Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Peace In the Heart

I know this is a long book review, but I found much to enjoy from reading it and sadly I doubt few of you will have the pleasure as it is hard to get. On a good note, we've adopted a rescue pup (she's between 2-3 years old and fits right in) so the house is not nearly as quiet as before. She is totally different from Trisket, which is good. I'll introduce her soon.

Archibald Rutledge, Peace in the Heart (New York: Doubleday & Co, 1930), 316 pages, no illustrations

Archibald Rutledge was the poet laureate of South Carolina for forty years. During his long life, he published nearly 50 books, mostly on outdoor life and poetry. He also wrote for a number of outdoor magazines. Born in 1883 in McClellanville, SC, Rutledge grew up on Hampton Plantation. His ancestors included a long list of South Carolina royalty including a signer of the Declaration of Independence. As a child, his father, “the Colonel,” took him hunting and fishing. He attended high school in Charleston and later Union College in Schenectady, New York. Upon graduation, he taught English at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. During this time, he continued to make regular trips back to Hampton, especially during the Christmas break. In the 1930s, he moved back to South Carolina and devoted his life to the plantation and writing. He would live out his life at the plantation, except for the summer months when he headed to the beach or the North Carolina Mountains. Shortly before his death, he sold the plantation and remaining land to the state of South Carolina. Today it is maintained as a park.  

Peace in the Heart was first published in 1927. At the time, Rutledge was still teaching in Pennsylvania. There were a number of editions, the last published in 1947. Sadly it is out of print and hard to obtain. A friend who introduced me to Rutledge and loaned me her copy of this book. Desiring to have a copy for my library, I was able to find copies of this book for sale (but not on Amazon) and with a hefty price tag of  $200 or more! If you want to read it, I would recommend checking libraries.

The book is a structured series of essays that follow the movement of the day and seasons. Rutledge starts at sunrise and spring and ending with night and winter. He finds God’s hand in the cycles of the day and the year.  “[W]e who love Nature sense that all seasons are divinely ordered,” he writes. “God takes our hands gently in spring” (28)

Drawing from his keen observations of nature, Rutledge explores life. An example of his observations is seen in the interest he took in a mud-dauber” (type of wasp) who built his dirt home on one of the beans of Rutledge’s porch.  He kept knowing the dirt off, but the wasp kept rebuilding it.  Each load of sand that the wasp mined near the creek, took him four minutes to obtain and each rebuilding, the sand home took on a redder hue as the wasp increased the portion of clay, hoping to build a stronger home that would last (279-80).

Rutledge professes his Christian faith, but at times I wondered if his faith is more influenced by the natural world than the Word or Bible.  “Face to face with Nature, we are face to face with God; and I for one believe Him to be the God of love as well as the God of law. That I cannot see Him troubles me not.  I find him in His works, in His constant abundant blessings, in the nature of the human soul” (76).  He thanks his Creator for supplying necessities and extras.  Sunlight, air, water, food and shelter are necessities.  Moonlight and starlight along with music, perfumes, flowers and the wind crooning through pines are extras to be enjoyed.  (15) After telling of a friend who had been dying, but gained strength and recovered after hearing a bird sing, he notes how God “does not love us with words: He loves us by giving us everything we need in every way” (16). While acknowledging his own sentimentalism and how nature writers are criticized for being sentimental, he wonders why it’s seen as a bad thing (68).  Toward the end of the book, he reports on how a German scientist came to the conclusion that wild things cannot reason. Rutledge then sarcastically quips, “Well, they get along remarkably in a world in which reasoning men have a pretty hard struggle to succeed” (283).

He finds the natural world so intriguing and peaceful, suggesting that nature plans for life and not death (243). Obviously he overlooks the life and death struggle animals have in the wild. Although a hunter, he doesn’t glorify the killing of animals and in one story in which he went duck hunting but left his gun on a tree by the launch, he muses how he was glad for often a man who takes a gun leaves his heart at home” (110). He finds that by observing natural laws we can keep out of trouble, drawing on how animals know on instinct how to act (51) and that the natural world knows to obey such universal laws and not to attempt to make a bargain with the Almighty (56).  While he has obviously learned much from scientists, he suggests that we other types of questions that the scientists don’t ask.  “What does this mean in terms of the spirit? What does all this beauty and intelligence suggest to the heart?  What can I learn from my own soul by surveying in thoughtful love the sounds of God’s wild children” (253-4).

Moving through the day, he explores storms and issues that arises with high water levels.  He finds that our hearts rise in storms, which is why they can be a blessing (78), while providing us an opportunity to shelter others and “develop our sympathies” (86). After the storm has passed, we can rejoice that we have survived and the peace we find in such deliverance (90).  High water, especially where fresh water pushes into salt water, creates unique situations.  He tells about a beach in South Carolina in which bathers were horrified to see a large alligator, washed out to see in high water, delighting in riding waves in the surf (107).  Interestingly, he did not include a chapter on drought and the unique ways low water levels open up new opportunities to explore.  

A couple of chapters were devoted to two individuals who were influential in his life.  Prince was an African American boy with whom he grew up.  His family had live on the plantation as slaves. After emanation, both of his parents worked at the plantation. His mother was the cook for 40 years and his father brought in the firewood and on the cool mornings would be fires in the hearths throughout the home. In Rutledge’s book, God’s Children, there are more stories about Prince.

The other individual to whom a chapter is devoted is Rutledge’s father. Colonel Rutledge fought in the Civil War and was the youngest Colonel in the Confederate army. He was wounded twice (at Malvern Hill and Antietam). While fighting, he had a slave with him, who saved him at Antietam, at risk of his own life and took him back to safety in Virginia. Rutledge tells of his father visiting him when he lived in Pennsylvania. They had driven down to the Antietam battlefield where a guide was describing the battle to them and mentioned, unknowingly, about the “gallant Colonel Henry Middleton Rutledge” of the 25th North Carolina Infantry.  Afterwards, his father introduced himself to the guide (217-218).  His father was a kind man and would often go to buy groceries and come back empty handed, after have given the groceries away to those in need.  Rutledge in admiration of his father and writes:    

“What a man’s worth is in this world depends on the kind of wake he leaves behind him as he passes.  If my Colonel came home empty-handed in a material way, it was because he had ‘bestowed all his goods to feed the poor.” His riches consisted not on what he brought with him but on what he left behind.” (208)

As for the slave who had saved his life, Rutledge tells his father’s story of a government agent who were visiting African-Americans that may have fought in the Civil War to determine their eligibility for a pension. This former slave told the agent (who was working on commission) that he was in the war all four years, omitting which side he had served during the war. To Rutledge’s father’s delight, he was granted a pension. After his wife died, he married a younger woman and at the time of the writing of this book, she was still receiving his pension (218-219).  

Rutledge seems, however, to be most at home alone in the woods. He has a chapter on solitude and another on worship in the wild.  He talks joy and delight in the world and the animals within it.  He seems much more interested in the animal kingdom than plants, only mentioning flowers and trees in passing.  But with his intimate knowledge of wildlife, he believes that God delights in the world and it’s just another example of God’s love for us.  Although he doesn’t dwell on sin, Rutledge does not that only the human race is able to live “in opposition to his physical instincts” and to act as if he’s immortal (161). However, he does appears to have a concept of the incarnation, suggesting that the knowledge of God’s presence and love should be comforting as it means our foes are already defeated (177).

Like his book, God’s Children, there are also some paternalistic views in this book that would be considered politically incorrect in today’s world.  This comes out mostly when he talks about his father’s friendship with his former slaves.  Writing decades before the Civil Rights movement, Rutledge learned from his father that “while equality is often impossible, brotherhood never is” (210-211). This he appears to have accepted unquestionably, but his views were probably more enlightening than most during the 1920s.

I do recommend this book (if you can find a copy) for I found Rutledge’s views of nature to be much aligned with mine.  I like the analogy he made between water lilies and human beings.  Lilies appear to be floating on the surface, but what we don’t see is that they are tethered to the earth.  We, too, need to be so anchored.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

You’re Such a Good Boy

Trisket (taken last night)
Over the past year, I often watched you sleep.  At times, your legs would twitch and I imagined you dreaming of when you were younger and could run with grace.  In your sleep, were you still circling the house at full speed, stopping only to chase squirrels up trees? 

Over the past year when we would take a walk, I would take the lead and you moped behind.  As I slowed down to your speed, I would wonder if you recalled dragging me along behind as we headed into Hastings or up the canyon by Cedar Creek.

Over the past few months, when I watched in sadness as you bumped into walls and furniture, your cataracted eyes glassed over, I wondered if you remembered the hours we’d play in the kitchen. Your sharp eyes followed my hand as I tossed popcorn. You’d snap each kernel out of the air, seldom missing.

Since moving to Savannah, as you struggled in the humidity and heat, I’d wondered if you recalled how you loved the snow, running through it as you scooped it up with your snout and tossed it in the air, snapping at the falling flakes as if it was popcorn.

I am thankful that to the end, when you would stand beside me, you’d press your neck on my lower thigh, at the right height for my fingers to bury themselves in your beautiful mane. And I always loved how you’d stand into the wind, letting the tufts at the end of your ears fly back, as you sniffed and enjoyed the breeze.  Sadly, I missed our long walks around town, our hikes in the wood, and how you sat like General Washington in the middle of the canoe as we floated down river.  

You were so gentle with that little girl, the one who picked you out of the litter and named you for a cracker. You always looked out for her and for that reason alone, I am eternally grateful. The two of you grew up together, but you grew old much too fast. Seventeen years is a long time for a dog, they say, but it’s not nearly long enough.  

The house is way too big, lonely, and sad tonight. I keep listening for the sounds of your clanking tags and the tap of your toenails on the hardwood, but only hear the cold rain splattering on the deck out back. We’re all going to miss you, Trisket.  You were such a good boy, a pretty boy, a big furry fluffball!
My favorite picture of Trisket and me (2007)
Taken on the Thornapple River

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Day on the Water (Updated with New Photos!)

I found the photos I lost from my camera. I had taken a few shots with my camera for work, and I had moved them (along with the others) to my work computer.  So now you can see the cute crab!

I took last Friday off and for the first time in a month had a full day to kayak. It was a beautiful day for early November, clear skies and temperatures in the low 80s. Leaving  the Landings Marina on the north end of Skidaway Island, I paddled out into the Wilmington River with the falling tide.  Along Cabbage Island, which sits on the north side of the Wilmington River, I stopped to relieve myself of some coffee and explored a little creek that flowed through the marsh.

Creek on Cabbage Island
                                                                            At the mouth of the river, where it opens into the Wassaw Sound, I turned left, skirting around Cabbage Island toward Little Tybee Island.  Here I saw a magnificent bald eagle circling above, it’s white head and tail feathers very visible..  Sadly, the only camera I had with me was my iPhone, so I was not able to get a decent photo.

 I’ve paddled to Little Tybee before, but always from Tybee Island, so this was a first from this direction.  There are some long shoals around the east side of Cabbage Island and I made it just in time as I pushed my boat through 6 inches of water.  Another few minutes and I would have been walking and toting my boat across sandbars.  The shallow water continued on until I was in the waters of the Bull River, which also flow out into the Wassaw Sound.
On Cabbage Island,
looking back across the Wilmington River

I ate lunch on Little Tybee and found a place to sling a hammock, but the bugs were pretty bad as the island was blocking most of the wind on the southwest side.  Instead of being annoyed by bugs, I set out to paddle across the face of the sound, where it empties into the ocean.  It was slack tide, which meant the shoals from the Bull River extended out into the ocean.  The only encounter with any waves this trip (and these were small) was when I crossed those shoals.  Had I tried to stay further inside the sound, I would have run aground on sandbars. 

Approaching Wassaw
(Battery Morgan is to the left of the trees)

Coming up on Wassaw Island as the tide was turning, I noticed the remains of Battery Morgan is now well out into the water at low tide.  This “fort” was built during the Spanish American War to prevent ships from getting to Savannah through the Wilmington River, but was abandoned after only a year or so.  Today, all that’s left is a large chunk of concrete that is slowly eroding away from the island.

It was much more pleasant on Wassaw Island, as the wind coming from offshore kept the gnats and flies away.  There are tracks of ghost crabs running on the sand and I spot one and chase it into the nook of an old tree where I capture some incredible photos (however, when I started posting to this blog, I can't find those photos).  I then nap before riding the rising tide back into the Wilmington River and to harbor.  I’d been gone a little over six hours and had paddled somewhere around 13 or 14 miles. 

The Lost Photos:
Ghost crab

From Wassaw, looking at Little Tybee

Inland Lagoon on Wassaw

Kicking back on Wassaw

Battery Morgan at low tide

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Some thoughts

I have been pretty busy lately and not into writing more than what I have to write for my profession and some magazine pieces that I had committed to. Sorry, I haven't been keeping up with everyone.  The next few months also look busy so I am not sure how often I'll be around here.  If you have something that's really good, shoot me a note or email.  As for this post, it is something that's been bothering me and I posted it on my Facebook page this morning and it got a lot of attention, so I thought I'd post it here, too.  I took the full moon photo with my iPhone in early October from Tybee Island.

What is truth? This morning’s “Wall Street Journal” has an article about the on-going hearings about Russia’s influence in American elections. It appears that such interference goes beyond trying to influence the election and is an attempt to divide us. It is especially disconcerting how they have incited racial fears (setting up their own “Black Matters” accounts and “Back the Badge” accounts) to raise tensions between police and African Americans. They even promoted an opening of an Islamic Center in Texas while setting up a counter site (Heart of Texas) to protest the center.
Be careful with what you “like” on Facebook and Twitter and other such media outlets. Are you just “liking” something because it confirms your own bias? I’m sure I have done so in the past. We need to learn how to evaluate the reliability of what we read. Our news sources may not be able to give us the truth (that’s a religious and philosophical topic) but they should be truthful. And, one final thing, be very careful of inflammatory headlines and people who feel they must yell over others! Just my two cents for today....