Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Dispatches from the Imaginary War

My annual Scrooge-like Christmas rant.

As a card carrying tree hugger, evolution believing, might-as-well-be-a-commie, agnostic liberal the vast majority of people diligently opposing the secular humanist assault on Christmas will naturally assume I am their mortal enemy. The truth of the matter is that I frankly don't give a rip if someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or any other of the joyous holidays from this time of the year. I'll go even further and say that I regularly wish people a Merry Christmas in an effort to be nice figuring whoever I say it to will make what they want of the gesture. In short, I really don't have a dog in the seasonal fight that Fox News and its minions whips up into an Orwellian frenzy about the same time merchants drag out the Chinese made ornaments and tinsel.

That being said, from my ever humble observations the only people fighting the war on Christmas are the troopers worried about some sinister conspiracy of atheists determined to undermine the religious significance of what they feel is the chief holiday. Yes, I'm sure a determined Bible thumper could if he or she wanted dig up some obscure reference by one of my fellow liberals who even now is probably sitting at some computer plotting ways of destroying Christmas. Conservatives have no monopoly on wackos, liberals have their own clutch of aluminum hat wearers but our advantage though is that we have not let them run completely loose into the public.

A halfway rational look at supposed War on Christmas seems to suggest that its only real danger comes from over commercialization, which is not the fault of liberals but the religious right's political allies the business community. The overwhelming message this time of the year are slick television commercials insinuating that the purchase of a new luxury car, ornate piece of jewelry, or some other material object means true love and caring. Then again, this is America where people proudly proclaim they are followers of Christ but stand in front of buses loaded with refugee children from Central America fleeing poverty and vicious drug gangs demanding they be returned home. 

Whatever the case I recently learned of new assault on the “true” meaning of Christmas from an acquaintance who seems to take this far more seriously than I actually thought possible. The acquaintance in question is someone who I called “George” when I first introduced him back in October of 2013. See George and another fellow were fretting over the use of the greeting “Happy Holidays”, something they feel is an attempt to remove Christ from the reason for the season.

Luckily I was able to keep my liberal mouth shut even though I have it on decent authority that the use of “Happy Holidays” has come into fashion mainly through retailers not wanting to alienate any possible customers. Yes, that does mean political correctness does play a part in this terrible insult but since the good old United States is built on free market practices which is it going to be folks?

This is when George added something extra to the War on Christmas. “I'll tell you another thing,” he said with an air of fifth grade-level indignation, “I hate it when people use the term Merry Xmas. That's just another attempt to take Christ out of holiday.”

Now, I admit that was a new angle I hadn't heard, still though I kept my mouth shut but my assumption on the whole 'Merry Xmas' angle was that it was used to shorten banners and other decoration items. I admit I did silently chuckle to myself figuring that as a good secular humanist I must have missed the memo on needing to push Xmas onto all the unsuspecting masses. That is until this morning when I was doing some research on this post. It actually forced me to backtrack and regroup.

The "X" in Xmas doesn't take the "Christ" out of "Christmas."

It turns out, “Xmas” is not a non-religious version of “Christmas”. The “X” is actually indicating the Greek letter “Chi”, which is short for the Greek, meaning “Christ”. So “Xmas” and “Christmas” are equivalent in every way except their lettering.
In fact, although writing guides such as those issued by the New York Times; the BBC; The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style; and Oxford Press discourage the use of Xmas in formal writing, at one time, it was a very popular practice, particularly with religious scribes, who are thought to have started the whole “Xmas” thing in the first place. Indeed, the practice of using the symbol “X” in place of Christ’s name has been going on amongst religious scholars for at least 1000 years.
Eventually, this shorthand trick spread to non-religious writings where nearly everywhere “Christ” appeared in a word, the Greek Chi would replace that part of the word. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries, there are numerous non-religious documents containing instances of “Xine”, which was a common spelling for someone whose name was Christine.

In fact, the whole December 25th idea for Christmas was just early Christians preempting a pagan ritual to help convert more people to the faith. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gross Excesses

A little over ten years ago my wife and I were members of a local group providing support for those who had adopted children from overseas. Of course our association was because of the incredible Darth Wiggles, our daughter, who was born in China. As social groups go it was obvious from the first meeting I attended that the membership was fairly upwardly mobile, which should have been no surprise since adoption is always an expensive affair. For the most part my observation on the relative wealth of the other members was an abstract affair since I personally didn't run with in the same circles with them outside the adoption group. My wife is the upwardly mobile attorney while I am for all intents a glorified blue collar wrench-turner working for an hourly wage.

All that changed when my family and I were invited to a pool party being held at the home of one of the members. Normally, I would shy away from events being held in someone's home, it simply just doesn't feel right to me, even when the host is sincere in their attempt to make everyone feel welcome. The best way I can explain my reluctance is that unless its family or close friends I really don't want relative strangers having unfettered access to my home.

However, that is exactly what the hosts of the adoption group pool party gave to everyone. The party was on a Saturday but I arrived late because my job at that time had me working every other weekend. So after speaking to my wife, the husband of the couple hosting the party allowed me access to the master bathroom so I could change from my work clothes to swimming trunks and a t-shirt. Why was I given the master bathroom to change? Good question, while I wasn't the only late arrival the house where the party was being held was, and I don't use this description lightly, astronomically huge. In fact I was astounded to see the master bathroom had a larger square footage than my living room and kitchen combined. Don't get me wrong, it was an exceptionally nice bathroom with all the nifty features you can imagine but I had an hard time trying to figure out what purpose it served.

Not really being familiar with the host family I assumed, especially since they were in the adoption group and obviously well off, that there must have been at least ten to twelve people living in that house. No, I soon learned that only five people lived there with the house being at least seven thousand square feet. As distasteful as I find it now when I think about it, at the time I leaned heavily to the conservative side of American politics and saw nothing wrong with such a small family taking so much in resources while others went homeless.

As time went on though I started notice that while the pool party host family were the worst examples, the entire basis on the American middle class seemed to center on purchasing as large a house as financially possible, with consider efforts taken by many to go beyond even that. Of course, just a few years later such a flawed practice about brought down the American economy ushering in a Second Great Depression. Before anyone runs off on a tangent telling me I don't know how unpleasant it is to live in a small house, a good chunk of my childhood had me and my siblings living in small mobile homes so I understand the desire to have more living space.

But my ultimate issue with such blatant examples of American excess centers around the assumption that resources are unlimited and, metaphorically speaking, free for the taking as long as the money or even military muscle is available. As time went on and my distaste for American excess grew I was actually shocked find out that while we only make up five percent of the world's population we create half of the globe's solid waste. Some might be okay with that and I freely admit I have no personal illusions of being some environmental saint even the most intellectually lackluster individual should understand we cannot continue this way. 

Making matters worse there are over seven billion people on the planet now all wanting something akin to an American lifestyle. This means resources, both mineral and biological, that are already past the breaking point will be stressed even further. The nice quip most deniers of human destructive impact on the planet like to throw out is why haven't we seen the effects. That's an easy damn answer, because we have been told many times its just that Americans very rarely care about anything other than their own banal concerns. In other words we refuse to listen or learn.

There are some who while understanding the environmental issues we face feel technology will save the day as it has before. That is a possibility, but human are never satisfied and will undoubtedly want more should such a technological plateau be reached. Personally I have come to believe the current basis of Western Civilization will ultimately have to change all the way to its core.The planet is not some limitless sinkhole or pantry for our waste and wants, to believe we can go on this way shows a lack of intellectual honesty or outright suicidal stupidity. 


 Here is a TED Talk I found very informative:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Raw Culinary Disaster

Without a doubt, I am sure at some point during my marriage one of my in-laws has told my wife that you simply cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear concerning some of my less than refined habits. I freely admit I was raised in a lower middle class family with absolutely no aspirations to crack the societal caste ceiling and dwell among those who know the proper function of utensils at a formal dinner party. In other words, I haven't a clue which spoon on a place setting is used to stir my tea, eat my soup, or taste the dessert. In fact, at one dinner party involving several of my wife's fellow attorneys, a couple of judges, and one certified ass who happened to be a state senator, the looks I got when I buttered a dinner roll with what was probably the wrong knife forever swore me away from such functions. I probably could have farted and come away better, the state senator sure as hell did when he about cleared out the room with his.

Still though, my lovely wife hasn't given up on taking me to restaurants that lean more to a cultured culinary experience than just allowing the unwashed masses to engorge themselves on cheap imported food while ignoring the fake Americana bric-a-brac hanging on the walls. Most of the time I actually feel sad about it because, once again, where I was raised a family dinner out was going to the one fast-food restaurant my small hometown had back when I was a kid.

The best example of my wife's hopeless campaign to open me up to refined dining happened a few years back while on vacation at Disney World. We all were staying at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, a beautiful resort decorated in an African theme that happens to sport several upper class restaurants.

Usually, I will check out the menu of the fancy eateries my wife wants to experience before we go. That way I'll know what will be the safest choice for me, while she can fully absorb all the culinary delights. For whatever reason, that time I didn't do the required research and was totally blind when the attractive hostess seated us next the large window that showed off the decorative water garden outside. For a couple of minutes my wife just enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant and chatted while watching the assorted brightly colored coy swim around the window.

After being handed the menu it didn't take ten seconds for me to realize I was in rather deep trouble. I saw nothing listed that even looked remotely appealing. This restaurant, named Jiko, was definitely high-end with the food priced to match. It was all new cuisine type stuff that, from my observations of the tables around me, looked more like art or biology experiments performed by cultured serial killers. For the most part the pricey nature of the items on the menu that didn't matter, we were on vacation but more importantly my wife was in the mood to enjoy herself. The absolute last thing I wanted to do was spoil the evening for her.

“Is there a problem?” the waitress asked when she came to take the order for our entrees.

“Ah yes,” I responded trying to think of a polite way of saying everything that I had read on the menu or seen at other tables came close to making me puke. “Are there other items available that aren't listed on the menu?” I asked trying to seem casual and not like some redneck who had mistakenly stumbled into the wrong place. A difficult task since Jiko had a dress code and while I technically met it, my wrinkly cargo pants, colorful Hawaiian shirt, and hippy sandals probably sent the manager scurrying to the Mickey Mouse guest etiquette book to make sure.

“Why yes,” the waitress happily said, “we have a delicious tuna salad available that one of the chefs made but failed to get listed on the daily specials.”

Hooray! I joyously thought to myself. A normal tuna salad with lettuce, some boiled egg, and other leafy things would be just the ticket while my wife ate her snails or other elaborate entree. What came a few minutes later totally shocked me since in truth, I should have realized nothing so plebeian as a normal tuna salad could be possible.

The plate was large, huge actually, with the center area occupied by two significant slices of raw tuna meat and a scattering of lettuce along with a few pieces of red and green peppers. The outside section of the dinner plate was decorated with a Jackson Pollack-like design using some sort of sauce that I'm sure was made with something equally unacceptable to my lower middle class, Southern upbringing.

“That looks absolutely delicious,” my wife said to me as she tore into her entree.

I was frozen in place looking at the contents of my plate wondering just how in the hell I was going to play this off. Yes, I have ate and love California Rolls but this was a level of rawness that I was quite uncomfortable with and had no intention of eating.

“You don't like it.” My wife said what could have been a couple of seconds or several minutes later, I have no idea since I was lost in thought.

“, I don't like it,” I mumbled, “I thought tuna salad meant Charlie Tuna from a can, not straight off the boat.”

My wife thought this was all funny. “Go ahead and try a bite,” she said almost giggling, “it won't kill you.”

Normally, I would have said no, but the factors present at the time all conspired against me. Namely that my lovely spouse was in an awesome mood with me thankful our place at the resort had the kids sleeping in their own bedroom. There was also the fact that the price of my raw tuna entree could have paid for five or six people to stuff themselves at the average Olive Garden.

So I manned up and sliced off a respectable chunk of the now deceased but uncooked Charlie Tuna and ate him. Instantly, there was a wonderful explosion of unhindered and untainted taste in my mouth. The flavor was everything I had come to know about tuna but exponentially greater, somehow I heard the 80's rock band “Foreigner” singing “It feels like the first time.”

For about five seconds everything was utterly wonderful and I actually thought for a moment that I would enjoy the meal. Then the aftertaste hit me like an exploding volcano, all of a sudden I felt as though I had tried to snack on a decaying zombie that had been wandering around in the hot sun for a couple of months.

“Are you okay?” my wife asked, “you look a little green.”

No, Charlie Tuna, didn't return to make a mess of me and the fancy restaurant but another bite was totally out of the question. “I'll be fine,” I said, “but for me this restaurant is a wash. I simply cannot eat another piece of this tuna.”

Surprisingly my wife didn't roll her eyes in embarrassment, nor did she get that look recalling one of the times my mom-in-law and dad-in-law probably told her she could have done much better in choosing a husband. After the waitress removed our plates, we spent the rest of the our time at Jiko's talking and eating one of their wonderful desserts.

During this relaxing time the hostess seated another couple at the table beside ours. Being my usual nosy self I couldn't help but overhear the gentleman say that he saw nothing on the menu that interested him.

“Well,” his wife or girlfriend said absently, “just order off the children's menu like you did the last time and tell them to make it adult sized.”

As my wife and I left after paying the bill the waiter for that table placed one of the most beautiful cheese burgers I had ever seen in front of that guy along with a normal looking side salad. I was simply stunned into silence not believing what I was seeing.

“Let's go,” my wife said finally rolling her eyes, “you had your chance.”

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Essence of Being Human - Part Two

 "Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human."
Viktor E. Frankl

For two months Kyle Parker waited for the New Life Corporation to ready the android body he needed to save himself from the disease that was causing his nervous system to fail. Everyday he felt a little more of his motor skills slip away to the point he now had a full time nurse to watch over him. It was a easy job, Parker still could walk, communicate, and operate things like a computer but he found himself having to concentrate harder on the tasks to the point that he was utterly exhausted at the end of the day. Having the nurse allowed Parker to perform his usual duties until he needed assistance. As routines went it wasn't ideal, but for Parker it would work until New Life said the android body was ready.

“Parker,” his assistant Denise Smith said rushing into his office, “New Life just called, your android body is ready and they are willing to do the procedure immediately if you want.”

Parker didn't even have to think about it for moment,” Tell them we will be leaving within the hour.”


Within minutes of arriving the New Life staff had Parker in an operating room, laying on a surgical table wearing what amounted to cheap pajamas. After a strong local anesthetic was injected into the saline solution being fed intravenously into his left arm two surgical technicians shaved his head, then maneuvered the segments of the table into a position resembling that of a recliner.

“All right Mr. Parker,” one of the technicians said, “the next step will be quite painful so we're going to put you under put for about an hour. But once you wake up the consciousness transfer will begin.”

Another shot into the saline drip put Parker to sleep, when he awoke everything seemed fine except that his hands were strapped down on armrests now attached to the surgical table and head didn't really feel like it was attached to his body. “Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?” He said to the medical staff walking around the operating room.

Elizabeth Perez, wearing surgical scrubs, a face mask with hood that covered her head, and rubber gloves broke away from small group observing several video displays clustered together and walked over to Parker. “Welcome back Mr. Parker,” she said, “as we talked about in the briefings concerning the procedure, we had to remove the top portion of your skull to implant probes that will allow the consciousness download.”

Slightly mollified with Perez's simple explanation, Parker carefully leaned his head back into a cushion also attached to the surgical table and tried to relax. New Life and several other advanced human restoration companies had decades of experience recording the structure of a living human brain down to the atomic level and storing that information inside a memory crystal one centimeter in diameter. The real trick the human restoration companies had down to a practical science was linking that crystal to the living brain of a clone giving it the personality, memories, beliefs, and all the other attributes of the original person it was grown to replace.

Parker understood that the situation was different with consciousness transferring. Most of the public accepted life insurance clones only in the sense that they were a continuation of a person after a tragic accident or death by disease. The pivotal point being that the insurer had to die first before the cloning process could even start. Even with the accelerated growth of the clone it took about seven months for them to reach the average physical age of the person they were going to replace. That left a huge chunk of missing time for a population squeamish about death and looking for a way to avoid it all together. Life insurance cloning had never been about cheating death anyway, it had always been sold, to those that could afford it, as a way to return loved ones to their grieving families. The development of exceptionally human-like android bodies sent the human restoration industry scrambling for a way to literally bridge the gap, bypassing death altogether. The struggle, of course, had been to develop a way for the recipient to accept that he or she had in fact done just that.

New Life corporation was the first with their process of linking the human and android bodies together. Once the person being transferred was fully aware in the android body the the injured or diseased human part would simply be terminated. In the initial trials the individuals downloaded into prototype android bodies reported no significant difference in their perceptions of themselves or the outside world. All this made New Life management and their shareholders exceptionally happy despite the fact the process was so expensive only the ultra-rich could even begin to afford it. The one factor neither New Life management nor their scientists had yet to consider was the effects on the person downloaded into an enhanced android positronic brain. Kyle Parker's rapidly deteriorating neurological condition and the fact he was one of the hundred or so individuals whose personal wealth was over one-trillion dollars all worked together for him to be the first subject downloaded into the enhanced android brain.

Kyle Parker's initial nervousness faded as he watched the New Life scientists and medical staff fall into what looked to be a well rehearsed routine. His curiosity was aroused when a long rectangular box, looking uncomfortably like a futuristic casket, was wheeled into the operating room.

“That's my new body?” Parker asked feeling slightly giddy.

“Yes, Mr. Parker,” Dr. Perez responded even as the casket-like container was placed into an upright position and opened. “Your sufficiently stabilized, so after we attach the fiber optic conduits to the android body linking you to it the process will begin.”

Almost as an afterthought, Dr. Perez held up a mirror in front of Parker's face. “Kyle,” she said softly,” our physiologists have determined it would be best if you had one last look at your human face. They believe it will give you some form of closure, although I have my doubts.”

Parker studied the reflection he was seeing, over his head was something he would have described as a crown was looked to be hundreds of fiber wires leading to long needles that penetrated his exposed brain. He felt no discomfort, but what bothered him was the look of his face. It appeared incredibly aged and haggard, he knew not from the procedure he was going through but from the disease that was not so slowly killing him, an illness that he knew had developed from from all the synthetic chemicals industrial civilization introduced to the environment. Parker rejected the reflection he was seeing.

After his neurological disease was diagnosed he had naturally gone through a period of denial and then anger. He was Kyle Parker, not some hourly troll working in one of his factories desperate to keep his or her job. Kyle Parker bought and sold factories like candy, the unsaid fact that the workers were too insignificant to be considered in the equation. A part of his mind was strangely insulted that he was going to be struck down with such a common disease. Parker had always been taught by his parents that he was above the rest of the groveling masses of humanity, to him even presidents and prime ministers of nations were petty functionaries whose sole purpose was to increase his wealth and power.

“That's enough doctor,” he snapped “I paying you people a significant chunk of my money for this, lets get started.”

Without saying another word Dr. Perez lowered the mirror and walked away. At the same time Parker began studying the android body he was soon be inhabiting. Parker was vain enough to take some pleasure with the knowledge that it was no glorified Ken doll, it would allow him to sense and experience everything a regular human could including making love. The one exception was food, Parker knew the android body would be powered by three tri-lithium/cobalt power cells. It had no stomach or digestive tract but the designers had created a subroutine program that would allow him to virtually taste any food he identified. Parker's contemplation of his new body was interrupted as Dr. Perez announced the procedure was beginning.

The first thing Parker felt was a strange fuzzy but warm feeling. Almost like the sensation when a hand or leg was in an awkward position partially cutting off the flow of blood, but for him it encompassed his entire body.

“I see stage one positronic activity.” One of the scientists called out.

It could have been seconds or hours later, Parker couldn't really tell, but at some point he began to feel dislocated, not really in his body. It was a disturbing but pleasant feeling, almost like what the tabloid press wrote about when someone died for a few minutes before being medically resuscitated.

“Motor reflexes coming online, seeing initial positronic awareness.” The same scientist called out.

Parker was about to say something when he suddenly saw himself staring at a person on a surgical table. He knew immediately that was his human body and that, or course, he was now seeing out of his android eyes.

“Mr. Parker,” Dr. Perez called out, “can you hear me? I need to know you're still with us.”

Amazingly Parker heard and felt both his human and android voices respond at the same time. “Yes, Dr. Perez, I am conscious and somehow seeing both bodies.”

“Alright, people,” Dr. Perez said to her staff, “we've crossed the threshold, lets ramp up the process.”

As the minutes tacked by Kyle Parker's android body became increasingly active to the point he could move his hands, arms, and head. Straps across his torso and legs kept the android body in place but Parker was to fascinated with the sensations he was feeling to even think about moving. Parker was astounded with the ability to focus his awareness in one body or the other. His android body felt alive and strong as compared to his human body which seemed weak and withered by comparison.

As time went on Parker began to feel his human body beginning to seem more distant, as if it was drifting away from him. Not that it mattered, Parker was loving his new android body and found himself waiting for the word that the download was complete.

“Mr. Parker,” Dr. Perez finally said, “it's time, I need permission to terminate your human body.”

“Please by all means,” Parker responded.

Seconds later Parker noticed his human body simple disappeared from his awareness like the popping of a soap bubble. He watched idly as technicians disconnected all the tubes and wires from his former body. “What will happen now to my former residence?” he asked Perez.

“We will cremate the body and dispose of the ashes,” she said, “or we could give them to you. You could think of them as a souvenir.”

“No, dispose of them as you see fit.” The new but same old Kyle Parker said with a detached indifference. “I have more important concerns.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Winyah Bay Stary Night

Memories have a way of not only fading but getting twisted over the years making some things worse or far better than the actual events. This hold true for a camping and fishing trip my dad, mom, and myself took to a sandbar island just outside Winyah Bay, along with another couple and their son. The time was probably the late 1960's with my dad and his best friend holding the general idea that after crossing Winyah Bay we would setup camp on one of the long, almost barren sandbar islands and build a fire for a cookout. That night with the wives and kids asleep in the tent, the guys would then take the boat out into the Gulf Stream and do some serious fishing.

Winyah Bay is a coastal estuary in South Carolina situated about sixty miles north of Charleston. It has been an important fishing and hunting area stretching back to the times when only Native Americans occupied the continent. For the residents of Georgetown county, and a huge number of visitors, the outer edge of the bay close to the ocean is still very much a paradise even now after fifty years of hyper-development making most of the coast one gaudy attraction after another interspersed with overpriced condos and suburbs.

The main reason the outside edge of Winyah Bay has yet to suffer the usual ecological indignities is because of the danger of hurricanes. Way back in the ninetieth century I believe there was a significant settlement on North Island, a barrier island situated on the northern side of the entrance to the bay. Several local legends tell of how a massive hurricane hit North Island, not only killing everyone who did not heed the telltale warnings and leave, but literally leveling all the buildings down to their foundations. Whatever actually happened, except for a lighthouse nothing permanent has been built there since, although there are always countless proposals from weasel-like developers desperate to get their oily hands on its pristine beaches despite the ever present danger of hurricanes.

My parents, Sean and Lilly, myself, along with Peter and Michelle, and their son Kent set out in my dad's boat to cross Winyah Bay about mid-morning. This wasn't the first time I was going to cross Winyah Bay, there were a couple of earlier fishing trips with him, my uncles, and my granddad. None of those trips were easy, Winyah Bay is famous for its rough waters, so much that many experienced boaters have drowned over the years for not taking a quickly developing thunderstorm seriously.

Another issue was the potential trouble small boats could get into at both the North and South Inlets of the bay. To enter or leave the bay from the North Inlet required navigating a meandering array of shallow, muddy waterways through the marsh. The potential of running aground was always present, especially at low tide along with simply getting lost. At the South Inlet the problems revolved around ocean going cargo vessels entering or leaving the bay. While wider than the North Inlet, those behemoths took up a lot of space and could easily swamp a small civilian pleasure craft, which almost happened to my dad's boat once.

Like I said earlier, memories get twisted and simply fade over time but I seem to remember we took the North Inlet passage for this trip. I vaguely recall talking with Kent while going through the muddy channels heading out towards the ocean.

I do remember when we left the muddy waters and entered the ocean and saw the sandbar island we would be camping at for the first time. I'll hazard a guess and say it was about a half-mile long and at it widest point it stretched about five-hundred feet. The only vegetation on it was patches of sea oats and a few other stunted species I wouldn't recognize even now. Immediately after the bow of the boat hit the beach my dad and Peter made sure it wouldn't float away by embedding the anchor into the sand then setup the tent up on the highest portion of the island, to protect it against the coming high tide. Kent and I just ran around I believe talking about finding pirate treasure.

After the tent was assembled, we broke out the trusty Coleman camp stove and the portable charcoal grill and cooked up some burgers that made the journey packed in an ice chest. Right then I started to notice the isolation inherent with our out-of-the-way location. Yeah, I was five or six years old and something in me was soaking up the solitude. The years have only enhanced those feelings. For me these is just something about being away from the greater mass of human civilization I find attractive.

Trust me, I wouldn't want to make it a permanent condition but those moments alone without having to deal with the human-made sounds in some weird way reboots my brain. Yeah, I realize I have an anti-social side to my personality that can be damn inconvenient living in a world where a lot of people take great pains examining and judging the actions of others.

As night fell we were treated to the sun setting on the marsh creating a glorious array of colors. The funny thing in all this is that I don't remember being bothered by any horse flies or mosquitoes, which makes me think this trip probably took place during late fall or early winter. The trouble with that idea is that I clearly remember wearing a t-shirt and shorts with everyone else in similar clothes. Whatever the case, my dad and Peter began getting the boat ready for the night fishing trip on the ocean.

I distinctly remember both my mom and Michelle telling their husbands the fishing trip was a very bad idea. They also asked the guys how those of us left behind would get off the island if they never returned. Neither Kent nor I were privy to some of the heated discussions going on between the spouses although in hindsight their questions were important. I am sure my dad's boat didn't have a marine radio and, of course, cell phones were far in the future.

Despite the protests from the females members of our tiny and temporary colony, I remember seeing the guys push the boat out to deeper water and quickly disappear into the night with only a couple of navigational lights to signify they existed at all. With the moms in charge, both Kent and I were rounded up and put to bed, which was an old blanket spread out on top of the bottom of the tent. Screened windows in each of the tent's canvas walls allowed the breeze to blow in the cool and salty air.

The best part of the whole trip took place a few hours later. Being a little kid I woke up sometime during night needing to go pee. A small propane lantern turned way down allowed me enough light to get outside without tripping over any of the other three. I did wake my mom enough to hear her say something about doing my business quickly and getting back inside.

It took a couple of minutes for my eyes to adjust to the near pitch black darkness. Although, even then I was expert enough to complete the mission without needing much in the way of light. When my eyes did adjust, I looked up and saw something that to this day still blows me away thinking about it. I don't remember if the moon was out that night, but the sky was crystal clear with the stars looking very much like glittering diamonds. There are damn few today living in North America and that can see such a display. These days the constant glow of city and suburban lights overpower most of the celestial nighttime show leaving just a few pitiful examples of the universe's brilliance for humans who will take the time to look up at the sky.

Since this camping trip occurred in the late1960's, a little over a decade before the hordes of commercial developers descended on the South Carolina Lowcountry, the Milky Way sparkled in a way that seemed god-like. I'm not a religious person but someone would have to be truly dead inside not to be shaken to their core with a sense of utter awe to see such a sight. A rational conclusion would be that my memories have warped over the years making more out of that experience than what it was in reality. Any other time I would possibly agree, except that there were a couple of other occasions where I felt a similar awe. The first was in my granddad's backyard, his neighborhood was well enough away from Georgetown's lights for me to do some decent stargazing. And during my years in the active army I spent several rotations out at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California and got to see what was at least similar sights out in the Mojave desert. The NTC is about a two-hundred miles away from Los Angeles and that distance, along with the relative isolation, made it a great spot to look up at the universe. There was even a few times while at the NTC I got my hands on a starlight scope, a night vision device that magnifies ambient starlight. When I aimed that thing towards the Milky Way it was like seeing the stars for the first time.

Whatever the case, camping on that sandbar and my nighttime surprise was more than enough to make that trip something I will probably remember for the rest of my life. So much, that one of my deepest desires to be able to see the stars like that again at least once before I die. 

A map of Winyah Bay to make some sense of this post.