Photos and Text from Folly Beach

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Here are photographs—some taken from the book and others that are only available here. They are matched with passages from Folly Beach. As you read through them you can get some sense of the whole book.

     Earlier this morning before Maddie arrived I unpacked my ukulele in darkness and saw Venus and a sliver of moon glow above the seamless, backlit curvature of the earth. Holding the ukulele to my ear, I plucked each string to check the tuning. Waves beat against sand in the half-light, and I strummed, the plunk barely audible above the surf, my fingers working their way up to second position seeking fresh chords for my melody, as the skyline suddenly ignited and incandescent cirrus clouds tilted toward the source of the light like a fleet of catamarans on their way to a regatta.

~   ~   ~

Owen looks a little subdued in his superman muscle shirt and blue swimsuit, one hand draped nonchalantly from the arm. He looks directly at the camera with big, dark eyes as if to say “We done here?” Anna is the animated one, leaning forward to the camera, her mouth open, caught mid-word. She wears a white top trimmed in lace and a red skirt with yellow piping, and the camera has her straight on so that the pink soles of her flip flops show up boldly. Whatever she is saying she is saying loudly. Caroline is on Maddie’s lap in the center of the swing, and looks as if she is about to slide off, her pudgy legs forming a cup, her toes just below Maddie’s knees. She frowns, holds out one hand as if to grab Anna’s hair, and looks off at nothing apparently, lost to the moment.

     Despite the commotion, Maddie commands the scene. She looks very pretty, her face caught in an expression of surprise with her eyebrows slightly raised and her mouth open in a smile. Her thick, curly, chestnut hair, loosely pulled back, glows like a halo, backlit from the beach glare.

~   ~   ~

     What I am beginning to understand this summer at age sixty five when I spend most of my time strumming my ukulele is that it all matters.

     And I’m waving goodbye.

~   ~   ~

     “Crow’s Nest,” Brooke says, smiling in the sunset light. “Let’s call it the Crow’s Nest.”

~   ~   ~

Black is back. It lands on its customary crow’s nest perch, ruffles and settles feathers, assumes an elegant shape against the sky, and glares at me. It is the “o” in “silhouette,” a figure hunched against filmy white clouds, wing feathers cutting irregular notches out of the sky and clouds. It is the “ouch” in “notch,” the “hook” in “beak,” the “ace” of spades in “space.” All edges, its body, throat, and head appear to be the result of clever scissorswork. It is the “hiss” in “scissors” and the threat in the throat. It is negative space clipped out of the glare, terrifying not in its presence, which is like a wad of black construction paper glued onto pasteboard, but in its absence, the lack of color and shape and meaning at the end of the end of the boardwalk in the beginning of the middle of another perfect ending to the day. It is the “lack” in “black” and the black in lack. I can go on like this forever. It is the “ever” in “forever” and the never there as well. It is the emptiness of any tautology. The black in “black.” And black is back.

~   ~   ~

credit: Gene Selkov CC-SA 2.0

It is only natural, I suppose, given the name of our beach, that my mind should turn to architectural follies, those buildings “constructed primarily for decoration,” but looking as though they had “some other purpose,” I discover, checking my phone, shading the screen with my hand. I know that Wikipedia, the source of this bit of information, is not entirely reliable and even the Wiki editors warn that the article “needs additional citations for verification,” but I’m at the beach and, anyway, as I look at the photographs of follies from around the world, I sense that the writer got it about right: a folly is an illusion built to please.

~   ~   ~

credit: Pierre D'achoppement CC-SA 2.0

“I think of fractals,” the writer Sarah Einstein said over lunch one day describing my style, moving one hand in a spiral. “Each part spins off,” she said spinning her other hand in an opposite spiral, “giving rise to a similar shape that takes you somewhere new.” I’m not sure those were her exact words, but I am sure that her hands were spinning that way, mesmerizing hands making lovely shapes as she talked.

~   ~   ~

     “Grandpa,” Owen asks, “what do you write in that little book?”

...When I give him the book he flips through the pages like an inspector searching for evidence, nodding approvingly as if he could read.

     “Lots of tangled up lines,” he says, summing up my career.

     He does what he does with all books, checking it for bookmarks which he keeps before discarding the book over his shoulder. As he runs off to pull more books out of the shelves with his cousin, I pick up my notebook and open it to a blank page.

     “Grandpa,” I write, “what do you write in that little book?”

~   ~   ~

credit: A Savin CC-SA 3.0

It is aptly named—the Swallow’s Nest—clinging to the rock like those mud cups that swallows build in caves and on the underside of outcroppings, but Castle of Love still works for me as a name for a sequence of boxy, white chambers topped with an assortment of turrets and flag-tipped towers reaching hesitantly from a pile of rocks into the blue Crimean sky. It waits on its cracked ledge, laid bare to all around it, with the vulnerability of an exposed wrist held at arm’s length, and a coziness of scale mixes with its gradual upward movement suggesting human yearning like cupped hands held out for water.

~   ~   ~