Armchair Peregrinations

June 26, 2005

I came across a remarkable portfolio of photographs by Kristin Satzman in the most recent issue of LensWork magazine. I have been thinking about the images off and on ever since and wanted to share some of my thoughts about them as well as a link to some of the pictures. The area she explores includes the urban parks and gardens of the San Francisco Bay area. Light meets fog to envelope the viewer in the mystery of the place and time. Paths and steps lead toward light. The whole aura is one of tranquility and otherworldliness. The scenes are at once familiar and yet unknown, real and symbolic. This is what true art does, in my opinion: it allows our imaginations to take flight, pondering the worlds the artist creates and taking pleasure in the fact that we are invited to do so.

As Satzman says,

Some mystics believe there is a thin space in certain places where the gulf betwen us and the divine is not so wide. It is that sense of presence that I wanted to communicate; the idea that in the midst of our busy and challenging lives there is sanctuary that we can tap into for soothing and strength. So much photography these days seems to dwell on the pain and ugliness of the world. I think it is important to balance that out with beauty and hope. I believe that art should be as much about inspiration and inclusion as it is about pain and alienation. It is my hope that the viewer can find a sense of peace and self-reflection in these photographs. To me they are a metaphor for the internal search for spiritual comfort and safety, and a desire to transcend the ordinary in an attempt to experience the mystical.

Kristin Saltzman Photographs

(Written April 23, 2005)

June 19, 2005

Things seem to come in decades. The seventies were undergraduate college years and my newspaper and social work career years.

The eighties were topsy turvy. That was the decade of my teaching career with years spent in graduate school working on and completing two master's degrees. It was also during that decade of my 30s when I took a series of road trips around the country because I was so unsettled and always between jobs, in grad school, or looking for jobs. I polished up and revised my resume quite a few times during those years.

The nineties, by contrast, started out with great uncertainty and moved into turmoil before stabilizing into my latest career path, along which I have finally discovered what I am probably most suited to do next to teaching. And, the good thing is that my current job has allowed me to do a bit of teaching along the way, often during the course of an average day.

During those years of the seventies and eighties, I discovered that I was a good writer, journalist and teacher. The nineties enabled me to pull together all the strands of my previous work experiences and synthesize them, so to speak.

Now, I really don't have the desire to do anything other than what I am doing presently. Partly, that is due, of course, to my age and the state I have reached in life. One's 50s seem to be the time to look back and reflect on what you have accomplished, to be aware of your failures, and to accept that you cannot change the past but must look to the future knowing you have but one day at a time to live. Consequently, more and more now I want to begin slowing down and savoring the small things in life rather than rushing along gobbling up experiences. We do that when we are young.

Finally, ten years is important in another sense. This month marks a decade in my current apartment. Many think it's sheer folly to keep paying rent, but I come back again and again to the fact that I am happy where I live. In my complex, there are trees all around, sidewalks, flowering Bradford pear trees, azaleas. It's quiet and has a true sense of being a neighborhood. There are quiet streets to take long walks along in back of where I live, and I have come to cherish the changing of the seasons in this one small spot on earth that has been my home for ten years, longer than any other place I have lived, including my childhood home in New Orleans.

My favorite oak tree is now fully leafed out this spring morning in April. I sit here reflecting on how much this little apartment has changed. When I moved here I had only a few boxes of books and memorabilia, a single gerber daisy, a bed and a few pieces of furniture. Now, ten years later, the apartment is overcrowded with books, papers, magazines, and much more memorabilia. Life in a nutshell. The walls are full of framed photographs that I have taken, especially of marsh and beach scenes at sunset at Folly Beach. I have my two sanctuaries to retreat to: the beach and the nature preserve 15 miles from where I live. My life has attained a continuity that I never had until I lived here. I don't expect that to change until I retire, at which point I hope to head out on the open road again, much as I did in my 30s, and see all those places work and other obligations don't allow me to see now.

Ten years. It's along time, really. And a lot of living takes place in a decade.

(Written on April 16, 2005)

June 12, 2005

If any of you have been to the upper South Carolina coast, the part known as the Grand Strand, you will remember with varying levels of intensity of feeling, an endless summer playground full of amusement parks, condos, tacky beach gift emporiums, crowded beaches, and an endless Highway 17 north and south full of strip shopping centers -- all told, about 60 miles of this non-stop. To get in the midst of all this on a summer weekend is truly to be in one of the worst places you can imagine, as far as Western materialist civilization is concerned. This place is a zoning, planning and aesthetic nightmare.

It wasn't always that way, naturally. As a child of 9 or 10, and perhaps even as late as 12 or 13, I went there on a couple of occasions to spend a few days on the beach with my father and brother while my mother and sister stayed with my grandparents and my aunt in Sumter. It was a mini-vacation within our main vacation to South Carolina. This was in the days before we began our yearly stays at Folly Beach.

Those brief visits to Myrtle Beach were some of the happiest of my childhood. It provided brief moments of harmony with my father, a time when, during the drive there and while on the beach, we had many laughs and a lot of fun playing the games at the arcade and eating fried clams at Howard Johnson's (this is the 1960s, mind you, light years away from violent video games and 18 story condominiums). We stayed in rather ramshackle "guest houses", one of which was called The Douglas Inn. I remember the cotton bed spreads and open windows to let in the sea breezes . The beach was crowded and busy, but it was not one endless strip mall as it is now.

Today, there are huge Branson and Vegas style entertainment "palaces" for Broadway shows and country and rock "legends." There are Hard Rock and Nascar "cafes." Hundreds of golf courses and hotels and golfing communities, gated communities, and a tourism industry worth billions of dollars each year.

Now with this introduction in mind, transport yourself with me to a very very different place, a pristine, uninhabited two-mile long beach on a barrier island at the very north tip of all that development. Somehow, because of a family that loved it and protected it over the decades of this century, it has been spared development. With a group of conservationists I was able to gain access to this island and its empty, windswept beach yesterday, getting up at 6 in the morning to make the 3-hour drive there. What a rare and amazing privilege. As we proceeded to the beach, we stopped on a section of high ground to look out over marsh toward the inlet that separated the island from the high rises and chaotic development of North Myrtle Beach and Cherry Grove just a mile or so away. We could see the condos rising up in the distance. It was such a shocking contrast to the near wilderness place we were entering. We were driven up the beach to the north end of the island where we roamed around giant sand dunes and were informed about the area's geology and natural features and processes by a marine science professor, who specializes in geology.

All I could think of the whole time was how vital it is for the few remaining pristine beaches like this to be saved for people to enjoy in their natural state. Almost everything else all the way down the coast has been paved over and developed. The barrier islands to the south are dotted with multi-million beach mansions for the wealthy. Access to many miles of ocean front is severely limited. It is a travesty. I am not against development, but against the type of growth that destroys and permanently alters natural areas and wetlands and which has no use for setting aside undeveloped sections for future generations.

As with most of the coastal development all along the eastern seaboard, it's been all about money and greed and getting there first and fastest with beach houses and condos. Waites Island is a poignant reminder of what the coast of South Carolina was like before it was forever altered. It's future is uncertain, however, as large portions of the island are still in private ownership. What will happen is anyone's guess, but I know that the memory of that Saturday visit in April will long stay with me.

(Written on April 10, 2005)

Waites Island 1



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