It took a while to get going, but alligator butchering scene in revision.
The season: five extra pounds (already?) and the need for an additional hour of sleep a night. Hard not to judge myself.
Meet Sheila. She is all pepped up about the coming of gift giving season. Ribbons! Tissue paper! Specially printed boxes! She loves them all — and those are just the wrappers! Unlike Walgreen’s or Macy’s, Sheila’s festive mood arises from joy. Not greed.
She wears a recycled blouse & sweater and a cute pink button. Part of a wool challis scarf that belonged to my mother wraps her neck. It’s one of my “good luck cloths” and I hope it lasts forever, because when I include a scrap, it feels like a blessing for the recipient. Her pipe cleaner arms make a loop in the back for hanging, but she’s very versatile (it’s one of her charms) and will stand on her own.
Because she keeps singing “I’m going to Texas“, I gave her a peace amulet. But when I came downstairs this morning, peace was hanging by a thread. I didn’t like the look or sound of that, so I dug up a festive woodland branch for her instead. She is so at home everywhere she goes — whether it’s among the ferns or next to a toadstool. In that regard, I want to be more like her!
Her holiday cheer must be contagious for I finished one of the starched doily snowflakes using cotton string and a few crystal beads. Sshhh! It will be a gift!
It’s windy today, making the black walnuts fall in waves of bombing that sound like artillery. I was lucky to survive filming. Although, I didn’t look up. Maybe all the nuts have fallen now.
This week I’ll be going to Salem. I hope there’s time to take a few pictures before or after visiting my sister, because the place goes absolutely ga-ga for Halloween.
And just to get us back to October, here’s a page from an old Ranger Rick magazine that I found while sorting downstairs (today, I tackled the file cabinets).
Tower Hill Botanic Garden is only 45 minutes from here out by Worcester, but somehow today was my first visit. It was so worth it! There happened to be a fairy hut-making workshop this morning which meant we were enchanted by charming little structures everywhere we looked.
“Shinrinyoku” (“forest bathing”) is to go deep into the woods where everything is silent and peaceful for a relaxation.
While looking that word up, I discovered this one — “Komorebi”. It means sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees.
There was also a wonderful outdoor art installation: THE WILD RUMPUS, A Stickwork Sculpture by Patrick Dougherty (better pix at garden’s website, linked above).
I chatted up two women winding red lights on the branches of one of the trees near the visitor center (how like me — er, not!) and learned that Tower Hill does it up for Christmas. I plan to go back before another 25 years pass — maybe even in 2017!
Once back at the manse, perhaps inspired by the thought of that Garden done up for the holiday, I finished a Santa hat for one of my little critters. I’ll show you her tomorrow. She’s really quite special.
PS before the light faded too much I made my own fairy hut with whatever materials I could grab from nearby.
I have a fair number books on South Carolina and slavery for the period I’m interested in, but what a boon the internet is! I’ve found: the wills of some of my characters; botanical treatises compiled in the exact decade of interest; recipes for syllabub, jumbles, and terrapin soup; slave inventories, descriptions of what Oglethorpe was up to in 1735, and all kinds of historic maps of Charleston. It’s an amazing resource.
Yesterday, I needed help imagining how to butcher and skin an alligator and instantly found a YouTube video showing exactly that. I enjoyed fourteen minutes of some guy in Florida doing the job with a humorous and precise narration. “Here’s the best meat, the tenderloin, or ‘jelly role’. … “here’s the second best, under the jaw… ” “you can’t rip alligator skin off like deer skin — you have to cut every inch away.”
Learn something new every day: the erect flanges running down the reptile’s body are called “scoots” and are designed to maximize heat absorption. They’re also the hardest part of an alligator’s body.
Also, this: never, ever cut open an alligator’s stomach. Hmm, why? In my attempt to find out, I came across gruesome stories about the bones of children and large deer being discovered in various alligator guts. Maybe it has to do with potent acids?
In a subsequent google wander, I came across a great book about the fishing practices of bondmen in coastal communities [“The Waterman’s Song: Slavery & Freedom in Maritime North Carolina” by David S. Cecelski]. I couldn’t access all of the text, of course, but I could read a fair amount. Again: what an amazing resource!
There was a description of “gigging flounder and sturgeon by moonlight”. Don’t you love that? I’ll admit to not even really needing to know precisely what it means. I just want to keep saying it: “gigging flounder and sturgeon by moonlight.” [Cecelski].
Several things to note in brief: fish was very plentiful in the Lowlands in the mid-eighteenth century. Oysters, for example, could be gathered by the basketful without much trouble or a boat. Slave owners were ambivalent about the resourcefulness of their bondmen and women. On the one hand, such industry in supplementing meager rations saved planters a lot of money. On the other hand, it afforded bonded people both tools and permissive wandering that made white people nervous, especially after the Stono Uprising in 1739. The slave code enacted subsequent to the rebellion was draconian (as all slave codes enacted subsequent to uprisings are), placing prohibitions on gardening (gardening!), hunting, and more understandably, perhaps, the possession of weapons. Because the economic advantages held, however, many slave owners turned a blind eye to the continued practices.
And then there’s the racial animus that has poisoned our country from its inception. Cecelski relates a story about an overseer who found a hidden fish trap and in his outrage destroyed the trap, stole the fish for himself, and pronounced fish “too good for niggers.”
According to Cecelski, slaves fashioned floats out of gourds, hooks out of fish bones, and nets out of hemp. Illicit traps and trot lines were camouflaged along the marsh edges and some slaves built cypress log rafts and hid those, too. So they could “gig flounder and sturgeon by moonlight” perhaps.
A large alligator would produce about 65 pounds of meat. Smoking and salting were the only methods of preservation back then and so it was customary among white elites to share cuts with neighbors.
I was doing this research because I want my mustee character to capture a notorious alligator and cut it up (‘mustee” = half Native American / half African). This character’s named Indian Peter and comes from the Lucas family inventory, but I’ve based him in large measure on another real person — a legendary hunter named Prince. Prince worked up on the Santee River at Hampton Plantation for Archibald Rutledge many generations later. Archibald Rutledge wrote a beautiful memoir — “Home by the River” — in which he describes Prince.
Prince expressed a “kinship with nature as unfeigned as it was intimate” and although “untouched by any human school of philosophy, was deeply read in the oracles of God.” He could handle a cart with four vicious mules and once plowed a field with a bull so terrifying that other field workers routinely walked a mile out of their way so as not to go near him.
(Eliza would spend her last years at Hampton Plantation with her daughter, Harriott).
What would a bondman have done with 65 pounds of meat if he killed the reptile on the sly? On the other hand, if the kill was done openly, say on a Sunday, would the meat have been apportioned between the slaves and their owners?
After the rebellion of ’39, would Indian Pete still have been in possession of knives? It was considered a controversial risk to ‘allow’ such a state of affairs, even if the knives had been employed solely for the provision of food.
In other news, a novel about Eliza was published last week. It’s called “Indigo Girl” and covers five of the six years that I cover. The author read Eliza’s letters, etc. If anyone wants to read it and report to me — go for it. I’ll even buy it for you — but I can’t look at it until I’m finished. The author, Natasha Boyd, is a romance writer from Denmark. I’m hoping that her book does very well and that it’s strikingly different from mine.
As far as keepin’ on keepin’ on, my writing instructor quipped, “Do people ever think we have too many books about Lincoln — or Jefferson?” Good point.
All photos from Feb ’17 trip to South Carolina and taken by me. They include shots from the Caw Caw Conservation property, the Ashley River near Drayton Hall, Wappoo Creek, and the water near Boone Hall Plantation, Mt. Pleasant.
A new charm is underway. The finished sigil is for protection but given how disoriented I feel (blame it on the July temperatures in the middle of October!) — perhaps I ought to make one for clarity?
Finn and I just walked in air so hot and muggy that I might actually put the AC on (again! we broke down & got it going on Saturday). Meanwhile, D texted me while I was rounding the corner of Maplewood to say: it’s snowing hard in Boulder.
A weekend that saw me puttering, cleaning, sorting stuff (STUFF!) down in the studio and elsewhere, also saw a few things being completed, born, or dusted off. Since Tina Zaffiro asked about pouches, I pressed the two I came across in my cleaning to share. Also: partnered up cloth downstairs for some new ones. Think: Christmas. I like to get going before Thanksgiving on my Christmas list, that way shopping and making feel fun instead of oppressive.
The fish pouch is ideal for my Orisha Tarot deck because it easily houses the book as well as the cards. Also, the lining is silk which is reputed to have the power to filter out negativity.
That’s it! I should be wearing all silk, all the time!
And now I’m just avoiding writing, so bye. Have a great start to your week!
It’s hard not to think about redemption and damnation these days, almost routinely, like how we used to ponder nest eggs or outfits. Here are two collages that try to capture these extremities.
Redemption collage: “100 Years of Reflecting the Future”. The caption came from an ad in the centennial issue for Women’s Wear Daily — a subscription purchased with airline miles. Believe it or not, I really enjoyed the industry rag, partly because my mother used to get it, partly because even though I’m a member of the fashion-impaired tribe (and the “I don’t really give a fuck” club), clothing cannot get away from the fact that it’s constructed from cloth, which as you know, I love. Usually, the magazine words I come across are distractions or reductive labels, but these were provocative, so they stayed.
The collage asks: who will save us? What will save us? Can anything? What future? Can this moment in our history be redeemed? Are there powerful forces of good in the ethers, and if so, how could they have so badly let the American people down?
Damnation collage. The figure below is damned for so many reasons. For one, she’s ill prepared for the elements. For another, in a landscape of grief and disaster, her concern for her appearance seems particularly superficial. She is stylish for sure, but seemingly ignorant of the rows and rows of graves behind her. And, can’t she smell the molten liquid burning up the landscape behind her? Someone needs to tell her that lava will not be at all impressed with her strappy sandals.