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Carl Cole began volunteering with Charleston Waterkeeper in August under the Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program as a Field Investigator. Carl has a natural curiosity for the wonders of the environmental world and this shines through in the quality of his performance. We were pleased to feature him in our first Quarterly Volunteer Newsletter, and hope you enjoy getting to know one of our outstanding volunteers in this very special Saloon Session!

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–Tell us about your background.
I was born in California but grew up in Arkansas between the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. I did two tours as a Navy Radioman in Vietnam. On the first, I lived in Saigon and fell in love with the country, the people, the culture, and especially the food. The arid US Southwest, the mountains of Northwest Arkansas, the incense and fish sauce scented streets of Saigon, and the Lowcountry each, in its own way, feels like home.

After a BS in Mathematics from the University of Arkansas, I spent about four decades as a computer programmer and IT manager, much of that as VP of Technical Services or Director of Technology Services for a software company. After retiring, I became a Charleston Master Naturalist and later a South Carolina Statewide Master Naturalist. More recently, I became a DHEC certified wild mushroom forager and I’m two burns away from completing the SC Forestry Commission’s requirements for Certified Prescribed Fire Manager. I keep a vegetable garden and enjoy cooking, especially Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian food.

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–If you could live on any waterway in the world, where would you choose and why?
I’m not much for wishing I was somewhere else. As the American Zen Buddhist Jon Kabat-Zinn says “Wherever you go, there you are.” That said, if I were going to pick a waterway somewhere else, it would be on Sông Thu Bồn (the Thu Bồn river) at Hội An, a little gem of a town on the central coast of Vietnam.

–We love hearing your stories, is there a favorite anecdote you would like to share?
I can’t sing (or even tap my boot reliably) so tonal Asian languages have always defeated me. Patti and I were visiting a pottery manufacturer outside Đà Nẵng and our host told the proprietor that we were Americans. I looked up and said that we’re “Mỹ” (Vietnamese for American) but, as usual, I got the tone wrong. Our host got a wet cat look and said “You said noodle!” (“mì” in Vietnamese). After that, I joked that we were the noodle-headed Americans.

–What’s one thing you cannot live without?
Choosing ONE thing between coffee (including the Vietnamese expresso cà phê sữa) and Vietnamese fish sauce (nước mắm) is an impossible choice for me.

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–What’s something unique that your fellow volunteers may not know about you?
I’m an occasional artist and poet. For example, I used to paint custom watercolor dog portraits. Appropriate to both the current season and to my current life as a retiree is an old haiku that I call my “Old Man’s Poem”:

Early frost glistens.
Who cares for a distant Spring?
Fall’s last yellow blooms.

–Anything else you’d like to share?
In an essay I wrote a decade ago, I said “Compared to most of the world’s more than six [now seven] billion people, I’ve lived a life of unimaginable and undeserved privilege; I’ve enjoyed years of Patti’s ideal companionship; at times, I actually walk “the Way that cannot be spoken”; and almost daily I’m blessed with experiences like seeing the face of God in the shimmer of a dragonfly’s wing.”

The privilege is much deeper even than that: simple awareness is a stunning blessing. I’ve said for years that I am everything that is, being temporarily and partially aware of itself. More elegantly, Eckhart Tolle said “You are the universe, expressing itself as a human for a little while.” In a Sixties hippie song, the Youngbloods said “We are but a moment’s sunlight fading in the grass”. Oh, but what a gorgeous moment it is!

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