Category Archives: Thinking About “Why?”

Thoughts on researching and writing about past.

Sailing on December Rain

December came four days late. She was dark, cold, saturated, and uneven. Your soul needed a boat. Magellan ordered the the mainsail reefed. Noah asked for Job’s advice. Darkness and water were locked in a connubial embrace oblivious to the needs of man.

A year and four days later man was still marooned in the darkness of Winter come thirteen days early.  The sky settled in as hammered steel with no hints of azure to be imagined and darkness closed to ink.   Job had no answers save ideas.

The sails were unfurled even as the wind accelerated. The voice in man’s darkness was Ishmael’s: “Steer in the wake of the Rachel. Ride the edge of the storm, faith requires neither sun nor a port.”

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Salt Water Time

"The dissonant bells of the sea
As they sing of the ages asleep
not so near or so far"
-----Gene Clark, "Spanish Guitar"

I grew up loving the Gulf of Mexico. It defined salt water for me even though most of my salt water activity occurred on and in Perdido Bay. As a boy the bays seemed tame and even boring unless we were near the mouth of a creek slowly unfurling its contents into salt water. The intersection of waters offered the fascination of life in collision and symbiotic embrace.

But bays lacked the rolling waves, blinding sunlit white sand, and eternally distant horizons.  Big water launched a boy’s testosterone driven  romantic dreams of the beyond. The Gulf was the lord and owner of power and wonder. A lifetime of distance from consistent contact with that lord witnessed the ebb and flood tides of those imagination driven dreams. Life powered by the throbbing engines of routine, mini-dramas, and adult- imposed ambition stained the dreams and blurred the soul’s vision of wonder.

Retiring to the rim of Mobile Bay reestablished consistent interaction with a big constrained body of salt water. Here the horizons are not so distant; the waves lack the size and power of the Gulf; the beaches barely exist. A less restless old man now refines his focus on the wonder of the small, the quiet, the confined life of the Bay. Life on the Bay lacks the noise and bustle of Gulf Coast beaches. Humans populate the waters of the Bay with less density and less noise than their brothers and sisters on the Gulf beaches. The worst offenders rip the waters of the Bay with jet skis when the sun and clear skies turn them steel blue. The offense seems great when one contemplates the virtues under assault.

The Bay impresses with subtle shifts in an otherwise stable world. Ever present gulls congregate in diverse formations always stimulating the question of “why?” Pelicans generate a persistent feature with wonderful behaviors and enigmatic personalities.  On occasion they find repose on the surface of the water like 18th century men of war. Their lines are elegant and unmistakable as  they ride at anchor or sit becalmed. When the survival urge drives them to flight they emerge in the 20th century like WW II dive bombers circling a target, calculating the angle of attack then penetrating air and water as if they were in pursuit of a terminal meal. 
You have seen nothing until your eyes behold airborne pelicans on the edge of a storm.They ride the stiffening breeze like helicopters, often turning into the wind and adjusting their wings and speed to hover in a solitary piece of sky oblivious to the bombastic peals of thunder driving the wind.

Weather in the world of the Bay provides another nuanced experience. Squalls sweep in from the Gulf and attack one shore or the other or engulf the entire basin. The anger of a squall can drive north, up the Bay, with its gloom lingering even as it surrenders to the late afternoon sun. Such days are not beautiful, but they are authentic. Low tide; sun sliding in and out of the clouds; breeze washboarding the surface of the water; a gull clinging to one isolated piling; and a pelican owning the next nearest post. The squalls can seem to surround the Bay with lightning flashes challenging the weak but persistent sunlight.  Angry thunder expressing the lightning’s complaint that the sun will not yield.

Finding an intersection of land and salt water is an enduring reality on the Bay. There is a mystical and hypnotic effect stimulated when viewing tidal pools and cuts when the bright mid-day sun allows the careful observer to see the sand bottom through the clear water. Wind on the water leads to optical realities that contribute to nature’s message.

The Gulf will always be the most important gateway to the things that stir my soul, but I have come to love the Bay and appreciate the mysteries it holds.

HOT FLASHES

“Entre la espada y la pared”

The fire descends on the head like Diablo’s hand.

No choice.

Fan blades ruffle the air,

No noise.

A mild chill glides across the body on the bed,

No relief.

The burn moves south to the thorax,

No light,

Just a flash as the treatment continues.

Just a reminder.

 

 

 

Identity & Worth: Requiem For A Racquet

The right hand pocket of the bag slouches open—-racquets protruding like some sick surreal Freudian statement. Dirty white grips with the vague odor of human sweat extend at various angles in defiance of Pythagorus.  The bag sagging on one side from the weight of the sticks. A pair of used-to-be yellow balls in repose adjacent to the bag on the grit of the green clay. A third one has attempted escape to the far baseline. A lone frame has found its demise six feet from the bag, a large twisted spaghetti strainer resting  across the mini-trench it formed with its final moments. The surrounding air still sizzles from the verbal expulsions of the destroyed racquet’s human assassin.

It was “just a game” like so many other matches on so many other days, and yet…. The emotional and psychological thicket those glib words camouflage make Stanley’s trek toward Livingston slide into historical insignificance. The murderer walks the streets without malice, is beloved by friends and family, and seldom ventures beyond the boundaries of propriety, and yet… Well compensated, praised, even honored by colleagues, the game has exposed a fire in the player that often becomes a conflagration.

A third double fault hard on the heels of a migratory forehand finding a home six feet beyond the baseline proves to be steel that strikes the flint in the player’s soul and generates a spark that detonates emotional plastique. The explosion is transformative. Self-worth is no longer bonded to true identity. Rather, in a quantum leap worth and worthlessness are to be found in the outcome of relatively meaningless physical interactions with inert contrived instruments of “recreation.”

Recovery from the dark hole of imagined lost worth requires much less time than the changing of the tides. Order will be restored, worth reconstructed with a screaming forehand return of serve that explodes the sideline and defies the speed of the opponent. Yet Dr. Freud’s statement has been made as the mangled racquet is interred in the court side trash can.

Old Tears

Old tears are heavy like spent uranium rounds for a 40 mm chain gun. They have a half life of a million years. They are sprung from wells that reach to the far side of the womb of all life. The echo of their fall roils the waters of existence into waves of meaning grinding pain into the beaches of peace.

Old tears wash gullies into the bedrock of souls who have witnessed more than sunsets. Old rodeo posters make ancient bucking bulls cry cold old  tears for torn cowboys who rose with dust scarred bodies and broken dreams from unremembered 8 second wars. All wore the clothes of defeat.

Old tears pour from each rock struck by every would be Moses after their verbal expulsions send yet another entranced dreamer into a mislabeled valley of hope. Old tears flood those deep slits with the heavy water of remorse and disillusion. No reservation required.

Old tears float weathered wooden boats carrying fishermen beyond fear colored horizons in search of one more net filled with immortality. The white whale swam in old tears. He cried them for Ahab.

Old tears fill watering holes in hot stinking valleys of death where nearly forgotten cuirassiers’ horses wander over heroes’ bodies from Platea, Ypres, Dunkirk, Saipan, Ia Drang, and other lost human efforts. The holes never go dry. The clouds rain old tears.

Old tears dry into the diamond hard foundation mothers perch their children on. Formed into crystalline jeweler’s loops that magnify the hope for a future they focus the light of the mothers’ souls into laser beams of purpose. All mothers’ tears are old. They taste and smell like eternity.

 

The Ronin’s Tale Part 8: Hawks & Crows

The Ronin nurses the final wound and watches.

Hawks and crows. What does it mean when they are together? Do hawks own the air or do crows own the ground from the air? Predator vs. scavenger? Monarch v. jester? Do  they live like pleasure and pain, health and illness? At times the morning mirror reflects Horus, god-like, eternal master of the sky; seeing everything from the cloud populated heavens and imagining that all seek shelter from our descent of conquest as we feast on life. Then comes evening and the dark mocking sound of life at a lower altitude; Corvus needing Horus’ leftovers when the altitude of life is history; the ground too close and littered with the scraps of memory from the power of the past.

Thus the Hawk perpetually attacks the Crow seeking to exploit the day and avoid living with the alternative reality. The Crow never retreats and defends with the persistence of time itself. Eternal aerial combat, symbiotic necessity.

Immortality in Cold, Dead, Places

SCARS

Do you hide them? Do you wear them like a badge of honor? Do you own them like a scarlet letter?

We all have them.

They are not all visible to the public.

They beg questions: when, where, how did they appear?

What or who do they bind us to?

They hurt when they’re fresh. They let you predict the weather.

They never let you forget.

Do you pick at them or own  them as if they were a messy pet who showed up on the stoop and you kept?

How often do you use the time machine that they fuel?

The old man spit, sucked another mouthful of the PBR, put his finger on a dead, white, gully on the underside of his left forearm, swallowed, and rasped, “Got this in ’59; hurt like hell.” He drifted into the whirlpool of his memory.

“Don’t remember why we started; maybe . . . maybe doesn’t matter anymore. The place burned down long time back. They never rebuilt it. Pieces just keep fallin’ into the bay. A body can see more at low tide.”

Do you try to hide them?

How deep and old are they?

Do they mark regret, triumph, or just carelessness?

The girl stared at the ring, touched it, tried to unfurl it from her finger. Salt water rolled down her memory. “Is this what forever feels like?” This one is deep, old, but still pink and sharp.

Are they echoes in your psyche or shouts in your soul?

Do they speak to you in the scalding shadeless noon hour?

Do they whisper through the midnight wasteland of your dreams?

Are they your play-by-play record as you keep score?

There are six of them, like small reminders of a bout with a low calibre machine gun stitching a line across the man’s abdomen. They will endure until his last breath, an outward scoreboard for a losing match. The surgery they remember did not cure the illness. There will be deep, creeping, growing scars never seen by those in the room. They will force beautiful memories in someone’s forever.

 

 

 

 

 

Living With The Last Honors Night

May 17, 2018

Jacob fought the angel, to what avail? To bring the frigid, nocturnal image of John Calvin down the ladder to block the channels leading to salvation? To siphon life’s joy into a distillation center where all is reduced to sin? Not even the medieval alchemists were able to achieve such a feat!

Senior Honors Night and the valedictorians hold forth giving meaning to their recent past and hoped for future. Thirty-six of these have marked an equal number of trips around the sun. How do the remembered battles (triumphs and defeats) etch themselves into our ever tattering souls? Do we become One-eyed Jacks in the deck of our time where our worst scars are never on display?

How much of the night do the one-eyed see?  Is their focus so narrow they can find the worm hole into a solitary eternal truth or reality? So are these Jacks as flawed as appearances argue? Perhaps, but perhaps they are the Messiah. Must the chosen ones be sacrificed on the cold shoals of Calvin’s dark coast merely because they sail against the wind and tide

Will this night be a remembered peace or join the flotsam of experiences generated by the typhoons of later life? The sadness and frustration of unrealized hope forming a hard scar never to be separated by storm or port? Pain never eased by time The Healer?

And so we reef the sails for the night.

Old Companion–Loyal Watcher

Threads string down from the left sleeve end of the thirty year old blue blazer sagging from the peg behind the office door. The hem is creeping out with age and wear. It has seen the pilgrimage of too many teenage searchers in the wilderness of prep school academics. How many exaggerated names have washed over the now dangling faux gold buttons during unremarkable services celebrating fleeting mini-glories founded on misinformed opinions from those who know better?

How many breathed and un-breathed howls and screeches of disappointed parents worked their way into the dark weave like so much smoke accumulating for three decades? Perhaps the pockets still echo with the cacophony of joy, pain, and boredom as competing valedictory addresses seek asylum from the curse of time. Yet, cycles serve the watched and watcher well. Persistence has its role.

The stained, picked, sagging blue played its role–perhaps better than the owner.

 

 

 

The Old Man’s Great Gift: Part I

He was in the hospital. Seems like he spent too much time there between malaria, tuberculosis, and the birth of his children. The doctor said he had phlebitis, and they had to strip a vein in his leg. Later I would learn about that pain — diagnosed with it at the ripe old age of sixteen. (I did not need the knife)

My Dad was a reader of stories. Mama had purchased a small pile of paperback books, ammunition for the hospital duration.  Somewhere during the phlebitis episode he handed me a small 1950s size paperback with an orange cover and the photograph of a hunter. He had finished the volume and was passing it on.

“You need to read this. You are going to think it is about hunting, but it is really a book of philosophy.” Uh, sure. Always wanted to read philosophy, but at least there was going to be hunting. A red-stocked, single-shot, Harrington & Richardson .410 shotgun was my first gun at age nine. It would be the only shotgun I ever owned until my grandfather died, and I got his a ragged .20 gauge double barrel he bought in a pawn shop.  If I had to gag down a little philosophy to be immersed in the hunt, I was all in.

Robert Ruark’s The Old Man and the Boy became the epigraphical touchstone of my adult life. Revisited as a college student; annotated; passed on to adult friends; re-received in a new edition from those friends so I did not have to lend the precious aging paperback with my Dad’s fingerprints on it; and the forge of a bond with a colleague who shared Ruark’s and my experiences hundreds of miles from my youth. (Thanks, Jack M.)

Now much out of favor with many because it is built around hunting (thus killing) wild animals, echoes the racist, gender-biased culture of the 1930’s American South, and does not resonate with the hyper-speed, i-phone, non-reflective experiential learning culture of 2018. The book adheres to the soul of those who still wonder at Orion in the winter sky, wait for the green sky of hurricane season, and feel the curve of a hand built wooden boat.  Ruark continues to speak to the pilgrims who know that the natural quiet of an estuary at dusk delivers a more profound sermon than the screeching brimstone hammered down from an American Express-driven mega church pulpit. To wit:

“As I remember the Old Man, he never said anything at all that you couldn’t walk away from three ways and still find a fresh idea in it. I got to where I could listen to him with only one ear, separating the meat from the philosophy, and it wasn’t until a lot of years later when I grew up to be a man that I found I remembered more philosophy than meat.” —-Robert Ruark, The Old Man and The Boy