life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Friday, March 21, 2008

moonset over the pee dee

We woke this morning in the dark, gathering our things and venturing out into the world to find that frost limned the windows with silver lace. I spent a cozy night in a grain silo converted into a dollhouse, or rather a hunting lodge; four floors of airy living that the longer I stayed the harder I knew it would be to leave.

But I was only a momentary visitor to the Great Pee Dee Heritage Preserve, a once-a-year enticement that gives me fodder for ruminations and prose for long months afterwards. Like any foray into the wild, either modern or anachronistic, here is where I re-learn that my connection to the land is temporal and severe.

Image courtesy Johannes Kolb Archaeological Site Public Outreach

Last evening I drove up from Stateburg, entering the Darlington Historic District just as the sun dropped below the horizon, so that the last few miles of the trip were cloaked in gilded splendor, tracing the tender branches of the newly-budding willows that lined the corridor of the river, silhouetting the great Black Angus cattle as they lumbered toward dinner, the glow of new green grass behind them shouting the advent of spring as much as the fecund scent of orchard blossoms.
The Silo

Husband, the archaeologist, has a valid excuse to stay the entire ten days that the annual event is open: he's working. From all over the southeast dozens of volunteers, students, and faculty descend on the property once inhabited by one Johannes Kolb, a farmer of some success in this community that still derives the bulk of its income from agriculture. The site has been studied for over ten years, and has yielded a wealth of information about its former occupants.

But I do not come to study in any official capacity, I come to absorb and wallow in the good company and newly unearthed information. Archaeologists live simply, but believe in epicurean comforts. And there is always music. They incorporate what they have learned into their evening relaxations, as they turn a warm fire into the means by which reproduction earthen pots are kilned, as close as possible to that used by the makers of the shards dug up during the week. The bits are studied as to form, structure, and composition, and copies are attempted.

Some of them are marvelously useful. Others for some reason or other do not make it through the firing, coming from the ashes with deep cracks or scars, but these are still considered useful for what they yield about the process.

So we sat in the dark after dinner, imbibing our choice of refreshment, and laughed and talked and sang to the two guitars that appeared to accompany the evening's quiet melodies from the tree frogs and waterfowl. As I said, they live simple but rich, and anyone who wanted to suggested a song and whomever knew the words would sing. The musicians created fantastical accompaniment, and the frogs provided rhythmic backnotes.

There is a lesson here: everything we have is all we need. They discussed the pits they'd dug, and assessed their uses as aboriginal refrigerators. They showed me how the pots were formed for differing purposes - some for boiling, some for storage, some for carrying. Some of them know how to make cordage from fibers found in the eastern woodlands, they know what mushrooms to eat and what leaves will treat wounds.
One of them can make fire in his hands. I didn't say with his hands, I said in his hands. That deserves its own post, for now I will leave that to your imagination, so you may feel the wonder of the phenomenon in the same mystery as the children for whom it was created millenia ago, and you may think about from whence come magical legends of such things. They weren't as magical, or as mythical, as you may believe. But I'll give you a hint: the aboriginal was a chemist.

The promethean in me laughs up her sleeve at that.

This is how I know humanity will be fine, no matter what. This is how I can bury my nose in my books, tend to my children, live my life, with only half an ear to the wind, listening to the wails that beset much of the world obsessed with oil and finance and danger. You tend to that if it pleases you. I'll be as far away from that as I can possibly be, heart dancing in accompaniment to the wind that breathes through my soul.

How can you live like that? I ask you.

Today is Good Friday. Let me tell you why it is ALL good: because everything we have is all we need. And there is only so much we can accomplish if we are listening to angry voices, trying to make up for sadness in which we had no hand, and for which the only answer is to pick up and walk away. And be the beacon. It only took me about 3/4 of my life so far to figure that out - Good God, do you think I want to dwell on how much time I wasted? Wouldn't you rather concentrate on what you've learned and may put to good use, enriching your everyday life and that of those you love?

I believe you would. And so would I.

The definition of wealth contines to evolve, and I am today as wealthy as I've ever been, even though dollar-wise I bring in less than 1/4 of what I did five years ago. I measure my wealth in smiles, and laughter, in peaceful moments around a campfire, in viewing miles of lovely arching trees, old oaks, willows, and pine; in quilted pastures through which creeks tumble in tranquil paths, neat farmhouses set back from the road, brick stores, lumber roads, and a deepest-blue veiled purple morn. And I measure it in better health, and seeing less stress in the eyes of my children. My world is a succinct registry of all that matters.

This morning I had a perfect sky of cerulean blue edged in a silken swath of apricot. Last night I took part in community harmony of the happiest sort, and watched artists at work making useful, beautiful things out of river mud. I was warmed by a red-hot purple-gold fire of wood gathered not fifty feet from where it was built, that served a dual purpose both in beauty and utility. I slept in a building that gives new meaning to the words "adaptive reuse."

PeeDee River at flood stage
It cost me exactly $14.43 in gas money. Everything else was free.

If that isn't your definition of a bargain, I'd really like to know it.

But there is more. Tomorrow I'll tell you all about it. But first, go out and greet the sunrise, say good-night to the moon. That is where it begins.

Note: You can read more about the Johannes Kolb site in this article originally published in South Carolina Wildlife Magazine, Life on a Sandy Knoll, by Christopher Judge.

Archaeologists Chris Judge and Jason Smith


susannah eanes said...

hee. it was alot of fun.

narsilia said...

That was beautiful. Thank you for writing that. I have felt that before. It's something that never leaves you. What a gift you have, both in being there and in relating it to us! :)

Phaedra said...

this is awesome! i had a long comment typed out and teh internets ate it. so i recap... i hope you tell us how he makes fire in his hands cause that's cool. i would love to learn how to make pottery like that, it's useful and fun!

you have a lovely way of relating events that paints a vivid picture. i almost feel like i was there!