(…a couple of weeks ago…)
I have recently become aware of the resurfacing of the baby wild boars that my brother and I found at the edge of the creek, along the small strip of woods that led to what we called the East Marsh.
The land curved a little there along the river.
It could be that the river curved, and pushed the land back.
The roots of the trees along the bank were exposed, dangling out from the washed out sandy soil, naked-looking. The trees, Live Oak, mostly, a few sharp-needled and dusty barked cedars where woods gave way to the marsh. They didn’t seem to mind the brackish water gnawing at their ground with every tide and wake. They held their leaves.
As the banks receded, a few trees leaned out over the water, waiting for herons and still living.
For a long time, I could not remember why my brother and I were going out to the East Marsh that day. I must have been 8? Maybe 7 or 9. He was little, younger by two years, walking behind me when we came up on the baby wild boars in the middle of the thin path we walked on, a path that was probably also used by raccoons and that – at a few points – was almost completely covered over by palmettos.
It was only a moment ago, actually, that I remembered – or reasoned – that we must have been going to get palmettos, to pull out the young shoots of spiny, tightly fanned green to eat the slightly sweet ends of the stalks, the parts of the plant that were brand new, that had never seen the sun, that were cool in spite of the sweltering of South Georgia. As the leaves grew and spread out, they became fixed and woody in the rope-like roots and crowns that pushed up and out of the ground in snakey mounds. Once the stalks developed their characteristic teeth, they were nearly impossible to pull out. There was no use in pulling the mature leaves anyway. The old leaves had no sweet nib of new plant, only a slightly bitter fiber that scratched at the tongue.
My brother and I went through a period of time during which we ate an enormous amount of palmetto grass, playing that we were being bears and that we were living in the forest, and that we were friends. Being bears, we ate whatever we could eat from the woods, which – for us – meant palmetto, gall berries – which we called “sparkleberries*,” and the young leaves of smilax vine, rare muscadine growing up in the trees by where we hauled our trash, ½ way up the road toward Highway 40.*
Those were the only things that we were allowed to eat from the woods, per my father, who was a Park Ranger and who both my brother and I took very seriously in matters pertaining to what was safe and not safe in the woods.
It is entirely possible that we were going out toward the East Marsh to look for more palmettos, if we’d exhausted those available near the house. We were crashing along the trail, probably talking in the voice we spoke in when we were being bears, high pitched and lilting, cartoonish. Against our wrists and at our calves small branches scratched and thorned vines grabbed, we moved our arms out and then in, clearing a path forward or making ourselves small enough to pass between the trees, or soft-foot our way around a tree, over a tree, the very edge of the bank, where the land crumbled as we walked. Crab spiders and nephila webs crossed the air. As noisy as we probably were, and as quickly as we likely moved, I am sure that we were watching the ground and listening in the woods.
When we saw the burlap sack in the middle of sandy spot on the trail, we stopped walking immediately, dead still. I have the sense that I probably had a moment of not knowing what the sack was, only that it was not the ground, that it was something on the ground, brown and lumpy and not moving. The bag was damp, wet even. Even after I realized that it was burlap sack, I felt scared, because what was a burlap sack doing out there in the woods, in our woods, so close to our house. Who had put it there? We hadn’t put it there.
We moved quietly toward the bag, stood standing over it, staring for a few minutes. I don’t remember who decided that we should look inside the bag, or whether we used our hands to work the wet burlap open, or poked at the bag with a stick, the toe of a shoe.
There were three, maybe four of them, curled together like they were sleeping, the size of kittens or puppies, feet smooth and clean, bellies like balls and soft furred little ears. Someone had put dead baby boars in a bag by our home.
Someone had killed a mother boar, drowned her babies, right out by our house, out by Catfish Hole.
That was not the first time that the world became, in an instant, something other than it had been before, changed in some silently monumental way. Not only did I realize that it was possible for people to get near our house from outside of the woods we lived within, and that they could kill things and tromp around through the pines, but I…imagine that maybe I knew that the woods we lived in weren’t really ours, but I don’t remember knowing that clearly on the day we found the baby wild pigs in the burlap sack.
I just knew that the woods felt more dangerous then than they had before, knowing that people could be in them, killing things.
I woke up this morning thinking about how, as a child, I’d name places in the woods, and my parents would name places. The Lookout Tree, named for the day we saw a man in the woods while we were climbing through the branches of an old oak over by the river. Teetle’s Pond, a drainage run off that formed a small circle of water by the highway, named for a pet turtle we released into the pond when it failed to thrive in our home. Osprey Point, a small jut of land from which a sun-bleached skeleton of a tree stood, the nest of an osprey built in the upper bare branches.
The landscape I grew up on became more mine because of these names.
Isn’t that how naming works? If we name something, it becomes ours.
I grew up hearing the story of how my great-grandmother, Rachel Beck Moeckel and my great-grandfather (who died before I was born) had moved to Camden County, in the very corner of coastal Georgia, right across from the edge of Florida, where the river bleeds out into the ocean and papermills smudge the sunset, how they’d moved because they needed a quieter place to live, because of my grandfather’s nervous disorder, and the land was so cheap back then, in the 1940s.
It was old timber land, old pasture land, stands and strips of oak and hickory that had seen the Civil War, a few of which had maybe even been seeds under the feet of the people living on the land before any Europeans ever came ashore?
There was a dirt road that broke off of Highway 40 right before the low bridge over Borrell Creek, and a ½ mile down or so the trees grew together across the road, forming a tunnel that we called, simply, The Tunnel.
Interspersed with the oaks were the straggling edges of rows and rows of pine timber, a straight-line forest splashed with sun and shining with fallen needles, a hazy of green if you looked straight up, the smell of sap. Standing amidst the timber was a white cattle trough, filled with rainwater and algae, fallen pine needles, mosquito larvae simmering over a rusted out grate that guarded the tannin-stained depths of the trough. It just sat there, out in the trees, visible from the road.
It looked like a coffin out there in the woods.
Out for walks, we’d beg our mother to let us go poke around in the standing water, to feel the cool white sides of the trough. Once we got there, however, and stood surveying the clods of pine needles and thick decomposing goo held in the monolithic trough, I wanted to leave, to get away as quickly as I could, with the feelings of ghosts and dark water and things not seen, not daring to run for fear of snakes, walking carefully and quickly back to the road, taking the shortest route, wanting to run, to get out of those pines.
The house my father built for us, his family, his wife and children, was constructed in part with the wood from the Arnow House, which, as noted elsewhere here, was only a skeleton standing in the redbuds. My father tore the old house down, and built our house with pieces of it. The walls in our single bathroom were sanded down, but still held slivers and slicks of turquoise paint, surely full of lead.
Our floors were, I think, their floors. I don’t know, because my father did not write down what was what or when and how it was constructed, what came from where. He dug every hole for every stilt, and hoisted triangles of plexiglass onto his back, climbed up a ladder and built us a dome for a living room.
As I write this, a sense of urgency that I haven’t felt before is surfacing.
It occurs to me that my parents, as they are aging and living in the mountains now, might not remember my childhood, or the places of my childhood, or might not know that I remember, and I wish that I could tell them, could show them, that I do remember.
We don’t talk much about that place, though it is still ‘in the family,’ the last little division of land, the house my father built. It is hard for me to think about, to feel. To reckon with the reality that that place is still there, and I am not, because – really – it’s gone…it is a different place now. If I kept driving on the road I travel on to get to work, I would end up home, with only 2 exits onto other highways, one right turn, a left turn, a right turn, a left turn, a right turn.
Behind my great-grandmother’s house, there was a massive kettle, used to boil down cane. Beyond the pasture, sugarcane grew in feral patches, and then it didn’t grow at all after the year it snowed and froze hard.
Now, there is a paved road over the place where the sugarcane grew.
Growing up surrounded by the stark evidence of people who had been on the land before the Moeckels bought it, I understood, as much as a child could understand, that the place wasn’t really ours, in spite of all the names we gave it.
Still, the place where one grows up has – as one is growing up – a peculiar air of permanence to it, unless one doesn’t have the cursed luxury of living in a place, in one place. I think it might be better to not have the experience of becoming enmeshed with the trappings of a place that will inevitably cease to exist, might be better to know that nothing lasts and nothing is truly ours for too long.
*sweetly sour and full of grit, tough purple skin
For a long time, we just put the trash there, and I guess every so often my father would haul it off, but a lot of it just sat there, moldering and hiding snakes. One sunny afternoon, my parents decided that they were going to throw away a box of records that had been soaked and warped in the barn that my family stored all the old boxes and contraptions and rust eaten lawn furniture and broken old tools and other things that no longer had a usefulness, but that we still held onto. My brother and I were allowed to take the records out of their sleeves and wing them up into the air above the pasture, fling them like Frisbees, break them in half. We threw the records into the trashpile, and I understood that they probably would be there for a long time, like the broken pieces of glass and pottery we found in the garden, the bleached out bones of bottle caps at the side of the road up by the bridge, the bottles on the bank of the river at low tide, some of them heavy with mud, choked with it, all these objects that don’t disappear so easily, that won’t melt back into the earth like we do.
What must have been a couple of years before the incident with the baby wild boars, I had ruined the plans to take the afternoon ferry to the Cumberland Island, where my father worked, by eating a small purple flower that I thought for sure was violet, but that was actually [some small flower whose name I do not know]. I had happily wandered into the kitchen, munching at the tangy little petals. I remember a little bit of the feeling of being proud and feeling cool, to be eating a flower because I knew what flowers I could eat, because my parents had told me.
Imagine my surprise when my mother rushed at me and demanded that I spit it out, spit it out, and then rushed me off down the dirt road to show her where I had found the flowers, in the small, shady pasture between the twin hickories that we called the Two Trees and the remains of the Arnow House, which was only two chimneys and cornersquares of brick, old wood and nails, black widows. Several fresh-picked flowers in hand, she hustled me back to the house and had me sit at the kitchen table while she called poison control. “You mean her tongue could swell up? Her airway could be obstructed?”
Listening, nodding. “Are there signs I should look for?”
“Um, hmm, yes, swelling of the tongue, difficulty breathing.”
That afternoon, we had been planning to go see my father at work. My mother, my brother, and me. We were going to take the ferry, and then ride home on the ferry with him. Usually, we just met him at the ferry, because our family usually only had one car that was running properly, so sometimes we took him to work, and then we picked him up from work, waiting at the pavilion that is still there at the waterfront in St. Mary’s, holding onto the heavy wood railings and leaning out to peer at the barnacles creeping up the pilings, to look for crabs until we saw the Cumberland Queen as a white dot blurred with wake at the edges, moving up the St. Mary’s River.
I’d start waving as soon as I saw the boat. If there were other people on the pavilion, I felt special and proud to be waving at my Dad, who was a Park Ranger, with a green and grey uniform and a badge and a hat. My Dad was not a regular passenger on the boat. He wasn’t visiting the island. He worked there, and knew almost everything there was to know about the place. I got to go places on the island other people didn’t get to go, like the office at the small museum that my father curated for a number of years, and the very front of the ferry with Capt. Elmo, who allowed me tubes of Rain-Blo gum and Cheetos from the snack bar on the ferry.
The very first house I ever lived in was Plum Orchard, because the National Park Service had limited ranger housing on the island, and Plum Orchard needed someone to keep an eye on it. We didn’t live there very long. There is a picture of my mother holding me as a very young baby. There is an afghan across her lap and she is sitting in a straight backed chair. The yard is sandy and she is smiling. I remember nothing from that time, though sometimes imagine that I have a memory of moving up the stairs, the light at the top of the stairs.**
My mother told me that we could not go to Cumberland Island to meet my father and bring him lunch because I had eaten a flower that was not edible and that may even cause my tongue to swell up. I had to tell my mother immediately if my tongue felt weird or if I had trouble breathing. Instead of Cumberland Island, we went to Crooked River State Park, and played on the playground and waited for my tongue to swell so my mother could take me to Gilman Hospital, which was mostly a place that people went to get prescriptions or to die.
We were not going to go to Cumberland because I had eaten poisonous flowers. In the pensive agony of waiting for my tongue to start swelling, I pictured my father expecting us to be there, to bring him lunch – him waiting for the ferry at Sea Camp, on the dock looking for us, us not being there, him being worried.
I felt stupid and embarrassed to have eaten a flower that was not edible. I did not want my mother to tell my Dad. I did not want him to be disappointed.
They had a public pool at Crooked River, with a shallow round baby pool that was warm as piss in the summertime. I was terrified of the filter grates in the public pools, because I had heard that a child sat on the filter grate in a baby pool and his intestines were sucked out of his body. My great-grandmother refused to go to the public pool with us, because it was integrated, because black people swam in it. She was born in 1894 in Griffin, Georgia.
My parents told us not to listen to anything she said on matters relating to race. They told us that she was a “product of her times.”
She died when I was 16 and she was 98. In spite of her being racist, I loved her dearly. She taught me to play gin rummy and told me that I was graceful. I showed her backbends and handstands in the living room and she exclaimed, applauded. She let me put the peppermint puff bon bons from the drug store into glasses of Coca-Cola, to fizz and melt into scraps of spinning white sugar tinged pink.
We did not go swimming the day I ate the flowers.
The pool was closed?
We needed to stay dry and dressed so that we could go to the hospital if needed?
**If actual medical treatment was needed, the sick and injured were transported to one of the hospitals in Jacksonville, Florida, on the other side of the river. For the most part, people were transported by ambulance, full sirens arcing over the bridge that connects Georgia to Florida.
I got Life Flighted once, because I went into shock after a boy named Scott pushed me off a treehouse and I landed on my arm in such a way that the bottom ½ of my arm was jammed into the upper ½ of my arm and hung heavy and flopping, bones pressing my skin. Walking around the corner to the patio, where my mother was sitting at a round table, wearing slacks and talking with Scott’s mother, visiting.
I was utterly calm, looking at my arm dangling and crooked. “Mom, I think I broke my arm.” *
Scott’s mom sent over a basket of horrible peanut butter chew Halloween candies wrapped in orange and black wax paper. I had pins in my elbow, an incision wound that looked like a giant centipede on the inside of my left arm. I am left handed, and could not write in school. We were learning cursive.
I did not get Life Flighted when I ruptured my spleen at age 6, even though I was internally bleeding, because it was Christmas Day and there was reputedly too much fog for the helicopter to fly.
***I don’t think that is a real memory, going up the stairs, being carried, at Plum Orchard. I have no way of knowing. I suppose that for the sake of clarity as far as what is real here and what may not be, I will – if there is any doubt about whether a recollection is a composite of actual events, or a representation of something imagined or a memory of looking at a photo of a certain time or place, event – make note of that doubt, acknowledge it, sometimes reflect on the doubt as it may relate to the phenomenon of conscious constructions of experience and memory.
We carried a hoe in the back of the VW van, so that my mother or father could hop out of the car and kill a rattlesnake, lest it be sunning itself in the middle of the dirt road. I understood that the snakes weren’t doing anything wrong, that they were just existing, and that – according to my parents – they could not exist in the same place we existed. My father had very serious talks with us about what to do if we encountered a rattlesnake, how we should throw sand at it and carefully but quickly back away. My mother killed rattlesnakes with a hoe, and I watched her, fear making my throat tight, my breathing thin. She’d stand way back, holding the end of the hoe’s handle like an axe, and let the momentum of the hoe falling through the air cut the snake’s head clean off. Later, my father would cut off the rattler and put it on the shelf of bones and feathers in the hall. I do not know what happened to all the rattles we used to have.
There is this troubling aspect of myself that is still quietly worried about what people will think, although I know that my authentic self and even most rational self does not give a rat’s left foot about other people’s opinions of me.
Here’s the rub: I learned to care what people think. I was taught, through experience, that it matters what people think.
People’s opinions of me have shaped my life experience in profound ways.
So, while all the self-empowerment and Healthy Self Esteem ideas about other people’s opinions of me not being any of my business make total sense on one level, and I can totally understand why someone’s issue with me is more their issue than mine, I still can’t quite shake this reflexive wondering about how something might sound to another person, how I might appear.
Truth is, some people’s opinions of me have caused great harm within my life.
Equally true is that other opinions have afforded me opportunities that some folks might not have access to, on the basis of external evaluation of personhood and capability as assessed by presentation, communication, and whatever bungled associations and assumptions in the matter of certain physical attributes and the content of one’s character may exist in the eye of the beholder.
Regardless of whether I am considering harm or privilege, the fact remains that what other people think about me matters.
Within this culture and society, other people’s opinions can make or break a life.
Jun 22 (11 days ago)
I have been daydreaming about this podcast idea again, that maybe I will do these things on Friday nights, after I go running and my face is red and my hair is oily…my head clear…but, before I take a shower, so that I can do my hair and dress up, put on makeup. I hardly ever wear any makeup besides concealer under my eyes and a smudge of powder over the concealer, two coats of mascara, a tinted gloss. I’d probably look pretty different if I put on makeup. It’s fun to dress up. I have lots of clothes I can’t don’t wear to work or out in the community on weekends, clothes I don’t wear to the grocery store, sweeping the floor.
It’s occurred to me that, truly, I have already endured some fairly thorough humiliation as a by-product of my early online activities and ill-conceived, trauma – fueled efforts to create distinctly digital artwork, where the art was not so much what I was doing and saying, but that I was doing and saying these things on the Internet, with a computer. An initiation into the non-private etherworld and the consequences of perceptions of one’s public 2d persona as imposed by 3d concerned friends and family.
After my lengthy episode, I caught glance of a book about privacy on my father’s nightstand, about why privacy is such a big neurosis, such a headfuck of the modern individualist world.
It is not even July yet and already there are loud fireworks.
Every time there is an explosion, my body jumps, and I have not ever been to war.
I have only seen fireworks, delighted on the 4th of July, shining across the river, exploding over the marsh from downtown, down the river, over fields and cities.
Still, my body jumps.
So, anyway, it’s not like I am new to the humiliation of existing on the Internet. I have a deep and abiding need to talk with people about how their brains work and all the different ways to heal, and I need to have more fun, and I need to play music and draw diagrams.
I want to wear dresses and speak in my most true voice.
July 03, 2017
Tonight, I am listening to old EmmyLou Harris songs on youtube, old Willie Nelson. Gram Parsons.
“Oh, Lord, grant me vision. Oh Lord, grant me speed.”
The above writing is just random efforts, utterances from the past couple of weeks