Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Defending Baltimore Against Enemy Attack

Charles Osgood, Defending Baltimore Against Enemy Attack: A Boyhood Year During World War II (New York: Hyperion, 2004), 139 pages, a few photos.

Charlie Osgood Wood was just shy of nine when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor.  He and his sister were at an afternoon Christmas program at church when a nun came onstage and told them Pearl Harbor had been attacked and they needed to go home and tell their parents (this was before news became ubiquitous ).  Walking home with his sister, the two discussed the events, assuming Pearl Harbor's value was in its pearls and wondering if Japan didn't have enough pearls already.  He soon learned the truth as the horrors of war became known to the people of America.  Yet, it was a good time to be a child and Baltimore was far from the front lines. 

 Osgood (he later dropped "Wood" and used "Charles Osgood" as his professional name) spent a life in media.  He suggests that the manual labor of the liberty garden led him to seek an easier occupation.  At 83, he finally retired from CBS this past year.  In tributes to him, I learned of this book and sought out a copy to read.  In this memoir of a year of his childhood, we learn how the seeds of a lifelong career were nourished in a boy who loved baseball but also played the piano and organ and wrote poetry.

This is a touching memoir set in the first year of America’s involvement in World War II.  Although just a kid, Charlie begins to follow the world action by placing flags on a world map in his bedroom.  He does what he can for the war effort but sees a "victory garden" as questionable as it grows everything he hates.  He also wondered if the Japanese are planting "loser gardens."  When his father tells him about Japanese rock gardens, he is really confused.  There is a wonderful chapter about being mesmerized by the radio, which would later become his profession.  He speaks highly of radio as the place where he learned creativity and developed an imagination that would help him succeed in radio and later in television.  As a boy, he's also caught up with baseball.  He has portraits of his two heroes on his wall, Babe Ruth and Franklin Roosevelt.  Ruth’s portrait is in the prominent position because Roosevelt wasn't from Baltimore.  In a day without television, he writes about the movies and movie stars.  This is a look back at what America was like for a middle class boy who was close to my father's age.

Although we learn a lot about Osgood, this book is also a tribute for his sister, as the two of them shared the experience of being children as the nation when to war.   In his acknowledgments, he credits his sister for helping him remember as he created this delightful book.   I highly recommend this as a quick and enjoyable read. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

 Merry Christmas everyone.  It is now late on Christmas Day and I'm tired.  After Christmas Eve Candlelight services last night, I went over to a party at friends where I stayed way too late drinking some of the smoothest bourbon I've had in a while as I sampled two new bottles, one from Utah and another from Texas.  After two drinks and a lot of talking about world events, I came home and took the photo to the left.  Today started with opening presents, going to church, a quick lunch and heading out for a long walk on the beach, before coming back to eat dinner (pork loin glazed with apricot preserves) and watching the end of the Steelers/Ravens game (and the Steelers' won).

I have maybe an hours worth of work before the New Year, otherwise I'm off.  I'm heading to North Carolina later this week and then will come home and on January 2nd, he into the Okefenokee Swamp for a couple of nights.  Maybe there'll be pictures.  Enjoy the rest of 2016.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Making Tracks

Terry Pindell, Making Tracks: An American Rail Odyssey (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1990), 399 pages, a few maps.

            A few weeks ago, ironically just before Castro's death, I attended a poetry reading at the Savannah’s delightful Book LadyBookstore.  Featured that evening was Virgil Suarez, a Cuban poet who lives and teaches in Florida.  The reading was enjoyable and I purchased and read through his collection of poetry, 90 Miles: Selected and New Poems But my real find that evening, in the book store was a used copy of Making Tracks.  As I am drawn to travel stories and especially train one.  I purchased this book and quickly devoured it.  Years ago, I had read Pindell's book, Last Train to Toronto (I don't know what happened to that book and it may have been a library one).  In it, he tells the story of the Canadian rail system as he rides over much of the lines (some of which were being discontinued).  Now, a quarter century later, I have come across another of his books (and after some research, learn that he has yet another rail book about Mexico). 
            In 1985, Pindell took a train from his home in New England to Florida, to visit Disney World.  That trip sparked an interest in traveling by train.  After the death of his father, Pindell decided to make his dream a reality and in 1988, he spent the year riding Amtrak around the nation.  In four trips, mostly loops covering large sections of the country, he rode approximately 30,000 miles on iron rails, riding all the major Amtrak lines (including a couple of lines that longer exist such as the Desert Wind (Los Angeles to Salt Lake) and the Pioneer (Salt Lake to Portland and on to Seattle).  Having ridden almost all these lines (I have two major missing links: the Sunset Limited from San Antonio to New Orleans and the Southern crescent from Atlanta to New Orleans), I found myself reliving, while reading, many miles and days I've spent on the train.
            As he shares his experiences of riding the trains, Pindell weaves in the history of various rail lines and their signature passenger services.  He also provides some of the history of towns around the tracks as well as the politics that went into the track’s development.  The building of the transcontinental lines are especially interesting.  A southern route would have been the easiest to build but the upcoming Civil War stopped that.  Some of the railroads fought with Native Americas while others (such as the Sante Fe) hired natives to help build and maintain the lines.  One of the last line built, the Great Northern, who originally operated the luxury "Empire Builder," runs just south of the Canadian Border.  While riding this line, he stops at Essex, Montana where he stays at a lodge next to the tracks for a few days.  As he explores part of Glacier National Park, we learn about a passenger train caught in these mountains in an avalanche for a week and how they survived.  Another story is of a derailment of corn cars on this line.  The corn spilled out on the ground and what couldn't be salvaged was buried.  A few months later, train crews began to notice strange behavior of bears in the area and they learn that the bears have been digging up fermented corn and were essentially becoming drunks.  One also learns where phrases like "wrong side of the tracks" came from (Dodge City, Kansas), and about the railroad robbery industry that developed in the 19th Century. 
            In addition to stories on the rail lines, Pindell tells about the people he meets traveling.  There are those looking to see America and who want to slow down.  Others are in search for sexual encounters or appear to be running drugsIn riding the rails so frequently, he often reunites with crew members from one train on another train a few months later.  One of the running theme through much of the book is his grandfather, who was an engineer.  He stops in his home town along the railroad in Illinois. 
            There is a political element to this book which was written at the end of the Reagan era.  There is no doubt he has a liberal lean in his politics.  He jokingly referred to the old Pullman cars which Amtrak received from the railroads as Republican cars as most were only stainless on the outside and had rusted so badly underneath that they were no longer safe and had to be rebuilt or replaced.  However, the Budd cars (which he suggested were Democrats) had stainless insides and were still rolling strong 30 and 40 years after they were manufactured.

            If you like trains, I'd recommend this book.  Unfortunately, it is no longer in print, but used copies are available on Amazon.  Pindell entertains us with great stories.  There are a few places where he has his facts mixed.  He speaks of the Southern Railroad buying North Carolina Railroad (this they wanted to do, but didn't and the line is still owned by the state even though it leases the right to run over the line to Southern Railroad).  I also questioned his interpretation of the Mormons being run out of Illinois based on Joseph Smith's revelation of polygamy.  Although polygamy was practiced in Illinois and led to their departure, the "revelation" didn't become public knowledge until the 1850s, long after they'd settled in the Salt Lake Valley.  But these were small mistakes and didn't distract my enjoyment of his stories.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Remembering Grandma

Grandma in 2009
          I lost my grandmother this week.  For a guy who's been bald up top for longer than he'd like to remember, it was a blessing to have a grandmother for so long.  I just got back from the funeral.  I hope there is no prohibition against telling humorous stories about grandmothers, but I’m pretty sure she’d approve.  When I was young and we’d visit, she’d force her youngest son, my Uncle Larry, to share his comic books.  I would lie on the couch in the living room and read Archie, and Dennis the Menace, and Mad Magazine.  I’d laugh till I cried.  Fifty years later, my grandmother could still recall my laugh.
Fry and Prickett Funeral Home
          We gathered yesterday at Fry & Prickett Funeral home in Carthage, North Carolina to say our goodbyes before going to the graveyard next to Culdee Presbyterian Church.  I remember my first visit to that big old house with a wraparound porch that would look, if it hadn’t been recently painted, haunted. I was seven years old.  My great-grandma McKenzie, my grandmother's mother, had died.  It was in the summer and the men of the family were mostly out on the porch smoking, as many were in the habit of doing back then.  No one was smoking yesterday.  Few do anymore, most of those who did are no longer with us.   My grandmother could have been a poster child for an anti-smoking campaign as she was the only grandparent that I had who didn’t smoked, and she outlived the three others by forty or more years. 
Entry way (viewing rooms on either side)
          But back to that first visit to the funeral home, when I was seven.  My mother ushered us kids inside and into a dark room accented with heart-pine paneling.  We went up to the casket.  Everyone said my great-grandma looked natural, as if she was sleeping.  She looked dead.  Mom pointed out her hands, freckled with liver spots, and asked, rhetorically, how many apples she'd peeled? And how many pies she’d baked?  Yesterday, I looked at my grandma's hands, the liver spots having been cosmetically covered, and thought about her peeling peaches.  She made the best peach ice cream.
          From the time I was eleven until I started working at sixteen, I spent a couple weeks every summer with my grandparents.  One evening, the summer between my seventh and eighth grade, I went with my grandparents to J. B. Cole's orchard in West End to pick peaches.  We were after big juicy peaches known as “Redskins.”  They’ve probably have changed the name to be politically correct.  But these were the best peaches.  They grew to the size of a soft ball.  When you bite into a ripe one, juice would run down your chin.  They made delicious peach ice cream and look beautiful, canned in jars, where they waited to be baked into a pie during the winter. 
          J. B. Coles was a “pick-and-pay” orchard.  My grandmother wanted to get a couple bushels to can in Mason jars for winter.  A few overly ripe peaches would be saved to enhance a bowl of cereal in the morning or to toss into the ice cream freezer for a Sunday afternoon treat. We were hard at work, finding ripe peaches and softly placing them in baskets, so as not to bruise them.
          My grandparents were working one side of a tree and I was on the other when my grandmother asked: "Jeff, did you cut one?"
          "Did I cut one?" I couldn't believe my ears.  My stomach was a little upset and I had released some gas.  But I couldn't believe my grandmother was asking about it?  Asking, “if I’d cut one,” made her sound like one of my crude classmates.  How could she even tell?  She was on the other side of the tree.  I’d worked hard to release it slowly, without making a sound.
          "What?  I asked, hoping I was mistaken about her question.
          "Did you cut one?"  This time her tone was harsh and accusatory. 
          I began to sweat and wondered if I was about to be disowned by my own grandma for farting.  Finally, I confessed, "Yes, a small one."
          "You put that knife away,” she yelled.  “These aren't our peaches until we pay for them." 
          I had just confessed to a sin I had not committed.  

          My grandma was a saint.  It's too bad she was a Presbyterian and not a Catholic. All Presbyterians are considered saints once dead, so it’s nothing special.  But the Catholics have a special category for those who over-achieve in goodness and have performed a miracle in life.  My grandma was always good and she had her miracle.  She’d sobered up her brother Dunk, who was a drunk, and mostly kept him that way the last twenty years of his life.
          But my grandma wasn't Catholic.  In a way that would have made John Knox proud, she always cast a skeptical eye toward the papists.  I learned this the summer before confessing the uncommitted sin against a peach. 
          My grandparents were visiting.  We had spent the afternoon on Wrightsville Beach. I was in love that summer with Cathy Nucci, my first real girlfriend.  She and I would later consummate our relationship with a kiss out by the baseball field at Roland Grice Jr. High. On this day, at the beach, we were out in front of the Lumina, the same spot where we always went.  This was also the same area the Nucci family would set up camp when they were at the beach.  This made it convenient for seeing Cathy in the summer as I was four years away from a driver’s license.
          I loved that dark hair, dark eyed girl with olive skin.  We held hands while lying in the sand and played in the surf.   We were an idyllic couple, Think of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in that classic beach scene in the movie, From Here to Eternity.  The only difference was that Lancaster had to fight off the Japanese.  But then, I had to fight off Cathy’s older brothers as they attempted to drown me.   
           My grandmother was born a McKenzie.  You can't get much more Scottish and Presbyterian than that.  The Nucci's were Italian and Catholic.  Maybe that was why her brothers were always trying to drown me. 
          Later that afternoon, as I was drying myself after having showered the salt from my body, I overheard a rather heated conversation between my mom and my grandma.  They were in the hall and either didn’t know or didn’t care that I was right next door in the bathroom.  My grandmother chided her daughter-in-law, my mom, for letting me hang out with a Catholic girl.  "What if they marry? she asked.  I assumed we were destined to wed.  We were almost teenagers and were in love.  So it felt as if my own mother stabbed me in the back when she responded, "Helen, they’re going into the seventh grade.  I don't think we have to worry about a wedding anytime soon."  It turned out my mother was more concerned about me drowning at the hands of the Nucci boys than me living a blissful life with Cathy.
Couldn’t my own mom see that we were in love? 
          Of course, Cathy and I didn’t make as a couple out of the seventh grade.  As for my grandmother, my granddaddy died in my sophomore year of college.  A few years later my grandmother married Earl.  He was Catholic...  Of course, he later converted and a Presbyterian minister officiated at his funeral. 

          Goodbye Grandma.  Thank you for encouraging me to laugh.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sliding on the Edge and a Giveaway from the Chubby Chatterbox


C. Lee McKenzie, Sliding on the Edge (Westside Books, 2009).  I read this on my iPad using a Kindle app.

Shawna is a tough sixteen year old, at least on the outside.  She is capable of surviving the streets of Las Vegas and the abusive boyfriends of her narcissistic mother.  When her mother flees town with her newest lover, on the day the rent is due, Shawna wakes to a bus ticket, a $100 bill and a note to go to her grandmothers in Central California.  There, she will be where her mother can find her when she gets her life back together.  Having never met her grandmother, Shawna reluctantly decides to take the trip.  Having been disappointed all her life, Shawna has developed a protective façade that pushes others away.  In a similar way, her grandmother Kay also has a habit of pushing people away.  The two leading characters in the story have sad memories that each must deal with. But Shawna issues are deeper.  Having pushed everyone away, she deals with her deep pain by giving into the “Monster” and cutting herself with a razor blade.  Shawna and Kay need the other.  Kay, by taking care of Shawna, is able to finally put aside the tragedies of her past as Shawna, with the help of her grandmother and an old horse, learns to trust.   The book is told from the point-of-view of both characters: Kay and Shawna. 

I found myself deeply pained by the events of Shawna’s past.  No child should ever have to deal with a mother who used her daughter in her schemes to obtain what she wanted in life.  As we read the stories, we learn the two had worked together as petty criminals on the streets of Vegas.  Moving to Central California, where she surprises her grandmother, Shawna finds herself in a strange new world.  This is the world of horse farms and high schools where girls have sleep-overs.  It takes a lot of patience but by the end of the book, after she realizes she doesn’t want to go back to her mother, things are looking up for Shawna. 

I have often enjoyed the young adult works, especially the works of Gary Paulsen and Gary Schmidt.  However, they write stories about teenage boys.  Reading about a teenage girl, in a book written for girls is a little different.  I was curious to learn what goes on in someone’s mind that causes them to cut themselves.  As a book of fiction, this is not a handbook about the practice and how to stop it.  But I can see how one can come so jaded about life that they resort to such drastic measures to battle the pain.  

Ironically, I read two books about teenage girls last month.  The other, which was also very good, was Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, which is about a French girl who is blind during the Nazi occupation along with a young soldier in Hitler’s army.  It, too, was a good read and I would recommend them both.  

And now, for a give-away:

Stephen Hayes over at the Chubby Chatterbox  is feeling generous.  If you don't know him, I encourage you to read his humorous blog.  If you are down and need a good laugh, be sure to check out his blog.  The sun will start shinning or at least the clouds won't seem so overwhelming.  Stephen is a retired commercial artist who also taught art on the university level.  For a giveaway, he's offering up a painting he did in one of his classes.  The colors in the painting would go lovely in my living room, so don't go signing up for the giveaway so I'll have a better chance at winning.   Okay?   It'll save me some decorating dollars and if it doesn't go, it'll help me get off cheap for Christmas... Now, seriously, check out Stephen's blog and his giveaway.  A photo of the painting:
The Chubby Chatterbox

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving (and catching up)

I started out in fog.
After it lifted, smoke from distant fires kept things hazy

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  I don’t know why I haven’t been blogging except that I have been busy.  I could be grading papers now, but its Thanksgiving and I decided that can wait till tomorrow.  There’s a lot for which I am thankful.  I am enjoying life and my daughter is home for the holiday.  It’s been wonderful talking to her.  Unlike much of the year, I am healthy and can once again take long walks.  Of course, there are still a number of things eating at me.  I haven’t caught up from Hurricane Matthew’s interruption and as a reminder, there is still a log pile and a pile of brush in my front yard waiting pickup.  They say it might be next year…  And I am blessed as to having been able to sail on three occasions and last Friday took the first long kayak paddle since the summer.  And since I’m bragging as I give thanks, I should mention that last Sunday evening I decided to go swimming at the gym (I normally don’t go to the gym on Sunday and if I want exercise will either walk or bike).  For the first time in eight years, I swam a mile without stopping!   And then there are the Cubs.  As the Pirates couldn’t make the World Series, I enjoyed watching the Cubs.

Of course, there are things with which I’m not happy.  I am proud to be able to boast that I have yet to watch a reality TV show.  But I'm not proud to realize that I am living in one.  I tried my best to avoid dealing with the elections on social media and didn’t blog at all about it.  I wasn’t very pleased with my options.  The decision, from my point of view, was between a tired brand who has made some bad decisions and wasn’t always forthcoming with the truth (Clinton) and a demagogue (Trump).  At one point, I thought I might vote for Johnson.  I enjoyed the humor he brought to the campaign and wish he could have joined the debates.  They might have covered some real issues.  But his seeming lack of knowledge about anything beyond our borders (not being able to name a single foreign leader and thinking Aleppo was some kind of acronym) caused me to sour on him.  So, in the end, I voted with the majority and lost.   Yesterday, we learned that Amway’s first lady, Betsy DeVos will be the education secretary.  Her most qualifying attribute appears to have been funding private school systems while the public schools in her home town of Grand Rapids are so bad.  Well, under her tutelage, I’m sure America schools will graduate excellent Amway sales personnel.   We’ll no longer have to go to Egypt to see pyramids.  Well, there is a lot more I could complain about, so maybe I better sign off.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.  Instead of a turkey, we did ham.  And instead of pies, we had banana pudding.  And we ate on the back deck, wearing short-sleeves!  The rest of the day I spent reading and taking a long walk.  Did I say that I was thankful to be able to walk again?   

Monday, October 31, 2016

Post Hurricane Blues and the removal of a tree

The leaning pine before the clean up started

 Everyone seems to have the blues.  Things have been crazy after the hurricane (and then there was that unexpected hospital stay the week before the storm).  We are all on edge, it seems.

At least the number of calls for the fire department have decreased.  The week after the storm, as trees were coming down, we had many calls for broken gas and electrical lines.  All the utilities are under ground, but as trees uprooted, they broke gas and electrical lines.

One of the strangest call was for a burning palm tree.  The owners of the house had no idea why it was burning but it was burning all up the trunk.  We pulled a one inch line and started to douse the tree, then the fireworks started.  The problem was the electrical lighting in the ground (which were covered with saw dust from another tree that had been removed).  The wires were damaged and shorting out, causing the fire.  When water started soaking the ground, the sparks started.  Certainly one of the more interesting fire calls.

In addition to my volunteer work, I have also been teaching graduate class at a local university.  It is my first time teaching on this level and I'm enjoying the class but it is requiring a lot from me so some things have to slide and blogging in one of them.  So with that excuse, I will post a photo essay from one of our trees that was dangerously leaning after the storm.  It cost $1500 to remove this tall pine and a smaller maple that was dying.
This was a big tree
Life hasn't been all work.  I have enjoyed the World Series (one that I want both teams to win).  On Saturday, I did sail and in four races we took three first place finishes and one very close second place finish.  The second place finish was because our spinnaker twisted and it took too long to get it to fly, allowing the other boat to overtake us on a downwind run.  We were only seconds behind as we crossed the finish line.
Topping out the tree
Piecing down the trunk
a crane lowered each piece
The limbs were feed into a shredder...
One of the workers told me bodies had to be frozen
or they made  a mess!

The stump grinder

Chewing up the tree

Finishing up with the maple stump
(I"m still waiting for the county to pick up stuff in the yard)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Update

Preparing to evacuate (before the storm)
This past week has been crazy.  Last Thursday afternoon, after working with my staff to secure the office computers (my manager took the server with him and I took the backup for it with me) and securing what I could around home, we all headed to safer locations inland.

Georgia Central Engine in Dublin, GA
I went to Dublin, unfortunately not the one in Ireland but in south-central Georgia.  There I hung out for two and a half-days as we watched Hurricane Matthew chew its way up the eastern seaboard.  With fears of tide surges as high as eleven feet and wind and waves on top of that (my house is at 14 feet above sea level), I was a little nervous as to what I might come back to find.  In all, it wasn't too bad except for the 1000s of trees down or leaning precariously.  The survey of the golf courses on the island (there are six) indicate that the courses themselves have 1500 trees down.  We didn't lose any trees at home, but one huge pine is leaning over and will have to be cut down.  If it falls, it won't damage any houses, but will block our road.

Our community is known for funny street names.
This street names seems prophetic

The storm hit our area around 2 AM on Saturday morning.  From those who stayed, 4 AM was the witching hour when the winds were at the peak and trees could be heard falling all around.  Being a volunteer firefighter, I was allowed back on the island early and arrived back Saturday afternoon around 4 PM.  I had to go through several checkpoints (showing my ID badge) to get back into the county.  There was no power and thankfully little traffic, so it wasn't too hard to make it through Savannah and out to Skidaway.  Crews were already hard at work and the main roads were passable.  I spent Sunday and Monday with a crew opening roads and checking on those who rode out the storm (some had to have trees cut to get out of their garages) along with homes of friends.

Power came back on Tuesday and Wednesday, depending on where you lived.  I cleaned out the refrigerator and freezer.  That was our biggest loss.  Thankfully, few people on the island  had water damage (unlike what's happened in North Carolina and in Haiti).  On Tuesday, we set the office back up and on Wednesday, we were back at work...  Like I said, it's been a crazy week.  Here are a few photos:

back deck after the storm

House after the storm (the leaning tree is not in the photo)
If you compare it to the photo above,
you'll see how trees behind the house were "thinned out"

Fixing coffee first morning back

Fixing lots of coffee on the second morning back!
Notice the "tree" on the propane bottle with a light on top

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Catching up

You don't get much of a view for the money...
A week ago, I was in the hospital.  This was a first for me.  I have had two surgeries, the latest last January, but both were out-patient.  This all changed surprisingly last Monday when I woke at 3 AM, thinking I was coming down with the flu.  I was sweating and freezing while my body ached, classic flu symptoms.  I moved to a recliner at 6 AM, having drenched my bed-sheets.  I sent a few emails out, redoing my schedule as there was no way I was able to make meetings scheduled for the morning.  As I was getting ready to take Ibuprofen, a little before nine in the morning, I decided to take my temperature.  It was 104 degrees.  I called my doctor and he said go straight to the emergency room.  30 minutes later, I had IVs dangling above me as they pumped fluids and antibiotics into my body.  My heart was racing (up to 125 a minute), my white blood count was around 18000, and I felt like crap.  They began treating me for sepsis.

Six days earlier I had a simple procedure.   The doctors didn’t think it was going to be anything to worry about but since my PSA levels (which is released by the prostate) had been rising, they thought it advisable to have a biopsy.  It was a mildly uncomfortable procedure, with the doctor shooting something through the wall of my anus into the prostate.  When it was over, I felt like someone pushed a shotgun up my butt and fired a round of birdshot.  But by the next day, I felt fine. I was back at the gym, on Friday I took a decent bicycle ride.   Even as late as Sunday night, when I was at a reception which I was to give a short talk, I was feeling well.  But that changed on Monday morning.  The urologist had warned me to get back to him if I had a temperature over 100 degrees F in the 48 hours following the procedure, but I was well beyond that window.  I stayed two nights in the hospital, eating crappy food and watching an even crappier Presidential debates (heaven help us if this is the best we can do).  On Wednesday, they sent me home with lots of antibiotics, which I’ll be on for another week or so.  I go back the middle of next week to see the urologist.
I am trying to take this week as vacation.  I was going to be in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp for several days, but being that far from care if something arises (along with the unpleasant side effects of the drugs), I cancelled that as well as a bike trip.  Then I planned a road trip to Warm Springs and Plains, GA, places I haven’t been, but now I’m waiting to see if Matthew is going to visit.  

The good news.  As I was getting out of the hospital, my urologist stopped by and said the biopsy had come back clear.  At least I won't have to worry about that!  More later

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cumberland Island

Two posts back I mentioned going to Cumberland Island as we stayed at a historic hotel in St. Mary's, Georgia.  This is our trip:

We took the morning ferry over to Cumberland Island.  The day was warm as we were still in our streak of days over 90 degrees, days when the heat index was rising over 110.  There was little wind when we boarded the ferry for its 45 minute ride to the southernmost of Georgia’s Sea Islands.  These islands stretch from the Santee River in South Carolina to Amelia Island, which is just across the Florida border.   We snaked our way through the St. Mary’s River and into the Cumberland Sound.  At the mouth of the river, across from the large paper mill on Florida’s Amelia Island, we headed north.  (Why Florida allowed such a thing on one of these beautiful islands is unknown to me.  Thankfully, most of Georgia’s islands are protected. 

As we head north, to starboard is Cumberland Island; off port, somewhat hidden behind another island, is King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base.  The ferry makes a short stop at Dungeness, where a few people planning to stay for the day depart, and then continues on to Sea Camp, where we depart.  Coming into the island, we have a mandatory ranger talk about what we can and can’t do on a National Seashore.  She hands out red film for us to put over our flashlights if we want to walk on the beach at night.  We are coming into turtle hatching season and the young turtles will mistake flashlights for the moon and get lost as they make their way back to the water (we don’t see any turtles).  Then she assigns campsites (there are four of us).  Not knowing anything about the sites, I take one she suggests for being great for hammocks.  Next time I will ask for a campsite closer to the ocean in order to get the maximum breeze.  We hike the half mile to the assigned site, set up camp and then head to the beach.  It’s heavenly. 

There are some twenty miles of beach on Cumberland Island and only a handful of people are out enjoying the sun.  We set up an umbrella to give us some solar protection and spend a leisurely afternoon reading.  I take a couple of dips in the ocean.  The water in the beaches further north in Georgia have low visibility because of the amount of silt coming out from rivers.  But Cumberland Island is larger and the water clearer.   After a couple of hours, we retreat back to our camp, have dinner and then walk back over to the sound for an incredible sunset.   

On our second day on the island, we begin walking north along the beach.  We just missed the sunrise, but enjoy incredible views and watch birds play in the surf.  The shrimp boats are out working early.  We return to the camp under the tangled trees, fix breakfast of oatmeal and perked coffee, before heading back out.

Maritime Forest (live oaks, saw palmetto, pines, holly)

Entrance to Dungeness
We take the river trail down to the Dungeness ruins.  At one time a community was situated around this estate and many of the buildings still stand.  The first house on the site was built by Catherine Greene, the widow of General Nathanael Greene.  Her husband had been granted land on the island as a part of his pay for service during the Revolutionary War.  Interestingly, it was in the Greene home that Henry “Light-horse Harry” Lee, father or Robert E. Lee, died.  He had stopped there on a return trip from the West Indies.  He was sick and nursed by Nathanael Greene’s daughter.  After his death, the naval attachment based in St. Mary’s provided the Revolutionary War hero a military funeral on the island.  The first Dungeness fell into ruin in the middle of the 19th Century.  Even in ruins, the place is incredible.  To have been at this house during its day, when there were large parties and the gardens were in bloom would have been a treat.  While walking around, we keep bumping into wild horses that still inhabit the island.  Two of the horses have found a low live oak to use as a backscratcher and are seemingly pleased with themselves.

Horses and wild turkeys 
Horses scratching their backs

In the 1880s, Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew and also a wealthy industrialist in his own right, brought much of the island.  On the ruins of the first Dungeness, he built a much larger and more elegant home, which he also called Dungeness.  Sadly, he died before he could see the finished home, but his widow and family continued to live in the home until 1925.  The home was abandoned and burned in 1959.  

Laundry Room 

Around the home are houses for servants (which many Park Service employees stay when on the island), a huge laundry, an ice house (ice was sailed down from New England and stored for parties), a boat house, a huge barn and assorted other buildings that helped make life in the 58 room mansion comfortable.  About eight miles north of Dungeness is Plum Orchard Mansion.  It was built for Thomas and Lucy’s son.  It’s open for tours, but we decide not to hike that far (we could have rented bicycles, but decided against it because of the heat).  At the far end of the island is Greyfield Inn, which was built for one of their daughters.  That mansion is still operated by a member of the Carnegie family as a guest lodge.  Nightly Lodging starts at $645, which includes three meals and an afternoon tea.  Most of the island was given to the National Park Service in the early 70s to create Cumberland Island National Seashore.
Dungeness before the fire

Main Road that runs the length of the island
Sunset with approaching storm
After we toured the ruins of Dungeness, we hike back to our camp, have lunch and then head to the beach for another wonderful afternoon of sitting under an umbrella and enjoying the sound of the surf.  The wind comes up, so it doesn’t feel as hot as the day before.  However, the wind dies around sunset, which we again watched from the marsh side.  It appears we might get a thunderstorm and there’s some spectular lightning in the distance, but the shore breeze keeps the storms inland.  Without the wind, it’s another hot humid night of sleeping on top of the sheet.  In the early morning, I’m awaken by something rustling and making a racket in our campsite.  I wonder if I had left the door open to the food box that the park service provides, but upon looking realize it’s just an armadillo.  Those animals are as graceful as a Sherman tank.  At dinner the evening before, we saw a whole family of raccoons make their way through the camp (which is why they have food boxes mounted on poles), but they didn’t bother us.
Looking south at sunrise (toward paper mill on Amelia Island)

Thanks to the armadillo, we’re up well before sunrise on our final day on the island.  We take a long hike at sunrise, then return to camp to fix breakfast (oatmeal and perked coffee).  Then we pack everything and hike to the dock in time for the 10:30 AM boat to the mainland.  I will return to this island as there is so much more to see. 

Traveling tip:  If you go to the island and stay at sea camp (which is only a half-mile walk), you can rent carts to haul stuff.  Others came with coolers and stuff.  Although there are no stores on the island, you can buy ice from the ferry (which comes to the island four times a day during the summer).  They also sell snacks and sodas.  We chose to hike in, but did have folding beach chairs strapped to our packs and an umbrella, which added a lot of weight but was worth it for spending hours on the beach.   

Have you been to Cumberland Island?  Would you be interested?    

Friday, September 09, 2016

An Encounter with Hermine

As its beginning to be light
The call came at 5:30 AM, an obnoxious buzzer from the 911 app on my phone.  Yesterday, the pager system went down, which is a bummer as the storm approaches.  I crawl out of bed, step into the bathroom and look at the phone.  I can’t read a thing, so I find my glasses.  It’s not a fire, but a public service call.  Someone has a tree on their roof.  I no longer rush, but dress listening to the rain and wind.  The storm isn’t supposed to be here until later this afternoon, but we’re definitely in a storm band from Hermine.  When the rain abates for a moment, I can hear distant thunder.  Grabbing some snacks as I don’t know how long I’ll be, I put on my raincoat and head out.  Without the pager, which allows you to hear radio traffic from the trucks, I’m unsure what I’m heading into. 

There are now two calls, one on Village Green Circle and another on Hunting Lane, both on the north end of the island.  I drive through the dark, down streets covered with Spanish moss, leaves and needles, but no real obstacles.  That all changes as I enter the Marshwood section of the island, that changes.  I dodge limbs and then pull to a stop behind the firetruck.  In front of us is a mass of trees in the middle of the road.  Ben and Shawn, who had stayed at the station overnight, brought out Engine 9 and are among the debris along with a couple of workers from the association.  Together, we worked to clear the road.  I haul limbs to the side and hold a flashlight for Ben who has the chainsaw.  It’s slow going.  After a bit of hard work, without making much headway, one of the workers for the association suggests that it would be a good idea to get out the backhoe.  We agree!  It would make things easier. 
On Hunting, as the sky lightens
We continue to cut and haul for the next fifteen or so minutes, but soon he’s back.  Instead of a digging arm, he’s put on claws that allows him to effortlessly grab logs and move them aside.  We walk along the backhoe so that we can cut logs that are too long for him to handle.  In ten or fifteen minutes, we have a path through the down trees and are able to make it to Hunting Lane.  We find a couple with two trees on their home.  “What took you so long, they ask?”  There isn’t really anything we can do and the trees look unstable.  Looking around, I see other trees that are broken.  One is a live oak about four feet in diameter with a crack at its base.  It’s leaning toward their neighbor’s house.  I go over and see a light on in the back (the entire island has underground utilities so electricity has stayed on despite an obvious tornado.  In his backyard, I realize he’s lost part of a porch.  I tell him about the other tree, but he doesn’t seem too worried and says he’ll stay in the far end of his house.  As we head back to the truck, I realize that it’s getting a little lighter.  Also, the rain has stopped.  We look around and can’t believe the devastation.  We head over to where a truck and crew from the station at the north end of the island are working.  Move devastation. This wasn’t supposed to be a bad storm.
The only home I saw that lost a roof
A natural area, notice the twisted pines

For the rest of the morning, we’re constantly being called out to help clear a fallen tree from a road or to help someone get their vehicle out of a garage that’s blocked.  One house has a gas lantern by the street, which has been knocked out by a fallen tree.  Gas is coming out and the woman of the house sacred her house might blow up.  I assure her she’s okay and eventually find the shut off valve for the lantern.  Other homes with major damage have no one at home and we cut the power and gas just in case.   Sadly, one of the homes destroyed was my secretary’s and her husband.  They told of how scary it was to have the skylights sucked out as the storm passed over. 
A stray tree on a house outside of tornado area
Our last storm related call is around 1 PM.  The eye has already passed us and the rain has abated.  At home, I check the gage and we’ve received 3.41 inches of rain in the past twenty-four hours.  Combined with yesterday’s 1.65 inches, we’ve received a little over five inches in two days.   After a dry summer, we can use the water.  Thankfully, there are only small branches, pine cones and leaves down at my house.  Labor Day will be a day of laboring for many of us on the island as we clean up from the storm. 

Driving through the tornado area after a fire call
This was later in the morning after the street had been cleared
A few days later, the National Weather Service published a bulletin on the storm.  It was an EF-1 tornado which developed over Romerly Marsha and moved westward for 1.3 miles, or about half way across the island.  The maximum winds were only 110 miles per hour, which while doing a number on trees didn’t flatten any houses.  The storm, at its largest, was 350 yards wide.  Although there were a number of trees down on the rest of the island, most of the major damage to homes were in the tornado’s path.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.