Thursday, May 19, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Good Fortune
 
Frederick Douglass’s peculiar existence at Wye House ended in 1826.  It was caused by the decline of Aaron Anthony’s health and his removal as manager of Colonel Lloyd’s farms.  A new manager was chosen and Anthony moved to one of his Tuckahoe farms, taking his slaves and his family with him.  Thomas Auld, Lucretia’s husband, gave up his position as captain of the Sally Lloyd and bought a small store in Hillsboro, not far from Grandmother Betsy Bailey’s cabin.  He and Lucretia would manage the store.  Aunt Katy was hired out to another farmer.  Frederick was released at last from her persecution, but what now was to become of him?
 
His brothers and sisters had become and would become field workers.  Frederick, however, had attracted Lucretia Anthony Auld’s attention.  The promise that he had shown, a specialness that had marked him different from the other Anthony chattel, affected Lucretia enough to cause her to want to protect him from their dreary existence.  She persuaded her father to send Frederick to the house of her husband’s brother, Hugh Auld, in Baltimore.  Hugh and wife Sophia had a two year old son.  Frederick could be the boy’s companion.  He could assist Sophia in the boy’s rearing, although that chore could more logically be done by a teen-age slave girl.  These were reasons that Lucretia manufactured.  Although he could be useful to Hugh and Sophia Auld, he was not particularly needed.  In sending him to them Lucretia fulfilled her own need to change favorably the direction of Frederick’s life.  It was the first of three instances in which the Aulds – Lucretia, and later Thomas – would do the unexpected at a crisis point in Frederick’s life.
 
I received this information about three days before my departure.  They were three of the happiest days I ever enjoyed.  I spent the most part of all these three days in the creek, washing off the plantation scurf, and preparing myself for my departure.
 
The pride of appearance which this would indicate was not my own.  I spent the time in washing, not so much because I wished to, but because Mrs. Lucretia had told me I must get all the dead skin off my feet and knees before I could go to Baltimore; for the people in Baltimore were very cleanly, and would laugh at me if I looked dirty.  Besides, she was going to give me a pair of trousers, which I should not put on unless I got all the dirt off me.  The thought of owning a pair of trousers was great indeed!  It was almost a sufficient motive, not only to make me take off what would be called by pig-drovers the mange, but the skin itself.  I went at it in good earnest, working for the first time with the hope of reward.
 
The ties that ordinarily bind children to their homes were all suspended in my case.  I found no severe trial in my departure.  My home was charmless; it was not home to me; on parting from it, I could not feel that I was leaving any thing which I could have enjoyed by staying.  My mother was dead, my grandmother lived far off, so that I seldom saw her.  I had two sisters and one brother, that lived in the same house with me; but the early separation of us from our mother had well nigh blotted the fact of our relationship from our memories.  I looked for home elsewhere, and was confident of finding none which I should relish less than the one which I was leaving (Douglass 44-45).
 
He came, as a child, from the country to the city, and he never willingly went back.
 
… When the door opened, “I saw what I had never seen before; it was a white face beaming with the most kindly emotions; it was the face of my new mistress, Sophia Auld.”
 
… Sophia took him into the house, and he met her husband, Hugh Auld, a broad shouldered shipbuilder, and their two-year-old son, Tommy.  The little one was told that this was “his Freddy”: Frederick was to look after him, a task that, initially, consisted largely of seeing that he did not toddle into the street crowded with wagons carrying cargoes and fittings for the ships at the docks close by.  The Aulds lived in Fells Point, Baltimore’s busy shipbuilding center on the east side of the harbor (McFeely 26).
 
Frederick’s new home was inviting, and he welcomed the change in his life.  His tow shirt-in the city, he would have had to learn to be embarrassed when it flew up as he ran-was replaced with pants and a tuck-in shirt; instead of a grain sack to pull around himself on cold nights, there was a “good straw bed, well furnished with covers”; and instead of cornmeal mush or, worse, dry cracked corn, there was bread.  But more critical than these dignities and comforts was the “natural and spontaneous” warmth of Sophia Auld, who brought him into a family. 
 
Sophia Kenney came from a poor family near St. Michaels; she is reported to have worked for wages as a weaver before marrying Hugh Auld and moving with him to Baltimore.  It is unlikely that she had much education, but as a committed Methodist, she was devoted to her Bible and labored to read from it.  As she sat with Tommy on one knee and the book on the other, she drew Frederick to her side, and read-or told-its stories to both boys (McFeely 27).
 
 
Fredrick Bailey was alive and alert, in a household that gave him the security and a neighborhood that gave him the stimulation he needed to expend his wonderfully curious mind.  He could run in the streets, watching the older boys while dodging their taunts, and return to a house that was a haven of cheerful affection.  Sophia sang hymns as she worked; the two boys tumbled around her, singing snatches of the songs in imitation of her.  Frederick began paying strict attention when she read to them from the Bible.  In later years, acutely conscious of the process of his education and perceptive in his remembrance of it, Douglass recalled being fascinated by the relationship between the words coming from her mouth and the marks on the pages of the book she held.  He was curious about “this mystery of reading,” and “frankly, asked her to teach me to read.”  Sophia, drawn to his quick mind, and perhaps intrigued by the thought of testing the educability of an African child, began to do so” (McFeely 29).
 
Frederick had begun his second year with the young Auld family in Baltimore before the reality of who and what he was began to destroy the tranquility of his new life.
 
In November of 1827 Aaron Anthony died.  Because he had left no will, his property was to be divided between his daughter, Lucretia (Anthony) Auld, and his two sons, Andrew, a cruel alcoholic, and Richard, an unsuccessful farmer.  Before that division was scheduled to be made, Lucretia unexpectedly died; now her husband, Thomas Auld, had legal claim to her share of Anthony’s property.  He would receive her portion.  What that portion would be had to be determined among the family members and the lawyers that settled Anthony’s estate.  With apprehension the Aulds in Baltimore waited for the letter that would request Frederick’s return to the Tuckahoe farm.  In October 1827 it came.
 
It was a “sad day” as Frederick, in his city clothes, was put aboard a wide, shallow-draft sloop that took him down the bay and then, slowly, up the Choptank River and into the shallow Tuckahoe Creek.  He had left, in a sense, a mother and a brother-“We, all three, wept bitterly”-to go back to the place of his earliest recollections.  He arrived to find himself in the midst of a cruelly convened family reunion (McFeely 27).
 
We were all ranked together at the valuation.  Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine.  There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination. 
 
After the valuation, then came the division.  I have no language to express the high excitement and deep anxiety which were felt among us poor slaves during this time.  Our fate for life was now to be decided.  We had no more voice in that decision than the brutes among whom we were ranked.  A single word from the white men was enough … to sunder forever the dearest friends, dearest kindred, and strongest ties known to human beings.  In addition to the pain of separation, there was the horrid dread of falling into the hands of Master Andrew … a most cruel wretch,-a common drunkard, who had, by his reckless mismanagement and profligate dissipation, already wasted a large portion of his father’s property.  We all felt that we might as well be sold at once to the Georgia traders, as to pass into his hands. 
 
…Master Andrew … just a few days before, to give me a sample of his bloody disposition, took my little brother by the throat, threw him on the ground, and with the heel of his boot stamped upon his head till the blood gushed from his nose and ears.  … After he had committed this savage outrage upon my brother, he turned to me, and said that was the way he meant to serve me one of these days,- meaning, I suppose, when I came into his possession (Douglass 59, 60-61).
 
On October 18, 1827, Betsey Bailey, her children and grandchildren, Frederick amongst them, were lined up outside Aaron Anthony’s farm house and waited while two estate lawyers checked lists of names and assigned their relative value.  Then they conferred.  At last the disposition of property was made.
 
Betsey and four of her daughter Harriet’s children would remain on the Tuckahoe farm with Andrew Anthony.  Aunt Katy and her family were now the property of Richard.  Thomas Auld, the widowed husband of Lucretia, received Frederick’s favorite aunt, Milly, her four children, and Frederick and his sister Eliza.
 
There was no obvious logic in the assignment of Frederick and Eliza to Thomas Auld; had the lawyers continued to observe family groupings, as they did in other instances, the two would have gone with Betsy to Andrew Anthony.  Instead they went to Auld, who, for whatever private reason, almost certainly had asked particularly for Frederick.  By so doing, he saw to it that he and not his inept and callous brothers-in-law would own Frederick; and then, to the boy’s immense relief, he completed the rescue by sending him back to the mothering home of Sophia Auld in Baltimore.  For a second time, [an] Auld had interceded in Frederick’s behalf (McFeely 29).
 
Their joy at my return equaled their sorrow at my departure.  It was a glad day to me.  I had escaped a worse than lion’s jaws.  I was absent from Baltimore, for the purpose of valuation and division, just about one month, and it seemed to have been six (Douglass 61).
 
 
Works Cited:
 
Douglass, Frederick.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  New York, Penguin Books USA inc., 1968.  Print.
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Colonel Lloyd's Cruelty
 
We have seen Frederick Douglass’s descriptions of the character and behavior of Captain Anthony and the various overseers that worked under his authority.  Here Douglass writes of the viciousness of Colonel Lloyd, behavior all too common among large plantation slave masters.
 
To describe the wealth of Colonel Lloyd would be almost equal to describing the riches of Job.  He kept from ten to fifteen house-servants.  He was said to own a thousand slaves.    Colonel Lloyd owned so many that he did not know them when he saw them, nor did all the slaves of the out-farms know him.  It is reported of him, that, while riding along the road one day, he met a colored man, and addressed him in the usual manner of speaking to colored people on the public highways of the south: “Well, boy, whom do you belong to?”  “To Colonel Lloyd,” replied the slave.  “Well, does the colonel treat you well?’” “No, sir,” was the ready reply.  “What, does he work you too hard?”  “Yes, sir.”  “Well, don’t he give you enough to eat?”  “Yes, sir, he give me enough, such as it is.”
 
The colonel, after ascertaining where the slave belonged, rode on; the man also went on about his business, not dreaming that he had been conversing with his master.  He thought, said, and heard nothing more of the matter, until two or three weeks afterwards.  The poor man was then informed by his overseer that, for having found fault with his master, he was now to be sold to a Georgia trader.  He was immediately chained and handcuffed; and thus, without a moment’s warning, he was snatched away, and forever sundered, from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death.  This is the penalty of telling the truth, of telling the simple truth, in answer to a series of plain questions (Douglass 35-36).
 
Colonel Lloyd’s garden was not the least source of trouble on the plantation.  Its excellent fruit was quite a temptation to the hungry swarms of boys, as well as the other slaves, belonging to the colonel, few of whom had the virtue or the vice to resist it.  [Grown also were tender asparagus, crispy lettuce, delicate cauliflower, eggplants, beets, parsnips, peas, French beans, figs, raisins, and almonds]  Scarcely a day passed, during the summer, but that some slave had to take the lash for stealing fruit.  The colonel had to resort to all kinds of strategems to keep his slaves out of the garden.  The last and most successful one was that of tarring his fence all around, after which, if a slave was caught with any tar upon his person, it was deemed sufficient proof that he had either been into the garden, or had tried to get in.  In either case, he was severely whipped by the chief gardener.  This plan worked well; the slaves because as fearful of tar as of the lash (Douglass 33).
 
The colonel also kept a splendid riding equipage.  His stable and carriage-house presented the appearance of some of our large city livery establishments.  His horses were of the finest form and noblest blood. 
 
This establishment was under the care of two slaves-old Barney and young Barney-father and son.  To attend to this establishment was their sole work.  But it was by no means an easy employment; for in nothing was Colonel Lloyd more particular than in the management of his horses.  The slightest inattention to these was unpardonable …; no excuse could shield them [the father and son], if the colonel only suspected any want of attention to his horses … They never knew when they were safe from punishment.  They were frequently whipped when least deserving … Every thing depended upon the looks of the horses, and the state of Colonel Lloyd’s own mind when his horses were brought to him for use.  If a horse did not move fast enough, or hold his head high enough, it was owing to some fault of his keepers.  It was painful to stand near the stable-door, and hear the various complaints … “This horse has not had proper attention.  He has not been sufficiently rubbed and curried, or he has not been properly fed; his food was too wet or too dry; he got it too soon or too late; he was too hot or too cold; he had too much hay, and not enough grain; or he had too much grain, and not enough of hay; instead of old Barney’s attending to the horse, he had very improperly left it to his son.”  To all these complaints, no matter how unjust, the slave must answer never a word.  Colonel Lloyd could not brook any contradiction for a slave.  I have seen Colonel Lloyd make old Barney, a man between fifty and sixty years of age, uncover his bald head, kneel down upon the cold, damp ground, and receive his naked and toil-worn shoulders more than thirty lashes at the time (Douglass 33-35].
 
 
Work Cited:
 
Douglass, Frederick.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  New York, Penguin Books USA inc., 1968.  Print.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Aunt Katy and Daniel
 
I need to differentiate now the white people that possessed legal authority to determine the course of Frederick Douglass’s early life.
 
Aaron Anthony, Frederick’s initial master, was an important employee of Colonel Edward Lloyd, a former Maryland governor and U. S. senator.  Anthony, once the master of the Sally Lloyd, the sloop that carried Colonel Lloyd’s abundance of crops, tobacco, corn and wheat to market at Baltimore, was at the time of Frederick’s arrival the overseer of Lloyd’s vast land holdings and some 1,000 slaves.  Anthony and his family lived in the Wye House, a cottage on the spacious grounds of the main Lloyd estate not far from the Great White House, where Lloyd frequently lodged and entertained important guests. 
 
Anthony had three grown children: two sons, Andrew and Richard, and a daughter, Lucretia, who was married to a Thomas Auld.  Thomas and Lucretia, who would eventually own Frederick, would impact considerably Frederick’s future.
 
***
 
The Anthonys kept apart from Colonel Lloyd and his family, they being of a subservient class.  Anthony’s slaves at the Wye House were expected as well to separate themselves from the slaves of the Colonel.  When Anthony rode out each morning to adjacent farms to do his work, he left behind the tyrannical slave cook. Aunt Katy, to administer his dictates.
 
“Aunt Katy stood in the long tradition, both fictional and all too real, of cooks who tyrannized the families they defiantly served.”  If she was related to Frederick, it was a distant relationship.  “Women and men who presided over critical plantation enterprises, like the laundry sheds, carpentry shops, and harness rooms, were called ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle’ often by their owners and always by the younger slaves.  Katy’s particular authority, if limited, was great.  As Douglass put it, ‘What he [Anthony] was to Col. Lloyd, he made Aunt Katy to him.’  She ruled Anthony’s household with an iron hand.  ‘Ambitious, ill-tempered and cruel,’ she was responsible not only for her own children, but for the young Baileys in the Anthony household” (McFeely 18).  Isolated from the Lloyds, the Anthony children, even though they were young adults, were intimidated by Katy as well.
 
At one time Frederick slept on the floor of a closet in her kitchen.  He ate mush with an oyster shell or a piece of shingle from a wooden trough with the other slave children, “like so many pigs.  … He that ate fastest got most.”  When he was too aggressive, Katy punished him either by whipping him or by sending him away from the food.  Soon he became a primary target of her persecution.
 
One reason undoubtedly was the consequence of a chance visit of Frederick’s mother, Harriet, to Katy’s kitchen.  Other than this one encounter, Frederick would only remember seeing his mother five or six times during the two year period he lived at Wye House, and always in the middle of the night.  Harriet Bailey was a field hand, hired out to the owners of adjacent farms, one man, a Mr. Stewart, fourteen miles away.  “… a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary-a permission which they seldom get …  She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.  Very little communication ever took place between us.  Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived.  … I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial.  She was gone long before I knew any thing about it” (Douglass 22).
 
On this one last afternoon visit, Harriet discovered that Frederick had been denied food the entire day.  “With fiery indignation” Harriet told Katy never to deny Frederick food again; and then, in the slave woman’s own kitchen, Harriet made Frederic a sugar cake.  Upon her lap he ate his cake, “a king upon his throne.”  It was the last time he saw her.  It was an experience that stoked the cook’s resentment of him (McFeely 19).
 
The childless Lucretia Anthony Auld, captive by circumstance in her father’s house, made this relationship even worse.  Lucretia “was allowed by Katy little to do.  … Finding Frederick an engaging companion, she made something of a pet of him, and when she too discovered him to be hungry, she got food to the child, thereby increasing Katy’s ire.  Katy had in some way twisted her resentment of a cheating world into an almost pathological need to abuse Frederick.  She wanted no one in her charge to outstrip her own children or herself in importance in the household; it was as if by withholding food she was starving a rival into puniness and insignificance” (McFeely 21).
 
A third reason for Katy’s persecution was that Frederick refused to stay away from the Lloyd slaves and the great house of the master.  The magnificent garden with its exotic trees and strange fruit, the graveyard, and the imposing house were irresistible temptations for a young boy of imagination and intelligence. 
 
Frederick’s access to the Lloyd house, garden, and grounds was made possible by his friendship with the Colonel’s youngest son, Daniel
 
Daniel, laden with privilege, may have been almost as lonely amidst the crowd of people at the great house as Frederick was.  Far younger than his siblings, he had no peers.  The nearest neighbors of the Lloyds’ rank, if any there were, were miles away.  The boy surely could not play with the children of the overseers.  The only appropriate companion, paradoxically, was a slave, who could present no threat of encroachment on Lloyd superiority since his position was unequivocally fixed.  Although Daniel was five years older than Frederick, the two boys probably achieved their friendship on their own (McFeely 12).
 
About Daniel, Frederick wrote, “he became quite attached to me, and was a sort of protector of me.  He would not allow the older boys to impose upon me, and would divide his cakes with me” (Douglass 43).  In return, during most of his leisure time, Frederick went hunting with Daniel and helped retrieve the birds that the white boy shot.
 
Frederick was not old enough to work in the field.  There was little else than field work to do for slaves, except for the household work of servants.  The most he had to do was move cows at evening, keep fowls out of the garden, keep the front yard clean and run errands for Lucretia Anthony Auld.  Despite his friendship with Daniel Lloyd and the slight advantages it gave him, Frederick, as every slave child did at the Wye House, suffer from neglect.
 
I was seldom whipped by my old master, and suffered little from any thing else than hunger and cold.  I suffered much from hunger, but much more from cold.  In hottest summer and coldest winter, I was kept almost naked-no shoes, no stockings, no jacket, no t rousers, nothing on but a coarse tow linen shirt, reaching only to my knees.  I had no bed.  I must have perished with cold, but that, the coldest nights, I used to steal a bag which was used for carrying corn to the mill.  I would crawl into this bag, and there sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, with my head in and the feet out.  My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gashes (Douglass 43).
 
The real benefit of Frederick’s friendship with Daniel was that he had opportunities to exercise and develop his intelligence.  Already acknowledged as a skillful mimic of farm animals before he was brought to Wye House, Frederick learned the speech patters of the privileged beings residing in the Great White House, and he amused Anthony’s slaves with this mimicry as well.  When the Lloyds hired a New England tutor, Joel Page from Massachusetts, to refine and culture their son, Frederick learned as well the speech characteristics of the educated Northerner.
 
Frederick’s appetite for knowledge about the life that eluded him caused him to ask Daniel a deluge of questions.  “Who was coming on the Sally Lloyd for the week?  Who was sleeping in what room?  What were the big, square silver dishes used for?  What did people say at the table?  What was a governor?  A senator?”
 
He was ceaselessly curious about this world from which he was excluded (McFeely 22).
 
At the age of seven Frederick had seemingly decided that he would not be what his master, Aunt Katy, and the system of slavery insisted he had to be.
 
 
Works Cited:
 
Douglass, Frederick.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  New York, Penguin Books USA inc., 1968.  Print.
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Trees, Birds, and Fish
 
 
I have never been to North Carolina.  Here I am writing a historical novel that takes place almost entirely outdoors.  The Algonquians of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds in 1583 depended on plants, trees, birds, fish, crustaceans, and beasts to survive.  I spent more than a year researching the trees, birds, and fish of eastern Carolina before I felt comfortable enough to write my first five chapters.  Here is a brief sample of some of the interesting information I learned and how in excerpts from one chapter I used it.
 
Bald cypress is a long-lived, pyramidal conifer (cone-bearing tree) which grows 50-70' tall (less frequently to 125'). Although it looks like a needled evergreen (same family as redwoods) in summer, it is deciduous ("bald" as the common name suggests).    In the deep South, it is a familiar sight growing directly in swampy water, often in large strands, with its branches heavily draped with Spanish moss.    Trunks are buttressed (flared or fluted) at the base, and when growing in water, often develop distinctive, knobby root growths ("knees") which protrude above the water surface around the tree. Soft, feathery, yellowish-green foliage (1/4" long, flat needles in two ranks) turns an attractive orange/cinnamon-brown in fall. Rounded, wrinkled, 1 inch diameter, purplish-green cones mature to brown.  It is found along the banks of Albemarle Sound and tributary rivers and creeks where movement of water is sluggish and the terrain is nearly flat.  Picture: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/03/d4/33/03d433f672ea0bca7f7d74a422ee8722.jpg
 
Seldom found far from brackish water, the snowy egret is a fairly common breeder along the coast of North Carolina.  The snowy egret has been described as the “most charming of all our marsh birds.” Whether displaying its gorgeous breeding plumage or racing about in pursuit of small fish in shallow water, it is an exquisite sight, with gleaming white plumage, jet black beak and legs, and bright yellow feet.  In North Carolina, the snowy egret breeds from Currituck Sound to the mouth of the Cape Fear River. It also winters in North Carolina, but in reduced numbers.  Picture: https://roadsendnaturalist.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/snowy-egret-with-feathers-flared-2.jpg
 
Spotted seatrout linger around river mouths throughout the summer and then bunch up in September before traveling upriver to chase baitfish and overwinter.  The spotted seatrout has a long, slender body with a dark bluish-silvery-gray back and silvery sides. Its body is marked by round, black spots on the back, upper sides and extending into the second dorsal fin and the caudal fin. The upper jaw has two large, curved, canine-like teeth.  Spotted seatrout, on average, are 15 to 25 inches in length and 2 to 4 pounds, but they grow to as large as 40 inches and 12 pounds.  The fish is found in rivers, estuaries and shallow coastal waters over sandy bottoms. It is often associated with seagrass beds, as well as salt marshes and tidal pools of high salinity.  Picture: http://www.fishtaxidermytaxidermist.com/Spotted_Seatrout4.JPG
 
White catfish will typically found in slower meandering creeks, streams, canals and small rivers. They are occasionally found in brackish waters which drain into and mix with saltwater. Large specimens rarely exceed 10 pounds and average 2 to 4 pounds in most parts of the country.  The sides are blue-gray to blue-black and may be mottled. The tail is moderately forked.  They have a blunt, more-rounded head, and they lack black spots on their body.  Although fish are their major food, whites also eat larval aquatic insects, small crustaceans, fish eggs and aquatic plants. They may feed at night, but are not as nocturnal as other catfish.  An excellent food fish, whites are prized for their firm, white flesh.   Picture: http://www.ncfishfinder.com/white-catfish-21-fish.html
 
The American black duck, along with the wood duck, mallard, teal and others, is a member of the group of ducks called dabbling ducks. Dabbling ducks are recognized by their ability to “jump” vertically from the water when taking flight and by their dabbling” method of feeding in which they tip up, exposing their rump, when feeding in shallow water.  While in flight, the white underwings provide a striking contrast to the overall black appearance.  In winter, black ducks are visible in North Carolina’s coastal marshes.  Picture: http://ncpedia.org/sites/default/files/blackDuck1.jpg
 
Ospreys are large birds, standing 21 to 24 in. tall and having a wing span of up to approximately 6 ft. This species is always found around water, the larger the water body the better. It is most common along the coast, foraging in sounds, bays, and even in the near-shore ocean. They are dark brown above with white stomach and legs below. The head is white with dark speckles on the crown and a dark brown line through the eye. Two of the best field marks of the osprey are that it flies with crooked or “M”—shaped wings and has dark carpal patches on the under wing. It is the only raptor that actually plunges into the water, entering feet first to catch fish with its talons. The soles of the feet have sharp spiny projections, an adaptation that allows a firm grip on slippery fish.  The osprey is almost always found near water containing abundant fish populations and can be seen along rivers, lakes and the coast. Ospreys are excellent hunters of fish. They usually hover over the water until a fish nears the surface and then dive feet first, grasping the fish with their talons. Ospreys can dive at 30 miles per hour and have been clocked at 50 miles per hour by the time they hit the water. They are able to take off from the water and can be seen shaking vigorously to remove water after they are airborne. Captured fish are almost always carried with head forward for the best aerodynamics.  Ospreys build large, bulky nests of sticks in dead trees, on stumps.  Picture: http://news.cornell.edu/sites/chronicle.cornell/files/OspreyFish7-8.jpg
 
Prior to 1965, the Bald Eagle was a widespread and not uncommon breeding bird along the coast and in the Tidewater areas.  Bald Eagles almost always forage near water, both coastally and inland. They are most numerous at large freshwater lakes, both natural ones (such as Lake Mattamuskeet) and reservoirs (such as Jordan Lake). They also forage at large tidal rivers and bays, but are less numerous in salt water areas such as the ocean or tidal channels. Nest sites are typically in large living pines or cypresses, especially close to water and where the birds have a commanding view of their surroundings.  This magnificent bird has a wing span that reaches approximately eight feet as an adult, and it can weigh more than 15 pounds.  The bald eagle prefers to live in areas near a source of water because it feeds primarily on fish. The American bald eagle forms life-long pair bonds and will usually return to the same nesting area every year. With a relatively long
life span of up to 40 years, the bald eagle does not need to produce very many offspring per year—a female bald eagle will lay one to three eggs a year.
 
 
Excerpts from Chapter 6
 
 
Askook’s canoe sent widening v’s -- the water within them smoother, less sparkling -- back to Wanchese’s canoe some fifty feet behind. To Wanchese’s left stood tall water tupelo and bald cypress and no discernable embankment [https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/37/Bald_Cypress.JPG], entryways of water for inquiry, havens, he recalled, for young boys to idle away time. Looking over his right shoulder, Wanchese could see yet the northern tip of Roanoke Island, where the previous afternoon Alsoomse had insisted that she accompany him. His intuition had told him that she knew that her words were useless but showing a combative attitude was essential, a characteristic of hers he resented and respected. Pity the unfortunate brave so foolish as to take her for his squaw. Yet if he, Wanchese, ever decided upon a young woman to court, she would have to be as nearly strong-minded.
 
 
They had left Dasemunkepeuc at midday; little time had passed; Wanchese’s knees and shoulder muscles had not yet begun to hurt. They would do so, however -- notwithstanding the absence of waves -- after they had passed the great egret island that marked their entrance into the long waters. He was hoping to see one or two egrets dash across the shallow surface while others waded, stirring the water with their long black legs and yellow feet. (http://tomrhynephoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Frisky-Snowy-Egrets-6.jpg)  As a young boy, he had enjoyed watching egrets. He imagined they would be catching spotted trout now – it being between the seasons Taquitock (fall) and Popanow (winter) – trout, perch, white catfish, sunfish, and black crappie being yet plentiful. (http://www.robsabatiniphotography.com/Wildlife/Outer-Banks-NC/i-FHfLnKm/8/S/IMG_6909ns-S.jpg) Menatonon would surely serve them something special – white catfish he hoped -- when they reached the great Choanoc leader’s village the following day. Something special to look forward to, while he suffered the inevitable pain.
 
 
In the back of Andacon’s canoe, wrapped in soft deer hide, were many shell beads and two strings of nearly translucent pearls. Five turtle shells lay exposed, as did fifteen shell-tempered, creatively-stamped pottery bowls. From the forests and waters where the mountains rose and where the sun each day disappeared, through Menatonon mostly, came the essential rocks and stones, thinly rolled wassador (copper), which the elite of Wingina’s followers wore for decoration, red puccoon for medical use and the production of red dye, and antimony, an important ingredient in the making a silver-colored dye.
 
Wanchese had watched Askook’s canoe agitate a flock of black duck tipping for grub, their rumps bobbing in the previously undisturbed water. (http://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Learning/documents/Profiles/blackduck091411.pdf
He had counted six of them jump from the water’s surface to take immediate flight. Rapid quaking had commenced. He had admired their white underwings, salient contrast to their black heads and bodies, as they had curved inland toward the marshes adjacent to the village.
 
 
They were nearing the dead brothers.
 
 
“Ah, yes! We do not want to disturb them.”
 
Wanchese had passed the isolated trees twice. [Here is a picture similar to the picture of the trees I describe.  I am not able to find on the internet the original picture. http://edentonchamber.org/webyep-system/data/userfiles/DSC_6376.jpg]
 He had marveled at their stark beauty. They were not dead but they should have been, standing always in water well off the shoreline. Their many thick roots, half a bow’s length above the waterline, reached deep for the estuary’s muddy nutrients. This passing would present different imagery that he would add to his recollection.
 
“Ah! Look! The twin brothers have an occupant!” Osacan pointed.
 
An osprey? Not now. Not for another three moons, Wanchese thought.  He had passed these bald cypresses with Tetepano and the others during their trip to Mequopen during the second earing of the corn. They had watched an osprey dive forty feet from its nest feet-first into the water, reemerge, leap, and rise above the water’s large, rippling circles, huge black and white wings beating, a large fish --  white perch or bluefish -- clutched in its fierce talons.  http://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/u/ss/fQYSUbVfts-T7pS2VP2wnKyN8wxywmXtY0-FwsgxpCAUHS_fiRtB-g9xwrzxYV3MkxPGruxod-Qs2BTyCnbA/
 
“Bald eagle,” Andacon determined.
 
“That will make the osprey and his mate happy, if they …” Osacan laughed.  “It would be a fight worth seeing!”
 
At the top of the twin trees, where their branches intermingled thickly, inside the large mound of broken apart stick, the eagle perched. Its large downy-white head turned toward them. Yellow talons, yellow beak, scaly-appearing dark brown breast feathers, longer, darker wing feathers: here observed the king of the all creatures that soared! This would not be the eagle’s breeding place, just one convenient stop during his day of hunting. Osacan was wrong. Bald eagles and ospreys rarely fought.
 
They paddled past, every brave’s head turned until he could no longer do so. Wanchese had imprinted the stark beauty: the enlarged base of trunk; the exposed, grasping roots dark brown just above the water; the stiff, sparse, short horizontal branches, longer and more frequent near the top; the spider web-like branch extensions that gave the trees shape; each tree’s rich brown reflection painted on the light blue, still water.
 
How Alsoomse would have enjoyed this, Wanchese thought. Perhaps some day he could take her, and her friends Nana and Odina and Nana’s brother Machk, and, yes, the boy Tihkoosue, and one other paddler here – if ever there was a time when responsibility could wait.

 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review
"The Trees"
by Conrad Richter
 
 
Conrad Richter’s “The Trees” is the first of a series of three novels called “The Awakening Land.”  The third novel, “The Town,” won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  Based on the quality I perceived in “The Trees,” I intend to read the entire series.
 
One reason I liked this novel so much is that Richter’s characters are so rich and diverse. This is especially true of the Luckett family members, the story’s central characters. 
 
Worth Luckett is ill-suited for settlement life.  He is a “woodsy,” an expert in the ways of hunting, a man who has “itchy feet.”  His driving passion is to hunt and explore places he has never seen.  Soon after the Revolutionary War, when game becomes scarce in frontier Pennsylvania, he moves his family into the nearly impenetrable woods of Ohio where he builds a cabin in a forest so dense that sunlight barely penetrates.  “It was a sea of solid treetops broken only by some gash where deep beneath the foliage an unknown stream made its way,” the author narrates.  Not entirely selfish, Worth demonstrates several times during the story his love for his wife and children.   
 
His wife Jary is a practical-minded, instinctively wise woman who values the presence of neighbors but is loyal to the wishes of her man.  She dislikes the absence of sunlight in the forest where Worth builds their cabin, but she accepts her lot.  “She had had her say and what good did it do her?  The time to have set herself against this place was away back in the old state when Worth claimed the squirrels were leaving the country.  Now she and her young ones were here and here likely they would stay.”  In poor health, Jary dies early in the novel.
 
The eldest of the five children is Sayward Luckett, the novel’s main character.  At the beginning of the novel she is seventeen, intuitive in judgment, strong both physically and emotionally, sensitive to the needs of others, entirely dependable but subservient to no one.  After Jary’s death Worth turns to Sayward to resolve difficult family-matters.  Sayward becomes her siblings’ mother.
 
The next oldest child is Genny, sweet in disposition, physically attractive, a gentle, naive soul whose presence enriches the lives of her family members and of neighbors the family eventually meets.  She is a vulnerable character about whom we feel protective.  The author places her in a situation that causes us much concern.
 
The third oldest child is Achsa, quite the opposite of Genny.  Achsa is physically powerful and cynical.  She frequently taunts her siblings -- especially Genny.  She has a mean streak.  We discover that she is quite devious.
 
The second youngest child is Wyitt, the only boy.  Wyitt is a reincarnation of his father.  He is a proud, bull-headed boy determined to become as skilled a hunter as his father.  Like his father, he is not entirely self-absorbed.  In several important instances he demonstrates his love for his sisters.
 
The youngest child is Sulie, the apple of Worth’s eye.  She is spirited, inquisitive, honest in her actions, not hesitant in expressing her feelings and beliefs.  “One time she could look at you with such a helpless mouth, and then when you least expected it, she was spunky as a young coon and said grand things that no one dared think of.”  Like Genny, she is a “beloved character,” somebody we especially want protected.  The author places her also in a situation that causes us substantial concern.
 
Several other characters are well crafted.  Two are particularly important.  There is Louie Scurrah, a villain of sorts, a former companion of the historical person Simon Girty.  Scurrah and Girty had lived with Indians and participated in the torture of American soldiers prior to the Revolutionary War.  Louie is a charmer whom only Sayward and Sulie continue to distrust.   The other important character is Portius Wheeler, the “Solitary,” an eloquent Bay State lawyer who had chosen to live “out in the bush by his lonesome.  Most times you couldn’t get any more talk out of him than a deaf and dumb mute.”
 
I appreciated just as much the novel’s feel of authenticity. 
 
First of all, the story is historically informative.  I read how a forest cabin was built, what animals were hunted, what material goods forest women valued, what food was cooked, what tools a “woodsy” needed, what goods the local trading post desired and traded, what clothes were worn, and in a cabin housing seven people what comprised beds. 
 
Visual detail also provides authenticity.
 
She [Sayward] could see him [Wyitt] in her mind, yonder through the ups and downs of life, skinning deer and trap-drowned mink and otter, giving a rap over the head to foxes that hid in bushes ashamed to be caught and to coons that sat up as big as you please on a log as if they didn’t have a trap and clog hanging to one paw.  Snared panthers would shed real tears when he pulled out his hunting knife, and beaver would swim out of their smashed houses and find he had left no ice for them to come up and breathe under. …
 
That shock of sandy hair would be farther down over his shoulders then and his young face that had hardly fuzz on it as yet would be covered thick with a sandy beard.  His buckskins would be bloody where he wiped his hands, and his hair would be full of nits.  Not often would he wash, least of all his itchy feet. 
 
Adding to the feeling of authenticity is the author’s style of narration.  Here is an example -- Genny’s observation of preparations for a Fourth of July celebration.
 
She had almost forgotten how it felt to get among a passel of folks on pleasure bent.  The young ones were making high jack all over the place, wrestling and fighting, racing and wading, swinging on creepers, every last one yelling at the other and none listening.  Some of the men were pulling a flag up on a high hickory limb.  Others were laying meat over a pit of white oak coals to roast.  This was one time, they said, when the he’s would show the she’s how to cook.  The women didn’t mind.  They were glad to get out of it for once and go off to themselves yonder on some logs with nothing to do but lay their littlest ones on patches of moss and swap news among themselves.
 
We witness authenticity also in the way characters speak.
 
Genny is concerned that her sister Sayward, whom she admires, might want to marry Jake Tench, a settlement man rumored to have fathered several Indian children.  He and a boy who has a romantic interested in Genny come calling.  After the two males leave, Genny demonstrates silently her displeasure.
 
“What’s a ailin’ you?” Sayward broke out at last.
Genny turned her back
“You needn’t talk to me after what you done.”
“Now I done something and don’t know what it was,” Sayward complained.
“You know good enough,” Genny told her.  “Jake Tench!
She could feel Sayward shake with quiet laughter.
“Don’t you fret about Jake.  He mought make free with a Shawanee wench but he kain’t with me.”
“He mought marry you,” Genny said.
Sayward’s voice hardened.
“Not him,” she told her shortly.  “Nor any other man where spits in my fire when I got bread a bakin’.”
 
Lastly, I value this novel for its portrayal of the universality of life.  Good and bad people and a lot of people in between populate “The Trees,” as they have done so and do in real life.  Conrad Richter’s characters mattered to me.  Passages, like this one, stirred my emotions.
 
When they let her back to the bed, Jary was light as a pack of dried and brittle fox skins.  Through the folds of homespun Sayward thought she could feel a coldness like stone.  ….
 
He [Worth] turned and went to the open door and looked out at the black forest where gray daylight was just beginning to come.  No use turning your back on this, Sayward wanted to tell him.  Whether you looked or no, death would come and life would go.  Up in the loft all signs of the young ones had vanished.  Sayward reckoned they were lying face down on their beds.
 
Sayward reflects at the end of the novel: “Let the good come … for the bad would come of its own self.    That’s how life was, death and birth, grub and harvest, rain and clearing, winter and summer.  You had to take one with the other, for that’s the way it ran.”  The particulars of this theme and the excellence of the writing make “The Trees” a quality novel.