Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Chickenbone Special

Dwayne E. Walls, The Chickenbone Special (New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1971), 233 pages.

A disabled father loses a son the day after the son graduates from high school.  His son, Donnie, accepts a cash graduation gift from a sister already in New York City and buys a ticket on the afternoon train up north. His old man wonders who’ll be left to shave him.  A church is sadden by the loss of one of its promising young women when she decides to seek her fortune in Baltimore.  Yet, in gratitude for her faithfulness, they pay her what she's owed and give her a bonus to help with the transition.  Another family, with the promise of a good job and a good house in Washington DC, drives north.  Four young African-American men, having graduated from high school, take the bus to Rochester, New York.  The stories of these men and women are echoed thousands of times over again in the 20th Century as part of the great migration from the rural to the city.  In The Chickenbone Special, Walls captures the story of a few of those who made journey in the late 1960s.

There were so many young African-American youth leaving following graduation that the railroad would put on extra cars to handle all the traffic.  Most left by train (especially those going to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York).   Those boarding had with them a ticket, a few dollars, a bag of food, and a suitcase containing their belongings.  The lines running along the East Coast, from Florida to New York, were nicknamed "Chickenbone Specials" as many of the passengers didn't have the funds to eat in the dining cars.  A favorite in their bag of vittles was a piece fried chicken, from which the train derived its nickname.

Wall captures the turmoil of the small communities losing their most promising young adults, who were lured north.  For some, the North became the Promised Land as they found jobs and decent housing and were able to provide for themselves and their families.  For others, it ended in tragedy.  Problems like unplanned pregnancies resulted in shipping back children to be cared for by grandparents.  Violent deaths resulted in bodies being shipped back.  The ghettos provided new challenges for those used to living in the country.  Some who left decided life wasn't so bad in the South and migrated back, while some of the men joined or were drafted into the military. 

Walls' story is told against the backdrop of change in agriculture.  Wall's research was conducted in two areas (Kingstree SC and Warren County NC), where tobacco and cotton were the chief products.  With new machinery, it was taking fewer hands to harvest the crops.  Small farms with a minuscule tobacco allotment struggled to survive.  However, for those without the resources to buy the ticket as soon as school let out, they could stick around for the summer and pick up enough work in tobacco fields to earn their fare north after the harvest.

Wall also captures a glimpse into the networks that supported those migrating.  In the South, the church and the family provided stability for the community.  Often, those heading north had a relative who had paved the way beforehand.  These relatives would meet the new resident at the train or bus station and give them shelter while they looked for a job.   He told the story of how the African-American community grew in the Rochester area, starting with a clergy grower who early in the 20th Century recruited migrant workers from Florida to work in his fields in the north.  Overtime, many of the migrants stayed and the community grew to be quite sizable. 

I recommend this book for anyone interested in African-American migration and the rural to urban flight.  However, it is not a sociological study.  Walls is a journalist and has collected stories which help the reader get a sense for the time.  For those of us who are not African-American, this book along with Melton McLaurin’s Separate Paths: Growing Up White in the Segregated South provide insight into rural South of the mid-20th Century.  Another recommendation, which focused on the rural poor white of the time, (which included many white families) at the time tenant farming was waning is Linda Flowers, Throwed Away: Failures of Progress in Eastern North Carolina.

Dwayne Walls was a reporter for the Charlotte Observer.  I learned of this book (which is long out-of-print and I picked up a used former library copy) from Phil Morgan.  Phil was a photographer at the Observer, who worked with Walls on this story.  One of Phil’s photographs (of an African-American family waiting on the train) is on the dust cover of the book.  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy birthday NPS!

Today, our National Parks Service turns 100 years old.  We had national parks years before the “Service” began in 1916.  Today they manage the 58 National Parks along with a host of other sites.  I’ve been to 23 of the National Parks.  Sixteen of these, I have camped in and twelve I’ve backpacked or overnight canoed in.  These are the parks I’ve visited:  Arches, Badlands, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Death Valley, Everglades, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Basin, Great Smoky Mountains, Isle Royale, Kings Canyon, Lassen Volcanic, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, Redwood, Rocky Mountains, Sequoia, Shenandoah, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion.

The Park Service does more than administer National Parks.  There are many wonderful National Monuments (I used to live just down from Cedar Breaks and Devils Tower is down right spooky).  There are also National Seashores, such as Cumberland Island which was where I spent the fist half of this week.  There are many other wonderful seashores and lake shores they operate which I have enjoyed (Point Reyes, California; Cape Hatteras and Lookout in North Carolina; Picture Rocks and Sleep Bear Sand Dunes in Michigan).  They also maintain historical battlefields, presidential museums, and a host of other sites. 

Happy birthday, NPS!  

Parting Shot: Sunset at Cumberland National Seashore

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Heat, Volunteer Firefighting, and a moonlight paddle

It has been a hot summer.  July was the second hottest since they started keeping records in Savannah and the average temperature of the month was 86.1 F.  We have had nearly 60 straight days of 90 degrees or above.  It has also been humid, often at 90%, yet the humidity hasn’t resulted in much rain.  We’ve only had a little over an inch in all of July and about the same in August.  Everything is dry.  Those south of Jacksonville or just to the north or a bit inland have been getting rain.  But the warm landmass have created strong sea breezes that keeps the moisture from reaching us along the coast.
Photo by another volunteer
On top of the heat, life this summer has been a bit chaotic as a volunteer fireman.  We have had numerous calls into homes where the air conditioning air handler motors have burned up and filled the home with smoke.  Thankfully, no one has been hurt (although without air conditioning in this climate, they run the risk of burning up with a fire).  But last Wednesday, we had a call that I didn’t want to hear.  My pager went off at 4:25 AM.  The dispatcher announced that a neighbor had called in that his house was fully engulfed.   Although the fire was on the island I live, it was a good six miles from my house.  I arrived after the first trucks, but the house was already gone with the roof caving in.  We were there for seven hours.  At first, it was putting out grass fires that threatened neighbors, while trying to keep the fire cooled as it burned.  Once the fire was contained, we were able to put it down, but only with a lot of water. 

Photo by another volunteer,
shooting water over the creek 
The past week, we’ve had many calls for smoke and a fire.  A hammock (a high sandy place in the middle of a marsh where there are trees (pines, live oaks, myrtles, palmettos, etc) has been burning and every wind shift we get a call.  The hammock is about a 100 yards from a Continuing Care development and on Monday night, when it was burning on the side of the development and spreading sparks, someone through we should try to do something.  We set a line out into the marsh on the edge of a deep creek separates the hammock from the mainland.  We poured water through a blitz nozzle that could shoot several hundred feet.   We had two trucks and I manned the hydrant, filling one truck while the other was employed in pumping water.  We cooled the fire a bit, but we were unable to put it out.  That’ll have to wait for rain.  We poured water for about an hour and when I got home, my T-shirt was soaked with sweet.  The fire continues to burn, but not as hot as much of the undergrowth is already consumed. 

Preparing to head out
On Tuesday evening, another volunteer and I decided we’d check it out while enjoying a moonlight paddle.  At the last minute, the other guy wasn’t able to make it, so I went by myself.   I put in at Butterbean Beach at sunset and paddled up the Intracoastal Waterway.   The moon, as it was a few days before full, was above the horizon and rising.  Bottlenose dolphins greeted me as I paddled out through the bridge and toward the creek running up toward the hammock.  As the light faded, you could see a bit of smoke from the hammock.  The moon’s rays shimmered as I paddled up into the creek.  The fire was laying down.  The night before the flames were jumping up five or ten feet.  This evening, there were only a few small visible flames that looked like campfires.  What was neat was seeing the vortexes of dead pines, which were burning from cavities inside the trees and spewing out sparks.  After paddling around the hammock, I returned back to the waterway.  Stars were beginning to come out, although dimly with the bright moon.
Approaching the smoking hammock
I could faintly make out the Big Dipper, the North Star, and Cassiopeia to the north.  When I turned around, and headed back south, I could see all of Scorpius including his tail above the southern horizon.   To the east was Sagittarius, the archer, his bow drawn as he chases the scorpion from the sky.  Fish jumped around my boat.  I paddle down to Pigeon Island, then turn around and head back toward my car.   It’s been a nice evening and as long as I’m on the water, there are no worries…

Today, I washed my bunker gear and tomorrow, I leave to help move my daughter into her college dorm.  :(  

Monday, August 08, 2016

iGods (A Book Review)

Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2013), 246 pages.  Endnotes and an index.
 This is an enlightening book.  A substantial part of the book is an overview of the rise of computer giants in the internet age.  But as the history of these organizations (Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and a few others) are discussed, the author delves into the social and theological implications of this shift in technology.  Detweiler does not condemn the rapid advance in technology nor does he just focus on the negative side of the internet.  He celebrates the positive impact of much of this technology and how it helps us handle the vast amount of information available.  He reminds us that God was the first technological genius when, at creation, he brought order into the chaos (something the Google does with every search).  Using a Greek word study of tekton (the word translated as carpenter in the New Testament), Detweiler reminds us that Jesus was essentially involved in the technology of his age.  We’re not to be afraid of technology.  Yet, at the same time, he feels a need to put the “iGods” in their proper place.  He reminds his readers of their purpose and limitations.  Although we have a tendency to place “blind trust” in technology, we must remember that our trust and faith belong to another realm.
Detweiler, in digging into the human call in Genesis to “cultivate,” reminds us of our need to organize.  Our use of technology is linked to our calling by God.  But we have to be careful.  Thanks to the iPhone, as one of Detweiler’s sources points out, “we have evolved from a culture of instant gratification to one of constant gratification.” Today, we’re “tempted to relate to the iPhone rather than the world.” (65)  Have we replaced God with Google’s algorithms?  Will “I’ll google it” replace “I’ll pray about it”? (117)  Can we really trust Google when our own search history leads to “confirmation bias” and our self-selecting of friends on Facebook supports our own ideas about the world.  In this manner, instead of this technology leading to a more open society, we feed our own biases.  Although there is a “democracy” to Facebook (freedom to like comments), it also results in targeted marketing.  In the end, social media supports the “hyper-partisanship in Washington” and can lead to our own “faith bubbles.”. (122-3)
The “Google Doctrine” may be changing the world, but it’s not as free as one might think.  Although social media has helped spur revolution and the downfall of brutal dictators, such brutes have caught on.  Misinformation is a problem.  A study of the 2011 protests in Russia found that half the tweets sent out were by “bots” used by the government to counter the protests. (193).  While Twitter is often condemned for being too short to have said anything meaningful, Detweiler reminds us that in a world where we are drowning in information, there is something refreshing about reducing ideas to their simple base (“an electronic haiku”).  Humorously, he links Twitter to the book of Proverbs in the Bible, which he refers to as the “original Twitterverse” (184)
Detweiler reminds his readers of our need for “Sabbaths.”  We need to step away from social media as a way to remind ourselves what is important.  Although the “iGods” taunt us with faster speeds, we should remember that the Bible lifts up the virtue of patience.   We should “celebrate technology as a gift, but resist the temptation to prostrate ourselves before it.” (225)
Although some will find this book deep, it is well-written and should be read by anyone wanting to understand the implications of this new technological world.   Detweiler quotes theologians, sociologists, historians, and philosophers.  However, the reading is not easy.  I am sure many, especially those who may not be comfortable in the many disciplines from which he draws, may find the way Detweiler shifts from one paragraph to the next from a discussion of technology to theological to issues of faith or social importance a bit confusing.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Visual glimpses of the past month

A late afternoon sail

Paddling around Little Tybee Island
A "problem alligator" from a friend's pond

Modern Rum Running?

Joe's Fork: In June, I wrote about this creek

Masonboro Island: back where I grew up