"Tradition" is a rather strange word to use in certain contexts. My classroom, for example, is just around the corner from the lobby of Armfield Hall. In the middle of the lobby's floor is a large depiction of the school's seal, and the story among the students is that if you step on the seal, you will not graduate. The story is couched as a Woodberry tradition, and at this school, the word "tradition" is so powerful that people will use it as though it were an actual argument: "We can't stop doing that! It's tradition!"
The strangeness, of course, is that Armfield Hall was opened in 1997. I was already employed here when that seal was set in the lobby floor. In other words, this "tradition" was created wholesale by some nameless student(s) within the last 17 years, but the boys still consider it as weighty and meaningful as any other way of doing things here.
A similarly newfangled tradition is Facebook's "Throwback Thursday," which encourages people to post old photos on Thursdays. Obviously, it's hard to view something on a ten-year-old social media site as "traditional" in the, well, traditional sense, but it does at least give people an excuse to share old and occasionally amusing photos in a setting where others can appreciate it. Having considered the exercise in that light, it occurs to me that there's not reason to keep such photos on Facebook when I can share them with you nice people. Even if it's not Thursday.
This is the dogwood tree that stood (and may still stand) in front of our house on Tinkerbell Road in Chapel Hill, NC. It was one of the first trees I figured out how to climb, and Mom dutifully got a shot of me in it here, probably around 1969.
If you've ever wondered whether Mark Hamill's haircut in "Star Wars" was a 70s style, I think the above pic should settle the issue. I look like I'm about to go into Toshi to pick up some power converters.
But as I hit puberty in about 1976, a few other things were happening besides just my hair was getting longer (and curlier). For one, my skill as a basketball player was approaching its peak. This is my official photo from the Chapel Hill rec department in the winter of '76-'77, when I played center for the Colonels. Coached by Art Finn, we put together a terrific season, combining my passing out of the low post, David Finn's slashing to the basket, and Arnold Stone's deadly jumper. Arnold and I would go on to play at Culbreth Junior High the following year, but never with as much success.
This was taken at Beech Mountain in January of 1977. I had grown five inches over the summer and was probably as skinny as I've ever been in my life, so naturally I insisted on wearing my father's shapeless old football warmup jacket from the 1955 Albemarle HS Bulldogs. Also, you can see that things were starting to happen on my upper lip.
By November of 1980, the lip thing had reached crisis proportions. Here I am behind the bar of our house on Smith Avenue, sporting about as much Seventies cheese as one teenager could manage: mustache, aviator frames, and alligator shirt. (Actually, the mustache I'd grown for the summer production of The Boy Friend, in which I played Percival Brown, the millionaire.)
Luckily, by Halloween of 1983, the rest of my face had caught up. I would actually shave the beard fairly soon after this, a personal grooming choice which altered by social life in Manchester to a great degree, as I later learned that many of my dormmates had been avoiding me for fear of terrorism.
And finally, here I am in early 1992, having recently entered parenthood. That's Ian in the stroller, lounging with me, Kelly, and our friends Peter and Islabeth at Hope Mills Lake.
That's all the Thursday I've got on hand, but keep your eyes peeled; the past isn't even past, after all.
It has not escaped my notice that I'm updating this journal more infrequently than in the past. The main reason, as you might expect, is a string of commitments to things like work and family, a string that is preventing me from getting much written here. (To be honest, it's preventing me from getting much written, period.) When I haven't been scrambling to get a project done for class, or to get caught up on my paper-grading, or to make it down to Richmond for one of Dixon's THREE productions in the last month, I've been trying to get WFS's winter play off the ground. I'm happy to note that auditions went well, and that we'll be presenting Don't Drink the Water
in February, but I'm also pretty tired.
On the plus side, I did get new glasses.
With any luck I'll be able to chime in with a few more updates over the next few months, but in the meantime I'll just ask y'all to be patient with me, and to remember that Along Those Lines
makes a GREAT Christmas gift....
But aside from that, our healthcare system is in great shape! At least until we examine it, that is.
As Saturday, September 13th, dawned, I was already on the move, loading my gear into the Subaru and streaking eastward on I-16. There was time to get a little gas, and to snag a chicken biscuit at Hardee's, but I was under a deadline: by 8:30 I had to reach Meridian, Georgia, and the dock where I would meet the 9:00 ferry to Sapelo Island.
Sapelo is isolated in a variety of ways. One way is physical. There's no bridge, so the ferry is the only way to reach it, and it's not a car ferry; once you get there, you're either taking a tour bus, renting a vehicle, or hoofing it, and I still didn't entirely know which I'd be doing. There's also a certain isolation of access. You can't take the ferry unless you're staying there--either visiting one of the island's residents (whose name you must provide) or using one of its rental properties--or taking an approved tour. There are apparently private tours, but I had signed up for one through the state of Georgia, and the state provided one more form of isolation: information. Plainly put, a lot of it was kept away from those who might want it. I'd been digging around on the internet for weeks just to locate the phone number of the person from whom I could buy a ferry pass, and the web had almost no information about where to search for chachalacas or how to get there. All I could do, I finally reasoned, was show up at the ferry with my glasses and field guide and hope I could get lucky.
The fact that showing up at the ferry was so difficult should have tipped me off about the difficulty of spotting a chachalaca. When I reached the Sapelo Island Visitors Center in Meridian at 8:30 sharp, there was no sign indicating where the ferry was, or where ferry visitors should park; in fact, there was not a space left in the parking lot. I followed the road toward the water and parked along the side when I saw a large white boat at the end. Once I'd stowed binoculars, spotting scope, field guide, camera, and two bottles of water into my backpack (along with the scope's tripod, which poked out the top of the pack by a good four inches even when completely collapsed), I marched down to the ferry only to be told my name wasn't on the list. I explained that I'd made a reservation a week beforehand, and the young man with the clipboard asked which tour I was on. "I made the ferry reservation through the state," I said, unaware that I'd signed up for any tour at all. "Well, you need to check in at the visitor's center," he replied. "Where are you parked?"
Eventually I found that if I parked on the opposite side of the street, I'd be in visitor's territory, as opposed to the side reserved for the cars of island residents. This was in no way shown by any sign. Nonetheless, as I marched back to repark, then strode up the stairs to check in at the visitor's center, I began to feel as though the lack of signage was completely in line with the rest of the experience; clearly, everything was on a need-to-know basis here, and the assumption was that I had no real need.
Fifteen dollars and ten minutes later, I was on the upper deck of the ferry, slathering on sunscreen and waiting for my binocular lenses to clear. The heat and humidity were high enough to send everything I owned into a form of shock, having been contained in an air-conditioned environment for the last four days. (I wasn't feeling that great about the weather myself.) Nonetheless, the lenses on my optics eventually cleared enough to show me that I was in an absolutely stunning place.
The all but windless conditions left the water unruffled under the brilliant morning sun, and the marsh grass extending to the horizon was filled with the sounds of life. There were porpoises cresting in the channel behind the ferry, and my species list for the day started filling up almost immediately: a Great Egret on the bank, a Laughing Gull on a piling, a Wood Stork soaring overhead, a Tricolored Heron wheeling down into the marsh. And then I looked off to the east and was absolutely stunned.
A great bird, wings and neck extended, was headed south along the water's edge, and even in the glare of the sun I could see that it was rosy pink. I had a moment of uncertainty, as this was not a color I should be seeing on any bird in this region, but recognition quickly snapped into place: at the end of the long neck was a long bill, flattened at the end. I was seeing, for only the second time in my life, a Roseate Spoonbill.
It wasn't supposed to be there. Range maps in my field guides put the Spoonbill along the Gulf Coast and at the southern end of Florida. I'd seen a flock of them nesting in Louisiana back in 2009, but I hadn't even considered the possibility of spotting one here. Still, there was no question of its identity. It was huge and pink, for god's sake; how could it be anything--oh, right. I had a camera.
My temporary paralysis led to a rapid search of my pack and a desperate attempt to get the bird in my viewfinder before it vanished. I succeeded, but as you can see, just barely. It's at the far right-hand edge of the picture:
It wasn't a good photo. It wasn't a life bird. And it certainly wasn't a chachalaca. But if you can't be happy with a day where a spectacular, unexpected bird flies out of nowhere into your field of view, then dammit, you should quit birding now and find a hobby where surprise is discouraged.
The ferry ride was wonderful, as most ferry rides are, and I enjoyed the full Walt Whitmanesque experience of watching the play of light on water and the play of birds in the air. A variety of terns were in motion around the boat, including Sandwich, Forster's, and Royal Terns (seen here):
Once I got to the island's ferry station, however, I came back to earth somewhat. For one, I could now gauge the distances better, and I could see that Sapelo's scale was not something I'd appreciated properly. I had to be back at the ferry by 12:30 to get back to the mainland, and I could see now that walking even as far as the lighthouse would eat up most of my morning--and that presumed that a chachalaca, a bird of the forest, would be hanging out near the waterside. Luckily, there was a tour bus, an air-conditioned tour bus at that, and my ferry ticket was good to get me onto it. Unfortunately, even though I asked the driver about birding and was assured that we'd stop at some places where I could look for chachalacas, the tour was not intended to show the natural features of the island so much as the historical and cultural features. We therefore got a look at some intriguing places, including the ruins of the sugar cane mill that drove the original settlement of the island, as well as the only operating store, the post office, the peculiarly-named Behavior Cemetery, and the mansion occupied by Sapelo's former main landowner, R.J. Reynolds:
Though the stop at the post office did allow me to see the year's first Common Yellowthroat, as well as what must have been several dozen Eastern Kingbirds all hunting insects from the same wire, I had only a brief bit of time to do serious birding, and that was in non-chachalaca habitat: along the sand of Nanny Goat Beach. With my scope on my shoulder, I was able to log a healthy mixed flock of Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns, as well as patiently waiting for several small shorebirds to get close enough to me to reveal themselves as Sanderlings, already out of their breeding plumage for the year. But that was it. I still didn't have a life bird in Georgia.
I got back on the bus, back on the ferry, and back on the mainland. It was 1:00 and time to move north; I'd be spending the night at my parents' house in North Carolina, and I had about probably seven more hours of driving ahead of me. But I also knew that between Sapelo and Savannah lay a terrific birding spot: Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. I couldn't get a chachalaca there, true, but might I come up with some other life bird? A Purple Gallinule or something, maybe? Hell, I'd already logged a Spoonbill for the day. What did I have to lose?
Harris Neck, an abandoned WWII airfield, is a prime breeding ground for the Wood Stork, and they were there in quantity, but I was also treated to a delicious cool breeze and some spectacular blue-green scenery:
There was more. Common Moorhens in the shallows. A pair of Wood Ducks close to shore. A Pied-billed Grege actually in flight, as I almost never see them. Anhingas fishing in Woods Pond. Cattle Egrets, touched with butterscotch. And stepping delicately on the far shore of one pond, a gawky white bird with a bicolored bill. I nearly jumped. There are only two American wading birds with two-colored bills, and as I looked more closely at this one, I saw that the tip of the bill was dark... and the base was pinkish.
Now I was excited. A pink bill with a dark tip is a field mark of the only American heron I have never seen, the Reddish Egret. It comes in both rusty-red and white plumages, but the bill is always the same. Like the Spoonbill, it's a bird of the Gulf Coast, but I already had proof that such birds could turn up in Georgia. Clearly I had to get a better look. And look I did. Hard. I even attempted a "digiscope" photo, pressing my camera to the lens of my spotting scope, and getting the following crude image:
The base of the bill was definitely pinkish... but the legs were wrong. They were a definite yellow-green, not the slate grey of the Egret's legs. And the bird wasn't feeding like a Reddish Egret, which charges around the shallows with its wings extended, trying to herd prey into its reach; instead, this bird was carefully picking its way around the rim of the pond, pausing, then stalking further along. In other words, it was feeding like the other American heron with a two-tone bill: the Little Blue Heron. I'd already seen an adult Little Blue at the same pond, so the sight of its offspring, which is pure white, should not have surprised me, but I was once again keenly aware that I remain liferless in Georgia.
I settled back into the car and began the long drive home. Georgia remains a fascinating, if in some ways frustrating, place to bird, but knowing that I can see what I have seen there before, I'm not about to stop looking for what I haven't seen yet.10:29 AM
It's been a week of new experiences. On Tuesday, September 9th, the school year began here at Woodberry Forest School, and less than 36 hours later I was behind the wheel and heading south. That in itself wasn't a particularly new experience, but after spending the night at my parents' house in North Carolina, I got up on Thursday and drove through one of the relatively few parts of South Carolina I'd never seen. By 3:00 I was across the Savannah River and safely checked in at Statesboro's Holiday Inn, which provided a welcome, indeed necessary, place for me to shower. Why the necessity? Because the air conditioner in our Subaru was working only intermittently, and the weather in southwest SC had proven more than hot and humid enough to get me good and stinky.
Post-shower, I was happy to be picked up by my friend Debi, who gave me a brief tour of Georgia Southern's campus and then brought me to the Information Technology Building for the evening's festivities: a reading and talk by yours truly:
(And no, I had not deliberately pandered to my audience by showing up in a dark blue shirt with yellow and white stripes. That was just serendipity--a word I would use more than once over the next few days.)
The reading went well, though I was unable to control my educator's instincts and spent part of the time drawing a diagram of the "ring species" phenomenon on the white board. I also signed a lot of books and shook a lot of hands. The crowd was a mix of GSU creative writing faculty and students, and after I finished, a few of the former took Debi and me across town for Thai food and lively conversation. As enjoyable as the evening had been, I was somewhat relieved to reach my hotel room, where for perhaps the second or third time in my life, I felt so tired that I actually turned off the lights without reading. And no, I didn't set an alarm.
The next day had very little on its schedule, so I took a leisurely breakfast at a nearby Panera, where I indulged in all the carbohydrates I'd denied myself all summer. Bloated by bagels and cream cheese, I decided to revisit one spot Debi had shown me the night before, the Georgia Southern Botanical Garden, which had been one of her daughter Brittany's favorite spots on campus.
Once a working farm on the outskirts of town, the gardens were now a mixture of forest, flower beds, and lawn, with several historic and renovated barns and other structures suitable for weddings and other functions.
I had logged the year's first Great Crested Flycatcher there the night before, and another turned up for me on Friday, along with an active and easily visible pair of Red-eyed Vireos, a sizable flock of Robins, and a few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. The trees, shrubs, and flowers were varied and plentiful, and I greatly enjoyed looks at everything from peppers to pitcher plants to pinecones--big ones.
I also spent a bit of time wandering the downtown area, where I discovered two important things: first, a comic book shop, whose stock was impressively large and varied, almost as much so as its mascot's costume:
And second, I discovered the center of the universe: where Main Street intersects with Main Street:
After dinner with Debi at Chops--a verrrry nice helping of shrimp and grits--I went back to the IT building--sans camera, alas--for the main event of my trip: the presentation of the 2014 Brittany "Ally" Harbuck Memorial Scholarship in Creative Writing. I spoke a few words of introduction, but the bulk of the heavy work was done by Debi, who presented the scholarship and its accompanying basket of books to this year's winner, Sarah Fonseca, and by the nominated students, each of whom read a short piece of his/her own work. To say there was some talent on display is an understatement. I was delighted by the opportunity to meet with many of the readers after the presentation, discussing everything from coursework to pop music to graphic novels (Sarah seemed especially pleased at my fulsome praise for Alison Bechdel's Fun Home
.), and I returned to my hotel with a feeling of general satisfaction--and a plan for Saturday.
The plan was nothing new. As I've done many times before, I set out to see a life bird in Georgia. More than any other place, the Peach State has been consistent in offering me opportunities to see birds, but only species that I've seen before. I've visited parks, beaches, and wildlife refuges all over its territory, and because I've had family living there most of my life, I've been able to spend time there for literally decades. This time, however, I had a specific bird in mind, and therefore a specific location: Sapelo Island, the only place outside of Texas where an American can log a Plain Chachalaca. Though the bird is common in Latin America, its range extends only slightly north of the Rio Grande--except on Sapelo, where it was introduced as a game bird some decades back, and where it has established a small breeding population. My hope, then, was to take the ferry to the island--there is no bridge--spend the morning hunting down a Chachalaca, and hit the road back to my parents' place once the ferry got back to the mainland just after lunch.
That's not quite
how it worked out.TO BE CONTINUED!
Yes, I'm thinking about the Peach State, where I'll be in only a few days. On Thursday night, September 11th, at 7:00, I'll be doing a reading of my work in Statesboro on the campus of Georgia Southern University. If you're in the neighborhood, by all means stop by.
On Friday, September 12th, at 3:00, I'll be back on the GSU campus for a reading by three terrific student writers, including Sarah Fonseca, the winner of the 2014 Brittany A. Harbuck Memorial Scholarship in Creative Writing, and the other two finalists for the scholarship.These two events are linked, as yours truly was honored to serve as judge for this year's scholarship.
Brittany (a/k/a "Ally") was a bright and talented young woman, a student at GSU and a budding writer, when her life was cut short by a traffic accident in 2005. Since that time, her mother, the gracious and absolutely indomitable Debi Carey Harbuck, has done her best to give other young writers the chance to share their talents with the world. It's a bittersweet occasion, to be sure, but I'm proud to have known Brittany and even prouder of her mom, and it's humbling to be asked to offer my words and my judgment in this cause. 10:55 PM
In my last post, I asked, rhetorically, what a police department would do if it was not interested in shedding light on the truth about a police shooting.
It would probably do something like this
The chief of police for the Ferguson Police Department misled members
of the media and the public when he asserted that his hand was forced
in releasing surveillance footage that purported to show 18-year-old
resident Michael Brown engaged in a strong-arm robbery at a convenience
store hours before he was fatally shot by a police officer.
Chief Thomas Jackson distributed copies of the surveillance tape at a press conference on Aug. 15 in tandem with the public release of the identity of the officer who was responsible for shooting Brown.
questioned by members of the press about the tape -- which apparently
had nothing to do with the fatal shooting of the unarmed teenager --
Jackson told reporters that he was legally obligated to release the tape
because members of the media had submitted an open records requests for
"We've had this tape for a while, and we had to diligently
review the information that was in the tape, determine if there was any
other reason to keep it," Jackson said at the press event. "We got a lot
of Freedom of Information requests for this tape, and at some point it
was just determined we had to release it. We didn't have good cause, any
other reason not to release it under FOI."...However,
a review of open records requests sent to the Ferguson Police
Department found that no news organization, reporter or individual
specifically sought the release of the surveillance tape before police
distributed it on Aug. 15.
In short, the FPD released the videotape because it wanted to.
Why would I make that claim? Because other materials requested under FOI have not been been released, including recordings of 911 calls and tapes of police dispatchers. But primarily, I make it because Chief Jackson was not truthful; he was not forced to release that information at all.
The next question, of course, is why the FPD would want to release the one piece of information but not release any of the others.
And yes, that question is largely rhetorical.
Selectively releasing material that make the victim look bad while withholding information that might NOT make him look bad (or might possibly make Wilson or the FPD look bad) could be called a lot of things. "Transparency" is not one of them.
I'm still a long way from gathering my scattered thoughts on Ferguson, MO, into anything coherent, and with faculty meetings beginning a little over an hour from now, I kinda doubt I'm going to get to it in the immediate future, but I think there's at least one thing I can say with confidence: what bothers me about Ferguson isn't so much the single incident of Michael Brown's shooting, but the police response TO that shooting. The Ferguson PD (and the assisting police from the St. Louis area and the greater Missouri area) has shown, often very pointedly, that it is in no way interested in determining the truth behind this shooting, let alone sharing that truth with the public.
No incident report was ever filed by the FPD about the shooting.
No witnesses were interviewed by the police.
When journalists arrived in Ferguson to cover the story, some were harassed, some were arrested, some were threatened WHILE CAMERAS WERE ROLLING and some were even targeted for tear-gassing.
Just those basic facts make it hard to trust that the FPD was trying to ensure that the truth came out. Add to them the marked contrast in the way the FPD dealt with the two main figures in the drama. There was nearly a week's delay in so much as mentioning the name of the officer involved in the shooting--Darren Wilson, who has been out of sight in an undisclosed location for nearly a month now--yet the FPD somehow found time to release a video (against the advice of the Justice Department) showing Michael Brown shoving a convenience store clerk, an incident that even the police have admitted had nothing to do with his being stopped by police on the fatal day.
You can make your own judgments about the paramilitary response to the protests, the reports of looting, the establishing of a no-fly zone over Ferguson by the FAA, and so on, but when we narrow the focus to the actual shooting incident, it becomes harder and harder to give the police the benefit of the doubt. Consider the two main possible narratives:
1) Could Michael Brown have been the dangerous, threatening thug that the Wilson supporters claim he was? Sure. But if that were the case, wouldn't a police force interested in shedding a light on the incident have done a bit of, y'know, police work? Wouldn't it have written up some reports? Questioned some people? Wouldn't it have encouraged journalists in to see the truth, or even invited them in and demonstrated how Officer Wilson had no choice but to fire on Brown?
2) Could Darren Wilson have fired shots in anger at an unarmed man? Sure. And if he had, what exactly would a police force interested in covering up the truth have done?
I have an uncomfortable feeling that the second police force would have done exactly what the FPD has done: keep information from the public whenever possible, unless it makes the shooting victim look bad, and work hard to keep journalists from digging up information on their own.
And if you're concerned that this police behavior is systemic, rather than limited to a single officer or even a single PD, some things are starting to come out about how politics tie into the way the police handled this incident--and indeed, how the police handle their jobs throughout Missouri. I can't vouch for all of the information provided by Shaun King in this series of Tweets
, but I have to admit that it would explain a lot.
I just hope someone is digging deeper into the story. I don't like what I've seen so far--not one bit.
UPDATE: And only about fifteen hours after I made this post, I note that the Department of Justice apparently doesn't like what it's seen so far,
either. 7:35 AM
Legally, yes, the big number was 18, but I think in many ways the more important number is 21, if only because all the years of underage drinking finally end in a glorious revelation that the person drinking legally today has been drinking ALL ALONG.
In short, we have not been invited to Richmond for Dixon's 21st birthday celebration tonight. We'll visit him on Monday.
But as of midnight, he reaches the historical age of majority, and given his status as The Youngest Kid In His Class Since Always, I'm sure he's more than ready to join his fellow VCU seniors in their public enjoyment of spirits. It's a bright new day.
Still, it's also the end of an era for me and Kelly. Ian and Dixon will always be OUR children, but there's no longer any pretense that either is a child. Hasn't been for a while, really. But Kelly still felt compelled to text Dixon and inform him: "THIS IS YOUR LAST DAY AS A TINY CHILD."
Actually, that day passed long ago, but we're parents. We linger on those days in our memories. Even as my mother is visiting us right now, regarding me as the big hairy man I've been for decades, there are still images in her head of my childhood, images she recalls with a clarity I cannot match, and I'm comforted by the fact that someone else is keeping parts of my past intact when I cannot do the job myself. That's our entire purpose as parents: to do the thing that lies beyond our children's abilities, and to teach them to do it for themselves.
We remember that you needed us, and we sometimes like to remember being needed. But I think we also enjoy not being needed. And when you're old enough to make your own lives, we have the chance to make more of our own as well.
Happy birthday, Dixon. We won't forget.
I said I was going to try, once again, to get some thoughts about Ferguson, MO, into some kind of readable shape, and honestly, I had every intention of doing it.
But then Charles Pierce just posted a piece and now nothing I do looks adequate.
Read it, please. Remember it. And if I ever write something that approaches it for quality, please be kind enough to let me know."They left the body in the street." 4:00 PM