Boat Ramp Baptism
by David Lambert
Over the years my small family has always seemed on the verge financial reinvention, mostly because of the paths I’d chosen and the work I took. We always seemed child poor or college poor, or house poor, or hospital poor, and because of that we were rarely able donate money to those good causes, groups and organizations to which we’d like to have given.
So, about 10 years ago I began to donate ‘in-kind’ to those causes and organizations which we believed were doing public good. I contributed for auction or sale fly fishing or fly casting lessons, and then later added guided paddling trips down a small, pristine stretch of river next to which my wife and I conveniently split our living time.
We offered these to schools, breast cancer clinics, enviro-groups, watchdog organizations and the odd non-profit. Because the river is unlike any other in the state, because it is fed by uber-clear springs and it comprises an odd geology of limestone, chert, and freshwater coral, the trip has become quite popular and has raised good money for those causes—a fact of which I am proud and happy.
A couple of years ago I escorted down our river the purchasers of this trip, the director of Florida Wildlife Association and an armada of friends and associates. The paddle includes a stretch of class 2 rapids, which can border on class 3, relative to rainfall and runoff. My paddlers this day came from varied occupations, in assorted weight classes, and with unpredictable paddling skills. The boats they brought ranged widely as well, from efficient and sleek kayaks to the clunky peddle-yaks that are suited mostly for deep, flat waters, which this river is not.
The trips nears its end as the lovely little river approaches its confluence with the Suwannee. There a physical change occurs; the smaller river warms and takes on some of the Suwannee’s characteristic claret and tea colors. An emotional change seems to occur as well, as though a fight breaks out when these two waters bump into each other. The merger builds a subtle cross current that makes navigating the larger a bit more tricky.
Near the confluence I lagged behind the group to advise them to paddle diagonally across the bigger river, to surf above the faster currents to Suwannee River shallows. There, broken currents provide an easier trip upstream to the takeout—200 yards upstream.
The takeout point on this trip is a long concrete boat ramp that cleaves the banks of the river at Suwannee River State Park. The ramp, and the river it disappeared into, were gauzily cloaked in a blue-white smoke that drifted downriver from hundreds of acres of forest fires north and east of the river.
As we made our scattered approach to the ramp I heard a shouting before I could see it. Smoke and river noise hampered both sight and sound, but on closer inspection I saw a local Pentecostal preacher at the foot of the boat ramp, standing chest deep in the Suwannee. He was dunking people, about 30 of them of assorted ages, body types and attractiveness.
The preacher stood immersed nearly to the tops of his blue bib overalls and the water turned his heavily starched white broadcloth to a translucent clingy mess, exposing beneath a pinkish skin that likely had felt no direct sun for months.
Most of my group paddled past the singing congregation and beached a quarter block north, but I hung back, mid-stream, and watched, fascinated by the lyrical bleet of the preacher and the approximation of song coming from future dunkees and other congregators.
The preacher beseeched his flock to come down and let the lu-huve of Je-he-he-sus wa-hash your si-hi-ins awa-hay, pra-ha-ha-haise Ga-ha-ad. His delivery was Deep-South, a breathy stuttering of verse, mumble and tongue that made four syllables for every one and prompted many in the group to raise their faces and hands to the sky. All of this against a fast disappearing backdrop of smoky blue, a gauzy filtered light.
I will tell you this: I found myself singing along at their final hymn: Shall We Gather At The River?
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river. . .
Who could not sing on such an occasion? And my singing accompanied the throb and gun of motors as anglers who’d been on the river all day circled in increasingly narrow patterns just off the ramp awaiting the close of ceremonies so they could haul their boats, catch, and their crud up the ramp.
The scene, the singing, the worship, the preaching, the hum of circling boats—all were contained by and amplified by river and the smoke, all emanating from the watery stage framed in a disappearing darkening of the reaching flora and vertical banks of the Suwannee River.
This good preacher accommodated every good soul who wished it with a biblical dunking. The recently baptized looked on smiling and singing through chattering teeth. I wondered then and wonder today if the cause of their shivers came from the wetness, the excitement of spiritual cleansing, or from the encroached dark.
© 2010 David Lambert
Country Music Lament and the Rise of Iris Dement
Real country music has died and in doing so it has slipped from our car radios. Before its final rattle it inseminated pop culture and the union left us with a bastard child, a mundane, semi-musical Mini-Me that is so insipid, so uninspired, that one wonders if it’s worth it to punch the car radio buttons anymore.
Call it country-pop, or country-politan, or country-crossover, or the new Nashville sound. Call it what you want, but I call it cou-rap.
The collision of country and pop is a train wreck that could have been avoided, but it wasn’t — now we lovers of what was once a uniquely original American musical form are left to mourn the loss.
New country radio is an ersatz amalgam of manufactured twang and orchestrated ice cream truck bleet. Sadly no wall of sound, no number of earnest string sections can camouflage its insipidity, stupidity, and lack of inspiration. Most country radio ‘productions’ feel the same, all homogenized, all gush and golly, all tears and tilt-back-beers; but there is little in the way of real guts, and certainly very little genius.
That’s why we don’t hear singer-songwriters like Iris Dement on the air waves. Her voice is too real for a country audience that loves the forced twang of otherwise good singers like Jennifer Nettles in Sugarland. Dement’s voice has honest angles and stark pronunciations that perhaps reminds us too much of where we’ve been, is maybe too reflective of how difficult our trip has been from there to here, from then to now. We’ve learned to duck when we find that kind of veracity.
Iris Dement — Born the youngest of 14 children in a Paragould, AR family, Iris Dement’s voice, and no doubt her pen, developed singing along side her devoutly religious and musical family. Iris’s voice is clear as God’s first day and her lyrics have an honest spareness, a sometimes painful, sometimes exalted reminder that none of us is that far removed from the dirt.
Click the link below to hear Our Town by Iris Dement. The song is as honest as her voice is clear and true.
Want more? Click the link below to hear Iris Dement performing In Spite of Ourselves with John Prine. Prine penned the song, a bawdy, loving glimpse at the almost surprising survival of a long-term relationship between a man and woman.
In Spite of Ourselves
John Prine and Iris Dement
It may be that Iris and those wonderful, honest voices and pens like hers, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, Gillian Welch, will ascend to the top of satellite radio, but I have yet to open my wallet to that siren.
I have a theory. I believe God keeps the really good old Southerners around to show the rest of us how life should be lived, how we ought to do it. That’s why guys like my friend Charlie Heston stay around, bright, clear, and classy, well into their eighth decade.
Charlie died awhile back. Ultimately, when his cancer coursed system-wide, when the purse wasn’t worth the bout, Charlie quietly put down his hands. He handled his illness with the same quiet style, class, and grace as he handled daily life. And he is well missed.
I think Charlie was around 85 when he died, but I never asked. What counts most to me is this: When Charlie died, all of us took one small step closer to losing the old Southern grace and culture I admire. That grace, those Southern values, they’re part of a culture we need more of these days. Not the Hollywood version – Tennessee Williams, syrupy drawls, and sweat-soaked wife beaters. More the Atticus Finch style – courteous, persistent, and strong, especially when the situation demands.
In Charlie’s culture, people are taught manners, and manners mean respect. In Charlie’s world courtesy is commonplace, people have worth and merit and value. You respect them and they respect you — at least until either of you is shown otherwise.
There aren’t that many old Southerners left, fewer now that Charlie’s gone; but he was surely one of them – a man of quiet grace and soft dignity, a man settled with his place in the world, a man who didn’t want or need attention.
Charlie Heston was a gentle man, a comfortable and comforting soul. He was a kind man, and the kind of man who was always willing to take the new guy fishing. Charlie figured he could shorten their learning curve.
No telling how many anglers he hooked over his eight decades. Charlie wouldn’t give much thought to it, but there are lots of them to be sure. Find any fishing club in North Florida and Charlie will have contributed to their ranks. Fact is, Charlie Heston found many members their first fish. While he may have fished conventional tackle on occasions, his real love was fly fishing.
Here’s a guy who, in his 80s, could and did out fish most of us on a regular basis — not that he’d ever tell you about it. Charlie could find ‘em, all right, and he could catch ‘em. He was a skilled and serious angler, dangerous to fish. You knew it by the way he talked. That he did it from a banged up 12-foot aluminum jon with a scarred old Johnson 10-horse is a testament to his skill. It was never spoken, the concept was never aired, but we learned from Charlie that fishing wasn’t about spending money.
My friend visited Charlie after his first few cancer treatments. She asked if he needed help. Anything. Some of us would have looked for sympathy, bitched about our illness or cranked about the life unfair. Not Charlie. He thought a minute, then said he needed someone to rake his lawn. Leaves were falling; it didn’t look good to him, but he was too sick to do it himself.
Into his nine-month fight with the disease, soon as he was well enough, Charlie fished with Jacksonville, FL guide John Bottko. He caught a backwater slam that day — a nice redfish, a trout, a flounder. Grand slams don’t come around all that often.
“It was the damnedest thing,” Bottko told me later, “the fish were just there for him.”
I have a photo of Charlie holding the redfish he caught that day. His face is wan and drawn, but he’s happy to be fishing again, happy to feel the sun, happy to be on home waters. You can see it in his eyes. He died weeks later. A peaceful death, I’m told. We would have expected no less.
I’ll think about Charlie next time I hear an strange accent barking at a boat ramp or see a driver festering with road rage. I’ll think about how we’re losing the good old Southern values, how courtesy is an inconvenience now, how manners are taken for weakness, how refinement seems out of place. I’ll think about where we’re heading as a culture and I’ll ask myself do we really need to get there?
I think about my theory — how God gives the good ones more Earth time to show the rest of us how it should be done.
Maybe I’ll think it’s not a theory. Maybe I’ll think it’s really a prayer.
© 2010 David Lambert
Finding The Light
by Baskerville Holmes
It’s been said that a man is defined by his possessions. My friend, that sterling intellect Fescue Scroggins, suggests that word should be ‘obsessions’ — at least in my case.
He pointed this out last week when, while searching for a gas leak under Miss A’s car, he asked for a flashlight.
“What kind,” I asked.
“One that works,” he said. This dished without the usual side of acerbity. “How many flashlights you have anyway?”
“Well, let’s see,” I began a Buford “Bubba” Blue litany. “Triple a flashlights, double a flashlights, c-cell flashlights, d-cell flashlights, wind-up flashlights, flashlights with zenon bulbs, head bangers flashlights, headlamps, flashlights with halogen bulbs, flashlights with rechargeable batteries, survival flashlights with a compass and waterproof matches, flashlights that pulse, blinking flashlights, red bulb flashlights, a new shaker energy flashlight . . .”
The list took on a life of it’s own, my mouth there mostly as a sideman.
“What’s that say about you, that you have all those flashlights?” Fescue asked, pulling himself from beneath the car.
“I like flashlights, I guess,” I offered.
“No Grasshopper. You are a man obsessed, a man searching for light in an otherwise dark world; Diogenes Holmes, seeker of Truth, searcher of souls. Your quest is that one knot of lighter pine, alone in this ebony night. And you, there alone with all your matches damp.”
“Not true,” I countered uncertainly. I generally feel dimly bulbed next to Fescue’s quasar neural sparkings.
“Ah, to be so unaware of one’s purpose,” he said. “So where is the light?”
“In my unreconciled search for the truth?” I asked. “My quest for veracity in this voracious and vicious void?”
“Un-uhn,” Fecsue said. “That halogen headlamp you were talking about.”
That Fescue. Once again his accelerating axons had abandoned me to the dark.
© 2010 David Lambert
Randy Wayne White’s Gulf Coast Cookbook
review by David Lambert
I love The Lyons Press, not because they bring to print classic and classy fishing literature, which they most certainly do, but because they sometimes send me these great books to review.
So it is with a recent Lyons’ offering: Randy Wayne White’s Gulf Coast Cookbook.
Randy Wayne White is a recovering fly and light-tackle guide from Sanibel who made a forced but very successful professional segue into writing. White has authored 17 Doc Ford novels and assorted books of essays, the latter having former lives as adventure-travel pieces in Outside and other magazines.
His novel Sanibel Flats was voted one of the 100 best mysteries of the 20th Century by the American Independent Booksellers Association and his books show regularly in the NYT Best Sellers List. Rightly so. White’s Doc Ford novels are a fun read, with head nods to McDonald and Steinbeck, two Johns the author openly admires. RWW novels entertain, true, but they educate too, as though Travis McGee and Ed Rickett’s traveled the same celestial circuit but in singular temporal form.
Randy Wayne White fans will find much to like here. His Gulf Coast Cookbook is a well whisked amalgam of recipes, local flavor, quotes, and photos of old friends, both animate and still. Part of the fun for RWW fans are the behind-the-scenes clips and photos of real-life people who morphed into characters of White’s dozen or so Doc Ford novel — the guides, marina owners, managers and anglers who negotiated the wobbly docks of Sanibel’s Tarpon Bay Marina. It’s like recognizing old friends.
There’s nothing fussy about these recipes; it’s not haute cuisine, but it’s not Cracker cooking either. Randy Wayne White likes food and drink the way he likes his friends, sincere and funny, but with style and substance — maybe a pinch of eccentricity to spice up the mix. Recipes like Banana Leaf Snapper with Lime Cilantro Sauce reside on the printer’s plate next to Captain Gene’s Mullet. Seafood and citrus are gloriously represented here, but they are not glorified. RRW and friends have chosen their menu well. For your palatal pleasure: chapters on salsas and hot sauces; soups, chowders, and stews; herbs, salads, shellfish, shark, vegetables, meats and poultry, and tropical drinks.
RWW likes his eccentricities. The book has a section devoted to foods cooked in beer (“Beer; frankly, I admire it.”) and a few off-the-wall recipes like Brine Cured Pork and Grilled Marinated Shark Fillets (which, like Tiger Soup, should begin with this admonition: ’First you catch the shark. . .).
The bulk of recipes are more conventional, like Brazilian Potato and Meat Pie, or ‘Perfect Beans,’ a drolly names recipe that frankly I’m dying to try.
What follows is a sampling of entrees and appetizers from White’s Gulf Coast Cookbook: Pan-Seared Pompano in Summer Marinara Sauce. All-Crab Crab Cakes. Grilled Grouper Wrapped in Prosciutto on a Bed of Salsa. Bonita Bill’s Salsa, a roasted corn ménage with lime, cumin, tomatoes, peppers and cilantro. (“Bonita Bill’s is a quirky outdoor restaurant and bar. . .it may be the only restaurant in Florida with an unlisted number.”) Mesquite Grilled Chicken with Herbed Wild rice, Apples, and Walnuts. Belizean Chicken Stew (“Belize city is a rat hole but the country people are wonderful and great cooks.”). Twice Fried Plantains (Tostones) and Watermelon Jam.
Beverages and desserts play no small role: Delights such as Bananas in Paradise, Dan’s Sanibel Rum Cake, Vodka Oyster Shooters, Doc Ford’s Hemingway Daiquiri, and Mindi’s Mojito can bracket any of the book’s fine entrees. Consume enough of these, though, and you may forgo the meal altogether. It’s your choice.
Either way, Randy and friends have compiled enough sumptuous suggestions to keep you in Palatal Paradise for a few good months, even if you’re not a Doc Ford fan.
Randy Wayne White’s Gulf Coast Cookbook: With Memories and Photos of Sanibel Island; by Randy Wayne White and Carlene Fredericka Brennen; 256 pages; The Lyons Press; 1 edition (December 1, 2006); ISBN-10: 159228096X; ISBN-13: 978-1592280964
© 2010 David Lambert
by Baskerville Holmes
You may not have noticed but there are a lot more cars in Florida than when I first moved here.
My friend Fescue Scroggins has a new theory about this. Fescue, you may recall, is a man of steely intellect, wide interests, and nearly inexhaustible theories on all things Floridian. I am his friend, his confidant. . .but I admit to shorter neural leaps, which have been known to misfire, theoretically speaking, during our discussions. I’ve wondered on occasion how our friendship survives my synaptic stutterings.
Today was no exception. Evidence the following dialog between myself and Fescue:
“I believe I can now prove that there is a ‘more-than-casual relationship’ (his exact words!) between the increase in cars and the number of people who have moved to the Sunshine State,” Fescue declared.
“Not so sure about that,” I told him, flexing my cerebral talons. “Recent figures from the Florida League of Builders and Developers indicate that Florida needs more people. Their numbers just don’t support your theory,” I said.
Fescue was unmoved.
“How can you believe an organization that creates a name before checking its acronym?” he boomed.
I must have looked perplexed because Fescue carefully enunciated the following:
‘F-florida L-league of B-builders A-aaand D-developerrrrs,’ he intoned. “F-L-B-A-D.”
So obvious. . .yet I had missed again. “Ah, yes,” I said as the acronym took a slow turn behind my eyes. “Fescue, you are the quick one.”
“I can prove it,” Fescue said clapping his hands together.
His explanation for all this moving metal was that the state assemblies of Michigan and New Jersey quietly formed an alliance with the Florida League of Builders and Developers. In his theory, the full citizenry of both states will eventually relocate to Florida. His idea is that each new Florida home would sell to a northerner for $100 more than the cost to build.
“Doesn’t sound like much money,” Fescue said, “but $100 times 20 some-odd-million is a lot of moolah.
“And the southerly migration will be subtle,” Fescue theorized. “Most Floridians won’t notice it until Michigan and New Jersey hammer in for-sale signs on their borders. Then it will be too late,” he said.
“A brilliant plan,” said Fescue, his voice rising. Fescue is the first to admire a well-conceived and subtle strategy. “Just think how much money those states can save on natural gas. . .and. . .and. . .medicare!”
“But Fescue, wouldn’t we notice all those people crossing the borders?” I asked.
“WRONG,” Fescue said. “I did my own study on this exact issue. And you can believe my numbers. I set up observation posts at both I-75 and I-95 – at the Florida-Georgia line.
“Know what my numbers show?” Fescue asked. “My study shows that every twelfth vehicle that enters the state is an RV – a big one at that. Know what else? Forty-six percent of those RVs have Garden State plates.
“Think of it,” he marveled, “each RV is self-contained; each one can carry 15, maybe 20 people. Nobody knows. They let out a few at each rest stop between Jacksonville and Miami. This goes on all day, every day, 365 days a year.”
“Right,” I said, picking up his logic. “In a few years, who knows how many Jerseyites and Michiganzers will have filtered in.” Fescue’s points flew around in my head now and I began to see the direction of his thinking. “Nobody’s counting. It’s not like RVs stop at the Ag Inspection stations or anything.”
“That’s it,” Fescue boomed again. “Strategic brilliance, a secret well kept.”
“Until you looked upon it with your studied eye,” I said.
“Exactly! Exactly!” he said.
“But, Fescue,” I wondered aloud, “What about your earlier theory – that these northern exotics came here because of our superior mosquito control and advancements in the super-secret Department of Public Air Conditioning?”
“Bad science,” Fescue dismissed, “based on a fallacious initial premise.”
“I think I remember now,” I said. “They migrated to get away from the cold?”
“Nope. Missed again, Grasshopper,” Fescue said, his dander rising along with his voice. “People move here to lower their heating bills.”
“Ahh-ha-ha, yes,” I said. His canny ability to root out the significant always amazes me.
“But what about the cars – all that metal momentum?”
“Grasshopper,” Fescue intoned, “When all the Michiganzers have left the state, Detroit will have a serious car surplus, so they’re giving all emigrants to the state a free car.”
“Wouldn’t we be seeing more car carriers,” I wondered aloud?
“They don’t come in that way,” Fescue said. “Cars are routed through Mexico; illegals drive them in on I-10. Just passed the Florida line, they exchange the car for a work visa and an old junker.
“And that, my friend, is why there are so many more cars in Florida now,” Fescue said and stamped his foot in triumph.
“Wheels within wheels,” I said amazed.
That Fescue. What a mind.
© 2010 David Lambert
We danced in the darking,
white fog and red taillights,
a high-beam team tag
in a killing veil mist
with no known half-life
Innocents or innocence?
God and our parents were unclear.
Cocktails for two, m’dear?
© 2010 David Lambert
I was 14 and I’d just penned a hasty scrawl to my cousins from the north: ‘Don’t spend too much time in the sun,’ I warned on the stamp side of a card. My message was cautionary but the photo side of the card told the real tale—bronzed beauties played beach ball with hunky men on the shimmery Florida sand, breasts, bellies, butts and abs all amply alluring.
Bathing suits were modest then, but even sloppy 1965 print colors and ripe-persimmon tans couldn’t diminish the message: To girls it said, “A week in Florida and you can look like this.” To the guys, the postcard was siren song.
Ten days later an electric-blue Buick delivered my cousins from the north, my first ever look at skin ‘years unkisssed’ by the sun. Cousins and friends emerged in Bermuda shorts and sockless white Keds, legs chalky, onion, and translucent—white like palmetto beetle larvae too recent from the dirt. In every hand a bottle of Native Sun Coconut Oil. After de rigueur hugs and howdies, they prostrated themselves in the March Florida sun. The worshiped, slanted vernal ray burned them so surely and so severely that their skin exuded heat vapors and warped light like a Georgia tar backroad. I saw it happening.
Three hours from their Polaroid immortality with the Florida Welcomes You sign, that so seductive sun had burned them to a trip-killing fiery pink—a color darker than the obligatory local shrimp we always boiled for their first vacation meal—a color, by the way, that put one of them in the local ER for 24 hours.
In my own way I tried to warn them. I sent them that that penned postcard warning. I did.
Right there. . .the nascence of what was to become a life-long, loosely organized compendium of useful, possibly obvious, and generally overlooked tips and warnings for the new Southerner.
© 2009 David Lambert