Monday, August 24, 2015

Mark Twain and Orion Clemens


I taught a six week class this summer on Mark Twains Western Years using Roughing It as my primary guide.  In addition to rereading Roughing It, I read this interesting study about the Clemens brothers.

Philip Ashley Fanning, Mark Twain and Orion Clemens: Brothers, Partners, Strangers (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 2003), 268 pages, no photos or maps

In much of Mark Twain's writings, his older brother Orion comes across as a bumbling idiot. Was he?  AOrion had led and supported the Clemens family from an early age when their father died.  He also held a responsible position in the Nevada Territory, the territorial secretary, a political appointment he earned for his support of the Republican Party in the 1860 election.  Like his younger brother, who became Mark Twain, Orion desired wealth, but he was known to be a man of principle and stuck to his principles even when they led to financial shortcomings and failures.   Philip Ashely Fanning examines the relationship between these two brothers, who were similar in some ways, yet very different.
 
            Orion was ten years older than Samuel Clemens, so when their father died, he became the patriarch of the family.  He worked in various positions along the towns of the Mississippi, as a newspaper man, a printer and occasionally as an attorney.  At a young age when Sam quit school, he went to work for his brother.  This arrangement didn't work well.  One of the stories told is that Orion decided there were too many stray cats hanging around the print shop and had Sam collect them in a sack and drown them, something that bothered the younger brother who always had a soft spot for cats.  In 1852, Sam quits and heads out on a trip though New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC, funded by working in various print shops and newspapers along the way.  He occasionally wrote articles that appeared in his brothers newspaper. During this time, Orion broke with the family and became convinced that slavery was evil.  This lead to him becoming a Republican and working for the party in the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln.

            Coming back from his trip east, Samuel Clemens continues to work in print shops and for newspapers, until he concocts a plan to go to South America.  On his way down the Mississippi, to New Orleans, he changes direction and accepts an offer to "learn the river."  In 1858, Sam became a riverboat pilot, an occupation that paid more than the Vice President of the United States.  At this stage, the younger Clemens usurps his other brothers position as the family patriarch.  After the Republican victory in 1860 and the beginning of the Civil War, their role reverses with Orion being offered a political position in Nevada as Sam finds him out of work.  The two of them head west, with Sam bankrolling the trip from his savings.  Later, when Sam (now known as Mark Twain) begins to write an account of his western adventures, he depends heavily on his brother's journals to reconstruct (in a humorous manner) the stage trip across the country.  This account was published in his second book, Roughing It.  In Nevada, the brothers parted ways for a period.  Twain's practical jokes and attempts at humor created problems for his brother and sister-in-law.  Sam headed to California and then to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) while Orion headed back to the Midwest. 

            Over the next couple of decades, Orion found himself having to depend on his younger brother's generosity both for money and positions.  Orion, who was always honest, finds himself excommunicated from his church after having expressed his beliefs.  At Sam's encouragement, he beings to write an autobiography.  Sam begins to insist on rewrites as a way to protect his own self-constructed myth.  Orion seems to have compiled, even though much of the autobiography has been lost (and may have been burned by Twain or lost by his biographer).

            Fanning presents some interesting ideas concerning how Twain related to his older brother.  He offers some interesting possibilities concerning the brothers father's death, suggests that after Twain had thoughts about killing his brother, and that Orion's time in Nevada was much more successful than Twain would later acknowledge (he was often the acting governor and as such helped settle a border dispute with California).  He also demonstrates how the younger brother encouraged his older brother to go into the ministry, even though later in life Orion would find himself excommunicated because of his unorthodox beliefs


            Although Fannings book raises a lot of questions concerning the two brother's relationship, he also helps redeem Orion for the "bumbling idiot" characterization in which he's often been portrayed.  Unfortunately, due to loss of material (especially that which was written by Orion) and the inability to know what's happening inside the mind of another, we will never be able to really know for sure if some of Fanning's ideas are correct, but it is safe to assume that Orion needs to be assessed in a different light.  This, Fanning does, while also showing how Twain, a wonderful author, had a mean streak and was not above throwing his brother under the bus in order to make himself look better.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paddling and dolphins


Pigeon Island
It rained all day on Sunday.  The sailing regatta scheduled for 1 PM was cancelled.  I went home and took a nap and when I woke, the clouds had begun to break apart, so I decided it might be a time for an evening kayak event.  Launching at Butterbean beach, we paddled down toward Pigeon Island.  The rains had cooled the air but the humidity was still high.  We had enough time to circle around the island (a five mile paddle), but there were so many dolphins playing around that we ended up just floating around and watching them feed and play in the water as the sun set behind clouds.  They are such graceful animals as they come up and roll down, sometimes even coming nearly out of the water when feeding.  There were many pairs of dolphins along with some mothers and their young.  It seems that they play with us as they'd be in front of us and as we'd approach, they dive deep and then appear behind us, splashing as if to draw our attention.  As the lights drained from the sky, we watched in awe.  Then, before all the light was gone, we paddled back to the landing, arriving just before the end of nautical twilight, at which time we'd need to have lights on hand to show our position to any approaching boat. 

 
Selfie
I wish I had brought my DSLR with me.  My point and shot waterproof camera takes nice photos but it isn't very fast and the light was dropping and I wasn't able to capture any of the great shots such as when the dolphins were nearly completely after the water or of their tails.   The shot below was taken last week.  As I was coming back onto the island, across the causeway, I saw the barge pushing up the Intracoastal Waterway and pulled off at the boat ramp and waited till I could take this shot (taken with an iphone).  When I was a child and lived near the waterway in North Carolina, there were lots of freight (mostly logs) hauled via barges.  This is the first barge I've seen on the waterway since I moved here--today it seems that most of the traffic along the waterway are pleasure boats.  



Friday, August 14, 2015

Wednesday evening sail was blessed with a rainbow (and a preceding storm)

A driving rain
We took a chance Wednesday afternoon and sailed over to the Savannah Yacht Club for their evening race that involves all categories of boats.  The forecast had called for 6-8 knot winds which would have given our boat a bit of an advantage.  With the tide running with us, we made the five mile trek in 45 minutes and was there in time for the start of the race.  The only other time I did this, we arrived well after our start time and although we did the course, we were never in the race.  This time, it was only slightly better as we were confused with the course and almost missed a pin…  It was a learning experience.  Tacking in a downpour adds another danger as the foot of the sail held a lot of water and when we heaved over to the new tack much of that water poured down my back as I adjusted the jib. 
Right after I received a shower

Photo by Chris

Joe, at the helm during the rain

But what a time we had!  It took is nearly 1 ½ to run the course.  We had everything from pleasant but slow sailing (what we thought we’d have), squalls that almost knocked the boat down, downpours that totally soaked us, and dead calm in which we watched a mark get further away as the tide swept us upstream from our mark.  Add in a few dozen (or a hundred) porpoises playing in the water, sailing within feet of a boat named “Lightning Rod” during a thunderstorm, an incredible rainbow that followed the storm, and lightning that thankfully stayed mostly a good distance away.  On the downwind leg home, we had a great spinnaker run until we were about a half a mile from the finish and the wind died...  
Chris

The rainbow
After a “happy hour” at the club, another boat from Skidaway towed us back home in the dark.  We kept looking through the cloudy skies for meteors, but were not blessed to see any.  I got home at 10 pm, took a shower and put on dry clothes!  
Waiting for wind (It did return with a vengeance
only to die as we approached the finish line)

Thursday, August 06, 2015

New York City wrap-up

 Back in June, I spent nine days in New York City and have already done a five post on my time in the city (the gardens by the Cloisters, NYC hideouts, lunch on StatenIsland, Yankee game, and walking in New York).  Here, I will try to summarize the rest of the trip… 


The World Trade Center Site:  It was drizzling when we visited the site of the twin towers.  Today, in the shadow of the new tower, there are two holes in the ground with water cascading down on each side and along the top are the names of the thousands who died in the 2001 attacks.  The drizzle and mist in the air made the visit even more solemn and moving (and probably less busy so we were able to see more).


Wall Street:  I’d been to Wall Street before but felt it was important that my daughter experience it and get to pet the bull and to walk among the money exchangers.  I didn’t remember, however, that the site of George Washington’s inauguration was right across from the stock exchange.  Ironic?  Probably not.  Money and politics have gone together since antiquity if not before.   Much of the area around the Battery, just down from Wall Street, is still under construction due to damages which occurred in Hurricane Sandy.

Lombardi's Pizza
Eating:  There’s lots of great places to eat in New York, but I wasn’t there to eat.  I wanted to see and do and besides at the end of the day my daughter (who was doing an internship at the UN) was normally exhausted and just wanted to quickly get something to eat and crash.  Many times for lunch, we ate street food or at many of the Pizza Places. Several people said I must eat at Lombardi’s Pizza (not named from the Green Bay Coach, but the oldest pizza place in America).  We did, it was good, but so were many of the other pizza places that also cooked their pizza pie in coal-fired ovens (and the others without names were much cheaper).  We ate several times in Grand Central Station, where there is a variety and we could all go to our preferred vendors.   We ate at a Brazilian place, a Thai place and a Chinese place (the latter was Chef Yu, on 42nd street, which was excellent).  Although the hotel where we stayed didn’t have a restaurant, we “ordered” food which was delivered and generally pretty good. 

From the pier on Coney Island
Coney Island:  One day we took the subway out to Coney Island for lunch…  And what else do you eat at Coney Island, but Nathan hot dogs (which were as expensive there as they were at Yankee Stadium).  After lunch, we walked around the beach.  There is a neat minor league ball park right by the beach (Brooklyn Cyclones), but the team was out of town.  I’d been told that you need to experience a game there at night since the rides are all next door and provide a colorful view when there is no action on the field.  After walking around the beach for a while, we walk by the stadium and on the wall was plaques for each firefighter from Brooklyn killed during the 911 attacks.  There was also a panel for police officers and other public servants from Brooklyn killed in the attack.  It was sobering to see how those who died came from all over New York.  In front of the stadium was a statue of Jackie Robinson and PeeWee Reese.  Robinson was the first African-American to play in the major leagues and was befriended by Reese and it all happened when the Dodgers were in Brookyn.
Coney Island

Firefighter's memorial on Coney Island


Museums:  They’re great.  I spent all day (from the time if opened to when it closed) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and could have spent another day there.  From all the over-sized paintings of Washington (including him crossing the Deleware), to Winslow Homer’s troubled ocean scenes, to the large collection of Hudson River School paintings, to the Monets and Van Goghs…  I feasted my eyes upon the paintings (there’s more there, but when you only have a day…).   We were lucky to catch a special exhibit of Van Goghs last paintings (Irises and Roses), to witness some of the detail work (you had to use magnifying glasses) from 16-18 Century India in the Sultan of Decca, India, 1500-1700 exhibit.  But my favorite special exhibit was “Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River.”  This exhibit featured work set along the Mississippi River and since I’d just finished reading Old Man River before traveling to New York, I was ready to see this exhibit.  We also visited the Cloisters, which is another museum that is linked to the Met. 

Concert in Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Concerts:    In the summer the New York Philharmonic does a series of free concerts in the park.  On the first Friday we were in the city, we took the subway to Brooklyn, picked up dinner at a small bakery that had “meat pies” and had a picnic while watching the concert in Prospect Park.  There was a huge crowd and the flight path for JFK was right overhead, so the music was kind of hit-and-miss.  We did catch up on all kinds of Brooklyn gossip. 

The Trains:   I know my earlier post made it sound like we walked a lot (an average of over 10 miles a day) but we didn’t limit ourselves to hoofing it. I am not a big city-type person, but I love riding the trains and subways.  The sound of the cars, the way the sway and the way wheels squeal when they go into a curve…  At times, they were extremely crowded, but off peak, it was generally a pleasant experience.  Not quite like long-distant trains, but still a pleasure.  There were three stations near our hotel (one was 2 blocks away) so it was always easy to get to where we wanted to go.  The seven day Metro Pass for $31 is a great deal.  Unlimited rides on subways and buses.  If you take more than 11 trips, you’ve paid for your pass and by the second day, we’d taken more than 11 trips on the subway.  And, where else can you find roving singers, coming into the car, performing, passing the hat and then moving on to the next car?  However, I must warn you, if you are used to subways in other major non-US cities (London, Moscow, Singapore, Bangkok, Beijing, Tokyo...) the subways will seem quite dirty and they are...   


Broadway:  Well, it was actually on 42nd Street.  We didn’t see the shows we wanted because of availability and wanting to see different shows.  My daughter’s schedule also made it more difficult, but we did get to see one show (not on Broadway but on 42nd Street) and it was good.  The show was a remake of “On the Town,” which was about a group of sailors with a 24 hour leave (during World War 2) as they try to make the most of the day.  One of the guys is trying to find “Miss Turnstile,” a girl whose photo is all over the city for the month, while another just wants to find a girl or girls and the third is trying to see the sights his father told him about… The music was done by Leonard Bernstein.  There’s lots of singing and dancing and fast action as the three get to see all of NYC in their 24 hour leave (or 2 hour show).  It was busy on the street going into the theater but coming out at night it was another world, packed with people and with lights everywhere!  

That's all folks!

Monday, August 03, 2015

A Fine Mess, but a good weekend over all...




Heading out at Sunset
Friday was a blue moon and the tide was high at 9:30 PM, the perfect combo for a night-time paddle.  I sent the word out and had a group of eight ready to enjoy the evening.  It’d been a hot and humid week, usual weather for late July.  But nature has a way of breaking such cycles and as the weekend approached, so did the thunderstorms.  On Friday, folks kept emailing me saying that they were bailing on the trip.  One friend, who is also in the fire department, cancelled but promise he’d stand by if called out to rescue us.  But looking at the radar, it appeared we might get lucky and there would be a window between storms.  Hopefully, we’d even see the full moon rising over the marsh as we paddled along Moon River…
Launching on a cloudy evening

 At 8 PM, four of us set off in our kayaks, leaving from Butterbean Beach (the Rodney Hall Boat Ramp for those of you curious to find our journey) for a five mile paddle.  The air was strangely still.  There were clouds but a few patches where you could almost see the sky.  We paddled through a channel to the Moon River Bridge, turned south and paddled down to Burnside Island, took a left and paddled between Pigeon and Burnside Islands through Shipyard Creek.  Slowly night descended but we still didn’t have to turn on lights because of the lights along the docks on Burnside Island.  We paddled steady but slowly, talking about a number of subjects and enjoying being outdoors.  The wind had died and I was sweating as it was really humid.  About half way along the section by Burnside Island, we felt a few drops of rain.  It was cooling.  A little further, we felt more drops.  Then, as we were approaching the Intracoastal Waterway, the wind picked up and we could hear the rain coming.  A few minutes later, the water became rough and the rain heavy and we couldn’t see very well.   It was completely dark and thankfully there was a lighted navigation marker that allowed us to know when we entered the waterway. 

We turned on lights (I had a white LED light on the back of my kayak (which I used so everyone could see me as well as any other boat that may be out in the waterway).  I only used my headlamp when I wanted to look at something.  The rain became heavier and it was no longer cooling, but chilling.  The waterway here makes some curves (it is kind of like a trap below a sink) and it was hard to know when we were in the channel as the water was high enough that in places we could paddle across the marsh but was also confusing as we didn’t want to get stuck in the grass with the tide dropping.  After a few mistakes, we finally got through the curves.  The takeout point was now less than a mile away.  A few bolts of lightning encouraged us to pick up the pace.  Thankfully most of the lightning bolts seemed to land on the other side of Skidway Island (to our east) but some were close enough to concern us. 
Jim, Me and Gary (photo by Tim) as we head out

We were soaked when we got back to the landing.  We loaded the boats, said quick goodbyes.  Jim told us not to challenge him when he tells the story of lightning bouncing off his now singed paddle.  I put my fire jacket on my seat (as I didn’t have a dry towel available), turned down the AC, and drove home… 

Waiting in hopes of a 3rd race
On Saturday afternoon, I was scheduled to race with Tito and Jerry.  Our sail club always mixes up the teams (with the exception of the team that’s going to the Nationals who get to sail together to work on their teamwork).  I’d never sailed with Tito, but have admired his skill from other boats.  We got out in time to figure out the favorable tack and had even a great start.  We were well ahead of the other boats including the team going to National at the windward mark and although we struggled a bit with the spinnaker, soon it was flying and we were moving downwind against a heavy tide, maintaining our position.  We set a course close to land, where the tide was less.  It was a perfect race, until…  As we prepared to jive the boat to run across the channel to the leeward mark, the bottom pintle of the rudder broke.  We were out of the race.  With a wobbly tiller, we made into the marina (thankfully it wasn’t far from the leeward mark) and quickly found another tiller, which had to be modified.  We got in together and was back out as the boats were making for the leeward mark on the second race.  We were ready to show our skill in the third race (we normally do 3 or 4 races), but there were clouds building and the guy on the committee boat, who was looking at the radar, decided not to risk a third race…  We headed back in and after folding sails and putting the boats up, enjoyed a beer while watching the storm move in another direction…  Oh well… 


It was a good weekend!  It really was.