July 31, 2012

The Obligatory Trip Log

Resplendent as the blaze of summer noon, Or the pale radiance of the midnight moon. - "The Odyssey"

My mind still churns, turns over a work problem, hoping that by fussing it I'll arrive at some grand insight and make it go away. There could've been a better time for vacation, just a week later would've worked in this case. Am surprised at how the issue haunts me, even in my dreams. Which suggests, perhaps, that I need a vacation. Over and over my mind goes to that addicting slot machine of an Excel spreadsheet, the one where with the correct formula change will cause the cascading column of red (i.e. unmatched records) to turn to a splendid line of 0s, indicating a perfect match. I kept playing this week with different combinations of formulas hoping for success even though I know, logically, that you can't solve for an equation with three unknowns. I guess I'm a victim of my own success, the success of having made enough changes to see 95% of the records change to zero gold.


But oh I feel the soothe of the ocean, this Sunday morning. I look over the palms beneath the patio and am surprised at my reaction: all these visits to this condo and I'd never noticed how the palms are perfectly cylindrical at their base? How they plunge into the earth like poles, without the swell of impending roots? How odd I should notice now!

Meantime the breeze lifts with the scent of sea while squadrons of pelicans fly by. I look over the vast playground ocean and feel the Pavlovian expectation of biking and drinking and running and music.

The trip down went as smoothly as it ever has. A nice, tame drive whiled away with part of Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Lincoln" on audio, a C-Span podcast on the authors of a book about how ex-U.S. presidents have something of a private fraternity of understanding, a spot of music and, as a salve, some good fiction while Steph drove (a novel called "Beautiful Ruins" which I saw via Goodreads that Amy Welborn gave 3 stars - my approach to fiction over the past couple years has been to fly blind as blindly as possible and avoid reviews so that I can discover the book as if it were virgin territory, unexplored by anyone else and thus untainted by any prejudices I may bring to it).


And so into the July heat I run, into the warm embrace of ambrosial sand and white-foamed waters. The brief coffe-toxicated patio writings, Mass with the consoling vision of Christ on the cross (sometimes, it seems, the part I get most from Mass aside from Communion seems to be the art in the church. Well, as Pope Benedict says, the "face" of Jesus for us, now, are the wounds of Christ. Baptists always seem to me to tie one hand behind their back, given their allergy to religious art. I recall how Joan of Arc requested she see a crucifix while on the stake.

* (Asterisks, the king of awkward blog segues.)

Driving to SC yesterday made me long again for sightseeing travel, even if it be the anodyne type atop a double-decker tour bus. I hunger for travel while at the same time depend on these beach vacations as wonderful full-glottal stops in the slip-stream of time. Apropos of nothing, I think back to a recent visit to someone in the hospital and how intergenerational it felt, how the young were ministering to the very old. I guess that's the cycle of life, the very young and the very old dependent on the service and goodwill of everyone else. The beach is a stage and all must play a part. The elderly remind us of the transience and perishability of convention views of beauty. The young provide the entertainment without which no play works.

Ballykissangel was on the "telly" yesterday. Nostalgia on steroids. It was comforting to see those characters again, to re-experience the associations of my younger self. Ballykissangel and Monarch on the Glen seem to take on greater currency than the quality of the shows would indicate if only because my surrounding life was soaked in a sort of contemplative existence.

"...every body of a piece, every factual expanse of skin, the contour of them— that’s what language can’t do, curve and heft of it, that stretch…Oil and shadow, fat and wax, grief solidified." - from a Mark Doty poem
The occasional refreshing breeze sluices over the deck, along with the singing of a girl near me who listens to her earphones while maximally unclad. Meanwhile the glassine sea breaks and re-forms constantly. The beach feels crowded. Perhaps it's my imagination or the tide is shortening the beach when I'm down there. It all feels vaguely reminiscent of the local pool, the shrieks and cries, the ebbs and sighs.

I read "In Praise of Hangovers" (which I rarely get anymore due to a more moderate drinking schedule) after moving to an especially sweet spot now, in a "private" space with arable sand around me and spacious ocean in front. I'm listening to tropical music with the pleasant foreknowledge of beers and running ahead. Another run on the beach and this was much easier lung and leg-wise, but much harder chafe-wise. Felled by that most banal of "injuries", I run like I'm bowlegged. Then into the saltwater for a cool, refreshing burn. My motto: neither burn of sun, nor chafe of thigh, nor rip of contact nor ear of swimmer shall keep me from my appointed sea-ly rounds.


So the day began, helpfully, with Mass. Good readings and great peacefulness inside that daily mass cocoon. There's something healing and "monasterial" about the ride under the tall pines draped with Spanish moss and the ensuing quiet sanctuary at Holy Family. Daily mass is so qualitatively different from the busy Sunday version.

I suggested lunch at the Smokehouse Grill where we pigged out on pig. We were edified there by the sight of a tattoo on a young woman. Across her upper back, in calligraphic script, read: "St. Genesius". I'd never heard of the saint so Steph checked the 'net and it turns out he's the patron saint of actors, having starred in plays mocking Christ but then experiencing a deep conversion that led eventually to martyrdom. Wow.

Then found a brand new bike path. Pristine forest primeval, a cathedral of pines flanking our way, Spanish moss like melting gargoyles, a place the envy of even Sea Pines. We ended up at Crossing Park, with a meadow labeled as such (how quaint! Who does not love a meadow, that oasis of order surrounded by chaos?)

It's a body conscious world down here, at least for us. I appreciate the bigger bellied shirtless guys, as if providing cover, as if body grading is on a curve. Steph asks me to point out women closes to her build. It's a shame, really, that we're so weight conscious but it is what it is.


The tide has carried the sea afar, the white caps twinkling randomly like lightning bug flashes. As a conservative, a lover of stability, I can't say I'm so fond of these liberal tide movements. But I make do, ha. I wonder what the seagulls find so appetizing in these little makeshift eddies of temporary water in small dips on the beach? Crabs I guess. Odd they find a meal in an inch of water.

O'er the warm Lybian wave to spread my sails; That happy clime, where each revolving year / The teeming ewes a triple offspring bear. - The Odyssey
In the mornings I tend to be spiritually ambitious and long for a contemplative day (ha!), more salutary and uplifting reading, etc.. In a word, a touch of retreat, of that magical time at St. Theres's with that big, fat, green Bible on in the tiny crucifix'd room. A flavor of spiritual savor.By late afternoon my idea of a good vacation is music and beer. I listen to Rumbon, a Latino station, to try to get me through the equatorial heat of another run. Doesn't really work. Methinks I have some fitness issues.

So now I linger on the sun deck. I see some college kids and remember the richness of time then, of how wealthy they seem not in terms of money but with time. They do not swoon, moonstruck, over seven days off.

This morning watched a sobering documentary-style re-enactment of three fishermen trapped on an island off the coast of Baja California. Fourteen days without much food or water and one of them, sadly, perished. So close! Just one day from being rescued. "His face was different," was how his companion described him about finding him dead. So sad the way he died, having become angry and delusional. One seeks a happy ending in this life if only where "happy" is defined as accepting and repentant.

The beach is clustered with tents and umbrella cities. Another sign of the wussification of America? I remember when people put a towel down on the sand and liked it. But people are heavier now (and thus deal with heat more poorly) and are more used to a/c. Or people (other than me) have simply gotten smarter, realizing that being in the sun increases the risk of skin cancer!


Saw a couple women reading the infamous "Fifty Shades of Gray" down here. They weren't turning fifty shades of red.

Wednesday. 4:38pm. Rocky time. I mean literally time to play the theme from Rocky on my headphones. There's a tissue-thin but significant difference between 3 o'clock and 4 o'clock. The wind picks up, increasing to wind tunnel proportions, and the ocean pulls back creating a lack of intimacy with the water unless you move, which of course we're hellbent on not doing. And by 4 or 5 there's that melancholic slant of sun that signifies not "vacation" but the familiar post-workday light.

"Charm'd with that virtuous draught, the exalted mind / All sense of woe delivers to the wind." - "The Odyssey"
Ah the days of brainlessness, of sea and sky and running wild on the heavy sands. Did a long bike this morning to Harbor Town and environs, including the ever-melting garden and horses at Lawton. Oh to look upon a sunflower demurely bowing in the heat of deep summer! The little dirt path looked like out of "Walton's Mountain". Steph petted the animals and we both admired the huge draft horse "Harley". Very rarely do I touch an animal that big - it provokes a sense of awe. Gave him some water from the palm of my hand and the tongue was ginormous. It's just a whole new order of scale from what I'm used to, i.e. a hundred-pound dog. Equivalent to about 15 dogs!

Sprint-ran a mile in the forbidding sands. A month down here and I'd be in pretty good shape. Eating just isn't a priority here, it takes time away from the myriad of other activities. So it's Thursday already. "Ain't it Funny How Time Slips Away," -- I bought the Willie Nelson version of the song off iTunes. With today's music we're not leaving anything on the table: "Jersey Girl" by Springsteen, "Whiskey River" and "Pancho & Lefty" from Willie Nelson, "No Tie-ups" via Wolftone.

There's a slight comfort in happy hour Thursday, in knowing a full day is left at least. I read a bit of a light novel, some sonnets of Shakespeare and a bit of Homer. Something about that rhythmic sing-song of "The Odyssey" and the sonnets that appeal in this beachy place. The seas white-top like canvas sneakers of yore - I recall those squeaks on the gym floor, the glide motion of emotion, the centrifuge at the basket, the sweat, fret, the lithesome cords of net, release spinning ball, wrist fall, crunch of sneaker back to earth.

I like the possibility of recapturing that fluidity of youth, that economy of physical expression, that singing surge of applied adrenalin. It somehow feels important even as the sedentary activity of reading becomes more prominent in my daily life. Perhaps I underestimate the physical in "real" life given how we've acclimated and evolved to move. Lack of movement ought be the exception rather than the rule.

Engage your journey o'er the pathless main / Where savage pirates seek through seas unknown / The lives of others, venturous of their own. - The Odyssey
Oh the Spanish moss! Nothing says "Hilton Head" or "vacation" like the silver draperies on trees that initially I thought unsightly or unduly Victorian. Now I associate it with those stellar bike rides and the red pine needle carpets on my right and left. I'll miss you Spanish moss.

Hard not to be a clockwatcher on this last day. 10:45am already? Mornings and early afternoons, of course, are a great deal of what makes a vacation so special given that I relatively have outdoor access to them in the course of a work day.

Back to my trusty steed and the path of wanderlust: and I feel so John Muir-ish: I love each and every tree I pass by, each plant, bush and flower, and the sun is ridiculously dependable (the weather was said to be partly cloudy this week with a chance of thunderstorms each day - ha, fat chance - just sun. In Ohio partly cloudy means half the day is overcast; in south South Carolina it means nothing.) The exhilarating freedom of that long ride, of those sudden glimpses of beautiful golf course between sky high bamboo shoots, of those beds the color of Irish hair, those red-hued pine needle affairs.

It seems almost providential that as the meter ran out on beach time Friday, the skies grew grim and a "Southeaster" began brewing. Severe thunderstorm alert for Hilton Head, and so by 6 we packed up our bags and left on our own terms, slowly making our way before washing the sand off us at the water hose station, and putting an effective end to our trip.

And so the clock has run out and the light dies. Nothing makes for better last-day reading than some good doom and gloom stuff, some of that "the new generation is going to hell in a handbasket," and I received it from "The Fix", a book about addictions of our generation. As Walker Percy might say, doom and gloom is sort of a amphetamine for the soul. One wants some sort of cataclysm to wake one up. Perhaps even on a vacation.


Thomas D said...

I'm going to comment on the epigraph to your trip-log: the quotation from the Odyssey, in Pope's translation. Those two lines remind me of the passage in the Song of Songs: Who is she who comes forth, beautiful as the moon, resplendent as the sun? (pulchra ut luna, electa ut sol ...)

TS said...

Yes indeedy, that Song of Songs passage would've made a good quote addition as well!