My mom has always said, in times of trials and tribulations, that ‘this place is not my home’. She was of course referencing Bible verses found in the book of John that tell us that we are “not of the world” and that God’s “Kingdom is not of this world.” John 17:16 that says, “(T)hey are not of the world, just as I am not of the world,” and this is a verse that a lot of Christians lean towards in our modern times. They lean on the the hope of what is to come; just as much as the Jews and Christians that would have read these words 2000 years ago. My current place in this world isn’t that bad. Saying that “I am blessed” may be a cliche thing for Christians and non-Christians alike to say; but in comparison to so so many, I am. When I think about someone being grateful for their current situation; I think about Huck Finn. Huck Finn was along on that rift with Jim. Jim was free of the bonds of slavery while Huck was being carried away from not only his abusive father but from the civilizing life in St. Petersburg. Huck says that, “you feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.” Huck was beginning to realize the freedom that water possesses. The solitude of that raft allowed them to stay away from the crazy reality that lie beyond the shore.
The water is a representation of finding freedom from society’s corrupt fingers and symbolizes how life continues to flow. The reality that Huck and Jim ran from consisted of a set of dishonorable rules and jaded authority figures. While on that raft, they are like the water. They have no one to answer to and no rules to abide by. Water, even when dammed, still has life unless it is allowed to become stagnant. When Huck and Jim stop on land, then they find chaos and death. Then that life within it dies. When I stand on the shore of the creek behind my house or find myself drifting on the river like Huck and Jim with only the thin aluminum of the boat between myself and the water; I am like them. I am caught betwixt the society which I find to be mostly dishonorable and jaded, and the freedom that I see in the flowing water. When I find myself leaving my earthly home…I shall then find complete freedom since I truly am not of this world.
Saying that the sun is setting on a certain part of your life is mostly an understatement. Most of the time we are frantically going here and there that we miss the small things; like a sunset. Before the era of smart phones with built in cameras, I used to carry around a cheap disposable camera and snap pictures of things. I would mostly take pictures of nature which included lots of pictures of the clouds, sunrises and sunsets. This picture is extremely significant because it signifies so much. When I got my driver’s license, my parents told me that I needed to get a job to help pay for gas, car payment, insurance, etc if I wasn’t going to play football; so I got a job at a local grocery store bagging groceries and stocking shelves. The job was not that labor intensive but my heart was not in it. I enjoyed the interaction with people; and I have made friendships and acquaintances that I value greatly. The downside was that when I walked out the back door to prepare a mop bucket or take a pallet outside, I saw that sunsetting over the wood line and I knew that I was stuck in a big brick building until my shift was over.
It has been almost 20 years since I started that job that lasted for 4 years of my life teenage and then young adult life. I still visit that grocery store as a customer. While going to get some groceries the other night my son Daniel noticed how beautiful the sunset looked behind the store. So I snuck behind the store to get a better look and take a picture. As we turned the car around to head to the front of the store, I noticed the back door that I would stare out of those many years ago. The sky was not bathed in an abendrot hue of an Arizona sunset; but as the sun that drifted down below the horizon line built a scene that made me think about the differences in that sunset and one that I would have seen some 20 years ago. I looked over to my son and thought about my wife. I couldn’t imagine that my life would have been where it is now 20 years ago. It is truly amazing what a sunset can do to betray the feelings that should be in our hearts at that moment.
Living in eastern North Carolina doesn’t usually allow us to have a lot of snow during the winter; but thankfully a beautiful blanket of snow fell early this month. The snow reluctantly fell after a layer of wintery mix and ice so that made the roads somewhat impassable. This caused my wife to not be able to go to her antique/thrift store but the schools being shut down due to the dangerous road conditions allowed Daniel and myself to be home with her. Since we live on a small creek that leads to the Northeast Cape Fear; Daniel and myself set out on our trek the morning after it stopped snowing.
We walked our way through the inches of snow and relished in the site of the sun rising above the snow carpeted horizon. We meandered our way through the woods; walking on the grass that was smothered by the inches of snow. We walked down the snow kissed creek and appreciating God’s beautiful creations. We saw rabbits huddling in their underbrush dens and the melted spots of ground where deer had bedded themselves the night before. Daniel climbed fallen trees and laughed as he caused snow to cascade from the leaves on me as I stood below.
Daniel and myself finally found our way to a small tributary that leads to the creek. I used to sneak off to this spot when I was a child to draw, write or just to relax. Who am I kidding…most of the time when I was a kid, the dominant thought that shouted its way to the forefront of my thoughts was bouncing around the woods with a sword and pretending to be He-Man or Rambo; (I’m a child of the 80s…don’t hate. ;P) but most of the time I used that place to just relax. It brought a sense of calm to me to share that moment with my son. Daniel and myself found ourselves enjoying the solitude of the silence. The lack of traffic out on the road that runs about a mile from our house or maybe it was the fact that we weren’t being distracted by uselessness on our smart phones or wasting our time watching TV. We were just enjoying something that we don’t get to experience that often…and times like those are worth their weight in gold.
Sometimes the story of how animals come into our lives are just as interesting as the animals themselves. The story of how our cat Goose came into our lives is not as interesting as him, but the story is amazing…to say the least. Our paths crossed a couple of summers ago when I was working at my part time Summer job. I was trying to clean up the large fenced in area behind the shop and my last task was to mow the grass. I was mowing along when I had to come to a complete stop.
A fluffy gray kitten had made himself a small burrow under some tall bushes near the edge of the fence. He had scurried away and the fact that I had almost ran over him disturbed me. What disturbed me even more was the fact that he was all alone. Why was this beautiful kitten out here all alone? I finished my mowing and my best friend (he’s the owner of the business) and myself were talking behind my vehicle which was parked in front of the building. I explained to him what happened and since he lives adjacently to the building; I asked if he had seen any stray cats around. It was about that time that I heard a faint meow coming from the distance. He laughingly says, ‘he must have heard you talking about him’. I walked to the edge of the building and starting calling ‘kitty, kitty’. The meowing started to get louder and then all of a sudden we see this little gray kitten; running towards us as fast as he can. He ran right up to me and scaled my leg and crawled into my arms. My friend and I quite literally couldn’t believe what had just happened.
He rode home with me, still cradled in my arms. By the time I got home, he was fast asleep. My wife and Daniel came outside to greet me and our new friend. We named him Goose, because we figured that since he was gray…why not name him after Gray Goose Vodka? Even though we don’t drink, we already had a cat named Whiskey because you guessed it, he was the color of whiskey. Goose grew up to be the sweetest cat that we have ever had. He would crawl into our arms and let us rub his belly. He would meow loudly and run up to us when we got home. Sadly our sweet Goose was killed last year. Since his death, we have thought a lot about how the purring of some cheeky little cat can impact your life. How soothing that the soft fur of a loving kitten can be as it brushes up against your ankles. Or just knowing how unconditionally you are loved by this animal that trusts that you will protect them and bring them food. All dogs may not go to Heaven while all cats may not live in Purgatory…but what I do know is that the animals that elegantly impact our lives, do forever live in our hearts.
This picture of Goose is my favorite. Since he constantly wanted our attention and wanted us to love on him at all times; he just took it upon himself to ascend to the top of a ladder that we had outside doing spring cleaning so he could be in arms length of us. The moment was so funny and was so indicative of the loving cat that had come into our lives. I miss him but the beauty of pictures is that it brings us back to the good times that we captured via that photograph.
Before we all had phones in our pockets that had picture taking capabilities; I would ride around with a disposable camera in my car to take pictures of whatever image that I wanted to capture. I would hold my camera out of the sunroof of my Mustang and snap pictures of a beautiful sunset or stop to take a picture of an old building. I guess you can say that I was Instagram…before there was an Instagram. I was taking pictures of sunsets when the symbol for the hashtag was still the pound sign. When cell phones began to advance and the tiny little cameras were an finally an option for our smarter phones; I took advantage of the technology.
Over the years, technology is starting to capture the images the way that we see them. In the case of Snapchat and Instagram filters, the images that we take sometimes look better than the ones that we actually take. According to Apple, the most popular thing to take a picture of, according to iCloud uploads, is either a selfie or something found in nature. Whereas the 2nd (or 3rd if you don’t like that that was a tie) most popular thing photographed is some sort of animal. One of the most popular animals (second only to our beloved household dogs and cats) is a bird. Of course the category of ‘birds’ encompasses everything from ducks and geese to chickens and pigeons. The places that are photographed the most is Paris, New York, and Barcelona.
Is that an indication of how we perceive beauty in our society? We either find ourselves being drawn to the beauty of nature, historically beautiful places, or the beauty of ourselves. I think I’m okay with that honestly because nature photos are my favorite. While driving home from work, heading to the store or the gym, if I look and see the clouds and horizon line have that glow that appears to be so much more than the sun reflecting upon them, I’ll just stop on the side of the road to capture that moment when the clouds light up with incandescent oranges and vivid yellows. Now-a-days my phone is full of landscape photos just like all of those rolls of film from disposable cameras back before the time of smart phones. Technology may have changed…whereas my appreciation for nature has not.
It may not take a genius to sit in quiet contemplation while staring at a body of water; but you may be one for taking that time to do so. I think that Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu said it best when she said that she, “go(es) to the ocean to calm down, to reconnect with the creator, to just be happy.” Ever since I can remember, I have had a love affair with the ocean. I would surf the waves when I was a teenager and the older that I get, the more I love just staring at the endless waves, cascading on the sandy shore. Being from Eastern North Carolina definitely has its perks because in my opinion, the beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world. But the beaches are not the only place that has been a place of quiet contemplation.
I have mentioned before that my parents house was built 50 yards from a creek that is a tributary to the Northeast Cape Fear River. This creek connected to another small tributary that flows from a wetland area south. These tributaries met behind my parents house and the smaller tributary had a small waterfall. Over the banks of the small creek lied a huge fallen oak tree. I would sit with my back against this tree for hours listening to the sounds of the waterfall and watching a beautiful aspect of nature. There was nothing pedestrian about the situation. The sensory overload was anything but lackluster. This spot in the middle of a wooded area was my secret oasis; my serenity. I would grow older and hurricanes would tame the landscape as they saw fit. Water erodes. Trees fall down and rot. The spot does not look the same anymore but there are other spots that I frequent to try to find a break from the mundane.
On the banks of the Hollands Shelter Creek (a tributary of the Northeast Cape Fear River) sits Hollands Shelter Creek Restaurant. My family took me there when I was a kid and now that I have a kid of my own; we enjoy taking him. Daniel has always been fascinated with the river that flows by the seafood restaurant, so it seems only logical that his favorite place to go is to sit on the dock on the river, eat some ice cream and hopefully spot an alligator.
The second story windows of the old Johnson Cotton Company building in Wallace, NC have become weathered. Some panes have been broken by the rock of a rebellious child or pine branch thrown by the forceful breeze of a summer storm. The lower level windows were bricked years ago, while the building’s front entrance houses a set of decorative metal framed display windows that lead you to the entrance of the long been shut down store. The recessed entrance is still inviting because it is now used as storage but the hints of its history peak through.
The now Historic Commercial District sat formidably as the nucleus of a booming railroad and agricultural town. This small Southern town is situated in the coastal plains region of North Carolina and lies in the southern edge of Duplin County. Wallace was originally incorporated in 1873 as the settlement known as Duplin Roads; but was incorporated as the town of Wallace (named after railroad official Steven Wallace) in 1899. Like many Southern railroad towns, the small town’s orthogonal grid developed along the railroad tracks. The small town grew and grew because it was an important transportation link between the large port city of Wilmington to the South and Faison to the North.
Over the years, Wallace continued to expand. Fast food restaurants were built on Highway 117 and businesses extended passed the grid pattern that once hugged the railroad. The one and two story brick buildings in this historic area now house offices or maybe even modern stores. Buildings whose foundations were laid in the late 19th and early 20th centuries found themselves booming in a post World War II period. So these historic buildings, like the Johnson Cotton Company; whose second story windows still peer down upon the renovated Train Depot; still scintillates above a town that they help inaugurate.