Which brings me to this summer's cheerful little ditty with the refrain "duh."
Sure, there's a reason for labels like this.
Which brings me to this summer's cheerful little ditty with the refrain "duh."
The internet is one supersized overshare.
Along with the thousands of selfies and blogs about piffle, plus all those YouTube videos about optimal application of eyeliner, surviving the Apocalypse, cleaning scallops using a shop vac, and SO much more, sites beyond number offer deliciously random information to the careless researcher.
And by careless, I mean "easily distracted."
By which naturally, I refer to myself.
I was on the track of my namesake 3x gr-grandmother, Amy Cole Hall. She lived mostly in Pennsylvania, but also in Litchfield, Connecticut.
Somehow (and it's always a bit of a click-mystery) I ended up on someone else's compilation of documents pertaining to their ancestors, the Sturdevants of Luzerne, Pennsylvania. Naturally, I started reading. The Sturdevants connect to another branch of my family, but I didn't know that at the time.
Oh the eternal difficulty in resisting the temptation of other people's letters...
An exerpt from a letter 14 Oct 1842 from Dr. George Lane Keeney to Salmon Keeney, quoting from a letter from brother Seth: "My wife has been counting up while I notched a stick, and we find we have (9) nine living children, 4 girls and 5 boys."*
Does this seem –– um –– peculiar that a married couple needed to notch a stick to count their living children?
The internet link to the letters is here.
Also among the paper-trail of the Sturdevants is what might be some of my new favorite letters* of all time. Anyone who commits words to paper is aware that the record will live on; it's kind of the point of putting words on paper, right?
I made a sound recording of one letter –– both for the interest of clarity, as the grammar and spelling was irregular, but also because it was fun to voice those words.
*My previous all-time favorite letters? A series of wonderful schadenfreude-inducing Christmas newsletters from a certain childhood friend's unhappy wife (oh! how I looked forward to those each December! Even after their divorce, I kept getting these little masterpieces of misery bedecked with images of holly and jolly St. Nick! I should be more ashamed to enjoy them, but she had such a way with passive aggression!)
In any case, herewith the letter 7 June 1842 from Asahel Keeney to his brother Dr. George Keeney.
It's a brutal catalogue of local gossip. Burn baby, burn.
There's another letter to their sister, Amy Keeney Hall –– not my Amy, but of interest anyhow –– mentioning that poor pitiful Phebe Wilson, who "quit hur husband to keep from starving." Brother Seth writes "we callculated to have visited you this fall but my health prevented If I live untill another fall I will be sure to visit."
I hope he had the chance.
Twig is also the name of a genre of decoration. Twig tables. Twig chairs. Twig frames.
Those enormous Adirondack camps, white birchbark stuff, bent willow rustic chairs? All twig.
I picked up a reference book on the subject at the library book sale over the winter and took the instructions at face value.
And then re-measured and cut most of them again, using my trusty loppers and a measuring jig Daddo would have been proud to see.
Precision is not my middle name, but I was quite careful.
Even knowing that the instructions were crap, I couldn't help but bemoan the injustice of it.
Instructions that don't.
Measuring guides that don't.
Reference that isn't.
Eventually I wandered over to the square yard or so of good cell coverage at the Would-Be Farm –– in the middle of the field –– and Googled some help. Huh. Common theme of the Amazon reviews of the book:
By Day 3, I was grimly determined to best the beast. I studied physics in college. I have been making things by hand and by brain for some years now. I will not be thwarted!
It was bound to happen. While clearing trail –– it's on the to-do list whenever we first get to the Would-Be Farm –– we found a game camera that we'd forgotten all about...16K photos of waving grass. I guess that's why we lost track of the danged thing. I'll spare you.
Here are some better photos from the game cameras:
Some warming-up exercises from my writing day.
Story 1: Got an Eye on You
They might be watching from the most unlikely of places: from your own wristwatch, a smudge on a painted cinderblock wall, the unfurling tendril of kudzu.
If it looks like, it looks.
An eye for an eye.
You might speculate, but how will you ever know what thoughts –– or if thoughts –– drift across those observer's minds. They are made to watch, certainly, function following form, but by whom and for what possible reason?
Story 2: Fisheye Lens
Fish always look surprised when lifted from the water. Well, not all fish: Sharks aren't so much surprised as continuing to look as if they are hunting, cat eyes blank in those smooth faces. But most fish tilt a that sequin of an eye and flex a jaw, possibly astonished by the wide airy world that has taken them.
Maybe it's gravity that surprises them, even more than the suffocating air: the sense finally of the earth pulling on every cell, unsupported guts tending downward, gills crowding one another in a single direction.
Are they at the apex of surprise when hauled alongside a boat? Is there further astonishment at being unhooked and slid back into the sea? Surely even the most inexperienced of baitfish can not be surprised or outraged when the rigging hook circles a spine and the wire leader dictates their way. But no, that feels false. We all treasure secret ambitions. No baitfish knows for sure that she is bait, even when she's twitching away from the cotton net in the aerated tank.
So, okay, maybe the big raptors like Bald Eagles and Snowy Owls are more impressive, and coming eyeball-to-eyeball with a Sandhill Crane is even more alarming, but Great Blue Herons are darned impressive birds.
In my Shell Island Shuttle days, when we'd rescue birds –– mostly untangling them from fishing line, but sometimes popping them into a pet carrier and ferrying them over to the local rescue outfit –– the Great Blues were among the most challenging to help.
They are fierce, even as they are fragile. Those long legs ––! They aim those impressively big beaks RIGHT for your eye, and they have quite a reach.
They do not give up after they've been caught.
Magnificent, cranky creatures.
In a book whose heavy style I enjoyed a lot –– though, sadly, after my godfather Dan complained about the many factual errors he'd found, and I did my research, I too, became less enchanted by the novel –– here's a lovely passage including a blue heron:
In his mind, Inman likened the swirling paths of vulture flight to the coffee grounds seeking pattern in his cup. Anyone could be oracle for the random ways thing fall against each other. It was simple enough to tell fortunes if a man dedicated himself to the idea that the future will inevitably be worse than the past and that time is a path leading nowhere but a place of deep and persistent threat. The way Inman saw it, if a thing like Fredericksburg was to be used as a marker of current position, then many years hence, at the rate we’re going, we’ll be eating one another raw.
And, too, Inman guessed Swimmer’s spells were right in saying a man’s spirit could be torn apart and cease and yet his body keep on living. They could take death blows independently. He was himself a case in point, and perhaps not a rare one, for his spirit, it seemed, had been about burned out of him but he was yet walking. Feeling empty, however, as the core of big black-gum tree. Feeling strange as well, for his recent experience had led him to fear that the mere existence of the Henry repeating rifle or the éprouvette mortar made all talk of spirit immediately antique. His spirit, he feared, had been blasted away so that he had become lonesome and estranged from all around him as a sad old heron standing pointless watch in the mudflats of a pond lacking frogs. It seemed a poor swap to find that that the only way to keep from fearing death was to act numb and set apart as if dead already, with nothing much left of yourself but a hut of bones.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, 1997. Page 16.
PS: I actually prefer Cold Mountain the movie. Exception proves the rule.
It's a beautiful world.
It's an unconscious thing, a tick. A habit. Take a phrase, parse it, divide it, recombine it, look for entertaining results.
As I beetle around trying to restore order to the large pile of salty gear, slightly used batteries, marine electronics, and ziplock bags of snacks, I find myself turning over the wordy options: The Everchallenge Glide. The Everyglades chalice. The Challenger Everglading.
The boys on Spawn –– my favorite skipper and his pal Jahn –– are never-say-diers. They keep swinging for the fences. Always aiming higher.
All sporty metaphors apply.
The additions and refinements they make to the boat are all designed to eke a bit more speed, a touch more performance, a sliver more of whatever it will take for them to get to the finish line faster.
Mr. Linton installed a system of long sweeps, racing oarlocks, and a nifty sculling seat on the original boat, and has continued to refine it as time passes.
The oars are a boon when the boat is bucking the current and needs a little extra oomph. It's also handy when navigable waters get too narrow for actual sailing.
Rowing kept Spawn out of the fog that socked in some racers farther north.
From Sanibel to Cape Romano, they'd row a mile to reach a puff, sail for a bit, and then row through another lull. Chasing zephyrs, balancing patience with strategy in connecting one patch of wind with another.
With help from the awesome Jim Signor, the boys packed Spawn onto the trailer, stowed things for highway travel, and we made our ways North. Moresailesed had a pressing engagement with the US Naval Academy, where he coaches sailing.
The Linton-mobile cantered home across Aligator Alley, meeting up with the nasty line of weather that Spawn had managed to outrun, but which lambasted the majority of the fleet.
We dodged the inexplicable traffic that plagues I75 between Fort Meyers and Sarasota and as always were grateful to arrive alive at our house. We parked and hustled bag after bag up the stairs and then stood looking at one another. Jeff spoke the immortal words, "Is it over already?"
Well, for now it is.
The middle of the state. The middle of the night. The middle of a large pile of gear.
From the middle, ground-control for my Everglades Challenge team seems like a way of life.
It's probably sleep deprivation (I write this at midnight, over a bowl of dairy-free frozen dessert, in between reloading various tracking pages and checking the social media), but here I go again, blearily worrying, along with a clan of like-minded folks as we follow the progress of the 100 or so boats as they paddle, sail, and row down the left side of the Florida peninsula.
For those who haven't been following, here's the overview: The Everglades Challenge is a 300-mile unsupported expedition race put on by a gang called the WaterTribe. Competitors get a WaterTribe name. My favorite skipper –– AKA TwoBeers –– is racing with his childhood pal, the offshore sailing coach for the Naval Academy, Jahn Tihansky (tribe name Moresailesed). They set sail on the first Saturday in March at dawn from Fort Desoto in St. Pete, aboard a boat called Spawn designed by OH Rodgers (Ninjee).
As expected, the WaterTribe tracking site is experiencing some kind of technological version of the vapors.
Raceowl.com is doing better, but it means translating four-digit numbers back into familiar names. Spawn of Frankenscot is 3092, Safety Dance is 2969, Spongebob is 3072, the German guy, Schappi, is 3068, Jarhead is 3154, Puma is 3134, SeadogRocket and BermudaBoy are 3104, Ccock 3043. Et cetera.
Yesterday started for the Spawn team at o'dark thirty, when Jeff and Jahn and I piled into Charlie Clifton's van with yet more piles of gear, and made our way to the beach at Fort Desoto. Where we were met with a whole tribe of people wearing head-lamps and lycra-enhanced fitness clothing toting bales of stuff out to their various watercraft.
The Challenge begins, fiendishly enough, with the competitors needing to push their boats from the high-tide line into the water at the signal at 7 am. Some folks have wallowed in the sand for seemingly hours. Not my fellas!
The launching of the fleet was relatively slow this year –– not much breeze. Still, the moment passes in a twinkling of the eye.
At seven, the beach is packed, by a quarter after, only a lonesome boat or two and spectators are left on the beach.
I don't know what other ground-control people do, but given that Moresailesed was shedding virus and coughing like a consumptive, I cleaned up with a vengeance. Seven loads of laundry, autoclaving the dishes, a possibly unhealthy number of Clorox wipes, followed by a quick nip around to the non-dairy frozen dessert section of my local grocery and a nice cat-nap.
My phone is buzzing more than usual: Spawn has a following, and even with the light wind there's an element of nail-biting suspense. Moresailesed send along a photo from onboard –– roughly, I am thinking, from the spot where they spent some time last year recovering from a bit of excitement.
Evidently the mosquitoes are making an appearance on board Spawn –– last year, the poor devils couldn't make headway agains the wind. Each Challenge is different, I suppose, and a new test of the competitors' varying skills.
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