virginia. It was them that I'd left shortly before the accident.
The train was running late and wasn't prepared for a six hour delay. They had no food for another meal in the diner and the lounge car was running out of sandwiches. To create good will, they offered everyone a free drink, but then didn't have enough to go around. We waited and grumbled and waited some more, not sure what all had happened. We learned that the engineering crew had been taken off the train in order to make sure they weren't using any illegal drugs. After all, who'd believe that a house was sitting on the tracks. A new crew was heading our direction, along with an inspection team that would see what kind of damage was done. Reports filtered back that the front engine was damaged, that the steel beams upon which the house was supported had been dragged under its wheels. Supposedly, we were told, that second engine was okay. We also learned that the truck moving the house had gotten it stuck on the railroad berm. The train came around the curve at 80 miles an hour and there, in front of it, was a house. The engineer hit the brakes hard, but there was no way to stop it.
If I'd been on the Silver Star, I'd gotten into West Palm Beach late morning. The Silver Meteor was suppose to arrive later in the afternoon. My sister, who lived in Stewart, a ways north of West Palm, had worked the night shift at the hospital. She'd didn't go home afterwards, but headed to the train station and was shocked to find that I was not there. Folks in the station told her that everyone coming from the west would be on the next train and they suggested that she call and make sure the time before driving down. This she did. She didn't leave her house till about 45 minutes before we were to arrive. It wasn't till she arrived at the station that she learned of the accident. Like me, she'd spent the day waiting...
Click here to read about the excitement of my return trip to Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This and That

Photos of children from the Yucatan.

As often happens this time of the year, at least since I’ve moved into the Midwest, my sinuses became infected and by the time I went see the doc, a bronchial infection was also brewing. I’ve coughed and coughed till sore and have drank enough whiskey and honey to cure the whooping cough and for me not to care. The drugs do seem to be taking care of things, even though I am still tired and haven’t been to the gym in well over a week. Hopefully by the end of the week, I’ll be sputtering along like normal.

Yesterday morning I was eating my Shredded Wheat and turned on the TV to catch the news. Newt Gingrich was on one of the morning shows and he was talking about how we’re heading to foreign policy disaster with Obama. He really disliked him smiling and shaking hands with Chavez and loosing restrictions on Cuba. It was mentioned in the discussion about him bowing to the Saudi king. Good grief! It’s not like Obama didn’t already inherit a colossal foreign policy nightmare brought on by the grimacing Bush, whose splendid little war in Iraq has ruined our reputation and is costing us a fortune. Bush isn’t a McKinley. Let’s cut Obama some slack, lest we be totally isolated in the world. Personally, I think we should have ended the embargos on Cuba years ago.

I got to see Rick Bragg in Kalamazoo last Thursday evening and even to meet him afterwards. His first words to me were, “you aren’t from around here, are you?” He got a bit teary-eyed talking about his mamma and his brother and then said he can’t cry in front of crowds in Alabama because all the men will take him out back and beat him because they don’t want any sensitive genes to take hold…

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Riots of '68 and a book review of "We Have Taken a City"

The first part of this post is a personal memoir. I tell about when I first heard about an awful event in the history of the city where I grew up. The second part of the post is a review of a book about that event which occured in 1898. I'm the guy on the right in a photo taken in the early 1970s, just a few years after the events described in the below memoirs.

We were sitting out in the back yard, in lounge chairs, the type with woven vinyl webbing, when I first heard about it. It was a Sunday afternoon and there was a county-wide curfew, but the rioting was all downtown, a long away from our home. Mom and the woman next door were inside, fixing dinner. I assume their daughter was playing with my sister. I’d just gotten back that afternoon from a Boy Scout camping trip to Holly Shelter Swamp. We’d come back to a town strangely quiet, with National Guard jeeps patrolling. I was eleven years old and in the fifth grade, although it’d be a week before any of the schools would reopen. That afternoon, in the shadow of our suburban home, I sat with Dad and the man next door, out by the grill on which hamburgers were sizzling. The next-door neighbor was a talker. He never shut up, and he got our attention when he said with glee, “Back in ’98, the Cape Fear ran red with Nigger blood.” I could tell by the horror on my Dad’s face and his silence that he wasn’t very comfortable with the topic. I was shocked. The man told us about how the white men in the city took charge back then and taught ‘em a lesson. He continued to pontificate about how that’s what needs to happen again. 1898 seemed like a long time ago, but to those who lived in Brooklyn and along Dawson and Castle Street, seventy years wasn’t that long. The man must have finally realized that my Dad wasn’t pleased at all with the topic, for he quickly changed subjects and began to talk about Vietnam. There was no doubt about it, the guy could talk. No one else spoke. This was the only time I remember eating with him and his family, and I don’t know why we ate with them that night. It must have been the curfew which kept my parent’s friends from coming over and us from going over to someone else’s home. Everything stopped that weekend after Martin Luther King's shooting. Later, after I was adult, I learned that this man, our neighbor, was abusive, which explained why my sister sometimes had a quickly arranged sleep-over with the neighbor girl who was a good bit younger than she. My parents were providing a safe haven. Year’s later, when someone referred to a man’s sleeveless white undershirt as a wife-beater, it didn’t faze me at all. I can still see this guy, wearing such an undershirt, out in his back yard. Of course, in ’68, I was clueless. But what he’d said that evening about the river running red with blood has always stuck with me. This book is a part of my attempt to learn more…

H. Leon Prather, Sr., “We Have Taken a City”: The Wilmington Racial Massacre and the Coup of 1898 (1984, Southport, NC: Dram Tree Books, 2006), 214 pages, black and white photos.

“Politics, the old cliché goes, “makes strange bedfellows.” This can be seen in North Carolina politics of the late 1890s, when Republicans (not conservatives as they are now known, but mostly African-American and carpetbaggers in the party of Lincoln) joined with white yeomen farmers and workers to vote out the conservative politicians (who were Democrats at this point in history) to elect “fusion” candidates. This threatened the status quo. Fearing threatened, the conservatives played the race card in order to split the fragile alliances and bring poor whites back into the fold of the Democratic Party and under the control of the conservative establishment. Within the rhetoric of the era, Wilmington, North Carolina’s largest city at the time, and a town where blacks out-numbered whites, erupted in racial violence that left the African-American community in shambles and brought about an untold number of deaths. At the same time, the conservatives who were working behind the scenes and used the events to bring about the only armed-coup in United States history, removing from office those who had been elected and replacing them with their own people.

In the late 19th Century, Wilmington, North Carolina had an African-American middle class. The community had their own newspaper, edited by Alex Manly, a mixed race man whose father had been the governor of the state right before the Civil War. Responding to a public speech by a Rebecca Felton, a Georgian who’d spoken out about the threat of rape that white women faced by black men and called for a campaign of lynching, Manly not only condemned such crimes by blacks, but extended it to white men abusing black women. He mentioned his own history, as his mother had served as a slave and mistress to a former governor of the state. Excerpts of Manly’s editorial began to circulate and reappear in newspapers across the country, the fallout from it leading to the events of November 10th. On this day, a group of white “redshirts” marched on Manly’s newspaper and burned the building down. Then, tension rose as a white man was shot, which provided an excuse for armed white men began to more into the black community where they faced minor resistance. A number of men were killed and most of the black leaders were rounded up and exiled from the city. Also exiled were a number of white leaders who’d participated in the fusion government that controlled the city’s politics.

When the events were over, those who had means within the African-American community had left town and the white conservative establishment was firmly entrenched. Prather suggests that the number of deaths, while significant, have probably been exaggerated. No offiical count was made, but there was probably not near enough deaths to have turned the mighty Cape Fear River red with blood. His work suggests that the conservatives used the lower class whites to do their bidding in the riot, providing them with the excuse to step in and remove the mayor, city council and police from power. The haunting part of this story is the number of names still present within the community. One of the ironic twist is that the grandson of John Bellamy, one of the conspirators, was the Superintendent of Schools who desegregation of the schools in the city in the 1960s.
Prather sets the riot in historical context, comparing it with other race riots in American history. It's interesting that this riot came on the heels of "America's Splendid Little War," The Spanish American War. However, Prather doesn't see that playing a role even though he points out parallels to other wars and race riots. One area that I would have liked to have seen more study is in the role religion and faith played. Prather notes the doctrine of white supremacy was being proclaimed in the same pulpits that told Christ's story (102). But outside of mentioning four local clergy (the pastors of the Presbyterian, Baptist and Black Baptist Churches and the Catholic priest), Prather doesn't explore this thread further. However, two sources he draws upon were the Baptist and Presbyterian state newspapers, both of which supported the white revolt. The title, "We Have Taken a City" comes from the sermon by Peyton Hoge (Presbyterian) on the following Sunday, but nothing is said about the sermon and his source for the title came from a newspaper article.

The events in Wilmington have been portrayed in a couple of novels. Charles Chestnut, a black author from early in the 20th Century, wrote The Marrow of Tradition based on the Wilmington story. A more modern retelling of the story is Philip Gerard’s Cape Fear Rising. I recommend Gerard's story. He'd planned to write the book within the Creative Non-fiction genre, but because he wasn't sure of some of the events, changed it into a historical novel. Another great source of information that came out around the 100th anniversary of the event is Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy. This book is a collection of essays edited by David Cecelski and Timothy Tyson.
For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Memories of my Great Uncle

I think it’s more than sinus. I’m now getting a rattlin’ in my chest and have been up to par for much of the week. Today, my head was exploding, so I came home at lunch and took a nap and then worked on this piece. It’s my uncle’s story—some of which was in a piece I wrote a couple of years ago. There’s a new photo of him that I found last year when I was at my grandma’s, one of him in the navy during World War II. The other photo, with him holding the mule as they took a break at an end of a row of tobacco, I shared with back in 2007. I got down and saw Rick Bragg on Tuesday and enjoyed his presentation. Soon, I’ll write a review of It’s All Over but the Shouting.

I drove to hospital in Pinehurst the first day I had off. It was the thing to do, especially since my dad was living on the other side of the world and my grandmother, a widow for just a few years, had her hands full. There, in a sterile room, was my Uncle D. He really wasn’t my uncle; he was great-uncle, my grandma’s brother, a man who seemed to have as many lives as a cat. He was still living in the old place, his parents home and had come home from work with the intent on doing some grilling. I’m sure his judgment was somewhat impaired by alcohol. The coals just weren’t turning white fast enough for Uncle D and he was ready for that meat to start sizzling, so he tossed some gasoline on the grill. He was in a mighty bit of pain when I was saw him, but he’d live another day. In fact, he’d live another twenty-five years. That gasoline saved his life, for afterwards, till he finally went into a nursing home, my grandma would keep a close watch over her younger brother, keeping him mostly sober.

My first memory of Uncle D came from when I was just a little boy. I was probably four years old and my parents had brought an old home and were fixing it up so that we could move in there. Every evening, we’d be over there working, or at least Dad would be working. D, who was still living with his parents, my great-grandparents, just up the road, would come down and help out the best he could. He was wearing a neck brace then, which made him kind of look like one of them women from Burma with long necks and heads pulled high by metal bands. Of course, D’s brace wasn’t a fashion statement; it was the result of having totaled his car over on 15-501, near the Little River Bridge. He almost didn’t make it then. Despite a broken neck, Dunk would do what he could to help out. When not able to help, he’d play with us kids. By keeping our little fingers away from the skill saw was probably a big help.

After we left Moore County, we’d only see D occasionally. On time, he’d told my Grandma that he wanted to see us. She went and found him drunker than I’d seen a man before. She brought him home with her and ran him through the shower, then sat in one of her hard maple chairs at her dining room table and poured coffee down him. He cried, saying he was ashamed of his condition. By making him sit there, I wasn’t sure if she was trying to punish him or to use him as a lesson for us kids. I was probably ten or eleven years old and just didn’t know what to make of it all. I still don’t.

A few years later, after D’s daddy had died and the old place was getting pretty worn down, my Dad took my brother and me over to see if he was home. Knocking on the back door, he yelled for us to come in. Dad opened the door, but wouldn’t let my brother and me go in. I could see there were four men in the sittin’ room, all nearly passed out. Seeing us, D struggled out to the back porch, where he held tightly to the screen door in order to stand upright. I think he was both ashamed as well as glad to see us. One of the other men yelled out some lurid comment. D told him to shut-up, but by then my Daddy was herding my brother and me toward the car. I was probably thirteen or fourteen then and even today I ain’t sure what to make of it all.

As the years drifted on, we’d occasionally see D at church, smoking cigarettes and talking to the men out front after the preaching was over, that is if we happened to be in town when he was on the wagon. If he’d fallen off, he’d be missing for the assembled crowd. However, regardless of his condition, he’d always remember us kids at Christmas and send us something. At first, it was mostly candy, often a box chocolate covered cherries that would leave a little sticky glue on the corners of my mouth. When I got to high school, he went through a phase of giving me bottles of Old Spice. Then, thankfully, he started giving me packages of handkerchiefs. This kept up till I was in my early forties and I’m sure even today half the handkerchiefs in my dresser drawers were gifts from him.

As he got older, his wounds begin to bother him. His back and neck, both of which had been broken at various times from automobile accidents, always hurt. He shuffled around; at least he wasn’t able to get into too much trouble. He started to go to a men’s Bible Study and attended church more regularly. I reckon it was in his blood as his Daddy and Granddaddy and Great-granddaddy had all served as an Elder at Culdee Presbyterian. He never served as an Elder, but for his last quarter century of his life, he attended faithfully.

D. took great delight in my adopted son. When we’d visit in the summer, he’d take him out fishing on his pond, the same pond I’d first fished in when I was just a tot. I liked that they got to share that together. Both of them had been through a lot and they seemed to develop a close bond. As the boy got older, whenever we talked, he’d always ask about D. Uncle D also adored my daughter. When he learned she was taking violin lessons, he presented her with a violin that had belonged to his granddaddy, the man for whom he was named. His granddaddy had traded a barrel of kraut for the violin, back in the 1860s. It needs some work, but it has a sweet sound. When my daughter gets a little older and big enough to play it, I hope she’ll occasionally think of Uncle D. He was tormented by demons all his life, yet deep down there was goodness.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Complaints and Photos of Yucatan Flowers

What a night! Yesterday, my sinuses exploded. My nose spray seems to have given up. I had an evening meeting, so I came home and took a late afternoon nap. By 8:30 PM, when I got back home from my meeting, I was whipped. I was in bed by 9:30 PM and slept soundly till midnight. After the bewitching hour, I kept going into coughing fits, the drainage being such that it made the back of my throat raw. So I got up and drew a bath of hot water and soaked, alternating between reading and napping. At 3, I decided to try the bed again. I crawled back in and, until the alarm went off at 6:30 AM, woke up every ½ hour. The side of my face lying on my pillow would be stuffed, so I’d roll over and let the gunk in my head drain to the other side. I’m sure that’s more than you wanted to know.

In the midst of all this, sometime during the night I dreamed that I was looking at purchasing a TV. I don’t know why! Buying a TV ranks up there with buying cars and root canals, but in my dream there was this fancy TV for sale for half price, $400. But it didn’t have the built in digital convertor and I said that I didn’t think I wanted it. The salesman kept cutting the price in half, to $200, to $100 and to $50 as I was trying to get out the door. I never made a purchase…

I hope I feel better tonight as I’m planning on going to hear Rick Bragg speak. I’ve recently reviewed two books from his family trilogy and started reading the last of them on Sunday. Like the first two, I’m enjoying this one too.

To make up for my complaining, I’ll share some flower photos with you. I photographed these in the Yucatan last month.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Match to the Heart (A Book Review)

Gretel Ehrlich, A Match to the Heart: One Woman’s Story of Being Struck by Lightning (1994, New York: Penguin, 1995), 201 pages.

In the summer of 1991, Gretel Ehrlich and her dog were struck by lightning in the mountains of Wyoming. In A Match to the Heart, Ehrlich tells her story of recovery. In addition to her personal story, the reader also learns about the workings of the body, the art of healing, a bit of meteorology along with mythological stories of lightning. Ehrlich has written a book of geography, describing the high country of Wyoming and the coastline of California along with the geography of the mind and of the heart.

At first, Ehrlich didn’t know what happened. There were dreams of the sea and waking moments with her dog, Sam. What happened? Was it a stroke? The book opens up in a dream-like state, as she takes the reader through her experiences. Slowly things became clear as a doctor diagnosed a lightning strike. They think she’s going to be fine, but the lightning has disrupted her heart. Her parents arranged for her to be transported to California, where she becomes a patient of a skilled and carrying heart specialist. Slowly, she is able to strengthen her heart as she learns more about this organ from her physician. As she regains her strength and confidence, she watches an open heart surgery, attends a conference for the victims of lightning strikes, returns to Wyoming and travels to Alaska to watch seals. As she resumes exploring the world, she has a new appreciation of the natural world which not only includes the world around us but the world inside of us.

There are many levels to this book. It’s an excellent example of creative non-fiction. I’d picked this book up last summer in a used bookstore in California. Several years ago I read an earlier book of hers (published in the 1980s), The Solace of Open Spaces. That book is about her moving from California to Wyoming during a difficult time in her life. I recommend both books.
For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Monday of Holy Week (A Poem)

Monday of Holy Week

I saw Jesus today
in Toledo.
Unsure, I did a double-take
looking above the traffic
and there he was over I-75
crossing on a bridge, behind chain-link.

Jesus wore a shabby coat and cap,
his stoic face focused on the other side
as he pressed on despite spitting rain and snow.
Weather hands, without gloves,
clutched a rough hewed cross
a crown of thrones hung off the upright.

I saw Jesus today
In Toledo.
He was a long ways from Jerusalem,
but there were no jeering crowds this time,
just a lonely black man
taking up his cross
and braving the elements.

I’ve made a quick overnight trip and am now back. I did, however, watch the game. What about those Tarheels! The poem describes a sight I saw while driving through Toledo.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Walk in the Woods

The dog and I took a hike yesterday afternoon along the blue-blazed North Country Trail. It was a pleasant day to wee what signs of spring may be lurking under the dead leaves. The trail wove in and out between hardwood stands and pine plantations. A stiff breeze was blowing, bringing in cooler and wetter weather. Tonight they’re calling for snow, but yesterday the wind rustled through the pines, creating the lonely sound that gives a rise to my desire to roam. I’m not in a writing mood at present, so I’ll leave you with a few photographs to enjoy. As I've alluded to before, the dog doesn't like his picture taken! So I only got "back shots" of him prancing down the trail. Notice the blue blaze of the North Country Trail.A woodpecker appears to have been hard at work.
The moss is doing well as shown by these two photographs.
It's telling that the first tall plant to sprout forth new life is a briar!
Have a great day!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Izamal (another Yucatan post)

I have several sets of photos to share from my trip south last month. These are photos from a new favorite town of mine. Maybe, one day, I'll open up a hot dog stand in this town!

If you take the old road, the non-toll road, from Merida to Cancun, you’ll drive through the beautiful town of Izamal. Bouncing over the speed bumps (which surprisingly are found on most roads entering a Yucatan community), I begin to have visions of a ball park frank on a bun slathered with French’s mustard. But there were no hot dog stands, only neat buildings painted a mustard color, giving rise to my food fantasies.

There are still a few henequen fields in the Yucatan. This plant was often raised in large plantations, the leaves harvested for their fiber and used in rope production. It’s also used in making a drink similar to tequila and, according to a guide book, there is a distillery just outside Izamal. I was surprised to learn from my hosts that in the early 20th century, several thousand Koreans moved to the Yucatan to work on these plantations and that there is still a rope plant in Merida.

The cathedral in the center of the town, the Convento de San Antonio, was completed in 1562 (that’s only 70 years after Columbus) and older than the cathedral in Merida. It was built upon the site of an ancient Mayan temple. In front of the cathedral is a large enclosed plaza, which is billed as the largest atrium in North America. The plaza, surrounded by 75 arches, is supposedly second to only St. Peter’s in Rome.

The town’s marketplace is colorful and very neat and I wish I’d had more time to spend here, but I was on my way from Merida to Xocenpich. This shot is looking toward the market, from the walls around the atrium in front of the cathedral.

Two final shots of the cathedral, that I added after Mother Hen suggested "lower" shots, showing the sky.

Previous posts include my visit of a tortilla factory and to Chichen Itza.