Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Thursday, 31 August 2006

God's Own Bear

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

The igneous granite and metamorphic rocks in this area date back a billion years. I wrestle with this number while walking down the trail and work out in my head that if a billion years was compared to one year, each second in a year is equal to more than 30,000 years.

The mountains here are old and worn down by erosion from streams and glaciers. The dinosaurs walked here about September 30th. The glaciers from the last ice age receded and the great sloth and wooly mammoth became extinct less than a second before year end. Man came on the scene 11,000 years ago, about 1/3 of a second before midnight, December 31. We started seriously using fossil fuels 1/1000 of a second before midnight. Mayflies suddenly have a new relative longevity.

The trail goes downhill three miles to a waterfall. There is an elevation drop of 915 feet. We meet a German on the trail. He has a black curly moustache and looks Italian. He tells us excitedly about a black bear at least “two meters” tall. We end our short conversation with a long guttural laugh, a shared universal language

We meet an older couple on the trail. They have also seen the great bear. They’ve been married over 50 years. They look good physically and have had their furniture in storage for the last five years while they cruise North America.

We have lunch at a reflecting pool below the falls and wait quietly for an hour to see the bear. It fails to appear. This park has 516 miles of hiking trails and a road that runs 100 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and completed in 1939 under the direction of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Tropical storm Ernesto is due her tomorrow with 40 MPH winds and 12 inches of rain. We play scrabble in the afternoon. I quit game two in disgust after Mrs. Phred places an “X” on a triple letter space and makes 25 points on an “ex” in one direction and another 25 on an “ox” in the other. Our campground is in the clouds and rain. More rain is expected for the next four days. A ranger tells us we may need to evacuate. I make halibut for dinner again.

Mrs. Phred and I have decided we may spend the winter in New Orleans as volunteers to help build housing for low income residents, then move north to Alaska.

Tuesday, 29 August 2006

A Short Walk on the Appalachian Trail

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia – 29 August, 2006

We drove up to a high overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway last night to pick up cell signals for the phone and the laptop. In the dark, I drop the inverter into a cup of cranberry juice and tonic water. When I plug the wet inverter into the cigarette lighter of the Toyota it blows the 15 amp fuse. We need the Toyota lighter receptacle to power its braking system air pump when it is under tow. The fuse is impossible to fix in the dark. In the morning I locate the fuses (bless Toyota for including a fuse puller and spare fuses) and buy a new inverter at Wal-Mart.

We drive the Blue Ridge after dark for nearly 100 miles and catch dozens of deer, badgers, a possum and a skunk in the headlights. The speed limit on this beautiful road is 45 MPH…no commercial vehicles allowed. I took some shots of Roanoke after dark from a mountain top. The 500 mile road was constructed as a make-work project on orders from President Roosevelt during the depression. It’s lined with hardwoods which must be even more spectacular in the fall.

We saw the National D-Day memorial in Bedford today. It can’t compare to the roses, white crosses, sea view and statuary in the American cemetery in Normandy. More boys from Bedford (per capita) were lost from the 116th infantry division than from any other American community.

We drive on to Lynchburg. Mrs. Phred asks me innocently if the name comes from lynching people. I hum "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday. But I suspect that the town is named for a man…probably a man who made a difference. There is almost certainly is a man named Lynch in the city history…The local High School football team possibly carries on his name as the “Lynchburg Raiders” or the “Lynchburg Patriots”. Maybe he operated a tavern for tired travelers….perhaps a bawdy house… I hope he is not a banker or a merchant…or a tobacco planting slave owner. I imagine a Colonel John Lynch raising and training a local militia and organizing an insurgency with hatchets and flintlocks against the hated redcoats, sowing the local roads with improvised explosive devices; or maybe a Doctor Thomas Lynch fighting tuberculosis and yellow fever with soldiers from both sides in a quarantined hospital in unimaginable conditions during the Civil War, sawing off blackened gangrenous limbs and comforting the dying.

We visit a winery in the remote hills of Appalachia. The wines are what one would consider dessert wines, made from a variety of fruits and even hot chili peppers…personally I prefer Sauvignon Blanc, but I buy six bottles of pear, blueberry and apple wines. They still fly a tattered Confederate flag here and display other politically incorrect symbols.

Here are some pictures from the 2,175 mile Appalachian walking trail…I didn’t walk the whole thing.

Saturday, 19 August 2006

The 3rd Best Southern Small City in Which to Live

Roanoke, Virginia – 19 August, 2006

We are staying with retired friends on Smith Mountain Lake in western Virginia. The pace of life here is very slow. We spend days watching the bird feeders, playing tennis doubles, swimming in isolated coves and drinking wine in the evening.

The sensation of floating on your back with submerged ears and looking at blue sky and tree lines upside down is strange and disorienting. It’s like laying on your back with earphones and watching a lover's face move while they talk. It's hard to get used to the mouth being where the forehead belongs or the weightless, soundless feeling that makes you think you might fall upward forever into the blue sky. The lakes grow colder as we move north.

One of the birds here (a house wren) has severe flight control issues. It lurches toward the feeder, overshoots, backpedals, folds it wings and makes a crash landing on the feeder lip. It scared me badly by flying into the back of my leg while I was on my cell phone and by flying into my knee while I was reading. I watch its progress daily but there is no improvement.

We played three sets of doubles yesterday. I take turns with different partners. In the last set I partner with Mrs. Phred and actually win. It feels good. My first tennis victory. She wins with all three of her partners.

The fireflies put on a light show at dusk on the lake-shore. A rapid blink rate is a prized male characteristic for the females waiting in the grass below. They like flashy males.

Here are some pictures of the birds and the lake.

We went into Roanoke, 45 minutes away, today, and we happened upon an Indian festival (the kind from Asia. The market was full of vegetables, fruits, jugglers, Indians in bright dress and bearded blue grass musicians. The town has a laser light show twice a day with Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin music and a poetry Open Mike on Sundays. They were holding the monthly silent peace vigil in the town square today…a lovely small town. Open coal cars fill the rail yards…the Blue Ridge Parkway has an entrance on the edge of town.

We watched “RV” last night. It may be a good thing Robin Williams is going into rehab. He only made me laugh once with the line “Whenever I hear banjo music, it makes my cheeks pucker”. I give Ann and Andy my hard-copy of “Deliverance” by James Dickey from our RV library.

Monday, 14 August 2006

Flower of the Confederacy

Charleston, South Carolina – 14 August, 2006

Charleston is located on a small peninsula within a great harbor. This English colony was established in 1670. It has survived attacks by the French, Spanish, Indians and pirates as well as yellow fever epidemics, the civil war, several fires and a great earthquake in 1886.

The city has very large number of public tennis courts. We find one on Sunday morning and I lose again 6-1, 6-1, and 6-0. The way to see Charleston is to walk the streets. The architecture here is very unique. The mansions are large two or three story residences with open porches on each floor of the southern exposure. Here are a few pictures.

One of the things to see in Charleston is the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink a surface ship. It was recovered from the harbor bottom and is now preserved in a giant tank of seawater. In the Civil War, things we now call “mines” were then called torpedoes. The Hunley considered towing a mine under a Union blockade ship but discarded that plan out of concern that the tow line would tangle in the propeller. They affixed a large “torpedo” on a pole to the bow. They rammed and sank the Union ship and probably also sank themselves with all hands.

The USS Yorktown is also in the harbor. This is the most famous American aircraft carrier. It was instrumental in sinking three Japanese carriers at Midway and breaking the back of the powerful Japanese navy. US Navy Code breakers paved the way for this victory in 1942. However careful research indicates that the original Yorktown sunk at Midway, but this museum piece also had a distinguished career in Korea and Vietnam.

Fort Sumter in the harbor mouth was the site of the most bloodless, but possibly the most significant Civil War battle. Only one soldier died, while firing his own cannon to signal surrender of the fort. The attack by the Confederate general Pierre G. T. Beauregard kicked off the American Civil War.

The Toolbox

Charleston, South Carolina

I opened the rear storage compartment on the outside of the RV last night and the toolbox was gone. The compartment has been locked since we left Tampa, so it had to have been stolen there.

It was a nice collection of metric and standard ¼ and ½ inch socket wrenches as well as box, open end and Allen wrenches. There were a few nice touches like the mirror on a swivel for looking around corners. Everything was neatly separated in freezer bags so there was no need to fumble finding the correct wrench.

I bought the toolkit for Ken in 1972. He was down on his luck again and needed the toolkit and money for a ticket to England to work on Bell helicopters. He was fired from that job after hitting a factory representative in the head with a wine bottle at a reception. Eventually, he was deported from England as an undesirable character after being arrested following a fight in a pub. He gave me the toolkit as partial payment for the loan. It had everything you might need to repair a helicopter.

I met Ken in High School. He was a football and track star and academically very talented. He joined the US Marines in 1960. I ran into him again at the University in Tallahassee in 1965 and became his roommate for a time. He took me to a cast party in November, 1965 where I met Carol. Carol’s date and Ken went home alone that night.

In 1968, after graduation, he went to Viet Nam again, this time as a civilian F-4C mechanic. He came back a year later with his alcoholism in full bloom and a nasty heroin habit.

Over the years, as my life became stable, he would drop by to visit us about once a year and borrow money. He took to using our address permanently to receive mail. Once a year I would help him with taxes. Sometimes we would drink together, but I stopped doing that after we got in a drunken fistfight one day and I bit off a piece of his ear. He often lived in a cardboard box and sometimes worked on a tugboat.

In 1996, I got a call from Morgan City, Louisiana. Ken had died in his sleep. His employer, a tugboat company, asked me for help disposing of the remains. Over the years, the toolbox always brought back memories of Ken when I needed a wrench. Carol wants me to buy more tools, but they won’t be replacements.

Friday, 11 August 2006

Noon in the Garden of Good and Evil

Savannah, Georgia - 11 August, 2006

The settlement was established in 1733 by James Oglethorpe. He had a utopian vision of no rum and no slaves for his colony. The King hoped the colony would serve as a check on the Spanish settlements in north Florida. By 1738, the Savannah citizens began a revolt caused by economic woes from a lack of slaves and by dry throats. Oglethorpe banished the most vocal protesters to South Carolina. Late in 1739, The War of Jenkin's Ear broke out between English Georgia and Spanish Florida. Somehow this also ignited the larger War of Austrian Succession in Europe.

All this resulted in the creation of Savannah’s Beacon Park tennis complex, where Mrs. Phred beats me like a gong, 6-0, 6-3 as the temperature rises at 7 AM. Oglethorpe allowed a shipload of Jewish immigrants to join the colony. Mrs. Phred claims to be descended from the first Euorpean baby born in Savannah. I’ll take her to visit the temple later today.

The 21 beautiful town squares of Savannah were, as it turns out, laid out by Oglethorpe for training the militias, rather than for esthetic purposes as I had first imagined. We visit the Telfair Art Museum (mostly to se the Birdgirl statue shown on the book cover of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”.

By noon the temperature nears 100 F. Savannah is a good place to spend a day walking and looking at old mansions on the squares, but not in this heat. We are followed by a shouting man holding a neatly printed hand-lettered sign with a message about Satan and America. I want to take his picture, but Mrs. Phred feels it would be like staring at someone with a disability.

Later we visit Fort Pulaski National Monument on an Island at the mouth of the Oceefee River. Laid our by young Robert E. Lee, it took 25 million bricks and 18 years to construct after the humiliating English invasion of 1812. In 1862, it was destroyed in 30 hours by large caliber rifled Union artillery from two miles away on Tybee Island. This caused a world-wide rethinking about the invincibility of eight-foot thick brick fortifications. There’s a lot of history here: ironclads, the cotton gin, slavery and the first Atlantic crossing by a steamboat.

We check out the National temperature map and wish we were further north, but I decide to linger, play more tennis and see the temple and the Bonaventure Cemetery later today. Mrs. Phred refuses to try another halibut recipe so I make myself an egg sandwich for dinner.

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Doan Go THAT Way

La Parguera, Puerto Rico

I sit next to my son on the flight to Puerto Rico and remember bringing him and Mrs. Phred back from Tallahassee Memorial Hospital 37 years ago. He is sleeping next to me now. This is the first time we've spent together in many years.

We pick up the rental car and head west from San Juan to Arecibo and then down into the mountains to La Parguera. It takes three hours to drive 50 miles though the mountain switchbacks. We come to the intersection of 128 and 428. We decide to take 428. A man come out on his front porch and yells “Doan go THAT way!”. The road degenerates quickly into one lane and we expect to see banditos with machetes.We find a turnaround point and the man comes out and yells “I toll you!”. We laugh and wave.

The first dive is at 100 feet. I see stoplight parrotfish, queen angels (iridescent blue and gold) and trumpetfish. We do a five minute safety stop at 20 feet to bleed of nitrogen and a one hour surface interval and then go down again. Our divemaster is from Miani..we talk about visiting Cuba.

The 14 pounds of lead I’m carrying take me down very quickly. I’ve lost 30 pounds of fat since last year. Fat floats. 12 pounds is enough this year.

The next day the sea is much higher. Everyone on the boat is puking except me…I offer a bite of sandwich to a customer from Topeka who pukes on the deck next to me. I rented an underwater camera. The CD will be ready in the morning. I hope the shot of the green moray eel comes out.