The names reel off as I head south from Savannah Georgia down I-95: Sunbury, Midway, Darien, Altamaha River, St. Simon’s Island, St. Mary’s River. It is foggy this early morning and the features of the land emerge and dissolve: hammocks of live oaks softly grey green, tawny prairies of late wintering brown marsh grass fade into a cloud, parts of twisting tidal creeks, like strands of stray and curling hair the color of slate in this vague light, come and go out of the... haze as out of a dream.
The names reel off, history too, as this coast was claimed place by place by the British settlers moving south to scotch the Spanish dominions encroaching north from Florida. Sunbury where Congregationalist settlers laid out a town to rival James Oglethorpe’s Savannah, Midway, where British Puritans settled and marked the half way point between Darien and Savannah, Darien, where the British sent Scottish Highlanders to build forts to oppose the Spanish, and Altamaha, that when you say it you are speaking the Yamasee Native American language. Its sound reverberating in your chest replays untold generations of people coming to its banks voicing and filling their chests with it too. The names reel off in the sequence in which they were coined, exclaimed for, places “discovered,” claimed, established; a life there envisioned, created, the naming itself a christening as well as a prayer of hope that the name itself might help bolster, make come true, the vision of a life to be lived there.
At 80 m.p.h. everything goes by fast, including history. It is dislodged, displaced. The past too. One path I am following as I streak down this Interstate is a path of my running away, escaping the death of my wife more than a year ago. It is a grief that won’t quit, its history woven so deep into the muscles of my life experience. After a year of waiting for it to teach me something, the next step, or to teach me anything but the bitterness in it, I’ve given up waiting and have impulsively launched myself south deep into the Florida hinterlands to meet up with a sailboat I’ve bought 150 miles up the St. John’s River.
To paint, to write - is to know.
But even to just sigh in the weariness
of getting old, even to note in the passing ...
that one last poplar leaf frail, fading
and lingering uncertain at the end
of its branch in fall
is to intervene in the channels,
sloughs, and lagoons of loss
is to insist that the sorrow not be lost;
is to insist that the shadow of it
before one’s self not be meaningless.
If there is any grace in this,
even of the smallest, most precious kind,
I cannot see it yet.
©Laurence Holden, 2015