over the whole scene dissolving lights drifted new marvels of color
I still keep in mind a certain wonderful sunset which I witnessed when steamboating was new to me.
A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous; in one place a long, slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings, that were as many-tinted as an opal; where the ruddy flush was faintest, was a smooth spot that was covered with graceful circles and radiating lines, ever so delicately traced; the shore on our left was densely wooded, and the somber shadow that fell from this forest was broken in one place by a long, ruffled trail that shone like silver; and high above the forest wall a clean-stemmed dead tree waved a single leafy bough that glowed like a flame in the unobstructed splendor that was flowing from the sun.
There were graceful curves, reflected images, woody heights, soft distances; and over the whole scene, far and near, the dissolving lights drifted steadily, enriching it, every passing moment, with new marvels of coloring.
it is something to face the sun know you are free one day of life so
Based on the poem Clean Hands by Carl Sandburg in Smoke and Steel, 1922.
IT is something to face the sun and know you are free. To hold your head in the shafts of daylight slanting the earth And know your heart has kept a promise and the blood runs clean: It is something. To go one day of your life among all men with clean hands, Clean for the day book today and the record of the after days, Held at your side proud, satisfied to the last, and ready, So to have clean hands: God, it is something, One day of life so And a memory fastened till the stars sputter out And a love washed as white linen in the noon drying. Yes, go find the men of clean hands one day and see the life, the memory, the love they have, to stay longer than the plunging sea wets the shores or the fires heave under the crust of the earth. O yes, clean hands is the chant and only one man knows its sob and its undersong and he dies clenching the secret more to him than any woman or chum. And O the great brave men, the silent little brave men, proud of their hands – clutching the knuckles of their fingers into fists ready for death and the dark, ready for life and the fight, the pay and the memories – O the men proud of their hands.
lost along the way had a talk with history can help? Then do it!
What do you do in January if you live in a beach community and the weather, wind and waves conspire together to take the beach out of your afternoon options?
If new to the Low Country, like we are, exploring the area is next on the list.
Was about to write, “The Low Country is famous for …” when it came to me that the while the Low Country is a lot of things, famous is not one of them.
Still, things happened here.
Things happened here that did not happen other places.
And some things happened here for the first time.
One of the things that happened here during the United States Civil War is that the armed forces of the United States had some of its earliest success stories here.
The Battle of Bull Run is fought in July of 1861 and as Stonewall Jackson got one of the great nicknames in military history the Union Army got chased out of Virginia.
In November of 1861, combined Union Army and Navy forces took over the Low Country when they attacked Port Royal Sound and the South Carolina Sea Islands of St. Helena and Hilton Head.
This led to what the South Carolina history books called the “Big Skedaddle” as all the white South Carolinians got out of the Low Country and went to Charleston or Savannah.
Leaving all their former slaves behind for the most part.
This early the war, Abraham Lincoln was not ready to declare and end to slavery and the Union Government really didn’t know what to do with former slaves until one Union General, a real off the wall political General but able lawyer, Ben Butler, said that the slaves were former property and as ‘abandoned property’ could now be considered ‘contraband of war’ that could be seized by the forces of the Federal Government and as such, free.
Okay, so then what?
Then what became known as the Port Royal Experiment.
According to Wikipedia, “The Port Royal Experiment was a program begun during the American Civil War in which former slaves successfully worked on the land abandoned by planters. In 1861 the Union captured the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and their main harbor, Port Royal. The white residents fled, leaving behind 10,000 black slaves. Several private Northern charity organizations stepped in to help the former slaves become self-sufficient. The result was a model of what Reconstruction could have been.”
A special education commission was established which led to the establishment of the Penn Center on St. Helena island, just over a half hour drive away from where we live.
The Penn Center, Founded in 1862 by Quaker and Unitarian missionaries from Pennsylvania, it was the first school founded in the Southern United States specifically for the education of African-Americans.
It provided critical educational facilities to Gullah slaves freed after plantation owners fled the island, and continues to fulfill an educational mission.
The campus was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1974 and you can tour the grounds and buildings to this day.
St. Helena Island is one of those places where you can say take THE ROAD, turn left at THE STOP LIGHT and go past THE GAS STATION because out on St. Helena there is pretty much one road (2 if you count the north-south road and the east-west road) one, stop light and one gas station.
Before the Civil War there were 50 Plantations out here.
The road is lined with flat (what else) fields being prepared for (in January!) strawberry planting.
And we drove up to St. Helena to explore and one of our stops was the Penn Center.
Be we kinda, even with just two roads, got lost along the way and got there late.
We drove and parked by a building with a sign that said Welcome Center.
There was a small OPEN sign on the door.
But when we went in the room was dark.
Dark and empty of other people.
There were displays and such but no people.
Behind us the door opens and a voice calls out, “I am so sorry, but we are closed.”
We turned around and there was this lady with this smile who took the open sign down and turned it around to closed.
So they were closed but the lady with a smile took some time to talk with us for a minute about the Penn Center.
The minute turned into 10 minutes or more as we learned that the lady we were talking too had graduated from the Penn Center back in 1952.
She had moved away but when retirement came, she moved back to St. Helena and started to volunteer where she could.
She was amazing to listen.
It was like to TO history.
There was history in her voice and a graciousness to her style I could not describe with the words that I have.
We apologized for making her stay over long and told her we would be back and that we would bring out grand children.
As we left, I asked her name.
“Gardenia,” she said with her smile on her face.
And she locked the door behind us.
When I got a chance, I punched ‘Gardenia’ and ‘Penn Center Volunteer’ in the Google and found out who we had been talking to.
Gardenia Simmons-White was born on St. Helena Island, SC in 1934.
She was one of the last living graduates of the Penn Center.
Now 87 years old, this wonderful lady was a wonder to listen too.
She said that volunteering as a docent at the Penn Center, “[is her] way of giving back to Penn for helping to shape my life and never forgetting the education I received which enabled me to reach higher heights.
I admit I have been a little off on everything with the covid and the economy and the news lately.
Kinda lost along the way.
To have talked with Ms. Simmons-White and heard her stories, heard just her voice, was a long drink of cool water.
Her story is one of those stories that makes you hope that maybe things can and will turn out okay.
nearly ashamed lest it detain our attention or attract gratitude
I asked my wife to go watch the sunset over the May River on Christmas Eve.
I had a lot of reasons.
I wanted to go was the main reason.
I often find that working from home, I can get to Friday and never been further from home than our daily walks.
And, We were alone with no kids at home and could go without worrying what might happen at home.
It was a warm night for us anyway in December.
It was a few days after the Winter Solstice so the sun would be setting at its most southern point in the sky over the river.
And also because of the solstice, it was conveniently timed at around 5:30 PM.
We got to the park on the bluff overlooking the river just as the sun disappeared.
I wanted to run from the car to get to the dock to catch a photograph of the scene.
I thought of the photographer Ansel Adams, and his often repeated story of how he was driving with friends in Arizona and spotted the sunset scene of a small church at dusk with the moon rising over the horizon.
He pulls the car over and in a frenzy calls on his friends to help with the camera, tripod and other equipment.
The high point of the story for most photographers is when Mr. Adams admits he couldn’t find his light meter but he did know the amount of light the Moon gave off and was able to mentally calculate the exposure setting for his camera.
Thinking of this I hurried to the river front with my iPhone out.
The scene itself of the sun setting on Christmas Eve over the May River, as I took it in, took away my urgency.
I have used the quote, “A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is to wish to hold on to it, to possess it and give it weight in one’s life. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me,” before.
I wanted to the take a picture to show I was here and that the scene mattered to me.
But when I got there, all I wanted to do was look.
Look and listen.
You could hear the birds and you could here the sound of the passage of water as the tide came in.
And somehow, you could hear the silence.
A few other people were there but for the most part, it was a private viewing for my wife and I.
I thought of this quote about a scene as described by the same author of the prior quote, “like an impartial judge, modest and willingly literal-minded about its own achievements, ashamed lest it detain our attention or attract our gratitude.”
It is odd, but I thought that about the scene I was seeing.
The river, the water, the clouds, the sun setting and the sounds.
I felt it was a scene, that with all its elements, was modest and willingly literal-minded about its own achievements, ashamed lest it detain our attention or attract our gratitude.
It was a fleeting moment to be sure.
One of a kind and special.
A moment to be remembered.
But at the same time …
Of all things, a passage in the book, “How Life Imitates the World Series” by Thomas Boswell came to mind.
Mr. Boswell tells the story of how an interview in the dugout of Memorial Stadium in Baltimore with then Orioles Manager, Earl Weaver, went over long.
All of sudden, Mr. Boswell, writes, he became aware that the National Anthem was playing and the game was about the start.
The two stood up for the anthem and Mr. Weaver stopped telling the story he had been in the middle of.
The anthem came to end and and Mr. Weaver went to run out to home plate to give the lineup card to the umpires.
Mr. Weaver said to Mr. Boswell, “I’ll be right back and finish that story.”
Mr. Boswell writes that he thought this was crazy and that he was way over staying his time and apologized to Mr. Weaver and said he would get out the dugout as the game was about the start.
“Oh don’t worry about that”, said Mr. Weaver, “We do this every day.”
*Words in the Haiku were adapted from the book, The Architecture of Happiness (2009, Vintage Books) by Alain de Botton, and the passage:
In a valley so steep that its gelatinous walls seem never to have been warmed by the sun, a drop of hundreds of feet ends in a furious brown river clotted with stones and brambles. As the train curves around the mountainside, a view opens up along its length, revealing that, several carriages ahead, the burgundy-red locomotive has taken the unexpected decision to cross from one side of the valley to the other, a manoeuvre it proceeds to execute without so much as pausing to confer with higher authorities. It makes its way over the gap, and through a small cloud, with the brisk formality one might associate with the most routine of activities, to which prayer and worship would be at once unnecessary and theatrical supplements. What has rendered this supernatural feat possible is a bridge for which nothing in this setting has prepared us – a perfectly massive yet perfectly delicate concrete bridge, marred by not the slightest stain or impurity, which can only have been dropped from the air by the gods, for we cannot imagine that there would be anywhere in this forsaken spot for humans to rest their tools. The bridge seems unimpressed by the razor-sharp stones around it, by the childish moods of the river and the contorted, ugly grimaces of the rock-face. It stands content to reconcile the two sides of the ravine like an impartial judge, modest and willingly literal-minded about its own achievements, ashamed lest it detain our attention or attract our gratitude.
According the The New York Review of Books, this is “A perceptive, thoughtful, original, and richly illustrated exercise in the dramatic personification of buildings of all sorts.”
What I find irrestible in reading Mr. de Botton is his use of language.
I get the feeling that if you made a spread sheet of all the words, adverbs and adjectives used by Mr. de Botton, you just might find that he used each word just once.
despair of being able to convey my own idea of this place
My wife tells me to stop writing about how beautiful this place is.
Keep it up, she says, and everyone will come here.
I know what SHE means.
I do think I should stop writing about being here in the low country of South Carolina in general and more specifically the beaches of Hilton Head Island the bluff overlooking the May River in Bluffton.
Not because I worry about visitors.
But because I only have words to use.
Anthony Trollope, the English novelist, once wrote about Sydney Australia, “I despair of being able to convey to any reader my own idea of the beauty of Sydney Harbour.”
I know what HE means.
I grew up in West Michigan and they were lots of places that would also bring me to despair if I tried to describe.
But there is something beyond here.
Maybe its that the landscape doesn’t turn white 6 months of the year.
Maybe I am older.
Maybe after a dozen years in Atlanta.
Maybe it is just me and other people have other places.
Thomas Jefferson described the view of Harper’s Ferry, where the the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers come together, from what is known as ‘Jefferson’s Rock’ with the words, “This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
I have been to Harper’s Ferry a couple of times.
I have stood on Jefferson’s Rock.
As I was about 12 years old, the view didn’t move me to despair at being able to convey my idea of the place.
It was cool.
That was all the words I needed.
I mention that you are no longer allowed to stand on the rock itself and it is cordoned off today.
I have to say, in the spirt of transparency, I have never made a voyage across the Atlantic.
When Mr. Jefferson wrote, “This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic,” it was quite the tribute as a voyage across the Atlantic was no picnic.
As Mr. Johnson* more of less said, “All the fun of jail with the chance of drowning thrown in.”
But then comparing the spot to the experience of the voyage, maybe the bar was set low by Mr. Jefferson.
Again from something close to what Mr. Johnson said, “Worth seeing, but not worth going to see.”
Maybe, just maybe, here where I am now, IS quite a spot.
Worth going to see.
Worth a voyage across the Atlantic.
I can say that for sure.
But I despair over the lack of words to convey my idea on how to convey the beauty of this area.
Just typing those words I despair at how limited the word ‘beauty‘ is.
In spite of my despair, I am quite content.
Content to sit on the beach and watch.
Content to sit on the bluff and look.
Content to be still.
It says in the Book of Psalms, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
It says in the Book of Psalms, “I will be exalted in the earth.”
I guess that is they key to understanding this type of places.
God will be exalted in the earth.
These places are God just showing off.
These places cannot be conveyed in words.
I am going try.
Often called Dr. Johnson (1709-1784), was an English writer who made lasting contributions … according to Wikipedia, but known mostly for today for those two quotes.