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 do 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 along the trip 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, they 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 are still a lot of Gores 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, which is 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 befriend 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)