Saturday, December 31, 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR



MAY PEACE COME TO THIS PLACE AND MAY ALL HAVE A HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS 2012

REAMUS

Friday, November 4, 2011

THE CLOCK STRIKES BACK

Reamus has a number of rules. They are his own and apply only to him and the various mechanical devices and inanimate objects that travel the country with him and with which he occasionally converses.

 Rule #87:

The day that the clocks “fall back” is the day to be home.

Because of the rather odd notion that light at the end of the day is better than in the beginning, Congress, in what little "wisdom" resides in that deliberative body enacted Daylight Savings Time. Over the years they have changed the time at which it takes effect and the time it ends. Two or three years ago, it was decided that the end would come as October left which was better than the end of September. To not confuse the populace more than required it has always taken effect at two o’clock in the morning on the first Sunday of the designated month. Thus, this year it ends on the 7th of November.

Yes, it will be well after October has gone, as far after as possible and still be consistent with the law which,as with all things in life, has unintended consequences.

In the northern latitudes, sunrise comes very late. Last Sunday, the sun rose well after seven in the morning in southern Oregon and by tomorrow, dawn will occur after eight.

Some are old enough to remember the Carter Administration’s imposition of this time hoax as the norm with no change of clocks. The belief was that energy would be saved since lights would come on later in the evening. Of course the unintended consequence was that anyone living north of San Francisco was required to turn on lights if they rose before eight-thirty in the morning. After anguished pleas and horrific stories of little children standing on dark street corners in the sub zero weather in Minnesota and North Dakota waiting for the bus to school, Congress let us all go back to conventional time.

We forget. Someone famously observed we are condemned to repeat the history we forget. Therefore, we have again leapt into the abyss of “late” Daylight Time in pursuit of more light in the late afternoon and evening. The consequence can be seen every morning. They supposed it would not be as horrific as the year ‘round version and so the compromise of a March beginning and November end was forged.

We head home after an excellent trip to nowhere in particular and to places old and new. I can report that it was wonderful time. There was no rain until the last two nights. It seemed there were fewer people out here in the campgrounds but perhaps it was because of the more remote locations we visited,. There were still a fine cast of characters to spend time talking to and to wonder whether they were saner than me.

We followed El Camino Real before heading off into the mountains, sought out friends along the way and enough civilization to be sure the satellite radio would pick up the World Series. After all, if one spends time watching teams form in Spring Training, it seems only fair to see how it all ends.

There was a man from Switzerland on his bicycle who was in his 6400th mile of a trip which had brought from New York via Washington D.C. to Portland Oregon who was now headed south to see what Baja California looked like before his year was up and he would return home. He was doing this solo but explained that he was supported by a network of Internet “TRANSAM” riders who exchange information on the best routes, places to sleep, and where free meals can be obtained. He was fascinating. He will be on my part of the southern West Coast around Thanksgiving and has been invited to dinner.

There were lakes being stocked with fish from farms where they will be quickly fished out by avid sportsman. Various cash strapped jurisdictions will be billed $13,000 dollars so that the sport can endure and the catch will be eaten with the satisfaction that it is a “natural” fish, not a “farmed fish” and for that reason tastes better. Humbug, of course, but nonetheless a source of enjoyment when watches the wide eyes of the fisherman who arrive before the nursery truck and watch them being “unloaded.” I will leave to you the value of such an exercise and expenditure which is repeated widely throughout this part of the country.

The drifters and grifters were out in seemingly smaller numbers. They were no less odd than last year. All were headed for new and warmer places, some for new jobs, and others for just another warmer piece of ground to call home.

La Coachasita is in excellent spirits and while in need of a good washing appears to have found the last 2,500 miles just a bit of mild exercise. A bath and an oil change will have her ready for the next adventure.

Reamus will pass on the oil, but feels otherwise the same.

We will be home this weekend to the usual wintertime activities. I hope that I finish this book. My fervent wish is that no new construction breaks out.  A mid-winter trip to the desert is not out of the question. We will see.

More odd thoughts may be posted as random neuron firings occur between now and then.

Meanwhile, stay well, enjoy the “holiday season,”  (I am reliably informed began last month and will last until January), do good works, and stay in touch.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A LONG AND WINDING RHODES

The world of Major League baseball is full of strange, odd, and often wondrous characters. This year‘s candidate would have to be Arthur Lee Rhodes Jr.

Born in 1964, in Waco Texas, drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1988, he made his first appearance in the majors in 1991 (the 10th youngest ever) and is now pitching for the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals and is the third oldest man playing today.

The road from here to there is filled with moments of wonder a tragedy. Yet he will receive a World Series ring no matter which team wins. Until August 2nd of this year when they gave up on him and released the elder statesman, Rhodes played for the Texas Rangers, the Cardinals opponent.

Rhodes was signed to a one year contract on August 8th by the Cardinals which by the byzantine mathematical rules of baseball compensation are require to pay only 100,000 dollars of his 1.2 million dollar yearly salary. The Rangers, whom Arthur would now dearly like to beat, get to pay the rest. The  rules also say if you play the substantial part of the year for the team that wins the Series, you get a ring.

 To say that Arthur has “been around” baseball is an understatement. He wandered through the Orioles organization for some 12 years before he became a free agent and signed with the Seattle Mariners where he pitched for four years. He moved on to Oakland in 1999. There was little success there in the role the manager had in mind for him so he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates and on to the Cleveland Indians before the season even began in 2000. In 2006 he was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies and released at the end of the year.

In 2007 Seattle offered him a minor league contract. He soon injured his arm, had a tendon replaced in his elbow in what is known in baseball parlance as “Tommy John” surgery. It is named for the first baseball player to have it done, rehabilitate successfully, and pitch well after having it. It is now so common that when it is done and the expected recovery time is 12 months. He never pitched in 2007.                  

In 2008, Seattle gave him another chance to make it back in the minors and he spent part of the year on their roster.

Arthur finally hit the jackpot when he was signed for two years by the Cincinnati Reds who went on to the playoffs and Arthur set a Major League that season with a record  33 consecutive game appearances without giving up a run. Now, in his late thirties, Arthur was still a very good big league pitcher and described by managers and fellow players as most likeable, hard working, and a man capable of putting his personal life on hold while he plays the game.

His nomadic wanderings took him to the Rangers this year where he pitched well, but  he seemed to show his age, ineffective in a number of appearances in late July that led to his release.

The iconic pitching coach in St. Louis, Dave Duncan, who has been doing the same job for the same manager for 32 years for three different franchises thought Arthur might have some “gas left in his tank”, so urged his manager for all those years Tony La Russa to pick him up. At the time the Cardinals didn’t look like they would be playing any games in October. Somehow they managed to come from many games back in August and find themselves in the playoffs and Arthur was right there helping them get there.

As one wag in the press box has put it, if the World Series ended in a tie, Arthur would be the only one to get a ring. He still wants to win it outright but he says he’ll take it one way or the other. A man who has been in the game for 20 years roaming the back roads of the league, renting rooms in more cities than most of us have yet to visit deserves it.  

There is only one other pitcher in the history of the game that has pitched more innings (900) than Arthur before reaching the World Series. In his first World Series game he got the out he was asked to get. The next night he wasn’t as lucky and in the book of his manager, who uses pitchers in "situations" perhaps more than any other, there hasn’t been a reason to put him in a game since. He's had a wonderful seat in the bullpen watching the rest so far.  That does not make him happy, but he will shake that all off just as he has the surgery and more importantly, the loss of his son in 2008.

When Arthur enters a game, the first thing he does has nothing to do with baseball. He bends down and scratches the letter JR on the mound behind him before he warms up. Arthur says he will never get over the loss of his boy and that without the support of his daughters he would have left the game he loves after it happened. Yet now he sees it as having JR out there with him. “He’s right behind me,” says Arthur, “he helps me get through it.”

After tonight, Arthur has no idea what will happen to him. He would love to keep playing and teach the kids what he knows. Yet that isn’t up to him. When the winter turns to spring, someone may see that Arthur still has something to offer. If they don’t, he’ll move on, both in life which he knows is the most important thing, and in baseball, which he knows deep inside is only just a game.

Monday, October 17, 2011

NORTHBOUND

Fall is here. It's weather is sure to follow. It has become custom now to head north and see how the coast looks before the coming rains and cold. We will be home before the clocks change and in the oddity of the calendar and the law, they are to change on the first Sunday in November. This year that day is on the seventh of the month, as far from the front end as possible, so it has added an extra week to the daylight at the end of the day.

It is good to be going. It has been a busy summer this year.  It is time for a few weeks of Zen like moments and where better than on the Pacific Coast when the last of the warm weather is likely to occur.

All ask now where Reamus is headed and the answer is in the title. How far and and for how long is something I can't answer now because I do not know. Some look quizzical when they get that answer, some think it is an avoidance of revealing my true destination, others find it just rude.Those who know well of my peripatetic wanderings are often moved to question me further, suggesting various places I have been before as a destination, prodding me for a hint at where I will end the trip. The answer this year has been a shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head. "Maybe," I say, "I'm not sure." There is resistance to a rhetorical destination, yet I understand why it is an unacceptable answer. Only a few go off for three weeks with no idea where they are going or where they will turn back, or even where they will stop for the night. I do. So there it is, not rude, just honest this time.

This trip will commence on Wednesday morning after the daily conclave of The Possibly Peculiar Men and Women at the local coffee shop where the usual complaints will be aired, truths will be shared, exaggeration may occur, and good fellowship will be found. The first night will be in the friendly and well travelled St Yenez Mountains east and north of Santa Barbara. After that nothing is certain except that Reamus, Juan,and  La Coachasita will be home by November sixth since an empty campground at four-thirty in the afternoon  is depressing when it is dark that early.

The time before that is a good one to reflect on the summer now gone, wonder at how the  swing was broken, why the toy discarded, and hear the echoes of the laughter of summer's children. We will be awed by the migration of the birds, the color of the trees, the harsh clear brightness of the sky.It is a good time to be with nature as she sheds the clothes of summer and makes ready for the winter not yet here.

As we find our way, I'll be in touch. In the meanwhile, be well, keep up the good work, and be good to each other.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

ONE OF THE FEW GOOD MEN


A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise in the only convincing role he ever played and Jack Nicholson at his finest is an iconic movie to many of us of a certain generation.

There is a scene when Nicholson, as Colonel Jessup, Commander of the Marine guard at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, explains to Cruise, who is prosecuting a trial at which Jessup is a witness in the loudest possible terms that he really does not want the truth. The remarkable dialogue has to be heard more than once to be fully appreciated. First because of the way Nicholson delivers it, but more importantly for the mixed emotions it evokes about the truth of what he says. At its root, it is an explanation of what it is like for those that defend the country in the dark unknown way it is defended everyday that none of us knows much about and would rather not think about very often. As Colonel Jessup says, “You don’t want to know the truth. You can’t handle the truth.” No we don’t and no we can’t.

Last month, a good man died who did that sort of thing. For years he labored in the obscure nether world of counterintelligence, a place even murkier than the Special Forces that few of us know of, most of us admire, and perhaps some wish didn’t have to exist. He stood watch while we slept. He kept us safe. He was proud that no harm came to the country he loved on his watch. We are better for men like him. They give their careers without reservation to their country, their agency, and us, whom they serve for a paltry sum. What they get is not about money, it is their pride in a job done well done and a world made safer by their efforts. What they ask in return is a nod of approving satisfaction from those who know what they do and how well they do it. He did it well, better than most, it is said, good enough to come to understand how the Russian KGB communicated with its agents here in the United States during the Cold War, before the Wall fell, before we all became “friends.” He found that code not because he was lucky but because he methodical, dedicated and good.

 Years later, he helped uncover a suspected State Department spy and suspicion fell on him when he eluded capture. He was accused of being a “mole,” followed 24 hours a day for several years, his family harassed, his phone tapped, and his reputation and career nearly ruined. He was removed from his job he loved while “under investigation,” because the politically appointed egos in another agency of the government could not accept that maybe one of “theirs” could have done that which they accused him.

The parochial interests, the turf wars, and the extraordinary egos that make this fragile democracy so hard to govern and defend made his life hell. We have all heard of it but in this case it was a personal example as to how it worked and it was not a pretty sight. Yet he endured. Two years later when he was cleared, he went back to doing what he loved. He didn’t sue anyone. He did his job and then retired. He told a chilling story, of agency heads who mistrusted each other, the information they were given, and when they learned their mistake refused even an apology until those who ruled their lives ordered them to give him one.

He will be remembered by many for his extraordinary work and his extraordinary story. He will be remembered by others as a kind, loving, and giving man, father, and grandfather.

 To another band of men, he is remembered as one we spent four years with in College in the early 1960’s in an idyllic place in the hills of northern Vermont. He was a practical joker without peer, which earned him the nickname “Needle” which followed him the rest of his life. He was friend, and a classmate of the best kind. He and I shared a room for four years. He found a way to be at my father’s funeral and was always there when I needed him. I danced at his wedding and I promptly lost track of him after his second posting in the Air Force where he began to learn the craft of counterintelligence. I saw his image on my television when he appeared on “60 Minutes” and told the story of the horrible mistake that nearly ruined his otherwise impeccable career.

We were back in touch fitfully the past several years both always assuming there would be time for that when we were less busy.

Alas, that time is gone. Brian J. Kelly, a quiet American who stood guard with so many others unknown to us so that we could sleep under the blanket of freedom we take for granted is gone now. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with so many other quiet heroes of his time.


Those who knew him in those halcyon days so long ago have our disparate memories of Brian as a roommate, a classmate, a world-class practical joker, a class historian, and as a fine man.


Most of all he was a friend.



 The full interview from “60 Minutes” can be found here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/01/30/60minutes/main538650.shtml

Monday, September 12, 2011

REAMUS MOVES

A short post  to let anyone out there who might want to know that Reamus has changed his address.

When the blog first started, I wanted a simple URL, one that some of the few who read here when I am narrating my travels would find easy to locate in a search engine. I have never been pleased with "thereamus.com" and have always been waiting for the simpler "reamus" to become available.

It has. I've now had 12 messages from people trying to sell it to me for some princely sum. Let's just say it was a lot more than the ten bucks "Go Daddy" wanted for it and from whence I purchased it.

So, I have finally become simply"reamus.com." It isn't a big thing in the great universe of things to be remembered, but it makes me happy nonetheless so there you have it.

I will still let you all know when something is posted, but for now, look at www.reamus.com and you should find me, La Coachasita,  and Juan, The Gnome de Plume  when we are on the road.

We have been home three months. Major house renovations were done while I was gone which then required much attention to the final moving in to the new parts of the house and of course redecoration. A second novel has somehow found its way to an fourth edited version and may yet be published, assuming I have the will to do that in a few months and my two volunteer "editors" tell me it is a good story.

Plans for travel this fall remain unformed. There will be visitors here in October, so what trips I make will be short in September or longer in late October. My faithful iron maiden is  waiting patiently for the place to go and the time to do it all to come together.

Until then, stay well, be good to each other and stay in touch.





Friday, August 26, 2011

FLANAGAN'S WAKE

Those who read this space now and then know that the subject of baseball often comes up. This is not the place of a fanatic’s ravings about a manager’s wisdom or an umpire’s eyesight, but rather a place where someone passionate about a game looks at the human moments, the harsh realities, and frailties of the sport and the men who play it. Those things make “the game” more about work and real life.

Sometimes the reality of that life is too real, too jarring, too disappointing. This week there was another of those moments.

Years after I understood that I would never have the talent to be more than an adequate softball substitute, a man pitched for the Baltimore Orioles. Trivia buffs remember him as the last man to pitch in old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, that iconic ball yard in the suburbs, striking out the only two Detroit batters he was asked to face to the delight of the 50,700 fans in attendance. Baseball statisticians would remember him as man that won the highest honor a pitcher can be given for a season of work, the Cy Yong Award in 1979 by winning 23 games and losing only 9. He received all but two of the votes. Then, on a very bad leg, went 12-4 in 1983 to help the Orioles win the World Championship.

The fans in Baltimore will remember him as an icon of the era along with the other pitchers of that staff who, with his quiet New England wit, could often make their genuis and borderline insane Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver sorry that he ever brought a subject up. They remember him as a pitching coach and a Vice President of the Oriole’s. In the last few years, after taking the fall for having failed in some way to make the woeful franchise better he became a television analyst. Those fans also know, as do the other pitchers on the staff who watched him, that he pitched to those last two batters in that famous stadium before the team moved downtown because he was the only Oriole on the roster who deserved to do it, and the fact that he did it so well shocked no one.

His wit and work ethic was well known from the days he pitched and played basketball at UMASS. He was drafted in 1973 and reached the majors two years later. He became a regular starter one-third of the way through 1977 and won 15, then 19 the following year. He was an extrodinary pitcher who suffered a serious knee injury in the 1980’s, but worked as a relief pitcher until he retired in 1991 His body of work included a remarkable141 wins in 18 years, many of which came after his injury.

He was responsible for one of the more uproarious arguments (and there were many) that the irascible Weaver ever had with and umpire. It was remarkable. Mike had walked the first man he faced (games in those days started at seven-thirty five). The umpire called a balk on his first attempt to hold the runner close—that is, he threw the ball to first rather than home to try to take the runner’s lead away from him. It was four minutes into the game. The classic 15-minute video clearly shows the clock during Weavers subsequent twelve minute discussion with Tom Haller, the first base umpire who made the call and awarded the runner second base. During the tirade, Weaver argued that there was no balk and somehow managed to assure Haller that he--because when he retired he would be in the Hall of Fame—knew that better than any of the umpires. He was told that he could leave for the night when he had initially run out on the field screaming epithets, leaving many scribes to wonder how he could be that angry four mintes into the game. Finally, having exhausted all his rather extensive vocabulary of blue language he turned and marched back to the third base dugout. He passed Flanagan, who had been standing there the whole time, he would say later, in awe of Earl’s antics. When he did he turned to Mike and said, “You were [hosed,”] or words to that effect. Flanagan never cracked a smile. “Actually,” he said, “I balked.” Weaver simply stared at him for a moment and continued his walk into exile for the evening. It is one of the great punch lines never heard.

 “Flanny” as he was know by one and all was not only a great pitcher he was an intelligent and giving man. Sharing his knowledge of the game he loved was as natural as his New Hampshire twang. He once did an interview for more than 30 minutes on the way to use the rubber slab on the mound to one's advantage. Really. The quiet, reserved, even stoic New Englander most of the time, he could not seem to control his dry humor when he was with his fellow pitchers, Jim Palmer and Steve Stone, among others. Weaver tolerated their nonsense only because they all in their turn won the Cy Young Award and helped make up such a potent pitching staff that few others in the modern era compare.

After a particular galling loss in Anaheim one night when five Angels stole second base, Weaver had seen enough of the slow windups and inattention to the runners of his pitchers. He was so aggravated he ordered all the pitchers to appear at the park at two-thirty the next afternoon. He had them all stand at first base. Rick Dempsey, the regular catcher (the son of circus performers himself) stood in front of home plate and Weaver instructed the pitchers to leave the base and try to steal second but only after the ball left his hand. He positioned himself in front of the pitcher’s mound and threw the ball 12 times. Each pitcher tried and failed to steal second under Earl’s rules. Having believed he had now adequately made his point that the bases stolen the night before were their fault, not Dempsey's, the smiling, bandy rooster-like Weaver, all 5 foot 5 inches of him, bounced over to  what he believed was a chastened collection of pitchers now standing behind second base near the kid infielder who had been recruited to apply the tag. He asked in his usual raspy half scream, “So, what have we learned today?” Flanny raised his hand and broke up the assembled group and sent Weaver stalking off the field talking to himself when he replied, “I guess we better work harder on getting a better lead next spring, huh Skip?” Much of what made it funny was the fact that pitchers in the American League had not hit or run the bases since the implementation of the Designated Hitter Rule in 1973.

That was the essential Mike Flanagan. The man who gave nicknames that players carried for life sprung from his fertile mind, the man who could shut the irrepressible Earl Weaver’s mouth with a few witty words. That is the man and the legend Baltimore remembers. Yet, on Thursday morning sometime after 1 AM, his body was discovered 250 feet behind his house. For no reason that anyone can understand, at the age of 59, Mike Flanagan, this kind, funny,and gentle man shot himself in the head.

The deed cannot be reconciled by those who knew him. His family and friends cannot explain it. Yet it happened. The world is a sadder place now for his leaving it. What torment he never shared with them, we may or may not ever know. He is now and will be always honored for his place in the history of Oriole baseball and as part of the warp and woof of the game.

 We are left to wonder of the demons and harsh truths of his life.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"FROM THE FRONT PORCH"

A BLOG TO REMEMBER

 This week one of my favorite blogs closed up shop for reasons known to its proprietor. Whatever the reasons, they are good enough for me. We get to do what we want here, which is part of the fun. We get to stop doing it as well, which is the freedom of this form.

 I have been reading “From the Front Porch” all the years I have been typing in this space. I was sent there by another photographer blogger who thought I, who travel the country so much, might enjoy seeing the extraordinary http://fromthefrontporch.com. I came to love the imagesof the Montana landscapes so skillfully presented there most every day.

 I learned more of a cat (known to me as “my man Bob.”) a beloved dog Karl, a new companion “Bear” and the unique lifestyle of a computer consultant who has the freedom to work from home and enjoy life out of doors with a passion one must surely have to live to  fully understand.

Over the years, the proprietor gave us the quiet snow-silenced moments of the hills after a blizzard, deer in the meadow, squirrels on the prowl, barns in the fields, and the simple beauty of a house at dawn on Christmas morning.

The delightful series of pictures taken in all seasons from the same spot returning to the house she loves called, “The Road Home” inspired urban dwellers such as me to dream of the quiet life at the end of it in the rural beauty of the place.

I will miss all that each day. I will miss the inestimable, self-effacing good humor, whether on a cold a dreary February day or in the beauty of the glow of the sun on the mountains she shared with everyone on walks through the woods, first with her beloved Karl and now with her new friend Bear.

Of course, too, I will miss my man Bob.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"CARMAGGEDON"

Really. That’s what they are calling it. The main north south freeway (Interstate to those not residing in California) in Los Angeles that is the furthest west running through some of the most expensive real estate in America outside of Manhattan Island will be closed this Friday night until Monday at 6 AM because they have to take a bridge down. They are not blowing it up. They are taking it down.
In a city that lives by and in the car, this is now known as Carmageddon. Millions of dollars are being spent on contingency plans to get people from one place to another. 20 additional fire units will be on duty to respond to 911 calls. All police vacation and days off have been cancelled. Additional 911 operators have been mobilized. The hillsides that abut the freeway will be patrolled by officers on all terrain vehicles, the better to respond.

It is phenomenal how much television, radio, print media, and internet time has been spent for the last two months girding the loins of the city for this moment in its history. One would think it was a World War. Terrorist attacks have had less coverage than these two historic days in the City of Angeles.

Jet Blue offered, and immediately sold out, $4.00 plane rides from the San Fernando Valley Airport at Burbank to Long Beach on the other side of the closure. It will be a 45-minute flight, shortest in the airline’s history. All are being urged to “get to know your local neighborhood merchants” rather than venture to the west side of the city.

The cost is cannot be yet be computed. Yet no expense will be spared the public is assured, to be certain that the least inconvenience will be suffered by the fewest. City carpools and police escorts will assure that essential workers, such as hospital personnel will get to their jobs on time. Commentators on all the news channels predict chaos on the streets around the freeway as motorists seek alternate routes.
The total mileage of freeway closed?
Less than 10.
Really.

Los Angeles may be the only city with a mountain range running through it. The San Fernando Valley—which has been trying hard to break away from the megalopolis for years--is where most of the people live that actually work for a living or are married and have children or, alternatively, work in the pornographic film industry which, in an uneasy truce with those people, resides there as well. The south side of the mountain is the heart of Los Angeles, most of its institutions of higher learning and its medical community, and of course Hollywood and access to The Malibu Beach Colony where many of the folks in that industry live.

For 48 hours, beginning at midnight tonight if you live in the “Valley” and work on the south side of town, you can’t get there from here as the man once said. You, of course, have to have a weekend shift to work to be truly affected by all this, but they will spare no expense to be sure those who do and those with fewer brains than a chicken that will go out there anyway will be safe.

The people on skid row, almost proudly known as “The Capital of Homeless America” will have no more to eat and no better place to sleep because of the millions spent. Schools will still lay off teachers this fall, potholes will go unfilled, gangs will fight, people will die violently at the same rate as any other weekend, but the people who think they need to traverse those 10 miles of I-405 will be well served and well protected. The press will be there to cover it live from beginning to end as if it were the Oscars to be sure that they are. After all this is Hollywood, right?


Now isn’t this a great country, this America?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A RUDE ADIEU

 Kansas was not nice to me at the end. The last three days were marked by thunderstorms, then hail the next night, vicious winds and torrential rains on the last complete with  tornado sirens. The power in the City of El Dorado and the park (That is El DorAdo there, sort of a kin to "AmblAnce" and other odd A's in the mid-western colloquial style) went off. It was about 4 AM when it did. The refrigerator of course was working on electric and not the optional Propane when it happened. Why not? After all, when we went to bed it was a lovely night.
Once I hauled myself up to fix that I decided I might as well start screwing down all that moves, get unhooked from the land lines at first light and get on the on the road. I pulled out about 6:00 AM and enjoyed a peaceful and lonely drive across the gypsum "hills" of western Kansas on an overcast morning. Kansas is essentially closed on Sundays so until the church goers appeared I had the roads to myself and found the next scheduled stop about noon. The NOAA radio said it would be 102 there with a chance of rain later so, with another five hours available, and the temperature beyond even the pale of mad dogs and Englishman, I soldiered on for an additional 350 miles to the place I was supposed to be on Monday. I stopped at a favorite side of the road campsite in Tucumcari and found the temperature there less than 100 but the much advertised winds of New Mexico were present. However, I had gained both a day on the schedule of the worst part of the trip and and hour on the clock. The good people of New Mexico are wise enough to adopt daylight time unlike there less informed neighbors to the west.
I vowed the next day not to drive any more than I had originally planned. One day of over 500 miles seemed sufficient. So I had breakfast at the diner, read the paper and left in what still seemed a cool day. Climbing off the desert floor to pass through Albuquerque and on to a small and uninteresting RV park at Grants, NM. The altitude of 6500 feet made the day a delight, The air required no conditioning and a good book was finished in the early evening. Cable Television was available and I learned it would be 42 degrees when the sun rose there on the first day of summer. Quite a difference, but one that would last only as long as the altitude was maintained. As I passed through Gallup and into Arizona and Pacific Daylight Time I was descending again and reached Flagstaff AZ at either 2:30 PM or 3:30 PM depending on which clock one looked at for assurance.
The road between was a grinding bore, a landscape of the moon by comparison to my previous bucolic journeys on the National Highway and the farm roads of Missouri and Illinois. There is a meteor crater one can go look at if one wishes, there are ruins from the earliest human settlers here about which little is still known that are best seen in the early spring or late fall when the temperatures are livable. There is also between Grants and Two Gun, AZ a  higgily- piggily village of squalor at the side of the Interstate  that should make you sad to be related to the people who put the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo out here to suffer the indignity they now enjoy. The grinding poverty from there to the end of the state and the beginning of the Mojave is occasionally interrupted by a perky  town like Winslow and Flagstaff singing the praises of the famous Route 66, "America's Road" as they would have it and where the pale faces settled for there own reasons and live in what can only look to those who reside between the Sante Fe Railroad Tracks and Interstate 40 as the lap of luxury. It is a sad journey, a figurative walk along the trail of tears that brought them to this place, these noble and, in most cases, gentle people.
Tomorrow I will saddle up as early as sleep will allow to pass through Needles CA, a place no one should have to live, but where there is a remarkably good place to eat breakfast. Then it is south on U.S. 95 past Twenty-Nine Palms where  every combat Marine that ever served has been taught to do scary things, on to Desert Center which is simply that, then Riverside, down Interstate 15 to home.
The journey will have covered more than 7,500 miles by then and I for one will be glad it is over. Juan agrees and La Coachasita will be very relieved, although she returns in excellent condition for a machine of her age.
I look forward to a day of high 70's. no rain or threat of it, no sirens to warn of impending doom, no smoke to remind of man's carelessness with his planet.
There are things there waiting to be done, but as always as my journey ends in this overheated wasteland this time of year--a place capable of remarkable beauty at other times--I will be glad to see the people and places of home.

Until next time, stay well, do good works, and stay in touch.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

IT IS JUNE-TIME TO GO HOME

We have been enjoying a reasonable paced and stress free drive across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois for two weeks resting at the idyllic reconstructed village of New Salem outside of Springfield Illinois at the end for four days. The Illinois River is nearby. It is more nearby than usual since it was three feet above flood stage when I pulled out in the rain and fog on Monday.

After the family Reunion to celebrate of a member of the family’s law school graduation and not coincidentally her engagement the night before, we caught up with a few old friends, suffered the 95-degree of Washington D.C.’s suburbs, and then went north in search of the Pennsylvania section of the Lincoln Highway, now U.S. 30. Much has been done to restore some of the older surviving sections and the road itself is a wonderful drive through the very green countryside. We passed through Gettysburg, more quickly perhaps than we had wanted since the heat was still with us. As we pressed on West, Chambersburg, site of a much less famous battle hove into view. The cooler hills of the western part of the state were beckoning so we stopped for four days short of Pittsburgh at Laurel Hill State Park. It was quiet, full of wildlife, visited occasionally by rain at night. The humidity  lifted in the Park. It was originally constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s as are so many of these wonderful leafy wildlife filled places. Three days of cool weather, much bike riding, and a few campfires with nice neighbors put me back in the “camping” mode. As we left for Ohio in a drizzle and after a night of horrific lightning and thunder. Somehow, it seemed the right time to go.

We followed U.S. 30 a bit further and then the “National Road”, U.S. 40. Unlike the Lincoln Highway, the national road was a government funded project which was seen as the overland equivalent of the Erie Canal in its importance in moving goods the markets in the East. Congress appropriated $30,000 to build a road to the West and the bill was signed by President Thomas Jefferson in March or 1806. Once Ohio had been admitted to the Union there were calls for the road to be built. It was, by any standard a modest effort and eventually only reached the middle of Indiana but it was the start of a network of roads throughout the states as the nation looked and headed west.

There are two significant things about it. It left Washington following “Braddock Road” which was the name of a British General and still a heavily traveled suburban road in Virginia. It was started in Cumberland Maryland with workers moving both east and west and often referred to as the Cumberland Road which always confuses me if no one else. Second, the largest problem 200 years ago was wagon ruts and mud. In the early 1800s, a Scottish engineer named John Loudon Mac Adam became using crushed rock as the base for the road which could stand up to weather and wagon traffic. Such roads were known as “macadam roads.” The method was applied to the National road, done without any machinery, rocks broken by the strong backs of men. To see reclaimed sections of it today is to appreciate the extraordinary difficulty of the task of sledge hammering, raking and placing the stone and then compacting it by rollers. into place.
The National Road slowly continued westward, and eventually reached Vandalia, Indiana in 1839. Plans existed for the road to keep going all the way to St. Louis, Missouri, but as it seemed that railroads would soon supersede roads, funding for the National Road was not renewed.

The Lincoln Highway was a semi-private endeavor, documented a here on an earlier trip.: http://www.thereamus.com/2009/06/americas-road-my-quest-for-good-weather.html
It was one man’s vision to have a road run from Times Square to the West Coast in one continuous paved wonder. It was done much later and eventually finished. It too these days is being restored in some places, particularly Pennsylvania and Ohio. U.S. 30 exists across the country still and is a peaceful alternative to noisy Interstates and plastic buildings as it takes you often through the middle of  many small towns. We passed the hometowns of Lillian Gish, Glenn Miller and a few other that a few of my older readers may remember.

Should you travel the National Road through Ohio, you will pass through Marion, the place where President Warren G. Harding was born and died. His homes as well as his tomb are memorials there. I went through on a Monday with the hope of seeing the both. This famous—many would say infamous—President who presided over as so many scandals during his administration (including the Teapot Dome, a massive oil manipulation) that he still consistently finishes near the top of the list of worst Presidents. I would only add that his time in the White House may have been much like trying to visit his memorials on Monday. There was no one there. They are closed, which may say much about his popularity and his Presidency.

The second place, just south of Lima Ohio in Wapakoneta is the Space Museum that exhibits many of the artifacts of the first man to step on the moon, Neil Armstrong. Incredibly to me, was the “Hall of Fame” which includes 42 Astronauts born in the state. They include Judith Resnick, killed in the Challenger disaster that took the "teacher in space," Christie McAuliffe as well in January 1986. Sally Ride, the first woman ever to orbit the earth was born there. Most have flown in the Space shuttle but a few were among the earlier space pioneers such as John Glenn, the first man in space aboard Friendship Seven who also became the oldest ever in space when he flew as a mission specialist on a Shuttle mission at the age of 76. I would doubt any other state could match it. Ohio, once known as the “cradle of Presidents”  is also the cradle of space explorers. Except for the exceptionally poor mannered help, it is an interesting place of memories, perhaps of a more outward looking, “can do” America on this warm Monday afternoon in June.

Illinois brought cooler weather, excellent camping for the next seven days or so, and a hiccup in the life of La Coachasita, her first of the trip. Near Danville IL is one of the prettier state parks I know. It is also, as the good ones often are a wildlife reserve. The deer have just had their young three to four weeks ago here and the woods are rich with small fawn and nervous doe trying to protect their young from the den of coyotes present here and other predators. As I entered after a long days drive, I saw a fox, part of a large band here, crossed the entrance road in front of me. It seemed a harbinger of my three day stay. In the early evening, in the places where the park has let the grass grow longer, both because they want to give the wildlife better habitat and because the meadows are so vast it has become economically prohibitive to cut it all both of these and the ubiquitous raccoons and rabbits are found in abundance. The Rangers now cut trails through the grass allowing a far more natural experience. It seems that necessity is still the mother of invention since the effect is both pleasing to the eye and has had the desired effect for the fauna that inhabit this quiet and vast place.

Eschewing the likely route of Interstate 70, U.S. 136 provided a pleasant drive across the mid-state area to “New Salem” the now former town at Petersburg near Springfield IL. Aside from the swarming gnats that could drive one mad at sunset, it was a pleasant stop, with rain coming the first day and the last night. There was a festival in the village over the weekend which brought out the period dressed “people” of New Salem, a knowledgeable crowd who recruit youth with a vigorousness that is impressive. One meets many college students from all sorts of majors “interning’ as experts on the ways and crafts of old New Salem. The excavation of the village was done many years ago when it became known that it was the place Abraham Lincoln—who for all practical purposes is the patron Saint of the State of Illinois—returned to run a store after his time as a soldier in the Indian Wars. As many buildings as could be have been replicated as they would have been in the early 1800s. They grow vegetables and spices, feed livestock, spin yarn and make candles all summer so that we might learn something of how it was done.

The park includes the campground and a picnic area as well as an outdoor theater. The weekend I was there, I was fortunate enough to see Shakespeare in the Park as Romeo and Juliet was the offering by a young talented company. The next night down the road there was a Blue Grass Festival not as well attended but easily as well performed.

My neighbors included “Buck” Raglan, who is a retired farmer and inventor of a number of construction innovations for livestock enclosures and the locks and hasps that hold them. He visited Wales some years ago and met the current Earl of Raglan. He relates the story that he presented the Earl with a jacket from his company and was as surprised as the Earl when they both discovered that they were made with “Raglan sleeves” which you fashionistas know are different from the more common sleeve seams. The Earl was delighted that he was carrying on the family tradition as the sleeve derives its name from their ancestors. Buck was as proud of that as he was to show off his new dog “Shadow,” a rescued Beagle/ Terrier mix that is the only dog I have given serious consideration to kidnapping on the road. She is a very friendly sort, known as Shadow because wherever Buck goes, she is sure to follow.

Three young men and their families were the closest neighbors. They were all farmers from near Springfield. They did it full time and were college graduates in Agronomy. One was a “tenant” farmer and raised beef cattle. Another farmed the same land that has been in his family for three generations. The third was new to it and seemed less committed and content. Only time will tell how he fares. They were as pleasant and likable company as were their families and a great help when La Coachasita decided to have her nervous breakdown on a Saturday morning. There is something to be said about camping near locals who know all about machinery and local parts sources.

We left on Monday in the pouring rain and fog which had little effect on the gnats but provided me with an additional opportunity to don the full rain suit as we visited the used water facility on the way out. Somewhere in mid Missouri we achieved frontal passage and passed into warm sunlight and a far less humid day. We reached Kansas with a long driving day, plugged in and went to sleep. The next day was, for Kansas, remarkable for its lack of wind, humidity and heat. Once again we took to the back roads to reach El Dorado State Park in mid-Kansas. With bad weather predicted for the next day, I decided to make this the last long stop of the trip. It is a park of vast dimensions. There is a lake of the same name, 1100 campsites (a number that boggles the mind) 40,000 acres dedicated to recreation here in the area known as the Flint Hills area of Kansas. It is crossed by many biking and hiking trails as well. 100 degree heat was expected today, yet instead we woke to tornado warnings, 30 mph winds and slashing rain and that may have been Toto that few by the camper in the early morning. The heat will come tomorrow with the wind. After all, this is Kansas.

From here we will go quickly home. I am reliably informed that the renovations of the house will be completed on Friday except for minor matters. From the pictures I have seen I no longer recognize my bedroom and bath. So it will be a stop at Meade KS followed by Tucumcari, NM and the two stops more before home. It is too far to drive in too few days, but the heat and the New Mexico fire means there is not much left I want to do now.

It has been a wonderful peaceful trip of 6,200 plus miles thus far, with few problems and many new places and friends. A trip back to the East may not be in my future again, but we will see what spring will bring and how Juan, La Coachasita, and I all feel by then. As for the fall, we will think of that later this summer.

And so it goes.

Monday, May 30, 2011

SANTIAGO RESIGNS

At The 4,204 mile mark of the trip, one of my more curious neighbors decided he needed a closer look at my new traveling companion. He grasped his coned hat, lifted him from the dashboard and…dropped him. With nary a whimper Santiago was now a double amputee. Without a leg to stand on as it were, he was no longer fit for guard duty. He has been ministered to furiously, casts were applied, prosthesis was invented, but alas, yet he has failed to respond and thrive. As we leave Virginia now and the family reunions behind he will remain here having asked in a touching letter of resignation to retire from his duties as vigilant guardian of La Coachasita and the rest of us and remain here on limited duty.

His wish has been granted and he has, with some repair, now been raised upright once again. He will be tended to and stand watch over my nephew and his family. The grounds are vast and a place has been found in the garden where he can watch nearly unobserved. It pleases my great nieces that he will remain behind to be here and greet them as they come home every day. I am happy that he has found a new home and that he was good enough to recommend a more than suitable replacement in his Uncle, Juan, who I am told while perhaps lacking Santiago’s jaunty demeanor has his own style and way. His bona fides are impressive and references excellent. He seems a good fit to see us home.
That is now Gnome 1st Class J.W. Street on the right side of the page. He will be off limits to neighbors, and work from the safety of the dashboard. Further requests for closer inspections of my companion will be courteously denied.
I hope the Memorial Day Weekend found you in pleasant company and good weather. While rain has been threatened here, none appeared only 90-95 degree heat and humidity which descended on Friday and has oppressed us as an overweight person sitting in a canvas camp chair.
We are off to continue our excellent adventure tomorrow, turning West now uttering a silent prayer to St Elmo that the weather back will be kinder than the weather coming in. Our initial destination will be a quick pass at Gettysburg and its battlefield, a place known well to me and which was the subject of one of my first posts on this blog. Then it will be semi linear through southern Pennsylvania with two or three stops along the way. We will not head north this trip but travel on through Ohio, southern Illinois and whatever comes next.
Be well, continue your good works, and stay in touch

Friday, May 27, 2011

LIGHT TO NO POSTINGS AHEAD

Reamus notes:

Family visits and other matters for a week or so, will posts will resume  when he turns west again. Santiago has taken a bad fall and needs prosthetic work on his feet.
La Coachasita is well, happy and very dirty. It is 90 degrees here in the Nation's Capital. We are not amused.
See you all in June.

Peace.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

ANTIETAM

Antietam. It is a generic Algonquin Indian word for “swift water.” But to the Americans that met at  the creek by that name in Sharpsburg Maryland in Septemer of 1862 it meant horror and more deaths in one day than any battle in any war ever fought by this country. It was also the end of the “Maryland Campaign” of General Lee, the practical end of a career for General George McClellan, USA, the only battlefield that Lincoln ever visited, the momentary high he used to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, the beginning of political “spin,” and a missed opportunity to end the Civil War three years earlier than it did.


What it was assuredly not was a “great victory” by the Union Army although portrayed that way by the Generals, Lincoln, and his advisors. Lincoln called it that. because he desperately needed a victory after McClellan had lost both battles at Manassas. McClellan thought his strategy beyond question. Certainly beyond the question of that rube lawyer in the White House. That he let Lee and the Army of Virginia to slip away across the Potomac, even in the shape it was in, meant that the war would go on while he rested and resupplied is troops. When asked why he was not in pursuit of Lee, he replied that his horses were tired and he was foraging for replacements. Lincoln’s tart reply was to ask what they had been doing since the battle that could possibly make them tired.

Today it is a large peaceful place in the Maryland countryside with monuments to those who fought here, a cemetery where the Union dead are buried, and a battlefield well preserved that makes you shake your head at the stupidity of it all. In the early morning of September 17, 1862, one hundred thousand soldiers entered a battle that would end at six that evening. By then, 23,000 of them would be dead, wounded or missing. Some units lost sixty percent of their force. Yet McClellan held 30,000 soldiers in reserve and the lines of each Army had moved only five miles south than before it all started in the early morning light.

Reading the history of the battle tells of many firsts here. Clara Barton “The Angel of the Battlefield,” who founded the Red Cross treated the wounded of both armies here. Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Chief Surgeon of the Army of the Potomac established an ambulance system and the beginnings of the triage system to care for the worst first.

While it can be argued that because Lee had to abandon his campaign in Maryland, that the Union “won,” the fact is that his Army survived due to a lack of courage at the upper levels of the field Army. George McClellan was convinced he won because he repulsed the Confederates and sent them back across the Potomac River. The Southern leaders argued in France and England in the hope of help in their efforts to remain independent that they hadn’t “lost” since Lee and his Army survived. Lincoln and his advisors argued that this was the first great victory in the Eastern Campaign in a state which had mixed loyalties and used it as an opportunity to recruit, advance the Conscription Act, and used the favorable sentiment in the country to “free” the slaves in the secession states. Politics had entered the War.

Each side looked at it and found a reason to find “victory”. Sadly, except perhaps for the slaves who were no longer owned, it was not. There would be three more years of war in places with names we would have learned in a geography class had the battle been fought well here. Names like Gettysburg, New Market, Vicksburg, Petersburg, Atlanta, Richmond, The Wilderness, and Appomattox. Names that, had the Army of the Potomac been better led, might have never appeared in our history books.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

THE BLUE RIDGE, APPOMATTOX COURT HOUSE, AND RAIN

We have descended Roan Mountain after a pleasant stay in two and a half days of sun that eluded us again as we left. Down on the Blue Ridge we found the Parkway of the same name at somewhat lower elevations. The views were interesting as always although there is much construction there. Some of the pictures show the clouds. Unfortunately, they were in the same direction we were headed.


We left Tennessee and North Carolina behind and moved into Virginia at Rocky Mount. The day was short on miles and long on time since I traveled the low impact roads as always and rain showers began to dog us by early afternoon. I put in at the Fairy Rock State Park, one of the oldest in Virginia opened in 1936. It is a curious place with a large lodge and day use areas while the camping is at the top of the highest hill with sheer drops away from the campsites. It very much looks like the oldest state park. The charm of it is that it is so remote and one of the quietest places I have been in a long time. Wild turkey and deer walk about without regard to our presence. There are 55 sites. Three were occupied so far as I could tell and none that could be seen from the windows of the camper. A late evening stroll found that there use electricity penuriously. We campers get it and the public restroom appears to have one bulb near the door. It was as dark a camp as I have been in that wasn’t classified as primitive. No thunder came tonight, nor did showers fall, so the quiet remained unbroken.

I wasted an hour or more doing the week’s shopping in one of the south’s famous chains, “The Piggly Wiggly.” It’s hard to remember the last time I was in one and there seem to be fewer of them. We moved on then through Lynchburg, which seems to be wholly owned and operated by Jerry Falwell and Liberty University. The main highway and the Airport are named after him as are a few other miscellaneous overpasses. It is a big and annoying town that lacks a highway bypass. Finally, a short way up Route 24 we find the place we came to see, Appomattox Court House.

Considering the enormity of what was accomplished here, it seems a small memorial. The Court House here in the 1860’s burned soon thereafter and no one did much with the village that surrounded it to remember that the most significant and saddest war in the history of the country ended here. This is the place where the slaughter stopped, and the great experiment of a separate nation was declared over. The guns grew silent and on April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered the Army of Virginia. Even at this last moment, 18 Confederate soldiers died in the effort and one Union. They are buried here together in the “Confederate Cemetery” down the road.

The village is all the more a sad place for the finality of what happened here. For years, it lay ignored while the town of Appomattox was favored with the railroad. The small but flourishing place was remembered only with bitterness by the locals, both for the loss of the rail stop and the indignity of being the last place Lee would command their Army. The signing here did not end the war until the other Armies still in the field surrendered, Gen. Joseph Johnston’s in North Carolina on April 26th, Richard Taylor’s in Alabama on May 4th, and Edmund Smith’s in Texas on June 2nd. Only then did the Confederacy cease to exist.

The only trivia that intrigued me was the new knowledge that neither Lee nor Grant ever went in the Court House. The actual surrender took place in the parlor of a home nearby in the house owned by Wilmer Mclean, a sugar speculator who had moved here from Manassas Virginia to be near the railroad during the war. So those of us who grew up in the north believing that the surrender took place at Appomattox Court House were confused. It was the town name, not the place.

It is, as all these monuments to this most American War, a quiet and contemplative place. A place to remember that whatever the point, too many young men died for a cause that arguably proved nothing to anyone but the slaves now freed yet still deemed inferior by so many in both the South and the North. It did not end segregation or racism, just the practice of one man owning another.

The rain, heavy at times today, will leave with us in the morning. I will go back West again to the mountains. There will not likely be better weather. I hope only for more good people to meet and learn from as this journey of discovery continues as we head further north by the end of the week to join family for Memorial Day. Then we will turn for home on a route yet unchartered.

So it goes…

Saturday, May 7, 2011

WANDERING

"ALL WHO WANDER
ARE NOT LOST"
J.R.R.TOLKIEN


In another day, it will be safe to say that I have seen about as much of the Smoky Mountains and its oddities as I could. The weather has been fine mostly, cool in the valleys and thus very cold on the mountains.

As I had thought when the trip started, I learned a great deal more about the area by staying out of the National Park than I did when I came many years ago and spent so much time in it. The Park is nearly surrounded by National Forest land which offers a less commercialized, more rural and beautiful view of the mountains. I left the Greeneville in northeast Tennessee for a place called Tellico Falls at the suggestion of one of my neighbors at my last stop. I ended up in the most lovely and peaceful campground in the Cherokee National Forest. The sites have just been rebuilt and are not of the sort one expects in such places with “rustic” writ large at the entrance. They were wide a level, all electrified and at the edge of a lake where boats are allowed only to use electric trolling motors. There are a series of these grounds in Cherokee and I could have spent two weeks in one or all of them, but we moved on to the Park via the North Carolina side after staying a few nights “off the grid” up high enough to find 30 degree temperatures in the mornings.

Smoky Mountain National Park is much as I remember it. Those who care for it do it well. Those who visit it are the both the obnoxious people I remember from the last time, wandering the streets of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg with their cell phones in their ears and a lot on their mind that has little to do with the natural beauty of the place as well as the serious ones who come to see the nature. I found them today up at Cades Cove, hiking and walking, biking and driving with respect for others and enjoying the extraordinary views and the wildlife. It is still a wondrous place and my favorite drive in the park. There is an eleven mile loop of one way traffic that circles the old buildings of the last town to allow itself to be made a part of the Park. It has a wonderful history that runs all the way back to the Cherokee Chief Kade for whom the place was named. It is worth reading if you have time. It is far too complicated and long to try to replicate here. I remember I wrote about it on my first trip and even I lost track of who lived there, for how long and why they did.

The Park has been “done” now and tomorrow we will movie on up the Blue Ridge Parkway. The journey has some plan, which is to move north and west and then east again. We will go up on Roan Mountain in Tennessee in the far northeast corner of that state and then back into North Carolina and then on into Virginia’s more western area before joining the Shenandoah Valley in the march north and east. The Parkway will be the main route of travel, but the weather may affect that as will some interesting things further from it I hope to see. I have travelled it north and south before and while lovely, it is often, in it’s beyond rural setting, almost too unpopulated even for an isolationist such as me. It is likely why the Appalachian Trail travels with it some of the way down here.

The pictures with this post do not do the place justice, but they show how it looks on a given Saturday, what drew my eye and my imagination. There are many more but I will bore you only with these.

This is still a pristine place, for all the tawdry commercialism that surrounds it. This may be my last look at it, and that will be fine. There are new places to see and “hollers” and valleys to explore. Soon, I suspect, I will even reach a part of the country where the accent is lighter and I will understand what someone says the first time.

So it goes. Stay well, and be nice to each other.

SOME MOVE ON

Unless one’s vocation is hermit, people come in and out of our lives always and often without choice. We are glad many are there, others, not so much. The ones that leave it are replaced by others. Travel as I do and new people are being plugged into and out of your life every day.
Important people come and go with some pain, the going made hard. When a friend or a spouse leaves the world, it brings pain. That is not the case usually when someone ambles away to other things, other places.

This comes to me now because there are two that are gone from my life and I will miss them. I will miss them not in the way brought by death but simply because there was a tenuous bond forged over many years. Perhaps one will be missed more than other. It is not easy to tell from this distance. Yet both are gone and except perhaps for the length of familiarity, both seem missed equally. Friends like these are like comfortable shoes. These were. They were not people known well, only seen often, spoken to quietly mostly and enjoyed for who they were. There was no intimacy, just a bit of common knowledge of each other’s lives, its circumstances, and history. We had a comfortable few minutes of talk often, to share a laugh, or a moment of the day not known to the other before we went to our other worlds. We did it for years with no expectations in these moments, and thus no attendant disappointments. They stood on their own, remembered but not fretted over, enjoyed but not pined for before the next encounter.

When people leave, you miss them because they are gone, yet know there was no reason why they should have been there forever. People move or move on to other things, to other places or other parts of their lives deemed more important. That isn’t something to take personally, yet for some reason one can. Perhaps I expected a different end. There might have been a clearer moment of departure, a reason for why it is different now. But that would be an expectation on my part, and that would have been wrong.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A LARGE ARK PLEASE...UM, OKAY, MAKE THAT A VENTI

This is not a day to go anywhere. The weather front that has been lingering along the Kentucky Tennessee border, the one that did so much damage in Missouri has finally reached out and touched me.
It was inevitable. It has been held away from us by hot weather rising up through Alabama and Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico. Yesterday and the day before the humidity began to fall as did the barometer. We all knew it would catch us. It was only a matter of time and attendant ferocity. The thunder and lighting in the dark hours of the morning told us it was here along with the flood watches and tornado warnings that attend such things. It will lessen today and resume tonight. We have been spared the worst—at least so far—and would be happy to miss the rest as it moves north and east. I am headed east so hope to stay below it until it has blown itself out. Rain suits will be the uniform of the day in the morning when we pull out with the hope that as we move into eastern Tennessee and reach the base of the Smoky Mountains we once again be in the clear.
We are settled in the Davey Crockett State Forest and Park, a verdant place on Shoal Creek near Lawrenceburg, TN with more tree pollen at present than can possibly be good for anyone. My neighbors include a pair of true full-timers and a pair from Syracuse New York who are on their way back for the summer. He eschews the title of full-timer because he still owns a house there, but they have been on the road since late fall. All a congenial companions and we all seem to be getting our weather information from different sources. NOAA tells me that tomorrow will be awful here which makes getting away problematic. Helen, the full-timer with a dog named Roy believes the worst is over. Tom, he with the two young a fun loving Pomeranians, thinks we will have tornados tonight which seem to worry him more because he just missed one in Oklahoma by two miles. It was first he ever heard and is less sanguine about getting through the night without a trip to the shelter.
If it rains all day, we will get very close to the Smoky Mountains tomorrow. If the weather improves in the Eastern part of the state, a stop at the Chickamauga Military Park near Chattanooga is planned and that will mean an overnight stop there before going on to Cosby which is in one of the more remote parts of the National Park. The weather is good there today and if the front moves north and east, will be when we get there. Cosby comes highly recommended by those who are regular visitors to the part. We shall see.
The Shiloh stop was both peaceful and sobering. I am posting some of the photos. The Military Park, which will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the battle on April 5th and 6th, next year. The history deserves to be read. It is well written by the late Shelby Foote and other far more accurate historians than I am. As with all the other places I have been and written of that involve that war, the ironies of the place are the fascination for me. Examples include:
--A drummer, the youngest known participant who was age ten, named Clem (last name) remained in the army and retired as a Major General 35 years later.
--Henry M. Stanley, who would famously find Dr. Livingston, was a confederate infantryman who survived the battle unscathed.
-- More than 102,000 troops participated in the battle, one of the largest forces ever during the war.
--The Confederate Commanding General of the Army of Mississippi, Albert Sidney Johnston, a West Point Graduate considered one of the ablest leaders in the CSA died here from a bullet in his leg. He had sent all his aides away to take messages to various regiments just before he was hit. Had he been attended to sooner, he would likely have survived. His loss is considered a major blow to the Confederate military leadership. He was succeeded by P.T. Beauregard, whose forces fired the first shot of the war at Ft. Sumter.
--The first field hospital of the war was established on the battlefield during the battle of Shiloh, the precursor to the modern MASH units.
--Because of the intense heat, the dead were buried quickly and in mass graves. The Confederate soldiers remain in these burial mounds today, while the Union remains were relocated to the Shiloh National Cemetery. There are two Confederates buried there. Both were prisoners of war.
There is much more about this now quiet, beautiful, heavily wooded place. It is reminiscent of Gettysburg yet there is no town of substance, only Pittsburgh Landing where Grant had crossed the Tennessee River in his quest to control the river and railroad trade routes of the Confederacy. It is not commercialized, and there is an apparent reverence for both armies not found at some of the other places I have visited. Two monuments to the CSA dead fly the “Stars and Bars” within the Park.

Here in Lawrenceburg, Crockett Park is here because its namesake settled on Shoal Creek and served as a justice of the peace, a colonel in the militia, and a state representative from Lawrence County. He built a distillery, gristmill, and powdermill here. He was well on his way to being a successful businessman when the flood of 1821 wiped out all three. Broke, he moved on to western Tennessee where he was elected to Congress. Fifteen years later, he was killed at the Alamo Mission while fighting for Texas independence from Mexico.
We will leave here tomorrow to travel as far as the weather and flooded roads will let us.

And so it goes...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

THE MUSIC OF EASTERN ARKANSAS

Friday, we made our way across the eastern side of Arkansas on a day that could have been painted for the occasion. After all the humidity and overcast skies of the last few days, a drive on U.S. 62/63 and a few state routes through towns with music in their names was a tonic for the annoying heat and occasional rain in the previous two days.
There is much green country out here. Jonesboro, the home of Arkansas State University is the usual urban mess trying to find a city center, but beyond that it opens into rolling hills, two and four lane roads with little traffic and about as rural as it gets. The County Seat of Marion County is Yellville, named, it is said for the first Congressman from Arkansas and then Governor, Archibald Yell. The story is that he offered the town fathers $50.00 to name it after him. They did, and he failed to make the payment. It doesn’t seem politics has changed much.

Yellville is famous for the Turkey Trot Festival that has been going on longer than any of us have been alive. It has been parodied on television and “exposed” in 1989 by the National Enquirer but survives today where every year they name a Miss Turkey Trot as well as a Miss Drumstickz—you can guess that one. They used to drop live turkeys to see how far they could fall without dying until they got too much publicity---it fails my imagination that one can be found guilty of cruelty to a turkey since they lack a brain—but the rest of its rural charms survive.

Traveling down U.S.62 is to move through the isolation and beauty of the Ozark’s small towns—most fewer than 500, some fewer than 200 that dot the landscape. Through the day we moved through Bull Shoals, Flippin (does anyone remember “Whitewater”—it’s still there), Ash Flats, Pocahontas, Marked Tree, Gooberville, Rush, Eureka Springs, Fifty-Six, and more. We travel as far as Paragould to a wonderful  state park called Crowleys Ridge. It was our last stop before Memphis. Built by the CCC in the Depression, it has been updated but not modernized. It is a wonderfully green, quiet, nearly empty place this week before Easter. Here, seemingly in the middle of no place in particular, you find a dance pavilion dating from the 1930’s, two lakes, trails to hike and wildlife to watch. The trees are near full here now while the dogwoods flower still. It is a wonderful place to be on an April day and for a pleasant drive where lunch can be enjoyed by the side of the road and time seems irrelevant to the journey.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

KANSAS AND MISSOURI

Darlin' we don't need a lifestyle
So throw all those chairs in the lake
We'll take our chances
In Wichita Kansas....

Garrison Kieller





Kansas on a Sunday. It seems it is always Sunday when we pass through here. After sitting out the wind, or so we thought, in Meade State Park, the departure this morning came early and under overcast skies. The plan was to cross the most southern part of Kansas since NOAA said the weather was good and the wind was down. Well, it was half right. The overcast skies wear present all day as was the humidity, but the wind was back, albeit not as strong, but 25 mph is enough to alter your driving.
There has to be a reason why I am fascinated by the small towns, farms and emptiness of Kansas (that is viewed as redundant by anyone who does not live here). I wish I knew. Perhaps it is the peacefulness that a Sunday brings. The machinery of agriculture is silent. The church parking lot is full, young families fill both restaurants by midday in town. The yards near the barns are quiet. Even the cows seem to relax, not move from place to place in a seemingly random manner as seems to be their habit during the week. Before the family went to church and on to the restaurant, or the neighbors they piled hay high to be enjoyed at their leisure and they seem to know it.
We have stayed a night in Independence, the place of the fateful failed surgery and successful replacement of La Coachasita’s transmission last year. It is warm, yet the wind was a sustained 25 mph at the Lake. We stay the night this time and not two weeks as before.
The weather may hold for another few days in that it will be dry but it will remain windy. We are in beautiful Blue Eye Missouri tonight and then on into Tennessee, passing through the very far eastern corner of Arkansas on the way. Rain is inevitable and the troublesome storms and tornadoes are facts of life here. There are warnings tonight and a few thunder showers. It was 80 today. It will be 45 tonight as the front passes.That's fine. It’s expected.
The route takes me through Commerce Oklahoma the birthplace of the late Mickey Mantle. There is an excellent sculpture of him in front of the baseball complex there. He left as a teenager and went up the road to Independence where he paid his first professional game.
The quiet of this year is significant. Whether is it the price of gas or just early, there are fewer out here. It will be interesting to see if it continues. Easter is coming, vacations for schools. I am glad the 346.5 miles f Kansas is now a memory. I enjoyed the peace, the lack of traffic, the view of the farms and their people. It is enough.

And so it goes….