Friday, July 19, 2019

Misty Memories of the Moon (and Beyond)

Earlier today I saw an NBC segment done by Tom Brokaw on the historic moon landing of Apollo 11. I cried all the way through it.

I don’t remember the start of NASA’s Project Mercury but do remember the seven astronauts becoming some of my earliest heroes outside of my own family. Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton were an important part of this little girl’s life and imagination.

“As the crow flies” we lived a little over a hundred miles away from Cape Canaveral, the location of the space center. Situated as our house was on “Coon Prairie,” east of Arcadia, Florida, our family was actually able to witness the launches and we thrilled to see Alan Shepard become the first American in space and John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth.

I cried when my hero, Gus Grissom, was killed in a pre-launch test of Apollo 1. But by the time the Apollo project was launched, my early heroes had been sort of pushed aside by The Monkees and The Beatles. I had continued to follow the space program, just … not as enthusiastically.

Still, along with millions of other Americans, I kept one eye on the race to the moon. Seems silly now but I remember being quite fearful when Apollo 8, with Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders, first orbited the moon – the moon, you’ll recall, shows us only one face and we’d never seen its “dark side.” “What if … ???” my young mind worried.

In July of 1969, I was eagerly preparing for a trip abroad, to spend a period of time studying at London’s Royal Academy of Music, to be followed by excursions across Germany and into Austria and France. All excitement for my own trip was set aside on July 20, though, as my family and I crowded around our black-and-white TV to witness men, who’d flown farther and higher than I ever expected to, set foot on the moon. "That's one small step for a man. One giant leap for mankind." Neil Armstrong’s words stirred tears of pride and still thrill me to this day.

His courage, and the raw courage of all who’ve participated in the space program as astronauts, was and remains inspirational.

Because of my life-long residence in Florida, I feel very connected to the space program. I’ve been an eyewitness to some of its biggest – and its most tragic – moments. At Punta Gorda’s Charlotte High School, I learned of the explosion of space shuttle Challenger and went outside to see the weird vapor trail it had left. Class activities were suspended for the rest of the day as students and teachers grieved its loss.

Two and a half years later it was my good fortune to be visiting the Space Coast’s Palm Bay High School as Discovery launched its “Return to Flight” mission. Palm Bay High is located only 20 miles or so away from the space center’s launch pad and its teachers and students had been traumatized by witnessing Challenger’s explosion at such close range. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath as we convened on the roof to watch Discovery’s launch. Cheers erupted as it safely exited the atmosphere … followed by many tears shed, a mixture of relief for the current mission and grief for the failed one.   

I stayed after the closing bell at Lehigh Senior High School (Lehigh Acres) to watch alone as Discovery took my old hero John Glenn on a journey to become the oldest American in space. And I may have cried.

I may cry again tomorrow, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Armstrong’s “one small step.”  

Thanks for the memories. 

Monday, July 15, 2019


Recent events have brought a years-ago experience to mind.

My husband Greg and I used to be vendors at The Big E, a huge event in Western Massachusetts that I’d describe as the combined state fair of the six New England states (New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island). The fair had all the rides and “fair food” and agricultural exhibits of most state fairs, but there was also a strong cultural emphasis on the unique “character” of each of those six states.

For me personally, my month-long residence in Western Mass was a different type of cultural experience. Not only was I immersed in a New England “lifestyle” that was foreign to this native Southerner, but for the first time in my life I was exposed to strong pockets of immigrant culture -- whole neighborhoods where to varying degrees the “mother” culture and language were preserved. Russia, Ireland, Italy, and Puerto Rico were strongly represented; there were even weekly newspapers in Russian and Spanish. I thought it was pretty cool, and it certainly was very interesting.

One of the many friends I made over the years was Ricky, a young man who worked at the station where UPS and FedEx packages were delivered. Greg met him first, and was very impressed with this hard-working individual who always took vacation time from his principal occupation to work The Big E. Ricky wanted to make extra money for all the reasons that all of us want to make extra money: the dream of marrying “my girl,” one day owning a home, and of course just everyday Life. He always had a smile on his face, it seemed, and as his friendship with Greg developed, he seemed to take extra-special good care of us. After Greg took ill, and was no longer physically capable of picking up the parcels himself, Ricky even took it upon himself to deliver our shipments because he knew how hard it would be for me to leave our booth.

When the shipment station closed down for the day, Ricky would sometimes come by to hang out a little, maybe drink a beer, and we got to know him even better. It was during one of these times that I learned something from him that has stayed with me ... and probably -- hopefully! -- will the rest of my life. Because he appeared to be Hispanic, and knowing that there was a sizable Puerto Rican population in the area, I asked Ricky if he were Puerto Rican. He smiled at me, then emphatically said, “I’m ‘Rican! I’m ‘Amer-rican!” He then went on to explain that, while both of his parents had been born in Puerto Rico (which is, of course, part of the US and has been since 1898), he had been born IN America (one of the 50 states); he was all-American and of Puerto Rican descent.

The pride with which he made this declaration filled my heart with pride as well.

I think back on Ricky today, remembering his ambition and industry, his work ethic, his willingness to go above and beyond, his smile, his friendship ... most of all his pride in his American citizenship. “My” America is richer because of him.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Blue Ghosts

Last night I witnessed something magical that is apparently quite a rare phenomenon: Blue Ghost Fireflies.

I’d been visiting at a friend’s home in North Carolina. Ken owns about 40 or so acres that border the South Toe River, you might say in the shadow of Mount Mitchell. Every once in a while, Ken hosts a little potluck dinner around the campfire. We enjoy good food and great company, and last night was a fairly typical night.

After dinner, my cousin Sally, new friend Kay, and beloved adventure-dog Henry took a walk down to the river. It was a little more exercise than I’d bargained for, although I’m not sore today and it was surely good for me! It was also a little more than Henry had bargained for, because he is sore today – but very, very happy!

After we returned from the walk, the party dwindled down to six humans and one dog. It was so peaceful up there, just sitting around enjoying quiet conversation. No one seemed to want to leave, but all good things must come to an end, and we tidied up and started packing things out to our cars. We walked out in darkness, gradually becoming aware of a sort of blue-white glowing in the rough clearing off to our left.

“What is this?!” we kept asking each other. They didn’t seem to be fireflies – or lightning bugs, as some of us call them – because they weren’t “winking” on and off. Plus, lightning bugs usually hang out in the trees, and these were hovering close to the ground. Finally, Ken recalled hearing of “blue ghosts” and we realized that, whatever blue ghosts might be, these were probably blue ghosts, because they certainly gave off a ghost-like, eerie glow.

We watched, mesmerized, for a while. They moved and hovered in complete, spooky silence. I thought to grab a little video from my cell phone, with absolutely no success. This is just one of those special moments in time that will be preserved only by my memory.

Returning home, a quick google search revealed this article, which not only explains the science behind “blue ghosts” but also gives some valuable tips for trying to experience this phenomenon for yourself. Which I highly recommend.

Atlas Obscura, always informative and entertaining, posted this article:

Apparently, local legend has it that the blue fireflies are the ghosts of Confederate soldiers – although it was pointed out that since the fireflies are blue, it would make more sense if they were the ghosts of Union soldiers. Now, you can believe or not, as you will … but isn’t it interesting that these things are active around Memorial Day, which originated in the years just after the Civil War?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Epiphany (Just a Little One)

I started out today, grumpy and dissatisfied. After a walk with my little canine companion, Henry, I was no longer grumpy … but still dissatisfied and feeling lost, aimless.

“Must I resign myself to being discontent?” … and other similar sorts of questions that I don’t want to bore you with (and, frankly, am somewhat embarrassed to admit) plagued my mind. I’ll admit to having periods of uncertainty that I’m still on the “right” course for my life.

So I decided to fix myself some breakfast. And, as I filled the shallow bowl with Pink Lady apple wedges and Scottish cheddar, a smile crossed my face.

This bowl always makes me think of those little plates that maybe your mom fed you from when you were a little kid: The ones where, as you clean your plate, a picture is gradually revealed.

But that memory is not the only thing that makes me smile. I smile as I think of my friend Beth, who made this bowl just for me. I might never have known Beth had it not been for our production of the WNC Highlands Celtic Festival; Beth, as “Cat’s Paw Potterie,” was one of our vendors.

I have other treasures that evoke similar memories:

Leather medallion crafted by Timothy, a vendor at Caloosahatchee Celtic Festival. 

 Earrings bearing the Celtic Heritage Heart, commissioned by Denise, a friend met through our festivals.

Gifts that were given me because of a relationship forged through festival production.

And then I think of the relationships with various musicians with whom I’ve worked, some of who have become family to me.

Which leads me to consider the many friends who are now in my life, all met through festival production.

Festival production. A thing that was not even on my radar as a high school senior planning her future. A thing that was not even a remote consideration as I left one vocation (teaching high school math) to set out on another (playing the hammer dulcimer). A thing that, in fact, Greg and I sort of fell into as a friend called me after seeing a newspaper article about my playing: “Hey, Elvis! Now that you’re famous,” he said, “how about putting on a little event for me?”

I'm not even remotely considering giving up festival production! But as I think about how this completely unplanned-for thing has become such a satisfying and rewarding part of my life, I'm a little less anxious about other things that life may hold for me yet. 

Friends who know me, know I’m not a planner … except when I am. They know I’m not a risk-taker … except when I am. They may know that uncertainty both excites me and scares me. My Life Path thus far has been both predictable … and decidedly unpredictable.

Realizing all this, I’m a little less discontented, a little less dissatisfied, and maybe a little less impatient, as I wait to see how the Path unfolds in front of me.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Seven Sisters

Henry and I are just now back from our last walkie of the night. It was a beautiful night for walking, crisp and cool, and the sky was clear and dark. Perfect for star-gazing! I found the constellation Orion, Sirius the Dog Star, and glimpsed the Seven Sisters -- the star cluster called Pleiades.

I will never again see the Seven Sisters without my mind straying up to northeast Wyoming, to Devils Tower, aka Bears Tipi, and thinking of the Kiowa legend of how Devils Tower came to be. Here is the story as told by I-See-Many-Camp-Fire-Places, a Kiowa soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, back in 1897:

“Before the Kiowa came south they were camped on a stream in the far north where there were a great many bears, many of them. One day, seven little girls were playing at a distance from the village and were chased by some bears. The girls ran toward the village and the bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock, about three feet high. One of the girls prayed to the rock, "Rock take pity on us, rock save us!" The rock heard them and began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher. When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, broke their claws, and fell on the ground.

“The rock rose higher and higher, the bears still jumped at the girls until they were pushed up into the sky, where they now are, seven little stars in a group. In the winter, in the middle of the night, the seven stars are right over this high rock. When the people came to look, they found the bears' claws, turned to stone, all around the base.

“No Kiowa living has ever seen this rock, but the old men have told about it - it is very far north where the Kiowa used to live. It is a single rock with scratched sides, the marks of the bears' claws are there yet, rising straight up, very high. There is no other like it in the whole country, there are no trees on it, only grass on top. The Kiowa call this rock ‘Tso-aa’, a tree rock, possibly because it grew tall like a tree.”

Monday, November 12, 2018

Decisions, Decisions

Friends, I wrestled for some time with the notion of sharing this with you. If you're inclined to worry or pity -- please scroll on; I will be fine and I certainly am not asking anyone to feel sorry for me.

Likewise, if you're inclined to be "judgy" or give me advice -- please scroll on; you know I won't take it well to be scrutinized and scolded, and I probably won't appreciate unsolicited advice.

This is just me, being honest about what's going on in my life.

I'm not really happy/satisfied. And I feel kinda guilty about saying that, because I have plenty to be happy about (and am happy about those things), and plenty to satisfy me (I want for nothing, which is more than most people on this planet can say).

But choices that Greg and I made based on a future together now no longer make sense to me as I face a future without him. It is a weird sensation to feel as I do. At times I feel a sense of guilt; at times I feel fickle. My rational mind knows that I'm neither of these things. My emotional mind -- perhaps still tied to what might have been -- plays tricks on me.

Some days, I'm paralyzed with doubt and overwhelmed. Thank God for Henry ! If it were not for Henry, I might not get out of bed every day.

Right now, I'm sitting outside, listening to cicadas and other insects buzzing busily. I hear frogs chirping, and think there'll be rain. Acorns make popping noises as they fall out of the trees. There's the hum of air conditioners to remind me that I'm still in civilization. A short time ago, strictly by chance, I had a very pleasant conversation with an older neighbor who'd grown up in Asheville -- had, in fact, attended the same high school my father had attended. We talked about Celo and Loafer's Glory and Red Hill, about the fabric and furniture mills of days gone by, and about new roads that have brought change. I live in a lovely, extremely safe community ... but I'm not entirely happy/satisfied with my situation.

I desperately miss having a music room! I miss being able to sit down and play the piano strictly on a whim. I miss being able to leave my dulcimer set up, so that I can think through a tune that’s fermenting in my brain. I miss having my music books quickly accessible on a shelf.

I miss having an "office" area that's not blended with my "living space." I miss being able to leave unfinished business in a big pile on a desk without being concerned that the pile is going to be in my way.

Once upon a time, Greg and I sold our house so that we could locate closer to the facility where he'd eventually have a liver transplant. We pared down our life to live in our Airstream, and talked about all the places we'd go in that Airstream when he was finally free to travel, post-transplant.

And now that life is gone, and little of what's left makes sense without him.

Be assured, those of you who know me through our company Celtic Heritage, that the crossroads I seem to be reluctantly coming to are personal crossroads. I very much enjoy my professional life and am happy/satisfied in it. In truth, I feel that if I make a few personal changes, my professional life actually will be enhanced. It's worth noting that two of the major sources of dissatisfaction that I’d like to “correct” are related to my professional life. Huh.

I scrupulously avoided making major decisions after Greg's death, because I've seen too many people make too-hasty changes while they were still in shock/grief ... and then regret those changes down the road. But I'm confident that I'm past that. I'm pretty confident that whatever decisions I make will be with an eye to the future: moving forward, rather than running away.

If you've made it this far, you're probably wondering how to respond. Don't worry. You don't have to. I am writing this as a catharsis for myself, but also because some of you have expressed interest in my healing process. All I ask is that you say a few prayers, think good thoughts, dance to music, sing loudly -- and if you can't sing well, then sing even more loudly, with gusto. I'll feel all that good energy.

Thanks for "listening."

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

My Guardian, My Gift

His muzzle is grizzled by age, but he still strikes a majestic pose.

This wonderful creature came into my life as another wonderful creature was preparing to leave it. He stepped up, sometimes in demanding fashion, sometimes tenderly, to remind me that for the living, life does -- it must -- go on.

His steps are a little slower these days; his energy, once seemingly infinite, now comes in bursts. His needs are simple, and in meeting those needs I find simple pleasures: The sound of a rushing river, the raucous caw of a crow, the sweet song of a robin. Perhaps the most pleasant pastime of all is found in watching him explore and savor whatever little part of the universe he finds himself in.

There is no doubt in my mind that he is my little teacher and my fearless trail scout and my faithful companion and guardian. There is no doubt in my mind that he is a gift from God.