Saturday, May 30, 2015

Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll

Music has always been a part of the Khmer culture as attested in the carvings of their ancient temples.  In the 1950s, Cambodian leader Norodom Sihanouk encouraged music and was known for his voice (he was also somewhat of a royal playboy).   During this time, the cities of Cambodia developed an interest in western music.  First, they drew on music from France (who until 1953 was the colonial protectorate of Cambodia) as well Cuba and Latin America.  Cambodian musicians adopted these western styles as well as blending western music with traditional Khmer music.  Men and woman duos as well as co-ed bands popped in night clubs.  In the early sixties, Cambodian bands began mimicking the Beatles and Rolling Stones (three guitars and drums).  In 1965, after the American troop buildup in Vietnam which came with radio stations that could be picked up in Cambodia, Cambodian artists began to draw on rock music that was poplar in America.  Often, these musicians would borrow the tune from western bands, such as Santana, and put Cambodian words to the music. 

“Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll” is an hour and forty-five minute documentary on the Cambodian rock and roll scene from its beginnings to the country’s fall into the hands of the Khmer Rouge in April 1975.  When the government fell, many in Cambodia were glad that the war was finally over.  But quickly, any idea that things would return to normal was squashed as Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, sought to do away with anything Western.  Musicians (along with the educated, business owners, doctors and lawyers) were rounded up and many killed.  Others tried to save themselves.  Men with long hair cut it in an attempt not to look Western.  Musicians lied about their past jobs in an attempt to keep from being singled-out and most likely killed.  This horror continued until January 1979, when Vietnam stepped in and overthrew the Khmer Rouge and deposed Pol Pot.  By then, only a handful of the musicians remained (much of the records and recordings of Cambodian rock and roll was also destroyed during this reign of terror). 

John Pirozzi spent ten years making this film and released it last month on the 40th anniversary of the fall of Cambodia.  He tracked down surviving artists and family members of artists that didn’t survive to recreate the music culture in Cambodia during this era.  Thankfully, the movie does not go into the horrors of what the musicians faced at the hands of the Khmer Rouge (if you want to see this, watch "The Killing Fields"), but it does impress upon the viewer that it was terrible.  The film does show clippings of the Khmer Rouge prisons and torture centers on the outskirts of Phnom Penh that I visited when I was there in 2011.   What the movie does very effectively is to tell some of the history of Cambodia and its music through contemporary events in Southeast Asia.  Sihanouk’s attempts to keep the country neutral failed as North Vietnam used the porous border to bring supplies to the south, leading to American bombings which led to those in the countryside (who were also being bombed along with North Vietnamese soldiers) to join with the communist.   In 1970, a military coup removed Sihanouk from power and the new rulers were even more aggressive against the communist which only increased the opposition to the government in Phnom Penh. 

Stupa filled with skulls
A memorial to the dead
This is a powerful movie.  By looking at one section of Cambodian life, it shows the horrors of what happened to Cambodia.  This nation lost almost 1/4 of its population during the killings that took place in the war’s aftermath.  The movie is being shown in selected locations around the nation.  I caught it at the Savannah's Muse Art Warehouse.  Unfortunately, it was only there for two showings on the night of May 28, 2015.

I took the photo on the right when in Cambodia in 2011.  This site is haunting and a reminder of how inhuman humanity can be.  We should never forget!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

An Interview with Chrys Fey

I’ve been reading Chrys Fey’s blog for six months of so.  She is an author from the sunny state of Florida.  The focus of her blog is to help others improve their writing and she is always providing good ideas and tips.  I am honored to interview her, especially since she has a new publication, Ghost of Death, that recently become available. 

Sage:  Chrys, you are from Florida and some of your writings are set in the Sunshine State, but not all of your stories are set there.   What role does “place” play in your writings?

Chrys: Place plays a big role. In Hurricane Crimes, I wrote about Florida during hurricane season. In 30 Seconds, the setting is Cleveland during the winter, so I had to make sure to write about snow, which I’ve never experienced. And in the sequel to Hurricane Crimes, which I just submitted to my publisher, I wrote about Michigan and California, and both of those places are home to some very big events. It’s crucial to get settings right, because places are another character.

Sage: Debra Dean is the author of The Madonnas of Leningrad.   Half of the book is set in Leningrad, at the Hermitage Art Museum during World War II.  When she wrote the novel, she had never been to Russia.  What advice do you give for authors writing about a place they’ve never experienced?

Chrys: Research, research, research! Get nonfiction books about the country, state, etc. Then read fiction books and watch movies set there. Also study photographs of places that your characters will visit. Anything you can get your hands on about that setting will help you tremendously.

Sage: When not writing, what do you enjoy doing?  How do your other interests play into your stories?

Chrys: I draw fashion designs, write songs, and garden. My passion for fashion has helped a lot with my stories. Many of my heroines have worn my designs. ;)

Sage: You seem to enjoy the horror genre.  What draws you to such stories?

Chrys:  Ever since I was little I was interested in the supernatural and horror. I can’t really put my finger on what draws me to them but to say...I like them! :D

Sage: What do you hope your reader will take away from your stories?

Chrys:  My first goal is for them to be entertained. I think reading should be an experience, so I want my readers to feel connected to my characters and to be drawn into the story line. I like them to be on the edge of their seats and maybe even get teary eyed. So, in other words, I want them to have a reaction. And hopefully a good one.

Sage:  Looking ahead 50 years, as you look back on your life, what will be your Magnus Opus? 

Chrys: I’m not sure if I have a Magnus Opus in me, but there is a series that I feel is my best. I wrote a long time ago and I am still perfecting it and trying to get representation for it, which is far easier said than done. I hope to publish these four books one day and then maybe you can tell me if they qualify as my Magnus Opus.

Sage:  Great answer, Chrys!  But I bet you have a Magnus Opus in you!  Let me ask you a few more personal questions to get to know you better.  In responses in my blog, you have mentioned having never kayaked but that you’d like to try the sport.  Will you?  There are some nice rivers in Florida to paddle. 
Chrys: I think I would like to try it with a few experienced kayakers. Funny thing is, Beth Kennedy, the heroine in Hurricane Crimes, loves to canoe Florida rivers, and I haven’t done that either!

Sage: We got to get you in boat!  You have also mentioned in your blog, or maybe it was in a comment in mine that you have a rod in your back.  I am sure that can be limiting.  You don’t have to answer this, but I am curious.  Would you care to share with us how this came about and if it limits your activities?

Chrys:  When I was fourteen I was diagnosed with scoliosis. My spine was curved at a 45 degree angle and twisted. I needed surgery with fusion and a rod to correct this and ease my pain. Except, pain is something I still deal with day to day. It limits a lot of my activities, including how long I can sit, stand, or walk. I can’t even hula hoop anymore and I used to be a champ at that!
Sage:  Don't worry, I could never hula hoop!  And I am sorry that you have to deal with constant pain for I can't imagine what that would be like.  Your grit and determination is to be applauded.  Somewhere along the way, I remember hearing that Kurt Vonnegut once said that if one wanted to be a writer, they should stay out of writing programs at college.  In your blog, you indicate under “education” that you have a GED.  Congratulations!  It appears your work hard on your craft.  What advantages and disadvantages do you see as an author having less formal education?

Chrys: Thank you, Sage! My GED is something I used to be ashamed about because it’s not your traditional high school diploma, but I enjoy knocking down the stigma that many (not all) people have that GEDs are for slackers. I think that if you mention you have a GED, some people may not take you as seriously, so that’s a disadvantage. An advantage would be the opportunity to prove them wrong, as I have done. ;)

Sage:  Chrys, your hard work is evident. Thank you for taking time to have this conversation with me.  I wish you success in your writing and happiness in life.  For my readers, I encourage you to check out Chrys’ blurb for Ghost of Death: 

*Ghost of Death is a short story.*

Jolie Montgomery, a twenty-one-year-old woman, wakes up in an alley next to her corpse. She has no memories of her murder or the night she died. She didn’t even see the killer’s face before he or she took her life. Wanting justice, Jolie seeks answers in the only way a ghost stalking the lead detective on the case.

Avrianna Heavenborn is determined to find the person responsible for a young woman’s death. She gets closer to the killer’s identity with every clue she uncovers, and Jolie is with her every step of the way.

But if they don’t solve her murder soon, Jolie will be an earth-bound spirit forever.

Book Links:

BIO:  Chrys Fey is the author of Hurricane Crimes and 30 Seconds. She is currently working on the sequel to Hurricane Crimes that’ll serve as book two in the Disaster Crimes series.

When Fey was six years old, she realized her dream of being a writer by watching her mother pursue publication. At the age of twelve, she started writing her first novel, which flourished into a series she later rewrote at seventeen. Fey lives in Florida where she is waiting for the next hurricane to come her way.

You can connect with her on Facebook and her blog, Write with Fey. She loves to get to know her readers!

 Author Links:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Talking about the weather a few other things with some photos added for good measure...

Saturday: trying not to be passed
The weather has been near perfect the past few days.  After already having a week of hot weather (well over 90 degrees F) with high humidity, the highs have only been in the low eighties.  The humid is still high, but not at the 90% range, and the wind has provided a steady breeze.  The trees are most lovely when their tops sway in a 15-20 knot wind.  It is warm enough that the sand gnats are not a problem and windy enough that mosquitoes and other biting flies are grounded.  At night, it cools off and with the moon still in an early stage of waxing, the summer constellations are out.  We have had some purely magical sunsets.  Several days ago, I was leaving the island right after the sunset and while crossing the causeway, the marsh was all golden pink color.  As I was driving and in a hurry (and without a camera), I didn’t have time to find a place to pull over and snap a photo, but it look liked something Pat Conroy would describe.  Last night, while walking the dog, I took a photo of the sunset from my iphone, (which has a pretty nice camera for a phone).
Saturday evening sunset
Dennis adjusting the jib
We just can't quite catch up as we try to steal their air...

I have been sailing almost once a week.  The sail club regularly mixes up teams and boats (there are nine Rhodes 19 boats).  Some of the boats are better than others (especially since about half the boats have newer sails).  It seems that the boats I’ve been on recently have all been ones with older sails that have lost their crispness.  It is a little frustrating when on a beat and you are always tailing a boat that can point higher than you, but there is some satisfaction about giving them a run for their money.   Besides, there is pleasure just being on the water.

Going up...
I am in the second phase of my training as a volunteer fireman.  As I noted a few months ago, I became a basic fireman in February and am now studying and practicing to become a panel operator.  This will allow me to drive and operate the trucks.  Although this position will keep me further away from the fire, it's probably good because my diabetes (with the possibilities of low blood sugars) could make me a liability to others if I was inside a building on fire.  We've not had any major fires since I've been in the department, but last week as the heat was breaking, we had several homes struck by lightning but thankfully none of them caught fire, only experiencing electrical damage.  Here is a photo of me learning to operate our ladder truck.  I still get kicks from heights!

Enjoy a few more photos of Saturday's sail…  In this race I snapped the shots, I wasn't on the helm or jib and we were not flying a spinnaker and my main role was to lean over the windward side to provide stability providing me time to snap a few shots. 
Have a great week!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The River Home

This is a book review/personal memoir as I recall some of my own experiences on the Waccamaw as I review the author’s book about a trip down this river.

Franklin Burroughs, The River Home: A Return to the Carolina Low Country (1992, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), 208 pages.

                I lived in Whiteville, North Carolina for three years in the early 1980s.   During this period, I spent a lot of time around Lake Waccamaw and took two incredible overnight trips on the Waccamaw River, between the lake and Old Dock.  I remember thinking the Waccamaw was possibly the finest black water river in Eastern North Carolina (it would be a close call between the Waccamaw and the Black River).  A few months ago, when I was reading John Lane’s book, Waist Deepin Black Water, I learned of this book about a trip down the Waccamaw and immediately set out to find a copy.  I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the writing.  This is a wonderful book and now that I have read it, I will have to find another book, The Voyage of the Paper Canoe by Nathaniel Holmes Bishop.  In the aftermath of the Civil War, Bishop paddled his canoe along the eastern seaboard.  When he reached Wilmington, NC, he took a train to Lake Waccamaw and then paddled down the river to Georgetown, SC, before continuing on along the coastline.  Bishop’s journey inspired Burroughs.

                Franklin Burroughs teaches at Bowdoin College in Maine, but he grew up along the banks of the Waccamaw River in Conway, South Carolina.   In a used bookstore on Cape Cod, he came across a copy of On the River which introduced him to Nathaniel Holmes Bishop.   Recalling his childhood, in which he’d fished much of the South Carolina sections of the river in Horry County, he decided he should paddle the whole river.   His father took him to Lake Waccamaw for the start of his journey, but his introduction to the upper part of the Waccamaw came on the drive north when they passed the river in Pireway and there was a baptism being performed.  Burroughs traveled the river from the lake to Conway by himself, then had a friend of his join him as they paddled down to Georgetown.

                At the beginning of the book, Burroughs provided a historic description of Horry County (known among themselves as the “Independent Republic”) that I found to be less than flattering.  As he noted, there was so little of interest in the county that wars past it by (there were no battles there in the Revolutionary War or Civil War).  The big rice plantations laid south of Horry near Georgetown and Charleston (or north, although he doesn’t mention it, along the Cape Fear River in North Carolina.  As a native Tar Heel, I needed to put in a plug).  Horry was a place of turpentine stills (along with another kinds of stills) and lumbering operations.  It wasn’t until the last century that people discovered the beaches of Horry (Myrtle Beach, etc) that has put the county on the map.  Just ten miles or so inland from the beaches flows the Waccamaw, a river that is still fairly wild.
Burroughs made his trip in 1985 (two years after my last trip down the Waccamaw).  
Dodo showing one of his dugout canoes
 on Crusoe Island, 1982

                   The upper part of the river is small and sometimes one has to pull the canoe over logs that have blocked the river.  As he approaches Crusoe Island, a piece of high ground in the middle of the Green Swamp a few hours paddle from the lake, he encounters Thomas Spivey, a resident of Crusoe who lets him paddle one of his dugout cypress log canoes and make him a dough bowl which he hollows out of a log plank.  Spivey also shows him the snakes that the catches and sells to museums and laboratories.  When I ran the river, I was always shocked at how few snakes one saw on it around Crusoe Island, due to the efforts of the Spivey’s at catching them.  I think it was the Spiveys who had a pit with snakes in the bottom, crawling over one another and even though I am not overly frightened by snakes, the thought of falling into that pit would be akin to falling into hell.  The man I best remember at Crusoe was Dodo (I think his last name was Clewis) who I believed lived just north of the Spiveys (if my memory is right, the Spiveys lived just south of the landing, Dodo lived just north of it).  I still have a bread bowl that Dodo dug out of a plank of aged swamp wood (probably harvested from Georgia Pacific land).  In the early 80s, most folks on the island made their living from the swamp and it was a place game wardens were always weary even though they did arrest a number of swamp residents for selling illegal game.   It was an interesting and a little scary place as there was only one road into the island from Old Dock.  If I remember correctly, that road was built in the 40s and not even paved until the 60s. 

              Paddling down from Crusoe Island, he recalls stories from Bishop’s journey such as staying in a home of the foreman on the turpentine still (the foreman was a Gore and even today, there surname Gore is common in lower Columbus County).  Below Old Dock, the river becomes wider.  He tells of stories of men building log rafts of timber and floating them down to Conway to the mill.  At Pireway (where I had the last connection with the river), riverboats would occasionally make it up this far during high water.  In my blog, I have written about Delano, the scoutmaster of a Mormon troop in Pireway (although the troop was registered and located in “Tabor City, to the west of Pireway, all the members of the church I knew when I worked that territory for the Boy Scouts lived in the Pireway area).  Delano was quite a character and you’ll have to go back to my post on him to see what I mean.

Phil Morgan, 1982,
in the bow of my old canoe on the Waccamaw
               South of Pireway, Burroughs is in territory that he was familiar with as a youth.  He begins to tell stories of his family and how they ended up in Conway as well as his own fishing adventures with his father and with friends along the river.  I particularly liked his story of the two-sided paddle wheelers that made it up the river (they were still coming up when his father was a boy).  Having paddles on both sides of the boat, the captain could reverse one paddle while moving forward with the other, allowing him to navigate the narrow twists and bends of the river.  Burroughs also tells about the lumber operations in Conaway and his memories of his grandmother’s home.   As he continues south, with a friend, he begins to weave in the history of the rice plantations built upon slavery that dotted the river as it approached Georgetown.   There, too, the river joins the much larger and silt-filled Pee Dee River before flowing out into the ocean.  It was in this section that they got caught trespassing on private land but befriended the caretaker and end up being invited for breakfast.

               I found this to be a delightful book and makes me want to go back and once again paddle the Waccamaw as it has been over 30 years since I have been on its dark waters.  One of the back cover reviewers of the book compared it to Goodbye to a River by John Graves.   I have also reviewed Graves book and both authors do a fine job of weaving together their adventures with the history of the area.   Even if you never set your eyes on the Waccamaw, this book is a treat to read.   

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Man with Six Typewriters

Steve Doughty, The Man with Six Typewriters and Others Who Knew God (Eugene Oregon: WIPF & Stock, 2015), 130 pages

                Years ago I came across Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which featured the prose of James Agee and the depression era photographs of Walker Evans.  The title was intriguing as the stories and the photos are not of men and women whose appear on the front page of the newspaper or in magazines.  Instead, they are people often overlooked.  Agee and Evans attempted to shine some light on them and to honor their sacrifices.   There are many people who are important in our communities and our lives, but who often remain unknown and in the background.  Their obituaries are short, and their modest tombstones record but little of their lives. Drawing on his pastoral experiences, Doughty recalls some of his encounters with some of these individuals.  In reading this short book, we are reminded that we’ve all been created in God’s image and that, in and of itself, makes us all valuable.

                Steve Doughty is a retired Presbyterian minister.  During his ministry, he served a number of congregations: in upstate New York, the coal mining region of Pennsylvania, on the Western Plains and as a denomination executive in Western Michigan.  As a pastor (and Doughty remained a pastor even when he went into administration where he served as a pastor to pastors), he had the privilege of knowing many unique individuals such as the man with six typewriters, a recluse who constantly typed and retyped the scriptures.   In retirement, he serve a stint as a peacemaker in Columbia, a dangerous job but one who brought him into contact with a new set of people who “knew God” even though they were not well known by others.  Doughty tells about individuals working in the background such as the one who asked the right people the right questions to get a movement started to have a community center.  He tells about shy performers in a community choral setting, and a Native American friend whom he reconnects, years after they both lived on the prairie.  Most of these stories are about Christians but a few come from other faiths.  In retelling their stories, we learn about kindness, listening, honoring others, and in a round-about way, incarnation.

                I recommend this book in the hopes that those who read it might find their eyes opened and see others as valuable parts of the human race.   As a disclaimer and tribute, I was privileged to have Steve as a spiritual director for several years during a critical period of my life.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Paddling Open Water to Ossabaw Island

Heading Out (in Delegal Creek)
I’m pretty tired tonight after paddling from Delegal Creek to Ossabaw Island and back.  Five of us started out on the trip, leaving the marina at 8:45 AM.  Our first stop was Raccoon Key.  Last night, when I checked the weather, we were to expect a mild 8 knot wind from the southwest, but by the time we left the creek and headed across the mouth of the Little Ogeechee as it flows out into Ossabaw Sound, we were in some rough water.  The wind had moved to the east and was blowing strong.  As the tide was running out, the wind pushed up waves that were close together and choppy.  One wave hit me broadside and had it not been for the sprayskirt, my boat would have been filled with water.  After we arrived on Raccoon Key, I checked the wind and found it blowing as high as 14 knots.
Crossing the Little Ogeechee

Horseshoe crabs in love (taken on Raccoon Key)

 Once we made Raccoon Key, three of the group decided not to go any further, but Gary and I decided we were still game. As it turned out, the tide was lower than we had realized and we were pushed way out around a sandbar than runs from the key all the way out into the ocean, separating the waters from the Little Ogeechee and the Ogeechee Rivers.  We found ourselves having to walk our kayaks and at one point, where the bar was pretty narrow, we hauled our boats across.  The wave/tide action was still strong as we crossed the Ogeechee and the waves even larger than before, but the troughs wider and the ride a lot smoother.  We assumed that when the tide turned and started going in, with the off shore wind, it would calm down.   We made Ossabaw Island with no problems, arriving a little after 11 AM.  We walked out toward Bradley Point and then down the beach a ways, then had lunch, walked back to our boats, talked and sunned until 2:30.  It was then time to start back.
Approaching Ossabaw
Beach on Ossabaw

Line of breakers

From the north shore of Ossabaw, we could see a line of breakers on the other side of Ogeechee River, running from the Raccoon Key out into the ocean. So much for the tide change calming the waters.  What had been a sandbar was now shoals.  We decided to check it out, hoping we could find a deep enough place to cross the line without too many waves.  There didn’t appear to be any and before I knew it, a wave caught my boat and I was surfing fast, heading northwest, into the melee of breakers.  As soon as my ride was over a wave from the northeast broke over my boat.  I was soaked, from my hat down.  I immediately turned the boat into the direction of the waves and began to paddle hard.  Gary was right behind me.  We paddled hard until we got out of the breakers on the other side.  Waves were crashing on the sandbar, but thankfully the bar wasn’t exposed so we were able to make it over it, a little wet and with our hearts pumping in excitement. 

My one photo of being in the high waves
 and these aren't the big ones!
We could see another line of breakers ahead and ten minutes later, we were in the same predicament.  Again, I had a wave break over me, soaking my hat and shirt.  Thankfully, the sprayskirt kept the water out of the boat.  Sadly, I never got photos of the two of us in these lines of waves as it was all I could do to keep my boat upright and moving through the waves.  Several times I was afraid I’d have to do an Eskimo roll and hoping I could execute the maneuver successful as I did not want to come out of my boat this far from shore.  Thankfully, I never had to try as the boat stayed upright.   After the second set of waves, we found outside in still choppy water and way off Raccoon Key.  We were fairly close to the south end of Wassaw Island.  We turned westward and began to paddle toward Delegal Creek.  There was one more set of choppy waves (where I was able to get a nice photo of Gary navigating the waves, but sadly these waves were nothing like the others we’d already navigated.
This was the same nest I reported on in March
Our last obstacle was making the mouth of Delegal Creek.  We were paddling slowly as we talked and passed the first red buoy for the creek (it was on our right).  We the current was moving us along nicely and as we got deep into a conversation about our experiences on the shoals, we noticed that we were no longer being carried into the creek but into another channel between the creek and the Little Ogeechee River.  We had to paddle hard against the tide.  Once we were in the creek, the tide was strong and we did little paddling, just enough to keep straight.  When we passed the Osprey nest on the channel marker (which I’d seen them building in March), we were treated with a young Osprey who, after making some clicking sounds, took to flight.  We were back at the marina a little after 4 PM, in time to have a beer and congratulate ourselves for a wonderful day.
On Ossabaw Island

Monday, May 11, 2015

Going to Ground

This is another book I've read in an attempt to better appreciate my new natural surroundings in South Georgia.

Amy Blackmarr, Going to Ground: Simple Life on a Georgia Pond (New York: Viking, 1997), 170 pages.

At the age of 33, Blackmarr leaves Kansas and returned to her native state of Georgia, settling in to her Grandfather’s old fishing cabin. She doesn’t give a lot of reasons for her retreat (but does drop hints such as tired of being inside an office and three ex-husbands).  Instead of reminiscing her past (which sounds colorful), she focuses on the presence, with attention to detail.  She is especially aware of the natural world in a manner that reminded me of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  At first, she seems to be a little unsteady (calling on her distant neighbor to dispatch a snake or to ask about alligators.  In time, she gains confidence and learns to depend on the kindness of others and the comfort of her dogs, Queenie and Max.

Many of Blackmarr’s stories are humorous.  When she sees a snake that she fears to be the poisonous copperhead, a real threat to her dogs, she fetches her trusty pistol but is unable to hit it.  She calls her neighbor who sends over his son with another pistol, but he also misses and returns home to fetch a shotgun and comes back and “dispatches” the snake.  Afterwards, her neighbor looks at the snake and she is horrified to learn that it was a harmless corn snake. (44-45)  She also has a humorous battle with mice in the cabin.  The battle reaches a climax when she has a close encounter with one of the beady eyed beast.  “Across my forehead went that mouse.  Flushed me up out of the cover like quail and I made a beeline for the broom”  (81)  After being unable to wipe out the mice population, she finally causes a truce.   In her stories, she appears to gain an acceptance of the natural world.  In the beginning, she seems determined to dominate the natural, in a way that’s not exactly politically correct (she does have a pistol for protection and seems too trigger-happy when it comes to threatening wildlife).  Surely, the natural world is violent, as those at the top eat those at the bottom, but in time Blackmarr also learns it is world that can be appreciated without a knee-jerk need to dominate.
Blackmarr prose creates pastoral images:   “I was sitting on the steps with my coffee this morning, watching the pond water ripple under the breeze, and I was wondering where the golden cord is that ties this land to me,” she writes. (97)   She describes the Milky Way as “a lightened path through an obsidian sky”  (32)When musing about ownership (she didn’t own the cabin) and time, she pens: “Sometimes I sit out in the yard in one of those yellow lawn chairs with the frayed bottoms and watch the light move across the pond.” (167)   Sprinkled into her descriptions are quotes from a well-read life:  Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Merton, Henry David Thoreau, Robert Heinlein, John Keats, and Scripture (to name a few). 

As she becomes more secure in her life by the pond, she also learns to accept the generosity of strangers.  Realizing that she has left her wallet at home and is out of gas, she presents her dilemma to two small town police officers.  Needing only a dollar of gas (this was in the  90s), one officer gives her a couple of bills and the other gives her a few more and says to use it to get herself some lunch.  (139f)

There are several back-stories of which we're only provided glimpses.  Blackmarr mostly focuses on her relationship with nature, but in the stories we read about her weekly visits to her grandmother who is in a long-term care facility and her teaching at a community college.  Her grandmother owns the property and after her death, the family sells it.  Blackmarr finds she must move on and heads to the mountains of Georgia (the source of another book).
Toward the end of her time at the cabin, her dog, Queenie, gets out beyond the fence is hit by a car and is buried on the property.  The story is sad, but it does provide Blackmarr with a permanent tie to the land that she (and her family) no longer own.   I recommend this book.  It was a treat to read and I look forward to reading other books by Blackmarr.

“Solitude is an easy companion.  It doesn’t require much from me except the ability to be comfortable alone.”  (31)

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Bourbon Pecan Peach Cobbler

On Wednesday night, I hosted a Dutch Oven Dinner for 15 of us.  It was only my second use of the “pots” since I moved here to Savannah, but everyone loved the dinner and we had a good time.  I fixed a pot of ribs, another of potatoes, onions and bacon, and a peach cobbler.  I improvised on an old recipe for peach cobbler and it turned out great and since I was using canned peaches verses pie filling, it cost a lot less (and the bourbon and pecans gave it a wonderful flavor.

My old recipe (for a 10 inch pot):
  • Rub ½ stick of butter on the inside of the pot
  • 2 cans of peach pie filling
  • Top with yellow cake mix
  • Cut up a stick of butter and put it on top
  • Cook 35 minutes, the juice will bubble up and cook the cake mix.

My new recipe  (for a 12 inch pot):
  • ½ stick of butter rubbed into the inside of the pot
  • Mix together:  3 28 cans of peaches (mostly drained).  Add ½ cup of brown sugar and ¼ cup of corn starch and an ounce of bourbon.  When finished, pour into the pot
  • Chop up a cup of pecans and soak for 30 minutes in bourbon
  • Mix pecans and a cake mix together and spread over the peach mix
  • Sprinkle ½ of chopped butter on top
  • Bake in a medium fire (dozen coals under and over) for 30 minutes
  • Serve with ice cream
Now, when the peaches start coming in, I’ll have to try this with real peaches (and maybe some blueberries).   I am sorry I didn't take a photo of the cobbler when finished, but it was gone before I had a chance!
Two of my pots after cleaning
along with a small collection of "fallen soldiers" waiting for recycling

Sunday, May 03, 2015

All the Wild that Remains

David Gessner, All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey,Wallace Stegner, and the American West (New York:  W. W. Norton, 2015), 354 pages including notes and index and a few photos.

I have waited for this book for over a year.  I'd read others of Gessner's books and had reviewed My Green Manifesto in this blog.  When I learned Gessner was writing a book on two of my favorite authors, I knew the book would jump to the top of my TBR pile when released.  The book was released a little over a month ago.

Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey appear to be opposites.  After an unstable childhood that lead him all over the American and Canadian West, Stegner became grounded as he spent decades developing the writing program at Stanford.  Abbey was more unsettled.  He grew up in the coal country of Pennsylvania, born to a free-thinking radical father and a mother who was deeply involved in her Presbyterian Church.  At the age of 17, and with the country in World War 2, Abbey spent a summer hitchhiking and hoboing around the West.  After a brief stint in the military, he returned to the West, living a hard and unsettle life as he worked various jobs while attempting to make a name for himself as a writer.  Although he was not in search of riches, Abbey unsettledness may have had more in common with Stegner's father, the model for "Bo Mason" in his autobiographical novel, The Big Rock Candy Mountain. In their personal lives, Stegner remained married to the same woman while Abbey married over and over again.  Stegner held a respectable academic position and worked alongside government officials to bring about environmental changes and worried what the longhaired hippies might be doing to the country.  Abbey, on the other hand, encouraged (if not participated in) monkeywrenching (or eco-terrorism, depending on your interpretation) as a way to make a statement and attempt to save a portion of the American West.  Although there are many differences between the two men, they both loved the American West and the region defined them.  Interestingly, Abbey spent two semesters at Stanford and studied under Stegner but then went off on his own direction.  The two men never met again (although they apparently exchanged some letters).  

In All the Wild that Remains, Gessner brings these two men back together and suggest that their vision for the West provides us a model for dealing with the ecology challenges of the West.  Taking a summer to drive from his home in the East through the American West, Gessner visits many of Abbey's and Stegner's old haunts while interviewing their friends and colleagues.   His journey begins with a visit to Wendell Berry on his farm in Kentucky.  Berry also studied under Stegner and was friends with Abbey, even reading a letter from Stegner at a memorial service for Abbey following his death.  From Kentucky, Gessner travels to Boulder Colorado, where he had formerly lived.  Traveling in 2012, he learns of the damage of the wildfires that have been plaguing the West including the Boulder.   From there, Gessner's travels takes him to Moab, Utah, a town that is built on recreation and enjoyment of the wild, which allows Gessner an opportunity to reflect on the damage to the land by those who loves it.  He visits Arches, the location of Abbey's classic non-fiction book, Desert Solitaire. His travels takes him on to Salt Lake City, a city that Gessner finds beautiful and realizes why Stegner loved it so  (On a personal note, Gessner needs to visit SLC in the winter and after skiing up in the canyons, drive down to SLC in a thermal inversion and experience how bad the smog can be).  He paddles down the San Juan River, getting a feel for the canyon country that defined Abbey.

Later in the summer, he meets up with his and daughter who travel with him.  Then, his wife returns home, and Gessner sets out with his daughter, traveling north, visiting Doug Peacock (Abbey's model for Hayduke in The Monkeywrench Gang and Hayduke Lives), and on into Canada where he visits Stegner's childhood homestead. (I couldnt help to think about Abbeys character in The Fools Progess, having a vision of traveling with his daughter). Inserted into Gessner's 2012 road trip are other trips to the West, where he visits the Southwest and California, exploring the stomping grounds for both authors, as well as trips to New England to meet with Stegner's family.  In these travels, Gessner visits friends of Abbey and Stegner, along with other authors who played a role in their development.  He also ponders what each of them might say to current environmental problems brought on by climate change, sustained drought and an increasing population.

Although Gessner provides a basic outline of each author's life, this is not a dual biography.  Instead, he uses the writings and the visions of the two authors to reflect how we relate to the land.  His writing is a playful approach, providing insight into both authors while offering both critique and suggestions of dealing with current environmental issues.  One of his linger questions in the book is which author was the true "radical."  This question came from a conversation with Utahan author Terry Tempest Williams who suggests that Stegner was the real radical.  It might seem the other way around as Abbey was pretty much an anarchist, but Abbey was also strong on individual rights.  Stegner, on the other hand, appreciated the role the early Mormon's cooperation (a communal economy) played in the development of Utah and felt such an outlook was necessary in the West.  However, the cooperative economics of 19th Century Utah have given way to a more individual centered economy (one like Stegner's father lived) that extracts wealth and leaves a mess behind.  Although he doesn't endorse Stegner's vision outright, Gessner left me with the idea that he leans toward his ideas.  I agree with Gessner that Abbey's writings are fun and am sure that if I picked back up and reread The Monkeywrench Gang, as Gessner did, I would also find it a bit childish on the second reading.  Gessner considers Abbeys non-fiction to be superior to his fiction (which I would agree). I consider A Fools Progress to be the finest of Abbey's fiction and it appears Gessner would agree with my assessment (277).

I recommend this book, especially to fans of Abbey and Stegner.  I enjoyed riding along with Gessner on many of the same roads I've covered in my own travels as I listened to his ideas about the region and these two authors.   In a way, this book seems as just the beginning of a dialogue.  Abbey and Stegner may give us starting points for a dialogue, based on the land they loved, but we are in desperate need to create a more sustainable vision of how humans are to live on this planet.

For an attempt to summarize my understanding of Edward Abbey, click here.

That's me, Sage, after a backpacking trip in Abbey Country
I'd just hiked through Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River along the UT/AZ border