Photos: Holden Beach, N.C.’s Intracoastal Waterway

Just a short distance from the beachfront vacation homes at Holden Beach, N.C., you can find the different, colorful world of the Intracoastal Waterway. Along its shores you’ll find a working class experience of the beach. From the boat landing beneath the towering bridge to working fish houses where the shrimp and commercial fishermen still bring their catch daily to a boatyard filled with large boats in dry dock, you quickly get the sense of local life apart from the throngs of beach-goers who happily crowd the beach with their bright towels and umbrellas.

Intracoastal Waterway at Holden Beach, N.C.

Intracoastal Waterway at Holden Beach, N.C.

Beneath the bridge at Holden Beach

Beneath the bridge at Holden Beach

Sign at fishouse

Sign at fishouse

Hook at fishouse

Hook at fishouse

Boat in drydock

Boat in drydock

The massive hull of a boat in drydock

The massive hull of a boat in drydock

The drydock fleet

The drydock fleet

A pirate ship. Aaaargh!

A pirate ship. Aaaargh!

–Mark Caskie

Posted in original art | Tagged , , , , ,

Photos: Driftwood as a Rising Phoenix

I found this piece of driftwood a few years ago, and I was impressed enough with it to bring it home. In addition to its textured surface, I noticed that it also has a bird-like appearance. I recently set up these photos with the phoenix—a mythical bird who rises from the ashes again and again—in mind. In the final photo, I added a dead flower blossom as a symbolic stand-in for the sun.

Driftwood

Driftwood

IMG_0209

—Mark Caskie

Posted in original art | Tagged , , , ,

Re-reading Great Books

tess-of-the-durbervilles-cover

While my teaching career is far behind me now, I can still recite sections of Macbeth and Hamlet off the cuff. That’s what happens when you read and teach a great work of literature over and over. If I had to guess I would say that I’ve read Macbeth in the neighborhood of 50 times and seen two or three different movie versions on a dozen or so occasions. I’ve read Hamlet less, because I taught that fewer times. Still, I would estimate that I read the play at least 15 times. I’ve also seen three different movie versions (compare Mel Gibson’s Hamlet with Kenneth Branaugh’s reprisal of the same role to see how different interpretations of this play can be.) I’ve also seen the play on the stage three times, including one performance that had a polar motif with white backdrops and all the characters clad in white fur with the exception of Hamlet who wore black (subtle, don’t you think?)

But, of course, I read both of these plays multiple times because I was a teacher. I’m reminded that Karl Marx read the entire collection of Shakespeare plays every year by choice because he thought that they contained so much wisdom and poetry, a fact that seems at odds with the reductionism of dialectic materialism. Still, it makes me think about the books we choose to re-read. I have friends who re-read certain titles again and again, but I’ve had very few books that I’ve chosen to read more than once. I’ve always said it’s because, as the old saying goes, “so many books, so little time.”

Still, there are a few books that I have chosen to re-read, often in very different periods of my life. What I find is you learn almost as much about myself as you do about the narrative. As a college student, I read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles for the first time. I have re-read the book twice since then. Upon third reading in mid-life, I eagerly anticipated the section of the book that takes place on the dairy farm when Tess and Angel Clare are first falling in love. Even now, it is my favorite section of the book. My third reading showed me that part of the appeal of the book as a young man had been its romantic depiction of country life. It fit perfectly with my ideas about the countryside and love. Of course, this idyllic section of the novel soon falls apart, but it was enough that it was there at all. From a middle age point of view, I could see my younger self, believing in a romanticized view of country life with a uncomplicated certainty. Suddenly, I had double the pleasure in re-reading this book, contemplating both the sheer physical heft of its sensory detail and my younger, idealistic self.

I still love going to a bookstore after having finished one good book to search for my next read. (Since I spend most of my working days on a computer, I like good old paper when it comes to leisure reading.) The idea that I could read anything I choose is a delightful possibility. Since my reading tends toward the eclectic, I rarely know if I will come home with a novel, a volume of poetry, or a history or science book. When I peruse the home library, I usually remember the precise circumstances of where and when I read a book. At the beach, a Christmas holiday, while I lived in another city, etc. (In college, I read one Dostevesky novel ever summer.) Then, too, the day comes when I’m reminded of one and I pull it down to look something up—or lend it to a friend. Every once in a great while, I decide to re-read a cherished, but long unread book.

Except for those of us with photographic memories, I suspect the impressions we take away from books, whether fiction or non-fiction, are all that remains after awhile. At least in my own experience, I tend to recall especially poignant scenes or telling details and forget the rest. I remember a book as a good read, can tell you roughly what it’s about, but usually can only recall a few disconnected scenes once a few months or years have elapsed. And you never know what these might be. Just as children’s greatest memories may be the most ordinary of occurrences quickly forgotten by parents, we tend to recall details according to some unknown internal algorithm. I suppose these too could tell us something about ourselves, if we could only recognize the larger patterns of thought.

—Mark Caskie

Posted in original criticism, original nonfiction | 2 Comments

Photo: Savannah Street Scene

IMG 028

I took this photo in the early-morning. The combination of Spanish moss and old brick buildings is part of what makes the city’s expansive historic district so charming.

—Mark Caskie

Posted in original art | Tagged , , ,

10 Garden Songs

IMG 085

Gardens are, of course, one of the most powerful metaphors going, so it’s natural that they would make their way into songs. The foundational story of the Garden of Eden alone with its theme of a paradise lost is enough to ensure its lasting cultural relevance, but its metaphorical potency is further reinforced by its place halfway between nature and culture, the nurturing quality of gardening, its associations with beauty, and more.

Just for fun I’ve been putting together a list of garden songs and my thoughts about them. Here’s my list:

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”: This anti-war song equates the young men who die in war with flowers cut down too soon.
“Rose Garden”: I beg your pardon, I know this one is cheesy: But love ain’t a rose garden.
“Barbara Allen”: This old English folk ballad explains how the rose got its thorns, and love its sometimes bitter-sweet quality.
“Garden Party”: Ricky Nelson uses the “garden party” to set up the superficiality of most social interaction, especially among celebrities.
“Johnny’s Garden”: This Stephen Stills’ song projects a sense of tranquility within the confines of a friend’s garden. It’s show the garden as a kind of sanctuary.
“Octopus’ Garden”: The Beatles’ song gives a rare lead vocal to Ringo along with a lot of fantastical imagery of a garden beneath the sea.
“Sally Gardens”: This plaintive old Irish folk tune picks up a heartache theme with a haunting melody.
“Garden Song”: This tune, originally by David Mallet, is the rarest of garden songs—one that is about gardening and nothing else!
“The Anti-Garden Song”: Perhaps because the “Garden Song” is so literal it left itself open to parody in this Eric Kilburn song: “Slug by slug, weed by weed,/ My garden’s got me really teed.”
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”: According to legend, the original title for this song was “In the Garden of Eden.”

And that’s just the beginning. These are just the songs I happen to know well. If you check out the Guardian‘s blog entry of this topic, you will find a crowd-sourced list of 100-plus garden songs—and you can also listen to them as well.

—Mark Caskie

Posted in original nonfiction | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Photo: Postcard Graffiti

Art on Bathroom Wall

—Mark Caskie

Posted in original art | Tagged , ,

Late Bloomers: New Talents in Later Life

Grandma-Moses-The-Pond

Less well-known than the wunderkinds at the other end of the age spectrum, late bloomers’ accomplishments don’t usually grab the public’s attention in quite the same way. (After all, who could compete with a 5-year-old child prodigy playing flawless violin concertos?) I suspect one reason for this more blunted response is that people usually assume that their accomplishments are simply the result of a lifetime of work rather than the emergence of some inborn talent.

Perhaps that’s often the case, but I also think it’s possible for someone in middle age or old age to suddenly discover a new, untapped ability. Years ago, by chance, I shared a breakfast table at a business conference with a man who for most of his working life was a hard-driven, smoking-two-packs-a-day attorney in Chicago. He had no time for exercise so like many of us, he didn’t. But after retiring, he moved to Colorado, bought a business, quit smoking, and—casually at first—took up running. What a shock it must of been for his former colleagues to learn he had become an elite level runner in his age group. Unknown even to himself during all those years of sedentary living, he had discovered in his sixties that he was in fact a world-class athlete, blessed with all the right physical attributes to excel at an activity he had never even considered in his earlier years. It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic about face, or a talent more hidden by lifestyle choices.

In a similar story of late-blooming athletic accomplishments, “Grandma” Emma Gatewood became the first woman to walk the length of the Appalachian Trail at the age of 67. She was a pioneer of ultra-light hiking, wearing her Keds tennis shoes and carrying only an army blanket, raincoat and a plastic shower curtain that she used as a bag. She hiked the trail twice more (once in sections) and held the record for the oldest woman to hike the trail until Nancy Gowler hiked it in 2007 at the age of 71. The oldest man was 81 when he broke Earl Shaffer’s record in 2004. Earl Shaffer, the first man to hike the length of the AT in 1948, was also one of the oldest when he hiked it for the third time at the age of 79 in 1998.

Of course, one of the best known stories of this kind is that of Grandma Moses who took up painting at the age of 75 when, according to some accounts, her arthritis made it difficult for her to embroider. (Just as unlikely as her emergence as an artist was the discovery of her work in a drug store window by a prominent collector.) Fortunately, Moses had plenty of time to pursue her new passion as she lived past 100 years of age, producing more than 3,600 paintings during that time. One of her paintings, Sugaring Off, sold for $1.2 million in 2006.

Older still, Harry Bernstein didn’t begin work on his first book until the age of 93 after his wife of 67 years passed away. Published when he was 96, it told of the story of his growing-up years in a Cheshire mill town, including the struggles of his mother to feed her six children, his alcoholic father and the anti-semitism of the era. Bernstein went on to write three more books (one published posthumously) before he died in 2011.

Perhaps more common than the emergence of hidden artistic or athletic prowess, business people sometimes make their mark late in life. Ray Kroc, the man behind McDonalds, and Harlen David Saunders, the Kentucky Fried Chicken Colonel himself, both made their fortunes by franchising food operations. When you look at some of the occupations they did when younger you see little sign of their future business success. Kroc: paper cup salesman, pianist, jazz musician, radio DJ. Saunders: farmer, steamboat captain, insurance salesman, gas station owner.

While these stories are all fairly dramatic, I think they illustrate the simple truth that “an old dog can teach itself new tricks.” But how do you find abilities that you don’t even know that you have? According to Barbara Straugh’s article “How to Train the Aging Brain,” which appeared in the New York Times in 2009, the brain in middle age and later is more likely to grow and develop when we challenge our well-established assumptions. That sounds like a good first step. To discover a new source of experience, a new lens through which to view reality, a new inspiration to fuel our passion is a goal well worth pursuing.

—Mark Caskie

Posted in original nonfiction | Tagged , , , ,

Human Growth Hormones Really Work

Human Growth Hormone—April Fools Photo

April Fools!

—Mark Caskie

Posted in original art | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cokes Were a Dime

Darling, you want the high life among those celebrities,
But walking down red carpets ain’t my cup of tea.
You say we’re like a margarita with a twist of lime,
But darling, I remember cokes were a dime.

Cokes were a dime;
Life was simple and kind;
I was young and in my prime.
I’m sorry but I’m too old to start again.

Darling, you want a mansion outside of New York City,
But summer in the Hamptons ain’t my cup of tea.
You say we’re like champagne or a fine vintage wine,
But darling, I remember cokes were a dime.

Cokes were a dime;
Life was simple and kind;
I was young and in my prime.
I’m sorry but I’m too old to start again.

Darling, you want to travel in your own private jet,
But I don’t like airports, I love my red corvette.
You say were like a cocktail—get high and pass the time—
But darling, I remember cokes were a dime.

Cokes were a dime;
Life was simple and kind;
I was young and in my prime.
I’m sorry but I’m too old to start again.
I’m sorry but I’m too old to start again.

—Mark Caskie

Other Original Songs

Listen to Back Roads of Your Love
Listen to Cotton Fields (Original second and third verses only)
Listen to If I Had a Spaceship

Posted in original music | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Peck of Peppers

IMG 097

I took this photo last summer in Calloway Gardens, Ga. The expansive vegetable garden there has many new varieties that are under development by seed companies. This pepper plant caught my eye because of its prolific output and bright but varied colors.

–Mark Caskie

Posted in original art | Tagged , , ,