Posts Tagged ‘Clarks Hill’

I remember last week, we were pulling out of Uncle B.’s driveway. Mom and I were both clean, showered, and shorn, but already drenched to the bone with Georgia humidity. “Oh, Passion flowers, you should get a picture of those,” Mom said. I tried to peer over the edge of the Benz window to see what she was talking about. Low and flat to the ground were these starbursts of purple, the likes I had never seen before. Passion flower. The leaves around them were a broad, deep green, providing a little yoga mat for their luscious blooms. I hopped right out of the car with my Canon.

Mom waited while I took a few shots. I found myself wanting to spend most of the time in Georgia inside in the air conditioning of cars, motel rooms, and my uncle’s new home on Clarks Hill Lake. But the trip demanded that I experience the dogged heat of July in Georgia. I wonder if those dog day afternoons come from the way animals lie in the shade or drape over anything cool they can find so they don’t have to move. That’s the way I felt most of the time we spent outside in the Deep South.

Except by the Atlantic on St. Simons Island. We spent only one day on the beach, two on the island. Mom sat on a blanket high on the sand while Liz and I rolled up our pant legs and traipsed around in ankle deep salt water. It was low tide and all the beachcombers were searching for shells. Liz happened to find the most beautiful conch shell (she’s lucky that way) and pulled it up for all to see. A young girl about 12 came over to see what we had found. Her dad was quick to tell us that we’d have to boil the critter who was living in it out of the shell or it would stink to high heaven.

He also said there were very few shells on St. Simons so Liz was lucky to find one so beautiful with not a crack or chip in sight. After running the shell up to show Mom, we decided to return the conch to the sea. Liz wandered out a ways from shore and dropped her back under. Later that night, we ate at 4th of May on a little shopping strip street that runs into the pier. Afterwards, we took the pier walk and checked out the lighthouse. The salt air was blowing across the Atlantic. It was the coolest I had felt in days.

It felt good to travel somewhere new, to get out of my own environment and drop into Summer. The next night, my second cousin came down to St. Simons from Midway. Mom had not seen her in something like 40 years. I turned on the tape recorder while the two of them talked about family history. Some I was too young to remember. But I had seen the photographs. Their perspectives on my great grandmother varied with their childhoods. One’s ceiling, the other’s floor. I was fascinated. We whipped out the queen-sized family tree I printed out before we left Pennsylvania. And Liz talked to my second cousin’s husband about the sci-fi book he was writing.

I kept thinking about how different our experiences are, even in the same family. I thought of my brother and everything he was going through in Pennsylvania, the stress on him, the stress on the family. I thought of the cool 92 degrees in Minnesota, the home I had left a week before. I thought of the rural drive through small towns in Georgia, the Claxton Fruit Cake people, the record breaking catfish caught by a local Georgia angler. I asked Liz if she liked catfish. “I don’t like to eat bottom feeders,” she said. I thought about the huge carp my step-dad caught when I must have been only 8 or 9.

Was he in Yamasee with my grandfather? Or fishing Clarks Hill Lake where he swears he once saw an alligator. After that, when Liz and I were sitting on the dock, reading Flannery O’Connor’s letters, The Habit Of Being, I could swear she was keeping one eye open for gators. It did make me a little leery of dipping my pinky into the lake. But the kids jumped in headfirst. They are fearless. A water moccasin once swam by me when I was about 10, swimming in Clarks Hill Lake. I was paddling along shore while Mom was out waterskiing. I guess I used to be fearless, too.

I have noticed how much more fearful we get as the bones move up in years. But Passion flowers keep blooming, alligators keep snapping, conch shells still swim the 7 seas, and I can’t change the history of the past. I can only learn to know it. Keep writing it all down. My interpretation. Another layer of cracked clay and burnt orange sediment at the bottom of a life.

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, August 9th, 2008

-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SUMMER

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Savannah River Near Augusta, June 8th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 

Savannah River from the Bridge, Augusta, Georgia, June 8th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

“It seems I have always lived near rivers and trains.”

The day we went to Eve Street, I remembered I hadn’t taken any photographs of the Savannah. I had zipped off a couple of shots of the 5th Street Bridge, a landmark in disrepair. My grandfather helped build that bridge. It was strange to go back to a place where my family had so much history. I’m used to living in towns and cities where I have no immediate blood kin.

It stands to follow that in those places, I have to forge my own bits of history. But spending time in a city where family members are woven through architecture, church, field, and stream, made me feel connected. Close. The water there plays a big part in my childhood.

The Savannah River is about 350 miles long and its source is in eastern Georgia at a confluence of the Seneca and Tugaloo Rivers. The headwaters originate in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia near Ellicott Rock, the point where the borders of those three states meet. The river flows from a cool, clear stream in the Blue Ridge Mountains and empties through tidal plains into the Atlantic.

Savannah and Augusta are the largest cities on the Savannah River and most of their history evolved from commerce and trade on her waters. Savannah is on the Atlantic, Augusta on the fall line.

Lake Hartwell is a 56,000 acre manmade lake built in 1963 by the Army Corp of Engineers on the headwaters of the Savannah. The 71,535 acre Clarks Hill Reservoir was built by the Corp in 1954 and is 22 miles north of Augusta. Clarks Hill is where my mother wants her ashes to be scattered. She says she spent some of the happiest times of her life waterskiing and swimming in Clarks Hill.

The Savannah River’s history goes back some 12,000 years to the Ice Age. That makes my 400-year-old family history look paltry. Human history along her banks includes Hernando de Soto, James Edward Oglethorpe, the Westo Indians, and a wandering tribe called the Savannah Indians, armed by a group of Carolinians, who drove out the Westos in the Westo War of 1680 and gave their name to the river.

Part of my ancestry can be traced back to Oglethorpe. But the memories I have are of Grandmama Elise picking me up from Belvedere Circle in her black, 40’s Pontiac and singing The Good Ship Lollipop to me as we crossed the 5th Street Bridge. (My great grandfather told them they would run into quicksand when they built it, but they didn’t listen.) When we drove across the river border between South Carolina and Georgia, the wind from the rolled down passenger window roared through my hair; the smell of the paper mill on the river is something a child never forgets.

The memories I have are of rolling over the river to Reynolds Street and my Granddaddy’s shop where my step-dad worked part-time as a mechanic (in addition to his full-time job). I remember the girly calendar on the wall, the smell of grease and Gojo, and pulling an ice cold Coke out of a shiny, red vending machine that gripped the blue-glass bottles like a vice. Then we’d drop salted peanuts from a bag of Planter’s into the lip and alternate swigs of Coke with the soggy crunch of peanuts between our teeth.

My memories are from four years ago, scooting along the Riverwalk in Augusta with my sister and her family when we drove down to visit relatives. We were fresh and tan after body surfing in the Atlantic at Ocean City, Maryland, and spent the day ambling around the Riverwalk museum where we stuffed ourselves into a photo booth for a couple of crazy, animated snapshots. 

My memories are from a week ago, driving back and forth across the Savannah River, photographing landmarks, recording conversations, creating new memories with my step-dad and mother, laughing and conjuring up times long past. My memories are of breaking and mending, of leaving and of coming home.

Here they are, details on the page, the beginning of something much bigger, a creative force spawned from the bowels of rivers and oceans and mountains and trees. Bones. Here are the memories of last week’s water wings, and the flowing, dry humidity of the Savannah.

But I sit on a gray deck near the banks of the wide and rambling Mississippi whose mouth bubbles out not far from the Canadian border in a lake called Itasca.

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

-from Topic post, Water Wings

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