On the Road – God Bless the U.S.A.

Map for blog

Alice & Tango’s route so far – 4/23 to 5/14

I am just shy of three weeks on the road, about halfway through the trip. It has been great fun.  I think everyone should leave the safety of their home cocoon and get out in the world.  Despite the rather spooky presence of nearly identical shopping malls in every fair–sized hamlet, you can still catch the regional flavors that make this land a wonderful smorgasbord of ideas, ambitions, and realities.  How have we ever managed to hold it together for all these years?  Will we manage to keep it together in this current time?

Here in California you frequently hear a joking reference to seceding from the Union. With the seventh largest economy in the world, it could certainly survive on its own. No doubt the comments are similar to those uttered in the South 150 years ago, remarks  that ultimately led to the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi where Tango and I stopped just a few weeks ago.

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Oklahoma City Memorial

And in Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh so hated the federation of the United States that he was willing to destroy hundreds of innocent lives in the name of some warped concept of a “white only” world that would rise up in answer to his atrocious act.

Make no mistake, there are problems in the U.S. of A.  Big ones. Poverty, both economic and spiritual, tops the list.  You can see the poverty, especially in the South. And even though our poorest souls have much more than many in the world at large they are still suffering. Telling them to give up their cell phones to buy health insurance really isn’t the answer.  And to be told that “no one dies from not having health insurance” is insulting. People will tolerate such treatment for only so long.

We have entered one of those phases in history where the people must guide the democracy because, obviously, there is no leadership at the top.  The corruption is mammoth in scale and must be removed.  It is our job, as citizens, to set the ship of state right again. And from what I have seen on this trip and in the news, the people are ready. ❧

On the Road – Day 4

Grace2One of my favorite TV series is “Saving Grace.” (It originally aired on TNT 2007-2010 and is now available on Netflix.)  Holly Hunter plays an Oklahoma City detective named Grace who is visited by Earl, a lovable angel.  Grace is a nice twist on the prostitute with a heart of gold.  She sleeps around, drinks too much, and is a wicked jokester but she’s also ethical and a good cop.

A major story line is the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. Grace’s sister died in the blast but it should have been Grace, who was too hung-over to go down to the Social Security Office and apply for her nephew’s card. Now Grace is helping to raise the nephew and they have frequent talks about the bombing.  And they visit the memorial park that was constructed on the site of the bombing.

And that is what led me to Oklahoma City today.

The bombing happened on April 19, 1995. It was horrific, killing 168 people and ripping apart an enormous building in the heart of OKC. But, practically speaking, I missed all of it.  April 1995 was not a good time for me. My husband was six months into his diagnosis of AIDS.  In early April he nearly died when his gallbladder became inflamed and then went necrotic. Surgery saved him but rendered him, as he said, “weak as a kitten.”  We had already decided to move back to Florida, to be near family for support, and wheels were in motion that were threatening to run me down. Movers had been contracted, boxes were getting packed and deadlines loomed. I recall buying something at a store and asking the clerk about the ribbon she was wearing. She looked at me as if I was an alien. “It’s for the bombing victims,” she declared with just a hint of “you idiot.”

Twelve years later “Saving Grace” came on the air and its interwoven theme reminded me of those times.  Odd as it may seem, I felt badly that I hadn’t felt badly in 1995. So today I stopped by to pay my respects.

Earl must have been on my shoulder because I managed to get a parking space directly across the street. It was a raw, cold day so it was little wonder that there were no crowds. And the memorial, like the building that once stood there, is literally in the middle of the city. It is amazing that more buildings didn’t collapse.

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Side view of the Oklahoma City bombing museum

I should have visited the museum but I didn’t. It is housed in an original part of the Murrah Building that survived the blast, the scars of that terrible day are very evident.  I’m sure it is excellent but I worried about leaving Tango in the van for too long and, truth to tell, I am not the best museum browser.

So I made the quick walk to the memorial sculpture/garden and as I gazed at it across a beautiful reflection pool I was surprised at the tears that gathered in my eyes. The design is so personal and so simple–168 chairs in nine rows reflecting the nine floors of the Murrah Building.   The placement of the chair corresponds with the floor on which the person would have been at the time of the blast. The smaller chairs represent the children that died. Five chairs set away from the others represent those that were outside the building.  Each chair has a glass foundation with a name engraved.  It reminded me of  “Our Town,” the Thornton Wilder play in which the dead occupy chairs and reflect on life and eternity.  Certainly in that quiet park, that was once so horribly torn asunder, it is easy to do the same.

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The Oklahoma City National Memorial

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Perhaps Wilder captured the essence of why I visited the Memorial when the main character speaks these lines:

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

On the Road – Day 2

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Tango by one of the many Union and Confederate cannons.

Today Tango and I crossed the states of Alabama and Mississippi, stopping in Vicksburg on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Vicksburg is notable for being the spot where the first Coca Cola was bottled in 1894. It was also the site of one of the critical battles of the American Civil War.  In 1863, from May 18th until July 4th, the Union forces laid siege on Vicksburg.  The armies totaled 110,000 men–more than twice the current population of Vicksburg.  Causalities were more than 37,000–a number that does not include the civilians of Vicksburg who were trapped along with the Confederate soldiers.

Vicksburg’s strategic place along the Mississippi made it a “must win” for the Union. Abraham Lincoln declared Vicksburg “the Key” to winning the Civil War.

Today the land on which the Yanks and the Rebels squared off against one another is preserved as a National Park.  With close to 150 years of recovery, the landscape no longer resembles the war-ravaged land of 1863.  Monuments grace the 1,800 acres and the Park Service clearly has its hands full keeping the grass trimmed back.  You can hardly believe there was ever the carnage and suffering that is depicted in the exhibits.

Why visit such a place, you might ask?  Why care about a war that is long gone and that many college students can’t even tell you who won (it was the Union)?  It has to do with perspective, I think.  There are many who feel these are the worst of times in the U.S.  But there was a time in this country when we set about to slaughter one another and did a darn good job of it. Estimates are that 620,000 people died in the Civil War, which was only four years long.  Do the math…155,000 a year, 12,917 a month!  Add to that the mammoth destruction of property in the South.  It was a horrific time….

Yet today soft green grasses of spring wave peacefully on the hillsides. The trees have that rich color of new growth and birds are everywhere collecting the makings of their springtime nests.  Butterflies flitter about and dozens of people, like me, stopped by to pay their respects to this hallowed ground.   Things may be a little tough right now but let us hope we never return to the horror that was the American Civil War.  ❖

 

 

We Need A Little Christmas

55069-christmas-spiritIn recent years I haven’t been very “big” on Christmas. The conflicted messages that emanate at this time of the year have become too much for this aging soul.  I recall being so fervent as a child, anticipating the birth of baby Jesus, marveling at the tale of the three wise men and, of course, anticipating Santa’s visit. Even in to middle age there was still a lot enjoyment centered around the holiday. But over-commercialization coupled with learning the truth about how our religious documents were not the contemporary reportage that we might have thought, have made this writer cynical about it all.  As the media focuses on the “new phenomena” of  “fake news” let’s not lose sight of the fact that religions have practiced fake news for years.

This year things seem especially grim.  Many are choosing to “drop out” because, honestly, it has become impossible to know what is real and what is not. On Facebook this morning I saw a Canadian journalist who claims that the U.S.A. is fabricating stories about Syria, that the “White Helmets” are not a humanitarian group but a well-funded paramilitary organization, and that we don’t have a clue as to what is happening in Aleppo because there are no reporters in the city.  She noted that one prominent source on conditions in Aleppo lives in Coventry, England!  She seemed incredibly well versed and was particularly articulate about the dreadful war in Syria but who is to say that she is reporting the truth?

Ironically it is this unsettled state of mind that turns many people to religion but it seems our various cultures have plenty of faith in various gods…we simply have no faith in each other.

And so I found myself humming, “We Need a Little Christmas,” from the musical “Mame.”  It’s a cheerful ditty and I hadn’t heard it in a while so, as is my wont, I was inspired to have a listen on Spotify.  I wonder if these lyrics resonate with any of you, dear readers?

For I’ve grown a little leaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
Grown a little older,
And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder,
Need a little Christmas now.

Angels, alas, are in short supply but in the Christmas tradition I can send you a star, a Florida star.

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A Florida Star

This photograph is one of our lovely Florida grasses with a crown of morning dew.  Nature always soothes me and brings things into perspective. And today that perspective is right in-line with Mame’s:

For we need a little music,
Need a little laughter,
Need a little singing
Ringing through the rafter,
And we need a little snappy
“Happy ever after,”

Need a little Christmas now.

In The Deep

Natalia Molchanova begins a deep dive.

Natalia Molchanova begins a deep dive.

Natalia Molchanova is dead. You can be forgiven if you have not heard of her. In this world of seven billion inhabitants there are people who accomplish great things that we never hear of or give witness to…until they are gone.

Ms. Molchanova was widely regarded as the world’s greatest free diver, perhaps in the history of the sport (at the time of her death on August 2nd she held 41 world records).

Free diving is a basic, no frills sport. All you need is a body of water and a diver. You hold your breath and dive as deeply as you possibly can. In Ms. Molchanova’s case it was very deep indeed. She was the first woman to ever pass the 100 meter depth. That is a little over the length of a football field, down into the sea and, of course, back to the surface again. Ms. Molchanova held the world record for holding her breath longer than anyone else – 9 minutes and 2 seconds!

These records are remarkable enough but are even more so when placed into the context of Ms. Molchanova’s life. She was originally a competitive swimmer but “retired” after giving birth to her son (who is also a free diver). She returned to training, and took up free diving, at the age of 40 and carved a spectacular career in the span of 13 years. At an age when most people begin to think about true retirement this remarkable woman found an outlet that not only satisfied her desire to compete but also, it seemed, gave her great spiritual reward.

“Free diving is not only sport, it’s a way to understand who we are,” Ms. Molchanova said in an interview last year. “When we go down, if we don’t think, we understand we are whole. We are one with world. When we think, we are separate. On surface, it is natural to think and we have many information inside. We need to reset sometimes. Free diving helps do that.”

In a world where we are constantly barraged by stimulus that forces an almost non-stop thinking, the prospect of “not thinking” is almost, well, unthinkable. And yet it seems to hold some key to finding an inner peace, ask any Zen master or Buddhist monk.  Or, perhaps, any child in the womb, waiting to be born, floating in their own sea, experiencing the oneness.

For Ms. Molchanova her moment of becoming one with the world is now eternal. Her body has not been found and her son has accepted that. “It seems she’ll stay in the sea,” he said. “I think she would like that.”  ❦

 

Learning to Love the Digital Newspaper

For whatever reasons I have resisted online newspapers. I am happy to use them for research purposes or to follow-up on a local story. But online newspapers have never brought me the same joy as the print edition. The same is true of the Kindle and e-books, although that change has been easier. There are times I greatly prefer the Kindle to the heft of a bound book that is 400 to 500 pages in length.

For many years we subscribed to The Washington Post and how I loved that paper. We lived in a second story apartment in Washington, D.C. and the paper arrived every morning via the mail slot at the foot of the stairs. I recall descending the stairs every morning and reading articles as I climbed the stairs back to our apartment. So much history was revealed in the little stairwell; presidents resigning, elections, wars and celebrations. Among my most vivid memories is the cold December morning when I opened the paper and saw the headline that John Lennon had been assassinated. I literally went weak in the knees and slumped against the wall.

There was always time to read The Post and if my schedule demanded an extra early start I would arise earlier to have at least enough time to read the critical front section. The rest could wait for the evening or during a lunch break.

After we returned to our home state of Florida in 1995 we subscribed to the local paper which was adequate but a far cry from The Post. Over time I became aware that the news coverage in this local newspaper had shifted from actual news to a rather solid drone about 1) the burgeoning real estate market, 2) the latest and greatest retail shops in town, or 3) the best way to invest your money. There was no longer any real news to speak of and I slipped into relying on the cable news networks for my national and international news. I discontinued the local paper in 2006, a decision I have never regretted.

With time the cable news networks became tedious and decidedly partisan so I looked around the web and found sites that could give me the commentary and insight I was looking for. Salon and Slate became a regular part of reading matter. Online websites at CNN, USA Today and Huffington Post provided additional detail of the “breaking news” stories. But I yearned for a newspaper, or perhaps I should say a news paper, that provided the same sense of discovery and education I had found in the print editions of old.

I am happy to report I recently found it in that venerable old tool, The New York Times.

Ironically I was never a fan of the printed Times. My major complaint was that it had “too much” news, and a lot of it was, naturally, local to New York. The type was too small and the stories too long. It was stunningly dense and difficult to navigate, which is ironic since all you really had to do was turn the page.

The online Times, however, is quite a joy. It is still dense, even more so in this age of hyperlinks. But the layout is superb and easy to navigate. The links almost always work. Videos are worked into the site, of course, but their placement is not an obstruction to getting where one wants to go, especially in the tablet format. The lead stories are appropriately placed and I have never seen a headline featuring the Kardashians. That alone is worth the cost of subscription.

The Times has a myriad of sections, many of which are very helpful. Your Day Ahead offers a concise summary of things that should be known allowing one to spend as much or as little time as is wished reading the main stories.

But the real fun comes as you begin to poke around in the various sections. One day, for example, I enjoyed a fascinating article from the Opinions Section entitled, “Fixes: In India Latrines Are Truly Lifesavers.” For anyone who has ever traveled to the Subcontinent (I went there in 2004 on a medical mission)  and wondered why that democracy has such appalling sanitation, this is a must read.

From that I jumped over to the Obituaries. I was intrigued by the headline “Alvin Dark, 92, Is Dead.” Such a name! “Alvin Dark!” Turns out he was a ballplayer with the Giants and led the team to three pennants. But I’m not much of a baseball fan so my mind and eye wandered to a nearby section entitled “From The Archives.” Here you can find a selection of obituaries of many notable individuals gleaned from the NYT archives. Among those I have enjoyed was the obit of Robert E. Lee, from the October 13, 1870 edition of The Times. You may have never thought about reading the obituary of General Lee, I know I never had, but once you begin it is hard to stop. In today’s lean writing style the sentence might have read, “General Lee dies of a stroke at age 63.” But here is the opening paragraph from 1870:

 Intelligence was received last evening of the death at Lexington, Va., Of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the most famous of the officers whose celebrity was gained in the service of the Southern Confederacy during the late terrible rebellion. A report was received some days ago that he had been smitten with paralysis, but this was denied, and though it was admitted that he was seriously ill, hopes of his speedy recovery seem to have been entertained by his friends. Within the last two or three days his symptoms had taken an unfavorable turn, and he expired at 91/2 o’clock yesterday morning of congestion of the brain, at the age of sixty-three years, eight months and twenty-three days.

The Times does not write scanty obits and the obituary of General Lee is so well-written that it becomes a dynamic history lesson. Here is a sample:

 In the Spring and Summer of 1864 that indomitable soldier gradually inclosed [sic] the City of Richmond as with a girdle of iron, which he drew closer and closer with irresistible energy and inexorable determination, repulsing the rebel forces whenever they ventured to make an attack, which they did several times with considerable vigor.

In that same day I also read the obituaries of Anne Sullivan Macy, companion to Helen Keller, and Indira Ghandi, assassinated prime minister of India. Your own tastes might trend more to The Learning Network or fashion or home design or opinion. Whatever your reading tastes might be you can probably find an edible delight in The Times. Try it. Learn to love a news paper again. ❧

 

Image #250 – Bravery

Image #250

Hello dear readers. I apologize for being “off the grid” for a while. My absence generated some concern owing to the fact that I was in the final leg of my epic seven-week tour of the U.S.A.  But fear not, Tango and I are well, safely arrived in North Carolina.

For those who are new to my blog here is a quick recap: I set out from Western North Carolina on April 24th. My goal was Portland, Oregon where I was scheduled to speak at a conference. I also stopped in Columbia, Missouri and addressed the Show Me Cannabis statewide conference.  I spent a week in Denver before heading to Portland. The it was nearly a week in Oregon before heading south to Trinidad, California where I stayed with friends for almost three weeks. It was great R&R. At the end of May I started back East, again via Denver. There is a lot happening in Denver and part of my trip was a “fact-finding” journey. For those interested in my life as a cannabis activist I invite you to visit my writing blog, Aliceolearyrandall.

In Denver I linked up with a friend and we traveled to South Dakota with a side trip to Wyoming. Then it was eastward again with a stop in Madison, Wisconsin and then back to Western NC.  It was 52 days and 7,866 miles of wonderful wandering. It will take some time to absorb it all.

Whenever I would tell someone that I was driving across country they would invariably respond, “Wow, you’re brave!”  It was a statement that constantly befuddled me. I was, after all, driving a very comfortable and safe van with all the modern conveniences. The majority of travel was on interstate highways which are well patrolled. The motels I stayed in were always hospitable and safe. I fail to understand where the bravery was in undertaking such a trip. There is, of course, always the unexpected which can happen at any place and any time. And I suppose I am a bit of a fatalist in thinking that when your time is up it really won’t matter where you are–recliner or interstate, you’re out of here.

But during my travel I was constantly reminded of the truly brave ones who made the journey I have just completed. The American pioneers, in their Conestoga wagons, really deserve every bit of praise that has ever been heaped upon them.  Today’s image was taken in Wyoming and shows the Overland Trail. Those wheel-ruts that extend into the distant horizon were made by the thousands of covered wagons that crossed the U.S.A. So many wagons passed along the trail that the ruts remain to this day. The wagons held men and women seeking better lives. They traveled at the unbelievable speed of 7 miles a day!  Of course they only had two horses pulling them. (Today’s cars have an average of 110 horsepower.)  The pioneers faced environmental hardships and attacks from animals and indians.  Those people were truly brave.

Our U.S.A. is so extraordinary and it is good to get out and experience  the diversity and wonder that makes this nation so great. While you are out there think about those brave pioneers who were seeking a better life and then compare that to some of the immigrants who are coming to the U.S.A. under the same harsh conditions that our ancestors encountered on the Overland Trail.  Bravery is a big part of what drives these individuals but there is something more. How awful their lives must be to surrender everything and set out into the desert looking for the promised land.  In the 1800s, at least, there was no one on the other end to send the pioneers back. ❧