Monday, January 26, 2015

Camden for Lupper

We had not been to White Oak Lake in a long time, so we drove there Sunday afternoon to see how it had changed. It looked somewhat improved with more entertainment opportunities: motorboat, paddleboat, kayak and canoe rentals, fishing docks and recreation areas for children. As we eased around the vacant camping area, I caught a glimpse of a thin fellow sitting in a swing overlooking the lower lake. He turned his head as we drove by and lo and behold, it was the wise old man.
I rolled down the window and caught a strong blast of the blustery day. “Hello, sir,” I shouted, “are you having a good day?”
“Dan, how did you and Mrs. Ford know I was here?”
“Seems like you are everywhere,” I replied, as I parked the car and walked over to join him on the swing. Jacque greeted him and then walked on down to the visitor’s center and gift shop.
“Are you staying here at White Oak?” I asked.
“No, son, I caught a ride here from Camden just to enjoy this unseasonably warm January day. I do wish the wind would die down. I am staying in the storage area across from that catfish place in Camden for a week or two.”
“How are you going to get back over there?”
“Okay, Dan, thanks, I will ride with y’all.” (I was not going that way, but we do like the catfish place over there and that would be a good place for lupper—combination of lunch and supper. We had had brunch in Arkadelphia.).
“Dan,” the wise old man said meditatively, “I have been thinking about brothers. I lost a brother in the war and I know you lost your brother who was a B-47 pilot. I have pondered brothers from Cain and Abel, to Jacob and Esau, to Moses and Aaron to Peter and Andrew. And I have been thinking about those brothers in the Prodigal Son. The reason the older brother who stayed behind could not enter into the joy of his brother’s return was because he was judgmental. We should not judge people at all, especially if we have insufficient knowledge of their motivations. Never ascribe motives to people, Dan.”
“Wow, sir, that’s heavy stuff. I know the Bible says we should not judge because we get the kind of judgment we give out. But I did not know ascribing motives was a form of being judgmental. I am always trying to figure out what people’s motives are.”
“Well, quit doing that, Dan.”
“Sir, I have to run to the restroom. I think I will drive down to the visitor’s center and use the facilities, pick up my wife and come back up here to pick you up.”
“Thank you, son, and I do not mean to judge you.”
“Oh, no, I did not take it that way at all.”

When we got back up to the swing, he was gone. We could not find him anywhere. We went on the Camden, though, for lupper.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Trail to Trial

Allow me to introduce myself; I am Judge George Conway and I have come down here to the frontier, Washington, Arkansas, to try the Henry Skaggs case here in the middle of this torrid 1844 summer. My horse came up lame there in Little Rock, so upon the advice of former friends I took the mail coach. It was the worst $8.00 I ever spent. It took 36 hours to get down here. The trail was very badly washed out because of the April rains and the mules were sore-footed and green. I heard that only one of the animals had made the trip before and she was recalcitrant and loud-mouthed. The driver and the skinner were tender-hearted drunk when we arrived at the big hill in Washington and we had to get out and slog through mud about a mile to get into the town. They thought our weight was too much for their precious nags. It was nearly dark when I got up the hill.
I went to the jail and there was Sheriff Arnett asleep in one of the cells. I sat at his so-called desk and picked up a copy of the Washington Telegraph Newspaper to see how much had been written about the Skaggs story. There was half a column on the case and a long editorial about how the jail was inadequate and poorly managed. One did not need a journalist to tell him that. The garrulous editorialist wrote that the sheriff treated the jail more like a hotel than a holding facility and that people came and went as they wished. It was a social club.
“Where’s Skaggs?” I asked in a loud voice. Arnett did not flinch. I poked his side with my stick and repeated the query. “Who wants to know?” He replied, not opening his eyes. “George Conway.” The sheriff jumped to his feet then and began his feeble attempt to seem like a real sheriff. “Oh, yes sir, judge. I got him locked up down at the other one.” Come to find out, there were two jails in town: one for the “social club” and one for true criminals. When he took me to Skaggs, I found what I expected, a disheveled bag of bones needing a drink. Then I examined the courthouse. I was surprised to find a really nice facility, less than a decade old, with truly sophisticated woodwork and satisfactory ventilation.
It took four days to try the case. Attorney Tupper did a fine job of prosecution and Skaggs was found guilty of the murder of Will Oaks, a fellow blacksmith. The argument that ended in fatality was over a woman for whom I felt a great deal of sympathy as she testified. How she saw anything positive in the lout Skaggs was beyond me. Nonetheless, it pained me to have to command the hanging. May Providence have mercy on his soul and may He comfort the lady in her bereavement.

I will find a horse to buy here in Washington and am resolved to never take that mail coach again.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Can Spring be far Behind?

The weather has a lot to do with our feelings if we allow it to have that effect. When you look out your window on a dismal day, a kind of sadness can creep into your heart. By the same token, a bright summer morning may prompt you to get up singing, “Oh, what a wonderful day…Let’s go a-fishing.” Nevertheless, I know from experience that we can turn a rainy day into a day of relaxing productivity: these damp days are perfect for reading and pondering. There is a lot to be said for having an excuse to stay inside. As I thought about how the weather somehow dictates or determines our feelings, I became freshly aware of the phenomenon in literature.
The pathetic fallacy is a literary device in which nature takes on the human tone and ambiance of the situation depicted in the work. Gothic stories, for example, always have a dark, eerie feel to them because of nighttime, storms and vacant houses. Romances, on the other hand, are often full of sunshine, island paradises and beautiful scenes. In other words, writers try to match their setting with the emotions and plot situations depicted. That is, traditionally. All that is apparently changing in our day.
I was reminded of the pathetic fallacy on my walk down a lonely road this morning. Everything, including the sky, seemed gray and colorless. The dirt path was drab, the grass was brown, and the hardwoods were dark and forlorn. Even the green of the pines was subdued, nothing like the miraculous blending of the blue and yellow in a rainbow. As I plodded on, the phrase, “neutral tones,” leaked from my subconscious into my muted lucidity and I remembered a poem by Thomas Hardy entitled “Neutral Tones.” It is about the place, a dark and colorless pond, where the narrator of the poem realizes his relationship with his beloved is over. It is a perfect example of the pathetic fallacy. Nature contains the same emotion the forlorn lover experiences.
Today, there seems to be a kind of anti-pathetic fallacy at work in art forms, even movies. Quentin Tarantino, for example, often sets deeply troubling or violent scenes in bright sunshine. While the irony works to enhance the foreboding tone, such contrast is emotionally disturbing to sensitive audiences. Similarly, movies like director Ridley Scott’s “No Country for Old Men” work the trick of beautiful environments juxtaposed with utter depravity to the same effect.

So, this morning on my walk, I found myself trying to feel encouraged in the midst of a scene that was anything but. I thought of another poem a little further back than Hardy’s, Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” in which he asks, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind.” Well, the weatherman said this morning that we would have a warming trend just after this week’s winter blast, so maybe spring is upon us. That may be a little hard to think about here in the middle of January, but it won’t be long.