I love the backroads! If you’ve got a
specific destination and a time-sensitive arrival is necessary, the Interstates
are great for getting you there fast (until they’re not, but that’s another
story for another time). But if I’ve got time to spare, I’m willing to let the
road take me. Often there are great discoveries awaiting.
And that’s just how it was on my trip home
after the last of my band’s Christmas With The Celts shows in the Florida
Panhandle. Rather than heading north to catch boring I-10 for the trip east,
and eventually south, I chose to head east on FL-20, a mostly two-lane highway
that passes through places you’ve probably never heard of like Bruce, Ebro, and
About 20 miles east of Ebro, I stopped at a
place I’d never heard of until quite recently: Pitt and Sylvan Springs. (Our band’s
right-hand man Rob had briefly visited this place on his way out to the
concerts, and the pictures he took were so beautiful I had to see it for
myself.) It’s a small park managed by the Northwest Florida Water Management
District; peaceful and mostly very quiet except for the sound of the occasional
car speeding along Hwy 20.
My first short walk took me to Sylvan
Next I walked toward the confluence of
Sylvan Spring Run and Ecofina Creek.
The spring run appears a little clearer and
a little more blue than the actual creek. I paused here for quite a while, just
enjoying the wild Florida beauty and the solitude.
There’s archaeological evidence that people
have lived in this area since the Paleoindian Era (about 12,000 – 8000 B.C.).
Ecofina Creek, however, got its name more recently. Muskogee people moving into
Florida in the late 1700s used this region to cross the creek and thus called
it “Ecofina,” which is their word for “natural bridge.”
Someone who’s far more educated as to
ecosystems than I can you exactly what sort of ecosystem this is. To me, it
just looks like “Florida.”
And this part of Florida got hit pretty
hard by Hurricane Michael. Looks to me like Michael barreled right over Pitt
and Sylvan Springs, because evidence of destruction is still everywhere … and
the recreation area was actually closed for a while, for cleanup and to make
the facilities safe for use again.
Still, nature goes on, as evidenced by this very
young Sourwood tree.
Making my way back, I crossed the common
area of parking lot and picnic shelters to take a look at the swimming hole created
by Pitt Spring. I bet on a hot day this is a wonderful place to cool off! –
even on this fairly chilly day it looked so inviting!
Again I took a long pause to stare into the
mesmerizingly blue-green depths of the pool and to watch the little fish dart
to and fro.
Turning toward the canoe dock, I came upon
this little bog
before coming back to Ecofina Creek. I’m
not a paddler, but a day on these waters sounds pretty appealing!
“Wistful” and “reluctant” are two
adjectives that come to mind for describing how I felt as I turned back toward
the car to resume the trip home. This was such a worthwhile detour!
Well, here we go. It's
not even Hallowe'en yet, but we're skipping right over that one, and Thanksgiving,
and Hanukkah, to jump ahead to the season of ... Whining about the "War on
Lissen here, friends, if you personally have decided to be one of those
"people [who] don't talk about ['that beautiful Christmas season'] any
more" that is fine by me. I won't be among you, but I won't judge you.
BUT ... If you have stopped "[using] the word 'Christmas' because it's not
politically correct," and for no other reason, then you give me a call. We
need to have a talk about how you can stand up for yourself without walking on
someone else. It IS possible to celebrate Christmas in all its magic and wonder
and beauty, and to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, without apology ...
and without trampling all over the rights of another person who wants to
celebrate Christmas in their own way, or not at all, or in addition to another
Let me help you figure out how it's done. I know it's possible, because I do
it. There is no War on Christmas! Don't let ANYONE tell you otherwise.
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
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.
and the raw courage of all who’ve participated in the space program as
astronauts, was and remains inspirational.
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
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.
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
Recent events have brought a years-ago experience to
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.
A patriot loves the country
and its people, not necessarily the government that is currently in power. And
when the current GOVERNMENT betrays the principles upon which the COUNTRY was
founded, it is the government which is unpatriotic. If you love your country,
the patriotic response is to resist.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.”