Monday, July 18, 2016

Elkins, West-By-God-Virginia

All too soon, Cajun and Country Week at Augusta Heritage Center came to a close. Students cleared out for home early Saturday, and I and a few other holdovers, waiting for Blues Week to start on Monday, scrambled to find easy non-musical pursuits to rest our overloaded brains.

First, into the mountains to witness the gently unfolding pink petals of rhododendron, along an Otter Creek Wilderness trail.

All alone in the mountains on a beautiful Saturday. Where are all the other hikers, I wondered?? Hearing a shout and scream far ahead, I considered: Kids splashing in an ice-cold mountain stream? Backpackers arguing with mama bear? Or...hikers encountering armed wilderness rednecks? It had not escaped my attention that signs along the trail were peppered with bullet holes.
I paused. Listened carefully. 
Prudence prevailed. Rather than running ahead, potentially to help a wounded walker, I retreated from the mostly deserted Otter Creek Wilderness in favor of a different recreation area--Bear Heaven--that turned out to be just as deserted. But this one had a view.
A quiet day; a pleasant interlude. Yawn.... No music jams tonight; just a good night's sleep in my new AirBnB lodging.

What to do in a podunk town on a sleepy summer Sunday morning? Shops closed. College quiet. Streets empty. No, wait, not completely empty...there's a classic car show in the town square.

And a bustling train station. Then it's aaaaaalllllll aboard for an excursion on a vintage (I.e., old, smelly) diesel train to the High Falls of the Cheat River. (High refers to altitude, not height of the drop.)
Traveling alone? We have a half-empty table reserved just for you, in the Parlor Car. Away from the riff-raff. Enjoy the sophisticated roast beef-and-cheese-with-mustard-sandwich buffet.

"On the left you can begin to see views of the scenic Shavers Fork River." (And--unsaid--trailer homes with outhouses, shot-out windows of wooden shacks, fancy RV parks on the river for rich people.) "As we gain elevation, you will see spectacular river views." Maybe a tad overblown. Still, a quietly pleasant  trip.

We pass the sites of former lumber and coal camps, mostly deserted because they are accessible only by train, and of course those are defunct (except for nostalgic tourist excursions.) Onward and upward. Only to come to an abrupt stop at the start of a 180-degree curve, which our tourist train cannot negotiate. "The sharpest mainline curve east of the Rockies." End of the line for "the little engine that couldn't."
Instead, a little walk in the woods. Then suddenly it's Niagara! Well, quarter-sized Niagara, maybe. And obligatory-picture-taking time.



Then it's aaaaaallllllll aboard again--back down the mountain to Elkins and the rest of the sleepy summer Sunday afternoon



Making Music While the Sun Shines

Here I am in beautiful downtown Elkins, West Virginia, on the campus of Davis and Elkins College. The sun is shining, clouds roll by in a blue sky, and Cajun and Country Week is drawing to a close.
The campus with its Victorian mansions  is lovely, the cool nights a refreshing relief from Washington, with breezes bouncing off the mountaintops.
The last jams with Cajun superstars like Sheryl Cormier, Courtney Grangier and talented youth from Louisiana are diminishing into the last throes of harmony.

What did I learn at music camp? 

-How to master songs in high C, in Cajun dialect, with French R's, employing complex rhythms, thanks to the relentless drills and ministrations of former Mamou Playboy fiddler David Greeley. Always found on the back porch, singing while the sun shines.
-Refining my language technique a bit more precisely, thanks to up-and-coming superstar and multi-instrumentalist Blake Miller.

-Walk-ups and runs on my guitar strings from country singer Lynn Healy--a lesson long overdue.

Seriously, though, all was not serious. My fellow musicians and I shared a few laughs and the occasional prank.

Thanks to the magical musical wisdom (and humor) of our Michigan friend John, I learned some new guitar grooves: the "air mordant," which quickly leads to the "dominant fifth." (Which John demonstrated. Or are those just cramped fingers, from clutching too many wine glasses?)
The mini-lesson quickly led to a blistering critique of John's potentially bogus musical research by ultra-serious jam leaders Patrick and Terri (or was that just the whiskey talking?). 
It led also to a look of pure unembellished admiration (or was it stupefaction?) from fellow Michigander Frank...
...who promptly put thought into action, trying in vain to coax a reluctant mordant from his stand-up bass.
Ah, the joys of being schooled in music theory and then putting it to the test. Every afternoon and evening people gather on the porch, patio, meadow, lounge, wherever, to make beautiful music while the sun shines and sets, once again, over the hills.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Yoga in the Park, June 21, 6:30 pm, Oronoco Park, Old Town Alexandria

Y'all come! People of all ages and abilities welcome; bring a mat. FREE class. Giveaways. A local celebration of the United Nations-designated International Day of Yoga, held in conjunction with events worldwide on that day.





Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Sailor's Life: Work Work Work Work Play Work Work

Are we ready yet? What month is it? Is there a Dark 'n' Stormy on board?
Captain Pope and First Mate Amber, getting the boat shipshape and ready to sail out
Holiday Hill Marina in Edgewater, Maryland, on a sunny day in June; sailors working on boats everywhere

The 2016 sailing season is well underway at our marina on the west side of Chesapeake Bay--and I have finally begun to set foot on our sailboat, Echo II. Captain Pope has worked on her almost every day since February, on the hard and later in the water: new rigging, new antenna, new batteries, rewiring radio, upgrading GPS, fixing leaks, engine maintenance, cleaning holds and tanks. He finally took her out in June, for a couple of single-hand races.
All work and no play, as long as it's on his baby Echo II, makes Pope a happy man


Being only the first mate, and a fair-weather and mildly reluctant sailor to boot, I've been on the boat only five times since the boat went in the water in April. My jobs: cleaning mold and stains and bilge, inventory, unpacking from winter storage, provisioning, sewing, hold the wrench or pass the screwdriver for Pope.
Scrubbing ceilings means hours of reaching overhead, soap dripping in your eyes

Laying on my back in the tiny v-berth (remember those blog posts back in Fall 2013 about living aboard a boat?) to get to the tight spots where mold grows thick and black

If you remember from my early blogging days, my fantasies of living aboard a boat in Paradise didn't last long after a few weeks of rockin' and rollin' and cleaning and repairing on our way down the coast toward the Bahamas. It was a lot of work! It's easy to forget when she shines so brightly in the sun, resting calmly on her mooring in Whitemarsh Creek.
Echo II looking bright and shiny with her new jibsail

I like it when she's sitting still! It's the sailing--and heeling--in strong winds that make me cringe and sometimes go below and hide under a pillow.
Why can't I stay calm like this confident mariner? (Because she has nine lives!) Boat cat at Holiday Hill Marina; lives aboard one sailboat but is adept at hopping on and off all of them


Pope will confirm there has been little letup in my fear of boating and sailing. Last week he took me along for a brief spin down the Rhode River in order to clean the bottom in slightly cleaner water. Mission aborted: water too cold. But not before causing me one or two minor panic attacks, though: anchoring near a shoal, anchor chain tangled, scanning the water anxiously for my submerged partner.
Where is the rest of Pope????

Ah, there he is, still breathing but too cold for serious underwater scrubbing!


In return for doing most of the work, Pope has most of the fun. Of course, he loves the whole life; he's a lifelong sailor. Since his father lived on a sailboat (shipwrecked off the coast of Florida with Pope aboard), it's in his blood--unlike the sheltered urban upbringing of his landlubber partner and first mate. He does 90% of the sailing, 85% of the work, and 5% of the worrying (that's my job).


Keeping Echo II on a mooring instead of in a slip at the dock means he also has to travel back and forth in a kayak to shuttle tools, parts, and provisions, bringing the boat to the dock only to pick me up when I come to the marina to help out.

Using a little boat to get to the big boat; who needs weight-lifting when you're carrying 10-pound drills and 40-pound kayaks?

In return for my 10% of the sailing and 15% of the work I get to attend parties. Socializing is a big part of the boating life, and the part that has made my adventures and worries worthwhile. Last week, after a long day of scrubbing in the hot sun, we cooled down with a brew at Eastport's "Latitude Adjustment Party." It was an annual send-off for mariners leaving the next morning for the annual Annapolis-Bermuda race. Cross half an ocean? No thanks; I like being in sight of land.
Don't let the empty tables fool you; these sailors are seriously drinking in preparation for days at sea
Mike Lange's Tiki Barbarians band features an island sound, a la Jimmy Buffett

This weekend, Pope returned from a single-handed race on Echo II with a bent stanchion an a few new bumps and loose screws. And so the work continues. And for what adventure are we, especially Pope, spending these seemingly endless days working, working, working, without pay and mostly without play?

Funny you should ask. Just today, I heard someone mention the possibility of another winter in the Bahamas.








Toddler Shoots Mom; Found Gun in Drawer (Or: A Grisly Adventure Into History)


Today marks a dark day in human history. Another mass shooting. Another indication of the ready availability of weapons of mass destruction of human beings. What struck me as one of the saddest headlines is this one: "The gun used in the Orlando shooting is becoming mass shooters’ weapon of choice."


Is gun violence really increasing at the rate it seems to be? Perhaps. Just as many headlines, however, seem to be about the incidental and, in many cases, accidental use of firearms.


Pope likes to post link on his Facebook page to headlines like "Toddlers have shot at least 23 people this year" (Washington Post). "Churchgoer killed in fight over seat at Sunday service" (NY Daily News). "Tragedy on the highway: Witnesses say child got hold of gun, shot woman driving on Hwy 175" (Fox News). What he probably doesn't realize is that this is not new news!


Folks, hang onto your hat (so it doesn't get "blown away"). To assuage your low humor on this gray day, join me on an enlightening adventure into some historical trivia about gun use, mis-use, and accidents in the United States--a reminder that guns have been a problem for a long, long time.




Flintlock rifles were in use for almost 200 years, from the early 17th to early 19th century; they produced a reliable spark from striking flint, and were easy to make. We have seen them in the movies--slung across a saddle in a Western, brandished by pirates, or drawn in a duel. They are still in use by historic re-enactors and by "black-powder" hunting enthusiasts. 


When I saw this book on the library shelf, I just had to pick it up for Pope: "Melancholy Accidents: Three Centuries of Stray Bullets and Bad Luck."
According to the author, Peter Manseau, incidents of guns accidentally causing people grievous harm instead of protecting them--whether inadvertent suicides or bad aim with a hunting rifle--were labeled "melancholy accidents." The accounts in newspapers of early America did not often mention the type of gun. Apparently a gun was a gun was a Gun. Otherwise, however, the accounts were colorfully descriptive and widely reprinted:


We have Advice from Lunenberg, that on the first Instant, a very melancholy Accident happened there. A number of Men in trying a new Gun by firing at a Mark against the side of a Barn, one of the Bullets struck upon some piece of Iron and split it (the Bullet) in two, one piece of which flew to a considerable Distance from the Barn, and upon a contrary line to its natural course, and struck one Dr. Rice (who was travelling the Road) in the Forehead or Temple, which wounded him to such a Degree, that he died about Nine o'Clock that Night. That piece of the Bullet that struck Dr. Rice was found in his Hat, the other piece (which flew quite a contrary way) fell down by the Rev. Mr. Stern's Door where some Persons were standing but did no Hurt. However, Mr. Sterns sent the piece to the Men who were firing, with a desire that they would take more Care for the future.
- As reported February 13, 1739, in the New England Weekly Journal, Boston Massachusetts; from "Melancholy Accidents"
Even in the 1700s, innocent children were often involved, just as they are in the current headline-shouting news accounts:


NEWPORT--Last Sunday happened a most melancholy Accident at the House of Mr. Benjamin Dunham, at the Point Ferry-House, at about half after Two o'Clock in the Afternoon, viz. One of his Sons, a Child about Seven Years old, was sitting upon a Table, at which Instant another of his Sons, a Lad about Fourteen Years old, being in the next room, chanced to take up a Gun loaded with Goose Shot, to view it, when it immediately discharged, pierced through the partition, and shot the youngest in the Forehead, and some of the Shot came out at the back Part of his Head. He lingered till about Six o'clock, and died.
 - As reported October 29, 1765, in The Newport Mercury, Newport, Rhode Island; from "Melancholy Accidents"


We hear from Leicester that on Tuesday last a very melancholy Accident happened in that Town: A Son of Mr. William Henshaw, about 6 Years of Age, and another Lad being in a Chamber playing with a Gun, which they tho't not to be loaded. The Lad put the muzzle of the Gun to the Ear of Mr. Henshaw's Son, when it went off with a whole Charge of Partridge Shot, which tore his head to pieces, and killed him instantly.
- As reported June 19, 1772, in The Connecticut Journal and New Haven Post Boy, New Haven, Connecticut; from "Melancholy Accidents"
18th century hunting rifle; photo from blog of Italian gun manufacturing firm of Davide Petersoli


A century later, reports of such mishaps continued:


A Little Girl Shot--We have just been informed that a little boy, son of a Mr. Evans of Cass county, residing some ten miles south of this place, accidentally shot his little sister. The following are the facts as we have learned them. The little boy aimed to shoot a bird, not noticing his little sister, who was in range of the gun. The ball entered the back and passed out at the breast, dangerously wounding her. No hopes of her recovery.
- As reported on June 14, 1860, in The Plymouth Weekly Democrat, Plymouth, Indiana; from "Melancholy Accidents"


Hunting, of course, has accounted for a large proportion of both deliberate and accidental gun discharges historically--leading to planned and unplanned deaths and, some might say, the hijacking of the Second Amendment to "protect" one's right to kill animals as well as to defend one's self and one's community from invasion.


In the 1800s, the increasing demand for meat, as well as the demands for wildfowl feathers to adorn womens' hats, led to the rise of professional hunters and new forms of mass weaponry.
A single shot from the heavy and cumbersome punt gun could kill as many as 50 birds at once, helping to meet the increasing demand for meat and fashion. The firepower was so great the whole boat would recoil. Punt guns were banned in most states by the 1860s because of depleted waterfowl stocks. Photo from Rare Historical Photos.
The wildly popular feather hat accounted for the slaughter of millions of birds, leading the Massachusetts Audubon Society to successfully lobby for the first federal-level conservation legislation, the Lacey Act of 1900. Photo from the blog Sociological Images by Lisa Wade
There are plenty of vintage hats with bird feathers for sale on eBay and Etsy--such as one from the 1940s with colorful pheasant feathers, and one with a "dramatic feather spray that frames the face" from the 1930s; however, it's not necessary to delve into history to find such hats, because they are still being made: according to her hatmaker, Princess Kate Middleton's creations can take up to three days to make. She wore this one to a wedding.


Among the many and varied reports of gun uses, mis-uses, and accidents over the centuries, there is none as heart-wrenching (yet satisfactory) as those of the just-plain-fools who shoot themselves with their own guns. First, there were the historic fools (if it weren't for the historical newspaper record, I would have guessed this to be a fake account, crying out for debunking by Snopes, on the basis of the name alone):



On the 2d inst. a young man belonging to Waterloo, Monroe co., Ill., named Constantine L. Omelveny, accidentally shot himself. He started from his father's on a gunning excursion, and previous to loading his piece, unconscious of its containing a load, placed his foot upon the lock to raise it, and put his mouth to the muzzle for the purpose of blowing in it to ascertain if it was clear; his foot slipped and discharged the whole contents into his mouth, killing him instantly.
- As reported August 25, 1843 in The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana; from "Melancholy Accidents"


And, finally, there are the current, 21st-century fools, slaves to new technology but still fascinated by the old. According to Fox News in St. Louis, people believe that a 15-year-old in Overland, Missouri, died last week after accidentally shooting himself in the chest while trying to take a selfie with a loaded gun. He found the gun on the top shelf of a closet, with no safety catch.


Some things never change.