Most routes that I took to Holton Creek were wide, stress-free, easy. But for those particular stretches, I could only think of impending death as a car approached from behind. 95% of the path of was paved, but 90% of that pavement was stuck on county roads with speeding trucks passing by. At times I would sit on the side of the road and mentally recharge — I can still recall how the force of an 18-wheeler would suck the surrounding air into some vacuum at its axles; only two feet away, the bike would waver and point for just a heart-stopping moment in the direction of those gigantic tires. I felt as if it was the pure will to continue that kept my path straight instead of veering left. A bad day of existentialism and I could have been splattered on the road.

To be trapped on 60-75 mile per hour roads, equipped with a three foot shoulder is to have a crash course in “Aerodynamics 101”: The wind became an oppositional force in several forms: first, the wind rushing through my ear canals were not only inconvenient for my only way to maintain sanity by listening to podcasts, I also felt that my ears have lost a few decibels of dynamic range since then; second, I might as well be scaling a mountain when wind is pressing up against me for miles on end — I can recall several steep hills to head down, yet I needed to pedal just to maintain minimal speed; third, those random bursts of air may arrive just as that pickup truck wanted to pass.

IMG_0680
Near 1900 hours. I would soon realize this road was going to take me 12 miles off track.

The 105 mile trip to Holton Creek Camp was spread over 12 hours — there were brief moments of respite at gas stations and Dollar Generals, but the extended time to reach the century mark can mostly be attributed to repeated trial and errors: realizations that this 12 mile bend actually does not connect to the other side of the river; dogs own the streets in one neighborhood and require re-navigation; some paths are just plain scary, heading into the abyss that only Google Maps may light up.

My threshold for fear may be heightened by constant contact with mobile trains passing me by every few moments, but the irrational, the unseen can still turn me around and make me hide in my tent. The frightening feeling that I may experience when passing through a darkened part of the woods with sunlight running out — only deer may be watching, but my urbanized loneliness is seeking so much more. I arrived at the Holton Creek campground at 9pm and promptly switched on some downloaded television shows so I can have another human voice near me. It was raining that night; heavy drips on dead leaves rendered expectations of nightmarish consequences.

Alone, the weight of nature felt oppressive. I was surrounded by darkness, trapped in a Holton Creek hut due to rain — scarcity is a prime motivator of stress. To know your *in-*capabilities — your clothes will not dry by tomorrow, you will not be able to see into the distance, you have only so much mesh to defend against attacks — is a fearful notion, that must take weeks or months or years to finally accept and celebrate. Before then, every privilege you lose during a several day trek — this was the first segment of around 14 days — turns into indignation, exasperation.  Always seeing a way out — I am surrounded by abundance yet I have chosen this life for this short period of time — is the reason why the will can be so weak. So the challenge by pushing 100 miles out the first day: to reduce escape points, to trap myself in challenge.

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I stopped at the Holton Creek River Camp, motivated by its proximity to Gainesville, FL as well as its free-ness, which I prioritized during the trip (though it will become apparent that these priorities don’t seem to hold sway in Georgia). The camp is specifically for Florida Trail hikers and Suwanee River tubers, placed just a few dozen feet from both the river and trail – it also has a sign that deters overnight parking nearby; you will have to earn your way to this area in some shape or form of physical movement.

Reservations

Reservations were very simple: I just had to call the Suwanee River Water Management District and ask if there are any availabilities for the day. Being a Monday, there was absolutely no one looking to reserve either the platforms or the tent sites, so I could easily snag one of the former. For more information, you can also check the WMD’s site out.

Don’t always trust Google.

Google Maps has an issue with directing to the camp: while it identifies exactly where the camp is located, it does not take into account the unpaved roads required to get to the campsite via bicycle – nor the Florida Trail, which would be a huge bonus if it were included in the future.

Google assumes that there is a magical bridge that goes from the south side to the north side; there isn't, just private property.
Google assumes that there is a magical bridge that goes from the south side to the north side; there isn’t, just private property.

It was already past 19:30 when I arrived at the southern end, also called the “Sheriff’s Boys Camp” or something similar. I didn’t realize until then that Holton Creek Camp was located north of the river, not south. For the next hour, I rerouted myself to the 249, adding another 18 miles to the bike trip, and causing me to arrive at the camp after sun had set.

Feeling as if I was gonna get Blair Witch’d

It was a stressful experience to go further and further into the Floridian woods from 20:30 to 21:00. The sunset occurred at 20:36, and I had already passed the highway and a mile or so into the forest. I did not want to be stuck in the forest, in the dark and alone, without something already set up to sleep in. As a child, I put covers over my head when I was afraid that someone was in my room — this has held over into adulthood while camping alone. “If you can’t see them, they can’t see you.”

For the last fifteen minutes I had to turn on my bike light so I can see along the dirt path. The worst horror is to seek the image of something; my light flashed through the trees and into the distance, and the reptile-part of my brain just waited for some darkened silhouette to appear.

Moving along.

Holton River Camp is all that and a bag of chips

I was really suprised by the handicap accessibility.
I was really suprised by the handicap accessibility.

I had seen images of the platform online, and had assumed the five structures were simply well-made bug nets. However, when I arrived, I also found it (and all other buildings) to be handicap accessible, with internal and exterior lights, as well as a ceiling fan. The platforms could comfortably fit three small tents, or up to six people with only bivy sacks or sleeping bags (which I would not recommend: the weakest part of the structure are the small perforations in the otherwise high quality platforms, allowing for a few small bugs to find a way in).

Sleeping bag in the Holton Creek River Camp platform - the wood floors were even well-sealed, but I set up the tarp as a barrier anyway.
Sleeping bag in the Holton Creek River Camp platform – the wood floors were even well-sealed, but I set up the tarp as a barrier anyway.

The rain and the platform

The fifth of June had erratic behavior with regard to weather; earlier in the day I had been soaked by thirty minutes of rain, and then clear skies for the next seven or so hours. But by twelve in the morning, a pattering of rain had started, and would not stop until the afternoon of the next day (which dampened my mood and cycling speed). I worried that the “splash back” of the rain drops would get in through the net, but the roof had covered most of the ramp entrance, keeping drops far enough away from the site – perhaps I take this note because of the possible issues that tarp tenting can produce: torrential rainfall will bounce into the enclosure, causing things to get wet regardless of the roof over one’s head.

The bathrooms and showers

It was only a small trip to the bathrooms, which are segregated into disabilities/non-disabilities and men/women.
It was only a small trip to the bathrooms, which are segregated into disabilities/non-disabilities and men/women.

Only the next morning did I check out the bathrooms, which had lit up at night when I passed them; I thought they were small, rentable houses at first. But to my surprise, the bathrooms were fully furnished: working toilet, hot/cold water shower, and a sink with a mirror, with toilet paper already in place. Also cooled by A/C! I don’t know why they put so much effort into this place, but the Holton Creek River Camp had gone way beyond normal expectations of a free campsite.

Bathroom entrances, fitted with automatic light sensors.
Pretty clean bathrooms.

Conclusion

Overall, Holton Creek Camp is more than I ever expected from a free campsite: electricity, heated water, and a roof over my head. I was really pleased to have such facilities, especially after having to navigate the dirt paths for about forty or so minutes in the near-dark. I am glad certain Floridian wildlife offices are putting the effort and time to make the Florida Trail a real destination rather than a half-assed thing to do “‘cause every other state got it”.

But be careful about Google Maps and attempting to read the official websites PDF map, as the former completely throws you off the correct street, and the latter is not to scale and can be confusing to figure out the actual entrance to the Holton Creek area (you can go along the Florida Trail, which I could not find a trailhead, or via the Northwest entrance).

Richard Howard is receiving a Paris Review lifetime-achievement award

In celebration of Richard Howard’s upcoming award, the Hadada, The Paris Review brought together the thoughts of fellow poets and past students:

American poetry has almost always been forward-looking. But Richard is looking, thinking backward. He made himself up under the European wing of American literature. – Mary Jo Bang (poet, former student)

I’ve been aware of Richard Howard solely as the de facto translator of philosopher and literature critic Roland Barthes, who has been hugely influential on my life and work for several years now. Howard’s updated translation of Mythologies was the voice with which I was introduced to Barthes. Soon after I read Camera Lucida and the self-titled Roland Barthes I could almost picture the author sitting next to me as he ruminates over flittering topics and small pleasures. There is a warmth in the voice, a sincere curl in the lips, and an all-inclusive introversion that gives so much muted emotion but never enough for someone to let go with full satisfaction.

I take for granted the role of the translator – that Barthes’ English voice may be completely alien to his French. Fundamentally, the near God-like power of Howard — perhaps more of a prophet than the deity itself — should mean that I have always had this poet-translator sitting next to me all the time, carefully and patiently detailing the efforts of Barthes, who had died nearly forty years ago. For all the distance that the philosopher had put into his writing, Howard was able to eek out an aura that is only accessed in the mythologies of warmhearted movies of bittersweet loss and narrated journaling.

The comments found in the Paris Review article move me in their nostalgia, but also in their outlining of Richard Howard’s “process” (at least in my eyes) — to translate words is one thing; to translate emotions is on a whole other level. My goal, for now, is to understand Howard’s written voice in his poetry and other translations, and discover which myth — the Philosopher or the Poet — I had really taken to heart.

 

I’m no expert in this field of anthropology/sociology, but I wanted to search around academic articles on the possibilities of tattoo’s expanding popularity. Margo DeMello (“Bodies of Inscription”) argues that bringing non-Western (largely East Asian among other cultures) techniques and imagery to the West allowed for an artistic distance that was more acceptable than simply skulls and MOM tattoos:

Where is today’s version of the Rock of Ages or the Rose of No-Man’s-Land? These classic American tattoos have been replaced by a more “authentic” tattoo, one which distances the wearer from his or her white, American, middle-class standing-a position that is simultaneously confirmed and rejected through the tattoos. It is confirmed because to wear tribal or Japanese tattoos is to mark one as middle class, educated, and artistically sophisticated; yet it is rejected, because for many the non-Western tattoo is a way to rebel against middle-class values. The irony here is that neither tribal tattoos nor the Chicano tattoos that have recently become popular among whites originated in the middle-class tribal tattoos were first worn by punks and gays, and Chicano tattoos were worn by Chicanos and convicts. Yet they have become popularized through middle-class wear, and the tribal tattoo, at least for a while, stood with the Japanese tattoo as the ultimate middle-class adornment. (Margo DeMello, 2000)

So the tattoo is a political act: to symbolize rejection of middle-class values but to also avoid lower-class stereotypes (gang/biker/sailor tattoos) – thereby solidifying middle-class values to appropriate but modify to maintain class positions.

Angela Orend and Patricia Gagné bring up an interesting point of view in their article “Corporate Logo Tattoos and the Commodification of the Body (2009)”:

Turner (1997, 1999) contends that tattoos are a routine feature of consumer culture. Drawing on Baudrillard’s (1995, 1996, 1998) argument that the mass production of signs in postmodern society has led to a loss of meaning, with the sign bearing little, if any, connection to its original referent, Turner (1999, 41) maintains that tattoos are part of a crisis of identity in postmodern times where “body marks are commercial objects in a leisure marketplace and have become optional aspects of a body aesthetic, which playfully and ironically indicate social membership” whereas “tattoos have no cosmic foundation from which meaning could be derived.” As such, they are part of the spectacle of signs that are vacuous messages to the self (also see Bauer 2002; Foster and Hummel 2000)… Accordingly, tattooed bodies are “commodities on display,” with tattoos having little connection to the referents they once symbolized (Featherstone 1991a, 173; also see Scheper-Hughes and Wacquant 2002).

This one is quite the downer on tattoos, but as a tattooed person myself, I quite agree to with the sentiment: that middle-class consumer culture has found a new frontier to solidify self-identity through bold and understandable (“spectacle”) signs that invoke membership and rejection – but in the end become hollow signs by decontextualizing them upon the body – what exactly does a “Harley Davidson” tattoo actually mean once upon the body? The simple statement of “I like Harleys”?

An important point that several articles I’ve read mentioned (though others directly mention secularism):

Specifically, as individual identities are less rooted in kinship and geographic communities, individuals are influenced by consumer culture to believe that they can purchase individual and group identity through the products they buy. (Orend and Gagné, 2009)

Deniz Atik and Cansu Yildirim proposed a rather uninspired explanation of the rising popularity of tattoos, citing various celebrities and other famous individuals who have paved the way tattoos to be more culturally acceptable. However, it jumps the gun on the second and third “why”:

  • Why One: Why have tattoos grown in popularity? Proposition: because of celebrities and popular media.
  • Why Two: Why have celebrities and popular media perceived that it would be more acceptable to broadcast and popularize tattoos? ???

We can answer Why Two with Orend and Gagnés summarization: that middle-class/consumer culture has found identity in a previously stigmatized practice.

  • Why Three: Why has consumer culture found identity in tattoos?

Why Three could be answered with the innate properties of the modern tattoo: they are easy-to-understand signs that have paralleled the expanding iconography consumer culture – where Apple has its logo, a middle-class consumer can also self-brand with a tattoo that can refer to preferred characterizations: intellect, worldliness, creativity. Otherwise summarized in “Reasons Behind Body Art Adoption: What Motivates Young Adults to Acquire Tattoos”:

The differentiation of tattooing from other body modification techniques (e.g. scarring, piercing, painting, and shaping) is based on its relative permanence, symbolism embodied in the creative potential of tattoo designs, and rapid dissemination across social strata, which represents interest for marketers due to impressive sales potential (Pentina and Spears, 2011).

Tattoos are at the intersection of the changing meaning of images in the modernist/postmodernist world, middle-class/consumer identity, and general bourgeois appropriation of lower-class aesthetics in order to self-differentiate – consequently maintaining class divisions in the process.

Hope this is not totally wrong! But it’s a fascinating subject cause I have a love/hate relationship with tattoos – it’s viscerally satisfying but symbolically a minefield.

Posted in /r/askanthropology.

Retrospective on January 2017

Some things I’m working on:

  • Enlisted by a doctorate student to proofread and format her dissertation connecting the Arabic Language and Senegalese Visual culture.
  • Aiding the executive director of a D.C. tenant advocacy group with software and technical support, as well as any website update projects.
  • Working with a friend to start up a small Amazon business selling his father’s old hygiene products.
  • Learning Indonesian in order to get another foothold into Southeast Asia culture and politics.
  • Started producing more electronic ambient music, posting to SoundCloud. Will be posting to Bandcamp.
  • Restarted practicing calligraphy; quite rusty at the moment, but hopefully I’ll get nearly back to where I was last year.
  • Going back on the Soylent diet, though I feel as if I’m getting much more farty than usual.
  • Culling down productivity items in order to stay on top of my tasks and work, which has gradually improved over the past month.