Saturday, November 28, 2015

Post Thanksgiving Day post

I have spent the past four days at the hospital where my father is a patient.  Today, they ended up doing what they were trying to avoid and had to do emergency surgery to remove a good chunk of his colon.  Thankfully, the surgery went well.  I had Thanksgiving dinner in the cafeteria (see photo).  It wasn't too bad and only cost four and a half bucks (and included pie but they were out by the time I got down to eat).   Hopefully, I'll have happier posts next week.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Resting on Burntpot Island

The weather has finally turned cool, with the mercury dropping to just above the freezing mark overnight.  Finally, a change in the weather.  On Friday, I was paddling in a kayak with just a t-shirt and shorts.  It was a great day even if it was a little windy (12 knots) as I made my way north through the Skidaway Narrows along the Intracoastal Waterway.  Heading south were at least a dozen sailboats, many of which were flying Canadian flags.   Toward the north end of Skidaway Island, I explored a creek around the backside of Burntpot Island and, as it was high tide, paddled through the marsh.  I also got to watch a bald eagle watching me from its perch high in a pine tree.  Paddling back, I was passed by the Savannah Fire boat. 
Bald Eagle

Enlarge to notice the snails on the grass (spartina)
Savannah Fire Boat
Another boat coming out to race
 Saturday afternoon was a day of sailing.  We had strong winds out of the north and the weather was a little cooler.  I still was wearing shorts, but with a long sleeve shirt and a rain jacket.  As soon as we sailed through the marina’s break wall, a wave splashed over the bow and I found myself wishing I’d brought a pair of rain pants.  The racing was exciting.  In almost every race, there were several boats in contention at the finish line and in one, the distance between us and another boat was only inches.  I thought we had taken it, but the committee boat gave the race to the other boat.  Still, it was a great day of sailing and thankfully, we only received a few drops of rain.

waiting for the gun to sound

Sanders in Savannah taken from my iphone
Bernie Sanders was in town last night and spoke to an overflowing crowd (2600 seats and not everyone was able to make it in and the publicity in advance wasn’t that good).  My daughter wanted to go and so I went along with her and a friend.  It was interesting to watch him live.  Personally, I believe the only candidate that has as much energy as he has is Trump (and interestingly, they are both on the extreme of their parties).  He spoke for nearly 90 minutes on pretty much every topic.  He was also funny, but I doubt he has a chance.  It was a pleasure to go with my daughter as she’ll be voting this year and would like to see all the candidates.  I remember in my first election to vote (1976), I got to see Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan (and even shook hands with Nancy) as well as Jimmy Carter and his challenger Eugene McCarthy (with whom I had a cup of coffee).  She shares that same excitement.  

This is Thanksgiving week and it is going to be a crazy week.  My dad is facing potential surgery so I may be making a trip to North Carolina in the middle of the week.  Keep him in your prayers.  
Final view
Sailboat heading south (Friday)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Remembering Joe Hill

How can I get into the Thanksgiving and soon-to-be Christmas season when it is 75 degrees with 95% humidity and I’m wearing short-sleeves and not worrying about getting wet in the rain?  In November, even in the South, rain should be capable of endangering one of hypothermia, but not this year…

Joe Hill (found on the internet)
Joe Hill, the “Singing Wobbly” was executed by firing squad a hundred years ago, today, November 19th, by the State of Utah.  Hill was a Swedish immigrant, who had found his way into the American West where he performed odd jobs and became a member of the International Workers of the World, the IWW or Wobblies, as they were also known.  It still remains a question as to whether or not Hill murdered the grocer and his son.  Many think he was not guilty, but there are a few who think he was guilty.  Most, however, agree that he and his defense did not help his case. There was no hard evidence of his guilt.  He was convicted on circumstantial evidence, mainly having been shot on the same night the murders occurred   Hill had always maintained that he was shot by a jealous lover, but he refused to give the name of his assailant or the woman with whom he was involved.   Recent investigation has given credence to this theory, there was a woman with whom Hill and another man were fighting over.   But Hill, whose behavior didn’t help his cause, was perhaps willing to die a martyr and, once convicted, he certainly used the notary of his death to promote the IWW (a group that many in the country despised and feared, especially the more radical anarchist within their ranks.   But others, including President Wilson, asked Utah not to carry out the execution.  But the state was determined.

Shortly before his death, Hill wrote the Big Bill Haywood, the President of the IWW, saying:  "Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize... Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don't want to be found dead in Utah.”  Not only did Haywood arrange to have his body removed, he sent portions of his ashes to IWW leaders in every state in the Union except Utah, asking that they spread Joe Hill around.  In a way, Hill did become a martyr.  His songs became more popular and his ghost still haunts those who thought they were done with him.  Hill inspired many folksingers and became a figure in literature.   As a myth, Hill lives taller than he ever did as a singing workman.  

Joe Hill’s execution is another reminder of the failure of capital punishment to bring about a better society. As far what it says about how we treat immigrants, in today's climate, I'll let you argue that out... 

Monday, November 16, 2015

The March

Life's been busy lately and I haven't had the time to post...  This is a book I read for a men's book group that meets on the island.

E. L. Doctorow, The March (2005, New York: Random House Paperback, 2010), 363 pages

 In The March, E. L. Doctorow (who died this past summer) attempts to portray Sherman’s trek across Georgia and the Carolinas as it would have been experienced by individuals caught up in the army’s push.  Instead of focusing on commanding officers or even soldiers, Doctorow tells the story from the point of view of freed slaves (including Pearl, whose skin is while like her father's), aristocratic southerners who have lost everything, a photographer and his free black aid (Mr. Culp and Calvin), two Confederate deserters (Will and Arly), and a skilled surgeon (Wrede Sartorius).  Along the way, Sherman’s soldiers forage for food and supplies, raiding the plantations that dotted countryside, often burning the buildings.  The cotton and railroads and anything that could be used in the war effort are destroyedThe stories is told through characters who don't understand the tactics nor the Union Army's overall plan.  Many of the freed slaves can’t read, but see Sherman as a Savior and blindly follow him across Georgia.  Others join the band following the army because they have no other place to go or, like Arly and Will (the Confederate deserters) because they sense an opportunity. 

I enjoyed how Doctorow tells the story without explaining or naming the events.  The slaves who drown at Ebenezer Creek just west of Savannah don't understand the tactic of the Union General Jefferson Davis, who had the bridges destroyed as a way to rid himself of slaves whom he's unable to careful, but keep following.  The rumor of Confederate cavalry leads many to run into the waters where they drown.  Instead of learning of the tragedy from a distance, we experience it first hand as Pearl (a freed slave) finds herself trapped and then is saved by other slaves who create makeshift rafts.  Likewise, as the army moves into North Carolina and begins to experience more unified resistance from a thrown-together army, we learn of the battles from the places in which they occur (Averasboro and Bentonville). 

Doctorow also captures some of the personality such as characterizing Union General Kilpatrick as a womanizer (Sherman had one of his women sent down river to Wilmington and told another officer to make sure Kilpatrick doesn’t swim after her).  He captures the funny scene at the last cavalry battle of the war, outside of Fayetteville, NC, where Kirkpatrick had to flee with his mistress in a battle that has been called Kilpatrick’s Shirttail Skedaddle.  Again, we don't fully learn what happened or the name that the engagement is now known as.  Instead, only what was experienced from the eyes of Doctorow's characters.  Doctorow also uses the slave with white skin (Pearl) as a way to show her difficulty in fitting in with the white and black communities.  The book ends with the death of Lincoln and the surrender of Johnston's army (which occurred nine days after Lee's surrender in Virginia). 

This is a work of historical fiction.  It would be beneficial for the reader to have some idea of Sherman's march across the South, but this is not a story about the Sherman's tactics as it is to show how it was experienced by the civilians and this is the best part of the book and would make it interesting beyond Civil War students.  Among the dozen of men who read this, those most interested in history were less impressed with the book.  Several readers found the book confusing as Doctorow jumps from character to character, but that chaos I felt helped capture the way most people would have experienced the horror of war.  

A Quote:  A former slave speaking to others:  “If you long for the General to protect you, you are still unfree.  Freedom should fill your heart and lift your spirit…”  (261)

Friday, November 06, 2015

A Letter to Edward Abbey

In the memoir writing class, one of the assignments was to write a letter to someone (it could be a relative, former lover, favorite author or musician).  I decided to write Edward Abbey who died on March 14, 1989.  At the time, I was living in Virginia City, Nevada, getting ready to head back to Pittsburgh to finish school.  Here's my letter:

Edward Abbey, 1927-1989

Cactus Ed,

I wish I could have enticed you to come to Virginia City where I could have treated you to a few beers in the Union Brewery.  We could have sat around the woodstove in the back, staying warm as the cold wind blew across the Nevada desert.  I’m sure you’d kept your eye on Judy as she danced around serving drinks while we swapped stories of rivers and trails.  Or, if you were up for the cold (as I know you tended to like the lower desert), we could have trekked on skis down the old railroad grade and warmed ourselves with a fire of sagebrush and pinion while watching stars and speaking of lost lovers and endangered wilderness.  Sadly, at the time I became acquainted with your writings, you were dying.
The first book of yours that I read was The Monkey Wrench Gang.  I am surprised that no one has yet made it into a movie, but perhaps anarchy doesn't sell.  Reading of the plot Hayduke, Seldom-Seen Smith and the rest hatched to blow up the Glen Canyon dam and restore the Colorado River to its natural course struck close to home.  I was reminded of times in college spent on the Haw River in North Carolina and discussions around campfires and at bridgeheads how we might blow up the B. Everett Jordan dam.  Both dams, one in the East and one in the West, wiped out some wild whitewater and rugged landscape.  But Ed, things have changed since those carefree days when such discussions could be held without fear of arrest.  Some right-wingers used your recipe to blow up a government building in Oklahoma and with the ever-present threat of terrorism from the Islamic extremists, our government can't be too cautious and don't take kindly to such conversations.  Yes, we are less free now than when you checked out. 
Sage in Nevada, Winter 88-89
          When I returned East in the fall of 1989 to finish school, I kept reading your books.  They were a constant reminder of the joy I found in the desert.  After MonkeyWrench, I read Desert Solitaire, in which you captured the beauty of the sparseness of the desert over time, from morning to night, spring to fall.  When I read Dark Sun (the closest you came to writing “chic-lit”) I realized that although you had numerous failed marriages and affairs, you had also experienced heartache.  I kept reading.  My personal favorite is the book published right before your death, A Fool’s Progress. Again, you struck a personal cord as Henry Lightcap, like me, would bake bread when unsure of what to do next.  Twenty-five years later, I find myself still pondering Henry’s journey and wondering if, when writing this novel, you knew your own end was close at hand.   
          Ed, thank you for leaving behind stories that express your love of life and all things wild.  Thank you for encouraging your readers to stand in awe of creation and to realize that once a wild place is lost, there will be no returning to its former glory.  Thank you for reminding us of the freedom of the journey and that we should savor every moment.  Thank you, for by sharing your dreams, we, too, can dream.