In the morning, I again picked up the book Praying for Sheetrock, by Melissa Fay Greene, the story about how a 50-year reign of corruption in one Georgia community was finally brought to a close by the late arrival of the Civil Rights era. I’m not very far into the book but found it absorbing from the first page.
So okay, now I reach page 68 and am introduced to the local newspaper, the Darien News. Darien is the only town in McIntosh County. I read about how the publisher of the newspaper took it upon himself to document and expose “clip joints” along Highway 17, tourist traps that enticed Yankees in with pecans, drew them into “friendly” but illegal little games of chance and relieved many of their entire vacation budget or their whole retirement savings. I think about the Georgia that has won my heart in the last ten years, the roadside pecans and boiled peanuts I’ve bought, mom-&-pop restaurants where we enjoyed good Southern cooking, and I’m glad we were traveling Highway 19 south in the first decade of the 21st century, rather than Highway 17 thirty years earlier.
But that’s not my story today. Later, at my bookstore, a woman brought in a box of books to leave for trade credit, and in the box was a 12-page booklet called “Marshes of Glynn: Sidney Lanier in Brunswick,” by Mary Miller. The cover image, a view out over a coastal salt marsh caught my eye, as it reminded me of the sawgrass Gulf coast of Florida. I opened the booklet and saw the words “Printed at The Darien News.” What is the likelihood of that, do you think? I don’t know that I’ve ever before heard of Darien, Georgia, and now two books have brought it to my attention in the same day.
The little booklet contains the text of Sidney Lanier’s poem, “The Marshes of Glynn,” illustrated with black-and-white photographs—live oaks, salt marsh and the sea—and sketches the story of “Georgia’s Greatest Poet” (as the historical marker in one photograph identifies him). Lanier lived from 1842 to 1881, dying of the tuberculosis he contracted as a prisoner during the Civil War. Though he married, wrote novels, played the flute and tried many different lines of work, “Poverty and ill health were his greatest concerns.” His poetry sounds stilted to the modern ear:
O braided dusks of the oak and woven shades of the vine,
While the riotous noon-day sun of the June-day long did shine
Ye held me fast in your heart and I held you fast in mine....
Still, he was a poet, he played the flute, he loved the coastal salt marsh, and I wouldn’t mind looking up Brunswick sometime to see if “Lanier’s oak” still stands, dripping with Spanish moss.
Here in northern Michigan, the basswood trees in our old farmyard hummed all evening long. Few of the tiny, sweet-smelling flowers are open, but the bees are already ready and eager.