Sunday, August 21, 2011


When and if one is open to memories, they sometimes slide onto a stage like a stage prop during a quick change in a play.  The blackout curtain drops and the props are hurried and placed on marks visible on the stage to  the players, but usually not to the audience. The props, prompts for the players are there when the lights brighten, and they are fresh as the first day of rehearsal. I remember places and moments and I guess most people do that as well. One of those old pop out of the photograph album memories  reasserted itself today and it kicked me into gear.

Cicero and Sally Vaughn were my grandparents, my mother's parents. They were part of the great Georgia migration to Florida in the 1930's, looking for work, for a way to support their family when there were no food stamps, no medical cards, no money for rent, or for unemployment. By the time I came along in the mid 1950's they had lived in among other places, Oxford, Florida, that has now been swallowed up by a monster retirement community called The Villages. Still my memory is in Punta Gorda, another home they occupied.  Punta Gorda is community snugged up against the shores of Charlotte Harbor, and the Peace River, along the southwestern coast of Florida. Nearby  Port Charlotte a massive retirement center was in its planning stages, consisting of miles of canals and platted florida scrub.

At that time my grandparents lived in a Cracker house, its roof silver corrugated tin, its siding, white, and its screen porch facing the road. That road was the Tamiami Trail, the vast and long road that stretched from Tampa to Miami, over 250 miles of sweltering asphalt crossing pinelands, swamp, and limestone through the
sticky southern heat of Florida.  Here, we would come in the summer to visit, and I would romp with my cousins, all Florida crackers. We would cross the Tamiami trail to quench our heated bodies with a most conveniently placed business.

The ice plant stood in a long dark building fronting the trail. In the front, a long red clanging contraption turned out blocks of ice, running along a conveyor belt. Big men with strong backs loaded the ice into trucks waiting to haul the cool frozen relief to restaurants, hotels, hospitals and fishing boats all along the coast. Boys being boys knew an opportunity when they saw it. The ice would slide along out of the red metal machine along with chunks and chips of ice. In those days the trail was a slower, less frantic piece of road. We would cross the road easily with a look left and right and stand eye level with the dock and the ice. When the chips fell, we swooped in like buzzards on stink and snatched the lovely, wonderful, cool ice. Back across the road we went slurping, sipping, and swallowing,  deliously cold liquid off the iceberg in our hands.

Sometimes we were shooed away, sometimes, we were ignored, but the ice cranked out hour on hour, the machinery bidding us to come and enjoy the detrius falling from the glaciers sliding along the belt. The memory of that ice reminded me of one night when all the boys sat on the porch one evening, its screen panels attached to a white framework of studs and boards. That porch was all that stood between us and the thumbnail sized skeeters that bored in on our sweaty boys bodies signaling a wonderful dinner of blood to their sensory organs. Behind us the sepia like light from within the house bounced off the wooden heart pine floors backlighting the windows and open door to the porch.

 There was no such thing as air conditioning. Just fans placed in strategic places in the house to rustle the air from the porch back through the house and out the back door, also protected by a creaky screen door. The screen door like all screen doors in those days was complete with a long protesting spring that squeaked each time a child ran out flinging the handle.The flimsy screen frame would slap the house with a sound I will never forget.

That particular night we were treated to our own soft drink.  Today most homes have soft drinks handy and on hand. If not, with a trip to the corner store one will find a supply of soft drinks that would rival Joseph's graineries in ancient Egypt. Cokes, a southern expression for all soft drinks were a treat,  a once in the month treat that boys and girls anticipated with excitement. They were savored, slowly until all the cold was gone and the bubbles were warm on the tongue, tickling the nose with a pepper like affect.  I remember I had a 7 up, its green bottle, well used, and deposited many times until the red rectangle around the white 7up was well worn. I drank it like I was a favored son, a sip at a time, letting the bubbles roll over my tongue. My cousins, some drinking 7up, some with pepsi's or RC colas were equally enjoying their drinks. We sat on metal chairs our feet propped up on the bottom sills of the screen porch, watching the red tail lights of buicks and chevys and studabakers rolling along the road, gears audibly shifting as they passed.

On the other side of the screen attracted by the glow inside the house, moths, and flying assortments of bugs and beetles, skeeters and other buzzing beasts banged against the wire. We were sated and satisfied, bathed in a light watching the world pass by while we the kings of the Tamiami trail drank our prized potions down to the last, slow, fizzle. Soon we would fall out exhausted from a day of play in the southern sun, drenced in our own thoughts, washed in another night of slumber there where the bay and river became one.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blue Ridge Mountain Wonderings.

Recently, Shirley and I returned from a vacation in the western part of North Carolina. We stayed near Blowing Rock, a small town situated on a mountain not far from Boone, the home of Appalachian State University. We were blessed with wonderful weather the majority of our time there. Even with our windshield being broken by rocks thrown from a truck, even with someone slinging their door open into the driver side of our car and placing a dent in the door; and even with a very expensive traffic ticket for allegedly running a stop sign, we had a great time, no an absolutely relaxing and refreshing time. The car didn't fare so well, but we relaxed. Now some say that I am old. Age is a number if you ask me.

The Appalachian mountains are thought to be the oldest mountains in the world according to some of the information I read at one National Park site. They are at their wildest and highest in the area we visited. Shirley and I walked, or hiked depending on what your definition for each form of ambulation might be. I am obviously not the young man I was in the 1970's. In those days, I lived in Northern Virginia. I took on trails in the northern reaches of the Blue Ridge, some in the Shenandoah Valley, some further south on the Parkway. What I remember was that I had an abounding supply of energy and the trails in those days were young, and alive and challenged me to use my energy and spirit to conquer the trails. I saw the trail, and the life around the trail with the eye of a seeker, a seeker of what was on the next switchback, what was over the next crest, and how quickly I could find the trails end.

While staying at Blowing Rock, Shirley and I walked many trails. Price Lake trail circles a  beautiful lake with a romantic view of Grandather mountain, especially at sunset.  This time my mindset was older, more honed, and refined than my youthful zest to devour a mountain trail. Like the mountains themselves, my knowledge  is rounded,  smoothed out, with less surprises around the next turn. My knowledge and experience over the years allows me to have an appreciation for the trail and its panorama. Everywhere along each trail, life abounded, selective life that was attuned to the environment. Some trails were long enough and consisted of enough change in altitude to actually see changes in the environment. A two hundred foot change in height brought about different thermoclines, and with that different biomes. I was struck by how that compared to home in Florida where a change in altitude of a couple of feet could take one into a different world evidenced by the flora.

These mountains have weathered and adapted over the eons to be what they are today. Environments change, especially with the intrusion of human activity. Linville Gorge, still beautiful, still wild looking with spectacular views reached by those willing to hike the trails,  bears the scars of human tampering. A small invisible to the eye virus is killing the spruce trees. Looking back along the river from the falls, the dead trees are an ugly reminder of how easily an environment can be damaged. The virus didn't get there by itself.

I take from my visit to the mountains  introspection that comforts me . Though the mountains are much as they were when I was much younger, they have changed, in some ways for the better, in some ways not so much. I too have changed. Yes, I have a hip that nags at me, and yes I have fibromyalgia that tempers my appetite for moving over the hills and rills of North Carolina. Those are not the main reasons I slowed my pace. It is the panorama, the view, and the intangible sense of comfort and security found along those rocky paths that slowed me. I am older, perhaps a bit shorter than when I was 19 and  working my way through the boulders on the crest of Rag Mountain in Virginia. What was once speed to complete a path has been transformed in an insatiable quest to bank in my heart and mind the visual, and visceral sense   found on a trail like  Boone. One finds an understanding of what Moses Cone felt about the land near Rich Mountain. Here where men bearing muzzle loading rifles turned the mightiest army on earth on its ear with a different form of fighting, I too found the mountains different, just as I am different.  I have seen the forest for what it is along Green Knob Trail and along my own path in life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Garcon Point, or how to go back in time without trying.

                                                                                  Sarracenia Leucophylla                                                                                                                               

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, between Franklin county in the northern part of Florida, over to Escambia county, the last county in the panhandle of Florida, the greatest concentration of pitcher plants in the world is found. 1.  That's quite a statement. One of those places where white pitcher plant grows is about a twenty minute drive from my home.

The best time to see these pitcher plants is in March to the end of April of each year. Now there are other places to see the plants and I have seen them on the Juniper trail in the Blackwater Forest and in the seepage area of Clear Creek, not far from the entrance to Naval Air Station Whiting Field. I like walking both areas, but they take a while to get to. The trail found in Garcon Point is a favorite to walk. It is quiet in a town noise sense. Birds are everywhere and they are the sound one notices walking the trail. Quiet is such an unusual thing in our lives these days, especially if we live in towns, cities, or suburbs, that one has to adjust to the lack of auditory input. It's when one can think without distraction. Yet, the quiet, albeit for the birds, is almost like sensory overload. 

The area is one of magnificent diversity, with pine flats, the vast savannah of grasses that roll over to shores of  the river and bay and the subtle seepage areas found in such "swamps" or what many consider wastelands. Waste they are not, filtering water, protecting the habitats of many mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Many of these wonderful places have fallen to the builder and the ax. But Garcon point, though it was once very much cut for its great yellow pine and farmed, is surviving despite man's greatest endeavor to make it into something it is not.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


The wind has shifted and even now as our friends to the north are riding waves of cold fronts and savage weather; we are bathed in Gulf of Mexico laden humidity, and breezes that echo the sounds of waves hard on our bright white beaches. This morning, while sitting on the patio, the sun rose up above the horizon and burst through the small passage between live oaks at the southeast corner of the yard.

The brilliant light highlighted by dust and all other kinds of natural matter spotlighted the view through the trees. To be scientific about the phenomenon; those lovely rays of light are called "Crepuscular" rays. I won't try and explain the wonderful effect. Look it up if it is really of interest to you. You've seen it, especially at sunrise, and sunset. God's fingers some call them among other names. to me Myrtle sat, quiet, yawning, and perhaps anticipating her hunt for moles, and squirrels and other invaders of her kingdom defined by our fence. She is an effective hunter, too effective for my liking. Her instinct is much more pronounced than our last boxer's sense of the hunt appeared. Delight springs forth when she presents a mole at the sliding glass door. A muted and sad aura hangs on the air when an unfortunate bird, or a squirrel is left on the mat for us to marvel over. She is a vigilant and wary protector of her kingdom and of us. Her muffled bark warns of some unknown danger or intruder. One takes the unfortunate with the fortunate. Training the hunt out of her would take and enormous effort and even then one is not sure the training would take hold.

The back yard is growing well, St.Augustine grass, that which did not die this last winter is thriving. Because of the near drought conditions, growth is sure but muted. Watering is on the agenda today. That and a continued assault on Tradescantia, better known as Spiderwort. Years ago, I brought back two spiderwort plants from Bon Secour over in Alabama. For years there were just a few in the backyard lending a colorful and bright addition to the backyard during the mornings. Their bright small blue flowers last but a day. However the plant is prolific, so much so that it took over a sizable area of my yard near my square foot garden area and the fig tree.

I have this spring begun a campaign and that is what it amounts to a campaign to eradicate the now weed like growth from the backyard. I have no doubt that I have dug up several hundreds of the plant. Fortunately they are easy to dig up with a compact central root system, a couple of loosened areas around the plant, and one can pull and shake and out they come. I still have hundreds to go. I have learned one can eat the leaf, the stem and the flower. Saute the leafs, boil, or saute the stems. The flowers can be eaten raw. I don't plan on doing that, but if you want to give it a try, Google "Green Deane" and he will show you how to do it.

What one can find in nature, the footnotes that enhance the obvious we see intrigues me, and I can look for hours at something, learning more and more about our natural world. The knowledge will never earn me a nickel. But the satisfaction of learning about our world is the richness I crave. So, learn from me, don't put spiderworts in your yard. Or "Cow Slobber" will take over in a short time.  Cut a stock of spider wort and you ill understand why it is called cow slobber. Meanwhile, I have some more digging to do.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Signs no one paid to advertise.

Somewhere in the bible, I know it is Deuteronomy, there is a verse that says something like this: ... "When the fig tree begins to sprout and the green leaves are visible, summer cannot be far away." I suppose in the hills and valleys around Israel, this is a good sign to go by. And, my fig tree has indeed sprouted leaves and even a couple of figs directly on a branch. Here, there are an abundance of signs to read.

When the red maple buds and its scarlet leaves appear, one knows that the cooler nights will soon pass. There will be some days that are cold, at least Northwest Florida cold, and the evenings will still be worthy of coat or sweater. But shortly after, the early flowers of spring will arrive. In my yard the daffodils open up, and sprinkle my yard with vivid yellow color in direct contrast to the resting grass, clad in light browns and grays.

Reading the signs was part of the farmer and woodsman's way of knowing when to begin to plant, when to resume the cutting of certain trees in the forest. It gave these people a schedule to prepare for the coming spring and summer. In north and central Florida, the signs would give the fisherman an understanding of when the speckled perch, or the shell cracker sunfish would bed on the gravel beds or in the deep holes along large creeks, rivers, or lakes. Coming upon a shell cracker bed there is a smell, a fish smell that is unforgettable. It is the  by the nose and the bottoms of the waters of that part of Florida, the fisherman read the signs. From those signs, he or she supplied their family with meat for the table.

Today, in the society we live in, signs are not read so much. Our food comes to us packaged and unrecognizable from it's origin.  Oranges are often dyed orange. In the grove many oranges are light green and  brown, or yellowish brown when they arrive at the packing house. They are washed, sorted, sized, and treated so that they are much more appealing to the consumer. Oranges depend on cold weather, just the right amount of cold weather, not too cold, not too warm to set up a chemical change in the orange. The sugar content has to be just right before the orange is picked. It is the signs, the coming of cold weather, announced by the cirrus clouds that feather out high in the crystallized atmosphere that  tells the tenders of the orchards when the time may be right to pick the oranges. They measure the sugar content of the orange and when it is right, the pickers, or picking machines fan out and take the golden fruit from the trees.

So much that was done in an agricultural since was and still is measured by the signs, the weather, the soil temperature. In the past, when the red bud bloomed, or when the paw paw brightened the forest with its brilliant white show told the hunter or the farmer when he or she could ready for the spring, or slaughter the farm animals. It was a fundamentally more natural life style, without technology that one could speak to another across a continent or look onto a country thousands of miles away.

Maybe deep in our DNA, we miss these signs, these rhythms of life. Maybe, we need to look out the window a little more and watch for a bloom,or notice when a green stalk peeks from beneath the soil for the first time. Our own internal clocks rebel against our world of schedules without outcome.  Last night the moon was large, maybe 15 or 20 percent larger than usual, it was much closer to earth, and in an odd way, it felt closer, when gazed upon. Earlier this week, we had 12 hours of sunlight, and 12 hours of daylight. Inside all of us, there is a mechanism that tells us when to sleep. This need for sleep has nothing to do with the watch we wear, or the television ritual many of us have in our evenings.

Being attuned to life around us takes a different kind of an awareness that we use in our daily work life. Our ancestors rarely lived as long as we do now. They worked hard, and when the day of rest came, many of them were worn out, their bodies used up. They may not have had the advantages we have today, such that some of them are; but they knew a lot more abut what was around them, and with that the people around them. I'm not so sure we can say that today. It must be a sign of our times.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Signs, signs every where. With apologies to the song writer.

Winter has its way here among the pines and rivers and creeks. Nearly all the trees have shed their leaves, save the Live Oaks. They are alw ays among the last, waiting until the soil warms a tad more and awakens the sap. Then after all the raking, all the piling of leaves beneath the azalea and camillia, the live oak sheds it leaves. The period on the season. 

On the way to work earlier this week,  I saw a red maple had lay on new leaves, almost open, almost like a butterfly fresh from the cocoon. In my backyard, the daffodils are swollen, yellow petals ready to open and soak in the butter colored rays of the sun. Although the last three nights here have been low temps, in the mid to high twenties, I am encouraged by the early signs of winter's last raw grasp on the earth. Winds will soon switch from the north and northeast. The southeastern waves of air will sail in off the Gulf of Mexico slowly warming the soil, bringing the fog of early  mornings to the roads and hollows.

Out in the Gulf, the pompano will begin to run along shore, bringing the sure signs of a warming trend to follow. The emerald green shores will sparkle like the gem, with the new sun, new light, and new day. The irrepressible tides will begin to rise inches higher than before. Everything will wake a little earlier, as the earth orbits back into the angle that brings our land a little more direct sunlight and for many a sunnier outlook.

Here in the panhandle of Florida, so much will awaken, and those that have hibernated like the land will roll out of their self-imposed exile from the season and stretch their wings like an anhinga. An ancient and odd bird from the far past of Florida's time before the Spanish and French, and English. Anhinga swims underwater almost as well as a penguin, its long beak probing and piercing small fish and crustaceans, a sustenance for a bird that flies underwater nearly as well as it does in the sky. Ancient bird because its wings, all its feathers possess little oil to repel water. When its wings  become water logged, anhinga finds a stump, or branch above the water and open to sun. It spreads its wings wide to drip dry. And  lifts its S curved neck high, beak reaching for the moon to evaporate the tea colored waters from its back.

Oh yes, the calendar says it is still winter, and it will still be cold for a while. But the maple thinks the sun will warm soon, and fishermen will line our quartz white beaches look for the delicious chance to land a pompano. How far behind can the wild paw paw bloom be? How long before the wisteria wrapped and wedged into the crooks and forks of trees begins it purple flavored display ? Not long I think, not long from now.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Four legged alarm

Each morning irregardless of day, our boxer ambles in from the living room where she sleeps and plants either her front paws or her cold nose somewhere in my warm, resting, relaxed body.  The result of her actions is an opposite and immediate reaction. Often I will rise quickly, instinctual alarm mode in play. Brain synapses firing like the engine in a 900 horsepower NASCAR  racer tell me it is flight or fight time.  And depending on whether I am close enough to the side of the bed for her nose to reach me or her paws to prod me; I either wake up stark upright, which hurts like the dickens, or I awaken to doggy breath, on my nose, which is a fate that immediately shuts down most of my olfactory senses.

Either way, my fate is sealed. I must arise and take her outside for her daily security check of her kingdom, the backyard. She lopes out, her nose dictating her direction, and once she is sufficiently out of my night vision she snorts. The snort is not unlike a startled deer, which alarms with a nasal exhale to flush out of the terrain what it senses. Somewhere out there she fulfills her bodily functions, and continues her security check. She makes sure, there are no squirrels down from their aerial homes in the trees, prospecting in the soil for acorns.Her nose leads her to the old dug out area beneath the wood stand where a rat once lived. It's life quickly snuffed out when it made the mistake of playing hide and seek in the yaupon thicket near the back of the yard. How was the rat to know a that a boxer, especially this boxer would bore through the spiky low brush, unabated by the thorns to strike at it's frozen in fear body?

While Myrtle, yes her name is Myrtle, continued her reconnoiter of the territory, I stand at the door that leads in and out of the porch. Everyone this year it seems has experienced and is living through a colder than average winter. We are no exception here in the deep south, twelve miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The warm air that generally blankets our area, nourished by the sea has been pinned back by a northern air mass that just seems much too accustomed to her sandy and red clay land. And because of this rather cold air mass that has come like the snowbirds to St. Petersburg or Miami, I am left to shiver at the porch, waiting on a dog that thinks it is an infantry soldier securing the perimeter of hill Myrtle's domain.

Sometimes there in the pre-dawn, the trees that are bare of leaves silhouette themselves against a sky barren of clouds, barren of light, except for the white faraway stars placed carefully here and there in the canvas of a painting only the Almighty could design. Black arms and fingers,  are stretching  up to the sky, waiting for the next warm moment when new leaves will adorn the fan like wooden frame that is so beautiful on a spring day. Yet, this early morning, devoid of leaf, a strange beauty beckons. In the distance, more trees display their bare beauty across the neighborhood and somewhere a bird sings, joyful for the light that is opening a new day just at the horizon.

Mesmerized by the wonder of it all, I am once again awakened by Myrtle, her frigid nose nuzzling my hand delivering me back into reality. Tomorrow and the tomorrow after that and for the foreseeable future, Myrtle will awake me each morning. I will startle awake, not unlike a jack in the box, and the scene will unfold. Still, in another month the mornings will not be so cold, and I will in my own way, miss the frigid morning that a four legged alarm awakes me to, snuffing and all.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Oh My moments.

We all have them. Moments engraved in our mind's eye and our brain that are so stirring that we simply cannot forget them. Growing up the way I grew up, moving from Air Force station to Air Force station and homes, I've had a few of those moments.Some of them are large moments with large memories. Others had to be sought out, waited for, either in quiet, or heat, or kneeling on the sand being eaten alive by "no see'ums", or in the deep cold of a Virginia winter. Some were meant to happen, kismet.

Perhaps my first recollection of  such a moment occurred when I was four or five years old. Our family was stationed at the time in Oklahoma, so going west was relatively easy. I recall a moment in my mind when my dad drove us out over a great dam ( Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, Nevada). It was evening and dark, with a beautiful sky of shimmering stars setting the stage. Out west, unlike where we southerners that live in urban areas and easterners that live in cities experience a dark sky with faded stars, the sky gives up its stars in profusion. Great crowded masses glow and the black sky is ink black. Pearls on a sea bottom, winking at one's eyes.  The dam was gray, and massive, not massive, beyond massive, it had a life of its own. It breathed  under my feet. The dam whirled and hummed and roared. Life broad and wild and large holding my body above Lake Mead and the mighty Colorado.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

French Marble

I read today that Richard Winters had passed away Jan.2nd, 2011. He lived to a grand age of 92. He evokes in me memories of so many men that I crossed paths with in my youth.  My own Dad flew over 50 missions in an unarmed night reconnaissance B26 during the Korean War. It wasn't a conflict, 53 thousand souls were lost there... that is a war. His flights took him over industrial targets, railroads, bridges, supply lines, fighter air bases all the way up to the Chinese border. His little black aircraft hummed along on twin engines, and when they came to their target, they dropped blinding flash bombs to illuminate the target for photographs. They would swoop in and take their pictures and then "rack'em  up" and roll out of the target area. Luckily, the North Koreans, or Chinese were not very good with flood lights and the primitive radar they may have had. Lucky because Dad lived to make it home and well, here I am.

Richard, or Dick as he was better known to others as, he was made famous in the early 1990's with the HBO series, "Band of Brothers." Starting with  dropping out of the sky over France on D-Day to his assault on Brecourt Manor, his tactical abilities to quickly understand a combat situation, probably saved more lives than can be counted on the American side of the war. He was a humble man, an astute observer of human behavior and understood how to motivate and lead.  He reminds me of many others I have known.
In June 1964 my family  moved to England for a 3 year tour with the United State Air Force. We stayed at what today would be considered a Bed and Breakfast. It was here I learned to love scalding hot tea and biscuits, and the wisdom behind a late afternoon break for beverage and snack. I still love a good cuppa, and I am particular about how I have my tea. Be that as it is, I met my first British military figure.

Unfortunately, time has erased his name. But he was a wonderful gentleman there at the B and B and he enjoyed spinning his stories for an eager and apt listener, even if the chap was a Yank.  He served with the Royal Navy during World War 1. He was a submariner, and the stories he told me were beyond my imagination. Now, I know they were true. His exploits on an E boat, one of the first type of submarines used by the British were the stuff movies are made of these days. He was probably in the area of the eastern Mediterranean, plying the dangerous, mine filled and heavily guarded Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles. The Army faced terrible loses in the Gallipoli campaign. The submarines of the Royal Navy had far greater success. There is one place where the strait narrows to less than an half mile wide and 200 feet deep. There the Germans and the Turks had the strait well centered with guns, searchlights, and mines. But, I have said too much, Google British E-11, LCDR Martin Dunbar-Nasmith the story is amazing.

Some of the men on the airbases I lived on were veterans of  World War 2 and had flown in many of the famous aircraft that the United States employed during the war. One gentleman had scars across his forehead, the result of a direct attack on his B-17 cockpit by a German fighter. I remember vividly looking at a photo book that a friend of mine had in his home. His name was Malcolm, and he lived down the road from me in the small town of Flackwell Heath in Bucks, England. His father flew Hurricanes in the Pacific and had been shot down twice by Japanese fighters. Unlike so many others, he managed to make his way through Japanese lines and back to his mates. Malcolm would later part ways with me. It was difficult for him, as his friends did not care much for the Yank down the road and eventually he had to make a choice. Today I understand what was happening to him, and the pressure on him.

Two math teachers in high school were veterans, that taught me Algebra 1 and Algebra 2.  One, whose name escapes me was a Marine in the Pacific. I know he was in the Marshall Islands, which means he probably fought at Kwajalein and later, perhaps Guam and Peleliu. His stories of survival, and the effects of war on other marines were sobering. I have memories today that are as fresh as when told me about the stacks of dead, and the stark landscape after a bombardment. Col. Potter was my other teacher that by the way was a wonderful person, patient beyond belief with energized 16 and 17 year old know it alls. He had a quiet manner, and an ability to wait for a student to ask questions that I know now were silly. Col. Potter served with the 3rd Army under the direction of General George Patton. He came in with the second wave at Utah Beach if I remember correctly, and was a staff officer. He never said much about what he did. He was not a front line soldier, but that didn't mean he didn't see things, and in all his modesty, I think I respected him greatly for his service to this my country and to children. God holds him now I am sure, along with all the  others I have written about.

The one soldier I remember most is unknown to me. He lies in a beautiful manicured memorial ground somewhere in France. We as a family went to France in the summer of 1965. We took the ferry out of Dover and embarked on our adventure from Calais.Along the way I remember seeing the battlegrounds of Verdun.  Believe it or not, there were woods that were marked no trespassing with great red signs overlay-ed with black or white skull bones. The  ordiance of world war 1 was so great that it literally littered the woods and some areas near the woods with corroding explosives. We were driving along past many cemeteries and we finally topped to see one of the memorials. To my 11 or 12 year old eyes, the crosses and Stars of David seemed to roll endlessly down a small hill and disappear. The scene had a wrenching affect on my heart and mind. I sat down next to a cross and put my hand on the cold white marble cross. I read the name, now lost from my memory and became very personally attached to the soldier and the suffering I felt he surely went through. French marble honoring him, gleamed. There was no grass against the cross, the grass was and is kept in garden trim.  The beautiful sadness of the green grass, white cross and blue sky is still sealed in my heart  I can still feel the cool breeze on my face when I close my eyes... there beside a soldier I never knew, but will always remember.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rubbing backs and letting go.

When a child grows into a man or woman, we say that we send them out in the world to make their way. I suppose that our parents said such things, and their parents before them. Of course, saying that we send our children out into the world, is vastly different than actually completing the act.  Is it any harder for a mother to send her son out into the vast unknown than it is for a father to send his daughter? Some will argue that a son at least is able to fight in a male world.  Others will say there is nothing like a woman cornered to bring out the ability to survive in a human.

I say if it is your child, you grieve every second that your child is out of sight.  If they are making their way about in the world, a parent holds their breath until the phone rings and once again, normal blood pressure slowly returns to the body.  Some children are naturally acclimated to the situations they find themselves in. They adapt and go on .  My child, how I say that, as if to say she isn’t grown, but she is, at least in age and in attitude. The finer and subtle points in becoming a grownup are still forming in her character.  She has her opinions and she expresses them, often and often loud.  She is a little sprite, five foot three if stretched. A little body with a big idea of what she wants out of life and how to get there.

Tonight it is raining, no it is storming, a cold front moves in from the west and off the Gulf of Mexico. My daughter wanted to get back to Tallahassee from her home near Pensacola. She has classes tomorrow and did not want to miss them. That is something I consider admirable and I find not a little pride in her responsible attitude. Tonight, it is storming and the roads in the daytime are at best demanding of a driver’s full attention. So tonight I would have been happy if she had said, “I’ll wait until morning.” The opposite was true and for hours I forbid her to drive. Her frustration mounted and my apprehension escalated. I watched the Doppler on the Internet, hoping for a clear road, praying for clear sweeps of the radar. There are times when a parent just wants everything to be right.

It isn’t right, but the radar showed a lull between storm bands approaching from the west. I called her in and showed her. I said, “I don’t wish for you to leave, but if you feel you have to, then this is the time to go.”  She didn’t answer, but went from the room and gathered her belongings, long sitting by the door and walked the short distance out to her car. Her mother, who is braver than I am when it comes to her emotions with our daughter, hugged her and told her to be careful.  I walked out barefooted on the acorn-strewn driveway and hugged her tight, feeling her life in my arms. I told her, I loved her. And then she rubbed my back and told me, “Dad, don’t worry, I will be fine.” 

I will watch the Doppler and wait for the call, there will be no sleep, there will be no calm here until I know she is in her home, and tucked away in her bed.  It’s the only way I can do this, she’s just all I know and love and after all, she rubbed my back.

Postscript:  11:30 pm central time. The phone rang, while I was still saddled in my position in front of my computer, watching the Doppler signal the rains flooding across the south land. “It didn’t rain much except around Marianna,” she told me. I knew that was so, she gave me the facts, and then I told her I loved her. “I love you too, “ she whispered. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Gulf

 I have stood in calm seas and let the water and its tam, tam, tam, rhythm lull me into a relaxed state. The sound of the sea is quiet too when the surface of the great Gulf is serene.  An orchestra could not quite do it the same. There is that quality in the surf that reminds one of the quiet classical sounds.  Those who are blessed with the talent to write such music evoke a mental scene of emerald blue waters, sugar white sand and the timing of waves entering the shoreline and exiting, all in their own timeless manner.

     The Gulf was here before any Native American or Spanish sailor walked on the sea oats that anchor the dunes to the shore.  Once great turtles came ashore and left their eggs.  Time, the sand, and the warmth of the sun held the turtles in an earthen womb, and released them back to the waters of the Gulf.  Off shore, even as they do today, dolphins plied the sand shelves for smaller fish. Great gray backs breaking the water envelope would shine in the sunlight. Or, if at night when sounds are hushed by the hand of evening, the mammals are heard surfacing, clearing their lungs and sliding back into the dark shallow waters along the beaches.

     The Gulf is capable of great destruction if it works hand in hand with the winds of summer.  Sometimes, thousands of miles away off the coast of Africa, great thunderstorms rush into the warming Atlantic and begin a revolving, spinning dance across the great gray Atlantic.  Wind nourished by the sun and seas absorbed with the energy the sun provides begin a complex building of clouds.  The clouds rush upward and around the column of air the sea and the sun have conspired to produce.  If all works right, if jealous winds from the west, or south or sometimes the north, do not dampen the whirling canopy of clouds, it becomes a strong fierce southern giant.

    Sometimes these giants, these hurricanes, find their way into the Gulf and then they look about its shoreline for the weakest area.  Hurricanes look for warmth and moisture and shy away from coolness and dry air.  They hover and twirl higher and higher into the atmosphere, plunging their clouds down through themselves and up again in a rolling building wall of wind and rain.  Some say they aren't afraid of the hurricane. Some say hurricanes do not send them away.  Each to his own, I’ve heard it said.  Some have not faced the right hurricane.  Those that have, they look on the one who talks so much, with the memory of how it was to sit and wait for the walls to fold.  It’s all right behind the eye.  They would give it to them, but it would do no good. Each to his own, I have heard it said.

    After a hurricane leaves, the sky is a deeper blue, scrubbed clean with wind, rain, and more wind and more rain.  Behind the hurricane sometimes are the camp followers.  These thunderstorms follow the path cut in the sky by the hurricane. They can first be seen far off flashing in the sky.  As they come closer and closer they become audible, first as a low rumble and as they approach a loud crashing flashing series of storms.  They evoke the memory of the hurricane, but they only pluck the nerves made raw by the hours of rushing wind and falling limbs, crashing light, and walls of white out rain.  They come and go swiftly and the night is still again, dark, much darker and warm, so warm, made so by the air rushing in behind the storm.

    Back at the Gulf, the waters are cross-purpose, trying to shake the last of the churning disease that had infected the seas with rage. The tides try and bring order back to the Gulf. Then as it was before, tides arrive as they have for as long as the Gulf has breathed. The water rolls in an out and the sea oats wave in the breeze, where all is well.  All is as it was and will be for time beyond time.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

East of here.

East of here, there are places that one can immerse themselves in and find a peace, or a calm that is elusive these days. There are places that are timeless as the sands and trees that make those places what they are. Near a little village called Grayton Beach, Florida's government wisely preserved a bit of Florida that was here before native Americans ever set foot on the soil, tens of thousands of years ago. The ancient inland dune areas where long leaf and slash pines grow were great hills snug to the sea before Spaniards like Don Tristan De Luna y Arellano first set foot on Santa Rosa island and attempted to settle Ochuse or Penzacola. A roll call of explorers followed De Luna, whose settlement was carried away along with some of his ships and people with a hurricane.

 The land lay quiet in the sleepy arms of great oaks, and yellow pines whose girths would rival young sequoias. The Chatots fished the Chipola and lived along the bluffs of the Apalachicola. The Penzacola stood on the hills overlooking Pensacola bay and perhaps wondered and puzzled over the strange boats with great white billows as they entered the pass into the bay. They would soon find out how the Spanish would view their world. 

 Over the next three centuries, the red bluffs of Pensacola lay quiet, the bays rich with oysters supplied food for natives, and later settlers along the eastern shore of Escambia Bay. Beautiful lilies and acres on acres of pitcher plants emerged near streams and floodplains. Great black swarms of mullet broke the surface reflecting sliver from beneath their fins. 

Here, dunes rise and fall, covered in sand live oak. To see a dune green with sand live oak, a rolling canopy of dwarf  trees is amazing. Beneath the oaks, they form just as oaks do.  Above,  dead twigs point to the sky, tortured and killed by the salt spray. In between the swales, where the sand holds, yellow tops and Indian Blanket anchor in the quartz sand, millions on millions of grains, swept there by ancient rivers, eons ago. 

Amazing as the dunes are the lakes found among these dunes are the rarest of rare natural gems. Dune lakes lie behind dunes, where sunken areas filled with fresh water and with salt water infiltration during storms, or because of proximity to the gulf. They are priceless, so unusual that they are only found in a few other places in the world. Topping a dune after a trek between swales and seeing a dune lake is mystical.  With a little luck, a great blue heron may be standing near the shore, patiently waiting for a minnow to come too close.

It is a place that has only been found in the last twenty years or so. A place where a road snakes and ambles over old growth dunes, between lakes and pine forests. It is a place that may not be the Florida that most people think of. It is the Florida I know.