June 12, 2011

North & South Carolina Trip Log


Our hotel the Edgewater in Gatlinburg was situated in the perfect location relative to the mountains but wasn't much fun to get to. We had to drive through trafficy Pigeon Forge, which is as ugly a town as Gatlinburg is pretty. Gatlinburg is nestled in the embrace of mountains while Pigeon Forge sits in drab foothills, and the natural beauty of the mountains absolves many a city planner sins.

Billboards advertised a theatre featuring the Hatfields and McCoys and I wondered how historically accurate that would be. I suspect not much. The depiction on the billboard was not cause for hope on that score. There is something profoundly corny about the ads but that is somehow strangely intriguing. Is it because it lacks irony?

Woke up at 6:30am for the Great Smoky trail and was pennywise and pound foolish with my time. Instead of diving deep and taking the hit in terms of time, I picked up little half trails off turnabouts along the way. Though it started with a vivid image - a wild turkey standing in the middle of the road.

I started out on a horse trail and found it reminiscent of southwestern Ohio, which is to say disappointing. I was expecting more, something on the order of how I experienced the Smokies back in the 90s. The only telling distinctions of these woods, so far as I could tell, were the plentiful rhododendrons and the nearby creek, which was rockier and cleaner than Ohio creeks.

A few miles later I find an explanation for why this wasn't true Smoky Mountain landscape - turns out this land on the fringe of the park was, a century ago, settled land. Hence the nouveau trees and unstartling views. In hindsight it's not surprising that parks have buffers - adjacent unglamorous land to protect the interior beauty from predations of asphalt and buildings.

So I finally got smart and headed for the interior, where all goodness lay. One can't expect nature to give up her jewels so easily. Like the supermarket, where they put the beer and milk in the back, the best parts of the parks are away from the entrance. Parks naturally will have some buffer. And the chimney top trail 10 miles in was packed full of wonder. Everything was bigger: the rocks of huge slabs arranged as if with an eye to artistry amid the bigger streams. Trees stood old and varied, rhododendrons bloomed more boldly and the coolness given off the mountain streams more refreshing. wildlife encountered included a snail, mid-trail, and three quiet turkeys. No bear!

Heading down the path I recalled a long cherished hike in Hocking Hills of an inner pasture framed by a hedge of trees, which recalled Chesterton's assertion that man loves frames. I also thought with relish how the Cherokees hid out in these woods so long ago. It just feels right that there be somewhere to hide, somewhere wholesomely inaccessible to law and the masses. I wished that a band of Indians still hid out here.

The hotel was also ideally situated for Mass, since the church was only four-tenths of a mile away. The universality of the church was highlighted by the southern accent of the priest - so often I associate Southern accents with Baptists and Methodists.


Feel in MBD (mild beer deficit), the first real day of vacation now that the duties of driving between the white lines and finding hotels have passed. Now it's pure saline water playing ceaselessly along the shore. Now the long vacation drought has ended, the January to June run that seems like the longest time I'd gone without a vacation since a previous century. So I whine.


Hit the beach and read a bit of an Arthur Philips novel and found it trying and wonder if Steven Riddle isn't right in having recently if temporarily sworn off modern novels. Wondering how good writers like Heather King can survive without selling out in some way. I'm worried for them, worried that God won't come through, as crazy as that sounds, for it's crazy to distrust God.

The sun spells two o'clock in the capacious sky. I dream of iPads, glowing in their crystalline way and how it seems to spin limp prose into gold. I think of Flipboard and how someone on Twitter said it was the reason to buy an iPad. I ponder which novel to read next, be it a morsel of sand, as wind-driven wave or the saturnine sun. Sea birds waddle along, busily looking for food as seeming always, pecking at the sea like a nervous tic. The wind pipes a tune in my empty beer bottle while I get set to think deep (copyright pending). I drink a Brooklyn brown ale, a broth the color of resin and reminiscent of antique furniture, built to last.

The waves have not regular hours; they check in and check out continuously 24/7. The ocean plays it's music and desensitizes me to sentiment such that I pick up a Pat Conroy novel. Three o'clock and the sky darkens and the horizon groans thunder. People begin clearing out, the wind stiffens. A front ahead, a front behind!

I love the drama of an approaching storm, the long tell-tale slight overcast, the full-on cloud cover, the distant drums before the sudden alarm of rain drops, here and there, enough to cease reading a book but not to forfeit this tiny spit of sand. Athwart the slings and arrows of outrageous precipitation, we'll not so easily submit! I keep a weather-eye on the life guard, figuring she knows the score. Meanwhile bamboo sticks are heaped up in mid-beach like kindling wood offerings. Kites fly like extras in "Mary Poppins".


Mass this morning. They say the only sure things are death and taxes, but Scott Hahn and family at mass during our week in Hilton Head seems in that same ballpark. It's consoling and inspiring.

The priest made mention of St Paul's struggles with humility. In Acts 20, we see him seemingly consciously trying to reenact Christ's death. Paul was going down to Jerusalem, like Jesus, and said that none of whom to he'd preach would never see his face again. But God had other plans, namely that Paul die in Rome. When I heard of the legend saying St. Peter asked to be crucified upside down because he was not worthy of following Christ's example, it just seemed so amazing given how being crucified itself is so daunting, let alone be thinking at the time of not being worthy of it. There's not a smidgeon of self-entitlement in Peter, not a bit of being impressed over what he's "doing for God". Paul is more relatable, more understandable in some ways.

The priest spoke of how he has a spiritual director and it came to light that he can't speak of his father, dead some thirteen years, without shedding tears. The director said it sounded like he hadn't worked through the death of his father, but in truth the priest saw that he hadn't worked through the life of his father, that is, his current life, eternal life. Ever since then the priest has been able to talk without tears on the subject.

Meanwhile Steph has been reading Kreeft's "Angels and Demons" and she asked for her guardian angel's name last night. In a near dream the names Simeon and Ladicus came to her as names of her angel and mine respectively.


After a delicious breakfast of ham and cheese and eggs and crisp bacon, we headed out to conquer Sea Pines on bikes. We traveled by land and by sea (or at least sea shore) toward our destination of Lawton Stables where Steph enjoyed the animals while I bike-circled the extensive acres of gardens. Flowers as well as vegetables graced the plots and it inspired me to think about weeding and flower-seeding my own garden when I get back to the land of Oh-hi-ya.

Today's reading highlight was Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running". Always inspiring to read about someone doing a 62-mile run just before I put my two-miler in. He is of that provincial unbeliever bent, alas. Also read a bit of Amby Burfoot's book on the necessity of movement given the way we've evolved. Half-dozed as I read more of the Conroy novel (noticed someone else reading it down here - he is master of the Low Country).

Meantime three strata greet my vision: sea, sand and sky. Sand is approximately thirty percent of the slice, sea around fifteen percent and sky the other fifty-five percent. A slight tilt of my head and sky becomes fully eighty percent, decorated with a half blue and half white of cloud.

The ocean, like a clipper ship, has sailed away from us! The tide moves so we move closer to the goal line where water rushes. Holes of sand crabs dot the immediate landscape.


"Well I was born in the sign of water / and it's there that I feel my best / the albatross and the whale they are my brother." - Little River Band

Wednesday, sweet Wednesday, who could not love a vacation Wednesday? The sky shimmers, the wind caresses my supine frame. Three days of extra exercise has left me sun-blissed and prone. Am on the sun deck, feeling an undertow of breeze while overlooking a veranda of green and blue. Wednesday afternoon. It sits meditatively. The rush-rush-rush in the blood becomes a hush-hush-hush. The daily do list has shrunk and the sea calls.


Sightly marred the morning by reading all about the resolution of "Wienergate". Why dost that interest me? Part of it was pure curiosity as to whether Anthony Weiner would get away with a rather obvious lie. But why would he lie about the prank, but so steadfastly not lie about it not being him? I suspect because the lie about being pranked came instantaneously, and was a panicky "3am" lie, one he would thereafter be stuck with. He found it more difficult to lie in the soberness of the next morning, in front of reporters, about whether the picture was of himself (though he did lie about not knowing whether it was him when he knew it was).


The ingredients of a good vacation seem to include access to decent food and as little driving as possible. Getting into HH at 7pm on Sunday felt too late. We didn't need to eat out on the way in, and groceries are easier to get the next day. A 3:30 arrival is much better, allowing a beach crash from 4-6. Monday felt like starting in a hole.

It's pretty easy to run down here: sand is easy on the legs, the sun bright not not too hot, and sea breezy. I did day one's run to Abba's "Supertrooper", day two to "500 miles" and today to the Rocky soundtrack, specifically "The Final Bell". The hairs on my arms stood on ends and adrenaline coursed my veins. It's all I can do to keep my hands and arms from directing the symphony in my ear. Compliant muscles fell into an uncomplaining rhythm. It was as if I could feel, in real time, my body getting in better shape. I lope down the beach past the curious sight of bodies laying flat against the sand, immobile as police chalk outlines.

Am now reading some of David McCullough's latest, "The Greater Journey", about 1830s Americans going to visit or live in Paris. There's the shock and awe, vividly described, of Protestant Americans seeing the cathedral at Rouen for the first time. A "fish out of water" type read. "Paris was a place where one wanted to walk - flaner, as the French said - where to walk is practically a way of life." Seems the mark of a great city is one you want to walk, something I feel only in NYC among American cities. Balzac wrote: "Flanerie is a form of science, it is gastronomy of the eye." The bedding and breakfasts of Paris were also enthusiastically proclaimed: "the was no 'opiate' like a French pillow," said one vistor. Here on this South Carolina beach I could enjoy a decadent "two times travel", a vicarious trip on a real one, making it doubly pleasurable. And I'm hardly a Frenchophile. McCullough is tops.


Oh the sea, the live-long sea! The grey-green sea and its many-splendored waves. Today it felt providential to come upon Murakami's mention of how human beings love to "look at water."

Today was a grandiloquent 10:30am to 5pm day, a generous one without the distraction of bike ride. Just sea winds and wave raves! Music, beer, beach and books, the great white way of sand with no lane lines, no beach traffic controllers, just room to zig and zag when the tide allows. I like a vacation where the biggest responsibility is toting the beach chairs to and fro.


Took the traditional Long Bike Ride (TM) to the little roadside stand that time forgot. Then beyond it to its apposite: the young mansions near Shelter Cove.

The sun is lemon yellow and the surf busy as usual. Beryl waves lap the shore. ("Beryl" is my new favorite word.) I feel a slight unease since tomorrow is already the last day, as if a "gathering storm" is gathering. Read a bit of "Drood" by Simmons, for olde time's sake, for vacation's past.

Pondered last Saturday in the Great Smokies and how I would look at a distant mountain and wonder what it was like there, inside the mountain. But that's fool's gold since I was already on the inside, I could see the representative of its beauty right in front of me. "The mountain is always greener from another mountain!"


I thought about work today in the context of the news of higher than expected jobless claims. Feel I should value my job more, give more thought and energy to it, be more helpful and consistent. Also thought about how the new zeitgeist is "Wikipedia over tags expert" or collaboration over individuality in the workplace. No wonder there's so much emphasis on getting together and hanging out.


Surprised to be reading the Murakami memoir and "The Greater Journey". Kindle is a godsend. It seems logical I would want to read something other than what I was just reading in Ohio. Fresh vacation, fresh reading material. "South of Broad" has taken a detour, gotten preachy. He's great when he's lyrical but less good when dialogue takes over.


Smoky flavor of Edmund Fitzgerald porter intoxicates, even apart from its modest alcohol content. I savor each sip - in fact, each sip seems a slight insult to the last, as if five minutes between sips is not long enough to enjoy the lingering flavor. I've a sudden hankering for old Indigo Girls tunes, always a sign of a vacation well underway. I recall the tune "Nashville" and mentally substitute "Thursday" for Nashville. There are two kinds of waves to ride down here, the kind in the ocean and the "buzz line". A steady .05 in my blood, although that sounds unduly technocratic and chemical.

Meanwhile the sun sparkles gold on the beryl sea. The burnt-early sun reminds me of a long ago "Yes" concert. I remember the strains of '84 reverberating in my memory. The soak of nostalgia under that same '80s sun. And those "Sweet Home Chicago" drives away from home. And how keen the memory of that Fenian band at the Irish pub in NYC - before Irish pubs became common as water.


Hello! Whoa! Feeling the effects of uber-exercise. Light-headed when I get up from a prone position and have developed a supra economy of motion (read: strong desire to do nothing but lay on the beach). Crashed my metabolism such that biking or running on this last day feels punitive rather than restorative.

Still looking for all things Lowcountry on the literary front. Read a Hilton Head travel guide. I like the Columbus Dispatch when in Ohio; down here I avoid the auto-downloads on the Kindle as if it were contaminatory material. Would like to read another Lowcountry author but the pickens seem slim. (Update: later found Dorothea Frank and Cal Linke as possibles.)

Hilton Head was not named after a hotel chain but an early explorer, and read of a potential etymology of the word "Gullah", the language of freed slaves after the Union took the island during the Civil War. The language sounds like Ebonics to me but am strangely drawn to it and regret not buying that Bible in Gullah I saw at a shop a couple years back. History reverberates even here in what ostensibly is a tourist trap.


Murakami's rather prosaic running memoir has inspired this travelogue! If a pro writer can write at length about his tight muscles, then why not a blogger about the beryl sea and my own exercise down here? (Ok, two wrongs don't make a right but...)

I write in part to stave off the erosion of vacation's resin, to preserve as in amber some remnant. A fool's errand but in some quixotic way satisfying nevertheless. A youngster plays in the sand and reminds me of Chesterton - full of wonder over what I so easily overlook. What, pray tell, interests the child in the digging of sand and the resulting immediate water fill? What prompts the travelogue? Like a child in the sand I write in quicksilver on this Etch-a-sketch. I just wish I was in better shape so I can access those insights reserved for longer distance running.

Leonine mothers,
Full of the bumper of fat,
Designed to nurse and nourish.

I sit watching the sea, wondering how much sea to see, wondering how long this landlocked soul should soak in this perishable resource. I took a bike ride in the morning, the trees gift-wrapped with Spanish moss, the sun a living slainte. Savannah and her gothic-green squares lies just twenty miles south but an hour by car. I'd rather float there. The theme from "Gilligan's Island" inevitably comes to mind down here: "no motor cars / not a single luxury." (Except for, oh, stores, beds, beer, Kindle, iPod, etc.., etc...). Monday I swim in the ocean out of an atavistic obligation. Friday I tear into the same with relish. Oh, for another week?


Last night we rode bikes to the surprisingly enjoyable Coligny Square. No square is honored if too close to where one's staying, hence we've long avoided this place replete with places to eat. We found an outside cafe with a fine guitarist and good food, and with craft beer to boot.


Reading about the 19th century, it occurs to me how people seem to have made life worse. Every aspect of existence seems to have been made more difficult by Victorians. For example, clothes. It took women several hours to dress in all those cumbersome clothes. I exaggerate only slightly. Second, the Industrial Revolution forced people indoors under unnatural and overly long work conditions. Third war, the greatest producer of misery mankind has yet invented, and in this country the Civil War was arguably over slavery, another producer of misery. Murakami says pain and pointless effort is salutary (except in the case of war and slavery, of course), because "exerting yourself to the fullest with your individual limits is a metaphor for life." He argues to live life to the fullest is to engage in the challenge of triathlons, hoop skirts and, perhaps, the charge of the light brigade. Me? I prefer the slow suck of beers on a sandy beach. I'm a creature of my age, alack and alas.


So we packed and got out the door around 8am, but I could wish we'd hung out just a bit longer since 10am is the latest we could stay and well the weather was stellar as always, another sunny morning while now, in Virginia, we're hitting rain (a foreign substance of this week). Read desultorily. I miss HH already. How great would it be to retire here! (Note: Must play the lottery.) But the key is to recognize what we're here for, and it's not self-indulgence. Need to read a spiritual book.

Yesterday on the beach we met a fellow Ohioan - surprise - "Ohio South" strikes again. Afterward I took a valedictory bike ride on the nearly empty beach and then went a short way along the bike paths toward Sea Pine.


And so I wake up and almost - almost - expect to see the sea and travel on my bike, a ritual so often repeated this past week. I weigh myself and find it slightly humorous that despite my strenuous exercise I've lost nary a pound. Or I could presume that plenty of muscle was added, offsetting the fat loss. Ha ha.

The weather today is 66 and cloudy in Columbus. It's 73 and sunny down in SC. But the clouds aren't so bad. There's something pregnant about a possible thunderstorm. And it is home anyway. I remind myself I hadn't evolved to live in hot, sunny climates; my sunburnt-skin attests to that.

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