Friday, May 21, 2010

A Great Salt Marsh

“To stand at the edge of the sea,
to sense the ebb and flow of the tides,
to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh,
to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up
and down the surf lines of the continents
for untold thousands of year,
to see the running of the old eels
and the young shad to the sea,
is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly
eternal as any earthly life can be.”

Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea (1955)

Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Now irreversibly drenched in oil.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Is Left In Our Hands

"I can show you what is left. After the pride, passion, agony, and bemused aspiration, what is left in our hands. Here are the scraps of newspaper, more than a century old, splotched and yellowed and huddled together in a library, like November leaves abandoned by the wind, damp, and leached out, back of the stables or in a fence corner of a vacant lot.

Here are the diaries, the documents, and the letters, yellow too, bound in neat bundles with tape so stiffened and tired that it parts almost unresisting at your touch. Here are the records of what happened in that courtroom, all the words taken down. Here is the manuscript he himself wrote, day after day, as he waited in his cell, telling his story.

The letters of his script lean forward in their haste. Haste toward what? The bold stroke of the quill catches on the rough paper, fails, resumes, moves on in its race against time, to leave time behind, or in its rush to meet Time at last at the devoted and appointed place. To whom was he writing, rising from his mire or leaning from his flame to tell his story? The answer is easy. He was writing for us."*

Robert Penn Warren was the quintessential Southern writer, orginally from Kentucky (but his mother's people, the Penn's, were from a county just south of us. He was that elusive writer that excelled in holding up a mirror to the face of the 1940's and 1950's south, and he made sure that the reflection was accurate, whether flattering or not. Although raised a segregationist, by the 1950's he had converted (yes, at that time it was a conscious conversion and acknowledgement of societal wrongs) to a very public position as defender of the civil rights movement, writing Who Speaks for the Negro, a collection of interviews with black civil rights leaders including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King in 1965, setting himself apart from his contemporaries.

World Enough and Time is an exercise that toys with history, memory and the truth, and how they blend in the mind.

"We have what is left, the lies and half-lies and the truths and the half-truths. We do not know that we have the Truth."*

*From World Enough and Time, Robert Penn Warren, 1950

Sunday, May 9, 2010

It Didn't Look Like A Yankee Person Could Be So Mean

"Ex-slave Nancy Johnson's testimony was recorded after the War as she and her husband tried to recover $514.50 from the victorious Union, in compensation for their horses, hogs and provisions:

"the Yankees had ripped up the beds, scattered the feathers and carried off the ticking, blankets, and coverings of every description and had burned her clothing and her children's clothing. And the Union men killed their cattle. All their provisions had been taken from them, so they were compelled to find another country. Whenever the Yankee officers were remonstrated with for burning and destroying property which was valuable only to the owners, their universal reply was: 'I'm sorry for you, but must obey orders'."

"Nancy Johnson's testimony informs us that the soldiers treated master and slave alike. During the 1930's ex-slave Sam Word recalled that a Yankee stole a quilt from his mother. She retaliated, "Why you nasty stinking rascal. You say you come down here to fight for the negroes, and now you're stelaing from them." The soldier replied, "You're a goddamned liar. I'm fighting for $14 a month and the Union."

And that was the treatment of the slaves that encountered the Union Army.

As for the white folks?

"The armies took anything that could be eaten, drunk, worn, or slept under. Soldiers stripped beds, from the big house to the slave cabins. Women often directed their servants to bury their quilts with the silver. the sentimental value of the quilts was probably as important as their functional value."

From Quilts From the Civil War: Nine Projects, Historic Notes, Diary Entries by Barbara Brackman, offered for sale by Chewybooks on Amazon as of May 9, 2010.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man's.

Mark Twain's letter to W.D. Howells, 2 April 1899

In Memory of Lucky
November 11,1998- May 5, 2010