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Sunday, January 27, 2008

The River Casts Its Flambeaux

27 January 2008 -- my son's birthday; he's forty-two.

Hard to believe so many years have passed that, until just a moment ago I had never looked through binoculars and witnessed oak leaves transformed into cat's eyes and emeralds, bare stems and branches laced into ethereal lattice. This is too early, really, for me to be on the deck with binoculars. I usually do sunset here, and it is only 3:00 p.m.

The various sizes of cypress knees, through the binoculars, appear to be nested like Russian dolls on the opposite bank. It is a little cold and very sunny. Thomas is here, too; he's sensed I'm leaving tomorrow morning and, so, sticks to my side.

Below, the sun is so bright in the water it's unpleasant. I squinch my eyes and look beyond the sun's reflection, further south where the water has divided itself into kajillions of crystals, each many-faceted: water become jewel; it took us a long time to see this, that water is precious and prized beyond any other jewel but air.

The train whistles over on SR 41, always melancholy, reminding me of other places, people far away, Jack Nicholson as Francis Phelan, riding the rails in the movie, Ironweed.

On the opposite bank, bright sunlight brings fire to the longleaf pines; small miraculous mirrors dangle from the oaks. I must have been forty-two myself before I could see the beauty in a leafless tree, how its form was freed, arms lifted to the sky. And, because I was so late appreciating winter and because we have it for so short a space each year, I am jealous now of these winter days and want them to pass more slowly.

As much as I love springtime, I want to shout at the Florida maples, now all flame along the roads, Slow down. You are coming too fast. You spend your beauty too quickly. Let me look at you.” And to the wild huckleberry bushes and the pink-lipped film of the wild azalea, I want to shout at them, too, and insist on slowing time.

Let me see you open, huckleberry; do not open while I am sleeping or my back is turned. Open one blossom at a time. Wait a month or a year because I know this is one less winter, another winter gone. Ah! Mr. Housman; one season less of my mortal store.

The Chestnut Casts His Flambeaux

The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers
Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away,
The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers.
Pass me the can, lad; there's an end of May.

There's one spoilt spring to scant our mortal lot,
One season ruined of your little store.
May will be fine next year as like as not:
But ay, but then we shall be twenty-four.

We for a certainty are not the first
Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled
Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed
Whatever brute and blackguard made the world.

It is in truth iniquity on high
To cheat our sentenced souls of aught they crave,
And mar the merriment as you and I
Fare on our long fool's-errand to the grave.

Iniquity it is; but pass the can.
My lad, no pair of kings our mothers bore;
Our only portion is the estate of man:
We want the moon, but we shall get no more.

If here to-day the cloud of thunder lours
To-morrow it will hie on far behests;
The flesh will grieve on other bones than ours
Soon, and the soul will mourn in other breasts.

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.

---Alfred Edward Housman

Monday, January 21, 2008

UPDATE on SOUTHERN COMFORTS: Rooted in a Florida Place

Sold out at Goerings Bookstore in Gainesville on 13 January with a standing-room-only crowd; so many old friends, I thought for a moment I’d stepped into a “This Is Your Life” episode. Also, on 19 January at Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs, a lively discussion of Florida’s environmental problems and how we can honor one another’s opinions by “agreeing to disagree.” On Sunday, the 20th: calls from my Cauthen cousins saying they love the book; it means something to them.



On New Year’s Day, 1 January 2008: I drove the back way to Live Oak, listening to “Robert Cole” (see note below), a song about a young boy, waiting for his ninth birthday.

“Hey, little man,” the song begins, “ . . . . tomorrow’s your big day.” It’s his birthday, but the singer speaks of “a swell of shame and sadness.” The song’s refrain tells us,

“I am your mother./ I told your oldest sister, your baby brother,/ your dog, Champ, and your best friend/ that your name is Robert Cole/ and tomorrow you are nine years old. /But you, you will not walk this road again.”

Driving past the last of the bronzed foliage along our winter road, I wiped my eyes, shut off the CD, stopped for coffee.

The man facing me from the next booth in Waffle House could have been Harry Crews’s younger brother, or maybe Harry himself, 30 years ago.

“Well, at least you got a roof over your head,” the man said to the woman whose face I couldn’t see, a woman whose red hair was caught up in back with a gleaming aqua clip.

“I might get married again,” she answered.

In “Robert Cole,” the parents fight. His father has left his mother on her knees, cursed, and said, “My life is mine,” then speaks to his young son about family, sacrifice, and children. Over and over in the song, Robert’s warned by father and mother not to walk the blacktop road that burns his feet. Robert Cole will be walking a different road. No longer a child and without a father at age nine, he won’t be hop scotching along a hot tar road, but remembering tire tracks “that’ll lead you down and round to where a car’s off in the ditch,” evidently his father’s car because now Robert Cole is “the one to take my daddy’s place,” and “ . . .. I will not walk this road again.” Cole’s father has died violently and made age 9 forever the demarcation between childhood play and the “heavy load” of an adult understanding, the knowledge of loss and how pain twists within a family.

After the woman said “I might get married again," the Waffle House man nodded, pushed the one coffee cup across the table, toward her. The late afternoon sun lit his face. A young girl with dark eyes who must have been seven or eight years old crowded in beside the woman, twisted around so her back was to the man, stared into my eyes.

When they got up to go, the man lifted a sleeping girl to his shoulder, a girl I hadn’t seen; so there were two children. Carrying a paper cup with a straw in one hand, the woman followed along behind the man. The staring girl followed too, but with her head twisted back, looking backward through her large brown eyes.

This little girl, wherever she was going, she wasn’t coming back here again. Her eyes never left my face. Out in the parking lot, the girl and her folks climbed into the cab of a moving truck. “BUDGET: Moving Up” ran in red letters across its length and fastened behind were a red pickup with no license tag, two German Shepherds inside that were wildly ricocheting off the windshield, a red Craftsman tool box in the truck’s back bed, and a child’s bicycle. Anybody could see this was a big move: the first week of the New Year; school wouldn’t start for another week.

“Please tell your mother/your older sister and baby brother/your dog Champ and your best friend/that your name is Robert Cole and tomorrow you are nine years old/But you, you will not walk this road again.”

That long moving truck with the man, woman, two girls, pickup, dogs, tools, and bicycle pulled out onto the highway, crossed the lane heading back to the Interstate, and pulled into a Shell station. I followed them and watched from the parking lot nearest the station.

They finally pulled out and headed toward the Interstate. I watched both ramps, one going east to Jacksonville, the other leading west to Tallahassee. A house trailer and a LOOMIS security truck followed them.

A long time passed before the trailer and LOOMIS truck appeared on the I-10 overpass, “Robert Cole” was playing again on my car stereo, a piano tinkling delicately. After the fireman calls “This one’s torn to hell” we realize the unrecognizable accident victim’s face is that of Robert Cole’s father. The boy sings on, telling how innocence was hammered out of him, how, on the morning before his ninth birthday, he lost one life and was catapulted into another. Over and over, we hear the words

“ . . . . sister/brother/father/mother/dog/best friend”; the familiar, now lost borders of a child’s world.


NOTE: Brent Best, on JUST ONE MORE: A Musical Tribute to Larry Brown, a Great American Author.

The reenactment of the Civil War's Battle of Olustee (which was won by the Rebs) is a few days away and here's a gentleman setting up for customers.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


9 January 2008 and a brand new year in which already we have had 85 degree heat, 10” icicles, rain, sun, and, today, some of the most beautiful clouds I’ve ever seen. Tonight, I have the ac running.

I don’t think this blog is well-focused and I’m probably going to give it a new name; let me tell you what I was thinking when I started this: Almost everyone lives fast; we hurry, there are stacks of emails and blinking phone messages, more snail mail than we’ll ever get through. Since I can sit for at least a few minutes every single day on the deck by the Suwannee, observing its life and examining whatever thoughts wind their way into my head, I hoped it might be meaningful to share this experience with people who can’t routinely have it. I want the blog's readers to see how it is living here (as simply as I can, which turns out not to be nearly so simple as I’d intended). Although I haven’t a TV or clothes dryer, I do have a merciless computer with email and a telephone, and I want to respond to both because what I am trying to do (see is important to me—all of it, however, springs out of that one hour on the deck, usually at sunset, each afternoon. Here’s an earlier blog I failed to post that I submit now because it starts out as a morning entry and includes deer. I didn’t want you to miss these deer.

Wednesday, 11/28:

Before 8:00 a.m. I was sitting with coffee on the upstairs porch from where I could hear the interstate’s roar. This displeases me; I would like to think I am in a remote wood but some days the wind blows all that racket in this direction. It’s 60 degrees, very damp, and the laundry I left on the line overnight is still hanging there. My cat, Thomas, is watching a squirrel leaning toward the bird feeder; I growl at the squirrel; he knows my sound and scampers off. A band of white light is spreading in the east, beyond the gnarled oaks that stretch their mossy arms over the grave of the cat, Isabella, d. 2002.

In spite of the traffic grinding along, I am gladly sitting in this cold and damp, considering the day. All the leaves are gone from the Opal Miller Worthy pear tree, at most there are 2 mph wisps of wind, the light in the east has suddenly disappeared, which is strange as I’d expected it to lift and spread; but no, a still, gray day.

9:08 a.m.: a bright burst of sunlight and the day is born, just a little later than usual.

* * *

I drive 24 miles through the wines and golds to the gym: jacuzzi, laps in the heated pool, and jacuzzi again, then back through the colors of fall, 2007, and about five miles from home two dark brown deer, Odocoileus virginianus, leap across CR 25A in front of the car. I slow down; I am determined never to hit a deer. They are an omen, though; I know that much. I don’t remember ever before having seen dark brown deer.

Writes Richard Nelson, author of HEART AND BLOOD: Living With Deer In America, "I felt that we were more alike than different . . . .” and “ . . . we should always keep in mind what the philosophers and elders teach: that while knowledge dispels some mysteries, it deepens others.” (HEART AND BLOOD, p. 9)

Online I find a deer site and discover that in winter deer’s hides often darken. Those I saw were does, the darkest I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I can ever get enough of seeing them. A few months ago, two fawns cavorted each morning at my mailbox—too close to the county road--and when I called Florida Fish and Wildlife they told me to leave them alone. Local hunter, Ivey Harris, said he’s seen black deer and albino deer. The Harrises hunt and they eat venison, which I’ve tasted. However, besides being food the white-tail is for me a sacred animal, a messenger from another plane, a reminder that I’m ignorant as heck about any such plane.

There were deer tracks on my friend Larry’s grave; a good sign, I think.

When Cousin Leon and I went up to Jasper to the hardware store, he pointed out a bag of deer attractant called “Deer Cocaine,” a name reminiscent of the headlines on grocery store tabloids. As instructed, I dutifully dug a 4 x 4 area and sprinkled the white powder onto the ground, but I’ve yet to find a single track. However, I did find tracks in the winter rye beneath the front door entrance.

This evening has been devoted to prying open my wee brain on the subject of websites. My evolving website’s a long way from being what I want and I find I don’t have the vocabulary I need to explain to the designer what I have in mind. It goes slowly. The work goes slowly, but the time goes fast. Sometimes I set the timer and when it rings, go downstairs and stare at the river for a few minutes. This is nothing like that first year, the year of Alone, On The River This Spring when whole poems rose from my throat and fell onto the pages of my notebooks, the year when I first found the wild huckleberry and the ghostly white Indian Pipes that grow nearby on the Florida Trail.