There seems to me something disingenuous about all these towns, streets, and rivers named with the Native Americans’ language, names which the natives once used, in these places they once called home. Words which are foreign to us, and were foreign to our ancestors who pulled there boats up on these shores, but which fell from the mouths of the natives like apples fall from an apple tree, or the way an oak tree arises from an acorn.
Here we came and murdered them in droves, swindled and stole their land from them every time there was something on it or under it that we wanted, pushed them from one place to the next, and finally once we had roamed and despoiled the land from coast to coast we bestowed to them a few swatches of it on which they might reside. And yet their language we kept for our own! In short, everything that was possible to take from them was. Their rivers were taken—the rivers that sustained them, that they fished from, that they paddled in their canoes, that they swam and bathed in, that they named in their language which was the language of this Earth—we took the rivers for ourselves but left their language hovering ethereally—a specter from the past. We took the land from them—the land that they roamed far and wide on, the land that they farmed peaceably, sustainably, and with great love of, the land that they hunted on, the land that they built their homes on, the land they named in their tongue—we took it from them, and kept those names too.
The image, and if not the image, a name or word, of the Native American is emblazoned on everything from banks, to sport teams, to motor vehicles. One can find it on clothing, cups, bowls, keychains, shot glasses, toasters, tooth brushes, bracelets, any bloody knick-knack that can be sold so that these honest, American corporations can turn a profit. And if that isn’t bad enough, there are still oil and mining companies today trying to remove protections on the Natives’ lands in order that they may exploit them.
In short, we’ve transformed this proud race of humans into ghosts, and we pay false homage to them by naming our towns, rivers and roads after them, and by marketing junk in their name.
Crazy winds. Crazy, crazy winds all day. Hills for days too. Despite all that, not bad. Columbus, GA. Stayed at a Super 8 last night. $75 after taxes ($5 + 16% city tax). I’m a little sick of this. I’m going to have to endeavor to stay away from cities if I don’t have a host. Columbus, however, was enroute to Auburn, so….
Leaving Columbus now. There is some sort of festival downtown. Streets packed full of pedestrians. Tables setup along the sidewalks selling a whole variety of things: soaps, oils, clothing, jewelry, furniture, antiques, tchotchkes, so on…
I stop at Iron Bank Coffee, named for the fact that the building was once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away a bank, for a shot. It’s bad, despite the roaster being Counter Culture. This is an unfortunate regular occurrence in the so-called “specialty coffee” world. Lack of education and knowledge. Laziness. The space the cafe occupies is marvelous though. Enormous; voluptuous; high, high, ceiling; loads of windows to let in that light that is loved so much; long communal tables, or variously shaped tables pushed together or pulled apart; whatever you can sit on; separate rooms in the old bank vaults (doors still attached) in the back; a glorious array of various chandeliers suspended from the ceiling; original hardwood floors.
Speaking of old things, so much of the city is. It’s not surprising. It was obviously once a hub of industry on the Chattahoochee River. Now many of the buildings are abandoned and falling into ruin. They provoke a certain sadness in me, but there is also something beautiful about these disused, dilapidated churches, factories, houses, apartment buildings, etc. The decay, the negligence, the faded bricks, the worn paint, the broken windows, boarded up windows, the tall weeds, the shattered signs, the signs that now only glow with a dull, attenuated light when the sun is at the correct angle with the Earth are wonders to behold. Is it because they tell a story? Or do they simply provoke questions, wonderings about something that once was but now is not? What were these buildings like during those years when production was at a high? What was the city like? How were the people? It seems to me that these buildings and signs are incapable of telling a story at all, these silent buildings and mute signs. They’re like a blind man with his lips sewn shut, resigned to his fate, unable to control his own destiny. But, it is very easy for one to create a story for himself simply by imagining, and that is something so easy to do if one stops to look, reflect, allow the mind to wander.
From Americus to Columbus today. Georgia countryside is gorgeous under a pristine blue sky—succulent, green grass; explosion of wild flowers on tall stalks, along the highway—except for the interminable fields of turned over red clay, some pale, ghostly, almost like sand—spirits of what once was before they were stripped of life, poisoned with pesticides and fertilizers—others dark and rich, never, or only very recently, been planted. But where these fields meet an undulating green ridge of trees, and then the blue wall of sky is something quite lovely to behold, and beautiful in its own right, like the greatest flag unfurled, and being wapped in that flag; I can touch it, feel it all around me. In places it is all that is—just a field of color transmitted across the thinnest, most insubstantial vastness of space, like the synaptic gap between neurons. An existence swallowed up by the pupil, focused by the lens on the back of my eye to the forefront of my mind…
These thoughts occurred hours ago, being penned now at Annie D’s, a tiny, Southern as Southern can be restaurant in Buena Vista. It’s all that’s here in town as far as I’m concerned, and that’s perfectly fine. Never had such a good Half ‘n Half, as they’re known in The South. That sweet tea! Hot damn! Charming place even if the walls and floorboards are filthy, even if the blinds are hung crooked and look as though they might fall off their brackets at the slightest touch. No frills. Stripped down. Plate glass windows on every wall yield so much natural light not a speck of dirt goes unnoticed. Ketchup and hot sauce in hand-labeled plastic bottles in the center of every cheap, masonite table. One in every three of these tables covered in a table cloth. Styrofoam cups. Plastic plates. Smiling faces. Happy people.
Oh! Georgia winds.
Oh, to be a cow
up there on that hill
Stolid, strong and stout.
Or, to be,
a lank, slender blade of grass,
tall and supple,
bendable and flexible.
Or, maybe a tree,
roots deep in the earth,
Wide, wide branches spread so, waving
in the wind.
To be something other than a cyclist
Who yet must contain
all those qualities—of the cow, grass & tree—
Within a single skin,
A framework of nerve, muscle, bone and blood.
Dinner. Texting. Red lentils and rice with raisins, tomato, turnip, garlic, and curry powder. Forecasting rain. I would prefer not (always). The most charmingly cheerful birdsong earlier at sundown. Now it’s just distant dogs and the occasional car or truck, and the electric buzz of insects.
I’m camped at a public park in Abbeville, GA. It’s three or four acres, part of which is a little league baseball diamond, another part of which is a playground with maybe an eighth mile walking track around it. The rest is a field that borders a forest, picnic tables clumped together in places like a huddle of ducks in silent observance, or a group of old friends who haven’t seen each other in years.
The grass and dried, fallen leaves I see through my tent screen is unspeakably beautiful. Slender, curving pine needles intertwined and threading through the mat. The leaves themselves are small and slender too—some broken, crippled, others spotted, speckled like an old man’s frail arms. The grass that pokes up through all of those old, brittle, dry, dead things seems generally unhappy about the state of affairs, being as it’s mostly covered over by the old; slightly smothered, held down, but in places it has pierced the mat, the coverlet, the broad arms of the leaves saying, “Down! Down!”
Anyway, today was mostly hills. The last twenty miles I guess were relatively flat in comparison, though. I’m hoping not for a repeat tomorrow.
I mentioned in a previous post staying with Mac in Vidalia, “The Sweet Onion City.” It was a great joy, not only because it was a short day on the bike, and that I was able to catch up my journal outside, in the sun, poolside, but also because I was the guest of a great guy, a generous host, a generous man. Solid, dependable, friendly. It was good.
Left Savannah late, Monday, about one p.m. Breakie, final conversation with Alex, an espresso at Perc, back to the apartment to finish packing, hungry again, off to Zunzi’s for a last Boerewors, then, finally, the departure. Utterly ridiculous, but it also would have been very easy to stay in the city longer.
Pretty hot, sunny day. Cloudless, mostly windless, bright and blue. Pedaling west I’m on a mild incline as I move away from the coast. Easy hills rolling along effortlessly. About sixty miles to my hosts’ place, unless my GPS is off. If it’s not then Google is off. Or my math is off. A few interesting photo opportunities, but generally a dull ride.
Was thrilled to have stayed the night with Jerry and Shirley. She washed out my water bottles, and now one smells and tastes like soap. The water in it, that is. But if that’s the worst thing one can say about a person’s hospitality that’s not too bad.
They feasted me at dinner, and breakfast the next morning. Strawberry shortcake for dessert after a tour of the grounds. They run a pecan farm, and the land they live on, and many more acres besides, was deeded to the family after the Revolutionary War, so this land has been in the family for a few generations. Jerry and I drove the circumference of his property in a small tractor he uses for getting around the grounds. There are a couple of ponds and a large thicket of woods where one might discover all variety of wild animals. The sun had sunk just below the horizon as we left, just beyond the crepuscular minutes when the sky is faintly aglow, the horizon awash in a veritable rainbow of colors, so the shadows were deep and black as pitch most areas, and the insects that were out, of which they were in incalculable numbers, swarmed the flood light installed on the roof of the tractor and sometimes found their way onto my exposed arms, legs, face… We talked about the harvesting of pecans—these trees are enormous—and inspected a few saplings (if that’s even an appropriate term to use) which looked like mere sticks, about a man’s height, in the damp earth—not a single branch, and barely a bud on these. Very peculiar.
In addition to the pecan farming Jerry makes leaded glass windows, or, more accurately, came glass windows, as a hobby. He’s also an impressive story-teller and master of trivia, particularly if it involves Alaska, or the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
All together they make for an impressive, inspiring partnership—in their hospitality, which is unrivaled, I think; their acceptance immediately of guests; their warm personalities; and the bicycling feats they’ve accomplished together, to say nothing of those by Jerry alone.
I’ve been writing all this at Mac’s, my WarmShowers host for the evening. I’m sitting poolside, the sun stretched taut across my back. Mac’s just come back from picking up his bike at the shop and is moseying about his property cleaning up this, trimming that. His daughter’s wee pup, Buttercup, who he’s watching over while she is in Madrid for the next couple of years, is tip-toeing around the lawn, following after him. The pool water is crystal clear and shaped like a kidney bean. There’s a wide spread palm tree over by the diving board that looks a bit the worse for wear—like it was transported here from a desert in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Tall, faded green fronds, some looking a bit fried at their tips, spreading out from a central trunk, and then drooping down sort of melancholy-like, as if it was exhausted from standing under the hot sun hour after hour, day after day. There’s some kind of Warbler I can’t identify because I don’t have my binoculars with me, calling from a tree nearby. The only sounds are bird calls, and the distant highway.
Today was an easy, short day—a mere thirty miles—but those few miles are worth it to be staying here, and to be enjoying the comforts of Mac’s home for longer than I would otherwise. Jerry left with me this morning and probably taught me a bit of patience, as he moved at what for me was a glacial pace. The ride was fairly relaxing I found, and a bit refreshing. And we still did the thirty miles by noon. This is something I should learn if I’m to enjoy this trip more. He treated me to an impressively delicious lunch at Hardware Pizza in Lyons, and then turned around to head back home.
“When you come to Savannah you going to have a good time,” sings the man in the park, as he folds his palm fronds, on a bench, beneath a tree.
I have concluded that he is correct.
Spent the day strolling around rather aimlessly. As perfect a day as there could be for it: sunny, cloudless sky, warm, dry, a bit windy, though pleasantly so for walking. I stop to read a sign in the square where the man is singing and folding his palm fronds. It is a plaque to commemorate the life of Tomo Chi-Chi, a member of the Creek Indian Nation. According to the sign post, he helped the English in the founding and settlement of Georgia, and was an “indispensable friend” to them. In return he received a thirty foot tall burial marker and an historical signpost recognizing this “indispensable friendship.” Since then, the Natives have been massacred, had their land stolen from them, and been pushed onto reservations. To borrow a well used cliché, he would be rolling over in his grave if he knew the atrocities committed against his people since his death.
I’m sitting on the cathedral steps writing these words and thinking of the atrocities the church has committed in its time—from The Crusades, to the KKK, and to certain discriminatory legislative measures passed in some states very recently. I’m thinking of the atrocities that continue around the world in the name of whatever religion, or by whatever government. The whole past of humanity is steeped in violence and bloodshed. Thousands of years of it, and thousands more to come, unless we blow ourselves to ashes before then.
Just now a couple walks up the steps and the husband curses reading the sign, “NO TOURING. WORSHIP IN PROGRESS.” Yes, you ignorant halfwit, the cathedral, while being quite old, is still a cathedral, which means that services may still be held there despite its status as historical landmark. It is something more than just a name to cross off your list of “Things To Do In Savannah.” It has a life of its own. There is a community that circulates in and around and through it, like blood beating in a heart, surging through vein and artery. Just because you are not a part of it, that you are a particle foreign to the stream of bodies regular to it, does not mean that it does not exist, or not take place. Come back tomorrow, or don’t come back at all. The cathedral will still stand, indifferent, unyielding, its people still coming and going, and, likely, other tourists coming and going as well, AT THE ASSIGNED TIMES. But, the cathedral, the cathedral sees you and laughs. A knowing chuckle.
Cycling back to Alex’s, I stop at Forsyth Park to stretch out in the grass, read a bit, watch the people there—some tanning, some napping, some reading, most conversing in groups, some playing frisbee, one girl playing with a bubble wand, many sitting on benches, many more in the grass, and the consistent traversal of so many more along the central artery that bisects the park and connects Gaston Street and Park Avenue at either end. A jovial scene, with the sun shining, the grass green, the temperature fine. A fitting way to end the day’s wanders, by not wandering at all, but just sitting still, reveling in the atmosphere around me. Peace can be easy to find, when you stop looking.
In Savannah, enjoying a waffle—lemon curd & raspberries—at Mirabelle, where a friend works part-time. Outside, at a very French table, the sun blazes in and out behind clouds. I would like more clouds. Sidewalk palm tree drooping a bit. Listless. Can’t imagine summers here. Enormous double-spire cathedral across the street—St. John the Baptist. Tourists sitting on its steps looking at maps, looking at phones, thinking about where to next, what next to do, pointing in one direction then another. Tourists on this side of the street taking pictures of the cathedral and the people on its steps with phone and camera-phone. Crowds flowing into and out of it like breath. The cathedral breathing them in, breathing them out changed. Another memory to be forgotten, pictures taken to keep the memory vaguely fresh, mildly stale, preferably not molded or forgotten completely (but what harm in forgetting?). A woman stands by a wrought-iron gate in a wall surrounding a compound next to the cathedral, looking lost and impatient. A couple of vagabonds walk by: he, smoking a cigarette, and she, carrying a gallon of water, backpack on, walking her—their?—dog. Horse-drawn carriages moseying along the streets. Tourists. Larger trolleys—the people inside, heads turning one way and then the other, curious, confused—doing the same thing, a disembodied voice pointing out something or another, garbled, nebulous, impossible to make out, emanating from its general vicinity. Tourists, tourists everywhere. The streets and sidewalks are saturated with them. They’ve been swept in by the late March tides and who knows when they’ll be swept out again. I talk like I am a local, yet I am anything but. I am a ghost. I go by unnoticed, unremarked. I am that stone bench which nobody sits on. When I leave there will be no trace, because I was never there. Nor am I here. The stone bench will turn to dust, and the cathedral will crumble, but I will remain.