Psalm #21(Sanctuary)

Welcome to 2015! I know; I know--I'm a little behind. But rest assured, I was sucking the very last bit of marrow from the holidays, enjoying the sabbath. All good sabbaths must come to an end (this side of the veil, anyhow), and the grind must go on, which brings me to my first post of 2015.

In considering what I'd publish first in 2015, I ran the gauntlet of ideas. Should I lead with my One Song for 2015 (my take on the "One Word" craze)? Would Amber and I open with a Marriage Letter? Would I pen existential thoughts on wonder, or beauty, or the inevitable rise of the machines against humanity? I considered each of these (save and except for the bit about the machines), but instead opted to kick off 2015 with a continuation of my psalm series.

Sure, it's not all cannons, fireworks, and inspirational quotes, but there's something about the sparseness of a poem, the economy of it. And perhaps this is a metaphor for my 2015. Perhaps I'd like to explore sparser, more economical words.

On to the poem.

Psalm #21 (Sanctuary) was inspired by a holiday drive through the Arkansas Delta. The Mississippi Alluvial Plain on the eastern side of my grand state is home to a winter migration of birds like you've never seen. Thousands upon thousands of our avian friends fill the delta fields and squawk one to another. It's a sight to behold, and speaks a metaphor of sorts (if you're willing to listen). This morning, I'm offering you a window into that world.

*****

Psalm #21 (Sanctuary)

Gather all creatures of God and King, far from the riverbed’s evening blush. Come near alluvial’s winged throngs; Listen to Delta songs sung.

Near the rice tassels of Carlisle’s skirt, singing the songs of God’s ashen sky, rising and falling like ribbons of smoke, Flock of best Delta songs sung.

Congregation of the fowlest found— Snow geese in hunted month’s plumy field, Mallard drake, murder of crows, sparrows— Singing the Delta songs sung.

Here, find the Great Blue on stickish legs, priest of the flock belching herron hymns. Rhythm of liturgy, heaven bends Hearing the Delta songs sung.

God and King’s creatures gather you here. Listen to best congregation’s song. None is as simple, as loud, as bold. Emulate Delta songs sung.

*****

Sign up to receive my monthly Tiny Letter: A Compendium of Projects, People, Places, and Things. Each month, I'll give you behind the scenes content not offered on the regular blog. We'll explore books, beauty, people, and places. From time to time I'll offer free products or great discounts on good books. Sign up!

*powered by TinyLetter

On Swimming Holes

An Arkansas summer is made for exploration. An Arkansas summer is made for boys. There are tangy homegrown tomatoes to be picked, to be eaten straight from the hand; the Arkansas Traveler being my favorite variety. There are lightning bugs to imagine as fairies, to catch and keep in grandmother’s mason jars. There is popsicle relief to summer heat, the melting strawberry legs which run rivers down a shirtless chest.

These are the glories that might interrupt the more digital life of the modern boy if we train our children in the way they should go. Chief among these glories is one: the Steel Creek swimming hole at the Buffalo River.

The turn down Highway 103 is nothing short of a walk through the professor’s wardrobe into the magic of Narnia. By Independence Day, the farmers have bailed their hay, have left well-manicured fields under the watch of the Ozark mountains, the most gentle giants of our country. The boys look out the window, say, “isn’t it beautiful daddy?”

We wind through the valleys and climb up a ridge, fall down into the heart of the Buffalo National River. There, the bluffs rise tall from the water, and trees reach from the tops of those bluffs.

Isaac says, “inconceivable,” an homage to the movie The Princess Bride.

“What?” I ask.

He laughs, says, “those look like the Cliffs of Insanity!”

We choose a campsite near a path that leads down to the river, unpack a picnic lunch, and eat in double-gulps. There is a swimming hole to explore, and this is the prize of an Arkansas’ summer.

 

Down the Path (Instruction to Sons)

Down the path, brothers together walk through time, past a digital today and into a yesteryear of RC Cola, of Moon Pies and Jolt'n Joe.

“Hold Titus’ hands, son; the path is muddy, mossy; be careful; don't slip.”

Into the hole, under the keep of Buffalo bluffs, down to the depths, where feet cannot touch, there is a pearl for boys with imagination and breath enough to find it.

Ike Jude Ian up Ian down

Titus Ian

On Crawfish Boils and Communion

Allow me to boil it down, the truth about reverse carpet-baggers. Becky is an upright Catholic from South Louisiana, Baton Rouge to be exact, somewhere 'round about Ridgley Road to be even more exact. She's a reverse carpet bagger of sorts, one who followed a fine gentlemen into the heart of the Ozark Mountains. If you are looking for the good news about reverse carpet baggers, it boils down to this: they carry their belongings in oversized stockpots. If there's one thing folks from South Louisiana know, it's how to cook, how to stew, steam, and boil.

I met Becky and her husband, Jim, in the months after Titus was born. She was friends with Amber, and had volunteered to bring us a post-birth meal. She came, several children in tow and carrying a large Tupperware full of homemade Gumbo. Specific in her preparation directions, she said, "don't use Tobasco; this stuff isn't made to taste vinegary. If you have a good Cajun seasoning, use that instead."

There ain't nothing that beats a Type A Cajun.

"There are boiled eggs in it," she said, and seeing the puzzled look on my face, added, "I grew up Catholic and on fast days, the egg was our protein."

At the time, she said, they were doing a stint away from Catholicism, had hunkered down among some good folks at local Presbyterian joint. I smiled, nodded. Truth is, we were all trying on our more reformed theological jeans in those days, in the days before finding them a bit too snug in the rear. This of course, is only a side note, and perhaps one that doesn't beg to be said. [tweetherder text="'Truth be told, though, I often boil folks down to two things: theology and cuisine.' @sethhaines"]Truth be told, though, I often boil folks down to two things: theology and cuisine.[/tweetherder]

In any event, back to boiling things down.

It's the tail-end of May, which is to say it is the tail-end of crawfish season in South Louisiana. For those of you who might happen to be of the more Yankee or Mid-Western variety, let me share a secret with you: there is not a single upright southern Louisianan who does not, come hell or high water, figure out a way to boil crawfish when they're in season. I half-suspect that the Cajun humanitarian workers in the outer reaches of the African bush have sorted out a way to procure fresh crawfish in season; this, or they fly home at least once a year.

I digress.

Last week, Jim sent me note, asked whether I'd be interested in swinging the family by on Saturday for a crawfish boil. My heart response was, "does a Cajun eat nutria?" but I kept it above board, replied instead, "sure." And with that, we made our way to the Carters on Saturday afternoon.

If'n God ever did make a more perfect little boy cuisine, I don't suppose I know what it is. In the Carter's backyard there was a large red tub full of live crawfish swimming in saltwater. The boys gathered around the tub, picked up the lethargic crawfish, put their fingers between the pincers and laughed at the crawfishes' weak attempts to pinch themselves free. They held the mudbugs in the air like prized lobsters, tried to find the ones with the biggest claws. They ran around the yard, holding them to our faces.

"Look at this one; he has one big pincer and one small!" Ike said. Titus stood behind him, wondering at his brave big brother who was holding the alien creature. "Wook, dadda; wook!" he said.

Of course, the day of reckoning comes to all living things, and after asking the boys to return the crawfish to the tub, Jim picked the tub up by the handles and dumped the hoard of creatures into an oversized stockpot of boiling water. A little salt, a little pepper, a healthy dose of cayenne, and some cut lemons were added, along with potatoes, onions, corn, mushrooms, and sausage.

Double, double, toil and trouble--the boiling pot roiled.

A tender woman asked Jim whether the crawfish felt any pain. "Nah," he said. "It's like a warm bath to them."

"Yeah," I said, "like a warm bath to death." I don't suppose this is the way I want to go out, which is another reason I thank the good Lord purposed my life for humanity and not crawfishery.

This, of course, brings us to the finer points of the boil--the eating. After the crawfish blush red, they are removed from the boil and spilled across plastic tables. I turned to Ike, asked him whether he remember how to peel a crawfish. With out a word, and with a smile as wide as an alligator, he twisted the tail from the thorax, sucked the head, pitched the thorax in the trash, removed the exoskeleton from the first knuckle of the tail, pinched the back end of the tail, squeezed out the tail, and tossed it back. He looked up at me, blue eyes beaming, and said, "just like that!" before grabbing another.

Jim and I stood, shoulder to shoulder, working our way through several pounds as Becky worked the table across from us, coaching a fine Arkie-talian fellow (an Arkansan of Italian descent) on the finer points of crawfish eating. "Some of the bigger claws have salvageable meat," she said, demonstrating how to suck every usable bit from the mudbug.

We stood there under the shade of a giant American sycamore, all salvaging, all sucking spicy crawfish juices down to the dregs. We talked life, politics (though not to any serious measure), and religion. We talked rosaries and trim-carpentry. We talked beer and sobriety. We shared the table while the children ran through the yard, pitched crawfish thoraxes at each other and chugged Sprite. [tweetherder text="Perhaps it wasn't Eucharist, but it was communion nonetheless. @sethhaines"]Perhaps it wasn't Eucharist, but it was communion nonetheless.[/tweetherder]

Yes, everyone needs a good reverse carpet-bagging friend, I think. And the truth of good reverse carpet-baggers, especially those from 'round about Baton Rouge, boils down to this: they are creators of good life; they are curators of communion.