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.