24 July 2007

Summer boredom

Sunday afternoon, as I returned to Edgefield from Greenwood and a quarterly meeting of the Gravatt Convocation (a subdivision of the diocese), I attempted to enjoy listening to NPR. But, the circular coverage eminating from Greenville, Columbia and Aiken in SC and Augusta in GA does not overlap reliably along US25, my Sunday afternoon route. In fact, just outside Greenwood I could tune in only one station on the entire dial and that ended up being the audio from a network television station. And, of course, I "arrived" during a commercial!

It seized my attention, that commercial. It was loud, first of all. Second, the insistent big pitch was this: relieve your summer boredom. The solution? Six Flags. The announcer promised pure entertainment, unforgettable thrills.



For the rest of the 45-minute trip, I drove in comfortable silence leafing through my memory for something I'd read during our time at Kanuga the first week of July. It was in Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia. It's been a couple of busy days, but I've located the quote.

Generally speaking ... Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one. Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that's not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment. ... Americans don't really know how to do nothing. This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype -- the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but who cannot relax.
Entertainment verses pleasure. Six Flags versus hummingbirds. Six Flags versus early moring fishing or early morning photograhy. Actually, let's make that one a both/and. Six Flags versus concocting a shrimp salad for supper with, let's say, peach cobbler for dessert. Entertainment verses pleasure. There is a difference.

I'm one of those Americans about whom Gilbert is writing, no doubt about that. But, not every time all the time any more. I think I could be in recovery.

And, happily, I'm not bored. Ever. That blows the Six Flags solution. Sorry.

19 July 2007

The stuff of ritual

I've been watching this little dance for about six months now and have just this week recognized it for what it is. A pattern. A daily expectation. A ritual. So, I took the camera to the porch with me this morning. Sure enough ...

We get up, the coffee's made, Tal walks the length of the driveway and back -- to open the gate for the day and to retrieve the paper. Before he can get his second cup of coffee and settle in the chair Whitby's there and they settle in together.

In cold weather they're in the striped wing chair next to the piano. On these summer mornings, when the temperatures are in the low 70s, it's Tal's rocking chair on the porch. And, if for some reason -- like an early tee time or "o'dark thirty" Saturday fishing with his son -- Tal doesn't read the paper first thing, it isn't unusual to find Whitby sitting beside one chair or the other. Just waiting.

The stuff of ritual. We, all of us, religious or not, do it, ritualize our lives. Rarely do we notice when it starts and by the time we do -- if we do -- it's pretty ingrained.

I wonder. Do our rituals make us as happy as this one seems to make our little dog?

Tal, though he'd probably deny it, is pretty pleased about it, too.

18 July 2007

A long day

Looking back over the day I am struck by how long it feels in some respects. Nothing notable particularly. Just one thing after another. And, truth be known, I didn't actually finish anything that I can remember here at bedtime. The Ridge Runner is only begun, I still have a stack of envelopes which need notes written to put in them, I owe telephone calls to a host of people.

Fortunately for me today included at trip to Greenwood for a lunchtime meeting. And, this evening an hour with a lovely couple preparing to be married. Both times I arrived early (no real surprise there ...), and having a book with me in the car, I indulged in several quiet minutes, transported into another's thought patterns, choice of words, hopes and dreams.

The book? A Wing and A Prayer: A Message of Faith and Hope, by Katharine Jefferts Schori. I bought it because I thought I should. She's the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, elected just a year ago. I'm reading it because I've discovered it to be a compelling and trustworthy introduction, I think, to this woman -- who she is, how she carries and interprets the faith. Essay by essay, which I assume began as homilies and sermons during her episcopate in Nevada, I like her turn of phrase, her humor, her frankness.

For all that I didn't accomplish today, perhaps I did make some progress after all, making a refreshing discovery, moving beyond who and where I was when this 18th day of July began at 6:00 this morning. Now, for the duration of the book, I'm just going to have to arrive early everywhere I go.

17 July 2007

Life on the porch

This part of July has brought with it a welcome surprise. Cool morning temperatures registering in the low 70s. Life -- and work -- on the porch has gladdened my days. Saturday and yesterday was I able to stay out here until about noon before the word uncomfortable began to register.

The porch is screened on three sides, jutting into the back yard. Two birdfeeders, one for hummers and the other for all the rest, are in my sightlines. I can see reflection of the sky on the pond through the woods between the house and the water. Construction on the residence across the pond is very slow (and the blue-wrapped structure is completely hidden by summertime leaves), so other than some traffic noise from Country Club Road, I'm not much mindful of others' activity as I sit here.

You could say my contentment is purely psychological. Coming out here with only the papers, books, emails I need to accomplish the current task has helped me focus. When I settle at my desk in the study, it's a different story. Everything is in there with me. No matter what I'm working on those things being neglected push and chide. I want to run screaming, my hands over my ears, my eyes tight shut.

In there I feel like the birdfeeder outside the study window did one day last week when the cow birds were migrating through. Dozens of drab birds fought over it, jockeying for position, fluttering and threatening. Then, without warning and in a single undulating movement, they would fly over the fence into the trees next door, only to return minutes later, scattering the young cardinals and the house and gold finch, bowing the limbs of the magnolia at the corner of the house the way heavy snow would.

When I'm on the porch my birdfeeder self can enjoy a bird or two at a time. And, the birds stick around. I can watch them at some leisure, appreciating them, their presence and their beauty. When I'm on the porch all the stuff that reminds me of how much I have to do is elsewhere. I finish one thing, put it all away and, the table cleared (not to mention my mind), I bring out the stuff for the next item on the list.

So, I'm grateful for the cool mornings, for this porch, the steadily weathering table at which I sit, the wireless house and the nearby electrical outlet when the computer's battery runs low. The much-coveted check marks on the "to do" list are appearing at a pace that makes me almost gleeful. And, in the midst of all that, I know what's going on in the yard, an endlessly fascinating screen, without commercials or startling volumn changes.

Mid-July on the porch. Who would have thunk it?

14 July 2007

and Sarah said ...

She said I had to see the sunflowers. I just had to. Sarah's always clear and very nearly always right, so I took her at her word. I went. And? She was right, so right that I found myself in dressy open-toes shoes pushing through the sandy field amid shoulder-high plants -- surrounded by the flowers -- during the hottest hour of the July day.

As I pulled the car onto the drive way, the camera on the seat beside me magically full of yellow, there was a flitting word I wanted to capture, but that wouldn't lite. Looking at the photographs this afternoon -- the yellow released onto the computer screen, I realized what it is. Exuberant. Those fields of sunflowers nestled up against the taller corn are a pretty pure illustration of that lively, delightful word.

I'm glad Sarah told me what I had to do. And, I'm more glad I listened.

13 July 2007

Maiden voyage

It's a boat built for two. A fisherman like Tal, who also like Tal has given up his big bass boat, Matt saw a boat in the back of a pickup truck one day in early June. Nothing would do but he had to find the owner. A long and determined story later and several weeks later, they drove Tal's truck with Matt's trailer in tow to a marina in Columbia yesterday morning and brought their boats home. Yes, they each got one.

Called a Bass Hound. Looks to me like a margarine tub. 10 feet 2 inches by 5 feet 5 inches. This is its maiden voyage in our pond. After the photo op Tal returned to shore and all four of us, two adults and two dogs took a short cruise. (Now, THAT would have been the picture! Our bow sprites trying to drink as we whirred along.)

This morning before dawn Tal and I, coffee in hand, were off to Derrick's Pond, the Bass Hound snugly slipped into the back of the truck. During the drive day break commanded our attention. The most forceful of the color was gone by the time we pulled onto the dam, but it was still a rather humbling sight as we prepared to put the boat in the water.

The little boat does seat two pretty comfortably, if they're mindful of their casting. It also has a companionable feel. While I am a canoe devotee, given the rigid seating arrangement, talking quietly as you fish along isn't part of the deal. This morning we had a good talk while we helped each other boat fish.

And, we boated MORE than bass. I'd kinda wondered what the deal would be -- southern fishermen and their largemouth bass and all that. Just take a look at the names of the big fresh water rigs: Bass Master, Bass Pro. And, even our little tub: Bass Hound. Then there's that big box sporting store, selling equipment and clothing for hunting, archery, fishing. It's name? Bass Pro Shop. Anyway, I gladly threw back the catfish I caught (squeaky to the touch), but we kept half-a-dozen nice bream in addition to three largemouth.

Any guesses about supper?

12 July 2007


I travel the back roads of South Carolina almost daily. The growing number of roadside shrines is remarkable. Some stretches of highway are more lined than others. I find myself thinking about what makes one mile more treacherous than another, the lone crosses or wreathes of artificial flowers oftentimes frequent enough that on passing one another comes into view.

Today in the late morning I was making my way home from a meeting, barely noticing the shrine pictured here as I passed it by, two colorful wreathes in the distance drawing me along the two lane road. But, this one, a gray blur in the corner of my left eye, and a single word interrupted my forward movement. What? The word my mind flashed into consciousness was almost audible. What? "Forgotten."

At a crossroads -- still not having reached the double wreaths, I turned the car around and headed back. Beyond the shrine and safely off the highway in a business' parking lot, I pulled the camera from its bag and hiked back.

Shortly after 9-ll and as our country began sending troops to Afghanistan, posting yellow bows in public places to indicate support of our military personnel was an intense, deliberate activity. Parishioners asked me if I thought it would be alright to place yellow bows on the doors of the church. I was agreeable, my only stipulation being that the bows be removed or replaced when they became faded or ragged. I didn't want our initial fervor, literally, to fade into the background.

Is that what turned me around today? Faded fervor?

I think I understand the loved ones of those who die on the highway. They want to mark the spot. They want the world to see the spot. They want to declare that they will never forget. The word I heard today was forgotten, the very last thing intended when that short pole was dressed with a grey shirt and hat, when the flowers were chosen and eased into place. The tears were undoubtedly free-flowing and hot: we'll never forget you. But, that shrine, now drooping, faded and overgrown, seems to declare otherwise.

Forgotten could the the wrong word, of course. That's my word. What I hope is that a grieving family has done nothing of the sort. I hope they've moved on and that the memory of the one they've loved and lost is still vibrant and sweet and the cause for an occasional shower of tears. But, grief needs to fade. Maybe they don't need that shrine anymore.

I wish for that family, whoever they are, a time when they can disassemble this collection of artifacts with as much heart as when they set them in place. That, too, would be a declaration.

11 July 2007

Returning to the blog

Oh, it's been a long two weeks. And, it's a long story, the story about my silence on VicarRidge. Suffice it to say, I'm back and glad of it.

You've heard about the end of vacation -- the washer and the mail mostly. On Saturday, June 29th, we departed again, this time for Kanuga, an Episcopal Conference Center in the mountains of western North Carolina, where we hosted Guest Period One and I served as chaplain.

What is a guest period, you wonder? A Saturday-to-Saturday period for family vacation is the easiest way to describe it. It's going to Myrtle Beach with a twist, a dialed-down twist. The lodging is basic -- no in-room television or telephone, no air conditioning. There's a top-notch children's program, freeing up the adults for several morning and afternoon hours. For the adults ... watercolor, wood carving, basket weaving, Bible study. With additional family activities, three wonderful meals a day, daily worship (Eucharist or vespers) and off-site adventures, like horseback riding, rafting and hiking, there is plenty to do. Of course, one could opt for the most popular activity of all: none of the above. Reading and rocking is a staple of the Kanuga experience.

It was a good week. I didn't feel as though I ever really relaxed until I crawled into bed at the end of the day -- and in July pulled up the BLANKET! My duties were by no means onerous, but they were constant. I found myself encouraging people to do less, to take care of themselves, to choose the children standing in front of them instead of the computer on the end table, but I couldn't do that for myself.

We did have our moments, though. We took the short around-the-lake hike several times, checked out a canoe at least twice, and enjoyed screened porch of the Chaplian's Cottage (#25) as often as possible. A peach-growing parishioner sent a half-bushel of peaches with us, so we welcomed many to our porch who came looking for the rosy, golden prize they knew we had. (The photo above was taken on our porch in the late afternoon before supper. The light was simply perfect.)

And, our neighbors were the same as they were last year. As we all arrived and greeted each other, the intervening months were seemingly erased. (This photo is of Grace -- Cottage #27 -- and her two grandchildren setting out on an after-vespers paddle.)

Well, supper's beginning to make my nose twitch. No, it's NOT burning. But, I'd best sign off. More tomorrow.